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Gendlin, E.T. (1974). Contribution to the discussion about "The life-world and the 'a priori'--opposites or complementaries?" (H. L. Meyn). In A-T. Tymieniecka (Ed.), Analecta Husserliana. Vol. III. The phenomenological realism of the possible worlds, pp. 102-104. Dordrecht/Boston: Reidel. From

[Beginning of excerpt. No contributions from Eugene Gendlin before this page.] [Page 102]

Contribution to the discussion about "The Life-World and the 'A Priori'—Opposites or Complementaries?" (H.L. Meyn)

Eugene T. Gendlin, University of Chicago

Gendlin: It seems to me that Mohanty's careful analysis leads to the central question which, I think, you are very much aware of: to the question of this 'conundrum' of something, which is neither clearly conceptualized or patterned, nor is it sheer mush or sheer indeterminacy. I like the way you put it, as the conundrum of 'vague patterns'. On the one hand pattern is not 'vague' and 'vague' means 'not patterned', so we must distinguish between the function that this nuance serves in the argument which is quite sound. It seems that there must be something, such that it is not the same as the variety of patterns that we give to it, and yet, it is not anything completely arbitrary. That is, there seems to be a function to be fulfilled and something must serve this function. On the other hand, it seems to me, we cannot be satisfied simply to call this tertium quid 'vague typicalities'. In other words, the whole notion of a transcendental analysis implies this question because 'transcendental analysis' means undercutting that level after one has already reached further, and various thinkers who set up a priori categories do not agree with each other. So, I believe, that a transcendental analysis should not skip too quickly over the preconstitutive level of experience. From my point of view, you went hastily through this crucial level of preconceptualized experience, something, that is not arbitrary and yet is not structural. You called it 'vague forms', which alone would not suffice to account for the various forms that we can arrive at at the successive levels of constitution. If 'vague forms' or 'vague patterns', do not suffice to account for them, I think it is a mistake to assume that whatever would [Page 103] be the basis for 'clear patterns' should itself in some way be some type of patterns. The basis for the later structuration, idealization, conceptualization, assumes that it is of the same nature except that whereas they are 'clear', it is 'vague'. In fact, what is 'clear' is the final set of categories. But there seems to be several sets of categories possible. It seems to me that all philosophers following Husserl have this difficulty. On the one hand, they assert within the constitutive system the function of a level that is neither already conceptualized nor is it anything altogether undetermined and arbitrary, the pre-conceptual, pre-constituted, pre-thematic level, as it is usually called. Then they move directly toward perfectly rational set of categories. What is missing would be a study of this process of moving gradually from what is 'vague' to what is 'clearly conceptualized'; the variety of possible ways of conceptualization would be the first law of this process. In this respect, the first thing we might say is that the process of moving from the vague life-world to a set of categories has a variety of open possibilities. Secondly, one might venture, which I think Husserl has, an assertion that it is possible to have vague experience. Perhaps, thirdly, I am proposing here a priori categories of process—as you very well stated—that the process of structuring or conceptualizing is in some way objective, in the sense that it is a way of continuing what is possible with respect to the world-horizon. One takes a distance from one's own experience and says: these structures which I now establish for the first time have in fact always been there, which is correct in the sense that these structures were always possible. Other structures would never have worked. This would be an illustration of the sort of transcendental analysis that I think is necessary, which is an analysis of the process of moving from 'vague' to 'patterned', rather than asserting that some arbitrary set of patterns is the a priori structure. What is a priori here are the rules of the process of moving from the 'vague' to the 'structured'. Would you accept that as a Husserlian step?

Mohanty: I would prefer to respond at the end of the discussion. Meanwhile, I am going to gather my thoughts.

Morin: I was wondering why are you, Mr Gendlin, referring to the life-world? Why are you talking of 'vague'? If you are referring to the world-horizons and the system of constitution, why use the concept of vague' here? Does it even occur in this context?

Gendlin: I think you are perfectly right. 'Vague' is a word that means [Page 104] nothing else than something other than 'structured patterns'. It means 'non-structured', 'non-patterned', so that life-world or preconceptual experience is called 'vague' or 'ambiguous' by those who think chiefly in terms of patterns, or forms, or structures, and you are right that I should not call it 'vague'.

Morin: What I am concerned with is that the first paper and also the second paper refer to life-world conceived as a kind of a 'habitual-world', that we are used to live in, to something that in Ricoeur's thought is 'a reflection on habit'. In one passage in Le Volontaire et l'Involontaire, he mentions the horizon as the monde de l'habitude, the world of habit; it is more than the horizon of the world as possibilities of constitutive patterns, it is an established way or a system of acquired habits, from which you go on to something new, more interesting, like learning to skate, for example. You acquire the skill of skating and then you may move on to something more interesting, like playing hockey, entering competitions, etc. The horizon would be understood as the established system of life already acquired upon which one is working, further establishing more complex modes. This is why I don't want to use in this connection the expression 'vague'. It is not at all 'vague'. The life-horizon is the already established background.

Gendlin: I think you are right. It would be silly to say that living is vague, giving an absolute priority to concepts. It is only called 'vague' with respect to the way we would like to grasp it, or with respect to the steps of thought, or structures we would have to apply in order to do so and which its nature eludes; but what we want to grasp is, in fact, inherent in it. By our attempts to grasp it we unfold this virtual structure and structurize it further on higher levels.

[End of excerpt. No further contributions from Eugene Gendlin.]
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  • Biographic Note: Eugene T. Gendlin is a seminal American philosopher and psychologist. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago and taught there from 1963 to 1995. His philosophical work is concerned especially with the relationship between logic and implicit intricacy. Philosophy books include Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning, Language Beyond Post-Modernism: Saying and Thinking in Gendlin's Philosophy edited by David Michael Levin, (fourteen commentaries and Gendlin’s replies), and A Process Model. There is a world wide network of applications and practices ( stemming from this philosophy. Gendlin has been honored three times by the American Psychological Association for his development of Experiential Psychotherapy. He was a founder and editor for many years of the Association’s Clinical Division Journal, Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice. His book Focusing has sold over half a million copies and has appeared in seventeen languages. His psychology-related books are Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams and Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy.
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