What is phenomenology?

We explain what phenomenology is, what is its origin, history and basic concepts. The method you use, your research and applications.

  1. What is phenomenology?

Phenomenology is called a philosophical movement originated during the twentieth century and a branch of philosophy that is governed by its precepts, which have to do with the investigation and description of objects (or  phenomena ) as they are consciously experienced, or be, as free as possible of theories, presuppositions and preconceptions regarding their origin.

The word phenomenology is composed of the Greek voices  phainómenon  (“appearance”, “manifestation”) and  logos  (“treatise”, “study”), from where it can be defined as the study of manifestations . This applies in different ways to the fields of knowledge, so the phenomenological approach encompasses very different and diverse elements depending on what subject it applies to.

For example, in the field of psychology , phenomenology involves the study of the structures of consciousness from a perspective of the first person who experiences them. As a philosophical discipline , phenomenology is related to ontology, epistemology , logic and ethics.

  1. Origin of the phenomenology

The term phenomenology is long-standing, as it began to be used in the 18th century by the Swiss-German mathematician and philosopher Johann Heinrich Lambert, who applied it to his theory of knowledge as a method to distinguish truth from illusion and error.

However, the modern meaning of the word derives from the work  A Phenomenology of the Spirit  (1807) by the German philosopher George Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), in which he tried to trace the development of the human mind from the mere meaning of the Experience to absolute knowledge.

However, the philosophical movement of phenomenology would not exist until the early twentieth century, when the work of the German philosopher and mathematician Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) founded the transcendental phenomenology, and with it a whole line of philosophical thought still in force in the XXI century.

  1. Phenomenology History

Husserl proposed a renewal of the concepts of philosophy and science.

Since the dissemination and assessment of Husserl’s work, phenomenology has not been a homogeneous , but fertile and popular movement, which has been applied to the most diverse fields of knowledge.

Husserl’s search aspired to a “pure phenomenology” or “phenomenological philosophy” , since he was basically proposing a renewal of the concepts of philosophy and science ; and in that sense it was the engine of future and important lines of philosophical thought of the twentieth century such as existentialism, deconstruction, post-structuralism and postmodernity.

  1. Basics of phenomenology

Although phenomenology is always difficult to define and complex to characterize, it is possible to identify at the heart of the concept Husserl’s idea of ​​going “to things by themselves”, that is, devoid of previous reasoning and preconceptions, and trying to describe them more faithfully possible. This is based on the idea that it is possible to perceive the essential structures of an issue and their essential relationships from the careful study of concrete examples from experience or imagination.

From there, the methods can diverge towards interpretative approaches (called “heuristics”) of the phenomenon, or the exploration of genetic aspects, which requires, according to Husserl, a previous “suspension of credulity” ( epochē ).

  1. What is the method of phenomenology?

The phenomenological method, as Husserl proposed, starts from the non-assumption of anything (absolutely nothing: neither common sense, nor psychological experiences, etc.) and encompasses a series of stages that are:

  • Examine all the contents of consciousness, that is, to be aware of the object as a sensible thing.
  • Determine if such contents are real, ideal, imaginary, etc., that is, have self-awareness.
  • Suspend phenomenological consciousness to deal with what is given in its “purity.”

Many times this method of being subjective is accused and, therefore, of making descriptions that have more to do with the phenomenologist than with the phenomenon; However, this method somehow aspires to be a synthesis between an objective and a subjective perspective . It is, moreover, a qualitative, not quantitative method.

  1. What is phenomenological research?

Phenomenological research tries to explain what the experience of something is like.

A phenomenological investigation is, understood as above, an attempt to understand the perceptions, perspectives and interpretations that people make of a given phenomenon , that is, an attempt to answer the question of “what is the experience of something?”.

Thus, based on the comparison and revision of the multiple perspectives reviewed, one can tend towards generalization and towards the elaboration of a perspective that starts from “inside” the experience and not from theories, hypotheses or reasons external to it.

  1. Martin Heidegger’s contribution

Another important author in the history of phenomenology was Martin Heidegger, whose theories reformulated what Husserl conceived from two fundamental criticisms:

  • Heidegger thought that Husserl attached too much importance to the intuition discovered in consciousness, and that meant that it continued within a Cartesian paradigm of modern subjectivist philosophy. That is, he fell unwittingly into subjectivity.
  • He also thought that Husserl was not committed enough to the world, so he chose to see the man involved in his world: “being-in-the-world,” as Heidegger called it, meant that the thinker must commit the most possible with the salvation of the world and not sin of intellectualism.
  1. The contribution of Emmanuel Lévinas

Lévinas proposed a more radical overcoming of the modern duality between object and subject.

Another crucial name for the development of phenomenology was that of the Lithuanian Lévinas, who introduced the phenomenology of Husserl and Heidegger to France , as part of his commitment to the restoration of ethical thinking in Europe after the spiritual disaster that World War II meant. .

However, it seemed to Lévinas (like Heidegger) that Husserl remained within the dictates of the Cartesian “I”, so he proposed a much more radical overcoming of the modern duality between object and subject, including as a fundamental contribution the experience of the other. For Lévinas, phenomenology will be the radical foundation of ethics .

  1. Phenomenology applications

The phenomenological method is not only of philosophical importance , but has contributed to other related disciplines, such as psychology, sociology , anthropology and especially education and pedagogy , based on works such as those by Hans-Georg Gadamer ( 1900-2002) around the phenomenology of understanding, among many other authors.

  1. Edmund Husserl

The founder of phenomenology was a Moravian Jewish philosopher and mathematician , one of the most influential of the twentieth century, whose training in mathematics in Leipzig and Berlin served as the basis for a philosophical and psychological formation in the classes of the philosopher and priest Franz Bentano, who was along with Carl Stumpf one of his teachers and guides. He published numerous and voluminous works in life (whose complete works exceed 45,000 folios) and died of pleurisy in 1938 in Freiburg.

  1.  Representatives of the phenomenology

David Hume was a Scottish philosopher in favor of skepticism.

Apart from Husserl, some important representatives of this school of thought are:

  • Friedrich Oetinger (1702-1782) , who used the term in his study of the “divine system of relationships.”
  • David Hume (1711-1776) , a Scottish philosopher in favor of skepticism, who takes a phenomenological approach in his  Treaty on Human Nature.
  • Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) , one of the greatest modern philosophers and author of  Critique of Pure Reason , where he distinguishes between objects as phenomena (formed and assimilated by human sensibility) and  noumenos  (things-in-themselves) .
  • Max Scheler (1874-1928) , who developed Husserl’s method to encompass the scientific method.
  • Gaston Bachelard (1884-1962) , French epistemologist and author of literature, who redefined the concept of symbol thanks to its phenomenology of material imagination.
  • Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) , critical philosopher of Husserl’s theory, who tried to develop a theory of ontology in  Being and time .
  • Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961) , existentialist philosopher who studied the phenomenology of the body in perception and society, in  Phenomenology of perception.

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