Phenomenological life

Phenomenological life

Phenomenological life is the life considered from a philosophical and rigorously phenomenological point of view.


It has been defined by the philosopher Michel Henry as what possesses the faculty and the power "to feel and to experience oneself in every point of its being".

For Michel Henry, the life is essentially subjective force and affectivity, it consists in a pure subjective experience of oneself which oscillates permanently between suffering and joy. A "subjective force" is not an impersonal, blind and insensitive force like those we meet in nature, but a living and sensible force experienced from the interior and resulting from an inner desire and from a subjective effort of the will to satisfy it. He also establishes a radical opposition between the living flesh endowed with sensibility and the material body, which is by principle insensitive, in his book "Incarnation, a philosophy of the flesh".

The word "phenomenological" refers to phenomenology, which can refer to both subjective experience and a philosophical method to justify the study of such phenomena. What he has called the "absolute phenomenological life" is the subjective life of the individuals reduced to its pure inner manifestation, as we live it and feel it permanently. It is the life as it reveals itself and appears inwardly, its self-revelation: the life is both what reveals and what is revealed.

This life is invisible by nature because it never appears in the exteriority of a look, it reveals in itself without gap nor distance. The fact of seeing supposes indeed the existence of a distance and of a separation between what is seen and the one who sees it, between the object that is perceived and the subject who perceives it. A feeling for example can never be seen from the exterior, it never appears in the "horizon of visibility" of the world, it feels itself and experiences itself from the inner of the radical immanence of life. Love can’t be seen, no more than hatred, feelings are felt in the secret of our heart, where no look can penetrate.

This life is composed of sensitivity and affectivity, it is the unity of their manifestation, the affectivity being however the essence of the sensibility as Michel Henry has shown it in his book on "The Essence of the Manifestation", which means that any sensation is affective by nature. The life is the foundation of our subjective experience (like the subjective experience of a sorrow, of seeing a color or the pleasure of drinking fresh water in summer) and of our subjective powers (the subjective power of moving the hand or the eyes for example).

This phenomenological definition of life is founded on our concrete subjective experience we make of life in our own existence, it thus corresponds to human life. About the other forms of life studied by biology and from which Heidegger derives its own philosophical conception of life, Michel Henry writes in his book "I am the Truth. Toward a Philosophy of Christianity" : "Is it not paradoxical for someone who wants to know what life is to go and ask protozoa, or, at best, honeybees ? It is as if we had a relation with life that was every bit as totally external and fragile as the one we have with beings about which we know nothing – or very little. As if we were not ourselves living."


* Michel Henry: Incarnation, Barbarism and Belief: An Introduction to the Work of Michel Henry
* Michel Henry: Incarnation, Barbarism and Belief: An Introduction to the Work of Michel Henry (Paperback) by Michael O'Sullivan (Author)
* I Am the Truth: Toward a Philosophy of Christianity (Cultural Memory in the Present) (Paperback) by Michel Henry (Author), Susan Emanuel (Translator)

See also

For more precision on phenomenological life, see also the articles on the Philosophy of Life and on the Truth of Life.

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