Philosophy Phenomenology
Shaun Gallagher
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0087


Phenomenology is a philosophical tradition originating in the 20th century with the work of Edmund Husserl (b. 1859–d. 1938) and continued in authors such as Martin Heidegger (b. 1889–d. 1976), Jean-Paul Sartre (b. 1905–d. 1980), and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (b. 1908–d. 1961). It begins, in Husserl, with a descriptive analysis of consciousness proposed as the transcendental foundation for all other sciences. Husserl provides specific accounts of the central concepts of phenomenology, for example, intentionality, temporality, perception, and intersubjectivity. In later phenomenological philosophers this approach is extended to include more hermeneutical and existential issues, with emphasis on themes such as embodiment, being-in-the-world, and action. As a broad philosophical movement that includes developed views on topics from consciousness and intentionality to time, space, science and art and that finds applications in multiple fields, including the behavioral, social, and cognitive sciences, medicine, and psychiatry, it is difficult to capture its full scope in a short and selective list of bibliographic starting points.

General Overviews

Introductory overviews of phenomenology are organized either in a historical way, starting with Husserl, or in an issue-oriented way. Many mention Brentano as an influence on both Husserl and Heidegger. Spiegelberg 1981, a two-volume history, is an older but comprehensive account of the history that includes discussions of many minor figures, along with the major ones. Moran 2000 provides an excellent, detailed, and very readable historical account that focuses on the major figures. Sokolowski 2000 and Waldenfels 1992 offer succinct philosophical discussions of the central issues. Cerbone 2006 briefly introduces some contemporary critical discussions. In Bernet, et al. 1993, three top Husserl scholars offer one of the best introductions to Husserl’s work. Patocka 1996 and Lyotard 1991 reflect their own critical perspectives, the latter a curious mix of Marxist views and a forward-looking view that sees the relevance of phenomenology to an embodied cognitive science.

  • Bernet, Rudolf, Iso Kern, and Eduard Marbach. An Introduction to Husserlian Phenomenology. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1993.

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    Translated from the German, Edmund Husserl. Darstellung seines Denkens (Hamburg: F. Meiner Verlag, 1989). Excellent coverage of the major aspects of Husserl’s phenomenology from his earliest work on mathematics and logic through his views on science and the lifeworld in The Crisis (Husserl 1970, cited under Classical Texts). Includes a chronology of Husserl’s life and work.

  • Cerbone, David R. Understanding Phenomenology. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006.

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    Cerbone traces the historical development of phenomenology, beginning with Husserl and extending to existential phenomenology. The book also considers critical responses to phenomenology by poststructuralists and philosophers of mind. It clarifies many of the technical concepts and provides helpful examples.

  • Lyotard, Jean-François. Phenomenology. Translated by Brian Beakley. SUNY Series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.

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    Translation from the original French (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1954). This is a topically arranged critical account of phenomenology (from a Marxist viewpoint). It acknowledges the relevance of phenomenology to psychology and neuroscience but questions whether it is possible to get to a pure description of experience independently of historical biases and in a politically neutral way.

  • Moran, Dermot. Introduction to Phenomenology. London: Routledge, 2000.

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    Provides a detailed and insightful historical account that attempts to fit the main figures into a comprehensive map of the phenomenological tradition, from Brentano to Derrida, with multiple chapters on Husserl and Heidegger. Also includes chapters on Arendt, Levinas, and Gadamer. The introduction to this Introduction is itself a succinct survey of important issues in phenomenology.

  • Patočka, Jan. An Introduction to Husserl’s Phenomenology. Translated by Erazim Kohák. Peru, IL: Carus, 1996.

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    Translated from the Czech, Úvod do studia Husserlovy fenomenologie (Prague: SPN, 1966). Patocka, an influential eastern European phenomenologist, focuses on logic, consciousness, temporality, and embodiment in Husserl. His reading reflects his own critical contributions to phenomenology. Patocka interprets Husserl as framing phenomenology within the modern overemphasis on subjectivity and instrumental rationality.

  • Sokolowski, Robert. Introduction to Phenomenology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    Topically arranged, with many examples, it treats the major issues of phenomenology and foregoes the detailed historical account but provides a brief survey in an appendix. The issues are defined in a Husserlian vocabulary (e.g., intentionality, categorical intentions, eidetic intuition, lifeworld).

  • Spiegelberg, Herbert. The Phenomenological Movement: A Historical Introduction. 3d rev. and enlarged ed. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 1981.

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    An exhaustive historical survey that puts phenomenology into a broader philosophical context and explores many of the central issues, starting with the historical background to Husserl’s philosophy, up through the later phenomenologists, including Merleau-Ponty, Ricoeur, and Levinas. Originally published in 1960; second edition, 1965; both by Martinus Nijhoff.

  • Waldenfels, Bernhard. Einführung in die Phänomenologie. Stuttgart: W. Fink, 1992.

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    This book follows a geographical theme, pursuing different threads of phenomenology through various countries (Germany, France, Italy, eastern Europe, the United States, etc.), also with discussions of many of the important minor figures. The account is often organized around broad issues—the sciences, language, Marxism.

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