While much can be said of Herbert Marcuse’s “Concept of Essence”, I would like to develop and reflect upon a few points from it. First, let us take from it the main charge argued against phenomenology is. After explicating that charge, I will put the question before the bloggers here. These meditations also come serendipitously with the arrival of a new journal in critical phenomenology called Puncta.
The charge can be gleaned in his definition of it, namely, that phenomenology “always aims only at describing what is as it is and presents itself, not for instance at showing what could and should be.” In seeking to describe phenomena, phenomenology cannot develop any normative understanding of what “could and should be.” In its descriptive aim, phenomenology, therefore, cannot pursue any critical project. It resigns itself to what is so to speak. Description drives a wedge between acceptance and criticism. Phenomenology's “radicalness…’To the things themselves’ reveals its quietistic, indeed, positivistic character…” Even more to the point, “Universal freedom from presupposition,” which Husserl extolled as a virtue for phenomenology, “becomes equivalent to universal acknowledgement.” At that point, phenomenologists are acting more like consensus-builders, but the consensus they are trying to achieve is leveling all types of pre-given elements of experience to render them the same before the transcendental subject. Intentional acts of the imagination have the same significance as does intentional acts of perception. One can see Marcuse’s point in Husserl’s principle of principles. Phenomena are given as they are given to phenomenological intuition insofar as they are experienced as given in that way. Insofar as a phenomenon can be described as it is through the epoche, it will be taken that way. In this way, all phenomenological method “contains a quietistic indifference with regard to the established order.”