When existential philosophy arrived in North America, it took a more optimistic turn in the humanistic psychologies of people such as Carl Rogers. Rogers is often incorrectly labeled a phenomenologist because of his emphasis on subjective experience. However, the common principle upon which phenomenology is based is that existence precedes essence. Rogers, by contrast, believes that human beings have an inherent essence: the striving for self-actualization. It is therefore incorrect to label Rogers a phenomenologist.
Due to his intense concern with the individual, it also may be incorrect to label Rogers a humanist. Some would say that humanism emphasizes the importance of pro-social behavior, not actualization of oneself, and it is not clear that these two things are one and the same. For example, Rogers would probably label an Olympic swimmer, who constantly strove to shave a millisecond off her best time, as living up to her potential, and consequently as self-actualized. However, one might legitimately ask what is the point of such activity in the broader social framework in which we all live. Rogers would probably not distinguish this form of self-actualization from another form of self-actualization that made a difference in countless people's lives, such as that of Martin Luthur King, Jr. Still, theoretically and morally this seems a distinction worth making.
I would like for students who are taking my class to understand the following terms: phenomenology, existentialism, and humanism. I would also like for students to be able to identify philosophers and psychologists who are typically identified with these approaches.
Activity: What is distinctive about the phenomenological approach to personality? What are its philosophical origins? How does it differ from the trait approach? What criticisms could be leveled at the phenomenological approach?