Individual Differences


Critique of Phenomenological Theory

Last updated:
14 Oct 2003

This approach has intuitive appeal as emphasizes the uniqueness and validity of each person's experiences.

It is optimistic, positive, solution-focused. Obviously the existential perspective is a little darker but ultimately it too emphasizes positive ways of solving problems.

It applies to therapy and beyond; it has a wide scope: it is about living your whole life with meaning and authenticity.

It places an emphasis on fully appreciating your own reality and maintaining close contact with your feelings --> a strategy people can use to enrich their lives.

It ignores other determinants of being (e.g. genetic, learning, dispositions, unconscious, etc.)

It lacks scientific precision. In fact the phenomenological perspective PRIDES itself on being non-scientific (not suffering from “physics envy”). It says the mind is FUNDAMENTALLY different from molecules or atoms because it is AWARE. It KNOWS it’s being studied and has opinions about itself that affect the way it’s studied and the outcomes of those studies. How to test self-actualization - what is relevant for each person? It all comes down to case studies: in the end you might need study as many types of behaviour as there are people to be studied. VERY hard to evaluate any observations made.

It emphasises the importance of understanding peoples’ construals of reality; this concept just won’t go away.  Strong influence on cognitive approaches to personality.

This approach emphasizes ‘free will’ and sees it as essential to being human. Others would argue that there is no such thing as free will; that it is just a convenient fiction: an illusion.

The phenomenological approaches also sow the seeds to important parts of the cognitive perspective, particular those related to perceptions of self, such as self-esteem and self-concept.