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Commentary on Husserl's Logical Investigations, Prolegomena Chapter 2

By Jeremy Hausotter


Chapter 2: Theoretical Disciplines as the Foundation of Normative Disciplines​

§13 The controversy regarding the practical character of logic

Husserl starts the chapter by first summarizing the history of logic. Logic arose out of the Greek encounter with the Sophists and the necessity of finding an objective criteria for truth. In this situation, according to Husserl, logic emerged as a practical oriented logic, as a technology required to do science. By technology, what is meant is  logic as an applied science.

Kant especially inaugurated a push against the technology view of logic in favor of a pure logic. Logic can have applications, which Kant called applied logic, but there must still be a pure logic as an authentic science itself.

When Husserl looks back upon this debate between whether logic is only a technology or whether there is a pure logic as its own science, he condemns the discussion in that neither side of the debate has been able to formulate what is the critical question for determining the shape of the entire debate. This is a sweeping claim of twenty centuries of human thought. The question that needs to be asked according to Husserl is “whether the definition of logic as a technology really touches its essential character.” (p75). Does the restriction of logic to only a technology bring us to the essence of logic? Or does the essence of logic require us to refuse this view as reductionistic?

Husserl presents mathematics as an analogy to logic. Mathematics is itself a pure science that is independent of whatever applications it has for other sciences. Mathematics stands as its own field, beyond any possible applications as an “a priori, purely demonstrative discipline.” (p. 76, cf. 79-80) Is logic like mathematics in this regard? Is the essence of logic like pure mathematics or its applicability as a technology? Is logic as Kant believed, an internally closed, independent, a priori field of study? (p. 76) Husserl carefully recounts the history of the question, citing a dizzying number of logicians on the status of the question.

Another fundamental problem concerning the history of the philosophy of logic is the interpretation of logic as normative (cf p. 78). Those who argue that logic is pure place logic’s normativity as a feature of its essence. Opponents saw this and believed that such a view is a contradiction, for if logic is normative, does this not require then that logic is a technology?

If normativity is identified with technology, then the guiding aim of logic is the uniting of logical truths into a discipline (p. 79). With this claim, Husserl makes a controversial claim for Aristotelians. He states “It is plainly wrong to set logic bounds as narrow as those of the traditional Aristotelian logic, since ‘pure’ logic certainly goes beyond these. It is absurd to set logic a goal, and then to exclude from it classes of norms and normative investigations that pertain to this goal.” (p. 79). What I believe Husserl is getting at here is that logic for Aristotle was restricted to deductions based on syllogisms and subject-predicate sentences. The contents of Aristotelian logic are restricted to his ten categories of being. If we keep in mind what Husserl mentioned earlier on page 59 concerning Aristotle’s metaphysics being restricted to actual reality, then Aristotle’s logic will necessarily be limited as well since the question arises as to how to account for a logic of ideal sciences whose objects are outside of actual reality. Pure logic goes beyond Aristotelian logic because later on in the Logical Investigations Husserl will argue that pure logic is ideal and not real. Therefore, logic as a normative science must be normative for both ideal and real sciences.

Another problem concerning the history of philosophy on view that logic is a technology is that this may require interpreting logic as dependent upon several other disciplines for which it is a technology of. The insufficiency of the historical debate concerning the relationship between logic as a practical or theoretical discipline is the result of first accepting the conception of logic as a technology. Pure logic must first be purified in order to understand its relationship to its practical applications.

When phenomenology first began with its discussion of essences, several contemporary thinkers thought that phenomenology was a new variation of neoscholasticism due to this revival of discussion of essences (cf Edith Stein’s Knowledge and Faith). With this in mind, Husserl wrote: “To object that we are attempting to restore Aristotelian-scholastic logic, on whose worthlessness history has pronounced judgment, will not perturb us.” (p. 80). He does later say that this school of thought was a good first try, but highly imperfect (cf p. 80). Either way, this does raise the question as to whether Husserl is correct in his assessment of scholastic logic and whether there can be a rapprochement.

§14 The concept of a normative science. The basic standard or principle that gives it unity

Husserl now wants to focus on the proposition that “every normative and likewise every practical discipline rests on one or more theoretical discipline, inasmuch as its rules must have a theoretical content separable from the notion of normativity...” (p. 81). Normativity requires laws of propositions of the form with “shall” or “should”, and so this phenomenon itself requires an investigation that takes up the rest of this section.

Husserl distinguishes normative laws from theoretical laws in that normative laws tell us what should or shall be whereas theoretical laws inform us what is. The task now is to investigate the meaning of “should”.

Husserl notes that the “original” sense of “shall” relates to a wish, will, demand or command (p. 82), when for example a parent says “you should behave”. This is a narrow sense. A more broad meaning is independent of the expression of someone’s wish and Husserl gives the example of “A soldier should be brave”. This proposition is saying something about the nature of being a soldier that is independent of one’s expectations. It presupposes a value-judgment that a good soldier is brave and a bad soldier is not-brave.  In other words such a proposition contains a valuation that holds true in every case. Every soldier should be brave. In this broader meaning of “should” then, one finds a valuation of good and evil.

Husserl defines “good” in the following manner: “The term ‘good’ naturally functions in the widest sense of what is in any way valuable…” (p. 83). “Good” hence has a wider application than simply moral goodness, for it includes valuations of what is useful, beautiful, and more. This leads to a rather stunning statement: “There are as many ways of speaking of a ‘should’ as there are different species of valuations, as there are, in consequence, actual or presumed values.” (p. 83). Such a statement is stunning because it implies that there are norms associated wherever there are valuations. There are norms not only for a moral life, but an intellectual life and an aesthetic life for example. One can speak of a normative aesthetics. (Such a view is echoed in Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Aesthetics and Ethics.)

Concerning negative normative statements, Husserl observed that these cannot be understood as simply the negation of corresponding affirmative statements and gives the following counterexample: “ ‘A soldier should not be cowardly’ does not mean that it is false that a soldier should be cowardly, but that a cowardly soldier is also a bad one.” (p. 83). With this said, “should” and “should not” are mutually exclusive, one excludes the other. Husserl also observed that “should” and “must” convey the same normative meaning, where “may not” is their negation; and “may” is the negation of “should not” and “may not”.

The meaning of “should” can be further divided according to what is necessary versus what is sufficient.

The key insight is that any normative proposition presupposes a valuation of good or bad. One must have a conception of a good soldier in order to state that “A good soldier should be brave”. Interestingly, this concept of “should” according to Husserl is agnostic towards whether “good” is something objective or subjective. What matters here, for Husserl, is the fact that “should” implies a valuation, that something is valued.

We have ignored up to this moment a particular point Husserl has been repeatedly making, namely that normative propositions follow a particular form. The concept of “should” and normative propositions have their own necessary form structures. “An A should be B” implies that “A should not be not-B”. If the content of C is of negative value, then “A should not be C” is good and “An A which is C” is bad. Husserl is repeatedly making observations here about the forms that all normative propositions follow, (cf. p. 82-84).

Husserl defines the concept of a normative judgment to be “In relation to a general underlying valuation, and the content of the corresponding pair of value-predicates determined by it, every proposition is said to be ‘normative’ that states a necessary, or a sufficient, or a necessary and sufficient condition for having such a predicate.” (p. 84). Normative judgments require an underlying valuation, that A is good and B is bad, and a proposition of the forms Husserl already outline; “X should be A” and “X should not be B”.

Next, Husserl notes that our valuations include concepts of good, better, and best, and bad, worse, and worst. This implies a hierarchy of goods and evils, a hierarchy of values. Some sciences will hence necessarily be of higher value than others because of the content subject to their respective fields. Hierarchy however implies a measure, goods and evils must be comparatively valued to determine which is good, better, and the best.

Normative propositions require a measure, a basic norm to measure normative propositions. The sum of norms form a closed group, (p. 85), and the elements of this group have to all be measured by a common standard, a basic norm. Husserl notes that Kant’s categorical imperative was the basic norm for his ethical system like the happiness principle in utilitarianism. The basic norm is defined to be “the correlate of the definition of ‘good’ and ‘bad’...” (p. 85). How one defines good and evil necessitates how one measures norms and valuations. Husserl compares the relationship between the basic norm to normative propositions like that between definitions of mathematical objects and the theorems that follow from them. The basic norm is the basis for the normative field as the Peano axioms are for building up the theorems of numbers. The basic norm hence serves as the unifying principle of every normative discipline (p. 86). Normative disciplines are hence distinguished from theoretical disciplines by the fact that theoretical disciplines are not unified around a basic norm but rather by the objects of investigation.

§15 Normative disciplines and technologies

Husserl makes an important distinction. We can clearly see that normativity usually deals with real objects in terms of practical valuation. This explains the tendency to identify normative disciplines with practical disciplines, that is, identifying normativity with technology. The distinction needs to be made however in that technology is a particular case of normativity differentiated by the basic norm employed. If we resort to set language, technology or practical disciplines are a subset of normative disciplines, but we cannot identify practical disciplines with normative disciplines. Mathematically, while practical disciplines are a subset of normative disciplines, it is not the case that normative disciplines are a subset of practical disciplines. Husserl cites the ethical theory of Schopenhauer as a counterexample for why one cannot make this identification, since Schopenhauer rejected all practical moralizing while still having a normative science of morality.

One interesting question to raise here is the relationship between teleology, practical disciplines, and normative disciplines. Husserl notes that technology has the task of “fixing norms” besides practical application. Technology requires norms to measure the adequacy the end is achieved and the properties of a class of values. Technology has a teleological orientation towards an end. It seems that Husserl is placing teleology within technology and not as an element of normative disciplines. He writes for example “Every normative discipline, whose fundamental valuation is transformed into a corresponding teleological prescription, widens out into a technology.” (p. 87).

It appears then that once teleological prescription is introduced, then the normative discipline becomes practical, or “widens”. To use set language again, some teleological prescription X is an element of practical disciplines, and so an element of normative disciplines; but since X is inside the set of practical disciplines, X is not a member of “not”-practical disciplines, that is, X does not belong to normative disciplines outside of practical disciplines. Is this what Husserl believes? Does this bring us towards a truth of morality? I raise this question because Thomistic ethics begins with a basic norm that is the definition of the good, which itself is a teleological definition,[1] but in Husserl’s analysis it would seem to imply that Thomistic ethics is only a practical discipline that does not contain normative content outside of being a practical discipline. In other words, Thomistic ethics would only be a technology. This is something worth pondering.

§16 Theoretical disciplines as the foundation of normative disciplines

As the name of this last section of chapter two suggests, Husserl is going to argue that all practical and normative disciplines depend upon one or several theoretical disciplines, because these disciplines must possess non-normative theoretical content. The basic norm unifies normative disciplines and imports normativity into normative propositions. When we consider the fact that normative propositions are a relation of measuring between a condition and what is conditioned, then we find this theoretical content.

When we say for example that “A soldier should be brave”, then this can be restated as the theoretical proposition “A soldier that is brave is good”. Husserl observed that the following general form: “ ‘An A should be B’ implies the theoretical proposition ‘Only an A which is B has the properties C’ ” (p. 88). Normative propositions can be translated into theoretical and this form of theoretical propositions, “Only an A which is B is a good A”, can be translated into a normative proposition. Hence normativity can appear in theoretical disciplines.

We hence obtain an important observation: “Every normative discipline demands that we know certain non-normative truths” (p. 88) which are found in the theoretical disciplines. Normative disciplines require theoretical truths as a foundation. In the context of our discussion, logic as a normative discipline requires theoretical truths about logic, meaning that there is a discipline of theoretical logic that is the basis for logic’s normativity.

If we recall what was said before that Husserl appears to restrict teleology to technology, Husserl now states: “The theoretical knowledge is there added which will provide a basis for a fruitful realization of ends and means.” (p. 88). Theoretical knowledge provides the basis for a technology’s realization of teleology, meaning that theoretical knowledge is a prerequisite for teleology. Theoretical disciplines are hence prior to teleology. Myself I am not entirely sold on the idea without first making a distinction. Teleology certainly has a normative component, but when we say that all things have God as their end because God is the Creator, this appears to be a theoretical proposition and not normative. It is a metaphysical fact. Perhaps teleology needs to be distinguished between theoretical and normative teleology. The first is the object of metaphysics, the second of ethics.

Now, given what we said in §15 concerning the distinction between normative and practical disciplines, Husserl provides this penetrating insight: “All the propositions which have to do with making practical realization possible, do not affect the sphere of the pure norms of ethical valuation. If these norms, or the theoretical knowledge underlying them, were to fall away, ethics would vanish altogether.” (p. 89). Practical norms follow from normative disciplines, but practical norms are not of the essence of normativity. Both normative content and theoretical content outside of technology is requisite for the normativity of technology. What Husserl is striving to investigate is the essential foundations of normative disciplines. The theoretical disciplines are “absolutely essential” to the construction of normative sciences, (p. 89).

We can hence observe Husserl’s answer to his own question at the beginning of the chapter, whether logic as a technology arrives at the essence of logic, to which he answers negatively. Logic as a normative science and technology requires theoretical knowledge as its essential foundation. The practical applications of logic can be removed and logic as a normative discipline remains. If logic was only a technology, then once the practical applications of logic were removed, then logic would no longer exist as a discipline.


[1] “First of all and principally, therefore, a being capable of perfecting another after the manner of an end is called good; but secondarily something is called good which leads to an end (as the useful is said to be good), or which naturally follows upon an end (as not only; that which has health is called healthy, but also anything which causes, preserves, or signifies health).” St. Thomas Aquinas, De Veritate 21, I.

The Prolegomena

Prolegomena: Introduction

Prolegomena: Chapter 1

Prolegomena: Chapter 2

Prolegomena: Chapter 3

Prolegomena: Chapter 4

Prolegomena: Chapter 5

Prolegomena: Chapter 6

Prolegomena: Chapter 7

Prolegomena: Chapter 10

Prolegomena: Chapter 11

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