Continental Philosophy

Edmund Husserl

What was Edmund Husserl’s phenomenological method?

Husserl thought the task of the philosopher was to perform an empirical “reduction” of intentional objects of consciousness by describing what is in the mind without making a commitment to the reality of the mental content. That is, Husserl thought that we should describe what appears to be so to us without making a commitment that it is so (e.g., My cat is sitting on my computer, but Husserl would prefer that I stick to my impressions or the “representations” in my mind of the cat sitting on the computer.)

This is a special perspective, distinctive from the natural attitudes of ordinary people and scientists who address actual things that exist in the world. For Husserl, there is no philosophical distinction between a content of consciousness that is a dream or a fantasy and one that corresponds to something happening in reality. There were, however, different types of reduction for Husserl, most notably epoche in which the truth and reality of the objects of consciousness are “bracketed.” This bracketing of truth or reality was exactly the same thing as not making a commitment to the truth or reality. Husserl would have wanted me to describe the cat on my computer and my perception of it, but to stop short of claiming that the cat really is sitting on my comuter.

Also influential was Husserl’s eidetic reduction that had as its subjects acts of consciousness itself, and eidetic intuition that pertained to the essences of objects of consciousness.

Thus, analysis of perception, which is something that consciousness does, would be an example of eidetic reduction, whereas analysis of what is being perceived would be an example of eidetic intuition. This distinction was to prove very influential in Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy, where he distinguished between consciousness as awareness and what we are conscious or aware of.


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