Volume 20, Issue 2, 2016
Ihde and Husserl
Ihde, Technoscience, and the Resilience of Phenomenology
My review of Don Ihde’s new book, Husserl’s Missing Technologies begins by identifying a thematic link binding its chapters: specifically, the exploration of alternative histories for the trajectory of classical Husserlian phenomenology. Ihde’s book can be seen as a meditation on questions like the following: “What might phenomenology have been had Husserl paid more attention to the essential role of instrumentation and experiment in science, or to the mediating role of technologies in perception? What road might phenomenology have taken had Husserl traveled it in conversation with John Dewey, rather than the ghost of Descartes?” The book ably demonstrates how such alternative paths might have enriched philosophy, in ways that closely mirror Ihde’s own contributions to postphenomenological thought. In particular, Ihde exposes Husserl’s failure to grasp technoscience as an activity that does not only reduce materiality to mathematical formalisms, but produces new material forms and sensibilities. Yet I resist the book’s implied charge that Husserlian phenomenology is a moribund tradition that has largely exhausted its power. Instead, I argue that the progressive force and intrinsic elasticity of the phenomenological method endures in spite of the inevitable limits of Husserl’s philosophical imagination, allowing his assumptions and results (and ours) to be remade again and again in the light of the ‘things themselves.’ Moreover, the relevance of Husserl’s critique of reductive scientism has enduring relevance today; while modern science may be a practice far richer than Husserl understood, the science of our day is far from rich enough.