Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

The heuristic reduction: wonder

Method: Bracket the attitude of taken-for-grantedness and aim to awaken a profound sense of wonder about the phenomenon in which one is interested.

 

At the most basic level the phenomenological reduction consists of the attitude or mood of wonder. In his Preface to the Phenomenology of Perception Merleau-Ponty suggests that “the best formulation of the reduction is probably that given by Eugen Fink, Husserl’s assistant, when he spoke of ‘wonder’ in the face of the world.” What does this mean? It implies an approach that can shatter the taken-for-grantedness of our everyday reality. Wonder is the unwilled willingness to meet what is utterly strange in what is most familiar. It is the willingness to step back and let things speak to us, a passive receptivity to let the things of the world present themselves in their own terms.

 

When we are struck with wonder, our minds are suddenly cleared of the clutter of everyday concerns that otherwise constantly occupy us. We are confronted by the thing, the phenomenon in all of its strangeness and uniqueness. The wonder of that thing takes us in, and renders us momentarily speechless as when the mouth hangs open while being taken in by the wonder of something. Perhaps it is strange to speak of wonder as a method. But if we understand method as methodos, as path or way, then we may indeed consider wonder an important motive in human science inquiry. The “way” to knowledge and understanding begins in wonder.

 

From this moment of wonder, a question may emerge that addresses us and that is addressed by us. It should animate one’s questioning of the meaning of some aspect of lived experience. It also should challenge the researcher to write in such a way that the reader of the phenomenological text is similarly stirred to the same sense of wondering attentiveness to the topic under investigation.