Thomas Arnold: Phänomenologie als Platonismus

Pier Alberto Porceddu Cilione

Phänomenologie als Platonismus: Zu den Platonischen Wesensmomenten der Philosophie Edmund Husserls Book Cover Phänomenologie als Platonismus: Zu den Platonischen Wesensmomenten der Philosophie Edmund Husserls
Quellen und Studien zur Philosophie 133
Thomas Arnold
De Gruyter
Hardback €109.95
ix, 333

Reviewed by: Pier Alberto Porceddu Cilione (University of Verona)

The problem of determining whether or not Husserl belongs to a broader “Platonic” tradition is destined to remain open. The philosophical importance of Thomas Arnold’s Phänomenologie als Platonismus. Zu den platonischen Wesensmomenten der Philosophie Edmund Husserls rests on the fact that this text places the issue on a solid theoretical basis. Arnold’s work, in fact, through its paratactic structure, helps us to avoid an historical reconstruction or a mere scholarly discussion of the problem, and advocates the idea that a Plato-Husserl confrontation has to be analyzed through “Wesens-Momenten,” through “essential moments.” In what sense does our approach to Platonism change, when seen through a Husserlian perspective? First of all, it is useful to read how the idea of ​​“Platonism” should be understood:

“‘Platonismus'” wird im Folgenden nicht nur als Bezeichnung einer Familie von realistischen Positionen innerhalb des Universalienstreits oder spezieller der Ontologie der Mathematik verstanden, d. h. als Synonym einer schmal verstandenen ‘Ideenlehre’, sondern vielmehr als Name einer ganzen Philosophie” (6).

[“‘Platonism'” is here understood not only as a designation of a family of realistic positions within the problem of the universals, or more specifically, of the ontology of mathematics, i.e. as a synonym of a narrowly understood ‘theory of ideas’, but rather as the name of an entire philosophy”].

It is clear that the intention of the book is not to trace a conceptual filiation between Platonism and phenomenology, but rather to measure how philosophy quo talis, that is, in the spirit of Husserl, philosophy “als strenge Wissenschaft,” can be fully achieved by Plato or by Husserl. In a few words, the underlying idea is that, regardless of the diversity of conceptual vocabularies, the gnoseological requirements of the two authors coincide in many points. Arnold even goes so far as to hold that already in Plato there are the “regional ontologies” presented in Husserl’s Ideen, tracing a correspondent symmetry in Platonic dialogues:

“Regionale Ontologien finden sich etwa im Phaidon (Ontologie der psychê), in der Politeia (Ontologie der Kunst) oder im Timaios (Ontologie der Natur); neben pädagogischen und epistemologischen Querelen der Ethik stellt auch die Ontologie der Tugend ein Problem dar, bis sie im Gorgias und weiter in der Politeia als ‘Ordnung’ erkannt wird” (58).

[“Regional ontologies can be found in the Phaedo (ontology of psychê), in the Republic (ontology of art) or in the Timaeus (ontology of nature); in addition to the pedagogical and epistemological quarrels of ethics, the ontology of virtue also poses a problem until it is recognized as an ‘order’ [Ordnung] in the Gorgias and further in the Republic”].

But regardless of the possible conceptual symmetries between the texts of the two authors, the question always remains a theoretical one. The ambition of philosophy coincides with its claim to an absolute foundation, or to a conceptual foundation of the Absolute:

“Die sogenannten Wissenschaften sind bloße Techniken, insofern sie ihre Voraussetzungen nicht aufklären können. Wissenschaft muss absolut fundiert sein. Absolute Fundierung ist Fundierung im Absoluten. Nur Philosophie kann die Normen der absoluten Reflexion erfüllen. Sie ermöglicht damit Wissenschaft und ist selbst absolute Wissenschaft” (35).

[“The so-called sciences are mere techniques in that they cannot elucidate their pre-conditions. Science must be absolutely founded. Absolute foundation is foundation in the absolute. Only philosophy can fulfill the norms of absolute reflection. It enables science and is itself the absolute science”].

To do this, the text elaborates two strategies: firstly, underlining an analogical relationship between the Platonic and the Husserlian argumentative processes, it challenges the pre-eminence of the Cartesian approach, placing Husserl, through a Rückblick to Plato, already beyond modernity; secondly, in order to understand the Platonic analogies in Husserl, it assumes the existence of an already “phenomenological” Plato (30). In continuity with the Platonic and Husserlian arguments, Arnold claims the idea that philosophy does not exhaust itself in a mere gnoseological or epistemological approach, but it invests the very idea of “life.” According to this view, philosophy becomes the “absolute Rechtfertigung des Lebens” (Arnold: 129) [“the absolute justification of life”], overcoming the abstract antagonism of doxa and episteme:

“Die Radikalität der Phänomenologie selbst, kombiniert mit dem Selbstverständnis ihrer Stellung in der teleologischen Entwicklung des Menschen in Richtung Rationalität, erzwingt den Antagonismus zwischen Tradition (doxa) und Philosophie (episteme)” (129).

[“The radical nature of phenomenology itself, combined with the self-understanding of its position in the teleological evolution of man toward rationality, forces the antagonism between tradition (doxa) and philosophy (episteme)”].

Nevertheless, the most striking continuity between the Platonic and the Husserlian philosophical approach is the fact that “ideas” occupy the central theoretical position, i.e. the idea that the proper philosophical activity coincides with an act of Wesenschau. The “idea of ​​idea” represents the conceptual strategy through which the essence of an “intentional psyché” is realized, contesting every naturalization of the mind, even in ancient times (Anaxagoras) and particularly in modern ones (Psychologism) (see, Arnold: 136). Ideas are the intelligible structures of things, “d. h. das, was ihre erkennbare, allgemeine Bestimmtheit ausmacht, ihr ‘Prinzip der Bestimmtheit’ oder das ‘Organisationsprinzip einer Gegenstandseinheit’, d.h. auch das ‘Kriterium’ (Uhlmann), dem gemäß ein Gegenstand ein solcher und nicht ein anderer Gegenstand ist” (Arnold: 207) [“i.e. what constitutes their recognizable, general determinateness, their ‘principle of determinateness’ or the ‘organizing principle of an object-unity’, i.e. also the “criterium” (Uhlmann), according to which an object is such and not another”]. The fundamental importance of ideas and essences, both in Plato and Husserl, suggests the fact that philosophy still aims to be, according to the Husserlian perspective, a “science of essences”:

“Wesen sind für Husserl die intelligiblen Bestimmtheitsstrukturen der Gegenstände und das, was ihnen ihre Möglichkeiten apriori vorgibt; ein Gegenstand, der ein Eidos instantiiert, hat in diesem Eidos seine Bestimmung” (214).

[“For Husserl, essences are the intelligible structures of the definiteness of objects, and what gives them their possibilities a priori; an object that instantiates an eidos has in this eidos its determination”].

The fundamental purpose inscribed in every platonic/realistic approach is to reflect on how and why our gnoseological capacities provide us with the ability to get in contact with ideas/essences, which, although transmaterial, possess the concreteness of a specific Gegenständigkeit. As Arnold points out, “die Ideen sind keine sichtbaren Dinge und keine Gedanken, aber sie sind nichtsdestotrotz in einem bestimmten Sinn eigenständige Gegenstände” (Arnold: 220) [“Ideas are not visible things and neither thoughts, but they are nonetheless – in a certain sense – independent objects”]. Tracing the idea of ​​an essential analogy between Plato and Husserl, Arnold’s work provides a new conceptual legitimacy to the fundamental terms of our philosophical tradition. Through Plato and Husserl, a transhistorical conceptual vocabulary still conserves those certain powerful words, which are the very glory of philosophy: “idea,” “science,” “justification,” “essence,” “Absolute.”


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