Phenomenology and Husserl
Post structuralist Approaches to Language
Phenomenology is the philosophical study of the structures of experience and
consciousness. As a philosophical movement it was founded in the early years of
the 20th century by Edmund Husserl.
What is phenomenology?
Husserl argued that phenomenology did not deny the existence of the real world,
but sought instead to clarify the sense of this world (which everyone accepts) as
Husserl lays out what we already have going on: Typical acts of consciousness - he
assigns them as two spheres: they are worldly; they are “psychological”.
The Two Spheres:
The two spheres are connected only by the mind’s ability to pass between them as
easily as it can meander around and through them; the mind also can combine,
linger within, focus and disperse. I can just imagine these spheres just like an
example of a (Cow) for a normal person cow is only a cow but for Indian it’s a
holy cow and if I dreamed of a cow will not make a different but if an Indian
dreamed of that …. Then things will go another direction of being holy person or a
good thing coming up to their life and so on .
Husserl believes there is a third unity - that of the consciousness, where
experiences and intuition act out their part. Husserl’s task is to get from these
spheres and into this other field that is quite unlike them: he calls this the sphere of
absolute consciousness and it encompasses the Living unity of Consciousness as it
flows along in a stream of experiences.
Each of these three unities has and exhibits its own distinctive kind of identity and
For example, you can tell when the object occupying your consciousness is a
physical thing because it does not present itself all at once. Instead, you are invited
into a perspective, to move around from one side to the other, to perceive some
more about the thing. All the while, the thing keeps it’s unity to itself, as the
reference point of all the angles it gives you.
However, the essences give themselves to you all at once. You do not have to
consider the north face of a building and then a south face to get the whole picture.
But the third unity, consciousness, while it can present itself as essence or fact, it is
always contextualized as a foreground.
To get to the sphere of absolute consciousness, you have to let the worldly go away
and then inhabit what’s left. To inhabit what’s left, you must look to the
What is the phenomenological method?
Husserl tells us why we need the method of Phenomenological Reduction:
A general example of the concept of reduction can be taken from a piece of wax:
The wax appears to be flat, opaque, hard and extended to certain dimensions in
Most of these quantities can be negated as necessary to the piece of wax continuing
to be a piece of wax. The smell, taste, texture, if heated will continue to be the
same piece of wax, however the small, taste and texture will obviously have
changed. The only things that remain (mass, chemical makeup) are the things that
are required for its existence. Husserl uses eidetic Phenomenological Reduction: he
calls it bracketing away /suspending / disconnecting. It seeks to momentarily
reduce, effectively erase the world of speculation by returning the subject to their
primordial experience of the matter, whether the object of inquiry is a feeling, an
idea or a perception.
Bracketing (epoche) is the act of suspending judgment about the natural world. The
systematic removal (SLIDE: The pealing onion) one by one, of the inessential
aspects,the symbolic meanings, context, to get to the core: leaving only the essence
of what constitutes the thing.
Thus, one’s subjective perception is the truest form of experience one can have in
perceiving it. This allows one to examine phenomena as they are originally given
It involves setting aside the question of real existence, as well as questions about
its physical nature; these questions are left to the natural sciences. For example, the
experience of seeing a tree qualifies as an experience, whether the tree appears in
reality, in a dream or in a hallucination. (Reminds us of my thopoeic thought). We
are to suspend belief in what we ordinarily take for granted.
Husserl tells us we need to reduce the natural world to its pure consciousness, so
that what we are left with is a pure framework with which to consider the mindset
and methodology of phenomenology.
The procedure of bracketing is essential: the phenomenological reduction helps us
to free ourselves from prejudices and secure the purity of our detachment as
observers, so that we can encounter “things as they are in themselves”
independently of any presuppositions. The goal of phenomenology for Husserl is
then a descriptive, detached. Phenomenological reduction is also a method of
bracketing empirical intuitions away from philosophical inquiry, by refraining
from making judgments upon them. Husserl uses the term epoche (Greek, for "a
cessation") to refer to this suspension of judgment regarding the true nature of
reality. Bracketed judgment is an epoche or suspension of inquiry, which places in
brackets whatever facts belong to essential being.
Bracketing is also a neutralization of belief. "Doxic positing" (the positing of
belief) may be actual or potential. Doxic positing may occur in every kind of
consciousness, because every consciousness may actually or potentially posit
something about being.
analysis of consciousness in which objects, as its correlates, are constituted.
And So, while phenomenology is primarily concerned with the systematic
reflection and analysis of the structures of consciousness, it is to take place from a
highly modified “first person” viewpoint: studying phenomena not as they appear
to “my” consciousness, but to any consciousness whatsoever. Husserl believed that
phenomenology could provide a firm basis for all human knowledge, including
scientific knowledge, and could establish philosophy as a rigorous science.
Now let’s talk about ideas of Phenomenology:
The Ideas are divided into four sections:
(1) The Nature and Knowledge of Essential Being,
(2) The Fundamental Phenomenological Outlook,
(3) Procedure of Pure Phenomenology In Respect of Methods and Problems,"
(4) Reason and Reality." The first section describes how the realm of essence
differs from the realm of facts.
The second section describes how phenomenological reduction may be used as a
method of philosophical inquiry. The third section describes
how noesis and noema may be defined as phases of intentionality. The fourth
section describes the relation between consciousness and noematic meaning.
Husserl distinguishes between phenomenology as a science of pure consciousness
and psychology as a science of empirical facts. For Husserl, the realm of pure
consciousness is distinct from the realm of real experience. Husserl explains that
phenomenology is a theory of pure phenomena, and that it is not a theory of actual
experiences (or of actual facts or realities).
According to Husserl, essential being must be distinguished from actual existence,
just as the pure ego must be distinguished from the psychological ego. Essences
are non-real, while facts are real. The realm of transcendentally reduced
phenomena is non-real, while the realm of actual experience is real. Thus,
phenomenological reduction leads from knowledge of the essentially real to
knowledge of the essentially non-real.
Phenomenological reduction is a process of defining the pure essence of a
psychological phenomenon. It is a process whereby empirical subjectivity is
suspended, so that pure consciousness may be defined in its essential and absolute
being. This is accomplished by a method of "bracketing" empirical data away from
consideration. "Bracketing" empirical data away from further investigation leaves
pure consciousness, pure phenomena, and the pure ego as the residue of
Facts or realities are the objective data of empirical intution, says Husserl, but
essences are the objective data of essential intuition. Empirical intuition may lead
to essential intuition (or essential insight), which may be adequate or inadequate in
terms of its clearness and distinctness. Empirical or non-empirical objects may
have varying degrees of intuitability, and empirical or non-empirical intuitions may
vary in their clearness and distinctness. Non-empirical intuitions may apprehend
objects that are produced by fantasy or imagination.
Husserl describes consciousness as intentional insofar as it refers to, or is directed
at, an object. Intentionality is a property of directedness toward an object.
Consciousness may have intentional and non-intentional phases, but intentionality
is the property that gives consciousness its objective meaning.
The cogito ("I think") is the principle of the pure ego. The pure ego performs acts
of consciousness (cogitations) that may be immanently or transcendently directed.
Immanently directed acts of consciousness refer to objects that are within the same
ego or that belong to the same stream of consciousness. Transcendently directed
acts of consciousness refer to objects that are outside the ego or that belong to a
different stream of consciousness. The objects of consciousness (cogitata) are the
embodied or unembodied things that are perceived and consciously experienced.
The difference between immanent and transcendent perception reflects the
difference between being as experience and being as thing.1 Things as they exist in
themselves cannot be perceived immanently, and they can only be perceived
transcendently. The difference between immanent and transcendent perception also
reflects the difference in the way in which things are given and presented to
consciousness. Givenness may be adequate or inadequate in terms of its clearness
and distinctness, and in terms of its intuitability.
Immanently perceived objects have an absolute being insofar as their existence is
logically necessary. The existence of transcendently perceived objects is not
logically necessary, insofar as their existence is not proved by the being of
conciousness itself. Consciousness itself is absolute being, but the spatial-temporal
world is merely phenomenal being.
Husserl emphasizes that phenomenology is concerned with the essence of
whatever is immanent in consciousness, and that it is concerned with describing
immanent essences. To confuse the essences of things with the mental
representations of those essences is to confuse the aims of phenomenology and
psychology. Phenomenology is a descriptive analysis of being as consciousness,
while psychology is a descriptive analysis of being as reality. The difference
between being as consciousness and being as reality is also the difference between
transcendental and transcendent being.
Every actual cogito has an intentional object (and is a mode of
thinking about something). The cogito itself may become a cogitatum if the
principle that "I think" becomes an object of consciousness. Thus, in the cogito, the
act of thinking may become an intentional object. However, in contrast to the
Cartesian principle that "I think, therefore I am" (cogito ergo sum), the
phenomenologically reduced cogito is a suspension of judgment about whether "I
am" or whether "I exist." The phenomenologically reduced cogito is a suspension
of judgment about the question of whether thinking implies existence. Thus,
phenomenology examines the cogito as a pure intuition, and as an act of pure
Husserl describes noesis and noema as two phases of intentionality. Noesis is the
process of cogitation, while the noemata (or cogitata) are that which is cogitated.
Every intentional experience has a noetic (real) phase and a noematic (non-real)
phase. Every noetic phase of consciousness corresponds to a noematic phase of
consciousness. Noesis is a process of reasoning that assigns meaning to intentional
objects. Both noesis and noema may be sources of objective meaning. The noetic
meaning of transcendent objects is discoverable by reason, while the noematic
meaning of immanent objects is discoverable by pure intuition. Noetic meaning is
transcendent, while noematic meaning is immanent.
Thus, noesis and noema correspond respectively to experience and essence.
Existential phenomenology differs from transcendental phenomenology by its
rejection of the transcendental ego. Merleau-Ponty objects to the ego's
transcendence of the world, which for Husserl leaves the world spread out and
completely transparent before the conscious. Heidegger thinks of a conscious being
as always already in the world. Transcendence is maintained in existential
phenomenology to the extent that the method of phenomenology must take a
presuppositionless starting point - transcending claims about the world arising
from, for example, natural or scientific attitudes or theories of
the ontological nature of the world.
While Husserl thought of philosophy as a scientific discipline that had to be
founded on a phenomenology understood as epistemology, Heidegger held a
radically different view. Heidegger himself states their differences this way:
For Husserl, the phenomenological reduction is the method of leading
phenomenological vision from the natural attitude of the human being whose life is
involved in the world of things and persons back to the transcendental life of
consciousness and its noetic-noematic experiences, in which objects are constituted
as correlates of consciousness. For us, phenomenological reduction means leading
phenomenological vision back from the apprehension of a being, whatever may be
the character of that apprehension, to the understanding of the Being of this being
(projecting upon the way it is unconcealed).
According to Heidegger, philosophy was not at all a scientific discipline, but more
fundamental than science itself. According to him science is only one way of
knowing the world with no special access to truth. Furthermore, the scientific
mindset itself is built on a much more "primordial" foundation of practical,
everyday knowledge. Husserl was skeptical of this approach, which he regarded as
quasi-mystical, and it contributed to the divergence in their thinking.
Instead of taking phenomenology as prima philosophia or a foundational
discipline, Heidegger took it as a metaphysical ontology: "being is the proper and
sole theme of philosophy... this means that philosophy is not a science of beings
but of being.". Yet to confuse phenomenology and ontology is an obvious error.
Phenomena are not the foundation or Ground of Being. Neither are they
appearances, for, as Heidegger argues in Being and Time, an appearance is "that
which shows itself in something else," while a phenomenon is "that which shows
itself in itself."
While for Husserl, in the epoché, being appeared only as a correlate of
consciousness, for Heidegger being is the starting point. While for Husserl we
would have to abstract from all concrete determinations of our empirical ego, to be
able to turn to the field of pure consciousness, Heidegger claims that "the
possibilities and destinies of philosophy are bound up with man's existence, and
thus with temporality and with historicality.
However, ontological being and existential being are different categories, so
Heidegger's conflation of these categories is, according to Husserl's view, the root
of Heidegger's error. Husserl charged Heidegger with raising the question of
ontology but failing to answer it, instead switching the topic to the Dasein, the only
being for whom being is an issue. That is neither ontology nor phenomenology,
according to Husserl, but merely abstract anthropology. To clarify, perhaps, by
abstract anthropology, as a non-existentialist searching for essences, Husserl
rejected the existentialism implicit in Heidegger's distinction between being (sein)
as things in reality and Being (Dasein) as the encounter with being, as when being
becomes present to us, that is, is unconcealed.
Existential phenomenologists include: Martin Heidegger (1889–1976), Hannah
Arendt (1906–1975), Emmanuel Levinas (1906–1995), Gabriel Marcel (1889–
1973),Jean-Paul Sartre (1905–1980), Paul Ricoeur (1913–2005) and Maurice
Some researchers in phenomenology (in particular in reference to Heidegger's
legacy) it has been claimed that a number of elements within phenomenology
(mainly Heidegger's thought) have some resonance with Eastern philosophical
ideas, particularly with Zen Buddhism and Taoism According to Tomonubu
Imamichi, the concept of Dasein was inspired — although Heidegger remained
silent on this — by Okakura Kakuzo's concept of das-in-der-Welt-sein (being in
the world) expressed in The Book of Tea to describe Zhuangzi's philosophy,
which Imamichi's teacher had offered to Heidegger in 1919, after having
studied with him the year before.
There are also recent signs of the reception of phenomenology (and Heidegger's
thought in particular) within scholarly circles focused on studying the impetus
ofmetaphysics in the history of ideas in Islam and Early Islamic
philosophy; perhaps under the indirect influence of the tradition of the French
Orientalist and philosopher Henri Corbin.
In addition, the work of Jim Ruddy in the field of comparative philosophy,
combined the concept of Transcendental Ego in Husserl's phenomenology with
the concept of the primacy of self-consciousness in the work of Sankaracharya.
In the course of this work, Ruddy uncovered a wholly new eidetic
phenomenological science, which he called "convergent phenomenology." This
new phenomenology takes over where Husserl left off, and deals with the
constitution of relation-like, rather than merely thing-like, or "intentional"
Phenomenological approach to technology
James Moor has argued that computers show up policy vacuums that require
new thinking and the establishment of new policies. Others have argued that the
resources provided by classical ethical theory such
as utilitarianism, consequentialism and deontological ethics is more than
enough to deal with all the ethical issues emerging from our design and use of
For the phenomenologist the ‘impact view’ of technology as well as the
constructivist view of the technology/society relationships is valid but not
adequate (Heidegger 1977, Borgmann 1985, Winograd and Flores 1987, Ihde
1990, Dreyfus 1992, 2001). They argue that these accounts of technology, and
the technology/societyrelationship, posit technology and society as if speaking
about the one does not immediately and already draw upon the other for its
ongoing sense or meaning. For the
phenomenologist, society and technology co-constitute each other; they are
each other's ongoing condition, or possibility for being what they are. For them
technology is not just the artifact. Rather, the artifact already emerges from a
prior ‘technological’ attitude towards the world (Heidegger 1977).
Phenomenology is concerned with the relationship between the reality which exists
outside our minds (objective reality) and the variety of thoughts and ideas each of
us may have about reality (subjectivity( . From the phenomenological approach we
experience the phenomena in the world rather than the world itself.
Phenomenology first emerged as a distinctive philosophical discipline with
Husserl. ”To the things themselves” was Husserl’s approach. The aim of
phenomenology is to bypass the presuppositions built into traditional theories
(including psychology, physiology and epistemology) in order to describe what
shows up in the flow of lived experience prior to reflection (Dancy & Sosa,
1996:342).The key discovery is that all forms of consciousness are characterized
by intentionality, a directness towards things such that consciousness is always
about or of something.
Husserl officially defined the science of phenomenology as the study of the
essence of conscious experience, and especially of intentional experience , and he
defined consciousness as “pure” rational, mental activity, and developed a theory
of the essential structures of consciousness in terms of the parts and moments of
our mental acts . Husserl called the method the phenomenological reduction
or epoché. By carrying out the reduction we abandon the “natural” or “naturalistic”
attitude which takes the world for granted and come to adopt instead the
phenomenological or the “transcendental” attitude. The use of the method includes
the grasp of consciousness being directed towards an object; consciousness is
consciousness of something, and that such attention involves no concern for
whether these objects really exist. As we have seen, Heidegger´s investigation of
being is phenomenological. As method phenomenology has much to offer
psychotherapy in the sense of searching for meaning and what is being qua being.
All psychological theories are about the human being, but here most similarities
end. There are many different theories and approaches to psychotherapy. By a
phenomenological method it might be possible to investigate the science of
psychology to pursue a more adequate understanding of the central concerns of
psychology. Heidegger’s conception of authenticity might help us make sense of
dimensions of therapeutic practice, by providing a basis for understanding our
embeddedness in a wider context of meaning .
It seems that in the Scandinavian countries there are some resistance against
existential psychotherapy and phenomenological psychology in both the academic
field as well as in the practical field (official hospitals etc). But interesting enough,
a lot of students both in psychology and philosophy addresses this topic with great
interest. I believe the future will look different. My guess and hope is that the same
will happen in the field of existential psychotherapy.
Zahavi, Dan (2003), Husserl's Phenomenology, Stanford: Stanford University Press
Jump up ^ Orbe, Mark P. (2009). Phenomenology. In S. Littlejohn, & K. Foss (Eds.),
Encyclopedia of communication theory. (pp. 750-752). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE
Jump up ^ Rollinger, Robin (1999), Husserl's Position in the School of Brentano,
Dordrecht / Boston / London: Kluwer
Jump up ^ Husserl, Edmund. The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental
Phenomenology. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970, pg. 240