Pragmatist Phenomenological Analysis (PPA)

Since an explicit definition of the philosophical position preceding certain analysis can be useful both for the author and the reader, this subsection articulates the basic position from which the content of this website is conceived. The approach followed here will be based on the pragmatism and phenomenological traditions.

Around 1900 on both sides of the Atlantic, two main tracks in philosophy turned away from the mainstream neo-Kantian and Hegelian traditions.


In the USA pragmatism developed as a new philosophical track with Charles Pierce, William James and John Dewey as the founding fathers. In pragmatism the expression knowing is acting is a leading paradigm. With the dominant position in America during the first part of the century, pragmatism as an explicit philosophical position went out of fashion in the forties. Then, the dominant position was taken over by the logic-positivism with Rudolf Carnap and Hans Reichenbach and by Philosophy of language. Although, with a whole generation of philosophers educated in the tradition of pragmatism the basic elements remained alive often without being explicitly named pragmatist. A good example can be found by the position of Arthur Fine in the realism debate in which he labeled his position Natural Ontological Attitude (NOA). [Fine 1984b] Few continued to refer explicitly to pragmatism. Donald A. Schon, who developed a useful concept of reflective practice, as will be discussed in chapter 4, considered himself to be a Dewey follower. By the end of the last century Richard Rorty was the first who put an effort into promoting pragmatic concepts, later also Hillary Putnam, Susan Haack and others renewed the interest in pragmatism. [Rorty 1982], [Putnam 1987], [Putnam 1992NL], [Haack 1998] Second half of the eighties, in The Many Faces of Realism Putnam rejects explicitly the program of the logic positivists Carnap and Reichenbach, after having worked with them in the fifties, and returns to the concepts of Pierce, James and Dewey.(Reichenbach was also his PhD supervisor) Putnam concludes that his own Intern Realism should have been called pragmatic realism. [Putnam 1987: 17]


In Europe Edmund Husserl was the founder of the phenomenology, with Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty as the most well known names among a large number of philosophers. Husserl introduced intentionality in his philosophy as the directedness of the subject to the object. The subject always finds oneself in a given situation. In phenomenology the expression Being in the World expresses the main paradigm; this demonstrates the integrated, or even holistic, basic concept. [Merleau-Ponty1945} part III) Around 1970 the phenomenological approach almost disappeared.

Phenomenology developed different varieties. In this essay I will stay close to the basic phenomenology as grounded by Husserl and recently reviewed by Dan Zahavi. [Zahavi 2003] Zahavi argues that Husserl's phenomenology is more consistent than is usually assumed. An extensive definition of this basic phenomenological position is beyond the scope this essay, but the following two quotes cover it very well:

Husserl's position seems very close to the one adopted by Merleau-Ponty in the following passage :[Zahavi2003}: 73]

The world is inseparable from the subject, but from a subject which is nothing but a project of the world, but from a world which the subject itself projects. (quote from Zahavi to indicate that Husserl's position is very close to the one adopted by Merleau-Ponty [Zahavi 2003: 73])

 The second quote made by Zahavi comes from Husserl in relation to the general question of intersubjectivity: 

[i]ntersubjectivity is unthinkable unless it is implicit or explicit based on a common relation with the world. [Zahavi 2003: 76]

Interest in the approach of phenomenology increased again in recent decades in relation to the philosophy of mind, as practiced by among others Zahavi and Gallagher and demonstrated with their cooperation in publishing The Phenomenological Mind, an introduction to the philosophy of mind and cognitive science [Gallagher 2008]. This renewed interest was fed by the confirmation of the basic concepts of phenomenology by the neuro- and cognition sciences.

The main common characteristic of pragmatism and phenomenology
One of the typical differences between continental and analytical philosophy is the use of thought experiments, in particular, the use of fictitious entities such as zombies, brains in a vat, Twin Earths, etc. Philosophers like Zahavi and Dennett reject the use of such entities [Zahavi2005: 140-142]:

When philosophical fantasies become too outlandish- involving time machines, say, or duplicate universes or infinitely powerful deceiving demons- we may wisely decline to conclude anything from them. Our convictions that we understand the issues involved may be unreliable, an illusion produced by the vividness of the fantasy (Dennett 1981, 230).

Also, analytically oriented philosophers typically are inclined to atomistic concepts, analyzing down to the lowest possible level or even beyond that. Then, as among others Lynne Rudder Baker argues, one loses for example the essential macro features of artifacts. (\cite{Baker2007}: 25-32) The more holistic approach as advocated by Baker comes with the phenomenological component on this website. This will also be consistent with Aristotle's view:

In the case of all things which have several parts and in which the whole is not, as it where, a heap but the totality is something besides the parts, there is a cause of unity;...[w]hat is the cause of the unity of round and bronze? The difficulty disappears because the one is matter, the other form.

He then refers to the agent who makes the thing from potential to actual. [Aristotle: Metaphysics VIII 6, 10-30]  (This causal relation between matter, form and agent will be worked out the section on Artifact Design.)

On the other hand the analytical tradition usually practice a more clear and efficient use of language compared with the abundant use of language often used in the phenomenological tradition. In this website I try to apply this more analytical style where also the use of diagrams is more accepted.

Therefore, the philosophical methodology followed here could be characterized as Pragmatist-Phenomenological-Analysis (PPA).
Philosophygarden        of Hans Tromp