Husserl’s Phenomenological Method

  • Burt C. Hopkins
Part of the Contributions to Phenomenology book series (CTPH, volume 11)


In Chapter One of my study of Husserl’s phenomenological account of intentionality, I will be concerned with providing an account of his phenomenological method in view of the matters themselves. My account will, above all, be preoccupied with what I consider to be the all important problem of the phenomenological “beginnings” of this method. My efforts at clarifying these beginnings will attempt to do so by bringing into bold phenomenal reliefs the peculiar point of departure (Ansatzpunkt) of Husserl’s phenomenological method. Toward this end I will trace out the initial formulation of this method as it emerges from out of the critique of what he takes to be sensationalist empiricism. My discussion will first try to show that and how this critique leads to Husserl’s initial uncovering of the key elements of his method: e.g., lived-experiences, phenomenologically immanent reflection as opposed to, and differentiated from, ontologically mediated “inner” perception or reflection, and the “breakthrough discovery” of the “seeing of essences” (Wesensschau). Having shown this, I will then proceed to sketch the general lines of Husserl’s abstractive and reductive purification of lived-experiences, in an effort to show how these methodical moves lead to the pure phenomenological uncovering of the essence and eidos of intentionality.


Perceptual Experience Perceptual Object Methodical Reflection Phenomenological Method Pure Consciousness 
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  1. 1.
    The term “phenomenal relief” will be used here and elsewhere in this study within the context of the phenomenological project of rendering explicit the pertinent subject matter—what in phenomenology is called “the matter itself” (Sache selbst)—of a philosophical discourse in accord with the very nature of this subject matter itself. Hence, arguments, explanations and theoretical constructions about the nature of a subject matter at issue are eschewed by the phenomenologist in favor of what Husserl calls the “evidence” of something, and what Heidegger refers to as “the showing itself from itself” of something. In the present instance, my attempt at “bringing into bold phenomenal relief” the point of departure of Husserl’s phenomenological method will, do so by focusing its considerations on the “matters themselves” of this method as they emerge within the context of his writings.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Husserl uses the term “lived-experience” (Erlebnis) to designate the special kind of "experience" that comprises the subject matter initially revealed by the phenomenological method. It belongs to the specific nature of lived-experience that it is entirely inaccessible to the empirical method and indeed unintelligible to its epistemology. In a certain sense, it can be said that for Husserl the meaning that appears in lived-experience, as well as what he refers to as the manner of appearing of such meaning, is tacitly appealed to yet in no way accounted for by empiricism. How Husserl argues that this is indeed the case, how he proposes to phenomenologically overcome this empiricistic presupposition, and finally, precisely what he understands by the term “lived-experience,” will be clarified in §§ 8-12 of this chapter.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    In an effort to maintain a terminological consistency and accuracy, I have adopted the convention of altering translations. Due to the rather large number of alterations I have had to make in order to achieve this end, I have not noted these changes.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    There is a tendency in the literature to understand any discussion on Husserl’s part of “reflection” in terms of the phenomenologically peculiar “reflection” involved in the epoché. In my view, such an understanding has its basis in the conflation of “phenomenological reflection” with “reflection per se.” As a result of this, Husserl’s differentiation of these two modes of reflection, along with his further differentiation of the latter mode in terms of its pre and post epochal characteristics, becomes obscured. Apart from the problems this presents with respect to the adequate appropriation of the nuances involved in Husserl’s working out of the problem of reflection, this obscuration, when operative in the discussion of Heidegger’s critique of “reflection“ in Husserl, stands in the way of an assessment of the merits of Heidegger’s critique vis-à-vis a responsible account of the “matters themselves” in Husserl’s treatment of the problem. See for instance: Rudolf Bernet, “Husserl and Heidegger on Intentionality and Being,” op, cit., p. 144; John D. Caputo, “Husserl, Heidegger and the Question of a ‘Hermeneutic’ Phenomenology,” op cit., pp. 163, 176; Friedrich Elliston, “Phenomenology Reinterpreted: from Husserl to Heidegger,” op. cit., p. 275; Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann, Der Begriff der Phänomenologie bei Heidegger and Husserl,op, cit., pp. 36, 46; James C. Morrison, “Husserl and Heidegger: The Parting of the Ways,” in: Heidegger’s Existential Analytic,ed. F. Elliston (New York: Mouton Publishers, 1978), p. 50; Paul Ricoeur, “Existence and Hermeneutics,” in: The Conflict of Interpretation,(Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1974), p. 18.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Husserl’s concept of “neutrality” refers to the subtle, yet decisive, transformation of that which phenomenological reflection reflects. Such reflection does not treat the empiricistic understanding of experience and the relation of cognition to such experience, as an in fact binding or otherwise legitimate account of reality, as would the empiricist. According to Husserl, when one’s understanding of experience functions in this way, it is brought together with the ‘reality’ of experience such that the two become indistinguishable. This state of affairs is characterized by Husserl in terms of the function understanding constantly “performs” vis-à-vis the determination of reality. Rather than allow the empiricistic formulations of experience to “perform” this determination of reality, the phenomenologist considers the empiricistic formulations of experience only insofar as they appear before the phenomenologically reflective gaze as thoughts about reality. Hence, such reflection is understood to consider the “same” empiricistic formulations of experience and cognition as does the empiricist, but with the decisive difference that, unlike the empiricist, the phenomenologist withholds all consent regarding the “claim” that these formulations make regarding reality. This is the sense in which Husserl understands phenomenological reflection to be “neutral” vis-à-vis the “performance” of the empiricistic formulations of experience.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    This essentially untranslatable term is used by Husserl in this context to express the peculiar status of the lived-experience of what the tradition refers to under the rubric of “ideality”: i.e., ideas, categories, concepts, etc. Such objects, according to him, are not real in the sense usually accorded to this term. Which is to say, they are not "real" in the sense of being physical, and therefore transcendent to the mind. However, since they can be discovered in a special kind of experience, which in contrast to this understanding of the "real" is decidedly not real,Husserl refers to their status as so-given as “irreal.” Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    In addition to the tendency of the literature to conflate phenomenological reflection with reflection per se, there is an even stronger tendency in the literature to understand the “interiority” of Husserl’s account of phenomenological reflection on the. basis of the putatively “inner object” (i.e., consciousness) which, when perceptively apprehended, is understood to yield “inner perception” or “reflection.” This is, of course, to understand reflection in terms of precisely the Lockean and Humean empirical tradition, and the Cartesian rational tradition, that Husserl most emphatically sought to critique. In my view, one of the most significant results of this critique is the working out of a conception of reflection whose “interiority” is not determined on the basis of the ontological opposition between “inner” and “outer” objects, but rather, on the basis of the phenomena peculiar to inner or immanent experience itself. Again, as in the case of the conflation of phenomenological reflection with reflection per se, the understanding of the status of the interiority of phenomenological reflection along the lines of its traditional introspectionist formulation stands in the way not only of adequately appropriating its decisive difference for Husserl from this tradition, but it also prevents the responsible discussion of Heidegger’s allegations regarding the ontologically unoriginal, and ultimately phenomenally alienated, status of Husserl’s concept of reflection. See for instance: Rudolf Bernet, op. cit., pp. 142, 145, 146, 148; Timothy Stapleton, Husserl and Heidegger: The Question of a Phenomenological Beginning,op. cit., pp. 109-110; Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann, Der Begriff der Phänomenologie hie Heidegger and Husserl,op. cit., p. 38.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Husserl’s account, or perhaps more accurately, “discovery,” of the “ideation” of ideal objects does not have, in my view, any parallels within the philosophical tradition. Insofar as the tradition recognizes the possibility of apprehending “ideas” at all, such apprehension, and that which is apprehended therein, terminates with the grasping of the ideal. As such, the ideal, even when considered as it is “in itself,” is always grasped in terms of its a priori function with respect to either the Being or the logical unity of the real. The “ideality” of ideal “categories” or “eide” emerges, then, always within the context of its relation to the non-ideal. With Husserl’s discovery of ideation, however, the traditional relation of the ideal to the real serves as the point of departure for the methodological variation of the ideal as it is initially uncovered vis-à-vis its a priori function in relation to the real. With this variation of the ideal, the invariant that functions to determine its status as ideal yields itself to the regard of phenomenological reflection. As such, this invariant is uncovered in terms of its a priori function vis-à-vis the ideal and not the real. It can be said, then, that “ideality” for Husserl emerges on the basis of “eidetic” distinctions and not,as it does for the tradition, on the basis of the contrast between the real and the “ideal.”Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    So long as the natural thesis of the world-horizon remains unconsidered, and thus “in effect” with respect to the reductive purifications (vis-à-vis transcendent apperception) of lived-experiences by the regard of phenomenological reflections, the status of such reflections remains, strictly speaking, worldly or “mundane.” Regarding the phenomenological uncovering of the natural thesis of the world horizon and its transcendental reduction, see § 19ff below.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Burt C. Hopkins
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophySeattle UniversityUSA

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