Husserl's vs. Heidegger's Phenomenology

06 Nov 2021

Edmund Husserl and his student Martin Heidgger were German philosophers who were active in the 20th century. Husserl is the founder of phenomenology; a method which studies Intentionality: The way the human mind is directed towards objects. Phenomenology's catchphrase “Back to the things themselves” was a reaction to how philosophy had become mainly concerned with theoretical knowledge at the end of the 19th century.

Edmund Husserl used phenomenology for epistemology: the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion. He wanted to make philosophy a rigorous science like mathematics and physics. To make philosophy a rigorous science, Husserl participated in bracketing: putting out of play things that would distract you from focusing on “The things themselves”. For example, bracketing could be listing the qualities of a human being that we can dispense while still being able to call something a human being. Edmund Husserl believed that bracketing is necessary when first-person experiences are analyzed phenomenologically.

Heideger, on the other hand, used phenomenology to study ontology: the science of being. To study ontology, Husserl’s bracketing doesn’t go far enough. Unlike Husserl, Heidegger believed that bracketing is impossible because any type of study can’t be presuppositionless. This does not entail throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Bracketing is useful to begin to access the question of being because there are so many prejudices that prevent us from properly doing ontology. To study being, Heidger started with studying the only being which is capable of asking questions about being; human beings. He used the phenomenological method to study the everyday human experiences that come before theory. Everyday experiences like going to the store, playing video games, cooking, watching Netflix (e.t.c) are how we understand being. We mostly don’t lock ourselves in a room to read philosophical and scientific texts while deeply contemplating what it means for something to be. Since ontology is more fundamental than epistemology, Heidegger surpassed his teacher because his questioning of being showed that theoretical knowledge is not the baseline for how we understand the world. Being something is more fundamental than learning theories and methods on how to be that thing.

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