Phenomenological Method: 7. Interpreting Concealed Meanings.


“It is only with considerable hesitation that I introduce the possibility of a final step in the phenomenological procedure. This hesitation is due not only to the fact that Husserl never encouraged it, although he does not seem to have rejected it explicitly, but that very little has been done to elucidate the nature of the method employed. Its fullest and most explicit demonstration is still to be found in Heidegger‘s Sein und Seit.   

Nevertheless, the influence of Heidegger’s hermeneutic phenomenology, its modified application by Sartre and Merleau-Ponty and the increase of emphasis on hermeneutics by Gadamer and Ricoeur make it important to spell out as far as possible what a hermeneutic phenomenology may mean and what it might add to the preceding steps. Needless to say, Heidegger himself did not conceive of it as such an additional step, especially since he did not even mention the preceding steps explicitly; he implied that they are dispensable, if not downright misleading, as was, in his eyes, Husserl’s phenomenological reduction.

Hermeneutics is an attempt to interpret the “sense” of certain phenomena. To be sure, even pre-hermeneutic or “descriptive” phenomenology has not been unconcerned about meaning. In fact, the whole study of intentional structures consists largely in an interpretative analysis and description of the meanings of our conscious acts. For not only our purposive behaviour but our whole cognitive and emotional life, as phenomenology sees it, is shot through with meaning and meaningful intentions. No description can leave them out, even though it may refrain from accepting them at face value. Thus hermeneutic phenomenology must aim at something different and more ambitious: its goal is the discovery of meanings which are not immediately manifest to our intuiting, analyzing and describing. Hence the interpreter has to go beyond what is directly given. In attempting this, he has to use the given as a clue for meanings which are not given, or at least not explicitly given. One might suspect that such an enterprise amounts to the kind of explanatory hypothesis which descriptive phenomenology has set out to abolish, and that it therefore implies a complete abandonment of phenomenological principles. In order to defend its phenomenological right one would have to maintain that hermeneutic interpretation is a matter not of mere constructive inference but of an unveiling of hidden meanings, or at most of an intuitive verification of anticipations about the less accessible layers of the phenomena, layers which can be uncovered, although they are not immediately manifest”.

the phenomenological movement. a historical introduction by herbert spiegelberg, essentials of the method, page 712-713. martinus nijhoff publishers 1984, the hague/boston/lancaster. 



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