Critical Excursus. Phenomenology and the Difficulties of "Self-Observation"
It is clear from what we have just said that phenomenology is not affected by the methodological scepticism which in empirical psychology has led so often in parallel case to the denial or improper restriction of the value of inner experience. Recently H. J. Watt has none the less believed that he could maintain this skepticism as against phenomenology, though he has quite failed to grasp the distinctive meaning of pure phenomenology to which the *Logical Studies* have sought to provide an introduction, and has not seen how the pure phenomenological differs from the empirico-psychological situation. Related as the difficulties on both sides may be, it remains a real difference whether there is raised the question concerning the range and the intrinsic value for knowledge of the *existential* states through which the data of our inner (human) experience are brought to expression―the question advanced by psychological method; or, on the other side, the question proper to a phenomenological method, concerning the intrinsic possibility and range of *essential* states, which, on the ground of pure reflexion, should concern experiences as such, considered from the standpoint of their own essence as liberated from all natural apperception. Yet between the two there subsist inner relationships, congruences, indeed, in no small measure, which justify our paying attention to Watt's objections, in particular to remarkable statements such as the following:
"It is scarcely possible even to form opinions concerning the way in which one comes to a knowledge of immediate experience. For it is neither knowledge nor the object of knowledge, but something different. One cannot see how a record concerning the experience of experience, even if it has been taken, could be put on paper." "But this is always the final question of the fundamental problem of self-observation." "It is now customary to refer to this absolute description as phenomenology."
Resuming T. Lipps's expositions, Watt says further: "In contrast to the *known* reality of the objects of self-observation we have the reality of the present Ego and the present conscious experiences. This reality is experienced (merely lived, that is, not "known," not reflectively apprehended). It is therefore absolute reality." "Very different opinions may be held," he now adds as his own comment, "as to what one is to do with this absolute reality...Moreover, it is only a question here of results of self-observation. If now this observation which is always retrospective is always a knowledge about experiences we have just *had* as objects, how should we set up mental states of which we can know nothing, of which we are only aware? The importance of the whole discussion turns, in fact, round this point, the origin, namely, of the notion of an immediate experience which is not knowledge. It must be possible to observe. Everyone in the last resort experiences, only he doesn't *know* this. Even if he knew it, how could he know that his experience is really as absolute as he thinks it to be? Out of whose head should Phenomenology spring up into life ready-fashioned? Is a phenomenology possible, and, if so, in what sense? All these questions press for an answer. Perhaps a discussion of the question of self-observation undertaken by experimental psychology will shed new light on the topic. For the problem of phenomenology is one which necessarily arises for experimental psychology also. Perhaps the latter's solution will be more cautious since it lacks the supporting zeal of the discoverer of phenomenology. In any case it has a natural and spontaneous bias towards inductive method."
In view of the pious belief in the omnipotence of inductive method which breathes from the lines just quoted (a belief Watt should hardly be cherishing when he is meditating upon the conditions of the possibility of this method), it is truly surprising to hear him confess "that a functional analytic psychology will never be able to explain the fact of knowledge."
In opposition to these assertions, so characteristic of the psychology of the present day, and just so far as they are psychologically intended, we should in the first place have to justify the separation above referred to between the psychological and the phenomenological questions, and in this connexion to stress the point that a phenomenological doctrine of the essence is as little called on to take an interest in the method which might enable the phenomenologist to certify the *existence* of those experiences which serve as a basis for his phenomenological findings, as the geometer is expected to be interested in determining on methodical lines how the existence of the figures on the board or the models in the cupboard is to be rendered convincing. Geometry and phenomenology, as sciences of the pure essence, know nothing positive concerning real existence. It hangs together with this, that clear fictions do not only serve these sciences for a foundation as well as do data of actual perception and experience, but to a certain extent even better.
Now if phenomenology also has no existential judgments to make concerning experiences (*Erlebnisse*), thus no "experimentings" (*Erfahrungen*) and "observings" in the natural sense in which a science of facts must find support in such acts, it makes none the less, as a fundamental condition of its possibility, positive affirmations concerning unreflective experiences. These it owes to reflexion, or more accurately, to reflective intuition of the essence. Consequently the skeptical doubts concerning self-observation, in so far as these doubts spread in a way easy to understand, from reflexion as immanent to every reflexion generally, come under the ken of phenomenology also.
And, indeed, what could we make of phenomenology if we "cannot see how a record concerning the experiencing of experience, even if it has been taken, could be put on paper?" What could we make of it if it had to make statements concerning the essence of known reflective experiences but not concerning the essence of experiences as such? What could be done if it were "scarcely possible even to hold opinions concerning the way in which one comes to a knowledge of immediate experiences," or to a knowledge of one's essence? It may be that the phenomenologist has no existential judgments to pass on the experiences which come before him as the examples on which his ideal formations depend. Yes, one might object, but he sees in these ideal formations only ideas of that which at the moment he has before him as an illustration. As his glance turns towards the experience, it first becomes that which now offers itself to his gaze; as he looks away, it becomes something else. The essence apprehended is essence only of the reflective experience, and the supposition that through reflexion one can win absolutely valid knowledge which is valid for experiences generally, reflective or unreflective, is wholly ungrounded. "How can we set up mental states," though it be only as essential possibilities, "of which we can know nothing?"
Clearly this concerns every kind of reflexion, although in phenomenology each separate kind claims to be a source of absolute knowledge. In fancy a thing, it may even be a centaur, hovers before my eyes. I believe myself to know that it manifests itself under certain "modes of appearance," and in certain "sensory variations of the perspective kind," apprehensions and the like. I believe myself to have the *essential* insight that an object of this kind *can* be viewed only under modes of appearance of this particular kind, only through these functions of perspective manifestations, and whatever else may play a part here. But as I keep my centaur in view, I have not in view its modes of appearance, its perspective data, its apprehended meanings; and when I comprehend its essence, I do not comprehend these and their essence. For this there is needed a certain turn of reflective insight, and this renders fluid the whole experience with modifying effect; thus in the new ideal formation I have something new before my eyes, and should not maintain that I have reached essential components of the unreflective experience. I should not maintain that it belongs to the essence of a thing as such to exhibit itself in the form of "appearances," manifesting itself in the indicated way in perspective and through sensory data, which on their side must submit to apprehension, and so forth.
The difficulty obviously bears on the analyses of consciousness also in respect of the "meaning" of the intentional experiences, of all that which belongs to the supposed, to the object intentionally referred to, as such, to the meaning of a statement, and the like. For these also are analyses conducted with a scheme of specially directed reflexions. Watt himself goes even so far as to say: "Psychology must reach a clear understanding that with self-observation the objective relation of the experiences to be described is changed. This change has perhaps a greater significance than one is inclined to believe." If Watt is right, we should be maintaining too much when, in self-observation, we set it down that we had just been attending here to his book and were continuing to do so. That held good no doubt prior to reflexion. Reflexion, however, changed the attentive "experience to be described," and indeed (according to Watt) in respect of the objective relation.
Every genuine scepticism, whatever its type and orientation may be, can be recognized by this fundamental absurdity, that in the arguments it uses it presupposes implicitly, as the conditions of the possibility of its validity, precisely that which it denies in its own theses. It is easy to recognize the presence of this feature in the arguments we are considering. He who merely says, I doubt the significance of reflexion for knowledge, maintains an absurdity. For as he asserts he doubts, he reflects, and to set this assertion forth as valid presupposes that reflexion *has* really and without a doubt (for the case in hand) the very cognitive value upon which doubt has been cast, that it does *not* alter the objective relation, that the unreflective experience does *not* forfeit its essence through the transition into reflexion.
Further: In the arguments considered reflexion is continually referred to as a fact, and there is much talk as to what causes it or could not cause it; and at the same time very naturally "unknown," unreflective experiences are also referred to as facts, namely, as those out of which the reflective grow. Thus a *knowledge* of unreflective experiences including unreflective reflexions is presupposed throughout, whilst at the same time the possibility of such knowledge is put in question. That happens, in so far as doubt arises as to the possibility of making *any* statement *whatsoever* concerning the content of unreflective experience and the work of reflexion upon it: how far does reflexion alter the original experience, and does it not falsify, so to speak, by converting it into something totally different from what it was?
But it is clear that if this doubt and the possibility which arises out of it were justified, there would not remain the slightest justification for the certainty that an unreflective experience or a reflexion exists or can exist at all. It is further clear that this certainty which, as we know, was the constant presupposition throughout can be known only through reflexion, and that it can be grounded as immediate knowledge only on reflective, dator intuition. So too as regards the assertion of the reality or possibility of the modifications which follow on reflexion. *Are* the like, however, given through intuition, they are given within an intuitional content; thus it is absurd to maintain that there is here nothing knowable, nothing respecting the content of the unreflected experience and the type of modification which it undergoes.
This suffices clearly to expose the absurdity. Here, as everywhere, skepticism loses its force by harking back from verbal discussions to the essential intuition, the primordial dator intuition and the sovereign right which it possesses in itself. Everything depends on whether we really set this intuition in action, and are able to raise the matter in question into the light of genuine essential clearness: whether we can grasp expositions such as we have attempted in the previous paragraph in the same intuitive way as that in which they are carried out and presented.
The phenomena of reflexion are in fact a sphere of pure and perhaps of the clearest data. It is an *essential insight* always attainable because immediate; that, from the objectively given, as such, a reflective glance can be transferred to the object-giving consciousness and its subject; from the perceived, the corporeally "there" to the perceiving act; from the remembered, as it "hovers" before us as such, as "having been," to the remembering; from the statement as it comes from the given content to the stating activity, and so forth; whereby the perceiving comes to be given as a perceiving of just this perceived object, the momentary consciousness as the consciousness of just this momentary object. It is evident that essentially―not therefore merely on accidental grounds, merely "perhaps for us" and our contingent "psychological constitution"―it is only through reflexions of this kind that such a thing as consciousness or conscious content (in a real or intentional sense) can become known. Therefore God Himself is subject to this absolute and transparent necessity, just as surely as He is to the insight that 2 + 1 = 1 + 2. Even He could win a knowledge of His consciousness and its content only through reflexion.
This implies that reflexion cannot be entangled in any antinomian conflict with the Ideal of perfect knowledge. Every type of being, as we have already had to insist more than once, has ways of being given which are essentially *its own*, and therewith its own ways as regards methods of knowledge. It is strictly absurd in this connexion to treat essential peculiarities as defects, to the extent even of imputing them as contingent, empirical defects to "our human" way of knowing. Another question which must also be considered on lines of essential insight concerns the possible "range" of this or that type of knowledge, the question how we are to guard against statements which go beyond what is really given at the moment and transcend the eidetic grasp; and still another question is that of the methods proper to *empirical* thinking: how we humans, as psychologists may be, must proceed under the given psychological conditions so as to confer on our human knowledge as much dignity as the case admits of.
We must lay stress, moreover, on the point that our repeated recourse to insight (self-evidence or intuition) here as elsewhere is no mere form of speaking, but in the sense of the Introductory Section, signifies the regress to that which is ultimate in all knowledge, precisely as it does when we speak of insight in connexion with the most primitive logical and arithmetical axioms. But he who has learnt to grasp with insight what is given in the sphere of consciousness will not be able to read without astonishment statements like the one already cited: "it is not possible to form any opinions concerning the way in which one comes to a knowledge of immediate experience." From such words one can only gather how strange to modern psychology essential analysis in its immanent aspect still is, although it gives the only possible method for fixing the concepts which must prove determinative in all immanent psychological description.
In the problems of reflexion here discussed, the inner connexion between phenomenology and psychology is brought home to us with special force. Every description of Essential Being which relates to types of experience provides an unconditionally valid norm for the possibilities of empirical existence. Naturally this also applies in particular to all the types of experience which even for psychological method are part of the mental life, as it holds good generally for all modes of inner experience. Thus phenomenology is the court of appeal for the fundamental questions of psychological methodology. The general conclusions which it has reached must be recognized and, as occasion requires, adopted by the psychologist as the condition for the possibility of all further developments of method in his field. What conflicts with it bears the stamp of *intrinsic psychological absurdity*, just as in the physical sphere every conflict with geometrical truths and the truths of the ontology of nature in general bears the stamp of *intrinsic absurdity in natural science*.
In accordance herewith we can trace an intrinsic absurdity of this kind in the hope expressed that the sceptical doubts concerning the possibility of self-observation may be overcome through *psychological induction* by the way of experimental psychology. Here again it is just as though one wished to overcome the corresponding skepticism in the domain of the knowledge of physical nature, the doubt whether in the end every external perception would not prove deceptive (since each, taken singly, could really deceive us) by means of experimental physics, which indeed presupposes at every step the authority of external perception.
Moreover, what is here stated in very general terms should become more convincing in the light of all that follows, more particularly through the clearing discussions concerning the scope of reflective essential insight. The relations here touched on between phenomenology (for between the eidetic psychology which here, for provisional reasons, is not yet separated off from it, and in any case is inwardly bound up with it) and psychology as an empirical science are to be discussed and clarified with all the deep problems they give rise to in the Second Book of this whole treatise. I am sure of this, that at a time not so very far distant it will have become a commonly accepted conviction that phenomenology (or eidetic psychology) is, methodologically, the basic science for empirical psychology, just as the material (*sachhaltig*) mathematical disciplines (e.g., geometry and kinematics) are basic for physics.
The old ontological doctrine, *that the knowledge of "possibilities" must precede that of actualities (*Wirklichkeiten*) is, in my opinion, in so far as it is rightly understood and properly utilized, a really great truth."
―Edmund Husserl, from_Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology_. Translated by W. R. Boyce Gibson, pp. 204-213