Uranga’s Phenomenological Method in “Notas”–part 1

In “Notas para un estudio del mexicano,” Uranga makes a first effort at clarifying his methodological commitments. He writes in the first paragraph:

After two months of daily lectures on “Mexicans and Mexican Culture” at the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, it will be worthwhile for whoever seeks to utilize the results of those lectures to put some order in what has been said….The order that we seek to impose demands a method, and method demands a consciousness of the problem, and consciousness, also, of the systematic placement of whatever has been said about it. Without method we risk losing everything” (p. 114).

Here, Uranga tells us what he understands by “method.” A method is the ordering of data collected from the study of a recognizable problem. Thinking about method in this way is a bit confusing. We like to think that method precedes problem; Uranga thinks that the problem, or consciousness of the problem is either prior to or coincident with the method. A method is just the way to “collect things conceptually” and make them intelligible, but the things must come first. A very existentialist way of thinking about this!

            On Uranga’s characterization of method (at least in 1951), phenomenology as a philosophical method is not a series of steps one takes to get at the intentionality of consciousness or at the revelation of essences. It is a stance one takes on the world as a means to make sense of the given in experience. Method does not get us to the given, it just lets us “see” it after it is exposed to the light.

            This conception of the phenomenological method makes sense when what’s more important than method is the problem. Uranga says, that

the purpose of the study which we have undertaken is to analyze the being of the Mexican person [el ser del mexicano], [and] bring to conceptual formulation what Mexicans live intuitively and in everyday life.

Phenomenology is turned back into the lived experience in order to extract sense. There is no vital necessity to do this, by the way; but if the project is to understand this way of life, to communicate it, to insert it into a more global understanding, then the method is required.

It is true that in everyday experience lo mexicano is not in need of a definition in order to be lived, but when one seeks to reflectively interpret it, to get at its meaning, a conceptual intervention is indispensable. (114)

The method is thus an interpretive method. It makes sense of what is already there. Significantly, we can translate this into the existentialist principle where Mexican existence precedes Mexican essence.

There is something of value here. Some critiques of the philosophy of “lo mexicano” suggest that the entire project is based on the presupposition that there is something like “lo mexicano” that the philosophy of lo mexicano is then tasked with finding (a fatal circularity). What Uranga suggests is that “lo mexicano” is simply a part of the conceptual arsenal that the given experience of Mexicans calls for in order to order the experience itself. On this reading, it is probable that the Mexican experience overly saturates the concept “lo mexicano,” making it a useful yet insufficient concept.  And this is fine, so long as the philosophical project does not stop with this; as long as we continue with philosophy.

If it was just about expressing lo mexicano and not conceptually capturing it, then literary, popular, pictoral, and musical testimonies of a characteristic Meixcan “color” would have sufficed. (115)

But they don’t, so we go on with this.

Next, More on Phenomenological Method

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