Philosophy:Existential phenomenology

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Existential phenomenology encompasses a wide range of thinkers who take up the view that philosophy must begin from experience like phenomenology, but argues for the temporality of personal existence as the framework for analysis of the human condition.[1]


In contrast with his former mentor Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger (in his Being and Time) put ontology before epistemology and thought that phenomenology would have to be based on an observation and analysis of Dasein ("being-there"), human being, investigating the fundamental ontology of the Lebenswelt (lifeworld, Husserl's term) underlying all so-called regional ontologies of the special sciences. In Heidegger's philosophy, people are thrown into the world in a given situation, but they are also a project towards the future, possibility, freedom, wait, hope, anguish.[2] In contrast with the philosopher Kierkegaard, Heidegger wanted to explore the problem of Dasein existentially (existenzial), rather than existentielly (existenziell) because Heidegger argued Kierkegaard had already described the latter with "penetrating fashion". Most existentialist phenomenologists were concerned with how we are constituted by our experiences and yet how we are also free in some respect to modify both ourselves and the greater world in which we live.

In Heidegger's language that we are "thrown into the world" Jean-Paul Sartre's that "existence precedes essence."[3] Both of these point out that who any individual is, is a matter of the social, historical, political, and economic situation into which he or she is born. This frees phenomenology from needing to find a universal ground to all experience, since it will always be partial and influenced by the philosopher's own situation. Maurice Merleau-Ponty argued that the lesson of Husserl's reduction is that "there is no complete reduction" because even phenomenologists cannot resist how they have been shaped by their history, culture, society, and language.[4] Simone de Beauvoir explored how greatly norms of gender shapes the very sense of self that women have, in distinction from men, in her work The Second Sex. Hannah Arendt discusses how totalitarian regimes in the 20th century presented entirely new regimes of terror that shaped how people understand political life in her work The Human Condition.[5] Frantz Fanon explored the legacy of racism and colonialism on the psyches' of black men.[6][7] However, they all in different ways also stressed the freedom which humans have to alter their experiences through rebellion, political action, writing, thinking, and being. If we are constituted by the human social world, then it is only humans that created it and can create a new world if they take up this task.


Besides Heidegger, other existential phenomenologists were Hannah Arendt, Karl Jaspers, Emmanuel Levinas, Gabriel Marcel, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Enzo Paci [it] and Samuel Todes. Many of these phenomenologists' conceptions of the self and self-consciousness are built on criticisms of or response to Edmund Husserl's initial views.[8] Sartre synthesized Husserl and Heidegger's ideas. His modifications include his replacement of Husserl's concept, epoche, with Heidegger's structure of being-in-the -world.[9] His existential phenomenology, which is articulated in his works such as Being and Nothingness (1943), is based on the distinction between being-in-itself and being-for-itself.[10] Beauvoir placed her discourse on existential phenomenology within her intertwining of literature and philosophy as a way to reflect concrete experience. In her works on women's lived experiences, she attempted to address the problems between the sexes as well as the reconciliation of related strands of continental philosophical traditions, which include the philosophy of Heidegger, the phenomenological methods of Husserl and Sartre, and George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's philosophy of history.[11]

Arendt's existential phenomenology reflected a distrust of mass society and her preference for the preservation of social groups citing the persecution of Jews as an example of victimization by societies' atomizing processes.[11]

Other disciplines

Existential phenomenology extends also to other disciplines. For example, Leo Steinberg's essay "The Philosophical Brothel" describes Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon in a perspective that is existential-phenomenological. It has also impacted architectural theory, especially in the phenomenological and Heideggerian approaches to space, place, dwelling, technology, etc.[12] In literary theory and criticism, Robert Magliola's Phenomenology and Literature: An Introduction (Purdue UP, 1977; rpt. 1978) was the first book[13] to explain to Anglophonic academics – systematically and comprehensively – the range of literary theories and practices identified with "phenomenological literary criticism" on the Continent. The practices of the Francophone Geneva School (-of literary criticism), those of the Swiss-German theorist and critic Emil Staiger, and those of several other theorists/critics, are explained in detail. The influences of the phenomenological theorist Roman Ingarden, of the early-phase (existentialist) Martin Heidegger, and of Mikel Dufrenne receive a treatment over 100 pages long all-told. The polemics involving phenomenology and its opponents are addressed in separate chapters, entitled respectively "Phenomenology Confronts Parisian Structuralism," and "The Problem of Validity in E. D. Hirsch and Husserl. The 1978 rpt. of Magliola's book features on its back cover very strong endorsements from Robert Scholes, Eugene Kaelin, Monroe Beardsley and Ralph Freedman.

See also


  1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1998): "Phenomenological movement: 4. Existential phenomenology.
  2. Farina, Gabriella (2014). Some reflections on the phenomenological method. Dialogues in Philosophy, Mental and Neuro Sciences, 7(2):50–62.
  3. "Existentialism is a Humanism". 
  4. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (2013). Phenomenology of Perception. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0415834339. 
  5. Arendt, Hannah (2018). The Human Condition. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0226586601. 
  6. Fanon, Frantz (2008). Black Skin, White Masks. Grove Press. ISBN 978-0802143006. 
  7. Fanon, Frantz (2004). The Wretched of the Earth. Grove Press. ISBN 978-0802141323. 
  8. Cerbone, David R. (2006) (in en). Understanding Phenomenology. Oxon: Routledge. pp. 66. ISBN 978-1-84465-054-5. 
  9. Sartre, Jean-Paul (2001) (in en). Jean-Paul Sartre: Basic Writings. London: Psychology Press. pp. 60. ISBN 0-415-21367-3. 
  10. Zahavi, Dan (2018) (in en). The Oxford Handbook of the History of Phenomenology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 40. ISBN 978-0-19-875534-0. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 O'Brien, Wendy; Embree, Lester (2001) (in en). The Existential Phenomenology of Simone de Beauvoir. Dordrecht: Springer Science & Business Media. pp. 9, 151. ISBN 978-90-481-5732-7. 
  12. This is evident in the works of Christian Norberg-Schulz, as for example is the case with his book: Genius Loci, Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture (New York: Rizzoli, 1980), or more recently with the numerous papers of Nader El-Bizri such as his paper: 'On Dwelling: Heideggerian Allusions to Architectural Phenomenology', Studia UBB Philosophia Volume 60 (2015): 5–30. This is also felt with the practices of architects in the Phenomenology (architecture) movement
  13. See review by W. Wolfgang Holdheim, Diacritics, Vol. 9, No. 2 (summer, 1979):