Edmund Husserl and Eugen Fink: Beginnings and Ends in Phenomenology, 1928?1938

Edmund Husserl and Eugen Fink: Beginnings and Ends in Phenomenology, 1928?1938

by Ronald Bruzina

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Eugen Fink was Edmund Husserl’s research assistant during the last decade of the renowned phenomenologist’s life, a period in which Husserl’s philosophical ideas were radically recast. In this landmark book, Ronald Bruzina shows that Fink was actually a collaborator with Husserl, contributing indispensable elements to their common enterprise.
Drawing on hundreds of hitherto unknown notes and drafts by Fink, Bruzina highlights the scope and depth of his theories and critiques. He places these philosophical formulations in their historical setting, organizes them around such key themes as the world, time, life, and the concept and methodological place of the “meontic,” and demonstrates that they were a pivotal impetus for the renewing of “regress to the origins” in transcendental-constitutive phenomenology.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300130157
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 10/01/2008
Series: Yale Studies in Hermeneutics
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Ronald Bruzina is professor of philosophy at the University of Kentucky.

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Edmund Husserl and Eugen Fink


Yale University Press

Yale University
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ISBN: 978-0-300-09209-7

Chapter One

Contextual Narrative: The Freiburg Phenomenology Workshop, 1925-1938

For me philosophy is not a matter of career, but of personal destiny. -Husserl to Gustav Albrecht, October 7, 1934

If thinking is your destiny, then revere that destiny with divine honor and offer it what is best and dearest. -Aphorism by Nietzsche quoted by Fink

Philosophy is never done nowhere. If it is not the work of a particular someone at a particular time and in a particular place, then it is not at all. What we shall be looking into is the philosophy that was done in a special place at a very special time in the history of the twentieth century, but the question of the particular someone is precisely the matter that is at issue. For it was not just one particular person who was involved; there was a second particular someone engaged in this same philosophic endeavor. The two, of course, were Edmund Husserl and Eugen Fink, working together in intense daily contact, in Freiburg, during a period of social and political upheaval. The problems that were defined in this interplay very much determined the character that phenomenologypossessed in Husserl's final years, the phenomenology that broadened out from the Cartesianism of the 1929 Paris lectures to the life-world-centered philosophy embodied in Husserl's last writings, the "Crisis"-texts.

This thinking, however, was not simply for that time and for that place. The phenomenology that marked so much of postwar thinking in France, and then that of an increasingly important sector of philosophic interest in North America in the 1960s and 1970s (and still today), was the product of the thinking done at this particular time and in this particular place. Much of its vigor derived from these same "Crisis"-texts of Edmund Husserl's, via the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and in confrontation with the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. What it is hoped will become evident as the present study proceeds is that this subsequent following and studying of final-period phenomenology reawakened-without knowing it-some of the central problematics that lay at the heart of the work going on in those last years of Husserl's life-some of them; for there was much more to it than was generally thought as Husserl and Fink wrestled with the problems they were engaged in. And this fuller complex of issues and alternatives is what this book will try to lay out.

But we must know the time and the place better, and, of course, we must know the particular persons involved better. Much is already familiar about Husserl's life, and so we should begin by following Fink's entry into it in order to see the difference that entry made.

1.1. Eugen Fink, Arrival in Freiburg

Eugen Fink became Husserl's assistant in late 1928, before the beginning of the very semester during which Husserl finally relinquished teaching. That winter semester of 1928-1929 also saw the first lecture course by Martin Heidegger as Husserl's successor at the University of Freiburg. The year 1928 was indeed pivotal, but we must begin the story a little earlier, in 1925, when Fink first arrived at Freiburg to begin his studies there.

It was not in fact in Freiburg that Fink first attended university. Fresh from passing the Abitur after the normal years of study at the humanistic Gymnasium in Konstanz, the city of his birth, Fink first went to Münster. There, in the summer semester of 1925, he followed courses mainly in German language and literature. The one course in philosophy that he took at Münster, the history of modern philosophy from Descartes to Kant, was itself not the first study of philosophy that Fink had ever done. Several years earlier, when Fink was in his sixteenth year, he was already a member in Konstanz of the Kant Society and had begun a serious reading of philosophy. The earliest books in Fink's personal library, all dated 1921 (and all inexpensive pocket editions), are by an impressive list of philosophic authors: Giordano Bruno, Friedrich Nietzsche, Immanuel Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer. During the next three years, well before going to Münster, he filled out his collection with more titles of Nietzsche's, one precritical work of Kant's, some Hegel, and some Hume (in German). There can be little doubt that when Fink reached Freiburg for the winter semester of 1925, he was ripe for challenging exposure to the serious living philosophic work that the university offered in the person and teaching of arguably the leading philosopher in Germany at that point, Edmund Husserl.

In the semester in which Fink came to Freiburg, Husserl had already been Ordinarius there for nearly ten years. Named to the chair of philosophy that Heinrich Rickert had vacated to go to Heidelberg to succeed Wilhelm Windelband, Husserl arrived in Freiburg in April 1916. There began the first act of a drama that would take more than twenty years to play out, the mingling of the fate of Husserl and his phenomenology with the career of Martin Heidegger. That is something to which we shall be returning frequently-indeed, it is an essential element in the place Fink would come to hold with Husserl.

In 1925, however, all was well. For Husserl, Heidegger was "the most important among the rising generation," someone "predestined to be a first-class philosopher, a leader moving beyond the muddles and infirmities of the present day." Moreover, it was Husserl's support two years earlier that had helped Heidegger obtain the position that he held at Marburg, which the Marburg faculty was now moving to upgrade from Extraordinarius to Ordinarius (with an increase in pay, sorely needed in those times of rampant inflation). The faculty's decision to do so was heavily influenced by the fulsome praise from Husserl, in the very words that have just been quoted. Moreover, Being and Time was about to burst on the scene, under the pressure to publish that the move to upgrade his position at Marburg imposed on Heidegger. Although, with the publication of Being and Time in April 1927 in Husserl's Jahrbuch für Philosophie und phänomenologische Forschung, Heidegger finally received the promotion at Marburg, it ironically only came in October, but a few weeks before Husserl began negotiations to retire from teaching with the expectation that Heidegger would succeed him. Husserl was still convinced that Heidegger was the only one who could take his place at Freiburg and carry on his phenomenology, despite the fact that by now he had to wonder if Heidegger was indeed what he had all this time thought him to be.

Husserl's wishes here would be respected; Heidegger would be given the offer to succeed him. Husserl was far too important a figure to be refused. Proof of his philosophic eminence was shown in the summer of 1923, for example, by his being offered the chair of philosophy at Berlin as the sole candidate. That invitation had brought the Rektor (president) of the University at Freiburg, representatives of the education ministry for Baden, and a deputation from the faculty to plead with him to stay. After several weeks of consideration, Husserl declined the Berlin offer; but he won for himself further advantages in Freiburg. One of these was the financing of a research assistantship, for which Husserl shortly afterward chose Ludwig Landgrebe and later would select Eugen Fink.

In 1925, therefore, Husserl was an unquestionably powerful figure in Freiburg, and to study with him was to hear philosophy in the living words of a master at the height of his intellectual maturity. In the winter semester of 1925-1926 Husserl's "Basic Problems of Logic" headed the list of courses that the twenty-year-old student named Eugen Fink took in his first year there. One can imagine the impression Husserl would have made on someone like Fink. The descriptions given by others suggest what it might have been: the professional figure held very erect, the compact head tilted back slightly in such a way that one noticed less how short he was, the intense gray-blue eyes behind small round glasses, the prominent forehead, the warm friendliness, the soft Austrian accent. But Fink had also made an impression on Husserl, who in fact did notice people, contrary to what one would expect of a lecturer reputed to be oblivious to all but the course of his own train of thought. Jan Patocka relates Husserl's own account of how he first noticed Fink in his lectures. Fink sat there listening without taking any notes, and Husserl thought to himself, "That's going to produce 'great' results when he comes up for exams." But when Fink appeared for his exams, "he recited everything as if reading from a book." Patocka goes on to comment: "One instinctively thinks of how Plato refers to a perfect memory as the first condition for philosophical genius."

This phenomenal memory would later serve Fink well when working with Husserl in the vast forest of Husserl's endless packets of Forschungsmanuskripte that are the glory-and the bane-of research in phenomenology; but in this first course in phenomenology Fink was already benefiting from his astonishing memory. If the story Patocka tells is true, then, while Fink may not have taken notes during the lecture, he nonetheless wrote down what he heard afterward. In 1932 he gave to Dorion Cairns, then coming to the end of study in Freiburg, his own copy of his typed summary (Nachschrift) of that same lecture course, his first at Freiburg. It is in this typescript summary that one can discern something of the first impression Fink had of Husserl, not of the person of the philosopher but of his thought. And that first hearing of phenomenology set into the philosophic matrix of the young man's mind a pattern of themes and ideas composing, as it were, a visage that would take on a life and expressiveness of its own in the years to come.

Here, for example, Fink first heard discussion of the role of language in thought, of articulate consciousness explained as a pinnacle of self-aware wakefulness in the larger movement of one's mute, even brute living, of the intentionality of this whole life of consciousness, wakeful both in this full egoic sense as well as in those peripheral yet crucially important dimensions of one's being. A statement catches one's attention: "There is no such thing as absolute wakefulness." The explicit critical inflection of the Cartesian ego cogito at work is striking, against the more uncompromised appearance of it in Husserl's published works-Ideas I, and even the later Cartesian Meditations. Here, too, Fink heard for the first time about the body as the kinesthetically, perceptually functioning body, about time as phenomenologically the form of all objects and of the experience of them, about temporality as principle of individuation. And here was his introduction to the phenomenology of the modalities of consciousness in the flow of time, perception as such, and then recollection and expectation, these latter the topics that would figure in his dissertation. It was an exceedingly rich mixture, this lecture course of Husserl's, which the text as now published reduces to a tighter logical coherence of topics, but which Fink's Nachschrift captures in its comprehensive impact. And it was only the beginning.

This was naturally not the only lecture course that Fink followed that first semester in Freiburg. He took Julius Ebbinghaus's course on Kant's Kritik der reinen Vernunft, filling a bound booklet with his summary of it. He followed a course in the philosophy of mathematics given by Oskar Becker (without taking notes), two courses in German literature, one in political economy, and one in journalism. Then, for reasons that are not indicated, Fink spent the summer semester of 1926 in Berlin, studying philosophy, literature and drama, and journalism-with one course in English. And then he was back in Freiburg for the following winter, to remain there not only for the rest of his studies but until 1939, the year after Husserl's death. Fink would take every course Husserl gave, mixing the study of philosophy with study in a variety of other areas, mainly history and German language and literature.

There is every indication that Fink's initiation into phenomenology was swift and profound. But it was not simply by listening to Husserl's lectures and reading on his own that Fink found his way into the heart of phenomenology; a far more fruitful opportunity presented itself as his third semester at Freiburg was beginning. In May 1927, the Faculty of Philosophical Studies announced an essay competition on the topic of imagination to be treated by strictly phenomenological analysis. Fink responded by writing his first lengthy philosophical essay, giving it a title after the terms of the assigned topic: "Contributions to a phenomenological analysis of the mental phenomena that are dealt with under the expressions 'supposing that ...,' 'simply imagining something,' 'phantasizing.'" Husserl would later say of Fink's work here that, since "nothing gave the evidence of phenomenology like actual work on a special problem," this competition essay "saved Fink, because it set him to work intensively on the problem of Neutralitätsmodifikation." Fink, of course, had to engage himself actively in grasping the principles and essential results of phenomenology from the lectures he was hearing and the only two books of Husserl's phenomenology then published, Logical Investigations and Ideas I. But he had the additional advantage of being able to talk with the renowned philosopher himself, an opportunity that some students approached with trepidation but that Fink seems to have carried off with appropriate philosophical boldness. That, at least, is what one can read from the first record of any discussions he had with Husserl, from December 1, 1927, in his fourth semester of lectures at Freiburg. Admittedly this may well not have been Fink's first meeting with Husserl; but what is striking about the notes from this discussion, apart from the radical implications of the questions Fink asks Husserl, is the tone of selfless engagement with the issues in question. Deference is paid exclusively to those issues and to the thinking needed in resolving them.

As with the first lecture course Fink heard, the ones he followed as he was preparing the competition essay covered a vast amount of ground in phenomenology, but detailed material on specific points relevant to his work was not generally available. Fink's notes on his essay give sparse indication of his having referred to manuscripts on the themes pertinent to it that Husserl might have let him study, although this was something Husserl often did for his students, and would do for Fink too as he prepared his dissertation. Fink's work here, however, has elements of phenomenological analysis that he really did in great part himself, although on the substantial basis of initial Husserlian conceptions. Indeed, Husserl found the analysis Fink worked out to be thoroughly sound, and in its revision and expansion as a dissertation Husserl would recommend it to others. At the same time Fink saw clearly that the treatment he was making here could only be provisional; for inasmuch as it led inexorably and directly to the ultimate level of problems, that of original time-consciousness, it was only with the clarification of that level of constitution that the real explication of imaginative presentation could be achieved. He had projected three sections for his study, of which the third was to devote itself to the question of temporality. But he was able to finish only the first section for the competition, writing it out in February of 1928.


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