Phenomenology – Husserl Revisited
Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology embarked on his career with studies on fundamental themes in mathematics, logic and psychology. He was greatly affected by motive explainable by the development of German Philosophy, deriving from Kant and Hagel, which dissuaded him from proceeding along his early goals, as a mathematical philosophy and logician. Husserl’s philosophical work was perpetually ‘unknown’ and is still relatively not currently well known. This can be attributed to his “independent development, allowing little personal discussion with dissenting thinkers, and his create of a unique technical vocabulary, which added to the difficulties in understanding his further studies” (Faber: 1962).
A principle cause of the current misunderstanding of Husserl’s phenomenology is the failure of students to closely examine his use of the word ‘phenomenon’, “that which displays itself”. It is something that presents or ‘exhibits’ itself to the experient (Welch: 1939). Husserl’s highly complicated philosophy is not easily translated into sociological concepts and a good portion of it is not directly relevant to sociology.
In general, Husserl believed that people view the world as a highly ordered place; actors are always engaged in the active and highly complex process of ordering the world. People, however, are unaware that they are patterning the world; hence they do no question the process by which is accomplished (Ritzer: 1992). Actors see the world as naturally ordered, not as constructed and structured by them. Phenomenologist’s are aware that patterning is occurring and that it is important for an ordering process should to be created and thereby the various phenomena be thoroughly examined. Husserl’s scientific phenomenology involves penetrating the various types of layers constructed by actors in the social world, in order to delve into the essential structure of consciousness, the transcendental ego. The idea of the transcendental ego reflects Husserl’s interest in basic and uniform properties of human consciousness. The essence of consciousness was for Husserl, the transcendental ego (Ritzer: 1992).
For Husserl, consciousness was not a place or a thing, but a process. Consciousness is not found in the head of the actor, but in the relationship between the actor and objects in the world. Meaning resides not in objects, but in the relationship of actors to objects. This conception of consciousness, as a process that gives meaning to objects is at the heart of Husserl’s phenomenology (Ritzer: 1992).
Another key element of Husserl’s work was his orientation to the scientific study of the basic structures of consciousness. What Husserl meant by science was a philosophy that was methodologically rigorous, systematic, and critical. Husserl believed that phenomenologist’s ultimately could arrive at absolutely valid knowledge of the basic structure of actors ‘lived experience’ (especially that which is conscious). This orientation to science had affects on subsequent phenomenologists. Firstly, they kept away from the tools of modern social science research – standardized methods, high-powered statistics, and computerized results. They preferred describing and paying attention to all objects – as experienced by human beings. Secondly, they continued to oppose vague, ‘soft’ intuitionism. In other words, they were opposed to ‘subjectivism’ that was not concerned with discovering the basic structures of phenomena, as experienced by people (Ritzer: 1992).
Husserl conceived of an actor’s natural standpoint, or their ‘natural attitude’, as the major obstacle to the scientific discovery of phenomenological processes. Due to an actors’ natural attitude, conscious ordering processes are hidden to them. Through Husserl’s perspective, the natural attitude is a source of bias and distortion to the phenomenologist. Phenomenologist’s must be able to accomplish the very difficult task of ‘disconnecting’ or ‘setting aside’ the natural attitude, so that they could get at the most basic aspects of consciousness, involved in the ordering of the world (Ritzer: 1992). Once the natural attitude is set aside, or bracketed, the phenomenologist can begin to examine the regular properties of consciousness that govern all people. The phenomenologist must also set aside the incidental experiences of life that tend to dominate consciousness. Husserl’s ultimate objective was to get the pure form of consciousness, divested of all experiential content (Ritzer: 1992).
Husserl also extended his work to the world of interpersonal relations, the ‘life world’. Husserl’s phenomenological view points to the position that “phenomenology must become a science of the life-world.” The majority of Husserl’s work was focused on the transcendental ego and he did not adequately deal with sociality and social groups. As a result, while Husserl’s work largely turned inward towards the transcendental ego, Alfred Schut’s work projected outward to into inter-subjectivity, the social world, and the life-world (Ritzer: 1992).
Alfred Schutz was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1899. He received his academic training at the University of Vienna. He then embarked on a lifelong career in banking, but it did not satisfy his need for a deeper meaning in his life. Schutz, however, found that purpose in his work through his pursuit in studies and compositions in phenomenological sociology.
According to Schutz, the social world of everyday life is, always, an inter-subjective one. He believed that the world is shared with others who also experience and interpret it. He believed that his world was never wholly private; even in his consciousness he found evidence of others, evidence that this seemingly unique biographical situation was not wholly the product of his own thoughts, behaviors, perspectives, perceptions and actions – ‘real’ or ‘imagined’. Rather he held that each of us was born into a historically given world that was simultaneously ‘natural’ and ‘sociocultural’. The world existed before Schutz came into it and continues exist now that he is absent from it. He believed that each one of us is an element in the life situation of others, just as they are in so in our own life. He felt that we all experience our common world in a similar fashion. Our experience of this everyday world is a common-sense one, because Schutz felt that we take for granted that our fellow men exist, that they have a conscious life, that we can communicate with them, and finally, that they live in the same natural, historically given, sociocultural world where we seem to exist (Zeitlin: 1973).
KNOWLEDGE OF OTHERS
Schutz spelled out the essentials of the common-sense, taken-for-granted, everyday world – an elaboration of Husserl’s Lebenswelt. He also employed Husserl’s notion of ‘appresentation’ to explain how we came to know others and communicated with them. Schutz exemplifies this by saying:
Only the other’s body is presented to me, not his mind. His conscious life is appresented, not presented. My consciousness receives indications of his conscious life and experiences mainly by visual perception of his body, his action, and the acitons of others upon him.
Husserl calls these indications a system of appresentations, which in turn he regards as the source of sign systems and, ultimately, of language. In short, we grasp the physical body of the other as expressing his “spiritual I”. It is towards this “I” and its motivational meaning that each of us directs his actions. When we say, for example, that we are in empathy with one another, it is the same as saying we have grasped his meaning through appresentation.
It is the spiritual meaning of the object that we appresentationally apperceive and not its actual appearance. We constitute the object in accordance with the meaning it has for us. For instance, when you read a book, it is clearly not the book – as a material object – to which your orient yourself; rather you are drawn and striving to connect to its meaning. Similarly in face-to-face interactions with others; we do not hear words merely as external sounds, when we listen to someone talking. Instead, we hear word as ‘active conduits of meaning and context’, which enable us to comprehend the conscious intended expressions of the person to whom we are listening (Zeitlin: 1973).
RECIPROCITY OF PERSPECTIVES
When Schutz speaks of the microworld of face-to-face interaction, he also uses terms like “world within my actual reach” and “world within my manipulatory zone”. Schutz believed that people’s worlds would overlap, so that some things and events might have occurred within the manipulatory zone, for all actors involved. Yet the objects and events would have appeared differently from each respective standpoint as to their “direction, distance, perspective, adumbration, etc…(Zeitlin: 1973). The common-sense, taken-for-granted attitude that people shared was that they exchange places and if they did so, then they could each perhaps see the world as the other did previously.
Of course, this applies not only to spatial, but also to socio-cultural perspectives. The biographical situation of each of us is unique and it follows that our purposes and systems of relevance’s must differ. Nevertheless, people tend to assume that despite our private purposes and systems that ‘we’ interpret our common world in an ‘identical manner’. The typifying constructs that we share enable us to go beyond our private worlds into a common one (Zeitlin: 1973).
Schutz points out that the thesis of ‘interchangibility of standpoints’ is an idealization – even if in the relatively simple microworld (Zeitlin: 1973). People can reciprocally exchange their standpoints and their perspectives and there is some inevitable transcendence of each other’s worlds. Yet, people enter the relationship with only a fragment of the other’s personality. Their respective systems of relevance, resulting from their biographically unique situations, can never be totally congruent. The “Ego” can never make the “Alter Ego’s” system of relevance really his own. He can instead, merely understand it. For all of these reasons, people can transcend each other’s worlds. There is still another form of transcendence that becomes evident within the “We-relation”. This phenomenon, according to Schutz, belongs to the realm of meaning that ‘continuously transcends everyday life and can only be grasped symbolically’ (Zeitlin: 1973).
According to Schutz, men’s interests in the world of everyday life are eminently practical, not theoretical. In their so-called ‘natural attitude’ they are governed by practical motives – they strive to control, dominate, or change the world in order to realize their projects and purposes (Zeitlin: 1973). Schutz calls the everyday practical ‘world of working’ – is paramount reality; for this is the area of social life in which men treat the world as a field to be dominated, as thereby strive to overcome the resistance of objects and others to their life plans. Not all aspects of this paramount world are equally relevant to ‘people’s life projects’. People select from the world, within their actual or potential reach those objects that they believe will serve their interests and the realization of those projects.
In this paramount reality our hopes, fears, and wants impel us to act, to plan, to resist obstacles, to realize our projects. The anxieties, however, of everyday life spring from our most basic existential experience: our in knowledge and our fear of death (Zeitlin: 1973). Each one of us believes that we will die and fears of dying before we have fulfilled our hopes and realized our plans. Schutz terms this our ‘fundamental anxiety’. Anxiety is an essential element our social experience of the world or our working, daily lives. We believe that we experience things as they actually / really are, as long as we have no good reason to believe otherwise. This is man’s ‘natural attitude’ in his seemingly paramount reality.
Schutz borrows the term ‘epoche’ from Husserl, but he reverts its meaning. The ‘epoche’, for Husserl, was the first or initial phase of the reduction in which one suspended belief in reality; overcoming the natural attitude by means of radical doubt (Zeitlin: 1973). Everyman, for Schutz, in his ‘natural attitude’ also employs a type of ‘epoche’. But what he suspends is not belief in the ‘existing world’, but in his doubt of / about it. People seem to doubt that the world and its objects exist differently than it appears to them. He called this the ‘epoche’ of the ‘natural attitude’.
The ‘paramount reality’ is the ‘paramount world of meaning’, but there are also many others so termed ‘finite provinces of meaning’ (Zeitlin: 1973). Schutz emphasizes that it is men who intersubjectively give an accent of reality to things, which it is of their experiences and “not the ontological structure of the objects that constitutes reality.” The coined phrase ‘finite provinces of reality’ describes the flow of people’s daily life through a variety of meaningful experiences and the corresponding flow of their consciousness (Zeitlin: 1973).
From the ‘paramount reality’ one may shift towards the world of phantoms: daydreams, jokes, play, and the like. Herein one leaves behind and divests one’s will to master the world and one’s pragmatic motives; knowingly or unknowingly. One becomes an imaging self who orchestrates and / or plays out any role and then projects oneself into / onto any world and / or perceived reality where one chooses to have an interaction. One has freedom of discretion – a specific freedom one lacks in both the paramount reality and the picturesque and highly fanciful ‘world of dreams’. In the realm of the ‘world of dreams’ events appear inflexible and the dreamer is seemingly powerless to influence what is happening in the dream state of consciousness. As well, one does not have purpose or projects, perhaps because one is unable to or cannot control the flow of one’s own life at all.
Finally, there is the world of scientific theory, which Schutz deliberately defines narrowly as an activity aiming towards the observation and understanding of the world, but not towards it actual mastery. According to Schutz, the practical and better motives are not ‘an element of the process of scientific theorizing itself’.
We see that ‘the finite provinces of meaning’ are not separate states with definite perceivable boundaries. They are simply the names one gives to the range of meaningful experiences that one has, both in conscious and during / throughout unconscious life / ‘actively aware existence’. Ultimately, all of these experiences are communicable to one’s fellow man / woman in language and through action.
COMMON SENSE AND SOCIAL SCIENCE
The social scientist studies a world that has already been preselected by the living, thinking and acting subjects within it. People orient themselves and cope with the everyday world, by means of common-sense constructs and thought object / processes. The social scientist constructs refer not to a mindless, meaningless world. Rather, the constructs refer to a socially constructed world of meaning. According to Schutz, “the constructs used by the social scientists’ are – so to speak – constructs of the second degree; namely constructs created / made by the actors on the social scene, whose behavior the scientist observes and tries to explain in accordance with the procedural rules of his science (Zeitlin: 1973).
For Schutz, the natural and social worlds are therefore structured differently. He does not conclude, however, from this realization that a social science is impossible or that it is based on fundamentally different rules of procedure. Instead, he dissociates himself, both from those who deny the possibility or a social science and from those who have opted for a behaviorist method, which ignores or radically departs, from the common-sense concepts men employ in their everyday lives (Zeitlin: 1973). For Schutz, the Social Sciences present special difficulties that could be overcome through specific methodological devices, which would attain objective and verifiable knowledge of a subjective meaning structure. This requires systematic attention by the social scientist, to the relation of the typical constructs of common-sense types and social science types.
Schutz also advocated that the social scientist should be a ‘disinterested’ observer. The social scientist should not any vital or practical interest in the situation observed, but could have a cognitive or theoretical stake in it. The social scientist must be uninvolved in the hopes and fears of the participants and not share their anxiety about the outcomes of their actions / behaviors. The social scientist should be, in short, ‘detached’.
THE TYPICALITY OF EVERYDAY EXPERIENCES
“The individuals common-sense knowledge of the world is a system of constructs of its typicality”, writes Schutz. The world, of each of us, has always been pre-experienced and pre-interpreted, so that our knowledge of the world is always based on the experiences of predecessors, as well as on our own experience and that of our generation (Zeitlin: 1973).
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