Some differences between Kant's and Husserl's conceptions of transcendental philosophy


This article compares the differences between Kant's and Husserl's conceptions of the "transcendental." It argues that, for Kant, the term "transcendental" stands for what is otherwise called "metaphysical," i.e. non-empirical knowledge. As opposed to his predecessors, who had believed that such non-empirical knowledge was possible for meta-physical, i.e. transcendent objects, Kant's contribution was to show how there can be non-empirical (a priori) knowledge not about transcendent objects, but about the necessary conditions for the experience of natural, non-transcendent objects. Hence the transcendental for Kant ends up connoting a philosophy that claims to show how subjective forms of intuition and thinking have objective validity for all objects as appearances. By contrast, Husserl's phenomenological philosophy takes a different set of problems for its starting point. His quest is to avoid the uncertainty of empirical knowledge about all kinds of objects that present themselves to us as something other than, something transcendent to, consciousness. Transcendental or reliable knowledge is made possible through the phenomenological reduction that focuses strictly on consciousness as immediately self-given to itself-reflection upon "pure" consciousness. The contents of such consciousness are not the same for everyone and at every time, so they are not necessary and invariant in the way that Kant's pure forms of subjectivity are. Since Husserl however also claims that the all objects, as intentional objects, are constituted in and for consciousness, an investigation into the structures of pure subjectivity can also be called "transcendental" in a further sense of showing the genesis of our knowledge of objects that are transcendent to consciousness. Moreover, since Husserl's philosophical interest is precisely upon the structures of that consciousness, he also concentrates on necessary conditions for the constitution of these objects in his philosophical work. Hence, there ends up being a great deal of overlap between his own transcendental project and Kant's in spite of the differences in what each of them means by the term "transcendental." © 2008 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.

Publication Title

Continental Philosophy Review