What Are the Two Types of Phenomenology?


Martha Robinson

Phenomenology is a branch of philosophy that focuses on the study of conscious experience. It aims to describe and understand the structure of subjective experience and the ways in which individuals perceive and interact with the world around them. Phenomenology has been a subject of great interest among philosophers for decades, and it has been divided into two main types – descriptive phenomenology and transcendental phenomenology.

Descriptive Phenomenology

Descriptive phenomenology is concerned with describing the structures of subjective experience as they are given to us in consciousness. It involves examining the details of our experiences, such as perceptions, thoughts, emotions, and sensations. This type of phenomenology is based on the idea that we can gain knowledge about the world through our direct experience of it.

One of the main goals of descriptive phenomenology is to identify essential features or “eidetic structures” that are common to different types of experiences. For example, when we have an experience of seeing an object, we can isolate the essential features that make up that experience – such as color, shape, texture – from other incidental features like its location or its history.

Descriptive phenomenology is often associated with Edmund Husserl, who developed this approach in his book “Ideas: General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology.” Husserl believed that by studying subjective experiences in detail, we could gain insight into their underlying structures and discover universal truths about human consciousness.

Transcendental Phenomenology

Transcendental phenomenology goes beyond simply describing subjective experiences and aims to uncover the conditions that make those experiences possible. This type of phenomenology examines how our consciousness is structured and how it relates to the world around us.

According to transcendental phenomenologists like Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre, our understanding of reality is not based solely on our direct perception but also on our preconceptions or “pre-understandings” of the world. These pre-understandings are shaped by our cultural, social, and historical backgrounds and influence how we interpret and interact with the world.

Transcendental phenomenology also emphasizes the importance of language in shaping our understanding of reality. It argues that language is not just a tool for describing the world but also a fundamental aspect of how we experience it. In this sense, language has the power to shape our perception and understanding of reality.


In conclusion, phenomenology is a fascinating branch of philosophy that seeks to understand the structure of subjective experience. Descriptive phenomenology focuses on describing the structures of these experiences, while transcendental phenomenology goes beyond this and examines the conditions that make these experiences possible. Both types are important in gaining insight into human consciousness and have made significant contributions to philosophy as a field.