The Value of Phenomenology and Hermeneutics

I thought I would write a short blog which is just some free flowing thoughts about why I have been writing so much recently about phenomenology and hermeneutics. I did study these as part of my masters degree in holistic science. The masters degree allowed me to pursue my own interests, and at the time these focussed more on the history of science and complexity. But the degree also gave me foundation in a very new and very alien way of thinking, and it has only been since finishing the degree, with the ability to pursue those avenues of thought and investigation at leisure and without the deadlines of essays and coursework, that this world has started to open up to me.

So who exactly are we talking about?

Phenomenologists

Well the greatest philosophers of the last century basically. Edmund Husserl is the founder of the philosophical movement known as phenomenology, and this movement helped transform our thinking about hermeneutics, the study of meaning. His work went on to inspire the likes of Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Hans-Georg Gadamer.

Philosophy books

The main books I will be working on this year are Truth and Method, Phenomenology of Perception and Being and Time. These are generally acknowledged to be some of the most impenetrable books on philosophy, but it is quite amazing to begin ploughing through them, especially as each author references the works of the other, so it is sometimes more fruitful reading what Gadamer has to say about Heidegger for example. Each time you read a little snippet, a little more light goes on in your mind as to what they were really attempting to express.

For me the value of reading these authors is the questions that open up to you. You begin to contemplate a little more deeply the relationship between language, concepts and our sense of reality. I may not be able to fully be able to get into the mind of all of these great thinkers, but perhaps it is more important the questions, the deep questioning of nature which begin to open up inside of me.

Sometimes as I work my way through I sometimes feel that I am gaining an intuitive sense of where they are at, and even though I could not put this into words as of yet, in reading them I get filled with a sense of wonder and awe at how they were able to soar through the history of mankind, always tracking the subtle ebbs and flows of the changing nature of concepts, concepts which unless we question them, dominate our ways of knowing the world.

I read a great quote by Alfred North Whitehead today.

It’s not ignorance, but ignorance of ignorance which kills knowledge.

This sums up the value of both phenomenology and hermeneutics to me. It opens up new vistas of questioning which previously I did not realise were possible. Modern science loves to think of itself as having a monopoly on the truth, but what if in the future work on information in complexity science points to the need for a hermeneutics of biology, a hermeneutics of chemistry, and hermeneutics of organic systems? What would that be like?

Some people say there is no meaning in the universe, that everything is meaningless, but we are changing our notions of what information is in the world of physical systems, and just as five hundred years ago scientists were trying to understand energy, and the differences between momentum and kinetic energy, so now we are changing how we conceive information, and some see information as a physical attribute.

This is a massive new paradigm, and one that has significance in all walks of life and existence.

In a recently article of mine on Gadamer, a very generous comment was left:

I really enjoy your blog. It’s very helpful for when these texts seem impenetrable.

I am still very much the student philosopher, but it is so nice to receive these messages and to know that some things are of help here, even as I am going through my own path of asking questions, and not always having answers. I hope you continue to enjoy Transition Consciousness, including the guest articles and contributors, and I thank all of you for your comments, observations and contributions in this endeavour.

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3 responses to “The Value of Phenomenology and Hermeneutics

  1. Simon, I continue to enjoy immensely your blog. How exciting that you are bringing the impenetrables into your thinking. I wonder why you talk about the conception of ‘information’ as a new paradigm, and not ‘knowledge’? Do keep us abreast of your progress with these authors. James

    • Hi James,

      Many thanks for your kind words. In complexity science, there is the notion of information in terms of say for example Shannon’s formulation. This is used for the creation of communications equipment and signalling protocols. But it does not talk about the meaning containing within that information.

      There is a new paradigm in complexity science still emerging which transforms our thinking about what information is, but this is of course just one paradigm which does not make any reference to the phenomenological thinking that went on in the last century.

      When I myself talk about information, I tend to discuss data, information, knowledge and wisdom.

      Regards

      Simon

  2. Pingback: Exploring Gadamer’s Truth and Method: The Ontology of the Work of Art and Its Hermeneutic Significance | The Transition of Consciousness·

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