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Symposia. Pragmatism and Phenomenology. A Metaphilosophical Reconsideration

Is Husserl a Pragmatist?

Reflections on the Conception of Habit
Jason Bell


This article focuses on Edmund Husserl’s first and most enduring interaction with pragmatism, on the conception of habit. This began a decade before Husserl’s first writings on phenomenology, and continued throughout the time he invented and developed his new phenomenological method. Husserl first encountered pragmatic habit from the founder of pragmatism Charles S. Peirce around 1890. Husserl then further interacted with the pragmatic theory of habit through the work of William James and Josiah Royce, two scholars deeply influenced by Peirce. This article explores how the theory of habit mutually influenced pragmatism and phenomenology at their origins, and how this dialogue can inform philosophy today.

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Author's notes

I presented an earlier version of this current paper at the Università degli Studi di Milano in 2021. I am grateful to Rossella Fabbrichesi’s seminar, to Andrea Staiti for his helpful comments, and to Danilo Manca for his editorial expertise. The early germination of this research was presented at the Husserl Archives Leuven and the University of Göttingen in 2019; thank you to Julia Jansen and Christian Beyer, respectively.

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1. Introduction

  • 1 In turn, of course, these thinkers were not operating in a vacuum: both the founding American pragm (...)

1The aim of my article is to show that Husserl is a pragmatist in a foundational theoretical and historical sense. I will explore the way that the Peircean pragmatic conception of habit (that is, Charles Sanders Peirce, but also philosophers deeply influenced by him, like Josiah Royce and William James) influenced Husserl’s thought from his earliest published writings to his later thought. This study is informed by the fact that Husserl read both Charles Peirce and the pragmatist William James before publishing his 1900-1901 Logical Investigations (2001), and he also read Josiah Royce while writing his 1913 Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology (2012). But it is not a mere fact of reading that is important, but that combined with strong theoretical parallels that exist among these four thinkers in the philosophy of habit.1 Beyond historiography, this dialogue has enduring importance for philosophy today.

2I hope to contribute to an understanding of why Husserl has, at so many points, sounded like a pragmatist. Alfred Schütz (1971) explored the phenomenological implications of William James’ pragmatic “stream of experience,” a concept that Husserl knew from both Josiah Royce and William James before he made it his own. Stefano Poggi (2014: 75) writes of the ironical early dialogue between Jamesians and Husserl – ironic because the Jamesians had sympathy for Husserl’s ability to talk about something other than subjectivism, but Husserl later criticized James for subjectivism. Yet habit here helps to clarify degrees in which subjectivity enters the philosophical portrait of the universe, as Peirce’s habits of belief provide a “subjective” habit that transcends this or that psychological individual, but does not transcend all thinking. Peirce’s habit of clarificatory thinking seeks a more intelligent objectivity that is flexibly stable, in a sense comparable to Aristotle, without succumbing to pure subjectivism, as in some strains of idealism, or a reactionary realism that denies any role for the subjective.

3Such a concept of habit allowed Husserl to learn from pragmatism, as Prechtl wrote (2012), how “each new experience is integrated into the total content through the transformation of meanings” (orig.: “jede neue Erfahrung durch Umwandlung der Meinungen in den Gesamtbestand integriert”). Thus new subjective moments of experience inform and influence the whole, without single-handedly creating the whole, or being metaphysically opposed to it in the style of dualism.

4Richard Cobb-Stevens (2012) describes the fruitful and deep comparisons between William James and Edmund Husserl. The comparisons of Charles S. Peirce, Husserl and phenomenology include notable efforts by Shafiei and Pietarinen (2019), Spiegelberg (1956), Mullin (1966), Ransdell (1989), and Legg & Reynolds (2022). And scholars including Kegley (1978, 2022), Goicoechea (1975), and myself (Bell 2011, 2014) have explored relations of Josiah Royce and Husserl.

5Indeed, a simple explication of points of comparison already made between pragmatism and phenomenology that have already been discovered could easily fill a book, without even troubling to introduce new ones. And yet the project could still be dismissed as seemingly ex post facto: Husserl, one might object, knowing little of the pragmatists, just happens to be able to be brought into dialogue with them by later thinkers in just the way that any philosopher can be brought into dialogue with any other philosopher by the interpretive work of another philosopher. But in fact Husserl knew the pragmatists early, and quite well, by German standards. He knew major arguments by Charles Peirce, William James, and Josiah Royce; the former two before he published Logical Investigations; the third as he was writing Ideas. And there are also plentiful indications that Husserl not only read these thinkers, but also admired them, even if Husserl had a complicated relationship to James.

6Crucial for Peirce, and a point that was of tremendous importance to James, Husserl, and many others, was that we can harness philosophy for the improvement of habits, and habits of thinking can lead to better metaphysical understanding of the world of experience – philosophy was not simply the “grey on grey” reflection of a passed world as described by Hegel, for whom the owl of philosophy only appears at dusk; nor a fixed set of categories as for Kantians. Hegel and Kant were “phenomenologists” in their own right, but it was not yet the phenomenology informed by the idea of the scientific community, and of a world in process, capable of being made better by intelligent thought. Like Aristotle, Peirce understood that habits of thinking could be good or bad in relation to the happy contemplation of the world, and that with dedication and practice they could get better. But Peirce, unlike Aristotle, had the example of Darwin, and pondered the meaning of a universe that is stably evolving, rather than merely stable.

7The idea that habits are subject to human improvement is stated with a pedagogical flair by William James (1890: 127):

Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state. We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone. Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its never so little scar. The drunken Rip Van Winkle, in Jefferson’s play, excuses himself for every fresh dereliction by saying, “I won’t count this time!” Well! He may not count it, and a kind Heaven may not count it; but it is being counted none the less. Down among his nerve-cells and fibres the molecules are counting it, registering and storing it up to be used against him when the next temptation comes. Nothing we ever do is, in strict scientific literalness, wiped out. Of course, this has its good side as well as its bad one. As we become permanent drunkards by so many separate drinks, so we become saints in the moral, and authorities and experts in the practical and scientific spheres, by so many separate acts and hours of work.

8It is also worthwhile to see how Josiah Royce’s Peircean-inspired work saw habit as not merely a human process, but at work in all of nature, as discussed by Royce in his Gifford Lectures, published as The World and the Individual (1899-1901).

9Peirce’s explication of how we can develop habits of making our ideas clear (1878) was, for William James, the founding document of pragmatism. For Peirce, thought creates beliefs, which are habits, telling us what to do if a certain situation arises (a subjunctive condition which differentiates his pragmatism from certain busy-bodied later pragmatisms). But crucially, for Peirce, his attention to habit was not a neo-historicism, in which the present is the mere outcome of the past. Peirce is also interested in how to win new knowledge, and already formed habit is only a stage on the winning of new knowledge. The habit of wanting to win new knowledge is another stage. An already established clear habit or belief is necessary for winning truth; however, “[i]t is certainly important to know how to make our ideas clear, but they may be ever so clear without being true” (1878: 302). The idea still seeks its Other, as Royce put it throughout his writings. Validity, of which habituated judgment is evidently a necessary part, is still not the same as soundness, an idea similarly explored by Lotze in his 1874 Logik (1888 English edition). The preliminary relation of validity to soundness indicates how already formed habits suggest modes of inquiry, but the discovery itself requires a novel openness to seeing what the world is like in new aspects, in response to our new questions.

10For Josiah Royce, habit, when intelligently formed, is one part of salvation from ignorance and error, even if he shares in common with Peirce the understanding that preformed habit is, while necessary to salvation from error, not the only part, since memory and abstraction also play roles in making our attention more intelligent:

For most purposes we can make only an indirect, not a direct, escape from our limitations of [attention] span. Our salvation depends upon the winning of such indirect successes. Indirectly we escape, in so far as we use our powers of habit-forming, of memory, and of abstraction, to prepare for us objects of momentary experience such as have come to acquire for us a wide range of meaning, so that, when we get before our momentary attention but a few of these objects at once, we still are able to comprehend, after our human fashion, ranges and connections and unities of fact which the narrow form of our span of consciousness forbids us to grasp with directness. Thus, the repetition of similar experiences forms habits such that each element of some new instant of passing experience comes to us saturated with the meaning that, as we look back upon our past life, we suppose to have resulted from the whole course of what has happened. And through such endlessly varied processes of habit-forming, we come to reach stages of insight in which the instantaneous presentation of a few facts gets for us, at a given moment, the value of an indirect appreciation of what we never directly grasp – that is, the value of a wide survey of life. (Royce 1912: 262-3)

11Royce also urged, a year later, that “leading ideas” play a role in creating new habits of belief (1913). For Royce, leading ideas are informed by habits, but they are not reducible to them. Scientific leading ideas, later called by Thomas Kuhn paradigms, inspire certain hypotheses, even if they cannot guarantee that all of the hypotheses are true. But without such habits, we are in a much worse position, unable to even have the privilege of being true or false.

12And similarly for Husserl in Ideas (2012 [1913]: 235), the habit of “inner freedom” of faithful description of what is seen does not predetermine what will in the future be seen, even as the adherent is predetermined to freely (e.g., not bound to mere convention or bias) and faithfully describe what is seen.

13As we will consider later in this paper, Husserl makes considerable use of this concept of habit and deepening insight in his Logical Investigations. As for Husserl’s later work, the matter requires further explication which can only be briefly suggested in the present article, but Husserl remains consistently influenced by Peirce’s evolutionary conception of habit throughout his work. It is already foreshadowed in the Logical Investigations, in Husserl’s progressive vision of what sciences aim to do, in unifying good habits with new insights, a true marriage of empiricism and idealism. This particular sense of intelligent habit is, of course, a concept of “habit” far removed from the sense of habit as mere rote (but which also acknowledges that habit can and unfortunately sometimes does become stultified and mere rote).

2. An “Adventurous” Theory

14In the 1891 publication on the mathematician Ernst Schröder, at the outset of his career, Husserl is clearly surprised by what Peirce is up to on habit: he describes the “abenteurliche” (adventurous) theory of judgment for Peirce, wherein: “Unbelievable but true, judgment is clarified as a special case of the thought-habits” (Husserl 1979: 20; orig.: “unglaublich aber wahr, die Urteile als Spezialfälle von Denkgewohnheiten erklärt werden”). Husserl, who is often harshly judgmental in his writing from this period, leaves the matter at this: “unglaublich aber wahr.” It was too astounding to even take a position on – one might say it was a first chance for Husserl to bracket an idea, thinking about it in itself, as an ideal meaning, without declaring it true or false.

  • 2 Here I quote from Emanuele Caminada’s words from our correspondence. See also Caminada 2019. Consis (...)

15Caminada (2019) describes Husserl’s focus on the “Ich der Konsequenz” which, “as a kind of ethical commitment to consistency, is a form of active habit […] this habit is the backbone of reason.”2 Husserl’s self-aware turn to habit is, as Caminada shows, made around 1913, but I would like to suggest that the influence – and a Peircean influence at that – may have begun for Husserl much earlier, before Husserl’s characteristic turn to phenomenology.

16My discussion will focus on the period 1890-1902, an important period for Husserl’s first turn towards phenomenology (although he did not yet identify his own position as phenomenology until after this – apparently in a letter to William Hocking, ca. 1903, one year after Royce called attention, in his presidential address to the American Psychological Association, to the promising path of Husserl’s phenomenology, which made logical space for pure and empirical sciences – the kind of thing a pragmatist would notice). I will first discuss Husserl’s reception of Peirce; and then conclude with a discussion of how we can read the opening of Husserl’s 1900-1901 Logical Investigations as pragmatic.

17While a rich literature explores theoretical relations between Husserl and Peirce, Husserl and Royce, Husserl and James, and Husserl and Dewey, the full story hasn’t yet been told about Peirce’s early influence on Husserl. It may have proved a crucial influence – even more important than that of James – particularly by giving Husserl access to a way beyond a bitter duel that ravaged the philosophical landscape: could young Husserl give credit to both the absolute/ideal pure logical science of Kant and Lotze, and to the empirical processive elements of science, as by way of Hume and Mill? Husserl wanted to do both, but at that time, it seemed foolish to try – given that only one or other could, it seemed, “win” the battle. So the matter was, before Husserl’s meeting Peirce (virtually, through his writings and students, since the two never seemed to have met in person), more a matter of lurching from one to the other. (Note for instance the International Congress of Philosophy 1908, where the fight between idealism and pragmatic empiricism nearly came to blows.) But Peirce, with a detour around the modernist crash of two partial and warring systems, found a way back to an understanding of reality that made use of both ideal and empirical sides. Particularly notable is how Peirce used medieval philosophy to outflank modern philosophical schisms, by showing a way that one could have a logic that was made of two fundamental sciences: pure and empirical, with both in turn being subservient to inquiry itself, as the desire to know truth in both absolute and probabilistic domains.

18In this, Peirce’s role may be particularly crucial, helping to show Husserl a way to take psychology seriously without succumbing to psychologism, the reduction of logic itself to empirical processes of our human type. Nor, on the opposite side, did Husserl want to throw his hat in with the neo-Kantians and ignore the importance of empirical research. There is a third way for the phenomenologists and pragmatists: truth is an ongoing accomplishment of empirical inquiry, but it also has its essential conditions which are also discovered by pure inquiry, and even sometimes suggested by empirical inquiry.

3. The Harvard/Johns Hopkins Invasion

191902 was an important year for the reception of pragmatism in the world of phenomenology. That year the Harvard philosopher Josiah Royce introduced Husserl, and his phenomenology, to the English-speaking world in his presidential address to the American Psychological Association: Husserl’s phenomenological research was, Royce advertised, an attractive way beyond the fight I have alluded to above, between idealism and empiricism, by showing how philosophy can accommodate both (1902: 111). That same year, Christine Ladd showed up in Göttingen to talk to Edmund Husserl about Charles S. Peirce, and gifted him with the book Studies in Logic (1883), signed by Peirce, that collected articles on philosophical logic from Peirce and the Peircean school at John Hopkins, including work by Ladd herself. Also that year, Royce’s student William Hocking likewise showed up in Göttingen to talk to Husserl about Josiah Royce, a philosopher heavily indebted to Peirce (by Royce’s own admission).

20Husserl didn’t yet have fans in the same way in Germany – the beginnings of the “Munich invasion” of Göttingen were still a year off. The Americans were on his case first, and in particular, the pragmatists. Husserl had, after all, praised James in his Logical Investigations published the previous year, in 1901, and Hocking saw many points of similarity between that book and Royce’s The World and the Individual. Perhaps because all of them were Peirceans?

21Peirce – like Lotze, who was also a major influence on Husserl – showed how philosophy could believe in both the logical absolute and statistical probability, and didn’t have to choose sides in the single-sided modern debates that reduced to either pure reason or feeling. Both, as aspects of inquiry, were teleologically oriented towards achieving true beliefs and overcoming false ones.

22Dermot Moran (2014: 44) writes that Husserl was, “as a committed, even radical, empiricist” an “admirer” of James. Husserl, in the Logical Investigations, Vol. II, published 1901, writes, in the chapter “die ideale Einheit der Species” a sincere credit to James for inspiring Husserl to overcome psychologism. How did this happen? And moreover, what can it mean when “psychologism” was a critique of the reduction of logical to empirical logic? Husserl didn’t provide citations of James’ influence on him, but James was already working at this point towards his Pragmatism (1907), and its claim that truth indeed has an essence, found by the process of inquiry and verification. It is not merely a matter of individuals or heaped psychologies, since truth-seeking has, for James, certain essential characteristics. All truth-seeking shares in common an intentionality towards soundness, setting off a verification process without which truth could not occur. For James, before he veered off towards subjectivism in a number of domains (cf. The Varieties of Religious Experience), he found at least one essential point of absoluteness: there is no truth without a will to truth, and a verification process. There were already roots of this in The Principles of Psychology, where James considered the tug-of-war between the fading moment and the intentional effort of attention that holds the moment together, and which permits truth-seeking. On the one hand, “Let any one try, I will not say to arrest, but to notice or attend to, the present moment of time. One of the most baffling experiences occurs. Where is it, this present? It has melted in our grasp, fled ere we could touch it, gone in the instant of becoming.” But on the other hand, one who practices the habit of effort preserves something enduring: “He will stand like a tower when everything rocks around him, and his softer fellow-mortals are winnowed like chaff in the blast.” (James 1890: 608, 127).

23Truth is a special kind of making-activity. For instance, from James’ Pragmatism: “Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events. Its verity is in fact an event, a process: the process namely of its verifying itself, its veri-fication. Its validity is the process of its valid-ation.” (James 1907: 201).

24For James, the absolute of truth and truth-seeking was this and a few other things: willingness to leap towards truth, etc., but other than this, James wasn’t a systematizer, he didn’t like Kant, and protested against eternals, and absolutes – without realizing that he had endorsed his own inquiry-based absolute, one that nevertheless refused to hypostatize the results of inquiry (Josiah Royce, in The Philosophy of Loyalty (1908), correctly protests against James’ and the pragmatists’ forgetting just how much of the absolute they praised, even as they condemned the absolute – a criticism which is equally applicable to latter-day pragmatists like Rorty). That is why James can at once show points of contact with the later Husserl, and yet not in all senses – Husserl, like Peirce and Royce, admired valid logical systems to a degree that we do not find in James, and his radical empiricism was coupled with an equally radical idealism. But all of them share in common that intelligent inquiry has certain characteristics that must be fulfilled for it to be truth-seeking at all.

4. Thinking Habits in Sickness and in Health

  • 3 Thomas Vongehr has transcribed Husserl’s notes of Peirce’s theory of logical relation (see Husserl (...)

25Evidence of Husserl’s early reading of Peirce is found at Husserl Archives K I 38 – nearly a decade before Husserl’s original turn to phenomenology, Husserl read Peirce’s “Algebra of Logic.” The K I manuscript likely dates from 1890 or 1891, since it is almost certainly the notes of research for Husserl’s 1891 piece on Schröder’s Algebra of Logic. It is also clear that Husserl also read Peirce’s “A Theory of Probable Inference.” That is not necessarily the end of the list, but it is the end as far as Husserl’s notes recovered by the Husserl Archives is concerned. But Husserl also read a great deal about Peirce – beginning, most likely, with Ernst Schröder’s Vorlesungen über die Algebra der Logik, which he read around 1890-1891, and then continuing through his reading of Peirce-inspired pragmatists like James, Royce, and Hocking. In this work, Schröder is effusive in his praise of Peirce. Husserl, in his review of Schröder, remarks, as we have seen, with unadulterated amazement at Peirce’s concept of logic as habit.3

26Let us pause then to consider Peirce’s concept of habit, both as related to our human habits of reason, and to a metaphysics of habit that includes but transcends human being.

27Ryan (2019: 9) writes:

For Peirce, the various ways we “fix” beliefs are “Illustrations of the Science of Logic” – where logic is a “habit of mind” useful in drawing sound inferences. Taking a page from Scotus’s habituliter, he notes that such habits, or guiding principles, are seldom noticed in tasks that are routine or familiar. It is when something goes wrong – our ship becomes lost in a storm – that deliberate attention to a skill such as navigation is required.

  • 4 Ryan further shows the crucial role played by medieval anti-nominalistic philosophy in Peirce’s phi (...)

28As Ryan (ibid.: 7) continues, “In a bold stroke toward pragmatism, [Peirce] holds that reality is not some self- contained state or condition, but a function of a drift or gravitation from error toward truth.” The drift is such, for Ryan, that Peirce is “[exonerated] from any flirtation with absolutism” (ibid.) But one might quibble with the terms of the exoneration: Peirce isn’t flirting with absolutism, he is married to it. One just needs to be clear about the kind of absolutism he is asserting vs. the kinds he is rejecting: in being scientific, we are always and everywhere trying to move towards truth and away from falsity, and that is perfectly absolute, even as it is folly to set up any merely partial observation of the truth as if it could never be improved or revised (making his motto, as he phrased it, “Do Not Block the Way of Inquiry”). For Peirce, the “drift towards agreement” is all the absolute that a person needs, with anything beyond this drift a metaphysical fiction.4

29Larry Hickman (1994: 11) shows Peirce’s relation of thought and its conditions and expressions, with four citations of Peirce:

1. “The real and living logical conclusion is [the] habit; the verbal formulation merely expresses it […] [A]ction cannot be a logical interpretant, because it lacks generality.” (CP 5.491)

2. “The concept which is a logical interpretant is only imperfectly so. […] It […] is […] inferior to the habit. […] The deliberately formed, self-analyzing habit – self-analyzing because formed by the aid of analysis of the exercises that nourished it – is the living definition, the veritable and final logical interpretant.” (CP 5.491)

3. “The whole function of thought is to produce habits of action.” (CP 5.400)

4. “[…] every man exercises more or less control over himself by means of modifying his own habits.” (CP 5.487)

30As for 2 and 4, the matter is similar to that described by Aristotle, for whom habits are virtues and vices; and earlier for Plato and Socrates, for whom there are good and bad habits as described by Plato’s “two horses,” noble and lustful. As for 1, we will consider the same point, in a moment, as made by Husserl, as pointing to a coherentism that involves action and language, but is irreducible to just these expressions. And as for the third – thinking is a kind of making, or technology, it is a point which will also, as we will see, be named by Husserl. The crucial thing that Hickman adds, in considering these four together, is that it is a serious error to reduce pragmatism to 3, as is often done, without considering 1, 2, and 4 as the tests of thinking and action. This reductive tendency to the third may indeed also be a reason some historians of philosophy have thought that pragmatism and Husserlian phenomenology were so different from one another and perhaps even radically opposed to one another. But considering all four tendencies at once, the dialogue between phenomenology and pragmatism becomes fluent.

31For Peirce, the ethical upshot is clear. He doesn’t use the word “happiness” or “eudaimonia” in the above quotes – but the upshot is graceful self-control, as James understood. The point of Peircean pragmatism isn’t any action – the fool, too, is involved in action – but it is, rather, graceful action when needed, and as part of a larger project of understanding. For Peirce as for Socrates, a wise person expends less energy than a foolish person, who has their own foolish habits. It is a clear testimony to the fact that not all habits are good habits.

  • 5 The ethical move in relation to logic is likewise clear in Peirce and his pragmatic school. The mat (...)

32By the time of his The Crisis of the European Sciences (1930), Husserl was similarly clear: the Greeks had established a strong habit of universalization that survived into the 20th century, long past the end of the temporal philosophical kingdom of the Greek philosophers. But The Crisis was a sign the habit had grown deathly ill. The European sickness of the 20th century was a bad habit: a universalization of mathematics, as a mere fragment or a single technological manifestation of thinking, idolatrously substituted for the whole. For Husserl, the medical doctor to the European spiritual habit, everything hinged on whether consistent philosophical universalization won the day – a practice that wisely wanted new fellow-inquirers rather than mutual enmity, and that could make place for complementary sciences – or whether the victor would be a shallow natural-scientific universalization, one that made war against the human spirit. The choice wasn’t whether to have a logical habit or not, but rather which habit would rule, a good one that progressively understood being, or a bad one that not only occluded being, as Heidegger was worried about, but actually destroyed being, as Husserl was worried about as the outcome of tyrannical habits of thought.5

5. Peirce auf Deutsch

33Schröder makes extensive use of Peirce’s thought in his Algebra. Husserl, having taken on the task of reviewing Schröder’s book, apparently realized he would need to get acquainted with Peirce to write an adequate review of Schröder.

34There is nothing so strange about Peirce’s claim about logical judgments as habits from a Platonic/Aristotelian perspective, but the formulation indeed sounds strange to either modern idealism or empiricism, and that is likely why Husserl was surprised to hear it. Idealism tends, after all, to be interested in questions that are purely absolute, unpolluted by time; while the empiricist says “bosh” to pure absolutes, since there is nothing but empirical probability.

35For Peirce, in “How to Make Our Ideas Clear” (1878), thought is a response of the organism to the world, beginning in the irritation of doubt, and seeking rest in belief. Whether the belief or the judgment are correct or not depends on whether they actually resolve the problem and return us to our rest. This puts into pragmatic terms the classical distinction between seeming and being: all belief thinks it is true, but false beliefs fail to return us to rest. In this way, the common criticism that pragmatism is obsessed with action is incorrect (as Hickman also shows as discussed above). For Peirce as for Aristotle, one wants to virtuously solve problems with the right action, not make them worse by too much of an action, or by the wrong kind of action or inaction in the face of a problem that requires action.

36Husserl was at first worried that in Schröder’s Peirce-inspired account the judgments are replaced by subsumption relationships between classes, replacing contents with relations. The same problem might be found in identifying logical judgment with habit: isn’t that simply replacing soundness as the end point of inquiry with an endless process of inquiry? Peirce is innocent of the charge, insofar as, as a good pragmatist and phenomenologist, he is simply, in investigating relations-in-quest-of-judgments, bracketing the realm of inquiry into that which we would like to know but do not yet know, without insisting that inquiry is nothing but that bracketing. It is far from obviating contents. In algebra, Peirce is considering a set of relations as seeking contents that aren’t yet known – like Husserl’s “lever,” as we will see in a minute – but abstracting for the moment from the contents. He is speaking about inquiry, that is, before judgment is obtained, but by which judgments about contents is obtained. Ca. 1890, Husserl appears to be still struggling with this idea, since his beginning point is the logical contents themselves as a fait accompli, without yet having his later phenomenological focus of how we got to them in the first place.

37Once the contents are known, after all, it’s no longer algebra. Or again, once the contents are had, in the terms used by Husserl in his later Logical Investigations (by which point, I think, the Peircean influence was manifest), it is the passing over from logic as the science of sciences to the evidence of this or that specific science.

  • 6 Peirce’s innovation made a decisive departure for logic vs. classical, Aristotelian logic. Without (...)

38The ability to separate relational claims and inquiry-in-process from content claims helps lead to the important discovery; with Peirce at its origins. A surprising claim of Peirce in this piece, in relation to the older logic, is that the logical notion of “all” does not imply “some” – there can be empty universal classes.6 In this way we may once again see Peirce pointing the way to the notion of a phenomenological bracketing of inquiry itself, in which meaningful essences do not imply existences (but can imply existences). It implies two different realms of logic (akin to Peirce’s contemporary Lotze’s distinction between pure and applied logic, against the idealistic tendency to reduce logic to processing essences and empiricism to reduce to existences).

39In this way logic lets us talk about essences of inquiry in their own being, and only sometimes in their relation to existences. The resemblance to phenomenological bracketing, a “setting aside” of existence, without skeptically denying it, isn’t, I think, accidental, as I do believe that Husserl borrows from Peirce. Peirce’s distinction between pure and existential modes of logic elegantly – to use Burris’s word – allows us to think of logic both in its pure generality and in its application to the discovery of metaphysical beings through empirical methods, but also through ideal methods of inquiry into validity (with inquiry itself being, as James credited Lotze in Pragmatism, a mode of being-in-itself).

40But Peirce’s influence on Husserl was, I think, a “slow burn.” By the time it made itself felt, Husserl himself may not have remembered where it came from. We must look to Husserl’s later Logical Investigations (2001 [1900]) and the Ideas (2012 [1913]) to see the truly pragmatic uptake of Husserl’s reading of Peirce ca 1890. Indeed, if we look at Husserl’s immediate reaction to Peirce, the matter looks rather different.

41For instance, in a separate 1891 article that is also connected with his review of Schröder, Husserl classes Peirce together with a group trapped in a British tradition of empiricizing logic (Boole, Schröder), thus ignoring the “thing itself” of the judgment that the German logicians Leibniz and Lambert possessed – whereas Peirce and the others were lost in the contentless formal comparisons of deductive-mathematical relation: Peirce simply had the “logic of extension” (“Umfangslogik”) whereas Leibniz/Lambert/and Husserl had the “content logic” (“Inhaltslogik”). Peirce meanwhile criticized Lambert for conflating thinking-about facts with the facts themselves, which makes this seem like a chapter in the story of the battle of the “psychologizers” vs. the “anti-psychologizers” of logic (and indeed of nationalistic fights of Anglophone vs. Germanic in relation to national philosophies, empiricism and idealism respectively). But by pointing to the very difference between thinking about facts and the facts themselves, Peirce was not asserting primacy, but rather showing a differentiation and a way beyond competitive logical dualism, and one that Husserl would soon need at the University of Göttingen, founded by Britain’s King George II (who was likewise Duke Elektor of Hannover), an institution which was friendly towards English and German philosophy, and didn’t see anything shameful about teaching the empiricists and Kantians side-by-side (the first great reconciliation of the two movements coming there through Lotze). It was probably unique in Germany in this way.

42Around a decade after this mistaken criticism of Peirce, Husserl is actually much friendlier to the empiricists in his Logical Investigations, even as he remains a firm opponent of reducing logic to the empirical. When Husserl needed to take the empirical method seriously, without succumbing to psychologism (that is, reducing logic to empirical psychological processes) he was able to find Peirce: a logician who was completely comfortable with formal calculations and with calculating empirical probabilities, while also seeing how the former makes possible the latter without predetermining it. Husserl’s earlier reading of Peirce seems to have incorrectly subsumed Peirce to a merely empiricizing position that Peirce did not endorse, and in fact opposed (with the distinction between empirical and empiricizing here equivalent to the relation between psychology and psychologizing, whereas only the latter of each pair makes an incorrect reduction to a single pole of logical inquiry, without considering the other pole).

43In addition to his study of Peirce’s algebra of logic, Husserl also owned, and read, Peirce’s and Christine Ladd-Franklin’s contributions to the book Studies in Logic, written by Peirce and his students, likely acquired during Ladd-Franklin’s visit to Husserl in 1902. This text considers how logic reconciles the fact of the process of time on the one hand and the judgment of “the same” on the other, and the leading and following ideas that link them. Husserl highlighted this in his text – “the same” as the meaning of a logical effort, which precedes any attainment. It is an echo of Socrates, for whom likeness and unlikeness are inborn traits of the soul which permits learning, but which is not itself learned. (For Socrates, the soul measures, but it forgets everything else at birth; and we can know certain absolutes about the method by which we mean to know, even as we can be deceived in the world of appearances.)

44This complementarity of moments of logic, and the refusal to reduce them to any one moment of logic, distinguishes Peirce both from then-traditional modes of idealism and empiricism, but also from restless, humanistic, romantic “pragmatisms” that followed and became popularized thereafter, that has sometimes seemed to reduce the reality of pragmatism to immediate, subjective problem solving, and non-stop action. For Peirce, the point of good, sound thinking is that it brings us to restful stops, and the most graceful expenditure of mental energy. It is active, yes, but as means to contemplative ends.

6. Husserl’s Developing Pragmatic Habit

45I would like to suggest in the concluding pages that from an understanding of Husserl’s first surprised meeting of Peircean pragmatism ca. 1890 to his growing appreciation of pragmatism in the following years, we can read the opening of Husserl’s phenomenological work in Logical Investigations (2001 [1900-1901]), in a pragmatic way, in relation to a teleological habit of inquiry shared among all sciences. At this time, Peirce and James already inspired Husserl, and he was on the way to being inspired by Royce as well.

46For Husserl, the various scientific domains are magnificent, but they do not satisfy us theoretically as having achieved complete sciences – there remain doubts and controversies. “Though the sciences have grown great […] they cannot satisfy us theoretically. They are, as theories, not crystal-clear: the function of all their concepts and presuppositions is not fully intelligible, not all of their presuppositions have been exactly analysed, they are not in their entirety raised above all theoretical doubt.” (2001 [1900]: 16)

47For Husserl, we need to have a science that is not merely empirical, as a set of collected results containing unanswered questions and controversies, but rather a science that seeks for what is common in all sciences, examining “whatever makes sciences into sciences,” or a “theory of science” (ibid).

48Do all sciences share something in common? Science itself, “as its name indicates,” is concerned with “knowing.” But “this does not mean that it itself consists of a sum or tissue of acts of knowing” (ibid). It is also the essence for which there are sums and tissues. It is, to use the word from Royce, a loyalty that animates anyone who is a scientist, no matter the domain – insofar as they prefer truth to falsity, and knowledge to ignorance, quite irrespective of whether they actually believe something false or not. They would still hope to escape their ignorance, if they could.

49For Husserl, science exists “objectively only in its literature, only in written work has it a rich relational being limited to men and their intellectual activities” (ibid.: 17). One might quibble with the word “only,” but the crucial thing is the intersubjectivity, different from Descartes’ cogito, or “I think.” The process is, as in Royce’s discussion of science, irreducible to individual psychology – one cannot, for instance, observe physics as a psychological process by watching a single scientist. For Husserl – as with Peirce’s and Royce’s community of inquiry – the cogito is complemented by what might be termed the cogitamus, the “we think.” What is objective is the product of a community, who submits, reviews, consults, and revises – like Peirce’s community of inquiry. Yet at the same time it is contributed to by individuals, and the ideal has processive fruits in time. This scientific literature, for Husserl, “represents a set of external arrangements, which, just as they arose out of the knowledge-acts of many individuals, can again pass over into just such acts of countless individuals, in a readily understandable manner, whose exact description would require much circumlocution” (ibid.). Why so much circumlocution? Because the literature is constantly being revised, and added to by individuals. Science is in progress, but it is not merely in progress – it seeks something quite eternal (at least ethically so), in all its moments: “[…] Science provides, or should provide, certain more immediate preconditions of acts of knowing, real possibilities of knowing, whose realization by the ‘normal’ or ‘suitably endowed’ individual in well-known, ‘normal’ circumstances can be looked on as an attainable goal of his endeavour. In this sense, therefore, science aims at knowledge” (ibid).

50This is excellent, and surely right. It anticipates the “empathy” of pragmatism and later phenomenology that demands individual perspectives, social objectivity, and their ongoing relation (vs. attempts to reduce to individual perspectives or the formal set alone). It is also pragmatic, in its attention to aiming at the should of inquiry. In this interpretive middle, science has a phenomenological and pragmatic essence. In all its loyal parts, no matter the disciplines, science aims at knowledge, and serves those who seek it. It is glad to have an objective literature, and to revise it. The data change in the journals and books, but the essential set which gathers the data remains the same as the telos of inquiry.

51For Husserl, we have “luminous certainty that what we have distinguished is, that what we have rejected is not(ibid.). How does knowledge-of differ from baseless opinion? For Husserl, as for Peirce, it appeals to evidence, and to probability assessments. From this “we can distinguish the reasonable from the unreasonable, the better-founded from the worse-founded assumptions, opinions and surmises” (ibid.: 18). But for the attainment there must first be the intention: Knowledge-seeking is quite absolute in this aspect: “Its being quite evident that S is P” is the “ideal limit” (ibid.) which knowledge seeks. Likewise Len O’Neill notes the crucial role of evidence, and how it accommodates both essential certainty and probabilities:

Peirce’s 1883 paper “A Theory of Probable Inference” is an extraordinarily fertile and prescient discussion of the nature of empirical reasoning. At the centre of his thinking in this matter is his conviction that all empirical reasoning is essentially reasoning from a sample to a population. Empirical generalization is just the special case where we infer a 100% frequency of a character in the population. Inference to a scientific theory is an inference from, in effect, a sampling of its logical consequences. Statistical inference can only yield a conclusion that is merely probably (never certainly) true and merely approximately (never exactly). (O’Neill 1993: 216)

  • 7 In the Logical Investigations, not even Husserl realized just how long the process would take – he (...)

52Thus, even as the evidentiary conclusions of the empirical sciences are probabilistic, it is still necessary to speak of another part of them as essential, non-statistical, and perfectly absolute. We know certain things absolutely, but we never get to the aim of contemplative knowledge of everything. Still there is nearer and farther, progress towards vs. stultification in error. For Peirce and Husserl, then, our specific sciences are doing less than everything and more than nothing, but they share in common that they would like to know more. Our participation in the whole endeavor, meanwhile, in supporting truth-seeking overall, is an ethical commitment, and one that can be gratified by achievements and yet eager for still more. Each particular investigation approaches or misses here or there, but they all absolutely mean to approach the truth.7

53Husserl continues in this teleological sense: science is more than mere knowledge, since it also aims at “systematic coherence in the theoretical sense” (Husserl 2001 [1900]: 18). The systematic coherence is, for Husserl, focused here on the teleological grounding – he doesn’t purport to offer a “grand unified theory” of the physical phenomena. The empirical description of the phenomena belongs to the special sciences; Husserl’s question is of the logos that binds together the scientific community in the first place. It is a quest for beholding: we are seeking what is present in things, as the seeking of inquiry is itself a “means toward the greatest possible conquest of the realm of truth by our knowledge” (ibid). This quest for evidence is a conquest that isn’t destructive, converting nature into a use-value, but appreciative.

54Scientific inquiry is, for Husserl, everywhere and always the same, even as the demand for “the greatest possible” involves movement. It is, then, no “disordered chaos, but is dominated and unified by law” (ibid). Science demands progress, which is ascending: it must “reflect the systematic connections of those truths, and must use the latter as a ladder to progress and penetrate from the knowledge given to, or already gained by us to ever higher regions of the realm of truth” (ibid). The “must” is an ongoing, permanent ethical demand, that gives rise to particular observations and judgments, and special sciences, but which is irreducible to any summated pile of them. For it involves both necessary conditions, and a present-and future ethical demand to discover still more truth. This is likewise also indicated in Royce’s chapter on “Loyalty, Truth and Reality” (1908): we only get the truth by our method of seeking. Seeking remains fallible in its results. But it is absolute as a program: we continue to submit our truth-seeking to the objective idea of agreement with actual experience which includes but transcends our own, which is infallible as an ethical aim.

55Similarly, for Husserl, validations move beyond the “immediately and therefore trivially relevant” (ibid.: 19), through the ongoing method of inquiry – as with Peirce’s moving from the sample to the population, which is not merely immediate but references a meant set. The “obvious” or “already established” is used as a “lever for achieving what is remote and only mediately obtainable” (ibid). It requires “general norms” and “inventive construction” in “classes of cases” (ibid); for which Husserl is particularly appreciative of “flair,” and “anticipatory intuition” (ibid.: 22), comparable with Peirce’s abduction as hypothesis generation, and Royce’s “leading ideas.” Here the method tells us not merely what is, or is known, but it tells us what to do next. Good habit here helps to inform logic, and although Husserl’s explicit turn to logic as habit, as Caminada (2019) dates it, occurred in 1913, hence later in his thought, we can already see the anticipation: “The trained thinker finds proofs more readily than the untrained one” (Husserl 2001 [1900]: 22). The practiced inquirer gets better on both sides of logic, essential and empirical: more practice in the form of syllogism and more practice in organized observations will typically make a better scientist, a virtue which is at once moral and intellectual in Aristotle’s senses.

56For Husserl, it is not mere vagary that bundles scientific observations together. “Connections of validation are not governed by caprice or chance, but by reason and order, i.e. by regulative laws,” as with the syllogistic form (ibid.: 20). “There is no science where laws are not applicable to individual cases, where we do not therefore have syllogisms of the form illustrated above” (ibid.: 21) – applicable, once again, to all sciences, like in Peirce’s statistical method used among the empirical sciences, wherein the individual sample is referenced to the case, and without which inquiry could not function.

57Sometimes, in certain regions of science, we can hit upon validity. Other times, we must rest content with inductive strength. But this too has, in Husserl’s estimation, its telos – dare we say, pragmatic telos. For in the practical realm we would like to get as close to the truth as we can, an absolute aim with relative but progressive results. There, for Husserl, “all scientific methods which do not themselves have the character of actual validating arguments […] are […] abbreviations and substitutes for such validating arguments […]” (ibid.: 23).

58Further, for Husserl, one ought to seek to describe elegantly and simply, avoiding “Chinese-box complexity” (ibid.). The emphasis for Husserl as for Peirce is on the economy of thinking, but scientific logic can also take the role of the complex technology by which we win new knowledge, as some scientific methods are, Husserl writes, “auxiliary devices, which serve to prepare for, to facilitate, to ensure or to render possible future processes of validation […]” (ibid.). It is a sentence that could have been written by a pragmatist. In each case the emphasis is on science as a good habit that better aims towards the goal of the sciences, as perpetually increasing the realm of truth, but which is always and everywhere the aim that permits the process in time, and thus irreducible to any moment or moments of the process itself. Further, one should not reduce the set-maker to the set – pragmatism and phenomenology both sound the warning against this dangerous error of modernity, which constantly tries to reduce the set-maker of inquiry to the idolatry of acquired sets – e.g., psychology alone, or mathematics alone, or pure a priori ideas alone – without paying heed to the ongoing telos of set-making, value-seeking and contemplative appreciation.

59What do all truth-seeking processes share in common, whether in deductive or inductive logical realms? For Husserl, the theory of science, aiming to describe what all sciences share in common, a priori and a posteriori, hits upon “a certain unity of validatory interconnection, a certain unity in the stepwise ascent of its validatory arguments, and this form of unity has itself a lofty teleological meaning in the attainment of the highest goal of knowledge for which all sciences strives […]” wherein research into specific truths is the means to this end (ibid.: 24). One might call it wisdom lovingly sought by philosophy. Each science is validated by its membership in the same activity (ibid.: 25); by a continual “clarifying” of ideas – rather than a once-off clarifying by way of Cartesian hyperbolic skepticism followed by hyperbolic certainty. Yet – in common with Descartes, but recognizing the greater difficulty – the process is for the sake of an ongoing project of clarification (and Husserl later, in Cartesian Meditations, praised Descartes for bringing to light the importance of the individual cogito, even as he missed the cogitamus).

60The above is, of course, just the opening of the Logical Investigations. But I would suggest that, with Aristotle, the beginning is more than half the whole. Husserl is, by this point, already a pragmatist. Later in his career, and particularly by way of his reading of Royce, his pragmatism deepens and grows. However, this is not to suggest a takeover, but a relation. Ryan points out that Peirce is a phenomenologist. Royce certainly was a phenomenologist. And Husserl was a pragmatist. We can read in these thinkers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century a Rosetta Stone that can continue to be of use today, by showing the mutual relevance of the humanities and the natural sciences to the contemporary academy, and of philosophy itself as an interpreter between them, standing, as Royce puts the matter, at the “neutral ground” at which different practitioners of scientific domains can gather to compare problems and results and seek for shared methodologies, helping to overcome isolation and jealousy. This, in turn, is an indication of how pragmatism, phenomenology, and philosophy itself are at once eternal and in time: the activity of wisdom-seeking is always the same, but the particular questions that arise because of history and the pragmatic problems forced upon us in the present are irreducibly linked to a moving spatio-temporal perspective. The reconciliation point is the philosophical habit of loving wisdom.

61As Peirce wrote in 1903, authentic seeing is a difficult task:

When the ground is covered by snow on which the sun shines brightly except where shadows fall, if you ask any ordinary man what its colour appears to be, he will tell you white, pure white, whiter in the sunlight, a little greyish in the shadow. But that is not what is before his eyes that he is describing; it is his theory of what ought to be seen. The artist will tell him that the shadows are not grey but a dull blue and that the snow in the sunshine is of a rich yellow. That artist’s observational power is what is most wanted in the study of phenomenology. (Peirce 1998: 147)

62The challenge of authentic seeing is at once eternal, but it is also relative to the problems at hand. It is a key feature of pragmatic phenomenology, which refuses to reduce to the eternal or the relative alone, but considers them both as linked aspects of wisdom.

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Bell Jason, (2011), “The German Translation of Royce’s Epistemology by Husserl’s Student Winthrop Bell: A Neglected Bridge of Pragmatic-Phenomenological Interpretation?,” The Pluralist, 6 (1), 46-62.

Bell Jason, (2014), “On Four Originators of Transatlantic Phenomenology: Josiah Royce, Edmund Husserl, William Hocking, Winthrop Bell,” in Kelly Parker & Jason Bell (eds), The Relevance of Royce, New York, Fordham University Press, 47-68.

Caminada Emanuele, (2019), Vom Gemeingeist zum Habitus: Husserls Ideen II, Dordrecht, Springer.

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Gensler Harry J., (2002), Introduction to Logic, New York, Routledge.

Goicoechea David, (1975), “Royce and the Reductions,” in Philip J. Bossert (ed.), Phenomenological Perspectives, Historical and Systematic Essays in Honor of Herbert Spiegelberged (“Phaenomenologica,” vol. 62), Springer, Dordrecht, 31-46.

Herdy Rachel, (2014), “The Origin and Growth of Peirce’s Ethics: A Categorical Analysis,” European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy, VI (2). Online:

Hickman Larry, (1994), “The Products of Pragmatism,” in Guy Debrock & Menno Hulswit (eds), Living Doubt: Essays Concerning the Epistemology of Charles Sanders Peirce, Dordrecht, Springer, 13-24.

Husserl Edmund, (1970), The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, ed. by David Carr, Evanston, Northwestern University Press.

Husserl Edmund, (1979), Husserliana Bd. XXII (Aufsätze und Rezensionen 1890-1910), ed. Bernhard Rang, The Hague, Martinus Nijhoff.

Husserl Edmund, (2001 [1900]), Logical Investigations, 2 vol., transl. by John N. Findlay, with a new preface by Michael Dummett, edited with a new introduction by Dermot Moran, London/New York, Routledge.

Husserl Edmund, (2012 [1903]), Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology, London/New York, Routledge.

Husserl Edmund, (2017), “Husserl’s copy of Charles Sanders Peirce’s Studies in Logic,” ed. Thomas Vongehr, Husserl Archives Leuven Official Blog:

James William, (1890), The Principles of Psychology, vol. 1, New York, Henry Holt.

James William, (1907), Pragmatism, New York, Longmans, Green.

Kegley Jacquelyn Ann K., (1978), “Royce and Husserl: Some Parallels and Food for Thought,” Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, 14 (3), 184-99.

Kegley Jacquelyn Ann K., (2022), “Josiah Royce: A Neglected Figure and a Valuable Resource in Mining the Pragmatism/Phenomenology Interactions for Current Philosophical Inquiry,” European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy, XIV (2). Online:

Legg Catherine & Jack Reynolds, (2022), “Habits of Mind: New Insights for Embodied Cognition from Classical Pragmatism and Phenomenology,” European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy, XIV (2). Online:

Lotze Hermann, (1888 [1874]), Logic: In Three Books, 2 vol., transl. by Bernard Bosanquet, Oxford, Clarendon Press.

Moran Dermot, (2014), “Edmund Husserl and Phenomenology,” in Andrew Bailey (ed.), Philosophy of Mind: The Key Thinkers, New York, Bloomsbury, 37-58.

Mullin Albert A., (1966), “C. S. Peirce and E. G. A. Husserl on the Nature of Logic,” Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic, VII (4), 301-4.

O’Neill Len, (1993), “Peirce and the Nature of Evidence,” Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, 29 (2) (Spring, 11878993), 211-24.

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Pickering John, (2016), “Is Nature Habit-Forming?,” in Donna E. West & Myrdene Anderson (eds), Consensus on Peirce’s Concept of Habit: Before and Beyond Consciousness, Cham, Springer, 89-108.

Poggi Stefano, (2014), “Husserl und die klassiche deutsche Philosophie: eine Leidenschaft im reifen Alter?,” in Faustino Fabbianelli & Sebastian Luft (eds), Husserl und die klassiche deutsche Philosophie, Switzerland, Springer, 65-75.

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1 In turn, of course, these thinkers were not operating in a vacuum: both the founding American pragmatists and the German phenomenologists were influenced by many of the same philosophers, from Plato and Aristotle to Kant, Hegel, Mill, Hume, Lotze, and Croce, and were inspired by the same revolutionary developments in mathematics and the natural sciences during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Carlo Sini (1994) traces the concept of living habits from Bruno and Vico through Hegel, Peirce, and Husserl, and to more recent thinkers like Wittgenstein and Foucault. In turn, we find a conception of logic-as-habit in medieval scholastic logic that influenced Peirce and Royce on one side of the Atlantic, and Husserl and Scheler on the other. Scheler’s dissertation, for instance, favorably cites Aquinas’ conception of natural laws as habits of divine action (“For Thomas Aquinas, for whom the laws of nature were ‘habits of divine action,’ the causal law is no less certain than it is for a natural scientist today. The situation is similar with the concept of things” [original: “Für Thomas von Aquino, dem die Naturgesetze ‘Gewohnheiten des göttlichen Handelns’ waren, steht das Kausalgesetz nicht minder fest als für einen Naturforscher von heute. Aehnlich steht es mit dem Dingbegriff”] Scheller 1899). For the phenomenologist Scheler as for Aquinas, that it is a law does not conflict with the fact that it is also a habit.

2 Here I quote from Emanuele Caminada’s words from our correspondence. See also Caminada 2019. Consistency is perhaps the best translation of Konsequenz, but the horizon of the German word is broader than the word “consistency,” as it also has a logical connotation in the sense of “consequently,” and it can also be used in ethical senses.

3 Thomas Vongehr has transcribed Husserl’s notes of Peirce’s theory of logical relation (see Husserl 2017). Indeed Peirce was in this article primarily interested in the Umfangslogik (logic of extension), but one can also see how Peirce at the same time points to how this algebraic system can eventually aid an Inhaltslogik (logic of content).

4 Ryan further shows the crucial role played by medieval anti-nominalistic philosophy in Peirce’s philosophy of habit. “Scotus’s habituliter, recast by Peirce as habituated belief, becomes a cornerstone of pragmatism” (2019: 9). Husserl, too, was, by way of medieval anti-nominalism, able to outflank modern reductivism to psychology, and defended the medieval universalists, while lambasting nominalism for, among other problems, seeking “to transform what is universal in object and act of thought, into what is individual” (Husserl 2001: 48). There is no doubt that Peirce and Husserl share a contempt for nominalism. But the pragmatic/phenomenological issue is not to juxtapose the universal and the individual and to say that obviously the former is bigger and more important than the latter, but rather, that it is through universals that we can locate the individual, and that without universals, locating individuals is impossible. As Lotze (1888) likewise puts the matter, validity does not ensure soundness in truth claims about individuals (since soundness also requires observation), but it is prerequisite to soundness: by inquiry we mean to say that the individual subject has some predicate, or participates in some universal, simply in the sense of having the quality. The species, for Peirce and Husserl, isn’t external to thought, as in the nominalists’ strawman – rather, the species is a relational concept that is involved in the humble but quite necessary judgment that S is P.

5 The ethical move in relation to logic is likewise clear in Peirce and his pragmatic school. The matter of habit is not merely a formal one, but even the formal part, in turn, is a result of the ethical and logical commitment to develop intelligent habits. As Rachel Herdy (2014: 5) summarizes, quoting Peirce: “[…] Logic rests on ethics to a degree that few are aware of […] ethics as a positive science must rest on observed facts […] the only solid foundation for ethics lies on those facts of everyday life which no skeptical philosopher ever yet really called in question” (CP 8.158, 1901).

6 Peirce’s innovation made a decisive departure for logic vs. classical, Aristotelian logic. Without mentioning Peirce, Harry Gensler (2002: 34) discusses the departure from classical to modern logic at this point.

7 In the Logical Investigations, not even Husserl realized just how long the process would take – he seemed to think that the project within the science he was proposing was nearly wrapped up. He had thought more deeply about the open-endedly pragmatic nature of phenomenology by the time he published his Ideas in 1913 (2012), having spent the previous year seriously reading Royce, one of Peirce’s most dedicated students, and came to realize that the process of inquiry was infinitely ongoing.

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Electronic reference

Jason Bell, “Is Husserl a Pragmatist?”European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy [Online], XIV-2 | 2022, Online since 17 October 2022, connection on 27 March 2023. URL:; DOI:

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Jason Bell

University of New Brunswick

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