© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2010 DOI: 10.

Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179 brill.nl/jpp
Phenomenological Psychology:
A Brief History and Its Challenges
Amedeo Giorgi
Saybrook University
Te phenomenology-psychology dialogue has been taking place for over 100
years now and it is still not clear how the two disciplines relate to each other. Part
of the problem is that both disciplines have developed complexly with competing,
not easily integratable perspectives. In this article the Husserlian phenomenological
perspective is adopted and Husserl’s understanding of how phenomenology can
help psychology is clarified. Ten the usage of phenomenology within the historical
scientific tradition of psychology is examined to see the senses of phenomenology
that were employed in that tradition. Te German literature of psychology between
the founding of the discipline and the beginning of the Nazi regime indicates quite
clearly that the phenomenological perspective was part of the mainstream
psychology of that era. Te article ends by listing four difficult challenges that
have to be met if a viable psychology based upon Husserlian phenomenology is
to be possible.
phenomenology, psychology, history of psychology, introspection
At the outset, I want to mention the contextual limitations of this article
with respect to the relationship between phenomenology and psychology.
First of all, I will only refer to the efforts made by psychologists to under-
stand or implement phenomenology and not the other way around. Phi-
losophers (Husserl, 1977; Merleau-Ponty, 1964; Gurwitsch, 1966a;
Mohanty, 2002) have also written about this relationship, but the nature
of the dialogue there is quite different. Te philosophers understand
philo sophical phenomenology well but the stretch they have to make is in
146 A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179
showing its relevance for psychology. Usually this demonstration is theo-
retically satisfactory, but for obvious reasons, how to convert the phenom-
enological insights into helpful practices for psychology is not spoken to.
With respect to the psychological attempts to understand phenomenology
that we will review, natural science psychology is well understood, but
the understanding of philosophical phenomenology covers the complete
range from no mention of it through partial understanding and erroneous
understandings to a good understanding of what it is trying to do.
Te second limitation is that I will be speaking primarily about the Hus-
serlian perspective in phenomenology. Certainly good and valuable insights
concerning psychology can be found in other philosophical phenomenologists
such as Heidegger, Sartre and so on but the evaluation of the effort by the
psychologists under review will be in the light of Husserl.
Finally, the third limitation is that I will be speaking primarily about
academic psychology. I am neither a therapist nor a clinician so I will not
go into areas of psychology where I do not have practical experience. Hal-
ling and Nill (1995) have given a historical overview about the influence
of existential-phenomenological thought on psychiatry and clinical psy-
chology and Cloonan (1995) has written about the impact of phenome-
nology on the development of research in psychology in America. In this
article I want to include the European and American views of phenome-
nological psychology as understood by psychologists. Spiegelberg (1972)
has made the initial exploration of this theme, and Ashworth (2006) has
also provided a sketch of the historical background of phenomenological
psychology. Tere was also an article (Giorgi and Giorgi, 2008) contain-
ing an outline of the history of the relations between phenomenology and
psychology, but here I want to flesh out that outline a little bit more. Te
more that this history is accurately understood, the better will one under-
stand how psychology and phenomenology can be appropriately related
or integrated. It is important to remember that the term “phenomenology”
was used in psychology before Husserl’s sense was introduced and in ways
not equivalent with Husserl’s meaning. Tis circumstance applies to Hus-
serl himself because of the developments that took place in his thinking
between the publication of the Logical Investigations and that of Ideas I.
I also want to state that the research on the theme of this article is far
from being completed. I think that all of the relevant historical sources of
phenomenological influence on psychology in Western Europe and the
A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179 147
United States have been located, but I only have had time to do a prelim-
inary analysis of how phenomenology has been understood by the psy-
chologists who have used the term. I did not try to make a survey of all of
the contemporary universities where phenomenological research is cur-
rently being conducted. Tat is another project and it would have unduly
extended the length of this article.
In addition, another motive for delving into the history of the use of
phenomenology in psychology is in order to demonstrate that the phe-
nomenological approach was once a part of the historical development of
mainstream psychology. Today, the phenomenological approach is per-
ceived to be a minority movement; as a marginalized perspective it is, in
fact, rarely properly understood. It may be true that developments within
phenomenological philosophy during the middle of the 20th century, and
beyond, made the understanding of the approach more inaccessible, but
at one time, it was a serious contender for dominance within psychology.
Moreover, the contenders in the debate, those supporting objective facts
as opposed to those seeking phenomenal givens, respected each other even
if they disagreed with the opponent’s theoretical perspective. Why and
how the phenomenological approach became separated from mainstream
psychology is another concern of this article.
Some Misunderstandings Concerning Phenomenology-Psychology
Phenomenological philosophy has been with us now for about one hun-
dred years. Tat means that there has been a century of discussion con-
cerning the place and value of phenomenology, and a good bit of the
discussion has to do with the relationship between phenomenology and
psychology. Beginning with Husserl, the idea has been promulgated that
phenomenology could help psychology become a well-founded and
authentic science. When Husserl offered that idea, phenomenological
psychology did not exist. It was a hope; a promise. One hundred years
later, does phenomenological psychology exist? Only in a most frag-
mented, incomplete way, although in large part that depends upon how
phenomenology is understood. Tere have been fits and starts but noth-
ing like a sustained development by psychologists where later workers
148 A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179
built upon the work of earlier ones. It never developed into a consistent
school of psychology under that title, such as psychoanalysis or behavior-
ism. Gestalt theory, of course, is a consistent school and while it is evident
that phenomenological themes were interspersed in that movement and
phenomenal givens were investigated, the Berlin school did not accept all
of the insights of post-Ideas I phenomenological philosophy. In this arti-
cle, I want to look into the issues that blocked the facile development of
phenomenological psychology, from the perspective of a psychologist, and
to try to mention some of the challenges that must be confronted if phe-
nomenological psychology is to become a fruitful discipline.
Phenomenology has always had an intricate, complex and confusing
relationship with the science of psychology. It began even before phenom-
enology was officially born because Husserl, as a student of Brentano,
thought that he was doing descriptive psychology when he (Husserl,
1970) wrote the Philosophy of Arithmetic, but he understood by that
nomenclature that he was doing philosophy. Descriptive psychology was a
branch of philosophy just as ethics, metaphysics and logic were. Husserl
came to understand that the term “psychology” was confusing the under-
standing of his project because readers often confused his philosophical
analyses with the scientific psychology that was newly emerging at the
same time. Consequently, Husserl chose the term “phenomenology” for
his project, a term that also was already in use. It was first used by Lam-
bert in 1764 and he meant by it “the theory of appearance fundamental
to all empirical knowledge” (Cairns, 1958, p. 231). Both philosophically
and non-philosophically the term was used in a variety of ways (Spiegel-
berg, 1982), but eventually it came to be associated with Husserl’s type of
philosophizing, and that is the main meaning of the term today, although
other senses are attached to “phenomenology” even today by some psy-
chologists (e.g., Smith and Osborn, 2008; Rogers, 1964).
Te relationship between phenomenology and psychology is compli-
cated even further because Husserl lectured on the theme of phenomeno-
logical psychology during the summer of 1925 and these lectures were
eventually published (Husserl, 1977). However, in my interpretation,
these lectures are still philosophy despite the possibly misleading title.
Husserl did not think that the natural scientific psychology that was
emerging as he was developing his phenomenology was on the right track.
In the lectures of 1925 Husserl used a philosophical style of analysis in
A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179 149
order to try to determine and clarify the key concepts that a science of
psychology would have to use in order to found a science of psychology
in a proper way. What he presented then is a branch of philosophy and in
my interpretation phenomenological psychology as Husserl conceived it
would take the place of the rational psychology that Christian Wolff had
distinguished from empirical psychology. Te philosophical psychology
that Husserl called phenomenological psychology was a program that
needed to be actualized. I do believe that if the key, foundational concepts
of psychology were to be clarified and if the clarifications were properly
understood and seen as appropriate by psychologists, the work of estab-
lishing and conducting the science of psychology would be enhanced.
Obviously, this task has not yet been achieved. I’m not sure that it has
even been attempted by psychologists.
In addition, a confusing factor for some people was Husserl’s critique
of psychologism. Many interpreted this critique to be a criticism of psy-
chology itself, whereas it was a critique of the idea that the natural science
of psychology could be the foundation of all knowledge. For Husserl, no
science could serve that role. A philosophical basis was always necessary
to clarify the concepts that scientists implicitly and habitually used. Te
scientific effort at theoretical clarification, in his view, was never radical
Furthermore, Husserl was indeed actually critical of psychology as a
natural science. But the thrust of his critique was foundational and theo-
retical. He did not probe the practices so much, as for example, Merleau-
Ponty (1963) did. Husserl thought that the very idea that consciousness
could be completely understood naturalistically was erroneous, even
though it related to nature in some ways. If psychology was defined as the
study of consciousness, which historically was the initial definition of psy-
chology, then consciousness had to be comprehended in an essentially
correct way, and the naturalistic understanding that psychology as a natu-
ral science was using was not sufficient according to Husserl (1983). Tat
is why Husserl believed that scientific psychology needed theoretical clari-
fication and a more adequate method. But Husserl was not against the
very idea of a science of psychology. He was simply arguing that it had to
be properly founded.
Tese misunderstandings were a stumbling block in the dialogue
between phenomenology and psychology. It took many years to straighten
150 A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179
them out and they are probably still misunderstood today by many non-
phenomenological psychologists. But these views can at least be dismissed
as misunderstandings. However, the genuine problems that exist in
attempting to integrate phenomenology and psychology, in my view, are
even more daunting. But before getting to some of the genuine problems,
despite all the difficulties that the misunderstandings introduced, phe-
nomenology in some sense of the term did make an impact upon psy-
chology. Or at least the term was used, but not always in the fully
developed, continental, contemporary, philosophical meaning of the
term. Before I turn to the historical examples of phenomenological psy-
chology and briefly review them, I want to speak to the preHusserlian
sense of the term as used in psychology, after which I will review the his-
torical instances. Ten I will describe the problems that I see that stand in
the way of a sustainable phenomenological psychology as Husserl might
have wanted to see.
PreHusserlian Origins of Phenomenology in Psychology
If one simply uses the label “phenomenology” as an indicator, one can find
quite a few examples of phenomenological psychology. Te impact has
been noticeable, even to the extent that, as Titchener (1921) noted, it
became a serious challenge to the more elementistic or associationistic
psychology that dominated German institutes since the introduction of
experimental methods, but it has never achieved a solitary, dominant
position in psychology whether correctly interpreted or not. It’s almost as
though the term phenomenology is a blank slate into which the psycholo-
gists could project their own meanings. Of course, the projected mean-
ings are not open-ended and usually are constrained to refer to subjectivity
or experiences, but given that limitation, several meanings can be dis-
Te term phenomenology was introduced into psychology by two
independent perspectives that later became intertwined. Te first was the
type of science introduced by Johann Goethe (1749–1832), the noted
humanist. He worked out his theory in relation to work he was doing in
botany and articulated it again when he opposed Newton’s theory of color
vision. Te second was the perspective introduced by Brentano’s emphasis
A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179 151
on the psychology of acts. Te Goethean tradition is the older of the two
so we will begin there. Goethe’s understanding of color vision was based
on a more directly perceivable, experiential perspective than was that of
Newton. He did not so much seek explanatory concepts as an under-
standing of the phenomenon based upon its direct observation and its
context. He chose to be descriptive and integrative in his approach rather
than analytical and constructive.
As is well-known, part of the beginnings of psychology emerged from
physiology and J. Purkinje (1787–1869) was a physiologist at Praque
whose life overlapped with Goethe’s. He dedicated the second volume of
his book on vision to Goethe, and his book included many careful obser-
vations such as Goethe espoused (Boring, 1950). Today Purkinje is best
known for the phenomenon named after him, the Purkinje shift, which is
the difference in peak sensitivity between night and day vision. In the
dark, the wavelength of maximum effectiveness is 505nm whereas with
bright light it is 555nm. Purkinje reported this finding without knowing
its causes which is characteristic of a phenomenological approach. Today
we know that the difference is due to whether the rods or cones of the eye
are primarily functioning. According to Boring (1950, p. 20), 70 years
had passed before scientists solidly established that fact. For phenomeno-
logical researchers, careful observations and descriptions come first and
the phenomenal givens obtained can then be the basis for a more thor-
ough understanding that often follows their discoveries. However, seeking
the cause of the phenomenon is not always the motive for a deeper under-
Purkinje was succeeded by another well-known physiologist, Ewald
Hering (1834–1918), who also conducted science in the Goethean tradi-
tion. Hering has been described as a nativist, that is, one who tended to
interpret certain experiences as due to innate abilities on the part of the
organism rather than due to learning on the basis of experience. His view
was opposite to that of his chief contemporary rival, Hermann Helmholtz
(1850–1909) who was empiricist in his approach. However, the labeling
of the controversy as nativist-empiricist was a misnomer, for the differ-
ences were really about “conflicting philosophical commitments, styles of
theorizing, and investigative strategies” (Ash, 1998, p. 52). Overall, Her-
ing was a respected scientist who did not avoid empirical research and
even invented many apparatuses and instruments that were used in
152 A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179
psychological laboratories long after his death. In a way, the controversy
between Hering and Helmholtz regarding color vision was a repetition of
the controversy between Newton and Goethe. Boring (1950, p. 355)
emphasizes that Hering was an important supporter of the phenomeno-
logical tradition which believed that “. . . the description of conscious phe-
nomena is basic to the understanding of psychological fact.” With Hering,
we get the beginnings of the intertwining of the two phenomenological
traditions, so let’s turn to the other source of phenomenology prior to
As mentioned, the other source of the phenomenological perspective in
psychology was Franz Brentano (1838–1917), a German philosopher who
attracted many adherents to his views, influenced many more thinkers,
including Husserl, and he was the founder of a school of philosophy.
Brentano, although not a phenomenologist himself, influenced the phe-
nomenological movement quite a bit because of the themes he espoused
in his philosophy and because of the numerous individuals he influenced
who became philosophers or psychologists in their own right. Philosophi-
cally, Brentano taught that the method of philosophy was the same as the
method of the natural sciences (Ash, 1982). He embraced empiricism,
tended to work on limited problems and eschewed system building. His
philosophy contained many of the characteristics that phenomenology
later also accepted such as the priority of description over theorizing, the
emphasis on the careful analysis of examples and counter-examples, an
openness to “ideal intuitions” (Spiegelberg, 1982) and a concern for phil-
osophical evidence. Careful observation and description, he believed, had
to precede explanation.
Brentano influenced many scholars and with respect to phenomenol-
ogy the most important ones were (a) Edmund Husserl (1859–1938)
himself, the founder of phenomenological philosophy in the modern
sense of the term; (b) Alexis Meinong (1853–1920) and Christian von
Ehrenfels (1859–1932), who also interacted with each other and were
members of the School of Graz. Meinong was the leader of that school,
and he elaborated Brentano’s intentionality thesis and developed a theory
of objects, including how to understand that one could be aware of non-
existent objects (Jacquette, 1996). Von Ehrenfels introduced the notion
of “form qualities,” a new element to account for the perception of wholes
that are immediately experienced. Tis idea was the basis of much debate
A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179 153
and research in the 1890s (Boring, 1950) including the experimental
work of his Graz colleague, Vittorio Benussi (1878–1927). Finally, (c)
Brentano was close to Carl Stumpf (1848–1936) early in the latter’s
career. Stumpf was a teacher of Husserl, was then his colleague at Halle
and later he became the head of the Psychological Institute at Berlin
where Koffka and Köhler earned their degrees under him and where
Wertheimer also spent several years (Ash, 1982). Finally, Stumpf had
spent 5 years at Praque while Ewald Hering was teaching there. Spiegel-
berg (1982, p. 56) states that Stumpf credited Hering for helping him to
realize the idea of phenomenology as a prescience. With this influence,
the two strands of preHusserlian phenomenology come together in the
person of Stumpf.
It was Stumpf who coined the term “experimental phenomenology”
and initiated its practice in Berlin in 1905 (Spiegelberg, 1982). Stumpf
considered phenomenology to be a prescience that had to be conducted
before taking up the specific attitude of a researcher’s discipline. Spiegel-
berg (1982, p. 56) describes the idea of a prescience as follows: “Its task is
the analysis and description of the immediately given contents of our acts
or functions, the study of their relationships and of their structural laws
preparatory to the study of their causal dependencies on factors other
than the phenomena, which is reserved for the sciences proper.” For
Stumpf, phenomenology was limited to the givens that phenomena pres-
ent, and he postulated a certain lawfulness to their appearances. As a mat-
ter of fact, the research conducted in the Berlin lab mostly resembled
psychophysical experiments, but in Stumpf ’s case the introspective reports
were more important than the measurements that were taken (Ash,
Historically, although Stumpf ’s use of the term “phenomenology” pre-
ceded Husserl’s and his understanding of it also differed from the way
that Husserl articulated his philosophy, there are enough common points
for each of them to lay claim to the title. Spiegelberg (1982, p. 62) notes
that they both “wanted to start from an unbiased description of the
immediate phenomena”; both sought “more than merely empirical gener-
alizations and to study the essential structures in and between these
phenomena, and both recognized the world of logical structures as some-
thing apart from mere psychological acts.” As noted, Stumpf founded his
lab in 1905 and Husserl published his Logical Investigations in 1900 even
154 A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179
though he did not yet label his philosophy “phenomenology” in that
work. So Stumpf, in addition to being the person who combined the two
streams of preHusserlian phenomenology, is also the person who marks
the transition from preHusserlian phenomenology to articulations of phe-
nomenology concomitant with Husserl’s early writings.
In this first phase, several aspects of a phenomenological approach can
be stated: (1) it implied a concern for a perception of a whole that is
immediate and not built up from elements; (2) it acknowledged that the
perception of a whole implies a distinctive quality (gestalt qualities)
although the nature of that quality was a subject of great debate; (3) it
valued a careful description of the immediately given and an analysis of
the given in its own terms before seeking external explanations, and (4) it
affirmed the presence of nonsensorial givens and ideal entities as necessary
for a full understanding of experiences. Each of those emphases would be
characteristics of a contemporary phenomenological approach.
Some Contextual Factors in the Initiation and Development of
German Psychology
Before moving on with the instances of phenomenological themes in the
development of psychology, an important contextual issue has to be men-
tioned. It is generally accepted that psychology as an independent disci-
pline began in 1879 with the founding of a lab by Wundt in Leipzig. But
in an article written almost a half century later by Titchener (1921), the
year 1874 was also important because, as he pointed out, that was the
year that two major works of significance for psychology were published.
Te works he referred to were Brentano’s (1874) Psychologie vom
empirischen Standpunkte and Wundt’s (1874) Gründzuge der physiologis-
chen Psychologie. Titchener’s article makes the point that these two works
initiated traditions that were in competition with each other. Te tradi-
tion started by Wundt was known as “content psychology” and its
approach was experimental. Te tradition that Brentano initiated was
called “act psychology,” and although it was empirical in its approach, it
was not experimental. Te very definition of psychology was at the center
of this dispute. Wundt and the content psychologists thought that a psy-
chological process was the content that one experienced. For example, if
A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179 155
one saw a red patch, the experience of redness was psychological even
if there was a physical correlate. Brentano and the act psychologists
maintained that the act of seeing redness was what constituted psycho-
logical subject matter even though the act referred to a content. In fact,
for the act psychologists the very reference to a content is what made the
act psychological because that was how Brentano defined the psychologi-
cal: consciousness displayed an openness to something not itself. Bren-
tano, based upon the scholastic philosophy he knew, called this direction
of consciousness to an object an intentional relation. It was this Brenta-
nian notion within the context of act psychology that was responsible for
the emergence of certain phenomenological themes in late 19th

and early
20th century German psychology. When phenomenological themes
emerged within the context of content psychology and with experimental
procedures, it was due to the Goethe and Hering tradition. As stated
above, Stumpf synthesized the two views with his innovation of experi-
mental phenomenology and with his novel idea of phenomenology as a
prescience. After Stumpf, even experimental psychologists displayed Bren-
tanian influences, e.g. the Würzburg school and the Gestalt theorists.
It is important to note that as late as 1921, Titchener thought that psy-
chology could still go either way: experimental or empirical. He (Titch-
ener, 1921, 20) ended his article with a question; “Which of the two
authors is in the right?” But he insisted that psychology could not follow
both lines of thinking. One or the other would have to dominate. Te
reason was that the Wundtians approached psychological phenomena
basically in terms of elements and association theory whereas the act psy-
chologists were not analytic in the same way. Tey were descriptive and
holistic. Of course, subsequent developments showed that the experimen-
talists and content psychologists won the struggle for dominance, at
least for the time being, but without the Brentanian perspective entirely
disappearing. In fact, even the American literature of the 1920s shows
indications of a growing appreciation of the phenomenological perspec-
tive. Titchener (1924, 323), in reviewing the history of experimental
psychology, acknowledged that the appreciation of the work of Hering
was belated due to the strong influence of Helmholtz and added that
“. . . Phenomenology . . . provides today a safe and sure mode of approach to
the analysis of our psychological subject-matter. . . .” In addition, Young
(1924, p. 296) wrote an article indicating that the phenomenological
156 A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179
perspective was fundamental for psychology and wrote, “If the phenome-
nological point of view be assumed as a working basis for experimentation,
eventually, I believe, a genuine science of psychology will arise which will
link together in an adequate way the facts of experience and the facts of
animal movement”. Finally, Helson (1925, p. 344), in his introduction to
Gestalt psychology for an American audience, remarked that phenome-
nology (and Gestalt theory) were only two of several movements in Ger-
many that were critiquing elementistic approaches and trying to found
psychology on a different basis. Of course, it was during the 1920s that
Gestalt psychology began to make an impact on American psychology
and many features of research that phenomenology would have espoused
began to be accepted under the label of “Gestalt”.
My point here is simply to show that the act psychology alternative was
still alive in the 1920s, primarily in Germany, but with tricklings into the
U.S. as well, otherwise Titchener, who knew the literature of psychology
as well as anyone, would not have raised his critical question. Tis means
that at that time act psychology, or the phenomenological perspective,
was part of mainstream psychology. Tere was the possibility that it could
have become an alternative perspective in psychology, such as behavior-
ism or psychoanalysis, but history did not unfold in that way. It would be
interesting to understand why, but the answer requires much more
research. Of course, the emergence of the Nazi regime in Germany in the
early 1930s played a role because it forced many (but not all) of the
Gestalt theorists to emigrate. In any case, by the time World War II
ended, the leading nation for the development of psychology was no lon-
ger Germany but the United States, and in the latter country the content
psychology with experimental procedures was dominant. Te counterpart
of act psychology in the United States was functionalism, and it was quite
different from what the Brentano school had been developing.
Historical Examples of Phenomenological Psychology Würzburg
I will begin with the Würzburg school, which lasted from 1900 until
about 1912. One could say that the Würzburg school was an experimental
wing of act psychology even though act psychology was not primarily
experimental. Husserl’s Logical Investigations came out in 1900 and it influ-
enced some Würzburgers although others were more critical of Husserl. Te
A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179 157
primary purpose of the Würzburg investigations was to study the experi-
ence of thinking, but because they obtained “introspections” concerning
what the thinkers were experiencing, certain phenomenological issues
came to the fore. Tey called their method “systematic experimental
introspection”—I shall return to the question of introspection later, and
the school came to a dead-end because of two controversies that it precip-
itated. Today it is mostly known because of those controversies. Like act
psychology in general, this style of research also ceased by the late twen-
ties. One controversy had to do with one of its discoveries: they claimed
that within the process of thinking one can discover imageless thoughts.
No one outside of the Würzburg school wanted to accept this finding
because it went against the prevailing wisdom that all the elements of
thought had to be palpable. Tat is, they had to consist of something tan-
gible like sensations, images or some other type of sensorial given. Sec-
ondly, Würzburg created a methodical controversy because it liberated
introspection from close ties to physical stimuli, which was the way that
Wundt thought that introspection should be used, so Wundt (1907)
severely criticized how the Würzburg psychologists used introspection.
More directly, some of the members of the Würzburg circle criticized
Husserl’s affirmation of immanent perception, and Husserl argued for its
possibility. Nevertheless, the whole basis of the Würzburg approach was
the description of immanent conscious processes, and some members of
the school appealed to phenomenology for legitimation for that proce-
dure even though it was called introspection. Most of the controversial
issues surrounding Würzburg were not really resolved, but the controver-
sies, along with the advent of behaviorism, helped to discredit introspec-
tion as a method. Te phenomenological insights used by the members of
this school, mostly by Messer and Bühler (Ash, 1982), were drawn from
the Logical Investigations.
In Belgium, at Louvain, Albert Michotte, who was familiar with the work
of the Würzburg school, also conducted some research that was called
phenomenological. He (Michotte, 1963, p. 305) uses the term to refer to
what is perceived by the subjects of an experiment, dependent upon their
verbal responses. Because of the controversy surrounding introspection,
Michotte took pains to make clear that he was not asking his subjects to
158 A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179
introspect but to describe what they were perceiving in the experimental
setting. His use of the term is similar to what will be encountered with
other phenomenological psychologists of his era, namely, seeking the
reports of phenomenal experiences on the part of experimental subjects.
Michotte’s understanding of phenomenology was influenced more by the
Hering tradition and David Katz than by philosophical phenomenology.
While Michotte is primarily known for his work on the perception of
causality, in his long career, he also worked on many other problems such
as the phenomenal identity and phenomenal permanence of objects,
apparent reality, studies on types of visual structures, and the role of lan-
guage in the description of perceptual objects (Tinès, 1988).
Michotte was succeeded by Georges Tinès, who also fostered a phe-
nomenological approach and who wrote several theoretical books and
articles in favor of phenomenology (e.g., Tinès, 1970; 1977; 1991).
Early in his career Tinès followed the line of research begun by his men-
tor, Michotte, on the perception of causality but he later turned to other
problem areas, including animal research. Tinès (1988) was not simply a
follower of Michotte for he offered some critical remarks about the latter’s
work and certainly his understanding of phenomenology differed from
that of his mentor because Tinès incorporated some Husserlian ideas in
his understanding whereas Michotte did not. Tinès seemed not to have
had a consistent empirical research program based on a phenomenologi-
cal perspective. His main contributions were theoretical. In any case, at
Louvain, there was a sympathetic successor to the founding phenomeno-
logical psychologist. Historically speaking, this rarely happened.
We also have to mention the school of Gestalt psychology that was cen-
tered in Berlin, although it would take a separate chapter to do justice to
the complex relationship between Gestalt psychology and phenomenol-
ogy. Te Gestaltists rarely attached the term “phenomenology” to their
research efforts, but they were clearly influenced by it. Koffka (1935,
p. 73) remarked in the 1930s that one could not easily find phenomeno-
logical descriptions in America, but they were rather prevalent in Europe.
He argued for their use and he defined phenomenology as a “naïve and
full a description of direct experience as possible.” Te many descriptions
of the phenomenal world by the Gestalt psychologists surely had a great
A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179 159
impact in making other psychologists somewhat receptive to what phenom-
enology had to offer. Gurwitsch (1964) even claimed that the dismissal of
the constancy hypothesis on the part of the Gestaltists was an incipient
phenomenological reduction, even though the Gestaltists themselves
never made that claim. Gurwitsch (1966b ) also claimed several other
convergences between phenomenology and Gestalt psychology.
Mention also has to be made of the Copenhagen school and the work of
David Katz. Te Copenhagen school was headed by Edgar Rubin, and he
did work that was similar to the Gestaltists, although he was not a genu-
ine member of that school. When I visited Copenhagen, three members
of the school were still alive: Edgar Tranekjaer-Rasmussen, Ib Moustgaard
and Franz From. My discussions with them indicated that while they were
aware of Husserl’s works, they did not seem to have followed him closely.
Rather, it seemed to me that they were much more aware of the phenom-
enological approach as practiced by Ewald Hering, who seemed to oper-
ate more in the descriptive scientific tradition of Goethe. Tey seemed to
be interested in developing a descriptive psychology, but it seemed not to
be based on the ideas of Husserl. David Katz, of course, did phenomeno-
logical analyses of color and touch while at Rostock in Germany, but he
left Germany because of Nazism and went to Stockholm. However, I am
not aware of any phenomenological work that was done at Stockholm
and discussions with his son indicated that there were no followers. Te
same was true at Copenhagen. Te new students rejected the descriptive
approach of the preceding generation.
One of the stronger representatives of phenomenology in psychology was
the so-called “Utrecht School” in Holland. I say “so-called” because it was
so loosely organized that there are disputes about whether it was in fact a
genuine school (van Hezewijk and Stam, 2008) and because it seems that
many other factors in addition to phenomenology influenced the values
that the “school” maintained (Dehue, 1995). A discussion of the issues
related to Utrecht could also take a chapter but I have to limit the discus-
sion to the following few remarks.
160 A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179
Te founder and leader of the school was F. J. J. Buytendijk (1887–
1974), who was a physiologist and physician, but he was nevertheless
appointed professor of psychology at Utrecht University. Other promi-
nent members were the pedagogist and psychologist Martinus Langeveld,
the theologian and psychologist David J. van Lennep, the psychiatrist
Henricus C. Rümke, the legal scholar Willem Pompe, the criminologist
Gerard Kempe, the psychiatrist J. H. van den Berg, and the psychologist
Johannes Linschoten (1925–1964). I mention these more prominent
names so that one can see the diversity of disciplines encompassed by the
“school”. However, we will limit our discussion to the impact that the
Utrecht school had upon psychology.
Dehue (1995, pp. 62–64) and van Hezewijk and Stam (2008, 189)
both emphasize that the main psychologists at Utrecht belonging to the
school did not come from typical psychological backgrounds. It was
already mentioned that Buytendijk was a physiologist-physician; van Len-
nep was a theologian and successful applied psychologist for many years
before he quickly got his doctorate so that he could be appointed profes-
sor at Utrecht (Dehue, 1995, p. 63); and Langeveld was an educator and
developmental psychologist who also espoused a philosophy of “personal-
istic socialism” (Dehue, 1995, p. 80) that was prevalent in Holland at that
time. Dehue (1995) makes the point that a certain intertwining of per-
sonalism and phenomenology characterized the view of the Utrecht
school. She also stated that no one could clarify the nature of the phe-
nomenological method that the members used. In part this was because
of the strong influence of personalism on the Utrecht school’s members
and Dehue (1995, p. 76) even makes the claim that “personalistic psy-
chology’ would therefore seem to be at least as accurate as “phenomeno-
logical psychology” as a label for the Utrecht school. She (Dehue, 1995,
p. 76) even got a qualified confirmation of this statement from Langeveld.
Her research led her to conclude that “Te methodological unity of the
Utrecht School existed in the agreement on the precedence of anthropol-
ogy and morality above method. Te goal of psychology was to lead
people to full humanity”. It is important to remember this intertwining
when one speaks of the demise of the Utrecht school.
In a certain sense, the Utrecht school members were doing what was
necessary if psychology was to be transformed in line with their vision.
Tey did not agree with the trajectory mainstream psychology was pursu-
A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179 161
ing but did affirm that a more adequate psychology was possible. Conse-
quently, they would have to hire like-minded people to pursue their goal.
Moreover, the concern for anthropological philosophy was also legitimate
if one believed, as they did, that natural scientific psychological proce-
dures were reductionistic and not sufficient for studying persons as they
appeared in the everyday world. Tis fact also accounts for their interest
in personalism: Tey wanted an understanding of humans that was
authentically human and richly personal. However, these legitimate con-
cerns do not justify the lack of a clarified methodology, however holisti-
cally it may have been conceived.
Dehue (1995, p. 73) makes much of the influence that Scheler had on
Buytendijk. She thinks that Scheler’s personalism influenced him greatly.
She also contrasts Husserl’s idea of phenomenology to the notions that
the Utrecht school upheld concernimg phenomenology and finds many
differences. Te contrast between Husserl’s more rigorous and methodical
articulation of phenomenology and Scheler’s personalistic views were
great enough for Husserl not to consider Scheler to be one of his follow-
ers. Dehue (1995, p. 71) finally summarizes the differences by stating,
“For Scheler phenomenology was more of a stance than a method”. Per-
haps that is why there is so little talk of method by the Utrecht school
psychologists. However, it has to be noted that in an article intended to
demonstrate the value of phenomenology for psychology, Buytendijk
(1967) relies almost completely upon Husserl. Scheler is mentioned but
only in passing and with respect to implications of his work for psychopa-
thology. In this article, Buytendijk shows that he really has understood
Husserl and he has drawn out the implications of the latter’s philosophy
for psychology. Te same article also praises Husserl for the phenomeno-
logical method he developed. I do not know why Buytendijk did not refer
to Husserl’s method more directly in his other writings. It should be
noted however that this article appeared after Buytendijk retired so per-
haps it was a late development for him.
Buytendijk retired in 1957 and his former student, Johannes Linscho-
ten, took over as Chair of the psychology department at Utrecht Univer-
sity (van Hezewijk & Stam, 2008, p. 189). To call Linschoten a former
student of Buytendijk’s is probably literally correct since over time a strain
developed between them and they hardly spoke to each other by the time
Linschoten died at the untimely age of 38 in 1964. However, before he
162 A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179
died, Linschoten (1964) wrote the Idolen van de Psycholoog (Idols of the
Psychologist) (although published posthumously) in which he made many
criticisms of the phenomenology of the Utrecht school. For Dutch psy-
chology this book was a great turning point because it was interpreted to
mean the end of the Utrecht school and it was used by Dutch psycholo-
gists to return to positivistic and natural science approaches to psychol-
ogy. It should be recalled that the Utrecht school did deliberately choose
nonmainstream psychologists to do its work, so when one of its alleged
members criticized its nontypical orientation, the Dutch mainstream psy-
chologists breathed a collective sigh of relief. At least that was the public
Van Hezewijk and Stam (2008, p. 203) however indicate that Linscho-
ten’s view of phenomenology was “subtle” and “sophisticated.” His (Lins-
choten, 1968) book on James was strongly phenomenological, but it was
also not an experimental work, and his Idolen was critical of Utrecht phe-
nomenology. But he always kept a role for phenomenology even if it was
not the role envisioned by the other members of the Utrecht school. Per-
haps he deliberately kept this tension between the two perspectives. I spent
the summer of 1961 in Utrecht as Linschoten’s guest in order to see how
the phenomenological method was applied in psychology. I was surprised
to learn that none of his psychology students were doing phenomenological
research. Yet, when we met, we always spoke about phenomenology. Also,
during my last visit to Utrecht, in the summer of 1963, when I heard
rumors about Linschoten’s critical stance towards phenomenology in the
coming Idolen, I asked him why he turned against phenomenology and he
said “Well, I really didn’t. My next book will be phenomenological again. I
like to keep people guessing.” While I perceived his answer to be partly
evasive, I also got the feeling that he was serious. Perhaps he himself was
struggling to arrive at the proper relationship between phenomenology
and psychology. My own interpretation is that Linschoten was criticizing
certain aspects of Utrecht phenomenology and not phenomenology as
such. Perhaps that is what his next book would have made clear.
In any case, the Utrecht school was a significant moment in the devel-
opment of phenomenological psychology. It took place mostly during the
1950s and early 1960s, a time when phenomenology had practically dis-
appeared from German psychology because of Nazism and World War II.
Te members of the Utrecht school provided examples for determining
A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179 163
what phenomenological psychological results looked like and they were
an inspiration for psychologists in other parts of the world. How they
practiced phenomenological psychology was not a model for all others,
but they showed that rich results could be obtained by following phe-
nomenological precepts.
I first met the German phenomenological psychologist Carl Graumann in
1961 when he was at Bonn University, but soon after that he became the
Chair of the psychology department at Heidelberg where he remained
until he retired. Graumann was personally phenomenological in a theo-
retical way but not exclusively so. His Habilitationschrift (Graumann,
1960) was phenomenological and he wrote several articles on various psy-
chological issues from a phenomenological perspective and even co-edited
a book (Herzog & Graumann, 1991) demonstrating the application of
the phenomenological method in psychology. However, Graumann never
developed a phenomenological research program all the time that he was
at Heidelberg. Tis fact often puzzled me, but he never explained to me
why that was so. My guess is that the phenomenological perspective in
psychology was such a minority perspective, despite the pre-World War I
tradition, that he never saw an opening to develop it. In any case, very
few of his students conducted research along phenomenological lines. As
noted before, this was also true of Linschoten and Tinès. Tinès’s stu-
dents had a few phenomenological research publications, but I would say
too few for the amount of time he was chair. Tinès once explained to me
that money was not available for phenomenological research, but it was
for animal studies. In any event, all three of these men were chairs of their
respective departments and in the European context, at least in those
days, such men had the power to influence the line of research being con-
ducted, but none were sponsoring phenomenological research. I never
understood why.
Before turning to the United States I should mention Rhodes University
in Grahamstown, in the Republic of South Africa. Dreyer Kruger was the
inspiration for its development there. He had come across Binswanger’s
164 A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179
book while he was still at Fort Hare University and introduced
phenomenology there. Later he met van den Berg, who gave him a fuller
picture of the whole phenomenological movement, so when Kruger began
teaching at Rhodes, he brought the phenomenological approach with
him. While Kruger himself was a therapist—thus influenced by
Binswanger and Boss—he nevertheless introduced a program at Rhodes
in which students could write dissertations based upon phenomenological
research. Kruger has retired, and recently died, and I am informed that
there is no longer a phenomenological presence there.
United States
In the United States there was what has been called a “grassroots” phenom-
enological psychological movement initiated by Snygg (1941) and devel-
oped by Snygg and Combs (1949). Tis movement had nothing to do
with continental philosophy. Basically, they argued for a subjective frame
of reference for psychology, which they called phenomenological, but they
inserted it into a cause-effect context. Later, Combs and Anne and Fred
Richards (1976) revised the text and modified the approach again, calling
it perceptual psychology as Combs and Snygg (1959) had done in their
revised text but also aligning it with the humanistic psychology movement
that had emerged in the U.S. in the early sixties. However, since the retire-
ment of the Richards, I’m not sure how well this version of phenomeno-
logical psychology fares.
Another American who argued for a phenomenological approach to
psychology was Robert MacLeod. MacLeod had spent time in Rostock
with David Katz, and he learned phenomenology from him. MacLeod
did not establish a center or have many disciples, but he did argue rather
strongly for a place for phenomenology in psychology. He (MacLeod,
1948) argued for the possibility of a phenomenological perspective soon
after World War II ended. He held the view that phenomenology was
propaedeutic to science, but not actually scientific. We were good friends,
but I differed with him in respect to the role of phenomenology in psy-
chology. He also told me that his colleagues in his department told him
that after he retired, there was to be no more phenomenology at Cornell.
Te last situation that I will cover is the one with which I am most
familiar because I participated in its development. I am referring to the
A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179 165
psychology department at Duquesne University. Te man who conceived
of this department was Adrian van Kaam, a Dutchman who emigrated to
the United States with an M.A. in psychology and completed his doctor-
ate at Case Western University in Cleveland. After what he was exposed
to in Europe, he was quite shocked at what passed for psychology in the
U.S. He studied psychology with an existential-phenomenological per-
spective in Holland and expected more of the same in the U.S. but found
nothing like it in Cleveland. When he arrived at Duquesne there was only
an A.B. program in psychology, so he started an M.A. program in 1958
and the Ph.D program in psychology began in 1962, which is when I
joined the department. Van Kaam was obviously European in his think-
ing, so he brought some ideas from the continent that were strange on the
American scene. First of all, he thought that the department should
emphasize one approach, but do it well. Almost all other American uni-
versities are eclectic and try to cover all major theories or perspectives.
When van Kaam emigrated in the mid-fifties, existential-phenomenologi-
cal thought was in its heyday in Europe, so he decided to let that perspec-
tive be the guideline for the development of the psychology department.
Tis emphasis was also somewhat alien to the American temperament,
but not necessarily at Duquesne because the philosophy department was
also existential-phenomenological in outlook due to the efforts of another
Dutchman, a philosopher named Henry Koren. In addition there was a
press that published a philosophical series consisting mostly of books on
existential-phenomenological philosophy.
So, despite the extraordinary circumstances, the program was success-
ful. Initially, the students had to take philosophy as well as psychology
courses, but over time it became burdensome for the students, and so
eventually the philosophy courses were dropped. After some 25 or 30
years and with a changeover of faculty, the specific phenomenological ori-
entation was dropped. Te department now fosters psychology with a
human science perspective with a mixture of postmodern influences. A
phenomenological approach is not ruled out, but it lost its exclusivity.
If we stop for a moment and examine the type of phenomenology being
practiced by these historical psychological schools, I think that only a few of
them, if any, would have received the approval of the Husserl of Ideas I or
beyond. Tis is not to say that some good work has not been done. Te two
consistencies seem to be the emphasis on the subjective frame of reference
166 A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179
and the collection of phenomenal data. For example, the phenomenal or
experiential world has certainly been well explored by these schools. Te
variety of phenomena explored is pretty large: Te Gestaltists worked on
perception and also learning; Katz explored the worlds of color and touch;
Michotte singled out the perception of causality; Snygg emphasized the
subjective factors in experience rather than the objective or statistical
facts; the Utrecht school provided many concrete descriptions of the
everyday world; and the Copenhagen school advanced not only the per-
ception of things but also the perception of others, and so on. But the
frame of reference for understanding such worlds was not phenomeno-
logical philosophy; more often than not it was empiricism. With few
exceptions, the primary meaning of phenomenal description with these
schools was the one given by Koffka: “a naïve and full description of direct
experience as possible”. Te idea of the adoption of a phenomenological
attitude in the philosophical sense of the term is rarely mentioned, but a
careful description of the given as given may have implicitly achieved the
same result. Te reason that Koffka’s definition had as much currency as it
did is because it was in contrast with the schools of introspection—such
as Titchener’s—that required that the descriptions be in terms of the
hypothesized elements of the experience.
Te work that I did at Duquesne University did consciously introduce
the notion of the phenomenological attitude and the phenomenological
reduction. Tis fact was due more to naivete and circumstances than any-
thing else. I say naivete because when I went to Duquesne I knew very
little about phenomenology. I was trained as an experimental psychologist
specializing in the psychophysics of vision and I had worked as an applied
research psychologist. I had never heard of phenomenology throughout
my psychological training except what I read in the history books, and
when I raised questions about it, the questions were dismissed. I only
became aware of phenomenological philosophy after I got my Ph.D.
It was also due to circumstances because the purpose of my hiring was
to try to develop a method of research that would be more compatible
with the existential-phenomenological orientation of the department. I
was a methodologist within the context of the natural sciences, but phe-
nomenology was a whole new thing to me. So I asked about and was told
that Husserl was the founder of phenomenology and that Sartre, Merleau-
Ponty and Heidegger, among others, were important members of the
A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179 167
movement. I began by reading the philosophers, especially Husserl, but
the others as well. I studied what Husserl said about method and then
read Merleau-Ponty’s comments on it. Te idea of the phenomenological
reduction was critically important to them so I knew that it had to be
incorporated in some way. However, since they were philosophers, I fig-
ured that some modifications had to be made to the philosophical method
in order for it to meet scientific and psychological requirements. I men-
tion all this because unlike all of the other historical schools, except possi-
bly the act psychologists, I came to articulate a method by going through
philosophical phenomenology, not by any grassroots approach or by try-
ing to tackle a specific psychological problem. I had to develop a generic
method that was flexible enough to meet all of the diverse problems that
students seeking to do dissertations could use.
In the early years, I was not too concerned because I kept being told
that in Europe there were research psychologists who were using a phe-
nomenological method. So I spent my first sabbatical scouring Western
Europe looking for such psychologists, but when I found them, no one
communicated to me anything about method. I realized that often—not
always—what passed for phenomenological psychology was a critique of
mainstream psychology, but the constructive alternative implied by the
critique was not spoken to. Tat fact motivated me to speed up the devel-
opment of a method.
Now, the one sobering fact about this history that I want to emphasize
is this: wherever phenomenology appeared in a psychology department it
did not last more than one generation, with one or two exceptions, or it
was the effort of a single individual who did not manage to attract many
disciples. I do not know the reason for this state of affairs and certainly
many reasons can be imagined. I once asked the phenomenological psy-
chiatrist Erwin Straus, when he was in his 80s, why he didn’t have any
disciples. His answer was that phenomenology was too difficult for scien-
tists to learn. I was young when I asked that question, so I didn’t believe
him. However, today, I am more inclined to agree with Straus.
Te survey I just spoke about has been pretty thorough, but it is not
exhaustive. One would still have to probe each of the places where
phenomenology had arisen in order to see the precise meanings of phe-
nomenology that were operating in them. One would also have to track
the cross-influences that took place and to what extent philosophical
168 A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179
phenomenology played a role in determining the meaning of the term.
Finally, one would have to examine other literature from that era in order
to see what other spontaneous developments might have taken place in
the direction of phenomenology without the term actually being used.
I have been emphasizing the historical schools, not the present ones.
Tere are still, perhaps, some dozen places where phenomenological psy-
chology is being taught. Except for Seattle University, which has a con-
centrated phenomenological faculty, but also only a terminal M.A.
program, in the other schools the presence of phenomenology is depen-
dent upon one or two key professors. It is not clear what will happen
when these professors retire. It is critical that such places continue their
traditions, otherwise, how will the future generations receive their train-
ing? Tis last point leads to the next big question.
Can Phenomenological Philosophy and Scientific Psychology be
Te key question then is: can one integrate transcendental phenomenol-
ogy and the science of psychology? Te answer from the perspective of
transcendental phenomenology seems to be “yes.” Phenomenology is an a
priori discipline that will clarify the fundamental theoretical concepts that
necessarily will belong to any consciousness, and on the basis of those
clarified concepts psychologists can conduct research on empirical phe-
nomena in a guided way rather than blindly. As indicated above, the his-
tory of psychology seems to be “no” because it probes the phenomenal
realm in its own way as though it didn’t need philosophers to tell it what
to do or how to interpret its findings. Is this impasse a finality or can it be
If it is to be mediated, as I indicated above, a number of daunting diffi-
culties will have to be resolved. Obviously, I cannot enumerate all of the
problems, but within the space allotted I can mention a few of them so
that the nature of the difficulties can clearly emerge.
Let me start with how consciousness is understood within psychology.
Its perspective is naturalistic, and so psychologists try to determine the
causes of consciousness and sometimes what effects consciousness has on
behavior. As an aside, we must mention Wundt (Boring, 1950, p. 370) as
A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179 169
an exception here because he posited a psychic causality that held in the
phenomenal realm that was different from physical causality. Otherwise,
psychologists generally search for cause-effect relationships within
consciousness and between consciousness and the body or the world. Te
one place where we can see how consciousness was understood in psy-
chology is with the phenomenon of introspection because that is where
consciousness was probed to see what it would reveal about itself.
Te history of introspection in both philosophy and psychology is
messy and complex, but fortunately there are two reviews in psychology
which can ease our task. Te first was written by E. G. Boring (1953), the
most illustrious American historian of psychology during his lifetime.
While Boring (1953, p. 169) called his article “A History of Introspec-
tion,” in his introduction he states that the title of his article could easily
have been “Te history of the availability of consciousness to observation
in scientific psychology.” One of Boring’s points is that while it seems as if
introspection has disappeared, in fact it is still being used under the head-
ing of “verbal report” (1953, p. 169). Sometimes these verbal reports deal
with external situations and sometimes with conscious processes them-
selves. Tis distinction leads me to the second history of introspection.
Danziger (1980) had read Boring’s review of introspection, and he
objected to some of the points Boring had made. Boring mentioned the
distinction that Wundt had made between innere wahrnehmung (inner
perception) and Selbstbeobachtung (self observation) but he did not
emphasize the difference and translated both of them as “introspection”.
Danziger (1980) however argues that the distinction is critically impor-
tant and that both expressions should not be called “introspection”. Bren-
tano had stressed the idea of inner perceptions, and Wundt recognized
them. However, Wundt held that, as perceptions, they were not a suffi-
ciently solid basis for science and so he introduced self observations,
which he believed gave the inner perceptions a more solid basis. Conse-
quently, Wundt tied internal observations to experimental conditions and
he limited the subjective report of the participant to an almost immediate
response. In other words, Wundt believed in introspection so long as it
was tied to experimental conditions. Danziger (1980, p. 24) summarizes
Wundt’s introduction of Selbstbeobachtung as follows: “For a scientific psy-
chology, Wundt thought, it would be necessary to manipulate the condi-
tions of internal perception so that they approximated the conditions of
170 A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179
external perception. Tis manipulation was accomplished in the psycho-
logical experiment, and it was the goal which gave to the experiments their
specific form and their characteristic prescriptions.” A second feature that
Selbstbeobachtung implied was the possibility of replication. Tat is, a sci-
entific criterion came into play here. As Danziger (1980, p. 24) states,
“Te Wundtian rationale for the validity of introspection under experi-
mental conditions rested on the assumption that identical or near-
identical perceptions could be produced deliberately and reliably by the
repeated presentation of known external stimuli.” As opposed to the
Würzburg school, the Wundtian approach had a very limited role for
introspection. It was on this strict basis for the use of introspection that
Wundt criticized the “systematic experimental introspection” of the Würz-
burg school. His critique helped bring about the demise of introspection
in psychology.
It is interesting that neither Boring nor Danziger describe conscious-
ness or its characteristics while discussing introspection. It is taken for
granted that it means awareness and most of its other characteristics come
to the fore negatively, that is, that consciousness cannot hold steady to be
observed because it keeps moving, that it cannot be sensorially observed,
and that it belongs only to one person and so on. Phenomenology is more
positive with respect to its description of consciousness, and although we
cannot give a complete inventory, we would like to indicate how insights
concerning consciousness from phenomenology can be helpful to psy-
chology. So I will now review what I said about introspection and I will
indicate the differences between scientific psychology’s understanding of
consciousness and that of phenomenology.
Phenomenological Consciousness
We first indicated that mainstream psychology understood consciousness
naturalistically and so it analyzed its operations within the context of
cause-effect analyses. Of course, such a perspective is not all wrong. Te
question is whether it is sufficient to understand all of the operations of
consciousness. Following Brentano, Husserl accepted the idea that con-
sciousness was intentional. He modified Brentano’s understanding of the
term and used it as one of the cornerstones of his analysis of conscious-
ness. As most people know today, intentionality means that an act of con-
A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179 171
sciousness is directed towards an object that transcends the act in which it
appears. If the object belongs to the same stream of consciousness as the
act, it is an immanent object. If the object transcends the stream of
consciousness, it is known as a transcendent object. Intentionality is not
conceived to be a real relation. It is irreal and so a shift in attitude is
required to understand its proper function. One must perform the phe-
nomenological reduction and assume the phenomenological attitude in
order to do intentional analyses.
Te Reliability of Descriptions
In covering part of the history of introspection we noted that Boring
claimed that officially introspection is not used anymore, but many
researchers are resorting to “verbal reports”. Tus the whole question of
the reliability of descriptions comes to the fore. It is a complex issue with
adherents on both sides of the dispute: descriptions are trustworthy and
descriptions are completely unreliable and everything in between. Phe-
nomenology is on the side of trust; scientific psychology is mixed with
respect to this issue.
For scientific psychology, the issue comes down to the fact that when
one describes one’s own mental processes, no one else can check the
description. With the description of a transcendent object, others are able
to check the validity of the description. But of course, they check the
description of the transcendent object with conscious processes. However,
since the object is public, there is acknowledgement that agreement is in
principle possible.
Reflection on one’s own mental processes is available only to the expe-
riencer. Tis is the basis of most objections. Watt, a member of the Würz-
burg school, as cited by Husserl (1983) raises the following objections to
the validity of reflection, and to phenomenology in general:
One can indeed scarcely even inquire into the likelihood of how one arrives
at the cognition of immediate mental living. For it is neither knowledge nor
the object of knowledge; it is rather something else. It is not to be discerned
how a report about the mental living of mental living, even when it is there,
could be put down on paper . . . . . it all turns on the importance of the whole
discussion of, namely, the derivation of the concept of immediate mental
172 A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179
living which is not knowledge. One must be able to observe. Finally, each of us
lives mentally. Only he does not know it. (pp.162–163, italics in original).
Watt is here using the distinction that Wundt made between mere awareness
of something and the knowing of it which is dependent upon observation
understood as a higher class of apprehension. Te best response to this and
other objections to the validity or reliability of descriptions of internal mental
processes that I have come across is the one provided by Husserl. First of all,
Husserl (1983, p. 79) describes the awareness of an immanent object as fol-
lows: “. . . by intentive mental processes related to something immanent, we under-
stand those to which it is essential that their intentional objects, if they exist at
all, belong to the same stream of mental processes to which they themselves belong”
and he (Husserl, 1983, p. 95) adds, “anything that is perceivable immanently
is perceivable only immanently” (italics in original). Husserl adds further char-
acterizations. He (Husserl, 1983, p. 99) states: “We see that the sort of being
which belongs to the mental process is such that the latter is essentially capable of
being perceived in reflection” (italics in original). And then he (Husserl, 1983,
p. 100) adds, “Every perception of something immanent necessarily guaran-
tees the existence of its object”.
Tere is no time to present all of the arguments Husserl gives to
support his bold statements. Instead, I will simply present Husserl’s
argument against those, like Watt, who doubt his claims. Husserl (1983,
pp. 185–186) writes:
All genuine skepticism of whatever kind and persuasion is indicated by the
essentially necessary countersense that, in its argumentations, it implicitly
presupposes as conditions of the possibility of its validity precisely what it
denies in its theses . . . . . he who says: I doubt the cognitive signification of
reflection, asserts a countersense. For as he declares his doubt, he reflects, and
setting down this statement as valid presupposes that reflection actually and
without doubt . . . . has the cognitive value doubted, that it does not change the
relation to something objective, that the reflectionally unmodified mental
process does not forfeit its essence in the transition to reflection. (Italics in
When Husserl writes in this way, and I think about what he says, he always
convinces me. However, I must confess, that whenever I try his arguments
with real skeptics, scientists who are not phenomenological, I am rarely
A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179 173
able to convince them with these arguments. So I suppose that the only
solution is to keep doing positive, constructive work and perhaps eventu-
ally those holding other positions may become convinced or else will pres-
ent better objections.
In any case, in the dispute between internal perception and self observa-
tion, Husserl certainly comes down on the side of internal perception. It
should also be noted that it is dubious if Wundt’s manner of transforming
internal perception into observation is really workable. Remember, he
tried to tie internal perception to external conditions, but if the internal
perception recorded was truly of the external stimulus, then it was no lon-
ger an internal perception. As Husserl noted, what is immanently per-
ceived can only be immanently perceived.
Contributions of the Phenomenological Understanding of Consciousness
We have briefly described the history of introspection and some of its
vicissitudes and some of the work done by the phenomenological
psychology schools of the past. We have emphasized that a thorough
theoretical understanding of phenomenology and its main theme,
consciousness, was often not present. I now want to indicate how a fuller
knowledge of phenomenology could have avoided some of the difficulties
the psychologists encountered. For example, we indicated that one of the
findings of the Würzburg school was controversial, viz., that their
participants reported the discovery of imageless thoughts. Well, one of the
abilities of consciousness within phenomenology is that it is capable of
perceiving irreal objects, such as ideas. Te subjects of the study were
required to report their experiences of thinking and thinking often takes
place utilizing ideas. Why should that be so controversial? Because the
received wisdom based on theoretical speculations was that all contents of
consciousness had to be palpable elements. But it is also characteristic of
the phenomenological approach that all notions not coming from direct
intuition should be bracketed and weight is only given to what appears
precisely as it appears. So the intuitive givenness of an imageless thought
should have carried more weight than the theoretical constructions against
which it was tested. But phenomenological principles were not adhered
to, so the theory took precedence and the research program was eventually
174 A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179
Another finding by the Würzburg psychologists went against their best
interests. In another set of tasks that had to be performed by the subjects
they were given words, and then they were asked to give the genus to
which the word belonged, or another species or a coordinate and so forth,
and when it came time to describe what took place, there wasn’t anything
to be described. It became apparent that the directedness of thinking was
predetermined by the instructions given to the subjects or by the nature
of the task itself, and so the goal to be achieved was actually unconscious
during the actual performance of the task. So a “determining tendency”
that was basically unconscious was posited. Tus it was said that intro-
spection had nothing to report. Tis too then became a reason for dis-
crediting introspection because the most important things were taking
place unconsciously. Freudian ideas were also in the air at this time and so
they too contributed to the end of introspection. However, it seems pecu-
liar that such a result should come about since it was the introspective
method itself that revealed the fact of determining tendencies. Moreover,
it is often the case in first person descriptions that the motive for the
action that is taking place is not mentioned. What the Würzburgers found
seemed to be a rather ordinary thing and yet it, along with several other
factors that we have mentioned, helped to end the research program.
Another debate that took place within introspective circles was whether
introspection was immediate or whether, in fact, retrospection was
involved. If retrospection was involved then the introspective method was
considered to be even more unreliable because everyone knew that mem-
ories could be inaccurate. Tat is one reason that Wundt limited his use
of introspection to immediate descriptions; to increase their reliability.
However, if we bring to mind some aspects of Husserl’s ideas on the expe-
rience of time, it might help us better understand how introspection
might work. Husserl (2001) stated that the present was not a point, but
that it was constituted by a certain spread: retention-present-protention.
Tus being reflectively present to an ongoing experience could involve a
certain degree of retention, which belongs to the present. Of course, the
retention recedes as well, but it gives the prereflective experience a better
chance to be apprehended. Terefore, being present to an ongoing experi-
ence did not have to be quite as slippery as the introspectionists assumed.
Finally, there is also the question of whether or not one has to use
introspection. Phenomenologists in their research use phenomenological
A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179 175
descriptions and they are not the same as introspective reports. For one
thing, in the strong sense, phenomenological descriptions take place within
the phenomenological attitude while introspective descriptions are within
the natural attitude. Secondly, introspective descriptions seek facts concern-
ing internal experiences whereas phenomenological descriptions seek to
describe the essence of an intentive mental process. Consequently, although
they are often confused, they are not identical. In addition, if introspection
means searching for what has taken place, then another differentiating point
is that phenomenologists claim that immediate experience is directly acces-
sible because of the reflexivity of consciousness. It is part of the very nature
of consciousness to be concomitantly aware of what is happening.
Tese few brief examples indicate how a phenomenological under-
standing of consciousness can bring better interpretations to some of the
difficulties that introspective methods ran into. However, this procedure
is still inserting phenomenological findings into an unsympathetic frame-
work. Te larger and more significant task would be to change the frame-
work so that a phenomenological theory of science could comfortably
describe its findings in its own way. Tis leads to another challenge, so let
me end by summarizing the challenges as I see them.
Challenges Facing the Science of Phenomenological Psychology
I think that there are at least four key challenges facing the successful devel-
opment of phenomenological psychology as a science.
1) I mentioned that wherever phenomenology influenced psychology,
mostly it died within one generation, and if it lasted a bit longer, it
terminated all the same. Why do these influences not persist? It’s true
that the style of scholarship and the type of research is different from
mainstream psychology, but is that a reason to terminate? Also, why
does it keep popping up again in different places at different times?
Many reasons can be imagined, but the real challenge is: Can we get
phenomenological psychology as a science so well institutionalized that
it does not disappear? How is that to be done?
2) Another challenge is: How do we train psychologists to do transcen-
dental phenomenological analyses? Davidson (1989) has argued for
176 A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179
transcendental analyses to be done before psychological analyses so that
the transcendental constitution of the psychic can become transparent.
But is it necessary for psychologists to enter into the transcendental
perspective? Or, do we train philosophers to do psychological analyses?
In my experience, these are very different talents and they are not
easily combined in one person. Is it simply a matter of a division of
labor? Each time phenomenology influences a psychology department,
should a phenomenological philosopher or two also be retained
so that an integrated effort can be forthcoming? Is such a solution
3) Another huge challenge is that phenomenological psychology would
not fit comfortably into a natural science perspective. It would keep
challenging most of the standard criteria. An attempt has been made
by Petitot, Varela, Pachout and Roy (1999), but it seems to me to be a
futile task. Te effort should go the other way: One should phenome-
nologize nature. Te very idea of science has to be broadened to
accommodate a phenomenological perspective, but that broadened
science does not yet exist either. It has to be developed as we are devel-
oping phenomenological psychology. Phenomenological psychology
requires a strict nonreductionistic science that would respect all of the
subtle characteristics of consciousness. Different criteria for an inter-
subjective method and for a flexible criterion for rigor would be nec-
essary for a phenomenological psychology to thrive. Tis is probably
an interdisciplinary effort. How is it to be accomplished?
Another way to understand this challenge is to ask: Can phenom-
enological philosophy found a science? After all, empiricism was once
only a philosophy. In the 17th century a science emerged from the
premises of that philosophy, but its subject matter was nature. Cannot
phenomenology, also a well-developed philosophy, serve as the basis
for a science? But for a different kind of science, one that would take
consciousness or personhood as its theme. How does one start, foster
and maintain such a science?
4) Another big challenge is: How does one sustain a program that is at
odds with dominant cultural values? I mean here not only the culture
at large but also culture in the more restricted sense—the culture of
science or the immediate professional culture within which one has to
live. Our culture is highly technical, but phenomenology is more
A. Giorgi / Journal of Phenomenological Psychology 41 (2010) 145–179 177
experiential. Phenomenology is descriptive, but I find that scientists
expect theories and conjectures.
With respect to the professional culture, departments fostering a phenom-
enological approach often have to compromise with certain imposed crite-
ria from the American Psychological Association with which they do not
agree, in order to receive approval for their work. For example, sometimes
certain contents are prescribed in order to have a degree recognized whereas
phenomenologically, one would prefer to avoid such content or study dif-
ferent perspectives on the same content. One has to realize that main-
stream psychology is so well established and powerful that it is practically
impervious to criticism. Tere are many criticisms of mainstream psychol-
ogy available, but it just keeps rolling along as though the criticisms didn’t
exist. Tere is even a dissident history of psychology, i.e., a list of thinkers
who have protested the naturalistic development of psychology, but it is
never taught. How do we get around this huge cultural problem?
Tese are serious challenges that I believe can in principle be overcome.
But how?
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