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Acts

We can grasp what Husserl means by ‘act’ in act-sense correlation by turning to section 9 of Logical Investigations I:

If we seek a foothold in pure description, the concrete phenomenon of the sense-informed expression breaks up, on the one hand into the physical phenomenon forming the physical side of the expression, and, on the other hand, into the acts which give it meaning and possibly also intuitive fullness, in which its relation to an expressed object is constituted. In virtue of such acts the expression is more than a merely sounded word. It means something, it relates to what is objective.

The object of these acts need not be an immediately present thing, it might be a mental particular or essence, and it might be simply lacking its object becoming instead a ‘mere meaning-intention’. That is to say, the meaning-intention is unrealized, though it need not remain so: if this meaning-intention meets with its object, whether actually present as a thing or as a mental particular or essence, we can say that it has been realized or fulfilled.

Husserl goes on to further outline the distinctions between meaning-intentions and meaning-fulfilling acts:

[I]f we leave aside the sensuous acts in which the expression, qua mere sound of words, makes its appearance, we shall have to distinguish between two acts or sets of acts. We shall, on the one hand, have acts essential to the expression if it is to be an expression at all, i.e., a verbal sound infused with sense. These acts we shall call the meaning-conferring acts or the meaning-intentions. But we shall, on the other hand, have acts, not essential to the expression as such, which stand to it in the logically basic relation of fulfilling (confirming, illustrating) it more or less adequately, and so actualizing its relation to its object. These acts, which become fused with the meaning-conferring acts in the unity of knowledge or fulfillment, we can the meaning-fulfilling acts… In the realized relation of the expression to its objective correlate, the sense-informed expression becomes one with the act of meaning-fulfillment.

In my relation to the world, I perform a running series of acts. These acts can take forms other than that of the verbal, should we come to see that there is no necessary relation between intention and the physical phenomenon of the voice forming words; rather the phenomenon of the voice is but one method through which we can act (though also which, in its performance, channels the path that acts can take, it is sure), and there are other ‘dialogues’ we can enter in to. I am, for instance, drinking red wine from a glass that sits on my desk while I am typing this. Every so often I reach toward it and drink; this motion is rich with intentional acts, of the sort so often taken for granted that we don’t even pay them mind until they remain startingly unfulfilled: I intend that the glass’ feel will have a specific sense for my hand as I touch it; I intend that the fluid inside will not taste like vinegar; I intend that the glass will not suddenly disintegrate when I touch it; etc. Again, we tend to pay these acts little mind until they make themselves glaringly obvious to us for having been unfulfilled: until the sense intended in our acts is not realized, or, contradicted in a startling moment.

Husserl insists that we understand “expression” in this process in terms of our day-to-day language:

The word “expression” is normally understood — wherever, that is, we do not speak of a “mere” expression — as the sense-informed expression. One should not therefore properly say (as one often does) that an expression expresses its meaning (its intention). One more properly adopt the alternative way of speaking according to which the fulfilling act appears as the act expressed by the complete expression: we may, e.g., say that a statement “gives expression” to an act of perceiving or imagining. We need not here point out that both meaning-conferring and meaning-fulfilling acts have a part to play in intimation in the case of communicative discourse. The former in fact constitute the inmost core of intimation. To make them known to the hearer is the prime aim of our communicative intention.

When we speak to another person, we do not just intend our meaning; in the act of communication it is implicit that we want our meaning to be fulfilled (the analysis of how a lie would play into this framework could be interesting). When we act in relation to the world, fulfillment may so not so easily or apparently be assumed to be a goal; but without it as being an implicit one we could do nothing — we would have no way of knowing whether we were mad or solipsists.

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