André Duarte: Pandemic and Crisis of Democracy, Routledge, 2023

Pandemic and Crisis of Democracy Book Cover Pandemic and Crisis of Democracy
Andrè Duarte

Reviewed by: Garrett Pierman (Florida International University)

The 21st century seems filled to the brim with crises that political theorists have a duty to make sense of.  Three years after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that has rendered most of our lives irreparably changed in some way, critical theorists are beginning to develop mature, articulate responses to local, national, and international political responses to, and effects of, the pandemic. Pandemic and Crisis of Democracy is one such book and represents an exercise in sense-making of recent politics that will likely be a boon to many of those who get the opportunity to read it.

This review begins with a summary of the book as a whole. From there,  I turn to three specific lines of thinking that are present throughout the book, all of which are highlights in terms of the overall contribution of the book to contemporary political theory. Having completed that summary and one brief critique, I offer a contextualization of this exceptionally timely work in terms of identifying prospective audiences and placing it as a work of new critical theory that can begin to address a new idea of “The Americas” in a 21st-century context.

As a whole, the book seeks to situate the presidential politics of Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro as not only a horrible mismanagement of a public health crisis by an authoritarian who seeks to erode democratic institutions but, alongside that mismanagement, a creation of a new kind of necropolitics that amplifies existing trends within Neoliberalism to even more catastrophic ends. To these ends, Duarte masterfully begins a book with an essay, sometimes in first-person perspective, about the pandemic as he experienced it in Brazil. These sorts of narratives, I hope, will prove useful to those who come after us and who might not have firsthand experience of the anxiety, death, mourning, and authoritarian encroachment of this period in our history. Chapter two, then, develops ideas of power in the context of biopolitics, which turns into necropolitics under neoliberalism. The analytical framework set out in chapter two is applied in chapters three and four, which demonstrates that the Necropolitics of covid was not a breach of politics as normal, but, rather, a continuance and intensification of already-existing neoliberal political processes that cast many persons and groups outside of the consideration of worthiness for life. The conclusion is a clear one: such necropolitics are a clear and present threat to democracy, and we can no longer pretend that mere constitutional rights and Enlightenment hopes for democracy are enough to stop authoritarianism. Instead, Duarte concludes, we need a more performative theory and praxis of democracy that has a chance at developing meaningful counters to the bio- and necropolitical praxes offered by the right.

To make this nuanced and necessary political argument, Duarte takes the time, especially in the second chapter, to outline the important contributions to contemporary understandings of Foucault, Arendt, Mbembe, and several others in the areas surrounding the politics of bodies in the contemporary world, such as Judith Butler. These explanations are one of the highlights of the book, as they summarize and situate many years’ worth of reading and analysis into a few dozen pages, rendering some of the more complicated ideas of recent decades of political thought into simple and easily accessible concepts that are then deftly deployed in the rest of the book. At times, the reader might mistake the book for a transcript of lectures given by an experienced professor for the sake of clarifying the aforementioned giants in contemporary political thought: the clarifying role of these sections of the book make what could otherwise have been a hard argument to follow much more compelling.

Making good use of those clear explanations, the book’s second major contribution is in its recording and situating of Bolsonaro’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic within the context of existing political practices. As the book outlines in chapter three, Brazilian politics already exhibited an increasingly authoritarian politics before COVID that sought to other the LGBTQ community, communists, those on the left, darker-skinned folks, and so on, COVID provided an opportunity to not only expand those same biopolitical narratives but declare whole swaths of the population who did not belong to those already marginalized groups as subject to death for the sake of the preservation of the image of Brazilian strength personified by Bolsonaro himself. This politics, which Duarte labels as Bolsonarism, makes use of COVID to intensify dedication to those in political power by disregarding any form of knowledge that would seek to question the official line of the moment: the resultant deaths from this foreclosure of critique and discussion towards good public health ends directly turns the biopolitics of neoliberalism into the necropolitics of authoritarianism. As the author describes it, “ If biopolitical mechanisms for the governing of the lives of the population bring together dangerous side-effects derived from the distinction between worthy and unworthy lives, these consequences tend to become even more intensified and aggravated when authoritarian regimes or illiberal, immunitarian, populist or façade democracies recur to them”(Pg. 44). Documenting that shift from biopolitics to necropolitics is of vital political importance to any reader of this work.

The book also situates itself vitally as a work of political theory aimed at recording and making sense of the lived present of the author in the hopes of explaining the trends that he sees to those of us who would read the work. Intellectually, the foundations for this are best laid in the second chapter’s deployment of Arendt, who spent much of her academic career carefully documenting the major events of the Second World War as well as the formation of the state of Isreal in theoretical terms. This sense of political theorist as historian of the present carries throughout the book, however. For instance, Duarte makes the case that writing books such as this one is the “duty” of academics in times like these (Pg. 22) in the introduction of the book, and he spends much of the final few pages turning towards a call for praxis that might slow down or alter the catastrophically destructive and anti-democratic course upon which many nation states have set themselves.  With these three highlights in mind, I would highly recommend this work to anyone interested in gaining a more critical understanding of COVID politics and how those political trends may well set the stage for upcoming anti-democratic political movements and struggles in the coming years and decades.

Pandemic and the Crisis of Democracy is, as a whole, well-written and timely, situating contemporary political thought within ongoing political practices. No work is without flaws, however. In the case of this work, the conclusion, though it is itself well-done, connects less to the overall theme of Brazillian COVID politics than the rest of the work does. A future edition, perhaps with several more years to observe political outcomes and make reflections that can move beyond calls for praxis, would address the political fate of Bolsonaro thanks to the demos’ perception of and action against his COVID politics as neoliberal necropolitics.

In terms of audience, this book would be of great benefit to undergraduate students in two contexts. The most obvious of these would be in an international relations class that focused on Latin America as a whole, or Brazil in particular. In such a context, this book serves as a timely and critical intervention in some more recent events that highlight power dynamics and authoritarian political shifts. Perhaps less obviously, this would make an excellent part of a contemporary political theory course: the first and second chapters that lay the intellectual framework for the arguments of chapters three and four would make excellent companions to assigned readings from Foucault and Arendt. As I said above, Duarte’s explanations of earlier thinkers are masterful in their clarity without doing much, if any, conceptual violence to the original works.  Graduate students focused on Latin American politics, or who are looking to begin research agendas in the contemporary application of critical theory to COVID and the world thereafter should consider this book to be essential reading.  Finally, the book is written clearly enough that those politically concerned with, but perhaps unable to articulate praxis about, the erosion of democracy should also consider this to be an important book to better understand the political processes through which we are living.

Beyond the text of the book, this work is also an important intervention in a contemporary political understanding of The Americas. In reading this work, especially the sections in which Duarte documents Boslonaro’s refusal to take medical advice, insistence on always having been “right” despite having contradicted himself, and utter willingness to sacrifice his countrymen for the preservation of his own power and ego, I was brought back to my own experiences as a citizen of the United States (and moreover of Florida). Both (former, twice impeached) President Trump and Governor DeSantis not only promoted the same ineffective drugs as Bolsonaro, but the Floridian counterparts also saw fit to happily merge their anti-LGBTQ agendas was red-scare tactics and a biopolitics of the “Good Citizen” that was more than willing to throw away the lives of the working class. Beyond the fact that Bolsonaro now lives in a gated community in Florida, apparently a favorite post-career trend of would-be authoritarians, the similarities of the political responses to COVID have, in my view, brought into sharper focus a concept of “The Americas.”

For recent decades, many activists and scholars have been reluctant to consider this hemisphere as any one political unit, and rightly so: the colonial overtones to the concept are clear, as are the neocolonial ones in the economic dependencies built into NAFTA and its military precursors, the Monroe Doctrine and American anticommunist efforts in Latin America. With that said, there may be a case from within critical theory to take a closer look at the similarities we see in Latin America, the United States, and Canada in terms of the concerning development of necropolitics. This goes beyond what Duarte correctly identifies in the relationships between, for example, the United States in Chile, the former being more than happy to cooperate with a dictatorship in the latter to try out neoliberal principles. Instead, I suggest that this Bolsonarist politics, with its quick move to necropolitics for the sake of hastening neoliberal-style corporate hegemony and authoritarian power are a style of politics beginning to affect the Americas more broadly. And, unlike the temporal cycles of colonialism, this style of necropolitics developed simultaneously. The political sickness that COVID-19 brought to the Americas, then, might be a bolstering of a new, authoritarian necropolitics that travels well across borders. In combatting this new strain of neoliberal horror, books like Pandemic and the Crisis of Democracy are essential inoculations against misinformation and authoritarian rewritings of history, which are already well underway. Despite, or perhaps because, of the Bolsonarist politics unfolding in some of the communities most affected by COVID in the United States, this work should be considered required reading for those critical of the new political normal after the pandemic.

Daniele De Santis: Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations

Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations: Commentary, Interpretations, Discussions Book Cover Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations: Commentary, Interpretations, Discussions
Daniele De Santis (Ed.)
Karl Alber

Reviewed by:  Stefano Franchini (University of Pisa)

The importance of the volume Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations. Commentary, Interpretation, Discussions can be found in its aim: providing a study of the Cartesian Meditations (henceforth CM) in its entirety. Against the tendency to reduce the CM to some of its parts – mostly intersubjectivity or transcendental idealism –, this Commentary attempts to offer a unified view of the text. As the editor De Santis in the Introduction recognizes, CM are not only »Husserl’s second attempt at systematizing his philosophy after the so-called »turn« to a transcendental form of thought« (p. 9) but are also the key to understanding Husserl’s late phenomenology. The editor states that the motivation of this book can be found in the necessity to seriously deal with the text in which Husserl highlights the importance of the »concrete ego«, which provides also a teleological-practi­cal ontology. Regarding the goal of this book, it is important to notice that the three parts CommentaryInterpretation, and Discussion are bounded by each other’s, and it is possible to find some frameworks strictly related to the Commentary and also to the other sections. The development of the Commentary is completed and expanded in the following sections, Interpretation and Discussion, but these parts are not secondary to the others.

The volume is divided into three sections, as the title states. The first part, Commentary (§1-6) provides detailed analyses that stick to Husserl’s publication of the text. The latter two, Interpretation (§7-14) and Discussion (§15-20), intertwine both the commentary and the interpretation. The editor De Santis claims (p.16) that the first part can be regarded as a commentary only if we accept »commentary« in a broad sense. Starting from the CM, the authors develop reflections that go deeper than a simple reconstruction of Husserl’s passages. As is well known, one of the main problems of CM’s reception is the tendency to overlook most of the content of the text (p.12). While in Interpretation the authors emphasize how some philosophers have been dealing with CM, in Discussion the authors spotlight some core problems of Husserl’s CM and reflect on them with other frameworks of phenomenology. For this reason, Interpretation and Discussion both aim to compare CM with Husserl’s phenomenology and with Scholars’ reception of this text, as well as to investigate some of the themes of CM that are central to all Husserl’s phenomenology.

The goal of understanding CM as a whole can be found also in the internal links that can be found. Regarding this, it’s important to notice Daniele De Santis’ §4 on Fourth Meditation with Witold Płotka’s §8, Aurélien Djian’s commentary on Second Meditation with §9 written by Ignacio Quepons and §15 by Emanuela Carta and §5-6 on Fifth Meditation made by Sara Heinämaa (§5) and Alice Pugliese (§6) with Stefano Bancalari’s work on Levinas (§10) and Saulius Geniusas’ contribute on Paul Ricoeur. This allows both a mutual confrontation and a thematic deepening – although internal references are not always present in the text. But it is also possible to further interweave internal references and compare e.g. Landgrebe and Husserl on the account of the idea of Erste Philosophie – these topics are respectively discussed in §9 concerning Landgrebe’s remarks on CM and in §19 §20, specially here on Husserl’s »first« and » universal« and »second« and »last« philosophy. Thanks to the in-depth sections, it is therefore possible to compare the theoretical outcomes of the MC’s with Husserl’s latest phenomenology – e.g Andreea Smaranda Aldea in §17 claims that »Husserl’s emphatic call for a higher-order critique in the Cartesian Meditations as anticipating his Crisis call for radical self-reflection« (p. 453) and Alice Pugliese who compares the Fifth Meditation also with Husserl’s Grenzprobleme der Phänomenologie.

It is important to note that Interpretation and Discussion are not appendixes of the Commentary. Alongside a reading accompaniment, the authors shed light on issues that are often overlooked. For this reason, it seems to me that rather than exhausting the research, the importance of this volume is to be a forerunner for even more in-depth studies of MC. For example, Witold Płotka in §8 goes far beyond just a simple reconstruction of Roman Ingarden’s remarks on CM. Namely, even if these remarks »are an historical document of phenomenological movement« (p. 216), the author stresses the importance of Ingarden’s work also in respect to the Fourth Meditation and to some unjustified presuppositions. In this respect, also Danilo Manca researches in §7 the Hegelian motifs of MC which Fink highlights. Specifically, Manca focuses on the »transition from the natural to the transcendental attitude« (p.193), on the Gespaltung of the Ego after performing epochē and the thematization of unconscious dimension of constituting life which that phenomenological method makes possible. Based on Fink’s reflections and stressing Hegel’s use of »Aufheben« (p. 197), the author shows the continuity between the natural and transcendental attitude. Regarding MC, the author deals with Fink’s remarks on §32 – in which the ego in is understood as a »substrate of habitualities« and with the dialectic between the two I, the natural and the transcendental one. In a passage of Fourth Meditation, Husserl claims that his CM are for the »nascent philosopher the genuine introduction into a philosophy«[1]. The same thing does not completely fit with Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations. Commentary, Interpretation, Discussions. In some parts the content discussed by the authors presupposes a good knowledge of Husserl’s philosophy – not just of MC – and for a non-specialist reader it might be difficult. Especially §14 Meditations on Purity: Edmund Husserl and Hans Kelsen wrote by Federico Lijoi and §18 Lavigne’s Objection to Phenomenologica Idealism: Critical Remarks with the Help of the Cartesian Meditations by Agustín Serrano de Haro are only fully clear to readers that already are familiar with the phenomenological milieu and, in the second case, with Logic Investigation. For this reason, the »broad sense« of the Commentary includes discussions of problems that are not limited to the text commented on here and investigate some core problems of Husserl’s phenomenology. Nevertheless, these chapters are certainly an opportunity to explore these issues.

Certainly, the Commentary’s part offers a detailed discussion. Claudio Majolino in the first part of Commentary (§1) clarifies the meaning of »Cartesian« and »Meditations« and he researches for the Motive – both in its German meanings (p. 27) – why Husserl took Descartes as a reference. This part is longer than the other and it deals both with Husserl’ Introduction and Fist Meditation. Since the earliest reviews many criticisms emerged against Husserl’s approach towards the figure of Descartes (p. 14-6), investigating this point is a good key to start. Claudio Majolino works on Husserl’s so-called Cartesianism and understands it in terms of »repetition and variation« (.p 22). Using some insights from Hua VII / VIII and Husserliana Materialen IX Claudio Majolino stresses the threefold meaning of Descartes’ Meditation recognized by Husserl: the eternal meaning, the importance of CM for the present and finally the meaning of Descartes’ Meditations for the present. The author approaches this problem by pointing out the way Husserl had already discussed Descartes (Socrates and Plato) in his previous Lectures. Regarding this point Claudio Majolino claims that «[Descartes] embedded the skepsis within the innermost core of genuine and radical philosophy itself» (p. 35). If on the one hand, Descartes took some arguments from Skepticism, on the other, on several occasions he points out the differences between his doubt and skepticism[2]. The boundness between the grounded knowledge and responsibility, well discussed in §1, from another point of view, is also investigated by Leonard Ip (§20) using the distinction between »Second« and »Last« Philosophy in Husserl. The reference to Descartes allows Husserl to link knowledge to responsibility, but it also poses some problems: first and foremost, that of the route into phenomenology. In §16 Rosemary Jane Rizo and Patron de Lerner points that out and discusses Husserl’s Cartesian way to reduction. Starting from a discussion of Begründung and Fundierung (p. 405-10) two terms used by Husserl to describe the foundational problem, the A. than discusses the main theme regarding CM. It is important to notice that Rosemary Jane Rizo and Patron de Lerner highlight two antithetical demands in Husserl’s thoughts about science: the interest in a mathematical theoretical foundation and the interest in transcendental subjectivity, which is connected to the Lebenswelt and gives it a foundation. The focus on the Husserl-Descartes link finds another insight in §17. Here, Sergio Pérez-Gatica in his The Distinction between »First« and »Universal« Philosophy in Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations: On a Basic Precondition for the Trasformation of Philosophy into a Rigorous Science points out that while »philosophy« means »universal philosophy« – in terms of Platonic and Cartesian idea of universal science –, Husserl uses »first philosophy« in a technical way to stress the basic method for a rigorous philosophical knowledge. Considering the lack of rigor in philosophy at his time, Husserl uses the Cartesian path to draft the real goal for its phenomenology: providing a fundamental epistemology. (p. 483). In conclusion Sergio Pérez-Gatica highlights the connection between logical and ontological requirements in Husserl’s philosophy and the reflections contained in MC on the idea of rigorous grounding philosophy. Regarding Cartesian way, another insight comes from §9. Here Ignacio Quepons points out that Landgrebe stresses the same problem of the Cartesian way to reduction declared by Husserl itself in Crisis. It’s also important to observe that even if Husserl criticizes the Cartesian way, nevertheless, the other ways do not reject the first one, but complete it by revealing other possibilities (p. 239-40). Another attempt to focus also on Husserl’s so-called Cartesianism can be found in §13 Jan Patočka on Descartes and Husserl’s Cartesianism wrote by Hynek Janoušek and Wojciech Starzyński. The authors discuss Patočka on epochē and reduction from Husserl. While »Patočka accepts Husserl’s method of epochē as a major breakthrough in modern philosophy […], he rejects Husserl’s idea of reduction as leading to the unwarranted subjunctivization of the phenomenal field of appearances« (p. 344). This chapter seems to me to be successful because it relates Patočka with Descartes and Husserl.

Following the Commentary, in §2 Aurélien Djian points out how Husserl repeats and varies – using Caludio Majolino’s words – Descartes to introduce its own transcendental phenomenology. The author stresses specifically the horizon, synthesis, and intentionality notions. Aurélien Djian shows that transcendental subjectivity should not be conflated with the psychological ego because it only can be grasped through epochē (p. 68). The conclusion of §2 discusses a passage of MC §9 and it has a very specific purpose: showing the problems related to Husserl’s »ranking the horizon among the universal principles of phenomenology« (p. 88) and the need for apodicticity of the ego. In §3 Lilian Alweiss asks: how is it possible to do Ontology after Kant? To answer this question the author considers »two different ways of referring to non-being« picked up by phenomenological descriptions: one linked to »possibilities which have not yet been fulfilled, the other to possibilities which have been dashed« (p. 96). Then Lilian Alweiss traces a connection between Husserl and Kant regarding the answer to Hume’s circle. This passage is fundamental to understand why this chapter states that Husserl traces the limits of being from within, with the notion of evidence and through imagination. De Santis’ §4 investigates the role of transcendental idealism in MC, the only place where it has an »exoteric systematic presentation of this doctrine« (p. 115 mod). This comment connects the focus on Husserl’s idioms to the philosophical content in them. Namely, the author points out Husserl’s use of Unsinn, not just in MC but also in Ideas I, and compares it to the occurrences of Wiedersinn. The goal of this chapter is to show that each sense is grasped with respect to transcendental subjectivity, which must be regarded as a monad. De Santis claims also that the monad is »subjectivity constituted by the correlation between the surrounding world (or the world as it appears to me) and the »personal character« (p. 117). Since Husserl’s fifth meditation is longer than the others, the Commentary is divided into two sections: §5 written by Sara Heinämaa and §6 by Alice Pugliese. The first one deals with MC § §42-54, the second one with §55-64. Sara Heinämaa starts considering that »some forms of critique are thematic and reject Husserl’s descriptions of our experiences of other persons or other human beings, while other lines of critique are methodological and question the adequacy of the conceptual tools used in the analysis« (p.141). Then the author points out the role of these chapters within MC as a whole. As Sara Heinämaa states, »with the supposed failure of Fifth Meditation then, with the failure of its account of the constitution of the sense of another self, much, if not all, of Husserl’s phenomenological project would collapse« (p. 143). The main topic of this contribution is to explain the concepts of verification, analogical apperception, and empathy. This chapter faces the transfer of »sense problem« and stresses Husserl’s strategy already adopted in his previous texts. Namely, Husserl uses scientific and philosophic standard terms without their standard meaning – e.g Husserl’s »empathy« is different from Stein’s or Scheler’s use of the same word (p. 157). Alice Pugliese addresses the last part of MC »using one of the most consistent and ancient questions of metaphysics as a hermeneutical key: the dialectic of unity and multiplicity« (p. 171). More in detail, the author claims that the unity-multiplicity problem leads the empathy problem. This strategy completely fits MC, especially considering that »the monad is a unity that includes multiplicity« (p. 178). This reading is further confirmed if we consider »the core of the egological and monadic intuition« which stands for unity and the »the daily work of science and knowledge« as multiplicity (p. 186). The problems of Fifth CM discussed in the Commentary are taken again by Stefano Bancalari, who in §10 discuss The influence of the Cartesian Meditations on the thought of Emmanuel Levinas. If on the one hand, the 5th MC provided Levinas the intersubjective problem, central for his work, on the other, it determined the rupture with Husserl’s phenomenology (p. 260). Considering Levinas’ thought nearly in its entirety, Stefano Bancalari points out how Levinas used his »intersubjective reduction« to overcome the problems related to Husserl’s Cartesian way to reduction. Regarding the aim of this book this contribution is important because it thematizes Others’ constitution problem. Stefano Bancalari also shows why the lack of the Others’ gaze in the analogical apperception for Levinas is a problem (p. 271). Another perspective on the intersubjectivity problem comes from Jakub Čapek, who discusses Merleau-Ponty’s lecture of CM in §11. The author shows how from an initial critique to the ego Merleau-Ponty then  uses Husserl’s analysis, and in particular the idea of appresentation, »to face the objection that his theory makes individual perspectives vanish into a monism of a supra-individual corporeity« (283). As Jakub Čapek recognizes, Merleau-Ponty goes further and in the end of Phenomenology of perception claims the return to the ego – albeit transformed. The author states that for Merleau-Ponty the main problem of Husserl’s account of intersubjectivity is the transposition from the I to the Other because it is based on the immediate self-knowledge. On the contrary, for Merleau-Ponty our self-knowledge is »a practical task yet to be accomplished« (284). Although in §11there is no reference to Merleau-Ponty’s receipt of Ideas II, this contribution further enriches some of the problems seen in the previous chapters. In §12 Saulius Geniusas in his Paul Ricoeur’s Husserlian Heresies: The Case of the Cartesian Meditations points out that MC are the core not only of Ricœur’s reading of Husserl, but also for his philosophy itself. The author approaches the topic using three questions: how Cartesian are Husserl’s MC?  How descriptive is Husserl’s descriptive phenomenology? How egological is Husserl’s egology? Saulius Geniusas claims that »Husserl secularizes Descartes and interprets the Cartesian cogito as the transcendental subject, conceived of as the ultimate origin of all meaning« (p. 305). Additionally, if on the one hand, the author bounds both Descartes and Husserl on the problem, on the other he stresses that Husserl’s radicalization of Descartes does not address God. Regarding the second question, Saulius Geniusas stresses that »for Ricoeur, Husserl’s phenomenology is not sufficiently descriptive because it does not constrain its own descriptions from gliding into transcendental idealism» (315). It is important to notice that this chapter bounds itself both with Daniele De Santis’ §4 and Stefano Bancalari’s §10. Regarding the problem of evidence, Emanuela Carta in §15 reconstructs scholars’ discussion of Husserl’s evidence understood as Theory of justification (Standard View) and proposes a new interpretation of the theme where evidence justifies belief. Fallibilist Thesis claims »What is evidently given to one can be false« and it is related with The Corollary Thesis: »It is possible for one to have justification to believe a false proposition« (379). After criticizing the metaphysical realism of scholars, the author discusses Husserl’s notion of »idealism«. Here a footnote on De Santis’ work in this text could have been useful. Finally, Emanuela Carta provides an alternative to the Standard view, claiming the correlation between absolute truth- adequate evidence and relative truth-inadequate evidence (p 393). Thanks to that it is possible to reject both Fallibilist Thesis and The Corollary Thesis and to argue that evidence justifies belief because it shows what is true, even if in an open and perfectible way. A Discussion that shows the unity of the late Husserl’s thought is that of Andreea Smaranda Aldea, Self-Othering, Self-Transformation, and Theoretical Freedom: Self-Variation and Husserl’s Phenomenology as Radical Immanent Critique. Specifically on this topic the author links the self-critique of the self-variation with Crisis’ zig-zag method. Namely, self-variation clarifies both the goal of inquiries and itself. For this reason, if we consider the Besinnung as a Rückfrage, it is possible to regard self-variation »as methodological tool central to phenomenology as a whole« (p. 453). In his conclusion, following the sense of Besinnung, Andreea Smaranda Aldea claims that self-variation is not just a simple method related to self-constitution, but »a central method at the core of phenomenology itself functions as a necessary condition for the possibility of this radical self-critique« (455).

Before concluding this review, I would like to focus on another goal of the volume: if on the one hand the volume presents itself as a unique volume, on the other the richness of the contributions also allows a specific selection of some parts of it. This means that Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditation. Commentary, Interpretation, Discussions is not only aimed at specialists of Husserl, but also at all those who, across the board, have to deal with MC. In sum, this volume marks a notable achievement. The broad sense of the Commentary completely full fits the goal of the editor. Additionally, it should not be read merely as commentary. Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditation. Commentary, Interpretation, Discussions is a collection of contributions which gives a rich and broad view of the Cartesian Meditations as a whole. All the various parts move in different, often intertwined, directions and show the richness of Husserl’s work. The volume’s conspicuous number of pages proves how urgently an entire study dedicated to MCs was needed.

[1] Edmund Husserl, Cartesian meditations (translated by D. Cairns), p. 88.

[2] See René Descartes, Œuvres Complètes, vol. 12 (Vrin, 1996). Specially AT VI 29, AT X 512 and AT III 434.

David Seamon: Phenomenological Perspectives on Place, Lifeworlds, and Lived Emplacement

Phenomenological Perspectives on Place, Lifeworlds, and Lived Emplacement Book Cover Phenomenological Perspectives on Place, Lifeworlds, and Lived Emplacement
David Seamon
294 Pages 6 B/W Illustrations

Reviwer by: Douglas Giles (Elmhurst University)

This volume takes an interesting approach to the phenomenology of place and human lived emplacement. The book is an anthology of previously published papers and essays rather than a continuous arrative argument. Seamon has, however, assembled the parts of the anthology as an extended annotated bibliography for his 2018 book, Life Takes Place: Phenomenology, Lifeworlds, and Place Making. As Seamon states in his introduction to this volume, all of its chapters make a range of references to the three aspects of place discussed in Life Takes Place—phenomenology, lifeworlds, and placemaking.

Seamon is the curator of this anthology, giving it the strength of a deliberate, cohesive narrative, at least from the author’s perspective. How much would we love to have had notable philosophers of the past give us their own sense of their oeuvre as Seamon has given us here! Phenomenological Perspectives is an important service to phenomenologists interested in Seamon or in the philosophies of place and the social lifeworld.

Phenomenological Perspectives, being an in-depth exploration of the three interrelated themes of the book Life Takes Place, is divided into three groups of chapters. The three parts of Phenomenological Perspectives deal with phenomenology as a means of studying place, phenomenologically understanding place experience and lived emplacement, and using artistic media to illustrate the many ways that humans encounter lived experience in place.

In Part I, Seamon presents four chapters in which he explains the basics of the phenomenology of place. Chapter 2, “Lived Bodies, Place, and Phenomenology,” could serve as a general introduction to phenomenology and as an approach to understanding people and the societies they create. The other three chapters in Part I introduce and explain the concepts of lifeworld, homeworld, and environmental embodiment, foundational concepts for Seamon’s phenomenology of place. Chapter 4, “Body-Subject, Time-Space Routines, and Place Ballets,” is noteworthy for Seamon’s discussion of his concept of “place ballet.” This he defines as “the regularity of place grounded in the bodily habituality of users.” It is a concept reminiscent of Heidegger’s “everydayness,” with Seamon placing more emphasis on the lived body in our experience of place and our pedestrian routines within our lifeworld.

Expressing Seamon’s background in architecture and environment behavior, the chapters in Part II explore the relations of places and lived emplacement to architecture, design pedagogy, and urban placemaking. The five previously published papers in Part II use the concepts of lifeworld and place ballet to understand and improve architectural design, with particular emphasis on the practical value of understanding place and lived emplacement. Chapter 8, “Architecture, Place, and Phenomenology: Buildings as Lifeworlds, Atmospheres, and Environmental Wholes,” provides an insightful description of how architecture plays a central role in human life. The short essay of Chapter 7, “Serendipitous Events in Place: The Weave of Bodies and Context via Environmental Unexpectedness and Chance,” is a slight diversion in tone. In it, Seamon discusses place serendipity—relating stories of people having chance experiences in place. Seamon connects the stories to the subject of Part II by observing that architectural design is an aspect in serendipitous events that affect people’s lives.

Part III comprises eight essays about artistic creations that Seamon sees as providing real-world groundings that identify general aspects of human life and place events. The essays discuss the work of two filmmakers, a photographer, four writers, and a television producer. Seamon’s phenomenological interpretations of these mostly fictional artistic creations may or may not express the intentions of their creators. Nevertheless, the connections that Seamon makes are interesting and informative. If phenomenology, as Seamon defines it, is the description and interpretation of human experience, then fictional creations can concretize human experience in ways that help us understand that human life is impossible without place.

Phenomenological Perspectives is invaluable in a study of David Seamon’s philosophy. It also provides a solid set of resources for the phenomenological study of place and lifeworlds. This book can be useful on its own but is perhaps best appreciated if one also has Seamon’s Life Takes Place alongside. Phenomenological Perspectives deserves a place on the phenomenologist’s bookshelf next to monographs of Jeff Malpas and Anthony Steinbock.

Steven Cassedy: What Do We Mean When We Talk about Meaning

What Do We Mean When We Talk about Meaning Book Cover What Do We Mean When We Talk about Meaning
Steven Cassedy
Oxford University Press
Hardback $32.99

Reviewed by: Jacob Rump (Creighton University)

As Steven Cassedy notes in the introduction to this fascinating, wide-ranging, and unique book, meaning is everywhere, and yet it seems no one ever stops to define it (1)[1]. Through a series of chapters tracing the history of “meaning” from ancient Greek and Hebrew sources to contemporary English usage, Cassedy tells a story in which notions of meaning were originally limited to words, signs, and interpretation, but usage gradually expanded to a present-day context in which meaning means… well… almost everything. The book succeeds in something that, in my view, is not often enough done in contemporary philosophy or intellectual history: connecting past philosophical ideas—in broad, easy-to-understand brushstrokes—to popular culture and the popular uptake of those ideas in the present and recent past.

The book is, indeed, more appropriately considered a work in intellectual history than in philosophy in a narrow academic sense. Cassedy works in comparative literature, and the primary method of the work is close reading rather than philosophical argument. His overarching claims are developed via helpful etymological discussions and readings of texts in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Russian, French, German, and Danish, as well as selective attention to secondary literature on these figures and associated key texts. These treatments, taken as a whole, offer an extremely helpful overview of the evolution of the notion of meaning over the longue durée of Western intellectual history, with some fascinating (if necessarily selective) detailed accounts of key ideas and authors.

I begin with a chapter-by-chapter overview of the more broadly historical Chapters One through Five, then turn to more detailed critical treatment of some major themes, where I also survey Chapters Six through Nine, which are devoted to more recent and popular treatments of meaning.


The concept of meaning as we have come to know it in contemporary English is more recent than we might expect, and does not, on Cassedy’s reading, have an exact equivalent in ancient writings. Chapter One, as its title suggests, argues that the ancient world “got along without” meaning “until the rise of Christianity.” Cassedy surveys Hebrew and Aramaic terms appearing in the Hebrew Bible and concludes that there is simply no word corresponding to our “meaning” to be found there, though there is some interesting discussion of translations of Ecclesiastes using “meaning” in an attempt to get at the sense of value or “meaning in life” that Cassedy is interested in (14-15).

Cassedy then turns to ancient Greece, where he finds significant semantic commonality with regard to the English verb to mean, and ample evidence of diverse theories of signification, signs, interpretation, and the function of language in authors like Plato, Aristotle, Aeschylus, and as far back as Heraclitan fragments about the Delphic Oracle. But the focus remains on the verb, and on the notion of signification: Cassedy finds little evidence of a noun form of “meaning,” and little attention paid to the “something that gets signified” corresponding to a sign (19). Cassedy also insists, with regard to Platonic forms (ideai) that “nowhere are they likened to a meaning that we retrieve as we do from words in a written text” (23).

It is only in Chapter Two, with Latin-language authors of early Christianity, that we “first find meaning used as the object of a metaphysical interpretive quest into a mysterious, invisible realm separate from the realm of direct experience” and where the meaning of “meaning” begins to expand beyond the literal. The key notion here is “the readability the world,” and Cassedy largely follows the work of Hans Blumenberg and New Testament scholar Harry Gamble in his extended analysis of meaning in Augustine. Here, helpfully, we find an early touchstone for the distinction between natural and conventional (“given”) signs (30)—a distinction that would be important in twentieth-century accounts from Husserl (2001, I.§2) to Grice (1957, 378-79). Divine scripture for Augustine consists of given signs with authorial intent, but the interpretation of those signs involves usage of “ideas/thoughts/meanings (sensa) by means of signs, and those signs relate to our various senses (sensūs)” (31). This anticipates the idea—central to Cassedy’s interpretation of the German Sinn as discussed below—of a close relationship and intermingling between meaning and sensation. It also introduces the important distinction, central to Augustine, on Cassedy’s interpretation, between the actual reading of books, such as the scriptures, and the figurative “reading” of the world or nature, and ultimately of heaven, whose signs are—at least for human beings— “shrouded in mystery and subject to interpretive acts that can never be guaranteed to reveal an absolute truth” (33). This for Cassedy is the central step that clears the way for the contemporary usage of meaning in phrases like “meaning in life.”

Cassedy then notes a shift from the medieval idea of reading the “text of the world” as well as written passages to the later idea—which Cassedy argues, following the historian of science Peter Harrison, arises as a result of the Protestant Reformation—of reading as applying to passages only: “under the older conception, both words (in Scripture) and things (in the world of nature) had meanings. Under the new, Protestant conception, only words had meaning; objects didn’t” (37). The result, according to Harrison, was that “The natural world, once the indispensable medium between words and eternal truths, lost its meanings, and became opaque to those hermeneutical procedures which had once elucidated it. It was left to an emerging natural science to reinvest the created order with intelligibility” (Harrison, qtd. in Cassedy, 37).

The notion that the world itself contains meaning is reasserted, Cassedy argues, in Berkeley’s work on perception. Following Kenneth Winkler, Cassedy finds in Berkley a “semiotic theory of vision,” “founded on the notion that seeing is a matter of recovering meanings from signs whose connections with those meanings are purely conventional and arbitrary” (39). This notion is reminiscent of medieval “book of nature” ideas, but with the crucial difference provided by Berkley’s (in)famous immaterialism, which, Cassedy argues, sets the stage for idealism and romanticism.

Chapter Three, “Idealism and Romanticism,” was for me the most intriguing and the most helpful of the book. It begins from an extended discussion of Johan Georg Hamann, who “embedded language in the very fabric of the world itself, which he viewed as God’s text” (44). This leads a naturally to the idea of a close connection between the perceptual senses (die Sinne) and sense (Sinn), an idea which Cassedy takes up in the next subsection of the chapter. His short history of the German Sinn invokes its early connotations of movement, change of place, and direction, and traces its development through to a more modern conception that builds in a certain “fuzziness” or indeterminacy.

Chapter Three focuses especially on one of the twenty four definitions of Sinn provided in the Grimm Brothers’ mid-nineteenth-century Deutsches Wörterbuch, which notes that “[i]n modern times, Sinn is customarily and commonly [used] for the meaning [Bedeutung], the opinion [Meinung], the spiritual content, the intention [Tendenz] of an expression, a work, or (more rarely) an action, as distinguished from its wording [Wortlaut] or its outward appearance” (qtd. in Cassedy, 49). In this later usage, Cassedy notes, Sinn is most often connotative, whereas the German bedeuten and Bedeutung—like the English meaning—is more likely to be denotative. This of course tracks both the well-known distinction between Sinn and Bedeutung as marked by Frege in the essay of that name (Frege 1892), and also discussions of denotation and connotation in English from, e.g., Mill (1843, I.2.§5). Puzzlingly, there is no treatment of these obvious touchstones in this chapter or elsewhere in the text, despite the fact that Frege’s is concerned with precisely the same German terms, and Mill falls into precisely the same historical period as the German authors discussed in Chapter Three.

Chapter Three then further traces the notion of Sinn in Kant, through pre-Critical writings such as Dreams of a Spirit-seer and into the first Critique, where “Like the Latin sensum/sensus/ sentientia, Sinn conveys both the receiving, sentient mind and the properties of objects that the mind cognizes and interprets” (56-7). Kant’s use of the term stands in stark contrast, Cassedy reports, to that of later romantic-era figures such as Novalis (whose “grand, mysterious statements” about meaning are treated by Cassedy at great and somewhat puzzling length), Goethe, Schlegel, Schleiermacher, and Herder. It is in these romantic-era figures that we first encounter sustained engagement with the German phrase “Sinn des Lebens,” the philosophical and intellectual precursor to contemporary English’s “meaning of life,” and with the call to rediscover the original sense or meaning of the world by re-enchanting or romanticizing it (64). Herder’s 1772 Treatise on the Origin of Language is given strikingly brief treatment—especially in contrast to the expansive discussion of Novalis—and is discussed only in the context of its influence on Schleiermacher.

Chapter Four begins with a brief treatment of Kierkegaard, due to his explicit invocations of the “meaning of,” and sometimes “in” “life” (74-75), but his usage of these phrases is dismissed as relatively “uneventful.” (The influence of broader themes in Kierkegaard’s work on twentieth-century writers, due to the appearance of English translations of his work, is returned to in more detail in Chapters Six, Seven, and Eight). The bulk of Chapter Four consists of extensive discussions of Thomas Carlyle, including Carlyle’s engagement with Novalis, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Carlyle’s work represents for Cassedy the movement of German culture into British culture over the course of the nineteenth century (77), and in his partly satirical novel Sartor Resartus we find what Cassedy suspects to be the first use of the phrase “the meaning of life” in English, “where the phrase refers not to the meaning, or definition, of the word life but to the meaning of life itself” (82).

Emerson brought Carlyle’s novel to the United States, where it was influential for the American Transendentalists. Emerson was also influenced directly by earlier German mystics such as Novalis, as well as by the uptake of German romanticism in Coleridge, from whom he took the notion of the “book of nature” that would be influential in Emerson’s extended engagements with the theme of nature and humankind’s place in it. Emerson, Cassedy plausibly argues, “envisages a world in which we ‘read’ (metaphorically speaking) and interpret not just actual books but, well, that world itself, which he implicitly represents as yielding up meaning, significance, sense to our acts of interpretation” (90). This amounts to a form of idealism reminiscent of Berkeley and Kant, but in which “the mind or consciousness always bleeds over into a mysterious spiritual realm that appears to be simultaneously coextensive with and hidden from it” (92). For Cassedy, such a mystical, book-of-nature connotation of “meaning” in English is a major component of our contemporary usage and understanding of the term.

Chapter Five turns to Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, including some intriguing comparison of the Russian smysl and the German Sinn (95). From Tolstoy’s increasingly religious writings—especially due to their popularity with readers of English-language translations appearing in the early twentieth century—and in references to Tolstoy in well-known works such as James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience, we first get the close connection between meaning and purpose that is also part of our contemporary understanding of the word. Due to Dostoevsky’s existentialism and the centrality of mortality for so many of his characters, Cassedy suggests, readers find in his works a more secular treatment of meaning in life than in Tolstoy, despite Dostoevsky’s frequent association of the phrase “meaning of life” with the immortality of the soul. “‘The meaning of life,’ with its enormous potential for ambiguity, is a phrase that allows the secularist to form at least a partial understanding of what a person of putatively pure religious faith actually believes” (118).


As the above overview suggests, the real focus of Cassedy’s book is not the notion of meaning as such, but the way in which the word has come to be associated with concepts like value and purpose, as in the phrase “the meaning of life,” which would seem to be quite far from the ancient Greek usage of the verb “to mean” and from its later European-language verbal and nominal relatives. In all these earlier cases, “meaning” is primarily a matter of signification, of what signs, words, and language do (15). Cassedy thus seeks to understand the relationship between what we might call the semiotic or semantic connotation of “meaning” and its more recent purposive or axiological connotation. In this regard, the book is both original and important: he is one of very few recent authors who appears to have thought carefully and extensively about the relationship between meaning in these two senses. As Cassedy puts it, in a glib criticism of a passage from Charles Taylor, “telling us first that meaning means ‘meaning’ and ‘significance’ and next that it means the same thing that it means in the phrase ‘the meaning of life’ doesn’t really narrow things down very much” (2).

Even in contemporary academic philosophy, discussions of these semantic and axiological conceptions of meaning continue to be worlds apart, with discussion of the former located in particular sub-domains of the analytic philosophy of language or (post-?) post-structuralist pontifications about signs and signifiers, whereas discussion of the latter is located primarily among philosophers writing in the domains of ethics, social-political philosophy, and related areas of value theory. The fact that philosophical treatments of meaning have become so divergent is intriguing and alarming, at least if Cassedy is right that these notions are related in more than merely homophonic ways. In this sense, I think the book can be read as a kind of call to action for the reintegration of philosophical (and not merely pop-cultural) investigations of meaning. This call to action is to be applauded, in my view, and indeed is one I have tried to take some small steps toward in my own work. I return to this theme toward the end of this review.

Unfortunately, Cassedy’s treatment of this issue is limited to a more-or-less genealogical account of how the change came about: the book answers the question, “How does a word that fundamentally has to do with signs, words, stories, and other things that, well, mean or signify something come to mean ‘purpose’ and ‘value’? How does it come to mean all the other things it appears to mean, apart from ‘signify’?” (4). While Cassedy offers us a detailed (if not always balanced, as I note below) historical account of the emergence of these additional connotations of the word, he doesn’t offer much beyond that genealogical account as to why this divergence occurred.

But perhaps this is part of his point: that there is really nothing ultimately beyond the genealogical account—there is no deep reason, at least none available to human beings—for why meaning came to have the meaning that it now, in Western popular culture, has. There is, perhaps, only something like the Nietzschean revaluation of values that it signifies (I’m putting words in Cassedy’s mouth here; there is actually strikingly little engagement with Nietzsche in the book, given its theme, and that minor engagement is only indirect, appearing in the context of discussions of Paul Tillich). This claim would seem to fit with Cassedy’s explicit thesis about the ambiguity of the contemporary usage of “meaning”: “what we mean when we talk about meaning” is ultimately, necessarily, “polyvalent” (8, 33, 182). “It’s the very fluidity that gives meaning its peculiar resonance and mystique and that allows it to live with equal comfort in the writings of secular scientists and the official decrees of Catholic popes. That’s the ambiguity that lends this word its peculiar and characteristic power—what makes it the quintessentially modern word” (10). The power of this polyvalence is that it allows meaning to refer to whatever it is that fills a void in the existential dimension of our contemporary lives, just as philosophical-religious figures like Tillich and Ulrich Barth suggested it should.

Hence the book’s extensive focus, in the twentieth-century portion of its historical genealogy, on such popularizing philosophical-religious figures—a treatment that turns increasing toward the popularizing, and increasingly away from the philosophical, with its coverage of each subsequent decade. For Cassedy, the meaning of “meaning” began to fracture in the twentieth century alongside (and perhaps because of) its more popular uptake. The fracturing begins, as discussed in Chapters Six and Seven, with the extensive employment of the term in the English-language writings of Tillich, Barth, and Reinhold Niebuhr, and increases in the oft-announced “age of anxiety” in American culture—a term that Cassedy traces to W.H. Auden’s poem with that name published in the U.S. in 1947, and a term which was firmly entrenched in popular discourse by the early 1960s. “Meaning” has by this time come to serve an increasingly therapeutic purpose, a panacea for a variety of existential woes characteristic of modern American life in the post-war period. With regard to the source of these woes, Cassedy has much to say about contemporaneous changes in mainstream religious belief, but relatively little to say about the effects of the second World War, the Holocaust, or an increasingly capitalist, consumerist American society. In any case, in the post-war period, the term “anxiety,” like the “meaning” that is popularly believed to contain its cure, has come “to denote a remarkably wide range of things” (131).

In Chapter Eight, Cassedy documents a shift from religious to more popular, scientistic, and therapeutic conceptions of meaning, and a corresponding expansion of its usage as both cure-all and catch-all term. This change is tracked via an account of the development of existential psychotherapy in figures such as Victor Frankl and Rollo May (Frankl is singled out for particularly extensive and trenchant criticism, about which I am not qualified to comment), through treatments of recent biochemical approaches to meaning such as the work of Barbara Fredrickson (approaches about which I am skeptical, but again not qualified to comment), and in the contemporary proliferation of works that give center-stage to the notion of meaning, while hardly ever defining it, in the contemporary self-help movement (about which I think no additional comment necessary). Thus, Cassedy argues, from the late 1960s to the present, at least in mainstrem American society, meaning increasingly becomes “a suggestive term, undefined, unspecific, and preponderantly secular, designed to conjure in our minds the idea of something grand, mysterious, and unnamed that, owing to our particular life circumstances, we must strive for” (140).

In this light, Cassedy’s polyvalence thesis is both unique and refreshing, and certainly speaks to the era of human social and intellectual history that we find ourselves in today—an era which, Cassedy convincingly argues, has been presaged by the enormous uptick of concern with anxiety and meaninglessness beginning in the early twentieth century. However, there are points in the book where Cassedy’s polyvalence thesis comes off like the hasty conclusion of a student who has closely read the relevant texts, but not moved much beyond a survey of positions (with requisite fascination and awe) to the analytical work of crafting an original and nuanced thesis about them: the thesis is simply that they differ. The overarching claim that the meaning of meaning is ambiguous because it has to be thus comes off—at least to this reader—sometimes as thoughtful and sometimes as glib.

At some points, the book reads like a collection of essays held together loosely by their relation to meaning and more generally by the fact that the author happened to want to write and reflect on the texts they interpret. There is nothing wrong with this in principle, of course—all academics do this to some degree—but in this case it results in a book whose treatment appears uneven. While the entire period of Western thought from Augustine to Bishop Berkeley is surveyed in a single chapter, the period from the end of the second World War to the present takes up approximately one third of the book. This is natural, of course, given that things are often more interesting to us as we get closer to the present, but what is less natural is the change in focus as the book moves chronologically. Up through its treatment of the “Russian Titans” Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, in Chapter Five, the book deals entirely with what we might call “high intellectual culture” figures, from the worlds of theology, literature, and philosophy. But beginning in Chapter Seven, and even to some degree in the first treatment of Tillich in Chapter Six, Cassedy’s chronological narrative turns almost exclusively to a more “popular culture” orientation, discussing sources like self-help books, popular psychology, references to “meaning” in Time magazine, etc. This, in part, reflects Cassedy’s thesis: that in the later twentieth century, the obsession with meaning became a mainstream phenomenon, making its way, in light of growing existential concern in the “age of anxiety,” into popular culture and even into the marketplace via the contemporary self-help industry.

But the book almost entirely neglects the fact that meaning never diminished as a topic of conversation in more “high culture” domains in the twentieth century. There is no mention of, e.g., the linguistic turn in philosophy or the resultant projects of linguistic or conceptual analysis in the analytic tradition,[2] and no substantial account of the consideration of meaning in late nineteenth and twentieth-century continental figures such as Dilthey, Nietzsche, or Heidegger, except as minor precursors to the thought of Tillich and Barth. There is, by contrast, extensive treatment of Tillich, and especially of his more popular writings, including his article in the 1966 issue of Time magazine with the iconic “Is God Dead?” cover, despite its status as, in Cassedy’s words, “quite possibly, in the history of American popular periodical literature, the most famous article that no one actually read—or remembers having read” (119). We are told that, by the time of the appearance of Tillich’s article in 1966, the word “meaning” “has traveled a winding path, in its guise as the German Sinn, from the nineteenth-century German philosophy and theology that we’ve examined so far, through such twentieth- century German and French thinkers as Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Camus, and Sartre” (128-9). But little further treatment of these figures is offered, except, occasionally, in the footnotes.

Indeed, there is only the briefest mention and quick dismissal of Sinn-analysis among phenomenologists and neo-Kantians: in a discussion of German philosophical accounts of Sinn as influences on Tillich, Cassedy assures us that “[w]e can safely set aside the philosophical genealogy of the concept (it stems from Edmund Husserl and an obscure philosopher named Emil Lask), whose details need not concern us” (122). It’s not clear why this dismissal is “safe.” Why needn’t these details concern us, and in what sense are figures such as Lask too obscure to merit discussion? Given that earlier chapters of the book discuss historical philosophical figures—even less well-known ones such as Hugh of St. Victor (34)—in some depth, the decision to gloss over large swaths of late nineteenth and early to mid-twentieth-century philosophical work that would seem relevant for Cassedy’s overall thesis and aims in the book seems to stem more from the whims of the author’s own reading than from any serious scholarly research strategy. It’s as if the robust and highly influential discussions of meaning in the twentieth-century analytic and phenomenological traditions never happened. This omission would be understandable in a book devoted to popular, rather than academic-philosophical conceptions of meaning throughout Western intellectual history, but given its extensive discussions of figures such as Augustine, Berkley, and Kant in earlier chapters, the sudden shift to exclusively popular conceptions of meaning in the twentieth century is quite jarring. Even if Cassedy’s point is to show how meaning in the twentieth century went mainstream, it seems odd for an academic monograph to downplay the persisting deeper academic undercurrents.

I do not doubt that there is much to learn from the way that the term meaning has functioning in the popular American imagination in recent decades. Indeed, I found the treatment of this theme in the last four chapters of the book to be both enjoyable and edifying. But earlier chapters are not limited to the American context, and do not offer extensive accounts of the usage of meaning in the popular imagination of, e.g., the farmer of the Middle Ages or the industrial worker of the nineteenth century. If the “we” in What Do We Mean When We Talk About Meaning? refers to popular rather than academic culture in the later decades of the twentieth century, it’s not clear why Cassedy addresses it with regard to the latter rather than the former in his treatment of previous centuries.

Cassedy returns to academic (as opposed to popular) work on meaning, to some degree, in Chapter Nine, “Meaning Bridges the Secular and the Sacred.” The chapter focuses primarily on appeals to meaning in the contemporary faith traditions of Catholics, Evangelicals, and Hasidic Jews (171-180), focusing on texts from Popes John Paul II and Francis, evangelical Pastor and popular author Rick Warren, and Rabbi Simon Jacobson, director of the Meaningful Life Center in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. As a philosopher and not a theologian or scholar of religions, I will not comment on these discussions, except to note that this chapter provides a nice bookend to the treatment of meaning in medieval theology in Chapter Two, and seems largely interested in exploring the relation between the secular and the sacred for its own sake, rather than primarily as a point of confluence in recent popular discussions of meaning.

Chapter Nine also includes some discussion of Charles Taylor (163-171), including a helpful tracing of Taylor’s diagnosis of contemporary “disenchantment” to the usage of that term in Max Weber’s 1919 “Science as Vocation” (166-168), and brief discussion of Phillip Kitcher’s recent work on secular humanism (169-171). At this point in the book, the reader might expect a return to the focus on philosophical and theological treatments present in the first few historical chapters, but this time from a contemporary academic perspective, and perhaps a more detailed treatment of the relation between the semantic and axiological senses of “meaning” noted above. Surprisingly, however, there is very little detailed treatment of the upswing in recent decades in philosophical literature on the meaning of/in life (e.g., Richard Taylor, Thomas Nagel, John Kekes, Susan Wolf, Terry Eagleton, Thaddeus Metz, John Cottingham, etc.). Metz, Cottingham, and Eagleton are discussed briefly in the introduction, where Cassedy admits that they have written whole books on the concept of meaning and living a meaningful life, but they are quickly dismissed for not offering summary definitions of the word “meaning,” whereas recent popular treatments are discussed at great length, even though the definitions on offer from these sources are often found to be “not helpful” (144, 179) or completely lacking (154, 158, 161, 169).

Throughout the book, Cassedy is laser-focused on definitions of the word “meaning,” and on which words (e.g., “purpose,” “goal,” “value,” “significance”) various authors appear consider synonyms.[3] This is the primary form of evidence given in support of his polyvalence thesis, and perhaps this focus stems naturally from his training and orientation as a scholar of comparative literature. But Cassedy seems to neglect the possibility that—excluding the more popular treatments featured in the final few chapters, in which cases ambiguous usage is perhaps more permissible— “meaning” is not given a simple, easily quotable definition in the works modern philosophical or theological figures not because it is ambiguous but because it is complicated or beyond words.


This is, indeed, a central lesson of twentieth-century phenomenological treatments of meaning. Allow me to dwell on this point in concluding, given the venue of this review. Unlike their analytic counterparts, phenomenologists (especially, e.g., Husserl and Merleau-Ponty),

refused to limit their conceptions of meaning to simple definitions or even to accounts of linguistic meaning. This broader, phenomenological approach to meaning is a central component of the philosophical genealogy of Sinn that Cassedy assures us—as noted above— “we can safely set aside,” and “whose details need not concern us” (122). By refusing to treat meaning exclusively within the confines of a philosophy of language, phenomenologists such as Husserl indeed presage, in an intellectually more rigorous, if necessarily more complicated way, the very move to consider meaning as the antidote to existential crises in the later part of the twentieth century that Cassedy presents in painstaking detail in the second half of the book. What is Husserl’s Crisis, if not a call to recover the level of meaning that belongs originally not to our language or our systems of scientific abstraction but most fundamentally to the lifeworld of everyday experience, the “general ‘ground’ of human world-life” (1970, 155).

For Husserl, it is through the ongoing synthesis of sensory givens arising from individual perspectives that we uncover—and make—law-governed determinations of meaning:

[A]s bearers of ‘sense [Sinn]’ in each phase, as meaning something [Etwas meinende], the perspectives combine in an advancing enrichment of meaning [Sinnbereicherung] and a continuing development of meaning [Sinnfortbildung], such that what no longer appears is still valid as retained and such that the prior meaning which anticipates a continuous flow, the expectation of ‘what is to come,’ is straightaway fulfilled and more closely determined. (1970, 158)

In its focus on the concrete details of lived experience, phenomenology interrogates precisely the point of intersection Cassedy emphasizes in Augustine and later idealism and romanticism between sense (Sinn, sens) as the modality or content of perception (sensation), and sense as the basic unit of meaning or meaningfulness. Without simply equating meaning with sensory givenness, and thus avoiding the dreaded “myth of the given,”[4] phenomenology insists on interrogating their complex and difficult connection. Seen in this light, phenomenology appears to be the ultimate return to the readability of the world, rather than just of the text, if ever there was one!

Indeed, in this light, classical phenomenology can also be interpreted as offering the last great attempt—prior to the hyper-specialization of philosophy in the latter half of the twentieth century that made such attempts almost impossible—to theorize the relation between the axiological and semantic or semiotic dimensions of meaning. Meaning pertains both to language and to the value in living a life not simply because our experience is often mediated by language and concepts (though of course it is), but because lived experiences are themselves enactions of meaningfulness and value or “axiological nuance” (Scheler 1973, 18). Human beings are not just language-animals (Taylor 2016), concept-mongerers (Brandom 1994, 8, 620) or meaning-users, but meaning-makers. Our making sense of the world is a necessary component of our life projects. If sense (meaning) were not made, but simply found, our lives could not be meaningful—could not even, ultimately, make sense—for we could have no life projects. This point of connection between the axiological and semantic or semiotic is obscured when we think of meaning-making exclusively via models such as defining, naming, reading, writing or conceptualizing. It becomes much clearer when we include models of meaning-making that more fully reflect our ways of being in the world, such as ritual, dance, or everyday embodied movements like the blind man navigating the world via his cane, which is for him not merely a “sensitive zone” but also the “primary sphere” in which “the sense of all significations [le sens de tout les significations]” is given (Merleau-Ponty 2013, 143-44).

I do not mean to suggest that the phenomenological tradition has definitively explained this connection—I don’t think it has—but it may well be the last major movement in Western philosophy that seriously tried, without defaulting to the comfort of more isolated problems limited to examination in the domain of value theory or the philosophy of language. Cassedy’s neglect of this thread of the history of what we mean when we talk about meaning thus seems to me most regrettable, if perhaps understandable given the enormous ambition and historical scope of the book.


These criticisms aside, What Do We Mean when We Talk About Meaning? is an original, thoughtful, well-written, and wide-ranging examination a theme of major importance both for academic philosophy and for understanding our wider contemporary lifeworld. It should have broad appeal to philosophers, intellectual historians, students of comparative literature, and even theologians and sociologists. It helpfully synthesizes a wide breadth of historical and contemporary sources and is a welcome contribution for all of us interested in the perennial question of the meaning of meaning.



Brandom, Robert. 1994. Making it Explicit: Reasoning, Representing, and Discursive Commitment Harvard University Press.

De Santis, Daniele and Danilo Manca, eds. forthcoming. Wilfrid Sellars and Phenomenology: Intersections, Encounters, Oppositions. Series in Continental Thought. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

Frege, Gottlob. 1892. «Uber Sinn Und Bedeutung.» Zeitschrift für Philosophie Und Philosophische Kritik 100 (1): 25-50.

Grice, Herbert Paul. 1957. «Meaning.» Philosophical Review 66 (3): 377-388.

Husserl, Edmund. 1970. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy. Translated by David Carr Northwestern University Press.

Husserl, Edmund. 2001. Logical Investigations. Translated by J. N. Findlay, edited by Dermot Moran. Paperback ed. Vol. I. New York: Routledge.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 2012. Phenomenology of Perception. Translated by Donald A. Landes. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Mill, John Stuart. 1843. A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive. University of Toronto Press.

Ogden, C. K., and I. A. Richards. 1923. The Meaning of Meaning: A Study of the Influence of Language upon Thought and the Science of Symbolism. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.

Taylor, Charles. 2016. The Language Animal: The Full Shape of the Human Linguistic Capacity. Harvard University Press.

[1] All parenthetical citations are to the reviewed text unless otherwise noted.

[2] Especially pertinent, given the Cassedy’s titular focus, is Ogden and Richards (1923).

[3] Along related lines, another issue that merits mention—this is not a shortcoming of the book by any means, but a necessary limitation—is that Cassedy’s treatment, while it focuses on historical precursors in a variety of Western languages, is ultimately focused on the English-language word “meaning.” The book is clearly intended primarily for an Anglophone readership, and while there are some helpful treatments of various senses of, for instance, the French sens and the German Bedeutung and Sinn (though, as already noted, no discussion of Frege’s important account, and only passing treatment of Husserl’s), these are offered as part of the historical-genealogical story rather than as standalone treatments of contemporary French and German authors and usages. And there is no comparative treatment of terms similar to meaning (historical or contemporary) in non-Western languages. In this sense, Cassedy’s treatment is necessarily (and, again, excusably) incomplete.

[4] On this important challenge to phenomenological approaches meaning, perception, and knowledge, see especially the essays collected in De Santis and Manca, forthcoming.

Peter Dews: Schelling’s Late Philosophy in Confrontation with Hegel

Schelling's Late Philosophy in Confrontation with Hegel Book Cover Schelling's Late Philosophy in Confrontation with Hegel
Peter Dews
Oxford University Press
Hardcover $110.00 / Ebook

Reviewed by: Marina Christodoulou (Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences) ORCID ID: 0000-0002-5721-833X

From a first look at the Table of Contents of Peter Dews’s Schelling’s Late Philosophy in Confrontation with Hegel (OUP USA, 2023), one gets already the impression of seeing the intertitles of Schelling’s works and central philosophical preoccupations: nature, agency, identity, thinking, being, idea, blind-existingness, mythological consciousness, reason, revelation, history, liberation, and genealogy. Already here the reader suspects an ambitious endeavor, which is then confirmed by the length of the work (311 densely written pages), which is accompanied by a Preface, Notes on Translations and References, Notes on Terminology, List of Abbreviations, and then includes an Introduction, 9 Chapters, 3 Figures, Bibliography and Index. This ambitious endeavor is then further confirmed but also achieved by the reading of the book.

As the author writes in the Preface, the aim of the book is the following:

Studying the confrontation between Schelling and Hegel promises not only to promote a better comprehension of the inner life of German Idealism as a whole, but can throw light on many questions which continue to surge up for those who seek to grapple philosophically with the modern world, and the forms of human existence, agency, and self-understanding which it has fostered. (Dews 2023, xii)

Thus, we already see the intention of not just another book on the history of philosophy recounting the theories and ideas of the philosophers announced in the title (Schelling, Hegel), but also, as justified by the reading of the book, nearly an overview of German Idealism and of the modern world, as well as of the notions examined, such as existence, being, agency, nature, etc. However, the book achieves much more than this. We see a parade of unsuspected philosophers along the pages, such as, except from Schelling and Hegel, Aristotle, Spinoza, Kant, Fichte, Leonhard Reinhold, Jacobi, Heidegger, Sartre, and others, including many scholars writing on them.

I found the Notes on Terminology especially helpful, clarifying and precise. With them we get in direct touch with the German original (Aufheben/Aufhebung; Das reine Daß; Potenz; Das Seyende; Das Existirende; Das Existiren; Das unvordenkliche Seyn; Das urständliche Seyn), we see the translation/transcription choices of the author being justified and juxtaposed with those of other philosophers/scholars, and we avoid many misconceptions, assumptions, and misinterpretations, since similar or the same words are also used by other philosophers, and we might read Schelling with their apparatus, or to cite Donna Haraway, with their “situated knowledges”. Peter Dews already mentions such confusion and misinterpretations, or even biases, when reading Schelling or any other philosophers, and when it comes to understanding or interpreting them through the lens, the nomenclature and the concepts of another, especially when this other has been more influential in their time, as it happens with the case of Heidegger, who seems to intrude in every understanding and interpretation of even philosophers before him. Especially so in the case of the philosophers that influence Heidegger, and the works of whom he un-remorselessly usurps, who become themselves, within scholarship, only as their Heidegger doppelgänger. Even more specifically in the case of Schelling, who “has been on” Heidegger since the moment that Heidegger “had been on him”.[2] Peter Dews writes:

Although Schelling is not entirely consistent, his use of “das Seyende” and “das Seyn” can therefore be regarded, very roughly, as reversing the polarity which these terms have in Heidegger. This is worth noting since the Heideggerian influence on recent European philosophy has led even some translators of Schelling into error. One should also bear in mind that Schelling no doubt intended to replicate the grammar of Aristotle’s most general term for being, “το ὂν” (to on), a nominalized present participle. (xviii)

Following the Notes on Terminology, particularly helpful are also the Abbreviations, since apart from their necessity in looking back at them while reading the book, they are also, simultaneously, lists of the works of the main philosophers employed (Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Schelling, Sartre, and others) both in their original language and in English. Furthermore, I particularly appreciate the note on Gendered Language towards the end of the Abbreviations section, together with the notes on Orthography that add to the precision and the wide critical abilities demonstrated in this book, which are not limited into the usual and mere claustrophobic examination of a particular author or a particular historical philosophical era.

What I particularly appreciated in the Introduction, except from the very concise outline of the chapters, are some general comments regarding both the contemporary status of research on German Idealism and on Schelling, but also the historical milieu around Schelling’s thought, in relation to his contemporaries and especially Hegel. Concerning the first, Peter Dews notices that German Idealism (and in general the German Philosophy after Kant), as well as “its less systematic complement, Jena Romanticism” (1), are not only preoccupying the thought and scholarship of philosophers and scholars in the continental tradition, but there is an upsurge of interest by some analytic schools as well. This is something that, I would add, is seen not only with the employment of post-Kantian German philosophers by analytic philosophy, but also with other figures of continental thought, as for example the Phenomenologists. Moreover, as Peter Dews observes, in order to understand the “awkwardness in the reception of Schelling’s thought, we need to consider the dominant orientation of the new wave of research on the German Idealist period, which began in the late twentieth century, with an initial focus on Hegel” (2). And it is mostly this latter awkwardness that he clarifies in the Introduction. This constant juxtaposition and comparison not only of Schelling with his contemporaries, but also with “modern frames of reference” (14 and elsewhere; where with “modern” he means contemporary and not “modern” as a historical period), is something that constitutes the leitmotif of the book. In the Conclusion, Peter Dews even employs in his analysis the very modern-postmodern “hermeneutics of suspicion” (Marx, Nietzsche, Freud) (15; 281-283).

While studying the chapters one by one, –one can find a brief outline of them at the end of the Introduction (12-16), so that I do not merely repeat it here–, what I found most appealing and even positively surprising is how, despite having been studying Schelling for many years, many aspects of his philosophy have become much clearer to me, as I suppose will become for other readers, too. Moreover, the interconnections between notions, ideas, and theories all over his philosophy, or of ones used in specific works of his, have also been allocated a more concrete order of understanding. More so, concepts, theories, ideas, and notions from Aristotle, Hegel, Heidegger, and Sartre, have attained a clearer sense, through their interpretation by Shelling via Dews, and also through their comparison and juxtaposition with Schelling, who are, simultaneously, constantly compared, juxtaposed and interpreted through one another on the first stratum, and on the second stratum or “image of thought”, as Deleuze would say it, through or via Dews. I am referring here to notions major not only to these specific philosophers but paramount within Philosophy itself: myth-ology, reality, essence, not-being, non-being, becoming, nothing-ness, consciousness, nature, spirit, subject-object, agency, potentiality, actuality, dependency, freedom, necessity, autonomy, the “ontological argument”, etc. This book becomes, thus, nearly a storytelling narrative of characters and their exchanges, where the author becomes actively one of them. This is what philosophy is supposed to do, anyway, and Peter Dews has done it perfectly, with the end result becoming a book that is also pleasurable and grasping to read; another attribute or “virtue” sine qua non of good philosophizing.

I will now give some highlights from the book, which cannot be but bound to personal preferences and “decisions”, as is always the case, either when implicitly or explicitly stated. Taking the opportunity from the reference to “decisions”, and since I have a personal interest in “philosophical decisions”, especially as meant by François Laruelle, but also as implied by Friedrich Nietzsche (“ephexis from interpretation”) and others,[3] I will at first mention some instances where in Peter Dews’s book I found some ideas that reminded me of these Laruellian philosophical “ideals”, either as interpretations and characterizations of certain philosophies and philosophers, or as direct quotations. Of course, almost certainly without the intention of Peter Dews, but still I find the mere fact of using or quoting these phases already as a testimony to a commitment to pluralism, democracy, and a withholding or suspension of a final decision (which would otherwise mean a dogmatism, and an authoritarianism, in which philosophers, according to Laruelle, engage as per usual, but which is unlike his ideals of Non-Philosophy that actually means his ideals of Philosophy itself, outside the discrepancies and the aberrances of its actual history). I am particularly referring to the characterization of “theoretical agnosticism” (146) (which, here, goes to Kant and specifically for his approach on the existence of the Ideal, but it can stand alone without Kant or this specific philosophical idea). Then in the section on the “transition from the Idea to the ‘External Existence’ in Hegel”, Peter Dews, gives attention to what Hegel emphasizes to be the reason for or the why of “the shift from the domain of logic to nature”. In Peter Dews’s words:

Hegel emphasizes that the shift from the domain of logic to nature is not a “having become” (Gewordensein) or a “transition” (Übergang), that it is “free” (that is, not a logical consequence), and that it is the result of a “decision” (Entschluβ—arguably, this follows from its characterization as free, once we rule out—as Hegel must—the existence of the world as random) (SL: 752– 753/W20, 6: 573). In light of this, the best sense to be made of the major scene- change within his system seems to be the following. The circular closure of the sphere of logic as a whole both confirms the internal self-sufficiency of the sphere and reveals it as determinate or limited—as the sphere of what is “still as yet logical” (noch logisch). This one-sidedness generates the philosophical drive to move into another sphere. (155)

Here, I shall boldly accentuate the words: decision (Entschluβ), self-sufficiency, and philosophical drive. This paragraph could have been written, I think, by Laruelle, too. Decision could take the notion of the “philosophical decision” that each philosopher arrives to when formulating a theory, with which decision one forms a sphere of thought, or an “image of thought”, which one believes it is philosophically “sufficient” or self-sufficient and thus becomes enclosed and limited by one’s own formulations and decision and by the sphere of thought one has created and attach oneself to. This “belief” in the sufficiency of their philosophical decision stems from the general illusion of a sufficiency of philosophical thought and in repercussion of one’s own philosophical thought, which can do without any other form of thought either philosophical or other. Here Peter Dews, through Hegel, or Hegel through Peter Dews, seems to have the same intuition or ideal for philosophy that Laruelle has, by saying that there exists a “philosophical drive” towards moving “into another sphere”. This “philosophical drive” seems quite Nietzschean as well, as Nietzsche sees the philosopher as the sapio <sapere>, that is, the one that tastes from idea to idea, without remaining or being grasped by or clinging to any of them; namely, without arriving at a final decision, but by keeping “an ephexis in interpretation” [Ephexis in der Interpretation], as Nietzsche says, where interpretation and decision, I propose, can be used interchangeably[4]. This is how Nietzsche defines philology or the philological method, as “an ephexis in interpretation” [Philologie als Ephexis in der Interpretation], which he also employs in his philosophy as well. This ephexis is also at the core of the Nietzschean type of skepticism. A little bit later in the book, Dews examines the notion of dependency (156, 164-170, and elsewhere), which is also existing in Aristotle and is quite known in analytic philosophy as “ontological dependency” or “existential dependency”, and it can be also seen in a more Nietzschean, Laruellian and even Hegelian sense, where each idea, and each system, sphere, or “image of thought”, as well as, more broadly, each discipline of thought, and each discourse, is dependent on all others, thus one alone cannot be ontologically efficient and sufficient (self-sufficient), even if it can be separated for the sake of epistemological analysis. Peter Dews has a worth mentioning comment/conclusion on this epistemological/ontological separation, in connection with Schelling’s distinction/separation between Positive and Negative Philosophy:

Arguably, if we wish to sustain an explanatory project of the Idealist kind, committed to the ultimate satisfaction of reason, yet also to separate epistemological from metaphysical monism, we cannot avoid a distinction comparable to that drawn by Schelling between negative and positive philosophy. Negative philosophy is the domain of the “eternal truths.” Positive philosophy, as we shall explore in more detail in the next chapter, begins from the Daβ— which Schelling also terms the “un-pre-thinkable” (das Unvordenkliche), or, more disquietingly, “blind existing-ness” (das Blindexistierende). (170)

In order to clarify what is Negative Philosophy in Schelling, I quote some passages from Peter Dews:

Schelling’s negative philosophy is a large, complex structure, consisting of a philosophy of nature and a philosophy of spirit. (140)

[…] “purely rational” (reinrationale) philosophy […] “logical’ philosophy” […]. (117)

[…] negative philosophy elaborates an a priori theory of the structures of being; […]. (117)

In negative philosophy, thought turns back on itself, reflecting on the manner in which it is logically compelled to think pure being. (118)

[…] the legacy of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Schelling’s suggestion is that, in these thinkers, “dialectic” plays the role of negative philosophy […]. (118)

In the thought of Socrates, as portrayed by Plato, dialectic plays a ground-clearing role, destroying the illusory knowledge of Sophists and Eleatics, but it does not culminate in any positive theory. It is in this context that Socrates’ claim to uniqueness in knowing that he does not know acquires its significance. His lack of knowledge is a docta ignorantia, which refers both backwards and forwards. (118)

Aristotle’s thought presents a very different picture, however, since he purges Greek philosophy of its mythological dimension, and—in the Metaphysics—develops a style of thinking which Schelling regards as a precursor of his own negative philosophy. […] There are two fundamental features of Aristotle’s thinking which are significant in this respect. The first is Aristotle’s denial that the structure of the ideas, as understood by Plato, can play any role in explaining the existence of things. In this context, Schelling refers to Aristotle’s criticism of “the confusion which arises . . . when the logical order is confused with the order of being,” with the upshot that “inevitably the real causes of being are mistaken for the merely formal principles of science” (GPP: 160/SW, II/3: 101). (119)

In effect, on Schelling’s reading, Aristotle “suppressed” the elements of a positive philosophy which were already present in Plato’s dialogues in the form of a “mere anticipation” (GPP: 164/SW, II/3: 107); that is to say, in the form of the mythical or eschatological discourse to which Plato was unable to establish a strictly philosophical transition from the domain of dialectic. (120)

Negative Philosophy is a categorization having sense only next to what Schelling calls Positive Philosophy:

[…] “historical’ philosophy” (117)

[…] the task of positive philosophy is to confront the bare fact of the world’s existence, and—operating abductively—to frame the most comprehensive explanation it can for the inner dynamic of nature and the evolving history of human consciousness. (117)

In positive philosophy, by contrast, it begins from one supreme fact—that the world exists—and seeks to frame an account of nature and the history of human consciousness, which, in a hermeneutic circle, is both guided by, and constitutes an ongoing confirmation of, its inaugural hypothesis concerning the intelligibility of the world’s existence. (118)

[…] the concerns central to positive philosophy are explored primarily through the medium of myth. (118)

(He [Schelling] suggests that what can be classified as “positive” in Aristotle’s thought—in other words, not purely constructible by reason—is only the empirical data, which are examined for the purpose of framing definitions that can then be used in syllogistic inference.) (119)

This illusion of sufficiency or independency of each philosophy or philosophical decision, theory, system, etc., or of Logic over what Hegel calls Realphilosophie, or of Negative Philosophy over Positive Philosophy, as Schelling calls it, and vice versa, is evident here. There is, in fact, an intra-dependency of decisions within Philosophy and of types of Philosophy, and an inter-dependency between Philosophy and the other disciplines or domains of thought. All these types of philosophy or “kinds of philosophical activity” (117) or “modes of philosophizing”, as Dews calls them (118), both in Hegel and in Schelling, (Dews clarifies them throughout his book), are precisely, as I see it, what Hegel, too, tried to avoid through his dialectical method, and accordingly what the aforementioned philosophers (Laruelle, Nietzsche) attempted to avoid with their own approaches and methodologies. Peter Dews quotes the following passage from Hegel, where again there is an anachronistic “reference” to the Laruellian philosophical decision, and to what Hegel gives as the why of “the shift from the domain of logic to nature”, the answer to which is “decision”, which as he says in the passage quoted here, does not need to have “any inner reason, in actual fact, as the French say, sans rime ni raison”. These can also have correspondences with Deleuze’s philosophical presuppositions, which often become the reasons sans rime ni raison for a (philosophical) decision. I quote:

Because Hegel’s logical domain is entirely self-sufficient, we would be required to suppose that: The very idea which is first presented as the most perfect, and which no dialectic could have any further power over, that this idea, without having any inner reason, in actual fact, as the French say, sans rime ni raison, could break apart into this world of contingent things, opaque to reason and resistant to the concept. (SET: 63/SW, II/1: 584) (168)

As a further comment on the above, I think that all criticisms between philosophers are due to their illusion of the independency and sufficiency of their proper philosophy, and the reflex towards a direct proximity to interpretation (rather than an ephexis from it); this was, I think, Deleuze’s intuition too, and thus his disrelish for criticism. Edmund Husserl’s notion of “regional ontology” or “ontological region” is also relevant here as well as in connection to the aforementioned ideas/methodologies of Laruelle, but I will not go into more detail here.

Moreover, I think that Peter Dews in this book exemplifies what Laruelle, again, phrases as the “democracy of all thought”, since I did not anywhere catch any pejorative statement or a hierarchy or a court-like mono-defense of one or the other of his philosophical protagonists.

What I would also like to highlight is the extent to which Peter Dews’s book manages to both clarify and juxtapose the following fundamentally philosophical-ontological terms/concepts in Schelling, and the neighboring ones in Hegel, Aristotle, Spinoza, Fichte (see, especially, pp. 40-41, where the concepts/notions of reality, existence, and consciousness are also juxtaposed), Sartre (see Chapter 6, esp. pp., 172-185), and others, as well as “the ontological argument” in general (pp. 185-193): being [das Seyn]; being-ness [das Seyende]; being-ness itself [das Seyende selbst]; blind being [dem blinden Seyn]; the subject of being [das Subjekt des Seyns); what Is [Was Ist]; “that which is not able-not-to-be” [“das nicht Nichtsein-könnende”] (SdW: 28); “the able-to-be” [das Seynkönnende]; the primordial being [Ursein]; being-in-the-role-of-essence [“wesendes Sein”] (SdW: 28); the pre-jective [das Urständliche], objective [gegenständlich] (HMP: 52–53/SW, I/10: 18); “the necessarily existing mode of being” [des nothwendig existirenden Wesens] (HMP: 53–54/SW, I/10: 19; see also SdW: 8); essence [Wesen]; absolute emptiness [die absolute Leerheit]. (Enc.1: §87, Zusatz/W20, 8: 188); “mere being” (das blose Sein); “negatively not-being” (negativ nichtseiend); “positively not-being” (positiv nichtseiend); etc.

And then I think that one of the greatest achievements of this book, is to clarify in an anachronistic manner the famous Aristotelian distinction between the “μὴ ὂν” (mē on) and the “οὺκ ὂν” (ouk on), by juxtaposing it, as already Schelling does in his work, with Schelling’s “positively not-being” or “positive not-being”, and “negatively not-being” or “negative not-being”, and “nothing”, as well as with Hegel’s relevant terms. I will quote here some extended passages from Dews, which I consider to be stellar in achieving the aforementioned:

From Schelling’s point of view, Hegel’s argument that the thought of pure being collapses into—has always already passed over into—the thought of nothing fails to distinguish between two distinct ways in which “mere being” (das blose Sein) can be regarded, which he distinguishes in the lecture course System der Weltalter: it can be thought as “negatively not-being” (negativ nichtseiend) or as “positively not-being” (positiv nichtseiend). The positively not-being is the “not-being which is posited as such, thus nothing at all.” By contrast, the “negatively not-being” is the “not-being, which is only not-being where actual being is denied, but in which there is also the possibility to be some entity (ein Seiendes zu Sein)” (SdW: 113). Schelling frequently distinguishes these two negations of being by using the Greek expressions “μὴ ὂν” (mē on) and “οὺκ ὂν” (ouk on). Here he is drawing on Aristotle’s theory of potentiality and actuality, as Aristotle uses the term “μὴ ὂντος” (mē ontos) rather than “οὺκ ὂντος” (ouk ontos) (that is to say, the expression for the contrary rather than contradictory negation of being) in order to describe the existing of properties potentially (δυνάμει—dunamei) as the negation of their existence in actuality (ἐνεργείᾳ—energeiai) (see, for example, Metaphysics XII.1.1069b18– 20). In a later discussion of the same issue, Schelling uses an Aristotelian example: to describe a voice as “not white” one would use the negative “ouk,” whereas to describe a sunburned face as “not white” one would use “mē” (see DRP, SW, II/1, 306–307). He further points out that, when Aristotle states the fundamental principle that the same thing cannot be and not be, he writes “εἶναι καὶ μὴ εἶναι ̓ (einai kai mē einai) rather than “εἶναι καὶ οὐκ εἶναι” (einai kai ouk einai), using “mē” rather than “ouk” to express negation. According to Schelling, modern philosophers only give this principle the “formal meaning” connected with contradictory negation, whereas Aristotle uses the expression that gives the principle a “wider extension” (see DRP, SW, II/1: 308–309). […] The disagreement between Hegel and Schelling, therefore, hinges on whether the not-being of pure being should be understood as a distinctive negative mode of being, which cannot be accommodated by the Hegelian contrast between the thought of sheer being, on the one hand, and the thought—in intention absolutely opposed and yet, according to Hegel, logically indistinguishable—of its total absence or nullification, on the other. To register this important Schellingian distinction in a convenient form, I will from now on draw a contrast between not-being or nothing (das Nichts) and non-being (das Nichtsein). As Schelling himself points out, this opposition corresponds to the modern French distinction between “le rien” and “le néant” (e.g., DPE, SW, I/10: 285–286). (127-129)

At this stage, one can imagine a further Hegelian objection: that the concept of “potentiality” is simply not available at the radical beginning of pure thinking. Hence it is important to note that, at the start of the discussion of being, Hegel does in fact consider the possibility that the contrary negation of being (which he refers to as “das Nichtsein”), rather than its contradictory negation (which he terms “das Nichts”), could be taken as following from the thought of pure being. […] (129)

Hegel concedes, then, that treating “non-being” as the next logical stage after “being” is not an inherently illegitimate move. He simply thinks the result would be a direct transition to one of the two moments of the subsequent category of becoming, which combine being and nothing—specifically, the moment of transition from nothing to being. It seems clear that Hegel must also have Aristotle’s conception of the shift from potentiality to actuality— from dunamis to energeia—implicitly in mind here, and that he is using the expression “das Nichtsein” to render Aristotle’s “μὴ ὂν.” What is striking about this concession is that the phrase “nothing, as it is in becoming” renders rather precisely what Schelling describes as das gegenständliche Seyn (objective being), as opposed to das urständliche Seyn (pre-jective being). For das gegenständliche Seyn is pure, formless givenness—one might think here of unconceptualized Kantian intuitions which, as the first Critique says, would be “less than a dream” (A112), unless taken up into a process of categorial synthesis. (130)

So, thinking of pure being as “μὴ ὂν” rather than “οὺκ ὂν” does indeed involve thinking of it in mediated way. Das Subjekt des Seyns cannot entirely shake off its relation to the being of which it is the subject—as Schelling puts it at one point, potentialities “exist as waiting for” actuality (DRP, SW, II/1: 311). Yet, of course, this cannot be the whole story, else we would not find ourselves at any kind of radical beginning. It is fundamental to Schelling’s conception, in fact, that pure being should be double in this way. On the one hand, we apprehend it as immediately identical with its concept; in his lectures On the History of Modern Philosophy, Schelling refers to this moment of thinking as the “concept of concepts” or the “pure concept”—an apprehension of existence which abstracts from any determinate grasping of something as something […] (130)

[…] This is, Schelling asserts, “the point where thinking and being are one” (HMP: 52/SW, I/10: 18). […] Schelling’s critique of modern philosophy, then, hinges on the claim that the primordial identity of thought and being (“das urständliche Seyn”), the most abstract expression of the freedom or spontaneity of thinking, is almost inevitably forgotten or obliterated, with the result that philosophy fatefully makes a beginning not with the pure possibility of being, but with some version or other of the notion of substance. (131)

My only “criticism” is minimal, and it is the following, which is not quite a criticism in its usual sense, since I am against that practice, but more like a throwing of an opinion so as to initiate a problematization and a dialogue. It concerns the triadic schema of correspondences of Hegel’s categories (158):

Logic of Being –––––> Science of Logic
Logic of Essence –––––> Philosophy of Nature

Logic of the Concept –––––> Philosophy of Spirit

As Dews says, also referring to Vittorio Hösle’s Hegels System [(Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1978), vol. 1, 101–104], there seems to be an incongruence or a difficulty between the three doctrines of Being, Essence, and Concept and their corresponding Philosophies. So, Peter Dews attempts a relocation of these correspondences in an attempt to solve the difficulty as follows (159):

Logic of Being –––––––> Philosophy of Nature
Logic of Essence –––––––> Philosophy of Spirit

Logic of the Concept –––––––> Science of Logic

It is with this attempt or any attempt of relocation of the Hegelian or of any philosopher’s correspondences and inner-system of thought that I would disagree, although it is a common practice of philosophers to criticize the “decisions” of other ones. I think that the difficulty in understanding the aforementioned schema of Hegel, as well as it is the case with other difficulties of understanding a philosopher’s thought and “decision”, lies in the names, that is, in the disagreement in definitions, which are not absolute but perspectival and “situated”. In the case of Hegel, I think that the major incomprehension of many aspects of his philosophy as well as a name that concentrates a heavy load of debates, obscurities, criticisms, etc., is the name of essence, that is, its definition in Hegel and subsequently in many feminists that were influenced by Hegel, such as Luce Irigaray. However, it is not of the present to dive into more detail on this, and I would refer the interested parties to my Thesis (Christodoulou 2022), where I discuss this in detail.

To conclude, Peter Dews’s Schelling’s Late Philosophy in Confrontation with Hegel achieves what it prepares one to do in the title, in the contents, in the Introduction, and much more. This is a book that is worth reading not only for its original contributions to Schelling, Hegel, and especially Schelling’s later philosophy, on which latter, dedicated secondary bibliography is scarce, but also to the research on fundamental ontological notions existing diachronically in Philosophy. It is also a book that is not only to be read once and archived, but to which one can return so as to consult for various issues, not only regarding Schelling, and only in case they are a Schelling scholar, but also if they are thinking on any of the terms/notions/concepts mentioned above and many others. In this regard, it is also worthwhile as a textbook and even a didactic one within academic classrooms, but at the same time it avoids the dryness that such books are often characterized with, and it is pleasurable to read both to the academic but also to any other reader who is a philosopher or is interested in philosophy.

[1] This paper is prepared as part of my postdoctoral research project “Ontological Exhaustion: Being-Tired, and Tired-of-Being: a philosophy of fatigue, exhaustion, and burnout” at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, implemented with the financial support of the National Programme “Early-stage and Postdoctoral researchers” – 2, Stage 1, 2022–2024.

[2] I am making reference here to some sections from my Thesis, especially the one entitled “Heidegger “Being-on-Schelling”: A Beginning to Schelling and a Closing to Heidegger”, where I use this phrasal verb to denote an intoxication/addiction of Heidegger to Schelling, and Heidegger’s usurpation of his philosophy. This expression/phrase is based on David Clark’s “Heidegger’s Craving: Being-on-Schelling,” in Anna Alexander and Mark S. Roberts (eds.), High Culture: Reflections on Addiction and Modernity (Albany, New York: SUNY Press, 2003), 95-131, or Clark, David. “Heidegger’s Craving: Being-on-Schelling.” Diacritics, vol. 27, no. 3 (1997): 8-33. JSTOR, JSTOR, See, Marina Christodoulou, Life as Addiction, PhD Diss., University of Klagenfurt & University of Toulouse –Jean Jaurès, 2022.

[3] See, my Thesis (Christodoulou 2022), and especially the Introduction and the Conclusion, and my following two articles: Marina Christodoulou, “Neither «pathimaton», nor «symptomaton», or «kataphaseon» katharsin. The non-cathartic philosophy of «non- decision» and «ephexis in decision»,” Systasis 40: Special thematic section: “Παθημάτων κάθαρσιν or πραγμάτων σύστασιν? Professor Michail D. Petruševski’s Solution of the Problem of Tragic Catharsis 80 Years Later” (2022): 86-146; and Marina Christodoulou, “Essaying-in-philosophy as an ephexis in decision” in Odradek: Studies in Philosophy of Literature, Aesthetics, and New Media Theories 8, no.2: ‘Heretical Voices: The Reasons of the Essay in Modern and Contemporary Literature’ (Edited by Paolo Bugliani) (2022): 23-63.

[4] Ibid.

Byung-Chul Han: Undinge. Umbrüche der Lebenswelt

Undinge. Umbrüche der Lebenswelt Book Cover Undinge. Umbrüche der Lebenswelt
Byung-Chul Han
Ullstein Verlag
Paperback $31.95

Review by: Teresa Geisler (Technische Universität Berlin)

Ich stelle mir gerne vor, wie das Leben meiner Oma von den Dingen in ihrem Haus zusammengehalten wurde. Sorgfältig ausgewählt nach Schönheit und Dauer waren sie zuverlässige Gefährten für viele Jahrzehnte. Ich erinnere mich daran, wie sorgsam sie mit den Dingen umging, wie hingebungsvoll sie sie pflegte, während sie selbst immer mehr verfiel.

Es ist schwierig, die Bücher von Byung Chul Han zusammenzufassen, denn die besten Zusammenfassungen liefert er immer selbst: „Die terrane Ordnung, die Ordnung der Erde, besteht aus Dingen, die eine dauerhafte Form annehmen und eine stabile Umgebung für das Wohnen bilden.“ (2021: 7) Das ist die reaktionäre Ausgangsthese des Buches und der Satz, mit dem es beginnt. In diesem Text schreibt Han über die Veränderung, die sich gerade vollzieht „vom Zeitalter der Dinge zum Zeitalter der Undinge“ (vgl. 7). Das Sein der Dinge unterscheidet sich Han zufolge fundamental vom Sein der Undinge. Auch nach der industriellen Revolution bliebe die terrane Ordnung bestimmt von Dingen, die handfest und handhabbar waren, während nun in der Digitalisierung Informationen und Daten – Undinge – die Lebenswelt strukturierten: „Wir bewohnen nicht mehr Erde und Himmel, sondern Google Earth und Cloud.“ Ontologie ist nicht egal und die Überlagerung unserer Lebenswelt durch die Dinge, die keine sind, verändert nach Han grundsätzlich unsere Beziehung zur Welt, zum Anderen und zu uns Selbst.


In Anlehnung an Arendt, Heidegger und Flusser sind die Dinge für Han Ruhepole, die unser Dasein stabilisieren und Sinn stiften. Sie können uns durch die Zeit begleiten, wenn wir für sie Sorge tragen und die Vergangenheit mit der Gegenwart verbinden. Informationen destabilisierten dagegen durch ihre Flüchtigkeit das Leben, wir können nicht bei ihnen verweilen (vgl. 8). Indem die Dinge mit ihrer Festigkeit uns etwas entgegensetzen, erfahren wir uns selbst und die Widerständigkeit einer anderen Entität, wenn wir mit ihnen hantieren und uns handelnd die Welt erschließen. Die smarten Oberflächen der digitalen Geräte setzen uns nichts mehr entgegen. Sie sind glatt, Handschmeichler, und wir tippen zwar noch, aber hantieren nicht mehr. Freilich, auch Han räumt ein, dass die Digitalisierung emanzipatorische Konsequenzen hat: Sie nimmt uns Arbeit ab und erspart uns viel Mühsal. Sie stellt uns eine spielerische Lebensform in Aussicht: „Der an den Dingen uninteressierte Mensch der Zukunft ist kein Arbeiter (Homo faber), sondern ein Spieler (Homo ludens).“ (16)

Wäre das nicht schön?

Der Mensch als Spieler ist für Han kein utopisches Bild der Befreiung, sondern das konsumistische Subjekt der Nachgeschichte. Der Spieler wähle nur noch, er handle nicht mehr. Damit verabschiede sich der Spieler auch von einer Freiheit im Sinne Arendts, die an die Handlung gebunden ist. Handeln, so verstanden, bricht mit dem Bestehenden und setzt etwas Neues in die Welt. Das Spiel dagegen greift nicht ein in die Wirklichkeit, es ist für Han radikal apolitisch: „Die vollkommende Herrschaft ist jene, in der alle Menschen nur noch spielen. Mit dem Spruch panem et circenses (Brot und Spiele) bezeichnet Juvenal jene römische Gesellschaft, in der kein politisches Handeln mehr möglich ist. Menschen werden ruhig gestellt mit kostenloser Nahrung und spektakulären Spielen. Grundeinkommen und Computerspiele wären die moderne Version von panem et circenses.“ (18)

Im Trend Vom Besitz zum Erlebnis, also mehr erleben als besitzen zu wollen, sieht Han folglich nichts Emanzipatorisches. Im Gegenteil. Er konstatiert, dass das Erlebnis als Konsum von Informationen heute derselben Logik folgt, wie vorher die Ökonomie der Dinge. Der Informationskapitalismus sei vielmehr eine verschärfte Form des industriellen Kapitalismus, insofern er auch das Immaterielle zur Ware macht, menschliche Beziehungen kommerzialisiert und zwischen Facebook und Tinder, Airbnb und Storytelling das Leben selbst warenförmig wird. Das „Ge-stell“ dazu ist das Smartphone, auf dessen Touchscreen alles „handzahm und gefällig“ (29) wird: „Das ständige Herumtippen und -wischen auf dem Smartphone ist eine fast liturgische Geste, die sich massiv auf das Verhältnis zur Welt auswirkt. Informationen, die mich nicht interessieren, werden schnell weggewischt. Inhalte hingegen, die mir gefallen, werden mit Fingern herangezoomt. Ich habe die Welt ganz im Griff. Die Welt hat sich ganz nach mir zu richten. […] Der herumtippende Zeigefinger macht alles konsumierbar.“ (26f.) Für Han ist das Smartphone die Devotionalie des Neoliberalismus. Beide sind smart – sie herrschen nicht durch Unterdrückung, sondern durch Abhängigkeit. „Das unterworfene Subjekt ist sich nicht einmal seiner Unterworfenheit bewusst. Es wähnt sich in Freiheit. Der Kapitalismus vollendet sich im Kapitalismus des Gefällt-mir. Aufgrund seiner Permissivität braucht er keinen Widerstand, keine Revolution zu befürchten.“ (33) Auch in der Fotografie zeige sich der Einfluss der Undinge. Das Porträt, das als Sujet die frühe Fotografie prägt, dominiert als Selfie die digitale Sphäre: „Im Gegensatz zum analogen Porträt belädt sich das Selfie bis zum Platzen mit Ausstellungswert.“ Digitale Plattformen stellen es aus, jenseits der digitalen Kommunikation ist das Selfie dagegen wertlos. Es ist kein Medium der Erinnerung wie das Porträt, es avanciert nicht zum Herzensding wie die Fotografie eines geliebten Menschen. Wir bewahren es nicht auf und machen auch keine Abzüge davon. „Das Selfie ist kein Ding, sondern eine Information, ein Unding.“ (41) Apps wie BeReal entsprechen daher perfekt der Logik des Selfies als Information, das kaum mehr etwas mit der analogen Fotografie als Ding zu tun hat: Wenn die App eine Benachrichtigung schickt, muss innerhalb von zwei Minuten ein Bild aufgenommen werden, um „Authentizität“ als Information zu garantieren. 14 Stunden lang bleibt ein gepostetes Bild online, danach wird es gelöscht. Niemand will beim Selfie verweilen. Die Bilder haben einen rein informationellen Wert, der nach kurzer Zeit verfällt. So flach wie das Selfie ist für Han auch das „Denken“ der Künstlichen Intelligenz. „Informationen und Daten besitzen keine Tiefe. Das menschliche Denken ist mehr als Rechnen und Problemlösung. Es erhellt und lichtet die Welt. Es bringt eine ganz andere Welt hervor.“ (51) Künstliche Intelligenz arbeite nur mit Informationen, die ihr vorgegeben werden, sie begreife nicht. Die größte Gefahr, die von künstlicher Intelligenz ausgeht, ist demnach, dass das menschliche Denken sich ihr angleicht und selbst maschinell wird.

Die Idee, dass der Mensch in der Technokratie seine Menschlichkeit verliert, weil die Maschine zum Ideal wird und er sich ihr angleicht, ist nicht neu.

Auch andere Motive von Hans Kritik wie die Akteurschaft der Maschinen, die Bildersucht der Menschen, die zunehmende Vereinzelung und Warenförmigkeit des Daseins, das Verschwinden von Eigentum in der Konsumgesellschaft und die Scheinfreiheit im Kapitalismus sind schon von anderen vorgebracht worden ­– besonders ausführlich von Günther Anders, den Han seltsamerweise nicht zitiert­, in seinen Arbeiten über die Antiquiertheit des Menschen. Außerdem könnte man natürlich so manches einwenden gegen Hans Kritik, die sich so flüssig liest, wie sie dogmatisch ist. Man könnte kritisieren, dass der Tastsinn nicht nur „entmystifiziert, entauratisiert und profanisiert“ (26), sondern auch die Ebene ist, über die wir am frühesten Verbundenheit erfahren. Man könnte argumentieren, dass menschliche Beziehungen nicht erst im Zeitalter der Undinge kommerzialisiert werden und es nicht nur Airbnb gibt, sondern auch Couchsurfing, das der Gastfreundschaft neue Formen erschließt (vgl. Rebhandl 2021). Man könnte einwenden, dass Sammler empirisch durchaus nicht immer utopische Figuren sind, „Retter der Dinge“ (22), zu denen Han sie mit Benjamin machen möchte, sondern oft von einem Hunger verzehrt werden, der sie zutiefst unglücklich macht (vgl. Groebner 2023). Man könnte fragen, warum wir die Dinge retten sollen, wenn wir uns selbst retten können.

Das könnte man tun.

Aber vielleicht würde man damit dem Wesen des Buches nicht gerecht, wie einem Gedicht, wenn man es widerlegte. Denn Hans Buch ist keine systematische Technikkritik, auch wenn es Motive von ihr übernimmt und weiterführt. Es legt keine Argumentation vor, die wissenschaftlichen Kriterien genügen will. Es induziert Einsichten, in dem leichten Ton einer philosophischen Poesie. Destillate eines Denklebens, die uns verborgen bleiben. Es verführt uns.

Hans Buch ist eine Ode auf das Ding.

Ein Abgesang. Auf seine Festigkeit, die uns Halt geben kann. Auf seine Andersartigkeit, die ein Gegenüber ist. Auf seinen Zauber. Das Ding verstärkt das Sein, es verankert uns in der Zeit – auch das technische Ding tut das. Han erzählt die romantische Geschichte seiner Begegnung mit einer Jukebox, die er mit nach Hause nimmt und deren Zauber er erliegt: „Ich verliebte mich sofort in diese türkisfarbene Jukebox mit einer großen Panoramascheibe und war ganz entschlossen, sie zu besitzen. Nachts ging ich des Öfteren in das Musikzimmer und lauschte der Jukebox in der Dunkelheit. Die vielfarbene Lichtdiffusion auf dem Lautsprechergrill kommt erst in der Dunkelheit voll zur Geltung. Sie verleiht der Jukebox etwas Erotisches. Die Jukebox erhellt das Dunkel mit bunten Farblichtern und erzeugt einen Dingzauber, dem ich mich ergab.“ (102f.) Technik ist für Han nicht das Problem. Im Gegenteil. „Die Technik hat eine magische Seite“ (110), die er den digitalen Dingen abspricht: „Die Jukebox ist ein Automat. Sie reiht sich in die lange Tradition der Musikautomaten ein. Romantiker waren von Automaten fasziniert. Eine Erzählung von E.T.A. Hoffmann heißt ,Die Automate‘. Der Protagonist ist eine mechanische Puppe, ein orakelnder Türke. Auf Fragen erteilt er Antworten, ,die jedesmal mit tiefem Blick in die Individualität des Fragenden bald trocken, bald ziemlich grob spaßhaft, und dann wieder voll Geist und Scharfsinn und wunderbarer Weise bis zum Schmerzhaften treffend waren‘. ,Alexa‘ von Amazon ist kein Automat, sondern ein Infomat. Ihm fehlt jeder Dingzauber. Es ist durchaus möglich, dass Künstliche Intelligenz ihm bald auch das Orakeln beibringt, allerdings als algorithmische Berechnung. Dieser fehlt aber jede Magie. Wo alles berechenbar ist, verschwindet das Glück.“ (110) Auch wenn Zeremonienmeister wie Apple den Release neuer Geräte wie religiöse Verkündigungen inszenieren und die Werbung für das immer neue IPhone durchaus sakralen Charakter hat, auch wenn wir unser Smartphone öfter berühren, als jedes andere (Un)Ding, wird es kein Herzensding. Wir ersetzen es, ohne etwas zu vermissen. Zum Seligkeitsding, wie der Hut, den Madita von ihrer Mutter zu Weihnachten bekommt oder Hans Jukebox, werden sie nicht.

Na und?

Aus dem Sein folgt kein Sollen. Nur weil es einmal eine Ordnung der Dinge gab, die eine stabile Umgebung für das Wohnen bildeten, heißt das nicht, dass es sie immer geben sollte. Vermutlich hat Han recht und die Veränderung in unserer Lebenswelt, wird auch unser Sein verändern. Vielleicht wird Wohnen in Zukunft weniger wichtig. Vielleicht verliert auch Stabilität an Bedeutung. Vielleicht spielen wir mehr und es entwickelt sich eine neue Ästhetik der Flüchtigkeit. Vielleicht wird Flexibilität wichtiger als Verweilen. Und Likes wichtiger als Freundschaften. Vielleicht führt das zu mehr Fragilität und Unglück.

Vielleicht aber auch nicht.

Ich hatte einmal die Gelegenheit, mit Byung Chul Han etwas ausführlicher nach einer Lesung zu sprechen und ich glaube, dass Hans Beschwörungen weniger eine Teleologie zugrunde liegt oder eine Anthropologie, die den Menschen philosophisch auf eine bestimmte Ordnung oder Art zu Sein festschreiben möchte, sondern ein Schmerz. Er schreibt: „Die digitale Entmaterialisierung der Welt ist schmerzhaft für den Liebhaber der Dinge.“ (111) Hans Bücher über Rituale, Eros, Untätigkeit, Gartenarbeit, Infokratie oder Narration scheinen mir nicht sich wiederholende Bausteine einer Systemphilosophie zu sein, sondern, wie er sagte, Variationen auf ein Thema – vielleicht um den Schmerz zu verstehen. „Ich will mir meinen Mund wieder aneignen, der plappert“, sagte er, und: „Meine Bücher werden immer dünner, irgendwann lösen sie sich ganz auf und schweben durch die Luft. Dann müssen Sie sie nur noch einatmen.“

Noch sind seine Bücher Dinge. Das ist schön.


Rebhandl, B. (2021). Byung Chul Hans “Undinge”: Die Umwege des Denkens. Der Standart, 22. Mai: (zuletzt aufgerufen am 25. Mai 2023)

Groebner, V. (2023). Aufheben, Wegwerfen. Vom Umgang mit schönen Dingen. Konstanz University Press.

Response to Review of Materialist Phenomenology

I am the author of Materialist Phenomenology. First of all I would like to  thank the reviewer for having carefully read every chapter and made an honest effort to understand what is, admittedly, a difficult argument. But nevertheless I feel the need to clarify several misunderstandings. To begin with a rather trivial matter: Husserl does not own the term “phenomenology” anymore than Marx owns the term “materialism”. The latter should refer to the belief that there is a material world that exists independently of our minds, and not to any particular way of conceiving this world (e.g. as involving Hegelian dialectics). The former should refer to any explanation of phenomenal experience, not just to what we have become accustomed to use the term for. These explanations will typically vary greatly from one ontology to another – idealist in the case of Husserl, empiricist in the case of Ernst Mach – and there is nothing in common between the explanations, because their different ontologies take the authors in entirely different directions. The reason why I do not engage with either of these authors as I attempt to create a materialist phenomenology should not be so surprising: there is so little common ground, and so many deep disagreements, that the only engagement possible is criticism, like Merleau-Ponty’s criticism of Mach’s concept of sensation. My project was constructive, not critical.

Moving on to the more substantial questions. The most problematic of the reviewer’s misunderstandings is his assertion that I “claim that between conscious and nonconscious things there is only a difference in degree” and not in quality. And that therefore my attempt to create a non-reductive materialist philosophy of mind has failed. But I never make that claim, in fact, it is exactly the opposite of what I argue. I do say that consciousness and intentionality can vary by degree, but all properties that vary by degree have critical points at which quantitative change becomes qualitative change, as when a continuous change in temperature yields the qualitatively different states of water (gas, liquid, solid). This is a point that has been emphasized by materialists since Engels. But more importantly, extreme qualitative differences can emerge from the composition of parts into wholes. This is the question of emergent properties, properties of a whole absent from the parts but produced by the interaction between the parts, that is still controversial but is becoming more widely accepted every day.

When I break down the hard problem into three simpler ones, it is by using the part-to-whole relation and the concept of emergent properties. I stress this point throughout the book so much I assumed a reader would understand there will necessarily be qualitative differences between the mental levels standing between the brain and full blown phenomenal experience. The lowest level or the simplest components, what I refer to as protoselves, have to be extremely primitive but already non reducible to brain processes: if we can imagine a speedometer that in addition to detecting and measuring speed it can feel rapidity and slowness, we can imagine a protoself. Each protoself specializes on one material property and one property only (e.g. objective reflectance) and produces a unique sensation (e.g. color). We have no idea today how to create such a sentient speedometer but clearly, solving the protoself problem is not identical to solving the hard problem: the latter is to explain full blown human  consciousness, not an ultra-specialized measuring device that has a minimum of sentience. But if we can solve this much simpler problem then by using the part-to-whole relation and the concept of emergence, we may be able to learn how to assemble many protoselves so that the whole they form does not just sense properties but perceives properties belonging to enduring objects. I explain in the book how embodiment is the key to understand this step, from properties to objects. I will spare you the rest of the construction but it is there in the book.

Clearly, none of this will make any sense to idealists who do not believe there are objective properties belonging to objective entities. My entire construction depends on there actually being a world. But then again, what thinker who believes in Darwin (at the very minimum, that there was a time when our species did not exist, but there were already ecosystems, climate, etc.) could possibly deny that. Similarly, the reviewer is puzzled by my attempt to show how much of visual perception is not dependent on language. But that is also a matter of recognizing the historicity of our species. We spent 800,000 years with a material culture of stone tools and a social division of labor but without any language. To believe that perception is “theory-ladden” is to ignore this fact. It is like Adam in Genesis, created by God in already modern form and sent away to name the animals. All of this (biological evolution, the dating of stone tools to show they are much older than language) may seem too “objectivist” to traditional phenomenologists, but that is precisely why I did not attempt to engage with their work.

Francesca De Vecchi: La Società in persona: Ontologie sociali qualitative

La società in persona. Ontologia sociale qualitativa Book Cover La società in persona. Ontologia sociale qualitativa
Studi e ricerche
Francesca De Vecchi
Il Mulino

Reviewed by: Federico Leon Scimone (Università degli Studi di Milano)

La società in persona, una nuova prospettiva fenomenologica al problema delle ontologie sociali

La società in persona, Ontologie sociali di Francesca De Vecchi si inserisce nel panorama contemporaneo del problema dell’essere sociale in controtendenza alle ricerche di matrice analitica, come quelle che seguono dagli studi, ad esempio, di Searle[1] e Gilbert[2]. In particolare viene sottolineata la lacuna qualitativa che segue dalla separazione fra naturale e sociale che caratterizza le tematizzazioni americane. Quest’opera ha un fine ben definito, ovvero restituire dignità ontologica agli enti sociali e far emergere come in essi si trovi il fondamento per un’assiologia della buona vita delle cose, in particolare sociali. De Vecchi muove prevalentemente dalle ricerche fenomenologiche di Husserl e Scheler, mostrando come l’approccio fenomenologico allo studio delle ontologie sociali si definisca come il più appropriato, giacché la fenomenologia altro non è che un’ontologia sociale qualitativa.

L’opera si divide in quattro capitoli che ne scandiscono le argomentazioni principali in ordine teoretico. In prima battuta De Vecchi delinea per sommi capi che cosa si intenda per ontologia qualitativa e quale siano le definizione e gli intenti più comuni di tale disciplina, in riferimento alle ricerche di matrice analitica; nel tratteggiare tale immagine viene a delimitarsi una lacuna entro la quale ricadono valori e sensi d’essere delle cose, ovvero ogni sfumatura qualitativa del mondo in cui ci troviamo ad esistere e da qui muove la ricerca del testo, con lo scopo di ridare fondamento al senso d’essere delle cose. In particolare, la presentazione analitica del tema trancia di netto tutto ciò che non può essere definito come oggettivamente fondato, dove oggettivamente ha quasi il medesimo significato di fondato secondo le leggi della fisica. De Vecchi mostra come il mondo descritto dall’ontologia sociale sia privato di ogni senso d’essere, in virtù del fatto che tutto ciò che non è “oggettivo” non ha dignità ontologica; tale argomentazione trova il suo fondamento nella separazione fra mondo naturale e mondo sociale. De Vecchi riprendendo Husserl sottolinea come così facendo il mondo risulti spogliato di ogni sua caratteristica qualitativa e mostra come le cose non possano essere nemmeno intese come “fatti bruti” senza quelle parti che vengono escluse, ad esempio da Searle, dall’indagine ontologica.

Così viene proposta una nuova via per affrontare il tema, una via che muova dalla descrizione in prima persona dei fenomeni e del modo in cui questi ci si presentano, ovvero un’ontologia sociale qualitativa, che permetta di rendere conto del mondo per come quotidianamente ne facciamo esperienza. In seconda battuta De Vecchi tratteggia le caratteristiche di tale ontologia sociale qualitativa, ponendo l’accento sul ruolo dell’eidetica fenomenologica dalla quale emergono i sensi d’essere delle cose, le essenze ed i vincoli che definiscono le cose ad un tempo per ciò che sono e per come sono in relazione al tipo di cosa a cui appartengono. Riprendendo l’esempio proposto da De Vecchi, nel momento in cui ci troviamo innanzi ad una sedia, noi ne riconosciamo la sedibilità, ovvero ciò che la determina come tale. Nel riconoscere il suo essere sedia possiamo capire se si tratta di una buona sedia oppure di una sedia scomoda ad esempio. Assumendo che una sedia ha nella sua essenza la possibilità del sedervisi, se questo dovesse risultare difficile o scomodo noi potremmo dire che essa non è una buona sedia, così come potremmo riconoscerla come una buona sedia se il sedersi dovesse risultare confortevole. Allo stesso modo se fossimo innanzi ad una società potremmo capire se essa sia una buona società oppure no in relazione a quell’idea di società che essa stessa presenta. Ad esempio potremmo individuare un buon rapporto fra i cittadini come qualcosa di positivo ed un necessità “del farsi giustizia da sé” come qualcosa di negativo. In questo processo vengono preaccennati i nuclei tematici degli interi e delle parti e, in particolare, degli interi sociali che saranno poi fondamentali per poter comprendere come si possa definire una buona vita della società. In questo passaggio De Vecchi mostra come ogni cosa nel darsi presenta la sua essenza con tutte quelle sfumature qualitative che la definiscono; così le cose ci mostrano i loro vincoli assiologico-normativi.

Definita l’origine dei sensi d’essere delle cose, il terzo tema è quello del vivere personalmente, del vivere come soggetto con altri nel mondo e nella società, per mostrare come la ricerca ontologica sociale fenomenologica si interroghi sul tema della società e della persona, a partire proprio da quelle essenze emergenti che si caratterizzano ad un tempo come soggettive ed oggettive, giacché, seppure esperite in prima persona, rimandano all’idea generale che trascende l’esperienza quotidiana, definendola e definendo le condizioni di identità, i modi d’essere, d prosperare o declinare delle cose esperite: insomma, la loro “vita”, più o meno buona..

Le argomentazioni di De Vecchi trovano poi la loro conclusione approdando alla relazione fra individuo come parte e individuo come soggetto sociale al quale appartiene; viene così chiarito come fra persona e società vi sia una relazione bilaterale di reciproca determinazione, condizione che permette l’apertura al tema etico, giacché mostra un parametro assiologico oggettivo ed esperito che, pur essendo a priori, affonda nella materialità dell’esperienza, aprendo alla ricerca sulla buona vita di una società.

Esegesi dei nuclei tematici principali

La società in persona si colloca all’interno del dibattito delle ontologie sociali richiamando il confronto fra le teorie a stampo fenomenologico, in particolar modo di Husserl e Scheler, e quelle a stampo analitico, in particolar modo richiamandosi alle tesi sostenute da Searle e Gilbert. La ricerca di De Vecchi tenta di riconsegnare all’ontologia sociale la sua potenza totale, tentando di sanare il vuoto creato dalla separazione fra sociale e naturale; facendo un passo indietro nella ricerca ontologica infatti è possibile notare come questo iato non sussista, almeno nei termini in cui viene descritto dalla tradizione analitica. L’argomentazione di De Vecchi ci viene presentata come un’ontologia sociale esistenziale, che trova il suo fondamento nel nostro essere, nel nostro vivere e nel nostro agire come soggetti personali immersi in un mondo con altri. In apertura al testo ci viene proposto il tentativo di trovare il fondamento per un’ontologia della persona come persona in relazione, come persona sociale. Tema fondante delle argomentazioni di De Vecchi è il riferimento al vissuto, al visto, all’esistere sempre come persone in un mondo che è ad un tempo mondo sociale e personale, di cui facciamo esperienza quotidianamente e nel quale agiamo e viviamo sempre già in relazione con altri. In questo mondo ci troviamo in relazione con cose che hanno una caratterizzazione qualitativa della quale facciamo esperienza in prima persona, cose, enti ed oggetti che individuiamo come tali per le loro qualità di valore, sia esso positivo o negativo. Le cose del mondo, argomenta De Vecchi, sono tutte ricche di qualità di valore che appartengono al loro stesso essere (…) e noi cogliamo questo essere essenzialmente qualitativo delle cose quotidianamente, nell’atteggiamento naturale, spontaneo che abbiamo nei confronti di esse.[3] Già dalle prime pagine del testo emerge il ruolo cruciale dell’esperienza quotidiana ed il suo essere qualitativa; questa si mostra fondante per l’essenza delle cose stesse, o per meglio dire ne trasmette l’idea e con essa la forma normativa. Dall’esperienza nel vissuto delle cose infatti traiamo quella che può essere intesa come una regola od un parametro per poter comprendere se e come tale cosa possa avere una buona vita. L’esperienza del fenomeno della cosa richiama alle sue strutture interne, alla sua forma ed al suo essere, tanto da permetterci di comprende se ciò che stiamo percependo, sentendo o vedendo sia una buona manifestazione di quell’idea stessa che tale fenomeno manifestandosi mostra. L’esperienza porta sempre con sé una qualità di valore che ad un tempo individua e permette di individuare una cosa per ciò che è. Nel presentarsi a noi ognuna di queste cose per essere la cosa che è deve realizzare a suo modo (…) le qualità di valore che le sono essenziali: solo se soddisfano questa condizione le cose sono buoni esemplari del loro tipo.[4] Così facendo De Vecchi propone un nuovo modo di intendere l’ontologia sociale partendo da un correlazionismo che trova come poli il soggetto come persona o come insieme sociale vivente e vissuto che sceglie e percepisce in relazione ad oggetti che si danno sempre come qualificati, come di valore, come emotivamente caratterizzati già in prima esperienza e che, così nascendo, prendono parte a quel flusso intenzionale in cui si genera il motivazionale; in particolare le cose di cui facciamo esperienza si danno già sempre in una relazione personale che le determina e che ad un tempo determina loro ed il mondo nel quale si trovano ed in cui ci troviamo a fare esperienza nell’esistere.[5]

De Vecchi procede creando un terreno comune con il lettore, andando a costruire un lessico in cui la terminologia dell’ontologia sociale di stampo analitico viene revisionata, restituendo alle parole il loro significato in senso pieno e profondo. Come già preaccennato De Vecchi riconosce il limite della separazione fra sociale e naturale dell’ontologia sociale, limite che riproduce una sorta di dualismo cartesiano tra natura e mente. Così l’argomentazione procede riconsegnando al reale il suo senso d’esistenza procedendo in una ricostruzione del significato delle parole. De Vecchi costruisce un terreno comune con il lettore partendo dalla prospettiva di stampo analitico dell’ontologia sociale costruendo via via l’immagine di quella che propone come ontologia sociale qualitativa. Inizialmente riprende le tesi di Searle e Gilbert, i quali propongono una contrapposizione fra mondo sociale e mondo naturale; in particolare l’ontologia di matrice analitica definisce il mondo sociale come non naturale per definizione sostenendo che i fatti sociali sono creati e mantenuti dall’intenzionalità collettiva, al contrario dei fatti naturali la cui esistenza è indipendente. A questo punto De Vecchi prende in esame il concetto di esistenza che soggiace a questa definizione di partenza mostrandone la sua insufficienza; infatti la teoria analitica non prende in considerazione che qualunque fatto può essere oggetto intenzionale, che esso sia naturale o sociale. Così facendo muove verso la definizione di un gradualismo che non considera più i fatti sociali come contrapposti a quelli naturali, ma che li intende come di differente gradazione. La tesi gradualista di De Vecchi si struttura in relazione alla differente dipendenza esistenziale dei fatti, dipendenza che può essere intesa come differenti sensi ed in modo articolato e dinamico, a differenza di come proposta nell’ontologia sociale analitica.[6]

Ora, dove l’ontologia sociale propone una contrapposizione netta fra fatti naturali e fatti sociali, l’ontologia sociale qualitativa di De Vecchi, per quanto concordi nella differente origine dei due tipi di fatti, li vincola entrambi all’intenzionalità nel loro mantenimento e nelle loro modificazioni d’essere. Il ruolo dell’intenzionalità e della gradualità d’esistenza è cruciale per comprendere questo passaggio argomentativo. Searle descrive l’esistenza dei fatti naturali come oggettiva in virtù del loro darsi come fatti fisici; così facendo su questa definizione esclude poi ogni possibile descrizione qualitativa in quanto di natura soggettiva. Pur non togliendo ai fatti sociali la possibilità di essere epistemicamente oggettivi, Searle li lega al soggetto ed all’intersoggettività condivisa, che di per sé non sarebbe un problema se non fosse che in questo legame identifica la loro accidentalità, levandogli in conseguenza ogni dignità ontologica. De Vecchi sottolinea qui che sia proprio l’essere qualitativo ad essere cruciale per l’esistenza delle cose stesse, giacché le qualità di valore sono ciò che individua il senso specifico delle cose; sottolinea inoltre che proprio tali qualità permettano alla cosa di essere un buono o un cattivo esemplare del tipo di cosa a cui essa stessa appartiene. Riprendendo l’idea accennata in precedenza per cui la cosa stessa porti con sé l’idea di sé, da cui è possibile ad un tempo riconoscerla e riconoscere in che modo essa appartenga all’idea di ciò che è, tema che apre le porte alla deonticità delle essenze; ovvero, ogni cosa dandosi al soggetto presenta ad un tempo sé stessa e la valutazione di sé stessa in relazione al tipo di cosa alla quale appartiene.[7]

A questo punto De Vecchi riprende il tema dell’ontologia sociale, ricordandone la formulazione di Husserl, dalla quale vuole partire, ripartire. Husserl, ben prima di Searle aveva definito l’ontologia sociale come un’eidetica della realtà sociale, come una scienza a priori che si pone come fine il cogliere le strutture essenziali e invarianti delle entità sociali, delle varie specie di comunità sociali. All’interno della formulazione della fenomenologia Husserl formula anche il concetto di mondo della vita, fondamentale per le argomentazioni di De Vecchi, che identifica il mondo che ci circonda; mondo inteso come abitato da entità rilevanti e significative per la vita delle persone, siano esse entità naturali o artefattuali.[8] De Vecchi qui identifica la fenomenologia come un’ontologia della regione persona, intendendo la persona come soggetto di intenzionalità ad un tempo individuale e eterotropica, come soggetto nel mondo e con gli altri dove l’individualità si configura ad un tempo come singola persona e come insieme di differenti persone. De Vecchi sottolinea il continuo legame dell’individuo con il mondo che lo circonda e con gli altri, nonché sottolinea l’essere sempre motivazionale della vita del soggetto. Nel mondo il soggetto si trova a fare esperienza di oggetti che si danno già sempre come strutturati, organizzati e unitari. Gli oggetti si presentano come cose che esemplificano tipi di cose alla cui individuazione le qualità di valore partecipano in modo cruciale. L’essere di ogni cosa si dà alla nostra esperienza come intero fondato su parti che sono anche qualità di valore.[9] De Vecchi sottolinea così come le cose nel mondo non si presentino mai come neutre, ma sempre come all’interno di un piano assiologico che le definisce già in relazione al mondo della vita, in cui sono immerse, ed a sé stesse.

De Vecchi torna all’ontologia sociale di matrice analitica sottolineando come questa abbia una impostazione a-qualitativa lasciando così una lacuna ontologica che con l’ontologia sociale qualitativa si vuole per l’appunto colmare; ciò che viene messo in luce è come non si possa mai far riferimento all’esistenza di una cosa senza al contempo considerare le qualità di valore che ne sono parte costituente, giacché definiscono il suo grado di realizzazione di esistenza, indentificandola come ciò che è, come cosa di un determinato tipo. La qualità dell’esistenza con i suoi gradi di realizzazione infatti definisce l’esistenza della cosa stessa. De Vecchi sottolinea l’importanza di far sempre riferimento all’esperienza individuale ed in prima persona delle cose, esperienza che si caratterizza per essere già sempre qualitativa, condizione che permette di definire la buona vita delle cose, definendo la legalità essenziale delle cose. La fenomenologia come ontologia sociale qualitativa proposta da De Vecchi si propone di indagare il modo, l’intensità e la gradualità della cose, ovvero tutto ciò che rimane fuori dall’indagine dell’ontologia sociale di matrice analitica. Il momento fondamentale di ogni ricerca è infatti l’esperienza individuale in prima persona delle cose, in cui ogni cosa mostra il tipo di cosa che è, dandoci modo di comprendere quale sia la buona vita di tale cosa, in relazione al paradigma eidetico che essa stessa ci propone. Nell’indagine della regione persona emerge il mondo comune, il mondo della vita, il mondo in cui ci troviamo ad essere, e ad essere sempre in relazione con altri in un mondo che ci si dà già sempre come condiviso con altri che riconosciamo come persone. Riconosciamo così l’essere collettivo di alcuni soggetti che si generano dall’unione di differenti persone. De Vecchi ripropone le argomentazioni in relazione all’intero ed alla parte di Husserl, brevemente riassumibili nella tesi che l’intero non è riconducibile alla mera somma delle sue parti, giacché l’unione genera un nuovo qualitativamente determinante che non può ottenersi con il solo accostamento. A partire dalla teoria dell’uno e dei molti ci troviamo innanzi al problema di stabilire se e come un soggetto sociale possa essere inteso e nel fare questo le unità di valore racchiuse nell’idea analitica di oggettività risultano determinanti. Infatti le cose portano sempre con sé qualità di valore, o per meglio dire le qualità di valore fanno parte delle cose, ne sono una parte intrinseca inscindibile che permette di comprendere l’essenza stessa delle cose. L’astrazione dal qualitativo, per quanto possa dirsi utile in ambito scientifico, ad esempio medico, ha come conseguenza l’annullamento dell’essenza stessa della cosa che non può essere intesa senza le sue qualità delle quali facciamo esperienza. Con Husserl De Vecchi sottolinea che le qualità di valore sono parti essenziali dell’intero-cosa e che senza di esse la cosa in questione non possa nemmeno essere individuata, giacché da essa e in essa si determinano i vincoli che la definiscono.[10]

Esistendo nel mondo ci troviamo innanzi a cose che emergono come strutturate secondo vincoli di cogenza che ne determinano il tipo, le qualità ed il valore; la cosa nel darsi a noi ci manifesta i suoi paradigmi e la sua fondazione come intero. Che si tratti di prima o di seconda specie, ciò che emerge è il suo piano assiologico, il suo paradigma eidetico, la sua struttura ideale; esistendo [la cosa], realizza a diversi gradi il suo proprio eidos nel senso del suo essere ideale.[11] L’argomentazione di De Vecchi costruisce così le fondamenta per l’analisi sulla società che si compone come intero costituito da parti in una relazione duplice; De Vecchi sottolinea che ad un tempo la società si configura come unione che determina gli individui e che da essi è determinata.[12] Ora, le cose si presentano come di valore, i valori si percepiscono come un sentire innanzi alle cose, ed ogni persona risponde a suo modo a ciò che gli accade ed a ciò che gli si manifesta. Husserl aveva definito il tema della scienza sociale come ciò che di comune v’è ad ogni società, ovvero la ricerca della cosalità che fa della società la società. Così come ogni cosa manifestandosi mostra il suo eidos, allo stesso modo anche le società mostrano la loro essenza, paradigma eidetico che non muta nelle differenti società, ma definisce tutte le variazioni possibili entro i vincoli eidetici e consente dunque di rilevare le diversità effettive.

In questo dialogo con la tradizione analitica, De Vecchi sottolinea il fatto che la scissione fra naturale e sociale, fra oggettivo e soggettivo porta alla perdita delle attribuzioni di senso ad ogni cosa e nega drasticamente ogni assiologia, giacché elimina metodologicamente ogni sentire di valore. De Vecchi di contro riparte dall’esperienza in prima persona e da essa trae le strutture invarianti delle cose e quindi anche della società e, così facendo, riconsegna dignità obiettiva al valore delle cose che per quanto si consegni come personale si configura come obiettivo giacché trascende il contingente.[13]

Le argomentazioni di De Vecchi richiamano al vivere con altri proposto da Husserl, vivere in un mondo della vita che condividiamo con altre persone e che si costruisce in relazione anche ad esse. In tale mondo noi, gli altri e noi con gli altri come soggetti sociali percepiamo il mondo ed in esso emerge un piano assiologico o valoriale che, per quanto percepito diversamente a seconda delle diverse sensibilità, si mostra intrinsecamente legato all’essenza delle cose stesse; si configura così un piano soggettivo e oggettivo ad un tempo nel quale sono identificabili strutture generali ed invarianti, ovvero un piano valoriale con la sfera normativa ad esso legata. Il mondo della vita proposto da De Vecchi non si configura più come separato fra mondo sociale e mondo naturale come nell’ontologia sociale di Searle, bensì si configura come un unicum in cui ogni cosa emerge nel vissuto personale del soggetto che esiste come individuale e parte di un’intersoggettività, sulla scorta delle argomentazioni di Husserl, di Scheler e di Stein. De Vecchi fonda l’ontologia sociale qualitativa nella correlazione tra soggetto personale e cose di valore in un mondo personale[14]; così facendo oltrepassa il tema della contrapposizione fra natura e cultura, mostrando come esse si compenetrino e come non possano effettivamente essere scisse.[15]

Giungiamo ora all’ultimo tema importante affrontato dall’opera di De Vecchi, del quale, seppure per sommi capi, abbiamo delineato le fondamenta, ovvero l’ontologia sociale dei soggetti collettivi. Esistiamo in un mondo che si presenta sempre come comune, ad un tempo come individuale e come collettivo. Il nostro essere personale si definisce come intrinsecamente sociale giacché in correlazione con un mondo di cose condivise. In tale contesto possiamo cogliere la dimensione intersoggettiva, sociale e collettiva come fondamento per un’ontologia dell’essere della persona, giacché nel mostrarsi a noi delle persone è possibile cogliere l’essenza dell’essere persona. Il mondo si presenta ad un tempo come il mio mondo e come mondo collettivo, così come le cose si mostrano come di valore per noi e per gli altri affondando in un contesto motivazionale in cui il nostro flusso intenzionale si interseca a quello degli altri. L’essere persona ha nella sua essenza l’essere sociale il vivere sempre in relazione ad altre persone. Infatti come ogni cosa si relaziona alla sua cosalità, allo stesso modo l’essere persona si relaziona alla sua essenza. De Vecchi sottolinea però una caratteristica in più dell’essere persona, ovvero il suo costruirsi strutturalmente in relazione ad altri. Se Husserl parlava di insieme collettivo delle persone in relazione al vivere in un mondo condiviso, Scheler approfondiva il tema mostrando l’esistenza di un Io anonimo impersonale che precede la costruzione della singola persona facendola afferire all’essenza dell’essere persone. Da qui De Vecchi approfondisce il vivere comune facendo riferimento alla tassonomia dei profili ontologici qualitativi e definendo l’esperienza eterotropica che vincola le persone fra loro muovendo dalle valorialità che orientano le persone nel vivere e nell’agire. In questo contesto l’individuo si configura ad un tempo come persona e come parte di un soggetto sociale in cui le sue scelte possono disporsi sia come passive, ovvero quando seguono le influenze della massa senza porre su di esse analisi proprie personali, sia attive, fin tanto da essere influenti sull’essenza stessa dell’intero sociale al quale fanno parte. L’intero si configura così in un rapporto bidirezionale ove il soggetto è determinato dal contesto in cui vive e dove quest’ultimo può essere determinato dal primo. Non di meno però da tale intero, intero sociale, è possibile trarre i vincoli strutturali dell’essere struttura sociale, vincoli normativi che permettono di valutare l’insieme stesso in relazione alla sua buona vita. Lo scopo dell’ontologia sociale qualitativa è quello di fornire gli strumenti per poter rendere conto dell’essere qualitativo dei diversi tipi di cose di cui facciamo esperienza, incluso quindi il mondo della vita e l’esistere come individuo personale e collettivo all’interno di uno o più insiemi sociali, traendo da qui i vincoli che permettono la buona vita della persona come parte di un soggetto collettivo e come individualità, vincoli che si mostrano per loro natura come assiologici e normativi, dunque etici.[16]

L’ontologia sociale

Le tesi proposte da De Vecchi possono essere sostanzialmente divise in due gruppi concettuali. Da un lato troviamo il rapporto con l’ontologia sociale di stampo analitico e dall’altro l’ontologia sociale qualitativa di stampo fenomenologico; per questa ragione l’argomentazione si struttura principalmente in relazione a due poli, se da un lato si tenta di identificare quella che viene definita come la lacuna dell’ontologia sociale, dall’altro si cerca di colmare tale lacuna ripartendo dall’origine stessa del concetto di ontologia sociale. In prima battuta le argomentazioni di De Vecchi possono essere riassunte, nell’identificazione del problema delle tesi di Searle e Gilbert, che trovano il loro fondamento nella separazione fra sociale e naturale, che in conseguenza non danno alcun valore ontologico a ciò che non ricade sotto l’occhio attento della scienza, ovvero a ciò che non può essere matematizzato e/o trattato con metodi statistico-empirici. Le tesi analitiche in merito vengono argomentate prevalentemente in relazione a due argomentazioni. In prima battuta potremmo dire che ciò che segue dalle intenzionalità umane dipende da esse ed in conseguenza non può essere inteso come naturale; in seconda battuta che ciò che non è oggettivamente misurabile non ha valore oggettivo. Le argomentazioni di De Vecchi criticano entrambe queste tesi mostrando come così facendo queste elimino radicalmente il senso di ogni cosa e sottolineando come la pretesa dell’oggettività del naturale di per sé perda di senso non appena le cose perdono le loro qualità, giacché così facendo non è nemmeno possibile identificarle. In seconda battuta De Vecchi sottolinea come lo iato fra naturale e sociale non sia da intendere come nella proposta analitica, giacché sia ciò che è naturale sia ciò che è sociale dipende dall’intenzionalità umana. Infatti a non dipendere dall’uomo è solo l’origine dei fatti naturali, ma il loro perdurare permanere o cessare di esistere, così come ogni modificazione, segue parimenti ai fatti sociali dalle scelte umane.

L’ontologia sociale qualitativa

Al termine delle argomentazioni di De Vecchi ci si ritrova convinti che l’ontologia sociale analitica rimane sostanzialmente incapace ad assolvere il suo stesso compito e necessita di una nuova fondazione, che viene trovata nelle pagine di Husserl e della scuola fenomenologica. Questi ultimi definiscono l’ontologia sociale come lo studio delle forme sociali come enti, degli eide sociali che accomunano ogni società. Ne consegue che, come nel caso di ogni qual si voglia cosa, anche nel caso dei fatti sociali sia possibile giungere alla loro cosalità dal loro darsi. Ogni cosa, chiarisce Husserl nel darsi presenta la sua immagine, la sua idea, in relazione alla quale è possibile comprendere a quale tipo di cosa questa appartenga ed in quale grado questa ne sia una manifestazione. Ne consegue che vedendo una cosa, facendone esperienza, possiamo comprenderne il concetto generale al quale essa afferisce, afferrare il tipo di cosa di cui si tratta e di cui la cosa in questione è un esemplare più o meno buono (anche se non necessariamente disponiamo già del concetto adeguato, che in molti casi va reperito, modificato etc.) e sapere se ne sia una buona manifestazione. In altre parole, ciò che ci si dà nelle cose è un piano assiologico normativo in relazione al quale comprendere se e come queste si manifestano. De Vecchi muove da qui le sue argomentazioni in relazione all’essere persona, all’essere ad un tempo individuo sociale ed individuo parte di un intero sociale, ovvero persona che è sempre in un mondo che gli si dà come qualitativamente determinato e in comune con altri. La valorialità del mondo si definisce sempre in relazione a dei valori personali e condivisi ad un tempo, il vivere, l’esperire è sempre un vivere ed esperire con altri, in un mondo della vita in cui non abitiamo soli. L’esistere come persone, spiega De Vecchi, richiama ad un tempo all’essere determinati e determinanti nei confronti degli interi sociali ai  quali  apparteniamo, in quanto ci riconosciamo come parti di un insieme irriducibile alla mera somma di queste ultime, ovvero come parti che determinano e sono determinate, che sono significate e che risignificano, generando un nuovo dinamico al quale prendono per l’appunto parte nell’esistere.

Nuove vie di ricerca

La società in persona è un crocevia che apre ad alcune nuove strade. Si presenta come un’opera di rifondazione dell’ontologia sociale ripartendo da un piano metafilosofico che si interroga sul significato stesso della ricerca ontologia sociale. Le critiche mosse a Searle e Gilbert e l’idea di fenomenologia come ontologia sociale della persona portano con sé numerose nuove possibilità per continuare questa ricerca. In primo luogo, l’indagine sul problema delle ontologie sociali di stampo analitico porta ad interrogarci sulla natura stessa del metodo analitico. L’assenza del qualitativo infatti inficia non solo l’ontologia sociale, ma il senso stesso della ricerca, giacché non permette alcuna determinazione di senso. La critica potrebbe essere quindi estesa dalle ontologie sociali alla metodologia stessa della ricerca, se non anche a quei testi dai quali prende le mosse l’intera ricerca analitica, che forse portano con sé alcuni significati non ancora presi in considerazione. Brevemente, la filosofia analitica prende le mosse dal Tractatus logico-philosophicus di Ludwig Wittgenstein opera che si staglia nel panorama della filosofia del Novecento come uno fra i testi più rilevanti del secolo, argomentando l’impossibilità di trattare il tema del senso dell’esistenza a partire dai presupposti su cui tale testo si fonda. Il problema delle ontologie sociali era il problema conclusivo del Tractatus, ovvero il problema di poter definire quello che Scheler chiama l’a priori materiale e Kant come il sintetico a priori. A nostro avviso la ricerca di De Vecchi richiama all’interrogarci già da qui in un momento di fondazione della ricerca filosofica stessa. In secondo luogo, ritroviamo sottolineato il problema dell’impossibilità di definire le cose stesse facendo venir meno le qualità, poiché esse determinano le essenze stesse delle cose. A nostro avviso questa tesi è ben più radicale di quanto non sembri restando all’interno del dibattito analitico, giacché l’intero mondo svanisce non appena vengono meno le qualità, la stessa matematizzazione della realtà diventa incomprensibile non appena le cose perdono il loro senso. L’oggettività infatti altro non è che una soggettività condivisibile per mezzo di parametri. Ogni volta che distinguiamo una cosa da un’altra lo facciamo per mezzo di unità di senso che si manifestano qualitativamente. L’esistere è sempre esistere ad un soggetto, quand’anche si tratti di un soggetto ipotetico, senza soggetto l’oggetto non può strutturalmente darsi, perché non vi sarebbe nessuno al quale si dà. Il concetto di realtà e di mondo sono sempre intesi in relazione ad un soggetto, senza per questo perdere la loro trascendenza rispetto all’apparire che rimanda sempre ad un’idea che procedendo dall’esperienza oltrepassa il contingente. Nella Critica della ragione pura Kant chiariva come l’oggettivo non ha alcun valore ontologico giacché solamente un mezzo teorico per il calcolo, ma senza nessun fondamento di realtà, in quanto segue da postulati interpretativi che si fondano nel soggetto; ciò che ha valore ontologico è “la cosa nel come” dei suoi modi di datità, non la cosa “in sé”. Volens nolens noi siamo soggetti e non possiamo sfuggire dall’esistere in prima persona in un decorso storico presente che affonda in un passato che ci ha determinato e l’intenderci come tali apre ad una possibile forma di obiettività che senza tale considerazione non possiamo assolutamente nemmeno ideare. Noi siamo condizione sine qua non del fare esperienza del mondo. L’oggettivo è per sua natura noumenico, ed il mondo non è nel noumeno, bensì nel rapporto fra noi ed il mondo. Le cose, il mondo, la realtà si strutturano nel rapporto soggetto mondo, nelle pieghe del darsi trascendentale, fra l’occhio e l’oggetto che riflette la luce generando il colore. Se leviamo la relazione al soggetto il mondo semplicemente non esiste, giacché l’esistere segue alla relazione con un soggetto, determinandosi nel rapporto della coscienza con ciò che contrasta in differenti modi al suo pensiero, come ciò che la stimola e che la inerisce suo malgrado. Il soggetto crea e si crea in relazione all’altro da sé che gli si dà come mondo, come altro da sé.

Queste argomentazioni sostanziano la tesi di De Vecchi , ovvero l’essere sempre sociale dell’individuo. Con una breve fenomenologia dello scoprirsi a sé, del diventare coscienza, emerge come noi prima d’ogni altra cosa reagiamo ad un mondo che ci inerisce con violenza e ci piega principalmente con il dolore; in questa situazione riconosciamo diversi modi per cambiare il nostro stato. Il tentativo di affermare la nostra volontà mostra diversi limiti, mostra cose che seguono il nostro volere in diversi gradi, la nostra mano si muove immediatamente prima del nostro pensare di muoverla, o immediatamente dopo, la nostra corporeità segue alla nostra volontà nella prossimità del nostro volere, precedendo o seguendo al pensiero, mentre gli altri oggetti devono essere mossi dal nostro corpo per seguire al nostro volere e non tutti possono essere mossi con la stessa facilità ed alcune corporeità non si lasciano piegare alla nostro volere. Dal genitore che dice “No”, all’altro che agisce come se anch’esso avesse coscienza, e ci si impone con direttive e ordini, e che agisce prendendosi cura di noi, riconosciamo noi stessi in una relazione di volontà di coscienza che si relazionano fra loro. Noi per essere noi abbiamo bisogno di un altro da noi che definisca che cosa è altro. Dal rapporto con l’altro si forma l’Io, che apprende e copia il comportamento altrui, la lingua le abitudini, apprende i modi di affermare sé stesso in un contrasto che è un compatire, nel senso etimologico del termine, che è un provare emotivo, qualitativo insieme agli altri l’esistere in un mondo che non si piega alla volontà come mera corporeità.

Giungiamo dunque a due momenti fondamentali a cui ci porta l’indagine di De Vecchi, ovvero la conclusione dell’essere sempre come individuo intersoggettivo ed il problema dell’esistere etico. In primo luogo, l’Io si forma nel rapporto con l’altro interiorizzando l’altro e creandosi come altro da sé. Perdendo l’onnipotenza l’infante inizia a progettarsi in relazione all’idea di ciò che vuole essere divenendo bambino e poi adulto. Si riconosce come l’altro che non è più, persa l’onnipotenza insegue tale immagine nel tentativo di riaffermarsi, di riportare il mondo o sé stesso a riconoscere quella sua volontà che i primi momenti di vita gli hanno mostrato come non riconosciuta. L’atto cartesiano dell’affermarsi Io sono è l’atto di darsi valore ontologico di eidos di sé come ente, come essere e non ancora come esistere nella sua totalità. L’uomo così agisce inseguendo quell’immagine di sé che tenta di darsi agli altri per sé stessa nel suo massimo grado, in relazione al suo non riconoscersi tale e da qui si afferma il contrasto tra ciò che siamo qui ed ora nell’esistenza e quell’essere che idealmente siamo come totalità ontologica di noi, come eidos del sé non ancora realizzato nel suo grado pieno. Qui l’educazione e l’autoeducazione assumono un ruolo cruciale nell’essere etico di sé come io con altri e come io con l’altro da me che è la mia essenza nella possibilità della progettazione di sé. L’infante guidato al pensiero, al dialogo muto che l’anima ha con sé stessa, al rapporto Io eidos di sé che genera l’essere dell’uomo. Nell’educazione si porta al pensiero, alla duplicità del riconoscersi individuo duplice che è idea di sé incompiuta e che esiste come tentativo di realizzarla, individuo dunque sempre in relazione che dapprima viene educato e che poi si auto educa ad essere ciò che vuole essere nella progettazione di sé nel mondo che è sempre mondo con altri, e che lo sarebbe quand’anche non ci fosse nessuno, ma in relazione alla possibilità dell’altro che fonda il pensiero. L’uomo che si progetta come idea di sé si progetta affinché possa darsi a sé stesso ed agli altri come ciò che vuole essere. Questa relazione Io-sé prevede dunque strutturalmente l’altro nel suo fondamento.

Così De Vecchi conduce ad un nuovo inizio, a nuove vie di ricerca non ancora affrontate che possono seguire dalla sua opera; in particolare sul tema dell’essere con altri in società. A nostro avviso risulta necessaria l’educazione e l’auto educazione al pensiero ovvero al rapporto con l’altro che siamo a noi stessi e che è a noi stessi. In quest’ottica l’ontologia sociale qualitativa si definisce come il pensiero di per sé se intesa nel senso originale di Husserl, ovvero come il pensare fenomenologicamente all’essere che è si disvela nella relazione Io mondo individuale soggettiva dell’essere sempre nel mondo individuale privato e collettivo. Rimangono dunque aperte le vie della ricerca sull’educazione ed autoeducazione all’essere come essere etico in relazione all’essere nel mondo con altri, ovvero un’indagine estetica fenomenologica dell’essere nel mondo che si occupi di tracciare l’assiologia con cui potersi definire rispetto a sé stesso in relazione alla propria buona vita dell’essere sempre l’altro per sé che si prende cura di sé stesso nell’essere altro dal proprio eidos e nell’essere sempre tentativo di divenire tale eidos agli altri, di cui esso stesso fa parte. Si configurano così nuove vie di ricerca per quell’Io che è il suo mondo di cui parlava Wittgenstein, in un senso completamente nuovo, in un senso ontologico sociale qualitativo che definisca un’assiologia della buona vita.

[1] Cfr. John R. Searle. Making the Social World: The Structure of Human Civilization, Oxford University Press, 2010.

[2] Cfr. Margarete Gilbert. Il noi collettivo, Impegno congiunto e mondo sociale, F. De Vecchi, Cortina, Milano, 2015.

[3] De Vecchi, Francesca. La società in persona, Ontologia sociale qualitativa, Il Mulino, Bologna, 2022, pp.7-8.

[4] Ivi p.8.

[5]Cfr. Ivi.pp.8-9.

[6]Cfr. Ivi.pp.13-18.

[7]Cfr. Ivi. pp.18-21.

[8] Ivi. pp. 21-22.

[9] Ivi. p. 22.

[10]Cfr. Ivi. pp. 22-38.

[11] Ivi. p. 41

[12] Cfr. Ivi. pp. 38-97.

[13] Cfr. Ivi. pp. 97-98.

[14] Ivi. p. 119

[15] Cfr. Ivi. pp. 98-119

[16] Cfr. pp. 119-243.

Karl Kraatz: Das Sein zur Sprache bringen. Die Formale Anzeige als Kern der Begriffs- und Bedeutungstheorie Martin Heideggers

Das Sein zur Sprache bringen Book Cover Das Sein zur Sprache bringen
Karl Kraatz
Königshausen & Neumann
Paperback 48,00 €

Reviewed by: Robert Reimer (Universität Leipzig)

In dem Methodenkapitel von Sein und Zeit schreibt Martin Heidegger, dass die Aufgabe der Phänomenologie darin besteht, „[d]as was sich zeigt, so wie es sich von ihm selbst her zeigt, von ihm selbst her sehen lassen.“ (Heidegger 2006, 34) Meistens ist es allerdings so, dass die Dinge, so wie sie sich von ihnen selbst her zeigen, nicht sehen gelassen werden. Insbesondere die Wissenschaften versuchen alles Seiende zu verobjektiviert und es einem einheitlichen materiellen Deutungsprinzip zu unterwerfen. Ein gutes Beispiel für ein solches oft unangemessen verstandenes Phänomen ist das Dasein selbst – also wir Menschen – und die uns zugehörigen Seins- und Lebensformen (ibid. 44). Genauer gesagt neigen wir selbst dazu, uns von dem Seienden her zu verstehen, was wir selbst nicht sind, was uns aber innerhalb der Welt ständig begegnet – also als einen materiellen Gegenstand unter vielen (ibid., 58). Damit wir die Dinge so sehen lassen, wie sie sich von ihnen selbst her zeigen (oder erscheinen), muss die Phänomenologie uns dabei helfen, einige der Verdeckungen zurückzuweisen, die wir als Erkennende mit unserer wissenschaftlich dominierten Begrifflichkeit an sie herantragen. Man könnte sagen, dass die phänomenologische Methode nach Heidegger eine Art mäeutisches Moment in sich trägt, das zur Selbstreflexion anregt: Mit ihrer Begrifflichkeit erschließt sie die Dinge auf eine Weise, dass wir sie (indem wir uns von unserem vorurteilsbehafteten Blick befreien) auch so sehen, wie sie sich von ihnen selbst her zeigen.

Um dieses wesentliche Moment der phänomenologischen Methode und Begrifflichkeit explizit zu machen, verwendet Heidegger vor allem in den früheren Schriften den Ausdruck ‚formale Anzeige‘. Karl Kraatz‘ Buch Das Sein zur Sprache bringen hat es sich nun zur Aufgabe gemacht, die Entwicklung der formalen Anzeige in Heideggers Werk nachzuvollziehen, ihre Möglichkeit und Notwendigkeit zu begründen (Kraatz 2022, 25) sowie deren drei wesentliche Charaktere – den explikativen, den prohibitiven und den transformativen Charakter – zu bestimmen (ibid., 28-29). Explikativ ist die formale Anzeige, insofern formalanzeigende Begriffe die Zugangssituation sowie den Verstehensvollzug desjenigen ‚Ich‘ explizit macht, welches das jeweilige Phänomen verstehen will (ibid., 47, 137). Prohibitiv ist die formale Anzeige, insofern ein formal anzeigender Begriff die Einordnung des Phänomens in ein bestimmtes (wissenschaftliches) Sachgebiet abwehrt, wodurch der konkrete Bezug des Begriffs für das erkennende Ich offengehalten wird (ibid., 91; siehe auch Heidegger 1994, 141). Transformativ ist die formale Anzeige, insofern sich das Ich nach dieser negativen Abwehr in eines verwandelt, das die zuvor verdeckten Phänomene ‚eigentlich hat‘ und sieht (Kraatz, 2022, 193).

Kraatz behauptet, dass ein wesentlicher Wert seines Buches in dem Nachweis besteht, dass das Gefühl der Angst, das Heidegger in Sein und Zeit beschreibt, der Schlüssel dazu ist, um vor allem diesen dritten Charakterzug zu verstehen. Allgemeiner gesagt, sei die formale Anzeige abhängig von der Befindlichkeit der Angst, genauer: von deren spezifischen Erschließungscharakteren, in dem Sinne, dass die philosophische Sprache entsprechend ‚gestimmt‘ sein muss, um Sein formal anzuzeigen (ibid., 148). In diesem argumentativen Schritt besteht wohl das größte Wagnis des Buches, da damit Methodenanalyse (vor allem aus den früheren Schriften) und Daseinsanalye (aus Sein und Zeit) in einem konkreten Fall zusammen gedacht werden. Anders ausgedrückt liest Kraatz Sein und Zeit so, als sei eines der Phänomene, die das Dasein in seiner Eigentlichkeit und Uneigentlichkeit auszeichnen – die Angst –, auch das Phänomen, das das Verstehen formal-anzeigender Begriffe im Allgemeinen kennzeichnet. Dies ist insofern zumindest ein Wagnis, als dass Heidegger, wie Kraatz selbst bemerkt, in Sein und Zeit nur sehr selten das Wort ‚formalanzeigend‘ verwendet und die formale Anzeige schon gar nicht als Methode einführt (ibid., 25, 127). Aber es ist eben auch eine Schwierigkeit, weil das Phänomen der Angst nicht so viele Parallelen zu den Charakterzügen der formalen Anzeige aufweist, wie Kraatz behauptet.

Diese Textbesprechung soll aus drei Abschnitten bestehen. Im ersten Abschnitt werde ich allgemein darauf eingehen, wie Kraatz die ersten beiden Charakterzüge der formalen Anzeige erschließt und definiert. Im zweiten Abschnitt werde ich kritisch beleuchten, wie laut Kraatz die Angst mit dem dritten Charakterzug der formalen Anzeige zusammenhängt und warum sie dem Verstehensprozess formal-anzeigender Begriffe zugrundeliegen soll. Im letzten Abschnitt werde ich noch kurz auf Teil V des Buches eingehen, worin es um die Einbettung der formalen Analyse in Heideggers allgemeine Bedeutungs- und Begriffstheorie geht.

1 Die formale Anzeige als explikative und prohibitive Methode

Das Buch beginnt mit dem wiederholten Hinweis darauf, dass die Phänomenologie einer spezifischen Mitteilungsmethode bedarf, die Heidegger ‚formale Anzeige‘ nennt. Konkret erfahren wir als Lesende zunächst, dass sie anti-wissenschaftlich verfahren muss, das heißt, alltagsnah und nicht verobjektivierend. Sie muss auf ‚das je eigene Ich‘ oder die je eigene Person und deren jeweilige Verstehenssituation aufmerksam machen (ibid., 42, 44, 47, 51). Damit soll der Tatsache entgegengekommen werden, dass bei dem Verstehensvollzug eines Begriffs schon immer ein bestimmtes alltägliches Vorverständnis des zu Begreifenden bei uns Erkennenden mitschwingt. Dieses kann den Bezug auf den Gegenstand – sein ‚Haben’ – leiten und ihm Bedeutung verleihen (ibid., 54). Während die wissenschaftliche Sprache diesen Bezug auf das Ich verdrängt, das mögliche alltägliche Vorverständnis verdeckt und so das Bedeutungshafte für das Ich zerstört (ibid. 72-74), ist es das Ziel der formalen Anzeige diesem bedeutungshaften Vorverständnis einen Raum zu geben. Daraus ergibt sich auch der Umstand, dass formal-anzeigende Begriffe Bezugsoffenheit aufweisen müssen, da sie erst „aus der jeweiligen Erfahrungs- und Interpretationsrichtung ihre konkrete faktische kategoriale Bestimmtheit“ erhalten (Heidegger 1994, 141).

So weit, so gut. Geht es bei der Explikation aber wirklich um das konkrete einzelne Subjekt und dessen spezifische Ansichten, so wie Kraatz das behauptet? Es ist gar nicht so leicht, diese Fragen zu beantworten. Kraatz selbst gibt zu, dass Heidegger scheinbar willkürlich entscheidet, ob bei dem Verstehensvollzug eines Begriffs wirklich das Ich als eigenstes mit dabei ist oder nur ein ‚idealisiertes Subjekt‘ (Kraatz 2022, 85). Eine Passage in Kraatz‘ Buch, die diese Schwierigkeit bei der Auslegung Heideggers beispielhaft aufzeigt, ist die Stelle, in der er auf Heideggers Diskussion des Begriffs ‚Geschichte‘ in Phänomenologie der Anschauung und des Ausdrucks eingeht (ibid., 81-83; Heidegger 1993, 43-86). Heidegger unterscheidet dort zwischen verschiedenen Bezugsformen, die sich je nach Sinn des Begriffs ‚Geschichte‘ voneinander unterscheiden. So sagt Heidegger, dass in dem Satz „Mein Freund studiert Geschichte“ ein theoretischer Einstellungszusammenhang zwischen dem Studenten und der Geschichtswissenschaft zum Ausdruck kommt, worin die konkrete Bezugs- und Vollzugssituation des Freundes keine Rolle spielt. Kraatz wendet hier gegen Heidegger ein, dass auch in diesem Fall die persönliche Erfahrung, die Einstellungen und die Meinungen des Studenten für den Bezug auf die Geschichtswissenschaft bestimmend sein können (Kraatz 2022, 85). Und laut Heidegger können diese Dinge bei dem geschichtswissenschaftlichen Verstehen in der Tat mitschwingen, allerdings gehen sie in den Bezugssinn nicht mit ein (Heidegger 1993, 77). Meiner Meinung nach ergibt das durchaus Sinn, da es sich bei dem Studium der Geschichte um ein rein objektives Verhältnis handelt, da die konkreten eigenen Erfahrungen und Einstellungen (bspw. die eigene Religiosität) für das Verständnis des Forschungsgegenstandes (bspw. die religiöse Entwicklung Luthers) keine Rolle spielen. Und sie sollen auch keine Rolle spielen, aufgrund des kontextunabhängigen Charakters von Wissenschaften, wie Kraatz selbst anerkennt (Kraatz 2022, 101). Denn was hat Luthers konkrete religiöse Entwicklung schon mit meiner eigenen zu tun? Ganz anders sieht es bei der eigenen persönlichen Geschichte aus, für deren Verständnis trivialerweise die eigenen Erfahrungen und Einstellungen eine Rolle spielen.

Das zweite Moment, das laut Kraatz wesentlich die formale Anzeige kennzeichnet, ist das Moment des Prohibitiven, auf das Heidegger in der Tat explizit in mehreren Stellen, bspw. an Phänomenologische Interpretationen zu Aristoteles, aufmerksam macht (Heidegger 1994, 141). Dort heißt es weiter: „Die formale Anzeige verwehrt jede Abdrift in […] blind dogmatische Fixation des kategorialen Sinnes von Ansichbestimmtheiten einer auf ihren Seinssinn undiskutierten Gegenständlichkeit.“ (Ibid., 142). Der Grund, warum die formale Anzeige so verfahren muss, ist, wie Kraatz richtig sagt, die Ruinanz oder, wie es in Sein und Zeit heißt, die Verfallenheit, die eine solche Abdrift in das Objektive begünstigt. Ruinant ist das Verstehen, wenn das (wissenschaftliche) Begriffssystem schon den Bezug hinreichend prädeterminiert, eine Einordnung in ein Sachgebiet vorgibt und damit das zu verstehende eigentliche Phänomen verdeckt. Stattdessen soll, wie oben bereits erwähnt, dieser Bezug für das Ich offengehalten werden, damit er durch es erneuert werden kann (Kraatz 2022, 105).

Nun bedeutet diese Bezugsoffenheit nicht, dass der Bezug ein willkürlicher wird, sodass der formal-anzeigende Begriff je nach Belieben auf alles und jeden verweisen könnte. Leider hilft Teil II von Kraatz‘ Buch allerdings nur wenig, um zu verstehen, wie genau der Bezug formal-anzeigender Begriffe funktionieren soll. Erst in Teil V, in dem es unter anderem um die Formalität der formalen Anzeige geht, gibt es dazu einige Hinweise. So schreibt Kraatz zunächst, dass die formale Anzeige inhaltlich nur die Bedingungen des Verstehensvollzugs vorgibt aber nicht den Vollzug vorwegnimmt (ibid., 213). Allerdings nimmt kein Begriff seinen Verstehensvollzug vorweg. Begriffe haben es so an sich, dass jeder Mensch sie selbst verstehen muss. Der entscheidende Punkt liegt wohl in der Vorgabe der Vollzugsrichtung, welche nur prinzipiell sein soll (ibid.). Dieses Prinzipielle wiederum wird später als das Sein des Seienden identifiziert, sodass die formale Anzeige wiederum als Anzeige des Seins des Seienden ausgewiesen wird (ibid., 225). Nun ist das Sein des Seienden in der Tat das, um das es der Phänomenologie nach Heidegger geht, allerdings scheint mit diesem Hinweis bei Kraatz eher das Was und nicht das besondere Wie des Bezugs bestimmt zu sein. Erst ein Blick in Phänomenologische Interpretation zu Aristoteles verrät, dass damit durchaus etwas über das Wie des Bezugs ausgesagt wird: Das Sein des Seienden, auf das der Bezug gerichtet sein soll, ist keine irgendwie geartete oberste Seinskategorie, sondern ‚formalleer‘. Das bedeutet, dass es dem jeweiligen Phänomen selbst überlassen bleibt, wie der Modus der Verstehens beschaffen sein muss, sodass er nicht durch ein spezifisches Sachgebiet vorgegeben ist (Heidegger 1994, 60f).

Eine Schwierigkeit von Das Sein zur Sprache bringen besteht darin, dass der Autor selten Beispiele für den Verstehensvollzug formal-anzeigender Begriffe gibt. Das erschwert die Lektüre. Erst in Teil V gelingt mit der Erwähnung der Funktionsweise der Begriffe ‚Sorge‘ und ‚Dasein‘ in Sein und Zeit (Kraatz, 2022, 214) sowie der Besprechung von Heideggers dreistufiger Analyse des Begriffs der Langeweile in Die Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik (Kraatz 2022, 264ff) eine konkrete Veranschaulichung des Verstehensvollzugs formal-anzeigender Begriffe. Allerdings kommen diese Beispiele erstens zu spät und bleiben zweitens deutlich hinter den zweihundert Seiten vorhergehender theoretischer Analyse der drei Charakterzüge der formalen Anzeige zurück. Dass sich die Momente der formalen Anzeige durchaus recht einfach an einem Beispiel aufweisen lassen, möchte ich mit einer kurzen Betrachtung der Diskussion des Phänomens des Todes in Sein und Zeit demonstrieren.

Heidegger beginnt die Analyse des Todes direkt mit einer Abwehr: Wir sollen das eigentliche Phänomen des Todes nicht auf Basis der Beobachtung anderer verstorbener Menschen als ein Vorkommnis am Ende unseres Lebens verstehen (Heidegger 2006, 240). Stattdessen müssen wir selbst das Sein dieses Phänomens aus der uns je eigenen Vollzugs- und Erlebnisperspektive heraus begreifen, und zwar als etwas, das wir gar nicht erleben und wobei wir auch nicht vertreten werden können; der Tod, oder besser das eigentliche Sein-zum-Tode, bestimmt unser Leben vielmehr strukturell und verleiht ihm dadurch seine Ganzheit (ibid., 266). So zeigt sich an dieser Analyse des Todes zum einen das explikative Element, da Heideggers formal-anzeigendes Philosophieren die Leserinnen und Leser auf sie selbst zurückverweist und dem Vorverständnis ihrer eigenen Situation Raum gibt, denn der eigene Tod ist in der Tat ein durch Jemeinigkeit gekennzeichnetes Existenzial. Gleichzeitig verhindert Heidegger durch dieses Offenhalten des Bezuges die Abdrift des Verstehens in Fachgebiete wie die Biologie. Er beschreibt seine Methode auf diesen Seiten sogar selbst als eine sowohl positive als auch prohibitive (ibid., 260).

  1. Die Angst und die formalen Anzeige

Die formale Anzeige ist nicht nur explikativ und prohibitiv, sondern auch transformativ. Laut Kraatz versetzt die formale Anzeige das verstehende Subjekt nicht in einen passiven Verstehensmodus, bei dem das Selbst des Subjekts in seinem Dasein unangetastet bleibt, sondern fordert es zur Verwandlung auf: „Der Verstehensvollzug ist gleichsam ein Vollzug einer Verwandlung.“ (Kraatz 2022, 181) Und in der Tat spricht Heidegger in Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik explizit davon, dass das erkennende Dasein von der formalen Anzeige aufgefordert wird, eine entsprechende Verwandlung zu vollziehen (Heidegger 2004, 421-430). Aber eine Verwandlung in was?

Heidegger diskutiert in diesen Textpassagen erneut das Phänomen des eigenen Todes und wendet sich gegen eine Verstehensweise, dergemäß dieses Phänomen ein vorhandenes Ding ist, das durch den Begriff vollumfänglich beschrieben wird. Aber der (eigene) Tod ist, wie bereits erwähnt, nicht als ein zu vorhandenes Ereignis zu verstehen. Stattdessen soll der Modus des Verstehens so sein, dass sich das erkennende Subjekt selbst in das Da-sein des jeweiligen Phänomens verwandeln muss, wie Heidegger sagt (ibid., 428). Das heißt, es muss das Phänomen selbst aus seinem zu-oder-in-diesem-Phänomen-Sein heraus verstehen. Ich habe vorhin bereits darauf hingewiesen, dass ich, wenn ich bspw. verstehen will, worin der eigene Tod besteht, mich selbst als zum-Tode-seiend verstehen muss. In diesem transformativen Moment liegt auch der Grund, warum diese Begriffe anzeigend sein müssen, da sie ja ihre Konkretion nicht von selbst mitbringen, sondern eher „in eine Konkretion des einzelnen Daseins im Menschen hineinzeigen“ (ibid., 429; siehe auch Kraatz 2022, 198).

Wie formuliert Kraatz nun den transformativen Charakter der formalen Anzeige? Teil III und IV von Das Sein zur Sprache bringen wiederholen im Prinzip die beiden vorherigen Charaktere der formalen Anzeige – nämlich den der Abwehr und den der Verweisung auf das eigene ich. Allerdings führt Kraatz durchaus einen wichtigen neuen Aspekt in seine Analyse ein, nämlich den, dass Gefühle für die formal-anzeigende Begrifflichkeit entscheidend sind und dass die philosophische Sprache auf ihren Inhalt ‚einstimmen‘ muss, weil dieser nur in einer besonderen Stimmung zugänglich wird (ibid., 148, 179). Es stimmt, dass der transformative Zug, der zu einer eigentlichen Begegnung mit dem zu verstehenden Phänomen führt, durchaus so etwas wie eine Einstimmung in das Phänomen erfordert. Allerdings beharrt Kraatz darauf, dass das entsprechende Gefühl das der Angst sein muss.

Die Angst ist laut Kraatz dasjenige Gefühl, das den Menschen die ausdrückliche Selbstbegegnung ermöglicht (ibid., 129), die alltägliche ruinante Lebenstendenz unterbricht (ibid., 135) und ihm sein Freisein für das eigentliche Selbstsein offenbart (ibid., 144). Grund genug für Kraatz zu schließen, dass das, was er über die Angst gesagt hat, zugleich für die Funktionsweise und den Vollzug der formalen Anzeige selbst gilt (ibid., 158, 191) und dass die formale Anzeige wesentlich ‚beängstigend‘ ist (ibid., 148). Diese Textausschnitte und die ausführliche Besprechung des Angstphänomens in Teil III legen den Schluss nahe, dass die Angst für Kraatz tatsächlich das zentrale Gefühl des Verstehensvollzugs der formalen Anzeige ist. Allerdings relativiert Kraatz seine Aussagen auch. So spricht er oft davon, dass die Angst nur eines der Gefühle ist, die die Erschließungsfunktion der formalen Anzeige ermöglichen (ibid., 158, 167, 183, 233) und sagt sogar, dass zum Philosophieren nicht notwendigerweise bzw. nicht im wirklichen Sinne die Angst gehört (ibid., 235f). Solche Schwankungen machen es schwierig, den Autor auf eine kohärente Position festzulegen.

Nun könnte man auf Grundlage der obigen Beschreibung des transformativen Charakters in Die Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik in der Tat den Schluss ziehen, dass Heidegger selbst Methoden- und Daseinsanalyse zusammenführt, denn ich verstehe ein Phänomen nur dann eigentlich, wenn ich mich in demjenigen Seinsmodus, bzw. in derjenigen Stimmung befinde, die das jeweilige Phänomen ausmacht. In der Tat sagt Heidegger in Sein und Zeit, wie Kraatz betont, dass die Angst für die existenziale Analytik eine methodische Funktion übernimmt: So fungiert die Angst als erschließende Grundbefindlichkeit des Daseins (ibid., 165, 232, 241; Heidegger 2006, 185, 190-191). Das liegt allerdings daran, dass das Dasein in seiner Eigentlichkeit wesentlich in Angst ist. Daraus folgt nicht, dass die Angst den Verstehensvollzug formal-anzeigender Begriffe im Allgemeinen leitet. Nicht nur gibt es für eine solche Diagnose keine Belege in Sein und Zeit, sie steht auch im Konflikt mit der Rolle der Angst. Wir erinnern uns: Die formale Anzeige richtet sich gegen eine vergegenständlichende, Bedeutung zerstörende und theoretische Vereinnahmung des Verstehens durch die Wissenschaften und die damit einhergehende Verdrängung des alltäglichen, bedeutungshaften Vorverständnisses des erkennenden Ich (Kraatz 2022, 37-44). Zwar beschreibt Heidegger die Angst als etwas, das das Dasein aus der Flucht vor ihm selbst (in die Verfallenheit) vor es selbst zurückholt und es mit seinem In-der-Welt-Sein und seinem eigensten, freien Seinkönnen konfrontiert (Heidegger 2006, 194-191). Allerdings ist dasjenige, an das das Dasein verfallen ist und von wo die Angst es zurückholt, ausdrücklich nicht durch Wissenschaftlichkeit, Objektivität, Unbedeutsamkeit,[1] Theorie und Unalltäglichkeit gekennzeichnet, (ibid., 67) sondern durch Nützlichkeit, Zuhandenheit (und nicht nur Vorhandenheit) und Alltäglichkeit (ibid., 68-70, 167). Die Angst befreit das Dasein zwar von einer uneigentlichen Auslegung der Welt durch das öffentliche Man, aber dieses Man ist eben nicht notwendigerweise ein wissenschaftliches.

Darüber hinaus scheint mir das Phänomen der Angst, selbst wenn es Parallelen zu dem Verstehensvollzug formal-anzeigender Begriffe aufweisen würde, nicht hinreichend zu sein. Die Angst holt das Dasein aus seinem Verfallen-Sein an die Welt zurück, vereinzelt es und offenbart ihm so Eigentlichkeit und Uneigentlichkeit als Möglichkeiten seines Seins (ibid., 191). Aber sie allein enthält noch kein proaktives Moment, welches doch den Verstehensvollzug in seiner Gänze kennzeichnet. Verfolgen wir die Daseinsanalyse in Sein und Zeit weiter, werden wir sehen, dass das zentrale Moment des Daseins in seiner Eigentlichkeit die Entschlossenheit ist, bei der die Momente der Angst, des Schuldigsein-Wollens und des Seins-zum-Tode zusammenlaufen. Sie ist das „verschwiegene, angstbereite Sichentwerfen auf das eigenste Schuldigsein“ (ibid., 297). In ihr ist das Dasein also nicht nur von den ‚Zufälligkeiten des Unterhaltenwerdens‘ durch das Man befreit vor das eigenste Seinkönnen gestellt (ibid., 310), sondern auch in das selbstbewusste Handeln und Verstehen zurückgebracht (ibid., 300). Auf die Entschlossenheit geht Kraatz aber gar nicht ein. Zwar verweist er zurecht darauf, dass die Angst dasjenige Moment ist, dass sowohl das Schuldigsein-Wollen und des Seins-zum-Tode stimmt (Kraatz 2022, 162-163; Heidegger 2006, 251, 277), allerdings macht dieser Befund ebenfalls noch nicht den Schluss notwendig, dass die Angst selbst, und nicht die Entschlossenheit, im Zentrum einer Analyse der formalen Anzeige als Ganzer stehen muss.

  1. Über Heideggers Begriffs- und Bedeutungstheorie

Bevor ich mit meiner Besprechung zum Ende komme, möchte ich noch kurz auf Teil V von Das Sein zur Sprache bringen eingehen. Teil V nimmt eine eigenartige Sonderstellung ein. Es handelt sich nicht mehr um ein weiteres Puzzlestück, das wir als Leserinnen und Leser brauchen, um die formale Anzeige zu verstehen – denn die Aufzeigung der Charakterzüge der formalen Anzeige soll in Teil IV abgeschlossen sein – sondern eher um eine Neubetrachtung der formalen Anzeige aus einer ‚sprachphilosophischen und begriffs- und bedeutungstheoretischen‘ Perspektive. Darin zeigt sich allerdings ein Problem im Aufbau des Buches. Auf der einen Seite wirkt der Teil buchstäblich angestückt. Immerhin gehen die ersten vier Teile aus der ursprünglichen Abschlussarbeit des Autoren von 2015 hervor; Teil V ist deutlich später entstanden (Kraatz 2022, 200). Auf der anderen Seite finden sich erst hier Ergänzungen und Beispiele, die für das Verständnis der einzelnen argumentativen Schritte in den ersten vier Teil schon wichtig gewesen wären. Eine Integration von Teil V in die anderen Teile wäre vielleicht besser gewesen.

Auffällig ist auch, dass Kraatz die beiden Begriffe ‚Sprachphilosophie‘ und ‚Begriffs- bzw. Bedeutungstheorie‘ homonym verwendet, auch wenn er dabei das Wort ‚Sprachphilosophie‘ durchgehend vorsichtig in Anführungszeichen setzt. Besser wäre es allerdings gewesen, genau zu klären, was beide Begriffe bedeuten und wie sie sich zueinander verhalten – im Allgemeinen und bei Heidegger. Sprachphilosophie kann zum einen als philosophische Methode verstanden werden, die die Normalsprache als Quelle für philosophische Erkenntnisse nutzt. Sprachphilosophie zu betreiben bedeutet hierbei, Erkenntnisse über die Bedeutung eines Begriffes mittels der Untersuchung der grammatischen Eigenschaften des Begriffes in alltäglichen Sprachkontexten zu gewinnen. Im Unterschied dazu kann die Sprache als philosophische oder alltägliche Mitteilungsmethode aber selbst zu einem Forschungsgegenstand für die Philosophie werden: In diesem Sinne wäre Sprachphilosophie als Philosophie zu verstehen, die untersucht, inwiefern (philosophische, wissenschaftliche oder alltägliche) Ausdrücke Bedeutung haben und sich auf Gegenstände beziehen. Schließlich kann ‚Sprachphilosophie‘ drittens auch noch als eine Philosophie verstanden werden, die die Rolle der Sprache als soziale Praxis und Seinsform philosophisch untersucht.

Meiner Meinung nach lassen sich Beispiele für alle drei ‚Arten‘ von Sprachphilosophie in Heideggers Texten finden, die in ihrer Funktion klar auseinander gehalten werden müssen. Der zweite Sinn von ‚Sprachphilosophie‘ ist wohl der für Kraatz interessanteste und auch derjenige, der am ehesten mit den Begriffen ‚Begriffs- bzw. Bedeutungstheorie‘ übereinstimmt. Und in Heideggers Ausführungen zur formalen Anzeige geht es in der Tat um die Frage, wie philosophische Begriffe sich auf die Dinge beziehen (sollen). Wenn Heidegger in Sein und Zeit allerdings zum ersten Mal über die Rede, das Gerede, das Auslegen, Hören, Schweigen, etc. spricht (Heidegger 2006, 160ff), dann philosophiert er über Sprache eher in diesem dritten Sinne von ‚Sprachphilosophie‘, da es sich dabei um Seinsmodi des Dasein handelt. Beispiele für den ersten Sinn finden sich eher in anderen Texten.[2]

Wie sieht es nun konkret mit Heideggers Begriffs- bzw. Bedeutungstheorie in diesem Teil von Kraatz‘ Buch aus? Im Grunde bezieht sich Kraatz hier erneut auf den Kern der Idee der formalen Anzeige: Formal-anzeigende Begrifflichkeiten zeigen die Phänomene so an, dass das erkennende Subjekt sie erst im konkreten entsprechend gestimmten Nachvollzug erschließt. Damit sagt Kraatz im Vergleich zu den vorangegangenen Teilen nichts Neues, findet aber durchaus klarere und deutlichere Formulierungen. Interessant ist dann auch noch der Hinweis, dass es sich bei der formalen Anzeige nicht um eine Gruppe von bestimmten Begriffen handelt, sondern um eine bestimmte Haltung im Umgang mit philosophischen Begriffen (Kraatz 2022, 230) – eine Haltung, die Heidegger in seinen methodologischen und begriffs- bzw. bedeutungstheoretischen Aussagen in der Tat zum Ausdruck bringt.

Kraatz‘ Buch hilft durchaus dabei, die Leserinnen und Leser auf die formalen Anzeige, so wie sie in Heideggers Texten entwickelt wird, richtig ‚einzustimmen‘. Man mag dem Autor auch glauben wollen, dass Heidegger in der Idee der formalen Anzeige eine raffinierte und ungewöhnliche Methode entwickelt, die eng mit seiner Daseinsanalyse verbunden ist. Das ergibt auch Sinn, weil dasjenige, was wir mit Heidegger vor allem verstehen wollen – das Dasein –, wir selbst sind, also verstehende Wesen. Auch wollen wir dem Autoren glauben, dass der Nachvollzug formal-anzeigender Begrifflichkeiten von einem erfordert, sich auf eine besondere Art und Weise auf das zu verstehende Phänomen einzustellen, wie das bei wissenschaftlichen Begrifflichkeiten nicht der Fall. Allerdings gelingt die exegetische Überzeugungsarbeit nur zum Teil. Das liegt zum einen daran, dass das Buch in einigen Detailfragen meiner Meinung nach falsch liegt. Zum anderen erschweren die redundante und theorielastige Argumentationsstruktur sowie die doch allzu stark an Heideggers eigene schwierige Sprache angelehnte Ausdrucksweise vor allem Leserinnen und Lesern, die nicht sehr mit Heidegger vertraut sind, leider das Verständnis.


Heidegger, Martin: Die Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik. Welt- Endlichkeit – Einsamkeit (Wintersemester 1929/30). Hrsg. von Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann. Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann, 2004.

Heidegger, Martin: Phänomenologie der Anschauung und des Ausdrucks (Sommersemester 1920). Gesamtausgabe Band 59, hrsg. von Claudius Strube. Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann, 1993.

Heidegger, Martin: Phänomenologische Interpretationen zu Aristoteles. Einführung in die phänomenologische Forschung (Wintersemester 1921/22). Gesamtausgabe Band 61, hrsg. von Walter Bröcker und Käte Bröcker-Oltmanns. Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann, 1994.

Heidegger, Martin: Sein und Zeit (1927). Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 2006.

Kraatz, Karl: Das Sein zur Sprache bringen. Die formale Anzeige als Kern der Begriffs- und Bedeutungstheorie Martin Heideggers. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann GmbH, 2022.

[1]   Ganz im Gegenteil. Für das Dasein werden die innerweltlichen Dinge erst unbedeutsam, wenn es sich ängstigt, weil sich erst dadurch die Welt in ihrer Weltlichkeit aufdrängt (Heidegger 2006, 187; siehe auch Kraatz 2022, 141).

[2]    In Sein und Zeit sagt Heidegger interessanterweise, dass die philosophische Forschung auf ‚Sprachphilosophie‘ verzichten muss, um den‚ Sachen selbst‘ nachzufragen (Heidegger 2006, 166). Ich vermute, dass er sich hierbei in der Tat auf Sprachphilosophie in diesem ersten Sinne bezieht, da sich seine Kritik gegen eine Philosophie richtet, die einzig in der Sprache verharrt und das Verankertsein der Sprache in der Welt selbst nicht thematisiert.

Allerdings betreibt Heidegger auch hin und wieder Sprachphilosophie in diesem ersten Sinne. So bemerkt er in Phänomenologische Interpretationen zu Aristoteles, dass es zu dem Substantiv ‚Philosophie‘ ein passendes direktes Verb gibt (‚philosophieren‘); bei den Substantiven ‚Biologie‘ oder ‚Physik‘ ist das nicht der Fall. Daraus schließt Heidegger, dass Philosophie selbst ein Verhalten ist, während es sich bei der Biologie und der Physik eher um Sachgebiete handelt (Heidegger 1994, 42-61). Kraatz verweist auch auf diese Stelle (Kraatz 2022, 50-51)

Anthony Rudd: Painting and Presence: Why Paintings Matter

Painting and Presence: Why Paintings Matter Book Cover Painting and Presence: Why Paintings Matter
Anthony Rudd
Oxford University Press
Hardback $70.00

Reviewed by: Steven DeLay (Global Centre for Advanced Studies)

Painting and Presence “is a philosophical inquiry into the value of paintings,” writes Anthony Rudd on the opening page of the work’s introduction. More precisely, as the work’s subtitle indicates, Rudd’s stated interest concerns “why they matter to us, or rather why (or whether) they should matter to us” (1). This has been a line of questioning commonly pursued by phenomenology. Of course, as even a cursory glance at its history attests, the tradition of phenomenological philosophy is notable for its self-avowed status as “first philosophy.” Husserl and Heidegger both saw phenomenology this way, as have Michel Henry and Jean-Luc Marion more recently, among others. And it is noteworthy to observe that this conception of itself as an exercise in first philosophy has frequently involved a deep interest in art, especially painting.

Indeed, belief that art can reveal something essential about the world and the human experience is relatively unique (though not entirely exclusive) in the history of philosophy to phenomenology. As Rudd himself notes, “Aesthetics is usually considered a rather marginal and optional part of philosophy generally” (5). And as for philosophy of painting, it often is seen to be “just one corner of aesthetics” (5). By contrast, examples of those within phenomenology who have seen art as fundamental to understanding the world are in no short supply. One thinks here of Merleau-Ponty’s writings on Cézanne or Heidegger’s writings on Van Gogh. Phenomenology being the enterprise it is, why such figures have found art worth considering philosophically is unsurprising. For if, in fact, art shows us something essential about the world that would otherwise remain concealed or inaccessible, no wonder they have given it serious attention. In theorizing about art, the world itself comes into better focus. “Merleau-Ponty,” as Rudd thus says, “was right when he said that ‘Every theory of painting is a metaphysics,’ and I will be arguing that an adequate understanding of the value of painting has implications for our understanding of value in general and its metaphysical foundations” (5).[1] As becomes clear over the course of it, Rudd’s own inquiry into the dimension of painting’s value is thus a “metaphysical” investigation in this respect, insofar as his account of aesthetic value—and the notion of “presence” which proves central to it—entails a robust ontological commitment to the reality of beauty and goodness in the world, or better, the world’s inherent goodness and beauty. Lest the phenomenological tradition’s conviction in the value of art be downplayed as less radical than it is, as either self-evident or common sensical, it should be underscored that, since Plato, a longstanding philosophical tendency has been to look askance at art. Such a critique of the arts, exemplified most famously by sections of Plato’s Republic, suggests that “in fact the arts don’t have positive value … that painting (art generally) does not lead us to the True and the Good, and may take us away from them” (11). In working out the theory of painting and its value, Rudd accordingly aims to meet this Platonic challenge, by drawing upon the collective insights of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Henry, Marion, and others.

Responding to philosophical views skeptical of painting’s value, Rudd’s is an account that, as mentioned, makes ample use of work by philosophers in the phenomenological tradition, particularly Merleau-Ponty. At the same time, the resulting contribution to phenomenological aesthetics is very much singularly his own. At stake in Rudd’s inquiry are two key claims. The first, namely “that painting matters because it is or can be truthful, that—apart from all the many particular reasons why we might value some particular paintings—good paintings in general are of value because they disclose essential aspects of reality” (10), is one which will be recognizably familiar to readers. The second, his more idiosyncratic claim that what “all painting discloses is, in a sense, something sacred and that painting itself, therefore, is a sacred, even a quasi-sacramental act” (12), epitomizes the new ground the study breaks, offering as it does an addition to the phenomenological tradition’s understanding of art deserving to be taken seriously in its own right. In what follows, I shall lay out how Rudd manages to help us see in painting what previous work on the subject matter has hitherto not made visible.

One recurring delight while reading this three-part, ten-chapter study is the welcome discovery that the questions, thoughts, and potential objections occurring to one as the account progresses are anticipated by Rudd. This proves to be the case from the very outset, where in the work’s introduction he opens the study by addressing some methodological and thematic challenges that inevitably beset the attempt to launch an inquiry into the nature of painting and its value. Perhaps the most obvious of these bound to come to mind concerns the status of art as such: What is it? Employing a move that will be familiar to those aware of his previous work on Wittgenstein,[2] here Rudd eschews attempting to define art or stipulating the necessary and sufficient conditions constituting it. Because there are various different forms of art, any universal definition of art will be “so vague and indeterminate that any answers to it will be either so broad as to be unhelpfully vague and indeterminate themselves or else too narrow to avoid numerous counterexamples” (1-2). And yet, although a definition of art eludes us, this is not cause for despair. For we have some grasp of art nevertheless, at least of what a painting is when we see it: “One virtue of concentrating on painting […] is that we do at least have a rough intuitive idea of what a painting is” (2). This Wittgensteinian manner of dissolving the initial apparent problem of defining art (and painting) invites a related challenge. “The current concept of art,” as Rudd observes, “is a fairly recent and specifically Western invention” (2). One thus might object that the conception of art Rudd has in sight is provincial. One might also object that, if so, it will be illegitimate to draw the sort of general metaphysical conclusions regarding the nature of value that his account aims to draw based on its analysis of painting’s particular value.

Rudd himself acknowledges the issue, stating that he intends his account of painting and painting’s value “to apply across different times and across different cultures” (2). To that end, in addition to Eastern Orthodox icon painting, he cites classical Chinese landscapes, and high modernist art of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century Europe (3), as traditions and periods that will guide his vision. By turning attention to these different kinds of paintings, what hopefully promises to emerge is “a universal answer to the question why painting matters” which does not “condemn us to relativism” or “make it impossible for us to find genuine cross-cultural and cross-perspectives that we inhabit” (3). Thus, as Rudd puts it, “My project is to see whether a positive, informative, and general answer to the question why paintings matter is possible” (27). And as he notes, although it may not be possible to guarantee in advance that such an answer can be given, neither is there any compelling reason to rule out the possibility in advance.

Having addressed these preliminary matters, Rudd closes the introduction first by specifying his own methodological approach, then by explaining how this method of analyzing paintings is able to illuminate their “presence.” Rudd here observes that an approach centering the aesthetic value of a painting in virtue of its presence opens unto broader questions of value. If, as Rudd says, “one cannot understand why paintings might matter without a broader understanding of why, or in what sense, anything might matter” (5), the value of painting can only be understood within a wider metaphysics of value. By choosing to use the methodological approach he believes is most suited for identifying and preserving the integrity of painting’s value, he thereby is committing himself to views about larger metaphysical questions of value. As for this methodological choice, to illuminate the value particular to painting, to begin with, he emphasizes it is necessary that the approach focus on the actual experience of viewing paintings—that is to say, that the approach be phenomenological. Such an approach, he says, allows for “an inquiry into what it is like, from a first-person point of view, to experience paintings as mattering, as being of value” (6). Taking seriously this disclosed value entails not reducing the aesthetic experience of viewing a painting “as a datum which we might then try to explain in objective causal terms” proper to psychology or sociology. Instead, the phenomenological approach he prefers “sticks with that experience and sties to see what it is about those paintings that becomes apparent to us when we experience them in that way—as mattering” (6). The potential trouble, one might think, is that this first-person experiential approach stands in tension with Rudd’s goal of reaching essential, universal structures about painting and the value of painting. It seems that here there arises “the old philosophical problem of induction—Hume’s problem” (7). But appearances can sometimes be deceiving, and such is the case in this instance, he says. For as he notes, phenomenology does not trade in inductive hypothesis formation or empirical generalizations. Rather, it proceeds by way of an “intuition of essences” (7), what reveals necessary, universal, and essential truth.

At stake is what Rudd throughout the inquiry will term “knowledge by acquaintance,” something delivering a kind of truth that is said to be “non-discursive,” and which accordingly cannot be paraphrased in any non-visual medium. This sort of non-paraphrasable, non-discursive, sensuous, experiential meaning is what is revealed by viewing a painting, and what constitutes the painting’s “presence,” and thus in turn its value or significance. As Rudd explains the terminological choice, “I take up the term ‘presence’ which has been used by various art critics and theorists to indicate a particularly intense or charged way in which we can experience artworks as communicating with us” (11). The presence a (good) painting exhibits is that which grips, fascinates, and enthralls us about it. If what painting shows “goes beyond and is irreducible to any discursive knowledge” (think, for example, of what Cézanne shows us of Mont Sainte-Victoire), then as Rudd explains, an account of painting’s value must also explain “the particular kind of knowledge by acquaintance that painting provides is good to have” (12). Moreover, to vindicate this experience of painting’s value, to show it is not illusory, it will be necessary to give an account of the value of nature. After all, if paintings themselves are said to capture and convey the value of what they depict, for such aesthetic value to be genuine, the world itself must exhibit genuine value as well.

As Rudd says, “An adequate account of the value of painting—and of the aesthetic appreciation of nature—requires us to repudiate the modern picture of a ‘disenchanted’ value-free world” (12). To account for the value of the aesthetic experience of viewing a painting, the value must be connected to a meaningful aesthetic encounter with the very world it represents. Contrary to how the modern scientistic sensibility would have it, the world (or nature) must therefore not be seen as disenchanted, but as inherently meaningful—good and beautiful. To experience nature aesthetically, as he puts it, is to “experience it as being valuable, as having an ontological goodness” (12). Rudd’s inquiry, we see, is to be a purposely metaphysical endeavor, for explaining painting’s aesthetic value will involve clarifying the world’s as well.

An approach such as Rudd’s aiming to account for the value of painting in light of the world’s beauty and goodness would seem to lend itself naturally to a mimetic theory of artistic production and representation. A painting’s truth, beauty, or goodness, so the thought goes, is borrowed from the reality it copies or reproduces. Rudd, who is aware that this thought will have come to the reader’s mind, addresses two objections it faces. In the first place, much of art history “encourages its students to adopt a detached, unemotional stance, to learn about point of technique, historical context, how to decipher symbolism, and so forth” (17). Because Rudd is interested in how the value of painting is manifest in the aesthetic experience of the work, the traditional art historical approach is a challenge to the mimetic theory, since the aspects of the painting that would account for its value will be ignored by such a gaze. The theoretical approach favored by art historians, after all, can often be blind to the very sort of value that Rudd believes makes a painting valuable ultimately—it overlooks the way we respond to works during the aesthetic experience of them, the way paintings matter to us in an “emotionally intense, personal way.” “Scholarly art historians,” as he observes, “often don’t exactly seem to encourage such responses” (18). Yet here, it could be claimed that the art historian has not actually overlooked anything important—for in considering what the value of a painting might be, as Rudd proposes we do, why think that it in fact has any value? As Rudd here notes, this is the heart of Plato’s critique, not only of epic and dramatic poetry, but of mimesis. On this Platonic conception of artistic imitative production, the painter “merely imitates, produces a copy of, a physical thing,” the latter being “itself merely an imitation or copy of its Form.” And for Plato, as we know, the Forms are timeless, immaterial essences, which is to say, they “are objects of thought, not of sense perception” (19). Plato’s Socrates sees painting as trivial, to be sure, yet he doesn’t suggest banning it as he does the poetic works of Homer and the tragedians, which are thought to be corrupting. Still, for Plato, “vivid images, like cleverly chosen phrases, can seduce and mislead” (19). Paintings, then, according to Plato, are not works of truth.

So much the worse for Plato, one might think we ought to conclude. Yet Rudd himself is quick to note that what Plato has claimed about the relationship between truth and the arts (painting specifically) is not of just historical interest. There are two kinds of arguments against art, or against the idea of art having deep value, to be considered. The first could be described as “rational” or “scientific”: from the point of view of the search for truth, art is trivial. In a word, “science is the road to truth; art is merely subjective” (20). Art does not give us knowledge. As for the second argument, it was just alluded to above. Here, the arts are claimed to be trivial, even pernicious: they are “simply a form of entertainment or decoration” (22), or worse, they can “make us delight in bad things and can corrupt their viewers” (20). For someone viewing art through these Platonic eyes, the problem is not so much that art fails to give us knowledge at all, but rather that it gives us bad beliefs.

Further potentially complicating Rudd’s account of painting’s value is the fact that, as he notes, an account such as his underscoring aesthetic experience is bound to invite the accusation of subjectivism. “The properties we appreciate paintings for are, after all,” as he says, “aesthetic properties—that is, they appeal to the sense. But this would seem to restrict their appreciation to beings which have sensory faculties like ours.” “One is tempted,” he continues, “to put the question in these terms: would a painting still be valuable if there was no one who did, or more strongly, no one who even could appreciate it?” (24). The operative word, of course, is “tempted.” For according to Rudd, concluding that the aesthetic value of painting is somehow metaphysically illusory because aesthetic qualities are not “mind-independent” would be, to borrow the famous phrase of John McDowell whom Rudd himself cites in this context, to see things as “sideways-on.” To resist seeing painting “sideways-on,” instead providing a phenomenological explication of it, entails attending to an individual painting in its own right (26). However, whereas a “particularist” philosophical theory might lead to skepticism about unitary accounts of that value as consisting in any one thing, Rudd insists it is necessary to try to understand what the commonality is among good paintings. Whatever it proves to be, the valuable characteristic cannot be on the same level as harmonious formal structure or representational accuracy. Rather, as Rudd says, “it must be present in good paintings of any kind (present in a great degree the greater the painting) and which makes us care about this one’s representational accuracy or that one’s harmonious structure, when we don’t (or don’t care as much) about the representational accuracy or harmonious structure which we may agree exists in more mediocre works” (27). Perhaps the characteristic in question consists in a painting’s goodness, one might think. After all, if Plato had questioned the value of painting by claiming it leads us away from the True and the Good, then the most direct way to answer him, and to identify what valuable paintings have in common, would be to show that paintings can be of benefit by actually leading us towards the True and the Good. Perhaps, then, it might be thought enough simply to “define good art as that which didactically serves a good moral or political cause” (28). However, as Rudd explains, that strategy would be to give up on his own project, which is to understand “why we rightly value many kinds of paintings,” most of which are not explicitly didactic. Thus, if painting is to be valued because it serves the Good, a subtler way of understanding how this is so besides simple didacticism must be found (28).

What, then, of Truth? “Perhaps the simplest way in which one might think of a painting as conveying the truth,” says Rudd, “would be through representational accuracy” (28). Is it the case that we value paintings because they depict things as they really are? Rudd catalogues a number of problems with such an idea: there are excellent paintings which are not representational at all, even among those which do have a recognizable subject matter, the best ones are not necessarily those which represent their subjects in the most literal or accurate fashion, and there are many paintings which are representationally accurate, but which seem to have little or no artistic merit. Hence, literal representational fidelity is neither necessary nor sufficient for a painting to have value. At the same time, Rudd cautions that this does not rule out the idea that we might value paintings for their truthfulness. If we do pursue such a line, however, here as before with painting’s connection to goodness, we must think of truthfulness more subtly, as more than just representational accuracy.

Aware of the fact that by this stage it will not be only Plato whom readers have in mind, Rudd turns to the other obvious historical figure of philosophical importance here, namely Hegel. It is Hegel, after all, whose philosophical theory of aesthetics forthrightly frames the analysis of art in terms of truth. Might a Hegelian (or sophisticated-Marxist) theory of art account for what makes all great art great? The claim would be that great art, which is to say truthful art, discloses deep truths about the society and culture to which it belongs. On such a view, as Rudd explains, “great art doesn’t just manifest the superficial self-image of a culture by showing what it thinks of itself; it makes manifest its social subconscious, its deeper motivations, fears, and tensions” (29). So understood, an artwork is a work of truth, insofar as it is a mode of critique. As Rudd acknowledges, plenty of philosophical work has been done by treating art’s function this way. And yet, no matter how sophisticated and illuminating they prove to be, these philosophical approaches to art reduce paintings to serving as clues to “the zeitgeist or to the mindset of the culture.” The artwork itself is “still being used as a tool of social-scientific research, rather than being valued in itself” (29).

If Platonic and Hegelian views about what the value of painting are said to consist in meet with serious difficulty, here one very naturally might propose that it is Beauty, rather than the Good or the True, to which a painting’s value is connected. Contrary to what Plato’s Socrates maintains, perhaps the beauty of a painting is its own justification, even if it has no connection with either truth or goodness (30). Or, maybe painting need not have any connection with beauty either, but can be celebrated as a pure, autonomous activity, a playful celebration of visual possibility. Some painting, indeed, might be seen as worthwhile precisely because it subverts, ironizes, or undermines those “portentous, suffocating old norms of Goodness, Truth or Beauty” (30). Understood to convey that there is no ultimate Truth, but rather only an indefinite plurality of different possible ways of seeing, art would show “the truth that there is no Truth” (30). Once again, as before with the Hegelian conception of art’s truthfulness, these postmodern conceptions of art are still claiming that art is of value because “it contributes to human flourishing and provides us with philosophically significant insight (30). The value is not taken to be intrinsic to the painting itself.

“I do want to pause,” writes Rudd, “with the suggestion that painting is justified not by conveying truth or promoting moral goodness, but by its beauty” (30). There still seems to be an obvious answer to what makes paintings valuable: “We value (good) paintings because they are beautiful. Isn’t it as simple as that?” (30). One issue with a straightforward mimetic theory of painting’s value, it will be recalled, is that not every good painting is a literalistic representation of what it depicts. A similar problem besets straightforwardly appealing to beauty as an explanation for a painting’s value. “One simple and obvious problem,” as Rudd contends, “is that not all paintings are beautiful and, more to the point, that not all great paintings are beautiful.” Not every great painting’s greatness seems to have to do with it being beautiful (31). In fact, that some great paintings depict horrific or ugly things is why, as Plato had worried, art might be thought to be dangerous and corrupting. Owing to the beauty of their formal properties (“their finely structured composition, or their well-balanced and sumptuous colour” [31]), there is a bewitching tendency for art to make even the horrific seem pleasing (31), a fact someone such as Iris Murdoch has noted, as Rudd says. Such paintings can seduce us into taking pleasure in what should appall us. This power of theirs underscores the Platonic critique’s pertinence.

Having reached what seems be a conceptual impasse, here as elsewhere, Rudd’s study finds a way to move beyond what had previously appeared to be an intractable difficulty. “A better response to the problem of great but non-beautiful art,” he contends, “is to ask, again, what we mean by ‘beauty’” (32). He states his sympathy for a definition formulated by Paul Crowther: “beauty as ‘that whose visual appearance is found fascinating in its own right.” Beautiful paintings “fascinate us, strike us, draw us in, and do so simply in virtue of the way they look.” This conception of beauty can be compared with the similar, yet distinct, classic one provided by Aquinas, for which the beautiful is understood as “that which ‘pleases’ when seen’” (32). In response to this classical definition of beauty, one might adduce as a counterexample a painting that is not in any way visually striking or interesting, but which nevertheless is artistically good. As for such a possibility, Rudd himself is “happy to deny that there can be any such thing” (32-33). In the last analysis, hence, Rudd concludes it is tempting to hold that what makes a painting good qua painting just is the visually fascinating way it appears (33).

True to form, here he anticipates and addresses the objection such a claim is likely to evoke. Which properties, exactly, are relevant to such beauty? The claim that a painting’s beauty consists in what visually fascinates us about it might be thought to commit Rudd to some version of “aesthetic empiricism,” a position according to which the only features relevant to a painting’s aesthetic evaluation are those which are strictly perceptible. The impression that this must be Rudd’s view is only further encouraged by the fact that by this point in the inquiry, Rudd has insisted more than once that his account of aesthetic value will be phenomenological, and hence one attending to what is disclosed directly on the canvas. Is taking a painting’s subject matter or symbolism into consideration thereby eliminated? A fact to note in response is that, if one attempts to accommodate a painting’s background information—its subject matter, style, symbolism, historical context, and so forth—for the aesthetic appreciation and evaluation, it is hard to maintain a very strict distinction between the purely aesthetic properties of a painting and all the rest (34). Rudd’s own preferred solution to this dilemma, which strikes me as assuming the right balance, is to point out that if such properties do indeed matter for the aesthetic evaluation of a painting, they are relevant only because they help us “appreciate the visually apparent features of the painting for what they are” (34). In the end, the visible is what matters.

However, if nothing else, the Platonic objection is persistent. Even after the considerable conceptual energy Rudd has already expended attempting to answer it, he recognizes it once again threatens to arise here. “To experience something that is visually pleasing or fascinating,” as he notes, “is, of course, pleasing or fascinating, but is this really enough to make it of significant value, to explain why it can matter to us, or why we might think it should matter? (35). “To recall the Platonic Objection,” as he continues, “pornography, political propaganda, and commercial advertising are all intended to fascinate visually. So what distinguishes their visually fascinating qualities from those of good paintings?” (35). A distinction between “narrow” and “broad” senses of beauty (or a “deep” and “shallow” sense) meets the challenge. So understood, beauty is that to which theoria attends; it “is not a self-standing value, independent of truth and goodness,” but instead “the way in which truth and goodness show up to us” (36). Beauty in the “deep” sense is something conveying “significance or meaning, not just providing titillating visual sensations.” This kind of deep beauty is visually fascinating because it reveals to us what is significant (36). Rudd in turn notes that it must be shown in what respect both truth and goodness are connected to painting’s value, inasmuch as beauty is so connected. He claims that to say painting is truthful will be to say that it discloses essential truth—“metaphysical” truth. What’s begun to emerge, it has become clear, is a view of painting’s value committed to something like the Medieval understanding of the transcendentals: “For if truth is good and if beauty can be a form of truth, then beauty is good” (37). What is particularly noteworthy about this is not just that Rudd has managed to make compelling and promising the invocation of what usually is considered an outmoded philosophical way of thinking, but that he has done so by showing how careful reflection paying close attention to the actual aesthetic experience of viewing a painting invites it.

Turning in earnest to the matter of painting’s truthfulness, Rudd begins by iterating how “the Platonic answer to the Platonic challenge” (38) is to observe, as he has already, that the argument for the triviality of painting (that is, the idea it is three steps removed from the truth of the Forms) depends on a crudely mimetic “copy” theory of painting (38). Painting, to the contrary, “involves idealization” (39), an insight which, perhaps surprisingly, has been taken seriously by the subsequent Platonic tradition itself. In the case of someone like Plotinus, for instance, the artist is said not simply to try to imitate the way a particular thing appears, but to portray the thing so as to show it “as expressing the ideal Forms.” At stake in doing so is not bare reproduction of the thing seen, but “the Reality-Principles from which Nature itself derives” (39). This Platonic tradition of which Plotinus is an exemplar regards the sensible world itself as participating in the Forms, such that the artist does not turn away from the natural, sensible world altogether (39). Here Rudd cites Douglas Hedley who contends, “‘Plotinus prioritizes vision over discursive reflection; the immediacy of sight over the mediated.’” To be sure, there is a substantial “aesthetic” element in Plotinus’ philosophy, yet his ultimate goal, admits Rudd, “is an inner contemplative vision to which the sensuous aesthetic vision of an image is merely an analogy.” Still, there is an important lesson to draw. “A Platonist of a less ascetic kind than Plotinus,” as Rudd says, “might reasonably find it intrinsically valuable not only to contemplate the Forms, or the One, or God but also to contemplate the visible world as the expression, emanation, or creation of the Forms, the One or God” (40). This notion is one Rudd himself will develop later in his own fashion, when taking up the way the sacred pertains to painting.

With modernity and the rise of aesthetic theories epitomized by Hegel, the influence of this Platonic art theory declines. The scientific, technological “disenchantment” of nature set in, and as a result, the natural world came no longer to be seen as “a meaningful—and therefore beautiful—order” (41). Rudd says, “Hegel’s ‘official’ doctrine is that the truths that art can present in sensuous form are not the highest truths (or the highest forms of truth) and that truth can now be presented more adequately in conceptual form, so that art ceases to be strictly necessary for us.” Hegel, thus, in a way defends the arts against Plato, insofar as art is said to be capable of expressing truth, but Hegel’s conception of art’s truthfulness ultimately makes art dispensable. Although art today at this point in history can still express truths, Hegel maintains we now have better ways of doing so (43).[3]

Rudd consequently shifts his attention to a contemporary phenomenological account of art’s meaningfulness, one that unlike the Hegelian view attempts to preserve the irreducibility of aesthetic truth. His example is the view of Steven Crowell, who, as Rudd observes, takes certain works of sculpture as an illustration of art’s unique capacity to disclose meaning that would be incommunicable otherwise. A work of “minimalist sculpture—Crowell’s example is Donald Judd’s Untitled (Large Stack) of 1991—can visually present certain Phenomenological insights into the nature of perception” (43). However, Hegel’s original question imposes itself again here: for if art is indeed a mode of truth, is not such truth a poor substitute for conceptual thought? It might seem that Judd’s work only illustrates an account of vision that could be better developed through, say, Husserl’s conceptual description of perception. A different example of art’s capacity to express “deep” truth, which perhaps manages to disclose something about objects a mode of conceptual analysis could not, are the paintings of Italian artist Giorgio Morandi. On Crowell’s view of Morandi, his paintings manage to illuminate the “indifference of mere things,” the existence of everyday objects beyond any use or meaning they may have to us. If such a view of Morandi is correct, then art in fact can convey truth that could not exist apart from its aesthetic medium—hence, Rudd’s “no paraphrase” thesis is met. It does seem plausible to conclude, as Crowell does, that knowledge by acquaintance of sensuous, non-discursive knowledge through painting is possible. A painting can indeed disclose the silent “thingness” of what it depicts.

Here, Rudd hastens to fend off a common misconception. To say painting gives us non-discursive knowledge is not to invoke a notion of pure, non-linguistic experience. According to Rudd, conceptuality remains at play, even if the truth a painting discloses lies beyond linguistic paraphrase or conceptual articulation. For one thing, when seeing a painting, one is always doing so “at least minimally as a painting, maybe as a Rothko or a Raphael, as a Madonna and Christ, or as a classical Chinese mountainous landscape.” Nonetheless, as Rudd stresses, that such experience is linguistically shaped and mediated does not mean it can be reduced to a purely verbal level. One needs the sensuous immediacy of seeing the painting to learn what it discloses (46).[4]

When Rudd then states painting matters because “it doesn’t imitate surface appearances, but intimates deep truths that are available in no other way,” such a formulation, which deliberately evokes associations with Merleau-Ponty, raises the question: which artists, if not Morandi, are exemplars of true greatness, and why they are, whereas other artists are not? For as Rudd notes, in Crowell’s analysis, there is something very specific about the way Morandi paints that gets across to us the “silence” of thinghood, a style or manner that is not universal, but rather quite distinctive. Is Crowell therefore saying that, if painting should convey deep truths, only Morandi (and a few others) has succeeded in using the medium to do so? “If this is so,” that is, if “Morandi does convey a deep philosophical insight, while remaining a minor artist, then the ability of painting to convey deep ontological truth cannot be the sole or even the most important source of its value.” After all, it might be observed that other artists greater than Morandi are important because they convey other deep truths. Is their greatness compared to Morandi due then to the truths they convey being more important than those Morandi does? Rudd is unsure how we would go about assessing such claims (47).

With Merleau-Ponty, Rudd has us consider Cézanne, a painter who has dominated phenomenological discussions of painting. His status as one who discloses the pre-objective being of things, the world as we experience it prior to our adoption of a detached, intellectualizing stance, is unquestioned (47). Were we to take ontological truthfulness as the reason for why art matters, then the more ontologically truthful painter is the greater one. Rudd accordingly asks: does this mean Cézanne was a greater artist than Raphael? To be sure, such a claim does not seem absurd in the way a similar claim about Morandi does. Nonetheless, Rudd observes that we may feel at this level of artistic achievement, it makes little sense to attempt to rank artists by such criteria (48). For if Merleau-Ponty is in fact providing a general account of the essence of painting as the expression of our being-in-the-world, he seems committed to the conclusion that all the great High Renaissance masters, for example, were failures. “This,” Rudd says, “would be the sort of implausibly Procrustean account that I agreed with the particularists in rejecting” (48). On the other hand, if Merleau-Ponty maintains that the Renaissance masters were trying to do “something else, something which we can admire them for doing as much as we can admire Cézanne for doing what he did,” then it appears he has given up on giving a general account of painting and why it matters. That would be to succumb to particularism, whereas Rudd wishes to develop an alternative to both particularism and Procrusteanism (48). Concluding this stretch of the study, Rudd states the dilemma to which one is led, “The worry one has with Merleau-Ponty and Crowell is that they take their metaphysical views (arrived at independently) and use them as a basis for ranking artists. The worry one has with Crowther is that his account of what matters in painting doesn’t correlate with any plausible ranking of the merits of artists” (49). It is necessary to find some third alternative.

What we would like to have is a view on which we are not led to “having either to deny or diminish the value of intuitively great art because it doesn’t seem to align with our philosophical theories or to exaggerate the merits of mediocre work that does express what we think philosophically insightful.” Having failed to find such an account in the offing with Merleau-Ponty, Rudd suggests that Michel Henry offers the makings of one. “One philosopher who suggests a way to do this—although he does himself very explicitly take a particular painter to have reached a higher level of philosophical insight than others—is Michel Henry,” as he says. The artist to whom Rudd alludes is Kandinsky, In Henry’s book on Kandinsky, he argues that all painting is essentially abstract, and hence non-representational. Painting, claims Henry, aims not to copy appearances but to express or evoke the pathos of “Life,” which he takes as ontologically prior to the “World” of scientifically articulated objectivity (49). Rudd, for his own part, is less interested in the specific claims Henry makes for Kandinsky, and more interested in the fact that Henry’s conception of art as the non-representational expression of Life’s pathos suggests “the most plausible form that a solution to this problem should take.” In other words, “what is of value in painting is something that exists in some degree in all painting, but it is taken to a higher level, the better the painting is” (49). Where Rudd contends that Henry errs is in holding that only abstractionism can in full purity exhibit what explains the value of painting in general. A more pluralistic attitude is called for, claims Rudd. This intuition of Rudd’s seems correct. As most readers would probably agree, despite the brilliance and insightfulness of Henry’s account of Kandinksy and abstractionism, we justifiably judge many kinds and styles of painting to have value, and the best instances of them to have great value. As Rudd says, if such value consists in their expressing truth, then the truth at issue must be expressible in many ways—“in Rublev, in Raphael, and in Rothko; in Mondrain as well as Kandinsky; and in the landscapes of Dong Yuan as well as those of Constable” (50). As for the issue of painting’s mattering, here Rudd observes that Henry has made an advance beyond his phenomenological predecessors, including Merleau-Ponty. One major problem Rudd had found with Crowell’s earlier account of why art matters is that it “doesn’t make it clear why the truth he thinks Morandi shows us itself matters. Why, even if paintings do show us truth, does that make them valuable?” (51). Art on such a view risks become an idle amusement or vain distraction. It is far from clear what ultimate value there is in revealing the “silence” of things stripped of their ordinary meaning. “Why,” Rudd asks, “in a meaningless world, would it even be meaningful, of value, to make us aware of that meaninglessness? In such a world, can the truth-revealing nature of art be a reason for valuing it?” (52). Henry, however, can explain why valuing the truth-revealing nature of art since the value of art explained in terms of its expressing the truth of Life. What remains to be done is to work out a phenomenological aesthetics that, rather than confining itself to abstractionism, accommodates the full range of paintings which exhibit truth.

Rudd here invokes Murdoch, whom he previously had mentioned in passing. “A central idea of Murdoch’s explicitly Platonic ethics,” as he says, “is that our ordinary perception of the world is constantly threatened by our tendency to see only what we want to find in it—to project onto it our own fantasies and resentments. A crucial part of the moral life is learning to see things (persons, situations) as they really are.” Murdoch agrees with Plato that bad art “merely reinforces our tendency to fantasize.” However, good art can serve as an example of, and an inspiration to, the truthful and honest vision of things as they really are (54). Such artworks deliver us from the prejudice of “social convention and neurosis,” and “bring us closer to the truth,” thereby performing the moral task of “celebrating reality” (56). Following Murdoch, Rudd claims that good painting provides “an ontological delight or joy in existence that comes from a loving attention to the world” (57). But if painting can indeed illuminate truth and celebrate reality, how is this possible? A comprehensive metaphysics of value is necessary. “We cannot usefully discuss the value of art,” as Rudd says, “without raising larger questions about the nature of value: the discussion of why paintings matter cannot really be treated in isolation from the wider question of why anything matters” (58).

            A thoroughgoing development of what presence consists in will aid this effort, because presence is what lies at the heart of the philosophically significant truth painting conveys. Such truth, as Rudd reminds us, arises from knowledge by acquaintance and is non-paraphrasable: the truth revealed in painting is such that nothing we could say of it would be an adequate substitute for seeing it ourselves. The truth of it cannot be fully or adequately articulated verbally (61).To make a start on clarifying the phenomenality of such presence, Rudd analogizes it to interpersonal relations. Of a person with whom we are sufficiently closely acquainted, we often say that we know this someone. The knowing is not a matter of information. It is not a matter of knowing a litany of propositions about the person. And for this reason, there is no substitute “for actually getting to know that person for oneself.” Rudd’s suggestion is that the truths we get to know through acquaintance with paintings are akin to those about other people we can only acquire through personal acquaintance with them. And central to this kind of acquaintance is the notion of presence (61).

The knowledge by acquaintance that is receptive to a painting’s presence is attuned knowledge. It accordingly differs from what Russell originally meant by it in a number of important ways. To begin with, the knowledge received in and from presence is “personal”—two people “can be looking at something equally closely, in equally good light, etc., and be aware of all the same facts about it; and it can still be present to one and not the other.” Furthermore, it is an “emotional knowledge.” To have something be present is to be moved it (69). Clarifying the intimacy characterizing presence, Rudd accordingly appeals to Martin Buber’s famous distinction between the “I-Thou” and the “I-It,” a distinction itself resembling that drawn by Gabriel Marcel, who, as Rudd notes, characterizes intersubjectivity as a “communication with communion” (64). By attending to a painting in such a way that its presence is felt, one in some way enters into a relation with it in a manner analogous to intersubjectivity. We now have an answer to why the phenomenological approach to painting’s value has a leg-up on the dry, detached approach preferred by art historians. If broad and deep beauty is that which fascinates us visually, but such beauty is revealed only in a form of attention sensitive to its presence, then the detached and skeptical attitude, that is, the attitude which distrusts intense first-order emotional responses, will remain blind to such value. This cynical detachment from painting’s (and perhaps anything’s) mattering deeply, as Rudd notes, is one of the pervasive characteristics of contemporary Western culture, an attitude which postmodern theory attempts to lend intellectual justification (67).

Here Rudd highlights his quite different attitude to a painting. “I want to say,” he writes,

“that a good painting is one that has presence, which can be experienced as present in this charged sense, while a mediocre painting lacks it (or has less of it). It may be interesting, attractive, pleasing in a variety of ways, but it doesn’t have that intensity of being that made Elkin’s respondents cry out or burst into tears. And I want to equate presence in this sense with what I have called both ‘broad’ and ‘deep’ beauty. What Crowther called the visual fascination of a painting should be understood as its capacity to draw us into a communion with it, to be present to us” (68).

Taken in the “charged sense,” analogizing such presence to interpersonal relations proves illuminating. For just as the other person always remains mysterious no matter how well known, so too a painting retains a depth of mysterious, of transcendence. Even when “experiencing a deep Marcellian communion with another person,” as Rudd says, “part of the experience is precisely that the other remains mysterious” (75). So too a good painting presents itself as having depths (76).

The fact that a painting exhibits such depths, and that such depths are what we are attuned to in coming to be acquainted with its presence, goes some way to explaining why it is that we appreciate visual representations of things at all. An artistic representation of a thing in the sense that interests Rudd is not a simple depiction of a surface appearance, but a revelation of a thing’s deeper sense, and hence a “re-presentation” of it—a good painting makes present again the essence of the person or thing (78). Borrowing the language of Gadamer, we can say a painting is not just a copy of a being but is “in ontological communion with what is copied’” (80). The most obvious example of an image’s involving the sort of interpersonal communion and presence Rudd has in mind is the religious icon.

He accordingly turns the inquiry’s attention to Eastern Orthodox iconography. Two questions are at stake in doing so: What does it mean to say that religious pictures are in “ontological communion” with their subject matter, and secondly, what would it mean to take them as “exemplary” for painting in general? (81). Consider icons narrowly defined. They are painted images of sacred personages: Christ, Mary, or saints (83). Underlying the iconoclast policy, says Rudd, was a Platonic conviction that images take us away from reality and misrepresent its true nature. To make images of material things is to move further away from the immaterial realm which is truly real (and good) rather than towards it (84). When the iconoclastic prohibition was lifted, it was done so with a distinction between worship and veneration. Although it would be wrong to worship (latreia) an iconographic image, it is proper to venerate (proskynesis) such an image. Depicting a material body so as to show the divine energy and grace emanating from it makes manifest the nature of the material world as divine creation (86). The icon, which is a center from which the divine energies radiate out, reveals the depths of transcendence.

Having already discussed Merleau-Ponty and Henry, Rudd here invokes the work of Marion. For Marion, what is crucial about the icon is that “we don’t just look at it,” as Rudd says, for rather than making it an object for our gaze, we open ourselves to be looked at “by Christ or the saint looking through the icon” (89). The icon’s presence (much like painting generally) conveys a distinctively aesthetic content, yet it has a conceptual structure and content that cannot be made manifest simply by translating conventional visual signs back into language (90). The icon is a paradigm of painting’s presence, says Rudd, because its mode of aesthetic communication reveals a content that is not “paraphrasable,” and involves a dimension of intersubjectivity only possible in the knowledge by acquaintance characteristic of the sensuous experience of the icon (89).

However, one may have doubts about whether the sort of revelation characteristic of religious iconography can serve as a useful paradigm for presence in painting more generally. For unlike the icon which aims to open unto a dimension of transcendence beyond the visible world, what of paintings that depict the perceived world only? Consider Merleau-Ponty’s account of Cézanne. According to Merleau-Ponty, the kind of painting typified by Cézanne reveals the primordial perceived world. But how is such painting not trivial? If Merleau-Ponty’s point is that what a Cézanne shows is what actual experience is like, why then do we need art to get us there? (108). Similarly, what would looking at a Cézanne add to what Merleau-Ponty has not already revealed in his phenomenological explication of experience? As Rudd asks, does Cézanne merely illustrate Merleau-Ponty, or does his art give us another kind of insight altogether? (108). According to Rudd, the “focused, interrogative, imaginative quest” of Cézanne’s vision, one meant to cut through the levels of “social convention and personal neurosis” to see things as they are, does not just take us back to the everyday level of perception, but rather “into the depths of things” (109). Painting “doesn’t copy appearances, but makes present the inner essence of things,” because it is “continuous with ordinary perception, while at the same time going beyond it” (110). As Merleau-Ponty might put it, “painting makes the invisible present—indeed, makes it visible” (111). In this way, a landscape of Cézanne can be likened to a religious icon, for in aiming to let us see what is not seen or cannot be seen, even such apparently secular painting enacts the theological claim that icons make the invisible visible (111). This is what occurs, claims Rudd, when classical Chinese shanshui make manifest a landscape’s Dao, that is, when they “make the invisible energies of nature (Ziran) visibly manifest” (111). Because in the rush of practical life we do not look closely enough at things, “the painter makes us see the world with a new freshness,” by making explicit what in perception we had previously been unaware of.

What makes the foregoing account of painting phenomenological, in large part, is that it highlights the fact that paintings disclose the essence of things. “Recall,” says Rudd, “Merleau-Ponty’s references to the ‘ciphers’ or to the hidden ‘logos’ present in things” (116). A good portrait, like a good landscape, does not simply disclose the general kind or nature that of what it exemplifies, but also “its haeccity—the person or thing’s individual nature, what makes it the distinct particular it is. It is this individual or essential quality of a thing that Gerald Manley Hopkins was trying to get at with his coinage, “inscape,” defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “‘the individual or essential quality of a thing; the uniqueness of an observed object, scene, event, etc.’” (116). Thus, it now is clear why Rudd’s idea that paintings make present not the surface appearances of their subject matter but their underlying essences can be understood according to the disclosive account of painting modelled by the icon. For whether we consider a good portrait, a classical Chinese landscape, or a Cézanne, the painting’s realism consists in the sense of mystery it conveys, for in making present the deep (“invisible”) natures of visible things, it discloses something of the transcendent (125).

How might we classify the theory of painting we have seen developed by Rudd to this point? As Rudd notes, the representational theory of painting is contrasted with the rival theories of expressivism and formalism. Rudd, however, proposes to show in what respect all three elements—disclosure, expression, and form—contribute to the value of a painting. Consider, first, a basic variation of the expressivist thesis, according to which what a painting primarily makes present to the viewer is the artist’s personal feelings and emotions. Rudd’s decision to have taken the icon as a paradigm might appear to run contrary to the expressivist thesis, since the aim of the iconographer, unlike the expressivist painter, is not self-expression. What Rudd emphasizes is that, even in the case of a painting whose subject matter is something other than the artist’s inner emotions—his examples are “a bird, a hare, Mont Sainte-Victoire, the Boulevard Montparnasse”—the painting nevertheless arouses an emotional response on the part of the viewer who is attuned to it (133). This “overall emotional expressiveness” is essential to the function of even representational painting (135). At the same time, expressivism is still on to something important, for in disclosing what it shows to us in the way it does, the painting gives us “a vision of things as filtered through that artist’s unique sensibility” (137). As he explains, “A painting’s disclosure of the world is a function of the painter’s experience of the world and his or her capacity–both technical and more than technical—to express that experience, that world so experienced, and render it visible” (138), which is why the painting, by recording the “dialogue between painter and world” presents a “particular sensibility” that allows us to experience the world in a way we could not otherwise have (138). Paintings, thus, do not so much express personalities as they express sensibilities or styles. Or said otherwise, the essence of the objects depicted in painting reflects the sensibilities of their artist, which is why bad paintings end up expressing “a cheap cynicism or smug nihilism” (139).[5] The takeaway, says Rudd, is that any “sufficiently sophisticated and developed versions of the representational and the expressive theories coincide. You can never represent anything without representing it as it appears to you; nor can you express yourself without expressing how the world appears to you” (141-142).

It remains for the third exclusivist theory of painting to be considered: formalism. If Rudd was able to incorporate the best insights of expressivism into his account, how is that possible here? It might be thought that what matters about representational art is something just very different from what matters about abstract art. Whereas the former concerns itself with making present the objects it depicts and the sensibilities of its creator, the latter contends that paintings simply make themselves present. But even here, “how a work is composed, how the figures are arranged in relation to one another, the juxtaposition and contrasts of colours,” make a difference as to whether a painting is visually fascinating and worth looking at, by engaging us emotionally in a way to which we respond. To claim that the features of representational and expressivist paintings are irrelevant to the aesthetic merits of a supposedly purely formalist work is implausible (142). For even in the case of a deliberate work of abstractionism seeking to make the painting itself present, it does so successfully only by making present something of the essence of its subject matter (that is, color, shape, structure) and of its creator’s sensibility (147). This is reflected in the fact that bad works of abstractionism failing to do so risk deteriorating into mere decorations on the walls of corporate offices and chain hotels (146). In the last analysis, Rudd concludes that the beauty of painting consists not in copying the appearances of things but with evoking their essences, a task which when accomplished draws upon all of painting’s elements, as highlighted by representational, expressivist, and formalist theories.

With an eye finally to drawing broader conclusions about metaphysical value based on his account of the aesthetic value of painting, Rudd admits that the reader may have all along been bothered by a nagging uneasiness over the inquiry’s usage of the notion of essence. Such a term need not be so intimidating or elusive, however. In Rudd’s vernacular, the word “essence” has referred to a thing’s “total meaningful presence,” not to the idea of a “mysterious component” that the word’s association may conjure in the minds of some (162). In the specific sense Rudd intends it, to say persons and things have essences is just to say that they are not “amorphous lumps,” but have their own meaningful coherence and integrity. An essential nature, in this respect, can be thought of as the “meaning” or “sense” of things, a kind of essence which in turn would seem to be capable of being articulated conceptually (165). As Rudd had emphasized previously, such truths are in some sense conceptual. This is not to deny they are nevertheless non-discursive. Their presence cannot fully be captured in any verbal paraphrase, for the knowledge they convey is only accessible aesthetically in an immediate, intuitive encounter. This distinction between the non-conceptual and the non-discursive therefore addresses what may otherwise have posed a problem for Rudd’s account of presence. Using Merleau-Ponty’s language, which terms the rational order as “logos,” can such a “logos” be given a “nonconceptual presentation”? Someone who like Hubert Dreyfus assumes that “mental activity, conceptualizing, and thinking must be explicit, theoretical, and detached, assumes that it cannot exist implicitly within our practical coping activities” (168). However, because Rudd has distinguished between the non-conceptual and the non-discursive, he is able to maintain that this level of primordial perception is indeed presentable in painting despite its conceptuality.[6]

Having revealed quite a bit concerning the sort of truthfulness at stake in painting, it remains to be shown why “it is good to know such truths,” as Rudd says (170). Recall the trouble plaguing Crowell’s account of Morandi’s painting: in the end, it was unclear why the sort of truth those paintings were shown to reveal about objects was something ultimately mattering.  Might not a similar point be made in regard to the sort of truth said to be disclosed in painting, according to Rudd? At last, it is time to consider more fully Rudd’s claim of a value-laden world, a world of inherent beauty and goodness. Just as he had insisted that an approach to the value of painting must begin with the experience of such value, so too with the value of the natural world. The proper point of departure, says Rudd, is “the direct aesthetic experience of the natural world” (172). Such experience, he claims, discloses to us an order of value in nature. And according to Rudd, trying to assimilate the appreciation of nature to that of art is not so difficult, for there are genuine and illuminating parallels to be found between them (173). “One clear parallel,” as he notes, “is that natural beauty, like artistic beauty, doesn’t necessarily show itself to any casual glance” (175). To see natural beauty, one must be rightly attuned to what one is seeing. In the aesthetic experience of nature, we learn to be amazed both at the essence of things (what they are) and at their existence (that they are)” (177). This “truth of presence” is about seeing things as they really are, an attention to the real that proves transformative, since this knowledge by acquaintance of nature’s beauty (and truth) discloses more about the world than would otherwise be accessible. “An experienced hiker, or a nature writer, a Thoreau or John Muir or Annie Dillard,” as Rudd explains, “has a ‘truthful vision’ or sees things truly, sees the truth of things” (180). The point about the parallel between the aesthetic appreciation of paintings and the aesthetic appreciation of nature is that neither can replace the other. They are complementary. The beauty common to both art and nature means, as Rudd says,

“That we shouldn’t accept a simple mimetic theory according to which art derives its significance from nature—it’s beautiful simply because it imitates what is beautiful—nor should we accept the opposite theory, according to which it is only through art that nature becomes transformed into something aesthetically significant (the object depicted as only the grit that the pearl forms around). Looking at a Cézanne is not a second-best substitute for looking at Mont Saint-Victoire, nor is the mountain itself, as it were, a prior preliminary sketch for the achieved aesthetic result of the Cézanne. But if there is a priority, it does rest with nature. Art (painting) is a response to, a celebration of, nature. It transforms and adds to natural beauty but remains always dependent on it” (181).

This ontological priority of nature over art returns us to an insight regarding the nature of truth from classical and medieval thought that Rudd had mentioned earlier, namely the thesis that ontological truth is primary. A thing is true to the extent that it embodies its essence by realizing some standard (181). This is the sense of truth at stake when still today we speak of someone being a “true friend,” or when speaking of a specimen of gold’s being “true gold” rather than “fool’s gold.” Truth, in this sense, is something pertaining to the entity or state of affairs itself—it is a matter of something’s being the way it is, rather than a matter of a correspondence between our beliefs and the world.[7] In this fundamental sense, the truth of a thing consists in its very being, that it is primordially good simply in virtue of being at all. As Rudd comments, “To see nature as having this value-laden character is to experience there being the kinds of things that there are and their having the characters they do, their connecting together and interacting in such intricate ways, as occasions, not simply for puzzlement or curiosity but for wonder, awe, and gratitude” (184). Despite “the pervasiveness of suffering and pain in nature itself,” we are not mistaken when we are struck by the realization that it is fundamentally good that some thing—a rock, a cat, a sunset, a mountain—is. This sense of nature’s goodness is the experience of its natural beauty—these are the “transcendentals,” the predicates applicable to whatever is. As Rudd notes, it is a crucial question whether this ontological sense of the goodness of being can connect with goodness in anything like a moral sense (190). What is clear, however, is that aesthetic judgments of value cannot be justified with appeal to purely value-free facts. If the only facts were value-free, as the purely scientistic conception of the world holds, then there could not be any justified evaluative judgments.

Science as we have come to think of it since the seventeenth century, says Rudd, looks at the world in a way that “excludes and sets aside purposes, qualities, values, and indeed mentality and subjectivity” (198). It is an attitude by which the world is seen as lacking inherent value (194). The natural order of the world lacks any normative dimension and has no inherent rightness to it. Nature is not in any sense good, nor does it exist for any purpose or have any meaning. Things are simply brute facts (195). This is a metaphysical conception of the world that many contemporary philosophers assume to be the case. They believe that the idea of a “re-enchantment” of nature is “a nostalgic delusion.” And, as Rudd notes, if they are correct that this indeed is the way things are, then his “whole project collapses” (197). How to respond to such naturalism then? To begin with, it cannot be stressed enough that the experiential sense of nature “as beautiful, as ontologically good, as meaningful, is primary both experientially and epistemically. (196). The notion of a cold, valueless nature is a theoretic construct, not an experiential given (198). One in thrall to the scientific worldview might reply by saying that the models which science creates, and which make no reference to value, prove perfectly adequate explanatorily (198). Here, though, Rudd asks a good question: Adequate to what purposes? The mechanistic, value-free account of inanimate nature is suitable for certain purposes of control and prediction, but it is wholly inadequate, and indeed quite irrelevant, to making sense of nature when we approach it with the purpose of appreciating it or dwelling in it.

If, then, the aesthetic experience of nature contradicts disenchanted naturalism and a fully secular account of beauty fails, should we thus conclude that there is an essentially religious dimension to the aesthetic experience of nature? The notion of nature as sacred in various pantheisms is well-known. So too among the theistic religions. As Rudd points out, even for someone such as Calvin, nature itself is said to make God visible when seen in the right way. That nature is a theophany, in this respect, is to say that beauty reveals God to us, an incredibly striking metaphysical claim that, here nearing his inquiry’s end, Rudd has managed to render credible.

As Rudd has noted frequently throughout his study, a disclosive theory of painting cannot really explain the value of art, unless it can also explain the value of what it discloses. Nearing the study’s very end, Rudd accordingly observes that when good paintings move us deeply, they do so by making manifest or disclosing the essential elements of nature. They, like the nature they depict, are beautiful. It is here that the claim all painting, as such, is religious no longer appears absurd as it may have at the outset of Rudd’s inquiry. For if nature is a sacred order, then all of painting is a disclosure of the sacred. Painting, thus, plays a quasi-sacramental role (214). That painting has an essentially religious significance is, as Rudd notes, recognized even by radical postmodernist critics, if albeit in a backhanded way. When postmodern theorists try to deconstruct the notion of presence (that is, presence in the sense of manifesting to us a meaningful order of value), they do so because in it they ultimately see a religious notion. Because they want to get rid of God, they find it necessary to first get rid of presence (214). Their convoluted conceptual meanderings seek to render uncredible what the philosophical theology of the Middle Ages had once maintained about Beauty, when it was widely regarded as a transcendental which applied in some degree to everything that is (218). This is why acknowledging and preserving presence, both in painting and in nature too, is so important: “for something to make present and to be present (in the charged sense) through its visual appearance is for it to beautiful” (216). To experience the world in this way, to experience it as beautiful, to experience it as good, is to experience it is as sacred, is to recognize and appreciate it as a visible revelation of God’s invisible glory. As Rudd says, this aesthetic vision of reality is to see Beauty how Maritain describes, when he calls it a sort of meta-transcendental—“‘the radiance of all transcendentals united’” (218).

Every so often, we encounter a work validating our wait to find that phenomenology’s meditation on art is not exhausted, that still it has something new to say truly worth saying. When reading it, we feel ourselves to be in the presence of a work that makes the world more beautiful than one without it. Rudd’s Painting and Presence is such a book.

[1] By “metaphysics,” Merleau-Ponty can be taken to mean what someone like Charles Larmore understands by the term: “Inquiry into the ultimate structure of reality, aiming to tie together all the various dimensions of our experience into a unified conception of the way things basically are and hang together.” See Morality and Metaphysics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021), 3.

[2] See his Expressing the World: Skepticism, Wittgenstein, and Heidegger (Chicago and La Salle, Illinois: Open Court, 2003).

[3] At this stage of the analysis, Rudd also dedicates substantial space to a discussion of the Hegelian theory of aesthetics developed by Robert Pippin. The problem with Pippin’s account is that, following Hegel, it depreciates the value of natural beauty. The deflation of natural beauty’s importance to aesthetic theory is related to the main problem of Hegelian views, as Rudd sees it, namely that they subordinate the truthfulness at stake in art to what is thought to be some fuller, truer conceptual means of its articulation.

[4] Rudd touches here on an issue which he will revisit later, that of the role of conceptuality in experience. John McDowell is someone whom Rudd has already mentioned in this regard. For more concerning the debate about the role of concepts in experience, see Mind, Reason, and Being-in-the World: The McDowell-Dreyfus Debate, ed. Joseph K. Schear (London: Routledge, 2013). For reasons that will become clear, Rudd’s own view of perception—including aesthetic perception—is McDowellian.

[5] As an example of the superficial sensibility characterizing this sort of cynicism and nihilism, consider for example a work such as “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” (1991), in which the artist Damien Hirst placed a tiger shark submerged in formaldehyde in a glass-panel display case. Provocative perhaps, but ultimately shallow.

[6] A sentiment Rudd underscores later when he says, “I have made clear my own sympathy for a McDowellian pan-conceptualism” (209).

[7] This conception of ontological truth which Rudd attributes to the tradition of medieval philosophy is a sense of truth most associated today with Heidegger’s thought. See Mark Wrathall, Heidegger and Unconcealment: Truth, Language, and History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).