Rudolf Bultmann, Hans Jonas: Briefwechsel 1928–1976

Briefwechsel 1928–1976: Mit einem Anhang anderer Zeugnisse Book Cover Briefwechsel 1928–1976: Mit einem Anhang anderer Zeugnisse
Rudolf Bultmann, Hans Jonas. Edited by Andreas Großmann
Mohr Siebeck
Paperback 69,00 €
XXV, 161

Reviewed by: Ian Alexander Moore (Loyola Marymount University)

This volume contains letters, spanning nearly fifty years, between the Protestant theologian Rudolf Bultmann and the Jewish philosopher Hans Jonas. It also includes a helpful editor’s introduction and a nine-part appendix, containing, among other documents, Martin Heidegger’s and Bultmann’s previously unpublished evaluations of Jonas’s 1928 dissertation on Gnosticism, as well as Jonas’s brief, previously unpublished correspondence with Heidegger.

In the first substantive letter (13 July 1929), which is more of a book proposal than a letter properly speaking (Jonas called it a Briefmonstrum, an “epistolary monster,” 7), Jonas attempts phenomenologically to derive a universal truth about humanity from St. Paul’s famous description of his struggle to fulfill the Law in Romans 7:7–25. The existential, hence not specifically Christian structure of Paul’s statements consists, according to Jonas, in the tension between a free, primordial self-willing (volo me velle) and its inevitable lapse into the objectification of the universe and, correlatively, of the self (cogito me velle). Here we have Entmythologisierung (“demythologization”) avant la lettre.

But, it should be noted, we are not far before the letter: the very next year, in his first book, Jonas would introduce the language of demythologization, which would become one of the defining and most controversial features of Bultmann’s theology, into the scholarly world. This important, but still-untranslated book, titled Augustin und das paulinische Freiheitsproblem: Ein philosophischer Beitrag zur Genesis der christlich-abendländischen Freiheitsidee (Augustine and the Pauline Problem of Freedom: A Philosophical Contribution to the Genesis of the Christian-Western Idea of Freedom), builds on Jonas’s “epistolary monster.” Bultmann published it in 1930 in his prestigious series “Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testaments” (“Research on the Religion and Literature of the Old and New Testament”).[1]

Although, apart from a few largely perfunctory letters, the extant correspondence does not resume in earnest until 1952, Jonas and Bultmann remained in contact in the interim. For example, in a later memorial tribute to Bultmann (included in the appendix to the correspondence), Jonas relates that Bultmann was the only teacher whom he had visited before emigrating from Germany in 1933 in response to the SA troops’ harassment and persecution of Jews. Bultmann, moreover, would also be one of the first teachers Jonas would visit when he returned to Germany fifteen years later as a soldier in the victorious Allied forces. It is worth reproducing Jonas’s recollections here, as they attest not only to his intellectual respect for his teacher (which he also had for Heidegger, for instance), but above all to his respect for Bultmann’s character and ethical bearing (which, to his great dismay, he found tragically lacking in Heidegger). After reading this, it should come as little surprise that Jonas kept a picture of Bultmann by his desk in New York (108), or that, in 1934, Bultmann was bold enough to write a preface for the publication of the first volume of his Jewish student’s work on Gnosticism and even to confess an intellectual debt to Jonas (117–18; see also XIX–XX, 143).[2] As Jonas tells it:

It was in the summer of 1933, here in Marburg. […] I related what I had just read in the newspaper, but he [Bultmann] not yet, namely, that the German Association of the Blind had expelled its Jewish members. My horror carried me into eloquence: In the face of eternal night (so I exclaimed) the most unifying tie there can be among suffering men, this betrayal of the solidarity of a common fate—and I stopped, for my eye fell on Bultmann and I saw that a deathly pallor had spread over his face, and in his eyes was such agony that the words died in my mouth. In that moment I knew that in matters of elementary humanity one could simply rely on Bultmann, […] that no insanity of the time could dim the steadiness of his inner light.

Of their next meeting, amid the ruins of war, Jonas recalls:

barely done with the hurried exchange of first welcomes, scarcely over the emotion of this unexpected reunion—we were both still standing—he said something for which I recount this highly personal story. I had come by military transport from Göttingen and held under my arm a book which the publisher Ruprecht had asked me to take to Bultmann, as civilian mail services had not yet been restored. Bultmann pointed at this parcel and asked, “May I hope that this is the second volume of the ‘Gnosis’?” At that, there entered into my soul too, still rent by the Unspeakable I had just learned about in my erstwhile home—the fate of my mother and of the untold others—for the first time something like peace again: at beholding the constancy of thought and loving interest across the ruin of a world. Suddenly I knew: one can resume and continue that for which one needs faith in man. Countless times I have relived this scene. It became the bridge over the abyss; it connected the “after” with the “before” which grief and wrath and bitterness threatened to blot out, and perhaps more than anything else it helped, with its unique combination of fidelity and soberness, to make my life whole again. (125–26; see also 99, 118–19)[3]

The next major highlight of the correspondence pertains to Jonas’s text “Immortality and the Modern Temper,” which he delivered as the annual Ingersoll lecture at Harvard University in 1961.[4] Jonas sent a copy of the lecture, which attempts to explain what sense immortality could have in today’s disenchanted world, to Bultmann in January 1962. In his prefatory letter, Jonas explains that he felt compelled to go in the opposite direction of his erstwhile mentor: whereas the don of demythologization strives, as Jonas had earlier in his career (see especially 115–116), to uncover the true, existential content of myth behind its fantastical garb, Jonas thinks that myth, in the manner of Plato, is the best we have to go on when it comes to questions such as the meaning of immortality and the meaning of God after Auschwitz. Of his lecture, Jonas writes—and here I quote and translate at length, since it is uncertain if and when the correspondence will be translated in its entirety—

It was a daring attempt at a metaphysical statement. When developing it, I saw myself compelled to have recourse to myth—to a self-invented myth. This was not intended as a general method of metaphysics, but as a personal form of symbolic answer to a question that I could not answer in any other way but whose right to an answer was undeniable.

[Es wurde ein gewagter Versuch zu einer metaphysischen Aussage, in deren Entfaltung ich mich genötigt sah, zum Mythos—einem selbsterdachten—Zuflucht zu nehmen. Das war nicht als generelle Methode der Metaphysik gedacht, sondern als persönliche Form der symbolischen Antwort auf eine für mich nicht anders beantwortbare, aber in ihrem Recht auf Antwort unabweisbare Frage.]

It is not enough, Jonas continues, to refer to the authentically human content of mythological form, as Bultmann would have it.[5] Myth itself can, and must, also be deployed—consciously and with full recognition of its inherent inadequacy—in service of being as such:

when, in a seriously non-dualist fashion, the authentic reality of the human points back to the authentic reality of the universe […] and when it is necessary to speak also of this—of the totality of being and its ground—without there being any identifiable terminology for it, then we are directed to the path of the objectifying, indicative symbol; then a momentary, as it were experimental mythologization, a mythologization that holds itself in suspense, can again come closer precisely to the mystery. And here the revocability of the anthropomorphic symbol would have to wait to be replaced by other, for their part likewise revocable symbols, not, however, for a subsequent demythologization, which would have to relinquish what was to be signified only in the symbol.

[wo, ernsthaft undualistisch, die eigentliche Wirklichkeit des Menschen auf die eigentliche Wirklichkeit des Universums zurückweist […] und also auch davon—vom All des Seins und seinem Grunde—gesprochen werden muss, ohne dass es die ausweisbare Begrifflichkeit dafür gibt, da sind wir auf den Weg des objektivierend andeutenden Symbols gewiesen und da kann vielleicht eine momentane, gleichsam experimentelle, sich selber in der Schwebe haltende Mythologisierung gerade dem Geheimnis wieder näher kommen. Und hier würde die Widerruflichkeit des anthropomorphen Symbols auf Ersetzung durch andere, ihrerseits ebenso widerrufliche Symbole zu warten haben, nicht aber auf eine nachkommende Entmythologisierung, die preisgeben müsste, was nur im Symbol zu bedeuten war.] (51–52)

In his myth, which he would later develop in such essays as “The Concept of God After Auschwitz: A Jewish Voice” and “Matter, Mind, and Creation: Cosmological Evidence and Cosmogonic Speculation,”[6] Jonas imagines a god who, in the beginning, divested itself of its power and gave itself wholly over to the becoming of the cosmos. It now falls to the radical freedom of the human being to reshape the face of God, whether by restoring it to its former glory through good deeds, or by creating a disfigured perversion of it through evil deeds.

Jonas received countless replies to his lecture, none, however, more profound and impressive (see 63, 77) than that found in Bultmann’s letter from 31 July 1962. Indeed, Jonas would later publish an edited version Bultmann’s response, together with his own subsequent reply to Bultmann, in his book Zwischen Nichts und Ewigkeit: Drei Aufsätze zur Lehre vom Menschen (Between Nothing and Eternity: Three Essays on Anthropology).[7] Jonas even claims in a letter from 1963 that, without their epistolary exchange, “my immortality-essay would seem very incomplete to me” (“Ohne es käme mir jedenfalls mein Unsterblichkeitsaufsatz jetzt sehr unvollständig vor”) (77). Here Jonas refers to the essay as his “fragmentary and searching philosophical manifesto” (“mein fragmentarisches und versuchendes philosophisches Manifest”) (78).

Bultmann, in his response to “Immortality and the Modern Temper,” makes several objections, chief of which is that Jonas’s perspective on God’s relation to the universe is, first, aesthetic and, second, external to the existential situation of the being that, in Heidegger’s language, is in each case mine. Jonas contests the first, since he aims not at the final reconciliation of oppositions, but at the triumph of good over evil through the free choice of human beings. His view is ultimately ethical, not aesthetic. Regarding the second, Jonas concedes that it is necessary to take an external perspective if one wishes to interpret the whole. Today, there is little interest in such speculation. But Jonas takes it to be imperative:

For precisely this is now my conviction: that ethics must be grounded in ontology, that is, the law of human comportment must be derived from the nature of the whole; and this is so because self-understanding follows from understanding the whole (thus “from without”)—namely when the whole is understood in such a way that it comes about that the human being is there for the whole, and not the whole for the human being.

[Denn eben dies ist nun meine Überzeugung, dass die Ethik auf der Ontologie gegründet sein muss, das heisst: das Gesetz menschlichen Verhaltens aus der Natur des Ganzen abgeleitet werden muss; und dies, weil das Selbstverständnis aus dem Verständnis des Ganzen folgt (also “von aussen”)—dann nämlich, wenn das Ganze so verstanden ist, dass sich ergibt, dass der Mensch für das Ganze da ist, und nicht das Ganze für den Menschen.] (67)[8]

Bultmann also invites a consideration of the relation between Jonas’s myth of the fate of God and Heidegger’s idea of the destiny of being (Seins-Geschick). Jonas ignores this invitation in his rejoinder to Bultmann, although he will later take it up in his famous critique of Heidegger, “Heidegger and Theology,” first delivered before a group of theologians at Drew University in 1964.[9]  (Jonas describes the event on 84).

Despite Jonas’s often scathing critique of Heidegger’s thought and person,[10] it is interesting to note that, in a letter to Bultmann from July 1969, Jonas relates that he had met with Heidegger and had “finally reconciled [endlich … ausgesöhnt] with him” (92). Moreover, in 1972, Heidegger supported Jonas’s efforts to receive reparations from the German government for the difficulties inflicted on his academic career under National Socialism. At Jonas’s request, Heidegger promptly wrote the following official explanation of Jonas’s circumstances at the time, testifying to his respect and admiration for his one-time student:

I, Martin Heidegger, was a full professor of philosophy at the Philipps-University in Marburg between 1923 and 1929. / Hans Jonas, who graduated with his doctorate summa cum laude under my directorship in 1928, was one of the most gifted students at the university and predestined to be a university lecturer. Before I left Marburg, Dr. Jonas had discussed with me the basic conception of the work he intended as a habilitation thesis on the position of Gnosticism in the entire thought of late antiquity. The finished work was published in 1934 as a book under the title “Gnosticism and the Spirit of Late Antiquity” (1st part). I read it. There is and there was no doubt for me that this work was outstandingly qualified to be a habilitation thesis. If I had still had something to do with this work as a habilitation thesis, I would have warmly recommended it without reservation.

[Ich, Martin Heidegger, war von 1923 bis 1929 Ordinarius für Philosophie an der Philipps-Universität in Marburg. / Hans Jonas, der bei mir 1928 summa cum laude promovierte, war einer der begabtesten Studenten der Universität und prädestiniert zum Dozenten. Die Grundkonzeption seiner als Habilitationsschrift gedachten Arbeit über die Stellung der Gnosis im Gesamtdenken der Spätantike hatte Dr. Jonas mit mir noch vor meinem Weggang von Marburg besprochen. Die fertige Arbeit ist 1934 als Buch unter dem Titel “Gnosis und spätantiker Geist” (1. Teil) erschienen. Ich habe es gelsen. Es besteht und bestand für mich kein Zweifel, dass diese Arbeit als Habilitationsschrift in hervorragendem Masse qualifiziert war. Hätte ich noch mit dieser Arbeit als Habilitationsschrift zu tun gehabt, so hätte ich sie ohne Einschränkung aufs wärmste empfohlen.] (122)

Other noteworthy moments in the correspondence with Bultmann include Jonas’s description of his research in 1952, which, he says, is directed entirely at “an ontology in which ‘life’ and thus also the human being obtain their place in nature” (“Alle meine theoretischen Bemühungen gehen um eine Ontologie, in der das ‘Leben’ und damit auch der Mensch seinen Platz in der Natur erhält”) (18); Jonas’s critique of Eric Voegelin’s sweepingly pejorative use of the term “Gnosticism,” and his conclusion that Voegelin himself “is the modern gnostic” (32–34); Bultmann’s claim, made in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to convince Jonas to assume a professorship at Marburg University, that “you are the only one who has the strength today to take up and continue the great tradition that has developed in the history of philosophizing in Marburg” (“Sie sind der Einzige, der heute die Kraft hat, die große Tradition aufzunehmen und fortzuführen, die in der Geschichte des Philosophierens in Marburg erwachsen ist”) (44); and a debate on authenticity (Eigentlichkeit), in which Jonas relates it to his pursuit of an ethics grounded in ontology, whereas Bultmann sees it, with Heidegger, in opposition to the life of das Man (“the they”) and as outside the sphere of the ethical (72–76).

Fortunately, some of the most important correspondence is already available in English. Jonas’s own translation of the aforementioned “epistolary monster” is available, with additions and emendations, under the title “The Abyss of the Will: Philosophical Meditation on the Seventh Chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.”[11] The two main letters about “Immortality and the Modern Temper” are in Bultmann and Jonas, “Exchange on Hans Jonas’ Essay on Immortality.”[12] Furthermore, the seventh document in the appendix, a memorial tribute to Bultmann, exists in a translation by Jonas himself as “Is Faith Still Possible?: Memories of Rudolf Bultmann and Reflections on the Philosophical Aspects of His Work.”[13] The final part of the appendix, is a republication, in English, of Jonas’s 1984 tribute to Bultmann on the centenary of the latter’s birth.[14]

[1] Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1930. For the second edition (1965), Jonas changed the subtitle to Eine philosophische Studie zum pelagianischen Streit (A Philosophical Study on the Pelagian Controversy) and appended a revised version of the “epistolary monster.” Jonas speaks of “a demythologized consciousness” (“ein entmythologisiertes Bewußtsein”) in the first appendix “Über die hermeneutische Struktur des Dogmas” (“On the Hermeneutic Structure of Dogma), which appeared in both editions. See p. 82 of the second for the reference. For discussion, see pp. 14–17 of James M. Robinson’s introduction to the second edition, as well as Hans Jonas-Handbuch: Leben–Werk–Wirkung, ed. Michael Bongardt et al. (Berlin: Metzler, 2021), 78 (contribution by Udo Lenzig).

[2] It is noteworthy that, in his controversial 1941 lecture “Neues Testament und Mythologie: Das Problem der Entmythologisierung der neutestamentlichen Verkündigung,” Bultmann twice refers to Jonas’s works. See Rudolf Bultmann, “New Testament and Mythology: The Mythological Element in the Message of the New Testament and the Problem of Its Re-Interpretation,” in Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate, ed. Hans Werner Bartsch (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), 12n1, 16. See Bultmann’s discussion of the lecture on pp. 21–22 of the correspondence.

[3] Translation in Hans Jonas, Mortality and Morality: A Search for the Good after Auschwitz, ed. Lawrence Vogel (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1996), 146–47. See also Hans Jonas, Memoirs, trans. Krishna Winston (Waltham, Mass.: Brandeis University Press, 2008), 74, 144–45.

[4] In, for example, Jonas, Mortality and Morality, chapter 5.

[5] Jonas quotes from Bultmann’s recently published “Zum Problem der Entmythologisierung,” in Il problema della demitizzazione, ed. Enrico Castelli (Padua: CEDAM, 1961): 19–26. In English as “On the Problem of Demythologizing,” trans. Schubert M. Ogden, The Journal of Religion 42, no. 2 (1962): 96–102.

[6] In Mortality and Morality, chapters 6 and 8.

[7] Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1963, 63–72.

[8] Translation in Rudolf Bultmann and Hans Jonas, “Exchange on Hans Jonas’ Essay on Immortality,” trans. Ian Alexander Moore, Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 40, no. 2 (2020): 491–506 (quote on p. 503).

[9] See Hans Jonas, “Heidegger and Theology,” in The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2001), Tenth Essay. For more on this point, and Jonas’s relation to Heidegger more broadly, see Ralf Elm’s contribution in Hans Jonas-Handbuch, 28–34.

[10] For the latter, see especially Hans Jonas’s 1963 lecture “Husserl und Heidegger,” in Kritische Gesamtausgabe der Werke von Hans Jonas, vol. III/2, ed. Dietrich Böhler et al. (Darmstadt: WBG, 2013), 205–224. For discussion, see Ian Alexander Moore’s contribution in Hans Jonas-Handbuch, 172–75.

[11] In Hans Jonas, Philosophical Essays (New York: Atropos, 2010), chapter 18. Also, with the subtitle as sole title, in James M. Robinson, ed., The Future of Our Religious Past: Essays in Honour of Rudolf Bultmann (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), chapter 15.

[12] Op. cit.

[13] In Jonas, Mortality and Morality, chapter 7.

[14] Also in Edward C. Hobbes, ed., Bultmann, Retrospect and Prospect: The Centenary Symposium at Wellesley (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985): 1–4.

Michael L. Morgan (Ed.): The Oxford Handbook of Levinas

The Oxford Handbook of Levinas Book Cover The Oxford Handbook of Levinas
Michael L. Morgan (Ed.)
Oxford University Press
Hardback £125.00

Reviewed by: Tyler Correia (York University, Canada)

The Oxford Handbook of Levinas provides another key step on the way to entrenching the possibility of continued scholarship on the rich thought of philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, as well as providing an accessible entry-point into the ever-growing body of commentary on his works. Although at times the structure of the handbook makes gestures toward necessary contributions that are currently absent, both in outlining the field of Levinas’s influences or interlocutors, and in terms of key engagements with contemporary concerns, it has also amassed an exciting range of discussions from a diverse array of scholars. Contributions are well-researched, insightful, and make Levinas’s notoriously difficult thought comprehensible and intriguing. Further, certain departures with conventions of reference texts in the composition of contributions—he articles being of comparable length to those of scholarly journal’s—creates space not only for informative but critical treatments, as well as facilitating dialogue and challenge.

The editor, Michael L. Morgan is a prolific scholar in his own right in Jewish studies and on Levinas specifically. He has authored other introductory texts including Discovering Levinas (2007), The Cambridge Introduction to Emmanuel Levinas (2011), and recently published on his ethico-political thought and practice in Levinas’s Ethical Politics (2016).

There are certainly benefits to a handbook both of this magnitude and this breadth. The text is a nearly nine hundred page collection of thirty-eight entries, including contributions from notable Levinas scholars such as Robert Bernasconi, political philosopher Annabel Herzog, Levinas translator Bettina Bergo and editor of The Levinas Reader (2001) Seán Hand. Also certainly, a text of this kind provides a crucial opportunity for a multiplicity of scholars of varied backgrounds to contribute—scholars of history, religion, philosophy, ethics, politics, classics and art, who contextualize Levinas’ expansive works and biography through critical, interpersonal, dialogical, feminist, hermeneutic, theological frameworks. It is divided into six section with entries on a wide range of topics and themes by which one could enter into scholarship: covering Levinas’ life and influences, key philosophical themes, religious thought, ethics, and critical assessments of his work.

One of the potential drawbacks of a ‘handbook’—and consistent with all genres of reference texts more broadly—is the prefiguration of a conversation as one in which specialists communicate information to non-specialists, rather than opening the possibility of dialogue and interpretation. The pragmatic context of a ‘handbook’ still makes it unlikely that professional scholars will refer to this text as an entry-point into key controversies and as a site of engagement even over more specific collected volumes. A text like this, then, fills the space of a general reference and guide into the multiplicity of avenues that Levinas’ thought might open, and in its capacity as a general reference book it does well, even though it is competing with a number of more specific works on Levinas—whether reference volumes, essay collections or single-author monographs—that are also available for Anglophone scholars with an equally wide breadth; works on Levinas’ engagements with Martin Buber and other Jewish thinkers, with Asian thought and with ancient philosophy, on Levinas’ contributions to hermeneutics and theological exegesis, a swath of texts on Levinas’ ethics, on his interlocutions with poststructuralist and deconstructive thought, and texts that (re)situate and seek for his ethics to speak to their own and our socio-political contexts. In this way, a reference text of this sort helps best to locate oneself in relation to a veritable library of Levinas scholarship, and to identify those signposts, even if often as an index to an index.

Accordingly, the handbook attests to an emerging polarization of Levinas scholarship concerned with two key conceptual constellations in his ethical thought; on responsibility and vulnerability. The former has perhaps been considered the central aspect of Levinas’s work traced to the importance of the text most often called his magnum opus, Totality and Infinity (2011 [1961]). Not merely the outline of ‘responsibilities,’ Levinas’s conceptualization of responsibility grounds his fundamental claim that ethics is first philosophy. Not just in the content of responsibility, but in the provocation or the desire (later he will call this intrigue) to respond to and respond for the Other, Levinas finds the opening of ethics as an infinitely asymmetrical relation grounded in the unconditional command to be for the Other. In its poetic force and uncompromising gesture, one’s responsibility for the Other and on their behalf is perhaps the aspect of Levinas’s work that draws most scholars to him. It also becomes the rich ground from which he rejects conventional and general  practices of philosophy as projects of securing, organizing and reorganizing both ontology and metaphysics as the totalizing structure of ‘the Same.’ Beyond the sort of A=A identity, the structure of the Same is all that operates under the heading of ‘Being’ and at the disposal of the privileged Self. Thus, where philosophy in general and phenomenology in particular meet, Levinas finds a notion of the Self within a world that they might appropriate, incorporate, or otherwise violate as if it were exclusively ‘their own.

In contrast, Levinas finds an entirely unappropriable and thus infinitely transcendent disruption of the structure of the Same in the encounter with the Other, where the face to face meeting and the very face of the Other themselves, escapes all such appropriative attempts to fix them in place within the horizon of the world of the Same. Instead, the face of the Other seems to call to the Self with a commandment, the fundamental interdiction “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” further disrupting the absolute enjoyment (jouissance) that would otherwise be the prerogative and entitlement of the Self within its own world. In place of this enjoyment is the unsatisfiable desire to be with, and be for, the Other, the ground upon which an infinite and unconditional responsibility emerges. Then, all subsequent thought is a matter of bearing out the implications of this unconditional and infinite responsibility for the Other in its applications and tensions.

Incrementally, this picture, as outlined by readings of Totality and Infinity, has expanded as more scholarship has turned toward the ‘other pole’ of Levinas’s work as represented by Otherwise than Being (2016 [1981]). No longer willing to accept the ‘Self’ as originally in a position of comfort, chez soi, or at home with oneself, Levinas reconsiders the place of the encounter with the Other as both fundamental for thought and fundamental to the very existence of the subject before subjectivity can be claimed. In the exchange of the ‘word’—even the word that proclaims ‘I am I’—the Self is less so in proximity to an unchallenging world of their own, than they are in proximity to an Other. In this most basic sense, vulnerability is the fundamentally disruptive trauma of recognizing that the self comes after an encounter with the Other (see Bergo’s chapter as well as Staehler’s). Robert Bernasconi theorizes vulnerability in two particularly interesting ways. On the one hand, he notes that responsibility operates on the subject as disruptive enough to veritably tear the subject apart, what Levinas calls dénucléation. He explains, “Dénucléation is apparently a word used to refer to the coring out that doctors perform when, for example, they remove an eyeball from its socket while leaving everything intact. Levinas used this same word to describe breathing as a dénucléation of the subject’s substantiality, albeit in this context it also has an association with transcendence” (pp. 268-69).

Although Bernasconi will motivate a reading of Levinas that prefigures the need to defend both the subject and its subjectivity, he summarizes his exploration of the notion of vulnerability that is too traumatic to ignore: “I showed that he went out of his way to say that the exposure to outrage, wounding, and persecution was an exposure to wounding in enjoyment. This is what qualifies it as a “vulnerability of the me.” It touches me in my complacency. But vulnerability extends to the trauma of accusation suffered by a hostage to the point where that hostage identifies with others, including his or her persecutors” (p. 269). He continues that this fact of vulnerability, then, is compelling enough to enact an experience of substitution in the subject, as if the subject is provoked to experience themselves as Other.

Following these considerations, I would like to make note of two particularly useful aspects of the handbook, and to applaud Morgan and the contributors for them. Firstly, some of its richest content is the contribution to an Anglo-American readership on the scope of Levinas’ writings of which we currently do not have complete access. Pieces by Sarah Hammerschlag and Seán Hand rectify this condition with stimulating discussions of his wartime notebooks and his early poetry and novel fragments respectively. Still an English-speaking public does not have access in particular to either the Carnets de captivité, nor to his wartime literary works in Éros, littérature et philosophie, both of which were recently posthumously published in French.[i] With Hammerschlag’s survey of Levinas’s wartime notebooks, though, (spanning, in fact, from 1937-1950), and Hand’s reconceptualization of Levinas in light of the literary dimensions of these personal writings, they make stellar contributions to Anglophone Levinas scholarship by filling those gaps. For this alone, the handbook is already an invaluable resource for scholars of all sorts.

Secondly, the fourth section of the handbook, dedicated to applications of Levinas’ thought beyond his own sphere is truly effervescent. Special attention should be paid to this section in its eclectic reach, where the very notion of a foundation (the presumed objective constraining any ‘handbook’ faces) opens up into a display of generative and rich ideas. Exactly where the ‘cut and dry’ necessity of a text of this kind breaks down, we are treated to an array of interventions and interpretive supplements that carry Levinas scholarship forward in great leaps. Again, Seán Hand’s resituating of Levinas’ works in light of early literary engagements is a delight, as well as Kris Sealey’s far-reaching discussion of Levinas’s contributions to critical race theory (which I will discuss further below). Moreover, not a single contribution in this section fails to illuminate and extend the possibilities of scholarship—from more traditional surveys of the possibilities of attending to philosophical thought within other domains of academic inquiry, such as psychology (David M. Goodman and Eric R. Severson), law (William H. Smith) and Levinas’ comments on war (Joshua Shaw), as well as his contributions to pedagogy (Claire Elise Katz), film (Colin Davis), and his use of food metaphors (Benjamin Aldes Wurgraft).

Similarly, Kevin Houser’s attempt to position Levinas across the Continental-Analytical divide is admirable. This is similar to Morgan’s attempts himself to have Levinas’ work placed in proximity to Bernard Williams, Charles Taylor, Christine Korsgaard, Stanley Cavell and others. In this piece, Houser finds Levinas speak to concerns of linguistic objectification embedded in the notion of reason as metaphysics against which he poses what he calls the ‘absolute interlocutor.’ He extends this discussion by placing him in conversation with P.F. Strawson on freedom and resentment. Houser’s claim is that “de-facing reason,” and not “reason itself as the practice of de-facing generalization,” is what is at issue in Levinas’s work. However, perhaps Houser’s reading can come off as reductive given that he seems not to be willing to take his own critical stance as far as Levinas would. That ultimately an analytical account of reason is valorized through a complementary reading of Levinas and Strawson would also be a grounding condition for the possibility of such reconciliation between reason and the face of the Other. Yet, this is something Levinas seems consistently to reject, and why Houser must work so hard to reconcile the positions in the first place; the position of reason itself with the positioning of a refusal of reason (not merely an ‘unreasonable’ or even ‘pre-rational’ stance).

Houser’s final discussion regarding the generalizability of ‘reason’—as something that is specifically not my reason, but a reason (p. 604)—bears many possibilities to build from, perhaps also anticipating a challenge to Levinas by deconstructionist linguistics. One can also imagine such a reading figuring importantly into the prefiguration of Otherwise than Being, which seems to bear out the not-yet-subject specifically in light of the pre-existence of language in the demand to speak as ‘giving reasons’ (see Baring, Coe and of course Bernasconi’s chapters). It also helps to reconcile how, for example, in Oona Eisenstadt’s chapter, she finds Levinas capable of saying that three rabbis in the Talmud—Ben Zoma, Ben Nanus and Ben Pazi—can offer three different answers to the question, “which verse contains the whole of the Torah?” where each will make a different universal claim as a manner of expanding upon the last (p. 462). Nevertheless, it would seem that the reason-and-objectivity oriented language of analytical thought does not prepare one to bear out this tension between the particular and the general in a way that is non-totalizing; it answers the question of responsibility rather than responding to it. As such, it substitutes the sphere of representational description in place of the vocative dimensions of language as address. In the end, even capturing the dialogical subject in relation to the absolute interlocutor, one is still speaking about language as if no one else is there, a sort of monological ‘dialogue,’ lest the reason they give may be contradicted. The Other seems to have faded into the background.

I would like to address, though, a potential drawback of the handbook. What is at times a lack of much needed general study of Levinas’ engagements not merely with particular thinkers—both predecessors and contemporaries, if not friends but fields of scholarship—can often leave the reader without proper orientation. No doubt, the task of presenting an exhaustive groundwork specifically for Anglo-American scholarship is at best aspirational, and to his credit, Morgan himself identifies certain oversights in the handbook that should be noted. In terms of groundworks, he rightly mentions that the handbook would have benefited from contributions that survey Levinas’s engagements with foundational Jewish thinkers from Maimonides to Buber and Rosenzweig. There is also no specific account of Levinas’s debts to Russian literature. Finally, general overviews of both Levinas’s situation within French thought broadly from the 1930s to the 60s would have been extremely helpful to orient readers, even if they still find much needed context especially in Kevin Hart’s discussion of the relationship between he and Blanchot, and Edward Baring’s account of his encounters with Derrida. This is so as well for the absence of a general account of Levinas’s predecessors ‘at large,’ although one is able to orient themselves with texts on Husserl (Bettina Bergo), Heidegger (Michael Fagenblat), as well as Platonic or Aristotelian thought (Tanja Staehler), early modern thought (Inga Römer), and the German Idealists (Martin Shuster).

There are other oversights that a large reference text is especially beholden to ensure don’t go unnoticed that we might categorize as ‘essential additions’ to these groundworks. Increasingly important is a critical appraisal of eurocentrism and colonialism. It would also be imperative to outline Levinas’ reading of the Torah on ‘Cities of Refuge,’ something only tangentially touched upon by Annabel Herzog in her daring discussion of Levinas and Zionism.  One might argue that Levinas’s statements on the State of Israel in particular are critical for understanding some of the most recent explorations of a sort of Levinasian cosmopolitanism—especially where it intersects with Jacques Derrida’s (1999) explorations on the issue (and because it would seem Derrida’s encounter with the notion of cosmopolitanism is in large part due to their relationship). This is perhaps a particularly difficult oversight to reconcile because, as Morgan notes, readers of Levinas “…are drawn to him by the centrality of his insight that our responsibilities to others are infinite. To them, Levinas is the philosopher of the dispossessed, the displaced, the refugee, the impoverished, the suffering, and the hungry. He is the spokesperson for the weak and the oppressed; his philosophy, for all its difficulty and obscurity, in the end speaks to our most humane and caring sentiments” (pp. 4-5). Unfortunately, these concrete engagements are conspicuously absent in the handbook.

Kris Sealey has the sizeable task, then, of orienting readers looking for critical responses to Levinas relating to Eurocentrism, colonialism, and theories of race and racism. In that measure, Sealey does a spectacular job finding inroads between Levinas with both critical race and postcolonial scholars including Paul Gilroy, Orlando Patterson, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Michael Monahan. She also performs such an important task of bridging scholarship on critical race theory and Levinas studies by focusing her discussion on a review of literatures published in the 2012 volume of Levinas Studies contending with race, which included contributions from  Lisa Guenther, Oona Eisenstadt (also present in this handbook), John Drabinski and Simone Drichel.

Sealey’s contribution, though, may also give pause especially insofar as there remain some crucial tensions in her work with Levinas’s. Particularly, she draws her conclusions in a way that notions of race are ‘reified’ not on biological but communal and relational grounds that are perhaps difficult to square with Levinas’ statements on the ‘nudity of the face’—as much as they are in tension with Paul Gilroy’s (2000) rejection of both biological and cultural formations of ‘race.’ Sealey’s turn toward Michael Monahan seems to authorize the possibility that, “we can be against racism without being against race” (p. 653 n. 41). The statement from which this note arises is quite important, and perhaps should be quoted at length:

In an important sense, a creolizing subjectivity bears witness to her rootedness in the world, insofar as she is constituted by the ways of that world. But, as creolizing, she also bears witness to her transcending of that world, insofar as her antiracist praxis will invariably be an active contestation of the meaning of race. In other words, she is both obliged to her materiality and positioned to take a critical stance against that materiality as well. That critical stance calls for a vigilance that never ends, lest she succumbs to the inertia of a purity politics and the racist structures for which it codes. Might we not see, in this, echoes of what Levinas calls for in “The Philosophy of Hitlerism”? Is this not a recognition of incarnation (of one’s rootedness in, or entanglement with, history) without the essentialization and stagnation of biological determinism? (p. 644)

Here we might identify a key contention—the ground for what may be a generative controversy in the transposition of Levinas’ thought to an Anglo-American context. Levinas’ contention against the ideology of Hitlerism is not reducible to its relation exclusively to biologism, but speaks to a desire to escape the very notion of ‘incarnation’ itself (see Eaglestone, Fagenblat, and Giannopoulos’s chapters). Hitlerism itself is not exclusively a biologist ideology; rather it binds a notion of spirit with the materiality of the ‘body as much as it fetishizes that body as the material symbol of ‘racial purity,’ or the ‘spirit of a people,’ as an incarnation—the becoming-flesh of spirit. It’s not clear if any notion of identity, not even one proposed to be hybridized, socially and historically determined, or relational escapes this logic. One might point out how Sealey’s creolizing subject, recognizing their rootedness and transcendence, isn’t necessarily difficult, as both are already coded as positive identifiers in an unambiguous metaphysical structure, even if they contradict one another, and occlude the disruptive primacy of the Other. Being rooted—rather than being imprisoned or entangled—and transcendence—above, beyond, outside of the world—both already speak to their own ideals. But one finds in Levinas’ work instead both a potentially failed desire to escape (On Escape [2003/1982]being an aptly titled expression of this unabiding arrest in his early works), and an uneasy navigation of the rooted interior of identity.

We find further that the not merely biological implications of Hitlerist ideology entails also that—as Annabel Herzog notes of Levinas’ critical stance against the State of Israel—the entrenchment of the ‘Self’ within the soil (as in the Nazi slogan, ‘blood and soil’), and the attachment to land or territory remains also a critical site upon which Levinas rejects this manner of reification. That is, rather than being—or under the pretense that one ‘recognizes themselves to be’—rooted in their world, Levinas finds instead in political practices of justice a certain exilehood on Earth represented in the call of the Other and the asymmetrical responsibility that follows. This grounds the particularity of his claims on Judaism and often against the State of Israel (see below), even when he concedes that an otherwise uncompromising ethic needs account for survival. Thus, there remains a tension between justice and survival that is not comfortably set aside in order to commend one’s being ‘rooted in their transcendence,’ but always uneasily attested to as the disruptive and traumatic condition upon which a foundational ethics preceding ontology, an ‘ethics without ground’ which refuses to appeal to the world and the comfort of being rooted in it is asserted.

We might fashion two contrapuntal examples of scholarship that refuse these dynamics in the extremely careful readings offered by Annabel Herzog on Levinas’s relation to Zionism and Cynthia Coe’s feminist analysis of his works. Herzog has quite admirably explored a controversy well beyond even the scope of the academy by contending squarely with Levinas’s writings on Zionism in relation to his conceptions of ethics and politics. Even in the form of her analysis we can see a principled refusal to allow her representation of him to be anything other than embroiled in a complex set of concerns, where she presents first his defense, and then his criticism of the State of Israel. Of the former, it would seem that Levinas finds in the State of Israel the every-present possibility—a particularist possibility for Judaism—for the concrete actualization of his ethical ideal as justice. Such a state could make an ethic of dialogical solidarity, refusal of violence, and refuge for the Other practically real. It is also one that merges these ideals with the enduring need for survival following the Holocaust. Perhaps this rendering bears similarities to Sealey’s account of a creolizing subject.

On the other hand, though, the State of Israel is also always in a position to reject or neglect these ideals; where notions of space and place are re-instituted in the territory, in the very soil, or where the Other is banished from that territory. This is much like Sealey’s comment that valorizations of the logic of ‘race’ demands constant vigilance lest one find themselves once again under the inertia, and in the realm of a politics of purity. Herzog cites a telling instance in which Levinas refused to leave the tour bus while attending a conference on Martin Buber after hearing that Bedouin communities in Be’er-Sheva were required to burn their tents to be eligible to receive stone houses from the government (p. 478).[ii] She follows this tension up until the events of the First Lebanon War, and the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982 when his statements on the matter of Israel become dispersed and infrequent, even if he does not waver in his defense by the time of his 1986 interview with Francois Poirié. It would seem, in this case, that the vigilance Sealey advises, and the enduring possibility of ‘purity politics’ reemerging finds a real example in Levinas’s subsequent silence. But leaving this possibility open seems already to speak to the need to refuse attenuation of a Levinasian ethic in the first place both in practice, and in the theoretical refusal of ‘rootedness’ or ‘incarnation.’

Cynthia Coe’s reading of Levinas is equally nuanced in its ability to balance a careful analysis of his works with an unwavering commitment to feminist scholarship. This is so even where she marks a delineation between—and within—texts of his that represent heterocentric and masculinist presumptions in his philosophy, and where concepts and arguments are coded in gendered language, while also being potentially capable of disrupting those structures. Particularly early Levinas (as Simone de Beauvoir attests regarding Time and the Other) seems to find ground for a narrative framework where a masculine protagonist is compelled to depart from totality. He does so by situating him in the dichotomy of a conception of the feminine as inessential and inabsolute alterity to a totalizing and interiorized masculine counterpart.

However, in this, and especially in her reading of Otherwise than Being, there remains a seed from which the disruption of this framework is enacted or can be enacted. Firstly, the reversal of values in Levinas’s work—rejecting totality in favour of a more ambiguous infinity, and subsequently masculinity for the feminine—begins this process, if in a way that remains deeply flawed. Secondly, Levinas’s subject is increasingly characterized, even by the time of Totality and Infinity, by events and experiences that are wildly outside of their control, not least of which is the face to face encounter with the Other. Thus, the notion of a masculine subjectivity ‘always in control’ is undone by their vulnerability to the Other. Finally, in Otherwise than Being, Levinas begins with the incomplete subject, one who is subjected to a responsibility primordial to themselves, before themselves as a traumatic disruption Coe also terms vulnerability. As well, she finds in Levinas (without romanticizing) the possibility that a mother might pass away in childbirth to be an expression of vulnerability which demands one reckons with a responsibility that interrupts their self-possession. This, by the way, is rendered also in Giannopolous’s discussion of Levinas and transcendence in terms of ‘paternity’; where one—coded as the ‘father’ in this case—must reckon with the birth of their child as “a way of being other while being oneself” (p. 230).[iii]

Potential tensions one might identify in one or another contribution are perhaps another way of branching some key difficulties the handbook faces on a structural level with its own self-contextualization. Morgan identifies the handbook as being a resource specifically for Anglo-American scholarship on Levinas—perhaps because in English-speaking contexts globally, or in the European context, Anglophone philosophy is already in proximity to Francophone and multi-lingual continental thought to ignore it. However, the reductive potential of such a translation—not merely into an English idiom, but into an Anglo-American one—seems to allow the possibility that conclusions like Housers’s which valorize rather than critique a notion of reason, and Sealey’s which affirms rather than contending with the logical structures of race, find little response in other places in the handbook. Morgan should be lauded for gathering together a diverse array of scholars from many backgrounds, even when he already notes that most are located in North America. It is also, perhaps, not feasible to engage a global scope of scholarship for a project like this. However, the implications of a foundational reference-work bearing such absences are reflected in the non-universal dialogue that manifests itself within its pages.

Even with these problems in view, there is no doubt that The Oxford Handbook of Levinas makes an important contribution to scholarship in the diversity and richness of its philosophical engagements, and in the explorations and controversies attested to. If it is any indication, studies of the profound works of Emmanuel Levinas are likely to continue, and perhaps even to expand in new and unforeseen ways. If so, this handbook will stand as a testament and signpost for all those looking to enter the field.


Derrida, Jacques. 1999. Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas. Translated by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.

Gilroy, Paul. 2000. Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Levinas, Emmanuel. 2003. On Escape. Translated by Bettina Bergo. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

———. 2009. Carnets de captivité suivi de Écrits sur la captivité et Notes philosophiques diverses. Edited by Rodolphe Calin and Catherine Chalier. Paris: Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle, IMEC Éditeur.

———. 2011. Parole et silence, Et autres conferences inédites. Edited by Rodolphe Calin et Catherine Chalier. Paris: Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle, IMEC Éditeur.

———. 2011 [1961]. Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

———. 2013. Éros, littérature et philosophie: Essais romanesques et poétiques, notes philosophiques sur le thème d’éros, Edited by Jean-Luc Nancy and Danielle Cohen-Levinas. Paris: Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle, IMEC Éditeur.

———. 2016 [1981]. Otherwise than Being, or Beyond Essence. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

Malka, Salomon. 2006. Emmanuel Levinas: His Life and Legacy. Translated by Michael Kigel and Sonia M. Embree. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

Morgan, Michael L. 2007. Discovering Levinas (2007). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

———. 2011. The Cambridge Introduction to Emmanuel Levinas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

———. 2016. Levinas’s Ethical Politics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Morgan, Michael L. ed. 2019. Oxford Handbook of Levinas. Oxford University Press.

[i] Emmanuel Levinas, 2009, Carnets de captivité suivi de Écrits sur la captivité et Notes philosophiques diverses, ed. Rodolphe Calin and Catherine Chalier, (Paris: Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle, IMEC Éditeur). Emmanuel Levinas, 2013, Éros, littérature et philosophie: Essais romanesques et poétiques, notes philosophiques sur le thème d’éros, ed. Jean-Luc Nancy and Danielle Cohen-Levinas, (Paris: Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle, IMEC Éditeur). These two texts were issued as part of a (currently) three-part collection by publishing house, Éditions Grasset, of the complete works of Levinas. The other volume gathers early lectures given at the invitation of jean Wahl to the Collège Philosophique. See: Emmanuel Levinas, 2011, Parole et silence, Et autres conferences inédites, ed. Rodolphe Calin et Catherine Chalier, (Paris: Éditions Grasset et Fasquelle, IMEC Éditeur).

[ii] This anecdote was quoted from: Salomon Malka, 2006, Emmanuel Levinas: His Life and Legacy, trans. Michael Kigel and Sonia M. Embree, (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press): p. 217.

[iii] The passage is a quotation from: Emmanuel Levinas, 1969, Totality and Infinity, trans. Alphonso Lingis, (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press): p. 282.

Alexander Schnell: Qu’est-ce que la phénoménologie transcendantale ?

Qu’est-ce que la phénoménologie transcendantale ? Fondements d’un idéalisme spéculatif phénoménologique Book Cover Qu’est-ce que la phénoménologie transcendantale ? Fondements d’un idéalisme spéculatif phénoménologique
Alexander Schnell
Jérôme Millon
Paperback 22.00 €

Reviewed by: Alexandre Couture-Mingheras (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne – Université de Bonn)

La force d’Alexander Schnell tient à ce qu’il est l’un des rares philosophes de notre temps à défendre l’idéalisme transcendantal, idéalisme dont on sait qu’il constitue pour Husserl l’essence même de la phénoménologie, en le rapportant d’une part à l’idéalisme allemand et plus particulièrement à la Bildslehre de Fichte, dont il est l’un des plus éminents spécialistes, et d’autre part au « réalisme » dominant aujourd’hui et plus particulièrement au réalisme spéculatif de Quentin Meillassoux. La défense du projet husserlien se fera donc dans ce nouvel ouvrage, ambitieux et de haute facture, sous deux angles.

Tout d’abord, une auto-fondation de la phénoménologie à la fois sujet et objet de la démarche de légitimation, de sorte que l’on pourrait parler d’un « discours de la méthode » à condition que le methodos soit son propre telos (sans quoi, à raison, il faut avec l’auteur en rejeter l’expression) : il s’agit là de la perspective indiquée par le sous-titre de l’ouvrage, à savoir des fondements, dont le pluriel lui-même indique qu’il ne saurait s’agir d’un simple retour à l’unique fundamentum inconcussum de la subjectivité absolue, et de fait la réflexion sur l’anonymat du sens se faisant, dans l’horizon heideggérien de l’herméneutique, invitera à un dépassement de la structuration purement égologique de la phénoménologique. Ensuite, et c’est le sens de « l’idéalisme spéculatif », cette auto-réflexion méthodologique – étant entendu que la méthode encore une fois ne s’applique pas de l’extérieur à un objet mais est le Tout même de la phénoménologie comme la réduction transcendantale en est l’Alpha et l’Omega, l’objet de la phénoménologie en en étant le Sujet -, doit être elle-même ontologiquement fondée, la réflexivité fondementielle du projet étant sise en l’autoréflexivité de l’Être. La spécularité de l’essai de « phénoménologie de la phénoménologie » transcendantale dont l’auteur reprend à Fink le projet, jamais conduit à terme, se trouve donc associé à une pensée de la spécularité ontologique, la réflexion sur ce qui est reposant sur l’essence -flexive de l’être : pas de retour sur soi – ce qu’est la philosophie en son essence -, sans être spéculaire, ou, pour le dire autrement, pas de fondation disciplinaire sans spécularité réelle, pas de réflexion sur le phénomène sans réflexivité de la phénoménalité.

Le projet, qui a ici un caractère inaugural – appelant à une reprise et collaboration, dans la droite ligne de la réflexion husserlienne -, et qui pose les jalons de l’idéalisme spéculatif en ramassant sous forme « systématisée » (ou plutôt « méthodologique ») ce qui avait été exposé dans les ouvrages précédents de l’auteur, est assurément original. Au-delà même du dialogue fécond qu’il instaure avec le passé et notre temps, il surmonte l’opposition entre le phénoménologique et le spéculatif : c’est d’ailleurs la force de l’essai que de montrer – il s’agit là du fil rouge à mon sens qui en traverse les sections -, que le dehors historique de la phénoménologique, le spéculatif, est en réalité non tant un dehors qu’un dedans non surmonté qui en constitue la vérité insigne. S’annonce en filigrane l’ouverture de la phénoménologie à son Autre comme à ce qui lui est le plus intérieur, le Métaphysique comme « interior intimo » de la phénoménologie, ce dont témoigne le dernier chapitre sur « le sens de la réalité », réel qui n’est ni dedans ni dehors, comme une torsion spéculaire où l’extase est l’envers de l’enstase, ce que l’auteur exprime en termes d’« endo-exogénéité de l’être ». Cette originalité est d’autant plus saisissante lorsqu’on confronte le projet de l’auteur à l’orientation majoritairement réaliste aujourd’hui de la phénoménologie : au réalisme qui prend pour fil directeur l’objet prédonné s’oppose l’idéalisme qui passe de l’objet à la réflexion sur la phénoménalité du phénomène, en une réflexion sur la possibilité de la phénoménologie qui appelle l’interrogation sur la possibilité même de la phénoménalité, en un transcendantalisme spéculatif qui se démarque, A. Schnell y insiste, du transcendantalisme kantien qui concerne les conditions de possibilité non de l’être mais de la seule connaissance. Encore cet idéalisme se donne-t-il moins pour l’opposant du réalisme que pour son fondement puisque la question posée d’entrée de jeu est celle de la conciliation entre d’un côté la reconduction à la subjectivité transcendantale (l’idéalisme) et de l’autre la fondation d’un concept fort d’être ou de réalité capable de rendre compte de la transcendance du monde (le réalisme), que si on ne saurait faire l’économie du sujet – contre cet appel généralisé au XXème siècle à la « mort du sujet » (et de « l’auteur ») -, on ne saurait pas plus résorber l’absoluité de la transcendance en l’intentionnalité d’une visée. On comprend que l’agent de liaison, ou de sursomption de l’opposition, sera établi par la redéfinition spéculative de l’idéalisme transcendantal, et que le spéculatif sera la clé permettant de sortir du conflit entre l’approche essentiellement gnoséologique de Husserl avec son projet de légitimation de la connaissance et l’ontologie phénoménologique de Heidegger où l’horizon du sens et du comprendre est irréductible au schème de la constitution transcendantale.

Est en jeu, cela est évident dès l’introduction, l’avenir même de la phénoménologie, qui se trouve forclos par une double attitude, de soumission à l’empiricité d’un objet pré-donné – c’est là le positivisme au double sens de ce qui sert la science mais aussi de ce qui est de l’ordre du « trouvé-d’avance » -, et de subordination historiographique de la philosophie à son passé. Le transcendantal, c’est précisément cet arrachement de la pensée au règne du fait déjà tout fait au profit d’une pensée pensante. Si la philosophie consiste à retourner à l’originaire, alors la phénoménologie en assume-t-elle la vocation, elle qui, « science des premiers commencements », ne cesse de recommencer pour interroger l’origine du sens et de l’être ou de ce que Husserl appelait « l’Énigme du Monde », c’est-à-dire non un problème mais une aporie qui exige que l’on se place à sa hauteur : le retour aux « choses mêmes » n’est pas de l’ordre d’un retour aux « faits » – en une dangereuse mythologie du Fait qui semble sous-tendre aujourd’hui bien des « ontologies » plates ou feuilletées orphelines de leur Sujet -, mais, suspendant l’en-soi à titre de préjugé, il consiste à faire de l’a priori de la corrélation entre ce qui se donne et son appréhension subjective son thème propre comme l’écrit Husserl dans un passage célèbre de la Krisis (§ 48). En effet, interroger l’être c’est questionner le sens d’être, ce en quoi la corrélation est a priori, originaire, irréductible qu’elle est au rapport entre deux termes hétérogènes. La corrélativité constitue la structure interne de la phénoménalité, ce que met au jour l’épochè phénoménologique, laquelle opère le passage de l’objet à la conscience d’objet. La corrélation désigne la structure sujet-objet inhérente à tout étant apparaissant, faisant tomber l’évidence apparente de la chose, la naturalité précisément d’une perception dont le propre est de s’effacer devant son objet. En d’autres termes, il s’agit de réfléchir la perception, de conduire la vision, obnubilée par la chose vue, à se saisir en un voir du voir : bref, le spéculatif est bien l’essence du phénoménologique, et l’enjeu de l’ouvrage est d’en décliner le thème en trois sections – qu’il est bien sûr impossible de « résumer » : il s’agit, encore une fois, d’un methodos et non de micro-thèses dont on pourrait transposer le contenu de façon ramassée -, la première exposant des considérations méthodologiques, la deuxième établissant un dialogue « historico-systématique » avec l’idéalisme allemand et l’empirisme anglo-saxon (humien), la troisième enfin, affrontant l’idéalisme spéculatif au réalisme spéculatif de Q. Meillassoux.

Le premier temps est consacré au concept même de méthode en phénoménologie et à ce qui fait la spécificité de l’attitude transcendantale, laquelle engage les notions de science eidétique (contre la « cécité spirituelle » des empiristes selon Husserl), d’expérience transcendantale (contre le transcendantal abstrait – apagogique – de Kant), de sens (contre l’être « en-soi ») et enfin de corrélation, en vue d’une rapproche renouvelée du problème de la compréhension, dans l’effort de conciliation de l’approche herméneutique chez Heidegger et de la légitimation transcendantale de la connaissance chez Husserl : l’idéalisme spéculatif met en jeu ce « comprendre transcendantal » irréductible à la face subjective et psychologique d’un savoir dont la connaissance objective et scientifique serait l’autre face, comme ce « sens se faisant » de l’ordre de l’entre-deux, inassignable à une instance, subjective ou objective, entre l’activité de l’esprit (il faut un interprétant) et un champ prédonné de compréhension (qui oriente l’interprétation, la soustrayant à tout arbitraire). Autrement dit, la description qui était définitoire de la phénoménologie se trouve dépassée par la construction : le spéculatif, c’est déjà ce « comprendre », cette monstration du sens – occulté dans l’attitude naturelle -, une « donation génétisée ». Spéculer, ce n’est pas spéculer dans le vide, mais ce n’est pas non plus, tel est l’enjeu de cette section, rapporter une construction à un étant qui lui préexisterait.

La deuxième section vise à rapporter la phénoménologie comme idéalisme spéculatif à l’idéalisme postkantien, passant de l’approche strictement méthodologique à une approche historique dont l’objectif est clair : justifier l’idéalisme spéculatif en inscrivant le projet de fondation de la phénoménologie dans l’horizon de l’idéalisme allemand, permettant ici encore de dépasser le caractère descriptif de la phénoménologie – le « principe des principes » qu’est l’intuition et qui est eo ipso légitimante pour Husserl -, au regard de la Wissenschaftslehre – et de l’image – de Fichte où il s’agit bien de construire le fait et ses conditions de possibilité de façon génétique, non à partir de faits (pure description) mais à partir d’un acte de construction (ici de la Tathandlung) par quoi la construction (ou spécularité) coïncide avec l’intuitivité de ce qu’elle construit et donne à voir. Comme le dit A. Schnell, l’intuitivité est ici un voir de la genèse. Cette interrogation sur les fondements spéculatifs de l’unité de la phénoménologie – conditionnement mutuel, possibilisation, construction génétique, redoublement possibilisant, autant de concepts analysés par l’auteur -, se double d’une confrontation subséquente de la phénoménologie à l’empirisme humien sous l’angle de la thématique de la Lebenswelt. Si le mérite de Hume est en effet d’engendrer le monde, montrant que ce qui paraît aller de soi n’a rien d’assuré, que les vérités objectives sont des formations de vie – une subjectivité voilée -, bref de retourner au monde de la vie comme sol de notre rapport au monde et a priori subjectif au fondement de l’a priori objectif de la science, il s’agit en revanche pour Husserl, on le sait, de concilier cette « fiction » du monde à son projet de légitimation de l’objectivité de la connaissance en intégrant le débat de la validité menée par le néo-kantisme de l’école de Baden dans la problématique de l’être. Contre l’objectivisme, l’auteur étudie la formation transcendantale du sens en prenant en compte le concept de vérité exposé dans la Sixième recherche logique et la thèse heideggérienne de la vérité comme existential. L’idéalisme spéculatif se trouve ici approfondi, permettant de sortir de la perspective purement gnoséologique en vue d’un « rendre compréhensible transcendantal » – mis en avant surtout par la Krisis -, et la mise en avant du plan anonyme, pré-égotique, de la Sinnbildung. Autrement dit, de la seconde section ressortent l’irréductibilité de la phénoménologie à la description et intuition, le rôle fondamental joué par les modes de conscience « non-présentants » (la fameuse phantasia) et enfin le primat du plan du procès du sens sur la constitution égologique (le spéculaire), idée d’un auto-anéantissement du moi conduisant à une « Sinnbildung anonyme » pré-égotique (ou « subjectivité anonyme ») – ici évoquée seulement mais dont on peut imaginer la fécondité à la rapporter par exemple au champ transcendantal sans ego (Sartre) ou au plan d’immanence de conscience absolue et impersonnelle (Deleuze), c’est-à-dire à ce dont Jean Hyppolite avait avancé l’idée en 1959, à savoir la possibilité de dériver le « Je » transcendantal – le « Je » comme pôle qui accompagne toutes mes représentations -, d’un champ antérieur au partage entre Moi et non-Moi, pré-subjectif et pré-objectif, et ce contre l’égocentrisme de la donation transcendantale.

Mais c’est à l’aune de la confrontation au réalisme spéculatif dans la troisième section que l’on saisit l’un des motifs au principe de l’essai : sauver la phénoménologie contre l’attaque menée par Q. Meillassoux contre ce qu’il a appelé dans Après la finitude le « corrélationisme ». Si on comprend mal la référence au « Nouveau Réalisme » de Markus Gabriel dans la mesure où il s’agit d’un réalisme sans Réalité – « tout existe, sauf le Tout » -, qui ouvrant l’ontologie aux sens de l’être et aux laissés-pour-compte de l’ontologie traditionnelle comme les licornes se détourne de son principe et abolit l’idée de « réalité du réel » et de nature fondamentale de ce qui est, au nom d’un pluralisme ontologique et épistémologique si radical qu’il en perd tout sens – l’ouverture de l’être aux fictions reposant sur l’idée de fiction de réalité -, en revanche la discussion menée avec le réalisme spéculatif permet, par contraste, de légitimer le projet de fondation de l’idéalisme spéculatif phénoménologique. Au-delà de la critique de l’argument de l’ancestralité qui fait fond sur une confusion selon l’auteur entre l’empirique et le transcendantal – l’expérience possible ne doit pas être confondue avec la possibilité empirique, si bien qu’il n’est de sens à inscrire la survenue du sujet (transcendantal) dans la ligne temporelle objective -, c’est bien à mon sens la façon dont l’absolu se trouve revisité à l’aune de l’idéalisme allemand qui ressort de l’analyse : d’un absolu qui n’est plus pensé comme absolu objectif mais comme réel subjectif et pré-égotique contre l’ontologisation de l’irraison et l’absolutisation de la contingence de la corrélation. La réflexivité de l’être – sa « corrélativité » -, le procès du sens comme structure transcendantale tendant à l’auto-explicitation réflexive du réel, d’un être se réfléchissant comme sens sans en passer tout d’abord par la figure de l’ego, tel est au final ce qui justifie ontologiquement le projet de fondation de l’idéalisme spéculatif, l’auteur répondant au défi lancé par Q. Meillassoux qui invitait la phénoménologie à s’élever aux hauteurs spéculatives de l’idéalisme kantien et postkantien. Pari tenu.

Que serait un en-soi qui serait pensé non comme chose mais comme sujet, en-soi comme Soi ? Si l’on se plaît depuis Wittgenstein à parler d’un « mythe de l’intériorité », la démarche radicale d’immanentisation chez Husserl consistait au contraire, tirant le fil cartésien, à interroger ladite « réalité du réel » et à rebours de l’attitude naturelle à mettre au jour ce qu’on pourrait appeler un « mythe de l’extériorité », révélant le dehors du dedans au sens du génitif subjectif. La phénoménologie procédait à une libération spectaculaire (mais n’est-ce pas le sens même de l’amour du Vrai, de la Philalethia en son sens originaire, i.e. initiatique ?) : libération de la conscience à l’égard du monde, renvoyé à son insuffisance ontologique et au caractère immanent de sa transcendance, libération de la conscience à l’égard d’elle-même dans son auto-appréhension limitante comme « moi psychophysique » – si l’épochè est l’acte inaugural de la philosophie c’est bien en tant que nul ne saurait se mettre en quête de Vérité qui reste prisonnier du sens de son identité -, et libération contre la philosophie moderne à l’égard de Dieu en tant qu’absolument Autre. Il ne faudra plus chercher le fondement ailleurs qu’en soi-même, quitte à ce que cet en-soi soit le lieu de révélation de la Vie divine, que l’égologie soit un théocentrisme, que l’ego soit porté par ce qui, plus haut, est ego transsubjectif, en un solipsisme transcendantal au fondement de l’intersubjectivité, intra au principe de l’inter. C’est là une direction qui me paraît passionnante, en une pensée de l’intériorité transcendantale et « cosmique », comme l’appelait Ravaisson, dont une confrontation cette fois-ci avec la Métaphysique du Veda, le Vedanta, permettrait de renouveler l’approche. Au-delà du cercle strictement phénoménologique ainsi tracé – avec son style parfois sibyllin et elliptique -, la phénoménologie eût pu s’ouvrir à un public plus large, dans le renouvellement urgent de la question originaire de la Vérité de Soi et de celle du Monde dont l’identité ouvre le rationnel à son autre en un rationalisme élargi. Mais c’est là ce dont le positivisme encore latent – mais Husserl était aussi fils de son temps – de la Strenge Wissenschaft, ce qu’engage la thématique de la validité, de laquelle participe l’essai de fondation de la phénoménologie, nous détourne. Certes Husserl concluait ses Méditations cartésiennes par un passage aussi beau qu’exigent : « L’oracle de Delphes gnôthi seauton acquiert alors une signification nouvelle. La science positive devient science en perdant le monde. Il faut commencer par perdre le monde avec l’épochè pour le reconquérir dans l’auto-réflexion universelle. Noli foras ire, dit Augustin, in te redi, in interiore homine habitat veritas ». Ce serait toutefois emprunter une voie différente, celle d’un philosophique roulant sur l’écume des catégories de l’entendement occidental et nourri par l’océan du philosophal : la « porte du dedans », ainsi que l’appelait Rûmî, conduirait alors à un immanentisme radical, intériorité qui n’est plus celle d’un « moi » mais d’un « nous » qui n’est Nous que d’être Un, et dont la réalisation, sans doute, nécessiterait de déchirer le voile des phénomènes – l’image dudit « réel » – de faire de la phénoménologie le tremplin vers son auto-dépassement.

François Jaran: La huella del pasado: Hacia una ontología de la realidad histórica

La huella del pasado: Hacia una ontología de la realidad histórica Book Cover La huella del pasado: Hacia una ontología de la realidad histórica
François Jaran
Herder Editorial
Paperback 16.90 €

Reviewed by: César Gómez Algarra (Université Laval)

L’histoire jette ses bouteilles vides par la fenêtre.

Chris Marker, Sans soleil


Après un travail consacré au problème de la phénoménologie de l’histoire chez Husserl et Heidegger[1], où, malgré tout ce qui séparent ces deux phénoménologues, un rapprochement essentiel était mené à bien, François Jaran se tourne maintenant vers une recherche de nature explicitement ontologique. Cette enquête vient compléter et développer, pour ainsi dire, son travail précédent pour se pencher en profondeur sur le problème de la réalité historique. En quel sens pouvons-nous ou devons-nous parler de « réalité historique » ? Face aux thèses réductionnistes que l’auteur nomme « matérialistes » ou « subjectivistes », celles qui ne considèrent le monde que comme un agrégat de choses physiques auxquelles on ajouterait le caractère culturel, politique ou historique, il s’agit de défendre une conception plus riche de la réalité. Pour cela, il faut montrer que la « réalité » se donne déjà chargée de plusieurs sens, de plusieurs caractères, qu’on ne peut lui soustraire sans la réduire fatalement. La « réalité » n’est donc jamais neutre, elle se donne « déjà teintée » par ces caractères, selon la belle expression que nous trouvons dans l’introduction, et c’est celui d’être historique qui sera analysé en détail dans cette œuvre (21).

Plus concrètement, l’auteur tente d’appréhender le mode d’être d’un étant en tant qu’étant historique. Pour ce faire, la grande majorité du travail conceptuel se fonde sur le projet philosophique de Heidegger, depuis les cours de jeunesse jusqu’à Être et temps. Mais à ce noyau argumentatif du livre précèdent deux chapitres consacrés au néokantisme et à Dilthey, dont le but est de clarifier les bases philosophiques du débat dont surgit l’herméneutique de la facticité et les interrogations du jeune Heidegger. Finalement, et c’est un ajout remarquable, les derniers chapitres sont consacrés à la effectuation (re-enactment) chez Collingwood et à la trace chez Ricœur. Le recours à ces deux auteurs permet de compléter l’analyse en montrant une proximité et familiarité avec le travail de l’historien qui nuance et dépasse largement les positions heideggériennes, trop radicales ou limitées (23). S’il fallait regretter l’absence d’un nom fondamental dans ces investigations, ce serait celui de Gadamer. Cependant, bien qu’aucun chapitre ne lui soit entièrement consacré, ses apports apparaissent à plusieurs moments de l’argumentation, là où, justement, son travail herméneutique s’avère d’une grande clarté et utilité.


Les deux premiers chapitres sont donc consacrés au problème de la fondation (fundamentación) des sciences humaines ou de l’esprit, notamment au débat entamé par Dilthey, Rickert et Windelband à la fin du XIXème siècle et au début du XXème, débat dont l’influence sur le jeune Heidegger est maintenant bien connue. La question, relevant en principe d’une problématique épistémologique et gnoséologique dans le contexte complexe du positivisme et de l’avancée des sciences de la nature, permet à l’auteur, de façon par moments surprenante, d’en tirer des conséquences d’ordre métaphysique. Dès ce premier chapitre, nous trouvons important de souligner une qualité remarquable de l’ouvrage : la capacité à dégager le contenu essentiel de façon très condensée, résumant en quelques pages les problèmes plus prégnants de ces grandes œuvres et des polémiques qui lui sont attachées, tout en redirigeant la question vers l’enjeu principal.

Il s’agit donc de montrer qu’à partir des distinctions développées par Dilthey entre esprit et nature et entre expliquer et comprendre pour préserver la spécificité du savoir propre aux sciences humaines, les réponses des néokantiens ont nourri une problématique sur les différentes façons dont nous appréhendons la réalité. Du refus de Windelband à l’acceptation de ce dualisme ontologique considéré dominant dans la tradition occidentale jusqu’à Hegel, l’auteur en vient à décrire la division logico-formelle par laquelle universel et particulier sont différenciés. Là où les sciences de la nature peuvent émettre des lois générales, les autres sciences devront rendre compte du singulier et irrépétible. C’est donc le cas, entre autres, de la science historique. Puis, avec plus de détails, F. Jaran consacre plusieurs pages à rendre explicite la contribution de Rickert, qui approfondit les concepts antérieurs en insistant sur la différence entre la tendance généralisatrice et la tendance individualisatrice (30). Ainsi, nous avons une seule réalité effective, conçue de double façon : d’une part, à travers la généralisation qui fait de la réalité nature, et d’autre part, de la particularisation qui fait histoire. Ce qui nous intéresse spécialement ici, c’est de voir comment, dans le cadre de ce débat sur la fondation des sciences, l’auteur dégage des thèses sur le mode d’être de la réalité. Malgré ce monisme ontologique constatable chez Rickert, l’essentiel est surtout que l’être humain appréhende cette réalité à travers ses propres moyens : dans cette ordination de la réalité, le néokantien considère les généralités des abstractions, qui seraient dépassées dans le rang hiérarchique par l’objet individuel auquel nous faisons face. Bien que, en termes kantiens, l’individualité « en soi » de l’objet ne soit pas atteignable, les analyses montrent que, malgré tout, l’appréhension de la réalité par le sujet fonctionne grâce à un type particulier d’individualisation. D’où la conséquence suivante, importante pour la suite du livre : la réalité que l’être humain appréhende est plutôt individuelle avant d’être générale et légiférée comme nature (37). Cependant, comme le relève la dernière section du chapitre, à partir des apports de Kroner, le monisme ontologique des néokantiens ne va pas sans difficultés. En effet, considérer la réalité à partir d’une seule dimension implique aussi de dérober la signification individuelle propre aux objets ou événements historiques : un tableau ne serait qu’un amas de matériaux sans aucun sens au-delà d’ajouts postérieurs. Ceci ne correspond certainement pas à sa réalité la plus propre et significative. Malgré tout, et c’est le thème du deuxième chapitre, il ne va pas de soi que l’essai diltheyéen de sauver la spécificité de l’histoire soit réductible, comme il l’était pour les néokantiens, à un dualisme esprit-nature des plus orthodoxes.

En effet, Dilthey a développé plutôt un monisme ontologique de l’expérience vécue (Erlebnis, vivencia). Contre un appauvrissement de l’expérience, il s’agit de redonner une force et une légitimité à celle-ci dans les sciences humaines, passant de la caractérisation du sujet comme rationnel et froid à sa compréhension en tant qu’être historique dans son être propre. Notons aussi que par le biais de cette caractérisation s’éclaire une autre conception de l’être humain, comme étant capable de radicaliser ses tendances naturelles de compréhension vers tout ce qui est historique, afin d’élargir et d’appréhender son champ de connaissance.

L’analyse de la notion d’expérience vécue menée à bien par l’auteur permet de dégager l’originalité de Dilthey dans le contexte philosophique de son époque. Avant toute abstraction, toute différenciation comme celle d’objet physique et de représentation psychique, nous avons la donation de quelque chose de plus originaire : l’Erlebnis dans toute sa puissance. L’expérience vécue se donne immédiatement, avec des valeurs, des sentiments, etc. Et dans le domaine des sciences humaines, dont font partie l’histoire et ce qui est historique, ce sera à partir des expériences vécues que nous, êtres historiques, pourrons avoir accès aux intériorités passées, à leurs mondes vécus et à leur caractère spirituel, à partir des expressions humaines, de ses œuvres et de leur culture. Leur sens et leur signification ne sont surtout pas réductibles à leur limitation dans d’autres sciences naturelles. L’intérêt de ce chapitre est alors de mettre en avant une dimension originaire de l’expérience vécue qui permette de contrer la compréhension matérialiste plus vulgaire, et ce, à travers d’une lecture des thèses de Dilthey qui se veut expressément métaphysique.

Dans les dernières sections, ce point de vue est développé davantage avec la notion d’Innewerden (saisie, se rendre compte de ; percatación). Avant toute différenciation ou abstraction, nous avons donc l’expérience vécue, à laquelle nous avons un accès immédiat : elle se donne avant toute réflexion, de façon préthéorique, sans qu’on puisse parler de distinction entre le « capter » et le « capté ». Autrement dit, il n’y a pas encore de relation entre sujet-objet, pas de rapport de l’ordre de la connaissance pivotant autour de la perception. La prétention de l’auteur, en mobilisant la notion de l’Innewerden, complétée par des références à Heidegger et à Gadamer, qui ont relié le concept au νοεῖν grec en tant que « perception préréflexive », est d’abandonner le cadre épistémologique et la réduction matérialiste de toute réalité au simplement physique. La compréhension de l’Innewerden fait signe vers un des points clés de l’ouvrage et annonce les chapitres suivants sur le jeune Heidegger. En interprétant de façon ontologiquement forte la conceptualisation diltheyéenne, F. Jaran souligne qu’avec l’expérience vécue nous retrouvons une revalorisation de ce qui est significatif, ce qui a un sens, et donc surtout un sens historique, face aux démarches abstractives propres aux sciences de la nature. Dans la mesure où l’expérience vécue est première, plus originaire et précède les démarches épistémologiques postérieures, et contre le privilège moderne de la perception sensible, nous pouvons nous accorder avec Dilthey pour suivre ce fil comme accès à une réalité plus pleine, où l’être humain se tient avant toute distinction ( 62-63).

Ces deux premiers chapitres offrent une pertinente et très claire vue d’ensemble sur la façon dont le problème et ses enjeux étaient posés et seront reçus par Heidegger, et cela, dès ses premiers cours. C’est à partir de cette question que nous passons maintenant à la deuxième partie du livre, donc aux trois chapitres consacrés au projet heideggérien dans ses diverses ramifications.

L’auteur ouvre cette partie en expliquant l’importance de l’histoire et l’historicité chez Heidegger. Particulièrement intéressante dans ce contexte est la citation d’une lettre à Bultmann, où il est question de l’élargissement de la région du domaine d’objets nommé « histoire ». Cet élargissement, dans le cadre du projet ontologique du livre, ne doit pas être compris seulement comme relevant du caractère éminemment historique du Dasein, mais aussi et surtout comme une élaboration versant sur le mode d’être des étants historiques. Les tentatives de dépassement de l’appréhension de la réalité comme Vorhandenheit fonctionnent alors comme fil conducteur, et c’est ce point qui représente la nouveauté heideggérienne ici reprise. Cependant, en suivant ce fil conducteur, l’auteur va préciser aussi l’évolution du questionnement de Heidegger, remarquant le processus génétique qui va de la thématisation de la vie facticielle à l’ontologie fondamentale de 1927.

Pour ce faire, le troisième chapitre (« Penser l’histoire à partir de l’expérience facticielle de la vie ») est consacré plus concrètement à l’analyse des cours de jeunesse, notamment Phénoménologie de la vie religieuse et Phénoménologie de l’intuition et de l’expression. Il s’agit donc de mettre en avant les acquis plus féconds de Dilthey sur l’expérience vécue et sur la vie pour capter le mouvement de celle-ci dans son inquiétude, et donc dans ce qu’elle m’est propre, se séparant davantage des fixations épistémologiques du néokantisme. À partir de cette orientation, l’histoire n’est plus à considérer comme un « objet » du savoir, auquel on applique des concepts généraux, mais doit être saisie dans la facticité elle-même. Mais pour autant, ce qu’est à proprement parler l’historique, sans se borner tout simplement à le voir comme ce qui « a lieu dans le temps », doit être mieux délimité. Ceci permet à Heidegger de critiquer Rickert dans sa quête d’une historicité plus « vivante » et plus originaire, qui nous détermine et affecte de fond en comble. Avant toute étude scientifique et théorique, notre expérience vitale de l’histoire est déjà là (77).

Cependant, si l’histoire surgit au sein de la vie facticielle elle-même, nous devons comprendre la structure de cette détermination, comprendre aussi comment elle se donne dans le Dasein. L’auteur se prête à ce travail en dégageant la pluralité des modes dans lesquels, selon Heidegger, l’histoire se manifeste dans la vie facticielle, élaborant ainsi une hiérarchie fondamentale. Certes, l’histoire peut être comprise comme un savoir que nous étudions en lisant des textes, documents, etc. Elle peut aussi et surtout être conçue comme la totalité de ce qui est passé ou advenu, voir comme une partie significative de cette totalité. Mais ces manifestations ne sont pas aussi originaires, notamment la dernière, puisque, bien que surgissant d’une pensée humaine, elles fonctionnent plutôt comme une idée spéculative et régulatrice, qui ne concerne pas de façon essentielle notre présent. Pour Heidegger, les modes authentiques de l’histoire nous concernent plus directement, nous « dévorent » pour ainsi dire : c’est plutôt l’histoire comme tradition, comme magistrae vita ou, tout simplement, comme la mienne propre. C’est ainsi que nous nous rapportons à l’histoire, que nous apprenons d’elle. Et c’est là un point essentiel pour son projet ontologique que l’auteur souligne dans ce chapitre : ces rapports à l’histoire sont caractérisés de plus authentiques, dans la mesure où celle-ci se donne ainsi comme existant facticiellement, comme une réalité historique (85-86). Cependant, les réflexions heideggériennes sur le problème ne s’arrêtent pas ici, dans le terrain de la vie facticielle, et vont acquérir un caractère plus ontologique à partir de la reprise du débat Dilthey-Yorck. C’est le thème du quatrième chapitre : « Placer Dilthey sur le terrain de l’ontologie ».

Dans les années 1924-25, s’acheminant vers la question de l’être qui sera décisive par la suite, l’interrogation sur l’histoire et l’historicité se concrétise en partant de façon explicite du traitement d’un étant qui est caractérisé par l’histoire : le Dasein en tant qu’être que nous sommes. Heidegger reprend ainsi, notamment dans les conférences sir Le concept de temps, la philosophie de Dilthey et les critiques du comte Yorck pour modifier le traitement de la vie, passant ainsi à une considération sur les structures ontologiques de l’existence humaine, qui est d’emblée et essentiellement historique. Par ce biais, il va s’éloigner davantage des limites de l’approche propre à la théorie de la connaissance. L’enquête historique ne peut pas partir du privilège de la perception, omniprésent dans la philosophie moderne et dans les sciences de la nature, mais de ce qui est vécu. Réélaboré par Heidegger, le travail sur la vie que Dilthey avait mené doit être maintenant progressivement ontologisé. Il s’agit donc d’une opération de déplacement qui ramène la vie et la réalité historique à sa constitution ontologique, à ses modes de donation. Nous devons, comme le prône Heidegger dans ces textes, nous questionner sur l’être et non sur l’étant, sur l’historicité et non tout simplement sur ce qui est historique. S’offre ainsi une méthode d’interrogation qui n’est pas réductible au traitement de ce qui est vorhanden : c’est seulement ainsi que l’histoire pourra être traitée de façon effective.

Cependant, cette nouvelle approche implique surtout de comprendre l’historicité au sein du Dasein lui-même, donc de se demander en quoi celui-ci est un être essentiellement historique. Ce que veut souligner l’auteur dans ces pages est comment, en comprenant la façon dont tout rapport du Dasein à l’étant est déjà marqué par l’histoire, nous pouvons accéder, à travers cette marque du passé, à une nouvelle prégnance de la réalité historique. En effet, le philosophe fribourgeois s’efforce d’écarter l’idée traditionnelle selon laquelle le passé serait un présent sans actualité, sans être. Contre cette idée bien inscrite dans notre conceptualité depuis Augustin, Heidegger rétorque que le passé se donne sous une forme particulière : celle du Gewesen-sein, de l’être-été (ser-sido). C’est ce statut d’être qu’a le passé, et non celui de présent prétérit, qu’il faut garder à l’esprit pour une recherche sur l’ontologie historique. Ainsi, en 1924 un jalon fondamental était déjà placé, qui sera complété dans Être et temps afin de mieux comprendre quel rapport entretient le présent avec l’historicité.

Le chapitre se clôt par une analyse des conférences de Kassel et de sa reprise dans le cours du semestre d’été 1925, les Prolégomènes pour une histoire du concept de temps. Le recours au premier texte sert à montrer comment Heidegger établit la distinction, devenue désormais « canonique », entre l’histoire comme savoir ou science historique (Historie) et l’histoire comme événement (Geschichte), et un événement qui nous concerne au premier plan. Dans le second texte, il est plus facile d’apprécier le chemin vers une ontologie. En laissant derrière-lui les approches de la vie facticielle, qui ne voulaient pas trancher entre le domaine de la nature et celui de l’histoire, Heidegger souligne néanmoins la possibilité d’approcher la réalité historique vraie, en procédant par une démarche phénoménologique qui capte sa constitution originaire. Mais cela ne sera possible que si l’ontologie grecque, qui relie la présence constante, la oὐσία, à l’être, est rompue par une nouvelle ontologie capable de rendre compte de l’histoire au-delà de cette réduction. Le chemin vers Être et temps est maintenant dégagé, où F. Jaran voit la solution heideggérienne au problème de l’ontologie de l’historique.

Le cinquième chapitre, « L’histoire dans le cadre de l’ontologie fondamentale », se penche alors sur l’opus magnum de 1927. En se concentrant particulièrement sur les paragraphes 72 à 77 de la seconde partie, l’auteur cherche à mettre en lumière le sens et la portée de l’historicité originaire du Dasein dans ce qui l’intéresse davantage : son rapport à l’étant. Pour abandonner radicalement l’idée du présent comme réalité et les thèses subjectivistes de l’histoire il faut tirer toutes les conséquences de la structure temporelle du Dasein, son rapport à l’historicité. En effet, celui-ci n’est pas de prime abord anhistorique pour, par après, se voir octroyer ces qualités : il est de façon essentielle marqué par le temps, et donc le temps arrive (geschehen) en lui, de la naissance à la mort. Dans le questionnement ontologique du livre, il nous faut cependant comprendre aussi comment cette historicité se rapporte à ce qui n’est pas le Dasein.

L’auteur consacre alors une partie du chapitre à commenter l’analyse de l’antiquité, en tant qu’étant historique par excellence, telle qu’elle se déploie dans Être et temps. Cette première approche confirme d’abord l’idée qu’à travers un étant ancien nous avons accès à un monde passé, un monde qui n’existe plus mais qui appartenait à un Dasein, et qui maintenant s’ouvre à nous à partir de cet étant lui-même. Ce monde est caractérisé comme welt-geschichtlich, comme ce qui est mondain-historique (mondo-historial dans la traduction d’E. Martineau). Mais cette façon de considérer le problème n’est pas suffisante : le fil de l’antiquité ici suivi permet de découvrir la relation des étants intramondains comme étants historiques avec un monde aussi bien historique. Malgré tout, il nous reste à comprendre en quel sens plus précisément le monde a lieu comme historique et quelles conséquences nous pouvons tirer par rapport à l’étant historique tel quel.

Ici, la difficulté que l’auteur souligne conséquemment tient à ce que Heidegger lui-même a affirmé dans Être et temps, à savoir, qu’une recherche ontologique de ce qui est « mondain-historique » suppose d’aller au-delà de la recherche qui est la sienne. F. Jaran cherche alors à expliquer ce point et à faire comprendre qu’on ne peut malgré tout ni soutenir que l’histoire est une région ontologique parmi d’autres ni que le caractère historique est simplement un mode d’être à ajouter à la liste que forment la Vorhandenheit, la Zuhandenheit et les autres. Au contraire, l’historicité, pour ainsi dire, se décline historiquement et est à retrouver dans plusieurs modes d’étants, soit subsistants, utiles, existants, etc. (137). Et c’est dans le cours de 1927 sur Les problèmes fondamentaux de la phénoménologie que Heidegger lui-même jette une nouvelle lumière sur la question. Une des particularités de l’étant historique est son caractère nécessairement intramondain : contrairement à l’étant naturel, qui surgit de et à partir de lui-même, l’étant historique est produit (comme le seraient, dans l’exemple de l’ouvrage, les produits de la culture, etc.), et produit de façon nécessaire par un Dasein. L’étant historique comme intramondain relevant donc de l’intervention d’un Dasein comme causalité ontique, la question ne peut pas être complètement résolue dans une recherche sur les structures ontologiques de l’étant, et donc sur les conditions de possibilité de compréhension de l’être telles que constituent le projet de l’ontologie fondamentale.

Pour conclure ce chapitre et bien exposer les acquis et les voies malgré tout ouvertes de la pensée heideggérienne, l’auteur se tourne vers les remarques « métontologiques » des textes postérieurs à 1927. Compte tenu que la projection transcendantale de l’historicité originaire du Dasein sur l’étant est insuffisante pour expliquer l’étant dans son caractère historique et son appartenance au monde, ce pas est cohérent et semble fécond. De ce point de vue, le retournement vers l’étant comme point de départ permet de penser la manifestation de l’étant comme d’emblée historique. Malheureusement, Heidegger ne traite pas en détail ce thème, se bornant à quelques remarques. Ceux-ci s’avancent vers la possibilité d’une ontologie de l’histoire qui s’appuierait sur le problème du mondain-historique, et a fortiori si elle ne veut pas s’épuiser dans la projection transcendantale du Dasein et de sa compréhension de l’être. En effet, comme le relèvent les dernières pages du chapitre, le caractère mondain-historique ne correspond pas, tout simplement, à un mode d’être qui déterminerait que l’étant se manifeste sous telle ou telle forme. Bien  au contraire, l’étant historique se donne dans le monde lui-même, et dans sa particulière référence aussi bien au monde passé du Dasein qu’au problème du monde en tant que tel. Ayant dégagé ce point fondamental pour son projet, F. Jaran peut maintenant compléter sa recherche ontologique en s’appuyant, dans une troisième section, sur des auteurs doués d’une sensibilité différente à l’histoire.

Le sixième chapitre est donc consacré à R. Collingwood, et bien que sautant à l’analyse d’un philosophe et historien anglais, l’auteur souligne que la source des influences demeure la même : Dilthey. Par rapport aux avancées antérieures, Collingwood met en avant la conception de la ré-effectuation (re-enactment) comme mode de reconstitution historique, que F. Jaran va expliciter en comparaison avec la répétition heideggérienne d’Être et temps. Il s’agit alors de bien appréhender comment l’historien est capable de redonner une certaine effectivité aux événements passés, et quel sens épistémologique précis cela possède dans sa recherche.

À partir de ces interrogations, la question est de voir comment Collingwood envisage la possibilité de connaître l’histoire, en admettant que c’est un objet qui dépasse certainement ce qui est « réel », et qu’elle est douée d’un statut d’idéalité et d’inactualité qui doit se révèler malgré tout comme accessible par le travail de l’historien. Ce qui intéresse particulièrement l’auteur est de voir précisément comment cette réactualisation de l’effectivité de l’histoire se déploie, notamment dans une perspective ontologique : c’est par les étants ou artefacts historiques que nous pouvons comprendre les propos humains qui les sous-tendent, les nécessités auxquelles il répondait.

Plus concrètement, Collingwood propose une division entre aspect externe et interne de l’étant historique, donc entre sa dimension physique et psychique, et octroie la primauté absolue de l’interprétation à ce qui est interne en tant que lieu des intérêts humains. L’activité critique de la ré-effectuation consiste alors à repenser dans l’esprit de l’historien ce que les personnages historiques ont dû penser, redonnant une effectivité au passé qui serait justifiée par la capacité humaine de penser la même chose. C’est à ce niveau que tient une des difficultés majeures de la ré-effectuation : la justification de cette mêmeté du pensé doit dépasser l’irrépétable, comme les perceptions et les sentiments, mais elle doit atteindre un sens intemporel de l’événement qui aurait acquis réalité dans le monde.

Cette dimension de la ré-effectuation pose problème ; elle risque de constituer une sorte de phantasme de résurrection absolue du passé dans le présent, apparence qui se radicalise davantage par la position de Collingwood sur la justesse et l’adéquation totale de ce qui est ré-effectué. Contrairement à l’herméneutique, dans laquelle F. Jaran n’a cessé de puiser les ressources de son argumentation, les thèses du philosophe anglais mènent à une compréhension du passé qui pourrait être caractérisée par une certaine naïveté : nous, comme chercheurs, nous recréons dans notre esprit ce qui s’est effectivement passé, tel quel. Face à cela, les travaux de Heidegger, mais aussi et surtout de Ricœur et de Gadamer nous ont montré à quel point la distance historique est un abîme infranchissable qui permet justement une compréhension autre des événements, tout en écartant les soupçons de psychologisme, dont sa présence chez Collingwood est difficilement contestable.

Et c’est donc sur Ricœur que porte le dernier chapitre, où la réponse précise au problème global de l’ouvrage est atteinte. Il s’agit pour l’auteur de voir en quoi la thématisation de la trace, présente dans le troisième volume de Temps et récit, constitue justement ce qu’une ontologie de la réalité historique cherche depuis le début de l’ouvrage. Pourquoi ? Principalement car la visée de Ricœur correspond à ce qui était recherché, notamment parce que la trace relève d’une dimension ontique, elle est bel et bien un « reste visible » qui fait partie de ce qui est arrivé, donc de l’événement historique.

En outre, la trace dépasse les autres étants capables de nous révéler quelque chose du passé, puisque dans sa neutralité elle n’est pas suspecte, comme le monument ou le document, d’être entachée par une forme ou une autre d’idéologie. Bien plus, F. Jaran souligne que dans son rapport à l’événement, la trace a un statut ontologique spécifique : il y aurait un certain rapport de métaphoricité, d’évocation de ce qui est arrivé dans le document, en tant que signe qui fait signe vers quelque chose d’autre, tandis que la trace reste, dans toute sa simplicité, une chose parmi les choses.

À travers cette notion de trace, nous sommes aussi amenés à une critique des limites de l’antiquité et de la position heideggérienne dans Être et temps. En effet, Ricœur cherche à réenvisager cette primauté de l’originaire dont l’œuvre de Heidegger semble porter l’étendard : la trace, par le dérivé et l’ontique, enrichit la compréhension originare de l’histoire et nous montre que l’historicité du Dasein et le savoir historique (Historie) se déterminent mutuellement beaucoup plus qu’ils ne s’opposent. Mais la trace dépasse aussi l’unilatéralité de la conception de Collingwood, qui privilégie l’aspect interne des étants au détriment absolu de l’extériorité, de l’étantité historique de la trace. En elle-même, la trace est la preuve matérielle de la prégnance de l’histoire. Elle n’est pas, telle quelle, une représentation d’autre chose, mais elle « tient lieu de ». Elle garde sa dimension ontique manifeste tout en permettant d’atteindre l’histoire, nous révélant pleinement ce qu’était le but recherché tout au long du livre : ce qu’est un étant historique, une réalité historique en soi qui va au-delà de toute projection subjective et de toute réduction scientifique. La trace nous permet alors d’accomplir notre désir, « un peu puéril » comme le souligne l’auteur, mais néanmoins essentiel pour nous, êtres historiques : celui de « pouvoir toucher avec les mains ou voir avec les yeux un objet qui provient du passé » (175).

[1] François Jaran. 2013. Phénoménologies de l’histoire. Husserl, Heidegger et l’histoire de la philosophie. Louvain: Peeters.

Adam Tuboly (Ed.): The Historical and Philosophical Significance of Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic

The Historical and Philosophical Significance of Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic Book Cover The Historical and Philosophical Significance of Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic
History of Analytic Philosophy
Adam Tamas Tuboly (Ed.)
Palgrave Macmillan
Ebook 93,08 €
XV, 370

Reviewed by: Piotr Stalmaszczyk (University of Lodz, Poland)

Alfred J. Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic was first published in 1936, a second, revised edition appeared in 1946. Chapter 1 (‘The Elimination of Metaphysics’) of this book opens with the following paragraph:

“The traditional disputes of philosophers are, for the most part, as unwarranted as they are unfruitful. The surest way to end them is to establish beyond question what should be the purpose and method of a philosophical inquiry. And this is by no means so difficult a task as the history of philosophy would lead one to suppose. For if there are any questions which science leaves it to philosophy to answer, a straightforward process of elimination must lead to their discovery.” (Ayer 2001: 13)

The author of these words was only twenty-five when he finished writing a book which became a milestone in contemporary philosophy. It was indeed “a young man’s book” (…) “written with more passion than most philosophers allow themselves to show”, as Ayer admitted in the second edition (Ayer 2001: 173). “With these and similar assertions the young Ayer embarked on a course of discussion that was designed to shake the philosophical establishment” (Hanfling 1997: 4). And even though time has clearly demonstrated the flaws and shortcoming of Ayer’s text and its main ideas, it needs to be acknowledged that Language, Truth and Logic (henceforth LTL) is a major achievement in the field, with long lasting influence, provoking over the years vivid discussions and reactions, especially in the areas of philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology, and ethics.

The volume edited by Adam Tamas Tuboly reconsiders the philosophical and historical importance of LTL, and discusses its more contemporary legacy in several different disciplines. Tuboly specifies that the questions that need to be asked and discussed: “are the following: how did Ayer preserve or distort the views and conceptions of the logical empiricists, especially those of Otto Neurath and Rudolf Carnap? How are Ayer’s arguments different from those he aimed to reconstruct? How influential was LTL really, and what are the factors that explain its success in Britain and especially at Oxford?” (3).

The book comprises an introduction and five parts (each consisting of two chapters). The introduction gives necessary background information, part one contextualizes Ayer’s book, part two concentrates on philosophy of language in LTL, part three discusses philosophy of mind and psychology, part four looks at epistemology and truth, and part five focuses on ethics and values. The individual chapters provide critical re-examinations of LTL, with the final chapter offering a highly critical analysis within a wide context of philosophy and culture. Each chapter is furnished with an extensive list of references.

In the first, introductory chapter, ‘From Spying to Canonizing – Ayer and His Language, Truth and Logic’, Tuboly traces Ayer’s road to LTL, his first encounters and contacts in Vienna, and provides a brief overview of the book’s content and its main theses. He observes that Ayer’s main task is “twofold: to show that all metaphysicians try to go beyond the empirical realm and to buttress his core thesis that only empirical propositions are meaningful in a literal sense” (12).

An important part of this chapter is devoted to discussing the controversy surrounding the significance and influence of LTL. Tuboly offers here a brief overview of the most important references on the subject and concludes this section observing that “the influence of LTL can be measured on two grounds. First, it was quite negatively received by the philosophical community, as it stepped on many toes and produced a mainly critical response among both philosophers and public intellectuals. (…) On the other hand, Ayer’s book was more than successful in other ways. LTL is one of the best-selling philosophy books of the twentieth century; every student of analytic philosophy has to read it at least once (…), and many educated laymen know it as a source of inspiration and a seminal text from the intellectual history of positivism – a distinction shared by only a few books in analytic philosophy. Whether institutional success is enough for philosophical success, however, is a different question” (27-28). Tuboly also stresses that LTL, though written when the Vienna Circle was past its peak, provides rather scarce information on logical positivism and its historical and theoretical developments. These remarks prepare the ground for more detailed analyses in the following parts of the volume.

Further contextualization of Ayer’s book is provided by the two chapters in Part One (‘The Book and Its Context’). Andreas Vrahimis discusses LTL and the Anglophone reception of the Venna Circle, he further investigates the issue of omissions made by Ayer in tackling the history of logical positivism, the debate around the Neurath-Haller thesis, and Ayer’s divergences with Carnap. Vrahimis observes that the linguistic Empiricism of LTL is presented as partly conceding the Rationalist critique of classical Empiricism, while rejecting the metaphysical conclusions the critique had driven them to; fortifying Empiricism by rejecting the mistaken assumptions of its classical proponents; and both aligning itself with the Empiricist side of the dispute, and also resolving the dispute in an Empiricist manner (47). In concluding remarks on the aftermath of the publication, Vrahimis observes that:

“Ayer’s book focused on discussions of particular problems and only very briefly touched upon the context in which they had initially been addressed by the Vienna Circle and its predecessors. The reception of his work also followed course, and the bold claims made by LTL resulted in bringing a critical debate over the viability of verificationism to the center of Anglophone philosophy during the 30s and 40s. Within this debate, there had been little concern about the acceptability of Ayer’s brief history of Logical Empiricism”. (63)

Chapter 3, by Siobhan Chapman, concentrates on ‘Viennese Bombshells’, i.e. reactions to LTL from Ayer’s philosophical contemporaries, especially John L. Austin, Arne Naess, and L. Susan Stebbing. All three philosophers found interesting elements in LTL but also had objections to the implications of Ayer’s study for the study of language. Chapman focuses on the reaction of these three philosophers to LTL, and on their further influence upon the study of language. Austin’s name is closely associated with ordinary language philosophy, one prominent version of the ‘linguistic philosophy’ (acknowledged by Ayer in his retrospective). Naess is less well known in Anglophone philosophy, “but was extremely influential in the development during the middle part of the twentieth century of philosophy in Norway, where he was celebrated as the founder of the school of empirical semantics” and finally Stebbing’s work “has been relatively neglected in recent decades, but in the 1930s and 1940s she was recognized as a leading figure in British analytic philosophy, particularly in relation to what became known as the Cambridge School of directional analysis” (71). In the remaining parts of the chapter Chapman discusses some subsequent developments connected with LTL and ordinary language philosophy in the fields of philosophy and linguistics, and she claims that after initial criticism connected with the fact that Ayer failed to recognize the disjuncture between philosophical inquiry and the assessment of ordinary linguistic usage, in the last few years “some analytic philosophers have returned to the idea that ordinary language might be of relevance, and even of vital methodological significance, to philosophical inquiry” (85). She also points at some interesting developments in Critical Discourse Analysis which might have been inspired by the close attention to different uses of language explicit in ordinary language philosophy (92).

The two chapters in Part Two are explicitly devoted to philosophy of language in LTL. Nicole Rathgeb discusses Ayer’s stance on analyticity, and Sally Parker-Ryan studies Ayer and early ordinary language philosophy. Ayer’s definition of analyticity is of great significance for his whole philosophy, not least because he regards philosophical truths as analytic propositions, hence his conception is often cited as ‘truth in virtue of meaning’ (101). Rathgeb carefully traces the inspirations and sources for Ayer’s ideas, the developments of this conception, changes between the first and second edition of LTL, and objections voiced against this approach. In the conclusion, the author suggests that Ayer’s account of analyticity is fundamentally correct, and that “the two definitions of analyticity given in LTL and in the introduction to the second edition can be brought into accord, that the truth of analytic propositions so understood is not contingent upon the existence of language, and that the different factors Ayer appeals to in his explanation of the necessity of analytic propositions are all important, although one of them is more fundamental than the others” (120).

In chapter 5, Parker-Ryan examines the development of two approaches to language: the concept of ideal language, and the concept of ordinary language. The former is connected with Ayer’s views expounded in LTL, whereas the latter is discussed by Parker-Ryan with reference to the work of John Wisdom. The author briefly presents the origins of the method of linguistic analysis, the influence of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus and of his later views, succinctly introduces ordinary language philosophy and contrasts it with theories advocating ideal language. In conclusion, Parker-Ryan claims that Ayer and the positivists “understood linguistic analysis as the weeding out of nonsense, such that the ‘logic of science’ could emerge. Such a language would be ideal, in the sense of being perfectly transparent logical form, and comprised exhaustively of empirically verifiable propositions, logical propositions and nothing else” (146). On the other hand, for ordinary language philosophy, the aim was also to resolve philosophical confusion; proponents of this movement “believed that a closer and more thoughtful examination of how language really is used, in various circumstances, can be philosophically revealing” (147).

Part Three is devoted to philosophy of mind and psychology. Gergely Ambrus traces the evolution of Ayer’s views on the mind-body relation, whereas Thomas Uebel investigates the puzzle about other minds in early Ayer. Ambrus observes that the analysis of Ayer’s views, “beyond being interesting in itself, is also important in that it provides further details about the large-scale development of analytic philosophy, stretching from the logical positivists’ radical anti-metaphysicalism in the 1930s to the 1960s when (some) classical metaphysical problems like realism or idealism, and the mind-body problem, were treated as being meaningful and legitimate once more” (153). The chapter discusses the phenomenalist background, focuses on the relations between the mental and physical events (a core issue in contemporary philosophy of mind) and on reinterpretations of the psychophysical relation within Ayer’s ‘sophisticated realist’ framework. Ambrus sums up the developments in Ayer’s thought in the following way: “the changes in Ayer’s views about the nature of the psychophysical relation were embedded in the evolution of his overall approach to philosophy. He departed from the radically anti-metaphysical attitude of logical positivism and arrived at a sort of pragmatist realism” (187). The shift from radical anti-metaphysical to ‘soft’ metaphysical views (with simultaneous faithfulness to earlier empiricist foundations) is characteristic of developments in Ayer’s thought (188).

Chapter 7 provides additional evidence for Ayer’s changing views in what today might be referred to as proto-philosophy of mind. Uebel concentrates on the account of knowledge of other minds as formulated in LTL, provides different interpretations and reinterpretations, and discusses Ayer’s approach to logical behaviorism: “once it is noted how his verificationism limited his options, it is of course difficult to dispute Ayer’s conclusion that no knowledge of other minds is provided at all, but this limitation does not apply unless the doctrine of logical behaviorism is also reinterpreted” (211).  Uebel also points to the discrepancies between the argument as presented in LTL, and as later interpreted by Ayer himself (240), a very interesting observation connected with authorial methodological consciousness (or lack of it).

Part Four deals with epistemology and truth. First Hans-Joachim Glock takes a close look at Ayer’s verificationism, next László Kocsis focuses on the problem of truth and validation. Truth, the second element in the title of Ayer’s book, was crucial both for the author’s line of investigation, and for the interpretation of his theory. Glock opens his chapter observing that the most fundamental aspiration of LTL is meta-philosophical: “Its stated aim is to argue for a positivist, anti-metaphysical conception of philosophy, its tasks and proper methods” (251). Further in this chapter, Glock discusses the importance of verificationism in LTL, different criteria of verifiability, the principle of verification, and the differences between the two (also in the context of Wittgenstein’s use-theory of meaning); it follows from this discussion that “there remains more to be said both against and for Ayer’s verificationism” (275).

In chapter 9, Kocsis starts with examining the difference between the definition and the criterion of truth and how they can be connected; next, he devotes some space to Ayer’s deflationism about the nature of truth and his place in the famous protocol-sentence debate, including his defense of a correspondence conception of the criterion of truth. In the final section he shows that Ayer’s deflationism about the nature of truth is not in conflict with his correspondence conception of the criterion of truth. This is because, contrary to his logical positivist contemporaries, Ayer did not admit any intimate connection between the two above-mentioned truth-theoretical tasks. According to Kocsis, “Ayer was convinced that the correspondence criterion could be applied to synthetic propositions, but as a fallibilist he did not distinguish between epistemically basic and incorrigible propositions (…) and all other non-basic propositions (hypotheses)” (301).

Part Five brings two chapters dealing with ethics and values. In chapter 10, Krisztián Pete compares Ayer and Berkeley, and their concepts of the meaning of ethical and religious language. Ayer starts the preface of the first edition of LTL with the following claim: “The views which are put forward in this treatise derive from the doctrines of Bertrand Russell and Wittgenstein, which are themselves the logical outcome of the Empiricism of Berkeley and David Hume” (Ayer 2001: 9). Berkeley’s and Hume’s influence on Ayer, and Ayer’s interpretation of Empiricism have already been discussed in chapters 1 and 2. Pete discusses in some detail Ayer’s and Berkeley’s views on emotional and theological use of language, he also explores the claim that Ayer is indebted to Berkeley “not only for the core ideas of his phenomenalism but also for his emotivism” (307), and provides a Berkeleyan reinterpretation of Ayer. Pete concludes that “by examining the semantic theory of one of Ayer’s distant empiricist predecessors, we can get some guidance on how to modify the ethical theory that Ayer outlined in LTL” (330).

The last chapter, by Aaron Preston, is significantly entitled ‘Ayer’s Book of Errors and the Crises of Contemporary Western Culture’. Preston offers a highly critical reading of LTL, with an equally critical assessment of its influence:

“Given that its flaws were both grievous and fairly obvious to many, LTL and the simplistic positivism it exemplified would be mere curiosities in the annals of a very curious century if it weren’t for the fact that they had massively harmful effects on culture, effects which persist to this day. (…)

LTL’s real significance lies here, in its role as a sophisticated and successful bit of propaganda for an ideology that played a critical role in loosing Western culture from its moral and epistemic moorings”. (334; 335)

Preston considers the rise of positivism in the light of the crises of contemporary western culture, including contemporary politics, fake news and post truth politics. Parts of this chapter sound rather like a political manifesto; however, it is interesting to see the line of argumentation leading the author from flaws in LTL to analyses (neither very deep nor original though) of Trump’s presidency. The tenor of the conclusion is predictable: “What, then, is the real significance of LTL? Sadly, its significance is overwhelmingly negative. It resides in the fact that it gave a distinctive and rhetorically powerful voice to a form of scientistic naturalism which has played a powerful role in fouling our relations to moral truth” (361). A brief critical remark with respect to these claims is included earlier in the volume, in chapter 8, where Glock observes that Preston’s dismissive attitude is precipitate, for:

A. Ayer’s later assessment leaves open that LTL also includes important truths.  B. Mistakes can be philosophically significant. C. By its own lights, LTL aims at introducing and implementing a method of clarification and critical thinking rather than at propounding a true doctrine.” (273-4)

The above points provide a good coda to this final chapter; however, it would be interesting to see a chapter polemic with regard to Preston’s stance.

In the conclusion of his brief introduction to Ayer’s work, Oswald Hanfling observed that “just as one must admire the bravado of his early book, so one must be impressed, when reading his later work, by his cautious and painstaking treatment of the questions at issue, and his constant striving to do justice to alternative views before arriving at his own conclusion” (Hanfling 1997: 51); and Ben Rogers added that the greatness of LTL resides in the fact that “it exudes a rare and inspiring passion for truth” (Rogers 2001: xvi). The papers collected in the reviewed volume attest to the depth and breadth of Ayer’s thought, they demonstrate that the shortcomings of his early work cannot overshadow its lasting influence in several philosophical disciplines.

Ayer’s book provoked reaction also within literary studies, and its title inspired at least two publications – Hamm (1960) and Martin (1975) – with both authors consciously alluding to the original title, and both investigating the benefits and shortcomings of logical positivism as applied to literary analyses. This aspect of Ayer’s influence is not discussed in the reviewed book, however, it additionally confirms the importance of LTL for various developments in several disciplines.

The Historical and Philosophical Significance of Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic provides an excellent overview of the topics discussed by Ayer, the controversies surrounding the publication and its influence. Additionally, it provides important (not only historical) considerations connected with the developments in philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology, and ethics.


Ayer, Alfred J. [1936/1946] 2001. Language, Truth and Logic. London: Penguin Books.

Hamm, Victor M. 1960. Language, Truth and Poetry. The Aquinas Lecture 1960. Milwaukee: Marquette University Press.

Hanfling, Oswald. 1997. Ayer. Analysing What We Mean. London: Phoenix.

Martin, Graham Dunstan. 1975. Language, Truth, and Poetry. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Rogers, Ben. 2001. “Introduction.” In: Ayer (2001), ix-xviii.

Paul Earlie: Derrida and the Legacy of Psychoanalysis

Derrida and the Legacy of Psychoanalysis Book Cover Derrida and the Legacy of Psychoanalysis
Oxford Modern Languages and Literature Monographs
Paul Earlie
Oxford University Press
Hardback £60.00

Reviewed by: Alessandro Guardascione (KU Leuven University)


Derrida and the Legacy of Psychoanalysis is an ambitious book written by Paul Earlie that aims at measuring Derrida’s contribution to contemporary critical thought by exploring his encounter with Freud. Earlie does not only offer a systematic, in-depth account of Derrida’s understanding of Freud’s legacy by a close reading of often overlooked or marginal texts. He also attempts to confront Derrida with contemporary philosophical problems through his writings on psychoanalysis. The book is a welcome addition to Derrida studies. It challenges a still prevailing “textualist” reading of Derrida’s works and examines in fine details Derrida’s relationship with Freud. Earlie offers a quite comprehensive exploration of several psychoanalytic concepts found in Derrida’s oeuvre.

The relationship between psychoanalysis and deconstruction is described according to an aporetic sense of inheritance that will be at the centre of Paul Earlie’s analyses until the very conclusions of his book. By reactivating the critical message of Derrida’s philosophical style through his confrontation with psychoanalysis, Earlie reconstructs many classical arguments that characterize Derrida’s thinking. As he shows, investigating Derrida’s encounter with psychoanalysis essentially means responding to a whole series of general questions like: What does it mean to interpret Freud’s psychoanalytic theory? How does psychoanalysis survive to its founder? Who is behind the “proper name” “Freud”? In what sense can we affirm the existence of a Freudian legacy? Or, more importantly, can there be a legacy at all?

Already in the title, it is possible to appreciate the fil rouge that connects all the chapters. The etymological meaning of the word “legacy” finds its place in the polysemic variety of the Greek-Roman culture. At a closer examination, a complex historico-cultural background constitutes its horizon of interpretation. Legō, from Latin, has many senses: gathering together, to collect, but also, to extract, to choose, to entrust, to read. These are some of its main usages. The expression “legacy of psychoanalysis” could be translated by replacing some of the Latin meanings of legō. However, arguably, gathering together several items to form a set is the very opposite of extracting from a set. Apparently, it seems that legō hides a contradictory logic of inclusion-exclusion. It potentially means both collecting and extracting. Could it be possible to think about a collection of thinkers gathered together around the proper name “Freud” and, at the very same time, through a selective enumeration, restricting the set to very few trustworthy authors? It should be possible only at cost of a decisive criterion grounded on Freud’s textual truth or, better, on the original source of his thought. However, as it is widely known, since the beginning of his confrontation with phenomenological themes, Derrida has always been critical to the notion of simple, pure, transparent origin favoUring and developing the consequences of his logic of contamination — as he writes in the preface to his Le problème de la genèse dans la philosophie de Husserl. Derrida often shows his resistance to any interpretative closure, as is witnessed by the studies on Mallarmé, Artaud, Nietzsche, just to name a few. Freud is no exception and Earlie shows us why.

Rightly at the beginning of his book, Earlie claims that Derrida reinterprets the problem of Freud’s legacy into the general question of inheritance. This strategy mirrors Derrida’s classical myse en abyme. Indeed, in the same vein, Earlie’s book follows a similar strategy. As he defines it, the book tackles the “double bind of inheriting Derrida inheriting Freud”. Although comprehensible to a broad philosophical audience, to be fully appreciated an understanding of Derridean philosophical path and his main notions is warmly recommended. Without claiming to exhaust the rich variety of analyses presented in the text, I will limit myself to pointing out a few key passages.

Aporetic Detours

The first chapter is dedicated to the problematic reception of Freud in France. The central thesis of this chapter is that Derrida has never attempted to appropriate Freud’s legacy as much as he has tried to “show how this legacy survives by means of its structural inappropriability”. In order to justify his claim, Earlie discusses the meaning of Freud’s legacy through specific conceptual tropes found in Derrida’s many essays and conferences. These introductory analyses run through the concepts of “aporia”, “myth”, and “proper name” that, de facto, constitute the essential margins of this book.

Earlie exemplifies the problem of Freud’s legacy by referring to the ambiguous judgment of Lévi-Strauss on psychoanalysis. While Lévi-Strauss sometimes praises Freud’s psychoanalytic discoveries recognizing a “formative influence” on his speculation, as in Tristes tropiques, sometimes he does not, as in La Potière jalouse. As Earlie shows, in this text Lévi-Strauss does not only denounce the absence of Freud’s influence on his structural anthropology, he even calls into question its originality. However, instead of discussing what is the debt of anthropology to psychoanalysis, Earlie aims at demonstrating that, actually, Lévi-Strauss’s relationship to Freud remains caught into the aporetic logic of debt, best expressed through the Freudian figure of “kettle logic”. The “kettle logic” is a Freudian trope that essentially refers to the internal logic of dreams and it describes a rhetorical expedient consisting of the use of contradictory arguments to defende a unique thesis. Earlie claims that, for Derrida, the logic of debt actually reminds us of the Freudian notion of kettle logic, since repudiating or assuming a debt always results in opposing statements. One of the clearest examples is found by Earlie in Derrida’s reading of Plato’s indebtedness with the concept of writing as pharmakon.

Earlie illustrates what he calls the argumentative strategy of the “fort-da” also with Lacan’s relationship to Freud. Instead of denouncing the absence of Freud, like Lévi-Strauss, Lacan leads a firm and allegedly transparent appropriation of Freud’s textual truth. For Earlie, this logic of fort-da consists of renouncing and assuming, including and excluding. This general strategy is for Earlie “an insistent feature in the inheritance of Freud’s legacy”. The first chapter is essentially a demonstration of this thesis. Other seminal figures populating the French freudisme, like Laplanche and Pontatis, Abraham and Torkok are passed in review, including important critics and detractors of Freud’s psychoanalysis, like Onfray and Sulloway. A special attention is dedicated to other influential authors like Foucault and Sartre.

Through these authors, Earlie explores the idiomatic appropriation of Freud’s psychoanalytic themes. The aporetic logic behind any kind of inheritance or legacy results in depicting, each time, a different, contradictory image of “Freud”. For him, Derrida’s method of reading Freud’s legacy leads to reaffirm and relaunch the impossible appropriation of his textual truth. Derrida “resist[s] the temptation to mythologize” by limiting the negative, sclerotic effect of a hermeneutic dispositive of appropriation, or interpretative closure. In this sense, Earlie aims at showing the difference, for Derrida, between “Freud’s open-ended textual legacy” and freudisme. Broadly, he shows that no “intellectual lineage” can oppose the resistance of Freud’s textual corpus to BY being reduced to a single interpretation, since any appropriation is only the result of a hermeneutic decision. In this regard, for Earlie, Derrida preserves an important ethical responsibility, even if only in critically restating the difference between Freud and freudisme.


In the second chapter, Earlie focuses on Derrida’s understanding of “psychical spacings”, investigating the relationship between space and psyche in some of his most important works. By turning towards his writings on phenomenology, in particular to La voix et le phenomene and Le toucher, Jean Luc Nancy, Earlie sets the stage for discussing the role of Derrida’s encounter with some of Freud’s main psychoanalytic concepts, reflecting on the importance of the issues of spatiality, surface, and touch in his philosophy. In a sense, Earlie attempts to show that Derrida uses the category of space for deconstructing the classical metaphysical notion of subjectivity. In particular, I am referring here to the idea of pure, immediate self-identity and the idea of psyche as a kind of internal space as opposed to an external world. In other words, this chapter is dedicated to deciphering Derrida’s classical thesis concerning the characterization of classical metaphysics as phono-logo-centrism.

In the chapter, Earlie confronts Derrida’s notion of spacing as it is presented in La Voix with that found in Le Toucher. He notes that while in the first book spacing describes the condition of possibility of temporalization as spatial inscription of a trace, in the latter, Derrida is more interested in spacing in relation to spatiality and self-touching. The theme of spatiality is introduced by a close reading of the fifth chapter of La Voix. Earlie discusses Derrida’s strategic interpretation of the Husserlian analyses on the temporal flow of the Living Present. In this chapter, Derrida is steadfast to show the relationship between time and auto-affection in Husserlian phenomenology. In Le Toucher, instead, Derrida directly tackles the problem of auto-affection in relation to self-touching, no longer focusing on the temporalization of the flow of the Living Present. Earlie illustrates how, for Derrida, self-touching or the chiasmatic, double apprehension of the touching-touched, describes the phenomenon of auto-hetero-affection, the contamination of sameness and otherness.

In both cases, spacing represents the condition of (im)possibility of the subject, since it describes, on one side, the subject as an “effect” of temporal deferral and spatial inscription, and, on the other side, the impossibility of a pure, immediate auto-affection. Through these analyses, Earlie finally discusses the role of the Freudian concept of Nachtraglichkeit (afterwardness) and his interpretation of the psyche as topographical space, as it is expressed by the famous sentence Psyche ist ausgedehnt, weiss nichts davon (Psyche is extended, knows nothing about it). In this sense, Earlie shows how Freud’s conception of the psyche has been reworked by Derrida for deconstructing the classical metaphysical idea of subjectivity attributed to Plato and Descartes.

Freud et la scene de l’écriture constitutes the other fundamental text explored by Earlie in the second chapterFor him, this text is an exemplary work for discussing Derrida’s analyses on the “space of unconscious”. Earlie finds this text quite interesting since it presents a critic of any interpretation of memory as “localizable anatomical space”. According to him, by speculating on Freud’s histology of the psyche and his critiques to the empirical account of memory and perception, Derrida challenges any materialist account of memory since, as he writes, memory finds its space only “in the difference between one inscription and another.” By comparing Freud’s persistence in representing the psyche through physical writing – for instance, in The Interpretation of Dreams – in relation to Husserl’s characterization of psyche as “spoken word, e.g., interior monologue, Earlie signals the “sympathy between psychoanalytic regression and écriture”. He shows again that Derrida reworks the Freudian notion of unconsciousness as a process of spacing that challenges the idea of self-identity accompanied by a “linear structure of verbal discourse”.

This chapter also constitutes a defence of the recent materialistic interpretation of Derrida’s deconstruction. In particular, Earlie is critical of Catherine Malabou’s interpretation of the relationship between psychoanalysis and deconstruction, and between deconstruction and neuroscience. He criticizes the opposition between “material space of neuroscience and intangible spacing” claiming that for Derrida “it is never simply a question of choosing one over the other”. Earlie’s reconstruction demonstrates that Derrida has never considered spacing in a materialistic or idealistic sense and his approach cannot be a positive one and cannot be confused with the contemporary neuroscientific approaches to psychoanalysis.

Science and Fiction

The third chapter is dedicated to showing the relevance of Derrida’s writings on psychoanalysis to understand for understanding his position in relation to science and the scientific method. In this respect, Earlie complements Derrida’s reflections on epistemology in his famous introduction to Husserl’s supplement to CrisisThe Origin of Geometry. Earlie’s objective is to defend Derrida from recent readings of deconstruction such as poststructuralism. Instead of reducing Derrida to just a figure of the philosophy of language, Earlie wants to demonstrate the significance of his reflections for any scientific discourse, even defending Freud from some current neuropsychoanalitic trends of research that aim at freeing psychoanalysis from fictive or speculative elements.

Spéculer–sur ‘Freud’Mes ChanceTélepathie, and Foi et savoir constitute the main texts of this chapter in which Earlie reconstructs Derrida’s discussion upon the scientific “credentials” of Freud’s psychoanalysis. As he shows, it is the very definition of psychoanalysis as A “border-discipline” that allows Derrida to characterize Freud’s recourse to the scientific method as always contaminated by irreducible elements of fiction. By discussing the influence of Comte’s notion of positive science on Freud’s scientific method, Earlie already presents a general Derridean thesis. Positive science cannot eliminate its ties to theoretical conjecture, speculation, or fiction, otherwise, it would be mere positivism. The scientific discourse remains irreducibly permeable to other fields of knowledge that, de facto, participate in the definition of its margins. Science can only proceed by trial and error and it is always exposed to the risk of failure. In a long passage, he summarizes as follows:

“While it is always possible to speculate on what new evidence may become available, it is structurally impossible for future data to be entirely foreseen or predicted. Every context, and thus every description of context, is always already punctured by an unconditional exposure towards the to-come, the alterity, or difference of an à-venir which may come to displace all previous hypotheses.”

As Earlie shows in Grammatologie, an account of science solely grounded on immediate empirical observation is impossible for Derrida. This is exemplified in Derrida’s account of structuralist linguistics. How can writing can be the object of science if writing, as already shown already in the Introduction to The Origin of Geometry, is the very condition of ““all scientific inquiry and of the épistémè more generally” ? Is not this a vicious theoretical diallele? By passing in review Spéculer–sur ‘Freud’Glas, and La Carte Postale, Earlie presents interesting elements for reconstructing Derrida’s understanding of scientific method. He reconstructs the tensions between psychoanalysis and phenomenology and exposes Derrida’s reading of Freud’s “speculation” in relation to that of Hegel. Earlie shows how Derrida opposes Freud to Husserl and Freud to Hegel. While Husserl intends the telos of scientific progress as an infinite task grounded on the Living Present, Freud conceives science as “limping” on risky unknown paths that can be completely replaced. Whereas Hegel’s speculation absorbs for his own profit and consists of “a positive reappropriation of the negative” (Aufhebung), Freud’s speculation is always at risk of failing and the Freudian concept par exellence, the unconscious, is all but the name of a positive principle.

However, for Earlie, Derrida’s interest in Freud’s “speculative procedure” derives from the recourse of the latter to fictive arguments not supported by positive evidence but still, defended against any accusation of metaphysics, paradigmatically in Beyond the Pleasure Principle. At the core of Freud’s speculative procedure, Earlie exposes Derrida’s interpretation of a classical Freudian scene, “the child’s game of fort-da”. This scene is of paramount importance in the economy of Freud’s psychoanalysis since it is used to describe the child’s initial mastery of identity. In relation to Spéculer, Earlie mainly intends to show two things: a) that Derrida reads this scene, again, to critique the idea of classical subjectivity; b) that Derrida uses this scene to show a type of incompleteness affecting any scientific discourse.

a) Earlie reflects upon what seems to be Derrida’s main interest for this game: the child’s “double movement of distancing and return” from the object. For him, Derrida interprets the game as an example of spacing. In his reading, Earlie remarks that for Derrida this figure of spacing cannot be accomplished without” either the boy’s playthings or – and this is another version of the game – his verbal discourse. Distancing and return describe the prosthetic condition of the subject to the “external world”, the “self affecting itself through technical re-presentation”. In other words, Earlie claims that, for Derrida, the child’s fort-da is possible only by means of an “originary technicity” represented, in this case, by an object or by the child’s voice. This “originary technicity” has many names in Derrida’s vocabulary, for instance, it is all called “archi-writing” in La Voix and Grammatologie.

b) Another important point signaled by Earlie is that, for Derrida, the problem with this game does not only concern the variety of its possible interpretations but the very description depicting a number of different versions. As Derrida shows in Spéculer, on a closer examination, the game’s description depends on either fictive elements or Freud’s autobiographical details. Derrida is interested in the fact that Freud diverges from the frames of scientific positivism by exploiting the resources of fictive speculation. For these reasons, the value of fiction is, according to Earlie, the very reason for Derrida’s interest in Freud’s work: “Freud’s more speculative writings emphasize the fragility of psychoanalysis’s scientific foundations, a fragility he paradoxically concludes only strengthens psychoanalysis’s scientific credentials.”

Archival Effects

In the fourth chapter, Earlie takes the occasion to introduce Derrida’s Mal d’Archive (1995) by reflecting on the recent digitized version of the Library of Congress’s “Sigmund Freud Collection”. In this chapter, Earlie’s deflationist reading of Mal d’Archive is intended to show the structural limitations of the archive’s technicity implied in Derrida’s aporetic speculation. In particular, Earlie aims at showing the archive’s double bind, namely “the possibility both of preserving the trace and the simultaneous exposure of this trace to forgetfulness, finitude, or destruction.” In his exposure, Earlie shows the role of Freud’s notion of repression and his topographical image of memory in Derrida’s text.

According to Earlie, Mal d’Archive continues to offer a twofold lesson to archive studies. First, it shows a way to think about the role of the archive that is at odds with, on one side, the proponents of a “neoliberalization of the university”, and on the other side, those who critique a supposed “dishumanization of the liberal studies”. In other words, Earlie intends to show that Derrida does not take the part of one of these two sides, since he for him any techné can be read through the aporetic logic of Plato’s pharmakon. It is both enabling and threatening, and it is erroneous to stigmatize or praise any archive fever. Second, it enlightens the hidden relationship between the archive and affectivity. Earlie focuses on Derrida’s reflections on our desire for archiving and archive, and on the general problem of any calculable science of the archive.

In Mal d’Archive, Derrida ironically observes that the Greek origin of the term “archive” is forgotten by most who use this word nowadays. In this sense, Earlie starts reflecting on the word archive as the very “archive of a structural forgetting”. Yet, the archive stands as an external, often distributed space of memory. Indeed, the most interesting aspect Earlie signals of Derrida’s reflections on the archive is its relevance to the understanding of “psyche’s relationship to more recent techno-scientific developments.” More than ever, our contemporary interaction with technology is characterized by an increasing dependency. The archive stands as an example of the outside on which memory depends. Just think about the role that search engines have today. For Earlie, Derrida uses the archive to discuss the prosthetic account of psychical memory connected to his general thesis of the originary technicity as condition of (im)possibility of subjectivity.

Earlie’s reading of Genèse, généalogies, genres et le génie: Les secrets de l’archive (2003) and Papier machine is centered instead on the paradox of consignation. In these texts, he explores Derrida’s analysis on the possibility of archiving. The argument goes as follows: archiving practices are hampered by the undecidability of the cataloging process and by the work of indexing. The limitations of consignations consist in the impossibility for the archivist to frame once and forever the complexity of a text. The aporia of archiving rests on the resistance to the categorization of the secret of the text. In this context, Earlie shows that the secret, for Derrida, is a non-synonymous substitution for dissemination. Dissemination describes the generative possibilities resulting from semic drifting constituting any semantic corpus, that exceeds any calculable economy of the text.

The final part of this chapter is related to the relationship between the archive and affectivity. Earlie turns again to “Freud et la scène de l’écriture”. In this text, he indicates the general relationship between the thinking of the trace and passions, the relationship between the subject and death. Expressions like “mal d’archive” and “pulsion d’archive” witness the affective side of Derrida’s thought of the archive. The chapter ends with a discussion on the meaning of our desire for the archive as “anxiety in the face of its destruction.”

Affectivity and Politics

The last chapter is dedicated to measuring the influence of Freud on Derrida’s reflections on affectivity and its relation to political themes. Derrida’s initial hesitation for political speculation is explained by the fact that, for him, political philosophemes are often obscure and heavily loaded with metaphysical conceptuality. In this chapter, Earlie attempts to show that Derrida’s reflections on the political are grounded on the aporia of affectivity. Against the prejudicial judgment of a dismissive treatment of emotions and affective experience, Earlie argues that a text like Passions depicts the image of Derrida fully interested in affectivity. For Earlie, Derrida deconstructs the classical concept according to which passions indicate external forces that drive passive subjects. He shows that Derrida’s reading of Freudian narcissism is an example of his aporetic account of passion. For Derrida, narcissistic auto-affection is countered by an irreducible inappropriability, the “non-self-belonging of technicity”, namely, the fact that writing exceeds subjectivity by constituting it, and trace is not the name of a circular movement of appropriation. In this sense, narcissism is (im)possible, caught in a mutual relation between sameness and otherness. The example of narcissism shows the double bind of affectivity in general. Broadly, for Earlie, if Derrida’s conception of affectivity is “always interwoven with […] possible-impossible auto-affection” then the political is (im)possible for it is grounded on the (non)coincidence of the auto-(hetero)-affection.

In this sense, for Earlie, Derrida articulates the political from the impossibility of pure auto-affection. The aporia of affectivity results in the consequent aporia of the political as “the anxiety-inducing exposure of […] bonds to incalculable otherness (à venir)”. Through a comment of La Carte postale, Earlie presents a convincing account of Derrida’s theory of anxiety that is the result of his reading of Freud’s Beyond the pleasure principle. According to this reading, anxiety is generated by the doubleness of binding, the “process in which a calculating desire for the object is accompanied by anxiety faced with is incalculable loss”. Anxiety is a condition that belongs to auto-hetero-affection since the self is constituted by what threatens him. This double bind of affectivity also explains the (im)possibility of bonds of friendship.

For Earlie, affectivity described in Derrida’s philosophy as the “structural non-coincidence which both constitutes and impedes, […] any stable bond between ‘self’ and ‘other’”. In this sense, it is easy to see why Derrida contrasts any account of the political grounded on supposedly natural or immediate bonds ultimately affective. In this chapter, Earlie demonstrates that Derrida’s writings on psychoanalysis are fundamental for understanding the role of auto-hetero-affection as the condition of (im)possibility of any politics. In a sense, for Earlie, Derrida develops the extremes consequences of Freudian thought by showing both the aporetic relation between the self and the other and the contradictions hidden in affectivity. Earlie notes that Derrida reworks the Freudian concepts of binding (Bindung) to describe the irreducible affective tensions underneath the social bonds that unmask the fictive illusion of a peaceful civilization.

In the final part of the chapter, Earlie focuses on the later Derrida works centred around autoimmunity (auto-immunité). He illustrates how this concept has been developed by Derrida in La Carte postale through a reading of Freud’s vesicle allegory, the fictive image describing the sensory reception: “Freud’s fictive vesicle protects itself against external dangers by deadening its outer layer (or ‘shield’) and allowing small, immunizing ‘doses’ of dangerous excitation to filter through its semi-porous membrane”. This allegory does not only show the autoimmunitarian logic at work in the fictive vesicle. For Earlie, this also describes the continuity between auto-affection and auto-immunity. The auto-affection is ultimately auto-hetero-affection, since the subject experiences what is other than itself by affecting itself, as it is shown in the self-touching. Auto-immunity follows from the constitution of the self in the spacing of the self from its other. The danger of the other that it is already hidden in the experience of the self, is then a consequence of auto-hetero-affection. The subject and the vesicle are constituted only by means of a technicity that it is their condition of (im)possibility. In the first case, it is the trace or writing or supplementarity, in the second case, it is the deadening of the vesicle’s outer layer.

Earlie finally addresses the presence of Freudian themes in the Auto-immunités, suicides réels et symboliques and in Voyous, especially in relation to Derrida’s understanding of trauma and technology. By focusing on Derrida’s analysis concerning “September 11th”, Earlie comments on the originality of Derrida’s account of trauma. Derrida does not understand trauma according to the classical mechanical concept, a state of anxiety that is grounded on the recurring reappearance of calculable intensity of a past event. Rather, he shows that “September 11th” essentially exemplifies for Derrida a trauma that rests on the incalculable danger of an event-to-come that fuels the state of anxiety. The chapter ends with a discussion on the role of the technologies of communication in determining the affective impact of terrorism. Earlie focuses on Derrida’s reflections on television in Échographies de la télévision. The repetition of live footage of the towers’ collapse is compared with the “compulsive repetition” aimed more to guarding against the unpredictable future of potential violence rather than to mastering the traumatic, past experience.


Derrida, Jacques & Bernard Stiegler. 1996. Echographies de la télévision. Paris: Galilée, lnstitut national de l’audiovisuel.

Derrida, Jacques. 1967. De la grammatologie. Paris: Seuil.

Derrida, Jacques. 1967. La Voix et le phénomène, introduction au problème du signe dans la phénoménologie de Husserl. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.

Derrida, Jacques. 1980. La Carte postale. De Socrates à Freud et au-delà. Paris: Flammarion.

Derrida, Jacques. 1990. La probleme de la genese dans la philosophie de Husserl. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Derrida, Jacques. 1995. Mat d’archive: une impression freudienne. Paris: Galilée.

Derrida, Jacques. 2000. Le Toucher, Jean-Luc Nancy. Paris: Galilée.

Derrida, Jacques. 2003. “Autoimmunités, suicides réels et symboliques.” In Giovanna Borradori, ed., Le “concept” du 11 septembre, Dialogues à New York, 133-96. Paris: Galilée.

Earlie, Paul. 2021. Derrida and the Legacy of Psychoanalysis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Freud, Sigmund. 1964. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Edited by J. Strachey. Macmillan.

Malabou, Catherine. 2007. Les nouveaux blessés. De Freud à ta neurologie, penser les traumatismes contemporains. Paris: Bayard.

Thomas Gricoski: Being Unfolded: Edith Stein on the Meaning of Being

Being Unfolded: Edith Stein on the Meaning of Being Book Cover Being Unfolded: Edith Stein on the Meaning of Being
Thomas Gricoski. Foreword by William Desmond
The Catholic University of America Press
Hardback £64.60

Reviewed by: Steph Marston (Birkbeck, University of London)

Edith Stein’s best known work is her phenomenological investigation of affectivity and philosophy of mind, and especially her treatment of empathy. Relative to these, her ontology is somewhat neglected even though it is of great interest, both as a transition between her academic and theological writings and as a development of concepts of essence implicitly present in phenomenology more widely. This is an acknowledged gap in Stein scholarship which Thomas Gricoski aims to bridge with Being Unfolded, a rigorous and insightful philosophical-theological interrogation of Stein’s Finite and Eternal Being (Endliches und ewiges Sein, hereinafter EeS).

Gricoski’s opening chapter lays the foundations for his characterisation of Stein’s ontology as a correlational realism. Contextualising Stein’s work within two philosophical traditions, the Husserlian phenomenology of her academic beginnings and the neo-Scholasticism with which she engaged in her later phenomenological inquiries, he argues that Stein developed a correlational philosophy in which phenomenological method is used to address traditional Thomist metaphysical questions. The result is an ontology of multiple modes of being whose common attribute is unfolding:

Finite being is the unfolding of meaning; essential being is the atemporal unfolding beyond the contraries of potency and act; actual being is the unfolding outward of an essential form, from potency toward act, in time and space. Mental being is unfolding in multiple senses… (10, citing Stein, EeS 284-285)

Stein’s own work is notoriously unspecific about the concept of  Entfaltung, ‘unfolding’ or ‘blooming’, and it is this gap that Gricoski seeks to fill in Being Unfolded. He proposes that for the unfolding which characterises being throughout Stein’s ontology is a “self-transcending relationality”:

The key to understanding Stein’s sense of being…is the transcending nature of the relations between being and meaning, and between each mode of being. (32)

Clearly, such a proposal stands in need of further elaboration, and Gricoski unpacks it over subsequent chapters, offering a close reading of Stein’s texts which moves from the logical questions arising from the concept of being itself, through different aspects of being and meaning, to conclude with a reaffirmation of unfolding as transcendence.

The motivation for Stein’s concept of unfolding is located in the tensions in Aristotelian philosophy between actuality and potentiality, acting and resting. Traditional ontological formulations of this dichotomy tended to situate ‘real’ existence in acting; this was especially true of Scholastic interpretations, which drew parallels with Christian concepts such as creator and soul. Gricoski demonstrates in the second chapter how Stein’s own work on potency and act underpins her concept of unfolding. Refusing the need for selecting between potency and act, Stein insists that they are unique modes of being, potency as ‘resting’ essential being and acting as actual being, inextricably related in what Stein calls ‘close belonging-together’. Gricoski’s argument is careful in following Stein’s text so as to show that her ontological project retains a recognisably phenomenologist character in its recognition of a diversity of modes of being and meaning which, rather than being hierarchically related, are drawn together in her correlational principle of unfolding. Within this complex analysis, he argues, there is a harmony in which “a transcending relation holds the relata in a creative tension, without resolving the tension through overcoming difference” (59).

While Stein’s engagement with Thomist philosophy is her unique contribution, there is nonetheless an implicitly Aristotelian flavour to the phenomenological project of seeking to grasp essential meanings. Underlying Stein’s resolution of the acting-resting dilemma is the problem of how to characterise the meaning of essential being, and this is Gricoski’s theme in the third chapter. As with the potency-act question, Stein seeks to refute a philosophical tradition in which different elements of being are ordered as to precedence: in this case, the priority of essence over existence. Arguing that being is non-identical with existence, since existence is temporal whereas being can also be atemporal, and that essence without instantiation cannot count as being, she posits that essential being is irreducibly constitutive of meaning in all being. Gricoski clearly sees this move as pivotal to Stein’s philosophy. It enables her to avoid traditional critiques of essentialism while incorporating essential being into her ontology rather than simply ‘bracketing’ it in Husserlian mode. More significantly, it motivates her evocation of ‘unfolding’ as characterisation of the relation among different modes of being:

Without splitting being into apparently irreconcilable ‘modes’ and arranging them in such a way that the modes ‘overlap’ or coincide in beings, there would be no need for the correlational principle of unfolding to bring the modes together. (252)

Here one may query whether Gricoski imputes too much to Stein in his elaboration of her concept of unfolding. Stein’s own underdeveloped treatment of unfolding might seem to undermine the thesis that it cements her ontology in the way that he indicates. Indeed, Gricoski acknowledges that the more conventional reading of ‘unfolding’ is as a bridge between the demands of Stein’s dual philosophical tradition, phenomenology on the one hand and Thomism on the other. Whether Stein scholars will find his case for viewing unfolding in a strong ontological sense is an interesting question.

The defence of Stein’s concept of essential being provides a springboard for subsequent chapters where Gricoski, turns his attention from being to meaning. Like being, meaning in Stein’s later work is multiple and relational; the different modes of being are all meaning-bearing, as are the relations among them. Gricoski proposes that the relationality present in being is not only reflected in meaning is constituted by the connections among actual beings which derives from their participation in essential meanings:

Through actualised essential structures, every individual actual thing is related in some way to every other actual thing that shares one of the same essentialities. Actual things are connected to each other through the nexus of essential meanings. (109)

Again, the question arises of how far this is Gricoski’s picture and how far it is Stein’s. It seems as though the delicate balance and parity of ontological standing which Gricoski perceives in Stein’s philosophy is threatened by situating the source of their relationality in essential meanings and hence implicitly in essences. If actual things derive their meaning form the meanings of essences, then why not their being also? This is a question which Gricoski takes himself already to have settled but readers may find it pressed anew by chapter five, where Stein’s theistic commitments come to the fore in an exploration of the origin of meaning.

Here, Gricoski’s exposition of Stein’s work takes what appears to be a more traditionally Scholastic turn. Finite being is “the dim analogue of eternal being” (110); actual being qua act echoes the actus purus of divine being; the intrinsic meaningfulness of essential being resembles Logos. It is challenging to read this other than as a hierarchy of meaning, and thus as at least potentially reductive; this suggestion becomes more forceful in the claim that essentialities reflect only the meaning aspect of divine being, so that finite acts of actual being are closer to God than finite instances of meaning which have only essential being. With such a structure in play, can Gricoski uphold his thesis that Stein’s ontology avoids hierarchy by foregrounding the relationalities within being and between being and meaning? Stein’s own answer is reminiscent of theological mysteries:

We can only conclude that everything finite – its quid as well as its being – must be predetermined as being-in-God, because both [principles] come from him. The final cause of all being and quiddity must however be both in perfect unity. (111, fn3, citing Stein, EeS)

More compelling is Gricoski’s account of how Stein takes herself to have overcome not only the intrusion of hierarchy into her adaptations of ontological categories but also the problems of Aristotelian teleology. While the suggestion that every object has meaning which it unfolds is undeniably reminiscent of a form-matter ontology of substances, Gricoski persuasively proposes that Stein balances the priority of actual being in its closeness to God with the argument that essential being is prior to actual being insofar as actual being aims at a goal, and thus at the rest represented by essential being. While essentialities bear the meaning of finite beings, those meanings can only be unfolded by finite beings; further, since being and meaning are correlative and not reducible to one another, there are no unfolded essentialities waiting in some metaphysical realm to be unfolded into being. This delicately contrived equilibrium indicates the scale of the challenge inherent in Stein’s project of articulating a Thomist phenomenology.

In Chapter Six Gricoski moves to explore the implications of Stein’s posited mode of actual being in relation to meaning. The unfolding of essential, atemporal structures of meaning in temporal finite being is characterised as “an ontological ‘conversion’ or ‘translation’” (129). On this picture, the essences of existent things are properly understood as unfoldings of meaning, such that existence realises an “irreducible” relationality of co-dependence between being and meaning in the ontologically distinct domains of essential, actual and mental. Unfolding emerges as a self-relation in which being and meaning transcend themselves both within each ontological domain and beyond any one domain. Unfolding reveals both the limitations and the powers of actual being, which Gricoski characterises in terms of deficit and surplus: deficit, in that the temporal existence of an actual object can only partially or inadequately unfold its essence, but surplus in that Stein insists on the “ontological brilliance” of actuality, without which essence cannot be realised. Indeed, according to Gricoski, actual beings represent for Stein “a leap of transcendence”: an enacting in which essence retains its essentiality even while becoming actual and in which the actual qua activity also participates in the eternity of essence. This relation of temporal, changing existence to essence’s atemporality and intransience renders existent things intelligible, capable of bearing meaning.

The complexity of this parsing of the relations among different elements in Stein’s ontology is reflected in the following two chapters, which are perhaps less successful than others in the book. Chapter 7, Matter and Meaning, presents a detailed exposition of Stein’s explorations of the relation between form and matter. Gricoski seeks to defend Stein against interpretations which take her to prioritise essence over actuality, but this defence is only partially persuasive. The challenge, as Gricoski acknowledges, is that the tensions between Stein’s phenomenology and her later Thomism are not always fully reconcilable. This chapter effectively shows how Stein’s phenomenological focus on the uncovering of meaning through essences reads into her commitment to articulating a hylomorphism which synthesises immanent and transcendent (Aristotelian and Platonic) concepts of form and in which form and matter are reciprocal, co-sustaining aspects of actuality. However, while Gricoski sees unfolding as the key to appreciating how this works out in Stein’s ontology, it is not clear that he has defeated suggestions that form takes priority over matter, or essence over existence, as a source of meaning. This difficulty is reiterated in Chapter 8, Material Beings, in which Gricoski seeks to illustrate the workings of Stein’s hylomorphism in “case studies” of the unfolding of material things of different kinds.

The case studies demonstrate the sheer intricacy of Stein’s ontology and the complexities involved in using it to illuminate the meanings of phenomena – it is tempting to wonder whether Stein’s work shows the prudence of Husserl’s strategey of epochē towards ontological questions. Gricoski is diligent in drawing the different levels and elements of Stein’s treatments of essence and being into his case studies, perhaps at the expense of a full exposition of his own thesis that her ontology is ultimately relational, based in unfolding. To be sure, the examples of organic beings have unfolding baked into their descriptions, but this is hardly surprising given the Aristotelian roots of Stein’s hylomorphism. More insightfully, Gricoski elaborates unfolding as a relational term in that material beings of all kinds depend on external beings and essential structures in order to accomplish their unfolding: the nourishment that living things require for their development; the openness to meaning that enables emotional and intellectual experience and willful acting; the processes communication and interactions which generate fuller unfolding of meaning in all beings involved in them. This seems quite true to Stein’s emphasis on the exteriority in which spirit transcends itself and in which all meaning, knowledge and creativity reside, and it would have been good to see more clearly how Gricoski’s own thought develops the insights gleaned from his exegetical work.

In addressing the mode of mental being in Chapter Nine, Gricoski touches on one of the most interesting aspects of Stein’s philosophy, the ontological characterisation of concepts, creativity and knowing. The medium of mind, he proposes, exhibits unfolding analogously to the other spheres of being:

Between an actual thing and my knowledge of it, a gap or discrepancy necessarily emerges. This discrepancy likewise reveals the dynamic process of unfolding. (196)

The discrepancies alluded to here relate to given meaning given and acquired meaning, and themselves underlie familiar mental processes of experience, concept formation, creative thinking and so forth. In each case, meaning qua acquired unfolds relative to meaning qua given, as being unfolds relative to essence: that is, into something which only partially resembles or manifests the original. Gricoski reads Stein as holding that such gaps in meaning reveal that essence and being cannot be identical, and argues that their persistence through the different layers of Stein’s ontology points to both correlational unfolding and transcendence as intrinsic features of it.

It is not clear, however, that Gricoski does full justice to Stein’s philosophy here. While epistemologically Stein certainly speaks of a “discrepancy” of knowledge relative to meaning, of knowledge “lagging behind”, ontologically she imparts a greater reciprocity to the unfolding of mental being:

Mental being is unfolding in multiple senses: the original genesis of genuine mental constructs is as temporal as the thinking action through which they were constructed. The ‘finished’ structures have something of the timelessness of the beings according to which they were constructed, and in which they were predetermined as ‘possible’.” (200, citing Stein, EeS 285)

While Gricoski recognises this additional feature of mental being to some extent, he relates this primarily to the primacy of human minds and the intellectual capacity associated with spirit. This seems like a missed opportunity to further develop his insight of the significance of relationality in Stein’s philosophy, since the mental realm brings into relations of unfolding beings which otherwise – that is, in their actual or material existence – are not related.

The culmination of Being Unfolded comes in Chapter Ten, Unfolding, Analogy and Transcendence, where Gricoski lays out the motivation for his project of attributing to Stein an ontology of unfolding:

By unfolding, being ‘becomes’ meaningful, and meaning ‘becomes’ real. Even if being and meaning are considered analytically separable, then each ‘gains’ something in the process of unfolding…[T]he being/meaning dependent pair itself authentically ‘gains’ something by unfolding itself or being unfolded. Unfolding creates surplus even as it causes deficits.

In Stein, then Gricoski discerns an ontology of dynamism, (non-spatial) expansion and creativity. Stein’s allusions to ‘unfolding’ offer a means of elaborating this insight; and if the allusions sometimes sound metaphorical then on Stein’s own terms that is no reason for not taking ‘unfolding’ seriously:

The metaphorical figures of speech of our language express an inner correlation between the different genera of beings and thus also a correlation with the divine archetype. (176, citing Stein, EeS 213)

If unfolding pervades all the layers and entities of Stein’s ontology for Gricoski, then so does analogy, in that he takes analogy to be the relation between that which unfolds and that which is unfolded. Similarly, from the pervasiveness of analogy is inferred a universal transcendence which occurs as beings come into relation with other beings or with aspects of themselves. Transcendence and analogy are both constitutive and characteristic of unfolding: “Unfolding appears now as both transcending difference by maintaining similarity and creating difference by analogous similarity” (246).

While Gricoski’s project is firmly rooted in Stein’s ontology, the book could have benefited from greater acknowledgement of her philosophy of emotion and empathy, and from consideration of how that earlier work may have influenced her unique and productive perspective on Thomist metaphysics. If unfolding is relational, as Gricoski persuasively argues, then relations among beings will be of as much ontological significance as intra-being relations. Indeed, Gricoski emphasises that, in Stein’s ontology, “relationality respects difference in order to enable mutual enrichment” (p58). In Being Unfolded, however, there is a great deal more self-unfolding tha being-unfolded. This is a regrettable gap in Gricoski’s treatment of Stein’s philosophy, especially since one of his concerns is to demonstrate continuity between Stein’s academic phenomenology and her later work in Thomist metaphysics. Stein’s own life offers a stark illustration of just how significant are relations among beings for opening up or circumscribing the possibilities of unfolding. Nonetheless, Being Unfolded is a lucid and valuable work of scholarship. Despite the technicalities of Stein’s philosophy it is also engaging and readable for the non-specialist, offering an intriguing introduction to a relatively neglected twentieth-century thinker. Gricoski has demonstrated good grounds for taking unfolding as a pivotal element in Stein’s ontology and an ineliminable force in the creation of meaning.

Martin Koci, Jason Alvis (Eds.): Transforming the Theological Turn: Phenomenology with Emmanuel Falque

Transforming the Theological Turn: Phenomenology with Emmanuel Falque Book Cover Transforming the Theological Turn: Phenomenology with Emmanuel Falque
Reframing Continental Philosophy of Religion
Martin Koci and Jason Alvis (Eds.)
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Hardback $130.00 • £100.00

Reviewed by: Nikolaas Deketelaere (Catholic University of Paris)

Crossing without Confusing


During my first forays into so-called ‘continental philosophy of religion’, I mostly knew Emmanuel Falque as the author of a series of extraordinarily insightful essays on the major figures of contemporary French phenomenology, but never seriously explored his own original phenomenological work. After all, as a rare atheist philosopher active in this field who more or less shares Dominique Janicaud’s diagnosis of it, Falque’s work initially struck me as exacerbating the worst tendencies of that of Jean-Luc Marion and Michel Henry: a theologisation of phenomenology by way of a too close reconciliation of philosophy and theology that is not only unsatisfying philosophically but equally remains naïve theologically, thus disappointing both philosophers and theologians. This judgement on my part, however, was little more than a prejudice based on the back covers of Falque’s books—which, admittedly, carry extremely theological titles that might make even the most open-minded atheist philosopher suspicious—and some initial English-language scholarly discussion of their contents. Take for example the chapter on Falque in Christina Gschwandtner’s Postmodern Apologetics—for a while the only comprehensive overview available in English—, which initially describes him as follows: “He has degrees in both philosophy and theology and merges the two disciplines far more fully than any of the other thinkers, occasionally even challenging the boundaries between these subject matters as unnecessary and superficial.”[1] It was only after seeing Falque speak in person that I was tempted to start reading his work more thoroughly, until I realised that Gschwandtner’s description seriously mischaracterised it. Indeed, I attended a conference on continental philosophy of religion at which both Falque and Marion, his former doctoral supervisor, delivered keynote addresses. Teacher and student made very different impressions, however. Marion addressed a crowded auditorium but simply repeated one of his Gifford lectures, a text that had been published a few years earlier and with which—presumably—most if not all attendants were therefore already familiar. Far fewer people showed up for Falque’s lecture early the next morning, but he displayed so much energy and enthusiasm that I myself certainly left feeling much more inspired than I had done the night before. I wanted to learn more about this man’s work and immediately ordered his Triduum philosophique upon my return home. What I found there was a philosophy that, whilst certainly making liberal use of theology, at no point risked merging the two but instead employed both disciplines separately and with an equal degree of sophistication—something that is both hard to do as an author and difficult to understand as a reader.

Having now come to appreciate Falque as one of the most interesting and audacious French philosophers working today, I am suitably embarrassed by my previous misconceptions. I am also equally excited by this first edited volume dedicated to his work in English, as it may help others avoid making the mistakes I did. Reassuringly, the editors acknowledge that we must be careful when reading Falque, for otherwise we might easily arrive at “the misunderstanding that Falque is the direct successor of the theological turn, and a cursory reading of Falque’s work can lend to the impression that he seeks an even deeper radicalization and abrupt intrusion of the theological into the philosophical. Even worse, one might think he intends to exact theological imperialism over philosophy, ultimately reducing any phenomenologically gained insights to ready-made theological truths” (xxi). To remedy this misunderstanding, the essays included in the book all confront Falque’s method, as set out in his Crossing the Rubicon, from a variety of perspectives. This method can be summarised using two of Falque’s favourite phrases. First, there is ‘crossing the Rubicon’, which becomes the title of Falque’s self-proclaimed ‘discourse on method’ and serves to indicate the act by which the philosopher transgresses the boundaries of their own field in order to set foot on that of theology and vice versa, leaving them transformed. Second, there is Falque’s ‘principle of proportionality’, which states that ‘the more we theologise, the better we philosophise’, and according to which the two disciplines must thus be practiced together but without losing their respective rigour. The summary of this framework provided by the editors in their introduction is perhaps the clearest one available in the scholarly literature so far:

Nevertheless, in the context of the discourse on method, it must be stated clearly that the joint practice of theology and philosophy does not result in their fusion, which necessarily would result (and indeed already has) in confusion. The point in the making is that in crossing the Rubicon one is allowed to pass onto the other bank, look around, and then come back home before getting lost in its waters. In this sense, the boundaries are not abolished (Lacoste) or confused (as Falque’s critics interpret his work) but transformed. (xxiii)

Indeed, what perhaps causes the misunderstandings surrounding Falque’s method is that the act of returning to one’s proper bank, as well as avoiding drowning in the Rubicon’s perilous waters, are too often neglected in favour of that initial crossing: even in the transformation (i.e., the crossing) of one by the other, the distinction (i.e., the boundary) is maintained. After all, without acknowledging the reality of the boundary and confirming its legitimacy, there can be no crossing to speak of. We may then summarise the task this volume sets itself as facilitating crossing without confusing: to show how Emmanuel Falque, as a philosopher, crosses the disciplinary boundary between philosophy and theology, without ever confusing them and thus ceasing to be a philosopher. The difficulty of this enterprise, both for Falque to execute rigorously and for the book to document adequately, should not be underestimated.

Indeed, the difficulty is attested to by the volume itself: several of its contributors offer wholly contradictory interpretations of Falque, with the ‘crossing’ sometimes undeniably becoming ‘confusing’. However, given that this volume only constitutes the opening salvo for the many battles in the English-language reception of Falque that are sure to follow, the diversity of opinion on offer here is to be expected and indeed entirely welcome. Taken together, these essays provide a fascinating and varied overview of the many ways in which Falque’s method can reinvigorate the debate concerning the relationship between theology and philosophy. The book itself is divided in three parts: first, critical interpretations of Falque; second, comparisons between him and other philosophers (unfortunately somewhat limited to French intellectual sphere, with authors like Blondel, Ricœur and Lévinas); and, finally, constructive engagements with his work. The book also includes an essay by Falque that probably constitutes the most succinct statement of his method, as well as an afterword by him.

It is the question of that method, of crossing from one territory to another rather than confusing them, that runs through the entirety of the book. Therefore, that question will also be my focus here, particularly how it makes various contributors claim mutually contradictory interpretations of Falque and occasionally confuse the territories he wants to keep separate. Before exploring these confusions and contradictions, however, it would be remiss of me not to note that this volume also has plenty of other criticisms and developments of Falque to offer that do not primarily concern his method. There is, for example, Bruce Ellis Benson’s important observation that Falque’s “account fundamentally overlooks a concept that he mentions more than once but never analyzes: namely, what ‘religion’ is” (33). Indeed, Falque talks a lot about ‘religion’, but in doing so virtually always means something entirely different: namely, Christianity if not simply Roman Catholicism. He may provide a philosophy of Christianity (e.g., philosophical treatments of Christian concepts like the Passion, Resurrection and Eucharist), but in absolutely no way does he provide a philosophy of religion: i.e., an analysis of the troubled notion of the ‘essence of religion’, or any kind of discourse that also concerns other world-religions. To be fair to him, this problem is one of the field of ‘continental philosophy of religion’ as whole: it talks a lot about Christian theological concepts, but very little about those of other religious traditions or indeed about religion as such. Perhaps less excusable is what Benson calls Falque’s “religious homogeneity,” even when dealing with Christianity: “he shows remarkably little concern for the multiplicity that is found in world Christianity” (27). Of course, Falque has read the major 20th century German theologians, but that is where his engagement with anything outside Catholicism stops. Now, we shouldn’t expect a French philosopher to engage with, say, Asian or American Pentecostalism; but Christian thought in Europe—even in France—nevertheless has an abundance of sources to draw on beyond Catholicism and specifically German Lutheranism. The most glaring lacuna in Falque’s bibliography is perhaps the rich Orthodox theological traditions, including the Russian émigré theologians who often wrote in French (e.g., Lossky, Bulgakov, Florovsky, Berdyaev)—though the present volume remedies this oversight somewhat. A theologian can afford to dwell within a particular confessional framework when discussing Christian concepts since his labours serve a particular church; an author who claims to be philosophe avant tout and wants to address a larger audience, however, cannot.

Two more constructive contributions that do not directly concern Falque’s account of the relationship between philosophy and theology but are noteworthy nevertheless are those by William Connelly and Andrew Sackin-Poll respectively, for they show how phenomenological philosophy borders not just on theology but on other disciplines as well. Connelly situates Falque’s work at the confluence of phenomenology and non-phenomenology, impressively developing this notion by way of Merleau-Ponty and Blondel. In a complex and sophisticated essay, Sackin-Poll meanwhile explores the relation between phenomenology and metaphysics from a trinitarian perspective. It strikes me that Sackin-Poll’s essay could very well form a somewhat unexpected but nevertheless very welcome bridge between the sometimes excessively French preoccupations of this volume and recent developments in Anglo-American theology.

The volume’s chief concern, however, is Falque’s account of the relationship between philosophy and theology: what it means to ‘cross the Rubicon’ between both disciplines whereby one is transformed by the other without them ever being confused with it. The various contributions offer equally varying interpretations of this notion, resulting in some contributors directly contradicting others (which the editors are clearly aware of and exploit in their organisation of the material). This variety of opinion illustrates the difficulty of rigorously ‘crossing the Rubicon’, of jointly practicing philosophy and theology without ever confusing them. A source of the confusion and contradiction may be the liberal use of metaphor made throughout the volume to interpret the central metaphor used by Falque (i.e., ‘crossing the Rubicon’). In his contribution, for example, William Woody asks whether this crossing must be understood as ‘foreign exchange’ or ‘hostile incursion’: even though it uses a military metaphor, Woody asks, doesn’t “Falque’s account blithely ignore an essential—and perhaps necessary and productive—hostility between philosophy and theology?” (52). He explains:

Despite this, is there not a necessary hostility—or perhaps a less charged, beneficial antagonism—that we should maintain between theology and philosophy? Crossing the Rubicon provides an exemplary model that enables dialogue across difference, though such a movement also exposes a necessary inner tension that appears irresolvable in the relationship between philosophy and theology—a mutual necessity but also a mutual hostility or antagonism, or (at best) a mutual opposition and critique. I fear that, in some cases, Falque advocates an overly optimistic view of the potential for this relationship. (59)

Nevertheless, Woody does not give any examples of cases that concern him, sticking instead to the analysis of Falque’s method as Crossing the Rubicon states it generally and abstractly—often, he notes correctly, through various curious uses of metaphor. He then concludes with a metaphor of his own, reinterpreting Falque’s: “Without antagonism and hostility in the relationship, perhaps Falque advocates not so much crossing the Rubicon as the more docile exchange of crossing the Schengen zone” (60).

It is true that we Europeans have grown accustomed to our ability to cross borders easily, perhaps even blithely. Equally, ancient hostilities between European nations have ceased. Arguably, these two developments went hand in hand. However, to say that with them all antagonism has also disappeared—whether on the metaphorical level (between European nations) or as concerns the topic at hand (between philosophy and theology in Falque’s work)—could not be more wrong. Indeed, just like there remains plenty of antagonism amongst European nations, there very much is a necessary antagonism between philosophy and theology in the substantive parts of Falque’s work (which, after all, Crossing the Rubicon precisely looks back on methodologically). In his critique of Henry’s phenomenology of incarnation, for example, Falque questions the too close reconciliation of what theology and French phenomenology both have separately come to call ‘flesh’: sarx in John or caro in Tertullian, he argues vigorously, does not equal Leib in Husserl or chair in Henry. In this respect, there is a perfectly obvious and necessary antagonism between philosophy and theology, one that is precisely productive of what Falque calls the ‘backlash’ of theology on phenomenology and comprises the substance of his own philosophical contribution. This backlash, the result of an antagonism between the two disciplines, is the site where the ‘crossing’ takes place: the transformation of phenomenology in its encounter with theology. Moreover, Falque has explicitly thematised this antagonism—by way of another titular metaphor—in his The Loving Struggle: just like there continues to be strife amongst European nations, philosophy and theology remain mutual antagonists in their eternal struggle with one another; the point Falque wants to make, however, is that this antagonism never reaches the level of hostility. “We deceive ourselves,” he explains, “if we see this struggle as a war. Here, the opposition of contenders (agon) characterizes the conflict (polemos), such that the ‘loving struggle’ among thinkers consists of more than a clash of one ‘force against another force’ aimed at the obliteration of one by the other. (…) Instead, I envision a quasi-athletic clash (lutte) wherein the partners are adversaries only in order to measure themselves against one another and thereby surpass themselves.”[2] For example, precisely in struggling with the theological notions of sarx and caro, will phenomenology truly come to appreciate the distinctly philosophical meaning of what it calls chair—i.e., one that is different from the theological one and therefore cannot be confused with it. In short, there obviously is antagonism between philosophy and theology, but Falque wants to show us how this antagonism should be understood, not as the hostilities of war, but as the loving struggle of an intellectual dialogue in which mutual transformation can take place: according to the principle of proportionality (‘the more we theologise, the better we philosophise’), it is not that philosophy becomes more theological by actually theologising more; rather, in exploring the other bank of the Rubicon, philosophy’s very philosophising is improved (i.e., becomes more rigorously philosophical).

Fortunately, Tamsin Jones sets the record straight with an extremely clear essay that immediately follows Woody’s and eloquently captures Falque’s approach as follows:

Falque is interested in encounter, not conversion. Indeed, this is one of the markers which, arguably, separates him from a previous generation of French phenomenologists who, by refusing the distance between the two disciplines and claiming certain topics (such as revelation, liturgy, Eucharist) as properly philosophical, also were less explicit about the confessional origin of those topics. Distinctly, Falque has no need to ‘baptize’ philosophers like Badiou, Franck, and Nancy, who might, nevertheless, make use of theology in interesting ways. Despite the fact that Falque employs a militaristic metaphor—Caesar’s crossing is a movement into battle—(…) the ensuing encounter (…) need not result in ‘crushing’ one’s foe, but instead could be understood as an athletic contest in which one encounters an equal adversary against which to test, exercise, and thus strengthen one’s own abilities. (64)

Indeed, of all the contributions included here, Jones’ states Falque’s method most clearly and succinctly as intended to “at once, uphold and traverse the distance between the two disciplines” (63) (i.e., ‘crossing without confusing’). Indeed, she is so succinct when setting out Falque’s framework that she manages to have sufficient space left to use it for some interesting reflections on the institutional structures within which the relevant disciplines are practiced in North America.

In one of the most eloquent contributions to the edited volume, Barnabas Aspray then offers a final metaphor for the interpretation of Falque’s original one:

However, it would be a gross misunderstanding of Falque’s project to consider it as one of confusion. Falque is not a transgressor of boundaries but a marriage counselor; he calls for us to overcome the divorce between philosophy and theology. His aim is to break down the artificial barrier of separation between the disciplines that was erected in twentieth-century France. Just as a marriage makes ‘one flesh’ out of two individuals without destroying the uniqueness of each, so Falque’s reuniting of philosophy and theology does not homogenize them but rather restores their right mutual relation. (163)

Aspray writes well and develops the metaphor beautifully, so it is not without regret that I cannot help but feel that thinking of Falque as a marriage counsellor is seriously flawed. Indeed, though Aspray clearly knows that on Falque’s account “each discipline is transformed by the other without losing its core identity or its distinctive contribution” (164), I wonder if his own essay does not inadvertently end up confusing them after all due to this metaphor.

The metaphor of a marriage counsellor as Aspray presents it can be questioned from several perspectives. First of all, it strikes me as odd to think of an author who puts so much emphasis on the gesture of ‘crossing’ as anything but “a transgressor of boundaries.” However, perhaps what Aspray means by this is that Falque does not cross into foreign lands in order to conquer them, but rather to listen to those living there—which is an important part of his method that Aspray rightly emphasises:

Emmanuel Falque is first and foremost a true listener, reaching out across the barricades to engage in serious and honest dialogue with people who ‘see things differently’ than Christians. This listening attitude is laudable, because it shows love and respect for the humanity of the people to whom he listens. (168)

Secondly, Aspray’s choice of metaphor should also be criticised for downplaying the reality and significance of philosophy’s separation from theology: regardless of the “artificial” way in which it may have come about institutionally, it is a significant reality for the way in which each discipline understands itself and is practiced today. That this distinction should not be taken seriously is a claim some theologians and confessional philosophers like to make in the most casual of ways as supposedly self-evident. That it only seems to be confessional thinkers making this claim has apparently never given them any pause. Yet, if there is a Christian thinker who understands that even a confessional philosopher cannot display such a careless disregard towards the work of their atheist colleagues, it is Emmanuel Falque: he maintains that he is philosophe avant tout because he wants his argument to be intelligible to those who do not share his faith and might not even recognise theology as a valid intellectual enterprise, let alone understand their own philosophising as connected to it in any way. Finally, Aspray’s use of the marriage counsellor metaphor is perhaps too one-sided: after all, marriage counsellors do not just reconcile lovers who have grown apart; at times, they also facilitate an amicable divorce once the marriage has run its course. Perhaps Falque is then only a marriage counsellor in the latter sense: setting up the division of assets between two former partners who have grown apart after a long history together and must now reconfigure their relationship by way of a loving struggle. Falque’s question is first of all how to think the apparently still productive relationship between philosophy and theology once history has separated them from each other: he never questions this separation, for at no instance does he want to confuse the two.

It is curious that Aspray never acknowledges this alternative interpretation of the metaphor he uses. I wonder if that might be because the rest of his essay inadvertently tends to merge or confuse philosophy and theology in its apparent assumption that the two self-evidently belong together, meaning that any attempt at separating them must be dismissed as an artificial accident of history: the job of the marriage counsellor, for Aspray, is to reconcile what naturally belongs together. Yet, in thinking of the marriage of philosophy and theology as entirely natural, one risks confusing them. For example, Aspray writes: “Philosophy and theology can enrich each other precisely because they offer mutually complementary perspectives on the same object” (163). This statement seems innocent enough, yet we must be careful: in saying that philosophy and theology are complementary, i.e. that together they provide a full account of their shared object, it is implied that theology completes the limited account provided by philosophy (or vice versa). Yet, Falque’s principle of proportionality (i.e., ‘the more we theologise, the better we philosophise’) does not state that in stepping onto the terrain of theology the philosopher ends up with a better ‘philosophy’ (i.e., a more complete one), but rather that their ‘philosophising’ is improved (i.e., becomes more rigorously philosophical). There is thus a difference between saying that philosophy can learn from theology and saying that theology completes philosophy. A philosophical explanation is complete in itself, though it can be more philosophically rigorous when confronted with theology, for philosophy thereby gains an appreciation of its own distinction from theology (i.e., it does not confuse its own concepts with similar theological ones).

The confusion of theological and philosophical concepts might then be precisely what is going on in Aspray’s critique of Falque. Noting appreciatively that Falque advocates for constructing all theology on top of a secular philosophical anthropology—so that the Christian message may be available and intelligible to all (i.e., on the basis of our shared humanity) rather than to a privileged set of believers (i.e., on the basis of faith as a pre-existing God-relationship)—, Aspray is nevertheless concerned that Falque may be showing too much deference to philosophy in practice:

But if philosophy has such a large impact on theology, as Falque rightly insists, it becomes all the more important that philosophy is correct in its account of the human condition. Falque’s picture of the human is the one given to us by contemporary phenomenology (…). But is it the correct picture of the plain and simple human (l’homme tout court)? Should theology allow itself to be unilaterally determined by contemporary phenomenology? Such a position would open theology to be led about by the trends of philosophy like a dog on a leash that must follow wherever its master goes. (171)

Now, Aspray produces a valid theological critique of Falque’s larger framework which, when followed to its logical conclusion, really robs theology of any methodological independence: theology, too, would essentially exist in elucidation of the existentiality of the human being and a phenomenology of its transformation by the encounter with God. That being said, it is hard to think of a period in history where theology would have had complete methodological independence: theology has always had to borrow its method from philosophy, history, social science, etc. Aspray also rightly makes the important point that there can be philosophical discussion about what constitutes a good understanding of the human condition: there is no reason to privilege Heidegger’s analytic of finitude to the extent Falque does without real justification and to the detriment of alternative philosophical accounts. We might say that Aspray therefore accuses Falque of ‘anthropological homogeneity’ alongside Benson’s complaint of ‘religious homogeneity’. However, insofar as Aspray suggests that it is up to theology to decide what constitutes an adequate anthropology, he risks confusing philosophical and theological conceptualisations of the human condition. Theology, by definition, cannot evaluate the account philosophy provides of what Falque calls l’homme tout court, for this is a fundamentally philosophical notion: it indicates the human being ‘as such’ (tout court), i.e. in terms of its pure and simple humanity and thus without any reference to God whatsoever. Such an understanding of the human being as ‘pure nature’ is, of course, highly unorthodox in terms of Catholic theology, but Falque is not doing theology: insofar as he thinks of himself as philosophe avant tout, his methodology equally maintains philosophie avant tout. His method is really based on a fundamental rejection of the most influential ideas of Henri de Lubac’s:

Although it is absolutely invalid from a dogmatic point of view, insofar as it rejects a divine creation, the conjecture of a ‘pure nature’ retains here nonetheless a certain heuristic value. Human beings were not created without grace, but all the same we find ourselves first in nature (or better in finitude)—that is to say, independent of the evidence that will be the revelation of God. In this respect we return to our own humanity along with all of those of our contemporaries who are capable of living authentically without God. Contemporary philosophy thus finds, and in the shape of phenomenology in particular, what Catholic theology had thought already settled.[3]

In other words, the philosophical conception of l’homme tout court by definition cannot be evaluated on a theological basis because theology never views the human being tout court, but always in relation to God. It is this perspective that makes theology theological, meaning distinct from philosophy insofar as they both entertain anthropological themes. Theology and philosophy are different disciplines and will therefore produces different anthropologies: theology cannot disprove philosophy’s claims about the human condition, just like physics cannot disprove theology’s claims about the origin of the world­—such cross-disciplinary evaluation would amount to a confusion of disciplinary boundaries and concepts (or worse, a theological imperialism akin to the scientific naturalism theologians are often so eager to reject). In short, philosophy is not completed by theology and theology therefore cannot take anything away from philosophy; yet, this does not mean that they cannot learn from one another: in their mutual encounter, in crossing the boundary and setting foot on the terrain of the other, each gains a better appreciation of their own rigour without confusing it with that of the other.

Perhaps I can propose a metaphor of my own to interpret what Falque understands as the transformation of philosophy by theology and vice versa. Rather than military manoeuvres, athletic contests or marriage counselling, perhaps the philosopher or theologian’s venturing beyond their respective borders should be understood as a form of tourism. A tourist certainly crosses international borders, but always does so with the intention of returning home shortly afterwards. Moreover, a tourist clearly stands out as such and is never confused with a local. This is not to disparage tourism, for it is often a transformative experience: not because the tourist stays long enough so as to become a local, but precisely because the experience of having been abroad has transformed the way they perceive their homeland upon their return. The British tourist does not become French simply by taking the Eurostar to Paris. However, having enjoyed the gastronomy of France whilst away from home, they might find they have lost their previous appetite for English food upon their return. At the same time, simply setting foot in France has—sadly—in no way given them mastery of French cuisine so that they might recreate it at home. So, the transformation that takes place is not of the Brit into a Frenchman; instead, the Brit is changed insofar as they come to see or conceive of Britain and their own Britishness in a new way. Of course, they may have brought some things back with them from France, but souvenirs are generally tacky and unsophisticated things. We should think of the philosopher’s venturing onto the terrain of theology in the same way: unmistakeably not themselves one of the theologians who are native to this foreign land, and indeed probably unaware of much of this tribe’s sophistication; the philosopher courageous enough to listen will nevertheless have their philosophical practice enriched by this experience upon their return, as long as they can refrain from bringing with them ready-made theological truths that turn out to be garish once placed in a philosophical landscape and are aware that at no point do they themselves turn into a theologian or master the distinct rigour of theology. Perhaps the crossing Falque has in mind is then not Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon in 49 BC, but Lévinas’ crossing of the Rhine in 1928: not a hostile military invasion, but a relatively short and temporary scholarly stay abroad born out of intellectual interest in or love for a way of thinking that is different from what one is used to at home. After all, when he returned after his two semesters of study with Husserl, Lévinas did not spend his life developing Husserlian orthodoxy but rather renewed and transformed French philosophy by way of phenomenology: clearing the space for a distinctly French phenomenology and thereby immediately inscribing into that phenomenology the potential for its later theological turn (i.e., the epiphany of the face becoming the theophany of Christ).

Of course, I don’t claim any authority for my particular choice of metaphor. It will have flaws of its own, as all metaphors do (e.g., it would be wrong to think of Falque himself, personally, as a mere tourist on the terrain of theology). Indeed, given the variety of metaphors used by its contributors and the contradictions this leads to, this volume perfectly illustrates the philosophical endeavour itself: it is the necessarily metaphorical character of thinking that prohibits philosophy from ever considering any question as settled, including questions concerning the interpretation of other philosophers. For that is, ultimately, what this volume establishes most clearly: Emmanuel Falque is a philosopher worthy of the name; i.e., not just an author who thinks (and comes up with metaphors), but an author whose thinking spawns different ‘paths of thinking’ (Denkwege) in others (who come up with their own metaphors). As a result, the publication of this first edited volume on Falque’s work is an event to be celebrated: it will undoubtedly set the tone for scholarship of Falque in years to come and hopefully encourage further exercises in the rigorous crosspollination of philosophy and theology he advocates (i.e., crossing without confusing).

[1] Christina M. Gschwandtner. 2013. Postmodern Apologetics: Arguments for God in Contemporary Philosophy. New York: Fordham University Press, 184.

[2] Emmanuel Falque. 2018. The Loving Struggle: Phenomenological and Theological Debates. Trans. by Bradley B. Onishi and Lucas McCracken. London: Rowman & Littlefield, 1-2.

[3] Emmanuel Falque. 2012. The Metamorphosis of Finitude: An Essay on Birth and Resurrection. Trans. by George Hughes. New York: Fordham University Press, 16.

Shaun Gallagher: Action and Interaction

Action and Interaction Book Cover Action and Interaction
Shaun Gallagher
Oxford University Press
Hardback £30.00

Reviewed by: Horacio M. R. Banega (FFyL UBA / UNQuilmes / UNLitoral, Argentina)

Action and Interaction is divided into three parts. The first is composed of three chapters that analyze action. The second’s four chapters address interaction. Part three discusses the critical turn in the cognitive sciences in three chapters. The book is strikingly exhaustive. Its positions are revisionist and its implications contentious and challenging for the cognitive sciences. While Gallagher’s  Enactivist Interventions (2017) provides an overview of his thinking,  in Action and Interaction he fine tunes that stance for the sake of an interdisciplinary project that incorporates social philosophy and, to a lesser degree, the social sciences. Gallagher is startling concise in his account of different disciplines’ explanations and descriptions of social interaction and the development of the abilities and skills we bring to bear in our engagement with the natural-social-cultural environment. The contributions of the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of psychology, the ontology of action, the neurosciences, social psychology, the psychology of development, and of other areas of study work both in Gallagher’s favor and against him. His project is comparable to Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s: assault on all fronts the reigning and hegemonic Cartesianism in the ontology, methodology, and epistemology of social cognition. But Cartesianism has endured, and continues to endure, in what Thomas Kuhn calls the normal cognitive sciences. In what follows, I will first offer a brief review of the various chapters in the book and then outline what I deem its most important aspects.

In chapter 1, Gallagher states that “action” must be understood in terms of the movements and intentions of an agent. “The concept of affordance and a pragmatic concept of situation [must be understood] as relational” (7). “Action,” then, is what we call the situation in which motor, pragmatic, contextual, social, and other aspects are arranged to produce a particular affordance. In this book, Gallagher bases his concept of situation on John Dewey’s philosophy (1938).[1] He calls the situation of which the agent forms part the agentive situation. Looking to empirical studies of impaired agents, he indicates that action is structured into three dimensions: a basic motor level; a semantic or pragmatic level, where the intentions of each agent are formed; and a social level, or the level of cultural meaning. These three empirically justified levels configure a first holistic approach to the individualization of action (there is no action without context or agent). A holistic view of action means that action cannot be partitioned without altering its nature. That is why Gallagher does not affirm the existence of basic action but rather the existence of basic activity to account for the beginning of an action. This means that action is a continuous process.

In chapter 2, Gallagher analyzes the temporal structure of action to justify the assertion that basic activity is intentional and to claim that action entails an intrinsic temporality. The enactivist perspective comes into focus at this juncture, with the affirmation that perception of the environment and action are organized to allow for enactive processes that ground the agents’ intentional existences (25). Empirical research in development psychology shows that even primary motor coordination—hand to mouth, for instance—implies an internal temporality. The aim of explicitly addressing the internal temporality of action is to show the double nature of its operationality, first as duration and second as organization of the coordination of the sensorimotor process. The assertion that the organization of the process’s coordination is temporal means that, to be performed, the movement requires present-moment anticipations related to past movements of that sensorimotor coordination. This problem is so complex it demands considering not only time as seen by phenomenological philosophy, but also—and more crucially—the temporal organization intrinsic to the corporal scheme of a baby from the time she appears in the world. Francisco Varela (1999) is one of the scientists who first used dynamic systems theory to formalize Husserl’s notion of the constitution of immanent temporality with its instances of retention, protention, and proto-impression. Varela thus applied his models to the functioning of the different levels of the enactive agent to show the integration of those different levels with their also different durations, and to spell out the dynamic coupling between brain, body, and environment. That dynamic coupling is geared to action; it is not representational but pragmatic—and therein lies the basic unit of enactivism, which radically defies normal cognitive science and its Cartesian basis. Gallagher coins the term “primal enaction” to refer to the initial moment of basic activity, which—because of its fluid structure—is not only momentary. Hence, “anticipatory intentionality is not an apprehension of an absence […] it is […] an apprehension of the possibilities or the affordances in the present” (36). Temporality plays a structuring role in narrative practices as well. With narrative, temporality is double: an internal temporality is at play in the articulation of a story while the narrator has a temporality of her own. There is a strong claim here that the structure of the action precedes the narrative structure, hence demonstrating that the action does not need a narrative configuration to produce meaning. That does not, however, deny the fact that narration adds or complements meanings of actions in specific situations. All these questions lead to the problem of autonomy and agency—topics addressed in chapter 3.

It is in this chapter that Interaction Theory (IT) first makes its appearance, with the affirmation that action emerges out of “our early interactions with others” (42). From there, “the phenomenological sense of agency” leads us to the assertion that action is the integrated form of “intention, sense of agency, and meaning which generally goes beyond the agent´s intention” (43). Those phenomenological components cannot be reduced to purely causal, mechanical, or neural processes.  First off, because they involve intentional bodily processes that are used to distinguish the sense of agency from the sense of ownership—which, in the case of voluntary and intentional movement, are not readily distinguishable. The way to draw that difference is to consider involuntary and unintentional movement, where it is indeed possible to discriminate between sense of ownership and sense of agency. In the case of involuntary and unintentional movement, there is no sense of agency, since I am not the one who causes the movement. At stake in voluntary and intentional movement are motor-control processes along with perceived modifications in the environment pursuant to my action to evidence the configuration of a pre-reflexive sense of agency. Intentions take shape on the basis of those sensorimotor and perceptive processes that allow us to monitor aspects of our actions. Those intentions also help form a sense of agency. A difference is drawn between distal intentions—future-oriented deliberate processes—and proximate intentions—motor intentions connected to the present and to the processes of control at play in an action underway. Gallagher analyzes the relations between those two and then assesses attributions of agency and ownership in relation to one’s own agency and ownership. The sense of agency might be reinforced by an attribution of agency, but that attribution is not necessary to the constitution of that sense. The combination of those relations evidences different degrees of agency.

It is in relation to Gallagher’s engagement with Pacherie that something I want to underscore arises, namely where to place the limits between the experiential dimension and the functional dimension of action. Pacherie argues that there can be “naked intentions” that are neutral in relation to the agent. That is a scandal for a phenomenological understanding of the experiential dimension. Gallagher affirms:

Pacherie is right to note that a conceptual analysis cannot “preempt the question of whether these various aspects are dissociable or not […]” (2007 7). What can decide the issue, however, is agreement on where to draw the lines between phenomenological analysis (i.e., of what we actually experience), neuroscientific analysis […] and conceptual analysis (which may introduce distinctions that are in neither the phenomenology nor the neurology, but may have a productive role to play in constructing cognitive models or, in regard to the individual, explaining psychological motivations, or forming personal narratives, etc.).” (58-59).

The end of that passage makes it clear that actions and their intentions, motives, and aims are not mental states; they need others to take shape and advance beyond the singular individual. At stake, then, is a dynamic constitution of the causal and reciprocal brain-body-environment coupling that is the unit of analysis of Enactivism and of Interaction Theory—Gallagher’s topic in Part II of the book.

In chapter 4, Gallagher critiques the Theories of Mind (ToM) called Theory Theory and Simulation Theory in eight condensed arguments or problems he finds in that Cartesian representationalist perspective. What Gallagher term the Starting Problem is crucial to chapter 7. In ToM, a rule of inference must be applied on the basis of our mental states: we must infer a state other than the one we find ourselves in, a state we can imagine the other agent to be in. Nonetheless, “Neither theory has a good explanation of how the process gets off the ground—or more precisely, what ground we stand on as we engage in the process” (Gallagher 2011: 2).

Gallagher lays out his Interaction Theory in chapter 5. That theory holds that intersubjective understanding takes place through embodied practices. Since intersubjetive understanding involves social cognition, it is where the problems social psychology deals with arise, among them bias in the perception of members who do not belong to our group of reference. In this chapter, Gallagher clears up misunderstandings regarding his critique of mindreading and the nature of mental states. His target is the classic notion that mental states are private internal events that others have no access to, or that the only access possible is through inference or simulation on the basis of our own mental states. If that is the basis for the theory of mindreading, Gallagher affirms that it is rarely needed in our daily interactions. The notion of the mind Gallagher defends is the notion of an embodied mind geared to action and enactively contextualized. This conceptualization is “non-orthodox” (99) and difficult to reconcile with the notion of mental states as private events. Gallagher affirms:

Interaction: a mutually engaged co-regulated coupling between at least two autonomous agents, where (a) the co-regulation and the coupling mutually affect each other, and constitute a self-sustaining organization in the domain of relational dynamics, and (b) the autonomy of the agents involved is not destroyed, although its scope may be augmented or reduced. (Based on De Jaegher, Di Paolo, & Gallagher 2010). (99).

It is difficult to determine the scope of that definition because of its theoretical and practical, and multidisciplinary, potential. The primacy of interaction is based on processes of primary intersubjectivity, secondary intersubjectivity, and communicative and narrative competencies, which in turn form the basis for three points that challenge ToM specifically: 1. “Other minds are not hidden away and inaccessible,” 2. “Our normal everyday stance toward the other person is not third-person, observational; it is second-person interaction,” and 3. “Our primary and pervasive way of understanding others does not involve mentalizing or mindreading” (100). Primary intersubjectivity is tied to the development of the innate or early sensorimotor skills required to make contact with others, specifically the caregiver. What matters here is that in second-person interactions the “mind” of the other is manifested in its embodied behavior. That interaction depends on the self/non-self distinction and the proprioceptive development of our own body. Contemporary scientific evidence supports Merleau-Ponty’s thesis on a shared affective intentionality: intercorporeality. Interaction thus contributes to social cognition insofar as it understands it as the joint dynamic constitution of meaning through reciprocal exchanges between agents and environments. Child-development studies show that an understanding that is not theoretical, but rather pragmatic and affective is developed. Neither that understanding nor primary intersubjectivity as embodied practice disappears with development, IT argues. On the contrary, along with secondary intersubjectivity and communicative and narrative practices, it forms the basis for understanding others. The mind is a second-person phenomenon and understanding the other means being bodily available to respond in interaction. This implies personal and subpersonal processes that cannot be so clearly distinguished as a mental state encapsulated in a mind that operates propositionally and modularly with representations and other tools but that is not here in the world. These processes are embodied and affective, pragmatic and intersubjective. On that basis, Gallagher proceeds to work through the eight problems of ToM formulated in chapter 3. [2]

In chapter 6, Gallagher states that interaction assumes direct perception of others, of their emotions and intentions in particular—that because this type of perception (which Gallagher terms “smart” perception) is always contextualized. As we interact with others, we perceive their motor intentions and proximate intentions in their gestures, bodily stances, movements, and in what they are looking at and doing in relation to the context of their daily praxis. There is no need for us to commit to the existence of or to have access to the internal mental states of others to perceive them directly. Significantly, for Gallagher “there are good reasons […] to view beliefs as dispositions that are sometimes ambiguous even from the perspective of the believer” (2005: 214). This pragmatist-like approach enables Gallagher to work through the problem of access to the beliefs of other agents insofar as those dispositions are dispositions to act in a certain way. It is on the basis of the contributions of social psychology and its experiments on bias in perceptive recognition of the color of human faces that Gallagher begins to introduce questions of social conflict into the cognitive sciences.

In chapter 7, Gallagher addresses the communicative actions and narrative practices that broadened the scope of IT to bring to a close its dispute with simulation theorists and sympathizers. That means dealing with the role of the acquisition and exercise of language in social interaction and cognition as pragmatic tools that enable a refusal to commit to propositional attitudes, mental states, and so forth. Both language and narrative practices are grounded on contextualized embodied interaction. The development of linguistic capacity depends on the ability to move vocal cords, tongue, lips, and hands in gestures. It is based on three indications of Merleau-Ponty’s that converge in contemporary analysis. First, “we are born into a ‘whirlwind of language’” (156). Second, language accomplishes thought. Third, language transcends the body. Insofar as meaning is generated in the body and in language, that third point means that meaning outlives its origin. Linguistic pragmatics can broaden the resolutions of the problems raised by theorists of the mind insofar as embodied action is what does something between the speakers in the contextual medium of conversation. Narrative practices’ role in child development is understood to be central, and there is ample empirical evidence that it is based on pre-linguistic, proto-narrative practices. Narration articulates an order based on the temporal structure of social agents’ actions and interactions that both enable that interaction and feed back to it. That order is normative, and it is through narrations that the child begins learning norms while also becoming familiar with the core structure of folk psychology and delving into the Massive Hermeneutical Background (MHB). At the same time, understanding someone means formulating a narrative that, whether explicitly or implicitly, makes it possible to reconstruct their motives and aims, what makes them act in a certain way. It is in this chapter that Gallagher introduces the topic of MHB, which TT and ST look to to resolve the Starting Problem, though without specifying MHB’s nature or functioning in singular cases.  The MHB cannot, as John Searle would have it (1992), be reduced to cerebral processes; it is shaped by acquired dispositions (habits and schemes) of perception, action, and evaluation. “The background, having its effects through an individual habitus, is a normative force that plays an essential role in regulating social practices, and contributing to social reproduction” (2011: 7). Gallagher uses that concept of habitus, devised by Pierre Bourdieu (1980), to exemplify MHB, and that leads us to the question of empathy. Our author also takes issue with the various versions of empathy defended by champions of mindreading.

In my view, the book’s third section, which the author calls A Critical Turn, is the most contentious and challenging because it ventures into the terrain of practical philosophy in general and social philosophy in particular. One could well ask what this turn critiques. The answer may be twofold. First, it critiques mainstream cognitive sciences from within (Gallagher and Gallese have discussed issues of cognitive science, see note 16, page 97). But it also critiques the social state of things in late capitalism, and of the many critiques of the reigning state of things Gallagher chooses Axel Honneth’s. The path that takes Honneth from developmental psychology to recognition theory is paved by Trevarthen’s research (2008) on primary intersubjectivity. Gallagher does not fully embrace Honneth’s theses; he posits notions of recognition that do not necessarily imply conflict or revenge, but rather forgiveness and gift.

In chapter 9, Gallagher analyzes the topic of the extended mind, that is, institutions and collective agency. Insofar as those questions involve group identity, they also imply critical narratives: “The cognition involved is distributed,” (214) Gallagher asserts. The distribution of social knowledge is addressed at the level of institutions, bearing in mind narratives’ power to transform situations that distort the communicative practices of institutions. Gallagher acknowledges that a change in narrative may not be enough to effect a change in a situation. To address that question, he looks to debates on cognitive institutions, which affords him a more subtle approach to the question of autonomous agents’ participation and involvement in institutions, which—to put it bluntly—can range from maximum creativity to maximum alienation.  As Gallagher puts it:

First, that the cognitive-science informed analyses of interaction theory and socially extended cognition which offer insight into these processes and how they operate in institutional practices and procedures can inform critical theory. Second, since the cognitive science of such phenomena focuses on narrow questions about how such things work rather than on the broader consequences of such practices, we need to give cognitive science a critical twist.” (227).

Finally, in chapter 10 Gallagher lays out his theory of the practice of justice at play in the social interaction embodied in everyday life. He critiques basic tenets of John Rawl’s Theory of Justice and considers the ethological analyses of cooperative behavior in chimpanzees. He is in favor of an imperfect consensus and, like Honneth, insists on not reducing distributive justice to the distribution of economic goods, though he recognizes that, “in the final instance,” you cannot live without money anywhere in the social world.

Gallagher’s book is so stimulating and far-reaching that all the questions and reflections it occasions cannot be tackled in the little space I have left. The most pressing question, for me, is if it is possible to connect, combine, and harness sociological research and social theory to complement social cognition and embodied cognition. Gallagher begins to build that bridge. In the part of chapter 7 where he analyzes MHB, he adopts sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s thesis on the social world.  I would like to point to two questions along these lines. The first, and critical, question is that for Bourdieu those “acquired dispositions” are actually imposed by a dominant and hegemonic social class. Gallagher’s watering down of Bourdieu’s critical theory seems to take place in part III of the book, where Gallagher privileges hermeneutic positions over critical ones. The positive question can be explained in terms of the practical turn in social sciences, a recent research paradigm[3] of which Stephen Turner (1994) voices a powerful critique. In 2007, he affirms that “Social Theory cannot get very far without making generous use of mentalistic or cognitive concepts” (357). Some of the enactivist theses Gallagher posits are very adept at capturing what is actually happening with social agents in the practical turn and, hence, they enable a double feedback loop: first, from embodied cognition and enactivism to the social sciences, which more robustly justifies the practical turn (against Turner); and second, from the social sciences to social cognition, where the former contributes its research on social ties, group belonging, class conflict, race, gender, practical knowledge, etc.

The relation with sociology makes itself felt at the beginning of the book as well, when a difference is drawn between the process-action of the completed action and a posteriori attribution of meaning. Alfred Schutz distinguishes between action as process and act as completed action. He uses Husserl’s concept of temporality to capture the constitution of the subjective meaning of social action—Max Weber considered this a requisite to differentiate meaningful action from mere movement in space.[4]

It is my sense that, in part III, Gallagher takes on a wide range of topics, though his approach is not without problems. He is too quick to establish a relation between lab experiments with animals and embodied practices of social agents in a social space in conflict. Centuries of reflection on the possibility—or impossibility—of living together complicate a facile combination disciplines like political philosophy, ethics, meta-ethics, the philosophy of law, and experimental research on normative learning. At the same time, Gallagher looks, albeit obliquely, to Aristotle’s notion of phronesis that Gadamer uses in Truth and  Method (1950). It would seem that Richard Bernstein (1986: 155) was right when he affirmed that Aristoteles had at least one universally accepted norm to use as parameter for the application of other, narrower rules to each specific controversy, thus justifying the practical possibility of phronesis. There is a need, however, for discussion of the historical distance and different conditions of application of norms—or of one norm—in our globalized pandemic-ridden present and ancient Athens.  It is because we no longer have such an efficacious norm that Bernstein states that hermeneutics as practical wisdom must move to the sphere of politics.

I also have the sense that the book lacks an analysis of the philosophy of science. It seems to be there on a conceptual level, but it is never fleshed out. The representatives of mainstream cognitive sciences appear, in their scientific contributions, to be ontological and epistemic realists, and that, it appears, is the first thing to reconstruct in an attempt to reshape their discipline. The use of dynamic systems theory clearly points in that direction, but I still have the sense that the models are mistaken with what lies outside of them, without pausing to question the theoretical weight of theoretical terms like distal intention, proximate intention, motor intention, mirror neurons, and so on. In any case, it seems that a similar analysis, but now regarding the empirical content, is necessary in the phenomenology used in scientific research and in its disputes with representationalist cognitive sciences.[5] Both of those questions are related to the naturalization of phenomenology, a project that has been underway for some time and that merits a comprehensive assessment other than the one performed by Gallagher and Dan Zahavi in The Phenomenological Mind (2012).

This is a book necessary for these times. It provides a number of insights for further scientific and philosophical research into our nature.


Balmaceda, T. 2017. “Apuntes acerca de la hipótesis de la percepción directa de los estamos mentales.” In Pérez, D. and Lawler, D. (Eds.), La segunda persona y las emociones, 249-274. Buenos Aires: SADAF.

Banega, H. 2016. “Husserl’s Diagrams and Models of Immanent Temporality.” Quaestiones Disputatae, Vol. 7 (1): 47-73.

Bourdieu, P. 1980. Le sens pratique. Paris: Minuit.

Reckwitz. A. 2002. “Towards a Theory of Social Practices: A Development in Cultural Theorizing.” European Journal of Social Theory, 5 (2): 243-263.

Bernstein, R. J. 1986. “From Hermeneutics to Praxis.” In Philosophical Profiles. Essays in a Pragmatic Mode. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

De Jaegher, H., Di Paolo, E., and Gallagher, S. 2010. “Does social interaction constitute social cognition?” Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 14 (10): 441–7.

Dewey, J. 1938. The Theory of Inquiry. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Wiston.

Ihde,D. 2012. Experimental Phenomenology. Multistabilities, Second Edition.  Albany: SUNY Press.

Gadamer, H.G. 1989. Truth and Method. New York, NY: Continuum.

Gallagher, S., 2006. “Phenomenological contributions to a theory of social cognition.” Husserl Studies, 21 (2): 95–110

Gallagher, S., 2011. “Narrative competency and the massive hermeneutical background”. In Fairfield, P. (ed.), Hermeneutics in Education, 21-38. New York: Continuum.

Gallagher, S., 2017. Enactivist Interventions: Rethinking the Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gallagher, S. and Zahavi, D. 2012. The Phenomenological Mind. London: Routledge.

Gomila, A. y Pérez, D. 2017. “Lo que la segunda persona no es.” In Pérez, D. and Lawler, D. (eds.), La segunda persona y las emociones. Buenos Aires: SADAF.

Pacherie, E., 2007. “The sense of control and the sense of agency.” Psyche 13 (1): 1–30.

Schatzki, T., Knorr Cetina, K., y von Savigny, E. (Eds.). 2001. The Practice turn in Contemporary Theory. London and New York: Routledge.

Schutz, A. 1967. The Phenomenology of the Social World. Illinois: Northwestern University Press.

Searle, J. 1992. The Rediscovery of the Mind. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Trevarthen, C. 2008. “Why Theories Will Differ.” In The Shared Mind: Perspectives on Intersubjectivity, J. Zlatev, T.P. Racine, C. Sinha, and E. Itkonen (Eds.), vii–xiii. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing.

Turner, S. 1994. The Social Theory of Practices. Tradition, Tacit Knowledge and  Presuppositions, Cambridge, The University of Chicago Press.

Turner, S. 2007. “Social Theory as a Cognitive Neuroscience.” European Journal of Social Theory, 10 (3): 357-374

Varela, F.J. 1999. “The Specious Present: A Neurophenomenology of Time  Consciousness”. In J. Petitot, F.J. Varela, B. Pachoud, and J.-M. Roy (Eds.), Naturalizing Phenomenology: Issues in Contemporary Phenomenology and  Cognitive Science, 266–314. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Weber, M. 1947. The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. Glencoe, Ill., The Free Press.

[1] As readers of this journal know, the concept of situation can also be grounded in Sartre and Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenologies, which explains the historical compatibility of pragmatist and phenomenological positions. To understand this compatibility or complementarity, see Don Ihde, Experimental Phenomenology. Multistabilities, Second Edition, Albany: SUNY Press, 2012, among others.

[2] For another consideration largely akin to Gallagher’s position though with some caveats, see Tomás Balmaceda, “Apuntes acerca de la hipótesis de la percepción directa de los estamos mentales” (249-274) and Antoni Gomila and Diana Pérez, “Lo  que la seguna persona no es” (275-297), plus other articles compiled in Diana Pérez and Diego Lawler (Eds.), La segunda persona y las emociones, Buenos Aires, SADAF, 2017.

[3] See Andreas Reckwitz. “Towards a Theory of Social Practices: A Development in Cultural Theorizing,” European Journal of Social Theory. 2002, 5 (2): 243-263 and Theodore Schatzki,  Karin Knorr Cetina  and Eike von Savigny, (Eds.), The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory. London and New York: Routlege, 2001.

[4] See Alfred Schutz, The Phenomenology of the Social World, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1967 and Max Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press, 1947 (Talcott Parsons’s translation is the one cited by the translators of Schutz’s text).

[5] I humbly refer to Horacio Banega, “Husserl´s Diagrams and Models of Immanent Temporality”, Quaestiones Disputatae, Vol. 7 (1), Fall 2016, 47-73, for a revision of Husserlian methodology.

Chung-Chi Yu: Life-World and Cultural Difference. Husserl, Schutz, and Waldenfels

Life-World and Cultural Difference. Husserl, Schutz, and Waldenfels Book Cover Life-World and Cultural Difference. Husserl, Schutz, and Waldenfels
Orbis Phaenomenologicus, Band 47
Chung-Chi Yu
Königshausen & Neumann

Reviewed by: Alexis Gros (Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena)


Chung-Chi Yu, Professor of Philosophy at the National Sun Yat-sen University, Taiwan, counts as one of the most prominent phenomenology scholars in Asia. He specializes in the works of Edmund Husserl and Alfred Schutz and has translated both the Husserliana IX, Phänomenologische Psychologie, and Der sinnhafte Aufbau der sozialen Welt into Chinese. The philosophy of Bernhard Waldenfels, who was his Ph.D. supervisor at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum during the 1990s, is also included in his field of expertise and has decisively influenced his thought.

Life-world and Cultural Difference, published at the end of 2019 in the collection Orbis Phaenomenologicus, reflects the research work conducted by Yu in the last two decades. The book consists of thirteen chapters, which deal with three main topics that are at the heart of the preoccupations of the author: the relationship between transcendental phenomenology and phenomenological psychology in Husserl’s thought, the discussion of central issues in Schutzian phenomenology, and the analysis of the problem of cultural difference from the perspectives of Husserl, Schutz, and Waldenfels. In this review, I will exclusively focus on the latter topic, which, as the title already reveals, plays the leading role in the structure of the book.

The radicalization of globalization taking place since the end of the 20th century has produced an intensification of contacts among different cultures. This, in turn, brought about the emergence of a number of theoretical debates on issues such as “interculturality”, “multiculturality”, and “transculturality” (69). These discussions, which are at the core of contemporary cultural philosophy and social theory, center around questions such as the following: How can one explain or account for cultural differences? Are all cultures “equal” or some are “better” or “more developed” than others? What is the desirable relation between divergent cultural groups? Is intercultural communication and understanding possible? If so, how does it work? Are there commonalities between cultures beyond their heterogeneities? Should one endorse a universalist or a particularistic and relativistic account of culture? Chung-Chi Yu’s Life-world and Cultural Difference has the merit of showing that phenomenology has much to say concerning these and similar questions.

As Chung-Chi Yu explains, Husserl and Schutz provide illuminating insights on cultural difference qua life-worldly experience which can enhance current discussions on the topic. Interestingly enough, however, Yu does not endorse an orthodox Husserlian or Schutzian position, as many Husserl and Schutz scholars tend to do. Instead, in a critical and original way, Yu resorts to Waldenfels’ reflections on “the alien” [das Fremde] as a corrective for the problematic universalist, foundationalist, and Eurocentric motifs that, to different degrees, permeate the work of both thinkers (ix).

Yu’s argument concerning cultural difference—which is clearly sketched out in the Introduction of the book and unfolded in eight of its thirteen chapters—is structured in three main moments. First (1), Yu expounds upon Husserl’s position, criticizing its Eurocentric, logocentric, and foundationalist motifs. Second (2), Yu scrutinizes Schutz’s account, identifying problematic universalistic traits within it similar to those found in Husserl. And finally (3), Yu presents Waldenfels’ conception of interculturality as a non-Eurocentric and non-foundationalist approach able to overcome Husserl’s and Schutz’s shortcomings. In what follows, I will briefly reconstruct each of these argumentative steps.

Chung-Chi Yu on Husserl

Chung-Chi Yu chooses the Kaizo articles (a set of papers on ethics written between 1922 and 1924) as a starting point for his explanation of the Husserlian position (17-26). Based on an exhaustive analysis of these texts, Yu shows that Husserl’s Eurocentric account of the relationship between European and non-European cultures partly rests upon ethical considerations. For Husserl, an ethical life is one that is lived according to reason: “[t]he content of the categorical imperative is ‘to lead a life based on practical reason’” (19). More precisely, living a rational life entails overcoming the unreflective naivety of the natural attitude and achieving a reflective and self-determined conduct based on well-founded knowledge (18f.). In this way, philosophy plays a key role, insofar as it provides human beings with access to “reason” [Vernunft] (18ff.).

As Yu shows, Husserl conceives ethics on the collective level in a structurally analogous way. A cultural form of life is good, so to speak, when it frees itself from the irrational bonds of religious-mythical “tradition” and commits instead to the demands of Vernunft (22). And this, in turn, is only possible if philosophers get a big say in the organization and regnancy of social life: “the cultural elevation should be achieved through the introduction of philosophy […]. Philosophers provide a method by which society can be conscious of itself” (18, 22). Against this background, Husserl argues that the European culture, as the birthplace and one and only home of philosophical reason, has an ethical supremacy over all non-European forms of life (29f.). More precisely, in this view the birth of Europe, understood not as a geographical location but as a “spiritual world” (30), coincides with that of philosophy in ancient Greece. The emergence of the “theoretical attitude” [theoretische Einstellung] in the 7th Century BC constitutes a turning point in human history, insofar as it marks the advent of the “willingness to live by the ideal of reason” (29). As the unique spiritual carrier of philosophy – “nothing similar developed in other ancient cultures like India or China” (29), – European culture has a “historical mission”, namely, that of rationalizing or enlightening the entire world (44). By this token, the Kaizo papers recommend non-European peoples to embrace the philosophical rationality of Europe, which is deemed to be “universally valid” (17f., 27). Cultures such as Japan, China or India should leave behind their underdeveloped “religious-mythical thought” (29) and Europeanize themselves, as it were, by organizing their collective forms of life according to the demands of absolute reason: “To become European is to advance to a higher level of rationality” (37). As Yu rightly points out, the “Eurocentric arrogance” entailed in his position goes without saying (25).

It is important to emphasize, as Chung-Chi Yu himself does, that the Husserlian discourse on Europe takes shape within the context of his diagnosis of a “cultural crisis” of humanity in the aftermath of the First World War (28, 30). Especially in the Krisis, a classical text from 1935-1936 which takes on some of the arguments from the Kaizo papers (17), the father of phenomenology characterizes this crisis as a crisis of reason and therefore of the European culture in toto. Philosophical Vernunft, he says, has lost its way, being truncated by the overwhelming advance of “objectivism and naturalism.” Accordingly, it is necessary to “recover” its original ethical sense, as founded in ancient Greek, and to accomplish its universal mission (30).

From all this follows that Europe plays a key role in Husserlian thought, while non-European cultures have merely a residual status therein. As Yu claims, Husserl was not interested in seriously understanding other civilizations apart from the European. He only refers to them, in a rather undifferentiated way, as curious examples that serve as a contrasting foil to define Europe (43). “[T]he ‘non-European’ is lumped together into a single category with no room for distinction between India or China, Papua New Guinea or Patagonia” (38). More precisely, in some of Husserl’s writings millenary civilizations such as China or India are denigrated as “mythical-religious”, or even “magical”, cultures that have not developed scientific-philosophical forms of thinking (48f.). Now, as Chung-Chi Yu points out, despite his unacceptable ethnocentric ideas, Husserl never lost sight of the cultural differences among divergent social groups: he “is well aware that all people live in different cultures and that accessing each other’s culture is difficult” (50). Moreover, according to developments on Husserliana XV by contemporary phenomenologists Anthony Steinbock and Berhard Waldenfels, “pluralism” may have a place Husserlian thought insofar as the distinction between “homeworld” [Heimwelt] and “alienworld” [Fremdwelt] is useful for reflecting on intercultural relationships from a non-Eurocentric perspective (38-39, 157ff.).

For Husserl, the concept of homeworld refers to the “normal”—i.e., the established, familiar, and quotidian “world-horizon” which is common to a specific social group (32). The “homecomrades” live and act in one and the same meaningful environment because they share a “tradition” which they have inherited from past generations (32). More precisely, they are an experiential community, or “Erfahrungsgemeinschaft”, insofar as they share a “noetic a priori” (57). What they have in common is a specific “Umwelt-Apperzeption”, that is, a habitualized “mode of apperception” which enables them to “easily understand” the typical meaning of both cultural objects and other people’s actions (32).

By contrast, Husserl characterizes the alienworld as the experiential environment of a foreign group as seen from the perspective of the homeworld. The homecomrades perceive the alienworld as an abnormal and unfamiliar milieu, meaning they have difficulties in grasping the typical meaning of the events, things, and actions they see within it. This is so because they do not belong to the alien group’s generative tradition and therefore do not share the same Umwelt-Apperzeption  (32f.). In this sense, “Husserl imagines that he would feel dizzy if he were in a town in China, since all the essential types of people’s behavior and all kinds of objects would be unfamiliar to him” (32).

However, although the father of phenomenology acknowledges the divergences among cultures and the difficulties entailed in intercultural understanding, his main theoretical interest lies in the possibility of “overcoming” cultural difference (vii ff.). To put it in Yu’s terms, Husserl’s position is closer to “cultural universalism” than to “cultural particularism” (vii) in that he is mainly concerned with answering the following questions: “Are cultural differences to be surpassed or overcome? Is there a common core shared by both the homeworld and the alienworld?” (57). Husserl answers these questions positively by resorting to the idea of “the one world” [Die eine Welt] (159). Behind the surface of cultural differences, he says, there is “an underlying commonality”, namely, the “universal structure of the life-world”, which is equally experienced by all persons, irrespective of their sociocultural provenience (viii, 34). Arguing from a questionable Eurocentric and logocentric perspective, he suggests that only those subjects able to adopt a philosophical or “theoretical attitude”, i.e., Europeans, can access this “common ground” (50). Only philosophy qua “universal science”, a distinctly European endeavor, can work out the basal dimensions of “the one world” (37). As Yu shows, Husserl identifies this “common ground” with “pure nature”—not in the positivist-objectivist sense but, rather, as the world of nature as it is (inter)subjectively lived by pre-scientific subjects (36, 58). “If we keep to […] what in the world is perceptually accessible to everyone, then we come to nature” (Husserl on p. 58). More precisely, the spatiotemporal world of nature, which is structurally perceived in the same way by everyone, is that what constitutes the “core of human experience” (60) and thus the most basal stratum of the life-world (30).

In Husserl’s own terms, despite cultural differences, “there is commonality, earth and heaven, day and night, stones and trees, mountain and valley, diverse animals…” (Husserl on p. 58). For instance, the hardness of marble is an experiential fact universally valid, regardless of cultural differences (p, 97). Thus understood, universal nature is “composed of the world of space-time and natural objects, which are not yet culturally interpreted and reconstructed” (31). Far from being amorphous, this pre-cultural layer of the world shows a certain typicality, i.e., a stable and regular style of manifestation (60). Now, although concretely experienced by all pre-scientific subjects, these fundamental structures can only be unearthed philosophically, that is, by means of reflective, rational, and abstractive procedures such as the ones developed by transcendental phenomenology (30). To use Yu’s own words, the “world-nucleus of nature is to be distilled by abstraction” (30). For Husserl, this can only be carried out by Europeans, since they and only they, as unique inheritors of Greek Reason, are able to perform the necessary switch from the natural to the theoretical attitude.

Husserl argues that cultural objects are composed of two strata, namely, the “sinnliche Unterlage” and the “aufgestufte Kultur-Bedeutung”, i.e., a material substratum that can be sensually perceived just like natural things and a layer of non-sensual meaning, which is founded upon the former (54). Both strata are equally “essential” dimensions of a cultural thing. On the one hand, without a certain materiality a book would not be “readable”; and, on the other hand, if it did not support some kind of spiritual content, e.g., a novel, it would not be a “book” at all (54). To be sure, in everyday life we experience both layers together in an undifferentiated manner: we immediately see a “book” as a corporeal-spiritual object. The distinction between these two strata is a product of abstractive activities (54).

When characterizing the respective modes of manifestation of these two layers, Husserl draws upon the differentiation between “real” and ideal or “irreal” objectivities developed in Logische Untersuchungen (54). The material substratum of the cultural object counts as a “real physical unit” [reale physische Einheit] which is “individualized” in spatio-temporality, while its cultural stratum constitutes an “irreal, ideal unit of significance” [irreale, ideale Einheit von Bedeutung] that does not occupy a specific location in the spatiotemporal world (54). For this reason, one and the same novel as ideal unit, say, Herman Hesse’s Demian, can be embodied in different material books qua real objects produced in divergent times and places.

Yu points out that the distinction between Husserl’s two strata of cultural objects plays a crucial role in Husserl’s account of cultural difference. The physical substratum of a particular cultural object, as a part of material nature, is perceptually available for people from all cultures (56). By contrast, its ideal-irreal layer, i.e., its meaning and purpose, can only be seen and understood by those belonging to the culture that produced and uses it. In this sense, Husserl says that, for the Bantu people, the “aesthetic or practical ‘meaning’” of our cultural things would be “beyond comprehension” (56). When examining Husserl’s take on cultural difference, Chung-Chi Yu gives special attention to his analysis of the mode of manifestation of so-called “cultural objects”—i.e., of things that were created by human beings for certain purposes, such as books, tables, maps, computers, football balls, etc. (ix, 53ff). According to Husserl, cultural objects have a double ontological status: they constitute “corporeal-spiritual objects” [körperlich-geistige Gegenständlichkeiten], meaning they belong both to “material reality” and to the ideal-intellectual realm (53). On the one hand, they are real things but, on the other hand, they carry a non-sensual meaning. A book, for instance, has a certain hardness, weight, color, smell, etc. just like trees or rocks, but, at the same time, it supports ideal-spiritual objectivities that cannot be seen, touched or smelled: poems, stories, theories, and so on.

Chung-Chi Yu on Schutz

In a second argumentative step, Chung-Chi Yu expounds Schutz’s account of cultural difference, focusing especially on his analysis of cultural objects as presented in the 1955 paper “Symbol, Society and Reality” (61). As Yu shows, Husserl’s notion of “appresentation” plays a key role in the Schutzian approach (viii, 61, 80). More precisely, Schutz maintains that the “in-group” has a different objectual environment than the “out-group”, and this because they operate with different “system[s] of appresentational references” (viii).

According to Yu, Schutz adopts the Husserlian concept of “appresentation” [Appräsentation] as developed in the 5th Cartesian Meditation. By this notion, Husserl means a “mediated intentionality” [Mittelbarkeit der Intentionalität] that makes empathy possible (62). It is, more specifically, a passive synthesis of consciousness thanks to which something directly experienced, i.e., the body of the other, makes “co-present” something which is non-perceivable: the other’s inner life (62). In our actual experience, however, the alter ego appears as a unitary psycho-physical phenomenon: “appresentation is coupled with presentation and together they make a ‘functional community’ [Funktionsgemeinschaft]” (70).

In line with his teacher, Schutz understands appresentation as a “pairing association between appresenting and the appresented” (62). As he argues, however, this passive synthesis is not only at work in empathy but in all kinds of experiences of “transcendence”, i.e., of phenomena that cannot be directly experienced (62). Going beyond Husserl, and arguing from a sign-theoretical approach, Schutz uses the concept of “appresentational references” for depicting all “means” used by everyday subjects for overcoming transcendences, namely, “marks”, “indications”, “signs”, and “symbols” (64, 80). “These so-called appresentational references”, he thinks, “are rooted in the consciousness structure of appresentation” (80).

Furthermore, Schutz argues that both the “appresenting item” and the “appresented item” (70) always appear as embedded within “horizon[s]” or “orders” of phenomena (63). “Each side of the appresentational relationship must rely on its background or order” (63). Take, for instance, the case of a flag as a symbol of a country. The appresenting item, say, a piece of light blue and white fabric, belongs to the physical-material world, while the appresented item, e.g. the idea of Argentina as a country, is part of a horizon of cultural-spiritual notions.

As Yu has it, Schutz argues that cultural objects are characterized by bearing specific appresentational references only visible to those belonging to the in-group that produce and use them on a daily basis (viii). Differently put, the members of a certain group share a “system of appresentational references” that allows them to immediately understand the meaning of their objectual environment (viii). These appresented meanings manifest themselves as “inherent” to the objects and are thus perceived as “real components of the ‘definition of situation’” (Schutz in p. 99). In this sense, according to Schutz, “[t]he world of everyday life is […] permeated by appresentational references which are simply taken for granted” (Schutz in p. 65).

In a similar vein to Husserl, Schutz seems to think that the appresenting item of cultural objects, i.e., their material layer, is able to be perceived by all human beings regardless of their cultural origin, while the appresented side is only available for the in-group members (p. 70). Consider, for example, a message in Chinese language written in black in a piece of white paper. Everyone can see the black-ink figures against the white background and even interpret them as some kind of linguistic signs, but only those who speak or understand the language, and hence belong to some extent to the Chinese culture, can comprehend the meaning of the message, i.e., that what those signs appresent.

Schutz, thus, understands cultural difference primarily as a result of divergent systems of appresentational references. More specifically, in his view the system of appresentational references is an essential component of the particular cultural pattern or “Kulturmuster” of each in-group, i.e., of the “guiding principle of cognition and behavior” in light of which its members define quotidian situations (98f.). Operating in natural attitude within this interpretive framework, in-group members see the appresented items without further ado and take them for granted as immanent aspects of the objects. By contrast, outsiders do not perceive this surplus of meaning or only consider it as something externally “added” to material things (ix).

Against this background, Yu points out that “the pure experience of the life-world” in Husserl’s sense, that is, the experience of pure nature as described above, is also possible from a Schutzian perspective (ix, 64). According to Schutz, this experience emerges “automatically” when, lacking the adequate system of appresentational references, out-group members are incapable of understanding the meaning and purpose of an object (ix, 64). This happens, for instance, when someone unfamiliar with modern art cannot grasp the appresentations “normally” awaken by a certain painting, that is to say, when the “appresentational scheme” does not function properly (64). In this case, says Schutz, what the person perceives are merely real-material phenomena such as shapes, lines, and colors (64).

As Yu suggests, although Schutz deals with the issue of cultural difference more exhaustively than Husserl and does not share the latter’s Eurocentrism, he seems to endorse a cultural universalist and foundationalist position as well (ix, 66). That is, he does not abandon Husserl’s ideas of “universalism” and “grounding” [Grundlegung] (ix, 66). To begin with, Schutz also postulates a pure experience of the life-world as the common experiential ground for all cultures. However, in contrast to Husserl, he believes this layer of experience only comes up in abnormal cases, namely, as a result of intercultural divergences or misunderstandings (pp, ix, 66).

But this is not all. Especially in his later writings, the Viennese phenomenologist speaks of a “universal symbolism” shared by all cultures, which would be ultimately rooted in the conditio humana (ix). As Chung-Chi Yu emphasizes, Schutz argues that certain features of the life-world are common to all cultures because “they are rooted in the human condition” (66). In this sense, “Schutz’s idea of universalism is similar to that of Husserl” (ix). Both postulate a common ground underlying the different homeworlds or in-groups (69).

Chung-Chi Yu on Waldenfels

The final pages of the book show that Bernhard Waldenfels’ phenomenology of the alien can serve as a corrective to the deficits of both Husserl’s and Schutz’s accounts of cultural difference. In the two last chapters, Yu exhaustively reconstructs Waldenfels’ criticism of the universalist and foundationalist “idea of grounding” [Grundlegungsidee] which is at the heart of the Husserlian approach and also informs the Schutzian one (162).

Bernhard Waldenfels objects to Husserl’s ethnocentric and logocentric claim that European philosophy can overcome cultural divergences, insofar as it is able to reach a plane of “universality” with the help of Reason (163). For Waldenfels, this idea reflects one of the main deficits of European culture, namely, its systematic neglect and underestimation of the “otherness [Fremdheit] of non-European cultures” (164). Europe sees the alterity of other cultural groups as an obstacle to be surmounted, and not as a voice worthy to be heard and understood.

More precisely, Waldenfels criticizes the European notion of universality at work in Husserlian thought. As he argues, “no culture”, not even Europe, the alleged birthplace and home of Vernunft, “can ever claim to have created the universal order”, since it is impossible to observe and compare all different cultures from an acultural perspective, as it were (164). In other words, all conceptions of universality, the European one included, are inevitably particular accounts,  meaning they are always the result of “processes of universalization” in which something particular is presented as universal (163ff). However, “Europeans have not always been conscious of their position-taking” (163). That is to say, they do not always acknowledge that their conception of universality is inescapably particular. According to Waldenfels, this is the main deficit of “philosophical Eurocentrism” as paradigmatically embodied in Husserl’s position. According to Waldenfels, it miraculously “‘starts from the self, goes through the other and ends in totality’” (Waldenfels in p. 175). Waldenfels also argues, however, that it is still possible and even useful to work with the notion of universality, as long as one recognizes its insurmountable limits. First and foremost, one has to admit that no particular social group has access to the universal ontological, moral, and epistemological order of the universe (164). As paradoxical as it sounds, “[u]niversality must remain contextual”, since it is always a cultural product. In this sense, Waldenfels suggests the interesting idea of a “universalization in plural”, i.e., of divergent “processes of universalization” performed by different cultures (Waldenfels in p. 164).

Yu gives special attention to the Waldenfelsian criticism of Husserl’s account of interculturality. Within the framework of his phenomenology of the alien, Waldenfels understands interculturality in a structurally analogous manner as intersubjectivity (171). In many of his writings, he rejects classical accounts of intersubjective relationships, such as the one developed by Husserl in the 5th Cartesian Meditation, for starting from a false premise, namely, the absolute separation between self and other. In this classical view, the self has a pure “sphere of owness” [Eigenheitssphäre], which is not contaminated by otherness (167). And, accordingly, intersubjectivity is not conceived as preceding but as following the existence of monadological subjectivities.

Against this account, Waldenfels emphasizes that the self is always already and inescapably mediated by otherness, being this what makes intersubjectivity possible in the first place. My own subjectivity, thus, has moments of “inner otherness” (171). And this not only because I am, from the outset, interconnected with that of other persons, but also because I am neither totally aware nor completely in control of my own thoughts, feelings, actions, and perceptions (167). For this reason, the “between-world” [Zwsichenwelt] of intersubjectivity precedes individual subjectivities (171).

For Waldenfels, interculturality, i.e., the relationship between the homeworld and the alienworld works in a very similar way. Just like there are no absolutely separated and independent subjects, there are no pure cultures that are not hybridized with others (171) – and this holds true even for Europe (51). The homeworld is essentially intertwined with the alienworld and therefore full of otherness. Accordingly, the primary form of interculturality is to be found in the “borderline-play” [Grenzspiel] taking place in the Zwischenwelt that emerges between cultures. According to Waldenfels, this intercultural borderline-play produces experiences of anxiety, “shock”, and “amazement” (173). Husserl’s idea of a universal common ground, which is partly adopted by Schutz, can be interpreted as an attempt by the (European) homeworld to evade this uneasiness by rationally domesticating the alienness implied in cultural difference (172f.). It is, in other terms, an egocentric/Eurocentric process of universalization that entails an imperial expansion of the homeworld into the territory of the alienworld (173).

The final pages of Life-world and Cultural Difference make clear that Chung-Chi Yu’s own position on cultural difference draws heavily on Waldenfels’ thinking. According to the Taiwanese scholar, a non-Eurocentric account of interculturality must operate within the so-called “Zwischenwelt”. True intercultural communication is only possible if one abandons the egocentric/Eurocentric stance of “appropriation”, or Aneignung, and adopts a humble, respectful, and comprehensive attitude towards other cultures, that is, if one is willing to “learn from others” and “broaden” one own’s “horizon” (ix).