I am reading Dan Zahavi's Husserl's Phenomenology with a specific focus on his treatment of Logical Investigations. He describes Logical Investigations as "providing a new foundation for pure logic and epistemology," to account for the "possibility of knowledge" (8).

In it Husserl criticizes psychologism for, among other things, failing to distinguish between the object of knowledge and the act of knowing. The act is a finite, temporal, and psychical process, whereas the object of knowledge is atemporal, objective, and of eternal validity. Zahavi writes that objects of knowledge—such as principles of logic, mathematical truths, etc.—are "irreducible to and utterly different from the real psychical acts of knowing"; they are ideal (9).

Zahavi also refers to acts in more specific circumstances. He gives one example of perception and one of imagination, in both cases stating that "the act intends a transcendent object" (20). When giving the second example, Zahavi says "we are confronted with an intentional act" (16). Here are perception and imagination the acts being referred to?

It seems as if "act" is being used differently in the discussions on acts of knowledge and acts of perception/imagination. Is this difference more real or apparent? Or are these all acts in the same sense of the word?

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    What Husserl calls "intentional acts" are "units of consciousness that the respective speaker presents himself as having", as SEP puts it. They are abstracted from all physical contingencies and individual peculiarities of the physical actor, and related to the idealized "transcendental ego", only what is essential to probing the intentional object by consciousness is kept. In contrast, in "real psychical acts of knowing" the word "act" is used in its colloquial sense, with all the physical and psychological aspects included.
    – Conifold
    Jun 1, 2021 at 4:50
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    I'm not really up to giving a formal answer — long time since I read Husserl — but it strikes me that he's pointing at the distinction between understanding the concept 'triangle', and knowing that a particular thing in the world is a triangle. The second is a psychical act, involving perceptions and analysis and the possibilities for error and distortions. The first, though, is (seemingly) just 'there': an abstract, idealized object that (seemingly) always was and always will be. Jun 1, 2021 at 16:59

1 Answer 1


All types of consciousness are intentional according to Husserl's phenomenology, in the sense that they aim toward or intend about something beyond themselves (non-closureness). These object-directed intentional experiences necessarily comprise the ‘noema’ (the object as experienced) and the ‘noesis’ (the mental act that intends the object). Husserl emphasizes the distinction between the object of perception and the act of the perception of the object so that one can have a correct epoche (judgement suspension) of the former by the latter. So in this sense your above "act" is being used for the same epoche purpose.

Finally there're some differences between the act of perception and imagination according to Zahavi's paper here:

Recollection and imagination are two other important forms of object-directed intentionality. These types are mediated, that is, they intend their objects by way of other, intermediate mental activities, rather than directly, as does perception... Either way imagination involves re-presenting to myself a possible perceptual experience of the oak. Yet, in imagination, the assertoric or ‘positing’ character of this (re-presented) perceptual experience is said to be ‘neutralized’, for whereas an ordinary perceptual experience posits its object as actually there (regardless of whether the experience is veridical), imagination does not... Husserl thus describes perception and recollection as positional (assertoric) acts, whereas imagination is non-positional (non-assertoric).

According to standard usage in analytic philosophy of mind and cognitive science, the term ‘representation’ applies to any kind of mental state that has intentional content (‘intentional content’ and ‘representational content’ being used synonymously). In phenomenological parlance, on the other hand, ‘re-presentation’ applies only to those types of mental acts that refer to their objects by way of intermediate mental activity, as in remembrance, imagination (imaging and fantasy), and pictorial consciousness (looking at a picture). Perception, by contrast, is not re-presentational, but presentational, because the object-as-experienced (the intentional object or objective correlate of the act) is ‘bodily present’ or there ‘in flesh and blood’.

Thus Husserl holds a kind of positional direct realism about the act of perception and hold non-positional representationalism about the act of imagination, and perhaps positional representationalism about the act of knowing.

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