Home > Philosophy > Autobiography - Phenomenology as Non-Logical Steps
Date of birth: December 25, 1926.
Place of birth: Vienna, Austria.
Date and institution of highest degree: Ph.D., University of Chicago, 1958.
Academic appointments: University of Chicago, 1963-95
As an undergraduate I developed a method to communicate with religious people and atheists, Marxists and McCarthyites, Behaviorists and Freudians.
My method was to accept anyone's entire system - for the moment - so as to use their terms to couch whatever point I wanted to make.
I would explain that I didn't agree with all that. I was only postponing all other arguments, so that I could make one point. I found I could formulate any one point in any system.
I knew that "the" point was not the same in different terms, since "it" had the different implications I postponed.
The difference was clear. But what was the sameness? In what respects was "it" still "that" point, moving across the formulations?
For myself, when I "had a point," I would then formulate "it" another way, and still another. "It" was not the common denominator - which is nearly nothing. Rather, "it" has this odd "order" of responding to different formulations differently - but very exactingly, just so to each. And not only to different systems - "the" point would respond just so to different purposes, backgrounds, even loyalties to certain groups.
It seemed, if anything, more interesting that no single consistent pattern could incorporate all the "the point" could be.
When I had a point. I would pause to let words come. Interrupted at that stage, I might forget what I was about to say. Then I would burrow in some murky way to get "it" back. "Oh . . . yea . . . that's what I was about to say! That had had implicit language, but was not a set of words.
Remembering forgotten dreams was similar. How could the dream-events come back from burrowing in that odd murk left from the dream?
I didn't want to think only with concepts. I wanted to think with all that, so it would be open to what could come of "that."
On entering the University of Chicago I signed up for the most advanced seminar. In my first class, Richard McKeon put three columns on the board. Heading the left column was dialectic. The middle column was functional patterns. On the right was the familiar reductionism to primitive units. Running down the side he had the words: "definition", "demonstration", "principles." He explained how these worked for each column.
I was excited. Here was my method! After class I ran up and asked: "Can you translate? Can you make the same point in all three?" "No'', he said. "Its always a different point." I said, "I know. In different terms it leads to different implications, so it is a different point. But what holds across?" He denied any way across. "The same word is just an utterly empty commonplace. It has meaning only in each system."
I already knew his reason for saying that, and yet I knew I could move across from a point. But there was no way to think about why I could. It took me ten years to work out how to think about it.
Meanwhile I recognized myself as a phenomenologist. In my other first class Jean Wahl taught the new works of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. I read Husserl and Binswanger. The phenomenologists had the other half of my method! They knew "a point" was more than its formulation.
But the phenomenologists did not solve my puzzle either. They did not even ask why they each formulated so differently. Sartre with Hegelian opposites did not find what Merleau-Ponty found with "function" and "precisioning." Husserl just divided knowing, feeling and willing from the start. They didn't wonder how conflicting approaches can all do "lifting out." They could not work with their differences, as I could.
I must still tell of my third major source. Joachim Wach (who had worked under the aged Husserl) led me to Dilthey, then not translated. I knew German, since I had lived in Vienna till I was 12.
Dilthey is still not appreciated today. He brought creativity into my problem. Understanding is creative. To say "the same point" a different way is creative. And, for Dilthey, experiencing is an understanding. "In principle, anything human is understandable", he said, because anything human is an understanding. We understand it, if we go its path, if we let it create itself in us. But then it re-makes itself out of us. That is a further creation: We understand "it" better than the understanding it was.
Dilthey frees us from needing a separable object of understanding. But he wanted a Kantian list of kinds of experiential connections ("Strukturzusammenhänge"). I found that impossible. Each kind of progression (each kind of steps) can further create the others so they become its instances. But what this "instances" is the order I was after.
The phenomenologists said rightly, that statements can make mere logical sense, or "lift out" more than that. But the phenomenologists differed among themselves like other philosophers. "The phenomenon" could seem a mere claim. I knew "it" was more, but how?
The "more" does show up, if we examine the progression, how one goes on. If we can follow the next step although it does not follow logically from the last step, how does it follow? It moves from what was "more than logical" - from the "lifted out". That can be seen only in progressions.
Phenomenology is a certain kind of progression of thought-steps. Later, my published articles tried to strengthen and correct phenomenology by discarding "mere description", pointing instead to the progressions. "Experiential Phenomenology" in Natanson's volumes, has ten orderly "signposts" distinguishing phenomenological sequences from other sequences.
Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning presents seven kinds of progressions. Each subsumes and arrays the others. I am after that order.
We do not lose logical power. But there is more specificity and precision than logic permits. The difference is in how we move. From a statement logical and many kinds of non-logical moves can follow.
It is not relativism: each "kind" of transition moves exactingly.
There are not just ten, or just seven such 'kinds". They can make further new kinds too. They are distinct in some ways, only. But even a few let us think past formal order and disorder.
During these years Carl Rogers developed Client-Centered Therapy at Chicago. His therapists did not impose interpretations. I had to see that - it concerned my problem!! They trained me. Soon I wrote papers reformulating their theory - not the therapy - but can one distinguish? Doesn't therapy-experience come from the therapist's theory? No, not at all! It is much more intricate. Freud called it "working through". He knew that his approach influences, but does not produce the intricacy.
Rogers' therapists responded to "feeling", they said. But they did not mean just emotions like anger, fear, or guilt. They responded to whole complexities: "You feel helpless when she does that."
The client would sit with the fuzzy intricacy of that feel-quality, named "helpless" for the moment. The next step would arise, not from the notion of helplessness, but from that intricacy-quality. "Oh, not helpless, but I have this odd, felt conviction that my own way cannot work, um . . ." Then, a step from that. "Oh . . . it would work, but . . . uhm."
This kind of steps could be understood as one of my transitions.
At that time Rogers stated his main unsolved problem: How might new awareness be checked against "organismic experience", to verify that repression lifted? He sought correspondence-truth. I had another way.
Instead of looking for an experience before symbolization, we could compare kinds of steps, different kinds of going further. The kind of steps just described could be distinguished from others. That became the Experiencing Scale, used in still developing research. In the American Psychologist, Feb. 1986, I describe it currently. Successful outcomes (variously defined) correlate with such steps. Failure comes if there are only logical, event-describing, or emotion-expressing modes.
That work got some notice. In On Becoming a Person Rogers reconceptualized his theory using and citing my book. I received an award (1970) from the American Psychological Association's Psychotherapy Division. I founded the journal Psychotherapy, and edited it for 13 years.
I went on to develop a teaching of such steps - now called "focusing." I did that because therapy often fails to teach this mode. Politically, too, I favor giving "expert" knowledge away. Phenomenology precisions what is at first murky, so people can find it. This teaching is public, and is also improving professional training (in this one regard.)
Focusing consists of phenomenologically laid out steps for getting (one kind of) phenomenological steps. Focusing (1981) and Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams (1986) do that. Focusing is out in eight languages.
For a while such "successes" made me run around a lot. I was keynote speaker at the Japanese A.P.A., spoke in many places in Europe and here, and wrote the same things over and over. But, I was quite ineffective in bringing about the change I wanted in phenomenology itself. I must explain that.
Did I expect to change a whole field? In me high expectations coexist peacefully with a very low level - I am also amazed that I can do anything at all. I wouldn't give up either one. The gap lets me laugh.
Why didn't phenomenologists follow me in examining the transitions? Today non-logical transitions are emphasized, but only as a glorying in disorder. Phenomenological transitions have not yet been appreciated, and must now return, under another name. Let me tell of my own story, slowly.
I had heard that Heidegger was a Nazi, and so I did not read him until 1963. Then I saw how much I had learned from him through those who had read him. In 1964 Csikszentmihalyi brought me (from Regnery) an unusable translation of Die Frage nach dem Ding. I reworked every sentence and wrote an "Analysis." I sent the book to Heidegger. I wrote him: "In the Analysis I explained every point I did not understand at first." He answered: "You have written an illuminating afterword with great penetration. It will make my work more accessible in your country."
He was always kind in these things. And/or, he saw that I grasped and showed his more-than-conceptual thinking. He did not disagree with it.
I worked further, using many models at once. And developing new ones. My new "Process Model" retains logical power, and non-logical moves.
I collaborated with a physicist, Jay Lemke. We applied my new work to the anomalies of particles. It became "A Critique of Relativity and Localization" in Mathematical Modeling.
Many philosophers avoid physics for fear of bringing reductionism into philosophy. They avoid human experiencing, for fear of bringing psychology in. Anything "ontic" threatens to bring alien explanations to philosophy.
Heidegger knew better. Everything must be brought to philosophy, to questioning how it is thought, and to let it be differently.
He refused the word "feeling" (much as I had noticed that therapists respond not to what "feeling" usually means). "Befindlichkeit", "mood," "thrownness", and "dwelling" "understand further than cognition can reach." (B&T I--5) Bringing to thought doesn't mean placing a topic under thought, as its basis. Rather, no topic is only its categories. Anything can rethink itself as a "happening." In his terms, the kinds of "transitions" I study are different ways of "letting be", of "happening".
Of course there is no final list of ways. Each opens more ways inside itself, and in the others. But even a few let us learn, be, and say, much.
But Heidegger's "dwelling" and Befindlichkeit were misunderstood. People could not grasp how a whole situational complexity ("thrownness") could be implicit in a "mood", and how one thinks with that. They did not imagine that dwelling-thinking can be found and done. It became a puzzle.
Heidegger was partly responsible for that. He dramatically left phenomenology, and attributed happening to "history". Thereby he dealt with the problem of "phenomena" inseparable from language, and history. But most people misunderstood that, as if all experience is old thought. Only new "history" will get us out of this, but "history" seems to come, not from us, but from over there. Heidegger did not mean it that way. History happens in dwelling. He constantly called on us to think-dwell.
Where can dwelling go, if everything is old forms? Dwelling seems like going higher from a mountain top, if all we stand on is old forms.
"Phenomena" had seemed independent. Now all experience seems wholly dependent, derivative.
My reform of phenomenology was not taken up. Of course I think: That is why phenomenology is rejected today. The popular assumption of neutral, uninterpreted "phenomena" had to fail. But the style has swung to assuming that all experience derives wholly from implicit assumptions breakable only by discontinuity. Either way misses the non-logical transitions.
We do not need to surrender what is already formed. When we precisely understand its formed intricacy, that is just when we exceed its forms, When we don't understand a book, we can only quote it. To understand it is to dwell-think in its forms, and that is more precise than the forms.
The order-for-further-moves is more complex and intricate than any consistency-principles, whether logical, empirical, psychological, or historical. Empirical findings, therapy, and history have more order than formed forms. There are many kinds of demandingly precise feedback.
Experiencing has often been called richer and wiser than fixed forms. Unfortunately, it was also called disorder - both only meant it is not the logical order. The literature confounds greater order with less.
Foucault is excellently the self-imposed Nietzsche, but for Foucault our dionysian experience is only inchoate resistance, disorder.
Derrida's moves are not arbitrary. But he ends each move in an unmoving contradiction, both metaphysical and displaced. That can be a step toward studying the order of non-arbitrary non-logical moves.
In Foucault and Derrida the denied order still governs: they say its overthrow must be disorder. So, the old order is still the only one.
Now we need to remember that "dionysian" experience makes more order, when it functions with the formed kind. It is not the mere absence of formed order. Nor is it just a product of implicitly imposed formed order.
From the body-wisdom side of Nietzsche, through Schleiermacher and Dilthey, through Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger, runs the intermittent recognition that this greater order can think and study itself.
Such thinking is not only a fuzzy felt sense. Moves of precise understandings exceed cuts and forms. The word says this kind of precision. The order-for-moves is more than a set of kinds. But let it say a few sets of such kinds.