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modern school of philosophy founded by Edmund HusserlHusserl, Edmund
, 1859–1938, German philosopher, founder of the phenomenological movement (see phenomenology). He was professor at Göttingen and Freiburg and was greatly influenced by Franz Brentano.
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. Its influence extended throughout Europe and was particularly important to the early development of existentialism. Husserl attempted to develop a universal philosophic method, devoid of presuppositions, by focusing purely on phenomena and describing them; anything that could not be seen, and thus was not immediately given to the consciousness, was excluded. The concern was with what is known, not how it is known. The phenomenological method is thus neither the deductive method of logic nor the empirical method of the natural sciences; instead it consists in realizing the presence of an object and elucidating its meaning through intuition. Husserl considered the object of the phenomenological method to be the immediate seizure, in an act of vision, of the ideal intelligible content of the phenomenon. Notable members of the school have been Roman Ingarden, Max Scheler, Emmanuel Levinas, and Marvin Farber.


See E. Husserl, Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology (tr. 1931, repr. 1989) and Cartesian Meditations (tr. 1960, repr. 1970); M. Farber, The Foundation of Phenomenology (1943, repr. 1967); R. Zanes, Way of Phenomenology (1970); M. A. Natanson, ed., Phenomenology and the Social Sciences (2 vol., 1973); H. Spiegelberg, The Phenomenological Movement (1981); R. Grossman, Phenomenology and Existentialism (1984).


  1. ‘the descriptive study of experiences’ – a ‘phenomenon’ being any ‘thing’ perceived by our senses. For example, the term was used by HEGEL in his Phenomenology of Mind, 1807; compare also KANT.
  2. more recently, a philosophical approach particularly associated with Edmund HUSSERL in which philosophy is seen to rest fundamentally on the introspective examination of one's own intellectual processes in the experiencing of phenomena. A central doctrine of phenomenologists is that of the INTENTIONALITY of perception -we cannot simply be conscious, but must be conscious of something. In Husserl's a priori rather than empirical method, all incidental aspects of the mental processes under inspection (all that which is not directly presented to the individual consciousness, e.g. extraneous conceptions) are ‘bracketed’ (literally held in parentheses) to permit the systematic scrutiny of logical essences‘. Thus, ‘phenomenological reduction’ is aimed at revealing the a priori essences of thought divested of the inconsistencies of perception.

    Albeit with considerable variations in focus, phenomenology has exerted a major influence in sociology and in social analysis. Other philosophers and sociologists to adopt phenomenological methods include the EXISTENTIALIST philosopher Martin HEIDEGGER, existentialist Marxists (e.g. SARTRE and MERLEAU-PONTY), and Alfred SCHUTZ. The latter's SOCIAL PHENOMENOLOGY involves a critical appropriation of Husserl's approach, but an application of this to the study of the assumptions involved in, and the constitution of, everyday social knowledge -a focus on the LIFE-WORLD ‘bracketed’ in Husserl's original method. Applications of a phenomenological approach are also seen in the radical psychiatry’ of LAING and Cooper. See also ETHNOMETHODOLOGY.

  3. The term also continues in wider use to refer to any investigation of how things are experienced, e.g. the experience of works of art or architecture. Compare PHENOMENALISM.



originally a philosophical discipline and later an idealist trend in philosophy that sought to free philosophical thinking of certain naturalistic attitudes, with their sharp differentiation of subject and object; to reach the sphere of philosophical analysis proper—namely, reflection, or awareness of one’s own actions and of their content; and to disclose the ultimate nature and fundamental source of knowledge, of man’s being, and of human culture. While phenomenology served as an introduction to logic and metaphysics in classical philosophy, in contemporary bourgeois philosophy it serves as a means to analyze pure consciousness and the a priori structures that are immanent in man’s being.

The content and aim of phenomenology have been variously interpreted in the history of philosophy. J. H. Lambert, who first proposed the term “phenomenology,” saw it as the science of phenomena, providing the basis and the premise of empirical knowledge and dealing with the illusory nature of sensory experience. This point of view was one that I. Kant came close to in his precritical period, when he regarded phenomenology as an introductory discipline guarding metaphysics against the limitations and incompleteness of sensory knowledge. In his critical period, Kant advanced the possibility of a critical science that would analyze the value and limits of sensory experience—an idea that evolved into his critique of pure reason. Counterposing the world of phenomena to “things-in-themselves,” Kant argued that the intellect cannot go beyond the world of phenomena, or the objects of empirical knowledge. This theme in Kant’s philosophy subsequently led to phenomenalism, whereas the theme that was linked to the analysis of a priori forms of contemplative thought and the synthesis of categories was fully elaborated in phenomenology.

The next stage in the evolution of phenomenology is associated with the philosophy of G. Hegel, who viewed it as the science of knowledge, or the study of cognition in its historical forms as they evolve toward absolute knowledge. According to Hegel, phenomenology reveals the different stages in the development of the spirit, providing a “detailed history of the development of consciousness itself to the level of a science” (Fenomenologiia dukha, in Soch., Moscow, 1959, vol. 4, p. 44).

A major trend in the bourgeois philosophy of the late 19th century was based on the assertion that the sole function of scientific knowledge is to describe phenomena and that nonobservable essences cannot be scientifically known. Also related to this school of thought was the notion of phenomenology as descriptive psychology, in contrast to explanatory psychology. Such writers as F. Brentano, K. Stumpf, and A. von Meinong proposed methodological techniques for describing and classifying psychic phenomena—for example, the interpretation of consciousness as a stream of experiences or as intentionality (in the sense of orientation toward “the other”), the correlation, or relatedness, of objects to various acts of consciousness, and the assertion of the self-evident nature of inner experience.

The emergence of phenomenology as a distinct idealist trend in early 20th-century Western philosophy is associated with the name of E. Husserl. It arose in opposition, on the one hand, to the psychologism of such theories of knowledge as those of T. Lipps and C. Sigwart, which identified cognition with the individual’s sensory experience, and, on the other, to the “historicism” of W. Dilthey, for whom philosophy was the description of various historical world views. The starting point of phenomenology was the study of the nonempirical and nonhistorical structures of consciousness—structures that ensure the actual functioning of consciousness and that correspond to the ideal meanings expressed in language and in psychological experiences. For Husserl, phenomenology was a means to clarify the semantic fields of consciousness and to examine those invariant properties that make perception of an object and other forms of cognition possible.

Phenomenology is based on a certain interpretation—namely, that the phenomenon is not the manifestation of “something else,” such as essence, but rather that which reveals itself as an object directly presented to consciousness. Thus Husserl views phenomenology as the intuitive examination of ideal essences, or phenomena, that has immediate validity, contending that the experience of truth is self-evident and the contemplation of phenomena self-validating. He distinguishes several layers in the phenomenon: the outer linguistic garment, the variety of psychological states, the object as conceived in consciousness, and the meaning, or invariant structure and content of linguistic expressions. Phenomenology addresses itself to the last two layers, which constitute the intentional structure of consciousness. Intentionality—the fundamental property of consciousness—is understood as the fusion of consciousness with its objective content. Objective reality is regarded by Husserl not as something given to man from without but as something that is already built into pure consciousness in the form of certain basic orientations, or intentions, toward the object.

In phenomenology, objective reality is immanent and inherent in consciousness; it acquires its objective meaning only in reference to consciousness. For Husserl, consciousness and objective reality are correlative. Consciousness is viewed as a dual unity that includes the act of cognition (noesis) as well as the objective content (noema), which essentially coincides with ideal meaning.

As interpreted by Husserl, phenomenology is a science that deals with the perception of essence; it is a philosophical “archaeology,” seeking to discover the a priori elements of consciousness; its goal is to reveal the object’s meaning, which is obscured by various contradictory opinions, words, and value judgments. The phenomenologists’ orientation toward “things themselves” is related to their rejection of the naturalists’ approach, in which reality is counterposed to consciousness. According to Husserl this approach, which is inherent in common sense, science, and early philosophy, gave rise to the view that knowledge is the reflection of the real world as perceived by the senses—a view that led to the domination of the positivist-naturalist school of thought and the resulting crisis in European science.

Husserl’s critique of “natural” positivism is to a certain extent consistent with the Marxist critique of naturalistic fetishism and metaphysical contemplative materialism, in which consciousness is accepted “quite naturalistically, as something given, something opposed from the outset to being, to nature” (F. Engels, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 20, p. 34). However, Husserl’s critique is hostile toward all forms of materialism and conceptions of consciousness as historical phenomenon. Rejecting the historical approach to consciousness, Husserl incorrectly interprets it as reflecting relativism and skepticism.

In Husserl’s view, phenomenology deals with the organization of consciousness as such and with the suprahistorical and a priori elements of pure consciousness—namely, the preconditions of empirical and theoretical knowledge. The object of phenomenology is the realm of pure truths and a priori meanings, both actual and potential, whether realized in language or present only in thought. Phenomenology is defined by Husserl as “the first philosophy,” or the science of the pure principles of consciousness and knowledge; it provides a universal methodology that can reveal the a priori conditions for the conceivability of objects as well as the pure structures of consciousness, regardless of their application. Cognition is identified with the flow of consciousness, which has its internal organization and unity but is relatively independent of specific mental acts, of the cognizing subject, and of the subject’s activity. Ideal essences, according to Husserl, do not exist in the same sense as the world of Platonic ideas lying beyond linguistic expressions and mental experiences; they simply “have meaning.”

The phenomenological point of view makes use of the reductionist method, which includes two types of reduction: (1) eidetic reduction, which denies all assertions about the objective existence of reality as an organized system in space and time and abstains from any judgments about actual being and consciousness (epoche), and (2) transcendental reduction, which excludes all anthropological or psychological interpretations of consciousness and, instead, analyzes consciousness as the pure contemplation of essences. The subject of knowledge, then, is seen as being not an empirical but a transcendental subject—that is, the world of universally meaningful truths that transcends and imparts meaning to empirical and psychological consciousness.

Husserl’s essence, or eidos, is an invariant entity made up of various linguistic statements and experiences and identifiable with ideal meaning; such identification pertains not only to the meanings of objects that are actually conceived in thought but also to the category of possible objects, or potentially conceivable meanings. The immediate perception of the characteristic unity of linguistic expressions in their objective, ideal, and identical essence (the ideational method) entails a specific interpretation of phenomenology—namely, phenomenology as the science of pure possibilities, which are seen as preexisting elements built into pure consciousness by intentional design. Science, according to Husserl, must be based on a method that can shed light on the delimiting elements of pure consciousness, revealing the realm of pure meanings as well as the objective and ideal laws rooted in such meanings.

Husserl’s view of phenomenology underwent a series of modifications. In the initial stage (Logical Investigations, vols. 1–2, 1900–01) his critique of psychologism led to the definition of phenomenology as the scientific study, or rigorous science, of the universal a priori structures of scientific knowledge. Husserl’s analysis of these structures leads to his concept of transcendental phenomenology (The Ideas of Pure Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy, vol. 1, 1913; vols. 2–3, published 1950–52), which brings him close to Kantianism. The interpretation of truth as that which is self-evident is related to Husserl’s interest in the Cartesian point of view (Cartesian Meditations and The Paris Lectures, both 1931), from which he proceeds to construct a variant of the theory of “pure self”—the “ego theory.” This was the period during which Husserl assigned to phenomenology the task of analyzing the structures of pure consciousness. In the works of his final period, however, he largely abandoned his narrowly logical initial conception of the essence of intentional consciousness, shifting to the view that theoretical consciousness is rooted in the “life world” (Lebenswelt, or the world in which we live)—rooted, as it were, in a universal field of prereflective structures, which provide the necessary atmosphere and subsoil for both theoretical and practical activity (The Crisis of European Science and Transcendental Phenomenology, published 1954). This last theme, in fact, reached its fullest development in existential phenomenology. It was the application of the phenomenological method to existentialism that helped reveal such a priori elements of human existence as fear and anxiety (for example, in the works of M. Heidegger, J.-P. Sartre, K. Jaspers, and M. Merleau-Ponty).

Attempts were made to apply phenomenological methods in various other disciplines—for example, by M. Scheler in ethics, R. Ingarden in aesthetics, H. Conrad-Martius in law, L. Binswanger in psychiatry, T. Litt in pedagogical science, and M. Natanson, A. Schutz, and A. Vierkandt in sociology; as a school of thought, however, phenomenology came to an end in the mid-20th century, and its proponents merely retained certain techniques used in the phenomenological study of consciousness.

K. Marx regarded Hegel’s phenomenology of the spirit as the source and inner core of speculative philosophy. While he identified the rational kernel in Hegelian phenomenology—namely, the application of the principle of activity to the theory of knowledge—Marx revealed its essential inadequacy, represented by its reduction of activity to abstract spiritual acts and the reduction of man to consciousness of the self (see K. Marx and F. Engels, Iz rannikh proizvedenii, 1956, p. 637). Phenomenology in its modern form, as represented by Husserl, may be said to constitute the source and inner core of modern irrationalism—a major trend in 20th-century bourgeois philosophy.

Marxism exposes the bankruptcy of the basic principles and tenets of phenomenology and its subjectivism, scholasticism, and rejection of the methodology of the natural sciences; at the same time, however, Marxists acknowledge such rational aspects of phenomenology as its sharp criticism of scientism and positivism, its recognition of the crisis in Western European culture, and its elaboration of the complex issues involved in the analysis of consciousness. The Marxist evaluation of phenomenology has nothing in common with the nihilistic rejection of the epistemological significance of the problems posed by phenomenology, or with the uncritical adoption of phenomenological concepts advocated by such revisionists as R. Garaudy.


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