Existential phenomenology and emotion
- Looking back at the psychodynamic approach, it introduced the importance of reactions to the unique
symbolic meaning (i.e. content or subject matter) of situations for individuals or members of group
- Emotions experienced in particular situation reminds us of earlier life experiences (e.g. represent tip of the
o How do I as an individual carry tension with me from life situations from when I was younger? Being
open with ourselves about these issues so you put the tension out on the table and you can start coping.
- However, when the emotional reaction is too powerful, it will be repressed by the ego and, as a
consequence, the person might not quite know what is causing their bad feelings. The goal of therapy is to
help the person gain access to both the feelings and their historic cause. This is usually accompanied by a
catharsis, the release of emotion that was pent up in the unconscious.
- We contrast phenomenology with the positivist outlook on the world.
- Positivist outlook
o What is real can be measured, calculated or controlled. Consider the paradox that in its quest for the
physical entity that exists separate and completely independent of our conception of it, physical science
has been led to a submicroscopic entity that is so dependent on our conception of it that existence can
only be indirectly inferred & we encounter limits in our attempt to measure it.
o So what is known is relative to the knower, the knower’s own meanings and measurement tools - Kant
Kantian revolution: we see the world in terms of categories
o So knowing is a human activity of identifying, relating, measuring and interpreting data that are
selected and defined by the knower according to the criterion that he or she selects.
o We never know from scratch. “Objective” knowledge is situated in prior understanding.
All our science is based on measures we take for granted
Objectivity vs. subjectivity (old slides from midterm)
o Defined as “science of experience”. Opposite of what we take for granted
Has to do with how you interpret the world
o Phenomenology looks at the effect of prior understanding on human experience, including knowing.
o Phenomena are not univocal but “appear” in a multiplicity of ways.
There’s no uniform way of seeing situations; it’s the experience of things, study of experience
before you think about it
Experiments are based on idea that subjects respond universally to something but they don’t
o Edmund Husserl argued that phenomenology begins with the direct description of experience.
- Examining situation in relation to emotion
o For example: fear is:
Physiological change & cognitive appraisal & avoidance behaviour BUT first it’s fear
It remains fear during and after scientific inquiry; it’s essential being is being fear
Phenomenologists recognize that there’s a lot of things going on in an emotional experience
- Why has science overlooked this experiential ontology (science of being)?
o By limiting fear to one aspect of its being, the physiologist discovers more about fear. The new
discovery might be mistaken as the “essence” of fear.
o For Husserl, we have an “intentional” relation to our environment which makes it intelligible. We
don’t experience the environment as an unrelated series of meaningless data to be subsequently made
intelligible and related to one another.
In the English approach (cognitive psych), we have various stimuli (raw sensory data) that come to
us and we make an inference about what happened.
But Husserl says: we construct our worlds and we give meaning to it, we don’t experience it as
meaningless data that will be figured out late. They experience wholes, not disconnected data. We 2
can be in situations we don’t know what to do in different cultures. This is to say, we see things as
a whole (culture) not simply individual stimuli because we experience different things differently!
o As Gestalt psychology has argued independently, we experience formal wholes, not disconnected data.
o We have an understanding when we have a sense for the essence of a thing or event.
o In phenomenology, meanings are not introspected but are intuited. Introspection means to “look within”
and is modelled on observation...and detachment.
o You understand directly and immediately. You see a person “as angry”.
o Intuiting permits us to experience things as intelligible whole and not just as data.
o Each of these “wholes” is identified and understood against a spatio-temporal “horizon” or “field”.
- To understand is to situate
o The human environment is always first of all “a situation” - an organized hierarchy of wholes.
For Husserl, we experience phenomena as a whole because the act of experiencing is holistic.
o Don’t confuse the part or mechanism of experience with the experience itself.
o Phenomenology maintains that sensing and judging occur simultaneously.
e.g. going into an interview, what is your role what is interviewer’s role
Scientism: looks like science but doesn’t really have real meaning. DO NOT DO SCIENTISM
Apprehension: suggestion meets connection.
o What is experienced is as much mental as it is sensory and is always a single experience and not a
sensory datum of external origin followed by an introspective experience of the internal process of
synthesizing and identifying data.
We find meaning and it’s enriched over time but we’re always trying to figure it out
o The object as experienced is always a meaning-being or a phenomenon.
o The object is always an immediate fusion of the “real” and the “ideal”.
- Phenomenologists agree with Dewey’s comment about R-S-R (response, stimulus, response)
o Stimulus and response must always be situated in a context… the “act” is the actual molar unit of
o The emotional stimulus is a stimulus only because it is immediately perceived as a meaning by and for
a being who is acting to reach a goal in an environment.
o * The agent is always acting-in-the-world.
Linking action and meaning (acting in meaningful way), it is not an isolated response
Existential movement in psychology
- Existence - Latin root - “ex-sistere”… to stand out, to emerge.
- We portray a human being not as a collection of static substances or mechanisms or patterns, but rather as
emerging and becoming… as existing.
o We define ourselves by what we do
- Existentialism is concerned with ontology (science of being)
- Existentialists are concerned with rediscovering the living person amid the compartmentalization and
dehumanization of modern culture.
o Compartmentalization: you’re in multiple roles; isolating self in different compartments
- According to Eric Fromm, during profound convulsions of a transitional period, individuals in society get
caught up in spiritual and emotional upheaval… they tend to sink into dogmatism and conformism, giving
o In upheaval or major change, you are needy of sense of self of purpose and structure, therefore can be
taken over by authoritarian leaders. 3
o Authoritarian personality: step on the weak but worship the powerful
- The only way to overcome this is to strive for heightened self consciousness by which to become aware of
their existence with new conviction and on a new basis.
o So we should become highly aware of the situation and slow down and not make rash decisions or
have people tell you what to do. To not be trapped, acknowledge what situations youre in instead of
- Thrownness concept and Pascal in his Pensées...So, existentialism arises directly out of Western man’s
anxiety, estrangement, and conflicts indigenous to our culture.
o Existential view emerge in 1800s when they had more and more notion of “choice”
o But we can’t have a “self” in feudal times where they tell you who and what you are
- Kierkegaard wrote, before Freud, about the depression and anxiety that r