Posts Tagged 'Phenomenology'

Merleau-Ponty on Emerging Class Consciousness

In his existential work, Phenomenology of Perception, Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961), writes about objective conditions of class and their relations with consciousness:

Let us suppose that I have a certain style of living, being at the mercy of booms and slumps, not being free to do as I like, receiving a weekly wage, having no control over either the conditions or the products of my work, and consequently feeling a stranger in my factory, my nation and my life.  I have acquired the habit of reckoning with a fatum, or appointed order, which I do not respect, but which I have to humour…My fellow workers in factory or field, or other farmers, do the same work as I do in comparable conditions; we co-exist in the same situation and fee alike, not in virtue of some comparison, as if each one of us lived primarily within himself, but on the basis of our tasks and gestures.  These situations do not imply any express evaluation, and if there is a tacit evaluation, it represents the thrust of freedom devoid of any project against unknown obstacles; one cannot in any case talk about a choice, for in [these] cases it is enough that I should be born into the world and that I exist in order to experience my life as full of difficulties and constraints–I do not choose so to experience it.  But this state of affairs can persist without my becoming class-conscious, understanding that I am of the proletariat and becoming a revolutionary.  How then am I to make this change?…Social space begins to acquire a magnetic field, and a region of the exploited is seen to appear.  At every pressure felt from any quarter of the social horizon, the process of regrouping becomes clearly discernible beyond ideologies and various occupations.  Class is coming into being, and we say that a situation is revolutionary when the connection objectively existing between the sections of the proletariat…is finally experienced in perception as a common obstacle to the existence of each and every one…Both idealism and objective thinking fail to pin down the coming into being of class consciousness, the former because it deduces actual existence from consciousness, the latter because it derives consciousness from de facto existence, and both because they overlook the relationship of motivation (515-17, 520, bold is mine).


Merleau-Ponty, Maurice.  2002.  Phenomenology of Perception.  Translated by Colin Smith.  New York: Routledge Classics.

Simone de Beauvoir and Phenomenology

Photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Barbara S. Andrew writes about Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) and her phenomenology and views of what it is to be a woman in a male-supremacist society:

For phenomenologists, “the world” usually denotes a combination of the natural world and human relationships.  A key aspect of phenomenology is the interaction between self and world, and The Second Sex may be best understood as a work of phenomenlogy in which Beauvior examines the interaction between the gendered self and the gendered world.  The Second Sex looks at how social ideas of femininity shape women’s experiences of self.  One of the most significant aspects of The Second Sex is its encyclopedic indexing of women’s lived experience: biology, psychology, the experience of living in a female body and developing and living with a feminine mind-set.  Many contemporary women’s first reaction to reading it is that they do not experience themselves in the way Beauvior describes.  But this is to miss the point.  Most of The Second Sex is a phenomenological, descriptive analysis.  Beauvoir is not claiming that there is one way that we who are women experience ourselves, our bodies or our minds.  Instead, she describes, and argues against taking as perspective, literary representations of femininity, biological sciences’ accounts of femininity, psychoanalytic theories about femininity, and so on.  It is easy, initially, to confuse her work as participating in negative stereotypes of femininity, rather than cataloging them and analyzing their effect.  Although Beauvoir’s descriptions of women’s bodies may seem negative, Arp argues that she is describing women’s experience of bodily alienation in understanding their social bodies, that is, the body as known through the experience of a sexist world. (Andrew, 30)


Barbara S. Andrew.  “Beauvior’s place in philosophical thought.”  In The Cambridge Companion to Simone de Beauvoir edited by Claudia Card, 24-44.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Heidegger’s Being-unto-Death


Heidegger, writing human kind’s relation toward death and our future possibilities, states:

In anticipation of this possibility it becomes ‘greater and greater’; that is to say, the possibility reveals itself to be such that it knows no measure at all, no more no less, but signifies the possibility of the measureless impossibility of existence.  In accordance with its essence, this possibility offers no support for becoming intent on something, ‘picturing’ to oneself the actuality which is possible, and so forgetting its possibility.  Being-towards-death, an anticipation of possibility, is what first makes this possibility possible, and sets free as possibility. (Heidegger, 307.  Sein und Zeit, 262)


Heidegger, Martin.  Being and Time.  Trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson.  London: SCM Press Ltd., 1962)

Heidegger’s Being and Time and Phenomenology

Heidegger, Martin

Paul Gorner writes:

[A] question…could be asked about all claims that Heidegger makes in Being and Time.  Ontological claims are to be established not by argument but phenomenologically.  So ultimately it is a matter of seeing that things…are so.  In the philosophical sense phenomenology is the letting be seen of being-which primarily and for the most part does not show itself but must be made to show itself.  The only kind of verification of which ontological claims are capable is phenomenological.  This must be borne in mind throughout one’s reading of Being and Time.  It is not just a matter of reading these words and understanding them.  The words are intended to let die Sache [things] be seen.  In reading the words we have ourselves to engage in phenomenological seeing.  (Gorner, 67)


Gorner, Paul.  Heidegger’s Being and Time: An Introduction.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Heidegger’s Earth/World Rift Through Art

Van Gough's 'A Pair of Shoes', 1887.  Heidegger used this painting to describe artwork and truth.

Van Gough's 'A Pair of Shoes', 1887. Heidegger used this painting to describe artwork and truth.

Heidegger, being greatly influenced by the pre-Socratics, talked about two realms of being (kinda like how Sartre talked about two realms of being: being-for-itself and being-in-itself).  Earth and World.  The World is the realm of all human relations, activity, consciousness, action, culture, etc.  The Earth is the realm of nature, animals, rock, oceans, etc.

Earth extends beyond human historical time…and is not mastered by human decisions and choices.  (Collins and Selina, 129)

These two realms are related in taking two opposing sides of αληθεια (truth) and artwork is that which creates a rift (Riss in German) through the partially unconcealed Earth and the partial concealed World.

Truth comes, in a way, from nothing.  (Inwood, 122)

All art, then, is essentially Dichtung…mean[ing] something like ‘invention’ or ‘projection’…All great art involves a ‘change…of the unconcealment of beings’ (Heidegger, 72); it illuminates the ordinary, it rips us for a time out of the ordinary into another world, or it changes our whole view of the world. (Inwood, 123)

All art is dichterisch, inventive or projective…the essence of Dichtung, Heidegger continues, is the founding of truth.  ‘Founding’, Stiftung, has three senses, and art involves founding in all three senses.  First, ‘bestowing’…truth cannot derive from what went before.  It comes as a gift…

Second, founding is ‘grounding’…It comes from nothing, but is addressed to a people…

Thirdly, founding is ‘beginning’…A genuine beginning is not simple or primitive; it contains the end latent within itself; it is a leap forward (Vorsprung), that leaps over everything to come…The history of art is not a steady cumulative process, but is punctuated by massive explosions of creative energy that leave future generations to do what they can with the pieces. (124-5)


Collins, Jeff and Howard Selina.  Introducing Heidegger.  Lanham, Maryland: Totem Books, 2006.

Heidegger, Martin.  “The Origin of the Work of Art,” in Poetry, Language, Thought.  Translated by A. Hofstadter.  New York: Woodpaths, 1975.  Quoted in Inwood, Heidegger, 2000.

Inwood, Michael.  Heidegger: A Very Short Introduction.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Dasein and Possibilities


Phenomenlogist Martin Heidegger (1889-1976 CE) explains that:

Dasein does not simply understand its environment as one might understand an alient text or culture from which one is entirely disengaged.  It understands it as presenting to it a range of possibilities.  If it did not understand it in this way it could not understand its environment as ‘significant’…’as long as it is, Dasein always has understood itself and always will understand itself in terms of possibilities’ (Being and Time, 145)…Dasein is ‘constantly more than it factually is’ (BT, 145), always (unless it is asleep) poised between alternative possible ways of continuing.  Man is not a passive creature, roused to activity only by external stimuli; he is constantly up to something. (Inwood, 45)


Heidegger, Martin.  Being and Time.  Translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962.  Quoted by Inwood in Heidegger.

Inwood, Michael.  Heidegger: A Very Short Introduction.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.


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