The Promise of Circularity in Husserl's Phenomenological Investigations
I argue that Husserl’s phenomenological method is distinguished by the strategy of circularity. I trace this strategy in Husserl’s early writings on logic and in both his early and his later writings on time consciousness. I conclude with a brief examination of works by Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger through the lens of Husserl’s circular strategy. I suggest that circularity in Husserl’s phenomenology unfolds on two completing levels. The circularity on the first level describes terms in relation that are defined through their reference to each other: however, this relation between the two terms is not causal, for both terms remain self-enclosed. The second level of circularity indicates that the only possibility for the reciprocity or completion between two terms is through their self-encircling. The terms refer back and forth to each other precisely because they remain in a relational asymmetry. Husserl thus avoids a situation where he either fuses the terms in relation or prioritzes one over another. This is especially important for his re-articulation of the psychologistic – ideal-logical, whole – part, and now – just past polarities. This unusual sort of circular argumentation provides Husserl with an equally unusual methodology for challenging psychologism, empiricism, neo-kantianism, formal ontology and certain philosophies of time. Husserl does not challenge psychologsim, empiricism or neo-kantianism by immediately assuming a position of epistemological primacy over these philosophies. To the contrary, Husserl is able to philosophically challenge these positions by enacting a circularity that already underlies them. Husserl’s critical distance from these theories implies a methodological proximity which enables him to advance his phenomenological project with constant backward reference to the theories he challenges. Husserl’s circular philosophy transforms the themes it investigates and the theories it criticizes, transforming itself in that process. This approach to Husserl simultaneously recognizes that Husserl’s relation with psychologism is one of overcoming-through-indebtedness, just as the relation of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty to Husserl is the one of indebtedness-through-overcoming.