Problemos ISSN 1392-1126 eISSN 2424-6158

2020, vol. 98, pp. 8–20 DOI:

Filosofijos istorija / History of Philosophy

The Relevance of Natorp’s Criticism of Husserl to the Hermeneutical Transformation of Heidegger’s Phenomenology

Stefano Cazzanelli

Universidad Francisco de Vitoria

Abstract. This article will show how Natorp’s criticism of Husserlian phenomenology was one of the most important triggers of the hermeneutical transformation of Heideggerian phenomenology. Concepts like hermeneutical intuition, or tools like formal indication, are the means that Heidegger worked out in order to preserve the phenomenological access to pre-theoretical life as it gives itself. The first part of this article is devoted to presenting Natorp’s criticisms of Husserl’s phenomenology and Husserl’s attempts to answer them. The second part will illustrate how Heidegger, criticizing Natorp, retrieves the validity of the phenomenological intuition and expression by opening up their original, pre-theoretical meanings. It will conclude with a few critical remarks concerning Heidegger’s attempt to describe the motivation of philosophical activity in transcendental terms.
Keywords: Heidegger; Natorp; Husserl; Hermeneutics; Neo-Kantianism

Natorpo kritika Husserliui ir jos reikšmė hermeneutiniam Heideggerio fenomenologijos pokyčiui

Santrauka. Straipsnyje parodoma, kad Natorpo kritika Husserlio fenomenologijai buvo vienas svarbiausių veiksnių, paskatinusių hermeneutinę Husserlio fenomenologijos transformaciją. Tokie konceptai kaip hermeneutinė intuicija ar tokie įrankiai kaip formalioji indikacija yra Heideggerio sugalvoti būdai išsaugoti fenomenologinę prieigą prie ikiteorinio gyvenimo, kaip jis pats save pateikia. Pirmoje straipsnio dalyje pristatoma Natorpo kritika Husserlio fenomenologijai ir Husserlio bandymai į ją atsakyti. Antroje dalyje iliustruojama, kaip Heideggeris, kritikuodamas Natorpą, atkuria fenomenologinės intuicijos ir išraiškos pagrįstumą atverdamas jų originaliąsias, ikiteoretines reikšmes. Straipsnio pabaigoje pateikiamos kelios kritinės pastabos, susijusios su Heideggerio bandymais apibūdinti filosofinės veiklos motyvaciją per transcendentines sąvokas.
Pagrindiniai žodžiai: Heideggeris, Natorpas, Husserlis, hermeneutika, neokantininkai

Acknowledgement. Support for this research was provided by the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (FFI2015-63794-P) and by Universidad Francisco de Vitoria (Research project: “Límites y potencialidades de la filosofía neokantiana alemana” – UFV2020-06).

Received: 07/02/2020. Accepted: 26/05/2020
Copyright ©
Stefano Cazzanelli, 2020. Published by Vilnius University Press.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the
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In 1995 Theodore Kisiel published a famous article entitled Why Students of Heidegger Will Have to Read Emil Lask (Kisiel 1995). Our purpose here is to demonstrate that in order to understand Heidegger’s original interpretation of phenomenology, Heidegger’s students should read not only Lask, but also Paul Natorp. The first reason is that Lask was a Neo-Kantian who leaned towards phenomenology, and, as Kisiel demonstrates, helped Heidegger himself to move away from his Neo-Kantian background. The second is that – and this is our thesis – Natorp was indirectly one of the architects of the hermeneutical transformation of Heideggerian phenomenology. For Heidegger, he was “the only person to have brought scientifically noteworthy objections against phenomenology” (Heidegger 1999: 101/85)1. When in 1929 in Davos Cassirer asked Heidegger who the Neo-Kantians were, he began to respond by giving some names: Cohen, Windelband, Rickert, Erdmann, Riehl. As we can see, there is no mention of Lask or Natorp. Taking into account the scarce consideration that Heidegger had in that period for the Neo-Kantian philosophy – considered as mere epistemology – not mentioning either Lask or Natorp in this list can be interpreted as a re-evaluation of the philosophical importance of their thought for Heidegger.

In fact, in the case of Paul Natorp, in addition to a “return to Kant” we could also speak of a “return to Hegel”.2 His philosophy is an adapted version of the dialectics that attracted Heidegger’s attention, to the point that in his first courses we can find many references to the distinguished professor of Marburg. This attention stems from the fact that Natorp’s criticisms of phenomenology, as we will see later, managed to shake Husserl’s core theory by striking the foundations upon which it was built. Heidegger, in response to these criticisms, had to learn an alternative way of approaching the phenomena: the original presentive intuition would have to be enriched and dynamized if it really wanted to give the things themselves, that is to say, the intentional experience of factical life.

An important methodological clarification is necessary before proceeding. Our goal is to clarify how Natorp’s thought, read through Heidegger’s interpretation, pushed the latter to hermeneutically transform phenomenology. Therefore, it is not our intention to clarify the complexity of Natorp’s thought in all its extension but to limit ourselves to the analysis of those texts and those passages on the basis of which Heidegger elaborated his criticism.

Natorp’s Criticism of Phenomenology

The intellectual friendship between Husserl and Natorp blossomed early on. Proof of this is in the large quantity of letters exchanged from 1894 – the date of the first letter made available to us – until Natorp’s death in 1924. The range of topics discussed is wide ranging. We will limit ourselves here to the aspects of this dialogue that interested Heidegger and that impelled him to deepen his knowledge and understanding of the key issues of phenomenology.

The problem of phenomenology as a science of experience according to Natorp

Natorp’s fundamental criticism of phenomenology is the thesis for which an immediate capture of experience, its intuition, is impossible. The same possibility of a science of experience, that is, of a phenomenology as an immediate description of the data of consciousness, is for Natorp denied a priori. Husserl, like Brentano and Dilthey, falls into the trap of a descriptive psychology of the life of conscience, believing in this way to be able to render essentially evident the pure acts of it. On the contrary, all description is already objectivation: “description and theory are absolutely joined: description is objectivation in the same way that theory is” (Natorp 1912: 280)3. This criticism does not run out of steam when in 1913 Husserl publishes the first volume of Ideen in which phenomenology appears enriched by the method of reduction and, above all, based on the principle of all principles that assigns intuition a fundamental role. Natorp, in fact, takes a few months to publish his criticism in which he denies to Husserlian intuition any capacity to give the phenomena as pure data (Natorp 1917/18).

The flow, the becoming, is the original root, but it is a land lost forever. Phenomenology embarks on an impossible adventure when it seeks to return the experience in its original form through a second act, that is, through reflection. According to Natorp, reflection transforms into object what by definition is its opposite, that is, the immediate flow of experience, the subjective life. Like Narcissus, who confused his reflection with a true body, Husserl wants to give the subjective and only finds his relic objectified. Like Midas, who transformed everything he touched into metal, Husserl also “kills subjectivity to dissect it and believes that he can find the life of the soul within this dissection!”; “Husserl refuses to recognise – from a conceptual approach – this secondary act, this completely artificial objectivation of the subjective as such, as completely and absolutely dependent on the primary act of the only authentic, truly original objectivation” (Natorp 1912: 103 and 282)4.

This originality of life is a concept that the Neo-Kantians inherited primarily from Fichte, who had radically separated philosophy and life, thought and facticity, so that, although the aim of philosophy is to know life, the former can never entirely reach the latter. For this same reason, Lask defined the original givenness of something as a “lost paradise” to which it is impossible to return by means of knowledge (Lask 1912: 173).

What is at stake is the problem of the “confusion” between intuition and expression. For Natorp, all intuition is already expression, that is, intuition governed by concepts. Expression is an eternal movement of objectivation that has as its highest regulative idea, as an unattainable limit, the perfect determination of the object and at the same time has behind it, as a lost paradise from which it comes, the pure flow of experience. The real movement of thought is therefore an infinite work between two ideals: the λόγος, the fixed Being of Parmenides, and the πάντα ρεῖ, the phenomena of Heraclitus. Natorp’s hero is Plato, who, according to his interpretation, would have set ideas in motion just to escape the danger of Eleatic fixity.5 The multiplicity of experience is gathered in the unity of the soul [Verbindung] and in the objective unity of the idea, that is, of the law. What are the phenomena? They are what is collected in the continuity of objects, Becoming towards Being. The latter, in turn, is not the adversary of Becoming, rather it is its point of arrival (Natorp 1912: 138).

Objectivation and subjectivation: the two directions of knowledge

The discussion above allows us to introduce the second of Natorp’s fundamental criticisms of Husserl. It is the thesis by which the natural attitude of knowledge that proceeds from phenomena to objects, from subjective perceptions to their ordering in objective units according to the laws of the natural sciences, can be inverted in an opposite movement of subjectivation according to which what has been solidified becomes fluidized again. This is the specific task of psychology, which consists precisely in rediscovering the subjective face of phenomena, the essential origin of objects in the sphere of the subject and its experience. In ontological terms, Natorp would say that it is about bringing to light the origin of Being into Becoming, its “kinetic” structure, the pure thought and his dynamics in the sense of Cohen and Marburg Neo-Kantianism.

The subjective and the objective are the two sides of the same coin; there are not two different types of knowledge, but rather two divergent directions of the same and unique cognitive process. If we talk about the process of knowledge, we can also note that the subjective and objective are constantly switching between each other’s roles: what in one sense is objective, in the other is subjective and what was objective in one direction has now transformed into subjective. It does not make sense for Natorp to speak of “phenomenon” as something fixed, be it the object that appears or the experience in which the object manifests itself.6 Nor does it make sense to suggest a striking difference between phenomenon and object. The phenomenon is only and exclusively the modality with which something appears, the phenomenal content, which I can then analyse according to two points of view: the subjective, which makes room for its interpretation as experience, and the objective, which interprets it as object. “There aren’t two specific spheres of phenomena, rather, every phenomenon is necessarily, on the one hand, a phenomenon for a consciousness and – not any less necessarily – on the other hand, a phenomenon of the object” (Natorp 1888: 43). Husserl could by no means accept the reduction of the phenomenon to “points of view” in these terms insofar as it necessarily implied the elimination of givenness, as the given at a certain stage of the cognitive process is transformed into what is intentioned at a higher level and vice versa, all depending on the direction of the cognitive method. The objective direction, in its infinite journey towards the universal law, constantly transforms the subjective experience into an object. And vice versa, the subjective direction goes back and constantly deconstructs the object in experience.

Ultimately what differentiates Husserl and Natorp is the abyss that opens up between dialectics and phenomenology or, as Heidegger puts it, of the negation or preservation of the difference between intuition and expression, between aesthetics and analytics. Natorp analyses the cognitive process “from above” or, as it were, from the outside, where knowledge appears in its unstoppable dynamism that destroys every firm point; Husserl analyses the cognitive process “from below”, from within, where the phenomena appear to us. As a visual aid, we could say that Natorp puts the focal point in the center of a moving circle and from there he sees the points of the circumference moving and constantly exchanging; Husserl, in contrast, establishes the focal point in the circumference itself and therefore saves the difference between the experience in which the object appears to me and the object which appears itself:

It is phenomenologically false to say that the difference between a conscious content in perception, and the external object perceived (or perceptually intended) in it, is a mere difference in mode of treatment, the same appearance being at one time dealt with in a subjective connection (in connection with appearances which relate to an ego), and at another time in an objective connection (in connection with the things themselves) […] The appearing of the thing (the experience) is not the thing which appears (that seems to stand before us in propria persona). As belonging in a conscious connection, the appearing of things is experienced by us, as belonging in the phenomenal world, things appear before us. The appearing of the things does not itself appear to us, we live through it (Husserl 1968: 349-350/83).

Reconstructive psychology as the only way to return to experience

The subjective direction of knowledge, for Natorp, pertains to psychology. As we saw, experience cannot be captured directly: it is impossible a description or an intuition of an experience that does not transform it into an object. Experience is the insurmountable limit of knowledge, which this will never be able to grasp directly. So what do we do? The only way to return to the experience is reconstruction: it is a matter of recomposing the original unity of the experience that objectivation has divided up, reconnecting the dots between its significant components. It is the task of moving from the law to its particular cases, from the abstract to the concrete or, to put it another way, it is a matter of returning from synthesis to analysis, being aware that the elements of synthesis are never pre-ordered but always post-ordered: the starting point, also for the natural attitude, is not the experience but the objective knowledge.

But it is evident that all re-construction is always a construction: the original building has collapsed, the only thing we can do is put the bricks back the way we believed they were placed to begin with. For this, says Natorp, reconstructive psychology depends on objective science. Because of this dependence both Husserl and Heidegger consider that Natorp’s psychology is, in the end, itself explanation, abstraction, objectivation. The difference is not in the method but in the result: to understand is always and only to objectify, although this is directed in one case towards the object and in the other towards the experience. We reiterate: Natorp’s is an absolute methodological monism. “The essential lies, on the one hand, in the exact correspondence between both tasks, the scientific-objective and the psychological and, on the other hand, in the fundamental meaning of objective knowledge also for subjective analysis” (Natorp 1888: 101).

Having said that, thanks to Natorp’s criticisms as well, Husserl began to transform his phenomenology soon after the publication of Natorp’s General Psychology. Already in his 1907 lectures on the Idea of Phenomenology at the University of Göttingen, we can see how the descriptive psychology of Logical Investigations leaves room for more direct access to the life of consciousness obtained through phenomenological reduction. Natorp came to know this new facet of phenomenology through Husserl’s article, Philosophy as Rigorous Science, published in Logos in 1911, and in even more detailed way by reading the first volume of Ideen. The reduction allows Husserl not only to discover transcendental pure consciousness (the pure ego of Natorp), but also to find the possibility of immediate and evident knowledge of this same consciousness by means of a reflexive intuition. Only now does the field of experience really open up, the fundamental field of phenomenology. A detailed presentation of the theory of the Husserlian reductions would take us too far from the issue at hand. We limit ourselves, therefore, to a reduced explanation that allows us to understand how, for Natorp, the phenomenological reduction doesn’t allow us to immediately capture experience.

In the natural attitude, things such as trees, houses, animals, people, etc., appear to us. We relate and deal with them in a completely naïve way and consider them “real” without difficulty. Likewise, the sciences do not abandon this “natural” attitude, rather they determine what is given immediately in a more objective way. Because of this, the scientist tells us that “colours do not exist” and that in reality there are only different wavelengths that reach our retinas. However:

In the phenomenological attitude in essential universality we prevent the effecting [Vollzug] of all such cogitative positings, i.e., we ‘parenthesize’ the positings effected; for our new inquiries we do not ‘participate in these positings.’ Instead of living in them, instead of effecting them, we effect [vollziehen] acts of reflection directed to them; and we seize upon them themselves as the absolute being which they are. We are now living completely in such acts of the second degree, acts the datum of which is the infinite field of absolute mental processes  – the fundamental field of phenomenology (Husserl 1976: 94-95/114).

For Husserl, both the experience of pure consciousness and this same consciousness are now given to us in an absolute way. Thanks to the reduction, consciousness is given absolutely as the residue of reduction, what remains after parenthesizing all the thetic acts of the natural attitude. And for Natorp? Absolutely not. A science of consciousness, a knowledge of consciousness implies cognitive acts that are always and only objectifying acts, which inevitably stop the flow of consciousness and transform the original layer into a mere substitute: “acts and intentions are always directed to ‘objects’. Therefore, if the reflexive act no longer addresses the transcendent objects, but rather the acts by means of which these same objects are placed, then it makes some objects of these same acts [...] The flow in its flow is something different to what he [Husserl] captures and establishes in reflection” (Natorp 1917/18: 237).

Once again, the radical difference between Marburg Neo-Kantianism and phenomenology with regard to the status of reflection, that is, reflective intuition, is presented. Husserl tried to save the cognitive legitimacy of the reflection in paragraph 79 of Ideen. What reflection offers us within the phenomenological reduction is pure givenness whose evidence is perfect:

He who also says: I doubt the cognitive signification of reflection, asserts a countersense. For as he declares his doubt, he reflects, and setting down this statement as valid presupposes that reflection actually and without doubt (scl. for the cases present) has the cognitive value doubted, that it does not change the relation to something objective, that the reflectionally unmodified mental process does not forfeit its essence in the transition to reflection (Husserl 1976: 155/186).

This “Socratic” proof of the validity of reflection did not convince Natorp however. For the Neo-Kantian, Husserl’s argument revealed only the hypothetical value of the reflection, that is, its being a simple starting point for a science of consciousness that will inevitably have to proceed inductively, that is, reconstructively: “The argumentation [of Husserl] is completely correct but it merely confirms that the validity of knowledge of reflection is a presupposition, a hypothesis. Of course, it is a necessary hypothesis that, however, like all hypotheses, will have to demonstrate its legitimacy in its execution [Durchführung]” (Natorp 1917/18: 240).

Heidegger’s Criticism of Natorp

Defending phenomenology against Natorp’s criticism forced Heidegger to find an alternative means of accessing factical life. This was extremely difficult because the Neo-Kantian seemed to have completely closed the door to a pure understanding of experience: life, in its original flow, is lost forever and no description, reflection or intuition allows us to access it. We can only reconstruct the original experience by inverting the objectifying, immediate way of understanding to the subjective and mediated way of psychology. So now, how can we reconstruct what is lost? Which model should we use to rebuild the meaningful ties that characterised the flow of experience? A builder who wants to restore a building that has collapsed to its original splendour will have architectural plans of the building at his disposal. But this is precisely what Natorp seems to refute in advance; in other words, a prior giving of the original that can be adopted a posteriori as a model for reconstruction. The behaviour of psychology will inevitably, therefore, be blind and we can never know if what we have reconstructed truly coincides with the original. The reconstruction is fundamentally a concealed new construction. Every “lost paradise” is lost forever. And as we state above, Heidegger thinks that all reconstructive psychology is logification, theoretical thinking which uses the same measure as objectivation: explanation according to concepts. Every intuition is already thought; access to the flow of experience is emphatically prohibited to all theoretical thinking: to live is not to think and to think is not to live.

What we find interesting about Heidegger’s response to Natorp is that Heidegger accepts and shares the belief that it is impossible for theoretical thinking to attain the dimension of factical life. However, he radically rejects the reduction of all thought and understanding to a theoretical understanding and, therefore, the reduction of philosophy to objectifying thought. For Heidegger, Natorp’s absolutization of the theoretical was the most radical approach since Hegel. Natorp takes theoretical thinking to its furthest limits and, in this sense, can be seen as the nemesis of Heidegger, who attempted to explore all the cracks in pre-theoretical understanding. Natorp’s approach is “in the most extreme opposite end with regard to the one which is supposed to be attained in these considerations. As much as it is furthest removed – in our sense: far from the origin and depraved – it radically and intensely searches in its sense for the ‘origin’” (Heidegger 1993: 96/76).

The Path to Pre-Theoretical Life: Intuition and Expression

How can the barrier of the theoretical be pierced? Is it possible to demonstrate, or even simply to show, the possibility of attaining a pre-theoretical horizon? The only tool that can break the barrier of the theoretical is intuition: it is the access route to the pure givenness of phenomena, to phenomena “as they give themselves”. Clearly, it is a matter of recovering the validity of the Husserlian principle of all principles against Natorpian subsumption of intuition in thought. “That Husserl speaks of a principle of principles, of something that precedes all principles, in regard to which no theory can lead us astray, already shows (although Husserl does not explicitly say so) that it does not have a theoretical character” (Heidegger 1999: 109-110/92). This passage is fundamental for offering a glimpse of the way in which Heidegger reinterpreted phenomenology: it is not merely a question of describing phenomena, of the science of things themselves. Defining it in this way means opening up the possibility of understanding it as a theoretical science – as Natorp did – in which, therefore, intuition is an objectifying act. This is why Heidegger often speaks of the “basic phenomenological attitude” [phänomenologische Grundhaltung]: phenomenology, that is, philosophy, is first of all a matter of attitude towards what appears, a way of approaching phenomena. This attitude, inasmuch as it is brought together in a theoretical way, loses all the force of newness and phenomenology becomes simply descriptive psychology, subjective-objective logic and, consequently, transcendental critical philosophy according to its different schools. In other words, the key to understanding the status of phenomenology is found in the sense of actualization and relating [Vollzugs- und Bezugssinn] with which we turn to what appears. Only to the extent that we know how to preserve these situations’ sense-relations from their theoretical interpretation will it be possible to understand the true meaning of phenomenology and, therefore, of phenomenological intuition. Heidegger asserts: “If the ultimate – I do not say the ‘systematic’ – sense-relations [Sinnbezüge] that converge in a concrete concept of phenomenological philosophy that organically grows out of the sense of the phenomenological basic posture are missing, then the problems do not come to a full resolution and the perspectives of positive philosophizing itself remain concealed” (Heidegger 1993: 7/4).

Only now can we understand why Heidegger defines the original intuition as a “sympathy with life”, an accompaniment of life itself, a concordance of life with itself; in short, a pre-theoretical act. “The empowering experiencing of living experience that takes itself along is the understanding intuition, the hermeneutical intuition, the originary phenomenological back-and-forth formation [...] from which all theoretical objectivation, indeed every transcendent positing, falls out” (Heidegger 1999: 117/99).

Having saved intuition, so to speak, the same is now done with expression. Natorp’s criticism, in fact, concerns not only the moment of access to something given, but also that of its determination. For him, all forms of expression, including the pre-scientific, are always and only theoretical. All language is objectifying and this is fundamentally because all consciousness is always and only object-positing. Returning legitimacy to a pre-theoretical saying means opening the space of understanding factical life: only by virtue of this type of expression is it possible, in fact, to preserve the motility of life without corrupting it with theoretical concepts. Now the problem is to reveal pre-theoretical concepts. Heidegger achieves this by means of a masterful explanation of the formality that he developed in his first university course in 1919, and is, in our opinion, a milestone of his Denkweg that opened the path to the fundamental tool of hermeneutical phenomenology: formal indication.

According to Natorp, when we say “the dress is white and gold” we are using terms like “dress”, “white” and “gold” that have a general meaning in the sense of genus commonality. My act of meaning is already a theoretical mentioning and the fulfilment of the meaning will be, therefore, an object positing. In other words, speaking is already theoretical thinking, a categorizing activity. When we affirm “experience is given to consciousness immediately”, our statement denies what it means inasmuch as it introduces a theoretical mediation. Meaning is to generalise, subsume what appears in the genus and species chains and, therefore, the highest generalization, the culmination of theoretical activity, coincides with the objectivation of experience in the “something in general”. To return to our example, if we highlight the theorizing contained in the proposition “the dress is white and gold” we could say “white is a colour”, “colour is a sensible quality”, “the sensible quality is the result of specific oscillations of light”, “light is made up of photons” and so on until the formal proposition “photons, or quanta of energy, are something in general”. This means that, for Natorp, the implicit tendency in all significance is the identity principle by which “x is something”, that is, A=A, and this applies to every act of meaning, be it pre-scientific, objective scientific or psychological. The culmination of reconstructive psychology, in other words, the recomposition of experience based on objective abstractions, also has as its end point the same formal principle:

The end of subjective direction will be an ultimately abstract proposition – like Fichte’s proposition A=A – that has to be understood in an absolutely general way insofar as it contains the seed, the potential, of everything (the most general is also the richest from the point of view of potential) (Natorp 1912: 223).

Objectivation and subjectivation meet finally in the pure formality of the principle of identity. All meaning is a generalization whose ultimate goal is the theoretical formality of “something in general”.

Natorp breaks down the Husserlian difference between generalization and formalization (Husserl 1976: 26-27/26-27). Heidegger, on the other hand, not only restores it, but also surpasses it by demonstrating the need for a pre-theoretical motivation for formal theorization. In this way the giving itself will be preserved from its unilateral reduction to the theoretical realm: saying that something “is given” may mean something different from an empty formality as interpreted by Natorp. For the Neo-Kantian, in fact, saying “colour is something in general” or “colour is given” is fundamentally the same, the only difference being that the phenomenon is assumed in objective-abstract terms in the first case and in subjective-concrete terms in the second, relating the colour to the subject. Both, however, are formal theorizations.

What is the fundamental difference between generalization and formalization for Heidegger and Husserl? In the chain of levels of theorization, generalization is linked to the direction of abstraction so that higher levels can be predicated of the lower levels but not vice versa. In our example, I can assign the predicate “be a sensible quality” to everything that precedes these levels of abstraction but not, obviously, to what follows: affirming “the photon is a sensible quality” or “the something in general is a sensible quality” are false sentences. Formalization, on the contrary, is completely free and can be moved freely along the abstractive chain, so that any level can be its motivation. Therefore, while the theorization of generalization follows and is necessarily dependant on the abstractive process, formal theorization is free. Heidegger specifies this difference in three points: “1) The motivation for formal theorization must be qualitatively different; accordingly 2) it does not belong in the sequence of steps of the specific levels of de-vivification; accordingly 3) formal theorization is then also not the pinnacle, the highest point in the de-vivification process” (Heidegger 1999: 114/96). The conclusion of these three points is the recognition of two different types of theoretical significance: the generalization of genus is not the same as formal theorization.

When we say “colour is something in general” we are not necessarily performing an act with the same quality as when we say “colour is a sensible quality”. The two acts coincide qualitatively if the first proposition is assumed – like Natorp – as the last step of the abstractive process; they do not coincide if the “something in general” dissociates itself from the chain of generalization. In this latter case “the meaning of ‘something’ is just ‘the experienceable as such’” (Heidegger 1999: 115/97). We could do the same with givenness: its purely formal meaning coincides with that of phenomenon and can be attributed to everything in general: everything I can experience must appear, soviel Sein, soviel Schein and, we would add, soviel Gegeben-sein.

If the motivation for formal theorization is not in the chain of generalization, where can it be found? We know that for Heidegger the root of the theoretical is found in the pre-theoretical and in fact the process of generalization coincides with the passage of the immediate experience of the world to its steady de-vivification in the theoretical. We could therefore affirm that the motivation of generalization is found in the factical experience of the environment [Umwelt]: it is the living significance of this that motivates its possible theoretical objectivation in mere things. But this same environmental significance cannot also be the motivation of formal theorization, which would contradict what we have just stated: that generalization and formalization are two different types of the theoretical and, therefore, do not have the same motivation or the same origin.

Heidegger’s answer is this: the something in general

is much more the index for the highest potentiality of life. Its meaning resides in the fullness of life itself, and implies that this still has no genuine worldly characterization, but that the motivation for such quite probably is living in life. It is the “not yet”, i.e. not yet broken out into genuine life, it is the essentially pre-worldly (Heidegger 1999: 115/97).

Everything, pre-theoretical life included, can be considered as “something in general”, “something given”, and this is possible thanks to the fact that life can be “recovered” from its being in the world bewildered by daily routine or analysing the scientific world. Life can “go back on itself”, observe itself, reflect on itself – as Husserl would say – without this meaning an objectivation or de-vivification of life and of its world. On the contrary, it is the highest potentiality of life in the sense that it is the moment when life becomes completely transparent. It is the moment of philosophy, of the basic phenomenological attitude, in which all the sense-relations of our situations, of our being in the authentic or inauthentic world, become crystal clear, available to our understanding. This availability can be performed in different ways, one of which, fittingly, is the theoretical-objective attitude [theoretische Einstellung], but knowing that this is not the only, nor most importantly the original, way: “Seen in this way, from the pre-worldly, understood from life in and for itself, the formally objective is no longer a re-cept [Rück-griff] but already a con-cept [Be-griff]” (Heidegger, 1999: 116/98). The German wordplay is untranslatable but the idea that Heidegger wants to express is that Natorp’s theoretical concept does not achieve its objective: it is not a return to the original, but a conceptualization of it in devitalizing theoretical terms. Only the hermeneutical intuition and the formal indication can unfold the range of experience in all their sense-relations. The transparency provided by the pre-theoretical intuition of the principle of all principles can be expressed through the formal indication, which allows us to preserve our formal concepts from its theoretical-objective performance; in other words, it will allow us to overcome Natorp’s criticisms.

Our linguistic expressions are absolutely not already theoretical thinking. When I say “the dress is white and gold”, I am not climbing the Porphyrian tree, matching genera with species, but I am expressing what immediately comes to me in a completely pre-theoretical way. It is only after being surprised when the same dress appears to be “blue and black” to others7 that I begin to think theoretically and the dress and colours will appear as a simple presence [Vorhanden]:8 “Signification therefore, linguistic expression, does not need to be theoretical or even object-specific, but is primordially living and experiential, whether pre-worldly or worldly” (Heidegger 1999: 116-117/98). Heidegger, deepening Husserl’s distinction between generalization and formalization, preserves the pre-theoretical expressiveness of language and gives back to philosophy the potential discernment and understanding of the original horizon of factical life. And the opportunity for the elaboration of philosophical language in a non-theoretical key was also provided by Natorp’s criticisms of phenomenology.


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Heidegger, M., 1999. Zur Bestimmung der Philosophie (Gesamtausgabe 56/57), ed. B. Heimbüchel, Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann [Towards the Definition of Philosophy, trans. T. Sadler, London and New Brunswick: The Athlone Press, 2000].

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Kisiel, T., 2000. Heidegger – Lask – Fichte. In: Heidegger, German Idealism and Neo-Kantianism, ed. T. Rockmore, T., Amherst (New York): Humanity Books.

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1 Citations of Husserl’s and Heidegger’s texts list the pagination of the German edition followed by the pagination of the English translation if applicable.

2 Hegel’influence on the Marburg Neo-Kantianism is clearly affirmed by Theodor Kisiel: “[There is an] historical difference in the two schools of “Neo-Kantianism” at the turn of the century, namely, the Neo-Fichtean tendency of the southwest German school and the more Neo-Hegelian thrust of Marburg, especially with Natorp and Cassirer” (Kisiel 2000: 244).

3 To understand what objectification is in the Marburg school, the following words by A. Kim are useful: “On the Marburg view, the object is a task, not an already completely determined thing, but something to be determined; so, too, the subject cannot be the independent, passive recipient of the thing. Rather, the subject, or better, the “subjective” is the act of objective determination. Its cognitive structure determined by the objects the subject constructs, object and subject develop in a double helix of mutual constitution. [...] As it begins the work of thinking the object, this activity progressively determines not only the object, but also, simultaneously, the activity’s own origin, the subject. Hence, if the fully determinate object is an ideal goal of thinking, then so too is the fully determinate subject. What is – right now and forever – is the activity of objectivation, on the way towards the object” (Kim 2015: 49).

4 Husserl’s phenomenological approach is more complex than appears from Natorp’s criticism. For an analysis of these issues more faithful to the letter of the Husserlian text in connection with Natorp, see Staiti 2014: 126-131.

5 “Thus, on the one hand there is no movement of the things that merely participate in the Ideas, and on the other the stillness of the pure Being of Ideas, but both together (ξυναμφότερα, 249 D [Sophist]), stillness and movement, are found in both areas: in the context of Ideas and, therefore, in the context of everything that participates in Ideas, that is, of everything that, in accordance with Ideas, ‘is’” (Natorp 1921: 294).

6 Here we find a fundamental point of contrast between the Neo-Kantian school of Baden and that of Marburg. For this latter objects are not “given” but “produced” by transcendental subjectivity. This goes back to Cohen’s reading of Kantian a priori laws as formal conditions of the possibility of experience in constructive terms: “Space is not an empirical concept abstracted from external experience. It is, rather, space which constructs [construirt] the external objects from which experiential impressions proceed” (Cohen 1871: 7). For an analysis of the importance of Cohen’s Kantian reading for Marburg Neo-Kantianism see Köhnke 1991: 178-184.

7 This is a phenomenon that really happened in February 2015 and that had an immediate global impact, thanks to the new media.

8 “In conspicuousness, obstrusiveness, and obstinacy, that which is ready-to-hand loses its readiness-to-hand in a certain way” (Heidegger 1967: 74/104).