Phenomenology (philosophy)

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Phenomenology (from Greek: phainómenon "that which appears"; and lógos "study") is a philosophical movement. It was founded in the early years of the twentieth century by Edmund Husserl, expanded together with a circle of his followers at the universities of Göttingen and Munich in Germany, and spread across to France, the United States, and elsewhere, often in contexts far removed from Husserl's work.

Phenomenology, in Husserl's conception, is primarily concerned with the systematic reflection on and analysis of the structures of consciousness, and the phenomena which appear in acts of consciousness. Such reflection was to take place from a highly modified "first person" viewpoint, studying phenomena not as they appear to "my" consciousness, but to any consciousness whatsoever. Husserl believed that phenomenology could thus provide a firm basis for all human knowledge, including scientific knowledge, and could establish philosophy as a "rigorous science".

Husserl's conception of phenomenology has been criticised and developed not only by himself, but also by his student Martin Heidegger, by existentialists, such as Max Scheler, Nicolai Hartmann, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre, and by other philosophers, such as Paul Ricoeur, Emmanuel Levinas, and Alfred Schütz.



The idea of Phenomenology

In its most basic form, phenomenology attempts to create conditions for the objective study of topics usually regarded as subjective: consciousness and the content of conscious experiences such as judgments, perceptions, and emotions. Although phenomenology seeks to be scientific, it does not attempt to study consciousness from the perspective of clinical psychology or neurology. Instead, it seeks through systematic reflection to determine the essential properties and structures of consciousness and conscious experience.

Husserl derived many important concepts central to phenomenology from the works and lectures of his teachers, the philosophers and psychologists Franz Brentano and Carl Stumpf.[1] An important element of phenomenology that Husserl borrowed from Brentano was intentionality (often described as "aboutness"), the notion that consciousness is always consciousness of something. The object of consciousness is called the intentional object, and this object is constituted for consciousness in many different ways, through for instance perception, memory, retention and protention, signification, etc. Throughout these different intentionalities, though they have different structures and different ways of being "about" the object, an object is still constituted as the same identical object; consciousness is directed at the same intentional object in direct perception as it is in the immediately following retention of this object and the eventual remembering of it.

Though many of the phenomenological methods involve various reductions, phenomenology is essentially anti-reductionistic; the reductions are mere tools to better understand and describe the workings of consciousness, not to reduce any phenomenon to these descriptions. In other words, when a reference is made to a thing's essence or idea, or when one details the constitution of an identical coherent thing by describing what one "really" sees as being only these sides and aspects, these surfaces, it does not mean that the thing is only and exclusively what is described here: The ultimate goal of these reductions is to understand how these different aspects are constituted into the actual thing as experienced by the person experiencing it. Phenomenology is a direct reaction to the psychologism and physicalism of Husserl's time.

Although previously employed by Hegel, it was Husserl’s adoption of this term (circa 1900) that propelled it into becoming the designation of a philosophical school. As a philosophical perspective, phenomenology is its method, though the specific meaning of the term varies according to how it is conceived by a given philosopher. As envisioned by Husserl, phenomenology is a method of philosophical inquiry that rejects the rationalist bias that has dominated Western thought since Plato in favor of a method of reflective attentiveness that discloses the individual’s “lived experience.” Loosely rooted in an epistemological device, with Sceptic roots, called epoché, Husserl’s method entails the suspension of judgment while relying on the intuitive grasp of knowledge, free of presuppositions and intellectualizing. Sometimes depicted as the “science of experience,” the phenomenological method is rooted in intentionality, Husserl’s theory of consciousness (developed from Brentano). Intentionality represents an alternative to the representational theory of consciousness which holds that reality cannot be grasped directly because it is available only through perceptions of reality which are representations of it in the mind. Husserl countered that consciousness is not “in” the mind but rather conscious of something other than itself (the intentional object), whether the object is a substance or a figment of imagination (i.e. the real processes associated with and underlying the figment). Hence the phenomenological method relies on the description of phenomena as they are given to consciousness, in their immediacy.

According to Maurice Natanson (1973, p. 63), “The radicality of the phenomenological method is both continuous and discontinuous with philosophy’s general effort to subject experience to fundamental, critical scrutiny: to take nothing for granted and to show the warranty for what we claim to know.”
In practice, it entails an unusual combination of discipline and detachment to suspend, or bracket, theoretical explanations and second-hand information while determining one's “naive” experience of the matter. The phenomenological method serves to momentarily erase the world of speculation by returning the subject to his or her primordial experience of the matter, whether the object of inquiry is a feeling, an idea, or a perception. According to Husserl the suspension of belief in what we ordinarily take for granted or infer by conjecture diminishes the power of what we customarily embrace as objective reality. According to Safranski (1998, 72), “[Husserl and his followers’] great ambition was to disregard anything that had until then been thought or said about consciousness or the world [while] on the lookout for a new way of letting the things [they investigated] approach them, without covering them up with what they already knew.”

Heidegger modified Husserl’s conception of phenomenology because of (what he perceived as) his subjectivist tendencies. Whereas Husserl conceived humans as having been constituted by states of consciousness, Heidegger countered that consciousness is peripheral to the primacy of one’s existence (i.e., the mode of being of Dasein) which cannot be reduced to one’s consciousness of it. From this angle, one’s state of mind is an “effect” rather than a determinant of existence, including those aspects of existence that one is not conscious of. By shifting the center of gravity from consciousness (psychology) to existence (ontology), Heidegger altered the subsequent direction of phenomenology, making it at once both personal and mysterious. One of the consequences of Heidegger’s modification of Husserl’s conception of phenomenology was its increased relevance to psychoanalysis. Whereas Husserl gave priority to a depiction of consciousness that was fundamentally alien to the psychoanalytic conception of the unconscious, Heidegger offered a way to conceptualize experience that could accommodate those aspects of one’s existence that lie on the periphery of sentient awareness.[2][3]

Special terminology


Intentionality refers to the notion that consciousness is always consciousness of something. The word itself should not be confused with the "ordinary" use of the word intentional, but should rather be taken as playing on the etymological roots of the word. Originally, intention referred to a "stretching out" ("in tension," lat. intendere[3][4]), and in this context it refers to consciousness "stretching out" towards its object. Intentionality is often summed up as "aboutness."

Whether this something that consciousness is about is in direct perception or in fantasy is inconsequential to the concept of intentionality itself; whatever consciousness is directed at, that is what consciousness is consciousness of. This means that the object of consciousness doesn't have to be a physical object apprehended in perception: it can just as well be a fantasy or a memory. Consequently, these "structures" of consciousness, i.e., perception, memory, fantasy, etc., are called intentionalities.

The cardinal principle of phenomenology, the term intentionality originated with the Scholastics in the medieval period and was resurrected by Brentano who in turn influenced Husserl’s conception of phenomenology, who refined the term and made it the cornerstone of his theory of consciousness. The meaning of the term is complex and depends entirely on how it is conceived by a given philosopher. The term should not be confused with “intention” or the psychoanalytic conception of unconscious “motive” or “gain.”


Intuition in phenomenology refers to those cases where the intentional object is directly present to the intentionality at play; if the intention is "filled" by the direct apprehension of the object, you have an intuited object. Having a cup of coffee in front of you, for instance, seeing it, feeling it, or even imagining it - these are all filled intentions, and the object is then intuited. The same goes for the apprehension of mathematical formulae or a number. If you do not have the object as referred to directly, the object is not intuited, but still intended, but then emptily. Examples of empty intentions can be signitive intentions - intentions that only imply or refer to their objects.


In everyday language, we use the word evidence to signify a special sort of relation between a state of affairs and a proposition: State A is evidence for the proposition "A is true." In phenomenology, however, the concept of evidence is meant to signify the "subjective achievement of truth." [4] This is not an attempt to reduce the objective sort of evidence to subjective "opinion," but rather an attempt to describe the structure of having something present in intuition with the addition of having it present as intelligible: "Evidence is the successful presentation of an intelligible object, the successful presentation of something whose truth becomes manifest in the evidencing itself." [5]

Noesis and Noema

In Husserl's phenomenology, this pair of terms, derived from the Greek nous (mind), designate respectively the real content and the ideal content of an intentional act (an act of consciousness). The Noesis is the part of the act which gives it a particular sense or character (as in judging or perceiving something, loving or hating it, accepting or rejecting it, and so on). This is real in the sense that it is actually part of what takes place in the consciousness (or psyche) of the subject of the act. The Noesis is always correlated with a Noema; for Husserl the full Noema is a complex ideal structure comprising at least a noematic sense and a noematic core. The correct interpretation of what Husserl meant by the Noema has long been controversial, but the noematic sense is generally understood as the ideal meaning of the act [6]and the noematic core as the act's referent or object as it is meant in the act. One element of controversy is whether this noematic object is the same as the actual object of the act (assuming it exists) or is some kind of ideal object.[7]

Empathy and Intersubjectivity

In phenomenology, empathy refers to the experience of another human body as another subjectivity: In one sense, you see another body, but what you immediately perceive or experience is another subject. In Husserl's original account, this was done by a sort of apperception built on the experiences of your own lived-body. The lived-body is your own body as experienced by yourself, as yourself. Your own body manifests itself to you mainly as your possibilities of acting in the world. It is what lets you reach out and grab something, for instance, but it also, and more importantly, allows for the possibility of changing your point of view. This helps you differentiate one thing from another by the experience of moving around it, seeing new aspects of it (often referred to as making the absent present and the present absent), and still retaining the notion that this is the same thing that you saw other aspects of just a moment ago (it is identical). Your body is also experienced as a duality, both as object (you can touch your own hand) and as your own subjectivity (you are being touched).

The experience of your own body as your own subjectivity is then applied to the experience of another's body, which, through apperception, is constituted as another subjectivity. You can thus recognise the Other's intentions, emotions, etc. This experience of empathy is important in the phenomenological account of intersubjectivity. In phenomenology, intersubjectivity is what constitutes objectivity (i.e., what you experience as objective is experienced as being intersubjectively available - available to all other subjects. This does not imply that objectivity is reduced to subjectivity nor does it imply a relativist position, cf. for instance intersubjective verifiability).

In the experience of intersubjectivity, one also experiences oneself as being a subject among other subjects, and one experiences oneself as existing objectively for these Others; one experiences oneself as the noema of Others' noeses, or as a subject in another's empathic experience. As such, one experiences oneself as objectively existing subjectivity. Intersubjectivity is also a part in the constitution of one's lifeworld, especially as "homeworld."


The lifeworld (German: Lebenswelt) is the "world" each one of us lives in. One could call it the "background" or "horizon" of all experience, and it is that on which each object stands out as itself (as different) and with the meaning it can only hold for us. The lifeworld is both personal and intersubjective (it is then called a "homeworld," and it is shared by "homecomrades"), and, as such, it does not enclose each one of us in a solus ipse.

Husserl's Logische Untersuchungen (1900/1901)

In the first edition of the Logical Investigations, still under the influence of Brentano, Husserl describes his position as "descriptive psychology." Husserl analyzes the intentional structures of mental acts and how they are directed at both real and ideal objects. The first volume of the Logical Investigations, the Prolegomena to Pure Logic, begins with a devastating critique of psychologism, i.e., the attempt to subsume the a priori validity of the laws of logic under psychology. Husserl establishes a separate field for research in logic, philosophy, and phenomenology, independently from the empirical sciences.[8]

Transcendental phenomenology after the Ideen (1913)

Some years after the publication of the Logical Investigations, Husserl made some key elaborations which led him to the distinction between the act of consciousness (noesis) and the phenomena at which it is directed (the noemata).

What we observe is not the object as it is in itself, but how and inasmuch it is given in the intentional acts. Knowledge of essences would only be possible by "bracketing" all assumptions about the existence of an external world and the inessential (subjective) aspects of how the object is concretely given to us. This procedure Husserl called epoché.

Husserl in a later period concentrated more on the ideal, essential structures of consciousness. As he wanted to exclude any hypothesis on the existence of external objects, he introduced the method of phenomenological reduction to eliminate them. What was left over was the pure transcendental ego, as opposed to the concrete empirical ego. Now (transcendental) phenomenology is the study of the essential structures that are left in pure consciousness: this amounts in practice to the study of the noemata and the relations among them. The philosopher Theodor Adorno criticised Husserl's concept of phenomenological epistemology in his metacritique Against Epistemology, which is anti-foundationalist in its stance.

Transcendental phenomenologists include Oskar Becker, Aron Gurwitsch, and Alfred Schutz.

Realist phenomenology

After Husserl's publication of the Ideen in 1913, many phenomenologists took a critical stance towards his new theories. Especially the members of the Munich group distanced themselves from his new transcendental phenomenology and preferred the earlier realist phenomenology of the first edition of the Logical Investigations.

Realist phenomenologists include Adolf Reinach, Alexander Pfänder, Johannes Daubert, Max Scheler, Roman Ingarden, Nicolai Hartmann, Dietrich von Hildebrand.

Existential phenomenology

Existential phenomenology differs from transcendental phenomenology by its rejection of the transcendental ego. Merleau-Ponty objects to the ego's transcendence of the world, which for Husserl leaves the world spread out and completely transparent before the conscious. Heidegger thinks of a conscious being as always already in the world. Transcendence is maintained in existential phenomenology to the extent that the method of phenomenology must take a presuppositionless starting point - transcending claims about the world arising from, for example, natural or scientific attitudes or theories of the ontological nature of the world.

While Husserl thought of philosophy as a scientific discipline that had to be founded on a phenomenology understood as epistemology, Heidegger held a radically different view. Heidegger himself states their differences this way:

For Husserl, the phenomenological reduction is the method of leading phenomenological vision from the natural attitude of the human being whose life is involved in the world of things and persons back to the transcendental life of consciousness and its noetic-noematic experiences, in which objects are constituted as correlates of consciousness. For us, phenomenological reduction means leading phenomenological vision back from the apprehension of a being, whatever may be the character of that apprehension, to the understanding of the Being of this being (projecting upon the way it is unconcealed).[9]

According to Heidegger, philosophy was not at all a scientific discipline, but more fundamental than science itself. According to him science is only one way of knowing the world with no special access to truth. Furthermore, the scientific mindset itself is built on a much more "primordial" foundation of practical, everyday knowledge. Husserl was skeptical of this approach, which he regarded as quasi-mystical, and it contributed to the divergence in their thinking.

Instead of taking phenomenology as prima philosophia or a foundational discipline, Heidegger took it as a metaphysical ontology: "being is the proper and sole theme of philosophy... this means that philosophy is not a science of beings but of being.".[9] Yet to confuse phenomenology and ontology is an obvious error. Phenomena are not the foundation or Ground of Being. Neither are they appearances, for as Heidegger argues in Being and Time, an appearance is "that which shows itself in something else," while a phenomenon is "that which shows itself in itself."

While for Husserl, in the epochè, being appeared only as a correlate of consciousness, for Heidegger being is the starting point. While for Husserl we would have to abstract from all concrete determinations of our empirical ego, to be able to turn to the field of pure consciousness, Heidegger claims that "the possibilities and destinies of philosophy are bound up with man's existence, and thus with temporality and with historicality."[9]

However, ontological being and existential being are different categories, so Heidegger's conflation of these categories is, according to Husserl's view, the root of Heidegger's error. Husserl charged Heidegger with raising the question of ontology but failing to answer it, instead switching the topic to the Dasein, the only being for whom Being is an issue. That is neither ontology nor phenomenology, according to Husserl, but merely abstract anthropology. To clarify, perhaps, by abstract anthropology, as a non-existentialist searching for essences, Husserl rejected the existentialism implicit in Heidegger's distinction between being (sein) as things in reality and Being (Da-sein) as the encounter with being, as when being becomes present to us, that is, is unconcealed.[10]

Existential phenomenologists include: Martin Heidegger (1889 – 1976), Hannah Arendt (1906 – 1975), Emmanuel Levinas (1906 – 1995), Gabriel Marcel (1889 – 1973), Jean-Paul Sartre (1905 – 1980), Paul Ricoeur (1913 - 2005) and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908 – 1961).

Phenomenology and Eastern thought

Some researchers in phenomenology (particularly in reference to Heidegger's legacy) see possibilities of establishing dialogues with traditions of thought outside of the so-called Western philosophy, particularly with respect to East-Asian thinking, and despite perceived differences between "Eastern" and "Western".[11] Furthermore, it has been claimed that a number of elements within phenomenology (mainly Heidegger's thought) have some resonance with Eastern philosophical ideas, particularly with Zen Buddhism and Taoism.[12] According to Tomonubu Imamichi, the concept of Dasein was inspired — although Heidegger remains silent on this — by Okakura Kakuzo's concept of das-in-dem-Welt-sein (being in the world) expressed in The Book of Tea to describe Zhuangzi's philosophy, which Imamichi's teacher had offered to Heidegger in 1919, after having studied with him the year before.[13]

There are also recent signs of the reception of phenomenology (and Heidegger's thought in particular) within scholarly circles focused on studying the impetus of metaphysics in the history of ideas in Islam and Early Islamic philosophy;[14] perhaps under the indirect influence of the tradition of the French Orientalist and philosopher Henri Corbin.[15]

In addition, the work of Jim Ruddy in the field of comparative philosophy, combined the concept of Transcendental Ego in Husserl's phenomenology with the concept of the primacy of self-consciousness in the work of Sankaracharya. In the course of this work, Ruddy uncovered a wholly new eidetic pheomenological science which he called "convergent phenomenology." This new phenomenology takes over where Husserl left off, and deals with the constitution of relation-like, rather than merely thing-like, or "intentional" objectivity.[16]

Historical overview of the use of the term

Phenomenology has at least three main meanings in philosophical history: one in the writings of G.W.F. Hegel, another in the writings of Edmund Husserl in 1920, and a third, deriving from Husserl's work, in the writings of his former research assistant Martin Heidegger in 1927.

The difference in approach between Husserl and Heidegger influenced the development of existential phenomenology and existentialism in France, as is seen in the work of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Munich phenomenologists (Johannes Daubert, Adolf Reinach, Alexander Pfänder in Germany and Alfred Schütz in Austria), and Paul Ricoeur have all been influenced. Readings of Husserl and Heidegger have also been crucial elements of the philosophies of Jacques Derrida and Bernard Stiegler.

Although the term "phenomenology" was used occasionally in the history of philosophy before Husserl, modern use ties it more explicitly to his particular method. Following is a list of thinkers in rough chronological order who used the term "phenomenology" in a variety of ways, with brief comments on their contributions:[18]

Later usage is mostly based on or (critically) related to Husserl's introduction and use of the term. This branch of philosophy differs from others in that it tends to be more "descriptive" than "prescriptive".

List of important phenomenologists and phenomenology-derived theorists

See also

Further reading


Book Series


  1. ^ Rollinger, Robin (1999), Husserl's Position in the School of Brentano, Dordrecht / Boston / London: Kluwer 
  2. ^ Natanson, M. (1973) Edmund Husserl: Philosopher of infinite tasks. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
  3. ^ Safranski, R. (1998) Martin Heidegger: Between good and evil. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  4. ^ Robert Sokolowski, Introduction to Phenomenology, Cambridge University Press (2000). Pp. 159-160. This use of the word evidence may seem strange in English, but is more common in German, which is the language Husserl wrote in.
  5. ^ Sokolowski, Introduction, pp. 160-161.
  6. ^ I.e. if A loves B, loving is a real part of A's conscious activity - Noesis - but gets its sense from the general concept of loving, which has an abstract or ideal meaning, as "loving" has a meaning in the English language independently of what an individual means by the word when they use it.
  7. ^ For a full account of the controversy and a review of positions taken, see David Woodruff Smith, Husserl, Routledge, 2007, pp304-311.
  8. ^ On the Logical Investigations, see Zahavi, Dan; Stjernfelt, Frederik, eds. (2002), One Hundred Years of Phenomenology (Husserl's Logical Investigations Revisited), Dordrecht / Boston / London: Kluwer ; and Mohanty, Jitendra Nath, ed. (1977), Readings on Edmund Husserl’s Logical Investigations, Den Haag: Nijhoff 
  9. ^ a b c Heidegger, Martin (1975), "Introduction", The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, Indiana University Press, 
  10. ^ I have attempted to respond to the request for clarification of Heidegger's distinction between being and Being. My info source was It was not copied and pasted but rephrased for copyright reasons.
  11. ^ See for instance references to Heidegger's "A Dialogue on Language between a Japanese and an Inquirer," in On the Way to Language (New York: Harper & Row, 1971). Heidegger himself had contacts with some leading Japanese intellectuals, including members of the Kyoto School, notably Hajime Tanabe, Kuki Shūzō and Kiyoshi Miki.
  12. ^ An account given by Paul Hsao (in Heidegger and Asian Thought) records a remark by Chang Chung-Yuan claiming that "Heidegger is the only Western Philosopher who not only intellectually understands but has intuitively grasped Taoist thought"
  13. ^ Tomonubu Imamichi, In Search of Wisdom. One Philosopher's Journey, Tokyo, International House of Japan, 2004 (quoted by Anne Fagot-Largeau during her lesson at the Collège de France on December 7, 2006).
  14. ^ See for instance: Nader El-Bizri, The Phenomenological Quest between Avicenna and Heidegger (Binghamton, N.Y.: Global Publications SUNY, 2000) ISBN 1586840053
  15. ^ A book-series under the title: Islamic Philosophy and Occidental Phenomenology in Dialogue [1] has been recently established by Springer (Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht) in association with the World Phenomenology Institute [2]. This initiative has been initiated by the Polish phenomenologist Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, editor of Analecta Husserliana.
  16. ^ See the thesis, "Convergent Phenomenology," presented to the University of Madras, June, 1979.
  17. ^ Smith, David Woodruff (2007), Husserl, London-New York: Routledge 
  18. ^ Partially based on Schuhmann, Karl (2004), ""Phänomenologie": Eine Begriffsgeschichtilche Reflexion", in Leijenhorst, Cees; Steenbakkers, Piet, Karl Schuhmann. Selected Papers on Phenomenology, Dordrecht / Boston / London: Kluwer, pp. 1–33 
  19. ^ Ernst Benz, Christian Kabbalah: Neglected Child of Theology
  20. ^ Ernest Campbell Mossner. The Life of David Hume. Oxford University Press, 1980.
  21. ^ Lambert, Johann Heinrich (1772). Anmerkungen und Zusätze zur Entwerfung der Land- und Himmelscharten. Von J. H. Lambert (1772.) Hrsg. von A. Wangerin. Mit 21 Textfiguren. (xml). W. Engelmann, reprint 1894.

External links

Edmund Husserl

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Edmund Husserl
Western Philosophy
20th-century philosophy

Edmund Husserl
Full name Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl
Born April 8, 1859 (Prostějov, Moravia)
Died April 28, 1938 (aged 79) (Freiburg, Germany)
School/tradition Phenomenology
Main interests Epistemology, Mathematics
Notable ideas Epoché, Natural Standpoint, Noema, Noesis, Eidetic Reduction, Retention and protention, Phenomenology

Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl (German pronunciation: [ˈhʊsɛʁl]; April 8, 1859, Prostějov, Moravia, Austrian Empire – April 26, 1938, Freiburg, Germany) was a philosopher who is deemed the founder of phenomenology. He broke with the positivist orientation of the science and philosophy of his day, believing that experience is the source of all knowledge, while at the same time he elaborated critiques of psychologism and historicism.

Born into a Moravian Jewish family, he was baptized as a Lutheran in 1887. Husserl studied mathematics under Karl Weierstrass, completing a Ph.D. under Leo Königsberger, and studied philosophy under Franz Brentano and Carl Stumpf. Husserl taught philosophy, as a Privatdozent at Halle from 1887, then as professor, first at Göttingen from 1901, then at Freiburg im Breisgau from 1916 until his 1928 retirement.

Husserl's teaching and writing influenced, among others, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Emmanuel Levinas, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Alfred Schütz, Paul Ricœur, Jacques Derrida, and Dietrich von Hildebrand.




Education and early works

Husserl was born in 1859 into a Jewish family in Prostějov, a town that was then in the Austrian Empire, after 1918 a part of Czechoslovakia, and since 1993 a part of the Czech Republic.

He initially studied mathematics at the universities of Leipzig (1876) and Berlin (1878), under Karl Weierstrass and Leopold Kronecker. In 1881 he went to Vienna to study under the supervision of Leo Königsberger (a former student of Weierstrass), obtaining the Ph.D. in 1883 with the work Beiträge zur Variationsrechnung ("Contributions to the Calculus of Variations").

In 1884, he began to attend Franz Brentano's lectures on psychology and philosophy at the University of Vienna. Husserl was so impressed by Brentano that he decided to dedicate his life to philosophy. In 1886 Husserl went to the University of Halle to obtain his Habilitation with Carl Stumpf, a former student of Brentano. Under his supervision he wrote Über den Begriff der Zahl (On the concept of Number; 1887) which would serve later as the base for his first major work, Philosophie der Arithmetik (1891).

In these first works he tries to combine mathematics, psychology and philosophy with a main goal to provide a sound foundation for mathematics. He analyzes the psychological process needed to obtain the concept of number and then tries to build up a systematical theory on this analysis. To achieve this he uses several methods and concepts taken from his teachers. From Weierstrass he derives the idea that we generate the concept of number by counting a certain collection of objects. From Brentano and Stumpf he takes over the distinction between proper and improper presenting. In an example Husserl explains this in the following way: if you are standing in front of a house, you have a proper, direct presentation of that house, but if you are looking for it and ask for directions, then these directions (e.g. the house on the corner of this and that street) are an indirect, improper presentation. In other words, you can have a proper presentation of an object if it is actually present, and an improper (or symbolic as he also calls it) if you only can indicate that object through signs, symbols, etc. Husserl's 1901 Logical Investigations is considered the starting point for the formal theory of wholes and their parts known as mereology.[1]

Another important element that Husserl took over from Brentano is intentionality, the notion that the main characteristic of consciousness is that it is always intentional. While often simplistically summarised as "aboutness" or the relationship between mental acts and the external world, Brentano defined it as the main characteristic of mental phenomena, by which they could be distinguished from physical phenomena. Every mental phenomenon, every psychological act, has a content, is directed at an object (the intentional object). Every belief, desire, etc. has an object that it is about: the believed, the wanted. Brentano used the expression "intentional inexistence" to indicate the status of the objects of thought in the mind. The property of being intentional, of having an intentional object, was the key feature to distinguish mental phenomena and physical phenomena, because physical phenomena lack intentionality altogether.

The elaboration of phenomenology

Some years after the publication of his main work, the Logische Untersuchungen (Logical Investigations; first edition, 1900-1901), Husserl made some key conceptual elaborations which led him to assert that in order to study the structure of consciousness, one would have to distinguish between the act of consciousness and the phenomena at which it is directed (the objects as intended). Knowledge of essences would only be possible by "bracketing" all assumptions about the existence of an external world. This procedure he called epoché. These new concepts prompted the publication of the Ideen (Ideas) in 1913, in which they were at first incorporated, and a plan for a second edition of the Logische Untersuchungen.

From the Ideen onward, Husserl concentrated on the ideal, essential structures of consciousness. The metaphysical problem of establishing the material reality of what we perceive was of little interest to Husserl in spite of his being a transcendental idealist. Husserl proposed that the world of objects and ways in which we direct ourselves toward and perceive those objects is normally conceived of in what he called the "natural standpoint", which is characterized by a belief that objects materially exist and exhibit properties that we see as emanating from them. Husserl proposed a radical new phenomenological way of looking at objects by examining how we, in our many ways of being intentionally directed toward them, actually "constitute" them (to be distinguished from materially creating objects or objects merely being figments of the imagination); in the Phenomenological standpoint, the object ceases to be something simply "external" and ceases to be seen as providing indicators about what it is, and becomes a grouping of perceptual and functional aspects that imply one another under the idea of a particular object or "type". The notion of objects as real is not expelled by phenomenology, but "bracketed" as a way in which we regard objects instead of a feature that inheres in an object's essence founded in the relation between the object and the perceiver. In order to better understand the world of appearances and objects, phenomenology attempts to identify the invariant features of how objects are perceived and pushes attributions of reality into their role as an attribution about the things we perceive (or an assumption underlying how we perceive objects).

In a later period, Husserl began to wrestle with the complicated issues of intersubjectivity, specifically, how communication about an object can be assumed to refer to the same ideal entity (Cartesian Meditations, Meditation V). Husserl tries new methods of bringing his readers to understand the importance of phenomenology to scientific inquiry (and specifically to psychology) and what it means to "bracket" the natural attitude. The Crisis of the European Sciences is Husserl's unfinished work that deals most directly with these issues. In it, Husserl for the first time attempts a historical overview of the development of Western philosophy and science, emphasizing the challenges presented by their increasingly (one-sidedly) empirical and naturalistic orientation. Husserl declares that mental and spiritual reality possess their own reality independent of any physical basis,[2] and that a science of the mind ('Geisteswissenschaft') must be established on as scientific a foundation as the natural sciences have managed:

"It is my conviction that intentional phenomenology has for the first time made spirit as spirit the field of systematic scientific experience, thus effecting a total transformation of the task of knowledge."[3]

The Nazi era

Professor Husserl was denied the use of the library at Freiburg as a result of the anti-Jewish legislation the Nazis passed in April 1933. It is rumoured that his former pupil and Nazi Party member, Martin Heidegger, informed Husserl that he was discharged, but Heidegger later denied this, labelling it as slander[4]. Heidegger (whose philosophy Husserl considered to be the result of a faulty departure from, and grave misunderstanding of, Husserl's own teachings and methods) removed the dedication to Husserl from his most widely known work, Being and Time, when it was reissued in 1941. This was not due to diminishing relations between the two philosophers, however, but rather as a result of a suggested censorship by Heidegger's publisher who feared that the book may be banned by the Nazi regime[4]. The dedication can still be found in a footnote on page 38, thanking Husserl for his guidance and generosity. The philosophical relation between Husserl and Heidegger is discussed at length by Bernard Stiegler in the film The Ister.

After his death, Husserl's manuscripts, amounting to approximately 40,000 pages of "Gabelsberger" stenography and his complete research library, were smuggled to Belgium by Herman Van Breda in 1939 and deposited at Leuven to form the Husserl-Archives of the Higher Institute of Philosophy. Much of the material in his research manuscripts has been published in the Husserliana critical edition series.

The Philosophy of Edmund Husserl

Meaning and Object in Husserl

From Logical Investigations (1900/1901) to Experience and Judgment (published in 1939), Husserl expressed clearly the difference between meaning and object. He identified several different kinds of names. For example, there are names that have the role of properties that uniquely identify an object. Each of these names express a meaning and designate the same object. Examples of this are "the victor in Jena" and "the loser in Waterloo", or "the equilateral triangle" and "the equiangular triangle"; in both cases, both names express different meanings, but designate the same object. There are names which have no meaning, but have the role of designating an object: "Aristotle", "Socrates", and so on. Finally, there are names which designate a variety of objects. These are called "universal names"; their meaning is a "concept" and refers to a series of objects (the extension of the concept). The way we know sensible objects is called "sensible intuition".

Husserl also identifies a series of "formal words" which are necessary to form sentences and have no sensible correlates. Examples of formal words are "a", "the", "more than", "over", "under", "two", "group", and so on. Every sentence must contain formal words to designate what Husserl calls "formal categories". There are two kinds of categories: meaning categories and formal-ontological categories. Meaning categories relate judgments; they include forms of conjunction, disjunction, forms of plural, among others. Formal-ontological categories relate objects and include notions such as set, cardinal number, ordinal number, part and whole, relation, and so on. The way we know these categories is through a faculty of understanding called "categorial intuition".

Through sensible intuition our consciousness constitutes what Husserl calls a "situation of affairs" (Sachlage). It is a passive constitution where objects themselves are presented to us. To this situation of affairs, through categorial intuition, we are able to constitute a "state of affairs" (Sachverhalt). One situation of affairs through objective acts of consciousness (acts of constituting categorially) can serve as the basis for constituting multiple states of affairs. For example, suppose a and b are two sensible objects in a certain situation of affairs. We can use it as basis to say, "a<b" and "b>a", two judgments which designate different states of affairs. For Husserl a sentence has a proposition or judgment as its meaning, and refers to a state of affairs which has a situation of affairs as a reference base.

Philosophy of Logic and Mathematics

Husserl believed that truth-in-itself has as ontological correlate being-in-itself, just as meaning categories have formal-ontological categories as correlates. Logic is a formal theory of judgment, that studies the formal a priori relations among judgments using meaning categories. Mathematics, on the other hand, is formal ontology; it studies all the possible forms of being (of objects). Hence for both logic and mathematics, the different formal categories are the objects of study, not the sensible objects themselves. The problem with the psychological approach to mathematics and logic is that it fails to account for the fact that this approach is about formal categories, and not simply about abstractions from sensibility alone. The reason why we do not deal with sensible objects in mathematics is because of another faculty of understanding called "categorial abstraction." Through this faculty we are able to get rid of sensible components of judgments, and just focus on formal categories themselves.

Thanks to "eidetic intuition" (or "essential intuition"), we are able to grasp the possibility, impossibility, necessity and contingency among concepts and among formal categories. Categorial intuition, along with categorial abstraction and eidetic intuition, are the basis for logical and mathematical knowledge.

Husserl criticized the logicians of his day for not focusing on the relation between subjective processes that give us objective knowledge of pure logic. All subjective activities of consciousness need an ideal correlate, and objective logic (constituted noematically) as it is constituted by consciousness needs a noetic correlate (the subjective activities of consciousness).

Husserl stated that logic has three strata, each further away from consciousness and psychology than those that precede it.

The ontological correlate to the third stratum is the "theory of manifolds" In formal ontology, it is a free investigation where a mathematician can assign several meanings to several symbols, and all their possible valid deductions in a general and indeterminate manner. It is, properly speaking, the most universal mathematics of all. Through the posit of certain indeterminate objects (formal-ontological categories) as well as any combination of mathematical axioms, mathematicians can explore the apodeictic connections between them, as long as consistency is preserved.

According to Husserl, this view of logic and mathematics accounted for the objectivity of a series of mathematical developments of his time, such as n-dimensional manifolds (both Euclidean and non-Euclidean), Hermann Grassmann's theory of extensions, William Rowan Hamilton's Hamiltonians, Sophus Lie's theory of transformation groups, and Cantor's set theory.

Husserl and the Critique of Psychologism

Philosophy of Arithmetic and Frege

Some analytic philosophers suggest that Husserl, after obtaining his PhD in mathematics, began analyzing the foundations of mathematics from a psychological point of view, as a disciple of Brentano. In his professorial doctoral dissertation, On the Concept of Number (1886) and in his Philosophy of Arithmetic (1891), Husserl sought, by employing Brentano's descriptive psychology, to define the natural numbers in a way that advanced the methods and techniques of Weierstrass, Dedekind, Georg Cantor, Frege, and other contemporary mathematicians. Later, in the first volume of his Logical Investigations, the Prolegomena of Pure Logic, Husserl, while attacking the psychologistic point of view in logic and mathematics, also appears to reject much of his early work, although the forms of psychologism analysed and refuted in the Prolegomena did not apply directly to his Philosophy of Arithmetic. While some scholars point to Frege's negative review of the Philosophy of Arithmetic, this did not turn Husserl towards Platonism, because he had already discovered the work of Bernhard Bolzano around 1890/91 and explicitly mentioned Bolzano, Leibniz and Lotze as inspirations for his newer position.

The Frege industry routinely informs us that the review quite transformed poor Husserl's philosophy; but elementary attention to chronology and sources (Hill 1991a, pt. 1) shows that this claim refers far more to the False than to the True.
Ivor Grattan-Guinness, 2000. The Search for Mathematical Roots 1870-1940, p. 204

Likewise, the opinion that Husserl's notions of noema and object are due to Frege's notions of sense and reference is to commit an anachronism, because Husserl's review of Schröder, published before Frege's landmark 1892 article, clearly distinguishes sense from reference. Likewise, in his criticism of Frege in the Philosophy of Arithmetic, Husserl remarks on the distinction between the content and the extension of a concept. Moreover, the distinction between the subjective mental act, namely the content of a concept, and the (external) object, was developed independently by Brentano and his school, and may have surfaced as early as Brentano's 1870's lectures on logic.

Scholars such as J. N. Mohanty, Claire Ortiz Hill, and Guillermo E. Rosado Haddock, among others, have argued that Husserl's so-called change from psychologism to platonism came about independently of Frege's review.[5] For example, the review falsely accuses Husserl of subjectivizing everything, so that no objectivity is possible, and falsely attributes to him a notion of abstraction whereby objects disappear until we are left with numbers as mere ghosts. Contrary to what Frege states, in Husserl's Philosophy of Arithmetic we already find two different kinds of representations: subjective and objective. Moreover, objectivity is clearly defined in that work. Frege's attack seems to be directed at certain foundational doctrines then current in Weierstrass's Berlin School, of which Husserl and Cantor cannot be said to be orthodox representatives.

Furthermore, various sources indicate that Husserl changed his mind about psychologism as early as 1890, a year before he published the Philosophy of Arithmetic. Husserl stated that by the time he published that book, he had already changed his mind—that he had doubts about psychologism from the very outset. He attributed this change of mind to his reading of Leibniz, Bolzano, Lotze, and David Hume.[6] Husserl makes no mention of Frege as a decisive factor in this change. In his Logical Investigations, Husserl mentions Frege only twice, once in a footnote to point out that he had retracted three pages of his criticism of Frege's The Foundations of Arithmetic, and again to question Frege's use of the word Bedeutung to designate "reference" rather than "meaning" (sense).

In a letter dated May 24, 1891, Frege thanked Husserl for sending him a copy of the Philosophy of Arithmetic and Husserl's review of Ernst Schröder's Vorlesungen über die Algebra der Logik. In the same letter, Frege used the review of Schröder's book to analyze Husserl's notion of the sense of reference of concept words. Hence Frege recognized, as early as 1891, that Husserl distinguished between sense and reference. Consequently, Frege and Husserl independently elaborated a theory of sense and reference before 1891.

Commentators argue that Husserl's notion of noema has nothing to do with Frege's notion of sense, because noemata are necessarily fused with noeses which are the conscious activities of consciousness. Noemata have three different levels:

Consequently, in intentional activities, even non-existent objects can be constituted, and form part of the whole noema. Frege, however, did not conceive of objects as forming parts of senses: If a proper name denotes a non-existent object, it does not have a reference, hence concepts with no objects have no truth value in arguments. Moreover, Husserl did not maintain that predicates of sentences designate concepts. According to Frege the reference of a sentence is a truth value; for Husserl it is a "state of affairs." Frege's notion of "sense" is unrelated to Husserl's noema, while the latter's notions of "meaning" and "object" differ from those of Frege.

In fine, Husserl's conception of logic and mathematics differs from that of Frege, who held that arithmetic could be derived from logic. For Husserl this is not the case: mathematics (with the exception of geometry) is the ontological correlate of logic, and while both fields are related, neither one is strictly reducible to the other.

Husserl's Criticism of Psychologism

Reacting against authors such as J.St. Mill, Sigwart and his own former teacher Brentano, Husserl criticised their psychologism in mathematics and logic, i.e. their conception of these abstract and a-priori sciences as having an essentially empirical foundation and a prescriptive or descriptive nature. According to psychologism, logic would not be an autonomous discipline, but a branch of psychology, either proposing a prescriptive and practical "art" of correct judgement (as Brentano and some of his more orthodox students did) [7] or a description of the factual processes of human thought. Husserl pointed out that the failure of anti-psychologists to defeat psychologism was a result of being unable to distinguish between the foundational, theoretical side of logic, and the applied, practical side. Pure logic does not deal at all with "thoughts" or "judgings" as mental episodes but about a priori laws and conditions for any theory and any judgments whatsoever, conceived as propositions in themselves.

Here ‘Judgement’ has the same meaning as ‘proposition’, understood, not as a grammatical, but as an ideal unity of meaning. This is the case with all the distinctions of acts or forms of judgement, which provide the foundations for the laws of pure logic. Categorial, hypothetical, disjunctive, existential judgements, and however else we may call them, in pure logic are not names for classes of judgements, but for ideal forms of propositions.[8]

Since "truth-in-itself" has "being-in-itself" as ontological correlate, and since psychologists reduce truth (and hence logic) to empirical psychology, the inevitable consequence is scepticism. Psychologists have also not been successful in showing how from induction or psychological processes we can justify the absolute certainty of logical principles, such as the principles of identity and non-contradiction. It is therefore futile to base certain logical laws and principles on uncertain processes of the mind.

This confusion made by psychologism (and related disciplines such as biologism and anthropologism) can be due to three specific prejudices:

1. The first prejudice is the supposition that logic is somehow normative in nature. Husserl argues that logic is theoretical, i.e., that logic itself proposes a priori laws which are themselves the basis of the normative side of logic. Since mathematics is related to logic, he cites an example from mathematics: If we have a formula like (a+b)(a-b)=a²-b² it does not tell us how to think mathematically. It just expresses a truth. A proposition that says: "The product of the sum and the difference of a and b should give us the difference of the squares of a and b" does express a normative proposition, but this normative statement is based on the theoretical statement "(a+b)(a-b)=a²-b²".

2. For psychologists, the acts of judging, reasoning, deriving, and so on, are all psychological processes. Therefore, it is the role of psychology to provide the foundation of these processes. Husserl states that this effort made by psychologists is a "μετάβασις εἰς ἄλλο γένος" (a transgression to another field). It is a μετάβασις because psychology cannot possibly provide any foundations for a priori laws which themselves are the basis for all the ways we should think correctly. Psychologists have the problem of confusing intentional activities with the object of these activities. It is important to distinguish between the act of judging and the judgment itself, the act of counting and the number itself, and so on. Counting five objects is undeniably a psychological process, but the number 5 is not.

3. Judgments can be true or not true. Psychologists argue that judgments are true because they become "evidently" true to us. This evidence, a psychological process that "guarantees" truth, is indeed a psychological process. Husserl responds by saying that truth itself as well as logical laws always remain valid regardless of psychological "evidence" that they are true. No psychological process can explain the a priori objectivity of these logical truths.

From this criticism to psychologism, the distinction between psychological acts and their intentional objects, and the difference between the normative side of logic and the theoretical side, derives from a platonist conception of logic. This means that we should regard logical and mathematical laws as being independent of the human mind, and also as an autonomy of meanings. It is essentially the difference between the real (everything subject to time) and the ideal or irreal (everything that is atemporal), such as logical truths, mathematical entities, mathematical truths and meanings in general.

Philosophers Influenced by Husserl

Husserl is perhaps best known for the influence he had on the early work of his student Martin Heidegger, whom Husserl chose as his successor at Freiburg. Heidegger's magnum opus Being and Time was originally dedicated to Husserl. Husserl and Heidegger worked very closely at Freiburg, but, contrary to popular belief, Heidegger was never one of Husserl's assistants, at least not in an official capacity.

Hans Blumenberg received his postdoctoral qualification in 1950, with a dissertation on 'Ontological distance', an inquiry into the crisis of Husserl's phenomenology.

Hermann Weyl's interest in intuitionistic logic and impredicativity appears to have resulted from his reading of Husserl. He was introduced to Husserl's work through his wife, Helene Joseph, herself a student of Husserl at Göttingen.

Rudolf Carnap was also influenced by Husserl, not only concerning Husserl's notion of essential insight that Carnap used in his Der Raum, but also his notion of "formation rules" and "transformation rules" is founded on Husserl's philosophy of logic.

Ludwig Landgrebe became assistant to Husserl in 1923. From 1939 he collaborated with Eugen Fink at the Husserl-Archives in Leuven, authorized by Husserl. In 1954 he became leader of the Husserl-Archives. Landgrebe is known as one of Husserl's closest associates, but also for his independent views relating to history, religion and politics as seen from the viewpoints of existentialist philosophy and metaphysics.

Max Scheler met Husserl in Halle and found in his phenomenology a methodological breakthrough for his own philosophical endeavors. Even though Scheler later criticised Husserl's idealistic logical approach and proposed instead a "phenomenology of love", he states that he remained "deeply indebted" to Husserl throughout his work. Husserl also had some influence on Pope John-Paul II, which appears strongly in a work by the latter, The Acting Person, or Person and Act. It was originally published in Polish in 1969 under his pre-papal name Karol Wojtyla (in collaboration with the polish phenomenologist: Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka)[2] and combined phenomenological work with Thomistic Ethics.[9]

Maurice Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception is influenced by Edmund Husserl's work on perception and temporality, including Husserl's theory of retention and protention. Merleau-Ponty was the first student to study at the Husserl-archives in Leuven.

Wilfrid Sellars, an influential figure in the so-called "Pittsburgh school" (Robert Brandom, John McDowell) had been a student of Marvin Farber, a pupil of Husserl, and was influenced by phenomenology through him:

Marvin Farber led me through my first careful reading of the Critique of Pure Reason and introduced me to Husserl. His combination of utter respect for the structure of Husserl's thought with the equally firm conviction that this structure could be given a naturalistic interpretation was undoubtedly a key influence on my own subsequent philosophical strategy.[10]

Husserl's formal analysis of language also inspired Stanisław Leśniewski and Kazimierz Ajdukiewicz in the development of categorial grammar.[11]

Kurt Gödel expressed very strong appreciation for Husserl's work, especially with regard to "bracketing" or epoche.

Jean-Paul Sartre was also largely influenced by Husserl, although he didn't agree with every aspect of his analyses.[citation needed]

Colin Wilson made Husserl's idea of intentionality the driving force behind his "New Existentialism."[citation needed]

The influence of the Husserlian phenomenological tradition in the 21st century is extending beyond the confines of the European and North American legacies. It has already started to impact (indirectly) scholarship in Eastern and Oriental thought, including research on the impetus of philosophical thinking in the history of ideas in Islam.[12][13]

See also


  1. ^ Simons, Peter, Parts: A Study in Ontology, Oxford University Press 
  2. ^ This assumption led Husserl to an idealistic position (which he originally had tried to overcome or avoid). On Husserl's phenomenological idealism see Hans Köchler, Die Subjekt-Objekt-Dialektik in der transzendentalen Phänomenologie. Das Seinsproblem zwischen Idealismus und Realismus. (Monographien zur philosophischen Forschung, Vol. 112.) Meisenheim a. G.: Anton Hain, 1974.
  3. ^ Crisis of European Humanity, Pt. II, 1935
  4. ^ a b "Nur noch ein Gott kann uns retten". Der Spiegel, 31 May 1967.
  5. ^ Consider Jitendra Nath Mohanty, 1995, "The Development of Husserl's Thought" in Barry Smith & David Woodruff Smith, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Husserl. Cambridge Univ. Press. For further commentaries on the review, see Willard, Dallas, 1984. Logic and the Objectivity of Knowledge. Athens OH: Ohio University Press, p. 63; J. Philip Miller, 1982. "Numbers in Presence and Absence, Phaenomenologica 90 (Den Haag: Nijhoff): p. 19 ff.; and Jitendra Nath Mohanty, 1984, "Husserl, Frege and the Overcoming of Psychologism", in Cho, Kay Kyung, ed., Philosophy and Science in Phenomenological Perspective, Phaenomenologica 95 (Dordrecht/Boston/Lancaster: Nijhoff), p. 145.
  6. ^ Husserl-Chronik, p. 25-26
  7. ^ See the quotes in Carlo Ierna, “Husserl’s Critique of Double Judgments”, in: Filip Mattens, editor, Meaning and Language: Phenomenological Perspectives, Phaenomenologica 187 (Dordrecht/Boston/London: Springer, 2008, pp. 50 f.
  8. ^ Edmund Husserl, Logical Investigations, volume 1, edited by Dermot Moran, trans. by J.N. Findlay (New York: Routledge, 2001), p. 112.
  9. ^ Wojtyla, Karol (2002), The Acting Person: A Contribution to Phenomenological Anthropology, Springer, ISBN 90-277-0985-8 
  10. ^ Sellars, Wilfrid (1975), "Autobiographical Reflections", in Hector-Neri Castañeda, Action, Knowledge, and Reality: Critical Studies in Honor of Wilfrid Sellars, Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 
  11. ^ Cf. Smith, Barry (1989), "On the Origins of Analytic Philosophy" (PDF), Grazer Philosophische Studien 34: 153–173, 
  12. ^ See for instance: Nader El-Bizri, The Phenomenological Quest Between Avicenna and Heidegger (Binghamton, N.Y.: Global Publications SUNY at Binghamton, 2000); and also refer to: Nader El-Bizri, "Avicenna's De Anima between Aristotle and Husserl", in The Passions of the Soul in the Metamorphosis of Becoming, ed. Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003), pp. 67-89
  13. ^ Refer also to the book-series published by SPRINGER on phenomenology and Islamic philosophy: [1]


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