Phenomenology Online

A Resource for Phenomenological Inquiry

Phenomenology Online > Inquiry > Methods and Procedures > Reflective Methods

The purpose of phenomenological reflection is to try to grasp the meaning of something.


Phenomenological reflection is both easy and difficult. It is easy because to perceive the meanings of human experiences is something everyone does constantly in everyday life. For example, when I meet a friend I do not just perceive a man or a woman. I see a person who differs from other men and women precisely in that respect which makes me relate and talk to this person as a friend.


But what is much more difficult is to come to a reflective determination and explication of what a “friend” is. This determination and explication of meaning then is the more difficult task of phenomenological reflection. A perhaps more notorious illustration of this difficulty concerns the experience of time. What could be more easily grasped than time? We regulate our lives by time. We carry the time around on our wrist. We divide the day into morning, afternoon, evening and night time. and we reflect on past time and anticipate the time to come. We even talk about the time going by, sometimes quickly and at other times more slowly. And yet when someone asks us “what is time anyway?” we are quickly at our wit’s end to describe it. What is it that goes by fast or slowly when we say that the time is elapsing? So there is a difference between our pre-reflective lived understanding of the meaning of time and a self-reflective grasp of the phenomenological structure of the lived meaning of time. To get at the latter is a difficult and often laborious task, involving a process of reflectively appropriating, of clarifying, and of making explicit the aspects of meaning of the lived experience.