Husserl’s Natural and Phenomenological Attitudes


The Natural Attitude

To understand other philosophers’ views on Husserl’s thoughts about the natural and phenomenological attitudes it is necessary to understand what is meant by those attitudes in the first place. The natural attitude is referring to the state that man is normally in. This state is something man is in without having to think about it and how man goes about his life unquestionably. It is the simple idea that if man is thinking, then something must be doing that act thus man knows he is real. This is not a statement that man needs to reflect upon to understand thus he goes about his day in this natural attitude. The problem that many have with the natural attitude is exactly that: this attitude says that man does things without thinking and accepts them. How often does man really reflect on his natural thought process and why he does what he does? The answer is typically rarely or none at all. For example, how often do we think about the action of driving our cars to and from work or school on a route that we have been taking repetitively? Many times we get to our destination and thinking back on the drive, we wonder if we even stopped at the red lights or stop signs. We are that unaware of the things we do so often and the purpose behind them that it is difficult to reflect on them when we are rarely thinking about them in the first place. The natural attitude is the way we think and do things before thinking about why we do them. We have been so accustomed to them that we are comfortable without asking questions about these things and we go on doing them without doubt or concern.

The natural attitude involves the natural world around us including other beings, things, and humans. The natural attitude falls amongst the people and things around us that make up our daily lives. So as we do not always question what we have known around us since the beginning of our life then we also do not typically question the people around us that are as normal to us as driving the same route to work every day. What man is consciously aware of intuitively is what is immediately on hand for him and involves everything he can be conscious of. This involves the specific things that are in man’s direct consciousness and then there are those things man is still conscious of, but they lie in the background without having to be particularly focused on. This attitude is more of a box with objects inside that is man’s consciousness.

The Phenomenological Attitude

The phenomenological attitude expands from this box and becomes a much larger aspect like a horizon. This attitude of Husserl’s is an off shoot of the natural attitude and corrects many of the criticisms that most have with his natural attitude. The phenomenological attitude calls for a reevaluation of what man knows (Stewart & Mickunas, 1990). This modification of the natural attitude is that it deliberately suspends judgment about the reality surrounding man. While man knows that he is real, he must rediscover everything for himself and look at it from a new perspective without any bias or predisposition to the thing. It is as simple as looking at a flower and determining its characteristics, functions, and purposes without any prejudices towards it to start with. It is observing something with a blank slate leaving the questions of reality aside. This phenomenological attitude was a way for Husserl to grab man’s attention and lead him away from operating under a world of prejudice towards materialism and the physical world. This attitude was about finding the meaning content of man’s surroundings instead of just accepting the things around us as they are without any thought as to why they are this way and what makes them that way (Stewart & Mickunas, 1990). From man’s own personal experience he can judge for himself what a thing completely consists of. This takes the place of basing beliefs off of preconceived notions that man has learned and been taught to believe by others even if what they have been accustomed to believe was true. Rarely, however, are all previously believed notions the truth so the phenomenological attitude encourages man to discover what things are for himself so that nothing is left for doubt.

Husserl and Heidegger

Criticisms of the Natural Attitude

A popular criticism of the natural attitude is its naivety. The natural attitude is not supported by most critics who have problems with this attitude mostly because of its sense of normality and general candid and trusting nature in everything around man. Philosopher, Sebastian Luft, summarizes the natural attitude criticism appropriately with this statement: “The NA [natural attitude] is characterized by the fact that we take the being of the totality of the world for granted” (Luft, 2002). Luft also states that there must be something negative about the natural attitude that makes it necessary to move onward towards phenomenology. The natural attitude is something that needs to be “overcome” (Luft, 2002). In the natural attitude, there are no questions or reflections on anything surrounding man which disturbs many critics. In response, Husserl claimed that all philosophy before phenomenology was on the same level as the natural attitude. The natural attitude was the central point from which all other philosophy stemmed from. While Husserl was trying to create a philosophy that was rid of naivety and normality and more of a science, the natural attitude was necessary for other attitudes to exist. Husserl claimed as long as the phenomenological attitude did not exist, the natural attitude was present (Luft, 1998).

While some criticize the natural attitude for its naivety, others wonder if anyone truly wakens from the natural attitude and finds real knowledge about the things that surround us. Do we really grasp an understanding of our world without bias and previous notions that have loomed over us our whole lives? Is this truly attainable? In response, Husserl would most likely say that this discovery is attainable if it is sought after. If man is not interested in this discovery and continues to accept the world for the way it is then he will stay in the natural attitude. However, if man seeks out the desire to acquire knowledge about being then he will move into the phenomenological attitude. Luft, along with other philosophers, agree that it is difficult to leave the natural attitude because it does not tell you that you need to shed this attitude and transfer to the phenomenological one. The natural attitude is hidden and secretive and it is man’s job to discover this attitude that he is in which takes the world for granted. This is what can make it difficult for man to leave the natural attitude, but it can still be done nevertheless (Luft, 2002).

Criticisms of the Phenomenological Attitude

While most critics and other philosophers prefer the phenomenological attitude, a specific difficulty in the practice of this attitude is that once man discovers things on his own, sometimes the truths or beliefs that man has found from his discoveries go against the norm. Thus this leaves him with an even bigger problem. Now man not only has to decide what is true or not, but he also has to deal with society around him pushing him to accept the norm and to disregard what he has found if it differs from the common belief. There is also much debate among researchers and philosophers about how to use phenomenology and to what extent it can reach. As a philosophy, Wertz said,

“Phenomenology is a low-hovering, in-dwelling, meditative philosophy that glories in the concreteness of person-world relations and accords lived experience, with all its indeterminancy and ambiguity, primacy over the known" (Finlay).

The debate though is how to use it scientifically. There is a group of questions that Finlay addresses.

"How tightly or loosely should we define what counts as ‘phenomenology’? Should we always aim to produce a general (normative) description of the phenomenon or is idiographic analysis a legitimate aim? To what extent should interpretation be involved in our descriptions? Should we set aside or foreground researcher subjectivity? Should phenomenology be more ‘science’ than ‘art’?" (Finlay).

All of these questions are thoughtful reflections on the phenomenological attitude and how it should be used. In response to these questions about phenomenology, Husserl was striving for this attitude to be a philosophical science. This is why it stems from natural attitude because the natural attitude was not complete enough for science to be involved appropriately. Husserl encourages the use of phenomenology and science together, but he insists that science alone along with its empirical observations is not enough to describe the logic of man. There needs to be something more than just science to discover what makes up the phenomena around us and that is what Husserl's phenomenological attitude is for.


While there are criticisms surrounding both of these attitudes, neither of Husserl's attitudes would be what they are if the other did not exist. The phenomenological attitude never would have been created unless the natural attitude was there to presuppose it. The bright mind of Husserl understood what was necessary and how man determined truth through his own mind. By doing this, Husserl tapped into a complicated place and thus was subjected to criticism from all angles. His attitudes were carefully crafted over long periods of time and philosophy, along with the other sciences, would not have made the progress they have without Husserl's ideas.


Finlay, Linda. “Debating Phenomenological Research Methods.” Word document format.**phenomenological**%20research%20methods.doc.

Luft, Sebastian (2002). “Husserl’s Notion of the Natural Attitude and the Shift to Transcendental
Phenomenology.” Marquette Philosophy Research and Faculty Publications. Page 1.

Luft, Sebastian (1998). “Husserl’s Phenomenological Discovery of the Natural Attitude.” Continental
Philosophy Review, 31: 153-170.

Stewart, David & Mickunas, Algis (1990). “Chapter 2: Husserl and the Phenomenological Method.”
Exploring Phenomenology: A Guide to the Field and Its Literature. 2nd ed. Athens: Ohio University Press.


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