Husserl and the Search for Certitude

Paper $10
90 pages, 5" x 8", originally published in 1975, 2001 preface

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Husserl and the Search for Certitude

Kolakowski, Leszek

“[Husserl] better than anybody, compelled us to realize the painful dilemma of  knowledge: either consistent empiricism, with its relativistic, skeptical results (a standpoint which many regard discouraging, inadmissible, and in fact ruinous for culture) or transcendental dogmatism, which cannot really justify itself and remains in the end an arbitrary decision. I have to admit that although ultimate certitude is a goal that cannot be attained within the rationalist framework, our culture would be poor and miserable without people who keep trying to reach this goal, and it hardly could survive when left entirely in the hands of the skeptics.” – From the author’s conclusion.

“Kolakowski’s Husserl and the Search for Certitude consists of his three Cassirer Lectures, delivered at Yale in 1974. In broad, general terms, he places Husserl in the tradition of philosophers, from Descartes to the Logical positivists, who were engaged in the attempt to discover some knowledge which was certain and indubitable. His final view is that such a quest must fail. But he also argues that unless it is undertaken, the tension and disharmonies which exist between the claims of the skeptics and relativists on the one hand, and those who believe in the possibility of absolute certainty on the other, must come to an end. And since he believes that this tension is to a large extent the source of all culture and intellectual life, we should be disastrously impoverished if the search were finally given up. . . . [Kolakowski’s] purpose is to show the ways in which Husserl pursued, and inevitably failed to reach, his goal, and to justify, at least in part, the claim he made for his philosophy, that is was the defense of culture and civilization. The lectures are elegant, persuasively clear and delightful.” – Mary Warnock, Times Literary Supplement