Edmund Husserl’s Letter to Lucien Lévy-Bruhl

Edmund Husserl’s Letter to Lucien Lévy-Bruhl - Full text

Husserl Levy Bruhl

Freiburg i. B.,March 11, 1935
Lorettostr. 40

Highly esteemed Colleague!

Is it not shameful that I am thanking you so tardily for the great, indeed very special pleasure you have given me by generously sending me your new work on the mythology of the primitives?Yet perhaps I can appease you by sharing with you the fact that it was the burning interest in your book that prevented me fromwriting. I let my own work sit; I took up the whole series of classic works on the mentality of the primitives you have bestowed on us; and that is what I have been immersed in for several weeks now. I can tell you that this is already the third letter I have drafted— hopefully this one will get finished. For I really wanted to tell you about the problematic that your foundational investigations have set in motion in me and in connection with my long-standing studies on humanity and the environing world [Umwelt]. Not for the first time now, but this time with particular intensity. My attempt to articulate it turned out badly, partly because it threatened to degenerate into a lengthy treatise and partly because, while trying to shorten it, I was distracted by external disturbances . . . (I mention only that I unfortunately have to write many letters to help, with foreign references, as best as I can those who have been legally affected so severely by the building anew the German nation— among them my own son, who, like yours, as a professor of jurisprudence, has the scientific vocation [Lebensberuf], or better, had, but now has to think of building a new future for himself abroad.)

It is beyond doubt that your works on the primitives must be regarded as classic foundational works of a thoroughly rigorous scientific ethnology. Over a large and particularly important domain, the possibility and absolute necessity | of a purely human-scientific [rein geisteswissenschaftliche] anthropology has become obvious— thus, as I could also say, of a pure psychology, which treats human beings not as objects belonging to nature [Naturobjekte], not psychophysically in the universe of spatio-temporal realities (in the objective spatio-temporality of concern to the natural sciences), but rather viewsas persons, as conscious subjects [Bewusstseinssubjekte], as they concretely find themselves and refer to themselves with personal pronouns. Saying “I” and “we,” they find themselves as members of families, associations, social units [Sozialitäten], as living “together,” exerting an influence on and suffering from their world—the world that has sense and reality for them, through their intentional life, their experiencing, thinking, valuing. Naturally, we have long known that every human being has a “world-representation,” that every nation, every supranational [übernationale] cultural grouping lives, so to speak, in a distinct world as its own environing world [in einer anderen Welt als seinerUmwelt lebt], and so again every historical time in its.Yet, in contrast to this empty generalization, your work and your exceptional theme has made us sensitive to something overwhelmingly new: namely, that it is a possible and highly important and great task to “empathize” with a humanity living self-contained in living generative sociality [lebendiger generativer Sozialität] and to understand this humanity as having, in and through its socially unified life, the world, which for it is not a “world-representation” but rather the world that actually exists for it [die für siewirklich seiendeWelt].Thereby we learn to understand its ways of apperceiving, identifying, thinking, thus its logic and its ontology, that of its environing world with the respective categories. The primitives’ “lack of history” keeps us from foundering in a sea of historical cultural traditions, documents, wars, politics, and so on, and, consequently, from overlooking the concrete correlation between pure spiritual life and the environing world as its validity-formation [Geltungsgebilde], and thus also from not making it a central scientific theme. It is obvious that the same task has to emerge now for all humanities accessible to us that are living in self-contained seclusion [in Abgeschlossenheit]—and indeed now also for those humanities whose self-enclosed community life [deren abgeschlossenes Gemeinschaftsleben] consists not in stagnation due to a lack of history (as a life that is nothing but flowing present) but in a truly historical life, which as such a nationalhas future and incessantly wants future. Accordingly, such a sociality does not have, so to speak, a static environing world | but a world that has partly a realized future (national “past”) and partly a future that has still to be realized, as that which has to be formed according to national goals. This thus leads us to the general problematic of history—to the psychology of the historical spirit [geschichtlicherGeist] in all its possible forms and relativities ( nation and inner construction of the nation out of particular social communities; on the other hand, the type of supranation [Übernation] as a sociality [Gesellschaftlichkeit] of nations, etc.). For a historical community, we would thus have the problem, as in the case of the primitives, as a correlative problem [als Korrelativproblem]: the unity of a cohesive national life and in it theworld—which for the nation is full of life, concrete, and real—with its set of structural types [Strukturtypik]. Likewise, a connection [Konnex] of nations and the higher unity “supranation” (Europe or, e.g.,China), as well as, so to speak, the logic, the ontology of the respective humanities and environing worlds. Initially, these tasks are historically concrete regarding the factually known nations and supranations, but then they are also universal psychological tasks—in the sense of a pure inner psychology [Innenpsychologie] of concretions, for which a methodology still has to be devised. However, I see a first beginning that has been opened up by your foundational works. 

For me, in the present state of the life’s work I have incessantly carried out, this perspective is of the highest interest, because many years ago I put to myself the problem of the correlation [dasKorrelationsproblem] between We and environingworld as a “transcendental-phenomenological” problem with regard to the possible manifold “we,” and in fact ultimately refers back to the problem of the absolute ego.* For it is in its horizon of consciousness that all social units and the environing worlds relative to them have constructed sense and validity [Sinn und Geltung] and, in changing, continue to build them always anew. I feel certain that on this path of an intentional analysis, which I have already worked out extensively, historical relativism proves to be undoubtedly justified (as an anthropological fact), but also that anthropology, like every positive science and its universality [Universitas], though the first, is not the final word of knowledge—scientific knowledge. Positive science is consistently [konsequent] objective science; it is science within the taken-for-grantedness [Selbstverständlichkeit] of the being of the objective world and of human being as real factual existence [realenDasein] in theworld. Transcendental phenomenology is the radical and consistent | science of subjectivity, which ultimately constitutes the world in itself. In other words, it is the science that reveals the universal taken-for-grantedness “world and we human beings in the world” to be an obscurity [Unverständlichkeit], thus an enigma, a problem, and that makes it scientifically intelligible [verständlich] in the solely possibleway of radical self-examination. It is a scientificity that is novel by virtue of this radicality; it proceeds as a systematic analysis, which systematically shows theABCs and the elementary grammar of the formation [Bildung] of “objects” as unities of validity [Geltungseinheiten], of object-manifolds and infinities as valid [geltende] “worlds” for sense bestowing subjects, and thereby, as a philosophy, it ascends from below into the heights.

 Perhaps the new publications I have prepared (which I still hope to bring out, despite the political upheavals that encroach all too much on my personal existence) will give some idea of how promising and concrete the method is by which I intend to found, contrary to feeble mysticism and irrationalism, a kind of super-rationalism[ Überrationalismus], which supersedes the old rationalism due to its inadequacy while nonetheless justifying its innermost intentions.

 Have I taxed your patience for too long? Well, perhaps I have at least given you a general idea—which should please you—of the kind of strong impetuses that can still come from your life’s work, far beyond the ethnological impacts of many years standing that have brought you so much admiration. I just think that this is still not enough. There are important principles in your works that will find their entelechies in the future. May you to retain, for many years to come, your marvelous mental powers, so that, even at a grand old age, you will be able to produce more foundational works.

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