Excerpt from our Book: Introduction to the Philosophy of the Human Person
The Phenomenological Method
Phenomenology in its origin takes the form of a critique against the claims of the Cartesian Methodic Doubt. Rene Descartes, who is considered as the Father of Modern philosophy, initiated the philosophical revolution in modernity with his establishment of a method that seeks to ground all of our truth-claims upon the most universal and self-evident certitude. For Descartes, there is one obvious certitude: “that I exist and that the I that exists is essentially a thinking I – the cogito” (Ariel, 1998, pp. 30-31). “I think; therefore, I am.” And it is on this certitude that Edmund Husserl, known to be the founder of the modern phenomenological movement, embraces the same Cartesian assumption. However, unlike Descartes who doubted the certitude of the world outside the cogito, Husserl begins his assumptions with an existing world outside of and for which the thinking I is always conscious. Husserl explicates that Descartes has failed to ground knowledge on a firm footing. It is because the cogito lacks the proper understanding of the world, placing itself absolutely isolated from it. It is for this reason that Husserl would claim that Descartes had not understood the nature of consciousness, which is always conscious of something other than itself. From here, Husserl’s phenomenological investigation is born.
The Substance of Phenomenology
What is phenomenology? Phenomenology, in general, is identified with the rigorous study of our conscious experience. It deals primarily with the determination of the nature and structure of human conscious experience, which may come in the following guises, namely, the experiences of perceiving, listening, looking, remembering, feeling, acting, and so on. For Husserl, the conscious experiences refer to the human being’s aware reception of the world and of his own reception of the world. The former is known as a “transcendental” kind of consciousness, while the latter, “reflexive.” The expressions, “I am listening to a sad song.”, “I am drinking coffee while looking at the beautiful flower in the garden.”, “I am reading this text.”, “I am actually thinking of writing a book.”, “I am in love.”, are some of our conscious experiencing of the world. Phenomenology, then, “takes its start in the fundamental problem of describing accurately and completely the essential features of our everyday lived experience” (Solomon, 2002, p. 112). The I that thinks of the world, in general, is the substance of every phenomenological engagement.
Phenomenology and Everyday Lived Experiences
The central project of the study of phenomenology is the rigorous determination of the nature of our conscious experiences. What this means is that phenomenology is ultimately directed upon bringing into light the primordial meaningfulness of our everyday-lived experiences. The insistence on the necessity of recovering the essential aspects of our lived-experiences springs from the fact that we have forgotten their being that we have become so much engrossed with our natural ways of dealing with the world. Being in the world and experiencing it entails that the world is something that is outside of us and not just a mere product of our mental exercises. The recognition of the world as an object of experience leads us to think of ways to present a detailed exposition of how something so foreign to us appears in the mind not only as mental representations but also as an actual object of complete dimensionality and form.
Edmund Husserl begins his project of phenomenology by inquiring how our linguistic utterances and judgments – though are purely mental in structures – direct us to objects existent in the world. Judgments such as, “I hear the sound of birds singing on top of the tree”; “I see a beautiful woman walking towards my way”; I know that today is Sunday”; and “I am drinking coffee from my mug while seated on my old wooden chair.” are some examples of linguistic utterances whose objects we are conscious of. Such is made possible for, as Husserl argues, our everyday lived experiences are intentional and perspectival. What this means is, objects present to us in perception under specific spatiotemporal condition. What I am aware of when I say “The book of Edmund Husserl on the Ideas is difficult to read.” is not just an idea of the book. For what I am immediately conscious of is the objective book present here and now with all its properties, shape, position, color, and all the necessary conditions that would render the experience of the book possible.
Husserl gives special emphasis on the “importance of perception” for he sees it as the principle upon which all of our other experiences of the world are grounded. Thus, he writes “[perception is that] primal experience from which all other experiencing acts derive a major part of their grounding force” (Idea, p. 82). This is so because he conceives “perception as the paradigmatic kind of experience” (Solomon, 200, p. 117.) What this means is that perception –of any object – is the beginning of all of our experiences of the world. Perception is “intentional.” And that human consciousness is always conscious of something other than itself (Ibid., p. 118). For instance, while I am writing a few sentences right now, I am likewise aware of the presence of my favorite coffee mug adjacent to the screen of my laptop. My awareness of my present condition implies that I am able to accommodate a string of actions that lead to unity of experience. The objects on my table constitutes for a lived experience of which I too am aware. I too some extent am both aware of the objects of my consciousness and of my being conscious of this experience. In most cases, my awareness of something appears to be one-sided, although it does not happen that way all the time. Husserl says,
The object is not really given, it is not given wholly and entirely as that which is itself is. It is only given “from the front”, only “perspectivally foreshortened and projected,” etc … [T]he elements of the invisible rear side, the interior, and so on, … are not themselves part of the intuitive … content of the percept (Ibid., p. 118).
What the above-cited text from Husserl’s “Logical Investigations” means is that whenever we become conscious of certain objects, the image that is derived from such awareness is never the entirety of the object. What comes into the mind is it’s shadow. In the case of me being conscious of my book, my perception of the book is only limited to its front side; so that, the other sides, the back and the inside of the book are hidden viewed from an angle. I see the book from a perspective whose other sides are not immediately perceived. My perception of what I assert to be a book of the “Idea” is different from my perception of the façade of the book. For in perceiving it, I am aware that it is something of a three-dimensional object present in the here and now to which my consciousness intends. This is so because for Husserl “objects transcend their intentional state” (Ibid., p. 121). What we think of while being conscious of them are not just mere representations but actual objects whose hidden parts are hypothesize. In our becoming aware of the things in the world, what we experience of them are their perspectival aspect and never their intuited representations. The book that you are reading is perceived under specific spatio-temporal conditions, what you see is only this page as you are reading but not the entire book. To see is to consider an aspect of it to be true, but it remains that other aspects remain hidden too.
The Phenomenological Reduction
We learned above that the main project of phenomenology in general is the determination of the nature of our conscious lived experiences. It is concerned primarily of recovering the primordial meaningfulness of life, which is tinted by our “natural attitude toward the world” (Maboloc, 2014, p. 3). This project of allowing the truthfulness of human experience to reveal itself is made possible by the phenomenological method of “epoche”. “Epoche or [bracketing] refers to the phenomenological reduction of our experience” (Ibid.). This is the process of suspending our prejudices to our natural encounter with the world, in order to allow the essential meanings of our lived experiences to reveal themselves in their purest sense. “Phenomenological reduction as an eidetic project attempts to lay bare the essential and general features of that world as a set of essential meanings” (David, 4). Taking for instance our experience of what a book is in reality is primarily expressed in our being conscious of it. The book being perceived to be a transcendental object is dematerialized; its material constitutions, its qualities and dimensionalities are set aside, thus paving the way for the essential aspect of the book to be seen. The book in the process of the eidetic reduction is reduced into the state of a pure mental phenomenon. In the end, what exists in our mind is of course not the actual book but a reduced form of it, that is, the very essence of the book. And Husserl calls it, the “intentional inexistence.” A thing exists in the mind, but not as an actual thing, but as an idea.
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