Reading the philosophy of Edmund Husserl is no small task. This is the kind of reading that requires patience along with the foresight that one will have to read and reread paragraphs till any semblance of coherence begins to unfold and unfurl. It is tempting bring in the analogy of mining for precious metals, where to find the philosophy, one would have to dig deep through the strata to find a bright and brilliant fragment of value. To think of Husserl’s phenomenology like this is a mistake. Robert Sokolowski toward the end of his paper on Husserl’s categorical intuition speaks of a clarified approach to philosophy in a general “Philosophy only works by quoting, so to speak, the pre-philosophical, and by presenting, from a new and special angle, what was already present in the pre-philosophical” (140). It is as if we must regard the basic experience of categorical intuition as already there in our day-to-day moments to understand it not only philosophically, but also phenomenologically. To do philosophy with Husserl is just a matter of bringing in the methods and challenges of phenomenology to bear in consciousness, to then thematize the minute complexity that’s already present in the totality of the experiences, perceptions, cognitions, and intentions themselves that are already alive with conscious experiencing.
The goal for this post will not be to summarize Husserl’s phenomenological project. Instead, we’ll turn our attention to a single feature, categorical intuition. This choice is not random since it will lead to some fundamental questions concerning Husserl’s early work developing phenomenology in the Logical Investigations. We’ll also look to Martin Heidegger’s elaboration and extension of the term in his 1925 lecture series titled History of the Concept of Time, these were the preliminary lectures that put forth much of the groundwork for Being and Time. It is also important to pay gratitude to Robert Sokolowski’s paper “Husserl’s Concept of Categorial Intuition.” Sokolowski always has a masterful way of making Husserl’s phenomenology accessible and clear. Dermot Moran also deserves high praise for all his scholarship surrounding Husserl’s philosophy. He introduces the shorter edition of the Logical Investigations we’re using here. In addition, Moran worked with Joseph Cohen on The Husserl Dictionary which provided a well needed resource for all the recondite phenomenological words Husserl deploys, coupled with their difficult to pin down ideas.
Categorial intuition (kategoriale Anschauung) (Moran, Cohen 59) is dealt with extensively throughout chapter six in Husserl’s Logical Investigations. Let’s begin to unfold the term by trying to understand how we come to perceive things. Essentially when we perceive something we find it “fulfilled” as matter and we also understand these things as “…beyond their nominal terms” (Husserl 339). Fulfillment is a special term Husserl uses to indicate a kind of conscious immersion in the way the object is presented in its perceptual way, but this also involves the structure of how it’s identified and how it is intended. We’ll address fulfillment first, then go back to identification, so “…the fulfillment is the experience of the coincidence between the empty intention [not immediately present] and its fulfilling object” (Moran, Cohan 130). This fulfillment happens during the broader act of intending, which means roughly “…the ‘aboutness’ or ‘directedness of our conscious state (Moran, Cohan, 167). This then indicates that even when we have the intention of an object before us it is a fulfillment to be in recognition of the fact that the object is presently and fully regarded. The object is fulfilled during the intention of it. When absent the object is not present in this way—it is emptily intended “…in its intuitive absence it is [symbolized] …in a token way…” (Moran, Cohen 104).
The categorical is not the object itself but the way the object is present to our understanding of it. Sokolowski calls the categorical a “syntactical” (128). The word syntactical is a big hint that the categorical is a structural component that helps us understand our relationship to how we perceive the world in the round. Therefore, a syntactical structuring isn’t a component of linguistics exclusively, but to be regarded within experience in general, where the categorical is representative of the syntactical framework of experience. Husserl indicates that the categorical is connected to the syntactical term: “copula” (339). When Husserl writes of categorical intuition as it relates to a piece of white paper, he’s keen to make it clear that in a sentence like “white paper is paper which is white” the word “is” is categorical (341).
With all of this said, categorial intuition is much more than just the word “is”, it simultaneously has to do with how the presence of the is-ness of white is intuited within the perceptual experience and not built upon it. It has to do with the being of whiteness presented to us as we experience the paper. As Husserl puts it, it is how “…the apparent object announces itself as self-given” (341). There are points where Husserl calls the categorical “supersensuous” (349), probably to indicate that it involves the sensuous, while at the same time, the categorial also involves more than just sense. Sokolowski identifies the categorical in the way that the object is known to us as “presencing” (129). This is not a feature of the object in and of itself, but how it’s known to me in all its verisimilitude. This is a phenomenological way to explain and to present how an object is made objective not in successive steps, but simultaneously within the actual experience, where identification is brought together within the “presencing” of a particular object (Sokolowski 129). Sokolowski writes that this coming together of identity and presence where “the identity, the belonging of a feature to its object, the object’s being and such, is what corresponds intuitively to word ‘is’ when we say, ‘S is p’” (131).
We normally think of our world filled with stuff be we never stop to think of how we understand the in-between ‘is-ness’ of these things. The ‘is’ of these things has to do with the being of the things, yet even Husserl attests “among these [things] anything like ‘is’ is naturally not to be found” (345). A quick glance through the dictionary tells us that the meaning of the word “is” is the third person singular present of the word “be” (Oxford 715). This should give us the bigger hint that the idea of “is” has to do with being in a fundamental and experiential way. This “is” or its syntactical equivalents, do not just happen in subjective perception but in the fullest rush of all objective experience. So Husserl has to clarify that the intuition of the object as fulfilled and that our reflected judgment of a basic reflection is not something we do when we reflect on the “is” of something (347). Then he continues to define catergorial intuition partially by what it is not.
Not in reflection upon judgments, nor even the upon fulfillments of judgments, but in the fulfillments of judgments themselves lies in the true source of the concepts State of Affairs and Being (in the copulative sense) (347).
There’s a phenomenological job to decipher what Husserl’s pointing to as much as it is to notice that he’s saying that the categorical does not happen “upon” the judgments, or “upon” the fulfillment of judgments. States of affairs are about the tangible world as it’s presented to us in a particular way where the judgment is “…essentially involved with conceptualization and generalization” (Moran, Cohen 173). This is part of how we conceptualize being prephilosophically, we know something is here or it is not here without anyone needing to thematize the occurrence for us. Yet, it is only when we put name to this phenomena do we begin describe the philosophical import of these primary acts of cognition that appear to elude everyday expression and then some.
Looking onward, anyone who has read even a little bit of Heidegger will know of the utmost precedence he placed on ontology—re: Dasein and being. Sokolowski, Moran and Cohen together attest the curious fact that Heidegger was strongly impressed with Husserl’s discovery of categorical intuition as it is inextricably linked to being (Moran, Cohen 60), (Sokolowski 128). In Heidegger’s exhaustive preliminary section given in his description of the “fundamental discover[ies]” (27) by Husserl of the three concepts of intentionality, categorical intuition and the a-priori, Heidegger writes that the objectivity of “…categorical intuition is itself the objective manner in which reality itself can become more truly objective” then he broadens this to “there is no ontology alongside a phenomenology. Rather, scientific ontology is nothing but phenomenology” (72). There’s a reason Heidegger is calling the categorical intuition a discovery, because what was there to be discovered had been with us all along—being. We use it, but we don’t know how we’re using it. We’re living within it. We just don’t know how to conceptualize the way we’re living within it. Let us recall that Husserl does write of the categorical as related to being “…so the concept of Being can arise only when some being, actual or imaginary, is set before our eyes” (347).
It’s easy to brush off Husserl only as a stepping-stone to better appreciate the mature Heidegger, which is what Heidegger might’ve approved of. The objective here is not to do that. All we had to do was look at one of Husserl’s terms unfold and then to notice that we have before us a phenomenological vantage that positions us before the expanse of experience itself—before Heidegger. The descriptive potential of trying to understand what catergorial intuition means will serve to broaden our capacity for knowledge of the abstractions that are involved with basic perception and how we intuit, experience and know them even before we put words to them.
Yet, there is always an almost perverse and hermetic quality to Husserl’s work that’s daunting and intimidating to most. This gives us reason to try learning to inhabit our world phenomenologically along with him, because phenomenology gives us the methods by which to know what’s already there. It is on the inside of the frustrating work as we sweat over the terms and their relationships that only gradually open up to conceptualization. None of this would happen without the work of reading and rereading Husserl’s many paragraphs till any semblance of coherence begins to unfold and disclose what we see before us and so on…
Heidegger, Martin. History of the Concept of Time. Trans, Theodore Kisiel. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1979. Print.
Husserl, Edmund. The Shorter Logical Investigations. Trans. J.N. Findlay. New York, NY: Routledge, 2001. Print.
“Is.” The Oxford College Dictionary. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007: 715. Print.
Moran, Dermot and Joseph Cohen. The Husserl Dictionary. New York, NY: Continuum, 2012. Print.
Sokolowski, Robert. “Husserl’s Concept of Categorial Intuition.” Philosophical Topics, 1982: 127-141. PDF file.