Book Review: Introduction to Phenomenology

Robert Sokolowski’s Introduction to Phenomenology was one of the first books on Husserlian Phenomenology that I read, after I was introduced to Husserl several years ago. At the time, although I had been studying philosophy for quite a while, I was unfamiliar with Husserl’s terminology and principles. After all, as anyone who has read his works can attest, Husserl is not the most accessible of authors, at least initially. Thus, at first, I found it rather difficult to fully comprehend many passages in Husserl’s texts, and to fit his ideas accurately into the context of Western philosophy. However, reading this book by Sokolowski was like getting a bird’s eye view of Husserl’s philosophy: I was able to understand the big picture, grasp Husserl’s place in the history of philosophy, and see the way forward on the journey to comprehending Husserlian phenomenology.

Introduction to Phenomenology is divided into 14 concise chapters. Sokolowski begins by examining intentionality and consciousness and then proceeds to elucidate three formal structures (i.e., parts and wholes, identity in a manifold, and presence and absence) that are central to Husserlian philosophy and pervade it at every level. From there, Sokolowski touches on crucial phenomenological themes, such as the Phenomenological Reduction, Perception, the Self, Temporality, and the Life World. Sokolowski continues by considering Husserl’s understanding of evidence and truth, as well as his notion of eidetic intuition. Finally, Introduction to Phenomenology concludes with an insightful elucidation of what phenomenology means and an overview of the present day relevance of Phenomenological philosophy.

Robert Sokolowski writes in a clear, accessible style, and this book is not only very informative, but it is also a pleasure to read. Sokolowski is a renowned scholar and philosopher in his own right, and thus it is little wonder that his book is so clear and illuminating. In order to illustrate the value of this work, allow me to quote several passages which I find exceptionally intriguing:

“Phenomenology shows that the mind is a public thing, that it acts and manifests itself out in the open, not just inside its own confines.” (12)

“Intuition is not something mystical or magical; it is simply having a thing present to us as opposed to having it intended in its absence.” (34)

“When we shift from the natural attitude to the phenomenological, we raise the question of being… We begin to look at things in their truth and evidencing. This is to look at them in their being. We also begin to look at the self as the dative to whom beings are disclosed: we look at the self as the dative of manifestation.” (64-65)

“Modern science deals with idealized things: with frictionless surfaces, rays of light, ideal gases, incompressible fluids, perfectly flexible strings, ideally efficient engines, ideal voltage sources, and test particles that do not have any effect on the field in which they move. However, such ideal forms are not fabricated out of thin air. Rather, they are projections that have their roots in the things that we directly experience.” (148)

“Phenomenology escapes the voluntarism of postmodernity because it avoids the apparent rationalism of modernity… It recognizes the validity of prephilosophical experience and thinking and does not try to substitute for it.” (208)

Thus, in brief, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is seriously interested in Husserlian phenomenology, whether you are new to philosophy or have studied it for years. Sokolowski’s book has immense value for all stages of the journey. Introduction to Phenomenology

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