Phenomenology is a philosophical and scientific method which seeks to observe and describe essential structures of the world we experience by suppressing presuppositions and thoughts about the things being examined. The usual theories and assumptions are set aside, or "bracketed", for the time under investigation. The phenomenological method first asks us to suspend our natural belief that what we are experiencing is an experience of the real, external world.

'Epoche' is the Greek term used by Husserl to indicate this suspense of judgement. It is much like Descartes' method of doubt, which is not a true doubting or dis-belief, but a temporary intellectual suppression of what we usually take for granted, which is firstly our belief about a real world "out there". So, Husserl talks about "disconnecting" our natural standpoint concerning substance and causation. We need to do this in order to describe the content and structure of any experienced phenomenon without requiring any reference to its external reality.

An epoche is a suspension of all presuppositions and beliefs, which are not necessary for the pure description of experiences and essences. Husserl talks of disconnecting the use and putting out of action those beliefs about the things we are attempting to describe, in order to get at a more pure understanding of things. Absolutely nothing is assumed about objects so that only the pure cognitive experience remains, and this serves as the unbiased starting point of empirical study. All is taken away, or suspended in limbo, except the most primitive sensory (or experienced) data; and thus, this is called a phenomenological reduction.

Phenomenology claims to be an a-priori pure scientific philosophy, having a methodology for true empirical description. Phenomenology is also a psychological discipline, which divides the ordinary, "natural" standpoint from a reflective standpoint. The psychological discipline is connected with the scientific methodology. It is recognized, in phenomenological reflection, that the ordinary structure of experience is to just grasp, or be conscious of, or be absorbed in, the objects of experience, without any reflection upon the structure of experience itself. Phenomenology attempts to remedy this unreflective standpoint.

In any experience there is that which is experienced and that which experiences. The "experiencer" could be called the "observing I" or "transcendental ego". The ego is not the object of experience, but is presumed to be necessary. It cannot be studied in its transcendental nature, but only studied as another object of experience -- in which case, it would cease to be the transcendental experiencer. Yet; we can study HOW the experiencer (ego) experiences objects. When we reflect upon consciousness, or experience, we see a correlate of a mode of experience and the object being experienced in that mode, whether the mode be perception, thought, feeling, recollection, imagination, doubting, evaluating, deciding, or another. The object experienced and the mode of experiencing are thus the correlating poles of all phenomenal experience, which could also be described as "intentional experience" because all experiencing is "of" something, or intended toward something. To designate ego-acts, or activities of consciousness, Husserl uses the Greek word `noesis' which means perceiving. Noesis includes all mental acts and attitudes, To designate the corresponding objects experienced he uses the word `noema' which means perceived.

Noema and noesis are thus apriori correlates of all experiencing. The phenomenological method examines the correlating relation between any object of experience, the noema, and its necessary condition, the noesis or kind of mental act involved. One could say that the noesis is real or actual, while the noema is appearance, since noesis is accessible as it is while noema is the appearance of what is not directly accessible. Of importance is that the noema object is dependent, as an experience, on the noesis or "perceiving stance" (my term and interpretation). And yet; it is also true that the noesis necessarily requires some intentional object for it to be intended toward (a reference); all activities of consciousness involve an immanent object of consciousness. The qualities of objects (noema) perceived (noesis) are dependent upon their actualization in consciousness, which only means that perception actualizes that perceived, or that what is perceived depends upon how it is perceived, or that the mode of perceiving characterizes the object of perception.

Each change in the noetic activity of the ego affects the presentation of the object. The same matter or sensed properties, say of tree, is configured at one time as a perceived tree and in another noemic structure as an imagined tree, and in another as a remembered tree. Still, it is of the same tree, or originating from the same tree, and referring to the same tree; yet the phenomenon of experience is different in some structural way, though not different in a more essential way.

The natural standpoint is a possible mode of consciousness or a particular intentional stance. It is the mode which gets completely identified with the objects of consciousness, specifically the things of the world, and unreflectively does not doubt any of its presuppositions or beliefs about these things of the world. Contrary, the reflective standpoint is the foundational stance of the phenomenological-psychological method. The reflective intentional stance reflects upon experience itself, that is, upon the relation between our mode of experiencing and what is being experienced. And I suppose one could say there is an essential or eidetic stance, which somehow intuits the essential, invariable structures of modes of consciousness and objects of consciousness, or at least the relation between perceptions and perceiving, between things and essences, or between facts and universal ideas.

When reflecting upon any phenomena of experience we find no "exterior world" at all. The "exterior" may be presupposed, or taken for granted, in the ordinary experience of objects, but it does not need to be supposed in the actual study of phenomenological experience, although our experience may still be "about" the exterior world. Once we reflectively recognize this absence of necessity in supposing an external reality outside of the internal reality of the experience being studied, we have made the first phenomenological reduction, where there is now less suppositional baggage to deal with. Of course, the reduction is but an epoche, or suspension of this presupposition, and it is not necessary to dis-believe in an external reality, only to suppress that hypothesis for the time of study.

The existence of a real world, with some structural unity and order, is not denied by Husserl. Yet, the field of investigation is the field of phenomena, or how this real world appears to us, or how it is experienced. Our study is about phenomenological experience without making claims about the real world. Thus, the question of whether or not a real world exists can now be suppressed as irrelevant, though it does seem to be presupposed that our experience correctly reflects, in some way, the way the world really is.

Phenomenology is meant to be a science which intends to apprehend real essences through the study of the structure of experience, so there is some presupposition that experiences correspond somewhat to the real essences. Husserl does not need to make claims about the real world, only the experience of it. But then, it seems, his claims concerning the scientific objectivity of these intuited essences reduces to, if properly seen and described, everyone agreeing or sharing in the experience. So, is the problem of correspondence between the real and the experience of the real actually avoided by this reductive move?

Phenomenologists do seek and claim an objectivity in their studies, as well as the universality of their described essences. Granted, there may be no need to speak of the real world outside of experience if all we can know is experience, and if our experience proves to practically deal with so-called real objects of the world, then the structure of experience is an adequate ground of study. Questions about subjectivity and objectivity seem to loose their significance. One is admitting our experience to be subjective, but the experience is about the real world; otherwise the study does not make sense. What would the significance of scientific experience be if not referring to the real world?

Husserl claims that the objects of experience, noema, after bracketing our "usual" beliefs, reveal true essences and exemplify universal relations of phenomenological objects. These are the essences of the phenomenological world, of which the truth-value is confined; yet, I think, Husserl IS presuming these essences to be the real essences of the world, just as Aristotle presumed that his logical descriptions of the world reflected the logical structure of the world itself.

The structure of things in experience depend upon the specific type of psychic intentional act, but Husserl wants to claim that the essential and invariable structure of the objects of our consciousness, or objects of our psychic intentions, are, by necessity, reflective of the objects they signify in the objective world. Each type of intentional act portrays an object in a different way, but the underlying essence, or invariable structure, behind each of these experiences of the same referred-to object does, in fact, express an objectivity, presenting it as it really is.

Husserl claims the existence of these absolute essences, distinct eternal necessities, within some real hierarchy of universal relations - not relations of an external world but of phenomenological experience. Husserl's phenomenology seeks to find and describe these universal truths, or essences (`eidos'), of the particular objects of experience. The knowing of these essences is by a kind of rational intuition which Husserl calls `eidetic', from Greek meaning essential. Through eidetic intuition we perceive the essential structures of particular things, and these essences are a-priori to the perception and description of objects.

These particular things and their essences are not actually external or material things, but they refer to such outward things, though they themselves exist only in consciousness. One assumes that these essences correspondingly reflect actual structures of things in the exterior world: yet, phenomenology makes no claims about external things themselves, only the experiences of these things. When Husserl says, "Back to the Things themselves", he is speaking of a direct experience of things, not of noumenal things. For Husserl there is no basis for inferring a noumenal world of "things-in-themselves, and no need for such a hypothetical ground in the study of experience.

Here again, Husserl avoids making claims about real essences of the world by confining his study to the phenomenological world of experience and finding essences in the latter. Like Kant he doesn't want to commit himself to speaking of the concrete world outside of our experience, or just how "it" (universally and absolutely) is in reality, as though observed without any bias or presupposition.

Husserl's method is concerned with the conditions under which any knowledge of the world is possible. While Kant claimed that the very form of our experiences of worldly things necessarily presupposes a-priori synthetic principles within the perceiving nature, that certain essential structures exist to shape the form of our experience; Husserl would claim that the content of our experience presupposes essential forms.

The Eidos is the form/essence of what we are speaking about or describing. It is the necessary (which implies essential) formula or structure of the individual object of experience. This is what Husserl is finding through the eidetic reduction or epoche, which follows methodologically the first epoche reduction of "thing in the exterior world (or context)" to "thing of (or in) experience". The eidos provides us with a necessary truth of description about an individual object. For example, the essence or eidos of my image of a triangle is the necessary, invariant structure of three lines converging at their points and/or three angles facing each other. In a sense, the essence is that fundamental description necessary to describing the object if one were to suppress all pre-existing knowledge about triangles, or even knowing what a triangle is when I say the word. It is also what is invariant in all triangles.

Husserl wants to claim that the essences intuited are, by necessity, of the same character as the particular things, and the particular things are contingent upon the essences. Everything contingent must have some essential being with Eidos of varying degrees of universality. The essence, or Eidos, discloses "what" a thing is, and these essential "whats" exists within certain hierarchical domains. However we perceive or experience something, whether a thing or thought, feeling, etc., there is a necessary possibility of rationally intuiting (eidetically) the essence(s). Just as the empirical intuition is about individual objects, the essential intuition is about essences, or invariant structures of those objects.

The essential intuition of essences is impossible without attending to the individual object. In other words, one can only find essences if there are first particular objects a-priori having or disclosing essences. Conversely, the individual intuition of objects is impossible without an a-priori essential structure presupposed in the rational recognition of "what" it is. The phenomenological disclosure is, then, both kinds of intuition, each requiring each other, though the eidetic intuitive reduction to essences is preceded in time by the first reduction from the natural standpoint to the individual objects of experience. The essential relations between [experienced] objects and [rational] essences is thus disclosed, which corresponds to the essential relation between fact and eidos, or existence and essence.

How simple objects or qualities of experience can immediately reveal essences and universals is not very clear, unless each of these experiences are essences themselves. Of course, we must take into consideration the whole method involved, which is to study many sufficient examples of that kind of experiential object. In other words, we must investigate and describe all variations of this object of experience, that is, all variations which are of the same invariant kind. This we do in order to uncover the essential invariant features or structures of the `Thing' experienced. Basically, this is a method of investigating a sufficient variety of sufficiently common experiences/objects to get at the common invariants or essences.

The problem here is in its circularity. We are seeking the common elements. By studying the variable examples we hope to find the invariable structures or what is common to these examples. But the method asks us to find sufficient examples which are variable but not too variable as to not be common enough. In other words, we have to already know what is sufficiently appropriate as a common kind of experience in order to juxtapose variant features with invariant structures. We are seeking the invariants, the commonality, by studying sufficiently common things; so, we first need to know something of the invariant, common features of which we seek. Also, how many examples are sufficient in the study? Unless we study all possible variations, which would be a solution to the previous problem discussed - (in other words, begin this empirical science from a completely fresh slate - is that possible or just an impossible ideal?) - we must somehow know when to stop or how to limit the search, and this would require us to either already know about the essential features or make a speculative guess at how many variations are enough.

There is a way which could help us out of this problem, which is the addition of more variable examples (or perspectives) of the `Thing'-at-hand (or object-in-mind). We cannot add more invariables, but only more variables, since if a possible invariable were not already discovered as a common class feature (in other words, it is found to be common in all cases so far), then a new example is not able to confirm a new invariable, but only able to disconfirm one which was previously thought to be invariable. So, new examples can only negate invariables, not confirm them.

All presuppositions are meant to be set aside for the goal of an absolute descriptive science. Whether or not all presuppositions can be suppressed in any examination of things is an important question for any criticism of phenomenology. Maybe all that can really be prescribed in scientific inquiry is a healthy skepticism and an unbiased study as an approachable ideal.

Freedom from presuppositions could be the ultimate false presupposition. In fact, total absence of presuppositions would logically lead to solipsism, where there is nothing real but what is subjectively given as my experience. Yet, though the goal of no presuppositions may be undesirable, or even unattainable, it may still be a worthy ideal to strive toward in any kind of scientific study. Maybe phenomenology succeeds if a sufficient set of presuppositions are suspended?

The aim of any scientific inquiry should be to involve a minimum of presuppositions, and ideally none at all; yet there seems to be no way out of the hermeneutic circle requiring at least some presuppositions in order to make sense of any data, while these very presuppositions reveal the given data in that particular light or within that contextual background. At least the phenemenological method recognizes this inherent problem with any observational science. So maybe the best that can be done is to first discover these presuppositions and either suspend them in the hope of their being eliminated at some point, if possible, or allow them to play their role in this particular process of understanding (though not allow them to sink below our awareness), while experimenting with other presuppositional observations and comparing the field in this more honest and conscious way.

An analogy would be to ask a group of students to describe what they see in an event, while doing a psychological research into the different kinds of presuppositions involved. Let's say that the Blacks, the Orientals, the Latins, and the Whites, as distinct groups, each have different presuppositions; then we might find some valuable insights into: a) the different ways these presuppositions "color" the same event, and b) different variational descriptions of the event, giving us a more holistic view of the event.

Thus, we can discover valuable correlations between Noesis and Noema, between the mode of experiencing and the phenomena of experience. The correlational rule must be remembered: that every mode of experiencing has a referential object of experience, and every phenomena of experience has reference to a particular mode of experiencing. We can see here how the logical division of noesis from noema, and the use of bracketing, is helpful in our study of phenomena.

Husserl's phenomenology was meant to be a method to determine the ground of a-priori judgements needed for objective science to validate its a-priori principles. It sought to make present the ground of consciousness, the source of all experience, and thus the foundation of science. Its aim was to find the essential structure of each kind of intentional act, and then, find the hidden structure common (or widest possible a-priori) to all intentional acts, that is, common to consciousness itself which renders all objects present, thus revealing the unity of experience, the unity of "the world". To reveal this widest a-priori, the a-priori of consciousness itself, would be the ultimate prerequisite for understanding our being-conscious and its relation to the world.

Yet, it is difficult to reflect upon the structures of intentional consciousness, which contribute to the formation of experience, since their very nature is to be directed out toward objects in a kind of naive realism or unreflective absorption which assumes objectivity. Psychologism had already attacked this naive realism of "objectivity" in its argument that observation is conditioned by subjective processes. So Husserl sought to uncover these subjective conditions. His antidote to naive realism is the suspension of belief in having objective access to the real world, or suspending the belief in any exterior world beyond experience, though this was not an anti-realist dis-belief in a real, exterior world.

One can accept that all we have in consciousness is a subjective world, that what my experience shows to "really exist" primarily exists for me or subjectively, and that there is no experience outside of this consciousness, but one could still allow that there really is a world outside of consciousness and that the content of consciousness (about the world) could still be objective in a corresponding sense. This realization prevents the prioritizing of either objective/external reality or subjective/internal experience. It eliminates this epistemological opposition and the various debates that go with it.

The realist considers the only relevant structures of truth to be the form/essences of things-in-themselves -- discovered directly in those things or abstracted from particulars. But the phenomenologist could argue that some knowledge, of the scientific type, reveals structures of things known, while another knowledge, of the psychological type, reveals the way consciousness renders present its objects.

The structure of things known by science is contingent upon the way these real things give themselves to perceptual experience, that is, things-in-themselves do have the power to reveal certain essences to experience a-priori to how they are experienced. Yet, the knowledge of science is also contingent upon the a-priori essential structure of consciousness itself which renders present these things. Scientific knowledge is then contingent upon the psychological structures that make sense of these facts or essences. So the essential structure of things is a-priori to consciousness, but the apprehension of these essences are contingent upon the structure of the consciousness apprehending them.

Therefore; we must first understand the essence of consciousness, or how consciousness, in general and in specific types, experiences objects, since objects can only appear as they do according to the a-priori structural forms in the activities of consciousness. Not that this activity of consciousness forces experience into a fixed mold without correspondence to the exterior world. For these forms of consciousness, or "pure reason", are necessarily structured in a way as to make intelligible the world as it is in order for our lives to work practically. What we know are the phenomena organized by the experiencing ego, or consciousness, or noetic acts, to be intelligible and useful in relating with things in "our world".

The main purpose of the phenomenological method is to disengage the structures of consciousness in their work of making perceptual objects intelligible. Since the lived world of our experience is un-dividible from our intentional a-priori forms of organization, the task of phenomenology is to reveal those noetic structures, or attitudinal activity, of the intentional agent.

The task of phenomenological eidetic reduction/epoche is to bring us out of our absorption with the finished results of the ego's constitutive activity, from objects already determined by the noetic stance. This reduction also intends to grasp the structural forms that unify the data of experience, to bring these apriori forms to light, and bring ultimately to light the transcendental apriori of pure reason (or consciousness) itself.


Wittgenstein might question the very possibility of discovering essences, or that one can rightly make general statements about what is common or invariant in certain objects, events, or experiences. He says that our "craving for generality is the resultant of a number of tendencies connected with particular philosophical confusions."

There is "The tendency to look for something in common to all the entities which we commonly subsume under a general term," as though such common properties were like ingredients of things, as though beauty were an ingredient of all beautiful things. "We think there must be something common to all games, say, and this common property is the justification for applying the general term `game' to the various games." He claims that games form a family the members of which have family likenesses.. and these likenesses overlap (BLUEBOOK 17)."

Our craving for generality has its source in our scientific preoccupation with the "method of reducing the explanation of natural phenomena to the smallest possible number of primitive natural laws," and unifying topics by using generalizations. This seems to be Wittgenstein's rebuttal to phenomenologists. Wittgenstein sees metaphysics as a philosophical mistake to ask and answer questions by this method (BLUEBOOK 18).

Wittgenstein argued that there is not always something common to all instances covered by a general word, and that even if there are some resemblances between recognized instances these are more like "family resemblances", where something is common to some of the instances, while some other things are common to other instances, but there is no one thing in common to all, although there may be plenty of overlapping commonalities.

Wittgenstein might claim that even if a definition of essence could be made and defended, this could be meant or understood in a variety of ways. The definition itself could have multiple or vague meaning, and its understanding could have multiple interpretations. So, Wittgenstein could argue that not only are there no necessary common essences, but there is nothing about language that could compel us to understand them correctly if there were.

There are no necessary and sufficient conditions for the right application of the word. There is no `meaning' like a blue-print or right definition, which can show us the right use. For Wittgenstein, to think that we need to know such a definition or formula is to confuse general terms with mathematical terms which do require strict definition.

First of all, what might justify one case could not possibly justify another, since there might be nothing at all in common between two cases. Second, even if there were necessary conditions, we do not necessarily see all these supposed necessary conditions. Some might be hidden from view, or neglected, and one would doubt that each person using general terms always perceives the presumed set of necessary conditions. This is similar to one of Locke's arguments. Thirdly, even if we were to find common properties or conditions in all the different cases, how would we know these to be sufficient conditions?

Or fourthly, Could any properties be sufficient conditions? We could apply the same word to a number of objects between which there is no common feature. Wittgenstein uses the example of games. And even if they all did have a certain property X in common out of all of their many properties, say this is the property of being manipulated in some way, this would not be sufficient to call any of them by that name, game, because other things or instances, other than games, also share this property X, that of being manipulated in some way. And yet, we could say, in a metaphorical way, that all things or instances having the property of being manipulated in some way.

Wittgenstein rejects the notion that the something in common between particulars is exterior, or in addition, to those particulars. He neatly rejects generalities constituted by [other] common elements. What is common to all games is on equal status as what is common to a color, say blue. What can you say is common to all blues? Of course this may be a physiological puzzle. What is common to all bachelors? That they are unmarried? But is this a common property underneath being unmarried? Or is it a mere tautology or synonym? What else could you say? Yet, as I see it, we now have three kinds of examples. The term `bachelor' can only be described analytically or in a simple definition. The term `blue' can only be described according to the division necessarily made physiologically, or in terms of a "mental state." And the term `game' can be described both analytically and empirically as those things or activities which can be manipulated or "played with."

If all that Wittgenstein can say of games is that they all share in being games, then this seems to be the extreme nominalist position that there is nothing in common except that they are all called games, unless he means [which he doesn't want to] that they all share the essential properties of gamehood. What else could it mean that all games share in being games, except an obvious tautology. I suppose Wittgenstein could reply that they all share a common use in language, but this seems too simple an answer. If I only said that all tables have in common their being tables you might ask why I did not state that they all have a common [Aristotelian] functional use which is to serve as objects for placing things on, just as chairs are objects to be seated in, or books are objects intended to be read, or games are things or circumstances to be played. And why not look at the functional use, or the pragmatic use that "makes a difference", as the significant kind of essential element?

If I learn that `this' is a game, how can I recognize other games latter on? Is there anything that can be said for guidance? It seems that I would need to know the essence of all games, or the respect in which all games are alike. How can I recognize games in my experience if there is no essential criteria for all games or if there is no resemblances between all games? But of course there is no essential resemblance between all games. They often look different and they are played differently. The problem here is in looking at the games themselves for resemblances or essential properties.

What IS common to all games is that one plays them. At least that is the sense in which one should use the word. If it is not something to be played, whether it be monopoly, poker, business, or life, then it is not a game. But then we are confronted with the problematic meaning of the word `play'. To play at something, or with something, is to be in some degree of command over the choice of strategy in a game with different possible moves. Granted, one could use the word `game' or `play' without this kind of stated meaning, but then one is using the words incorrectly or carelessly or obscurely, even if it is used metaphorically. In fact, the metaphorical use of words is often the beginning of obscurity and vagueness. And we cannot not deny that some words are used in an overly vague or general way, or without any thought to their right (or even metaphorical) meaning.


Farber, Marvin. THE AIMS OF PHENOMENOLOGY. Harper & Row,

New York 1966.

Husserl, Edmund. IDEAS. Ihde, Don. EXPERIMENTAL PHENOMENOLOGY. G.P.Putnam's & Sons, New York 1977.