Phenomenology (from the Greek: φαινόμενον (phainómenon), “what appears”; and λόγος (lógos), “study”) is a current of thought of the twentieth century founded by Edmund Husserl with the aim of making philosophy a scientific discipline. It takes its name from its approach, which is to apprehend reality as it is given, through phenomena. It makes of philosophy the systematic study and analysis of lived experience, of the contents of consciousness and of the structures of the facts of consciousness as themselves of the phenomena of thought which thinks itself and thinks the world.
It is in his first major work, Logical Investigations (1900-1901), that Husserl, breaking with psychologism and in opposition to metaphysics, founds phenomenology as a science intended to give a foundation to the natural sciences, that he considers insufficient to “elucidate the relationship of man to the world”.
Phenomenology as we know it today spreads within a circle of disciples in the universities of Göttingen and Munich in Germany (Edith Stein, Roman Ingarden, Martin Heidegger, Eugen Fink, Max Scheler, Nicolai Hartmann) , and spread rapidly abroad, in particular in France (thanks to the translations and works of Paul Ricœur, Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty) and in the United States (Alfred Schütz and Eric Voegelin), often with a very large critical distance from Husserl’s early work, but without ever abandoning his fundamental desire to stick to lived experience.
There is no reason to be surprised at the great variety of formulations of this current of thought, which comes from its very nature seeking to express the specific aspects of each of its fields of study. Phenomenology is one of the main traditions of 20th century European philosophy. It has also inspired many works outside its own philosophical field such as the philosophy of science, psychiatry, aesthetics, morals, the theory of history, existential anthropology.
Phenomenology before Husserl
The invention of the term “phenomenology” is generally attributed to Jean-Henri Lambert (1728-1777), who thus denominates in the fourth part of his Nouvel Organon (1764) the “doctrine of appearance”.
A section of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason was to be called Phenomenology; but Kant finally replaced this name by that of Transcendent Aesthetics. Kant operates there the separation between the “thing in itself” and the phenomenon (what is shown), the latter being given in the transcendental framework of space, time and causality. Kant’s thesis is that there is only an a priori framework in which objects can “challenge” us and which allows their representation. This framework, which is nothing other than the structure of our knowledge, will open up the possibility of universal knowledge.
Phenomenology is a central concept in Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s philosophy. It designates the part of the doctrine of science which develops the phenomenalization (appearance, exteriorization) of the foundation and the principle of knowledge. There can be absolute knowledge (which is not knowledge of an object but of what makes knowledge effectively knowledge) except phenomenalized. Also, from the Doctrine of Science of 1804, he opposed the doctrine of phenomenon or phenomenology to the doctrine of being and truth. At the end of his life, Fichte even identifies phenomenology with the doctrine of science, because, without it, “absolute knowledge” would have no existence.
From the Kantian theses, Hegel deduces that with the phenomenon, consciousness discovers the structure of its own knowledge, thus rising to self-consciousness. In The Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel traces the course of this consciousness in the history of its manifestations, of its figures, which are so many experiences of the self in its drive towards science.
If for Arthur Schopenhauer, the world is our representation (that is to say that to be and to be a representation, for the subject, it is all one), it is always for him a question of looking deeper than this first evidence: how to know what the world can be in its being in itself? For him, it is a question of seeking the essence of the phenomenon from a preliminary descriptive study of the phenomenal given and in particular, of the way in which my own body is given to me as “will”.
Overview of phenomenology
With Edmund Husserl, phenomenology has the ambition to constitute itself in science, and it equips itself with a problematic, an object or field, and a method. Again, Hegel, in The Phenomenology of Spirit, gives the term phenomenology the meaning of method, which ends with Husserl by designating the whole of philosophy itself with the slogan: “to return to things themselves”.
The history of the concept of phenomenology shows that, since Jean-Henri Lambert, phenomenology has continued to evolve. It is therefore the context that will determine whether we speak of phenomenology in the Fichtean, Hegelian or Husserlian sense, even if in general, the term phenomenology, taken in isolation, designates the philosophy and the method of Husserl or of his heirs.
Understood until him as the science of “appearing”, phenomenology becomes, in Heidegger, the science of what precisely does not appear at first sight or, as Françoise Dastur writes, citing Heidegger, a “phenomenology of ‘inapparent’.
In the phenomenon of appearing, “post-Husserlian” phenomenology problematizes the “constitution of meaning” of what is presented to consciousness; this requires an attitude which is never satisfied with definitive solutions. Thus, Jean-François Courtine specifies that “phenomenology does not characterize the “Was” (what it is), but the “Wie” of objects, the how of research, the modality of their “being-given”, the way they come to meet them”. Such research requires everyone to redo for their own account the phenomenological experience of the one who previously made it, notes Alexander Schnell. Phenomenology is constituted in opposition to “neokantism”; it “consists in describing phenomena without bias, by methodically renouncing their physiological-psychological origin or their reduction to preconceived principles”, sums up Hans-Georg Gadamer.
The word “phenomenon” means etymologically “that which shows itself”, and it retains, since its Greek origin, an ambiguous meaning coming from what it holds both from the object and from the subject. It is difficult to distinguish what belongs to the object from what belongs to the subject’s own interpretation (knowledge, illusion, error). This dependence, vis-à-vis the subject could make it difficult, even impossible, the constitution of a science, starting from an experiment, from where the Greek concern, in particular with Plato and Aristotle, to “save the phenomena” .
Modern phenomenology, dominated by the thoughts of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, aims to go “straight to the thing itself”.
Husserl expressly repeats it, phenomenology aims to get rid of any preliminary theory, of any preconception and is concerned exclusively with giving right to the thing itself, because seeing it cannot be demonstrated or deduced, by taking scrupulously to the way in which the thing is given according to the principle “Zu den Sachen selbst“. In this precise sense, listening to the phenomenon requires phenomenological reduction.
“Only through a reduction […] do I attain an absolute datum which no longer presents anything transcendent. Even if I should put in question the ego and the world and the ego’s mental life as such, still my simply “seeing” reflection on what is given in the apperception of the relevant relevant mental process and on my ego, yield the phenomenon of this apperception… while I am perceiving, direct towards this perception the gaze of pure sight […] leave the relation to the ego aside or to disregard it… Then the perception which is thereby grasped in “seeing” is an absolute given, pure phenomenon in the phenomenological sense, renouncing anything transcendent.”
writes Husserl in The Idea of Phenomenology.
By taking up the term “phenomenology” again, Heidegger could immediately appear to be part of the extension of the thought of his master Husserl, except that he eliminates an essential part of it, by rejecting all that succeeded what he called Husserl’s “non-phenomenological turn”, that is to say, his penchant for a scientific methodology, which he discerned from the Ideen, and in particular the institution of the “transcendent subject”. Moreover, Martin Heidegger was able paradoxically to advance that the imperative Zu den Sachen selbst (to go straight to the thing itself) is precisely not the thing but “what is in question” whenever we’re in touch with anything. For Heidegger, what phenomenology must ultimately show is precisely not being but its “being”, “but this one, at first glance, does not show itself, even if it is always pre-understood in a certain way,” notes Christian Dubois.
If being is the phenomenon par excellence […] then phenomenology should show it […] as it shows itself from itself, that is to say not to seek to extract it from its concealment, but show it in this very concealment.
Heidegger thus ambitions, contrary to the contested evolutions of his predecessor, to recapture “phenomenology” in its pure possibility before this turning point. Heidegger does not want to go beyond but to create a new tendency, the phenomenological ontology implemented in Sein und Zeit; he proposes to think more originally about what phenomenology is, that is to say to take the full measure of its importance or its meaning, even if that meant giving up the title of phenomenology.
However, the two thinkers agree that the “phenomenon” has a phenomenological meaning different from its so-called “vulgar” meaning, not being immediately given, only shows itself in an express thematization which is the work of phenomenology itself.
Heidegger realizes that the “phenomenon” needs the “Logos” in order to show itself, which he understands, returning to the Greek source, less as a discourse on the thing, than a “show”. Heidegger deduces from this his own theoretical position, namely that the adjoining of the two words, phenomenon and logos, in that of “phenomenology” must mean that which shows itself on the basis of itself.
Basically, Heidegger differs from his master Husserl, in that he is less interested in man’s relation to the world than in “pre-opening”, in other words in the “dimension” which makes possible the encounter with what he calls “being at hand”; in short, to the ontological weight of “close to ..” of “being-in-the-world”, preoccupied Paul Ricoeur would say.
A phenomenological experience: the work of art
In the spirit of “returning to things themselves”, taking art and the experience that we have of it as objects of study will show what makes it so special.
For Heidegger, the work of art is a power which opens and “installs a world”. The artist does not have a clear conscience of what he wants to do, only the “everything will do the work”. The work of art is not a tool, it is not a simple representation but the manifestation of the deep truth of a thing: “thus of the Greek temple which sets up a world and reveals a land, the material that constitutes it, a place where it imposes itself (the hill for the temple), and the secret foundation, veiled and forgotten by everything ”.
Poetry also will appear as the saying of the unraveling of being from being. The poem, is conceived as a “call”, call to what is distant to come in the nearness. By naming them the “poetic word” (Dichtung) brings things to the fore, as in these two simple lines which introduce Georg Trakl’s “winter evening” poem:
When snow falls against the window,
Long sounds the evening bell…
If we follow Levinas, there would be no properly phenomenological method, but only gestures which reveal a family resemblance of methods of approach among all phenomenologists. “Phenomenology” has no doctrinal content to offer, emphasizes François Doyon, it is “a science that never ceases to be born and to be reborn in different forms”, of something that does not end. it is not even a method in the scientific sense, only a “progression”, a mode of access to the “thing”; it is this mode of access that Martin Heidegger will be led to justify in a long paragraph (§7) of Being and Time by basing itself on the initial Greek meaning of this word, once it has been broken down into its two elements. originating, namely, “phenomenon” and “logos” (§ 7 Being and Time).
The philosopher Wormser writes that “the distinctive method (of phenomenology) is the“ eidetic description ”, which aims to explain the essence of a phenomenon from the series of variations of which its apprehension is susceptible”. By “reduction” the phenomenologist will seek to isolate an invariant nucleus which makes it possible “to account for the phenomena as they present themselves in their essential necessity”. Levinas thus identifies some characteristics of the phenomenological gesture:
- the primordial place given to sensitivity and intuition. “Phenomenology describes the modes of access of consciousness to meaning, as Husserl specifies, by exploring the structures of objectifying intuition (noesis) and its correlate (noematic) as it is actually included in the intuition within which it relates ”.
- the disappearance of the concept, of the theoretical object, of the evidence, of the ideally perfect phenomenon, in favor of an attention paid to the imperfection of lived experience, of the surplus and the surplus that the theoretical lets escape, which will become constitutive of the truth of the phenomenon (thus of memory, always modified by the present to which it returns, therefore absence of absolute memory to which to refer, the preference granted with Kierkegaard, to the God who hides himself, who is the true God of revelation ). What until now seemed a failure, an imperfection of the thing (the haze of memory), by a radical reversal of the gaze, becomes a mode of its completion, its intrinsic truth.
- the phenomenological reduction which authorizes the suspension of the natural approach and the fight against abstraction.
In The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, Heidegger, completes this approach by distinguishing three constitutive elements of the phenomenological “method”: reduction, construction and “destruction”, the latter element constituting both the base and the apogee of his phenomenological method.
The phenomenological reduction
The phenomenological reduction or epochè in Greek (ἐποχή / epokhế) consists for Husserl to radically suspend the natural approach to the world, posited as an object, reduction to which is added an uncompromising struggle against all the abstractions that the natural perception of the object presupposes. The discovery of the “phenomenological reduction” therefore has the meaning of going beyond Cartesianism which is limited to combating doubt and requires divine guarantee for its overall cohesion.
But if for Husserl the “epoché”, ἐποχή, or put in parentheses of the objective world, constituted the essential of the phenomenological reduction, it was not the same for Heidegger according to whom the “World” having, by construction, no objective character, this type of reduction was unnecessary.
Moreover, for Heidegger, phenomenology is only valid as an instrument insofar as its own presuppositions are taken into account in the description itself. Compared to his master Husserl, we note a certain number of decisive developments such as the search for the so-called “original” domain, located in the concrete experience of life, through a process of “destruction” and clarification, which will allow a hermeneutics of facticity to develop.
On the other hand, according to Alexander Schnell, we can consider that we have with the Heideggerian definition of phenomenology, as a renewal of the gaze of being to the understanding of its being, something which is in itself an act of “phenomenological reduction” . With Heidegger, the “phenomenological inquiry” should not so much bear on the experiences of consciousness, as Husserl believed, but on the being for whom one can speak of such experiences, and who is thereby capable of phenomenalization, namely the Dasein, that is to say, the existing. Christoph Jamme writes: “Phenomenology must be developed as a self-interpretation of factive life […]. Heidegger here defines phenomenology as a science originating from life in itself ”.
In fact, the “phenomenological reduction” will play, in Being and Time, an essential role in the analysis of Dasein, in particular in the analysis of the everyday and the updating of the existential structures of Dasein, by requiring a more “authentic” resolutely gaze. The reduction in Being and Time, concludes François Doyon, “appears as a journey of progressive detachment towards the blindness of the everyday life of the surrounding world in order to expose oneself resolutely to the radical finitude of one’s being”.
The phenomenological construction
It is to the operation of induction of “being”, which never appears spontaneously, from being that Heidegger gave the name of “phenomenological construction”, it is a task, a project, that it is up to Dasein to realize knowing “that there is only being if there is an understanding of being, that is to say if Dasein exists”. For Heidegger, the existential interpretation of Dasein, as concern, in Being and Time, is an ontological construction which has a ground and an elementary pre-sketch.
The phenomenological destruction
The “reductive construction of being”, as a conceptual interpretation of being and its structures, therefore necessarily implies a “phenomenological destruction”, that is to say a “de-construction” or critical dismantling. preliminary concepts bequeathed by the philosophical tradition. Sophie-Jan Arrien notes that Heidegger very quickly abandons the Husserlian phenomenological reduction in favor of a methodology of “deconstruction” “which far from being a parenthesis of the factional character of the phenomena in play (the self, the history, the faith), rather consists in starting from a critical explanation of these concepts, in a journey through life such that it is phenomenalized and given facticially”.
“Phenomenological destruction” sets itself the task of dismantling the theoretical, philosophical or theological constructions which cover our experience of factional life and which we must bring out. The essential task will be to draw closer, for example, to the original Aristotle, by turning away from the medieval scholasticism that covers him. Likewise, the destruction of the presuppositions of aesthetic science, which will “allow access to the work of art to consider it in itself”, is linked to the destruction of the history of ontology. It is above all in his work on Aristotle that Heidegger was able to clarify his own conception of phenomenology. Philippe Arjakovsky speaks of “the work of“ anabasis ”that Heidegger carried out to identify the foundations, both ontological and existential, of Aristotelian logic […]” thus appeared in full light, the original concept of “phenomenon” as it was understood by the Greeks, that is to say, as “that which shows itself”.
But as for Heidegger “things themselves” are precisely not given in an immediate intuition, he separates on this occasion definitively from Husserl, in order to engage resolutely in the “hermeneutic circle”.
Another exercise in deconstruction, the dismantling of the theological tradition with which he will try, drawing inspiration from Luther and Paul, to find the primary truth of the Gospel message, which he considers obscured and veiled in the “Scholasticism” inspired by Aristotle.
The status of phenomenology
In its desire to grasp the meaning of the world by eliminating all prejudices as well as by renouncing to situate itself in a predetermined or preformed world, “phenomenology does not join a rationality already given, it establishes it by an initiative which has not guarantee in being and whose right rests entirely on the effective power that it gives us to assume our history […] phenomenology as revelation of the world rests on itself, is founded on itself. Because it cannot be based like other knowledge on a ground of acquired presuppositions. The result is an infinite doubling of itself. […] It will therefore redouble itself indefinitely, it will be, as Husserl says, an infinite dialogue or meditation, and insofar as it remains faithful to its intention, it will not know never where she goes” writes Bernhard Waldenfels in his contribution.