This comprehensive new book introduces the core history ofphenomenology and assesses its relevance to contemporarypsychology, philosophy of mind, and cognitive science. Fromcritiques of artificial intelligence research programs to ongoingwork on embodiment and enactivism, the authors trace howphenomenology has produced a valuable framework for analyzingcognition and perception, whose impact on contemporarypsychological and scientific research, and philosophical debatescontinues to grow.
The first part of An Introduction to Phenomenology is anextended overview of the history and development of phenomenology,looking at its key thinkers, focusing particularly on Husserl,Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, as well as its cultural andintellectual precursors. In the second half Chemero and Käuferturn their attention to the contemporary interpretations and usesof phenomenology in cognitive science, showing that phenomenologyis a living source of inspiration in contemporary interdisciplinarystudies of the mind.
Käufer and Chemero have written a clear, jargon-freeaccount of phenomenology, providing abundant examples and anecdotesto illustrate and to entertain. This book is an ideal introductionto phenomenology and cognitive science for the uninitiated, as wellas for philosophy and psychology students keen to deepen theirknowledge.
Stephan Kaufer is Associate Professor and Chair of Philosophy at Franklin and Marshall College
Anthony Chemero Professor of Philosophy and Psychology at the University of Cincinnati.
Phenomenology is a loosely grouped philosophical tradition that began with Edmund Husserl in the 1890s and is still practiced today, though some of its current instantiations no longer use the name. The tradition is old enough to have a history, and it includes claims that seem odd, quaint, or outdated. And yet it is recent enough that even the work of its founders is alive with ideas that still challenge us and hold great promise. Arguably philosophers are only now beginning to fully appreciate the core insights of phenomenology, as we learn to construct rigorous analyses of perception and cognition in a phenomenological framework.
This book covers what we believe an interested reader ought to know about phenomenology, its history, its most important authors and works, and its influence on branches of current philosophy, psychology, and cognitive science. We discuss the history of phenomenology through the work of Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre, their arguments against scientific psychology, and their critical examination of Gestalt psychology. And we discuss contemporary developments in ecological psychology, critiques of cognitivist approaches to artificial intelligence, and embodied cognitive science. This mix of topics and level of detail make this a good textbook for undergraduates studying philosophy, psychology, or cognitive science, and a good starting point for graduate students and academics who are new to phenomenology.
What you will not find in this book
One prominent concern of phenomenology has been to provide an account of the structures that make a shared, objective world intelligible. This account recognizes that bodies and skills are fundamental for this intelligibility. We consider this to be the most important and most productive strain of phenomenology, and this book is intended to give a clear introduction to it and its implications for contemporary work on perception, action, and cognition.
Another strain of phenomenology, which we can only explore briefly in this book, gives a description of subjective experiences, especially of experiences that are unusual and hard to explain. So, for example, phenomenology might provide an analysis of what it is like to experience religious faith, overpowering sentiments such as love or anxiety, aesthetic highs, inescapable ambiguities and paradoxes, and so forth. This is an important task, and quite often it intermingles with the first task. In Heidegger's work, in particular, an understanding of anxiety and contingency belongs with his explanation of the intelligibility of the world. In general, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre were broad and innovative thinkers and their writings touch on art, religion, politics, aesthetics, and morality. Existentialism is largely an offshoot of phenomenology, and so is much critical theory in literary studies. Consequently, phenomenology has influenced many different fields; too many to cover in a single book. Browse the faculty pages of a university website, and you may find a large number of people in literature departments, film and theater studies, theology, art, and political science who identify their work as "phenomenology." We do not deny the importance of this phenomenology in these various fields. But a single book cannot presume to cover all this material. Our choice of topics and authors is motivated primarily by our conviction that contemporary work on embodied cognitive science is a particularly clear and relevant continuation of the most central concerns that Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty were pursuing.
A further preliminary distinction might be helpful. As is well known, English-language philosophy has for over half a century perceived a division between so-called "analytic" and "continental" approaches. Some philosophers on either side of the divide want to identify phenomenology with the continental approach, either to acclaim or disparage the entire tradition wholesale. Those who prefer a "continental" approach would probably choose a sequence of authors that leads to Levinas, Deleuze, Derrida and perhaps more current authors such as Badiou. That is a fine sequence of authors to study, and such overviews are available in many other books. But that is not our approach. We do not think the distinction is helpful or accurate at all, even aside from the obvious incongruity that "continental" is a geographic term while "analytic" is a stylistic or methodological one. Much analytic philosophy is done on the continent, and much good work in English-language philosophy consists of using analytic methods to explain the work of European philosophers. That is what we aim to do in this book. The goal of all philosophy, we think, is to give as clear an account as possible of the best available view on the big questions that motivate philosophy in the first place. We think that Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre articulate hard-won insights into the nature of the human ability to make sense of the world. Their writing is sometimes obscure, because they address very fundamental questions, make unexpected proposals that fly in the face of centuries of philosophical tradition, and often invent new language to render their ideas. Our job is to use what scholars have learned over the past decades to try to make it easier for today's students to appreciate the insights of phenomenology.
A broad range of researchers in philosophy and psychology departments are empirically and conceptually investigating affordances, or the role of our bodies in perception and cognition, or action as a condition for maintaining a sense of the self. We claim that such work is not merely influenced by phenomenology, something that most of these people would readily accede to, whether they have read Heidegger or not. We think that they are doing phenomenology, insofar as they are pursuing the basic ideas and insights this tradition was founded on. Still, some readers may be surprised to read that ecological psychology and embodied cognitive science belong among the proper epigones of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. This is understandable, because the chain of influence that leads from Heidegger to, say, Gibson, dynamic systems theory, or enactivism is not clear or well known.
We hope that the narrative of this book vindicates our claim in detail, but here are two quick reminders that should make it plausible from the start. Both Sartre and Merleau-Ponty are obviously indebted to Husserl, and even more deeply to Heidegger. The third big source of their thought is a sustained critical examination of Gestalt psychology. This also had a major impact on Gibson, who was Kurt Koffka's colleague at Smith College for several years in the 1930s, just as he was beginning to develop the first ideas of ecological psychology. Beyond this parallel influence of Gestalt psychology, there was a direct influence of Merleau-Ponty on Gibson. Gibson took detailed notes on Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception, and in the 1970s, while he was working on The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, Gibson taught a seminar on Merleau-Ponty.
More crucial than a common ancestry in Gestalt psychology, is the work of Hubert Dreyfus, who brought the views of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty into current philosophy and cognitive science. In the 1960s and 1970s Dreyfus used his insight into Heidegger's work to formulate sharp criticisms of the then burgeoning research projects in artificial intelligence. The following three decades of artificial intelligence research tell the history of the many ways in which Dreyfus's original critique transformed the field's understanding of human intelligence. It has led to many attempts to explain intelligent behavior in terms of the coupling of agent, body, and environment.
Why study phenomenology?
The simplest reason one should study phenomenology is because everyone should. Even a fairly superficial study of Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, or Merleau-Ponty and those influenced by them can have a profound positive impact on our understanding of a host of issues relating to perception, cognition, and the general meaningfulness of human lives. Phenomenological approaches to a broad spectrum of issues are interesting, accurate, and promising. Any serious study of philosophy or psychology ought to include at least some exposure to phenomenology.
At the more ponderous end of the spectrum, phenomenology is an ontology of human existence. Heidegger and Sartre are explicit about this, but Merleau-Ponty and Gibson also think of their work in these terms. So their work may lead you to think that people are a different kind of entity than you might have thought. In particular, you are not a reflective, conscious cognizer, but for the most part a competent, unreflective agent. At the more lively end, the authors and theories we discuss here provide a host of thought-provoking observations and examples to make you question some basic assumptions about what we perceive and experience. Such examples make reading about phenomenology rewarding and entertaining.
If phenomenology is an important and influential school of thought, this is because the main phenomenologists think and write with remarkable insight and creativity. So another good reason to study phenomenology is to become familiar with Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre as authors. Though their writing can sometimes be unclear and frustrating, it is ultimately exhilarating.
This book proceeds in roughly chronological order and - with the...