- May 3, 2013
A series of lectures (6 times) on phenomenology were given by Professor Florence Caeymaex over the 2 weeks from 8-19 April. The central theme of the lectures was "finitude", and their main content was an explanation of the establishing of phenomenology beginning with Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) and how the thought of Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961) is linked to it. Rather than developing one argument along a theme, the lectures provided an overall explanation of phenomenology.
During the first and second lectures, Words and Things (Les mots et les choses) by Michel Foucault (1926-1984) and Phenomenology of Perception (Phénoménologie de la perception) by Merleau-Ponty were raised in order to explain historical and ideological changes surrounding the notion of finitude. In Words and Things Foucault attempted to shed light on the historical formation of the notion of "humans", but according to him the understanding of humans as a finite existence was formed after the modern age (in particular Kant). Humans in the modern age began to acknowledge themselves as an historical product in the same way as other living beings, and the theme of human finitude emerged. Modern age philosophy is also built upon the understanding of finitude, and Foucault raises phenomenology as representive of this.
Third and fourth lectures centred on Heidegger's Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics (Kant et le problème de la métaphysique) and explained how Heidegger understood human finitude as the central proposition in Kant philosophy, and how Heidegger's own philosophy was built upon the basis of finitude.
Fifth and sixth lectures handled French phenomenology (chiefly Sartre), and we learned in what ways this differs from the thinking of Husserl. Husserl tried to suspend judgement (épochè) made through the perception of our natural standpoint, "bracketing (mettre en parenthèse)" everything perceived - indeed the existence of the world itself - and to follow an understanding of things as they are. This process is called phenomenological reduction (réduction phénoménologique), and through it, Husserl discovered two characteristics of essence had by experiences of perception. One is "transcendental subjectivity (subjectivité transcendantale)", which is the act of absolute consciousness, and the other is the "intentionality (intentionnalité)" of consciousness, which is the fact that consciousness is always a consciousness of something. For Husserl, transcendental subjectivity is the primary evidence that provides the basis for experience, but this subjectivity indicates only ones own experience, and fails to necessitate proof of the existence of others, or the world. Consciousness, however, always brings with it intentionality. In the thought of Husserl, then, conscious experience is always defined as unfolding towards the world, and as an open journey.
French phenomenologists such as Sartre and Merleau-Ponty succeed Husserl in phenomenology in part. Their interest lies mainly in the intentionality of consciousness, while they were doubtful towards transcendental subjectivity. Also, Husserl's phenomenology intended to build the basis for scholarship, yet this intention is nowhere to be seen in Sartre or Merleau-Ponty. In French phenomenology, consciousness is passive and finite, and absolute character of the kind found in Husserl is abolished.
From this point lectures focused on Sartre, and demonstrated that his thought was structured with its base in the finitude of humans. Sartre criticized phenomenological reduction, and declared that natural standpoint could not be bracketed, because subjectivity discovered within the phenomenological standpoint is forever the intended object, meaning that Husserl's transcendental subjectivity cannot be formed. Sartre's idea is that the act of consciousness does not presume subjectivity such as self or cogito, and that the existence of consciousness is chance. Sartre, in Being and Nothingness (L'Etre et le néant), declares the essence of consciousness is its lack of substance, and also its power of nullification (néantisation) that is in constant denial of identifying self (identité à soi). On one hand, consciousness is consciousness about something, usually intending upon something in this world. In other words, that means the search for something that does not justify itself. On the other hand, however, assigned to consciousness in such a case are numerous situations that one could not possibly have chosen, so that the essence of consciousness lies in escaping from those accidental situations. The assigned situations are accepted as they are, and the only way to differentiate consciousness from merely existing things is by the fact that consciousness denies existence. Sartre calls these features of consciousness freedom, but this freedom is an ontological condition, and as the being of consciousness (humans) cannot escape from the fact of freedom, then freedom must put limitations upon the being of consciousness. In this way, Sartre proposes the being of consciousness (humans) as existence torn between conflicting elements.