27th November 2017

The reply to van Manen is now finished, and both papers – my responses to van Manen and Giorgi – are under review. These two paragraphs from the Introduction provide an outline of my response:

Both articles are studies in misreading. Interestingly, however, each author misreads in a different way, and for different reasons. Giorgi is confined by a hermetic epistemology, which prompts him to ignore vast tracts of the relevant academic literature, even when he is accusing me of being ill-informed, and to criticise what he imagines I must have said rather than what I did say (Paley 2018). Van Manen, on the other hand, has an idée fixe which prevents him from recognising that the book is not about a certain philosophical tradition (known as ‘phenomenology’), but about a particular type of qualitative research (also known, unfortunately and confusingly, as ‘phenomenology’). A second idée fixe disposes him to misread an earlier article of mine and (much more seriously) three works by Heidegger.

My aim in this paper is to describe these two idées fixes, and exhibit their consequences. In doing so, I will examine what van Manen has to say on four crucial topics: meaning, lived experience, empathy, and boredom (specifically, Heidegger’s analysis of boredom in The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics). I will also take a brief look at an ad hominem comment in van Manen’s article, which throws additional light on his approach.

I’m now getting back to the book on concepts, and am hoping to have completed a couple of chapters from that early in the new year. I will also post an outline – inevitably, this is going to be a work in progress – at some point in January.




6th October 2017

My response to Giorgi’s review article is now complete, and will be submitted in the near future. You’ll have to wait for publication to read the whole thing, but here are the first two paragraphs:

Amedeo Giorgi (2017) has published a review article devoted to Phenomenology as Qualitative Research: A Critical Analysis of Meaning Attribution (Paley 2017). Anyone reading the article, but unfamiliar with the book, will get a distorted view of what it’s about, whom it’s addressed to, what it seeks to achieve, and how it goes about presenting its arguments. Not mildly distorted, in need of the odd correction here and there, but systematically misrepresented.

Giorgi’s article is a study in misreading. Giorgi misreads the book’s mise en scène; he misreads its narrative arc; he misreads individual arguments; he misreads the philosophy of science literature; he misreads short, straightforward sentences; he misreads his own data; he misreads the title; he misreads the blurb; he misreads the acknowledgements. In addition, there are serious failures of scholarship (ironically, he demonstrates how unacquainted he is with the relevant academic literature at the very moment he is accusing me of being ill-informed).

My reply to van Manen is about half written, and will be completed during the next few weeks. I’ll post an update, with a short extract, when it’s ready.

Meanwhile, here are a few comments on Brian Sohn’s review in Issues in Mental Health Nursing (all links below, 28th July).

Like both Giorgi and van Manen, Sohn can’t read what’s on the page in front of him. This inability is apparent from the first paragraph, where he suggests that my ‘main critique of PQR has two prongs: phenomena are devoid of essences and bracketing is impossible’. But I nowhere claim that phenomena are devoid of essences; and I mention bracketing just once, in a footnote, confessing that I don’t understand how it is done (see below). I do not claim it is impossible. Main critique?

Bracketing resurfaces later in the review, when Sohn claims: ‘Paley says that with the departures van Manen takes, he brings external theory to the interpretation – he is incapable of bracketing in the narrow, subtractive sense that Paley understands it’. The one footnote on bracketing says nothing about van Manen; and I don’t understand where Sohn gets ‘narrow, subtractive sense’ from.

Here is the footnote that refers to bracketing. It’s the first full paragraph on p. 36 of the book:

Some authors (usually those who talk of ‘bracketing’) say that, having identified their presuppositions, they can disable them, as if toggling them to ‘off ’. I have a problem with this: I do not understand how either of the two steps can be achieved. In the first place, how do I identify the relevant presuppositions? Is it not likely that the ones which exert most influence on my thinking will be unconscious, or at least very difficult to retrieve? Is it possible to identify these presuppositions by introspection? If so, how? How does it work? What do I have to do? If not, what other psychological process is involved? In the second place, how can the presuppositions, once identi­fied, be turned off? Is this a kind of ignoring? If so, how convincing can it be to assure the reader that my preconceptions and prejudices have played no part in the analysis because I have ignored them? What evidence of that can I provide? If it is not a kind of ignoring, what else is it?

This is just a series of questions about what (some) other people mean by ‘bracketing’ and how they go about it. How does Sohn squeeze the ‘narrow, subtractive sense’ out of this paragraph? What, come to that, does he mean by the expression? Does he have a ‘broad, non-subtractive’ concept of bracketing? If so, how does it work? Are the questions I ask in the footnote illegitimate? If someone says that they have done some ‘bracketing’, is it ‘post-positivist’ to ask how they went about it? Why?

Perhaps, to use Sohn’s term, it’s too ‘logic-laden’. Perhaps we have to take these things on trust. If a researcher says she’s bracketed, then she’s bracketed. End of. It’s unacceptably logical to inquire how she did it. Is that how it works?

A few other snippets:

‘Unlike Paley, phenomenologists believe that phenomena have immutable qualities.’ I’m still trying to find the place where I say they don’t, or that they are devoid of essences. There’s a footnote on p. 35 where this topic comes up briefly: ‘The essence of water, for example, is presumably H2O. The meaning of water might refer to the pleasures of sailing or swimming, its significance in certain religions (baptism), and so on.’ Similarly, at the top of p. 22 I say: ‘We must be able to distinguish between the essence of X (smoking, for example) and the effects of X. The essence of smoking (inhaling tobacco smoke) is one thing, the effect of smoking (cancer) is another .’ Presumably, then, I think that at least some phenomena (water, smoking) have essences, and that H2O is an immutable quality of water. So where is Sohn getting his ‘devoid of essences’ claim from?

‘Paley’s mathematization of meaning…’ Sorry? Where?

‘Paley embarks on a mission to develop a theory of meaning because, he says, phenomenologists have not done so.’  This is ambiguous. I don’t claim that phenomenologists have not theorised meaning. This would obviously not be true of writers in the phenomenology-as-philosophy (PP) tradition. What I say is that PQR writers (qualitative researchers, especially in nursing, who refer to their approach as ‘phenomenology’) don’t provide a theory of meaning. Nor do the methodologists most frequently cited by these writers.

‘Paley seems to ignore that the quest of PQR is to find meaning.’  It is a principal thesis of Chapter 2 that PQR is different from other types of qualitative research precisely insofar as it aims at meaning attribution. ‘It attributes meaning to the phenomenon.’ (p. 17). That’s ignoring the ‘meaning’ quest of PQR? Seriously?

All three critical reviews so far – Giorgi, van Manen, Sohn – attack claims which the book does not make. The misreading is pervasive. This is interesting in itself; and, in the reply to Giorgi, I try to account for it by outlining the hermetic epistemology which I think is largely responsible.




28th July 2017

Another critical review, by Brian Sohn, has been published in Issues in Mental Health NursingBrian Sohn.

Max van Manen’s review article will be published in the Indo-Pacific Journal of PhenomenologyMax van Manen

Amedeo Giorgi’s will be published in the Journal of Phenomenological PsychologyAmedeo Giorgi

Martin Lipscomb’s review is on Early View at Nursing PhilosophyMartin Lipscomb 

Roger Watson’s review is also on Early View at Nursing Philosophy.  Roger Watson

For very brief remarks on the review articles by van Manen and Giorgi, see below.  I’m writing a separate response to each one, as it’s impossible to squeeze everything I want to say into just one paper. I will comment on both of them (a bit less brief, but still pretty sketchy in view of the time constraints) when I give my paper at the IPONS conference in Worcester (Friday, 1st September). Draft programme here:  IPONS conference




27th June 2017

Another change of plan. I’m finding it impossible to confine myself to a summary, or to present what I want to say in note form. I’m several thousand words in, and still talking about Giorgi. Barely mentioned van Manen yet. The problem is, you can’t untangle the arguments – and they are seriously tangled – without a fair amount of explanation. For example, consider Giorgi’s appeal to incommensurability, and his view that ‘to criticize the work of a scientific community from outside the perspective that the community adopts is, at best, risky, and most usually leads to fallacious conclusions.’ It’s impossible to say what’s wrong with that in a few quick soundbites. Apart from anything else, you have to present some fairly detailed stuff on developments after the publication of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I could, I suppose, cite authors like Howard Sankey: ‘Returning to the topic from a perspective of the contemporary scene in the philosophy of science is like visiting a battlefield from a forgotten war. The positions of the warring sides may still be made out. But the battlefield is overgrown with grass. One may find evidence of the fighting that once took place, perhaps bullet marks or shell holes. But the fighting ceased long ago. The battle is a thing of the past. The problem of incommensurability is no longer a live issue.’ Or I could quote Kuhn himself: ‘Most readers of my text have supposed that when I spoke of theories as incommensurable, I meant that they could not be compared. But “incommensurability” is a term borrowed from mathematics, and it has no such implication.’ (The Road Since Structure) But this would be too quick, too glib. The matter demands a much fuller examination. And incommensurability is just one of the things Giorgi talks about that I want to dissect. Then there’s van Manen, and his account of Heidegger’s discussion of boredom (among other things). Explaining how that goes badly awry is another non-soundbite task.

So what I initially thought of as a ‘summary’ is effectively on its way to becoming the ‘comprehensive response’. I also have to finish my paper for the IPONS conference in Worcester, realistically by the end of July when I’m off to Italy.  So, this time, I won’t try to predict when I might post a longer response. However, I’ll probably provide occasional updates over the next few weeks, and/or comments on aspects of the two review articles that I find particularly interesting.




16th June 2017

The link to Giorgi’s review article has been added below.

I was tempted to post a progress report on my response to both review articles, Giorgi’s and van Manen’s. But I’ll wait till I’m properly ready, which will be some time in the next week or two.  I’ve given myself a bit more time, because I have spent the last few days re-reading Heidegger’s The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, a book I haven’t looked at for a number of years. It includes a lengthy discussion of boredom, which Professor van Manen cites in his article.  Van Manen thinks Heidegger’s “phenomenological question is, ‘what is it like to be bored?'”, and he quotes several passages from Heidegger’s analysis in support of that view. I don’t think van Manen’s interpretation of these passages is correct, but I wanted to read the book again before commenting further. I’ve also been catching up with some of the secondary literature.

Anyway, a more detailed response will have to wait. The plan is to write a rejoinder to the two articles, in summary form, and post it here by the end of June at the latest. After that, I’ll have to concentrate on my paper for the IPONS conference in Worcester. Then, in the early Autumn, I’ll draft a comprehensive response to both van Manen and Giorgi.

Sorry for the delay… but watch this space!




26th May 2017


I’ve just received reviews of PQR by Max van Manen and Amedeo Giorgi. Needless to say, they are highly critical. No surprises there. Actually, they’re not reviews, they’re review articles (Giorgi’s runs to over 25,000 words). I have read both of them a couple of times so far, but am now starting on the slow-and-careful, taking-notes reads.  I will be posting informal replies on this site during June, and at some point I will submit more formal responses to the relevant journals. There is a general sense in the academic world that one doesn’t reply to book reviews. But, as I say, these are review articles. They count as scholarly contributions, and are as susceptible to challenge and critical engagement as any other type of academic paper.

In the meantime, here is the link to van Manen’s article, which will be published in the Indo-Pacific Journal of PhenomenologyMax van Manen

And the link to Giorgi’s, which will be published in the Journal of Phenomenological PsychologyAmedeo Giorgi

Two other reviews are in the works. One, by Martin Lipscomb, is online early at Nursing PhilosophyMartin Lipscomb   Another, by Roger Watson, will be appearing in the same journal.

I’ll post a link to the Watson review as soon as it appears. Links will also be available on the IPONS website.  IPONS book reviews

I would suggest that anyone who reads the articles by van Manen and Giorgi (or those by Lipscomb and Watson, for that matter) should have a look at the book as well, and not take it for granted that their accounts of what it’s about, what’s in it, and what kinds of arguments it contains, are necessarily accurate. Reading the essays by MvM and AG, I was reminded of Paul Feyerabend’s comments in Part Three of Science in a Free Society (responding to reviews of Against Method).

“There are three things which never fail to amaze me when reading reviews of my book: the disregard for argument, the violence of the reaction, the general impression I seem to make on my readers…  I am very grateful that you are so deeply concerned about my book, and that you have put so much time, energy, and especially imagination into the review.”

I should add that Feyerabend’s reply to Agassi, along with his other “Conversations with Illiterates” (the title of SIAFS Part 3) is a very caustic piece of writing, which I will not of course be trying to imitate.




20th August 2016


The book is finally out, and available on Amazon in hardback and e-book formats.

Have spent the last couple of weeks compiling a distribution list, and sending out an announcement to several hundred people, mainly in nursing and other health disciplines, who have (or possibly once had) some sort of interest in phenomenology as a qualitative research method.

Am now relaxing in Italy, starting to think – intermittently – about my next project. Although I’m not going to make any kind of decision till I return to the UK, the current front-runner is something (possibly another book) on concept analysis. I’m reading stuff on cognitive linguistics, the philosophy of language, and the theory of argumentation and definition, as well as classic statements in the nursing literature of what concept analysis involves: Walker & Avant, Rodgers, Morse, Penrod & Hupcey, and so on. I’m starting to think about a radically different approach which abandons or reverses some of the key assumptions made by nurse authors; and the book, if I actually write one, would be largely devoted to examples of this alternative in action, rather than to a lot of philosophical carping and criticism.

This train of thought was kicked off by the event on moral distress which I took part in during May (see below). The title of this event was “What is moral distress in nursing?”, and that got me wondering about the nature of “What is X?” questions. I have no idea if anyone reads this, but I’ll report back on where I’ve got to, and perhaps indicate the direction the project is moving in, later in the year.

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