Adventures With Husserl


Unknown photographer: Edmund Husserl, c. 1915 (public domain)

by Carrie Noland

“We are fighting against the naturalization of consciousness.”

Edmund Husserl[1]

Very few people would think of conducting extensive research on the early twentieth-century philosopher, Edmund Husserl, as going on an adventure. Husserl’s prose style is dry; his works are long and repetitive. But “adventure” is the accurate word for the expedition I set out on when I first went in search of an answer to a question that had been plaguing me for a while: Why did Husserl begin thinking about movement? What was it that inspired him to make what one might call “the movement turn”?

As a scholar of dance, I know that Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s work is a more familiar touchstone for phenomenologically oriented movement practitioners. Yet to me, Husserl is equally if not more important, for he was the first modern philosopher to study movement in its relation to perception and consciousness, and the first to connect kinaesthesia, the body’s sense of its own movements, to the constitution of a shared reality.

I am by no means an expert on Husserl, but I have spent several years in the company of his works and my interest has only increased. Eclipsed in the 1930s by Martin Heidegger, then by his French followers Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Paul Ricoeur, and Emmanuel Levinas, Husserl is now associated with such out-of-date notions as “immediacy” and “intuition.”[2] As David Bell has written, it is easy to criticize Husserl’s “naïve” positions.[3] But I would argue that such criticisms are for the most part redundant since Husserl so often criticized himself.  He was an exceedingly self-reflexive thinker; his arguments tend to gyrate in widening spirals, going over old ground to generate new perspectives.  The archive established in his name in Leuven, Belgium, contains over 40,000 pages of unpublished manuscripts, a testament not only to his immense productivity, but also to what he calls, in his personal diary, his need for “inner cleansing.”[4] When I first started my research, my goal was to figure out why he came to privilege movement, specifically how and when concerns with the moving body entered into his phenomenological investigations. I did learn something about the period during which he discovered the significance of movement, but my adventures with Husserl ended up taking me to places I did not expect to go. What follows is a kind of origin story, an account of the philosophical events that led to a turning point in Western philosophy. Before Husserl, before this turning point, a Cartesian outlook taught that mental processes, understood narrowly, make up the substance of consciousness; after Husserl, philosophers began to consider more circumspectly the role of movement not only in processes of perception (and thus consciousness), but also in the generation of an agentic self.  Where, I wondered, could we locate Husserl’s own turning point?  What led him to ground perception, consciousness, and subjectivity in der Leib, the lived body, the body that moves?


I. “The torments of unclarity”

It was by no means preordained that Husserl would become a major theorist of movement and movement sensation. He began, in fact, as a student of astronomy, mathematics, and logic, and was initially committed to a largely Cartesian world view. (His doctoral thesis bore the forbidding title “Contributions to the Theory of the Calculus of Variations.”)[5] His transformation—from a thinker with solipsistic and idealist leanings to one who developed a robust theory of intersubjectivity, or “communalization” [Vergemeinschaftung]—is nothing short of remarkable.[6] As Bell puts it, “Husserl’s phenomenological method turned into a “phenomenological kinetic method” over the course of a few years (roughly 1901 to 1907).[7] But how did this transformation come about? At what point, precisely, did he turn to considerations concerning the body’s sensations of movement? What did these considerations allow him—and now us—to do?

As far as I know, no official biography of Husserl exists. This is probably because, in the eyes of most, he did not lead a very eventful life. He traveled little (a few modest forays to London, Florence, Paris) and maintained a stable domestic existence. Still, records suggest that he experienced some major traumas, both intellectual and psychological in nature. Husserl and his wife, Malvine Steinschneider, lost a son, Wolfgang, in World War I; his second son, Gerhard, was denied entrance to the University of Freiberg because of his Jewish roots. Husserl and his wife had converted to Protestantism before their marriage in 1887; yet this did not stop his student, Martin Heidegger, from marginalizing and censoring him. Heidegger was named Rector of the University of Freiberg in 1933, the same year he became a member of the Nazi party. Although he dedicated Being and Time (1926) to Husserl, he didn’t lift a finger as his former mentor was expelled from the University library.

Husserl also underwent significant emotional trauma linked to the intellectual struggles he experienced, especially during the period with which I am concerned.  In a diary entry dated September 25, 1906, he describes a major crisis in his development. Unsure of how to move forward after his well-received Logical Investigations (1900-1901), and having just achieved full professorship at the University of Göttingen, Husserl writes: “I have amply experienced the torments of unclarity, the back-and-forth fluctuating doubts… Only one thing will fulfill me: I must attain clarity, and I cannot live otherwise.”[8] However, while this period was certainly difficult and confusing (he was obsessed with projects he couldn’t finish), it was also very rich. During the summer of 1905 he made the crucial discovery of the phenomenological reduction and transitioned from treating the themes he inherited from his earlier studies in logic and mathematics to themes being treated during that period in psychology and psychophysiology.

While it is easy to see Husserl as part of a philosophical tradition leading from Aristotle through Descartes to Kant, it less often remarked to what a great extent he was responding to research being conducted in the disciplines of psychology and psychophysiology. This was one of the surprises I encountered while researching:  I had not realized how closely philosophy, psychology, and physiology were linked within the German university of Husserl’s era. Husserl began publishing in 1891 and signed his last work in 1936. He thus wrote during roughly the same decades as Sigmund Freud and Henri Bergson. (Husserl died in 1938; Freud in 1939; and Bergson in 1941.)  Like them, he stands at the cross-roads between metaphysical speculation and clinical investigation, a proto-scientific epistemology and an epistemology fully informed by empirical research on the brain.  Neither a clinician like Freud nor a student of biology like Bergson, Husserl was nonetheless alert to the lessons emerging from the scientific research of his day, and he was particularly influenced by works in psychophysiology that his teacher at the University of Halle, Carl Stumpf, summarized in his lectures.  Stumpf was part of a larger trend of scholars who were approaching consciousness not as a bodiless cogito, enshrined in its own sphere, but rather as an embodied mind informed by perceptual acts based on the activity of the senses.[9] In addition, Husserl was impressed by William James’s Principles of Psychology (1891), which he read right after it was published and which he annotated heavily. I believe there is a through-line leading from Husserl’s exposure to works of psychophysiology during his graduate studies with Stumpf to the arguments he makes in his first major work on the sense organs, Thing and Space: Lectures of 1907 (published posthumously in 1973) and, subsequently, to his more well-known writings on Einfühlung (empathy), Paarung (pairing), and Lebenswelt (lifeworld).  Not only does Thing and Space make use of Husserl’s invention of the phenomenological reduction (it is the first work to do so), but it also contains his first reference to “kinaesthesia” as a sense in its own right.[10]

Many dance scholars associate Husserl, or phenomenology more generally, with the notion of “kinaesthetic empathy” [Einfühlung] introduced in 1903 by the empirical psychologist Theodor Lipps.[11] However, when “kinaesthesia” is first mentioned by Husserl in Thing and Space, it is not linked either to empathy or intersubjectivity. In fact, the immediate context for the appearance of the term is an investigation of one of Kant’s “a priori” categories:  space.  Husserl had treated space in his earlier Logical Investigations, but with reference to visual perception, not muscular sensation. It was while studying with Stumpf at the University of Halle (from around 1885 to 1901) that he would have been exposed to post-Kantian, psychological notions of space Stumpf’s book on the perceptual construction of space, Über den psychologischen Ursprung der Raumvorstellung (1873), recast space not as an a priori form, pre-given to human understanding, but rather as a phenomenon inseparable from the activity of the sense organs.  However, Stumpf emphasized the visual and auditory organs; he did not consider muscular sensation to play an important role in acts of perception.[12] And yet in this book he summarizes the writings of a psycho-physiologist who did privilege muscular sensation, the Scottish psycho-physiologist Alexander Bain.[13] For me, discovering Bain’s influence on Husserl via Stumpf was the first step toward answering the question with which I began.


II. “Foreign”

In The Senses and the Intellect of 1855, Bain makes the claim—and here I’m quoting Stumpf’s summary—that “Space is not developed out of the qualities of the senses with which we ordinarily believe that we sense space”—such as visual and tactile sensations—but “instead, from the addition and preponderant accentuation of a new sense, whose sensations are conjoined with those of the remaining senses.”[14] This “new sense” is the “muscle sense,” “the series of sensations we receive through the activity of our muscles.”[15] Bain himself wrote that this “series of sensations we receive through the activity of our muscles” enters “as a component part of every one of the senses”; that is, the senses are interrelated and correlated with the muscle sense, which informs how the subject should move and thus co-determines what can be seen, heard, touched, and so on.[16] Bain in fact gave priority to movement over perception, affirming, as had Aristotle long before him, that movement “precedes sensation.”[17] We can see the influence of Bain on Husserl’s approach to the constitution of space in Thing and Space, where he argues that movement is essential to the action of the sense organs and thus the contents of consciousness. He concludes in Thing and Space that “visual sequences are not enough for the apprehension” of the object world; more is needed, because “the constitution of the Objective location and the Objective spatiality is essentially mediated by the movement of the Body or, in phenomenological terms, by the kinaesthetic sensations, whether these be constant or changing kinaesthetic sequences.”[18]

Still, Bain did not himself use the term “kinaesthesia.” He referred only to the “muscular sense” or “muscular discrimination.”[19] This is because the term “kinaesthesia” postdates Bain’s writings. Apparently, it did not appear in print until 1880 in the work of Henry Charlton Bastian, although the notion of a muscular “organ of sense” had been around since at least the 1820s.[20] Thus, it remains unclear where, precisely, Husserl first picked up the term. According to Roger Smith, a historian of psychology, by 1900, “the understanding of kinaesthesia which Bastian proposed had become generally, though not universally, accepted”; in short, according to Smith, it was ‘in the air.’[21] Perhaps Husserl had gleaned it from Lipps, or from one of Lipps’ students who came to study with him in Göttingen.  But because Husserl uses the term so differently from Lipps, I find this explanation unsatisfactory. Another clue can be found, I believe, in Thing and Space when Husserl tells us that he explicitly chooses the term “kinaesthesia” [kinästhetik] because of its “foreign” origin.[22] Such “foreignness,” I will argue, allowed Husserl the latitude to develop a new philosopheme, a concept that could cover simultaneously the movement required for perception to take place and the interoceptive, motivating sensations that the act of moving adds to the perceptual occasion.

In Thing and Space, Husserl tries to be clear about what he means by “kinaesthetic sensations” and how they motivate what we sense and thus perceive. Such sensations, he explains, tell us nothing about the qualities of what we are seeing or touching (the red of the balloon, for instance, or the silkiness of the kimono). Nonetheless, “They play an essential role in the apprehension of every external thing”:

they are not themselves apprehended in such a way that they make representable either a proper or an improper matter; they do not belong to the “projection” of the thing. Nothing qualitative corresponds to them in the thing, nor do they adumbrate bodies or present them by way of projection. And yet without their cooperation there is no body there, no thing.[23]

Here, Husserl is making a radical move, one that allows him to differentiate sensations of movement—or what he will soon explicitly call “kinaesthetic sensations”—from every other type of sensation.[24] He is teasing out a set of peculiar sensations that are neither “representations” of objects—like images in the mind—nor indicators of qualities “projected” by the external object.  That is, sensations of movement do not tell us directly about the object (the way touch does, for instance); they do not “adumbrate” a “body,” a “thing”—other than the body of the person who is moving. However, they do facilitate our information gathering; they motivate and accompany the movements we execute to better approach that object.  “[W]ithout their cooperation,” he insists, “there is no [external] body there, no thing” in space.  Even “visual sensation,” he goes on to say, “does not suffice to make possible the constitution of spatiality… Still new sensations are needed,” namely, the “kinaesthetic sensations” anchoring our body in relation to other bodies in space.[25] It is our movements (around, above, below, toward, away from, an object) that “make possible a presentation without being presentational themselves.”[26]

As several scholars have noted, Husserl’s use of the “foreign” term “kinaesthesia” is not always consistent. Sometimes he evokes “kinaesthesia” [Kinästhetik] to refer to the chains of movement required to perceive an object more clearly (for instance, turning the head to get a better view or to see another side), which he calls, strangely, “kinaesthesias” in the plural. At other times—and with greater regularity as he approaches the conclusion of Thing and Space—he uses the expression “kinaesthetic sensations” [kinästhetisch] to designate the sensations that movement produces internally in the body of the moving subject.  Some scholars have gone so far as to maintain that he uses the term erroneously throughout; they accuse him of neglecting to foreground kinaesthesia’s interoceptive aspect.[27] Obviously, I disagree. Repeatedly, Husserl makes it clear that he is interested in the “double” function of kinaesthesia, the way that, in his words, “the kinaesthetic sensations function, on the one hand, as constitutive of the appearance of things—other things as well as the Body—and on the other hand as localized in the body. … if I raise an arm, I have such and such a sensation… .”[28] While it is true that Husserl’s usage is “foreign,” strange, it has the advantage of tethering internal, qualitative sensations to the habits, the “I can”s, the movement series (kinaesthesias) that produce such sensations.[29] On my reading, Thing and Space is the work in which he discovers and eventually privileges kinaesthesia’s interoceptive quality, its reliance upon shared internalized movement patterns (“series”) and yet its intensely personal, first-person consequences. What role did this discovery play in his later evolution as a practitioner of phenomenology?  Did it lead him to conduct (and narrate) the hand-touching-hand experiments for which he has become so well known?


III. “Self-experiment”

One of the most striking things about the way Husserl introduces the term kinaesthesia is that he does so via descriptions of his own movements, engaging in what Maxine Sheets-Johnstone felicitously calls “active self-experiments.”[30] These descriptions begin when he turns to explore the impact of time on perception, approximately one-fifth of the way through Thing and Space.  Up to this point, he has been imagining the perceiving subject and the perceived object as frozen in a timeless space. A few pages later he self-corrects: “a certain extension [in time] belongs to [perception’s] essence.”[31] Why not, then—he asks himself in his characteristically ruminative way—consider how perception evolves in time?

He then launches into a series of “phenomenological reductions” that confirm why movement is indispensable rather than incidental to perception. Imagining—or perhaps performing—a scene in which a “we” stands before an “Object,” he begins: “We will run our gaze over the Object”—referring here to the slight ocular shifts involved in “gazing over”—“whereby the perception will change in manifold ways.  Or we will walk around the Object, considering it from all sides with our gaze.”[32] Ever the geometer, Husserl chooses as his first experimental “Object” the cube.  Performing a kind of choreography, Husserl initiates a series of movements that will allow him to pivot around his cube:

Now one and the same square surface appears to me in a different adumbration than before. With every new position of the object relative to my eye, and with every turning of the eye while the relative position otherwise is unchanged, the presentational contents are changed…  The one adumbration passes over into the other, while changing continuously, and the same amount of change can fill spans of time of different lengths, depending on the speed of my movement.[33]

Let us note the quality of observation that is operative here. Husserl is taking into account—that is, he is experiencing and meticulously registering—a rich variety of phenomena: the fact that his eye-ball is rotating within its socket; the fact that that rotation causes an alteration in the appearance of the object; the fact that he can move more than his eye muscles, that he can move other muscle groups (“kinaesthetic series”), and that he can control the speed (a dynamic quality) at which those appearances change by controlling the speed at which he moves.  “If every eye-movement is connected to the movement of the body,” he observes, then the modifications produced by other parts of the body “combine together like forces” to deliver a consistent presentation of the object.  He cites the instance of a viewer who shifts his eyes and simultaneously bows his trunk to reach an object. (We can almost see Husserl leaning down to retrieve a pen that has fallen from his desk.) The nerves of the different muscle groups (in the shoulder, arm, and hand) fire in tandem to constitute the space in which the body can move.  These coordinating “kinaesthetic systems” work together to create a “unity” (Husserl’s term). They provide the consistent, reliable meaning of the space that the subject is navigating. And this is what interests him most:  the meaning-making activity of the coordinated sensorimotor systems. Here, he is not engaged in studying linguistic meaning, or the meanings produced by a (“cognitive”) thought process, or those enforced by an a priori condition of possibility, such as Kantian space. Rather, he is studying the roots of meaning in the muscles themselves.

We should recall that Husserl’s prior work, Logical Investigations, was concerned precisely with how meaning comes to be. How can a series of sensory experiences, he asks, produce something we recognize as an Object world?  How can an “Objectivity” be produced from a subjective experience?  Or, put differently, why is it that when I walk around the room I don’t constantly bump into things? What he discovers through his “active self-experiments,” recounted in his lectures of 1907, is an experience-based answer: The making-significant of space (not just of the object but of the space it inhabits) occurs as a result of the coordinated movements that different muscle groups perform and motivate in a continuous self-correcting loop. Sensations generated by movement inform the subject of the position of his body in space as well as the position of the objects in that space vis-à-vis his body. In that manner, muscular sensation is clamped to space. Movement introduces us to a world we can navigate and come to know. Without movement we are, in real terms, blind.

This kind of rapt attention to oculo-muscular detail is exemplary of a Husserlian phenomenological approach that I have not seen reproduced at the same length and with the same degree of attentiveness in the works of subsequent philosophers who have called themselves phenomenologists.[34] In Thing and Space, Husserl devotes no less than one hundred and seventy-five pages to exploring the “kinaesthetic systems” of various muscle groups.[35] These movements interest him because he believes they are deeply implicated in our understanding, that is, in the manner in which the world presents itself to us as meaningful. Movement presents the object in its many adumbrations, each of which fulfils, disappoints, or modifies expectations projected by the mind and body. I have thus come to see Thing and Space as a tour de force of self-study that deserves more attention than it has previously received.  What Husserl does in these lectures of 1907 is actually quite daring:  he pivots his philosophy away from methods of logical, reasoned, or dialectical accretion (the building up of an argument in steps) to privilege a method involving active, physical experimentation on the part of a subject who has abstracted this experimentation from a concrete worldly objective (that is, from any objective other than that of capturing himself in the act of moving-seeing).  By emphasizing kinaesthesia as a form of recursive sensation that informs future movement possibilities, Husserl focuses attention on the uniqueness of a sensory modality that creates an internal as well as an external world.  In the words of Ulrich Claesges, the editor of the English translation of Thing and Space, Husserl “could free the concept of the sensation of movement from all physiological and anatomical … presuppositions” to claim that “Sensations of movement, like the sensations of the particular senses, are ‘pure phenomena.’”[36]

Claesges has put his finger on an important point. Kinaesthesia, as a sense not only of what one has done but of what one could do, produces interoceptive sensations that cannot be verified by an external observer.  No matter what the cause, the sensation—a twist of the neck, an acute extension of a bicep in a missing limb—is true for that subject.  (In other words, there might not be an experimentally verifiable anatomical or physiological cause for the sensation, as Claesges points out.)  Similar to phantasy—which Husserl cites as another example of a phenomenon that exists purely for the subject—kinaesthetic sensation instantiates something internal to consciousness that does not succumb to judgments of truth or falsity.  If I have the sensation of tension in my neck, or, alternatively if I am fantasizing about eating a chocolate hazelnut gelato, no one can tell me that I am not having that tension, or that fantasy.  And this is specifically the type of phenomenon that interests Husserl, the phenomenon that can exist exclusively as subjective, in the embodied mind.  He falls upon the phenomenon of kinaesthesia—which he glosses in active terms as “I can move myself”—while writing about something else:  things and space.  However, he is not just writing about things and space in a traditionally philosophical way.  He is writing about things and space in the manner of a psycho-physiologist—or, to be more precise, in the manner of a budding phenomenologist.  Husserl discovers the importance of movement and of movement sensations at the very moment when he discovers the use-value of the method he had intuited in 1905 and to which, for posterity, he will sign his name.


IV.  “Phenomenology”

I began my adventures with Husserl simply to determine when and why he became interested in kinaesthesia. I still have some questions, but I’ve also found some answers. Still, I wonder if the real find isn’t about kinaesthesia, but rather about the method that brought him to locate movement and movement sensations as essential to perception, and thus consciousness itself. The phenomenological method now appears to me as far more radical than it is usually portrayed to be, not a naïve capitulation to the “immediate,” but rather an endless etiolation—what Husserl called the “infinite task”—of what we think we know.[37] Of course, this method is not new to me, but I have never before thought of it as critical. What I mean by the word “critical” is what Husserl means by “fighting against naturalization” in the quote that serves as an epigraph to this essay: “We are fighting against the naturalization of consciousness.”[38] Criticality—a diagnostic but also a political criticality—can adhere in the recognition that what we take for granted is, in fact, composed of elements we can analyze, take our distance from, and historicize (as opposed to “naturalize”). (This is, in sum, what Husserl argues in his last published book, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology.) A method that estranges us from our own thoughts, from our own behaviors, and from our own perceptions is not only phenomenological; it also resembles to a high degree a method of critical meditation, a path to the now that suspends the will of an Ego as well as the imperatives of a social world.

I choose the word “meditation” here with a purpose: to underscore what I see as a clue both to Husserl and to my own interest in Husserl. As a practitioner of Iyengar yoga, a practice that is at once postural, respiratory, and meditative, I am drawn for reasons I understand only now to Husserl’s ceaseless attempts to reach beyond the “naturalized self.” Finally, I think that the greatest discovery I have made in my adventures with Husserl is the realization that he, too, recognized the similarity between the phenomenological method and what was called during his time “Eastern” (Buddhist and Hindu) modes of meditation.

The force of Husserl’s self-questioning—not Cartesian in the sense of skeptical but Cartesian in the sense of probing—led him to bracket what seems self-evident and natural. He did so in order to shine a spotlight on, first, the inner world of his thoughts; next, the activity of his perceptual organs; then, the physical movements that give rise to those perceptions. By 1925, he had recognized the scope of the de-naturalizing method he had engendered. During that year he gave a set of lectures in Paris that would be published as Cartesian Meditations; he also, perhaps not coincidentally, had an encounter that would reveal to him how close the phenomenological method is to other methods practiced outside the sphere of academic philosophy. In 1925, Husserl wrote a little-known essay on a collection of Buddhist texts translated into German by Karl Neumann. In this essay, he expresses his delight upon discovering his deep affinity with Buddhist practice.[39]  “Buddhism,” he writes, “is comparable only with the highest form of the philosophical and religious spirit of our European culture.”[40] For Fred Hanna, the English translator of the review, Husserl’s comments indicate that he “possessed a deep and abiding admiration for the teachings of the Buddha.”[41] Reading through the broad collection of Buddhist texts, Husserl discovered in “the purest essence of Indian religiosity” a pursuit that paralleled his own, a search for a “transcendental” inner world of experience based not on “our European manner of observation” but, instead, on a relentless, endless, and courageous mode of self-observation; “this manner of seeing,” he wrote, “means a great adventure.”[42] Buddhism rejects “the natural attitude,” concludes Husserl, thereby linking Buddhist meditation to his own method of phenomenological reduction. Both were, for him, a means of detaching the self from judgments, acquired prejudices, ideologies, and beliefs, thereby “de-naturalizing” them in an attempt to know the workings of the mind.[43]

I am impressed by how far Husserl strayed from all his disciplinary engagements, all the methods and principles available to him as a turn-of-the-century philosopher trained in mathematics. What his evolution shows us is that a phenomenology seeking an “experience-based answer” requires not simply a faith in the validity of sensations but also the cultivation of an acute power of discernment. It is this acute power of discernment, a power of self-study—an examination of those acts and perceptions that attach us to and give us a world—that, I believe, encouraged Husserl to reach beyond his own training and thus to practice philosophy as radical de-naturalization. His work confirms for me the link between a cultivated discernment and a criticality that, I hope, will lead us, one day, to a new way of being in the world.

About the Author

Carrie Noland is the author of Poetry at Stake: Lyric Aesthetics and the Challenge of Technology (Princeton, 1999), Agency and Embodiment: Performing Gestures/Producing Culture (Harvard, 2009), and Voices of Negritude in Modernist Print (Columbia, 2015), as well as numerous articles on twentieth-century art. Collaborative interdisciplinary projects include Diasporic Avant-Gardes: Experimental Poetics and Cultural Displacement (Palgrave), co-edited with the Language poet Barrett Watten, and Migrations of Gesture (Minnesota), co-edited with anthropologist Sally Ann Ness. The University of Chicago Press published her most recent book, Merce Cunningham: After the Arbitrary. She teaches French and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine.

Publication Rights

Essay first published in Stanford Arcade. Republished here under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license.

Image Rights

Post image is Kanan Khasmammadov: Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, 2020 (Unsplash)


[1] Philosophie als strenge Wissenschaft, quoted in “Beyond the Gap: An Introduction to Naturalizing Phenomenology,” Jean-Michel Roy, Jean Petitot, Bernard Pachoud, and Francisco J. Varela, in Naturalizing Phenomenology: Issues in Contemporary Phenomenology and Cognitive Science, eds. Jean Petitot, Francisco J. Varela, Bernard Pachoud, Jean-Michel Roy (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), 1.

[2] Jacques Derrida put the proverbial nail in the coffin with his problematic reading of Husserl in La Voix et le phénomène of 1967.

[3] David Bell, Husserl (London and New York: Routledge, 1990).

[4] “Persönliche Aufzeichnungen” [Personal Records] in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 16:3 (March 1956); 293-302: 300.  The text was published in the original German by Walter Biemel; translation is by Christopher Beach.

[5] Bell writes that it was “in a series of lectures delivered in the Amphithéâtre Descartes of the Sorbonne, and later published under the title Cartesian Meditations, that Husserl began to explore a line of thought that is profoundly anti-Cartesian in its implications” stressing “the importance of the body, of the existence of a plurality of conscious beings, and of the life-world or Lebenswelt which they share” (Husserl, 203).

[6] See also Husserl’s account of the apprehension of one’s own kinaesthetic experience in the movements of the other, or “pairing” [Paarung].  If at first he claimed that subjectivity (the contents of consciousness) consists of perceptual experience abstracted from any external influence, in his last published work he would insist that “subjectivity is what it is… only within intersubjectivity” (The Crisis of European Science and Transcendental Phenomenology trans. and Introduction by David Carr [Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970], 172; published originally in 1936).

[7] Bell, Husserl, 215.

[8] Husserl, “Persönliche Aufzeichnungen,” 297.

[9] On this period, see Victor Popescu, “Espace et mouvement chez Stumpf et Husserl: Une Approche méréologique in Studia Phaenomenologica 3 (2003), 115-133; These “pioneers of experimental psychology shared the same general thesis,” which is that “description of the formation of (visual) space must be rooted in the movements of the perceiving subject (and in their relationship to the environment)” (126; translation my own).

[10] Husserl’s definitive move, to “reduce” his field of investigation to that of the experiential, thereby bracketing the physical world of concern to previous philosophers, produced an unexpected result.  Whereas the epoche (phenomenological reduction) should have—and for a long time did—orient the philosopher toward studying (solipsistic) consciousness as the seat of knowledge, the mental gesture of bracketing everything external to consciousness led him to consider the role of movement in the acquisition of experience.  For an early yet adequate rendering of the goal of phenomenology (and its difference from logic and psychology), see Logical Investigations, vol. 2, trans. J. N. Findlay, Preface by Michael Dummett, pp. 167-168 and 170 (London and New York: Routledge, 2001).

[11] See Theodor Lipp, “Ästhetische Einfühlung” in Zeitschrift für Psychologie und Physiologie der Sinnesorgane, 22 (1900) and Kinesthetic Empathy in Creative and Cultural Practices, eds. Reynolds and Reason (Briston, UK: Intellect Books, 2012).  For a chronology of the relationship between Husserl and Lipps, see Jean-François Lavigne, “Psychologie et Critique du Psychologisme: A l’Origine de la phénoménologie, la controverse Lipps-Husserl” in Revue de métaphysique et de morale, 1:97 (2018); 49-72.  On Husserl’s development from kinaesthesia to empathy (recognizing one’s sensations in another), see Jean-Luc Petit, “Constitution by Movement: Husserl in Light of Recent Neurobiological Findings” in Naturalizing Phenomenology, 230.

[12] Victor Popescu: “Contrairement à Lotze, les sensations musculaires selon Stumpf n’ont pas un rôle constitutive, fondateur, pour la représentation de l’espace” (127).

[13] See Carl Stumpf, Über den psychologischen Ursprung der Raumvorstellung (1873).  In this vein, other important influences on Husserl include Hermann Lotze, Wilhelm Wundt, and Hermann von Helmholtz. On Helmholtz and Husserl, see Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, The Primacy of Movement(Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1999), pp. 179-222.  The French tradition and the German tradition seem to have operated along parallel but separate paths; so far, I have found no mention of Pierre Janet, Théodule Ribot, or Henri Bergson in Husserl’s works.

[14] Alexander Bain as quoted by Stumpf in Über den psychologischen Ursprung der Raumvorstellung; see Richard Rojcewicz in “Editor’s Introduction,” Edmund Husserl, Thing and Space:  Lectures of 1907, trans. and ed., Richard Rojcewicz (Dordrecht: Springer, 1997) 37; added emphasis.

[15] Rojcewicz, “Editor’s Introduction,” 37.

[16] Alexander Bain, The Senses and the Intellect, ed. and Prefaces by Daniel N. Robinson (Washington, DC: University Publications of America, 1977), 67; added emphasis.

[17] Bain, 116; added emphasis.

[18] Husserl, Thing and Space, 148.

[19] Bain, 70; 116.  Bain considered many of these discriminations available to consciousness, such as the velocity of a gesture or the amount of effort required to make it, even if others were hidden by reflex or habit.  See Roger Smith, “Kinaesthesia and Touching Reality” in Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century 19 (2014), 7: doi:

“The word ‘kinæsthesis’ first appeared in debate about the details of Bain’s psychophysiological theory of the muscular sense. … H. Charlton Bastian, assembled clinical evidence to oppose Bain’s view that there was a sensory awareness accompanying the motor or outward impulse from the brain to muscles in voluntary action. Bastian’s position, supported by other writers such as the psychologist William James, was that there was no such awareness; rather, he claimed, the muscular sense was just that, a sense dependent on sensory endings in muscle and perhaps also tendons, joints, and skin. Bastian termed this sense, which he argued was peripheral not central in its origin, ‘kinæsthesis’. He introduced the term, which combined Greek roots for words of movement and for things perceived by the senses, in a book for the general public, and the word caught on.”

[20] See Henry Charlton Bastian, The Brain as an Organ of the Mind (London: Kegan Paul & Company, 1880) and the work of Thomas Brown and Sir Charles Bell.  E. G. Jones, “The Development of the ‘Muscular Sense’ Concept During the Nineteenth Century and the Work of H. Charlton Bastian” in Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 27, no. 3 (July 1972): 289-311.

[21] Roger Smith, “Kinaesthesia and Touching Reality” in Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century 19 (2014), 7: doi:

[22] Husserl, Thing and Space, 136.

[23] Husserl, Thing and Space, 136.

[24] Keith Mulligan notes in “Perception” (The Cambridge Companion to Husserl, eds. Barry Smith and David Woodruff Smith [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995]) that in Ideas II (§40), Husserl marks the distinction between visual and kinaesthetic sensations by calling visual sensations “Empfindungen” and kinaesthetic sensations “Empfindnisse” (232).  But in Thing and Space he rejects the term “sensations of movement” or Empfindnisse: “Yet I must at once note terminologically that the phrase ‘sensation of movement’ is unusable to us, since we do not want to suggest that we sense the movement of the thing or even that the movement of the thing is presented in these sensations” (136).

[25] Husserl, Thing and Space, 136.

[26] Husserl, Thing and Space, 136.

[27] Jonathan Owen Clark, for instance, considers Husserl’s use of the term “kinaesthesia” to be a “weakness” in his exposition; Husserl “only considers movement proprioceptively, as the registering of a change in position.  This ignores the felt aspect our movement [sic], which has a rich qualitative dynamics, which goes beyond mere spatial displacement… [the] tensional, linear, amplitudinal, and projectional, which are separable only reflectively” (“Image Consciousness, Movement Consciousness,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy, special issue: Philosophy and Dance, 43, 2020, 55).  See also Sheets-Johnstone, 2011.

[28] Thing and Space, 242-243; added emphasis.

[29] This link between movement series and movement sensations offers a sociological dimension to Husserl’s analysis, which he will complete in The Crisis by pointing to the possibility that “praxis,” socially acquired modes of practice, or “I can”s—are in large part constitutive of a Lifeworld and thus of a subjectivity (see pp. 161-168).

[30] Sheets-Johnstone, 202.

[31] Husserl, Thing and Space, 52.

[32] Husserl, Thing and Space, 76.

[33] Thing and Space, 82-84; added emphasis.

[34] This meticulous attention to small shifts in sensation and movement does recall a similar attention exhibited in the works of Carl Stumpf.

[35] Husserl begins early on, around page 75 (paragraph 27), to conduct experiments on his own viewing experience.  But he becomes systematic—adding mathematical symbols (e.g. K[1], K[1.2], K[1.3] and so on) to indicate a kinaesthetic series, such as turning the head to the right, on page 149 (para. 51).  These experiments continue until page 253, when Husserl reaches his “Final Considerations.”

[36] Claesges, “Editor’s Introduction,” Thing and Space, xvii.

[37] See Maurice Natanson, Edmund Husserl: Philosopher of Infinite Tasks (Northwestern University Press, 1973).  See also Thing and Space, 114: “Things, and everything pertaining to the sphere of things in general, are never given conclusively and never can be. They come to givenness only in an infinite progression of experience. Does knowledge not then become an aimless undertaking? Or are we supposed to be satisfied with the ‘infinite task’?”

[38] Philosophie als strenge Wissenschaft, quoted in “Beyond the Gap,” in Naturalizing Phenomenology, “ 1.

[39] This has been republished as “On the Teachings of Gotama Buddha” by Edmund Husserl in “Husserl On the Teachings of the Buddha,” preface and translation by Fred J. Hanna The Humanistic Psychologist 23, Autumn 1995 (365-372).

[40] Husserl, “Husserl on the Teachings of the Buddha,” 367.

[41] Hanna, “Husserl on the Teachings of the Buddha,” 368:  “For him [Husserl] to state that ‘Buddhism is comparable only with the highest form of the philosophical and religious spirit of our European culture’ is tantamount to placing it in the same league as his own philosophy.”

[42] Husserl, “Husserl on the Teachings of the Buddha,” 367.

[43] Husserl, “Husserl on the Teachings of the Buddha,” 367.

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