Friday, June 03, 2005

Summary of Husserl's 1927 Brittannica article - pt 1

Review of Edmund Husserl's article "Phenomenology" in the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, 1927.


The term "phenomenology" can mean one of two things: (1) an epistemological methodology which claims a degree of certainty beyond Descartes' Cogito in the examination of pure experience; (2) philosophical phenomenology, being the a priori "scientific philosophy" derived from this method which "makes possible a methodological reform of all the sciences."

The aim of this article is to explain philosophical phenomenology, but Husserl believes the best way to do this is to begin by explaining phenomenological psychology because it is a pure psychology and "nearer to our natural thinking." Phenomenological psychology developed in parallel with philosphical phenomenology. It sought to provide the best methodological foundation for empirical psychology.

I. Pure Psychology: Its Field of Experience, Its Method, and Its Function
1. Pure Natural Science and Pure Psychology

Psychology is a psychophysical discipline, meaning that it treats the psyche as a part of what human beings and animals are. Thus, it finds its home under the umbrella of anthropology, or, rather, zoology. It understands that what happens in a psyche always occurs within a circle of possibilities and limitations unique to each organism as it participates bodily in its natural environment.

What must first be done, then, when seeking to discover a phenomenological psychology is to ask whether such a thing is even possible. Can one study the immaterial psyche wholly apart from considering its connection to an all-too-material biology? Should one even want to? How far is a pure psychology - as a necessary and legitimate science developing parallel with the physical sciences - possible? These questions must be addressed at the very beginning.

2. The Purely Psychical in Self-experience and Community Experience. The Universal Description of Intentional Experiences

So then, pure psychology will investigate the purely psychical phenomena which are revealed in immediate experience. As we reflect upon our own psychic life, we realize that the things to which we direct our attention appear to us as phenomena, be they real objects, ideas, values, goals, or even figures of our imagination. Phenomena are the subjective experiences a mind contains when it is engaged in conscious activity. These subjective experience are identified through (self)reflection. They are not the things themselves but "appearances-of" or "consciousness-of" those things. The branch of psychology which deals with these phenomena should then be called phenomenological psychology.

Now intentionality is a word which derives from Scholasticism. It describes a basic character of being, which is consciousness of something. In the unreflective holding of some object or other in consciousness, we are turned or directed toward it: our intentio goes out toward it. Therefore, intentionality is fundamentally involved in our every experience.

Turning again to phenomenon. Every phenomenon has its own total form of intention (intentionale Gesamtform). For example, starting from a perception of something, like a die, phenomenological reflection leads to a multiple and yet synthetically unified intentionality. There are continually varying differences in the ways objects appear which are caused by way we change our orientation to and perspective of them, for example right and left, nearness or farness. There are further differences in appearance between the "actually seen front" and the "unseeable" (unanschaulichen) and relatively undetermined reverse side which nevertheless goes along with that object. Observing the flux and modes of appearing and the manner of their synthesis, one discovers that every phase and portion of this flux is certainly a consciousness-of, but in such a way that each observation is put together into a synthetically unified awareness of one and the same object. This is that object's intentional structure. The intentional structure of any process of perception has its fixed essential type (seine feste Wesentypik) which must necessarily be realized in all its extraordinary complexity just in order for a physical body simply to be perceived as such. This kind of analysis can be applied to any phenomena. Our everyday perception is a river awash in changing sensation. Objects constitute themselves to us in fixed essential forms in a flowing intentionality.

The task of pure psychology is, then, to investigate systematically the elementary intentionalities, and from out of these [unfold] the typical forms of intentional processes, their possible variants, their syntheses to new forms, their structural composition, and from this advance toward a descriptive knowledge of the totality of mental process, toward a comprehensive type of a life of the psyche.

Further, psychic life doesn't just occur in our own heads, but in the heads of others. Each person has something to bring to the table, establishing differences between as well a properties in common within the psychic life of a community. We can then posit the task of making phenomenologically understandable the mental life of a community, with all the intentionalities that pertain to it, thus approaching a universal typology of psychological experience (Gesamttyplts eines Lebens der Seele).

3. The Self-contained Field of the Purely Psychical: Phenomenological Reduction and True Inner Experience

Coming after the rapturious vision of his last section, Husserl admits that the creation of a phenomenological psychology completely free of psychophysical data may be impossible. Difficulties lie in the way which frustrate his efforts and force him to carefully consider his fundamental methodology. The method he comes up with is called "phenomenological reduction." It is a method appropriate to the type of being to be interrogated (human beings). Indeed, phenomenological reduction is the foundational method of pure psychology by which the absoluteness of the intentional world is reduced to that which exists only in consciousness.

The greatest inhibitor of the construction of a pure psychology is the ever-assertive self-experience of the psychologist. Everytime one's awareness is directed toward something out there in the world one must completely resist the temptation to assume the knowing of the already there. The phenomenologist, says Husserl, must elide (epoch) herself if she is ever to break through to her own consciousness as a pure phenomenon, which is the totality of her own purely mental processes. No objective judgments can interfere. Every specific experience of something - of this house, of this body, of this world - must be separated into an absolute judgment of things and the impressions in consciousness made by the things themselves. The former must be elided (epoche), and the latter "put in brackets."

That which is put in brackets is the world as it is given in consciousness (Bewusstseinssinn). For an example of this, think of the impressionists who desired not to paint the habitually recognized world of things, such as a table, fruit or clouds, but only the light coming from those things. Only the meaning which each thing makes in consciousness is allowed to make up the phenomenological field.

Thus, Husserl arrived at his method for obtaining pure phenomenon: phenomenological reduction. This method, he says, is the basis of any well-grounded science of psychology. It is a method constantly moving toward the pure phenomenon (the purely psychical.) It consists of (1) the methodological epoche of the absolute objective part of each experience, followed by (2) the careful and scientific description of things as they appear in consciousness. Such description makes a twofold judgment between the noetic and the noematic.

The former (noesis) is the "real object." Going back to the example of the impressionists, the noesis is that judgment which says "that is a tree," or "that is a building." The latter, the noematic, is the experience of the patterns of color, light and shadow. The noema is achieved as the "real", noetic world is put aside. By nature, it is something achieved after-the-fact, in a backward glance, a retroactive effort. One desires to become aware of the experience of seeing apart from the nearly immediate judgment of what is seen. Every perception, every intentionality (for, where Husserl is concerned, perception is intentional, even if understood as passive intention. Perception is the intention to receive) must be parsed into its component parts. This is the method of phenomenological reduction. This is the method of "bracketing." Bracketing frees us from errors of prejudgment, disentangling the "intentional object" (noema) from the "realm object" (noesis) so that we obtain scientific knowledge of the object’s activation of our sensorium. As Husserl says, "we must abide by what is given in pure experience." Michael Sicinski of U. C. Berkeley describes this method as such:

Husserl’s phenomenology is able to separate the experience of sense data from the conceptual recognition of objects, particularly as those objects fill out our preexisting categories of understanding. By distinguishing between these two analytical moments, it becomes possible to see shape, form, and motion as discrete entities in themselves. This in turn becomes a single moment in a dialectical tension, as "content" (understood broadly as any meaning not fully immanent to the sensual presence of an artwork) inevitably impresses itself upon consciousness. In actual experience, neither of these categories exists separately, nor does either of them arrive before the other. And so, in order to consider one and not the other, a significant degree of effort (that is, intention) is necessary on the part of the viewer.

Phenomenological reduction is the template for the new, pure psychology, which should begin in earnest and be carried out in infinitum. Further, it should be applied not only to self-experience, but also to the experience of others, insofar as there can be applied to the envisaged (vergegen-wärtigten) mental life of the Other the corresponding bracketing and description. The psychologist constantly asks "how" things appear, and parses out in each appearance what corresponds to noesis and noema. In this way, community experence is not broken up into mentally particularized intentional fields, but assumes a connected mental community life in its phenomenological purity. [When applied to a larger community, Husserl's method of phenomenological reduction is called intersubjective reduction.]

Indeed, to every mind there belongs not only the unity of its multiple intentional life-process (intentionalen Lebens) with all its inseparable unities of sense directed toward the "object." There is also, inseparable from this life-process, the experiencing subject, the I, which is the gravitational centre of all all specific intentionalities, and point of origin for all habitualities growing out of this life-process. Likewise, then, the reduced intersubjectivity, in pure form and concretely grasped, is a community of pure "persons" acting in the intersubjective realm of the pure life of consciousness.

4. Eidetic Reduction and Phenomenological Psychology as an Eidetic Science

What is phenomenological reduction really after? Simply this: the eidos. Every potential form of mental being, every synthetic combination and self-contained wholes, has within it a same-thing. It must have an essential part, otherwise how could any of these things even be thinkable? This necessary thing held in common across all perceptions and relations, this invariant in variation, is the eidos, the essential form without which perception of an object or act is impossible. The method which gets at these eidoi underneath all perceptions, the method which perceives their essential structures, is eidetic reduction, or reduction to the eidos. Therefore, because eidetic reduction gets at the very essence of perception, it is an a priori science and grants assurance that phenomenological psychology, as a field of pure psychology resting upon phenomenological experience, is possible.

5. The Fundamental Function of Pure Phenomenological Psychology for an Exact Empirical Psychology

In this summary section of part 1, Husserl proclaims his radical allegiance to the Enlightenment project, namely the discovery of a certainty so foundational and absolute that from it may be constructed the foundation for a new and glorious City of Man developing on the foundation of epistemological certainty promised by the Cartesian method of doubt (read: reason and the scientific method). He, thus, proposes an "exact" (certain) empirical (mathematical/geometrical) psychology as in inner science operating in parallel to the outer, physical sciences.
Psychology, like every science, can only draw its "exactness" from the rationality of the essence.
The exactness of this pure psychology derives from its foundation in the a priori essential forms of experience. Psychology, he says, like every other science, can only draw its rigour and exactness from the objective study of that which is essential. Taken together with systems deduced from the study of other essential forms as they are distributed throughout the natural sciences, the result is an inductive, empirical Science which has all the force of a priori eidetic necessity! As an example of such a "joining of the sciences at the meeting of their forms" to form a pure and exact Science, Husserl demonstrates that the a priori set of types discovered through eidetic reduction produces a field of exactness which can be brought to bear on research of the psyche. At that point, it should by synthesized with a priori "sets" of results from other investigations, so that pure psychology, psychophysical psychology and those of physical scienceis combine to form an a priori, empirical psychology. The steps of such a method are as such:

(1) There must be a careful description of intentional mental processes
(2) These descriptions should be assembled into a typology of their essences: both those that are discrete and those that are continuous with others, the finitely closed and those continuing into open infinity
(3) The eidetic description (Wesendeskription) of the total structure (Gesamtgestalt) of "stream of consciousness" mental life
(4) Further investigation into the "I" as subject of lasting beliefs or thought tendencies, personal habits, trained knowing and certain character qualities
The above "static" description of essences must further be pursued as to their dynamic origins. Just as David Hume traced causality to the customary, the "I" must be traced back to what develops it. An account should be given, then, of the a priori genesis out of which a real spatial world constitutes itself for the mind in habitual acceptance. Then, afterward, the development of personal habituality and consciousness-of-self in habitual coming to being and as always being transformed. There is, thus, the static and then, on a higher level, the genetic phenomenology of reason, these developing according to eidetic laws (eidetischen Gesetzen).

Husserl does not stop here, though. One would think this vision alone would be enough to end part 1, but, no, he cannot avoid the verbal nature of reality. "The static description of essences," he writes, "leads to problems." It cannot explain the nature of reality, which is heraclitic and always moving (Husserl calls this movement genesis). Therefore, he sees further development in his programme.

From a static phenomenology, comes a dynamic or genetic phenomenology at a higher level. This all-embracing eidetic phenomenology of association, which investigates passively the way that a spatial world passively and habitually constitutes itself to the mind. From there, Husserl believes a personal step should be taken and attention be given to the way an personal "I" develops, becoming concious of itself as a continuing and constantly transforming subject. Finally, upon that platform, Husserl envisages two more: first a static and then a dynamic (genetic) phenomenology of reason. In short, beginning with a pure psychology, Husserl proposes a new, yet better foundation that will ultimately clarify and envigorate that crowning tool of the Enlightenment: reason.

; ; .

Read the entire summary via Google Docs.