Don Ihde has produced a total of six books in the past decade, but although the last one (Acoustic Technics: Postphenomenology and the Philosophy of Technology) appeared only two years ago, his readers were becoming impatient. Acoustic Technics was brilliant, however, its narrow focus on embodied sound left us longing for more of the American philosopher’s insights into science and technology more broadly construed. After finally getting my hands on a copy of Ihde’s latest book, I can confidently say that it was well worth the wait. Husserl’s Missing Technologies is fascinating! Winner of the Golden Eurydice Award for outstanding contributions to the field of biophilosophy, Ihde draws on more than four decades of research expertise in the contested areas of phenomenology and the philosophy of science. In accordance with his usual style, in this work Ihde addresses an astonishing plethora of issues, historical examples and philosophical ideas. The following review will discuss some of these elements.
Тhe book is comprised of seven chapters, each more layered and enthralling than the previous one. Following a lengthy introduction, which problematizes the technological gap in Husserl’s writings and thus justifies Husserl’s Missing Technologies as a project, Ihde swiftly moves straight into a discussion of technology use, scientific objects, the historical development of technoscience, and the timeline of science interpretations in philosophy. This abundance of topics might lead a less experienced writer to create a blurry, perhaps somewhat incoherent framework, but Ihde skillfully escapes this trap, instead setting the ground for a very structured and nuanced piece of writing. As a result, each chapter is sufficiently clear-cut and ambitious in its own right that it could easily be turned into a stand-alone project. Yet in spite of that, the transitions between separate chapters are executed brilliantly and without so much as a hint of discontinuity. For instance, in the first half of the book Ihde’s analysis and historical overview are left to unravel quietly while also clearly foreshadowing the claims about the role of postphenomenological, multi-instrumental technoscience that are made towards the end of the book; by the time the reader reaches the final chapters, the connections have already started to become increasingly obvious, and a complex but coherent argumentative structure gradually begins to emerge.
The title of the book sets the tone for Chapter 1 ‘Where are Husserl’s technologies?’. It opens with a statement that is fairly uncontroversial amongst Husserl scholars: namely, that Husserl’s references to technologies are sparse and usually mentioned only ‘in passing, without serious or in-depth philosophical analysis’ (13). Though this statement applies equally to ordinary-use technologies and to instruments or special technologies used in science, Chapter 1 focuses on the latter. After a short historical interlude which offers examples of the tendency for technology usage-spans to become increasingly shorter, Ihde introduces his readers to the style of science-technology analysis called postphenomenology and identifies its American pragmatist influences (e.g. John Dewey), adding that philosophies should also have usage-spans akin to those of technologies.
The book is an enjoyable read for anyone whose professional interests revolve around phenomenology and these early sections make for an excellent topic of discussion amongst introductory philosophy classes of a more general kind. Ihde questions an uncritical assumption we hold (which we would never make about scientists of the past) that all philosophers in history are our intellectual contemporaries. Science clearly has a history of ‘disappearing scientific objects’: ‘Democritus’s hard, indivisible atoms, Aristotle’s crystalline spheres, phlogiston, aether, the four humours, and most recently event horizons—all are gone except as interesting but quaint historical objects’ (17). It is not that these features of obsolescence or abandonment cannot be observed in philosophy, rather that the most notable examples have tended to appear in response to developments in technoscience; as suggested by the brief science-technology studies (STS) and the science interpretation timeline offered by Ihde in the next section.
Ihde notes that it took an astonishingly long time for anything properly resembling a ‘philosophy of technology’ to come into existence. The mid-twentieth century brought about two different sets of science interpretations ; a ‘conceptual’ and a ‘practical’ one to which scientists (or philosophers of science with notable antipositivist inclinations) and social scientists, respectively, were contributing. It took until the 1980’s for a distinct philosophy of technology to disentangle itself with authors such as Albert Borgmann, Langdon Winner, Andrew Feenberg, and Hubert Dreyfus leading the way. By this time positivism had met its demise, and the ‘acultural, ahistorical, unified, and triumphal’ understanding of science had become replaced by an outlook far more sensitive to the fallibility of science and its social and historical dimensions (22).
Ihde dives into a fascinating exploration of paradigm shifts for a reason. He does a wonderful job of accounting for the way in which ‘the rise of multiple reconsiderations of science, coupled to an increased interest in technologies […] shift the understanding of both science and technology toward more historical, cultural, and material dimensions’ (21). However, he does so in order to identify the reason for the sudden theoretical interest in instruments and technologies expressed in major works like Robert Ackermann’s Data, Instruments, and Theory (1985) or Ian Hacking’s Representing and Intervening (1983). It is only after Ihde has completed this task that he moves on to the next section which invites readers to re-visit Husserl ‘retrospectively’ and approach his writings (and the predominant science interpretations amongst his contemporaries) from a point of view located at the very end of the timeline he presented earlier (17-22)
The analysis sets out by making three important observations about Husserl’s philosophy of science: Firstly, that it remains largely on the mathematizing side in spite of occasional preoccupations regarding the separation of science and lifeworld. Secondly, that Husserl worried that rationality might be slipping away from science. Thirdly, that the praxis-lifeworld relations Husserl theorizes about in selected bits of The Origin of Geometry are apparently set up in a way which allows for sciences to be born from concrete practices – e.g. geometry arose out of the Ancient Egyptian practice of remeasuring and setting up field boundaries anew after the annual floods. The analysis then gains a comparative aspect as Ihde begins to reflect on the difference between Heidegger’s hammer, Merleau-Ponty’s extended embodiment of canes, and Husserl’s microscope-things and telescope-things. Ihde identifies a kind of ‘vestigial Cartesianism’ (31) in Husserl’s attitude toward objects, since, according to Husserl tools and technologies need to be seen and conceptually recognized as objects in their ‘objectness’ (i.e. as ‘things’) before they can be meaningfully deployed in praxis (25). Values and potential uses are seen by Husserl as things that are added on, rather than intrinsically present.
This discussion seamlessly transitions into an inspection of the relativity or correlation with the nearby-far-off-world which is enabled by instruments, and the ways that correlation fits within the wider unity of experiences. For example, when observing the moon through a telescope Ihde notes that before the ‘first revolution in sciences with technologies […] the experience through the telescope is not primarily of the telescope’ (31; his emphasis). He then explains how in cases of mediated perception the instruments which mediate the perception tend to undergo a withdrawal and become experientially transparent; something which Husserl does not describe in his writings.
However, the technologies of postmodern science no longer deliver experiences isomorphic or analogue to those of ordinary human bodily perception; they have ventured beyond optical imaging and into, e.g. instruments mapping the electromagnetic spectrum. Contemporary technologies can therefore be said to bring into being Husserl’s ‘open infinity of universal world truths’ by revealing the existence of neutron stars, black holes, gas clouds, and multiple galaxies of many and varied shapes (32-34). Ihde is right in claiming that Husserlian phenomenology was not equipped to deal with the worlds beyond the limits set by analogue-isomorphic technologies. One of the big questions of Chapter 1, then, is whether philosophies ought to be prepared for the kinds of theoretical and instrumental shifts characteristic of the sciences if they want to be successful in dealing with a new world? For Ihde the answer is a solid ‘yes’.
Chapter 2, ‘Husserl’s Galileo Needed a Telescope!’, discusses Husserl’s philosophy of science ‘in the light of contemporary analyses of science in practice’ (35). It starts out with the caveat that, for Husserl, the paradigmatic examples of science were: firstly, the ahistorical kinds of disciplines which lend themselves to mathematization, formalized expressions, and idealization and secondly, the kinds of disciplines which involve minimal amounts of embodiment practices and, with the exception of physics, minimal amounts of instrument use. These are, of course, the sciences that Husserl himself was most familiar with in terms of praxis (geometry, physics and astronomy) but they also fit within the broader process of mathematization initiated by other early twentieth century philosophers of science like Ernst Mach, Jules Poincaré and Pierre Duhem.
The next section of Chapter 2 describes the movement from mathematization (abstract and formalistic) to logical positivism or empiricism (with a pronounced focus on perception and observation). It then outlines a further move to anti-positivism (a lot more sensitive to historical context and well aware of the discontinuity present in science) which sets the ground for the next section where Ihde situates Husserl within this rich and slightly confusing intellectual landscape. Ihde notes that, for Husserl ‘science is not ahistorical, noncontextual, but rather is thoroughly historical, contextual, and cultural’, even though in science we can observe an ‘upward, slippery incline of approximations into an ideal world, which distances the investigator from the bodily-materiality of the lifeworld’ (44). The connection to the lifeworld is supposedly maintained, as long as an awareness of the whole process and its origins persists.
But what did Husserl get wrong? The next three sections reveal that Husserl’s portrayal of Galileo’s philosophy of science may have been too reductionistic. While the astronomer was indeed confident that the language of mathematics played a crucial role in interpreting and understanding, he would have been unable to produce ground-breaking science with his bare senses unaided and unamplified by the telescope. As none of these contingencies received special mention from Husserl, Ihde notes that Husserl’s ‘preselected and reduced’ Galileo seems abstract and almost ahistorical, his ‘perceptions and practices with and through the telescope’ absent from Husserl’s histories:
…his Galileo is not the lens grinder, the user of telescopes, the fiddler with inclined planes, the dropper of weights from the Pisa Tower, but the observer who concentrates on, on one side, the already idealized “objects” of geometry and, on the other, the plenary ordinary objects that are before the eyes but indirectly analyzed into their geometrical components. (52)
The final three sections show that a different analysis would have been possible if Husserl had further developed his insights about the importance of written documents as fixed, material, embodied linguistic meaning-structures and instruments as offering a sort of transformational mediation between science and the lifeworld. However, Husserl is forgetful of Galileo’s telescopic praxis.
Just as promised in Chapters 1 and 2, Ihde does return to the reading-writing technologies in Chapter 3 (‘Embodiment and Reading-Writing Technologies’), in order to explore the issues Husserl sees there on a deeper level. The framework of the discussion is dictated by the transition from classical phenomenology to postphenomenology. Husserl’s own writing technologies – different types of pens, eyeglasses, magnifying glass, mimeographs and many others – are examined in truly remarkable detail (and featured on a timeline of writing, reading and optical technologies in Table 1, p. 64) and can be contrasted with his opinions on tools and scientific technologies.
A couple of reccurring motives appear to be that of executive consciousness governing a passive and somewhat ‘machine-like’ body, and that of typicality (of actions or practices, of standard measures, of shapes and trajectories). Ihde challenges these ideas in different ways, including by pointing at counterexamples from contemporary art (e.g. Matisse’s ‘virtuoso practice’ which clearly demonstrated atypical trajectory, especially in his late works). The final section of the chapter is dedicated to reflections on the predominant contemporary embodiment practices; whether or not they can be considered reductive, and whether and how they transform our experiences of space-time.
Chapter 4 – ‘Whole Earth Measurements Revisited’ – goes back to one of the notions first introduced towards the end of Chapter 1: that science needs instruments in order to discover new phenomena or to constitute new problems on which to focus. Structured around Ihde’s 1996 original paper of the same title, the chapter asks whether Husserl’s phenomenology, with its missing technologies, would be capable of detecting a ‘Greenhouse Effect’? It then argues in favour of a negative response; as whole earth measurements are far too complex to be accommodated by the perspectives of classical phenomenology, calling instead for two concepts Ihde refers to as firstly, the earth-as-planet perspective and secondly, an ‘understanding of measurement practice from a thorough technoscience, or instrumentally embodied science’ (80; emphasis not mine). Without those concepts and the aid of imaging technologies, we would be unable to visualize greenhouse gases, which are subperceptual. Ihde is clear that ‘instrumental mediation for Husserl yields a perceptual-correlate’, therefore in a Husserlian framework they would have to be inferred in Cartesian ways rather than perceived (81). Ihde identifies this problem as a Cartesian ‘conceptual duality between concretely perceived plena and abstractly idealized pure shapes’ (Ibid), noting that greenhouse gases are, of course, not pure shapes at all, but that if we want to account for them as material entities, we would need the assistance of postphenomenological, multi-instrumental, embodied technoscience (81-83).
Chapter 5, titled ‘Dewey and Husserl: Consciousness Revisited’, rereads Husserl and John Dewey on consciousness against the backdrop of the increased late twentieth century interest in consciousness, neurology and psychology (especially in a cognitivist context). In doing so Ihde defends phenomenology from accusations that it is subjectivist or an antiscience. From brain scans to animal studies observations of tool or technology use among corvids and primates, the realms of ‘calculating consciousness and technological innovation’ appear to be inextricably linked (92). So, Ihde turns to Dewey’s pragmatism and Husserl’s phenomenology to see exactly how the role played by consciousness differs in each of these experientially based philosophies (hint: they differ in the explanatory models they apply to epistemologies of experience, with Husserl’s essentially representing an adaptation from that of Descartes, and Dewey’s having clear Darwinian influences).
We get to take a deeper look at pragmatism and how it connects to phenomenology in Chapter 6, ‘Adding Pragmatism to Phenomenology’. Here Ihde continues addressing further critiques of phenomenology, e.g. that it relies on introspective methods and that it remains static. According to Ihde, the pragmatist rejection of essentialism/foundationalism, representationist/correspondence notions of truth and transcendental/empirical distinctions is a philosophical style which postphenomenology can reclaim, i.e. replicate, ‘with and through phenomenology’ (109). But is phenomenology capable of returning the favour and enriching pragmatism in a similar manner? Ihde points at several phenomenological techniques (or tools) that could do just that: variational theory, multistability, embodiment, and critical hermeneutics. He then goes on to show how a pragmatic phenomenology or a postphenomenology can be expected to deal with technologies – especially newer and more radical imaging technologies such as the ones that postmodern radio and radar astronomy relies on – in ways that traditional forms of representation cannot.
Finally, in Chapter 7 (appropriately titled ‘From Phenomenology to Postphenomenology’) Ihde briefly outlines the evolution of phenomenology as a term referring to a style of philosophy, as well as the history of the term’s use in his own work, in order to identify the exact moment when postphenomenology began to mature and establish its own trajectory. The book ends by recapping the same ideas that made for such a spectacular and thought-provoking introduction: that philosophy, just like science, ought to keep transforming itself over time, and that as our lifeworld changes, so must our reflections on it.
A curious intellectual phenomenon occurred in Germany after 1850. Suddenly, the mood was doom and gloom with no obvious or single explanation. The global market was booming. Germany was a capitalist power rivaling England. French imperialists were defeated. But German intellectuals were stuck in a funk.
The word is Weltschmerz – ‘world pain’. Instead of Hegel’s more optimistic Weltlauf – ‘the march of the world’ towards freedom – Weltschmerz implies “weariness about life arising from the acute awareness of evil and suffering” (1). German pessimism involved “a rediscovery [and reformulation] of the [ancient] problem of evil” (5). In short, German intellectuals secularized the concept of evil and attempted to comprehend the meaningfulness of life in the face of the radical ontological evil envisioned by Kant.
For Beiser, the origins of Weltschmerz are a mystery. The great capitalist depression from 1870 to 1900 that came after only helps to explain the spread of Weltschmerz, not its cause. If pessimism were all the rage among the genteel, one would expect them to be cynics to the suffering of others. Yet Weltschmerzers and their challengers had differing positions, not only on metaphysics, but over the “social question” of capitalist modernization and the exploitation of the worker. Many optimists, convinced that social progress (when left alone) is certain and sufficient, opposed welfare reforms. Pessimists wanted state intervention and technical progress to alleviate suffering even if, as a matter of principle, they believed ours was a world racing to the bottom. If pessimism did not have an identifiable social cause, Beiser locates the sullen Zeitgeist in the history of ideas and, specifically, in the work of Arthur Schopenhauer.
Schopenhauer came from a wealthy family. He is famous in the annals of philosophy for coming up with the most offensive philosopher-on-philosopher insults. For years, Schopenhauer languished in obscurity, berating the German professoriat that was represented by Hegel and taking breaks to look for his soon-to-be disciple, Julius Fraunstaedt, his brightest follower and most fervent critic. Living off his father’s rents in Frankfurt, Schopenhauer spent his days musing on nothingness and absurdity in the comfort of his “Grand Hotel Abyss”. When the dust settled and the “dragon seed of Hegelianism” was finally eradicated by the good Christian king (with no small help from Schelling), Schopenhauer had his chance.
At that time, there were two branches of German philosophy. On the one hand, Neo-Kantians offered “transcendental grounds” for science, thereby attempting to justify philosophy in the face of great scientific advances. These were not the advances of Galileo, Copernicus, and Newton, but the electromagnetism of Michael Faraday, Leon Foucault and the rotation of Earth and, of course, the equations of James Maxwell. On the other hand, positivists saw their craft as a sui generis science of facts. The problem was that both schools forgot the world of emotions, the problem of freedom and the the sense of evil. That is, the very bread and butter of the philosophia perennis. Furthermore, philosophers lacked an audience. Nobody was buying.
With the publication of Parerga and Parapolimena, a collection of witty essays about existence and the meaning of life, in 1851, Schopenhauer became the celebrity philosopher of the second half of the long nineteenth century. As Beiser tells us, his “influence lies more on his age than on individual thinkers.” Schopenhauer successfully set Germany’s philosophical agenda for the rest of the century. What was that agenda?
Schopenhauer devised an anti-theodicy, according to which non-existence is better than existence because existence implies that, even in the very best of lives, a minimum of suffering that is absent in not existing. The position is both perfectionist and realist. First, Schopenhauer argued like an upturned Leibniz: the worst of all worlds has a maximum of evil compatible with existence because if we add one gram more of that poison, the world ceases to be. Second, Schopenhauer endorsed Epicurus and some of the ancient utilitarians. Pain always outweighs pleasure and, if we were rational, we would choose nothingness over being. Yet we exist, so what to do in such a pickle?
Schopenhauer returned to the questions of classical philosophy: life, pain, death and meaning. According to Schopenhauer, evil and suffering belong to the very make-up of our world. However, it is not Kant’s concept of evil, which is a matter of just intelligence, of freely and rationally choosing the opposite of the Categorical Imperative. Radical evil for Kant allows us to disrespect other people’s dignity, violate their autonomy and walk all over their humanity in a purely disinterested and universal way. For Schopenhauer, however, evil is not only a “noumenal” idea that guides our actions. Evil is noumenal in a more radical way; it is part of the very nature of existence. The will only cares about itself. As Beiser puts it, “life is suffering because it is the product of an insatiable and incessant cosmic will” (37).
Schopenhauer’s assertions on cosmic wills were, in a sense, more radical than those of Kant. The latter told the world that it is impossible to know things as they really are. He critiqued a type of reason that thinks it speaks for things in themselves, or worse, for non-things like God and the soul. Kant built a wall between representation and whatever was behind or beyond it. He argued, instead, that we can only know our own mental representation of things. But Kant was not an atheist. He reserved the capacity to think beyond appearances for morality. Only as a commandment of the will can the idea of God or the soul be of any use. Such entities cannot be proven by science but ethical beings need them to make free-will feasible. Freedom is not proven but demanded. As Fichte claimed, freedom is “posited” by an infinite will.
Schopenhauer, however, was a Kantian. He was aware of the faux pas against established orthodoxy and he “solved” the ontological question by inlaying a new dimension to the already radical duality between things-in-themselves and representations. Schopenhauer agreed, following orthodoxy, that the faculty of understanding produces representations. But he reserved the will for the noumenal realm – the old country of metaphysics. Beneath all representations of things, there is this inexhaustible, irrepressible and unending will of which everyone is only a fleeting quote.
Yet, for Schopenhauer, a return to metaphysics had only practical significance. It is not Scholasticism 2.0. Schopenhauer addressed “the puzzle of existence” in practical terms. This simple and apparently antiquated, yet profound, change in tactics made him different and popular among readers of the time. So, what were the ethical implications of his new metaphysics?
Beiser thinks that Schopenhauer produced a sort of Protestant atheism, or “Protestantism without theism”. It is not enough that we suffer. We deserve to suffer. In their obstinate attachment and reiteration of original sins as excuses for our suffering, Schopenhauer joined other great modern reactionaries like Joseph DeMaistre and Juan Donoso Cortés. Furthermore, Schopenhauer’s negative anthropology was useful in drawing the necessary weapons against starry-eyed Enlightenments. Because man is evil, a strong hand is needed. Because man is evil, only grace can save us. However, due to the impenetrability of God’s designs, such voluntarism is usually resolved in a monastery and in the blind acceptance of rules. But Schopenhauer was not a man of mystery. His catholic rationalism and cosmological voluntarism is a fascinating mix. Schopenhauer did believe that natural law can be known. The problem is that his notion of natural law is not the happy and elated one of Aquinas. The selfish will is the only natural necessity. Yet, unlike Spinoza, Schopenhauer thought that we can separate ourselves from an absolute will (“lift the veil of Maya”) by using our understanding and denying the will. It is the aesthetic quietism well known to Schopenhauer readers. Yet, how does one reconcile Schopenhauer’s determinism of the will with intellectual autonomy? Beiser offers an explanation of this contradiction. However, his is not a decent solution. Ultimately, it is a problem that manifests when philosophy starts with absolute definitions and proceeds through dichotomies until the end. Antinomies always remain antinomies because of a static universe despite Schopenhauer’s hyperactive will.
Historians have long ignored the tradition Schopenhauer started. However, Beiser shows that, from 1860 to 1900, Schopenhauer towered above all others in Germany. Schopenhauer’s followers like Eduard von Hartmann or critics like Karl Eugen Duhring (sadly remembered today for being the punching bag of Engels and for his late anti-Semitism) were stars in the intellectual sky of the Second Reich. Hartmann’s “flat, dry, and boring” Philosophy of the Unconscious went through eight editions. Duhring’s Natural Dialectic went through no less than ten revisions and an equal number of editions. Beiser reminds us of the contemporary importance of these neglected thinkers and, moreover, places Nietzsche within his proper context. Many of Nietzsche’s ideas were borrowed from the “pessimist controversy” that defined German thinking, that is, between Schopenhauerian curmudgeons and the positivist and neo-Kantian Panglossians.
There were many voices involved in the Weltschmerz controversy: Agnes Taubert, Olga Plümacher. Büchner, Duboc, Windelband, Paulsen, Meyer, Vaihinger, Fischer, Rickert, Cohen, Riehl. Beiser, however, explores the philosophies of five of Schopenhauer’s disciples and critics, who responded by recalibrating or re-mixing in different ratios the pessimist and optimist elements in a sort of moral chemistry.
First, there is Julius Frauenstaedt, Schopenhauer’s first apostle and critic. Frauenstaedt was the only Schopenhauerian who came from the fading Hegelian tradition. All others were neo-Kantians or positivists. Frauenstaedt abandoned Hegelianism because the monism of Hegel’s dialectics was not enough to account for the identity of faith and reason. Where does human freedom stand if in the last instance reason is both divine and human? This “divine reason” or “speculative Good Friday” of Hegel cannot be resolved in theism or pantheism because both are “illegitimate metaphysics”. Frauenstaedt finds in Schopenhauer a more feasible solution to this problem. There is, in Schopenhauer’s body of work, both a system of transcendental idealism, according to which the thing-in-itself is separate from appearances and a system of transcendental realism whereby appearances are objectifications of this transcendent will. Thus, it is the will that unites reason and faith. However, Frauenstaedt finds a new dualism in Schopenhauer – the separation of will and understanding. The will needs to represent the object of its striving; it needs to have an idea of what it wants. On the other hand, why does the cosmic will that is all-powerful and self-sufficient divide itself into two – itself and non-will? Other dualist problems in Schopenhauer concern the distinction between philosophy and natural science and the Schopenhauerian contempt for history in favor of metaphysics. All these problems that originate from Schopenhauer’s radical dualism were signs for Frauenstaedt that Schopenhauer remained trapped in “the cage of idealism.” In the end, Beiser thinks Frauenstaedt could not abandon the basic Hegelian conviction that things always work out for the better even if they do so through the worst.
Karl Eugen Duhring was Schopenhauer’s fiercest detractor. He opposed Schopenhauer with an optimism based on natural science and socialism. Duhring’s positivism precluded any metaphysics of cosmic wills and known unknowns. Immanence is absolute. We determine the value of life, our own small measure of peace. However, according to Beiser, Duhring contradicts himself. We can grasp nature and reality through intellect and correctly conclude that there is no world beyond. Yet, for Duhring, the intellect cannot make a final determination on the worth of existence. That determination is ineffable. On the topic of death, Duhring joined the gang of pessimists repeating Epicurus and Marcus Aurelius; we shall not fear death since we cannot experience it.
Duhring was one of only a couple of Weltschmerzers that harbored leftist sympathies in the “pessimist controversy.” Most were well into the political right. However, unlike Mainlander, Duhring thought that we can make life happier for the greatest number through science and redistribution. For Mainlander, even socialism does not solve suffering.
The most influential theorist of pessimism was Eduard von Hartmann. Philosophy of the Unconscious was the “eye of the storm” in the 1870 pessimist controversy. Hartmann tried to reconcile Schopenhauer’s pessimistic voluntarism and Hegel’s optimistic rationalism in a systematic way through a) pantheistic monism, b) transcendental realism, c)an eudemonic pessimism and d) evolutionary optimism. Hartmann saw that spiritual monism solves the problems of theism and materialism altogether. It avoids the traps of theism in that ethics is autonomous in a pantheist system because moral law comes from the dictates of a cosmic self, while theistic ethics is heteronomous; one should obey an alien God. Spiritual monism also avoids the traps of materialism. This cosmic self has a purposeful nature in the sense that it is not a machine without track. Secondly, against Kant, Hartmann followed Schopenhauer in taking a transcendental-realist position; appearances can give us some information on the things-in-themselves. Consequently, Hartmann thought that the best position is the ancient ideal of eudaimonia because it has an idea of how the universe really works. The world is pain and suffering but life is worth living if one follows the ancient utilitarian principle of avoiding both. However, Hartmann shared with the positivists and Hegelians a belief in progress and claimed that, culturally or as species, mankind heads for the better. This evolutionary optimism allowed Hartmann some measure of social Darwinism in that pain, suffering, war and colonialism are tools for progress unbeknownst to us in another iteration of the Hegelian List der Vernunft.
Beiser devotes a later chapter on Hartmann in relation to the pessimist controversy between 1870 and 1900. It describes the main points of the polemic between Hartmann and his two “female allies”, Olga Plumacher and Agnes Taubert, against Lutheran priests and neo-Kantians (a more intellectual kind of Lutheran) on whether life is worth living on the basis of love, pain, and pleasure. It is worth mentioning that one of the debates is about the question on whether the hedonic calculus should be considered quantitatively or qualitatively. By that time, economic thought was undergoing a profound change on this question. Marginalism – to which this problem was central – caused a major revolution that transformed economics into the science that it is today.
Phillip Mainlaender (née Phillip Batz) was the most utopian politically and the most coherent. He followed his master’s proclivities for dark and gore with even more gusto. He signed off his only book and immediately hung himself. Mainlander’s philosophy is a gospel of suicide. The only way out of suffering is death. His view of life is not that of Stoic tranquility but of the Christian mystic. Life is suffering and death redeems us all. Yet, Mainlaender was a materialist and did not believe that there is life after death, not even the promise to enjoin the one true cosmic will of Schopenhauer. For him, such ideas are abstractions. Mainlander was a nominalist. For him, there is only the individual will. He was also profoundly democratic and nationalist. For all his ethical pessimism, what matters in social life is sympathy and pity for the suffering of others, not the misanthropy and scorn proper to reactionaries like Schopenhauer.
Finally, there was Julius Bahnsen. His philosophy further problematized Schopenhauer’s metaphysics along familiar scholastic lines of whether the will is universal (Schopenhauer), multiple (Bahnsen) or individual (Mainlander). Bahnsen’s ideas were powerful and original, yet those traits came from a profoundly mentally ill man. His marriage was a disaster. His career as a professor failed. Some of his anxieties betrayed his petty-bourgeois conditions. Much of Bahnsen’s views were rooted in that social resentment that comes, like Schopenhauer, from not being of the establishment. For Bahnsen, pessimism sprang from failed dreams, not from the primacy of suffering in life. If suffering were the criterion, “even animals would be pessimists”.
In the face of dissatisfaction, Bahnsen revised some key aspects of his master’s doctrine. Firstly, there is individual responsibility in life’s actions and projects. Accordingly, the cosmic will is useless. Will is just a property or potential but the actual outcome is the sole province of each. Secondly, since responsibility presupposes autonomy (Kant), then the will must be redefined as plural and individual – a monadology so to speak of individual substances in the noumenal realm. Thirdly, even with disinterested activities such as aesthetics, there is also will – a “higher interest” of “self-promotion, self-affirmation, and self-satisfaction” (again, Bahnsen’s job anxieties come to the fore.) That the will is resilient in all fields of activity questions the stark division between will and representation. On the one hand, to experience art without interest or intellectual curiosity is boring “even if it were forms of Plato”. On the other hand, Schopenhauer’s notion of aesthetic detachment is refuted by the real fact that “we are touched and moved by aesthetic objects.”
Beiser’s book is delightful, clear and thorough. It is written in the best style of historians of philosophy. My only issue as a reader who prefers social histories of thought is that his approach is too internalist and textualist. For Beiser, “there seems to be no straightforward social or historical case for [German Weltschmerz]” because the period studied seems like “a happy age” for Germany. However, I take issue with this hypothesis and subsequent dismissal of social explanations. Furthermore, I think Beiser mirrors sociological reductionism in reverse. For mechanical theories of material-cum-intellectual conditions, then, if social conditions are happy, intellectual traditions have an optimistic outlook. Indeed, if conditions are dire, then pessimism is the intellectual order of the day. Beiser’s argument is similar: since social conditions were good in Germany, then the only reason for intellectual pessimism is the ideas of an individual (Schopenhauer) who caused the entire ruckus. However, to accept this theory would reduce German pessimism to a dull workout of the disgruntled class of intellectuals. In my opinion, things are always socially conditioned despite the apparent contradiction, or precisely because of real contradictions, between thought and (social) being. It is more interesting to speculate on why capitalist expansion produces periodically the kind of languor we see today and of which German Weltschmerz were the outcome and not the cause. I recall Walter Benjamin’s studies on Baudelaire. Why is it that Baudelaire produced dark and gloomy poetry in Paris, “the capital of the 19th century”? Why did Baudelaire use another genre of allegories to express a problematic that was not visible in economic indicators? Though speculative, Benjamin offers a more satisfying social theory to Weltschmerz. It is precisely in times of commodity abundance and high consumer satisfaction offered by a buoyant capitalism that the meaninglessness of material life expresses itself as boredom and hopelessness. Even Benjamin’s explanation would make sense along Schopenhauer’s lines: since desire is endless and instant satisfaction guarantees boredom, why do we need more?
Françoise Dastur’s aim in her most recent monograph, Questions of Phenomenology, is to examine how various phenomenologists have responded to the essential questions of philosophy, especially those which challenge the phenomenological approach (Dastur 2017, xiii-xiv). The background to Dastur’s project is the transformation of the meaning of “phenomenology” in the early twentieth century from a specific philosophical discipline to a new understanding of philosophy itself (ibid., xiii). This new understanding is based on the view adopted by Husserl from the ancient philosophers that philosophy is a collective enterprise that brings different thinkers together (ibid.). Dastur thus emphasises not individual theorists but rather the interconnections between them that revolve around their shared concerns (ibid.). A broad range of concerns underlie the fourfold structure of Dastur’s monograph: (1) language and logic, (2) the self and the other, (3) temporality and history, and (4) finitude and mortality.
There are several particularly meritorious aspects of the monograph. Despite the considerable ground she traverses, Dastur’s discussions are highly integrated; she moves fluidly from one to another by drawing connections between the themes that emerge throughout the work. For example, Dastur notes that the difference between Husserl and Heidegger’s emphases on the immortality of the “transcendental ego” and finitude, respectively, also results in different perspectives of history, and of the threat that technology poses to human existence (in Patočka’s thought). Equally as fluidly, Dastur weaves phenomenologists’ views into an intricate tapestry of different but interconnected perspectives. Rather than seeking to eliminate the conflicts between viewpoints, Dastur acknowledges the existence of “irreconcilable positions” (ibid.) and immerses herself into the complex relationships between them.
This fluidity is also embodied in Dastur’s own approach to phenomenology, which allows for a nuanced and sustained analysis of the central themes. Two main influences underlie her approach. Following Husserl and Heidegger, Dastur also believes that phenomenologists share “the practice of a method” rather than a particular “doctrine” or “school” (ibid.). Following Merleau-Ponty, she conceives of phenomenology as a constantly evolving “movement” rather than a finished or fixed structure (ibid.). Consequently, rather than pitting different phenomenologists against each other, Dastur establishes a conversation between them by examining how each has participated in, and thereby contributed to, this movement by developing, critiquing and even diverging from the ideas of his predecessor/s. To her credit, Dastur explores not only the movement between different philosophers’ views, but also within each philosopher’s views as they evolve. While Dastur’s analysis centres on the complex relationship between Husserl and Heidegger’s phenomenologies, she also explores the notable contributions of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Paul Ricoeur, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Eugen Fink, Jan Patočka and Emmanuel Lévinas. Whereas she recruits the first five philosophers as mediating figures between Husserl and Heidegger, she enlists Lévinas as her main interlocutor in her unifying endeavour. Given her focus on phenomenology as a movement, Dastur does not argue that Husserl’s views are superior to Heidegger’s, or vice versa. Rather, she acknowledges that Heidegger is indebted to Husserl for providing the groundwork for his own phenomenological views and for prompting him to “designate his own mode of thinking as ‘phenomenology’ until the end of his career” (ibid., 46).
Commentators such as Burt Hopkins note that such unbiased approaches are “conspicuously lacking” in the analyses of the Husserl-Heidegger relationship in the existing scholarship (Hopkins 1993, 4, emphasis in original). Instead, Hopkins claims:
The literature treating the relationship between the phenomenologies of Husserl and Heidegger has not been kind to Husserl. Heidegger’s “devastating” phenomenologically ontological critique of traditional epistemology and ontology, advanced under the rubric of “fundamental ontology” in Being and Time, has almost been universally received, despite the paucity of its references to Husserl, as sounding the death knell for Husserl’s original formulation of phenomenology. (ibid., 1)
In part one, Dastur begins by examining Husserl’s views of language, logic and knowledge before turning to the transition of Husserl’s approach to phenomenology to Heidegger’s through the inclusion of the hermeneutical dimension. In chapter one, Dastur investigates Husserl’s early theory of knowledge, focussing on how his epistemological views in Logical Investigations were influenced by the German philosopher, Rudolph Hermann Lotze’s theory of “validity”. Lotze’s work, Dastur claims, was a key contributing factor in Husserl’s transition from the “psychologism” he adopted from Franz Brentano to “logicism” and its attendant Platonic underpinnings (Dastur 2017, 5). What Husserl takes from Plato (and Lotze) is the notion that the validity of a proposition (when understood as “universality”) is based on its being a “truth in itself” (ibid., 14). Dastur claims that it is this idea of “truth in itself” and the wider “logicism” wherein it is embedded that Husserl will later abandon following his “idealist ‘turn’” in 1905-07 (ibid.).
Continuing her investigation of Husserl’s epistemology in chapter three, Dastur provides a reading of Husserl’s more mature text, Experience and Judgment which focusses on the “genealogy of logic” (ibid., 29). She distinguishes between Husserl and Heidegger’s notions of “originary experience” (ibid., 35). Whereas Husserl associates this experience with the “individual”, she argues that Heidegger associates it with Dasein’s “originary openness to a world”, which also includes its relations with others (ibid., 35 and 40). Also in this chapter, Dastur expands on the reasons behind Husserl’s departure from Brentano’s psychologism. She claims that psychology, for Husserl, approaches its limits when it attempts to go back to “originary experience”; it can only reach an experience that has already been informed by “idealizations” originating in the “modern natural sciences” (ibid., 29). In departing from this psychological perspective, Husserl, Dastur argues, does not dismiss science but rather seeks to attain a more comprehensive understanding of it by revealing the implicit assumptions behind its idealizations (ibid.).
In chapter two, Dastur examines Husserl’s enterprise of developing a “pure logical grammar”, focussing on the fourth Logical Investigation (ibid., 15). Departing from the modern linguists of his time who relied heavily on empirical methodology, Dastur claims that Husserl seeks to revitalise the former notion of “‘universal’” and “‘a priori grammar’” through revealing the “conditions of possibility for all language and all meaning” (ibid., 15-16 and 19, emphases in original). Dastur also astutely challenges Husserl’s privileging of the “category of the substantive” in this enterprise due to his (questionable) assumption that it underlies the grammatical forms of all languages (ibid., 25-26). She employs Johannes Lohmann’s observation that while “Indo-European languages” may have the “predicative structure of the proposition” as their basis, this does not apply to other languages like Chinese (ibid., 26-27).
In chapter four, Dastur details Heidegger’s combination of phenomenology with hermeneutics to form the notion of “hermeneutic phenomenology” (ibid., 52). This, she claims, partakes in Heidegger’s endeavour to show more emphatically than Husserl how phenomenology, rather than being a new direction in philosophy, is actually an extension of Plato and Aristotle’s “philosophical project” (ibid.). As commentators like Günter Figal (2012, 525) observe, “the hermeneutical dimension of phenomenology remains at the margins” of Husserl’s philosophy. Although acknowledging that hints of this dimension can be found in the first Logical Investigation and the fifth Cartesian Meditation, Figal maintains that “Husserl never discussed the hermeneutical aspects of his conception of phenomenology; he never clarified what precisely he meant by ‘explication’, and how it should be practiced” (ibid., 525-526).
Dastur claims that a key difference between Husserl and Heidegger’s philosophies lies in their views of how the subject initially experiences the world. In what she refers to as Husserl’s “philosophy of the pure gaze”, the world first appears to the subject as impenetrable and perplexing; the meaning-giving act of the “constituting consciousness” is required to render it intelligible (Dastur 2017, 51). By contrast, Dastur suggests that in Heidegger’s “hermeneutic phenomenology”, the subject is from the very beginning already embedded in, and engages with, the world and thus finds it comprehensible upon first contact (ibid., 51-52). Aligning himself with the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle, Heidegger believes that the world cannot be reduced to a “pure sensuous given” inasmuch as perception is already a reaction to, and the initiation of a conversation with, the world (ibid., 43-44).
Part two of Dastur’s monograph is multifaceted, comprising analyses of: (1) Husserl’s “transcendental reduction”, (2) the self-other/patient-therapist relationship in the medical domain from a Heideggerian perspective, and (3) the crucial question of intersubjectivity in Husserl and Heidegger’s phenomenologies by way of Levinas’ distinctions between the same and the other, and between ethics and ontology. In chapter five, Dastur outlines the ways that Husserl distinguishes his method of “phenomenological reduction” from that employed by the positive sciences (ibid., 57-58). Positive science assumes a pre-existing object that will be subjected for analysis, but Husserl’s “reductive method” does not (ibid., 57). Dastur also analyses how Husserl departs from Descartes’ “representational” view of knowledge when he develops the notion of the “constituting consciousness” that marks the “transcendental turn” in his philosophy (ibid., 62-63). Whereas the object and consciousness are completely distinct in Descartes’ epistemology, they are interrelated in Husserl’s philosophy (ibid.). Dastur argues that, for Husserl, this does not entail that the constituting consciousness is responsible for founding the object; rather, the object initially becomes meaningful to us through the interpretative activity of consciousness (ibid., 63). She also argues that what eventually motivated Husserl to distance himself even further from Descartes was his perception of Descartes’ inability to adequately address the issue of intersubjectivity, which Husserl regarded as essential to grasping the meaning of subjectivity (ibid., 65).
In chapter seven, a highly distinctive and interesting section of the monograph, Dastur examines how Heideggerian phenomenology can be applied to the medical domain, especially the possibility of deriving from it a “‘doctrine of human illness’” or a “therapy and preventative medicine” (ibid., 84). Her analysis concentrates on two Swiss psychiatrists, Medard Boss and Ludwig Binswanger, who applied Heidegger’s ideas to their psychiatric practice in different ways. Heidegger, Dastur claims, approved of Boss’ method of Daseinsanalyse because it forged a potential bridge between the ontological and ontic domains (ibid., 83). By contrast, Heidegger claimed that Binswanger’s “psychiatric analysis of Dasein” constituted a “complete misunderstanding” of his thought as it did not progress beyond “an ontic and existentiell interpretation of factual Dasein” (ibid., 83-84). A Heideggerian therapy that avoids the shortcomings of Binswanger’s approach, Dastur suggests, would necessitate a deeper engagement on the doctor’s part than the simple application of the ontological to the ontic by requiring the doctor to actually “experience himself as Da-sein” and perceive “all human reality” through this lens (ibid., 84).
In chapters six and eight, Dastur takes up the crucial “question of the other” in phenomenology by examining the relationship between Husserl and Heidegger’s views of intersubjectivity. In both chapters, Lévinas serves as Dastur’s main interlocutor as she critiques his strict distinction between Being and ontology, on the one hand, and Ethics and the Other/alterity on the other. In chapter six, she argues against Lévinas’ contention that the “question of the other” is adequately accounted for in Husserl’s philosophy but not in Heidegger’s, claiming instead that this question should be further examined in both their philosophies in an unprejudicial way (ibid., 69-70). Temporality is central to Dastur’s investigation of intersubjectivity here insofar as she bases her analysis on what she perceives as Lévinas’ worthwhile contention that the “alterity of the other” is entwined with the “alterity of time itself” (ibid., 70). She claims that Husserl’s notion of “self-constitution” relies on the alterity of time because the ego is necessarily constituted at a moment other than the present, meaning that the “constituting” and “constituted” cannot coincide (ibid., 71). Dastur suggests that for Husserl this also applies to the self-other relationship. Just as the ego cannot have immediate or direct access to its “past ego” (i.e. it can only recollect its past experiences later through reflection), in Husserl’s notion of “empathy”, the self only has indirect access to the other through “appresentation” (ibid., 74). Moreover, just as the self’s recollection of its “past-ego” assumes that it shares a “community of consciousness” with the latter, so too does the “appresentation” of the other to oneself presuppose an “originary co-presence of the other” within the flux of time (ibid.).
In Heidegger’s philosophy, Dastur suggests that we find an even more intimate relationship between the self and time because the self is not simply subject to, and in, time, Dasein is time (ibid., 76). As Heidegger’s well-known analysis of “being-toward-death” illustrates, Dasein’s finite nature means that time is essential to how it understands and interprets its own Being. Dastur emphasises that, for Heidegger, the term, “being-with”, does not simply entail the fact that other people exist (ibid., 76-77) but is rather implicated and presupposed in how the self understands, and engages with, its finite existence. Refuting Lévinas and those who accuse Heidegger of “solipsism”, she argues that “[i]t is therefore not at all a paradox to claim that in Being and Time, the question of the other is posed everywhere.” (ibid., 77-78, emphasis in original)
In chapter eight, Dastur recruits ideas from Ricoeur’s Oneself as Another to present a mediating position that adheres neither to Heidegger’s “thought of being” nor to Lévinas’ notion of “otherwise than being”, but rather contains and contests elements of both (ibid., 93 and 101-102). She challenges Lévinas’ distinction between ontology and ethics by using Heidegger’s Letter on Humanism as an example (ibid., 92). There, Heidegger combines these two notions by reanimating an ancient notion of ethics, namely, “ethos” (or “place of habitation”), which he conceptualises as the study of the “truth of Being” (Dastur 2017, 92 and Heidegger 1977, 234-235). Positioning herself against Lévinas, Dastur claims that ontology, for Heidegger, is already “practical”, “engaged” and “ethical”, qualities which help to explain why he did not explicitly produce an ethics (Dastur 2017, 93).
In part three, Dastur establishes a dialogue between Husserl and Heidegger’s phenomenological accounts of time by way of Merleau-Ponty’s views of temporality and the notion of the “event”. Ricoeur and Gadamer’s views of the entwinement of hermeneutics and narrativity in history are also examined. In chapter nine, Dastur designates Merleau-Ponty as the “figure of the phenomenological movement situated ‘between’ Heidegger and Husserl” by tracing the “movement” of the section on “Temporality” in Phenomenology of Perception (ibid., 112). There, Merleau-Ponty refutes both the realist and idealist responses to the problem of time. On the one hand, Dastur claims that the realist view, for Merleau-Ponty, posits that the “subject is in time”, whereby time regarded as an object (ibid., 107, emphasis in original). In Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty (2002, 481) suggests that this conventional notion of “objective time” is unviable because it would simply consist in a “series of instances of ‘now’, which are presented to nobody, since nobody is involved in them”. Rather than being supposedly applicable to everyone, objective time would in fact be inapplicable to anyone. On the other hand, Dastur claims that the idealist view, for Merleau-Ponty, posits that the subject is “outside” of time and thus supposedly liberated from its confines (Dastur 2017, 107-108, emphasis in original). For Merleau-Ponty, Dastur argues, this so-called “freedom” is misleading because the subject can only conceive of time’s “passage” or flow by inhabiting time rather than remaining completely detached from it (ibid., 108-109). Merleau-Ponty’s alternative phenomenological response to the problem of time is that the “subject is time” (ibid., 107, emphasis in original). By this, he means that an account of time must take the lived experience of the particular subject as its starting point. It is the subject that either connects, or distinguishes between, the events of his/her past, thereby organising them into an integrated and meaningful narrative.
Dastur suggests that Merleau-Ponty formulates his phenomenological account of time by taking up an unconventional mediating position between Husserl and Heidegger’s views of temporality (ibid., 110 and 112). Whereas Merleau-Ponty, she claims, follows Heidegger in interpreting Husserl’s notion of “intentionality” as “transcendence”, he follows Husserl in interpreting “ek-stasis” as pertaining to the subject rather than to existence (ibid., 110-111). Moreover, she continues, by emphasising the subject’s “ek-static rather than synthetic character”, Merleau-Ponty reinforces Husserl’s notion of the “‘living’” or “‘enlarged’” present which, unlike the conventional notion of the present, comprises both the “retentional and protentional horizons” of the past and future (ibid., 113 and 115). Dastur deems this marriage of Husserl and Heidegger as “the proper singularity of Merleau-Ponty’s work, which manages to give an eminent sense to the unity of what we have rightly called not the ‘school’ but the ‘movement’ of phenomenology” (ibid., 115).
In chapter ten, Dastur tackles the challenging question of how phenomenology can conceive of the “event”. Specifically, Dastur claims that “the question is to show how a phenomenology of the event (if it is possible) constitutes the most proper completion of the phenomenological project rather than an announcement of its destitution or impossibility, as thinkers of absolute exteriority and alterity (such as Levinas and Derrida) sometimes suggest” (ibid., 120). In her view, the event poses a challenge to philosophy (including phenomenology) because it exemplifies the “contingency” of time (ibid., 116). The event, she argues, is brought about through an unexpected rupture between the past and future, which, in turn, is crucial to human experience because it allows for its transformation (ibid., 120). Dastur investigates the significance of the “event” by examining the “phenomenology of expectation and surprise” that she finds in both Husserl and Heidegger’s philosophies (ibid., 121). Influenced by Heidegger’s characterisation of death as “possibility” (or an “impossible” paradoxically made “possible”), Dastur links the “phenomenology of eventuality” with the “phenomenology of mortality” (ibid., 121). Husserl’s philosophy intersects with Heidegger’s in Dastur’s analysis through her claim that Heidegger’s delineation of the possible as “a structure of existence” is grounded in Husserl’s “intentional analyses”, with the notion of “excess” being common to both (ibid., 122). Just as the “possible” exceeds the “real” in Heidegger’s existential analysis, the “intentional aim” exceeds the “intentional object” in Husserl’s intentional analysis (ibid., 121-122).
Dastur perceptively raises a potential objection to developing a “phenomenology of the event”, namely, the possibility of confronting events of such magnitude (e.g. the death of a lover and “religious conversion”) that they provoke not only a “reconfiguration of possibles” within human experience but the total annihilation of them (ibid., 123). In such circumstances, Dastur suggests, our ability to even confront the event becomes doubtful insofar as what “we experience in moments of crisis is our incapacity to experience the traumatizing event in the present” (ibid., emphasis in original). Dastur’s counterargument is that the fact that we attempt to attribute meaning to the event in the first place presupposes that we are already in the process of engaging with it (rather than simply being at its mercy) (ibid., 124). She argues that, “[w]e must therefore not oppose phenomenology to the thought of the event, but rather conjoin them, so that the opening to the phenomenon can be merged with the opening to the unforeseeable.” (ibid., 124-125).
In chapter eleven, Dastur turns her attention to the issue of “historicity”. Her analysis centres on the “philosophies of historicity” that arose as a reaction against the undesirable relativism that followed the demise of Hegelianism (ibid., 128). She claims that these philosophies presented a new way of conceiving the link between “truth and history”, which had previously been overlooked by relativistic approaches (ibid.). The beginnings of this new conception, Dastur suggests, can be found in Husserl’s phenomenology and, to a certain extent, in the “life-philosophy” of theorists such as Wilhelm Dilthey and Yorck von Wartenburg (ibid.). However, she also argues that a common weakness amongst these “philosophies of historicity”, including in Husserl’s thought, is their inability to situate history fundamentally in the concepts of “death and finitude” (ibid., 129). For example, Dastur suggests that Husserl is ultimately unable to grasp the “absolute historicity of consciousness” because he maintains that the transcendental ego is immortal (ibid., 130-131). By contrast, Dastur believes that “only in Heidegger are finitude and historicity thought as essentially linked to one another, with mortality constituting the hidden ground of the historicity of existence” (ibid., 131). Dastur stresses here (and in other chapters) that Heidegger’s view of history is not solipsistic because the finite subject is embedded in a community of other finite subjects with whom it remains in conversation (ibid., 132-133). Aligning herself with Heidegger, Dastur concludes that mortality is the basis of truth and history, and that the acknowledgement of the interconnectedness of “human finitude” and the wider “finiteness of being” signals the opportunity for developing a “new alliance of truth and history” (ibid., 137).
In chapter twelve, Dastur begins by discussing David Carr’s interpretation of Ricoeur’s views on the philosophy of history, concentrating on the relationship between the “ontological” and “epistemological” aspects of narrative (ibid., 138). Dastur sets out Ricoeur’s view that epistemology and ontology are entwined in narrative in such a way that epistemology transforms into ontology, in turn effecting the “opening of the hermeneutic dimension itself” (ibid., 139-140). This uncovering of the hermeneutic dimension is possible in Ricoeur’s philosophy, Carr claims, because he departs from the traditional “representational” view of historical knowledge whereby the latter is said to mirror the “real past” (ibid., 139). By contrast, Carr stresses that historical knowledge for Ricoeur is transformative, maintaining a “‘re-creative’ or reconfigurative” relationship with the past with which it actively engages (ibid.). As Dastur explains, for Ricoeur it is through the act of interpretation that a profound relationship is established between the historian/interpreter and the past (ibid., 140). This relationship permeates his/her “fundamental mode of being”, encompassing his/her connection with the texts s/he interprets, other people and to himself/herself (ibid.).
To advance her analysis of history and hermeneutics, Dastur turns to Gadamer’s philosophy, believing that he “most forcefully expressed the linkage of epistemology and ontology in the intermediary dimension of hermeneutics” (ibid.). She argues that, for Gadamer, the historian’s relationship with the past is not one of domination, but is instead “dialogical” in that the past “speaks” to the historian who simultaneously interprets it (ibid., 140-142). Dastur claims that, due to the time lapse between the moments of composition and interpretation, the meaning of a text for Gadamer is neither completely foreign nor completely understandable, but is rather situated between “strangeness and familiarity” (ibid., 140 and 142). Gadamer (2002, 330-331) himself views this “temporal distance” not as an obstacle to be eliminated, but rather as “a positive and productive condition enabling understanding”. Dastur concludes by concurring with Carr’s contention that “hermeneutics and narrativity” are implicated in each other, such that one can no longer “‘clearly separate life and the activity of recounting this life’” (Dastur 2017, 146).
In the final part of the monograph, Dastur explores the interrelated themes of finitude, worldliness and the divine through Patočka and Fink’s interpretations of Heidegger’s thought. In chapter thirteen, Dastur further investigates the linkages between Husserl and Heidegger, this time recruiting Jan Patočka as a mediating figure. While recognising both philosophers as important figures in the phenomenological movement, Dastur claims that Patočka highlights “the unifying elements subtending their opposition…by adopting a critical attitude with respect to both doctrines, to make the profound meaning of phenomenology appear as a ‘reflection on the crisis of thinking,’ which is also a crisis of humanity” (ibid., 151, emphasis in original).
In chapter fourteen, Dastur analyses three of Patočka’s texts that focus on Heidegger’s philosophy. In the first text, The Crisis of Meaning, Patočka explores the similarities between Heidegger’s work and that of Thomas Masaryk, a Czech politician and philosopher (ibid., 157). Patočka, Dastur claims, perceives in both Heidegger’s “eminently practical philosophy” and Masaryk’s act of establishing the state, prime examples of “‘engaged thought’” based on Heidegger’s notion of “resoluteness” (ibid., 158-159). The second text, “Martin Heidegger, Thinker of Humanity”, is the “immediate posthumous elegy” that Patočka wrote for Heidegger (ibid., 160). There, Dastur claims, Patočka portrays Heidegger as a “thinker of humanity” instead of a “thinker of being”, which is aligned with Heidegger’s own views in Letter on Humanism (ibid.). Finally, Dastur examines a text that Patočka wrote following his “Varna lecture from September 1973” (ibid., 163). According to Dastur, Patočka claims that Heidegger’s philosophy constitutes the “‘first truly radical attempts to situate philosophy in finitude’”, with the latter constituting the primary theme in both his early and more mature writings (ibid.). Based on this assessment, Patočka distances himself from Husserl’s version of phenomenology, with its insistence on the immortality of the transcendental ego, and draws closer to Heidegger’s version. In Dastur’s reading of Patočka, Heidegger’s emphasis on mortality also means that he perceives technology as a more ominous threat to humanity than Husserl (ibid., 164). Technology contributes to the illusion of our domination over nature, which is perceived simply as a measurable resource for indiscriminate exploitation (ibid.). According to Dastur, Patočka’s Heideggerian viewpoint is that technology obscures how “sacrifice” brings the “human nonmastery over beings” to light, thereby tempering the illusory “unconditional mastery” over beings that technology seeks to promote (ibid., 164-165).
In chapter fifteen, Dastur focusses on Eugen Fink’s course, “World and Finitude”, which is based on ideas from Heidegger’s course, Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude (ibid., 167). Fink explores in it the interconnections between the themes of finitude and “worldliness”, that is, our relationship with “nonhuman” entities in the world (ibid., 168). Whereas Heidegger characterises this issue as “ontological difference”, Fink characterises it as “cosmological difference” (ibid., 167). Fink, Dastur claims, avoids formulating his notion of “cosmological difference” based on Heidegger’s notion of “ontological difference” because he regards cosmology as more fundamental than ontology whereas Heidegger argues for the reverse (ibid., 169). When investigating cosmological thought, Fink posits the notion of the “‘double experience’ of death” as a counterpart to Heidegger’s notion of death as the “condemnation to extreme individuation” (ibid., 173). When confronted with death, Fink believes that we experience both “solitude” and “love”, where love is a means of liberating ourselves from solitude (ibid.). In Dastur’s view, Fink conceives of “love” as an intersubjective experience that emphasises the regeneration of life, that is, the experience of merging with the “‘original and unformed ground of all life and being’”, such as is featured in Nietzsche’s “philosophy of life” (ibid., 173-174). Dastur argues that, “[i]n opposition to the unilaterality of the Heideggerian interpretation that […] gives primacy to death, Fink wants to give value to the double aspect, individual and social, of death and to conjoin the perspective of the dying with the perspective of the survivor.” (ibid., 176)
In the final chapter, Dastur explores the role of the divine in the phenomenological movement. Dastur claims that Husserl, like Kant, abandons the traditional philosophical notion of “a metaphysical God” who acts as a “supreme ontological guarantor” (ibid., 180). Rather, Husserl conceives of God as subject to the “laws of intentionality” in the same way as humans (ibid., 178). However, Dastur suggests that this conception of God proved problematic for Husserl when he attempted to subject it to the transcendental reduction, because it did not fit neatly into his categories of “immanence” and “transcendence” (ibid., 179-180). Husserl ultimately arrived at a conception of God as “a perfect and totally rational humanity” constituting the “absolute logos” towards which humans are heading (ibid., 181). However, Dastur emphasises that this development does not signal “a ‘religious’ turn for phenomenology” in the context of his philosophy (ibid.).
Turning then to Heidegger, Dastur claims that he formulates his own notion of the “last God” based on the experience of the “death of God” in Nietzsche, and the “flight of the Gods” in Hölderlin’s poetry (ibid., 183). Dastur identifies several aspects of this “last God” that Heidegger believes would allow us to develop a more profound grasp of the divine than past conceptions of God (ibid., 184). First, unlike the “God of revelation”, the “last God” “passes” into time, meaning that it only interacts with us as it retreats (ibid.). Second, being subject to the flux of time, the “last God” reveals to us “‘the most intimate finitude of being’” rather than the “divine infinitude” of the Christian God (ibid.). Lastly, unlike the “moral God”, the “last God” does not decree anything (ibid.).
As stated at the beginning of this review, Dastur’s exploration of key phenomenological questions is fluid, nuanced and engages with, rather than avoids, the complexities that emerge from such an investigation. There are a few more evaluating remarks I want to make to conclude this review. First, this monograph would be most useful to those seeking an analysis of diverse issues in the phenomenological movement from various perspectives rather than a detailed analysis of a particular issue. Second, although Dastur raises some astute criticisms of the theorists she examines (e.g. her critique of Husserl’s privileging of the substantive in chapter two), besides Lévinas, I felt that a few more figures who clearly distinguish between Husserl and Heidegger could have been included to render the analysis more balanced. Lastly, although there are clear lines of argument within the individual chapters that render them cohesive, the reader may sometimes feel frustrated at the lack of an overall topic that unites all parts of the work. This, however, is probably a result of the approach that Dastur has chosen to adopt, and, moreover, part of the point she wants to make. As she continually emphasises, phenomenology should be viewed as an evolving movement that encompasses diverse perspectives rather than a doctrine whose followers are assumed to share a common subject-matter or common principles. The notably diverse nature of phenomenological contributions has been noted by commentators like Dan Zahavi (2012, 1), who observed that sometimes, despite Husserl’s crucial status as the forefather of phenomenology, “virtually all post-Husserlian phenomenologists ended up distancing themselves from most aspects of Husserl’s original program” (ibid.). He even goes so far as to ask whether “there really [is] something like a phenomenological tradition, let alone a phenomenological method” (ibid.). From this perspective, then, Dastur’s approach is not flawed but rather an attempt to contribute to the phenomenological movement by tackling a key challenge to it.
Dastur, Françoise. 2017. Questions of Phenomenology: Language, Alterity, Temporality, Finitude. Translated by Robert Vallier. New York: Fordham University Press.
Figal, Gü 2012. “Hermeneutical Phenomenology”. In The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Phenomenology, edited by Dan Zahavi, 525-542. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 2002. “Elements of a Theory of Hermeneutic Experience” from Truth and Method. In The Phenomenology Reader, edited by Dermot Moran and Timothy Mooney, 314-338. London and New York: Routledge.
Heidegger, Martin. 1977. Letter on Humanism. In Basic Writings, edited by David Farrell Krell, 189-242. New York: Harper and Row.
Hopkins, Burt C. 1993. Intentionality in Husserl and Heidegger: The Problem of the Original Method and Phenomenon of Phenomenology. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 2002. Phenomenology of Perception. Translated by Colin Smith. London: Routledge Classics.
Zahavi, Dan. 2012. “Introduction” to The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Phenomenology, edited by Dan Zahavi, 1-4. Oxford: Oxford University Press.