Re: Approaching "Empathy" and bracketing

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Jul 26, 2010, 2:12:55 AM7/26/10
I think there is a fundamental mistake that is often made about "reductions."  Husserl's point is that since it is impossible in principle to test empirically either the hypothesis "appearances are revelatiions of an existing transcendent world" or "appearances are not revelations of an existing transcendent world," we must avoid the entire issues.  Everything that cannot be verified experientially must be put out of bounds, i.e. bracketed.  Therefore, Husserl bids us to pay attention to the "world" that each of us synthesizes out of our experiences, and to discover the essential principles that are responsible for the world's intelligibility (his definition of being=rationality, intelligibility).  It does not mean that we do not think, nor does it mean that we do not develop systematic understandings of the "world's" organization.  He thought he had developed a method that specialists in every domain of experienced fact could employ in order to understand the principles of order of that specific domain, physics, history, ethics, etc, etc. 
It's true that Husserl was not interested in knowledge of the individual person or thing, since as a good Platonist he was only interested in how the system of pure essences structures the world and makes it knowable.  So you and I and every other person is not of interest.
BUT, the situation is not the same when we, who are doing practical things to alleviate suffering.  We do not have to take an agnostic position about the existence of the world that partly transcends our grasp of it.  The analogy with Husserl's bracketing is the issue of truth.  As Gestalt therapists we put aside (as a primary concern) the issues of whether or not the client is reporting what happened exactly as it did happen.  In other we bracket, for therapeutic purposes, issues or truth or falsehood with respect to the client's story.  The important consideration is how the client's belief in the story he is telling works in how he lives, and how that opens up points of intervention and possible change. 
What you said about how you relate to clients is fully compatible with Gestalt therapy's transformation of Husserl's method.
In a message dated 7/25/2010 3:16:40 A.M. Mountain Daylight Time, writes:
Dear Haydn,
Perhaps you can help me with this.  Let me come at it again.  The phen. method–the reduction.  I understand it to be a shift in which the thinker assumes a different attitude, for one, and (as if) puts his or her mind "out of joint," disengages directly with his or her world in order to focus and to perform a critical observation–to think about it.  This, then, no longer is a normal flow of process–no longer a natural attitude.  If I'm with a client, I am thinking about them as opposed to relating to them (because all the activities of the mind, including perceiving, can be seen as cognitive and therefore "thinking").  People have called this out of joint observing a phenomenological attitude. Do I make sense?  

My problem is that my approach in psychotherapy would have me being in a real-world, engaged with it, making contact, and working relationally with the client.  Am I attempting to bridge between the natural attitude and the phenomenological reduction?  Well, I don't know.  As therapists we are not philosophizing when we do therapy.  So, the rub has always been, "How do I adapt a philosophical method to a clinical process?"  So, yes, I guess you are correct.  I believe we remain in the natural attitude and then conduct a "kind" of phen. reduction (in that we observe the client, bracket our theories and personal "noise," also called transference, and then describe to the client what we observe).


On Jul 24, 2010, at 9:29 AM, John Gurmin wrote:

Dear Phil,

Interesting question. As you probably know the later Stein studied Aristotle and Aquinas and thus was confronted directly with realist philosophers. One of her final works 'Finite and Eternal Being' tries to bring insights brought from phenomenology and Aristotelian-Scholastic thinking together and it seems you are aiming to bring together the phenomenological reduction and the natural attitude - or at least find the bridge between the two.

There is an interesting work of Stein's where she compares Husserl's thinking to Aquinas', which can be found in 'Knowledge and Faith' trans. Walter Redmond, (ICS, 2000) written in 1929 for Husserl's 70th birthday. In this work Stein compares her learning of Aquinas with Husserl, it's from pp.1-63 and is in two columns, one with Husserl's view, the other with Thomas and how their philosophical positions might 'fit' or not 'fit'.

Stein says that 'phenomenology could not succeed on [the] course [that Husserl wished to take it] - and this was the constant objection that his own students raised against its Founder - in winning back from the realm of immanence 'that' objectivity from which he had after all set out and insuring which was the point: a truth and reality free from any relatedness to the subject'  (Knowledge and Faith, p. 32, column b).   This was the position of the Goettigen school of which Stein was a follower and which did not follow Husserl towards Transcendental Idealism.

So the early phenomenological realists would still hold that the object or other subject existed in reality and that phenomenology was an aid to scientifically analyzing that reality. Husserl saw phenomenology as a 'rigorous science' which was to be devoid of presuppositions and which aimed to ground the other sciences. So, when the client comes into the office and you chat with them I presume this would be in the natural attitude, but then as you go into therapy, then the reduction might be of benefit, when you realize that the client is effecting you by causing 'sadness' within, here empathy as Stein defines it is occurring. If the client cries and you forget your 'I', then perhaps this is sympathy or contagion rather than empathy. Stein considers contagion in 'On Empathy'.

But perhaps the hermeneutical developments in phenomenology which come later offer the therapist more flexibility in their use of phenomenology. But I think that it is good to keep these in mind while reading the texts of Stein, to see how the two disciplines can relate, perhaps by reading her descriptive analysis of psychological states of her own and others some deeper correlations can be found between the two disciplines.

For me it is the epistemological aspects of phenomenology which are of primary interest, the way it as a method aims to ground all other forms of knowing without presuppositions (if that is possible), and the way that Stein is aiming to use the method to define acts of empathy, memory, perception, and the disciplines of psychology and its subject matter.


On 23 Jul 2010, at 02:00, Philip Brownell wrote:

Dear Haydn,
On Jul 22, 2010, at 7:35 PM, Haydn wrote:

So it is as if the observer was lifting the hammer by merely watching
the other person lift the hammer (the action is mirrored), but the
action is specific to each individual's mind. Scientists analysing
this information tend to do so from outside the reduction, but surely
when they think about 'empathy' and what empathy 'is', the best way to
do that is to use the method of phenomenology - to get to its
(empathy's) essence, to describe it in such a way, that it cannot be
but that which it is described to be by definition?

I think a person operates within his or her world.  Would Edith's horizon find room for naturalism?  For a phenomenal process within the natural attitude? Or would she have rather automatically gone to finding answers within the reduction? If some people think she was beginning to leave it (toward the end of On Empathy, as you say), then perhaps she was.

I know that my interest in phenomenology comes from the need to account for human experience and the way people think, feel, and behave.  When I am with a client, I am most assuredly locked down to the lived body and the life world of things as given.  I am curious if you can see a reduction in what a therapist might do, one who accepts the client as he or she is, as presented.


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