Science in Christian Perspective



Robert D. Knudsen

From: JASA 5 (December 1953): 16-17.

The late philosopher, Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), is ranked, along with Bergson and a few others, as among those who have left the greatest and most lasting impression on contemporaneous thought. Husserl has left behind a monumental piece of work, outstanding for its depth, its difficulty, and its sharp and precise analyses. Among his better known works are his Logischen Untersuchungen, in which he investigates the foundations of logic. Another well-known work is his Ideen zu einer reinen Phainomenologie, in which he systematically presents his method. Two later works of significance are his Formale und Transzendentale Logik and his Erfahrung und Urtell. The influence of his thought extends to the entire philosophical world. Concerning his importance Bochenski writes, "Es sieht so aus, als ob seine Werke fur eine Philosophie der Zukunft den Rang von klassischen Quellen behalten werden" (Europiische Philosophic der Gegenwart, p. 138).

Husserl is comparable to Descartes and Kant, in that he tried to rescue philosophy from its unscientific confusion and give it the respectable position of being an exact science. He deplored the fact that philosophy recurrently divided itself into mutually exclusive schools, each of which had its own starting point. It was even the case that philosophers could not understand each other. He wished to restore philosophy to the place of "first philosophy", the foundation of all the theoretical disciplines. Husserl's thought is foundational, therefore, seeking to penetrate to the very basis of knowledge. He was strongly interested in methodology, though this did not mean that he gave epistemological questions the primacy.

Husserl was one of the most significant thinkers to break with the dominant thought of the nineteenth century, which was naturalistic and Positivistic. Like idealism he distances himself from the causal methods of the natural sciences. One of his major enemies is Psychologism, which goes along with the nominalistic spirit. He tried to show that nominalism destroys the possibility of universal and universally valid knowledge of truth.

Husserl's method is the phenomenological. This method proceeds by way of a long and difficult reduction until it arrives at an intuition of pure essences. It presupposes that there are general, ideal, timeless objects which can present themselves to experience. 'Me method has, therefore, a definitely Platonic cast. Husserl differs from the nominalist, who denies that there are any universal objects, and who sees universals as signs which refer conventionally to similar objects. He also differs from Kantianism, where a chaotic material is ordered by universal, apriori forms. The Phenomenological reduction is the method by which essences are brought to present themselves directly to consciousness. Corresponding to every realm of factual experience there is a discipline which rests on the intuition of pure essences and which discovers the essential structure of the particular area. So there con responds to the study of the facts of religion a doctrine of religion in general. This phenomenological intuition is supposed to be without any presuppositions whatsoever, and is supposed to provide the basis for the special sciences.

The phenomenological method has led a return to ontological analysis, a reaction to the preoccupation of Neo-Kantianism with methodology. Husserl was sym. pathetic to Hegel's remark that to become preoccupied with the epistemological before one actually began ontological analysis was like trying to learn to swim before entering the water.

Husserl did not place philosophy on as sure a footing as he wished. Even during his lifetime his school broke up in various directions. Nevertheless, his influence is great. Bochenski states that it " . . . delint sich . . . auf die gesamte zeitgen6ssische Philosophie aus" (Ibid.).

One of the directions in which this influence has gone is existential philosophy. Heidegger is strongly influenced by phenomenology, though he differs in many respects, and was also branded by Husserl himself as not having escaped psychologism. Sartre is also strongly influenced by the phenomenological method. Bochenski says that he could more easily be thought of without Kierkegaard than without Husserl. Among the theologians, Paul Tillich begins his section on the meaning of God with a phenomenological description (Systematic Theology, 1, 211ff.).

A noteworthy volume in the phenomenological line is that of M. Merleau-Ponty, Ph6nomoinologle de la perception (Paris: Librairie Gallimard. 1945. 531 pp.). This work is an investigation of perception that emerges on the side of Gestalt psychology in saying that perception cannot be constructed out of individual sense data. For his labor in philosophy the author was elected to the French Academy. Some of Sartre's followers, who prided themselves on being in the avant garde, suddenly found themselves following the less illustrious figure.

Husserl's importance as a philosophical leader has prompted the republication of his works, including a whole series of unpublished manuscripts he left behind. This is occurring with international cooperation, using the material in the Husserl archives at the University of Louvain, Belgium. How many of these volumes have now been published I do not know. I have in my possession the first five, which comprise the Cartesianische Meditationen und Parlser Vortrige, Die Idee der Ph;inomenologie, and in three volumes the Ideen zu einer reinen Phiinomenologie und phiLnomenologischen Philosophie. The care with which these works are edited is indicated by the fact that the editors have appended numerous critical remarks on the text and also Beilagen written by Husserl himself. The volumes are being published by Martinus Nijhoff, the Hague.

I am aware of only one Christian work that attacks philosophical problems on the same level as Husserl and that tries to answer the same problem, why philosophy is split up into various recurring schools. That is the work of Herman Dooyeweerd, as it comes to its most comprehensive expression in his A New Critique of Theoretical Thought (English title of his De Wlisbegeerte der wetsidee). Dooyeweerd claims that these exclusive schools are the result of immanence thought, which fails to see the true transcendent start. ing point of philosophy. Forced to find its starting point within the temporal diversity of the cosmos, immanence thought is diffused among the cosmic aspects. There are as many starting points as there are aspects, so philosophy is broken up into various  schools which cannot be reconciled by purely theoretic means.