Miroslav Petříček: Philosophy en noir, Karolinum Press, 2020

Philosophy en noir Book Cover Philosophy en noir
Václav Havel Series
Miroslav Petříček
Karolinum Press, Charles University
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Gregory P. Floyd, Stephanie Rumpza (Eds.): The Catholic Reception of Continental Philosophy in North America, University of Toronto Press, 2020

The Catholic Reception of Continental Philosophy in North America Book Cover The Catholic Reception of Continental Philosophy in North America
Gregory P. Floyd, Stephanie Rumpza (Eds.):
University of Toronto Press
Cloth $60.00

Theodor W. Adorno: Ontology and Dialectics: 1960/61

Ontology and Dialectics: 1960-61 Book Cover Ontology and Dialectics: 1960-61
Theodor W. Adorno. Nick Walker (Translator)
Paperback €21.46

Reviewed by: Sílvia Bento (Institute of Philosophy - University of Porto)

“I believe that if you look at the writings expressly directed against Wagner, and especially The Case of Wagner, you could readily extrapolate what he [Nietzsche] would have said against Heidegger. And I think if you could actually perform this feat of imagination that I am proposing to you, and envisage such a Nietzschean critique of Heidegger, then for penetrating insight it would surpass anything which I can offer you with my modest powers in these lectures.” (104)

These intriguing remarks, set forth by Theodor W. Adorno in his series of lectures delivered in Frankfurt during the winter semester of 1960/61, can be regarded as the touchstone of Ontology and Dialectics. This lecture course of 1960/61 – and the three Vorlesungen delivered at the Collège de France in March 1961 – first published in 2002 under the title Ontologie und Dialektik, excels in presenting a subtle analogy between Nietzsche’s positions concerning Richard Wagner’s music as a cultural expression of décadence and his remarks on Heidegger’s fundamental ontology as a degenerate movement or tendency against Aufklärung. As presented in Der Fall Wagner (1881), the Nietzschean formulation of Wagner’s music as a “disease” affecting German culture is evoked in order to analyse the philosophical observations on Heideggerian ontology developed by Adorno in Ontology and Dialectics. According to Adorno’s incisive observations, fundamental ontology, as defined by Heidegger, manifests a specifically German posture – considered by Adorno as profoundly deplorable – against Enlightenment ideology. As Adorno asserts, fundamental ontology is a philosophical movement which can be characterized as an abominably vile counter-Enlightenment. The Nietzschean analysis regarding the infamous power of seduction involving Wagner’s music, from Adorno’s point of view, is a “Heideggerian disease” because it profoundly affects the German academic world, which represents a new philosophical movement that is intensely respected and greatly venerated. The bizarreness of this Heideggerian spell, or disease, under which the German intelligentsia seemed to succumb, is often considered by Adorno:

“[…] for in Germany there are now hardly any responsible academic positions or professorial chairs in philosophy that do not feel obliged at least to show that they are somehow worthy of what has been achieved by Heidegger and Jaspers. And even those thinkers who for political and other reasons are extremely critical of both philosophers, but especially of Heidegger, still appear to be captivated – in a way I find really hard to understand since I have never experienced this spell myself – by this kind of thinking and seem unable to sever the umbilical cord entirely in this regard.” (100-101)

According to Adorno, fundamental ontology, Heidegger’s philosophical project, can be regarded as a philosophical tendency which owes its effect and possesses its forces through opposition to idealism in general. It is an anti-subjectivism; in fact, the philosophical question concerning fundamental ontology may be stated in a variety of ways. Adorno puts it thus: fundamental ontology is essentially an anti-subjectivist. Fundamental ontology stands in contrast to a philosophy which remains essentially devoted to a preliminary question, namely the question of how knowledge is possible at all. The coarse obliteration of the philosophical reflection upon the subjective mediation of knowledge and the epistemological relevance of the conceptual thought represents the chief theoretical posture of Heidegger’s ontology as conceived by Adorno.

Fundamental ontology is unequivocally the chief subject matter of Ontology and Dialectics by Theodor W. Adorno. The relevance of such a book – essentially a compilation of 23 Vorlesungen delivered in Frankfurt in 1960/61 and in Paris, at the Collège de France, in March 1961 (we refer to the last three lectures included in the book) – can be described in accordance with the consideration that the positions expressed in Ontology and Dialectics represent as an initial discussion of the Heideggerian ontology developed by Adorno. It should be observed that Ontology and Dialectics presents a philosophical anticipation of the incisively penetrating analysis of the Heideggerian ontology which, ultimately, forms the core of The Jargon of Authenticity, published in 1964. According to the “Editor’s Foreword” included in this edition, written by Rolf Tiedemann, the book Ontology and Dialectics, which expresses the philosophical antipathy to the ontological movement emanating from the Black Forest, evokes a project which Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht had already begun to pursue around 1930, not long after the publication of Being and Time. The project they sought to pursue was that of “demolishing Heidegger” [den Heidegger zu zertrümmern]. The intention of “demolishing Heidegger” pervades Adorno’s work and thought, especially after his return from exile to Germany. As Rolf Tiedemann elucidates, within the German philosophical academic circle developed after the end of the Third Reich, during the political and social process of re-establishing democracy in Germany, Adorno was widely regarded as the pre-eminent intellectual opponent to Heidegger – and Adorno accepted this incumbency. To lay emphasis on the fact that Adorno’s Complete Writings comprise almost 600 references to the name of Heidegger (exceeded in number only by those to Walter Benjamin) is not superfluous. Clearly then, “demolishing Heidegger” was an Adornian philosophical project. Nevertheless, the Adornian critique of Heidegger is not an aggressive refutation of the fundamental ontology that is without merit, nor is it intended to chiefly condemn the political positions adopted by Heidegger. The Adornian objections to Heidegger’s fundamental ontology that are most important are those which excel in revealing the dangerous political and social implications of a philosophical tendency – developed in accordance with the refusal of the cognitive sophistication of philosophy – that, in its instauration of odd cults and bizarre interests, promoted the pseudo-ideal of pre-Socratic irrationalism.

The title of the book, Ontology and Dialectics, alludes to Adorno’ intention of presenting a philosophical contrast between Heidegger’s fundamental ontology and Adorno’s own conception of dialectical thought as negative dialectics. This intention is subtly illustrated in a story involving Gustav Mahler and his literary taste.

“It is well known that Gustav Mahler was passionately interested in Dostoyevsky, who stood for something quite different in the years around 1890 than he does of Moeller van den Bruck. On one occasion, during an excursion with Schoenberg and his pupils, Mahler is said to have advised them to spend less time studying counterpoint and more time reading Dostoyevsky. And Webern is supposed to have responded with heroic timidity: ‘Pardon, Herr Direktor, but we have Strindberg’.” (1)

As Adorno explains, this story is probably apocryphal; nevertheless, this episode involving Gustav Mahler’s literary taste is mentioned by Adorno as a witty elucidation of the relationship between the new fundamental ontology of Heidegger (or, we might say, Dostoyevsky’s new literature) and the tradition of the German dialectic thought (or, we might say, Strindberg’s thought).  However, the emphasis upon the philosophical opposition between the new fundamental ontology and the traditional dialectic thought does not form the heart of Ontology and Dialectics. It is pertinent to observe that this series of lectures, published under the title Ontology and Dialectics, precedes the three lecture courses which form the book Negative Dialectics, Adorno’s masterpiece, published in 1966. The thorough theoretical presentation of such a philosophical project – the delineation of the philosophical singularity and distinctiveness of the negative dialectic thought – is indeed the chief subject matter and the central line of thought developed by Adorno in Negative Dialectics, written between 1964 and 1966. It is worth noting that Ontology and Dialectics, which precedes Negative Dialectics, is especially devoted to the philosophical condemnation of Heidegger’s fundamental ontology.

At any rate, as Adorno conceives it, the concept of Being, in Heideggerian terms, is not actually a concept at all. In fact, according to Adorno’s reading of Heidegger’s ontology, the concept of Being is not supposed to be the highest abstraction, the supra-concept reached by omitting all particular individuation, all particular determination. In approaching such a philosophical account of Being, Adorno intends to lay emphasis upon the fact that the Heideggerian ontological positions should be sharply distinguished from other kinds of ontology – such as the concept of ontology introduced by Husserl, the ontological project developed by Nicolai Hartmann, or the ontological positions advanced by the neo-scholastic tradition. The relentless obliteration of the conceptual dimension of Being defines the decided difference between Heidegger’s fundamental ontology and the traditional ontologies. As Adorno clearly explains, Being, in Heideggerian terms, is supposed to be what is utterly prior and primary, that which is highest and most constitutive. The question regarding Being – over against the highest regions, the highest and most universal concepts of all possible classes of beings – is what is decisive here, precisely because it involves the problem of the possibility of ontology as such, namely whether such a pure doctrine of being can be thought as such independently of the doctrine regarding the order of beings. From Heidegger’s point of view, those doctrines devoted to the ontological delineation of the order of beings – those doctrines which totally disregard the benedictory ontological difference between Being and beings, those ontologies of the ontic developed in accordance to systems of blind conceptual categories, fundamental principles and axioms – it is these doctrines imply an ontological questioning in the naïve sense. They do not represent, as Heidegger insists, the essential task of ontology understood in the radical sense – and this is precisely what fundamental ontology is.

The cult of the concept of absolute originality, the cult of the Firstness, is one of the philosophical oddities bound up with the persistent assertion of such an ontological questioning in the radical sense, as advanced by Heidegger. According to fundamental ontology and, especially, according to its chief claim concerning the ontological difference between Being and beings, any approach which does not involve the priority of Being with respect to beings is already rejected ab ovo and defamed as inferior, as a failure, as a betrayal of the real question. As Adorno asserts: “we are constantly presented with the same invocation, variation or repetition of this premise, namely the priority of Being with respect to beings” (22). Consequently, in repudiating the conceptual sophistication of the traditional philosophical thought (and of the philosophical ontologies), Heideggerian ontology fails to consider that the concept of Being itself is not the original question which fundamental ontology would have us believe. As Adorno attempts to explain – this is, unfortunately a very laconic explanation – the concept of Being deserves to be regarded philosophically as a concept of reflection in the sense of those concepts subjected to criticism by Kant in his “Amphiboly of the Concepts of Reflection” when they are hypostasized – in other words, when they are treated as an expression of true beings as such. On this view of things, the concept of Being is not something very ancient but something rather late and, correlatively, developed in accordance with the conceptual sophistication of critical philosophical thought. It should be observed that, from Adorno’s point of view, the concept of Being is a result, a historical result, attained only through a process, which, in turn, can be characterized as a conceptual and critical philosophical process. The concept of Being, in Adornian terms, is, in fact, understood philosophically as a concept – the highest abstraction, understood in accordance with the development of the conceptual sophistication of philosophical thought. It is not properly a Kantian perspective. This concept of Being as the highest abstraction is already present in Plato and in Aristotle, as Adorno claims, despite the brevity and the laconism of his elucidations.

It is certainly worth noting that Adorno’s reading of Heidegger excels in presenting a collection of problems, ambiguities and contradictions which profoundly involves fundamental ontology. According to Adorno, Heidegger’s fundamental ontology comprises a double refusal: in effect, fundamental ontology is a philosophical tendency developed in accordance with its emphasis upon the rejection of both conceptuality – it is pertinent to mention the delineation of the concept of Being as a non-concept – and reality – and it is convenient to consider the celebrated ontological difference between Being and beings. Fundamental ontology can be described, as Adorno suggests, by its attempt to escape both from mere conceptuality and from any reality simply or immediately accepted as such. This double approach, this double front against a philosophy of concepts and against a philosophy of reality, is precisely what characterises the efforts of fundamental ontology. However, as Adorno elucidates, Heidegger incessantly fails to attain these philosophical intentions.

The Heideggerian cult of language, or the fascination with language, has tremendous significance for Heideggerian ontology. Language as a mediation of Being, or language as the possibility of aletheia and the unveiling of Being, is not philosophically compatible with a coarse rejection of conceptual thought. As Adorno proposes, Heidegger continuously disregards the fact that the concept of Being, in terms of its origin and its legitimacy, is directly bound up with the categorial structure of language. Heidegger’s ontology perniciously explores such a quid pro quo involving Being as a concept – Being as an element of language, entity, and even Being as a non-concept – which cannot be expressed through mere meanings insofar as it is not exhausted by conceptual terms nor by subjectively instituted concepts, and is cut off from conceptual thought. Nevertheless, such a remarkable ambiguity between Being as concept and Being as a what-is-beyond-concept is not acknowledged by fundamental ontology as a deficiency at all, as Adorno explains. On the contrary, it is chalked up as a positive and counted as credit. Why? The enigma, or the touchstone, underlying Heidegger’s pernicious ambiguity is taken as a venerable philosophical position that proceeds from a peculiar account of language that is incessantly proposed by Heidegger: the idea that language as a true, pure and absolute entity, or the idea of language as the domain of the unveiling of Being, is that of an immediate medium, organon or ‘complexus’ of truth that is deprived of any conceptual elements or aspects – and, as Adorno elucidates, also deprived of subjectivity and historicity. Hence, the concept of Being – in accordance with such a conception of language – deserves to be inexorably regarded as an entity beyond mere conceptuality.

In presenting this Heideggerian ambiguity, Adorno reflects more closely upon fundamental ontology as an anti-subjectivism by apparently overcoming subjectivism and the spurious claim that philosophy has somehow escaped its imprisonment within subjectivity (and within conceptual and categorial thought) through this new ontological project. This is intimately bound up with the Heideggerian quid pro quo, acknowledged and presented by fundamental ontology as an element of apparently higher dignity, as “one of the strongest seductions of this philosophy” (46), which arises from “that wavering, negative and inarticulate character of this talk of being itself” (46). Regarding the Heideggerian refusal of reality and the abandonment of the empirical dimension – a claim which involves and justifies the celebrated ontological difference between Being and beings and, correctively, the hypostatization of the word ‘Being’ (by supressing the dialectic of Being and beings) – Adorno draws attention to a conspicuously Heideggerian philosophical posture:  the act of ontologizing the ontic; the repeated ontologising of ontic beings, namely, the human being itself. The anti-subjectivism which involves fundamental ontology is, in effect, the central axis treated by Adorno – that of the ontological conception regarding the human being as Dasein, which permits an elimination of the subjective character, now turned into a determination of Being. As Adorno explains, the ontological interest is profoundly incompatible with the subjective reflection itself. The subjective dimensions of reflection, spontaneity, consciousness and self-consciousness, and, by extension, the subjective dimensions of critical, conceptual and discursive thought, are all totally avoided and obliterated in order to sustain an ontological conception of Dasein as a ‘mode of being’ or, in a developed sense, a “shepherd of being”, where the latter serves as a primitive agrarian metaphor set forth by Heidegger in Letter on Humanism, and serves as an amusing object of Adorno’s attention.

According to Adorno, Heidegger sets out to extirpate subjectivity by transforming it into the scene or arena of ontology. In effect, this ontological kind of thinking, for which Being appears or manifests itself in Dasein, naturally evokes something related to subjectivity; but, at the same time, it loses what was so decisive for this subjective form of thought – in other words, it loses that moment of subjectivity that appears in Kantian philosophy under the name of ‘spontaneity’ and in Hegelian philosophy, under the name of ‘labour’. In fundamental ontology – and this is, as Adorno explains, the phenomenological legacy of the doctrine which Husserl had already developed, namely the idea of the pure intuiting of the thing in question – subjectivity is actually introduced as a kind of pure receptivity; subjectivity becomes that to which Being manifests itself, yet without that moment of activity, or that ‘function’, as Kant also occasionally puts it, properly being acknowledged. Consequently, a philosophical relevant determination of the Heideggerian project consists in “taking up that moment of reflection and subjectivity which is directly opposed to the ontological approach and integrate it into his original project by turning it into a mode of objectivity, turning ‘existence’ into Seinsweise, or ‘mode of being’” (82). It is the absolute precedence of Being over beings, the total precedence of Being over human existence, that concerns us here. This structure – that a particular being is itself ontological – is the defining and distinctive touchstone of the doctrine of Dasein, and it implicitly expresses Heidegger’s intention of avoiding the conflation of his own analysis of Being with the ‘philosophy of existence’ associated with Kierkegaard or Jaspers. Ultimately, as Adorno suggests, this ontologizing of the ontic, this reduction of the ontic being to Being, promotes, in an unexpected and ineluctable way, the superfluity and the dissipation of the celebrated ontological difference, which gives rise to the absolute hypostatization of Being. Indeed, Adorno’s acute reading of the Heideggerian analysis of Dasein deserves an extended treatment, for it excels in considering the anti-subjectivism manifested in fundamental ontology. Nevertheless, we venture to say that Adorno disregards the philosophical relevance of the Heideggerian notion of Befindlichkeit as a singular determination of human being, which cannot be reduced to any subjective or discursive determination developed by critical thought.

The Adornian emphasis upon the anti-subjectivist turn introduced by Heidegger’s fundamental ontology represents a crucial element of Ontology and Dialectics. According to Adorno, this “pseudo-revolutionary form of thought” (121) – which incisively repudiates the axes of modern critical form of thought, declaring itself to be a pre-critical return to naïve realism – expresses “a reactionary mentality” (121), which can be characterized by its philosophical intention of destructing the subjective mediation of thought, the critical moment of thought, in order to extirpate Enlightenment and rational thought. In Adorno’s words, Heidegger’s ontological project imposes itself as a pernicious philosophical tendency which can be described as irrationalism, counter-Enlightenment and, ultimately, return to myth, return to barbarism. In rejecting the question of the mediation of Being, and in repudiating the critical relevance of the thinking subject and the subjective determination of knowledge, Heidegger’s philosophical project, developed in accordance with the veneration of a truth fallen into oblivion (namely Being), expresses an odd return to myth and to fate that elaborates a philosophical project that denigrates philosophizing in favour of a particular relationship to language – an archaic language – that is totally devoted to what is primordial, original or authentic, and, supposedly, purified of conceptual determinations. The analysis of a collection of poems written by Heidegger – characterized by its “inferior character” (162) and “wretchedness” (162) – is an integrate part of Adorno’s emphasis upon the conspicuously archaic moment of Heidegger’s fundamental ontology: the spuriousness of Heidegger’s philosophy and poetry resides in its veneration of an archaic kind of thinking, which manifests an intention to suppress historical and social determinations inextricable to the act of philosophizing.

Regarding Adorno’s remarks on Heidegger’s poems, it is perhaps not superfluous to draw attention to an important aesthetic essay dedicated to Hölderlin’s late poetry: the essay entitled “Parataxis: On Hölderlin’s Late Poetry”, written by Adorno in 1963, which is fundamentally devoted to condemn Heidegger’s approach to art, namely to Hölderlin’s poetry; interestingly, according to Adorno, the Heideggerian commentaries on Hölderlin’s poetry reveal the total absence of aesthetic sensitivity towards the poetic object – the lack of an aesthetic organ (Mangel an ästhetischen Organ), as set forth by Adorno in his essay.

It is convenient to take into account the centrality of the concept of Schicksal in Heidegger’s ontology, for it clearly illustrates the intention of supressing the critical dimension of the act of philosophizing in order to establish a reversion to fate and a revocation of rationality and, ultimately, of freedom. In Adorno’s words,

“the concept of fate or destiny here ascribed to ‘being’ is that of a blindly entangled will – for what is ascribed to ‘being’ in this context bears all the marks of irrationality. In other words, ‘being’ is characterized as something utterly obscure that may somehow be intimated and venerated, but about nothing substantive can ever be said. In the first place, you should clearly observe how this very passage moves directly to the concept of Schicksal or fate, and how this concept of fate, even if it is indeed indexed historically, is furnished with that blind and ineluctable character which belongs to the ancient and traditional notion of fate” (117).

The Heideggerian emphasis upon the concepts of time and historicity is actually designed to deceive: the concept of Schicksal – regarded in its philosophical affinities with the concept of Hörigkeit, or ‘obedient hearkening’, a hearkening to Being which sounds like blind submission – defines and determines Heidegger’s form of thinking. It’s worth noting that Schicksal and Hörigkeit represent Heidegger’s condemnation of the critical thought – the critical labour of the conceptual, as Adorno puts it, according to Hegelian positions – regarded by fundamental ontology as a process of philosophical degeneration. Heidegger annuls critical labour, as if philosophy could assume a historical standpoint beyond history; although, philosophy is enjoined to obey history, which is then, like existence, itself ontologized.

The philosophical purpose of Ontology and Dialectics, as announced by Adorno in the first lectures, consists in throwing light upon the philosophical discrepancies, contrasts and oppositions between fundamental ontology and negative dialectics. We conclude that Adorno leaves untouched a philosophical intention of forming the heart of negative dialectics in Ontology and Dialectics, for Adorno passes in silence the chief lines indicative of such a philosophical intention. In the context of Lecture 23, the last lecture of Ontology and Dialectics, there is a philosophical concept under the name “negative dialectics” that is described theoretically by fundamental determinations, but, interestingly, in order to offer a precise theoretical description of negative dialectics, Adorno proposes to consider the most relevant philosophical condemnations advanced against Heidegger’s fundamental ontology, especially the disapproval concerning Heidegger’s project as a philosophical tendency intended to perpetuate mythical thought. Dialectical thought, in its turn, is described as a philosophical attempt, “by means of cunning, the oldest medium of enlightenment” (240) to dissolve the mythical context of nature, to transcend the immediate context of nature without imposing its own domination, the domination of reason – in other words, dialectical thought “attempts to transcend nature without incurring that sacrifice and rage which would merely perpetuate the same context of nature” (240). As Adorno argues, dialectical thought excels in being the acne of enlightenment – the culminating point of conceptual thought – presented in its critical potential to extirpate the mythical context of nature. In accordance with these observations, it is worth noting that Adorno considers the mythical context of nature under the conception of identity – or, identity principle. Indeed, the idea of such a negative dialectics, as delineated and described by Adorno, implies a critique of identity – a critique of mythical forms of thought. It is the philosophical purpose of negative dialectics to abolish the circle of identity and the correlative identity principle. According to negative dialectics, the philosophical procedure of conceptualization is devoted to the determination of the non-identical; the negative element of thought which cannot be entirely tolerated under the identity principle. Such a principle – the identity principle – does not recognize the prominent prerogative of subjectivity or subjective mediation, which consists in determining the non-identical, the negative element of thought, without extirpating it under the logic of conceptual hypostatization.

In conclusion, it is important to lay emphasis on the logic of conceptual hypostatization. As Adorno argues – and this forms the core of the book Negative Dialectics (1966) – negative dialectics attempt to contradict any positive and unconditionally total dialectic elaborated under the identity principle. To distinguish negative dialectics, Adorno’s own philosophical project, from the Hegelian model of dialectics is, indeed, the theoretical axis of Negative Dialectics: the Hegelian elaboration of the supreme concept of Geist as a philosophical bizarreness which, as Adorno states, implies the pernicious sovereignty of the identity principle and its aspiration for (false) totality. Interestingly, in Negative Dialectics, the Hegelian dialectics – regarded as a model of dialectical thought, and not as the dialectical thought par excellence – there is treated by Adorno a degenerative dialectic, which succumbs to the hegemony of the identity principle and, consequently, to the annihilation of the preponderance of the negative elements of thought. According to Adorno, the hypostatization of the concept of Geist as a superlative entity, developed as an absolutization of the concept of subjectivity, clearly illustrates the process of decline of the Hegelian dialectics – a process of decline due to the assumption of the identity principle. It is not, perhaps, philosophically irrelevant to consider a subtle affinity between Hegel’s Geist and Heidegger’s Sein (advanced by Adorno as against the philosophical intention of elaborating supreme concepts, supreme conceptual entities which subsume the ontic or individual elements or realities under an aspiration for total identity), as an incisive disapproval of both Hegel’s dialectics and Heidegger’s fundamental ontology. The chief purpose of Adorno’s negative dialectics consists in presenting the philosophical prerogative of subjectivity: subjective mediation as an act of spontaneity devoted to determine the non-identity and the negative elements of thought in order to destroy – through the critical labour of the concept – the identity principle (a mythical principle) which governs conceptualization itself.

Is it possible to abolish the identity principle through the labour of concept? Is it possible to extirpate the supreme conceptual entities, such as absolute subjectivity, or Geist, through the act of subjective spontaneity? To present and consolidate the fundamental lines of thought of negative dialectics with conviction represents a philosophical tour de force developed by Adorno. But, as with all tours de force, we are confronted with confusion, perplexity and uncertainty: How philosophically convincing is negative dialectics, Adorno’s philosophical project? The response should be found not in Ontology and Dialectics, but in Negative Dialectics.

Cathrin Nielsen, Hans Rainer Sepp (Hg.): Wohnen als Weltverhältnis. Eugen Fink über den Menschen und die Physis

Wohnen als Weltverhältnis. Eugen Fink über den Menschen und die Physis Book Cover Wohnen als Weltverhältnis. Eugen Fink über den Menschen und die Physis
Alber Philosophie
Cathrin Nielsen, Hans Rainer Sepp (Hg.)
Karl Alber Verlag
Hardback 34,00 €

Reviewed by: Eveline Cioflec (Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen)

Die im Alber Verlag erschienene Aufsatzsammlung kann als eine thematische Einführung zu Finks Auffassungen zu Welt und Physis gelesen werden. Unvermerkt umspannen die Beiträge das Gesamtwerk Finks und bieten dennoch einen einheitlichen Einblick. Die Spanne Welt – Physis zieht sich durch sämtliche Beiträge hindurch und wirft unvermittelt die Frage der Stellung des Menschen auf oder, wie es im Titel des Bandes treffend festgehalten ist, die Frage nach dem Wohnen des Menschen. Der Band ist der dritte in einer Reihe von Forschungen die die seit 2006 im Alber Verlag erscheinende Gesamtausgabe begleiten. Der erste ist der Pädagogik im Werk Finks gewidmet, Bildung im technischen Zeitalter (hg. v. A. Hilt und C. Nielsen 2005), und der zweite Welt denken (hg. v. C. Nielsen und R. Sepp 2011) greift die Thematik der Kosmologie auf. Dieser dritte Band untersucht, so Nielsen und Sepp im kurzen, jedoch Ein- und Überblick bietenden Vorwort, „wie die thematischen Facetten, die Finks Werk strukturieren, in seiner Kosmologie verankert sind.“ (Vorwort, 11) Er versammelt hauptsächlich Beiträge des Kolloquiums mit dem Titel „Erde – Wohnen – Natur. Eugen Fink über die physis des Menschen als ens cosmologicum“, das in Prag im November 2015 stattgefunden hat.

Der erste Teil des Titels des Bandes, „ Wohnen als Weltverhältnis“, sollte nicht die Erwartung mit sich bringen, dass das Thema in jedem Beitrag unmittelbar und explizit vorzufinden wäre: eher ist der zweite Teil des Titels ausschlaggebend „Eugen Fink über den Menschen und die Physis“ – dieses kann als gemeinsamer Nenner der einzelnen Beiträge gesehen werden. Dass Welt sich aus dem Verhältnis zur Physis ergibt, oder diese quasi zur Grundlage hat, ergibt allerdings das Spezifische des finkschen Wohnens: eben nicht ganz in der Welt, sondern nur im Verhältnis zur Welt, das aber zugleich einen Bezug zum Dunklen der Erde voraussetzt. Kurz zusammengefasst heißt es im Vorwort „Solches Wohnen weist eine kosmische Struktur auf, die Fink kosmologisch als Weltverhältnis bestimmt und hierfür auf einen Begriff des frühgriechischen Denkens, auf den der phýsis, zurückgreift, die als kósmos das »Seiende im Ganzen« benenne (vgl. Fink, E., 1992, Natur, Freiheit, Welt. Philosophie der Erziehung, hg. v. F.-A. Schwarz, Würzburg, 64). Im Ausgang von diesem auf die Physis hin gedachten Begriff des Wohnens lässt sich zeigen, wie Fink das tradierte Verhältnis von Natur und Geschichte bzw. Natur und Freiheit kosmologisch reformuliert.“ (11)

Mit Fink von der „Physis“ und nicht von „Natur“ zu sprechen, hebt die Unzugänglichkeit der Natur, eines Grundes, auf die als solche dennoch Bezug genommen wird, hervor: Die das Wohnen im Weltverhältnis konstituierende Verborgenheit der Natur oder eben die Physis. Verborgenheit und Unverborgenheit scheinen dabei keine Dichotomie zu ergeben, bei der von einerseits und andererseits die Rede sein könnte, sondern weisen vielmehr eine gegenseitige Durchdrungenheit auf, bei der in der Unverborgenheit zugleich das Dunkle mitenthalten ist. Untrennbar verwoben ist der Bezug zur Natur als Weltverhältnis zu verstehen, zu deuten. Ist Welt das Unverborgene, so bleibt darin immer auch die Verborgenheit bestehen. Natur ist letztlich dasjenige worin der Mensch wohnt und sich dieses Wohnen als Welt einrichtet, wobei das Wohnen keine Herrschaft über die Natur ausübt, sondern vielmehr dieser einverleibt bleibt.

Im beschreibenden Kurztext zum Band wird die Welt der Freiheit gleichgesetzt und diese zugleich auf die Natur rückbezogen. Somit wird verdeutlicht, dass im Freiheit zulassenden Bezug zur Natur der Mensch eine Welt entfaltet. Die Freiheit des Menschen besteht nicht trotz der Natur – was ja auch widersprüchlich wäre, da Trotz kaum Freiheit zulässt – sondern sie entspringt gerade der dunklen Seite der letzteren, die sich verbergend die Möglichkeit zulässt Welt zu entfalten.

Die Beiträge zum Band sind thematisch in drei Abschnitten gegliedert, betitelt mit Natur, Freiheit und Welt, in Anlehnung an Finks Publikationen. Als „leitender Aspekt“ wird im Vorwort das „Thematischwerden der binnenweltlichen, auf ihre Welthaftigkeit hin eröffneten existenziellen Situation des Menschen, die Fink als Wohnen, als Aufenthalt des Menschen auf der Erde, charakterisiert“, genannt. (11) Der Abschnitt zu „Natur“ ist auf dem „übergreifenden Hintergrund der kosmologischen Physis“ der finkschen Bestimmung der Natur „in uns“ und „außer uns“ gewidmet (12), wobei zwei der drei Beiträge der finkschen Auslegung der Dichtung von Cesare Pavese gewidmet sind.

Der zweite Abschnitt, „Freiheit“, umfasst ebenfalls drei Beiträge, die der Möglichkeit von Freiheit „angesichts ihres Gebundenseins an das Naturhafte“ (ebd.) nachgehen, zunächst mit Fink die Dichotomie Geist – Natur in Frage stellen, wobei der Mensch in seiner naturhaft-geschichtlichen Doppelstellung“ (Fink 1987, 59, hier 150) als „Mittler“ bestimmt wird, der die in der Spannung von Freiheit und Natur aktualisierte „Grundspannung der Welt“, die den »Ur-Riß« (Fink, 1987, Existenz und Coexistenz. Grundprobleme der menschlichen Gemeinschaft, hg. v. F.-A. Schwarz, Würzburg, 226) der Wirklichkeit darstellt, austrägt (150). Mit dem Menschen als „Mittler“ wird ein wiederkehrender Topos im finkschen Denken aufgegriffen. Dieser kennzeichnet „die Grundstellung des Menschen inmitten des Ganzen des Seienden für jegliches, was ist, ‚der seienden Dinge, dass sie sind, der nichtseienden, dass sie nicht sind‘. Maß aber ist nicht Grund, der Mensch ist nicht die Mitte der Welt, aber er ist der Mittler, die existierende Vermittlung für alles Seiende, das erst im Sein für den Menschen (also im Wahrsein) in sein wesentliches Sein kommt.“ (Hilt, A., 2018, Nachwort zu Fink, E., Existenz und Coexistenz, EGFA 16, Hg. Grätzel, S. u.a., Alber, Freiburg, 979-1024, zit. 979, s. Fink-Archiv. Notizen, 402b, Z – XXXII, ca. 1939/40 [= „Eremitie“]) Im dritten Beitrag des zweiten Abschnittes werden anhand der Rolle der Arbeit im Selbstverhalten die Grenzen der Radikalisierung des Selbstverhaltens aufgezeigt.

Der kosmologische Ansatz wird im dritten Abschnitt, „Welt“, thematisch: „Wie Selbstverhalten im Weltverhalten gründet und welche Perspektiven sich daraus für die soziale, »coexistenzielle« Situation des Menschen und ihre Gestaltung und Veränderbarkeit ergeben.“ (ebd.) Im Weiteren wird die meontische Auffassung des Verstehens, die die hermeneutische ablöst, besprochen und die aktuelle Rezeption Finks im Werk Marc Richirs und Renaud Barbaras diskutiert.

Die thematische Eingliederung der Beiträge in die drei Abschnitte gibt dem Band eine leichter fassbare Struktur. Die Beiträge bieten aufschlussreiche Einblicke in das jeweilige Thema des Abschnittes, zugleich weist jeder Beitrag auch über die thematische Eingliederung hinaus, so dass letztlich jeder Beitrag für sich stehend gelesen werden sollte.

Der erste Beitrag im Band, zum Thema Natur, von Yusuke Ikeda, mit dem Titel „Eugen Finks transzendental-phänomenologisches Weltdenken und seine Heraklit-Interpretation unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des Begriffs der Physis“ (S. 15–42), bietet eine philosophiegeschichtliche Einordnung der finkschen Auffassung und weist die Bedeutung des griechischen phýsis-Begriffs für das finksche Natur- und Weltverständnis auf. Somit ist der Beitrag sehr treffend als erster im Band aufgenommen und wirkt wie eine Verankerung der Folgebeiträge. Der Autor rekonstruiert mit Rückblick auf Husserls und Heideggers phänomenologische Ansätze die „kosmologische Phänomenologie“ Finks anhand seiner Heraklit-Interpretation. Hierbei handelt es sich um eine „Revision des Begriffs des Phänomens sowie der (transzendentalen) Phänomenologie Husserlscher und Heideggerscher Provenienz“ (15) wobei Finks Heraklit-Interpretation maßgebend ist: „Zum einen legt Fink Heraklits Physis-Begriff als Welt aus, die als Ursprungsdimension des Seins der ontologischen Differenz vorausgeht und ihr zugrunde liegt, und zum anderen betont Fink, dass schon Heraklit die Erscheinungsweise der als Welt verstandenen Physis als Entzug und Verbergung kannte.“ (ebd.)

Giovanni Jan Giubilatos Beitrag, „Vom Sinn der Erde: Eugen Finks kosmologische Auslegung der Dichtung von Cesare Pavese“ (S. 42–59) greift die Erörterung der Freiheit auf:  „Aus dieser traditionellen Auslegung der Freiheit als Herrschaft des Geistes über die unvernünftige Natur folgte eine allmähliche Ent-Sittlichung des Geistlosen, des unbelebten Naturhaften (Fink 1992, 100), welche zu der klassischen und mittlerweile für uns völlig selbstverständlichen Gegenüberstellung »Natur – Kultur« geführt habe. Für mehr als zweitausend Jahre hat also die rationalistische Tradition des Abendlandes die kalte, dürre Erde – das Rezeptakel der Materialität, der Sinnlichkeit, der niedrigsten Bestimmungen des Geistes abgewertet und verlassen.“ (43) Die Aufwertung der Erde in Finks Kosmologie wird im Weiteren in einer Gegenüberstellung mit der geschichtlichen Auffassung bei Vico festgehalten: „Obgleich die Geschichte ein Factum des Menschengeistes ist – wie Gianbattista Vico behauptet –, bleibt der Mensch nach Fink wesentlich ein Schössling, der aus der Tiefe der Erde keimt.“ (47) Die Zwischenstellung des Menschen, zwischen der Freiheit des Geistes und der Geborgenheit der Erde, im „Zwischenraum von Himmel und Erde“ (49), was ihn als ens cosmologicum ausmacht, wird in diesem Beitrag verdeutlicht: „Vielmehr ist der Mensch das »zweideutige Wesen«, das sowohl der Natur als auch der Freiheit »angehört, und doch keinem Bereich ganz, das nie ganz geborgen sein kann in Demeters stillem Frieden, wie Blume oder Tier, und auch nie ganz als Freiheit existiert und sich wissend begründet«.“ (Fink 1985, 52, hier: 48) Und ferner: „Im Zwischenraum der Transzendenz des Geistes und der tellurischen Dimension der Erde wohnt ausschließlich der Mensch.“ (49)

Der dritte Beitrag des ersten Abschnitts geht wie auch der vorangehende auf Finks Lektüre von Pavese ein: „Die Chiffren des Mythos: Fink liest Cesare Pavese“ von Cathrin Nielsen (S. 60–76). Es handelt sich dabei um Finks Interpretation kurz vor seiner Emeritierung von Cesare Paveses 1947 erschienenen Gesprächen mit Leuko (Fink, 1971, »Zu Cesare Pavese Gespräche mit Leuko«, in: ders.: Epiloge zur Dichtung, Frankfurt am Main, 53–112). Wie Nielsen festhält: „Bei Pavese entdeckt Fink die Möglichkeit, das Weltmoment der »Erde« in Narrative zu fassen, die wiederum als »Existenzchiffren«, zu lesen sind, als menschlich-allzumenschliche Antworten auf das, was sich der phänomenologischen Aufweisbarkeit entzieht, ohne jedoch zu verschwinden.“ (60) Gestalten der griechischen Mythologie treten bei Pavese in Gesprächen als „dialogische Miniaturen“ (ebd.) auf und führen das menschliche Dasein „in seinem paradoxen Bezug zum Außenmenschlichen“, „zum Ansichsein der »Natur«, das es im »Fürmichsein« zu leben gilt“ (ebd.). Wie auch in Giubilatos Vortrag geht es um den Menschen als einem „Wesen des »Zwischen«“ (61): der Bezug des Menschlichen zum Außermenschlichen lässt die Mächte des Letzteren in Paveses Gesprächen zu Gestalten werden. „Die mythologischen Gestalten stellen somit Verdichtungen von Existenzbezügen dar, die nicht kanonisch sind, sondern Chiffren, die sich im Narrativ der mythischen Konstellationen, die ja selbst wandelbar waren und sind, unablässig weitererzählen.“ (61)

Nielsen greift vier „paradigmatische »Existenzfiguren«“ (mit Fink „Urerfahrungen“ genannt) auf: „1. Endymion, der im Gespräch mit einem geheimisvollen Fremdling von seinem Verlangen berichtet, aus seiner unruhevollen Vereinzelung in den Urgrund, den »Schlaf der Welt«, in dem sich alle Dinge berühren, einzugehen. 2. Ödipus im Gespräch mit dem blinden Seher Teiresias, wo es um anonyme Übermacht des Geschlechtlichen geht, 3. Orpheus, der im Dialog mit einer Mänade der Todesoffenheit und Unwiederholbarkeit des menschlichen Lebens gewahr wird, und 4. Das Gespräch zwischen Odysseus und Kalypso und dessen Weiterspinnen durch die »Hexen« Kirke und Leukothea, das die menschliche Zeiterfahrung und das Erinnern thematisiert.“ (62/63)

Die Ausführungen zu den philosophischen Deutungen Paveses laufen darauf hinaus, das Selbst als ein „letztlich in sich selbst kreisendes Kaleidoskop fragmentarischer […] Erfahrungen“ (Fink, 1971, 109) zu erkennen zu geben. (72) Das „Unbegreifliche“, die „Verfangenheit“ und „Unheimliche Verkapselung“ des Selbst in sich selbst (74), wie Fink diese hervorhebt, verdeutlicht Nielsen in ihrem Beitrag und sieht darin „den Abschied von einer die Metaphysik des Lichtes untergründig begleitenden Religiosität der Nacht“, die „radikal skeptische Destruktion der metaphysischen Voraussetzung einer das Animalische befreienden Rationalität“, die, mit Fink, „den Aufriß einer existenzialen Analytik“ erfordere (75), welche den Menschen der Natur gegenübersetzt und diese Gegenübersetzung auch wieder zurücknimmt, wobei sie die „bewußtseinsmäßige Uneinholbarkeit anerkennen müßte“ (Fink 1971, 111) (76).

Die drei folgenden unter dem Titel „Freiheit“ zusammengeführten Beiträge beleuchten sehr unterschiedliche Perspektiven der Freiheitsproblematik. Im ersten Beitrag, „Geistige Natur, natürlicher Geist: Der unmögliche Dualismus“ von Nicola Zippel (77–89), geht es im Anschluss an Fink darum, „phänomenologisch die Unmöglichkeit einzugestehen, die Stufe der Natur, des Nicht-Egologischen, von der Stufe des Geistes, des Egologischen, klar zu unterscheiden.“ (77) Im Anschluss an eine kurze Analyse des Zeitbewusstseins bei Husserl, betont Zippel den finkschen Beitrag zum phänomenologischen Zeitbewusstsein: Was Husserl festhält, dass das Ego bei der Wiedererinnerung stets von einer Motivation geleitet ist, erweitert Fink durch den Begriff der „Weltlichkeit“ der Erinnerung, das den „umgebenden Kontext solcher Motivation“ ausmacht. (83) Den Kern des Beitrags bringt Zippel selbst im „Schluss“ des Beitrags auf den Punkt: „Wenn man die Grundverschiedenheit zwischen der Natur – der Hyle als zeitlichem Vorgang des Bewusstseins – und dem Geist, d.h. der Subjektivität als verleiblichtem Ego des Bewusstseins, betrachtet, wenn man also das passive, spontane und materiale Dasein der Zeit (als Zeit-Bewussstsein) und die aktive, bewusste und geistige Entwicklung des Egos betrachtet, wird plausibel, dass eigentlich ein Dualismus nicht möglich ist.“ (88) Diese Grundverschiedenheit deutet Zippel weder als Mit-Ursprünglichkeit noch als Vorrang des Einen vor dem Anderen, sondern als „Koexistenz“, deren Beschreibung, so Zippel, allgemein der Phänomenologie „vorbehalten“ ist. (89)

Um eine ganz andere Form der Freiheit handelt es sich in Georgy Chernavins Beitrag, „Die flimmernde Natur der Doxa: Zwischen Gefangenschaft und Durchbruch der Befangenheit“ (90–101). Wie der Titel auch schon festhält, geht es um die Möglichkeit der Fragwürdigkeit in der Doxa, um die Möglichkeit zum Erstaunen, um das „Entkommen aus der Doxa“ (100). Die ausschlaggebende Frage greift Charnavin mit Fink, Husserl und Wittgenstein auf: „Weshalb versucht man überhaupt, aus seiner Befangenheit und versunkenen Situation ins Offene zu spähen, wenn man doch gar keine Offenheit kennt? Von woher taucht die »dumpfe Ahnung« des eigenen Gefangenseins auf?“ (98) Der stabilisierende Faktor der Doxa ist zugleich eine Gefangenschaft – als Verlorensein und nicht nur als „Wahlblindheit der Scheuklappenauffassung“ (ebd.) – die jedoch den Ausweg in sich trägt. „Die Doxa verhilft dazu, die innerweltlichen Erscheinungen zu stabilisieren und jede Form des Umschlagens zu vermeiden. Und trotzdem ist sie nicht allmächtig: Im Sein blitzt der Schein auf, in der Fraglosigkeit blitzt die Fragwürdigkeit auf, im Selbstverständlichen die Unverständlichkeit“ (100). Und ferner: „Die flimmernde Perspektive gestattet es uns, die vermeinten stabilen Selbst- und Dingidentitäten als fragwürdige erscheinen zu lassen.“ (ebd. 100)

Mit einer phänomenologischen Analyse des finkschen Grundphänomens der Arbeit thematisiert Giulia Cervo im Beitrag „Das Menschenwesen als endliches Schöpfertum: Natur im Kontext von Arbeit und Freiheit“ (S. 102–125) die problematische Natur menschlicher Freiheit. Die Arbeit wird als Medium von Natur und Freiheit erörtert: „In der Arbeit äußern sich zugleich die irdische Natur des Menschen und sein geistiges Wesen, die miteinander verwoben und voneinander untrennbar sind.“ (103) Anhand des Begriffs der „Entmenschung“ wird die finksche kosmologische Differenz, wie sie ab der Sechsten Cartesianischen Meditation Finks Ansatz zur Freiheit bestimmt, zur Geltung gebracht, im Unterschied zu Heideggers ontologischer Differenz. Dabei ist für Fink das Seinsverstehen ein Weltverstehen, wobei der Mensch sich als Arbeiter zur Welt so verhält, dass seine Natur – die allgemein als solche vorausgesetzt wird, ohne dass Natur überhaupt hinterfragt wird – etwas Problematisches bleibt, „da sie nur im Tun und Schaffen hergestellt und ausgelegt wird“ (102) und somit zur Verdinglichung der menschlichen Existenz als Notwendigkeit aber auch Hauptgefahr wird. (118) Anhand des Themas der Arbeit und des Begriffs der Entmenschung wird die schlecht gestellte Frage nach der Natur des Menschen erörtert. Die Freiheit wird als „Kampf um Transzendenz, d.h. als me-ontische Negation des Binnenweltlichen, verdeutlicht“ (102), wobei im Beitrag auch eine Entwicklung des finkschen Freiheitsbegriffs sowie Formen der Entmenschung nachgezeichnet werden.

Der dritte und letzte Buchabschnitt zum Thema „Welt“ ist mit fünf Beiträgen am umfangreichsten. Auch in diesem Abschnitt werden ganz unterschiedliche Perspektiven auf das Thema ohne exhaustiven Anspruch zusammengetragen. Mit Überlegungen zur Bildhaftigkeit der ontologischen Erfahrung des Menschen, zur Erziehung, zum exzentrischen Wohnen bis hin zu grundsätzlichen Fragen zu zeitgenössischen kosmologischen Ansätzen lässt der Abschnitt die Vielfältigkeit der finkschen Ausarbeitungen in seiner Kosmologie durchscheinen.

Anna Luiza Colli hebt in ihrem Beitrag „Tantalus und die kosmologische Dialektik: Bildhaftigkeit der ontologischen Erfahrung des Menschen als ens cosmologicum“ (S. 126–141) die von Fink eingesetzte mythische Figur des Tantalus hervor, durch welche die „Unfassbarkeit der Begegnung des Menschen mit dem Sein“ erhellt wird (135), wobei verdeutlicht wird, dass „eine vollkommene Aneignung des Seins nicht möglich ist“ (136) Maßgeblich wird hier die Spanne von Himmel und Erde, in der die Dinge „Zwischendinge“ als „Abbilder der Erde wie des Himmels“ sind, und der Mensch zwischen der „Verborgenheit und der Unverborgenheit des Seins“ endlich und seiner Endlichkeit bewusst und somit auf Seiten der Erde aber auch des Himmels ist. (134)

Das Unfassbare erhält – und darauf läuft dieser Beitrag hinaus – im Bild „die Chance, sich […] zumindest als Erscheinung im Wirklichen darzustellen.“ (139): „Da es Wirklichkeit und Unwirklichkeit als Bestandteile an sich hat, öffnet das Bild einen Zugang zu einer Zwischenwelt, in der das Unfassbare, Unsagbare, Ungreifbare zum Scheinen kommen kann (Fink, E., 1966, Studien zur Phänomenologie 1930-1939, Phänomenologica, Bd. 21, 18). Das schöpferische Spiel, das auch in der Struktur des Bildes anwesend ist, »reflektiert somit nicht nur die ekstatische Aufgeschlossenheit des menschlichen Daseins zur Welt, sondern – spekulativ formuliert – die Welt selbst reflektiert sich im Spiel und erweist so das menschliche Spiel als Geschehen im Welt-Spiel selbst« (Sepp, H. R., 2012, Bild. Phänomenologie der Epoché I, Orbis Phänomenologicus Studien, Bd. 30, Würzburg, 100). Deswegen nennt Fink das Bild ein »Fenster ins Absolute«.“ (139) Das Bild wird als mediale Form der Erfahrung des Menschen als Mittler erwiesen, das zum Scheinen bringt, was nicht scheinbar ist, das Unwirkliche bestehen lässt aber als Erscheinung in die Wirklichkeit vermittelt, d.h. das dialektische Spiel der Gegensätze erkennen lässt, so dass das himmlische Licht gezeigt werden kann, wobei das Dunkle des Seins doch unfassbar bleibt. (vgl. 140)

Hans Rainer Sepps Beitrag „Exzentrisch wohnen: Anmerkungen zu Finks Bestimmung des Menschen als eines Verhältnisses“ (S. 142–161) steht thematisch dem zweiten Teil des Titels des Bandes am Nächsten: „Das Wohnen als Weltverhältnis“ wird in diesem Beitrag ausdrücklich zur Sprache gebracht. Wenn das „Wohnen“ bei Fink im Selbstverhalten des Menschen besteht, so umfasst dieses auch das Weltverhältnis, zumal das Selbstverhalten nur welthaft möglich ist. Festgehalten wird dieses als die Exzentrizität des Menschen, die Sepp hier als in einem besonderen Grenzverhältnis gründend darstellt: „Der Mensch ist so bei sich, dass er außer sich ist, er ist im Unverfügbaren der Welt verankert und gezwungen, in seinem Verhältnisssein die dem Weltverhältnis inhärente Spannung von Natur und Freiheit auszutragen.“ (142)

Sepp gibt einen bedeutsamen Hinweis für die Deutung der finkschen Kosmologie: Was an diesem Selbst- und Weltverhältnis als éthos, Wohnen im ort-zeitlichen Sinne aufgefasst werden könnte, bezeichnet Fink mit physis, was „die antike Bestimmung Eingefügtsein des Menschen in Welt“ aufgreift. (144) Anhand einer weiterführenden Erörterung des „Verhältnisses“ als solchem, geht Sepp auf die finkschen Grundphänomene ein, die diese begriffliche Wahl erhellen: Der Bezug zur Welt, zum Kosmischen, wird vordergründig, das kosmische Geschehen als Physis bestimmt jeden Bezug und erschließt sich meontisch als Entzug auch im Selbstverhalten. (149) Über die Grundphänomene in die Welt eingelassen, erfährt der Mensch dieses Geschehen allerdings jeweils fragmentarisch, obzwar das Wissen um das Fragmentarische, darum dass „was jetzt und hier ‚ist‘, nicht alles ist“ durchscheint. (S. 147) Wohnen ist „verstehendes Wohnen im Weltall“ (Fink, 1987, 225), und zugleich ‚Sitte‘, d.h. „Selbstauslegung“ einer „menschlichen Gemeinschaft“ (Fink 1992, 34).

Die Denkaufgabe des Beitrags gilt allerdings – im Anschluss an eine eingehende Analyse der Spannung, des „Risses“ (156) zwischen Natur und Freiheit – der Spannung von Vereinzelung und Sozialisierung, einzelner und gemeinschaftlicher Existenz (151 f.). Sepp analysiert die Gleichursprünglichkeit dieser, in dem Sinne, dass die eine nicht auf die andere zurückgeführt werden kann, und wirft die Frage auf, ob die „vereinzelte Existenz aufgrund ihrer gebürtlichen Separation früher als ihr Sozialkonnex ist“ (155). Dieser Ansatz zieht die Frage nach einer vorweltlichen, nicht verstehenden Erfahrung nach sich, eines „außerhalb des Verstehens fungierenden ‚Egos‘“, für das der Begriff „schlechterdings“ fehlt (156), das jedoch bei Levinas als „das Selbe“, beim frühen Nishida als „Reine Erfahrung“ und bei Michel Henry als eine „selbstaffektive Bewegung einer vorgängigen Subjektivität, die sich mit Mitteln des Verstehens nie einholen kann“ thematisiert wird.

Bei Fink betrifft der genannte „Riss“ nicht nur das „Gegenwendige“ Natur und Freiheit, sondern auch die „Spannung von Welt und Selbst“. Die Folge wäre, dass auch das „Insein menschlicher Existenz“ (156), so Sepp, differenziert werden müsste. „Das Insein als In-der-Welt-Sein bzw. als »Mit-Teilen« im coexistenziellen Sinne Finks würde nur diejenige Art und Weise bezeichnen, wie sich Existenz versteht, nämlich ‚zunächst und zumeist‘ als solche, die in einen sozialen Verband verfugt ist.“ (ebd.) Fink rückt die „Natur-‚Seite‘“ menschlicher Existenz als einen Randbereich existenziellen Verstehens“ in den Blick, aber „verbleibt dabei noch im Kontext des Verstehens“ wobei er den „meontischen Grenzbereich“ nur auf die Welt, nicht aber auf das Selbst bezieht. (ebd.)

In dieser Annahme wäre das „a-soziale Insein leibkörperlicher Existenz“ als „Randzone verstehenden Weltbezugs“ in der meontischen Auffassung des Abgrunds des Selbst „nicht hinreichend gefasst“. (157) Die Folge wäre, dass „ein Verstehen der Reichweite des Könnens menschlicher Existenz, seiner Freiheit“ vom „‚positiven‘ Verstehen“ aus nicht erfasst werden kann und somit im Unterfangen der Theoría unzugänglich bleibt. (159) Sepps Vorschlag wäre „ ein anderes Insein“ anzusetzen, „welches das Leben in bloßer leib-körperlicher Faktizität, im Berühren der Erde, im Ein- und Ausatmen der Luft, in der Nahrungsaufnahme, im Wachen und Schlafen etc., zum Ausdruck bringt.“ (ebd.) Anhand des Widerstands der Erde, der „als solcher“ nicht mit einem Sinn, sondern mit ihrer namenlosen Festigkeit und Undurchdringlichkeit korreliert (etwa in der Arbeit, wo sie sich der „anlegenden Hand verweigert“, 158), worin sich die „Verschlossenheit der Erde“ ankündigt, ist die Grenze verstehender Erfahrbarkeit zu sehen. „Leib-körperlich erfahrene Widerständigkeit bricht mein (verstehendes) Verhalten, und erst meine daraufhin erfolgende Reaktion kann eine sinnhafte sein.“ (158) Daraus schließt Sepp, dass es eine „Erfahrung, die nicht über das Verstehen verläuft, gibt“ und weist im Weiteren auf die Folgen für die Reichweite des Könnens menschlicher Existenz, seiner Freiheit“ hin. (159 f.)

Der Philosophie der Erziehung, einem gewichtigen Teilbereich des Finkschen Denkens, wendet sich Tatiana Shchyttsova mit „»Der Zug der Welt«: Erziehung und Heilen im Miteinandersein von Alt und Jung“ zu (S. 162–179). Shchyttsova nimmt eine kritische Stellung ein gegenüber dem Festhalten der Erziehungseinrichtungen wie Schulen und Universitäten an „jenem technisch-bürokratischen Verstand (…), der den erzieherischen Vorgang systematisch als Instrument eines Gewährleistens wirtschaftlicher Effizienz begreift“ (163). Sie widmet sich zwei Ansätzen den „ungeheueren Reduktionismus des technisch-ökonomischen Ansatzes“ (ebd.) mit neuen Richtlinien für „eine Beantwortung der Frage nach dem »Wozu« zu belegen, nämlich der kosmologischen Deutung des Erziehungsphänomens durch Eugen Fink und der filmischen Darstellung der Beziehung zwischen einem alten Mann und einem Jungen in „Is Anybody There?“ von John Crowley, die beide auf vor-wissenschaftliche, intergenerative Erziehung setzen. Worauf der Beitrag abzielt ist zu zeigen, „dass Erziehung und psychisches Heilen zwei gleichursprüngliche Dimensionen der intergenerativen Co-Existenz bilden und dass der genannte Film gerade diese These in einer gewissen Hinsicht zur Anschauung bringt.“ (164) Der psychisch heilsame Aspekt der Erziehung geht auf das den Generationen gemeinsame urtümliche Leben zurück, das die Sterblichkeit des Einzelnen mit der Unsterblichkeit unseres Geschlechts verknüpft: „Heilend kann die erzieherische Co-Existenz eben insofern sein, als es sich dabei um das Erleben handelt, welches die jeweilige intergenerative bzw. erzieherische Relationalität durch die Lebendigkeit untermauert, deren Lebensbejahung der Permanenz des urtümlichen Lebens entspringt.“ (170)

Wie Shchyttsova festhält, ist Finks anthropologische Auffassung des Menschen als weltoffen – wobei die Welt als „ein Geschehen, welches nie in seiner Totalität fassbar wie auch nie auf den Bereich des Erscheinenden reduzierbar ist“ (165) – auch für seine Auffassungen zur Erziehung entscheidend: „Die klassische dualistische Gegenüberstellung von Geist und Materie“ wird in der „kosmologischen Dialektik“ so umgedacht, dass die Natur nicht im Widerspruch zur Freiheit steht, sondern mit ihr zusammen die Wirklichkeit der menschlichen Existenz ausmacht. (166) Das allumfassende Leben, auf das der Mensch in seiner Leiblichkeit als tieferen Lebensgrund angewiesen ist, ist mit der Existenz, mit der Idee der individuellen Freiheit dialektisch verwoben und macht den Menschen so als „Mittler“ aus. (166 f.) Mit dem „Kreis des Mitleids und der Neugier“, in den die Generationen in der Interaktion zentripetal hineinfinden, bietet Shchyttsova ein plastisch anschauliches Modell einer Erziehung wieder, bei der es um „die Intensivierung der Angewiesenheit auf die Permanenz des Lebens“ gehen kann, so dass der „geheilte Lebenszustand“ vordergründig wird (179).

Als einziger auf Englisch verfasster Beitrag, unterbricht Krystof Kasprzaks „Absolute Incomprehension as Meontic Singularization in Eugen Fink’s Critique of Hermeneutics“ (S. 180–200) den sprachlichen Duktus des Bandes, was allerdings auch ein Aufmerken bewirken kann, sprachlich Routiniertes neu zu bedenken. Kasprzak knüpft sich Finks Kritik der Hermeneutik vor, um zu zeigen, wie diese Kritik zur Entwicklung seiner meontischen Philosophie beiträgt. Im Mittelpunkt steht die Bedeutung des Nichtverstehens, das Fink als Anfang des Denkens und der philosophischen Erfahrung sieht. Finks Auffassung der Erfahrung wird in Gegenüberstellung mit jener Hans-Georg Gadamers als Auslegung des hegelschen Ansatzes dargelegt. (vgl. 180) Das absolute Nichtverstehen wird schließlich in Nähe zu Rainer Schürmann’s Begriff der „kommenden Vereinzelung“ gebracht um die Frage nach der meontischen Philosophie auf die meontische Natur der Vereinzelung zurückzuführen (ebd.), die die Existenz aus dem geschlossenen Kreis des Allgemeinen und Individuellen hinausführt (199).

Den Band rundet Karel Novotnýs Beitrag „Die Welt und das Ereignis des Erscheinens: Bemerkungen zu einem zeitgenössischen kosmologischen Ansatz“ (S. 201–222) ab und eröffnet zugleich exemplarisch den Blick auf weitere zeitgenössische kosmologische Ansätze, indem es den Ansatz Renaud Barbaras im Vergleich zu jenem Finks anführt. „Der Beitrag weist auf Parallelen und Unterschiede beider Denkansätze hin und kommt zu einem Schluss, der die Rolle der Leib-Körperlichkeit betont: Die Dynamik der Manifestation erwächst trotz der Übermacht der Welt aus einem Bezug des endlichen Lebens zur Welt und ist von der Erde getragen, die in diese Dynamik selber weder eingeht noch in ihr aufgeht.“ (201, vgl. 221)

Den Ausgang nimmt dieser Beitrag in einem Unterschied zwischen Barbaras und Fink: „Während für Fink das »Ereignis« auf die Seite der Welt selbst gehört, ist es für Barbaras eine Bezeichnung dafür, was zwar der Welt zuteil wird, ihr selbst aber nicht eigen ist und in diesem Sinne sozusagen als etwas ihr Fremdes geschieht. Fremd ist es deshalb, weil es nicht aus der Welt kommt.“ (203) Novotný ist um eine Art Vermittlung der beiden Positionen bemüht: „Das Erscheinen als ein Ereignis zu fassen, welches die Subjektivität der Welt eröffnet, die durch den Weltbezug zugleich sich selbst begegnet.“ (203) Dabei wird das Ereignis weder, wie bei Fink, der Welt zugeschrieben, noch, wie bei Barbaras, dem Moment der Subjektivität (als Nichts der Subjektivität). Das „Ereignis“ soll dafür stehen „dass es etwas nicht nur gibt, sondern dass es eben erscheint.“ (203) Konsequenterweise bedeutet dies, dass sich dem Erscheinen nicht nur die Subjektivität sondern auch die Welt entzieht, wobei die Erde als Tragende hervortritt. „Die Erde bleibt diesseits der erhellten Manifestation, und das Ereignis dieser Auflichtung – das Erscheinen als solches, das bereits die Subjektivität impliziert, auch wenn es vom Schenken und Nehmen durch die Erde her nicht erklärt werden kann – verweist doch auf die Erde, weil die implizierte Subjektivität nicht anders als leiblich-irdisch lebt.“ (221)

Aaron Ben-Ze’ev: The Arc of Love

The Arc of Love: How Our Romantic Lives Change over Time Book Cover The Arc of Love: How Our Romantic Lives Change over Time
Aaron Ben-Ze’ev
University of Chicago Press
Cloth $40.00

Reviewed by: Cecilea Mun (Arizona State University)

In The Arc of Love, Aaron Ben-Ze’ev (2019) aims to convince us of the possibility of enduring romantic love (5), what he also often refers to as long-term, profound love (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 14). Such love is not to be simply equated with enduring love or romantic love, which he also respectively refers to as long-term romantic relationships and profound love, and these two kinds of love can come apart (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 11, 66). Ben-Ze’ev fulfills his aim throughout his book by providing accounts of enduring romantic love which may make those who have yet to experience such love optimistic about its possibility, and those who are in the midst of actualizing such a love more secure in the path they chose. It is also a book that I would highly recommend to those who are still wondering exactly what romantic love is in general regardless of its endurance and how they might achieve it. So, I will not contest Ben-Ze’ev’s claim that enduring romantic love is possible. My concern in this review is with specifying what Ben-Ze’ev believes to be the differentia and the genus of enduring romantic love, along with his claim that love is not a property of nor resides in the connection between a lover and their beloved.

More specifically, I will be concerned with precisifying Ben-Ze’ev’s account of the ontological nature and structure of enduring romantic love, especially in terms of what differentiates enduring romantic love from what Ben-Ze’ev might refer to as acute romantic love and extended romantic love. In other words, I will be concerned with what Ben-Ze’ev regards to be the differentia of enduring romantic love compared to the kind of emotion that a romantic lover might have while observing that way their beloved protected their mother from the rain, which made them fall in love, or during that time when they were jealous of their beloved’s colleague for the time they had together (possible occasions of acute romantic love), and the kind of love that a romantic lover might have while on a date with their beloved or perhaps while recalling their date at the end of the evening, after saying good-bye (possible occasions of extended romantic love). I will also be concerned with what it is about these kinds of experiences, if anything at all, that unify them under the genus of enduring romantic love (i.e., romantic love), and I will argue that in light of my discussion, Ben-Ze’ev ought to reconsider his argument against the dialogue model of love (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 48). My conclusion, however, does not also deny that love is a property of lovers. That love is a property of or resides in the connection between a lover and their beloved can instead entail that love is also a property of lovers as well as their beloved.

I begin with my account of Ben-Ze’ev’s notions of acute, extended, and enduring emotions, focusing on explicating their ontological structure and identifying their differentia. I then discuss the two models of romantic love that Ben-Ze’ev introduces—the care model and the dialogue model—highlighting his argument against the claim that “love is a property of, and in some formulations resides in, the connection between the two lovers” (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 48). Although this claim can be understood in at least one of two ways—as a claim about the essence of the genus romantic love or the essence of the overarching genus, love—I will concentrate on the implication of Ben-Ze’ev’s argument against this claim for his conception of the genus romantic love. I will argue that Ben-Ze’ev’s rejection of the claim that love can be a property of or reside in the connection between two lovers jeopardizes his book’s primary aim: to convince us of the possibility of enduring romantic love. Ben-Ze’ev should, therefore, reconsider his claim that romantic love is not a property of or resides in the connection between two lovers, and accept that it is at least possible.

Before I begin, however, it is important to note two things. First, Ben-Ze’ev employs a prototype framework for conceptualizing experiences of enduring romantic love, which was initially introduced in The Subtlety of Emotions (Ben-Ze’ev 2000, ch. 1). That he does so was also recently conveyed during his author-meets-critics session for the Society for Philosophy of Emotion, at the 2020 American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division conference. As he stated during the session:

I am not in the business of defining, but rather in the more modest task of describing and explaining. I do not work with binary categories, which provide clear criteria constituting sufficient and necessary conditions for membership in the category. I rather use prototypical categories, where membership is determined by an item’s degree of similarity to the best example in the category: the greater the similarity, the higher the degree of membership. The prototypical category has neither clear-cut boundaries nor equal degrees of membership.[1]

Second, although I speak of the “differentia” and the “genus” of enduring romantic love, I do not necessarily apply these terms under the presupposition of a materialistically essentialist framework about emotional categories that reifies emotions as distinct entities in-themselves, independent of the emotional beings that are the subjects of such experiences (read Mun 2016; also read Rorty 1985 and Russell 2009). I am also not presupposing a framework that requires one to give necessary and sufficient conditions for identifying either the differentia or the genus of enduring romantic love. I use these terms to simply speak of the feature or features, if any, that give a specified meaning to the use of the relevant words, such as “enduring romantic love.” I admit that such features, along with the genus of enduring romantic love may be prototypical or fuzzy, but such conceptualizations do not defy giving a definition of some kind, even though such a definition can be regarded to capture only the most typical experiences of the kind in question. So, for prototypical approaches, the concern in this review is about identifying the feature(s) that identify “the best example in the category,” as Ben-Ze’ev put it, of enduring romantic love and its greater genus romantic love.


According to Ben-Ze’ev, “intentionality and feeling are two basic mental dimensions,” and both can be said to describe emotions and moods as types of affective attitudes (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 21). The intentionality of an emotion is therefore distinguished from an emotion’s feeling, although both are regarded to be “mental.” “Intentionality” refers to the aboutness of an emotion, i.e., that emotions are about something (a subject-object relation), and “feeling” refers to what I take to be felt physiological experiences along with what Ben-Ze’ev refers to as “a certain (implicit or explicit) evaluative stance (or concern)” (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 21). This is all also consistent with the view Ben-Ze’ev put forward in Subtlety of Emotions ([2000] 2001). More recently, Ben-Ze’ev, also noted that feelings have a “primitive-level” of intentionality while also denying that they entailed any kind of evaluation. As Ben-Ze’ev stated:

The feeling component. I agree with Mun that one may consider feelings as having a primitive-level intentionality. Since I tend to steer clear of absolute borderlines, the issue is of lesser significance to my view. However, I would certainly not identify feeling with evaluation. [2]

Also according to Ben-Ze’ev, emotions differ from moods to the extent that moods may lack two additional components to their intentionality: a motivational component of a readiness to action and a cognitive component of being about practical implications (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 21). Thus, according to Ben-Ze’ev’s book, in contrast with moods, emotions necessarily involve three major intentional components: cognition, evaluation, and motivation (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 23).

At this point, I want to first call attention to one particular concern I had regarding the way Ben-Ze’ev conceived the nature or structure of emotions in general. In short, given the primitive-level of intentionality that feelings have, according to Ben-Ze’ev, it was a bit unclear from The Arc of Love exactly how he conceived the relationship between feelings and the other three major intentional components of cognition, evaluation, and motivation, which he identified therein. In Subtlety of Emotions, however, Ben-Ze’ev noted that emotions can be divided into four basic components: cognition, evaluation, motivation, and feeling (Ben-Ze’ev [2000] 2001, 49). Cognition, evaluation, and motivation all belong to what Ben-Ze’ev refers to as the intentional dimension of emotions and feelings constitute their own dimensions (the feeling dimension). Both dimensions are also central to an experience of emotion (Ben-Ze’ev [2000] 2001, 50). For, Ben-Ze’ev conceived the intentionality and the feeling dimensions as two aspects of the same mental state. As Ben-Ze’ev noted:

Intentionality and feeling are not two separate mental entities but rather distinct dimensions of a mental state. The typical relation between these dimensions is not that of causality—which prevails between separate entities—but that of accompanying or complementing each other. Since the two dimensions are distinct aspects of the same state, it is conceptually confusing to [speak] about a causal relation between them within this particular state. (Ben-Ze’ev [2000] 2001, 51)

Yet Ben-Ze’ev conceptually distinguishes the feeling dimension apart from the intentional dimension because he does not take feelings to have the adequate kind of intentionality to regard them as components of the intentional dimension. For Ben-Ze’ev the intentional dimension is constituted by mental states that necessarily have some reference to an object and, according to Ben-Ze’ev, feelings lack this kind of intentionality Ben-Ze’ev [2000] 2001, 50).

The intentional dimension, according to Ben-Ze’ev, also involves the emotional complexities of emotional diversity, emotional ambivalence, and behavioral emotional complexity, which respectively correspond to the cognitive, evaluative, and motivational components of emotional experiences (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 23). These three components can also be cashed out in more detail in terms of an emotion’s typical cause by some positive or negative change in the subject’s personal situation; typical focus on the subject’s personal concerns; typical objects of which are other persons; typical comparative meaning, which involves a deliberative emotional weighting of possibilities; and as taking place in affective time, which includes the factors of location, duration, pace, frequency, and meaningful direction (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 20).

These features—respectively, of cause, focus of concern, emotional object, emotional meaning, and affective time—can also help us identify what Ben-Ze’ev refers to as the “major emotional characteristics” of acute emotions: instability, intensity, partiality, and brevity (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 18). The instability of acute emotions differentiate them from extended and enduring emotions in the sense that it indicates the introduction or experience of a novel context, which also characterizes the intensity, partiality, and brevity of acute emotional experiences: they are respectively intense, both cognitively and evaluatively focused on a narrow target, and brief (i.e., almost instantaneous) (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 19). Yet the most notable ontological characteristic of acute emotions is that they are singular or particular in occurrence, and they are the experiences on which both extended and enduring emotions are constructed. They are the atoms of emotional experiences.

Extended emotions are experiences constituted by repetitive experiences of acute emotions that are bounded together by the feeling that they “belong to the same emotion” (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 20). Note here the unifying role that Ben-Ze’ev gives to such a feeling. This also suggests that, in extended emotions, the acute emotions which constitute them share at least the same aspects of affective time (e.g., location, duration, pace, frequency, and meaningful direction). Both acute and extended emotional experiences are, therefore, synchronic, and what significantly differentiates the two is that the first is always occurrent and the second is always that which is constituted by a set of acute emotions that are felt to belong to the same emotion.

In contrast, enduring emotions are constituted by both acute and extended emotions. They are also the most temporally extended of the three kinds of emotional experiences—possibly lasting for a lifetime (21). Enduring emotions are, therefore, diachronic experiences, and may be understood as being in some sense always under construction or as always being discovered by a lover (and it seems that Ben-Ze’ev would agree with both[3]). It is also in this construction or discovery that one can find the dispositional affectivity of “having an inherent (built-in) potential to develop” (22), which distinguishes enduring romantic love from both acute and extended romantic love. As Ben-Ze’ev notes, “This specific sense of ‘dispositional’ is key for our inquiry into the possibility of long-term profound love” (22).


Ben-Ze’ev also offers a discussion of what he takes to be the two most relevant models of romantic love for the topic of enduring romantic love: the care model and the dialogue model of romantic love (45). The care model, according to Ben-Ze’ev, takes love to be centrally about a lover’s concern for their beloved’s well-being. It represents an essentially sacrificial kind of love, especially in its extreme versions (46), which is why it is often more appropriate for loving relationships between unequal partners (45); and although it is necessary for long-term profound love, it is not sufficient for such love (46). This is because, for Ben-Ze’ev, long-term profound love requires a reciprocal concern for the flourishing of the other between the lover and the beloved. Such reciprocity can be found in what Ben-Ze’ev refers to as the dialogue model of love, in which a mutual respect for the other’s autonomy also involves a joint commitment toward shared emotional experiences and activities that lead to the personal growth of both lovers (46-47).

This kind of appreciation for the beloved’s autonomy leads to an emotional complexity in experiences of profound romantic love, including long-term profound love, that involves what Ben-Ze’ev refers to as a kind of holistic diversity, which is the kind of diversity in which the “love is directed at the beloved as a diverse, whole person” (24). As Ben-Ze’ev observes:

Profound romantic love involves a comprehensive attitude that takes into account the rich and complex nature of the beloved. The lover’s comprehensive attitude is complex in the sense that it does not focus on simple narrow aspects of the beloved but considers the beloved as a whole, multifaceted being. Sexual desire or friendship, by contrast, are more limited. In romantic love, we see both the forest and the trees, whereas in sexual desire we often focus on one or several trees. (24)

Such emotional complexity can manifest what Ben-Ze’ev refers to as the emotional diversity—that of “experiencing many different specific emotional states (e.g., anger, shame, and sadness)” (23)—of our emotional experiences in general, as well as the emotional experiences of romantic love.

Given the kind of emotional complexity involved in enduring romantic love, Ben-Ze’ev takes the dialogue model to be more suitable for an explanation of this kind of love, although he also rejects the aspect of the dialogue model which identifies love as a property of or as residing in the connection between two lovers. Ben-Ze’ev’s primary reason for this rejection is his belief that doing so would also deny that various features, including feelings, can be a psychological property of lovers. As Ben-Ze’ev argues:

[F]eelings such as pain or enjoyment, which are essential to love, are not a property of the connection between two lovers. Love is a psychological property of a lover. Accordingly, we would expect that some features of love, such as feelings, evaluations, and action tendencies, are properties of the lover, whereas other features, such as compatibility, resonance, and harmony, are properties of the connection. (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 48-49)

This criticism of the dialogue model of love can be understood in at least one of two ways: it can be understood as a claim about the essence of the genus of enduring romantic love (i.e., romantic love) or the essence of the overarching genus (i.e., love). Assuming that Ben-Ze’ev is speaking of romantic love, one central question is what Ben-Ze’ev believes to be the features that unify experiences of acute romantic love, extended romantic love, and enduring romantic love under the genus romantic love, albeit from a prototypical perspective. In section four, I will address this question by focusing on the implications of Ben-Ze’ev’s criticism against the dialogue model of love for his conception of romantic love. I will argue that one consequence of such a criticism is that it presents Ben-Ze’ev with a problem of unification. Before doing so, I will first address another central question, which will also involve identifying the differentia of acute romantic love and extended romantic love: the question of how the components of an emotional experience and the notion of dispositional affectivity, according to Ben-Ze’ev, can help us identify the differentia of enduring romantic love.


By “profound romantic love” in the first quote cited in the previous section, I take Ben-Ze’ev to be referring to the genus of acute, extended, and enduring romantic love, the essence of which involves the holistic diversity that leads a lover to take a comprehensive attitude toward their beloved. Earlier, I referred to this as the genus romantic love. Given Ben-Ze’ev’s account of acute, extended, and enduring emotions, and his account of both the care and the dialogue model as capturing at least some of the necessary conditions of romantic love, we can propose the following accounts as possible accounts of Ben-Ze’ev’s notion of acute romantic love in contrast with extended romantic love and enduring romantic love.

Experiences of acute romantic love are typically those brief, unstable, occurrent experiences of love in which the emotional experience is focused on the reciprocal well-being of the lover and the beloved, and the meaning of this experience gains its significance from a comparative contrast with the contents of experiences of non-romantic love. The object of the experience is the beloved taken as a whole, autonomous individual. Thus, the experience of what a lover might simply call love when they observed that way their beloved protected their mother from the rain might be something Ben-Ze’ev would refer to as an experience of acute romantic love. An experience of extended romantic love would be constituted by similar components compared to an experience of acute romantic love except that these experiences would be temporally extended and unified by the feeling that the discrete experiences belong to the same emotion of love. Furthermore, one might question whether or not it may also be possible, given the emotional complexity involved in romantic love, for an acute emotional experience of some other kind (e.g., jealousy) to be an experience of acute romantic love. Although one can have an experience of jealousy that is not an experience of acute romantic love—for example, I can be jealous of my siblings for the attention given to them by my mother—consider a case in which I am jealous of my partner’s colleague because they get to spend so much time with my partner. Would this experience of jealousy be an experience of acute romantic love?

If so, I would refer to such an emotional experience as a meta-emotional experience, which is an emotional experience that explains another emotional experience (cf. Katz, Gottman, and Hooven 1996, along with relevant associated articles; also cf. Miceli and Castelfranchi 2019). Although Ben-Ze’ev denies the need to speak of such meta-emotions,[4] I believe doing so is quite instructive. Given the notion of a meta-emotional experience introduced here, I suggest that we can contrast both the experiences of extended romantic love and enduring romantic love with experiences of acute romantic love by noting that there is no question that the first two can be meta-emotional experiences.

The question then is how experiences of extended romantic love can be differentiated from experiences of enduring romantic love? We can answer this question by focusing on the question of how an experience of extended romantic love and an experience of enduring romantic love can play their role as meta-emotional experiences since that which binds the various components of extended romantic love or enduring romantic love (e.g., the various acute emotions that at least partially constitute these experiences) would be essential to such an explanation. Given what is stated in The Arc of Love, Ben-Ze’ev might conclude that the feeling that a series of acute emotions belong to the same emotion is the unifying element of extended romantic love. So, for example, the feeling that the experiences of acute surprise, anger, and contempt may all be bound by the feeling that such experiences are all components of the same extended emotion of shame, and in this way the experience of shame explains the experience of acute surprise, anger, and contempt. Ben-Ze’ev, however, also noted that such a feeling is only “one unifying element,” and that “there should also be a similarity in the nature of the experience.”[5] Yet it is the nature of the experience that is in question.

With regard to enduring romantic love, given the unifying element of extended emotions that Ben-Ze’ev identifies in his book, I initially concluded that such a feeling would also be the binding element for Ben-Ze’ev’s conception of enduring romantic love. According to Ben-Ze’ev’s recent comments, however, this is not the case. As Ben-Ze’ev states:

What does unify the emotion of enduring romantic love? In addressing this question, one should not focus on one feature, but rather on various features relating to our personality and circumstances. Thus, I disagree with Mun’s claim that the unifying factor is the feeling of belonging to the same emotion. This is indeed a typical subjective characteristic of extended emotions involving constant repetitions. Enduring emotions, like long-term love, are more complex, and such a feeling is of little relevance; in any case, it cannot be the unifying factor of enduring romantic love.[6]

Here then, we have to some extent Ben-Ze’ev’s answer to what unifies the components of enduring romantic love into experiences of enduring romantic love in contrast with experiences of extended romantic love: “various features relating to our personality and circumstances” for experiences of enduring romantic love and the feeling of belonging to the same emotion for experiences of extended romantic love. Yet there is a question as to whether or not what unifies experiences of enduring romantic love is enough for Ben-Ze’ev to fulfill his aim to convince us of the possibility of enduring romantic love. One might supplement this response with the notion of dispositional affectivity, which Ben-Ze’ev identifies as the key to our inquiry into enduring romantic love. For example, Ben-Ze’ev might suggest that such a dispositional affectivity lies in at least some feature of our personality, and given certain circumstances, the disposition to have experiences of enduring romantic love are actualized. Yet this supplement still leaves one wanting.

The main problem with this response is that it does not consider the implications of the compositional relations between experiences of acute, extended, and enduring romantic love, which unfold within a temporal sequence. Note that various experiences of acute emotions (e.g., jealousy, followed by rage, followed by shame, or joy, followed by appreciation, followed by admiration), each of which might also be regard by some as an experience of acute romantic love, may all be unified as an experience of extended romantic love, even in prototypical cases. They can, therefore, be identified as components of an experience of extended romantic love. Furthermore, these same components, as well as the experience of extended romantic love under which they are unified in virtue of a feeling, can also be components of an experience of enduring romantic love. Given this, Ben-Ze’ev may suggest that a certain kind of dispositional affectivity is what unites all the components of an experience of enduring romantic love, but if that is the case, then the same dispositional affectivity must also be involved in each experience of acute romantic love as well as the experience of extended romantic love even if such components never in fact become components of an experience of enduring romantic love.

In some sense, it is always in hindsight that one experiences their romantic love as an experience of enduring romantic love, and some may never have such an experience although they may have experiences of its components. These components must, therefore, be rooted in the same dispositional affectivity as that of the experience of enduring romantic love if such an affectivity is to unify these components in such a way so as to allow for the possibility, and actuality in hindsight, of enduring romantic love. Thus, neither the dispositional affectivity nor the personality and circumstances to which Ben-Ze’ev appeals can help him unify the components of enduring romantic love so as to differentiate such experiences from experiences of extended romantic love or acute romantic love. It may, however, help Ben-Ze’ev unify these experiences under the genus romantic love, and I will turn to this possibility in the final section of this review. Ben-Ze’ev can and does, however, differentiate experiences of acute, extended, and enduring romantic love in accordance with their temporal characteristic: respectively, occurrent, extended, and potentially lasting for a lifetime.


With the foregoing arguments in mind, Ben-Ze’ev’s claim that romantic love is not a property of or resides in the connection between lovers may also challenge his aim to convince us of the possibility of enduring romantic love by challenging the possibility of its genus: romantic love. For, assuming that one’s personality and circumstances are what unify the components of enduring romantic love, especially in virtue of a certain kind of dispositional affectivity as suggested in the previous section, it may not be possible to unify acute, extended, and enduring romantic love under the genus of romantic love without presupposing that love can also reside in the relation (i.e., the connection) that exists between the lover and the beloved. Ben-Ze’ev, himself, notes that, “At the heart of romantic love lies the connection between the lovers” (82). Furthermore, he notes that, “As the tie between two lovers lies at the heart of romantic love, how they interact with each other is one of the building blocks of such love” (58). Ben-Ze’ev, therefore, imagines the connection involved in romantic love as a connection that informs the interaction between two lovers, and it is only through this connection that the diversity of emotional experiences that are possible in experiences of romantic love can be identified as experiences of romantic love. Yet he denies that the love in experiences of romantic love can lie in the connection between the lover and the beloved. As he recently reiterated:

The ontological status of love. After describing the two models, I briefly mention in the book the ontological issue of love’s location. There, I suggest that while I accept the central tenet of the dialogue approach that mutual shared interactions are essential for enduring profound love, I reject its ontological assumption that love resides in these shared interactions, which are located between the lovers.

The rival view, which is compatible with the care model and which assumes that love is a property of the lover, seems to be intuitively true, as love is similar in this regard to other personal attitudes. We attribute to the lover not merely emotions, but other attitudes, such as moods, character traits, and political attitudes. Thus, it is implausible to argue that the love for a child, or the love for a country, is located somewhere between the agent and the child or the country.[7]

Ben-Ze’ev cites Martin Buber and Angela Krebs as proponents of the dialogue model of love, yet what he seems to find problematic about the dialogical model of love—that love is located somewhere between the lover and the beloved—can be attributed to Martin Buber (Krebs 2014, 7). The problem with Ben-Ze’ev’s criticism is that it is based on an uncharitable ontological interpretation of Buber’s claim that “love is between I and Thou” (Buber [1923] 1937, 14-15). In I and Thou, Buber ([1923] 1937) observes that the world of human beings is twofold: there is the world of relations, which is implied by the use of the primary word I-Thou and the other is the world of objectification implied by the use of the primary word I-It (Buber [1923] 1937, 3). So, in suggesting that love is between the I and the Thou, Buber is suggesting that love involves the lover relating to the beloved as a subject and denies any objectification of the beloved by the lover. The “between” is the relation in the relating, which does not involve an experience of the beloved but rather taking one’s stand in relation to the beloved ([1923] 1937, 3-6).

In consideration of Ben-Ze’ev’s account, the relation in which romantic love lies can be understood as that which is captured by the dispositional affectivity, which Ben-Ze’ev regarded to be the key to his inquiry into enduring romantic love, or the features of a lover’s personality and circumstances that Ben-Ze’ev takes as the unifying element of enduring romantic love. For the kinds of relations that are relevant in the philosophy of emotion, such as the relations of emotional intentionality, are products of psychological dispositions or features of one’s personality which relate one to their external circumstances.

I also argued in the previous section that such a dispositional affectivity, or features of a lover’s personality and circumstances, would be better suited to make sense of how the categories of acute, extended, and enduring romantic love can be unified under the genus romantic love. Granting this, to say that romantic love is “located” in the relation between the lover and the beloved would be to say that this kind of love is an aspect of a lover relating to their beloved as a subject, and this kind of relating can be taken to be a product of a kind of dispositional affectivity or a feature of the lover’s personality. Ben-Ze’ev would speak of such relating as a lover relating to their beloved as a “diverse, whole person” (24), which Ben-Ze’ev believes to be a necessary condition for romantic love.

In conclusion, by dispensing with Buber’s claim that love is a relation between the lover and the beloved, Ben-Ze’ev can be understood as discarding what he could take as the key to unifying his categories of acute, extended, and enduring romantic love under the genus romantic love or what he takes to be a necessary condition of romantic love. Ben-Ze’ev would, therefore, also be foregoing the possibility of fulfilling his aim to convince us of the possibility of enduring romantic love by rejecting that which could make his category of romantic love a unified and therefore a possible category. Accordingly, I recommend that Ben-Ze’ev ought to reconsider his claim and accept that it is at least possible for romantic love to also lie in or reside in the connection between a lover and their beloved.[8]


Ben-Ze’ev, Aaron. The Subtlety of Emotions. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, (2000) 2001.

______. The Arc of Love. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2019.

Buber, Martin. I and Thou. Translated by Ronald George Smith. Edinburgh and London, UK: Morrison and Gibb, (1923) 1937.

Krebs, Angelika. “Between I and Thou—On the Dialogical Nature of Love.” In Love and Its Objects, edited by C. Maurer, T. Milligan, and K. Pacovská, 7-24. London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Miceli, Maria, and Cristiano Castelfranchi. “Meta-Emotions and the Complexity of Human Emotional Experience.” New Ideas in Psychology 55 (2019): 42-49. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.newideapsych.2019.05.001

Mun, Cecilea. “The Rationalities of Emotion.” Phenomenology and Mind 11 (2016): 48-57. DOI: 10.13128/Phe_Mi-20105.

Rorty, Amélie O. “Varieties of Rationality, Varieties of Emotion,” Social Science Information 24, no. 2 (1985): 343-353. https://doi-org.sheffield.idm.oclc.org/10.1177/053901885024002010.

Russell, James A. “Emotion, Core Affect, and Psychological Construction.” Cognition and Emotion 23, no. 7 (2009): 1259-1283. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699930902809375.

Aknowledgement: I’d like to thank Aaron Ben-Ze’ev for his comments in response to my review. I have, and I am sure the readers of this review will also greatly benefit from them. Thank you!

[1] Aaron Ben-Ze’ev, “Author’s Response” (Presentation, Author Meets Critics: Aaron Ben-Ze’ev, The Arc of Love, Society for Philosophy of Emotion Affiliated Group Session, American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division Conference, Philadelphia, PA, January 2020). https://sites.google.com/site/societyforphilosophyofemotion/spe-events.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Aaron Ben-Ze’ev, emailed comments, January 26, 2020.

[6] Ben-Ze’ev, “Author’s Response.”

[7] Ibid.

[8] And, as Ben-Ze’ev noted in his correspondence with me on January 26, 2020, “If ‘in between’ is just an agent’s attitude toward the beloved, I have no problem with this, except for saying that it is extremely odd to use this expression in this context.”

Dietrich von Hildebrand: Morality and Situation Ethics

Morality and Situation Ethics Book Cover Morality and Situation Ethics
Dietrich von Hildebrand. With a new foreword by John Finnis
Hildebrand Project
Paperback $ 16.99

Reviewed by: Norman Lillegard (The University of Tennessee at Martin)

This is an inquiry into a specifically Christian ethics, one that at first sight looks multiply parochial. It is an extended argument for quite traditional Roman Catholic positions on moral matters.  Moreover, it instances a more or less Augustinian approach to ethics and may thus represent a (large) minority position even within the Roman Catholic community, which has been dominated philosophically by Aquinas. And, its original polemical targets were particularly prominent a half century ago, and arguably reflected a zeitgeist that has withered on its own.  Nonetheless it still has some bearings on persisting issues germane to any Christian ethic, protestant or Catholic, as well as on some more or less secular ethical views, and applications to current culture are readily available.

The principal aim is to lay out some of those features of a Christian ethic that distinguish it from “situation ethics.” Hildebrand insists that Christian ethics requires moral commands or general moral principles that are non-negotiable, that must be observed in every case without any modification in the light of possible consequences, or in light of the peculiarities of a situation, or of the person in the situation, or some combination of these.  The prominence of “absolutism” or anti-consequentialism in specifically traditional Roman Catholic teaching is brought out in John Finnis’ introduction to this edition, where citations from papal encyclicals, most notably Veritatis Splendor, with its stress on intrinsically evil acts, figure prominently.  Moreover, this edition includes as an appendix an address by Pope Pius XII on “moral law and the new morality” dating from 1952. The notions of law and of intrinsic wrongness thus figure prominently throughout, but there is no attempt to argue for the superiority of a distinctly deontological ethics over more teleological approaches to ethics and natural law.  In fact there is no sharp distinction drawn in these terms; nonetheless the principal concern is with the idea that certain actions (or less commonly omissions) are always and everywhere impermissible. Although clearly wedded to Roman Catholic traditions and emphases, the analysis is deployed against a trend, againstthe creeping influence of situation ethics both in the culture at large and also among some Roman Catholic scholars and Catholic institutions.

That trend may have been particularly noticeable in the latter half of the last century, and it appeared to some as a capitulation to a more general spirit or trend, particularly prominent in the late 50’s and ‘60s, which opposed what was perceived to be a kind of legalism, a morally rigid stress on the letter of the law (the rule, the command, the principle), in favor of the idea that one should simply love or do what love, or some similarly strong pro attitude, required.    One important source of situation ethics was the wildly popular Situation Ethics: The New Morality (1956) by the protestant theologian Joseph Fletcher.  Many of that book’s readers, both devotees and critics, shared the sense that it summed up the antinomian sensibilities of the 60’s counterculture. Nonetheless it is not difficult to find applications of Hildebrand’s critique to the less optimistic and more ironical culture of today.

The notion of “situation ethics” is vague and some versions arguably contain inconsistent elements. Versions of relativism, non-cognitivism, and emotivism reside uneasily, not always with explicit acknowledgement, with act and rule utilitarianism in Fletcher’s work, to take one example. But clearly utilitarianism is cognitivist and rules out cultural or individual relativism.

However, Hildebrand is less interested in a direct analysis and critique of some version of situation ethics, than in an analysis of what it rules out, and why. There are I think no strawmen in his argument.  He attempts to show how some of the motivations of the situation ethicist deserve careful attention and respect.  In fact, he holds that by doing justice to some of the “valuable contributions” (p. 9) of situation ethics a clearer elaboration of Christian ethics becomes possible. Here the details are of general interest; Catholics, protestants, secularists, whether philosophers, theologians, or even novelists (sic!) may find in his detailed discussion of pharisaism,  self-righteous zealotry, self-righteous mediocrity, the self-righteous timorous person,  and the tragic sinner, significant distinctions and contrasts that are often mischaracterized or overlooked.

Situation ethics is sometimes motivated by an aversion to pharisaism, which may be construed as a thoughtless application of rules or principles to every morally fraught situation. But Hildebrand argues that the most essential ingredient in pharisaism is not a spiritless devotion to the letter of the law, but rather pride, the urge to judge others, the complete rejection of charity or mercy, and the use of moral principles as a means to self-glorification. The Pharisee is thus opposed to the spirit of the law, the spirit of repentance and self-abasement. The true pharisee (obviously an ideal type in Hildebrand’s taxonomy) is thus opposed to God as God, as infinitely above his creatures.   It is, arguably, those features of pharisaism, rather than reliance on rules or principles per se, that accounts for the negative connotations of “pharisee” which the situation ethicist responds to.

The pharisaism of “the pharisee” can be usefully contrasted with the mitigated pharisaism of the self-righteous zealot or the self-righteous mediocre individual. The self-righteous zealot does not oppose the spirit of the law, but she is primarily concerned with the violations of other persons.  She is a moralizer who focuses on moral wrong, the violation of a law, principle or code, rather than on the complexities of the situations within which all people choose, and regularly fail, when measured only by that law.  The law is a blunt instrument in her undiscerning hands, and its being so serves her purpose, since use of the law as a tool in sensitive self-evaluation would disable her focus on the violations of others.  Hildebrand mentions the main character in Mauriac’s Woman of the Pharisees as an instance of this type.  She tends to mix social improprieties with moral failings; moral rules are just further specifications of “what is commonly done.”  Thus she may even be suspicious of saints, since they seem to stand outside common norms. To the extent that the situation ethicist detects and rejects this banality and bluntness, he must get positive credit.

The self-righteous mediocre person, on the other hand, lacks the perverse focus on morality instanced by the self-righteous zealot. His principle concern is that he be morally secure, and his attempts to abide by the letter of the law enable the desired sense of security.  Once secure, he can get along with the ordinary business of life, business, politics, family etc. in a favorable state of mind. He is not overly focused on others or heedless of his own failings, but his attempts at external conformity suffice for him. He does not attempt to edit away any of the demands of the letter of law, but he does not heed its penitential function.  The important thing is to be correct, and he is, like the zealot or the true pharisee, intolerant of the failures of others with respect to the letter, and also tends, like the zealot, to mix moral with merely social correctness.

Both of these types of self-righteousness can be contrasted with what we find in a morally timorous man.  He uses conformity to the letter of the law to avoid risk taking. His primary concern is with safety. He does not have the pride of the Pharisee, or the hardness of the zealot or the mediocre man in judging others.  But the letter of the law shields him against any deep and sometimes risky investment in morally difficult circumstances.  Typical proponents of situation ethics are particularly likely to contrast this feature of the timorous man with the kind of risk taking and deep responsibility of the truly moral man who on their view must dare to act for the best without guidance or guarantee.

The situation ethicist contrasts the “tragic sinner” with all of the types mentioned so far; although the tragic sinner does not deny the relevance or importance of principles or laws, she does not advert to them to establish moral superiority, or retreat to them to avoid risk and conflict.  In fact she holds them in such high regard that a violation causes her great pain.  But we can imagine a situation in which she can only achieve a great life good (for example the fulfillment of a great love) by violating a moral requirement. Her capacity for love, her earnestness in the face of her situation and the impossibility of achieving a life of deep fulfillment and even nobility without the violation makes her a “tragic” figure. It is easy to sympathize with the claim that she is morally superior to the self-righteous or the timid, and to infer that “rule worship” would constitute a personal failure in her situation.

It is even possible to have a kind of moral admiration for those who feel no pressure from rules or moral laws, and thus are anything but tragic, but who act spontaneously from motives of kindness, generosity, or fellow feeling.  Tom Jones in Fielding’s novel may rightly get more admiration than the grim and judgmental legalists who surround him at church.

Finally, the situation ethicist may go so far as to accord some positive value to sin itself. There is a kind of sinning that expresses spiritual energy, a concerted rejection of self-righteousness, and may lead to various goods.  On the one hand it may lead to a deeper recognition of unworthiness, of the sort unknown to the “correct” but self-righteous person.  Or it may seem to function as a felix culpa, understood as calling forth of greater “soul benefits” than would otherwise have been possible. It is in relation to these ideas about the tragic sinner and the “happy fault” that Hildebrand’s discussion of situation ethics intersects with his account of “sin mysticism.” The two are logically distinct, but Hildebrand notes their confluence in the thinking of many, due to a shared detestadon of pharisaism in all its modalities and of spiritual sloth or merely conventional observance of moral principles, which figure prominently in both.

The foregoing summary does not, of course, do more than touch upon a few of the features of the detailed moral phenomenology explored by Hildebrand in his effort to credit the “valuable contributions” of situation ethics. It is easier to say briefly how situation ethics nonetheless fails to escape justified criticism from the absolutist.  The principal criticism is simple; none of the praiseworthy elements in human moral struggle highlighted by the situation ethicist depend for their existence on the exclusion from full ethical life and deliberation of fundamental laws, principles, divine commands or any other deontological elements. This point is quite clear; none of the positive traits of the tragic sinner (to take the case most favorable to the situation ethicist’s position), her passion and multiform depth of character, would necessarily be absent from a person who flatly refuses to contravene a moral rule. Arguably such a person exhibits even greater depth of character. The ability to sacrifice a kind of self-fulfillment in obedience to moral law can bespeak a remarkable personal development and energy that logically requires the hardness of the rule.  Variations in this basic critique are spread throughout the first nine chapters; though the basic critique here is worth emphasizing, and varies somewhat in sundry applications, this book ends up being somewhat repetitious .

There are other criticisms of situation ethics worth mentioning here. Consider Hildebrand’s attack on the relativism of situation ethics. Situation ethics is relativistic since it denies that there are any “values” that govern more than one case at a time. It thus endorses the most extreme form of relativism, individual relativism. A consistent statement of this view is very difficult to formulate, as the writings of Montaigne attest. It implies the claims that ideas of moral progress and moral advice are empty, and that there can be no moral exemplars or moral education (142). These claims arguably entail some version of non-cognitivism, but the situation ethicist does not endorse non-cognitivism.  He may insist that one can know some such general principle as “always follow conscience” but this principle is empty, or in Hildebrand’s terms, merely “formal.”

The individual relativism of situation ethics also requires a denial of common experiences of the differences between cruelty and kindness, generosity and selfish hoarding and the like, which Hildebrand regards as pre-theoretical “givens” (cf. Charles Taylor’s notion of “thick description”). In fact, Hildebrand argues that despite the situation ethicist’s emphasis on the contingent multiplicity of ethically charged “situations” he in fact fails to appreciate the full complexity of ethical life. He may miss the way judgement on evil is ideally, at least in the Christian vision, combined with an appreciation for the complexities of human lives and the universality of moral weakness. The Christian is well situated to assert, with St. Augustine, that “man’s heart [is] an abyss” (quoted on  118). The dominical admonitions to refrain from judging (in the sense of assuming a Godlike ability to see everything that is in a person) respect that abyss, and are combined with the sense that there, but for the grace of God, go I. Thus situation ethics may itself be subject to a kind of simple mindedness, when it is not simply confused.  These are not parochial criticisms.

Hildebrand also employs a tu quoque that has some force against the situation ethicist. A fundamental motive of situation ethics appears to be the desire to avoid judgementalism.  But the situation ethicist often seems eager to dismiss as legalists, slaves to convention, hypocrites, cowards, or insensitive to context those who take seriously rules or principles (understood as more than rules of thumb) or who believe that there are real distinctions among virtues and vices. Thus, he exhibits thoroughly judgmental attitudes towards much of humanity, perhaps especially those who take moral matters seriously.

In ch. 10 Hildebrand sets out what he considers to be three “basic errors” of situation ethics, at least in its more extreme forms.

First, the situation ethicist ignores or tends to discount the force of the moral “ought,” which he may view as a mistaken importation of juridical notions into ethics. He tends to contrast the person acting under obligation with the person (much to be preferred on his view) who spontaneously does what is right or good. This contrast, between duty and sentiment or inclination, so prominent in arguments between Kantians and “sentimentalists,” is irrelevant on Hildebrand’s view. He contends that each and every “moral value response” including those in which a person acts with passion and enthusiasm, is experienced as “something that should be;” each “contains an element of obedience” (128).

Hildebrand’s language here is (as is often the case in this book) vague or slippery. Is loving ones enemies “obedience” to a command or law, or not? At first sight Hildebrand seems to discount any contrast between the deontic and the axiological, as we might now put it. We might expect the result to be anti-supererogationism, a view characteristic of the protestant reformers.  Compare that to the contrast, found in Aquinas, between acting from principle or under a law, and acting for the good. Aquinas distinguished precepts, which are universal in their scope (like laws), from counsels, which are addressed to the few who have the capacity and inclination to pursue the life of perfection. For Thomas, the open-texture character of the counsels makes the morality of love superior to mere obedience to or conformity with divine law or commands. But Thomas does not draw a clear borderline between duty and supererogation. It is, for example, not clear whether “love thy enemy” is a precept or a supererogatory counsel. It is similarly unclear whether acts of charity (such as almsgiving) are duties or lie beyond duty, and so on for other cases. In view of the evident difficulty here we can appreciate Hildebrand’s apparent conflation of precepts and counsels and his treatment of the love commands (Mk 12: 29-31) as foundational for the entire “moral” (unexplained) domain. But there is a further related difficulty in this neighborhood.

The first edition of this book preceded the groundbreaking essay “Modern Moral Philosophy” (1958) by Gertrude Anscombe, who argued that the idea of a “moral ought” was a leftover from a time when divine law and divine commands were essential to ethics (metaethics).  She argued that since the belief in the divine has largely disappeared, the notion of a “moral” ought, which elicits so much philosophical puzzlement, should be abandoned. The notion of the moral, with its lingering hint of something demanded (and thus perhaps of “obedience”) is now meaningless. That being the case she advocates a return to a more or less Aristotelian virtue ethics for the purposes of contemporary debates on ethics. Hildebrand makes unexamined uses of “moral” quite central to his discussion; such expressions as “moral demand,” “moral value response,” “morally relevant values,” positively clutter this book. It is of course true that he has not abandoned theism. It does not follow that he is entitled to a continued use of these expressions, since he refuses to make a clear distinction between obedience to divine commands or divine law and any other “moral” (unexplained) responses (cf. the discussion on p. 132 of “general morally relevant” values vis a vis “general principles and laws” and “positive commandments of God.”) Some such distinction is back of Anscombe’s critique.  Otherwise put, he does not account for “moral obligation” by grounding it in a command issued by God or a standing obligation in natural law, but neither does he account for it some other way. Given his very heavy reliance on unexamined uses of “moral,” Hildebrand’s failure, in later (post 1958) editions, to respond in at least some minimal way to Anscombe’s critique will be considered a serious defect by many, including those who dissent from Anscombe’s view.

Secondly, situation ethics is criticized for eliminating the general (general principles or rules) from ethics.  The situation ethicist’s motivation for doing so resides in his belief, which is surely widely shared, that it is obvious that there are situations which not only permit, but require (“morally”), violation of such rules as “promises are to be kept” or “one must not swear falsely.” Hildebrand considers the case of swearing falsely to a tyrant, perhaps in order to save a life. Rather than insist (as Kant might have) that even in such a situation one must not swear falsely,  Hildebrand suggests that in some such situation the “oath” might lack “the intrinsic presuppositions” (131) for authenticity (and thus would not be a real oath) so that “swearing” falsely might be permissible or even required. Nowhere, however, does he say exactly what those presuppositions might be. This looks like mere evasion, and not just to a situation ethicist.

It of course does not follow that there can be no account of those “presuppositions.”  Nicholas Wolterstorff argues (in Justice: rights and wrongs, 2008) that commands, standing orders or laws obligate if and only if they are issued by agents who have standing and its associated potestas. A sergeant’s order obligates only where he has standing in relation to those he commands. He has no such standing in relation to those not in his platoon, so his production of the locutionary act of uttering an imperative sentence does not constitute the illocutionary act of issuing a command, when directed upon, say, the army’s commander-in-chief (or the writer of this review). There are very plausible arguments for the claim that tyrants lack standing to issue some commands, extract oaths, et al, so those commands are not real commands, those oaths not real oaths (Hildebrand: not “authentic”).  Hildebrand’s failure to respond to a quite compelling objection with little more than flat assertion will look serious to those seeking some philosophical illumination of the fundamental concepts in play here (obligation, command, duty, etc.).  Wolterstorff shows just one way to respond.

Hildebrand looks to be on firmer ground when he criticizes the situation ethicist’s use of “conscience” to do all the moral work.  The ability of conscience to warrant the very opposite of what morality requires is too well known (cf. Huck Finn’s misguided conscience, and “the Corsican Matteo Falconi” mentioned on p. 136). Conscience, Hildebrand rightly insists, only gets content by a struggle with precepts of some kind or other. But as already suggested, he does not give us an account of divine commands or natural law that shows how to sort the good precepts from the bad. Rather he alludes to features of a Christian life and Christian formation (the “imitation of Christ”, 142).  Practically that might suffice.  Philosophically it does not.

Thirdly, Hildebrand argues that the situation ethicist has a wrong conception of the relation of natural law to revealed law; he seems to assume that the latter invalidates the former. Hildebrand denies that natural law precepts can ever be invalidated.  But there are special cases where a revealed call supersedes natural law. St. Francis disobeyed his father.  His doing so was in response to a “call” which superseded, but did not invalidate, principles requiring filial obedience.  The specifically Christian sources of Hildebrand’s ethics become particularly evident here.  Once again someone who seeks philosophical illumination rather than Christian edification may feel shortchanged; are such natural law precepts as “parents are to be obeyed” binding always and everywhere, or not? If not, what considerations favor disobedience? Or are there cases of non-compliance that don’t amount to disobedience? Utilitarian or consequentalist reasonings would not be countenanced by Hildebrand. What then? Individual directives from the Holy Spirit? Is there some scale of higher and lower “moral values” that can in principle be accessed by any morally responsive person, or would specifically Christian formation be necessary to discern any exceptions or overriding factors?

In this book Hildebrand does not, so far as I can see, do what many Christian philosophers have tried to do, namely show in what ways an ethics devoid of theological reference must be defective, for example through failure to square with some widely shared ethical intuitions or beliefs. Hildebrand remarks that separation of morality from God causes it to lose the “breath of the eternal” (147). This idea from Kierkegaard challenges heart and mind when surrounded with the profound rhetoric and dialectic of his authorship. In Hildebrand it has only a faint appeal if any.

Thus the lingering parochialism of this work. Nevertheless, the detailed dissection of the moral simulacra that motivate some people to adopt situation ethics, or even attempt to abandon moral concerns altogether, will no doubt prove useful to many readers, and add to the substantial burden under which situation ethics already labors.

Lambert Wiesing: Ich für mich – Phänomenologie des Selbstbewusstseins, Suhrkamp, 2020

Ich für mich - Phänomenologie des Selbstbewusstseins Book Cover Ich für mich - Phänomenologie des Selbstbewusstseins
suhrkamp taschenbuch wissenschaft 2314
Lambert Wiesing
Suhrkamp Verlag
Paperback 20,00 €

Thomas Nenon (Ed.): Thomas Seebohm on the Foundations of the Sciences, Springer, 2020

Thomas Seebohm on the Foundations of the Sciences: An Analysis and Critical Appraisal Book Cover Thomas Seebohm on the Foundations of the Sciences: An Analysis and Critical Appraisal
Contributions To Phenomenology, Vol. 105
Thomas Nenon (Ed.)
Hardback 103,99 €
XVI, 237

Dawne McCance: The Reproduction of Life Death: Derrida’s La vie la mort

The Reproduction of Life Death: Derrida’s La vie la mort Book Cover The Reproduction of Life Death: Derrida’s La vie la mort
Dawne McCance
Fordham University Press
Paperback $28.00

Reviewed by: Dong Yang (The University of Georgia)

“This book is not a translation of La vie la mort,” McCance states in the introduction of The Reproduction of Life Death—a study of Jacques Derrida’s series of lectures conducted at the ENS from 1975 to 1976– “Nor is the book an exegesis of the seminar” (McCance, The Reproduction of Life Death, 5). Without offering further clarification, the author seems to have posed a curious riddle for the reader: after all, this work appears to be a translation of sorts, given the multiple inserted and interlaced quotations from various seminal works of Derrida; and it appears to be an exegesis of Derrida’s consistently deconstructive effort within and beyond the seminar to problematize the oppositional logic that renders the form of reproduction as a repetition of the identical and that lends theoretical and scientific force to the eugenic movements, exemplified chiefly in the thoughts of Aristotle, Hegel and François Jacob, by tracing the lines of thought of Nietzsche and Freud that consider the relational difference between life and death as interdependent and mutually inclusive. Already there is a curious aporia between the author’s aim and the organization of the text, a struggle that perhaps reflects McCance’s careful effort to keep her study of La vie la mort from becoming an ironic proof of what Derrida attempts to refute in the seminar: a programmed form of inheritance that strictly follows a predetermined nonliving model and consequently subjects difference to identity. Hers is a dynamic double gesture of both reworking the Derridian positions on biology and pedagogy and breaking the spell of “technoscientific and philosophical ‘modernity,’” a time of experimental science in which “invention has become less a ‘discovery’ than a ‘production’” (9). Following the author’s winding attempt to decode a work of Derrida’s that defies simplistic explication, therefore, surpasses the intellectual pleasure of the source text, especially when Derrida’s principle task—to critique the mode of biological or educational reproduction as repetition of an identical model–seems to echo what Gilles Deleuze formulated in Difference and Repetition years before Derrida’s seminar. In that work, Deleuze strives to overturn the ruling primacy of identity in the history of philosophy and thereby restore the significant function of difference in weaving together an image of thought prior to any static formation of concepts and repetitions. In such a spirit Deleuze writes, for instance, “When we define repetition as difference without concept, we are drawn to conclude that only extrinsic difference is involved in repetition; we consider, therefore, that any internal ‘novelty’ is sufficient to remove us from repetition proper and can be reconciled only with an approximative repetition, so called by analogy” (Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, 27). The invisible Deleuzian presence in La vie la mort thus weakens the joy of deconstruction one usually feels when reading a Derridian text, but at the same time, it separates McCance’s study from its source text and continues the inquiry into its nature and grounding, as the publication of this neither-translation-nor-exegesis precedes the real English translation of the seminar. McCance’s overall methodology of approaching Derrida’s seminar in a thematic rather than a linear way implies a relational inquiry, that is, instead of treating La vie la mort as a stand-alone text, McCance examines how Derrida’s central thesis fits into his oeuvre, and it is the rhizomic effort to trace the course of the envelopment of an idea that constitutes the primary significance of the book.

Before delving fully into the seminar, McCance begins the first chapter with a detour of Derrida’s suspicious attitude towards the telos of modern experimental science by revisiting his account of the change of meaning in the notion of invention in Psyche: Inventions of the Other. No longer is invention related to unearthing something new, rather, it has become a mode of production that follows a programmed and oppositional logic (9-10). McCance then helpfully underscores the key line of thought in Derridian philosophy, the concept of heritance, and then links it to a provocative work of biological science—La logique du vivant— by Nobel Laureate biologist François Jacob, provocative because of its declaration of “biology’s release from metaphysics and its coming of age as a science” (11). With McCance’s careful reminder of the unsatisfactory English title of the book, The Logic of Life, which obscures the departure of the study of life from its metaphysical tradition, we come to understand the inherent opposition in modern biology that aims to demystify living life via nonliving entities (that is, DNA), an effort that consequently establishes juxtapositions between life/living and death/nonliving. She captures what is at stake in Derrida’s account: the relation between life and death, be it connective or predicative. As already suggested in the title of the seminar La vie la mort, inserting an undecidable difference or “trait blanc” is thus necessary—Derrida speculates in the spirit of Freud and Nietzsche—for launching a qualitative transformation of the dynamism between life and death from oppositional or dialectical to supplementary. McCance writes “Derrida chooses the titles La vie la mort, he says, not in order to suggest either that life and death are not two, or that one is the other, but rather that the difference at stake between the two is not of a positional (dialectical or nondialectical) order” (11-12). Situating the book back in the mid-70s context where poststructuralist momentum was thriving in France, such an attempt to break with binary oppositions would not seem revolutionary or overly creative; rather, it reads more like an affirmation of philosophical trends of the era. But McCance extends our interest by drawing on the power of such oppositional logic in the process of auto-reproduction by associating La vie la mort with Derrida’s critique of the Hegelian family in Glas, where Hegel claims the privilege of the father-son lineage while crossing out the role of the female. It is precisely this coded mechanism in familial reproduction that finds its echo in the writing of François Jacob and Georges Canguilhem, where the meaning of heritage becomes understood as mere transmission of hierarchical information (26-27), with the result that eugenic measures would proceed to eliminate unwanted differences. The grounding of such a critique comes from Derrida’s explication of an analogy Jacob makes between DNA and text, a view that helps him initiate the accusation of phonologocentrism in Jacob, and McCance concurs: “Indeed, to refer to DNA as a ‘text’ is to borrow a metaphor, in Jacob’s case, an all but outdated metaphor of text drawn from structuralist semiotics, a metaphor through which he reduces ‘text’ to a phonologocentric communicative entity” (30). Hence Derrida’s understanding of DNA’s function: it is the difference along with sameness that get processed and extended through sexual reproduction (31).

Derrida’s critical objective in the seminar not only aims at cultivating an awareness of the problem of inheritance in biological science, but also—and perhaps more interestingly and convincingly—at highlighting the application of such an oppositional logic in biology in modern philosophical institutions, in particular the ENS, where Derrida—teaching then as an agrégé-répétituer–likens the way the philosophy program operates at the institution to the concept of genetic program Jacob proposes, a logos-like message that instructs and repeats generation after generation. Drawing on this theoretical resemblance, in the second chapter McCance then walks us through Derrida’s theory of pedagogy and reemphasizes the unavoidable power inherent in the process of teaching where structural signs are passed along. One problematic function of teaching, especially teaching philosophy, as Derrida diagnoses in his essay “What Is a Teaching Body,” is exactly the auto-productive program that transcribes the coded and repetitive information via the teaching body of the agrégé-répétituer. The act of teaching, therefore, must base its effectiveness on a kind of machinic institutional power “presented as a defense against mutant or contraband influences that threaten the death of the biological or institutional body” (47). By highlighting the mutually supportive roles of the two Derridian texts, McCance, instead of overly emphasizing the rather trite thesis of La vie la mort regarding the oppositional logic of the repetition of the same, directs our attention to the analogy that reveals the pervasiveness of such a biological model on which Jacob relies in educational institutions; we learn from her concluding statement that:

In his reading of Jacob’s program as an apt description of the aggregation program, Derrida demonstrates that both the biological and pedagogical institutions, attempting to ward off difference, constitute reproduction as repetition of the same, although as he remarks every reproduction involves selection and thus the failure of philosophical-biological-pedagogical metalanguage. (50).

Given Derrida’s predicament regarding the presence of ideological power in both academic and scientific institutions, McCance unpacks further the working mechanism of such effort to automate and rigidify the process of teaching and biological reproduction in the following chapter, by invoking Derrida’s curious rendering of Nietzsche’s name and philosophical legacy in The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation. This reading of Nietzsche’s autobiography Ecce Homo functions as an apology for Nietzsche’s posthumous negative influence by arguing that the dissemination of the autobiography depends not on the author’s own signature but the ear of the other who cosigns with differences in hearing or translating the original text. The riddle with which Derrida begins his text—the death of Nietzsche’s father and the life of his mother at the moment he is born—helps foster the sense of self in Nietzsche’s course of life, which, in turn, leads to Derrida’s association of Nietzsche’s description of his life with the process by which one obtains an identity and becomes oneself. Such a process is represented through the development of the name:

“There, this is who I am, a certain masculine and a certain feminine. Ich bin der und der, a phrase which means all these things. You will not be able to hear and understand my name unless you hear it with an ear attuned to the name of the dead man and the living feminine—the double and divided name of the father who is dead and the mother who is living on” (Derrida, The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation, 16).

But the continuation of the name after death—the living, namely—depends not on the bearer of the name but on the persons who listen to the name and revive it in the process of infinite eternal return; hence, according to Derrida, one cannot ascribe to Nietzsche the atrocities that the Nazi perpetrated: “One can imagine the following objection: Careful! Nietzsche’s utterances are not the same as those of the Nazi ideologues, and not only because the latter grossly caricaturize the former to the point of apishness” (30). To emphasize the fluidity of life death that refuses any form of consolidation of Nietzsche’s thought under the unity of his proper name, as Heidegger reads and interprets Nietzsche through the “Aristotelian-Hegelian tradition” (The Reproduction of Life Death, 57), McCance aptly connects the three seminal concepts Derrida exploits to contest the institutional or scientific subjectivity grounded by oppositional and hierarchical logic: autobiography, the ear, academic freedom (53), of which the ear is given special emphasis in the rest of the book. After a brief characterization of the Hegelian-Heideggerian line of thought that shares a synthetic tendency to fold and classify an identity within an unchanging personal proper name, McCance explains the Derridian alternative that sees heritance as a process, with the remark that

“The temporal deference upsets the linear notion of time, making the writing of autobiography an ongoing life death affair, an alliance between the living and the dead, a case of death in life […]” (61).

An intriguing idea that appears near the end of the third chapter and runs throughout the rest of the book—perhaps the most memorable elements of the text—is the (re)formulation of Derrida’s view that the study of the relation between life and death demands an interdisciplinary effort. Modern biologists’ efforts to decode the living by treating it as text, Derrida argues, by no means simply the methodology; quite the contrary. The texualization of life inserts a third term—the text—between life and death, and thus, “the referential subject/object paradigm no longer suffices, a changed situation for all disciplines—or at least, a change that would be required for revitalization of the academic institution” (69). An interdisciplinary transition of the academic institution–in the spirit of Nietzsche–is necessary for the future collaborative study of life, a key point McCance proposes here: “The radical ‘interdisciplinarity’ that, for want of a better term, I read La vie la mort to recommend is as much needed today as it was in the 1970s and as it was in the German university of Nietzsche’s day” (69). In such a spirit, Chapter 4 traces the transdisciplinary effort of an oppositional logic that may be found in Marxist political economy, the Jacobian biological theory of life, Alexander Graham Bell’s speech reproduction theory, and the eugenics movements in American history. Centering on the notion of production that entails man’s distinct cerebral ability to control products and eliminate the redundant and undesirable, Derrida surmises that interchanging usages of production and reproduction in Jacob’s work indicates his belief that “man distinguishes himself from animals by assuming control over the products of evolution” (77). In a similar fashion, McCance adds, phonetic speech is reproduced via Bell’s invention of the phonautograph, a speech producing apparatus preceding the appearance of the telephone that makes visible the phonetic signs by a “mechanical theory of hearing” (87). Bell’s essentialist momentum of reproducing the same speech by reducing its abnormal patterns finds its echo in the American eugenics movement, where inheritance is controlled in accordance with a mechanical model that helps produce offspring of desired types.

Chapter 5 develops in detail an essential line of thought Derrida addresses in La vie la mort, the dangerous power of scientific knowledge that is in part unavoidable. McCance finds inspiration in Derrida’s final seminar, “The Beast & the Sovereign,” where a consciousness of knowledge-as-sovereign is always present alongside the process of scientific inquiries, a demonstration of man’s hierarchical and theological power over the beast that lends force to a Catholic ethics, one that “reproduces a double body, an imperishable life worth more than natural or animal life, even as, paradoxically, the church reduces ethics to the automaticity, to the technics or technical reason, from which, at least since Vatican I (1869-1870), it has sought self-protection” (116). However, for Derrida, such a religious goal of self-protection or immunization—standing in line with the oppositional logic criticized in La vie la mort—causes an internal conflict: “religion’s efforts at immunization end up attacking, as an external contaminant, what is already internal to its own body, and indeed necessary for its survival” (116). This self-destructive tendency within religious bodies (similar to the concept of “the politics of politics” that Geoffrey Bennington has recently proposed) finds its secular recurrences in the contemporary “non-speciesism” ethical theories developed by Peter Singer and Tom Regan, two modes of thought that primarily concern the rights of the animal. Conjoining other works of Derrida, such as The Animal Therefore I Am, The Beast & the Sovereign, McCance returns to the principal theme in La vie la mort and contends that Derrida’s formulations provide “a critical resource for developing non-sovereign, non-prescriptive, non-oppositional and non-anthropocentric approaches to ethics in the age of the Anthropocene” (122).

By way of Freud’s implicit counter to the Hegelian and Jacobian oppositional logic of the living in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, McCance offers a holistic account of an earlier theme that the study of life requires an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach that is beyond the capacity of science or philosophy. Derrida was intrigued by the Freudian methodology of speculation, a view that tends to explicate the meaning of pleasure in terms of the variation of quantitative energy, an economic theory that concentrates on the relation between two quantities with unknown essences (130). Grounded by such a model, Derrida moves on to note that the Freudian theory of life death—or Eros Thanatos—defies the Hegelian-Jacobian program that reproduces only the same. On the contrary, Freud writes with a sense of confusion that also surprisingly breaks with the logocentric convention of the production of sameness: “[…] Derrida reads Freud’s account of reproduction in Beyond as offering an alternative ‘logic’ to Jacob’s, an alterity on the side of life and living on” (146). Life, therefore, is not opposed to death in the form of an either/or, but supplements and becomes interdependent with it, with a nexus of difference that always moves beyond disciplinary boundaries and binary judgements.

The Reproduction of Life Death is a strange book, precisely because McCance writes it in deconstruction but at the same time out of Derrida. We read an anxious awareness of the not-so-spectacular source text with a rather trite thesis along with a rhizomic effort of McCance’s to move beyond the scope of La vie la mort—just as Derrida tries to move beyond the limitations of the life/death opposition in the process of the continuation of heritance—to make the seminar itself an intertextual nexus in relation to Derrida’s oeuvre. McCance rigorously highlights the necessity of an interdisciplinary approach to the study of life and the living—a central theme of La vie la mort and, perhaps most importantly, reveals Derrida’s courage in the text to confront the dogmatism and sacredness of modern science, a spirit of the spur that is increasingly difficult to find in the weakening voice of the humanities.


McCance, Dawne. The Reproduction of Life Death: Derrida’s La vie la mort. New York: Fordham University Press, 2019.

Deleuze, Gilles. Difference and Repetition. Trans. Paul Patton. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.

Derrida, Jacques. The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation. Trans. Peggy Kamuf and Avital Ronell. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988.