Naturalizing Phenomenology: Contemporary Proposals and Challenges

Simon Rousseau-Lessage, Miguel A. Sepulveda

For the founder of the phenomenological movement, Edmund Husserl, empirical sciences cannot provide us the enough rigorous analysis of subjective experience and consciousness, since natural-scientific explanations commonly rest on metaphysical assumptions about the nature of the mind and the experienced objects, instead of considering how experiences are given in themselves. In contrast, Husserl offers careful methodological steps (the phenomenological method) to describe subjective experience and to uncover the essential structures of consciousness. In the last decades, however, philosophers of cognitive science, who have seen new threads centered on the embodied nature of cognition and consciousness coming up in the field, have realized that an account of subjective experience is needed to complement causal explanations. Thus some suggested that phenomenology was able to provide useful tools for such account. This situation has motivated the idea that phenomenology can be naturalized, namely, that phenomenological data can be made continuous with those accepted by natural sciences. However, the coexistence of phenomenological analysis and causal explanations into one single frame is problematic at two levels at least. At the first level, it is needed to set up how the phenomenological method can contribute to the empirical accounts. Nevertheless, it is also needed to face the problem of how it is possible to overcome that phenomenology was born as an attempt to avoid the assumptions of empirical sciences, leading the phenomenological research to the transcendental realm. At this level we would need to construct an epistemological and ontological frame where phenomenology and science do not only cooperate with each other, but where they become part of one single comprehension of the empirical reality. In our presentation, we shall introduce these two problematic levels, considering the most relevant contemporary proposals, and the remaining challenges still needed to achieve. 

References

(1) Bernet, Rudolf, Iso Kern, and Eduard Marbach. An Introduction to Husserlian Phenomenology. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1993. (pp. 58-87).

(2) Gallagher, Shaun. “On the Possibility of Naturalizing Phenomenology.” In The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Phenomenology, edited by Dan Zahavi, 70–93. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012

(3) Ramstead, M. J. D. (2014) Naturalizing what? Varieties of naturalism and transcendental phenomenology. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences. 1-43