Volume 4, 2011
Selected Essays from Northern Europe
L’âme cartésienne de la phénoménologie
From the point of view of Husserlian philosophy, Descartes failed to arrive at a transcendental phenomenological subject. According to Husserl, Descartes’s cogito represents a psychological statement. Michel Henry maintains that Descartes’s “ego cogito ergo sum” implies a full phenomenological subject, not because of its transcendental disposition—on the contrary, because of its pure self-affection. Consciousness according to Henry is not “consciousness of something outside the self,” but the pure consciousness of being affected. This is the real kernel or soul of phenomenology, which can be understood as the Cartesian soul itself. Henry develops this argumentation not only through the formulation of the ego cogito but also by means of art. 26 of Descartes’s latest work, The Passions of the Soul. In this work, the relation between ‘actions’ and ‘passions’ is thought as an early attempt to establish a philosophy of consciousness. According to Henry, this remains fully neglected in the philosophies of Husserl and Heidegger. This not only implies a rehabilitation of the soul as phenomenological object, but also the recapture of phenomenology itself, which begins not with Husserl, but with Descartes.