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The affective revolution in Husserls phenomenology

Matt Bower Postdoctoral Researcher Ruhr-Universitt Bochum Institut fr Philosophie II GA 3/151 Universittsstr. 150

Abstract: No commentator on Husserls later philosophy can present it without at some point touching on his theory of affection. While he had formulated the rudiments of the theory by 1905, it does not feature prominently in early works like Ideas I. It is not until sometime between 1918 and 1920 that Husserl discovers its deep significance. When he comes to that realization, affection takes a life of its own, revolutionizing his phenomenology. I begin by describing the phenomenon of affection as understood by Husserl, piecing together both very early and late manuscripts to present the phenomenon in more complexity than is typically done. I show how the phenomenon of affection maps onto the foreground/background and intention/fulfillment structures of intentionality. I then move to discuss how that phenomenon revolutionizes Husserls philosophy. In his later work, he recasts affection as a ubiquitous feature of conscious life, a privileged status it has thanks to its function as a precondition for other forms of phenomenality. On the basis of that insight, he formulates a novel theory of the unity of conscious life rooted in affection. The unity of conscious life is explained by Husserl in terms of his idea of a universal teleology. The latter, I show, is underwritten by the affective intentionality of instincts, which have the remarkable property of operating independently from objectivating intentionality.

Bower | The affective revolution in Husserls phenomenology The nature of affective intentionality No commentator on Husserls later philosophy can present it without at some point touching on his theory of affection. While he had formulated the rudiments of the theory by 1905, it does not feature prominently in early works like Ideas I. It is not until sometime between 1918 and 1920 that Husserl discovers its deep significance. When he comes to that realization, affection takes a life of its own, revolutionizing his phenomenology. After giving a summary account of what affection is for Husserl, I will discuss just how affection revolutionizes Husserls philosophy. Recasting affection as a ubiquitous feature of conscious life allows him to formulate a novel theory of the unity of conscious life rooted in affection and propose a solution to a special phenomenological version of the paradox of learning. Affection now appears everywhere in conscious life, holding it together and even giving meaning to its very beginning. Affection, as Husserl understands it is distinct from emotion and feeling. Emotions or feelings, such as pride or envy, are feelings about something (Goldie 2000, 16-17). More specifically, they are means of evaluating something, whether in the form of nondiscursively seeing something to be valuable (e.g., enjoying the pleasant character of a meal) or of discursively making an evaluative judgment about something (e.g., making the claim that the meal is a good meal). Those domains of mental life are of interest to Husserl (see Hua XXVIII and Hua XXXVII), but affection is a distinct, sui generis form of intentionality (Husserl 1973, 85, Hua XXXI, 8-9/281). It has to do with how experience comes about and runs its course rather than what the experience is of. It accounts for our advertence (Zuwendung) to things and, moreover, sustains and modulates that advertence. These are the primary traits that we will have to consider in sketching Husserls phenomenological treatment of affection.

Bower | The affective revolution in Husserls phenomenology Husserls theory of affection is inspired by the work of Carl Stumpf. Stumpf speaks of a theoretical interest, which he defines as a pleasure in noticing (Lust am Bemerken) (Hua XXXVIII, 103). Husserls advance over Stumpfs theory lies in his meticulous integration of the theory of affection into his general theory of intentionality (Hua XXXVIII, 160). There are two interrelated axes of intentionality into which affection is delicately woven. First, every

intentional act has its background, context, or situation. An intentional act has its focal core, what is under immediate consideration, and its unthematic periphery. Following anothers

argument in a conversation, for instance, involves focusing on particular phrases and statements, while retaining in the background the preceding statements that continue to play a marginal role in making sense of what currently dominates ones interest. Affection likewise admits of a distinction paralleling this foreground/background distinction.

Affection and foreground/background There is an affective experience peculiar to what actually catches ones attention. It is an excitement or appeal (Reiz) to embark upon or continue some manner of responding to something (Hua XI, 148-149/196). It is the feeling that attends any particular transaction with the world. Consider, for instance, the feeling of shock and surprise spurring the jolt of interest with its corresponding shift of attention from ones work in the kitchen while cooking to the sounding of a smoke detector. Subtler affective undercurrents similarly mediate our involvement with things in more prosaic ways. It is with a certain feeling of engagement, however relaxed, that one listens to a piece of music or lecture. Alongside the prominent foreground affection is the sort of affection that pertains to what is of proximate and gradually decreasing interest (Hua Mat VIII, 340, Hua XXXIX, 42). Husserl

Bower | The affective revolution in Husserls phenomenology calls all the affective shades besides the primary subject of ones attention tendencies (Hua XI, 50-51/90-91). This turn of phrase is somewhat misleading. He maintains that tendencies do actually affect one despite how term tendency connotes something merely dispositional and not occurent. The two are conflated in Husserls use of the term.1 A tendency actually affects one, and it simultaneously refers to further potential affective experiences (Hua XI, 167/216, Hua Mat VII, 191). It is the affective hold that a possible intentional act has on one, ones interest in that intentional act. The phases of an action currently underway still bear affectively on the present phase, comprising its affective context, just as the intentional content bound up with the preceding phases remain pertinent in a different respect to the action. Consider a transition to pianissimo in a piece of music (Hua XI, 153/200) or a suspenseful silence in a movie. In these cases one is confronted with something that would otherwise lack interest (very softly played notes, a scene with dead silence or perfect stillness) but for the fact that its affective circumstances, the lingering feeling of what has just taken place, live on and animate it. Similarly, future

possibilities germane to the action also have an affective allure. One is drawn into one direction rather than another. And even beyond past or future phases of a present undertaking, there is a peculiar affection pertaining to alternative competing undertakings, an allure to take part in them, although perhaps not compelling enough to change ones present course. All of these forms of affection together make up an affective vantage point, an affective perspective on ones present situation, possessing a prominent foreground and a background with distinct affective contours (the past, the future, the possible). As the preceding remarks indicate,

Husserl is of the somewhat non-standard view that dispositions are not merely inferred from their effects, but are available to consciousness in their effects.

Bower | The affective revolution in Husserls phenomenology the affective perspective is not necessarily autonomous, but is integrated with, for instance, the perspective of an agent undertaking an action and the moments of that action.

Affection and intention/fulfillment The second sense in which affection is interwoven with other forms of intentionality is more dynamic. A synchronic snapshot of affection reveals a complex affective vantage point that is structurally analogous to the vantage points of diverse forms of intentionality. A

diachronic (although not yet genetic (Hua XVII, 276/315, Welton 2000, 218-219)) analysis takes into account in addition the modifications of this affective vantage point as an intention passes from a mere (empty) intention to a fulfilled one, a distinction familiar from the Logical Investigations. Intention and fulfillment together form a whole, an act of identification. The intention singles some item out and makes a supposition about it. This spurs an act, a synthesis leading, ideally, toward fulfillment, the culmination of that synthesis being an intuitive experience, a confirmation of the initial supposition. For instance, I might read about the awe of being in the presence of some great monument or natural formation (e.g., the Grand Canyon), and consider what that would be like for me. The supposition sets up a potential chain of experiences terminating (if all goes well) in an experience of fulfillment, where the supposition is confirmed, i.e., where I confront the item or state of affairs in the flesh, perceptually. This

intention/fulfillment distinction is a feature of every form of intentionality governed by norms (i.e., epistemic, axiological, practical). Parallel to this transition from intention to fulfillment there is a determinate series of affective states. At one end, there is a feeling of tension related to the pertinent supposition, and,

Bower | The affective revolution in Husserls phenomenology at the other, there is a feeling of resolution corresponding to the fulfillment (Hua XXXVIII, 104105).2 These dynamics give a much clearer picture of the phenomenon in question. The feeling

of affection, with its hedonic character, is a class including experiences of unease, tension, relaxation, satisfaction, dissatisfaction, strain, exertion, release, and the like.3 The function of affection is to condition or motivate the concatenation of intention and fulfillment. For instance, I might decide to take a trip to see for myself some great monument or natural formation Ive heard about. My supposition creates a tension in me, perhaps the unease of curiosity. When I am actually face to face with it, then I am, certainly among other things, relieved of my tensed expectations, whether in the satisfaction of enjoyment or the letdown of frustration. It is also a familiar device in television to exploit the affective states of viewers by creating tension at the end of a program (a cliffhanger) so that the viewer is inclined to tune in for the next episode for some resolution. Essentially the same thing takes place in the ordinary case of perceptual experience or logical argumentation, to mention Husserls standard examples (Hua XXXVIII, 112-114). The feelings present in all these instances do not merely accompany the event as it unfolds. They motivate the sequence, they are its lifeblood (Hua X, 146/150).4

The affective turn While Husserl wavered at least until the early 1920s, he eventual comes to the conclusion that the form of intentionality just described, affection, is a universal feature of intentionality in all its varieties. In the notes for his 1904/1905 lectures on perception and attention, Husserl,
In his earliest manuscripts ranging from 1893 to 1906 (in Hua XXXVIII) Husserl hesitates to call these feelings, but in later texts (for instance, Husserl 1973, 20 and Hua XXXI, 16-17/189) he clearly resolves to understand them as feelings or affective states. 3 Husserl does not take these to be feelings of the body, as one might naturally suppose ( la William James). He views them solely in terms of their function in the economy of lived-experience. A feeling of tension is localizable, but it is a feeling whose primary function is quite different from informing one of the ongoings of ones body. 4 In this, Humes legacy is palpable, undoubtedly mediated by Brentano.

Bower | The affective revolution in Husserls phenomenology following the lead of Carl Stumpt and Anton Marty (Hua X, 145-156/149-150, Dwyer 2007, 8788), without hesitation claims that an intentional act fixing reference to some content is necessarily distinct from and precedes any affective act (Gemtsakt) of interest (Hua XXXVIII, 117-118). A decade and a half later, we find Husserl wrestling with himself on the issue in the lectures on passive synthesis from the early 1920s (Hua XI, 34). But, as Mensch (2010, 216219) and Steinbock (1995, 153-156) persuasively argue, in that text Husserl ultimately comes down in favor of the view that affection is necessary for any intentional act whatsoever. By the time of the C-Manuskripte, Husserl explicitly disavows his earlier stance as expressed in a manuscript from 1917/1918 collected in the Bernauer Manuskripte where he argues that affection cannot be a necessary feature of intentional acts generally (Hua XXXXIII, 285). Now in the C-Manuskripte he states categorically that every lived experience has both an affective form and an intentional content (a Was) (Hua Mat VIII, 189; 252). This claim about the universality of affection displays the centrality of that phenomenon for Husserls later philosophy. We can get some indirect insight into Husserls rationale for that by considering his appeal to affection to account for the unity of conscious life. Around the same time as Husserl alters his view on affection he also alters his view on the ego. In Ideas I he maintains that phenomenologically we are only justified in a very minimal, formal conception of subjectivity as an executor of intentional acts possessing no determinate properties itself and only evidenced in the intentional acts it carries out (Hua III, 80). Shortly after writing Ideas I, in the manuscripts ultimately published as Ideas II, Husserl asserts that self-reflection can reveal properties belonging to the subject, namely, its dispositions. All of the habits, convictions, abilities, and character traits one can acquire as well as natural temperament or any other non-

Bower | The affective revolution in Husserls phenomenology acquired idiosyncrasies are genuine, phenomenologically describable features of who one is (Hua IV, 57, 59-60). One is in principle a pure ego and in fact a personal ego. These considerations spur the much-discussed (Donohoe 2004, 30-36, Welton 2000, 228237, Steinbock 1995, 33-37) turn of Husserls focus to the concreteness of life, a concreteness that bespeaks not only the complex character one inevitably has as a person, but also the unity of conscious life in terms of its various traits. The realization that subjectivity has content allows him to think of the unity of consciousness as a history, since ones subjective constitution refers implicitly to ones history. A persons idiosyncrasies, habits, convictions, and so on are the relatively stable characters that give unity to a mass of disparate experiences undergone or actions undertaken. Husserl displays his fundamentally post-Kantian philosophical orientation in appealing to the phenomenon of affection to give his own phenomenological twist to the idea of the unity of apperception.

The affective unity of conscious experience Kant supposes, roughly, that the possible addition of an I think to any mental event or series of mental events is the basis for their continuity. In other words, the unity of experience is due to the synthetic activity of a cognitive agent whose a priori forms of intuition and concepts are applied to the material of experience to give it coherence. The unity is a result of that activity. On Husserls view, the unity of experience is also a matter of synthesis, but in two forms, namely, active and passive (Hua IV, 56, Hua I, 38). These are not heterogeneous factors, as they both have the common form of what Husserl calls motivation. The higher-order unifying principle depends essentially on a lower passive form of motivation that is ubiquitous in a way that active motivation could never be (Hua XXXI, 49, Hua Mat VIII, 183). It is prima

Bower | The affective revolution in Husserls phenomenology facie implausible and phenomenologically false to say that all experience depends on deliberate, rational activity for its unity. The more likely candidate is passive synthesis, whose motive force is affection. Recalling the analysis of affection that this paper began with, it should not be difficult to see how intimately related this phenomenon is to the problem of the unity of conscious experience. This relationship is especially evident in the way that affection fits into and spurs on the flow of conscious experience in terms of intention and fulfillment. It is not incidental that affection parallels the intention/fulfillment structure of intentionality as though it could be sloughed off and done without at any time. The universality of affection in conscious life is, in fact, largely due to its motivational relation, driving the transition from intention to fulfillment and then restlessly stirring up yet further intentions calling out for fulfillment. This last remark brings us closer to a new plane of analysis concerning the phenomenon of affection. For affection to have explanatory power for the whole of conscious life and its phenomenal unity, it must concern more than this or that conscious experience, and it must even have significance beyond the simple repeated arousal of new conscious experiences just mentioned. Following this line of thought, Husserl comes upon what he refers to as universal teleology (Hua XV, Nos. 22, 34, Hua Mat VIII, 260). In speaking of a universal teleology, Husserl intends to advance a theory about the unity of conscious life in terms of its overarching structure. In a certain way, this universal teleology is like the intention/fulfillment transition writ large, set over the course of a life (although, in truth, extending as well to intersubjective and generative life (Hua XV, 381)). Life begins as an empty intention, and aims at a kind of grand fulfillment, the perhaps unattainable ideal of becoming a fully rational, responsible person.

Bower | The affective revolution in Husserls phenomenology While, naturally much more could and must be said to concretize a notion that is supposed to give form to a whole life, I only want to emphasize here the role affection plays within universal teleology. Affection appears in this context in the form of instinct.5 Instinct, as Husserl

understands it, is a way of elaborating and clarifying affective intentionality. Instinct is, in its raw form, affection unburdened by objective intentionality. I mean by the expression objective intentionality any intentional experience or moment thereof that targets transcendent reality in such a way that the subject is conscious of the acts goal and the appropriate way of achieving that goal. An intentional act exhibits objective intentionality by virtue of its focal directedness, whereby it grasps the thing itself, and its horizonal directedness to other aspects of the object or state of affairs. Consider an illustration. When one gets in the car to drive somewhere, one has in mind where one wants to go, and also the better or worse ways of getting there. In describing the parallelism of affection and typical intentional acts above in terms of foreground/background and intention/fulfillment, I left aside the possible decoupling of the parallel intentionalities, which we can now call the affective and the objective dimensions of intentionality. Now, given the universality of affective intentionality, there is no possibility for an autonomously operating objective intentionality. It would be without motivation, without its very life-blood. But that does not yet rule out the possible independent operation of affective intentionality, which is exactly what we are now considering. This possibility is actual in raw instinct. Husserl captures this idea in his repeated

description of instinct as blind, a term which he glosses by saying instincts lack the presentation of a goal (Hua Mat VIII, 225-226, 326-327; Hua XV, 329-330, 511, 593). In instinct, one finds oneself caught up in an act, drawn into some engagement with the world and,

On the notion of instinct in Husserl, see Lee (1992), Khn (1998), and Mensch (2010).


Bower | The affective revolution in Husserls phenomenology of course, with other people (Hua XIII, 107; Hua XIV, 165-166, 178-179; Hua XV, 593, 599, 601-602, 611-612; Hua XXXIX, 476, 582).6 Importantly, this blind affective intentionality

differs from the so-called empty presentation of protentional consciousness (Hua XIV, 333335, Hua XXXIX, 317-318). The latter may be empty, but only relatively so, since it still predelineates in at least a very general way the future course of experience, namely, in terms of the terminus of the intentional act and the phases remaining for its full execution. Raw instinct lacks even the slightest hint of predelineation.7 The possibility and reality of independent affective intentionality is not only an interesting feature of the phenomenon of affection, it is crucial for understanding the unfolding of universal teleology. The indeterminacy of the instinctive affection pertains both to particular episodes, but also to a long-term trajectory of conscious life. That is, one may on the one hand find oneself, by instinct, interested in, say, food when one is hungry. But one can also be driven to more sophisticated forms of an experience or even to new dimensions of conscious life. This may happen, for instance, in a personal crisis, where one finds oneself called to lead a life of ethical self-responsibility (Hua XV, 379). Indeed, Husserl conceives of the major twists and turns of life as being guided by instinct, which is thus what pushes us to develop ever new abilities (Hua XXXIX 483). That means that every novel way of experiencing the world, every new form of constitution, is first instigated by a novel affection (Hua Mat VIII, 324). These events, the emergence of new dimensions of conscious life, are not ruptures with instinct, but its transformation, so that Husserl will even say
6 7

For discussion of intersubjective instincts, see Yamaguchi (1982), Iribarne (1994), and Khn (1998). Husserl makes it exceedingly clear (Hua XIV, 335) that this is his position by contrasting it with the vulgar nativism of Schelers postulation of innate representations [Vorstellungen,] which he rejects as the contrary of a genuine phenomenological theory. At issue is how to account for the intentional constitution of this basement level of conscious life in its earliest moments. As Husserl sees it, his own view of the instincts tries to account for this constitution, whereas Scheler takes the existence of innate representations as a given and only subsequently introduces intentionality into the picture.


Bower | The affective revolution in Husserls phenomenology that instinct is immortal (Hua Mat VIII, 258). Even when autonomous instinct gives way to intentional acts and the normative strictures of full-fledged rationality, it is still at bottom the instinct that governs and sustains ones interest. If one goes from being a culinary philistine to being an epicure, the original impulse is sustained. It simply finds a new way of being

conducted, namely, deliberately, with a firmer normative grip on the activity.


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