Is phenomenology a science? I know Husserl was fond of saying it is. Specifically, is any of it scientific? By "phenomenology" I mean

the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view.. [especially as it appears] in the early 20th century in the works of Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty and others.

Are only some of its objects (be that religion, or culture, or something else) scientifically studied in phenomenology? What would any of scientific theory it generates look like, given that it brackets the existence of its objects?

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    Not as things stand, but it was a near miss. Possible duplicate of How should science approach non-empirical phenomena?
    – Conifold
    Commented Oct 4, 2019 at 5:52
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    Phenomenology changed quite significantly over the years, and branched to quite a few sub-fields; some of which might be considered "scientific" (psychological phenomenology, sociological phenomenology), but as Conifold states, as a majority "Phenomenology" is not considered a science. Commented Oct 4, 2019 at 9:36
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    I would say that when we ask this question today, though it is perfectly understandable why we do it, it shows why logical positivism etc won the day, even after they were found to have serious problems. We are still in a Positivism, scientistic attitude, and such like, “from birth” even though this was shown to be a disaster in WW1, which I am sure help bring on Husserl’s third period. Husserl himself experienced before and after WW1.
    – Gordon
    Commented Oct 4, 2019 at 18:23
  • Here is a 1988 paper, which I am sure is an older paper in the newer Husserl studies, but it gives some idea of the context before and including Husserl. digitalcommons.sacredheart.edu/cgi/…
    – Gordon
    Commented Oct 4, 2019 at 18:27
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    Phenomenology is the study of intentional objects, i.e. objects "as they appear to consciousness". That it brackets real existence is not a problem at all, psychologists do the same when they study hallucinations. The problem is the nature of access. If two phenomenologists come up with conflicting reports, there is no reliable third way to adjudicate between them. And the degree of agreement is far lower than with sensory reports, especially aided by measurement instruments, that empirical science relies on, or with discursive reasoning, that mathematics relies on.
    – Conifold
    Commented Oct 6, 2019 at 9:38

2 Answers 2


It probably depends heavily on the specific definition of the word "science" that you use. Some aspects that people may or may not consider to be defining of science:

1) Building up a systematic body of knowledge -- seems that phenomenology should fit this without any problem.

2) Study of the physical world -- whether phenomenology fits this is debatable.

3) Claims should be objectively verifiable -- potentially conflicts with the subjective nature of phenomenology.

4) Focus on observation, experimentation, testing, and reproducibility -- phenomenology should fit this fine except perhaps for some issues related to point 3 above.

My own sense is that a scientific approach to phenomenology can be very fruitful. Regarding 2, we also study social phenomena in a scientific manner (of course these take place in the physical world, but still). Regarding 3, there are other branches of science that involve some degree of introspection, such as psychology and linguistics. Give me a sentence and I can judge relatively easily whether it is grammatically correct, without necessarily having an explicit theory of why that is so. (E.g., is "Jane is taller than John is." a correct sentence? Is "Jane is taller than John's." a correct sentence? Do you know why?)

  • this is a reasonable answer, but in a way could take the question more seriously, by citing references for your different definitions (ideally with pros and cons). the lead sentence seems fundamentally correct thought, to me
    – user38026
    Commented Oct 4, 2019 at 16:58
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    In particular, it's worth pointing out that Husserl meant 'science' in the German sense 'Wissenschaft', which is explicitly much broader than what is typically meant by the English 'science'. The latter typically is restricted to natural and hard sciences. The German Wissenschaft really means any systematic approach to knowledge, something close to (1) in this answer. In this sense, Husserlian phenomenology is explicitly a science. In the sense of being an empirical natural science, it is explicitly not (and not as a failure--by definition it is not supposed to be one).@another_name Commented Oct 4, 2019 at 17:10
  • yes that's a good end sentence, thanks. i have read some of the early 2000s work called naturalized phenomenology or something like that. it made some important claims, or at least tried to. but was anathema -- i think -- to husserl's original intent
    – user38026
    Commented Oct 4, 2019 at 18:19

Phenomenology is based on a belief that it is a science

Simplified definition of phenomenology is that phenomenology represents study of the phenomena that appear in a mind. Basic belief of phenomenology is that we could somehow classify these phenomena, and that individual experience and consciousness of one mind (one person) is based on some underlying universal principles.

One famous example of phenomenological problem is What Is it Like to Be a Bat?. In an essence, is there anything that could connect experiences of a bat and of a man, even if they exists in a same space and time ? And if not a bat, then at least two different human beings - do they experience same thing when they look at the same red wall ? Phenomenology holds as axiom that these two experiences, while not the same, are formed on the same basis. For example, seeing red wall is distinctly sensory experience, different then thinking about red wall, and also different from having emotional experience triggered by red wall.

If then we accept this basic premise about classifying phenomena in different groups and sub-groups, then classical scientific relations and sentences would appear in the form group A has(or has not) a property B. For example, robots have no feelings (feelings are not phenomena that robots could experience) . Statements like this, of course, form any scientific theory.

Now that we have scientific theory, next step would be to objectively proof it. Phenomenology could not perform completely impersonal experiments like for example physics, but it could have test-subjects, in a manner of psychological experiments or social studies. In or example with robots, we could try to prove that robots behave the same no matter if their operator curses or praise them.

Finally, with the set of proven (and disproven) statements, and methodology how to do this, phenomenology would classify as a science in a formal manner. But again, it is all based on belief that mental phenomena could be classified at all, which is essentially impossible to prove right or wrong.

  • "Simplified definition of phenomenology is that phenomenology represents study of the phenomena that appear in a mind." By that definition, all of science is phenomenological in nature, since everything we study scientifically is based on how it appears to us in our minds, even if we use external technological instruments as intermediates between our minds and whatever noumenal realm might underlie and inform our senses. Ultimately we can only study and systematize what we perceive in our minds, which includes such instruments themselves.
    – Outis Nemo
    Commented Dec 14, 2023 at 12:58

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