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Husserls Phenomenology: Phenomenological, Transcendental, and Eidetic Reductions

Jacob Wheeler March 17, 2010 Phenomenology and Existentialism Term Paper

Phenomenology is a dynamic philosophical movement begun by Edmund Husserl in the early twentieth century. An adequate examination of all of Husserls phenomenology would require reading the thirty thousand pages of his stenographic manuscripts. It would require a work of multiple volumes, a work unlike this current thesis. For the sake of brevity and clarity, this article will provide context for Husserls Phenomenology and will critically examine the core foundations of his philosophy. Phenomenology is not the discipline of a single philosopher; it is a movement within philosophy continued by Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre and many others.1 This thesis is concerned solely with the work of Edmund Husserl, and therefore any use of the term phenomenology herein is a direct reference to his philosophy, and should not be taken to apply to the work of any other philosopher. Edmund Husserl was born on April 8, 1859 in Prossnitz, Austro-Hungarian Empire, which is located in modern day Czech Republic. He studied mathematics and philosophy at the University of Berlin where he was first influenced by the philosophy and the psychology of Franz Brentano, specifically his Reism. Reism, derived from the Latin res, meaning thing is the doctrine that only things exist.2 According to Brentano, there are only things and nothing more than things (no universals, no abstract entities).3 Husserl worked first with Brentanos student, Thomas Masaryk, and later, with Brentano himself. Husserls phenomenology made its

Smith, David. "Phenomenology." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 16 Nov. 2003. 6 Mar. 2010 Wolenski, Jan. Reism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 17 Aug. 2004. 14 Apr. 2010 Nnodim, Paul. "Phenomenology." Phenomenology and Existentialism. MCLA, North Adams. Lecture.

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debut in Logical Investigations, his Magnum Opus that detailed his methodology and would later influence Martin Heidegger, Husserls most prominent student.4 Philosophy, at the time of Husserls study was undergoing a public crisis.5 Amongst other difficulties, the public perceived that philosophy was no longer capable of providing answers to real life questions. This perception was fueled, largely, by the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Kant declared that the questions of freedom, the cosmos, and of god were antinomies, unsolvable contradictions that arise from our attempts to conceive the nature of transcendent reality. 6 Kant did not deny the existence of a transcendent reality, only that the transcendent defeats rational representation. He furthered the crisis with his theory of metaphysics and das Ding and sich, or the thing-in-itself.7 Kant posited that there was a noumenal world independent of our experience, but our reason could not penetrate beyond that which we do experience. The true nature of an object, therefore, could never be known. This was the crisis from which Husserl wanted to save philosophy. Husserl was critical of all other disciplines and so produced phenomenology, not just another philosophy, but as the one true science. Phenomenology, as Husserls discipline, is a method that attempts to reduce an object of perception to its essence, a process that attempts to generate pure data of consciousness. Crucial to this method is an attitude of epoch, or in German, Einklammerung. A consistent epoch of the phenomenologist is required, if he wishes to break through to his own consciousness as pure

Beyer, Christian. Edmund Husserl. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 6 Jul. 2007. 14 Apr. Nnodim, "Phenomenology." Kant, Immanuel. Critique of pure reason. New York: St. Martin's P, 1965. Kant, Critique of pure reason.

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phenomenon or as the totality of his purely mental processes.8 Epoch is the act of bracketing or the creation of a mental partition to exclude, temporarily, various information, including presuppositions of the natural world. My examination of Husserls phenomenology is based, entirely, upon this process. The phenomenological method begins with focusing on, or intending, a particular object and then progressing through three separate, yet equally important, reductions. The first is called phenomenological reduction; it is the intentional direction of epoch to presuppositions of the natural world. Presuppositions are facts that are assumed to be accurate and are taken for granted. In making its first appearance, phenomenology must reckon with a fundamental mood of skepticism. It demands the most perfect freedom from presuppositions9 Husserl was clear to note, however, that we should not abandon all presuppositions. Phenomenological reduction is not to take authority as a presupposition, not to take cultural tradition, scientific tradition, and scientific theories as presuppositions, and not to take the results of positive science as a presupposition.10 Positive sciences are those, such as physics, which rely on empirical knowledge, which, to Husserl does not have absolute certainty. While Husserl stated that both formal logic and arithmetic could be bracketed, he left exemptions for absolutes, such as certain logical axioms. Phenomenological reduction, then, is the bracketing of presuppositions to reduce the object of observation to mere phenomenon.

Husserl, Edmund, and Donn Welton. The Essential Husserl: Basic Writings in Transcendental Phenomenology. Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 1999. Print.
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Husserl, Edmund. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenolgy and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. 1913 Velarde-Mayol, Victor. On Husserl. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2000.

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in the accomplishment of phenomenological reduction he [the phenomenologist] must inhibit every co-accomplishment of objective positing produced in unreflective consciousness, and therewith inhibit every judgmental drawing-in of the world as it exists for him straightforwardly.11 For example, if the phenomenologist chose a bottle as the object of perception, then the next step would be to bracket presuppositions, including the existence of that very bottle. The phenomenologist would then progress to the next phase of reduction. At an initial, cursory glance, phenomenological reduction is a laudable enterprise. Presuppositions can often militate against intellectual pursuits, and so Husserl is correct to bring them to attention. Upon further consideration, however, the merits of this reduction cease. Such presuppositions are so ingrained into our mode of thought, that it becomes questionable as to whether we are capable of bracketing and suspending judgment. It is impossible, consciously and willingly, not to think of a specific thought. In the effort of an individual to not think it, it arises and is thought regardless. Likewise, while Husserl directed us to exclude presuppositions from our analysis of our perceptions, the phenomenologist cannot exclude them entirely. Assuming, for the moment, that this epoch is possible, phenomenological reduction encounters two additional areas of difficulty. The first is an issue of efficacy. Husserl maintained that epoch is an attitude that is to be practiced at all times.12 He also contended that freedom from presuppositions should be the condition of all philosophy.13 Philosophy, however, has often relied upon the conclusions of science and the theories of previous philosophers. Analogously, you cannot forge bronze without first knowing tin and copper. While Husserl is not advocating a complete dismissal of theories and conclusions, he does instruct to not take them as given. The

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Husserl, Edmund, and Donn Welton. The Essential Husserl: Basic Writings in Transcendental Phenomenology. Nnodim, Phenomenology Velarde-Mayol, On Husserl.

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catholic philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, in writing his main work, Summa Theologica, relied heavily upon the conclusions of Aristotles metaphysics.14 If Aquinas were to follow Husserls method of philosophy, he should not have done so. If phenomenological reduction was to be practiced at all times and for all philosophy, then philosophical discovery would, at best, slow, and at worse, stagnate entirely. The second difficulty that phenomenological reduction encounters is self-refutation. Freedom from presuppositions is for Husserland it means (i) not to take authority as presupposition, (ii) not to take cultural tradition, scientific tradition, and scientific theories as presuppositions, that is to say, freedom from theories15 Phenomenology, by Husserls own account is a science, the one true science. At this point it is important to not have bracketed logic, for I will speak syllogistically. Phenomenology is a scientific theory. Phenomenology states to not take as presupposition scientific theories. Therefore, phenomenologists cannot take their own theory as presupposition. If the phenomenologist must bracket even phenomenology itself, it is impossible, once phenomenological reduction is complete, to proceed with the phenomenological method. After intending an object, and upon the completion of phenomenological reduction, the next step of Husserls process is transcendental reduction. Transcendental Reduction is the intentional application of the epoch to the ego of the phenomenologist. Husserl distinguishes between two separate forms of the ego, the psychological and the pure.16 The psychological ego is the ego of everyday life, the ego of the natural attitude. The psychological ego is the ego that

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Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica. 1274. Velarde-Mayol, On Husserl. Nnodim, Phenomenology

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includes all the psychological residue of past experiences, for example, certain dispositions and biases. The pure ego, however, as its name would suggest, is comprised of no such hindrance. The pure ego has no existential value, and absent the data of observation, is essentially nothing. The goal of transcendental reduction, then, is to reduce the psychological ego to the pure ego. The transcendental reduction neutralizes the ontic residue of a consciousness conceived psychologically, namely, with a real stream of consciousness.17 Transcendental reduction brackets the existence of the psychological ego, effectively removing the self-consciousness of the phenomenologist, resulting in not a psychological ego, but a pure ego.18 If I were a phenomenologist, to continue with the example above, I would intend a bottle and then progress through phenomenological reduction. Having bracketed the presuppositions, including the very existence of the bottle, I have the phenomenon instead, the bottle as it appears to me. I then direct the epoch to my own consciousness, reducing and bracketing the psychological ego. Once I have bracketed all the byproducts of the psychological ego, biases and dispositions, I have only my pure ego and the data of consciousness, the phenomenon. I would then be prepared to progress to the next, and final, stage of the phenomenological method. While the possibility of phenomenological reduction is in question, so too is the viability of transcendental reduction. Husserl, once again, begins with a commendable notion. As with the presuppositions, he is correct to dissuade the biases and dispositions of the psychological ego. However, the possibility to completely bracket the ego remains in question. To bracket the ego is not to abandon the ego altogether, but to bracket the knowledge of the ego. It is not bracketing consciousness, but rather self-consciousness. This is the point of contention: is it possible to

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Velarde-Mayol, On Husserl. Velarde-Mayol, On Husserl.

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make yourself unaware of yourself? It is rendered impossible if we are to take with sincerity my criticisms levied above. However, allow us to assume that my disputation of phenomenological reduction is false, and it operates in the exact manner as described by Husserl. Is transcendental epoch, then, possible? The answer is no. To demonstrate this, I will provide four separate, predicating syllogisms. (1) 1a) To be self-conscious is to be aware of your own existence. 1b) Your ability to think is proof of your own existence. 1c) Therefore, to be aware of your ability to think is to be aware of your own existence. (2) 2a) To be self-conscious is to be aware of your existence. 2b) To be aware of your ability to think is to be aware of your own existence (From 1c). 2c) Therefore, to be aware of your ability to think is to be self-conscious. (3) 3a) It is impossible, by way of thought, to become unaware of your ability to think. 3b) It is impossible, by way of thought, to become unaware of your own existence (From 1c and 3a). 3c. Therefore, it is impossible, by way of thought, to remove selfconsciousness (From 1a and 3b) (4) 4a) It is impossible, by way of thought, to remove self-consciousness (from 3c). 4b) Transcendental reduction is a process of thinking. 4c) Therefore, It is impossible, by way of transcendental reduction, to remove self-consciousness. Husserl was correct in his instruction to devote as much attention to the phenomenon as is viable, but a complete bracketing of the ego is logically impossible. The last step of the phenomenological method is that of eidetic reduction. After the phenomenologists intend an object, reduce it to phenomenon by bracketing presuppositions, and bracket their egos, they must now perform eidetic reduction. Eidetic reduction is the process by

which phenomena are reduced to their eidos or essences.19 The method of eidetic reduction involves producing variations in the phenomenon until the phenomenologist can isolate that which is invariable. If the phenomenological reduction contrived a means of access to the phenomenon of real and also potential inner experience, the method founded in it of eidetic reduction provides the means of access to the invariant essential structures of the total sphere of pure consciousness.20 The method by which phenomenologists are to produce these variations is with the use of imagination and fantasy.21 When they perceive an object, they know that it belongs to a broader genus, or a kind. They also receive an intuition of its essence, or an eidetic intuition, along with the empirical data. They use our imagination and fantasy to vary the object until it violates their intuition of the essence, and they thus discover that which is invariable, they discover the objects ideal essence. Let us assume that I have perceived a bottle and I have received an eidetic intuition. Next I would complete both phenomenological and transcendental reduction. Then, I would use my imagination to vary the bottle. I make it larger, I make it smaller, I change the color, perhaps even the material of which it is made. None of these violate my intuition and so they are not aspects of its essence. Next I remove the bottom, making it essentially cylindrical. This violates my intuition, and from that I can determine, with a few more variations, that an aspect of the bottles essence is the ability to contain a substance. This is the method of eidetic reduction. The eidetic reduction is the most dynamic aspect of Husserls phenomenology and would, if posited independent of the rest, be an interesting method by which to attain the
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Velarde-Mayol, On Husserl. Husserl, Edmund, and Donn Welton. The Essential Husserl: Basic Writings in Transcendental Phenomenology. Velarde-Mayol, On Husserl.

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essences of certain objects. As it is, however, eidetic reduction is rendered impossible by the completion of the two previous reductions. If I were to bracket all conclusions of positive sciences, I would not know that the lack of a bottom would result in water spilling from the bottle. Gravity is a conclusion of science. Without the bracketed presuppositions, determining that which violates the essence of an object ranges from difficult to impossible. My last criticism of eidetic reduction involves the eidetic intuitions. Specifically, there is no way to verify accuracy. What if I were to perceive a tree and the eidetic intuition I received did not involve the material of the tree? I could then vary the material and produce a stainless steel tree that would cohere with my eidetic intuition. To be certain which variations contradict its essence, I would need to already know the essence. So Husserl is maintaining that I need to know the essence of a tree to discover the essence of a tree. This is obviously a tautological dead-end.

Husserls philosophy is not one completely devoid of merit, but taken to its logical conclusion, phenomenology fails as a viable course of scientific discovery. In his efforts to save philosophy from the perception of impracticality, he posited a philosophy based upon a methodology that is impossible. Essentially, to combat impracticality, he responded with impossibility. Husserl did not save philosophy; rather, he delivered, quite decisively, its coup de grace.

Bibliography Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica. 1274. Beyer, Christian. Edmund Husserl. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 6 Jul. 2007. 14 Apr. 2010 < http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/husserl/#LifWor> Bobro, Marc. Leibniz on Causation. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 10 Mar. 2009. 17 Mar. 2010 <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/leibniz-causation/>. Husserl, Edmund. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenolgy and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. 1913 Husserl, Edmund, and Dermot Moran. The Shorter Logical Investigations. London: Routledge, 2001. Print. Husserl, Edmund, and Donn Welton. The Essential Husserl: Basic Writings in Transcendental Phenomenology. Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 1999. Print. Kant, Immanuel. Critique of pure reason. New York: St. Martin's P, 1965. Nnodim, Paul. "Phenomenology." Phenomenology and Existentialism. MCLA, North Adams. Lecture. Nnodim, Paul. "Husserl and Heidegger on the Meaning of Phenomenology." Thesis XII 15 2007: 1-3 Oaklander, L. Nathan. Existentialist Philosophy: an Introduction. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1992. Smith, David. "Phenomenology." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 16 Nov. 2003. 6 Mar. 2010 <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/phenomenology/>. Velarde-Mayol, Victor. On Husserl. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2000.