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Paradox, harmony, and crisis in phenomenology

Judson Webb

pp. 353-408

Husserl's first work formulated what proved to be an algorithmically complete arithmetic, lending mathematical clarity to Kronecker's reduction of analysis to finite calculations with integers. Husserl's critique of his nominalism led him to seek a philosophical justification of successful applications of symbolic arithmetic to nature, providing insight into the "wonderful affinity" between our mathematical thoughts and things without invoking a pre-established harmony. For this, Husserl develops a purely descriptive phenomenology for which he found inspiration in Mach's proposal of a "universal physical phenomenology." To account for applications to any domain, Husserl envisages a theory of all possible deductive systems, which he develops extensively in his Göttingen lectures wherein he engages with Hilbert's work on deductive systems for geometry, real arithmetic, and physics. This leads Husserl to formulate claims of decidability and proofs of completeness for various arithmetics that result from his analysis of Kronecker's general arithmetic. Careful attention to these proofs seem to show that Husserl was not oblivious to problems that underlie our incompleteness theorems, namely that of showing that some inversions of his algorithmic arithmetic are undefined. His growing preoccupation with the issue of a pre-established harmony between mathematical thought and reality motivate his pursuit of a "supramathematics" of all possible complete theory forms to demystify such harmony, by having such a form on hand for describing any empirical domain. He soon decides that a transcendental idealism of nature will reveal the wonderful affinity of thoughts and things comprising such harmony, to be a wonderful "parallelism of objective unities and constituted manifolds of consciousness." But the paradoxes of logic and set theory cloud the clarity of mathematics, which Weyl would restore with Brouwer's intuitionism and Hilbert with his metamathematics. Husserl informed Weyl that his student Becker had formulated a phenomenological foundation not only for Weyl's generalization of relativity theory but also for the Brouwer-Weyl continuum. But Weyl eventually rejected much of Becker's work, especially when it became clear that his phenomenological intuitionism could not account for the success of Hilbert's transfinite mathematics in quantum physics. Becker responded to this "crisis of phenomenological method" with his mantic phenomenology celebrating the magic of mathematical mysticism, which Husserl finally rejects in favor of a pluralistic phenomenology of mathematics and nature.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/978-94-024-1132-4_14

Full citation:

Webb, J. (2017)., Paradox, harmony, and crisis in phenomenology, in S. Centrone (ed.), Essays on Husserl's logic and philosophy of mathematics, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 353-408.

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