Tuesday, January 10

A brief introduction to Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology in philosophy.

Definition of phenomenology? : 

The study of phenomenology is the study of “phenomena”: from a first person's perspective the study of our living experience. It seeks to  ascertain the nature and meaning of experiences and not the things in themselves.         

Thus it’s an attempt to understand the structures of our consciousness. 

Phenomenology underwent renewed interest in the early 20th century  from extensive works of Husserl, followed by Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty and others. In modernity concerning mind philosophy it covers our perception, thought, memory, imagination, emotion, desire and social interaction.

His Life and thought 

Husserl was born in 1859, to non-Orthodox Jews and married to have three children by such time he converted to Protestantism. 

Earlier on his studies involved astronomy, mathematics, physics and philosophy before he took an interest in psychology. 

After he obtained a PhD in mathematics  he studied psychology and logic to then publish the philosophy of Arithmetic in 1891.

In 1901 his phenomenological work was published in two volumes.  Husserl continued to update this work, explaining how things that are taken for granted constitute themselves in our consciousness.  

He died on April 27, 1938 in Freiburg. His manuscripts (more than 40000 pages in total) were rescued and the first Husserl archive was founded in 1939. There are now archives in Freiburg, Cologne, Paris, New York and Pittsburgh.

Introduction to Husserl’s philosophy  

He explains how the intention and meaning of propositions (whether  true or nonsense) arise from units of our consciousness and are only temporal but facilitated at that time by the various modes of intuition.

Husserl contended that propositions and their meanings stand alone and outside of one’s intentions so that a true proposition e.g.  Theorems for instance can only be discovered.

Propositions arise from the intentional acts.  

He introduces the notion of ideal matters he calls “moments of matter” where Propositions are understood as arising from dependent parts of intentional acts. They comprise real or fictional life experiences yielding a so-called “moment of quality" to initiate the psychological modes of judgment which give expression and meaning to that experience. 

Husserl also includes mere conversational contextual type propositions so that there can be an amalgam of two factors (where applicable) as to meaning plus the context.  

To reiterate, integral to his mind theory is intentionality. His theory is that all experiences are singular to relate to a single or number of objects as related to the intentional experiences of such objects. Future experiences he defines as intended future horizons, representing the inner time intentional experiences which in turn motivate higher order judgments.

From a first person’s perspective and empathetic intentionality

Husserl’s assertion is that for any phenomenological description, it must be posited from the first person’s perspective.

One can’t say for sure what is actually happening in respect to the experiences of another. They could for instance be hallucinating. He attempts to overcome any such subjectivity by grouping phenomenological descriptions to intentional content indexes, whether such propositions are delusional or rational.   

The pathway to selfhood and empathetic intentionality.

Husserl contends selfhood is a pathway from childhood to adulthood and personal self-consciousness that facilitates empathetic intentionality. The result is that in ordinary conversation one is mostly to perceive another’s intentions. 


Following on from the idea of empathetic internationality his conclusion is that phenomenology plays a leading role in the constitution of ourselves and ones view of how we see ourselves objectively and others. In other words the identification that others act or think like ourselves in terms of intentional empathy shines a light on better understanding one another.  


Are we too reluctant to learn from the experiences of others or even our own or is it that we simply can't trust such perceived intentions?  

Should we place more reliance on intuition and introspection in evaluating our life or stick with the hard facts or is a mixture ideal?     

Could or should phenomenology be used more to stimulate more imaginative or higher quality outcomes in most qualitative research?  

Could the application of phenomenology assist in any analysis of mystical elements of life experiences?    

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