Christina M. Gschwandtner: Welcoming Finitude: Toward a Phenomenology of Orthodox Liturgy, Fordham University Press, 2019

Welcoming Finitude: Toward a Phenomenology of Orthodox Liturgy Book Cover Welcoming Finitude: Toward a Phenomenology of Orthodox Liturgy
Orthodox Christianity and Contemporary Thought
Christina M. Gschwandtner
Fordham University Press
Hardback $75.00

Frode Kjosavik, Camilla Serck-Hanssen (Eds.): Metametaphysics and the Sciences: Historical and Philosophical Perspectives, Routledge, 2019

Metametaphysics and the Sciences: Historical and Philosophical Perspectives Book Cover Metametaphysics and the Sciences: Historical and Philosophical Perspectives
Routledge Studies in Metaphysics
Frode Kjosavik, Camilla Serck-Hanssen (Eds.)
Hardback £115.00

Matthew Burch, Jack Marsh, Irene McMullin (Eds.): Normativity, Meaning, and the Promise of Phenomenology

Normativity, Meaning, and the Promise of Phenomenology Book Cover Normativity, Meaning, and the Promise of Phenomenology
Routledge Research in Phenomenology
Matthew Burch, Jack Marsh, Irene McMullin (Eds.)
Hardback £120.00

Reviewed by: Steven DeLay (Old Member, Christ Church, University of Oxford)

On one common telling of the history, phenomenology originates as a philosophical movement incubated in professional jealousy, personal rivalry, and intrigue. If someone as Emmanuel Falque has called the recent work among phenomenologists in France a “loving struggle,” the same cannot be said for phenomenology’s earliest beginnings in Germany. Surrounded initially by a burgeoning cadre of students whom he hoped would be heirs to a research program united in its philosophical vision, Edmund Husserl, father of transcendental phenomenology, instead found his aspirations increasingly disappointed as the years passed. As he was to remark in a note towards the end of his career, the general sentiment of his time, one against which he never ceased to struggle, took a dismissively dim view of the systemiticity he so favored: “Philosophy as science, as serious, rigorous, indeed apodictically rigorous science—the dream is over” (Husserl 1970, 389). At the end of his life, he stood alone in his unflagging zeal for the cause of philosophy as science. One after another, Husserl’s former disciples with rare exception had deserted that vision of phenomenology and its future. Among the most notable of those to go their own way rather than following Husserl’s was Heidegger of course, who, beginning with 1927’s publication of Being and Time, broke publically with his mentor’s view of philosophy as a rigorous science, abandoning phenomenology as a science of trancendental consciousness for fundamental ontology’s Seinsfrage.

Expansive and sometimes rather convoluted, the details of this acriminous yet vibrant phenomenological milieu’s institutional reception (first across Europe then on to the Anglophone world and beyond) is far too complex to summarize here fully. Entire books have been written on such matters. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that there has for many decades existed a tendency on the part of commentators to reinforce the feud between Husserl and Heidegger. Rather than looking for any deep common ground between their philosophies, focus instead has been payed to highlighting the differences thought to separate them. This is particularly true in the North American context. For instance, when Hubert Dreyfus upon developing his criticisms of Artificial Intelligence at MIT brought Heidegger’s philosophy to students at Berkeley (William Blattner, Taylor Carman, John Haugeland, Sean Kelly, Iain Thomson, and Mark Wrathall among them), his presentation of phenomenology, which became a commonplace in many publishing circles, relegated Husserl to a piñata for Heidegger. From the 1970s on, Dreyfus’s reading dominated considerable portions of the Anglophone phenomenology world as orthodoxy. The picture it presented was tidy. Husserl was the antiquated cartesian who had underestimated the importance of matters like embodiment and intersubjectivity, while Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, representatives of a so-called “existential phenomenology,” were pioneers whose innovative emphasis on being-in-the-world freed phenomenology from the history of philosophy’s misleading assumptions. In the rush to accentuate what it believed makes Heidegger’s philosophy captivating, Husserl unfairly became something of a footnote to the story, a sort of hors d’oeuvre before the main philosophical dish.

A notable exception to this trend is Dan Zahavi, whose work has done bright things to vindicate the continued importance of Husserl’s legacy. But perhaps the one who above all is responsible for snatching Husserl from the jaws of misunderstanding is Steven G. Crowell, who, in books as Husserl, Heidegger, and the Space of Meaning: Paths towards Transcendental Phenomenology (Northwestern: 2001) and Normativity and Phenomenology in Husserl and Heidegger (Cambridge: 2013) as well as in numerous essays has developed an iconoclastic and sophisticated account of the relation between Husserl and Heidegger. Crowell’s position is one which maintains, against Dreyfus and much of the received wisdom in Anglophone Heidegger studies, that in fact Husserl and Heidegger are collaborators in the shared undertaking of what Crowell himself characterizes as transcendental phenomenology’s distinctive project: namely, its preoccupation with the normative structure of intentional meaning (Sinn). Thus, at stake in the collection of essays contained in Normativity, Meaning, and the Promise of Phenomenology is the very status of phenomenological philosophy as Crowell proposes it be understood, as a transcendental “clarification of meaning” (Crowell, 336). Naturally, continual reference throughout is made to the interface between Husserl and Heidegger, but not, note well, for the purposes of mere exegesis, but instead as a wellspring of inspiration for a philosophical legacy whose unique approach to phenomenology is animating the continued work of thinkers carrying on its tradition. Many of the essays are accordingly not the typical kind of banal laudatory pieces one is accustomed to finding in a Festschrift. For, in paying homage to Crowell’s vision of transcendental phenomenology, they aim to return to the “things themselves,” precisely as Crowell himself has for many years urged others to do. In short, this is an excellent volume whose aim is not so much to read Husserl and Heidegger, but to think with, and, where necessary, against them.

This transcendental approach—or, a “critique of meaning”—is exemplified in Crowell’s own contribution to the volume. In an “Afterword” that closes the discussion by answering the essays preceding it, Crowell begins his response by noting how the grand language Husserl himself frequently employed when trying to convey the discovery of transcendental phenomenology’s significance may lead to some puzzlement. As Crowell recognizes, Husserl’s personal enthusiasm at first could seem a touch overstated.

With his turn to transcendental phenomenology, Husserl increasingly spoke of his work in the most exalted terms. He was Moses taking the first tentative steps toward the “promised land” whose riches he would not exhaust had he the years allotted Methuselah (Husserl 1989, 429); he was the explorer of “the trackless wilderness of a new continent” (1989, 422) where “no meaningful question” is left “unanswered” (Husserl 1970a, 168); he was Saul on the way to Damascus, the discovery of phenomenology affecting him like a “religious conversion” (Husserl 1970a, 137); he was the redeemer of “the secret yearning of all modern philosophy” (Husserl 1983, 142). What could motivate such language? (Crowell, 329).

According to Crowell, Husserl’s exuberance becomes understandable when the latter’s fundamental philosophical insight is appreciated properly. Husserl’s phenomenological breakthrough, says Crowell, lies not so much in the thesis that “intentionality is the mark of the mental” (as Franz Brentano had noted already), but rather in its distinctive concern with (to borrow the Heideggerian phrase) a kind of “ontological difference”: philosophy is seen to thematize not entities, but meaning. Further, the focus is not just on meaning but specifically the fact that such meaning is normative: “Phenomenology’s promise land, meaning, has a normative structure” (Crowell, 330). Hence, for Crowell, modern philosophy’s transcendental turn (as represented by Husserlian phenomenology) is at once a “normative turn” (MacAvoy, 29). It is in this context that the phenomenological reduction should be understood.

“[T]his method,” says Crowell, “requires askesis, suspending worldly commitments. I ‘put out of action the general positing which belongs to the essence of the natural attitude’ and ‘make no use’ of any science that depends on it (Husserl 1983, 61) so as to thematize the inconspicuous phenomenon of meaning, where the world and everything in it is available to us as it in truth is. This askesis characterizes all phenomenological philosophy” (Crowell, 329).

With this “reduction” to meaning, a new field of inquiry opens, one Husserl in works like Cartesian Meditations characterizes as “an infinite realm of being of a new kind, as the sphere of a new kind of experience: transcendental experience” (Husserl 1973, 66). And as Crowell contends, it is this reduction to meaning that unifies those thinkers belonging to the tradition of transcendental phenomenology. Moreover, it is the normative approach’s distinctive clarification of meaning that holds out the promise for re-establishing today the kind of research program Husserl had sought for his own. An approach calling for collaborative effort, not only does it promote the open exchange of ideas through critical argument, it does so while always remaining oriented by a methodological commitment to phenomenological Evidenz, the distinctive warrant of what shows itself intuitively in first-person self-givenness.

Husserl insists that phenomenology is not a “system” deriving from the head of a single “genius” (Husserl 1965, 75), but a communal practice, a “research program” in the loose sense that analytic philosophy might be considered one. What unites this program—including Heidegger, Sartre, Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, and even Derrida—is a “reduction” from our ordinary concern with entities, beings, the “world,” to the meaning at issue in such concern. Of course, these and other practitioners interrogate both the reduction and the meaning it brings into view, and so we who take up the promise of phenomenology must assess, by our own lights, the legitimacy of such “heresies,” revisions, and revolutions. And while criticism of arguments is always in place, assessing the legitimacy of phenomenological claims finally requires Evidenz, what one can warrant for oneself in the intuitive self-givenness of the “things themselves.” As a kind of empiricism, phenomenology embraces the responsibility of first-person experience (Crowell, 330-31).

However, if transcendental phenomenology’s concern is meaning, and such meaning in turn concerns the normative, what is a norm? As Crowell recounts, a form of that question has long vexed philosophy’s effort to comprehend the realm of “ideality”: it led Plato to his theory of Forms, just as it later motivated nineteenth-century thinkers including Emil Lask and Hermann Lotze to their respective accounts of Geltung (validity), of a “third realm” where the “categories” in question do not exist, but rather “hold” or “obtain.” Accordingly, the basic question concering the ontological status of the ideal (or normative) serves as the volume’s point of departure with Sara Heinämaa’s essay, “Constitutive, Prescriptive, Technical or Ideal? On the Ambiguity of the Term ‘Norm.” In contemporary phenomenology, as Heinämaa says, “the terms ‘norm’ and ‘normative’ are used in several contexts. One dominant argument is that the structure of intentionality is teleological and as such normative” (Heinämaa, 9). Using the examples of being a teacher or a soldier, Heinämaa highlights a difference between two norms. Following a distinction originating in Max Scheler, she notes how there is Tunsollen (“normative ought”), which “implies the concept of rule-following” (Heinämaa, 20) exhibited in customs or social habits. On the other hand, there is Seinsollen (“ideal ought”), a kind of “ideal principle” supplying a constitutive norm involving a “striving for something” (Ibid.) Ideal principles, as Heinämaa observes, “have a constitutive and enabling character: they are not motivational causes for our actions but are conditions that define ways of being” (Ibid.). Crowell further underscores this distinction when, in his reply, he observes that the ideal principles Heinämaa mentions are equivalent to what he means by the term “practical identity” or what Heidegger called a “for-the-sake-of-which” or “ability-to-be” (Seinkönnen); the norm at issue involves a way of understanding oneself, a standard of success or failure exemplified in a felt sensitivity to what is best (or good) given what one is trying to be. Whether we consider being a teacher or a solider, the general point, says Crowell, is that “knowing is something we do in a way possible only for a being who can be guided by a Seinsollen or ideal norm, a ‘minded’ being” (Crowell, 334). Drawing a point that later will become important in the context of Crowell’s understanding of transcendental phenomenology’s relation to metaphysics, he states how, as our knowledge of such ideals is always existential, so it therefore is unsettled and fundamentally unspecifiable. That is just what it means for them to be at issue or at stake in Heidegger’s sense: “Because the ideal that guides what I am trying to be cannot be grounded in truth (fulfillment through Evidenz), it cannot be the topic of a purely theoretical discipline” (Crowell, 333). In doing whatever it is in terms of what one in turn is striving to be, the very ideal of the practical identity itself is at stake, insofar as one’s doing what one does is to work out its meaning, of what it means to live up to it (or not). This is what makes the ideal a measure, and, in the relevant sense, accordingly normative.

Leslie MacAvoy’s essay “The Space of Meaning, Phenomenology, and the Normative Turn,” further clarifies Crowell’s position regarding the normative before going on to criticize the claim that such normativity is imperative to the constitution of meaning. Explaining how the normative turn situates the topic of meaning and validity in relation to the practical norms “for what one ought to do or be” (MacAvoy, 29), she recounts how such an approach thereby characterizes the space of meaning’s purported normativity “in terms of the experience of obligation or binding force” (Ibid.). This normative claim said to underpin meaning, as Crowell has explained elsewhere, amounts to the existential or ontological commitment explaining intentionality and reason: in acting as I do, I always already am implicitly responsible for taking over those “factic grounds” as my reasons. According to MacAvoy, however, phenomenology’s concern with meaning does not entail that such normativity truly plays the role in the formation of meaning that Crowell has argued it does: “While there is a normativity to meaning, it does not consist in the understanding of normativity that has to do with a binding force or claim” (Ibid.). In effect, MacAvoy claims that the phenomenological thesis about the logical, categorial “space of meaning” does not extend to the domain of normativity, as Crowell understands that domain. The binding force of the “ought” does not “capture the normativity of meaning” (MacAvoy, 33). In summarizing the three aspects of Crowell’s characterization of the normative,[1] MacAvoy notes how, for the former, “the norms for whether something can be something are established relative to the norms for doing something” (MacAvoy, 35). By now this will sound familiar. For as Heinämaa had made clear earlier, the very skills and practices in terms of which a thing shows up as what it is are themselves grounded in a practical identity (an “ideal principle”) itself said to be assessible in terms of success or failure. Hence, as MacAvoy says, on the view Crowell defends and which Heinämaa summarizes, the space of meaning bottoms out “in a norm for being a certain type of agent” (Ibid.). This raises the question of the practical identity’s validity, of how such an ideal can be binding, that is to say, of how it can exert a “normative force.” Her main objection is that Crowell’s answer to that question reintroduces the specter of psychologism. Just as psychologism in logic distorts the validity of logic’s content, so interpreting the space of meaning as normative does too, she says. In summarizing MacAvoy’s objection to his position, Crowell writes, “If the normative turn means that phenomenology is a normative discipline, it cannot be fundamental since, on Husserl’s view, all normative disciplines presuppose a theoretical discipline that rationally grounds their prescriptions” (Crowell, 331). If transcendental phenomenology is to be a rigorous science as Husserl envisioned, this appears to entail that it cannot take the normative turn Crowell implies it should, since if it did, so the argument continues, to do so would be to undermine phenomenology’s very claim to theoretical fundamentality to which Husserl took it to be entitled. Before unpacking Crowell’s answer to this concern, it is necessary to further explicate the charge.

To do so, we turn to the question of logic. For if MacAvoy is skeptical as to whether meaning’s categorality is best understood in terms of the bindingness characterizing the existential commitment of practical identity, Walter Hopp’s later essay “Normativity and Knowledge” likewise questions whether the theoretic domain of ideal truth and its connection to knowledge can be understood normatively.[2] Husserl’s phenomenological approach certainly agrees with neo-Kantianism that logical laws cannot be understood empirically, as if they are mere descriptions of how our minds happen to think. The laws of logic are necessary, and hence they are irreducible to descriptive generalizations. And yet at the same time, as Hopp says, for Husserl the laws of logic are not primarily prescriptive judgments regarding how we ought to think, but instead objective in their ideal content and therefore theoretical. Owing to their objective validity, logical laws do have regulative implications for how we ought to think. But that is not their essence. Validity is not the same as normativity.

These disputes concerning the connection between normativity and meaning implicate a more general one that will recur throughout the volume: namely, concern over the relation between transcendental phenomenology and metaphysics. Taking up this metaphilosophical question in “Mind, Meaning, and Metaphysics: Another Look,” Dan Zahavi asks, “Did [Husserl’s] turn to transcendental philosophy, did his endorsement of transcendental idealism, entail some kind of metaphysical commitment, as was certainly believed by his realist adversaries, or did Husserl’s employment of the epoché and phenomenological reduction on the contrary entail a suspension of metaphysical commitments?” (Zahavi, 47).  In Zahavi’s estimation, Husserl’s transcendental turn does not entail the mode of metaphysical neutrality that Crowell contends. As Zahavi concedes, this admittedly is not the dominant view:

“Many interpreters have taken Husserl’s methodology, his employment of the epoché and the reduction, to involve an abstention of positings, a bracketing of questions related to existence and being, and have for that very reason also denied that phenomenology has metaphysical implications” (Zahavi, 51).

Call this widespread reading the “quietist” one. Popular though it is, Zahavi claims that it cannot be correct. Were it true, he suggests, we would be unable to explain why, for instance, Husserl rejected the Kantian Ding an sich and phenomenalism, and why he would obviously have rejected contemporary eliminativism about experience. Even more basically, Zahavi finds the quietist interpretation of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology as “[running] counter to Husserl’s ambitions” (Zahavi, 50): transcendental phenomenology, says Husserl, as Zahavi notes, is such that there is “no conceivable problem of being at all, that could not be arrived at by transcendental phenomenology at some point along its way” (Ibid.). If transcendental phenomenology’s reduction to meaning involves the kind of radical askesis Crowell maintains, how could Husserl have seen it as being equal to the task of answering every philosophical question we might have? In support of his thesis, Zahavi produces a striking passage from the Cartesian Meditations: “Finally, lest any misunderstanding arise, I would point out that, as already stated, phenomenology indeed excludes every naïve metaphysics that operates with absurd things in themselves, but does not exclude metaphysics as such” (Ibid.) Now as Zahavi acknowledges, passages as these are decisive only to the extent that we clarify the term “metaphysics,” which notoriously is ambiguous. He proposes at least three senses it can mean in Husserl: first, a theoretical investigation of fundamental reality (Zahavi, 51); second, philosophical engagement with questions as “facticity, birth, death, fate, immortality, and the existence of God” (Zahavi, 52); third, reflection on the status of “being and reality” (Ibid.). But here, the crucial caveat Crowell rightly mentions in reply must be noted: although Husserl claims that so-called metaphysical questions retain their sense, that is so only “insofar as they have possible sense in the first place” (Zahavi, 51). Accordingly, then, the task becomes one of determining the limits of sense, of what is open to phenomenological Evidenz, and what is not.

If Crowell on one front must defend his conception of radical askesis from the charge that it neglects the metaphysical implications of phenomenology, he must also on the other face challenges from a series of articles by Mark Okrent, Glenda Satne and Bernado Ainbinder, and Joseph Rouse, which, taken together, aim to undermine the transcendental thesis that meaning and normativity are irreducible to nature. As for Okrent, he levels two objections, the first of which, amounting to a reformulated version of the infamous “decisionist objection” to Heidegger’s conception of Angst, Crowell dispatches quickly. As for the second, it contends that there is no way of truly understanding the human mode of being-oneself as a normative achievement whose form is different from “our animal cousins” (Okrent, 173). But as Crowell responds, even if one grants that animals do in some relevant sense act in accord with norms, they do not act in light of them—not only do they lack language so as to be answerable to others for their actions as we are for ours, they also are unable to measure themselves in a non-representational way that is responsive to an intelligible sense of what is best. Even in the simplest forms of perception, the domain of sens sauvage Charles Siewert calls “recognitional appearance,” there is an element of normativity at work marking the experience as distinctively human. In seeing as we do, experience as Siewert notes is “as much in the service of imagination as of judgment, and integral to the activity of looking, which is subject to norms of its own” (Siewert, 290). That this distinctively human richness to experience is lacking in other creatures is evident in that, just as they do not dwell in a “world” wherein things are inflected by the claim of a “good beyond being” (a claim concerning how things ought to be), so they only inhabit an “environment,” a surrounding in which beings are what they are, and nothing more. Satne’s and Ainbinder’s proposal—to “put agents back into nature”—which in turn aims to rehabilitate a “relaxed naturalism,” accordingly takes issue with this conclusion. Contrary to Crowell’s transcendental approach, the aim is to ground normativity in the contingent features of life “shared with other animals.” Joseph Rouse’s essay which contends for a “radical naturalism” joins the cause, seeking to explain our normative capacities in terms of our biology. In defending what he sees as a methodological gap between transcendental phenomenology and empirical science, Crowell reverts to a powerful strategy: according to him, these kinds of attempts to naturalize meaning and normativity require a construction—in this case, “life” —that “transcends the kind of Evidenz to which transcendental phenomenology is committed” (Crowell, 347). Further, because such accounts make use of empirical beings, they are “ontic” and therefore metaphysical in precisely the sense Crowell’s notion of reductive askesis forbids.

Presuming Crowell is correct that transcendental phenomenology establishes why nature cannot explain normativity and thereby fails to ground meaning, what then is the source of normativity? In reply, here one might to choose follow Husserl’s path as John Drummond does, maintaining that intentionality as such (and hence normativity along with it) is governed by a rational telos. As he says, “Husserl believed that in all three rational domains—the theoretical, the axiological, and the practical—the aim of experiential life is the same: to live a life of intuitive evidence, to live the life of a truthful, rational agent” (Drummond, 110). Just as intentionality is structured by the norm of intuitive fulfilment, so we are beings whose form of life involves a kind of rational self-responsibility that remains inexplicable on naturalistic terms. Drummond’s essay concludes by stressing what he takes to be a great merit of his account’s view of self-responsible convictions, namely its easy ability to also account for moral—or ethical—normativity. The issue of practical normativity with which Drummond’s contribution ends is taken up through the lens of Levinas’s relation to Kant in the volume’s next essay, Inga Römer’s “The Sources of Practical Normativity Reconsidered—With Kant and Levinas.” Contrary to what a reading limited only to Levinas’s early thinking may suggest, Levinas finds Kant’s philosophy of practical reason congenial to his own mission of exploring the ethical implications of a good beyond being. As Römer comments, Kant’s notion of disinclination can be seen as a relative to what Levinas himself characterizes as the an-archic and rational desire for the infinite. To see the two’s similarities, however, is not to deny their important differences. Römer lists three, the most significant perhaps of which is that, while it is not entirely misleading to name Levinas’s thinking “a philosophy of heteronomy,” there is a sense in which the self becomes truly autonomous due to “the signifying call of the Other” (Römer, 123). After further unpacking the Kantian position through an analysis of Christine Korsgaard’s notion of practical normativity, Römer then recounts Crowell’s Heideggerian criticism of it, finally to formulate an objection against Crowell’s view of reason-giving as constitutive of the second-personal ethical stance. The concern is that a trace of egoism still remains: “Even if I am required to give an account of my reasons to others, does such an account not tend toward a certain ethical self-conceit? If I am the ultimate source of measure, even if I need to defend this measure with respect to others in order to not contradict myself by taking my reasons to be private ones, does this view not place the self at the center of ethics?” (Römer, 131). Concern that the Heideggerian approach to practical normativity cannot eliminate all residue of self-conceit is well-founded. But while Römer takes Levinas’s own approach to avoid such a pitfall, one may wonder whether it does. When she remarks, for example, that in Levinas’s view there is “no God beyond ethical significance that would be the source of ethical normativity” (Römer, 126), does not the threat of self-conceit arise once again? Even if the asymmetry said to define one’s encounter with the other suffices to annihilate a kind of egoism, does it purge the least trace of it? For the total annihilation of self-love Levinas claims to be seeking, one might argue that only an encounter before God is truly sufficient.

Returning to the question of meaning’s source left hanging in the debate between Drummond and Crowell, Irene McMullin for her own part leans towards a view closer to the latter’s own, preferring a Heideggerian approach in which both meaning and the normative are said to be ungrounded—ultimately, says McMullin, there is no forthcoming answer as to how we find ourselves immersed in a meaningful world. We simply do, and that we find ourselves so situated is a reason for gratitude. Thus, as she says, although “resolute Dasein” experiences the “dizzying, disorienting sense of panicked terror” (McMullin, 149) accompanying the felt realization of meaning’s groundlessness, that realization is followed by another, the “incredible sense of relief and gratitude”(Ibid.) that there is any meaning at all, however ungrounded and contingent it is. This gratitude in turn resolves us to “love better, to strive more fully, to treat the goods in our lives more tenderly” (McMullin, 150). If McMullin’s analysis of the role of receptivity in resoluteness is a welcome corrective to the tendency to see authenticity in overly heroic or active terms, Joseph K. Schear’s essay, “Moods as Active,” does well to correct for an error arising from the opposing tendency of viewing moods as purely passive. Not only are moods an expression of agency, says Schear, they are structured normatively insofar as they are responsive to intelligible interrogation (by others and ourselves). As he notes, it is far from committing a category mistake for someone to ask of us why we are feeling as we are. Interrogating a mood is fair game. While we cannot choose our moods as we choose to make up our minds about what to believe, neither are moods always experiences in which we are just passive. Against a consensus that sees moods as “closer to sensations than judgments” (Schear, 220), he notes that moods do not arrive like “a hurricane, or the fog” (Ibid.). They are episodes in which we may intervene. A mood is an item we can manage, whether by trying to escape it through replacing it with another one, distracting ourselves from it, or by conspiring with it so as to feed and prolong it. However, ultimately the kind of agency interesting Schear is not the preceding kind of “agency over our moods” (Schear, 221), but the expression of agency in it. This second sense of agency is present in moods, he argues, precisely to the extent that we are able to answer intelligibly to the mood-question: “Why are you anxious?” or “Why are you joyful?” Such answerability, so he concludes, is due to being in a mood’s involving one’s living it out as a “responsive orientation to one’s situation.” In a contribution complementing Schear’s well, Matthew Burch in “Against our Better Judgment” explores the phenomenon of akrasia. There is much to be said for this very rich and thoughtful selection, but perhaps most noteworthy is its phenomenological clarification of the notion of “interest,” a middle category between brute desire and explicit judgment or commitment. Interests, hence, are meaningful affections, “things we care about” and things “in which we have a stake” (Burch, 233). Though Burch goes on to develop the notion of interest into a wider account of how a Heideggerian conception of authenticity answers to how norms bind us, with an eye toward concluding the review, here I should like to take Burch’s discussion in a slightly different direction: what is our interest in doing phenomenology? What exactly calls us to it, and what guides and sustains its commitment?

To answer these questions is to return to Crowell’s understanding of phenomenological philosophy’s role in the task of clarifying meaning—here, specifically the task becomes making sense of the very one who philosophizes in the way its normative turn proscribes. As has become clear in assessing Crowell’s response to his critics, the notion of askesis is the cornerstone to his approach. According to him, the reduction to meaning entails that transcendental phenomenology neither demands (Heidegger) nor entails (Husserl) a metaphysics to complete itself. Thus, his own position parts ways with both Husserl and Heidegger. As he observes in his concluding essay, as the question of transcendental phenomenology’s relation to metaphysics “constitutes the horizon of transcendental phenomenology, so I will conclude by considering it under three closely related headings: naturalism, metaphysics, and theology” (Crowell, 345).

Taking the measure of things (we ourselves above all not excepted) in its distinctive fashion, Crowell’s notion of transcendental phenomenology is a philosophy of enigma. What can be intuited in the light of Evidenz is clear and distinct, while anything beyond is consigned to antinomy. The situation accordingly comes to one of deciding how to understand where transcendental phenomenology draws the limits of intuitable meaning. Where precisely does the threshold lie? And what about the meaning, if any, lying beyond the threshold separating what is given in genuine first-person evidence from what is not? Is such meaning to be set to the side, or must not it somehow be integrated into the existence of the one who encounters it? If it must be integrated, how is that task of existential incorporation to be coordinated in terms of the norm of reductive askesis which, qua phenomenologist, entails bracketing such meaning? There looms, so it would seem, a fissure in the being of the one thinking phenomenologically. To begin with, as just noted, there is the difficulty of deciding what does (and thus does not) lie within the bounds of intelligibility. To decide with Crowell that we ought to refrain from taking a phenomenological stand on anything beyond the intuitable is a mark of intellecutal humility, to be sure. Nobody should deny that it is advisable to suspend judgment when things are sufficiently ambiguous. Yet such a suggestion remains formalistic; it cannot resolve how we are to apply it. How, then, are we to determine when not making a commitment in the face of the meaning at issue is truly the humble and rationally reponsible thing to do? To be confident in a given situation that we are doing what humility dictates implies that we are entitled in judging that what before us seems less than self-evident is in fact as obscure as it appears. How, however, are we to know that we are correct, that we are justified in that stance?

It is not an uncommon experience in life to come to learn that something we initially thought was unclear actually was not; the unclarity resided in our vision and not the thing. It is was not that the thing was veiled, just that we were failing to see. Hence, while it is good to be duly skeptical of claims that make genuiniely ungrounded claims of metaphysical speculative excess (“Everything is illusion, for we are in a quantum simulation!”), we should be mindful that determining when that is so can itself be fraught; something could in principle be grounded in evidence even if, or when, it does not yet seem so to us. Anyone who is honest will admit that there are reasons for thinking that the judgments we reach based on what we believe is humility can turn out instead to have been motivated by a subtle pride or stubborness. It is important to note, for instance, that this strand of epistemic humility is for all its virtues only partial; it essentially is an intellectual askesis. Or more exactly, insofar as it is it supposed to be an effort of epistemic self-discipline, it begins to undermine its own spirit of modesty the moment it slips into more than that by coming to resemble more so a general posture toward the whole of existence. When that happens, one important norm governing our trafficking in meaning is elevated to something instead approaching an absolute. And it is not difficult to see how, in doing so, it can propel the one who treats it in that way along his own path of error and blindness. This becomes more apparent when we consider another of humility’s aspects: namely, humility’s willingness to yield to things by accepting something for what it is, thereby submitting to the disclosed. Crowell’s reductive askesis, along with its norm of epistemic humility, arguably threatens to imperil an authentic encounter with meaning so interesting it if absolutized to trump all else. A commitment to the norm of truth-seeking, for example, may at times require passing beyond what presently appears to be grounded in evidence. Life presents us with these situations constantly. We resolve the indeterminateness by commiting to a course of judgment or action despite the ambiguity. Just as the meaning of some situations becomes clear only in retrospect years later or in an unanticipated flash of insight, so some truths become evident after a period in which they had not been. To refuse to commit to taking a stand on something that remains less than intuitively clear means what might have crystalized never will. If, then, humility is not synthesized with other considerations (including trust, hope, patience, wisdom, or courage), it threatens to constrict rather than expand meaning.

Insofar as the reductive askesis of Crowell’s position ends with enigma, it has been my suggestion that such enigma potentially implicates more than what that methodological stance admits. Meaning by its nature implicates our having to take a stand on what lies on the margins of intentionality, what at any moment makes itself felt as an unspecifiable more. To ignore this surplus of sense in the name of a humility that does not take a stand on what it sees as undecidable is to neglect precisely what puts our existence at stake and at risk in the first place. The respective imperatives of the transcendental (epistemic askesis) and the ontological (existential commitment) appear to be tugging in opposite directions. As a philosophy of meaning, transcendental philosophy can attempt to delimit the things whose meaning we are said to be justified in taking a stand on philosophically. In refusing to take a stand on what it considers the metaphysical, however, this gesture of refusal only implicates the omnipresence of that something more—that excess—with which we all must grapple existentially. Thus, while we may have reached the limits of what a certain mode of intuitive thought can decrypt, it does not follow that it has thereby established the bounds of the meaningful as such. Could not more remain to be given?

Here a detail concerning the earlier debate between Zahavi and Crowell over transcendental phenomenology’s relation to metaphysics will be recalled. Zahavi mentions that, taken in its second sense, metaphysics for Husserl deals with matters of birth, death, fate, immortality, and the existence of God. Do these metaphysical questions have a possible sense? What is their relation to transcendental phenomenology, as Crowell understands it? For his own part, Crowell states that while a “phenomenology of faith” is possible, it does not disrupt any of the essential metholodological commitments of transcendental phenomenology. For Crowell, that means rejecting a traditional commonplace according to which revelation is said to complete what reason cannot. Whatever room it leaves for faith, it must not interfere with the autonomy of a presuppositionless phenomenological reason.

This expulsion of faith from the project of transcendental phenomenology is, in a way, simply a specific application of the general reduction from entities to meaning. As Crowell says, “Transcendental phenomenology is not concerned with entities at all” (Crowell, 337). But if transcendental phenomenology is not concerned with entities, what about the entities that we ourselves are? How does the normative turn handle la question du sujet? Because such an approach seemingly comes up lacking, it calls for another inquiry to accomplish what it cannot. Transcendental phenomenology, after all, can trace the general contours of existence, telling us that we should live a self-responsible existence in light of the rational norm of evidence. It can clarify what it most generally means to be in the space of meaning. But it cannot decide where the limits between sense and nonsense lie in a given case, nor what precisely living up to the norm of evidence entails in any or every particular instance. We can reflect on the general normative structures of existence and how those structures make an encounter with entities possible, yet ultimately life still must be lived. For Crowell, perhaps much of what we take at a first-order level to be meaningful is not. Or at least the meaning in question falls short of Evidenz, in the transcendental sense. The things we take ourselves to know, on closer inspection, really are a matter of antinomy. This would be true for the theological, for in giving a name to what it takes to have addressed it, it does so without sufficient evidence. As Martin Kavka says in characterizing banal theologizing, “This argument entails the claim that the problem with any and all theologization of phenomenology is that theology determines” (Kavka, 92). Or as Crowell puts it, by trying to give a name to the anonymous claim that has addressed it, such a response crosses into antinomy.

Antinomy is also the figure which best describes the third horizon of transcendental phenomenology, the “theological turn,” in which phenomenology abandons reductive askesis to posit a prior condition of correlation, variously called “event,” Erscheinung als solches, “givenness,” “phenomenality,” or “revelation” (Crowell, 349).

Where, then, does this leave man’s search for meaning, and the question of his destiny? Concluding with a provocative but basic question does well to underscore the exigency of the methodological situation’s existential import. What, in short, are we to make phenomenologically of the claim that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? Does the claim fall within phenomenology’s remit? Outside it? Is it essential to phenomenology’s venerable aim of putting oneself in question, or orthogonal to that attempt? Is to affirm such a claim consistent (or not) with the promise of meaning, as Crowell understands that promise? One must make the decision to leap—or not. Either way, a decision is made. Seen strictly from the perspective of a transcendental critique of meaning, what faith claims to see—namely, that because Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, he is the absolute measure by which our own individual existences are to be measured—probably will be viewed as an affirmation having succumbed to “metaphysical” tempation. It views faith as epistemic folly. But assuming this is what a transcendental phenomenology’s critique of meaning entails, why not then see it as a reductio of that position?

To succeed in its aim of clarifying meaning, cannot it be suggested that transcendental phenomenology must be understood not as deeming what faith sees as inscrutable, but rather as itself calling for it?[3] To rest content with phenomenological askesis is to leave ourselves in a state of unnecessary indeterminateness. As it does not countenance the mysteries of God, so for it the enigmas of human existence find no solution.[4] It is thus left to face a potential incoherence of its own approach. The latent incoherence is manifest methodologically insofar as it fails to make intelligble what could be made so were it to complement its vision with what its own commitment to the imperative of self-givenness implicates. By not doing so, it ends in a failure of sense-making. For this reason, arguably it can be considered a failure relative to its own internal aim of trying to clarify meaning. The lack of success is most evident when seeing its inability to make adequate sense of ourselves.

We are finite creatures, and so meaning is finite. We can grasp the world as it is, though never as a whole; and if there is anything beyond that, it is a matter of faith, not philosophy. A phenomenology of faith is certainly possible, but transcendental phenomenology cannot be said to be exceeded by something that escapes it and yet grounds it, such that a “theological”—or “naturalistic” or “speculative” or “metaphysical”—turn is required. One who nevertheless wishes to make such a turn must show why it does not end in antinomy, the “euthanasia of pure reason” (Kant 1998, 460). Take your pick: deus sive natura; mereological universalism or nihilism; “neutral monism”; panpsychism; flesh, life, desire. In the face of antinomy, the askesis of transcendental phenomenology is not egoism but modesty, not a “theory of everything” but a clarification of what matters. Its claim on our “ultimate philosophical self-responsibility” (Husserl) is irrevocable if we are committed to having evidence for what we say. Just this defines the normative turn from entities to meaning, the promised land, “the secret yearning of all modern philosophy” (Crowell, 352).

By addressing the “question of the subject” in a way that entails no answer is ever forthcoming, reductive askesis renders the need for putting ourselves into question otiose, even futile. The misunderstanding at work in its approach to the entities that we ourselves are is seen precisely in its failing to live up to its own impulse to truly make sense of our existence. Here, in short, would be a philosophy concerned with explicating the meaning of things while simultaneously failing to ground its own existence in any firm meaning. If, in fact, there ultimately was no true meaning to existence because there were no answers to life’s ultimate questions, why then should a philosophy about meaning try to make sense of that meaning? To be sure, doing so could still serve as an idle pursuit perhaps, as a way for those so inclined to pass the time. But philosophy must be more than intellectual tiddlywinks. For were it not more than that, what reasons do others have for caring about what such a philosophy says? Philosophy would not just lose its exigency, but its universality too. In the last analysis, any philosophy of meaning stifling the yearning for the absolute does so on pain of compromising the coherence of its express aim. In restless pursuit of a meaning it cannot find, its is a critique of meaning that renders human existence as if it ultimately had none. Reaching only a mirage of the true promised land, as with Dathan it dies in the wilderness.


Husserl, Edmund. Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology. Translated by Dorion Cairns. The Hague: Martin Nijhoff, 1973.

Husserl, Edmund. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy. Translated and introduction by David Carr. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1970.

[1] With Crowell, MacAvoy notes, first, the distinction originating in Husserl’s Phenomenology as Rigorous Science between the empirical and transcendental (that is, between the natural and normative); transcendental consciousness, MacAvoy explains, is governed by a lawfulness other than the causality of the psychical and physical. Second, and relatedly, the intentional experience of an object involves a command over its “implications,” the inner and outer horizons of sense in terms of which the object itself can be taken as what it is, the paradigmatic example being the perceptual object, since, say, in perceiving a cube, I must “co-intend” its sides that are not directly seen but are nevertheless implicated. Perceptual intentionality accordingly has a “motivational” logic: If I were to move here, then the cube’s other sides should come into view.

[2] In this way, Hopp’s essay follows in the footsteps of his mentor, the late Dallas Willard, whose early works on Husserl’s view of logic, ideality, and the possibility of knowledge remain exemplary. See, for example, Logic and the Objectivity of Knowledge: A Study in Husserl’s Philosophy (Ohio University Press, 1984).

[3] For a comprehensive analysis of God’s role in Husserl’s transcendental philosophy, see Emmanuel Housset’s Husserl et l’idée de Dieu (Paris: Cerf, 2010). For a critical appraisal of Husserl’s attempt to incorporate God into his transcendental approach, see John Drummond’s draft paper, “Phenomenology, Ontology, Metaphysics,” The Boston Phenomenology Circle, Accessed September 18, 2019.

[4] If this language is recognizably Blondelian, it is because Maurice Blondel’s own thought systematically explored the reciprocal interface between reason and revelation, philosophy and faith. For an explanation of how philosophy’s concern over the enigma of existence implicates a fulfillment in the mysteries of God, see Jean Lacroix’s short study Maurice Blondel: An Introduction to His Philosophy, trans. John C. Guiness (Sheed and Ward: New York, 1968), 64-66.

J.L. Chretien: Spacious Joy: An Essay in Phenomenology and Literature

Spacious Joy: An Essay in Phenomenology and Literature Book Cover Spacious Joy: An Essay in Phenomenology and Literature
J.L. Chretien. Translated by Anne Ashley Davenport
Rowman & Littlefield International
Paperback £29.95

Reviewed by: Paul Downes (Dublin City University)

Seeds of a Primordial Spatial Phenomenology: Chrétien’s Spacious Joy

A dual, entwined argument takes place throughout this book. These arguments require disaggregation. One layer of argument is a concern with foreground phenomenological content in experience. The second layer pertains to background phenomenological structure. The foreground argument is a highly distilled one that concentrates its focus on a specific term, dilation (dilatatio), as a content of experience. This experiential content is sensitively explored through multifarious dimensions across predominantly Christian thinkers and mystics, though with a range of poets also embraced, such as Whitman, Rimbaud and Rilke. Chrétien explicitly states that his focus is on ‘spiritual authors’ such as poets and mystics where ‘the Christian tradition predominates’ (2) rather than on philosophers,

This phenomenological content of experience goes beyond simply Husserlian intentionality, in terms of both scope and claimed source; it also interrogates the precognitive in experience and invokes experience of a Christian God. The range of texts chosen for interrogation in terms of experiential dilation is quite limited, while Chrétien largely resists the temptation to invite obvious resonances with wider philosophical sources for these accounts of experiential content in relation to dilation.

The background argument is somewhat more surreptitiously expressed and unfolded. It is in terms of a spatial structure or system of experience. Dilation is irredeemably spatial, resting on background spatial suppositions. The contours of this spatial background for experiencing, underpinning experience of dilation, is adverted to in a sustained way throughout the book, though not in terms of a systematic argument or overarching conclusion as to the features and trajectories of these spaces of experience in experience. The structural features of these spaces tend to remain for Chrétien as illustrative, though his claim at the outset of the book is that these spaces are primordial and are prior to metaphor.

Chrétien seeks to retrieve a space for experience that has been glossed over in much of the Western tradition. Significantly, Aquinas is viewed by Chrétien as taking ‘the fatal step of splitting the concept of dilation into two, namely, into a physical meaning and a metaphorical meaning’ (7). He seeks to challenge this Aristotelian construction between the literal and metaphorical for space, upon which Aquinas built this cleavage. Chrétien raises the pivotal question, ‘Is there not a more primordial sense of dilation, anterior to the split ?’ (7), a split that reduces space to mere metaphor or bodily experience. Chrétien explicitly states that he draws on authors in this book that ‘do not treat the dilation of the heart as a mere metaphor’ (7). He seeks a more primordial space than the metaphorical and possibly also prior to the metaphysical. In doing so, he assails the Cartesian definition of matter that ‘implies that spiritual substances such as Gods, angels, or our own mind cannot be extended’ (9). Moreover, given that Descartes treated space as an empty non-entity,[1] Chrétien is challenging this whole Aristotelian-Cartesian edifice for space.

With explicit search for ‘their phenomenological basis’ (47), the accounts of the content of dilation as lived experience of the various thinkers offer some common threads pertaining to space. However, the broad range of experiences invoked for dilation raises the question as to whether, grasp all, lose all ? Do the wide domains of dilation dilute its meanings ? It is purportedly both an extremity of experience and yet, available naturally in the everyday; ‘dilation is found at every level of experience, including at the highest level of mystical moments’ so that the ‘supernatural is not necessarily the supra-sensible’ (96). Dilation is and brings both love and joy, as well as renewal (100). Though for St. Theresa of Avila, it is a passage to a higher spacious mode of experience, dilatatio invades the senses of sight, sound, smell, as an expansion of perception, as a ‘transformation of all the senses’ (128); it is proposed to infiltrate action, emotion, memory and thought, while emanating from a level of soul prior to the heart. As a spatial movement, ‘dilation is an act and a motion; it cannot form a perpetual state’ (175). It is an experiential process of movement.

Dilation is portrayed as including cognition within its ambit, both as intellect and volition (117), while also accommodating contemplation as dilation. Thus, dilation as a mode of experience appears to stretch into terrains of both the Dionysian as a prerepresentative experience of rapture in early Nietszche, and the Apollonian as self-conscious condensing into form as a process of cognition, without being reducible to either or all aspects of the Dionysian or Apollonian in Nietszschean terms.  A powerful final chapter 9 on the breath in terms of expansion/contraction, as a mode of dilation, offers a prior site of experience to sheer sensuality.

The retort that Chrétien would give to this risk of dilution of understanding of dilation is that it is part of an inner unification process (71) and unity is not totality of experience, ‘the very act of dilation unifies the self’ (16). Yes, the scope of dilation is ambitious on Chrétien’s account. His spatial search via dilation is not merely the phenomenology of space as perception, as that of Gaston Bachelard. Bachelard acknowledges his spatial concerns are in the miniature and not at the extremes of experiential and conceptual depths, ‘Such formulas as being-in-the-world […] are too majestic for me and I do not succeed in experiencing them […] I feel more at home in miniature worlds’ of space (1964: 161). In contrast, Chrétien is entering the caverns of experience to extract a unifying pulse of principle as dilated spatial movement.

This quest is for a spatial system of dilation as ‘porous boundaries, or boundaries with holes, allowing it to open itself to the infinite and incorporate it’ (169), which can be juxtaposed with the ‘heart…as thick as grease’ (v.69 Bible of Jerusalem), cited by Chrétien (63) and implicitly echoed by Schopenhauer’s ‘thick partition’ (211) between self and other in the person lacking compassion. Chrétien’s spatial phenomenological concern is with boundaries for experience, not only as constraints but as the opening process of dilation; ‘dilation is an opening up’ (31), a ‘joy that opens space up’ as ‘the gift of space’ (42). This opening ‘does not denote a simple expansion of space. It denotes a space that is different from the old space’ (42).

Dilation operates as a counterpole to compression with both as spatial movements, as Chrétien invokes St. Gregory’s words, ‘compressed by pain and torments’ (48), for ‘the theme of dilation of love, joy, and hope in the very midst of tribulations’ (49). Dilation serves as a directional counterpoint to the relative closure of compression of experiential space, ‘If we are assigned a boundary that cannot in any way be pushed back or overtaken, we are filled with dread at the thought of a definitive imprisonment, of a constriction that diminishes us and stifles us’ (155). Where existentialist dread dwells in the awareness of the constricted space of sealed boundaries, resistant to the expanse of dilation in their firmness of closure, dilation is the possibility of an opening of space, a capacity for spacious experience that lives in a precise correlation to this dread, as a directional opposition. Angst may offer the awareness of the capacity for this directional movement between these Siamese twins, namely, the relatively more closed and open spaces of dread and dilation.

This spatial phenomenological questioning of background structure shaping lived experiential contents offers a key insight regarding a spatial expansion of experience that is not simply a blank space removal of all boundaries, ‘another kind of dread would take hold of me, characteristic of dilation, namely the dread of self-loss and self-dissolution. Since the joy of dilation does not desire or aim at self-loss, it requires that I remain at all times the self that dilates’ (155). He continues, distinguishing the opening of dilation from a frantic obliterative opening, ‘Otherwise, what is involved would be more like an explosion than a dilation’ (156). A spatial structure is needed to distinguish the relative opening of dilation that retains a sense of assumed connection to self from a monistic fusion with background stimuli that surrenders all sense of personal identity. The spatial expansion of dilation is not simply empty space, it is not space as the nonentity of limitlessness.

He emphasises that capacity to receive experience of divinity is a spatial concern, tracing the etymology of capacity to the Latin capax, with spatial connotations. In his account of St. Augustine, Chrétien appears to accept the traditional Christian framework of grace that would treat dilation as a gift outside the control of the subjective ego, of the conscious mind. If so, a precognitive dimension to dilation as an expansion of space requires amplification, one that does not simply rest in a stale selfconsciousness or state of reflection as contemplation, though Chrétien also subsequently includes these modes within the ambit of dilation processes. Augustine’s cogitatio as thought is also treated as being infiltrated with dilation. The vacillation here between the precognitive and cognitive for dilation may be that Chrétien is more concerned with revealing the positions of the various thinkers whose texts he explores than with exploring in detail clashes between their various positions or emphases.

Chrétien highlights that St. Gregory ‘ties wicked dilation to power’ (47). An unexplored implication of Chretien’s acknowledgment of ‘evil dilation’ (48), envisaged also to include pride, is that it suggests an active spatial force propounding evil that appears prima facie to challenge the traditional Thomist doctrine of evil as privatio boni. An implication of dilation as a spatial movement also pertaining to evil is undernourished in Chrétien’s book. This implication is that as a spatial movement, evil is not simply a negation of good, as a kind of non-being as privation, but an active force in some way. Much may depend here on the level of description, as for example, what may be initially a negation may gain momentum as an active movement in space; causal and ontological levels of description may also import different characterisations of evil as lack or active force. Going further, this could be construed as seeking spatial movements prior to the diametric opposition of absence/presence that melds together a framework of evil as negation of good rather than as a spatial movement. However, this book is less concerned with theological implications of the spatial analysis of the phenomenology of dilation, whether as joy, love or even evil, than with describing the specific experiential unfolding of dilation as a spatial movement, across a range of thinkers.

Much of Chrétien’s concerns with dilation and space is to characterise them in terms of a prior judgment as good or bad, as life giving or pathological. Yet this is itself a space, a diametric spatial projection. Moreover, Chrétien’s exploration of Pierre Corneille’s experiential accounts ‘with an open heart’ (99) invites what Chrétien describes in diametric oppositional terms as where the heart ‘must win the struggle against what blocks it’ (99). This diametric oppositional space lurks in the background without any explicit analysis in his spatial structural questioning.

Like Wordsworth who crossed the Alps without knowing it, Chrétien has arguably discovered a whole spatial system of experience. A pervasive aspect of these spaces in this book is that they express expansion and contraction, as a spatial movement, as a rhythm where both the expansion of dilation and the narrowing of contraction are in mutual tension and interaction; dilation is part of a unified rhythm in spatial-structural terms for experience, as ‘a set of rhythmic and palpitating systems’ (169). This experience is treated as a cosmic spatial system affecting experience though not reducible simply to experience as subjectivity; it is ‘a process of cosmic widening’ (150). The relative openness of the expansion in dilation as a space of experience and a spatial ‘capacity’ for experience is frequently characterised by Chrétien’s selected thinkers and writers as being circular in movement, as part of a circular widening, where ‘the furthest circumference preexists already in the center’ (160); it is a ‘radiant’ (145) circular movement ‘spreading out in waves and circles’ (115).

Portrayed at the level of imagery in terms of fluidity, as ‘heavenly liqueur’ (p. 88), citing Claudel’s ‘liquid breathing’ (178), this can be further construed in spatial structural terms, where, by way of contrast, desiccation is a feature of contraction, a drying up as a loss of dilation. Moreover, this fluidity of the breathing experience as part of experiential dilation offers a fluid space to be distinguished structurally from monistic fusion and empty space, ‘Airy or liquid respiration, together with its dilation, forms the place where we are related to the limitless, but not to a limitlessness that loses itself in emptiness; to a limitlessness, rather, that is a totality’ (178). Chrétien thus invokes and quests for a space that is a fluid unity or unifying process for an experiential opening. He contrasts this space not only with contraction but also with the empty space of monistic fusion as a totality. This is first cousin of a recognition that truth unity claims are to be distinguished from truth totality ones.

Another argument made, albeit en passant, is that thought is structured like the structure of our breathing, and needs to reflect this interplay between systole and diastole. Spatialisation of experience moves into a terrain of impact upon thought, as a spatialisation of thought. This is a different embedded structure for thought than one simply resting on bodily analogy, such as that employed by Freud for oral, anal and phallic stages of development. The breath gains force as an animating space underlying thought. This is a promising argument left largely in the shadows in this book, though hovering at its edges. The inhalation/exhalation superstructure for thought may offer a counterpoint, as a different mode of interactive polarity to the Gestalt figure/ground focus on foreground and background in thought. If ‘the rhythm of breathing characterizes all living things’, where ‘the general laws of respiration…are the laws of dilation’ (168), this invites treatment of thought as a living thing giving expression to this breath rhythm of dilation, of spatial movement as expansion and contraction, in the very structure of thought itself.

The discussion of dilation as pathology offers rich resources for interpretation, resonant with recognition in a Jungian tradition that mystics and schizophrenics find themselves in the same ocean, where the mystics swim and the schizophrenics drown. Dilation of space in experience offers an account of this ocean, pertinent also to the oceanic feeling recognised by Freud through his friend Romain Rolland. This oceanic feeling contrasts with ‘the airless dungeons we have built for ourselves’ (20), in Chrétien’s memorable phrase.

Chrétien’s challenge to treatment of space as a mere metaphor is stated at the outset of his book. While it is developed through examples of dilation, he does not seek to amplify this argument in detailed philosophical terms. Nevertheless, his argument for a realm of spatial experience that is irreducible neither to mere metaphor nor to the body offers a rapprochement with concerns of Paul Ricoeur in La métaphore vive. Ricoeur seeks to suspend primary reference of truth as correspondence to an external world in science and to invoke a split reference to encompass another referential domain for metaphor in discourse, a ‘world’ or state of affairs of poetic reference. Chrétien can be understood as taking a further expansive step through a concern with a phenomenological reference to a state of experience of dilation in its multidimensional forms expressed in language.

Spatial understandings pervade much of Ricœur’s discussion of metaphor in terms of proximity and distance, tension, substitution, displacement, change of location, image, the ‘open’ structure of words, closure, transparency and opaqueness. Yet this is usually where space is discussed within metaphor, and as a metaphor itself, rather than as a precondition or prior spatial system of experience interacting with language.[2] Chrétien also invokes language in terms of a poetics of dilation though again he leaves reservoirs in his text to explore a conception of a spatial system of experience, for unifying experience that is prior to metaphor and language. He reaches this threshold in this book, but does not carve out this pathway in detailed, sustained terms as part of a structural spatial phenomenological argument. He offers seeds of a primordial spatial phenomenology.

Viewed in contrast with Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age that explored temporality as a horizon of experience taken for granted in the social imaginary, in a distinct socio-historical set of contexts across Europe with implications for a secularist Zeitgeist, Chrétien’s scope of works are more confined. However, they can be construed as overcoming a key caesura in Taylor’s work with regard to spatial conditions or horizons underpinning religious and mystical experience. Moreover, Chrétien is not pitting space against time, he incorporates a temporal dimension into the rhythm of the dilation as openness interacting with the compressed, contraction process of closure. This temporal dimension is of space as a movement, of spatial capacity for movement.

A key strength of this book is its opening of a series of promissory notes to a more primordial spatial phenomenological structural questioning, regarding dilation, its interplay with contraction, the structural features of this spatial movement, its embedding in the breath, the circular expansive movement in what is tantamount to concentric spatial terms of infinite dilation sustained as a series of extended concentric spatial movements. This important contribution of Chrétien is allied with the pulse of vitality that runs through the sensitive interpretation of the accounts of the various thinkers regarding dilation, to embed dilation as a major feature of mystical experience, with dilation arguably offering as much of an Archimedean point for these experiences as does Angst for existential-phenomenological concerns.

It can be inferred that four modes of space, not necessarily all distinct from each other, emerge from Chrétien’s spatial phenomenological account. A fluid open and opening concentric circular space of dilation, a contracting, compressed, desiccated space, and an empty space of monistic fusion, as mere limitless totality through obliteration and explosion of all boundaries. The other space is that of diametric spatial opposition, whether between good and evil, openness and closure, as oppositional directions in mutual tension. This is a diametric space not only as structure and position, but as direction. Chrétien does not directly address the interplay between these spaces of experience.[3]

Though the argument for a spatial system of experience as dilation and contraction is as part of a claim for a primordial space prior to metaphor, it is this key argument that merits much more expansion, dare it be said, dilation, in this work. What is the ontological status of dilation as a mode of space, as a spatial system in rhythm with contraction, as a dynamic interactive spatial movement ? This pivotal question is only addressed indirectly by Chrétien, with hints and fragrances, in Spacious Joy.


Bachelard, G. The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964/1994.

Descartes, R. Descartes: Philosophical Writings. Trans. E. Anscombe & P.T. Geach. London: Nelson, 1954.

Downes, P. The Primordial Dance: Diametric and Concentric Spaces in the Unconscious World. Oxford/Bern: Peter Lang, 2012.

——– At the Threshold of Ricoeur’s Concerns in La Métaphore Vive: A Spatial Discourse of Diametric and Concentric Structures of Relation Building on Lévi-Strauss. Ricoeur Studies/Etudes Ricoeuriennes, 2016, 7 (2): 146-163.

——–Concentric Space as a Life Principle Beyond Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Ricoeur: Inclusion of the Other. New York/London/New Delhi: Routledge, 2019.

Nietzsche, F. The Birth of Tragedy, trans. D. Smith. Oxford: Oxford University Press, (1872/2000).

Ricœur, P. La Métaphore Vive. The Rule of Metaphor: Multi-disciplinary Studies of the Creation of Meaning in Language, trans. R. Czerny, with K. McLoughlin & J. Costello London: Routledge, 1978.

Schopenhauer, A. On the Basis of Morality. Trans. E. F. J. Payne. Providence: Berghahn Books, (1839/1995).

Taylor, C.  A Secular Age. Boston: Harvard University Press, 2007.

[1] Descartes referred to ‘empty space, which almost everyone is convinced is mere nonentity’ (1954: 200).

[2] Downes, P. At the Threshold of Ricoeur’s Concerns in La Métaphore Vive: A Spatial Discourse of Diametric and Concentric Structures of Relation Building on Lévi-Strauss. Ricoeur Studies/Etudes Ricoeuriennes, 2016, 7 (2): 146-163.

[3] For detailed examination of these modes of spatial experience as a spatial phenomenological questioning not only of space but through space, distinguishing concentric and diametric spaces from monistic fusion, see Downes, The Primordial Dance: Diametric and Concentric Spaces in the Unconscious World. Oxford/Bern: Peter Lang, 2012 and Downes, Concentric Space as a Life Principle Beyond Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Ricoeur: Inclusion of the Other. New York/London/New Delhi: Routledge, 2019.

Eva Reyes-Gacitúa, Antonio Calcagno (Eds.): Edith Stein’s An Investigation Concerning the State, Springer, 2020

Edith Stein’s An Investigation Concerning the State: Sociality, Nationhood, Ethics Book Cover Edith Stein’s An Investigation Concerning the State: Sociality, Nationhood, Ethics
Contributions To Phenomenology, Vol. 110
Eva Reyes-Gacitúa, Antonio Calcagno (Eds.)
Hardback 103,99 €
X, 290

Steven DeLay: Before God: Exercises in Subjectivity, Rowman & Littlefield, 2019

Before God: Exercises in Subjectivity Book Cover Before God: Exercises in Subjectivity
Steven DeLay
Rowman & Littlefield International
Hardback $120.00 £80.00

Michela Beatrice Ferri (Ed.): The Reception of Husserlian Phenomenology in North America

The Reception of Husserlian Phenomenology in North America Book Cover The Reception of Husserlian Phenomenology in North America
Contributions To Phenomenology, Vol. 100
Michela Beatrice Ferri (Ed.)
Hardback $119.99
XXVII, 482

Reviewed by: Justin Humphreys (The University of Pennsylvania)

There is more than one way to conceptualize the development of North American phenomenology. An image of “transplantation” would take the classical phenomenological tradition extending from Brentano to Husserl to be essentially the product of a European cultural sphere exported to the New World. In this view, Husserl’s thought is a seed planted in foreign soil and cultivated by his students. An image of “absorption” would portray North American philosophy as an autonomous enterprise enriched in stages by the themes and problems of classical phenomenology. On this conception, its origin in the European university is a contingent historical fact about phenomenology rather than a feature of its essential nature.

The choice between these images has consequences for how one reads the archive of phenomenological texts produced in North America. For example, in the course of a series of letters in 1940 discussing William James’ psychology, Aron Gurwitsch remarks to Alfred Schutz that they share the “goal of using James to present motives leading to phenomenology to a public which is unfamiliar with phenomenology.” Though Gurwitsch takes James never to have escaped completely the atomistic and sensualistic understanding of consciousness he criticized, he insists that James’ thought leads to and motivates the phenomenological project. American philosophy may therefore be translated into the language of phenomenology and “both parties gain infinitely with this translation.”[i] While the transplantation image implies that the gain is the ability of the phenomenologist to communicate to an American audience, the absorption image suggests that there are indigenous forces in American philosophy that could add to the phenomenologist’s project of fundamentally clarifying the structures of intentionality.

I approached Michela Beatrice Ferri’s new volume, The Reception of Husserlian Phenomenology in North America, with the hope of gaining tools for understanding this transition of a set of philosophical problems and methods from one surrounding world to another. Indeed, in his elegant if somewhat enigmatic Preface, Robert Sokolowski claims that the book is an “exercise in hermeneutics” concerning the displacement of phenomenology from one cultural-historical setting to another (vii). Continuing this theme, Ferri’s Introduction portrays this displacement as a “transplanting of Husserl’s thought” occasioned by the rise of Nazism (xvii) and as an “endeavor to graft phenomenology into American intellectual culture” (xxiv). Ferri suggests that by examining the reception of Husserl’s phenomenology in the United States and Canada (for reasons that are unclear to me, Mexico is excluded), the book will contribute to an understanding of “the division of philosophical discourse in North American [sic] that has been called the ‘Analytic-Continental Divide’” (xviii). The book proposes, then, to cut to the root of the divergence between the “analytic” and “continental” traditions in North American philosophy.

Unfortunately, the book is organized and edited in a way that does not contribute to a unified description of American phenomenology. Even worse, most of the discussions of the reception of Husserl’s philosophy remain on the level of merely factual history, without providing phenomenological analyses of particular receptive acts. Since I cannot discuss every one of the book’s twenty-six chapters here, this review will focus on those parts most salient to gaining an understanding of phenomenology in North America.

Jonathan Strassfeld’s meticulously researched opening chapter shows how the professionalization of philosophy at Harvard beginning in the 1890s required that the department offer a diverse curriculum rather than establish a single school. Indicative of this diversity effort, seven of the ten North American students who studied with Husserl before 1925 were associated with Harvard (7). Among them, the Canadian-born Winthrop Pickard Bell went to work under Husserl in Germany in 1911. With the internment of foreign nationals at the outbreak of the first World War, in 1914 “Bell became the first Anglo-American to receive a doctorate from Husserl; but only after defending his thesis inside a detention facility” (12). The chapter continues by offering a chronology of how other early notables – Marvin Farber, Dorion Cairns, Charles Hartshorne, and V. J. McGill – studied with Husserl during the interwar period. Drawing on Farber’s 1925 dissertation, Strassfeld argues persuasively that Husserl’s foundational program was not understood as part of a separate, “continental” tradition until at least the 1930s, when the work of Russell, Moore, and Wittgenstein began to hold sway at Harvard (16-20).

Jason Bell’s chapter proposes the project of examining Winthrop Bell’s 1927 Harvard course, “Husserl and the Phenomenological Movement,” the first class on phenomenology offered in North America. Perhaps the most interesting question raised in this chapter is whether logic is “purely a priori” or “dependent on induction,” a discussion of which would allow for a comparison of the phenomenological and pragmatistic theories of truth and evidence (33). But the chapter neither offers a phenomenological analysis, nor makes of any use of primary texts by Husserl, Peirce, Royce, or James. Consequently, this question is never addressed. Moreover, although the chapter is clearly written, it really examines only the first week of the course, and thus fails to give a comprehensive view of the earliest phenomenological curriculum in North America.

After discussing the seeding of phenomenology at Harvard, the book turns to the growing of phenomenology at the New School for Social Research. Judith Friedlander’s chapter offers a careful institutional history of the philosophy department at the New School. Lester Embree and Michael Barber’s chapter on the “Golden Age” of phenomenology at the New School is more anecdotal, but likewise contains interesting information on the role of three major figures associated with the school – Schutz, Gurwitsch, and Cairns. But although these chapters offer insight into the history of the New School, they are not recognizably concerned with Husserl’s thought – hardly any mention is made of his specific works, much less how his ideas were received or modified by North American philosophers.

The chronological orientation of these early chapters is not incidental to the structure of the book. Ostensibly, the chapters are organized into seven sections, beginning with the introduction of phenomenology at Harvard, and its establishment at the New School, and then proceeding to discussions of individual figures, centers and societies, phenomenological journals, regional schools, and finally to a comparison of the phenomenological and analytic traditions. Inexplicably, however, treatments of individual figures spill over into the first section (a chapter on Gurwitsch), and into the penultimate section (a chapter on Dallas Willard). Moreover, it is difficult to characterize what is going on in many chapters of the book that focus on phenomenological publications, societies, and centers. For example, Nenon and Ferri’s chapter on “Important Twentieth Century American Husserl Scholars” (145-149) is a mere list of “leading researchers” working in North American universities. A chapter by McKenna and Hopkins on the journals Husserl Studies and The New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy (337-341) provides only very brief editorial histories of these journals, quoting extensively from the publishers’ websites.

What do these chapters contribute – if anything – to an understanding of the reception of Husserl’s phenomenology? They certainly do not employ a phenomenological method. But nor do they draw on themes that have been investigated by well-known phenomenologists.

Even a clearly written and informative chapter, such as Jeffrey McCurry and Chelsea R. Binnie’s history of The Simon Silverman Phenomenology Center at Duquesne University seems out of place in series of “contributions to phenomenology.” In this chapter one learns, for example, how Erwin Straus’ office furniture was saved due to an encounter in 1938 with an SS Officer who had been his patient. Out of gratitude, the officer made special arrangements to ship the physician-phenomenologist’s possessions to the United States, which after Straus’ death in 1975 were donated to the Silverman Center (300-301). But what was the significance of the furniture within the face-to-face encounter between a Jewish physician and a Nazi Officer? How does the intact collection today allow one to reenter the embodied space of a working phenomenologist? What is the meaning of removing a culturally meaningful object – Straus’ Victorian music stand, for example – from one surrounding cultural world to another? This story could provide the starting point for a phenomenological investigation that would be appropriate to Straus as an emigre and as a theorist of embodied thinking. But the discussion remains merely factual, without exploring the meaning of the preservation of the furniture that constituted Straus’ workspace.

Though as mere catalogues of facts, these central chapters fail to elucidate how Husserl’s thought made inroads in North America, the chapters focusing on phenomenological figures have a more recognizably philosophical content. I shall focus on these chapters in the remainder of the review.

Daniel Marcelle’s chapter argues that Aron Gurwitsch’s “field theory” of attention advances the project of Husserlian phenomenology by breaking with Husserl’s own “searchlight” theory of attention. On Marcelle’s reading, Husserl focused on the noetic or “act” aspect of attending, which he described metaphorically as a “ray of regard” directed towards the object of thought (65-66). This spatial metaphor led Husserl to assume that noematic parts of the object remain constant as the consciousness undergoes attentional modifications, for example, that individual notes remain the same, whether they are heard separately or as part of a melody (67). By focusing instead on the noematic or “object” aspect of attention, Gurwitsch offers a richer descriptive theory that dispenses with this presupposition. Gurwitsch distinguishes among theme, the focal point of consciousness, thematic field, the content of which is not thematic but is contextually relevant to the theme, and margin, the content of which is not relevant to the theme but which is nevertheless featured in the stream of consciousness (50). This theory rejects the constancy implicitly assumed by Husserl, while offering richer resources for the description of attentional change (68). Marcelle’s reconstruction of these positions, as well as his characterization of Gurwitsch as promoting the project of phenomenology even while criticizing some of Husserl’s views, is on the mark. Phenomenology as both philosophers conceived it was not a static set of doctrines but a research program intended to uncover the fundamental structures of consciousness. My only objection concerns the chapter’s use of the “Freiburg Encounter” between Husserl and Gurwitsch to frame the discussion. Surely it was his decades of work at the intersection of classical phenomenology and gestalt psychology, rather than his brief 1927 encounter with the person of Husserl, that provides the proper context for understanding Gurwitsch’s field theory of attention.

Eric Chelstrom’s chapter examines Marvin Farber’s “idiosyncratic” understanding of Husserl. On the one hand, Farber wrote a dissertation on Husserl, advanced Husserl’s work for an English-speaking audience, and edited Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, a journal that, in its early period, was dominated by research conducted in a Husserlian phenomenological vein. On the other hand, Farber disagreed fundamentally with Husserl’s idealism, going so far as to separate the “logical” works as the only acceptable texts in Husserl’s corpus (109). Chelstrom makes a convincing case that Farber harbored doubts about Husserl’s methodology from early in his career, though they later emerged as more definite criticisms of Husserl’s idealism. According to Chelstrom, Farber saw the epoché as a valuable method of logical criticism, but argued that the turn to idealism smuggled in metaphysical assumptions that revealed Husserl’s “absolutist and eternalist” political views (112-113). Chelstrom holds that although Farber understood his own materialist and pluralist commitments to be opposed to pure phenomenology, the separation of Husserl’s logical and metaphysical doctrines was arbitrary. I am not so convinced. Doesn’t Husserl’s conception of a transcendental ego speak against the primacy of the empirical self? Likewise, Farber’s pluralism requires that he accept more than one method in philosophy, not that he accepts Husserl’s method. Though Chelstrom’s chapter raises important questions about a difficult figure, it does not explain how Farber used phenomenology within his own naturalistic and pluralistic project.

Though it offers a nice overview of Dorion Cairns’ career, Richard Zaner’s chapter also seems philosophically thin. Its central conceit is that Cairns introduced a novel and helpful principle into phenomenological philosophy, according to which “no belief is philosophically acceptable unless it is established on the basis of adequate evidence. This is a condition of the legitimacy of any epistemic claim” (139). But who would disagree with that? The principle is so general that, on its own, it adds nothing interesting to epistemology. The real question is: what counts as adequate evidence for a belief? In order to answer that question, one would need a more substantive phenomenological analysis of evidence and its adequacy than is available here.

Carlo Ierna’s chapter on Herbert Spiegelberg takes a biographical approach, outlining the phenomenologist’s education, studies, emigration to the United States, and finally his polemical exchange with Farber in the wake of the publication of Spiegelberg’s The Phenomenological Movement (Farber complained that phenomenology did not have the internal consistency to count as a “movement” but would be better described as a “tendency.” Spiegelberg disagreed.) (163-164). The most interesting part of the chapter concerns Spiegelberg’s phenomenological  “workshops,” in which participants would attempt to enter sympathetically into one another’s perspectives. This is an alternative model to the current lecture- and text-based practices of most American phenomenologists. Indeed, it would have been interesting to read more about the methodology and content of these workshops.

Gabriel R. Ricci’s chapter focuses on Jitendra Nath Mohanty’s decades-long project of comparing Indian philosophy to Husserlian phenomenology. For example, whereas in the Vedantic tradition consciousness plays the logical role of mobilizing sources of knowledge but not of judging, in Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology consciousness is taken to have “judicative authority” (176). However, without a strong background in the various traditions of Indian philosophy, it is difficult to understand what is at stake in such a comparison. Moreover, since it neither quotes not cites any primary text of Indian philosophy, nor includes a bibliography, this chapter serves more as an encomium of Mohanty than as a critical engagement with his work.

The chapter on Robert Sokolowski by Molly Brigid McGrath presents similar problems. To be sure, McGrath makes an excellent case for Sokolowski’s anti-solipsistic interpretation of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology, according to which the epoché exposes “not a solitary ego” but an intersubjective intentionality (197). But in attempting to summarize nearly a half-century of philosophical scholarship, it is not clear how this essay contributes to the volume’s stated purpose. As attractive as Sokolowski’s interpretation may be, what is the broader lesson concerning the reception of phenomenology? Would this understanding of the epoché have been acceptable to Husserl himself? What does it add to the phenomenological project that is not already available in Husserl’s philosophical writings?

Daniela Verducci’s chapter, which purports to show how Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka wove together pragmatic and phenomenological traditions, likewise strays from the topic of Husserl reception. An extended section on Scheler’s critique of pragmatism (210-214) is illustrative of this lack of focus. Indeed, the main point Verducci attributes to Scheler, that “the basic error of pragmatism” is “identifying knowledge exclusively as the knowledge of control” (212) rests on a misunderstanding of pragmatism. More importantly, it is unclear what this has to do with Tymieniecka’s reception of Husserl. The last section argues that the synthesis of phenomenology and pragmatism requires, in Tymieniecka’s words, that “not constitutive intentionality, but only the constructive march of life that supports it can reveal to us the beginning of all things” (215). But Husserl’s use of epoché, insofar as it reduces the field of phenomenological inquiry to the constitution of meanings, should block any claims about the beginnings of things. It is hard to read Tymieniecka’s statement as respecting this “immanent” orientation of phenomenological inquiry. However, given Verducci’s references to a plethora of philosophical figures, free use of Greek, Latin, and German technical terminology and neologisms, and large number of creative capitalizations and typographical errors, it seems that the issue is less philosophical than editorial. The editors should have worked more on the chapter before it went to print, which might have led to a more lucid treatment of an interesting topic.

California Phenomenology, a chapter co-written by Jeffrey Yoshimi, Clinton Tolley, and David Woodruff Smith, offers an historical outline of the development of Husserlian phenomenology on the west coast beginning in the 1960s. Interestingly, the founding figure of this movement was not a Californian but the Norwegian-born, Harvard-educated philosopher Dagfinn Føllesdal, who trained a generation of phenomenologists at Harvard and Stanford. Among those who attended early meetings in the Bay Area, most of whom were once Føllesdal’s students, were Hubert Dreyfus, David Woodruff Smith, Ronald McIntyre, and Robert Tragesser; they were later joined by such notables as Izchak Miller, John Haugeland, and Richard Tieszen. The authors note that the California school of Husserl interpretation is marked by an emphasis on exploring the relationship between analytic philosophy and phenomenology, and a “reading of Husserl as developing a semantic theory that can be viewed as a generalization of Fregean semantics, from language to consciousness” (372). As opposed to the “orthodox Gurwitschian” understanding of the noema as the object of thought, this “Fregean semantic” interpretation takes the Husserlian noema to be an abstract object mediating between the act and object of reference (372-373). For the California phenomenologists, your act of thinking of a tabby cat is able to pick out the furry thing on your doormat in virtue of its instantiating a noema or “sense” in you that puts your thinking of the cat into potential inferential relations with the other noemata you constitute. The fact that the noema can be pre-predicative makes it more general than Frege’s notion of Sinn: a noema enters into any description of thinking, regardless of whether that thinking is propositional. Unfortunately, the authors do not develop the consequences of this view but continue the memoir, which relies heavily on direct quotations of emails from various members of the group. However, this memoir is somewhat marred by the fact although the reader can usually tell who is writing, it is unclear which author was the recipient of the email. Another idiosyncracy is that although the chapter is dedicated to Richard Tieszen, precious little discussion of his work is included in the piece.

Micah D. Tillman’s chapter stands out as one of the strongest in the collection, managing to introduce Dallas Willard’s work, while offering fruitful suggestions for attaining a unitarian reading of Husserl’s corpus. On Tillman’s reconstruction, Willard pursued a realist interpretation according to which Husserl’s fundamental aims are at once to provide an ontology of objects, and to account for the possibility of objective knowledge. This attempt to account for objective knowledge is faced with two fundamental paradoxes. The first is that although knowledge must be objective, it is only realized in a subject’s mental acts. The second is that while any such realization must be immediate (in Tillman’s terms, “intuitive”), most of our scientific knowledge is not immediate but is grasped through symbols (393). On Willard’s reconstruction, Husserl resolves the first paradox by developing an account of universals as modes of intentionality that can be fulfilled. Thus, Willard maintains that universal meanings have objective validity but in their fulfillment are apprehended by a subject. The second paradox is also resolved via the notion of fulfillment, which ensures the validity of mechanical or symbolic reasoning not through direct inspection, but through the possibility that any symbolic mathematical proof could be “reactivated” or intuitively “fulfilled” (396). Even for those who, like this reader, are not versed in Willard’s thought, Tillman’s presentation is lucid and philosophically compelling. Though the rest of Tillman’s paper is too rich to be summarized here, one can only hope that Tillman continues this line of inquiry, perhaps by exploring the theological consequences of Willard’s view that are merely signaled at the beginning of the essay (390).

Several chapters are less relevant to the reception of classical phenomenology. Ihde’s chapter is a reprint of a somewhat polemical article on the analytic-continental divide from the 1980s, which now seems dated. Rescher’s chapter on Pittsburgh philosophy has little to do with phenomenology. Calcagno’s chapter on Edith Stein is interesting, but has no direct bearing on Husserl reception in North America.

The final essay in the collection, by Paul M. Livingston, argues that there is a fundamental methodological difference between Husserlian phenomenology and analytic philosophy, in virtue of which the two cannot be directly reconciled (435). According to Livingston, analytic philosophy since Frege has looked to linguistic patterns of public usage to understand the structure of thought (442). Exploiting the work of several figures central to this tradition, Livingston argues that a “characteristic methodological and ontological” assumption of analytic philosophy is that “the objective explanation of mental phenomena requires locating them in an intersubjectively and publicly available network of causally related phenomena” (453-454). Though there is much to be said for Livingston’s use of this literature, it seems to me that the entire weight of this latter claim rests on how one construes the word “objective.” If “objective” here means “true,” then all first-personal statements must indeed be excluded as subjective and false. This leaves no place for Husserl but amounts to the extravagant claim that in order to do philosophy at all, one must forfeit one’s first-personal grasp of the world. In distinction, if “objective” here means “empirical,” it is hard to imagine that Husserl or anyone else would object: surely the mark of an empirical explanation is its causal relation of a phenomenon to other publicly observable phenomena. Of course, there is a residual question of whether there are non-empirical explanations, that is, whether priori knowledge is possible. And some philosophers have answered this question negatively. But this denial could never be a general methodological commitment of analytic philosophers, some of whom have made non-empirical claims, including claims about logic.

I have suggested that in privileging facts over analyses of the reception of Husserl’s thought in North America, the volume includes too much information. But one may also remark on what it excludes. The lack of a chapter relating Husserl to James is strange, especially given Geniusas’ work in the same book series exploring the connection between James’ “fringes” and Husserl’s “horizon.”[ii] There is very little discussion of the work of Alfred Schutz, despite the fact that his work in phenomenology exerted tremendous influence in the social sciences, particularly through The Social Construction of Reality, the bestselling sociology text by Luckmann and Berger, who studied under him at the New School.[iii] Likewise, though his furniture is described in some detail, a chapter dedicated to Straus’s work would have been a welcome addition, and might have provided an opportunity to examine the theme of embodiment that haunts the history of phenomenology and is a concern of current work in philosophy. Another figure who is ignored is Hermann Weyl, who drew from Husserl and had an influential career at Princeton. Finally, it is surprising that there is no chapter on Kurt Gödel, who both attended meetings of the Vienna Circle and, while in the United States, dedicated himself to the study of Husserl. An examination of his views on phenomenology could be used stage an encounter between the mid-century analytic philosophy that stemmed from logical positivism and the continental tradition, which is one of the acknowledged aims of the volume.

This theme of the relationship between, and potential rapprochement of phenomenology and analytic philosophy is an important one, and merits further discussion. Analytic philosophy began as an approach that, like phenomenology, aimed to provide an ultimate clarification of the problems of philosophy. But traditional analytical topics like the problem of mental causation, the justified true belief theory of knowledge, or the metaphysical “debate” between three- and four-dimensionalists today look like artefacts of a stagnant and outmoded philosophical methodology. One’s sense of disappointment is not alleviated by observing the plethora of new philosophical research programs – formal philosophy, experimental philosophy, and critical theories of race and gender – that ape the methods of mathematics, experimental psychology, and sociology. The shattered hegemony of linguistic analysis leaves American philosophers in need of new, distinctively philosophical methods. While the wholesale revival of classical phenomenology might be a tall order, the critical and judicious use of first-personal description and a commitment to elucidating the meanings of lived experience may have much to offer practicing philosophers today.

This book has the virtue of discussing a number of figures in phenomenology who have received less attention than they deserve. In doing so, it shows that despite a common prejudice that takes phenomenology to be primarily a Western European phenomenon, phenomenologists have also been doing interesting work on this side of the Atlantic. However, the book ignores some key figures and leaves important questions unanswered. Indeed, it never makes thematic the fundamental questions about phenomenology in North America. In being received on this continent, how have the interests and methods of phenomenology been transformed? Is this transmission better conceived as the transplantation of a European cultural product to the New World, or as the absorption of a way of theorizing by North American philosophers? What sort of enrichment of philosophy was envisaged by figures like Gurwitsch and Schutz that could justify the countless hours they spent working out the details of a phenomenological philosophy, even while their families and friends were in danger of extermination at the hands of the Nazis? In failing to address these questions, the The Reception of Husserlian Phenomenology in North America misses an opportunity to raise the radical problems that would allow one to grasp the telos of the phenomenological project.

[i] Grathoff, R. [Ed] Philosophers in Exile: The Correspondence of Alfred Schutz and Aron Gurwitsch, 1939-1959. Indiana University Press, 1989, 30-31.

[ii] Geniusas, S. The Origins of the Horizon in Husserl’s Phenomenology. Dordrecht/New York: Springer (Contributions to Phenomenology, Vol. 67), 2012.

[iii] Berger, P. L. and Luckmann, T. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge, Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1966

Thomas Kessel (Hrsg.): Philosophische Psychologie um 1900, J.B. Metzler, 2019

Philosophische Psychologie um 1900 Book Cover Philosophische Psychologie um 1900
Abhandlungen zur Philosophie
Thomas Kessel (Hrsg.)
J.B. Metzler
Softcover 43,73 €
XIV, 235

Franz Brentano: Vermischte Schriften, De Gruyter, 2019

Vermischte Schriften Book Cover Vermischte Schriften
Sämtliche veröffentlichte Schriften, Abteilung IV/Band 9
Franz Brentano. Ed. by Arkadiusz Chrudzimski, Thomas Binder. With an introd. by Denis Fisette
De Gruyter
Hardback 109,95 € / $126.99 / £100.00
xlii, 270

The New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy, Volume 17, 2019

New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy, Volume 17, 2019 Book Cover New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy, Volume 17, 2019
New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy
Timothy Burns, Thomas Szanto, Alessandro Salice, Maxime Doyon, Augustin Dumont (Eds.)
Hardback £115.00

Reviewed by: Bence Peter Marosan (Budapest Business School, Pázmány Péter Catholic University)

The 2019 issue of The New Yearbook of Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy has two main parts: the first one (consisting of eleven texts) is a Festschrift for the 65th birthday of Dermot Moran, the second one (with seven texts) contains updated version of the papers presented at a workshop held at the University of Montreal on the problem of imagination in Kant and in the phenomenological tradition, (The Imagination: Kantian and Phenomenological Models, 5-6 May, 2017). The volume ends with a “Varia” section,[1] with the study of Emiliano Trizio, (“Husserl’s Early Concept of Metaphysics As the Ultimate Science of Reality”).


Dermot Moran is a key figure of contemporary philosophy and phenomenology. He has an immense, extensive knowledge in the field of natural sciences (having originally studied applied mathematics, physics, and chemistry), the humanities, and particularly, philosophy. He defended his PhD Thesis in Medieval Philosophy at the University of Yale University in 1986; the title of his thesis was: Nature and Mind in the Philosophy of John Scottus Eriugena: A Study in Medieval Idealism.

He counts as one of the leading researchers and experts in phenomenology, and especially in Husserl. He wrote several excellent books on Husserl and phenomenology (Introduction to Phenomenology, 2000; Edmund Husserl – Founder of Phenomenology, 2005; Husserl’s Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology – An Introduction, 2012), and has a long list of articles published in a number of highly rated philosophy journals. His publications have always generated intensive scientific discussions. He was the President of the Programme Committee for the 23rd World Congress of Philosophy which took place in Athens (August 4-10 in 2013), as well as the President of the 24th World Congress of Philosophy which took place in Beijing (August 13–20 in 2018). Professor Moran is the founding editor of the International Journal of Philosophical Studies and the co-editor of the books series Contribution to Phenomenology.

One of his main goals has been to mediate in the greatest schism of our present day’s philosophy: the Analytic-Continental Division. He is urging a more intensive dialogue between the two sides. As an original philosopher, his basic philosophical stance is adopting transcendentalism, the critique of naturalism, with an openness to natural scientific research (from the transcendental point of view), and with continuous integration of the newest results of positive sciences into the considerations of transcendental philosophy. In our present days, when analytic naturalistic philosophy has a huge predominance, I think, these above-mentioned motifs are especially important.

I find myself fortunate that I was his PhD-student in 2008, so I know his personal side as well. I can say that he does not only represent the highest scientific and academic standards, and he is not just an exceptional teacher, but he is also an astonishingly kind person, very open to everybody and extremely helpful to all. This present volume pays a tribute to his outstanding career by his friends and colleagues. [2].


  1. The Festschrift contains eleven texts, with the “Editors’ Introduction”. This part of the volume was edited and introduced by Timothy Burns, Thomas Szanto and Alessandro Salice. In their introduction, they give a detailed and also a very personal overview of Dermot Moran’s career; and they also briefly summarize the essays of the first part of the book. I think that every single essay of the Festschrift is an original contribution to it, with new insights concerning the topic they treat. The essays reflect issues or topics that were of concern to Dermot, such as: transcendentalism, embodiment, intersubjectivity.
  2. In his study “Husserl’s Account of Action: Naturalistic or Anti-Naturalistic? A Journey through the Studien zur Struktur des Bewusstseins”, Andrea Staiti touches upon two motifs which are central for Moran: his commitment to the transcendental and anti-naturalistic attitude and his openness to contemporary natural scientific research and analytic philosophy of mind. He refers to one of Moran’s more recent essays in this context: “Defending the Transcendental Attitude: Husserl’s Concept of the Person and the Challenges of Naturalism” (2014). In this essay, Staiti focuses on Husserl’s view of action, drawing on his – at the moment unpublished, but shortly forthcoming – research manuscript “Studien zur Struktur des Bewusstseins” (1900-1914[-1924]) (Ms. M III 3 I-III). He tries to show that Husserl’s account of action, his fundamentally anti-naturalistic stance, is compatible with contemporary naturalistic description of action (according to which the action is not the result of the will as a supernatural causal source).

He attempts to prove this thesis through a microanalysis of Husserl’s depiction of the structure of action, as it is elaborated in “Studien zur Struktur des Bewusstseins”. Husserl interprets the will as a peculiar sort of conscious acts, which stand under the law of motivation. In Husserl’s view, subjectivity is essentially embodied, bodily consciousness, which is part of nature, and this conscious body is the source of will (and voluntary decisions). According to Husserl, free will is just the free functioning of this lived, autonomous and conscious body. As Staiti emphasizes, Husserl creates an elegant balance between anti-naturalistic and naturalistic interpretations of the will, and this could be a fruitful approach within the contemporary debates concerning the relationship of will and action.

  1. Mette Lebech engages in reconstructive work in her paper „Essence, eidos, and dialogue in Stein’s ‘Husserl and Aquinas. A Comparison’”. She discusses the original version of Edith Stein’s Festschrift essay for Husserl’s 70th birthday essay entitled: “What Is Philosophy? A Conversation Between Edmund Husserl and Thomas Aquinas”, originally written, as the title suggests, as a dialogue. Heidegger, who edited the Festschrift, requested Edith Stein to rewrite her work in prosaic form – which she did. She gave the revised version the new title: “An Attempt to Contrast Husserl’s Phenomenology and the Philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas”. The revised version was a comparison of the thinking of the authors, which changed the original content, in so far as the dialogue form itself contributed to the content.

In the original paper a dialogue is recorded between Husserl, as founder of phenomenology, and Aquinas, committed to an ethos of rational faith. The dialogue is possible because of the willingness of the two thinkers to enter into it, and together explore the differences between their respective positions. An important motif is the discussion of the nature of philosophy as well as the idea of essence: together the two thinkers try to attain rational insights concerning basic philosophical topics. The main point of the article is that it is the idea of intelligibility present in their respective understanding of essence that allows the two interlocutors to engage in a dialogue, and that the dialogue form brings this out. According to Stein (in Lebech’s interpretation) essence is a presupposition for the intersubjective, dialogic praxis of communities.

  1. Steven Crowell’s article, “Twenty-first-Century Phenomenology? Pursuing Philosophy With and After Husserl”, partly treats Moran’s narrative in his seminal work: “Introduction to Phenomenology” (2000). In this book, Moran portrays the history of phenomenology of the 20th century as a deviation from Husserl’s transcendental and idealistic formulation of phenomenology. Crowell, on the one hand, offers a critical overview of this interpretation of the phenomenological movement, and poses the question (based on the results of his essay) of what should phenomenology be in the 21st century?

According to Moran, the main authors of phenomenology – after Husserl – rejected both his transcendental attitude and his idealistic tendencies. The “inflection point” of phenomenology in this story was Heidegger’s philosophy of Being, and his vehement criticism of Husserl. Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, some really naturalistic features were gained, and finally in Derrida, the phenomenological method “collapsed” into deconstruction.

But in Crowell’s opinion, we could interpret the history of phenomenology in another way: phenomenologies – after Husserl – could be interpreted as transformations of transcendentalism. One could clearly identify the transcendental motif in Heidegger’s account of being-there (Dasein, the subject), as well as in (e.g.) Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of chiasm and the phenomenology of nature.

Relying on this interpretation of phenomenological tradition, Crowell offers us a possible way of phenomenology for the 21st century, which keeps the transcendental attitude onwards in the future, but abandons classical metaphysical demands. It should be a phenomenology – as Husserl (and also Moran) claimed – of radical self-responsibility, a radical claim concerning evidence and ethical responsibility.

  1. In his essay entitled: “Merleau-Ponty and Developing and Coping Reflectively”, Timothy Mooney takes issue with Hubert Dreyfus’ interpretation of Merleau-Ponty on “skilled coping,” arguing that reflective work is to be found in many of our daily embodied experiences. He emphasises a self-differentiating and bodily field of experience from which the conscious and objectifying subject emerges and to which it makes its own contributions.

In the background of every movement, there is an anonymously functioning body, though the embodied agent is at once an encultured and thoughtful one. In this account, we do not find an indifferent animal body surmounted by human reason. Following on Joseph Berendzen’s work, Mooney stresses that Merleau-Ponty rejects a “layer-cake” model of human subjectivity (according to which there could be hermetically separated layers of body and mind). As Berendzen states: “There are certainly elements that we share with animals, […] but there is no shared layer” (76). Both body and bodily-founded consciousness are specifically human, and every so-called layer mutually determines and shapes the other.

Mooney illustrates the functioning of this embodied and culturally formed awareness in everyday life with a series of examples. The central concept in his essay is that of “little reflections”. These refer to the way in which we consciously adjust our bodily movements (and not just our speech) to changing events in the lived environment. We frequently make explicit corrections to our movements and in so doing contribute to replanning them. Without these little reflections, we would be literally unable to survive.

  1. Similarly to the previous study, Matthew Ratcliffe’s paper “Grief and Phantom Limbs: A Phenomenological Comparison”, first and foremost also relies on Merleau-Ponty. Ratcliffe emphasizes certain deep parallelism, and what is even more: identity between phantom limb experience and experience of losing a beloved person, that is to say: grief. Phantom limb experiences manifest for us the essentially embodied nature of consciousness, and that we are entangled with the world – in the same way that in the experience of grief, it became clear for us that we and the other person belong together in a much stronger than metaphoric way, in a nearly literal sense. The other (beloved) person is almost an extension of my body. The other person grants me access to the world in nearly the same way as my sensory organs and limbs do. In his essay, Ratcliffe focuses on our active, back-and-forth determinative relationship to the world, and on the manner in which our relations to other persons shape the access to our own body and to the world that surrounds us.
  2. In the center of Lilian Alweiss’s contribution (“Back to Space”) discusses the relation between place and space. It is generally agreed that Husserl’s phenomenology prioritises place over space. Lilian Alweiss questions this interpretation of Husserl by drawing on Edward Casey’s work. Casey claims for both early Kant and Husserl embodiment, the place we find ourselves in, is central to our understanding of space. Although Alweiss acknowledges that embodiment plays a central role in cognition and our relation to others, she believes that neither Kant nor Husserl ever argue that our understanding of space is a posteri or derived from our understanding of space. She thereby takes to task Casey’s anti-modern or romantic reading that tries to question our scientific conception of space.
  3. Anthony J. Steinbock’s article: „Hating as Contrary to Loving” is an essential and enlightening study concerning the phenomenology of emotions and feelings. The principal thesis of Steinbock’s essay is that hate and love are not parallel and coeval feelings, neither do they have a dialectical relationship. Love is more fundamental and original than hate, and the latter is founded on the former; so they have a foundational relation.

Steinbock makes a difference between feeling-states and feeling-acts. States are objective and static, and they could be conceived as objects. Acts are always dynamic, and could never be conceived as objects, in the way states could be. States are founded by acts. Hate is founded by love, both as act and state. It gains its entire reality and energy from love.

A key conception of Steinbock’s paper is at first a mysteriously sounding phrase: the hate hates the beloved (121). What does it mean? It means that hate is founded upon the positivity of love and beloved. It is a counter-movement, a negative striving against love and the beloved; it is a closing down with regard to the beloved (or a turning away from it), or even a destructive action against the beloved. But in its entire negativity, it is made comprehensible only through love, against which it is directed. It is the denial of the beloved.

  1. Thomas Nenon’s study “Do Arguments about Subjective Origins Diminish the Reality of the Real?” again joins a central topic of the whole volume and Moran’s basic philosophical attitude: the defence of transcendental stance. Nenon treats the criticism of two main authors of “speculative realism”, Tom Sparrow and Quentin Meillassoux against transcendental philosophy in general, and Husserl in particular. According to the criticism of speculative realists, transcendental philosophy and especially phenomenology fall prey to “correlationism”, which means “the irreducibility of subject and object, thinking and being” and „never considering either term apart from the other”. According to speculative realism, transcendentalism makes reality dependent on subjectivity. Nenon attempts to show that this criticism is false.

In Nenon’s interpretation, transcendental philosophy does not make reality dependent (objectivity) from consciousness, nor is it unable to consider and treat them apart. Transcendentalism is rather the first-person view treatment of experienced objectivity, and the ways in which objectivity appear in experience. It is Meillassoux’s realism which is somehow naïve and naturalistic, because it is simply oriented toward the worldview and achievement of modern natural sciences. Nenon says that Meillassoux’s concept of objectivity is too narrow – as opposed to phenomenology which has a much richer and sophisticated notion of objectivity, with many different regions, (the world of nature, the realm of culture, the sphere of ideal meanings etc.).

  1. Richard Kearney’s essay: “God Making: An Essay in Theopoetic Imagination” is a really beautiful writing about philosophy (phenomenology) of religion. It is a survey about the transformation of divine into human and human into divine, a mutual fusion of these two spheres of Being. A main topic of the paper is creation: how God makes the human being a partner, a playmate in the act, the process of creation; moreover: how humans become lovers of God in the act of creation. Creation is an erotic act; it is the fusion of creator and creature, divine and human, their mutual transition into each other. Creation is the manifestation of an erotic desire of God. Creation is moreover a poetic deed; the divine creation is “theopoiesis”.

An important point of Kearney’s paper is the motif of return, which he emphasizes with the Greek prefix “ana”. Kearney speaks about “anatheism” which is “returning to God after God: a critical hermeneutic retrieval of sacred things” (152). Anatheism is not just the Hegelian “Aufhebung” (uplifting); it is not simply a moving through the opposition of theism and atheism towards something higher. It is an ultimate re-opening to the radically new, it is the final union with the divine dimension.

In the final part of his study, Kearney applies and demonstrates his insights on the artwork of the contemporary artist, Sheila Gallagher.

  1. Nicolas de Warren, in his essay “Husserl’s Awakening to Speech: Phenomenology as ‘Minor Philosophy’”, highlights the peculiar philosophical importance of Husserl’s working method of thinking in writing, using his special stenography. His study is also a novel approach to Husserl’s relationship to language and his philosophy in general. Husserl’s way of meditating in writing shaped his thoughts, and his streams of thoughts also formed the way he wrote. Nicolas de Warren also wants to revise the still currently prevailing view concerning Husserl’s conception of language, according to which language was merely external to thought. De Warren tries to show that this is not the case. Language, not in a thematic way, but rather in a methodological manner, gained a central role in Husserl’s works. In Husserl’s unpublished manuscripts (in the process of writing them) phenomenology became really linguistic and phenomenological. In Husserl’s writings, phenomena really seeked expression, and all the concepts were in formation, everything was fluid and flexible. In de Warren’s interpretation: “Husserlian phenomenology is an unprecedented historical awakening of philosophy to its own speech” (164). De Warren characterizes it as a “Minor Philosophy”, as a radically new form of philosophising, which “struggles to create novel philosophical concepts within established – inherited and institutionalized – dominant languages of philosophy” (161).


  1. The second part of the volume (“The Imagination. Kant’s Phenomenological Legacy”) consists of six studies, plus the “Editors’ introduction” by Maxime Doyon and Augustin Dumont, which offers a brief survey of the philosophical importance of the imagination.
  2. Maxime Doyon’s study (entitled “Kant and Husserl on the (Alleged) Function of Imagination in Perception”) is a systematic comparison of Kant’s and Husserl’s conception of imagination and its purported role in experience and cognition. The text begins by arguing that there are at least three ways in which the imagination could be interpreted as playing an essential role in perception in Kant’s philosophy: firstly, it is said to be necessary to account for the amodal character of perception, (“amodal” in this context refers to the holistic feature of perception; that is to say: that we see objects as wholes, even if we see directly only a few details of them); secondly, the imagination would be essential to account for the constitution of the identity of object through time; and thirdly, the imagination would help us to classify objects, that is to say, to conceive them as particular examples of certain types or classes.

Doyon then tries to show that Husserl inherited this set of problems (amodal perception, constitution of perceptual identity through time and classificatory functioning of perception), without, however, subscribing to Kant’s explanation, which grants to the imagination a transcendental role. In Husserl, there is no place for the imagination in perception, except in two (relatively) rare situations: in image consciousness (when we perceive images [photos, paintings, sculptures, etc.]) and perceptive phantasies (experiencing of works of art; such as theatrical plays, operas, etc.). Otherwise, there is – pace Kant – just no place for the imagination at all in perception.

  1. Andreea Smaranda Aldea, in her long and thorough work entitled „Imagination and Its Critical Dimension: Lived Possibilities and An Other Kind of Otherwise” offers us a detailed and critical analysis of Husserl’s conception of imagination, highlighting its merits, but sketching a basically alternative model.

In Husserl, imagination and perception belong to essentially different sorts of acts. Imagination has a special – and very important! – epistemological role, but fundamentally it is the “inversed mirror” of perception. It is everything which perception is not, (with the exception that both are intuitive acts). Imagination is not-doxic, free, neutralized and quasi-positional act. According to Aldea this account, though at certain points grasps some fundamental features of imagination, at certain points it is rather insufficient, what is even more: misleading. In Aldea’s opinion, imagination cannot be interpreted in such a negative way as Husserl has.

Aldea, in an alternative model, which – notwithstanding – relies on Husserl, describes perception and imagination, which are radically different, but at certain essential points are nevertheless intertwined and in strong cooperation with each other. “Imagining possibilization” (a key conception in Aldea’s framework) has – as opposed to Husserl’s view on imagination –a motivated and teleological structure, and is embedded into the concrete medium of the life-world of the proper subject in question. “Imagining possibilization” plays a fundamental role in the constitution of meanings, and thus in cognition and experience in general. Aldea wishes to present such a model of imagination, which is bound by contingent cultural and historical conditions on the one hand, but – on the other hand – nevertheless has a fundamental transcendental necessity too.

  1. Samantha Matherne’s central thesis, in her essay, “The Hidden Art of Understanding: Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty’s Appropriation of Kant’s Theory of Imagination”, is that there is a fundamental continuity between Kant’s theory of imagination and Heidegger’s as well as Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy (despite the no less important differences). In her study, she attempts to demonstrate some essential elements of this continuity.

In the beginning of her writing, she emphasizes that there are four basic claims in Kant’s conception of imagination: firstly, the “perceptual presence”-claim (according to which imagination plays a constitutive role in the perception of a concrete material thing); secondly, the “transcendental”-claim (which says that imagination makes experience possible in a transcendental and apriori way); thirdly, the “pre-cognitive”-claim (which states that imagination operates prior to cognition, and founds the latter), and fourthly, the “know-how”-claim (in accordance with which imagination has a deeply practical function). Matherne tries to show that all these motifs could be found in Heidegger’s and Merleau-Ponty’s notion of imagination.

The Heidegger-part of this study is also a very creative analysis: the author (Matherne) does not investigate Heidegger’s Kant-book, which would be all too trivial in this context (though she – of course – mentions that work). She focuses on Heidegger’s Being and Time (of which she offers a closer reading) in order to show that the above-mentioned four elements could be found in Heidegger’s existential analysis of the Dasein (being-there). She completed the same work in analysing Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception; highlighting that Merleau-Ponty embeds the fore-mentioned Kantian claims into his conception of bodily existence. Imagination, in Merleau-Ponty, is fundamentally the functioning of the embodied subjectivity – but this treatment of imagination, according to Matherne, also has its roots in Kant.

  1. Michela Summa’s essay entitled: “Are Fictional Emotion Genuine and Rational? Phenomenological Reflections on a Controversial Question”, is a very sensitive and even touching investigation concerning the problem of fictional emotions. Though her study is not restricted to that, but the article mostly treats the phenomenon of fictional emotions in the aesthetical context. The question: do we experience real and rationally motivated emotions within aesthetical circumstances (e.g. seeing a theatrical play or reading a novel)? For example: Kendall Walton says: “no”, to this question. Michela Summa, on the contrary, answers this question with a definite and emphatic “yes.”

According to her, though the characters of fictional stories aren’t real, our emotions concerning them could be. Presence and real existence of things aren’t criteria for our emotions to be real; as Summa emphasizes, (real) emotions are often intertwined with the absence of its object (as in the case of e.g. grief). The sadness, she states, we are feeling for Anna Karenina, is both real and rationally motivated; (the situation, the experience is such that it is just rational to feel this way); the tears we shed for her fate are real, though she is not. Our entire personality could live in such fictional emotions – just as in the case of real emotions.

  1. Daniele de Santis – in his study entitled: “‘Das Wunder hier ist die Rationalität’: Remarks on Husserl on Kant’s Einbildungskraft and the Idea of Transcendental Philosophy (With a Note on Kurd Laßwitz)” – offers us an exhaustive study on Husserl’s reading of Kant, at the early stage of his elaboration of transcendental phenomenology, mostly between the years 1907-1909 (manuscripts mostly published in Hua 7).[3] De Santis focuses on details of Husserl’s harsh criticism of Kant during this period; and also on the implicit ways in which Kant nevertheless influenced Husserl’s own transcendental position. Husserl criticized Kant in those, above-mentioned manuscripts, for his alleged anthropologism. That means: in Husserl’s interpretation, Kant states that a world, which is supposed to be understood by human beings, is essentially a human world, which presupposes human consciousness. Husserl, on the contrary, operates with a much broader form of rationality. The world need not be a particularly human world, in order to be understood, the rationality need not be specifically human in order to understand the world. The human being is a particular, empirical entity – but Husserl is interested in necessary and apriori structures of consciousness (and rationality) and of the world. De Santis emphasizes that we could highlight two different and fundamental forms of rationality in Husserl: a transcendental one (apriori structures of constituting consciousness) and ontology (apriori structures of constituted object); which together make up a non-anthropologic, more complete form of rationality.

An interesting and creative moment of this essay is the analysis, devoted to Husserl’s contemporary, Kurd Laußwitz, a Neo-Kantian author, who spoke about different, non-human parallel worlds, and to whom Husserl also refers in the manuscripts of the treated period.

  1. Augustin Dumont’s article entitled: “Imagination and Indeterminacy: The Problematic Object in Kant and Husserl” is a thorough, insightful, comparative analysis of Kant’s and Husserl’s account of imagination, and its role of the epistemology of these two authors; with special regard to their understanding of the “problematic object”.

Kant’s and Husserl’s conception of imagination, despite all the common points, are essentially different. Imagination, for Kant, in a certain way, serves as a condition of possible experience; while for Husserl, it is a possible (particular) form of experience. But there is also an important connection between them: the question of the “problematic object”. For Kant, the problematic object was the “object in general”, before every determination. In Husserl, the “problematic object” was the object of imagination or fantasy which – at certain points – played nevertheless an important role in Husserl’s epistemology, (e.g. in his method of “eidetic variations”).


  1. The closing unit of this volume, Emiliano Trizio’s writing, entitled: “Husserl’s Early Concept of Metaphysics As the Ultimate Science of Reality”, is an enlightening, very profound, astonishingly in-depth survey of the formation of Husserl’s early notion of metaphysics. Trizio’s main aim in his essay is to dispel such misunderstanding, according to which Husserl’s phenomenologically was – at least – metaphysically neutral, or even anti-metaphysical. In contrast to this, Trizio attempts to show that Husserl’s chief philosophical efforts were deeply metaphysically motivated, and that his ultimate goal was to establish a phenomenologically grounded metaphysics. In this regard, what is of the utmost importance is Husserl’s considerations on the relationship between theory of knowledge and metaphysics.

Trizio follows Husserl’s intricate trains of thought concerning the relationship of these two disciplines – from 1896 (Lecture on Logic)[4] up to some of the earliest documents of his transcendental turn (Such as the Introduction to logic and the theory of knowledge. Lectures 1906/07).[5] The theory of knowledge, according to Husserl, was about the essence of justified knowledge, and the proper means to attain grounded knowledge. Metaphysics, on the other hand, was about being; in the end, for Husserl, it was the ultimate science of factual reality.

Husserl hesitated for a while on how to define the boundaries between theory of knowledge and metaphysics. His final stance on this question began to crystallize in his above-mentioned 1906/07 lectures; according to which they are distinct and separate fields. Theory of knowledge (as “first philosophy”) yields the ultimate foundation of every knowledge; metaphysics (as “second philosophy”) is the supreme form of the philosophical disclosure of reality.


In my opinion, the 2019 volume of The New Yearbook of Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy meets the highest standards. Both sections are excellent, with studies of very high standard, and the closing essay is also a very good one, treating a topic (Husserl’s early metaphysics), which deserves much more attention than it received until now. The first part is a compilation of studies of very high quality, in the honour of one of the most important contemporary philosophers; the second part is a collection of essays, which illuminate, in a very precise way, the peculiar philosophical importance of the phenomenon of imagination.

[1]  A section for papers, which do not fit into the thematic parts of the volume.

[2] This paper was supported by the János Bolyai Research Scholarship of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, (No. BO/00421/18/2). I would like to express my gratitude to everybody, who helped with her/his comments and corrections the completion of the final version of this article – first of all, to the authors of this volume. I am also very grateful to Zsuzsanna Keglevich, for proofreading the article.

[3] Husserliana 7. Erste Philosophie (1923/4). Erster Teil: Kritische Ideengeschichte (The Hague, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff 1956).

[4] Husserliana Materialien 1. Logik. Vorlesung 1896 (Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001).

[5] Husserliana 24. Einleitung in die Logik und Erkenntnistheorie. Vorlesungen 1906/07 (The Hague, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff 1985).