U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Phenomenology In The United States: An Open Inquiry

Dear USIH Readers,

Does any work exist on the adaptation or application of phenomenology in the United States, whether as derived from Edmund Husserl himself or one of his disciples such as Edith Stein?

If I’m understanding phenomenology correctly, it is a method and not a system. True? I am also aware that there is some tension among phenomenology practitioners about whether it can – or should – be applied within a realist or idealist system. Is this true as well?

I was looking through the relatively trusty Oxford Companion to Philosophy (Ted Honderich, ed., 1st edition) for some answers this morning, but I thought I’d open up my thinking here.

– TL

7 Thoughts on this Post

  1. By virtue of this inquiry, you must be saying Smith covers the United States. Do you recall any particulars – meaning any people or institutions here closely associated with phenomenology? – TL

  2. Tim, I do not see any way clear to divide a philosophical insight, and its progeny, among continents. Speaking only for myself, I think we have some of the most interesting Phenomenology on earth being done right here in the US, and Smith is among these, in my almost humble opinion. Although I do not consider myself a follower of this practice, I can certainly attest to its importance.
    Not to intentionally simplify Husserl’s breakthrough, especially since I hope your good question will draw some world class commentary, but the whole notion that errors in our thinking/understanding/knowledge arise, not from failed sensory perceptions but from what we do with those perceptions, has spawned entire viewpoints to how we read text. Much of the New Critical abhorrence of context and historicism came about because Husserl (and his followers and reactionaries) wanted to focus on the impression and bracket the upper level processes and contexts. Hoping this will draw some experts, I am signing out. Joe

  3. Tim, before I go, and with the prior disclosure that any short listing of people associated with new forms of Phenomenology (“California”, “Harvard,” “Florida,” or otherwise) and operating within the US is already too short a list, here is a start:
    Wilfrid Sellars
    Hubert Dreyfus
    Ronald McIntyre
    J. N. Mohanty
    David W. Smith
    Barry Smith
    Shaun Galagher
    There must be thousands of others…But here is a start. –JP

  4. One of those very interesting forms of Phenomenology is the application of this approach to philosophy to physics…as in the work of Nancy Cartwright in California. Phenomenology in Science is a way to negotiate between induction and deduction or between experiment and theory.

  5. Tim, I have been waiting for others to enter this potentially exciting thread and I still hope they will do so. Thanks to “anonymous” for the additional information about Nancy Cartwright, president-elect of the Western American Philosophical Association, and Professor of Philosophy at University of California, San Diego.

    I wanted to add another helpful book or two to our growing list of US-based Phenomenological developments. Jitendranath N. Mohanty’s _Phenomenology: Between Essentialism and Transcendental Philosophy_ Northwestern U. Press, 1997 is the book I wish I had read first, but didn’t. Professor Mohanty (at the Philosophy Department at Temple University) does many things within this short–103 page– book. First and last, he situates Husserl’s Phenomenology as a project somewhere between traditional transcendental metaphysics and an empirical science of essences. Anyone who has struggled with Husserl can appreciate the seeming contradictions and the meaningful nuances that can be missed at one’s interpretive peril. This is why Husserl remains the most misunderstood of the “great minds” of philosophy, a distinction with which Mohanty evidently concurs. So Mohanty’s project is not so much to explain Husserl as it is to explain, in clear terms, some of the overlooked interpretations and applications of phenomenology that have come in Husserl’s wake. Nor is Mohanty much concerned here with biography. For example readers are not distracted from the philosophy by the interesting political and personal events surrounding the “Diaspora” of phenomenology from pre-war Germany. For this context we are fortunate to have Ethan Kleinberg’s engaging and recent book _Generation Existential: Heidegger’s Philosophy in France 1927-1961_, and a host of works about Sartre, de Beauvoir, Stein, Arendt, etc. (Perhaps an informed reader can direct us to books detailing the cross-Atlantic parts of this story.) No one working in Philosophy’s “theory of knowledge” should miss reading Mohanty’s chapter on Max Scheler, and thereby evade the distinguishing details between Scheler and Husserl. Also, the book provides a surprising view of Derrida’s mobilization of Husserl for toilers in the philosophy of history. Finally, in the book’s concluding paragraphs, we are even treated to a very brief preview, just a taste, of Professor Mohanty’s more recent efforts to uncover a global situation for “western” philosophy.

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