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Dr. Louis N. Sandowsky



Phenomenology and Existentialism





Lecture Two: The Method of Phenomenology



1.       The Aims of Phenomenology


In the previous lecture, I discussed the modern historical context of the development of phenomenology. We looked at how it radicalizes the thought of consciousness by freeing it from the box-conception of mind, allowing it to express the intentionality through which it transcends itself toward the world – out amongst the things. Phenomenology restores a sense of wonder in the face of the immanent and yet, for precisely this reason, that which is usually unseen. It opens up that which is closed in its habituated familiarity. In other words, it transforms the familiar into the strange / uncanny (unheimlich), thus making it stand out in its original complexity and grace. In this sense, phenomenological movement is the unfolding of a philosophical poetics. It restores certain rights to phenomena that have been formerly ignored for largely systemic reasons. In contrast to the tendency throughout the history of Philosophy to erect systems, phenomenology is not another ‘system.’


We also looked at how phenomenology maintains a methodological abstention from taking up a metaphysical position in its project of description. It is our task today to look at the development of the methodology that raises the issue of such a suspension to the level of a prescriptive theme.


Husserl's project of phenomenological critique began in the form of a powerful phenomenological-deconstructive engagement with psychologism, objectivism, and phenomenalism. He rigorously articulates the inherent paradoxes of the 'imagistic' thinking upon which they base themselves and unravels the logic responsible for their 'objectivist' conflation of the fleeting contents of experience with lived-experience itself. Once again, it must be stressed here that the phenomenological motivation of this critique resists falling back into any particular form of realism. In the opening of The Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness (section two: The Question of the "Origin of Time"), Husserl writes,


We do not classify lived experiences according to any particular form of reality. We are concerned with reality only insofar as it is intended, represented, intuited, or conceptually thought (P.26).


Firstly, for Husserl the articulation of the phenomenon embodies a fundamental difference within itself by comprising both the language of appearances and the language of appearing in their intertwining (as articulated by the noetic-noematic intentional correlation). It is not to be confined to mere 'objective' discourse. Husserl's theory of intentionality does not present us with an 'object-theory' or 'image-theory' of perception, caught up in a 'container-type' conception of consciousness, but one which considers object-perception in terms of the contextual-unfolding-of a certain 'phenomenal content.' As we have already seen, consciousness is characterized as a self-surpassing, sense-directed – transitive / intentional – relation between meaning and meant. For Husserl, the giving or standing-out of phenomena is irreducible to the appearance of mere 'objective' simulacra / representations that stand-in for extra-phenomenal existents (as images or 'doubles' of the world). The call to the 'things themselves' does not base itself on a naive / presuppositional metaphysics, but is a call to methodological vigilance, which ultimately re-situates discourse on the question of the Thing. In the context of this turn, which is also a critical re-turn to questions of method, it must be understood that this is in no way tied to a mere 'call to idealism' – certainly not in any doctrinal sense.


Husserl's concern in “Philosophy as a Rigorous Science” (one of the main texts along with Ideas 1 that is so often quoted in regard to the call 'to the things themselves') is with ‘phenomenal evidence.’ For methodological reasons, the Husserlian directive is not limited to existential matters in classical objective terms, since it only addresses questions of existence in terms of their ‘phenomenological sense.’ The existential character of the appearing of a phenomenon (its phenomenal givenness as an 'actuality') is simply one possible mode among many. For phenomenology, questions concerning the givenness of the 'pastness' of the remembered, or the 'imaginality' of the imagined, are just as significant as any interrogation of the 'real.' They are not merely consigned to a 'secondary' or 'representational' field, which has been their traditional fate.


Most importantly, Husserl is not an 'image-theorist' – for whom the question of extra-phenomenal existents and the veracity of their givenness through images would be 'the' fundamental question (the perennial issue for Cartesian metaphysicians). Phenomenology does not begin as a system that is built upon a metaphysical divide between a world of appearances or mental-images and that which appears (things-in-themselves). This would suppose a covert act of hypostatization that is characteristic of a phenomenalism and not a phenomenology. The call 'to the things themselves' is a kind of attitudinal categorical imperative that seeks evidence as it gives itself. It does this without confining such interrogation to the reductive limits of, on the one hand, a naturalistic objectivity, which seeks to rid itself of any residual subjectivity (representation) in its interrogation of 'Things' or, on the other hand, a further re-presentative notion of consciousness, of a psychologistic orientation, that reduces all experiences and objects of experience to subjective states, which are articulated as successive mental events and facts. Each view, in its own way, completely undermines the possibility of discourse on questions concerning our lived access to what we might call truth – or more specifically, the truth of the world of lived-experience. Here, we speak of both Erlebnis and Lebenswelt.


The inadmissibility of these questions within the bounds of these viewpoints is inscribed at the outset. As in the case of the image-theory / phenomenalism, they cannot, for reasons of principle, extend themselves beyond a closed dimension of 'mental objects' ('representational' images) without due access to an independent and external criterion by means of which their veracity, regarding that which they represent, can be tested. We find nothing more than a kind of mimetic doubling – echoes of echoes – words which, in this context, must be re-situated with regard to their traditional lexical significations. This is because they attach themselves to a movement that originally problematizes the question of sources, beginnings, the original point that would inaugurate a sequence of doubles or echoes. Here, they no longer automatically imply the echo of something other, and more originary, than an echo. We are left with nothing more than echoes that are caught up in the reflective (yet another word whose semantic horizon has been caused to slide) vortex of an infinite regress. In this realm, one is not really at liberty to continue saying that the consciousness of signs or images ultimately, and inadequately, substitutes for the consciousness of things / objects (understood in the broadest sense) and the world itself, because any Thing that is postulated as being external to consciousness in a substantive sense can be nothing more than a metaphysical presupposition.


Husserl insists that..."On no account should we fall into the fundamentally perverse copy and sign theories..." (Ideas 1, Sec. 52). If the world resists 'adequate' exhibition it is not, for Husserl, due to any inadequacy in our perceptual apparatus (as the representational / image / sign doctrine of consciousness suggests). When we speak of transcendence, this expression does not designate some Thing that subsists beyond some impermeable membrane behind which consciousness is forever trapped within a matrix of immanent mental-objects or images – cut off from all that is transcendent. The 'transcendence' of the world has a 'sense,' or rather, a diversity of senses that articulate themselves 'within' or 'through' lived-experience. From an important phenomenological viewpoint, they are actually bestowed (as horizonal characters of that which appears) by the transcending consciousness as it 'encounters' the world – that is to say, to extend a Heideggerian twist, through its situational engagement in the world.


Consciousness does not name a dimension that is closed within itself. It is already familiar with transcendence for this constitutes part of its own essence. Consciousness is always already outside-itself-in-the-world – out amongst the things. As such, the question of transcendence is eminently susceptible of phenomenological analysis.


What appears are horizons of different constellations of meaning, which are not to be set against the Thing of experience in the same way that subjectivity is traditionally contrasted with objectivity or immanence is distinguished from transcendence. For Husserl, the giving of meaning qua phenomenon is also transcendent to the consciousness that perceives it. Such appearing is non-situated, in a certain sense, in that it is 'intentionally immanent' without being really inherent (or contained) in consciousness itself. It is not a case of different realities that somehow stand side by side – where it can be said, in a way that has become firmly habituated, that what is experienced is the mere subjective duplication of the objective Other. The 'given' is not 'in' consciousness, neither is it necessarily 'of' consciousness (although this can also be a dimension of phenomenological inquiry), but it is for consciousness.


In these terms, the sense of giving or appearing signifies more than a mere horizon of 'subjective' and immanent images / representations. The world as it is given participates in both subjectivity and objectivity – and is both immanent and transcendent. Since appearances (a word that we must treat with the utmost care) are not treated, according to the phenomenological perspective, in the way of subjective hypostatizations that 'immanently' duplicate a transcendent reality, but are designated as 'transcendent' in themselves, the phenomenality of the phenomenon (the giving of its givenness) must be grasped in a way that no longer sets it in opposition to transcendence.


The phenomenon always already participates in transcendence and is that through which transcendence is articulated.


This, of itself, must re-invoke questions concerning the meaning of evidence as it gives itself – without postulating any particular form of transcendence that would force us to think in terms of an extra-phenomenal horizon of sense / truth / reality to which we would need 'direct' access in order to assess the validity or truth-value of such evidence. An external 'source' or 'measure' of this kind is not required. The question of the 'meaning of evidence' in terms of 'its-giving-of-itself' is phenomenological. The preposition 'of' (which defines both consciousness and world) is decisive in a number of vital ways. As we have seen, the primordiality of the dimension of transitivity that it indicates is one of the most fundamental themes of phenomenology.


In objective terms, to stand-out is not merely a question of a dual relation between appearance and that which appears, but involves a certain structure and character or tone of such a standing-out. The phenomenon expresses this in terms of the 'ways' or 'modalities of showing / giving' in which something stands-out. Phenomenality cannot be reduced to either the language of appearances or that which appears for it first constitutes the space of such a distinction. And this space, though it is the necessary horizon of presence is not present itself (in any sense of being a present 'object').


There is not a single principal definition of the phenomenon. It has been constantly confused (and, in some quarters, is still being confused) with appearance, appearing, presence, representation, etc. The term appearance alone is just as problematical. Although there are intimate associations, it is to be distinguished from the meaning of the phenomenon. To say that the phenomenon is simply that-which-is-manifest (which, on one level is not incorrect) allows anything – including an appearance – to be called a phenomenon. The 'showing' or 'making-manifest,' as distinguished from the 'shown' or 'that-which-is-made-manifest,' are expressions that can be applied indiscriminately in the word ‘presence.’ However, appearance, or better here, visibility is only one moment of the phenomenon. It is to be granted that there are many different forms of visibility, ranging from that which gives itself in itself to different kinds of substitutional forms of appearing where that which gives itself can, in certain instances, actually conceal that which it indicates (that for which it is the proxy). And, it is not only in regard to the latter moment of this vast spectrum that we must understand that there is equally a zone of invisibility associated with the phenomenon, which is constitutive of anything that stands-out. The phenomenon is the site of the opening of the giving-of-the-given, and is presupposed by any 'form' of appearance.


There is an aspect of principal importance here that always plays at the heart of any discourse on the phenomenon (above all, in line with Heidegger’s discourse on the logos of phenomeno-logy as a kind of speaking-out) as that-which-gives-itself-in-itself or from-itself. The very possibility of discriminating between different kinds of appearing (which is the descriptive task of phenomenology) lies in a certain modal announcement in the phenomenon – which rounds out the phenomeno-logical definition as follows: the phenomenon as that which shows / gives itself from itself as it gives itself. It is in the ‘as-it-gives-itself’ that we find the 'meaning,' 'modality,' 'truth-value,' etc., of that which appears. This is the vital phenomeno-logical sense that announces itself in the structure of the appearing of something as distinct from mere appearance. Evidence has to do with a certain 'style' of appearing. It announces itself as the meeting point of an intentional structure of negotiation (that is stretched temporally) and is not to be limited to either the appearance in itself or that which is said to give itself (inadequately) 'in' the appearance.


The pre-phenomenological problematization of the question of the veracity of phenomenal evidence, as-it-gives-itself through the various kinds of directedness of consciousness toward the world, disregards the fact that it is on the basis of such evidence that questions regarding actuality, transcendence, truth, meaning, and evidence first find themselves articulated. The question of evidence points to the intentional structures of experience itself (the nexus of experiencing and the experienced) and does not indicate another more original source from which it is bestowed. This does not, it must be said, rule out questions of 'exteriority,' but resituates them. The thought of the standing-out of the phenomenon in terms of evidential-giving rediscovers, in more Derridian terms now, the outside that already inhabits its inside.


The phenomenon, as the appearing of that which appears, is not an object that duplicates / doubles / stands-in for the world as something that is 'extrinsic' to it, but is the appearing of the world itself. However, we must be careful here, since the thesis 'actual world' must be understood within the context of the phenomenological reduction. With this procedure, which disconnects the 'thesis' actual world by means of a kind of methodological detour, we do not lose the world as such but regain it qua the world of lived-experience.

As Husserl writes...


...whatever is phenomenologically disconnected remains still, with a certain change of signature, within the framework of phenomenology (Ideas 1, Sec.135).


The parenthesizing of the actual world through the implementation of the phenomenological epoché does not annul the evidence of its appearing as such, i.e., the world is thematized 'in its appearing' as an intentional nexus of 'actuality phenomena.' What is at issue here is a particular kind of 'change in signature.'




2.       The Epoché: the phenomenological reductions


The epoché is the principal mechanism at work in the movement of phenomenological interrogation, This is a form of methodological suspension that is motivated by the desire to abstain from taking up any metaphysical presuppositions. The Greek word, epoché means ‘to-cut’ or ‘to suspend.’ The methodological epoché is not to be confused with a form of Cartesian methodological doubt, because doubting principally involves the negation of a positive thesis by simply taking up a contrary position. Phenomenology aims to avoid taking up any positions at all. This is the definition of critique in its most ideal form. It represents an extremely radical philosophical posture and it remains a problem, or rather, a ‘crtitical issue’ in phenomenology.


The epoché is not a single procedure. The expression actually refers to a constellation of different moments of applied suspension. The principal movements are as follows:


The phenomenological reduction: is the suspension of any position-taking with regard to what is commonly taken for granted about the actuality or inactuality of that which is given in experience. Things are to be taken purely in terms of the ways in which they speak to us. The suspension (otherwise known as bracketing) is not simply objective since it also necessarily requires an abstention from belief. Rather than simply living-in the act of perception, there must be a reflective shift that subjects the course of the interrogation itself (and the presuppositions which may motivate it) to a form of malign vigilance. In other words, the phenomenologist must simultanously break with the subjective presuppositions that have a distorting effect on the speech of that which gives itself. In harmony with the objective orientation of phenomenology, there is a deep phenomenological psychology at work. This is phenomenology’s internal dialogue with itself. This is not a monologue. The two-sided reduction prevents phenomenology from degrading into a pure naturalism, on the one hand, or a form of psychologism on the other.


The actual is not negated as such. It is reduced to the category of ‘actuality-phenomenon.’ The existence of an object over and above one that is, let us say, imagined, is a question of a difference in phenomenological signature. In other words, it has to do with the style in which that which gives itself makes itself present to us – the way in which it appears. It is the task of phenomenology to describe these differences as they announce themselves in experience. Epistemologically, this means that feeling is also a kind of knowing.


The eidetic reduction: is the procedure by means of which particular forms of phenomena are reduced to their essential components – the general structures of continuity by which phenomena are meaningfully cohesive. (i.e., that which abides through variation). The Greek word eidos means essence, shape or form (Husserl’s use of this expression is not to be confused with any instance of platonism).


The eidetic reduction is a movement of imaginative variation that varies the object of interrogation only up until the moment at which it would otherwise lose its integrity. For example, the spatiality of something presupposes that it is both spatially and temporally extended. Also, the consciousness of change presupposes continuity – otherwise there would not be any way to cognize alteration. If nothing remained unaltered, how would one measure change? It is the eidos of a cup to be largely made up of empty space, otherwise it would not fulfil its function as a container of liquid. The expression eidos refers to the general structurality (in contrast to the particularity) of a given phenomenon.


The concept of essence has a formidable array of meanings in Husserl’s phenomenology. He speaks of anexact morphological essences – anexact and not inexact. Redness in its ideality is irreducible to particular instances of red, but all red things participate in redness. A ball is round, but one would not say that roundness was over there in that particular ball. Roundness is non-localizable. It only manifests itself in different instances. A circle is an exact idealization of roundness in a geometrical form that already presupposes the intuition of a more primordial anexact morphology, which organises it.


The transcendental-phenomenological epoché: is the combination of both movements of reduction. In the second half of Husserl’s career, this procedure was put to work on a genetic phenomenology, which focused on the issue of constitution, e.g., the temporalization of experience, motivation, sedimentation (structures of memory) and the conditions of the unity of a life history. This epoché leads to the unconcealment of the Lebenswelt (the world of lived experience).


These reductions represent a kind of unbuilding, which became thematic in the movements of Abbau and Aufbau: deconstruction and construction. See, in particular, the series of Husserl’s research papers edited by Ludwig Landgrebe under the title of Experience and Judgement.


In sum, to perform an epoché, does not annihilate ‘the’ world. It is the suspension of a certain metaphysical ‘thesis’ regarding the world. Worldliness remains in abundance, awaiting its phenomenological description.


Husserl writes of the epoché that "...the bracketed matter is not wiped off the phenomenological slate, but only bracketed, and thereby provided with a sign that indicates the bracketing. Taking its sign with it, the bracketed matter is reintegrated in the main theme of the inquiry" (Ideas 1. Sec.76, P.194). And earlier, in section 31, Husserl writes, "...it is still there like the bracketed in the brackets."






Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction is a radical development of this methodology. Deconstruction is a utopic or non-positional form of critique that employs a strategy known as writing under erasure (sous rature). This involves placing certain themes between parentheses and then crossing them out. This means that the bracketed matter is put out of play, in a particular sense, without being wholly erased. This is a useful graphical representation of the strategy since it shows that the bracketed themes are still visible beneath the sign that crosses them out. They remain in view while the sign indicates that a certain value has been put out of action / suspended.

Writing under erasure is a strategy in which the erasure is only partial. The [crossing-out within brackets] gives us a foreground sign that affects our relation to that which is still visible beneath the cross within parentheses. The crossed-out [or bracketed] is not annihilated, but modified in the manner of its articulation.




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General Bibliography



Saint Augustine

Confessions. Trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin. Penguin.


Cairns, Dorion

Guide for Translating Husserl. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. 1973.


Camus, Albert

The Fall. (1957). Translated from the French (La Chute) by Justin O’Brien. Published by Alfred A. Knopf.

The Myth of Sisyphus. Penguin.


Derrida, Jacques

Edmund Husserl's "Origin of Geometry": An Introduction by Jacques Derrida. Translated with a preface and afterword by John Leavey, Jr. University of Nebraska Press. 1989. Copyright 1962 by the Presses Universitaires de France.

Margins of Philosophy. Trans. Alan Bass. The Harvester Press. 1982. Marges de la Philosophie. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit. 1972.

Speech and Phenomena. Trans. David B. Allison. [Preface by Newton Garner]. Northwestern University Press. 1973. Includes the essay “Différance.” La voix et le Phénomène. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1967.


Descartes, Rene

Discourse on Method and The Meditations. Translated with an introduction by F. E. Sutcliffe. Penguin.


Evans, J. Claude

Article: "Phenomenological Deconstruction: Husserl's Method of Abbau." The British Society For Phenomenology. Vol.21. No.1. January. 1990.


Heidegger, Martin

The Basic Problems of Phenomenology. Trans. Albert Hofstadter. Indiana University Press. 1982. [Based on the lectures of 1927]. Die Grundprobleme der Phänomenologie. Edited by Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann. Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann. 1975.

Being and Time. Trans. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson (7th edition). Blackwell. 1962. Sein und Zeit Tubingen: Max Niemeyer. 1927.

Poetry, Language, Thought. Trans. Albert Hofstadter. (Copyright 1971 – Heidegger).


Hume, David

A Treatise of Human Nature. Analytical index by L.A. Selby-Bigge. Second Edition with text revised and notes by P.H. Nidditch. Oxford University Press.


Husserl, Edmund

Cartesian Meditations. Trans. Dorion Cairns. Martinus Nijhoff. 1960. [Original German text – 1929]. Husserliana I [Hua]: Cartesianische Meditationen und Parisier Vortrage. Edited by S. Strasser. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1963. 2nd ed.

The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology. Trans. David Carr. Northwestern University Press. Hua VI: Die Krisis der Europäischen Wissenschaften und die Transzendentale Phänomenologie. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1962.

Experience and Judgement: Investigations in a Genealogical Logic. Revised and edited by Ludwig Landgrebe. Trans. James S. Churchill and Karl Ameriks. Introduced by J. S. Churchill and Lothar Eley. Northwestern University Press. 1973. – Erfahrung und Urteil. Edited by Ludwig Landgrebe. Hamburg: Classen. 1938.

Husserl: Shorter Works. Edited by Peter McCormick and Frederick Elliston. Foreword by Walter Biemel. Copublished by University of Notre Dame Press and The Harvester Press.

The Idea of Phenomenology. Trans. W.P. Alston and G. Nakhnikian. Martinus Nijhoff. 1950. [lectures of 1907]. Hua II: Die Idee der Phänomenologie. Edited by Walter Biemel. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1958.

Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology. Trans. W.R. Boyce Gibson. Collier/Macmillan. [first translation 1931] Original German text – 1913. Hua III.1: Ideen zu einer reinen Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie: Erstes Buch. Edited by Karl Schuhmann. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1976. See also: Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. First Book: Trans. F. Kersten. 1982.

The Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness. Edited by Martin Heidegger. Trans. J.S. Churchill. Indiana University Press. 1964. [Lectures of 1905-1910]. See also: On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time. Translated by John Barnett Brough. Kluwer Academic Publishers. 1991. Hua X: Zur Phänomenologie des inneren Zeitbewusstseins (1893-1917). Edited by Rudolph Boehm. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1966.


Kant, Immanuel

Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. Norman Kemp Smith. 1929 Macmillan. [Original German text – 1787].


Kockelmans, Joseph [editor]

Phenomenology: The Philosophy of Husserl and its Interpretation. Doubleday & Co. Inc. [Anchor Books]. 1967.


Landgrebe, Ludwig

The Phenomenology of Edmund Husserl. Edited by Donn Welton [various translators] Cornell University Press. 1981.


Levinas, Emmanuel

The Theory of Intuition in Husserl's Phenomenology. Trans. Andre Orianne. Northwestern University Press. 1973. [First published in France – 1963].


Merleau-Ponty, Maurice

Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. Colin Smith. R.K.P. 1962.

The Primacy of Perception. Edited, with an Introduction by James M. Edie. Northwestern University Press. 1964.


Mohanty, J.N.

Edmund Husserl's Theory of Meaning. Martinus Nijhoff. 1969.


Murphy, Richard T.

Hume and Husserl: Towards a Radical Subjectivism. Martinus/Nijhoff. 1980.


Ricoeur, Paul

Husserl: An Analysis of his Phenomenology. Trans. E.G. Ballard and L.E. Embree. Northwestern University Press. 1967.


Sartre, Jean-Paul

Being and Nothingness. Trans. Hazel E. Barnes. Methuen. 1958. [Original French text 1943].

Existentialism and Humanism. London: Methuen, [1965].

Nausea. Trans. Robert Baldick. Penguin. [Originally published in 1938].

Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions. Trans. by Philip Mairet. Preface by Mary Warnock. Methuen. 1962.

The Transcendence of the Ego. Trans. Forrest Williams and Robert Kirkpatrick. Octagon. 1972. [Original French text, 1936-7].


Sokolowski, Robert

Husserlian Meditations. Northwestern University Press. 1974.


Wood, David

The Deconstruction of Time. Humanities Press. 1989.

Derrida: A Critical Reader. Edited by David Wood. Blackwell. 1992.

"Différance and the Problem of Strategy." [from Derrida and Différance.] Parousia Press. Edited by David Wood and Robert Bernasconi.1985.

Philosophy at the Limit. Unwin/Hyman.1990.