A few weeks ago Eric and I put up a series of posts discussing the history of analytic philosophy, especially the role Moritz Schlick, Ernest Nagel, Sidney Hook, and others play in this history (see here, here, here, and here). Among the essays discussed was Sidney Hook’s 1930 JPhil essay, “A Personal Impression of Contemporary German Philosophy.” A few months after Hook’s essay was published, Dorion Cairns published a short reply in JPhil, “Mr Hook’s Impression of Phenomenology.” Before looking at Cairns’ impression of Hook’s impression, I think it’s important first to place Cairns into his intellectual context.
And it is an unforgiving response. As a student in Perry’s Harvard philosophy department in the 1920s, and as a protégé of Demos, Cairns was well-versed as we've seen in the concerns of the new realism of the time, and so it is perhaps not surprising that this becomes the focus of Cairns’ response (it was, after all, Husserl’s identification among English speaking philosophers with realism that got Cairns interested in Husserl in the first place). Cairns begins his response by citing a long passage in which Hook argues, among other things, that Husserl’s phenomenological call to “keep their eyes on the object” results in phenomenology being an “analytical group in Germany [that is] closest to the English and American school of neo-realism.” Cairns argues, first, that “keeping one’s eyes on the object” is a bad definition of the phenomenological method, and it’s a bad definition of realism as well for Husserl (I’ll post on this next week). As Cairns points out, it is not, for Husserl, “the mere object, but the subjective act with its intentional correlate as such [the noematic correlate--JB], which is the fundamental datum.” (394). This then ties in with Cairns’ criticism of Hook’s suggestion that Husserl’s phenomenology offers a “logicized psychology” (or “a logicized version of pre-Lockean psychology” as Hook puts it), to which Cairns claims that Hook has completely misunderstood Husserl. Whereas psychology “deals with the actual nature of existent minds,” phenomenology “deals with the necessary nature of acts, quite apart from the reality or unreality of their exemplifications.” (396). As Husserl might put it, Hook reads Husserl’s methodology as scientific, and in a naïve realist sense where this means, for Husserl, that the sciences presuppose “a universe of constituted transcendencies,” (in Formal and Transcendental Logic, p. 251). Such a reading is understandable if one assumes that Husserl is correctly placed among the new realists and is similarly responding to their call to develop a methodology with “ a common technique, a common terminology, and so finally a common doctrine which will enjoy some measure of that authority which the natural sciences possess.” To some extent this reading is indeed true. Husserl certainly understood transcendental phenomenology to be a "genuine science," but this is because the problem for phenomenology, as Cairns well knew, is not a matter of best developing a methodology and terminology to address “constituted transcendencies” but rather it is the problem of the constitution of these transcendencies themselves that is the problem the methods of transcendental phenomenology seek to address. Hook completely misses this point, or, as Cairns concludes, Hook’s “impression of Husserl’s phenomenology seems largely erroneous.” If Husserl is a realist, then, it would be of a very different stripe, but this is a theme that will require another post (at least!).