Nothing determines me from outside, not because nothing acts upon me, but, on the contrary, because I am from the start outside myself and open to the world. — M. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception
Phenomenology is the systematic study of the way we experience the world. As a way of studying philosophy, phenomenology can be a powerful tool for thinking about many important questions in our lives. When we ask philosophical questions, we can gain many surprising insights if we put aside our assumptions and preconceptions and simply pay close attention to our actual lived experience. This means that phenomenologists strive to put away all metaphysical doctrines and dogmas to catch sight of how we are with things. The cornerstone of phenomenological analysis is the concept of “intentionality,” which posits that consciousness is always “consciousness of” something. Phenomenology eschews the psychological terminology of brain states and neurological firings, as well as the epistemological language of representation, in lieu of a language that gives the world back to consciousness in a direct manner—i.e. things instead intimately belong to embodied consciousness in their modes of ‘presentation’ or ‘unveiling’. In other words, we have them as they are. “Wir wollen auf die ‘Sachen selbst’ zurückgehen” (We must go back to the things themselves.) is known as Edmund Husserl’s foundational slogan of the phenomenological tradition. This tradition, which includes Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Jean- Paul Sartre, among others, has followed this slogan in developing careful descriptions of the structure of our lived experience as embodied subjects.
This course inspired by HUM 460 (Seminar in Interdisciplinary Humanities: The Body in Philosophy and Culture) in Spring 2020 engages historical and contemporary approaches to the phenomenological method, which is a critical methodological strain in post-Kantian philosophy described first and most eloquently by Husserl as: “to the things themselves!” In this independent study, I will explore the development of phenomenology from the writings of its founder, Edmund Husserl, to other major thinkers such as Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Emmanuel Levinas, and Jacques Derrida. This will be accomplished through a careful examination of representative primary texts, which will help me to understand the nature and method of “phenomenological philosophy.”
PHIL 596: History of Phenomenology