Noema, Sense, and Object in Husserl's Phenomenology

Dissertation, The University of Iowa (1993)

The primary aim of my dissertation is to provide a phenomenologically sound interpretation of Husserl's view concerning the intentionality of perceptual consciousness by means of examining his crucial concept of noema. I argue that recent commentators such as Dagfinn Follesdal and his followers have gone astray in their interpretations of the noema through a failure to adequately appreciate Husserl's phenomenological method. According to the Follesdal interpretation, the perceptual noema is not, with regard to ordinary cases of perception, in any sense the object presented to consciousness. On their view it is rather an abstract entity that is somehow correlated with conscious acts and is thus responsible for this particular object appearing to consciousness in this particular way. I contend that this interpretation is defended by means of a misreading of two fundamental features of Husserl's writings. First, it is based on a misunderstanding of the phenomenological method. According to this mistaken view, the purview of phenomenological investigation is limited to the conscious act alone, and in no sense involves the object of that act. Second, it is based on a misinterpretation of Husserl's likening of the noema to linguistic Sinn. I argue against both of these lines of reasoning in detail. The first I demonstrate to be inconsistent with Husserl's own characterization of the phenomenological reduction in Ideas I and elsewhere. The second I show to result from a failure to acknowledge Husserl's fundamental insight that a certain kind of meaning permeates not only our mental life but also the world itself insofar as it is present to consciousness. After establishing these two points I provide an account of the perceptual noema as consisting in just this Sinn as it is discovered in the object of perceptual consciousness. It is this Sinn, I contend, that constitutes the object of physical object perception. I conclude by considering to what extent the phenomenological elucidation of such constitution provides a justification for Husserl's own commitment to transcendental idealism
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