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Continental Philosophy

Phenomenology Of Consciousness

In eighteenth-century Germany, Johann Heinrich Lambert (1728–1777), Kant, and Hegel, who wrote Die Phänomenologie des Geistes (1807; Phenomenology of Spirit), used the term phenomenology in different contexts. Edmund Husserl (1859–1938), the founder of contemporary phenomenology, used the term as a pre-suppositionless description of human consciousness in constituting meaning. From his teacher Franz Brentano (1838–1917), Husserl adopted the theory of "intentionality," the notion that every mental act is directed toward something. According to Husserl, phenomenology describes the essential contents (noema) of our intentional acts (noesis), not objects in the world. The content of consciousness is neutral as to its reality or nonreality.

In his famous Logische Untersuchungen (1900–1901; Logical Investigations), Husserl sought to go "back to the things themselves" (Zu den Sachen selbst) as they appeared to pure consciousness in perceptual and "categorical intuition." Husserl maintained that "being" is given to "categorical intuition" like any other ideal essence. Heidegger critiqued Husserl, maintaining that being is not an "object" of intuition but is understood from the pretheoretical context of man's concrete, factical life. Heidegger transformed Husserl's phenomenology of consciousness into a hermeneutical and existential phenomenology of "being."

Husserl's first work, Philosophie der Arithmetik (1891; Philosophy of Arithmetic), was written in terms of "psychologism," according to which "logical meaning" could be reduced to "psychological acts." When Frege criticized "psychologism," Husserl discarded it and developed a new method, which attempted to gain access to the data of "pure" consciousness by taking a step back ("reduction") from the "natural attitude" of common sense and the sciences. In his new method, Husserl described two different "reductions": (1) phenomenological reduction, or epoché (suspension), which "brackets" the ordinary, natural world, that is, the "existence" of things, and (2) eidetic reduction, which describes the eidos, the "essence" of noematic content. Husserl called the intentional activity of consciousness "object-constituting subjectivity" by which all meanings are "constituted," that is, disclosed and made manifest. Although Husserl remained within the Cartesian tradition of subject-object dualism, he consigned this dualism to the noetic-noematic structure of the intentional act. Thus, he undermined the modern "epistemological" problem of an isolated subject and an "external world."

In his early work Ideen zu einer reinen phänomenologie (1913; Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology), Husserl and his students held a "realist" position, focusing on the contents of consciousness, whereas the later Husserl changed to a more "idealist" position, which he called "transcendental," that is, that the world is always "for" a mind. According to Husserl, transcendental consciousness "bestows" meaning upon everything, including its own functioning. In some respects, the later Husserl paralleled Heidegger by turning his phenomenological investigations to questions of "temporality," that is, the temporal flow of transcendental consciousness, and to "intersubjectivity" or social existence. In his later years, Husserl also focused on a "genetic" phenomenology in which the original "genesis" of intentional acts and objects is something passive for consciousness ("passive synthesis"), prior to any voluntary activity of transcendental consciousness. Husserl also became interested in the historical character of science and in the problem of the constitution of the "life-world" (Lebenswelt) upon which science is based. Ironically, the later Husserl believed that phenomenology could even constitute the "essence" of the life-world.

Merleau-Ponty was one of the most famous French phenomenologists. Influenced by Husserl and Heidegger, opposed to Cartesian subject-object dualism, he developed an "ontology of the flesh," which centered on the primacy of perceptual experience and the role of the lived and living body as the primary access to a spatio-temporal world (Phénoménologie de la perception (1945; Phenomenology of Perception). One's perceptions, which are always connected with the flesh of the living body, are historically situated interpretations of the world. Perceptions cannot be reduced to pure "source-data" of intentional consciousness.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Condensation to CoshContinental Philosophy - Wittgenstein And Analytic Philosophy, Freud And The Unconscious, Phenomenology Of Consciousness, Heidegger And The Phenomenology Of Being