Husserl and the Historical Epistemology of the Sciences

Max Planck Institute for the History of Science,

with the participation of the University of Ottawa
Berlin, 1 - 3 July, 2004

 

 

Book: Science and the Life-World: Essays on Husserl's ‘Crisis of European Sciences,’ Stanford UP, 2010

Participants: David Carr (Emory), Eva-Maria Engelen (Konstanz), Dagfinn Føllesdal (Stanford), Michael Friedman (Stanford), Rodolphe Gasché (Buffalo), Ian Hacking (Paris), Michael Hampe (Zurich), David Hyder (Ottawa), Ulrich Majer (Göttingen), Kevin Mulligan (Geneva), Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (Berlin), Barry Smith (Buffalo), David W. Smith (Irvine), Friedrich Steinle (Berlin).

Organisers: David Hyder (Ottawa), Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (MPI for the History of Science).

Contact: David Hyder, dhyder@uottawa.ca

Location: Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Wilhelmstr. 44, 10117 Berlin, Germany. (Click here for location)

Registration: There is no registration fee for the conference, however only a limited number of spaces are available for auditors. Those interested in attending conference sessions must contact the organisers in advance.

Travel and accommodation: The conference hotel is the NH Hotel Berlin-Mitte, Leipziger Strasse 106-111, 10117 Berlín, Germany. Tel. +49.30.203760 nhberlinmitte@nh-hotels.com. Unfortunately we can assist only the speakers with their travel and accommodation arrangements. 

Download this programme as a Word file

Download a map showing the location of the Institute as well as the conference hotel.

Programme
Abstracts
Timetable

Thematic Outline

Despite its importance in the first half of the 20th century, phenomenology plays at best a secondary role in contemporary philosophical debate. This is particularly true of the history and philosophy of science, dominated as it is by a tradition deriving from the Vienna Circle, or, on the “continental” side, by French theorists such as Canguilhem and Foucault. But it ought not come as a surprise that many more recent developments on both sides of the waters are anticipated in the work of phenomenology’s founder, Edmund Husserl. For many of the classical figures in the history and philosophy of science were well familiar with his work, often reacting specifically against it. The constitutional system of Carnap’s Aufbau evinces strong Husserlian influences, some evidently mediated by Cassirer’s work. And the French tradition of the epistemology of the sciences, while inaugurated by Bachelard, is developed by Jean Cavaillès and Canguilhem in explicit opposition to that proposed by Husserl in the Crisis.

The aim of this workshop will be to examine a specific line of argument in Husserl, to trace out its diffusion in post-war history and philosophy of science, and, lastly, to consider its theoretical utility in contemporary work. This line of argument centres on what Husserl called the sedimentation of scientific knowledge. Sedimentation is a by-product of science’s need to produce formal ontologies. Although such ontologies are essential to the business of science, an incorrect understanding of their epistemological role ultimately produces what the late Husserl termed a “crisis” in the sciences. This crisis could be solved, in his view, only by attending to the historical origins of scientific concepts.

By drawing together philosophers and historians whose research draws directly or indi­rectly on Husserl’s work, we hope not just to revive interest in the latter, but also to examine critically the claim that epistemology must have an historical component. Contributions to the workshop will fall into three broad categories: 1) The history and interpretation of Husserl’s philosophy of science, 2) Contemporary work in the philosophies of mind and of science that address the relation between “everyday” ontologies and the formal ontologies of modern science, and 3) Contemporary work in the history and philosophy of science that aims at drawing epistemological knowledge from the study of the scientific past.


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Programme

Thursday, July 1, 2004:

8:30-9:00 Registration

 

9:00-9:30

Greeting and Introduction
Hans-Jörg Rheinberger, David Hyder

 

9:30–10:30

Dagfinn Føllesdal
Husserl’s Notion of Sedimentation

 

11:30–12:30

Ulrich Majer
The Origin and Significance of
Husserl’s Notion of the Lebenswelt

 

14:00–15:00

Friedrich Steinle
Concepts, Facts, and Sedimentation in Experimental Science

 

16:00 –17:00

Michael Friedman
Phenomenology and the History of Science

 

17:30–18:30

Barry Smith
Formal Ontology and Biomedical Informatics: Aristotle, Darwin, Husserl

 

 

 

 

Friday, July 2, 2004:

9:00–10:00

Ian Hacking
Husserl on the Origins of Geometry

 

11:00–12:00

Rodolphe Gasché
Universality and Spatio-Temporal Form

 

12:30–13:30

David Carr
The Philosophy of History in Husserl's Crisis

 

Saturday, July 3, 2004:

9:00–10:00

Eva-Maria Engelen
Husserl and the History of Consciousness

 

11:00–12:00

Kevin Mulligan
Bringing Truth-Bearers Down to Earth

 

14:00–15:00

Michael Hampe
The Dangers of Fundamentalism: Husserl´s Conception of a Life-world and Sellars’s Idea of a Manifest Image

 

16:00–17:00

David W. Smith
Science, Intentionality, and Historical Background

 


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Abstracts

David Carr, The Philosophy of History in Husserl's Crisis

One of the most striking features of the Crisis texts, at least in comparison to Husserl’s earlier work, is their preoccupation with history. This preoccupation manifests itself in different ways. Husserl advocates a historical approach to epistemology in general and to the philosophy of science in particular. He deals with the history of science, of geometry, and of philosophy; and he tries to develop the “philosophical-historical idea of Europe.” He puts forward some very interesting but extremely difficult reflections on his own historical method of investigation. What I want to ask is: how is this preoccupation with history to be understood? Does it constitute a philosophy of history, and if so in what sense? How does it compare with other approaches to history? Husserl’s approach is, I think, very hard to classify. It is customary to distinguish between the substantive or speculative philosophy of history on the one hand and the critical or analytical philosophy of history on the other. The former is supposed to belong to metaphysics, making claims about the historical process itself, and the latter to epistemology, since it’s about historical knowledge. As I will try to show, there are in fact interesting variants of both approaches to history in the Crisis texts; but their most important contribution to the philosophy of history, I believe, lies elsewhere. It is found in Husserl’s development of the idea of historicity (Geschichtlichkeit), a concept that belongs neither to metaphysics nor to epistemology, strictly speaking. It belongs, rather, to phenomenology, as a descriptive feature of subjective and intersubjective experience.

Eva-Maria Engelen, Husserl and the History of Consciousness

Husserl suggested that we should consider the history of the most important terms of the sciences in order to determine their original meanings, that is to say their link to the “life-world,” contending that this might provide a way out of the crisis that he diagnosed for philosophy and the sciences. This historical method is explicitly identified as a history of consciousness. But, as a mere glance at the texts of Homer and Plato would show, the notion of consciousness itself has a history. Furthermore, “consciousness” today is not merely a philosophical term, but also one referring to an object of the sciences. I shall consider what it would mean for Husserl’s project to ask for the history of consciousness.

Dagfinn Føllesdal, Husserl’s Notion of Sedimentation

The notion of sedimentation is a central part of Husserl’s view on intentionality. One’s present experience of the world depends on one's past experience and activities through a process of sedimentation. Sedimentation is crucial in the genesis of intentionality and functions as a horizon for all present experience of the world. It becomes reawakened in the individual acts, and it is revisable.

This lecture focuses on this somewhat neglected aspect of Husserl's phenomenology. It aims at a systematic presentation of the notion of sedimentation, its historical development in Husserl's work, the role it plays in the various stages of his philosophy and its systematic inter­connections with other key notions in Husserl, such as the notion of active and passive synthesis, retention, imagination, perception, filling, evidence, truth and falsity, and also his notion of intersubjectivity. Special attention will be given to the role of the body in sedi­mentation.

Michael Friedman, Phenomenology and the History of Science

In “Philosophy as a Rigorous Science” Husserl first puts forward the idea of a pure or non-empirical philosophical science inspired by the “Galilean“ approach to the exact sciences of nature. In the same work he attacks historicism and argues that philosophy, as objective truth, is essentially timeless or ahistorical. In later works, such as the Crisis, however, Husserl himself prescribes an (idealized) history of Western science as an antidote to the dominance of philosophical positivism and naturalism—a dominance deriving from an inadequate understanding of the nature of “objective“ science. In light of this, I consider the possible roles of the history of science within transcendental phenomenology, and compare Husserl’s approach with the more Hegelian “phenomenology of knowledge“ articulated by Ernst Cassirer.

Rodolphe Gasché, Universality and Spatio-Temporal Form

I will speak about Husserl’s criticism in the Crisis of the concept of universality particular to the modern sciences as they emerge with Galileo. I will suggest that since this concept of universality is predicated primarily on the spatio-temporal shape of bodily things, as well as their causal “style”, this concept of universality not only does not fulfill Greek idea of an all-embracing science, but needs to be reinscribed in a different kind of universality which Husserl seeks to establish through an analysis of the life-world.

Ian Hacking, Husserl on the Origins of Geometry

Husserl (like Kant) rightly thought that the discovery of the possibility of geometrical proofs marked a radical change in the potentialities for human knowledge. This paper argues that he wrongly urged us to reflect on the change in consciousness and perception of the indi­vidual thinker. This prehistorical epistemology is misguided. Husserl thought that we ought to recover in our own experience the coming into being of proving. It is absolutely not nec­essary (and it is also impossible) to try to return to some originating moment, or to put our­selves in the position of re-experiencing it. Hence this phenomenological exercise is irrele­vant to grappling with the ‘crisis’ of ‘modernity’ that so concerned German thinkers of his era.

Grasping or inventing a geometrical proof depends on cognitive faculties. They were ex­ploited by “the man whom we call Thales”– and his pupils. The discovery of mathematical proof is not an event in individual consciousnesses but the revelation of a collective poten­tial for conclusive demonstration. It can be shared by all who are innately endowed, and witnessed by all who are qualified. Husserl did explain that the establishment of practices of argument and of elite education is what matters for the preservation of insights. A better image than his is that of a few thinkers with students selected for their ability to understand the new proofs. For the first time in human history they take advantage of an aspect of cer­tain of our faculties not previously exploited. They convince others and establish reputa­tions by showing what one can do by just thinking.

Michael Hampe, The Dangers of Fundamentalism in Husserl´s Conception of a Life-world and Sellars’s Idea of a Manifest Image

Husserl´s distinction between a life-world and a world of scientific knowledge is a philoso­phical construction as much as the idea of a “folk psychology”, an “everyday ontology” or a (Wittgensteinian) Lebensform. Wilfrid Sellars also considered the tension between what he called the “scientific image of man in the world” and the “manifest image” to be both the origin of philosophical inspiration as well as a challenge for conceptual developments in philosophy. I argue that Husserl and Sellars have invented or constructed entities like “the life-world”, “the manifest image”, “the sciences” and “the scientific image” as supposedly clearly individuated (and perhaps in this sense, complete) structures. In fact they are phi­losophical fictions or abstractions whose purpose is to induce a controversy between certain scientific claims and non-scientific beliefs. I consider it important to block fundamentalist inclinations both in phenomenological and analytical theories of human knowledge in order to avoid over­simplifications and schematic pictures of what it is to have scientific or non-scientific beliefs.

Ulrich Majer, The Origin and Significance of Husserl’s Notion of the Lebenswelt

In his early, pre-axiomatic lectures (before 1899) on the foundations of geometry, Hilbert speaks repeatedly about the geometry of “everyday life” and similar notions. This terminol­ogy occurs again almost thirty years later, when he analyses the role and significance of the theory of general relativity for our understanding of geometry in general, and our confi­dence in Euclidean geometry in particular — not only in our everyday actions, but also in building measuring instruments.

These and other remarks of Hilbert concerning the significance of everyday life for a proper understanding and use of geometrical (as well as scientific) concepts are strikingly reminis­cent of what Husserl has to say on the same subject. Is this a sheer coincidence, the result of mutual influence, or just an expression of the Zeitgeist?

In my talk I will offer not only an answer to these historical questions, but I will also analyse the more systematic question regarding the role and significance of Husserl’s notion of eve­ryday life for a proper understanding of science and its evolution.

Kevin Mulligan, Bringing Truth-Bearers Down to Earth

Are truth-bearers and their conceptual parts atemporal entities, as Bolzano, Frege and the early Husserl thought? I first trace and evaluate the efforts of Husserl, after his 1908 discov­ery of meaning on Twin-Earth, and of some of the early, realist phenomenologists (Ingar­den, Hart­mann) to provide an alternative answer to this question according to which con­cepts are temporal entities. Once concepts have been brought down to earth the following question arises: Is the sedimentation of knowledge – for instance everyday, historical and scientific knowledge – sedimentation of knowledge only? Or does sedimented knowledge rest on non-epistemic phenomena, for example on primitive certainty? I set out and evalu­ate some answers to these questions given by theories of primitive certainty inside and out­side phenomenology.

Barry Smith, Formal Ontology and Biomedical Informatics: Aristotle, Darwin, Husserl

I will explore a hitherto neglected strand in the history of ontology, beginning with Husserl’s Logical Investigations, stretching through Quine and the early history of artificial intelligence, and on through to the establishment of ontology as a critical subdiscipline of computer science. I will show how, by reviving the Aristotelian theory of categories, of sub­stances and accidents, of universals and particulars, of real definitions and of lowest specific difference, Husserl provided the basis for a rich and powerful framework of formal and material ontology. I will also illustrate how the influence of this Husserlian-Aristotelian theory is still being felt in contemporary work in bioinformatics.

David W. Smith, Science, Intentionality, and Historical Background

Extending ideas drawn from Husserl, I shall discuss ways in which scientific theories are grounded in intentional activities occurring in concrete historical contexts, including both the natural world they represent and the human world in which they are developed. A sci­entific theory is a structure of propositions supported by evidence. These propositions are intentional contents of scientific thought or judgment, formed from concepts developed in the course of scientific research. Though ideal meanings, they are bound to historical cir­cumstances in several ways. The aim of my paper is to appraise these types of dependence on historical context. I shall address both the indexical character of scientific concepts or propositions, and the historical background of theorizing they presuppose.

The early Husserl in Logical Investigations took a theory to be a form of "pure logic" (looking to Bolzano), while the late Husserl in the Crisis worried how our idealized theory of nature in mathematical physics had become alienated from our common-sense understanding of the world, our "sedimented" and historically situated Lebenswelt theory of the world around us or Umwelt. I hope to show how an extended Husserlian view of science elucidates: (a) Husserl's seemingly divergent early and late views of theory, (b) Quine's "web" view of sci­entific theory (with mathematics and logic at the center of the web of belief), and (c) Michael Friedman's revisionary Kantian-Carnapian view of relativized a priori principles within a scientific theory. Thus, the basic, formal ontology of a scientific theory is, for that range of theory, a priori (compare Friedman), the least revisable part of the theory (compare Quine), and furthest from our ordinary range of Lebenswelt theory (compare Husserl). Yet a theory remains a system of ideal propositions bound by dependence to the world in which we put forth these propositions.

Friedrich Steinle, Concepts, Facts, and Sedimentation in Experimental Science

Husserl framed his notion of sedimentation with the development of mathematics in mind. However, such a process is no less evident in experimental science. Since traditional philoso­phy of science has focussed on the role of experimentation as the testing of hypotheses, its role in concept-formation have largely been ignored. By contrast, a closer look at actual re­search practices reveals that they play a far more important role than hitherto realized. In most periods and disciplines, we can observe how experimenters follow specific exploratory strategies when acting in epistemic situations for which no firm theory is available, where indeed the conceptual framework may be challenged. Experimentation often leads directly to new concepts, classi­fications and representational means. What is more, such innovations are often received in a peculiar way: they are not explicitly discussed, but are rather simply employed or accepted as “facts” – they became unquestioned parts of the conceptual framework, the language in which the field was treated. By “sedimenting” in such a way, they gain fundamental epistemic importance, in that they shape all subsequent research without, however, being recognized as problematic. In my talk, I shall illustrate and sub­stantiate these claims by examining cases from the history of electricity.

Taking such processes into account seriously opens various perspectives. First, while Husserl’s notion of ‘sedimentation’ applies well here, it also acquires new aspects – acting and intervening come into play. The role of acting in general processes of concept-formation and meaning-production might well be reconsidered here. There arises, moreover, an unex­pected relation to the work of Husserl’s younger contemporary, Ludwik Fleck, who in the 1930s gave a penetrating analysis of what he called “the genesis of scientific facts.” Al­though they started from strikingly different premisses, the two accounts complement each other in important ways. In particular, as Fleck’s examples illustrate, the process of sedi­mentation does not involve only formal ontologies, but also qualitative concepts that may eventually infiltrate common language. The scope and status of scientific ontologies appear in a new dimension here, as does their impact on everyday life.


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Timetable

 

 

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

8:30-9:00

Registration

 

 

9:00-9:30

Greeting and Introduction

Hans-Jörg Rheinberger
David Hyder

Ian Hacking

Eva-Maria Engelen

9:30-10:00

Dagfinn Føllesdal

 

 

10:00-10:30

 

Discussion

Discussion

10:30-11:00

Discussion

Coffee break

Coffee break

11:00-11:30

Coffee break

Rodolphe Gasché

Kevin Mulligan

11:30-12:00

Ulrich Majer

 

 

12:00-12:30

 

Discussion

Discussion

12:30-13:00

Discussion

David Carr

Lunch

13:00-13:30

Lunch (at MPI)

 

 

13:30-14:00

 

Discussion

 

14:00-14:30

Friedrich Steinle

Lunch

Michael Hampe

14:30-15:00

 

 

 

15:00-15:30

Discussion

 

Discussion

15:30-16:00

Coffee break

 

Coffee break

16:00-16:30

Michael Friedman

 

David W. Smith

16:30-17:00

 

 

 

17:00-17:30

Discussion

 

Discussion

17:30-18:00

Barry Smith

 

 

18:00-18:30

 

 

 

18:30-19:00

Discussion