Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Is Phenomenology Philosophically Unproductive?

Interesting conversation that has unfolded in the comments section; about 45 comments.    Responding to these provoking lines:

Why is so little phenomenology taught and researched in North American philosophy departments? Because it studies the essence of consciousness is it too continental for your analytic minds? Why must philosophy be categorized so strictly?
Jonathan Westphal (Hampshire College) responded:

I think the answer may be that phenomenology has produced so disappointingly little. In a non-philosophical sense phenomenology is defined as the preliminary classification of phenomena in an enquiry. So one might for example regard it as a piece of phenomenology in this non-philosophical sense to say that a white surface seen through a light blue filter looks stone-cold white, and not blue at all, as per the philosophical folklore. The question the analytic philosophers ask themselves, I suspect, or at least this one does, is whether there is something as solid and productive that can be gleaned from phenomenology in the philosophical sense, in addition to its methodological meanderings.
My sense is that phenomenology is enjoying a bit of a resurgence as the professional significance of the Analytic-Continental distinction  continues to erode. I also wonder what “productiveness” is supposed to mean in this context (such that the explanation couldn’t be run in reverse). But I would be glad to hear from others more knowledgeable than I am on these matters.
Definitely worth reading through, link HERE.  My last grapple with this was with Tom Sparrow at an APA one year.  The conclusion was that it is hard to distinguish what is not phenomenology if phenomenology means "descriptive reportage."  Is descriptive philosophical literature phenomenology?  Is writing first-person about the process of creative an artwork phenomenology?  Is a travel diary phenomenology?

Since that conversation with Tom I've gone on to think about the possibility of phenomenology as part of mathematics, category theory, and logic which has given me a different outlook on the matter.  I've just read so much more outside of the scope of Husserlian phenomenology.  Husserl, like Descartes used to be for the Continental tradition - for different reasons of course - seems to be the latest and greatest scapegoat for deanthropocentrist rage.

Readers may be interested in some of these After Nature posts:

* "Workshop in Noncorrelationist Phenomenology" (worth the read despite the length) HERE.

* "Noncorrelationist Phenomenology: Is it a Possibility?" HERE.

* "Speculative Realism's Relationship to Phenomenology" (a post written during the glory days of blogging; post actually inspired by a conversation involving Tom Sparrow, Jason Hills, and myself, as well as obliquely Dylan Trigg - someone who has on more than one occasion sharply addressed some of my thoughts here at After Nature, although cross-platform hurdles between blogger and Twitter prevented me from answering back.  Trigg has since disappeared from Twitter having moved on to a postdoc position here in the States. Some associate his work close to Sparrow's, I think Hill's work and my own represent another side of the coin, so to speak.) HERE.

* "Uexküllian phenomenology" HERE.