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Phenomenology
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Author:  Norwegianblue [ Tue Jul 14, 2020 9:45 am ]
Post subject:  Phenomenology

I don't really understand phenomenology. I understand it has different branches, so to speak, so I'm wondering in particular about the phenomenological method of Edith Stein, and also how this was similar to or differed from that of St. John Paul II.

Could anyone explain it to me in simple terms.

Author:  theJack [ Tue Jul 14, 2020 11:04 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Phenomenology

There's a pretty big distinction between modern phenomenology and that of Husserl, Scheler, Stein, and JPII. I can't speak well enough of the latter three to offer any meaningful insight into how their thoughts worked out with respect to phenomenology.

With respect to Husserl, in some ways, he was responding to the crisis in epistemology and metaphysics more generally that had been created by the Cartesian revolution. Put simply, Descartes really established in the minds of philosophers and scientists that "real philosophy" had to start with the question, "What do I know and how do I know that I know it?" What happened (and what must happen with that sort of project) is you end up with hyper-subjectivist and hyper-objectivist philosophy. In the case of the former, you can never get outside of your own mind, so there's some sense in which you can't know anything about the real world at all. This leads to hard skepticism. To take a simple example, suppose you observe a tree. On this view, how do you know what you're looking at is really a tree or that it is even there at all? All you have in sense-impressions that your mind constructs into a picture that you call "a tree." But you've no way to get "outside" of your mind to compare that picture to "the real thing" (whatever that is). Lots of implications and ways to take that, but the point is that it ends up hyper-subjective. Everything is about the "I".

On the other extreme is the hyper-objectivist approach. Take the same problem but now ask, how do you even know that there is an "I"? What is this "I" that is even speaking or thinking? What really needs to happen, on this view, is that everything needs a firm, objective description. This is the scientific method. Here, the mind is reducible to brain states (to take one example of how this might work out). There's no such thing as free will because all of this is just a giant machine working out -- atoms and molecules bumping into each other according to the laws of physics and so on. But it turns out you can't describe the "I" in objective terms. It has to be described in first person, subjective terms. So it's just left out of the equation entirely.

Husserl wanted to get away from this entire debate, so he came up with this idea he called phenomenology. In a sense, he wanted to get back to Aristotle's common sense realism. His "big idea" was to "bracket" (his word) all of those assumptions and question and senses -- all that philosophical stuff -- that came along with a sense experience. He just wanted to deal with the experience itself and treat it as real because, well . . . it's as real to us as anything can be! In other words, he wanted to just treat the phenomena themselves. He then just wanted to describe those phenomena as deeply and fully as possible and see what came out of it. To go back to our first person-third person problem (or the subjective-objective problem), rather that starting with the subjective approach OR starting with the objective approach, he took the whole thing as a single experience. You could visualize it something like this:

Subject - Object

Where the "-" means something like "perceives" or "knows" or "observes" or whatever. He realized that any and all such statements include BOTH a subject and an object. In fact, take it further, you simply cannot conceive of perceiving something without necessarily presuming both a perceiver and something perceived. To be conscious, he said, is to be conscious of something, even if what you are conscious of is merely your own consciousness. So he thinks Descartes' error (along with the subjectivists) is to think they can just deal with the subject side, and the reverse error with the objectivists. He is concerned with the dash, so to speak.

So, then, everything that is known is known by a knower, is perceived by a knower. It's just inconceivable (literally) to abstract the knower from the known (like trying to conceive of "nothing"). The task of the phenomenologist, then, is descriptive. It is to probe not merely an objective description (such is both impossible and meaningless) but a full-fledged, incarnated description of our experience of some phenomenon. That experience is what something "means."

That's the basics. It's been bastardized in modern times by just reducing phenomenology to another form of hyper-subjectivism, just insisting that my experience of reality is all that is real. We're just back to the "I" at the exclusion of all else (and, perversely, this approach is often taken by materialist philosophers who even deny that a real, substantial "I" exists -- ugh, the self-contradictions!). That's where things like social constructionism come from. But that's just an abuse of the system.

The most I'll say about the other thinkers is that, I think, Max Scheler was very interested in the phenomenology of love. He wanted, I believe, a deep description, to understand the full meaning, of love, in this Husserlian sense. He finds this (again, I THINK -- I'm very much not an expert on Scheler), love I mean, to be at the center of everything, so to understand love is, in some sense, to understand the essence of everything. I have no idea about Stein, but I am under the impression that JPII was highly influenced by, or at least very impressed with, Scheler's work on the phenomenology of love and worked it into his philosophy.

Now, I have no idea if this counts as simple terms. I don't think I can do any better because my own studies on the subject got interrupted before I was able to take it very far. There are a few great playlists, though, on Husserl YouTube you might find helpful. And his actual works are in the public domain now and really are worth reading if you have the time.

Author:  Peetem [ Wed Jul 15, 2020 9:35 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Phenomenology

Two thoughts:

1) Excellent explanation. Really appreciate the insights.
2) Great to hear from you again [The]Jack. Always enjoy your thoughts.....and yes, i still owe a response from posts we engaged in some time long ago....I haven’t forgotten. :D

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