Volume 11, 2011
The Ontological Status of Essences in Husserl’s Thought
Phenomenology has been defined by Husserl as “theory of the essences of pure phenomena,” yet the ontological status of essences in Husserlian phenomenology is far from a settled issue. The late Husserlian emphasis on genetic constitution and the historicity of the lifeworld is not immediately reconcilable
with the ‘unchangeable’ nature that is prima facie attributed to essences. However, the problem of the nature of ideality cannot be dropped from phenomenological accounts without jeopardizing the phenomenological enterprise as such. Through an immanent analysis of Husserl’s meditation on essences a positive account of their ontological status is provided. Essences are interpreted as ontological thresholds, primordially rooted in our motivated confrontation with sensuous transcendence. Essences appear as emergent ontological features, which are not reducible to their particular realizations and which exhibit a fundamental continuity between consciousness and being. They manifest themselves as prospectively a priori (a precondition for further experiences), but retrospectively a posteriori (they are founded in experience). Finally, essences manifest the ‘co-essential’ nature of consciousness and sensuous transcendence: they are the way in which we are motivated and constitutively bound to articulate being, which in turn is apt to be thus articulated.