Lauer, Quentin: Introduction to Edmund Husserl, Philosophy and the Crisis of European Man

[Extracts from: Edmund Husserl, Phenomenology and the Crisis of Philosophy, Translated with Notes and an Introduction by Quentin Lauer, Harper Torchbooks, ©1965 by Quentin Lauer]

The purpose of the lecture, stated in the very first paragraph, is to delineate philosophy’s role in making Western man the spiritual being that he is. Conversely, it is Western man’s failure to live up to his philosophical destiny that has brought him to the crisis before which he now stands. He is sick, and there seems to be no available cure for his illness. There is a science of medicine to cure his sick body, but there is no science of the spirit to cure his sick soul. If there is no be such a science -and there must be- it cannot simply satisfy itself with empirical observation; only a strict science will do. Nor can such a science of the spiritual subject who is man be a merely psychophysical science – though it cannot spurn the help of this latter. It is important to realize that it cannot be a science of nature at all; it cannot be “objective’’ the way a science of nature must be. The world it is to study is not the objective world of nature but the “environing world’’ (Umwelt) of the spiritual subject.

To make his point more tellingly, Husserl points out that science itself is a product of “spirit’’ and cannot, therefore, be investigated by the kind of science whose object is “nature’’. Thus the problem of Western man is not one that “objective’’ science can solve; its solution lies in a science of the spirit – and its task is to grasp the spirit that characterizes and animates Western civilization. It is in this framework that we can see the significance of history – its unity of space and unified succession of time constituting the supranational unity called “Europe’’ – as a teleological process. The spiritual birthplace of this “entelechy’’ is in Greece, where philosophy is discovered as a universal science that ramifies into the particular sciences, forming a special type of cultural structure characteristic of Europe (as a spiritual unit) alone. Not until philosophy and science had spread before men’s minds an infinite possibility of development and an infinite task of investigation could spiritual Europe be said truly to have been born. Only because the character of scientific achievement is enduring, not limited to either the time or the place in which it occurs, is this birth significant.

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