So, we have a universe filled with actors or objects. It by no means follows that all of them are equally real. Some objects have genuine reality whether they are being observed or not; they are capable of engaging in relations with other things besides me. Other objects exist only as a correlate of my paying attention to them.
As for the latter, why call them objects at all? Because of what Husserl showed us. First, count me as one of those who think Husserl is a terrible idealist. (The recent notion that he allows for reality because reality is “given” to consciousness misses the main point, because here it is still a question of a human/world correlate. It makes no difference whether you think the human subject actively shapes the world or passively receives it –no difference at all– as long as you’re still always talking about human and world as the indispensable pair.)
But second, Husserl is still an object-oriented idealist, which cannot be said of any earlier idealist I can think of. For years I wondered this: “yes, Husserl is clearly an idealist. So why does he feel like a realist when you’re reading him?” The answer, I now see, is because there are objects in his idealism. They simply aren’t real, autonomous objects that inflict causal forces on other objects whether I’m looking at them or not. But a tree or mailbox for Husserl are not bundles of qualities. Even his Austrian predecessors, as far as I can see, are still under the spell of British Empiricism. Brentano thinks everything is rooted in presentations, but Husserl counters that everything is rooted in object-giving acts. What’s the difference? The difference is that any given presentation is always utterly concrete.
The mailbox is seen at a very specific angle, in completely concrete lighting conditions, at any given moment; all parts of the presentation itself are on the same footing. But if the mailbox is encountered in an object-giving act, not all parts of the mailbox are on the same footing at all. There is a swirling facade of purely transient or accidental features, yet this shifting facade has no effect on the fact that I continue to confront that mailbox as one and the same thing. (And here we are dealing purely with human phenomenal experience, so there is no need for a “proof” that the mailbox is the same thing; that would be necessary only if we were speaking of a real mailbox.)
Husserl is sometimes described with dismissive phrases such as: “a warmed-over Kant,” or “a less interesting version of Descartes,” etc. But nowhere in Kant, Descartes, or anyone else I can think of do we have a tension with object and quality within sensual experience. There were others who doubled up an object outside the mind with a content inside the mind, but no one else I know of who transplants that very tension inside the phenomenal realm itself.
J. N. Mohanty. The Philosophy of Edmund Husserl: A Historical Development
Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 2008, pp. 464. Hardcover $55.00. ISBN 978-0-300-12458-3
Husserl, beginning from the Logical Investigations, is focal for Mohanty. “Phenomenology asks us to focus on the way things are presented in consciousness, on the meanings that things have for those experiencing consciousness. Understanding consciousness as intentional and meaning-giving, phenomenology raised consciousness, in its transcendental (i.e., world-constituting) role, as the foundational principle for philosophy” (112).
At Temple he was concerned to respond to the post-modern critique of Husserl. He wanted to mediate between Continental and analytic philosophy. And he would have liked to have modeled a work on the late Husserl. “Singularly free from Hegel’s ’Absolutism,’ with a sense for the open-endedness of the march of the human spirit—unfortunately still caught up in the 'Eurocentrism’ of Hegel—Husserl showed the way. Blending Hegel and Husserl, bringing in our knowledge of Oriental and African experiences, I thought I could write a new Phenomenology” (115). J.N. Mohanty - Between Two Worlds, East and West: An Autobiography Reviewed by Lester Embree, Florida Atlantic University