Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Must Phenomenology Remain First-Personal?

Is the logic of the phenomenon fully contained in the experience of it?

A friend asked me a very pointed question today. It was a fantastic and clear question. In short, he implied that I was using the word “phenomenology” in a very strange way. He is absolutely right. As I have been using the term, it has almost no overlap with “phenomenology” of the Husserlian tradition. Why? Not only are the methodologies incompatible, but they are not even aimed at studying the same thing. Wait, what?

Phenomenology is the study of conscious phenomena. In continental philosophy since Husserl, that is almost always understood to mean that the phenomenologist takes a critical first-person standpoint. Given the experience of a conscious event, it can be analyzed in the present or from memory as the analyst focuses a ray of attention on the event.  Yet this is not how I have been using the term.

If phenomenology is the study of conscious phenomena, we need not always take only the standpoint of first-person or immediate experience. Given an immediate experience, we can ask the question of the conditions that transcend that experience. Rather than as a classic transcendental question, we can ask that as an abductive and scientific question. This is precisely what I mean when I talk about the “unification of metaphysics and phenomenology.” It is really a unified method for speculative process metaphysics that ask how this phenomenon might have come to be experienced. It is closer to a Heideggerian or existential phenomenology, except that it admits methods that he would never condone.

Why should be only study conscious phenomena from an immediate perspective? I offer an alternative and complementary analysis; I do not think that “phenomenological pragmatism” is truly offering the same thing as the phenomenologies of the Husserlian tradition. I do not think that it can and retain a robust living connection to classical pragmatism.


  1. Jason,
    Might be worthwhile to track down some of Hartshorne's "non-correlationist" phenomenology, found in an essay where he discusses as much (in 'Creative Experiencing'). I also mention the details of this "speculative phenomenology" and Hartshorne's lead into it, in a review of CE on my blog. The review is in two parts.

    Leon/ After Nature

  2. It should also be said that first-personal does not simply mean a singular ego either. There is a mode of givenness of the first-person plural, a We. It reflects the socio-historic participation of us, a Husserlian account of the laws of genesis accessed through how the lifeworld is constituted or given to us as a people... or what Husserl will call a homeworld (Heimwelt).

  3. Yes, I am familiar with all of this. But at the end of the day, Husserl is not down with the kind of account I'm giving.

  4. To add another account, a colleague noted that Hegel's phenomenology is "not Cartesian" in the way that Husserl's is. Dewey's phenomenology is sort of a cross between Hegel, Heidegger, and the kitchen sink while I'm at it. It's inclusive of nature and mind, but not in the idealist way of Hegel. It's closer to existential phenomenology, like Heidegger, but accept metaphysical principles that Heidegger would have us do without.

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