Dan Dennett, in his article "Who’s On First? Heterophenomenology Explained" (https://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/dennett/papers/JCSarticle.pdf) says:

"In short, heterophenomenology is nothing new; it is nothing other than the method that has been used by psychophysicists, cognitive psychologists, clinical neuropsychologists, and just about everybody who has ever purported to study human consciousness in a serious, scientific way."

Later in the article, there is the following:

"Goldman (1997) says that heterophenomenology is not, as I claim, the standard method of consciousness research, since research- ers ‘rely substantially on subjects’ introspective beliefs about their conscious experience (or lack thereof)’ (p. 532). In personal correspondence (Feb 21, 2001, available as part of my debate with Chalmers, on my website, at http:// ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/papers/chalmersdeb3dft.htm) he puts the point this way: "The objection lodged in my paper [Goldman, 1997] to heterophenomenology is that what cognitive scientists actually do in this territory is not to practice agnosticism. Instead, they rely substantially on subjects’ introspective beliefs (or reports). So my claim is that the heterophenomenological method is not an accurate description of what cognitive scientists (of consciousness) standardly do. Of course, you can say (and perhaps intended to say, but if so it wasn’t entirely clear) that this is what scien- tists should do, not what they do do."

I certainly would play the role of reformer if it were necessary, but Goldman is simply mistaken; the adoption of agnosticism is so firmly built into practice these days that it goes without saying, which is perhaps why he missed it."

There seems not to be anything in the article about the specific details of the origins of heterophenomenology. And nothing at all about when and where it was first articulated as a position on consciousness.

This New York Times article is readable: https://www.nybooks.com/online/2018/03/13/the-consciousness-deniers/ It claims that heterophenomenology (if I understand the article correctly, because the article doesn't mention that word) was an idea that was first created by scientists, and in the early twentieth century. But the article doesn't say who deserves credit as the discoverer of the idea and indeed denies that it is a discovery, taking the view that it is "silly". I first read the article a few weeks ago after Keith Frankish referred to it in this in depth YouTube video about philosophical illusionism. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2n-s6C1iYQ&t=373s.

I want to know who came up with heterophenomenology. Who, if anyone, came up with heterophenomenology before Dennett, and when?

  • 1
    Dennett did. His heterophenomenology is more than "the method that has been used", it is devised as a "scientific" alternative to Husserl's "subjective" phenomenology that nobody before Dennett proposed as such. As for the underlying technique of recording unreflected reports for non-philosophical uses, it is indeed old. Freud might have been first to conceptualize it explicitly in his method of free association. Ironically, it was meant for exploring the unconscious.
    – Conifold
    Mar 27, 2023 at 8:26
  • @Conifold Wikipedia's article called "Free association", that you linked to, says, "The use of free association was intended to help discover notions that a patient had developed, initially, at an unconscious level, including: Transference - unwittingly transferring feelings about one person to become applied to another person; Projection - projecting internal feelings or motives, instead ascribing them to other things or people; Resistance - holding a mental block against remembering or accepting some events or ideas." On the other hand, I didn't see anything about HP there. Mar 27, 2023 at 9:25
  • Nor should you. The commonality with free association is in the use of unreflected reports on given prompts, which is how heterophenomenology operates and what Dennett says is "nothing new", not what they are used for. Their use for philosophical study of consciousness is Dennett's own invention, largely to counter Husserlians. Those who write on it refer to him, there are no other "origins". Goldman is not the only one contesting that this is a "standard practice" in psychology either, see e.g. Beenfeldt.
    – Conifold
    Mar 27, 2023 at 10:52

2 Answers 2


Daniel Dennet first came up with the explicit construction of heterophenomenology in 1982 (Dennet, 1982). It's his analysis of the way in which consciousness can be studied in parallel to Husserlian subjective phenomenology.

The quote:

"In short, heterophenomenology is nothing new; it is nothing other than the method that has been used by psychophysicists, cognitive psychologists, clinical neuropsychologists, and just about everybody who has ever purported to study human consciousness in a serious, scientific way."

It is a reference to the fact that heterophenomenology is similar, if not the same, as general empirical methods used to study consciousness anyway. In his 1982 paper, he does say: "though it is never, I think, practiced with attention to quite the set of principles and constraints I will describe."

If you're asking when it was first used as an empirical method to study consciousness, that's a taller order. Most empirical psychology has flavours of heterophenomenology, even from back when it was still considered a branch of the philosophy of mind. Candidate answers here are Kant, Fechner, Wundt, and Freud.

I don't think any of them did so explicitly as heterophenomenology, nor did they connect it to the phenomenological method or more broadly think of constraints on this method the way Dennet does.


You quote:

"In short, heterophenomenology is nothing new; it is nothing other than the method that has been used by psychophysicists, cognitive psychologists, clinical neuropsychologists, and just about everybody who has ever purported to study human consciousness in a serious, scientific way."

The term is coined by Dennett, but Dennett himself believes it to be just a name for a methodology halfway between phenomenology and psychology rooted in natural science. One of Dennett's influences, his teacher Gilbert Ryle of The Concept of Mind fame, was moved by the behaviorists (his book has material regarding behaviorism at the end), but in psychology in the 1960's, practitioners abandoned moderate and radical behaviorism of Pavlov, Skinner, and Watson for a philosophy of psychology that admitted patient testimony as scientific. This shift resulted in the discipline of cognitive psychology and many thinkers went beyond into an interdisciplinary framework called cognitive science:

Cognitive psychology originated in the 1960s in a break from behaviorism, which held from the 1920s to 1950s that unobservable mental processes were outside the realm of empirical science. This break came as researchers in linguistics and cybernetics, as well as applied psychology, used models of mental processing to explain human behavior. Work derived from cognitive psychology was integrated into other branches of psychology and various other modern disciplines like cognitive science, linguistics, and economics. The domain of cognitive psychology overlaps with that of cognitive science, which takes a more interdisciplinary approach and includes studies of non-human subjects and artificial intelligence.

What is necessary to understand is that there has always been a tension between rationalism and empiricism (think Descartes and Hume as exemplars), and that by the 19th century in Germany and Austria, where many of the world's leading intellects lived, there was this renewed struggle in the form of psychologism and antipsychologism and then metaphysically speculative and introspective methods of Freud's psychology and Wundt's naturalistic, experimental methods. Philosophically, thinkers such as Brentano, Frege, Meinong, Husserl, Feud, Wundt, and many others were grappling with turning the philosophy of mind into a science, a process that today exists as two distinct communities rooted in irreducible notions growing out of Husserl's traditions, and reductive notions that apply a naturalized philosophy of mind. The first group of thinkers are Continental thinkers and traditions, and the latter are analytic thinkers. Both schools both harken back to Kant when citing their traditions, and both schools often wrestle with interpreting transcendental idealism.

Dennett by way of Ryle, who was an ordinary language philosopher, thus uses phenomenology through the lens of ordinary language, which is not an aversion to technical language, as it suggests to the non-philosopher, but rather the avoidance of the repurposing of ordinary language for technical purpose, as men such as Husserl and Heidegger do. (You'll find that those of us with a proclivity for analytic methods often find the distinctions in terms being, Being, Being-as-this, and Being-as-that quite confusing.) Dennett is merely claiming that any decent philosophical position must embrace first-person and third-person methods and is labeling what he believes to be a widespread practice in more modern psychological communities of doing so. Dennett therefore, like Ryle before him, interprets phenomenology in a way that is radically different than modern phenomenologists do, and that Dennett is one of the uncommon philosophers in the 20th century who even acknowledges the gulf and is attempting to find middle ground between third-person-only behaviorist thinking and first-person-only phenomenologist thinking. It should be no surprise that his compromise does not please contemporary phenomenologists.

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