Re: Approaching "Empathy" and Husserl's reductions

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Jul 26, 2010, 2:51:34 AM7/26/10
Hi H (I'm not certain I know your first name),
I think the essential point about the reduction is that, given Husserl's insistence on beginning with experience and constantly checking our thoughts against further experience, only thoughts and assumptions that can be empirically grounded are to be taken into consideration.  The primary point he is making is that people make all kinds of speculative points that they regard as absolute, even though they may only products of the mind.  The main idea he discusses in this regard is the (transcendent) existence of the world that is the source of the appearances we are aware of.  There is no way, even in principle, to test this idea empirically, and so we have no warrant to entertain it.  However, we can build up a body of principles as they are revealed in experience.  The method is one of purifying the imperfect versions of these pure essences, so that every inquiry becomes grounded in experience.  The mind constructs complex concepts as it synthesizes what appears in experience and is tested against further experience.  So Husserl moves far, far beyond mere description.  Our understanding of the intelligibility/orderliness of experience expands as we discover how revealed essences lead us, as we explore the intentions of a given essence, to see its connections with other essences.  This is essentially the same method as contemporary empirical science uses.
In a message dated 7/25/2010 7:59:54 A.M. Mountain Daylight Time, writes:
Dear Phil,

There is a section in Dermot Moran's 'Introduction to Phenomenology',  that might be of interest. It is a passage where Moran describes Husserl's understanding of the reduction (s) (reducere - to lead back from the Latin) in the early stages of his writings. 

'Husserl's so called discovery of the reduction took place in the summer of 1905, but, in subsequent years, Husserl wrote many programmatic accounts concerning its nature and purpose. Husserl had a number of different theoretical reasons for introducing the notion of reduction. First it allowed him to detach from all forms of conventional opinion, including our commonsense psychology, our accrued scientific consensus on issues, and all philosophical and metaphysical theorising regarding the nature of the intentional. We must put aside our beliefs about our beliefs, as it were. Secondly, it allowed him to return to and isolate the central structures of subjectivity. By putting aside psychological, cultural, religious, and scientific assumptions, and by getting behind or to one side of the meaning-positing or thetic acts normally dominant in conscious acts, new features of those acts come to the fore. Most of all, the reduction is meant to prevent what we have won by insight being transformed or deformed into an experience of another kind, a change from one kind to another, a 'metabasis in allo geno' (Ideas I, sec 61). There is an almost inevitable tendency to 'psychologise the eidetic'. Husserl thought there would be no need for the reduction were there a smooth transition from the factual to the eidetic, as there is in geometry, when the geometer moves from contemplating a factual shape to its idealisation (Ideas I, sec 61, p. 139). In other areas, however, especially in grasping consciousness, the move to the eidetic is difficult to achieve -- hence the need for the vigilance of the epoché. 

In his earliest public discussion of reduction, the 1907 lectures series delivered in Goettingen, entitled 'The Idea of Phenomenology', Husserl introduces  a 'phenomenological reduction (IP, p. 4) to exclude everything posited as transcendentally existing, but he goes on to speak of an 'epistemological reduction' as necessary in order to focus on the pure phenomena of conscious acts as cogitationes, and to avoid misleading assumptions about the nature and existence of the sum cogitans (IP, p. 33). Husserl has in mind the specific bracketing of a psychological interpretation of what is given in the acts of knowing.' (Dermot Moran, Introduction to Phenomenology, pp. 146-147). Moran goes on to consider the later developments of Husserl in 'Ideas I' and the 'Cartesian Meditations'. 

Husserl seems to be making sure that the descriptive analysis of consciousness is 'watertight' and the reduction helps us to achieve that - all our consensus on things are left aside to focus on consciousness itself devoid of any interruption. That is, Husserl realised that consciousness was 'constantly saturated with world-positing tendencies which mask its true nature [and] in order to access the realm of pure consciousness and to study the essential formations found there, [required] 'suspension' of our natural attitude towards the world' (Moran, pp. 136-137). 

I realize that you wish to be in the natural attitude with the client. I think that it is possible to be in the natural attitude as long as you like, as to take the phenomenological method (as outlined above) would require you to undertake the reduction at a particular moment in time, so you can decide to take the reduction at a particular moment, in order to be directly dealing with consciousness devoid of the distractions that Husserl was worried about.

But, again, it is an interesting question about how the two methods come together. Sylvia has a much greater advantage dealing with this question than I - given that Sylvia is both a philosopher and a therapist and I can see the discussions that are arising between yourselves as therapist-phenomenologists are becoming deeper on this particular 'problem' and are very interesting for me to read and learn from.  

I think for Stein, empathy would allow the experience of the client to be present to you from within the reduction ... so it seems Stein brings you closer to the client in that regard. I wonder is that much different from the experience of the client in the natural attitude? We usually experience people (on the sentient, mental level etc),  the phenomenological reduction would just differ in that it takes a 'scientific' approach to that experience, even if it brackets the existence of the client etc?  

On 25 Jul 2010, at 11:14, Philip Brownell wrote:

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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