Edmund Husserl & Phenomenology Video

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  • 0:01 Different Research Methods
  • 1:03 First-Person Experience
  • 2:07 The Natural Attitude
  • 3:43 Not the Scientific Method
  • 4:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the methods of phenomenology and its founder, Edmund Hesserl. We'll also consider why a typical approach to studying the world is not adequate when we look at human consciousness.

Different Research Methods

If a teacher says to a student, 'Tell me about cereal' in an essay, the student might respond by researching the production, economics, and nutrition of cereal and then compiling this data into a paper for the teacher. Perhaps the student would include numbers of boxes of cereal produced, statistics of which ingredients are prominent in the most popular products, or a breakdown of the chemical structure of a cornflake.

What if the teacher says to a student, 'Tell me about cereal from your own point of view and experience?' The student might say something like, 'Cereal can be crunchy like baked flakes and granola, or soft like oatmeal.' Or, they could say, 'I eat it in the morning,' 'I eat it in a bowl with milk,' or perhaps, 'I never eat cereal.'

The first approach - the research paper - is how we might aim to describe cereal using theories and data. The second approach - talking about our experience of cereal - is a different way to describe cereal and can be part of a method known as phenomenology.

First-Person Experience

You might think that the first type of essay sounds more reliable. After all, what can one person's experience of cereal contribute to our understanding of cereal?

What the second approach can offer is not necessarily a more complete explanation of cereal, all by itself. Instead, talking about what cereal means in your own life is better as a method to describe things as they appear in consciousness. This is the central goal of phenomenology. Phenomenology looks at first-person, lived experiences for information.

Gather many experiences of cereal together from a variety of people, and you'll start to notice patterns in the human understanding of what cereal is like; what the essence of cereal is. This meaning could also vary from culture to culture and be dependent on language and other factors, too. What is so critical about this approach is that it is focused on describing how we actually experience phenomena, like a bowl of cereal.

The Natural Attitude

The person considered the founder of the phenomenological movement was a German philosopher named Edmund Husserl who lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He described our everyday approach to the world around us as the natural attitude; one in which we go about our business as though there is a separate world of things that exists outside of our consciousness. For instance, wherever you are right now, look around you or listen to the noises you hear and you probably would say these things and noises exist, as facts. This, Husserl saw as our default way of thinking about the world.

Husserl wanted to go beyond this way of thinking. He was interested in our direct observations of the world around us as we experience them. His hope was that one could use a first-person perspective to accurately describe what is around them, without trying to explain what causes them.

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