Professor Hugh J. Silverman, Department of Philosophy, Stony Brook University

Spring Semester 2006 (Mon & Wed 5:20-6:40)

Protocol # 4


February 6, 2006


Protocol by Joe Son and Arsalan Memon (revised by HJS)



            The class began with a review of the first quiz. The answer to the question–––In Derrida’s reading of Husserl’s theory of the sign, what binary pair does Derrida appeal to? Describe the strategy that Derrida uses to point out the complex structure of the sign–––namely: expression and indication was discussed in detail. After explaining the answer in depth, Professor Silverman began his lecture with a preliminary remark, that the literal translation of Speech and Phenomena[1] is Voice and Phenomena.


            The lecture then proceeded with the question of the definition of solipsism[2]: solipsism is a theory where it is posited that you and only you exist or that the self is the only indication of existence. Husserl was a German philosopher, who was the founder of phenomenology. He was accused of solipsism. This will become clear in our explanation of Derrida’s critique of Husserl’s theory of the sign. A sign for Husserl is a combination of expression and indication (on the one hand) and meaning and content (or sense, on the other hand). Husserl's notion of the sign was contrasted with De Saussure’s notion of the sign, which is a combination of a signifier and a signified.[3] Husserl’s basic contention is that in a soliloquy[4], one is talking to oneself but not indicating anything. Soliloquy appears on the stage, a single character talks by him or herself. Is he or she addressing someone? Is he or she just talking? There is no interlocutor in a soliloquy. An interlocutor is someone who is speaking to another. There is a dialogue as opposed to a soliloquy. In speech, hearing one's own voice does not make an interlocutor. One may be able to express something, but one cannot indicate without indicating something. Indication involves someone or something indicated. For example, pointing to a coke bottle, one is pointing to something in particular. But for Husserl, indication does not involve any other. That is, for him, it is not important that one hears you. 


            Further, the lecture took a new turn in understanding what phenomenology is? At the turn of the twentieth century, Husserl introduced phenomenology through his book Logical Investigations, which was published in the same year (1900) as Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. So what is phenomenology? Phenomenology[5] is the study of one's experience of the objects or things in the world or the study of things in the world as they appear in or for a consciousness. Husserl’s main task was to establish a rigorous science to study the things in the world in a pure way, without the accidental features of the things. Accidentals are not relevant to the essence[6] of the thing. Let’s take an example of a piece of chalk. To get to the essence of chalk, which is “chalkness,” one has to leave aside the presuppositions and accidental features of the chalk, such as that it is white, its short, etc. As one expresses it, one also experiences the activity and the content of it.


"Expression" as the activity of engaging in describing

"Content" as the meaning or the sense


            Husserl’s phenomenology, transcendental phenomenology[7] to be exact, does not focus on the presuppositions of everyday relations of the things, rather it attempts to describe the essence and the meaning of the “act” of experience of the thing (i.e. essence), which is grasped within the phenomenological attitude. At the transcendental level–––as opposed to the empirical level or the everyday experience of the thing–––one can study the sense, meaning, or content of the thing as one experiences it. One performs the "transcendental reduction"[8] or the epochē, which is suspending judgment, bracketing judgments or one's own personal relationship with what is in question. Then there is the "eidetic" reduction, which leads to the eidos or the idea or the essence of the thing. The illustration that was drawn on the board is the following:




1. The transcendental ego or pure consciousness can reflect upon its own contents.


2. It can also reflect on the object that appears to it.


3. It can turn its attention on itself as well.


Two things to be noted here, the meaning given and the meaning-giving act. The meaning-given is what is given in a meaning-giving act and the meaning-giving act is how you direct your consciousness to something. The former is the content and the latter, expression. For Husserl, there are two sides. In German, the word for meaning is “Sinn” and in French its “sens.” In French, the word “sens” has three senses: 1) 5 senses, 2) meaning, and 3) direction. On the expression side, there is a problem of the splitting. We don't know whether we are focusing on the expression or the indication side.  That is, there is a binary pairing of the pushing out or pointing out.


Meaning-given (content)/Meaning-giving act (expression)








[1] Arsalan Memon (AM): La Voix et le phénomène.

[2] AM: Solipsism is the theory that nothing exists beside one’s self and nothing external can be verified or that everything external is an illusion or a figment of one’s imagination.

[3] AM: A signifier is the sound-image related to the word and a signified is the idea or concept of the thing.  

[4] AM: Or an internal monologue.

[5] AM: Phenomenology is derived from the two Greek words: “phainomenon” (φαινόμενον) and “logos” (λόγος). “Phainomenon” in Greek means “appearance” or “that which shows itself” and “logos” in Greek means “account of,” “words,” “study of,” or “making something manifest.”

[6] AM: An essence is what makes a thing be what it is in and of itself.

[7] AM: Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology (transzendentale Phänomenologie) is the science of describing the structures of pure consciousness.

[8] AM: Understanding how one moves from the empirical level or the natural attitude to the transcendental level or the phenomenological attitude is central to an understanding of Husserl’s phenomenology.  To return “to the things themselves” or to the phenomenological attitude, one must perform the phenomenological έποχή (i.e., epochē). Husserl borrows the Greek word “epochē” from the Sceptics, which means: to ‘bracket,’ to ‘suspend’ or to ‘put out of play’ our everyday judgments about the world or things in the world. Everything that we know about the world beforehand is put into parenthesis. The epochē is the first step, it brackets the assumptions. Then the second step is what is called the transcendental reduction. Reduction comes from the Latin word reducere, which means to ‘lead back.’ So what the transcendental reduction does is lead one back to the pure conscisouness and the world as it appears to it.  The third step is to perform the eidectic reduction, which through imaginative variation of the thing leads to the essence of the thing. Imaginative variation is a method that allows divesting all non-essential characteristics of any object given in any mode and discovering what is its essence. One basically strips away the object’s accidental features to get to its essence.