IX: Feest on Husserl and First-Person Methods

Continuing with readings from keynote speakers at our upcoming conference, next up are two short papers from Uljana Feest.

“Husserl’s Crisis as a Crisis of Psychology” (2012) Studies in History and Philosophy of Biology and Biomedical Sciences 43: 493–503.

“Phenomenal Experiences, First-Person Methods, and the Artificiality of Experimental Data” (2014) Philosophy of Science 81: 927–939.

The first addresses Husserl’s (1936) The Crisis of European Science and Transcendental Phenomenology as it relates to experimental psychology in particular, with a focus on Husserl’s relationship to Brentano.  It also develops one of the themes of the last few readings, the role of naturalism in psychology and philosophy.

The second analyzes the role of first-personal methods in psychology with a special focus on the debate between the gestalt psychologists and the Wundt school of psychological atomism (which Köhler and others referred to as “introspectionist”).  It tackles the vexing question of whether methods for studying phenomenal experience are inherently “phenomenological,” and if not, what the contrast between phenomenological and non-phenomenological methods might be.

As always, if you have trouble accessing the readings, please contact the moderators.

1 thought on “IX: Feest on Husserl and First-Person Methods

  1. I found these papers really helpful for thinking through what’s at issue between the Gestalt Theorists and Atomists, and how this debate ties into Phenomenological (with a capital P) issues. Some disjointed thoughts:

    – I’d like to learn more about the alleged Wundtian demonstrations of atomic experiences. Isn’t it game over for Gestalt Psychology (at least as it’s appropriated by Merleau-Ponty – viz, as a source of evidence that *all* experience has structure of the kind the GP is concerned to analyse and describe) if ‘atomic’ experiences can be elicited under *any* circumstances?

    – The point about the artificiality of *both* gestaltist and atomist first-person data is well-taken. But it still seems to me that the gestaltists are on firmer ground even before we start thinking about epistemic virtues of scientific theories in general terms. What’s at issue between the gestaltists and the atomists, on this reconstruction of the debate, is which set of artificially constructed first-person reports has a more ‘illuminating’ relation to lived experience. On the one hand, atomists acknowledge that we don’t experience phenomenal atoms (instead, they aim to motivate a theoretical framework in which what we *do* experience is built out of them). On the other, gestaltists point us towards contexts which make evident structural principles that, they claim, are manifestly present in lived experience – and it seems that we can check this for ourselves, and be convinced, and nod along. So doesn’t the gestaltist already have the upper hand here?

    – Attempting to say something about the connection between the two papers: Even if it’s granted that the gestaltist has the upper hand, this doesn’t get rid of the need for providing a general framework for understanding perception (and perhaps more besides) which accommodates the first-person data – and the gestaltist and atomist candidates for these frameworks look very different. We might wonder just what epistemic virtues should carry the day when deciding between these. Husserl’s intriguing suggestion that the crisis of psychology is a crisis for a modern European self-conception of humans as autonomous rational agents might suggest an answer. As appropriated by Merleau-Ponty (apologies again for mainly being interested in stuff as appropriated by Merleau-Ponty!), the crisis of psychology that Husserl diagnoses should be responded to by a gestalt-psychology-influenced Phenomenology of Perception. In PoP I think MP displays sensitivity to the considerations in the ‘first-person methods’ paper – there’s no critical experiment that could disprove atomism, nor a master-argument that could refute its corollary conception of perception. But if we want a psychology that can contribute to the project of making sense of ourselves – that can be continuous with, and contribute towards, a fully articulated self-conception – then I think we get arguments from Husserl and M-P that the gestaltists can help with this, whereas the atomists can’t.

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