Download Psychopathology and Phenomenology

yes no Was this document useful for you?
   Thank you for your participation!

* Your assessment is very important for improving the workof artificial intelligence, which forms the content of this project

Document related concepts
no text concepts found
The role of Phenomenology as conceptual basis for the formation of modern psychopathology with
special reference to the work of Edmund Husserl and Karl Jaspers.
Leroux Brits
This essay serves to observe the progression and systematization of modern psychopathology and in
doing so discuss and elucidate the fundamental philosophical components which constituted its
progression and formation. Our primary focus will be on the philosophical discipline of
phenomenology, as it is evident that it is of great conceptual relevance and influence in the
formalisation of psychopathology. Firstly we will look as the subject at a definitive and rudimentary
conceptual level and secondly will be looking at Phenomenology historically starting with the work
of Edmund Husserl, the father of modern continental phenomenology, and arguably the greatest
exponent of the subject. Lastly we will examine the phenomenological work of Karl Jaspers, partially
in conjunction with Husserl and then as he used phenomenological principles as a framework to
develop a progressive model of psychopathology which is concerned with both causation and
meaning in regards to mental disorders.
Before we consider the influence and incorporation of phenomenology in psychopathology, it might
be beneficial to view it at its classical conceptual level. As when one looks at the disciplines
provenance, one will see that it is a highly fluid yet dense subject that is ever-changing in application
and content. The sheer quantity and fine variation of interpretations and postulates produced by the
classical phenomenologists makes the summarisation or optimisation of the subject arduous at best,
thus realistically we shall attempt to briefly permeate the vast corpus and retrieve some
understanding of its essence via the exploration of selected facets.
The difficulty in the systematisation of Phenomenology can perhaps be attributed to the fact that
it is universally applicable, as it is a model of investigation that is applied prior to intellectualisation,
irrespective of content or truth regarding the intended object or subject. This leads us to our
elementary definition, which Gregory (1987:615) describes as “a term used in philosophy to denote
enquiry into one’s conscious and particularly intellectual processes, any preconceptions about
external causes and consequences being excluded”. Thus phenomenology refers to the analysis of
“conscious experience as experienced (from the first person), analysing the structure- the types,
intentional forms and meanings, dynamics, and (certain) enabling conditions- of perception, thought
imagination, emotion, volition and action” (Woodruff smith 2013:31).
Why Phenomenology and Psychiatry/mental health?
Furthermore it may be useful to briefly consider why such a strong interaction and collaboration has
come to exist between Phenomenology and aspects of mental health. Both are centralised around
the processes which constitutes the human mind. However historically they have differed in the
mind body dualism (Woodruff Smith 2013:31), which Ryle in (1949 reprinted 2000:15) epitomised so
successfully in saying “It is a necessary feature of what has physical existence that it is in space and
time; it is a necessary feature of what has mental existence that it is in time but not in space”.
Husserl characterises conscious experience by mental states/acts and intentionality, that is the
directionality of conscious experience towards objects. Conversely scientists (Psychiatry) sought out
physical systems and empirical methods (pertaining to the mind) “that are characterised by mass
and force (neurology), ultimately by gravitational, electromagnetic, and quantum fields” (Woodruff
Smith 2013:31). Thus in the 1950’s a naturalistic ontology of mind was pursued.
It was suggested in revised materialism that every mental state has an identical neurological state,
and they exist in token form in parallel to one another. Later a functional computational model for
consciousness was suggested; it presents the idea that the mind is to the brain as software is to
hardware (Woodruff Smith 2013:31). A few problems come to light when examining these models at
a phenomenological level. The first is that both fail to propose a hypothesis for subjective
experience, it is not conveyed how interactions between cortical regions (functional memory /limbic
system) might act to ascribe meaning and associations with objects and thus the occurrence of a
particular experience or state of mind. The neurological assumption in materialism thus fails to
address the premise of phenomenology. It might inform us of what occurs during an experience via
for e.g. neural imaging but it fails to denote an insightful theory of causation and meaning.
The functional model in utilising the computational analogy does provide us with an adequate
rudimentary conceptual grounding from which the mind body dualism can be explored, but does not
address some of the higher functioning cognitive processes which gives rise to mental phenomena
such as intentionality, meta-cognition and subjective experience in general for e.g. What does it feel
like to listen to Rachmaninov or what is like to experience pain? (Woodruff Smith 2013:29). The
problem of subjectivity is described by Ryle (1949) as the ghost in the machine, which refers to
mental phenomena which escapes current physical theory. Though he suggested that instead of
expelling these experiences to the realm of the abstruse or metaphysical due to their unquantifiable
nature we should rather adopt an interdisciplinary approach, grounded within phenomenological
framework in order to bridge the schism between the naturalistic and the philosophical in order to
generate a holistic and integrated understanding of subjective experience.
This is where we meet the application of phenomenology in mental health. Traditionally in
Psychiatry a diagnosis is made primarily upon diagnostic criteria provided in diagnostic manuals such
as the ICD-10 OR DSM-V. The criterion is based upon ostensible behavioural symptoms and aspects
of mood and thought content and –process exhibited by the patient. Patient history is considered to
establish duration, nature and degree of the disorder and secondly to establish clinical insight into
the patient’s current presentation. However, in depth hermeneutical examinations are not common
practice, mostly due to extraneous factors such as time and –resource constraints incurred by
clinicians. Disturbance in conscious experience is directed towards a biological ontology and thus
symptoms are addressed accordingly, though subjective aspects such as meaning, causation and
intentionality, which are central in ascertaining a comprehensive pathology and in grasping the
overall formation of mental states seems to take an ancillary role. This is not to say that clinical
treatment is superfluous but rather to say that in observing finer phenomenological aspects of the
patient’s overall experience, we might acquire new insights which might help elucidate problematic
aspects of mental disorder and consciousness in general (refers to empathy as described by Jaspers
and will be elaborated upon).
Edmund Husserl and Successors
Husserl’s Philosophical background to phenomenology
We have previously began to examine the conceptual and disciplinary basis of Phenomenology in
order to establish its viability and relevance in the application of mental health. However now to
further understand its current form and content, we will examine the original principles which lead
to the propagation and thus establishment of Phenomenology as an Independent philosophical
discipline. To achieve this we must consider the early work and philosophical background of Edmund
Husserl who is thought to originator of continental philosophy and founder and perhaps greatest
proponent of classical phenomenology (Lyne, 2006:192).
Husserl was initially trained as a mathematician and thus his early work was largely based upon
mathematical problems, however it is in this work that we observe the emergence of his
phenomenology as proposed in his Logical Investigations (1901/2) (Lyne, 2006:192). Husserl’s work
began under the tutelage of Weierstrass, who is still regarded as a significant contributor to the field
of mathematics, specifically calculus. His work was concerned with for e.g. the calculation “of the
acceleration of a body at any given point” (Lyne, 2006:192). This is a widely utilised tool within
various fields, the early methodology involved the usage of “infinitesimally small” values which for
e.g. would mean when calculating “the acceleration of a body at a certain point, one needs, it seems
to consider the distance it travels in an infinitesimally small period of time so small that, in fact, no
time has passed at all!-as one wants its velocity at a given point.” (Lyne, 2006:192). These early
calculations were thus, it seems based upon the dubious handling of what are referred to as
irrational numbers, which are values which cannot be expressed as fractions, for e.g. the square root
of two.
Consequently a mathematician called Dedekind devised a method which allowed irrational numbers
to be expressed as rational numbers and so the validity of calculations in calculus were propelled
from being derived from a rather tenuous foundation into the realm of mathematical certainty.
(Lyne, 2006:192). Following this advancement Gottlob Frege (1848-1925), credited with the
formation of modern logic through the “formal system called predicate calculus” (Lyne, 2006:192),
proposed that if irrational numbers could be reduced and thus expressed as rational, then rational or
natural numbers could be defined in even simpler logical terms. We now witness the emergence of
Husserl, who in his work The Philosophy of Arithmetic (1891) provides numerous objections to the
ambitious project of Frege (Lyne, 2006:193). The basic premise of his objection is that our concept of
numbers is irreducible and therefore no simpler logical unit can be derived to define numbers.
Conversely, and this is where we reach the origination of his phenomenology, he suggests that
although we cannot further simplify our conception of numbers we can attempt to understand how
we perceive objects in groups and how we ascribe associations to particular objects (intentionality),
thus we have a praxis shift from the purely logical to the psychological (Lyne, 2006:193).
Now in this consideration of the interaction or co-dependence of the mental processes which
constitutes our conceptions regarding numbers and thus objects, Husserl was criticised as
subscribing to psychologism which deems that “logical or mathematical truths are empirical in that
there are psychological laws concerning how human brains or minds function” (Lyne, 2006:194). This
is important to note as Husserl’s consequent refutation of such criticism, and in asserting that
“logical structures exist independently of their psychological correlates and that the search for the
psychological aspects of the logical acts as subjective experiences must itself be conducted beyond
the realm of psychological science” (Gregory 1987:326), formed the major premise of his earlier
work and lead to the creation of his Logical Investigations (1900-1) and thus his theory of
Husserl’s Phenomenology
We will now endeavour to discuss some of the key elements of Husserl’s phenomenology, though it
must be noted that this task is undertaken with only the purpose of elucidating some of most
prominent aspects of some of the major propositions made within his work. Husserl was so prolific
and thorough in his writings that it might be regarded virtually impossible to provide a description of
the entirety of his work, in summary form, as is intended in this instance. We will begin with some of
the aspects of his earlier work as proposed in his Logical Investigations (1900-1), where it might be
helpful to conceive phenomenology as being “a type of analysis of the mental states involved in in
processing knowledge in a form that can be communicated in language” (Lyne, 2006:198). One will
notice that there is prominent emphasis on linguistic analysis within this work, as in order to
perceive logical propositions without misunderstanding, it is necessary to ensure that its manner of
transmission, which is language is received and processed with its intended meaning or logic.
Now in order to grasp the basic premise of Husserl’s phenomenology and also of how his
phenomenological analysis differs from that of empirical or descriptive psychology, one needs to
“look out for places where he contrasts it with an empirical, psychological approach to mental life on
one side and links it up with a purely logical analysis of language on the other” (Lyne, 2006:198). In
order to achieve this we might look at some questions posed in the introduction of Husserl’s logical
investigations (second volume):
1. Phenomenology as a pure or a priori discipline: Husserl refers to both phenomenology and
logic as being pure, perhaps meaning that both these disciplines do not seek experimental or
empirical findings in order to equate their results. (Lyne, 2006:192). Phenomenology is
concerned with experiences regarding thinking and knowing, as is found in experimental
psychology, however it differs in that it’s not an empirical investigation into “real
psychological events we identify in human beings as instances of thinking or knowing.”
(Lyne, 2006:192), but is concerned rather with them “in the pure generality of their essence,
not experiences empirically perceived and treated as real facts, as experiences of human or
animal experiments” (Husserl:1900-1:249). We can thus say experimental or empirical
psychology is concerned with the mental processes that constitutes thinking and knowing
whereas Phenomenology is concerned with the very idea and thus experience of what it
means to be a knowing and thinking subject (Lyne, 2006:199).
2. Phenomenology’s relation to logic: Husserl in this matter suggests that phenomenology can
play a role in the clarification of logic (Lyne, 2006:199). He warns that if logic is not brought
to show relevance in the “life world” then it might be regarded as an esoteric activity with
little value in fields where practical application is central. In other words what
phenomenology attempts to achieve in logic is to provide a clarification of its function in
everyday life by “using it in the analysis of what it means to possess logical, rational abilities,
and the place of these abilities in the idea of being a knowing subject” (Lyne, 2006:199). It
seems that Husserl asserts that logical concepts are derived from intuitions about our
mental states, now one could infer that he intends to say that that all logic originates and is
governed by mental laws, which is almost by definition the description of psychologism
which he vehemently rejects. However it seems rather that he is merely referring firstly to
the fact that any logic “must arise out of an ideational abstraction founded upon certain
experiences” (Husserl 1900-1:252), and secondly that it is inadequate to rest in, as he puts it
“mere words” as being the ultimate source of content (or logic). So it seems, that he
suggests that phenomenology could be regarded as useful in the clarification of logic in the
analysis of experiences that occur prior to the formation of empirical psychological
postulates (thus being separate from Psychologism).
3. The difficulty of a phenomenological analysis: It is difficult to conduct such analysis as it
becomes evident that what Husserl refers to it as intuition, regarding mental acts, leading to
certain experiences, plays an important role in his phenomenology. Additionally it is made
difficult in that it does not denote perception of a particular object but rather the “essential
types of mental act involved in perception and recognition” (Lyne, 2006:199). We can then
to some degree infer that phenomenological analysis relies upon reflection or introspection
pertaining to such types of mental act. A problematic element in this becomes apparent in
that it is difficult to assert that our introspective method (and thus consequent transmission)
will bear a true likeness to the object of our cognition; as Lyne (2006:200) states: “While
phenomenology seeks to be an analysis of what belongs a priori to the notion of a knowing
subject, in terms of the essential types of mental state involved in our logical and cognitive
abilities, we must constantly check to see that analysis does indeed make sense of how we
think of ourselves”.
4. Phenomenology as descriptive discipline: We have already established that phenomenology
is not a descriptive discipline in that it does not rely upon empirical observations that are
recorded according to prescribed or current psychological theory and methodology. It exists
rather as an “a priori conceptual analysis of what it means to be a knowing subject” (Lyne,
2006:200). Husserl, troublingly, does refer to the process involved in phenomenological
analysis on various occasions as “descriptive psychology”. It is possible however, that this
representation was employed as a device intended to “give a flavour of what a
phenomenological analysis would look like” (Lyne, 2006:200). This means that he wished to
present phenomenology within a methodological framework instead of describing it as an
esoteric abstraction. The separatism in the matter however, stems from the fact that
“descriptive psychology has a well-established use in relation to a particular form of
empirical investigation” (Lyne, 2006:199), thus is seems that it is similar in that it literally
pertains to the description of conscious experience, but is different in that it is firstly,
concerned with the mental processes that occur prior to conception of ideation and
secondly, does not adhere to a preferable methodology of measurement or recordation.
5. Phenomenology as theory of knowledge: This relates to Husserl’s proposition of pure logic
(related to Prolegomena to Pure logic, volume one), it pertains to how we conceive logic,
and in other words it culminates “in the formal study of theories as sets of interrelated
propositions: logic as a formal theory of what a theory is” (Lyne, 2006:199).
Phenomenology’s role in this is to relate this abstract study back “to a concrete
understanding of the essential types of mental act possessed by a subject that can formulate
theories” (Lyne, 2006:201). Husserl (1900-1:265) very eloquently and precisely describes the
role he supposes that Phenomenology (which he refers to as “a formal theory of
knowledge”) plays in the clarification of his “theory of knowledge”:
“This theory of theories goes together, and is illuminated by, a formal theory of knowledge
which precedes, therefore, all explanatory knowledge of the real, all physical science on the
one hand, and all psychology on the other, and of course all metaphysics. Its aim is not to
explain knowledge in the psychological or psychophysical sense as a factual occurrence in
objective nature, but to shed light on the idea of knowledge in its constitutive elements and
6. Phenomenology’s presuppositionlessness: Here Husserl refers to the idea that
Phenomenology as form of analysis “holds back form drawing on any explanatory theories of
mental life” (Lyne, 2006:199). Husserl (1900-1:263) states that what phenomenology
“aspires to, is no more than a thinking over, a coming to an evident understanding of,
thinking and knowing as such, In their pure generic essence” (Husserl, 1900-1:263). This
statement instead of expressing that phenomenological analysis is a mere form of simple
introspection as it might suggest, might conversely refer to the idea that phenomenological
investigation can occur without set hypothesis or empirical method, thus the approach to
analysis is informal as to avoid a bias in analytical direction but draws upon a numerous
fields to consider the acquired observations/results.
7. Phenomenology does not presuppose the existence of human beings: This point speaks of
the suggested presuppositionlessness of phenomenology. The basic premise of the idea
seems to be that phenomenology “is an a priori, conceptual analysis of the idea of being a
certain sort of subject, irrespective of the physical manifestation of such entities” (Lyne,
2006:201), this is to say that if phenomenological analysis is to be useful in the clarification
of pure logic then it cannot be subject to external or prior established suppositions, which as
is agreed in empirical science can be a source of bias, which in turn may contaminate or
distort ones observation in the exhibition of mental acts or intentional experience as they
innately are, in themselves.
The seven prior discussed topics provides us with a general basis of the focus of some of the
major concepts proposed in his Logical investigations (1900-1), however there are a few
concepts that are consistently exhibited in this work and even to a degree, throughout his
later works, which seem to epitomise and to an extent provide a frame of reference in his
extensive analysis of phenomenology. The first and perhaps the most pivotal concept is that
of Intentionality and mental acts, concepts which Husserl himself scholastically expounded
and clarified to a comprehensible form.
Husserl in this instance, asserts that our mental lives can be characterised by two distinct
forms of experience. He suggested that our conscious experience firstly is defined by our
mental directedness towards objects (Intentionality), either to those physically present or
those constructed in mental abstraction or sourced from memory. Here the idea that our
thoughts or experiences are primarily of or about certain things is examined (Lyne,
2006:202) for e.g. we can hold beliefs or notions about boats, but a boat as it stands does
not mean anything. Secondly Husserl presents the concept of non-intentional (the converse
to intentional) mental acts. One might infer that non-intentional acts refer to mental acts or
experiences in which consciousness is not necessarily directed towards a mental object for
e.g. “a mental state such as pain, is not about anything in the same way- a pain is just a pain”
(Lyne, 2006:202). Therefore we might say that intentionality refers the proposition that our
conscious experience is derived from intentional and non-intentional objects (as previously
described), regardless of whether an identical counterpart exists within physical reality.
Furthermore Husserl adopted two terms, that of “quality” and “matter” to denote “aspects
necessarily possessed by any mental act. Matter refers to the content of a mental act
whereas quality refers to one’s general demeanour or attitude towards a mental act for e.g.
“Being afraid that one has left the gas on” (Lyne, 2006:202), through this statement we can
deduce that the attitude or quality regarding the matter is that of “being afraid”, thus the
content or matter of the statement is “one has left the gas on”. Though this exercise seems
rather esoteric in nature, it can be quite applicable in ascertaining a comprehensive
understanding in instances of for e.g. linguistic analysis and in the analysis of logical
proposition (applicable to the analysis of the language use and thought structure of
Leading on from these concepts, the fullness of mental acts is another aspect that Husserl
contends constitutes our mental life. Fullness, as a term refers to the part sensory input (at a
perceptive level) plays in the fruition of mental acts and thus experience. Sensory
information in this instance is “conceived in isolation from their part in an intentional
experience, sensory data are not of or about anything- they are non-intentional experiences
such as pain” (Lyne, 2006:203). Husserl it seems in this conception attempts to express the
idea that that firstly when we perceive a particular object, it is always one and the same
object, though this object can be viewed from varying physical perspectives. Secondly
Husserl (1900-1:565-566) states “very different contents are therefore experienced, though
the same object is perceived” and thus “the experienced content, generally speaking, is not
the perceived object” (1900-1:565-566), for e.g. a person might express that they experience
a feeling of solemnity one night when staring at the moon, though we cannot define the
moon as object according to the individuals experience of solemnity. Lastly Husserl presents
the idea that we are not necessarily explicitly aware of the sensory content in a mental act
“as we live though” it. “The object of the intentional experience is the object we are
perceiving not the sensory content woven into the intentional mental state” (Lyne,
2006:203). The concept of fullness seems to express the idea that we gather subjective
experiences for objects that are so to speak “one and the same thing”. This point speaking of
subjective experience might especially be of value in psychopathology, in for e.g. relating an
individual’s perception of their world in conjunction to their mood or emotional experience.
The last of Husserl’s concepts that will be briefly examined is that of objectifying acts and
founded acts. Husserl contends that “every mental act is either an objectifying or founded
on an objectifying act” (Lyne, 2006:203). What this idea seems to express is that complex
mental acts can have simpler mental acts as components which are inter-dependent in
nature for e.g. if one takes the idea of “being happy that the sun is shining”, the more
complex unitary experience of being happy is “founded on” the simpler “self-standing
mental act of believing that the sun is shining” (objectifying act) (Lyne, 2006:203). Husserl in
presenting this concept seems to wish to provide an additional investigative method in
analysing mental acts, not just on a unitary level, but in a manner that might allow us to
observe how such mental acts “figure in a broader conception of ourselves and our cognitive
ability” (Lyne, 2006:203).
Karl Jaspers Phenomenological approach to Psychopathology
We have so far, introduced Phenomenology at a classical conceptual level, began to consider its
application in the field of mental health and traversed some of the most prominent concepts as
proposed in Husserl’s earlier work. We will now begin to examine the contribution of
phenomenology in the establishment of modern psychopathology by briefly discussing a
phenomenological approach to psychopathology as proposed by Karl Jaspers (1912), which served as
one of the conceptual pillars of his massively influential works Allgemeine Psychopathologie (1913),
which arguably served as the foundation of modern psychopathology. Although Jasper’s
phenomenology is significantly distinctive from that of the classical discipline established by Husserl,
his work will be viewed in conjunction with the phenomenology of Husserl as his early work possibly
formed the basis from which Jaspers conceived his own phenomenological approach.
One of the most prominent areas in which Husserl’s phenomenology can be observed is in that of
Jaspers approach, is in the way he directly relates, even quotes Husserl’s aforementioned conception
of the fullness of mental acts as a method to better understand the nature of a particular
psychopathological symptom (Lyne, 2006:205). He directly draws “from Husserl’s analysis of
perception in terms of the way the matter of an intentional act can remain constant while its
sensory-contents changes” (Lyne, 2006:205).
Before continuing in the examination of Jaspers Phenomenological approach, it might be
appropriate to consider why it proves so difficult to produce a comprehensive assessment of
correlation between the works of Husserl and himself. It may be firstly, due to the fact that at a
definitive conceptual level, phenomenology held separate meanings for each and was thus
employed in differing manners. Jaspers viewed phenomenology more as being a general empirical
descriptive method in cataloguing and forming a taxonomy of mental states or symptoms (Lyne,
2006:191). For Husserl Phenomenology was more of a fundamental activity, he considered it to be
“an analysis of the basic framework within which talk of mental states, including such distinctions as
that between meaning and causes, is possible at all” (Lyne, 2006:191). He conceived of it as being a
theory of knowledge, which serves as a conceptual analysis of what it means to be a knowing subject
capable of forming theories at all (Lyne, 2006:191). Furthermore there are points in each men’s work
where conceptual congruency seems evident but due to their adoption of differing terms, thus the
same idea, at certain points, seems to be articulated but just in different terms, making comparative
work tenuous.
The first matter Jaspers relates in his phenomenological approach (1913), and which might serve as
an appropriate platform from which to extricate and discuss its comprising elements is via his
propositions regarding subjective and objective symptoms. Objective symptoms according to Jaspers
seems to refer to any external manifestations of a patients disorder that can be perceived by the
senses or empirically measured, this notably also includes “a patient’s utterances, written
expressions, and ideas” (Lyne, 2006:184). This understanding of objective symptoms might be
considered to be rather paradoxical in nature as thought and ideas, which might include delusional
thought, cannot be perceived via the senses, though it seems that he attempts to clarify what can be
perceived as a confounding statement by suggesting that objective symptoms includes all that can
be understood via rational thought (Lyne, 2006:184). Jaspers (1968:1313) concept of subjective
symptoms cannot be understood without his conception of empathy, which is central to his work in
phenomenology, as he states: “Subjective symptoms cannot be perceived by the sense-organs, but
have to be grasped by transferring oneself, so to say, into the other individual’s psyche; that is say
empathy. They can only become an inner reality for the observer by his participating in the other
person’s experiences, not by any intellectual effort”.
Jasper’s notion of empathy
Jaspers notion of empathy then seems to be based on the idea that of sharing in a patient or persons
experiences without “any intellectual effort”. This he explains occurs by “transferring oneself….into
an individual’s psyche”, he further mentions that the psychiatrist should seek to “actualise these
phenomena for themselves” in “seeing” (Jaspers 1968:1216). These terms are quite broad in
meaning and should perhaps be understood as having been employed in a metaphorical sense to
express a highly abstract concept of non-objective knowledge for e.g. it is seemingly impossible to
exactly transfer oneself into another’s subjective experience as it would occur in the first person. It
seems then that what Jaspers attempts to express in the usage of such terms, is a process of
understanding or insight that occurs without rational thought being exercised, as Jaspers
(1968:1315) explains, empathy is “a matter of pure experience, not of explicit knowledge”. In other
words it seems that Jaspers exploratory concern was thus not with the ostensible or objective
symptoms of disorders but rather the idea of “knowing” what a particular disorder or symptom feels
like or how it is experienced by the individual (Lyne, 2006:184).
There is however an aspect of empathy that Jaspers personally affirms as being problematic and that
is that of its incommunicability. This refers to the idea that when one attempts to relay an empathic
experience in an experiential or empirical sense, some rational reflection is required, and thus we
might say the uninhibited exhibition of a subjective symptom is distilled down to the objective
realm. One might then be tempted to ask, what is the function of the study of empathy in
psychopathology if its results cannot be conveyed without being confounded in some sense? To this
Jaspers must admit that “it is objective symptoms that provide any sort of basis for our imaginative
re-creation of subjective symptoms” (Lyne, 2006:185). So we might say the experience of empathy,
combined with subsequent reflection provides the clinician with a deeper level of insight into
objective symptoms and thus the disorder, so we might say that empathy acts as very
comprehensive footnotes to a complicated piece of literature. Jasper (1968:1316) states “the more
numerous and specific these indirect hints become, the more well-defined and characteristic do the
phenomena studied appear”.
Jaspers objective for phenomenology in psychopathology seems to be to assert the existence of
subjective psychology alongside objective or experiential psychology which received exponential
interest in the nineteenth century. Jaspers concern was that a psychology without the consideration
of the subjective psyche, would leave us with an incomplete or disproportionate theory of what
constitutes our mental lives (Lyne, 2006:184). As Jasper (1968:1314) puts it: “All such concepts as
fatigability, the power of recovery, learning ability, practice, the effects of rest periods, etc., refer to
performances that can be measured objectively, and it does not matter whether one is dealing here
with a machine, a live but mindless organism, or a human being endowed with a mind”.
He proposes that subjective psychology (phenomenology) can be subdivided into genetic and static
understanding, the first referring to mental states related or dependent upon one another and the
latter, which he adopted, referring to mental states occurring in isolation, which is notably different
from Husserl’s multifaceted or hierarchical conception of mental states as aforementioned (“quality,
matter and content”). I mention Jaspers static view of understanding as it brings us closer to how
Jaspers conceived his phenomenology and thus how it might be employed in psychopathology. It is
important to understand that Instead of rejecting genetic understanding in its entirety, he seems to
suggest that static understanding should be attempted initially, as a preparatory method, as a means
to ascertain uninhibited insight into mental states, prior to intellectual contamination such as
psychologism. It thus seems that Jaspers suggests that static understanding should be used as a
platform, from which proper or genetic inquiry can draw from in order to form a maximally diverse
understanding of a particular mental state or disorder.
From what he states in this instance, one might deduce that his view of the “aim of phenomenology
in psychopathology is thus to describe and name the rich diversity of pathological mental sates, and
to group them in suitable classifications- a taxonomy, one might say, of mental disorder.” (Lyne,
2006:184). Thus we might say that Jaspers attempts to, via the usage of phenomenological
consideration, and such devices such as presuppostionlessness in classification to implore the
physician to appreciate the rich diversity of factors which constitutes mental states and disorder.
Therefore we might say that it attempts to steer us away from habitual adherence to prescriptive
empirical methods, which might at times attempt to generically classify disorder into a few
categories which do not sufficiently account for the infinite nature of subjective experience for each
Phenomenology, thus seems at its core, to address the problem of subjective experience/being and
attempts to introduce an analytical method, which endeavours to systematise and consequentially
articulate what seems to be an infinite range of sources and interactions which constitutes our
mental lives. When one looks at phenomenological theorisation such as that of Husserl and Jaspers,
at times one might conclude that it is an over-complicated, esoteric, confounding and almost a
mystical exercise which is of little or no practical relevance. However, it must be considered that
phenomenology very valiantly attempts to provide a theory of knowledge and method of analysis of
man’s higher cognitive capacities, and such innately human faculties such as empathy which as
phenomena seems to surpass our current empirical/descriptive understanding. Stated in different
terms, it is improbable that there is a simple manner in which to describe and explain highly
complicated and abstract theorems.
What we have attempted to achieve in this text is to show how phenomenology came to exist as a
formalised discipline and how it came to play a major part in the formation of modern
Psychopathology. Its conceptual birth in mathematical theorisation, progression and eventual
application in psychopathology as an analytical tool, is a testament to its self-proclaimed universality
and presuppositionlessness. On a practical level, it encourages the individual consideration and
appreciation of subjective experiences and thus of subjective symptoms (genetic and static
understanding), which presented us with the opportunity to produce a comprehensive taxonomy
(diagnostic manuals) of mental disorder. Phenomenology although dense and intricate in content
and variation, seems to at a basic level, insight, the “thinking over” of information presented by the
patient to the clinician, both at an objective and subjective empathic level and to consider
contextual hermeneutical factors in order to form the most insightful and complete account of the
patients experience and disorder.
Lyne, I., (2006) Phenomenology and Psychopathology. In: Fulford, B., Thornton, T., Graham., eds.
Oxford textbook of Philosophy and Psychiatry. Great Clarendon Street, Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 181-210.
Fulford, B., Thornton, T., Graham., eds. (2006) Oxford textbook of Philosophy and Psychiatry. Great
Clarendon Street, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 181-210.
Gregory, R, L., ed. (1987) The Oxford Companion to The Mind. Walton Street Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
Ryle, G., (2000) The Concept of mind, 4th Edition, London WC2R 0RL: Penguin books.
Husserl, E., (1900-01), “Introduction” to Logical investigations, Volume 2 Logical investigations, 2
volumes, (translated by J.N. Findlay), London: Routhledge and Kegan Paul, Volume 1 pp. 248-288.
Jaspers, K., (1968). The Phenomenological Approach in Psychopathology. British Journal of
Psychiatry, 114: 1313-1323 (anonymous translation of “Die Phanomenologische Forschungsrichrung
in der Psychopathologie”, 1912, Zeitschrift fur die gesante Neurologie und Psychiatrie, 9:391-408).
Smith, David Woodruff, "Phenomenology", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2013
Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =