Husserl and phenomenological ethics

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Husserlian phenomenology is widely recognized for its enduring philosophical contributions. “Intentionality,” “the life-world,” “the lived-body” and other notions have long been absorbed into contemporary thought, even as Husserl’s project remains a matter of contention. Lesser known is the originality of Husserl’s phenomenological approach to ethics, even though Husserl’s ethical thought followed as well as shaped his phenomenological enterprise from its beginning. As with other aspects of his thinking, Husserl never arrived at a definitive statement of his ethics. His voluminous manuscripts and lecture courses on ethics present a work in progress marked by insight, transformation, and promise, much of which still remains undeveloped today. As Husserl declares in “Philosophy as Rigorous Science,” the genuine aim of philosophy is to become a “rigorous science” that would satisfy the “theoretical need” for a fundamental clarification of how knowledge is possible and “render possible from an ethical-religious point of view a life by pure rational norms.” Phenomenological philosophy is intrinsically an ethical project in its aim to provide a foundation for knowledge, ethical values, and the norms of practical ends. As Husserl formulated in 1906: “In the first place, let me state the general task that I must realize for myself, if I am ever to call myself a philosopher. I mean a critique of reason. A critique of logical and practical reason, above all a critique of valuing reason (der wertenden Vernunft)" (Hua 24: 445). BRENTANO’S REFORM OF ETHICS Husserl’s remark that “without Brentano, I would not have written a word of philosophy” holds equally well for his work on ethics. The importance of ethics for Brentano has long been over-shadowed by his more influential study of consciousness and his acclaimed introduction of “intentional relation” and “inner perception” as distinguishing marks of the mental. Brentano, however, expressly conceived of his “psychology without a soul” as leading to a reform of ethics. As he writes: “How many evils might be remedied by the correct psychological diagnosis or by the knowledge of the laws by which a mental state can be modified?" Less visible from his published writings, this ethical promise occupied a central place in his teaching, public lectures, and unpublished reflections.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of Moral Philosophy
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781139519267
ISBN (Print)9781107033054
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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