Husserl’s Understanding of Moral PhilosophyJune 26, 2021
Husserl’s lectures on ethics between 1908 and 1914 were published as Lectures on Ethics and Value Theory (Husserliana XVIII).
Generally, Husserl’s ethics are not given importance when introducing Husserl’s philosophy, because Husserl’s work on ethics was not published until the 1990s. However, we owe the “value theory”, which was very influential in the ethics of the 20th century, to the works of Brentano and Husserl. Philosophers from the Marburg School of Phenomenology such as Nicolai Hartmann and Max Scheler followed Husserl’s phenomenological idea of ethics and value theory. Husserl makes a distinction between axiology and ethics. Axiology means knowledge of values. We can say that Husserl’s ethics is based on his axiology.
Axiology is the knowledge of value. It is a normative discipline that distinguishes between true values and false values.
What is value according to Husserl? Husserl divides all mental phenomena into three: doxic (cognitive mental phenomena), affective phenomena (emotions felt in the mind), conative phenomena (desires). In parallel, we can talk about theoretical, normative and practical disciplines. Husserl’s main thesis is that emotions and emotions involve evaluations. Axiology is a normative sub-discipline that allows us to identify correct feelings and emotions and false emotions and feelings. We see that axiology is a part of Husserl’s theory of emotions. Ethics is more than axiology, because ethics is not only concerned with correct assessments, but must also take into account the correctness of representation (the doxic element) and the will (striving for action). In other words, ethics has both a theoretical dimension and a practical discipline based on a normative sub-discipline such as axiology. What is the ideal of such an ethics, the understanding of morally right action? Of course, the evaluation of the object arises from the knowledge, and the action towards it arises from the evaluation. Husserl argues that moral action is chosen by an act of will, and such acts of will are set in motion by presenting something as “valued” to consciousness. According to this view, we desire what we evaluate positively. However, we must say that acts of evaluation have a different basis from theoretical acts. Evaluation is feeling value; Although it presupposes representation and objectification, it is not a representation or objectification.
Positioning this understanding of ethics within the history of philosophy will provide a better understanding of it. Husserl sees the history of ethics as an ongoing debate between the emotivism of the empiricist tradition and the intellectualism of the rationalist tradition. He believes that his ethical theory can eliminate this traditional opposition by incorporating some positive elements from both opposing views and solving the problems that they cannot solve. English emotivists such as Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, and Hume tried to ground ethics in feelings, but fell into relativism as a result. Husserl takes a step towards them by saying that we feel the value characteristic of things in emotions. Hume also thought that if we did not have emotions, the world would be a world of bare facts because there are no values in nature. If human emotion, desire and will did not exist, a moral world would not exist. Whereas, Kant does not give any role to sensibility while grounding morality. What gives action its moral value is that it is determined by reason alone, independent of feelings, inclinations, desires. Kant argues that the only way to achieve objectivity in morality, that is, that moral rules are objective and valid for everyone, is to derive our duties from the categorical imperative. But Husserl is against this categorical imperative.
This is not because Husserl does not accept that moral rules are objective and valid for everyone. He denies that the source of the unconditional validity of ethical norms is the categorical imperative. Basing values on emotions leads us to relativism if emotions vary from person to person. However, Husserl appeals to objective criteria, arguing that the feeling that something is worthwhile is based on the laws of its essence. When emotions present something as valuable to us, a relationship has already been established with the essence of that thing. Husserl’s ethic’s explanation of the world as a world full of values requires not neglecting the consequences of the action set in motion by our judgment of an object as valuable. Predicting outcomes can play a role in the evaluation of objects. Husserl’s categorical imperative commands me to do my best in a situation. From a Kantian point of view, such an ethic can be said to serve its own love. But Husserl objects to this, for his own ethic of values cannot be reduced to any kind of utilitarianism.
Many thinkers who followed Husserl’s theory of value in the 20th century saw this theory as a serious alternative to Kantianism. But this theory has been discredited for various reasons: Positivist