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

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

Protocol # 5


February 8, 2006


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





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 also turn its attention on itself as well.



See Prof. Silverman's diagram above demonstrating Husserl’s transcendental-phenomenological reduction.

The lecture began with a comment on the interview between Julia Kristeva[1] and Jacques Derrida in Positions. When reading this interview remember that Kristeva is a proponent of "semiology" and she is asking Derrida about "deconstruction."

The lecture began with the issue of subjectivity. Remember that "subjectivity" is the domain or the field of the subject. It also can be designated by the term “consciousness” (Bewusstsein in German; la conscience in French). In the French term, a binary pair is embedded within the word la conscience. That is to say, la conscience means both “consciousness” and “conscience.” In French, then, one hears both meanings when saying la conscience. As a historical note, the Greek word eudaimonia means "happiness," but if you break it down into its prefix and root word, “eu” means in Greek ‘good’ and “daimon” in Greek means ‘conscience.’ "Happiness" means "having a good conscience." Daimon is what Socrates reports in Plato's Apology when he speaks of "the little voice that tells him that he should not do something when he has doubts about something he is about to do." The absence of this little voice is "having a good daimon" -- namely, happiness.

The idea of "consciousness" (Bewusstsein or la conscience) refers back to subjectivity. When talking about consciousness in phenomenology, we are dealing primarily with the question of intentionality[2]. A piece of chalk, for instance, is an object to or towards which consciousness is directed. But it does not have to be a real object existing in the world. When describing the components or elements of the piece of chalk, this description is still on the empirical level. This description basically is the "everyday natural world" attitude one has toward the object. But getting back to the example of the chalk, when directing the consciousness at an object, one does not treat it at the empirical level as a thing in the world, rather when one performs (1) the eidetic reduction, one grasps the essence of the piece of chalk, that is, chalkness. At this point, we have another binary pair: empirical and transcendental. In this way, one can describe the "chalk" in a phenomenological (eidetic and transcendental) attitude.

Again, we encounter another binary pair: natural attitude and phenomenological attitude.


In the phenomenological attitude or at the level of pure consciousness, the ego is able to reflect on the idea(s) of one's consciousness. Also, the ego, at the transcendental level, can reflect on the essence, meaning, content of the object.

Be sure not to get confused here with the terms "transcendent" and "transcendental." The former means to rise above the totality of an undifferentiated whole, while the latter is at the level of consciousness, in which it is able to reflect on the essence of the object(s). For Husserl, the ego is also able to reflect upon itself. That is also an act of reflection. In short, the directedness of consciousness is intentional. Derrida wants to talk about the intentional act. The intentional act has two sides, "content" and "expression."

Husserl uses two Greek words to express this two-fold view of reflection of the transcendental ego, one is called noema and the other is called noesis.[3] The former is the content of knowing or the meaning-given in an acted of directedness of consciousness and noesis is the act of knowing (the directedness of consciousness) or the meaning-giving act. This has to do with the the word data in Latin which means “that which is given.” For example, Locke uses the term sense-data to refer to "that which is given." Meaning, for Husserl, is given when consciousness reflects on the object, which is given in an intentional act. This is the performative act, when one constitutes it intentionally; it becomes the object of one's consciousness as meaning that is given in the meaning-giving act. 

Derrida shows up at this point. Zeichen, the German word for "sign," means “pointing,” which is what Husserl means when he speaks of expression as the "indicating" side of expression, but there is another side of expression, namely, the expressing side of expression. 

Expression as indicating (indication) and expression as expressing (expression) does not mean the same thing. There are two aspects of "expression" in the meaning-giving act.  Soliloquy, for instance, is talking to oneself on the expressive side. The German word for expression is “Ausdrucken”, which means to “push out” or “print out.” The “Aus” functions like the prefix “ex,” both of which means “out.” So, expression involves " squeezing out. "


There are two aspects to the noetic side of intentionality: one is expression and the other is indication.  One comes from the subject, the other goes out to the object.  The meaning-giving act involves both of these. Expression and indication are both on the noetic act side.  There is a binary opposition between expression/indication, and between them is the hinge. In the deconstructive strategy, one starts from the privileged side––in this case, indication side-the pointing side–––and moves to the less privileged side of expression to talk about the hinging or what lies between this binary pair. The hinge or the indecidable between expression and indication is 'Expression.’ By proceeding this way, one discovers the problem of the sign. The problem is not just the content/Expression, but Expression as the hinge between indication/expression. Here Derrida finds the hinge within Husserl’s idea of phenomenology.


The problem with Husserl’s phenomenology is that intentionality is not just the directedness of consciousness[4] and the meaning of the directedness,[5] which leads to the splitting of the subject and the object, but rather intentionality, according to Derrida, is what lies between the subject/object. Likewise, in order to talk about the sign in Husserl, the splitting of Expression as expression/indication is at work. This issue is embedded within Husserl's presentation of intentionality (and in particular on the noetic side) which produces the indecidability between expression and indication.


The last minutes of class were devoted to a discussion of the notion of "trace" in Derrida. Trace marks the absent being. Trace is that which is present of what is absent. Trace is what lies between presence/absence. The whole issue of trace in Husserl is that the trace has to be present in the object of one's consciousness. But the trace is never fully present nor absent…



[1] AM: A Bulgarian-born French writer. Her work gravitates around different disciplines such as semiology, psychoanalysis, feminism, and literature.

[2] AM: Husserl borrows the word ‘intentionality’ from his teacher Franz Brentano, who was a German psychologist and a philosopher. The word, ‘intentionality’ comes from the Latin verb ‘intendere,’ which means directionality or being directed towards something. Intentionality, in short means, consciousness is always consciousness of something, it is never a bare consciousness. It is always directed towards something.

[3] AM: Consciousness is never a bare, existent consciousness, but it always exists as consciousness of something. This is the intentionality (Intentionalität) of consciousness: consciousness is always directed towards some object(s). In the directedness of consciousness, we discover that the type of object that is given to consciousness is always contingent upon the mode of consciousness that it is presented in.

Husserl speaks of the "content of consciousness" as a noēma (νόημα) and the "directedness of consciousness" as noēsis (νόησις). Noēmata, the plural of noēma, are objects-as-meaning or meanings-given that appear in consciousness. Noēses, the plural of noēsis, are the modes of consciousness or meaning-giving acts of consciousness. In other words, noēsis is the intending side of consciousness (the mode[s] of consciousness) and the noēma is the intended side of consciousness (the object[s] as given in consciousness).

In perception, I am aware of embodied whole objects, which are given from a certain perspective, while in imagination the objects have no perspective. Accordingly, the objects of consciousness differ, depending on the mode of consciousness in which they are given.

[4] AM: Noesis

[5] AM: Noema