HusserlReview - Husserl
A Guide for the Perplexed
by Matheson Russell
Continuum, 2006
Review by Kamuran Godelek, Ph.D.
Jan 1st 2008 (Volume 12, Issue 1)

The founder of modern phenomenology, Edmund Husserl, is one of the most intriguing figures in twentieth-century philosophy. One reason for this is that Husserl, perhaps more so than any other philosopher of the early decades of this century, represents a transition from one philosophical culture to another. For his thought bears the stamp of two very different intellectual worlds: on the one hand, one can discern in his writings the philosophical posture of the mid-to-late nineteenth century, characterized by a deep commitment to the idea of science as the prism within which everything both social and natural is fused. On the other hand, Husserl's thought prepared the ground for the development of a very different philosophical attitude, one that had already made itself felt in Europe by the end of the nineteenth century. This attitude is characterized by a profound distrust of all system, of any claim to hold the ultimate key to reality in its myriad of manifestations.

Specifically, for Husserl, to practice phenomenology as a science means not only to think rationally, but also to recognize  the world as intrinsically rational. It is incumbent upon the reader to grasp the attitude and intellectual motivation that lies behind such an assertion, and to see the tools that Husserl crafted, tools of descriptive analysis and transcendental argumentation, in light of such convictions--not only to be able to ascertain Husserl's historical significance, but also to see the possibilities inherent in the organon of phenomenology as such.

Thus, Husserl stands as a key influence on such major philosophers as Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Sartre, and is required reading for anyone studying phenomenology and European philosophy of the last 100 years. Like all great philosophers, what makes Husserl worth reading is the wealth of original and insightful ideas he produced. However, the complex ideas central to his work, and the rather convoluted language in which they are expressed, means that arriving at a full and a clear understanding of Husserlian phenomenology is no small undertaking. Matheson Russell in Husserl: A Guide for the Perplexed, therefore, tackles the hard task of explicating Husserl's philosophy in a detailed and comprehensible manner and he mainly aims to assist the reader of Husserl to grasp the main ideas of his philosophy through a patient exposition.

At the same time, Husserl's phenomenological philosophy is concerned to uncover and describe aspects of experience that we usually ignore, and for this purpose, as he himself remarks, we do not always possess adequate words, and this is the reason why we found in Husserl's writings that language is either invented or reappropriated for the task. So, Matheson Russell also attempts to make some of Husserl's key terms more intelligible for the reader.

Husserl: A Guide for the Perplexed addresses directly those major points of difficulty faced by students of Husserl and leads them expertly through the maze of complex ideas and language. In identifying and working through common sources of confusion arising from Husserl's philosophy, the book builds up a comprehensive and authoritative overview of his thought and, more broadly, of phenomenology itself. Divided into two parts, the text covers the central tenets of phenomenology, Husserl's work on consciousness, and key philosophical topics in Husserl, including psychologism, intersubjectivity, the lifeworld and the crisis of the sciences. From the beginning to the end of the book, each chapter builds upon the one before and is intended to contribute to an overall portrait of Hussserl's phenomenology. The discussion in each chapter focuses on a selected text of Husserl; and this means that each chapter can also be read alone as a mini commentary on that text. The thought behind this strategy, in Matheson Russell's own words is "to provide a book that functions both as a general introduction to Husserl's philosophy and also as a useful set of commentaries for anyone specifically studying the selected texts" (p.5).

The chapters in Part 1 entitled as "The Idea of Phenomenology: Psychology, Logic and Transcendental Philosophy" deal in different ways with the question "what is phenomenology?" However, because phenomenology is, for Husserl, above all a method for doing philosophy, these opening chapters have a predominantly methodological flavour to them. The first chapter of Part 1 is the critique of psychologism mostly drawing on the Prolegomena to the Logical Investigations. In the remaining three chapters, Matheson Russell examines Part One and Two of Ideas to discuss the axis of distinction between Husserl's new science and "natural" science through its suspension of the natural attitude in favour of the transcendental or phenomenological attitude.  

The chapters in Part 2 entitled Phenomenological Topics tackle the main topics discussed in Husserl's major publications and roughly follow the chronology of his career. The beginning chapter of Part 2 is on the central concept of phenomenology, that is, intentionality, since "while Brentano reinvigorated interest in the doctrine of intentionality, it was Husserl who for the first time elucidated the nature of intentionality by achieving a clear and distinct apprehension of the phenomenon and thematizing it in a coherent fashion" (p. 80). Matheson Russell in this chapter examines the third chapter of Ideas. The following chapter entitled Intuition, Evidence and Truth draws on the Sixth of the Logical Investigations because "at issue in these investigations is the clarification of the structure of the intentional acts basic to thinking and knowing and central to this task is the analysis of intuition, evidence and truth" (p. 98). The following chapter entitled Categorical Intuition: Synthesis and Ideation follows on the same lines as the previous one but in this chapter Matheson Russell mainly focus on two of the most basic non-sensuous experiences addressed by Husserl: the "synthetic" intuition of states of affairs, and the "ideative" intuition of essences.

Chapter 8 is on the topic of time consciousness and draws on The Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness. In chapter 9 entitled The Ego and Selfhood  Matheson Russell discusses analyses of selfhood and embodiment as they are developed primarily in Ideas II. Chapter 10 covers the discussion of intersubjectivity. Since Husserl reportedly regarded the Fifth Cartesian Meditation as his first successful account of the constitution of intersubjectivity, the discussion in this chapter focuses on this text. The concepts developed in The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology concerning modern science and "the lifeworld" are among the most influential in Husserl's entire body of work. usserHHThe last Chapter focuses on a number of key ideas from this posthumously published book.

Husserl: A Guide for the Perplexed is a clear, concise and accessible introduction of Husserl's philosophy for academicians and any philosophy student who wants to further his/her ideas about Husserl' philosophy. I also found this book very useful for a course on Husserl as Matheson Russell provides a thorough analysis of main topics of Husserl's philosophy while focusing each discussion on one of his major works.

© 2007 Kamuran Godelek

Kamuran Godelek, Ph.D., Mersin University, School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Philosophy, Ciftlikkoy, MERSIN, TURKEY


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