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4 Husserl’s Conception of Philosophy, the Crisis of European Sciences and Buddhism

4 Husserl’s Conception of Philosophy, the Crisis of European Sciences and Buddhism

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Husserl’s Conception of Philosophy, the Crisis of European Sciences and Buddhism


the same period, Husserl writes: “Cognition is a practical activity, and rational cognition, that is to say theoretical cognition, is an activity out of practical reason …

directed toward values.”32 Yet upon further clarification, the Husserlian version of

“primacy of the practical” reveals itself to be a disguised one: the seemingly axiological turn of Husserl is ultimately subsumed under theoretical knowledge as the

supreme value. In the manuscript just mentioned, after recognizing cognition as an

activity out of practical reason, Husserl finished his explanation by saying: “But a

theory is a higher value against all the single truths founding it.”33 If there were a

practical turn in Husserl, it would still be dominated by a certain cognitivist tendency. And it is this cognitivist tendency which underlies Husserl’s later concept

and practice of philosophy, including that of the Crisis period. For example, in the

Vienna lecture Husserl advocates the way to overcome the crisis of European

humanity by “a far-reaching transformation of the whole praxis of human existence,

i.e. the whole of cultural life”, in such a way that the latter “receives its norms from

objective truth”, and “thus ideal truth becomes an absolute value that … brings with

it a universally transformed praxis.”34 Yet this new praxis is nothing other than that

of the philosopher who has “her/his constant and prior resolve to dedicate her/his

future life always … to the task of thêoria, to build theoretical knowledge upon

theoretical knowledge in infinitum.”35 Husserl’s cognitivist conception and practice

of philosophy cannot be clearer here.

However, though paradoxical, it is precisely because of this cognitivist conception of philosophy, which strives towards the realization of the idea of universal

science under the banner of pure theoretical interest as its true vocation, that there

arises the Husserlian diagnosis of the crisis of European sciences. For it is also precisely these European sciences, submerged in their successful theoretical endeavors, which have lost sight of the fact that they are rooted in the life-world, that their

ultimate goal is to serve the supreme moral and axiological practices of humanity.

The blindness of the European sciences with regard to their genuine moral duty

results in their degeneration to the status of mere technological instruments in the

narrow sense of the term. Buddhism, on the contrary, understands clearly that the

intellectual cognitions it pursues serve the highest value of spiritual liberation;

hence, its cognitive activities will not degenerate into uprooted instrumental rationality. Buddhism, similar to Husserl’s conception of philosophy, also quests for

radical self-knowledge and self-understanding; yet the latter are channeled toward

spiritual self-liberation, which can thus provide the soil for the rootedness of cognitive activities. If European civilization could transplant itself on this soil, a path may

be found which may one day led to the overcoming of the crisis of European sciences. This probably is the reason why Husserl had once projected his hope for the

renewal of European culture upon Buddhism. Yet Europeans at the aftermath of the

First World War had neither listened to the wisdom of the Buddha, nor responded to


E. Husserl, Husserliana VIII, op. cit., p. 352.

E. Husserl, Husserliana VIII, op. cit., pp. 352–353.


E. Husserl, Krisis, pp. 333–334; Crisis, op. cit., p. 287.


E. Husserl, Krisis, p. 332; Crisis, op. cit., p. 286.



4 Husserl and Buddhism

Husserl’s pathetic call for cultural renewal by learning from the Buddhist method.

Today, at the daybreak of the Third millennium, the crisis of European culture as

seen by Husserl seems to be behind us. Yet this crisis seems to have metamorphosed

into a crisis affecting humanity as a whole. Is it not our turn, as phenomenological

philosophers and as Husserl’s spiritual grandchildren, intra- or extra-European, to

seriously consider responding once again to our spiritual grandfather’s call for cultural renewal by looking for resources from cultural traditions other than the merely

European (Western) one?

Chapter 5

Jan Patočka: Critical Consciousness

and Non-Eurocentric Philosopher

of the Phenomenological Movement


Introduction: Patočka as Non-Eurocentric

Phenomenological Philosopher

This chapter constitutes a preliminary and humble attempt to answer the following

question: How to make sense of the vast number of Patočka’s writings, themselves

dispersed in most cases in the apparently modest form of exegetic exercises on

works of classical thinkers, ancient (e.g., Plato, Aristotle) or contemporary (Husserl,

Heidegger)?1 The reply we risk to propose is: Patočka’s reflections represent perhaps one of the most fruitful philosophical endeavors within the wider phenomenological movement to confront the crisis of modern civilization which Patočka calls

“Over-civilization and its internal conflict”.2 Recapturing and renewing in a new

direction Husserl’s diagnosis of the crisis of European civilization, Patočka was one

of the first European philosophers—a philosopher of the Other Europe—to have

emphasized with lucidity the necessity of abandoning the hitherto Eurocentric prop1

The first version of this chapter was presented to the conference: Issues Confronting the PostEuropean World, A Conference dedicated to Jan Patočka (1907–1977) on the occasion of the

founding of the Organization of Phenomenological Organizations, organized by the Center for

Phenomenological Research Prague at Charles University and the Academy of Sciences of the

Czech Republic, Prague, November 6–10, 2002 and published in Essays in Celebration of the

Founding of the Organization of Phenomenological Organizations, ed. CHEUNG Chan-Fai, Ivan

Chvatik, Ion Copoeru, Lester Embree, Julia Iribarne & Hans Rainer Sepp, Web-Published at

www.o-p-o.net, 2003, 19 pp. Since then a number of book length studies on Patočka’s works have

appeared. The most significant ones include: Edward E. Findlay, Caring For the Soul in a

Postmodern Age: Politics and Phenomenology in the Thought of Jan Patočka (Albany: State

University of New York Press, 2002); Renaud Barbaras, Le mouvement de l’existence. Études sur

la phénoménologie de Jan Patočka (Paris : Les Éditions de la Transparence, 2007); Renaud

Barbaras, L’ouverture du monde: lecture de Jan Patočka (Paris : Les Éditions de la Transparence,

2011); Émilie Tardivel, La liberté au principe. Essai sur la philosophie de Patočka (Paris: Vrin,



Jan Patočka, “La surcivilization et son conflit”, in Liberté et sacrifice. Ecrits politiques, French

trans. Erika Abrams (Grenoble: Jérôme Millon, 1990), pp. 99–177.

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

K.-Y. Lau, Phenomenology and Intercultural Understanding,

Contributions To Phenomenology 87, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-44764-3_5



5 Patočka Non-Eurocentric Philosopher

ositions of solution to the crisis—for example Comte’s positivism and its variants,

Marxism and bourgeois liberalism—when he explicitly raised the problems of a

“Post-European humanity”.3 In advocating an understanding of the history of

European humanity which is different from Husserl as well as Heidegger, Patočka

is able to direct his philosophical reflections on history back to the formulation of a

more profound phenomenology of the natural world insufficiently thematized in

Husserl and absent in Heidegger (at least the Heidegger of Sein und Zeit).

Such a phenomenology of the natural world includes the themes of the Earth as

well as those of movement and human existence as movement. These themes form

the basic elements and the ground of the apparition of all inner-worldly beings.

Patočka’s reflections also bring into light the primacy of the practical over the theoretical within the natural world. Thus the sketch of the structure of phenomenality

starting from the phenomenology of the natural world can pave the way for a phenomenology of the cultural world with a more credible universal validity claim in

comparison to the Husserlian and the Heideggerian attempts.

The Husserlian attempt, which identifies Greek thêoria with European Science

as the authentic cultural world of universal significance,4 is without doubt formed

with an explicit Eurocentric bias. As for Heidegger, his National-Socialist engagement as well as his defense of Europe by way of a hostile positioning against

America and Russia,5 make him never entirely unscathed by the suspicion of

Eurocentric overtones. By contrast, Patočka’s phenomenology of the natural world,

by virtue of its emphasis on the structural characteristics of movement, of dynamis,

of praxis, and of the disclosure of the abyssal, unfathomable nature of human existence and of the original nothingness as the (non-)foundation of the phenomenal

world, constitutes an opening toward the reception of Others and other cultures, in

particular that of Chinese Daoist philosophy.


J. Patočka, “Réflexion sur l’Europe”, Liberté et sacrifice, p. 181.

Edmund Husserl, Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale

Phänomenologie, Husserliana VI, ed. W. Biemel (The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1954), pp. 327–330;

The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, Eng. trans. D. Carr

(Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970), pp. 281–283.


Below is Heidegger’s well-known declaration: “And yet a question, the question: “Is ‘Being’ a

mere word and its meaning a vapor, or is it the spiritual fate of the West?’ This Europe, in its

unholy blindness always on the point of cutting its own throat, lies today in the great pincers

between Russia on the one side and America on the other. Russia and America, seen metaphysically, are both the same: the same hopeless frenzy of unchained technology and of the rootless

organization of the average man.” Martin Heidegger, Einführung in die Metaphysik (Tübingen:

Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1953), pp. 28–29; Introduction to Metaphysics, New Eng. trans. Gregory

Fried and Richard Polt (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 40.


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