From New World Encyclopedia

Lifeworld (German: Lebenswelt) is a concept used in philosophy and some social sciences, meaning the world "as lived" prior to reflective representation or analysis. Edmund Husserl introduced the concept of the life-world in his Crisis of European Sciences (1936), following Martin Heidegger's analysis of Being-in-the-world (In-der-Welt-Sein) in Being and Time. The concept was further developed by Jan Patočka, Alfred Schütz, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jürgen Habermas, Harold Garfinkel, and others.

Husserl conceived and developed phenomenology as a philosophical discipline to analyze consciousness or mental life; that is, the correlation between the functions of mind ("noesis") such as perceiving, thinking, feeling, believing, willing, and hoping, and the objects of these mental acts ("noema"). Husserl, however, gradually encountered difficulty in this initial endeavor and realized the significance of element of the existence of the everyday world which one lives in prior to reflective analysis. Husserl turned his attention to the study of the life-world in the later stage of his career. The life-world is a social, political, historical, and cultural environment where human beings interpret, communicate, and socially engage in multiple communal spheres. The concept of the life-world, however, opened up a series of questions including intersubjectivity, embodiment, hermeneutics, and historicity. Heidegger, Alfred Schütz, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jürgen Habermas, Harold Garfinkel, and others developed their own phenomenological studies of the problems of the life-world, which Husserl died without solving.

Husserl regarded rationality as the spirit of Europe which had its roots in Greece and its philosophy. It was a mistaken rationalism which had become detached from its life-world that was the source of the crisis of the West. He saw the solution as the reconstruction of the basis of philosophy and the intellectual life on the sure foundation revealed by phenomenology.


Husserl developed phenomenology out of his critique of the dominant philosophical tendencies of psychologism and historicism, which, in Husserl’s view, attempted to reduce philosophical knowledge to factual scientific knowledge. For Husserl, philosophy needed to pursue and discover indubitable knowledge in contradistinction to “knowledge of matters of fact.” “Knowledge of matters of fact,” or factual knowledge, can always be other than what they are and there is no reason why facts cannot be otherwise. Husserl conceived the idea of phenomenology as apodictically certain, whose denial is inconceivable, and a science that grounds all other empirical and formal sciences, including logic and mathematics. Husserl had an extensive background in mathematics. He studied under Karl Weierstrass and Leopold Kronecker, earned his Ph.D. with the work, Beiträge zur Variationsrechnung (Contributions to the Calculus of Variations), and he was once an assistant to Weierstrass. For Husserl, phenomenology was a philosophy that can clarify the origin and justify all sciences, including logic and mathematics, which were considered as certain knowledge.

Descartes developed methodic doubt in order to find the indubitable starting point of his thought. Husserl found a clue in Descartes’ method and developed phenomenology as the analysis of the consciousness whose primary characteristic was, in his view, intentionality. Husserl conceived consciousness as the field where the world and a variety of beings in the world are constituted by the mind. Accordingly, he developed phenomenology as a philosophical discipline that analyzes the relationships between mental acts (noesis) such as perceiving, thinking, believing, hoping, and imagining, and objects of mental acts (noema). Husserl thought of how the world could be shown through analyses of consciousness. Husserl’s earlier works, such as Ideas (German: Ideen), were published from this perspective.

Husserl, however, encountered a number of problems, such as “inter-subjectivity,” “time consciousness,” “embodiment” (mind is embodied in human body), and “passive synthesis,” which he could not explain within his initial framework. He came to the conclusion that the human consciousness lives in the body, and that consciousness is not solipsistic and individually isolated, but has a communal or shared element. He further asserted that consciousness contains within it unconscious activities. Husserl conceptualized a series of problems that stem from the concept of the life-world. Phenomenology of the life-world became the central focus of his later career, and he wrote The Crisis of European Sciences (1936) from this new perspective.

Husserl concluded that humans already live in this social, historical, political, and cultural world prior to any scientific or philosophical reflective analysis. Husserl conceptualized the totality of this everyday life and the world as life-world.

Husserl conceived the concept of the life-world as early as the 1910s, but he did not thematically pursue it until the middle of the 1920s. It was thought that the perspectives of Richard Avenarius (1843–1896), a German-Swiss philosopher, had an impact on Husserl, who was trying to find a new perspective to his phenomenology. Avenarius presented the concept of the natural world as the source of all knowledge, which he conceived as an experiential world prior to all conceptual divisions and categorizations. Avenarius argued that categories such as substance, causality, subject-object, mind-body, and others are not pre-existing realities of the world, but the outcome of human acts of categorization. He argued for the existence of “pure experience” of the “natural world” prior to conceptualization as the ultimate source of knowledge. Husserl integrated Avenarius’ analyses into his concept of the life-world.

The life-world is the background, horizon (framework of interpretation), and foundation of cognitive activities. Various scientific views of the world are, Husserl argued, artificially constituted by giving logical and cognitive apparatus (idealizing) to this pre-logical, pre-scientific life-world. Humans, however, tend to misconceive the objective perception of the world that science describes as the only authentic one. By presenting scientific images of the world as representing “reality,” modern science conceals the life-world that is the origin of scientific representations. In his The Crisis of European Sciences, Husserl argued that the crisis of European sciences was due to this concealment and urged a return to the analyses of life-world.

Problems of life-world

Husserl argued for the existence of the life-world as the pre-reflective everyday world. The life-world is, however, not a pure, interpretation-free world. It is a social, historical, and cultural world loaded with various interpretations and value perspectives. Scientific views constantly flow into the way one understands the everyday world.

Developments after Husserl

Heidegger, a student of Husserl whom Husserl expected to be his successor, gave up Husserlian phenomenology and re-conceived phenomenology as a philosophic hermeneutics.

Heidegger conceived that humanity is born to the world and lives in his social, cultural, and historical environments, and that he or she certainly interprets the world and the self within its contexts. The task of phenomenology, Heidegger argued, is not to develop a philosophical methodology to reach a kind of “pure” knowledge that exists prior to scientific studies, but to develop a methodology of interpretation. There is no such knowledge that is free from interpretation. Heidegger placed phenomenology within the tradition of philosophic hermeneutics and developed hermeneutic phenomenology.

The concept of the life-world was presented with the insight that human beings exist in the world with an inseparable connection. Heidegger re-formulated humanity’s involvement to the world as “being-in-the-world” and developed phenomenology as ontology. He rejected Husserl’s psychological orientation and developed his own philosophy.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, a French phenomenologist, pursued a number of questions which Husserl left unanswered when he tried to develop the idea of the life-world. Merleau-Ponty attempted to solve issues of embodiment (human spirit or consciousness exists in a human body and these two realms are inseparable), human sexuality, and others.

Alfred Schütz (1899-1959), a sociologist and philosopher, conceived the life-world as a social world and developed phenomenological sociology. Schütz’s studies had an impact on Harold Garfinkel who developed ethnomethodology.


For Jürgen Habermas, life-world is more or less the "background" environment of competences, practices, and attitudes represented in terms of one's cognitive horizon. It is the lived realm of informal, culturally-grounded understandings and mutual accommodations. Rationalization of the life-world is a keynote of Habermas's 2-volume Theory of Communicative Action. The penetration of life-world rationality by bureaucracy is analyzed by Habermas as "colonization of the life-world."

Social coordination and systemic regulation occur by means of shared practices, beliefs, values, and structures of interaction, which may be institutionally based. Humans are inevitably life-worldly, to the extent that individuals and interactions draw from custom and cultural traditions to construct identities, define situations (at best, by understanding, but also by negotiation), coordinate action, and create social solidarity.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Garfinkel, Harold. 1984. Studies in Ethnomethodology. Malden, MA: Polity Press/Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-7456-0005-0.
  • Gurwitsch, Aron. The Field of Consciousness. Duquesne University Press, 1964. ISBN 0820700436.
  • Heidegger, Martin, and Joan Stambaugh. Being and Time: A Translation of Sein Und Zeit. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1996. ISBN 0791426777.
  • Husserl, Edmund. The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology. Northwestern UP, 1970.
  • Rosen, Steven M. Topologies of the Flesh: A Multidimensional Exploration of the Lifeworld. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2006. ISBN 0821416766.
  • Schutz, Alfred. Collected Papers V.I: The Problem of Social Reality. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1962.
  • Sokolowski, Robert. Introduction to Phenomenology. Cambridge UP, 2000. ISBN 0521660998.

External links

All links retrieved October 25, 2022.

General philosophy sources


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