After epistemology, phenomenology may be one of the most reviled philosophical terms. My distinct impression is that people dislike the word phenomenological as well. Why? Because nearly every time I use it, I am advised by someone or other not to.
Most people know that the plural of phenomenon is phenomena. but when one uses the word phenomenological, eyes are likely to glaze over. It seems to be rather like saying (**^&^#^%#$@%$@%$@%$@%$@%! As in the case of utilitarianism, a fairly ordinary term, phenomenon, has been appropriated and modified by philosophers (especially Husserl, but Hegel, too, used phenomenology in an idiosyncratic way) to refer to a specific approach to knowledge. I used this word in a comment on the previous entry, so I figured that I'd better define it.
Phenomenon in the vernacular means more or less the same as thing, with a connotation of being special in one way or another. Maybe that's how the word phenomenal came to mean something like extraordinary.
The term phenomenology refers to the examination of direct experience, the data as they present themselves to one's senses, without any knowledge of the objects which generate the data. Imagine looking at a book, without knowing that it's a book. It's just an object with a parallelopiped structure from various angles. How do you process this image? What can you learn from the direct experience of the image before your eyes?
In an upcoming post, I intend to give a better idea of what phenomenology is, but for the purposes of this entry, I'd simply like to observe that perfume would seem to offer a splendid opportunity—in fact, ideal—for phenomenological analysis, particularly when one samples blind, without knowledge of the house, the nose, the notes, or anything "external", which a phenomenologist would say should be "bracketed".
If we can experience a perfume as a thing in itself, the manner in which we describe it will still, invariably, relate back to our idiosyncratic history (what we have experienced before), including our knowledge of other perfumes. If perfume is one of the best candidates for phenomenological analysis, yet even it poses problems—can you really smell aldehydes without thinking of Chanel no 5?—this may signal that the project of phenomenology is doomed. Or perhaps it is just a bit too ambitious. Perhaps we can still learn from attempting phenomenological analysis of experience, even if it may not be possible to fully "bracket" all of our background knowledge.
Can you describe a perfume in terms of pure experience? Or must it always be mediated by a bunch of other theories, including knowledge of other perfumes?
What say you, my fragrant friends?