Intentionality in Realist Phenomenology

CFS Lecture by Alessandro Salice, Department of Philosophy, University College Cork, Ireland.


In the relevant literature, the role played by Edmund Husserl’s Logical Investigations (‘LI’) for the development of phenomenological realism is often characterised as pivotal and substantive, if not as simply indispensable. In this talk, I argue that this claim stands in its broader terms, but it urgently requires important qualification: while phenomenological realists did welcome the arguments in favour of logical realism (and, by extension, of essentialism) presented in the LI, they resisted the theory of intentionality Husserl articulates therein. The talk addresses this issue in three steps.

In the first part, I reconstruct Husserl’s theory of intentionality in the LI under the label of “intentional monism”. Intentional monism consists in the idea that intentionality is an essence (one essence) and that all various forms of intentionality are variations of that very essence (or, to put this differently, intentionality is a genus, and all forms of intentionality are species of that genus). In the second part, I introduce “intentional pluralism” as the position endorsed by phenomenological realists. Intentional pluralism is the negation of intentional monism: different forms of intentionality are not variations of a single essence. Rather, experiences of different kinds target their objects in essentially different ways. For instance, an act of thinking is intentional in the (narrow) sense according to which this act is right or wrong depending on whether its objectual correlate exists or not. By contrast, perception does not qualify as intentional on this view: perception rather is a relational experience in the sense that one perceives an object only if one enters a relation with that object. In the third and last part, I assess the consequences of intentional pluralism especially for our understanding of perception and its capacity to sustain the assumption of the mind-independent existence of common-sense objects.

If my reconstruction is correct, it lends support to the idea that the propulsive role of the LI for phenomenological realism is as positive as much as it is negative. True, the LI played a pivotal, substantive, and perhaps indispensable role for phenomenological realism. However, that philosophical project is more saliently defined by the insights that are not shared with Husserl’s LI, rather than by those that are shared.