Monday, July 29, 2013

Phenomenology - Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

From yet another entry from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, here is an excellent overview of phenomenology, which is both the name of a movement in 20th century philosophy (formed around Edmund Husserl) and a term used for the "property of some mental states, the property they have if and only if there is something it is like to be in them."

In essence, phenomenology is the study of "the structural features of experience and of things as experienced. It is primarily a descriptive discipline and is undertaken in a way that is largely independent of scientific, including causal, explanations and accounts of the nature of experience." One of the classic texts is Thomas Nagel's "What Is it Like to be a Bat?" (1974). Other classic texts, beyond those by Husserl, include Jean-Paul Satre's Being and Nothingness (1969) and Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception (1962).


In its central use “phenomenology” names a movement in twentieth century philosophy. A second use of “phenomenology” common in contemporary philosophy names a property of some mental states, the property they have if and only if there is something it is like to be in them. Thus, it is sometimes said that emotional states have a phenomenology while belief states do not. For example, while there is something it is like to be angry, there is nothing it is like to believe that Paris is in France. Although the two uses of “phenomenology” are related, it is the first which is the current topic. Accordingly, “phenomenological” refers to a way of doing philosophy that is more or less closely related to the corresponding movement. Phenomenology utilizes a distinctive method to study the structural features of experience and of things as experienced. It is primarily a descriptive discipline and is undertaken in a way that is largely independent of scientific, including causal, explanations and accounts of the nature of experience. Topics discussed within the phenomenological tradition include the nature of intentionality, perception, time-consciousness, self-consciousness, awareness of the body and consciousness of others. Phenomenology is to be distinguished from phenomenalism, a position in epistemology which implies that all statements about physical objects are synonymous with statements about persons having certain sensations or sense-data. George Berkeley was a phenomenalist but not a phenomenologist.

Although elements of the twentieth century phenomenological movement can be found in earlier philosophers—such as David Hume, Immanuel Kant and Franz Brentano—phenomenology as a philosophical movement really began with the work of Edmund Husserl. Following Husserl, phenomenology was adapted, broadened and extended by, amongst others, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida. Phenomenology has, at one time or another, been aligned with Kantian and post-Kantian transcendental philosophy, existentialism and the philosophy of mind and psychology.

This article introduces some of the central aspects of the phenomenological method and also concrete phenomenological analyses of some of the topics that have greatly exercised phenomenologists.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Phenomenological Method
    a. Phenomena
    b. Phenomenological Reduction
    c. Eidetic Reduction
    d. Heidegger on Method
3. Intentionality
    a. Brentano and Intentional Inexistence
    b. Husserl’s Account in Logical Investigations
    c. Husserl’s Account in Ideas I
    d. Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty on Intentionality
4. Phenomenology of Perception
    a. Na├»ve Realism, Indirect Realism and Phenomenalism
    b. Husserl’s Account: Intentionality and Hyle
    c. Husserl’s Account: Internal and External Horizons
    d. Husserl and Phenomenalism
    e. Sartre Against Sensation
5. Phenomenology and the Self
    a. Hume and the Unity of Consciousness
    b. Kant and the Transcendental I
    c. Husserl and the Transcendental Ego
    d. Sartre and the Transcendent Ego
6. Phenomenology of Time-Consciousness
    a. The Specious Present
    b. Primal Impression, Retention and Protention
    c. Absolute Consciousness
7. Conclusion
8. References and Further Reading

1. Introduction

The work often considered to constitute the birth of phenomenology is Husserl’s Logical Investigations (Husserl 2001). It contains Husserl’s celebrated attack on psychologism, the view that logic can be reduced to psychology; an account of phenomenology as the descriptive study of the structural features of the varieties of experience; and a number of concrete phenomenological analyses, including those of meaning, part-whole relations and intentionality.

Logical Investigations seemed to pursue its agenda against a backdrop of metaphysical realism. In Ideas I (Husserl 1982), however, Husserl presented phenomenology as a form of transcendental idealism. This apparent move was greeted with hostility from some early admirers of Logical Investigations, such as Adolph Reinach. However, Husserl later claimed that he had always intended to be a transcendental idealist. In Ideas I Husserl offered a more nuanced account of the intentionality of consciousness, of the distinction between fact and essence and of the phenomenological as opposed to the natural attitude.

Heidegger was an assistant to Husserl who took phenomenology in a rather new direction. He married Husserl’s concern for legitimating concepts through phenomenological description with an overriding interest in the question of the meaning of being, referring to his own phenomenological investigations as “fundamental ontology.” His Being and Time (Heidegger 1962) is one of the most influential texts on the development of European philosophy in the Twentieth Century. Relations between Husserl and Heidegger became strained, partly due to the divisive issue of National Socialism, but also due to significant philosophical differences. Thus, unlike his early works, Heidegger’s later philosophy bears little relation to classical Husserlian phenomenology.

Although he published relatively little in his lifetime, Husserl was a prolific writer leaving a large number of manuscripts. Alongside Heidegger’s interpretation of phenomenology, this unpublished work had a decisive influence on the development of French existentialist phenomenology. Taking its lead from Heidegger’s account of authentic existence, Sartre’s Being and Nothingness (Sartre 1969) developed a phenomenological account of consciousness, freedom and concrete human relations that perhaps defines the term “existentialism.” Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception (Merleau-Ponty 1962) is distinctive both in the central role it accords to the body and in the attention paid to the relations between phenomenology and empirical psychology.

Although none of the philosophers mentioned above can be thought of straightforwardly as classical Husserlian phenomenologists, in each case Husserl sets the phenomenological agenda. This remains the case, with a great deal of the contemporary interest in both phenomenological methodology and phenomenological topics drawing inspiration from Husserl’s work. Accordingly, Husserl’s views are the touchstone in the following discussion of the topics, methods and significance of phenomenology.

* * * * *

8. References and Further Reading

  • Ayer, A. J. 1946. Phenomenalism. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 47: 163-96
  • Bernet, Rudolf, Iso Kern, and Eduard Marbach. 1993. An Introduction to Husserlian Phenomenology. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press.
  • Brentano, Franz. 1995. Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint. Ed. Oskar Kraus. Trans. Antos C. Rancurello, D. B. Terrell, and Linda L. McAlister. 2nd ed. London: Routledge.
  • Carman, Taylor. 2006. The Principle of Phenomenology. In The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger, ed. Charles, B. Guignon. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Carman, Taylor. 2008. Merleau-Ponty. London: Routledge.
  • Cerbone, David R. 2006. Understanding Phenomenology. Chesham: Acumen.
  • Crane, T. 2006. Brentano’s Concept of Intentional Inexistence. In The Austrian Contribution to Analytic Philosophy, ed. Mark Textor. London: Routledge.
  • Dreyfus, Hubert L. 1991. Being-in-the-World: A Commentary on Heidegger’s Being and Time, Division I. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.
  • Embree, L. 2003. Husserl as Trunk of the American Continental Tree. International Journal of Philosophical Studies 11, no. 2: 177-190.
  • Frede, Dorothea. 2006. The Question of Being: Heidegger’s Project. In The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger, trans. Charles, B. Guignon. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Gallagher, Shaun, and Dan Zahavi. 2008. The Phenomenological Mind: An Introduction to Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science. London: Routledge.
  • Gennaro, Rocco. 2002. Jean-Paul Sartre and the HOT Theory of Consciousness. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 32, no.3: 293-330.
  • Hammond, Michael, Jane Howarth, and Russell Keat. 1991. Understanding Phenomenology. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
  • Heidegger, Martin. 1962 [1927]. Being and Time. Trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Heidegger, Martin. 1982 [1927]. The Basic Problems of Phenomenology. Trans. Albert Hofstadter. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Hume, David. 1978 [1739-40]. A Treatise of Human Nature. Ed. L. A Selby-Bigge, rev. P. H. Nidditch. 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Husserl, Edmund. 1960 [1931]. Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology. Trans. Dorion Cairns. The Hague: Nijhoff.
  • Husserl, Edmund. 1973 [1939]. Experience and Judgement: Investigations in a Genealogy of Logic. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
  • Husserl, Edmund. 1977 [1925]. Phenomenological Psychology: Lectures, Summer Semester, 1925. Trans. John Scanlon. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
  • Husserl, Edmund. 1982 [1913]. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. Trans. F. Kersten. The Hague: Nijhoff.
  • Husserl, Edmund. 1991 [1893-1917]. On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time (1893-1917). Trans. John B Brough. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
  • Husserl, Edmund. 1999 [1907]. The Idea of Phenomenology. Trans. Lee Hardy. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
  • Husserl, Edmund. 2001 [1900/1901]. Logical Investigations. Ed. Dermot Moran. 2nd ed. 2 vols. London: Routledge.
  • Jackson, Frank. 1977. Perception: A Representative Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • James, William. 1981 [1890]. The Principles of Psychology. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
  • Kant, Immanuel. 1929 [1781/1787]. Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. Norman Kemp Smith. London: Macmillan.
  • Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1989 [1945]. Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. Colin Smith. London: Routledge.
  • Moran, Dermot. 2000. Introduction to Phenomenology. London: Routledge.
  • Polt, Richard F. H. 1999. Heidegger: An Introduction. London: UCL Press.
  • Sartre, Jean-Paul. 1972 [1936-7]. The Transcendence of the Ego: An Existentialist Theory of Consciousness. New York: Noonday.
  • Sartre, Jean-Paul. 1989 [1943]. Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology. Trans. Hazel E. Barnes. London: Routledge.
  • Sartre, Jean-Paul. 1970 [1939]. Intentionality: A fundamental idea of Husserl’s Phenomenology. Trans. J. P. Fell. Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 1, no. 2.
  • Smith, David Woodruff. 2007. Husserl. London: Routledge.
  • Smith, David Woodruff, and Amie L Thomasson, eds. 2005. Phenomenology and Philosophy of Mind. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Sokolowski, Robert. 2000. Introduction to Phenomenology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Wider, Kathleen. 1997. The Bodily Nature of Consciousness. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Zahavi, Dan. 2003. Husserl’s Phenomenology. Stanford: Stanford University Press

Author Information

Joel Smith
University of Manchester

Last updated: March 27, 2009 | Originally published: March/27/2009
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