A Revealing Parallel between Husserl’s Philosophy of Science and Today’s Scientific Metaphysics

Egg, Matthias (January 2018). A Revealing Parallel between Husserl’s Philosophy of Science and Today’s Scientific Metaphysics (Unpublished). In: Phenomenological Approaches to Physics. Graz, Austria. 14-16 Jun 2018.

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One of the central motivations for Husserl to develop his transcendental phenomenology is what he perceives as the crisis of the sciences of his time (physics in particular), which have forgotten their meaning-fundament by substituting the life-world with mathematically structured idealities and mistaking the latter for true being. It thus seems that Husserl would have had little sympathy for today’s attempts to draw metaphysical conclusions from highly mathematized scientific theories within the project known as scientific metaphysics. Nevertheless, I argue in this talk that there is an important parallel between Husserl’s approach to science and the currently most influential version of scientific metaphysics. As a consequence, I will show that a certain line of criticism against Husserl’s phenomenology holds important lessons for the contemporary debate on scientific metaphysics. In his essay “Erkenntnis und Interesse” (Merkur 19 (1965), pp. 1139-1153, translation reprinted in Gutting (ed.), Continental Philosophy of Science (2005), pp. 310-321), Jürgen Habermas criticizes Husserl for not carrying his critique of objectivism far enough. When Husserl advertises phenomenology as the theoretical enterprise that can restore to science its meaning for life (which it had lost due to its objectivistic self-misunderstanding), he succumbs, according to Habermas, to another objectivism, which ties the life-orienting role of pure theory to its ability to discover in the cosmic order the prototype for the order of the human world. In other words, Husserl’s insistence that a truly scientific attitude should also address questions of meaning and orientation in life implicitly requires a certain metaphysical import of scientific findings. It is this unacknowledged metaphysical element in Husserl’s approach to science that relates him to contemporary scientific metaphysicians, who, by caring deeply about interpretations of scientific theories, reveal their conviction that scientific theorizing matters to our lives, even in those domains which, like fundamental physics, have little or no practical utility. (For an explicit defense of the importance of scientific metaphysics along these lines, see the remarks by James Ladyman and Don Ross in Ladyman, Ross and Kincaid (eds.): Scientific Metaphysics, OUP 2013, p. 113.) At the same time, these metaphysicians share Husserl’s adherence to the ideal of a theoretical attitude supposedly transcending all our parochial human interests. We thus recognize an important commonality between contemporary scientific metaphysics and Husserl’s philosophy of science, namely the tension between the ideal of disinterested theorizing and the demand that such theorizing should matter to us. This tension has gone unnoticed in the recent debate on scientific metaphysics, which impairs the ability of scientific metaphysicians to argue why what they do is worth doing, whereas what non-scientific metaphysicians do is not. Bringing the tension to the fore by applying Habermas’s criticism of Husserl to today’s scientific metaphysics therefore has the potential to clarify and advance the debate on how metaphysics ought to be pursued.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Speech)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Art and Cultural Studies > Institute of Philosophy
06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Art and Cultural Studies > Institute of Philosophy > Theoretical Philosophy

UniBE Contributor:

Egg, Matthias


100 Philosophy
100 Philosophy > 110 Metaphysics
100 Philosophy > 140 Philosophical schools of thought




Matthias Peter Egg

Date Deposited:

29 May 2019 11:22

Last Modified:

23 Oct 2019 20:57





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