Cynthia D. Coe (Ed.): The Palgrave Handbook of German Idealism and Phenomenology

Phenomenological Reviews

The Palgrave Handbook of German Idealism and Phenomenology Book Cover The Palgrave Handbook of German Idealism and Phenomenology
Cynthia D. Coe (Ed.)
Palgrave Macmillan Cham
Hardback 49,00 €
XVII, 590

Reviewed by: Luz Ascárate (University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne)

In response of the increasingly overwhelming interest of today’s scholars in various forms of naturalism and realism, Cynthia D. Coe offers us a look at the opposite side of philosophy, that inhabited by German idealism and phenomenology. Theses traditions, as the editor states, “jointly provide a counterpoint to the veneration of a materialist worldview and empirical methods of investigating reality that have dominated not only the natural and social sciences but also analytic philosophy” (p. 1). We believe that it is important to make this counterpart since, in the face of these tendencies, the Husserlian phenomenological project of saving man from being treated as a fact (Husserl, 1979) cannot be more relevant today: there are indeed still reasons to defend human freedom in terms of an irreducibility of the humanity or the spirit to the material conditions of scientific and technological progress. Unfortunately, the defence of this irreducibility in both German idealism and phenomenology have been widely misunderstood, in the sense that these traditions are accused of flat intellectualism and forgetfulness of reality, to say nothing about the supposed obscurity of the language and theories of their exponents, who have certainly preferred theoretical rigour to clearness of expression.

Now, with respect to the links immanent to the development of the studies of these traditions, much has been said about the influence of thinkers such as Kant, Hegel, Schelling or Fichte on the phenomenological proposals of Husserl (Steinbock, 2017, chapter 4), Heidegger (Slama, 2021), Fink (Lazzari, 2009) or Merleau-Ponty (Matherne, 2016), among others. However, this collective work offers us a vision of phenomenology either as a reappropriation, overcoming or continuation of the project of German idealism. Therein lies its importance. According to Cynthia D. Coe there would thus be a continuity to be emphasised between the preoccupation with consciousness in German idealism and the phenomenological preoccupation with first-person lived experience. This continuity is reviewed by the contributors to this book on different thematic fronts which articulate the 6 parts of this book: subjectivity, intersubjectivity and the other, ethics and aesthetics, time and history, ontology and epistemology, hermeneutics.

Throughout the contributions in these parts, we can identify the influence of German idealist thinkers on Husserl and on the phenomenological tradition in general. In addition, some contributors choose to point out the problems of interpretation of either Husserl or other phenomenologists with respect to the most representative texts of German idealism. In other contributions, the influence of the German idealist project on the conception of the phenomenological project can be seen. Finally, it can also be observed that the very definition of phenomenology for some representatives of this movement owes as much to Husserl as to German idealism. There remains, however, an interpretative line to be explored: in what sense phenomenology has been important not only for the reception of German idealism, but also for current studies of this tradition, contributing themes, angles, or interpretative nuances that the specialists of German idealist thinkers may not follow, but with which they discusse and dialogue. Although the importance of phenomenology for current studies in German idealism is a fact that we can ascertain (see for exemple Schnell, 2009), no author of this book cares to make this explicit. The directionality that the dialogue between these traditions thus takes is to start from German idealism to see its influence on phenomenology and to return to German idealism only if there is an error of interpretation to be criticised with respect to a specific problem. But let’s take a closer look at the content of the contributions in this book.

We would say that the concern with the concept of subjectivity can itself characterise both the idealist tradition and the phenomenological tradition. The contributions in the first part of this book are devoted to this common concern. Dermot Moran, in his paper entitled “Husserl’s Idealism Revisited” (pp. 15-40), drawing on Husserl’s understanding of the intentionality of consciousness, reveals that the place given to consciousness leads him to affirm a new kind of transcendental idealism. Husserl’s idealism, akin but not comparable to that of German idealism, gives intersubjectivity a fundamental character. But if Moran focuses exclusively on Husserl’s thought, the two following contributions in this part explore more closely the relationship between Husserlian phenomenology and German idealism.

Claudia Serban’s contribution (pp. 41-62) discusses the relation between the transcendental I and empirical subjectivity in both Kant and Husserl, differentiating their conceptions. The transcendental perspective is positioned here, in both authors, against the psychological and anthropological perspective regarding the concept of the inner man. First of all, the author opposes Husserl’s and Kant’s perspectives on internal and external experience within the horizon of the purely psychological perspective. Serban insists on defending Kant against some of Husserl’s criticisms. This opens the way to the Kantian distinction between the inner man and the outter man that appears in the context of his anthropology. Anthropology will try to be brought closer, by Husserl, to transcendental phenomenology. The paper thus shows how Husserl and Kant converge in the continuation of the transcendental perspective in an anthropology.

Federico Ferraguto, in his chapter (pp. 63-83), explores the relationship between Fichte and Husserl. Ferraguto begins with a reconstruction of Fichte’s influence on Husserl, and then points out the role of the self in the constitution of knowledge and thus in the conception of philosophy as a rigorous science for both authors. While it is clear that subjectivity is a fundamental theme of Husserlian thought, it is also present in other representatives of phenomenology. In this sense, even with regard to subjectivity, the last two contributions of this part follow closely the relationship between Gabriel Marcel, Jean-Paul Sartre and German idealism.

The article “Bodies, Authenticity, and Marcelian Problematicity” (pp. 85-106) by Jill Hernandez explores the influence of German idealism on Marcel’s thought, specifically with regard to the existentialist concept of incarnation and the ethical perspective of a life lived, by the self, in an intersubjective communion. This first part ends with Sorin Baiasu’s contribution (pp. 107-128), in which Sartre’s concept of freedom is established through dialogue and opposition with the Kantian perspective of freedom. Baiasu shows that the differences between the conceptions of these authors should not be understood, as is usually believed, as if the Sartrian view of freedom were an implausible radicalisation of the Kantian proposal.

The second part of this book deals with a perspective that is already present, albeit in the background, in the first part. It is about the importance, given by phenomenology, to intersubjectivity and the other. This importance leads us to the communicating vessels that phenomenology makes possible with social philosophy. The whole complexity here lies in identifying the influence that German idealism may have had on this phenomenological area of study. In some cases phenomenology will radicalise the perspective of German idealism in order to integrate the fundamental role of intersubjectivity, in other cases, the strategy will be to elaborate a critique of the tradition of German idealism against and its treatment of social problems, which will allow phenomenology to show itself as overcoming this tradition in response to these issues.

In his chapter (pp.  131-152), Jan Strassheim thus devotes himself to revealing the influence of the Kantian transcendental perspective on Alfred Schutz’s anthropology of transcendence, passing through Husserl’s critique of Kant’s anthropological theory. Strassheim shows that Schutz will insert intersubjectivity into his anthropological perspective inherited from Kant.  First, the author shows in what sense Schutz’s anthropology has a phenomenological basis. Next, a difference is established between Kant’s and Schutz’s perspectives on transcendence. For the latter, transcendence will not be that which persists beyond all possible human experience, but rather transcendence “is a category for various ways in which human finitude appears within experience” (p. 137). Transcendence will also be understood on the basis of the concept of meaning and the concept of types, which will allow him to enlarge the Kantian categorical perspective. Intersubjectivity will be inserted here in order to understand the formation of the self.

In the article entitled “Moving Beyond Hegel: The Paradox of Immanent Freedom in Simone de Beauvoir’s Philosophy” (pp. 153-172), Shannon M. Mussett reveals the influence of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit on Beauvoir’s conception of freedom as expressed in situations of oppression. Mussett argues that Beauvoir’s perspective is able to surpass the historical optimism of Hegelian dialectics by showing how immanent expressions of freedom can remain even in situations of oppression but in empty, abstract and ineffective behaviour. The paper begins by articulating the Hegelian notion of negative freedom by giving special attention to the dialectic of master and slave, which is for Beauvoir an instantiation of the optimism of the Hegelian system. Indeed, despite conditions of domination, the subject can, for Hegel, progress. Next, the author shows the ineffective forms of freedom according to Beauvoir, who not only radicalises the Hegelian perspective of freedom, but is capable of denouncing situations of oppression that only express themselves in empty social behaviour.

The last contribution in this part is that of Azzedine Haddour (pp. 173-199), who situates the dialogue between phenomenology and German idealism in the field of decolonial theory, also devotes special attention to the Hegelian dialectic of master and slave. However, this contribution focuses less on the notion of freedom implied in this dialectic than on the extra-philosophical conditions that make Hegel understand the issue of slavery in a particular way. Thus, the author of this chapter first analyses the position of the Hegelian dialectic vis-à-vis historical narratives that are read, by the system, in a teleological way, thus justifying slavery and infantilising people of colour. The Hegelian system is said to be founded on binary oppositions “premised on a Eurocentric and racialized view of the world” (p. 176). Haddour then draws a comparison between the Hegelian conception of slavery and Frantz Fanon’s decolonial theory. For Fanon, the fact that the world of the spirit is governed by rationality and that freedom is not one of its properties shows Hegel’s Eurocentrism. The Hegelian dialectic is dismantled then, in this paper, as counterintuitive.

If the second part of the book introduced social perspectives in the dialogue between phenomenology and German idealism, the third part of the book will deal with a central theme in order to clarify the deep constitution of the social: the theme of value, from an ethical and aesthetic perspective. David Batho’s contribution, entitled “Guidance for Mortals: Heidegger on Norms” (pp. 203-232), deals with the relationship between Heidegger and Hegel with regard to the normative constitution of the social. Batho argues with Robert Pippin, Steven Crowell and John McDowell, and defends that Heidegger’s concept of death as self-awareness of mortality is a necessary condition for grounding action in norms, which shows that Heidegger accounts for the self-legislation of agents as much as Hegel does.

Takashi Yoshikawa (pp. 233-255) focuses on Husserl’s Kaizo articles in order to point out the contribution of transcendental idealism to moral philosophy. Yoshikawa shows the influence of Kant and Fichte on the Husserlian idea of practical reason. In fact, Kaizo‘s ethical perspective shows, according to Yoshikawa, that as in German idealism, Husserl does not reduce reality to subjectivity. Rather, the transcendental idealism of Kant, Fichte and Husserl is not incompatible with empirical realism if we argue that the world exists independently of us. In fact, Kaizo‘s ethical perspective shows, according to Yoshikawa, that as in German idealism, Husserl does not reduce reality to subjectivity. Rather, the transcendental idealism of Kant, Fichte and Husserl is not incompatible with empirical realism if we argue that the world exists independently of us. In ethical terms, this translates into the defence of the virtue of modesty in the face of the incompleteness of our perception and the dependence of our action on the surrounding world.

María-Luz Pintos-Peñaranda discusses, in her chapter intitled “The Blindness of Kantian Idealism Regarding Non-Human Animals and Its Overcoming by Husserlian Phenomenology” (pp. 257-278), the issue of non-human animals. This subject, which would be indifferent to Kantian idealism, can be understood within Husserlian phenomenology. In this sense, the latter represents a real improvement of the idealist perspective. Pintos-Peñaranda first concentrates on Husserlian critique of Kant’s naturalistic logic, and then unveils the affinity of the concept of transcendental consciousness with non-human animals. Insofar as this concept is constituted on the basis of a pre-reflexive understanding that precedes it, animality occupies an important place in the unveiling of the origin of consciousness. Important implications of this are to be found in the phenomenological understanding of will, lived space and the capacity for spatialisation.

The contribution of Íngrid Vendrell Ferran, “Aesthetic Desinterestedness and the Critique of Sentimentalism” (pp. 301-322), explores the relationship between the Kantian tradition of aesthetics and the phenomenological perspectives of Moritz Geiger and José Ortega y Gasset. The absence of interest with which Kant characterises judgements of taste by emphasising the form of the work of art to the detriment of the content is here opposed to sentimentalism as a defect in aesthetic appreciation. Geiger and Ortega y Gasset are equally opposed to sentimentalism in aesthetics following Kant, but the former emphasises aesthetic value while the latter emphasises the formalism of aesthetics.

The fourth part of this book touches on a fundamental theme for both phenomenology and German idealism. This is the one concerning temporality and historicity, which implies going through the concept of memory. Some of the authors in this part argue for a convergence of perspectives between phenomenology and German idealism, while others oppose them, and still others dispute the erroneous readings of German idealism by representants of phenomenology.

Thus, Jason M. Wirth’s contribution (pp. 325-341) brings Schelling and Rosenzweig into dialogue with regard to the time of redemption. On the basis of a cross-reading between the two philosophers, Wirth argues that idealism is redeemed when truth is located between philosophy and theology, between the side of the intellect and that of revelation. In this sense, what is eternal is realised within the concrete completeness of time. Markus Gabriel, in his chapter entitled “Heidegger on Hegel on Time” (pp. 343-359), first reconstructs the reading of Hegel in Being and Time, and then answers it on the basis of a reading of the Hegelian texts. Finally, he criticises Heidegger’s existentialist perspective on temporality. Gabriel argues that Heidegger does not attend to the methodological architecture of the Hegelian philosophical system because he assumes that this system is a historicised form of ontotheology, which is totally inaccurate. In fact, the Heideggerian reflection on time in general fails with respect to the relation between nature and history.

In her paper, Elisa Magrì (pp. 361-383) explores the relationship between Hegel and Merleau-Ponty with regard to sedimentation, memory and the self. Firstly, sedimentation is understood, in Merleau-Ponty’s thinking, as inseparable from the institution as a process of donation of meaning. Magrì interprets this understanding as a revised version of Hegelianism. Hegel’s concept of absolute knowledge is comprehended here as a process of sedimentation that implies a process of institution. The Hegelian concept of absolute knowledge is finally related to a kind of ethical memory that reactivates potential new beginnings in history and society as a form of critique. This contribution closes by pointing out the ethical value of memory for contemporary debate. On the basis of Merleau-Ponty’s and Hegel’s thought, we can understand memory, according to Magrì, as the constant institution of the self, and not as its neutralisation. Memory thus helps to avoid repeating mistakes and to germinate a new dimension for collective reflection and action.

Zachary Davis focuses his contribution (pp. 385-403) to Max Scheler’s idea of history and shows how it has been influenced by German idealism. Davis explores the different periods of Scheler’s thought. The first period, strongly phenomenological, is marked by discussions with the Munich circle and their views on history. In this period, Scheler shares with Hegel the belief that there is an idea in history which develops in the life of culture. However, Scheler criticises the Hegelian perspective that would see history solely as the realisation of the spirit and historical progress as the realisation of absolute knowledge. Historical progress is seen by Scheler as the socialisation of material conditions and the individualisation of spiritual values. Scheler opposes Hegel’s impersonal view to a personalistic view of the spirit. In the last, anthropologically oriented period of his philosophy, Scheler refers to Schelling’s thought. Contrary to Schelling’s internalist view, Scheler argues that there are external material conditions for the realisation of history.

The fifth part of this book unveils the ontological and epistemological discussions that phenomenology entertains with German idealism. The latter appears, in these phenomenological perspectives, sometimes as a presence, sometimes as something to be overcome, sometimes as a persistence. The contributions gathered here focus exclusively on the non-Husserlian approaches of phenomenology. Thus, Mette Lebech, in her article entitled “The Presence of Kant in Stein” (pp. 407-428), focuses on the questions of idealism and faith in Edith Stein and how these relate to Kant’s influence on her phenomenological approach. Lebech articulates Stein’s engagement with Kant through Kant’s influence on Reinach and Husserl. This allows him to elaborate an idea of phenomenology as an extension of the Kantian understanding of the a priori and to oppose Husserl whom he labels a metaphysical idealist. Finally, Lebech argues that Kant signifies, in Stein, the beginning of a philosophical thought that can be articulated with faith. For his part, M. Jorge de Carvalho (pp. 429-455) makes us reflect on Heidegger’s interpretation of Fichte’s three principles. These principles will be understood here in an existentialist key with regard to the question of finitude. For Heidegger, Fichte’s preoccupation with constructing a system of knowledge prevents him from exploring the temporal and existential problems of Dasein analysis.

Jon Stewart (pp. 457-480) explores the relationship between the phenomenological method in Hegel and the later movement of phenomenology. Although it is known that Hegel and Husserl do not share the same concept of phenomenology, according to Stewart, some of the post-Husserlian phenomenologists know Hegel well. The question this article attempts to answer is therefore whether they attempt to approach the Hegelian sense of phenomenology. The article begins by showing the meaning of phenomenology for Hegel and then sets out the Husserlian critique of Hegel, before pointing out Hegel’s influence on French phenomenology, specifically on Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. Stewart concludes that while there are differences between the latter’s and Hegel’s sense of phenomenology, we find in the phenomenology of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty a clear Hegelian influence because of the importance they gave to Hegelian thinking, unlike Husserl.

The paper by Stephen H. Watson, entitled “On the Mutations of the Concept: Phenomenology, Conceptual Change, and the Persistence of Hegel in Merleau-Ponty’s Thought” (pp. 481-507) somewhat extends the reflections of the previous chapter. Taking as evidence the Hegelian influence on Hegel’s thought, Watson identifies the ideas of Hegel, both systematic and metaphysical, that Merleau-Ponty draws on to elaborate his theory of behaviour and perception in his early thought. We then participate in the resolution of some paradoxes that, in the period of Merleau-Ponty’s expression of thought, appear regarding the relation between system and subjectivity. Finally, Watson shows the influence of Schelling and Hegel on Merleau-Ponty’s last period in which a new ontology is formulated.

Interpretation being one of the fundamental themes of the phenomenological movement, which has made possible the formation of a hermeneutic variant of phenomenology, a final part of this book seeks to identify the influences of German idealism for the proposals of three exponents of this variant: Heidegger, Gadamer and Ricoeur. However, this part of the book escapes the question of whether there would be a real continuity between the phenomenological project and the hermeneutic project, and whether hermeneutics would not have its own origin in the philological sciences and in the interpretation of sacred texts, disciplines that precede the birth of phenomenology. In any case, the question at issue here is whether the hermeneutics that takes place within the phenomenological movement has been influenced by German idealism.

Frank Schalow thus focuses, in his chapter (pp. 511-528), on the importance of Kantian transcendental philosophy for Heidegger’s hermeneutics, which would be a radicalisation of certain Kantian theses, specifically with regard to the power of the imagination. The chapter begins by showing the relationship between the cognitive sense of imagination in Kant and its linguistic and temporal sense. Schalow then shows how Heidegger deconstructs the rationalist tradition of German idealism with his reinterpretation of the Kantian imagination and extends his critical view of Kantian metaphysics to the realm of ethics. Besides, Heidegger’s reading of Kant allows him to distinguish himself from German idealism, in terms of the dialectical method, the metaphysical implications and the place of language in all this. It is here that Heidegger’s hermeneutics finds its specificity, in terms of a deconstructive imagination in which language plays an essential role, as opposed to the systematising rationality of German idealism. Particular attention is given here to Kant’s influence on Heidegger’s aesthetic theory, which also allows him to return to a particular exponent of German idealism, Hörderlin, in order to rediscover the confluence between poetry and truth.

Theodore George’s paper entitled “Gadamer, German Idealism, and the Hermeneutic Turn in Phenomenology” (pp. 529-545) concentrates on the fundamental hermeneutic concepts of facticity, history and language. In contrast to Husserl and Heidegger, Gadamer considers that in Hegel and German idealism we find philosophical perspectives that can be integrated into his hermeneutics, although in order to do so we would have to break with a neo-Kantian reading of this tradition. The author first locates the place of the hermeneutic turn of phenomenology in Gadamer’s thought. Like many students of his generation, Gadamer, according to George, found in both existentialism and phenomenology an alternative way to escape Neo-Kantianism. Later, he was strongly influenced by “Heidegger’s hermeneutical intervention against Husserl’s phenomenology” (p. 534). But if Gadamerian hermeneutics certainly begins with a critique of the inherited forms of consciousness that we receive from German idealism and the Romantic tradition as forms of alienation, we find in it, paradoxically, a positive reception of Hegel. Hegel allows Gadamer to articulate the role of history and language in the hermeneutics of facticity.

Robert Piercey’s contribution shows that Ricoeur’s relation to Hegel is paradoxical since we find different versions of Hegel in Ricoeurian thought. Hegel appears here in methodological, ontological and metaphilosophical form. In fact, the author argues that renouncing Hegel, for Ricoeur, does not mean renouncing dialectical thought altogether or renouncing all Hegelian ontological tendencies. On the contrary, it is a matter of avoiding only unrealistic promises that dialectical thought believes it can keep. It is therefore a critique of a particular metaphilosophy. Although Ricoeur criticises Hegelianism, Hegel is an important philosophical source for his hermeneutical thinking.

The book concludes with a reflection by Cynthia D. Coe (pp. 547-575) that attempts to situate the different historical contexts of German idealism, on the one hand, and phenomenology, on the other, showing that both traditions still have much to offer for the current historical context that is ours. From enviromental ethics to the relationship between life and technology, the sense of humanity and its relationship to the world that we forge through the study of these traditions still has much to offer. We can only invite those interested in these traditions, but also those interested in the various philosophical disciplines, to immerse themselves in the timeless and fruitful dialogue that this book establishes, by many voices, between phenomenology and German idealism.


Husserl, Edmund. (1970). Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy, David Carr (trans.), Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Lazzari, Riccardo. (2009). Eugen Fink e le interpretazioni fenomenologiche di Kant, Milan: Franco Angeli.

Matherne, Samantha (2016). “Kantian Themes in Merleau-Ponty’s Theory of Perception”, Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie 98 (2):193-230.

Slama, Paul. (2021). Phénoménologie transcendantale. Figures du transcendantal de Kant à Heidegger, Cham: Springer, coll. “Phaenomenologica”, vol. 232.

Schnell, Alexander. (2009). Réflexion et spéculation. L’idéalisme transcendantal chez Fichte et Schelling, Grenoble: J. Millon, coll. “Krisis”.

Steinbock, Anthony. (2017). Limit-Phenomena and Phenomenology in Husserl, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield International Ltd.

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