Phenomenological Attitude


It  is my belief that phenomenology is less a philosophy that than the expression of a specific attitude that prioritizes the understanding of things as they are, not as they should be.  Further, they are best understood when studied in their natural context.  It is likely that “natural experiments” (occurring spontaneously, or “field experiments”) provide more valid insight than “artificial experiments”–those devised and controlled in environments than strictly control all variables in order to minimize potentially confusing variables.   (see e.g., general psychology sketch of experimental-method; or more deeply, Wikipedia on Experiment and Wikipedia on natural experiment)

One’s ATTITUDE involves thoughts and beliefs about a subject (cognitive), how the subject makes you feel (affective), and how these interact to guide your behavior (e.g., APA, and attitudes and behavior in psychology)  

The PHENOMENOLOGICAL ATTITUDE contributes to the ETHOLOGICAL ATTITUDE and (in Varela’s view) involves three steps.


1. Suspending beliefs or theories about experience; [= eschew bias?]

2. Gaining intimacy with the domain of investigation; [= love first that which you world understand?”]

3. Offering descriptions  and using intersubjective validations. [hermeneutics?]


The first two steps have technical names. Husserl called the first step the epoché, a Greek term usually translated as “bracketing” in this context. To suspend or bracket one’s beliefs is not to enter into a skeptical doubt about those beliefs, but simply to set them aside. The point is to direct one’s attention to the experiences as such rather than to one’s opinions or beliefs about what the experience means or how  it might be caused. Setting aside one’s theories includes  setting  aside any scientific or meta- physical theories about the experience in order to get to the experience in its own terms. If I am to give a strict phenomenological description of the pain that I feel, the Gate Control Theory of Pain (Melzack and Wall 1967), which may be scientifically correct, is not part of my description since I’m not conscious of anything like a gate control mechanism in my spinal cord.


The second step is usually referred to as the “phenomenological reduction,” where  the  term  “reduction” is understood in  light of  its Latin roots in the verb, redūcere, meaning  “to bring back.” The idea is to bring one’s attention back to the experience itself.  In contrast  to the epoché, which excludes beliefs and theories, this is a more positive step where we develop ways to express what  we experience. Engaging in this involves some practice  of  attending to  various  aspects of  experience  without reifying them or turning them into objects that one is simply observing in reflection. In this regard, it’s more about how I, as subject, am experiencing something rather  than  about the what I am experiencing. Or, again, the task is to say what it is like to experience (e.g., seeing an apple tree) rather than  what it (the apple tree) is like.


The final  step has the  practical  effects of  verifying the  phenomenological description and helping to develop a shared vocabulary for such experiences. [I would bring up the hermeneutic circle[1] here as a means of verifying]  


Nothing guarantees that we will all experience the world in precisely the same way. But communicating with others about one’s experience, or comparing many different descriptions of a particular experience, can help to elucidate differences and similarities. The phenomenologist aims to discover the invariant features of experience or to discover the basic structures that seem to apply to all experiences of a specific type. The neurophenomenologist may be more interested in how precisely similar experiences correlate with neurological processes (Gallagher 2003; Gallagher and Brøsted Sørensen 2006; Lutz 2002; Varela 1996).’”   (pp 10-11 Gallagher et al 2015)[2]



“Doing phenomenology [as opposed to philosophizing about phenomenology] means developing a pathos for the great texts, and, simultaneously, reflecting in a phenomenological manner on the living meanings of everyday experiences, phenomena, and events. … Some years ago Cornelius Verhoeven (1972) made a troubling observation.  He suggested that a philosophical knowledge of phenomenology does not make a person a phenomenologist, any more than scholarly knowledge of poetry makes a person a poet.” (Max Van Manen 2014: p23) 


ART & ORGANISM pays special attention to the integration of mind, body, and behavior, requiring a naturalistic perspective that early phenomenologists avoided or outright rejected.  In order to enable all valid sources of insight to bear on the problems of phenomenology and consciousness, NEUROPHENOMENOLOGY is making encouraging progress: (visit A&O notes on NEUROPHENOMENOLOGY) (from https://neilgreenberg.com/ao-ethological-attitude/)


[1] The reciprocity between text and context is part of what Heidegger called the hermeneutic circle. Among the key thinkers who elaborated this idea was the sociologist Max Weber. (wikipedia)

Hermeneutics  is a branch  of philosophy concerned  with the interpretation of texts. It involves  a careful,  self-conscious  analysis of the meaning  of texts that  keeps in  mind the historical or biographical background  of  the  authors,  their  intentions in  writing the  text,  the audience they intended to reach, and the specific vocabulary  they had available.” (p4) …  In a hermeneutical analysis, the interpreter needs to become aware of his or her own  biases. One may not be able to escape all such biases, but it is important to identify them and to lay them out on the table for all to see. One such bias is very basic: When  we went looking for experiences  of awe and  wonder,   we  already  had  some  conception of what we were looking for. We self-consciously decided on some working definitions. Although one of us (Bruce Janz) is well versed in the  history  of mysticism,  we took a more  pragmatic  (less  historical) route to defining awe and wonder, treating the definitions as tentative, preliminary, provisional, and open to revision. Still, these definitions guided our reading of the texts. However, we also found certain things of interest that did not fall into these categories, and so widened our scope  as we did our  analysis.  Here are the  working  definitions  with which we started.” (p6)


“Gadamer (1960/2013) may have a satisfying solution, however: the hermeneutic circle, in which one treats a whole with reference to its parts, while simultaneously mindful that each part exists in the context of the whole. Gadamer envisioned the circle as a dynamic and progressive “conversation” with data that builds consensus and is more accessible to practical application. This process is at the heart of the research methodology utilized by most of our authors.” (from Neil Greenberg in: Katherine GreenbergBrian SohnNeil Greenberg, Howard R PollioSandra ThomasJohn Smith (2019) The Phenomenological Heart of Teaching and Learning.  Routledge (2019), Chapter 2: “Getting DEEP: The Integrative Biology of Teaching and Learning”)


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermeneutic_circle  (“Heidegger saw the hermeneutic process as cycles of self-reference that situated our understanding in a priori prejudices, Gadamer reconceptualized the hermeneutic circle as an iterative process through which a new understanding of a whole reality is developed by means of exploring the detail of existence. Gadamer viewed understanding as linguistically mediated, through conversations with others in which reality is explored and an agreement is reached that represents a new understanding.[7]…”)

“Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation. Hermeneutics plays a role in a number of disciplines whose subject matter demands interpretative approaches, characteristically, because the disciplinary subject matter concerns the meaning of human intentions, beliefs, and actions, or the meaning of human experience as it is preserved in the arts and literature, historical testimony, and other artifacts.” …. “Hermeneutics opposes what can be described as the ‘vertical’ picture of knowledge at issue in epistemological foundationalism, focusing, instead, on the ‘circularity’ at issue in understanding. In epistemological foundationalism, our body of beliefs (or at least our justified beliefs) are sometimes said to have the structure of an edifice. Some beliefs are distinguished as foundations, ultimately, because they depend on no further beliefs for their justification; other beliefs are distinguished as founded, in that their justification depends on the foundational beliefs (Steup and Neta 2015, Section 4.1). This is a ‘vertical’ picture of human knowledge in that new beliefs build on established beliefs; new beliefs are justified on the basis of already justified beliefs, and these beliefs, in turn, are justified by still other beliefs, all the way down to the foundational beliefs. Inquiry, then, is an ‘upward’ pursuit, one that adds new ‘floors’ to the edifice of what we already know. [The Hermeneutical Circle, on the other hand, emphasizes “ the ‘circularity’ of understanding. … Broadly [construed], … the concept of the hermeneutical circle signifies that, in interpretive experience, a new understanding is achieved not on the basis of already securely founded beliefs. Instead, a new understanding is achieved through renewed interpretive attention to further possible meanings of those presuppositions which, sometimes tacitly, inform the understanding that we already have.[2]   [In the older tradition of] text interpretation—[we are involved in a circular relation of whole and parts. This formulation derives from antiquity … On the one hand, it is necessary to understand a text as a whole in order properly to understand any of its parts. On the other hand, however, it is necessary to understand the text in each of its parts in order to understand it as a whole.”

In contemporary hermeneutics, the concept of the hermeneutical circle is rarely restricted to the context of text interpretation, and, too, the circularity of interpretive experience is not necessarily cast in terms of the relation of whole and parts. Nevertheless, as Grondin suggests, this older formulation can help to illustrate the circular character of interpretive experience (2016, 299). In text interpretation so conceived, our efforts to understand a text have no firm foundation from which to begin. Rather, these efforts unfold always in media res, through an interpretation of the whole of a text that proceeds from presuppositions about the parts; and, no less, through an interpretation of the parts that proceeds from presuppositions about the whole. Understanding, then, is not pursued ‘vertically’ by layering beliefs on top of foundations, but rather ‘circularly,’ in an interpretive movement back and forth through possible meanings of our presuppositions that by turns allow a matter to come into view. In this, the pursuit of understanding does not build ‘higher and higher;’ it goes ‘deeper and deeper,’ gets ‘fuller and fuller,’ or, perhaps ‘richer and richer.’

 (George, Theodore, “Hermeneutics”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2020/entries/hermeneutics/)


FOR A&O: AS YOU DEFINE your phenomenon, treat your definitions (like all definitions and in the best traditions of science) as tentative, preliminary, provisional, and open to revision.  You need to start somewhere, more-or-less shared understanding is essential to intersubjective communication, but everyone should understand that ambiguity enables flexibility necessary for continuing dialogue, necessary to enlarging and deepening shared understanding.  This understanding is not—can never be—perfect. We cannot even be expected to agree with ourselves as our experience and understanding grows and our provisional definitions are commensurately adjusted.  


 Gallagher et al 2015)

[2] S. Gallagher,  B. Janz, L. Reinerman, P. Bockelman, and J. Trempler. 2015. A Neurophenomenology of Awe and Wonder: Towards a Non-reductionist Cognitive Science. London: Palgrave-Macmillan.