Phenomenological Psychology

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Keen’s Daughter – Illustrations of a Phenomenological Psychology Approach I

July 12th, 2009 by David Kronemyer · No Comments

There is no shortage in the academic literature of misinformation about phenomenological psychology, its methods and objectives. Illustrative is A Primer in Phenomenological Psychology by Ernest Keen (1975), Lanham, MD: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Inc. Keen starts with a lengthy exegesis about his five year-old daughter (now surely in her late 30s). She experienced some kind of an emotional melt-down while on a play-date with one of her friends. Keen’s account of the episode sets forth numerous descriptions of his daughter’s psychological state. She “imagined,” “imitated,” was “thinking,” “looking,” “understands,” “planned,” “remembered.” She invested an article of clothing (in Heidegger-ese, an item of equipment) with “meaning.” She “wanted,” “anticipated” and “changed her mind.” This is all within the space of the first chapter.

To the phenomenological psychologist, most of this is incomprehensible. Phenomenological psychology isn’t concerned with subjective mental states such as those proffered by Keen. Keen simply proliferates a concept of his daughter’s “self” in opposition to his daughter’s “world,” the world in which she finds herself and that constrains every aspect of her activity. The fact of the matter is that she’s not engaged in any “conscious” (or even “subconscious”) activity. To the extent anything is happening at all, her precipitous outburst simply is a non-conscious response to a real-world constraint. Instead of her familiar home environment, she is cast into a new world with different conventions, customs and protocols. Her coping skills are insufficiently well-developed to enable her to make this transition. Keen’s elaborate reconstruction of his daughter’s various attitudes is non-explanatory. His perspective is that of an observer, yet he still is assigning designators (with their implicit premises and uncertain boundary conditions) to his daughter’s mental states. This leaves the reader in an explanatory cul-de-sac.