The Meaning of Being: Husserl on Existential Propositions as Predicative Propositions

Axiomathes 32 (1):123-139 (2022)
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This essay examines how Husserl stretches the bounds of his philosophy of meaning, according to which all propositions are categorical, to account for existential propositions, which seem to lack predicates. I examine Husserl’s counterintuitive conclusion that an existential proposition does possess a predicate and I explore his endeavor to pinpoint what that predicate is. This goal is accomplished in three stages. First, I examine Husserl’s standard theory of predication and categorial intuition from his 1901 Logical Investigations. Second, I show how Husserl imposes those 1901 insights to uncover the predicate of the existential proposition in unpublished manuscripts and lectures. He determines that the existential proposition predicates of the subject, that it corresponds to an actual object. This analysis reveals that Husserl’s descriptions of existential propositions from the late 1890s employed both static and genetic methodologies. In those texts, he carefully untangles and clarifies the co-enmeshed passive and active moments of consciousness and shows that the passive givenness of certain circumstances is the condition of possibility for our active verifying of propositions. Finally, I execute a critical assessment of Husserl’s thought to reveal that, while his insights about existential propositions are largely correct, they are augmented by re-construing them within the context of his mature philosophy. Only by renouncing his metaphysical neutrality and by accounting for intersubjectivity, can Husserl properly clarify existential propositions.

Author's Profile

Thomas Byrne
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


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