Edmund Husserl was born April 8, 1859, into a Jewish family in the town of Prossnitz in Moravia, then a part of the Austrian Empire. Although there was a Jewish technical school in the town, Edmund’s father, a clothing merchant, had the means and the inclination to send the boy away to Vienna at the age of 10 to begin his German classical education in the Realgymnasium of the capital. A year later, in 1870, Edmund transferred to the Staatsgymnasium in Olmtz, closer to home. He was remembered there as a mediocre student who nevertheless loved mathematics and science, “of blond and pale complexion, but of good appetite.
” He graduated in 1876 and went to Leipzig for university studies. At Leipzig Husserl studied mathematics, physics, and philosophy, and he was particularly intrigued with astronomy and optics. After two years he went to Berlin in 1878 for further studies in mathematics. He completed that work in Vienna, 1881-83, and received the doctorate with a dissertation on the theory of the calculus ofvariations. He was 24.
Husserl briefly held an academic post in Berlin, then returned again to Vienna in 1884 and was able to attend Franz Brentano’s lectures in philosophy. In 1886 he went to Halle, where he studied psychology and wrote his Habilitationsschrift on the concept of number. The next year he became Privatdozent at Halle and married a woman from the Prossnitz Jewish community, Malvine Charlotte Steinschneider, who was baptized before the wedding. The couple had three children. They remained at Halle until 1901, and Husserl wrote his important early books there.
The Habilitationsschrift was reworked into the first part of Philosophie der Arithmetik, published in 1891. The two volumes of Logische Untersuchungen came out in 1900 and 1901. In 1901 Husserl joined the faculty at Gottingen, where he taught for 16 years and where he worked out the definitive formulations of his phenomenology that are presented in Ideen zu einer reinen Phanomenologie und phanomenologischen Philosophie (Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a PhenomenologicalPhilosophy). The first volume of Ideen appeared in the first volume of Husserl’s Jahrbuch fr Philosophie und phanomenologische Forschung in 1913. Then the world war disrupted the circle of Husserl’s younger colleagues, and Wolfgang Husserl, his son, died at Verdun.
Husserl observed a year of mourning and kept silence professionally during that time. However Husserl accepted appointment in 1916 to a professorship at Freiburg im Breisgau, a position from which he would retire in 1928. At Freiburg Husserl continued to work on manuscripts that would be published after his death as volumes two and three of the Ideen, as well as on many other projects. His retirement from teaching in1928 did not slow the pace of his phenomenological research. But his last years were saddened by the escalation of National Socialism’s racist policies against Jews. He died of pleurisy in 1938, on Good Friday, reportedly as a Christian.
Husserl believed that Phenomenology was a exact science whose main purpose was to study the phenomena, or appearances of human experience. However, he did not think of it as a science of facts, but rather as an apriori or “eidetic” science, which deal with essences, and is based on the absolute certainty. This type of certainty was thought to be achieved through examination of consciousness by consciousness itself. Husserl’s aim was to find a philosophy that can serve as an absolute basis for the development of all the sciences, by searching for facts which can’t be doubted. If we understand Phenomenology to be the study of the structures of consciousness that allow conscicousness to refer to objects outside itself , we can see that a phenomenologist would consider only what was instantly presented to consciousness. In other words, this study requires reflection on the content of the mind to the exclusion of everything else.
Husserl called this type of reflection the phenomenological reduction. In this reduction, there is exclusion from thought of everything which is derived via scientific or logical