Authors Name: 
Ilpo Hirvonen
University of Helsinki
Philosophy & Theology
Award winner

On the Interrelation between Phenomenology and Externalism

This paper studies the connections between externalism and phenomenological philosophy. This inquiry is motivated by the question whether phenomenology can be understood using the concepts of internalism and externalism developed in analytical philosophy. The purpose of this paper is to show that phenomenology is better understood as externalist rather than as internalist. The focus is mainly on Edmund Husserl’s writings from Logical Investigations and Ideas to The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, but Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time as well as Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception are also briefly studied. 

Externalism is defined as a contrary conception to internalism. According to externalism, the subject’s mental content is not dependent solely on factors that are internal to the subject but also external, environmental factors. In this paper, the internalist interpretations of phenomenology are demonstrated to be based on a false and narrow understanding of the nature of phenomenology which is followed by an externalist interpretation of Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty, focusing on their notion of world-involving intentionality. The historical analysis of phenomenology leads to a view known as phenomenological externalism which conceives the mind and the world as interrelated. 

The historical analysis shows to a certain extent that Husserl’s thought developed into a more externalist direction in his later period which has been further elaborated in the externalist notions of the subject’s Being-in-the-world in the philosophies of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. In this paper, it is argued that externalism and phenomenology belong together because externalism seems to implicitly contain a notion of the entanglement of the mind and the world typical for phenomenology, whereas phenomenology emphasizes how the subject is always outside itself embedded in the world. Furthermore, this claim creates more room for a dialogue between analytical and phenomenological philosophy.