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This article is about the philosophical movement. For other uses, see Phenomenology (disambiguation).


Phenomenology has three meanings in philosophical history, one derived from G.W.F. Hegel in 1807, one derived from Edmund Husserl in 1920, and one derived from Martin Heidegger in 1927:

  • For G.W.F. Hegel, phenomenology is an approach to philosophy that begins with an exploration of phenomena (what presents itself to us in conscious experience) as a means to finally grasp the absolute, logical, ontological and metaphysical Spirit that is behind phenomena. This has been called a "dialectical phenomenology".
  • For Martin Heidegger, the phenomenological vision of a world of beings must be bypassed toward the apprehension of the Being behind all beings, that is, as an introduction to ontology, albeit an ontology that remains critical of metaphysics. This has been called an "existential phenomenology".

The phenomenological dispute between Husserl and Heidegger influenced the development of existential phenomenology and existentialism in France, as is clear from the work of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir; Munich phenomenology (Johannes Daubert, Adolf Reinach, Alexander Pfänder in Germany and Alfred Schütz in Austria); and Paul Ricoeur. Readings of Husserl and Heidegger have also been crucial aspects of the philosophies of Jacques Derrida and Bernard Stiegler.

[edit] Historical overview of the use of the term

While the term "phenomenology" was used several times in the history of philosophy before Husserl, modern use ties it more explicitly to his particular method. Following is a list of thinkers in rough chronological order who were instrumental in the development of phenomenology, with brief comments on their contributions:

  • Friedrich Christoph Oetinger (German pietist) for the study of the "divine system of relations"
  • David Hume (Scottish philosopher), called variably a skeptic or a common sense advocate. While this connection is somewhat tendentious, Hume, in A Treatise of Human Nature, does seem to take a phenomenological or psychological approach by describing the process of reasoning causality in psychological terms. This is also the inspiration for the Kantian distinction between phenomenal and noumenal reality.
  • Johann Heinrich Lambert (1728–1777) (mathematician, physician and philosopher) for the theory of appearances underlying empirical knowledge.
  • Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), in the Critique of Pure Reason, declared that human beings can only know phenomena, and that the truth, the thing-in-itself, the noumena, is beyond the grasp of human understanding.
  • Georg Hegel (1770–1831) challenged Kant's doctrine of the unknowable thing-in-itself, and declared that by knowing phenomena more fully we can gradually arrive at a consciousness of the absolute and spiritual truth of Divinity. Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, published in 1807, prompted many opposing views including the existential work of Søren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre, as well as the materialist work of Marx and his many followers.
  • Franz Brentano seems to have used the term in some of his lectures at Vienna. Also, he had Edmund Husserl as a disciple, and could have influenced his views on intentionality.
  • Edmund Husserl redefined phenomenology at first as a kind of descriptive psychology and later as an epistemological, foundational eidetic discipline to study essences. He is known as a "father" of phenomenology.
  • Carl Stumpf used it to refer to an ontology of sensory contents.
  • Max Scheler developed further the phenomenological method of Edmund Husserl and extended it to include also a reduction of the scientific method. He influenced the thinking of Pope John Paul II and Edith Stein.
  • Martin Heidegger criticized Husserl's theory of phenomenology as he attempted to develop a theory of ontology that led him to his original theory of Dasein, the abstract human being.
  • Alfred Schutz developed a phenomenology of the social world on the basis of everyday experience which has influenced major sociologists such as Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann.

Later usage is mostly based on or (critically) related to Husserl's introduction and use of the term. This branch of philosophy differs from others in that it tends to be more "descriptive" than "prescriptive".

[edit] Husserl and the origin of his Phenomenology

Husserl derived many important concepts that are central to phenomenology from the works and lectures of his teachers, the philosophers and psychologists Franz Brentano and Carl Stumpf. An important element of phenomenology that Husserl borrowed from Brentano was intentionality, the notion that the main characteristic of consciousness is that it is always intentional. Intentionality, which could be summarised as "aboutness" of thought, describes the basic structure of consciousness. Every mental phenomenon or psychological act is directed at an object — the intentional object. Every belief, desire, etc. has an object to which it refers: the believed, the desired. The property of being intentional, of having an intentional object, is the key feature which distinguishes mental/psychical phenomena from physical phenomena (objects), because physical phenomena lack intentionality altogether. Intentionality is the key concept by means of which phenomenological philosophy attempts to overcome the subject/object dichotomy prevalent in modern philosophy.

[edit] Precursors and influences

[edit] Husserl's Logische Untersuchungen (1900/1901)

In the Logical Investigations, his first major work (still under the influence of Brentano), Husserl still conceives of phenomenology as descriptive psychology. Husserl analyzes the intentional structures of mental acts and how they are directed at both real and ideal objects. The Logical Investigations begin with a devastating critique of psychologism i.e. the attempt to subsume the a priori validity of the laws of logic into psychology. Husserl establishes a separate field for research in logic, philosophy and phenomenology, independently from the empirical sciences.

[edit] Transcendental phenomenology after the Ideen (1913)

Some years after the publication of the Logical Investigations, Husserl made some key elaborations which led him to the distinction between the act of consciousness (noesis) and the phenomena at which it is directed (the noemata).

  • "noetic" refers to the intentional act of consciousness (believing, willing, hating and loving ...)
  • "noematic" refers to the object or content (noema) which appears in the noetic acts (respectively the believed, wanted, hated and loved ...).

What we observe is not the object as it is in itself, but how and inasmuch it is given in the intentional acts. Knowledge of essences would only be possible by "bracketing" all assumptions about the existence of an external world and the inessential (subjective) aspects of how the object is concretely given to us. This procedure Husserl called epoché.

Husserl in a later period concentrated more on the ideal, essential structures of consciousness. As he wanted to exclude any hypothesis on the existence of external objects, he introduced the method of phenomenological reduction to eliminate them. What was left over was the pure transcendental ego, as opposed to the concrete empirical ego. Now (transcendental) phenomenology is the study of the essential structures that are left in pure consciousness: this amounts in practice to the study of the noemata and the relations among them. German philosopher Theodor Adorno criticised Husserl's concept of phenomenological epistemology in his metacritique "Against Epistemology", which is anti-foundationalist in its stance.

Transcendental phenomenologists include: Oskar Becker, Aron Gurwitsch and Alfred Schutz.

[edit] Realist phenomenology

After Husserl's publication of the Ideen in 1913, many phenomenologists took a critical stance towards his new theories. Especially the members of the Munich group distanced themselves from his new transcendental phenomenology and preferred the earlier realist phenomenology of the first edition of the Logical Investigations.

Realist phenomenologists include: Adolf Reinach, Alexander Pfänder, Johannnes Daubert, Max Scheler, Roman Ingarden, and Nicolai Hartmann.

[edit] Existential phenomenology

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 conscious being as always and 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.

[edit] Differences between Husserl and Heidegger

While Husserl thought philosophy to be a scientific discipline that had to be founded on a phenomenology understood as epistemology, Heidegger held a radically different view.

Heidegger himself phrases 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 specialized 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 between 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". 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 epochè, 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.

(NB: Heidegger quotations are taken from The Basic Problems of Phenomenology (1954), published by Indiana University Press, 1975. Introduction, p. 1 – 23 reproduced at

Existential phenomenologists include: Martin Heidegger (18891976), Hannah Arendt (19061975), Emmanuel Levinas (19061995), Gabriel Marcel (18891973), Jean-Paul Sartre (19051980), Paul Ricoeur (1913 - 2005), and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (19071960).

[edit] Criticisms of phenomenology

Daniel Dennett has criticized phenomenology on the basis that its explicitly first-person approach is incompatible with the scientific third-person approach, going so far as to coin the term autophenomenology to emphasize this aspect and to contrast it with his own alternative, which he calls heterophenomenology.

[edit] Phenomenology in Architecture

Beginning in the 1970s phenomenology, with a strong influence from Martin Heidegger, began to have a major impact on architetcural thinking. Christian Norberg-Schulz was an important figure. A Norwegian, he graduated from the Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule ETH in Zurich in 1949 and eventualy became Dean of the Oslo School of Architecture. His most important writings were Genius Loci: Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture (New York: Rizzoli, 1980) and Intentions in Architecture (1963). These books were widely read in architectural schools the 1960s and 1970s. Another architect associated with the phenomenology movement was Charles Willard Moore, who was Dean of the School of Architecture at Yale from 1965 to 1970. Though interest in phenomenology has waned in recent times, several architects, such as Steven Holl, still claim to be phenomenologists. Alberto Pérez-Gómez who teaches at McGill University is also known as a defender of phenomenology.<ref>Mark Jarzombek - The Psychologizing of Modernity (Cambridge University Press, 2000) - has tried to contextualized this history by showing in which way phenomenology grew out of and yet critiqued the psychology movement in the arts.</ref>

[edit] References


[edit] Further reading

  • Dermot Moran, Introduction to Phenomenology (Oxford: Routledge, 2000) - Charting phenomenology from Brentano, through Husserl and Heidegger, to Gadamer, Arendt, Levinas, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty and Derrida.
  • Robert Sokolowski, "Introduction to Phenomenology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2000) - An excellent non-historical introduction to phenomenology.
  • Herbert Spiegelberg, "The Phenomenological Movement: A Historical Introduction" (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff 1965) - The most comprehensive and thorough source on the entire phenomenological movement. Unfortunately expensive and hard to find.
  • David Stewart and Algis Mickunas, "Exploring Phenomenology: A Guide to the Field and its Literature" (Athens: Ohio University Press 1990)
  • Michael Hammond, Jane Howarth, and Russell Kent, "Understanding Phenomenology" (Oxford: Blackwell 1995)
  • Christopher Macann, "Four Phenomenological Philosophers: Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty" (New York: Routledge: 1993)
  • William A. Luijpen and Henry J. Koren, "A First Introduction to Existential Phenomenology" (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press 1969)
  • Richard M. Zaner, "The Way of Phenomenology" (Indianapolis: Pegasus 1970)
  • Hans Köchler, "Phenomenological Realism: Selected Essays" (Frankfurt a. M./Bern: Peter Lang, 1986)
  • Mark Jarzombek, The Psychologizing of Modernity (Cambridge University Press, 2000).
  • Pierre Thévenaz, "What is Phenomenology?" (Chicago: Quadrangle Books 1962)
  • ed. James M. Edie, "An Invitation to Phenomenology" (Chicago: Quadrangle Books 1965) - A collection of seminal phenomenological essays.
  • ed. R. O. Elveton, "The Phenomenology of Husserl: Selected Critical Readings" (Seattle: Noesis Press 2000) - Key essays about Husserl's phenomenology.
  • eds. Richard Zaner and Don Ihde, "Phenomenology and Existentialism" (New York: Putnam 1973) - Contains many key essays in existential phenomenology.
  • Albert Borgmann and his work in philosophy of technology.
  • eds. Natalie Depraz, Francisco Varela, Pierre Vermersch, "On Becoming Aware: A Pragmatics of Experiencing" (Amsterdam: John Benjamins 2003) - searches for the sources and the means for a disciplined practical approach to exploring human experience.
  • Don Idhe, "Experimental Phenomenology: An Introduction" (Albany, NY: SUNY Press)

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Journals

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