What is Phenomenology?
"As good a place to begin as any is the meaning of the term phenomenology itself. It is derived from the two Greek words: phainomenon (an "appearance") and logos ("reason" or "word," hence a "reasoned inquiry"). Phenomenology is indeed a reasoned inquiry which discovers the inherent essences of appearances. But what is an appearance? The answer to this question leads to one of the major themes of phenomenology: an appearance is anything of which one is conscious. Anything at all which appears to consciousness is a legitimate area of philosophical investigation. Moreover, an appearance is a manifestation of the essence of that of which it is the appearance. Surprising as it may sound, other philosophic points of view have refused to make this move." --David Stewart & Algis Mickunas, Exploring Phenomenology, p. 3
"...one can characterize phenomenological philosophy as centering on the following basic themes: a return to the traditional tasks of philosophy, the search for a philosophy without presuppositions, the intentionality of consciousness, and the refusal of the subject-object dichotomy." --David Stewart & Algis Mickunas, Exploring Phenomenology, p. 5
"For Husserl, phenomenology was a discipline that attempts to describe what is given to us in experience without obscuring preconceptions or hypothetical speculations; his motto was 'to the things themselves'--rather than to the prefabricated conceptions we put in their place. As Husserl saw it, this attempt offered the only way out of the impasse into which philosophy had run at the end of the nineteenth century when the realists, who affirmed the independent existence of the object, and the idealists, who affirmed the priority of the subject, had settled down into a stalemated war. Instead of making intellectual speculations about the whole of reality, philosophy must turn, Husserl declared, to a pure description of what is. In taking this position Husserl became the most influential force not only upon Heidegger but upon the whole generation of German philosophers who came to maturity about the time of the First World War." --William Barrett, Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy, pp. 190-191
"...Husserl's logic is one bound to the immediacy of all experience itself insofar as phenomena are understood as givens in their immediate and irreducible presentative force. Most simply, Husserl is after the formal qualities of the concrete reality which human beings recognize as their experience, but from here means the essential immanent in the particular: the truth of the given. The history of Husserl's development as a philosopher supports the thesis that throughout his life he was, at various levels, searching for an architectonic of thought . . . which would express and uncover the specificity of the world. If the term 'logic' be understood in its philosophic sense as a grounding discipline for all reflection, then phenomenology as a logic treats the genesis and development of phenomena from their most primordial roots in prereflective consciousness to their most reflectively sophisticated exemplification in science." --Maurice Natanson, "Phenomenology and the Social Sciences," In M. Natanson (Ed.), Phenomenology and the Social Sciences, Volume 1, pp. 4-5
"Phenomenology is a science of 'beginnings.' The genuine beginner is an adept, not a novice. To begin, in this sense, is to start from the primordial grounds of evidence, from onself as the center (not the sum) of philosophical experience. Such self-centeredness is the opposite of philosophic hubris; it is a confession of humility: the admission that, unless the inquirer has turned to himself in full awareness of his life, he cannot claim to have sought, let alone found, the truth. . .
The genuine beginner is, then, the most sophisticated of all thinkers, for, beyond honoring the Socratic injunction, he is unwilling to admit as taken for granted that which impinges most heavily on his outlook as a man in the world: the root assumption that, though we may be ignorant of philosophic truth, we are, after all, beings in a real world in which philosophic doubt emerges as something worth bothering about." --Maurice Natanson, "Phenomenology and the Social Sciences," In M. Natanson (Ed.), Phenomenology and the Social Sciences, Volume 1, p. 6-8
". . .one learned what phenomenology is step by step, through reading, discussion, and reflection ... What is needed is rather simple: to learn what is mean by the natural attitude, to practice epoche, to attempt descriptions of presentations without prejudicing the results by taking for granted the history, causality, intersubjectivity, and value we ordinarily associate with our experience, and to examine with absolute care the fabric of the world of daily life so that we may grasp its source and its direction . . .
There is a legitimate sense in which it is necesary to say that one must become a phenomenologist in order to comprehend phenomenology." --Maurice Natanson, "Phenomenology and the Social Sciences," In M. Natanson (Ed.), Phenomenology and the Social Sciences, Volume 1, pp. p. 8
". . . at the end of his career, Husserl admitted that the first result of reflection is to bring us back into the presence of the world as wel lived it before our reflection began (Lebenswelt)." --Maurice Merleau-Ponty, "Phenomenology and the Sciences of Man," In M. Natanson (Ed.), Phenomenology and the Social Sciences, Volume 1, p. 54
"During the whole career of Husserl . . . the struggle is on two fronts. On the one hand it is a struggle against psychologism and historicism, in so far as they reduce the life of man to a mere result of external conditions acting on him and see the philosophizing person as entirely determined from the outside, lacking any contact with his own thought and therefore destined to skepticism. But on the other hand, it is also a struggle against logicism, in so far as this is attempting to arrange for us an access to the truth lacking any contact with contingent experience. Husserl is seeking to reaffirm rationality at the level of experience, without sacrificing the vast variety that it includes and accepting all the processes of conditioning which psychology, sociology, and history reveal. It is a question of finding a method which will enable us to think at the same time of the externality which is the principle of the sciences of man and of the internality which is the condition of philosophy, of the contingencies without which there is no situation as well as of the rational certainty without which there is no knowledge." --Maurice Merleau-Ponty, "Phenomenology and the Sciences of Man," In M. Natanson (Ed.), Phenomenology and the Social Sciences, Volume 1, p. 57
"The first step in phenomenological philosophy is reflection on the meaning or essence of the experience of consciousness. 'Phenomenological positivism' beings with the facts of experience and is followed by reflection, intuition, and description of the phenomena of consciousness. Husserl sought by the study of the phenomena of consciousness to find the roots of reason in our human experience. So understood, phenomenology as a philosophy is the science of the sciences, providing the principles which validate, a priori, all the sciences.
The concept of the 'intentionality of consciousness' is the foundation of phenomenological philosophy . . . Husserl adopted Brentano's notion of intentionality and refined it.
Husserl distinguished between the act of knowing (noesis) from the object (noema), whether existent or imaginary. To be conscious is to experience an act of knowing in which the subject is aware of an object. A conscious act is an act of awareness in which the subject is presented with an object.
Husserl distinguishes further between perception and intuition. One may perceive and be conscious of the fact that one perceives an object without understanding its essence, what it is, its principle of being and identity. Intuition of the essence of an object is the source of meaning and intelligibility of the particular phenomena. Eidetic intuition (Wessenschau) is insight into essences through the experiencing of exemplifying particulars. Such particulars may be given in either perception or imagination." --David Bidney, "Phenomenological Method and the Anthropological Science of the Cultural Life-World," In M. Natanson (Ed.), Phenomenology and the Social Sciences, Volume 1, p. 57
"There are two fundamental moments in Husserl's phenomenological epoche which, although they are correlated, can be distinguished: 1) the reduction to the sphere of immanence, and 2) the movement from fact to essence. The first of these . . . requires suspension of the natural attitude and placing in abeyance all belief in the existence of the transcendent world. The second, sometimes call the eidetic reduction, requires a shift to consider things not as realities but as instances of idealities, as pure possibilities rather than actualities. For Husserl, this second reduction is necessary to fuflill the conditions for genuinely rigorous science. Thoser conditions, already announced by Descartes under the heaing of clarity and distinctness, already are apodicticity (that is, the certainty that requires absolute transparency) and univocity (that is, absence of ambiguity). When science is conceived this way, its objects are no longer worldly things, but rather essences: meanings, categories, ideal types, and laws. For Husserl, rigorous science operates exclusively within the sphere of ideality--and must do so in order to meet the standards of atemporality embodied in what he conceives as the very idea of science. Although it is not identified as such by Husserl, this is an ancient idea which is generally attributed to Parmenides: only that can be known which is, and that which genuinely is excludes coming into being and passing away. The objects of rigorous science must be atemporal essences whose atemporality is ensured by their ideality.
This Eleatic strain in Husserl's thought culminates in the standpoint that meaning (Sinn) in general is timeless and ideal. The ancient question of how atemporal meanings become instantiated in the flux of everyday actuality can be addressed by calling upon a central distinction in Husserl's theory of intentionality: the distinction between the act of intending (noesis) and the meaning-content (noema) of the object intended. The noetic act is real in the sense that it is a temporal even in which hyletic data (or "sensory contents") are synthesized and apprehended by consciousness as an intentional object. The noema, on the other hand, is ideal: it conveys the atemporal meaning which provides the form (morphe) according to which consciousness synthesizes its mattery or sensory data (hyle). Thus, every intentional act (noesis) is an actualization or realization of a timeless meaning." --M. C. Dillon, Merleau-Ponty's Ontology, p. 71
Phenomenology, beginning with Edmund Husserl, urges that the world of immediate or "lived" experience takes precendence over the objectified and abstract world of the "natural attitude" of natural science. Science as such, thus, is secondary to the world of concrete, lived experience. Phenomenology, therefore, engages in a process known as "bracketing" in which the "natural attitude" is placed aside such that the researcher may begin with "the things themselves," as Husserl said — or, in other words, in the phenomena as they show themselves in experience. In Heidegger's terminology, phenomenology involves letting things "show themselves from themselves in the very way in which they show themselves from themselves." By definition, phenomenology never begins with a theory, but, instead, always begins anew with the phenomena under consideration. Maurice Merleau-Ponty's famous description of phenomenology is quite instructive; as he writes, the phenomenologist returns "to the world which precedes (scientific description), (the world) of which science always speaks, and in relation to which every scientific characterization is an abstract and derivative sign language, as is geography in relation to the countryside."
In Husserlian phenomenology, consciousness is understood as fundamentally intentional. In this sense, Husserl is, in part, indebted to Franz Brentano's "Act psychology," which held that all mental acts are characterized by "intentionality." Consciousness as an act, that is, is always positing a world; in other words, it is always "of" or "about" something. Following Brentano, Husserl holds that consciousness is never directed toward itself, but, rather, is always directed toward phenomena in the world. It follows, therefore, that any abstraction is ultimately based on phenomena in the world, and, thus, are secondary to the primary lived experience of phenomena as they "show themselves."
Husserl brings to this understanding something unique, his phenomenological method, which is characterized by Husserl's "epoche." As mentioned previously, "epoche" is a "bracketing" of the "natural attitude" so that one can attend to a phenomenon as it shows itself. Once the "natural attitude" is "bracketed," one can then attend to what, according to Husserl, are the two poles of experience, noema and noesis. Noesis is the act of perceiving, while noema is that which is perceived. Through this method, for Husserl, one can perform an "eidetic reduction." Noema can be reduced to their essential form or "essence." Husserl's phenomenology, in this sense, is a form of idealism, since it aims toward discovering the ideal form of phenomena, the essence or Eideia (such as with Plato and Hegel). Further, Husserl shares with the idealist a tendency to stress a priori conditions of knowledge (such as with Plato and Kant).