User:Jrradney/Temp/Stewart & Mickunas 1990.doc

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Date Entered: 22 February 2003

Date Read: February 2003

Monograph Reference:

Stewart, David, and Algis Mickunas. Exploring Phenomenology: a Guide to the Field and its Literature. Athens, OH: Ohio Univ. Pr., 1990 [1974].


'Behaviorism introduced a further paradox: although the task of psychology is to describe human behavior, the describer, who is conscious of that behavior (or even the originator of it) is left unaccounted for. By attempting to explain all mental or "spiritual" (in the sense of the German word Geist) phenomena in terms of physical processes, psychology reduced thought to physical processes, secretions of the brain, which in principle were to be explained by chemical or physiological laws. The objections made by the phenomenologists to this kind of reductionistic psychology were not objections to the empirical method as such but to the assumptions on which it was based. In its attempt to describe the total human subject in completely quantitative terms, psychology had eliminated the importance of human consciousness itself. But additionally, it led to further difficulties. If logic can be accounted for by psychology as merely a psychophysical process (presumably occurring in the human brain), then there is no criterion to distinguish one such process (the one occurring in my brain) as logically superior to another process (the one occurring in your brain). All thinking processes, including contradictory ones, would have to be viewed as equally valid if a strictly psychologistic interpretation of logic is assumed, for logic can produce no criteria by which true statements can be distinguished from false ones' (18).

Stewart and Mickunas point out the inherent problem in reducing all cognition and consciousness to physical processes in the brain: the truth of its own position can only be understood as an expression of psychophysical processes in human brains, and if the process were different, then our understanding would have to be. Psychology must appeal to some external standard, whether logic or reality, in order to establish itself as a discipline.

'Among other aspects, Husserl's method amounted to an expansion of the meaning of the term experience. Instead of limiting its use to those things known by means of sense perception, Husserl applied it to anything of which one is conscious. There are many different things of which one can be aware: natural objects, mathematical entities, values, affective states, volitions, melodies, moods, desires feelings—all these are things (Sachen) of which one is aware. All of these things Husserl calls phenomena. Phenomenology, then, became a program for a systematic investigation of the content of consciousness' (23).

Stewart and Mickunas describe how Husserl broadened the notion of human experience that could be observed beyond the merely physical and perceptual.

'To underscore the phenomenological view of consciousness, Husserl introduced new terminology which would avoid the subject-object dualism of older philosophical views while respecting the polar structure of consciousness. The activity of consciousness he called noesis . . . , whereas the essence to which this mental activity is correlated he called noema . . . . Still a word of caution is needed: the subject-object way of thinking is so ingrained in habits of thought that one would fail to understand Husserl if he identified the noetic with the subject and the noematic with the object. Husserl stressed repeatedly that noetic activity cannot be identified with psychological activity, for it deals not with psychic processes but with the meaning of those processes. Similarly, the noematic cannot be identified with the empirical object, for it deals not with the physical experience but with the meaning of that experience. This unity of meanings is another indication of the importance of the intentional structure of consciousness. The noetic-noematic structure of consciousness cannot be identified either with the subject or object (in more traditional terminology) for it is the condition for the possibility of experiencing both the subject and the object. One never finds the noetic and noematic in isolation form each other but always correlated; they are two sides of the same coin' (37-8).

Stewart and Mickunas distinguish between previous dichotomies of subject-object and the poles of the phenomena, called noetic and noematic. These are meanings of the experience of subject and object in union as the phenomenon.

'To emphasize the active role of consciousness in this unification, Husserl referred to this activity as constitution. It is transcendental in the sense that such constitution is a necessary condition for the unified experience of particular entities. Transcendental constitution, however, is a formal capacity of consciousness. In other words, consciousness does not create the impressions or the object around which the impressions are synthesized. It rather constitutes a unity out of the multitude of impressions in terms of the experience itself. In short, transcendental constitution is the necessary prerequisite for all experience' (45).

Stewart and Mickunas explain Husserl's notion of constitution as the hermeneutic whereby the observer makes the various impressions those of the "same" thing. It is not that we "invent" a reality from our impressions, but that we understand reality as a unification of our experiences.

'A popular and pervasive explanation of mind is that mental activity can be totally accounted for in terms of physical processes which are the proper domain of psychophysiology. In turn, this kind of explanation further reduces its principles of understanding to those natural laws investigated by chemistry and, ultimately, physics. . . . This kind of response to traditional philosophical problems signals a radical reductionism which phenomenologists often refer to as "nothing but" philosophy" mental activity is "nothing but" physical processes in the brain; freedom is "nothing but" an illusion due to a lack of proper knowledge of causal relationships; values are "nothing but" emotional preferences explainable in terms of chemical imbalance; perception is "nothing but" the physical interaction of different states of matter. The basic assumption underlying all such explanations is that reality is "nothing but" the sum total of physical entities. Phenomenology's response is to insist that all such assumptions be bracketed (the phenomenological epoche). By suspending these presuppositions, the phenomenologist does not thereby conclude that such explanations are incorrect but that they must be set aside, put in parentheses as it were, until they can be philosophically validated. In short, phenomenology insists that phenomena be investigated as they present themselves to consciousness; then and only then can they be placed in the proper perspective, taking care that no area of conscious experience be excluded or reduced to something other than what is being experienced. Before one can conclude that mental activity is "nothing but" physical processes in the brain, he must already know the mental activity as it is in itself. But the only way one can know mental activity as it is in itself is by examining it as phenomnenon, that is as it appears in conscious experience. The phenomenological method offers a way of doing this' (91).

Stewart and Mickunas point out the superficiality of explaining human cognition solely in physical terms. There is a crucial assumption in such a move that invalidates its own agenda. If thought is only the product of chemical processes, then there can be no verification of such processes; chemical processes can be neither valid, nor invalid, merely in process, blocked, past, or future.

'The distinguishing features of the phenomenological view of perception can best be seen when contrasted with the traditional view which is dominated by the causal model. In this view the mind is understood as an organism (usually thought of as a passive receptacle for sensations) causally related to physical objects. The physical object emits or reflects waves and particles which impinge on the brain and are then translated into a copy of the object being experienced. . . . The phenomenological analysis of perception admits that there is a causal link between the organism and the object which is being experienced, but it insists that perception involves more than this. In line with its method, phenomenology goes directly to the experience of perception itself and in doing so points out a major difficulty with the causal model of perception. Science would describe sound, for example, as the movement of energy waves transmitted by the particles of air which impinge upon the organic structures of the ear and are thus transmitted to the brain. But this kind of explanation leaves out the most important part, namely the sound itself. For one does not experience the movement of particles in the air or the organic process described by science but rather the sound of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, for example. A physical description of the instruments in the orchestra and a physical account of the action of the ear are inadequate to account for the sound of the symphony. Sound certainly involves these aspects, but as a phenomenon it cannot be fully accounted for on these terms alone. . . . Viewed phenomenologically, perception is seen as intentional; that is, perception is always perception of . . . . [These ellipsis dots are in the original.]This means that in perception the structures of perception themselves are not given. What is given is the perceived object in the world' (99).

Stewart and Mickunas do not reject the traditional account of perception, but point out the tenuousness of the assumptions underlying the account.

'Basic to the phenomenological view of language is an emphasis upon its intentional structure. Language is always about . . . [These ellipsis dots are in the original.], just as consciousness is always consciousness of . . . . [These ellipsis dots are in the original.] Language is an expression of conscious intentionality in terms of meaning. Being the basic mode of expression if the intentional structure of consciousness, language understood phenomenologically includes all the ways consciousness expresses its relation to the world. The gesture, the look, bodily stances, as well as formal systems of communication must be included in the notion of language' (105).

Stewart and Mickunas posit that language behaviour is a sub-category of communicative behaviour such that an understanding of the larger category provides insight into the lesser one.

'Language, understood as spoken or written expression, comprises two aspects—the empirical dimension and the sphere of meaning, which are never given one without the other. The empirical aspect of language includes sounds and visual marks, whereas the meaning of language is that which is expressed through sounds and visual signs. It is a mistake, however, to equate the meaning of language with the arbitrary system of signs constituting that language. The meaning of any spoken or written expression is not reducible to such a system, for different systems may express the same meaning, or different meanings may be expressed by the same system. Whereas a given system consists only of a finite number of sounds or visual signs, it can express an infinite number of meanings. From a phenomenological point of view, language is never closed but, like consciousness itself, is open to an infinite number of possibilities' (105-6).

Stewart and Mickunas note that all of language is a form-meaning composite (as Pike 1982, said) and move away from the traditional view that language is an arbitrary system of signs (Cf. Pike 1964).

'In analyzing language, phenomenology deals not only with the formal language system itself but with the intended meaning, which is always directed to something other than language. This has led, particularly in the work of Heidegger, to the notion of language as logos . . . As logos, language is the bearer of meanings, and these meanings are meanings about the world that are grasped by consciousness. Language, however, cannot be understood in an abstract sense but only in its concrete situation. A single word in isolation from its context has no meaning; the meaning of the word derives its unity from the total situation, which includes the outward expression as well as the objective context. In short, language, like consciousness, is always situated. The situatedness of language is a life-situation, not a series of lexical meanings as one would find in a dictionary, for the situation in which language functions prescribes what the words of language mean. Lexical meanings are defined with reference to the meanings of other words in what is essentially a closed system. But in experience, one finds that language is not a closed system, for with a finite number of signs (letters, sounds, grammatical rules) one can express an infinite number of meanings. This kind of analysis shows that the possibility of new meanings arises out of the lived-situation. Failure to take this lived-situation into one's account of language will not give a full understanding of language as it is experienced. In short, phenomenology finds the meaning of language in the context of "worldly" situations as they are lived' (106).

Stewart and Mickunas explain that the meaning of language comes from life, not a formal property of the system. As such, the lived context is what needs description for an account of the meaning of a language text.

'Phenomenology is critical of traditional psychology for focusing on only the noematic dimension of experience and for interpreting the noetic in a materialistic sense. By basing its approach on a method borrowed from natural science, traditional psychology could not help but be concerned only with the observable and measurable aspects of human behavior. The cause and effect model became the explanation of all human activity; mental processes were reduced to empirical phenomena observable within a causal chain. It was only a short step to determinism, which claims that all mental phenomena are explainable in terms of reactions to prior stimuli and that the relationship between different mental events is mechanistic. This is another instance of the "nothing but" approach to psychology: thoughts are "nothing but" displacements in the brain of material particles; consciousness is "nothing but" the sum of these displacements; and all mental activity is "nothing but" the functioning of a highly complex mechanism reacting to its environment' (119).

Stewart and Mickunas point out that psychologists crucially assume stances in regard to the subject matter of their field. These stances contradict the findings of phenomenology concerning consciousness.

All this is antithetical to phenomenology for the reason that it leaves out the noetic structures of consciousness and their nonmaterial noematic correlates. In short, phenomenology charges that mechanistic psychology omits the most important aspect of human behavior, namely, its meaning. And in so doing it reduces itself to a subjectivistic contradiction: if all mental processes are caused by physical events, then the explanations of behavioural psychology are likewise caused by physical conditions and therefore have no universal validity. And yet by making the claim that all behavior is "nothing but" the results of physical processes and reactions to an environment, behaviorism is making a claim to the universal validity of its explanations. If behavioural psychologists eliminate the meaning of mental activity from their area of investigation, they cannot then claim that their explanations have any meaning. But it is precisely the meaning of psychic events that phenomenology investigates' (119-20).

Stewart and Mickunas reiterate that psychologists lack a true explanation of mental events in terms of meaning at just the point where they posit physical causes for psychical events. It is not that phenomenology advocates a dualist understanding of body plus mind; but rather that human mental operations are essentially meaningful.

'Phenomenology does not limit the term "social sciences" only to the study of the structures of society but includes all areas of human life— education, literature, business and economics, history, as well as anthropology and sociology. In all these areas of inquiry, phenomenology's method of approach is rooted in the notion of the lived-world . . . Thus, we act in the world rather than observe it as disinterested scientists, and in the lived-world questions of epistemology, ontology, or the meaning of the world do not arise. In fact they cannot even be admitted since they are not recognized as part of the lived-world' (126).

Stewart and Mickunas advance that phenomenology examines the disciplines of the social sciences in a way foundationally different from that of the empirical scientist, who does not act as a participant in the events being described.

'The social sciences, phenomenologically considered, deal not with the question of the reality of the world but rather with human relationships within this world. Thus, intersubjective relations and the question of knowledge of the other person are of primary importance for phenomenology. . . . When encountering another individual, I encounter a person without having to go through the process of drawing an inference based on anatomical details that would allow me to classify him as a member of the human species. . . . From the moment that I encounter the other, I am thou oriented, not in terms of a theoretical judgment but in an immediate lived-experience' (127).

Stewart and Mickunas insist that our experience of others in the world is not based upon empirical observation and reasoning or theory, but rather upon an extension from our own lived experience of ourselves.

'As is true of any living discipline which has not yet rigidified into a formalism, phenomenology faces a number of unresolved issues. Not the least of these is the confusion in the minds of many persons as to the process of phenomenological analysis itself. Because of phenomenology's emphasis upon description as the primary task of philosophy, it is tempting to label any description as phenomenological. But this is most decidedly a distortion of the intent of phenomenology. Not just any description of experience is phenomenological, for basic to the phenomenological method is the exclusion of naturalistic assumptions about the ontological status of the world, including one's subjective reactions to it. Therefore, an ongoing task of phenomenology is constantly to clarify the naturalistic assumptions operative in description and to make apparent the experiential factors inherent in that description' (143).

Stewart and Mickunas identify one of the ongoing tasks of phenomenology to make its procedures clear to those scholars who would consider using phenomenology in application to their fields of study.

'As phenomenology addresses itself to the foundational questions of the human sciences, it has come up against the fact that these other disciplines cannot be reduced to the principles of one philosophical system. What is needed is a bridge between phenomenology and the various methodologies of the human sciences—such as anthropology, sociology, psychology, history of religions, and so forth. Phenomenology, however, sees its task as providing an analysis of the basic assumptions lying behind the methods employed in these disciplines, but in order to accomplish this philosophy must first show the possible ways of interpreting these assumptions. These principles of interpretation constitute a method referred to as hermeneutics . . . Hermeneutics is an attempt to show the prephilosophical understanding of man in the world that is basic to these various disciplines so that this understanding can become the basis of philosophical reflection' (145).

Stewart and Mickunas show the connection between the projects of phenomenology and those of philosophical hermeneutics.