Phenomenological Psychology

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"Phenomenological psychology" departs from empirical psychology by suspending naturalistic assumptions about human consciousness and by adopting a unique method, namely the phenomenological reduction, as a means of access to consciousness. Furthermore, its aim as a science is to reveal essential features of consciousness, eidetic structures, that hold for consciousness in general. Within the reduction, the focus can either be mundane, that is, directed to the mental as a region within itself, or transcendental, that is, directed to consciousness as the unique region within which all other forms of objectivity are constituted. When phenomenological psychology proceeds as an eidetic science, any results it may obtain will hold for any possible existing consciousness, but it cannot make any assertions about which of the possibilities it identifies are instantiated factually, since it must suspend all judgments about empirical facts. Phenomenological psychology reveals that mental life is intentional and at bottom temporal, and that it constitutes itself as a complicated, yet unified web of intentional relationships. This has led it to be closely associated with Gestalt theories. The task of phenomenological psychology is to reveal the various strata of mental life including both its active and passive elements, to exhibit the essential relationships among them, and to show how the complex and abstract levels are constituted out of simpler and more basic simple elements of consciousness.

In his contribution on phenomenology composed for the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1928, Edmund Husserl introduced phenomenological psychology as a propaedeutic to transcendental phenomenology in general. Through the investigation of pure subjective consciousness, its forms and genesis, along with those of its correlative intentional objects, phenomenological psychology can provide the material for transcendental phenomenology. Phenomenological psychology makes clear that the starting point for phenomenology is consciousness as it presents itself to pure reflection. However, transcendental phenomenology proceeds one step further by bracketing out any necessary relationship to consciousness as a worldly phenomenon belonging to humans or any other animate beings, and by investigating the very nature of consciousness in general. Transcendental phenomenology is thus nothing other than a consequence of the universal epoché that belongs to the meaning of the transcendental question concerning the ultimate basis for cognition and its objects in general. From this perspective, the instantiation of consciousness in human and other animals is merely one example that can provide the point of departure for a change in attitude that leads to the notion of a pure transcendental consciousness in which all intentionalities, including the intention of oneself as an existing individual consciousness, are constituted.

See also Consciousness in Phenomenology; Husserl, Edmund.


Husserl, E. "Philosophie als strenge Wissenschaft." Husserliana, Vol. XXV, edited by T. Nenon and H.-R. Sepp. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, 1987. Translated by Q. Lauer as "Philosophy as a Rigorous Science" in Phenomenology and the Crisis of Philosophy. New York: Harper, 1965. Introduces his rejection of naturalistic approaches to the study of consciousness.

Husserl, E. Phänomenologische Psychologie. Husserliana. Vol. IX, edited by W. Biemel. The Hague, 1962. Translated by J. Scanlon as Phenomenological Psychology. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1977. Provides detailed analyses illustrating Husserl's general methodology and many specific results. Contains all four drafts of Husserl's article for the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and the subsequent Amsterdam lecture, which was based upon that article.

Gurwitsch, A. "Husserl's Conception of Phenomenological Psychology." Review of Metaphysics 19 (19651966): 689727.

Kockelmans, J. J. Edmund Husserl's Phenomenology. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1994. An introduction to Husserl's mature thinking through a careful and extensive commentary on the Encyclopaedia article.

Thomas Nenon (1996)