Traditionally, conceptual thinking is explored via philosophical analysis or psychological experimentation. We seek to complement these mainstream approaches with the perspective of a first person exploration into pure thinking. To begin with, pure thinking is defined as a process (how we think) and differentiated from its content (what we think about), the concepts itself. Pure thinking is an active process and not a series of associative thought-events; we participate in it, we immerse ourselves within its active performance. On the other hand, concepts are also of an experiential nature. And yet, little is known about what is it like to have or produce a thought, a concept, or an idea? Is a concept our own construction, a product of our own activity, or is it something we merely discover instead of producing it? We address these issues in a systematic first person enquiry into pure thinking.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
To be explicit about our background that informs our approach in a general manner (specific references will be given below), we stand in the tradition of modern experimental psychology and of cognitive phenomenology; one of the authors is trained as a mathematician (RZ). We both also have a background in the philosophical works of Steiner, concentrating on epistemological issues, particularly Steiner (2016a, b).
Our approach seems to be Husserlian, however, as Lohmar (2010, pp. 78–79) and Gutland (2018a, b, p. 12) have shown, Husserl eventually believed that concepts are in need of a sensory foundation to be experienced as meaningful. This contradicts with our belief pointed out in this paper that there is an experience of pure concepts which is independent of any sensory input or linguistic occurrences, although the latter experiences may occur parallel to it.
Anderson, L. (2006). Analytic autoethnography. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 35, 373–395.
Anderson, F. (2016). The dynamic phenomenology of Occurrent thinking. Phenomenology and Mind, 10, 196–205.
Anderson, F. (2018). The dynamic phenomenology of conscious, occurrent thinking: A first-person approach. United Kingdom: Living Thinking.
Bayne, T., & Montague, M. (2011). Cognitive phenomenology: An introduction. In T. Bayne & M. Montague (Eds.), Cognitive phenomenology (pp. 1–34). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Breyer, T., & Gutland, C. (2016). Introduction. In T. Breyer & C. Gutland (Eds.), Phenomenology of Thinking. Philosophical Investigations Into the Character of Cognitive Experiences (pp. 1–24). London: Routledge.
Carruthers, P., & Veillet, B. (2011). The case against cognitive phenomenology. In T. Bayne & M. Montague (Eds.), Cognitive phenomenology (pp. 1–34). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Chudnoff, E. (2011a). The nature of intuitive justification. Philosophical Studies, 153(2), 313–333.
Chudnoff, E. (2011b). What intuitions are like. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 82(3), 625–654.
Chudnoff, E. (2013). Awareness of abstract objects. Noûs, 47(4), 706–726.
Chudnoff, E. (2014). Intuition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Chudnoff, E. (2015). Cognitive phenomenology (1st ed.). London: Routledge.
Douglass, B. G., & Moustakas, C. (1985). Heuristic inquiry: The internal search to know. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 25, 39–55.
Gutland, C. (2016). Phänomenologie des Denkens. PhD Dissertation, Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg.
Gutland, C. (2018a). Denk-Erfahrung. Eine phänomenologisch orientierte Untersuchung der Erfahrbarkeit des Denkens und der Gedanken. Freiburg im Breisgau: Alber.
Gutland, C. (2018b). Husserlian phenomenology as a kind of introspection. Frontiers in Psychology, 9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00896.
Hackert, B., & Weger, U. (2018). Introspection and the Würzburg school: Reconsidering the Würzburg approach and its implications for experimental psychology. European Psychologist, 23, 217–232.
Hoyningen-Huene, P. (1987). Context of discovery and context of justification. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 18, 501–515.
Kriegel, U. (2011). Cognitive phenomenology as the basis of unconscious content. In T. Bayne & M. Montague (Eds.), Cognitive Phenomenology (pp. 79–102). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Levine, J. (2011). On the phenomenology of thought. In Tim Bayne & M. Montague (Eds.), Cognitive Phenomenology (pp. 103–120). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lohmar, D. (2010). Intuition in mathematics: On the function of eidetic variation in mathematical proofs. In M. Hartimo (Ed.), Phenomenology and mathematics (pp. 73–90). Dordrecht: Springer.
Petitmengin, C., & Bitpol, M. (2009). The validity of first-person descriptions as authenticity and coherence. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 16(10–12), 363–404.
Pitt, D. (2004). The phenomenology of cognition or what is it like to think that P? Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 69(1), 1–36.
Pitt, D. (2011). Introspection, phenomenality, and the availability of intentional content. In T. Bayne & M. Montague (Eds.), Cognitive phenomenology (pp. 141–173). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Schwitzgebel, E. (2008). The unreliability of naive introspection. Philosophical Review, 117(2), 245–273.
Siewert, C. (2011). Phenomenal thought. In T. Bayne & M. Montague (Eds.), Cognitive phenomenology (pp. 236–267). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Spener, M. (2011). Disagreement about cognitive phenomenology. In Tim Bayne & M. Montague (Eds.), Cognitive Phenomenology (pp. 268–284). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Steiner, R. (2016a). Die Philosophie der Freiheit. In Christian Clement (Ed.), Rudolf Steiner, Schriften - Kritische Ausgabe, Vol. 2: Philosophische Schriften (pp. 73–260). Stuttgart: Bad Cannstatt: frommann-holzboog.
Steiner, R. (2016b). Wahrheit und Wissenschaft. In Christian Clement (Ed.), Rudolf Steiner, Schriften - Kritische Ausgabe, Vol. 2: Philosophische Schriften (pp. 3–71). Stuttgart: Bad Cannstatt: frommann-holzboog.
Tewes, C. (2015). Das paradoxale Ich. Zur Antinomie der reflexiven Erfassung präreflexiver Elemente des Selbst. In C. Asmuth & W. Ehrmann (Eds.), Zirkel – Widerspruch – Paradoxon: das Denken des Selbst in der klassischen deutschen Philosophie und in der Gegenwart (pp. 77–90). Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann.
Tieszen, R. (2002). Gödel and the intuition of concepts. Synthese, 133(3), 363–391.
Tieszen, R. (2010). Mathematical realism and transcendental phenomenological idealism. In M. Hartimo (Ed.), Phenomenology and mathematics (pp. 1–22). Dordrecht: Springer.
Tye, M., & Wright, B. (2011). Is there a phenomenology of thought? In Tim Bayne & M. Montague (Eds.), Cognitive Phenomenology (pp. 285–325). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Weger, U., & Wagemann, J. (2015a). The behavioral, experiential and conceptual dimensions of psychological phenomena: Body, soul and spirit. New Ideas in Psychology, 39, 23–33.
Weger, U., & Wagemann, J. (2015b). The challenges and opportunities of first-person inquiry in experimental psychology. New Ideas in Psychology, 36, 38–49.
Weger, U., Wagemann, J., & Meyer, A. (2018). Introspection in psychology. European Psychologist, 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1027/1016-9040/a000296.
White, P. A. (1988). Knowing more about what we can tell: ‘Introspective” access and causal report accuracy 10 years later’. British Journal of Psychology, 79(1), 13–45.
Ziegler, R., & Weger, U. (2018). First-person experiments in thinking. European Psychologist, 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1027/1016-9040/a000301.
We thank Fergus Anderson, Christopher Gutland, Christian Tewes and the two anonymous referees for helpful comments that worked towards an improvement of our paper. We would like to thank the Software AG Stiftung for supporting this project.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.
About this article
Cite this article
Ziegler, R., Weger, U. Exploring conceptual thinking and pure concepts from a first person perspective. Phenom Cogn Sci 18, 947–972 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11097-018-9593-8
- Active conceptual thinking
- Pure concepts
- Process account of thinking
- First person approach
- Reflection of thinking
- Phenomenological analysis