Phenomenology | Definition, Philosophy, Types, History

Phenomenology | Definition, Philosophy, Types, History


Phenomenology Definition

Phenomenology is the study of experience and how we experience. It studies structures of conscious experience as experienced from a first person point of view along with its intentionality. Heidegger pointed out that we are often not explicitly conscious of our habitual patterns of action.

Phenomenology is a broad discipline and the method of inquiry in philosophy. It has been largely developed by Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. It is based on the premise that reality consists of objects and events (phenomena) as they are perceived in the human consciousness. It can be understood as a branch of metaphysics. It is more descriptive than prescriptive. Physical objects do not exist as things in themselves but only as perceptual phenomena. Experience includes not only relatively passive experiences of sensory perception but also imagination thought, emotion, desire, volition and action. In short, it includes everything we live through or perform.

History of Phenomenology

The term ‘phenomenology‘ was first introduced by Johnson Heinrich Lambert (1728-1777). It was subsequently used by Immanuel Kant and J.G. Fichte and Hegel. Phenomenology as it is understood today is the vision of Edmund Husserl. He introduced the concept of intentionality which means that consciousness is always intentional or directed. Husserl formulated Realist Phenomenology and later Transcendental Phenomenology. Heidegger critised and enlarged Husserl’s phenomenological enquiry in his work Being and Time (1927). Later Sartre developed Existentialist phenomenology.

Phenomenology Philosophy

Modern philosophical tendency stresses the perceiver’s central role in determining the meaning. It is known as phenomenology. Edmund Husserl believed that the proper object of philosophical investigation is the contents of our consciousness and not the objects of the world. Consciousness is always ‘something. This something that appears to our consciousness is real to us. ‘Phenomena’ is a Greek word. It means things that are appearing. Phenomenology claims to show us the underlying nature both of human consciousness and of phenomena.’

It was an attempt to revive the idea that the individual human mind is the centre and the origin of all meanings. The act of interpretation is possible because the texts allow the reader access to the author’s consciousness. Poulet says,

“It is open to me, welcomes me, lets me look deep inside itself and … allows me to think what it thinks and feel what it feels.”

The shift towards a reader-oriented theory is pre-figured in the rejection of Husserl’s ‘objective view by his pupil Martin Heidegger. Heidegger argued that what is distinctive about human existence is ‘givenness’. Our consciousness both projects the things of the world and at the same time is subjected to the world by the very nature of existence in the world.

We are all flung down into the world into time and place we did not choose. However, it is our world in so far as our consciousness projects it. We can never adopt a detached attitude towards the world. Our thinking is always historical being situational. History is not social or external but personal and inward. Hans-Georg Gadamer in Truth and Method applied Heidegger’s situational approach to literary theory.

Different Terms of Phenomenology

The important terms of phenomenology are as follows:

(i) Intentionality

Intentionality refers to the notion that consciousness is always the consciousness of something. Intention here does not mean its ordinary meaning. Originally, it refers to consciousness “stretching out”. Thus here it refers to consciousness stretching out toward its object. Consciousness occurs as the simultaneity of a conscious act and its object. Intentionality is thus ‘aboutness.’ The object of consciousness need not be a physical object; it can just as well be a fantasy or memory. Therefore, the structures of consciousness are perception, memory, fantasy etc.

(ii) Intuition

Intuition in phenomenology refers to the cases where the intentional object is directly present to the intentionality at play. If the intention is filled by the direct apprehension of the object, you have an intuited object. For example, if a plate of food is before you, seeing it, feeling it and imagining it, these are filled intentions. Then the object is intuited. If you don’t have the object before you, the object is not intuited.

(iii) Evidence

In phenomenology, the concept of evidence is meant to signify the subjective achievement of truth. Evidence is the successful presentation of an intelligible object, the successful presentation of something whose truth becomes manifest in the evidencing itself

(iv) Noesis and Noema

These terms are derived from Greek nous (mind). Noesis means the ideal content and noema an intentional act. Noesis is the part of the act that gives it a particular sense or character. Noesis is always related to noema. These terms were used by Husserl.

(v) Empathy and Inter-subjectivity

In phenomenology, empathy refers to the experience of one’s body to another. While we identify others with their physical bodies, this kind of phenomenology requires that we focus on the subjectivity of the other as well as our inter subjective engagement with them. The experience of your own body as your own subjectivity is then applied to the experience of another’s body. The experience of empathy is important in the phenomenological account of inter-subjectivity. In phenomenology inter-subjectivity constitutes objectivity.

(vi) Life World

Life-word is the meaning of German word Lebenswelt. It is the world each one of us lives in. We may call it background or horizon of experience. Life world is both personal and inter subjective.

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Types of Phenomenology

There are three main types of phenomenology:

  • Realist Phenomenology

Munich group at the university of Munich early formulation. It analyzed the intentional structures of mental acts as they are directed both at real and ideal objects.

  • Transcendental Phenomenology

Husserl’s later formulations in his book Ideas took intuitive experience of phenomena as its starting point. It describes the essence of what we experience.

  • Existentialist Phenomenology

Heidegger’s extended explanation in his work Being and Time (1927) stated that the observer cannot separate himself from the observed (world). It is therefore, a combination of the phenomenological method with the importance of understanding man in the existential world. Sartre was influenced by this ideology. It was HansGeorg Gadamer who applied Heidegger’s situation approach to literary theory. He argued that a literary work does not pop into the world as a finished and neatly parceled bundle of meaning. It depends on historical situation of the interpreter. Gadamer influenced reception theory.

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