(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

The term “phenomenology,” as it is used by Edmund Husserl and his disciples, designates first of all a principle of philosophical and scientific method. The usual method of natural science proceeds from a body of accepted truth and seeks to extend its conquest of the unknown by putting questions to nature and compelling it to answer. The phenomenological method adopts a softer approach. Setting aside all presuppositions and suppressing hypotheses, it seeks to devise techniques of observation, description, and classification that will permit it to disclose structures and connections in nature that do not yield to experimental techniques. It has been widely fruitful in psychology and the social sciences, as well as in epistemology and value theory.

Husserl, in his Logische Untersuchungen (1900-1901; Logical Investigations, 1970, 2 volumes), did much to advance general phenomenological studies. However, he had in view a specifically philosophical application of the technique that many of his associates did not completely grasp or failed to share. Ideas was written with a view to clearing up the distinction between phenomenological psychology, which he regarded as a legitimate but secondary science, and phenomenological philosophy, which, he was prepared to maintain, is the foundation of all science. When a sociologist or psychologist conducts a phenomenological investigation, he or she puts aside all the usual theories and assumptions that have governed research in that field, but he or she cannot shed all presuppositions (such as, for example, the belief in the existence of the external world, the constancy of nature). As Greek philosopher Plato saw, every science must proceed upon some assumptions—except philosophy. To fulfill its promise, the phenomenological approach must bring one at last to an absolutely presuppositionless science. Pure phenomenology, or phenomenological philosophy, is, in Husserl’s opinion,...

(The entire section is 800 words.)