What Is Phenomenology?

The world is not what I think, but what I live through.

- Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss phenomenology, a style of philosophy developed by the German thinker Edmund Husserl in the first decades of the 20th century. Husserl's initial insights underwent a radical transformation in the work of his student Martin Heidegger, and played a key role in the development of French philosophy at the hands of writers like Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

Phenomenology has been a remarkably adaptable approach to philosophy. It has given its proponents a platform to expose and critique the basic assumptions of past philosophy, and to talk about everything from the foundations of geometry to the difference between fear and anxiety. It has also been instrumental in getting philosophy out of the seminar room and making it relevant to the lives people actually lead.

Listen to the In Our Time episode on Phenomenology

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Imagine, instead of being situated in the Louvre, the Mona Lisa was hanging on your bathroom wall. Would you have a different appreciation of it? What if it stared down on you every time you sat on the toilet? Or what if it was put on show on a sandwich board worn by a museum employee and paraded through town? Would you value the painting less if you could inspect it only while walking in tandem?

Such thought experiments are grist to the mill of phenomenologists – august folk who probe the relationship between bodily experience and knowledge. Phenomenology was founded by the German mathematician and philosopher Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), in part as a response to objectivist thinking within science that presumed facts to be “out there” independent of subjective experience, taste and culture...

Continue reading Joe Humphreys' article: Unthinkable: Does reality depend on where you are standing?

Further Reading

Phenomenology is commonly understood in either of two ways: as a disciplinary field in philosophy, or as a movement in the history of philosophy.

The discipline of phenomenology may be defined initially as the study of structures of experience, or consciousness. Literally, phenomenology is the study of “phenomena”: appearances of things, or things as they appear in our experience, or the ways we experience things, thus the meanings things have in our experience. Phenomenology studies conscious experience as experienced from the subjective or first person point of view. This field of philosophy is then to be distinguished from, and related to, the other main fields of philosophy: ontology (the study of being or what is), epistemology (the study of knowledge), logic (the study of valid reasoning), ethics (the study of right and wrong action), etc.

The historical movement of phenomenology is the philosophical tradition launched in the first half of the 20th century by Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre, et al...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Phenomenology by David Woodruff Smith

Related Topics

If you’re interested in phenomenology, check out some of the following related topics for more resources:

Consciousness | Descartes | Idealism | Metaphysics | Reality | The Self

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