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Gendlin, E.T. (1982). Two phenomenologists do not disagree. In R. Bruzina & B. Wilshire (Eds.), Phenomenology. Dialogues and bridges, pp. 321-335. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. From

[Page 321]


E. T. Gendlin

Heidegger wrote: '... that which is to become phenomenon, can be hidden. And just therefore, because the phenomena are immediately and mostly not given, phenomenology is needed.' (SZ 36) Phenomenology is partly '-logy,' logos. 'The logos lets something be seen,' and logos is or includes speech: 'Speech lets something be seen.' (SZ 32)

It is clear from these quotations, and from Heidegger's whole work, that phenomena are directly there for us, but only after they are uncovered by phenomenological assertions.

'What is it, which in an outstanding sense must be called 'phenomena?' ... Obviously just such, as immediately and mostly does not show itself.' (SZ 35)

The italics are both times Heidegger's, for the word 'not' in the above. Phenomena do not at first show themselves, at least not the phenomena we are concerned with in phenomenology. It is 'the function of logos' to enable a 'simple letting be seen.' (SZ 34)

But if the self-showing of phenomena thus depend on our linguistic formulations, two questions arise: 1) Are our formulations constitutive of phenomena, are phenomena totally dependent upon formulations? Or do they have some kind of independence? 2) Is there still a difference between phenomenology as Heidegger does it, and any other serious philosophy – since any philosophy bases itself in some way on experience. In other words, is there really such a thing as phenomenology?

I will answer both questions affirmatively. But the answer is not simple. We can be sure that Heidegger did not make a simple mistake either in his insistence in italics that phenomena do not show themselves without our assertions, or in his insistence that what he did was phenomenology.

Rather than imposing assumptions for a convenient account of 'experience,' phenomenologists begin with experience as we actually have it, and articulate that. Whether a sentence does or does not articulate experience is not entirely up to the sentence and its own meaning. Heidegger writes: 'Each originally drawn phenomenological conception and sentence, as a communicated assertion, stands in the possibility of degeneracy. It is passed on in an empty understanding, loses it groundedness, and becomes free-floating thesis.' (SZ 36)

For a sentence to be phenomenological, something more is involved, since [Page 322] the same sentence and its conceptual meaning can lack its phenomenological ground if it is understood only conceptually. To say that such 'empty understanding' is possible shows this additional role of the phenomenon. The phenomenon shows itself as a result of the sentence. But this means that once the sentence is grasped, the phenomenon itself must still appear. It must come and be seen. The sentence and its conceptual meaning are not simply constitutive of the phenomenon; the sentence and its meaning can be used without looking, so to speak, or can fail to lead us to something we then see directly.

The experiential aspects which phenomenological philosophers point to are held to be universal: any person should be able to corroborate any phenomenological assertion directly. What any phenomenological sentence points to, should appear directly, as an experiential aspect so distinct and separate from the mere sentence and its meaning, that it could be there or not be there, a totally distinct addition to the sentence and its meaning.

If this claim of phenomenology were simple and obvious, then phenomenologists would never differ. A phenomenon would always corroborate every phenomenological sentence that was used phenomenologically, and no phenomenologist could differ with it.

On the other hand, if this claim is denied, if it is merely that some assertions fit experience but other assertions contradict them and fit as well, then there is no such special thing as phenomenology.

But phenomenologists do differ, and nevertheless the claim to some type of independence of phenomena is not nothing.

It follows that we must investigate much more exactly the relationship or relationships between phenomenological formulations (words, symbols, sentences, conceptual models) and phenomena. (The use of this very word can only become clear if these relationships become clear.)

But did not Heidegger and also Husserl do exactly this? Were not Chapter V of Being and Time, and the Logical Investigations and Ideas exactly about the relationship between experience on the one hand, and words and various kinds of attention on the other? And yet these two phenomenological philosophers differ from each other, and from others, even in their account of this basic relationship, as well as on other topics.

What is worse, they do not apply their account of the relations between formulation and experience at each step of their discourse. They choose and use formulational models such as actuality-possibility, form-matter, knowing-feeling-willing, particular-universal, without stopping to look at just what the choice of formulation does to experience, and exactly what some alternative choice would have done.

Therefore we are not in a very good position to know what to think when, for example, Heidegger phenomenologically speaks of the 'what for' as basically constituting the object, while Husserl speaks of the willing or value aspect as it were obviously and experientially different from the start, and added on to givenness, while Sartre uses Hegel's categories (in-itself vs. for-itself) to 'describe' [Page 323] phenomenologically.

None of them turn to look at just how their own steps are, each time, grounded (and, in what respects not grounded) nor do they tell us how one would check each step against a phenomenon, except for the general indifferent assertion that there always is one, being lifted out. Clearly not every aspect of their sentences is corroborated thereby. These thinkers do not tell us how their formulational terms interact with experience. Clearly, this 'grounding' doesn't mean that the phenomena are simply identical with everything the formulation is. Perhaps there are different kinds of formulational effects. Perhaps some formulations intend to point, only, and would then enable further reformulation; perhaps others intend to represent or render, or create new aspects. Perhaps, too, the effect of a formulation or a further reformulation is not a simple either/or: merely, to show or fail to show the same phenomenon. Perhaps a 'same' phenomenon can still give rise to further and different aspects. It is not all so simple. For phenomenological philosophers there are specific ways in which universal experience is involved in how they reach each conclusion. There are several specific ways in which direct experience can function as a ground in each step of formulating. To say exactly how opens up a whole new field of inquiry.

Heidegger poses this problem, but only on the side of formulations. He says that any statement always already involves a metaphysics, a certain 'approach' to phenomena. Once we recognize this, we do not wish to fall back into just some one approach, a metaphysics if we attribute our approach to phenomena. But, he asks, what would be an approach which is not just another approach? Heidegger says that he does not answer that question. A whole future generation shall answer it.

In posing this problem in this way he is still looking only at the old problem of relativism: how can we proceed at all since any way in which we do will still only be one of a variety?

So formulated, however, the puzzle assumes exactly that which it tries to overcome, namely that the answer must be an approach, a type of formulation, and that reality is somehow fundamentally like some approach, so that as soon as we can have more than one we are in difficulty.

If, instead, we study the formulating process itself, and the roles of experience in it, we may find how experience can ground different formulations differently, so that we might then be glad (and also specific, and knowing) about different formulations.

It is far too general to say simply that formulations are constitutive of phenomena, but also too general to say that phenomena lie there, nicely sorted into essence-piles, waiting for formulations to pick them up. Both statements lift out something but they are poor statements, nevertheless. Instead of these generalities let us study exactly how, in specific respects, phenomena are affected by a given formulation, and differently affected by another. Let us also see exactly in what respects they have some independence during the steps of formulating. In this way we may discover more exact aspects of what Heidegger and Husserl [Page 324] pointed to. We may also develop the phenomenological terms in which to say what we phenomenologists do, when we take a step of formulating. And there may be different kinds of such steps.

Elsewhere I have formulated three bodies of such observations. There can be a long list of noticeable signposts, [1] which mark when one is phenomenologically proceeding, as against when not. For example, phenomenological statements have many logical implications which the philosopher does not intend. Something other than the statement is always involved: Something the reader must see, find, discover, experience. The next step of phenomenological procedure does not necessarily follow especially from the statement here. One will not be able to follow how the procedure gets to its next step, unless this more-than-statement, this experience, has been gotten, as this step. The next step may logically disturb the literal meaning of this statement, or it may seem to jump rather than follow. Logic is no longer the only guide from step to step.

None of these signposts would be willingly accepted by anyone whose procedure is more orthodox. They are quite uniquely the marks of those who ground their steps experientially. (The above was only a little from a much longer list of signposts.)

Another set of findings concerns different types of experience-formulation pairs. Formulations do not always attempt to say what an experience is. Sometimes they point ('Do you know what I mean?' 'I will say this another way.') Sometimes they metaphorically generate some quite new likeness between different things, rather than formulating either thing. Formulations and experiences can be found in rather different kinds of parts. And one can always move from one pair to another! (For example one can always move from having rendered to pointing again, and from pointing to a new rendering.)

Still another set I must abbreviate here consists of the peculiar characteristics which experience exhibits when one moves from one formulation-experience pair to another. It seems then that experience has not given units, and can respond to different schemes rather than having just one of its own. New aspects can always be created from any experience to relate to any other. And yet, also, an experience is always just this, and responds not at all as we might wish, to our formulations, but just as it will. I am going to say more about this.

I hope I have sketched out this new field, the study of experientially grounded steps of formulating, sufficiently, so that I can now engage in a fresh and much more limited discussion: Two phenomenologists do not disagree.

At first this seems very simple. Some phenomenon – some aspect capable of being experienced – is lifted out, or related to, at every point. Two phenomenologists, let us say you and I, disagree: There are two possibilities:

Either you and I are really describing two different phenomena, or we are describing the same one with two different formulations. If it is two different phenomena, we will soon agree. You will show me the phenomenon you are describing, and since it is a universal human experience your description can lead me to it. My description will show you the one I have been describing. We [Page 325] may have to improve our descriptions a little in response to each other's misunderstandings, but soon we will realize that we are talking of two different phenomena, each will see what the other points to. We are each grateful to the other for having been shown a new phenomenon, and we walk out arm in arm.

Or, if we are describing the same phenomenon, but our difference lies in the vocabulary, concepts, logical model, with which we approach it, then there are again two possibilities:

Either we soon realize that our differing formulations refer to the same thing, and now we can proceed together from here on. Although you may not like my formulation as much as you like you own (and I might prefer mine, although I could now like yours better, either way) we find that what we are lifting out is the same. So we can go on together. After all, it is via the phenomenon that we get to a next step, and so it does not matter that we spoke of it differently. We proceed on from this point arm in arm.

Or, we find that our two different formulations lead to two different further steps, even though in some sense the phenomenon we described was 'the same.' Formulated as you did it, the phenomenon turns out to have an aspect which does not appear when I say it. This aspect leads you to something further, to which I don't follow you. And, my formulation, too, may show something yours hides. The two formulations reveal two different aspects of the 'same' phenomenon. Their difference was not 'only' logical or verbal. Now again, you can show me the experiencable aspect your formulation lifts out from our phenomenon, and I can show you mine. So this is simply another instance of two different phenomena, this time two aspects of the 'same' phenomenon. Different aspects, if experiencable, are again two phenomena. Again we agree.

It cannot all be so simple, but there are some great advantages even in this simple version. If we were to consider at each step of our procedure, just what experiencable aspect makes us want to hold on to our formulation, then (even though every phenomenon is always formulated or attention-held in some way) we could always find just what experiencable difference either formulation makes. The exact aspects of the difference made, which we care about, might again have to be formulated variously. Again we could see what if any difference might be lost or gained. If we disagreed again it would not be the same issue. I assume, here, that we would not each be privately committed to some logical model which we would reapply stubbornly to each sub-aspect. Rather, as phenomenologists, we would be committed only to the phenomena or experiencable aspects, not to any model. The sub-aspects would not themselves be mere instances of our issue, because experience is not a scheme of particulars under one set of generalities. Therefore, even if we do again differ on how to formulate the sub-aspect which is our difference, and even if the further difference matters to us, it will not be the same issue.

It is in exactly this sense, that Heidegger and other phenomenological philosophers must be understood. It is in exactly this sense that they intended to [Page 326] be understood. There are always many spots in these philosophers where they tell us not to take the model aspects of one of their formulations too literally. How then do they want us to take these formulations? In terms of the experiencable aspects which the formulations reveal – and not at all as implying the loss of any other experiencable aspects which other formulations might reveal.

But doesn't this do away with formulation altogether, as if logical inconsistencies are all right, and the whole point of thinking clearly might be lost? Not at all! Formulations, and concepts and logic have their use precisely in the power to be precise, to make logical differences, and by differences to point at something experiential that is being missed.

In emphasizing the difference between logical formulations and experiential aspects I am emphasizing the need for both, and the irreplacable role which each plays in regard to the other.

Only after we have specified the experiencable aspect, different formulations which don't affect it can be considered equivalent for the time being. Or, if the different formulations make differences in 'it,' the discovered further aspects will again need specifying. This does not only resolve the difference so that we can proceed, rather it gives us the experiential aspects which our assertions really aim at. Only after that, is there the systematic possibility of considering different formulations equivalent, rather than endlessly pursuing them and losing what we were really concerned about.

That we can set two different formulations at an equivalence in respect to some directly referred to aspect is a principle of importance. I call it functional equality. It applies only at some given point in a discussion or line of thought, and continues to apply only as long as no experiencable differences made by the two formulations matter. We may think now, that they don't matter, but they may later on in a discussion or line of thought, and then must be dealt with. Or that may never happen. For a given point or line of thought the two formulations may function in the same way, in respect of some 'same' phenomenon, or aspect.

I also point to the basic phenomenological willingness to forgo implications that are only logical or conceptual. I assume two thinkers who will always be willing to drop 'merely formulational differences or implications' in favor of what the experiencable aspect itself implies. Is such a distinction really possible, and clear?

At any point in any line of thought it is possible to proceed in two different ways: For example, if you have just said something I think is nonsense, there are two ways I can respond: I can point out to you at length why what you said offends various truths or logical relations. Or, I can ask you to say differently the sense you thought you were making, since obviously you did not experience yourself talking nonsense. In the second case you will come up with a different formulation than the first one which failed to work for me; it will be a fresh alternative formulation of the sense you were trying to make. If this succeeds and a new aspect of experience is now given me, we can leave it for another [Page 327] time to determine if your first formulation did offend truth or logic, or if it was a matter of my limitation that the first version did not work for me.

Similarly, I myself may find that some formulation keeps a hold of some important experiencable aspect for me, even though I already see that the formulation otherwise offends various other concerns, which I also retain. Shall I discard the experiential aspect which this untenable formulation holds on to, for me? No, I will not think the experiencable aspect lost, just because this formulation cannot long stand. I will limit the formulation just to pointing, and if I can really not devise a better one (which should always be possible) I will apologize for it and warn others away from its erroneous logical implications which I don't intend.

But if I were following the logical, rather than the experiential next step, I would be led away, to that which I don't intend.

Every formulation has conceptual implications which one does not intend, and if seen, would warn others away from. (This does not mean that all its logical power is unused, as I shall show in a moment.)

Public discourse is much given to the rule that logic alone entitles one to further steps. When someone is shown that a set of statements offends logic, it must be withdrawn. Of course, privately the person may retain the original sense, and especially from a phenomenological viewpoint, the person can know that the form has been scuttled, not the point. But the usual rules do not permit answering: you have sunk my statement but not my point.

For example, my own initial conceptual approach here was in terms of two distinctions: 'formulation vs. experiencable aspect' and 'same vs. different.' But now, in discussing what was implied in my simple version and in 'functional equality' and in proceeding from an experiencable aspect, what has become of my same vs. different model?

Is a given experiencable aspect really either 'same' or 'different?' It can be same for some time and then turn out to have importantly different aspects lifted out in it. It is both the same and different. If I were doing dialectic, this would be the occasion to move to a new conceptual distinction. But I rather point to the more specific sub-aspects we each have. These make our phenomenon neither the same nor different. Once we see them we will not disagree, because: there they are. We will then also see how each affects our discourse, or is irrelevant. Sameness and difference do not univocally apply to experience in the process of being formulated.

Are two different formulations the same, or not? It depends whether there is an exaperiencable aspect to which they both refer, and which leads to the same next step. If so, they are 'the same,' although different.

Clearly, I have not let my logical categories determine my own steps, rather my steps have changed the logical categories 'same' and 'different.' I have given several different experiencable cases to which they can differently refer.

Thus we can always let the experiencable aspect lead us, and if different [Page 328] formulations let us have the same aspect leading in the same way, we can leave it to more traditional philosophers, or to another time, to examine further the formulational differences for their own sake.

But formulations and logical implications must not be taken too lightly. If different verbal and conceptual formulations really came down to totally the same thing, if they did not each have their own type of meaning-power, then they could not effect or lift out phenomena. It is only because of their peculiar conceptual precision that a given formulation can do something, others not or differently. In regard to this aspect of 'different' formulations, we need their differences sharp. The activity of clarifying them for their own sake is important also for experiential thought. But that doesn't mean that we cannot use their very sharpness to let us see, by the experiencable aspects they lift out, which of their differences needs to be pursued, and which (always many) others we can ignore, to let you and me get to each of our experiential points.

Thus my own first set of logical categories, 'same' and 'different' have now received the kind of reference to specific experiencable aspects, which should let us see at least some respects in which we do and don't need to assert that different formulations and phenomena are different, or can be the same.

My other conceptual distinction was 'formulation' vs. 'experiencable aspect.' These never were clearly distinct in my discussion, since I began by asking what the degree of their independence might be. So we need not be surprised if these two, also have come to refer variously to more specific experiencable aspects, rather than being two conceptual meaning. Nevertheless I spoke of 'them' and organized my discussion of the problem with 'them.'

These were of course never simply independent, rather I asked what the degree of their independence might be. I began by saying that if there are disagreements among phenomenologists at all, then phenomena are not simply independent, just to be looked at and reported on. But, if they are totally dependent on formulations, then there cannot be such a thing as phenomenology. But these two categories did not determine my discussion, rather my discussion can now aid us in defining these two better.

What we are seeking are the experienced respects in which they are dependent and independent upon each other.

If one can have an experiencable aspect even with an untenable formulation which mostly points, and some of whose logical implications must be disregarded, does this mean that one has the experiencable aspect quite alone and independently? It certainly seems to be most convenient for my argument, if that is so. However, we point by means of this otherwise inadequate formulation. Pointing, too, is a function which words serve in regard to experiencable aspects, if only the word 'this.' It is a kind of formulating. [2]

The independence of the experiencable aspect is at any rate possible only after it has been lifted out by some formulation. (I want to argue that events too, not only words, can 'lift out' an experiencable aspect, and such events perform a formulating function (or symbolizing function). To pursue this [Page 329] would lead us to think about formulations as instances of a larger class. (I cannot deal with this direction here.) Once a formulation has lifted out or specified or pointed to an aspect, then we can devise other formulations to do so as well, and we can see if different sub-aspects of importance are made thereby. In both regards the aspect demonstrates its independence to this degree, from its initial formulation which gave birth to it: it can function in other formulations, and it can also give rise to sub-aspects which the initial formulation could not have led to. Such aspects could arise from a different formulation, or even from the aspect itself as soon as it is found. We might be grateful to the formulation which first led us to the aspect, but the formulation cannot limit what the aspect can further lead to. I have done just that many times in this discussion already.

It is in the power of the movement of steps from one experience-formulation pair to another, that the independence respect of an aspect lies. We need not assume, therefore, that experience comes packaged in aspects. Formulations, events, attention, affect what will be found as aspects and sub-aspects. Nevertheless experienced aspects have exactly this kind of independence: they can lead to steps, to sub-aspects, which their own first formulations cannot lead to, and they can lead to other formulations than the initial one could lead to.

So long as one only moves one step, supposedly from experience to formulation, as is so often claimed in phenomenology, any independent grounding by phenomena must seem simple-minded, as a claim. Only if we examine kinds of steps, can we see the experiencable phenomenon exerting independent grounding functions, determining what a formulation just now means (meaning by 'means' how it functions in relation to experiencable aspects one moves to, and from), what formulations are equivalent, and if different, what the differences are, which result, as steps further.


I must now give some examples and convey much more directly what an experiencable aspect is, and how it is always capable of leading to many more and different aspects.

Also, I spoke of the possibility, which always obtains, of formulating whatever one of us is saying, in some different way. Another person can always say: 'Yes, I've got what you mean, but I don't like the way you're putting it!', thus showing the difference between experiencable aspect and formulation. And we can always reformulate 'it' and then also see what different aspects that further makes, or loses.

The inherent capacity of anything experienced to lead to further and different aspects, is grossly underestimated in most discussions.

Especially today in an urban society, the usual routines of personal interaction and language are usually insufficient to deal with most of our situations, [Page 330] so that almost anything we experience far exceeds the existingly formed actions and phrases.

Let me ask you for a moment, in a personal way, to recall one of your own situations in which you are not sure what to do. Whatever you have said to yourself about it, it has also more. What you have said may be quite accurate, but it leaves – does it not? – some felt sense of unresolvedness or confusion which is of some importance. Your actions when you take them, or some next thing you say or think may resolve this felt sense of 'more,' or it may not. You would know the difference quite clearly.

Heidegger discusses such a thing under the heading of 'Befindlichkeit,' and Sartre calls it 'nausea' meaning not what that ironic term implies, but our constant sense of ourselves in our world. These authors bring this up quite late in their treatment. (Sartre not till page 338 of Being and Nothingness.) But isn't it quite basic to how every simple step is taken in phenomenology? Is it not present whenever we make any point? No formulation captures all of what we mean, why we say it, why we say it just now, in this regard, etc. Even if it did, a little further discussion or further occurrences would reveal further aspects of it.

Compare now the potential complexity of this 'more,' which we experience, with the thinness of our usual discussions! Someone for example has introduced into ethics the distinction between 'causes and reasons.' It is argued that human conduct has reasons, not causes. We wish immediately to know exactly what aspects are intended to be different under these two words, isn't that so? Suppose now, it is said that causes follow by physical necessity, while reasons are ethical justifications. This difference can now lead us further. The intention probably was to mark out the field of ethics, leaving causes out. We might agree, depending upon where the argument leads. Even so, (say we agree that ethics concerns 'reasons' or justifications) we can also attempt to find further experiencable aspects within what is assigned to ethics as reasons: For example, it happens that at first we are unaware of why we want to do something, we feel 'caused.' We can still do it or not, so in that sense our doing it still has 'reasons,' not 'causes.' Yet, when we do it, and then later discover why we did, these reasons will feel different to us, than had we known and chosen on that basis. So now we have another differentiated experiencable aspect, which 'causes vs. reasons' helped us find. It isn't the same as the one intended by the first formulator. We can rename it to keep ourselves clear.

But there are times, perhaps often, when there are not one or two reasons, but a whole texture of facets, more than can be sorted out. Then there are not even 'reasons,' but a 'texture': (I mean, when we are inclined to pursue a whole chain, such as: '... and if I didn't do that, then I'd have to do this other which I don't want to because it never works for me, which I know is my own weakness, well not exactly, but part of it is I can't fake such and so, which has to do with this way that I get when I do, which is because ...' and so on!)

Is it not clear how poor mostly are the concepts and formulations with [Page 331] which we try to substitute for experiencings?

And if formulations are 'thin,' and yet they partly determine what we find, then would we not want to return to and hold on, at each step, to the experiencable aspect? Only so can we determine whether we agree or not, at a given point, and just what is being said at a given point, and just what use will be made of what is being said at a given point. But an aspect must come as it will.

Also, in our present age of mass literacy, it is becoming possible for us to articulate our own unique experience. 'Til now, for most people, their own experience could be articulated and reacted to, only by means of routine expressions, or even literary expressions made by poets and novelists, which did not at all describe the specificity of their own experience. That was always left as a felt darkness that had to remain an unknown 'more.' And yet, just therein are we the persons we are. One needs, and today can, not only take a step from experience to language, but also back again, to see the difference made, the aspect found, which then is more specific than the bit of language, and whose further aspects can be further found.


I must now answer a number of possible objections, and in the course of doing so a number of further aspects of formulating experience will arise,

1) Does what I have said imply that experience as such has no order of its own, this formulation lifts out this, and another formulation something else?

No, experience has more order than all our schemes put together, but it is an order of its own, different in kind, an 'organic' order. If we wish, we can think of experience as already having the structure of the living body's life process, and of evolution's further elaboration of that life process, and culture's elaborations of that, to which must be added our own elaborations in our personal ways of living. So it gives us the aspect that comes in response to a formulation.

Thus there need not be a mystery why experience, even before we formulate in words, is not just any old putty but is more organized than any of our formulational systems.

2) Did I say that this organization awaits us there, finished and packaged?

No, what we lift out is a product of the great order that is there, and our further lifting.

3) Do formulations just drop on us, somehow as a primitive other 'pole?' Don't different formulational models themselves arise from experience in some way? Did I assume a basic two-pole model?

No, language and theoretical patterns of thinking, conceptual models, are also cultural products and develop as further elaboration of experience.

When we formulate experience, that is by no means the first time experi- [Page 332]ence and language have met! Experience is the living process in the cultural world.

Although experiential organization is much broader than that of language, linguistic sequences are part of – and the means of – many distinctions of inter-human situations and interactions. Therefore, they are also part of our bodily feelings, and can re-emerge from them.

4) Did we destroy the universality philosophy is concerned with? Are we not grounding ourselves always in just this person's unique experience of this unique moment in the discussion?

The very meaning of 'universality' changes, is it not lost altogether? If a formulation, conceptual statement, i.e. something universal, can give rise to many different experiencable aspects, and 'means' them, is anything ever universal?

And, if this is lost, do not 'formulations' cease to have any use or character altogether, since 'formulating' after all, implies for anyone hearing or reading it?

No – universality is not lost, but its nature does change:

The old meaning of 'universality' was the notion of 'classes' which include under themselves the 'particulars,' which are instances of the universal. The particulars are supposed to have no nature of their own other than the universal's nature, except that the particulars are concrete existents, embodiments, instances.

Husserl uses that model (early in Ideas) when he says that any experience can be considered as universal. One need only consider it as an instance of its kind.

I would retain Husserl's statement, but I would also go another step to another experiencable aspect: that one can take any experience as an instance of many kinds – all of them 'it's kinds.' Always many can be quite new. Once a kind has been formulated, it can lead to other instances each of which can further instance many other kinds. (ECM-V.) [3]

The difference is, of course, that I am considering an aspect as a partly creative product (of an experience that has its own character and a formulation that also has its own).

This comes from not assuming that nature or experience are an already divided set of unique particular entities, units, univocal bits, a static set. And this assertion is not only a refusal to accept an assumption, it also points to an experiencable aspect for anyone who directly formulates experience, in steps (not just in one step), and moves from one to a further and still further aspect formulation of 'the same' experience which is thereby kept as 'that' experience and also allows further aspects to arise from it.

Communication between people, it now seems, is not really a simple locating or reminding someone of some universal they already have. Rather, it is a process in which an aspect of experience comes to be, which was not before differentiated as such.

You create an aspect in me, and I in you, which we did not have before, [Page 333] as such. In fact, if communication always had to be only of what we already have – it would not be of much interest!

In this way universality is not lost, but it alters. Instead of being a static structure shared by everyone always already, it is the capacity to become shared. And it becomes shared by a creating in the other.

It now follows, startingly: the more unique to you (private, swampy, autistic-seeming) the experience is, which you formulate, the more universally significant it will be to all of us, because your formulation will create the more new aspects in us, and any other person.

5) Are not 'experiential aspects' and 'formulation' now interchangeable terms? An aspect is always formulated, even pointing is a kind of formulating. And formulations are to be taken in terms of the aspects they lift out.

No, when we shift from a formulation to a pointing, and thence to a further formulation, then the aspect shows its difference from formulation. (Or, also when we reformulate or go further.)

6) Does this not always push any decision out to an indefinite future? What the aspect is depends on the further aspects to be found, and so also the formulation depends on that? Could one argue that any decision is always only in the future?

No, just the opposite: a formulation can be used definitively, if one has the aspect to which it refers, or which it formulates, for the time being, for this juncture in this discussion. The method is one of stopping the endlessness, which non-experiential methods do not stop, but only ignore. (I mean that the thinness of the usual arguments does not deal at all with the further creative potential of experience, it simply substitutes thin patterns that come to their own end.)

7) But, now, is not everything dependent on what will be said to 'matter,' or be 'relevant' to the present juncture of the discussion? What if we disagree on that, or are in doubt?

Whether an aspect is relevant, or not, just at this point, is again a question of experiencable aspects. If I can be shown what aspect of our topic this affects, and then you say it is relevant and I don't agree, we are working on different aspects of our topic. We can show each other the two topics. Or, you will have shown me how what I now care about is affected, since I did not at first see the relevance. I will have been shown a new aspect of my topic. Relevance works as phenomena do.

Truth and relevance are not only up to formulation, but also to the fact that in response not just anything but exactly this aspect is revealed; comes. This is not arbitrary, nor mere logic alone.

8) But isn't it still true that different 'models' or approaches or methods in philosophy or theory will give different results?

Yes – but if we keep a hold not only of these formulations, but also the directly sensed experience of what we are investigating, then we can each time see just exactly what aspects each model reveals.

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If we wish, we can then formulate those aspects further in our own preferred type of model. And, if that makes further differences, we can examine the relevance of these, as well.

I am radically asserting that formulations are not constitutive of phenomena in the simple sense that has been assumed in a relativistic viewpoint. What model first shows me something, need not be used to further formulate it. Both that aspect and the further aspects I find, can be formulated in any type of formulation (and the difference which may matter, can also again be formulated in any type.) It has been falsely assumed that aspects of experience become the property of the type of formulations that show them to us, but they do not.

Once that is realized, one may work with many theories, many models, many types of philosophy, and expect always to discover some aspects one will be glad to have discovered. One can then formulate them in whatever single model one likes, or actually employ several, as one wishes.

I am aware what much more would need to be said, and explored, before this method would recommend itself. I am looking foreward to our Circle discussion both to clarify some points, and to teaching me some others. [4]

9) Did I emphasize the experiential at the expense of thought, logic, formulation communication and conversation?

No! I have wanted equally to emphasize the independent power of both, else experience could not thereby be discriminated. I have wanted to restore to thinking the immense world-building power that it has whenever it grips into what it is about, so that this is revealed in its concreteness.

It is not my intention that thought and formulation be downgraded, but just the opposite, that their effects should be attended to. Many people, seeing the thinness of most of our theories, choose to accept thin thought as the only kind. It was my intention to point out noticeable, experiencable marks of thought that overcomes this thinness.

An example of this is my looking forward to our Circle discussion. I know that the process of discussion, alone, can show me both how far I have really formulated what I think I have, and can show me aspects I would not want to miss. I want to improve thought and develop another self-conscious step of this human power. Throughout, I emphasize a process of steps, not just one step.

10) Even if others disagree with me, will they not do so in the way I said? Therefore, did I not 'lock' us into my formulation, now? Naturally I will answer that it is only a first brief formulation and can be discarded while we retain what it pointed to – but doing this discarding and retaining will be in accord with my model, will it not?

You can further formulate what you retain and do it differently and with different further aspects. But isn't that now also part of my model? For example, you can formulate differently than my assertions about experience being organismic, and still deal with the same or different aspects of how experience and its environmental context are related, and yet transcend each other. But however differently you do it, won't it be just an instance of my saying that you [Page 335] can indeed do it differently?

But the point is not that we must find a model that isn't a model, or that we must be able to deny anything we ever said. Because of the difference between formulations and experiences, any phenomenological assertion is never going to turn out just plain false, but neither does that mean that further steps are then nothing but instances of such not-plain-false-statements. In phenomenology no model is ultimate in that way, nor totally non-ultimate, and that is fine. Of course, even that statement can and should be gone on from, and much further.


[1] Gendlin, E.T., 'What are the grounds of explication statements? A problem in linguistic analysis and phenomenology.' The Monist, Vol. 49, No. 1, 1965.

[2] Gendlin, E.T., Experiencing and the creation of meaning. New York: Free Press, 1962 (Rev. ed., 1970), Chapter IV.

[3] Gendlin, E.T., 'Experiential Phenomenology.' In M. Natanson (Ed.). Phenomenology and the social sciences. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1973.

[4] 'Two Phenomenologists Do Not Disagree' was presented at the Heidegger Circle meeting in Chicago, 1976. In the present revision I have indeed profited from that discussion!

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