Monday, May 21, 2012

Phenomenological Pragmatism Re-Emerges


I am continuing to edit my book.  Below is the first part of the re-written section explaining what I mean when I use the word "phenomenology" within an Americanist context. For frequent readers of this blog, or pragmatists, note that a major difference between Peirce's and Dewey's phenomenology is that the latter is dialectical, while the former's is not.  This is how Dewey temporalizes Peirce, and does so in a manner different from Hartshorne.

“Phenomenology” is a widely abused and used term. In many scholarly circles, the word is met with scorn, while in others it is a ubiquitous methodology. Phenomenology as a method in pragmatism predates by decades who popularized the term, Edmund Husserl, is not based on Franz Brentano and his work on intentionality, and has roots far older and more detailed than William James’ well-known work. I mention this to avoid misunderstanding, since at the mention of the word most contemporary readers will assume basic concepts from the Husserlian tradition of phenomenology that includes Martin Heidegger, Max Scheler, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and so forth. That would lead to grievous misinterpretation, and to avoid it, I will note some points of similarity and difference.

I define Deweyan phenomenological analysis to be the study of the logic of conscious phenomena, and I name my research program “phenomenological pragmatism.” Although some of Husserl's terms are employed for clarity, the analysis is not and cannot be Husserlian, because what counts as a phenomenon and what the logic includes is antithetical to Husserlian phenomenology. For instance, the “phenomenon” has a real relation to the “noumenon,” because against Immanuel Kant, nature contains the categories of understanding from which human understanding is derivative. Human nature and experience has a real relation to nature, and we do not need a recovery or clarification via a phenomenological reduction or epoché. Even if we do not read Husserl as a Cartesian, despite his Cartesian Meditations, no historic interpretation would render Dewey or Husserl reducible to each other. Where Dewey diverges from Husserl on one point, and is sympathetic to Heidegger, is his insistence on the importance of existential conditions in determining the structure and content of consciousness. Heidegger acknowledges this, to paraphrase his ironic Thomistic statement in Being and Time, that "Dasein's essence is its existence." Anthropology, sociology, psychology, history, etc. are implicated in the study of existential conditions, although Dewey embraces natural science with them, which Husserl and Heidegger held at a distance, especially the biological sciences and their import for analyses of experience that later engaged Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

A crucial principle that bars Deweyan phenomenology from being reducible to the Husserlian tradition is the theory of continuity and its implications. Conscious phenomena are continuous with and emergent from the situation in which they occur. This model inverts the conventional continental phenomenological viewpoint, as there is no subjective-objective or noetic-noematic pole. Neither consciousness nor subjectivity has a privileged position. This is more than a “de-centering” of the subject; it eliminates the dichotomy.  Instead, Dewey defines human experience as a transactive process between the environment and the human organism, and conscious phenomena are a possible eventuation of that process. Rather than the Cartesian binary reinscribed by Kant that underwrites classical phenomenology, experience is understood to be dyadic and dialectical. This dialectical character distinguishes Charles Sanders Peirce’s phenomenology from Dewey’s.

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