I've read only slim secondary works on Husserl some time ago, and recently started "The Crisis in the European Sciences." So far, the framework seems faithfully Kantian. Husserl, for example, describes geometry as a priori constructions "filling out" the spatio-temporal continuum, which is "the form of intuition." He refers to "transcendental" methodology.

I suppose I will find out for myself eventually (haven't yet reached the book's treatment of Kant), but out of sheer laziness or anticipation, I'd like to know in what ways Husserl breaks with Kant, whom he followed by some six generations. Are there fundamental differences that can be briefly set out? Is Husserl generally deemed neo-Kantian?

2 Answers 2


It should be said that Husserl was philosophically averse to Kant's "creative" transcendental subject, perhaps due to the dominance of absolute idealist interpretations of him at the time, and preferred to derive his lineage from Hume, whom he credits as the principal forerunner of phenomenology. See Mall's Experience and Reason on their connection, which quotes Husserls' 1919 letter to Metzger:"I have learnt incomparably more from Hume than from Kant. I possessed the deepest antipathy against Kant, and he has not (if I judge rightly) influenced me at all".

This is likely exaggerated, Kant was in the air of the times, and Husserl did draw parallels with him already in Logical Investigations (1901), while reinterpreting his "synthetic" notion of a priori into intuitive one, and adopted the label and terminology of transcendental idealism around 1915, apparently at Natorp's prompting. There are also undeniable parallels between his approach and that of contemporary neo-Kantians, especially in the early works. The Crisis, on the other hand, is a late work, not completed in Husserl's lifetime, and written under pronounced influence of existentialism, in particular Heidegger's. One has to keep in mind though that what appears to be Kantian framework in Husserl may be at least partly attributable to their common root in Hume. A very nice summary of Husserl's theory of cognition is Zhok's Ontological Status of Essences in Husserl’s Thought, which makes Husserl's affinities and breaks with Kant more transparent.

What Husserl kept and developed beyond Hume was the recognition of the creative role of mind in cognition. Productive imagination (term shared with Kant) plays a dual role of aiding apprehension in perception, producing perceptual unities like objects, and engaging in "free play" to produce what Kant called synthetic a priori intuitions, e.g., in arithmetic and geometry. In fact, Husserl expands its role even further. It is responsible for memory recalls and "eidetic variation" of acquired perceptual proto-concepts that sharpens their boundaries, and forges them into full fledged essences ("eidoses"). As a result, Husserl gives a more satisfying account of empirical concept formation, which was a major unresolved problem for Kant, see Pippin's Kant on Empirical Concepts. Kant could not explain how exactly definitive concepts are formed from the undifferentiated "manifold of sensation", and his German idealist successors turned it into "construction of reality" from mental categories.

And here we come to a major break with the Kantian theory of sensibility. Husserl rejects the undifferentiated manifold, and the idea that percepts are synthesized from "sense data". The latter is seen as ex post facto extraction from what is originally given to consciousness as already partially structured and unified, if obscurely (this was later confirmed by empirical cognitive science). In other words, rather than having two determinates, "sensibility" and "manifold" interacting, Husserl insists that all determinacy is only forged in the act of perception itself. No determinates can be presented as "interacting" prior to it, dissolving the question of whether the content of perception "pre-exists" in reality, or is generated by the mind.

This aspect of perception, which apprehends idealities as immediate unities, Husserl terms categorical intuition, and, together with eidetic variation, which shapes concepts into definitional maturity, it forms the process of ideation. Thus, Husserl sails between the Scylla of passive reception of impressions à la Hume, and the Charybdis of German idealist "construction of reality" by the mind. Categorical intuition releases Husserl from the need to keep perhaps the most implausible part of Kantian picture, the forever immutable a priori categories and forms of intuition. But it is not the intellectual intuition of Spinoza and Fichte, it captures invariances of sensuous experience, not "glimpses" of things in themselves.

With categorical intuition, Husserl can be more generous on what is almost a vanishing point in Kant, the thing in itself, the unknowable X. The transcendence, as Husserl calls it, is that content of consciousness that "points beyond" consciousness itself, given to it as not its own but foreign, subject to pre-cognitive awareness as the "raw matter" of sensuous experience. The limited creative ability to perceive wholes, however weak and partial, ability that Kant denied us completely as "intellectus archetypus", allowed Husserl to remove some of the other-worldliness surrounding Kantian "supersensible substrate of experience".

There are many other divergences, I'll mention one of particular interest to me. In the Second Analogy, Kant gives a notorious transcendental argument for the a priori status of strict causality as condition of the possibility of our forming temporal succession of events (since they come with no time stamps attached). Husserl's analysis of perception shows instead that the "now", like "sense data", is an ex post facto abstraction.

In Husserl's account of perception, we instead encounter the "specious present" (the idea likely coming from James, along with the "stream of consciousness"), a short but dynamic duration with markers that explicitly link it to neighboring durations in the time succession, like coming and going notes in the apprehension of a melody (this was also confirmed by empirical psychology). Thus, Husserl again grants us an immediately holistic grasp, however obscure and fleeting, this time of becoming. This removes another issue that caused Kant much grief (in his theory of free will), the necessity of unbreakable causal chains in phenomena.

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    Just one comment to this very contentful answer: One should be careful in merging Fichte and Hegel, as the prior does think of intellectus archetypus (intellectual intuition) as human, reality-constructing ability available through abstraction (similar to Husserl), whilst the latter primarily thought of intuitive understanding (form of phenomenology) as a method and direct approach to things as they are, enabling him to e.g. historical accounts in contrast to Fichte's (and early Husserl's) eternal truths.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 22:33
  • @Philip I am not so sure. Fichte invokes intellectual intuition in self-knowledge through moral law, and his reality construction by transcendental method is something else, a precursor to Absolute Geist's rationalizing self-invention through dialectic, Fichte explicitly invokes the triad throughout, see Estes's essay in brill.com/products/book/…. Other than more impressionistic and less cerebral approach to the data of consciousness, I do not see much in common between Fichte and even early Husserl, let alone existentializing late Husserl.
    – Conifold
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 23:33
  • At street level we could say that Kant was a pious guy hostile to science while Hussserl is his opposite. K argues that maths is for the lower level of intelligence and works in Anschauung (intuition). Ultimately K remains a dualist as Aristotle, while Husserl proceeds much like a radical Plato: seeing H as a neokantian, that is a second hand or failed Kant, is rather like seeing Plato as an unsuccessful Aristotle. Btw late in life Godel became a fan of H.
    – sand1
    Commented Apr 9, 2016 at 8:35
  • @Conifold. Thanks for detailed answer and the references. Your last paragraph is interesting. I had been wondering in what sense a "phenomenological" method can deal with "history," and Husserl speaks of "zigzagging" back and forth rather than studying a causal sequence. There is a bit of Hegel in this, but I am wondering if he is also sympathetic to Bergson, as suggested in your "ex post facto now." Anyway, a long haul ahead of me here. I do find the historical timing (in the ordinary sense) of the "Crisis..." very moving and significant. Commented Apr 9, 2016 at 15:43
  • @Nelson You may want to check out Winkler's Husserl & Bergson on Time academia.edu/604832/… There are striking parallels in "impressionistic" approach overall, and to duration in particular, but direct influence is limited. Bergson is more in the spirit of existentialist phenomenology, but he had the double misfortune of being shunned by both rationalists and early existentialists, you will find more appreciation of him in Merleau-Ponty ndpr.nd.edu/news/24716-bergson-and-phenomenology
    – Conifold
    Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 20:26

Husserl, Edmund: The crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology (1936) has some paragraphs dealing explicitly with the transcendental philosophy of Kant: See §25 about Kant's conception of transcendental philosophy and §27 about Kant's philosophy.

§26 makes clear that both did not have the same conception of "transcendental". Husserl writes

Die ganze transzendentale Problematik kreist um das Verhältnis dieses meines Ich - des "Ego" - zu dem, was zunächst selbstverständlich dafür gesetzt wird: meiner Seele, und dann wieder um das Verhältnis dieses Ich und meines Bewußtseinserleben zur Welt, deren ich bewußt bin, und deren wahres Sein ich in meinen eigenen Erkenntnisgebilden erkenne.

The main difference is that Kant rejects the possibility to recognize "the real being" of the world. See Kant's conception of the therm "world" as a limit concept and Kant's rejection of the recognizability of things-in-themselves.

Husserl does not emphasize these fundamental differences. Instead he regards Kant on the right way to his own, Husserl's, concept of transcendental philosophy.

  • To summarize, he is more neo-fichtean than neo-kantian, as he claims to do transcendental philosophy, but by this had a method to gain knowledge about things-in-themselves, i.e. a totally different understanding of transendental philosophy.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 19:44
  • @Philip Reading Fichte into Husserl is popular, and Wissenschaftslehre does have very phenomenologically sounding passages, but it is not very credible. Husserl detested German idealism, even Kant, and traced phenomenology to Hume rather than Fichte. The whole I spinning the world out of itself is alien to Husserl ("back to things themselves"), things to him are certainly not posits of the I, so Fichte's "method" wouldn't work. And under his epistemology "in themselves" things hold no knowledge, it is forged in perception and ideation, although he allows more talk around them than Kant.
    – Conifold
    Commented Apr 8, 2016 at 22:46

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