Husserl’s theory of instincts as a theory of affection

Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 45 (2):133-147 (2014)
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Husserl’s theory of passive experience first came to systematic and detailed expression in the lectures on passive synthesis from the early 1920s, where he discusses pure passivity under the rubric of affection and association. In this paper I suggest that this familiar theory of passive experience is a first approximation leaving important questions unanswered. Focusing primarily on affection, I will show that Husserl did not simply leave his theory untouched. In later manuscripts he significantly reworks the theory of affection in terms of instinctive intentionality and a passive experience of desire aimed at satisfaction and enjoyment. This paper will show that the theory of affection and the theory of instincts in Husserl are really one and the same, differing only in the superior theoretical apparatus with which Husserl treats the phenomenon in his more considered theory of the instincts. I demonstrate the connection between the two theories by showing how what he generically calls “affection” in earlier texts is the same phenomenon he calls “curiosity” in later texts. The connection is further supported by the way curiosity does the same work as affection in its function within Husserl’s theory of association, serving as the basic connective tissue linking diverse experiences. In closing, I deal with the problem of how to integrate the experience of the body into the theory of instincts, displaying in another way how Husserl improves his theory of affection by making it more concrete when he recasts it as a theory of instincts.

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Matt Bower
Texas State University


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