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"Phenomenology" is a term that has been used in as many widely varying senses in modern philosophy as has the term that names the subject matter of this science, "phenomena."

Johann Heinrich Lambert, a German philosopher contemporary with Immanuel Kant, first spoke of a discipline that he called "phenomenology" in his Neues Organon (Leipzig, 1764). He took "phenomenon" to refer to the illusory features of human experience and hence defined phenomenology as the "theory of illusion." Kant himself used "phenomenology" only twice, but he gave a new and broader sense to "phenomenon" that, in turn, resulted in a redefinition of "phenomenology." Kant distinguished objects and events as they appear in our experience from objects and events as they are in themselves, independently of the forms imposed on them by our cognitive faculties. The former he called "phenomena"; the latter, "noumena," or "things-in-themselves." All we can ever know, Kant thought, are phenomena.

The next generation of philosophers, notably G. W. F. Hegel, was at great pains to show that this was a mistake. Hegel's first major work, Phenomenology of the Spirit (1807), traced the development of Spirit (or Mind) through various stages, in which it apprehends itself as phenomenon, to the point of full development, where it is aware of itself as it is in itselfas noumenon. Phenomenology is the science in which we come to know mind as it is in itself through the study of the ways in which it appears to us.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the definition of "phenomenon" was further extended until it became synonymous with "fact" or "whatever is observed to be the case." As a consequence, "phenomenology" acquired the meaning that it possesses most frequently in contemporary usesa purely descriptive study of any given subject matter. In this sense, Sir William Hamilton, in his Lectures on Metaphysics (1858), spoke of phenomenology as a purely descriptive study of mind. Similar was Eduard von Hartmann's use of the word in the title of his book Phenomenology of Moral Consciousness (1878), which had as its task a complete description of moral consciousness. When the American philosopher C. S. Peirce used the term phenomenology, he had in mind not only a descriptive study of all that is observed to be real but also of whatever is before the mindperceptions of the real, illusory perceptions, imaginations, or dreams. It was the task of phenomenology to develop a list of categories embracing whatever can be included in the widest possible meaning of "to be." Peirce introduced this sense of the term in 1902.

The changes described so far are all due to extensions of the meaning of "phenomenon," but phenomenology, the science of phenomena in these different senses, remained one field of study among others, having a relation to philosophy as a whole comparable to those of logic, ethics, and aesthetics. Frequently it was recommended as a descriptive study that was to precede any attempt to provide explanations of the phenomena. But since Edmund Husserl employed the term in the early 1900s, it has become the name of a way of doing philosophyby using the phenomenological method. For the phenomenologists, who regard their method as the only correct way of proceeding in philosophy, phenomenology is therefore the best and perhaps the only legitimate way of philosophizing today. For other philosophers, phenomenology is one school or movement in philosophy today. At the same time, however, the older sense of the term persists. "Phenomenology" is therefore used in two distinct senses. In its wider sense it refers to any descriptive study of a given subject. In the narrower sense it is the name of a philosophical movement. This entry will deal with phenomenology in the second sense.

The Movement and Its Origins

"Phenomenology" became the name of a school of philosophy whose first members were found in several German universities in the years before World War I, notably at Göttingen and Munich. Between 1913 and 1930 this group published a series of volumes of phenomenological studies titled Jahrbuch für Philosophie und phänomenologische Forschung, whose editor in chief was Husserl, the most original and most influential thinker of the group. Most of the better-known members of the phenomenological movementMoritz Geiger, Alexander Pfänder, Max Scheler, and Oscar Beckerwere coeditors, at least for a time. Martin Heidegger was another coeditor, but he cannot be counted among the phenomenologists without serious qualifications. Other major figures in the movement were Adolf Reinach and Hedwig Conrad-Martius.

The contributions to the Jahrbuch ranged from Husserl's writings about the foundations of phenomenology, to essays in the philosophy of mind and Scheler's major work on ethics, to pieces on the nature of analytic judgments and the paradoxes in set theory. As the interests of the various phenomenologists differed, so did their conceptions of phenomenology. These disagreements emerged only gradually, as Husserl developed the theory of the phenomenological method further and encountered a progressively more critical reception among his fellow phenomenologists. At the outset, there was general agreement that phenomenology was to be descriptive and that it was to describe phenomena by means of direct awareness (Anschauung ). It is best to begin to clarify these terms by showing what they could, but do not, mean.


The terms descriptive, phenomenon, and direct awareness all suggest that phenomenology is here used in its wider sense as a purely descriptive science of observable phenomena. But this wider sense of the term does not include what for the phenomenologists is the most important feature of phenomenologythat it is a nonempirical science. From the very beginnings of the phenomenological movement, when the conception of phenomenology was otherwise still quite vague, there was general agreement that phenomenology does not describe empirically observable matters of fact. Insisting on this, the early phenomenologists took a stand in opposition to philosophical views then in vogue.

Kant had distinguished three kinds of statements: empirical statements, statements true by definition (which he called "analytic"), and a third kind that he called "synthetic a priori." After being temporarily eclipsed by the German idealism of the early nineteenth century, Kant found many vigorous adherents in the later decades of that century. But there were also many philosophers who found Kant's account of the third type of statementthe statements that are neither empirical nor analyticprofoundly unsatisfactory and who, instead of attempting to supply an alternative account, rejected the tripartite classification altogether. This was done, for instance, by the German positivists Ernst Mach and Richard Avenarius, who insisted that there are no nonempirical statements that are not analytic. Of equal, if not greater, importance were those philosophers who regarded all statements as empirical. Analytic statements seemed to them clearly to rest on "the artful manipulation of language" (Mill's phrase), and they thought it therefore implausible that the statements of logic and/or mathematics should be analytic, that they should be true, and, more important, that they should be applicable to objects of everyday experience and science merely by virtue of an arbitrary choice of definitions. Accordingly, John Stuart Mill in England and Christoph Sigwart in Germany, among others, sought to show that statements in logic and mathematics are no less empirical than statements in the sciences.

In the case of logic, the most plausible argument for such a view begins with the observation that logic deals with correct and incorrect thinking. Thinking is a mental or psychological activity and must, therefore, be studied in psychology just as any other mental or psychological activity. It seems to follow, then, that logic is either a special field within empirical psychology or a practical discipline whose theoretical foundations are supplied by empirical psychology. In the former case, the relation of logic to psychology is comparable to that of learning theory or abnormal psychology to psychology as a whole. In the latter view, logic is related to psychology as surveying is to geometry or accounting to arithmetic.

opposition to psychologism

The phenomenologists were not the first to question the identification of logical with psychological statementsa view they called "psychologism." But while some other philosophers had approached the issue by distinguishing logic from psychology in terms of the distinction between theoretical and practical disciplines, the phenomenologists attacked the identification of logical with psychological statements on the grounds that the latter are empirical statements and the former are not. The most sustained and painstaking critique of psychologism is contained in the first volume of Husserl's Logische Untersuchungen (Logical Investigations; Halle, 19001901), and the arguments in that book served as a first rallying point for phenomenologists.

Husserl's attack on psychologism had a special edge to it because his Philosophie der Arithmetik (Philosophy of Arithmetic; Vol. I, Halle, 1891; the projected second volume was never published) had been a frankly psychologistic account of arithmetic. His change of heart was in part occasioned by a controversy with the German mathematician and philosopher of mathematics Gottlob Frege, in which Frege had insisted that a sharp line be drawn between psychological statements, on the one hand, and logical and/or mathematical ones, on the other.

Husserl devoted an entire book to the detailed examination and refutation of every variety of psychologistic doctrine, taking careful account of each view and trying to show its inadequacy. Underlying all his arguments, however, were a few general principles to which he appealed again and again in the course of his discussion:

  1. Psychology deals with facts; therefore its statements are empirical. It has not, until now, produced any precise scientific laws, and its generalizations are vague. The rules of logic, on the other hand, are precise. Hence, psychological generalizations can neither be identical with logical laws nor be premises from which they may be derived.
  2. Empirical statements are probable, at best, for there is always a real possibility that further evidence will show them to be false. Logical truths are necessary truths. A logical principle such as modus ponens ("Given that 'If p, then q ' is true and that 'p ' is true, 'q ' is true") is not probable; it is necessarily valid.
  3. Closely connected with (1) and (2) is the argument that empirical generalizations rest on induction; they are derived from a number of individual cases. This is not true of logical rules.

Both (2) and (3) are supported by pointing out that where there is a conflict between a logical principle and an empirical generalization, the logical principle will always emerge victorious because necessary truth is not to be refuted by a probable statement and logical truth cannot be shown to be false by an inductive generalization.

  • (4) The empirical generalizations of psychology produce, at best, causal laws, and logical principles are not causal laws. Premises and conclusions of an argument are not related as cause and effect; the truth of a conclusion is not the effect of the truth of the premises. Causal relations hold between events, and events happen at definite times in definite places. But the premises of an argument do not "happen," nor does the conclusion; they are either true or false. In a valid argument the truth of the conclusion "follows" from the premises; it is not the effect of events called premises.
  • (5) Empirical laws imply matters of fact; logical rules do not. Since empirical laws are, presumably, derived from the observation of particulars, the existence of such particulars in some place and at some time can be inferred from the truth of the empirical law. Modus ponens, on the other hand, does not imply that there exists, in a particular place and at a particular time, a pair of statements of the form "If p, then q " and "p." Nor are any corresponding facts implied by any other logical law. This point is sometimes stated in a phrase, borrowed from Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, that empirical laws are true only for this actual world; logical laws are true "for all possible worlds."

The upshot of these arguments is that logical and empirical statements differ in kind. Logical statements are precise, necessarily true, and not derived inductively from particulars. They are, or give rise to, logical rules, not causal laws, and they do not imply matters of fact. Empirical statements, on the other hand, are vague, probably (but not necessarily) true, and based on inductive generalizations. They are, or give rise to, causal laws and imply the existence of matters of fact. Quite clearly, in the refutation of psychologism, the decisive argument, for Husserl, consisted in showing that there are two kinds of statements: empirical and nonempirical. Phenomenological statements are to be nonempirical.

To deny that phenomenological statements are empirical is to deny that their truth or falsity depends on sensory observation. But if not on sensory observation, on what does their truth depend? Some philosophers might be inclined to say that phenomenological statements are analytic. Insofar as only those statements are analytic that are true by virtue of explicit definition of terms, phenomenologists deny that their statements are analytic. We shall have abundant evidence that they are right in this, for phenomenological statements are not true by virtue of stipulation of meaning. But insofar as "analytic" is used in some other sense, it is not helpful either to assert or to deny that phenomenological statements are analytic; the meaning of the term analytic is much debated in contemporary philosophy and has therefore become extremely obscure. It is more profitable to ask the phenomenologists about the truth conditions of their statements. Their preliminary answer to this question consists in introducing the term phenomenon by saying that phenomenological statements are true if they accurately describe phenomena. This answer, however, remains merely a verbal maneuver unless phenomenon can be shown to have a clear and definite meaning.


We have seen that phenomenon is a technical philosophical term that different philosophers have used in very different senses. The phenomenologists sometimes say that "phenomenon" is their name for whatever appears to us in "immediate experience." By "immediate experience" they do not mean sensory observations that have not been interpreted or classified under general concepts ("raw sense data"). Like many other contemporary philosophers, the phenomenologists are not at all sure that there are for us any sensory observations that are not interpreted or classified under general concepts. The appeal to phenomena or to immediate experience is therefore not an appeal to simple, uninterpreted data of sensory experience. Furthermore, the appeal to phenomena does not presuppose the existence of a special class of objects called "phenomena." The phenomenologists do not claim to have discovered that besides all the kinds of entities found in this world (physical objects, thoughts, numbers, feelings, poems, etc.) there is one other class, phenomena. Any object is a phenomenon if looked at or considered in a particular way. This particular way of looking at all kinds of objects is recommended in the slogan "Zu den Sachen!"

Literally translated, this slogan means "To the things!" where "things" must be taken in the widest possible sense to embrace all possible kinds of objects. Like other slogans, moreover, this one gains its force from having more than one meaning. If a German says to someone, "Zur Sache!" he is exhorting him, as we would say, "to get down to business." "Zu den Sachen!" admonishes one to get down to the proper business of the philosopher by examining and describing all kinds of objects in the particular way that reveals them as phenomena.

This explication of "phenomenon" is, so far, circular. To clarify what is meant by that term, we must therefore explain what alternative ways of doing philosophy are excluded by telling us to examine and describe phenomena. We must explain the polemical import of the slogan "Zu den Sachen!" Once this is done, we must pursue the concept of phenomenon further by attempting to clarify the nature of the examination and description that shows all kinds of objects as phenomena.

opposition to reductionism

The polemical import of "Zu den Sachen!" is readily made clear. In it the phenomenologists expressed their opposition to all reductionism, or, as Reinach called them, "nothing-but philosophies." Such philosophies are couched in sentences like "Logical laws are nothing but psychological laws," "Moral laws are nothing but the expressions of the mores of a given society," and "Aesthetic judgments are nothing but expressions of personal taste." To oppose all views of this sort would seem dogmatic. Some "nothing-but" statements may be false, but perhaps others are true; and one would think that each would have to be examined on its merits rather than be rejected summarily as an example of reductionism. However, the phenomenologists did not attack these "nothing-but" views on the grounds that they are false but on the grounds that the philosophers who held them, held them for the wrong kinds of reasons.

Psychologism, which is just one example of reductionism, did not assert that logical laws are nothing but psychological laws in the light of a thorough examination of the nature of logical laws that proved that they are identical with psychological ones. If someone challenged the psychologistic philosopher's views, he was not invited to examine for himself the nature of logical laws and to discover that they did not differ from those in psychology. Instead, he was given an argument from which it followed that logical laws "must" be psychological ones. Psychologistic assertions about logical and psychological laws do not result from an examination of laws in logic and psychology but are the logical consequences of certain more general assumptions. These assumptions themselves are not examined but are taken as self-evident.

Reductionism as attacked by the phenomenologist is the outcome of accepting certain statements that have not been examined carefully. If the implications of these assumptions are shown to conflict with facts about the world, the reductionist does not, the phenomenologists say, reexamine his original assumptions. Instead, he redefines the terms used to describe the facts about the world in such a way that the contradictions between these descriptions of facts and the implications of the original assumptions disappear. The redefinitions necessitated by the conflict between assumptions and facts are expressed in the "nothing-but" statements.

Opposition to phenomenalism

An example of a specific reductionist view attacked by the phenomenologists will clarify the process. David Hume's empiricism was attacked for its phenomenalism, that is, for its view that physical objects, as well as human beings, are no more than collections of their observable properties. ("Phenomenology" must not be confused with "phenomenalism.") "Observable properties" in this context refers exclusively to sensory qualities like shape, color, sound, etc. This view of Hume's did not issue from a careful examination of the nature of physical objects. Instead, it was a product of his psychological theories about the origin and meaning of concepts and words. Hume held that all concepts are either derived directly from sensory experience or are complex collections of such concepts. He regarded it as a consequence of this view that all concepts refer either to sensory qualities like shape, color, and sound or to complex collections of these. He also thought that all nouns are the names of concepts. It follows from this that all nouns naming physical objects refer to concepts that can be completely analyzed into simple concepts referring to sensory qualities. Hence physical objectswhat is named by physical object nounsare no more than complex collections of sensory qualities. However, this view is not supported by a careful examination of physical objects themselves but follows from, and hence "must" be true in the light of, Hume's psychology and views on the meanings of words.

Opposition to psychological atomism

Another target of the antireductionist polemic was the then popular attempt by philosophical psychologists like Wilhelm Wundt to define consciousness as a set of contentssensations, feelings, affectson which operationsassociation and apperceptionare performed. This view was not the product of careful examination and description of the series of phenomena that we call consciousness but was a logical consequence of more general assumptions about the world. It missed, the phenomenologists maintained, the essential characteristic of consciousness that they, following Franz Brentano, called "intentionality."

Opposition to scientism

Also objectionable was the so-called scientism of the positivists Mach and Avenarius. Scientism regarded scientific statements as premises in philosophical arguments such that the truth of statements in philosophy depends on the truth of scientific statements. This view was a direct consequence of two assumptions: that all statements are either empirical or analytic, and that all empirical statements are, at least ideally, statements in science. Given these assumptions, there is a choice between restricting philosophy to the practice of logic, in which statements are often thought to be analytic, or saying that philosophical truths are empirical. If we choose the latter alternative, philosophical statements "must" have scientific premises.

But this conclusion, phenomenologists held, was drawn without paying careful attention to actual and possible functions of philosophy, which, they held, is independent of science. In this they were not motivated by any hostility toward science; on the contrary, their aim was to establish philosophy as a "rigorous science" by means of the phenomenological method. Husserl had discussed this aim at some length in his article "Philosophie als strenge Wissenschaft" ("Philosophy as Rigorous Science," in Logos, Vol. I, 19101911, 289341). This phenomenological and rigorously scientific philosophy was expected to provide the foundations for the existing sciences by providing clear explications of the concepts that the sciences use but do not themselves explicate. For instance, the definition of number, in which Reinach was interested, was considered a task for phenomenology. Husserl was concerned with clarifying epistemological terms such as meaning and truth. So conceived, phenomenology had to be independent of the existing sciences because it was to explicate the concepts and procedures presupposed by them. To consider philosophy a branch or subsidiary of existing science was one more example of "nothing-but" philosophy.

Presuppositionless inquiry

Here it must be asked whether philosophers must not make certain assumptions. We cannot, it would seem, show that all statements are true by reference to the truth of other statements; some we must merely assume to be true. But phenomenologists are unconvinced by this sort of argumentation. Statements in phenomenology are not true because certain other statements are true; they are true because they describe the phenomena correctly. In order to achieve true description, the phenomenologist must resist the temptation to make assumptions and, afterward, to define his terms in such a way as to make the descriptions of facts consistent with the assumptions and what must be inferred from them. The phenomenologist does not frame theories; he merely examines and then describes phenomena as they present themselves to his unprejudiced view. Having no theoretical commitment and only one practical oneto examine all phenomena carefully and to take none of them as familiar or understood until they have been carefully explicated and describedthe phenomenologist says that his science is descriptive and that it is presuppositionless.

This obviously does not mean that at any given time the phenomenologist may not be operating with certain unexamined assumptionsthis can always happen. The claim of presuppositionlessness expresses the resolution to eschew all unexamined assumptions and the belief that such assumptions are unnecessary; No statement must be taken as true without examination. Phenomenology does not need any true but unexamined premises; the truth of all its premises can be tested by examining the phenomena.

This sheds some light on the second, affirmative sense of the slogan "Zu den Sachen!"an exhortation to examine phenomena and to make them the sole touchstone of the truth of philosophical statements. But the precise import of this exhortation remains unclear until the meaning of "phenomenon" has been explicated, so this is a pressing question. It is also a question fraught with particular difficulties. Phenomena, as was stated, are those aspects of objects of every kind that are revealed by a particular way of looking at objects. The phenomenal aspects of objects are not revealed by ordinary empirical observation but only by looking at them as phenomena. The meaning of "phenomenon," on the other hand, cannot merely be stipulated in analytic statements. Hence, explications of "phenomenon" must result from using the phenomenological method and must be couched in phenomenological statements. But what these statements are cannot be made clear until it is clear what a phenomenon is, nor do we know what the phenomenological method is until we know what a phenomenon is.

"methodological circle"

The entire phenomenological enterprise is involved in a circle that can be called the "methodological circle." This methodological circle does not differ formally from the circle involved in any kind of logical investigation where the rules of inference, for instance, which the completed investigation hopes to formulate and justify must be employed during the course of the investigation itself so that its result, the logical rules, is the product of the application of the rules to themselves. The existence of this circle does not prove that logic is an impossible or unjustifiable discipline, nor does its presence in phenomenology support an analogous argument against it.

The occurrence of this circle should, however, put one on his guard against taking for completed analyses statements made by phenomenologists that are, in fact, merely gropings toward and anticipations of what phenomenology, its method, and the completed theory of method will be like in some indefinitely remote future. Phenomenology does not exist as a set of doctrines but at best as a methodand this method is to be developed by applying phenomenology to itself. Hence, even the phenomenological method is still in the process of being clarified, properly described, and elaborated; it is, at least to date, quite incomplete.

Husserl liked to refer to himself as a "perpetual beginner," an expression that meant several things to him. In one of its senses, it expressed what was just said about phenomenology: It is a method that can only be progressively developed by applying it to itself. Accordingly, most of Husserl's published works are discussions of the phenomenological method. This has sometimes been taken as a symptom of an excessive fondness for writing manifestoes, but discussions of phenomenological method are not of the nature of manifestoes prior to doing phenomenology, nor are they propaedeutics. Only while doing phenomenology can we clarify its method. To write about it was, in Husserl's case, to do phenomenology.

The Intuition of Essences

The preceding discussion has brought to light three properties of phenomenological statements:

  1. Phenomenological statements are nonempirical.
  2. Phenomenological statements are descriptive.
  3. Phenomenological statements describe phenomena.

These leave the task of making clear what phenomena are, a matter of disagreement among phenomenologists: Most of the schisms within the phenomenological movement originate in disagreements about the set of conditions necessary for anything to be a phenomenon. We shall examine a variety of conditions proposed, beginning with the most simple and proceeding to more complex sets as the simpler ones turn out to be incomplete. The criterion of completeness for this set of necessary conditions is that any set of conditions required for anything to be a phenomenon must at least be consistent with the first requirement for phenomenological statementsthat they be nonempirical. Hence, the set of conditions laid down for anything to be a phenomenon must clearly rule out any possibility that phenomena can be described in empirical statements.

The simplest specification of phenomenon, given by some early phenomenologists, contains only two conditions:

  1. Phenomena are essences.
  2. Phenomena are intuited.

The reason for identifying phenomena with essences is instructive. As we saw, it was claimed that there are some entities by virtue of which statements in phenomenology are said to be true or false. These entities (or phenomena) are not particular observable objects by reference to which empirical statements are confirmed or disconfirmed. Instead, the phenomenologists say, they are the necessary and invariant features of objects. Phenomenology explicates those features of any given object without which it could not truly be said to be the object that it is. These most general, necessary, and invariant features of objects have been called "essences" by other philosophers, and, following that terminological tradition, the phenomenologists also talk about essences.

Many philosophers in the past have held that statements about essences are empirical statements, arrived at by comparison of many examples of a type of object and extracting from the descriptions of all these examples the common features by means of some kind of generalization. Such a process has often been called abstraction. Abstract statements, since they are logically dependent on empirical descriptions of particular cases, are themselves empirical statements. Phenomenological statements, on the other hand, are, for the reasons given, not empirical statements. Hence, phenomenological statements are not reached by abstraction. They are, phenomenologists say, derived from a scrutiny of particular cases by seeing, intuition, or intuition of essences (Wesensschau ).

The identification of phenomena as essences brings us one step closer to the goal of clarifying the particular way of looking at objects that reveals objects as phenomena. It turns out to be a species of intuition. Phenomenology is a form of intuitionism and has, accordingly, acquired the ill repute of all intuitionisms of being no more than a veiled refusal to provide evidence for one's philosophical statements. But sometimes such a refusal can be justified. Intuitionism is objectionable only if the philosopher is not willing to argue either about the nature of his intuition or about the justification for appealing to it in this caseif his appeal to intuition is merely intended to terminate philosophical debate. The phenomenologists' appeal to intuition is not of this kind. Hence more can, and must, be said about intuition.

Intuition seems to be a psychological term. Its German counterpart, Anschauung, often means no more than "seeing." The objects of seeing, in its ordinary sense, are empirical objects. Essences are not empirical objects, so they cannot be seen in any ordinary sense of that term. Hence, intuition must be seeing of some extraordinary kind. One might suggest that the phenomenologists claim to have discovered one more human cognitive faculty than had been known before, but such a discovery of an actual human faculty would have to be couched in empirical statements. Phenomenologists do not make empirical statements, so they cannot claimnor do theyto discover previously unknown cognitive faculties.

The point of introducing intuition is not psychological but epistemological. To appeal to intuition is not to make a psychological statement about the causal origins of certain statements but an epistemological one about the sort of evidence that will be relevant to them. To say that we know essences by intuition is to say, negatively, that the truth or falsity of statements about essences is not dependent on the truth about empirical statements.

The appeal to intuition makes another positive, epistemological point: Our acquaintance with essences possesses an epistemological feature also possessed by our sensory acquaintance with empirical objects. This logical feature is sometimes described by saying that what we see is described in self-validating statements. A statement, "P," about particular objects is self-validating if the strongest evidence that we can adduce for it is a statement like "I have seen that P " or "I have observed that P." We cannot, therefore, claim that "P " is true because there is some other true statement, "Q," from which "P " can be inferred and that is not equivalent to "P." Statements about essences are self-validating in the same sense. Given any statement, "E," of the form "________ is the essence of ________," we cannot claim that "E " is true because there is some other true statement, "F," which is not equivalent to "E " and from which we can infer "E." Of course, some statements about the existence of particular objects may be deducible from other statements, and it is similarly true that some statements about essences may be deducible from other statements. But such a deduction does not provide stronger evidence for statements about empirical existence or about essences than do self-validating statements.

Phenomenological statements are not derived by means of abstraction from particular statements, since, if they were so derived, they would not be self-validating. But they are not the only self-validating statements; empirical statements are also self-validating. An adequate account of phenomena must state more than that phenomena are revealed in the intuition of essences; it must specify this intuition to clarify in what respects it differs from the simple seeing of objects of sensory observation.

Bracketing Existence: Free Imaginative Variation of Examples

In the light of the problem about the meaning of intuition, the reason for introducing a further condition defining "phenomenon" becomes clearer. This condition is not accepted by all phenomenologists but was regarded as necessary by Husserl, Pfänder, Reinach, and Scheler. We are in a position, they said, to describe objects as phenomena only after we have "bracketed existence" or "suspended our belief in the existence of objects." Husserl calls this the "phenomenological epoche" or the "phenomenological reduction." Epoche was borrowed from the Skeptics, but Husserl's use of it differed from theirs.

These references to "bracketing" or "suspending belief in existence," together with the talk about essences, led to the view that phenomenology is a kind of essentialism and, as such, is diametrically opposed to existentialism. There is no room here to bring out all the confusions that produced this fairly common interpretation; suffice it to say that the phenomenological epoche is not achieved by resolving to make no more statements about existence or what exists. To bracket existence is not to eliminate existence in general or existing entities in particular from the list of possible objects for phenomenological study.

In the light of Husserl's repeated insistence on the close similarities between his phenomenology and René Descartes's methodical doubt, the phrase "suspending belief in the existence of objects" is often taken as a description of Cartesian doubt. But this is a misunderstanding, for Husserl insisted on distinguishing suspending belief in existence from doubting existence. This distinction cannot, therefore, be simply ignored.

Suppose a young woman states that she has direct evidence that she is terribly attractive to red-haired men. Her statement is not derived from a psychological law about the preferences of red-haired men or from a physiological one about their exceptional susceptibility to her figure and coloring. Her statement, a direct inductive generalization, is the result of her own experiences with red-haired men and tells us something about many or all of the members of the class of red-haired men. Besides all being red-haired and male, they have one further property: They cannot resist the charms of this young woman. In order to substantiate such a statement, she would have to cite cases of a number of red-haired men who at various times, under various circumstances, have given indubitable proof of their devotion. Two things are important here: that the red-haired men really exist and that their devotion to her is real. The truth of the inductive generalization depends at least on those two conditions. On the other hand, if the generalizations are correct, it follows that there exist (or existed) several red-haired men in this particular condition. If, however, the red-haired men do not exist or if their attachment is a figment of this young woman's imagination, then the general statement is false (unless evidence of a different kind can be found).

The story of this young woman was told in order to exemplify the relation of empirical generalizations to particular empirical statementsof "I am irresistible to red-haired men" to, for instance, "A red-haired matinee idol in New York committed suicide over me," and of both of these to the facts of the case. These relations were exemplified with an imaginary example, for it is quite unimportant that I do not know any young woman of this description. Where a description serves as an example in this sense (example is an ambiguous word), it is quite irrelevant whether the object described exists or not. If, on the contrary, I am interested in making a general statement about objects observed, it makes all the difference in the world whether the particular objects covered in my generalization exist and exist as described.

This is one sense of "bracketing existence." When existence has been bracketed in this sense, the descriptions of objects or situations do not serve as premises for an inductive generalization (or an abstraction), but as examples. But "example" is used in several senses. Sometimes it is used to designate one instance of an empirical generalization, but this is not the sense used here. At other times, examples serve a merely pedagogical function. I might have told my story about the young woman merely to provide a concrete illustration of abstract truth about empirical generalizations, in order to make the abstract statement easier to understand. In a third sense"example" is used in phenomenology in this sensethe example both serves as an illustration and has evidential functions. In that case, the truth of the statement about empirical generalizations depends on the accuracy of the description of the example. I claim that my general statement is true because the description of the particular example is accurate, but how do I know whether a description is accurate so that it can have evidential force as an example? Since we have bracketed existence, I cannot say that the description is accurate because the case described has actually been observed to exist in a particular place and at a particular time, for examples need not be actual existents.

In order to understand this sense of bracketing existence, we must be able to answer two questions: (1) When can the description of an example rightly be said to be accurate? (2) How is a phenomenological statement to be derived from an example?

In this context Husserl talked about a procedure that he called "free imaginative variation," comparable to what Anglo American philosophers call the method of "counter-examples." Here we describe an example and then transform the description by adding or deleting one of the predicates contained in the description. With each addition or deletion, we ask whether the amended description can still be said to describe an example of the same kind of object as that which the example originally described was said to exemplify. Sometimes we shall have to say that if we add this predicate to the description or take that one away, what is then described is an example of a different kind of object from that exemplified by the original example. At other times the additions or deletions will not affect the essential features of the kind of object exemplified by the different examples.

In this way we discover the necessary and invariant features of a given kind of thing that the example must possess in order to be an example of that kind of thing. We also discover which features are accidental and hence irrelevant to the question whether this object, as described, is or is not an example of a certain kind of thing. What we discover is what phenomenologists call the "essence" of objects.

For example, let us suppose that we meet someone who does not have the usual five senses but only three: sight, touch, and hearing. We might be perplexed, but we should still call him a person. The same would hold if he had three more senses than normal persons. But suppose we met someone who looked like a person but seemed to be deaf and blind, and without any tactile, olfactory, or gustatory sensations. He would still be regarded as a person, although as a seriously defective one. But suppose further that we find that this creature looks like a human being except that it has no sense organs at all. Would he nonetheless be called a person? No. An animal? No. A plant? Not really. We have no word in our language for such a being. We would not know what to say about it.

Here we have varied in imagination an example of a person with reference to one predicate, "possessing sense organs." We find that in order for anything to be a person, it must have sense organs of some kind; there is an essential (necessary and invariant) relation between "person" and "possessing sense organs." The results of free imaginative variation are statements of such essential connections. Since statements about phenomena are one kind of statement about essences (and vice versa), the statements resulting from this procedure are phenomenological statements.

"epistemological circle."

Phenomenological statements are made while existence is and remains bracketed. If true, they are so not because they describe something that we have directly observed. Nor are they true because they are warranted by a series of observations of particular objects or events. Hence, they do not imply the past or present existence of particular objects in just the way in which empirical generalizations imply it. All that is asserted in the phenomenological statement is that if any being is an example of a person, then it must have sense organs. We are, therefore, making an assertion about the necessary relations of properties: Whatever has the property of being a person must also possess the property of having sense organs.

This is the method of free imaginative variation. It would seem to provide an answer to the second question raised earlierhow a phenomenological statement is to be derived from an example. But the same procedure can also be said to provide an answer to the first question, how we decide whether an example is described accuratelywhether the description contains all the essential predicates so that the thing described may rightly be said to be an example of a certain kind of object. For, once we have made clear the invariant features of the sort of thing exemplified, we are in a position to say whether the example contains all those necessary features. But to use free imaginative variation to answer both questions is, of course, circular; we derive the phenomenological statement from any given example by means of free imaginative variation and then confirm that the original example was accurately described because it possesses the invariant features expressed in the phenomenological statement. It would seem that we need an independent criterion for deciding the accuracy of the description of any given example, but there is no discussion of such an independent test in the writings of the phenomenologists. The phenomenological method appears, therefore, to be circular in a second sense that might be called the "epistemological circle."

Phenomenology, as we saw, is circular because it clarifies its own method while using it (the methodological circle); it is also circular, we see now, because it confirms its statements by reference to examples and then attests the accuracy of the descriptions of these examples by reference to the statements derived from them (the epistemological circle). We must now show that what we claimed earlier for the methodological circlethat its presence cannot be construed as an argument against phenomenologyis true for the epistemological circle as well. This will be argued for by an examination of a second sense of "bracketing existence." In this second sense, "bracketing existence" refers to the transition from nonreflective to reflective thinking.

Bracketing Existence: Phenomenology and Reflection

In free imaginative variation we ask ourselves about any given property of an example, "Is this a necessary feature for being a such and such? Is that?" For our answer we do not appeal to empirical observation. Neither do we give an answer simply by deciding to regard some particular feature as essential. We do not define our terms arbitrarily; instead, with each variation, we ask ourselves whether the example described could still be recognizable as an example of the same sort of thing as that exemplified before. We ask ourselves what features an object must have in order to be recognized as an example of a certain kind of object. What we discover are necessary conditions for recognizing a certain kind of thing.

But recognition presupposes previous acquaintance. I cannot recognize someone whom I meet for the first time, unless I have seen pictures of him or have been given his description or perhaps dreamed of him before. But if we can recognize only what we know already, then we must already know the necessary features of the objects that we are able to recognize. In that case, there would seem to be no need to bracket existence and to vary the examples freely in imagination in order to discover their essential features, since the entire procedure presupposes that we know these essential features all along.

The resolution of this difficulty comes when we consider that the word know has two radically different senses, which some English philosophers have called, respectively, "knowing how" and "knowing that." The latter refers to knowledge expressed in statements. To "know that" something is the case is to be able to put what is known into words. I can show that I know a person by describing his looks; however, it is of course also possible that I should know a person and yet be quite unable to give any sort of adequate description of his looks. It is often very difficult to give a good description of those persons whom we know very well. I know them, not in the sense that I can describe them but that I could recognize them anywhere. I can pick them out of a crowd without hesitation. I can identify them by their voice or their walk, although I might be hard put either to describe in words or to imitate them. This second kind of knowledge is "knowing how"; in the example, I know how to recognize a person.

These two kinds of knowledge are independent of each other. It is not a necessary condition for being able to do something, such as recognize someone, that I should be able to say that he is a person of a certain description. Conversely, it is not necessary that I should be able to do a certain kind of action, such as ride a bicycle, in order to be able to give a detailed and accurate description of riding a bicycle. It is, furthermore, possible that for certain kinds of knowing how there is no corresponding knowledge that.

Of some performances I can say: This time I did it right; last time I did it badly. Therefore, I possess criteria for proper performance. If asked what these criteria are, I may not be able to put them into words, but I know them in the sense that I use them and, in many cases, I can, upon reflection, state what they are. I have then, by means of reflection, produced knowledge that ________ corresponding to the knowledge how ________ which I possessed all along. This is what happens when I vary an example freely in imagination: I am always able to discriminate between the thing that I would recognize as a certain object and the thing that I would either take as a different kind of object or about which I would not know what to say. But only upon reflection can I verbalize the criteria implicit in such a recognition by stating the essential features of any given kind of object.

reflective thinking

When I vary examples freely in imagination, I reflect about the criteria implicit in my ability to recognize examples of the given sort of object; I now put into words the criteria that previously were merely implicit in my performances. This description of the two sides of the process called "bracketing existence" accords perfectly with Husserl's explanations of it. Phenomenology, he stated, is a reflective enterprise. In its reflection it brings to light what was previously "anonymous" or "latent" in our "performances" (Leistungen ). But phenomenological reflection is a very special kind of reflection. In phenomenology we do not reflect about facts ("Did I see right? Was that really Jones lying in the gutter?") or about specific actions ("Should I have lectured Jones on the evils of drink?"). Phenomenological reflection does not produce any factual statements, nor does it employ factual statements as premises or as the starting points of reflection. In phenomenology we reflect about examples, in the sense explained; the result of such a reflection is not a factual statement or an empirical generalization but a statement about the necessary conditions for any object's being an example of the sort of thing considered in our reflection.

"Bracketing existence" and the other phrases applied in this context are used ambiguously. Why did Husserl fail to distinguish these two senses? We have already uncovered one source of this ambiguity by showing that we can employ the method of free imaginative variation of an arbitrarily chosen example in order to clarify the essential feature of any object only if we reflect about the example. Hence, treating a given case merely as an example (bracketing in the first sense) presupposes that we have made the transition from nonreflective to reflective thinking (bracketing in the second sense). Although the two kinds of bracketing are distinct, they must occur together.

But there is a second source of the ambiguous use of all these phrases. "Bracketing existence" and "suspending our belief in the existence" of an object seem to be particularly apt in describing important features of the transition from nonreflective to reflective thinking. Reflection involves questioningmore specifically, questioning something that I believed before or regarded as properly done. When I reflect, I ask, "Was that really Jones in the gutter?" or "Should I have helped him up?" Such questioning requires awareness that there are questions to be asked in this situation and that they are not pointless. Before I can reflectively question my earlier belief that it was Jones whom I saw lying in the gutter, I must be open to the possibility that it was not Jones. Hence, as I begin to reflect, I suspend my belief in the existence of Jones in that condition in that place, or I put his existence in brackets. "Bracketing" in this sense means that I become aware of the possibility that something which I believed to exist does not exist as I thought it did, that a statement which I considered true is not, or that some act which I considered right when I did it might have been wrong. Once I have become aware of that possibility, I am ready to reflect.

The insight that phenomenological statements are the product of reflection resolves the methodological and the epistemological circles. The methodological circle arises because the method must be used to clarify what the method itself consists of. It seems, therefore, that we can use the method only if we know what it consists of, but we can know what it consists of only if we have already used it. Therefore it would seem that we can never get started. But since phenomenology is reflective, it does not presuppose knowledge that the phenomenological method consists of certain procedures; it only presupposes that we know how to use it (to reflect about the essential features of arbitrarily chosen examples), even if we cannot describe it. Such a description is not a necessary condition for using the method, so there is no problem here.

The epistemological circle is resolved in a similar manner. In the method of free imaginative variation, it seemed that we could know that a given phenomenological statement, "P," is true only if we know that the description, "E " of the corresponding example is accurate. But we can know that "E " is accurate only if we know that "P " is true. Hence, it would seem that we cannot know either that "P " is true or that "E " is accurate. But phenomenological reflection begins with my being able to recognize the example described in "E." I know that I describe the example accurately to the extent that I recognize the object in my description of it. Both the accuracy of "E " and the truth of "P " are tested by the criteria implicit in my ability to recognize the object. Hence, there is no difficulty in this case either.

nonempirical status of phenomena

In the search for a complete definition of phenomenon we have now discovered three conditions defining phenomena: (1) phenomena are essences, (2) phenomena are intuited, (3) phenomena are revealed by bracketing existence. The third requirement is twofold: Phenomena are known only upon reflection of a specific sort, namely, reflection about the essential features of arbitrarily chosen examples. Once again the question must be raised whether this definition of phenomena is complete. The criterion of completeness used earlier was that a definition of "phenomenon" is complete only if it is consistent with the first of the three requirements for phenomenological statementsthat they are nonempirical. We must ask, therefore, whether phenomena as defined can be described in empirical statements or whether our definition has ruled out that possibility.

It may seem obvious that the definition of phenomenon is complete by this criterion because it seems impossible that phenomena as definedas being revealed only by bracketing existencecould be described in empirical statements, for statements about phenomena are not statements about single, observed particulars or about series of such single, observed particulars. They are, rather, statements about the necessary relations between the properties of some example of a certain kind of thing in which we do not consider whether the description of our example refers to an actually existing object.

But can we really conclude from this fact, namely, that no observation of actually existent objects is consulted in phenomenological reflection, that the truth of phenomenological statements is independent of the truth of empirical observation statements? We must distinguish between the description of the process by which we arrive at phenomenological statements and the logical conditions that these statements must fulfill in order to be true. The former merely describes how I discover certain statements, but it reveals nothing about the truth conditions of my statements. It is said, for instance, that some Greek geometers discovered certain statements about plane figures by measuring and weighing actual plane figures of tin. They arrived at their statements by means of observations; they were able to make certain statements in geometry after observing actual physical objects, but their statements are no more empirically true (or false) than are the same statements when they appear as theorems in Euclid's Elements.

This example presents a case in which statements whose truth or falsity is independent of empirical observation are discovered through empirical observations. It is possible that statements about phenomena constitute a converse case where empirical statements are discovered without explicitly consulting observation of sensory particulars. For instance, it was stated in the preceding section that the phenomenologist does not necessarily consult actual observations when he describes phenomena; his example may be purely imaginary. But it is possible that the statements that he is thus able to make are nevertheless empirical statements. All that was said was that the making of a phenomenological statement is not immediately preceded by observations of existent objects.

Perhaps, however, this is not necessary, since we know the necessary conditions for anything to be an example of a certain kind of thing because we have observed examples of this kind of thing many times and have, as it were, performed an unconscious induction all along. If this is true, then phenomenological statements may still be empirical statements. That they are not empirical statements has not been proved by stating that they are not discovered by means of explicit and deliberate observation of existing objects. The description of "bracketing existence" and of the subsequent reflection has revealed something about the method of discovering statements in phenomenology, but it has not shown that the statement so discovered may not nevertheless be empirical in the sense of being either verifiable by reference to observations of particulars or confirmable or at least refutable by reference to such observations.

There is reason to suspect that the phenomenologists who required that existence be bracketed in phenomenology thought that this requirement assured them that the statements so discovered would not be empirical in any of the senses mentioned. But, as has been shown, they have no such assurance. Hence, they can have no assurance that what is discovered once we have bracketed existence is a phenomenon, in the sense of being the referent of a nonempirical statement. We need further argument to show that bracketing existence does reveal phenomena in the required sense, in all or at least in some cases. Some of the phenomenologists, notably Husserl, have brought forward a number of considerations that provide the arguments needed here. These considerations can best be approached by considering intentionality.


It was said earlier that reflection undertaken after we have bracketed existence yields, if successful, descriptions of activities that we perform with ease in everyday life but are not able at the same time to describe. Concerning such activities we also know when they miscarry, when they are performed incorrectly or in an improper context, or when someone mistakes such an activity for a different one. We possess criteria for correct and appropriate performance and identification of such activities but are, ordinarily, unable to formulate them. Reflection subject to bracketing of existence yields formulations of these criteria. The phenomenologists regarded all statements resulting from such reflection as nonempirical, but there is no ground for thinking that this is true. These phenomenologists also believed that all the activities that are reflectively described and clarified after bracketing existence are intentional activities. This view can also be shown to be open to objections, but from these two doubtful assertions we can extract a more defensible characterization of phenomena than the one reached so far. So far three necessary conditions for phenomena have been listed: (1) They must be essences that are (2) intuited (3) as the result of the exemplary reflection that requires bracketing existence. We now add a fourth condition, namely, that statements about phenomena must be limited to statements about intentional acts.

The noun intentionality does not refer to a thing (as does, for instance, sodality ) but to the state of an entitythe state of being intentional. Although Husserl used intentional in all kinds of contexts, in its primary sense it is an adjective modifying "act"; being intentional is a characteristic of acts. In this employment, "intentional" has an ordinary meaning as a synonym for "deliberate" or "done on purpose," and a philosophical meaning different from, although related to, its ordinary, nonphilosophical meaning. The philosophical use of the term dates back to scholastic philosophy. Later, it completely disappeared from the philosophical vocabulary until it was reintroduced in 1874 by the Austrian philosopher Franz Brentano. Husserl, a student of Brentano's, gives credit to Brentano for reintroducing intentionality into philosophical discussion but adds that intentionality became a fruitful philosophical concept only in phenomenology.

Intentional acts have four aspects, and there are four distinct questions we can ask about them. The sentence "Luther thought that the devil was in his cell" is the complete description of an intentional act. We can ask who is performing an intentional act, and the answer consists of a proper name ("Luther"). It could also be a personal pronoun ("I" or "we") or a definite description ("the father of the Reformation"). We can, in the second place, ask what this person is doing, and the answer will consist of the inflected form of a verb ("thinks," "thought"). The third question concerns the intentional object of the act, what the act is about. In the example, Luther is thinking about the devil. Finally, we can ask in what manner or under what description the intentional object is object of the act; in the example, what is Luther thinking about the devil? "The devil is in my cell."

The intentional act, having four elements, is a tetradic relation. So, for instance, is the relation described in the sentence "I place the book on the table." Here also there are four elements: the subject or agent (myself), my action (placing), what I place (the book), and the table on which I place it. There is, however, an important difference between the two cases. The second statement is false unless there is a table on which I place the book. If the statement as a whole is true, the final of the four terms in the tetradic relation must also exist. It would be self-contradictory to say "I place the book on the table but there is no table."

We can therefore infer the existence of the table from the truth of the statement "I place the book on the table." This is not so in the case of intentional acts. If it is true that Luther thought that the devil was in his cell, it is not therefore true that the devil exists, let alone that he was in Luther's cell. Luther might have had hallucinations; he might have been the victim of religious madness; or he might have been drunk. All three of these are situations in which we are inclined to see things that are not there or to believe that things exist which in fact do not. Nor can we conclude from the truth of the original sentence that the devil does not exist or was not in Luther's cell. The same holds of whatever is thought or believed to be the case. A belief that my wallet was stolen or that there are leprechauns does not allow the inference that there was a thief who stole my wallet or that there are leprechauns. The same is true of perceiving, of hoping, expecting, doubting, fearing, and all similar activities. The truth of a statement describing someone's intentional act does not allow the inference of either the existence or the nonexistence of what the act is about. This distinguishes intentional acts and their four elements from genuine tetradic relations, where the existence of all four elements can be inferred from the truth of a description of the relation.

the noninference criterion

The usual discussion of Husserl's doctrine of intentionality presents intentionality as (1) the defining characteristic of consciousness in the ordinary sense of that term, which (2) consists in the fact that all consciousness is consciousness of something. The first point is false; the latter is true but trivial. It merely asserts that to be conscious is to be related to something. But I am also related to something if, for instance, I own property. In that case I am the owner of something. But being the owner of something is not an intentional act because the existence of the object owned can be inferred from the fact that I own it. The existence or nonexistence of the object of the intentional act, however, cannot be inferred from the true description of that act. (We shall call this the "noninference criterion"). This, rather than merely being related to an object, is the property of intentional acts that distinguishes them from all other kinds of tetradic relations. Hence, it is a defining characteristic.

Two examples will show that intentionality is not the exclusive property of consciousness. Consider the sentences "Luther threw an inkwell in order to injure the devil" and "The rat pushes the lever in order to obtain food." Both sentences express tetradic relations: the agent (Luther, the rat), what he does (throwing, pushing), what he does it with (the inkwell, the lever), and the object of the activity (injuring the devil, obtaining food). It may be said that these are not intentional acts because the object in each case is not what the act is about but is, rather, an aim or a purpose. The acts described in these two sentences are intentional in the ordinary sense of being purposive, but according to the noninference criterion, they are also intentional in the philosophical sense because we cannot infer from the first sentence that the devil was injured and hence we cannot infer that the devil exists or does not exist, nor can we infer from the second that food was obtained by pushing the lever.

The acts described in the two sentences are not acts of consciousness or mental acts in the traditional sense. Throwing and pushing have traditionally been regarded as physical acts, but they differ according to the purpose served. When throwing something at a person in order to injure, one throws differently (much harder, for instance) than when one throws someone a cigarette in order to be helpful. Although physical, both of these acts are intentional in the philosophical sense. Hence intentionality is not, as Brentano thought and Husserl thought at certain times, the defining characteristic of consciousness in the ordinary sense. Husserl became aware of this and redefined "consciousness," in his later writings, by extending the term beyond its ordinary meaning to apply not only to mental acts but also to all kinds of activities, even to those usually regarded as physical, as long as they are intentional. Here intentionality became the defining characteristic of consciousness because this was how consciousness was defined. Husserl would perhaps not have wanted to apply "consciousness" to the behavior of animals, but his views on this point are not well known.


The verb "to infer" is used in a variety of senses in English, so it must be made clear in what sense it is used in the formulation of the noninference criterion. Suppose I see my foot as it sticks out unshod from my trouser leg and I say, "There's my foot." If someone asks me why I think that my foot is there (exists), I answer, "Because I see it" (or "Because I see something that looks like my foot"). In a loose sense of infer, I may be said to infer the existence of my foot from the fact that I see it. In this sense of infer, therefore, the correct description of an intentional act ("I see what looks like my foot") allows me to infer the existence of what I see (my foot). But this is inference in a loose sense. The conclusion does not follow necessarily from the premises. It is possible that the premise should be true and the conclusion false, as happens, for instance, when I am having hallucinations. There I see what looks like my foot, but the foot is not there. Common examples of this are the so-called phantom feelingsan amputee feels his foot long after it has been amputated. It is true that he feels his foot, but it is false that his foot is there. But if I say that I know my foot is under the table because I feel it, the inference (in the loose sense) is correct.

The sense of "to infer" used in the noninference criterion is stricter. In this sense we say that something is inferred from a premise or set of premises if the falsity of the conclusion is incompatible with the truth of the premise(s). In this sense it was said earlier that we can infer from the truth of "I place the book on the table" that there is a table. It would be self-contradictory to say "I place the book on the table but there is no table" and to claim that both parts of this compound statement are true. It is in this stringent sense of "to infer" that the noninference criterion denies that we can infer the existence of the object of the intentional act from a true description of the act itself. The noninference criterion does not deny that feeling my foot, for instance, is often sufficient ground for saying that my foot is there. But it does deny that my foot must exist necessarily if I feel it. Intentional acts differ from other tetradic relations in that it is not inconsistent in the case of intentional acts to deny the existence of the final term of the four-term relation and to assert that the relation is described truly, but it is inconsistent to do this in the case of all nonintentional four-term relations.

Criterion is nonempirical

It is now easy to show that a statement of the noninference criterion is a nonempirical statement in the sense that no empirical statement can show it to be false. In this sense mathematical statements are nonempiricalno measurement of angles or lines in a triangle can show that geometrical statements about triangles are false. If there does appear to be a conflict between actual measurements and measurements predicted on the basis of certain geometrical propositions, we do not reject the geometrical proposition underlying our prediction; rather, we conclude that the measurements are false. The reason for this is, of course, that the procedures used in measuring presuppose the truth of the pertinent statements in geometry. In order to show that the statement of the noninference criterion is false, there must be at least one intentional act in which the existence of what the act is about or aims at follows with necessity from a true description of the act. But philosophers agree that no necessary relations are observed, or can be inferred from observations, so no statement about a necessary relation can be an empirical statement. Hence, the case needed to refute the noninference criterion cannot be described in empirical statements. It follows that the statement of the noninference criterion, not being refutable by means of an empirical statement, is not itself an empirical statement.

intentionality as a phenomenon

The statement of the noninference criterion satisfies the fourth condition laid down for phenomena: It is a statement about intentional acts. It is easy to show that it also satisfies the other three conditions for phenomena: (1) The preceding analysis consisted of reflection subject to bracketing of existence. (2) It brought to light certain essential features of intentional acts. (3) The truth of the statements rests on intuition, in the sense discussed earlier. Intentionality is, therefore, not only one mark of phenomena but is also itself a phenomenon. It has also been shown that the description of this phenomenon contains at least one nonempirical statement, namely, the noninference criterion. There is, then, at least one statement about phenomena, as now defined, that is nonempirical. This suggests that the four conditions for phenomena constitute a complete definition. However, the four conditions for phenomena are not sufficient for a complete definition, so a fifth condition must be addedthat, with respect to intentional acts, phenomena serve as criteria of coherence.

Criteria of Coherence

Intentional acts are of two kinds; they are either purposive or about something. Purposive acts may be said to be adequate to their intentional object if the means chosen accomplish their purpose. Acts that are about some intentional object may be said to be adequate if what is believed or asserted about an object is really true, if what is questioned is questionable, if what is doubted is doubtful. Whether a given purpose is pursued correctly by using certain means depends on the nature of the purpose and of the means chosen, and on the way the means are used. Whether Luther throws the inkwell correctly at the devil depends on the weight of the inkwell, the distance between him and the devil, and how he throws. There are correct and incorrect ways of throwing inkwells or anything else. Which ways are correct and which are not is a matter of empirical fact, to be discovered by empirical study. Hence, rules about correct performance of this kind of intentional act are empirical rules. Similarly, it is in many cases an empirical question whether my beliefs are true, whether what I question is questionable, or whether what I doubt is doubtful. It can be shown that at least some of these rules satisfy all four defining conditions for phenomena; hence, they can be regarded as statements about phenomena, as defined so far. This, in turn, shows that the four conditions laid down do not constitute a complete definition of "phenomenon," for phenomena, under this definition, are capable of being described in empirical statements. We need a fifth condition.

The following consideration will yield the required fifth condition for a complete definition of "phenomenon." Before we can ask whether any given intentional act is correctly performedwhether it is adequate to its intentional objectwe must be certain that what we are asking about is a genuine intentional act. Since intentional acts have four elementsthe subject (or agent), the action, the intentional object, and either the means used or what is asserted about the intentional objectwe need certain rules to determine which subject can be combined with what actions, which intentional objects, and which means or assertions to form coherent intentional acts. Not just any member of each of these four classes of elements can be combined with any other to form a coherent and intelligible intentional act.

coherence and intelligibility

The meanings of "coherent" and "intelligible" are best indicated by examples of their opposites, intentional acts that are incoherent or unintelligible. Purposive acts are not coherent and not intelligible (they "make no sense"), for instance, where the action and the means used are inappropriate to the intentional object. Someone might have said to Luther that it made no sense to throw anything at the devil because the devil is not a person but merely a symbol of evil. Not being a person, the devil has no bodyand hence no locationand therefore cannot be made the target of any physical missile. A different case of an incoherent purposive act is that in which the means are inappropriate to the action. "Killing a person with kindness" is a metaphorical expression precisely because it literally makes no sense; the means chosen for killing a person are utterly inappropriate. They are not inappropriate merely in the sense that someone might try to use kindness as a murder weapon and discover that it does not do the job. It is not at all clear how one would proceed literally to try to kill someone with kindness. "Killing a person with kindness" is therefore not an intelligible or coherent intentional act. Similar incoherences can be found in the other relations among the four elements of intentional acts.

Corresponding incoherences appear in intentional acts that are about something. If what I believe about something is utterly inappropriate to its intentional object, such as "The Pythagorean theorem is mellifluous and sweet-smelling," there is no way of telling or even of finding out whether the statement is true. Asserting this sentence is not an intelligible intentional act, and hence the assertion is neither true nor false. Similar incoherences can occur between the action (for instance, "I predict") and its intentional object (for instance, some past event) or what is being predicted (that something happened yesterday).

So far the notions of coherence and incoherence, of intelligibility and unintelligibility, have been exhibited within single intentional acts. Husserl pointed out that there is also coherence and intelligibility of series of acts.

Suppose that Luther, rage suffusing his face, threw an inkwell at the devil with all his might and the very next moment rushed up to him, saying, "My dear fellow, I am so sorry. How very clumsy of me. Here, let me help you." This would be very surprising because the first action seemed clearly intended to injure, the second to placate. The change between the two is unmistakable and can be described by saying that the second act has a different intentional object from the first. As juxtaposed, the two acts make no sense because they seem to be members of two incompatible series of acts. The first act seems part of a series intended to enrage or injure the devil, and the second seems part of a different series aimed at mollifying the devil. The first action clearly leads to the expectation of another angry action. The second one disappoints that expectation, so the two actions make no sense, although each by itself makes sense. As single acts they are intelligible or coherent, but they do not make sense when they come in the above order. No one can understand what Luther is up to. We know what a man is up to if we understand a sequence of his actions and have correct expectations about what he is going to do next. If our expectations are disappointed, we may conclude that the agent has changed his mind or that we did not understand him to begin with. We understand or do not understand what someone is up to if his purposive actions form a coherent or incoherent series, respectively.

All this is true irrespective of whether the series of acts is performed well or badly. Hence, there are two sets of rules governing series of acts that correspond to the two sorts of rules governing individual acts: those which govern the coherence of act series and those which govern the adequacy of the act series to its collective purpose. What a man is up to in a series of acts can be inferred only from the sequence of acts performed. But not all sequences of acts are coherent. There are, therefore, rules about intentional acts determining the conditions for coherence of any series of intentional acts. Only if a series is coherent corresponding to the rules governing coherence can the question whether the actions and the means chosen are adequate to the aim pursued in the whole series be answered in the light of the relevant facts. Empirical statements about the adequacy of actions and means to their collective end are to be distinguished from statements about the coherence of such collections of acts.

It is not necessary to cite more examples to show that a series of acts which are about something are coherent or incoherent, intelligible or unintelligible, in analogous ways. A single act of belief, assertion, or questioning may be perfectly coherent and intelligible by itself but may be entirely out of context with what precedes or follows, and it is not understood what this person, in this act, is talking about, what he is trying to say.


Husserl used the term horizon to refer to the relations of coherence and incoherence of intentional acts. Horizon was not intended to refer to the place where sky and earth meet but to the edge of the perceptual field, which moves and changes with movements of the head or of the entire body. The horizon metaphor suggests that as the edge of the perceptual field (the horizon) leads us to expect a continuation of what lies before us, so any given intentional act suggests further acts that would be continuous or coherent with it. What is said in one act or done in one purposive action leads one to expect a second assertion or a second action continuous with the first. The second statement is continuous with the first if it is about the same object as the first; if in the second action one is up to the same thing as in the first, the two are continuous. I know what you are talking about or what you are up to when I know what sort of thing you will say or do next.

The horizon metaphor also implies that these relations between intentional acts are necessary conditions for any act being intentional, just as it is a necessary condition for the existence of a perceptual field that it have a horizon. Something is an act of asserting, for instance, if and only if I can repeat what I said in another way; if I can amplify, clarify, explain what I said; or if I can confuse, muddle up, and utterly obfuscate what my assertions are about. It is impossible that an intentional act should be without horizons, that is, unrelated to any other intentional act.

Criteria of coherence

As the horizons of the perceptual field are to some degree indefinite, so are the horizons of intentional acts. I cannot infer from any given assertion or activity of yours that you will next assert one particular statement or do some particular action and no other. When I see a church steeple on the horizon, I know that, when I come closer, I will not see a hippopotamus at its base. But there is definitely a point in coming closer to discover what the church or the building that resembled a church from a distance looks like.

Similarly, there is a point in listening to you to find out what your next statement is going to be or in watching what you are going to do. If I understand what you are talking about or what you are up to, I have some idea of what you are going to say or do next. I know the minimum conditions for your next statement and action; I know the limits beyond which your next action will not be continuous with the last or your next statement will not be about the same object as the last. Horizons are the necessary conditions for any series of assertions or activities to be intelligible. Different kinds of intentional acts have different kinds of horizons. Linguistic acts are related in terms of their meaning; purposive activities, by reference to the purpose. It is the task of phenomenology to clarify the different sorts of horizons (conditions for intelligibility) and to put into words what the horizons of individual examples of each kind of act are. Husserl called the clarification and formulation of horizons "intentional analysis." The results of such intentional analyses are statements of the criteria for the coherence of intentional act series.

Having understood what Husserl meant by "horizon" and that there are criteria for the coherence of single acts corresponding to the horizons in act series, we have found the fifth condition defining "phenomenon." Statements about phenomena must, besides satisfying the first four conditions, be about the criteria of coherence of single intentional acts or of sequences of intentional acts. When we look at any object as a phenomenon, we are trying to discover the criteria for coherence of those intentional acts in which the object (or its name or description) can figure.

Are Phenomenological Statements a Priori?

Traditionally philosophers have called statements "a priori" if they are (1) nonempirical and (2) necessarily true. Phenomenologists have always held that their statements are a priori. The two parts of this claim must be examined separately.

It has been shown that phenomenologists agree that their statements are nonempirical, although they disagree about the description of phenomena. Some phenomenologists were content to describe them as essences intuited, but others regarded this as insufficient and added that phenomenological descriptions must be preceded by bracketing existence. But bracketing existence also turned out to be an inadequate guarantee that phenomenological statements are nonempirical. Therefore some members of the phenomenological movement, notably Husserl, added further requirements for statements about phenomena. The preceding discussion can be summarized by stating the five conditions that any statement must satisfy if it is to be a statement about phenomena:

  1. It must be about essences.
  2. It must be self-validating (intuitive).
  3. It must be the result of bracketing existence.
  4. It must be about intentional acts.
  5. It must lay down the criteria of coherence (or intelligibility) of intentional acts.

We must now, once again, ask: Are statements of this kind nonempirical?

the senses of empirical

The above question is not easy to answer because the term empirical has several meanings. We must examine some of them.

Statements asserting particular matters of fact, such as "There is a fire burning in the fireplace," are true if observation shows them to be true and false if observation shows them to be false (for instance, that the fire has gone out). They are empirical because one observation will show them to be true or false.

General statements, such as "Continuous nervous tension produces high blood pressure," are neither confirmed nor refuted by one observation or even by a few observations but only by a series of carefully controlled observations. This case concerns generalizations about observable connections.

There is a further sense of "empirical" that applies to statements about objects which are in principle nonobservable, such as "ideal gases" or "perfectly elastic bodies." Such entities cannot be observed because they do not exist, and hence we cannot frame empirical statements about them in either the particular or the general sense of "empirical." These entities, which cannot be described in observation statements, are instead defined in a series of statements constituting a scientific theory. From such a theory statements can be deduced that can be tested by reference to direct experience. If observation shows the deduced statements to be false, we must reject the theory, and hence our theoretical statements about the unobservable entities are indirectly refuted by observation. These statements are therefore, in this indirect way, empirical because observations can serve to show them to be false.

phenomenological statements

Phenomenological statements, as described in the preceding sections, are not empirical in the first two senses of the term. They are not empirical in the first sense because they are never statements about individual existing intentional acts but only about the criteria governing types of acts; only particular statements are empirical in the first sense. Empirical in the second sense are generalizations derived by induction from a series of observations of particulars. Such inductive generalizations presuppose that we know what particulars belong to the class of objects to be observed. If we want to make a generalization about the relation between nervous tension and high blood pressure, we must have a very precise idea of what must count as examples of nervous tension and what blood pressure counts as "high" blood pressure. Similarly, we cannot inductively arrive at statements about intentional acts unless we are already able to differentiate a coherent intentional act from an incoherent collection of each of the four kinds of elements of intentional acts.

The same applies to generalizations about coherent series of intentional acts. Nothing said by the phenomenologists should exclude the possibility of framing empirical (in the general sense) statements about intentional acts. All that is argued is that the criteria of coherence of individual acts as well as of series of acts are presupposed and therefore are not established by such inductive generalizations. Therefore, statements formulating these criteria cannot themselves be empirical generalizations.

It is undoubtedly a task for phenomenology to differentiate the different senses of "empirical," that is, to describe the different kinds of intentional acts involved in what we call experience and the criteria of coherence belonging to each kind of act. Oddly enough, the phenomenologists so far have barely begun to undertake such an examination, and hence their conviction that statements about phenomena, as now defined, are nonempirical is not supported by adequate phenomenological analyses. This important shortcoming in the theory of the phenomenological method is all the more serious because there are good reasons for thinking that there is one perfectly good sense of the words experience and empirical in which statements about phenomena, as defined, are empirical.

empirical phenomena statements

In a scientific theory, the terms are defined in relation to one another in such a way that if we alter the definition of one term, the definitions of some of the other terms are also changed. The effect of such a set of interrelated definitions is to limit the contexts in which these terms may be applied. A set of phenomenological statements has a similar function; it limits the contexts in which given intentional acts may be performed. The limits imposed on these intentional acts in the phenomenological statements are interrelated as the definitions in a theory are. If we alter the limits of one intentional act, those of other acts are also changed. History and ethnology provide many examples of such changes.

Among the Trobriand Islanders, for instance, successful gardening requires the use of magic. Before seedlings are planted, a spell must be spoken over them. It is very important that the magician's mouth be as close as possible to the seedlings, for otherwise some of the power of the spell will be dissipated. The power of the spell resides not in the sound waves produced by the magician but in the meaning of the terms used, something that we would not regard as a physical phenomenon. Yet the power of the magical words is here treated as if it were a physical force that varies with the distance from the object it affects. It is clear that the Trobriander does not draw a distinction between the physical and the mental, so it makes perfect sense for him to say something that makes no sense to usthat the spell must be spoken as close as possible to the seedlings in order to be effective. He imposes different limits on his intentional actswhat makes literal sense to him is to us at best symptomatic of the confusions of the "primitive" mindand these various limits are interrelated. We can formulate them in a set of phenomenological statements that we regard as false and he regards as true. This example shows the analogy between the limitations imposed on theoretical terms by their implicit definitions in a scientific theory and the mutual limitations imposed on intentional acts and expressed in phenomenological statements.

Statements in a scientific theory limit the application of the terms. If the limits imposed allow the use of the terms in false factual statements, these limits must be altered; the theory is invalid. In analogous ways phenomenological statements may be invalidated by experience. Phenomenological statements express the limits imposed on intentional acts, and if these limits are such that we cannot distinguish true factual statements from false ones, the limits must be altered; the phenomenological statements are invalid.

In order to make true generalizations about gardening and distinguish them from false ones, we need a clear notion of causation. Causal relations as discussed in science exist only between spatiotemporally contiguous events, and this implies that only spatiotemporally located events can be either causes or effects. A clear notion of causal relations, therefore, presupposes a clear distinction between events that are and those that are not spatiotemporally located, or between physical and mental events. Where such a distinction is not drawn, no clear understanding of causal relations is possible. The Trobriander does not differentiate physical events from mental events (and forces); hence he cannot clearly differentiate causal relations from noncausal relations. As a result, he cannot make general statements about gardening that are always true or always false as tested by the information available to us. They may, of course, be always true (or false) tested by what he knows. His generalizations are about classes containing very heterogeneous types of relations, both causal and noncausal. Statements about the causal are true under very different conditions from statements about the noncausal, so his generalizations are sometimes true and sometimes false, and he does not have the vocabulary necessary to reformulate them in such a way that they are always true or always false. This shows that the Trobriander's lack of scientific information about biology is not accidental. It is impossible for him to do natural science because his language lacks the requisite distinctions. Scientific statements cannot be made in his language, which is clear proof that it is inadequate and that the phenomenological statements describing his linguistic acts as well as the nonlinguistic ones, such as those associated with garden magic, are therefore invalid.

This argument as stated is not conclusive, but it can be strengthened to make a rather formidable case for holding that the phenomenologists are mistaken in their claim that their statements about phenomena are nonempirical in all senses of that term. This conclusion shows that the question asked at the very outsetwhat are the truth conditions of phenomenological statementsremains unanswered. In the preceding a good deal has been said about these truth conditions, but it has been shown that that answer is incomplete. The phenomenologists' account of their method not only lacks a complete theory of experience in its different forms but also a complete theory of truth, at least as that term applies to the statements in phenomenology.

the senses of "necessary"

The second aspect of a priori statements is their necessity. A priori statements are necessary because they are nonempirical; if they are true at all, they are true independently of facts about the world. Even if all the statements about this world that are now true were false, and if, therefore, our world were very different from what it is now the a priori statements would still be true. They are true whatever happens to be the case in the world. Hence we may say that, if true at all, they must be true regardless of any facts. For this reason the term necessary has often been explicated as "true for all possible worlds." A different world from ours is one whose description requires factual statements to be true that are false of our world. Since necessary statements are true whatever factual statements may or may not be true, they are true for all possible worlds. A statement is necessary, therefore, to the extent that its truth is logically independent of the truth or falsity of empirical statements. It follows that there are different senses of "necessity" to correspond to the different senses of "empirical." There are, therefore, also different senses of "a priori." Hence, phenomenological statements are clearly a priori insofar as they are not empirical in the first two senses of that term. But phenomenological statements are empirical in a third sense and are therefore not a priori in that sense of "a priori" that contrasts with this third sense of "empirical."

necessary phenomena statements

In the sense explained, statements are necessary if they are true necessarily. But if statements about phenomena are a priorinecessarily true and nonempiricalthey are necessary in a second sense: Their truth is a necessary condition for any empirical statement to be capable of being either true or false. An empirical statement can be either true or false only if it is meaningful, and that depends on the coherence of the intentional act and of the intentional act series in which it is asserted. But as was seen, the coherence of such acts and act series is presupposed by any question about the adequacy of intentional acts to their intentional objects. Hence the statements that lay down the criteria for coherence of all kinds of intentional acts, including acts of asserting, must be true if we are to be able to decide whether any given intentional act is adequate to its intentional objectfor instance, whether an assertion is true or a purposive action is successful. Insofar as phenomenological statements are a priori, they are, therefore, necessary in this second sense; they are presuppositions for the adequacy or inadequacy of any intentional act to its intentional object. The truth of phenomenological statements is logically prior to the truth or falsity of all empirical statements and to the correctness of all purposive actions.

Contemporary Phenomenology

Political events in Europe and the shifting winds of doctrine caused the phenomenological movement to lose much of its original momentum after Husserl's death in 1938. The best-known twentieth-century philosophers who used the term phenomenology in descriptions of their own work were Martin Heidegger in Germany and Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty in France. All three used the term phenomenology in appreciably different senses from the phenomenologists previously discussed.


Heidegger was a student of Husserl's and at one time was a coeditor of the Jahrbuch. In that journal (Vol. 8, 1927) appeared his first major work, Sein und Zeit (translated by J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson as Being and Time, New York, 1962). The phenomenologists so far discussed all agreed that it is the task of phenomenology reflectively to bring to light the criteria implicit in the intentional acts we perform in everyday life, in which we act in, get to know about, and learn to master that everyday world which Husserl christened the Lebenswelt ("world in which we live"). The emphasis here is on putting into words what is commonly and familiarly done without one's knowing how to describe accurately what he is doing. Heidegger also regarded phenomenology as a sort of reflection but not a reflection designed to put into words what is familiar in performance.

On the contrary, Heidegger's brand of phenomenology tried to open the way back to what had, he thought, become completely unfamiliar, what he calls Sein (being). He recognized that "being" had become a philosophically empty word. Hence we cannot gain a better understanding of being by reflecting only about the world insofar as it is familiar to us, for in that world "being" has become almost meaningless; there are very few contexts in which it makes sense to talk about "being." Thus, reflection about the criteria of intelligibility, which we use now, will not reveal much about being. Rather than reflect on these criteria, Heidegger proposes to ask why "being" has become almost meaningless to us. But since a question is intelligible only to the extent that we can specify the sort of answer we expect, and since an answer to Heidegger's question would require a language in which "being" is meaningful, even an intelligible formulation of his question involves him in the attempt to re-create a very different language, in which "being," far from being an empty word, is the richest and most important concept. This language, he believed, is the language used by the pre-Socratic philosophers. Heidegger's phenomenology thus led him into an enterprise utterly unfamiliar to the other phenomenologists, the attempt to develop a new philosophical language by re-creating that of the pre-Socratic philosophers.


Sartre's major work, L'être et le néant (Paris, 1943; translated by H. E. Barnes as Being and Nothingness, New York, 1957), bears the subtitle An Essay in Phenomenological Ontology. The work does not, however, contain any explicit discussion of phenomenology, nor did Sartre explain his conception of phenomenology at length in any other work. More than once he differentiated phenomenology from science by saying that phenomenology makes statements about essences; science, about facts. In one long essay, "La transcendence de l'égo" (Recherches Philosophiques, Vol. 6, 19361937; translated by F. Williams and R. Kirkpatrick and published in book form as The Transcendence of the Ego, New York, 1958), he takes sharp issue with Husserl's transcendental phenomenology, particularly with the claim that in phenomenology we discover that there is a transcendental ego.

It would seem, then, that Sartre was a phenomenologist who, like many others, adopts the descriptive approach to essences but refuses to follow Husserl in his later developments of the theory of the phenomenological method. But Sartre differs radically insofar as he was not averse to constructing philosophical theories. His major work is an example of constructive philosophy in precisely that sense in which phenomenologists attacked it in their polemic against reductionism. Sartre's conception of phenomenology is no clearer if we look at his actual practice of the method than if we consider his sparse statements about it. If Sartre practiced phenomenology at all, the term as used by him and as applicable to his procedures has a different meaning from the one explicated in this discussion.


Merleau-Ponty's major work bears the title Phénoménologie de la perception (Paris, 1945; translated by Colin Smith as Phenomenology of Perception, London, 1962). Unlike Sartre, he includes an introduction devoted to a clarification of "phenomenology." The clear and explicit result of this discussion is that Merleau-Ponty has interpreted the notion of phenomenology in a sense rather different from that subscribed to wholly or partly by members of the phenomenological movement, as well as from that used by either Heidegger or Sartre.

These three philosophers used "phenomenology" in appreciably different ways from those in which it has been used by the phenomenologists discussed. To be sure, there were also radical and profound disagreements among the latter about the nature and presuppositions of the phenomenological method, but they regarded these differences as different results arrived at by applying the same method. In this sense these philosophersHusserl, Pfänder, Geiger, Becker, and Reinach, among otherscan be regarded as belonging to one school of philosophy. All of them shared certain common views at the outset, and they believed that they were using the same method. But Heidegger, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty began doing their respective brands of phenomenology by explaining what they considered phenomenology to be and how their conception differed from that of Husserl. They did not begin with the same common views, as did the earlier phenomenologists; and they did not regard their method as identical with that of Husserl and the other phenomenologists. For this reason they do not belong to the same school of philosophy.

See also Binswanger, Ludwig; Brentano, Franz; Existentialism; Existential Psychoanalysis; Heidegger, Martin; Intentionality; Life, Meaning and Value of; Psychologism; Sartre, Jean-Paul; Scheler, Max; Time, Consciousness of.


original works in german

Husserl, Edmund. Husserliana. Vol. I: Cartesianische Meditationen. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1950. The shortest, though not always easy, introduction to Husserl's mature conception of phenomenology.

Husserl, Edmund. Husserliana. Vol. VI: Die Krisis der europaischen Wissenschaften und die transcendentale Phänomenologie. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1954. A very late work of Husserl's; introduces the important notion of the Lebenswelt, the world of everyday life.

Husserl, Edmund. Husserliana. Vols. VII and VIII: Erste Philosophie. The Hague: Nijhoff, 19561959. Husserl's lectures on the history of philosophy and phenomenology; more accessible than many of his other writings.

Husserl, Edmund et al., eds. Jahrbuch für Philosophie und phänomenologische Forschung. 11 vols. Halle: Niemeyer, 19131930. Contains representative writings of all the major phenomenologists.

Reinach, Adolf. "Über Phänomenologie." In his Gesammelte Schriften, edited by Hedwig Conrad-Martius. Munich, 1921. A brief and very lucid statement of an early conception of phenomenology.

original works in translation

Husserl, Edmund. Cartesian Meditations. Translated by Dorion Cairns. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1960.

Husserl, Edmund. The Idea of Phenomenology. Translated by William P. Alston and George Nakhnikian. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1964. Translates a series of lectures given in 1907 in which the transcendental-phenomenological reduction is introduced.

Husserl, Edmund. Ideas. Translated by W. R. Boyce Gibson. New York: Macmillan, 1931; New York: Collier, 1963.

Husserl, Edmund. "Phenomenology." Translated by C. V. Solomon. In Encyclopaedia Britannica, 14th ed., Vol. XVII, 699702. 1927.

Husserl, Edmund. Phenomenology and the Crisis of Philosophy: Philosophy as Science and Philosophy and the Crisis of European Man. Translated with notes and introduction by Quentin Lauer. New York: Harper, 1965. Contains a long essay, published in 1910, in which Husserl provides an expanded version of his earlier polemics against psychologism. This book also translates portions of Husserl's late work, Krisis.

books on phenomenology

Bachelard, Suzanne. La logique de Husserl. Paris, 1951. A lucid and detailed discussion of Husserl's Formale und Transcendentale Logik (1929).

Berger, Gaston. Le cogito dans la philosophie de Husserl. Paris: Aubier, 1941. One of the earliest and still one of the best monographs on one aspect of Husserl's thought.

Brand, Gerd. Welt, Ich und Zeit. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1955. Attempts a summary of Husserlian phenomenology on the basis of unpublished manuscripts. Rather general but often illuminating.

Brentano, F. Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint. Translated by A. C. Rancurello, D. B. Terrel, and L. L. McAlister; edited by L. L. McAlister. London: Routledge, 1969.

Cooper, D. E. Heidegger. London: Claridge Press, 1996.

Derrida, Jacques. Speech and Phenomena. Translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1976.

Dreyfus, H. L. Being-in-the-World: A Commentary on Heidegger's Being and Time, Division I. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991.

Farber, Marvin, ed. Philosophical Essays in Memory of Edmund Husserl. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press for University of Buffalo, 1940. A collection of stimulating and sometimes informative essays on different aspects of Husserl's work.

Heidegger, M. Being and Time. Translated by J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson. London: SCM Press, 1962.

Merleau-Ponty, M. Phenomenology of Perception. Translated by C. Smith. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981.

Mohanty, J. N. Edmund Husserl's Theory of Meaning. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1964. An interesting discussion of Husserl's early work in the light of the treatment given the same questions by Bertrand Russell, G. E. Moore, and others.

Mohanty, J. N. Transcendental Phenomenology: An Analytic Account. Oxford: Blackwell, 1989.

Moran, D. Introduction to Phenomenology. London: Routledge, 2000.

Schrag, C. O. Experience and Being. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1969.

Smith, B., and D. W. Smith, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Husserl. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Smith, D. W. Husserl and Intentionality: A Study of Mind, Meaning, and Language. Dordrecht: Reidel, 1982.

Sokolowski, R. Introduction to Phenomenology. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Spiegelberg, Herbert. The Phenomenological Movement. 2 vols. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1960; 3rd ed., The Hague: Kluwer Academic, 1982. Discusses phenomenology in general as well as individual contributors to the movement. Extremely informative.

articles on phenomenology

Ayer, A. J., and Charles Taylor. "Phenomenology and Linguistic Analysis." PAS, Supp. 33 (1959).

Boehm, Rudolf. "Basic Reflection on Husserl's Phenomenological Reduction." International Philosophical Quarterly 5 (1965): 183202.

Downes, Chauncey. "On Husserl's Approach to Necessary Truth." Monist 19 (1965): 87106.

Findlay, J. N. "Phenomenology." In Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1965 ed.

Ryle, Gilbert. "Phenomenology." PAS, Supp. 11 (1932).

Smith, D. W. "Phenomenology." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Available from

Spiegelberg, Herbert. "Toward a Phenomenology of Experience." American Philosophical Quarterly 1 (1964): 18.

Richard Schmitt (1967)

Bibliography updated by Benjamin Fiedor (2005)


views updated May 21 2018


Phenomenology is a movement in philosophy that has been adapted by certain sociologists to promote an understanding of the relationship between states of individual consciousness and social life. As an approach within sociology, phenomenology seeks to reveal how human awareness is implicated in the production of social action, social situations and social worlds (Natanson 1970).

Phenomenology was initially developed by Edmund Husserl (1859–1938), a German mathematician who felt that the objectivism of science precluded an adequate apprehension of the world (Husserl 1931, 1954). He presented various philosophical conceptualizations and techniques designed to locate the sources or essences of reality in the human consciousness. It was not until Alfred Schutz (1899–1959) came upon some problems in Max Weber's theory of action that phenomenology entered the domain of sociology (Schutz 1967). Schutz distilled from Husserl's rather dense writings a sociologically relevant approach. Schutz set about describing how subjective meanings give rise to an apparently objective social world (Schutz 1954, 1962, 1964, 1966, 1996; Schutz and Luckmann 1973; Wagner 1983).

Schutz's migration to the United States prior to World War II, along with that of other phenomenologically inclined scholars, resulted in the transmission of this approach to American academic circles and to its ultimate transformation into interpretive sociology. Two expressions of this approach have been called reality constructionism and ethnomethodology. Reality constructionism synthesizes Schutz's distillation of phenomenology and the corpus of classical sociological thought to account for the possibility of social reality (Berger 1963, 1967; Berger and Berger 1972; Berger and Kellner 1981; Berger and Luckmann 1966; Potter 1996). Ethnomethodology integrates the Parsonian concern for social order into phenomenology and examines the means by which actors make ordinary life possible (Garfinkel 1967; Garfinkel and Sacks 1970). Reality constructionism and ethno-methodology are recognized to be among the most fertile orientations in the field of sociology (Ritzer 1996).

Phenomenology is used in two basic ways in sociology: (1) to theorize about substantive sociological problems and (2) to enhance the adequacy of sociological research methods. Since phenomenology insists that society is a human construction, sociology itself and its theories and methods are also constructions (Cicourel 1964, 1973). Thus, phenomenology seeks to offer a corrective to the field's emphasis on positivist conceptualizations and research methods that may take for granted the very issues that phenomenologists find of interest. Phenomenology presents theoretical techniques and qualitative methods that illuminate the human meanings of social life.

Phenomenology has until recently been viewed as at most a challenger of the more conventional styles of sociological work and at the least an irritant. Increasingly, phenomenology is coming to be viewed as an adjunctive or even integral part of the discipline, contributing useful analytic tools to balance objectivist approaches (Aho 1998; Levesque-Lopman 1988; Luckmann 1978; Psathas 1973; Rogers 1983).


Phenomenology operates rather differently from conventional social science (Darroch and Silvers 1982). Phenomenology is a theoretical orientation, but it does not generate deductions from propositions that can be empirically tested. It operates more on a metasociological level, demonstrating its premises through descriptive analyses of the procedures of self-, situational, and social constitution. Through its demonstrations, audiences apprehend the means by which phenomena, originating in human consciousness, come to be experienced as features of the world.

Current phenomenological techniques in sociology include the method of "bracketing" (Bentz 1995; Ihde 1977). This approach lifts an item under investigation from its meaning context in the commonsense world, with all judgments suspended. For example, the item "alcoholism as a disease" (Peele 1985; Truan 1993) is not evaluated within phenomenological brackets as being either true or false. Rather, a reduction is performed in which the item is assessed in terms of how it operates in consciousness: What does the disease notion do for those who define themselves within its domain? A phenomenological reduction both plummets to the essentials of the notion and ascertains its meanings independent of all particular occasions of its use. The reduction of a bracketed phenomenon is thus a technique to gain theoretical insight into the meaning of elements of consciousness.

Phenomenological tools include the use of introspective and Verstehen methods to offer a detailed description of how consciousness itself operates (Hitzler and Keller 1989). Introspection requires the phenomenologist to use his or her own subjective process as a resource for study, while Verstehen requires an empathic effort to move into the mind of the other (Helle 1991; Truzzi 1974). Not only are introspection and Verstehen tools of phenomenological analysis, but they are procedures used by ordinary individuals to carry out their projects. Thus, the phenomenologist as analyst might study himself or herself as an ordinary subject dissecting his or her own self-consciousness and action schemes (Bleicher 1982). In this technique, an analytic attitude toward the role of consciousness in designing everyday life is developed.

Since cognition is a crucial element of phenomenology, some theorists focus on social knowledge as the cornerstone of their technique (Berger and Luckmann 1966). They are concerned with how commonsense knowledge is produced, disseminated, and internalized. The technique relies on theoretical discourse and historical excavation of the usually taken for granted foundations of knowledge. Frequently, religious thought is given primacy in the study of the sources and legitimations of mundane knowledge (Berger 1967).

Phenomenological concerns are frequently researched using qualitative methods (Bogdan and Taylor 1975; Denzin and Lincoln 1994, 1998). Phenomenological researchers frequently undertake analyses of small groups, social situations, and organizations using face-to-face techniques of participant observation (Bruyn 1966; Psathas and Ten Have 1994; Turner 1974). Ethnographic research frequently utilizes phenomenological tools (Fielding 1988). Intensive interviewing to uncover the subject's orientations or his or her "life world" is also widely practiced (Costelloe 1996; Grekova, 1996; Porter 1995). Qualitative tools are used in phenomenological research either to yield insight into the microdynamics of particular spheres of human life for its own sake or to exhibit the constitutive activity of human consciousness (Langsdorf 1995).

Techniques particular to the ethnomethodological branch of phenomenology have been developed to unveil the practices used by people to produce a sense of social order and thereby accomplish everyday life (Cuff 1993; Leiter 1980; Mehan and Wood 1975). At one time, "breaching demonstrations" were conducted to reveal the essentiality of taken-for-granted routines and the means by which threats to these routines were handled. Since breaching these routines sometimes resulted in serious disruptions of relationships, this technique has been virtually abandoned. Social situations are video-and audiotaped to permit the painstaking demonstration of the means by which participants construct their identities, their interpretations of the meanings of acts, and their sense of the structure of the situation (Blum-Kulka 1994; Jordan and Henderson 1995). Conversational analysis is a technique that is frequently used to describe how people make sense of each other through talk and how they make sense of their talk through their common background knowledge (Psathas 1994; Schegloff and Sacks 1974; Silverman, 1998). The interrelations between mundane reasoning and abstract reasoning are also examined in great depth as researchers expose, for example, the socially constituted bases of scientific and mathematical practice in commonsense thinking (Knorr-Cetina and Mulkay 1983; Livingston, 1995; Lynch, 1993).


The central task in social phenomenology is to demonstrate the reciprocal interactions among the processes of human action, situational structuring, and reality construction. Rather than contending that any aspect is a causal factor, phenomenology views all dimensions as constitutive of all others. Phenomenologists use the term reflexivity to characterize the way in which constituent dimensions serve as both foundation and consequence of all human projects. The task of phenomenology, then, is to make manifest the incessant tangle or reflexivity of action, situation, and reality in the various modes of being in the world.

Phenomenology commences with an analysis of the natural attitude. This is understood as the way ordinary individuals participate in the world, taking its existence for granted, assuming its objectivity, and undertaking action projects as if they were predetermined. Language, culture, and common sense are experienced in the natural attitude as objective features of an external world that are learned by actors in the course of their lives.

Human beings are open to patterned social experience and strive toward meaningful involvement in a knowable world. They are characterized by a typifying mode of consciousness tending to classify sense data. In phenomenological terms humans experience the world in terms of typifications: Children are exposed to the common sounds and sights of their environments, including their own bodies, people, animals, and vehicles. They come to apprehend the categorical identity and typified meanings of each in terms of conventional linguistic forms. In a similar manner, children learn the formulas for doing common activities. These practical means of doing are called recipes for action. Typifications and recipes, once internalized, tend to settle beneath the level of full awareness, that is, to become sedimented, as do layers of rock. Thus, in the natural attitude, the foundations of actors' knowledge of meaning and action are obscured to the actors themselves.

Actors assume that knowledge is objective and that all people reason in a like manner. Each actor assumes that every other actor knows what he or she knows of this world: All believe that they share common sense. However, each person's biography is unique, and each person develops a relatively distinct stock of typifications and recipes. Therefore, interpretations may diverge. Everyday social interaction is replete with ways in which actors create feelings that common sense is shared, that mutual understanding is occurring, and that everything is all right. Phenomenology emphasizes that humans live within an intersubjective world, yet they at best approximate shared realities. While a paramount reality is commonly experienced in this manner, particular realities or finite provinces of meaning are also constructed and experienced by diverse cultural, social, or occupational groupings.

For phenomenology, all human consciousness is practical—it is always consciousness of something. Actors intend to introduce projects into the world; they act in order to implement goals based on their typifications and recipes, their stock of knowledge at hand. Consciousness as an intentional process is composed of thinking, perceiving, feeling, remembering, imagining, and anticipating directed toward the world. The objects of consciousness, these intentional acts, are the sources of all social realities, which are, in turn, the materials of commonsense.

Thus, typifications derived from common sense are internalized, becoming the tools that individual consciousness uses to constitute a lifeworld, the unified arena of human awareness and action. Common sense serves as an ever-present resource to assure actors that the reality that is projected from human subjectivity is an objective reality. Since all actors are involved in this intentional work, they sustain the collaborative effort to reify their projections and thereby reinforce the very frameworks that provide the construction tools.

Social interaction is viewed phenomenologically as a process of reciprocal interpretive constructions of actors applying their stock of knowledge at hand to the occasion. Interactors orient themselves to others by taking into account typified meanings of actors in typified situations known to them through common sense. Action schemes are geared by each to the presumed projects of others. The conduct resulting from the intersection of intentional acts indicates to members of the collectivity that communication or coordination or something of the like is occurring among them. For these members, conduct and utterances serve as indexical expressions of the properties of the situation, enabling each to proceed with the interaction while interpreting others, context, and self. Through the use of certain interpretive practices, members order the situation for themselves in sensical and coherent terms: In their talk they gloss over apparent irrelevancies, fill in innumerable gaps, ignore inconsistencies, and assume a continuity of meaning, thereby formulating the occasion itself.

Ongoing social situations manifest patterned routine conduct that appears to positivist investigators to be normative or rule guided. Phenomenologically, rules are indexical expressions of the interpretive processes applied by members in the course of their interactions. Rules are enacted in and through their applications. In order to play by the book, an interpreter endeavors to use a rule as an apparent guide. However, he or she must use all sorts of background expectancies to manage the fit somehow between the particular and the general under the contexted conditions of the interaction, and in so doing is acting creatively. Rules, policies, hierarchy, and organization are accomplished through the interpretive acts or negotiations of members in their concerted efforts to formulate a sense of operating in accord with a rational, accountable system. This work of doing structure to the situation further sustains its commonsensical foundations as well as its facticity.

Phenomenologists analyze the ordering of social reality and how the usage of certain forms of knowledge contributes to that ordering. It is posited that typified action and interaction become habitualized. Through sedimentation in layered consciousness, human authorship of habitualized conduct is obscured and the product is externalized. As meaning-striving beings, humans create theoretical explanations and moral justifications in order to legitimate the habitualized conduct. Located in higher contexts of meaning, the conduct becomes objectivated. When internalized by succeeding generations, the conduct is fully institutionalized and exerts compelling constraints over individual volition. Periodically, the institutions might be repaired in response to threats, or individuals might be realigned if they cognitively or affectively migrate.

The reality that ordinary people inhabit is constituted by these legitimations of habitualized conduct. Ranging from commonsense typifications of ordinary language to theological constructions to sophisticated philosophical, cosmological, and scientific conceptualizations, these legitimations compose the paramount reality of everyday life. Moreover, segmented modern life, with its proliferation of meaning-generating sectors, produces multiple realities, some in competition with each other for adherents. In the current marketplace of realities, consumers, to varying degrees, may select their legitimations, as they select their occupations and, increasingly, their religions (Berger 1967).


Doing phenomenological sociology involves using procedures that are distinct from positivist research. Phenomenological practice is increasingly evident in the discipline as more subjectivist work is published. The phenomenological analysis of mass media culture content, for example, applies the elements of the approach to yield an understanding of the reflexive interplay of audience lifeworlds and program material (Wilson 1996). Thus, TV talk show discourses may be described as social texts that are refracted by programmers from commonsense identity constructs. The visual realization yields narrative images that audiences are seduced into processing using their own experiences. The viewers' lifeworlds and the TV representations are blended into reality proxies that provide viewers with schemata to use in configuring their personal orientations. Subsequently, programmers draw upon these orientations as additional identity material for new content development.

Phenomenological work with young children examines how both family interactions and the practices of everyday life are related to the construction of childhood (Davila and Pearson 1994). It reveals how the children's elemental typifications of family life and common sense are actualized through ordinary interaction. Penetrating the inner world of children requires that the phenomenological practitioner view the subjects in children's own terms, from their levels and viewpoints (Waksler 1991; Shehan 1999). Such investigation shuns adult authoritative and particularly scientific perspectives, and seeks to give voice to the children's experience of their own worlds. Infants' and children's communicative and interactive competencies are respected and are not diminished by the drive toward higher-level functioning (Sheets-Johnstone 1996).

At the other end of the lifecycle, phenomenologists investigate how aging and its associated traumas are constituted in the consciousness of members and helpers. The struggle for meaning during aging accompanied by chronic pain may be facilitated or impaired by the availability of constructs that permit the smoother processing of the experiences. Members of cultures that stock typifications and recipes for managing aging and pain skillfully may well be more likely than others to construct beneficial interpretations in the face of these challenges (Encandela 1997). Phenomenological work encourages the helpers of the elderly to gain empathic appreciation of their clients' lifeworlds and enhanced affiliation with them through the use of biographical narratives that highlight their individuality and humanity (Heliker 1997).

The healing professions, particularly nursing, seem to be deeply imbued with a phenomenological focus on the provision of care based on a rigorous emphasis on the patient's subjective experience (Benner 1995). Substantial attention has been devoted to the ethical implications of various disease definitions, to how language shapes the response to illness, and to how disease definitions and paradigmatic models impact communication between health professionals and patients (Rosenberg and Golden 1992). Significant work on the phenomenology of disability has demonstrated how the lived body is experienced in altered form and how taken-for-granted routines are disrupted by invoking new action recipes (Toombs 1995). Nonconventional healing practices have also been examined, revealing how embodiment and the actor's subjective orientation reflexively interrelate with cultural imagery and discourse to transfigure the self (Csordas 1997). Further, phenomenological work has suggested that emotions are best analyzed as interpreted processes embedded within experiential contexts (Blum 1996; Solomon 1997).


For phenomenology, society, social reality, social order, institutions, organizations, situations, interactions, and individual actions are constructions that appear as suprahuman entities. What does this suggest regarding humanity and sociology? Phenomenology advances the notion that humans are creative agents in the construction of social worlds (Ainlay 1986). It is from their consciousness that all being emerges. The alternative to their creative work is meaninglessness, solipsism, and chaos: a world of dumb puppets, in which each is disconnected from the other and life is formless (Abercrombie 1980). This is the nightmare of phenomenology. Its practitioners fear that positivist sociologists actually theorize about such a world (Phillipson 1972).

Phenomenologists ask sociologists to note the misleading substantiality of social products and to avoid the pitfalls of reification. For the sociologist to view social phenomena within the natural attitude as objects is to legitimate rather than to analyze. Phenomenological sociologists investigate social products as humanly meaningful acts, whether these products are termed attitudes, behaviors, families, aging, ethnic groups, classes, societies, or otherwise (Armstrong 1979; Gubrium and Holstein 1987; Herek 1986; Petersen 1987; Starr 1982). The sociological production of these fictive entities is understood within the context of their accomplishment, that is, the interview setting, the observational location, the data collection situation, the field, the research instrument, and so forth (Schwartz and Jacobs 1979). The meaning contexts applied by the analyst correlates with those of the subjects under investigation and explicates the points of view of the actors as well as expressing their lifeworlds. Phenomenological sociology strives to reveal how actors construe themselves, all the while recognizing that they themselves are actors construing their subjects and themselves.

Phenomenologically understood, society is a fragile human construction, thinly veneered by abstract ideas. Phenomenology itself is evaluatively and politically neutral. Inherently, it promotes neither transformative projects nor stabilization. In the work of a conservatively inclined practitioner, the legitimation process might be supported, while the liberative practitioner might seek to puncture or debunk the legitimations (Morris 1975). Phenomenology can be used to reveal and endorse the great constructions of humankind or to uncover the theoretical grounds of oppression and repression (Smart 1976). Phenomenologists insist upon the human requirements for meaning, subjective connectedess, and a sense of order. These requirements may be fulfilled within existent or emancipative realities (Murphy 1986).

The phenomenological influence upon contemporary sociology can be seen in the increased humanization of theoretical works, research methods, educational assessment procedures, and instructional modes (Aho 1998; Darroch and Silvers 1982; O'Neill 1985; Potter 1996). Phenomenological thought has influenced the work of postmodernist, poststructuralist, critical, and neofunctional theory (Ritzer 1996). Notions such as constructionism, situationalism, and reflexivity that are at the core of phenomenology also provide the grounds for these recent formulations. For example, the premise of poststructuralism that language is socially constituted denying the possibility of objective meaning is clearly rooted in phenomenology. The procedure known as deconstruction essentially reverses the reification process highlighted in phenomenology (Dickens and Fontana 1994). The postmodernist argument that knowledge and reality do not exist apart from discourse is also clearly rooted in phenomenology. Postmodernism's emphasis on the representational world as reality constructor further exemplifies the phenomenological bent toward reflexivity (Bourdieu 1992). On the other hand, phenomenology has been used to reverse nihilistic excesses of postmodernism and poststructuralism (O'Neil 1994). The emphases of the critical school on the constitution of the liberative lifeworld by the autonomous, creative agent via the transcendence of linguistic constraint echoes a theme of phenomenological thought (Bowring 1996). Neofunctionalism, a looser and more inclusive version of its predecessor, finds room for a microsocial foundation focusing on the actor as a constructive agent (Layder 1997).

Phenomenology, while remaining an identifiable movement within the discipline of sociology, has influenced mainstream research. Inclusion of qualitative research approaches in conventional research generally expresses this accommodation (Bentz and Shapiro 1998). The greater acceptance of intensive interviewing, participant observation, and focus groups reflect the willingness of nonphenomenological sociologists to integrate subjectivist approaches into their work. The study of constructive consciousness as a method of research has broadened and strengthened the standing of sociology in the community of scholars (Aho 1998).

Phenomenology has made a particular mark in the area of educational policy on a number of levels. The flaws of objective testing have been addressed using phenomenological tools. The issue of construct validity, the link between observation and measurement, has been studied ethnographically as a discursive activity to clarify the practices employed by education researchers to establish validity (Cherryholmes 1988). Testing of children has increasingly respected the subjectivity of the test taker (Gilliatt and Hayward 1996; Hwang 1996). Educators are more alert to the need for understanding the learner's social and cognitive processes, for taking into account the constraining parameters of consciousness, and for encouraging self-conscious reflection. Instructional practices that emphasize constructivist approaches have gained great support among professionals and have been broadly implemented to the benefit of learners (Marlowe and Page 1997).

The future impact of phenomenology will depend on its resonance with the needs and aspirations of the rising generations of sociologists. The drive of some among this emerging generation is to examine the obvious with the infinite patience and endurance that is required to come up with penetrating insight. The arena of discourse analysis perhaps holds the greatest promise of this achievement and will likely elicit substantial effort. The phenomenology of emotions also appears to entice young scholars. The reflexive analyses of popular and mediated culture in relation to identity formation will likely draw further interest, as will the study of virtuality, cyberspace, and computer simulcra. The study of children, the family, and education will increasingly be informed by an emphasis on constructive consciousness. Due to its lack of presumption and openness, the phenomenological movement in sociology has proved hardy during the closing decades of the twentieth century and is well situated to encounter the new millennium.

(see also: Ethnomethodology; Qualitative Methods; Postmodernism; Poststructuralism)


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Phenomenology is an influential philosophical movement especially in relation to science and technology. It has developed critical studies of scientific rationality, artificial intelligence, electronic media, virtual reality, the Internet, and more. Leading contributors to the three waves of phenomenology are often drawn on in discussions of science, technology, and ethics: from the first wave of Edmund Husserl (1859–1938) through the second wave of Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) to the third wave of Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908–1961). Even more prominent figures in debates about science, technology, and ethics discussions such as Hans Jonas (1903–1993), Emmanuel Lévinas (1905–1995), and Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) have also been strongly influenced by phenomenology, as have the critical assessments of science and technology to be found in later work by Albert Borgmann, Hubert L. Dreyfus, Andrew Feenberg, Michael Heim, Don Ihde, Langdon Winner, and others. Phenomenology nevertheless remains difficult to define, and its distinctive contributions not easy to pin down.

What Is Phenomenology?

It is difficult to define phenomenology in a way that will cover all its diverse traditions. In his monumental history of the phenomenological movement, not even Herbert Spiegelberg (1994) attempted a definitive formulation. In spite of this difficulty it is necessary to attempt some definition as a starting point—even if all phenomenologists do not accept it without qualification.

Initially, then, phenomenology may be described as an effort to disclose the transcendental features or presuppositions of the world as given in ongoing experience. Phenomenology takes as its basic concern our ongoing experiencing of the world within the unfolding horizon of temporality. Although the language of phenomenology often refers to "essences" in experience, it is not interested in some stable atemporal or a historical account of the world. For the phenomenologist essences do not stand outside of our ongoing existence. The transcendental horizon, the focus of its concern, is never divorced from the concrete experiences of everyday life. But at its foundation is the attempt to take the phenomena of human experience and subject them to deeper or broader examination than is done by the sciences, all of which, according to phenomenology, abstract from experience.

To extend this working definition, take the human experience of music and consider it phenomenologically. From the perspective of physics and physiology, music is constituted by a flux of waves of particular frequencies to which the inner ear may be sensitive. Indeed, once so analyzed, it is possible to create a technological device such as a tape recorder that is sensitive to these same sounds, and can even replay them on command. Human beings, however, when they hear sounds in everyday life never take them simply as a stream of sounds, rather they find themselves already listening to something particular—a cry for help, an automobile braking, construction noise, or a piece of music. Indeed it would take a very strange sort of attitude to hear sounds and take them as a flux of waves of particular frequencies. Listening is different than registering or recording; to listen is to already take sounds as this or that. In listening, the taking of sound as music implies an already existing sense of what music is, something that makes it possible for us to take these sounds as music rather than noise. Furthermore, in listening to music, this listening is informed by an ongoing sense (or unity) of movement, rhythm, tone, scale, style, and so forth. This ongoing active unity provides an active and ongoing framework that enables me, in the experience of listening (right now), to simultaneously "retain" the sounds I no longer hear (the past), and in anticipation to "fill in" the sounds I am not yet hearing, yet already anticipate (the future). As a phenomenological being I find myself listening to music, not merely recording sounds after the manner of a technological device. For phenomenologists the relevant question is: What is this ongoing framework that makes it possible for humans to listen to music rather than merely record sounds?

Even our encountering of mundane everyday objects takes as necessary an already existent sense or familiarity with the world. What makes it possible to encounter a chair—recognize it, see it, refer to it, use it as a chair rather than as a something else? Like sounds, we are always given it only in some one aspect. When we stand in "front" of it the "back" is not given to our senses as such. When we stand at the back the front is hidden from view. Yet when we approach the chair we do not take it as a confusing flux of sensation, but as that which it already is, a chair to sit or stand on.

What is it then that enables us to encounter music and chairs in their fullness even though we are always given, at any particular point in time, only some limited aspect of such phenomena? The answer of phenomenology isthatitisthe transcendental horizon that makes phenomena possible, where the transcendental is understood as "that which constitutes, and thereby renders the empirical possible" (Mohanty 1997, p. 52). In Don Ihde's words "phenomenology investigates the conditions of what makes things appear as such" (2003, p. 133). One could say that the transcendental is the background, or horizon, that makes the meaningful experience of the foreground possible. Yet insofar as such a formulation suggests a background that is somehow separate and "behind" that which appears in the foreground, it would be incorrect. Transcendental horizons or conditions are always and immediately already present in the very appearing as such—this is exactly what makes a horizon "disappear" or withdraw from our focal awareness. It is so evident that it simply does not come up as an issue.

It is this seemingly "forgotten" horizon that is the focus of phenomenology—indeed it is this horizon that phenomenologists want to call to our attention. All phenomenological "reductions" have as their purpose a "return" to this vital constitutive transcendental horizon. "Reduction" should be understood here in relation to its Latin root re-ducere, to lead back.

In place of the examples of listening to music or encountering a chair, we could also refer to engagements with such diverse phenomena as language, self, identity, sociality, and so forth. In the case of those phenomena known as science or technology we would attempt to provide an account of the transcendental horizons that constitute the scientific or technological and therefore render them possible in our everyday experience. What is it within our ongoing relation with the world that allows science or technology to show up as a way to structure that relationship? To this question phenomenologists have given many different and illuminating answers.

But what is the transcendental horizon? How and where do we find it? The answer differs from one phenomenologist to another. Husserl (1970, 1982, 1995) argued that it was the ongoing life of pure consciousness. For him the intentionality of consciousness allows things to appear as this or that thing. He thus proposed that we bracket out, or set aside, our normal everyday assumptions about the world—the natural attitude—and return to the life of pure consciousness.

By contrast, Roman Ingarden (1893–1970) maintained that the transcendental horizon is constituted by the a priori truths necessary for the factual world to be what we experience in ongoing experience. He proposed that we return to these truths, but also encouraged us to always ground ourselves in the real world as given in experience.

Heidegger (1962), in turn, argued that it is our always already immersion in the world of everyday life that is the transcendental or constituting horizon. For him active beings are always already busy in the world, and the world shows up precisely as that which it already is. We do not need a "bridge back to the world" from our concepts. We have never left the world of everyday life, and it is exactly this ongoing intimate relation with the world—our pre-ontological understanding of being as such—that is the very basis of all scientific knowledge. It is the "stuff" from which we construct all systems of logic, mathematics, and science.

Merleau-Ponty (1962) continues this discovery of transcendental horizons by focusing on the body, or more specifically on the always already embodiedness of our being. He calls on us to return to the already lived and situated body of our ongoing perception of the world. For him our scientific systems of orientation in time and space have their condition of possibility in our being a body—a lived body that is the ongoing horizon of orientation and meaning.

Despite their differences these phenomenologists all claim that the naturalistic empirical science (also referred to as objectivism or positivism) remains unreflective and uncritical of the importance of the ongoing constituting role of these various transcendental horizons. For example, scientists take the objects of their investigations—such as atoms, ozone layers, cultures, money, criminals, and so forth—as simply already given without considering the conditions that make it possible for them to encounter these phenomena as what they take them to be. In their emphasis on these already assumed objects of study the constituting horizons withdraw to be forgotten, thereby allowing them to move, in their analyses and arguments, way beyond the possibilities offered by the constitutive conditions of meaning. It is exactly the explication of these constitutive conditions or horizons of meaning that phenomenology seeks to call to our attention, in order to keep us from becoming lost in or misled by the abstractions of science and the powers of technology.

The Phenomenology of Everyday Encounters

To provide an illustration of the phenomenological approach it is useful to present in slightly more detail Heidegger's pivotal analysis of our everyday encounters. This presentation will then link to the work of Ihde, Borgmann, Dreyfus, and Lévinas.

For Heidegger the human encounter with things is fundamentally practical in orientation. We do not encounter chairs as chair objects—after the manner of designers or scientists—but as "possibilities for" sitting down or standing on or facing somebody, and so forth. Furthermore, the chair is a "possibility for" (what Heidegger called an "in-order-to") only within an already present referential whole including a multitude of possibility-for's. The transcendental horizon of meaning is the ongoing, unfolding referential whole in which every thing has its ongoing way of being that which it already is, while the whole draws on this very being to be the whole that it is. To describe this active and ongoing transcendental horizon of reference and meaning—in which the world and humans already implicate each other—Heidegger uses the notion of being-in-the-world, thus indicating the intimate relation between being and world. For Heidegger, any being whatsoever is a being only in an already assumed world—referential whole—that constitutes it as such. Heidegger argues that we humans-already-in-the-world (which he calls Dasein) exist in an ongoing structural openness toward the world in which the self and the world are always already a unity, a being-in-the-world (Heidegger 1962). Thus, we human beings (Dasein) have this unity as our ongoing way of being. That is why the world mostly makes sense rather than being mostly strange and unfamiliar.

Consider this example. Whenever we find ourselves or take note of ourselves, we do so already engaged in practical everyday activity in which things show up as "possibilities for" our practical intentions—as tools for this and that. When I switch on my laptop it already shows up as a possibility to write, communicate with my office, and so on. When we consider this world of practical activity we note that all the things we encounter already matter in some way or another—even if they matter only as useless, boring, or irrelevant. Heidegger claims that we, as Dasein, are always already "ahead" of ourselves—always already projected into the future as it were. In being ahead of ourselves things show up as this or that possibility-for. When we get up in the morning we already find ourselves acting in anticipation of the day ahead. When we get into our cars we already anticipate the journey. To put it rather abstractly, we are always and already projected as a necessary condition of that what we already are—as academics, politicians, managers, and so on. I did not so much decide to take up the project to write this entry as much as I found myself writing this entry as that which already made sense for an academic like me to do. Thus, as already projected beings, tools (opportunities) show up as tools (opportunities)—as possibilities-for. The world as possibilities-for shows up in particular ways to scientists (as scientists) that are different from that of artists (as artists) or managers (as managers).

This does not mean, however, that one can simply take the world any way one wants; the world—the scientific, art, or managerial world—is not simply of one's making. These tools are tools for this or that purpose only in as much as they already refer to other tools, which also already refer to them as their transcendental condition for being this or that tool. Here, "refer" is used in the sense of a necessary relation or reference for the tool to be what it already is taken to be when taken up in practical activity. The laptop I am working on, to be taken up as a laptop, rather than a piece of assembled plastic and silicone, refers to application programs, which refer to operating systems, which refer to hardware, which refer to a power supply—all of which refer to suppliers, which refer to maintenance services, and so forth. Dreyfus (1991) calls this recursively defining, necessary nexus of relations, the tool or equipment whole.

When we take up these tools, as tools, however, we do not take them up for their own sake; we take them up within an already present reference to our projects. I do not simply bang on keys; I use the laptop to type, in order to write, do e-mail, surf the Internet, and so forth. Moreover, the writing of this entry already refers to the possibility of an encyclopedia, of which it would be a part. This encyclopedia already refers to editors, which refer to a potential audience, which refers to potential publishers, and so on. Furthermore, the writing of this entry also already refers to the publication of my work, which refers to a publication record, which refers to academic status, which refers to the possibility for promotion, and so forth. Heidegger (1962) calls this recursively defining and necessary nexus of projects, or for-the-sake-of relations, the involvement whole.

The equipment whole and the involvement whole refer to each other and sustain each other as an ongoing referential whole, horizon of meaning. Heidegger calls this referential whole "the world." We humans always already dwell in the world in which the world is mostly familiar (it is simply already there, "ready-to-hand" in Heidegger's terminology). Now sometimes the world "breaks down," and then we tend to encounter it as objects or events as such—it becomes occurrent or present-to-hand in Heidegger's terminology. When we type and the key gets stuck then we notice it "as a key"; otherwise we merely type. If it remains stuck the computer becomes occurrent "as a broken laptop." But as we start to take it apart, in an attempt to fix it, it recedes back into the background as something I am fixing.

The point of Heidegger's account is "that things show up for us or are encountered as what they are only against a background of familiarity, competence, and concern that carves out a system of related roles [recursively defining references] into which things fit. Equipmental things are the roles [recursively defining references] into which they are cast by skilled users of them, and skilled users are the practical roles [recursively defining references] into which they [become] cast themselves" (Hall 1993, p. 132). The phenomenological meaning of the world of science, technology, and ethics can be understood only within the always already defining referential whole, the world we are already "in"—or more correctly the world we always already are. Grasping this phenomenological foundation is essential to making sense of some of the authors most important for science, technology, and ethics.

Phenomenology in Science and Technology

Phenomenology has been used to analyze a number of aspects of science and technology in ways that have implications for ethics. What follows is a consideration of three major cases: artificial intelligence, consumer devices, and human–technology relationships.

DREYFUS ON ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. In critiquing artificial intelligence (AI) Dreyfus (1979, 1992) argues that the way skill development has become understood has been wrong. He argues, using the work of Heidegger, that the classical conception of skill development, going back as far as Plato, assumes that we start with the particular cases and then abstract from these to discover and internalize more and more sophisticated and general rules. Indeed, he argues, this is the model that the early artificial intelligence community uncritically adopted. In opposition to this view he argues, with Heidegger, that what we observe when we learn a new skill in everyday practice is in fact the opposite. We most often start with explicit rules or preformulated approaches and then move to a multiplicity of particular cases, as we become an expert. His argument draws directly on Heidegger's account of humans as beings that are always already in-the-world. As humans in-the-world we are already experts at going about everyday life, at dealing with the subtleties of every particular situation—that is why everyday life seems so obvious. Thus, the intricate expertise of everyday action is forgotten and taken for granted by AI.

As a way to critique the program of AI, Dreyfus provides an account of five stages of becoming an expert. A novice acts according to conscious and context-free rules and generally lacks a sense of the overall task and situational elements. The advanced beginner adds, through experience, situational aspects to the context-free rules to gain access to a more sophisticated understanding of the situation. The relationship between the situational aspects and the rules are learned through carefully chosen examples, as it is difficult to formalize them. The competent person will have learned to recognize a multiplicity of context-free rules and situational aspects. This may lead, however, to being overwhelmed because it becomes difficult to know what to include or exclude. The competent individual learns to take a particular perspective on the situation, thereby reducing the complexity. Such "taking a stand," however, involves a certain level of risk taking that requires commitment and personal involvement. For the proficient most tasks are performed intuitively. As an involved actor the relevant situational aspects show up as part of the ongoing activity and need not be formalized. Nevertheless, a pause may still be required to think analytically about a relevant response. For the expert relevant situational aspects as well as appropriate actions emerge as part of the ongoing activity within which the expert is totally absorbed, involved, and committed. The task is performed intuitively, almost all the time. In the ongoing activity of the expert thousands of special cases are discriminated and dealt with appropriately.

With this phenomenological account of skill development in hand it is easy to see the problem for AI. Computing machines need some form of formal rules (a program) to operate. Any attempt to move from the formal to the particular, as described by Dreyfus above, will be limited by the ability of the programmer to formulate rules for such a shift—a shift forgotten by AI. Thus, what the computer lacks is an already there familiarity with the world that it can draw upon as the transcendental horizon of meaning to discern the relevant from the irrelevant in ongoing activity—that is, the computer is not a being-in-the-world in Heidegger's terms.

Dreyfus's critique pushed AI researchers into new ways of thinking. In particular it has led to the embodied cognition program of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Artificial Intelligence Laboratory under the direction of Rodney Brooks. Nevertheless, even such programs of embodied cognition (or cog robots as they are called) would fail if AI cannot give an account of how a cog robot's own existence would be at stake—would matter. Without such a "stake"—without being ahead of itself—the cog robot would lack the fundamental transcendental horizon of intentionality and meaning, according to Heidegger. Phenomenology's call to a "return to the things themselves," to recover the supposed transcendental horizon of meaning, will continue to challenge the progress of AI. Moreover, it seems that many of our assumptions about the relationship between the technical and the social, even the supposition of such a relation itself, will continue to provide a multiplicity of opportunities for phenomenology to explore.

BORGMANN ON CONSUMER DEVICES. In thinking about our relationship with technology in modern contemporary life, Borgmann takes up the question of the possibility of a "free" relation with technology. He agrees with Heidegger that modern technology is a phenomenon that tends to "frame" our relationships with things, and ultimately ourselves and others, in a one-dimensional manner—the world as available resources for our projects. He argues that modern technology frames the world for us as "devices," and specifically as devices that hide the referentiality of the world—the worldhood of the world—upon which devices depend. Devices do not disclose the multiple conditions that are necessary for them to be what they are taken to be. Just the opposite is true: They try to hide the effort that is necessary for them to be available for use. Thus, a thermostat that we simply set at a comfortable temperature now replaces the process of chopping wood, building a fire, and maintaining it. Our relationship with the environment is reduced to, and disclosed to us as a control that we simply set to our liking. In this way devices de-world our relationship with things, in Heidegger's terminology. By relieving us of the burden of making and maintaining fires, our relationship with the world becomes disclosed in a new way—as one of disengagement. The world of things is not something to be engaged in, it is simply available for consumption.

Against such a disengaging relationship with things in the world, Borgmann argues for the importance of focal practices based on focal things. Focal things solicit our full and engaging presence. Compare, for example, the focal practice of preparing and enjoying a meal with friends or family to the solitary consumption of a fast-food meal. If one takes Borgmann's analysis seriously one might conclude that contemporary humans, being surrounded by devices, are doomed to increasingly relate to the world in a disengaged manner. Borgmann argues, however, that it is also possible to have a free relation with technology—even modern technology—if we imbed it in focal practices rather than use it, or accept it, as devices. Otherwise we will, as Heidegger (1977) argued, become the devices of our devices.

IHDE ON HUMAN–TECHNOLOGY RELATIONSHIPS. Phenomenology does not function only as an approach to critique our relationship with technology. Ihde (1990) has used the resources of phenomenology to give a rich and subtle account of our relationship with technology. In thinking about the human–technology relationship Ihde characterizes four different I–technology–world relationships. The first type he calls "embodiment relations." In this case technology is taken into subjective perceptual experience of the world, thus transforming the subject's perceptual and bodily sense. In wearing my eyeglasses I not only see through them, they also become "see through." In functioning as that which they are, they already withdraw into my own bodily sense of being a part of the ordinary way I experience my surrounding. He denotes this relationship as having the form (I–glasses)–world. This relationship, however, has a necessary "magnification/reduction structure" associated with it. Embodiment relations simultaneously magnify and amplify or reduce and place aside (screen out) what is experienced through them. The moon seen through a telescope is different from the moon perceived by the naked eye. The person at the other end of the telephone is brought to me across a great distance at the expense of being reduced to a voice.

The second type of human–technology relationship is what Ihde calls "hermeneutic." Here, the technology functions as an immediate referent to something beyond itself. Although I might fix my focus on a map, what I actually see—immediately and simultaneously—is not the map itself but rather the world it already refers to, the landscape suggested in the symbols. In this case the transparency of the technology is hermeneutic rather than perceptual. As I become skilled at reading maps they withdraw to become immediately and already the world itself. Ihde denotes this relationship as having the form I–(map–world).

The third type of human–technology relationship Ihde calls "alterity relations." In this case, technology is experienced as a being that is otherwise, different from myself—technology-as-other. Examples include things such as religious icons and intelligent robots (the Sony dog for example). In my interaction with these technologies they seem to exhibit a "life of their own," thus as I engage with them they tend to disengage me from the world of everyday life, hence their pervasiveness in activities such as play, art, and sport. Ihde denotes these as having the form I–technology–(world), indicating that the world withdraws into the background and technology emerges as a focal entity with which I momentarily engage—as I play with my robot dog for example.

Finally, Ihde recognizes a fourth type of human–technology relationship in which technology is not directly implicated in a conscious process of engagement on the part of the human. Ihde refers to these as "background relations." Examples include automatic central heating systems, traffic control systems, and so forth. These systems are "black-boxed" in such a way that we do not attend to them, yet we draw on them for our ongoing everyday existence. They withdraw as ongoing background conditions. Although he does not designate them as such, one might formalize these relations in the form: I–(technology)–world. These invisible background technologies can be powerful in configuring our world in particular ways, yet escape our scrutiny.

Ihde's phenomenological description of the human–technology relationship provides a useful way to give an account of many everyday relations of import to science, technology, and ethics. One can imagine a very interesting phenomenological analysis of the relationship between scientists and their instruments as done in the social study of science. Furthermore, the withdrawal of technology, into my body, into my perception, and into the background, has important political and ethical implications for its design and implementation, especially if one considers that every disclosure of the world "through" technology is also immediately a concealment of other possible disclosures. The car discloses possibilities for getting to places quickly, but also conceals, in its withdrawal, the resources (roads, fuel, clean air, etc.) necessary for it to be what it is—they act as devices in Borgmann's terminology. Indeed we often lose sight of the reduction/magnification structure as we simply use these technologies. As these technologies become more and more pervasive—almost a necessary condition of everyday life—it becomes more and more difficult to see that which has become concealed in their withdrawal. With Ihde's typology of I–technology–world relationships it might be possible to bring what has become concealed back to the foreground for critical attention and ethical reflection.

FURTHER CASES, AND LÉVINAS. There are many more authors that could be used to illustrate phenomenology's relevance and influence in the domain of science, technology, and ethics. For example there are Heim's studies of virtual reality (1993) and electronic writing (1999), or Richard Coyne's discussion of being in cyberspace (1995), Tony Fry's excellent essays on the televisual (1993), Terry Winograd and Fernando Flores's critique of the use of computers in organizations (1986), and many more. Nonetheless, it is the work of Lévinas (1969, 1991) that might serve as a final signpost on our phenomenological way. The reason for this is that Lévinas, although he starts within the phenomenological tradition, wants to turn our attention to the most basic encounter of all—that of the ethical.

Lévinas argues that Western philosophy, and phenomenology in particular, is a philosophy of what he calls the same, or the totality—a totality within which every otherness becomes "domesticated." By totality he means the expectation that all things will eventually "add up," will be accounted for; that somehow there is a larger whole or "system" in which everything will eventually find its place. For Lévinas this expectation already has its source in the ongoing synthesizing intentionality of consciousness itself. The transcendental horizon of meaning, opened up by intentionality, is already colonized by our individual self-ish will to be. The gravity of our everyday existential project does not allow the other, as profoundly singular, to remain at the margins of our constituting horizon. Through our will to be—our always already projectedness in Heidegger's language—we have indeed already taken the place "in the sun" of the other. We, in our already in-the-worldness, are already guilty of violating the otherness of the other; we are already responsible, therefore we must respond. For Lévinas, taking up our responsibility for the other is the only possibility for transcending the self-ishness of the will to be.

Thus, what Lévinas points to is that although phenomenology provides a path back to the very constitutive possibilities of experience it also immediately implicates us as already responsible for violating the otherness of the other in these very possibilities. In our quest for meaning we find ourselves at the dawn of ethics, but we find ourselves already guilty. For Lévinas the ethical has always and already called into question the projects of science and technology. With Lévinas one might say that the success of science and technology has always come at the expense of masking the plight of the singular—the singular that is the incidental, idiosyncratic, and random error excluded from consideration in a world in which things always have to add up. Thus, for Lévinas, the most profound question is not the what or how of science and technology but the always already suffering of my neighbor, the specific one closest to me, that the projects of science and technology obscure even if they try to do what is right. Obviously Lévinas is not saying we should abandon science and technology. He is rather saying that we should allow the ethical, the singular other, to continually question and interrogate the already supposed legitimacy of science and technology. It is only in the currency of the singular, this individual here and now, that ethics has any possibilities.

Some Critical Comments

Phenomenology provides a variety of resources for examining relationships among science, technology, and ethics. But phenomenology also has limits. It is often criticized for essentialism and failures to provide rich accounts of the particular and the situated, such as those provided by social studies of science, as in the work of Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar (1986), Michel Callon (1986), or Andrew Pickering (1995). Phenomenology does not appear able to explain why some technologies become accepted and used rather than others in the way social constructivist accounts do, as in the work of Wiebe E. Bijker and colleagues (1987). This tension between phenomenology and social constructivism permeates the work of Feenberg (1995), whose analysis of technology retains important phenomenological insights while working with findings from social studies of technology.

Indeed, other "post" phenomenology authors in science, technology, and ethics retain insights from phenomenology while trying to move beyond its limitations. Don Ihde (1993, 2003) suggests a post-phenomenology that is not centered on the subject but on embodiment. With the notion of "embodiment" he problematizes the ongoing interrelation between the active and perceiving body (or thing) and its environment of action (or use). Likewise, although Latour rejects phenomenology, he retains Heidggger's insight that a thing or tool is what it is within a referential whole. It is this perspective that makes it possible to conceive a thing as an "actant," and therefore constitute the "network" as a network. It would therefore seem reasonable to expect that phenomenology will remain important for those seeking to make sense of our relation with the phenomena of science, technology, and ethics.


SEE ALSO German Perspectives;Heidegger, Martin;Husserl, Edmund.


Bijker, Wiebe E.; Thomas P. Hughes; and Trevor J. Pinch, eds. (1987). The Social Construction of Technological Systems: New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. This is a key text for social constructivism.

Borgmann, Albert. (1984). Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Borgmann's critique of technology in contemporary society.

Callon, Michel. (1986). "Some Elements of a Sociology of Translation: Domestication of the Scallops and the Fishermen of St. Brieuc Bay." In Power, Action, and Belief: A New Sociology of Knowledge? ed. John Law. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. This is an important example of how science and technology becomes enrolled in political programs by different actors.

Coyne, Richard. (1995). Designing Information Technology in the Postmodern Age: From Method to Metaphor. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Applies phenomenology to the problem of information technology and design.

Dreyfus, Hubert L. (1979). What Computers Can't Do: The Limits of Artificial Reason, rev. edition. New York: Harper and Row. Dreyfus's devastating critique of artificial intelligence.

Dreyfus, Hubert L. (1991). Being-in-the-World: A Commentary on Heidegger's "Being and Time," Division I. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Good introduction to Heidegger's Being and Time.

Dreyfus, Hubert L. (1992). What Computers Still Can't Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Feenberg, Andrew. (1995). Alternative Modernity: The Technical Turn in Philosophy and Social Theory. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Fry, Tony. (1993). "Switchings." In RUA TV? Heidegger and the Televisual, ed. Tony Fry. Sydney: Power Publications. Heideggarian account of our engagement with the televisual.

Hall, Harrison. (1993). "Intentionality and World: Division I of Being and Time." In The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger, ed. Charles Guignon. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Heidegger, Martin. (1962). Being and Time, trans. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson. Oxford: Blackwell. Heidegger's most influential work.

Heidegger, Martin. (1977). The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt. New York: Harper and Row. One of the key texts in the philosophy of technology.

Heim, Michael. (1993). The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality. New York: Oxford University Press. An excellent and accessible account of the metaphysical assumptions of virtual reality.

Heim, Michael. (1999). Electric Language, 2nd edition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. A phenomenologicaly informed account of writing technologies in general and of word processing in particular.

Husserl, Edmund. (1970). The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy, trans. David Carr. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

Husserl, Edmund. (1982). Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology, trans. W.R. Boyce Gibson. London: Allen and Unwin; New York: Macmillan.

Husserl, Edmund. (1995). Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology, trans. Dorian Cairns. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic.

Ihde, Don. (1990). Technology and the Lifeworld: From Garden to Earth. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Ihde, Don. (1993). Postphenomenology: Essays in the Postmodern Context. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press. Ihde's development of a postphenomenology for studying technology.

Ihde, Don. (2003). "If Phenomenology Is an Albatross, Is Post-phenomenology Possible?" In Chasing Technoscience: Matrix for Materiality, ed. Don Ihde and Evan Selinger. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Latour, Bruno, and Steve Woolgar. (1986). Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Lévinas, Emmanuel. (1969). Totality and Infinity, trans. Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. Important work of the "early" Levinas.

Lévinas, Emmanuel. (1991). Otherwise than Being; or, Beyond Essence, trans. Alphonso Lingis. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. (1962). Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith. New York: Humanities Press. An important work for understanding the "embodied" literature in studies of technology.

Mohanty, Jitendranath N. (1997). Phenomenology: Between Essentialism and Transcendental Philosophy. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. A good summary of some of the important ideas of phenomenology.

Pickering, Andrew. (1995). The Mangle of Practice: Time, Agency, and Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Shows the reciprocal interrelation between technology, humans, society, and scientific knowledge as produced in scientific and technological work.

Spiegelberg, Herbert. (1994). The Phenomenological Movement: A Historical Introduction, 3rd edition. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic. A vast survey of most of the important authors in phenomenology.

Winograd, Terry, and Fernando Flores. (1986). Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing. The application of Heidegger's work to the design of organizations and computer systems.


views updated May 18 2018


Phenomenology is the study of experience, how things appear to us. The word comes from the Greek but was elaborated in the early nineteenth century on the basis of Immanuel Kant's conception of the world as phenomenon, the world of our experience (as opposed to the world as noumenon, the world as it is "in itself"). Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel famously employed the term in Phänomenologie des Geistes (1807; The Phenomenology of Spirit ), suggesting that all knowledge was a matter of appearance with no world "in itself" other than the one we know. But phenomenology came of age with Edmund Husserl, who turned the Hegelian perspective into a rigorous philosophical method. Husserl in turn gave birth to a number of remarkable students, who together would set the tone for much of European philosophy in the twentieth century. Among them are Martin Heidegger, Max Scheler, Emmanuel Lévinas, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

Edmund Husserl

As a movement and a method, as a "first philosophy," phenomenology owes its life to Edmund Husserl (18591938), a German-Czech (Moravian) philosopher who started out as a mathematician in the late nineteenth century and wrote a book on the philosophy of mathematics, Philosophie der Arithmetik (1891; The Philosophy of Arithmetic ). His view was that there was a strict empiricism, but on being shown (by the great German logician Gottlob Frege) that such an analysis could not possibly succeed, Husserl shifted his ground and started to defend the idea that the truths of arithmetic had a kind of necessity that could not be accounted for by empiricism. Thus, one of the main themes of his next book, Logische Untersuchungen (1913, 1921; The Logical Investigations ), was a protracted argument against "psychologism," the thesis that truth is dependent on the human mind. Rather, Husserl argues that necessary truths are not reducible to our psychology. Phenomenology was Husserl's continuing and continuously revised effort to develop a method for grounding necessary truth.

Given Husserl's beginnings in the rigorous field of mathematics, one must appreciate the temperament that he brought to his new discipline. By the end of the nineteenth century, a new perspectivism (or some would say a relativism) had come into philosophy. Friedrich Nietzsche, in particular, had argued that all knowledge is perspectival and that philosophy could not be reduced to a single perspective, that philosophy might be relative to a people, or to our particular species, or even to individual psychology. Husserl's contemporary Wilhelm Dilthey defended a milder but similar thesis, and the "sociology of knowledge" was just beginning its ascension. Against any such relativism, Husserl insisted on philosophy as a singular, rigorous science, and his phenomenology was to provide the key.

It is often debated whether phenomenology is a philosophy or a method, but it is both. As a "first philosophy," without presuppositions, it lays the basis for all further philosophical and scientific investigations. Husserl defines phenomenology as the scientific study of the essential structures of consciousness. By describing those structures, Husserl promises us, we can find certainty, which philosophy has always sought. To do that, Husserl describes a methodor rather, a series of continuously revised methodsfor taking up a peculiarly phenomenological standpoint, "bracketing out" everything that is not essential, thereby understanding the basic rules or constitutive processes through which consciousness does its work of knowing the world.

The central doctrine of Husserl's phenomenology is the thesis that consciousness is intentional, a doctrine that is borrowed from Franz Brentano. That is, every act of consciousness is directed at some object or other, perhaps a material object, perhaps an "ideal" objectas in mathematics. Thus, the phenomenologist can distinguish and describe the nature of the intentional acts of consciousness and the intentional objects of consciousness, which are defined through the content of consciousness. It is important to note that one can describe the content of consciousness and, accordingly, the object of consciousness without any particular commitment to the actuality or existence of that object. Thus, one can describe the content of a dream in much the same terms that one describes the view from a window or a scene from a novel.

In Ideas: A General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology (1931), Husserl distinguishes between the natural standpoint and the phenomenological standpoint. The former is our ordinary everyday viewpoint and the ordinary stance of the natural sciences, describing things and states-of-affairs. The latter is the special viewpoint achieved by the phenomenologist as he or she focuses not on things but on our consciousness of things. (This is sometimes confused by the fact that Husserl insists that the phenomenologist pay attention to "the things themselves," by which he means the phenomena, or our conscious ideas of things, not natural objects.) One arrives at the phenomenological standpoint by way of a series of phenomenological "reductions," which eliminate certain aspects of our experience from consideration. Husserl formulates several of these, and their nature shifts throughout his career, but two of them deserve special mention. The first and best-known is the epoché or "suspension" that he describes in Ideas, in which the phenomenologist "brackets" all questions of truth or reality and simply describes the contents of consciousness. (The word is borrowed from both the early Skeptics and René Descartes.) The second reduction (or set of reductions) eliminates the merely empirical content of consciousness and focuses instead on the essential features, the meanings of consciousness. Thus Husserl (like Kant) defends a notion of "intuition" that differs from and is more specialized than the ordinary notion of "experience." We have intuitions that are eidetic, meaning that we recognize meanings and necessary truths in them, and not merely the contingent things of the natural world.

In his early work, including Ideas, Husserl defends a strong realist positionthat is, the things that are perceived by consciousness are assumed to be not only objects of consciousness but also the things themselves. A decade or so later, Husserl made a shift in his emphasis from the intentionality of the objects to the nature of consciousness as such. His phenomenology became increasingly and self-consciously Cartesian, as his philosophy moved to the study of the ego and its essential structures. In 1931 Husserl was invited to lecture at the Sorbonne in Paris, and on the basis of those lectures published his Cartesianische Meditationen (1938; Cartesian Meditations, 1960). (The Paris Lectures were also published some years later.) He argues there that "the monadically concrete ego includes the whole of actual and potential conscious life" and "the phenomenology of this self-constitution coincides with phenomenology as a whole (including objects)" (Cartesian Meditations, 68, para. 33). These statements suggest the strong idealist tendency in his later philosophy.

As in the 1930s, Husserl again reinvented phenomenology, this time with a shift toward the practical, or what some might call the more "existential" dimension of human knowledge. Warning of a "crisis" in European civilization based on rampant relativism and irrationalism (an alarm that the logical positivists were raising about the same time in Vienna), Husserl published his Krisis der Europäischen Wissenschaften (1937; Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology ). In Crisis, the focus turned to the "lifeworld" and the nature of social existence, topics that played little role in his earlier investigations of the philosophy of arithmetic and the nature of individual consciousness but would come to play a much greater role in the "existential" phenomenology that would follow. But it is much to Husserl's credit that he continued to see the inadequacies of his own method and correct them, in ever-new efforts to get phenomenology right.

Martin Heidegger

Martin Heidegger (18891971) was a student of Husserl. Before that, he was a theology student, interested in much more concrete matters of human existence than his teacher, and his questions concerned how to live and how to live "authentically"that is, with integrity, in a complex and confusing world. His use of phenomenology was subservient to this quest, although the quest itself soon transcended the phenomenological method. Heidegger's phenomenology is most evident in his first (and greatest) book, Sein und Zeit (1927; English trans. Being and Time, 1962). Like his teacher Husserl, Heidegger insists that philosophical investigation begin without presuppositions. But Husserl, he says, still embraced Descartes's basic picture of the world, assuming that consciousness, or "the mind," was the arena in which phenomenological investigation took place. Such a philosophy could not possibly be presuppositionless. So Heidegger abandons the language of mind, consciousness, experience, and the like, but nevertheless pursues phenomenology with a new openness, a new receptivity, and a sense of oneness with the world.

Heidegger's early work is defined by two themes: first, Heidegger displays a profound anti-Cartesianism, an uncompromising holism that rejects any dualism regarding mind and body, any distinction between subject and object, and the linguistic separation of "consciousness," "experience," and "mind." This also demands a reconsideration of the Cartesian thesis that our primary relationship to the world is one of knowledge. Second, Heidegger's early philosophy is largely a search for authenticity, or what might better be described as "own-ness" (Eigentlichkeit ), which we can understand, with some qualification, as personal integrity. This search for authenticity will carry us into the now familiar but ever-renewed questions about the nature of the self and the meaning of human existence.

To ensure that we do not fall into Cartesian language, Heidegger suggests a new term (the first of many). Dasein (literally, "being-there") is the name of this being from whose perspective the world is being described. Dasein is not a consciousness or a mind, nor is it a person. It is not distinguished from the world of which it is aware. It is inseparable from that world. Dasein is, simply, "Being-in-the-World," which Heidegger insists is a "unitary phenomenon" (not being the world). Thus, phenomenology becomes ontology (the nature of being) as well.

Being-in-the-World is not primarily a process of being conscious or knowing about the world. Science is not the primary concern of Dasein. Dasein 's immediate relation to the world is better captured in the image of the craftsman, who "knows his stuff," to be sure, but might not be able to explain it to you nor even know how to show it to you. What he can dowhat he does dois engage in his craft. He shows you that he knows how to do this and that by simply doing it. This knowing how is prior, Heidegger tells us, to knowing that. In effect, our world is essentially one extended craft shop, a world of "equipment" in which we carry out various tasks and only sometimesoften when something goes wrongstop to reflect on what we are doing and look at our tools as objects, as things. They are, first of all, just tools and material to be used, and in that sense we take them for granted, relying on them without noticing them. Our concept of "things" and our knowledge of them is secondary and derivative.

Thus the notion of Dasein does not allow for the dualism of mind and body or the distinction between subject and object. All such distinctions presuppose the language of "consciousness." But Heidegger defends an uncompromising holism in which the self cannot be, as it was for Descartes, "a thinking thing," distinct from any bodily existence. But, then, what is the self? It is, at first, merely the roles that other people cast for me, as their son, their daughter, their student, their sullen playmate, their clever friend. That self, the Das Man self, is a social construction. There is nothing authentic, nothing that is my own, about it. The authentic self, by contrast, is discovered in profound moments of unique self-recognitionnotably, when one faces one's own death. And so Heidegger's phenomenology opens up the profoundly personal arena of existentialist phenomenology.

Max Scheler and Emmanuel Lévinas

Max Scheler (18741928) was also a student of Husserl, but he, too, took phenomenology in a different direction, toward ethics (which had been ignored by both Husserl and Heidegger). Scheler was an intense man whose considerable contribution to philosophy was the introduction of emotion into the overly formal Kantian conception of ethics that still ruled the Continent. In Wesen und Formen der Sympathy ( 1913; English trans. The Nature of Sympathy, 1954), he resurrected moral sentiment theory and gave a central place in ethics to such emotions as love and hate. He argued that emotions have been understood by philosophers as merely "subjective" and argued a "cognitive" view, such that emotions could be construed as a source of knowledge. There is even, he argued, an emotional a priori, a universal and necessary status to the emotions that philosophers had neglected.

Scheler summed up the theme of the unfolding century between the wars in his book, Ressentiment (1961), in which he develops Nietzsche's accusation that modern morality is a "slave morality," a morality of resentment. But where Nietzsche blames Christianity, Scheler (a Catholic) exonerates his religion and shifts the blame instead to the bourgeoisie. Scheler's phenomenology, unlike Husserl's, was primarily concerned with value and, in particular, the source of values in feelings. What was becoming evident in phenomenologyand in European philosophy more generallywas a loosening up, a rejection of formality, an acceptance and an attempt to understand the less rational aspects of human existence. Worth mentioning here as well is Emmanuel Lévinas (19061995), who also elaborated a phenomenological ethics based on our felt relations with other people. "The face" is the focus of Lévinas's phenomenology. It is an interpersonal phenomenology rather than an Ego-or Dasein-based phenomenology, and interpersonal ethics, including love, plays a central role in it.

Jean-Paul Sartre

Jean-Paul Sartre (19051980) attended Husserl's lectures at the Sorbonne, and he became an enthusiast of phenomenology. He was first of all concerned with the nature of human freedom and the correlative sense of responsibility. Sartre's phenomenology is largely modeled on Heidegger's work, but in his L'être et le néant (1943; English trans. Being and Nothingness, 1956) he retreats from Heidegger's attack on the Cartesian view of consciousness, Sartre argues that consciousness (described as "being-for-itself") is such that it is an activity, not a thing or substance ("no-thing"), and it is always to be distinguished from the world it intends. Consciousness is free to choose and free to "negate" (or reject) the given features of the world. Thus, Heidegger's "being-in-the world" phenomenon gives way to a conflicted portrait of human consciousness resisting and challenging the world.

As in Husserl, consciousness is essentially intentionality, but for Sartre it is nothing but intentionality, an activity directed at the world. Consciousness is active, essentially critical, and consists not just of perception, thoughts, and ideas but as much of desires, wishes, emotions, moods, impulses, and imaginings, negating the world as it is. Sartre celebrates our remarkable freedom to imagine the world other than it is. Our perceptions of the world, he argues, are always permeated by imagination, so that we are always aware of options and alternatives. Furthermore, there is no self or ego behind consciousness, no agent behind the activity. Thus, Sartre distinguishes consciousness from the self, and self, he insists, is "in the world, like the self of another [person]." The self is an ongoing project in the world.

Sartre defines his ontology in terms of the opposition of "being-in-itself" and "being-for-itself," manifested in the tension between the fact that we always find ourselves in a particular situation defined by a body of facts that we may not have chosenour "facticity"and our ability to transcend that facticity, to imagine, and chooseour transcendence. He tells us that consciousness "is what it is not, and is not what it is"a playful paradox that refers to the fact that we are always in the process of "transcending" ourselves. He also defines a third ontological category, "being-for-others," which makes our lives with other people an essential part of our existence.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty

After the war, Sartre's younger colleague Maurice Merleau-Ponty (19081961) convinced him that he should modify his "absolute" insistence on freedom in his later works, although his insistence on freedom and responsibility remains. Merleau-Ponty went on to develop his own radical revision of the phenomenology of freedom and the essentially embodied nature of human consciousness. Following Sartre, Merleau-Ponty expanded the role of the body in phenomenology. Accordingly, Husserl's intentionality becomes motility, and instead of dis-embodied perception we have the body's orientation to the world. It is a radical move, and phenomenology could not quite keep up with it. So when phenomenology was replaced in French thinking, by the new wave of poststructuralism, the body retained its now privileged position but phenomenology moved to the margins. It is still practiced by diehard Husserlians and Sartreans, and it has become a valuable toolone among manyfor researchers on all sorts of psychological topics, but as an exclusive approach to philosophy, a "first philosophy," it is now for the most part simply a part of history.

See also Continental Philosophy ; Existentialism ; Kantianism ; Structuralism and Poststructuralism .


Brentano, Franz. Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint. Edited by Oskar Kraus and Linda L. McAlister. Translated by Antos C. Raucella et al. London: Routledge, Kegan and Paul, 1973.

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York: Harper, 1962.

Husserl, Edmund. Cartesian Meditations. Translated by Dorion Cairns. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1964.

. Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology. Translated by W. R. Boyce-Gibson. London: Macmillan, 1931.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness. Translated by Hazel E. Barnes. New York: Philosophical Library, 1956.

Scheler, Max. Formalism in Ethics and Non-formal Ethics of Values. 5th rev. ed. Translated by Manfred S. Frings and Roger L. Funk. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1973.

. The Nature of Sympathy. Translated by Peter Heath. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1954.

Solomon, Robert C. From Hegel to Existentialism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

. From Rationalism to Existentialism: The Existentialists and Their Nineteenth-Century Backgrounds. New York: Harper and Row, 1972.

Robert C. Solomon


views updated May 18 2018


Philosophical phenomenology

Psychological phenomenology

Phenomenology and contemporary psychology


The word “phenomenology” is derived from the Greek phainein, “to show,” from which came phainemenon, meaning “that which appears.” Thus, phenomenology in a general sense could be literally the orderly study of phenomena, or appearances, and could as such encompass much of traditional philosophy and science. In its restricted sense, however, it refers to the study of phenomena as phenomena and more specifically to a twentieth-century movement in German philosophy centered loosely on Edmund Husserl. A good English introduction to Husserl’s philosophy has been provided by Marvin Farber (1943), and the whole phenomenological movement has been reviewed by Herbert Spiegelberg (1960). The various forms of existentialism, which have developed particularly in France since World War ii, may be regarded as offshoots of the phenomenological movement but should not be identified with it. Phenomenology and existentialism, while primarily philosophical, have had important repercussions in psychology, psychiatry, theology, literature, drama, and the fine arts. The present article will limit itself to a brief sketch of the philosophical background and a somewhat fuller account of psychological phenomenology [seePsychology, article onexistential psychology, and the biography ofHusserl].

Philosophical phenomenology

Philosophical phenomenology is essentially a method of philosophical analysis rather than a school in the traditional sense of the term. The phenomenologist attempts to suspend or “place in brackets” (einklammern) all metaphysical and epistemological presuppositions, to identify and describe the essences of experience as they are intuitively apprehended (Anschauung, Wesensschau), and on this basis to provide a fresh approach to the classic problems of metaphysics, epistemology, psychology, logic, ethics, and aesthetics. Husserl believed that in this way philosophy could be rescued from unproductive speculation and re-established as a rigorously empirical discipline (strenge Wissenschaft). Phenomenology is thus empirical in its insistence on a continuous and unbiased scrutiny of experience, but not empiricist as the word is commonly used to refer to explanation through past experience. It shares the empirical emphasis of Locke and his successors and of some of the positivists—e.g., Ernst Mach—differing from these primarily on grounds that their analyses of experience were neither rigorous nor complete. Phenomenology is not to be confused with phenomenalism, the doctrine that knowledge is limited to the data of experience and that the knower is consequently incapable of transcending the world of phenomena, nor with psychologism, the contention that all philosophical problems can be reduced to terms of psychology.

History of modern phenomenology

Antecedents of modern phenomenology are to be found in the many classic attempts—e.g., that of St. Augustine—to found a philosophy on the data of intuition. The modern movement begins, however, with Descartes, whose “method” involved the suspension of all beliefs and the acceptance as true of only those ideas which are presented “so clearly and distinctly as to exclude all ground of doubt.” Although Kant’s distinction between the phenomenal and the noumenal world rests in part on phenomenological analysis, the post-Kantian (e.g., Hegelian) use of the term “phenomenology” and its loose use in the sciences to denote anything observable are not regarded as relevant. Husserl’s phenomenology goes back to Descartes for its inspiration and draws liberally from the psychological analyses of William James (1890) and Husserl’s teacher Franz Brentano (1874), particularly from the latter’s doctrine of intentionality. Husserl’s early interest was in the phenomenological basis of mathematics and logic, from which he moved to epistemology and eventually to a transcendental phenomenology, which is usually regarded as a form of metaphysical idealism. Among his publications the most important for psychology is his Logische Untersuchungen (1900–1901). The Jahrbuch für Phälosophie und phanomenologische Forschung, which he edited from 1913 to 1930, also contains contributions to psychology, and the Husserl archives at Louvain are yielding further material of psychological interest. His more strictly philosophical works, however, have had a profound influence on the existentialist psychologies [see the biographies ofames; Kant].

Other influential German philosophers who shared in the phenomenological movement were Alexander Pfänder, Max Scheler, Nicolai Hartmann, and Moritz Geiger. Scheler in particular, although not a disciple of Husserl, became widely known for his extension of the phenomenological method into the fields of ethics and value theory. It was Martin Heidegger, however, Husser’s pupil and successor at the University of Freiburg, who perhaps unintentionally popularized the term “existentialism” and who, through his often baffling metaphors and neologisms, has been in some measure responsible for phenomenology’s reputation as an obscure and almost esoteric metaphysical system. Since the publication of Sein und Zeit (1927) Heidegger has moved steadily away from a straightforward phenomenology and has concerned himself more and more with the ontological problem–that of the fundamental meaning of being (Sein). In spite of his early enthusiasm for the National Socialist ideology he has been an influential figure in recent continental European philosophy, particularly in French existentialism and in the existentialist movements in theology and psychiatry. Since World War II the phenomenological movement in philosophy has been most active in France under the leadership of Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Both men have accepted in principle Husserl’s phenomenological method but have pushed further in the direction of a detailed examination of the phenomena of human existence (the human situation) and thus toward a complete existentialist philosophy. Sartre’s more strictly phenomenological contributions are to be found in his studies of imagination and emotion; in his novels and plays and in his more systematic philosophical works, e.g., Being and Nothingness (1943), he presents existentialism as a philosophy of life. Merleau-Ponty is also known both as a phenomenologist and as an existentialist. His most important phenomenological contributions have been his analyses of perception (1945) and of language (1952).

Psychological phenomenology

Psychological phenomenology, too, is essentially an approach rather than a particular kind of theory or system, and it owes as much to Goethe, Purkinje, and the physiologist Ewald Hering as it does to Husserl. Whereas Husserl’s phenomenology is logically prior to all empirical science, concerned with essences rather than with “matters of fact,” psychological phenomenology is frankly and explicitly descriptive. It represents what David Katz called an attitude of “disciplined naivete,” the attempt to suspend all presuppositions (biases, implicit assumptions) and observe and describe the world of phenomena (consciousness, immediate experience, phenomenal world, psychological field) as it is naively apprehended. Husserl regarded this kind of psychology as an important empirical discipline, coordinate with the other empirical sciences but not to be confused with “pure” phenomenology. Psychological phenomenology is in the tradition of all the psychologies since Descartes which have accepted as their task the scientific study of consciousness, and it is thus to be distinguished from the faculty psychologies, the depth psychologies, and the psychologies which limit their subject matter to externally observed or logically inferred behavior.

Phenomenology and introspection

Phenomenological description must not be equated, however, with the introspective analysis of the Wundtian school, best represented in the English literature by Edward B. Titchener. For Titchener (1929), “existential” experience consists of the pure, irreducible, conscious content (sensation, feeling, image) which is left after all object reference or meaning context has been deliberately brushed aside. To confuse the sensation itself with the stimulus which arouses it—e.g., the color with the light wave—is to commit the stimulus error. The phenomenologist would accept introspective analysis as a legitimate technique for the establishment of correlations between the variables of physical stimulation and the dimensions of consciousness, as in psychophysics, but he would reject the assertion that the introspectively identified sensations are necessarily the elements of consciousness. He would also agree with the introspectionist that the physical, physiological, or other conditions which give rise to a phenomenon, or which can be correlated with it, should not be confused with the phenomenon itself. Just as color is not an array of light waves, so the person we perceive is not the person who may “really” exist; one is a phenomenal datum, the other an independently definable process, entity, or condition which may or may not be causally related to the phenomenon. The phenomenologist differs radically from the introspectionist in his insistence on the acceptance as legitimate psychological data of the very phenomena which the introspectionist emphatically rejects, namely, such phenomena as organization, directedness, attractiveness, or requiredness—phenomena which for the introspectionist are secondary outcomes of association or interpretation. If we suspend our presuppositions, the phenomenologist argues, and refuse to impose on the phenomena any theory as to their origin or their veridicality, we still find ourselves confronted with a meaningful world of things, events, and people, organized and interrelated in vastly complex ways.

Elimination of biases and presuppositions

Our first phenomenological task is to observe, describe, and analyze the structures, properties, dimensions, and interrelations of phenomena as they are naively apprehended. This, the phenomenologist contends, is a highly disciplined activity, fully as rigorous as introspection, analogous to but not identical with the phenomenological reduction of Husserl [see the biographies ofTitchener; Wundt].

The various biases or presuppositions which must be placed in brackets have been variously classified and need not be detailed here. Some of these stem from the reductive atomism of classical Newtonian physics and can be recognized as implicit in the associationist psychologies developed since the work of John Locke; others stem from the Darwinian emphasis on explanation by reference to origins, evident both in behaviorist learning theory and in Freudian psychoanalysis; and still others reflect the confusion of logical implication with psychological content so frequently encountered in theories of motivation. Without denying the value of reductive analysis or of developmental studies, the phenomenological psychologist would argue that these and other biases involve a prejudgment of the phenomena and the consequent risk that significant phenomena, such as the melodic property of a series of tones or the physiognomic properties of a face, will be dismissed as of no consequence because they disappear in reductive analysis or seem to be the products of past experience. He would argue further that in the recent history of psychology this deliberate bracketing of implicit assumptions and the acceptance of all data of experience, however subtle or evanescent, as intrinsically valid, has led to significant extensions of psychological knowledge and advances in psychological theory.

Phenomenology and contemporary psychology

The phenomenological method has been applied to many areas of psychology, most systematically perhaps in the experimental study of perception, particularly in connection with the traditional problems of space, time, motion, color, sound, and touch. These are obviously the phenomena most readily accessible to observation under conditions of experimental control. The phenomenal world contains much more, however, than things and events with their properties and interrelationships. It also contains the phenomenal self and phenomenal “other selves/’ with their feelings, emotions, and desires; and it contains a whole welter of phenomenal structures, states, and processes which have been traditionally classified as memories, fantasies, choices, beliefs, and the like. These phenomena also invite the interest of the phenomenologist, and even though they are difficult to bring into the laboratory, they are steadily yielding to other techniques of investigation. Some of the most promising of these techniques are being developed by the clinician, whose patient may be incapable of giving a full and free account of his experience and must consequently be induced through indirect devices to reveal what is there for him. The range of phenomenological investigation is thus steadily broadening to include what have been traditionally thought of as noncognitive processes. As facts are being accumulated and techniques refined, more and more attention is being devoted to the reconstruction of the phenomenal world of the “other person,” including that of the child, the deviant, the person who has grown up in a culture radically different from one’s own, even members of other species. Basic to the investigation is always the attempt to establish the “what” of experience. To explain the “why” one must transcend phenomenology and become a systematic psychologist or even a philosopher. Most of the phenomenologists have gone beyond their phenomenology, but phenomenology has produced no single psychological theory. In the available space only a few of the most significant contributors to psychological phenomenology can be mentioned.

Experimental psychology of perception

The pioneer in the experimental phenomenology of perception is undoubtedly David Katz, whose The World of Colour appeared in 1911. Before him, Goethe (1810) and Purkinje (1819–1825) had published detailed descriptive analyses of the world of color, and Hering in Outlines of a Theory of the Light Sense (1872–1875) had countered Helmholtz’ empiricist theory of color constancy with a nativist theory based on the acceptance of naively apprehended object color as psychologically valid. Karl Stumpf in his Tonpsychologie (1883–1890) had also made use of the phenomenological method, but Stumpf–s interest in phenomenology was as much philosophical as it was psychological. Helmholtz had explained the approximate constancy of object color as the interpretation of primary, physically bound sensation elements by unconscious inference. Katz bracketed Helmholtz’ physicalistic assumptions and proceeded to explore the world of color in all its modes of appearance (Erscheinungsweisen), demonstrating that while film colors (Flächenfarben) vary simply and directly with changes in retinal stimulation, the same does not hold true for surface colors (Oberfächenfarben), which are phenomenally inherent in the perceived object. Impressions of surface color and of illumination are phenomenally covariant, changes in total retinal stimulation being registered, within very wide limits, as changes in impression of illumination, with the consequence that object color tends to remain phenomenally constant. As a result of Katz’s phenomenological studies of color and of his similar studies of the world of touch in Der Aufbau der Tastwelt (1925), the facts of phenomenal constancy have become basic to a reconstructed psychophysics and psychophysiology of perception. [SeePerception, article onPerceptual Constancy; Vision, article onColor Vision and Color Blindness; and the biographies OfHering; Katz; Stumpf.]

Gestalt theory. Perhaps even more rewarding has been the phenomenological approach to perceptual organization represented by the Berlin group of gestalt psychologists. The reality of gestalt qualities had been recognized by Christian von Erenfels in his article “Über ‘Gestaltqualätaten’” (1890) and by Stumpf, but it was Max Wertheimer’s experimental studies of apparent movement (1912) which set the stage for the gestalt movement. The older theories could not admit as psychologically valid an experience of movement when there is no physical movement in the stimuli; phenomenal movement had to be explained away as an illusion. Wertheimer, like Katz, simply accepted the phenomenal fact as valid, insisting that movement as such must have its direct neural correlate; hence the controversial principle of isomorphism. Wertheimer’s pioneer experiments led to a long series of studies of gestalt phenomena in perception, memory, thinking, and motivation, many of which have been reviewed by Koffka (1935). While the gestalt theories which emerged, notably the physiological and the psychological field theories, go beyond phenomenology, the basic approach is in each case phenomenological. It should be noted that this approach, although prominently associated with the gestalt group, has been broadly characteristic of experimental psychology in western Europe. Examples of this approach are to be found in the work of Albert Michotte on phenomenal causality, Jean Piaget on developmental psychology, F. J. J. Buytendijk on expressive movement, and Geza Révész and Albert Wellek on the psychology of music. [SeeGestalt theory.]

Verstehende psychologic

Related to the experimental movement but not to be identified with it is the “understanding” psychology (verstehende Psychologie) of Wilhelm Dilthey, Max Scheler, Eduard Spranger, Karl Jaspers, and Ludwig Binswanger. Distinguishing broadly between the Naturwissenschaften (natural sciences) and the Geisteswissenschaften (mental or humanistic sciences), Dilthey (1883) placed in the former category the reductive or “explaining” psychology of the laboratory and in the latter the psychology which seeks an intuitive understanding of man’s value orientations as revealed both in individual life and in history. This kind of psychology, systematized by Spranger as a sixfold value typology in his Types of Men (1914), has had considerable influence on the study of personality, both in Germany and elsewhere. Although the verstehende Psychologie is not strictly phenomenological, it represents the attempt at an intuitive, nonanalytic penetration of the inner life of the other person; a somewhat shaky phenomenological basis for it is to be found in Scheler’s The Nature of Sympathy (1913). Scheler’s descriptive analysis of the various forms of sympathy is part of his attempt to lay the phenomenological groundwork for a broadly inclusive philosophical anthropology. The relevance of the verstehende Psychologie to psychopathology is perhaps best demonstrated in Jaspers’ General Psychopathology (1913) and Binswanger’s Grundformen und Erkenntnis menschlichen Daseins (1942); both authors are to be ranked among the leading existentialists. [SeeSympathy and Empathy.]

The phenomenological movement is still distinctively European. In the United States, leading interpreters of philosophical phenomenology in the Husserl tradition are Marvin Farber and Herbert Spiegelberg. The phenomenological emphasis in experimental, developmental, and social psychology is recognizable in what has come to be known as “cognitive theory,” a useful summary and evaluation of which was made by Martin Scheerer (1954). In the psychology of personality and in psychotherapy there is a vigorous and growing existentialist movement, influenced greatly by Binswanger’s Daseinsanalyse.

Robert B. Macleod

[Directly related are the entriesPsychology, article onexistential psychology; Thinking. Other relevant material may be found inMental disorders, treatment of, article onclient-centered counseling; Perception; and in the biographies ofHusserl; Katz.]


Binswanger, Ludwig (1942) 1953 Grundformen und Erkenntnis menschlichen Daseins. Rev. ed. Zurich: Niehaus.

Brentano, Franz C. (1874) 1924–1925 Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkt. 2 vols., 2d ed. Leipzig: Meiner.

Dilthey, Wilhelm (1883) 1951 Gesammelte Schriften. Volume 1: Einleitung in die Geisteswissenschaften. Leipzig: Teubner.

Ehrenfels, Christian Von 1890 Über “Gestaltqualitäten.” Vierteljahresschrift für wissenschaftliche Philosophie und Soziologie 14:249–292.

Farber, Marvin 1943 The Foundation of Phenomenology: Edmund Husserl and the Quest for a Rigorous Science of Philosophy. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang Von (1810) 1840 Theory of Colours. London: Murray. → First published as Zur Farbenlehre.

Heidegger, Martin (1927) 1962 Being and Time. New York: Harper. → First published in German as Sein und Zeit.

Hering, Ewald (1872–1875) 1964 Outlines of a Theory of the Light Sense. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. → First published in German as Zur Lehre vom Lichtsinne. A revised and enlarged edition was published in 1920 as Grundzüge der Lehre vom Lichtsinn.

Husserl, Edmund (1900–1901) 1922–1928 Logische Untersuchungen. 2 vols. Halle (Germany): Niemeyer. → Volume 1: Prolegomena zur reinen Logik. Volume 2: Untersuchungen zur Phänomenologie und Theorie der Erkenntnis.

James, William (1890) 1962 The Principles of Psychology. 2 vols. Gloucester, Mass.: Smith.

Jaspers, Karl (1913) 1963 General Psychopathology. Univ of Chicago Press. → First published in German.

Katz, David (1911) 1935 The World of Colour. London: Routledge. → First published in German as Die Erscheinungsweisen der Farben und ihre Beeinflussung durch die indiviuelle Erfahrung. A revised and enlarged edition was published in 1930 as Der Aufbau der Farbwelt.

Katz, David 1925 Der Aufbau der Tastwelt. Leipzig: Barth

Koffka, Kurt 1935 Principles of Gestalt Psychology. New York: Harcourt.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1945) 1962 Phenomenology of Perception. New York: Humanities. → First published in French.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice 1952 Sur la phénoménologie du langage. Pages 91–109 in Colloque International de phénoménologie, Bruxelles, 1951, Problémes actuels de la phénoménologie. Paris: Desclée de Brouwer.

Purkinje, Jan E. 1819–1825 Beobachtungen und Versuche zur Physiologie der Sinne. 2 vols. Prague: Calve; Berlin: Reimer. → Volume 1 was published in Prague and Volume 2 in Berlin.

Sartre, Jean-Paul (1943) 1956 Being and Nothingness. New York: Philosophical Library. → First published in French as L’etre et le néant.

Scheerer, Martin 1954 Cognitive Theory. Volume 1, pages 91–142 in Gardner Lindzey (editor), Handbook of Social Psychology. Cambridge, Mass.: AddisonWesley.

Scheler, Max (1913) 1954 The Nature of Sympathy. London: Routledge. → First published as Zur Phänomenologie und Theorie der Sympathiegefühle. The second revised and enlarged edition—which was later translated into English—was published in 1923 as Wesen und Formen der Sympathie.

Spiegelberg, Herbert (1960) 1965 The Phenomenological Movement. 2 vols. 2d ed. The Hague: Nijhoff.

Spranger, Eduard (1914) 1928 Types of Men: The Psychology and Ethics of Personality. 5th ed. Halle (Germany): Niemeyer. → First published as Lebensformen: Geisteswissenschaftliche Psychologie und Ethik der Personlichkeit.

Stumpf, Karl 1883–1890 Tonpsychologie. 2 vols. Leipzig: Hirzel.

Titchener, Edward B. 1929 Systematic Psychology: Prolegomena. New York: Macmillan.

Wertheimer, Max 1912 Experimentelle Studien über das Sehen von Bewegungen. Zeitschrift fur Psychologie und Physiologie der Sinnesorgane 61:161–265. → Reprinted in Wertheimer’s Drei Abhandlungen zur Gestalttheorie published in 1925 by the Philosophische Akademie, Erlangen.


views updated May 18 2018


From the Greek φαινόμενον and λόγος, the setting forth or articulation of what shows itself. [For an etymological derivation and exposition of the term, see M. Heidegger, Being and Time, tr. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson (New York 1962).] The word was first used in the 18th century by J. H. Lambert (172877), then by I. Kant; finally it became a fundamental notion in the celebrated work of G. W. F. hegel, Phänomenologie des Geistes (Würzburg 1807). In the 20th century the term was revived and given fresh meaning by E. husserl, and it is from his work that contemporary usage derives its basic connotation.

Intentionality. Guided by the doctrine of the intentionality of consciousness, which he had acquired from his teacher F. brentano, Husserl was led to repudiate and criticize his own earlier views on the nature of knowledge. In the Logische Untersuchungen (2 v. Halle 190001), he laid bare the logical inconsistency in psychologism, the prevalent view that the laws of thought and the nature of thinking were attained by inductive generalization from the observation or introspection of one's mental states. Thus, J. S. mill held that the principle of contradiction was a generalization from the fact that belief and disbelief were two different "mental states" excluding one another. Husserl showed that such formulations not only could never attain the certainty and specific character of logical laws, but that they disastrously confused the act of thinking and the object of thought, so that what one thought was conceived as a content of the mind (and as subject to its laws) just as much as the thinking itself. In opposition to this, he argued that what presents itself to consciousnesswhat one judges, imagines, and remembersis not an element or ingredient of the stream of conscious acts (judging, imagining, remembering, etc.) but transcends them in some way, as evidenced by the fact that one can return to the same thought indefinitely many times. To speak of consciousness as intentional is to refer to this essential characteristic of all conscious experiences, their intrinsic reference to an object that is not a real element of the experience. All consciousness is consciousness of something beyond it, something presented to it but not contained in it (i.e., the mind is not a container).

This doctrine of the intentional structure of consciousness is the cornerstone of phenomenology, but it is only the cornerstone. The influence and importance of phenomenology lie not in the recovery of this notion, but in its twofold analysis: one toward the ontological ground of this structure (and from this emerges contemporary existentialism) and the other toward the classification and clarification of the many different types of intentionality and intentional objects (perceptual, volitional, aesthetic, psychic, etc.).

Once the objectivity of the objects of consciousness is secured, Husserl lays out the foundations of phenomenology as a "prephilosophical" descriptive protoscience, whose concern will be with the systematic delineation and classification of (not the stream of consciousness, but) the fundamental types of intentional objects and, correspondingly, the intentional acts of the subject presenting them. If this can be done, one will have at hand the fundamental data on which all systematic knowledge is founded.

Phenomenological Method. Such an effort, to be successful, requires that the phenomena be described as they really give themselves, free from any cultural, philosophical, or ontological bias: it requires an ascetic neutrality in one's attitude toward the phenomena of one's awareness. To achieve this neutrality is the purpose of the reductions that are sketched in bk. 1 of the Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie (Halle 1913); tr. W. B. Gibson, Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology (New York 1931). There is, first, the philosophical epoché, or bracketing, the setting aside of all philosophical presuppositions about reality, the world, man, the distinctions of primary and secondary qualities, the exterior and interior worlds, etc. The eidetic reduction focuses one's attention on the essential structures of what appears, so that one is dealing not with an empirical description, nor with a description of subsistent Platonic Forms, but with the sense or meaning of what appears. The phenomenological reduction crowns this process by bracketing the reality of the phenomena (whether psychical or physical) that one spontaneously and implicitly accepts as existing. To do this is not to deny or ignore their reality, but rather to focus on precisely what in their appearance or mode of appearing gives them the index of real.

At this point, one is at the center of the labyrinth of phenomenological method and presumably prepared to proceed with an absolutely pure (i.e., unbiased) description of the structures of conscious experience: its temporality, the acts by which various intentional objects are constituted or rendered present, and the various types of objects themselvesperceptual, imagined, etc. Husserl goes further and seems to contend that the intentional acts and objects of consciousness exist absolutely, whereas physical objects exist only for consciousness, being nothing more than the system of their concordant appearances. Although the word is not used in the Ideen, it seems that idealism is the direction of development here indicated. At least, this is the way in which many of Husserl's "first generation" of students read it and repudiated it, while accepting the phenomenological reduction (or the transcendental-phenomenological reduction, as it was later called) as a methodological device. To this first group belonged such eminent thinkers as Jean Hering, Alexander Koyré, and a notable group of later converts to Catholicism such as Dietrich von hildebrand, Max scheler, and Edith Stein.

Meaning and Experience. Some other characteristic elements of Husserl's phenomenology developed in the Ideen and later works are the following. First is the distinction between empty and filled meaning-intentions, corresponding roughly to the distinction between "I understand what you mean" and "I see that it is the case." The formulation of a hypothesis and its verification would exemplify this, but so also would the anticipation of how a melody now being heard will be resolved and

its actual heard resolution. The latter example is significant because the anticipation is not a hypothesis, nor is it conceptual, but it is part of the meaning of the unfinished melody in process.

Second is the affirmation that every object of awareness (perceptual, conceptual, etc.) is given in a horizon or field of other objects or meanings that contributes to its significance. Thus Husserl holds, as do the Gestaltists, that perception is not of the individual object but of a figure on a ground of some kind. Moreover, Husserl extends the notion of horizon to the implicitly anticipated perceptions that one could have of the object before him if, e.g., he walked around it. He calls this the internal horizon of the object and insists that the not-yet-given-butanticipated perceptions (the "protentions") are part of the meaning of the aspect of the object that is actually given to the perceiver. His view of perception, therefore, is not Humean in the sense that one is presented with naked sense data: there is a potential as well as an actual element in the objects of which man is perceptually aware. Moreover, the protentions are pre-predicative or pre-conceptual: they are not, as has been noted, hypotheses about what will come next. This reflects the phenomenological position that it is the appearing of the object that constitutes the phenomenon, not apparent objects about whose external status one has still to decide.

Third is the distinction between noesis and noema. Every conscious experience is, phenomenologically, extraordinarily complex. The fundamental composition is that of the intentional object, or noema, and the act of intending, or noesis: for example, that which one judges and the act of judging. Noesis and noema are correlative in the sense that every distinct kind of intentional object is rendered present to man's awareness by a distinct type of noetic act. Moreover, each intentional object is itself a synthetic unity of many distinct noematic aspects. Thus every noema, in addition to its fundamental sense or meaning, presents itself with the index of really existing, or being unreal (imagined, dreamt, etc.); with this or that aspect focused on by attention; with affective and volitional aspects (desirable, valued, sacred, etc.); and with a "doxic" character (possible, probable, problematic, doubtful, etc.). To each of these aspects of the full or complete noema corresponds a noetic element of consciousness (e.g., for the last series of doxic modalities: supposition, conjecture, question, and doubt).

Phenomenology and Idealism. In the later works of his middle period, Husserl's idealism grew more pronounced and more explicit. In the Cartesian Meditations (Paris 1931; tr. D. Cairns, The Hague 1960), phenomenology is described as a "transcendental idealism," and every dimension of conscious experience is said to fit into the schema "ego-cogito-cogitatum." Already in this work and increasingly in the 1930s, there are elements that resist subsumption into such idealism: the notions of history and the alter ego, of a time both constituted and constituting, of passive constitution and the genesis of meaning, and, perhaps most importantly, of the world as the passive pre-given ground of all intentional objects. Two posthumous works, Erfahrung und Urteil (ed. L. Landgrebe, Prague 1939) and the essays collected under the title of Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phänomenologie (v.6 of Husserliana, The Hague 1954), have a decidedly more realistic tone, and in their development of the notion of the Lebenswelt, or vital world of everyday life, served to lay out the frame of an ontological structure of consciousness as being-in-the-world.

It is as yet not possible to pass definitive judgment on the import of these late years for Husserl's own conception of phenomenology. What is clear is that it is primarily from the problems and orientation of this last period that the existential phenomenology of the 1940s and 1950s took its bearings. Among the themes of these writings, still only partially published, perhaps the most influential has been that of the Lebenswelt.

Lebenswelt. The Lebenswelt is the encompassing world of man's daily life, whose primordial structures tend to be lost sight of under a "clothing of ideas," basically the ideas or attitudes of the physical sciences. For example, there is, according to Husserl, a primordial experience of spatiality that is neither Euclidean nor Riemannian nor Lobachevskian, i.e., not geometrical at all. It is structured around such basic poles as near and far, home ground and away, etc. Its central foundation is the earth, not in the sense of the circling globe of Copernicus, but as the ground upon which all motion takes place and which itself neither moves nor is stationary. All concrete, perceived motion requires a ground against which the motion is given. True, one can think about the motion of particles in mechanics without reference to this ground, but to do so is precisely to abstract from one's concrete experience and to leave behind part of its essential structure. The abstraction may indeed be truly revealing of a dimension of the real world, but insofar as it is taken to be the fundamental world-picture on the basis of which one must account for the perceived world, it represents an inversion of viewpoint rooted in a forgetfulness of its origins.

It is this forgetfulness of its concrete origins that underlies the contemporary crisis of the sciences of the West, in Husserl's view. To overcome this crisis, what is needed is a reduction that recovers (or rather uncovers) the primordial levels of the experience of living-in-the-world. Only then will one be able to secure the foundations of scientific knowledge by seeing how it arises out of, and hence is rooted in, the Lebenswelt. It was to the phenomenological exploration and description of the Lebenswelt that most of Husserl's work in the 1930s was addressed, and it is in large part around this theme that the later development of phenomenology has crystallized. A good example of this is the Phenomenology of Perception, by M. merleau-ponty (Paris 1945; tr. C. Smith, New York 1962), which provides descriptive accounts of the basic structures of living-in-the-world: perception, the body, things, space, time, other persons, etc.

Existential Phenomenology. In spite of the continuity of theme and approach, however, there are fundamental criticisms of Husserl's transcendental phenomenology in the writings of these more recent philosophers, so much so that it is appropriate to distinguish a second major phase of the phenomenological movement as a whole, a phase that has been called existential phenomenology. Three of these fundamental differences may be noted: the status of reduction and constitution, the role of pre-predicative intentionalities, and the significance of the body.

Reduction and Constitution. The transcendental epoché had as its goal the reduction of all objects of consciousness whatsoever to the status of cogitata, i.e., intentional-theoretic objects of the transcendental ego, the absolutely disengaged observer. The obverse of the reduction is the "constitution" of the mundane objects from which one began: once one has "unpacked" all the implicit and explicit intentionalities that make up the meaning of the objects he experiences, he is in a position to see and say how these objects are constituted for himself, namely, by the thus delineated intentional acts of the transcendental ego. For a transcendental idealistic phenomenology, then, reduction and constitution are coextensive and exhaustive: every possible nonego element of conscious experience can be reduced and produced. For the existential phenomenologists, however, the reduction does not reveal a disengaged transcendental ego for whom all else can be rendered objective, but discovers a world whose reality coconstitutes the ego rather than being constituted for the ego. It discovers a radical and irreducible involvement of consciousness with the world. It discovers, in sum, an ontological structure of participation: being-in-the-world. (Merleau-Ponty attributes this discovery to Husserl, in the form of the distinction between the intentionality of the acts of the ego and an operative intentionality that others have called "exsistence.")

Pre-predicative Intentionality. For existential phenomenology, then, there is a gap between reduction and constitution. The world as the encompassing ground of all constituted objects is itself pre-given, pre-objective, and unconstituted. The genesis or constitution of the "true and exact" world of objective science is still a problem consequent upon the reduction to the pre-objective world of the Lebenswelt, but the latter is only to be described, not constituted or constructed. The fundamental structures of the Lebenswelt underlie and thus escape from what Husserl in his idealist period considered to be the all-encompassing matrix of meaning: the ego-cogito-cogitatum. There are perceptions of meaning (e.g., of sexuality, of other persons, of the world) that are not cogitationes envisaging cogitata.

Intentionality remains, for the existential phenomenologists, the "defining" characteristic of awareness, although it is not primarily the intentionality of ego related to object through its thetic or explicit acts, but the irreducibly pre-reflective intentionality of an ontological situation. The critical operative element in this ontological structure, that which effects the in-the-world dimension of the being of consciousness, is its incarnation.

Significance of the Body. Perhaps no difference between classical modern philosophy and phenomenology is more striking and at the same time more significant than that of the status of the body. From R. descartes on, the body has been an object for consciousness, bound to the ego in a unique way, no doubt, yet on the same footing with other objects in the world. This is still true for the early Husserl. For the existential phenomenologists, on the other hand, it is the lived body as a dimension of one's subjectivity that is the source of the (prereflective) intentionalities that structure the Lebenswelt.

Problems of Evaluation. The difficulty involved in making any final evaluation of Husserl's thought was mentioned, and it is perhaps clearer now why this is the case. It is simply not clear as yet (and may never be so) whether in his late years he abandoned the project of a transcendental idealism or whether the solidity of the Lebenswelt represented merely a temporary detour in the path of the transcendental reduction. In any case the phenomenological movement is beyond question the dominant philosophical current on the Continent. It seems to have laid to rest the epistemological problem of "inside" and "outside" worlds and to have at least blunted the conflict between science and philosophy by basing philosophy on the description of a pre-objective world of experience.

Causality. At the same time, a number of basic questions remain unanswered or answered unsatisfactorily. One of these is the relation of causality to intentionality. The phenomenologists tend to deny any causal relation between nature and consciousness: the physical world acts on consciousness only by "offering it a meaning"; by at most, then, a kind of solicitation. Although they have addressed themselves to such objections as, e.g., an aspirin eliminating a headache, there is as yet no general consensus on how to state the relation between the "lived body" and the "object-body." Yet the latter is clearly involved in causal interactions with nature.

Eternal Truths. A second problem is that of eternal truths. There are, according to Merleau-Ponty, for example, no absolute certainties or eternal truths about anything other than the ontological structures of being-in-the-world; and since these are not objects of consciousness but dimensions of its subjectivity, there are no eternal truths about things in the world. However, it appears that this position commits the same fallacy as did that of D. Hume; namely, it purports to state an eternally true rejection of eternal truths. (see truth.)

Metaphysics. A third problem, related to both the former, is the relation of phenomenology to metaphysics. Merleau-Ponty and J. P. sartre, among others, have leveled lethal criticisms at the pretensions of modern rationalism to pass from being-for-us to being-in-itself. The only meaning that being can have for man, according to them, is the meaning that it presents to him in his experience; in other words, it can have no consistent transphenomenal meaning. What is at issue here is the possibility of a metaphysics in general and of statements about a transcendent being in particular, but it seems that the challenge is to a metaphysics vitiated by a rationalistic univocity rather than to one recognizing that there is no common res significata that is realized imperfectly in the finite and perfectly in the infinite being. If one recognizes for certain terms, of which man grasps only a "phenomenal" meaning, that they are predicable of a transfinite being, without knowing precisely what they mean in Him, this seems to be sufficient both to establish the possibility of a metaphysics and to avoid this type of criticism.

Extent of Movement. In Germany, Husserl's former disciples have gone from describing the basic structures of Dasein, or human existence to focusing on the question of the meaning of being. The work of heidegger, in particular, has been an influential source for the transmission of the phenomenological problematic and method to theology, philosophy of religion, and psychology. Among Husserl's earlier students who did significant work in phenomenology, one may note the writings of Alexander Pfänder in logic and psychology, Adolf Reinach on essences and social philosophy, Moritz Geiger on aesthetics, Edith stein on psychology and social philosophy, as well as the relation between Thomism and phenomenology, Max scheler in ethics and religion, and Roman Ingarden in ontology and aesthetics.

In France, apart from the writings of former students such as Jean Hering in religion, Alexander Koyré in history of science, Gaston Berger, and Emmanuel Levinas, the major sources of phenomenological influence have been the works of Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and Paul ricoeur.

In the U.S., where phenomenological writings and interest in them have thus far been scant, the studies of Marvin Farber stood almost alone until the rise of Hitler brought a number of German phenomenologists to America. Men such as Alfred Schuetz, Felix Kaufmann, Fritz Kaufmann, Aron Gurwitsch, and Herbert Spiegelberg have had a definite influence on the growth of interest in phenomenology among American philosophers. The corresponding interest in existentialism and the increasing prominence of the phenomenological approach in theology, psychology, psychiatry, and the social sciences suggest that its present influence is likely to increase.

See Also: objectivity; subjectivity; consciousness.

Bibliography: h. spiegelberg, The Phenomenological Movement, 2 v. (The Hague 1960). The Husserl Archives at Louvain are publishing a series of studies on or influenced by phenomenology, Phenomenologica (The Hague; 1958). Recent translations of Husserl include The Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness (190410), ed. m. heidegger tr. j. churchill (Bloomington, Ind. 1964); The Idea of Phenomenology (from 1907), tr. w. alston and g. nakhnikian (The Hague 1964). A yearbook was founded by Husserl, Jahrbuch für Philosophie und phänomenologische Forschung (Halle 191330); the American journal Philosophy and Phenomenological Research was founded by m. farber in 1940 as its continuation. In France the collection Épiméthée directed by j. hyppolite has pub. several trs. of Husserl's works and studies of his thought, as well as original phenomenological studies. m. farber, The Foundations of Phenomenology (Cambridge, Mass. 1943). p. ricoeur, Philosophie de la volonté, 2 v. in 3 (Paris 195060). m. merleau-ponty, The Structure of Behavior, tr. a. l. fisher (Boston 1963).

[f. j. crosson]


views updated Jun 27 2018


Phenomenology began as a primarily twentieth-century philosophical movement that argued that the best way to come to know the world is to rigorously examine how we apprehend the world through conscious experience (Spiegelberg 1982). Evidence for the influence of phenomenology on the practice of social science can be found in the widespread use of the term phenomenology for the description of human experience (e.g., the phenomenology of mothering refers to the description of mothering experiences of real women). Nevertheless, phenomenology also entails a distinct theoretical approach to the study of human life. It is an especially useful approach to the study of families and a vital element of any attempt to achieve a cross-cultural understanding of families.

Phenomenology is the study of phenomena or the study of the world as experienced. Beginning with Edmund Husserl (1913–1931), phenomenologists have sought to understand how the things of the world are ordinarily experienced. They have therefore focused their attention on the study of the lifeworld, or everyday life of the human subject, and how it is experienced in the natural attitude. The natural attitude, the common mode of experience in everyday life, assumes and takes for granted the constitution of the social world. Through the natural attitude, individuals encounter the world as a naturally given external reality and engage the world in terms of practical, everyday life concerns. One of the aims of phenomenology is to achieve accurate descriptions of how individuals experience the world in the natural attitude.

Phenomenologists do not, however, attempt to present the experience of the subject solely from the perspective of and in the language of the subject. Since its early beginnings in continental philosophy, phenomenology has sought a more objective knowledge of the world. This knowledge can be achieved through the reduction of human experience to those elements without which the experience could not be. Reduction entails using the subject's perspective (i.e., the researcher's own experience or accounts of other's experiences) as a means to delineating the conditions of experience. To accomplish this reduction phenomenologists attempt to bracket or suspend belief in the taken-forgranted assumptions common to the natural attitude. Through bracketing, phenomenologists replace the natural attitude with a scientific attitude or an attitude of calling into question the familiar experience of the world. For early phenomenologists, reduction would lead to an explication of the necessary and universal elements of experience, while for contemporary phenomenologists, reduction leads to the formation of prototypical descriptions of experiences.

Phenomenological analysis of experience has contributed to the linguistic turn in twentieth-century philosophy and social science. Early phenomenological studies demonstrated that human experience is fundamentally informed and constituted by and through language (Heidegger 1962). Therefore, for phenomenologists, any analysis of the essential elements of experience necessitates a thorough examination of how language enables human beings to experience the world in the ways that they do. Language both enables human beings to experience their world, and it constrains how they come to experience that world. Language discloses (some of) the features of experience (while simultaneously veiling others), and in so doing alters how we experience things (Aho 1998). By bringing to reflective awareness just how language both enables and constrains experience, phenomenologists aim to show how linguistic systems not only come to stand for things, but they also come to stand between things and us (Crotty 1998). An important aim of phenomenology is to bracket the already linguistically constituted ways of encountering things and thereby facilitate encountering those things directly through experience, perhaps even bringing forth new words through which previously hidden features of experience might be revealed. In this way, phenomenologists seek to examine and displace the givenness of the natural attitude and enable experiencing things anew or re-appropriating experiences in a new way. Whereas before the experiences were taken for granted, now they can be appreciated, esteemed, and valued, or resisted, overcome, and changed in significant ways.

Although phenomenology lacks clearly demarcated schools of thought, it is useful to indicate how phenomenological analysis of the family has taken different forms. These forms vary from those approaches that seek to merely describe individual experience (mundane phenomenology) to those that focus so extensively on language that individual experiences remain in the background (family discourse analysis).

Mundane Phenomenology (Everyday Life)

Mundane phenomenology refers to those studies that aim to describe human experience as it is experienced, understood, and communicated by the subject. Such studies often do not refer to their approach as phenomenological, and when they do they merely use it in a cursory and superficial way. Methodologically, these studies aim to render human experience precisely as it is experienced in the natural attitude. The social scientist attempts to incite retrospective accounts that are faithful to the experience without imposing any researcher biases or inauthentic structure on the subject's account of the experience. Although for most phenomenologists such studies are exemplars of ethnographic research and not rigorous phenomenological analysis, they can often add important insights to our understanding of familial experience (e.g., Vaughn 1986).

Existential Phenomenology

Existential phenomenology is the most common form of phenomenology in psychology. Perhaps the most faithful to Husserlian philosophical phenomenology, the term reflects the influence of existentialist philosophical anthropology on phenomenological studies. With a heavy focus on understanding individual experience, existential phenomenology often incorporates a reliance upon the phenomenological method and/or the infusion of existentialist thought into the analysis of individual experience. The phenomenological method, as developed by Husserl and others (Spiegelberg 1982), has been adapted to fit the needs of social scientific research (Boss, Dahl, and Kaplan 1996; Giorgi 1985; Pollio, Henley, and Thompson 1997). Although psychological proponents of phenomenology do not subscribe to one single system of procedures, they do focus their efforts on developing methods that will enable the psychologist to capture the essential meaning of an experience. In contrast to more sociological forms of phenomenology, existential phenomenologists do not venture much further than an elaboration of the lived experience of the individual.

Some analysts use a phenomenological approach and incorporate forms of existential thought to study aspects of familial experience. Here, they draw on the work of Sigmund Freud, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Rollo May, Erich Fromm, and others to assist the in analysis of human experience. For example, Howard Pollio, Tracy Henley, and Craig Thompson (1997) contrast psychoanalytic and attachment theory conceptualizations of the human experience of other people with their own existential phenomenological perspective as well as analyzing the reparation of breaches in relationships and other experiences such as falling in love, loving others, and death. Other existential phenomenological studies of family life have focused on child development (Briod 1989), informal care of aged parents (Paul 1999a, 1999b), disturbed families (Laing 1971), and intimate relationships (Becker 1992).

Ethical Phenomenology

Some family scholars have begun to use the work of French phenomenologist Emmanuel Levinas in their study of familial relationships. Through an extensive examination of the phenomenology of our experience of others, Levinas concludes that our relation to the other is fundamentally grounded in an ethical responsibility for the other. Levinas uses a phenomenological approach to challenge most of the assumptions that underlie psychological and sociological theories of human relations, suggesting an alternative understanding of human experience as essentially moral. The implications of such a phenomenology are only beginning to be understood for the analysis of social life (Bauman 1993; Kunz 1998). Family scholars have introduced a Levinasian phenomenological approach to the study of parent-child relations (Knapp 1999), child development (Vandenberg 1999), intimacy (Beyers and Reber 1998; Williams and Gantt 1998), and family relationships (Knapp 2000).

Social Phenomenology

Building upon the work of Alfred Schutz, sociologists have emphasized the social and intersubjective nature of our experience of others. Here the focus is on understanding how shared meanings, social contexts, and social interaction enable the construction of intersubjective experience. Schutz argued that people depend upon language and the stock of knowledge they have acquired to enable social interaction. All social interaction requires that individuals typify others and their world, and the stock of knowledge assists them in this task. The particularity of the shared understandings achieved through social interaction will vary depending upon the social distance between the actors involved. The closer the position of others in the lifeworld, the more particular, rich, and full will be the understandings of the meaning of other's actions. If the lifeworld of the other person is more distant, then the understanding or typification of their actions will be narrower, more invariant, and more inflexible.

In a classic application of social phenomenology, Peter Berger and Hansfried Kellner (1964) examined the social construction of a marital reality. According to their analysis, marriage brought together two individuals from different lifeworlds and thrust them into such close proximity to one another that the lifeworld of each would be brought into dialogue with the other. Out of these two divergent realities would emerge a convergent marital reality that would become the primary social context from which the individual would engage in other social interactions and function in society. This construction of a new social reality (i.e., the marriage) was achieved largely through conversation between the couples in private, but it was also strengthened significantly through the couple's interaction with others outside the marriage in ways that took for granted the social reality of the marriage. Over time a new marital reality would emerge that would be of such consequence for each of the spouses that it would contribute to the formation of new social worlds within which each spouse would function.

Other approaches to family that exemplify a social phenomenological approach include Raymond McLain and Andrew Weigert's (1979) analysis of the basic features of the experience of family and Louise Levesque-Lopman's (1988) interpretation of women's experience, particularly pregnancy and childbirth.

Ethnomethodology and Family Discourse

Ethnomethodology, an approach developed by Harold Garfinkel, emerged out of social phenomenology as a reaction against Parsonian functionalism. Ethnomethodology refers to people's (ethno) methods for making sense of their world. Although building upon a phenomenological foundation, ethnomethodology extends the phenomenological concern for explicating what constitutes an experience to an analysis of how an experience is accomplished.

This subtle shift in focus moves ethnomethodology away from an analysis of experience per se to an analysis of how people make sense of their experience. The end result of such a shift is that ethnomethodologists focus on everyday language use and examine how everyday language in use both constitutes its context and is constituted by its context.

For ethnomethodologically inspired scholars, the study of familial experience becomes the study of how family is produced through language use or discourse (Gubrium and Holstein 1993). Family emerges whenever it is talked about, whenever the discourse constructs social relations as familial. Enacting family through talk does not mean one can make family any way she pleases. Rather, family discourse always depends on context and is sensitive to the situation. Therefore, scholars must carefully examine how the social organization of the context within which family discourse is evoked conditions the use of family discourse and also how family discourse serves to construct the context itself. Understanding family as a discursive production enables scholars to examine family as an organizationally embedded social reality. Family can be studied wherever family discourse occurs. Through this approach, family scholars have examined how family is enacted in family therapy clinics, nursing homes, the judicial system, and a wide variety of organizational settings (Gubrium and Holstein 1990; Holstein and Gubrium 1995).

Although future developments in phenomenological studies of family life are likely to occur, phenomenology remains an underutilized theoretical resource in the study of the family. It holds great promise for assisting scholars in understanding various aspects of familial experience and how family realities are constructed through language use in a wide variety of contexts. In particular, phenomenological approaches can facilitate a greater understanding of the cultural diversity of familial experience that characterizes social life at the beginning of the new millennium.

See also:Family Theory


aho, j. a. (1998). the things of the world: a social phenomenology. westport, ct: praeger.

bauman, z. (1993). postmodern ethics. cambridge, ma: blackwell.

becker, c. s. (1992). living and relating: an introduction to phenomenology. newbury park, ca: sage.

berger, p. l., and kellner, h. (1964). "marriage and the construction of reality." diogenes 46:1–25.

beyers, m. s., and reber, j. s. (1998). "the illusion of intimacy: a levinasian critique of evolutionary psychology." journal of theoretical and philosophical psychology 18:176–192.

boss, p.; dahl, c.; and kaplan, l. (1996). "the use of phenomenology for family therapy research: the search for meaning." in research methods in family therapy, ed. d. h. sprenkle and s. m. moon. new york: guilford press.

briod, m. (1989). "a phenomenological approach to child development." in existential-phenomenological perspectives in psychology: exploring the breadth of human experience, ed. r. s. valle and s. halling. new york: plenum press.

crotty, m. (1998). the foundations of social research:meaning and perspective in the research process. thousand oaks, ca: sage.

giorgi, a. (1985). phenomenology and psychological research. pittsburgh, pa: duquesne university press.

gubrium, j. f., and holstein, j. a. (1990). what is family? mountain view, ca: mayfield.

gubrium, j. f., and holstein, j. a. (1993). "phenomenology, ethnomethodology, and family discourse." in sourcebook of family theories and methods: a contextual approach, ed. p. boss, w. doherty, r. larossa, w. schumm, and s. steinmetz. new york: plenum.

heidegger, m. (1927/1962). being and time, trans. j. macquarrie and e. robinson. new york: harper & row.

holstein, j. a., and gubrium, j. f. (1995). "deprivatization and the construction of domestic life." journal of marriage and the family 57:894–908.

husserl, e. (1913/1931). ideas: general introduction ofpure phenomenology, trans. w. gibson. new york: collier books.

knapp, s. j. (1999). "facing the child: rethinking models of agency in parent-child relations." contemporary perspectives on family research 1:53–75.

knapp, s. j. (2000). "emmanuel levinas and the moral displacement of knowledge: rethinking the relation between the moral and social orders." current perspectives in social theory 20:187–213.

kunz, g. (1998). the paradox of power and weakness:levinas and an alternative paradigm for psychology. albany, ny: suny press.

laing, r. d. (1971). the politics of the family: and otheressays. new york: vintage books.

levesque-lopman, l. (1988). claiming reality: phenomenology and women's experience. totowa, nj: rowman & littlefield.

mclain, r., and weigert, a. (1979). "toward a phenomenological sociology of family: a programmatic essay." in contemporary theories about the family, vol. 2., ed. w. r. burr; r. hill; f. i. nye; and i. l. reiss. new york: free press.

paul, l. j. (1999a). "phenomenology as a method for the study of informal care." journal of family studies 5:192–206.

paul, l. j. (1999b). "caring for aged parents: phenomenology and relationships." journal of family studies 5:207–219.

pollio, h. r.; henley, t. b.; and thompson, c. j. (1997). the phenomenology of everyday life. new york: cambridge university press.

spiegelberg, h. (1982). the phenomenological movement:a historical introduction. boston: martinus nijhoff publishers.

vandenberg, b. (1999). "levinas and the ethical context of human development." human development 42:31–44.

vaughn, d. (1986). uncoupling: turning points in intimate relationships. new york: oxford university press.

williams, r. n., and gantt, e. e. (1998). "intimacy and heteronomy: on grounding psychology in the ethical." theory and psychology 8:253–267.

stan j. knapp


views updated Jun 08 2018



At the beginning of the twentieth century the philosopher Edmund Husserl (18591938) formulated phenomenology both as a philosophical perspective and as a theory of knowledge. It had a great impact on a variety of social sciences. To Husserl, reality is not given, but is constituted. It is thus apprehended in human experience and given meaning and form. Humans look upon their reality as given in a natural and unquestioned way. It is the task of the philosopher to penetrate beyond the taken-for-grantedness of the world of experience (Lebenswelt ) through a bracketing procedure (epoché ) in order to arrive at a deeper understanding of the essence of phenomena. For example, the phenomenologist may look at the multiple ways in which humans experience the color red and how they give meaning to it. He or she then has to bracket the definitions of red as phenomena or appearances of essential redness.

In his endeavor to establish the basis for an interpretative sociology, Alfred Schutz (18991959) critically adopted Max Webers insistence that understanding social action was the methodological and epistemological foundation of sociology. However, understanding involved the two perspectives of the actor and observer, and the sociologist most frequently occupies the latter position. Taking Husserls notion of the everyday world of experience characterized by the natural attitude of uncritical acceptance, Schutz accounted for social reality as one in which people cognitively suspend doubt. This is the domain of first order constructs. The sociologist, on the other hand, suspends belief in the way Husserl bracketed the world of appearances. This is the domain of second order constructs resulting from sociological reflection. Schutz laid bare the structure of the life world in terms of typifications people make in everyday life along the axes of familiarity and strangeness in space and time. On the basis of these first order constructs the sociologist embarks on the construction of ideal types through a rigorous procedure. Good examples of these ideal typifications can be found in his essays titled The Stranger (1944) and The Homecomer (1945).

Schutz laid the foundations of social constructionism for a wide range of social, cultural, and feminist studies. Widening the perspective beyond the social domain was one of the main contributions of his students, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann. In their seminal work The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (1966), they positioned phenomenology as a perspective rather than as an alternative paradigm in sociology. In their rendering of a sociology of knowledge from a phenomenological perspective, they demonstrate how reality as such, not just social reality, is constructed and installed as objective reality, which in turn affects societys members subjectively through processes of internalization and socialization. Other social thinkers such as George Psathas adhere to the idea of a phenomenological sociology as an alternative paradigm to functionalism.

Ethnomethodology seeks to problematize the everyday world taken for granted. Its objective is not the interpretation of first order constructs, but exploring how and by what methods people achieve and sustain a sense of order, normality, and morality in their lives. Aaron Cicourel and Harold Garfinkel pioneered this approach. Garfinkel adopted a methodological procedure akin to bracketing through his breaching experiments, during which the investigator acts as a stranger in familiar situations. Societys members reaction to the breaching of social order and rules demonstrate their background expectations about this order and their desire to restore rule-governed situations.

The phenomenological perspectives focus on the subjective and everyday aspects of human existence proved attractive to investigators from a spectrum of inquiry including medicine, law, architectures, literature, the environment, ethnicity, gender, embodiment, history, and technology. Methodologically phenomenological investigations rely heavily on ethnographies and other qualitative measures.

With its emphasis on reality as a social construct, phenomenologically oriented social science provides fresh insights on local and global issues. Looking at race and racism, for example, it exposes racial orders, in whatever society they occur as historically constructed entities objectified as real. To societys members it demonstrates how a specific racial order appears cognitively as common-sense and legitimated as natural and how they are made to believe in its inevitability and normality. Finally it throws light on how empowered insiders construct and maintain racial hierarchies and their predominance in them by remaining racially invisible while racializing other groups and assigning them to their proper place in society.

Some have criticized phenomenological approaches as conservative due to their preoccupation with the mundane and commonsense aspects of life. This may be true for some studies, but phenomenologys insistence on a radical critique of knowledge resists any social structures self-interested appropriation of social science.

SEE ALSO Ethnomethodology


Berger, Peter, and Thomas Luckmann. 1972. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin Books.

Crowell, Steven, Lester Embree, and Samuel J. Julian, eds. 2001. The Reach of Reflection, Issues for Phenomenologys Second Century. Available from

Garfinkel, Harold. 1967. Studies in Ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Psathas, George, ed. 1973. Phenomenological Sociology: Issues and Applications. New York: John Wiley.

Schutz, Alfred. 1967. The Phenomenology of the Social World. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

Gerhard Schutte


views updated Jun 27 2018



The term phenomenology signifies in its Greek sense the study or science of phenomena as they appear to human subjectivity. As systematically formulated by the founder of the twentieth-century phenomenology movement, the German philosophy professor Edmund Husserl (1859–1938), it implies a return to a theory of perception, language, and knowledge that describes the various ways in which the world and its objects appear to human subjectivity as an agent of truth.


Husserl, first trained as a mathematician in Austria, turns to the philosophical justification of ideal mathematical and logical objects in his self-ascribed "breakthrough" work, the two-volume Logical Investigations (1900–1901). In these investigations, Husserl is concerned to safeguard the ideality of mathematical, logical, linguistic, and perceptual meanings and the transcendent objects to which they refer. In doing so, he argues against the common nineteenth-century psychological reduction of mental acts that intend ideal logical and mathematical theorems to mere immanent psychic phenomena.

The foundational principle of phenomenology is the notion of intentionality, a conception of the structure of the mind's presentations of the world according to which every act of consciousness, be it perception, expression, knowledge, imagining, or memory, is always a consciousness of something beyond itself. In the influential sixth Logical Investigation, Husserl goes beyond the prevailing Kantian restriction on the role of unconceptualized intuition as noncognitive and argues for the ability of the mind to intuit not just simple objects but also relations between objects or states of affairs. So, for example, one perceives relations of "a is next to b" or that "S is p" and what is thereby disclosed in the self-evidence of consciousness is being itself. The phenomenological conception of truth is then articulated not as correctness or accuracy of judgments but as the disclosure of objects and states of affairs in their being to and for the mind that intends them.

If intentionality and its disclosure of the primordial manifestation of truth is Husserl's legacy to the following generations of phenomenologists, his later "transcendental turn" remains the principal subject of contention in continental philosophy in the early twenty-first century. In his Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology (1913), Husserl proposes the method of reduction, or bracketing, of our naive beliefs in the transcendent existence of worldly objects. This is considered necessary to reveal the nonempirical, or theoretical, capacity of the transcendental ego to constitute the sense of objects to appear as they do according to strict laws of correlation between intentional acts that, for example, perceive an object, and the object is perceived.

Husserl's most famous student and successor to his academic chair in Freiburg, Germany, was Martin Heidegger (1889–1976). Heidegger reconceives intentionality as a fundamentally practical directedness toward the world in our existential projects. In his landmark Being and Time (1927), he lays the groundwork for many subsequent existentialist themes by arguing that the primordial phenomena as encountered by the self manifest themselves in our authentic or inauthentic attitudes toward nontheoretical situations into which we are "thrown." These attitudes toward our existential projects must be adopted within the contexts of emotion, temporality, language, and in particular death. Throughout his writings, Heidegger rediscovers the Greek roots of the question of metaphysics as the question of the distinction between ordinary beings and their mode of being, or, as he puts it, as the question of the Being of beings.


In the immediate wake of Husserl and Heidegger, two French thinkers appropriated these phenomenological themes and set them more firmly into an existentialist context, where what is at stake is not so much the cognitive aspects of intentionality but our concrete embodied and meaningful human experiences. Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908–1961) attempts to reconcile idealist and empiricist approaches to perception in his masterwork, Phenomenology of Perception (1945). Having intensively studied the late Husserl's texts on perception and embodiment, Merleau-Ponty brought to bear the findings of early twentieth-century Gestalt psychology in his argument against the dominant empiricist notion of perception. Fundamental to his work is the insight that the perception of a Gestalt figure characterizes the capacities of the embodied perceptual subject as much as, or even more significantly than, the simple passive response to external stimuli. Particularly influential on Merleau-Ponty was Christian von Ehrenfels (1859–1932), who introduced the term Gestalt in his groundbreaking 1890 study, "On Gestalt Qualities." The key principle of Gestalt psychology, which resonates with Husserl's notion of an intuitive grasp of holistic relations, is that a perceived whole, whether an event, a relation, or a complex and structured figure, cannot be reduced to the influence of atomistic sense stimuli. One might think here of the changing aspects of a familiar figure-ground image, in which one alternately sees two faces looking at each other or a candelabra, on the basis of the exact same sense data. Merleau-Ponty's appropriation of Gestalt psychology leads to his notion that it is only through a foreground and a background, the bodily horizons which are forever changing as the body moves in space and time, that perception as an existential phenomenon can be understood.

Although Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980) is perhaps best known for his 1938 existentialist novel La nausée and his monumental 1943 Being and Nothingness, he spent a good part of the 1930s studying the works of Husserl and Heidegger in Berlin. His earliest works focus on applying intentionality to emotional and imaginary experiences, although he disagreed vehemently with Husserl's conception of a transcendental ego beyond an empirical self. His early concern with nontheoretical meaningfulness in a seemingly meaningless world led him to his celebrated 1946 manifesto, "Existentialism and Humanism," a clarion call to those shattered by the ruins of World War II to fill the apparent void of objective meaning with one's own radical freedom. At this point Sartre's earlier existentialist phenomenology departs from the roots of classical phenomenology in its abandonment of the descriptive approach to phenomena that disclose themselves as meaningful in themselves.

The lasting significance of phenomenology after World War II is visible particularly in France. Thinkers such as Jacques Derrida (1930–2004), Emmanuel Levinas (1906–1995), and Jean-Luc Marion (b. 1946) have each in their own way refashioned the original notions of intentionality and descriptive phenomenology in literary, ethical, and religious directions. Throughout the twentieth century, the phenomenological movement in Continental philosophy has distinguished itself from Anglo-American analytic philosophy in widening the scope of description of meaningful phenomena beyond the linguistic and logical analysis of arguments. Its lasting significance is in its ever-developing holistic and nonreductionist approach to a wide range of human experiences that are capable of patient description of how things appear to us from themselves in manifold ways.

See alsoExistentialism]; Gestalt Psychology; Heidegger, Martin; Merleau-Ponty, Maurice; Sartre, Jean-Paul.


Primary Sources

Ehrenfels, Christian von. "On 'Gestalt Qualities."' In Foundations of Gestalt Theory, edited by Barry Smith. Munich, 1988. Translation of "U Gestaltqualitäten" (1890).

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. New York, 1962. Translation of Sein und Zeit (1926).

Husserl, Edmund. Logical Investigations. Vols. 1 and 2. Edited by Dermot Moran. Translated by J. N. Findlay. New York, 2001. Translation of Logische Untersuchungen (1900–1901).

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. Translated by Colin Smith. New York, 2002. Translation of Phénoménologie de la perception (1945).

Secondary Sources

Moran, Dermot. Introduction to Phenomenology. New York, 2000.

Polt, Richard. Heidegger: An Introduction. Ithaca, N.Y., 1999.

Sokolowski, Robert. Introduction to Phenomenology. Cambridge, U.K., 2000.

Daniel J. Dwyer


views updated May 17 2018

Phenomenology (Gk., phainomenon, ‘that which appears’, + logos, ‘reflection’). The study of the ways in which appearances manifest themselves. The phenomenology of religion is thus the study of religious appearances; it may also embrace reflection on the nature of what gives rise to them. The term is used of endeavours to study religion, without commitment to the truth or otherwise of what is being studied, and with the suspension of value-judgements about the worth or otherwise of what is being studied. Such a wide understanding of the term allows many different styles of the study of religion to be called ‘phenomenological’. Whether any such value-free study is possible remains a matter of doubt—or at best of dispute.

The term was first used by J. H. Lambert in 1764, but with the completely different sense of the theory of appearance as one of four philosophical disciplines. As a term it appears e.g. in Kant and Hegel. In its more modern sense, it is particularly associated with the work of Edmund Husserl (1859–1938). He was a pupil of Franz Brentano, and therefore began his work on the foundations of mathematics. Husserl began to realize not only that philosophers had failed to resolve the issue between solipsists and realists, but that it would make no practical difference to the lived and experienced world if they did so. Clearly, philosophical doubt must be driven further back: Descartes had thought that he had secured a foundation of certain knowledge in his cogito, ergo sum (‘I think, therefore I am’); but Husserl pointed out that the conclusion is not entailed; therefore he proposed that the only secure foundation of knowledge lies in the cogito: all that we can be sure of (and from this it is clear that Husserl remained a foundationalist despite some interpretations of his thought to the contrary) are cogitationes, appearances in consciousness.

In his later works (the most accessible of which are Cartesian Meditations, 1931, and The Paris Lectures, 1950), he argued that transcendental phenomenology ‘brackets out’ (epoche) all assumptions about existence, truth, and value, and analyses the cogitationes in terms of the stream of consciousness. But since consciousness is directed to what it takes to be an external world (or to its own past and future, etc.) through its Intentionalität (intentionality), it is legitimate to consider, perhaps even to infer, what may be a ground, in independence from consciousness, sufficient to give rise to the particular appearances in consciousness which happen to arise—especially when these arise with consistency. In this way, Husserl was able to return those degrees of reality to the world which the consistency of the data in consciousness seemed to require. Thus ‘you’ may appear in my consciousness with the consistency of a person whom I can label and name; I do not have to resolve the argument about solipsism before extending the intentionality of my consciousness toward ‘you’ as a consistent appearance in my own consciousness (i.e. I can bracket out the issue of whether you are truly there or not, or in what sense). Moreover, ‘you’ appear in my consciousness with the characteristic of marking off other appearances with an equal consistency, so that together we can label a world of appearances and name it—that is why Husserl called people ‘walking object indices’.

Through this process, it is possible to build up a world of intersubjective reliability without solving first the contentious philosophical issues of existence. An obvious candidate was the world of the natural sciences. At the very end of his life, Husserl realized that there is an extensive reliability in the world of theology (or more exactly of prayer and worship, etc.), and that his method required him to return a corresponding degree of reality to God.

Husserl's thought proved immensely fertile, both in philosophy (leading directly into existentialism) and in the study of religion. Virtually no phenomenologist of religion has ever followed a strictly Husserlian programme: words and indications are picked up from his thought, and are brought to bear in largely novel ways. Thus the early phenomenologists of religion were attracted by the prospect of identifying essences (understood loosely as identifying essential characteristics in religions or in religious beliefs and practices). This proved largely unilluminating, since it tended to squeeze an ocean into a thimble. Others seized on epoche and understood phenomenology to be description on the basis of which one might be able to enter empathetically into the phenomena being described. The most sophisticated attempt was made by Gerardus van der Leeuw (1890–1950), in Phänomenologie der Religion (1933, tr. as Religion in Essence and Manifestation); he achieved brilliant insights, especially in the relation of religion to power, but in fact he made little attempt to bracket out his own assumptions.

Thus phenomenology has been a powerful influence, but the phenomenology of religion remains to be undertaken. As matters stand, phenomenology has transformed the study of religion in schools, colleges, and universities at the first level: it has ushered in the dispassionate (as opposed to confessional) teaching of religion, in a way which brackets out questions of whether e.g. God or gods ‘exist’: religions are studied as an important expression of human life. But the second level (as Husserl envisaged it, albeit in dense language) is always demanded by the first: given that these are the phenomena, what in reality has given rise to them, or brought them into being? The integration of the two levels has not yet been achieved.