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Husserl’s Critique of Psychologism – summary

Phenomenology and Existentialism

Edmund Husserl’s philosophical starting point was the critique of the assumptions prevailing at the time. These were that truths must be viewed relatively and only show themselves in their respective historical form (historicism) or are the product of a naturalistic thought of the psyche (psychologism). This means that philosophy would then no longer be a form of gaining knowledge and would have to hand over this task to psychology. 

Husserl countered this view with his critique of psychologism. According to Husserl, the thesis of psychologism is that logic is a part of psychology. Accordingly, logic would be the study of thinking, reasoning and judging and a special case of mental abilities. Husserl contradicts this by showing that the consequence of psychologism would result in a mere relativity of logical laws. In this way, the principle of contradiction would become a mere probability, since empirical rules cannot claim universal validity.

Another problem Husserl deals with is the truth of thoughts. If the laws of logic were of a purely empirical nature, derived from the laws of thought, it would not yet be clear that these would also be correct. So there are definitely logically wrong judgments that also arise from thinking. Thus the criterion of correctness cannot lie in thinking itself, unless wrong judgments are subject to a different thought sequence, in which case the question then remains as to what the criterion for correct or wrong thought sequences is. Husserl is convinced that psychologism ultimately deals with the content of thought but not thought itself. This distinction between the act of thinking and its content will remain constitutive in the future of phenomenology.


Husserl’s Critique of Psychologism in Logical Investigations

In the first part of his Logical Investigations, the Prolegomena of Pure Logic, Husserl attacks the psychological point of view in logic and mathematics. According to psychologism, according to Husserl, logic is not an autonomous discipline, but a branch of psychology: either a prescriptive and practical "way" of making correct judgments (a position taken by Brentano and some of his more orthodox students), or a description of the factual processes of the human thinking. Husserl sees the reason why the opponents of psychologism could not overcome psychologism in their failure to distinguish between the theoretical, fundamental side of logic and the applied, practical side of the same. Pure logic is not at all concerned with "thoughts" or "judgments" as mental episodes, rather it is concerned with a priori laws and conditions of any theory and any judgment. Proponents of psychologism failed to show how we can ensure certainty of logical principles, such as the principle of identity and the principle of non-contradiction, from a psychological point of view. It is therefore pointless to base logical laws and principles on uncertain processes of empirical consciousness.

This critique of psychologism by Husserl, the distinction between psychic acts and intentional objects, and the difference between the normative side of logic and its theoretical side, is derived from an ideal conception of logic. This means that logical and mathematical laws apply independently of empirical human consciousness. Against Psychologism, Husserl reclaims consciousness as a "strict" science.