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Husserl on Essences

A Reconstruction and Rehabilitation

In: Grazer Philosophische Studien
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The common thought that Husserl was committed to a Platonist ontology of essences, and to a mysterious epistemology that holds that we can ‘intuit’ these essences, has contributed substantially to his work being dismissed and marginalized in analytic philosophy. This paper aims to show that it is misguided to dismiss Husserl on these grounds. First, the author aims to explicate Husserl’s views about essences and how we can know them, in ways that make clear that he is not committed to a traditional Platonism, or a mystical epistemology. Second, the author argues that Husserl’s approach was an important source for Carnap in “Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology”, where Carnap tried to overcome the empiricists’ qualms about referring to abstracta. Finally, the author will argue that Husserl’s approach can be reconstructed in contemporary analytic terms by appeal to the idea of pleonastic transformations. By seeing both Husserl’s views and their influences on later analytic work more clearly, the hope is to build bridges and make clear that the approach is of lasting value and interest.

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