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Modern philosophy: An introduction and survey.

A&C Black, 2012. (ok)

(d) Phenomenology. Literally phenomenology' means the study of appearances, i.e. the study of the
world as it appears to consciousness. Appearances may be deceptive; they may also be revealing,
without being identical with the non-mental reality that is known through them. (Consider the face
in the picture: this is an appearance, which is genuinely and objectively there to the conscious
observer. But is it part of physical reality?) To understand the world as it appears is certainly part of
the task of philosophy: the most important things in life (goodness, beauty, love and meaning) are
grounded in appearance. For the phenomenologists, however, appearances are the pn'mary subjectmatter of philosophy. And since appearances are dependent on the subject who observes them,
phenomenology involves a study of consciousness itself. So argued Edmund Husserl, the Moravian
founder of the discipline, who wrote during the early decades of this century. (The term
phenomenology was introduced in the eighteenth century by the mathematician J. H. Lambert, and
was also used by Hegel to describe the general theory of consciousness.)
According to Husserl, the aim of philosophy is to study the contents of consciousness, seen from the
point of view of the subject. Although philosophy must begin from a study of consciousness,
however, it does not, according to Husserl, end there. On the contrary, it has another and more
ambitious goal, which is to understand the essences of things. We understand the world because
we bring it under concepts, and each concept presents an essence: the essence of man, of matter, of
unicorns, and so on. These essences are not discovered by scientific inquiry and experiment, which
merely studies their instances. But they are revealed to, posited in', consciousness, where they
can be grasped by an intuition. The problem is to clear the mind of all the junk that prevents the
intuition from forming. Our minds are cluttered with beliefs about the contingent and the
inessential; we can approach essences, therefore, only if we bracket those beliefs, and study what
is left as the object of a pure inner awareness. The method of bracketing - also described as
phenomenological reduction - will be discussed in later chapters.
Phenomenology, like linguistic analysis, proposes meaning as its primary subject-matter. But it is
not the narrow species of meaning that resides in language; it is the meaning of life itself the
process whereby we relate to the world and make it our own. This explains the appeal of
phenomenology, especially to those who are looking for the answer to moral, aesthetic or religious
questions. On the other hand, phenomenology has never succeeded in justifying itself to its critics
satisfaction. In particular, it has never shown how a study of what is given to consciousness can
lead us to the essence of anything at all.
All of (a), (b), (c) and (d) suppose philosophy to be deeper than, and prior to, science. Moreover, on
all four views, philosophy leaves science as it is. Hence no scientific theory can prove or disprove a
philosophical theory. To understand why this is so, we need to explore an important distinction,
which will occupy us in later chapters: