The structure of the “noema”

In several previous posts (here and here), I have described two interpretations of Husserl’s crucial concept of the “noema,” offering problems with both interpretations. Some scholars maintain that when Husserl speaks of the noema, he is referring to a mental entity that is roughly equivalent to Frege’s “sense.” Others argue that by “noema” Husserl simply means the object as it is experienced and that by “object” Husserl means the Gestalt whole made out of all the appearances of the object. However, John Drummond maintains that neither of these theories is an accurate interpretation of Husserl. Drummond proposes another interpretation. However, in order to more fully elucidate this alternate theory, it is first necessary to examine the structure of the noema more closely.

According to Husserl, the noema has two chief aspects. First, it has a thetic character which includes the kind of noema that it is (e.g., perceptual, judgmental, etc.) and the mode of being that it has (e.g., unmodified certain, questionable, etc.). So, for example, there can be a doubtful noema of a judgment, or a certain noema of a memory, etc.

Second, there is what Husserl calls the “noematic nucleus.” This noematic nucleus can be the same between different kinds of acts (e.g., between perception, memory, and judging), whereas the full noema (e.g., the perceived as such, or the judged as such) cannot be. In other words, there can be an identical element in the correlates of an act of perceiving and an act of memory, but obviously the full objective correlates of these differing acts cannot be identical. For example, if I see my dog Fido in a certain situation and then later I remember my dog Fido in that same situation, there is something identical in both consciousnesses-of, but there is clearly something different as well. Husserl identifies the noematic nucleus with the meaning or sense of the noema.

Finally, Husserl distinguishes one more element in the noema, at the core of the noematic nucleus. He writes that the “central noematic phase” is “the ‘object’, the ‘objective unity’, the ‘self-same’, the ‘determinable subject of its possible predicates.’”1 He also speaks of this as the “determinable X.”

What does this “determinable X” refer to? Husserl explains: “Sundry act-noemata have everywhere here a variety of nuclei, yet so that, despite this fact, they close up together in an identical unity, a unity in which the ‘something’, the determinable which lies concealed in every nucleus, is consciously grasped as self-identical.”2 For example, I might touch a tree with my eyes closed, remember seeing it up close, imagine viewing it from above, and make a judgment about its value: and so all the noemata, and even all the noematic nuclei, would be different. And yet, they would all be about the same identical object, in different manners. This is possible, according to Husserl, because the noema contains, at its center, the “determinable X.”

Now, the Fregean interpreters of Husserl can only interpret the “determinable X” as some kind of linguistic meaning similar to a demonstrative pronoun. In other words, it is something along the lines of a “this” or a “that” in the mediating mental entity which picks out and points to the (ontologically distinct) object. However, Drummond maintains that this view of the determinable X is inadequate to explain Husserl’s words. For, something akin to a demonstrative pronoun is necessarily general and so cannot account for the consciousness of identity between the object of different noema. As Drummond writes, “the demonstrative pronoun is occasional, and, like the purely formal  ‘X,’ can refer to any object whatsoever.”3 Moreover, at the beginning of the discussion of the determinable X, Husserl says that the direction of consciousness to its object “points toward a most inward phase of the noema,”4 a phrase which seems to directly conflict with the Fregean interpretation. 

So, what is the “determinable X”? And, ultimately, what is the “noema”? In a future post, I will elucidate Drummond’s interpretation.

1 Edmund Husserl, Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology, IV, 1, §131, trans. W.R. Boyce Gibson (Eastford, CT: Martino Fine Books, 2017), 365-366. 

2 Husserl, Ideas, IV, 1, §131, trans. Gibson, 366.

3 John J. Drummond, Husserlian Intentionality and Non-Foundational Realism: Noema and Object, (Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1990), 153. 

4 Husserl, Ideas, IV, 1, §129, trans. Gibson, 363.

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