From Kant on, transcendental philosophy has been bedeviled by a certain paradox. Here again is the Paradox of Antirealism discussed by Butchvarov, as I construe it, the numbers in parentheses being page references to his 2015 Anthropocentrism in Philosophy:
PA: On the one hand, we cannot know the world as it is in itself, but only the world as it is for us, as it is “shaped by our cognitive faculties, our senses and our concepts.” (189) This Kantian insight implies a certain “humanization of metaphysics.” (7) On the other hand, knowable physical reality cannot depend for its existence or intelligibility on beings that are miniscule parts of this reality. The whole world of space-time-matter cannot depend on certain of its fauna. (7)
As I was mulling this over I was reminded of the Paradox of Human Subjectivity discussed by Edmund Husserl in his last work, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, in sections 53 and 54, pp. 178-186 of the Carr translation. Here is the paradox in Husserl's words:
PHS: How can a component part of the world, its human subjectivity, constitute the whole world, namely constitute it as its intentional formation, one which has always already become what it is and continues to develop, formed by the universal interconnection of intentionally accomplishing subjectivity, while the latter, the subjects accomplishing in cooperation, are themselves only a partial formation within the total accomplishment?
The subjective part of the world swallows up, so to speak, the whole world and thus itself too. What an absurdity! Or is this a paradox which can be sensibly resolved . . . ? (179-180)
What is common to both of the paradoxical formulations is the idea that we are at once objects in the world and subjects for whom there is a world. This by itself is not paradoxical. For there is nothing paradoxical in the notion that we are physical parts of a physical world that exists and has the nature it has independently of us, and that our knowing ourselves and other things is a physical process. Paradox ensues if (A) the world is a product of our accomplishments (Leistungen) as Husserl would have it, or a product of our formation (via both the categories of the understanding and the a priori forms of sensibility, space and time) of the sensory manifold, as on the Kantian scheme, and (B) we, the subjects for whom there is a world, are parts of the world. For then the entire vast cosmos depends for its existence and/or nature on transient parts thereof. And surely that would be absurd.
Interestingly, for both Butchvarov and Husserl, the solution to their respective paradoxes involves a retreat from anthropocentrism and a concomitant 'dehumanization' of subjectivity. For both, there is nothing specifically human about consciousness, although of course in "the natural attitude" (Husserl's natuerliche Einstellung) humans are the prime instances known to us of 'conscious beings.' For present purposes, consciousness is intentionality, consciousness-of, awareness-of, where the 'of' is an objective genitive. For Butchvarov, consciousness-of is not a property of (subjective genitive) human beings or of metaphysical egos somehow associated with human beings. It is not a property of human brains or of human souls or of human soul-body composites. It does not in any way emanate from human subjects. It is not like a ray that shoots forth from a subject toward an object. Consciousness is subject-less. So it is not a relation that connects subjects and objects. It is more like a monadic property of objects, all objects, their apparentness or revealedness.
Husserl and Butchvarov: Brief Contrast and Comparison
Husserl operates in a number of his works (Cartesian Meditations, Paris Lectures, Ideas I) with the following triadic Cartesian shema:
Ego-cogito-cogitatum qua cogitatum
Subject --------------------> object (where the arrow represents a directed cogitatio, a mental act, an intentional Erlebnis, and where 'object' is in the singular because the noema of a noesis is precisely trhe noema of that very noesis. Got that?)
Butchvarov's schema is not triadic but dyadic along the lines of Sartre's radically externalist, anti-substantialist theory of consciousness (where the arrow does not represent a mental act but monadic universal 'of-ness,' Sartre's "wind blowing towards objects" and where 'objects' is in the plural because subject-less consciousness is one to their many):
For Butchvarov, following Sartre, consciousness is no-thing, no object, other than every object, not in the world, and thus not restricted to the measly specimens of a zoological species. The relevant text is Sartre's early The Transcendence of the Ego, directed against Husserl, according to which the ego is not an 'inhabitant' of consciousness but a transcendent item, an object alongside other objects. (Personal anecdote: when I first espied this title as a young man I thought to myself: "Great! A book that will teach me how to transcend my ego!")
Bear in mind that the phenomenological notion of transcendence is transcendence-in-immanence, not absolute transcendence.
Of course there is a paradox if not a contradiction lurking within the Sartrean, radically externalist, anti-substantialist conception of consciousness: consciousness is nothing, but not a 'mere nothing,' inasmuch as it is that without which objects would not be revealed or manifested or apparent. It is both something and no-thing. It is something inasmuch as without it nothing would appear when it is a plain fact that objects do appear. That objects appear is self-evident even if it is not self-evident that they appear to someone. It is not clear that there is a 'dative of appearing' though it is clear that there are 'accusatives of appearing.' Consciousness is nothing inasmuch as it is no object and does not appear. This apparent contradiction is to my mind real, to Butchvarov's merely apparent. It is clearly a different paradox than the Paradox of Antirealism. It is a paradox that infects a particular solution to the Paradox of Antirealism, Butchvarov's solution.
How does Husserl dehumanize subjectivity?
Here is a crucial passage from Crisis, sec. 54, p. 183:
But are the transcendental subjects, i.e., those functioning in the constitution of the world, human beings? After all, the epoche has made them into 'phenomena,' so that the philosopher within the epoche has neither himself nor the others naively and straightforwardly valid as human beings but precisely only as 'phenomena,' as poles for transcendental regressive inquiries. Clearly here, in the radical consistency of the epoche, each 'I' is considered purely as the ego-pole of his acts, habitualities, and capacities . . . .
[. . .]
But in the epoche and in the pure focus upon the functioning ego-pole . . . it follows eo ipso that nothing human is to be found, neither soul nor psychic life nor real psychophysical human beings; all this belongs to the 'phenomenon,' to the world as constituted pole.
Husserl is a great philosopher and one cannot do him justice in one blog post or a hundred; but I don't see how his position is tenable. On the one hand, each transcendental ego functioning as such cannot be a human being in nature. For nature and everything in it including all animal organisms is an intentional formation constituted by the transcendental ego. But not only can the world-constituting ego not be a physical thing, it cannot be a meta-physical spiritual thing either. It cannot be a res cogitans or substantia cogitans. As Husserl sees it, Descartes' identification of his supposedly indubitable ego with a thinking thing shows a failure fully to execute the transcendental turn (transzendentale Wendung). The Frenchman stops short at a little tag-end of the world (ein kleines Endchen der Welt) from which, by means of shaky inferences, he tries to get back what his hyperbolic doubt had called into question.
Husserl's thinking in sections 10-11 of Cartesian Meditations seems to be that if one fully executes the transcendental turn, and avoids the supposed mistake of Descartes, one is left with nothing that can be posited as existing in itself independently of consciousness. Everything objective succumbs to the epoche. No absolute transcendence is reachable: every transcendence is at best a transcendence-in-immanence, a constituted transcendence. Everything in the world is a constitutum, and the same holds for the world itself. If Descartes had gone all the way he would have seen that not only his animal body could be doubted, but also his psyche, the psychophysical complex, and indeed any spiritual substance 'behind' the psyche. He would have seen that the cogito does not disclose something absolutely transcendent and indubitable. For Husserl, everything objective, whether physical or mental, ". . . derives its whole sense and its ontic validity (Seinsgeltung), which it has for me, from me myself, from me as the transcendental ego, the ego who comes to the fore only with the transcendental-phenomenological epoche." (CM, p. 26. I have translated Seinsgeltung as ontic validity which I consider more accurate than Cairns' "existential status.") In Formal and Transcendental Logic, sec. 94, along the same lines, we read: "nothing exists for me otherwise than by virtue of the actual and potential performance of my own consciousness."
One problem: just what is this transcendental ego if it is the purely subjective source of all ontic validity, Seinsgeltung? Does it exist? And in what sense of 'exist'? It cannot exist as a constituted object for it is the subjective source of all constitutive performances (Leistungen). But if it is not an indubitable piece of the world, then it cannot existent transcendently either.
Descartes thought that he had reached something whose existence cannot be bracketed, eingeklammert, to use Husserl's term, and that that was himself as thinking thing. He thought he had hit bedrock, the bedrock of Ansichsein. Husserl objects: No, the ego's existence must be bracketed as well. But then nothing is left over. We are left with no clue as to what the transcendental ego is once it is distinguished from the psychological or psychophysical ego who is doing the meditating. To appreciate the difficulty one must realize that it is a factical transcendental ego that does the constituting, not an eidos-ego. The transcendental-phenomenological reduction is not an eidetic reduction. It would be a serious mistake to think that the re-duction (the leading back, the path of regress) from the psychological ego to the transcendental ego is a reduction to an eidos-ego, an ideal ego abstractly common to all factical egos.
Here is another approach to the problem. The transcendental-phenomenological reduction regresses from everything objective, everything naively posited as existing in itself, to the subjective sources of the ontic validity (Seinsgeltung) and Being-sense (Seinssinn) of everything objective. This radical regression, however, must leave behind everything psychological since the psychological co-posits the objective world of nature. But how can Husserl execute this radical regression and yet hold onto words like 'ego' and 'cogitatio' and 'cogitatum'? How does he know that it is an I or an ego that is the transcendental-phenomenological residuum? In simpler terms, how does he know that what he gets to by the trans-phen reduction is something that can be referred to by 'I'? How does he know that it is anything like a person?
After all, indexical uses of the first-person singular pronoun are used by human beings to refer to human beings.
Husserl and Butchvarov: Similarities and Differences
1. Both philosophers espouse versions of antirealism, albeit very different versions.
2. Both philosophers face versions of the Paradox of Antirealism.
3. Both philosophers solve the paradox by retreating from anthropocentrism and advocating the 'dehumanization' of consciousness.
4. Both philosophers oppose (Berkeleyan) idealism if that is the view that "all reality is mental" (Butchvarov, p. 213), a view that entails that "the perception of a tree and the tree perceived are no more distinguishable than are a feeling of pain and the pain felt." (213)
5. Both philosophers hold that there are specifically philosophical indexical uses of the first-person singular pronoun.
6. Both philosophers agree that the existence of such uses is, in Butchvarov's words, "evident from the intelligibility of Cartesian doubt. . . ." (196)
7. Both philosophers hold that these uses are referring uses.
8. Both philosophers hold that these referring uses do not refer to human beings.
9. Both philosophers oppose Descartes in holding that the specifically philosophical uses of the indexical 'I' do not refer to anything in the world.
10. Husserl and Butchvarov disagree on what these uses refer to. For Husserl they refer to the factical transcendental ego, which is the constitutive source of everything worldly as to its Seinsgeltung (ontic validity) and Seinsinn (ontic sense or meaning). For Butchvarov, they refer to the world itself, not things in the world, distributively or collectively, but the totality of these things. Butchvarov's theory is essentially that of the Wittgenstein of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: "I am my world." (5.63) There is no metaphysical subject in the world. (5.633) There is an ultimate philosophical I but it is not in the world; it is the limit of the world (5.632), or rather the world itself.
11. Husserl and Butchvarov agree that, in Wittgenstein's words, "there really is a sense in which philosophy can talk about the self in a non-psychological way." (5.641) But of course the ways in which the two philosophers talk about the self non-psychologically are radically different.
12. Another major disagreement is this. Husserl sticks with the Cartesian Ansatz while attempting to radicalize it, but he never succeeds in clarifying the difference between the transcendental and psychological ego. Butchvarov abandons (or never subscribed to) the ego-cogito-cogitatum schema of Descartes, and of Kant too, and in a sense cuts the Gordian knot with Sartrean scissors: there is nothing psychological or egological or 'inner' or personal or subjective about consciousness. And so there is no problem of intersubjectivity such as bedeviled Husserl in the Fifth Cartesian Meditation and elsewhere. Butchvarov goes 'Hegelian.'
There is much more to be said, later. It is Saturday night and time to punch the clock, pour myself a drink, and cue up some oldies.