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Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Phenomenology and Edmund Husserl

Phenomenology and Edmund Husserl


Introduction: 2
Brief views: 2
A simplified understanding of phenomenology: 2
Phenomenology of Edmund Husserl 4
Husserl’s central concern – consciousness. 4
Husserlian phenomenological method: 4
Presuppositionless starting point: 4
Getting towards Intuition – the pure form of knowledge. 5
The suspension of natural attitude: 5
Rethink the lifeworld: 6
Unearth the structure of intentionality: understanding the consciousness. 6
Principal concepts: 7
Life world: 7
Natural attitude: 7
Introduction:
Though there are a number of themes which characterise phenomenology, in general it never developed a set of dogmas or sedimented into a system. It claims, first and foremost, to be a radical way of doing philosophy, a practice rather than a system. Phenomenology is best understood as a radical, anti-traditional style of philosophising, which emphasises the attempt to get to the truth of matters, to describe phenomena, in the broadest sense as whatever appears in the manner, in which it appears, that is as it manifests itself to consciousness, to the experiencer. As such, phenomenology’s first step is to seek to avoid all misconstructions and impositions placed on experience in advance, whether these are drawn from religious or cultural traditions, from everyday common sense, or, indeed, from science itself. Explanations are not to be imposed before the phenomena have been understood from within.
Brief views:
Most of the founding figures of phenomenology emphasised the need for a renewal of philosophy as radical enquiry not bound to any historical tradition; and they advocated a rejection of all dogmatisms, a suspicion of a priori metaphysical premises and earlier accounts of the nature of knowledge, especially as found in Neo-Hegelianism and in positivism, and a steady directing of attention to the things themselves. Phenomenology was seen as reviving our living contact with reality, and as being remote from the arid and academic discussion of philosophical problems found in nineteenth-century philosophy, for example in the Neo-Kantian tradition.
Ø Husser’s Logical investigations – a fresh start of traditional logical problems
Ø Heidegger’s students of the 1920s claimed the experience of thinking came to life in their classes, as both Arendt and Gadamer have confirmed.
Ø This call to renew philosophy went hand in hand with an appeal to return to concrete, lived human experience in all its richness.
Ø In the 1930s, both Sartre and Merleau-Ponty saw phenomenology as a means of going beyond narrow empiricist, psychological assumptions about human existence, broadening the scope of philosophy to be about everything, to capture life as it is lived.
Ø Sartre sees phenomenology as allowing one to delineate carefully one’s own affective, emotional, and imaginative life, not in a set of static objective studies such as one finds in psychology, but understood in the manner in which it is meaningfully lived.
Ø Emmanuel Levinas’s phenomenology is closely attentive to the way in which other human beings inhabit the horizons of my experience and present themselves as a demand to me, a call on me to get outside the sphere of my own self-satisfaction, my own preoccupations.
A simplified understanding of phenomenology:
Husserl envisaged phenomenology as the descriptive, non-reductive science of whatever appears, in the manner of its appearing, in the subjective and intersubjective life of consciousness. He was fascinated by what he regarded as the 'mystery of mysteries': namely, the life of consciousness (Bewusstseinsleben), with its unique, inner temporal flow and its ability to gain objective knowledge of what transcends it. Phenomenology is therefore, the study of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view.
By etymology, phenomenology is the study of phenomena, in the root meaning of appearances; or, better, the ways things appear to us in our experience, the ways we experience things in the world around us. We practice phenomenology (with or without the name) whenever we pause in reflection and ask, “What do I see?,” “How do I feel?,” “What am I thinking?,” “What do I intend to do?,” answering in the first person, specifying the way I experience what I see, feel, think, and so on. We produce a phenomenological description of an experience as we declare, attending to our own experience, “I see that fishing boat in the fog,” “I feel angry about what was just said,” “I think that Husserl read Hume,” “I intend to sweep the patio tomorrow.” Phenomenology thus characterizes a given form of consciousness from the person’s own subjective, first-person perspective. By contrast, neuroscience studies how consciousness is produced in a person’s brain, characterizing his neural-mental state from an objective, third-person perspective. Thus, where a brain scan (an MRI image) shows which parts of the brain are most active (burning glucose), a phenomenological description characterizes what the person is experiencing (“I see a fishing boat” or “I feel a pain in my left foot”).
We practice phenomenology, most basically, when we give first-person descriptions of various types of conscious experience. Here are some elementary forms of such descriptions:
I see that fishing boat on the edge of the fog bank rolling in on the Pacific.
I hear that helicopter whirling overhead.
I think that the whales are migrating south along the coast.
I desire a warm cup of green tea.
I feel exhilarated at the sound of the aria I hear being sung in the opera.
I recall the look on her face – I can see it right now (in vivid memory).
I imagine driving into the traffic at the Etoile roundabout in Paris.
I intend to make that phone call in just a minute.
I am walking briskly up the stairs to get to the noon meeting.
I am hitting a spin serve to his backhand, springing upward with my legs.

Such characterizations of experiences we may call phenomenological descriptions. Each characterizes a particular act of consciousness from the subject’s point of view. If carefully crafted, as the subject attends to his or her own experience, the description captures the essence of that type of experience.
In practice, phenomenologists develop much more elaborate accounts of experience, analyzing complex structures of consciousness and interpreting their roles and significance in our experience. However, it is important to recognize the basic domain of study that is indicated by such simple descriptions of experience. Here our understanding of mind begins, and it is only by abstracting from such elementary phenomenological descriptions that we begin to develop the science of phenomenology as Husserl advocated it.
Phenomenology of Edmund Husserl
Husserl is considered by many as the founder of phenomenological movement. He was born is Prossnitz – then part of the Austro Hungarian Empire, now under Czech republic, on 8th April, 1859. His university education was done in Leipzig. His primary interest was is astronomy, mathematics, physics and philosophy.
Husserl’s central concern – consciousness
Consciousness is the basis of all experience and its mode of appearing seemed to be inextricably linked to the nature of time itself. Indeed, no experience would be possible without time consciousness; it enters into every experience. Somehow, out of this living flux of consciousness come the ‘achievements’ of ideal, timeless meanings, the graspings of transcendent objects and truths. For Husserl, objectivity was always a particular ‘achievement of consciousness’ and he was fascinated by the miracle of this process. Furthermore, consciousness was always particularised as someone’s consciousness and so the process of investigating this ‘originary sphere’ of meaning-origination must begin with oneself, with the rigorous self-examination which Husserl characterised as the standpoint of “transcendental solipsism” in the Cartesian Meditations.

Husserl’s central insight was that consciousness was the condition of all experience, indeed it constituted the world, but in such a way that the role of consciousness itself is obscured and not easy to isolate and describe. Husserl therefore constantly sought to explain how to overcome prejudices which stood in the way of the recognition of the domain of pure consciousness, leading to a new beginning in philosophy.
Husserlian phenomenological method:
in his mature years, Husserl thought phenomenological practice required a radical shift in viewpoint, a suspension or bracketing of the everyday natural attitude and all ‘world positing’ intentional acts which assumed the existence of the world, until the practitioner is led back into the domain of pure transcendental subjectivity. Without this leading back, this reduction, genuine phenomenological insight would be impossible in Husserl’s eyes; at best it would be no more than a naturalistic psychology of consciousness, which treated consciousness as just “a little tag-end of the world”.
Presuppositionless starting point:
Right from the outset, Husserl laid great stress on phenomenology’s principle of presuppositionlessness (Husserl, 1975). That is, the claim to have discarded philosophical
theorising in favour of careful description of phenomena themselves, to be attentive only to what is given in intuition. Phenomenology, at this stage, is a kind of conceptual clarification which is to form part of a wider ‘critique of reason’. But the key feature of this conceptual analysis was not that it engaged in an examination of the role of concepts in a language, but rather that it relied on the self-evident givenness of insights in intuition. The clarion cry of phenomenology, “back to the things themselves” (Husserl, 1975: 252) first announced in Husserl’s Logical Investigations, summed up this dependence on intuition. Indeed, this emphasis on the importance of ‘intuition’[1] in philosophy was, of course, in line with the mood of the times.
Getting towards Intuition – the pure form of knowledge
Husserl’s understanding of phenomenology grew out of his attempt to understand the nature of mathematical and logical truths, and from his more general concern with a critique of reason whereby all the key concepts required for knowledge would be rigorously scrutinised as to their essential meanings, their validity, and justification. Intuitions are the highest stage of knowledge and as such are hardwon insights, akin to mathematical discoveries. When I see that ‘2+2=4’, I have as clear an intuition as I can have. Husserl thought, however, that similar intuitive fulfilments occurred in many types of experience, and were not just restricted to the truths of mathematics. When I see a blackbird in the tree outside my window under normal conditions, I also have an intuition which is fulfilled by the certainty of the bodily presence of the blackbird presenting itself to me. There are a wide variety of different kinds of intuitive experience. Husserl was led by reflection on these kinds of experience to attempt to develop a classification of all conscious experiences, with an eye to considering their essential natures and the kinds of intuitive fulfilment which were proper to them.
In his mature works, Husserl called these intuitions ‘originary giving’ or ‘presentive’ intuitions. Thus, even after his transcendental turn, first publicly announced in Ideas I (1913), Husserl retained the primacy of intuition. In Ideas I, he announces his principle of all principles:
…that every originary presentive intuition is a legitimizing sourceof cognition, that everything originarily (so to speak in its “personal” actuality) offered to us in “intuition” is to be accepted simply as what it is presented as being, but also only within the limits in which it is presented there.
The suspension of natural attitude:
In works written subsequent to the Logical Investigations, Husserl came to believe that the scrutiny of the structure and contents of our conscious experiences was inhibited and deeply distorted by the manner of our engagement with experience in ordinary life, where our practical concerns, folk assumptions, and smattering of scientific knowledge all got in the way of a pure consideration of experience as it is given to us. In order to ensure against theoretical stances creeping back in to the phenomenological viewing of the phenomena, Husserl proposed a number of steps, most notably the phenomenological epoché, or suspension of the natural attitude, as well as a number of methodological reductions and alterations of viewpoint (including the so-called ‘eidetic’ and ‘transcendental reductions’), in order to isolate the central essential features of the phenomena under investigation. This bracketing meant that all scientific, philosophical, cultural, and everyday assumptions had to be put aside—not so much to be negated as to be put out of court (in a manner not dissimilar to that of a member of the jury who is asked to suspend judgements and the normal kinds of association and drawing of inferences in order to focus exclusively on the evidence that has been presented to the court). Thus, in considering the nature of our conscious acts, we should not simply assume that the mind is some kind of a container that memories are like picture images, and so on. Nor should we assume any scientific or philosophical hypothesis, for example that conscious events are just brain events. Indeed, in genuine phenomenological viewing, we are not permitted any scientific or philosophical hypotheses. We should attend only to the phenomena in the manner of their being given to us, in their modes of givenness.
Rethink the lifeworld:
Focusing on what is given intuitively in experience led Husserl, in his late writings such as Experience and Judgment (1938),20 to focus on what he termed “prepredicative experience” (die vorprädikative Erfahrung), experience before it has been formulated in judgements and expressed in outward linguistic form, before it becomes packaged for explicit consciousness. As Husserl put it, all cognitive activity presupposes a domain that is passively pregiven, the existent world as I find it. Returning to examine this pregiven world is a return to the life-world (Lebenswelt), “the world in which we are always already living and which furnishes the ground for all cognitive performance and all scientific determination” (Husserl 1938: 38). Husserl claims that the world of our ordinary experience is a world of formed objects obeying universal laws as discovered by science, but the foundational experiences which give us such a world is rather different: “This experience in its immediacy knows neither exact space nor objective time and causality” (Husserl, 1938 p. 41). Returning to the life-world is to return to experience before such objectifications and idealisations (Husserl, 1938, p. 44).
In attempting to rethink the life-world, one has to understand the impact of the scientific world-view on our consciousness. Phenomenology has to interrogate the supposedly objective view of the sciences, what has been termed the ‘God’s eye’ perspective, or the ‘view from nowhere’. Husserlian phenomenology did not dispute the possibility of our gaining a ‘view from nowhere’, understood as the aperspectival, theoretical, ‘objective’ understanding of things.
Unearth the structure of intentionality: understanding the consciousness
The basic insight which allowed Husserl to explicate this conception of objectivity-for-subjectivity was his radical understanding of the intentional structure of consciousness. sserl took this basic structure of intentionality and, having stripped it of its metaphysical baggage, presented it as the basic thesis that all conscious experiences (Erlebnisse) are characterised by ‘aboutness’. Every act of loving is a loving of something, every act of seeing is a seeing of something. The point, for Husserl, is that, disregarding whether or not the object of the act exists, it has meaning and a mode of being for consciousness, it is a meaningful correlate of the conscious act. This allowed Husserl to explore a whole new domain—the domain of the meaning-correlates of conscious acts and their interconnections and binding laws—before one had to face ontological questions concerning actual existence, and so on. Phenomenology was to be true first philosophy. While it is true, then, that phenomenology turns to consciousness, it is proposing above all to be a science of consciousness based on elucidating the intentional structures of acts and their correlative objects, what Husserl called the noetic-noematic structure of consciousness.
Principal concepts:
Life world:
Of all the basic ideas that phenomenology developed, perhaps none is better known or widely appropriated across a number of disciplines than the concept of lifeworld. Most general sense of the word, lifeworld is itself derived from the problamitcs of a prior notion, that of the world. In fact Husserl had developed the notion of world in a transcendental register before he enriched it with his notion of the lifeworld. The life-world is a world as phenomenon, as correlative of our intentional experiences. Especially in his researches around Ideas II, Husserl gradually began to see the life-world as a layer to be inserted between the world of nature and the world of culture (or spirit). The life-world is the world of pre-theoretical experience which is also that which allows us to interact with nature and to develop our own cultural forms. Though, in the Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty presented the life-world as a turning in Husserl’s thought away from transcendental idealism, it is more accurate to view the layer of life-world as one more constituted layer of meaning uncovered by Husserlian reduction and itself constituted by the anonymous transcendental ego.
Natural attitude:
In his mature work, from 1905 onwards, Husserl distinguished between the 'philosophical' or 'transcendental' attitude and the 'natural attitude' (Husserl 1983: 17), according to which we accept the world and its forms of givenness as simply there, 'on hand' for us. The philosophical attitude arises when we recognize the natural attitude as one of naive. Borrowing from the Greek sceptics, Husserl terms this disruption or break with the natural attitude, epoche (literally 'check' or 'suspension', but used by ancient Greek philosophers to mean 'suspension of judgement'). He characterizes it as a 'certain refraining from judgement',12 an 'abstention' (Enthaltung), 'bracketing' (Einklammerung) or 'putting out of play7 (ausser Spiel zu setzen). According to this epoche, the objects and contents of our experience are now treated simply as phenomena: 'Thus to every psychological experience there corresponds, by way of the phenomenological reduction, a pure phenomenon that exhibits its immanent essence (taken individually) as an absolute givenness' (Husserl, 1983: 45).
[1] Bergson defines intuition in his Introduction to Metaphysics (1913) as “By intuition is meant the kind of intellectual sympathy by which one places oneself within the object in order to coincide with that which is unique in it and consequently inexpressible.”

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