Phenomenological Skepticism Reconsidered: A Husserlian Answer to Dennett’s Challenge

There is a long-standing tradition of questioning the viability and scientificity of first-person methods. Husserlian reflective methodology, in particular, has been challenged on the basis of its perceived inability to meet the standards of objectivity and reliability, leading to what has been called “phenomenological skepticism” (Roy, 2007). In this article, I reassess this line of objection by outlining Daniel C. Dennett’s empirically driven skepticism and reconstructing his methodological arguments against Husserlian phenomenology. His ensuing phenomenological skepticism is divided into strong skepticism and categorical and gradual versions of weak skepticism. Both strands of Dennett’s criticism are then countered by analyzing the key components of Husserl’s method of phenomenological reflection: epoché and transcendental reduction, intentional analysis, eidetic variation, and intersubjective validation. Laying out the basic features of phenomenological reflection serves two purposes. First, it undermines Dennett’s methodological arguments, which are based on the unfounded assumptions that Husserl is committed to introspection, methodological solipsism, the first-person-plural presumption, and the lone-wolf approach. Second, it shows how Husserl’s own methodology can alleviate the more justified empirical worries concerning overinterpretation, underdescription, and disagreement. Finally, I argue that gradual weak skepticism is the only plausible form of phenomenological skepticism and conclude that Husserlian methodology is well-equipped to combat it.

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