Reading Selections from Robert Sokolowski’s Introduction to Phenomenology 2June 19, 2012
We’ve examined the structural elements that belong to the natural attitude. There is still one more item in the natural attitude that we must examine before we move on to discuss the phenomenological attitude. We must examine the kind of conviction that pervades the natural attitude.
The Conviction of the Natural Attitude
The manner in which we accept the things in the world, and the world itself, is one of belief. As we experience other people, trees, buildings, cats, stones, and the sun and stars, we experience them as being there, as true, as real. The basic character, the default mode of our acceptance of the world and things in it, is one of belief or, to use the Greek term, doxa. Our belief is correlated with the being of things, which first and foremost is simply accepted as such. As time goes on and we become older and more clever, we introduce modalities into our belief; after finding we were mistaken in some instances, we gradually introduce the dimensions of illusion, error, deception, or “mere” appearance.
We gradually come to know that things are not always as they seem; a distinction between being and seeming comes into play, but this distinction is exercised only episodically, and it takes great sophistication to bring it about. We may find that this “cat” is only a toy, or that this person’s speech was deceptive, or that that “man” was only a shadow, or that the “glass” we seemed to see was really ice; such occasional mistakes, however, do not cause us to become suspicious about everything we experience and everything that is said. The default condition remains one of belief. However, this belief, as fundamental, is now contrasted with a whole array of possible alternatives: suspicion, doubt, rejection, probability, possibility, negation, refutation, all the possible doxic modalities that our intentionality can take on.
Prominent among all our beliefs is the belief we have in the world as a whole. This belief, which we could call not just a doxa but the Ur-doxa (if we may combine a German and a Greek term), not just a belief but the basic belief, underlies all the specific beliefs we have. World belief is not subject to correction or refutation the way any particular belief is. If we are alive at all as conscious beings, world belief is there undergirding any particular conviction we may exercise.
We never really learn or acquire our world belief, the way we might achieve our belief in, say, the Empire State Building or the San Juan River in Utah. All such particular beliefs arise concomitantly when we experience or hear about the thing in question, when we come to acknowledge its identity through the manifolds in which it is given to us, whether in presence or in absence. But we could never learn or acquire our world belief. What would be our state prior to learning it? We would have to be in a mute and encapsulated solipsism, a sheer awareness that was not aware of anything. Such a state is inconceivable; it would require that the ego think of itself as both the center of things and the sum of things, a hub without a radius. And even if we were to grant its possibility, what on earth (or even outside the earth) could jar us out of such a state? How could the very idea of something “outside” ever arise if it were not there from the beginning?
We cannot start off in the egocentric predicament; our world belief is there from the start, even before we are born, as far back as we go. Even our most rudimentary sense of self could not arise except on the basis of world belief. Similarly, even if we discover that we were wrong about very many things, our world belief remains untouched and the world is still there, no matter how ragged and tattered, unless perhaps we lost our sense of self entirely and fell into a kind of autistic isolation; but even there, some sense of what there is would surely remain, if there is awareness at all. The suffering that must exist in autism is there precisely because the world belief is still at work; if it were not, there would be no awareness at all and no sense of self.
Since we live in the paradoxical condition of both having the world and yet being part of it, we know that when we die the world will still go on, since we are only a part of the world, but in another sense the world that is there for me, behind all the things I know, will be extinguished when I am no longer part of it. Such an extinction is part of the loss we suffer when a close friend dies; it is not just that he is no longer there, but the way the world was for him has also been lost for us. The world has lost a way of being given, one that had been built up over a lifetime.
Both the world and the self invoke the idea of a whole. The paradoxes of set theory, the problem of whether the ultimate set includes itself or not, are less difficult than the problems of the logic of the world and the self: How do these wholes, the world and the self, include or exclude one another, and how are their totalities related to the sum of the things that exist? It may be the case that the paradoxes of set theory are only formalized versions of the problems of how the world contains everything, including the self, and how the self can intend all things, including the world and also itself.
In conclusion, then, in the spontaneous, natural attitude we are directed toward all sorts of things, but we are also directed toward the world as the horizon or context for all the things that can be given, and correlative to the world is the self or the ego, the agent of the natural attitude, the one to whom the world and its things are given, who is both part of the world and yet in intentional possession of it.
The Phenomenological Attitude
The reader must have noticed that everything that has been said here about the natural attitude could not have been stated from within the natural attitude. That is, without having drawn attention to it, we have been considering these matters all along from within the phenomenological attitude; we have been doing so in the past several pages and, indeed, practically throughout this entire book on pehnomenology, with the exception of the introduction, which had to be written from within the natural attitude. When we considered intentionality and perceiving a cube earlier, we considered these subjects from the phenomenological viewpoint.
There are many different viewpoints and attitudes even within the natural attitude. There is the viewpoint of ordinary life, there is the viewpoint of the mathematician, that of the medical specialist, the physicist, the politician, and so on, and there are even several special kinds of reflective attitudes, as we shall see.
But the phenomenological attitude is not like any of these. It is more radical and comprehensive. All the other shifts in viewpoint and focus remain cushioned by our underlying world belief, which always remains in force, and all the shifts define themselves as moving from one viewpoint into another among the many that are open to us.
The shift into the phenomenological attitude, however, is an “all or nothing” kind of move that disengages completely from the natural attitude and focuses, in a reflective way, on everything in the natural attitude, including the underlying world belief. In moving into the phenomenological attitude we get “nudged upstairs” in a way that is unique. To move into the phenomenological attitude is not to become a specialist in one form of knowledge or another, but to become a philosopher. From the phenomenological viewpoint we look at and describe, analytically, all the particular intentionalities and their correlates, and world belief as well, with the world as its correlative.
If we are to give a descriptive analysis of any and all of the intentionalities in the natural attitude, we cannot share in any of them. We must take a distance to, reflect upon, and make thematic any and all of them. This means that while we are in the phenomenological attitude, we suspend all the intentionalities that we are examining. We neutralize them. This change of focus most emphatically does not mean, however, that we begin to doubt these intentionalities and the objects they have; we do not change them from, say, doxic assurance to doubt.
We do not change our intentionalities, we keep them as they are, but we contemplate them. If we contemplate them, we do not exercise them at that moment. However, we would not be able to contemplate them for what they are if we were to change them from one modality to another; if our move into philosophical reflection meant that we changed, say, our conviction into doubt, or our certainty into suspicion, then we could not contemplate conviction or certainty. Changes from one modality to another take place within the natural attitude. They have to be motivated. We have to have reasons to move from conviction to doubt, from certainty to suspicion; without such reasons, the change in our modality would be irrational and arbitrary.
When we move into the phenomenological attitude, we become something like detached observers of the passing scene or like spectators at a game. We become onlookers. We contemplate the involvements we have with the world and with things in it, and we contemplate the world in its human involvement. We are no longer simply participants in the world; we contemplate what it is to be a participant in the world and in manifestations. But the intentionalities that we contemplate — the convictions, doubts, suspicions, certainties, and perceptions that we examine and describe — are still our intentions. We have not lost them; we only contemplate them. They remain exactly as they were, and their objects remain exactly as they were, with the same correlations between intentions and objects still in force.
In a very curious way, we suspend them all just as they are, we “freeze” them in place. And we who become philosophical are also the same selves who exercise natural intentionalities. A kind of enhancement of the self occurs, in which the same self that lived in the natural attitude begins to live explicitly in the phenomenological attitude and begins to carry on the philosophical life.
All human beings, all selves, do this sort of reflective philosophical analysis from time to time, but when most people enter into this kind of life they usually are very confused about what they are doing. They think they are just getting glimpses of some sort of general truths, some sort of laws of nature. They tend to take the move into philosophy as one more adjustment in the natural attitude; they do not see how different it is. The point of our discussion about the phenomenological attitude is to help us to make the shift into philosophy explicitly and clearly, with a fuller appreciation of the difference between the natural and the philosophical attitudes. We make a definite distinction, whereas most people wander unclearly back and forth across the border.
The turn to the phenomenological attitude is called the phenomenological reduction, a term that signifies the “leading away” from the natural targets of our concern, “back” to what seems to be a more restricted viewpoint, one that simply targets the intentionalities themselves. Reduction, with the Latin root re-ducere, is a leading back, a withholding or a withdrawal. When we enter into this new viewpoint, we suspend the intentionalities we now contemplate. This suspension, this neutralization of our doxic modalities, is also called the epochē, a term taken from Greek skepticism, where it signifies the restraint the Skeptics said we should have toward our judgments about things; they said we should refrain from judging until the evidence is clear. Although phenomenology takes this term from Greek skepticism, the skeptical overtone of the term is not kept. The epochē in phenomenology is simply the neutralizing of natural intentions that must occur when we contemplate those intentions.
Finally, to complete this brief treatment of terminology, let us speak of the term bracketing. When we enter into the phenomenological attitude, we suspend our beliefs, and we bracket the world and all the things in the world. We put the world and the things in it “into brackets” or “into parentheses.” When we so bracket the world or some particular object, we do not turn it into a mere appearance, an illusion, a mere idea, or any other sort of merely subjective impression. Rather, we now consider it precisely as it is intended by an intentionality in the natural attitude.
We consider it as correlated with whatever intentionality targets it. If it is a perceived object, we examine it as perceived; if it is a remembered object, we now examine it as remembered; if it is a mathematical entity, we consider it as correlated with a mathematical intention; if it is a merely possible object, or a verified one, we consider it as the object for an intentionality that intends something only possible, or an intentionality that intends something verified. Bracketing retains exactly the modality and the mode of manifestation that the object has for the subject in the natural attitude.
‘l’hus, when we enter into phenomenological reflection, we do not restrict our focus just to the subjective side of consciousness; we do not focus only on the intentionalities. We also focus on the objects that are given to us, but we focus on them as appearing to us in our natural attitude. In the natural attitude we head directly toward the object; we go right through the object’s appearances to the object itself. From the philosophically reflective stance, we make the appearances thematic. We look at what we normally look through. We focus, for example, on the sides, aspects, and profiles through which the cube presents itself as an identity. We focus on the manifold of appearances through which the object is given to us.
When we do so, however, we do not turn the identity of the object into one of the “mere” appearances; quite on the contrary, we are better able to distinguish the object from its appearances, we are better able to preserve the reality of the thing itself. We are also better able to provide an appropriate description of the nature of “the world.” If we were to try to speak about the world from the natural attitude, we would tend to take it as a large entity or as the sum of all entities. Only from the phenomenological perspective can we get the right terminology to speak about the world as the context for the manifestation of things.
To use a somewhat crude spatial metaphor, when we enter into the phenomenological attitude, we crawl out of the natural attitude, rise above it, theorize it, and distinguish and describe both the subjective and the objective correlates that make it up. From our philosophical perch, we describe the various intentionalities and their various objects, as well as the self and the world.
We distinguish between a thing and its appearances, a distinction that has been called by Heidegger the “ontological difference,” the difference between a thing and the presenting (or absenting) of the thing. This distinction can be properly made only from the phenomenological perspective.
If we try to make the distinction between thing and appearance from within the natural standpoint, either we will tend to substantialize appearances, because in that standpoint we tend to take everything we focus on as a substantial thing, or we will tend to reduce the thing just to its appearances, to being the sum of its appearances. We will be likely either to posit appearances as barriers between us and things, or to make things into mere ideas. We will not get the phenomenological attitude right, and we will not properly understand the natural attitude either.