Return into the Lifeworld, again: More Phenomenology Resources

Here are some links/ papers about Merleau-Ponty, phenomenology, naturalism, the body and other phenomenological issues I’ve dug up that some may find of interest.  Click below the fold, I’ve included papers by Hubert Dreyfus, Sean Kelly, Shaun Gallagher and others (and the list is virtually alphabetized to boot!).

Interview with Shaun Gallagher

An excerpt from an interesting discussion with Shaun Gallagher:

I don’t think phenomenology is dead in any sense. You don’t have to take your phenomenological concepts just from Husserl or Merleau-Ponty, but you can also take their work and actively extend it and use phenomenological methods to make distinctions and to ask different kinds of questions. And then you can take whatever results you can gain from such analyses and use them in your own scientific experiments. Or, if you don’t get involved directly in the science, you can at least interface with experimenters and try to influence the kinds of questions they’re asking and the kind of procedures they’re using. So I don’t think of phenomenology just as the texts of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty; it’s indeed a practice – I agree with Varela on that. You practice phenomenology, and then you see if it can work to inform some experiments.  Also, it’s important to see where that goes – to see whether the results of the experiments suggest further phenomenological refinement.

Read the rest here

See also this lecture from December 2000: Phenomenological and experimental research on embodied experience”

Zahavi on Dennett

I figured I couldn’t be the only exasperated reader of Dennett’s confused (at best) comment I cited earlier, so I did a bit of digging.  Here’s the concluding paragraph of Dan Zahavi’s response–in “Killing the Straw Man: Dennett and Phemonenology”– to Dennett’s shockingly ignorant claims about Phenomenology:

Classical phenomenology is not only an investigation of the first-person givenness of conscious experience; in its wide-ranging analyses of intersubjectivity it has also investigated the second-person givenness of consciousness in detail. Thus, contrary to Dennett’s claim, classical phenomenology already
combines the resources of auto- and heterophenomenology. To put it differently, not only do the classical phenomenologists stress the interdependency of auto- and heterophenomenology, contrary to what Dennett himself is doing; in their numerous analyses of how foreign subjectivity manifests itself in gestures, expressions and bodily behavior, they have also provided us with a more sophisticated and nuanced understanding of how to heterophenomenologize than Dennett has done.

This seems right to me.  Read the full paper here (pdf): Killing the Straw Man: Dennett and Phenomenology

Phenomenology and Naturalism

With regards to the business of naturalizing phenomenology, or more minimally, the relation between naturalism and phenomenology, I think the  stakes are highest when the status of the transcendental is broached.  That is to say, without the transcendental phenomenology becomes sort of like beer without alcohol.  I don’t have any answers to such questions, but for some reason I’ve been thinking (obsessing or maybe fretting) about such things all day.  Anyway, it’s well known that Husserl was somewhat hostile to naturalism.  Here’s a well known passage from Ideas I: Continue reading

Faceless Life

When prodded for some details about his biography Michel Henry responded:

I would like to tell you how much I feel stripped away by the very idea of a biography. For one who thinks that the true self for us all is a no-worldly self, foreign to every empirical or objective determination, the attempt to approach him through these kinds of reference points seems to be problematic. The history of a man, the circumstances which surround him, are they anything other than a sort of mask, more or less flattering, that he and others agree to put on his face–he who, at bottom, has no face.

I think I like this…

“Aude Describere!”

D. R. Koukal (from here):

My reading of the western tradition of philosophy tells me that the exegetical attitude has a long history, and that this attitude has periodically nettled various thinkers, who have generated movements to counter this trend.


Phenomenology should certainly be counted as yet another attempt to bring philosophy back to the world, in the face of the reductionism of the natural sciences. It may also perhaps be the most comprehensive, since it claims that the explanatory dimension of all of the various theoretical disciplines must necessarily have their ultimate grounding and unity in a descriptive realm of a single lived world. The most exciting aspect of phenomenology is its fundamental claim that it is a philosophy which contacts life and does so directly, thereby allowing us the possibility of seeing it again, as if for the first time. In this phenomenology is not a speculative system or a school of thought that we are enhancing and defending in the memory of Husserl or Heidegger or Merleau-Ponty. It is, first and foremost, a manner of philosophical practice, a human activity that allows us to see the world again in a primordial fashion. The aim of phenomenology has always been to bring philosophy back to the larger world, that is, to describe the relationship between lived experience and consciousness, without necessarily turning to theories or other conceptual constructs that are typically employed to “explain” experience.

Anxiety of Influence? Heidegger on Husserl…

The, er…rocky, but fruitful relationship between Husserl and Heidegger is well known.  I was skimming through Psychological and Transcendental Phenomenology and the Confrontation with Heidegger this afternoon and I came across this passage in a fiery letter Heidegger wrote to Karl Lowith in 1923:

In the final hours of the seminar, I publicaly burned and destroyed the Ideas to such an extent that I dare say that the essential foundations for the whole of my work are now clearly laid out.  Looking back from this vantage point to the Logical Investigations, I am now convinced that Husserl was never a philosopher; not even for one second in his life.  He becomes ever more ludicrous.

And that’s actually pretty tame.  I can’t remember where it is or where I read it, but I think in a letter to Jaspers or another letter to Lowith Heidegger pretty much says something like “Husserl has totally gone off the deep end,” and goes onto accuse Husserl of being impressed with himself for founding phenomenology.  Nothing like a little hostility…

Though one need only to look at Husserl’s marginal notes in his copy of SZ to get wind of his rather unethusiastic reaction.  I think it was there that Husserl characterized Heidegger’s work as either irrational or at best, a superficial continuation of his own work.  Throughout the PTP (cited above) one can find a number of Husserl’s comments regarding Heidegger’s attacks on him as well as Heidegger’s work.

Merleau-Ponty on Seeing

From The Philosopher’s Magazine, an article on Merleau-Ponty by Dermot Moran (h/t However Fallible)

Seeing has always been the privileged sense for philosophers, the sense that most closely approximates to the transparency of thought, the sense that seems best equipped to render the object as it really is, the sense that inserts a distance between us and the world so that we think we are removed from tampering with the seen. Sight doesn’t manipulate things; it is the detached, neutral observer. It is objectivity itself. Seeing is believing.

Seeing seems always to escape from the body outwards into the visible. We don’t have any sense that we create the visible, yet we ourselves are visible within this sphere of visibility: “my seeing body subtends my visible body, and all the visibles with it,” the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty says in The Visible and the Invisible. Seeing’s invisibility to itself is what makes it approximate to thought, to transform itself into “insight” to capture itself as “reflection”. We are always seeing; seeing can stand for consciousness as a whole. Our seeing reaches into sleep. We see even in our dreams. We need to pay careful attention to all the different kinds of seeing – staring, glaring, looking, glancing, gazing, inspecting. There is a rich plurality to the practice of seeing. Continue reading

New Michel Henry Translation: On Kandinsky

Seeing the Invisible


Michel Henry was one of the leading French philosophers of the twentieth century. His numerous works of philosophy are all organized around the theme of life. In contrast to the scientific understanding of life as a biological process, Henry’s philosophy develops a conception of life as an immediate feeling of one’s own living.

Seeing the Invisible marks Henry’s most sustained engagement in the field of aesthetics. Through an analysis of the life and works of Wassily Kandinsky, Henry uncovers the philosophical significance of Kandinsky’s revolution in painting: that abstract art reveals the invisible essence of life. Henry shows that Kandinsky separates color and line from the constraints of visible form and, in so doing, conveys the invisible intensity of life. More than just a study of art history, this book presents Kandinsky as an artist who is engaged in the project of painting the invisible and thus offers invaluable methodological clues for Henry’s own phenomenology of the invisible.

More information here.

  • Imprint: Continuum
  • Pub. date: 15 Jun 2009
  • ISBN: 9781847064479
  • 160 Pages, paperback $21.95

Phenomenology and Literature

The Romanian Society for Phenomenology and Humanities has recently published Studia Phaenomenologica vol. VIII/2008, “Phenomenology and Literature.” From Delia Popa’s introduction:

Is there a relationship between phenomenology and literature? The question is a legitimate and problematic one, if we take into account both that which properly pertains to the literary sphere and that which pertains to phenomenology, as well as the complexity of attempts to define the practices associated to either. Without engaging into the intricacies of literary theory and meta-phenomenological research, one needs merely to mention Husserlian phenomenology’s claims to scientific rigour and the importance of poetic inspiration within literature to grasp the distance that separates them. Because of this, their dialogue is condemned to remain a frail bridge, joining two mountains which conceal from each other the volcanic spark of their vitality. Continue reading