Analytic Philosophy as Phenomenology
Phenomenology lies in a long tradition stemming from Descartes and including Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, Mill, Brentano, and Wundt. It has a number of distinguishing features, as developed by Husserl: it is based on “intuitions”; it is concerned with phenomena not hidden realities (e.g., Kantian noumena); it aims to discover essences; it combines elements of empiricism with elements of rationalism; it aspires to be a science; it makes heavy use of the notion of intentionality; it is introspective; it employs something called the “phenomenological reduction”, which seeks to suspend the “natural standpoint”, in a mental act called the “epoche”. The first and last items in this list require special mention. In phenomenology, the concept of intuition is used in a broad and specialized sense: it is taken to include the full range of basic acts of consciousness, from perception to imagination to abstract thought, so that a physicist is said to use intuitions when making perceptual observations. What is necessary is that an intuition involves confrontation with the object of interest not merely indication in absentia; this can be perceptual or imaginative. It is to be contrasted with inference or argument or abstract speculation. It is a source of data. The idea of the phenomenological reduction is that we are to step out of the usual attitude of science and common sense, which involves commitment to external reality, and contemplate only the contents of consciousness as such; we are to be concerned with essence not existence. It is a matter of indifference whether the objects of consciousness exist (it is not denied that they do). In practice this means that we are concerned with the mind as opposed to objective reality. Thus, we elicit essences by suspending the natural standpoint and employing intuition as our source of evidence. We attend to what is given from the first-person perspective in order accurately to describe the phenomena. We don’t rely on theology or traditional authorities or science or mysticism or a priori deductions. We use an empirical method in order to arrive at necessary truths (this is called “eidetic abstraction” by Husserl). We are operating at the same level as Descartes in his search for clear and distinct ideas, and also with the British empiricists in their preoccupation with ideas, images, perceptions, impressions, sense data, and the like. Our gaze is directed inward, but we take in more things than they recognized (numbers, for example). Now my question is this: Isn’t this very similar to what the analytic philosophers recommended? That is, didn’t they take a similar stance towards the investigation of concepts? They proposed to examine concepts by detaching them from the world and intuiting them (in the wide sense) so as to reveal necessary truths. They wanted to analyze these concepts just as Husserl proposed to analyze his “noema”. They were not concerned to discover empirical and contingent truths about the extensions of these concepts but to articulate the essence of the concept (as it might be, the concept of knowledge). In some cases, this could be accomplished by simply looking at the concept (e.g., reporting that the concept of red is a color concept), while in other cases a more complicated procedure would need to be adopted—the imaginative construction of thought experiments and provision of necessary and sufficient conditions (compare Husserl’s method of eidetic variation). We thus gain insight into the “logical structure” of the concept in question. We don’t need to look outside of the mind in order to do this (or if we do, it is only to look at language); we don’t mimic the natural sciences by investigating the extra-mental natural world. We have “bracketed” that mode of enquiry so as to concentrate on essence. Since concepts are “immanent” in the mind, we are not then subject to skeptical doubts, so that we have a firm foundation for our enquiries. We are, in effect, conducting a phenomenology of concepts, in Husserl’s sense. Analytic philosophy is therefore a species of phenomenology, and the better off for it. Concepts are phenomena that can be studied by means of intuition, supplemented by acts of imagination, and yielding knowledge of necessary truths. Analytic philosophy is not opposed to phenomenology but a type of phenomenology: first-person, introspective, intuitive, non-scientific, apodictic, and essence-seeking. The differences start to seem merely terminological and stylistic. This impression is confirmed by asking a further question: What kind of meta-philosophy stands in contrast to that of analytic philosophy and phenomenology? Here we cannot do better than to tabulate Sartre’s deviations from Husserlian orthodoxy. These concern his conception of consciousness itself: he regards consciousness (the for-itself) as a nothingness whose only qualities are conferred by extraneous being (the in-itself). From this it follows that there can be no detachment from existence, no suspension of the natural standpoint, no epoche: the for-itself is constituted by the in-itself. There is no transcendental ego in consciousness and no “stuff” of consciousness (Husserl’s “hyle”): consciousness is pure intentionality and hence dependent on the world of actual existence. It is, for Sartre, absolute freedom, devoid of essence, a kind of psychic vacuum. Thus, Sartre describes consciousness as embedded in the existing world—in the world of physical objects, the human body, time, and other consciousnesses. The division between them is artificial; it is the consciousness-world nexus that is ontologically basic in the description of human reality—what we might call “situated consciousness”. What does this remind you of? Externalism, anti-individualism, the extended mind, wide content, Twin Earth, direct reference, singular propositions, meaning outside the head, belief de re, non-supervenience of mind on brain—all that jazz. This is all very Sartre-esque and not at all Husserlian: if you suspend the world, you do away with the mind. Jean-Paul would have loved the Twin Earth story! Not for him the neo-Fregean insistence on internal modes of presentation, definite descriptions in the language of thought, narrow content, supervenient qualia—all that internalist claptrap! Husserl is to Frege what Sartre is to Mill. The analytic externalists are “existentialists” in that they build objective existence into the mind; they reject Husserl’s attempt to insulate the mind from the outside world. The mind is embedded and extended, not isolated and detached. And there is a further point of analogy: Quine’s view of the mind as indeterminate is strikingly similar to Sartre’s vacuum picture of the mind. For both men, the mind is essentially an empty vessel, consisting of nothing but interactions with the external world. It brings nothing to the table; it merely reflects what is already there. Sartre would have been tickled by Quine’s rabbit ruminations: for there is nothing in the mind to provide any content beyond what can be gleaned from stimulus meaning. The in-itself might well not provide the distinctions necessary to justify our customary discriminations, in which case consciousness cannot furnish such discriminations. This kind of picture of the relationship between mind and world upends centuries of thought about what constitutes the mind—in particular, the views of Husserl’s forerunners (Descartes, Locke, et al). So, the departure represented by Sartre and the psychological externalists is really a major divide in the historical tradition—more significant than the one gestured at by the usual hackneyed “analytic versus Continental” dichotomy. In fact, the former division cuts across the latter division. All can still count as phenomenologists, but they differ dramatically in how they conceive their object of study (the mind, experience, consciousness). There are existential phenomenologists (Sartre) and non-existential phenomenologists (Husserl). And the same distinction applies to conceptual analysts, according to whether they regard concepts as existence-involving (Putnam) or not existence-involving (Frege). It turns out, then, that analytic philosophy and phenomenology are not really opposed, despite some superficial stylistic differences. Both derive from the same historical sources (Descartes, Hume, et al), so this is not surprising. It is the focus on the knowing subject that leads to both.
 Sartre disavowed the label “existentialist” (it was Gabriel Marcel that coined it)—as did Camus. What would be a better label? We might try “existence-ist”, or “libertarian negationist”, or simply “externalist”: but these are not too catchy or descriptive. Still, we do well to remember that “existentialist” does not do justice to the guiding principle of Sartre’s philosophy, namely the essential nothingness of consciousness—he is a “nothing-ist” more than an “existential-ist”. I rather like “phenomenological negativist” (contrast “logical positivist”), but it’s a mouthful. (Apparently, Husserl used to like to say “We are the real positivists!”, and with some justification—they were a pretty negative lot.)
 Where would Wittgenstein fall? He can be aptly characterized as a phenomenologist of sorts (“Look and see!”), but what about along the internalist-externalist axis? Well, he isn’t a referential externalist (nothing twin-earthy about PI), but he does invoke “forms of life” and the community, so he is not an it’s-all-in-the-head type of philosopher. He also shares with Sartre an attachment to the idea of life as decision (see section 186).
 A view which really does stand opposed to both phenomenology and analytic philosophy is that philosophy is not different from regular science, since both claim that philosophy needs a special method. What should we call such a view? To call it “naturalistic philosophy” presupposes that the other two approaches are not “naturalistic”, but their proponents would be within their rights to claim that they are perfectly naturalistic (they aren’t “super-naturalistic”). Nor would it be apt to call the view “scientific philosophy”, since the opposition would protest that they too deserve that honorific adjective. How about “scientistic philosophy”? But that connotes the fault of excessive belief in scientific methods: true, no doubt, but not diplomatic. I think “scientistical” would do, or “scientifical”. Thus, scientifical philosophy would differ from phenomenological philosophy (which includes analytic philosophy)—which in turn differs from religious or mystical philosophy, or psychedelic or alcoholic or schizophrenic…