Defragmenting experience – from James to Merleau-Ponty

Until recent decades, William James was rarely mentioned in the context of the thought of phenomenologists such as Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger or Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The mentioning of James coincided more with the views of pragmatism, radical empiricism, or pluralism, so it was on rare occasions that the word phenomenology was used in connection with the great American philosopher. But recently, James’ findings are increasingly used in attempts to understand phenomenological thought, where he is also considered as a philosopher who contributed to the development of some phenomenological concepts, such as the notion of Husserl’s “horizon”, “object of thought”, and “intentionality”. His findings are mentioned both in empirical research of experience and in psychological circles. Given the rise of interest in James and the use of his concepts in the theoretical queries of phenomenology, as well as in empirical approaches to the study of consciousness and experience, I want to explore the ideas of the stream of thought and fringe awareness from James’s corpus by approaching the idea through the lens of Merleau-Ponty’s thought. My overall goal in this text is to show how the latter’s phenomenological explorations can help to enrich the former’s endeavours. Continue reading Defragmenting experience – from James to Merleau-Ponty

Cognitive phenomenology through the lens of empirical research

There is a presupposition hardly in need of defending that human experience is, in large part, a sensory affair. We see, we hear, we feel, we smell, we taste (and these are just the more well known sensations). Most people should also be intimately familiar with emotive experiences, such as joy, sadness, anger, fear and so on. Although we might not be able to give a detailed theoretical account of the experiential character of each (or any) of those sensory and emotive states, we can at least appreciate a certain meaningful and unique what-it-is-like-ness about them. To put it simply: every sensory and emotive state can be ascribed a corresponding sensory or emotive experience.

Trying to do the same with cognitive states (such as thinking, believing, remembering…) – that is to ascribe a cognitive experience to a cognitive state – stirs up a degree of controversy. There are numerous authors who claim various versions of there simply not being any such experience as a cognitive experience, and that we are only aware of our own cognitive states by virtue of the sensory experiences they elicit. Yet there are also numerous authors who claim the counterfactual, that there indeed is a unique way of experiencing a cognitive state which cannot be reduced to sensory or emotive experience – and which can therefore be referred to as cognitive experience. This controversy is at the heart of the so-called cognitive phenomenology debate. Continue reading Cognitive phenomenology through the lens of empirical research