Getting Started with Phenomenology


Someone on Quora asked, “What primary and secondary sources should I read if I want to better understand phenomenology and the phenomenological method?”

I always steer folks wanting to learn about phenomenology in the direction of getting a good foundation in Edmund Husserl. If you have that, you can go on from there to Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Emmanuel Levinas, Roman Ingarden, or anyone that you want to follow. So…

If you can, buy a used copy of the edited volume by Joseph Kockelmans: Phenomenology: The Philosophy of Edmund Husserl and Its Interpretation. This has some good exerts from Husserl to get you started along with interpretations from the best thinkers who took up the phenomenological project, e.g. Levinas, Heidegger, etc. For example: you get a bit of Husserl talking about intentionality and theKockelmans follows this up with an exert from someone likeLevinas interpreting what Husserl is talking about. So not only a good intro to Husserl, but a helpful reader that gives you a taste of his “successors.” A real shame that this bookwas allowed to go out of out of publication.

You might add to this Merleau-Ponty’s preface to his Phenomenology of Perception as well as a short piece he wrote called “The Philosopher and His Shadow.”
Still, I would recommend that anyone learning phenomenology take time to read Husserl’s Crisis of European Sciences & Transcendental Phenomenology. Husserl once told Dorian Carnes that the best way to read his works was to start with the last one and work your way back to Logical Investigations. So it does not hurt to start with his last book.
As for secondary sources that give you some background and helpful interpretation, you can get a lot out of Dermot Moran’s work in general but especially Edmund Husserl: Founder of Phenomenology. And there is Donn Welton’s The Other Husserl: The Horizons of Transcendental Phenomenology. Finally, one of Husserl’s last assistants, Ludwig Landgrebe, has been translated into a very clear little volume of essays that are most enlightening: Phenomenology of Edmund Husserl.

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