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Phenomenology After Edmund Husserl


Permalink 09:10:00 pm, by Brandon Norgaard Email , 908 words   English (US)
Categories: Building Knowledge

Phenomenology After Edmund Husserl

This post continues the series on phenomenology. The previous post in this series was on Edmund Husserl's contributions to phenomenology. Today's post is on some of the major phenomenologists who came after Husserl and were influenced by him.

Martin Heidegger was a student of Husserl's and was greatly influenced by his teacher, but he actually took phenomenology in a different direction. Whereas Husserl believed that one could bracket out all of their prior conceptions of reality and suspend judgments in order to better understand their own observations, Heidegger rejected the idea that one could suspend all preconceived notions. Unlike Husserl, Heidegger did not see the need or the possibility of bracketing or epoche, which is the word Husserl used for the highest level of bracketing and suspension of judgment. Whereas Husserl saw phenomenology as a rigorous science, Heidegger resisted the idea that phenomenology could ever be such a thing.

As commentator Dermot Moran wrote: “For Heidegger, phenomenology is the attempt to make manifest the maters as they manifest themselves. As a radical allegiance to the things themselves, phenomenology can never be a single method” 1. While Husserl saw phenomenology as primarily epistemological and through which one could come to know metaphysical truths, Heidegger argued that phenomenology could be used to address the central questions of metaphysics which had been misconceived and taken for granted throughout the history of philosophy. Whereas Husserl emphasized introspection as a way of understanding things in themselves, Heidegger instead preferred circumspection, which is the careful observation of one's surroundings. He argued that circumspection involves understanding which way one is oriented and understanding the most basic aspects of existence. For Heidegger, experience is continuous and flowing and needed to be understood as a whole in the process of doing rather than through stepping back and thinking.

His works detail his stream of consciousness as he goes about trying to understand the the fundamental question of the nature and reality of being. He thought that philosophers had been fundamentally mislead by language going all the way back to Plato. He argued that one way one can make progress in dealing with these pervasive problems is through hermeneutics, which is the interpretation of language, thought, and behavior. His critique of modern philosophy focuses primarily on the idea, articulated by Descartes and assumed by many others both before and after him, that Humans are fundamentally rational beings. Heidegger argued that instead our existence is first and foremost experiential and active rather than rational. He also argued that care is the most fundamental aspect of existence, with anxiety, authenticity, and resoluteness also having special importance.

He sought to understand the concept of being and how it relates to time. Prior to Heidegger, nearly all philosophers had assumed that an objects exist at instances in time and that as time moves forward these objects can either change or stay the same. Heidegger argued that this preconception regarding the concept of being is mistaken and he used his version of phenomenology to argue that being cannot be separated from time. It is not that an object exists at different instances in time, Husserl argued, but that the passing of time is an essential component of being. An analogy he used is that it is not a hammer that constitutes being, but hammering. He used this conception of being to address the nature of human existence, which he called Dasein.

Heidegger's phenomenology influenced many including Jean-Paul Sartre, who was influential in his own right. Sartre focused on the concept of being in contrast with nothingness and contingency and what this means for human existence. Sartre was concerned with how the experience of emotions such angst, nausea, and anxiety relate to human freedom. Sartre and more recent phenomenologists had similar ways of going about phenomenology as did Heidegger. For them, phenomenology was less based on epistemological methods than on describing one's stream of consciousness and interpretations of metaphysics. These phenomenologists often did make an effort to perform epoche before making new judgments on matters regarding life, being, time, nothingness, etc. but they did not believe that it was possible to entirely eliminate all prior beliefs or even to come close to doing this.

There have also been philosophers who have practiced something like phenomenology in the broad sense of the word as I outlined in an earlier post. This includes philosophers of the analytic tradition who emphasize the first person study of consciousness like David Chalmers and John Searle. Both Chalmers and Searle are from the Analytic tradition and thus are not often considers phenomenologists, but they do both strongly emphasize that there are aspects of consciousness that are outside the realm of science and they came to this conclusion partially on the basis of introspection and reflection.

I largely agree with Husserl's phenomenology and find that I disagree with Heidegger and Sartre and other phenomenologists who came after him. I agree to a large extent with Chalmers and Searle regarding their analysis of consciousness, but they do not really go about this in a phenomenological way. I see some problems with traditional phenomenology and I have a proposed solution. I will be writing more posts on phenomenology in the coming weeks where I will explain the problems with it, at least as it has been practiced traditionally, and I will also explain my proposed solution. If you have any questions about this, please email me at brandon@enlightenedworldview.com

1 Dermot Moran, Introduction to Phenomenology p. 227


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