Dan Zahavi: Husserl’s Legacy

Husserl's Legacy: Phenomenology, Metaphysics, and Transcendental Philosophy Book Cover Husserl's Legacy: Phenomenology, Metaphysics, and Transcendental Philosophy
Dan Zahavi
Oxford University Press
2017
Hardback £30.00
256

Reviewed by: Heath Williams (University of Western Australia)

1. Introduction

In the introduction of this review I will provide some general comments on the nature of the layout, methodology, and style of Zahavi’s work before moving into a detailed commentary. Page numbers refer to the reviewed work unless otherwise indicated.

Husserl’s Legacy is an attempt to defend Husserlian phenomenology from a variety of perceived misconceptions and misinterpretations that have been voiced from both within and outside of the Continental tradition. In particular, it is an attempt to show that Husserl avoids a variety of positions have been levelled at him as criticisms and which are, one assumes, perhaps seen as out of touch with contemporary trends in Anglophone philosophy, i.e. methodological solipsism, internalism, idealism, and metaphysical neutrality.

Interestingly, Zahavi does not attempt to show that one should reject any of these positions for their own reasons. Nor does he argue that one should reject these positions for the reasons Husserl did (and in fact Husserl’s arguments are not often provided). This remains implicit. The scope of the book is to show, via close study of Husserl’s corpus, that Husserl does indeed reject the aforementioned positions. As interesting as Husserl scholars will find this project, it is an unexpected turn from an author who has claimed that one “of phenomenology’s greatest weaknesses is it preoccupation with exegesis” (Zahavi, 2005, 6). The value of the project is that close exegesis serves to precisely locate Husserl’s position on contemporary philosophical issues. But I doubt that it will serve to bring anyone into the Husserlian tent that does not already have some affinity with it.

Thematically, the book has a cyclical character, and questions which are raised early on are returned to as the work unfolds; the central debates are interwoven throughout the work. The work is decisive, yet also full of Zahavi’s characteristic diplomacy, and his careful and considerate attention to detailed distinctions; Zahavi will often proceed by firstly teasing out different meanings of key concepts like metaphysics or naturalisation. In this work, Zahavi draws on his expert knowledge of the full range of Husserl’s collected works, drawing insightful quotes from a range of primary sources. Zahavi also shows his expertise concerning well known commentaries on Husserl from canonical figures like Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, and a wealth of other Husserlian interpreters.

Zahavi’s methodological approach is to generally begin with a discussion of the position of an interlocutor who has claimed that Husserl held one of the aforementioned positions (i.e. solipsism, internalism, etc.). One method Zahavi then employs is to outline Husserl’s position on a given topic (say intersubjectivity), and on this basis to reason that it would be inconsistent to assume that Husserl held the position his interlocutors ascribe to him (i.e. methodological solipsism). Of course, this approach assumes that Husserl philosophy is internally consistent. Anyone familiar with the Fifth Meditation, for example, will know that Husserl struggled to bring about this consistency. An alternate method that Zahavi employs in dealing with an interlocutor is to provide a sample of excerpts drawn from a variety of Husserlian texts wherein Husserl explicitly disavows the position in question, or endorses an alternate position, i.e. when Husserl says that no “realist has been as realistic and concrete as me, the phenomenological idealist” (170). This second method is certainly enough to establish that Husserl believed that, on a certain rendering, he did not subscribe in a straightforward way to some of the positions he was reproached with (i.e. idealism), and it means we will need to approach our depiction of his position with care, as Zahavi does. However, like much of Husserl’s project, many of these quotes are what Hopkins describes as ‘promissory notes’—statements which require much filling in and detail if they are to be substantiated. Husserl did not always get around to paying these promissory notes out, and this raises a methodological hurdle for Zahavi.

Zahavi locates Husserl’s position on three central issues. 1) The relation between phenomenology and metaphysics, and the clash with speculative realism. 2) Internalism vs. externalism, and the question of methodological solipsism. 3) The naturalisation of phenomenology. There is far too much dense exegesis to provide an enlightening and comprehensive review in the space available here; I will discuss and provide some criticisms of Zahavi’s discussion of theme 1 and 2. As we shall see, Zahavi thinks that locating Husserl’s position on these themes pivots on the interpretation of two key aspects of the Husserlian framework: the noema and the reduction.

  1. Metaphysics and Phenomenology, Part 1.

In this section, I will trace Zahavi’s comments on the metaphysical relevance of Husserl’s early phenomenology. The relation between phenomenology and metaphysics is firstly raised in the second chapter of Husserl’s Legacy. The question which drives this investigative theme is whether or not Husserlian phenomenology can contribute to metaphysical discussions. Zahavi traces the source of Husserlian phenomenology’s purported metaphysical neutrality back to the earlier descriptive project of the Logical Investigations. As Zahavi outlines, for the author of the Investigations, the term metaphysics denoted a science which clarifies the presuppositions of the positive sciences. Metaphysics is, in this sense, the meta to physics. As Husserl is interested in the foundation of all sciences, pure and a priori ones included, he thus sees his project as superseding the metaphysical one. In this sense, Zahavi shows that Husserl saw phenomenology as meta-metaphysical, as various quotes from the Logical Investigations attest. We shall see later that Zahavi provisionally defines metaphysics as taking a position on the question of whether or not physical objects are real or purely mental (ideal) and, as Husserl’s early project does not deign to comment on this issue, it is on this basis that Zahavi views it as metaphysically neutral.

However, Zahavi shows that not everyone has seen Logical Investigations this way. Various interpreters have seen it as a realist manifesto. This reading is motivated by the strong rejection of representationalism which is contained in the Investigations—the reasoning being that, if Husserl is not an intra-mental representationalist, then he must be a metaphysical realist. In response Zahavi claims that this reading ignores one of the key distinction of the Investigations—that between intentional objects which happen to exist in the spatio-temporal nexus, and those that do not. This purely descriptive distinction refers only to modes of givenness, and is indicative of the manner in which the Investigations avoid metaphysics (36).

Zahavi similarly rejects an idealistic interpretation of the Investigations. For example, he discusses Philipse interpretation, which claims that Husserl identifies the adumbrations of an object with the immanent sensations via which these adumbrations are given to us and argues that, as all objects are given via adumbrations for Husserl, all objects are thereby reducible to our immanent sensations. Therefore, Husserl must be some sort of phenomenalist like Berkeley. Zahavi argues that Philipse ignores that Husserl distinguishes between differing parts of a perception, some of which are properties of the object itself, others of which are immanent sensations, and refers to both (unfortunately) as adumbrations. Husserl very clearly states that the reality of an object “cannot be understood as the reality of a perceived complex of sensations” (40).

So, Zahavi shows that, if we are talking about the descriptive project contained in the Investigations, then Husserlian phenomenology is indeed metaphysically neutral, in the sense that it does not take a realist or idealist position on the existential status of physical objects.

Zahavi’s discussion of Philipse utilises the method of providing direct citations from Husserl which contradict one of his interlocutor’s renditions. However, Zahavi also mentions here the spectre which, given this method, haunts Legacy: the validity of Husserl’s assessment of his own project (42). As Zahavi observes, Heidegger was certainly sceptical about Husserl’s evaluation of his own work. This problem is compounded by the fact that some of the claims about his own work are where Husserl spends some of his largest banknotes.

Zahavi agrees that Husserl does not always seem to view his own project clearly or consistently. To illustrate this, Zahavi considers the discrepancy between Husserl’s actual description of intentional acts and his second order reflections on what he is doing. On the one hand, Husserl seems to claim to restrict his analyses in Logical Investigations to the noetic and immanent psychic contents in certain parts. In parts of Ideas 1 Husserl again seems to endorse the claim that only the immanent sphere is totally evident and therefore fair game for phenomenology investigation. However, in both works, he clearly begins to analyse the noematic components of intentional experiences. Although this section is ostensibly in the thematic context of discussing Husserl’s reliability as a commentator on his own work, it very much pertains to the internalist/externalist debate which will take centre stage later, as it concerns the extent to which Husserl’s phenomenology engages with the external world. Indeed, these inconsistencies perhaps illuminate why some of Zahavi’s latter interlocutors have branded Husserl an internalist; perhaps these interlocutors are basing their evaluation on Husserl’s own comments.

Zahavi finishes the section on the Investigations by questioning whether one should react to the metaphysical neutrality contained therein as either liberating or constricting, but then adds the embracing and diplomatic remark that it might be both, or neither, depending on the metaphysical question under discussion. He adds that Husserl began to acknowledge that, if metaphysics is taken in the sense of more than an addendum to physical sciences, then perhaps it might be of relevance to the phenomenologist. He also thinks that there is no need to emphasise the value of the neutrality of the “Logical Investigations at the expense of Husserl’s later works” (47). So, on the one hand, Zahavi endorses the neutrality of the Logical Investigations and simultaneously proclaims its value, whilst on the other hand he paves the way for the more metaphysically relevant phenomenology which is to come with Husserl’s transcendental turn.

  1. Metaphysics and Phenomenology, Part 2.

In the opening of chapter 3, Zahavi draws on one commentator (Taylor Carman) who engages in a practice which is almost a rite of passage for any commentator on a post-Husserlian phenomenologist: showing how one of Husserl’s successors vastly improved on the project outlined by Husserl. These sorts of analyses almost always end up straw manning Husserl, and Zahavi is right to correct them. Zahavi recounts how Carman attributes the success of Heidegger’s project to his rejection of the method of phenomenological reduction (53). Zahavi shows that a similar account is provided by certain Merleau-Ponty commentators. Zahavi pinpoints that the inaccuracy of these accounts lies in their characterisation of the epoche and the reduction leading to solipsism and internalism (55).

Zahavi characterisation of the reduction emphasises Husserl’s comments which stress that the reduction does not involve a turning away from the world of everyday concerns, and that what is initially bracketed (i.e. the positing of the existential concrete person and the lifeworld they are in) is eventually reintroduced and accounted for. Indeed, for Husserl, it is only because phenomenology begins form the reduced ego that it can, eventually, give an accurate and expansive characterisation of the constitutive activities of consciousness and the existence of transcendental entities. The reduction is, on this reading, not an internalist shift. Zahavi will later also emphasise that, in fact, for Husserl just as the ego is the precondition for the constitution of the lifeworld, the transcendental ego is just as equally constituted by its factical engagement.

Zahavi’s discussion turns to the question of whether or not a transcendental Husserlian phenomenology, which is guided by the reduction, can contribute more to metaphysical discussions than the descriptive variety. Zahavi discusses that two prominent commentators, Crowell and Carr, both assert that the transcendental project is concerned with issues that have to do with meaning. On this rendition, because meaning is a concept which transcends being, transcendental phenomenology is thus unconcerned with reality—and metaphysics.

Contra Crowell and Carr, Zahavi argues that the latter Husserl does embrace metaphysical issues. He uses two strategies to make this claim. Firstly, Zahavi quotes a number of Husserlian passages which show that he thought that phenomenology began to embrace metaphysical questions, for example, when Husserl states that phenomenology “does not exclude metaphysics as such” (64 italics removed). However, as Zahavi then states, Husserl rejected some traditional meanings of the term metaphysics, and at other times was quite equivocal about what he meant by it, so some unpacking is required to determine exactly what Husserl’s really means when he says phenomenology might involve metaphysics. Zahavi explicitly avoids one of the ways that Husserl spelled out the claim that phenomenology did metaphysics (i.e. via the exploration of themes related to the ethical-religious domain and the immortality of the soul).

Instead, Zahavi sticks with the sense in which metaphysics is defined as pertaining “to the realism-idealism issue, i.e. to the issue of whether reality is mind-independent or not” (65). It is therefore surprising that an argument Zahavi makes is that Husserlian phenomenology is relevant to metaphysics in this sense because, if phenomenology had no metaphysical implications, then it could not reject both realism and idealism so unequivocally. The odd thing is that that Zahavi has just argued that, because Husserl rejected both of these positions in the Investigations, the early descriptive project is metaphysically neutral. Here he seems to argue that this rejection is a reason to accept that Husserl’s philosophy has metaphysical implications.

To unpack Zahavi’s claim a little more, however, he thinks that because Husserl took a stand on the relationship between phenomena and reality, phenomenology therefore has “metaphysical implications” (74). Zahavi argues that Husserl thought there can be no ‘real’ objects, in principle unknowable, behind appearances. For Husserl, the phenomena is the thing, but taken non-naively. It is thus Husserl’s characterisation of phenomena which imports the metaphysical implications Zahavi mentions. It thus doesn’t make any sense to talk about some other Ding-an-Sich behind the phenomena; it is nonsensical to say that the Kantian thing-in-itself exists.

As Zahavi notes, for Husserl “the topics of existence and non-existence, of being and non-being, are… themes addressed under the broadly understood titles of reason and unreason” (66). So, questions concerning the existence of the thing-in-itself can be referred to our account of the rational experience of objects in the world. According to this account, for Husserl ‘existence’ entails the possibility of an experience which provides evidence for a thing. The possibility of this experience, however, must be a real and motivated one, and belong to the horizon of an actually existing consciousness. It must not be a purely empty and formal possibility. Put another way, the world and nature cannot be said to exist unless there is an actual ego which also exists that can, in principle at least, experience this world in a rationally coherent way. Thus, “reason, being, and truth are inextricably linked” (72). And so, as a result, we can deny the possibility of a mind independent and in principle unknowable reality, and we can also deny any form of global scepticism. Ontological realism and epistemological idealism are both false. I was left a little uncertain how this position is any less neutral than the one advocated for in the Logical Investigations.

The section on metaphysics can be subject to the criticism that Zahavi proceeds to cite Husserl’s text on a particular issue, and rarely provides any further argumentation or clarification. For example, Zahavi notes that Husserl states that it “is impossible to elude the extensive evidence that true being as well only has its meaning as the correlate of a particular intentionality of reason” (72). One is left wondering what evidence Husserl could possibly be referring to, and therefore why we ought to accept this enigmatic claim. Elsewhere, Zahavi states that “the decisive issue is not whether Husserl was justified in rejecting global scepticism, but simply that he did reject the very possibility of reality being fundamentally unknowable” (73). This is perhaps the decisive issue within the (narrow exegetical) context of Zahavi’s discussions. But surely Zahavi recognises that a lot hinges on Husserl’s justification for his position, especially within the context of the project of keeping Husserl’s philosophy relevant.

In fact, towards the end of the work, Zahavi shows that he is aware of this objection. He states that his “aim in the foregoing text has been to elucidate and clarify Husserl’s position, rather than to defend it or provide independent arguments for it” (208). And it is really the final chapter, when Zahavi places Husserl’s phenomenology in confrontation with speculative realism, that his detailed exegesis of metaphysics bears serious polemical fruit. But even then, what one could take away from these later sections is that certain interpretations of Husserl are incorrect, and that perhaps Husserl’s position is more coherent or valuable than that of the speculative realists. Zahavi is aware of the need for more detailed and concrete analyses than the ones he has provided, and even notes that Husserl “remained unsatisfied ‘as long as the large banknotes and bills are not turned into small change’ (Hua Dok 3-V/56). A comprehensive appraisal of his philosophical impact would certainly have to engage in a detailed study of the lifeworld, intentionality, time-consciousness, affectivity, embodiment, empathy, etc.” (211). Such small change can only be rendered by a close examination of the things themselves, however.

  1. Internalism vs. Externalism, Part 1.

The fourth chapter aims to situate transcendental Husserlian phenomenology within the context of the internalism vs. externalism debate. Zahavi notes that several commentators (namely, Rowlands, Dreyfus, Carman, and McIntyre) have considered Husserl an “archetypal internalist” (79), often using Husserl’s position as a foil to later phenomenologist like Sartre or Heidegger. Zahavi traces this conception of Husserl to the West coast ‘Fregean’ interpretation of the noema. Zahavi strategy, as he states (82), is not to argue for the East coast interpretation (he considers this issue settled, has addressed it in earlier books (Zahavi, 2003), and provides references for the works he considers decisive on this issue). He shows, instead, that if the East coast interpretation is correct, then Husserl is not so much of an archetypal internalist after all.

According to Zahavi and the East coast interpretation, the noema is not an extraordinary (i.e. abstract) object. It is not a concept, or a sense, or a propositional content. It is an ordinary object, but considered in an extraordinary (phenomenological) attitude. There is not an ontological difference between the object and the noema, but a structural difference only recognised post reduction. Thus, the reduction does not shift our focus from worldly objects to intra-mental representational (i.e. semantic) content of some sort, via which an act is directed to the aforementioned worldly objects. No, the reduction reveals that consciousness is correlated with worldly objects which themselves bear the content that is presented in intentional acts (83-84).

Zahavi then discusses that the West coast critique of the East coast interpretation would align Husserl with modern day disjunctivism, because of the trouble in accounting for non-veridical experiences like hallucinations. In short, if perception is just of ordinary objects as the East coast interpretation maintains, and there is no internal representational mediator (as disjunctivists agree), then what accounts for the difference between veridical and non-veridical experiences which seem indistinguishable?

Zahavi observes that Husserl distinguishes between two experiences which contain objects that seem the same, but are not. Thus, if I look at an object, and then the object is replaced unbeknownst to me as I close my eyes, then even though upon opening my eyes I think my perception is of the same object, Husserl makes a distinction between the two perceptions, because the object they intend are not identical. Thus, an experience in which an existing object and a seemingly existing (but hallucinatory) object are given are not identical either, even if they seem so. This response is paired with the more experientially based point that hallucinations and perceptions do not, in fact, ever seem the same. A perceptual experience is one which is given within a horizon that unfolds over time, and is intersubjectively verifiable. Hallucinations do not meet these experiential criterions (87-88).

These passages contain convincing arguments for Husserl’s position that could be brought to bear on the contemporary debate between conjunctivists and disjunctivists, but ignore recent work by Overgaard. Overgaard claims that “Husserl believes illusions and hallucinations can be indistinguishable from genuine, veridical perceptions. Husserl grants ‘the possibility of an exactly correspondent illusion’ (Hua XIX/1, 458 [137]), and maintains that ‘differences of […] veridical and delusive perception, do not affect the internal, purely descriptive (or phenomenological) character of perception’ (Hua XIX/1, 358 [83])” (Overgaard, 2018, 36).

Zahavi spends some time recounting various passages which are favoured by the East and West coast schools respectively. He lends his support to Fink’s interpretation, according to which the noema can be considered in both a transcendental and psychological context, and he claims that the fault of the West coast school is taking it solely in the latter. Importantly, he says that grasping the transcendental rendition of the noema is predicated on a proper understanding of the transcendental aspects of the reduction. The transcendental function of the reduction is to collapse the distinction between the reality and being of worldly objects and their “constituted validity and significance” (92). It is the West coast, overly psychological reading of the reduction as an internalist form of methodological solipsism which leads them to an internalist rendering of the noema as an intra psychic representational entity.

During the discussion of the noema, the inconsistency and lack of clarity concerning Husserl’s own work on this topic lurks in the background. The simple fact is, Husserl’s doctrine of the noema is sometimes unclear, on either the West or East coast interpretation, and leaves many questions unanswered. Zahavi acknowledges this when he discusses Bernet’s article that outlines “no fewer than three different concepts of the noema” (93). At this point, Zahavi toys with the conciliatory idea that perhaps there is support for both the East and West Coast reading. What Zahavi decides is that we should seek Husserl’s mature view, and one which coheres with the rest of his ideas. However, perhaps this affords Husserl too much charity; I suspect an outsider to Husserlian phenomenology would conclude as much. Perhaps the correct conclusion is that Husserl’s doctrine of the noema is confused.

Either way, Zahavi concludes that, if internalism is defined as the theory that our access to the world is mediated and conditioned by internal representations, then we can conclude Husserl is not an internalist (94), assuming one follows Zahavi’s interpretive approach to the reduction and the noema. If the reduction is seen clearly, and the distinction between objects in the world and noemata is partially collapsed, it cannot be maintained that the subject who intends a noema is cocooned in their own internal representational prison which is disjointed from the world. For Husserl, objects/meanings are actually in the world, and correlated with consciousness, which is a centre for disclosure (94).

  1. Internalism vs. Externalism, Part 2.

The next objection Zahavi addresses is that the foregoing discussion cannot be reconciled with the fact that Husserl’s is a self-confessed transcendental idealist, and ergo an internalist. Thus, like much of the book, we return to the theme of attempting to unravel exactly what Husserl’s transcendental idealism amounts to. In this section, Zahavi explores two crucial aspects to this problem: 1) understanding the constitutive relationship. 2) Understanding key passages from Ideas 1. My review will end with a discussion of these points.

Regarding the first point, Zahavi’s thinks that we should divorce the notion of constitutive dependence from substance metaphysics. The orld does not depend on one type of substance or another for its constitution. For Husserl, the world does not supervene or reduce to some other type of substance, but depends on being known. In this sense, transcendental “idealism is not participating in… the debate between monists and dualists. Its adversary is not materialism, but objectivism” (102). In the end of this discussion, Zahavi seems also suggests that there is an bidirectional constitutive correlation between consciousness and world (102), something he again suggests in latter passages concerning the factical embeddedness of consciousness (section 4.4). In this sense, Husserl’s thesis of constitution is less internalist than might be assumed, as the world constitutes consciousness as much as vice versa.

Zahavi then turns his attention to discussing the passages in sections 47-55 of Ideas 1 which contain some of Husserl’s most strident commitments to idealism. He mentions the notorious section 49, wherein Husserl claims that consciousness subsists after the annihilation of the world. How are we to square this with Husserl’s purported externalism? Zahavi argues that the best way to interpret this passage is that it expresses Husserl’s commitment to two theses: firstly, that some form of consciousness is non-intentional and, secondly, it is the intentional form of consciousness which is “world involving”, i.e. inextricably correlated with the world. Thus, if the world were annihilated, then intentional consciousness would cease, but if consciousness per se is divorced from intentional consciousness, then some form of consciousness could survive this cessation. So, Husserl can maintain that some form of consciousness is ‘externalised’, whilst another form of consciousness is independent from world experience.

Zahavi then turns to Husserl’s claim (found in section 54) that the being of consciousness is absolute, whilst the being of the world is only ever relative. How can we reconcile this with an externalism that avoids affirming consciousness at the expense of the reality of the world? Zahavi’s controversially rejects the traditional interpretation of this passage, according to which in making this claim Husserl means that consciousness is given absolutely and not via adumbrations, unlike spatial objects which are always adumbrated. Zahavi claims that this reading “falls short” (105), but (surprisingly) never mentions how.

Zahavi’s alternate reading is that Husserl most often talks about the absolute in the context of inner time consciousness. Zahavi claims that the absoluteness of temporal consciousness is intimately linked with the prereflectiveness of consciousness, and that we ought to interpret Husserl’s comments concerning the absolute being of consciousness to mean that consciousness is always prereflectively given. Zahavi is right that sometimes Husserl speaks of the absolute in this context. But this is not really the context in which the passage in question in Ideas 1 occurs.

In section 42 and 44 of Ideas 1, Husserl explicitly connects modes of givenness (i.e. adumbrated vs. non-adumbrated) with modes of being (i.e. contingent vs. absolute). For example, he says that every perception of a mental process is “a simple seeing of something that is (or can become) perceptually given as something absolute” (Husserl, 1983, 95). Note the phraseology: given as absolute. In section 54, Husserl states that transcendental consciousness survives even after psychic life has been dissolved and annulled. The central contrast which Husserl makes in this passage is that even intentional psychological life, and the life of the Ego, is relative when compared to pure or absolute nature of transcendental consciousness. Zahavi is right that Husserl may here may be thinking of the prereflective givenness of the absolute temporal flow. But Husserl does not name what remains after consciousness has been divorced from psychological egological life. He nowhere here mentions concepts like the temporal stream and prereflective consciousness.

So, another parsimonious interpretation is that Husserl talks about the absolute in two contexts, one relating to the connection between modes of givenness and modes of being, and one relating to the different strata of temporal consciousness and prereflective givenness. Now, one might argue that Husserl ultimately sees one context as foundational for the other. In fact, Zahavi has shown elsewhere that Husserl certainly thinks that the capacity to reflect presupposes prereflective consciousness, and in Ideas 1 Husserl says that the “‘absolute’ which we have brought about by the reduction… [i.e. pure consciousness] has its source in what is ultimately and truly absolute”, i.e. temporal flow (Husserl, 1983, 192) . However, Husserl then notes the current discussion has thus far “remained silent” concerning this ultimate absolute, and that we can, for now, “leave out of account the enigma of consciousness of time” (Ibid, 194), barring a cursory account of the threefold structure of temporality. And so, it’s difficult to see how we should read the passages in section 54 as concerning the absoluteness of temporality, as Husserl explicit directs us away from this theme in Ideas 1. And, I don’t think we can direct discussions about reflective givenness to a discussion of temporality (and on to prereflectiveness) without further ado, as Zahavi seems to do here.

I just don’t think the selected passage from Ideas 1 is the best way to get to a discussion of temporal consciousness and prereflective givenness in relation to the concept of the absolute. Zahavi chooses to take this direction because he is concerned that the traditional reading of these passages puts Husserl in the position of a metaphysical or absolute idealist (105). My final point is that this need not be the case as, even on the traditional reading, Husserl’s talk of the ‘absolute’ in Ideas 1 is not leading to an ontological claim. Because, the thesis that consciousness is given absolutely in reflective acts could just as well be labelled a descriptive one, as it rests on a distinction between modes of access to states of consciousness.

References:

Husserl, E. (1983). Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy. First Book: General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology. (F. Kersten, Trans.). The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Overgaard, S. (2018). Perceptual Error, Conjunctivism, and Husserl. Husserl Studies, 34(1), 25-45. doi:10.1007/s10743-017-9215-2.

Zahavi, D. (2003). Husserl’s Phenomenology. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Zahavi, D. (2005). Subjectivity and Selfhood: Investigating the First-Person Perspective. Cambridge: MIT Press.

J. Aaron Simmons, J. Edward Hackett (Eds.): Phenomenology in the 21st Century

Phenomenology for the Twenty-First Century Book Cover Phenomenology for the Twenty-First Century
J Aaron Simmons & J. Edward Hackett (Eds.)
Palgrave Macmillan
2016
Hardcover, 99,99 €
XIX, 386

Reviewed byHeath Williams (The University of Western Australia)

When I set out to review this work I was concerned that the essence of phenomenology, and in particular the aspirations of Husserl, might be lost during this book’s attempts at cross-pollination, hybridization and interbreeding (if they have not already). My concerns were echoed in the introduction and preface where Gallagher asks how we can continue to recognise phenomenology as we push it into fresh areas. The introduction (essay #1, by one of the editors, J. A. Simmons) memorably asks “has phenomenology caught the sickness it is trying to cure?” (p. 2). I was concerned that, in its attempt to expand and chart new territory, phenomenology might contract incomprehensibility and irrationalism. We are assured early that this volume hopes phenomenology can “find a way to be a mile wide, as it were, without only being an inch deep” (pg. 2). It was, then, with keen sensibilities to the shallows that I set out.

Overall, I found the collection of 18 essays in this volume enlivening. The editors resisted giving the contributors lengthy word counts. As a result, the chapters in this volume are easily digestible, but also educational, because of their accessible style (bar essay #5 and #10). The variety of scholarship is remarkable. There is novel research, the utilisation of classical phenomenological themes, interspersed with original yet rigorous analysis and description. The exegesis of non-canonical figures and outsiders is a great way to approach the often well-worn phenomenological path. There was, also, generally a shared sensitivity in protecting the methods and contents of phenomenology from the aforementioned shallows. The division of this review will follow the six parts of the book, and reference essay numbers.

Part 1. Justice and Value.

The first essay of the first part by S. Minister (essay #2) shows how phenomenological themes can be relevant to global ethics. For example, Minister argues, there are advantages to taking on Levinas’s ethics of alterity and self-responsibility towards others as a summum bonum, because this overcomes the egocentric biases of utilitarian and deontological approaches, or those ethical theories based on either rationality or self-interest. Also, the intersubjective constitution of objectivity promotes an ethics based on mutual dialogue and interaction, and deconstructive phenomenology might help in breaking down pre-established categories—like ‘the poor’, and ‘developing countries’—which often don’t really carve concrete ethical reality at the joints. This essay is innovative and lofty, but, as would be expected, it’s a little short on detail, and thereby sometimes lacks epistemological weight.

D. M. Dalton’s essay (#3)—a highlight of this section—picks up on a theme from essay #2: the ‘problem of the other’ in Levinas’s philosophy. This essay gives an excellent genealogical trace of the ‘problem’, starting from Husserl and travelling via Heidegger to Levinas. The author argues that Levinas’s descriptive account should not be read as a solution to the problem (and that, in fact, to do so is to commit an ethical infraction). Instead, a Kierkegaardian leap of faith from phenomenology to Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, and the ‘ethics of resistance’, is made. The author states that the described transcendence, power, and even tyranny of the other can only be overcome by learning to ‘resist’ the other—to say ‘no’—without rejecting or succumbing to them. Scholars interested in the problem of the other will find this essay an invaluable exegesis, and an elegant proposed solution.

This final essay of part one (#4, by the other editor, J. E. Hackett) outlines the prima facia system of metaethical moral intuitionism advocated by W.D. Ross. Hackett discusses the problem that the moral principles Ross thinks should be considered in making context dependant ethical choices suffers from a lack of grounding which it can’t solve without resorting to the moral universalism it seeks to avoid. Hackett states that Scheler’s moral theory fills in some much needed concrete detail which grounds Ross’s list of moral principles. The third essay shifts up a gear in terms of technicity and density, particularly during the opening and closing sections.

Part 2. Meaning and Critique.

Essay #5 is N. DeRoo’s look at the Dutch transcendental philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd. It shows Dooyeweerd was concerned with a problem which Husserl, Heidegger and Derrida were very much interested in—the problem of genesis. This is the problem of the perpetual self-foundation/generation of meaning and being, ex nihilo. Reflection on this problem leads to a concentric play between transcendental consciousness and the meaning ground of the lifeworld. This concentric spiral bores down to the ‘religious root of creation’, which Dooyeweerd calls the ‘supra-temporal heart’. ‘Supra-temporality’ is a complicated concept, involving a relationship between religion, cosmic time, expression, and the heart. As would be expected of an essay concerning meaning, being and genesis, the first essay of part two is heavily technical. Dooyeweerd’s thought is packed with deeply transcendental religiosity, bordering on impenetrable mysticism, but DeRoo makes earnest attempts to explain this formidable thinker.

Essay #6, by E. J. Mohr, examines the possibility of mixing phenomenology with the seemingly opposed philosophical school of critical theory. Critical phenomenology is the attempt to investigate and express the lived experience of the inadequacy and non-identity of conceptions of justice to experience. Mohr argues that the two traditions of phenomenology and critical theory are already blended. The experience of the proletariat, person of race, gender, etc., has always formed the basis for critique, and attention to experience has the potential to cut through tired politicised language. Self-reflection and appraisal can change emotional attunement and pre-established ingrained systems of evaluative preferencing, and phenomenological practice can perform the immanent self-critique advocated by critical theory, thus creating ethical behaviour. This is an essay which emulates the hybridisation it espouses: it is dialectical and critical, yet relies on an array of many concrete experiential exemplars which demonstrate the content.

Essay #7 unearths the phenomenological aspect of Reinach’s theory of justice. K. Baltzer-Jaray shows that Reinach’s essay in the first Jarbuch of phenomenology responds to the jurisprudential underpinnings of the unifying codification of German law in the Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch of 1909. The jurisprudence of the Gesetzbuch sees the law as a codified set of constructs which served to solidify political power. The Büch thus represents the failure to prevent the notion of ‘Recht’ (justice) from collapsing into ‘Gesetzt’ (written law). Reinach’s response is that Recht is an a priori timeless and unchanging ideal, which is independent of manmade laws and our attempts to comprehend it. For Reinach justice is a material essence which can only be grasped in intuition, via ideation. The sciences which study justice must operate via rational activity which generates synthetic principles to apply to contextual circumstances. This is a timely discussion of a sometimes contemporarily neglected aspect of the phenomenological project: the idealism, a priori-ism, and rationalism of the early German school. This clarifies the crucially phenomenological aspect of the work of an important thinker.
While there is not a lot of overlap between the essays in this section, they are truly cross-traditional, interspersing diverse phenomenological themes with critical theory, theology, and theories of justice.

Part 3. Emotion and Revelation.

Both the eighth and ninth essays present original phenomenological descriptive analyses. The eighth essay by F. Bottenberg is an attempt to provide a theory of the role of emotional evaluation and motivation. It argues that the theory of simple emotional valence is not nuanced enough to account for the embodied, amorphous, and context dependent nature of emotions. The animationist position put forward argues that a dynamic interplay of the internality of the body with the externality of the world is mediated by emotions. There is a three way correlation between certain classes of emotions (i.e. aggressive vs defensive), certain profiles of motor tendencies, and the ‘soliciting feel’ of the world. Thus, emotional valuing is not valent but kineso-existential. This essay will appeal to those looking for phenomenological descriptions of 4E cognition (see especially the description of the emotional experience of fear on p. 149), and ties in nicely with themes in the essay by Colombetti in part 4. It backs up poetic flair with solid content and clear distinctions, mimics the fluidity it depicts, and is reminiscent of Merleau-Ponty.

The ninth essay addresses the phenomenology of envy. In the past, Anglophone philosophers, like Taylor and Hacker (for example), have seen envy as other-assessing, because the other is seen as the object of the emotion. Contemporary discussions of envy distinguish between a (benign) envy that focuses on the object of envy, and a (malicious) envy which focuses on the state of the other as possessing this object. M. R. Kelly argues that this schema is inadequate because envy is always a comparative intentionality, and it is always a vice. Without the notion of comparativeness, object centred envy collapses into covetousness. Kelly proposes a distinction between possessor envy and deficiency envy. With the former we believe that the other doesn’t deserve what they have, in the latter we reproach ourselves for not having it. The former is other-centred, and focuses on the undeservedness of the superiority of the other. The latter is self-centred, and we see our status as unjustly inferior. Both however are based on assessing the self in relation to the other. Finally, possessor envy manifests in resentment and hostility toward the envied, whilst deficiency empathy manifests in self-loathing. Non-other centred deficiency envy is therefore not benign, as it diminishes one’s moral character. Both envies are a form of vice. Analytic and Anglophone virtue philosophers will find familiar methodological and thematic tropes in this article, as will Husserlians.

The tenth essay is W. C. Hackett’s attempt to articulate a primer on the phenomenology of the philosophy of revelation, with reference to recent phenomenological figures including Lacoste and Marion. Unfortunately, this chapter is a low point in this edited volume, and I convey only what little of it I understood. On p.187, it is claimed that
1. Philosophy is the inquiry into the essence of humanity.
2. The revelation of God is a revelation into humanities most private mystery. Therefore,
3. A philosophy or revelation is fundamental to philosophy’s innate aim.
Furthermore, because of phenomenology’s capacity to express experience, a phenomenology of philosophical revelation holds special promise to fulfil this fundamental philosophical project. A phenomenology of religious revelation articulates the appearance of the impossible and, therefore, by definition, transcends its own limits and expands the limits of intelligibility. It is an irony that an essay on revelation conceals. It was full of unintelligible phrases, unexplained specialist terms, and Greek, French, German and Latin. Non-specialists will find it impenetrable and it is, therefore, of value only to a select few.

Part 4. Embodiment and Affectivity.

Part four is rooted in the hybrid space between empirical psychology and phenomenology. There are interlacing ‘4E cognition’ themes in this part. Both the first and third articles rely on the interpretation of first person psychiatric descriptions of disorder as a form of eidetic variation.
The first article of part four (essay #11), by M. Ratcliffe, examines what constitutes the sense that one is in an intentional state of a particular type (i.e. perception), as opposed to a different type (i.e. imagination). It has been suggested that sense of type is determined by experiencing correlative characteristic types of contents alone. Ratcliffe proposes that one can experience contents characteristic of intentional state type x, without having the sense of being in that state type, and thus content is not sufficient to dictate sense of type. Evidence is provided by certain anomalous experiences.

Ratcliffe’s example is thought insertion (TI). He argues that some features of the contents of TI are characteristic of perceptual content (i.e. seemingly extra-mental external origin), but mostly the features are characteristic of thought content. Yet, TI has the sense of being a perceptual type experience. Thus, types of experience aren’t determined by, nor wholly collapse into, types of contents. Ratcliffe argues that another factor explains our sense of type—the phenomenological (Husserlian) notion of horizonality.

An object’s horizon determines the possibilities we attribute to it, and these possibilities determine an anticipatory profile. The anticipatory profile of inserted thoughts is more consistent with perception. For example, one has a sense of lacking foreknowledge of the occurrence of inserted thoughts, and thereby one experiences an associated negative affect—anxiety over the unknown. These features belong to the anticipatory profile of external auditory experiences—a type of perception. It is thus the anticipatory profile which correlates more strongly with sense of type of experience, and explains it better than content.

Incorporation is the assimilation of either skills or objects, and it is typically a feature of embodied or perceptual capacities. In her contribution (essay #12), G. Colombetti contends that incorporation also operates in affective states like motivations, moods, and emotions. An example of affective skill incorporation would be how bodily expressive ‘styles’, such as patterns of hand gesture and body postures, become a spontaneous and prereflective form of expressing and experiencing affects.

There are, it seems, two essential parts to the claim that affective states incorporate objects. Firstly, objects become constitutive parts of affective states. For example, hiking boots might partly constitute an affective state of confidence. Secondly, these affective states then change the nature of the world we see ourselves in. For example, the state of confidence which is partly constituted by our hiking boots in turn enables a specific set of motoric affordances and colours our perception of the hiking trail.

In response to potential objections, Colombetti maintains that objects are not only incorporated into perceptual states, which in turn act as a (causal/functional) input into affective states, but objects are incorporated directly into affective states themselves. An unconsidered objection is that, seeing as it is already held that objects are incorporated perceptually, and we can concede that perception is in causal/functional interaction with affectivity, doesn’t it seems a little unparsimonious to claim that objects are incorporated into affective states as well? This will need further discussion in the near future.

Essay #13, by J. Kreuger and M. Gram Henriksen claims that, in Mobius Syndrome (MS) (lateral congenital paralysis of one side of the face), and schizophrenia, paradigmatic phenomenological senses of embodiment are highlighted because they are disrupted. MS sufferers report a sense of detachment and alienation from their body, and a feeling of being trapped in their head, like a Cartesian disembodied mind. The body loses its anonymity, performing gestures and expressions are wilful and considered. The body is experienced as a Körper but not a Leib. Schizophrenia is characterised by a diminished self-affection and hyper reflexivity, and phenomenological reports suggest it can involve a disturbance in embodied ipseity. Patients report feeling disjointed from and disown their own body. This essay is the most descriptive and least argumentative of this part of the volume.

Part 5. Pragmatism.

The fifth part is highly creative. M. Craig’s contribution (essay #14) seeks to combine phenomenology with James’s pragmatism and Bergson’s vitalism. For Bergson, the primary state of experience is temporal flux, which is anaemic to verbalisation or conceptualisation. James, of course, coined the archetypal characterisation of consciousness as a ‘flow’ or ‘stream’. Both are thus concerned with the intricacy of life beyond abstract conceptualisation, and used vivid description, depiction, and images in order to do philosophy. Further, both Bergson’s intuitionist vitalism, and James’s sovereignty of the empirical singularity and emergentist ethics, promises to reinvigorate philosophy in a way which phenomenologists could participate.

Essay #15 (by J. Bell) details the interaction between the seminal American pragmatists J. Royce and Husserl, by recounting the presidential address by Royce in 1902 to the American Psychological Association. Royce was globally one of the earliest thinkers to engage with Husserl. Royce was interested in investigating the morphology (or, adaptability) of concepts, particularly on the shared conceptual grounds between the increasingly hostile inter-disciplinary areas of psychology and philosophical logic. One area of frequent concept morphology is mathematics. For Royce, as for Husserl, this was precisely an area where empirical and a priori consciousnesses merged to create a factical world full of meanings and ideal objectivities. Of pressing importance is the function of the consciousness of affirmation and denial for system building, organisation, and categorisation. This section of essay #15 is reminiscent of Burt Hopkins historical-mathematical reconstructions.

The final section of part 5, discusses the importance of the consciousness of inhibitions and taboo for Royce. It connects this with Husserl’s core notions of activity and passivity, the ‘I can’ and the ‘I can’t’, and the actualisation of some possibilities to the expense of others. The taboo and the inhibition are found on the borders of the consciousness of the limiting cases of what can (and ought) to become actualised, and to grasp (phenomenologically) the entertaining and inhibiting of a multiplicity of possibilities is to understand intelligence, thought, and the locus of pragmatic philosophy.

Part 6. Calling Phenomenology into Question.

The final engrossing part of this book begins very much back where this review started: questioning the coherency and health of phenomenology.

Essay #16 by T. Sparrow surveys a series of introductions to phenomenology, and finds phenomenology defined as the study of consciousness (Detmer, Gallaher), a foundational science (Detmer), the science of appearances (Lewis and Staehler), and a Platonic searching for essential truths (Sokolowski). Sparrow judges the lack of a cohesive definition problematic. Faced with this diversity, Simmons and Benson resort to a defensive definition of phenomenology as a family resemblance term. However, at least some strains of phenomenology endorse the notion that there is an essence to phenomenology and, critically, theorists (some within this very volume) often suggest that phenomenology might be applied as a research method to new areas. So, it seems imperative to define what exactly phenomenology is. The basic point of this essay is convincingly made early on. For the ‘variety of definitions’ objection to be considered problematic, however, it would need to be shown that there is less coherence within phenomenology than with any other research paradigm, science, or philosophical school.

Essay #17 by P. Ennis claims that, despite Husserl’s admirable attempt to limit himself to and examine only epistemologically purified Cartesian forms of evidence, we have better forms of evidence available to us today. As Ennis notes, Husserlian foundational evidence is criticised by Sellars attack on the myth of the given. Furthermore, Ennis argues that Metzinger’s and Chruchland’s accounts of the self might not be totally incommensurate with Husserlian transcendental accounts of the self, but they are developed (not only phenomenological but also) neurobiologically, functionally, and in representational terms. They thus offer similar (but not identical) systems, but with better (empirical scientific) evidential backing. There is very little original criticism here: the value of empirical evidence over phenomenological evidence is a stalwart of contemporary cognitive science. However, it is an interesting tactic to draw parallels between Metzinger and Husserl in order to persuade the phenomenologists that they needn’t abandon their core claims if they traded a phenomenological perspective for a functional/neurobiological one.

The final article (#18) by B E. Benson is a response to the previous two. Regarding Sparrow, Benson simply denies the legitimacy of the requirement that phenomenology have any easily definable method or essence. Also, Benson claims that there is more coherency among key features (like object, experience, appearance, science) of the varied definitions that Sparrow discusses than he grants. Lastly, though there is variety, there is also much shared DNA within the phenomenological family. Benson also echoes my concerns when he argues that phenomenology is no more varied than other large philosophical traditions, nor less methodologically coherent than natural science was in its first few centuries. Like scientific method, no one phenomenologist has the authority to decide the meaning and method of phenomenology.

Finally, in response to Ennis, Benson argues that the fact that Metzinger and Husserl came to similar conclusions doesn’t really allow us to differentiate them, let alone give us good reason to favour one over the other. For Benson, Ennis nowhere entertains a pluralistic approach to explaining psychological phenomenon, wherein the strength of neuroscience needn’t imply the death of phenomenology. Lastly, Ennis only addresses Husserlian transcendental phenomenology and, even if Ennis were right, phenomenology has many other facets, as the preceding article, and this edited work more generally, shows.