The Phenomenology of the Social World

by Alfred Schutz

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The following is a list of quotes from Alfred Schutz's The Phenomenology of the Social World. What you'll find through an assessment of the quotes is a very interesting critique of how the human mind thinks and interacts socially. Schutz was an Austrian philosopher who made a name for himself in the twentieth century. The major body of his work advanced the field of phenomenology. An easy way to understand phenomenology is to think about it as the study of conscious thought and how we understand life through direct experience. The book itself is divided into five chapters and delves right into Schutz’s review of social phenomena. His work draws on past scholarship, including Max Weber, and continues to be relevant today. 
Part of what also makes this an excellent read is Schutz’s own enthusiasm and concern for the subject, which makes it easy to engage with his theories as you read:

  • "The systematic study of the relationship of the individual to society has, from its very beginning, been marked by acrimonious contention over both its proper procedure and its goal." (Pg. 1)
  • “Does man’s social being determine his consciousness, or does his consciousness determine his social being?” (Pg. 4)
  • “The search for the other person’s subjective meaning will very likely be abandoned if his action becomes evident to us as objective content in a manner that relieves us of any further trouble.” (Pg. 38)
  • “As long as my whole consciousness remains temporally uni-directional and irreversible, I am unaware either of my own growing older or of any difference between present and past.” (Pg. 47)
  • “Phenomenal experience is, therefore, never of oneself behaving, only of having behaved.” (Pg. 56)
  • "If it is maintained that voluntary action is the criterion of meaningful behavior, then the 'meaning' of this behavior consists only in the choice—in the freedom to behave one way rather than another.” (Pg. 66)
  • “For we have in common the same world of directly experienced social reality: the world surrounding me in my Here and Now corresponds to the one surrounding you in your Here and Now.” (Pg. 142)
  • “Let us call the other selves of the world of directly experienced social reality my 'fellow men' (Mitmenschen) and the other selves of the world of contemporaries my 'contemporaries' (Nebenmenschen). We can then say that living with my fellow men, I directly experience them and their subjective experiences.” (Pg. 142)
  • “The social world of contemporaries coexists with me and is simultaneous with my duration. However, even though living with it, I do not live through it as a matter of direct experience.” (Pg. 142)
  • In using the term ‘world' for these domains or realms, we mean only that different people are consecrates, contemporaries, predecessors, or successors to one another and that they accordingly experience one another and act upon one another in the different ways in question." (Pg. 143)
  • "While I am living in the We-relationship, I am really living in our common stream of consciousness. And just as I must, in a sense, step outside my own steams of consciousness and 'freeze' my subjective experiences if I am going to reflect on them, the same requirement holds for the We-relationship.” (Pg. 167)
  • "The pure We-relationship involves our awareness of each other’s presence and also the knowledge of each that the other is aware of him.” (Pg. 168)
  • "Observation of the social behavior of another involves the very real danger that the observer will naively substitute his own ideal types for those in the minds of his subject.” (Pg. 205)
  • “I can define a predecessor as a person in the past not one of whose experiences overlaps in time with one of mine.” (Pg. 208)
  • “To say that an action of mine is oriented toward the action of one of my predecessors is to say that my action is influenced by his. Or, to put it another way, his action conceived in the pluperfect tense is the genuine because-motive of my own.” (Pg. 208)

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