Paul J. Ilsley:
Keith W. Krasemann:
1. Phenomenological Methodology
Phenomenology is, in the 20th century, mainly the name for a philosophical movement whose primary objective is the direct investigation and description of phenomena as consciously experienced, without theories about their causal explanation and as free as possible from unexamined preconceptions and presuppositions.
Herbert Spiegelberg "Phenomenology," in the Encyclopedia Britanneca 1965:
Phenomenology is at once a school of thought as well as a methodology. "Phenomenology" became the name of a school of philosophy in the early twentieth century whose members were affiliated with certain German universities, notably Gottingen and Munich. Between 1913 and 1930 this group published a series of volumes of phenomenological studies entitled Jahrbuch Fur Philosophie und Phanomenologische Forschung. The editor in chief of the Jahrbuch was the famous philosopher, Edmund Husserl. Prominent members of this group included Moritz Geiger, Alexander Pfander, Max Scheler, Oscar Becker, Martin Heidegger, Adolf Reinach, and Hedwig Lonrad-Martius.
As a research methodology, phenomenology concentrates on understanding human experience as it is experienced by the person, at the root of consciousness prior to being interpreted or taken for granted. It is used primarily in those areas of inquiry where theory is absent or in which previous research has failed to capture the phenomenon's essence. At its most basic level, phenomenology is a descriptive investigation of lived experience that precedes attempts to provide theoretical explanations of the phenomena in question. It does this through a descriptive analysis of the relationships of the objects of thought as disclosed in consciousness. This understanding embodies the insight that all human thought is intentional--that is, it has an object. In other words, human thought has, always, the feature of "aboutness"--if one thinks, one thinks about something. In this regard all consciousness is consciousness-of (e.g. something), Pfander (1967) tells us:
Phenomenology shifts the point of sight of its investigations first into the thinking subject and focuses from this place on the objects within the object world of this thinking subject; it then takes hold of the thoughts and the opinions which the thinking subject harbors about the object and in so doing refrains from taking any stand with regard to these opinions, while taking the objects and the object worlds merely as the counterparts (seen thus or so by the subject) of his thinking consciousness without allowing itself [any claims] to transcendent knowledge of these subjects. (p.66)
Husserl (1900), saw phenomenology as a rigorous, "presuppositionless science." For Husserl, the phenomenological method was the only correct way of doing philosophy. Truth is not attained via deductive inferences from prior assumptions, nor is it derived from authority, rather it is "given", or disclosed in consciousness and made explicit by way of correct description of the contents therein. The meaning of an experience, object, or an event, in other words, is not contained within, but rather is an aspect of the thinking about the experience, object, or event. Husserl was the most prolific writer of all the phenomenologists. He understood that one's philosophical journey begins always with the individual embedded within the 'everydayness' of a life world. Husserl, by way of example, uses the life and work of Descartes to describe philosophy and its problems as a movement to phenomenology.
Every beginner in philosophy knows the remarkable train of thoughts contained in the Meditations. Let us recall its guiding idea. The aim of the Meditations is a complete reforming of philosophy into a science grounded on an absolute foundation. That implies for Descartes a corresponding reformation of all the sciences, because in his opinion they are only nonself-sufficient members of the one all-inclusive science, and this is philosophy. Only within the systematic unity of philosophy can they develop into genuine sciences. As they have developed historically, on the other hand, they lack that scientific genuineness which would consist in their complete and ultimate grounding on the basis of absolute insights, insights behind which one cannot go back any further. Hence the need for a radical rebuilding that satisfies the idea of philosophy as the all-inclusive unity of the sciences, within the unity of such an absolutely rational grounding. With Descartes this demand gives rise to a philosophy turned toward the subject himself. The turn to the subject is made at two significant levels.
First, anyone who seriously intends to become a philosopher must 'once in his life' withdraw into himself and attempt, within himself, to overthrow and build anew all the sciences that, up to then, he has been accepting. Philosophy--wisdom (sagesse)--is the philosophizer's quite personal affair. It must arise as his wisdom, as his self-acquired knowledge tending toward universality, a knowledge for which he can answer from the beginning, and at each step, by virtue of his own absolute insights. If I have decided to live with this as my aim--the decision that alone can start me on the course of a philosophical development--I have thereby chosen to begin in absolute poverty, with an absolute lack of knowledge. Beginning thus, obviously one of the first things I ought to do is reflect on how I might find a method for going on, a method that promises to lead to genuine knowing. Accordingly the Cartesian Meditations are not intended to be a merely private concern of the philosopher Descartes, to say nothing of their being merely an impressive literary form in which to present the foundations of his philosophy. Rather they draw the prototype for any beginning philosopher's necessary meditations, the meditations out of which alone a philosophy can grow originally.
When we turn to the content of the Meditations, so strange to us men of today, we find a regress to the philosophizing ego in a second and deeper sense: the ego as subject of his pure cogitationes. The mediator executes this regress by the famous and very remarkable method of doubt. Aiming with radical consistency at absolute knowledge, he refuses to let himself accept anything as existent unless it is secured against every conceivable possibility of becoming doubtful. Everything that is certain, in his natural experiencing and thinking life, he therefore subjects to methodical criticism with respect to the conceivability of a doubt about it; and, by excluding everything that leaves open any possibility of doubt, he seeks to obtain a stock of things that are absolutely evident. When this method is followed, the certainty of sensuous experience the certainty with which the world is given in natural living, does not withstand criticism; accordingly the being of the world must remain unaccepted at this initial stage. The mediator keeps only himself, qua pure ego of his cogitationes, as having an absolutely indubitable existence, as something that cannot be done away with, something that would exist even though this world were non-existent. Thus reduced, the ego carries on a kind of sophistic philosophizing...
Thus, the task of phenomenology is to reflectively disclose the criteria already implicit in those intentional acts that individuals perform in everyday life through which we come to know this world. Husserl dubbed this the Lebenswelt or "world in which we live." Phenomenology allows the thinker to conceptualize what is commonly done in everyday life without one's knowing how to accurately describe what one is doing. This task is ongoing. In each phenomenological investigation one must first return directly to the phenomena as given directly in consciousness, or as Husserl's exhortation reminds us, "Zu den Sachen!" literally translated, this means, "To the things!" It means, in the widest possible sense, to get back to those objects given in consciousness. In fact, if a German says to someone, "Zur Sache!" this is an exhortation for that one to "get down to business!" Husserl's phrase thus encourages the learner to get back to the proper business of philosophy--i.e., phenomenology.
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