phenomenological epoche

Phenomenology Lectures: Edmund Husserl (1859-1938)


Lecture One

(An overview of H’s life and works (& a video of him at 77) are at

I The phenomenological epoche

The fundamental methodological idea in H’s mature philosophy. Treated in many different works. We’ll focus on his presentation of it in CM.

The epoche first introduced by H in lectures in 1907 ( published as The Idea of Phenomenology). Here he claimed that when we consider mental acts, such as the act of judging, we see that their existence is indubitable. Such acts are for Husserl ‘immanent’ to consciousness. The objects we judge however are (for the most part, ie leaving out acts of self-consciousness) transcendent, and therefore not beyond doubt.

Clear proximity to Descartes: ‘cogitationes are indubitable.

epoche:  comes from Gk; in ancient discussions of scepticism it means ‘suspension of judgement’. H often glosses it in terms of beliefs being ‘parenthesized’ or ‘put out of action’.

(i)  Why it’s needed: the ideal governing scientific enquiry, the search for ‘perfect’ evidence.

(ii) What it involves: the bracketing of the ‘natural attitude’.

Important claim reached at end of §8: the antecedence of the pure ego and its cogitationes.

[A] The epoche can also be said to be the radical and universal method by which I apprehend myself purely: as Ego, and with my own pure conscious life, in and by which the entire Objective world exists for me.. Anything belonging to the world, any spatiotemporal being, exists for me.. The world is for me absolutely nothing else but the world existing for and accepted by me in such a conscious cogito. It gets its whole sense.. and its acceptance as existing.. from such cogitationes..  By my living, by my experiencing, thinking, valuing and acting, I can enter no world other than the one that gets its sense and acceptance or status in and from me, myself. (CM, p. 21)

[B] Thus the being of the pure ego and his cogitationes, as a being that is prior in itself, is antecedent to the natural being of the world – the world of which I always speak, the one of which I can speak. Natural being is a realm whose existential status is secondary: it continually presupposes the realm of transcendental epoche.. (CM, p. 21)

II Issues raised by the epoche

(iii)  What does the epoche leave us with? Misleading analogy with Descartes’ ‘method of doubt’. Cf H’s insistence that the structure to be explicated is triadic: ‘ego cogito cogitatum’.

(iv)  Phenomenology as a reflective enterprise. (Sartre’s criticisms in TE).

(v)   Husserl’s opposition to naturalism.

(vi)  Our motivation: What leads us to perform the epoche? Intellectual and ethical aspects in H’s presentation. (The idea of ‘self-responsibility’ as encompassing both). For Sartre, anguish is involved.

(vii) Alternative ‘ways’ into the epoche. (Disussion by Kern, Drummond, etc)


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