After the complete collection of the published works of Rudolf Carnap (1891-1970) was accepted to be published by Oxford University Press in 2016, the long-awaited first volume of the 14-volume edition of the Collected Writings of Rudolf Carnap has been finally published. This volume represents the first ever English translation of Carnap’s early writings published from 1918 through 1926, before Carnap moved to Vienna becoming one of the leading figures of the Vienna Circle. Carnap is rightly considered one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century. He made contributions in many areas, from the philosophy of science to the philosophy of logic, always stressing the need for a critical assessment of the role logic, mathematics and philosophy should play in scientific knowledge. His works played a key role in the development of Logical Empiricism; one of the main sources of what would become analytic philosophy. Although in the present day a fruitful dialogue between analytic philosophy and other philosophical traditions is not always easily achievable, at that time rather different philosophical perspectives were coexisting. The perspectives shared a common cultural framework and, most importantly, they were used to profitably interact with each other in a way that has since become increasingly difficult and Carnap’s early writings are a perfect example of this. Carnap was an eclectic intellectual whose interests embraced different philosophical ways of thinking to such an extent that his multifaceted interests appeared to some as objectionable or even inconsistent, as he recalls in his autobiography. However, he was proud to claim that he acquired valuable insights from philosophers and scientists of ‘a great variety of philosophical creeds’. Carnap’s early writings indeed shows a clear influence of the main philosophers usually regarded as belonging to the analytic tradition, such as Frege and Russell, but Husserl’s phenomenology and many neo-Kantian thinkers such as Natorp and Cassirer play an important role as well. These essays represent a fundamental resource for both Carnap scholars and historians of analytic philosophy. Firstly, these writings make possible a better understanding of Carnap’s thought and its development since the early years and, secondly, they shed some light on the origins of analytic philosophy and the multi-faceted nature of the cultural framework around that time.
I wish now to make a few general considerations on the editorial work. First of all, let’s say the present volume represents an outstanding work in Carnap scholarship both for its great attention to detail and for its richness in several in-depth analyses that furnish all the historical and mathematical background needed to understand Carnap’s writings. The volume is the final outcome of the work of many people and the editors present an overall picture of all those who have contributed to the project. The volume begins with a brief chronology of Carnap’s life followed by an Introduction edited by Carus and Friedman which presents an exhaustive overview of the essays that follow. The editors show the original German alongside the English translation and at the end of volume they accurately report any minimal changes they have made with respect to the original text. Each essay is followed by a section giving further information that carefully helps the reader to contextualize and understand the text, and in places, the editorial notes are impressively accurate. The editors indeed make extensive use of Carnap’s Nachlass to furnish us with a clear representation of Carnap’s view. Although, reference to an English translation of much of the literature quoted in the final bibliography would have been useful to the reader. The editors accurately report the corrected bibliographic information for all items cited in Carnap’s texts, but they do not indicate whether an English translation of each item is available . As the present volume is mainly addressed to an English audience, this would have been useful even though it would have resulted in a longer bibliographical list. Finally, I would report a misprint at page 189: towards the end of the page the editors refers to note mm (twice), but it should be note ll. In the following I will briefly show the content of the different essays and give a few remarks on the editorial work on these texts whenever appropriate.
The first essay is entitled Völkerbund – Staatenbund and depicts a young Carnap in his twenties engaged in the social-political life of his country towards the end of World War I. At that time Carnap was actively engaged with the German Youth Movement, particularly the parts of the movement politically engaged against the war, and this text represents his contribution to the first issue of the left-wing political newsletter Politische Rundbriefe, published by Karl Bittel in October 1918. This brief text should have been followed by another text where a few critical considerations on the German’s defeat in the war were addressed; however, this second text was never published. However, in the Introduction the editors sketch the content of both texts and we can then see how they present an overview of Carnap’s political world view at that time. According to Carnap, politics is not to be understood in a narrow sense, rather it refers to everything that has ‘some connection with the public social life of people’. As the editors suggest, this view of politics underlies Carnap’s philosophical work for most of his life, especially with respect to the role that reason, and more specifically ‘scientific’ reasoning should play in a society or a community where all the activities should be regulated and so removed ‘from the realm of chaotic whim’ and subordinated ‘to goal-oriented reason’. On the contrary, an excessive contemplative, quietist, or even mystical approach of mental life, not properly balanced by a politically active life is instead suggested to be one of the main reasons for Germany’s guilt for causing the war. This text represents an important resource in order to understand the interconnection between the political and philosophical reflections that were co-existing in Carnap’s philosophy and more generally, in the ambitious and multi-faced cultural phenomenon represented by the Vienna Circle.
In Wer erzwingt die Geltung des Naturgesetzes? Carnap reviews Hugo Dingler’s Physik und Hypothese where the author defends a conventionalist account of the primary laws of nature. Carnap acknowledges Dingler’s philosophical view as one of the most important influences on his own thought. In 1920 Carnap even considered writing a doctoral dissertation under Dingler’s direction at the physics department in Munich, and a joint publication was also planned till September 1921. Despite several disagreements, Dingler remained an important influence Carnap’s writings in the early 1920s. At the very beginning Carnap asked himself a question: what if someone comes along and claims that laws of nature are matter of free decision? That’s exactly the kind of question that Dingler’s book seeks to address. Dingler holds that nature can neither impose a particular choice, nor ever contradict our stipulations, but we are free to choose the primary laws of nature; the spatial and causal laws. Carnap admits that a view of this sort appears odd, and he is reluctant to agree with Dingler, (especially with respect to Dingler’s rejection of Einstein’s general theory of relativity), but he proudly claims that this book ‘clears the ground on which an examination of the foundations of physics, and in particular the theory of relativity, could rest’. The present essay is an important resource in order to better understand the genesis of very distinctive Carnapian notion, i.e. Carnap’s conventionalism. This notion is clearly influenced by Dingler’s view on the conventional nature of the laws of nature that Carnap identifies as critical conventionalism, thereby distinguishing it from Poincaré’s notion of conventionalism. According to Carnap, Poincaré’s conventionalism relies on a free choice that is completely arbitrary, whereas Dingler’s view holds that our choices can be uniquely determined by a certain principle of maximal simplicity. Carnap favours Dingler’s conventionalism over Poincaré’s account and will reformulate Dingler’s criteria of simplicity in later years. Carnap’s early conventionalism then seems to find its roots in a critical reformulation of Dingler’s conventionalism. Moreover, this essay shows us the extent to which Carnap’s philosophical considerations rely on an in-depth knowledge of physics and scientific practice. This is evident from his remarks on stipulations that rely on a critical analysis of physical knowledge, conceived not simply as a study of empirical data, but as a stratified and articulated measurement practice of empirical phenomena.
Der Raum is definitely a fundamental text for Carnap scholars. It is a lengthy and substantial book, it was largely written in late 1920, then submitted in 1921 to the philosophy department as a doctoral dissertation, and eventually published in Kant-Studien in 1922. The book aims to make things clear on the debate taking place at the time regarding the source of our knowledge of space and, especially, to what extent an objective knowledge of space could depend on experience. Carnap argues that the many different perspectives advocated by philosophers, mathematicians and physicists are contradictory as their differences rely on confusion over the different meanings of space. Der Raum then aims to show that a proper conceptual clarification of the different meanings of space and their interconnections can shed light on this debate and finally dissolve the controversy.
The first three chapters deal respectively with three different meanings of space; formal, intuitive and physical space, whereas the last two chapters focus on their interconnections and how each space is related to experience. The notion of formal space (formale Raum) is defined in terms of ‘relational or structural system’, i.e. a system fully determined by a set of formal axioms whose objects and relations (holding among them) are indeterminate and not related to any specific intuitive meaning. From this formal system we can obtain the spatial system once we substitute spatial elements (point, line, …) for their indeterminate correlation. Carnap refers to this formal system also in terms of “pure theory of relations” (reine Beziehungslehre). He further claims that the construction of formal space can be undertaken in a different way, which is the only path that ‘makes the complete construction of formal space possible, comprising all the special cases’. Starting from formal logic, i.e. the general theory of classes and relations, Carnap then briefly sketches this construction. He introduces the basic notions of ‘judgment’, ‘proposition’, ‘concept’, ‘relation’, and so on, until he defines the notion of ‘(ordered) series’ (natural numbers, real numbers, etc) and finally he arrives at the most general notion of formal space, called n-dimensional topological space and designated by Rnt. By imposing specific conditions on this structure, Carnap obtains the n-dimensional projective space Rnp and the n-dimensional metrical space Rnm. Starting from these formal structures we can obtain the three different intuitive spaces (topological, projective, metrical) by substituting their indeterminate elements with spatial elements. Carnap explicitly claims that ‘a relation of substitution (Einsetzung) holds between the theory of formal and that of intuitive space’, even though the connection between formal space and intuitive space is not so straightforward since postulates and generalizations also play a role in the construction of the order-structure of intuitive space (for any dimension). However, this kind of connection resembles Husserl’s distinction between formal ontology and regional ontology and Carnap is well aware of this and he explicitly refers to it in order to clarify his perspective. Moreover, Husserl’s Wesenserschauung is mentioned to specify the kind of intuitive knowledge involved, making clear that it is not to be confused with ‘intuition (Anschauung) in the narrower sense, focused on the fact itself’ as it pertains to the essential features that can be grasped within phenomena. In agreement with Husserl’s remarks on Kant’s conception of a priori, Carnap claims that the essential features of intuitive space turn out be ‘the synthetic a priori propositions claimed by Kant’. Therefore, the principles governing the formal space are analytic a priori, whereas the ones governing the topological space are synthetic a priori. These two kinds of space, however, are not enough to give a comprehensive picture of scientific knowledge of space. We need to introduce the physical space that represents the domain of synthetic a posteriori knowledge. The knowledge of physical space, however, other than being based on the empirical results of experiments, necessarily relies on conventions that are based on the choice of metric stipulation we decide to adopt. Carnap further claims that, if we wish, we could impose a different metric geometry and still obtain a physical space that is compatible with all our everyday and scientific observations, even though the final outcome might be far from straightforward. Physical space, therefore, relies on conventions but the choice of metric stipulation should be evaluated in terms of some criteria of simplicity that consider the overall description of nature.
Carnap’s Der Raum shows an impressive richness both from a philosophical and mathematical point of view. Carnap’s appendix ‘Pointers to the Literature’ contains substantial resources to historically contextualize many of the issues raised in the book. Starting from his adherence to the logistic approach of Frege and Russell, then going through the neo-Kantian perspectives of Natorp and Cassirer, on to Husserl’s phenomenology and Dingler’s conventionalism, Carnap’s Der Raum turns out to be a very interesting re-elaboration and combination of different philosophical perspectives. Moreover, the most important mathematical and physical literature of the time is seriously taken into account and the major works of Hilbert, Poincaré, Weyl, Riemann, and many others, are discussed and their results are assimilated into Carnap’s view. Several issues in Der Raum, therefore, should be enlightened by reference to the rich cultural framework that underlies this book. For instance, further investigation into the interconnections between Der Raum and Weyl’s Raum-Zeit-Materie would prove very interesting and fruitful. Carnap explicitly makes reference to Weyl’s writings several times, and a comparison between Carnap’s and Weyl’s studies on space – the latter being clearly influenced by Husserl’s phenomenology – might shed light on the nature of Husserl’s influence on Der Raum. Similarly, further investigation into Carnap’s re-elaboration of Russell’s and Husserl’s perspectives on logic to construct formal space could be useful in order to clarify several aspects of Carnap’s later notion of rational reconstruction. Carnap’s notion of metrical stipulation is another example. A detailed analysis of Carnap’s account on stipulations could shed light on the development of his later conventionalism. The editorial work on Der Raum (edited by Michael Friedman) successfully achieves a great deal of this task. It is extremely accurate and several in-depth analyses furnish the historical and mathematical background that a reader needs to properly understand the many issues contained in this book. The editor further includes Carnap’s marginalia (contained in Carnap’s own copy of Der Raum) in the editorial notes at the corresponding points which gives the reader a clearer picture of Carnap’s view on this specific issue.
However, a few critical remarks can be put forward. Friedman does not seem to capture the exact nature of the Husserlian framework underlying Carnap’s view nor how it relates to the neo-Kantian framework that – as Friedman rightly suggests – underlies Der Raum. In the Introduction (edited also by Carus), for instance, the editors charge Carnap with confusion in respect to his conception of intuitive topological space, which ‘somewhat confusingly’ shares the status of conditions for the possibility of experience with formal topological space. This remark seems to underlie a misconception of Husserl’s philosophy. The introduction of phenomenology is definitely one major difference between the previous Masters dissertation of 1920 and the published version of Der Raum. The published edition of 1922, indeed, is a revisited version of the previous Masters dissertation that Carnap had written for the philosophy department in 1920. In the revisited version Carnap substitutes his previous conception of ‘pure geometry’ with ‘intuitive space’ and this very change marks a shift from a neo-Kantian notion of ‘condition for the possibility of experience’ to a Husserlian reinterpretation thereof. I do not mean that Carnap adheres completely to Husserl’s perspective, but his major interest in phenomenology relies exactly on the Husserlian reformulation of Kant’s synthetic a priori propositions in terms of regional axioms that belong to a certain regional ontology. It is precisely this notion of regional ontology that shapes Carnap’s notion of intuitive topological space, and more generally it is precisely the Husserlian distinction between regional ontology and formal ontology that shapes the overall Carnapian distinction between intuitive and formal space. Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology is a philosophical account that – by the introduction of the notion of categorial intuition (that later develops into the notion Wesenserschauung) – enables Husserl to speak in terms of essential structures intuitively given in a phenomenal domain and playing the role of regional axioms, i.e. conditions for the possibility of experience of this very domain. These regional axioms, moreover, are connected to their correlated abstract structures – free from any intuitive elements and belonging to the domain of formal ontology – by means of relations of formalization and de-formalization (categorical intuitions come into play again). These abstract structures, moreover, share the status of experience-constituting validity since they represent the categorical form of the essential structures governing the given phenomenal domain. Carnap’s intuitive topological space – shaping Husserl’s notion of regional ontology – does not share ‘confusingly’ the status of conditions for the possibility of experience with formal topological space, rather they both have this experience-constituting validity – even though in a different way – in agreement with Husserl’s perspective. Further remarks can be found in the editorial notes that do not seem to capture adequately the nature of the Husserlian framework underlying Der Raum. The editors rightly point out that Husserl’s phenomenology is essentially a descriptive science based on essential insight (Wesenserschauung), but they do not seem to ascribe the role of essences – grasped by Wesenserschauung – directly to the axioms of intuitive space. They designate these axioms as ‘describing the Wesenserschauung’ of our perceptual experience of objects in space, or as ‘codifying certain attributes of intuition’. These remarks seem to underlie that firstly, they keep distinct essences grasped by Wesenserschauung and the axioms describing them, and secondly, they do not ascribe to the axioms any intuitiveness by essential insight. Although the relation between a phenomenological description of a given phenomenal domain and the regional ontology characterizing the domain itself is a complex, multi-faced, and problematic field of phenomenological research, Husserl clearly states that they both have to investigated by Wesenserschauung. Therefore, the axioms themselves are intuitively given and they do not ‘describe’ or ‘codify’ an intuitive knowledge but, at most, we could say that in-depth phenomenological analysis can clarify their meaning-constitution.
It seems to me that this misconception of Husserl’s philosophy undermines their evaluation of Husserl’s contribution to Der Raum in several instances. However, the editors are right not to over-estimate Husserl’s influence on Der Raum over Carnap’s adherence to Kant’s philosophy or neo-Kantian thinkers. Der Raum is arguably a personal re-elaboration of several philosophical perspectives rather than a complete adherence to one specific account. It is not clearto what extent Carnap is fully accepting Husserl’s phenomenology in Der Raum, especially, with respect to the possibility to explore exhaustively a given phenomenal domain by Wesenserschauung in all its essential and stratified connections. Instead he seems interested in Husserl’s perspective only so far as it represents a philosophical account (with a Kantian flavor) within which it is possible – starting from the domain of empirical reality – to avoid the restrictions imposed by a neo-Kantian approach. This would enable him to freely explore the ‘characteristic structures’ belonging to this domain as without it implies a contingent knowledge and laying the foundations for a structural objective analysis of experience.
Über die Aufgabe der Physik addresses the question of what should be regarded as a criterion for maximal simplicity within a physical theory. Two different possibilities are examined with the aim of clarifying the relevant aspects that should rule the choice between them, even though no decision between these two possibilities is suggested in the paper. This text is an important resource to better understand Carnap’s view on simplicity and stipulations within a physical theory and how they both are related to Carnap’s conception of scientific rationality.
In Dreidimensionalität des Raumes und Kausalität Carnap explores how we construct reality starting from a world of sense impressions. Carnap draws an important distinction between experience that exhibits only necessary formation – or first-order experience – and experience that is processed further – or second-order experience. This distinction echoes the previous one in Der Raum between the necessary topological form and the various metrical conventions that could be imposed on it. In the paper Carnap explores this specific issue in a wider perspective where his conventional view is elaborated in the light of Vaihinger’s pragmatic view. It is no coincidence that the paper was published in Annalen der Philosophie, regarded as the house journal of Vaihinger and his followers. Vaihinger argues that we are able to access only the ‘chaos’ of our world of sense impressions whereas the reality we construct is not genuine knowledge but is rather based on useful fictions that allow us to get things done and live in the world. Carnap agrees with Vaihinger as far as it concerns the role of fictions in constructing the reality, but he argues that such a construction is not completely arbitrary. Firstly, we face a first-order experience that exhibits a basic form of ordering, and secondly, certain kinds of logical connections can be established among fictions shaping second-order experience. The paper aims to show that the fiction of three-dimensionality of space and the fiction of physical causality ‘stand in a relation of logical dependence with each other’, and the former is conditioned by the latter. This text is especially important because it helps us to shed light on the development of Aufbau. The first draft of Aufbau dates back to early 1922 and it was completed in 1925. During these years we can observe an important shift: in the early phase (1922-24) Carnap distinguishes a fixed ‘primary world’ of immediate experience – in accordance with the text we are discussing – from a ‘secondary world’ (or ‘realities’) that could be constructed by quasi-analysis on this intuitive basis. However, sometime during 1924 the distinction between primary and secondary world was dropped. Further investigation of Carnap’s intellectual encounters during these years is required , but the present text is clearly an important resource to better understand the development of his thought from Der Raum to Aufbau, especially with respect to his changing perspective on the epistemic value of intuitive knowledge.
In Über die Abhängigkeit der Eigenschaften des Raumes von denen der Zeit Carnap argues that statements about the topological structure of physical space can be reduced to statements about temporal or causal order. The paper needs a proper mathematical and physical background to be properly understood and Malament’s appendix satisfies this requirement. Malament gives a detailed reconstruction of Carnap’s account and he further discusses a number of mathematical problems suggesting how they could be fixed. This text is clearly an important resource for understanding Carnap’s efforts during these years not only in logic and philosophy of science, but also in physical and mathematical research of the time.
The last paper, entitled Physikalische Begriffsbildung, is an important paper written shortly before Carnap moved to Vienna in 1926. In the Introduction Carnap outlines what is science: an activity of collecting and organizing items of knowledge with the aim of subjecting the reality ‘to an ever higher degree of control’”. According to this pragmatic view of science, the task of physics is ‘to order perceptions systematically and to draw inferences from perceptions at hand to perceptions to be expected’. Carnap then explores thoroughly the hierarchical structure of physical concept formation, subdividing its formation into three main stages: qualitative stage, quantitative stage, and abstract stage. The present paper gives us an interesting overall picture of Carnap’s conception of rational reconstruction at the very moment when Carnap was on his way to the final version of the Aufbau. The editorial work (edited by Creath and Richardson) is again very accurate and detailed, although a few remarks on the comparison between Carnap’s Begriffsbildung and Weyl’s Begriffsbildung (as well as Weyl’s Konstitution) might have been useful, especially with respect to Carnap’s later conception of Konstitution.
But aside from these last considerations, the editors have done an excellent job firstly, in making all these texts available to English readers for the first time, and secondly, in making them more understandable thanks to their very rich in-depth analysis. This volume enhances the increasing English literature on the early young Carnap, which in turn provides a clearer picture of the development of logical empiricism and early analytic philosophy. The essays provide a fundamental resource to explore the multi-faceted cultural framework of the time where different philosophical movements were used to profitably interact with each other in a way that has become increasingly difficult in the later years. For all these reasons, the present volume is of considerable merit and should be of interest to Carnap scholars, historians of analytic philosophy and to Husserl scholars and researchers working at the intersection between the philosophy of science, logic and phenomenology.
In the opening lines of the excellently compiled essay collection by Luís Aguiar de Sousa and Ana Falcato titled Phenomenological Approaches to Intersubjectivity and the Values (originally published August 2019), it becomes clear that the innovative aspect of this work is not the tried and true cognitive discussion of the role the complex phenomenon of intersubjectivity plays in our lives, although most of section I is dedicated to this “classical” discussion. It is rather the volume’s focus on the axiological parts of our existence that is of particular interest. In this review, I will present a short summary of the articles and essays presented in the volume, as well as offer commentary and critique of their central themes. I have selected only a few due to length constraints. I also present some further discussions in order to contextualize for the wider debates in phenomenology.
We can begin with the introduction, for there it is stated that the approach the collection intends to take, is axiological. According to the editors, it is the case that “what makes this volume special and distinct from other collective works on the phenomenology of intersubjectivity is its insistence on the axiological—that is, the ethical and existential—dimension of phenomenology’s account of intersubjectivity.” (2) However, further explication or discussion dedicated to accounting for what exactly the field of “axiology” denotes is not pursued.
“Within continental philosophy, phenomenology is more widely understood and engaged with than axiology. As such, it would have been prudent to dedicate more time to accounting for what exactly axiology is. Especially since “there has been a renewed interest in phenomenology in recent Anglo-American philosophy” (1).
This seems to imply the equal familiarity between the two on behalf of the readers though; phenomenology on the one hand, and axiology on the other, where it can be claimed that between the two, phenomenology is arguably the more known. This is not necessarily the case, however. That said, it is indeed true, as the editors also claim, that the essays in the collection quickly move from the more classical debates about how to account for the presence of the other, (the realm that is often most interested in the cognition-focused Anglo-American philosophy) and into the realm of ethics and even theology. This fact, is most welcome. This is especially the case given the explicitness with which this fact is confirmed. It is the case, for instance, that the ethical dimension of the phenomenological quest of investigating our social natures as intersubjectively constituted creatures, often looms in the background of the contemporary phenomenological writing, and this is the case for almost all the writing on intersubjectivity both classic and more recent. Yet surprisingly, this very fact does not seem to be explicitly focused on, as the ethical dimension of the phenomenological project, often approached at the end of a given text, trails off or is relegated to “another occasion”. This is where “values” comes in, and as such, this collection can be seen as a form of bridge between the two now less estranged banks of intersubjectivity and the values, crossing the river of phenomenology that gives rise to both.
The book is divided into three parts, each with their own focus. The essays in part I. are dedicated to “The Cognitive and Epistemological Dimension of the Problem of the Other” consisting of 5 essays. Although thorough, this section is perhaps the least original, as it is dedicated to the classical discussion from within the writings of some major phenomenologists, such as Merleau-Ponty and Husserl. Yet, the interesting thing is how the essays in the section, despite what can be claimed is the generally unoriginal approach of their points of departure—exegesis of the classical texts (which Zahavi, in several places, claims is the tendentious trap of much contemporary phenomenology)—all have original streaks in several of their main points. For instance, the text by Jorge Goncalves on Intersubjectivity in Psychiatry brings phenomenology to bear on some background assumptions in psychiatry concerning the status of the self. He shows how longstanding debates in phenomenology can greatly help the psychiatrist get a grip on his or her patient, and the latter’s fundamental needs. He concludes that although some of the prevailing theories in psychology concerning our access to the other’s mind, namely Theory-Theory and Simulation Theory, can provide relevant and helpful explanations for psychiatry, the fundamental problem remains the same: how to truly open oneself up to the other person, when the other person resides on the outside of “normality”. The conclusion is that phenomenology, with its traditional methodological operation manifested in the attempt to “suspend judgment and perceive things themselves as they are” (109) may prove to be more successful in this perennial and forever pertinent endeavor. Goncalves fails however, to note that a recent formulation of this “phenomenological approach” is termed “interaction theory” by Gallagher, as the latter opposes them explicitly to Theory-Theory and Simulation Theory as on equal footing.
A more classical exegetical discussion is found in another paper, the paper presented as chapter 1 by Paul F. Zipfel which is a thoroughgoing and careful analysis of Husserl’s notion of inaccessibility.
From the get-go, it becomes clear that, although well written, the essay is best read by someone already initiated into the core ideas of Husserl’s phenomenology. Introductory remarks are not made, and we jump right into the middle of the action, which is subtended by the paradoxical question of how the other appears to the subject, because of, not in spite of, his or her inaccessibility. The main thesis defended by Zipfel is that inaccessibility is a “function of the originality of the conscious act” and as such, is quite a fundamental part of our encounters with the other. A preparatory section is dedicated to the important, if somewhat exasperated discussion of direct versus indirect experience, before Zipfel moves into “the originality of experience” as he accounts for how that which is most original in the other subject’s experience, is not directly given to the experiencer of the other, but rather in the form of a “consciousness of a consciousness that is not my own.” This is quite subtle, and Zipfel presents some good examples in order to clarify this complex point. He draws on several contemporary commentators, as well as meticulous readings of Husserl’s own reflections as recounted on Cartesian Meditations and Husserliana in order to develop his discussion. The main conclusion in the essay is that the other is accessible exactly in his/her inaccessibility. The other person’s mind is in many ways directly perceived, but not fully or completely. There is always some mystery that eludes us, always something left to explore, yet this is what opens the door to ethics, and what we might call “the mystery of the other.”
The perhaps most original essay in part 1 is chapter 4, by Roberta Guccinelli, in which she discusses the notion of “the ecological self”. Interesting though it is, the author can be said to perhaps assume too much, as she jumps straight into it with the question of whether an “ecological self really exists” which is presumptuous due to its assumption that the reader has dedicated some time pondering this question, and it also perhaps assumes an already parallel standpoint taken on the very notion of the self, on the readers’ part. That said, Guccinelli’s approach to Scheler, attempting to use his phenomenology to (re)construct a self that is not just intersubjectively constituted, but ecologically constituted (what we might call “eco-subjective”) is most welcome. Although there has been literature that have drawn the background conceptual links between phenomenology and ecology out into the explicitly ethical open (like David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous), Guccinelli’s focus on the Self, along with Guccinelli’s usage of Scheler’s phenomenology in that regard, is highly interesting and original.
I stand by the contemporary Husserl scholar Dan Zahavi’s general comment mentioned in the bracket above, that there is a widespread tendency among current phenomenologists to dabble in egregious over-exegesis of the original source material. This is done with the best educational intentions, but it often only serves, ironically, to render it tiresome to the pragmatically oriented reader, who in many cases simply wants to see its immediate relevance to the discipline (nursing-studies, psychiatry, biology etc.) i.e. their own field. I have to present a lengthy quote which can help to moderate this view a little, which with its helpful and thorough discussion of the difference between (and similarities of) Husserl and Merleau-Ponty’s views on intersubjectivity, makes us see how the underlying and “classical” discussion is as alive and relevant as ever. Here are the concluding sentences from the final part of chapter 3, by one of the editors, de Sousa himself, as he compares Merleau-Ponty and Husserl.
Merleau-Ponty’s view has the great merit of making a very strong connection between subjectivity and intersubjectivity—of showing, in other words, that it is only possible for us to form the idea of other subjects because our self is radically different from the Cartesian self, and vice versa. As a result, Merleau-Ponty manages to turn Husserl’s account of intersubjectivity on its head, undermining the foundations of Husserlian phenomenology (even if this remains polemical from a Husserlian point of view). (79)
Now, it might be argued that there is an overabundance in the literature when it comes to the exegetical accounts of what the phenomenological forefathers actually meant to say, and that there should be a stricter separation between “scholarly work” and “contemporary application” in the literature than what is currently fashionable, but that belies the way phenomenology is actually working. The early founding phenomenologists themselves, as de Sousa more than hints at above, argued intensely amongst themselves, and any usage of phenomenology today will have to take a stand on the premises in the debate in order to present their positive views on the applicability of the discipline to other fields. Especially when phenomenology meets contemporary empirical research. And these roots go way back to Husserl’s concern with The Crises of the European Sciences. More immediately engaged was Merleau-Ponty for instance, who was very much up to date with the empirical sciences of his day. Indeed, he was informed by the empirical sciences to such a degree that the neurological and psychological case studies buttressed central aspects of his phenomenology. Those studies are indispensable to his magnum opus, Phenomenology of Perception, and the approach developed therein. When the psychologist J.J. Gibson read Merleau-Ponty, he was directly inspired by the philosopher’s concept of motor-intentionality to develop his interactionist view of perception as directly action-guiding in The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception.
Today, links are drawn between Heidegger’s Being and Time and recent developments in the cognitive sciences. These links were first drawn by Hubert Dreyfus in his (in)famous reading of Heidegger’s existential analytic and phenomenology and used as a direct attack on the program of early research into artificial intelligence in the early 70s. From the get-go, the writings of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre (as well as Gabriel Marcel, as we see below) were greatly influencing literature and literary criticism in a sensitive and highly creative time in French writing. This could not have been done without the direct and indirect influence of Husserl, and his early investigations (that Raymond Aron, Sartre and de Beauvoir were exposed to and inspired by) of intentionality. In other words, exegetical or not, phenomenological and existentialist ideas have always, in one way or another, been in mutual engagement with the broader cultural streams, and in turn been affected and changed by them. As such, it can be claimed that “the problem of exegesis” is not a problem at all, but part and parcel of what good phenomenology is all about. So much for part I. of the collection.
In part II. “The Ethical and Existential Approach to the Problem of the Other” the essays become more general, as the consequences of the phenomenological analyses discussed are pursued with a more general look at their ethical and theological import. Part II consists, then, of five essays, ranging from Scheler’s phenomenology of otherness, through discussions on Being-With and Being-Alone in the young Heidegger, Sartre and intersubjectivity, Gabriel Marcel’s thesis of availability on the importance of solicitude for our understanding of fundamental philosophical enquiry.
The perhaps most interesting and informative essay in part II is written by Elodie Malbois, and sets out to account for Gabriel Marcel’s oft neglected contribution to the phenomenological literature. Malbois’ twenty-six page essay can in many ways be described as an homage to Marcel’s thinking, as well as an analysis of his central focus on the notion of “Availability”, which he considered as not just an essential part of how we relate to others, but as an indispensable mode of authentically connecting with them. It actually turns out that for Marcel, intersubjectivity as a phenomenon can only strictly speaking be said to occur when you are available to the other person. Physical proximity, embodied encounters and basic perceptual openness to other people are perhaps necessary preconditions, yet they are hardly sufficient for genuine familiarity with the otherness of the other. The otherness of the other can only appear in the intersubjective mode once the fundamental phenomenon of availability is in play; indeed, intersubjectivity proper for Marcel is not fully understood without reference to availability. But in what, then, does availability consist?
As most phenomena that are closest to us, it is hard to describe. A central role is ascribed to attention; for the available person is according to Marcel hetero-centered, that is, focused on the other. A problem that can arise even within this positive account of the necessity of attention for understanding the phenomenon in question, is that one often runs the risk of simply paying attention to oneself through the other. Malbois uses a Marcelian example of a young man who goes to a party and finding himself quite unable to feel that the others are looking at him, judging him with their gazes. Now, the point here is that while the other man is indeed directed at the other minds, and take their otherness in many ways, seriously, this is not to get to know them better, but rather, involves a return to the self, as he only cares about their minds insofar as they care about him. He is encombré soi, “cluttered up in himself” (187). So being truly available is not just about having your mind directed at another’s mind, and the other person’s object of attention (for that object might just be you) but actively engaging in the other person’s perspective, the other person’s position. This is where Marcel, according to Malbois, allows himself concepts such as agape to slip in, while, according to the latter, arguing further about the necessity of using them (ibid.) But the important roots with Christian theology and mysticism are evident, as being concerned with the otherness of the other for his/her own sake finds its parallel in the language of the believer. Love and charity are central concepts, and they of course imply this fundamental mode of (basic) self-sacrifice through a forgetting of the self for the sake of the other. This is where the original analysis of intersubjectivity turns axiological. Other aspects endemic to classical existential and phenomenological problematics come up, such as authenticity, which for Marcel is tied to availability, a concept that itself turns increasingly complex as Malbois exposition strides forth. Malbois is throughout careful in her discussion, as she never presumes the question of exactly how best to define “availability” to be a settled one. The essay is a well written and critical homage in its entirety, and ends on the thoroughly axiological account of availability as a reciprocal act happening between minds.
The other essays in part II. share the trend of arriving at what we might call “the deeper level” of intersubjective analysis, as the thorough analysis of the phenomenon is pulled in the direction of viewing it as constitutive of our very being-in-the-world, and the fundamental and indispensable parts of this structure. Such as Scheler’s notion of love (chapter 6), which turns theological, or Heidegger’s differentiation between Being-With and Being-Alone (chapter 7) and Sartre’s ambivalent account of intersubjectivity, the chapter (chapter 8) in which André Barata brings in the outspoken atheist Sartre’s more theological reflections on Nothingness, God and, (the classical) question of what love is.
Then, finally, there is part III in which we move into the more esoteric parts of the phenomenological problematics concerning intersubjectivity. Chapter 11 is dedicated to a discussion on the development and connection between Merleau-Ponty’s thinking and Foucault’s by Gianfranco Ferraro, and in it he draws the lines towards what he dubs “a contemporary ontology of immanence” (241). The essay is a difficult read, not just due to the inherently difficult source material discussed, but also due to the lines drawn. Although the original quest set out on from part 1 of the essay, namely that of accounting for the “possible influences and relations between the two authors” and their varied import for the new ontology of the subject emerging after World War 2, I fear that too much is already at stake from the get-go, and that Ferraro fails to bring everything together in a fruitful way. There simply seems to be too many thinkers involved, as Levinas, Heidegger and then Deleuze are brought to bear on the debate. One not well versed in the continental development over the last 100-50 years will have a great difficulty following the many stranded argumentations. That said, for the initiated, the lines drawn are interesting (though at times confused) and merit further investigation.
A refreshing essay is presented by Grace Whistler, constituting chapter 13 in which she discusses the interesting links between form and content in Albert Camus’ L’Etranger. She argues that Camus indeed intended to communicate his very philosophy in the simple style of L’Etranger, which best comes out in the French wordings, which she does her best to convey in an English manner. The essay is nothing short of an analysis of what Whistler takes to be the essential relation between literary style and the content of the philosophy in question. She claims that Camus can be said to attempt a direct showing (show don’t tell) of Merseault’s world through his prose, allowing us to experience it directly as intersubjective. The essay is well written and highly original.
Chapter 14 with its essay entitled “The Poetry and the Pity” is easiest the odd one out in the collection. This is something the editors themselves note in the introduction It is a poetic post-ludium depicting the echoes of the voices crying out from our not-so-distant past; the voices of pain from World War 1. The essay highlights in an effective yet indirect way the running theme throughout the collection; namely the ethical consequences of phenomenology. It is poetically fitting that an essay that does not explicitly engage with phenomenology and intersubjectivity, all the same points us towards the redeeming powers of narrative, which we, now more than ever, are in dire need of.