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Phenomenology, epistemic issues in

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-P038-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 21, 2024, from

Article Summary

Phenomenology is not a unified doctrine. Its main proponents – Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre and Merleau-Ponty – interpret it differently. However, it is possible to present a broad characterization of what they share. Phenomenology is a method of philosophical investigation which results in a radical ontological revision of Cartesian Dualism. It has implications for epistemology: the claim is that, when the foundations of empirical knowledge in perception and action are properly characterized, traditional forms of scepticism and standard attempts to justify knowledge are undermined.

Phenomenological method purports to be descriptive and presuppositionless. First one adopts a reflective attitude towards one’s experience of the world by putting aside assumptions about the world’s existence and character. Second, one seeks to describe particular, concrete phenomena. Phenomena are not contents of the mind; they all involve an experiencing subject and an experienced object. Phenomenological description aims to make explicit essential features implicit in the ‘lived-world’ – the world as we act in it prior to any theorizing about it. The phenomenological method reveals that practical knowledge is prior to propositional knowledge – knowing that arises from knowing how.

The key thesis of phenomenology, drawn from Brentano, is that consciousness is intentional, that is, directed onto objects. Phenomenologists interpret this to mean that subjects and objects are essentially interrelated, a fact which any adequate account of subjects and objects must preserve. Phenomenological accounts of subjects emphasize action and the body; accounts of objects emphasize the significance they have for us.

The aim to be presuppositionless involves scrutinizing scientific and philosophical theories (Galileo, Locke and Kant are especially challenged). Phenomenology launches a radical critique of modern philosophy as overinfluenced by the findings of the natural sciences. In particular, epistemology has adopted from science its characterization of the basic data of experience.

The influence of phenomenology on the analytic tradition has been negligible. The influence on the Continental tradition has been greater. The phenomenological critique of modern science and philosophy has influenced postmodern thought which interprets the modernist worldview as having the status of master narrative rather than truth. Postmodern thought also criticizes the positive phenomenological claim that there are essential features of the lived-world.

Citing this article:
Howarth, Jane. Phenomenology, epistemic issues in, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-P038-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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