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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: November 2012

Chapter 4 - The crisis in psychology


Psychology as the Supposedly Exemplary Science of Subjectivity

Husserl’s critique of the sciences in the Crisis is not limited to the exact natural sciences but is even more concerned with the fate of the human sciences (Geisteswissenschaften – literally, ‘sciences of spirit’), since these are centrally concerned with the values of human existence. In the Crisis, besides philosophy, which is treated throughout, he specifically discusses two human sciences: psychology and history. In this chapter I shall focus exclusively on Husserl’s treatment of psychology and shall address his treatment of history in Chapter 5.

Husserl’s preoccupation with psychology is evident from the opening pages of the Crisis Part I, which itself grew out of Husserl’s Prague lectures of November 1935 (Hua xxix 103–39 (there is no corresponding English translation)). These lectures were entitled ‘Psychology in the Crisis of European Science’ (Hua xxix 103). Primarily because it claims to be the science of human subjectivity, Husserl regards psychology as an exemplary and privileged science of our current age (already in the Logical Investigations he speaks of this ‘psychologically obsessed age’, LU Prol. § 28). Psychology’s problems, moreover, are symptomatic of the crisis in the human sciences generally, and, indeed, psychological issues are often entangled with issues even in the mathematical sciences (Crisis § 2). For Husserl, as we have seen, a science is in crisis when its task and method become questionable (see Hua xxix 103). He believes that the foundations of psychology as a theoretical discipline have been flawed from the outset. The discipline is in permanent crisis, not just because of its ‘retardation of method’ (C 4; K 2), due to its late arrival as a science, but because its specific domain has been carved out in a confused manner from material deliberately excluded by the natural sciences. He writes that ‘the history of psychology is actually only a history of crises’ (C 203; K 207) and that it cannot be considered a genuine science (C 250; K 253).

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