Possible and Actual: Phenomenology as the Study of Possible and not of Actual

Categories: Qualitative

According to Husserl, phenomenology is not the study of actual or existing, rather than it is the study of possible and logical. How this statement can be interpreted in the context of practical research?
Being is the totality, the unity of all the multiplicity. Being immediately falls into genre, and genre into species and species into particular existing instances. In scientific studies, one does not study the whole being; one study only one genus or certain species of a particular genus. Thus, physics studies the dead matter in respect of its physical properties. Chemistry studies the dead matter qua its chemical properties; it also studies live matter qua its chemical properties. Biology studies live matter qua its vital properties like growth, nutrition, reproduction and vital functions.
These general fields can be further divided into specializations on sub species. So consider the case of a scientist who studies insects. This specie has a large number of members, yet still the existing or actual number of its members is not infinite. Each of its members has a certain property in the absence of which it can no longer be considered an insect. Keeping this essential property as invariant, one can see how other properties vary in different members of the family of insects to make them different from each other. Thus determining the essence one can imaginatively vary other qualities to deduce different members of this species or family. This imaginative variation of the non essential qualities while keeping the essential unchanged, can result in the generation of infinite number of possible insects. One can form infinite number of insects through this method, out which some will be actual, having existence and other will only be possible. So, through this type of method one is connected with infinity of possibilities.
Phenomenology uses this same method, but its field of study is not being itself, rather it studies the experiences of the one who knows about being. It studies the consciousness while deleting the object from the acts of consciousness; the objects of consciousness are studied in natural sciences.
This method of imaginative variation of the non essential qualities, while keeping the essential constant, is what that makes phenomenology a science of possibilities. Suppose we are interested in knowing how people of a certain age experience a certain kind of pain. We will sample certain cases to study, while keeping in view all possible variations in our defined population, and our sample will be representing those possible variations. So suppose we chose 6-8 people of that age group and we interview them.
On the basis of the data collected through this exercise, the researcher has to determine the essence of that experience, so that afterwards, the non essential qualities of this experience can be varied while keeping the essential constant. This will yield an infinite number of possibilities, and one only has to give the concepts that determine and define these possibilities.
Thus, phenomenology studies the possible. It tells us about the all possible ways an experience can be had by a certain population.Phenomenology connects us with the infinite; yet this infinite is comprehensible, it can be defined and understood.


By Khalid Jamil Rawat