Toward the Phenomenology of Rainer Maria Rilke

Essay, 2014

31 Pages, Grade: 1,5


Table of Contents

1. Exposé into the Field of Cognitive Phenomenology

2. Edmund Husserl's Conception of Intentionality, Logical Investigations

3. Käte Hamburger, The Phenomenological Structure of Rilke's Poetry

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography


Käte Hamburger has argued that Rainer Maria Rilke was a poet practicing phenomenology. This paper builds off her work, assuming Rilke to have conducted phenomenology by composing his lyric, and, with aid of the Neue Gedichte, seeks to address the tension between sensory and cognitive phenomenology. Cognitive Phenomenology is a new field of research that seeks to discover, if there be such a thing, the qualia of cognitive states. By a close reading of Husserl principle text, Logische Untersuchungen, this paper first established the structure of intentionality. We then apply Husserl's notion of intentionality to Rilke's lyric. The result of this research is that according to Husserl's analysis of intentionality, the existence of a pure cognitive phenomenology is left unanswered, but cognitive phenomenology does exist and is qualitatively different from sensory phenomenology. Lastly, we propose that the quale of a cognitive state is the same as the necessary conditions for that state, whose structure can, and should, be rigidly defined through linguistics. We conclude with the thought that this task would be the left to a new branch of linguistics called phenomenological linguistics1. We argue our perspective with examples from Rilke's poetry.

1. Exposé into the Field of Cognitive Phenomenology

The goal of this short section is to outline the relatively new field of phenomenology, called cognitive phenomenology, and the dilemmas it aims to address. Cognitive phenomenology is a diverse branch of philosophy that brings together natural science, analytic philosophy and continental philosophy.2 Chiefly, the task is to develop a phenomenology of cognitive processes, but there is still an intense debate about whether there exists such a phenomenology that can be described as cognitive. Interestingly, this debate is different from the usual cross-culture debate: it does not merely split itself into analytic on the one hand and continental philosophers on the other. In this field, it appears to be of little consequence whether one is a representative of one or the other culture. That said, we understand this field to be so new that it currently consists largely in determining the necessary vocabulary and in the demarcation of this set of vocabulary to allow for maximum precision and expressiveness; i.e. the rules of the language game are still largely being determined and no one has yet to begun a session. We will begin by outlining some of the chief dilemmas.

Between the proponents and deniers of cognitive phenomenology, there is a debate as to whether cognitive processes possess a phenomenology of their own. The term that has been chosen to adequately express the cognitive processes under inspection stems from Betrand Russell's philosophy of language called propositional attitudes. These include thinking, believing, judging, accepting, rejecting, appraising, estimating, speculating, imagining, etc. We could summarize the main questions that are asked by cognitive phenomenology as follows: Does conceptual thought have its own phenomenology? The term that has been chosen by the research to express what is meant by 'its own phenomenology' derives from C.I. Lewis, the founder of conceptual pragmatism, who coined a term called qualia. This is often described as the 'what it is likeness'; so for example, the 'what it is likeness' to be in love has inspired many poets throughout history; has the 'what it is like to think' (i.e. cognitive phenomenology) inspired philosophers?

We understand qualia to be those immediate intentions that accompany experience necessarily and constitute the species of any and all individual intentions, including propositional attitudes. But there is much debate about whether qualia are immediate, whether they accompany experience necessarily, whether they are intentional, whether they constitute a species, and whether propositional attitudes possess them. Answering no to any of those questions places one's view further in the direction of denying cognitive phenomenology, while answering no to all of them makes one necessarily a denier of cognitive phenomenology as a whole.

One central debate concerns the nature of intentionality. It is well understood that intentionality is the main tenant of Husserlian phenomenology; it allows him to overcome the Kantian dictum that knowledge of consciousness can never be obtained. Also well know is that the term 'intentionality' was recovered from Scholastic philosophy by Franz Bretano, and used for what he called 'descriptive psychology'. Of course, this branch of psychology no longer exists and has largely been transformed into what is now called phenomenology. It argues that an essential component to the operation of consciousness is that it operates as subject and to neglect the structure of subjective experience would necessarily leave out an essential aspect to the structure of consciousness.3 Overcoming the chasm of psychologism, intentionality enables the derivation of laws governing the operation of consciousness from something other than pure subjectivity. Intentionality established those laws from the correlation between consciousness and its object4.

Intentionality is therefore called the 'aboutness' of consciousness; that is, consciousness is always about something, and this something is either a real object or an ideal object, whereby the ideal objects are abstracted from the experience of real objects, and therefore it is said that conscious experience is always about a real object. Furthermore, it is well known that this relationship is seen in phenomenology as necessarily constitutive of consciousness. Thus to determine the structure of intentionality is tantamount to determining the structure of consciousness. With the aid of Husserl, Rilke and Hamburger, it is the goal of our essay to contribute to the current debate in cognitive phenomenology as concerns the nature of intentionality and its semantic entailment. That said, Husserl did not explicitly make a distinction between cognitive and sensory phenomenology, so the result of our essay clearly favors the affirmation of cognitive phenomenology. Instead, what is achieved by the essay is a concise conception of intentionality that encompasses both its cognitive and sensory aspects, thoroughly elaborated with examples from the work of Rainer Maria Rilke whose poetry according to Hamburger was an exposition of intentionality in the strictest Husserlian sense.

2. Edmund Husserl's Conception of Intentionality, Logical Investigations.

In this section, we will analyze Husserl's principle text, Logische Untersuchungen5, in order to develop a concise conception of intentionality. Much emphasis will be placed on the relationship between intentionality and Wesenerschauung6, but more critical to this essay is the development of a well-defined structure that outlines how Husserl understands intentionality to be constructed. The main questions we will ask are as follows: Does Husserl holdthat objects of reflection, of imagination, of conceptual objects, can be objects of intentionality? What does Husserl have to say about propositional attitudes, such as beliefs and assumptions, and their relation to intentionality? It is widely known that Husserl did not make a distinction between sensory phenomenology and cognitive phenomenology, but how does he understand the role of cognition to operate in phenomenology? How is cognition represented in intentionality? How does it relate to sensual phenomenology? Also of relevance are Husserl's thoughts about the role emotions play in intentionality: are they essential and constitutive to intentionality? We begin in the Prolegomena and work our way through the Investigations till we arrive at the fifth, where the structure of intentionality is throughly explicated.

2.1 Prolegomena zur reinen Logik

In the Prolegomena, we conclude that intentionality operates by abduction and is the intermediate between deductive and inductive systems. Intentionality is found to encompasses the experience derived from sensuous objects, the abstraction of a priori concepts necessary for logic, and the operations performed on the a priori concepts. Thus, Husserl's notion of intentionality is of both sensory and cognitive domains of phenomenology.

The first instances of intention appear in the Prolegomema. There Husserl outlines his holistic program for the scientific disciplines and establishes his principle of an anti-psychologistic argument that continues to be upheld even today. Every practical discipline, Husserl maintains, rests on a theoretical discipline because the content of each results from theoretical investigations. (H. I, 53) He defines 'practical' as that which ought to be and not what is. Husserl explains his theory with the following example: when we say that a solider should be brave, we mean to say that a solider who is not attributed the predicate 'is brave', is no solider at all. (H. I, 54) Thus, the normative, or practical, discipline delivers the rules necessary for the membership of sets. Husserl makes a distinction between sufficient conditions and necessary conditions for the membership of a set, both of which are determined by the practical discipline. (H. I, 55) He stresses, however, that these conditions do not refer to individual cases; instead, they only apply to the concepts that are so obtained and the resulting laws are to be understood as applying only to, and among, these concepts. (H. I, 55)

Husserl moves to the epistemic sphere when he addresses how we know the validity of normative propositions; i.e. the propositions of practical disciplines. He begins by claiming that every normative proposition requires eine gewisse Art der Werthaltung (a certain kind of evaluation). Here he states that we cannot rely on nominal definitions alone. We must instead have a general evaluation (allgeminen Werthaltung) for which merely a single intention is needed possessing a content of something being valued. (H. I, 56)

This is the first use of intention in the Logische Untersuchungen. We see its use being associated with the process of making a decision as to whether something is to be valued, positively or negatively; which is also to say, whether something is to be permitted membership to a set by way of attributing a predicate; or whether a proposition is to be attributed a truth-value in the case of semantics. That said, all of this only applies to the practical disciplines of 'ought to' and 'should be' within deontic modalities. Husserl argues that the decision whether to attribute a truth-value to a deonitc proposition mustn't make use of an abstract definition, but instead we must rely on an intention whose content fulfills the particular case. We understand this to mean that deonitc rules are established on intentional grounds and not by means of a definition, prescription, deduction. The question remains as to whether intentionality can be associated with a logic of abduction.

From this we can establish that Husserl is claiming that all normative propositions are dependent on intentional evidence; not, however, that they are dependent on empirical evidence. The difference and similitude between the intentional and empirical is not yet clear, but will be shortly.

More interesting is whether Husserl is claiming that all deduction is dependent on either induction or abduction.

Deduction determines an instance from a rule. Induction determines a rule from an instance. Both have as an intermediate 'the case'. Abduction determines a case from the combination of rules and instances. Since the validity of a normative proposition is dependent on an intention suppling the fulfilling content for a given rule, we can say that the validity of rules depends on a case that supplies a particular instance. As such deduction becomes dependent on abduction, but abduction becomes dependent on the induction. Since it is the intention that supplies this instance, we conclude that intentionality works as a medium between induction and deduction and is therefore to be understood as operating on the logic of abduction.

Let us consider an example from logic, which Husserl considered a practical disciple: the identity principle A =A. To determine the validity of this proposition, we must not rely on the definition alone. We also need an intention whose content fulfills the proposition. We do not have an experience of A, nor do we have any experience of equality. Things are themselves, i.e. this pen is this pen, but that is hardly an experience of the fulfillment of the proposition Ά = A'. Likewise, I experience me as myself, but this is also not an experience of the fulfillment of the proposition of Ά = A'.

Just as the experience of taking one apple from a box and another apple from another box and grouping them together on the table is not an experience of the addition of one and one, the experience of the rigidity of objects or of the body, or of the continuity of the stream of consciousness is not an experience of the validity of the principle of identity. This is because these experiences are of apples and of one's self, not of abstract numerals and postulated variables. We can, however, consider that we abstract from each apple the idea of self-sameness in the form of one and likewise abstract from the experience of the continuity of consciousness the idea of identity. Now that we have these abstracted concepts we can determine the rules that govern them.

For two reasons, this approach explains the validity of logical propositions without succumbing to psychologism. First, the rules of logic are not derived from the experience of real objects but from a priori concepts. Secondly, the a priori concepts that create the foundation of logic are not abstracted from mere psychological experience but from the combination of psychological experience and the experience of real objects; i.e. intentionality.

Husserl explains how it is possible that the laws of logic can be 'applied' to empirical or psychological cases, i.e. cases of intention. He claims that we abstract from the stream of empirical data (sensory phenomenology) via intuition (schauend) universal concepts that are fulfilled by singular instances within the stream of empirical data. This empirical data constitutes the validity of the identification of a conceptual intention. (H. I, 109) Returning to the identity principle, we determine its validity by abstracting the case from the experience of particular instances; meaning, if the rule applies to the derived concepts (from particular instances), then the rule is valid.

Concluding the Prolegomena, Husserl refers to intentionality using the phrase 'conceptual intention'. Thereby Husserl shifts toward a richer concept of the notion. Intentionality not only includes sensory phenomenology, explaining how we experience empirical objects but also cognitive phenomenology, seeking to show how we experience the processing of concepts derived from intuition.7 Thus it seems that Husserl argues that we have empirical intentions and conceptual intentions, while the latter are abstracted from the former through intuition. Therefore we conclude that intentionality, according to Husserl, encompasses the inductive logic of the sensory experience of objects, the abduction of a priori concepts from empirical objects, and the deductive operations performed on the a priori concepts, whether that be testing their validity or applicability.

2.2 First Investigation: Expression and Meaning

In the First Investigation, we analyze Husserl's use of intention, here meaning-intention, and determine four different parts essential for its use and mediation. We develop the relationship between an intention and meaning, presenting the roles intention plays in monological experience and dialogical communication. We determine the four parts of the relationship between intention and meaning to be 1. expression, 2. object, 3. context and 4. intuition. Together they constitute a meaning-intention. We conclude that the meaning of an expression is immediate in monological experience but referential and mediated in dialogical communication and, finally, we display a model for both at the conclusion.

Husserl begins LU by establishing a theoretical basis wherefrom he can derive the laws of logic and language that is free from the fallacy of the infinite regress. He concludes that this basis is the monological experience of intentionality, which does not suffer this fallacy.

The regress that interests him becomes apparent when we inspect the nature of meaning. The meaning of any proposition, i.e. any well-formed sentence that can be attributed a truth-value, appears at first glance to be dependent on the meaning of another proposition; and yet, comprehension of an isolated proposition would be impossible if the meaning of another, and yet another, ad infinitum, were necessary at the outset.

Think of the language games that are presented in Wittgenstein's Philosophische Untersuchungen. Here Wittgenstein provides US with the example of the board game of chess. The meaning of a move in the game is dependent on the foreknowledge of the function of a figure.“'This is the king' is only an explanation when the pupil already 'knows what a game-figure is', if he has already played other games or has already understood a game by watching others play before.”8 If this regress does not terminate at some point, then the meaning of any proposition can never be known and the 'game' of logic and language can never be played. And since we have knowledge of the meaning of an isolated proposition and can therefore play the game, there must be a way for the infinite referential nature of meaning to terminate.

Upstream from Wittgenstein, Husserl beings his search for meaning free from regress by isolating the unit of language that is purely referential. He determines this to be the sign. Signs themselves do not have any meaning; they only refer to, or indicate meaning. (H. II, 31) Contrary to signs, Husserl isolates expressions as those units of language that carry an inherit meaning. In monological experience (im einsamen Seelenleben), expressions continue to possess meaning, and opposed to dialogical communication, here expressions do not function as a sign. (H. II, 31) This point becomes expanded upon in §8 and forms the foundation of Husserl's phenomenological method and the phenomenological reduction developed in later works. (H. II, 42) But we shall return to this argument later.

The function responsible for the referential nature of signs is indication. Indication is based on the experience of association. Association is constitutive of relationships in perception, psychological motivation, and causality. The result of association is always a unity, a whole made of parts, with an experiential content, whether that be of an object, an event, a process, or the order and relationship of things. (H. II, 36) This unity is called by Husserl an intentional-unity, but its concise explication is neglected in this chapter and is worked out in the Fifth Investigation, so we will return once again to intentional-unity later on.

In a footnote written afterward, Husserl explains what he means by experiential content. “I spoke of experiential content, not however of apparent, intentional objects or events. Experiential content is everything that is of the real domain and comes to constitute the single “experiencing” consciousness. What it perceives, remembers, imagines, etc, is an intentional object.”9

We understand this footnote to tell US that an intentional-unity, whether perceived in the world or imagined in the mind, is constituted at its source by the experience of real objects in the world.

These experiences make up the content of this unity. Thus the sensuous world supplies some part of the content of an intentional-unity, which itself is made up of multiple parts that are combined together to form a whole. This experiential content is intuited through our five senses. The perceptual, imagined and remembered are intentional objects.

Let us consider an example. I see my desk. I sense the light reflecting off the desk in shades of tawny, ochre, brown, etc. This sensuous content makes up one part of the intentional-unity. The perception of the desk reveals certain pragmatic entailments, such as its use for reading and writing, and the memory of when I once spilled my morning coffee, leaving behind the pale shadow of a stain. These future possibilities, along with the past memory, make up the intentional-object. Together the sensuous and the intentional objects help to form a whole called the intentional-unity.

Husserl develops in §6 a scheme for the meaning of an expression that is consequential for intentionality. One the one hand, there are the physical and the psychological aspects to an expression. For example, the physical is a written ink-blot or a drifting sound wave, while the psychological is that which gives the expression its meaning. (H. II, 38) Each word works as a name and its reveals an intention. Connecting his philosophy to the work of Frege, a word has both a sense, i.e. the way the word is presented in a particular context, and the object to which it refers. A complete expression receives its meaning from an intention, refers to objects and/or other intentions, and is often accompanied by an intuition rendering the expression evident. (H. II, 39)

Let there be a written expression Every expression indicates an intention [...], presents some object in a particular context {...}, refers to a particular object |...| and lastly is accompanied by an intuition that renders the expression evident <...>1 Therefore the unity is composed of four parts |...|, {...}, <·.·> that together help to create the intention [... ] which confers meaning onto the expression. For example,

‘The morning star is the planet Venus” {star/planet appearing in the east before sunrise} I Venus I

<< seeing // imagining >>

[The morning star is the planet Venus]

Husserl inspects the nature of the communicative function of an expression in §7. For communication to be possible a speaker must endow the expression with a meaning and this meaning becomes understood when the auditor grasps the speaker's intention. Thus in communicative speech all expressions function by indication, as they indicate the 'thoughts' of the speaker, i.e. sense-giving inner experiences, as well as all the other experiences that are a part of his communicative intention. (H. II, 40) Essentially, the function of speech is its intimating function.

Therefore we understand that, in its communicative role, an expression has a meaning when it intimates an intention. The success of intimation depends on whether the auditor has understood the speaker's intention. That is to say, without the successful transmission of an intention, the meaning of an expression is misunderstood. Exceptions to this possible failure is the case of expressions within monological experience that needn't be intimated but are continuously, immediately understood. (H. II, 42) Whether meaning is immediately apprehended in monological experience is a matter of much debate. An exposition into this debate would go far beyond the limits of this paper.10

Husserl explains the process of communication in phenomenological terms in §9 and §10. The speaker begins with a sense/meaning (Sinn/Bedeutung). In the LU, Husserl does not make a distinction between sense and meaning. We understand his lack of distinction to imply the entailment of both 'sense' and 'meaning'. This indifference ensures that the 'inner-feeling of meaning' as well as the 'inner- experience of the senses' are entailed by meaning—both constitute what Husserl had called the intention. "Our interest, our intention, our thought - mere synonyms if taken in sufficiently wide senses - point exclusively to the thing meant in the sense-giving act.” As detailed above, the result of these aspects of expression combined is what Husserl now calls 'the meaning-intention'. Without a meaning- intention, an expression is merely a sign. "To be an expression is rather a descriptive aspect of the experienced unity of sign and signified." (H. II, 46)

In the monological experience, there are no further steps in the process of communication, but should the speaker wish to intimate a meaning-intention, then she must leave monological experience and along with it, the purely expressive nature of meaning, where the meaning-intention is rendered as an intimated expression. The meaning of an intimated expression is understood with aid of a meaning- fulfilling act that, should everything go well, conveys the intention and along with the meaning of the expression. "The function of a word is to awaken a meaning-intention in ourselves, to point to what is intended, or perhaps, given intuitive fulfillment in this act,


1 Not to be equated with the idea of linguistic phenomenology proposed by John Austin.

2 Cognitive Phenomenology, edited by Tim Bayne and Michelle Montague

3 More precisely: subjectivity is constructed in conscious experience.

4 More precisely: objectivity is constructed in conscious experience.

5 Husserl, Edmund, Logische Untersuchungen,

6 Though there is no mention of Wesenerschauung in the Logische Untersuchung, the second edition from 1913 includes some changes that makes it present in all but name.

7 On page 109, we see with the additions from the 1913 'B' edition. Particularly of interest is the word 'schauend'. This represent an instance where Husserl had envisoned Wesenerschauung to function in this regard.

8 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Philosophische Untersuchungen, pg. 255. Das ist er König' ist nur dann eine Worterklärung, wenn der Lernende schon 'weiß, was eine Spiel figure isť. Wenn er also etwa schon andere Spiele gespielt hat, oder dem Spielen Anderer 'mit Verständnis’ zugesehen hat.

9 Ich spreche oben von erlebten Inhalten, nicht aber von erscheinenden, vermeinten Gegenständen oder Vorgängen. All das, woraus sich das individuelle “erlebende” Bewusstsin reel konstituiert, ist erlebter Inhalt. Was es wahrnimmt, erinnert, vorstellt น. dgl„ ist vermeinter (intentionaler) Gegenstand. (H. II, 36)

10 See: Derrida, Jacques, On Grammatology,

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Toward the Phenomenology of Rainer Maria Rilke
University of Tubingen
Husserls Logische Untersuchungen
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Husserl, Rilke, Phänomenologie
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John Dorsch (Author), 2014, Toward the Phenomenology of Rainer Maria Rilke, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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