Pure Phenomenology, Its Method and Its Field of Investigation

Edmund Husserl
From: http://www3.baylor.edu/~Scott_Moore/essays/Husserl.html (http://www3.baylor.edu/%7EScott_Moore/essays/Husserl.html)

Ladies and gentlemen, honored colleagues, dear comrades!

[1] In all the areas within which the spiritual life of humanity is at work, the historical epoch wherein fate has placed us is an epoch of stupendous happenings. Whatever previous generations cultivated by their toil and struggle into a harmonious whole, in every sphere of culture, whatever enduring style was deemed established as method and norm, is once more in flux and now seeks new forms whereby reason, as yet unsatisfied, may develop more freely: in politics, in economic life, in technics, in the fine arts, and--by no means least of all--in the sciences. In a few decades of reconstruction, even the mathematical natural sciences, the ancient archetypes of theoretical perfection, have changed habit completely!

[2] Philosophy, too, fits into this picture. In philosophy, the forms whose energies were dissipated in the period following the overthrow of Hegelian philosophy were essentially those of a renaissance. They were forms that reclaimed past philosophies, and their methods as well as some of their essential content originated with great thinkers of the past.

[3] Most recently, the need for an utterly original philosophy has re-emerged, the need of a philosophy that--in contrast to the secondary productivity of renaissance philosophies--seeks by radically clarifying the sense and the motifs of philosophical problems to penetrate to that primal ground on whose basis those problems must find whatever solution is genuinely scientific.

[4] A new fundamental science, pure phenomenology, has developed within philosophy: This is a science of a thoroughly new type and endless scope. It is inferior in methodological rigor to none of the modern sciences. All philosophical disciplines are rooted in pure phenomenology, through whose development, and through it alone, they obtain their proper force. Philosophy is possible as a rigorous science at all only through pure phenomenology. It is of pure phenomenology I wish to speak: the intrinsic nature of its method and its subject matter that is invisible to naturally oriented points of view.

[5] Pure phenomenology claims to be the science of pure phenomena. This concept of the phenomenon, which was developed under various names as early as the eighteenth century without being clarified, is what we shall have to deal with first of all.

[6] We shall begin with the necessary correlation between object, truth, and cognition--using these words in their very broadest senses. To every object there correspond an ideally closed system of truths that are true of it and, on the other hand, an ideal system of possible cognitive processes by virtue of which the object and the truths about it would be given to any cognitive subject. Let us consider these processes. At the lowest cognitive level, they are processes of experiencing, or, to speak more generally, processes of intuiting that grasp the object in the original.

[7] Something similar is obviously true of all types of intuitions and of all other processes of meaning an object even when they have the character of mere re-presentations that (like rememberings or pictorial intuitions or processes of meaning something symbolic) do not have the intrinsic character of being conscious of the intuited's being there "in person" but are conscious of it instead as recalled, as re-presented in the picture or by means of symbolic indications and the like, and even when the actuality valuation of the intuited varies in some, no matter what, manner. Even intuitions in phantasy, therefore, are intrinsically intuitions of objects and carry "object phenomena" with them intrinsically, phenomena that are obviously not characterized as actualities. If higher, theoretical cognition is to begin at al, objects belonging to the sphere in question must be intuited. Natural objects, for example, must be experienced before any theorizing about them can occur. Experiencing is consciousness that intuits something and values it to be actual; experiencing is intrinsically characterized as consciousness of the natural object in question and of it as the original: there is consciousness of the original as being there "in person." The same thing can be expressed by saying that objects would be nothing at all for the cognizing subject if they did not "appear" to him, if he had of them no "phenomenon." Here, therefore, "phenomenon" signifies a certain content that intrinsically inhabits the intuitive consciousness in question and is the substrate for its actuality valuation.

[8] Something similar is still true of the courses followed by manifold intuitions which together make up the unity of one continuous consciousness of one and the same object. The manner in which the object is given within each of the single intuitions belonging to this continuous consciousness may vary constantly; for example, the object's sensuous "looks"--the way in which the object always "looks" different at each approach or remove and at every turning, from above or below, from left or right--may be forever new in the transition from one perception to continuously new perceptions. In spite of that, we have, in the way in which such series of perceptions with their changing sensuous images take their courses, intuitive consciousness not of a changing multiplicity but rather of one and the same object that is variously presented. To put it differently, within the pure immanence of such consciousness one unitary "phenomenon" permeates all the manifolds of phenomenal presentation. It is the peculiar characteristic of such states of affairs which makes for the shift in the concept "phenomenon." Rather than just the thoroughgoing unity of intuition, the variously, changing modes in which the unity is present, e.g. , the continuously changing perspectival looks of a real object, are also called "phenomena."

[9] The extent of this concept is further broadened when we consider the higher cognitive functions: the multiform acts and coherency of referential, combinative, conceiving, theorizing cognition. Every single process of any of these sorts is, again, intrinsically consciousness of the object that is peculiar to it as a thought process of some particular sort of sorts; hence, the object is characterized as member of a combination, as either subject or relatum of a relation, etc. The single cognitive processes, on the other hand combine in the unity of one consciousness that constitutes intrinsically a single synthetic objectivity, a single predicative state-of-affairs, for example, or a single theoretical context, an object such as is expressed in sentences like: "The object is related in this or that way," "It is a whole composed of these and those parts," "The relationship B derives from the relationship A," etc.

[10] Consciousness of all synthetically objective formations of these kinds occurs through such multimembered acts that unite to form higher unities of consciousness, and it occurs by means of immanently constituted phenomena that function at the same time as substrates for differing valuations, such as certain truth, probability, possibility, etc.

[11] The concept "phenomenon" carries over, furthermore, to the changing modes of being conscious of something--for example, the clear and the obscure, evident and blind modes--in which one and the same relation or connection, one and the same state-of-affairs, one and the same logical coherency, etc., can be given to consciousness.

[12] In summary, the first and most primitive concept of the phenomenon referred to the limited sphere of those sensuously given realities [der sinnendinglichen Gegebenheiten] through which Nature is evinced in perceiving.

[13] The concept was extended, without comment, to include every kind of sensuously meant or objectivated thing. It was then extended to include also the sphere of those synthetic objectivities that are given to consciousness through referential and connective conscious syntheses. It thus includes all modes in which things are give to consciousness And it was seen finally to include the whole realm of consciousness with all of the ways of being conscious of something and all the constituents that can be shown immanently to belong to them. That the concept includes all ways of conscious of something means that it includes, as well, every sort of feeling, desiring, and willing with its immanent "comportment" [Verhalten].

[14] To understand this broadening of the concept is very easy if one considers that emotional and volitional processes also have intrinsically the character of being conscious of something and that enormous categories of objects, including all cultural objects, all values, all goods, all works, can be experienced, understood, and made objective as such only through the participation of emotional and volitional consciousness. No object of the category "work of art" could occur in the objectivational world of any being who was devoid of all aesthetic sensibility, who was, so to speak, aesthetically blind.

[15] Through this exposition of the concept of "phenomenon" we obtain a preliminary conception of a general phenomenology, viz., a science of objective phenomena of every kind, the science of every kind of object, an "object" being taken purely as something having just those determinations with which it presents itself in consciousness and in just those changing modes through which it so presents itself. It would be the task of phenomenology, therefore, to investigate how something perceived, something remembered, something phantasied, something pictorially represented, something symbolized looks as such, i.e., to investigate how it looks by virtue of that bestowal of sense and of characteristics which is carried out intrinsically by the perceiving, the remembering, the phantasying, the pictorial representing, etc., itself. Obviously, phenomenology would investigate in the same way how what is collected looks in the collecting of it; what is disjoined, in the disjoining, what is produced, in the producing; and, similarly, for every act of thinking, how it intrinsically "has" phenomenally in it what it thinks; how, in aesthetic valuing, the valued looks as such; in actively shaping something, the shaped as such; etc. What phenomenology wants, in all these investigations, is to establish what admits of being stated with the universal validity of theory. In doing so, however, its investigations will, understandably, have to refer to the intrinsic nature [das eigene Wesen] of the perceiving itself, of remembering (or any other way of representing) itself, and of thinking, valuing, willing, and doing themselves--these acts being taken just as they present themselves to immanently intuitive reflection. In Cartesian terms, the investigation will be concerned with the cogito in its own right as well as with the cogitatum qua cogitatum. As the two are inseparable involved with each other in being, so, understandably, are they in the investigation as well.

[16] If these are the themes of phenomenology, then it can also be called "science of consciousness," if consciousness be taken purely as such.

[17] To characterize this science more exactly, we shall introduce a simple distinction between phenomena and Objects [Objekten]* in the pregnant sense of the word. In general logical parlance, any subject whatever of true predications is an object. In this sense, therefore, every phenomenon is also an object. Within this widest concept of object, and specifically within the concept of individual object, Objects and phenomena stand in contrast with each other. Objects [Objekte], all natural Objects, for example, are objects foreign to consciousness. Consciousness does, indeed, objectivate them and posit them as actual, yet the consciousness that experiences them and takes cognizance of them is so singularly astonishing that it bestows upon its own phenomena the sense of being appearances of Objects foreign to consciousness and knows these "extrinsic" Objects through processes that take cognizance of their sense. Those objects that are neither conscious processor nor immanent constituents of conscious processes we therefore call Objects in the pregnant sense of the word.

[18] This places two separate sciences in the sharpest of contrasts: on the one hand, phenomenology, the science of consciousness as it is in itself; on the other, the "Objective" sciences as a totality.

[19] To the objects which are obviously correlated to each other, of these contrasted sciences there correspond two fundamentally different types of experience and of intuition generally: immanent experience and Objective experience, also called "external" or transcendent experience. Immanent experience consists in the mere viewing that takes place in reflection by which consciousness and that of which there is consciousness are grasped. For example, a liking or a desiring that I am just now executing enters into my experience by way of a merely retrospective look and, by means of this look, is given absolutely. What "absolutely" means here we can learn by contrast: we can experience any external thing only insofar as it presents itself to us sensuously through this or that adumbration [Abschattung]. A liking has no changing presentations; there are no changing perspectives on or views of it as if it might be seen from above or below, from near or far. It just is nothing foreign to consciousness at all that could present itself to consciousness through the mediation of phenomena different from the liking itself; to like is intrinsically to be conscious.

[20] This is involved with the fact that the existence of what is given to immanent reflection is indubitable while what is experienced through external experience always allows the possibility that it may prove to be an illusory Object in the course of further experiences.

[21] Immanent and transcendent experience are nevertheless connected in a remarkable way: by a change in attitude, we can pass from the one to the other.

[22] In the natural attitude, we experience, among other things, processes in Nature [Natur]; we are adverted to them, observe them, describe them, subsume them under concepts [bestimmen sie]. While we do so, there occur in our experiencing and theorizing consciousness multiform conscious processes which have constantly changing immanent constituents. The things involved present themselves through continuously flowing aspects; their shapes are perspectivally silhouetted [schatten sich ab] in definite ways; the data of the different senses are construed in definite ways, e.g., as unitary colorings of the experiences shapes or as warmth radiating from them; the sensuous qualities construed are referred, by being construed referentially and causally, to real circumstances; etc. The bestowing of each of these senses is carried out in consciousness and by virtue of definite series of flowing conscious processes. A person in the natural attitude, whoever, knows nothing of this. He executes the acts of experiencing, referring, combining; but, while he is executing them, he is looking not toward them but rather in the direction of the objects he is conscious of.

[23] On the other hand, he can convert his natural attentional focus into the phenomenologically reflective one; he can make the currently flowing consciousness and, thus, the infinitely multiform world of phenomena at large the theme of his fixating observations, descriptions, theoretical investigations--the investigations which, for short, we call "phenomenological."

[24] At this point, however, there arises what, in the present situation of philosophy, can be called the most decisive of questions. Is not what was just described as immanent reflection simply identical with internal, psychological experience? Is not psychology the proper place for the investigation of consciousness and all its phenomena? However much psychology may previously have omitted any systematic investigation of consciousness, however blindly it may have passed over all radical problems concerning the bestowal, carried out in the immanence of consciousness, objective sense, it still seems clear that such investigations should belong to psychology and should even be fundamental to it.

[25] The ideal of a pure phenomenology will be perfected only by answering this question; pure phenomenology is to be separated sharply from psychology at large and, specifically, from the descriptive psychology of the phenomena of consciousness. Only with this separation does the centuries-old conflict over "psychologism" reach its final conclusion. The conflict is over nothing less than the true philosophical method and the foundation of any philosophy as pure and strict science.

[26] To begin with, we put the proposition: pure phenomenology is the science of pure consciousness. This means that pure phenomenology draws upon pure reflection exclusively, and pure reflection excludes, as such, every type of external experience and therefore precludes any copositing of objects alien to consciousness. Psychology, on the other hand, is science of psychic Nature and, therefore, of consciousness as Nature or as real event in the spatiotemporal world. Psychology draws upon psychological experiencing, which is an apperceiving that links immanent reflection to experience of the external, the extrinsic [äusserer Erfahrung]. In psychological experience, moreover, the psychic is given as event within the cohesion of Nature. Specifically, psychology, as the natural science of psychic life, regards conscious processes as the conscious processes of animate being, i.e., as real causal adjuncts to animate bodies. The psychologist must resort to reflection in order to have conscious processes experientially given. Nevertheless, this reflection does not keep to pure reflection; for, in being taken as belonging really to the animate body in question, reflection is linked to experience of the extrinsic. Psychologically experienced consciousness is therefore no longer pure consciousness; construed Objectively in this way, consciousness itself becomes something transcendent, becomes an event in that spatial world which appears, by virtue of consciousness, to be transcendent.

[27] The fundamental fact is that there is a kind of intuiting which--in contrast to psychological experiencing--remains within pure reflection: pure reflection excludes everything that is given in the natural attitude and excludes therefore all of Nature.

[28] Consciousness is taken purely as it intrinsically is with its own intrinsic constituents, and no being that transcends consciousness is coposited.

[29] What is thematically posited is only what is given, by pure reflection, with all its immanent essential moments absolutely as it is given to pure reflection.

[30] Descartes long ago came close to discovering the purely phenomenological sphere. He did so in his famous and fundamental meditation--that has nevertheless been basically fruitless--which culminates in the much quoted "ego cogito, ego sum." The so-called phenomenological reduction can be effected by modifying Descartes's method, by carrying it through purely and consequentially while disregarding all Cartesian aims; phenomenological reduction is the method for effecting radical purification of the phenomenological field of consciousness from all obtrusions from Objective actualities and for keeping it pure of them. Consider the following: Nature, the universe of spatiotemporal Objectivity, is given to us constantly; in the natural attitude, it already is the field for our investigations in the natural sciences and for our practical purposes. Yet, nothing prevents us from putting out of action, so to speak, any believing in the actuality of it, even though that believing continues to occur all the while in our mental processes. After all, speaking quite universally, no believing, no conviction, however evident, excludes by its essence the possibility of its being put in a certain way out of action or deprived of its force. What this means we can learn from any case in which we examine one of our convictions, perhaps to defend it against objections or to re-establish it on a new basis. It may be that we have no doubts at all about it. Yet, we obviously alter during the whole course of the examination the way we act in relation to this conviction. Without surrendering our conviction in the least, we still do not take part in it; we deny to ourselves acceptance, as truth, of what the conviction posits simply to be true. While the examination is being carried out, this truth is in question; it remains to be seen; it is to remain undecided.

[31] In our instance, in the case of phenomenologically pure reflection, the aim is not to place in question and to test our believing in actualities foreign to consciousness. Nevertheless, we can carry out a similar putting-out-of-action for that consciousness of actuality by virtue of which the whole of Nature is existence which, for us, is given [für uns gegebenes Dasein ist]; and we can do so utterly ad libitum. For the sole purposes of attaining to the domain of pure consciousness and keeping it pure, we therefore undertake to accept no beliefs involving Objective experience and, therefore, also undertake to make not the slightest use of any conclusion derived from Objective experience.

[32] The actuality of all of material Nature is therefore kept out of action and that of all corporeality along with it, including the actuality of my body, the body of the cognizing subject.

[33] This makes it clear that, as a consequence, all psychological experience is also put out of action. If we have absolutely forbidden ourselves to treat Nature and the corporeal at all as given actualities, then the possibility of positing any conscious process whatsoever as having a corporeal link or as being an event occurring in Nature lapses of itself.

[34] What is left over, once this radical methodological exclusion of all Objective actualities has been effected? The answer is clear. If we put every experienced actuality out of action, we still have indubitably given every phenomenon of experience. This is true for the whole Objective world as well. We are forbidden to make use of the actuality of the Objective world; for, the Objective world is as if it were placed in brackets. What remains to us is the totality of the phenomena of the world, phenomena which are grasped by reflection as they are absolutely in themselves [in ihrer absoluten Selbstheit]. For, all of these constituents of conscious life remain intrinsically what they were; it is through them that the world is constituted.

[35] So far as their own phenomenal content is concerned, they do not suffer in any way when believing in Objective actuality is put out of play. Nor does reflection, insofar as it grasps and views the phenomena in their own being, suffer in any way. Only now, in fact, does reflection become pure and exclusive. Moreover, even the belief in the Objective, the belief characteristic of simple experience and of empirical theory, is not lost to us. Instead, it becomes our theme just as it intrinsically is and in accord with what is implicit in it as its sense and as the substrate for what it posits; we view the belief; we analyze its immanent character; we follow its possible coherences, especially those of grounding; we study in pure reflection what takes place in transitions to fulfilling insight, what is preserved of the meant sense in such transitions, what the fullness of intuition brings to this sense, what alteration and enrichment so-called evidence contributes, and whatever advances are made by what, in this connection, is called "attaining Objective truth through insight." Following this method of phenomenological reduction (i.e., keeping out of action all believing in the transcendent), every kind of theoretical, valuational, practical consciousness can be made in the same manner a theme of inquiry; and all the Objectivities constituted in it can be investigated. The investigation will take these Objectivities simply as correlates of consciousness and will inquire solely into the What and the How of the phenomena that can be drawn from the conscious processes and coherencies in question. Things in Nature, persons and personal communities, social forms and formations, poetic and plastic formations, every kind of cultural work--all become in this way headings for phenomenological investigations, not as actualities, the way they are treated in the corresponding Objective sciences, but rather with regard to the consciousness that constitutes--through the intermediary of an initially bewildering wealth of structures of consciousness--these objectivities for the conscious subject in question. Consciousness and what it is conscious of is therefore what is left over as field for pure reflection once phenomenological reduction has been effected: the endless multiplicity of manners of being conscious, on the one hand, and, on the other, the infinity of intentional correlates. What keeps us from transgressing this field is the index that, thanks to the method of phenomenological reduction every Objective belief obtains as soon as it arises for consciousness. The index demands of us: Take no part in this belief; do not fall into the attitude of Objective science; keep to the pure phenomenon! Obviously, the index is universal in the scope in which it suspends acceptance of the Objective sciences themselves, of which psychology is one. The index changes all sciences to science phenomena; and, in this status, they are among its larger themes.

[36] However, as soon as any proposition about things Objective, any one at all, including even the most indubitable truth, is claimed to be a valid truth, the soil of pure phenomenology is abandoned. For then we take our stance upon some Objective soil and carry on psychology or some other Objective science instead of phenomenology.

[37] This radical suspension of Nature stands in conflict, to be sure, with our most deeply rooted habits of experience and thinking. Yet it is precisely for this reason that fully self-conscious phenomenological reduction is needed if consciousness is to be systematically investigated in its pure immanence at all.

[38] But still other reservations come to mind. Is pure phenomenology genuinely possible as a science, and, if so, then how? Once the suspension is in effect, we are left with pure consciousness. In pure consciousness, however, what we find is an unresting flow of never recurring phenomena, even though they may be indubitably given in reflective experience. Experience by itself is not science. Since the reflecting and cognizing subject has only his flowing phenomena genuinely and since every other cognizing subject--his corporeality and consequently his consciousness [seinem Erleben] as well--falls within the scope of the exclusion, how can an empirical science still be possible? Science cannot be solipsistic. It must be valid for every experience subject.

[39] We would be in a nasty position indeed if empirical science were the only kind of science possible. Answering the question we have posed thus leads to most profound and as yet unsolved philosophical problems. Be that as it may, pure phenomenology was not established to be an empirical science, and what it calls its 'purity' is not just that of pure reflection but is at the same time the entirely different sort of purity we meet in the names of other sciences.

[40] We often speak in a general, and intelligible, way of pure mathematics, pure arithmetic, pure geometry, pure kinematics, etc. These we contrast, as a priori sciences, to sciences, such as the natural sciences, based on experience and induction. Sciences that are pure in this sense, a priori sciences, are pure of any assertion about empirical actuality. Intrinsically, they purport to be concerned with the ideally possible and the pure laws thereof rather than with actualities. In contrast to them, empirical sciences are sciences of the de facto actual, which is given as such through experience.

[41] Now, just as pure analysis does not treat of actual things and their de facto magnitudes but investigates instead the essential laws pertaining to the essence of any possible quantity, or just as pure geometry is bound to shapes observed in actual experience but instead inquires into possible shapes and their possible transformations, constructing ad libitum in pure geometric phantasy, and establishes their essential laws, in precisely the same way pure phenomenology proposes to investigate the realm of pure consciousness and its phenomena not as de facto exists but as pure possibilities with their pure laws. And, indeed, when one becomes familiar with the soil of pure reflection, one is compelled to the view that possibilities are subject to ideal laws in the realm of pure consciousness as well. For example, the pure phenomena through which a possible spatial Object presents itself to consciousness have their a priori definite system of necessary formations which is unconditionally binding upon every cognizing consciousness if that consciousness is to be able to intuit spatial reality. [Raumdinglichket]. Thus, the ideal of a spatial thing prescribes a priori to possible consciousness of such a thing a set rule, a rule that can be followed intuitively and that admits of being conceived, in accord with the typicality of phenomenal forms, in pure concepts. And the same is true of every principal category of objectivities. The expression 'a priori' is therefore not a cloak to cover some ideological extravagance but is just as significant as is the 'purity' of mathematical analysis or geometry.

[42] Obviously, I can here offer no more than this helpful analogy. Without troublesome work, no one can have any concrete, full idea of what pure mathematical research is like or of the profusion of insights that can be obtained from it. The same sort of penetrating work, for which no general characterization can adequately substitute, is required if one is to understand phenomenological science concretely. That the work is worthwhile can readily be seen from the unique position of phenomenology with regard to philosophy on the one hand and psychology on the other. Pure phenomenology's tremendous significance for any concrete grounding of psychology is clear from the very beginning. If all consciousness is subject to essential laws in a manner similar to that in which spatial reality is subject to mathematical laws, then these essential laws will be of most fertile significance in investigating facts of the conscious life of human and brute animals.

[43] So far as philosophy is concerned, it is enough to point out that all ratio-theoretical [vernunft-theoretischen] problems, the problems involved in the so-called critique of theoretical, valuational, and practical reason, are concerned entirely with essential coherences prevailing between theoretical, axiological, or practical Objectivity and the consciousness in which it is immanently constituted. It is easy to demonstrate that ratio-theoretical problems can be formulated with scientific rigor and can then be solved in their systematic coherence only on the soil of phenomenologically pure consciousness and within the framework of a pure phenomenology. The critique of reason and all philosophical problems along with it can be put on the course of strict science by a kind of research that draws intuitively upon what is given phenomenologically but not by thinking of the kind that plays out value concepts, a game played with constructions far removed from intuition.

[44] Philosophers, as things now stand, are all too fond of offering criticism from on high instead of studying and understanding things from within. They often behave toward phenomenology as Berkeley--otherwise a brilliant philosopher and psychologist--behaved two centuries ago toward the then newly established infinitesimal calculus. He thought that he could prove, by his logically sharp but superficial criticism, this sort of mathematical analysis to be a completely groundless extravagance, a vacuous game played with empty abstractions. It is utterly beyond doubt that phenomenology, new and most fertile, will overcome all resistance and stupidity and will enjoy enormous development, just as the infinitesimal mathematics that was so alien to its contemporaries did, and just as exact physics, in opposition to the brilliantly obscure natural philosophy of the Renaissance, has done since the time of Galileo.

*Following the practice of Dorion Cairns in his translation of Husserl's Cartesian Meditations, the word 'object', spelled with a small letter, has been and will be used throughout to translate Gegenstand, spelled with a capital letter, it translates Objekt. In the same way, words derived from Gegenstand or from Objekt will be translated with words derived from 'object', spelled with a small or with a capital letter, repectively. Where 'object' or one of its derivativeds is the initial word in a sentence, the German word will be given in brackets. The practice appears to be justified perfectly by the manner in which the text proceeds to differentiate between the senses of Gegenstand and Objekt.


Translated by Robert Welsh Jordan. Husserl: Shorter Works. Edited by Peter McCormick and Frederick A. Elliston. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981.