I have done some preliminary reading on phenomenology and Husserl via basic sources.

How is phenomenological reduction performed?

I understand the steps involved but I don't understand how to employ them. Maybe a concrete example might help. Especially one that requires more rigour. I understand it when we, for example, employ it to a drawing of a "cube" on a paper since the act of consciousness we are focussing on is visual perception. I suppose I am looking for a concrete example involving a rather abstract object.

Any suggestions as to references that could help with this are also welcome.

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    Here is the book by Herbert Spiegelberg again. archive.org/details/… And “History of Philosophy” by Julian Marias. The Spiegelberg book gets into the details pretty quickly, and the Marias gives you an overview. So he puts Bretano and Husserl in the category of the return of metaphysics. You are basically bracketing Hume and Kant, though this is not quite correct nevertheless it may help you.
    – Gordon
    Nov 20, 2019 at 2:23
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    Bolzano and Bretano were both priests so they wanted to bring metaphysics back, meaning, essence and the like. Bretano was a teacher of Husserl.
    – Gordon
    Nov 20, 2019 at 2:25
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    When I say bracket off Hume and Kant I am making a joke but there is some truth to it. ||| With the Spiegelberg book you can gaze over the Table of Contents and find some interesting stuff to read.
    – Gordon
    Nov 20, 2019 at 2:43
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    I’m sorry here is the Volume 2. archive.org/details/…
    – Gordon
    Nov 20, 2019 at 2:59
  • it may help to try and perform the phenomenological reduction when reading phenomenology, rather than say when looking at a ball of wax
    – user38026
    Nov 21, 2019 at 1:56

2 Answers 2


The following account of Husserlian phenomenological reduction might make clearer what is involved in the reduction. Some of Husserl's characterisations of the reduction come close to examples; and in the References there are suggestions for further reading in which examples are to be found:

We must begin by rehearsing, once again, Husserl's descriptions of the transcendental-phenomenological reduction. There are a number of different ways of approaching the reduction. One may follow Descartes on his road of total doubt. Alternatively one may examine one of the traditional philosophic disciplines, e.g., logic, in an attempt to uncover the aims implicit in its developmental By either way one is led to question what had previously seemed self-evident. On the Cartesian road we are led to question all presuppositions of human experience; in logic the presuppositions of judging, of validity and truth become questionable. We begin, then, by questioning what we had previously taken for granted, or by wondering at what seems most familiar. This involves a change of attitude (Einstellung);we must look at the world with "new eyes." What exactly is this new attitude which I adopt as I perform the transcendental- phenomenological reduction? Here Husserl provides a variety of phrases designed to exhibit this new attitude to the reader: I no longer attach any validity to the "natural belief in the existence of what I experience"; I "invalidate," "inhibit," "disqualify," all commitments (Stellungnahmen) with reference to experienced objects; I "bracket the objective world." This last is one of the best-known phrases used in this connection. Husserl draws his metaphor from mathematics where we place an expression in brackets and put a + or - sign in front of it. By thus bracketing the objective world we "give it a different value." In performing the reduction, the phenomenologist establishes himself as "disinterested spectator" and changes his practical aims. The result of this change of attitude is a change in my experience. Previously experienced reality now becomes "mere phenomenon." This Kantian term is here used in a new sense; any object of experience becomes "phenomenon" for the observer who recognizes the object's claim to reality, but reserves decision on the validity of that claim. In the "natural," preanalytic and prephenomenological attitude - sometimes Husserl also calls it the "naive" attitude, but not in any pejorative sense - we generally believe that objects perceived are real; we believe that we live in a real world. This belief is "put out of action," suspended, we make no use of it. We are left with a world-as-phenomenon, a world which claims to be; but we refuse, for the time being, to pass on the validity of these claims.

A further result of this movement is the discovery of the transcendental ego. I suddenly recognize that it is I who must decide whether the claims to reality of the objects of experience in particular, and of the world as a whole in general, are valid claims. I discover that whatever has sense and validity, has sense and validity for me. I thus discover the "absolute being of the transcendental ego." "Absolute being (Seiendes) is in the form of an intentional life which, whatever else it may be aware of in itself, is at the same time awareness of itself." The "I" which transforms the world into mere phenomenon is, in so doing, aware of itself as transforming the world and cannot be subjected to the same transformation. But apart from its "modes of relatedness" and its "modes of behavior," this "I" is completely devoid of any content which could be studied or explicated. It is completely indescribable, being no more than a pure ego.'

Husserl insists that the transcendental-phenomenological reduction in no way limits experience. The phenomenologist does not turn away either from the whole of experienced reality and actuality or from certain areas of it; he only suspends judgment concerning the reality or validity of what is experienced. The world before the transcendental-phenomeno- logical reduction and the world which I have transformed into "mere phenomenon" do not differ in content, but in the way in which I am related to each of them. (Richard Schmitt, 'Husserl's Transcendental-Phenomenological Reduction', Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Dec., 1959), pp. 238-245: 239-40.)


Dan Zahavi, Husserls Phenomenology, ISBN 10: 0804745463 / ISBN 13: 9780804745468 Published by Stanford University Press, 2003.

Joseph J. Kockelmans, Edmund Husserl's Phenomenology, ISBN 10: 1557530505 / ISBN 13: 9781557530509 Published by Purdue University Press, 1994.

James M. Edie, Edmund Husserl's Phenomenology, ISBN 10: 0253204119 / ISBN 13: 9780253204110 Published by Indiana University Press, 1987.

E. Pivcevic, Husserl and Phenomenology, London: Hutchinson, 1970.


This is from the Internet Enc. of Philosophy https://www.iep.utm.edu/phen-red/

"...since we are always already in a world, the first task of epistemology is to properly and accurately describe what is already the case; and we can do this only if we begin with a thorough examination of consciousness itself and carry that examination all the way back to the “I” in the “I Am.” Husserl speaks of going “back” [ruckfrage] because we must begin where we are; and where we are includes a sense of self whose identity is temporarily seated in the sedimented layers of consciousness built up through our temporal experiences. Hence, if we are to encounter the “I” we must dig back down through those layers or we must continually present ourselves with the question: who is “I”? as we consider the great variety of things with which we have identified. This questioning back is the method of the phenomenological reduction and aims to lay bare the “I”—the condition for the possibility of knowledge."

We see here Husserl's problem. He assumes the reality of an individual 'I'. Yet those who practice his (or an improved version of his) meditation find that this 'I' is also a phenomenon to be reduced. I don't know Husserl well but I feel his idea of reduction is flawed since he does not reduce phenomena. A proper reduction would do way with all Kantian phenomena, just as Kant does away with them for the 'thing-in-itself'.

That is to say I feel Husserl makes the same mistake as those he criticises, namely the pre-analytical reification of phenomena. The only example of a complete phenomenological reduction of which I know is 'non-dualism' and the Perennial philosophy, and it is no coincidence that meditation is the method.

I reckon he was bang on track but just didn't get around to studying what those who practice phenomenological reduction discover. He therefore has to make assumptions about consciousness and the 'I' and these prevent his reductive project from becoming a fundamental analysis.

As for how to perform such a reduction, it may be done two ways. Husserl suggests meditation, and this would be usual method. It may also be performed in logic as is demonstrated by Nagarjuna and Bradley, and some would say by Kant. Either way, none of Husserl's phenomena survive as they are all reduced without exception.

To me this seems another case of a philosopher ignoring the work of people who study consciousness and phenomena in the way Husserl recommends, to the disbenefit of his own case.

A rather tentative answer since I'm no Husserl expert.

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