Husserl’s “continually present” natural standpoint
In the natural attitude we find ourselves situated within the dual temporal horizons of the past and the future. Within these horizons the world of our experience is one, which is an “every waking now obviously so, has its temporal horizon, infinite in both directions ” (I §27,102). The past and the future recede infinitely behind and before us–never coming to an “end,” but rather vanishing, as it were, at the limits of our field of vision, what we experience to varying degrees is a misty horizon.
In the natural attitude we understand time as always moving and ‘being there’, from one such fading horizon to the other, and we recognize human experience as always already occurring in time, enframed by horizons which are forever beyond our grasp but always visible in the smallest range of our conscious sight.
Along and between these horizons the “present” is that moment of our experience that stands out, intuitively and immediately, as the focal point of our conscious life. The present presents itself to consciousness and demands its attention. The present assumes the foreground in the unfolding of our experience, but always against the background of the world’s “ordered being in succession of time” (I §27,102). The present cannot extricate itself from this continuum. It is caught up in the chain of the sequence of time, which is an unbreakable linkage–a web of interconnections and interrelations–that extends without limit behind and before us: receding in both directions into the invisible regions beyond the horizons of our intentional gaze. We can, through an effort of abstract thought, feel our way along this continuum, navigating through its connections and relations; but it will always be the case that in the actuality of our experience whatever is presented to us will be presented in a present enframed by a horizonal past and future. The singularity of multiple mental processes while simultaneously gathering them together in a pattern of unity. Inner time consciousness pulls together separate mental processes, welding them together in a chain.
Turning his attention now to the world that is situated within the infinite temporal horizons of past and future, Husserl takes up the task of describing the nature of our conscious experience. He takes the natural attitude in order to arrive at “a certain universal insight into the essence of any consciousness whatever” (I §33,113). Before undertaking a stud of “consciousness” in brackets, according to the epoche’s guidelines, which exclude the presuppositions of the natural attitude, he wants to study consciousness as it occurs within the natural attitude–in order to make certain that something will be left of consciousness once the “braketing” is activated, and also in order to get a preliminary idea of what constitutes the essential nature of that phenomenological. The natural standpoint is, essentially, the vision of the world structured by all sorts of filters —psychological, biological, cultural, These filters equip us for success in almost every sphere of life except one, namely, unfiltered truth-seeking. Husserl was radical in claiming that, with due diligence and method, we can remove all these filters temporarily.
This eidetic analysis leads Husserl to describe consciousness as a “stream” (I §34,116). Consciousness presents itself to us in the natural attitude not as an immobile, unchanging “thing,” but rather in a constant change, a linear force surging forward. Between the receding horizons of the past and the future, which allow us to experience the world of the natural attitude.
Husserl says that this stream of consciousness is composed of particular mental processes. These mental processes are the various “cogitationes” of consciousness: the intending, perceivings, understandings and other activities of the cogito. When we reflect on the stream of consciousness as it occurs in the natural attitude we find it to be composed–built up and constituted–by these elemental “acts of the Ego” (I §33,113). Though the cogitatum (the physical object that is perceived, for example) may be absolutely stable and constant, the cogitatio that intends it is always in flux, and is in turn itself caught up in the larger flux of flowing consciousness (I §41,130-131).
Their own essence is such that they draw together and combine to changing or unified glimpse of the misty horizon, which is the stream of consciousness, while nevertheless preserving, in the process, a certain autonomy and individual freedom. Husserl wants to understand how this dual nature comes about.
So the question that Husserl poses is this: If particular mental processes constitute the stream of consciousness (in both its unity and its potential for flashes of individuation), what is it that constitutes the essence of the constituting mental processes?
This question leads Husserl to take the third step, moving beyond the natural attitude, and an eidetic analysis of consciousness.. In this deeper region of consciousness it will be possible to discover what constitutes the events and essences that make their way up into the natural world. The brackets of the epoche are meant to exclude “the general positing which belongs to the essence of the natural attitude” (I §32,61), and thus allow us to lay claim to a truly scientific foundation for knowledge. Here the new science of phenomenology can go to work and uncover the fundamental structures and operations of consciousness. Husserl looks here for that which constitutes the dualistic essence of mental processes and the general temporal context of the natural world, and finds the source of both to be “internal time consciousness” or “phenomenological time.”
To understand phenomenological time we must first differentiate it from “objective” or “cosmic” time (I §81,192). Phenomenological time differs from objective time first of all in terms of the “region” of its activity. Phenomenological time is purely internal: it does not operate outside of bracketed consciousness. In the natural attitude we are accustomed to thinking of time as an “objective phenomenon”–as an external event that can be precisely defined, tracked, and measured by the tools and traditions of the natural world. In this attitude time comes to be associated–even identified–with the ticking of the second hand, the movement of the shadows, or the visible change of the seasons: in short, with concrete, physical events in a concrete, physical milieu. But according to Husserl phenomenological time has no such external manifestations. It “is not measured nor to be measured by any position of the sun, by any clock, by any physical means” (I §81,192). Phenomenological time has rather to do with the immanent, inner experience of time at the most profound level of consciousness. According to Husserl, this inner experience has no necessary “presence” or reflection in the natural world, as transcendent objective time does.
The immanent “place” that phenomenological time has within bracketed consciousness is, for Husserl, the deepest, most fundamental level of reality. Phenomenological time is therefore “what is ultimately and truly absolute” (I §81,193). This signals the end of Husserl’s descent: we have reached the foundation (I §85, 203). Inner time consciousness is what constitutes the temporal context and the cogitationes which in turn constitute our experience of the natural world. From the essence of this deepest level of consciousness, the mental processes which constitute the stream of consciousness derive their own essence. At this point we are finally in a position to examine the essence of inner time consciousness itself.
According to Husserl, phenomenological time is essentially a “form” that imposes itself upon mental processes (I §81,194). This form, in turn, is generated- constituted–by an activity of protention and retention that issues from the very core of consciousness. By means of this activity consciousness enlarges itself beyond the present. It actively holds on to traces of its past, while simultaneously reaching forward into its future. It draws its past into its present, and extends its present into its future. Protention and retention are “precise counterpart[s]”; in a sense they amount to a single activity that can be focused in two different directions (I §77,175).2 Consciousness constitutes the linked, unified structure–the form–of temporality as it directs this activity upon the past and the future. Thus, Without committing ourselves to Husserl’s phenomenology, we can say that his explanation of our ordinary ignorance is attractive. The natural standpoint is a rendering of Socratic forgetfulness that has considerably more articulate detail. But I have many questions about it. Is the natural standpoint just a congeries of attitudes, unified only in name, that must be disentangled before they help us understand anything? Can there be many natural standpoints? By what ‘force’ does the natural standpoint return, or impose itself, after we leave our desks?