14 Pages


Psychology, phenomenology and phenomenological psychology

Psychology is a discipline which claims to be positive; that is, it tries to draw upon the resources of experience alone. We are, of course, no longer in the days of the associationists, and contemporary psychologists do not forbid themselves to interrogate and to interpret. But they try to confront their subject as the physicist confronts his. We must however delimit this concept of experience when we speak of contemporary psychology, for there is, after all, a multitude of diverse experiences and we may, for example, have to decide whether an experience of essences or of values, or a religious experience, really exists or not. The psychologist tries to make use of only two well-defined types of experience: that which is

given to us by spatiotemporal experience of organized bodies, and the intuitive knowledge of ourselves which we call reflective experience. When there are debates about method among psychologists they almost always bear upon the problem whether these two kinds of information are complementary. Ought one to be subordinated to the other? Or ought one of them to be resolutely disregarded? But there is agreement upon one essential principle: that their enquiries should begin first of all from the facts. And if we ask ourselves what is a fact, we see that it is defined in this way: that one must meet with it in the course of research, and that it is always presented as an unexpected enrichment and a novelty in relation to the antecedent facts. We must not then count upon the facts to organize themselves into a synthetic whole which would deliver its meaning by itself. In other words, if what we call anthropology is a discipline which seeks to define the essence of man and the human condition, then psychology – even the psychology of man – is not, and never will be an anthropology. It does not set out to define and limit a priori the object of its research. The notion of man that it accepts is quite empirical: all over the world there is a certain number of creatures that offer analogous characteristics. From other sciences, moreover, sociology and physiology, we have learned that certain objective relations exist between these creatures. No more is needed to justify the psychologist in accepting, prudently and as a working hypothesis, the provisional limitation of his researches to this group of creatures. The means of relevant information at our disposal are indeed more easily accessible since they live in society, possess languages and leave records. But the psychologist does not commit himself: he does not know whether the notion of man is arbitrary. It may be too extensive; there is nothing to show that

the Australian primitive can be placed in the same psychological class as the American workman of 1939. Or it may be too narrow; nothing tells us that there is an abyss separating the higher apes from any human creature. In any case, the psychologist strictly is forbidden to consider the men around him as men like himself. That notion of likeness, upon which one could perhaps build up an anthropology, seems to him foolish and dangerous. He will gladly admit, with the reservations mentioned above, that he is a man – that is, that he belongs to this provisionally isolated class. But he will think that this human character should be conferred upon him a posteriori, and that he cannot, qua member of this class, be a privileged object of study, except for experimental convenience. He will learn then from others that he is a man: his human nature will not be revealed in any special manner under the pretext that he is himself that which he is studying. Introspection here, like ‘objective’ experimentation there, will furnish nothing but facts. If, later on, there ought to be a definitive concept of man – which itself is doubtful – this concept is to be envisaged only as the crowning concept of a completed science, which means that it is postponed to infinity. Nor would this be more than a unifying hypothesis invented in order to co-ordinate, hierarchically, the infinite collection of facts brought to light. Which means that the idea of man, if it ever acquires a positive meaning, will be only a conjecture intended to establish connections between the disparate materials and will derive its probability only from its success. Pierce defined the hypothesis as the sum of the experimental results which it enables us to predict. Thus the idea of man could only be the sum of the facts which it unifies. If, however, some psychologists made use of a certain conception of man before this ultimate synthesis was possible, it could be only on their personal

account and as a leading idea or, better, as an idea in the Kantian sense, and their primary duty would be never to forget that it was merely a regulative concept.