Anthony J. Steinbock: It’s Not About the Gift: From Givenness to Loving

It’s Not About the Gift: From Givenness to Loving Book Cover It’s Not About the Gift: From Givenness to Loving
Anthony J. Steinbock
Rowman & Littlefield International
2018
Paperback $29.95
156

Reviewed by: Simon Thornton (University of California, Santa Barbara)

In his provocative text, Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money, Jacques Derrida exposes what he takes to be an aporia in the concept of the gift. Firstly, he notes that exchange is indispensable to our prephilosophical concept of the gift. The concept of the gift entails that ‘“some ‘one’” (A) intends-to-give B to C, some “one” intends to give or gives “something” to “someone other”’ (Derrida 1992, 11). Secondly, however, he suggests that a defining feature constitutive of our concept of the gift is that it be aneconomic, i.e., that it breaks with the economic cycle of exchange: A gift is given freely or gratuitously, without calculation or considerations of reciprocity; ‘for there to be a gift, there must be no reciprocity, return, exchange, countergift or debt’ (Ibid., 11). For Derrida, these two features of our prephilosophical concept of the gift stand in tension: Insofar as a gift is exchanged – that is, intended and received as such in an instance of gift-giving – it becomes entangled within an economy of exchange which annuls the gratuitousness of the gift. As Derrida has it, this is because the recipient of a gift always gives back – even if only with symbolic gestures, such as thanks. Similarly, the gift-giver is apt to ‘pay himself with a symbolic recognition, to praise himself, to approve of himself, to gratify himself, to congratulate himself, to give back to himself symbolically the value of what he thinks he has given or what he is preparing to give’ (Ibid., 13). So, on Derrida’s estimation you can have either the gratuitiousness of the gift, without the exchange, or the exchange without the gratuitousness of the gift, but not both, where this makes the ‘pure’ gift – that is, an instance of the gift that properly fulfils its concept – aporetic or impossible.

This putative aporia has animated much debate in the so-called ‘theological turn’ in French phenomenology, notably in the work of Jean-Luc Marion, but also in the work of Anglo-American commentators such as John Caputo, John Milbank and others. As Steinbock notes, Jean-Luc Marion, who has spent much of his career developing a phenomenological reduction to givenness, undertakes to overcome Derrida’s aporia by ‘leav[ing] the “natural attitude” (Derrida) and mov[ing] to a phenomenological perspective (Marion). Accordingly, bracketing the empirical transcendencies (or reality or being) of the givee, the giver, and the gift,’ where ‘in principle, [these] analyses should entail the phenomenological reduction of transcendence to my lived experience of the givee, the giver, and the gift to show the gift without reciprocity and exchange’ (Steinbock 2018, 109).

Evidently, in their discussions neither Derrida nor Marion are primarily concerned with the concrete practice of gift-giving: for Marion, the theme of the gift encompasses fundamental features of Christian faith, such as revelation. And, more generally, as Steinbock puts it, philosophically, Derrida’s and Marion’s work encompasses a ‘broad swath of the phenomenological tradition, which [Derrida, Marion and others] presuppose, and the pervasive concept of givenness,’ adding that ‘in particular, they retrieve Heidegger’s thoughts on the “Event,” the “It gives” or Ereignis, and Husserl’s phenomenological reduction to “givenness”’ (Ibid., x).

In It’s Not About the Gift, Steinbock canvasses the claim that these ‘discussions of the gift are really not about the gift, or should not be mistaken to be about the gift,’ arguing that ‘the gift is not the point because the gift only becomes the gift in the context of interpersonal loving’ (Ibid.). Prima facie, Steinbock’s intervention here promises to be refreshing and illuminating – not least because, arguably, the French debate surrounding the gift often runs together themes from theology, anthropology and phenomenology that are not obviously connected, so that it becomes difficult to parse what is actually at issue. Steinbock’s strategy in the book is to critically appraise some of the key arguments by major thinkers associated with the debate surrounding the gift, before providing what he considers to be the enabling condition for gift-giving – namely, interpersonal love – where this putatively overcomes Derrida’s aporia by reframing the concept of the gift, while also avoiding the difficulties Steinbock sees in the philosophies of Marion and others.

Steinbock begins in the first chapter in a resolutely phenomenological register by attempting to clarify the ‘belief-structure’ of surprise, where Steinbock appears to take surprise to be a central feature of gift-exchange that is often simply assumed and has, thus, not been subject to any kind of rigorous phenomenological analysis. Although Steinbock does not make the connection explicit, considering the belief-structure of surprise makes sense in relation to Derrida’s aporia: For Derrida, the pure gift ‘must interrupt all economy, all exchange. To be a gift, it must escape all motivation and all intention, all anticipation, all “present” and all fulfilment; to be “gift” in its pure essential sense as gift, it must be able to arise unprovoked, unbidden, unannounced, unreceived, unattended’ (Ibid.,105). Viewed in this way, the element of surprise may become all important, since, as Steinbock suggests, ‘it is commonly held that surprise is simply a rupture of what is expected’ (Ibid., 2).

In the first part of the chapter, Steinbock compares surprise with other related phenomena such as wonder, shock and startle, arguing that what distinguishes surprise is that it involves ‘an overall reconstitution or reconfiguration of sense where the event in question is concerned’ (Steinbock 5). More specifically, Steinbock characterises this reconstitution of sense in terms of coming to believe in and accept that which was previously unbelievable in an experience of being caught off guard. While shock and being startled both involve the experience of being caught off guard, neither of them, in Steinbock’s view, involve the kind of acceptance he wants to associate with surprise. A second feature Steinbock appeals to in distinguishing surprise is that it re-focuses attention on the reconstituted or reconfigured reality: surprise ‘throws me back on the experience…I can examine it further, I can become curious’ (Ibid., 11). Finally, Steinbock categorises surprise as an emotion, arguing that ‘It is an emotion in part because of the creative way in which we receive the situation in feeling through which we are moved’ (Ibid., 14).

In the second part of the chapter, Steinbock goes on to consider surprise in relation to what he calls ‘diremptive experience,’ namely, ‘an experience in which I am given to myself as in tension with a basic sense of myself as before another or others’ (Ibid., 16). That is to say, a diremptive experience is one that calls into question my sense of self. And, linking surprise understood as a kind of diremptive experience back to the notion of the gift, Steinbock suggests that surprise, by calling my sense of self into question, reveals to me that I am ‘not self-grounding’ (Ibid., 18), where this diremptive experience gives rise to a sense of humility and openness proper to the receiving of gifts.

There is much that is thought-provoking in this chapter – perhaps too much: While Steinbock makes some persuasive and insightful claims concerning the belief-structure of surprise and its relevance to our understanding of the gift, other claims made in the chapter would have benefitted from further discussion. In particular, the transition from the discussion of the belief-structure of surprise to considerations concerning diremptive experiences and humility seemed awfully quick: Steinbock switches the focus of the discussion from the belief-structure of surprise to the calling into question of the self in a way that is somewhat disorientating.

In the second chapter, Steinbock changes pace, moving from phenomenological investigations into the structure of the gift to considerations of the work of thinkers in the phenomenological tradition who have taken up the issue of the gift. Specifically, in this chapter, Steinbock deals with Heidegger. In the context of phenomenological debates concerning the gift, Steinbock’s consideration of Heidegger should come as no surprise: After all, the later Heidegger’s considerations of the es gibt (it gives) in works such as On Time and Being (1969) provide important context for understanding Derrida’s and Marion’s later discussions. What is perhaps more surprising, however, is Steinbock’s starting point in the chapter: Rather than focusing initially on texts such as On Time and Being, he begins with a discussion of Heidegger’s notion of ‘machination,’ including Heidegger’s anti-semitic claim that machination is an archetypally Jewish attribute. Here, Steinbock enters the fray of ongoing debates surrounding Heidegger’s links to Nazism, debates that have been renewed in light of the recent publication of Heidegger’s incriminating Black Notebooks. On this issue, Steinbock provides what seems to me to be a rather hedged justification for continuing to take Heidegger seriously, suggesting only that ‘we can…maintain that it is not only too easy, but both ingenuous and misleading for us to point the finger at Heidegger while supposing that we are somehow absolved from or not complicit in the general problem of evil’ (Ibid., 28). I would suggest that this attitude would fail to appease many critics!

Turning to the substantive content of the chapter, Steinbock highlights a fundamental problem that animated much of Heidegger’s later work. Namely, that today the world is technologically ‘enframed:’

Machination was expressed in the war as technological prowess, power and the will to calculate; it had further implications for reducing the earth to a resource under quantitative measure, bringing all beings under our dominion as controllable and at our disposition, as well as reducing human beings to the status of beings deprived of decisive resoluteness. (Ibid., 31)

In a word, Heidegger thought that advanced technological society was in many important respects greatly impoverished. But rather that claiming that this impoverishment arose principally as a result of socio-economic factors, Heidegger frames it in terms of a metaphysical problem; a problem to do with our understanding of Being. And his task, then, is to provide a way for us to overcome our problematic understanding of Being and to forge a new beginning.

It is in this context, Steinbock continues, that Heidegger’s concern with the gift comes to the fore. In Steinbock’s summary,

Heidegger notes that from the very beginning of Western thinking, Being and Time are thought, but not the “Es gibt” that gives the gifts of Being and Time. How is it that we have missed the Es gibt? It is because, according to Heidegger, the Es gibt, the It gives, withdraws in favour of the gifts that It gives. This retreat opens the space for the gifts to be thought misleadingly and exclusively as Being with regard to beings, conceptualizing Being as the ground of beings, as Time with regard to the present. (Ibid., 34-5)

That is to say, for Heidegger, what is central for his project of ‘overcoming the metaphysics of presence’ is a thinking that thinks the It gives that in the first instance grants being (and time) while withdrawing from it.

After reprising Heidegger’s philosophical position in this regard, Steinbock then makes some critical observations. In particular, Steinbock wants to challenge Heidegger’s claim that the It gives withdraws as it grants being by instead claiming that ‘giving accompanies its givenness in and as gifts’ (Ibid., 40). While I have to admit that Steinbock’s critical observations here are rather difficult to follow (admittedly, perhaps owing in the most part to the difficulty of parsing Heidegger’s later writing), his conclusion is clear enough:

What is called for when confronting the stranglehold of calculating managerial technologies or machination is not a novel paganism of thinking, but a rehabilitation, a reclamation of the emotional sphere of human persons, and in particular, the interpersonal emotions, which give us novel ways of freedom, critique, normativity, and specifically, a deeper sense of person. (Ibid., 46-7)

In essence, then, Steinbock appears to appreciate Heidegger’s worries concerning ‘machination’ and technological enframing, albeit in a qualified way. But instead of turning to a kind of pious thinking that attempts to think the It gives, Steinbock proposes that we focus on the kind of affective interpersonal relations – such as loving – that ‘machination’ tends to occlude.

In Chapter 3, Steinbock then turns to a figure who, amongst the figures considered in the book, is perhaps the least well known in Anglo-American philosophy: The Christian phenomenologist Michel Henry. This move, in a certain way, might seem to make sense: The previous chapter motivated a reframing of the gift from Heideggerian paganism to thinking of the gift within the context of love, where refocusing on Christian themes such as agape, as considered in Henry’s work I am the Truth, seems to be a logical step. Yet, for the bulk of this chapter Steinbock focuses on the issue of forgetfulness and the task of overcoming forgetfulness as it arises in Henry’s sprawling doctoral dissertation, The Essence of Manifestation, only touching on I am the Truth in the concluding part of the chapter.

Praise must be given to Steinbock here for rendering intelligible the formidably abstract and difficult work of Henry. Indeed, one of the best features of this chapter consists in its provision of a clarifying precis of some of the central themes of Henry’s work. This is not the place to attempt to reprise Henry’s philosophy or even Steinbock’s precis: It suffices to say that the central dynamic underlying Steinbock’s discussion of Henry begins with the claim that ‘As transcendence…I am simply given to myself, [I] receive the gift of myself to myself as a projection beyond myself’ (Ibid., 56). But, Steinbock continues, for the most part, through various mechanisms of forgetfulness, this structure of self-givenness is covered over and occluded.

In order to combat and overcome this forgetfulness, Henry promotes a form of ‘doing’ which Steinbock describes as ‘the work of mercy…as forgetfulness of the ego and bearing absolute Life as its presupposition; in doing, it is no longer me who acts, but God, or the Archi-Son of God, who acts in me’ (Ibid., 70). In a way, then, despite the phenomenological sophistication of Henry’s position, he in fact advocates a fairly well trodden path in Christian thinking; one which emphasizes a move from self-centredness and egoism, forgetful of one’s createdness, to an openness and humility in which the self relates to itself as the created being that, for Henry, it is. And Steinbock’s overall assessment of Henry’s work seems to be one that broadly appreciates the basic Christian dynamic motivating his phenomenological enterprise, while being critical of some of the details of Henry’s phenomenological procedure, concluding that Henry doesn’t really move us much beyond the Heideggerian conception of the It Gives.

In Chapter 4, Steinbock turns to the work of Jean-Luc Marion. As I mentioned above, Marion is perhaps the foremost phenomenologist working on issues surrounding the gift, and he has written many works that take the concept of the gift as a central theme. Steinbock’s way in to Marion’s work is through a critical appraisal of Marion’s conception of the poor phenomenon. The poor phenomenon comes in different valences – such as the common phenomenon; the humble phenomenon and the denigrated phenomenon – and, paradigmatically, it stands in contrast to the saturated phenomenon, namely, a phenomenon ‘marked by an excess of intuition (i.e., givenness) over the subjective intention of meaning-giving’ (Steinbock 86): The saturated phenomenon is associated with ‘revelation,’ whereas the poor phenomenon is delimited by representational intentionality. The question Steinbock poses in relation to Marion’s taxonomy of phenomena is whether the difference between the saturated phenomenon and the poor phenomenon is one of kind or one of degree: Can some poor phenomena open up a kind of ‘vertical’ experience that is typically associated with the revelatory character of saturated phenomena, or is such ‘verticality’ the preserve of saturated phenomena alone? Steinbock argues that for Marion the latter is the case, whereas Steinbock himself wants to propose the former.

In this connection, Steinbock recounts the following parable from St. Teresa: ‘When some of her novices were getting disturbed at being drawn away from contemplative prayer to undertake putative menial, mundane tasks, St. Teresa offers the following instruction: “Know that if it is in the kitchen, the Lord walks among the pots and pans helping you both interiorly and exteriorly”’ (Ibid., 94). Steinbock avers that ‘“pots and pans” are not simply what Marion calls saturated phenomena. Nor are they “poor” or “common” phenomena…[t]he pots and pans give themselves in “the epiphany of the everyday”…’ (Ibid., 94). In other words, in contrast to Marion’s conception of poor phenomena as phenomena whose givenness is mundane and restricted (at least in comparison with saturated phenomena), Steinbock proposes that some seemingly poor phenomena can in fact have a ‘vertical’ or revelatory dimension – equal to that of the saturated phenomena – when taken in the spirit of poverty, as is exemplified in St. Teresa’s parable. Thus, as Steinbock concludes, ‘if we are to speak of poverty at all, then it should be in the way the mystics use the term, namely, the poverty of spirit as an opening to the opening, or more personally, the vertical delimitation accomplished through loving’ (Ibid., 101).

Here, again, Steinbock’s critical appraisal aims in a direction that takes ‘loving’ to be central to the meaning of the gift rather than something about the character of the gift itself, where in this case he has in mind a kind of mystical poverty of spirit that can relate to seemingly mundane phenomena in such a way that reveals their character as gifts. Steinbock’s reversal of the meaning of the poor phenomena in this chapter is enlightening, and surely goes some way to motivating his ultimate claim in the book; namely, that the gift takes on its gift-character not thanks to any qualities inherent in the gift itself, but thanks to the context of loving in which the gift emerges.

Steinbock begins the final chapter by returning to Derrida, reprising Derrida’s deconstruction of the gift that I highlighted at the beginning of the review, while also considering Marion’s response to Derrida. Interestingly, in this discussion Steinbock notes that Marion in fact comes close to his own thesis concerning the relation between the gift and love, when, in God without Being, Marion places ‘emphasis on loving as agape or divine giving – which gives (itself) – in which God does not fall within the realm of Being, but comes to us in and as “gift”’ (Ibid., 108). However, Steinbock nonetheless marks a distinction between Marion’s approach to the gift and love and his own by insisting that, in contrast to Marion’s resolutely theological account, Steinbock’s conception of gift-giving has ‘an interpersonal significance from the very start’ (Ibid., 112). What seems to be at stake for Steinbock here is the relative concreteness of his account of gift-giving – as emerging in contexts of interpersonal relations – in relation to the admittedly rather abstract configurations provided by Heidegger, Henry and Marion.

In making his case, Steinbock turns to the work of Maimonides. In particular, Steinbock draws on Maimonides’s ‘unique laws of tzedakah (charity, gift-giving, but also “righteousness” and “justice”)’ (Ibid., 112). In addition to its focus on concrete interpersonal relations, what attracts Steinbock to Maimonides’s tzedakah is the fact that it admits of degrees of gift-giving, where this kind of subtlety is apparently absent from the work of the figures he has been considering up to now: For Derrida and others, focus has been on the pure gift, which places rather high success conditions on the appearance of the gift. Steinbock, by contrast, drawing on the work of Maimonides, suggests that the gift can appear across different contexts, some of which are less than ideal and yield something ‘less’ than a ‘pure’ gift, but which is nonetheless a gift.

Steinbock’s Maimonides-inspired taxonomy of gifts is as follows:

(1) those that conform to the economy of the gift, (2) those that are expressive of the bracketing of the gift, and (3) a style of gift-giving that goes beyond each of the former and is expressive of the dynamic of loving, issuing from what we could call the interpersonal nexus of beloveds. (Ibid., 114)

Importantly, for Steinbock, these ‘styles’ of gift-giving are united by their common ‘interpersonal connection’ which aims at the ‘liberation’ of the other – the givee – from ‘material and/or spiritual restrictions’ (Ibid.). More specifically, Steinbock canvasses Maimonides’s conception of the greatest kind of giving – the giving that issues from the ‘interpersonal nexus of beloveds’ – as a possible alternative to conceptions of the gift considered so far. On Steinbock’s Maimonides-inspired conception, the gift emerges within the context of a ‘partnership with others, supporting them by endowing them with a gift or loan or finding employment for this person to strengthen him until he needs no longer to be dependent upon others’ (Ibid., 122). What is essential to this conception of the gift is not its conceptual ‘purity’ – it is not focused on the gift itself – but rather the ‘interpersonal relation that is oriented towards the liberation of other persons’ (Ibid., 123).

In the book’s conclusion, Steinbock summarizes how he sees his reconfiguration of the gift as responding to Derrida’s aporia: for Steinbock, worries concerning narcissistic reappropriations of the gift are overcome as soon as one reconfigures the gift as something that emerges within the context of interpersonal loving. Love, for Steinbock, precludes narcissistic reappropriation and initiates a kind of interpersonal relation – a relation with ‘verticality,’ as Steinbock puts it – in which it is in no way aporetic to think of gift-giving, in the best sense of the term. In addition, by associating the love-relation with ‘verticality,’ Steinbock also canvasses his conception of gift-giving as a way of responding to the technologically enframed machination highlighted by Heidegger: It is through interpersonal loving, and, thus, gift-giving in the best sense of the world, that machination can be overcome.

Whilst there is something deeply attractive about Steinbock’s position on these issues, I have some critical comments. The first concerns whether his reconfiguration of the gift in terms of interpersonal loving does in fact overcome Derrida’s aporia. It seems to me that whether one takes Steinbock’s intervention to be successful in this regard depends on how pervasive one takes our narcissism to be. John Caputo has observed that, for Derrida

…there are many narcissisms, various degrees of narcissism, the best of which are hospitable and welcome the other. There is always a movement of narcissism in any gift and, indeed, “without a movement of narcissistic reappropriation, the relation to the other would be absolutely destroyed.” Even love, the affirmation of the other, would be impossible without the trace of narcissism. When I love the good of the other, this is the good I love. In the most hospitable, open-ended narcissism, the good I seek for myself is the good of the other. (Caputo 1997, 172)

It, thus, seems that from a Derridean perspective, Steinbock’s reconfiguration of the gift would not overcome the aporia of the gift, but merely reconstitute it at a different level: Steinbock, insofar as he takes Derrida’s aporia seriously, appears to maintain that it can be overcome by turning to the love-relation as an enabling condition of the gift. But Derrideans would likely object to this move by claiming that narcissism affects the love-relation too: Indeed, Derrideans would likely home in on Steinbock’s use of Maimonides’s tzedakah in support of their view: While, admittedly, Steinbock’s reading of Maimonides should be taken in the spirit of interpretive reconstruction, it nonetheless remains the case that the taxonomy of gift-giving provided in the tzedakah is decidedly economic. Even the ‘greatest kind of giving’ is spoken about in terms of business and loans, and seems quite alien to the kind of gratuitousness Derrida associates with the concept of the gift. Arguably, then, Steinbock’s reconfiguration of the gift might look – to Derrideans – to simply gloss over the problem of the gift’s gratuity, rather than overcome it.

Of course, Steinbock might respond to this, arguing that the whole animus behind the book consists in an attempt to reject the framing of debates concerning the gift provided by Derrida and others. Yet, on this point, I wonder whether Steinbock’s project is somewhat derailed by the attention he gives to the details of the debate spawned by Derrida concerning the gift throughout the book: As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, there is something frustrating in the way that Derrida, Marion and others take up the issue of the gift, where, in their discussions, they often elide many different issues from the domains of theology, anthropology and phenomenology. I had hoped on the basis of its title that Steinbock’s work was finally going to call time on the tendentious aspects of this debate and clear the air a little. But in fact he seemed to sometimes get sucked in and bogged down by issues raised by Heidegger, Derrida and others that do not obviously have any bearing on his thesis, where I feel this diluted the polemical impact of the book as a whole.

Nonetheless, in It’s Not About the Gift, Steinbock achieves two things well: The first is that he provides an illuminating critical appraisal of the debate concerning the gift as it has emerged in the phenomenological tradition. Secondly, he provides an interesting and compelling alternative to the conception of the presented in that tradition, while drawing on resources from phenomenology. I take it that this intervention constitutes one part of a broader project that Steinbock is undertaking, and should be read alongside his works Moral Emotions, Phenomenology and Mysticism as well as his forthcoming work. And, despite the fact that the book under review leaves some issues unresolved, it seems to me that Steinbock’s overall project is going in an interesting and illuminating direction.

Bibliography

Caputo, J. 1997. The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion without Religion. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Derrida, J. 1992. Given Time: I. Counterfeit Money, trans. P. Kamuf. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

Steinbock, A.J. 2018. It’s Not About the Gift: From Givenness to Loving. London and New York: Rowman and Littlefield.

Sebastian Luft: The Space of Culture: Towards a Neo-Kantian Philosophy of Culture (Cohen, Natorp, and Cassirer)

The Space of Culture: Towards a Neo-Kantian Philosophy of Culture (Cohen, Natorp, and Cassirer) Book Cover The Space of Culture: Towards a Neo-Kantian Philosophy of Culture (Cohen, Natorp, and Cassirer)
Sebastian Luft
Oxford University Press
2015
Hardback £55.00
272

Reviewed by: Tobias Endres (Technical University of Berlin)

For over a decade, Sebastian Luft has contributed to important research on the philosophy of Ernst Cassirer and is currently playing a crucial role in bridging recent Cassirer scholarship beyond the Analytic-Continental-Divide. His new book, based on his earlier habilitation thesis, The Space of Culture is a comprehensive study of the so-called Marburg School of Neo-Kantianism; it follows both historical and systematical intentions with respect to elucidating current philosophical scholars’ views on the ambitions of this school’s general idea of a philosophy of culture and connects this idea to contemporary research. The self-declared center and peak of the book relates to the philosophy of Ernst Cassirer, the last and, in Luft’s opinion as well as many others, most important representative of the Marburg School. Luft’s goal, hence, alongside others, should be seen as an important step to push forward the so called “Cassirer-renaissance”, a project that has been taken on by Donald Philipp Verene and his student John Michael Krois in the late seventies and carried out by many[i] as an international and collective endeavour that has not lost momentum since.

Against this background, I will address two main questions in Luft’s book: (1) does it succeed in justifying the validity of the idea of a “space of culture”, and (2) does it succeed in contrasting this idea to Sellars’ idea of a “space of reasons” and hence to show the current relevance of such a philosophy of culture?

The book is divided into six chapters: an introduction, a chapter about Hermann Cohen, one about Paul Natorp, one about Ernst Cassirer, one dedicated to metaphilosophical discussions and a conclusion. The overall split into two parts, the first containing the introduction plus the chapters about Cohen and Natorp presenting the basic position of the Marburg School, the second containing an analysis of Cassirer’s philosophy and its actuality, makes it formally clear that Luft’s overall aim is to defend Cassirer’s transcendental philosophy starting from his teachers’ transformation of Kant’s philosophy into a philosophy of culture. Because of the strong identity of form and content in the conception of Luft’s book and the many, sometimes surprising, and always original side remarks in the discussion, I will comment chapter by chapter and sometimes go into significant detail where it often seems, at first sight, not obviously necessary.

The introduction already sets out everything that Luft wants to show in a systematic respect: first, to demonstrate that a philosophy of culture is a meaningful and “valid project” (p. 1), and second, to show that it has been “carried out most successfully by Ernst Cassirer” (ibid.). Though the emphasis lies on those systematic aspects, they cannot be defended apart from a genealogical approach concerning the Marburg School itself as well as its reception. Following the self-image of this school as seen by its founders Cohen and Natorp, and the expectation they obviously had towards their most promising student Cassirer, there might follow a simple equation that would identify Cassirer right away with Marburg, and hence with Neo-Kantianism. On the contrary, reading Cassirer nowadays and noting the divide between research on Neo-Kantianism on the one hand, and Cassirer scholarship on the other, it seems that “one cannot but conclude that Cassirer is not (or no longer) a Neo-Kantian or a member of the Marburg School” (p. 18). Luft challenges both views that Cassirer simply is a Neo-Kantian or is no longer a Neo-Kantian by pointing out an important desideratum: there exists no study that places Cassirer legitimately within the common core project of Neo-Kantianism, which is the project of a philosophy of culture. The originality of Luft’s study lies exactly in this approach, showing that “the Marburg School can neither be adequately appreciated without Cassirer; nor can Cassirer be fully understood in his intentions, without viewing him as deeply rooted in the Marburg School” (p. 19). Anticipating the result, I, already here, at this early juncture would like to state that Luft succeeds in defending this thesis. Nevertheless, I will focus on some problematic claims within Luft’s line of argumentation that finally should lead to his view. According to Luft, “culture” is the neo-kantian “operative term” (p. 3) of the project of a philosophy of culture that “has reflected on the path from Kant to Hegel and takes the best of both, while having undergone the transition from Kant to German Idealism to Positivism” (ibid.). Though it seems plausible to establish a connection between Positivism and Cohen’s alleged scientism, one would ask how a position, informed by Hegel and the thought of German Idealism, could possibly come up with such a scientistic reading of Kant’s Critique as presented by Cohen? Luft answers twofoldly by (1) reading Kant through the eyes of Sellars and by (2) connecting the methodology of Neo-Kantianism to Kant and to Hegel. Inhabiting a space of culture, hence, for Luft means that by reflecting on the space of reasons, i.e. the project of a Critique of Pure Reason, we become essentially both citizens and rulers of this space. Whilst this idea might be in line with Kantian orthodoxy, one might still object that Sellars hardly stays within this conception of two realms as he is inclined to naturalism and the primacy of the “scientific image of man”.[ii] Against this, the claim that an extension of the space of reasons to a space of culture is motivated by Hegel’s introduction of objective spirit, just without the idea of absolute spirit, is rather adequate, though Cassirer’s metaphysics of the symbolic forms can again give rise to the idea of philosophy as absolute spirit.[iii] Regardless of these details, it is nonetheless correct to connect Hegel’s idea of objective spirit to the method of Neo-Kantianism, to the analytic method taken from Kant’s Prolegomena: to subject culture to critique means to first describe culture as it is and then to regressively analyse the normativity of each cultural form that had been found and thus to extent the space of reasons to a space of culture. With this strategy one should escape the stranglehold of either defining culture a priori (as e.g. philosophy, hence as “high culture”), an objection Luft anticipates from the Cultural Studies that point out the plurality of cultures[iv] (cf. p. 2), or as plainly empirical as suggested by modern anthropology (cf. ibid.), which would lead, at least from a philosophical point of view, to the problem of relativism. So, whilst the transition from an overly static apriorism to a dynamised transcendental philosophy of culture can be achieved with this shift in focus on Kant’s own methodology, Hegel’s stance that “the whole is the truth” should help us to avoid relativism, because Luft sees in it a forerunner to Cassirer’s alleged anti-hierarchical pluralism, “where each form [of culture] has its legitimate position in the general space of culture” (p. 5). But here lies a deep problem of Luft’s reading, both of Hegel and of Cassirer: Firstly, Hegel’s forms of consciousness evolve towards absolute spirit, which eliminates any attempt to reconcile them in a pluralistic manner, where each form of spirit has its own right retrospectively. Then, if I understand Luft correctly, he wants to solve the problem of relativism with the following argument (cf. pp. 13-14):

(P1) Forms of consciousness are forms of symbolic formation.

(P2) Thoses formations are phenomenologically found as facts of culture.

(P3) Each one’s validity is proven by analysing their internal, functional logics.

(P4) The whole is the truth.

(P5) The whole is the forms’ pluralistic coexistence without an absolute standpoint.

(C1) Without an absolute standpoint the internal logics do not compete.

(C2) Pluralism is true.

Thus, according to Luft, Cassirer’s Philosophy of Symbolic Forms should be interpreted as a “complementarism” (p. 14), in which the plurality of cultural descriptions is seen as horizontal, not vertical, complementaristic instead of competitive. Though I will come back later to this crucial point, one can already state here that the complementaristic view comes with two major objections that are both of transcendental nature. First, one might ask how the break between myth and logos would phenomenologically be best described and how at all it is possible if forms of consciousness do not practically rival with each other. Although Luft recognises a disruption between myth and all other symbolic forms, he does not discuss at this point Cassirer’s thought that “in the course of its development every basic cultural form tends to represent itself not as a part but as the whole, laying claim to an absolute and not merely relative validity, not contenting itself with its special sphere, but seeking to imprint its own characteristic stamp on the whole realm of being and the whole life of the spirit.”[v] Secondly, one might ask how the problem of relativism at all could arise, if the symbolic forms of mythical thinking and knowledge are in no competition whatsoever. As this is the crux of Luft’s interpretation of Cassirer, I will drop this point for the moment and show where the book succeeds: by reconstructing the idea of a philosophy of culture as a common project of Cohen, Natorp, and Cassirer.

The chapter about the philosophy of Hermann Cohen makes it very clear right from the beginning to what extent Luft’s ambitions are of purely systematical character, and to what extent those ambitions need to be historically informed. Luft wants to take the project of a Neo-Kantian philosophy of culture out of its historical context and keep only its best elements that we still today can benefit from. To drop other elements that are of historical importance is especially justified, because Neo-Kantianism was a serious propaganda force during the First World War and could no longer convince the youth of the Weimar Republic to be the standpoint of reason. This disappointment of the youth, hence, is important to understand the demise of Neo-Kantianism. On the other hand, the idea of a philosophy of culture itself, to look at actual culture and judge it by its rational ought “even where it seems there is none” (p. 33), is neither overly idealistic nor historical, but plainly Kantian. Going back to the transcendental method for Luft is “the key to understanding everything else” (p. 28) in the school of Marburg Neo-Kantianism. Cohen then applies Kant’s analytic method from the Prolegomena to Kant’s own writings in order to establish his interpretation of the Kantian corpus. He could do so legitimately, because Kant himself regarded the synthetic and analytic methods as equal. Luft concludes that Cohen was right to choose freely and hereby, besides already using the reconstructive method that became so important for Natorp, anticipated the idea of a Problemgeschichte that one is rather prone to connect to Wilhelm Windelband, Ernst Cassirer, Nikolai Hartmann, Hans-Georg Gadamer or Hans Blumenberg. This observation, though it is evident to place the idea of a Problemgeschichte within the movement of (Baden and Marburg) Neo-Kantianism, demonstrates brilliantly Luft’s ambition to interlink systematical and historical theses to gain new insights: To interpret a classical author, for Cohen, means “an application to one’s own understanding and one’s own time” (p. 43). As a result, Cohen clearly sees that the Critique of Pure Reason is an expression of the Newtonian worldview[vi] which is why he assumes that philosophy, instead of being metaphysics, has to be a theory of existing scientific knowledge. And because scientific knowledge is the most advanced form of knowledge when it comes to objectivity, science has to be seen as “the peak of all cultural activities” (p. 48). Theorizing aesthetics, morality, history, literature and so on, hence, can only be done scientifically. This clearly shows that Cohen was in no way ignorant of other forms of culture than science and in this bad sense scientistic. Rather he, i.e. Cohen, saw philosophy as “the reconstruction of culture in all its directions from out of this constant factor of science” (p. 60). Although throughout Cohen’s writings the idea of a static apriori had shifted to a genetic one, it is still a strict apriori view on all forms of culture that ultimately leads Luft to dismiss Cohen’s project where it aims at applying the same method to all cultural expressions and becomes “an implausible endeavour” (p. 73). Finally, Luft also rightly points out that another essential key to understanding Neo-Kantianism as a common project of a philosophy of culture is the journal LOGOS. Internationale Zeitschrift für Philosophie der Kultur as it existed between 1910 and 1933 (superseded by Zeitschrift für deutsche Kulturphilosophie and since 1994 again LOGOS). With such figures as Heinrich Rickert and Wilhelm Windelband (Baden School), but also Georg Simmel, Benedetto Croce, Ernst Troeltsch, and Edmund Husserl (to name but a few) already contributing to its first volume, it becomes plainly visible that Neo-Kantianism’s “defining moment” (p. 30) was the problem of contemporary modern culture and the problem of science being only one aspect of it. To conclude: Luft’s general findings here are firstly (1) that the reduction of the Marburg School to a theory of scientific experience is, though widely considered as being a truism, a “serious misreading” (p. 29). Secondly (2), beholding Cassirer’s famous phrase that “the critique of reason becomes the critique of culture”[vii] in the introduction to part one of The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms as stepping out of the Marburg School and distancing oneself from Cohen and Natorp “is egregiously mistaken” (p. 37). Luft convincingly makes the case for seeing Cassirer’s so often quoted words as a hommage to his teachers. Both these demonstrations are a highly original progress in research on Neo-Kantianism and especially on Cassirer.

Seen from the perspective that within Cassirer the Marburg method culminates, the philosophy of Paul Natorp is the necessary link between Cohen’s thought and Cassirer’s. Whilst Marburg Neo-Kantianism had its inception and representation to the outside with Cohen, Natorp was considered to be its “minister of the interior” (p. 78) and to represent the unity of the Marburg School. Luft nonetheless diagnoses what at first glance may appear heretic, but in fact is a rather subtle modification of Cohen’s method by Natorp taking up the inverse path to subjectivity in his writings on psychology. The overall achievement of this chapter on Natorp can be seen in Luft redefining, again, the standard view within the reception of Neo-Kantianism: for one thing the notion that Natorp was completely in line with Cohen and for another thing that Natorp was, as famously alleged by Hans-Georg Gadamer, a “method fanatic” (p. 82). To refute those views, it is first of all important to see that Natorp’s work has “a much more humanistic outlook on culture than Cohen’s” (p. 79) with publishing on the history of philosophy, logic, theory of science, pedagogy, psychology, and politics. Luft then demonstrates how Natorp implicitly criticises Cohen twice (cf. p. 81) by (1) underlining that the basic principle of thinking is relating and to deduce from this that the synthetic unity can only be created by a correlation, as well, by (2) not at all interlinking the transcendental method equally to science and to other forms of culture. From here, Natorp does not at all appear as a “method fanatic”, but rather as a methodological pluralist. Hence, by investigating subjectivity, Natorp does not depart from the Marburg method, but broadens it towards the “life of consciousness” (p. 83). As I will not go into further detail here, I will certainly state that Luft’s presentation of the whole of Natorp’s philosophy is illuminating, rich in detail, and with a special emphasis on Natorp’s last, largely unknown because unpublished, phase where he departs from Neo-Kantianism. Here, Natorp develops a general logic that follows three directions: (1) a theoretic, (2) a practic, and (3) a poietic one (cf. p. 107). It is this third direction of poiesis that Luft will connect to Cassirer’s notion of the symbol. But to make the case for Natorp, it seems worthy to me to further investigate his late philosophy and to connect it to the works of Heidegger and Schelling. This certainly goes far beyond the scope of Luft’s project, but he nonetheless shows his readers important desiderata that have not been addressed up until now.

The chapter on Ernst Cassirer exhibits Luft’s rationale right from the beginning: Besides multiple influences, such as Kant and Leibniz, the “bedrock” of Cassirer’s philosophy “remains the Marburg Method” (p. 119) and despite his innovations Cassirer stays within the movement of Neo-Kantianism. This new route in Cassirer scholarship follows a little and a big agenda (cf. p. 120), whereas the idea just expressed would be the little one and the big one, extending beyond, to demonstrate the nowadays importance of a critique of culture. Luft sees himself confronted with two problems concerning Cassirer: (1) His strength of writing a history of problems supposedly is also his weakness, because being “coolly distant from the subject matter” (p. 120) gives the impression of “hiding behind the authors” (ibid.) having “nothing to say on his own” (ibid.). (2) Along with this comes the reproach that current Cassirer scholarship takes the same path of hiding too much behind Cassirer without connecting the dots to contemporary philosophy. This diagnosis is especially true, because up until recently[viii] the conciliatory power of Cassirer’s thinking has not been of much use to bridging the Analytic-Continental-Divide in philosophy. To offer the contrary, to think with Cassirer beyond Marburg, Luft wants to introduce the idea of a symbolic formation of culture by “three unorthodox inroads” (p. 123): Firstly (1) by a symbolic reading of Natorp’s notion of poiesis, secondly (2) by undercutting Hegel by introducing mythical consciousness as a layer below sense-certainty, and thirdly (3) by reading Cassirer through the writings of Goethe. Whilst (2) and (3) can hardly be presented as unorthodox, but rather as commonplaces in contemporary Cassirer scholarship, there lies a true novelty in presenting the idea of the symbol by the late Natorp’s principle of poiesis. One might object that this unorthodoxy is unmotivated, because Arno Schubbach recently[ix] has delivered a comprehensive study on the genesis of the symbolic that is based on a until recently unpublished manuscript of Cassirer dating back to 1917. Against this, I still would defend Luft’s introduction of the symbolic by (1) as groundbreaking, because the late Natorp is, as said before, almost unknown, but still very important to Cassirer as one could derive easily from the fact that the second volume of The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms is dedicated to Natorp and with Cassirer positively commenting on Natorp’s late unpublished lectures. Now, for Natorp the principle of poiesis is life expressing itself in the form of meaning, poiesis is life or being and logos at the same time. And this view is just in line with one of Cassirer’s most central claims, namely the idea of symbolic pregnance, Cassirer’s claim that the given is already always meaningful. The only aspect that Luft misses out on here is an important shift from Cohen via Natorp through to Cassirer: whilst for Cohen reality is completely defined as law and at no point whatsoever measured from perception, but only from thought (cf. p. 52), the ideas of poiesis and symbol can reconcile life and thought and hence connect the symbolic to perception. For Cassirer too, meaning in scientific theories is largely detached from perceptual states, but the given and its symbolic expression throughout the development of different mythical, linguistic and scientific concept formations takes off at expressive perception where meaning and perceptual presence are at the start widely identical.[x] Leaving this aside, Luft then succeeds in pointing out another crucial drift away from Cohen and from Natorp by asking what status the idea of law has for symbolic forms, concluding that Cassirer will not take interest in the lawfulness of e.g. religious studies when it comes to the symbolic form of religion, but in those studies, viz. their results “themselves” (p. 130). Whereas I disagree with Luft that this leads to the conclusion that Cassirer does not search for unity anymore (cf. p. 131) at all – I would rather say that the concept of symbol is the unity of spirit in a functional manner –, the observation is right that Cassirer breaks with the “scientism” of his teachers and “opens the philosophy of culture to its true material” (p. 132), which leaves the philosopher with facta of culture instead of a factum of science. This extention of the Marburg method finally leads Cassirer beyond Cohen and Natorp to both of which a critique of primitive cultures was unthinkable (cf. p. 136).

The second path to introduce Cassirer’s philosophy of the symbolic through mythical consciousness is the most disputable, because Luft, here, evades entering scholarly literature too deeply, where in my point of view it is required. I will give some examples in the following. Luft beholds myth as being the lowest “rung” of symbolic forms and justifies this with reference to Cassirer’s allusion to Hegel (cf. p. 142) while seeing a “temporal order” (p. 143) at work here. This does not only go against Luft’s own intention to show that there is no hierarchical order whatsoever between symbolic forms, but also conflicts with the observation that especially from a genetic point of view myth and language are rather inseperable. Cassirer states this himself[xi] and scholars, such as Enno Rudolph[xii], even have tried to defend a primacy of language. Despite these difficulties, Luft claims that the primacy of myth is one of few “systematic claims about which Cassirer is unambiguous” (p. 176). Given such controversial interpretations, one might rather expect a deeper discussion within the field of myth. Then, another notion that has troubled me is the qualification of mythical space as a “transcendental illusion” (p. 142), an assumption that comes by great surprise, because one of Cassirer’s essential claims concerning the mythical world view is that it comes with absolutely no contradistinction between reality and illusion whatsoever. Perhaps, from the viewpoint of science, one could retroactively qualify myth as a transcendental illusion, but particularly the reference to Kant’s dialectic did not become clear to me. One last remark is concerning Luft’s classification of myth as “purely impressional” (p. 142) and its comparision to Husserl’s “pure passivity” (ibid.). It is true that Cassirer points out that reality in myth is perceived and experienced as purely overwhelming initially. But an essential part of any symbolic form is its productive character, its “spiritual energy” that leads to a transformation of any sensuous impression to symbolic expression. Luft’s view, hence, that religion is the first expressive force in myth through rites and customs seems problematic. Instead, I would rather propose to characterise early forms of mythical life in comparison to the middle voice in ancient Greek, a mode that is set between being purely active or purely passive. Life in myth, by extension, would rather be a process in which humans are both agents and those affected. This set aside, I want to emphasize that the presentation of Cassirer’s philosophy by the three mentioned inroads is a success. The only disadvantage in my point of view is the deliberate suspension from scholarly literature, e.g. when introducing the concept of myth, for the sake of pushing through the basic rationale and discussing obvious problems not until chapter four (cf. p. 124).

A first conclusion about Luft’s study can be drawn now by introducing the chapter about the metaphilosophical discussions that essentially deal with problems Cassirer has left for his readers. My thesis is that the strength of The Space of Culture is at the same time its weakness. Luft suggests that he has no exegetic interest, but wants to make a case for a theory of culture and “go beyond Cassirer, where neccessary” (p. 187). The problem with that is that Luft gives his readers the impression of having presented a “neutral” version of Cassirer’s philosophy, which is not the case. Against this, I want to insist that a stronger position could be developed by deriving the systematical points from a more careful interpretation, also and especially in order to show their current relevance.

Luft sees the most neuralgic point of Cassirer’s transcendental philosophy of culture in the “question as to an ethics” (p. 187). But to understand and to answer this point with and beyond Cassirer, it is mandatory to give an interpretation of quantity and order of the symbolic forms. Luft’s answer to this will be a position he calls “complementarism”, an attempt which I in the following will prove to be inapplicable to Cassirer’s thought. A first assumption of serious consequences is that Luft, approaching the question of a system of symbolic forms, makes an either-or decision: either the symbolic forms are fixed and completely presented throughout Cassirer’s works or he has presented an open, incomplete system, which would demand further interpretation. One would have to answer why the three volumes of The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms only deal with language, myth, and knowledge and why other symbolic forms, such as technology, art, law, history and so on, are only mentioned peripherally or summarized within Cassirer’s anthropological work An Essay on Man. But Luft, as so many other interpreters, misses out on the possibility of a third way: Cassirer’s magnum opus essentially investigates the functionality of the symbolic that is driven by a dialectics from perception via intuition through to pure thinking. The considered symbolic forms can be seen as ideal-typical instantiations of the three underlying symbolic functions of (1) expression, (2) presentation[xiii], and (3) pure meaning. That would leave us with a completeness of symbolic functions and at the same time the possibility of an open system of symbolic forms. Further symbolic forms, then, would feed on an amalgam and a difference in balance of their underlying symbolic functions.[xiv] But this is, for the moment, not incompatible with Luft’s idea of a “dynamization” (p. 192) of the symbolic forms that regards human civilization in need of constantly creating new symbols in order to express whatever (mental) life itself comes up with. Luft’s view that there simply is no need to determine all possible symbolic forms a priori and that new forms are always possible in principle is systematically and exegetical well-founded. Luft, for this reason, rightly establishes the idea that symbolic forms are “overlapping, intertwined, and interrelated” (p. 196), and in the end only “separate by abstraction” (ibid.).

A central problem now arises by Luft’s answering the question of a possible teleology towards knowledge resp. science. Cassirer clearly states that every single symbolic form has an inward tendency to set its underpinning world view absolute. At the same time, Cassirer suggests that this tendency is only relatively justified, because due to the internal logics of each symbolic form one form cannot be measured by the standards of another. The standards of the natural sciences simply do not apply to understanding the rational core of e.g. myth or religion. On the other hand, one needs to look scientifically (in the sense of the humanities) at the relation of the sciences and other symbolic forms to understand their rationality and their difference (if one would not just want to live a life of a mythical or religious world view). Cassirer supposedly has steered at this point into the quagmire of either defending the superior standpoint of the sciences and hence threatening his idea that every symbolic form has its own right and importance in human mental life, or defending an “initially implausible” relativism[xv] of symbolic forms that would hold that the sciences cannot explain the world better to us than e.g. mythology. This dilemma is further fuelled by Cassirer’s idea that spiritual life follows the telos that all forms of symbolic expression start with the sensuously given, but progress towards its complete liberation and enter the realm of pure thinking. This idea, and this is also important for Luft’s reading, is also connected to Cassirer’s ethico-political stance, as he regards the process of civilization as a “progressive self-liberation” where humans build up “an »ideal« world”[xvi]. Bringing those thoughts together in a coherent way is a topos in Cassirer scholarship long-since and one wonders why Luft sees his standpoint only challenged by Michael Friedman, who indeed is troubled with the compatibility of Cassirer’s “teleology without a concrete telos” and a “relativity of symbolic forms without relativism”. “Complementarism”, thus, should solve this conflict, but what is complementarism? If I understand Luft correctly, it simply is the view that (1) there is neither a true conflict between symbolic forms nor (2) is scientific thinking, philosophically speaking, the highest standpoint to judge and contemplate the symbolic cosmos. Against (1) I have already argued in the beginning of my review: from a transcendental point of view it is not comprehensible how we could at all arrive at the questions formulated here, if symbolic forms would not practically contradict themselves. Luft tries to solve this problem by distiguishing between a view from within the symbolic forms and a view from without (cf. pp. 166-168 & 178), but this strategy already presupposes the philosophical standpoint and does not take into consideradtion the genealogical dimension of Cassirer’s presentation of the symbolic. Luft argues for (2), and this is unparalleled in Cassirer scholarship, by pointing to putative textual evidence that the stage of science eventually will “be overcome by the power of the symbolic itself” (p. 205). Luft wants to show that from the philosopher’s point of view there is a “beyond science” (ibid.) in religion, art, and other dimensions of the symbolic. Complementarism then eventually means that each standpoint is by virtue of its own claim to universality “per se critical of others” (p. 210), hence a form of critique, and that Friedman simply is “conflating” (p. 204) different types of universal validity. The biggest problem with this view is that Luft’s neglect to develop his interpretation as equally exegetical as systematical backfires here: There is no textual evidence whatsoever that possibly would point in the direction that the stage of science will be overcome by the symbolic itself. To prove the hypothesis that science is not an endpoint in Cassirer’s system, Luft quotes Willi Moog’s proposition that is part of one of two reports of a lecture that Casssirer gave in 1927 under the title Das Symbolproblem und seine Stellung im System der Philosophie, which are followed by a discussion between Walther Schmied-Kowarzik and Alois Schardt.[xvii] In the closing remarks, Cassirer clearly states that opposing the symbolic and the rational might be justified from a historical point of view, but could not go more against his intention of finding a unity for the Problemgeschichte of philosophical thinking by the concept of the symbol.[xviii] The “revenge-assumption” (cf. pp. 205 & 235), hence, is an interpretation of Willi Moog that is not in line at all with Cassirer’s thinking. I therefore want to reason that complementarism is neither systematically nor exegetically a coherent position to settle the case between teleology and relativism.

The concluding chapter deals with a summary of the previous chapters and a prospect on the philosophical works of Martin Heidegger and Wilfrid Sellars in contrast to Cassirer’s. Just like his interpretative main rival Michael Friedman, Luft focusses on Davos and the famous debate between Heidegger and Cassirer. Surprisingly, Luft states that “nothing new” (p. 236) can be said about this topic, which might please Friedman but can also leave the reader baffled. Certainly Friedman wrote one of the most important works on the Davos debate, but I would like to indicate another desideratum that has not been investigated properly yet: Luft correctly works out that Heidegger’s reproach of a missing terminus a quo in Cassirer’s philosophy is unfounded (cf. p. 237), because cultural life is created by finite individuals, by exactly what Heidegger calls “Dasein”. But Cassirer actually has more to say about it throughout his anthropological phase, which culminates in An Essay on Man. Now, a true blind spot in Cassirer scholarship is that this anthropological phase already had started when Cassirer and Heidegger met and that the general topic of the Davos University Conferences was nothing less than anthropology. I thus suggest that a lot more can be said about Davos if the question of anthropology would be investigated deeper in this context.

The very last remarks finally deal with the connection between Sellars and Cassirer. Luft argues that “the space of culture is a wider concept that nevertheless integrates Sellars’s idea of the space of reason” (p. 240). As much as I agree with this thesis as somewhat disappointing is Luft’s concession that a proper comparison between their philosophies, particularly when it comes to the notion of myth, “cannot be the task here” (ibid.). Nonetheless, Luft hints precisely at the most challenging problem here: what kind of justification in the sense of the Kantian quid iuris could one give that is not linguistic or non-conceptual? For those who have studied Sellars and his follower John McDowell intensely, it should be obvious that the answer has to be given by a philosophical account of perception –something Cassirer has to say a lot about. Further investigations about those relations are hence demanded.[xix]

In closing, I want to go back to the initial two questions that I had addressed to Luft’s book: does it succeed in justifiying the idea of a philosophy of culture and showing its contemporary relevance? It has become quite clear above that Luft’s main ambition, to prove the homogeneity of a philosophy of culture within Marburg Neo-Kantianism, had been achieved unprecedentedly. Especially showing successfully that Cassirer never stepped out of the Neo-Kantian movement, but rather accomplished a common project is a true advance in Cassirer scholarship. The question for its current relevance should not alone be measured by connecting it to currently fashionable authors like Sellars alone. Surely, one could have expected a deeper comparison just by following the allusive title of the book. On the other hand, Luft has left his readers an enormous amount of worthy desiderata that would give rise to further studies on the path Luft has opened. The Space of Culture certainly is the right direction the “Cassirer renaissance” has to go to successfully revive the project of a transcendental philosophy of culture.


[i] Cf. Endres, T., Favuzzi, P., Klattenhoff, T. (2016). Cassirer, globalized. Über Sinn und Zweck eines Neulesens. In: Endres, T., Favuzzi, P., Klattenhoff, T., ed., Philosophie der Kultur- und Wissensformen. Ernst Cassirer neu lesen, Frankfurt a.M.: Peter Lang, pp. 10-13.

[ii] Cf. Sellars, W. (1963). Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man. London: Routledge, pp. 32-37.

[iii] Cf. Kreis, G. (2010). Cassirer und die Formen des Geistes. Berlin: Suhrkamp, p. 475.

[iv] Luft makes the witty observation that even philosophy itself nowadays is split into “sub-disciplines” (p. 10) in the sense of sub-cultures.

[v] Cassirer, E. (1955). The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. Volume One: Language. New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 81.

[vi] The current relevance of this thesis has once more been shown by Capeillères, F. (2004). Kant philosophe newtonien. Paris: Cerf.

[vii] Cassirer, E. (1955). The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. Volume One: Language. New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 80.

[viii] Cf. among others the forthcoming publication Breyer, T./Niklas, S. (eds.) (2018). Ernst Cassirer in systematischen Beziehungen. Zur kritisch-kommunikativen Bedeutung seiner Kulturphilosophie. Berlin: DeGruyter.

[ix] Cf. Schubbach, A. (2016). Die Genese des Symbolischen. Zu den Anfängen von Ernst Cassirers Symbolphilosophie. Hamburg: Meiner.

[x] Cf. Cassirer, E. (1957). The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. Volume Three: The Phenomenology of Knowledge. New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 73.

[xi] Cf. Cassirer, E. (2006). An Essay on Man. An Introduction to a Philosophy of Human Culture. Hamburg: Meiner, p. 126.

[xii] Cf. http://savoirs.ens.fr/expose.php?id=1021.

[xiii] Here I follow Stephen Lofts proposition of a new translation of “Darstellung” that has become pivotal recently in the anglophone Cassirer scholarship. Nonetheless I want to suggest that this translation comes with difficulties that did not arise with the old translation “representation”. An intermediate translation could be “depiction”. Luft implicitly uses this translation when writing: „the curve represents the mathematical law; it depicts it“ (p. 178).

[xiv] I will argue for this in detail in Endres, T. (2019). Phenomenological Idealism as Method and the Completeness of Cassirer’s Matrix of Symbolic Functions together with its Layers. In: Polok, A./Filieri, L. (eds.): The Method of Culture. Pisa, in preparation.

[xv] Cf. Sellars, W. (1948-49). “Review: Language and Myth. Ernst Cassirer”. In: Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 9, p. 326.

[xvi] Cassirer, E. (2006). An Essay on Man. Hamburg: Meiner, p. 244.

[xvii] This discussion is unfortunately not included in Lofts’/Calgano’s translation of The Problem of the Symbol and Its Place in the System of Philosophy from 2013.

[xviii] Though Moog’s name is not explicitely statet, I read Cassirer’s final remarks as a critique of Moog’s “revenge-assumption”, but leave the final judgement to the readers by just reciting the original text (Cassirer’s words): “Das eine möchte ich jedenfalls hervorheben, daß alle Begrenzungen und Einengungen, wie sie hier im Lauf der Diskussion vorgeschlagen worden sind, nicht geeignet scheinen, das Ganze der Anwendungen des Symbolbegriffs, wie sie sich in den verschiedensten Gebieten des Geistes und der systematischen Philosophie durchgesetzt haben, wirklich zu umspannen. Wenn wir das »Symbolische« dem »Rationalen« entgegensetzen, wenn wir es als Ausdruck dessen nehmen, was der strengen Erkenntnis nicht faßbar und zugänglich ist, so mag dies vom Standpunkt des geschichtlichen Ursprungs des Begriffs gerechtfertigt erscheinen […]. Aber wer es auf diese seine Grund- und Urbedeutung beschränken wollte – der müßte große und weite Gebiete seiner heutigen Anwendung, und zwar die wichtigsten und fruchtbarsten, von ihm abscheiden.” Cf. Cassirer, E. (2004). Aufsätze und kleine Schriften (1927–1931). Hamburg: Meiner, pp. 280-281.

[xix] Meanwhile, Luft has continued investigating this route and hence did not just compare Cassirer’s and John McDowell’s positions, but was also able to establish a link between the philosophies of Cassirer and John Dewey. Cf. Luft, S. (2018). Mind als Geist in der Welt der Kultur. Kulturphilosophie, „Naturalistische” Transzendentalphilosophie und die Frage nach dem Raum der Kultur. In: Breyer, T./Niklas, S. (eds.): Ernst Cassirer in systematischen Beziehungen. Zur kritisch-kommunikativen Bedeutung seiner Kulturphilosophie, Berlin: DeGruyter, pp. 129-149.

Dana S. Belu: Heidegger, Reproductive Technology, & The Motherless Age

Heidegger, Reproductive Technology, & The Motherless Age Book Cover Heidegger, Reproductive Technology, & The Motherless Age
Dana S. Belu
Palgrave Macmillan
2017
E-book $39.99
IX, 137

Reviewed by: Tamara Cashour (The New School, New York City)

Introduction

This book succeeds as a phenomenological project guided securely by Heideggerian principles, in its philosophical assessment of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs), which conspire literally, in the making of mothers.  Belu draws almost exclusively and analogously upon Heidegger’s concepts outlayed in The Question Concerning Technology (most overarchingly:  the principle of Gestell [Enframing]) to fashion a critique of ARTs protocols and practices, which, since their initial inception/acceptance in the last quarter of the 20th century, have achieved globalized integration into the process of bringing a new human into the world.  Although in-vitro fertilization (IVF), the premier ART, was successfully employed to fertilize a human egg in 1944; not until 1977 was an in-corpus pregnancy achieved; it’s outcome was unsuccessful.  A year later in 1978, the famous ‚test-tube‘ baby Louise Joy Brown was conceived via IVF technologies and successfully birthed (Harvard Medical School).  Today, some forty years hence, several variations of ARTs are in common use not only by heterosexual couples experiencing negative fertility, but by same-sex couples, single-mothers or fathers seeking to start a family or add an additional family member, and others who claim a banner along the now-evolved gender identity spectrum.  Belu relates how the original IVF procedure has morphed into ever-more sophisticated technologies and methods designed to assist in the coming to fruition of a live birth, such as cytoplasmic transfer, the use of donor eggs and/or gestational surrogates.  She also makes clear how the latter two protocols function as particularly egregious political economies which implicate younger and older women alike in a market project of conception:  younger women sell their viable eggs, and surrogates of proven child-bearing capacity ’sell‘ the services of their wombs, to those [often older] women or couples who desire a child but who are either infertile, cannot physically carry to term or who simply cannot, or do not, wish to participate in the pregnancy process. The ARTs industry has succeeded in „medical fragmentation“ of a women’s reproductive system into components–eggs, womb, tubes, ovaries and cycles–which are ‚optimized‘ via drugs and various surgical procedures and kept primed in the manner of Heidegger’s standing reserve for use in achieving the desired goal of conception of an embryo.  The reproductive parts no longer need be attached to or within the singular corpus of an intact female body, in fact, more often they are not.  Such mechanistic fracturing destroys women’s bodies as wholistic “autonomous agents” according to Belu (5, 23), and has ushered in what she terms the ‚Motherless Age‘.

The ‚Motherless‘ Age

Belu’s use of the term motherless seems at first blush metaphysical meaninglessness[i]–an ontological dystopia or ontically obtuse ‘teaser’[ii]:  mothers are in fact in existence in our epoch–we do not lack mothers, per se, yet the traditional mother-child biological dyad relationship, which begins at conception and ends with the death of either the mother or child (some would argue against that as well), has experienced a post-modern existential crisis (if late in the game), brought on by the extended, if not ubiquitous, use of ARTs on a worldwide scale.[iii]  Belu’s position sets forth (and ostensibly argues against) the phenomenological logic of ARTs which has encouraged ‚the splitting of the atom‘ in relation to the term mother, historically defined as a secure subject with distinct boundaries and a single physical corporeal existence.  Motherhood is now conceptually plural across an array of subjectivities that all qualify to be defined by, or at least attached to, the term.  It is now possible for a baby born via gestational surrogacy to potentially have four different mothers if cytoplasmic transfer is employed:  two genetic mothers (one who has lent her eggs and the other who lends her cytoplasm) (Belu, 59, fn 80), the gestational mother who bears and births the fetus, and the ’social‘ mother who rears the child (Belu, 45).  In market terms, the first two mothers are the sellers, the third the worker or laborer, and the fourth and final (who is responsible for the child’s care) is the buyer, or consumer.  Conversely, IVF also allows the production of offspring with no living genetic mothers at all–as viable eggs are collected from the ovarian tissue of aborted fetuses, and coaxed into near maturity via hormone stimulants.   Thus a child can now be borne from a ‚mother‘ who was never an actual fully grown person, much less an adult (Belu, 70).  It is the offspring i.e. the child, in this process, who must ultimately face the „motherless“ aspects of his/her birth.   As the situation presents itself, it may even be more appropriate to use the term motherfull; the latter suffix however, conveying a generally positive connotation of maternal agency which Belu clearly argues that ARTs subvert (Belu, 79, 105).

Belu establishes ontological erasure of the ‚mother‘ in the original etymological sense, at virtually every turn, particularly in Chapter 4 wherein she engages and privileges Heidegger’s concept of enframing over Aristotle’s causal concepts of physis and techné, in the argument over whether IVF processes ‚assist‘, or ‚replace‘, natural conception.  Belu does not so much detail the legal ramifications of determining „the spark of life“ (Belu, 61)[iv], but urges phenomenological clarity and currency as it might reroute a prevailing cultural attitude of „complacency“ toward human artificial reproduction.  We shrug off the extent of IVF’s practical ramifications for humanity, because we persist in (along Aristotelian lines), and even dote on, the misunderstanding of the role of technological prowess as a handmaid  to, and not creator of, human life.  This is of course, the „forgetting of the clearing“  (Lichtungvergessenheit) which  Heidegger says chiefly enables the chokehold of  Enframing.  As we do not do what Heidegger urges:  „experience its unthought essence first of all“, or else we broach  it superficially, we cannot see „the extent that the essence of enframing does not appear as the danger, and the essence of the danger does not appear as Beyng [sic]“; which „accounts for our misunderstanding“ [of] above all technology“ (Belu, 12-13, 21, fn. 26).

Citing the wry ‚twist‘ of analogizing Aristotle’s male-active/female-passive principle of nature to IVF procedures within our causa efficiens-hegemonic techno-modernity (Belu, 68), Belu seriously implicates the medical establishment in the authority of their arché position, which allows them to usurp the agency of a natural mother in order to supervise the engineering of life.  Ultimately, in the motherless world, the mother-effect, a term first coined by Kelly Oliver,[v] obliterates both the participation of the ‚real‘ mother and ‚mother nature‘, such representatives of our lingering cultural dedication to biological ownership.  Moreover, these absences are „covered over“ in the persistent need to preserve normativity:  the arché role of the fertility doctor and the techné role of the IVF procedure are minimized as the birthed child is attributed to nature’s grace, or termed something like a miracle „Child of God“.  Belu states:

IVF participants (the women, doctors, and media) can be seen to reproduce the mother-effect, caught up in a play of affirming the significance of technology for conception and gestation, yet   undermining this significance in the final product, calling it (mother)  nature (Belu, 71).

A Feminist Phenomenology of ARTs

In her zeal to establish a feminist phenomenology for ARTS, Belu details various reproductive enframing processes, where human life is engineered from start to finish (challenged forth).  It is still startling to read, in 2017, how, after a woman’s body is shot through with hormones [via extremely painful injections] to spur superovulation (wherein her ovaries will produce up to 10 eggs or more at once) that „the eggs are then sucked out of the woman’s ovaries“ and fertilization is engineered in the Petrie dish.  These procedures reveal the woman’s reproductive body as passive, fungible material, a biological system that is broken up into its component parts of uterus, tubes, eggs, endometrium and hormone cycles that are worked upon by the technités (Belu, 66).

Belu notes as well the striking ambivalence toward women, such as surrogates and/or egg/cytoplasm donors, who have offered up their body and/or its reproductive components to the commercial market toward the end goal of a live birth.[vi] Often, a woman’s psyche is outrightly neglected as it undergoes this process. The woman is treated as a „purely functional“ resource (Belu, 32).  Feenberg terms this autonomization, „the interruption of the reflexivity of technical action, its impact on the user, so that the subject can affect the object of technical production seemingly without being affected in return.“ (Belu, 32).   Heidegger’s concept of fungibility rears its significance in an extremely ugly duality in this situation:  the laboring subject is also the object of technical imposition, yet any mental or physical distress she may encounter in her dual role is downplayed or remains unaddressed by the life-engineers (Belu, 32).

Belu is also keen to cite the lack of medical follow-up studies over the years on certain groups of women who have participated in any part of the IVF process (Belu, 58, fn 66).  She particularly notes the plights of young women egg donors (27) which have not been studied in depth.  Moreover, there is a lack of research on the children who have been borne from these procedures, in terms of issues surrounding their mental and physical health (58, fn 66).

Ultimately, Belu sufficiently establishes patriarchal bias of IVF procedures, particularly when healthy women undergo IVF in the service of men whose sperm are unhealthy or otherwise deficient (Belu, 35), or when cross-fertilization (the use of sperm from many different men in a ‚lottery‘ setup in order to determine which will fertilize a woman’s egg) is employed (Belu, 34).  However, she misses an opportunity to make certain inroads as to how ARTs may functionally chip away at patriarchy; she instead places their use and control firmly in the hands of patriarchy as powerful instrumentum. I will address this issue in depth later in this review.

Chapter Layout

Belu’s introductory chapter states her intent to devise a feminist phenomenology of ARTs and summarizes content of succeeding chapters.  Chapters 2-6 each open with a brief abstract which functions as a sort of a mini-„Heidegger 101“ for the uninitiated.  Belu weaves each chapter’s argument in strong relation to stated Heideggerian terms or tenets, which she evidences have proven themselves as prescient ontological reasoning vis-a-vis ARTs proliferation. The book’s through-line leads from Belu’s attempt to solidify a binarist interpretation of Heidegger’s concept of Enframing as partial or total–which reinterpretation holds serious implications for female agents as they experience reproductive enframing via the IVF process; to an engagement of Heideggerian thought with Aristotelian concepts of physis and technê in determining the authority of IVF procedures to ignite „the spark of life“ (Belu, 61); continuing through technophilic and technophobic representations of modern-age childbirth; and culminating in Belu’s ’solution‘ (to what she perceives are complications and difficulties caused by technical childbirth) via poiésis.  Belu’s  compelling argument and concluding proposal in themselves embody Heidegger’s concept of safeguarding,[vii] the idea that Being (life) is granted as a gift, which we must foster and husband via Heidegger’s suggestions of meditation, waiting, and careful use of artisanal methods, rather than mindless challenging forth via quantization, endless ordering and stockpiling.  ARTs processes, Belu is saying, are often hell-bent on a singular result (conception of Life) while heedlessly disregarding of the suffering of those (mothers) who are used or even abused, to obtain such result.

Belu’s Heideggerian Debt

Acknowledging Heidegger’s The Question Concerning Technology as a key resource,[viii] Belu is quick to note that Heidegger „writes virtually nothing about reproductive technology“ although from his chronological position in history he does foresee processes of „artificial breeding of human material“ (witness his 1954 essay Overcoming Metaphysics). Whether Heidegger’s comment of foresight launched this book (given current ART practices), Belu does not make clear, but the extended analogy of enframing to reproductive enframing holds sway.  Throughout, Belu engages phenomenologically with select other philosophers, both of antiquity (Aristotle, and to a lesser extent, Plato) and modernity (Arendt, Feenburg, Oliver, Marcuse, Ruddick, others).

Couching „Motherless Age“ as a Useful/Critical Resource

Heidegger, Reproductive Technology and the Motherless Age is first and foremost a phenomenological critique of social (medical) practices which have in the 21st-century become institutionalized.  That is to say, ARTS are now viewed as mainstream medical procedures marketed to women of all strata as viable options for live birth, rather than „luxury“ alternatives to natural sex in the service of conceiving a live human.  It is still the case however, that women who enjoy economic freedom and possess excellent health insurance to pay for the still-astronomical cost of these procedures, are most often slated to benefit from the ARTS industry[ix]

As such, this book will most likely not find a table or shelf position in the reading rooms or professional libraries of ARTS medical professionals.  Such industry professionals are essentially selling a service [technological assistance] to produce a product [a live birth], in Belu’s overwhelming view.  Yet some women (including the range of ARTS participant mothers) do not have a problem with this type of economic exchange, and in fact happily undergo these procedures in committed fashion, hoping for a successful outcome.  A major drawback of this book is that Belu virtually ignores the scores of women and men whose lives changed toward the better via the use of ARTS technologies by granting them children–however and by whomever these children were conceived, gestated and borne.  Belu sets up an overarching negative polemic of  Technology (ARTS Doctor) vs. Subject (Patient) at the beginning of her argument; such polemic holds sway until the end of the book.  Additionally, Belu concerns herself neither  with individual case studies reflecting either positive or negative outcomes, nor with applications of ARTS to male-gend. Finally, Belu’s text is also woefully deplete of statistical input; while it does remain primarily a work of critical theory, a chart or two inserted to support her claims–particularly those regarding ARTS damages to the psyches and physical bodies of women–would not hurt.  (In her defense, Belu does state that the industry itself has not undertaken national or international studies that would statistically emphasize the negative aspects of ARTS (Belu 58, fn 66)).  Ultimately, Belu’s phenomenological argument holds many truths, which are corroborated by a number of current texts on this issue which are more sociological and/or statistical in nature, in particular: Reassembling Motherhood:  Procreation and Care in a Globalized World, also published in 2017.

Conclusion:  Interdisciplinary Dialogue/Action is Needed

In conclusion, this text reflects the state of dialogue, conversation and problem-solving among the disciplines in place to move civil society forward:  that is to say, these types of interdisciplinary activities are still in their infancy.   Inter- and trans-disciplinary dialogue between and among medical ARTS professionals, academic philosophers, sociologists and social workers, ethics consultants and economists to improve the conditions and levity for all those across the board who seek to conceive/bear a child could only work for the good of these persons, and ultimately, for the human race.  Unwittingly, Belu’s critical stance points the way forward toward such a dialogue even as her text concludes in what technophiliacs might consider highly Ludditian fashion:  with an accent on waterbirth as an alternative to technologically-ruled live births.  (A water birth assumes there is something to be born, whether technology has assisted in conception/gestation or not).

As we move into an ever-increasing technologically-mediated age for nearly every human activity or thought, a return to Heidegger’s prescient phenomenological warning to humanity is seemingly warranted.  This, Belu accomplishes, with deft reverence to Heideggerian principles.

Epilogue

Dr. Belu ethically provides a short epilogue to her main text, explaining her position on Heidegger’s Black Notebooks (as revealing of his anti-Semitism.) Belu points out, but does not de-crypt, Heidegger’s „equivocation“ (Belu, 122) regarding the ontic or ontological origins of machination. Confirming Heidegger’s conflation of machination and „World Jewry“ (via causality) as „racist and condemnable“ (Belu 122), Belu nevertheless finds that Heidegger’s expression/espousement of a universally-loathed, reprehensible political stance does not specifically deconstruct the actual application of  the phenomenological principle of enframing to a study of ARTS as implicated in women’s reproductive processes (Italics mine).


NOTES

[i] See Michael Wheeler, „Martin Heidegger“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/metaphysics/. Section 5. “Is Metaphysics Possible?”

[ii] Belu explains her quasi-titular use of the term motherless thusly: „I do mean…that in the age of reproductive enframing the figure of the mother is being replaced by various technologies and maternal figures who perform maternal work. In this new context, almost anyone can be seen to be a mother–so that no one is the mother”, 51.

[iii] Linda G. Kahn and Wendy Chavkin, „Assisted Reproductive Technologies and the Biological Bottom Line“ in Reassembling Motherhood:  Procreation and Care in a Globalized World, (New York:  Columbia University Press, 2017), Kindle version,39.  The authors note the sociobiological implications of the proliferation of ARTs use from 1978-2012, during which period „five million babies had been born worldwide using IVF“.  See also Belu,  25.

[iv] Belu offers  an explorative footnote in this regard.  See fn 14, 75.

[v] Kelly Oliver, Technologies of Life and Death:   From Cloning to Capital Punishment  (New York:  Fordham University Press, 2013).  Oliver defines mother-effect as „the result of the absence of a real mother who is therefore mythologized and romanticized as the origin and plentitude of Nature, but whose disappearance is a prerequisite for the myth itself“, 57.

[vi] The one exception to this ambivalent treatment of the female ‚resource‘ is the surrogacy market in India, whose surrogacy clinics take great pains to ensure that their ‚worker‘ mothers (gestational surrogates for wealthy individuals and couples) are „as comfortable as possible, healthy, well feed, well rested, entertained, and well paid”  See Belu, 50; Bailey, 19.

[vii] See Martin Heidegger, Building, Dwelling, Thinking p. 352 in The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt (New York: Harper & Row, 1977) (http://designtheory.fiu.edu/readings/heidegger_bdt.pdf) and Michael Wheeler, „Martin Heidegger“, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Section 3.4, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heidegger/.

[viii] Belu also references, to a lesser extent, material from Heidegger’s earlier essays The Danger, The Turning and Building, Dwelling, Thinking, (as well as Being and Time) the first two of which he drew upon significantly in writing The Question Concerning Technology.

[ix] Reassessing Motherhood notes the lack of agency for women situated in disadvantaged economic strata in terms of their ability to choose ARTS procedures for their own wombs, rather than lending their own wombs to those women who can easily afford to „purchase“ their services. A double standard based on economic capability is firmly in place in which poor women are implicated as „tools“ for economically secure women.  This produces a „double whammy“ for women from underdeveloped countries, who find themselves in the position of „seller“, although this phenomenon is not necessarily a Western/underdeveloped nation problem.  See pp. 185, 224 and 295..

Lester Embree, Michael D. Barber (Eds.): The Golden Age of Phenomenology at the New School for Social Research, 1954–1973

The Golden Age of Phenomenology at the New School for Social Research, 1954–1973 Book Cover The Golden Age of Phenomenology at the New School for Social Research, 1954–1973
Series in Continental Thought, Vol. 50
Lester Embree, Michael D. Barber (Eds.)
Ohio University Press
2017
Hardcover $110.00
412

Reviewed by: Justin Humphreys (The University of Pennsylvania)

In his Vienna Lecture of 1935, Edmund Husserl argues that the emergence of philosophy from the surrounding world of the Greeks marks the primal phenomenon of Spiritual Europe, which puts in place the ideal of science as the infinite task of reason. Modern science’s objectification and mathematization of the world at once satisfies this teleological demand of reason and endangers it. For the replacement of the rational, thinking subject with a naturalistic psychology threatens to make senseless the teleology of Europe. Europe’s historic project thus falls into a weariness of spirit, in which faith in reason is lost, and European humanity is brought to a crisis in which irrationalism seems to be the final step of its rational development.

Phenomenology, which begins with Brentano’s discovery of an actual method for grasping the activity of consciousness in constituting the meaning of its objects, plays a fundamental role in the resolution of this paradox. Purified and systematized in Husserl’s own transcendental phenomenology, this method suspends all commitment to objective-naturalistic explanation, and thus offers itself as an absolutely self-sufficient science of spiritual intentionalities. The resultant reorientation of science, in which the role of the constituting intellect can be radically clarified, allows the rationality of the task of knowledge to be regained. Though European rationalism has nearly burnt itself out, constitutive phenomenology offers a new spiritualization of reason, in which Europe’s mission for humanity may rise up like a phoenix from the ashes.[i]

For Husserl, the European identity of phenomenology was not to be understood in terms of geographical or ethnic boundaries but rather in spiritual terms, as the infinite demand of reason. Nevertheless, it is only because of the antecedent constitution of a European spiritual sphere that the peculiar methods and aims of phenomenology have a meaning and motivation. Though phenomenological investigation can be undertaken by non-Europeans, as phenomenologists, these investigators become “Europeanized” in taking up the European spiritual project. The possibility of phenomenological investigation is therefore bound up, at least for Husserl, with the spiritual crisis and progress of Europe. But is phenomenology essentially European, so that descriptive science has meaning only within a living tradition of rational inquiry? In that case, the universalizing tendency of the European scientific interest would rightfully be considered as the endogenous force driving phenomenological investigation. Or, alternatively, is phenomenology only accidentally European, so that reflective analysis as a method of philosophizing was merely codified in the German university but is in principle amenable to non-European interests? If that were so, the particular content of a phenomenological analysis might be given exogenously by a surrounding world that is not essentially European. The historical examination of the phenomenological movement in North America has the potential to clarify how these two seemingly heterogenous pictures of phenomenology – one of the expansion of a European cultural sphere to new lands and persons, the other of the absorption of way of seeing that is enjoyed by diverse subjects who bring their own interests and concerns to the enterprise – can be reconciled.

Lester Embree and Michael D. Barber’s new volume, The Golden Age of Phenomenology at the New School for Social Research, 1954–1973 makes the plausible point that development of North American phenomenology depended on the New School for Social Research as a site of transference between two distinct surrounding worlds, the pre-war European university and the post-war American mass culture. The introduction, one of Embree’s final works before his death last year, presents a periodization of American phenomenology in which the New School mediates between the world of the German university and the post-Husserlian global phenomenological movement (2-11). According to Embree, the first stage of American phenomenology, beginning before the outbreak of World War I, and ending with Husserl’s death in 1938, was characterized by a few individual students of philosophy – notably the Harvard students Marvin Farber and Dorion Cairns – introducing Husserl’s “new” (post-1900) thought to the United States. The second, New School stage, marked the creation of a philosophy department in which phenomenology was both a topic of research, especially in the work of the “New School Three” – Alfred Schutz, Aron Gurwitsch, and Cairns – and a central pedagogical concern, educating a generation of American phenomenologists, who are represented in this volume. The later stages, in which American phenomenology turned toward existentialism, then to embodiment, and was ultimately absorbed into so-called “Continental” philosophy are, by Embree’s lights, a bastardization of the constitutive phenomenology that began with Husserl. Whereas constitutive phenomenology was concerned largely with Wissenschaftslehre, the theory of the natural and cultural sciences, these later stages are presented as falling away from the Golden Age tradition, increasingly focusing on merely “anthropological” concerns (5). The absorption of phenomenology into “Continental” philosophy, the introduction suggests, threatens to replace the original conception of phenomenology as a project of grounding universal and rational knowledge with personalistic questions about finitude and embodiment. Interestingly, Embree claims that it was he who coined the term “Continental philosophy” in 1978, a designation about which he later became “at least ambivalent.” According to Embree, “Continental philosophy” is like NATO, a mere political alliance of conflicted parties, who are united only in their shared opposition to analytical philosophy (11). In any case, if his periodization is correct, the stage considered in this book marks an important moment of unity in American phenomenology, between the individualistic pursuits of Husserl’s first American students, and the diversity of the post-constitutive phenomenological movement.

The remainder of the introduction provides an admirable discussion of the centrality of the New School in introducing phenomenological approaches not only in philosophy but also in the social sciences, a role that has been unwittingly downplayed in previous histories (18-32). If Embree is right, it seems that the book proposes to investigate an important site of transference between European constitutive phenomenology and post-war American intellectual culture. One hopes, then, for an intensive historical study of American phenomenology that would render valuable insight into phenomenology’s “dual citizenship,” on the one hand as a European descriptive science, and on the other hand as a global philosophical movement. However, in my view, the book does not offer such insight, since it fails to present a philosophically unified picture of phenomenology as it was practiced during the Golden Age, and of the American phenomenological movement that stemmed from that allegedly fertile soil. This failure is due to the fact that both the interests and methods of phenomenological investigations presented in the book are largely unrelated to one another. As a result, the book reads more like a compilation of phenomenologists and their projects than as a unified treatment of the period in question.

The book is split into two sections, the first on the teachers of phenomenology at the New School during the Golden Age, the second on students who graduated from the program under their tutelage. Both sections follow roughly the same format, consisting of a memoir concerning the individual’s time at the New School (or, if the person was deceased at the time of writing, a short biographical section) and a study by that individual.

The first part, on teachers, focuses on six figures – Schutz, Cairns, Marx, Gurwitsch, Mohanty, and Seebohm. Michael Barber’s description of Schutz at the New School is mainly an epitome of certain sections of his biography of Schutz. Though it contains a number of interesting anecdotes about the period – such as Schutz’s quip that he deserved a sabbatical “every sixtieth year” and Leo Strauss’s dismissal of Schutz as a “philosophically sophisticated sociologist,” it tells little about how the peculiar environment of the New School affected Schutz’s already-formed intellectual outlook. This is followed by a masterful essay in which Barber addresses the question of how a phenomenologically informed theory of social science, which stresses the constitution in consciousness of the objects of inquiry, can allow for unintended consequences of actions, such as are required in “invisible hand” explanations in economics. Drawing on Schutz’s work on Goethe, Barber argues convincingly that the Schutzian should regard the spontaneous orders cited in such explanations as not being “brutely there” in the world of economic action but rather as “correlates of the conscious activity of the economist” (50). Far from insisting that unintended consequences not consciously grasped by the individual actors who cause them are covertly in the minds of those actors, Schutz can attribute the spontaneous orders cited in social scientific explanations to the conscious activity of the theorist. The essay by Schutz that follows, a critique of positivism in the social sciences, relates to Barber’s essay insofar as it postulates that the objects of social science – which presumably include those spontaneous orders of concern to Barber – are “constructs of the second degree,” that is, outcomes of the selective activity of the theorist who observes agents acting in their shared social world (65-66).

Embree’s summary of Cairns’ involvement with phenomenology contains some interesting excerpts from unpublished works, especially concerning the latter’s studies in Freiburg in the 1920s. In one anecdote, attending professor Husserl’s office hours, the enthusiastic young American defends the thesis that, strictly speaking, only “perspective appearances” can be seen. Gazing at a box of matches he is holding and turning it in his hand for some time, the professor finally and rather loudly responds, “Ich sehe den Streichholzschachtel.” In four words, Husserl demolishes the theory of sense-data so popular at the time, while Cairns is “startled into recognition of the obvious” (82). However, the following essay, composed in the late 1930s or early 1940s, in which Carins critiques Nazism as a form of “epidemic” irrationalism (97-98), seems unrelated. As interesting as his analysis may be, especially in light of Husserl’s own critique of European irrationalism discussed at the outset of this review, this essay seems to have no bearing at all on phenomenology as it was practiced at the New School over a decade later. Though we have been told that New School phenomenology is to be understood as a continuation of the Husserlian theory of science, that concern seems to be absent from this essay.

The chapter on Werner Marx is arguably even less helpful for understanding the New School stage of phenomenology. Despite Thomas Nenon’s able summary of Marx’s career, the essay included, which intends to reinvigorate Hegel’s notion of the “necessity of philosophy” for the realization of a pluralistic society, seems to have little to do with phenomenology. True – it ends with opposed characterizations of traditional, Aristotelian ontology as fundamentally theological and thus as leading to a teleological conception of philosophy, and the phenomenological conception of Lebenswelt (120-122). But Marx’s reflections are not themselves phenomenological in any recognizable sense. Moreover, the date of the essay is never given, and one wonders what bearing, if any, his views might have had on the development of American phenomenology.

The chapters on Gurwitsch, Mohanty, and Seebohm are also unmotivated, given the stated purpose of the volume. Zaner’s discussion of Gurwsitch at the New School is, I suppose, interesting enough. But it does not even mention of his adoption of William James – after Gurwitsch’s emigration to the United States – as a seminal, proto-phenomenological figure. This is a shame, because Gurwitsch’s essay on the object of thought is arguably even more influenced by James than by Husserl or Gestalt psychology (see e.g.134-138). Again, though there is much to be said about Gurwitsch’s Jamesian understanding of the object of thought, the entire topic is out of place here: the essay was composed in 1946, long before his tenure at the New School, and has already been reprinted in a widely available edition of Gurwitsch’s essays.[ii] The sections on Mohanty and Seebohm also have little to do with the period in question. Mohanty (150) reports, in his somewhat telegraphic memoir, that he arrived at the New School not long before Gurwitsch’s death in 1973, and no essay by Mohanty is included in the volume. Seebohm taught at the New School from 1980 to 1982 and his essay, on the human sciences, was apparently composed in 2004. Though Seebohm was by all accounts a kind colleague and considerate teacher, he was absent during the Golden Age. One wonders whether he should have been included in the volume at all.

Though it is possible that such anachronistic inclusions might still contribute to our understanding of what made the New School stage of American phenomenology distinctive, one finds nothing in the book itself to justify such a view. The fact that the figures included attended conferences, offered courses, and gave talks on a variety of issues and figures, does not by itself offer any insight into American phenomenology, except by suggesting that the movement (if there was one) was thoroughly integrated into the routines of American academic life. Judging by these diverse contributions, it seems that the teachers at the New School were unified neither in their method nor in their doctrine but were simply rather successful merchants in the post-war American marketplace of ideas.

The second part concerns the students during the Golden Age and has roughly the same format, though I will focus primarily on the essays. The chapter on Maurice Natanson is quite short, consisting of a description of the mentor-student relationship between Schutz and Natanson, and a summary of Natanson’s existential phenomenological work on literature, both by Barber. This misses the opportunity to include unpublished work by Natanson or some of the Schutz-Natanson correspondence, which is cited here but never discussed in detail.

The chapter on Thomas Luckmann is more substantial, including both a memoir and a 1972 essay, the main claim of which is that language could never be exhaustively explained by empirical science, since the presuppositions of the empirical sciences present philosophical problems that must be resolved within language (201). What follows is a somewhat technical but certainly rewarding account of the polythetic constitution of the experience of a speaking other in the face-to-face situation (208). Here, Luckmann’s view seems to be that in linguistic communication, I directly experience an individual “like me,” due to an automatic polythetic constitution of his experience in my own stream of consciousness. In the face-to-face situation, my own stream of consciousness and his stream of consciousness are therefore experienced as “synchronized” durations, though his experience might become thematic for me, when he uses a certain form of expression that keys into a relevance structure that is part of my stock of knowledge at hand.

The chapter on Helmut Wagner consists of two short and encomiastic (we hear, for example, of Wagner’s “selfless desire to bring phenomenology to sociology,” 218) pieces by George Psathas, which nevertheless present Wagner’s fundamental contribution as “synthesizing” the work of Schutz (225). In the course of this treatment, we are told that Wagner left an unfinished philosophical anthropology of the life world (226). An excerpt from this work would have undoubtedly added value to the volume, by showing how Wagner came to understand a fundamental phenomenological idea late in his life. Instead, the reader is offered nothing by Wagner himself.

Fred Kersten’s essay, the longest in the collection, is an extended meditation on the connection between imagination and fiction. Beginning with the work of David Hume and Sir William Hamilton, the essay distinguishes depictive, feigning, and presentative functions of the imagination (232-240). A phenomenological clarification of these aspects of imagining allows one to understand the double sense of imagination as an intentionality that makes present non-presentive objects and as a feigning intentionality (243-244). The essay then turns to a discussion of the epistemology of fiction, focusing on Natanson’s concept of the “disjunctive convergence” of the worlds of imagination and reality. In the activity of reading a novel, for example, one can attend to the feigned world of the fiction only by suspending the real world, in which one nevertheless continues to read. The disjunction between the world of fiction and that of reality thus depends on a convergence between them, which itself is an achievement of feigning consciousness of the reader (256-257). The upshot of this line of thought is the claim that the world disclosed in a work of fiction is autonomous but feigned, such that I can take responsibility for it, but never enter into it, as I do the actual world of everyday life (263).

Richard M. Zaner’s essay focuses on the connection between cognition and embodiment in two cases of “locked-in syndrome,” in which a patient’s mind is left intact while his body is almost completely paralyzed. In the first case, after suffering a massive stroke, M. Bauby is able to perceive normally but unable to control any part of his bodily “husk,” except for his left eyelid (282-283). Zaner focuses on Bauby’s increasing dissociation from the world and resultant sense of grief. This at once shows the close connection between Bauby’s sense of personal identity as being dependent on his embodiment, but also problematizes the connection between mind and body, since his sense of loss is due to his awareness of the increasing separation of his “living” mind from his “dead” body. In the fictional second case, after being bombed in the trenches of World War I, a soldier called Joe is rendered blind, deaf, and dumb, but nevertheless retains the ability to feel touch and to move his head. Long unable to express that he is conscious, Joe’s rhythmic head-tapping is finally recognized as Morse code by a nurse, who responds by tracing letters on his chest that spell out “Merry Christmas” (283-285). Zaner’s concern in this case is to describe the act by which Joe finds himself recognized as a subject. The discussion here turns to Schutz’s contention that the experience of social reality is founded on a second-personal attitude, in which I posit another subject “like me” (290). Though Zaner’s argument is somewhat obscured by a block quote of uncertain origin, in which Max Scheler’s work is compared to that of Schutz (290-291), its central claim is that Schutz’s conception of the second-personal attitude was not wrong but one-sided. Though Schutz was correct in saying that I understand myself as a self by orienting myself to the other, he ignored how the other becomes attuned to me as another self (296). Thus, Joe’s self-recognition is constituted in part by the nurse’s recognition that within his husk of a body, there is a conscious subject, capable of thinking and communication. The upshot is that the theory of intersubjectivity must accommodate not just Schutz’s point that one is oriented in the social world by one’s recognition of other subjects, but also the more radical view that this orientation depends on one’s willingness and ability to be treated as other, the special target of second-personal attitudes.

The following section by Embree continues his criticism in the introduction of American phenomenology’s turn toward scholarship. For Embree, the elevation of scholarship at the expense of investigation, which he calls the “philologization” of phenomenology, is the most important and most deleterious effect of the recent absorption of phenomenology into “Continental” philosophy (12). According to this view, the “Continentalization” of phenomenology runs directly counter to the original intentions, not only of Husserl but also of the New School phenomenologists, who extended the research program of constitutive phenomenology to domains never imagined by Husserl, not through scholarship on texts but by what Gurwitsch called “advancing the problems.” Embree continues this critique of the present focus on scholarship in his memoir, claiming that primary research in phenomenology consists of investigation, that is, in the reflective analysis of a certain domain, with scholarship only serving the secondary purpose of clarifying concepts used in such investigations (306-307). Accordingly, Embree’s essay provides a reflective analysis of valuation, focusing especially on the distinction between the noesis of valuing and the noema of the thing-as-valued. Though this descriptive account is undoubtedly of some interest, the finest feature of this chapter is how it exhibits the work of reflective analysis to the reader. Embree’s introductory methodological comments (312-315) are delivered in plain language, such that they could be read by someone with minimal prior exposure to phenomenological texts. Likewise, the analysis itself offers a compelling way into the question of how valuing intentionality is related to willing, believing, and experiencing. This section is perhaps best understood as an invitation to the reader to engage such in reflective analysis, and thus to practice phenomenology itself.

Jorge García-Gómez’s chapter, on Julián Marías’s interpretation of José Ortega y Gasset’s notion of belief, focuses on an interesting distinction between a “true” or genuine belief, and a belief that is true (326-333). The distinction is worth making because, it seems, the possibility of beliefs being true depends in part on the possibility that human beings can authentically undertake responsibilities for our beliefs about the world. This section would have benefitted from the addition of introductory paragraphs connecting it to broader philosophical concerns of commitment and epistemic normativity. However, it appears to be an excerpt from a longer work, in which its role is surely more perspicuous.

Giuseppina C. Moneta’s “notes on the origin of the historical in the phenomenology of perception” is a kind of reflective analysis of historical perception. Following Piranesi, who would “let the ruins speak” to him, this essay takes the ruins of the Roman Emperor Hadrian’s Villa Adriana, located at the outskirts of Rome, as its theme (340). According to the view developed by Moneta in the course of this investigation, historical “seeing” is constituted by a complex interplay of the complementary but not fully integrated appearing and non-appearing aspects of a built environment (343). Though her analysis is suggestive, it would have been strengthened by more description, both of the architectural site itself and of the constitution of that site as meaningful, instead of relying as it does on quotes from the great men of phenomenology, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty.

Osborne Wiggins’s essay argues that Natanson is to be understood as a philosopher of freedom, for whom existential experience marks a break from the typified, social world (364). This essay is very convincing and clarifies at least one respect in which constitutive and existential phenomenology are complementary rather than dissonant. However, it would have fit much better into the section on Natanson, in which his existential turn is one of the central issues.

William McKenna’s final chapter argues that the adoption of a concept of relative truth would help experts in conflict resolution bring opposed parties to “agree to disagree” (378). McKenna’s essay is thus mostly concerned to spell out a concept of “lifeworld truth” that avoids the consequence of “subjective idealism” but allows for multiple, correct interpretations of a single reality, through a reactivation of Husserl’s concept of evidence (381-382). According to McKenna, the same statement (such as “these mountains are holy”) may be true for one cultural group while being neither true nor false for another group, since the qualities necessary for reaching such a judgment are simply not available in the latter’s lifeworld (384). This is an interesting proposal but is a peculiar interpretation of Husserl’s notion of evidence. Surely Husserl’s conception of evidence was intended to clarify the foundation of the sciences, rather than to relativize the concept of truth. Though it is plausible that it could be put to other uses, it seems that this would require further argument than is given here.

The book ends there, without a conclusion, leaving at least this reader confused. What is this volume is meant to do? Is it primarily an historical work about phenomenology as it was practiced at the New School for Social Research from 1954 to 1973? If so, it fails to shed light on what phenomenological investigation looked like during that period: hardly any of the essays are from the era in question, and most of them are not reflective analyses. Is it a collection of thematic essays illustrating a particular style of phenomenology? In that case, how are the essays connected with one another? The broad collection of topics – economics, value, architecture, and truth, inter alia – ensures that whatever else may be at stake, no single theme ties them together. Or is the book an encomium, publicly honoring a generation of American phenomenologists? In that case, we should expect essays on a wide variety of topics, written as continuations of the work of Golden Age phenomenologists. Yet even here, the book provides few uniting features either methodologically or in terms of the figures cited. Though it focuses almost exclusively on Western European writers, the figures mentioned are so diverse in attitude and interest, it is hard to detect any unifying purpose in their work. What has Hume to do with Piranesi, or Hegel with Ortega y Gasset? The absence of any suggestion of an answer within the book leads one to the conclusion that, although nearly all the essays are of interest individually, some offering masterful treatments of difficult topics, there is apparently no inner logic to the book itself.

The promise of the book, to elucidate a Golden Age in American phenomenology, is a noble one. In failing to deliver on it, the book both misses the opportunity to shed light on an allegedly important moment in the history of phenomenology and shirks the task of clarifying the relation between the descriptive attitude of phenomenological analysis, the authority of phenomenology as a science, and its status as the product of a European spiritual sphere. Consequently, the reader is not put in a place to reconcile the two competing images, one of the world phenomenological movement as the expansion of European culture beyond its continental limits, the other of the absorption of a way of seeing by diverse practitioners who bring their own interests and concerns to the enterprise. Is it possible that the various anecdotes about and citations of the teachers at the New School do not cover over some more basic problem with the book’s conceptualization of American phenomenology? The nostalgia of the volume makes one wonder whether the Golden Age itself, rather than being a real movement or distinctive era in phenomenology, is nothing more than the myth of a more innocent and progressive post-war America. Perhaps what the New School phenomenologists offered as gold and diamonds, turned out to be no more than copper and glass.


[i] Carr, D. [Ed.] 1970. Edmund Husserl: The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 276, 298-299.

[ii] Gurwitsch, A. 1966. Studies in Phenomenology and Psychology. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Rafael Winkler (Ed.): Phenomenology and Naturalism

Phenomenology and Naturalism Book Cover Phenomenology and Naturalism
Rafael Winkler (Ed.)
Routledge
2017
Hardback £115.00
152

Reviewed by: Andrei Simionescu-Panait (Romanian Society for Phenomenology)

Phenomenology and Naturalism is a collection of original philosophical essays dealing with the complicated relationship between various strands of naturalism and Husserlian-oriented phenomenology. These essays were delivered in their inceptive form at the 2014 Johannesburg conference on the same topic. There are two types of texts here. One analyzes the relation between phenomenology and naturalistic positions. Some defend phenomenology. Texts by Dan Zahavi, David Papineau, David Cerbone and Jack Reynolds fit this description. The rest showcase some philosopher’s hidden phenomenologies or focus on correlated topics. Benedict Smith, John Sallis, Paul Patton and Bernhard Weiss fit this bill.

The volume is edited by Raphael Winkler. He introduces readers to a contemporary frame dominated by two opposing forces. On the one side, there are Anglo-American philosophers that justify the concept of nature with mathematical instruments, or by importing results from physics and biology. The main characteristics are precision and a broad focus on thinghood. On the other side, there are European philosophers that build on materialism and phenomenology. Their arguments rely on nuance and depth. The tension between these two philosophical orientations competing towards a new and innovative concept of nature takes the limelight in Phenomenology and Naturalism.

Dan Zahavi’s essay opens this volume with a defense of phenomenology against speculative realism. This direction has recently gained popularity and has attacked Husserlian phenomenology in various ways. Zahavi takes a stand in this context and shows that the problem in naturalizing phenomenology arises from naturalism’s commitment to some form of metaphysical realism. These philosophies support the idea that consciousness is a mere object in the world. Speculative realism enters the scene as the latest supporter of this idea. Graham Harman, Quentin Meillassoux, Ray Brassier and Tom Sparrow all reject the Kantian Revolution and its correlationism; they all reject the idea that subjectivity and objectivity cannot be understood apart from each other. Harman wants to bypass Kantianism by proposing equality in all relations. For him, consciousness must not be prioritized. Meillassoux attacks Kantianism from a different angle: he thinks the scientific statements are not taken at face value (Meillassoux 2008, 17) and correlationism is to blame for this. If they would, then the mathematical sciences will again have enough of a commanding appearance to describe the in itself and touch on what Meillassoux calls the ancestral. Another speculative realist—Brassier—stands at the nihilistic opposite of what Meillassoux hopes to find. Unlike an interest for the thing in itself, Brassier proposes the concept of extinction. “Philosophy is neither a medium of affirmation nor a source of justification, but rather the organon of extinction.” (Brassier 2007, 239) Last, Sparrow rejects Kantianism and phenomenology because they never delivered what they promised, namely “a wholehearted endorsement of realism.” (Sparrow 2014, xi)

Dan Zahavi identifies three main issues in what speculative realists try to argue. First, he considers that their account of phenomenology is superficial. Classical texts in phenomenology are highly misinterpreted by speculative realists. Zahavi then shows how philosophers such as Merleau-Ponty or Husserl hold views that are opposite to or different from what speculative realists think they are. Last, speculative realists lack novelty (p. 19). All encountered criticism was already raised in the last century by philosophers arriving from the analytic tradition, by empirical researchers or even by other phenomenologists. Zahavi’s text leaves us to wonder whether speculative realism is now able to deliver a counter-criticism or not.

David Papineau shifts focus on representationalism. He argues against the idea that sensory experience is representational and proposes his own phenomenological version of representationalism. He identifies two motivations for representationalism—cognitive science and phenomenologically inspired introspection—and claims that these two are often interconnected in representationalist writers. He is interested in focusing only on the second motivation because he explicitly takes the first for granted.

Papineau first argues that the concept of representation is broad. Representational broadness occurs when two intrinsically identical subjects have corresponding mental states with different representational contents (p. 41). On the one hand, intrinsic aspects of subjectivity are rigidly connected to mental states. On the other hand, both subjectivity and mental states are loosely connected to representational contents. Because of having a dual appearance of precision and flexibility, representation-driven arguments can be used for both sides of the story: similar individuals can view the world in the same way (same mental states and similar representations), or they can view the world in a different way (same mental states and different representations). Papineau admits that this is problematic because representation ends up as either an overdefined or an underdefined concept.

Then Papineau proposes his own version of representationalism. He forwards an analogy between typographical properties of a text and its representational content: the former are contingent to the latter. In a similar fashion, consciousness is related to representational content. The benefit of such a move, Papineau says, is that it eliminates the broadness problem. On the other hand, his phenomenologically-inspired representationalist account separates properties as part of experience from thing properties. For instance, it separates perceived redness from redness in itself. Papineau’s account almost becomes a case of phenomenological realism akin to those of the first wave of Husserl pupils from the Logical Investigations era. Unlike Husserl, Papineau denies that sensory experiences are intentional (p. 57). Papineau ends his paper with a discussion on whether his non-relationist account is worth pursuing against the double background of representationalist arguments and intuitions about consciousness.

Cerbone argues that the opposition between phenomenology and Quinean naturalism is not obvious, because naturalism’s rejection of transcendental philosophy places naturalism in a similar position. Cerbone calls this position an exile. Such an exile is prompted by the phenomenological reduction because it places the phenomenologist in a position that transcends results offered by the natural sciences. This exile is facilitated by Husserl’s distinction between phenomena and objects, between what is immanent to consciousness and what is foreign to it (p. 86). It is a transcendental exile. This contrasts with the Quinean “exile from within” that characterizes naturalized epistemology. Against Husserl, naturalized epistemology denies that fundamental epistemological questions are outside natural attitude. On the contrary, they lie at the heart of evident facts. When attempting to explain visual perception, a naturalized epistemologist would most likely make use of scientific data and try to build up a picture of how some processes work, despite those processes transcending experiential evidence (e.g. I do not see photons as such). Cerbone criticizes this position by saying that, if there are no specific data to be taken into account, the distinction between true and false belief would collapse. Such an epistemology would thus fail to explain how knowledge is possible in general.

Cerbone concludes his article with an exposition of his alternative that aims to create a phenomenology without epistemology. He relies on Merleau-Ponty. Both Quine and Husserl are committed to the idea of objective thought; both philosophers are engaged in a reconstructive effort and both are aware of two directions, explaining the subjective with objective instruments and vice versa. Merleau-Ponty rejects this design and insists that reality must be described, not constructed. Phenomenologists should not pretend they discover a constituting power within the depths of consciousness (p. 93). The focus on description would allow the phenomenologist, on Merleau-Ponty’s account, to avoid exile and remain in the homeland of thoughts, the human world.

Reynolds writes about the compatibility between a minimal phenomenology and the ontology in naturalism. His account of a minimal phenomenology is not compatible with scientific naturalism. Reynolds’ first claim is that transcendental phenomenology’s autonomy regarding the natural sciences is insufficiently justified. His second claim is that a neutral scientific method discarding the first-person perspective is also an insufficiently justified idea. Reynolds hopes to find a middle solution between these two problems. He admits this is hard to achieve because Husserl’s principle of principles, which states that every intuition is a legitimate source of cognition, flies in the face of empirical science and its way of investigating nature. The separation between transcendental phenomenology and science prohibits the former to be able to learn from the latter. A sort of quarantine (an exile) is self-imposed by rigorous phenomenology. Reynolds reminds us that even Zahavi and Gallagher, who generally work towards a truce between phenomenology and science, will proceed and distinguish between transcendental phenomenology and phenomenological psychology. The first will remain intact, Husserlian, proper; the latter will safely mingle with naturalism. Reynolds thinks otherwise.

He devises a three-pronged argument: the first is historical and appeals to authority, the second deconstructs the phenomenological quarantine, and the third shows the downsides of the present separation. Merleau-Ponty’s idea that the phenomenological reduction is by definition incomplete opens Reynolds’ main move: to deconstruct the purity of method that phenomenology promotes. He asks himself whether phenomenology can accept itself without its presuppositionless character. He argues that phenomenology should appreciate the ground that the natural attitude provides for phenomenological endeavors. Then, Reynolds says that transcendental arguments use a category of first-person experiences, such as shame, to spell out the conditions for that category to arise altogether. But if pathological cases deny the original phenomenological account, then the phenomenologist should be prepared to revise. Transcendental phenomenology does not benefit from resting on itself only. Reynolds thus proposes a minimal phenomenology that abandons the transcendental self-sufficiency (p. 118). This minimal phenomenology appears to be compatible with a liberal naturalism. It rejects scientific naturalism but respects the findings and methods of science. Such a compromise on sides highlight that phenomenology and naturalism actually need each other (p. 125).

Zahavi, Papineau, Cerbone and Reynolds have defended or adapted phenomenology in relation to naturalism. The other four texts proceed differently. They unearth phenomenological ideas from well-known philosophers. Or, they use some of the concepts pertaining to the phenomenology vs. naturalism debate for proving something else.

Benedict Smith shows that Hume’s concept of science of man is closer to phenomenology than it is to naturalism. Hume’s interpersonal aspect of experience is a fundamental and irreducible element of his science of man. Smith argues that the interpersonal concept can be linked to the Husserlian concept of intersubjectivity. Hume further claims that he can rely on the only solid ground he has: experience. Therefore, Hume’s aspiration is not to formulate a disenchanted version of the world, as if he were a metaphysician whose worldview is conclusive. Instead, he looks for essences in interpersonal experience.

In the second part of the chapter, Smith illustrates Todes’ reading of Hume. Todes thinks that Hume is a disembodied visualist philosopher when thinking about human experience, because he dissects experience into instances. Smith defends the phenomenological Hume by saying that Todes primarily views Hume as a skeptic who has metaphysical aspirations. This appears to be a straw man for Smith. Let’s have an example. Phenomenologists usually criticize metaphysicians by default. Todes takes himself to be a phenomenologist. Therefore, Todes criticizes a metaphysical Hume he forges with his own reading. This strategy is shared by Smith. Nevertheless, Smith works in opposition to Todes. Smith’s overall position promotes a David Hume without metaphysical commitments and defends a study of human nature that relies on a continuous input from human experience.

Patton’s text explores the reasons why Deleuze’s philosophy is incompatible with scientific naturalism. He focuses on Deleuze’s concept of pure event and shows that it is more inclined to work in a more pluralist –so to say, a more philosophical—naturalistic frame. Patton traces Deleuze’s position all the way back to Lucretius’ philosophy and to Epicurean naturalism. Their main trait, according to Deleuze and his Nietzschean reading, is to banish negativity from investigations pertaining to Nature and grasp the affirmation that dwells at its heart (Deleuze 1990, 279). This idea is reflected in Deleuze’s pragmatic conception about what philosophy is: the invention of concepts. The concept of doing is more important to Deleuze that the concept of givenness. Yet, philosophy is a special kind of doing. While science produces mathematical or propositional functions, philosophy deals with the production of concepts. Both are affirmative, yet they take different paths of affirmation: the role of concepts is to describe pure, non-empirical events. Deleuze’s position, Patton claims, is reinforced by the concept of pure event which relies on the distinction between being and becoming. Philosophy, in Deleuze’s signature naturalism, is conceived as a process, a becoming, rather than substance or being. As process, philosophy should address pure events that are either finished or envisioned and conceptualize their core meaning. This idea paves the way for Deleuze’s naturalist ethics. Action should be coherent with the succession of events that leads to it. The will to coherent action takes form as the philosophical activity of concept production. Patton’s conclusion suggests that Deleuze’s conception about philosophy is complementary to science.

John Sallis reviews the most important philosophers that have supported the call of returning to nature. He begins with Chrysippus’ idea that choice should be exercised in accordance with nature. This includes the choice of seeing nature as an end and not only as a means. This idea infiltrates Rousseau’s project about the original nature of man: the state of nature. Rousseau promotes the return to nature because this return enriches any theoretical description of the initial conditions that led to human civilization. Rousseau’s project is genealogical. Kant’s transcendental project, on the other hand, is concerned with the conditions that lie in the cognizing subject. Kant’s own return to nature, Sallis explains, takes the form of contemplating the beauty of natural things and provokes an attunement to moral feelings. The Kantian return to nature is not methodological or epistemological, but related to moral subjectivity. Thoreau fully embraces this connection between nature and morality and underlines its existential character. He supports the idea that one should practice a life surrounded by nature because the confrontation with nature is the primary way of knowing oneself. Nietzsche expands on this by promoting the concept of life-affirming values. The most important sensibility a human can develop is a sensibility for nature. The will to power is a will to harvest one’s own inclination towards nature. Sallis’ text ultimately suggests that the philosophical problem about the concept of nature transcends the phenomenology-naturalism debate.

Weiss’ text is connected to the book’s topic because of using the concept of representation. He starts by distinguishing between two facets of belief. Belief is a reaction to evidence; but beliefs represent the world. One facet is directed from the world to the subject. The other proceeds in reverse. The former is called the Threshold view, while the latter the Representational view. They are opposites. Weiss argues for the Representationalist view because it defuses what Weiss refers to as the Preface Paradox. The Preface Paradox is that even though a person has a set of beliefs, not all facts can be believed to the same of degree of intensity and still maintain Logical Coherence. In light of this, the advantage of Representationalism over Thresholdism is that Representationalism endorses Logical Coherence, while Thresholdism does not. The Thresholdist resolves the Paradox by saying that it depends on the threshold of beliefs that is taken into consideration, so the paradox does not necessarily appear. Weiss criticizes this position by saying that levels of credence shaped by thresholds are too broad. The introduction of levels of credence does not develop any visible relation to coherence. Thus, any level of coherence can claim to be coherent by default. Thresholdists can always argue that coherence exists because of threshold’s design. Weiss argues for the existence of three ways to deal with the Paradox without becoming a Thresholdist: (1) is to find fault in the inferential steps that lead to the paradox, (2) is to absolve the subject from committing to one of the sentences that leads to the paradox and (3) is to accept a paradoxical appearance of an otherwise plausible situation. Weiss goes for (3). He supports Representationalism via Logical Coherence by thinking that the Preface Paradox is not actually a Paradox from the viewpoint of its relation to Coherence.

The volume is an important step for the discussion about adapting phenomenology to naturalism, or vice-versa. It joins another Phenomenology and Naturalism (2013) volume that was edited by Havi Carel and Darian Meacham. The book should be of interest to anyone who studies embodiment, the philosophical aspects of empirical science, but also to phenomenologists and epistemologists. The book’s strongest point arrives from the novelty its texts bring; the weakest, a partially disparate character. The volume now provokes discussions about the irreconcilable relation between Husserlian phenomenology and scientific naturalism. The problem in bringing transcendental philosophy and empiricism together does not appear to have a convincing resolution in some compromise-driven middle ground between the two.

Bibliography:

Brassier, R. (2007). Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction, Palgrave Macmillan.

Deleuze, G. (1990). The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester and Charles Stivale, (ed.) Constantin Boundas, New York: Columbia University Press.

Harman, G. (2005). Guerilla Metaphysics: phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things, Chicago: Open Court.

Meillassoux, Q. (2008). After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, London: Continuum.

Sparrow, T. (2014). The End of Phenomenology: Metaphysics and the New Realism, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Saulius Geniusas (Ed.): Stretching the Limits of Productive Imagination: Studies in Kantianism, Phenomenology and Hermeneutics

Stretching the Limits of Productive Imagination: Studies in Kantianism, Phenomenology and Hermeneutics Book Cover Stretching the Limits of Productive Imagination: Studies in Kantianism, Phenomenology and Hermeneutics
Social Imaginaries
Saulius Geniusas (Ed.)
Rowman & Littlefield International
2018
Paperback £24.95
272

Reviewed by: Roger W. H. Savage (University of California)

In his introduction to this timely volume, Saulius Geniusas underscores the diverse ways in which the essays collected in this book address the concept of the productive imagination. By asking what this concept entails, Geniusas outlines the reach of the contributors’ various investigations into the history of this concept, the role of productive imagination in social and political life, and the various forms that it takes. Geniusas astutely points out that the meaning and significance of the productive imagination cannot be confined to the philosophical framework or frameworks in which it was conceived. Moreover, as Geniusas and several contributors points out, the power that Kant identified with the art of intuiting a unity of manifold sensible impressions was for Kant secreted away in the soul. As the faculty of synthesis, the workings of the productive imagination prove to be elusive, as the essays in this volume attest. While Kant was not the first philosopher to employ the concept of productive imagination (Geniusas explains that Wolff and Baumgarten had taken up this concept in their work), the central philosophical importance he accorded it vests the concept of the productive imagination with its transcendental significance. In his introduction, Geniusas accordingly provides an instructive summary of Kant’s conceptualization of the productive imagination in the Critique of Pure Reason and in the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment.

Kant’s treatment of the productive imagination in the Critique of Pure Reason and the Critique of Aesthetic Judgment is the staging ground for post-Kantian engagements. Geniusas remarks that the transcendental function Kant identifies with imagination in the first Critique leads him to draw a distinction between the productive imagination as an empirical faculty and the imagination as the a priori condition for producing schemata of sensible concepts. Geniusas’s review of the role of the schema provides the reader with an introduction to Kant’s philosophical enterprise. According to Geniusas, Kant “identifies productive imagination as the power than enables consciousness to subsume intuition under the concept the understanding” (ix) by engendering schemata of substance or of a cause, for example. From this standpoint, experience is possible due to this act of subsumption. Hence, one could “qualify productive imagination as the power that shapes the field of phenomenality” (ix).

Conversely, the account Kant provides in the third Critique places the accent on the productive imagination’s creative function. Whereas in the first Critique the power of imagination is operative in subsuming an intuitive manifold under the categorical structure of a universal, in the third Critique the direction of subsumption is reversed. Hence, in aesthetic judgment the power of imagination is operative in the way that the individual case summons its rule.[1] Conceptualizing the “experience of beauty as a feeling of pleasure that arises due to imagination’s capacity to display the harmonious interplay between reason and sensibility” (ix), as Kant does on Geniusas’ account, underscores the difference between determinative and reflective judgment. Geniusas here identifies the productive imagination’s conceptualization with its medial function within the framework of Kant’s philosophy. Furthermore, this medial function is at once both reconciliatory and procreative. By generating the schemata that provide images for concepts as in the first Critique, or by creating symbols that harmonize sensible appearances and the understanding as in the third Critique, the productive imagination “reconciles the antagonisms between different faculties by rendering the intuitive manifold fit for experience” (ix). Geniusas can therefore say that for Kant, the productive imagination acquires its transcendental significance by reason of the fact that this faculty of synthesis is the condition for the possibility of all phenomenal experience.

The several difficulties and drawbacks of Kant’s conception of the productive imagination that Geniusas subsequently identifies sets the tone for several of the chapters in this book. First, the concept of productive imagination as Kant employs it “appears [to be] too thin” (x) to accommodate post-Kantian philosophies in which the productive imagination figures. Second, one could object that Kant’s use of the term “productive imagination” in his various writings, including the first and third Critiques, differs in significant ways. Third, most post-Kantian thinkeoers, Geniusas emphasizes, do not subscribe to the ostensible dualisms of sensibility and understanding, phenomena and noumena, nature and freedom, and theoretical and practical reason that pervade Kant’s philosophical system. Post-Kantian philosophies, Geniusas therefore stresses, seek to capitalize on the productive imagination’s constitutive function while purifying it of its reconciliatory one. As such, the volume’s success in engaging with the Kantian concept of productive imagination while attending to this concept’s history in relation to the different philosophical frameworks in which it figures rests in part on the ways in which the contributing authors situate their analyses in relation to the broader themes set out in the editor’s introduction.

Günter Zöller’s study of the transcendental function of the productive imagination in Kant’s philosophy highlights the parallel treatment of reason and the understanding with regard to the imagination’s schematizing power. Charged with bridging the gap between sensibility and the understanding, the faculty of imagination assumes this transcendental function in order to account for the production of images that constitute cognitive counterparts to the sensible manifold of a priori pure intuitions. Zöller explains that as the source of these images, transcendental schemata provide the generative rules for placing particular intuitive manifolds under the appropriate concepts. As such, these transcendental schemata evince the extraordinary power of the productive imagination. The imagination’s medial role vis-à-vis sensibility and reason is no less extraordinary. Zöller subsequently emphasizes that Kant introduces the term “symbol” in order to differentiate between “a schema, as constitutively correlated with a category of the understanding, and its counterpart, essentially linked to an idea of reason” (13). Zöller concludes by remarking on the analogical significance of the natural order for the moral order in Kant’s practical philosophy. On Zöller’s account, a twin symbolism either “informed by the mechanism constitute of modern natures sciences … [or] shaped by the organicism of [the then] contemporary emerging biology” (16) thus give rise to different conceptions of political life in which normative distinctions between rival forms of governance take hold.

By emphasizing the formative-generative role of the imagination as Wilhelm Dilthey conceives it, Eric S. Nelson situates Dilthey’s revision of Kant’s critical paradigm in the broader context of Dilthey’s “postmetaphysical reconstruction” (26) of it. For Nelson, “Dilthey’s reliance on and elucidation of dynamic structural wholes of relations that constitute a nexus (Zusammenhang) is both a transformation of and an alternative to classical transcendental philosophy and philosophical idealism that relies on constitution through the subject” (26). Reconceived as historically emergent, structurally integral wholes, transcendental conditions that for Kant were given a priori are eschewed in favor of the primacy of experience conditioned by the relational nexuses of these dynamically emergent wholes. Since it “operates within an intersubjective nexus rather than produce it from out of itself” (28), the imagination is productive in that it generates images, types, and forms of experience that can be re-created in the process of understanding. Nelson here cites Dilthey: “all understanding involves a re-creation in my psyche …. [that is to be located] in an imaginative process (cited 32-33). According to Nelson, for Dilthey the imagination’s formative-generative role plays a seminal part in enacting a historically situated reason and in orienting the feeling of life rooted in specific socio-historical conditions and contexts. While Dilthey rejected aestheticism, poetry and art for him are nevertheless “closest to and most expressive of the self-presentation of life in its texture, fulness, and complexity” (38). Aesthetics consequently provides an exemplary model with regard to the human sciences’ “systematic study of historical expressions of life” (Dilthey, cited 39).

Claudio Majolino’s examination of the phenomenological turn reprises significant moments of the history of the concept of the productive imagination. Starting with Christian Wolf’s definitions of the facultas imaginandi and the facultas fingendi, Majolino follows the course of different philosophical accounts of the imagination’s productive character. Unlike Wolff’s definition, which stresses the imagination’s power to feign objects that in the case of phantasms have never been seen, Kant on Majolino’s account replaces the “idea of ‘producing perceptions of sensible absent things’ … with that of ‘intuiting even without the presence of the object’” (50). Kant’s insistence on the productive imagination’s a priori synthetic power consequently opens the door to a Heideggerian strand of phenomenology. According to Majolino, the productive imagination manifests its solidarity with the main issue of ontology as the source of the upwelling of truth. The stress Paul Ricoeur places on metaphor’s redescription of the real in light of a heuristic fiction and on fiction’s power to project a world that is unique to the work accentuates the productive imagination’s ontological significance and force in this regard. Ricoeur accordingly illustrates the “first ‘hermeneutical’ way in which PI [productive imagination] turns into a full-fledged phenomenological concept” (61). For Majolino, Husserl’s account of Kant’s concept of productive imagination opens a second way to phenomenology, which following this other path describes the eidetic features of a form of phantasy consciousness that in the case of poetic fictions are free of cognitive constraints. Majolino consequently asks whether the “eidetic possibility of the end of the world” (73), which he credits to the originality of free fantasies that in Husserl’s view mobilize emotions, offers a more fecund alternative to the course inaugurated by Heidegger.

Like Majolino, Quingjie James Wang credits Heidegger with singling out the productive imagination’s original ontological significance. According to Wang, Heidegger identifies two competing theses within Kant’s system: the “duality thesis,” for which the senses and the understanding are the two sources of cognition, and the “triad thesis,” for which an intuitive manifold, this manifold’s synthesis, and this synthesis’s unity are the conditions of possibility of all experience. For this latter thesis, the transcendental schema, which for Kant is the “medium of al synthetic judgments” (Kant, cited 83), constitutes the third term. On Wang’s account, Heidegger endorses the triad thesis by interpreting Kant’s concept of the transcendental power of imitation in terms of a “transcendental schematism, that is, as schematization of pure concepts within a transcendental horizon of temporality” (87). This transcendental schematism precedes, phenomenologically speaking, psychologists’ and anthropologists’ conception of the imagination’s power. Wang remarks that for Heidegger, the transcendental power of imagination is the existential and ontological root from which existence, life, as well as the phenomena amenable to phenomenological inquiry proceed. Wang accordingly concludes by stressing that for Heidegger, the “originality of the pure synthesis, i.e., its letting-spring-forth” (Heidegger, cited 88) reveals itself as the root of the imagination’s transcendental power.

Saulius Geniusas’s engagement with Miki Kiyoshi’s philosophy brings a transcultural dimension to this volume. Miki’s philosophy, Geniusas stresses, is one of productive imagination. Moreover, “[b]y kōsōryoku, Miki understands a power more original than reason, which is constitutive of the sociocultural world” (92). On this view, the productive imagination shapes our world-understanding through generating collective representations, symbols, and forms. Miki’s phenomenology, Geniusas accordingly explains, is Hegelian and Husserlian. Furthermore, for Miki, “imagination can only be understood within the standpoint of action” (94). Hence, only from this standpoint can one thematize the productive imagination’s transformative power. Contra Ricoeur, whose goal, Geniusas maintains, is to develop a typology of forms of the productive imagination, Miki aims to “ground productive imagination in the basic experience from which productive imagination as such arises” (96). According to Miki, the logic of action, which is equivalent to the logic of imagination, is rooted in group psychology. Geniusas remarks that Miki’s insistence that the logic of imagination differs from the logic of the intellect is difficult to understand. Accordingly, Geniusas’s account of the way that collective representations, symbols, and forms both shape our understandings and experiences and refashion the given order of existence ties the logic of productive imagination to the real’s formation, reformation, and transformation. For Geniusas, a “philosophy that grants primacy to imagination over reason and sensibility provides a viable alternative to rationalism and empiricism and a much more compelling account of the Japanese … 1940s than any rationalist or empiricist position could ever generate” (104-105). For such a philosophy, the notion that imagination plays a seminal role in the constitution of historical, socio-cultural worlds would seem to open the door to a further consideration of the nexus of reason and imagination vis-à-vis the initiatives historical actors take in response to the exigencies and demands of the situations in which they find themselves.

In order to attend to everyday experiences, Kathleen Lennon adopts the idea that imagination is operative in images that give shape and form to the world. By rejecting the concept derived from Hume that images are faint copies of sensory perceptions, she espouses a broader conception that she initially relates to Kant. Similar to several other authors in this volume, she remarks how Kant credits the synthesis of a manifold apprehended in a single intuition to the productive imagination. As such, she identifies the work of the productive imagination with the activity of schematizing this synthetic operation. Lennon stresses the relation between schema and image by citing Kant: “imagination has to bring the manifold of intuition in the form of an image” (115). From this standpoint, the activity of “seeing as,” which she points out has been emphasized by several writers including P. F. Strawson and Ludwig Wittgenstein, draws its force from the way that the image schematizes the unity drawn from a manifold of sensations. At the same time, for her, the “picture of a noumenal subject confronting a noumenal world” (118) in Kant’s second Critique haunts his account of the imagination. Unlike Kant, who Lennon maintains tied both reproductive and productive imagination to perception, Jean-Paul Sartre bifurcates perception and imagination. According to Lennon, on this account the act of imagining for Sartre evinces the ground of our freedom through negating the real. In contrast, Maurice Merleau-Ponty “introduces the terms visible and invisible” (120) in place of the distinctions drawn by Sartre between presence and absence, being and nothingness, and the imaginary and the real. Rather than impose a conceptual form on intuited matter, Lennon says that for Merleau-Ponty the synthesizing activity of the imagination is the “taking up or grasping of shape in the world we encounter” (123) as it emerges in relation to our bodies. Lennon rightly maintains that feelings are felt on things as they manifest themselves to us.[2] For her, that both Sartre and Merleau-Ponty view the “imaginary as providing us with the affective depth of the experienced world” (125) is therefore constitutive of the ways that we respond to it.

The subversive power that Annabelle Dufourcq attributes to the field of the imaginary for her calls into question the pattern of the world based on a synthetic activity “concealed in the depth of the human soul” (Kant, cited 129). In her view, both Gaston Bachelard and Merleau-Ponty recognize the imaginary’s capacity both to distort the real and to render it in striking ways. Dufourcq accordingly searches out the ontological roots of the productive imagination in order to understand how, in contrast to the “arbitrary activity of a subjective faculty called my imagination” (130), the being of things makes images and fantasies possible. Following Husserl, who she maintains “rejects the idea that imagination is first and foremost a human faculty” (131), she adopts the notion that fantasies provide a more accurate model for thinking about images than do pictures. Unlike perceptions, in the case of fantasy, an imaginary world competes with the real in a way that it might even be said to supplant it. Hence for Dufourcq, reality itself become problematic in light of fantasy’s power to unseat the set of significations adumbrated within a limited perceptual field. Her assertation that “Cezanne’s paintings are integral part of the reality of the Mount Santie-Victorie [as] Merleau-Ponty claims in Eye and Mind” (136) resonates with Ricoeur’s claim that works iconically augment the real.[3] Unlike Ricoeur, for whom the real’s mimetic refiguration of the real brings about an increase in being, Dufourcq maintains that Being lies “in the echo of itself. …. [as] the shimmering that … gives birth to beings” (138). How, she therefore asks, can an ontology of the imaginary escape the nihilism born from the belief that there is no reality beyond the imagery of its representation. In response to the question: “[H]ow can one know what the right action is?” (140), the ethics she espouses assigns a profound meaning to any “symbolic” action the value of which ostensibly will be recognized later by those who follow after.

Kwok-ying Lau’s defense of Sartre ostensibly offers a response to Ricoeur’s critique of the representative illusion and by extension of Ricoeur’s theory of mimesis. For Lau, as a writer of fiction, Sartre could hardly have been ignorant of the imagination’s productive power. Hence according to Lau, for Sartre the creative imagination’s essential condition consists in its capacity to produce the irreality of an image posited as the “nonexistence of an object” (152) presentified by it. Conceived as “nothingness,” the irreality of the imagined object is for Sartre an ontological category won through the imagination’s nihilating act. By insisting that fiction for Ricoeur is ontic, Lau overlooks Ricoeur’s insight into how a work’s mimetic refiguration of the real brings about an increase in being. Following Sartre, Lau instead insists that the production of image-fictions takes place in “a void, a nowhere” (153) outside or beyond the real without the need to refer to any existent things. The act of “irrealizing” the real is undoubtedly attributable to the productive imagination’s subversive force. Yet, one could ask whether by giving a “phenomenological and ontological explication of the absolute status of consciousness, whose freedom allows it to express and operate as … the constitutive origin of the world of reality” (153), Sartre in Lau’s reading of him supplants the model of the image-picture and the attendant metaphysics of presence with an aestheticizing idealization of the “[m]imesis of the imaginary” (159) that preserves intact the Platonic theory of imitation while seemingly reversing its direction.

The relation between reason and imagination figures prominently in Suzi Adams’s reflections on Cornelius Castoriadas’s theory of the radical imaginary. Adams stresses that for Castoriadas, the “radical imaginary is a dimension of society” (163). Like Merleau-Ponty, Castoriadas regards phenomenology as a means of interrogating the interplay between history, social formations, and creative impulse that, as the “‘other’ of reason in modernity” (167), unsettles philosophy. At the same time, unlike Merleau-Ponty, Castoriadas embraces the radicality of the social imaginary as instituting the particular set of significations that constitute the real. Adams emphasizes that for Castoriadas, the real is irreducible to functionalist determinations, since any functionalist approach to society “already presupposes the activity of the imaginary element” (171). Accordingly, Castoriadas sets out a tripartite structure in which functional, symbolic, and imaginary aspects of social institutions operate together. Overturning the long-received distinction between the imaginary and the real in this way brings to the fore the radical imaginary’s significance vis-à-vis the networks of symbolic significations that constitute reality for a particular society. For Castoriadas, “the imaginary institution of the real” (176) thus takes shape as a “new form created by the socio-historical out of nothing” (177)—that is, as a creatio ex nihilo that is irreducible to any prior antecedents. Adams remarks the Castoriadas’s turn to ontology and his “radicalization of creation to ex nihilo meant that he could no longer account for the world relation of ‘the meaning of meaning’” (161). From this standpoint, Castoriadas’s contribution to our understanding of the social imaginary opens an avenue for exploring the relation between the productive imagination, the rational, and the real.

Richard Kearney’s attention to the difference between phenomenological accounts that regard imagination as a special mode of vision and Paul Ricoeur’s turn to language underscores the ineluctable role of imagination in the production of meaning. Most philosophies of imagination, Kearney remarks, have failed to develop a hermeneutical account of the creation of meaning in language. Ricoeur’s tensive theory of metaphor redresses this failure by highlighting how a new meaning is drawn from the literal ruins of an initial semantic impertinence. The semantic innovation that in the case of metaphor leads to seeing a peace process as on the ropes, for example, owes its power to disclose aspects of reality that were previously hidden to the power of imagination. Kearney accordingly stresses that imagination is operative in the “act of responding to a demand for new meaning” (190) through suspending ordinary references in order to reveal new ways of inhering in the world. Kearney subsequently sets out Ricoeur’s treatments of the symbolic, oneiric, poetic, and utopian modalities of the imagination. The power of the imagination to open the “theater of one’s liberty, as a horizon of hope” (189) bears out the specifically human capacity to surpass the real from within. Kearney points out that “without the backward look a culture is deprived of its memory, without the forward look it is deprived of its dreams” (202). The dialectical rapprochement between imagination and reason made possible by a critical hermeneutics is thus a further staging ground for a philosophical reflection on the imagination’s operative role in the response to the demand for meaning, reason, and truth.

The two chapters that conclude this volume explore how the concept of productive imagination might apply to nonlinguistic thought and imaginary kinesthetic experiences. By claiming that scenic phantasma (which he equates with “social imaginary”) play out fantasies concerning complex social problems, Dieter Lohmar ostensibly extends the role played by the imagination to regions in which the symbolism at work subtends or supersedes language-based thinking. On Lohamr’s view, scenic phantasma draw their force from nonlinguistic systems of symbolic representations that he maintains are operative in human experience. At the same time, the narrative elements that he insists inhere in scenic phantasma vest the “series of scenic images” (207) that he likens to short and condensed video clips with an evaluative texture. According to Lohmar, “it is nearly impossible to represent the high complexity of social situations by means of language alone” (208). For him, the recourse to scenic phantasma offers a nonlinguistic alternative for representing these complex situations in an intuitive way. Weaving series of scenic representations together into a “kind of ‘story’” (209) redresses the apparently insurmountable problem of conceptualizing adequately real-life situations and calculating accurately the probabilities of possible outcomes. Scenic presentations of one’s attitudes and behavior in response to a personal or social problem or crisis thus supposedly provides a more reliable basis for judging the situation and making a decision as to how to act than linguistically mediated accounts of events. Lohmar insists that “[o]nly in the currency of feeling are we able to ‘calculate’” (212) possible outcomes through appraising competing factors in order to arrive at a decision. For him, this “‘calculation’ in the emotional dimension” (210) thus provides a greater surety with regard to one’s motives and convictions than propositional abstractions.

The theory of kinesthetic imagination that Gediminas Karoblis advances extends the concept of productive imagination to the corporeal reality of bodily movement. According to Karoblis, Ricoeur voids the corporeal moment of kinesthetic movement by ridding the imagination of the spell of the body in order to account for the productive imagination’s transformative power.[4] In Karoblis’s view, Ricoeur insistence on fiction’s capacity to place the real in suspense accords with the idea that the “kinesthetic sphere in principle pulls us back to reality” (232). Similar to Lohmar, Karoblis sets kinesthetic phantasy against the linguistic domain. For him, contemporary virtual and augmented realities are as much phantasy worlds as are the worlds projected by narrative fictions. Kinesthetic phantasy, he therefore maintains, involves a phantasy body that is “positively imagined as free” (234) as, for example, in the case of flying. According to Lohmar, positing bodily movement as quasi-movement, as though the act of flying was physically enacted, fulfills the “necessary requirement of the irreality and the freedom applicable to any imagination’ (233). We might wonder whether a future in which kinesthetic experiences manipulated by designers of fully immersive computer games will be one that supplants fiction’s mimetic refiguration of the practical field of our everyday experiences. Conversely, the kinesthetic imagination’s role in figuring nonnarrative dance, for example, evinces its productive force through revealing the grace and power of bodies in motion.

The essays in this volume thus not only explore the enigmas and challenges posed by Kant’s conceptualization of the productive imagination, but they also broaden the scope of inquiries into the imagination’s operative role in various dimensions of our experiences. The sundry directions taken by post-Kantian critiques and appropriations of the concept of productive imagination is a testament both to this concept’s fecundity and to its continuing currency in contemporary philosophical thought. Furthermore, the degree to which the authors in this volume draw upon, and in some ways are inspired by, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, Castoriadas, and Ricoeur bear out the extent to which the work of these authors adds to, and augments, the history of this concept. We should therefore also recognize how, in these essays, philosophical imagination is at work. For, every question, difficulty, or challenge calling for an innovative response sets the imagination to work. Genius, Kant maintains, “is the talent … that gives the rule to art.”[5] Correlatively, he insists that the products of genius must be exemplary. Phronesis, which according to Aristotle is a virtue that cannot be taught, has a corollary analogue in the power by reason of which of social and historical agents intervene in the course of the world’s affairs. The essays collected in this volume are indicative of the productive imagination’s ineluctable significance. As such, this volume broadens the scope of philosophical deliberations on the often highly-contested terrain of a concept the operative value of which is seemingly beyond dispute.


[1] See Paul Ricoeur, The Just, trans. David Pellauer (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2000). Ricoeur explains that by allowing for a “split within the idea of subsumption” (95), Kant reverses the direction of a determinative judgment, which consists in placing the particular case under a universal. Consequently, in aesthetic judgment, the individual case expresses the rule by exemplifying it.

[2] See Paul Ricoeur, Fallible Man, trans. Charles A. Kelbley (New York: Fordham University Press, 1986). Ricoeur emphasizes that is definitely intentional, in that a feeling is always a feeling of “something.” At the same time, feeling’s strange intentionality inheres in the way that the one hand, feeling “designates qualities felt on things, on persons, on the world, and on the other hand [it] manifests and reveals the way in which the self is inwardly affected” (84).

[3] Paul Ricoeur, A Ricoeur Reader: Reflection and Imagination, ed. Mario J. Valdés (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), 130-133; Paul Ricoeur, François Azouvi, and Marc de Launay, Critique and Conviction: Conversations with François Azouvi and Marc de Launay, trans. Kathleen Blamey (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 179.

[4] Cf. Paul Ricoeur, Freedom and Nature: The Voluntary and the Involuntary, trans. Erazim V. Kohák (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1966).

[5] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. Werner S. Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1987), 174.

Marklen E. Konurbaev: Ontology and Phenomenology of Speech: An Existential Theory of Speech

Ontology and Phenomenology of Speech: An Existential Theory of Speech Book Cover Ontology and Phenomenology of Speech: An Existential Theory of Speech
Marklen E. Konurbaev
Palgrave Macmillan
2018
Hardback 96,29 €
XX, 234

Reviewed by: Michael S. Dauber (St. John’s University School of Law)

Introduction

Marklen E. Konurbaev’s new book, Ontology and Phenomenology of Speech: An Existential Theory of Speech provides a rich phenomenological account of speech in its varied forms. The book not only focuses on the phenomenology of the speech act itself, but addresses what it is like to hear, read, compose, process, understand, and respond to speech. This review will provide a summary of Konurbaev’s account and rhetorical style. The first section provides a general overview of Konurbaev’s overall account. The second section addresses the phenomenology of creating (i.e. composing and performing) speech. The third section examines the phenomenology of receiving (i.e. hearing or reading) speech, including the mental processes we perform to internalize and understand speech. In the fourth section, I examine Konurbaev’s rhetorical style, both in terms of the structure and elements of his argument and with regard to the material he chooses not to include in his book. This section also proposes a brief critique of Konurbaev’s account and methodology, although the main substance of his account is strong and will remain unchallenged in this article. While portions of the book pay special attention to specific parts of speech (i.e. different kinds of terms and the relationships between them), I will primarily focus on Konurbaev’s account of speech as a phenomenon as we encounter it in speaking, listening, and reading.

I. A Brief Overview of Konurbaev’s Account

Before fully exploring Konurbaev’s book, it is crucial to define the scope of his account and the terms with which he explores speech. Konurbaev speaks often of “life” (ihya) and “awakening.” He is primarily interested in the ways in which speech prompts us to create vivid visual representations in our minds and prompts us to engage with the world and individuals around. “Life,” then, does not refer to anything biological, although it certainly depends on a biological organism to produce it. Rather, Konurbaev uses “life” to refer to the living, changing mental concepts and representations in our minds when hearing, creating, performing, or understanding speech. He writes that “’Life’ … is a phenomenon that is largely dependent on the speech agent’s ability to build in his or her mind a dynamic, evolving and balanced reflection of interrelated objects caused by the act of linguistic communication…” (Marklen E. Konurbaev, Ontology and Phenomenology of Speech: An Existential Theory of Speech, 5)[1]. “Awakening” is the process by which speech stimulates this mental life, the process by which the listener builds “a dynamic, evolving and balanced reflection” of the life in the speaker’s mind.

Two other concepts are vital to understanding Konurbaev’s account: foregrounding and backgrounding. Foregrounding essentially consists of the concepts at the focus of our attention, the material with which we are primarily concerned, while backgrounding consists of the concepts, emotions, and other material through which we interpret and analyze the concepts in the foreground. Konurbaev writes:

In the highly changing world of speech perception where the weight and value of every linguistic element in speech may change several times, the mental vision of life strongly depends on the ‘ratio’ of the span between the currently prominent elements and those that remain in the dark, in the perspective. As we move on during speech comprehension, this proportion should certainly change. But the twilight area, or the proportion of the positive and negative prominence should always remain stable. If it does not, the representation of the reality becomes ‘lopsided’ in a sense that the element that was bright and perceptually strong a page or a minute ago cannot possibly retain this condition in the new linguistic circumstances. This variation of phenomenological objects in speech gives them the volume that is so necessary for their natural human perception. (63-64)

Decoding speech thus requires balance between the “prominent elements” (the terms and concepts that are the focus of the message) and the background concepts and perspectives through which the message is interpreted.

With these concepts in mind, the central claim of his book is that “every act of communication should be a phenomenological act in a sense that it causes the experience of life awakening in the minds of readers or listeners. A phenomenon then is neither the sun when it rises, or the moon when it appears, or the stars scattered in heaven, or the clouds after the rain—but the dynamic mental representation of the reality caused by the act of speech” (x). Konurbaev is primarily interested in the first-person experience of life awakening and of interacting with speech phenomena. Readers should thus not be surprised when they primarily encounter examples from literature or personal anecdotes from the author rather than hard biological material. I return to this point in section IV.

How best to summarize Konurbaev’s account? The clearest explanation is that Konurbaev sees speech as a dynamic process in which we internalize and integrate information and concepts as part of our mental life; when we wish to stimulate life awakening in others, we engage in a process of searching and composing the proper terms to recreate our own mental life in the mind of the person receiving our speech, responding to the visual and verbal cues they provide to alter our speech accordingly. We receive a speaker’s words and construct tentative mental representations of their ideas, transforming those images as more information becomes available. When speaking, we gauge whether or not the receiver understands the message; if they do not, we seek new ways of conveying the message.

II. The Phenomenology of Creating Speech

Although Konurbaev spends most of the book exploring the phenomenology of linguistic interpretation and the ways messages generate life in the mind of recipients, he also provides a rich phenomenology of speech creation. The goal of speech is to stimulate life in the mind of the receiver. Speech, then, “is a representation of its author’s thoughts, ideas, communicative intentions and emotional states” (31). To do this, speakers employ language, which Konurbaev says “is like a chain of ‘genes’ that are reproducible and recognizable, and yet, susceptible to variation that may or may not introduce a change into a long-established system” (56). Language changes over time just as genetic material evolves across generations, incorporating new elements and discarding outdated and ineffective terms through the series of human speech interactions. In crafting speech, “Every user of language invariably checks the elements available to him or her in the process of communication and decides whether their potential is strong enough to express the desired meaning or attitude” (Ibid).

Crafting a message requires both a consideration of the potential meanings of terms and of the background context through which the message will be interpreted. Speakers must be aware of the receiver’s frame of reference and the cultural assumptions he or she may hold to understand the range of possible interpretations he or she may form, and thus select the words, emotions, and rhetorical style that will best stimulate the life the speaker wishes to create. Speakers produce their messages by gathering previously used concepts and speech interactions and anticipating the ways receivers may interpret the message.

Speech is not just about conveying concepts and information the way textbooks do, however. Speakers aim to produce emotions, to persuade, to win approval, to convey feelings and experiences in the minds of receivers. The ultimate goal is to produce “faith, which is an authentic representation of reality in speech, a synthesis, an effect of a moving life, of ‘living’ through a new experience, which is mental and yet real, ample and organic, mixed with the person’s past experience—a phenomenon of sustainable movement and change” (115). To do so, speakers must use terms and a rhetorical style “that would evoke the complete scenes of life in the reader’s or the listener’s mind as quickly as possible” (123).

Konurbaev writes that speakers compose messages essentially by taking a “general vision” (Topos) and compiles words to convey that vision to the receiver, “[returning]… as many times as possible to add all the features discovered during the communication act to its overall vision as life” (148). This involves “drafting” a vision of the topology, breaking the concepts up into parts, forming bonds between the elements of the Topos, and then selecting terms and phrases that capture these elements (149-150). This process is subsequently mirrored in the perception of speech, as receivers analyze the bonds and interpret the message through the hermeneutic circle and compose their own Topos.

III. The Phenomenology of Receiving Speech

The process of receiving and internalizing speech occurs in many stages. In his introduction, Konurbaev writes that “we decode the linguistic message at least eight times” (7). First, we decode speech syntactically, analyzing the structure of the message. Second, we examine the message for “logical integrity with fact” (Ibid). Third, receivers examine the message for its expressive meaning in terms of foregrounded material. Fourth, receivers begin to analyze the overall meaning, to hypothesize about the life the speaker wishes to prompt in the receiver. Fifth, we begin to use emotional cues to integrate background concepts and memories to deepen our understanding. Sixth, receivers predict or anticipate the overall direction of the remainder of the message and subsequently use this information to inform the seventh step of correcting the draft mental representations produced in the first five steps. Finally, “the eight level of the genesis of life in speech permeates and encapsulates all the previous ones through mental audition, the chief function of which is to support one of the main constituents of life balance and hierarchy of the key reference points of speech” (Ibid).

Crucially, each of these processes occurs within the wider context of backgrounding and foregrounding, and of the background assumptions and beliefs we hold about the world and of each other. Assumptions and other conceptual elements in the background become lenses through which we interpret the speaker’s message; elements of the message jump into focus, into the foreground or spotlight of our attention, while others drift to the background to help construe the foreground elements properly. Konurbaev writes that the interpretation of speech involves both historical and predictive elements (25-26), calling to mind the Heideggerian emphasis on gathering the historical and present facts about oneself and projecting them into the future to assess one’s possibilities (Martin Heidegger, Being and Time (1927)). In the same vein, receivers gather background assumptions, historical events, and knowledge about the speaker and the message to predict the direction that message will take, anticipating the meaning and adapting one’s mental representations of the message accordingly.

The result of these processes is a world of visual and conceptual representations, of life in the mind of the receiver. Moreover, Konurbaev argues this type of life presents an objective reality, “as real as our material bodily life is, in a sense that it is built on our vision of the whole undivided body of vision, because ontologically only the whole has the potential of sustainable living” (Konurbaev, 38). This world is unstable, however, and relies on the internal consistency of the message elements: “Life is a hierarchical world where every element of reality is deemed real only when its existence is justified by other elements and is not at odds with them” (39). If elements disagree, life collapses and the receiver must begin to construct their mental representations anew. Thankfully, the human mind is adept at handling the processes of creating and sustaining life: Konurbaev acknowledges that we seldom get bogged down in the fine nuances of everyday messages, and life is capable of rapidly “regenerating” itself in the face of errors and new information (40-41).

But how do our minds successfully interpret messages and construct life from concepts? Konurbaev lays out what he calls the String Theory of Foregrounding. The basic concept of the theory is that “A string is a mental association drawn between the words in the context of speech. Once the correlation is established, the reader draws the mental map of relative prominence of words and their relationship to each other in representing the subject of the text” (65). Readers scan the text for elements to bring to into focus (into the foreground) and then connect conceptual strings of meanings to form “shapes” of larger concepts and meanings. Konurbaev calls the places at which strings (meanings) intersect and converge “impact zones,” areas in which the meaning of the message is strongest (68).

There are several kinds of conceptual strings involved in producing life. Structural strings, composed of the syntactical elements of the message, connect the conceptual elements of the message to each other, conveying the relationships between the terms. Semantic strings pertain to the meaning and flavor of the concepts and terms in the message. Epistemic strings contribute to the formation of knowledge, and “rely on the preliminary vision of the whole [message]” (77). Attitudinal strings seek to invoke “feelings and judgments ranging between acceptance and rejection” (92). Although we must possess all of the strings to weave the full meaning of the message together, Konurbaev observes that the mind generates life before the message is complete, and receivers must continuously alter their mental images as more information becomes available.

Konurbaev writes that “Speech perception is unthinkable without empathy and Dasein” (152), pointing to the idea that receivers must understand the lived experience and life situation of the speaker, predicting those elements that may not appear in the words of the message itself. Just as Dasein incorporates one’s previous lived history, context, and the facts about one’s existence in projecting one’s possibilities into the future, the phenomenology of speech involves careful consideration of one’s life experience, “general worldview, erudition, level of education, emotionality and linguistic proficiency” (156). Speakers and recipients essentially make observations, recall previous observations, make generalizations based on “the realities of our lives,” and project this information into the future, forming mental representations of messages and observations “and their influence on the course of our lives” (160).

IV. Konurbaev’s Rhetorical Style

Konurbaev’s book explores speech in vivid terms. While the basic concepts could be conveyed in a comparatively dry, brief style, Konurbaev employs examples from literature to demonstrate the ways readers or receivers of speech explore messages for meaning, building complex and rich strings of concepts as they proceed and more information becomes available. He uses examples ranging from the book of Isaiah in the Bible (5-11) to a parable written by Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi (15-16), from Søren Kierkegaard (23) to William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (52). Konurbaev also uses rich language to produce an artistic phenomenology of speech, using metaphors and similes to describe the true flavor and experience of speech. Describing the phenomenon of conveying an idea to others, he writes:

‘I was a hidden treasure and I desired to be known; and I spake and made myself known to the multitudes and they harkened unto the manner of my speech and then unto the matter thereof; and then spake in return and while beholding how I felt about their speech they knew me, and I, in beholding their reaction unto what I ere said—knew them; and, finally, I began to know myself through the contemplation of these people’s reaction unto my words and, alas, gained but little satisfaction in this pursuit, but am still struggling in good earnest to understand if I actually live and have the enthralling vigour of life in my veins or have already evaporated into the thin air of ephemeral illusions of the multitude.’ (1-2)

As mentioned in section III above, Konurbaev uses the imagery of strings and canvasses to artfully describe the ways our minds construct visual representations and meanings from perceived speech. His artistic language and varied examples makes for a flavorful, lively read.

For all of the things Konurbaev’s book does well, there are two critical points to be made about his rhetorical style. The first concerns the materials he includes and the materials he ignores. The book does not provide any true biological account of the ways our brains process messages and speech. Granted, Konurbaev clearly states that his book is meant to present a phenomenological account of the lived experience of speech, not a biological or neurological account of how we process and create speech. However, he spends considerable time focusing on what he claims are thought processes that occur in our brains, and on page 164 provides a graphic representation of a brain carved up by sections corresponding to different neurological functions. While the graphic is suited to the purpose and context of the passage, readers may often catch themselves wondering how much of Konurbaev’s account is based in actual observation, in actual scientific data. Moreover, even if Konurbaev’s account is completely accurate, the book would only benefit from a brief chapter or several sections detailing the biological side of speech. Philosophy is concerned with completion, with grasping all aspects of a phenomenon, and the book would only be stronger by including that material.

Further, Konurbaev only truly addresses the biological in the beginning of Chapter Seven, “Organon of Life as a Phenomenon of Speech,” where he writes that “The biological aspect [of speech] has little or no effect on the quality of life as we, people, see it and live by—as humans, not merely as one of the members of the animal kingdom” (169). He divides life (i.e. the mental representations involved in speech) into Life(p), life as a mental phenomenon and lived experience, and Life(b), the biological processes and senses on which we base Life(p) (170). There are two rhetorical issues with this section. First, it simply seems false that the biological aspects of speech have little effect on mental life, given that the lived experience of speech and interpretation supervene on the proper functioning of biological processes. Second, the distinction between Life(p) and Life(b) is crucial to parsing Konurbaev’s account in the proper context. Up to that point in my reading I often wondered why he hadn’t addressed the role of biology in his account, and many readers may have the same experience. Konurbaev’s account would be best served by including this material earlier in the book and simply recalling it as needed in Chapter 7, rather than waiting to introduce it until the later stages of the work.

A second point of criticism concerns the order in which Konurbaev discusses his ideas. He does not address the whole of a concept or factor of speech in one location in the book; he does not proceed sequentially from what it is like to create speech to what it is like to receive and decode that speech, for example, but rather meanders through topics as the chapters progress. The result is that one only fully grasps the phenomenology of the various components of speech by the end of the book, but not very clearly throughout, making it difficult to anticipate where the account is heading. This actually resembles Konurbaev’s central claims about speech interpretation: receivers construct hypotheses and mental representations of the message and continuously revise and incorporate new information as it becomes available, only reaching true understanding once the whole message has been delivered. Similarly, speech is a complex phenomenon that Konurbaev’s readers may only fully grasp by the end of the book. Whether or not the metaphor is intentional, it would be easier for readers if Konurbaev organized his book around the individual parts of speech as a phenomenon (i.e. creating speech, receiving speech, speech parts, etc.) rather than drifting between topics.

V. Conclusion

Ontology And Phenomenology of Speech: An Existential Theory of Speech provides a compelling, broad phenomenological account that captures all of the varied aspects of speech as a lived phenomenon. The book is well-suited for anyone interested in the philosophy of speech or in phenomenology in general, and is an excellent contribution to the field.

Bibliography:

Martin Heidegger. Being and Time (SUNY University Press, 2010). Originally published in 1927.

Marklen E. Konurbaev. Ontology And Phenomenology of Speech: An Existential Theory of Speech (Palgrave MacMillan, 2018).


[1] Unless otherwise stated, all references are taken from Ontology And Phenomenology of Speech: An Existential Theory of Speech by Marklen E. Konurbaev (Palgrave MacMillan, 2018).

Anna Kouppanou: Technologies of Being in Martin Heidegger

Technologies of Being in Martin Heidegger: Nearness, Metaphor and the Question of Education in Digital Times Book Cover Technologies of Being in Martin Heidegger: Nearness, Metaphor and the Question of Education in Digital Times
Routledge International Studies in the Philosophy of Education
Anna Kouppanou
Routledge
2017
Hardback £105.00
166

Reviewed by: Shawn Loht (Baton Rouge Community College, USA)

This study by junior scholar Anna Kouppanou proposes to recast Martin Heidegger’s conceptions of nearness, technology, and imagination in terms that show their interrelated phenomenological character as this speaks to the philosophy of education.  Drawing substantially on the work of Bernard Stiegler, as well as Jacques Derrida, her method of analysis is less oriented in a Heidegger-studies approach per se, and more geared toward re-directing Heideggerian themes in service of specific questions.  Kouppanou reads Heidegger from a persuasion such that the latter’s critique of technology is one-sided and negligent of considering how technology may overlap with other, more originary modes of being’s disclosure.  She entertains a number of provocative theses.  Among these theses are the following: nearness characterizes the event of truth and an essential aspect of education; technology affords nearness; imagination and temporality are co-constitutive; language, perception, and imagination are metaphorical; and the philosophy of education demands rethinking the interrelation of technology, imagination, language, and truth.  All in all this project is an ambitious one, but Kouppanou gracefully weaves together a number of Heideggerian concepts and gives us new insights for understanding the scope of Heidegger’s notion of technology.  I will say at the outset that I believe the study is actually much more effective on this score than it is on a philosophy of education front.  To my mind this book’s most significant and groundbreaking contribution is its inventive interpolation of the connection between imagination, nearness, language, and technology in Heidegger’s philosophy.  The concept of imagination in particular has historically been neglected in Heidegger studies, given Heidegger’s dismissal of imagination as a vestige of aesthetics and Cartesianism.  Kouppanou’s book should broaden current understanding of imagination in Heidegger, especially in its positive sense.

Kouppanou prefaces the study in the Introduction by raising the question of how the concept of technology might be reconciled with Heidegger’s notion of authentic nearness.  Kouppanou suggests that nearness ultimately concerns imagination, given that for something to be near entails that one sees it “as” this or that.  Or vice versa, to see something in a particular aspect is to have it phenomenologically near.  In other words, following Kant, the schematizing condition of perception is imaginative.  This notion restates the hermeneutic turn in Heidegger, that any state of human understanding, any state of meaning, is always already interpretive.  Kouppanou regards imagination (Einbildungskraft) as a core concept here because it unifies the schematization bound up in technology as Gestell with education conceived as Bildung (4).  In this light there is a connection between technology’s enabling of nearness and education’s model of culturation; a guiding idea Kouppanou borrows from Véronique Fóti is that Heideggerian Gestell possesses a formative character similar to education.  In other words, maybe there is not as sharp a distinction between Gestell and other, more originary manifestations of being as one may think.

The first chapter begins by addressing these issues further, taking up the concept of education from the critical standpoint of Heidegger’s concept of Gestell.  Kouppanou highlights the current trend in education to demand measurement in terms of assessment, outcomes, research outputs, and so forth.  The implicit notion is that, as “enframed” in a Heideggerian sense, education is removed of all freedom.  The human subject in this situation is understood according to a pre-defined set of conditions, and her education is directed toward predetermined measures for future productivity.  A text of focus for Kouppanou is Heidegger’s essay “Plato’s Doctrine of Truth,” particularly in its pertinence to Heidegger’s notion of education qua aletheia.  As a reader of this essay would know, Heidegger interprets Plato’s Cave allegory in terms of the precedence of aletheia, truth as discovery, in paideia, education.  According to this text, education means being brought into light from out of darkness.  Kouppanou emphasizes the equally decisive presence here of “nearness.”  The cave prisoners experience aletheia and enact paideia by being brought nearer to the real things they formerly saw in shadow form.  As the story relates, education has its apex when one’s intellection attains nearness to the original sources of sight and being.  Importantly in Kouppanou’s reading, this allegory introduces the distinction of truth as aletheia from truth as orthotes, or correct judgment, which is predicated on one being in the presence of the actual thing.  As Heidegger holds, this moment is the advent of metaphysics, and likewise of knowledge conceived as adequate representation modelled after the actual thing (13).  For Kouppanou, this distinction is emblematic of Heidegger’s accounts elsewhere of the epistemological commitments of “productionist metaphysics,” where the human being achieves knowledge by receiving and grasping the model.  Pre-given standards are contained in the model, rather than discovered in the nearness afforded by aletheia.  Another way to understand the phenomenon of nearness occurs in the later Heidegger, particularly in Heidegger’s accounts of the poetic image.  These accounts concern production that is not derived metaphysically (16).  This distinction is perhaps best borne out, as Kouppanou observes, in Heidegger’s notion of the work of art, where the work affords an originary instance of aletheia, not a mere copy of an externally existing thing (17).  As Chapter One concludes, a principal question for Kouppanou becomes that of a middle ground between originary presencing and subjective imagination; that is, are there modes in which human beings can conjure or fashion images which nonetheless emerge from out of the originary presence of things?  For Kouppanou, this is a question as to whether technologically-mediated images can afford nearness in a fashion akin to the nearness afforded by works of art (19).  Kouppanou writes:

The distinction between poetic and non-poetic image opens up a whole new discussion concerning types of images (Bild), types of forming (Bilden), their relation to imagination (Ein-Bildungskraft) – as the one being affected in receiving and producing forms of imagining, and ultimately their connection with Bildung as the very process concerned with human formation (19).

Employing a more expansive notion of this concept than Heidegger, the author understands “nearness” as a mode of knowing and connectedness to the world that allows the human being to participate in the unfolding of life through formative procedures (19-20).  Thus, she regards nearness as intimately bound up with education.

The second chapter explores these issues in relation to the dimensions of nearness afforded by Heidegger’s conception of phenomenology, especially the spirit of phenomenology’s dictum to allow the things to show themselves.  For Kourannou, this overlaps with the phenomenon of authentic temporality, by which one allows the voice of conscience to be heard.  This overlap is made evident in the temporal aspect in which everyday engagement with things derives from a temporal, historical origin.  As Heidegger observes in Being and Time, perception is grounded in “seeing-as.”  Nearness to things is predicated upon their presence “as” this or that.  Our everyday world-involvement is already interpretive, and this interpretation is typically framed by the historical reception of the given (25).  In other words, as Kouppanou describes, Heidegger’s brand of phenomenology “affirms an openness that lets beings be received” (25).  This as-structure works forwards as well as backwards in time.  Authentic temporality entails a seeing-as that frames what is to come, from out of the nearness of what is present.  Language is likewise a mode for Heidegger through which the nearness of things is gathered.  As Kouppanou highlights, a key distinction that emerges in Heidegger’s conception of language lay in language’s tie to phenomenology – language is the logos of the phaino.  Kouppanou cites a passage from Being and Time according to which discourse or logos in the guise of spoken language allows for things to be “sighted,” in the Greek, phone meta phantasias.  The term phantasia here is decisive for Kouppanou precisely because it at once entails the originary character of bona fide phenomena (through its root pha-, which refers to “appearing” and “showing”) while it also refers to the later Aristotelian notion of imagination, the more familiar brand of seeing-as (27-28).  This later notion of phantasia as imagination characterizes the way something appears to one, as when a blip on the horizon of a desert landscape is “imagined,” seen as an oasis.  The point Kouppanou leverages here is that the Greek conception of phantasia, understood as a microcosm for nearness and imaging, is at once passive and active.  On one hand, it characterizes the human capacity for receiving appearances from outside oneself – of having appearances show up – in the form of images.  On the other hand, phantasia is the capacity of image-formation, for imaginatively bringing an absent something near to one through one’s own constructive powers.  The challenge is to understand how Heidegger can regard the active dimension of phantasia in terms other than the representational, when he holds at the same time that phantasia comprises the “sighting” of what appears.  As Kouppanou describes this tension, the task for Heidegger is to “reimagine imagination in terms of a knowing that is transformative and yet responsive to things” (28).  To resolve this dilemma, Kouppanou cites Heidegger’s own engagement with Kant on the question of imagination’s relation with subjectivity.  The key to resolving the dilemma of phantasia conceived as representation versus phenomenological disclosure is the temporal nature of imagination, in the mould of Kant’s account in the first Critique.  Imagination not only figures into Kant’s account of the conditions for the possibility of experience in the First Critique’s A-Deduction; imagination also drives Kant’s account of schematism, the subjective component of perception by which one forms images while also deriving such formation from things.  Kouppanou cites John Sallis to emphasize that transcendental imagination is identical with originary time, writing “[i]magination thus lies at the heart of the unity of time, since temporality necessitates, above everything, connection and association” (32).  Another way to describe this structure, Kouppanou continues, is to understand nearness as coextensive with temporal experience as Heidegger understands the latter.  As Kouppanou puts it,

Taking this reorientation into account, image, formation, and imagination become indistinguishable from Heidegger’s temporality.  For Heidegger, time is the result of synthesis, an originary association that allows past, present, and future to come together and give time.  This original nearness of moments allows time consciousness and consciousness in general.  Without this bringing-near of past and present, and presence and absence, time cannot be formed (32).

So in this light, imagination (Einbildungskraft), education (or “formation,” Bildung), and image (Bild) consciousness are co-constituted through temporality.  Or what is the same, Heideggerian temporality is conditioned by the underlying synthesis or formation manifested in imagination, with nearness operating as a crucial component.  A question that remains to be taken up in the third chapter concerns the nature of future-directed imagination, or what Kouppanou calls “in advance formation.”  If imagination transcends mere subjective representation, then the question becomes one of how imagination’s future-oriented, schematizing mode avoids this limitation.  The question she poses is whether there are other structures involved that make this possible – and in particular – what is language’s role, insofar as it plays into the formation of originary poetic images?

The third chapter explores these issues in greater depth.  One aspect Kouppanou highlights in further analyzing the futural character of imagination is the moment of vision, the augenblick, as a poetic image.  Here she invokes the three ecstatic modes underlying temporality in Heidegger’s account from Division II of Being and Time.  The mode of futurity lay in Dasein’s character of being-ahead-of-itself, of projecting forward interpretively from one’s own factical state.  Yet, Dasein’s futural orientation also possesses an imaginative aspect insofar as it can be influenced by Dasein’s authentic acknowledgement of the voice of conscience.  Dasein’s potential for authentic temporality has its seat in allowing conscience to be heard and in wanting to respond to this voice.  Imagination would seem to be a crucial component here in that Dasein’s responding to the voice of conscience is necessarily a seeing-as, a hermeneutic moment of vision that is poetically gathered for one and disclosed in image form by virtue of Dasein’s self-understanding through heeding its own death.  Similarly, as was observed in the look at imagination in Kant, the notion is that the image-formation of authentic temporality does indeed stem from both a subjective foundation and one that responds to things.  As Kouppanou summarizes this point, authentic temporality instantiated in one’s owning of death is a process of bringing-near, to make present what is absent (38-39).  However, she also adds the rejoinder that nearness is not a concept that can be expressed propositionally.  “[N]earing, just like the originary image, is less of a designation and more of a metaphor, an irony, and a paradox” (39).  For “nearness” itself is a metaphorical idea.  It does not refer to an objective orientation in space or a property neatly predicable in a sentence.  Rather, it is an interpretive mode in which things appear to one.  In this light, Kouppanou suggests that the linguistic origin of the notion of nearness qua metaphor merits further discussion.  On one hand, metaphors are antithethical to Heidegger’s attempt to transcend metaphysics insofar as they postulate a divide between sensuous and nonsensuous reality.  On the other hand, as Kouppanou suggests, Heidegger’s accounts of perception in various texts suggest that he understands sensation (aisthesis) as subject to metaphorical transformation in perception.  This is to say, everyday human perception occurs through metaphorizing of sensation, given that all seeing is in fact seeing-as.  Kouppanou writes: “The world as phenomenon, as Heidegger seems to argue, is perceived with the assistance of both aisthesis (the senses) and phantasia (imagination), or better yet: aisthesis perceives imaginatively and through the modification of sense data” (42).  To say that perception metaphorizes the stuff of things is to regard perception as imaginative, as a kind of image formation.  (An aside Kouppanou hints at here is that language’s metaphorical character is likewise imaginative, based in image-formation, similar to Nietzsche’s account of metaphor.)  Kouppanou finishes out the chapter by again invoking the role of productive imagination by way of Kant.  If one concedes that perception is imaginative, this assumes that perception requires “exterior images” (44).  This is to say that, as concomitant with productive imagination, perception also engages the retentive aspect of time-consciousness by which images are frozen as schemas that inform future experience.  In brief, perception is imaginative reproduction.  In the chapter’s conclusion, the primary question asks whether nearness is confined to the relation of imaginative schematization and language, or whether there are other media in which nearness can occur.

Chapters Four, Five, and Six explore the concept of nearness according to its various treatments in the early, middle, and late periods of Heidegger’s thought, respectively.  Chapter Four takes up nearness as it is implicated in the early Heidegger’s concept of things “ready-to-hand.”  Chapter Five examines the role of nearness in Heidegger’s political thought, particularly as it pertains to Heidegger’s thought on homeland and native soil.  Chapter Six focuses on Heidegger’s perhaps best-known discussions of nearness, from the later writings on poetic experience and the life of the “thing” (Das Ding), where nearness is conceived as an alternative mode of dwelling to modern technology.  In what follows I will summarize these studies briefly before taking up the final two chapters of the book.

Chapter Four analyzes the early Heidegger’s account of nearness as revealed in things ready-to-hand (such as Being and Time’s tools) in order to better understand Heidegger’s attempt to “eliminate the technological aspects of being from his theorization of authentic time” (51).  Kouppanou suggests that Heidegger’s avoidance of emphasizing aspects of existence such as “materiality, embodiment, spatiality, and prostheticity” (51) in his accounts of perception and world are reflective of his disinclination to include technology in the sphere of authentic temporality.  Whereas, Kouppanou wants to suggest here that such a divide between the poetic or originary, and the technological, is artificial, given that technology is embedded in historicality.  Technological being informs the imaginative character of perception no less than the rooted and homely in Heidegger’s early account of Dasein’s being-in-the-world.

Chapter Five examines Heidegger’s notion of nearness in its guise as a “political scheme.”  The primary goal of Kouppanou’s focus here is to highlight Heidegger’s recasting of nearness into the political dimension of rootedness (76).  Technology is to blame, according to Heidegger, for creating a false sense of nearness that results in rootlessness.  Citing Stiegler, Kouppanou argues in contrast that technology does in fact have a constitutive role in the formation of the polis and the emergence of nearness; she emphasizes that “time cannot be a single destiny,” nor can time circumvent the mediation of technology (81).  Simply put, authentic temporality cannot occur outside the sway of technology.  Part of Heidegger’s error here, Kouppanou suggests, is to absolutize space as a metaphysical principle, whereas in Being and Time, he makes a stronger case that the nearness of space is a metaphor disclosed by Dasein.  Kouppanou comments: “Heidegger’s return to space [in the critique of technology] coincides with the distortion of the very process that his thinking attempts to become: the poetic image.  Instead of letting poetic imagery to be freely received, Heidegger imposes interpretations that temporalize space and emphasize the historicality of the homeland” (77).

Kouppanou transitions to Chapter Six by highlighting the later Heidegger’s move away from thinking nearness in terms of the futural, spiritual, and cultural.  In particular, she emphasizes Heidegger’s remark in “The Origin of the Work of Art” that the poetic can no longer be understood from the standpoint of the imagination, but instead relies on a freely-received letting-be of the historical manifested in the interplay of world and earth (84-85).  In other words, the later Heidegger seems to allow for historical being to occur as a disclosure of truth from without.  However, Kouppanou suggests that the concept of imagination remains in play for Heidegger by virtue of informing his position on the relation of truth, language, and art.  In particular, the function of metaphor as a proto-linguistic imaginative stuff underlying poetic experience suggests that imagination still figures into the primordial disclosures of being occasioned by art.  Thus, poetic experience can still be regarded as imaginative in its foundations.  In this vein Kouppanou writes:

While language is presented as the basic process that lets things be and affords nearness, Heidegger’s own metaphorical language says much more about the way nearness and the poetic realm unfold than his explicit argumentative language.  What’s more, his discussion concerning the work of art, as a site for truth, emphasizes the spatiotemporal dimensions of revealing and accounts for the material and embodied aspects of its unfolding.  This in turn provides us with an opportunity to reconsider poetic image as a mode of presencing that does not belong to language exclusively (90).

In the ending sections of Chapter Six, the final chapters of the book are previewed in some explorations of how Heidegger understands true nearness in the lived world of “things” (as in the essay “The Thing”) versus his view of the alienated state of being afforded by technology.  Kouppanou highlights the primacy of the human hand for Heidegger in the creation of works fostering true nearness, as the hand is integral to both traditional handicraft and originary language conceived as gesture.  Heidegger highlights this phenomenon when he contrasts the hand’s use in speaking and writing with the hand’s diminished capacity in these activities upon the advent of the typewriter.  A pervasive ambiguity Kouppanou identifies here in Heidegger is the equal role of the hand in making use of differentiated, external being.  It would be a mistake to claim, as Heidegger seems to suggest, that works of the hand constitute self-contained, holistic processes of creation.  As Kouppanou suggests, there appears not to be a sharp underlying divide between Heidegger’s notion of the lived experience associated with tools and “things” of handicraft, which are derivative upon metaphorizing imagination, and robust manifestations of modern technology.  Both make use of beings external to themselves in fostering their brands of nearness.  It is not sufficient to claim that modern technology is problematic simply because it maximizes nearness and totally removes distance.  The thrust of Kouppanou’s argumentation is that there seems not to be a fundamental difference between the imaginative disclosure afforded through, say, the hammer and the disclosure given through 21st-century computing.

The final two chapters of the book engage the findings of Chapters One through Six as they pertain to education and technology in current times.  Of particular emphasis for Kouppanou is the type of nearness fostered by the imaginative schematization prevalent in the World Wide Web and social media.  Kouppanou’s central argument in these final portions of the book rests on the claim that the nearness availed by modern technology is coextensive with Heidegger’s core assumptions about the relation of nearness, language, metaphor, and imagination.  She writes that “technology is always already constitutive for our ways of seeing-as,” and “[a]ll technology participate in our hermeneutical processes” (119).  In sum, “hermeneia is itself a material exterior and embodied metaphorical process unfolding through a twofold process of discretisation and synthesis instantiated through both language and technology” (Ibid.).  For Kouppanou, this last view is decisive because it drives home the imaginative, metaphorical basis equally latent within “gestures, tools, words, and stories.”  Metaphoricity is simply a constitutive element of things and their lived meaning (Ibid.).  Kouppanou then grafts this reasoning onto the digital being of the contemporary computerized world.  The digital world is not simply the alienated world of technology; for human Dasein the digital world is still being-in-the-world.  (This view has been developed by other Heideggerian philosophers including Michael Eldred.)  Online experience is coextensive with the worldhood of everyday, “real” experience.  The metaphorized images of online being are equally meaningful as the “real” world of meaning (123).  A core assumption of these passages is that the online experience fostered in media such as Facebook is always derivative from the meaning-structures embedded in intentionality.

In the final chapter, Kouppanou addresses these issues as they pertain to the philosophy of education.  The primary question concerns whether modern technology’s current manifestation fundamentally alters the outlook for education conceived in its original guise as Bildung, formation through images.  On one hand, she notes, the temporal form of “nowness” or constant immediacy created in online being would seem to encourage a pervasive lack of freedom.  Online experience in this light is one of the individual perpetually being formed or educated from without (145).  The danger Kouppanou sees here is the metaphorization or formation of the human latent in the pervasive reach of computing technology.  For, technology, like handicraft is not merely metaphorized being in its own right; technology also leads its user to become metaphorized.  This phenomenon has been documented in empirical science, as research has shown different types of media cause the human brain to rewire itself.  Therefore, Kouppanou’s position here argues that technology’s power to completely metaphorize and rewire the educational process risks undermining the processes of discovery, scaffolded learning, and above all, hermeneutical freedom that are integral to education (150).

This book is a very impressive piece of scholarship for an early-career researcher.  Its reassessment of Heidegger’s philosophy of technology in terms of the concepts of nearness and imagination is especially fruitful.  Stylistically I believe the chapters proceed somewhat quickly at times, jumping from one dense source to another in often rapid fashion, when the author might in fact benefit from covering less material and proceeding more slowly.  The connections between the chapter topics also sometimes suffer from a similar feeling of disjointedness, where the inclusion of certain topics and subtopics comes off as unmotivated and ad hoc.  The fifth chapter on Heidegger’s political agenda struck me particularly strongly in this regard.  The first four chapters of the book, along with Chapter Six, come across much more cohesively in contrast.  However, these are all small caveats given the strong total contribution of the book.  As I noted at the beginning, the book’s principal shortcoming may be that its conclusions vis-à-vis the philosophy of education are relatively lukewarm and prefatory.  The final chapter in which education takes center stage reads somewhat more like an appendix, whereas the chapters dedicated to Heidegger are more focused on making sense of a complex line of inquiry in his thought.

Saulius Geniusas, Dmitri Nikulin (Eds.): Productive Imagination: Its History, Meaning and Significance

Productive Imagination: Its History, Meaning and Significance Book Cover Productive Imagination: Its History, Meaning and Significance
Social Imaginaries
Saulius Geniusas, Dmitri Nikulin (Eds.)
Rowman & Littlefield International
2018
Hardback $120.00 / £80.00
256

Reviewed by: John V. Garner (University of West Georgia)

Introduction

The “Social Imaginaries” series from Rowman and Littlefield International aims to publish important works on this and related concepts “from theoretical, comparative, historical, and interdisciplinary perspectives” and with an “international, multi-regional and interdisciplinary scope.”[i] The present volume focuses more narrowly on thinkers its editors see as having provided the basis for philosophical discussions of productive imagination, specifically the continental tradition following Kant (vii). This focus is not meant to be exclusive but rather supportive of diversity and further original inquiries (xii). With this goal in mind, the volume indeed offers eight helpful, well-researched essays; and we may hope that this strong foundation will spark future studies meeting the more global aspirations above.

This review will outline what I see as the central arguments of each of the essays. My goals are to reveal the broader lines of their interconnected narrative and then to indicate a few potentially fruitful avenues for future research suggested by the volume.

The Contributions

One of the volume’s most sweeping essays is its first one, Dmitri Nikulin’s “What is Productive Imagination?” Nikulin situates the modern concept of imagination within the grand history of Western ideas, from the Greeks to German idealism. Aristotle’s imagination, defined as the capacity to have an “apparition of a thing in the absence of that thing,” plays a central role in this narrative (3). Even so, Nikulin notes that Aristotle leaves the imagination’s powers dependent on prior perceptions, and thus his view contrasts with the Kantian imagination’s potential apriority and spontaneity (4). Nevertheless, even for Kant imagination remains doubly dependent: it is bound to sensibility insofar it must offer presentations within the predefined formats of spatial and temporal intuitions; and it is bound to understanding insofar as it constructs figures or schemata within the constraints of the a priori categories (4-5). If the former constraint links Kant to Aristotle, the latter reveals some similarity to Proclus, for whom the imagination adapts the intelligible, Platonic forms to finite thinking (6). In either sense, however, Kant’s imagination, even in his aesthetics, ultimately serves to harmonize other faculties: understanding and the senses. Thus, its spontaneity is always contained by rational norms and the receptive capacities of the subject; it has no completely independent status (11).

Even so, the imagination has a strong grip over us precisely because it can actively overlook its essential dependency. Thus, Nikulin speaks of the imagination as having a “negative” power to deny its sources (14). In this respect, imagination’s supposed originality must be hedged: “imagination imagines that it produces something new” (14, my emphasis). It creates a pretention to positive creativity, even though it is really a “radical negativity” (14). This pretension appeared dangerous to Kant, whose arguments restricted even creative genius to the mere exemplification of rules; absolute creativity he reserved for the idea of God (14).[ii] As later thinkers tried increasingly to free imagination from this Kantian dependency, they steadily severed its link with experience and thus lost the vital relationship between imagination and memory (19).

Two questions come to mind in light of Nikulin’s compelling conceptual history. First, its caution against severing the link with memory is related to Nikulin’s broader point that imagination somehow renders “non-being” (i.e. what does not presently exist) present for us. In Nikulin’s account, however, “non-being” carries the significance of the past, the has-been, or the no-longer (20). In this sense, the question of the imagination’s relation to hope and to futural “non-being” could be raised. I will return to this avenue later, as it is suggested by other contributors.

Second, Nikulin’s stage-setting essay displays the broadly European focus of the volume, with few references beyond that scope. Additional avenues thus appear for research on non-European conceptions of imagination or its analogues. Likewise, within the broader canon, future research could explore the medieval adaptation of the Aristotelian phantasm, and especially its history in Islamic thought. For even the European reception of Aristotle and Proclus is heavily mediated through the Islamic tradition (e.g. al-Kindī on prophecy and dreams; Ibn Sīnā’s explicit distinction of estimation from imagination and his widespread use of imaginal thought experiments; Ibn Tufail’s use of fictional narrative; Ibn Arabi’s “nondelimited imagination”; and so on).

Kant’s importance in the history of productive imagination is of course clear as well, and Alfredo Ferrarin’s essay defends the importance of Kant’s liberation of imagination from its previous role of copying contingent events of sensibility. Imagination now “moves about idealizations and conjectures formulated in deliberately counterintuitive ways, transforms things into possibilities until we establish an invariant core, and plans experiments to verify conjectures” (33). Its emergence in philosophy is thus linked historically with the emergence of the scientific method (32). This link likewise explains why Ferrarin warns us not to confuse Kant’s scientific “productive imagination” with the truly social-ethical “practical imagination,” which is only hinted at in Kant. The practical imagination aims not at understanding objects but at instituting practical end-goals. In the latter we find no “split between independent reality and likeness” as we do in the former (38). (Ferrarin mentions cases such as the constantly reinstituted social meanings of, e.g., bank notes, temples, marriage, and traffic rules.) In general, Ferrarin emphasizes that the practical imagination enables us to grasp alternative practical possibilities; it reveals “the gap between being and possibility, fact and ideal, real and possible” (38). Thus, imagination is necessary for a social critique capable of proposing new norms, in the sense Ernst Bloch and Castoriadis recognized (39). Ferrarin’s essay is thus essential for understanding the way the term “imaginary” is often used in critical theory and practical philosophy and how these development differ from Kant’s scientific imagination. That said, Ferrarin does suggest that Kant’s aesthetics—and other contributors concur regarding other aspects of later Kant—offers hints of the practical imaginary (45).

Moving the narrative from Kant to German romanticism, Laura S. Carugati argues that we move there from an “ontogonic” to a “cosmogonic” use of imagination (52). In other words, for figures like Novalis, Schleiermacher, and Schlegel, imagination provides the basic framework or “horizon” for the experience of objects, rather than merely prefiguring the particular objects we perceive. In Schlegel, this shift liberates the imagination from the aforementioned Kantian norms; and hence Carugati highlights Schlegel’s claim that “because imagination won’t let itself be linked to the world of things […], it can function in a free and independent manner, according to its own laws” (54). Similarly, in Novalis, “to romanticize” becomes an active, imaginal engagement aiming to unite the poles of the various Kantian dualisms (55). The resultant synthesis, known as “art,” is not a mere product or thing but rather a life-structuring “event” (57). Arts, as engagements in imagination, do not merely imitate or reproduce but rather “discover or institute an ordering principle that shapes the original chaos into a romanticized world” (57). In a sense, then, even the Kantian divide between human productivity and divine creativity gets mediated here; art and reality become indistinguishable.

We may note at this point the helpful coherency of the volume’s narrative as it places each figure in conversation with contemporaries and predecessors. This historically informed narrative is again supported by Angelica Nuzzo’s compelling contribution on German idealism. She defends the centrality of productive imagination not only in Fichte and Schelling (where it plays an explicitly important role) but also in Hegel, where the textual evidence for its centrality is much less prevalent. Nuzzo claims that “Hegelian spirit is informed by the Kantian notion of productivity proper to the imagination of the genius,” albeit in a way that gets “extended beyond the aesthetic realm, and thereby deeply transformed” (73). Imagination moves from a merely subjective role into an absolute role as “self-actualizing conceptuality” (77).

Nuzzo’s argument could be reconstructed into four steps. First, Kant’s third Critique suggests that imagination is schöpferisch (and perhaps not merely exhibitive of aesthetic ideas); it creates “another nature” from the given nature of the senses (74). Second, Fichte notices and radicalizes this creativity, such that imagination produces even the “material for representation” (74). And this productivity, Nuzzo argues, is equated by Fichte with Geist. Third, Schelling renders the imagination productive not only of representation but also of the actuality of things themselves, thus giving it the absolute role Kant had reserved for intellectual intuition (71). Finally, fourth, Hegel appropriates but reworks and reverses this “absolute” productive imagination. Certainly, on the one hand, Nuzzo acknowledges that the Encyclopedia subordinates imagination to a merely subjective moment of spirit (76). But this subordination does not stop Hegel, she argues, from adopting exactly the productivity highlighted by the preceding idealists’ account of imagination. Thus, on the other hand, the Phenomenology and Logic, she argues, adapt this very productivity to the role of a self-producing absolute, with the caveat that, contra Schelling, its truth is now said to be revealed only in the end of its development. For Hegel, “no absolute identity, absolute indifference, or absolute creation out of nothing […] can be placed as the beginning-origin of an immanent discursive process” (77). Instead, for Hegel, “the logical determination process is immanently and successively articulated toward ever more complex determinations up to the ‘absolute idea’ that makes the end” (78).

While Nuzzo’s thesis might sound extra-textual, it is in fact very closely defended with links between Hegel’s texts and those of Kant and Fichte. And if we remember that she aims merely to show that “some fundamental characters of the productive imagination […] become constitutive traits of Hegel’s own notion of Geist” (77, my emphasis), then we should be, I believe, persuaded, despite the relative non-centrality of the vocabulary of “productive imagination” in Hegel. Nuzzo’s contribution is likewise essential to this volume insofar as it defends a narrative leading into Hegel that can help clarify our persistent suspicion that there are Hegel-like traces in later concepts often referred to under the broad label of “social imaginary.”

The conversation within German thought continues with Rudolph A. Makkreel’s essay on Dilthey. Whereas Kant’s aesthetic imagination helps us shift from narrow, personal experiences of pleasure to universal judgments of taste, Dilthey similarly thinks that imagination can broaden us and test “how local commonalities relate to universally accepted truths” (92). This broadening occurs partly through what Dilthey calls the “typifying imagination.” Artists, for example, can “articulate” felt connections pervasive in an era by exemplifying them into figures, characters, or events (87). Whereas thinking produces concepts, imagination “produces types” (95). And whereas the historian’s imagination merely fills in gaps and supplies coherency, the artist’s has more freedom (e.g. in fiction, painting, etc.). With artworks, we experience their “typicality” not when we understand something generic about them (like norms) nor when we look at particular, material qualities. Rather, for Dilthey, the typicality of an artwork its “distinctive style.” For example: “The style of a Cézanne painting cannot be intuitively defined by the visible lines and colors […]. Style is an inner form that can only be imaginatively captured by following out the intense interplay of the angular and curved shapes that Cézanne projects into our medial horizon of vision” (96).

With respect to this “inner form,” important for Makkreel is Dilthey’s shift from an earlier view arguing that it is discovered through personal introspection, to a later, non-psychologistic, and more contextualized view that the “feelings of a composer like Beethoven are musical from the start and exist in a tonal world” (99). That is, we must be conversant with a broader system of perspectives and facts (as seen “from without”) in order to understand ourselves or others (101). In this sense, Dilthey accepts the Hegelian concept of objective spirit, with the qualification that his rendition of spirit is nothing that “submerges individuals and regulates human interaction in the overall course of world history” but rather is a “locally definable ‘medium of commonalities’ that nurtures each of us ‘from earliest childhood’” (101). The best way to think about such local “artistic medial contexts” is to consider particular examples: “Beethoven cannot but think of Haydn and Mozart when composing a quartet while also striving to chart his own path” (102). Grasping these larger constellations of sense requires tapping into an imagination that “goes beyond reality in such a way as to illuminate it” (85).

This point about the imagination’s power to “go beyond reality” opens up some important avenues for research on additional figures whose inquiries emphasize similar functions. We might think of Feuerbach’s imagination, with its power to alienate us through negating our dependency and this-worldly finitude. This critical route would of course lead into discussions of Marx and Freud but also through Husserl into Sartre’s early works, which contain, as in Dilthey, more positive valences regarding this “going beyond.” In Sartre, for example, beauty is said to be “a value that can only ever be applied to the imaginary and that carries the nihilation of the world in its essential structure.”[iii] Using the very example of Beethoven, he argues that “the performance of the Seventh Symphony […] can be manifested only through analogons that are dated and that unfurl in our time. But in order to grasp it on these analogons, it is necessary to operate the imaging reduction, which is to say, apprehend precisely the real sounds as analogons.”[iv] Sartre thus engages with two themes central to this volume, namely imagination’s link to non-being and, as in Dilthey (and later in Ricoeur), its helpful role in revealing the world through an “as”-structure.

Next, breaking the train of German thought is Nicolas de Warren’s essay on Flaubert’s diagnosis of human self-deception (as interpreted by Jules de Gaultier). The essay proposes a valuable distinction between productive imagination and creative, novelistic imagination (106). With the productive side we imagine ourselves as something other than what we are and thus become self-deceptive. The creative side, by contrast, which is manifest in the novelist’s art, allows us to perceive the self-deception without falling prey to it. The artist’s perception “becomes a truthful mirror of the world by virtue of the imagination’s power of magnification, or modification, which renders visible what remains otherwise invisible” (113). The novelist shares in a kind of “pure perception,” i.e. an “absorption” in the world rather than a scientific “possession” of an object (113). This pure perception generates the novel almost as a by-product and allows an adult to learn that she falsely “pursues a notion of herself for which neither she nor the world affords” (123). Such false images are not merely epistemically worrisome, as de Warren clarifies, since they also impact the world of our desires, as when a person “makes the world around her boring in order to despise the world even more so as to serve as propellant for an even more vengeful and intense abandonment to the imaginary” (129).

De Warren’s essay brings to mind two avenues. First, his essay links self-deception to productive imagination’s power to deny what we are. Flaubert’s characters are shown to succumb “to the universal fiction of striving to be what one is not, and not being what one desires to be” (107). That said, other contributors raise the prospect of finding positive value in imagination’s penchant for proposing non-extant alternatives, i.e. ones worth striving for. Hence, de Warren’s essay raises the question: Could there be a good version of “striving to be what one is not, and not being what one desires to be”?

Second, de Warren’s essay could perhaps be read as an alternative account of what René Girard refers to as Flaubert’s “novelistic truth.”[v] Certainly, Girard’s and de Warren’s readings agree that “truthful forms of fiction” helpfully reveal the dangers of self-deceit and self-imposed insatiability (110). But a difference may reside in whether we think the novelist’s deliverance from self-deception stems from what de Warren emphasizes or what Girard claims. De Warren emphasizes that deliverance is achieved through the novelist’s share in pure perception, or an engagement with the world prior to and free from socially-influenced self-images. On this reading, the problem behind self-deception is that the “spontaneity of an individual’s self-shaping personality” has become “reduced to a condition of mimetic inertness” in our society (112). Self-deception consists in a person concealing from herself the fact that “she is the author of her own fate” (124). By contrast, on Girard’s reading, Flaubert unmasks precisely as self-deceit one’s belief that one is the unmediated, pre-social author of desires, i.e. desires that would be valid simply because they are one’s own. Under the sway of such a belief one fails to see that one’s desires are always mediated through imitation of others’ desires. The novel offers deliverance in that it allows us to see through the vanity of the “romantic lie” and to critically recognize our own interdependency. Hence, if I understand them correctly, these readings not only differ but pull in opposite directions. I should state that I am not unsympathetic per se to either reading of Flaubert; rather, it is the prospect of a dialogue that strikes me as a fruitful avenue to pursue.

As for an important dialogue that is explored in this volume, Saulius Geniusas reviews the Cassirer-Heidegger encounter at Davos. Geniusas frames the debate as hinging only overtly on divergent interpretations of imagination in Kant. On Cassirer’s reading, the productive imagination is formed and contextualized by its share in an independent understanding and reason; for Heidegger, reason is formed and contextualized by the finitely situated productive imagination (138). But the deeper issue between them, argues Geniusas (agreeing with Peter E. Gordon), concerns their basically divergent philosophies, including their views on moral freedom. Cassirer thinks imagination’s share in reason allows it spontaneity and the power to step back from any finite dwelling. Fundamentally “homeless,” we can use our imaginations to “trespass the boundaries of […] merely natural existence and enter into the domain culture,” where we construct an infinite variety of cultural modes of existence (140). For Heidegger, by contrast, the productive imagination defines our existential-temporal mode of receptivity to a world and thus marks us—in both our knowledge and action—as essentially finite. Cassirer, Heidegger thinks, lacks a fundamental ontology of the supposedly fully spontaneous being who “enters into” cultural constellations; he suggests Cassirer’s view would merely define humanity through studies of different cultural—and merely ontic—contexts (139). Cassirer would thus (re)create “the ‘They’ world and the deeper forgetfulness of one’s ontological roots” (140). In response, Cassirer thinks Heidegger’s basic mistake is to refuse the independence of reason, as a source of imagination’s freedom, from finite imagination and intuition. This refusal, argues Cassirer, implies the impossibility of genuine moral autonomy or the universality of ethics in Kant’s sense (147).

Certainly, as Geniusas shows, Heidegger and Cassirer attain a kind of nominal agreement on some broad issues, e.g. that productive imagination “produces the transcendental horizons of sense, the operational fields, or the modes of vision, which predetermine human experience” (150). But their basic trajectories, argues Geniusas, are in the last analysis “fundamentally different” (151). Cassirer’s view leads him to emphasize the constructive possibilities of a humanity drawing guidance from reason, while Heidegger emphasizes the need, in his own words, for a “destruction of the former foundation of Western metaphysics in reason (spirit, logos, reason)” (151). Even if Geniusas might not persuade some who see Cassirer and Heidegger as compatible, his essay does provide a clear statement of how the deeper projects of each thinker determine their overt disagreements over Kant.

In the volume’s final essay, George H. Taylor mines Paul Ricoeur’s broader corpus for a thesis on imagination moving beyond his merely explicit views. His explicit views emphasize the power of productive versus merely reproductive imagination and show how the former allows us to understand images separately from any concept of originals. This inquiry then helps us grasp how fictions can be efficacious in altering reality (159). As for Ricoeur’s more implicit views on imagination, Taylor draws on texts from the 1970s and 80s to highlight the concept of “figuration,” a term avoiding merely visual connotations and allowing Ricoeur to analyze metaphor (167). In epistemology, the concept of figuration expands on Kant’s suggestion of an ever-present, “common root” between understanding and sensibility. It implies that reality is only ever given as already saturated with “symbolic” mediation (166). “We do not see; we see as—as the icon, as the figure” (170). Similarly, Taylor finds a parallel role for figuration in Ricoeur’s view of human action: no action is just physical motion; each act always points to or modifies some extant role or another (166). These twin “as”-structures thus always mediate for us between sense and concept, or between deeds and their narration (165). Since there is thus no mode of human life without figuration’s various modes, we can never fully leave behind what Hegel calls “picture thinking” (173). All modes of thought or action occur on the backdrop of an already instituted and “readable” world (171).

In this respect, Taylor’s essay points to a question we have already raised. Several contributions caution against the dangers of denying a connection with one’s past or of losing the link between imagination and memory. Yet it is likewise true that what will arise anew for (and from) each of us tomorrow “is not” as of today but rather, if it indeed comes to be, will emerge tomorrow with an unparalleled uniqueness (at least in some stratum of its emergent reality). Does not the human tendency to overlook the newness in each historical moment (emerging in some sense from “non-being”) constitute a distinct danger, alongside that of forgetting the sedimented nature of the meanings and roles we adopt? While this volume does at times speak to this concern, it refrains—perhaps for the best—from lingering on it or on the metaphysical quandaries involved in references to non-being and creativity. On this issue, interested readers might thus benefit from a sister volume in the “Social Imaginaries,” i.e. the analysis of the Ricoeur-Castoriadis debate.[vi] Taylor, it should be mentioned, also helpfully contributed there.

Done and to be Done

As I have indicated, the merits of this volume are clear. It offers a valuable combination of introductory guidance and original theses. It contains helpful clarifications of how philosophical concepts develop through inter-philosophical dialogue but also in conversation with the arts. It likewise opens avenues for exploring the grand, metaphysical question of human creativity in history. If we approach it aware of its deliberate focus on the Kantian and continental tradition, we will see that its chapters develop a coherent “conceptual history” of a core moment in philosophy. We thus have reason to hope that it will achieve its goal of enabling broader studies on productive imagination. And as it stands, this volume’s essays—appropriate to the productivity they investigate—already instantiate one of the volumes frequent themes: human creativity arises in and with a community of contributors, both extant ones and ones hoped for.


[i] “Social Imaginaries,” Rowman & Littlefield International, last accessed: July 24, 2018: https://www.rowmaninternational.com/our-publishing/series/social-imaginaries/.

[ii] Apart from its emphasis on imagination’s mere negativity, we may note the proximity of Nikulin’s account to the thesis of Cornelius Castoriadis’ essay, “The Discovery of the Imagination” (from 1978; in World in Fragments: Writings on Politics, Society, Psychoanalysis, and the Imagination, ed. David A. Curtis, Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1997). Castoriadis argues that fear of imagination’s creativity has led philosophers to attribute the truly instituting power not to us but to other beings (e.g. ancestors, gods, God, nature, etc.). Both Nikulin and Castoriadis seem to me to echo, somewhat divergently, Heidegger’s reading of Kant as having discovered but later denied the radical implications of productive imagination.

[iii] Jean-Paul Sartre, The Imaginary: A Phenomenological Psychology of the Imagination, trans. Jonathan Webber, London and New York: Routledge, 2004, p. 193.

[iv] Sartre, Imaginary, 193.

[v] René Girard, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure, trans. Yvonne Freccero, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1965.

[vi] See Suzi Adams (ed.), Ricoeur and Castoriadis in Discussion: On Human Creation, Historical Novelty, and the Social Imaginary, London and New York: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2017.

R.D. Ingthorsson: McTaggart’s Paradox

McTaggart's Paradox Book Cover McTaggart's Paradox
Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy
R.D. Ingthorsson
Routledge
2016
Hardback £115.00
154

Reviewed by: Kristie Miller (The University of Sydney)

Revisiting McTaggart

Few articles in the recent history of philosophy have yielded as large, and confusing, a literature as has McTaggart’s 1908 the Unreality of Time. Whatever one thinks of the status of the argument contained in that paper—what has became known as McTaggart’s Paradox—there is no denying that it, and the distinctions McTaggart introduces in that paper, have shaped the philosophy of time in many and deep ways. Each of us working in the philosophy of time locates ourselves by appealing to McTaggart’s terminology of the A, B and C series, and by noting the ways in which we agree (and disagree) with McTaggart. Indeed, frequently philosophers’ preferred view in the philosophy of time is heavily influenced by the way they see McTaggart’s Paradox. Had McTaggart known what the future held, and had he, perchance, needed to complete an ‘Impact Statement’ for some kind of quality assessment metric, we can safely say his score would have been excellent. (Fortunately for McTaggart, he died before he ever had to turn his attention to Impact Statements). All of this makes Ingthorsson’s book length treatment of McTaggart’s Paradox in McTaggart’s Paradox, a valuable addition to the literature.

What makes the book of particular interest is that it carefully contextualises McTaggart’s arguments in his 1908 paper in terms of his overall metaphysical picture laid out in his two companion monographs The Nature of Existence I (1921) and The Nature of Existence II (1927). Ingthorsson’s book is a careful explication of McTaggart’s Paradox in the context of McTaggart’s broader metaphysical commitments. Indeed, Ingthorsson compellingly argues that failing to see the argument in these terms can, and has, led to various confusions. One of the many merits of the book is that not only does it present and interpret the argument in context, but, in so doing, provides an account of why the argument has been so very controversial, and why it remains so today. Ingthorsson argues that one of the primary causes of disagreement and confusion have been competing misinterpretations of the argument that have arisen due to viewing it as an entirely stand-alone argument that can be understood and evaluated in isolation from McTaggart’s broader commitments. Whether contemporary philosophers of time share those broader commitments or not, it is valuable to set the argument within the broader context and to see how various interpretations (or misinterpretations) of, and responses to, the argument, sit within that context. To that end, this is an important contribution.

The book is also valuable because it offers an historical overview of the various strands of responses to McTaggart’s Paradox. Ingthorsson carefully shows where contemporary responses have historical precursors, and what those are. That makes it an interesting piece in the history of philosophy. More than that, though, the book does a commendable job of categorizing the kinds of responses that have been made to McTaggart’s Paradox over the years. This is no small feat given the wealth of responses that the argument has garnered. It is much to be admired that someone has managed to sift through the various papers as they appeared from 1908 onwards, with a view to articulating and categorising those responses in a useful manner. This allows the reader to ignore the many small differences in approaches and instead focus on the important philosophical similarities between approaches. For anyone who wants to get to grips with the major threads of thought that developed in response to McTaggart, this is an invaluable resource.

While the book’s principal aim, at least as I read it, is to articulate McTaggart’s argument, place it in context, and then consider the ways in which the argument has been interpreted and responded to, the book certainly ought not be thought of as primarily about hermeneutics or history of philosophy.  Ingthorsson has plenty to say, along the way, about where he thinks responses to McTaggart’s Paradox hit the mark, and where he thinks they do not. He also offers a number of positive arguments of his own about what he thinks the argument establishes, and what he does not. These are also valuable additions to the literature. So there is much that is interesting and rewarding about the book—too much to cover in this review. Instead, in what follows I will consider just two of the issues that jumped out at me as I read, and which I thought deserved particular attention.

In reading the book I was particularly interested in its explication of McTaggart’s account of how it is that it comes to appear to us as though there is a temporal dimension—the appearance as of there being a temporally ordered succession. (Here I suppose that successions have a direction, not merely an ordering, and so the appearance is as of there being a temporal ordering that runs from past, to future). Since McTaggart thinks there is no such ordering (no such temporal ordering that is) he incurs the explanatory burden of explaining why it seems to us as though there is. This is a burden that he takes up. McTaggart’s explanation of these seemings are of particular interest in the contemporary context, since the issue of why things seem the way they do to us, temporally speaking, is one that has become pressing over the last few decades. We find contemporary A-theorists arguing that because it appears to us as though there is an A-series—it appears to us as though events occur in a particular ordered succession and that time itself passes—we have reason (albeit defeasible) to suppose that this is the way things are, and that in fact some version of the A-theory is true.[1] Or, put more strongly, such theorists argue that the best explanation for these appearances are that time is indeed this way.  B-theorists, unsurprisingly, have responded in one of two ways. They have either argued that in fact things do not appear to us this way at all[2] (though perhaps we mistakenly believe that things appear to us this way[3], or they have argued that things do indeed seem this way, but them seeming this way is an illusion.[4] The latter have attempted to spell out how it is that we are subject to this illusion, the former have attempted to spell out how it is that we come to have such false beliefs about the way things seem.

In this regard, then, the B-theorist is in something like the same boat in which McTaggart found himself. To be sure, the B-theorist does not need to explain why it seems to us though there are temporal relations despite there not being said relations, since unlike McTaggart B-theorists think that the presence of B-relations in the absence of A-properties is sufficient for the existence of temporal relations. Yet the B-theorist does owe an explanation of why it appears to us as though there is an A-series (or why we falsely believe that it seems to us that way) and in this regard she shares a common explanatory burden with McTaggart. Moreover, in that, the B-theorist is not alone. The C-theorist, who thinks that it is sufficient for the existence of temporal relations that there exist C-relations in the absence of B-relations or A-properties, incurs all the explanatory burdens accruing to the B-theorist, and more still. For the C-theorist must, in addition, explain why it seems to us as though there is a B-series: that is, she must explain not only why there appears to be an ordered temporal sequence, but also, why that ordering appears to have a direction when, according to her, it does not.[5] By contrast, since the B-theorist thinks the temporal ordering has a direction (but does not have any A-theoretic flow) she can explain this appearance as veridical. Finally, some contemporary physicists, in their desire to reconcile quantum mechanics with the general theory of relativity, have defended so-called timeless physical theories, according to which there is not even a C-series ordering of events.[6] These theorists incur all of McTaggart’s explanatory burdens, since they need to explain why it seems to us as though there is a temporal ordering, when, in fact, there is none.

Given the extent to which contemporary theorists incur some, or all, of the explanatory burdens McTaggart incurred, the question of how McTaggart discharges that burden is of considerable interest. This is how Ingthorsson describes McTaggart’s approach:

McTaggart suggests that they [the terms in the C-series] are related in terms of being ‘included in’ and ‘inclusive of’ (S566 of NE). Very briefly, the only way he thinks we can explain the appearance of a series of entities related by the earlier than/later than each other is if we assume that, for any two terms in the series (except the first and last is there is a first and last) the one includes the other. The perception of a mental state that includes another can give rise to the misperception that the included content is a part of the content that includes it, and mutatis mutandis for mental states that are included in another. The relations of included in and inclusive of are asymmetric and transitive and so give a sense of direction, and are meant to be able to give rise to a false sense of change, and that in turn gives rise to a false sense of one term being earlier or later than another. (McTaggart’s Paradox pg 59).

Unsurprisingly, McTaggart appeals to the existence of the C-series, alongside certain features of our mental states, to explain the way things seem. This is important, since in doing so McTaggart appeals to the very same resources the C-theorist takes herself to have. So if his explanation is good (or at least, on the right track) then it is an explanation to which the C-theorist can avail herself. If I understand the proposal correctly, McTaggart’s explanation for the appearance as of succession (and with it, change) looks something like what have become known as retentionalist models of temporal experience. According to such models, roughly speaking, the mental state that obtains at one time can, as part of its content, include content from mental states that obtained at other times. So, in theory at least, mental states can have a nested structure, whereby one, as part of its content, includes the content of another mental state, which, in turn as part of its content, includes another mental state and so on. This complex nested structure is precisely the structure McTaggart supposes mental states to have. One might have attempted to explain this nested content in terms of the relations of earlier/later than, by noting that later mental states include content from earlier mental states (but not vice versa). But the proposal, here, would be to explain the appearance as of there being relations of earlier/later in terms of the nesting of mental states by suggesting that the appearance as of a directed succession is given by the existence of these nested states. In particular, since the relation of inclusion is itself asymmetric and transitive, then if mental states have that nested structure along the C-series ordering, then they are ordered by a relation that has the same formal features as the earlier/later than relation.

Indeed, something like this picture seems to be a precursor of contemporary C-theoretic explanations for the appearance as of temporal direction in terms of, inter alia, asymmetries of memory, knowledge, and deliberation.[7] In fact, something very close to McTaggart’s proposal is to be found in the work of contemporary timeless theorists. Those theorists, of course, do not have recourse to the existence of a C-series as a partial explanation of the way things seem. So they appeal entirely to unordered (temporally unordered, that is) nested mental states to explain why it seems to us as though there is an ordering (the appearance of ordering is, as it were, the product of the nesting) as well as why that ordering appears to have a direction.[8]

The explanation cannot, of course, end there. It might be right that this nested feature of our mental states gives rise to the appearance as of temporal succession where there is none. But there remains the question of why our mental states have this feature at all: why do some mental states include others? Given the rich resource of McTaggart’s thought, it would be of significant interest to pursue the question of what more he has to say about why mental states have these features. Of course, contemporary philosophers of time will typically point, at least in part, to features of increasing entropy to explain why mental states exhibit this ‘nesting asymmetry’; but it would be of interest to investigate McTaggart’s own views on this.

Interestingly, what all this tells us is that the gap between McTaggart and the C-theorist is, in fact, quite slender. McTaggart agrees with the C-theorist that what gives rise to the appearance as of a temporal succession is the existence of the C-series, combined with certain (asymmetric, transitive) relations (i.e. inclusion) that obtain between our mental states. Where they disagree is in whether the C-series, absent any B- or A-series, is properly called temporal or not. And there, of course, we come back to the issue of whether such a series can give rise to ‘genuine’ change. For the reason that McTaggart concludes that the C-series is not temporal is that in the absence of an A-series, there would be no genuine change, and genuine change is necessary for an ordering to be temporal. Thus neither a C-series nor a B-series, absent an A-series, could count as a temporal series. Both B-theorists and C-theorists reject the claim that there can be no genuine change in the absence of an A-series, and Ingthorsson takes up this issue in chapter 7. There, he argues that McTaggart was right in at least the following way: the B-theory is incompatible with genuine change, since genuine change requires enduring objects—objects that are wholly present at each time they exist rather than being merely partly present as are perduring objects—and the B-theory cannot accommodate such objects.

The reason endurantism is suppose to be the only view of persistence that captures genuine change, is that it entails that persisting objects are numerically identical over time, so that one and the same object exists at multiple times, and at those times instantiates different properties. Thus persisting objects endure through changes, rather than change being a matter of persisting objects having parts with different properties at different times (as per perdurantism). The idea that the B-theory is incompatible with endurance, then, is an interesting (and important) claim, and one that it is worth further consideration. For if time does require genuine change, and if genuine change requires endurance, then McTaggart was right all along: if all events, objects, and properties exist (if eternalism is true) then there exists a C-series and perduring objects, but there does not exist any temporal ordering of the objects in the C-series.

Let’s set aside the issue of whether genuine change requires endurance, and whether, if it does, genuine change is, in turn, required for an ordering to be temporal. Instead, let’s just focus on Ingthorsson’s contention that the B-theory is incompatible with endurance.

Ingthorsson argues that endurance requires temporal passage at least in the sense that enduring things have to move from one time, to another. But there is no way for them to do that given the B-theory. Another way to put this is that what it is to be wholly present is to be entirely at one time, and to be nowhen else (that’s why enduring objects move, being first at one time, and later at another). But B-theorists are committed to what Ingthorsson calls the temporal parity thesis—the view that all objects events and properties that ever did, do, or will, exist, exist simpliciter (i.e. co-exist). (The temporal parity thesis is the view that is sometimes known as eternalism). If that thesis is true then enduring things co-exist with themselves at many times. So in what sense are said objects wholly present, given that each of them exists not only at the time in question, but also outside of it. Ingthorsson writes that

…the very idea of an enduring particular, in the sense I initially described it, is as of a three-dimensional thing that exists wholly and exclusively at one time at a time i.e. not multiply located in time any more than a football that crosses the pitch is multiply located at all points of it spatial trajectory. (McTaggart’s Paradox, 102)

The idea is that just as the football sweeps across the field, and is at no time at multiple places on the field (but rather, at each in succession) somehow the same ought be true of enduring objects.

It is worth noting that this argument, if it succeeds, succeeds against views that accept something weaker than the temporal parity thesis. It succeeds against any view that says that there exist a least two times t and t*, such that whatever objects, properties and events exist at t, and whatever objects, properties and events exist at t*, all of those objects, properties and events co-exist (i.e. exist simpliciter). Presentism denies even this weak thesis, but other non B-theoretic views such as the growing block and moving spotlight theories do accept that weaker thesis. If the argument succeeds, then, it shows that every view of temporal ontology is incompatible with endurance (and hence, perhaps, with genuine change and with temporal relations) aside from presentism.[9] That’s because Ingthorsson’s view about what it would take for an object to be wholly present, and hence to endure, requires that said object exists at only one time, and nowhen outside that time. But if any other times exist than the present one, then this would flout that requirement.

To be sure, if being wholly present means being at one time, and nowhere else, then it must be the case that endurance is incompatible with any view but presentism. But ought we think this is so? Of course, in the case of the moving football—what we might call the spatial case—what it is to move through space (very roughly, setting aside issues of relativity) is to exist at different spatial locations at different times. Hence at any one time one will see the football at a single position along its trajectory: we will see it at one place on the field, and at no other. But if one ‘sees’ all times, one will see that object at each location along its trajectory: that is, in fact, what a worldline is, in Minkowski space-time. So one sees a whole set of co-existing three-dimensional objects, each of which is the football at one time. Why should that be puzzling? Why should it show that the football is not, in any good sense, wholly present at each spatial location at which it is located at each time?  What is the sense in which the ball is wholly present at each of those locations, given that, quite clearly, it is present at more than just one location? It is the sense in which at each time, what exists is all of the ball—all of the three-dimensional object that is the ball, as opposed to there existing some three-dimensional object that is a mere part of the ball.

To be sure, what we see when we look at the full four-dimensional representation of the ball’s movement across the field is that the ball fills a four-dimensional region of space-time (namely its four-dimensional trajectory through space-time). But that doesn’t make the ball four-dimensional, since one way of accomplishing this filling of space-time is for the ball to endure, and to fill that region by being wholly located at each of the three-dimensional regions. The ball moves across the field, and it does so by existing at different places at different times, not by existing only at a single time, and by different times themselves existing sequentially.

Ingthorsson is aware of such a view, noting that, many contemporary endurantists (those who think persisting objects endure) think that endurance is compatible with the temporal parity thesis. Such endurantists hold that we should understand what it is to be wholly present in terms of a multi-location thesis spelled out in terms of different location relations that objects bear to regions of spacetime. [10]  To be sure, they say, the enduring ball is located at different times (all of which are equally real) but it endures nonetheless, since it is the very same, numerically identical, three-dimensional ball, that exists at each of those times.

Ingthorsson, however, thinks that such a view falls foul of the problem of temporary intrinsics. Does it? I don’t see why. If the ball is, indeed, multiply located then there is just one ball, located in many places. It doesn’t sweep through time, to be sure, but the entire ball is located at each time, and each such three-dimensional object is one and the same thing. That ball has a single complete set of properties—the properties that completely characterise the ball—which mention how it is at each of those times. One might worry, as Ingthorsson does, that this makes the instantiation of properties into disguised relations to times, since the ball must instantiate properties such as being dirty at one time, and being clean at another (let’s suppose the ball picks up dirt as it traverses the field). But it’s hard to feel the force of this worry, given the picture on offer. If it turns out that objects persist by being multiply located along the temporal axis, then they do so by bearing location relations to each of the three-dimensional regions they occupy. A single persisting ball bears a series of location relations to a series of such regions. But in that case one might expect that at each of such region, the ball will instantiate properties relative to that location. It’s not as if this is an ad hoc proposal borne of the need to reconcile change with Leibniz Law (a la the problem of temporary intrinsics); rather, it seems to be the natural thing to day for someone who endorses this picture. No doubt, however, there is much more to be said here, and McTaggart’s Paradox sews the seeds for such discussion.

Whatever one makes of the arguments, the book is a rich source of argumentation and discussion of a number of core issues in the philosophy of time, and for that reason is well worth a read.

References

Barbour, J. (1999). The End of Time.  Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

Baron, S., Cusbert, J., Farr, M., Kon, M, & Miller, K (2015). Temporal Experience, Temporal Passage and the Cognitive Sciences. Philosophy Compass. 10 (8): 56—571.

Baron, S and K Miller (2015). “What is temporal error theory?” Philosophical Studies. 172 (9): 2427-2444.

Baron, S and K Miller (2014). “Causation in a timeless world”. Synthese. Volume 191, Issue 12, pp 2867-2886 DOI 10.1007/s11229-014-0427-0.

Braddon-Mitchell, D (2013). Against the Illusion Theory of Temporal Phenomenology. CAPE studies in Applied Ethics volume 2  211-233.

Gilmore, C. (2014). „Location and Mereology“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2017/entries/location-mereology/>.

Eagle, A., (2010a). “Perdurance and Location”, in D. Zimmerman, ed., Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, vol. 5, pp. 53–94.

Hoerl, C. (2014). Do we (seem to) perceive passage? Philosophical Explorations, 17, 188–202.

Kutach, D. (2011). The Asymmetry of Influence. In Craig Callender (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Time. Oxford University Press.

Latham, A. J. Holcombe. A. and K Miller (ms). “Temporal Phenomenology: Phenomenological Illusion vs Cognitive Error.”

McTaggart, J. M. E. (1908). The Unreality of Time. Mind, 17(68), 457–474.

McTaggart, J. M. E. (1921). The Nature of Existence Vol 1. Cambridge, CUP.

McTaggart, J. M. E. (1927). The Nature of Existence Vol 2. Cambridge, CUP.

Parsons, J.  (2007). “Theories of Location”, Oxford Studies in Metaphysics, vol. 3., pp. 201–232.

Paul, L. A. (2010). Temporal experience. Journal of Philosophy, 107, 333–359.

Price, H. (1996). Time’s Arrow and Archimedes’ Point: New Directions for the Physics of Time, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Prosser, S. (2012). Why does time seem to pass? Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 85, 92–116.

Torrengo, G. (forthcoming). “Feeling the passing of time”. The Journal of Philosophy.


[1] See Baron et al (2015) for an articulation of such arguments.

[2] See for instance Braddon-Mitchell (2013); Hoerl (2014); Torrengo (forthcoming) and Latham et al (ms).

[3] See for instance Latham et al (ms).

[4] See for instance Paul (2010); Prosser (2012).

[5] See for instance Price (1996) as an example of a C-theorist.

[6] See Barbour (1999); for philosophical discussion see Baron and Miller (2014 and 2015).

[7] See for instance Kutach (2011).

[8] See Barbour (1999).

[9] Ingthorsson uses the term ‘A-view’ to pick out presentism exclusively, and uses A/B hybrid to pick out other views that include an A-series, such as the growing block and moving spotlight view which hold that some non-present objects exist.

[10]See Parsons (2007); Gimore (2014) and Eagle (2010).