Sep. 14, 2010, at 11:34am
After an almost overwhelmingly rich and full summer, we are back home in West Chester. Normal life has returned, and I have leisure to resume philosophical reading and thinking.
The other day someone asked me about phenomenology. What is it?
It’s not an easy question to answer, since there are so many different meanings of the term. But one way of explaining it is as a deliberate effort at rightly centered, disencumbered thinking—a thinking that is first of all a listening, a stripping away of all prejudices and pre-conceptions in order to be purely and intelligently present to an important reality. Perhaps it is person, or a moral experience. The aim is to let that person or experience speak for himself/itself, to disclose himself as he is, without my interference—without my interposing my own notions or premature responses or conclusions.
So, for instance, while a traditional account of human sexuality will typically come at it from a general schema whereby sexuality is the reproductive part of our “animal nature”, by which our species is propagated, a phenomenologist (at least one of our school) might instead enter reflectively into the experience of shame. He will examine it closely and conscientiously. What is shame? How is it different from other experiences? What does it reveal to us about human sexuality?
Notice how different this is from the subjectivism phenomenology is often accused of spawning. It’s not “What do I think about sexuality?”, but rather, “What is the truth about human sexuality that I find in my own experience?” Truth, always, is the central concern. Not “my truth”, not “truth for me”, but rather, “truth I find.” And because I find it, I grasp it immediately as truth to be appropriated by me, assimilated into my understanding, taken into my life. This is very different with mere deductions from premisses, no?
I thought of all this just now as I picked up and began reading again, after many months of neglect, Love’s Grateful Striving: A Commentary on Kierkegaard’s Works of Love. The author, M. Jamie Ferreira, begins chapter one by noting that in his preface to that book, Kierkegaard writes that his intended reader is that “single individual” who will first “deliberate” about whether to read these deliberation and then “lovingly deliberate” on these deliberations.
This is phenomenology and personalism combined. The single individual lovingly deliberating over important truths, and deliberating over them in order both to assimilate them and to share them with others, for love.