Transcendental Phenomenology

Transcendental phenomenology

Basic themes of transcendental phenomenology are “intentionality,” “eidetic reduction,” and “constitution of meaning.”

By transcendental phenomenology we refer primarily to the work of Edmund Husserl and his early assistants Edith Stein and Eugen Fink. Husserl’s pathbreaking work on phenomenology inspired the thinking of many scholars and the development of various movements. Husserl often used the words “transcendental” and “phenomenology” interchangeably to describe the special method of the eidetic reduction by means of which the phenomena are described. Through the method of imaginative variation, (examples of instantiation, and comparative examination) the invariant or eidetic aspects of a particular phenomenon are explicated.

Husserl described phenomenology as the rigorous science of all conceivable transcendental phenomena. All knowledge should be based on absolutely certain insights. But the rigor of the method of phenomenology is interpreted philosophically rather than in terms of any elaborate, objective procedures of the physical and natural sciences. The natural sciences start from a complex set of presuppositions, frameworks and perspectives of knowledge, but these are not questioned by the sciences themselves. For Husserl, phenomenology is a rigorous, human science precisely because it investigates the way that knowledge comes into being and clarifies the assumptions upon which all human understandings are grounded.

Husserl borowed the notion of intentionality from Brentano in order to explain the intentional structure of all consciousness. By intentionality he meant that all our thinking, feeling, and acting are always about things in the world. All conscious awarenesses are intentional awarenesses; all consciousness is consciousness-of-something. Transcendental phenomenology is therefore a phenomenology of consciousness, and intentional analysis is always constitutive analysis: an explication of how the meanings of things are constituted in and by consciousness, or the cogito.

The methods of reduction and the constitution of meaning are two aspects of phenomenological reflection. First the transcendental reduction is the moment of withdrawal from the natural attitude and from the everyday world toward the intersubjective level of the transcendental ego; second, the constitution of meaning is the moment of returning to the world from consciousness as it shows itself in consciousness. As a result, transcendental phenomenology could also be called constitutive phenomenology.

A contemporary exponent of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology is Amadeo Giorgi. He too speaks about phenomenology as a rigorous science. He criticizes the interpretive approaches to phenomenology. In the view of Giorgi phenomenological inquiry should be a descriptive method, since it is through analysis and description of how things are constituted in and by consciousness that we can grasp the phenomena of our world.