I am reading Robert Sokolowski's Introduction to Phenomenology. He makes phenomenology out to be inherently realist: when we intend something, we intend the thing itself (not the "idea" or "concept" of the thing, but its "objective correlate"). The object in question has an identity, an essence, and although it is difficult to pinpoint exactly it exists; we are intending its identity. In his own words, "Consciousness is 'of' something in the sense that it intends the identity of objects, not just the flow of appearances that are presented to it," and "When we perceive an object . . . we have one and the same object given to us" (pp. 20-21). At the same time, it is not the sum of its appearances; the identity of an object "transcends its manifold of presentations" (p. 30).

I can understand this being the case for material objects. However, Sokolowski holds that this is true even for categorical intentionality as well.

Sokolowski states that categorical intentions arise from experience through a three step process. He provides the example of a scratched car. In experiencing, we first perceive its "various manifolds of presentation" and observe that "one and the same car is continuously given to us as the identity in the manifold" (p. 89). Second, we give the abrasions our attention, highlight them (not just the spatial part, but this feature, this abrasiveness, in the spatial part" [emphasis added] (p. 89). In this step "we continue to experience the appearances of the car, and we continue to recognize one and the same car in all the appearances, but we have now spotlighted one of the appearances and brought it to center stage" (pp. 89-90). Third, we return to the car as a whole and "take it precisely as being the whole, and simultaneously we take the part we had highlighted . . . as being a part in that whole. We now register the whole as containing the part. A relation between the whole and part is articulated and registered. At this point we can declare, 'This car is damaged'" (p. 90).

So we have this fact, this categorical object: the car is damaged. However, Sokolowski insists this is not an idea. Instead we are engaging in a process of constitution, where we bright the fact that such is the case to light (p. 92-93). The categorical object exists in its own right as part of the perceived object's identity: "the identity [is also] achieved through the statements we can make about it" (p. 94). I can reluctantly accept this, but he elevates it still further to what we would typically consider conceptual entities. This includes reasons, justifications, arguments—judgements as opposed to intending merely a state of affairs.

Sokolowski introduces an attitude he calls the "propositional attitude" and the reflection that establishes it the "propositional reflection" (p. 99). Propositional reflection entails the change of something being a state of affairs to being a judgement. This involves encountering an assertion. One intends the assertion. But suppose doubt arises. The state of affairs just constituted (i.e. the assertion taken as true) is given the qualifier "as proposed," belief is suspended. Yet, according to Sokolowski, the same "thing-and-feature" is intended even after a the change in the state of affairs (i.e. the assertion becomes a judgement/meaning). However, after evaluating the statement, one comes to the conclusion that it is true. The qualifier is removed and the judgement returns to being a state of affairs. All the while, this state of affairs exists in the identity of the object in question.

This account of judgements as existing in objects, and the implication that ideas do not exist, seem shaky to me. Sokolowski's Introduction to Phenomenology is supposed to be a general account of what phenomenology is without "taking sides." It also seems to presuppose realism. Yet I was under the impression that realism was only one stance of many among phenomenologists. Considering the role of transcendental idealism in some conceptions of phenomenology, Sokolowski's assertion that phenomenology is realist seems false. So I ask two questions:

  1. Does phenomenology as a whole reject the existence of mediating concepts (i.e. ideas)?

  2. Is phenomenology fundamentally realist, or if this is just a position held by some?

  • 1
    Judging by your description, Sokolowski does describe some basic acts of Husserl's phenomenology, constitution of intentional objects, adumbration and founding (turning acts themselves into intentional objects). However, Husserl was deliberately evasive on realism, his official attitude was to suspend judgment, and, if anything, he leaned towards anti-realism. But I am not quite sure what you mean by "mediating concepts" and "ideas". The latter (a.k.a. eidoses, essences) are quite prominent in Husserl, but perhaps Sokolowski uses the word differently.
    – Conifold
    May 14, 2021 at 9:52
  • 1
    Depends on how you define realism. Generally, it is "essences" (or, more generally, "things that are") disclosing themselves in particular ways which produces phenomena, ie. it is a "coming into contact" with something "real". There are "mediations" at play in most phenomenologies I am aware of, though (Scheler, Plessner, Gehlen) - many of which are through the body, not necessarily abstract entities. Hard to give a definite answer here
    – Philip Klöcking
    May 14, 2021 at 11:53

1 Answer 1


Your two questions are similar in nature and the your intuition seems more or less correct that most modern phenomenologists hold the position of some types of direct realism (naive, enactivism, critical, etc) when it comes to perception of objects even challenged by argument from hallucination, according to below 2 contemporary references on this matter. One is from A.D. Smith's perceptual consciousness defense of direct realism against representationism as discussed in Susanna Siegel's paper here:

Nevertheless, Smith holds that the correct account of perceptual consciousness is a crucial element in blocking the arguments from illusion and hallucination, and therefore in supporting the possibility of direct perception. This is an extraordinarily engaging book. Within a single, unified narrative, one encounters the views of many philosophers—Husserl, Fine, Broad, Sextus Empiricus, Loar, Schopenhauer, Meinong, Burge, Dilthey, Russell, Dennett, Sartre, O’Shaughnessy, Evans, Berkeley, Craig, Brentano and many....

And here is another contemporary paper by Boyd Millar to argue against such direct realism of phenomenology.

Many philosophers have claimed that naïve realism (the view that to perceive is to stand in a primitive relation of acquaintance to the world) can provide a satisfying account of this phenomenological directness of perceptual experience while the content view (the view that to perceive is to represent the world to be a certain way) cannot. I argue that this claim is false. Specifically, I maintain that the only acceptable naïve realist account of the relevant phenomenology is circular and that the content view can provide a similar account. In addition, I maintain that a certain specific variety of the content view provides a non-circular and thus more satisfactory account of this phenomenology. If so, then contrary to what is commonly assumed there are powerful phenomenological grounds for preferring the content view to naïve realism.

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