The Origin of Judgment

The Origin of Judgment

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The Origin of Judgment


The guiding thesis of Experience and Judgment is that logic demands a foundational theory of experience, which at the lowest level is described as prepredicative or prelinguistic.1 Edmund Husserl pursues within that text a phenomenological elucidation of the origin of judgment in order that he might clarify the essence of the predicative judgment. He does so in the belief that an investigation into the form of prepredicative experience will show it to be the ground of the structure of predicative thought, and thus the origin of general, conceptual thought.

From the beginning, Husserl takes the problematic of logic as being two-fold: on the one hand there is the question of the constitution of forms of judgment and their laws; and on the other, that of the subjective conditions of the attainment of self-evidence.2 He gives his investigation into this problematic in Experience and Judgment a tripartite structure, with each part corresponding to a different level of experience. This paper will loosely mirror Husserl’s own division, beginning with an articulation of what Husserl means by the prepredicative domain of experience. This will be followed by an examination of the origins of judgment in the prepredicative realm. Finally it will address simple predicative judgment and give a cursory treatment of the manner in which Husserl sees such judgment as progressing toward knowledge and universal judgment. All of this will be preceded, however, by a brief introduction to the arguments of Experience and Judgment.

In Part I of Experience and Judgment, Husserl proceeds with an analysis of the “passive” data of experience. It is here that Husserl hopes to exhibit what he refers to as the “prepredicative” conditions of predication as such. These prepredicative conditions underlie every act of objective experience, such that these structures ultimately found the distinct forms of judgment that one would encounter on the level of formal logic. Part II concerns the structure of predicative thought as such; that is, it is concerned with the origin of predicative forms of judgment in prepredicative experience. Husserl argues that on the level of predicative thought, "objectivities of understanding” are realized in acts of categorical judgment, which form the logical structures necessary to the founding of a formal logic. The origin of general, conceptual thought is treated in Part III. The process of isolating the forms of judgment from the data of pregiven subjective experience, begun in Part II, is here continued.

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This level of predicative activity culminates in the forms of universal judgment, and thereby, in true knowledge as something that is determined in such a manner that it can be returned to even when it is no longer pregiven in intuition.

Prepredicative Experience

Husserl argues that because prepredicative experience is rooted in simple sensuous awareness, it therefore has a direct relation to the individual in that it “gives in advance the most original substrates” (§6). This simple sensuous awareness amounts to a “passive” apprehension of objects that are immediately given to consciousness. The task of his investigation, mentioned above, is to clarify the essence of the predicative judgment by means of an exploration of its origin. Therefore the realm of simple sensuous awareness, considered by Husserl to be the domain of prepredicative cognitive activity, seems uniquely suited as place from which to investigate the foundations of judgment. Judgment will later be shown to be a subsequent process of further determinations regarding the objects given passively in prepredicative experience.

The concept of the predicative judgment (apophansis) has stood at the center of formal logic in its historical development from Aristotle on. Thus, at the core of formal logic has traditionally stood apophantic logic with its corresponding theory of judgment and “forms.” Husserl believes, however, that in order to further the progress of formal logic one must first return, through a genealogy of logic, to its concealed presuppositions and uncover them; and in the process, possibly advance the problem of the genealogy of logic in general (§1). For the concealed presuppositions of idealized scientific practice must be found and uncovered before any significant progress might be made. As the domain of prepredicative experience founds all later cognitive activity, it should be clear why Husserl’s account of prepredicative experience will have such import with regard to his subsequent account of judgment. In fact, as will be shown later, the structures of higher-order judgment mirror, as well as have their basis in, the structures of prepredicative activity.

Were there to exist no individual objects of experience, there would likewise exist no content for the categorical formations of predicative judgment; or put another way, predicative judgment presupposes the prepredicative experience of the subject. As Husserl writes, “[e]very judging presupposes that an object is on hand, that it is already given to us, and is that about which the statement is made” (§2). This is based on the requirement of something “underlying,” an object-about-which, that is pregiven in such a manner that it can become the object of judgment. Every activity of thought presupposes pregiven objects. Whenever an activity of cognition of any kind, explicit or not, comes into play, objects must already be present in the field of consciousness (§4). Therefore, on Husserl’s account, objects are always already there for the subject, as self-evident. Self-evidence being that mode of self-giving of an object whereby it can be characterized relative to consciousness as “itself-there,” in contrast to the merely empty, indicative idea of it. In this manner prepredicative experience provides the “primitive building stones” (§12) of subsequent cognitive activity, and this experience is therefore what Husserl considers the lowest form of judgment.

Every experience has its own horizon which is present from the beginning as a realm of possibilities. And every thing that is given in experience has both an internal and external horizon. Husserl explains that the internal horizon is the induction which belongs essentially to every experience. With regard to this notion of induction, Husserl writes that it is an “aiming-beyond” (Hinausmeinen) in anticipation of determinations which are expected with regard to the object of experience. The external horizon is an infinite, open horizon of objects cogiven. These cogiven objects are such that one can turn to them at any time, however at the moment they are not the focus of the experience. Thus, just as objects are always already present in Husserl’s account of prepredicative experience, there is likewise an environment which is pregiven to the subject as well.

When one turns toward an object in judgment of any kind, that object comes to stand out against the pre-given foundation of the world. A pregiven object is not completely void of meaning, however, for there always exists in prepredicative experience a more or less indeterminate, general understanding of the objects of the pregiven world. Therefore the object of judgment is bound by the fact that it is something in general and thus such that it must be available to objective self-evidence within the unity of our experience (§9). If one wishes to arrive at the domain where objective self-evidence is possible, however, in contrast to the self-evidence of the judgment which presupposes the former, then ultimate substrates must be distinguished among the possible objects of judgments. Ultimate substrates are objects which enter for the first time into the judgments as original, objective self-evidence (§5). They are therefore considered individual objects and it is to original substrates that every judgment ultimately refers, no matter how else it is mediated.

In order for one to arrive at the primitive self-evidences of objects given in original substrates, a retrogression (Rückgang) in several stages is required. This retrogression will establish the point of departure for every elucidation of the origin of judgment. It is not sufficient, though, to trace back a particular judgment to the individual objects to which that judgment refers, because these objects already stand within a network of horizonal intentions that is already influenced by the sedimentation of what Husserl refers to as “scientific idealization.”

Scientific idealization, Husserl writes, “is nothing more than a garb of ideas thrown over the world of immediate intuition and experiences” (§10). Thus, the world which is given to one’s consciousness is already pre-determined in a certain manner. As Husserl puts it, there is a sedimentation of a scientific idealization which posits the world as a universe of being, capable of being controlled by the exact methods of a mathematical-physical science.3 One thus takes it as a matter of course that they understand every individual of datum of their experience in this light (§10). Such idealizations predetermine the objects that the subject later comes to apprehend. Husserl therefore argues that it is necessary to seek a return to the “life-world,” as that domain where objects are presented in their most basic givenness:

If, therefore, we wish to return to experience in the ultimately original sense which is the object of our inquiry, then it can only be to the original experience of the life-world, an experience still unacquainted with any of these idealizations but whose necessary foundation it is.4

This requires retrogress to the subjective activity which gives genesis to the primitive structure of the life-world, where one ultimately arrives at the most basic founding stratum: “natural” objects with the subjective correlate of external perception (§12). One cannot take the world as pregiven in their experience as the primal stratum of experience, for this experience of the world is already too shot through with the presuppositions of modern science. One must instead retrogress to the subjective operations from which the world arises.

The starting point for the investigation into the most basic founding stratum is reflection on what Husserl designates the level of the “natural standpoint.” Here one is to pursue two essential steps in order that they might obtain access to problematic of prepredicative experience (§11). The first step is the aforementioned retrogression from the pregiven world to the original life-world. The second is the retrogression from the life-world to the subjective activity which is the source of this world. It is on the basis of the second step that Husserl’s account differs from those which he designates as “psychological”: there is a suspension of the naïve certainty concerning the simple being of the world after which the subject is no longer regarded as a natural psycho-physical or psychological subject. This “bracketing” (epoché) of the natural world as simply given entails that the subject qua natural existing subject is no longer intelligible.5 As Husserl puts it:

Psychology, even where it is pure, where it concerns pure lived experience and what is given to consciousness as such…could at best inquire regressively from the pregiven types of logical forms to the subjective operations belonging essentially to such forms in which structures having these forms arise as self-evident. In [psychology’s] reflection back to logical activity, from which all judicative self-evidence arises, it would be brought to a halt by experience which is, just as a matter of course, already conceived to refer to an idealized world.” (§11)

The problem of the origin of judgment is thus one of investigating the essentially ordered sphere of genesis which constitutes the domain of prepredicative experience such that the investigator must take the given world only as an example through which one can study the structure and the origin of a possible world in general from subjective sources.

The Origin of Judgment

Individual objects are not pre-given in perceptual activity. Rather a field of “pre-givenness” obtains, the result of the synthesis of inner time-consciousness that forms the structure of perceptual activity. It is within this field that the object exercises an attraction on the subject by means of a standing out from the passively structured perceptual field. The subject turns toward the object and thereby awakens a striving within itself. This turning-towards and the subsequent striving, Husserl argues, are moments within normal perception and should thus not be regarded as voluntary acts. In prepredicative experience, one’s attention is not so much given away through volition, as it is a response to the standing out of an object.

Husserl thus argues that there are three stages of normal, unimpeded perception. The first is that of “simple grasping.” This is the contemplative intuition that proceeds all explication, and it is the lowest level of common, objectifying activity. This intuition is directed towards the object “taken as a whole” (§23), and here the perceived objects appear in an unclear and indistinct manner. These objects will become more prominent, however, through subsequent acts of judgment of perception. The second stage involves an explicative contemplation of the object and takes place through the penetration of the internal horizon of the object by the perceptual interest. This involves a perceptual unfolding of an object; it does not occur in discrete stages, but rather takes place through a continuous chain of explications of the object (§24). Here the subject seeks to understand what the object “is”; that is, the subject seeks to enter into the object’s content and grasp its parts and moments. The third stage of unimpeded perception is the “grasping of relations,” at which stage perception interrogates the outer horizon of objects that are co-given to perception in relation to the initial object. Husserl considers this an “additional” level of perceptual relations that evolves when the perceptual interest is not satisfied by the explicative penetration into the internal horizon of the object. It then seeks to apprehend relative determinations which structure the external horizon of the object; thus, the perceptual interest seeks here to apprehend the relation of the object to other objects which are copresent in its external horizon.

Husserl asserts that the most general characteristic of the predicative judgment is that it has two members: a “substrate” (hypokeimenon) about which something is affirmed, and that which is affirmed about it. Husserl’s genealogy of logic thus moves to investigate this form in perceptual experience, in an attempt to determine what might be fundamental in judgment. Through perceptual experience, one is able to distinguish various levels of explication, at each of which we have a substrate and a series of explicative-items. For example:

If a is an explicative-item of a substratum S, then a more complex form of explication can be undertaken in which a itself now becomes a relative substratum to be explicated with respect to its own series of explicative-items, which are, in turn, grasped as second-order determinations of S.6

Therefore every determination can be transformed into a substrate for a higher-order explication; however the converse is not true, and it is here than one finds absolute substrates. These are so designated because they do not arise as the transformation of a lower determination, but rather are simply and immediately grasped as substrates. An absolute substrate, Husserl explains, “is simply and directly experienceable…is immediately apprehensible…its explication can be immediately brought into play” (§29). These absolute substrates are thus identified by Husserl with the individual objects of sensuous external perception.

Husserl understands judgment as an establishing (Festellung), and this establishing includes both the predicative and prepredicative modes of such. Taken in this sense, judgment is the name for the totality of objectifying ego-acts (§13). Judgment is coincident with that drive in cognitive activity towards establishing objects as an abiding possession such that one might later return to them when the object is no longer given intuitively.7 This establishing is an important step in the determination of the object and leads to the constitution of a new sort of object: the categorical object. The categorical object, though formerly given through intuition, is now established and retained. It is in this manner that a permanent store of knowledge is produced; however it is only on the higher level that judgment becomes a “confirmation” to which one can return again and again. Such a confirmation is considered a permanent possession of knowledge and occurs at the level of the act of predicative judgment.8

Predicative judgment is simply a higher level modification of what was already operative at the prepredicative level.9 This follows from Husserl’s earlier observation that perceiving and judging on the basis of simple sensuous perception are the modes of prepredicative self-evidence on which the act of predicative judgment is based. Predicative judgments may be formed either with respect to moments, or with respect to independent parts. Both forms have in common the same fundamental structure: the separation into subject-side and predicate-side. Predicative judgments formed with respect to moments are considered “is-judgments” (e.g., S is p). Judgments formed with respect to independent parts, are considered a “has-judgments” (e.g., S has p). An is-judgment can always be changed into a has-judgment; however, a has-judgment can never be transformed into an is-judgment because it is an originally independent object. As an independent part of an original substrate a has-judgment can never lose this independence and be transformed into an object of determination (§52).

Judgments at the level of universals establish a new kind of active constitution, though the ground of such cognitive activity is to be found in the prepredicative sphere. In a certain respect, a relation to a universal of an primitive kind is operative in the prepredicative realm, the basis of which is the fact that though an object may disappear, it does not do so without leaving a trace. It becomes latent or sedimented and subsequently gives a type on the basis of which other, similar objects can approach in perception as familiar in type. The discussion of universal judgments in Experience and Judgment is rather extensive and complex. For the purposes of this paper it should suffice to point out that many of the characteristic distinctions operative in prepredicative experience are carried over into the subsequently constituted sphere of universality.10

The genealogy of logic pursued by Husserl in Experience and Judgment thus appears to elaborate the origin of general, conceptual thought in the sphere of prepredicative experience, and consequently to establish that “what is exhibited as the structure of the predicative judgment in the framework of an analysis limited to the simplest experiences has at the same time an exemplary significance for understanding the essence of the judgment, even where judgment fulfills a function of a higher level” (§13).


I. Husserl’s work in translation

Cartesian Meditations. Translated by Dorion Cairns. London: Kluwer, 1988.

The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to
Phenomenological Philosophy. Translated by David Carr. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern
University Press, 1970.

Experience and Judgment. Translated by J.S. Churchill and K. Ameriks. London: Routledge
and Kegan Paul, 1973.

II. Secondary literature

The Cambridge Companion to Husserl. Edited by B. Smith and D.W. Smith. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Kelly, Frank J. “The emergence of various kinds of meaning through the formulation of
different types of judgments in the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl.”
Man and World 15 (1982): 33-53.

Sallis, John. “The Problem of Judgment in Husserl’s Later Thought.” Tulane Studies in
Philosophy XVI (1967): 129-152.



1 It should be immediately noted that neither the material presented in Experience and Judgment, as a posthumously published work edited from Husserl’s lecture notes by Ludwig Landgrebe, nor Husserl’s account of judgment, the subject of this paper, is free of academic controversy. With regard to the former: though Landgrebe attests in his preface to the text that Husserl personally approved of all included material, there still exists the fact that it did not directly issue forth from Husserl’s hand. And regarding Husserl’s account of judgment: there are a great number of commentators of Husserl’s work, many of whom have staked out various, and, sometimes, conflicting claims (even more so than usual, it would seem); thus, the material presented in this paper should be consumed with the knowledge that Husserl’s thought provides a great expanse of interpretive possibility. I here seek only to give a very basic account of judgment and its origin in prepredicative experience, primarily as it is presented in Experience and Judgment.

2 Edmund Husserl, Experience and Judgment, trans. by J.S. Churchill and K. Ameriks (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973), §3. References to this work will hereafter be given parenthetically in the text of the essay.

3 Husserl takes up this theme in Part II of The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology. See especially §8 of that work.

4 Experience and Judgment, §10, emphasis in the original.

5 This is the phenomenological reduction of the ego and its consciousness from the realm of psychological self-experience to the realm of transcendental-phenomenological self-experience. This is a rather complicated topic in Husserl’s thought, however one useful account of it is given in the Cartesian Meditations at §11.

6 John Sallis, “The Problem of Judgment in Husserl’s Later Thought,” Tulane Studies in Philosophy XVI (1967), p. 140.

7 Ibid., p 141.

8 Husserl notes that: “To be sure, not all cognitive, judicative objectification is accompanied by this tendency toward confirmation “once and for all,” i.e., toward “objective” confirmation…It can also be a matter of confirmation which serves only transient, practical ends,” Experience and Judgment, §14.

9 Sallis, p. 141.

10 Ibid., p. 143.
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