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AMEDEO GIORGI, Saybrook University

This article points out the criteria necessary in order for a qualitative scien-
tific method to qualify itself as phenomenological in a descriptive Husserlian
sense. One would have to employ (1) description (2) within the attitude of
the phenomenological reduction, and (3) seek the most invariant meanings
for a context. The results of this analysis are used to critique an article by
Klein and Westcott (1994), that presents a typology of the development of
the phenomenological psychological method.

Throughout its history, the relationship between phenomenology and

psychology has been intricate and blurred, but perhaps the relevance
of phenomenology to psychology can be better understood if spe-
cific, restricted zones of experience could be compared, one by one,
instead of attempting a comprehensive comparison. One such re-
stricted type of experience would be with respect to the phenom-
enological method. The articulation of the phenomenological method
has also had its vicissitudes, and its application has also been sporadic
and uneven. However, the issue of the phenomenological method's
application to psychology has come up recently because of a long
article (Klein & Westcott, 1994) attempting to show its development
over roughly a 25-year period. The authors express sympathy for
the phenomenological approach and see it as a welcome addition
to the established perspectives in psychology. However, certain limi-
tations about the authors' evaluation should be noted. But first, some
criteria regarding what can qualify as a phenomenological method
have to be established, and then one can proceed with the critique
of the evaluation by Klein and Westcott (1994).



In order to make a fair assessment of phenomenology, some of its

distinctive features will have to be mentioned, but even then it will
not be easy to comprehend it if one remains within the empirical
philosophical framework which dominates the scientific culture of
our time. It is not so much that phenomenology is against empiri-
cism as it is more than merely empirical.
First of all, phenomenology thematizes the phenomenon of con-
sciousness, and, in its most comprehensive sense, it refers to the
totality of lived experiences that belong to a single person. How-
ever, within phenomenology, consciousness enjoys a privileged sta-
tus because it cannot be avoided. That is, either one acknowledges
its presence and role or else it silently makes its presence felt any-
way. Thus, it is described as the medium of access to whatever is
given to awareness, since nothing can be spoken about or referred
to without implicitly including consciousness. The phenomenological
stance, then, is that it is more rigorous to acknowledge the role of
consciousness and take it into account than it is to ignore it. This is
especially true if, as phenomenological analyses demonstrate, con-
sciousness is not simply a "neutral" presenter of objects or givens
but, rather, contributes to the very meaning of such obejects by its
varying modes, styles, forms, and so forth.
Secondly, within phenomenology, a more precise meaning is given
to the word "experience." For Husserl, the chief characteristic of
consciousness is that it presents objects to us, and this presenting
function he calls "intuition," which refers to ordinary types of aware-
ness, not anything romantic or esoteric. By experience Husserl means
the intuition of "real objects," that is, those objects that are in space
and time and regulated by causality and thus are given in ordinary
perception, such as tables, rocks, cars. In this sense, then, intuition
is the broader term and experience the narrower one, because the
latter refers to a narrower range of "presences," those presences
that carry the index of reality with them. This distinction is impor-
tant for the human sciences, because many of the phenomena in
which such sciences are interested are "presences" that may not have
"realistic" references and yet are vital for proper understanding of
human phenomena: for example, in psychology, phenomena such
as delusions, hallucinations, false memories; in anthropology, rites,
rituals, rites de passage; in sociology, mob hysteria, fads, fashions; in
political science, images, symbols, slogans. Even when "real objects"

are the reference points, the human sciences concentrate on how

such objects are perceived or what they mean, and not so much on
their "isness" or real character.
The above discussion leads to the third point, which is the pre-
cise meaning of the term "phenomenon" for phenomenology. It means
the presence of any given precisely as it is given or experienced. In
other words, phenomenology begins its analysis of intuitions or pres-
ences not in their objective sense, but precisely in terms of the full
range of "givennesses," no matter how partial or marginal, that are
present, and in terms of the meaning that the phenomena have for
the experiencing subjects. The analysis often requires that the "phe-
nomenal meaning" be related to the "objective meaning" in order
to attain greater clarity, but it is always the meaning of the object
precisely as given that is the focus. This distinction can be illus-
trated by a classic example. Person A may view a painting and call it
ugly, person B may view the same painting and call it beautiful. For
person A, the painting will have all of the phenomenal properties
of ugliness, and for person B, it will have the phenomenal proper-
ties of beauty. However, for a phenomenological perspective no claim
is made that the painting is in itself either ugly or beautiful; only its
presence for the experiencer counts, and an accurate description of
the presence is the phenomenon, and it usually contains many phe-
nomenal meanings.
Finally, no discussion of phenomenology would be complete with-
out mentioning intentionality. Husserl took the term over from Bretano
but uses it in a fundamentally different way. For Husserl, intention-
ality is the essential feature of consciousness, and it refers to the
fact that consciousness is always directed to an object that is not
itself consciousness, although it could be, as in reflective acts. More
precisely, consciousness always takes an object, and the object al-
ways transcends the act in which it appears. This idea is important
for the human sciences as well, since it helps overcome the Carte-
sian understanding of the subject-object relationship. There are not
two independent entities, objects and subjects, existing in themselves
which later get to relate to each other, but the very meaning of
subject implies a relationship to an object, and to be an object in-
trinsically implies being related to subjectivity. Thus, the subject-
object relationship must be understood structurally and holistically.
The classical way of stating the intentional relation is by noting
that to be in a state of desire implies that something is desired, or
that to know means that one knows something, or that to be emotional

signifies that one is emotional about some situation or person. The

object of the intentional relationship can be specific (pencil) or
general (justice), real (bread) or fictive (the Centaur), amorphous
(the sky) or defined (triangle), and so on. To say the intentionality
is the essence of consciousness thus means that consciousness is
intrinsically relational-open to that which is not consciousness it-
self, but also to itself. In order for consciousness to be, it must be
open to an object, and object is understood in the broadest possi-
ble sense.
Thus, the proper understanding of the phenomenological method
would minimally require the correct understanding of at least all of
the above terms. Consciousness refers to the awareness of the sys-
tem, "embodied-self-world-others," all of which (and aspects and parts
of which) are intuitable, that is, presentable; and precisely as they
are presented, without addition or deletion, that is the strict mean-
ing of phenomenon. Phenomenon within phenomenology always
means that whatever is given, or present itself, is understood pre-
cisely as it presents itself to the consciousness of the person enter-
taining the awareness. Intentionality means that an act of consciousness
is always directed to an object that transcends it. Phenomenology is
concerned with the phenomena that are given to experiencing indi-
viduals, because nothing is possible if one does not take conscious-
ness into account, but all of the givens must be understood in their
given modalities, as phenomena, that is, not as real existents. Within
phenomenology this is possible because one is concerned with the
objects of intuition to which consciousness is necessarily directed,
and these objects do not have to have the characteristic of being
"real." Even when they are experienced as "real," that characteristic
is bracketed and they are analyzed in their phenomenal status. More
on bracketing shortly.


Phenomenology has had an impact on 20th-century thinking not

only because of its rigorous descriptive approach but also because it
offers a method for accessing the difficult phenomena of human
experience. The method has to be understood from within the
phenomenological framework briefly discussed above. Also, Husserl
(1913/1983) developed it as a philosophical method, and that has
to be understood before its application to human scientific prob-
lems can be appreciated.

The philosophical phenomenological method encompasses three in-
terlocking steps: (1) the phenomenological reduction, (2) description,
and (3) search for essences. Each will be commented upon in turn.
The phenomenological reduction The phenomenological reduction
is a methodological device invented by Husserl in order to help
make research findings more precise. In everyday life, according to
Husserl, one lives in the "natural attitude," wherein one takes things
for granted, where the existence of things and events is not chal-
lenged unless they are somehow bizarre. From a philosophical view-
point, this is naive because things and events do not simply appear,
nor are they always what they seem to be. Natural science brings a
healthy skepticism to this "naive realism" and more carefully, sys-
tematically, and critically tries to understand just how phenomena
come to be what they are; usually it tries to link things and events
to causes and/or conditions. The philosophical project pushes the
problem deeper and wants to understand why there are things and
events at all, even scientifically determined things, concepts, or laws.
Implicitly, science takes the world for granted and wants to under-
stand it. Phenomenology goes a step further and doesn't even want
to take the world for granted. That is, it doesn't automatically want
to say that something "is," but it wants to understand what moti-
vates a conscious creature to say that something "is." Thus, it has to
begin at a more fundamental place, where there is "presence" but
not yet that type of presence to which one attributes "existence."
That is why the distinction between intuition and experience is so
important, since one does not attribute "existence" or "realness" to
all of the types of presences that one experiences. Thus, before one
attributing "existence" to a presence, Husserl wants to examine it
closely in order to see what characteristics a presence has to have in
order to be motivated to attribute "existence" to it. For Husserl,
what are real in the empirical sense are objects that are given in
space, time, and with causal regularity. However, even when one
encounters in experience things and events that "obviously" have
existence, the reduction directs one to step back and describe and
examine them as a presence. Husserl claims that nothing about the
object is lost in this way, except its existential status. Everything that
was present in the natural attitude is retained within the phe-
nomenological reduction, except that one refrains from saying that
the object is as it presents itself; one only says that the object presents

itself as such and such. Thus, if I am perceptually present to a real

table, within the phenomenological reduction I would say, "the ta-
ble presents itself to me as a really existing table." That is more
rigorous than saying "it is a real table."
The other demand of the reduction is that one also brackets past
knowledge about the phenomenon encountered, in order to be fully
present to it as it is in the concrete situation in which one is en-
countering it. This does not mean that one empties oneself of all
possible past knowledge. It is a task-related project. One "puts aside"
or renders "non-influential" all past knowledge that may be associ-
ated with the presently given object, so that it has a chance to present
itself in its fullness in this situation. To frequently past interpreta-
tions can predetermine present experience, and when they do, then
the situation is not being determined by the most rigorous stan-
dards possible.
In summary, then, to enter into the attitude of the phenome-
nological reduction means to (a) bracket past knowledge about a
phenomenon, in order to encounter it freshly and describe it pre-
cisely as it is intuited (or experienced), and (b) to withhold the
existential index, which means to consider what is given precisely as
it is given, as presence, or phenomenon. No work can be consider
to be phenomenological if some sense of the reduction is not arti-
culated and utilized.
In such a way, then, is the phenomenological attitude applied to
concrete research situations. For the sake of those who are not fa-
miliar with phenomenology, it should at least be mentioned that
Husserl speaks of several reductions and different levels of reduc-
tion. For example, there is the phenomenological reduction (just
spoken about), which breaks from the natural attitude, and then
there is the phenomenological psychological reduction, which brackets
the world but not the empirical subject; then there is the eidetic
reduction (see below) which reduces the objects or givens to their
essences, and finally, at the deepest level, there is the transcenden-
tal phenomenological reduction, which brackets the empirical sub-
ject as well as the world. But these other reductions have mostly
philosophical significance and are refinements of the basic phenome-
nological reduction, which breaks from the natural attitude and which
is the minimum condition necessary to claim phenomenological status
for one's research.

Description Following Mohanty (1989), one could say that descrip-

tion is the use of language to articulate the intentional objects of

consciousness within the constraints of intuitive evidence. We have

already mentioned that intentionality is an essential characteristic
of consciousness, and it means that every act of consciousness is
directed toward an object that transcends that act. To describe means
to give linguistic expression to the object of any given act precisely
as it appears within that act. In other words, through the medium
of language one is able to communicate to others the objects of
consciousness to which one is present, precisely as they are presented.
The true significance of the descriptive task within phenomenol-
ogy comes through when one considers the alternatives to descrip-
tion, viz., explanation, construction, and interpretation. It was
Merleau-Ponty (1945/1962) who highlighted the differences between
description, on the one hand, and explanation and construction,
on the other. To explain what is given to consciousness both pre-
supposes what is present and departs from it in order to account
for it. Moreover, the accounting of the given usually means depart-
ing from what is present to go either to antecedents or to factors
"behind" the phenomenon, and that often requires positing some
non-intuitive entities, and therefore departing from a strict phenome-
nological criterion. Similarly, constructive activity is usually another
way of accounting for a phenomenon rather than describing it, and
often hypothetical or speculative moments are posited; this too would
lead one away from merely stating what is given. Finally, interpreta-
tion is not description, because in order to account for a phenom-
enon it brings a perspective to the given, either from theory or for
pragmatic reasons, that is not necessarily demanded by the intuitive
There is still a debate about whether or not interpretations are
necessary for human phenomena, and the debate is not yet resolved
at the philosophical level. In any case, it is clear that both descrip-
tion and interpretation have their place and cannot be reduced to
each other. This article is articulating the descriptive position, based
upon the Husserlian tradition, but there is a hermeneutic phenome-
nological tradition as well that derives its inspiration primarily from
Heidegger (1927/1961). But for "pure" phenomenology, the task is
to describe the intentional objects of consciousness from within the
perspective of the phenomenological reduction.
In summary, one could say that all of the alternatives-explana-
tion, construction, and interpretation-are ways of accounting for
the phenomenon in terms of some factor external to the given,
whereas description is the articulation of the given as given. For

example, one of my subjects included the following sentence in a

learning description: "I began to feel uncomfortable with not con-
tributing more to the process of meeting the needs of all of us in
the house." If I wanted to explain that moment, I could turn to
physiology and describe the state of the nervous system during the
experience of discomfort, but the subject does not feel her physio-
logical response, but rather discomfort. To give a constructive ac-
count of that moment might be to hypothetically posit a thought in
the stream of consciousness of the subject that would say to the
subject that "she is inadequate," and thus she felt uncomfortable.
But a researcher does not have direct access to the subject's stream
of consciousness, and the hypothetically posited "thought" is con-
structed, based upon logic, theory, or past experience in order to
account for her discomfort. Finally, an interpretive account could
be given if one were to say something like: "Let's assume that the
subject is shy, then, in the presence of others she would feel dis-
comfort." Thus, a plausible interpretive account of the discomfort
could be given, but upon what grounds would one posit "shyness"?
Again, it would come not from the data but from elsewhere, in or-
der to account for certain lacks within the data. A descriptive ap-
proach would limit itself to .what is given, and the argument is that
a sufficiently rich description would include an intrinsic account of
the phenomenon.
The search for essence The important result of phenomenological
analyses is not to concrete, individual object given to an individu-
al's consciousness as such-although on occasion it could be, and
methodologically it could be an important step-but rather to present
to the community of scholars a finding that is more durable. To do
this, Husserl suggests that one seek the essence of the phenomenon
being researched through a method he calls free imaginative varia-
tion. While the term essence has a negative connotation in scien-
tific circles, for Husserl it does not refer to Platonic substances nor
simply to word analyses. Rather, one could say that an essence is
the most invariant meaning for a context. It is the articulation, based
on intuition, of a fundamental meaning without which a phenom-
enon could not present itself as it is. It is a constant identity that
holds together and limits the variations that a phenomenon can
undergo. That is why free imaginative variation is a natural method
for discovering essences. As the name implies, the method means
that one freely changes aspects or parts of a phenomenon or ob-
ject, and one sees if the phenomenon remains identifiable with the

part changed or not. Ultimately, the use of the method depends

upon the ability of the researcher to awaken possibilities. Whatever
is given factually becomes one example of a possible instance of the
phenomenon, and by multiplying possibilities one becomes aware
of those features that cannot be removed and thus what is essential
for the object to be given to consciousness.


If one simply followed the above steps, one would be doing philo-
sophical analyses. Moreover, although there is a difference in the
way that the philosophical method has been articulated here, it is
quite consistent with the version given by Spiegelberg (1982). Since
we want to work at the scientific level, certain modifications have to
be introduced, but they have to be of such a type that the spirit of
phenomenological investigations is not severed. Consequently, the
order of the steps differs and, in addition, the following modifica-
tions are introduced. 1
The descriptive step becomes a detailed concrete description of specific ex-
periences from an everyday attitude from others The major change in-
troduced to the method in order to conform more readily with
scientific practices is that descriptions are obtained from others from
the perspective of the natural attitude. As we saw, in the philosophi-
cal method one first enters into the reduction, and the researcher,
based upon a concrete example, describes what is given, whether it
is derived from an empirical or fictive basis. The turn to others is
chosen in order to avoid the possible objection of bias, and the
natural attitude is utilized because, practically, one cannot expect
all of the persons in the whole world to be phenomenological and
thus be capable of assuming the attitude of the reduction. More impor-
tantly, is not necessary, because the purpose of the phenomenologi-
cal reduction is precisely to understand the natural attitude better.
Moreover, for human scientific interests, the details, biases, errors,
and prejudices that we carry with us in everyday life are exactly what
have to be understood. What is critical is that the description be as
precise and detailed as possible with a minimum number of gener-
alities or abstractions.
The assumption of the reduction by the researcher We elaborated above
how one could not expect the research participant to describe from
the perspective of the reduction, but the phenomenological attitude
does demand that the researcher be able to do his or her work

from within the attitude of the reduction, or else no phenomenological

claims for the analysis could be made. Thus, for the human sci-
ences, the phenomenological claim can be sustained when the re-
searcher adopts the attitude of the phenomenological reduction.
Remember, the reduction means that a person must withhold past
knowledge about the phenomenon he or she is researching in order
to be fully present to the concrete instance of the phenomenon as
presented by the subject's description; the second requirement is
that no existential claim is being made for the description. That is,
the only claim that the researcher will make is that the concrete
experience is an indication of what the subject was present to, and
not necessarily that the description is an objective account of what
really took place. Thus, when I analyze a learning description ob-
tained from a subject, I put aside all theories of learning as well as
all personal experiences of learning, and simply contemplate the
description before me as belonging to the subject who wrote it. In
addition, I will only assert that the description refers to how the
subject construed the situation, and not that it was really the way he
or she took it to be.
In addition, the researcher has to analyze the description with a
special sensitivity to the perspective of his or her discipline (psy-
chology, sociology, etc.) and with a sensitivity to the phenomenon
being researched (learning, group dynamics, etc.). The researcher
can stay within the phenomenological psychological reduction, in
which case the subjectivity of the describer is not bracketed. This is
usually referred to as existential phenomenology. However, the re-
searcher can also reduce the individual subjectivity of the describer
and perform an analysis from the transcendental perspective. It would
take too much space to elaborate this distinction further, but it should
be mentioned for the sake of completeness. In any case, the re-
searcher assumes the attitude of the phenomenological reduction
in order to analyze his or her description, but with a special sensi-
tivity toward the perspective of his or her discipline.
The search for "scientific" essences The philosophical method seeks
philosophical essences, which are usually more universal and more
foundational than scientific essences, whose perspectives are nor-
mally more narrow. Husserl allows that many types of essences are
possible, from individual through typical to universal. Thus each
human science would have to determine what was unique with re-
spect to its discipline, and then determine the most invariant mean-

ing for a context with respect to that perspective. At the extreme,

one could imagine an extensive, rich, concrete description of an
everyday event that could support a psychological essence, a socio-
logical essence, an historical essence, and so on, because each of
the essences is correlated with a certain attitude. Thus, scientific
essences are both more contextualized and more dependent upon
the unique perspective of the discipline.


It would seem that all qualitative methods have to go through a mini-
mum of five basic steps: (1) collection of verbal data, (2) reading of
the data, (3) breaking of the data into some kind of parts, (4) organi-
zation and expression of the data from a disciplinary perspective, and
(5) synthesis or summary of the data for purposes of communication
to the scholarly community. A way of interpreting each of these steps
to make them consistent with the phenomenological approach is given
below. Each of the steps allows for procedural variations, so the way
of interpreting each step is neither exclusive nor exhaustive.

Collecting of verbal data Data may be collected by straightforward

description, interview, or a combination of the two. In either case,
the questions are generally broad and open-ended, so that the sub-
ject has a sufficient opportunity to express his or her viewpoint ex-
tensively. In either case what is sought is a concrete, detailed
description of the subject's experience and actions, as faithful as
possible to what happened as experienced by the subject. Of course,
ongoing descriptions are also possible as well as descriptions by
observers. The use of the self-report in phenomenological research
is a convenience and not a theoretical necessity. When a descrip-
tion and an interview are used together, the description usually comes
first and is used as a basis for further elaboration during the inter-
view. In general, descriptions are briefer but more organized; inter-
views are more rambling and disorganized but more spontaneous.
Each has an advantage and a disadvantage. Obviously, when inter-
views are used they are recorded and transcribed.
The reading of the data While this step is obvious, it is important
to make it explicit. The phenomenological approach is holistic, and
so one would have to read through all of the data before beginning
any analysis. Moreover, one only retains a global sense of the data.
One does not try to thematize any aspect of the description based

upon the global reading. It is the purpose of the subsequent steps

to highlight what is relevant given the purpose of the analysis. How-
ever, the global sense is important for determining how the parts
are constituted, which is detailed in the next section.

The dividing of the data into parts Since phenomenology is inter-

ested in meanings, the basis of the division into parts is meaning
discrimination. However, the meaning discrimination presupposes
the prior assumption of a disciplinary perspective-for example, a
psychological perspective for a psychological analysis and a socio-
logical perspective for a sociological analysis and so on. In addition,
the perspective assumption presupposes a set that is sensitive to the
phenomenon being investigated; for example, learning in psychol-
ogy or crowd behavior for sociology. In any case, based upon a process
of meaning discriminations, one goes through the entire descrip-
tion, constituting parts known as "meaning units." This is a purely
descriptive term that signifies that a certain meaning, relevant for
the study, and to be clarified further, is contained within the segre-
gated unit. Operationally, the relevant meaning units are formed by
a slower rereading of the description, and each time that the re-
searcher experiences a transition in meaning in the description, he
or she marks the place and continues to read until the next mean-
ing unit is discriminated, and so on. The end of this step is a series
of meaning units still expressed in the subject's own everyday
language. A principle guiding this step is that the parts must be
determined by criteria that are consistent with the scientific disci-
pline -psychological criteria for psychological analyses and so on.
For example, one might say that one could make a "meaning unit"
out of each sentence, but a sentence is a unit of grammar and may
or may not be sensitive to the psychological aspects of the descrip-
tion. That is why an attitude that is sensitive to the discipline is so
important, as well as one that is sensitive to the phenomenon being
researched. The meaning units do not exist "in the descriptions" by
themselves. Rather, they are constituted by the attitude and activity
of the researcher.
This adoption of an unspecified attitude is unique to the phenome-
nological approach. Researchers are familiar with the logical-empirical
approach, whereby one first specifies a criterion and then one looks
for the empirical presence or absence of the criterion. However, in
such research strategies one can only find what was previously pos-
ited. One may say that the criterion was met or it wasn't, but not

much else. The phenomenological approach is "discovery-oriented,"

and in order to discover meanings in the data, one needs an atti-
tude open enough to let unexpected meanings emerge. Another
way to say this is to say that one lets one's professional sensitivity
and spontaneity function so that relevant meanings can be intuited.
Thus, while the perspective adopted is relatively open and not spe-
cifically thematized, it is nevertheless adequate for the task. A merely
cognitive a priori specification of what one is to look for would not
satisfy intuitively based phenomenological criteria.

Organization and expression of raw data into disciplinaly language Once

the meaning units are established, they have to be examined, probed,
and redescribed so that the disciplinary value of each unit can be
made more explicit. This is where the method of free imaginative
variation plays a key role to help establish essential intuitions along
disciplinary lines. Subjects usually describe their concrete experi-
ences from the perspective of everyday life. The disciplinary per-
spective used for analysis, for example, psychological or sociological,
is more narrow than that of everyday life. That is why a transforma-
tion of the subject's everyday language is required. It has to be ex-
pressed in terms relevant for the scientific discipline being utilized.
Of course, several difficulties are encountered in this process, and
the interested reader is referred to Giorgi (1985) for a discussion
of them. The key point here is that in this step the statements of
the subjects are transformed by the researcher to be in accord with
the researcher's disciplinary intuition, which become stabilized af-
ter the process of free imaginative variation.

Expressing the structure of the phenomenon Once each meaning unit

has been essentialized according to the proper disciplinary perspec-
tive, and redescribed in the language of the discipline, more or less
the same process is applied to the transformed meaning units in
order to determine which are essential for the phenomenon under
study and which are not. Thus, with the help of free imaginative
variation one describes the essential structure of the concrete, lived
experience from the perspective of the discipline. While a structure
can be based upon one subject or many, it is desirable to use sev-
eral subjects. However, it is likely that a study with many subjects
will produce several typical structures rather than only one. That is,
for the sake of simplicity, a researcher should always try to derive a
single structure (synthesis) for all of the subjects in the study. How-
ever, this is not a requirement of phenomenological research, and

one should never force the data into a single structure. One does it
only if the data lend themselves to the process. Otherwise, one writes
as many structures as required. For example, if a study is conducted
with five subjects, the results could be a single structure or five struc-
tures-one for each subject-or any number between.
Two issues implied in the above process need further comments.
The first is the question of the appropriate language for each disci-
pline. To be consistent with phenomenological theory, the concepts
and terms used in expressing the intuitions gained through research
should be phenomenologically grounded. However, the present his-
torical situation is such that such a goal is not yet an historical achieve-
ment. That is, with all of the human sciences, a consensual common
language is not yet an achievement. Rather one confronts compet-
ing theories and schools of thought. In psychology, for example,
one is either a behaviorist or a cognitive psychologist, or a psychoanalyst,
and so on. No one is just a psychologist, with an agreed- upon per-
spective and language that covers the entire field. Consequently,
part of the task of the researcher is to introduce appropriate disci-
plinary (psychological, sociological, etc.) terms in phenomenologically
grounded ways. One cannot simply use the subject's words because
they were given from the perspective of everyday life. From a
phenomenological viewpoint, the life-world is pre-theoretical and
prescientific and not yet theoretical or scientific in itself. It is the
foundation of all sciences, and so its expressions must be taken up,
examined, and re-described more rigorously from the perspective
of a chosen discipline. The fact that there is not, as yet, an estab-
lished language (instead, there are several competing languages)
simply calls for a truly original effort by contemporary human scien-
tists and makes the challenge greater, but not less important.
The second issue requiring further commentary is the interpreta-
tion of results as structures. Structures can be understood as essences
and their relationships. What is important about structures is not so
much the parts, as such, but the interrelationship among the parts.
Moreover, structures are not ends in themselves. Rather, to use sta-
tistics as an analogy, they represent "measures of central tendency."
They express how the phenomenon being investigated coheres or
converges. But there are also differentiations or variations that have
to be accounted for that would correspond to "measures of disper-
sion" in statistics. Consequently, once the structure has been delin-
eated, one has to go back to the raw data and render intelligible
the clusters of variation that are also contained in the data. The

ultimate outcome of phenomenological scientific analyses is not just

the "essential structure" but rather the structure in relation to the
varied manifestations of an essential identity. For example, a con-
sistent structure of learning that emerges from descriptive data is a
structure identified as "entering a situation with false assumptions."
However, this structure has several variations. For example, a false
assumption can be due to ignorance, faulty memory, emotional con-
flict, and so on. Obviously, the way to correct this false assumption
depends upon the nature of the specific variation.




It is clear that in order for research to be genuinely phenomenological
and genuinely scientific, it would have to meet two sets of criteria:
phenomenological and scientific. Since the sole purpose of this ar-
ticle thus far has been to establish the phenomenological status of
the method, it is necessary merely to summarize here.
Within a continental phenomenological perspective, a scientific
researcher would have to be (1) descriptive (2) within the phenome-
nological reduction and (3) seek at least individuated meanings of
some sort, and, with the help of free imaginative variations, search
for more invariant or essential meanings.


It should be clear at the outset that when science is spoken of in
this article, the human sciences are understood and not the natural
sciences. To be sure, ultimately, a relationship between the two will
have to be established, but in this article the human sciences will
be considered in isolation.
In order to describe the project of the human sciences, I will first
provide a general sketch of the meaning of science as such. Science
is a cultural institution dedicated to the project of gaining the most
valid possible knowledge of the phenomena of the world. The quali-
fication "most valid" is what distinguishes science from other forms
of knowledge. Not all forms of knowledge qualify as scientific knowl-
edge. In order to be scientific, knowledge must be (1) systematic,
(2) methodical, (3) general, and (4) critical.
To say that knowledge is systematic means that one expects differ-
ent segments of knowledge to be related to each other, to be regu-
lated by laws, concepts, or meanings. It means that one expects

knowledge to be patterned and ordered rather than chaotic or

random. To say that knowledge is methodical means that it is gained
through a method that is accessible to a community of scholars. To
say that results are general means that the knowledge has applica-
tions beyond the situation in which it was obtained. While univer-
salization is the highest form of generalization, it is not demanded
of all inquiry. This is especially true of the human sciences, where
contexts are important and tend to relativize findings. Finally, to
say that knowledge is critically evaluated means that no outcomes
are merely accepted. Rather, they are first challenged by systematic
procedures of a given investigator and then published, so that rel-
evant, qualified members of the research community can also sub-
mit scientific results to critical scrutiny.
It is important to appreciate that the natural and human sciences
respond to these criteria differently. Since the natural sciences deal
with inanimate nature and the human sciences with human phe-
nomena it is understandable that the interpretations should be



I have already mentioned that the tone of Klein and Westcott's (1994)
article2 is sympathetic to the appearance of a phenomenological
approach on the psychological scene, but I do have some reserva-
tions about their approach and conclusions with respect to the
phenomenological method. Obviously, not every limitation can be
spoken to, but I will point out how the neglect of some issues makes
their evaluation of the phenomenological method dubious. I will
limit myself to three issues: A) no acknowledgment is made about
the equivocations surrounding phenomenological psychology, B)
critical evaluation of alleged new methodologies is lacking, and C)
no allowance is made for contextual factors despite the authors'
profession of appreciation for context.


In their presentation of the phenomenological method, the authors
rightfully begin with Husserl, whom they acknowledge as the founder
of the phenomenological method; they acknowledge that the method
began within a philosophical context when they state that "Husserl
is recognized as the founder of the phenomenological method by

both his philosophical allies and opponents" (p. 134). What is curi-
ous is that they do not see any ambiguities surrounding Husserl's
meaning of phenomenological psychology nor any difficulties in
applying the generic phenomenological method to psychological
phenomena, despite voluminous literature indicating the difficulties
Husserl had defining his work vis-a-vis psychology (Scanlon, 1977;
Giorgi, 1981, 1986c; Gurwitsch, 1974; Stroker, 1981; Davidson, 1988,
1979; Spiegelberg, 1972; Willard, 1984). After all, Husserl began as
a descriptive psychologist attacking psychologism, and then went to
phenomenology as distinct from descriptive psychology. Then he
found himself wrongfully accused of the very psychologism he
critiqued, wrote critically of the empirical psychology developing at
the time he was writing, both identified and differentiated phenome-
nological psychology with/from transcendental phenomenology, and
finally had to worry about transcendental psychologism. It is a murky
and zigzag history that requires careful contextualization if precise
meanings are to be communicated.
Obviously, the entire history cannot be dealt with here, but a good
indication of the type of problems can be obtained by quoting Scanlon
(1977, pp. x-xi), a reference that Klein and Westcott cite.'

Because Husserl avoids asking any transcendental questions here

and consequently refrains from executing the transcendental re-
duction, he does not consider this course one in philosophy, strictly
speaking. However, neither does he ask questions concerning em-
pirical psychological regularities, not even such as might involve
a phenomenological orientation toward actually observable psy-
chic or mental life in its factuality. While recognizing that level of
work as pertaining to psychology, Husserl neither enters into it
nor discusses the method which would be appropriate to it. In-
stead, he discusses throughout the task of phenomenological clari-
fication of the basic concepts of psychology, concepts which would
faithfully express the essential features and structures of any pos-
sible psychic and mental life. To distinguish two senses of "phenome-
nological psychology," this course discusses not what would comprise
a phenomenologically based psychology but what is required for
a phenomenological clarification of the conceptual foundations
of psychology. Thus, this work can be considered a distinctively
phenomenological contribution to philosophical psychology or
philosophy of mind. The point is that it is neither transcendental
philosophy nor empirical psychology, nor even a discussion of the
program for empirical psychology.
Within the scope, the work is still further limited. In 1925 phe-
nomenological psychology was not an ongoing enterprise to which
Husserl could simply contribute new findings; it did not exist yet!

Accordingly, the bulk of Husserl's work consists not in detailed

phenomenological clarifications but in a penetrating and orderly
discussion of the need for and possibility of a phenomenological
approach to the conceptual foundations of psychology. Only by
recognizing this limited but pioneering purpose can the reader
begin to appreciate and evaluate the character of Husserl's con-
tribution to phenomenological psychology.' (Notes belong to origi-
nal text.)

Scanlon here includes four different senses of phenomenological

psychology: 1) a phenomenological perspective toward actually ob-
servable psychic mental life in its factuality, 2) phenomenological
clarification of the basic concepts of psychology, 3) (implied) a tran-
scendental phenomenological approach to psychic life, and 4)
(propaedeutic) need for and possibility of a phenomenological ap-
proach to the conceptual foundations of psychology. The issue gets
murkier when some of the other commentators are included.
Gurwitsch (1974, p. 79), for example, adds another sense of the
term when he writes:

Its [psychology's] foundation and establishment required extended

methodological considerations. "Method" is to be understood here
not as a technique of research but in the etymological sense, as a
means of access to a field of research, that is, these considera-
tions belong to the theory of science.... Rather than presenting
the reformed psychology in a straightforward manner, as would
be done in a manual, Husserl devotes a considerable part of his
effort to laying its foundations through considerations which are
philosophical in nature, though they remain on "this side" of the
transcendental dimension.

I myself have contributed to the murkiness by adding still another

understanding. For me, phenomenological psychology refers to a
human-scientific project whereby one does concrete analyses of the
psychological meanings of specific experiences by using steps con-
sistent with Husserl's philosophical phenomenological vision (Giorgi,
1981; 1986c). Given the above presentation, it is no wonder that
Stroker (1981, p. 145) can speak about "the difficulties and even
contradictions in Husserl's thought" concerning the relationships
between phenomenology and psychology. Or that Davidson (1988,
pp. 1-2) can "wonder, then, whether phenomenology is a form of
psychology or whether it, by definition, excludes the psychological."
He then proposes to look into "the persistently problematic rela-
tionship" Spiegelberg (1972, p. 7) points out that Husserl's "rela-
tions to the leading psychologists of his time were bad or non-existent,"

and he notes that Husserl had an "ambivalent attitude toward psychol-

ogy." It is no wonder that Willard (1984, p. 54) can write that Husserl's
choice of terms (psychological) to describe the acts involved in the
analysis of number "must be described as a disaster." That is because
even though Husserl performed analyses of acts of subjectivity, they
were not psychological in the prevailing or contemporary sense.
Despite all of the above meanings and the welter of confusing
critical comments, Klein and Westcott (1994, pp. 134-135) straight-
forwardly declare: "The process of reflecting, which Husserl devel-
oped in order to move beyond the particularity and fallibility of
individual cognitive acts to their necessary features, was the method
of phenomenological psychology." Note, it is not the phenomenological
method per se, but the method of phenomenological psychology! It
is true that Husserl is in many ways responsible for the difficulties
that he bequeathed, but, nevertheless, it seems that the authors bit
on a bait of misunderstanding that Husserl held out. It is described
most succinctly by Stroker (1981, pp. 143-144):

Husserl was repeatedly reproached for relapsing into psychologism.

While this objection is unfounded, Husserl is partly responsible
for it because of his misleading self-interpretations and empha-
ses.... Husserl's early phenomenological analyses were thus taken
to be nothing more than a psychology of mental acts. Husserl
also led readers into a misconstrual of his purposes and achieve-
ments by taking several sections over, verbatim, from his Psycho-
logical Studies in Elementary Logic ( 1894) into the investigations 3,
5 and 6. He furthermore unfortunately characterized his phenom-
enology as "descriptive psychology," a characterization which he
later withdrew. Hence the mistake was almost inevitable that Husserl
was only continuing and elaborating the sort of psychology which
his teacher Brentano had inaugurated and using the term "phe-
nomenology" to contrast it with the genetic and causal research
concerning consciousness predominant in the psychology of that era.

In summary, then, it seems that Klein and Westcott do not distin-

guish between the phenomenological method per se and its appli-
cation to the field of psychology. Moreover, they do not discuss in
what sense their term phenomenological psychology is to be taken.
The authors quoted above all recognize that Husserl's phenome-
nological psychology had to do with the possibility of clarifying the
fundamental concepts of psychology. The Journal of Phenomenological
Psychology, the primary referent for the authors' comparison, uses
the term "phenomenological psychology" for a wholly different project:
as a vehicle for demonstrating how psychological research can be

practiced in a phenomenological way by scientific psychologists. Given

that the authors ignored these two very different senses, it is hard
to know what their comparison could mean. They ignored the prob-
lematic context surrounding the term "phenomenology."
When the authors turn to the current manifestations of phenome-
nological research, they obviously take every instance as an accept-
able empirical variation of the phenomenological psychological
method. There are two problems with this strategy. The introduced
empirical variations are accepted as developments of the
phenomenological method, whereas they are, when correctly under-
stood and implemented, merely instances that coexisted with the
standard version but simply were not carried out. There are many
other possible variations that are begging to be tried but no one
has attempted them yet. For example, I collected data in the early
'70s, based on descriptions from the perspective of the other. That
is, the observer described the behavior of the performer of a task in
order to see if the structure obtained from that data would con-
verge with the self-report of the actor. However, the data is buried
in a box somewhere, and I don't know when I'll get around to writ-
ing it up. If that were to be published in the late '90s, would that
mean another evolution of the method? Not at all. I had thought
about the strategy and even did it nearly at the very beginning of
my involvement with phenomenology, but simply was not able to
write it up and publish it. Klein and Westcott here depart from a
phenomenological perspective and get caught up in empirical
typologies. The fact that the sheer appearance of an empirical vari-
ation can count as development for them demonstrates that they
adopted an inappropriate context for this task.
The other difficulty is that the methodical variations introduced
were not evaluated for their phenomenological status. It is as though
the authors thought that if an article were published in the Journal
of Phenomenological Psychology, then it had to be truly phenomenological.
Logic would dictate such a stance, but reality is not as pure as all
that. Again, the authors failed to account for context, in this case
the context surrounding the initiation and development of the Jour-
nal of Phenomenological Psychology. Since I was the founder of this
journal and its editor for the first 25 years, I can easily provide some
of the relevant context.

When I first came to Duquesne University in September 1962, the

university was the publisher of the Review of Existential Psychology and
Psychiatry and Adrian van Kaam was its editor. Sometime during the
late '60's, the Association for Existential Psychology and Psychiatry,
which owned the journal, decided to change the character of the
Review. It was geared toward graduate schools, but the association
decided that the Review should be oriented toward the intelligent
layperson, and so they wanted to change the type of article pub-
lished, and Leslie Farber was to be its new editor. At this time, van
Kaam had left the psychology department at Duquesne, and I knew
that if there was not going to be a publication outlet for work being
done by existentialists and phenomenologists in psychology, there
could be no impact. So I decided that there had to be a new jour-
nal to replace the old one.
The Journal of Phenomenological Psychology was begun in fall 1970. I
had invited Dr. Georges Thines of Louvain and Dr. Carl Graumann
(of Bonn, later Heidelberg, University) to be co-editors of the jour-
nal because they were both phenomenologically inclined and both
were professors at important European universities. It was my ex-
pectation that the early volumes of the Journal of Phenomenological
Psychology would be flooded with articles from Belgium, France, and
Germany. I held the belief that these early articles would serve as
models for us and then we could make our contributions as well.
Unfortunately, the flood of articles from Europe never appeared.
The few that came were mostly theoretical.
I had, of course, developed my own interpretation of the phenome-
nological psychological method, and so some contributions from
students and colleagues flowed in. But I never intended that the
Journal of Phenomenological Psychology should be an exclusively Duquesne
outlet. I had envisioned contributors and readers from around the
world. Consequently, as an editor, I was open to different interpre-
tations and attempts to implement phenomenology in psychology.
My attitude was that I would rather risk being wrong about an arti-
cle retrospectively than close off a contribution that may have looked
non-phenomenological, initially, but turned out to be solid after careful
analysis. Consequently, might there be some non-phenomenological
articles in the Journal of Phenomenological Psychology? Yes, indeed, and
the above exposition provides at least one reason why. That is why
the strategy adopted by Klein and Westcott (1994), to take any article
accepted by the editors of the Journal of Phenomenological Psychology
as being phenomenological, is highly vulnerable. I would measure

each research article in the journal against the criteria specified in

the first part of this article.
The authors seem not to take into account relevant contextual fac-
tors when they discuss key points. Thus, they ignored the contro-
versy around the meaning of phenomenological psychology and they
took statements in Husserl's text at face value. Similarly, they re-
garded all of the articles in the Journal of Phenomenological Psychology
to be representative of contemporary phenomenology, and they did
not adopt a critical attitude toward the articles. The idea that con-
textual factors might have been responsible for their publication
never seemed to have occurred to the authors. This is truly ironic
because the authors (p. 150) go on to argue, toward the end of
their article, that the cultural relativity of experience is a reason for
disputing the universality and necessity of the structures of experi-
ence revealed by research, and here am I, a Husserlian descriptive-
phenomenological-psychologist who seeks essences, demonstrating
that the authors took certain texts as fixed and simply analyzed them
isolatedly. How is this possible?
One can say many things about the authors' presentation of these
issues, but here I limit myself to the essential ones in order to clarify
the apparent paradox. It all begins with the characterization of
Husserlian phenomenological psychology by Klein and Westcott
(p. 135) as universal, indubitable, or necessary and systematic. But
which sense of phenomenological psychology is operative here? If
phenomenological psychology means here, as it does, the effort to
clarify fundamental concepts of the science of mind, well, of course
one should arrive at concepts that are universal, necessary, and system-
atic. One would certainly not want such concepts to be otherwise.
However, if one means by phenomenological psychology the results
of concrete research on experiential phenomena, then it is difficult
to know how such criteria would apply. First of all, essential findings
do not have to be universal. They merely have to be eidetic. Husserl
(1913/1983, p. 25) writes:
Eidetic singularities are essences which necessarily have over them
"more universal" essences as their genre, but do not have under
them any particularization in relation to which they would them-
selves be species....

Thus there can be universal, typical, or even individual essences.

Essences or structures based upon experiential research are usually

far from being universal, but it doesn't make them less essential.
Of course, the necessary character of the essential intuition would
remain even if it is less than universal, for it simply refers, if cor-
rect, to the guiding or constraining ideas surrounding the develop-
ing patterns of experience. Necessity can exist independently of
universality. This also implies that phenomenological analyses can
be performed that are sensitive to contextual limits. After all, to be
intuitively sensitive means that when a phenomenon is context-de-
pendent, that dependency also announces itself as being intrinsic
to the meaning of the phenomenon. As Husserl (1962/1977, p. 63)
said, "In a related but so to speak impure method of investigation,
a universal which is empirically laden can become seen." Context-
dependency is a kind of empirical-ladenness.
Thus, the two main features of phenomenological psychology that
the authors held to be problematic, universality and necessity, when
properly understood, are not problematic for phenomenological
psychology in either sense I have been discussing. If they refer to
phenomenological psychology in the sense of foundational concepts,
of course one would want those concepts to be necessarily relevant
for every instance of psychical experience or behavior. If one tries
to apply them to phenomenological psychology, in the sense of a
scientific set of practices by scientific psychologists, then the sense
of necessity remains and the idea of universality does not. Rather,
the idea of different types of essences is introduced.
Finally, it should be pointed out that universality, necessity, and
systematic character apply more to the results of phenomenological
psychology as interpreted by Klein and Westcott, and not to the
method, even though the article was meant to deal with the alleged
development of the phenomenological psychological method. In other
words, the brief parallel description of the phenomenological psy-
chological method that the authors provide (pp. 135-136) was never
used as a frame of reference for evaluating the articles that were
allegedly developing the phenomenological method. Rather, Klein
and Westcott use the criteria for the characteristics of the results of
the application of the method to advance another agenda. They
argue (pp. 150-151) that the cultural relativity of experience neces-
sitated a change in the phenomenological method, and then they
argue for the replacement of essentialism by hermeneutics and of
description by interpretation. The point cannot be argued further
here, but the reader can see that the above critiques of Klein and
Westcott's approach and conclusions show that their reasoning is

far from conclusive. Husserlian descriptive phenomenology, seeking

essences, when understood correctly, is quite a viable project.


1. Many of the points made in this and subsequent sections about the
scientific phenomenological method are based on sources that discuss
the same issues in greater detail. For an overview of the method and its
legitimation, see Giorgi (1987; 1989a; 1989b); for the question of validity;
see Giorgi (1988); for some applications of results or strategies, see Giorgi
(1986; 1987; 1989c; 1989d; 1990a; 1990b); and for more theory and
legitimation, see Giorgi (1970; 1983a; 1983b; 1986).
2. I was originally an external reader of this article before it was published
by Canadian Psychology,when I was at the University of Qu6bec at Montreal.
I did not, at the time, recommend that it be published as it stood. I had
listed some serious objections and I gave some references to be consulted.
I never heard from the editors again. Then a colleague told me that the
article had been published, and several months after its appearance I
got copies of it. I noticed that the authors consulted the references I
had mentioned but they did not take up and incorporate the primary
meanings and implications of the sources to which I referred.
3. This reference was one of those suggested to the authors (unknown to
me at the time of the review) in my review of the first version of the
article. Obviously, the authors did get the text, but instead of seeing the
complications (my motive for the reference) implied in Scanlon's text,
they simply acknowledged that another interpretation existed without
further comment (Klein & Westcott, 1994, p. 137) and then proceeded
to justify their own comparison with Husserl, "because the methods
frequently employed in current research are avowedly, and in fact, based
on Husserlian techniques, especially a priori reflection on essence through
free imaginative variation" (p. 137). But this still does not clarify the
sense in which Husserl is the basis. Is Husserl the basis as ground or
foundation? Or is Husserl a basis as a model to be imitated? The authors
do not say, and they are not explicit in their comparison, but it seems
that Husserl's method is meant to be fixed and impermeable (1994, pp.
141-143). In contrast, the earlier part of this article indicated how even
the search for essence would have to be modified when using the
phenomenological method in a scientific context.


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