Husserl founded phenomenology a century ago. Many important philosophers are phenomenologists, like Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre. But what in the world is phenomenology?
What Is It
Phenomenology is the philosophical study of experience and consciousness, performed by philosophers ranging from Sartre and Heidegger to contemporary analytic philosophers of mind. But what methods do phenomenologists use to study the mind and experience in general? How can phenomenology help us understand a range of human experiences from agency to awe? And why does neuroscience and cognitive science need phenomenology? John and Ken learn what it’s like to talk to Shaun Gallagher from the University of Memphis, author of How the Body Shapes the Mind.
Ken muses that even the best imagination cannot substitute lived experience that varies from person to person. Furthermore, the same objects in the world can cause different experiences for different people. Ken asks: how can we bring the experience of these objects to the fore and study consciousness itself?
Ken is joined by Shaun Gallagher, a professor of philosophy from the University of Memphis and author of Phenomenology among other works on philosophy of mind. Ken asks Shaun if phenomenology is at its core a technique of bringing consciousness into focus, and if so, how does it do that? Shaun says that this description is partially correct. Consciousness is always directed toward the world (intentionality), so experience always has something of the world in it. Phenomenology studies not just consciousness and its structure but also how the world appears when it inhabits our conscious experience.
Ken follows up by asking: what is the benefit of bringing consciousness to the fore? Shaun brings up Edmund Husserl, for example, who tried to figure out how to describe intentionality for a scientific purpose. In that sense, phenomenology especially early on was not at all opposed to science. Ken asks how scientific phenomenology really is and how well it aligns with contemporary scientific research, especially since scientific research aims toward objectivity. Shaun responds that subjectivity is never absent and that all endeavors are experiential in some respect. We can try to study subjectivity from the third person, but that still would not include everything. Shaun argues that the aim then is to combine phenomenology and science to get the full picture of lived experience.
- Roving Philosophical Reporter (Seek to 3:55): Liza Veale looks at the study of mindfulness and its relationship to phenomenology. They have one idea in common: our experience of the world is mediated through our body, in possession of a past.
- 60 Second Philosopher (Seek to 45:35): Ian Shoales discusses the politics of phenomenology and the difficulty of explaining things to each other, fake news, and mansplaining.