Phenomenology is a movement in philosophy associated with the human sciences as a qualitative approach to the study of human conscious experience. Research validity and reliability are assessed as functions of logic, not mathematics or statistics).
Consciousness refers to the unique human ability (1) to have an awareness of self, others, and the world, i.e., iconic codes of awareness, (2) to be aware of that awareness, i.e., indexical codes of signification, and (3) to displace that awareness of awareness in space and time, i.e., symbolic codes of meaning. The conjunction of these codes in expression and perception is the function of discourse. Following Merleau-Ponty, these three semiotic phenomenological stages of defining human communication are known as the phenomenological method of (1) description, entailing the iconic principle of reversibility, where expression and perception are interchangeable; (2) reduction, entailing the indexical principle of reflexivity, where expression structures perception; and (3) interpretation, entailing the symbolic principle of reflection, in which expression and perception represent one another. As a contemporary human science, phenomenology is the name for, and method of, the study of discourse as a logic of discovery.
There is both a European and a US tradition in phenomenology, beginning in eighteenth-century Europe with Johann Heinrich Lambert, who first used the term “phenomenology.” The name was then taken by Kant to describe awareness of awareness, in distinction from initial awareness. Hegel turned phenomenology in a historical direction by focusing on the evolution of self-consciousness. By the nineteenth century, the European forerunner of phenomenology was Franz Brentano. He divided phenomena of consciousness into (1) representations, (2) judgments, and (3) emotive acts. A philosopher, he had several famous students at the University of Vienna. First was the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, who stressed the relationship of representation and emotive acts in his famous “talking cure” for neurosis. Second, there was the logician Edmund Husserl, who focused upon the relation between representation and judgment in consciousness, i.e., “intentionality.” Both Freud’s applied work and Husserl’s theoretical analysis founded phenomenology in its modern sense within the domain of human communication. In his 1922 London lectures, Husserl defined his methodology as centered on the “manifest multiplicity of conscious subjects communicating with one another.”
Within discourse, Husserl specifies the meaning of conscious experience as having four domains of reference, as elaborated in communicology. First, meaning signifies (the signifier expression) while manifestation refers (the signified perception). Second, meaning has objects. Third, symbolic meanings in perception contrast with intuitive meanings in expression. Fourth, all acts of meaning have a common ideal meaning. Thus, a phenomenon is the object-referent (noema) of the constituting act directed toward it (noesis). The whole process is called intentionality, whereby a person is “conscious of . . . [experience].” Karl Bühler in Europe and Vilém Flusser in South America provided major applications of Husserl’s work to communication theory and practice.
Also among Husserl’s interpreters are the French philosopher and psychologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty and his student Michel Foucault. Both focused on the embodied discourse domain of consciousness where self, other, and the lived-world blend together. Merleau-Ponty suggested there are two levels of communication: (1) existential discourse, in which a person expresses his or her speaking in an original and perceptive speech – that is, a “speech speaking”; and (2) empirical discourse, which merely expresses what has already been said by others – that is, a “speech spoken.” Heidegger made the same distinction with his “talk” (Rede) and “idle talk” (Gerede). Foucault argued that the empirical social level of discourse hides the existential level. This contested process of discourse forms a “rupture” or ongoing discontinuity of levels. He engages his third level, critical methodology (interpretation), by using the first-level (description) method of archaeology (“knowledge” as the experience of consciousness) and the second-level (reduction) method of genealogy (“understanding” as the consciousness of experience). Thus, for Merleau-Ponty and Foucault, the conjunctions of both consciousness and experience in discourse are reversible icons, reflexive indices, and reflective symbols. While Merleau-Ponty examines the place of personal perception in public expression, Foucault critically studies the reverse – that is, the place of public expression in personal perception.
The central personality in American phenomenology is Charles Sanders Peirce, also known for his combination of semiotics and phenomenology with an existential focus: “man is a sign . . . my language is the sum total of myself; for the man is the thought” (Peirce 1931–1958, vol. 5, para. 314). Like Husserl, whom he studied (Peirce 1931–1958, vol. 4, para. 7), Peirce defined his phenomenology by “communication: the recognition by one person of another’s personality takes place by means to some extent identical with the means by which he is conscious of his own personality” (Peirce 1931–1958, vol. 6, para. 159).
- Bühler, K. (1982). Theory of language: The representational function of language (trans. D. R. Goodwin). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. (Original work published 1934).
- Flusser, V. (2002). Writings (ed. A. Ströhl; trans. E. Eisel). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
- Holenstein, E. (1976). Roman Jakobson’s approach to language: Phenomenological structuralism (trans. C. & T. Schelbert). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
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- Lanigan, R. L. (1988). Phenomenology of communication: Merleau-Ponty’s thematics in communicology and semiology. Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press.
- Merleau-Ponty, M. (1960) Signs (trans. R. C. McCleary). Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. (Original work published 1960).
- Moran, D. (2000). Introduction to phenomenology. London: Routledge.
- Peirce, C. S. (1931–1958). Collected papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, 8 vols (vols. 1–6, ed. C. Hartshorne & P. Weiss; vols. 7 & 8, ed. A. Burks). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Spiegelberg, H. (1975). Doing phenomenology: Essays on and in phenomenology. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
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