German philosopher, logician, and founder of the modern school of phenomenology.
Born at Prossnitz (now Prostějov, in the Czech Republic), Husserl studied at the universities of Leipzig and Berlin, where he read mathematics under Karl Weierstrass, and at the University of Vienna, where he came under the influence of the psychologist Franz Brentano. Husserl held appointments at Halle (1887–1901), Göttingen (1901–16), and finally Freiberg, retiring in 1928.
Husserl's first work, Philosophie der Arithmetik (1891), sought to derive arithmetical concepts from psychological principles. It was savagely criticized by Frege, and in his next work, Logische Untersuchungen (2 vols, 1900–01; translated as Philosophical Investigations, 1970), Husserl rejected all such psychological approaches to logic. Logical laws, he declared, were necessary and therefore could not possibly be seen as empirical generalizations. He consequently tried to construct a ‘pure’ logic dealing with the concepts common to all sciences. To complete his ambitious programme Husserl proposed a phenomenological approach, i e a scrupulous attention to the abstract entities, be they propositions, meanings, or essences, arising from conscious (especially intellectual) processes.
In later works, such as his Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologischen Philosophie (1913; translated as Ideas, 1931), Husserl argued, in a most Cartesian way, that consciousness was the one absolute thing that cannot be thought away. This allowed him to attempt to develop a ‘transcendental phenomenology’ through which the world of objects can be approached.