Phenomenology and naturalism are standardly thought of as philosophical opponents and the historical interaction between phenomenology and science throughout the twentieth century has sometimes been adversarial. While many of the major phenomenologists have drawn deeply on science, phenomenologists have also sought to discipline the reach and ambition of science, with such attempts sometimes provocatively posed, as with Heidegger’s infamous declaration that “science does not think”. For the phenomenologist, the success (or otherwise) of empirical science should be bracketed when doing philosophy and modes of reasoning that are characteristic of the empirical sciences (e.g. reduction, causal explanation, etc.), and generally endorsed by the philosophical naturalist, are held to be non-phenomenological and “naïve”. In the opposite direction, phenomenology is frequently reproached by naturalists and scientists for being, as Daniel Dennett suggests, a theoretical trajectory with no agreed method and no agreed results; nothing that might play a role in engagement with science, as John Searle complains. On both these commonly held views, then, including by philosophers as otherwise diverse as Dennett and Searle, phenomenology cannot be a potential research program in interaction with empirical sciences: the phenomenologist standardly embraces this; the naturalist typically bemoans it and suspects an untenable “first philosophy”.
In this book, however, I argue that these understandings of phenomenology (and naturalism) should not be taken to be the final word. In arguing for the compatibility of phenomenology and naturalism, this book also refashions each. The opening chapters begin with a methodological and meta-philosophical focus that seeks to curb the philosophical “over-bidding” characteristic of the claims and ambitions of both classical transcendental phenomenology and scientific naturalism. Then, having opened the possibility of a middle way and the prospect that the twain might meet, the chapters on matters where scientific and phenomenological work overlap and sometimes conflict—on time, the body, and others—contest some of the standard ways of understanding the relationship between phenomenological philosophy and empirical science and between phenomenology and naturalism. Without invoking a move of methodological quarantine in which each is allocated to their proper and separate domains, the book outlines the significance of the first-person-perspective characteristic of phenomenology—both epistemically and ontologically—while according due respect to the challenges and complications coming from various predominantly third-personal empirical sciences. The book thus renews phenomenology—albeit in a hybrid form—and argues for its ongoing relevance and importance for the future of philosophy.