Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) was born in a Jewish family on April 8, 1859, in Prostejov, a small town in Tsjechoslovakia between Prague and Vienna. His favorite subject was mathematics but he also studied literature, theology, law, philosophy and astronomy. As a student at the University of Leipzig, he followed lectures in mathematics, physics, and astronomy. He graduated from the University of Vienna with a doctoral dissertation in theoretical mathematics on the calculus of variation.


In 1887 Edmund Husserl married Malvine Steinschneider and he is baptized in the Luthern Church. In 1888 he met the philosopher and psychologist, Franz Brentano, under whose influence he chose an academic career in philosophy. In the next phase of his intellectual thought Husserl developed a descriptive psychology as an early form of phenomenology. In 1911 he published his article “Philosophy as Rigorous Science,” in which he criticizes forms of naturalism, historicism and psychologism. In his subsequent publications Husserl announces the birth of the new science of phenomenology and elaborates on the distinction between phenomenological psychology as the foundational science for all psychological disciplines, and transcendental phenomenology as first philosophy. After 1916 Husserl taught at the University of Freiburg where he acquired a great following. In 1937 he was ordered by the German authorities to leave his Freiburg residence because of his Jewish background. By this time, Husserl had lost most of his German students owing to the Nazi threat. He became quite lonely and died the following year on April 28.


Even after his death, the threat continued, posing a serious danger to the survival of his unpublished writings. The Belgian scholar Herman van Breda, who visited Freiburg, assisted Husserl’s widow to find safe refuge in Belgium until she emigrated to the United States. And with the help of Belgium External Affairs, van Breda succeeded in smuggling more than 45,000 pages written in shorthand into Belgium. In addition to Husserl’s library, van Breda also managed to save some of Husserl’s furnishings, such as his desk now on display in the Husserl Archives at the University of Louvain. Edmund Husserl became the founder of the modern phenomenological movement that inspired many influential scholars such as Heidegger, Gadamer, Arendt, Levinas, Merleau-Ponty, Ricoeur, and Derrida.