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HUSSERL’S PHENOMENOLOGICAL EPOCHE AND THE SEARCH FOR OBJECTIVE KNOWLEDGE
1.1 Background of the Study As a young philosophy student, I came face to face with an accident scene involving a bus driver and a passer-by. When the police inquired from them the true story of what happened, I was amazed to hear each party giving different versions of the story with each
claiming ‘the truth’ depending on the interest at stake, that is one who assumes the culpability. I asked myself how will the police officer arrive at an objectively valid knowledge about the accident scene since each party claims true knowledge? Since the testimonies of both parties are relative, how will the police officer arrive at objective truth? The question of relativity of truth or situational truth has always posed epistemological problem with regards to the search for an objectively valid knowledge and the means of attaining it. The world in which we are is infected with the pursuit of a certain interest which circumscribes situation. For instance, a market woman’s interest is in selling her produce; this interest determines her situational truth. The same thing applies to an artist and a real estate agent who pursues their own interest. These multiplicities of interests create specific situations thus making objective knowledge almost impossible. This ‘life of interest’ is what constitutes our natural attitude. Relativism denies the possibility of grounding of human knowledge. In other words, it denies that there are essential truths about all domains of human experience. Proponents of relativism argue that there is no absolute truth or validity, but only relative subjective values according to difference in perception and consideration. However, we know that one of the major defects of relativism is that it is inherently contradictory and as such it does not give room for proper knowledge. Relativism can only lead to subjective validity which is the product of biased opinion
2 Therefore for one to enter the domain of philosophy and assume a philosophical point of view, one needs to shed off or relinquish the natural attitude. It is this natural attitude that blocks our way towards the attainment of objectively valid knowledge. To show how we can attain objective knowledge and what objective knowledge consists of, Descartes anticipates a transcendental turn. The turn to the subject, the ‘reduction’ to the ego cogito, is the principle of certainty. Descartes believes that knowledge is identical with absolute certainty. Accordingly, to provide a foundation for science implies nothing other than to extend the certainty of immediately evident first principles of all scientific principles and results.1 With Kant the problem of knowledge took a new interest. Its interest is not so much to establish certainty but make comprehensible how experience directed towards objects is possible at all. This new interest arises from the post – Cartesian question: “given that all we ever have are our subjective representations, how is it nonetheless possible to have an experience of something objective, something which is (experienced as) independent of these
representations?”2 Kant responds to this question by arguing that the subjective manifolds of apprehension are able to take on the character of representing objects, existing apart from consciousness, only because these manifolds are subordinated by the subjective faculties of cognition of certain fixed rules or rules forms, thereby ordering the contents of these manifolds in objective space and time. For him, these rules constitute a priori conditions for the possibility of the experience of objects, and therefore for the being of objects themselves. With this, Kant establishes a foundation for knowledge that will serve to clarify the very nature and limits of knowledge.
Husserl’s response to the post – Cartesian question saw him seek for an absolute, nonrelative, grounding of human knowledge. Husserl’s phenomenological epoché focuses on the inner perception as a source of absolute insight and absolutely reliable knowledge, and so as the most suitable foundation of other knowledge. The word Epoché (πoxη) is an ancient
3 Greek term which when applied in philosophy describes the theoretical moment where all judgements about the existence of the external worlds, and consequently all action in the world are suspended. It subjects ones consciousness to immanent critique so that when such belief is recovered, it will have a former grounding in consciousness. Husserl employed this term in his phenomenology to indicate a process of suspension of biases, or bracketing in order to examine how the phenomenon presents itself in the world of the participant.3 In other words, it concerns itself with explaining a phenomenon in its own original giveness to consciousness. Husserl believes that the method of phenomenological epoché is a necessary step that must be taken in order to attain an objectively valid knowledge that will be the foundation or basis for other sciences.
1.2 Statement of the Problem Attempts by some philosophers to demonstrate how objective knowledge can be attained ended up in science of facts or naturalism. As a result, this has posed a big problem in epistemology. Therefore, the problem which this work sets out to investigate is whether objective knowledge can be arrived at through the employment of Husserl’s phenomenological epoché, which will provide the grounding for all sciences.
1.3 Thesis Statement
This work advances the thesis that Husserl’s phenomenological epoché as a method of attaining knowledge will lead to the attainment of objective knowledge/truth.
1.4 Purpose of the Study.
The purpose of this work is to investigate how Husserl’s phenomenological epoché can lead to the attainment of objective knowledge.
4 1.5 Significance of the Study Investigating how objectively valid knowledge could be attained through the method of epoché is very much relevant in our time when people pass judgement about a situation or person based on the prejudice or bias they have, thereby making objective knowledge inaccessible. Therefore, this study will help provide both the theoretical and practical framework for establishing how non-relative grounding of human knowledge is possible through the application of the phenomenological epoché. It will also instill in those who come in contact with it, the attitude of not taking things for granted, but instead pass judgement after due reflection and analysis. This work will also serve as an intellectual tool for further investigation on how an objectively valid knowledge could be attained.
1.6 Scope of the Study This work is limited to an examination of Husserl’s notion of phenomenological epoché, with a view to determining if it could be used in the attainment of objective knowledge. other philosophers and their ideas will be referred to as they are relevant to the overall understanding of the subject matter of the study.
1.7 Methodology. The data for this research were gotten from periodicals, articles, books from the library and internet sources. In this research we made use of the historical expository, analytic and evaluative methods. In the historical method we situated Husserl within a philosophical era. In the expository method we allow Husserl to speak for himself. In the analytic method we show how Husserl’s phenomenological epoché can be applied to other sciences. In the evaluative method we examine the weaknesses and strengths of Husserl’s phenomenological epoché in the attainment of an objective knowledge.
1.8 Clarification of Terms
Subjective: According to The New International Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary of
English Language, Subjective means “relating to or conditioned by, mental states or the ego;
proceeding from or taking place within the thinking subject.”4 From this we see that subjective has to do with things that are influenced by personal feelings, tastes or opinions. In other words it exists in the mind and belongs to the thinking subject rather than the object of thought. It is opposed to objective. In philosophical sense, subjective (subjectivity) is related to consciousness. It has to do with the individual who possesses conscious experience, such as desires, feelings, beliefs and so on. It places emphasis on one’s own mood and opinion, in other words it is egocentric. Thus it places emphasize on the first person perspective. It is in this sense that Husserl uses the word subjective in his phenomenology to study the structures of consciousness as experienced from the first person point of view.
Objective: This has to do with judgements that are not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts. It is a judgement that is impartial, unbiased, unprejudiced, disinterested and unemotional. Therefore, that knowledge is objective means that it is without bias.
Transcendental: This means something that is beyond ordinary or common experience,
thought or belief. In philosophy, it is concerned with “the a priori or intuitive basis of knowledge as independent of experience.”5 It shows a fundamental supernatural element in experience. It relates to knowledge of the presuppositions of thought and to experience of phenomena, even though it is not beyond potential knowledge. Kant employed it in his philosophy to explain a priori element in experience which conditions human knowledge.
INTERSUBJECTIVITY: According to Thomas Scheff, intersubjectivity is “a sharing of
subjective states by two or more individuals.”6 He further explained that intersubjectivity can be explained in three ways based on usage. (1) In its weakest sense, intersubjectivity refers to an agreement (2) It refers to “common sense” shared meaning constructed by people in their interactions with each other and used for an everyday resource to interpret the meaning of elements of social and cultural life. (3) Intersubjectivity refers to shared (or partially shared) divergences of meaning, self presentation. He further argues that intersubjectivity emphasizes that shared cognition and consensus are essential in the shaping of our ideas and relations. Mirrian Webster sees
intersubjectivity as a relationship “involving or occurring between separate conscious
minds.”7 Ferrarello defines it as “a relationship between me and another.”8 She insists that the peculiarity of this relationship is based on the fact that the other is not alien to me but is within me in such a way that the otherness can be investigated beginning with the way in which that otherness is imminent in my ego.9 In phenomenology intersubjectivity does many functions one of such function is that it allows for empathy. Empathy in phenomenology involves experiencing another person as a subject rather than an object among objects. In other words is allows one to see oneself as
perceived by ‘the other’ and the world in general as a shared world instead of one only
available to oneself. For the purpose of this study we shall adopt Ferrarello’s definition because of its phenomenological dimension especially in relation to empathy.
Phenomenology: Etymologically, the word ‘phenomenology’ comes from two Greek words,
phainomenon meaning appearance or things as they appear in our experience and logos
7 meaning science or study. Therefore, phenomenology is the science or the study of experience or consciousness. It is the study of appearance as opposed to reality. Phenomenology studies structures of conscious experience as experienced from the
subjective or first person point of view, along with its “intentionality” (the way an experience is directed towards a certain object in the world). This field of philosophy was developed by Husserl. For him phenomenology is a foundation. It is a foundation of knowledge. it is the quest for origin, source or the foundation of knowledge.
Epistemology: This is from the greek word epistēmē meaning knowledge and logos meaning
‘discourse’ or ‘study’. It is the branch of philosophy that deals with the theory of knowledge. It studies the nature of knowledge, justification and the rationality of belief. It analyzes the nature of knowledge and how it relates to notions such as truth, belief and justification.
Epistemology asks questions like: ‘what is knowledge?’, ‘How is knowledge acquired’, ‘what
do people know?’, ‘what are the condition for knowledge?’ what is the limit and scope of
Knowledge: This is the awareness and understanding of particular aspects of reality. It is the clear, lucid information gained through the process of reason applied to reality. For something to count as knowledge three conditions are required: (1) it must actually be true (2) it must be believed (3) it must be justifiable. Therefore, based on these three conditions,
knowledge can be defined as “justified true belief”