In §85 of Ideas I, Husserl classifies all mental processes into intentional and non-intentional mental processes. The class of non-intentional mental processes contains all sensuous mental processes.

Among the former [class of non-intentional mental processes] belong certain "sensuous" mental processes which are unitary with respect to their highest genus, "sensation-contents" such as color-Data, touch-Data and tone-Data, and the like, which we shall no longer confuse with appearing moments of physical things.

It is possible to distinguish the content of sensuous mental processes from sensuous mental processes. If I am interpreting Husserl correctly, then he is arguing that sensuous mental processes form a class. A defining property of this class is that every mental processes belonging to it has a sensuous content. The distinction between a sensuous mental process and the sensuous content of a sensuous mental process is then analogous to the distinction between a representation and a representing of an object.

On my reading, Husserl distinguishes a sensuous mental process from the sensuous content of a sensuous mental processes. The sensuous contents of sensuous mental processes are classified according to different sensory modalities. Another possible reading is that Husserl is identifying sensuous mental processes and the sensuous contents of sensuous mental processes. If so, then Husserl is arguing that all sensuous content is identical with a sensuous mental processes. Here, the proper analogy would be to adverbial theories of perception, in which a sensation of red is identified with a sensing redly.

The proper interpretation of this passage is important, because it immediately precedes Husserl's discussion of the hyletic moments of intentional acts. Which is the proper interpretation? Is Husserl claiming that all sensuous mental processes contain sensuous contents, or is Husserl claiming that all sensuous mental processes are sensuous contents?

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    I just want to say that I think that this is an excellent question, and precisely the kind of question I like to see on this site. Unfortunately, it's been ages since I have read the later Husserl, so I'm afraid I don't have a good answer ready-to-hand, but I really hope the community comes through with a good answer. Jun 2, 2012 at 14:09

1 Answer 1

Is Husserl claiming that (A) all sensuous mental processes contain sensuous contents, or is Husserl claiming that (B) all sensuous mental processes are sensuous contents?

The answer is (B) all sensuous mental processes are sensuous contents.

At this point in Ideas, Husserl has qualified his expression as phenomenological description. In the context of apprehending a phenomenon, the content of consciousness is equivalent to act of consciousness. This is because:

  • From the phenomenological position, we must assume that existence has been bracketed, and consequently, both the content and the act can only be interpreted in terms of how they are experienced. (You can read about the phenomenological reduction to better understand this.)
  • We experience content via an act of experiencing content.
  • Consciousness is not reflexive, (which means that a conscious act cannot be conscious of itself as a positional object).
  • When we reflect on an act of consciousness, that act becomes an intentional object and is therefore, not a "non-intentional mental process".

If a sensuous mental process were to contain sensuous contents, then they would have to be distinct. The sensuous contents would have to be a separate experience which preceded the sensuous mental process, which means that the sensuous mental process would not be a sensuous mental process, but a reflective intentional mental process. This is clearly a contradiction, so it must not be the case that sensuous mental processes contain sensuous contents.

This stuff can get confusing and just to make sure that this is not misunderstood...

According to Husserl's phenomenology as expressed in Ideas,

sensuous mental processes ≡ sensuous contents

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