Friday, June 28, 2013

The Phenomenological Method in a Nutshell (Part One)

The following is the first installment of a short series I am working on for introductory philosophy students on the phenomenological method, as described by Adolf Reinach. For anyone taking a look at this topic for the first time, I hope that my work is clear and understandable for you. For anyone who knows this material well, please let me know if I should clarify any of the ideas I discuss herein.

Adolf Reinach’s Concerning Phenomenology lays out the phenomenological method used by many of Edmund Husserl’s early disciples. The phenomenological method, as Reinach explains it, is one that allows a subject to identify objects in the world which trigger an intuition into essences. The best way to see how the method works is to use it, so in this paper I use Reinach’s explanation of the phenomenological method to examine three different concepts: intentionality, value, and perception. Here I wish to demonstrate that the phenomenological method, as defined by Reinach, is a greatly effective way to approach these issues philosophically.

Before I describe the phenomenological method, I must first define what Reinach and I mean by “object.” For the purposes of this essay, every time I speak of objects I am referring to what one can call objects of perception; this distinction is important since in common language we typically only call physical objects, “objects.” When using the phenomenological method, the term “object” refers to all objects of perception, whether physical objects (a tree, a ball, a sneaker, etc.) or immaterial objects or ideas, what I would call concepts (justice, love, imagination, etc.). Furthermore, objects of perception become objects in this sense only when we perceive them. The computer on which I am typing right now is an object of my perception since I am perceiving it and writing about it at this exact moment. The very moment in which I no longer perceive the computer, it ceases to be an object of my perception; the computer remains an object in the common sense of it being a physical object or entity, but it is no longer an object in the sense of “object” that I use in this essay.  

Reinach defines the phenomenological method as a “way of seeing” and an “attitude.” The method is not a strict set of doctrines and theories that one dogmatically applies to an action; rather, the method allows each practitioner the freedom to speak about objects as they present themselves, and not be restricted to a prior theory. Instead of providing a strict definition of the phenomenological method, Reinach gives examples of how one uses the method; these examples are a far better definition of this relational attitude than any reportive definition found in a dictionary could be. He speaks of how there is a natural distance between us and objects in the world, so that it seems at times to be impossible to bridge the divide. Nevertheless, Reinach wants us to see that by using the phenomenological method, we can understand these objects, and many more, in a way that would be impossible using any other methodology. One of the first aspects one must acknowledge, however, is that once a particular subject has a particular intuition about the essence of x, that subject can have many different intuitions about x as can any other subject. There can be any number of intuitions that one gleans from a particular object. Now, it must be said that there is no recourse to philosophical intuitionism here, since no one, especially neither Reinach nor Husserl would claim that the myriad of intutions one can have about a particular object necessitate that the intuitions are all true. Especially since Husserl himself wrote quite vociferously about the dangers of psychologism and intuitionism in his works. 

The ability to apprehend essences is far easier than it first sounds, especially since every time someone perceives something, the person usually grasps something more than the mere physical object or idea alone, without any recourse to further examination. Further, when analyzing essences Reinach makes it clear that it is a means to the end of understanding the object of the analysis itself.  It is to this methodology of analyzing objects to understand the essences that I now turn my attention, and I will do this by looking at three different examples: intentionality, value, and perception.

The next installments will cover how a phenomenologist examines the three examples.

Humanities, the Internet, and the Academy

This morning, I came across an excellent article by Dan McInerny, The Humanities in a Digital Age: Online Higher Education. In the piece, McInerny talks about many of the difficulties humanities programs are facing around the country, and he argues that while many of these institutions will continue to see the focus shift away from the humanities to a business school model, it is those other institutions that have the humanities and liberal arts as their main focus which should survive, as long as they keep the humanities as the heart of their institutions.

I agree with his points here, but it is his later claims about how we can continue to study the humanities in a digital setting which I find to be the most interesting. McInerny predicts "that in a not-too-distant future more students will be studying the humanities via digital devices than in brick-and-ivy institutions. The great conversation will transfer in large part to what John Paul II called the 'Areopagus' of modern digital media." He goes on to remind us that the humanities were not born in a formal, academic setting, but in the questioning of Socrates, who "went down to the Piraeus" to find the people where they lived, worked, and formed bonds. 

In the article, McInerny revives my hope that study in the humanities, no matter what may happen in the halls of academia, will live on as long as there is someone willing to ask questions, even in the face of hardship.

To read the whole thing, which of course, you should, check it out here.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Musings on a Summer Day

Summers in New England, especially in late June, have a strange feeling attached to them. Take today for instance. The morning began with light rain and cool breezes; by late morning the clouds had moved out, the sun was out, and it was getting increasingly warmer; now, in the afternoon, it's cloudy, warm, and muggy with a heavy sense of foreboding in the air, as if at any moment the sky will open up in a great downpour.

I find that especially on days like this, peoples moods are heavily dependent on the changes in weather. For this reason, as well as many others, I find it so very difficult to see how people can view themselves as completely independent from the environment around them. This connection, while rather more tenuous than many others I could think of, serves to demonstrate that no person is entirely cut off from their surroundings. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Long Time Between Posts...and New Review

Well, it has been a rather long time since my last post here. Sorry to anyone who has been waiting.

My latest book review of Jeff Nicholas' fantastic new book, Reason, Tradition, and the Good: MacIntyre's Tradition-Constituted Reason and Frankfurt School Critical Theory, is published over at the Marx and Philosophy Review of Books.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Writing and the Beginning of Another Semester

I'm not sure why, but I find that I write more in terms of quantity and quality during the semester than I do between semesters, so here I am again with my first post in a month. With a number of abstracts coming due soon, I probably will not be writing too much on here for the next few weeks, but I do find that I miss putting down my thoughts here. Perhaps I will attempt to write at least one post a week. We'll see what happens.

Anyway, I am finishing up preparing for the start of the new semester (one week from tomorrow), and am very excited since I get to teach in a different building than I am used to, and this is my first attempt at teaching a second year seminar. The seminar, like the freshmen version from last Fall, will be on the concept of God in philosophy, but this time it is a writing intensive seminar. My students are required to not only do the assigned readings and participate in classroom discussions, they are also going to be keeping a reflection journal where they will write a few paragraphs on every piece we read during the semester. I am pleased that the seminar classroom will have real tables (rather than one-armed bandits) where we can have discussions in an atmosphere more conducive to having a discussion.

Friday, December 14, 2012

An Introduction to Phenomenology

I have been meaning for some time to present a brief introduction to the phenomenological method developed by Husserl and his followers. Over the next few weeks, I will be posting excerpts from my presentation as I continue to work on it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

End of the Semester

Here we are at the end of the Fall semester and I realize that I have not posted anything new since before the election. As this semester comes to a close, I find myself reflecting back over what I have taught, what my students (hopefully) have learned, and what I should take away from my experiences. Overall, while I enjoy teaching foundations of logical reasoning, most of the enjoyment I get from teaching came from my seminar on the existence of God. Teaching the seminar for the first time allowed me to see what works for teaching freshmen philosophy, and what does not. I am very happy to say that most of the students did extremely well, both in their papers and in the disussions we had in class. The days when I saw the "lightbulb" go off when a student grasped a difficult concept, or when a student would take an example or image I used and tweak it to make it work even better, were some of the happiest times of my young teaching career. I wish to thank all my students, especially those in the seminar, who showed their interest in the topics we discussed and who give me hope that they will go on to do great things.