4 Dec 2013

“Transcendental Reductions”, Ch1Sb4 of Nicolas de Warren’s Husserl and the Promise of Time

by Corry Shores

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[Husserl Phenomenology Series]

Nicolas de Warren

Husserl and the Promise of Time:

Subjectivity in Transcendental Phenomenology

Chapter 1

The Ritual of Clarification

Subsection 4

Transcendental Reductions

Brief Summary:

Husserl’s reductions are methods for bringing our consciousness to a state where we become aware of the phenomenal givenness of things, including our own transcendental subjectivity that is responsible for the constitution of our entire phenomenal world.


One methodological component of Husserl’s phenomenology are his transcendental reductions. They involve “a movement of questioning that unfolds without ever becoming entirely transparent to itself” (25). He continually reworked his reductions, because he was never fully satisfied with any of their forms.

The reduction is not an instrument that we bring to the world, but a mode of reflection that uncovers a way of questioning into the world that requires a fundamental shift in attitude, a breaking of our naïveté, through which the obviousness of experience turns into a philosophical problem. (25)

The world is given to us in its apparent self-evidence by means of our experiences of it. But the obviousness of the world should come into question when examining it phenomenologically (25-26).

In one form of the reductions, the epoché, we make a fundamental shift in our attitudes: first, we begin in the “natural attitude,” where we naïvely accept the world and attend to “what the world is;” next, we inhibit this attitude in order to move to the “phenomenological attitude,” where we attend to “how the world is at all given to me.” (26) To do this, we must withhold our acceptance of the world as given and bring into question the grounds of its givenness to us.

This shift to what Husserl calls the “phenomenological attitude” involves a self-induced modification of consciousness to the extent that consciousness withholds its own (implicit) acceptance of the world as given in order to see, and thus to question, itself as the ground of acceptance of the world. The reduction is as much a questioning of the world as a questioning of consciousness itself in relation to the world. (26)

We do not doubt the world, or exclude or destroy it. The world as it is continues to be what it is in our experience of it. All that changes is that we become aware of our intentional relation with the world. Doing so requires a transcendence of our consciousness (to a position of self-observation), which allows for a transcendental analysis of the conditions that make consciousness of the world possible in the first place.

the reduction transforms the traditional problem of knowledge into the problem of transcendence by way of a proper understanding of intentionality in and through which objects of experience are constituted. The defining insight behind the method of reduction is that the discovery of transcendental subjectivity functions as the counterpart to the discovery of the intentionality of consciousness. Transcendence belongs intrinsically to the sense of the world, yet this transcendence only acquires its sense as transcendence from my experiencing, as transcendence for consciousness. The connection between “transcendence” and “transcendental” is here clearly circumscribed: the basic problem of transcendental phenomenology is the problem of transcendence, and the ego, or consciousness, “who bears within him the world” is transcendental in this sense, as intentionality, as the ground of the world. (27)

When we are in the natural attitude, we do not notice our intentional relation with the world. The reduction allows us to observe that (a) our consciousness is given to us differently than the things of the world are (it is not worldly; it is transcendental) and (b) our consciousness constitutes the phenomenal world. (27-28)

The reduction also puts into suspension our normal taking-for-granted of our self-givenness in the world. (28)

Husserl developed three formulations for the reduction, each corresponding to a different dimension of transcendental subjectivity. (28)

The Cartesian path opens subjectivity as the field of transcendental experience, or immanence, and a “new idea of the grounding of knowledge” (CM, 66 [27]). Subjectivity is here conceived as a foundation. The Kantian path opens subjectivity as the transcendental prerogative of constitution, as centered on the | guiding question of how experience is at all possible for consciousness in the form of its possible intelligibility. Subjectivity is here conceived as world-constituting, but also, as we shall discover in Husserl’s unique brand of transcendental thinking, as self-constituting. The Brentanian path (i.e., through intentional psychology) opens subjectivity as a field of experience or givenness. Subjectivity is here conceived as the concreteness of experience, or “lived experience.” (28-29 boldface mine)


As indicated, all three tendencies stress a particular conception of subjectivity: subjectivity as foundation or origin; subjectivity as constituting; subjectivity as descriptive field of experience. (29)

Transcendental subjectivity is the grounds for the disclosure of beings, including consciousness itself, because it is the foundational activity of constitution (29). This makes it not necessarily inside or outside the world, for it is the constitutional unfolding of the world (29d).

The transcendental reduction uncovers our transcendental subjectivity, which is normally obscured in the natural attitude (29). Our transcendental subjectivity is not to be thought in spatial terms but rather in temporal ones.

The overcoming of Brentanian descriptive psychology through the problem of time-consciousness leads to the articulation of transcendental subjectivity in its self-constituting temporality. [...] | [...] The transcendental reduction is the reduction to a new sense of temporality or time-consciousness; it is as much the reduction of time to consciousness as of consciousness to time, both of which depend on overcoming, or seeing-through, the master metaphor of time as a stream. (30-31)

Nicolas de Warren. (2009)  Husserl and the Promise of Time: Subjectivity in Transcendental Phenomenology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge.

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