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Andrea Staiti

Lotze and Husserl on First and Second Generality

Abstract: Lotze and Husserl on First and Second Generality

In this paper, I present Lotze’s and Husserl’s efforts to describe an original di-
mension of generality that is given in direct perceptual experience and precedes log-
ical or conceptual generality. Accordingly, Lotze and Husserl both distinguish be-
tween first and second generality. I argue that Lotze influenced Husserl significantly
on this important matter. After presenting Lotze’s views on first generality and
sketching out his theory of second generality, I move to consider Husserl, who iden-
tifies first generality in the strict sense with individual essences and in a broader
sense with concrete essences. I then discuss Husserl’s characterization of second
generality, which he associates with generic essences and pure eide. I conclude by
spelling out the way in which the consideration of Lotze sheds new light on the key
problem of eidetics in Husserl’s phenomenology.
Keywords: Husserl, Lotze, Phenomenology, Essence, Universals.

1. Introduction
Recent scholarship on Lotze almost invariably begins with the com-
plaint that he is now largely forgotten, despite having once been an influen-
tial thinker. If this neglect is unjust, it is suggested, it is on account of
Lotze’s highly original interpretation of Platonic ideas in terms of Geltung
and the ensuing distinction between validity and existence, a distinction
that had a profound impact on both the (equally forgotten) movement of
Neo-Kantianism and celebrated philosophers such as Frege and Husserl.
As Frederick Beiser puts it, Lotze was “the grandfather of the concept of
normativity” (Beiser 2013, p. 129), a concept that is still central in contem-
porary philosophy.
However, I submit, there is another original doctrine to be found in
Lotze’s Logic that is at least as important and influential as the validi-
ty/existence distinction: the concept of erstes Allgemeine, or first generali-
ty.1 Unlike the validity/existence distinction, “first generality” is so com-

1 Throughout the paper I translate Allgemeine in the phrases erstes Allgemeine and zweites

Allgemeine as “generality”, as opposed to “universal” or “universality”. This is because trans-


pletely forgotten that it finds no mention even in the recent work of schol-
ars who earnestly set out to revive Lotze’s philosophical fortunes (Pester
1997; Beiser 2013; Sullivan 2014; Woodward 2015; one exception to this
trend can be found in Rollinger 2004).2 This omission is telling, since, as I
intend to show in what follows, Lotze’s first generality is a genuine proto-
phenomenological insight, easily overlooked if one tends to focus exclusive-
ly on Lotze’s legacy for the Kantian tradition. By contrast, Lotze’s genuinely
phenomenological legacy is still shrouded in mystery. Not only is there no
book-length study of Lotze’s influence on phenomenology, but the few
commentators who brushed against this issue also have entirely divergent
views on both the nature and the promise of that legacy. To mention just
one example in a recent paper, Rochus Sowa argues (1) that Lotze’s theory
of first generality is nothing but another instance of “the traditional under-
standing of the universal as what is in common” (Sowa 2010, p. 529)
(thereby detracting to the originality of Lotze), and (2) that “like Lotze,
[…], Husserl also remains within the tradition of interpreting the concep-
tual universal as something in common” (Sowa 2010, p. 535). Curiously,
about a hundred years earlier, an enthusiast of phenomenology – Paul Fer-
dinand Linke – spotted a thematic affinity between Lotze’s first generality
and Husserl’s views on species and essence but came to the opposite con-
clusion about the relationship between the two thinkers. Unlike Husserl,
Linke argues, Lotze fails to recognize that the identity of a species precedes
and grounds every attempted act of comparison of individual properties
(Linke 1917, pp. 184-185). Such dramatically divergent interpretations of
the same issue clearly show that things are more complicated than Linke or
Sowa suggest.
Before I turn to Lotze and Husserl in the subsequent sections, let me
specify the philosophical problem at stake. In the broadest possible terms,
it could be formulated with a classical question: what is the relation be-
tween the general and the particular? One traditional way of answering this
question construes generality as the defining property of a special class of

lating Allgemeine as “universal” in these phrases would blur precisely the distinction between
the pre-logical, experiential phenomenon of generality (erstes Allgemeine), which is precisely
not universality, and the logical, conceptual phenomenon of generality (zweites Allgemeine),
which is indeed universality. Lotze’s whole point is to distinguish sharply between these two
phenomena, such that speaking of “universal” for erstes Allgemeine, as Bosanquet does in the
English translation, is actually detrimental to a correct understanding of Lotze’s view.
2 By contrast, the importance of Lotze’s theory of first generality did not escape the atten-

tion of Ernst Cassirer, who discusses it at length in the first volume of Philosophie der
symbolischen Formen, arguing that “correctly understood and interpreted, it may provide the
key to an understanding of the original form of concept formation that is operative in lan-
guage” (Cassirer 1955, p. 283, translation modified).

noetic objects (concepts or universals) and particularity (or individuality) as

the defining property of ordinary objects encountered in perception. On
this account, noetic objects are either entities existing in a hyperuranion ac-
cessible via distinctive intellectual operations or spontaneous creations of
the mind. In both cases, they are not accessible to us through the senses and
can only be related to objects of sensation indirectly.
Both Lotze and Husserl accept the idea that generality is the form of
concepts, as Kant would have it, and both even defend versions of noetic
Platonism, according to which concepts are not mere bundles of past expe-
riences but subjective correlates of genuine noetic objects and relations;
however, both argue that generality as the form of concepts and as the de-
fining feature of noetic objects is not the phenomenologically first concept
of generality. Granted, in abstract reasoning we encounter generality as the
feature of special noetic objects involved in our intellectual transactions.
But is that the only and primary kind of encounter we have with generality?
Both Lotze and Husserl set out to determine a primary notion of generality
rooted in our direct perceptual experience. The generalities encountered
therein are neither conceptual nor logical generalities. They are not the sorts
of entities that have an intension and an open extension and that stand in
hierarchical relations of subordination with one another. But the experi-
ence of first generalities does constitute the doorway into the realm of logi-
cal validity, which conceptual thinking proper is subsequently meant to ar-
ticulate. For precisely this reason, any account of Lotze that insists on the
notion of validity but ignores the theory of first generality remains incom-
plete. Without the experience of first generality, the realm of validity would
remain inaccessible. The same goes for Husserl. Ignoring his attempts to
describe the experience of first generality while insisting on the centrality of
his notion of essence would be to gesture to a promised land of cognition
without having the faintest idea of how to get there.

2. Lotze on First Generality

Lotze’s theory of first generality is introduced in the first chapter of the
first book of his Logic, devoted to the theory of concept-formation. The
opening sections of Lotze’s Logic set out to characterize the distinctive task
of thinking, which Lotze interprets as an activity (Lotze 1888, p. 4) vis-à-vis
the merely passive reception of impressions from the outside world. On this
account, the task of thinking consists in forming the received impressions
(as occurrences in the subject) into full-blown presentations (Vorstellungen)
of something distinct from the subject. Furthermore, thinking consists in
the ability to discriminate between presentations that merely occur together
in the flow of experience and presentations that belong together according

to an ostensible ground (Lotze 1888, p. 37). The work of thought thus con-
sists in “adding to the reproduction or severance of a connection of presen-
tations the accessory notion of a ground for their coherence or non-
coherence” (Lotze 1888, p. 6, translation modified). The most rudimentary
operations that thought carries out in order to fulfill its task are concealed
by our inherited language, which, as Lotze puts, has already done the job
“for those who speak it” (Lotze 1888, p. 25). The simple activity of naming
an impression and thereby assigning its content to one of the established
parts of speech (noun, adjective, verb) already takes care of the first task of
thinking, namely, objectification. The content of an impression is distin-
guished from the impression itself as a subjective occurrence and consid-
ered as an object in its own right (Lotze 1888, §§ 3-8). However, to consid-
er the content of an impression as an object in its own right does not mean
considering it in isolation. Presentations are always part of an overarching
stream of experience, such that positing the content of a presentation, dis-
tinguishing it from the content of other presentations, and comparing the
contents of different presentations are actually one and the same operation
“which we are considering from different sides” (Lotze 1888, p. 26).
In light of the above characterization of the task of thinking, according
to which thinking is a matter of discriminating between presentations that
merely occur together and presentations that belong together according to
an ostensible ground, the activity of comparing different presentations is for
Lotze (1888, p. 27) “the most essential part of the logical work to be here
explained”. However, Lotze astutely notes that we should not take the pos-
sibility of this activity for granted. On a popular reading, the generalizations
implied by the use of language are a falsification of immediate perception.
In contemporary idiom one would say that perception is more fine-grained
than our concepts, or the words we use to express them. Thus, we use the
word “blue” to name an overwhelming variety of color nuances that, strictly
speaking, are all different from one another. However, the idea that the
generalization involved by the use of words is a falsification does not do jus-
tice to the fact “that in a number of different impressions there is some-
thing common which can be thought apart from their differences” (Lotze
1888, p. 28). We could imagine an entirely different scenario; namely, a
possible world in which our color sensations were so radically different
from one another that no meaningful comparison among them would be
even conceivable. In this possible world, we would need a different word
for each color nuance. This, however, is not our factual world. In our factu-
al world, we have a direct experience of something that is common to all
different shades of blue. That is what we name when we use the word
“blue”. Thus, referring to a variety of color sensations as “blue” is not a fal-
sification of their irreducibly diverse content but rather a shift of focus,

namely, from their variegated nuances to that common “something” that

grounds their belonging together as a group. Precisely this “something in
common” is what Lotze calls “first generality” and which he proceeds to
characterize as follows:
This comparison of the diverse clearly presupposes a common element to which
in the several members of the series specific differences attach. Such a common el-
ement is usually considered by logic only in the form of a general concept, and in
this shape it is a product of more or less numerous acts of thought. It is therefore
important to point out that this first generality, which we find here involved in the
comparison of simple presentations, is of an essentially different kind; that it is the
expression of an inward experience which thought has merely to recognize, and that
just for this reason it is […] an indispensable presupposition of that other kind of
generality which we shall meet in the formation of concepts” (Lotze 1888, p. 30,
translation modified).
A couple of remarks are in order to specify the meaning of this claim.
First, note that Lotze’s argument here diverges significantly from classical
empiricist theories of abstraction. The point is not that we spot similarities
in groups of sensations, shift our focus on the similar element and call that
element a generality. “Blue” is not an element internal to this or that partic-
ular shade of blue. Lotze’s argument begins by emphasizing the difference
among color sensations and by insisting on the remarkable fact that despite
this difference we do compare them. We compare color sensations that al-
ready come forward as a group, even before we actively compare them. The
first experience of generality occurs when we shift our focus from the group
to the ground of the group’s belonging together, not when we merely sort
out some common feature belonging to all the group’s members. The expe-
rience of “blue” is just as integral to the experience of a group that encom-
passes different shades of blue as it is to the experience of the individual
shades as such. As Robin Rollinger aptly puts it, Lotze’s view here amounts
to “the thesis that there are presentations of universals prior to abstraction”
(Rollinger 2004, p. 159).
Second, the claim that our first experience of generality consists in nam-
ing the common “something” that grounds the hanging together of a group
of sensations does not entail the claim that all kinds of generality are first
experienced in this way. For instance, Lotze concedes that “sweet” and
“warm” or “yellow” and “soft” are “incomparably different” (Lotze 1888,
p. 28) such that the generality “sensory quality” can never come forward as
first generality at the level of direct experience. Only when we proceed to
conceptually and logically organize the first generalities originally showing
up in direct experience do we encounter higher-level generalities, such as
“sensory quality”, encompassing radically different groups of sensations.

On the other hand, first generalities do not need to be infimae species, such
as “blue” or “red”. The generality “color” can show up in direct experience
as a first generality as much as the generality “red”, but unlike the generali-
ty “space-filling property”. “Space-filling property” is a second generality,
i.e., a logical or conceptual generality which we only encounter in the pro-
cess of ordering generalities such as “blue”, “red”, “color” and, say, “rug-
gedness” under a common rubric. Spelling out in detail Lotze’s theory of
second generality and logical concept-formation would far exceed the scope
of the present paper.3 Some further details will be provided below, in sec-
tion three of this paper, in order to highlight the proximity of Lotze’s and
Husserl’s respective theories. At this juncture, it suffices to note the differ-
ence in status between first and second generality and to highlight that first
generality is not a logical phenomenon, i.e., it is not the result of some intel-
lectual process of concept-formation.
Thus, when Rochus Sowa attacks the tradition to which both Lotze and
Husserl belong, and argues that to construe generality as “something in
common” (hen epi pollon) is a “false interpretation of the logical phenome-
non of universality” (Sowa 2010, pp. 525-526), he disregards the fact that
the phenomenon described by Lotze’s theory of first generality is not the
logical phenomenon of universality, but an experiential phenomenon that
logical universality entirely presupposes. Hence, even if we accept Sowa’s
argument for the superiority of Frege’s account of concepts as functions
(Sowa 2010, p. 543), we can in no way describe the experience associated
with Lotze’s first generalities in terms of functions, arguments and truth-
values. This would illegitimately reverse the order of factors involved in
such experience. We do not begin with an abstract function “being-blue”
and then look around in the stream of our experience for suitable (or un-
suitable) candidates as arguments to determine the variable X in “X is
blue”. Rather, we recognize groups of color sensations and we experience
the common something that grounds their hanging together. If we focus
our attention explicitly on that something, we can put a name on it and call
it blue. Thus, no matter how we best interpret the second generality of con-
cepts and their noetic correlates, first generalities in Lotze’s sense are quite
aptly described as hen epi pollon.
One question, however, remains open in Lotze’s theory of first generali-
ties. On Lotze’s account, a first generality is, so to speak, an ens relationis. It
takes at least two sensations to form a group and thereby create the condi-
tions for the experience of first generality as the ground of their belonging
together. First generalities thus appear to be special objects that come for-

3 But for an excellent presentation see Centi 1993, pp. 179-196.


ward ex nihilo whenever two or more sensations of a certain kind occur.

However, what is it exactly that enables the emergence of such a special ob-
ject in the field of our experience? There is some phenomenological plausi-
bility to Lotze’s claim that we find first generalities “already there” as ele-
ments internal to our experience and not as products of our thought; how-
ever, the kind of consciousness that enables the shift of focus from individ-
ual sensations to the first generality holding them together as a group re-
mains unquestioned. Moreover, how exactly should we conceive the rela-
tionship between first and second generality? Are they both called generali-
ties equivocally, or is there a sense in which they perform the same func-
tion, in spite of their different constitution? In the next section, I turn to
Husserl’s contribution to these important matters. After presenting his at-
tempt to describe first generality, I attempt to show in what respect Hus-
serl’s analysis is more complete than Lotze’s.

3. Husserl on First Generality

The most prominent venue for Husserl’s reflections on the nature of
generality is his second Logical Investigation where, as is well known, he re-
jects empiricist theories of abstraction and argues that the unity of species
cannot be reduced to the psychological unity of mental images standing in
some relation of similarity (Husserl 2001a, pp. 235-314). On Husserl’s al-
ternative model, we grasp general species on the basis of an operation la-
beled Ideation, which consists in viewing a particular attribute as an in-
stance and then shifting our focus toward the ideal species of which the giv-
en particular is taken to be an instance. In later writings, such as the first
book of Ideas, the talk of Ideation is replaced by the talk of Wesensschau
and its cognate phrases Wesensanschauung, Wesenserschauung, Wesens-
intuition etc. In both Logical Investigations and Ideas I, Husserl emphatical-
ly stresses the difference between the intuition of some particular and the
intuition of its corresponding essence, thus often giving the impression that
he considers the two forms of intuition to be entirely disconnected. Howev-
er, in recently published research manuscripts (Husserliana Vol. XLI) we
find a much more refined and sophisticated picture of the relationship be-
tween the experience of particulars and the experience of generalities. In
this context, Husserl sets out to draw a distinction between first generalities
and second generalities, thus rehearsing the central motif of Lotze’s theory
of concept-formation.

Before I proceed to examine these texts, let me comment briefly on

Husserl’s reception of Lotze.4 Although Husserl was familiar with Lotze’s
writings since his days as a student of mathematics under Weierstraß
(Schuhmann 1977, p. 8) and although he makes some sparse approving ref-
erences to Lotze in the Prolegomena (Husserl 2001a, pp. 47, 135, 138), he
never realized his plan to include a critical discussion of Lotze’s theory of
knowledge in the Logical Investigations (Schuhmann 1977, p. 60)5 and it
was not until the summer semester of 1912 that he devoted a whole seminar
to Lotze’s Logic (Schuhmann 1977, p. 169). In recent years, a full transcrip-
tion of the seminar on Lotze was found among the writings of Canadian
philosopher and Husserl’s first English-speaking doctoral student, Win-
throp Pickard Bell, at Mount Allison University. The transcription is very
accurate. Husserl himself looked over it and approved its content.6 Unfor-
tunately, however, Husserl was eager to move to a discussion of the third
book of Lotze’s Logic, where the famous notion of validity is introduced.
According to Bell’s syllabus, seven out of the eleven meetings were spent
discussing sections from the third book, and only one meeting focused ex-
plicitly on the first book. Even there, however, there is no mention of
Lotze’s first and second generality in Bell’s transcription. The whole discus-
sion of the first book is geared toward the subsequent notion of logical va-
lidity, and Husserl seems to have gotten sidetracked by the apparent “psy-
chologism” in Lotze’s abovementioned theory of objectification.7 In spite of
this somewhat disappointing neglect, it is a fact that in manuscripts from
the years immediately following the seminar on Lotze, Husserl speaks pro-
fusely of first and second generality, terminology that is unmistakably
Lotzean. It is also a fact that §§ 13-14 in Husserl’s personal copy of the first
For an informative discussion of this point see Varga 2013, pp. 182-185.
Although a thorough examination of Lotze is absent in the Logical Investigations, he was
a major influence for the development of Husserl’s own concept of logical validity. De Santis
2016 offers a comprehensive and instructive discussion of this issue. On Husserl and Lotze on
validity see also Hauser 2003.
6 The concluding summary of the seminar from Bell’s transcription is due to appear in the

journal Husserl Studies. I would like to express my gratitude to the editors, Catharina
Bonnemann and Jason Bell for sharing with me drafts of the transcription and allowing me to
read their English translation.
7 Although here Husserl’s appraisal of Lotze may be based on a misunderstanding. On

this point I agree with Christian Beyer that Lotze’s theory of objectification describes how an
originally subjective occurrence, i.e., a sensation can become “the object of a presentation and
henceforth come forward as an independent content, insofar as its existence does not depend
on whether or not it will ever be presented” (Beyer 1996, p. 34). Lotze’s awareness of the
sharp distinction between a presentation as psychological occurrence and its content seems ra-
ther to prefigure Husserl’s own distinction between real and intentional content of an act,
which is the source of his rejection of psychologism.

book of Lotze’s Logic8 have abundant marks in the body text and several
annotations reading “nota bene” on the side. The phrase erstes Allgemeine
in § 14, in particular, is underlined vigorously. We can then legitimately as-
sume that even though apparently he did not discuss it any detail in the
seminar, Husserl realized very well the importance of Lotze’s theory of first
and second generality such that he resorted to Lotze’s distinction in order
to sort his own thoughts about various modes of constitution of generality.
In the texts at issue, Husserl distinguishes different senses of the word
“essence”, endeavoring in the process to resolve the ambiguities that some-
times afflict his use of this term, notably in Ideas I. As commentators and
critics have remarked (Pöll 1936, p. 30; Meinong 1978, p. 291; Sowa 2010,
p. 536; Majolino 2015, pp. 37-38) and indeed by Husserl’s own admission
(Husserl 2012, pp. 149-150), the word “essence” in Ideas I designates both
pure eide, such as the highest genera that enter into the definition of an on-
tological region, and the what-content, the “whole stock of predicables, the
internal moments of the object (of the individual)” (Husserl 2012, p. 149).
This ambiguity, however, is not merely an unfortunate conflation; rather, it
points toward a real phenomenological issue, which we could formulate as
follows: In short, what kind of experience allows us to transition from the
simple perception of an individual, such as “this tone”, to an awareness of
its individual essence (the whole stock of predicables), to an awareness of
the lowest species under which it is subsumed, and finally to an awareness
of the generic pure essence under which it stands?
Like Lotze, and with a move that might sound slightly surprising to the
reader of the second Logical Investigation, Husserl invokes here the experi-
ence of similarity:
Wherever I find similarity in “connectional” consciousness, I can ask what
“grounds” similarity. I can transition from the given sensory similarity to a compari-
son and to the act of holding together, to a connecting grasp of the relation of simi-
larity, and from there, by way of actual comparison, to a consideration of the actual
“what” of coincidence, of the essences or essential moments thereby coming to co-
incide (Husserl 2012, p. 129).
The relations of similarity among sensory materials found as givens in
the field of consciousness are, so to speak, the territory in which our theo-
retical gaze can dig to unearth essences that ground those relations. In or-
der for this to happen, Husserl emphasizes that “a successive running-
through, a conscious coming-forward-after-one-another in what is given is
necessary” (Husserl 2012, p. 138, fn.).

8 Preserved at the Husserl Archive in Leuven under the code BQ285.


The most complete experience of a common essence grounding rela-

tions of similarity is the experience of seriality. The experience of seriality is
the condition for the intuition of an individual essence, and it constitutes
“the maximum of essential community of possible objects” (Husserl 2012,
p. 137). Imagine hearing a certain tone being played for the exact same
amount of time, with the same intensity, timbre, pitch, etc. or seeing a row
of perfectly identical bottles. In the case of a tone, we would describe this
experience as one of repetition: “the same tone is being played over and
over again”, although, strictly speaking, this description would be incorrect.
It is not one and the same tone that is being played, but one and the same
individual essence that is being instantiated in successive time-venues by a
multiplicity of individual tones (Husserl 2012, p. 133). The difference be-
tween individual essence and perfectly alike individuals instantiating the
same individual essence is even more clear with the serial experience of bot-
tles, which are perceived from the very beginning as distinct individuals
that are alike in every respect. Husserl writes:
If we hold fast to pure intuition […] we can have several individuals (not in co-
existence, but in succession) that are “ideally” speaking completely alike. To the
complete alikeness of the individuals corresponds the identical essence that occurs
in all of them and that merely differentiates itself through individuality. […] Differ-
ent individuals can have the same essence, we can also say the same individual es-
sence. This entails that the same individual essence is a generality that individuates
itself. Furthermore, this generality is the first generality in the genuine sense, the
generality that we call a concretum, which, in turn, stands under concrete genera
(Husserl 2012, pp. 125-126).
Husserl’s first generality is thus nothing other than the concretum itself
once its indefinite repeatability as a whole stock of predicables is either fac-
tually experienced (seriality) or at least contemplated as an essential possi-
bility. Unlike Lotze’s, therefore, Husserl’s first generality coincides with the
individual given once it has been de-individualized through a shift of focus
toward its individual essence. We must hasten to add, however, that it
would be phenomenologically untenable to argue that the most basic expe-
rience of generality is the experience of individual essences. Individual es-
sences are, as Husserl says, first generalities only “in the genuine sense” or,
one could paraphrase, in the strictest sense of the word “first”. The case of
perfect alikeness among individuals that defines the experience of seriality
is a limit case. Most individuals are similar only in some respect and it is
“similarity in some respect”, rather than complete alikeness, that normally
undergirds our first experience of generality. “Similarity in some respect”
comes in two flavors. Two individuals can be similar either in respect of one
of their abstract “moments” (e.g., a stone and a bush of the same size), or

they can be similar in respect of their kind (e.g., a string tone and a brass
tone). Usually, it is this second kind of similarity that we consider when we
name things. While “strictly speaking” it is true that every single tone is a
concretum consisting of a total stock of predicables unified into an individ-
ual essence, we normally experience the concretum simply as “a tone”,
thereby expressing with one single word the still inarticulate complexity of
its inner determinations.
Husserl calls the essence that grounds the similarity of two or more in-
dividuals in respect of their kind “concrete generality” (Husserl 2012, p.
126) or “concrete essence” (Husserl 2012, pp. 134-135; 2001, p. 38). “The
concrete generality is expressed in the ‘original’ main words. This is a tone,
a color, it is the first form of predication” (Husserl 2012, p. 126). The word
expressing an individual’s concrete essence singles out not just one predi-
cable among many within the individual’s total stock, but the predicable
upon which all other predicables are, so to speak, parasitic. Thus, some-
thing has pitch, intensity, timbre, duration, etc. but something is a tone.
“Tone” is not a predicate on par with pitch, intensity, timbre, etc. It is the
predicate that implicitly embraces all the other predicates and in which they
In this sense, Husserl writes: “The concrete essence is the first generali-
ty, the lowest level of generality” and “the individual essence is an instantia-
tion of a concrete essence” (Husserl 2012, p. 134). So, for instance, “if c is a
concrete essence, every individual has a concrete essence, every Ic is a c and
therein has its full determination, with the exception of the individualizing
determinations” (Husserl 2012, p. 135). The second remark in this quote
leads us to the distinctive role of concrete essences in the complex relation
between the “world” of individuals and the “world” of generalities. Con-
crete essences are the only essences bearing individualizing determinations.
In other words, concrete essences are the only essences capable of individu-
alizing themselves directly in individual essences. Higher generic essences
as well as non-independent, abstract essences can be intuited as essences in
their own right only to the extent that they relate to concrete essences. So,
for instance, the essence “animal” can be intuited only to the extent that it
is related to concrete essences such as “man” and “horse”, which, unlike
“animal”, are directly individuated. Analogously, the essence “red” can on-
ly be intuited to the extent that it is related to concrete essences such as
“strawberry” or “carnation”. This is due to the anatomy of concrete essenc-
es, which consist of two components: a quale and a quantum. Here is how
Husserl describes the situation:
The concrete essence is the hen epi pollon, i.e., the complete eidetic-identical el-
ement in a manifold of individual particulars that do not “entail” any further specif-

ic determination. If we highlight in this hen, in this concrete essence, the “quale”,

we see that it is absolutely identical for all individual particulars. It is an essential
moment that no longer entails in itself any further difference (Husserl 2012, p. 147).
Things are different with respect to the quantum, the specific moment
of extension, over which the quale spreads. The extensional moment is dif-
ferent for each individual considered. Each individual occurs in a different
spatio-temporal venue. This peculiar state of affairs points toward the es-
sential difference in the manner of “differentiation” of qualitative and
quantitative abstract essences making up a concrete essence. The quale,
says Husserl, “differentiates itself only specifically” (Husserl 2012, p. 148).
If we consider, for instance, the genus, “color”, per se, then the only con-
ceivable kind of differentiation that does not connect color to essences be-
longing to the quantitative genus “extension” is an internal differentiation of
the genus “color” itself – for instance, red, green, blue, etc. – and perhaps
even a more penetrating differentiation reaching all the way down to colors
that are no longer further specifiable, such as electric blue, ruby red, or ar-
my green.9 By contrast, according to Husserl, “the lowest specific difference
of extension is individual difference” (Husserl 2012, p. 148). This does not
mean that abstract essences falling within the genus “extension” do not un-
dergo specific differentiations. All the basic geometric shapes are instances
of specific differentiations within the genus “extension”. However, if we
consider the lowest difference “equilateral triangle”, then “equilateral tri-
angle whose side is four inches long” is not a further specific differentiation
in the same sense in which green is a specific differentiation of color and
army green is a specific differentiation of green. An equilateral triangle
whose side is four inches long is already an individual essence that can be
exhibited in an open infinity of real individuals. If this individual triangle
happened to be army green, then the qualitative essence “army green”
would be co-individuated thanks to the individuation of the quantitative es-
sence “equilateral triangle”. Husserl effectively summarizes his analysis as
It has shown that the individuating factor does not pertain to the concrete es-
sence uniformly, rather, it displays a characteristic structure of individuals, accord-
ing to which the concrete essence breaks down into two sides: a quale, which differ-

9 Whether electric blue, ruby red, and army green are genuine further specifications of

blue, red, and green, respectively, or just nuances of these very colors based on degrees of
brightness and/or blending in of other colors is an interesting phenomenological question,
which I cannot adjudicate here. I will assume for the sake of analysis that they are genuine
specifications, but unconvinced readers can safely replace “army green” with “green” in the
example below.

entiates itself specifically and only specifically, and an extension, over which the
quale spreads and which does not differentiate itself only specifically, but also indi-
vidually (Husserl 2012, p. 150).

4. Husserl on Second Generality and Pure Eidos

The next step in the analysis is to move from concrete essences to gener-
ic essences. Granted that we have direct experience of first generalities such
as the concrete essences “tone” and “noise”, how do we move to grasp ge-
neric essences such as “sound” or even “acoustic datum” in general? Hus-
serl’s answer here is remarkable and fully coincides with Lotze’s account of
the transition from first to second generality. It is not by direct comparison
of concrete essences of different species that we ascend to the higher gene-
ra. Such a comparison would at best result in the experience of partial simi-
larity and thus to a shift of focus on abstract essences, rather than generic
essences. So, for instance, suppose that the concrete essence “bush” and the
concrete essence “stone” happened to be individuated in individual essenc-
es having the same size. Comparing these concrete essences would lead us
to notice “size” as an abstract quantitative essence belonging necessarily to
both essences. It would not lead us to notice the generic essence “thing”.
Husserl’s thesis on this matter is remarkable, not least (in the context of this
paper) because it fully resonates with Lotze’s. It is not by comparing ab-
stract essences in multiple individuals of different concrete essences that we
ascend the scale of genera. Rather, it is by “leaving indeterminate and freely
variable” some of the concrete essence’s predicables (Husserl 2012, p. 127).
Thus, while a “tone” is what multiple individuals of the same concrete es-
sence have in common, a “sound” is not what a tone and a noise have in
common. Rather, a sound is a tone whose timbre-predicables, pitch-
predicables, intensity-predicables and aesthetic-predicables are considered
as freely variable. This does coincide with a noise whose timbre-
predicables, pitch-predicables, intensity-predicables and aesthetic-
predicables are considered as freely variable; however, the origin of this co-
incidence is not comparison but rather “logical” work carried out on the
predicables of the concrete essence under scrutiny.
This is how Lotze expresses the same view in his lectures on logic:
The ordinary theory of logic is accustomed simply to teach that, from compara-
ble individual ideas (notiones speciales) we ascend to the more universal one (notio
generalis) by “abstracting” from the unlike marks (notae) of the former, and retain-
ing only the like ones. This theory adds the statement, therefore, that the content
(materia complexus) of a general idea is “poorer”, that is, can count fewer marks
than that of the particular ones out of comparison of which it arose. The foregoing
remark must at all events be improved upon to this extent, that each universal has

exactly so many marks, which it is indispensable should be thought together, as be-

long to the individuals corresponding to it. Nevertheless, while all these marks are
perfectly defined in the particular or in the individual idea, as respects both kind
and quantity; in the universal, certain general or undefined marks have taken the
place of many of them. The universal idea, as compared with the particular idea, is
therefore poorer in defined marks, but not poorer in marks in general (Lotze 1887,
p. 16).
Thus, in sum, for both Lotze and Husserl first generality rests on the
perception of similarity in direct experience, whereas second (logical, con-
ceptual) generality is the result of logical work, in particular, the
variabilization of some of the abstract components inherent in what Husserl
calls a concrete essence. In Husserl’s terms, first generalities are concrete
essences (and, in the strictest sense, individual essences), whereas second
generalities are genera ranging over concrete essences.
Husserl does however make one further step beyond this distinction. In
a later writing, we find the puzzling remark that a good example of a con-
crete essence is the essence “thing” (Husserl 2001b, p. 38). When we call
something a thing, we are certainly determining it “highly imprecisely”, but
nonetheless “comprehensively”, i.e. effectively embracing with one single
“total concept” (Husserl 2001b, p. 39) all predicables essentially belonging
to it. In light of the above distinction, we would expect Husserl to consider
“thing” a second generality, rather than a concrete essence. Concrete es-
sences of the genus, “thing”, would be, for example, “rock” or “stick”,
whereas the generic essence “thing” would be the result of variabilization of
the determining features of rocks and sticks. However, we should note that
while the constitution of a generic essence such as “thing” differs from the
constitution of a concrete essence such as “rock” or “stick”, nothing pre-
vents the essence “thing” from subsequently taking on the function of a
concrete essence, i.e., expressing in one single stroke the total stock of
predicables of a certain entity. Thus, while it is certainly true that, strictly
speaking, we never encounter “things”, but only “rocks” and “sticks”; in
other words, that only concrete essences such as “rock” and “stick” enjoy
the possibility of direct individuation, we can certainly choose to view a
rock or a stick merely as a thing. In so doing, we are relating a generic es-
sence directly to an individual, thereby disregarding the fact that this is only
possible by virtue of internal specification of the genus, “thing”, all the way
down to lowest species that are individuated directly. In other words, one
could say that despite their different constitution, generic essences “inherit”
from concrete essences the function of embracing in one stroke all the
predicables of a given individual.
Before concluding this paper with a recapitulation, one last step in the
analysis is apropos. Readers familiar with Husserl’s phenomenology may

have wondered why so far there has been no mention of Husserl’s most fa-
mous (and controversial) notion of essence, namely, “pure eidos”. This
omission was not unintentional. Only at this stage of the analysis can we
pose the problem of pure eide correctly. For the sake of space, however, we
must limit ourselves to pose the problem and defer a complete discussion to
another paper. A pure eidos is an essence whose eidetic scope includes both
factually perceived and merely fantasized individuals. In other words, a
pure eidos is an essence whose eidetic components (its constitutive
predicables, viz., inner moments) are completely indifferent to the existence
of the empirical world as we know it. Husserl speaks of a thesis (a “posit-
ing”) that is associated with essences whose corresponding individuals are
considered exclusively as existing entities in the real world. In some passag-
es, Husserl suggests that if we suspend that thesis, we can convert the cor-
responding essence into a pure eidos. Husserl describes this operation a
parte subjecti by reference to the formation of concepts, which, as we men-
tioned in the introduction, are the subjective correlates (on the “meaning”
side of intentionality) of essences:
If we consider experiential realities, we can form a concept as an empirical con-
cept. By way of highlighting through comparison the “something in common”, we
obtain a general concept that carries with it an empirical thesis. For instance: lion.
Among real things there are such things as lions; lion is a species-concept for exist-
ing things. If I drop the thesis, I obtain a pure concept, i.e., a general concept for
possible things. […] Thus, we distinguish empirical concepts as concepts entailing
theses and pure concepts as pure essences. In this sense, “lion” would be an empiri-
cal concept with a thesis, a pure concept without a thesis (Husserl 2012, pp. 90-91).
Things, however, are not as simple as this passage seems to suggest.
Suppose that under the concept, “lion”, I think, “all the lions that factually
exist, existed and will exist on earth”. I can become aware of this restriction
to empirically existing lions and decide to remove it. I drop the empirical
thesis and under, “lion”, I now think, “lions in general”, or, “possible li-
ons”, regardless of whether or not they happen to exist on earth at this or
that time. At first glance, I seem to have dropped the empirical thesis and
obtained a pure concept of lion. However, while I have given up the explic-
it empirical positing, there is an implicit empirical positing that binds and
determines my very ability to think about lions. The “possible lion” I am
able to imagine has the features it has only because a phylogenetic history
factually (empirically) occurred. While I do not think explicitly about the
phylogenetic history when I “purify” my concept of lion by dropping the
empirical thesis, this history is implicitly posited. Without the implicit ref-
erence to the factual phylogenetic history of the species, “lion”, which has
determined in advance what I am prepared to consider a lion, I would lack

every guidance for the very act of imagining possible lions. Thus, while the
explicit empirical thesis of the essence “lion” can be dropped, the implicit
empirical thesis of a world in which lions exist remains and must remain in
order for me to be able to imagine lions. Dropping the explicit empirical
thesis only partially purifies the essence, “lion”, which, on closer inspection,
is and remains an empirical essence rather than a pure eidos. Husserl shows
awareness of the impossibility to convert all essences into pure eide in a lat-
er text:
For instance, we bind “shape in general” with the intuitively realizable bound “de-
limited by three sides” and, in the process of forming this “difference”, we ask about the
essential attributes of such a free [scil. geometric] formation. Obviously, such specifica-
tions of eidetic generalities should not be conflated with concrete concepts such as dog,
tree, etc. Empirical concepts are not real specifications of pure generalities. They intend
typical generalities, possible scopes [Spielräume] of experience that constantly await new
pre-figuration from experience (Husserl 2012, p. 248).
Unless we believe that there is a substantial difference between dogs and li-
ons, we must conclude that this last quote rectifies the somewhat facile analysis
from the foregoing passage. Dogs, lions, and trees receive their possible
predicables from factual experience and even when we disconnect the direct
empirical thesis pertaining to such essences, it is only by virtue of implicit em-
pirical theses that we are able to think something determinate under them.
In light of the above, the problem of pure eide can be formulated as fol-
lows: what essences can be completely purified? In other words, are there
essences whose eidetic content is completely indifferent to both explicit and
implicit empirical theses? Geometric shapes, for instance, look like good
candidates. The essence “triangle” can be posited with all its predicables
without having to posit the existence of anything, explicitly or implicitly.
“Tone” or “red”, too. Moreover, higher generic essences, such as “animal”,
also seem to be purifiable in the sense of eide. While only a factual phylo-
genetic history and my own experience of its products determines the eidet-
ic content of the essence, “lion”, and what I may or may not think under it,
the essence “animal” does not require positing any phylogenetic history or a
factual experience determining the eidetic content to be thought under it.
There seems to be no universally valid criterion to determine a priori what
essences can be converted into pure eide. Rather, this matter has to be ad-
judicated “experimentally”, as it were, which is why Husserl devised a
method called “eidetic variation” for this purpose.10 Thus, if we begin with
an essence originally constituted on the basis of our experience and want to
10 I cannot enter into details about eidetic variation here, however, this method has been

described accurately by other scholars, such as Lohmar 2005 and De Santis 2011.

determine whether it qualifies as a pure eidos, we cannot simply disconnect

the explicit empirical thesis pertaining to it. We must try to disconnect also
the implicit empirical theses by way of varying in our imagination the
predicables pertaining to the essence at stake. The question then becomes
the following: how many of the predicables in the total stock pertaining to
the essence under scrutiny must be dropped alongside with the existential
thesis? And what happens to the essence under scrutiny when these predi-
cates are dropped? If we keep the example of “lion”, we see clearly that the
moment we try to purify it by dropping both explicit and implicit empirical
theses, its content necessarily changes. The moment we disregard those fea-
tures that only pertain to lions on the basis of phylogenetic history of the
species and our factual experience of existing lions, we inevitable variabilize
them and are lead back to the genus “animal”, which, unlike the concrete
essence, “lion”, can be grasped as a pure eidos. We thus have “eidetically
reduced” (in the scholastic sense of reductio) the empirical concrete essence
lion to the pure generic essence (eidos) “animal”. We could then conclude
that lions do not have a pure essence as lions, but only as animals.
The sketch just offered must suffice here. The distinction between pure
eide and empirical essence is distinctively Husserlian and there is nothing
similar to be found in Lotze. This, however, should make clear why, at the
beginning of this paper, I argued that Husserl’s analysis is more complete
than Lotze’s. Not only does Husserl clarify why second generalities can be
related to individual essences directly by inheriting the function of first
generalities, but he also introduces an original distinction between empiri-
cal essences and pure eide, which is of utmost importance for the founda-
tion of phenomenology as an eidetic, rather than merely empirical science.

5. Conclusion
It is Lotze’s merit to have drawn a phenomenologically sound distinc-
tion between first and second generality. We experience first generalities as
the ground of relations of similarity found as given in perception. We “cre-
ate” second generalities in the process of ordering and connecting first gen-
eralities, by way of considering some of their constituent elements (notae) as
free variables. Husserl retrieves this distinction in his own writings on es-
sence and considers first generalities in the strictest sense to be individual
essences (originally given in the experience of seriality and repetition), and,
in a more liberal sense, concrete essences, i.e., essences pertaining to lowest
specific differences, such as “tone” or “horse”. Husserlian second generali-
ties are then generic essences, i.e., essences pertaining to higher genera,
such as “sound” or “animal”. Like Lotze, Husserl construes the process
that allows us to secure second generalizations as the variabilization of the

constituent predicables that are found in concrete essences. While concrete

essences are the only essences that can be individuated directly (i.e. we only
encounter tones or noises, horses or cats, and never sounds or animals) and
generic essences can only undergo internal differentiation in lower species
by virtue of their intrinsic relation to concrete essences, generic essences
can also be viewed as concrete, that is, as expressing in one single stroke the
total stock of predicables pertaining to a given concretum. For this reason,
we can choose to view one and the same entity either as a horse or an ani-
mal. From a logical point of view, the only difference in these two cases
would be the number of predicables that we choose to consider as free var-
iables; however, this fact should not deceive us as to the constitution of the
two kinds of generalities. Concrete and individual essences are encountered
in experience, whereas generic essences are the product of a distinctive
kind of logical work. Generic essences, however, can inherit the function of
concrete essences and (despite their different constitution) they can be di-
rectly related to individual essences. Moreover, Husserl introduces a dis-
tinction between empirical essences and pure eide, which cuts across the
distinction between concrete and generic essences and greatly enhances the
Lotzean analysis of the phenomenon of generality. I hope to have succeed-
ed in showing that one of the benefits of a systematic comparison of Hus-
serl and Lotze on this important issue is the achievement of clarity with re-
gard to the key problem of phenomenological eidetics.∗

Boston College

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The research presented in this paper was conducted during a research leave at the
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