Edmund Husserl Crisis of Philosophy

Husserl Crisis of Philosophy online [excerpts]


EDMUND HUSSERL: Philosophy and the Crisis of European Man
(Lecture delivered by Edmund Husserl, Vienna, 10 May 1935; therefore often referred to as: “The Vienna Lecture”. 115k)

[From: Edmund Husserl, Phenomenology and the Crisis of Philosophy, Translated with Notes and an Introduction by Quentin Lauer, Harper Torchbooks, ©1965 by Quentin Lauer.

We may ask, ‘How is the spiritual image of Europe to be characterized?’ This does not mean Europe geographically, as it appears on maps, as though European man were to be in this way confined to the circle of those who live together in this territory. In the spiritual sense it is clear that to Europe belong the English dominions, the United States, etc., but not, however, the Eskimos or Indians of the country fairs, or the Gypsies, who are constantly wandering about Europe. Clearly the title Europe designates the unity of a spiritual life and a creative activity – with all its aims, interests, cares and troubles, with its plans, its establishments, its institutions. Therein individual human beings work in a variety of societies, on different levels, in families, races,12 nations, all intimately joined together in spirit and, as I said, in the unity of one spiritual image. This should stamp on persons, groups, and all their cultural accomplishments an all-unifying character….

Substantially, though in a somewhat sketchy fashion, we have now described the historical movement that makes understandable how, beginning with a few Greek exceptions, a transformation of human existence and of man’s entire cultural life could be set in motion, beginning in Greece and its nearest neighbors. Moreover, now it is also discernible how, following upon this, a supernationality of a completely new kind could arise. I am referring, of course, to the spiritual form of Europe. It is now no longer a number of different nations bordering on each other, influencing each other only by commercial competition and war. Rather a new spirit stemming from philosophy and the sciences based on it, a spirit of free criticism providing norms for infinite tasks, dominates man, creating new, infinite ideals. These are ideals for individual men of each nation and for the nations themselves. Ultimately, however, the expanding synthesis of nations too has its infinite ideals, wherein each of these nations, by the very fact that it strives to accomplish its own ideal task in the spirit of infinity,41 contributes its best to the community of nations. In this give and take the supernational totality with its graded structure of societies grows apace, filled with the spirit of one all-inclusive task, infinite in the variety of its branches yet unique in its infinity. In this total society with its ideal orientation, philosophy itself retains the role of guide, which is its special infinite task.42 Philosophy has the role of a free and universal theoretical disposition that embraces at once all ideals and the one overall ideal – in short, the universe of all norms. Philosophy has constantly to exercise through European man its role of leadership for the whole of mankind….


Let us summarize the fundamental notions of what we have sketched here. The ‘crisis of European existence’, which manifests itself in countless symptoms of a corrupted life, is no obscure fate, no impenetrable destiny. Instead, it becomes manifestly understandable against the background of the philosophically discoverable ‘teleology of European history’. As a presupposition of this understanding, however, the phenomenon ‘Europe’ is to be grasped in its essential core. To get the concept of what is contra-essential in the present ‘crisis’, the concept ‘Europe’ would have to be developed as the historical teleology of infinite goals of reason; it would have to be shown how the European ‘world’ was born from ideas of reason, i.e., from the spirit of philosophy60. The ‘crisis’ could then become clear as the ‘seeming collapse of rationalism’. Still, as we said, the reason for the downfall of a rational culture does not lie in the essence of rationalism itself but only in its exteriorization, its absorption in ‘naturalism’ and ‘objectivism’.

The crisis of European existence can end in only one of two ways: in the ruin of a Europe alienated from its rational sense of life, fallen into a barbarian hatred of spirit; or in the rebirth of Europe from the spirit of philosophy, through a heroism of reason that will definitively overcome naturalism. Europe’s greatest danger is weariness. Let us as ‘good Europeans’ do battle with this danger of dangers with the sort of courage that does not shirk even the endless battle. If we do, then from the annihilating conflagration of disbelief, from the fiery torrent of despair regarding the West’s mission to humanity, from the ashes of the great weariness, the phoenix of a new inner life of the spirit will arise as the underpinning of a great and distant human future, for the spirit alone is immortal.