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Pragmatism, Naturalism, and Phenomenology

Author(s): Scott F. Aikin

Source: Human Studies, Vol. 29, No. 3 (Sep., 2006), pp. 317-340
Published by: Springer
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Human Studies (2006) 29:317-340 ? Springer 2006
DOI 10.1007/s 10746-006-9026-5

Pragmatism, Naturalism, and Phenomenology

Department of Philosophy, Vanderbilt University, 111 Furman Hall, Nashville, TN,
37240, USA

Abstract. Pragmatism's naturalism is inconsistent with the phenomenological tradi

tion's anti-naturalism. This poses a problem for the methodological consistency of

phenomenological work in the pragmatist tradition. Solutions such as phenomenolo

gizing naturalism or naturalizing phenomenology have been but they fail. As

a consequence, pragmatists and other naturalists must answer the phenomenological
tradition's criticisms of naturalism.

Key words: naturalism, phenomenology, pragmatism, science

A good deal of recent work

in the pragmatist tradition purports to be
phenomenological in spirit
informed byorthe insights of phenomenol
ogy.1 In light of the pragmatist tradition's commitment to naturalism and
the phenomenological tradition's overt anti-naturalism, the question is
whether this cross-traditional work is methodologically coherent. A
background question, of course, is whether phenomenology is consistent
with any naturalist program in the social sciences. I will argue here that a
pragmatic naturalism is committed to epistemic and ontological natu
ralism and a broad form of humanism. Phenomenology is relevant to
pragmatism's humanism, but it is inconsistent with pragmatism's episte
mic and ontological naturalisms. As a consequence, pragmatists face a
dilemma: either they must reject the essentialist picture of pragmatism as
a naturalism or they must reject the phenomenological tradition as anti
naturalistic. If they take the first horn of the dilemma, pragmatism as a
philosophical method becomes inscrutable. If they take the second horn
of the dilemma, for better or worse, pragmatism becomes methodologi
cally isolated from phenomenology, and in turn, that isolation must be
attended to more carefully. Further, if the dilemma is right, pragmatists
should be bound to answer phenomenologists' criticisms of naturalism, as
those criticisms are at least implicitly criticisms of pragmatism. That is, if
the reasons behind the phenomenological tradition's anti-naturalism
are right, then pragmatism is an incoherent philosophical program.

Moreover, if the phenomenological tradition's criticisms of naturalism

are correct, then naturalists generally are also obliged to respond or revise
accordingly. I conclude with reflections on the possibility of answering
these challenges.

Pragmatism and Naturalism

Pragmatism, properly considered, is a form of naturalism. Given Charles

S. Peirce's notion of scientific method, William James's work in psy
chology, and John Dewey's talk of organisms and their environments, it
seems obvious enough. Not all naturalisms are pragmatisms, though.
Ruth Millikan, Hilary Kornblith, and Daniel Dennett are most certainly
naturalists, but are equally certainly not pragmatists (at least not in the
classical sense). So pragmatism is one naturalism among many. Let us
consider what constitutes a naturalism first, and then consider what
constitutes a pragmatist naturalism.
Naturalism is a two-part view. The first part is a methodological/
epistemological commitment: that the criteria for acceptable justification
and experiment are those exemplified in the natural sciences. This epis
temological commitment is usually taken to be a commitment to either a
form of logical empiricism or a form of a posteriorism, where all justifi
cation and experiment is empirical. Meta-epistemic considerations are not
ones for the naturalist per se, so there is no basic commitment to foun
dationalism, coherentism, internalism, externalism, or other, but the
normative-epistemic commitment is one that restricts synthetic a priori
justification or thought-experiment. The basic thought is simply that there
is a continuity between the standards for warrant in philosophy and the
natural sciences. This
continuity is precisely on the level of epistemic
relevance of one form
of justification to another - that commitments are
r?visable in light of data from any quarter.2
The second part is an ontological-metaphysical commitment: that all
that is, and every property of what is, is natural. There are no abstract
entities like possibilia, mathematical objects, unconditioned laws of
thought, and so on. Metaphysical naturalism is a form of monism: there is
only one kind of thing, namely, things with natural (efficient or material)
properties.3 In turn, all explanation is, in the end, causal explanation.
Teleological explanations without the correlate causal stories are empty.
As a consequence, naturalism, given its two constitutive parts, is a com
mitment to the proposition that all things that are (and all of the properties
of those things) are to be studied by the methods of natural science.4
Naturalism simpliciter is a two-part commitment: one ontological and
one epistemic commitment. Pragmatic naturalism entails a third

requirement that I will call the humanistic requirement: that the criteria for
philosophical or scientific significance are the values and purposes of
living human subjects. The relevant data and purposes for theoretical
reflection are the desires, failures, and hopes that naturally arise from
everyday life.
Philosophical reflection that extends beyond or spurns such relevance
to life is arid, dry, and ultimately worthless. Commenting on the classical
pragmatist outlook, Thomas Alexander calls this requirement "the hu
man context of metaphysics" and distinguishes pragmatism in this light
from "metaphysics of disembodiment" (1992: 206). Exemplary of this is
James's emphasis on the importance of relevance to human life:

The whole function of philosophy ought to be to find out what dif

ference it will make to you and me, at definite instants of our life,
if this world-formula or that world-formula be the one which is
true. (1977: 379)

Further is Dewey's rejection of the assumption that reality is to be

identified with an
object of knowledge and the "spectator theory of
knowledge" behind such assumptions (1925/1981: 30). The thought here
is that pragmatist naturalism places an emphasis on the situational
character of inquiry. The situation for inquiry is constituted partly by the
objective causal features of the world that give rise to a problem for an
organism. But additional components are the psychological and cultural
features of the human beings for which there are problems to solve. Sit
uations as situations depend not only on the arrangement of objects in the
world but also on the existential character of the agent thrust amongst
them. What will be a problem, what solutions will be viable, what pat
terns of inquiry will be appealing depends in part on for whom they are
problems and solutions. It is in this situational confluence of factors that
doubts, questions, and inquiry arise for humans.5
Dewey's humanist naturalism is exemplary. Dewey's explicit argu
ments regarding a variety of topics from theology to logic are that
inquirers should limit studies to creative human intelligence and use sci
entific explanations and
techniques in those inquiries.6 The methodo
logical requirement for Dewey's analyses and investigations is that
humans are continuous with nature. We may be able to manipulate and
sometimes control portions of the natural world; we are nevertheless in
and of it. Dewey holds that human up in the processes
life is bound of
nature, and that human knowledge is something that arises as a natural
phenomenon (1907/1977). The proper attitude of philosophy, then, is the
- its condi
scientific study of such processes how human striving arises,
tions for success, and the incidents and causes of its failure. Importantly

the naturalistic requirement further stands as reproof to super-(or anti-)

naturalist escapism in the form of humanism, for if we merely reflect on
the theological or metaphysical components of human life without their
natural world correlates and causes, we are merely on intellectual holiday,
as there are no clear causal or material ties between what we are con
ceiving and the world around us. Naturalist research programs require
that we investigate not only values, but their genesis and means for their
refinement and preservation.
As a consequence of this connection between naturalism and
humanism, is
there a reciprocal investment between pragmatism and
the human sciences. On the one hand, pragmatism's very method is
posited on fixing belief and policy by the best scientific means, and in
the case of deliberation about human norms and their features,
sociological and anthropological research is indispensable. This, of
course, is on the assumption that research in these fields is continuous
with that in the natural sciences, and there very well may be programs
within the social sciences that are decidedly anti-naturalistic. However,
it is unclear why many must be so, since empirical research is the
primary source of justification in social science. The acknowledged
qualitative difference between the data in social and natural sciences
does not amount to a break in the continuity between the two pro
grams. On the other hand, pragmatic philosophy offers grounding and
vocabulary of purpose for the sciences. Pragmatic philosophy functions
as the reflexive, methodological, and deliberative face of the sciences,
where the goals of inquiry can be articulated. Pragmatic philosophy is
not above the sciences, but is a branch of scientific reflection contin
uous with the rest of the scientific program.
Given the humanistic emphasis in pragmatism, it is not difficult to
see how other humanistic traditions are taken to be relevant to research
in pragmatism. An important tradition has been phenomenology. Ed
mund Husserl says his phenomenological method will yield an account
of spirit (1965b: 149). The early Martin Heidegger promises a theory of
human being (1927: 53). Maurice Merleau-Ponty wants to capture a
"truly embodied approach to the world."7 These are very promising
and potentially fruitful topics to the pragmatist-humanist.8
The question here is whether this relevance to pragmatism's
humanism is undercut by a methodological inconsistency: Even though
the conclusions of and within the phenomenological tradition are rel
evant to pragmatism's humanism, they may not be consistent with
pragmatism's other naturalistic commitments.

Naturalism, Talking about What's Not, and Psychologism

Naturalism and philosophy havea spotty history that is due primarily to

two simple problems. A versionof the first goes as follows: Perhaps
you've heard of Pegasus, Bellerophon's flying horse. Pegasus doesn't
exist, so how can we hear about him and all the flying he does? If he
doesn't exist, then we hear about nothing, right? But we do hear about
something: it's just something that just happens to be a nothing. It seems we
have a quandary. It's the old problem of talking about what's not, which
now-a-days gets called the problem of "non-referring terms" or "empty
Now, if naturalism's ontological and epistemological commitments
obtain, we have a serious problem, since the only relations that really are
are causal ones. Thinking about something that doesn't (and never did)
exist isn't a causal relation, since things that don't exist can't be causes or
effects. Classic responses to the problem, then, have been anti-naturalistic
in the ontological vein, in that some set of non-natural objects (ideas,
possibilities, non-existing objects...) gets posited. This platonism finds its
paradigmatic form in the works of Franz Brentano (1874) and his student
Alexius Meinong (1904). Brentano and Meinong reasoned that since the
aboutness (or intentionality) of an idea is always an about-something, and
somethings require real objects to really be somethings, there is an object
that is Pegasus, just not an actually existing one. The problem, though, is
that the realm of all these real-but-not-actually-existing objects gets
overpopulated pretty quickly. Ockham's razor is as good as a butterknife
with this thicket.
Brentano and Meinong's platonistic move here spawned two
movements that strove to save the platonism from the overgrowth. The
first was the Fregean tradition, in which the sense-reference distinction
drastically reduces the need for objects by allowing (a presumably
limited set of) senses to mediate reference. The second was the
Husserlian phenomenological tradition. For the phenomenological
tradition, a commitment to referential objects is held at bay (namely,
with the epoch?) so that meanings may be analyzed independently. In
both cases, meaning and reference are peeled apart, and the former
becomes the key to the latter. Inquiry into meaning for both of these
traditions is purely a form of a priori conceptual analysis, in which we
clarify the meanings of our terms prior to any empirical research or
work on finding the referents to any of our signs. Further, as a con
sequence of the ontological shift, we have a corollary epistemic shift to
a priorism - we
ask ourselves what we are looking for in the world
before we go looking.

The non-referring terms problem has a close cousin in the Fregean and
Husserlian resistance to psychologism. If the psychological laws of
thought determine the validity of the laws of logic and mathematics, then
the modal status and normativity of those laws are in jeopardy. The laws
of logic and mathematics, it is thought, are necessary: they obtain
regardless of which possible world we are talking about. But psycholog
ical laws are deeply contingent: our patterns of inference and association
might have been different had some otherwise insignificant feature of the
world been different. Further, given that these laws are about right rea
soning, the details of how we may fail to instantiate such reasoning should
be irrelevant to those norms.9 Both the Fregean and Husserlian research
programs are devoted to (a) preserving the modal and normative char
acter of those laws and also to (b) some feature of the norms animating
our lives: The meanings of our categories are conditions for experience,
and as such, must logically precede experience.10 In this respect, the truths
of logic and mathematics do not depend on facts in this world. As a
consequence, both the Husserlian and Fregean traditions are at odds with

The Standing Argument

What one may call the standing argument among many pragmatists is that
the Fregean tradition's platonism is inconsistent with pragmatism's nat
uralism. The argument generally runs that the Fregean platonist strategy
in semantics requires a break with at least epistemic (and in some cases,
ontological) naturalism, in that we must appeal to our a priori intuitions
to theorize about abstracta, such as senses or logical relations (since they,
too, have no causal properties). Pragmatist Fregeans have hidden such
breaks, but insufficiently, since they are easily detected in the kinds of
"Cartesian Dilemmas" they produce.
Joseph Margolis (2002b) has a compelling version of the argument.
Margolis takes Wilfrid Sellars (1963), Richard Rorty (1998), John
McDowell (1996), and Robert Brandom (1994 and 2000) to be the central
figures of this Fregean Pragmatist tradition. From this, Margolis argues:

... is the of a philosophical

[I]f John Dewey paradigmatic specimen
pragmatist, then neither Frege, nor Sellars (or indeed Donald
Davidson or Richard Rorty or Robert Brandom) can be proper
pragmatists, since they all oppose as forcefully as possible any Dar
account -
winian of concepts essential to Dewey's conception of
pragmatism (2002b: 118 emphasis in original).

Because Dewey is (at least here) the paradigmatic specimen, it follows

that the Fregean tradition is inconsistent with pragmatism. They may be
pragmatic in the philosophy of language sense, but they are not pragmatic
in the classical American philosophy sense, and that's what counts here.
Margolis argues that the markers of the Fregean tradition that make it
inconsistent are specifically its "top down" method that requires us to
take successful linguistic practice as a marker of and model for inten
tionality. (These are explicit commitments in Sellars (1963) and Brandom
(1994).) Because such phenomena of linguistic practice are limited pretty
much to us humans, there is a sharp drop-off between us and non-lin
guistic things, such as dogs, cats, raccoons, and muskrats. Margolis
believes that the Darwinian naturalist story is one that is gradualistic, so
the sharp drop-off is unacceptable.12 So long as Deweyan naturalism is a
gradualism, the argument goes through.

Phenomenology and Anti-naturalism

The Husserlian tradition was born of the same anti-naturalistic semantics

as the Fregean. Moreover, this anti-naturalism was further bolstered by
the thought that naturalism is inconsistent with humanism. The human
istic thought is simply that natural scientific research cannot reveal what is
essential about the human condition, since it is epistemologically limited,
and valuationally neutral. As such, many sociological and philosophical
worries are stirred: namely, that the method risks nihilism (Bonner, 2001).
Moreover, such research will invariably suffer from the same psycholo
gism facing naturalism about logic: The question will be whether the
norms and values really are what any scientific program would say they
are. The epistemic limitation is simply that empirical research has pur
ported blindspots, where some crucial feature of human life may escape
detection and reflection. A common argument for this is simply in terms
of the difference between empirical data, which requires quantifiability,
and the irreducible qualitative aspects of our lives. Imagine psychological
tests requiring the quantification of our passion for our loved ones, or a
normative program in aesthetics based on the cognitive psychology of art
appreciation. The psychologism worry, then, is a challenge to the rele
vance of the data concerning properties of things people take to be
valuable to the things' real value. Perhaps these are bugbears and straw
men, but these are the kinds of things that drive many humanists from
naturalistic research programs.
Husserl's phenomenology was itself motivated as a critique of natural
science's pretensions to provide a neutral method and metaphysics.

Husserl early on that "Science

said is impersonal. Its collaborator
requires not
wisdom, but theoretical talent" (1910-1 l/1965a: 144).
Behind this remark lies an old distinction between the notion of a wise
humanism and a science driven by a knack for algorithms and tools.
Husserl later insisted that we philosophers must "turn our gaze from
man's body to his spirit" to understand
in order what troubles humans
face (1936/1965b: 49), and he was explicit that "philosophy must
overcome naturalism, or else fall into a barbarism and hatred for all
life" (1936/1965b: 192).13
The extensions of the classical Husserlian phenomenological tradition
are equally anti-naturalistic, and for the same two semantic and anti
psychologistic reasons. MartinHeidegger's early anti-naturalism is clear
in Being and Time (1927/1996), where he argues (i) natural science cannot
capture the 'thingliness" of things (63), (ii) that scientific understanding is
part of the standing prejudice that prevents the authentic asking of the
question of being (4), and (iii) that the features of human being essential
to it are accessible only to humans who reflect in certain ways (that don't
involve lab experiments) (50). In Introduction toMetaphysics, he is explicit
about naturalism's semantic failings:

It is perfectly true that we cannot talk about nothing, as though it

were a thing like the rain outside or a mountain or any object
whatsoever. In principle, nothingness remains inaccessible to sci
ence. The man who truly wishes to speak about nothing must of
necessity become unscientific. But this is a misfortune only so long
as one supposes that scientific thinking is the only authentic rigor
ous thought, and that it alone can and must be made into the stan
dard of philosophical thinking. But the reverse is true. (1953: 21)

Maurice Merleau-Ponty's extension of the Husserlian program is simi

larly anti-naturalistic. In Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty
explicitly adopts the same semantic and humanistic lines of argument:

How significance and intentionality could come to dwell in molecu

lar edifices of cells is a thing that can never be made comprehensi
ble.... But there is, in any case, no question of any such absurd
undertaking. It is simply that the question of recognizing the body
as a chemical structure or agglomeration of tissues, is formed by a
process of impoverishment from a primordial-body-for-us. (1998:
That is, in naturalistic descriptions of meaning, we not only do damage to
those structures as structures of meaning (in that it becomes unclear how
they mean), but we also strip them of meaning altogether (in that they no
longer are intentional). The mind, intentionality, our structures of

meaning must be understood from the inside. Humanism, as it were, is

only for humans, not for naturalists.
Jean-Paul Sartre's existential phenomenology, too, is explicitly anti
naturalistic, particularly with regard to the epistemology of being in Being
and Nothingness. His argument runs that Being is the condition for all
revelation, so as a consequence, the being of phenomena cannot be re
duced to the phenomena of being. That is, "the being of the phenomenon,
although coextensive with the phenomenon, can not be subject to the
phenomenal condition" (1956: 9). As a consequence, any a posteriori
research into value, essence, or justice will be not only insufficient, but
irrelevant. Moreover, there is the weak idealism that Sartre thinks is a
corollary of the phenomenological method. He agrees that the in-itself
and the for-itself are different modalities of being (as naturalists would
argue), but he turns the dependence relations around. Instead of the
naturalist's move (for-itself depends on in-itself), Sartre argues that the in
itself is conceptually bound to the for-itself; that without the for-itself, the
in-itself is only an abstraction.14
Emmanuel Levinas's ethico-phenomenology is posited on a similar
anti-naturalistic semantics. We can see this clearly in what he, ironically
enough, calls "amphibiology" (1981: 38-39). The presence of the term
"biology" would seem welcoming to naturalist interpretation, but the
term refers to the syntax of terms describing lived states. Our lived states
can be described as both active and passive (so, "amphibiology" means
two ways of talking about life). This Levinasian thesis is derived from the
tautology of "apophantic" predication, that is, saying a property of a
thing is also a case of that thing having that property. So: redness red
dens, sound resounds, loudness loudens, greed makes you greedy, etc.
When it comes to living things, lovers love, players play, teachers teach,
Socrates Socratizes. And it's here that when we reflect on these state
ments, we see that they, though tautologies, mean something more than
their trivial truths. They are not just trivially true, but true in a deep sense,
in that they reveal something about the properties named. What they
reveal Levinas doesn't say, but whatever is shown is inaccessible to the
naturalist semantics, since the naturalist's perspective takes such state
ments to be tautologies. If the terms are logically co-extensive (as redu
plicated terms are), how could reduplication be informative? That is, the
naturalist would run the following dilemma with apophantic predication:
either the statement is empirically justifiable or it is a priori justifiable. If it
is empirically justifiable, it cannot be truly apophantic, because the
reduplicated terms would have to mean different things. If the statement
is a priori, it must be a tautology, because statements like "Socrates
socratizes," if a priori, can only mean that Socrates is identical to himself.

But, phenomenologists contend, especially under the condition of eidetic

analysis, something important is left out. Insofar as subjects are considered
solely in tenns of their corporeality, they are always considered from the
perspective of their passivity (since our corporeality is our medium of
vulnerability to one another). Lovers may love, and pains may pain, but
the naturalistic perspective can attend only to the lovers, not their love; to
the pains, but not their feelings of pain. Something is left out, and for
Levinas this is unacceptable. The naturalists's second alternative is to see
the statements as tautologies, but this renders them without meaning. The
phenomenological perspective is that one is saying something about the
nature ofby saying that they love, and this is not renderable
lovers by
tautologies. essences
The are jettisoned, and from the phenomenological
perspective, this is all for the worse for the intelligibility of science and
human culture. Naturalism requires that we view our bodies and practices
from outside, and by doing that, we render them uninhabitable or
unrecognizable from the phenomenological
The bottom line: the phenomenological tradition tracing its method
ological roots to Husserl's solution to Brentano's bloated platonism is
anti-naturalistic. This move is taken by phenomenologists not only for
semantic reasons, but also because it is thought that humanism properly
must be anti-naturalistic.

The Dilemma

The dilemma for pragmatist-phenomenologists is one derived from the

standing argument. Margolis captured it as a conditional: If Dewey's
evolutionary pragmatism is the gold standard for pragmatisms, then
Fregean pragmatism is not really a pragmatism. According to the anti
naturalism evident in the phenomenological tradition, the same condi
tional can be applied to Husserlian pragmatisms: if Dewey's evolutionary
pragmatism is pragmatism's gold standard, then Husserlian pragmatism is
not really pragmatism.

By "Husserlian pragmatism," Imean the philosophical current posited

on the thought that pragmatism may appropriate the methods and con
clusions of the phenomenological tradition. The current is wide and has
many instantiations. These are exemplary:

Wilshire (1977: 54): "Pragmatism and phenomenology should be

seen as mutually assisting philosophical efforts...."
Rosenthal (1990: 7): "What grounds the human way of being, what
lets the horizon be, is not something other than the horizon, but

rather the horizon emerges as this ground enters into the disclosive
activity of the human. That which regions both reveals and
conceals. As the side facing us, as horizon, it reveals, but even as it
reveals, it conceals, for it is not exhausted in its horizonal relation
to the human."
Colapeitro (1990: 644): "[I]t seems necessary to translate some of
the key figures in contemporary French thought into a more prag
matic idiom."
Bourgeois (1996a, b: 381): "[I]f pragmatism's quasi-phenomenolog
ical derivation of the essential dimension of cognition... is at all
tenable, then its findings must bring into focus a schema of cogni
tion in common with phenomenology's attempts to derive essential
dimensions of cognition in consciousness and in existence, thus
making an overlap obvious."
Sullivan (2002: 203) "... Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology is so
close to both Dewey's pragmatism and to my development of prag
matist feminism..."15

Since the standing argument is run from a conditional, we are on the

horns of a dilemma:

Either (a),

we must deny the antecedent, and thereby deny the deep connec
tion between pragmatism and naturalism, or (b), we must accept
that research done in both the Fregean and the Husserlian tradi
tions is inconsistent with the pragmatist program.

I will hasten to point out here that the standing argument is often taken to
be a reason to ignore Fregean work.16 If that is the case, those that ignore
the Fregean tradition but appropriate the work of the Husserlian tradi
tion are being flatly inconsistent.17
Let me point out a few dangers. If we deny the antecedent of the
conditional, we may get off the hook with having to tell Kestenbaum,
Rosenthal, Sullivan, Wilshire and the lot that they are inconsistent, and
we may even abjure a lingering commitment to an essence to pragmatism
(that essence being naturalism). But doing so makes the pragmatic
method of inquiry inscrutable. How can the Peircian rejection of intui
tionism make sense but against the backdrop of a naturalistic structure of
inquiry? How can Dewey's denial of the culture-nature distinction make
sense? How can the Jamesian metaphilosophy of tough and tender
mindedness have any philosophical bite? Surely, if pragmatist strategies
were read as consistent with dualist or transcendental commitments, then

they would lose their force entirely. I propose that if we deny naturalism's
centrality to pragmatism, pragmatism itself becomes unintelligible. That
is high price to pay for anti-essentialism, to be sure.18
If we accept the conditional and its antecedent, then we find a meth
odological isolation follows. Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and all
may be interesting, but that does not make them relevant to genuinely
naturalist research programs. They may even be humanistic and deep, but
that does not make their conclusions and arguments available to the
naturalist pragmatist. And this is not just a problem for pragmatists. It is
a serious issue for all naturalists. For the scrupulous naturalist, such
conclusions are
ill-gotten gains. The phenomenologist's appeals to the
"meanings" of inner feelings, intuitions about their anxieties, the what
it's-like-to-X can have no epistemic weight for the naturalist beyond being
verbal reports of current experiential or other mental states.19

The Dilemma is not False

It is often said in pragmatist circles that dilemmas in philosophy derive

from false oppositions. That may be true for a majority of dilemmas, but
I am unsure that this tactic will get us out of the tight spot we face here.
There are two ways to make the case that the dilemma is false. The first
strategy is to "naturalize" the phenomenological method, to make phe
nomenology more like or an extension of a natural science. The second is
to make naturalism more amenable to phenomenology, to make natu
ralism "ontological." I will call the former "naturalized phenomenology"
(NP), and the latter "phenomenologized naturalism" (PN). Neither is
effective in avoiding the dilemma.
NP has aprima facie plausibility to it, given the weight Merleau-Ponty
gives to his psychological research for establishing philosophical points.
For example, take all the data on Schneider used in the account of
embodied sexual subjectivity (1998: 155-160). Naturalist premisses are
used to yield an account of the structure of being. Most phenomenologists
used thought-experiments, but Merleau-Ponty used experiments.20
The basic
strategy for the naturalized phenomenologist is to argue the
following: The conceptual autonomy of first-personal reflection entails
treating our understanding of ourselves as a distinctive starting point that
cannot be reduced to causal relations. Without this self-understanding, a
cognitive science would be incomplete. For example, when we explain a
perceptual experience, we must do so not just on the basis of a causal
psychological analysis, but also on the basis of our lived encounters in the
world. An account of perception without the perspective of the perceiving

subject is incomplete. These two styles of understanding can be brought

into a reflective equilibrium or mutual accommodation. Thereby, phe
nomenology is naturalized.21 By extension, it is not just the psychology of
perception that is naturalized, but also the lived experience of value,
alienation, politics, and language use. Our first person accounts of all of
them are brought under consideration in sociological, political, linguistic,
and anthropological arguments.22 A naturalized phenomenological
research program is one that seems beyond question in many discussions
in the social sciences, and is one that seems to dominate a good deal of the
current discussion.
But the argument and the program are based on an equivocation.
What is saved as "phenomenology" is no longer a philosophical strategy
or method but the simple requirement that experiments involving Necker
cubes, duck-rabbits, or blind-spot demonstrations (first person reports,
all) are relevant to cognitive science and the enterprise of the study of
mind. If how things seem to subjects is relevant to cognitive science, and if
subjects must report those things by reflecting on them, then there should
be room for that kind of data. The contents to which the method is put are
saved, but the strategy of philosophical inquiry is no longer on the table.23
How that saves phenomenology as a philosophical method is unclear. There
is a long way between the methodological commitment to asking subjects
how things seem to them and the phenomenological theory of appear
ances. The relevance of the former to natural science does not necessarily
make the latter relevant. That is to say that phenomenology has become,
instead of the irreducible starting point for inquiry, a means of eliciting
verbal reports from subjects under circumstances already known to have
a certain kind of representation associated with it.24 This is certainly no
longer a philosophical version of phenomenology.
A second problem looms for NP. Subjecting phenomenological con
clusions to causal explanation (on the assumption that events in con
sciousness are explained by lower-level phenomena) contravenes the
central phenomenological tenet that consciousness is irreducible. To the
phenomenologist, to use anything but consciousness as the primary
explainer smacks of reductionism. If such explanations obtain, then the
question would be why start with consciousness at all? If phenomenology
is integrated with the explanatory framework for which all properties are
continuous with those studied by the natural sciences, then the primacy of
consciousness is surrendered. At best, it would be one starting point
among many. At worst, if the functional systems of the brain explain the
structure of consciousness revealed in experience, then consciousness
explains nothing by itself. As a consequence, phenomenology would be
no different from other current strategies for surveying first-person

experience for explanation. This is certainly a form of naturalism, but I

would hardly call it phenomenological.
Alternately, phenomenological naturalism (PN) is the strategy of un
naturalizing naturalism by reducing scientific and causal-explanatory
contents to their phenomenological grounds.25 Versions of this strategy
abound. The following are exemplary:

"When one turns to lived experience, one comes to see that though
man emerges from nature as a unique part of nature which has the
ability to know... nature for man is constituted by a system of mean
ings" (Bourgeois and Rosenthal, 1979: 331 emphasis added).
"In terms of such [transcendental principles of conceptualization],
the laws established in a particular science, say
(Newtonian) phys
ics, could then be
interpreted as regulative principles, i.e., as state
ments of the necessary conditions of the possibility of a particular
conceptualization and objectification of reality which is in the pro
cess of being accomplished in a particular sciences." (Siegfried,
1988: 506).
"Nature in its indefinite richness is the foundation for our everyday
worldly natural environment, nature as a system of scientific events
and objects is a reflective abstraction from it/' (Rosenthal, 1990: 3
emphasis added).
"The truth of the claim that nature simply is nature as experienced
is demonstrated precisely by the world, the world we know and see
all around us. This is the world of experience and none other."
(Toadvine, 1999: 126).
"Suitably developed, Husserlian, Heideggerian, or Merleau-Pont
yan approaches in phenomenology can accept almost everything
the naturalist claims... while restricting those claims to their proper
area, the region of science, which is (transcendentally) grounded on
the more basic region of human bodily experience within what
Husserl called the "lifeworld." (Philstr?m, 2002: 106).26

Given that naturalism as a form of abstraction

is re-defined from the life
world, it follows that naturalist method is consistent with phenomeno
logical method, because "naturalism" really means "the phenomenolog
ical component of doing science."
But this will not do for two reasons. First, such a method undoes the
naturalist's strategy of explanation, for which features of the social,
psychological, or political have causal explanations. Consequently, such a
naturalism would be one in name only, because its explanations are in
verted (teleology takes the place of causal explanation). Naturalism has

strong materialist-realist ties, and this move makes naturalism strongly

resemble idealism.27
Second, it is unclear how a phenomenology of scientific practice re
duces or somehow takes the place of scientific explanation. Cognitive
science may be an abstraction from the life world, but it does not follow
from that fact that it is consistent with (or entails) a philosophical method
of analyzing the lifeworld. Moreover, there are many philosophers and
scientists who
deny that the natural sciences have this kind of dependence.
How, say, does contemporary physics resemble or depend on folk phys
ics, or contemporary astronomy, folk astronomy?28 Nowadays, pretty
much in no way. But even were this dependence correct, it would not
imply that phenomenology captures the essence of scientific theories or
methods. The fact that, say, James Watson and Francis Crick's theory of
the structure of DNA arose from circumstances recounted in The Double
Helix does not imply that the theories are expressions of (or entail, or are
materially related to) the scientists' desire for glory, nor does itmean that
the theory is clarified or explained by a phenomenology of ambition.29
But PN requires that it does (remember, it's got to be articulable in terms
of the lived activities of scientists), and that's just a muddle.30
My preceding argument may misconstrue the broader phenomeno
logical strategy, as the analysis of the natural sciences from the phe
two - one the first
nomenological perspective may have forms from
person phenomenal perspective, and another from the transcendental
phenomenological perspective. I have shown that the strategy of under
standing naturalism from the perspective of the consciousness of natu
ralists is no way of continuing a naturalist outlook. However, the
transcendental phenomenological perspective on naturalism is not tou
ched the argument.
by Husserl's account of the condition for natural
science no reference
makes to the specifics of any one subject's con
sciousness, but rather to the original possibility for the transformation of
phenomena (1965a: 85). Here, the question is how it is possible that things
in the life world can be theorized, abstracted, and investigated.31
But, again, the move is to replace naturalism with a phenomenological
account of the possibility of natural science. A philosophical argument
for the foundation of the sciences itself is not one of or continuous with
the sciences, and it seems, it itself is not something that the sciences could
overturn or bring into question. Something that grounds the sciences or
serves as their foundations cannot itself be one of the sciences on pain of
vicious circularity. This
is precisely the motive behind the phenomeno
logical strategy of having a theory of science, since ex hypothesi, the
sciences cannot account for their possibility. Phenomenology, here, is a
method of revealing primitive facts from which the sciences proceed

according to own
their logics. Phenomenology is necessary, because
without it the
sciences would be unintelligible. They would be actions
without explanation or intelligence. Without the transcendental ground
ing, the sciences would be incomplete. At worst, they would be distortions
of the proper method of inquiry (as the psychologism objection holds). So
on the one hand, phenomenology must take naturalism and the sciences
that constitute naturalism as its subject matter.
And on the other hand,
naturalism needs transcendental phenomenology for it to be intelligible.32
But surely a methodologically idealistic foundation for natural science is
itself no naturalistic philosophical attitude. This would be a confusion of
a philosophy of science with a science. The most this strategy can yield,
then, is another phenomenological argument along side of (if not against)
naturalism, not a PN.

A Deeper Issue Lurks Here

Insofar as pragmatists are naturalists, pragmatists cannot make use of the

conclusions derived from the Fregean or Husserlian traditions. If prag
matists deny their naturalism, their own pragmatist tradition crumbles
into unintelligibility. If pragmatists remain naturalists, then they must be
methodologically removed from the Fregean and Husserlian traditions.
For the most part, pragmatism's removal from the Fregean tradition is
almost complete. John McDowell and Robert Brandom (Margolis' earlier
examples) are players in non-classically pragmatic philosophical circles,
not in the current classical pragmatist conversation. But the hot and
heavy flirtation between pragmatists and phenomenologists continues.
Recent attempts to duck the dilemma have failed: if pragmatists natu
ralize their phenomenology, they retain the aspects of phenomenology
relevant to natural science, not the philosophical method; and if prag
matists phenomenologize their naturalism, they forego the causal objec
tive in naturalist explanation.
I propose that a deeper issue lurks here. If pragmatism is a humanist
naturalism and if phenomenologists are right that humanism and natu
ralism are inconsistent, then a contradiction lies at the heart of the
pragmatist program. But that follows insofar as the phenomenologists are
right, and I am unsure of whether they are.
First, naturalism is not necessarily the strong reductionism phenom
enologists take it to be. Sidney Hook, for example, in "Naturalism and
First Principles" outlines a clear pragmatic humanism on anti-reduc
tionist naturalist grounds (1961b: 63). Moreover, many non-pragmatist
naturalists have non-reductive stories: take Jerry Fodor on beliefs (1975),

Ruth Millikan on norms

(1993), John Post on value (1987). Neither
pragmatist naturalism nor
naturalism simpliciter is necessarily reduc
tionist in a way that implies elimination, so the phenomenologists merely
flog straw men and frighten themselves with stories of bugbears when
they speak of anti-humanist naturalists. Whether there is any need for
phenomenological method in the wake of anti-reductionist naturalism is
an open question. Certainly the singular primacy of reflection on the
nature of consciousness must be surrendered, but it is unclear whether
this would completely undo phenomenological method or the conclusions
it yields. The issue whether phenomenology and the natural sciences have
genuine possibilities of
reconcilement at all remains open. I've argued
here that reconciliation between the two programs ends with the sub
stantive elimination of one: either phenomenology is made philosophi
cally impotent in its service to the sciences or the sciences are
de-naturalized by their phenomenological appropriations. The human
sciences, those devoted to studying the norms of human life and
exchange, are on the wedge here, too. Surely, the study of linguistic
pragmatics relies on the priority of our first-person take on the meaning
and place of certain speech acts, and the philosophical anthropologies of
the variety of human actions also regularly rely on that same priority. The
question is whether that priority is irreducible or whether it is one starting
point among many in the area. It seems, from the logic of the situation
with pragmatism, that phenomenological programs in the social and
human sciences face a similar dilemma.
Second, the thought that pragmatism is incapable of a complete
humanism is a close cousin to the long-standing thought that pragmatists
have no sense for tragedy. Pie-eyed Pollyanna is the Pragmatist, or so the
story goes. But this is simply inaccurate about the spirit of pragmatism.
Meliorism does not a Pollyanna make. Sidney Hook (2002) is paradig
matic of the pragmatist tradition's appreciation of the deep valuational
tensions in tragedy; his meliorism is an explicit account of how prag
matism is an approach that not only dissolves false disagreement but is a
method of understanding real moral and political disagreement. In these
contexts, pragmatism is a medium for understanding the tragic aspects of
our lives, and meliorism makes sense only when we understand that it is a
response to the tragic (2002: 88). In fact, pragmatic meliorism, instead of
hiding from the tragic, is the only thing that makes sense in the face of the

My worry is that pragmatists often turn their backs on their naturalist

method because they may think it insufficiently deep or dark or heavy
when it comes to moments of deep value conflict, and a complete
humanism needs those components. Further, other naturalists may feel

the same tug from the phenomenological tradition. But those thoughts
are simply wrong. Moreover, they lead us to philosophical alliances that
simply should not be. In fact, given the phenomenological tradition's
arguments, it seems that pragmatists (particularly those intimate with the
phenomenological tradition) have a task before them: either fashion a
new pragmatism no longer devoted to inquiry continuous with natural
science, or answer the traditional phenomenological criticisms of natu
ralism. I, most certainly, prefer the latter.


Thanks go to Charlie Hobbs, Jeffrey Jackson, Lenore Langsdorf,

Joseph Margolis, Marc Freumont-Meurice, David Roberts, Aaron Sim
mons, Robert Talisse, the audience at the 2002 meeting of the Society
for the Advancement of American Philosophy, and the anonymous
reviewers at Human Studies for comments on earlier drafts of this


1. See Victor Kestenbaum (1977), Bruce Wilshire (1997), John McDermott (1986),
James Edie (1987), Sandra Rosenthal (1990 and 1996), Vincent Colapeitro (1990),
Patrick Bourgeois (1996a, b), John Stuhr (1997), Thomas Jeannot (2001), Shannon
Sullivan (2002), and Charles Hobbs (2003).
2. See W.V.O. Quine's "Epistemology Naturalized" (1969) for an outline of the rel
evances. For recent pragmatist versions of the commitment, see: Murphy (1993:
157), Baeten (1996: 413)7Rosenthal (1996: 200), and Capps (1996: 635; 2000: 161).
3. For pragmatist endorsements of this component of naturalism, see: Dewey (1925/
1981: 18), Randall (1944: 357), Buchler (1990), Baeten (1996: 409), Margolis (1999:
226), and Rosenbaum (2002: 66).
4. For explicit versions of this two-part account of naturalism, see Plotkin (1998: 88)
and Kim (1993).
5. See: Dewey's Logic: The Theory of Inquiry and also Peirce's claim that desire creates
classes (CP 1.205). See also: Rosenthal (1990 and 1996),Murphy (1993), and Capps
6. See, for example, A Common Faith, which is an explicitly naturalist interpretation of

religious language, or his genealogy of philosophy in The Quest for Certainty.

7. Langer (1989: xi).
8. The commitment here to "humanism" should be read as a term stipulated to denote
a methodological commitment to research relevant to the human perspective.
Importantly, this is a different notion from the "humanism" criticized by the
phenomenologists and post-structuralists.

9. For example, modus tollens is valid and should constrain us, even if we, as a species,
are inconsistently capable of following it as a rule of inference. See the Wason
selection task as a case where even well-educated people are inconsistent at applying
and following what they recognize as right rules of reason (Wason and Johnson
10. See Husserl (1970: 98) for the contrast in epistemic as opposed to modal terms.

Further, see Husserl's distinction between Gegenstand, so wie intendert ist (objects as

intended) and Gegenstand, welcher intendiert ist (the objects intended) (104). The
point there is to contrast
those objects dependent on intentionality and those

independent in character. See Dougherty (1979) for an extended discussion of

Husserl's anti-psychologism.
11. Phenomenology was particularly posited on addressing what seems, from the
humanist perspective, the inevitable consequence of psychologism: reason's alien
ation from itself. For Husserl, the only way to keep this problem at bay was to reject
naturalism. (1965a: 79). See Busch (1979) for a discussion of the connection between

anti-psychologism and humanism for the phenomenological tradition.

12. I am unsure how important gradualism is to a Darwinian theory of minds.
Moreover, I am very sure that any evolutionary theory that downplays the tre
mendous difference between our speech acts and the barking of dogs is equally

irresponsible. Daniel Dennett (1991, 1995) and Stephen Jay Gould (1983) are nat
uralists whoabjure gradualism and moreover emphasize the important differences
between human and other animal intentionality, so perhaps the gradualism is to
blame here for Margolis' argument. However, the larger issues still rule the day in
that the Fregean tradition's attitude toward intentionality (which finds its way into
the analysis of speech acts as paradigmatic) still risks running afoul of naturalism.
13. See Heelan (1983: 208) for a discussion of the wider phenomenological suspicion of
"scientific barbarism."
14. Sartre's ontology is posited on the distinction between two kinds of existents

subjective conscious being and the being former's of phenomena.

being The is one
that is for-itself, in that consciousness not
only points to what it is consciousness-of,
but it also points to itself as the actuality of consciousness. The latter's being is in
itself, in that phenomena are nothing more than themselves. Sartre's idealism is
weak in the sense the phenomenon of the in-itself is a conceptual dependent on the

for-itself, but its being is not. Strong idealism would require that the being of the in
itself also be dependent.
15. For further examples, see: Kestenbaum (1977), McDermott (1986: 14), Edie (1987:
24), Rosenthal (1996), Stuhr (1997: 72; 182),Wilshire (1997: 99), Jeannot (2001: 1
2), and Sontag (2002: 60).
16. Moreover, sociologically, it seems that a majority of scholars of classical phe
nomenology and its contemporary proponents see naturalism as something
anathema: see a (relatively) recent issue of Research in Phenomenology devoted to
"the future of phenomenology" (2000, volume 30). Not one article even mentions

cooperation or continuity with the natural sciences.

17. An earlier version of this argument can be found in Kessler (1978: 111): "While
Husserl's philosophy leads in the direction of the transcendental ego constituting
the meaning of all experience, James's philosophy leads in the direction of the

18. Equally surely, some (I won't name names) have embraced unintelligibility, but that
is a refutation in itself.

19. For example, Hook's take on Heidegger's question of being in An Introduction to

Metaphysics (1961a: 147). A question for the naturalist: what inferences does the
heroic feeling we feel when doing ontology entitle?
20. Merleau-Ponty's uses of scientific results are often overlooked, given his critique of
the natural sciences. However, Spiegelberg (1965), Kessler (1978) and Bourgeois

(1996a and b) have noted the overlap.

21. See: V?rela et al. (1991), Thompson et al. (1999), Wood (2001) and Philstr?m

22. Don Ihde (1986), Maxine Sheets-Johnstone (1999) and Evan Selinger (2004) pro
pose experimental phenomenology as an application of phenomenological analysis
to various experiences in need of further explanation and investigation. These

experimental ph?nom?nologies then work in tandem with social scientific research

programs. A further extension of this outlook isMauro Gr?n's (2003) proposal that
the connection between the sciences and phenomenology (especially a phenome

nology of Nature's Otherness) should yield not only results for the sciences, but also
for policy.
23. See Bourgeois (1996b: 389) for a similar distinction between the content of phe

nomenology and the phenomenological method. The point here is that NP only
saves the former, not the latter. For a discussion of the philosophical price paid for
the restriction, see Zahavi (2004: 340): by abandoning the transcendental elements
of phenomenology, naturalization renders phenomenology philosophically impo
tent. Wood shares similar worries that such a strategy threatens to make phe
nomenology redundant (2001: 80).
24. The phenomenology left, then, would only be an account of experiences in empirical

consciousness, but no longer an account of the structures of subjectivity. Cf. Zahavi

(2004: 356) and Overgaard (2004: 371).

25. In essence, the strategy is a bit of philosophical turnabout-as-fair-play. From the

phenomenologist's perspective, the naturalist reduces the realm of appearances to

the natural world of causal relations. The phenomenologist returns the favor by
reducing the realm of the natural world to
the realm of appearances.
26. For further recent versions of PN, see: Heelan (1983: 209-214), Rosenthal (1996:
401-403) Wilshire (1997: 99), and Margolis (1999: 230 and 2002a: 8).
27. Philstr?m notes this consequence, and takes it to be a case for an
(2002, 107)
alternative to naturalism that is neo-Kantian, culturalistic, and transcendental in

spirit. Surely, then, this is no way to save naturalism. Wilshire, note, postively
embraces the mantle of idealism and seems willing to accept the consequences (1997:
28. The difficulties of such reductions are noted in Kiesel (1997) and Str?ker (1997).
29. Steinbock criticizes the possibility of such a program as "idiosyncratic
phenomenology" (1997: 128).
30. It should be noted here that my argument proceeds from the phenomenological
naturalist premise that naturalism is a modification of the lifeworld and that sci
entific theories are articulable in terms of specific features of lived experience. The

question, then, is what features of lived experience are relevant for phenomeno

logical analysis of some theory or other. Surely the standards for relevance would
not simply be so lax that any feature of a theory's genesis is relevant (hence, the

problem of ambition), but it is hard to see how PN offers a principled restriction.

31. Harvey (1989: 43) notes that Husserl's account of science is not itself one of the

sciences, but rather lays the philosophical foundation for science.


32. See Harvey (1989: 225): "[W]ithout naturalistic realism, transcendental phenome
nology is empty and without initial subject matter, while without a transcendental

phenomenological idealism, naturalistic realism is blind, absurd, and depleted of



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