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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I am from Australia.
    Please find an introduction to a unique Philosopher and Artist who is not at all welcome in the class room of either secular academic philosophers, or those who presume to be what is usually called religious.