Transcendental Phenomenological Method of Husserl

V. C. Thomas
Pondicherry University, Pondicherry

Husserl’s transcendental phenomenological methods involves three steps: (1) Elimination of Natural Attitude (2) Epoche, and (3) Phenomenological Reduction. Husserl holds that that there are presuppositions having a reference to thinking mind and intellectual life. They are what Husserl calls epistemological presuppositions. From the perspective of Husserl I understand that there is only one presupposition and that presupposition is that there is a world existing by itself, existing independently of my consciousness. Having such a presupposition is what Husserl technically calls having natural attitude. A presupposition-less philosophy does not mean that there are no presuppositions at all. Rather it means the presuppositions are rendered explicit through the phenomenological inspection to the extent their realization is made possible.

In natural attitude we are interested in things in their qualities and properties. In it we are concerned with what the objects are, in it we are absorbed in our mundane projects and earthly plans. In it we do not focus our attention on the modes of their manifestation. After having discussed natural attitude and its pitfalls, Husserl wants to do away with natural attitude and bring in a philosophical or a phenomenological or a transcendental attitude. The method Husserl proposes to do away with natural attitude is technically called epoche, i.e. bracketing or suspending natural attitude. In the method of bracketing, we propose to bring forward a shift in our attitude from the ordinary natural standpoint to a philosophical standpoint. In it there is a shift from the object of thought to the content of thought.

Epoche is the suspension of all our judgements regarding the world and entities there in. It is to withhold our judgements about the truth or falsity of our belief. It is to abstain from making judgements concerning the existence of the world. It means to suspend our judgements regarding the world, not refusing, not rejecting, not denying, the external world and its objects.  I do not pay attention to the existents therein because they are not relevant to me; they are not my concern. I pay attention only to my consciousness (of objects), i.e. consciousness itself becomes the object of consciousness. This is not a second consciousness but a reflexive or a reflective consciousness. Husserl is not consistent in his writings with regard to the number or the names of reductions. The first generation commentators have a lot of differences among them. When it comes to second generation commentators, i.e. the present day scholars on reductions, things are still very different.

The question now is how is it that there is so much confusion and such a lot of disorder with regard to the number of reductions, names of reductions, and explanations with regard to these reductions?

There are also serious mistakes with the commentators.  They forgot the purpose, the essence of phenomenological reductions.  Why did Husserl institute the phenomenological reductions at all? It was to establish the primacy and primordiality of the transcendental ego.  It is to show that noema is dependent on the noesis not only for its meaning but also for its very being. It is to show the constitutive powers of the transcendental ego that Husserl constituted the reductions.  And, once we keep in mind the primordiality and the constitutive powers of the transcendental ego, the number of reductions are immaterial. Sometimes Husserl may have thought one single reductions is sufficient to establish the pre-eminence of the transcendental ego. Sometimes he may have thought that a plurality of reductions are required to bring forward the precedence of the transcendental ego.  It all dependents on the mind of Husserl and the topic on which he was working on at a particular time.  The context has such a lot of importance. He was not bound by any rules and yard sticks; he was his own master. His only criterion was his own faithfulness to his vocation as a master phenomenologist.

If I am asked to give the number and names of reductions, I am of the opinion that there are 4 reductions: 3 given in Ideas: eidetic reduction, psychological reduction and transcendental reduction and the one given in Crisis, reduction by way of Life-world.   For me every other reduction Husserl is speaking about in Crisis or the reductions Kockekmans or Bossert  speak about spring forth from out of out of the 4 reductions which  I am accepting; all other reductions, whatever be their number, can be shown to be  rooted in these 4 reductions.  These 4 reductions are exemplars for all other reductions.