Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

Adam Konopka

An Introduction to Husserl’s Phenomenology of Umwelt: Reconsidering the Natur/Geist Distinction Toward an Environmental Philosophy

Adam Konopka
Fordham University

Abstract: This dissertation argues that there is logical space in Husserl’s phenomenology for an environmental philosophy. This argument implies that Husserl offers the necessary tools to begin to develop environmental philosophy as a phenomenologically rigorous science. This argument does not imply that Husserl grappled with the spectrum of issues in what is known today as environmental philosophy. This argument cuts against the grain of contemporary Husserlian scholarship and environmental philosophy conducted from a phenomenological perspective. It is a radical argument. It is also philosophically significant because it attempts to clarify the concept of environment, the fundamental concept of the age of ecology. In short, Husserl provides the logical space to systematically and rigorously answer the question, “What is an environment?”

The term Husserl used to account for the phenomenon of environment was Umwelt (environing world). The environing world became a central concern for Husserl in the 1910s and 1920s through his engagement in the 19th century debate over the proper demarcation of the human sciences (Geisteswissenschaften) from their naturalistic counterpart (Naturwissenschaften). In order to radically clarify the relationship between Natur (the region of theoretical investigation proper to the modern natural sciences) and Geist (the region of theoretical investigation proper to the modern human sciences), it became necessary for Husserl to unbuild (Abbau) the binary opposition between these two regions of theoretical investigation. This unbuilding of the Natur/Geist distinction is the first deconstruction of the phenomenological legacy and it revealed for Husserl the pre-theoretical environing world as the living ground of both Natur and Geist.

An environing world is constituted through a relation between the absolute here of the pre-reflective lived body and the overall harmonious association of various objects and states of affairs. This environmental relation between the lived body and its environing horizon is a complex life-nexus and Husserl systematically investigates a variety of experiential modes in which this relation occurs, i.e., perceptual, practical, evaluative, and volitional. Each of these modes of experience has its own structure, but in each case the lived body is the center of the environing horizon and structures its mode of givenness. The lived body, in turn, is structured by the unthematic familiarity and relevance that is harbored in the environing horizon through habituation. The environing world, in short, contributes an overall unity of similarity (harmony) to habituated experience. The logical space in Husserl’s phenomenology for an environmental philosophy is comprised of the modal structures of the life-nexus of the environmental relation that underlies the theoretical investigations of the modern sciences. The identification and clarification of the life-nexus of the environmental relation is Husserl’s answer to the question concerning environment.

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