Frege’ and Husserl’s attack on psychologism

Here are few Husserl’s quotes where he attacks the idea that meanings of sentences, or other intentional experiences like thinking or knowing something can be explained through psycho-physical processes…

The fundamental mistake of pscyhologism is that it does not distinguish correctly between the object of knowledge and the act of knowing. Whereas the act is a psychical process that elapses in time and that has a beginning and an end, this does not hold true for the logical principles or mathematical truths that are known (Hua 24/141).
When one speaks of a law of logic or refers to mathematical truths, to theories, principles, sentences, and proofs, one does not refer to a subjective experience with a temporal duration, but to something atemporal, objective and eternally valid. Although the principles of logic are grasped and known by consciousness, we remain conscious of something ideal that is irreducible to and utterly different from the real psychical acts of knowing…

And further…

Regardless of how frequently one repeats the theorem of Pythagoras, regardless of whom it is that thinks it, or where and when it happens, it will remain identically the same, although the concrete act of meaning will change in each case (Hua 19/49,97-98)

But this is not true just in case of the abstract objects. It shouldn’t be thought that is true just for the case of the abstract (or purely logical, depends who you ask) entities like in mathematics…

The very possibility of repeating the same meaning in numerically different acts is in itself a sufficient argument to refute psychologism as a confusion of ideality and reality.
If ideality were really reducible to or susceptible to the influence of the temporal, real, and subjective nature of the psychical act, it would be impossible to repeat or share meaning, just as it is impossible to repeat a concrete psychical act the moment it has occurred, not to speak of sharing it with others. But if this really were the case, scientific knowledge as well as ordinary communication and understanding would be impossible. (Hua 18/194)

The quotes are taken from the Dan Zahavi’s book “Husserl’s Phenomenology” 2003, p9,10. Hua means Husserliana, and the numbers are: volume number/page(s).

Of course Husserl was not alone in attacking psychologism. Frege did similar attacks, and even attacked Husserl of relying on psychologism in his “Philosophie der Arithmetik”. There are some doubts if that attack was in place, or if it really was the critique which turned Husserl away from psychologism,  but what is important is that both philosophers came to consider psychologism as wrong.

Here is one example of Frege’ attack the idea that math can be reduced to psychology:

…arithmetics has nothing to do with sensations. Just as little has it to do with mental images, compounded from the traces of earlier sense impressions. The fluctuating and indeterminate nature of these forms stands in stark contrast to the determinate and fixed nature of mathematical concepts and objects…psychology should not suppose that it can contribute anything at all to the foundation of arithmetic…
The description of the origin of an idea should not be taken for a definition, nor should the account of the mental and physical conditions for becoming aware of a proposition be taken for a proof… otherwise we would end up finding it necessary to take account of the phosphorous content of our brain in proving Pythagoras’ theorem, and astronomers would shy away from extending their conclusions to the distant past, for fear of the objection ‘You reckon that 2 x 2 = 4 held then; but the idea of number has a development, a history! One can doubt whether it had reached that stage by then.. Might not the creatures living at that time have held the proposition 2 x 2 =5?…’ (The foundations of Arithmetic, Frege Reader, Michael Beaney (Ed.), 1997, p87,88)

Link to a page which tells much more then this post

Connected posts:
Mont Blanc is too high to fit in my head
What “meaning” means?

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