Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy (I)
Try saying that five times rapidly.
Reducing such a complex work to a simple blog post is likely to prove a disaster, but I’m gonna try it anyway, keeping the jargon to a minimum. Well, at least explaining the jargon.
Edmund Husserl’s goal was to do away with the problem of dualism and secure a rigorous foundation for philosophy. In order to see Husserl clearly, it’s important to go back to Descartes, with whom many of you are familiar. He’s the philosopher who brought the problem of dualism into sharp focus.
Cogito ergo sum—I think; therefore, I am. This grain of truth has great force, but isn’t sufficient to get Descartes “out of his head” to establish the existence of external things, a condition or philosophical position known as solipsism. How do I know this computer in front of me really exists outside of my viewing of it? What about these hands that I see before me, how do I know they exist? My entire body? You? (Also known as the problem of other minds.) All I know is that I am thinking these things, but I can’t establish their objective reality.
Descartes is forced to call upon God to establish the veracity of “clear and distinct ideas”, (but he used the “clear and distinct ideas” criterion to prove the existence of God…the famous Cartesian circle.) He then assures us that God, being good by definition, would not deceive us in our perception of external objects as real. We, however, are left unconvinced.
Enter Husserl. Husserl goes back to that grain of truth and sits there for a very long while, exploring its implications. He stays in “cogito” and expands on it from the point of view of objects as they appear to consciousness. He says that in order to arrive here, to view consciousness in its fullest, we have to change our “attitude”—our method of thinking—in a radical way.
The “phenomenological reduction” clears away our biases and abstractions. Later, the “eidetic reduction” will allow us to see our own modes of thinking and their objects with greater clarity.
The Phenomenological Reduction
First, he insists that we must bracket what he calls the natural attitude (more on bracketing later). The natural attitude is a bias in which we automatically assume an existence “behind” or “beyond” the phenomenon, as some un-experiencable thing “out there,” some thing in-itself which causes it. (For those of you who know Kantian terminology, we’re talking about noumena). This attitude encompasses both ordinary, man-on-the-street thinking as well as the natural sciences. We “naturally” fall into the natural attitude. These prejudices—especially those of the scientist—Husserl does not disdain, but he makes it clear that they make impossible a pure study of consciousness.
(For the following passage, it’s important to know that “empiricism” is the school of thought which claims that knowledge derives from experience.)
As we must acknowledge, empiricistic naturalism springs from the most praise worthy motives. In contrast to all “idols,” to the powers of tradition and superstition, of crude and refined prejudices of every sort, it is a radicalism of cognitive practice that aims at enforcing the right of autonomous reason as the sole authority on questions of truth…
The essential fault in empiricistic argumentation consists of identifying or confusing the fundamental demand for a return to the “things themselves” with the demand for legitimation of all cognition by experience. With his comprehensible naturalistic constriction of the limits bounding cognizable “things,” the empiricist simply takes experience to be the only act that is presentive of things themselves. But things are not simply mere things belonging to Nature…To make identifications here and treat them as supposed truisms is blindly to push aside difference which can be given in the clearest insight. (Ch.2, Naturalistic Misinterpretations, 19. The Empiricisitic Identification of Experience and the Originarily Presentive Act, 35-36).
The natural attitude assumes that all the phenomena we experience are somehow caused by unexperience-able existences “out there,” by noumena. This is the attitude that Husserl finds dangerous to insight into consciousness and knowledge. What justifies this causal link from unknowable “things in-themselves” to our perception of them? It’s a natural assumption that we make, Husserl calls it “dogmatism” (but he adds, “a term which ought not to express any depreciation”). It’s an odd thing to say, to call natural science “dogmatic” in its very foundations! Husserl wants us to do away with assumptions to start afresh, to be sure that we have laid down the proper groundwork for achieving knowledge. To do so, he calls upon a very useful device—bracketing. (The fancy terminology for this: ἐποχή, Epoché):
In our fundamental findings we have presupposed nothing, not even the concept of philosophy, and thus we shall also proceed in the future. Formulated explicitly, the philosophical ἐποχή that we are undertaking shall consist of our completely abstaining from any judgment regarding the doctrinal content of any previous philosophy and effecting all of our demonstrations within the limits set by this abstention (Ch.2, Naturalistic Misinterpretations, 18. Introduction to the Critical Discussions, 33).
Bracketing is the cornerstone of his philosophy. But what is bracketing? It’s putting aside, neither denying nor accepting. It takes “the place of the Cartesian attempt to doubt universally” (Ibid. 57).
So imagine it like this:
Phenomena [natural attitude]
Husserl insists that we go back to the true things themselves—phenomena, not unknowable objects. He wants to take over the phrase and constitute it within experience. (He has a clever saying, “To the things themselves!”) This lively moment is a rarity for Husserl, so let’s embrace it, even if it is very confusing given the “things in-themselves” terminology.
The Eidetic Reduction (Don’t worry about the big word for now.)
What’s left then is appearances, to be sure, but as they appear to us. Ideas are not mere ‘mental constructs’ but exist alongside sensations as constituted in phenomena. Phenomena is the whole entire world as it is given to us. Now we no longer have to bother with impossible-to-know things outside ourselves, as all things—the objective, the subjective, spatio-temporal objects, a priori ideas—really everything is here. It’s a matter of distinguishing between kinds of phenomena and describing them as they exist in intuition (which is not meant in the sense of “women’s intuition” but as “given”):
Genuine science and its own genuine freedom from prejudice require, as the foundation of all proofs, immediately valid judgments which derive their validity from originally presentive intuitions…one can only ascertain them by insight…by fixing judgments which are faithfully fitted to what is given in such intuition (Ch.2, Naturalistic Misinterpretations, 19. The Empiricisitic Identification of Experience and the Originarily Presentive Act, 35-36).
Husserl wants to establish a science of “Eidos,” a science of essences through intuition or grasping. Eidos is a Greek word for “shape” or “form” which is here not necessarily visual, but indicates that which is invariable and essential to a thing. Some of you may be thinking of Plato’s forms here, but Husserl departs from Plato in saying that these essences are constituted within phenomena.
So what we have here is actually a purer kind of empiricism, a Trans-empiricism which does away with philosophical preconceptions, including the traditional rationalist/empiricist divide. Since experience is now cleared of natural biases, philosophical biases, theorizing and abstractions, we can engage in a different sort of enquiry—seeing and describing.
To those of you who have made it this far, thanks for reading and let me know if you have any questions or thoughts.
99 thoughts on “Explanation of Husserl’s Phenomenology”
Heavy stuff in the morning. I haven’t even finished my first morning coffee yet. 🙂
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HA! I know, right. Husserl is intense.
Tina, this is quite brilliant; not just the not-terribly-lively Mr. Husserl but your enlivening of his thoughts. I can’t make any erudite reflection as a studier of philosophy, as I have never been that – my own route to exploring consciousness (I mean really “awareness”) being direct and so very largely introspective, though with the aid of Buddhist psychology and Classical Advaita Vedanta. And yet what I read here has me really excited because I get it (I think . . .). It may sound like gobbledegook conceptually because it can only really be understood in the direct apprehending of it (certainty here), not in a representative idea about it – an array of verbiage. Alone, ideas take us to a point of saying “well maybe, definitely maybe”, yet no further.
Have you read Ted Honderich on “Radical Externalism”? Again, it’s hard to know if when someone sets down in ideas what they’ve understood as direct experience, whether that correlates to what one’s own experience leads one to conclude is apparently the same. And yet Honderich’s thinking seems to have parallels with what you write of here, as well as to what for over two millennia has been known as “Nondualism” – not meaning “oneism” but “nottwoism”; a monism that includes a dualism if you like. As I said, this is a brilliant job that you’ve done here Tina; and now I’m going to read it all carefully once again. [Had to blurt this lot out straight away!]
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Thanks so much for your kind words! I spent a lot of time on this post because I didn’t want to get it wrong. I had my husband (philo prof) read it to correct any errors. Husserl has a way of making people write poorly.
I haven’t read “Radical Externalism” but it actually does sound a bit like Husserl. I didn’t want to get into what happens later in Husserl’s book because reading him is insane and I can never be sure I understand, but it seems that dualism in a strange new form would get ‘folded back in’ phenomenologically…since, as I said before, everything that was there in phenomena before the phenomenological reduction is still there. I don’t encourage anyone to think about this. It is, if you’ll pardon my French, a mind fuck.
The long time you spent on this piece was very worthwhile Tina; and having read it carefully for a second time, I am moved to congratulate you once again.
“completely abstaining from any judgment regarding the doctrinal content of any previous philosophy and effecting all of our demonstrations within the limits set by this abstention”
That quote is, I feel, the essence of what’s required in coming to experience for oneself what’s being written of, which is to say the actuality of consciousness, or rather ‘awareness’ – because there need not be any carrying of knowledge in the same. Awareness need not be ‘con science’ – with knowledge of ‘things’ – it can be just as it is to itself, not even a blank slate, just itself. The quote points to what are the most penetrative means of introspection, such as, say, Zen practice, or Vipassana in its refined, ‘dry insight’ mode of practice. As Husserl says “one can only ascertain them (proofs) by insight”. It means releasing notions of the objective and the subjective, though not as an idea of release, but as actual release.
Well done Tina; for what it’s worth, you get my vote for best blog post of 2014. Don’t let it go to your head though, I haven’t read them all. 😉
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Thank you! But I must admit, the compliment went straight to my head.
“spent you spent” – dammit, can you fix that Tina?
HAHA! Got it. I’ve never edited anyone’s comments before. I had no idea it could be done. Wow, that could be dangerous.
Oh, you should what I’ve done with your comments at my place Tina – people are really appalled at you.
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Dammit again: “see what I’ve done. . .”
The need to edit comments – quod erat demonstrandum baby!
I wasn’t gonna say anything, but I did catch that. 🙂
I need some “digestion time” here to give any substantial comment. Only a preliminary remark on the word “science” in the text. I have not read the German original yet but I am quite sure he was using the word “Wissenschaft” there. This is not the same as “science” in English, so to some extent, this it a mistranslation. “Wissenschaft” has a much broader meaning, including all of science but also including things like mathematics and the “humanities”, things like,, history, study of literature and art and philosophy which are normally not included under the heading of “science” in the Anglo-American tradition. I do not find an exactly corresponding term for “science” in German (there is “Naturwissenschaft”, “Sozialwissenschaft” etc. but no “Science”) and i do not see an exact equivalent for “Wissenschaft” in English. I think it is important to be aware of this conceptual difference between the languages in order to avoid misunderstandings, or else science-minded people might just dismiss Husserl’s views as nonsense because what he is doing is certainly not science (although it might well qualify as Wissenschaft).
I cannot yet say what I think about Husserl because I am not sure I have understood what he was trying to do. So the following is a “gut reaction” that might well be the result of misunderstandings. I suspect that his view is just another possibility to look at things, not necessarily excluding the view from the outside that is normally taken by scientists. The two might be complementary. However, I do not yet see where you can get with this. Is he not getting stuck with just the phenomena, without really understanding anything? If you just only look at everyday phenomena as they appear to us (I am not sure I am understanding him correctly in this respect), what does this give you, except for a somehow “flat” description of experience. What insights can one really gain from restricting oneself to the description of the phenomena?
Yes, good point. The word “science” has come to mean things like physics, biology, etc. It used to be that we spoke of the “sciences”—plural, and this included a broader range, but since people don’t use the word in the plural anymore, the word hardly gets at what we’re talking about here.
“Wissenschaft” is a better translation of “episteme” than “science”. I don’t know whether Husserl used that word since I don’t know German, but in any case it makes more sense than our “science”.
Your point about getting stuck with the phenomena “without really understanding anything” indicates the bias of the natural attitude, which is indeed very pervasive and that’s why Husserl’s phenomenology is hard to grasp. What I’ve written about here is just the beginning of the book really. He goes on to explain what is found in phenomena and things get really crazy then. But I assure you, it’s quite full, it’s mind blowing. It’s just that his methodology is already so intense and difficult to write about that I figured it would be enough to think about for now. That said, I’m not sure I could go much further into the book and write well about it. I haven’t even mentioned intentionality or other very important aspects of his philosophy, but that’s because I’m very far from understanding these things well enough myself. I’ve only experienced the tip of the iceberg as far as the possibility of phenomenology.
The phenomenological reduction really forces us to ask the question, do I really want to base knowledge on the assumed connection between phenomena and noumena? The first thing knowable and the latter by definition impossible to know? He exposes that the connection is at the very best a tenuous relationship, like building a building on sand.
Of course, noumena is left to the side rather than denied, because Husserl is really careful.
Okay, I had to ask my husband your last question because I just didn’t feel capable of giving a good answer. He says that you find that the “natural world” that we’ve put in brackets comes back again, only this time and because of this method, you see it with clarity and come to understand the meaning of reality. So there’s the payoff!
If you ever do find yourself reading Husserl, I’d love to hear your take. I find his writing absolutely atrocious. It’s the funniest combination of amazing, exciting ideas and terrible writing, something I found to be true of Kant as well, which is why I wonder what the German is like.
By the way, I finished Solaris last night and LOVED it. I’ll probably write a Sci-Fi series on The Leather Library and do some links to my blog. The novel was so rich with themes, many of which were indeed philosophical. I still haven’t figured it out, but I hope things will become disentangled in my mind when I write about them.
I’m sort of reluctant to see the movie. I can’t imagine how they would do it without a lot of cheesy effects, which would detract from the concepts. Have you seen it?
I think there is a tradition of puting interesting ideas into bad writing in German philosophy. You have that in Kant, Hegel, Heidegger and several others. I hope I do not join the club, I am at least trying to express my ideas in a way that is understandable 🙂
Funnily, I have just been rereading Solaris myself last week, finished it on thursday. And again, I found it to be a book extremely rich in ideas and thoughts. I don’t think you can give a simple interpretation of it, there are a lot of different things in it.It is a little bit like the Ocean.
I noticed now that the book has aged in some (not important) aspects, for example, all the scientists (the protagonists and the once mentioned) in it are male. And of course, the technologies described are the ones of SF of 1959/1960, when it was written. But these things are not important, they are not the topic of the book.
I read on Wikipedia that there are three films. The most recent one seems to be a hollywood adaption. I am sceptical about that one. Of course, you can extract a hollywood stroy from the book but the real content of the book will be lost. I would not watch it.
It is long ago that I have seen Tarkovsky’s Solaris-film. He added a few scenes in the beginning, the rest follows the book more or less. But it is probably best to watch the film as a separate work of art and forget about the book. The real content of the book can probably not be translated to the medium of film.
The book contains chapters where the history and content of the science of Solaris is described and a lot of philosophical stuff is discussed. You cannot put much of that into film. And there are these sections where the phenomena of the Ocean are described. One could do some computer animation, but it would be ridiculous. For me, these are poetic, “abstract” texts like nothing else I know, and trying to prescribe a visualization of them to the viewer is not such a good idea. Tarkovsky only hinted at it (and of course, the special effects available to him where simple). What Lem is doing here is some kind of conceptual hybridisation, bringing together concepts from different areas in order to describe something that you cannot say what is it (is a an organism, a geological process or whatever). He has used this technique in other books as well, creating things that combine mechanical and biological aspects and as a result look very foreign.
However, this is not a hollywood film. It is in a tradition of European arthouse cinema very different from hollywood stuff. It is a work of art worth viewing even if only part of the book could be translated into film. Lem did not like the film and never watched it to the end. Some people find it unviewable (probably people used to the hollywood-pattern of film). I liked it, but it does not contain the main topic of the book.
I have not watched the 2002 hollywood film. I suspect it would be quite cheesy indeed, concentrating on the tragic love story. On Wikipedia, I have found a citation of a comment Lem made about those films:
“…to my best knowledge, the book was not dedicated to erotic problems of people in outer space… As Solaris’ author I shall allow myself to repeat that I only wanted to create a vision of a human encounter with something that certainly exists, in a mighty manner perhaps, but cannot be reduced to human concepts, ideas or images. This is why the book was entitled “Solaris” and not “Love in Outer Space”.
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You know, it’s funny you say it’s not a love story. As I was reading, I fully expected the couple to crash into the ocean, a repetition of what I considered foreshadowing from the earlier explorer. But no! Surprise ending indeed. I would have been okay with a love story because there were so many other elements and themes to the story, but I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t.
I had no idea it had been made into several films. I tried looking on Netflix but couldn’t find anything. It looks like I’ll have to do it the old fashioned way.
The strange descriptions that you mention were incredible. It would be very difficult to get that into a film, but I’m curious to see what could be done with it.
I think Tarkovsky did not even try. He just hints at it, but I think it was just flowing liquids filmed backwards or something like that. Anyway, he was a very interesting film director. No idea what became of it in hollywood 🙂 The first film I don’t know and it would be difficult to get it, I don’t know if it is polish or sovjet. Might be historically interesting, but I had never heard about it before.
Of course, it is also a love story, and a tragic one. It is maybe not the main topic of the book but it is part of it.
The film seems to be available on Amazon.
Books I am sure you would like are “His master’s Voice’ and “Golem XIV”.
I also love the (very different, more humoristic but also philosophical) “The Cyberiad” and the books about Ijon Tychy, like “The Star Diaries” and “The Futurological Congress”.
I remember I also liked “Return from the Stars”, but it is very long ago I read it.
I will keep these in mind for my Sci-Fi series…I’m a slow reader, so it may be a while before I get around to them, but I’m looking forward to it!
BTW: Solaris… I didn’t realize there were three versions, but I’ve seen both the 1972 Russian version (by Andrei Tarkovsky) and the 2002 American version. The former is the one to see, but the latter isn’t as bad as one might suspect given its Hollywood origin. Steven Sonderbergh did the screenplay and direction, which probably helped a lot.
For what it’s worth, Roger Ebert gave it 3-and-a-half stars (out of four) and wrote: “When I saw Tarkovsky’s original film, I felt absorbed in it, as if it were a sponge. It was slow, mysterious, confusing, and I have never forgotten it. Soderbergh’s version is more clean and spare, more easily readable, but it pays full attention to the ideas and doesn’t compromise.”
I’d be willing to check out all versions. I wish they were on Netflix. But oh well. I know a video rental place that’s sure to have it.
The Russian one might be hard to find… I saw it eons ago when I was in college and it was fairly new. The American version is serviceable though and seems to honor the text.
Solaris is SF at its best — an examination of the human condition via the agencies of some new aspect of reality (which is never central to the story). I’ve got a post coming up (hopefully this coming Saturday) about a pair of two-book tales I re-read over Thanksgiving that also struck me as “finestkind” SF.
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“…an examination of the human condition via the agencies of some new aspect of reality (which is never central to the story)”
That is really a good way of putting it. I avoided Sci-Fi because I thought it was all about bizarre worlds and creatures, etc. I wasn’t ever interested in that stuff, but now I see that all the weirdness can serve a wonderful purpose—it can provide a juxtaposition which allows us to see ourselves more clearly.
I’m starting a Sci-Fi series on the Leather Library soon. I can’t say how soon as I’m juggling a lot right now, but I’ll definitely have to write about those books while they’re still fresh in my mind.
Can’t wait to read your next post. I’ll be on the lookout for more things to read…someday! Hopefully soon.
Yep. SF can ask questions most fiction can’t. What would utopia or immortality really be like? How might cloning affect society? What if transporters were real — what does that imply for crime and flash mobs? What would the ability to read minds do to society?
Over time SF almost completely spoiled me for normal fiction. It’s just too dull! 🙂
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First of all, I don’t think I’ve read a better analysis of the rather dense philosophical issues you deal with here. Yes, Descartes’ way of calling upon God to establish the veracity of “clear and distinct ideas” is cheating of a kind, but what wonderful thoughts sprang from his work.
Second, I love Solaris, and read with great interest nannus’ comment. Even if Lem didn’t want it to be about love, the one phrase that has stuck to my mind from the whole book (aside from the wonderfully alien Ocean) is “finis vitae, sed non amoris,” which, to me, sums up rather nicely the main concept.
Personally, I couldn’t get into Tarkovsky’s movie, probably because he has shots like a 15′ taxi drive during which absolutely nothing happens (we just look at the street lights’ reflection on the hero’s face as he’s driven to the spaceport). I found it pretty disappointing after Lem’s brilliant book.
Wow, thanks so much for the compliment! Yes, that Cogito was so important for philosophy. I often wonder if Descartes really meant for that to highlighted, and for the circle to be disregarded as empty rhetoric. Just speculating, of course. 🙂
Oh good, another Solaris fan! I was just working on a write-up of it this morning for my Sci-Fi series. If this is what Sci-Fi is like, count me in. That line you point out is very important in the book, it’s about never making contact. And yes, it is about love in the sense that we never make contact with the actual person, only the idea of that person. I suspect there’s more to it than this. There’s a lot to unravel in the final scene…hopefully I’ll be able to do it some justice. It’s tricky. I could write on and on about it, but I have to learn to contain myself.
I totally agree about the movie. I was ready to start throwing things at the screen. I believe I complained all the way through. My husband hasn’t read the book, and I found myself saying, “But in the book it isn’t like this…this part in the book is really cool because…” That beginning was so wrong in so many ways. Lem’s version starts things off with a blast and captures the reader’s attention. He was able to get away with a lot of digressions that go deep into the protagonist’s head because he was very good at timing and tension. Not many writers can get away with that. The movie, however, made us plod through this intensely boring beginning…that taxi ride was dreadful. If I hadn’t read the book, I would have turned the TV off.
The rest of the movie was fairly boring too, but I found the appearance of the space station to be very much like what I imagined when I read the book. I pictured retro equipment while I read, maybe because I saw that the book had been written in the sixties. It looked like they used vending machines in the set…which would come across as really tacky (even funny) except that it gives the feel of a dilapidated, run down space station quite well. I also liked the way they used light to capture the feeling of the two suns.
Have you seen the newer version with George Clooney? I haven’t seen it yet, but I’d like to. Alas, it’s not on Netflix.
Oh, I forgot to answer your question about whether phenomenology is compatible with the view taken by scientists.
This is actually a very difficult question, which is probably why I subconsciously dodged it in my first reply. I can really see arguments going both ways. I tend to think that once you’re caught up in phenomenology and see how it reveals your own modes of thinking of how something comes to be real (what it means for something to be known as real), you won’t want to go back to the initial biases that you cleared away. That said, science—in the singular—and its processes might just be subsumed phenomenologically. I don’t see why not, but the meaning of science could change.
I’m sorry, I’m really not advanced enough here to answer this properly. It’s something that I think about a lot. I’m certain Husserl addresses this and I’m also sure I’ve read what he says, but I can’t be sure I understood any of it.
This is the area where I have trouble with what he’s saying. I am not sure that a scientific, empirical perspective involves the problem of thinking that “all the phenomena we experience are somehow caused by unexperience-able existences out there.” That sounds more like Platonism to me.
Thanks for the capsule summary in any case! Very few people would attempt to put Husserl into a nutshell, but it’s a wonderful exercise 🙂
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Well, the classical view of science is that it’s in the business of discovering the noumena. The noumena were not directly experienced, sometimes not experienceable even indirectly.
Here’s a quote from a philosophy of science textbook, which I think does a good job:
“…atoms, molecules, genes, electrons, radio waves, and gravitational forces are all noumena. According to many, noumena are real things, whereas phenomena are only what are apparent to our senses. One of the aims of science is said to be the discovery of these noumena, which are responsible for the ‘production’ of these phenomena. The noumena are the hidden mechanisms, so to speak, that “cause” the phenomena, and thus the noumena constitute the real nature of reality. For example, the red color of this flame belongs to the world of phenomena, whereas the electromagnetic waves of wavelength…which “produce” the redness, belong to the world of noumena.”
I can see why you might think of Plato here, but we have to be careful with the word noumena. If we use the word to mean “unexperience-able things in-themselves”, then we’re talking Kant, not Plato. Plato didn’t pose unexperience-able things to make sense of what we experience. Even the Idea of The Good is experienceable (although supra-rationally grasped), along with all the forms. So for him, we could know being, but it was really hard to acheive. It was just that phenomena (in the world of becoming) had a mix of real and unreal, so it was a matter of sorting out the essence of things. However, you can use the word noumena to mean something that has no analog in experience, in which case Plato’s forms could be considered noumenal. Or you could interpret Plato’s forms as being outside of our reach, and then they would be noumenal.
To be safe, I’d just say it’s a sticky matter with Plato.
Thanks! This helps greatly. I get your drift about Plato being complicated. I was thinking of the parable of the cave, but yes, he does envision that the Ideas can be experienced, if only by an Enlightened Few.
Regarding the noumena, is it really the case that atoms and molecules “cause” anything? It seems to me that bodies are no less real than molecules. It is just a different level of organization of matter. Also, aren’t all these supposed noumena observable, since we do observe them using various techniques that extend our natural senses? I don’t think working scientists actually approach the world in the way the textbook describes since they do not experience the noumena as “hidden” except to the extent that noumena remain unknown to us.
Of course we can get closer and closer to observing, but what is it we’re observing once we make use of such techniques? For instance, atoms:
If you Google: Can I see atoms? You’ll get various perspectives. Some say you can, others are more technical about what it means to see something.
If you Google: Can I see gravity? There’s a bit more clarity in this example. We can’t.
In any case, it does seem to be a matter of degree. Now atoms as building blocks which are too small to see with the naked eye, would “cause” the things we do see in the sense that they “make up” these things, from the scientific POV. Their activity changes what we do see.
But really what we have here are two different experiences. On the one hand, we might see a chair. On the other, we see, through scientific means, a molecule. These are both phenomena, you are right. Once scientists turn noumena into a type of phenomena, they get pretty excited about it for good reason. (If you look at the comments on the YouTube video, you’ll see some people who don’t believe in atoms because they can’t see them. They are being utterly unscientific here.)
Nevertheless, the existence of atoms for scientists never did depend on being able to visually see it in-itself. Same goes for gravity.
Now to be clear, Husserl doesn’t insist that we must be able to see something visually in order for it to be real. His “eidos” covers the visible and invisible, such as ideas. So perhaps there would be both the idea of an atom as well as this YouTube video of atom images…all would be a part of phenomena. The causal connections, however, would be left open to phenomenological investigation, and I’m not sure what that would be like.
Interesting. I am wondering if there’s any real difference between a natural sense like vision and other instruments we use to observe the world. To me, it seems not. Bees can see ultraviolet and we can’t without an instrument. That brings the phenomena and noumena much closer together. Gravity is different because it’s a force and not matter, though I suppose that strictly speaking it’s a property of matter.
I once wrote a story in which a woman with a scientific bent threw her lover out of the house because the lover would not stop quoting Husserl 🙂
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I think both the natural vision and the thing viewed, say, through a telescope would be phenomena. It’s just that in the second case the telescope would probably have to be included in the description.
That’s hilarious! I’d love to read it. It sort of reminds me of “The Mind Body Problem” by Rebecca Goldstein. (The same author of Plato at the Googleplex). She wrote a novel when she was much younger about a woman living with a mathematician and all of his quirks. The novel focuses on the turbulence of their marriage.
That is so bizarre, because it’s a story in a collection I wrote that is also entitled “The Mind Body Problem”! Synchronicity, I guess 🙂
Goldstein’s work sounds good. I’ll have to check it out!
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Oh my god! That’s nuts!
I think you’ll like Goldstein’s book. Also, her “Plato at the Googleplex” was very well-written and thoughtful.
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I am reminded of a Ray Bradbury short story (contained within the Painted Man) about a man on a spaceship who drives himself crazy by taking phenomenology waaay too seriously 🙂
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Ha! I may have to track that down. That sounds really interesting. I suspect Husserl did the same. I can’t imagine being his wife…imagine trying to coordinate practical matters with such a man. But then, as they say, philosophers aren’t supposed to have wives. 🙂
A very interesting move from induction to deduction; especially considering bracketing as part of the phenomenological reduction. The link between ‘eidos’ and science is quite interesting here as well. ‘Eidos’ in the Greek is the ‘that which is seen,’ usually translated as ‘shape’ or ‘form,’ which gives us the meaning Husserl used, and which indicates one has to actually see a result rather than experience its phenomena to arrive at scientific truth. It gives new meaning to ‘seeing is believing’ as well. I love your phrasing when you say “so what we have here is actually a purer kind of empiricism.” Although I think I would rather call it meta-empiricism, considering the beyond-ness of it rather than its transcendentalism; of course ‘meta’ implies a new kind of Empiricism, while your phrasing does indicate the fundamentals of it remains.
How do you think this compares with our very human Theory of Mind? Were we empiricists because of our philosophical child-ness or was there an actual value to Empiricism? In other words, and you have probably figured, I think Empiricism is an antiquated practice many of us still use; however, it must be used while we are young, in order for us to ascertain the order of the world in a way that we are not overwhelmed by its complexities, right? Is Empiricism necessary in the early stages of life? When should we begin replacing it with Phenomenological and Eidetic Reduction?
Not quite sure I understand the questions here, but as for empiricism, here’s a fuller explanation…no need to read more than the first few paragraphs to see how much the term encompasses:
It’s not a matter of child development so much as a big term which can mean many many things. It helps to contrast empiricism to rationalism:
Plato is a classic rationalist, so that might help.
The debate between rationalists and empiricists has been going on for a very long time. Husserl’s phenomenology is meant to end the debate.
I had drafted a beautiful answer for this… but instead of posting when I hit ‘post’ it was deleted. I should really stop using my cell phone for these answers; this is the second time I have suffered this fate.
Suffice it to say my metaphor was lost in translation. Mea culpa. I was basically saying that Empiricism was for babies anyway; and that by refining it, Husserl made it a more ‘grown up’ science.
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OH! I totally missed that.
I hate when that happens! I’ve started writing my posts separately on a word processor, but I haven’t done it for comments. I’ll probably find that out the hard way, like everything else.
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This was great! Husserl is so, so tough to write about in a blog-friendly way (as I’ve found!). Jargon is impossible to avoid, but you’ve made it very clear. Your explanation of eidos is particularly helpful.
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Thanks so much! It means a lot coming from you, the pioneer.
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I have just published an article that might be relevant here, see https://creativisticphilosophy.wordpress.com/2014/11/30/what-is-observable/
I am still not sure I understand Husserl but it looks like my own point of view is very different from his.
Here’s what I think you mean: If all observations are theory-dependent, it would be impossible to experience phenomena while making use of the phenomenological epoche, the suspension of the natural world.
I came across an article which seems to address some of your points. I’m not sure it’s a good one. No need to read the whole thing:
Daniel Dennett criticizes Husserl in a similar way, I think: “…what we are fooling ourselves about is the idea that the activity of ‘introspection’ is ever just a matter of ‘looking and seeing’. I suspect that when we claim to just be using our powers of inner observation, we are always actually engaging in a sort of impromptu theorizing—and we are remarkably gullible theorizers…”
In other words, perception of phenomena is relative to the theories of the observer. Phenomena are not possible without theory, and theory is also relative to the person theorizing. If we get rid of theory, we’d have no phenomena whatsoever.
Now the response I’ve heard to this criticism is this: “I’ve never seen a cat walk into a wall.” Which is to say the cat, which we presume has no scientific theories, nevertheless follows the same rules we do in reaction to phenomena.
I’m changing the response to “I’ve never seen a dog walk into a wall.” 🙂
The cat and the dog nevertheless have something I would call a theory. They have a certain world view. In the terminology of Jacob von Uexküll, they have a “Merkwelt”. This can be viewed as a theory about the world (see also https://creativisticphilosophy.wordpress.com/2014/10/08/world-views-and-evolution/). My point is that the world view of humans and groups of humans is changable and extensible (while that of a cat or the dog is relatively fixed within some limits).
Indeed I think that our perception of phenomena depends on our theories or our knowledge. For exampe, if I perceive people speaking English, I understand what they are saying. If they speak Turkish, I know they speak Turkish, but don’t understand anything. If they speak a language I have never heard, I would not know what language they are speaking. The experience is completely different depending on what we know. The speaker of another language with another phonemic system might also hear the sounds of the same language quite differently. The phonemic system and grammar of a language could be viewed as a theory and this theory controls our perception of language (just as an example).
Remarkable film. The theory the cat had of its environment breaks down. The cat is experiencing an anomaly in one of its analytical spaces. Unlike a fly hitting a glas pane again and again, it might even be able to correct the mistake (because, unlike the fly, it is actually experiencing the breakdown).
From the cat’s point of view, the wall is just something that you would hit if you jump against it. It does not need to know that the electrons in its body and those in the wall repell each other. It might develop something lke a “wall as obstacle” concept.
I’m going through a bit of insomnia and I know I have to clean the house for guests tomorrow, but I really want to get to this criticism of yours once I get a chance. I also want to say that for someone who’s never read Husserl, I’m amazed that you came up with this idea of phenomena being theory-dependent as a criticism of Husserl’s methodology. It’s apparently been done before, but I didn’t know that until you brought it to my attention. It brought Thomas Kuhn to my mind, and the whole language of paradigms is something I’m familiar with, but I never would have thought of this. And also, once again, your English is mind-bogglingly superb.
I’m gonna need some time to ruminate on these ideas!
I sense that Husserl doesn’t get rid of a kind of theorizing, that somehow theory (in some sense) comes back in a new way…but that would make him inconsistent. So for now I’ll just say I don’t really know and I’ll look into the matter. It could be that some clarity is needed in what theorizing means.
Also, your car metaphor is something I’ll have to play with in my mind while I vacuum.
Take your time. I am currently traveling and only have sporadic internet access. I am returning home later this week and will not have time before fryday.
Indeed I am familiar with Kuhn.
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Watch some re-runs of the TV show Mad About You and you will. (Well, not actually see it, but hear it. It was a running gag on the show. Murray, their dog, would chase mice so vigorously he’d bang into walls.)
Yeah, and you know, after I posted this I thought, “What the hell am I talking about? I walk into walls!” But of course, not deliberately.
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Great entry as always!
I have never read Husserl, but phenomenologists like Arendt are very interesting to me. In particular, I think phenomenology is very useful for capturing the rich texture of lived experience that is often left out when we talk in abstract categories. Although I tend to see phenomenology more as a tool for particular kind of analysis as opposed Husserl’s view of it a recasting of the foundations of philosophy overall. That said I now want to read Husserl to get a better grasp on his ideas.
One interesting complicating factor for phenomenology is language. Experience is not the only given; language is another given. For this reason I tend to see hermeneutics and phenomenology as complementary approaches, as when we are analyzing the rich texture of lived experience, we are also analyzing the linguistic interpretations we make of those phenomena.
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Thanks so much!
I can see your point about it being a tool…philosophers like to blow the lid off of things in a grandiose way.
Your last paragraph makes me want to ask, have you read Heidegger? I found him even more perplexing than Husserl, and that’s saying a lot.
I have read “The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays,” by Heidegger, but I have not read much else by him. And to say the least I don’t know if I really understand the little I have read from him.
But many of the thinkers that I studied the most while in school were heavily influenced by Heidegger. For example, I have read a lot of Arendt and Charles Taylor, and all have a fairly Heideggerian view of language and agency.
And my comments about the link between phenomenology and language are directly tied with my being something of a Taylorian.
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You know, I’ve read some Arendt, but not much (I did see the movie about her) and no Charles Taylor.
I see that Charles Taylor draws upon Wittgenstein as well, another philosopher who leaves me scratching my head. I wonder if the two philosophers become digestible through Taylor’s writing?
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Taylor is a great writer, but sometimes he can be a bit unclear.
Also, I tend to see Taylor’s use of Wittgenstein as fairly idiosyncratic. Taylor unlike Wittgenstein on my reading thinks that while we participate in a group of conflicting language games, over time we can reinterpret these language games so that they better grasp the truth. Taylor does not use the term truth but rather refers to the way in which through reinterpretation we try to come up with best account of our selves. Or put more simply for Taylor, unlike Wittgenstein, philosophy does not leave everything as it is.
I would recommend reading Taylor though because if nothing else his “philosophical anthropology” of the modern self is among the most interesting, and nuanced that I have read.
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I will have to check him out sometime once I get my head cleared from all this Husserl! I never understood Wittgenstein, not at all, not even the teeniest tiniest bit, so hopefully Taylor doesn’t write in that mysterious way. That drove me nuts.
I am curious if your read secondary readings on Wittgenstein before or after you read him. I was introduced to Wittgenstein through Peter Winch’s use of him, so this probably made him more coherent to me as I was essentially reading Wittgenstein through the frame of reference of Winch.
Taylor is not mysterious like Wittgenstein. What makes Taylor somewhat difficult is that he is a historian of ideas as much as a philosopher, so it is sometimes hard to separate what is merely an elaboration of other’s ideas and his positive arguments.
You know, I’ve never read any secondary sources on Wittgenstein, so that’s probably my problem. It’s almost like you need a frame of reference before you attack the original.
Maybe I am understanding those thinkers completely wrongly, but let me try to give my understanding:
The Kantian car has a motor, but you cannot open the hood (you have some a-priori tools that don’t fit the lock of the hood). The motor is noumenal, the acceleration when you press the gas pedal is phenomenal. There might be a car producer that made the car, but we don’t know anything about him for sure (the producer is also noumenal). We can steer the car wherever we want to. We must not use the car to run over other people.
The Husserlian car might have a motor, but we bracket that. We neither assume nor deny its existence. From our view, there is just the gas pedal, the steering wheel, the brakes etc. We can use the car, experience its changes of direction and speed and describe these experiences in great detail (turn the steering wheel by 7 degree to the left and the car will move in this or that way). Press the gas, the car will accelerate and its noise will change in this or that way. The driver’s view of the car IS the car.
Now how do I view the car? In my own view it has a user interface (steering wheel, gas pedal etc.) and if I look at it from the user’s (or driver’s) view, that’s all there is. However, I can also open the hood, look inside and exchange parts. I can describe the car as being constructed of certain parts. Now, I can open up those parts again, etc. I have to acquire the knowledge of a mechanic, of an electrical engineer, of a computer programmer, of a materials scientist, of a physicist etc. to investigate those “parts” or “layers”, but it is possible. I need special knowledge and special tools and a special terminology on each layer, but it can be done. I can inverse-engineer the car and its components. All of these different views of the car (including the driver’s view) make sense and are justified for their respective purposes. On each level, you can also do a phenomenological description (e.g. the mechanic can bracket the view of the materials scientist and take the properties of steel or motor oil as given, without explaining them in terms of molecules or electrons or whatever).
I have taken this one step further in http://asifoscope.org/2013/11/24/on-the-philosophy-of-taxi-driving/ :The user of a taxi has again a different view from that of the driver.
I don’t know how the empiricist’s car (in Husserl’s understanding of empiricism) would look like or if I am an empiricist in Husser’s view.
I think this is a great metaphor! I like bringing Kant into the mix and his un-openable hood. The more I think about it, the more it works. Especially in that science (in the more contemporary sense of the word) is inaccessible to laymen, much in the same way that the workings of the engine are inaccessible as a specialized knowledge. I wish someone had given me this metaphor to ponder while I was reading Husserl for the first time. You would make a great philosophy teacher.
Thanks for laying this out. I’m going to attempt to paraphrase it (and probably corrupt it) to see if I actually understand.
With Phenomenological Reduction, we’re making a conscious decision to only look at our perceptions and not allow what we think is behind those perceptions to cloud our thinking. This seems something like instrumentalism, a philosophy of science that says that scientific theories don’t reflect reality, but only a framework to relate empirical observations, that saying they reflect reality is assuming too much. Most scientists are realists (scientific theories do reflect reality) primarily for motivational reasons (they got into science to understand reality, not build instrumental frameworks). But it’s beneficial to be able to put on the instrumentalist hat from time to time. The classic example here is Ptolemy’s model of the heavens, which was predictive of observations, but ultimately wrong about its actual view of reality.
The Eidetic Reduction seems like an attempt to understand something by boiling it down to its minimal attributes, such as the fact that water is two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, regardless of whether it is in liquid form, ice, or steam, or that an element is defined by the number of protons its atoms have.
If I understand these correctly, then I like Husserl’s ideas, although asking scientists to abandon realism is probably a lost cause.
As for your 1st paragraph, I think it makes for an interesting way to bridge the gap from Husserl to science. An instrumentalist perspective doesn’t at the face of it seem incompatible with Husserl’s phenomenology. I’m so uncertain about anything that has to do with Husserl that I want to keep that statement tentative.
As for the eidetic reduction, I think there may be some confusion here. Finding essences is not necessarily boiling something down to its components in the way of atoms and molecules and such, as these are still within the realm of noumena (in Husserl’s time and mind). I couldn’t figure out how to describe it, so I’m relying on an article I found that does a pretty crappy job, but here’s a quote from it that somewhat explains why reducing water to atoms is not intended here:
“So the eidetic reduction is not a simplification, fixation, or contraction of the world into a system of fully resolved concepts –rather it is the exact opposite: the eidetic reduction makes the world appear as it precedes every cognitive construction: in its full ambiguity, irreducibility, contingency, mystery, and ultimate indeterminacy.”
I don’t like this quote because it sounds like no reduction at all. Of course, taken in context it’s a little better.
The following explanation is preferable, though it doesn’t exclude what you’re talking about explicitly:
“Eidetic reduction is about analyzing essences: what makes the thing you’re contemplating what it is. ‘This is done by theoretically changing different elements (while mentally observing whether or not the phenomenon changes) of a practical object to learn which characteristics are necessary for it to be it without being something else.’”
From this description it is the sort of thing people hate about philosophy; there’s no lab work, just thinking.
I think you’re right about scientists—most are realists and are very uncomfortable with Husserl and instrumentalism. I saw this first hand in my philosophy of science course co-taught by a philosophy professor and a physicist. The physicist was in the realist camp and he flipped out in class one day to the point where he had to apologize later because he was so belligerent. (I believe we were talking about Ptolemy/Copernicus at that very point in history when the two theories “saved the appearances” equally.) We had prodded him too much in the instrumentalist direction and it really irked him. He was willing to give lip service to philosophy, but when it came down to it, no go. Virtually all the science majors dropped out (I can think of one who didn’t, and he double majored in philosophy and physics).
Those two quotes are completely at odds with one another Tina – are they not? I must say the first has it for me by a country mile. Here, (Eidetic reduction) is a ‘reduction’ in the sense that it reduces apprehending to a pre-conceptual level; it’s awareness prior to analysis and representation (so it’s not really what we call ‘consciousness’). The quote may make it sound like woo, but then many things do when we can’t comprehend them.
Oddly, I think they’re both right. It would help if I gave an example, but I’d have to start reading Husserl and I haven’t had my coffee yet.
The typical example that people have been using is Descartes’ wax, but I don’t like that one. Too boring.
Thanks. I think I might have to bracket Eidetic reduction into something I don’t understand for now.
Wow, I’m surprised science majors were that brittle in the class. Scientists want to understand reality. It’s what motivates them. But I’m surprised they were that opposed to even the idea of instrumentalism. Arguably, quantum mechanics is an instrumental theory. It’s why there are so many “interpretations” of what is going on. Of course, many scientists dislike QM (despite using it) for exactly that reason.
You know, I was surprised too! More surprised by the physics professor who really did talk up philosophy at the beginning of the class. I thought he would be more open-minded. He did, however, get nailed in argument, which must have been embarrassing.
I don’t blame you for wanting to bracket the Eidetic reduction or even all of Husserl for that matter! I find his philosophy so compelling and exciting, but when I sit down to read him my mind just starts shutting down. I’ve been bracketing him for years now. I no longer have the discipline that I had in college to force myself to get through it.
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I actually like the Phenomenological Reduction, which amounts to a specific case of “watch out for hidden assumptions”. We know our sense impressions. Noumena are essentially theories, assumptions (often unconscious ones), about what lies behind those sensory impressions, and they may be misleading.
I looked at the Wikipedia for Eidetic Reduction, but it seemed to strengthen my conception (misconception?) above. Ah well, maybe next time I encounter it, it will click better 🙂
I think I need an example here. I vaguely remember one, but I want to offer it with reservations because it’s been a long time. In fact, I’m really worried I’m going to have to backtrack and offer another example, and that the whole thing is going to get confusing. But—sigh—here we go.
So when looking for the essence of a thing, we need to find a necessary component that makes the thing in question what it is. So think of color—any color—and try to imagine it outside of extension. It’s impossible. So we can say extension is necessary to experience color.
I just noticed something that may be confusing, here:
This following quote comes at the end of the paragraph dealing with Descartes’ wax example.
“The only things that remain (its extension into space, chemical makeup, and mass) are the things that are required for the existence of that piece of wax.”
I feel that this is wrong. The extension part may be correct, but chemical makeup? I don’t think this is what Husserl meant. I don’t think the given experience is sufficient to give us the chemical makeup of the wax, but that we’d have to do scientific theorizing to acquire that information. And, as you remember, theorizing of this sort is bracketed. But please, take this with a grain of salt.
Husserl: “We are not speaking of a relation between some psychological occurrence—called a mental process—and another real factual existence—called an object—nor of a psychological connection taking place in Objective actuality between the one and the other. Rather we are speaking of mental processes purely with respect to their essence, or of pure essences and of that which is ‘a priori’ included in the essences with unconditional necessity.”
I think the chemical makeup of the wax is NOT given a priori.
If we go back to the color example, we notice that extension is necessary to experience color, but we notice this through what the website calls “imaginative variation.” This phrase seems close to Husserl. He talked about imagination somewhere and now I can’t find the place.
I just don’t like the wax example because it conjures up feelings of doing a scientific experiment. Now you just watch, I bet you anything this example is sitting there in my Husserl book just so that I’d have to put my foot in my mouth!
I’m grateful your efforts.
I wonder if maybe Husserl didn’t mean for the Eidetic Reduction to be dependent or a next step beyond the Phenomenological Reduction. Maybe they’re independent techniques? So that allowing a little bit of theory to invade on the Eidetic Reduction is acceptable?
Or maybe I’m hopelessly missing the point. But it seems like combining the reductions is incredibly restrictive. Finding the essential attributes of something without any theorized noumena, only in terms of sensory experience, will often leave nothing. Consider the essential attributes of a caterpillar / butterfly under that restriction.
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You know, I’m beginning to wonder what he means by theorizing. He may have overstepped his case, at least by ordinary interpretations of theorizing. Or maybe I just don’t understand what he means by it.
I just talked to my husband and he confirmed what I was saying in the previous response. When I read him the wax example from that article he started to protest that it was all wrong, so now I feel more secure about what I just told you. And he said the color example comes from Plato, go figure.
My husband also says that what happens in the Eidetic reduction is not theorizing because it’s not a construction–it’s an intuition.
Then I said to him, “Okay then, let’s actually DO some phenomenology!” I asked him what is the essence of water. He responded, “Well, it’s not H2O.” And I went on to describe various forms of water (steam, ice, condensation, etc.) and he stopped me, saying that each of these would need a separate investigation. Then I said it’s shapeless and conforms to whatever it’s in, gravity holds it down, and it’s tasteless.” Then he objected that we can’t talk about gravity and it’s not tasteless. (I had a mind fart in mentioning gravity). But I needed a way to distinguish it from other liquids. So we went around like this talking about bottled water, mineral water, etc. In the end, I’m not sure what the point was!
I asked my husband where Husserl does phenomenology, and he said he doesn’t really DO it. I found one example about a chair while I was flipping through his book. So typical! No wonder people hate philosophy!
Well, if I find anything interesting I’ll let you know. I’m sure Husserl isn’t interested in finding the essence of water, but I figured it was a place to start.
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Well, we’ve established that all observation is theory laden, and that you can’t get very far by attempting to divorce theory from those observations. Still, it probably does help to try to look at things that way from time to time, just to root out hidden assumptions.
But yeah, Husserl would have made his case a lot stronger if he had been able to demonstrate the usefulness of this approach.
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I’d feel better if you blamed me for that rather than Husserl. I’m sure I’m getting something wrong.
Oh, I’m going to blame Husserl, but don’t feel too bad for him. I’m not a giant fan of continental philosophy in general. Too often the language is filled with maddening ambiguities, so that it could be interpreted as making profound assertions, or trivial ones with poetic license.
I have to admit it’s true. But sometimes there’s a diamond in the rough. It a matter of deciding how hard you want to work to find it. I’m with you now, I don’t really feel like working!
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So, in this latest quote Tina, Husserl is saying in other words what I said above [11/29 @ 11.22]: “It means releasing notions of the objective and the subjective, though not as an idea of release, but as actual release.” Husserl describes it thusly: “We are speaking of mental processes purely with respect to their essence, or of pure essences and of that which is ‘a priori’ included in the essences with unconditional necessity.” As I understand it, this is just awareness as it is when witnessed from its own perspective rather than from the perspective of an imagined subject which in turn imagines that it apprehends an objective otherness. The representations of Husserl’s ‘mental processes’ still obtain, yet are not overlaid with the categories of subject and object, or self and other.
I think it’s all far simpler than anyone here is envisaging, with due respect. What’s notable here is that no one commenting seems to understand what’s being talked about [i.e.the ideas], less still what the ‘about’ is referencing as an actuality, which is not an idea. The problem, as I see it, is that the experience cannot be approached with the mind in thought and so we’re all, as it were, ‘looking outwards’ (in ideas) to experience what is looking at us and everything else, which is just awareness, just bare, unadorned awareness. It is missed in grasping at it with thought, as if trying to understand air by seeking to measure it.
There was a Thai monk who lived in the last century called Ajahn Chah. He was discussing Buddhist doctrine with a group of (mainly Western) visitors. One woman was constantly asking questions and seeking clarification of every detail of what was being said. She was very determined, very intellectual, and was afraid to miss what she thought was some hidden nugget which would unlock the true meaning of what Ajahn Chah was saying. After patiently answering her many times, Ajahn Chah finally looked at her and said “Madam, you are the goose that quite naturally and with ease lays the golden egg you have always sought; but you madam, all you want to do is to run around outside picking up and examining your own shit expecting that it will reveal what you want.”
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Oh Hariod, but it’s so much fun picking up shit!
The weird thing about Husserl’s phenomenological epoche is that afterwards, subject and object do come back in a strange way, but of course, “object” here doesn’t mean what it would ordinarily mean, and neither does “subject”. Which is why he has all those little qualifiers like “Objective actuality” and “real factual existence…called an object…” Later he talks about searching for a new “Object-province”.
The subject of course changes considerably. He says: “Aside from it’s ‘modes of relation’ or ‘modes of comportment’, the is completely empty of essence-components, has no explicatable content, is indescribable in and for itself: it is pure Ego and nothing more.”
I don’t know what those carrot punctuation marks are meant to indicate, but they’re all over the place in this book.
You might be interested in this topic. I hope the page opens up in the right place. It’s supposed to start with the chapter titled “The Relationship of Mental Processes to the Pure Ego”:
Let me know if you find the golden egg! I wouldn’t want to taint it with my dirty hands.
What a cool parable Hariod! I tend to examine my shit all the time (and I really do hope we are talking figuratively, because otherwise this conversation could get really uncomfortable very quickly 😉 ). I find a lot of eastern parables have a lot of healthy perspectives.
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Of course, if any were to take offence at my words regarding the Golden Egg and assorted shit, that would indicate that something chimed in the reader thereof; but surely this is not so. On the other hand, perhaps there is no offence taken and instead merely an insistence that it really must be as complicated as the explanation makes it sound. And having just read the link (for which many thanks Tina), the explanation does seem unnecessarily verbose – perhaps partly caused in the translation?
And yes, subject and object remain but now only in some loose and altogether more phantasmal sense; they are seen very distinctly as mind-creations alone; they are no longer taken as apparently instantiated and apparently self-evident actualities. There’s the “two sidedness” that Husserl refers to, and which he clearly states does not connote an actual separation – there’s a mind-created “objectivity for the (mind-created) subjectivity”. This takes us back to the “Nondualism” – not meaning “oneism” but “nottwoism”; a monism that includes a dualism if you like – – of my comment made on 11/29 @ 6.32.
Anyway, I’m done now Tina you’ll be pleased to hear. And I can only reiterate my earlier compliments on this fabulous article. It’s noticeable that it’s provoked some wonderful discussion, even if my own contribution does not quite make it into that category.
Oh trust me, I didn’t take offense at all. I liked your story! And after all this talk I’m beginning to wonder if you may be right.
And Husserl is of course unnecessarily verbose. That’s probably half the reason students find him so interesting (myself included) 😉 There must be wisdom when you need to make use of strange punctuation marks to get your point across.
I think you’ve got it! And I also think you’ve made wonderful contributions to the discussion, especially in the insistence that we get back to simplicity. I always feel there’s something I’m missing. But maybe not.
Thank you Howie; I’ve been wanting to get away from many of the ‘isms here, none of which, in my view, hold what Husserl is saying in a clear light. Whatever ‘ism we’re propounding, we’re always in danger of ending up in that great home of all ‘ism’s: ‘Stuckism’.
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Great post and outstanding comments!
This, if I’m understanding it, seems a form of Kantian Idealism? I’m not terribly surprised science students and scientists would react negatively. For one thing, there seems a growing gap between working scientists and philosophy to begin with. I’ve seen several disdain the field. Secondly, as SAP pointed out, scientists tend to lean towards Realism (except for mathematicians who are often closet Platonists because otherwise they’re spending their lives pursing something not really real).
My struggle with Idealism and phenomenology is the exact problem it addresses: that our mental model is shaped by our own beliefs and ideas and can be corrupted by disease or drugs. And we know the human sensorium is a crude device at best (it’s completely unable to “see” atoms or determine the chemical makeup of wax, for instance 🙂 ). “Through a glass darkly,” as a saying goes.
So I don’t trust my own mind, and I trust others even less.
On the flip side, Realism (science) has proven to be incredibly effective — it clearly “works” for some value of “works”. I think it’s very interesting to talk of the subjective and objective, but I’m not sure what the ultimate value of phenomenology really is. Where can we get to with it?
Yeah, I would call phenomenology a kind of Kantian Idealism, but minus the noumena, which plays an active role for Kant (even if noumena is unknowable).
Your last paragraph makes me wonder if you are an instrumentalist?
I think the ultimate value of phenomenology is teaching us about the structures of our own perception and thinking, much in the way Kant’s philosophy does. It also calls into question what we mean by “being”, and, as SAP brought up, I think it would be compatible with an instrumentalist scientific view. It’s a way of digging out those assumptions that scientists of course rely on and putting them into a more grounded perspective.
But what does it DO? I don’t think we can expect it to cure any disease or send anyone to Mars. But it’s a quiet sort of thing for people who worry about things like being and knowing.
Definitely not an instrumentalist, since I’m far more a realist than idealist. (FTR: I’m also an (ontological) dualist with spiritual leanings.) As such, phenomenology strikes me a bit like a blend of idealism and psychology.
I agree the study is deeply fascinating — and capable of being productive in terms of our insight, understanding and tools — but ultimately I tend to reject idealism as (ontologically) “incorrect.”
My take is that Descarte, Kant, Husserl and others demonstrate that all we really know for sure is the reality of our own mind, but some compromise must be made to get out of our own navels. If I take the first step of accepting the world as real, the rest follows.
So while I may never know a chair as a thing-in-itself, so long as the chair is 100% consistent in its presence and behavior, I can know it enough for all real purposes I can conceive.
Further, I think it may be that asking what is the essence of water or a chair (or love) may be the asking of a tautology. The essence of a chair is “chairness.” The essence of water is water — it cannot be further reduced. It can be described in myriad ways, poetic or scientific, but water…. is water — a unified single concept.
You’re definitely right about Husserl being an idealist, but he’s very careful to avoid psychologism.
You may be right about the reduction I’ve described, the water example. I’m not sure trying to figure out water’s essence is going to yield anything more than water-ness. I think it might be useful in special cases, but I don’t see why it would be useful to determine everything’s essences by this sort of reduction. I’m not really sure Husserl is consistent with himself on this. He does talk about essences throughout, but I don’t see them all reduced, just ‘grasped’, intuited.
I think Husserl means to distinguish between essences and what we might call ‘sense data’ (I don’t know if Husserl would like that term because it has so many historical connotations he’d like to avoid) in a clearer way than has been done before. All of this is within phenomena. Then we do get back to what is meant by “real”—he gets into “being as mental process” and “being as a physical thing”.
I’m considering writing a post about this sometime, just quoting one of the rare moments in which Husserl gives an example. Then maybe doing an analysis.
But maybe I should just hold off on that and give everyone a break!
I think the world needs more posts like this, so go for it! 😀
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Tina, I tried to set aside a couple of hours to read this so I could digest it properly and I’m glad I did. I think it’s cool how you can put difficult philosophers into terms so that a layperson such as myself can at least come close to getting it. 🙂
And then I read most of the comments and I think it’s possible I didn’t quite “get it”.
Also, it looks to me like this really may be just a teaser of sorts. I was intrigued by this comment of yours:
Sounds fascinating. Too bad Husserl is such a crappy writer! Thanks for a cool post.
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Thanks for taking the time to read it! You might “get it” just as much as I do, actually! I find it hard to know whether I know when it comes to him, as you may have noticed from my comments.
Indeed, you’re right. This post is a kind of teaser. It’s just the beginning really, although Husserl likes to go over and over the methodology. (It’s sort of a joke amongst philosophers). Unfortunately things get so complicated further into the book that I don’t know how I’ll write clearly about it. Maybe I’ll give it a shot sometime. Who knows?
Once again, I appreciate that you’ve set aside time to read my post! I feel so honored!
Reblogged this on Stories & Soliloquies and commented:
As the fall semester comes to an end, I’ve once again been a bit too busy with philosophy to write about philosophy. I’ll pick up next week with the fourth installment of my Philosopher Fridays sub series “Expecting Ambiguity”: Anselm’s Ontological Argument. Until then, I invite you to check out Philosophy and Fiction’s treatment on Husserl’s Phenomenology. Writing about Husserl in a blog-friendly way is no easy feat, and the author’s handling of the Eidos is particularly impressive. Husserl is tricky, but the post worth taking the time to get to the author’s final analysis: “So what we have here is actually a purer kind of empiricism, a Trans-empiricism which does away with philosophical preconceptions, including the traditional rationalist/empiricist divide. Since experience is now cleared of natural biases, philosophical biases, theorizing and abstractions, we can engage in a different sort of enquiry—seeing and describing.”
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I’m not sure I understand what he means by natural biases. Is this just the sort of thing we usually think, if left to our own devices? If he’s trying to paint empiricism as a natural or inevitably way of looking at the universe, I don’t think that’s true at all.
I think it’s more the object-subject dichotomy that he considers natural. So without getting into Descartes and such, we want to know how things are outside of our perception of them. It’s natural to think that objects really exist outside of us and are not dependent on our seeing them. I think that’s all he meant.
Heidegger gets into more detail than Husserl here and gives a different prioritization. In the one section of Being and Time that I might have understood, he discusses “readiness to hand” vs. “presence at hand”. In his view, the world as it is before theorizing is “ready” and “at our disposal”. The whole subject-object dichotomy doesn’t come into play until we see in the mode of “present at hand”.
Ah, I got it. So it’s just counter objectivity. Thanks. 🙂
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