Phenomenology towards the Crisis: Philosophy, Science, and the Call for a New Epoch

November 20, 2011

International Society for the Study of European Ideas

13th Conference, University of Cyprus, Nicosia, 2–6 July 2012

Conference Topic:

The Ethical Challenge of Multidisciplinarity:

Reconciling ‘The Three Narratives’—Art, Science, and Philosophy

Workshop Title:

Phenomenology towards the Crisis: Philosophy, Science, and the Call for a New Epoch


Tziovanis Georgakis (PhD, University College Dublin) & Christos Hadjioannou (PhD Candidate, University of Sussex / Freie Universität Berlin)

Phenomenology towards the Crisis: Philosophy, Science, and the Call for a New Epoch

Edmund Husserl’s later diatribes, especially those collected in The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, ring the alarm for a humanitarian crisis of a rather different proportion. The modern European world, in its agonizing advance towards philosophical wisdom and technological dominance, has found itself in a state of a profound crisis. However, the Husserlian diagnosis of modernity and the immediate remedial procurement it provokes, as one could argue, are multilateral and somehow paradoxical.

On the one hand, philosophy, after the advent of the Renaissance, undergoes a decisive change. While it attempts to preserve the ancient Greek spirit of investigation, it takes a different path and turns towards a novel worldview in which theory is totalized as formal abstraction. In its theoretical stance, modern philosophy is grasped as the universal knowledge of world and man. While retaining the Greek notion of philosophy as an all-encompassing science, the science of the totality of what is, modern philosophy gets transformed as the bold elevation of universality. Initiated by Descartes, this new type of philosophy seeks to encompass all meaningful questions. It promotes an apodictically intelligible methodology, creates an edifice of definitive and interrelated truths, and sustains an unending but rationally ordered progress of inquiry that entangles all conceivable problems. In this context, it strives for presuppositionless self-grounding. Analogously, the modern man of universal theory is certain that he can liberate himself from his old prejudices. He becomes fully confident that he can recognize, understand, and convey intrinsic reason and its highest principle, God.

On the other hand, the establishment of modern philosophy as mathesis universalisgives a legitimate ground for modern sciences to articulate ‘a natural attitude.’ In particular, modern applied sciences, such as physics, mathematics, and geometry, transform the pre-modem cosmos into a natural universe that is observed, manipulated, formulated, and verified endlessly in infinity. The modern unfolding of applied sciences implies a ‘natural’ scientific praxisupon the pre-modern world: the superimposition of an a priori ideal universe of abstract signs over the realm of whatever is. In order to claim and parade their undeniable success, modern sciences presuppose a mathematical and geometrical space where entities are imagined and drawn up as ‘pure’ figures: ‘pure’ bodies, ‘pure’ straight lines, and ‘pure’ planes. The modern scientist, embodied by the revolutionary figure of Galileo, idealizes ‘pure shapes,’ whose universal form is the co-idealized form of space-time, and distorts the intuitively given surrounding world we actually experience. Within the limits of natural attitude and modern scientific praxis, there is no need for an all-encompassing knowledge of pure experience as it was initiated by the Greeks.

However, the Husserlian call for a remedial phenomenological reflection invokes neither an uncontaminated return to the founding principles of Greek philosophy nor a radical detachment from the distorting presuppositions of modernity. On the contrary, the alleviation of the crisis calls for a reorienting phenomenological epoch that reanimates the basic prejudices of both Greek and modern thought. In a paradoxical way, the diagnosis and cure of the crisis—caused by the Greek distinction of the universal and the particular, the theoretical and the practical, and sustained by modern philosophy and science—is found within the most basic preconceptions of Greek and modern discourses. Husserl explains: ‘Thus in a certain sense the philosopher within the epochē must also “naturally live through” the natural life; yet the epochē effects an immense difference in that it changes the entire manner of investigation and, furthermore, reshapes the goal of knowledge in the whole of its ontic meaning’ (The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, p. 176). There, thus, lies the fatal paradox: rather than a normative, metaphysical, or transcendental critique of modern thought, the phenomenological epochē relives and repeats the modern natural attitude; and it does so as a unique episode of a new kind of discourse: one where philosophy and science seem to initially acknowledge their own essential naiveté in order to question not philosophy and science but, rather, the hidden predispositions that allow and condition their rise.

The following list—which is in no way exclusive or exhaustive—contains some of the themes the workshop intends to address:

  • Husserl in relation to / in contrast to other narratives of crisis
  • The Husserlian narrative of crisis in crisis
  • The historico-transcendental quest for the ultimate conditions of knowledge and its limits
  • The Greek world at a crisis and the origin of modern philosophy and science
  • The critical distinction or indistinction between theoria and praxis
  • The placement and displacement of scientific thought within the phenomenological discourse
  • The commensurability or incommensurability of phenomenology and modern sciences
  • Phenomenological reflection and empirical research
  • The tension between the life-world and theory
  • The crisis of mathematical exactitude and geometrical design
  • The crisis of phenomenological apodicticity and self-evidence
  • Post-phenomenology and the crisis of phenomenology
  • Hermeneutics and methodological presuppositions

Submit abstracts (250 words max.) before the 25th of December to Tziovanis Georgakis (