Thursday, 12 November 2015

A Short Note on Husserl's Notion of Phenomenological Reduction

He means WW1, not WW2.
With Edmund Husserl's method of “suspension-of-belief” the phenomenologist must literally erase all scientific and empirical knowledge from his mind - at least during the period of the phenomenological reduction and analysis. Is this suspension any more psychologically possible than Descartes’ ‘doubt’? Indeed without the empirical (never mind the scientific), the phenomenologist wouldn't even have the words to describe his phenomenological experiences. His language would be public. Thus of necessity he couldn't ‘bracket’ everything empirical if the phenomenological analyses were themselves described in a public language.

The Husserlian phenomenologist had the same kinds of problem as the Cartesian epistemic doubter – the problem of a genuinely private language of private states of consciousness (or of private experiences).

In a sense Husserl was right: objects can only ‘display’ themselves in particular ‘profiles’. Not only is the phenomenological display our only access to external objects: that display itself must also be a profile (or mode of presentation) of some kind. Thus, despite all of Husserl’s objectivism and strong anti-psychologism, he still painted the subject as essentially trapped within his own consciousness; or as necessarily determined by - and dependent upon - displays which are themselves perspectival.

It's primarily scientists who don't accept such displays "as they appear". Husserl said that we must do. Thus, in that sense alone, the scientist is surely more of an objectivist than a Husserlian phenomenologist.

It's still only the reduced conscious state that tells us the truth about what is displayed. A non-bracketed conscious experience could indeed tell us lies about itself or its objects. It would do so, according to Husserl, because the present conscious state would be weighed down with past empirical and scientific knowledge; which, Husserl argues, simply distorts conscious states, their acts and objects. We need, therefore, a clean slate of consciousness to get to the truth of the matter.

To the phenomenologist:

objects and acts appear - as they are

whereas to the scientist or layperson:

objects appear - not as they are

That negative conclusion is a consequence, Husserl argues, of our not proceeding without ‘presuppositions’ and thus not having reduced consciousness and bracketed all references to empirical externals.


Husserl’s philosophy is ethico-philosophical in the sense (like Heidegger, Levinas and Derrida) that he believed that man’s moral position (or 'being') must be the subject of Ethics as First Philosophy. In Husserl’s case, instead of emphasising the social or moral nature of man, he emphasised man’s subjective experiences. Here too science is the offender. Husserl believes that science had “progressively cut off subjective experience from the life-world”.

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