My article “Husserl’s Psychology of Arithmetic” has been published in the Bulletin d’Analyse Phénoménologique. It is based on a talk I gave last year in Liège and takes up again issues I previously addressed in my talks in Parma and Salzburg.
In 1913, when his Ideas I were published, Husserl retrospectively considers his first works as being still relevant for phenomenological issues, advocating a strong continuity of his position from 1887 to 1913, which encompasses the alleged “revolution” in his position from psychologism to anti-psychologism. In stark contrast, much of the recent secondary literature claims that Frege’s destructive 1894 review would have converted Husserl to antipsychologism practically overnight.
This gives us two conflicting interpretations: on the one hand, Husserl himself in 1913 still approves of the Philosophy of Arithmetic and even considers it to contain valuable phenomenological material, on the other, it is routinely dismissed by much of the secondary literature as hopelessly psychologistic. So which one is it: do we have a phenomenological arithmetic or a psychologistic arithmetic in Husserl’s first book?
On balance, Husserl in his Philosophy of Arithmetic developed a position that does not fall prey to the exaggerated and poorly aimed critiques of Frege, while at the same time, as a descriptive psychology of the genesis and constitution of number, it can certainly be considered as providing phenomenologically meaningful analyses, though of course not made from within an explicitly transcendental phenomenological framework. We should investigate the role and nature of psychology, and its relation to logic and philosophy, in Husserl’s first works in much more detail. Indeed, in the Philosophy of Arithmetic Husserl makes the transition from mathematics to the philosophy of mathematics, specifically to a philosophy heavily based on the methods of descriptive psychology of the School of Brentano. When considering its development in the appropriate historical and theoretical context, we can give a more balanced and positive assessment of the methods and insights contained in the work, and bring forward what other commentators, including Frege, might have missed.