Christian Krijnen (Ed.): Concepts of Normativity: Kant or Hegel? Brill, 2019

Concepts of Normativity: Kant or Hegel? Book Cover Concepts of Normativity: Kant or Hegel?
Critical Studies in German Idealism, Volume 24
Christian Krijnen (Ed.)
Brill
2019
Hardback €143.00 $172.00
x, 260

Reviewed by: Andrew James Komasinski (Hokkaido University of Education)

Introduction

Despite facing almost immediate criticism from Hegel, Kant’s view of normativity has greatly influenced contemporary value theory. This volume is the fruit of a 2017 conference at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam by the same name that sought to bring the two conflicting accounts into dialogue (1). There are three general points worth making before addressing the articles themselves.

First, the articles in this volume use diverse sigla. Some articles, such as Christian Hoffman’s, refer to the Elements of the Philosophy of Right as PR and other articles, such as Jiří Chotaš’s, refer to it as RpH (9, 164). The Phenomenology of Spirit similarly receives the sigla PhG from Arthur Kok, Christian Schmidt, and Alberto L. Siani whereas Martin Bunte and Tereza Matějčková inter alia use PS (47, 147, 244, 62, 199). Similar article by article variation occurs with Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason with Martin Bunte using CPR but Paul Cobben using KdrV (66, 27). While each article is internally consistent, this and rehearsal of the same parts of Hegel make the book feels more like a collection than a whole. For consistency’s sake, I will use PR, PhG, CPR, along with EPS for Encyclopedia of the Philosophical System and Religion for Kant’s Religion within the Bounds of Reason Alone consistently in this review.

Second, different authors took different approaches to the use of German. Some authors use the German directly for the major parts of PR: Abstrakt Recht, Moralität, and Sittlichkeit; others translate them as Abstract Right, Morality, and, Ethical Life (Battistoni at 121, 124; Chotaš at 164). I will consistently use the English throughout. For terms such as Bildung where the translation choices are substantive, this is more understandable. Hoffman glosses it as “education” and then uses “education” after that (4,12). Krijnen supplies the possible translation “education of the understanding and applicable skills” but generally sticks to Bildung (115-117). Siani does the same (250). Chotaš and Zabel call it development (171, 181). These differences between articles will not impede specialists but make it challenging to read the work as a united whole.

Third, the title of the volume suggests proponents of both Kant and Hegel, but true to its origin at a conference from a network called “Hegel’s Relevance,” most authors are more sympathetic to Hegel than to Kant (1). Some contributions write as if Hegel’s critiques of Kant were definitive and Hegel’s positions decisive. Having more full-throated defenses of Kantian’s normativity and more engagement between the two as competing contemporary interpretations would have strengthened the volume. Nevertheless, the volume contributes importantly to our understanding of ethics and social philosophy in Hegel and German Idealism.

Contributions

  1. Being at Home with Oneself in the Whole—Hegel’s Philosophy of Freedom as Actuality, Christian Hoffman

Christian Hoffman’s article provides an excellent introduction to the relation between Bildung and holism in Hegel and how this differentiates him from Kant. Hoffman traces Hegel’s attempt to accomplish monistically and holistically what Kant tried to achieve dualistically for reason and freedom. (9-10, 13). Hoffman identifies Bildung “education” in PhG, as both breaking the natural harmony and building “a new and more differentiated form of the whole” (12). Hoffman also highlights the senses in which Hegel’s unity is active rather than a static thing (14).

Turning to the system in the EPS and the PR, Hoffman first emphasizes how this holistic process is not just knowing but self-knowing (14-17). Hoffman joins to this sense in which Hegel’s holistic account refers to a common realm of shared freedom (19-22). Finally, Hoffman notes the relation between the Hegelian holism and its Aristotelian ancestry (inter alia 22-23). Hoffman addresses Kant’s idea of normativity as a dualistic account Hegel incorporates insights from but then supersedes.

  1. Hegel’s Radicalization of Kant’s Copernican Turn: the Internal Unity of the Natural and the Moral Law, Paul Cobben

Paul Cobben’s article progresses from problematic Humean impressions to dualistic Kantian intuitions to Hegel’s monistic resolution. First, Cobben develops how Kant’s intuitions solve the Humean predicament where impressions are both external and mind. Kant solves this problem in his apparatus of manifolds, imagination, and categories, which makes impressions mental and things-in-themselves external (27). Through this, Kant equates propositional and material truth when material truth is mediated by the Kantian apparatus (27-31). Cobben, following Gadamer, reads PhG’s first chapter as tracing out the Kantian account but rejecting its account of material truth (31-33). Cobben remarks that Hegel has demonstrated “The apperception of the Perception cannot justify how the manifold of intuitions can be connected into an objective material truth” (34). Unfortunately, the arguments substantiating this claim and the claims about Hegel’s “first truth of the understanding” and “second truth of the understanding” were truncated and hard to follow (34-35).

Cobben believes that understanding requires attending to the subject as conscious (36). Cobben sees PhG’s account of desire’s inability to achieve unity with its object, because it continues to want precisely what it is not as culminating in the realization that the perceived world that individual consciousness finds itself in is not merely its own but rather a shared world (38-39). Cobben joins to this an interpretation of the lord/bondsman dialectic which understands it as involving the death of individual consciousness and its sublimation into institutional consciousness (40-42). Cobben’s final claim is that Kant’s solution fails and that Hegel develops an account that culminates in the resolution of the lord/bondsman dialectic (43). Most of the second half seemed like it would benefit from more engagement with contemporary defenses of understanding along Kantian lines and other interpretations of the lord/bondsman dialectics.

  1. The Religion of the God-Man: Hegel’s Account of Revealed Religion in the Phenomenology of Spirit, Arthur Kok

Arthur Kok’s article is a welcome addition to the discussion of Hegel’s concept of God and its relation to Kant’s religion. Kok’s article also looks at Kant’s dualism and Hegel’s attempt to overcome it in PhG, insofar as Kant’s moral philosophy required a religion with a God as the projected lawgiver of reason to realize the good (46-47). Kok identifies this argument in PhG both specifically and within Spirit’s dialectical search for an adequate relation between freedom and moral duty (47-48). This activity culminates in the realization that the source of moral value in religion is Spirit moving in the community (49). Here, more interaction with Kant’s Religion could have explained why Kok believes Kant’s account of the rational community as the arbiter of moral value is inadequate.

Kok also locates a similar dynamic in Hegel’s account of revealed religion, i.e. Christianity, situating it as the dialectical outcome of an unhappy consciousness where freedom sees the inadequacy of an external law (50-53). This leads to the incarnation as the simultaneous “activity of the Self that results in the appearance of the Self without the Self becoming something other than itself” and thus resolves this tension in religion by (1) being “both distinct and non-distinct from those who identify him as the God-man,” (2) representing “the self-realization of spirit,” and (3) establishing “the presence of the divine in this world” to overcome suffering (55). Kok then articulates this as Hegel’s answer to the problem of evil where human activity can free itself from evil (56). Joined to the resurrection (and ascension), Hegel makes community that remembers the God-man the true reconciliation of spirit in ethics (57).

  1. The Reality of Value as a Problem of Kantian Ethics, Martin Bunte

Martin Bunte’s article looks at Hegel’s formalism objection against Kant’s ethics from PhG 257 (A.V. Miller pagination) and the problem of testing but not giving laws (62). Bunte believes Kant’s ethics suffers from a tautology because the a priori nature of Kant’s ethics interacts with the autonomy of the will to produce moral laws that are “conceivable only under the reservation of the heteronomy of what is willed” (63). Bunte explains his version of the objection in a single sentence: “If freedom as spontaneity or autonomy is to be the essential reason for the determination of will, then it must be able to refer to rules or laws from the position of legislator” (64).

Bunte argues that a successful Kantian defense against this objection must also achieve a unity for practical reason like the one for theoretical reason (65). Since the two domains are both domains of reason, Bunte notes that they must both find their origins in the spontaneity of the will as the “unconditioned condition” (65). Bunte illustrates this with the categories of the understanding in the realm of theoretical reason (66). Bunte analogizes that Kantian practical reason must be premised on the idea that the moral self gives itself its rules (66). Bunte here distinguishes the analogical cases by arguing that reason’s theoretical use refers to the laws of nature but that its practical use must refer to laws of freedom, which means laws that it must give itself (67). While Bunte largely thinks that Hegel’s critique rings true, he believes Kant succeeds in answering one part of Hegel’s objection: the moral imperative is something the self commands to itself as a demand of reason and that he develops such an account in Religion (70).

Bunte believes both that the formalism objection applies to Kant and succeeds convinced the formalism objection succeeds. There is a large amount of literature on this that finds things murkier: there is disagreement as to both what the objection is, to whether it misses the mark, and to whether Kantians have resources to resist or overcome it (See for instance Hoy 1989, Freyenhagen 2012, and Stern 2012).

  1. Foundations of Normativity, Max Gottschlich

Unlike many articles in this volume, Max Gottschlich’s article focused on identifying which logic is best for normativity: “formal logic” which he identifies with pre-Kantian order of being thinking (74-75), “transcendental logic” which he identifies with Kant (75-81), or “dialectical logic” which he identifies with Hegel (81-86). Gottschlich dismisses formal logic as often used but not useful for considering normativity, because it cannot capture the paradox of determiner and determined.

Transcendental logic, in contrast, focuses on the paradox of determiner and determined and identifies the limits of what can be said and is naturally reflexive (76). In Kant, this accomplishes “self-fulfilling self-relation” (77, emphasis in original). Through this, Gottschlich states that transcendental logic identifies the role of values and norms in “settings” (77). Gottschlich mentions in passing that he thinks the formalism objection is wrong (in opposition to several articles in this volume), that Kant and Hegel agree that value must begin in reason, and that Hegel’s true objection is to the absolute form, rather than developmental growth, that births duties (80).

Gottschlich sees dialectical logic’s acceptance of contradiction as its genius (82). In a clearer formulation, the point is that “the self only maintains itself by losing itself” – in other words when it recognizes its mediation as dynamic act rather than absolute (84). Gottschlich then turns to how norms are produced in the Hegelian account (86). While Kant and Hegel both make goal-setting a sign of rationality, Gottschlich sees Hegel’s version as more advanced because it abstracts from the abstracting in the execution of a “concrete universal” (86-87). Gottschlich next looks at poiesis (production) where Kant’s form is too abstract to derive anything but an abstract universal (90). Only in Hegel, he maintains, can we find subjectivity (a subjectivity beyond the self) as the goal (91). At many points, Hegel’s critiques seemed to be accepted uncritically and would have benefited from more interaction with defenses of the Kantian approaches.

  1. Hegel über die logischen Grundlagen der Sittlichkeit, Klaus Vieweg

Klaus Vieweg’s article was the singular contribution in German to this volume. Vieweg highlights the important role of civil society in PR often overlooked since it is only one step before right’s ultimate form in the state. After rehearsing PR’s Morality as a critique of Kant and a demonstration of its self-inadequacy (95-96), Vieweg focuses on Ethical Life as “eines logisch fundierten Systems der allgemeinen Willensbestimmungen konzipiert, als das Objektive der Freiheit” (97). In this domain, it is not the objective that dominates like a yoke but reason as a cozier hearth that determines things based on both objective and subjective will (97-98).

Vieweg focuses on the role of civil society and how it helps us understand modern society. Viewing identifies civil society as setting living a good life as the goal in a domain where consciousness has been brought under the concept (98-99). This is true freedom insofar as thinking has itself as its end. While Vieweg notes the work of Dieter Henrich on Hegel’s Lecture on the State as Three Ends, he argues that civil society’s importance has not been sufficiently mined in PR (99). Vieweg sees reflection and necessity as the distinctive marks of civil society that separate it from the family’s role as the natural end of humanity and the state’s self-substantial unity (100). Vieweg argues that this logic occurs in triadic form throughout these three forms of Ethical Life but in different sequences (101).

For Vieweg, what unifies all of the forms Ethical Life is that they all will the concept not only subjectively but in recognition of its objectivity (103; PR §142A). In this way, they are self-developing ends. They advance over the freedom of persons in abstract right, the freedom of moral subjects in Morality, and become the freedom of ethical subjects (103). Through this, they find themselves unified in a moral community (103).

  1. How is Practical Philosophy Speculatively Possible?, Christian Krijnen

Christian Krijnen’s article identifies both Kant and Hegel as contributors to a complete account of normativity. Krijnen argues that post-Kantian attempts in German Idealism to better ground the unity of practical and theoretical reason all lead to the centrality of freedom and the construction of value-laden reality (106-107). Krijnen believes the Kantian approach succumbs to a formalism objection that Hegel avoids this by understanding “self-formation as self-knowledge in the fashion of a self-realization of the concept” (107). At the same time, Krijnen argues that Hegel’s solution eviscerates practical philosophy by thematizing it as the “speculative doctrine of the idea” rather than engage it practically (108). Thus, Krijnen holds that Hegel does achieve a unity in the form of free Spirit but that this unity sublates practical philosophy and demeans it as an inadequate form of knowledge (109).

Returning to Kant’s architectonic, Hegel is not describing what “ought to be” in practical philosophy (110). In Kant’s picture, the free will needs to realize the rational object of its freedom, which it experiences as an ought (111). In contrast, Hegel’s Ethical Life focuses on the actuality of freedom rather than an ought: “The point for Hegel here is that we only have concrete, not mere abstract duties only in the realm of Sittlichkeit” (112).

Krijnen’s positive task is to establish a speculative practical philosophy despite Hegel’s failure to provide one (112). He begins by noting that Kant makes moral agents the originators of their actions (through the bifurcation of the world into the deterministic theoretical realm and the free practical realm), and this for Hegel is only true in the realm of subjective Spirit – not objective Spirit (112-113). Krijnen notes that abstract oughts operate as givens for Hegel and thus remain inadequate, which makes them inadequate for the living good that Hegel demands of the sphere of action (113-114).

Krijnen thinks an answer can be found in Bildung in the family and civil society (114-115). Krijnen then differentiates his view from those of Vieweg and Cobben. Krijnen thinks that Vieweg is wrong to think Hegel does not need a “canon of duties,” because Hegel does not abandon Morality’s truth but brings into Ethical Life (116). For Cobben, Krijnen notes the degree to which both treat Bildung but argues that the solutions Cobben notes are problems of integrating practical philosophy into Hegel rather than irremediable deficits in Hegel’s philosophy (117).

  1. The Normative Function of the Right of Objectivity in Hegel’s Theory of Imputation, Giulia Battistoni

Giulia Battistoni presents a deeply technical argument about imputation in the Morality section of PR. Battistoni first maintains that Hegel’s critique of Kant identified with PR §135 shows Kant unable to “derive particular and concrete duties from the determination of duty as formal correspondence with itself” and requires evaluating both the “consequences of actions” and “the social context” (121). While Ethical Life merges objective and subjective concerns of right, Battistoni sees Morality as the locus where imputation attributes subjective right to a moral subject (121-122). In Morality, the moral subject experiences the good as an ought, which interestingly creates the problem of making this “both the true good and a mere opinion” where actions are good if they are born of good intention (123).

To understand imputation in this context, Battistoni draws a parallel with Hegel’s two notions of nature (128). First nature is externality which can take the form of a natural world which stands in opposition to the subject as a determination separate from will (124). Second nature is the habituation and internalization of the social order of right (127). Battistoni locates the lower sense in Abstract Right and the higher sense in Morality, especially PR §119A’s claim that external deeds are categorized as we impute motives to the moral subjects involved (132).

  1. Freedom from Kant to Hegel, Christian Schmidt

Christian Schmidt’s article differs from many of the other critiques in defending Hegel against a contemporary critique. Schmidt tests whether Louis Althusser’s critique of German Idealism applies to Hegel and through this differentiates Kant and Hegel on freedom. Schmidt looks at why Althusser calls Hegel an empiricist by highlighting how Hegel mines the real by dividing the empirical and the essence of things to get to their essences (142). As Schmidt points out, this largely echoes Hegel’s critique of Kant where the empirical becomes merely material fodder for the categories to peel off (142). In contrast, Hegel sees understanding as a synthesis of sensuous manifold and mental activity (143). While knowing this, Althusser still things Hegel is guilty of the same bifurcation.

Schmidt spends the rest of the article looking specifically at freedom in Kant and Hegel as “a property of rational beings and moral (or political, or social) agents that is not detachable” and the critique of this analysis in Foucault and Althusser (144-145). Schmidt first explains how reason and understanding are the self-activity of subjects that separate them from animals (145). Despite the receptive components of understanding, Kant believes moral agents are free (146). Schmidt characterizes Kant’s account as “highly abstract … purified from all social and political meaning” (146). On this basis, Schmidt believes Althusser stands justified in his critique of Kant (147).

Hegel’s subject, like Kant’s, is a break in the causal chain (147-148). At the same time, Hegelian freedom is the restriction of “dull-witted emotions and raw impulses” (LPWH 103-104) that only finds itself in the state (148). In Hegel, freedom is a byproduct of people pursuing desire since this constructs and restructures the rules of society (148-149). This merges with spontaneity insofar as individuals collide with the established order (151). Thus, Hegel presents a unified idea of freedom where freedom is “the concretization of spontaneity” (152). For this reason, Schmidt rejects Althusser’s critique of Hegel.

  1. Justification of the State: Kant and Hegel, Jiří Chotaš

Jiří Chotaš contrasts Kant and Hegel’s justifications of the state. Chotaš reads Kant as like Hobbes building the state from a state of nature where people “are at each other’s mercy” who produce by nature a civil union with a “general united will” that expresses itself in the ruler, the judge, and most importantly the legislator which cooperate for the benefit of the citizens (158-161).

While Hegel shared Kant’s idea that “freedom creates human substance,” Hegel also examined how it was realized, Hegel believed Kant erred by basing this union on “an arbitrary will of individuals” who sought to establish it for property and contracts (164). In contrast, Hegel believed the State was the natural home of people and argued for this in PR, his “scientific proof of the concept of the state” (164).

Chotaš summarizes the stages of Ethical Life. First, Chotaš looks at family, focusing on how marriage links non-related people around love and common interest rather than as Kant supposed contract (166). Second, civil society arises through the division of labor (167). To this, Hegel joins the Polizei who secure “external order” in matters as diverse as public health and bridge-building (168). Chotaš identifies these attributes as giving civil society the status of being “‘an external state’ as well as ‘a state of necessity’ (PR §183)” (168). Here, corporations protect their members like an extended family and provide “the second ethical root of the state” (169). Third and finally, the state itself functions as the culmination of the ethical ideal actualizing itself in customs (169) and replicating the family as “a human community with its own spirit and will” but through “political virtue” rather than feeling (169-170). The state also takes on attributes of civil society, by transforming people’s ends and unifying them as a whole (170).

Chotaš then distinguishes Hegel’s state from Kant’s. He begins by noting that for Hegel, peoples and their constitutions are mirrors (171). He notes that both believe constitutional change should happen through constitutional procedures (171). He notes that Hegel also has three powers but they differ: “the legislative power, the executive power, and the princely power or monarchy” (171). For Hegel, the most important of these is the sovereign (PR §273, 279R) but remains under the constitution (171-172). Chotaš also describes the Hegelian legislature: upper house of landed gentry by birth and lower house by election (172). Chotaš’s article could have demonstrated further differences by addressing Kant’s Religion and contemporary defenses of Kant’s state.

  1. Hegel’s Republican Penal Philosophy: an Attempt at a Contemporary Reconstruction, Benno Zabel

Benno Zabel focuses on the republican nature of Hegel’s penal philosophy, situating it in an account of PR (182-183). Zabel identifies crime in Hegel as “(performative) self-contradiction” (184). Zabel explains using PR §95 that in crime, a criminal violates freedom (184-185). This must be met with cancellation (185). As Zabel points out, Hegel believes crime only applies to actions (185). Zabel identifies three practical functions in Hegel’s conception of punishment: “the dimension of the (formal) recognition of status, the dimension of the institutionalized procedure and the dimension of social communication” (186). Recognition of status begins with the “effective power of sanctions” (186). This also brings to the fore the standing of the victim as a member of a moral community (186). Crime, for Hegel, is resistance to “the common normative basis” and must be met so that crime does not appear as valid (187).

Turning to institutionalized procedure, Zabel contends that Hegel sees punishment as part and parcel of a legal procedure (187). Thus, it simultaneously refers to the separation of powers (187). In other words, the counter-coercion of punishment must occur on “a universally recognized basis” in accepted criminal law (188). As Zabel notes, for Hegel, contra Foucault, these procedures are precisely the prevention of despotism (188). Textually, Zabel supports this from the “administration of justice” (189).

Finally, Zabel points out how punishment communicates for Hegel (191). Zabel explains that “punishment can be considered only as retaliation (Wiedervergeltung), that is, as (symbolic) restoration of the order of freedom” (191). Zabel notes that Hegel is not limited to mere retribution, however, and can help in “the general prevention of crime and betterment of the individual” as punishment becomes “a visible part of society” (191). In this way, punishment communicates. Zabel disagrees with Cooper’s Abstract Right only reading (1971) and other interpretations that isolate punishment from the larger context of Hegel’s PR. Zabel thus argues for a punishment plus account of Hegel’s penal philosophy in line with Brooks (2012) and Komasinski (2018) and others.

  1. History as the Progress in the (Un)Consciousness of Freedom?, Tereza Matějčková

Matějčková’s article contrasts the destructive Enlightenment that felled governments and challenged religions with a Hegelian concept of freedom where freedom invigorates institutions (196-197). Kant occupies a middle where the limits of knowledge lead to “respect and toleration of others” (198). Hegel extends this by making actions reflexive and incorporating a social reality in the “I that is We and We that is I” (199 quoting PhG 110). On this reading, normativity becomes an internal feature of freedom such that Absolute Spirit’s achievement is to recognize that “that its own thinking has been conditioned by a plurality of other spirits or subjects” (200). This particular characterization of absolute Spirit could have been expanded and defended textually.

Matějčková uses PhG’s lengthy phrenology critique to highlight how this involves a re-appropriation of the physical contra dualistic approaches that deny the skull-bone any part in Spirit. For Hegel, in contrast, it is a part but just one part and highlights the Hegelian idea that the inner is the outer and the outer the inner (203-205).

For Hegel, all of the upheavals of history are part of “the progress of the consciousness of freedom” (206). In the realm of history, this amounts to a recognition that nature by itself has no history, because nature is not for itself (207). Only by the addition of human freedom and spontaneity can something new arise (207). In Hegel’s history, world-historical people function precisely by using freedom to overturn existing structure (208). In the process, they appeal to the people (209). Joined to its dynamism is the terminus of history (210). This end is one where freedom is being achieved through equal checks and balances in the institutions (210). Matějčková maintains that contra Popper, Hegel’s philosophical system develops institutions that enable people to have personal freedoms (211). This article covers a lot of ground and makes interesting arguments that would be clearer if they were set in contrast to others writing on similar topics in Hegel such as Adrian Peperzak’s Modern Freedom (2001).

  1. Is There Any Philosophy of History?, Jean-François Kervégan

Kervégan contrasts philosophy of history in Kant and Hegel against the backdrop of the arguments between enlightenment and anti-enlightenment thought (219-220). Kervégan first notes Voltaire’s coining of the term in 1765 and its audacity for mixing two heretofore distinct areas of knowledge as a history of human spirit (217-218).

Kervégan believes Kant lacks a proper philosophy of history, because the Kant texts generally categorized do not deal with a “system of rational knowledge via concepts” (220). Kervégan suggests that Kant’s historical works even when they present a “history of freedom” are still just histories rather than a proper philosophy of history, because philosophy proper is metaphysics in nature and freedom and “historical considerations do not belong to it” (226).

Conversely, Kervégan identifies the history of philosophy as central to Hegel’s philosophy (226). Given Hegel’s dialectical philosophy, Spirit is always working towards an adequate understanding of itself including its history (227). Philosophy thinks in the present and thinks the rational as actual and the actual as rational (228). This has the consequence of making history present to itself. In other words, the object of Hegel’s philosophy of Spirit is history, and Spirit is also the one doing the study (229).

  1. “Freedom in the European Sense”: Hegel on Action, Heroes, and Europe’s Philosophical Groundwork, Alberto L. Siani

Siani argues that Hegel and Europe are intertwined terms with Hegel’s insight being that institutions should mirror the freedom of people (235-236). Siani quotes Hegel’s linkage of Europe and freedom: “It is especially this subjective or moral freedom that is called freedom in the European sense” in the Morality section of the encyclopedia (EPS, §503R, 224) (236).

Siani explicates this through PR’s Morality section emphasizing Hegel’s critique which Siani articulate as follows: “morality has to state the difference between subject and object in order to affirm the freedom of the former, but if this difference is absolutized, subjective freedom can never bridge the gap to objectivity, and hence becomes utterly ineffective and empty” (241). This is, of course, overcome for Hegel in Ethical Life in which subjective freedom bridges the gap. Classically, the individual is free qua an identity rather than an abstraction (243). Modern freedom requires that tragedy intervene and make this freedom open (243). Siani then provides an extended consideration of Antigone and the role of heroes in the transformation of freedom (243-248).

As this is the third chapter in this volume to articulate a version of Hegel’s critique of Morality, it would help to understand how the different interpretations contrast with each other and differentiate themselves from common interpretations and defenses against the objection from Kantian scholars.

External References

Brooks, Thom. 2012. “Hegel and the Unified Theory of Punishment.” In Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, edited by Thom Brooks, 103–23. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Cooper, David E. 1971. “Hegel’s Theory of Punishment.” In Hegel’s Political Philosophy: Problems and Perspectives, edited by Z.A. Pelczynski, 151–67. London: Cambridge University Press.

Freyenhagen, Fabian. 2012. “The Empty Formalism Objection Revisited: §135R and Recent Kantian Responses.” In Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, by Thom Brooks, 43–72. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Hoy, David Couzens. 1989. “Hegel’s Critique of Kantian Morality.” History of Philosophy Quarterly 6 (2): 207–32.

Komasinski, Andrew. 2018. “Hegel’s Complete Views on Crime and Punishment.” Journal of the American Philosophical Association 4 (4): 525–44. https://doi.org/10.1017/apa.2018.35.

Peperzak, Adriaan Theodoor. 2001. Modern Freedom: Hegel’s Legal, Moral, and Political Philosophy. Studies in German Idealism, v. 1. Dordrecht ; Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Stern, Robert. 2012. “On Hegel’s Critique of Kant’s Ethics: Beyond the Empty Formalism Objection.” In Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, edited by Thom Brooks, 73–99. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

John J. Drummond and Otfried Höffe (Eds.): Husserl: German Perspectives

Husserl: German Perspectives Book Cover Husserl: German Perspectives
John J. Drummond and Otfried Höffe (Eds.)
Fordham University Press
2019
Hardback $75.00
361

Reviewed by: Meghant Sudan (Boise State University)

Twelve strong essays in this excellent and impressively well-knit collection present different but convergent examinations of master-themes in Husserl’s philosophy like intentionality and the reduction/s, while also discussing specific doctrines relating to psychologism, the eidetic method, objectifying acts, time-consciousness, truth and error, monadological construction, and the intersection of phenomenology and cultural critique.  The authors use a variety of approaches, historical or developmental readings and analytic commentary, comparative analysis and speculative interpretation, and, while several authors, along with the editors, are well-known to anglophone phenomenologists and Kantians, even the less familiar ones are easily recognized names in the field (the collection features four deceased philosophers, five emeritus professors, four senior figures, and one younger researcher).  The essays were originally written in German, dating mostly from the 1980s-1990s with a few from the first decade of our century, and the translators Hayden Kee, Patrick Eldridge, and Robin Litscher Wilkins have conveyed their different philosophical and rhetorical styles with facility.  Overall, the collection promises to present (to a non-initiate, it should be noted) Husserl’s thought through “German perspectives.”

It is worth pausing to consider what this last could mean.  For it promises to show a whole force-field of thought determined by linguistic, geographical, and historical connections, and even how these determinations are themselves determined by what is left out, that is, the kind of work occurring in other, principally anglophone traditions.  For instance, the collection emphasizes the dense overlap of Husserlian and Heideggerean views as opposed to cleanly separating the two, while it underplays treatments of Gadamer and Merleau-Ponty and with them certain types of questions of aesthetics, materiality, and intersubjectivity, which form a dominant thrust in the anglophone reception of phenomenology in Continental-philosophical quarters.  Similar determining occlusions can be mentioned with respect to Analytic-philosophical quarters, for example, the absence of applications of phenomenology to cognitive science (and vice-versa) or the interpretation of Buddhist doctrines, or, given the unifying thread throughout the volume, which understands intentionality in highly active and teleological terms, the absence of treatments of kinaesthesia and action-in-perception views.  Finally, aside from the last essay on Husserl’s thought through the Crisis, the collection passes up the chance to examine the very notion of a perspective as cultural, such as one that might be German but also European (itself universalized and universalizing) by way of recovering ancient Greek thought according to a German self-understanding prepared over the 18th and 19th centuries.

Or one could bring under “German perspectives” a number of major, agenda-setting articles unavailable in translation; or those from a devoted journal or issue or proceedings from a signal conference, whose historical significance has been recognized; or the workings of a particularly productive group or research from a particular archive; or translations of introductions to standardized editions of Husserl’s works; or simply the task of introducing some well-known figures and works to anglophone readership as R.O. Elveton’s classic little collection did several years ago, although several authors in the present volume require no introduction; or the relation of Husserl’s thought to other points taken as definitive of German philosophy (Leibniz-Wolff, German Idealism).  In their short, elegant introduction, the editors state that the volume simply aims to bring before an English-language reader some previously untranslated articles by important German-language commentators, showcasing conversations they have with other important German-language philosophers.  Of course, neither this deflationary description nor the curious designation “German Perspectives” in any way detracts from the high quality of the collection, and, in fact, the conversations linking the pieces in multiple ways, I find, constitute its greatest strength. I take the designation, however, as recording the need for further attempts along lines noted in the list above, some of whose elements can be glimpsed occasionally through the collection, which this review will highlight in the course of addressing each article in order.

Sonja Rinofner-Kreidl (1997)[1] revisits Hussserl’s critique of psychologism in the Prolegomena to show that it was only partially successful, which helps understand in a subtler way the major philosophical re-orientation that followed. Thus, no rectilinear path takes us from the psychologism-critique to the transcendental-philosophical stages of Husserl’s work and questions broached in earlier stages persistently re-appear later.  This is because Husserl’s critique did not attend as much to the presuppositions of a psychologistic view as it did to the debilitating consequences of that view, which were taken as endorsing subjectivism and skepticism.  This conflated different skeptical charges (logical, epistemological, metaphysical) and missed, quite directly, the issue of a dispute of principles, or the problem of the criterion, between psychologistic and anti-psychologistic standpoints, and, indirectly, the need to interrogate the latent issues of psychologism and Platonism in Husserl’s use of descriptive psychology and the foundations of normativity asserted in both psychologistic and anti-psychologistic models, albeit differently.

Husserl’s development of the phenomenological reduction enabled such interrogations spanning across static and genetic phenomenological inquiries.  They did not arise with sole regard to developing a practical-philosophical framing against an overly theoretical one (a view tempted by the later talk of the life-world) but by reframing of the operative conception of science in order to handle the previously overlooked skeptical problems.  Pure logic’s “objectivistic” model of science is replaced by a more subjectivistic model supplied by philosophy itself, as the debate shifts from being between logic and psychology to one between philosophy and psychology and the rejection of epistemological skepticism as a condition of philosophy replaces a narrower overcoming of logical skepticism for the sake of pure logic as a science of science (36-38).  Rinofner-Kreidl proceeds carefully and meticulously, but perhaps due to this it is hard to find many references to German perspectives beyond the odd citation of a counter-critique from a psychologistic point of view, and one gets the impression that an obvious and influential German elephant in the room has been neglected, namely, the German Idealist shape of this transcendental-philosophical battle with skepticism at the level of principles and over the possibility of philosophy itself as a science of science.  Rinofner-Kreidl’s detailed analysis thus sheds light on the dark corners of Husserl’s articulation of the problem of psychologism, but has the unfortunate effect of making the Logical Investigations appear insufficiently philosophical, philosophy itself being discovered by Husserl only afterwards.

Ludwig Landgrebe (d.1991; undated essay), by contrast, stresses the inner philosophical unity running through Husserl’s oeuvre, thus, a unity animating, even if in embryonic form, the early works as well as the psychologism-critique of the Investigations (51-59), by focusing on the concept of intentionality and underlining its achieving, striving character.  Further, he provides the German context for a divided reception of this concept: on the one hand, phenomenology took up the descriptive-psychological investigations as de-linked from this inner thematic, widened a growing rift between eidetics- and ontology-centric approaches, and overall divorced from phenomenological studies a deeper ontology-critique that was always a part of Husserl’s efforts; on the other hand, phenomenology retained this deeper critical edge and fundamentally re-thought the inner thematic itself, which Heidegger did in re-situating the analysis of intentionality on the grounds of the facticity of Dasein.

According to Landgrebe, it is not simply the case that Heidegger rejects the reduction as a method (for it was always more than a way to initiate constitution-analyses of consciousness and already engaged the possibility of ontology in Husserl), nor merely that Heidegger begins his intentional analysis from being-in-the-world rather than the other way around (for the Husserlian apprehension of intentionality as active, self-producing and self-temporalizing form already broke through mundane comportments towards their inner structure).  Rather, Heidegger contests the model of subjectivity assumed in these conceptions of intentionality and reduction, which comprises reflection and an “attitude of impartial observing” (75) achieved by bracketing one’s determinate Dasein in order to universalize the partial acts of reflection.  This, however, conceives oneself as only an indifferent other and fails to apprehend the self-knowing of Dasein in its performance of existence, which takes us to the limits of intentional analysis, since the synthetic constitution of an object can no longer be found here.  How an a priori is to be still articulated here, how a metaphysic of facticity is possible – these questions remained on Husserl’s mind in the last years and remain open for future phenomenology, for Landgrebe.

Jan Patočka (1982) too takes intentionality in its active, dynamic form to be a guiding principle for phenomenology at large and uses it to examine the Husserl-Heidegger relation, although not to see in  it a parting of ways but an interweaving of interests and a critical continuity of the phenomenological project.  At the heart of such a reconciliation is Patočka’s reading of the reduction as marked by a fundamental circumscription (the suspension of the epoché distinguished from an alleged march to reduce all being to the absolute sphere of consciousness), which both bridges the rift Landgrebe outlined between eidetic and ontological strains of phenomenological research and qualifies Heidegger’s seeming rejection of the reduction.  Patočka bases his reading on Husserl’s 1907 lectures on The Idea of Phenomenology to find that the reduction maintains a positivity of being and envisions research into phenomena as resisting a total absorption into immanence by inexhaustible progress through experience, balancing eidetic reflection against the constructions of positivity in science or modernity itself.

Although Husserl couched the reduction in a subjectivist vocabulary stemming from Kant and Fichte,[2] the tension present in it between reifying and non-objectifying aspects, and of questions of being and nothing, allows us to discern Heideggerean motives that are otherwise expressed in the language of moods and errances of being.  Thus, “the possibility of an epoché and its limbo is inherent in the experience of annihilation… [I]t is not the epoché that establishes the limbo upon which the phenomenological reduction is built up, but rather the epoché presupposes the experience of the limbo….” (99-100).  While Heidegger’s critique takes this nihilating moment to the greatest distances from Husserl in using it to launch a metaphysical critique of the presupposition of acts of negation in formal logic, Patočka believes it possible (and believes Heidegger believed a reconciliation was possible) to see both thinkers grounding their overall visions for philosophy upon a reflection on crisis as such, which remains the task of future shapes of phenomenology.

Dieter Lohmar’s (2005) defense of eidetic intuition and variation as a self-standing phenomenological method continues within the outline of the German reception of Husserl’s thought as given by Landgrebe and continues with Patočka to question the reduction’s claims to be a univocal, unitary phenomenological method.  Lohmar argues that eidetic intuition should be seen as a variety of categorial intuition insofar as both preserve a basic orientation to the possibility of knowing an object through a pathway of syntheses of coincidence.  This clarifies how eidetic variation is the key element of a method centered on eidetic intuition, which overcomes nagging questions in that method about non-givenness in intuition for certain classes of objects (image consciousness, universal objects) by asserting the functional primacy of free variation in phantasy over perception. One might hold that free variation needs the reduction to get off the ground, but Lohmar explains that both eidetic variation and the phenomenological reduction suspend the factual to reveal universals, but their purposes are different, as reduction targets validity justifications but variation lets us uncover structures of clarity answering to initially vague concepts, thus undertaking the philosophical clarification of knowledge itself.

This is a clear account of the method, and Lohmar does address worries about its limits (how far must we go?  when do we stop? do we presuppose a concept in clarifying a concept? is cultural parochialism inherent in the limits of the operation and the concept clarified?), but Lohmar hastily brushes aside other questions in its wake or gestures towards the genetic theory of types for further development of the method, undermining its claims to theoretical independence.  If the process sounds like an empiricist account of the generation of concepts or even what Kant calls their logical origin in acts of comparison and abstraction, we are told that Husserl is not indulging in a genetic psychology of concepts, but is in pursuit of universal objects, and in any case, Kant too buried many secrets about the imagination’s powers in the depths of the human soul; if the Platonism charge is recalled at this point, we are told that Husserl really treats Platonism as little more than mysticism and does not assert a separate realm of irreal being; if we ask after the apriority these objects may still claim, even without reminders about their location in the realm of absolute being of consciousness, we are told that Husserlian apriority is not severed from experience like Kant’s but more like Humean induction; if we ask about the Humean legacy, we are referred to Husserl’s un-Humean, mitigated Platonism; etc.  What one misses is an actual confrontation with these issues, which are either invoked by Lohmar himself (not only when he brings up Kant as a foil, but also when he describes seeing the a priori in the very ways that trouble Kant’s problematic theory of constructing concepts [137-138n.57]) or which are present in Husserl and call for greater scrutiny (the relation of the doctrines of eidetic intuition and variation in the 6th Investigation to the critique of Modern nominalism and of Humean doctrines like ‘circles of resemblance’ in the 2nd Investigation). Overall, however, that eidetic investigation seems to have kept the Husserl-Archiv in Köln busy relatively recently (133n.1) indicates that this German perspective of inquiry is alive and well, Landgrebe’s diagnoses notwithstanding.

Karl Schuhmann (1991) presents an historical German perspective as he takes us back to Husserl’s manuscripts prior to the Logical Investigations and complicates the story of origins, somewhat as Rinofner-Kreidl did, by arguing that the discovery of intentionality did not occur entirely within the scope of Brentano’s doctrine, as the 5th Investigation may lead us to believe, but emerged from efforts to resolve Twardowski’s proposals in its vicinity.  This also yields the corollary that Husserl’s progress towards a theory of noema does not follow directly from the initial conception of intentionality.  The problem posed by Twardowski asks about the way representations can both relate to an object (for a representation represents something) and yet not relate to an object (when nothing in actuality answers to it).[3] Twardowski’s solution proposed two kinds of objects to reconcile the universal relation to objects as well (as psychic contents) cases of actual objects. Husserl rejected this solution for its psychological implausibility (unlimited variety and complexity of psychic contents) and epistemological redundancy (the object known is always one and the object of a contradiction does not exist in any guise).

This, however, moved him into treating all propositions as falling under a guiding assumption for the relevant discourse, which modifies not objectivity but the position of the subject and its representations.  Husserl’s solution thus turns to the subject, its doxic investments and the discursive form of knowledge, which suggest the new concept of intentionality; but he is still far from clarifying the systematic place of the subject in which these acts and contents take place, the consistency and priorities among different discursive forms of objectivity, and the coherence of judgment forms with perceptual knowing. But the future concept that dealt with the latter issues cannot be said to simply arise from the early concept, because the question of being was not posed in any critical way at all earlier and because the later concept of noema recalls elements of Twardowski’s interpretation, which had supposedly been overcome.  Schuhmann leaves us with tantalizingly brief indications (which may be the case when working from fragmentary manuscripts, although Brentano’s and Twardowski’s theses could have been developed more broadly to give a fuller sense of the territory within which Husserl worked), without paving with further clues from developmental history the actual path from here to the theories of intentionality in the Logical Investigations and Ideas I.

Verena Mayer and Christopher Erhard (2008) take up the concept of intentionality as developed in the 5th Logical Investigation, and, although this essay is a solid and detailed exposition of the main sections of this Investigation (thus filling an oppressive gap in the literature while also conversing with the few who do attend to this topic), it also helps understand more broadly some key areas of concern for the early Husserl signaled by Schuhmann, such as the question of fitting judgment with perception, details from the general background and the internal critique of Brentano that contextualized Husserl’s own forays, the holism about mental contents that enables an analysis at the level of acts rather than isolated attention to representations or images or names or judgments, etc.

Importantly, Mayer walks us through the 5th Investigation as it integrates different mental components into the concept of an act with its intentional essence, which is crucial for understanding the active nature of intentionality as a horizonally shaped process of a cognitive fulfillment. Erhard provides a detailed reconstruction of the concept of objectifying acts, which is important to understand how the intentionality of an experience is variously articulated and modified, sometimes at the level of content, sometimes at the level of quality, in regard either to imaginative variation or to identifying syntheses in actual cognition. Owing to the expository nature of this commentary, one sometimes feels the need for critical argumentation over merely presenting Husserl’s view, which is admittedly hard to discern in these thickets.  The authors are aware that the 5th Investigation is tortuous terrain, but precisely its complexity offers a rich field of interaction with Analytic Philosophy and their own effort to craft a workable platform across this terrain is already a necessary step towards such dialogue.

Ulrich Melle (1990) deepens the investigation into objectifying acts by clarifying it against non-objectifying acts, which Mayer and Erhard had noted as a topic developed more fully by Husserl only after the Logical Investigations, and by drawing out the larger context of these acts, which tug at the models of perception and judgment in different ways and inform Husserl’s “pluralistic theory of reason…[as] logical-cognitive, axiological, and practical.” (193)  Melle relies on manuscripts of Husserl’s ethics lectures (1908/9, 1911, 1914, 1920) to bring out Husserl’s vexations over adjusting objectifying and non-objectifying acts at different levels, trying at times to understand the latter acts of valuing, feeling, desiring, and willing in terms of the former acts of perception and intellection, recognizing at others a self-sufficiency of non-objectifying acts in terms of objective content or existence-positing modifications.

Even if these attempts are not settled conclusively, Melle persuasively shows both the blurring of the distinction between the two types of acts and the concomitant unification of theory of reason as obtaining over different types of objectivities.  This lucid essay is too short, however, to learn more about the way the theory of reason develops along the traditional axes of the true, the beautiful, and the good, while responding to the new objectivities on offer through non-objectifying acts, or about ways to strengthen suggestions that these reflections on value-theory bend Husserl’s overall project or put pressures on particular tendencies in it, such as the content-apprehension scheme.  One is left wanting especially in regard to other German perspectives on these questions, whether other phenomenological work on ethics like Scheler’s, or, what is better known in the anglophone world, Heidegger’s attention to the question of being and to art and Gadamer’s investigations of aesthetics.

Klaus Held (1981, with references updated to include recent publications) provides a dense meditation on the phenomenology of time to explicate the Husserlian notion and to outline possibilities beyond it by overcoming its residual Cartesianism.  The latter is indicated in the very terminology of time-consciousness that lures the underlying idea into the trap of subjectivism, from which Held seeks to liberate that idea to see time as that which “measures the phenomenal field in its fluctuation” (210; the Aristotelian-Heideggerean punning intended by Held).  Like others in this volume, Held views intentionality as a fundamentally dynamical condition and one vividly sees the interaction with other German perspectives here as he thinks collaboratively with other authors in this volume like Landgrebe and Patočka.  But he stresses, with distinctively dialectical imagery (placing yet other German perspectives in view), the primacy of various tensions and oscillations, flow and passivity, withdrawals and emergences, which constitute the field of appearance stretching between or before subject and object.

This field of appearance in its essential fluidity should explain subjectivity, rather than the other way around, and instead of getting by with surrogates like “pre-objective” or “primal impression,” one must genuinely get hold of the ways in which unity of presentation is determined by the pulsating functions of the field itself.  Further, Held seeks to explain how the latter becomes fixed in form-content distinctions that, as revealed by his dissection of it, cloud Husserl’s account of time-consciousness.  Thus, by undoing presuppositions and untying knots in apprehending features of the phenomenal field such as its past and futural directionality, the subjective phenomena of remembering and forgetting, Held intends for his own proposal to remain phenomenological just when it is in danger of becoming an external dialectical construction.  Where this danger seems to be greatest is in Held’s attempt to reconcile the appropriatedly revised Husserlian theory with Heidegger’s discussion of moods and the disclosedness of the basic rhythm of life between poles of natality and mortality, which lends the “living present” its material vitality and actional character.  The undeniable appeal of the resulting view, however, encourages the interpretive risks.

Rudolf Bernet (2012) continues the attempt to think Husserl along with Heidegger by seeing the latter’s concepts of truth and untruth as grounded in Husserlian viewpoints, which also helps see a continuity between early and late Heidegger himself.  Untruth, for Husserl, is thought in terms of empty intending, which is shown to be consistent with accounts of idle chatter in Heidegger, and the way that idle chatter still bears a relation to truth, as do all human comportments, allows consistency with the essential cognitive drive of intentionality for Husserl.  Husserl’s conception of falsehood as a disappointment or conflict lies in a stronger dimension of truth than a merely unfulfilled intention. This too agrees with Heidegger’s conception in Being and Time of Dasein’s covering-over comportment, which still manifests a self-showing in cases of semblant appearing.

In one respect, Heidegger’s later conception through alethic disclosing draws closer to Husserl’s conception as he now “think[s] disclosedness and hiddenness through one another” (148) essentially and not only in terms of Dasein’s modes of fallenness.  But the increasing role of mystery in the later Heidegger escapes Husserlian synthetic projections entirely, and Bernet tries to show with reference to the Parmenides lectures that this leads to internal problems of its own, as Heidegger tries to derive the concept of mere falsehood and the concept of untruth proper or mystery as both types of a fundamental hiddenness.  Bernet’s exploration of the latter point could have been bolstered by an examination of Heidegger’s own critique of logic, which was touched on in Held’s essay.  But that would be a different essay, while the present one provides a very economical discussion of the central concepts at play and includes a very helpful list of references to all relevant texts on the doctrine of truth in Heidegger, and also broadens its own German perspectives to works written in French.

Karl Mertens (2000) examines the arguably directly German perspective invoked by Husserl himself in his invocations of Leibnizian monadology to articulate problems of intersubjectivity.  Since this dialogue, Mertens finds, is ultimately nugatory, it serves to caution against merging traditional metaphysics with Husserlian phenomenology. Yet, it may also be seen as spurring reformulations of phenomenology itself: in this regard Mertens’s essay is well positioned as leading into the last two essays considering Husserl’s thought in the Crisis, and, even if his essay is too short to dig deeper, Mertens rightly recognizes this juncture as a broadening of German perspectives by those opened up by Merleau-Ponty.  The endnotes include particularly useful pointers for further (German-language) discussions of various issues, both classic and contemporary.

Husserl turns to Leibniz as to a compatriot seeking to replace the bare Cartesian ego with an appropriately complex account of the concrete structures of subjectivity in the concept of the monad.  Leibniz was responding to classical problems about the individuality of substance and so his solutions simply do not work for a phenomenology operating on a very different plane.  Indeed, it is a mystery why Husserl looks to Leibniz at all, for the windowless monad allows no genuine intersubjectivity and the perspectivalist approach they seem to share goes no further than superficial similarity.  Unfortunately, Mertens does not help understand this mystery, nor the compounding mystery that Husserl foists atop this failed conversation his own problematic account of intersubjectivity, which Mertens, and not him alone, deems irredeemably solipsistic.  This creates suggestions for renewed efforts, however, and perhaps Husserl was ultimately driven by the Leibnizian encounter to yet greater interest in the constitution of horizons, as much as he was perhaps held back by his allegiance to notions of consciousness and predicative experience at just the point that phenomenology could have turned to questions of pre-predicative embodiment to articulate the truly social self in a truly worldly perspective.

Elisabeth Ströker (1988) reminds us that Husserl’s interest was directed towards the validity and meaning of science across his oeuvre and the theory of intentionality was prepared for the sake of connecting mind and world in a way that ultimately restores that lost validity and meaning.  The meaning of science is related to forms and contexts of practice and the transcendental theory of intentionality is related to the particular cultural-historical actuality of reason.  While talk of crisis was very much in the air when Husserl wrote his Crisis, his view is distinctive in taking philosophy as a critique of itself that is a critique of science that is a critique of culture.  This rests on a vision of unity of philosophy, science, and humanity, and of history as a long decay of a telic golden past, a “binding inheritance of Greek philosophy” (298).  Ströker strives to show how various technical concepts like life-world, constitution-analysis, subjectivity, etc. figure into this easy wisdom, and perhaps all this is forgivable given that this essay was in fact at first a public memorial address rather than a scholarly publication, but, also, perhaps unwittingly, it is a testimony to the kind of tritely tragic and grand-historical self-narrative that too can count itself as a German perspective.

Ernst Wolfgang Orth (1987) complements Ströker’s essay both by turning to the issue of culture primarily (over science) and by lending gravity to the issues at play therein, such as problems about universalizing particular forms of practice or concepts such as “humanity,” which stretches across space and time (Greeks and us) all too easily in Ströker’s essay.  Instead, he makes a compelling case for seeing cultural anthropology as uneasily integrated with transcendental phenomenology, which became evident to Husserl himself over the period from the Ideas to the Crisis.  The human being is neither that from which the transcendental ego is abstracted nor is the latter a real part of the former, but the human being is constituted from transcendental subjectivity and Husserl increasingly locates in this connection the coevality of a universal human science and a first philosophy.

The resulting approach differs sharply, to Orth’s mind, from a narrowly natural scientific orientation, and progressively complicates phenomenology’s inner premises (many reductions, not a single overarching one; the dialectic of emergence and withdrawal at the heart of intentionality as Held argued). This, in turn, proceeds towards a conception of the cultural sphere, which is neither a mere occasion for transcendental reflection, nor subsumed under transcendental constitution, but, rather, under the title “lifeworld,” names the broader viewpoint in which culture with its own irreducible thickness (which includes naturalized forms within itself) is integrated with phenomenological reflection on humanity, which is a variegated presupposition and a limit idea that constantly shapes the phenomenological project.  This is a wide-ranging and powerful proposal that simultaneously sheds light on many methodological questions about the Crisis as well as interfaces with other German perspectives, in this volume but also beyond.  But one wonders if, at the end, it is not just the problem of horizons that has been re-discovered under the name of culture, and, moreover, one remains as curious as before if any advance is made on questions of cultural difference, parochialism, and universalism, that is “culture” in the usual senses of the contingent and disparate determinations of human life.


[1] This is the date of the original German version of the essay. I will provide this information for each essay.

[2] Resonances with Fichtean exertions over the identity of the transcendental and the empirical subject, the assumed possibility of a science of science, the grounding of questions of method in questions of freedom, are present in several essays implicitly (we can already look back at Rinofner-Kreidl’s and Landgrebe’s essays in the light of these exertions) or explicitly in Patočka’s essay (97; and Hegel’s pistol-shot reference to Schelling is quoted on p. 99) or later in Held’s essay (236).  A mention of Fichte (or, for that matter, Hegel) is missing, however, in the helpful Index provided in the book, and perhaps this only indicates the need for including German Idealist background in a consideration of German Perspectives. Another wholly missing index entry is Gadamer, while Merleau-Ponty receives two indexical references to the same page, missing brief appearances on two other pages.

[3] Brentano’s concept of intentionality asserted a universal relation to an object, while Bolzano upheld objectless representations, so Schuhmann names this “the Brentano-Bolzano” problem.  Brentano’s auxiliary theses about converting any existential proposition into a judgment form and distinguishing determining predicates (which enrich a subject, e.g. “educated person”) and modifying predicates (which change the subject itself, e.g. “dead person”) were used by Twardowski to solve the problem.

Theodor W. Adorno: Ontology and Dialectics: 1960/61

Ontology and Dialectics: 1960-61 Book Cover Ontology and Dialectics: 1960-61
Theodor W. Adorno. Nick Walker (Translator)
Polity
2018
Paperback €21.46
384

Reviewed by: Sílvia Bento (Institute of Philosophy - University of Porto)

“I believe that if you look at the writings expressly directed against Wagner, and especially The Case of Wagner, you could readily extrapolate what he [Nietzsche] would have said against Heidegger. And I think if you could actually perform this feat of imagination that I am proposing to you, and envisage such a Nietzschean critique of Heidegger, then for penetrating insight it would surpass anything which I can offer you with my modest powers in these lectures.” (104)

These intriguing remarks, set forth by Theodor W. Adorno in his series of lectures delivered in Frankfurt during the winter semester of 1960/61, can be regarded as the touchstone of Ontology and Dialectics. This lecture course of 1960/61 – and the three Vorlesungen delivered at the Collège de France in March 1961 – first published in 2002 under the title Ontologie und Dialektik, excels in presenting a subtle analogy between Nietzsche’s positions concerning Richard Wagner’s music as a cultural expression of décadence and his remarks on Heidegger’s fundamental ontology as a degenerate movement or tendency against Aufklärung. As presented in Der Fall Wagner (1881), the Nietzschean formulation of Wagner’s music as a “disease” affecting German culture is evoked in order to analyse the philosophical observations on Heideggerian ontology developed by Adorno in Ontology and Dialectics. According to Adorno’s incisive observations, fundamental ontology, as defined by Heidegger, manifests a specifically German posture – considered by Adorno as profoundly deplorable – against Enlightenment ideology. As Adorno asserts, fundamental ontology is a philosophical movement which can be characterized as an abominably vile counter-Enlightenment. The Nietzschean analysis regarding the infamous power of seduction involving Wagner’s music, from Adorno’s point of view, is a “Heideggerian disease” because it profoundly affects the German academic world, which represents a new philosophical movement that is intensely respected and greatly venerated. The bizarreness of this Heideggerian spell, or disease, under which the German intelligentsia seemed to succumb, is often considered by Adorno:

“[…] for in Germany there are now hardly any responsible academic positions or professorial chairs in philosophy that do not feel obliged at least to show that they are somehow worthy of what has been achieved by Heidegger and Jaspers. And even those thinkers who for political and other reasons are extremely critical of both philosophers, but especially of Heidegger, still appear to be captivated – in a way I find really hard to understand since I have never experienced this spell myself – by this kind of thinking and seem unable to sever the umbilical cord entirely in this regard.” (100-101)

According to Adorno, fundamental ontology, Heidegger’s philosophical project, can be regarded as a philosophical tendency which owes its effect and possesses its forces through opposition to idealism in general. It is an anti-subjectivism; in fact, the philosophical question concerning fundamental ontology may be stated in a variety of ways. Adorno puts it thus: fundamental ontology is essentially an anti-subjectivist. Fundamental ontology stands in contrast to a philosophy which remains essentially devoted to a preliminary question, namely the question of how knowledge is possible at all. The coarse obliteration of the philosophical reflection upon the subjective mediation of knowledge and the epistemological relevance of the conceptual thought represents the chief theoretical posture of Heidegger’s ontology as conceived by Adorno.

Fundamental ontology is unequivocally the chief subject matter of Ontology and Dialectics by Theodor W. Adorno. The relevance of such a book – essentially a compilation of 23 Vorlesungen delivered in Frankfurt in 1960/61 and in Paris, at the Collège de France, in March 1961 (we refer to the last three lectures included in the book) – can be described in accordance with the consideration that the positions expressed in Ontology and Dialectics represent as an initial discussion of the Heideggerian ontology developed by Adorno. It should be observed that Ontology and Dialectics presents a philosophical anticipation of the incisively penetrating analysis of the Heideggerian ontology which, ultimately, forms the core of The Jargon of Authenticity, published in 1964. According to the “Editor’s Foreword” included in this edition, written by Rolf Tiedemann, the book Ontology and Dialectics, which expresses the philosophical antipathy to the ontological movement emanating from the Black Forest, evokes a project which Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht had already begun to pursue around 1930, not long after the publication of Being and Time. The project they sought to pursue was that of “demolishing Heidegger” [den Heidegger zu zertrümmern]. The intention of “demolishing Heidegger” pervades Adorno’s work and thought, especially after his return from exile to Germany. As Rolf Tiedemann elucidates, within the German philosophical academic circle developed after the end of the Third Reich, during the political and social process of re-establishing democracy in Germany, Adorno was widely regarded as the pre-eminent intellectual opponent to Heidegger – and Adorno accepted this incumbency. To lay emphasis on the fact that Adorno’s Complete Writings comprise almost 600 references to the name of Heidegger (exceeded in number only by those to Walter Benjamin) is not superfluous. Clearly then, “demolishing Heidegger” was an Adornian philosophical project. Nevertheless, the Adornian critique of Heidegger is not an aggressive refutation of the fundamental ontology that is without merit, nor is it intended to chiefly condemn the political positions adopted by Heidegger. The Adornian objections to Heidegger’s fundamental ontology that are most important are those which excel in revealing the dangerous political and social implications of a philosophical tendency – developed in accordance with the refusal of the cognitive sophistication of philosophy – that, in its instauration of odd cults and bizarre interests, promoted the pseudo-ideal of pre-Socratic irrationalism.

The title of the book, Ontology and Dialectics, alludes to Adorno’ intention of presenting a philosophical contrast between Heidegger’s fundamental ontology and Adorno’s own conception of dialectical thought as negative dialectics. This intention is subtly illustrated in a story involving Gustav Mahler and his literary taste.

“It is well known that Gustav Mahler was passionately interested in Dostoyevsky, who stood for something quite different in the years around 1890 than he does of Moeller van den Bruck. On one occasion, during an excursion with Schoenberg and his pupils, Mahler is said to have advised them to spend less time studying counterpoint and more time reading Dostoyevsky. And Webern is supposed to have responded with heroic timidity: ‘Pardon, Herr Direktor, but we have Strindberg’.” (1)

As Adorno explains, this story is probably apocryphal; nevertheless, this episode involving Gustav Mahler’s literary taste is mentioned by Adorno as a witty elucidation of the relationship between the new fundamental ontology of Heidegger (or, we might say, Dostoyevsky’s new literature) and the tradition of the German dialectic thought (or, we might say, Strindberg’s thought).  However, the emphasis upon the philosophical opposition between the new fundamental ontology and the traditional dialectic thought does not form the heart of Ontology and Dialectics. It is pertinent to observe that this series of lectures, published under the title Ontology and Dialectics, precedes the three lecture courses which form the book Negative Dialectics, Adorno’s masterpiece, published in 1966. The thorough theoretical presentation of such a philosophical project – the delineation of the philosophical singularity and distinctiveness of the negative dialectic thought – is indeed the chief subject matter and the central line of thought developed by Adorno in Negative Dialectics, written between 1964 and 1966. It is worth noting that Ontology and Dialectics, which precedes Negative Dialectics, is especially devoted to the philosophical condemnation of Heidegger’s fundamental ontology.

At any rate, as Adorno conceives it, the concept of Being, in Heideggerian terms, is not actually a concept at all. In fact, according to Adorno’s reading of Heidegger’s ontology, the concept of Being is not supposed to be the highest abstraction, the supra-concept reached by omitting all particular individuation, all particular determination. In approaching such a philosophical account of Being, Adorno intends to lay emphasis upon the fact that the Heideggerian ontological positions should be sharply distinguished from other kinds of ontology – such as the concept of ontology introduced by Husserl, the ontological project developed by Nicolai Hartmann, or the ontological positions advanced by the neo-scholastic tradition. The relentless obliteration of the conceptual dimension of Being defines the decided difference between Heidegger’s fundamental ontology and the traditional ontologies. As Adorno clearly explains, Being, in Heideggerian terms, is supposed to be what is utterly prior and primary, that which is highest and most constitutive. The question regarding Being – over against the highest regions, the highest and most universal concepts of all possible classes of beings – is what is decisive here, precisely because it involves the problem of the possibility of ontology as such, namely whether such a pure doctrine of being can be thought as such independently of the doctrine regarding the order of beings. From Heidegger’s point of view, those doctrines devoted to the ontological delineation of the order of beings – those doctrines which totally disregard the benedictory ontological difference between Being and beings, those ontologies of the ontic developed in accordance to systems of blind conceptual categories, fundamental principles and axioms – it is these doctrines imply an ontological questioning in the naïve sense. They do not represent, as Heidegger insists, the essential task of ontology understood in the radical sense – and this is precisely what fundamental ontology is.

The cult of the concept of absolute originality, the cult of the Firstness, is one of the philosophical oddities bound up with the persistent assertion of such an ontological questioning in the radical sense, as advanced by Heidegger. According to fundamental ontology and, especially, according to its chief claim concerning the ontological difference between Being and beings, any approach which does not involve the priority of Being with respect to beings is already rejected ab ovo and defamed as inferior, as a failure, as a betrayal of the real question. As Adorno asserts: “we are constantly presented with the same invocation, variation or repetition of this premise, namely the priority of Being with respect to beings” (22). Consequently, in repudiating the conceptual sophistication of the traditional philosophical thought (and of the philosophical ontologies), Heideggerian ontology fails to consider that the concept of Being itself is not the original question which fundamental ontology would have us believe. As Adorno attempts to explain – this is, unfortunately a very laconic explanation – the concept of Being deserves to be regarded philosophically as a concept of reflection in the sense of those concepts subjected to criticism by Kant in his “Amphiboly of the Concepts of Reflection” when they are hypostasized – in other words, when they are treated as an expression of true beings as such. On this view of things, the concept of Being is not something very ancient but something rather late and, correlatively, developed in accordance with the conceptual sophistication of critical philosophical thought. It should be observed that, from Adorno’s point of view, the concept of Being is a result, a historical result, attained only through a process, which, in turn, can be characterized as a conceptual and critical philosophical process. The concept of Being, in Adornian terms, is, in fact, understood philosophically as a concept – the highest abstraction, understood in accordance with the development of the conceptual sophistication of philosophical thought. It is not properly a Kantian perspective. This concept of Being as the highest abstraction is already present in Plato and in Aristotle, as Adorno claims, despite the brevity and the laconism of his elucidations.

It is certainly worth noting that Adorno’s reading of Heidegger excels in presenting a collection of problems, ambiguities and contradictions which profoundly involves fundamental ontology. According to Adorno, Heidegger’s fundamental ontology comprises a double refusal: in effect, fundamental ontology is a philosophical tendency developed in accordance with its emphasis upon the rejection of both conceptuality – it is pertinent to mention the delineation of the concept of Being as a non-concept – and reality – and it is convenient to consider the celebrated ontological difference between Being and beings. Fundamental ontology can be described, as Adorno suggests, by its attempt to escape both from mere conceptuality and from any reality simply or immediately accepted as such. This double approach, this double front against a philosophy of concepts and against a philosophy of reality, is precisely what characterises the efforts of fundamental ontology. However, as Adorno elucidates, Heidegger incessantly fails to attain these philosophical intentions.

The Heideggerian cult of language, or the fascination with language, has tremendous significance for Heideggerian ontology. Language as a mediation of Being, or language as the possibility of aletheia and the unveiling of Being, is not philosophically compatible with a coarse rejection of conceptual thought. As Adorno proposes, Heidegger continuously disregards the fact that the concept of Being, in terms of its origin and its legitimacy, is directly bound up with the categorial structure of language. Heidegger’s ontology perniciously explores such a quid pro quo involving Being as a concept – Being as an element of language, entity, and even Being as a non-concept – which cannot be expressed through mere meanings insofar as it is not exhausted by conceptual terms nor by subjectively instituted concepts, and is cut off from conceptual thought. Nevertheless, such a remarkable ambiguity between Being as concept and Being as a what-is-beyond-concept is not acknowledged by fundamental ontology as a deficiency at all, as Adorno explains. On the contrary, it is chalked up as a positive and counted as credit. Why? The enigma, or the touchstone, underlying Heidegger’s pernicious ambiguity is taken as a venerable philosophical position that proceeds from a peculiar account of language that is incessantly proposed by Heidegger: the idea that language as a true, pure and absolute entity, or the idea of language as the domain of the unveiling of Being, is that of an immediate medium, organon or ‘complexus’ of truth that is deprived of any conceptual elements or aspects – and, as Adorno elucidates, also deprived of subjectivity and historicity. Hence, the concept of Being – in accordance with such a conception of language – deserves to be inexorably regarded as an entity beyond mere conceptuality.

In presenting this Heideggerian ambiguity, Adorno reflects more closely upon fundamental ontology as an anti-subjectivism by apparently overcoming subjectivism and the spurious claim that philosophy has somehow escaped its imprisonment within subjectivity (and within conceptual and categorial thought) through this new ontological project. This is intimately bound up with the Heideggerian quid pro quo, acknowledged and presented by fundamental ontology as an element of apparently higher dignity, as “one of the strongest seductions of this philosophy” (46), which arises from “that wavering, negative and inarticulate character of this talk of being itself” (46). Regarding the Heideggerian refusal of reality and the abandonment of the empirical dimension – a claim which involves and justifies the celebrated ontological difference between Being and beings and, correctively, the hypostatization of the word ‘Being’ (by supressing the dialectic of Being and beings) – Adorno draws attention to a conspicuously Heideggerian philosophical posture:  the act of ontologizing the ontic; the repeated ontologising of ontic beings, namely, the human being itself. The anti-subjectivism which involves fundamental ontology is, in effect, the central axis treated by Adorno – that of the ontological conception regarding the human being as Dasein, which permits an elimination of the subjective character, now turned into a determination of Being. As Adorno explains, the ontological interest is profoundly incompatible with the subjective reflection itself. The subjective dimensions of reflection, spontaneity, consciousness and self-consciousness, and, by extension, the subjective dimensions of critical, conceptual and discursive thought, are all totally avoided and obliterated in order to sustain an ontological conception of Dasein as a ‘mode of being’ or, in a developed sense, a “shepherd of being”, where the latter serves as a primitive agrarian metaphor set forth by Heidegger in Letter on Humanism, and serves as an amusing object of Adorno’s attention.

According to Adorno, Heidegger sets out to extirpate subjectivity by transforming it into the scene or arena of ontology. In effect, this ontological kind of thinking, for which Being appears or manifests itself in Dasein, naturally evokes something related to subjectivity; but, at the same time, it loses what was so decisive for this subjective form of thought – in other words, it loses that moment of subjectivity that appears in Kantian philosophy under the name of ‘spontaneity’ and in Hegelian philosophy, under the name of ‘labour’. In fundamental ontology – and this is, as Adorno explains, the phenomenological legacy of the doctrine which Husserl had already developed, namely the idea of the pure intuiting of the thing in question – subjectivity is actually introduced as a kind of pure receptivity; subjectivity becomes that to which Being manifests itself, yet without that moment of activity, or that ‘function’, as Kant also occasionally puts it, properly being acknowledged. Consequently, a philosophical relevant determination of the Heideggerian project consists in “taking up that moment of reflection and subjectivity which is directly opposed to the ontological approach and integrate it into his original project by turning it into a mode of objectivity, turning ‘existence’ into Seinsweise, or ‘mode of being’” (82). It is the absolute precedence of Being over beings, the total precedence of Being over human existence, that concerns us here. This structure – that a particular being is itself ontological – is the defining and distinctive touchstone of the doctrine of Dasein, and it implicitly expresses Heidegger’s intention of avoiding the conflation of his own analysis of Being with the ‘philosophy of existence’ associated with Kierkegaard or Jaspers. Ultimately, as Adorno suggests, this ontologizing of the ontic, this reduction of the ontic being to Being, promotes, in an unexpected and ineluctable way, the superfluity and the dissipation of the celebrated ontological difference, which gives rise to the absolute hypostatization of Being. Indeed, Adorno’s acute reading of the Heideggerian analysis of Dasein deserves an extended treatment, for it excels in considering the anti-subjectivism manifested in fundamental ontology. Nevertheless, we venture to say that Adorno disregards the philosophical relevance of the Heideggerian notion of Befindlichkeit as a singular determination of human being, which cannot be reduced to any subjective or discursive determination developed by critical thought.

The Adornian emphasis upon the anti-subjectivist turn introduced by Heidegger’s fundamental ontology represents a crucial element of Ontology and Dialectics. According to Adorno, this “pseudo-revolutionary form of thought” (121) – which incisively repudiates the axes of modern critical form of thought, declaring itself to be a pre-critical return to naïve realism – expresses “a reactionary mentality” (121), which can be characterized by its philosophical intention of destructing the subjective mediation of thought, the critical moment of thought, in order to extirpate Enlightenment and rational thought. In Adorno’s words, Heidegger’s ontological project imposes itself as a pernicious philosophical tendency which can be described as irrationalism, counter-Enlightenment and, ultimately, return to myth, return to barbarism. In rejecting the question of the mediation of Being, and in repudiating the critical relevance of the thinking subject and the subjective determination of knowledge, Heidegger’s philosophical project, developed in accordance with the veneration of a truth fallen into oblivion (namely Being), expresses an odd return to myth and to fate that elaborates a philosophical project that denigrates philosophizing in favour of a particular relationship to language – an archaic language – that is totally devoted to what is primordial, original or authentic, and, supposedly, purified of conceptual determinations. The analysis of a collection of poems written by Heidegger – characterized by its “inferior character” (162) and “wretchedness” (162) – is an integrate part of Adorno’s emphasis upon the conspicuously archaic moment of Heidegger’s fundamental ontology: the spuriousness of Heidegger’s philosophy and poetry resides in its veneration of an archaic kind of thinking, which manifests an intention to suppress historical and social determinations inextricable to the act of philosophizing.

Regarding Adorno’s remarks on Heidegger’s poems, it is perhaps not superfluous to draw attention to an important aesthetic essay dedicated to Hölderlin’s late poetry: the essay entitled “Parataxis: On Hölderlin’s Late Poetry”, written by Adorno in 1963, which is fundamentally devoted to condemn Heidegger’s approach to art, namely to Hölderlin’s poetry; interestingly, according to Adorno, the Heideggerian commentaries on Hölderlin’s poetry reveal the total absence of aesthetic sensitivity towards the poetic object – the lack of an aesthetic organ (Mangel an ästhetischen Organ), as set forth by Adorno in his essay.

It is convenient to take into account the centrality of the concept of Schicksal in Heidegger’s ontology, for it clearly illustrates the intention of supressing the critical dimension of the act of philosophizing in order to establish a reversion to fate and a revocation of rationality and, ultimately, of freedom. In Adorno’s words,

“the concept of fate or destiny here ascribed to ‘being’ is that of a blindly entangled will – for what is ascribed to ‘being’ in this context bears all the marks of irrationality. In other words, ‘being’ is characterized as something utterly obscure that may somehow be intimated and venerated, but about nothing substantive can ever be said. In the first place, you should clearly observe how this very passage moves directly to the concept of Schicksal or fate, and how this concept of fate, even if it is indeed indexed historically, is furnished with that blind and ineluctable character which belongs to the ancient and traditional notion of fate” (117).

The Heideggerian emphasis upon the concepts of time and historicity is actually designed to deceive: the concept of Schicksal – regarded in its philosophical affinities with the concept of Hörigkeit, or ‘obedient hearkening’, a hearkening to Being which sounds like blind submission – defines and determines Heidegger’s form of thinking. It’s worth noting that Schicksal and Hörigkeit represent Heidegger’s condemnation of the critical thought – the critical labour of the conceptual, as Adorno puts it, according to Hegelian positions – regarded by fundamental ontology as a process of philosophical degeneration. Heidegger annuls critical labour, as if philosophy could assume a historical standpoint beyond history; although, philosophy is enjoined to obey history, which is then, like existence, itself ontologized.

The philosophical purpose of Ontology and Dialectics, as announced by Adorno in the first lectures, consists in throwing light upon the philosophical discrepancies, contrasts and oppositions between fundamental ontology and negative dialectics. We conclude that Adorno leaves untouched a philosophical intention of forming the heart of negative dialectics in Ontology and Dialectics, for Adorno passes in silence the chief lines indicative of such a philosophical intention. In the context of Lecture 23, the last lecture of Ontology and Dialectics, there is a philosophical concept under the name “negative dialectics” that is described theoretically by fundamental determinations, but, interestingly, in order to offer a precise theoretical description of negative dialectics, Adorno proposes to consider the most relevant philosophical condemnations advanced against Heidegger’s fundamental ontology, especially the disapproval concerning Heidegger’s project as a philosophical tendency intended to perpetuate mythical thought. Dialectical thought, in its turn, is described as a philosophical attempt, “by means of cunning, the oldest medium of enlightenment” (240) to dissolve the mythical context of nature, to transcend the immediate context of nature without imposing its own domination, the domination of reason – in other words, dialectical thought “attempts to transcend nature without incurring that sacrifice and rage which would merely perpetuate the same context of nature” (240). As Adorno argues, dialectical thought excels in being the acne of enlightenment – the culminating point of conceptual thought – presented in its critical potential to extirpate the mythical context of nature. In accordance with these observations, it is worth noting that Adorno considers the mythical context of nature under the conception of identity – or, identity principle. Indeed, the idea of such a negative dialectics, as delineated and described by Adorno, implies a critique of identity – a critique of mythical forms of thought. It is the philosophical purpose of negative dialectics to abolish the circle of identity and the correlative identity principle. According to negative dialectics, the philosophical procedure of conceptualization is devoted to the determination of the non-identical; the negative element of thought which cannot be entirely tolerated under the identity principle. Such a principle – the identity principle – does not recognize the prominent prerogative of subjectivity or subjective mediation, which consists in determining the non-identical, the negative element of thought, without extirpating it under the logic of conceptual hypostatization.

In conclusion, it is important to lay emphasis on the logic of conceptual hypostatization. As Adorno argues – and this forms the core of the book Negative Dialectics (1966) – negative dialectics attempt to contradict any positive and unconditionally total dialectic elaborated under the identity principle. To distinguish negative dialectics, Adorno’s own philosophical project, from the Hegelian model of dialectics is, indeed, the theoretical axis of Negative Dialectics: the Hegelian elaboration of the supreme concept of Geist as a philosophical bizarreness which, as Adorno states, implies the pernicious sovereignty of the identity principle and its aspiration for (false) totality. Interestingly, in Negative Dialectics, the Hegelian dialectics – regarded as a model of dialectical thought, and not as the dialectical thought par excellence – there is treated by Adorno a degenerative dialectic, which succumbs to the hegemony of the identity principle and, consequently, to the annihilation of the preponderance of the negative elements of thought. According to Adorno, the hypostatization of the concept of Geist as a superlative entity, developed as an absolutization of the concept of subjectivity, clearly illustrates the process of decline of the Hegelian dialectics – a process of decline due to the assumption of the identity principle. It is not, perhaps, philosophically irrelevant to consider a subtle affinity between Hegel’s Geist and Heidegger’s Sein (advanced by Adorno as against the philosophical intention of elaborating supreme concepts, supreme conceptual entities which subsume the ontic or individual elements or realities under an aspiration for total identity), as an incisive disapproval of both Hegel’s dialectics and Heidegger’s fundamental ontology. The chief purpose of Adorno’s negative dialectics consists in presenting the philosophical prerogative of subjectivity: subjective mediation as an act of spontaneity devoted to determine the non-identity and the negative elements of thought in order to destroy – through the critical labour of the concept – the identity principle (a mythical principle) which governs conceptualization itself.

Is it possible to abolish the identity principle through the labour of concept? Is it possible to extirpate the supreme conceptual entities, such as absolute subjectivity, or Geist, through the act of subjective spontaneity? To present and consolidate the fundamental lines of thought of negative dialectics with conviction represents a philosophical tour de force developed by Adorno. But, as with all tours de force, we are confronted with confusion, perplexity and uncertainty: How philosophically convincing is negative dialectics, Adorno’s philosophical project? The response should be found not in Ontology and Dialectics, but in Negative Dialectics.

Cathrin Nielsen, Hans Rainer Sepp (Hg.): Wohnen als Weltverhältnis. Eugen Fink über den Menschen und die Physis

Wohnen als Weltverhältnis. Eugen Fink über den Menschen und die Physis Book Cover Wohnen als Weltverhältnis. Eugen Fink über den Menschen und die Physis
Alber Philosophie
Cathrin Nielsen, Hans Rainer Sepp (Hg.)
Karl Alber Verlag
2019
Hardback 34,00 €
232

Reviewed by: Eveline Cioflec (Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen)

Die im Alber Verlag erschienene Aufsatzsammlung kann als eine thematische Einführung zu Finks Auffassungen zu Welt und Physis gelesen werden. Unvermerkt umspannen die Beiträge das Gesamtwerk Finks und bieten dennoch einen einheitlichen Einblick. Die Spanne Welt – Physis zieht sich durch sämtliche Beiträge hindurch und wirft unvermittelt die Frage der Stellung des Menschen auf oder, wie es im Titel des Bandes treffend festgehalten ist, die Frage nach dem Wohnen des Menschen. Der Band ist der dritte in einer Reihe von Forschungen die die seit 2006 im Alber Verlag erscheinende Gesamtausgabe begleiten. Der erste ist der Pädagogik im Werk Finks gewidmet, Bildung im technischen Zeitalter (hg. v. A. Hilt und C. Nielsen 2005), und der zweite Welt denken (hg. v. C. Nielsen und R. Sepp 2011) greift die Thematik der Kosmologie auf. Dieser dritte Band untersucht, so Nielsen und Sepp im kurzen, jedoch Ein- und Überblick bietenden Vorwort, „wie die thematischen Facetten, die Finks Werk strukturieren, in seiner Kosmologie verankert sind.“ (Vorwort, 11) Er versammelt hauptsächlich Beiträge des Kolloquiums mit dem Titel „Erde – Wohnen – Natur. Eugen Fink über die physis des Menschen als ens cosmologicum“, das in Prag im November 2015 stattgefunden hat.

Der erste Teil des Titels des Bandes, „ Wohnen als Weltverhältnis“, sollte nicht die Erwartung mit sich bringen, dass das Thema in jedem Beitrag unmittelbar und explizit vorzufinden wäre: eher ist der zweite Teil des Titels ausschlaggebend „Eugen Fink über den Menschen und die Physis“ – dieses kann als gemeinsamer Nenner der einzelnen Beiträge gesehen werden. Dass Welt sich aus dem Verhältnis zur Physis ergibt, oder diese quasi zur Grundlage hat, ergibt allerdings das Spezifische des finkschen Wohnens: eben nicht ganz in der Welt, sondern nur im Verhältnis zur Welt, das aber zugleich einen Bezug zum Dunklen der Erde voraussetzt. Kurz zusammengefasst heißt es im Vorwort „Solches Wohnen weist eine kosmische Struktur auf, die Fink kosmologisch als Weltverhältnis bestimmt und hierfür auf einen Begriff des frühgriechischen Denkens, auf den der phýsis, zurückgreift, die als kósmos das »Seiende im Ganzen« benenne (vgl. Fink, E., 1992, Natur, Freiheit, Welt. Philosophie der Erziehung, hg. v. F.-A. Schwarz, Würzburg, 64). Im Ausgang von diesem auf die Physis hin gedachten Begriff des Wohnens lässt sich zeigen, wie Fink das tradierte Verhältnis von Natur und Geschichte bzw. Natur und Freiheit kosmologisch reformuliert.“ (11)

Mit Fink von der „Physis“ und nicht von „Natur“ zu sprechen, hebt die Unzugänglichkeit der Natur, eines Grundes, auf die als solche dennoch Bezug genommen wird, hervor: Die das Wohnen im Weltverhältnis konstituierende Verborgenheit der Natur oder eben die Physis. Verborgenheit und Unverborgenheit scheinen dabei keine Dichotomie zu ergeben, bei der von einerseits und andererseits die Rede sein könnte, sondern weisen vielmehr eine gegenseitige Durchdrungenheit auf, bei der in der Unverborgenheit zugleich das Dunkle mitenthalten ist. Untrennbar verwoben ist der Bezug zur Natur als Weltverhältnis zu verstehen, zu deuten. Ist Welt das Unverborgene, so bleibt darin immer auch die Verborgenheit bestehen. Natur ist letztlich dasjenige worin der Mensch wohnt und sich dieses Wohnen als Welt einrichtet, wobei das Wohnen keine Herrschaft über die Natur ausübt, sondern vielmehr dieser einverleibt bleibt.

Im beschreibenden Kurztext zum Band wird die Welt der Freiheit gleichgesetzt und diese zugleich auf die Natur rückbezogen. Somit wird verdeutlicht, dass im Freiheit zulassenden Bezug zur Natur der Mensch eine Welt entfaltet. Die Freiheit des Menschen besteht nicht trotz der Natur – was ja auch widersprüchlich wäre, da Trotz kaum Freiheit zulässt – sondern sie entspringt gerade der dunklen Seite der letzteren, die sich verbergend die Möglichkeit zulässt Welt zu entfalten.

Die Beiträge zum Band sind thematisch in drei Abschnitten gegliedert, betitelt mit Natur, Freiheit und Welt, in Anlehnung an Finks Publikationen. Als „leitender Aspekt“ wird im Vorwort das „Thematischwerden der binnenweltlichen, auf ihre Welthaftigkeit hin eröffneten existenziellen Situation des Menschen, die Fink als Wohnen, als Aufenthalt des Menschen auf der Erde, charakterisiert“, genannt. (11) Der Abschnitt zu „Natur“ ist auf dem „übergreifenden Hintergrund der kosmologischen Physis“ der finkschen Bestimmung der Natur „in uns“ und „außer uns“ gewidmet (12), wobei zwei der drei Beiträge der finkschen Auslegung der Dichtung von Cesare Pavese gewidmet sind.

Der zweite Abschnitt, „Freiheit“, umfasst ebenfalls drei Beiträge, die der Möglichkeit von Freiheit „angesichts ihres Gebundenseins an das Naturhafte“ (ebd.) nachgehen, zunächst mit Fink die Dichotomie Geist – Natur in Frage stellen, wobei der Mensch in seiner naturhaft-geschichtlichen Doppelstellung“ (Fink 1987, 59, hier 150) als „Mittler“ bestimmt wird, der die in der Spannung von Freiheit und Natur aktualisierte „Grundspannung der Welt“, die den »Ur-Riß« (Fink, 1987, Existenz und Coexistenz. Grundprobleme der menschlichen Gemeinschaft, hg. v. F.-A. Schwarz, Würzburg, 226) der Wirklichkeit darstellt, austrägt (150). Mit dem Menschen als „Mittler“ wird ein wiederkehrender Topos im finkschen Denken aufgegriffen. Dieser kennzeichnet „die Grundstellung des Menschen inmitten des Ganzen des Seienden für jegliches, was ist, ‚der seienden Dinge, dass sie sind, der nichtseienden, dass sie nicht sind‘. Maß aber ist nicht Grund, der Mensch ist nicht die Mitte der Welt, aber er ist der Mittler, die existierende Vermittlung für alles Seiende, das erst im Sein für den Menschen (also im Wahrsein) in sein wesentliches Sein kommt.“ (Hilt, A., 2018, Nachwort zu Fink, E., Existenz und Coexistenz, EGFA 16, Hg. Grätzel, S. u.a., Alber, Freiburg, 979-1024, zit. 979, s. Fink-Archiv. Notizen, 402b, Z – XXXII, ca. 1939/40 [= „Eremitie“]) Im dritten Beitrag des zweiten Abschnittes werden anhand der Rolle der Arbeit im Selbstverhalten die Grenzen der Radikalisierung des Selbstverhaltens aufgezeigt.

Der kosmologische Ansatz wird im dritten Abschnitt, „Welt“, thematisch: „Wie Selbstverhalten im Weltverhalten gründet und welche Perspektiven sich daraus für die soziale, »coexistenzielle« Situation des Menschen und ihre Gestaltung und Veränderbarkeit ergeben.“ (ebd.) Im Weiteren wird die meontische Auffassung des Verstehens, die die hermeneutische ablöst, besprochen und die aktuelle Rezeption Finks im Werk Marc Richirs und Renaud Barbaras diskutiert.

Die thematische Eingliederung der Beiträge in die drei Abschnitte gibt dem Band eine leichter fassbare Struktur. Die Beiträge bieten aufschlussreiche Einblicke in das jeweilige Thema des Abschnittes, zugleich weist jeder Beitrag auch über die thematische Eingliederung hinaus, so dass letztlich jeder Beitrag für sich stehend gelesen werden sollte.

Der erste Beitrag im Band, zum Thema Natur, von Yusuke Ikeda, mit dem Titel „Eugen Finks transzendental-phänomenologisches Weltdenken und seine Heraklit-Interpretation unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des Begriffs der Physis“ (S. 15–42), bietet eine philosophiegeschichtliche Einordnung der finkschen Auffassung und weist die Bedeutung des griechischen phýsis-Begriffs für das finksche Natur- und Weltverständnis auf. Somit ist der Beitrag sehr treffend als erster im Band aufgenommen und wirkt wie eine Verankerung der Folgebeiträge. Der Autor rekonstruiert mit Rückblick auf Husserls und Heideggers phänomenologische Ansätze die „kosmologische Phänomenologie“ Finks anhand seiner Heraklit-Interpretation. Hierbei handelt es sich um eine „Revision des Begriffs des Phänomens sowie der (transzendentalen) Phänomenologie Husserlscher und Heideggerscher Provenienz“ (15) wobei Finks Heraklit-Interpretation maßgebend ist: „Zum einen legt Fink Heraklits Physis-Begriff als Welt aus, die als Ursprungsdimension des Seins der ontologischen Differenz vorausgeht und ihr zugrunde liegt, und zum anderen betont Fink, dass schon Heraklit die Erscheinungsweise der als Welt verstandenen Physis als Entzug und Verbergung kannte.“ (ebd.)

Giovanni Jan Giubilatos Beitrag, „Vom Sinn der Erde: Eugen Finks kosmologische Auslegung der Dichtung von Cesare Pavese“ (S. 42–59) greift die Erörterung der Freiheit auf:  „Aus dieser traditionellen Auslegung der Freiheit als Herrschaft des Geistes über die unvernünftige Natur folgte eine allmähliche Ent-Sittlichung des Geistlosen, des unbelebten Naturhaften (Fink 1992, 100), welche zu der klassischen und mittlerweile für uns völlig selbstverständlichen Gegenüberstellung »Natur – Kultur« geführt habe. Für mehr als zweitausend Jahre hat also die rationalistische Tradition des Abendlandes die kalte, dürre Erde – das Rezeptakel der Materialität, der Sinnlichkeit, der niedrigsten Bestimmungen des Geistes abgewertet und verlassen.“ (43) Die Aufwertung der Erde in Finks Kosmologie wird im Weiteren in einer Gegenüberstellung mit der geschichtlichen Auffassung bei Vico festgehalten: „Obgleich die Geschichte ein Factum des Menschengeistes ist – wie Gianbattista Vico behauptet –, bleibt der Mensch nach Fink wesentlich ein Schössling, der aus der Tiefe der Erde keimt.“ (47) Die Zwischenstellung des Menschen, zwischen der Freiheit des Geistes und der Geborgenheit der Erde, im „Zwischenraum von Himmel und Erde“ (49), was ihn als ens cosmologicum ausmacht, wird in diesem Beitrag verdeutlicht: „Vielmehr ist der Mensch das »zweideutige Wesen«, das sowohl der Natur als auch der Freiheit »angehört, und doch keinem Bereich ganz, das nie ganz geborgen sein kann in Demeters stillem Frieden, wie Blume oder Tier, und auch nie ganz als Freiheit existiert und sich wissend begründet«.“ (Fink 1985, 52, hier: 48) Und ferner: „Im Zwischenraum der Transzendenz des Geistes und der tellurischen Dimension der Erde wohnt ausschließlich der Mensch.“ (49)

Der dritte Beitrag des ersten Abschnitts geht wie auch der vorangehende auf Finks Lektüre von Pavese ein: „Die Chiffren des Mythos: Fink liest Cesare Pavese“ von Cathrin Nielsen (S. 60–76). Es handelt sich dabei um Finks Interpretation kurz vor seiner Emeritierung von Cesare Paveses 1947 erschienenen Gesprächen mit Leuko (Fink, 1971, »Zu Cesare Pavese Gespräche mit Leuko«, in: ders.: Epiloge zur Dichtung, Frankfurt am Main, 53–112). Wie Nielsen festhält: „Bei Pavese entdeckt Fink die Möglichkeit, das Weltmoment der »Erde« in Narrative zu fassen, die wiederum als »Existenzchiffren«, zu lesen sind, als menschlich-allzumenschliche Antworten auf das, was sich der phänomenologischen Aufweisbarkeit entzieht, ohne jedoch zu verschwinden.“ (60) Gestalten der griechischen Mythologie treten bei Pavese in Gesprächen als „dialogische Miniaturen“ (ebd.) auf und führen das menschliche Dasein „in seinem paradoxen Bezug zum Außenmenschlichen“, „zum Ansichsein der »Natur«, das es im »Fürmichsein« zu leben gilt“ (ebd.). Wie auch in Giubilatos Vortrag geht es um den Menschen als einem „Wesen des »Zwischen«“ (61): der Bezug des Menschlichen zum Außermenschlichen lässt die Mächte des Letzteren in Paveses Gesprächen zu Gestalten werden. „Die mythologischen Gestalten stellen somit Verdichtungen von Existenzbezügen dar, die nicht kanonisch sind, sondern Chiffren, die sich im Narrativ der mythischen Konstellationen, die ja selbst wandelbar waren und sind, unablässig weitererzählen.“ (61)

Nielsen greift vier „paradigmatische »Existenzfiguren«“ (mit Fink „Urerfahrungen“ genannt) auf: „1. Endymion, der im Gespräch mit einem geheimisvollen Fremdling von seinem Verlangen berichtet, aus seiner unruhevollen Vereinzelung in den Urgrund, den »Schlaf der Welt«, in dem sich alle Dinge berühren, einzugehen. 2. Ödipus im Gespräch mit dem blinden Seher Teiresias, wo es um anonyme Übermacht des Geschlechtlichen geht, 3. Orpheus, der im Dialog mit einer Mänade der Todesoffenheit und Unwiederholbarkeit des menschlichen Lebens gewahr wird, und 4. Das Gespräch zwischen Odysseus und Kalypso und dessen Weiterspinnen durch die »Hexen« Kirke und Leukothea, das die menschliche Zeiterfahrung und das Erinnern thematisiert.“ (62/63)

Die Ausführungen zu den philosophischen Deutungen Paveses laufen darauf hinaus, das Selbst als ein „letztlich in sich selbst kreisendes Kaleidoskop fragmentarischer […] Erfahrungen“ (Fink, 1971, 109) zu erkennen zu geben. (72) Das „Unbegreifliche“, die „Verfangenheit“ und „Unheimliche Verkapselung“ des Selbst in sich selbst (74), wie Fink diese hervorhebt, verdeutlicht Nielsen in ihrem Beitrag und sieht darin „den Abschied von einer die Metaphysik des Lichtes untergründig begleitenden Religiosität der Nacht“, die „radikal skeptische Destruktion der metaphysischen Voraussetzung einer das Animalische befreienden Rationalität“, die, mit Fink, „den Aufriß einer existenzialen Analytik“ erfordere (75), welche den Menschen der Natur gegenübersetzt und diese Gegenübersetzung auch wieder zurücknimmt, wobei sie die „bewußtseinsmäßige Uneinholbarkeit anerkennen müßte“ (Fink 1971, 111) (76).

Die drei folgenden unter dem Titel „Freiheit“ zusammengeführten Beiträge beleuchten sehr unterschiedliche Perspektiven der Freiheitsproblematik. Im ersten Beitrag, „Geistige Natur, natürlicher Geist: Der unmögliche Dualismus“ von Nicola Zippel (77–89), geht es im Anschluss an Fink darum, „phänomenologisch die Unmöglichkeit einzugestehen, die Stufe der Natur, des Nicht-Egologischen, von der Stufe des Geistes, des Egologischen, klar zu unterscheiden.“ (77) Im Anschluss an eine kurze Analyse des Zeitbewusstseins bei Husserl, betont Zippel den finkschen Beitrag zum phänomenologischen Zeitbewusstsein: Was Husserl festhält, dass das Ego bei der Wiedererinnerung stets von einer Motivation geleitet ist, erweitert Fink durch den Begriff der „Weltlichkeit“ der Erinnerung, das den „umgebenden Kontext solcher Motivation“ ausmacht. (83) Den Kern des Beitrags bringt Zippel selbst im „Schluss“ des Beitrags auf den Punkt: „Wenn man die Grundverschiedenheit zwischen der Natur – der Hyle als zeitlichem Vorgang des Bewusstseins – und dem Geist, d.h. der Subjektivität als verleiblichtem Ego des Bewusstseins, betrachtet, wenn man also das passive, spontane und materiale Dasein der Zeit (als Zeit-Bewussstsein) und die aktive, bewusste und geistige Entwicklung des Egos betrachtet, wird plausibel, dass eigentlich ein Dualismus nicht möglich ist.“ (88) Diese Grundverschiedenheit deutet Zippel weder als Mit-Ursprünglichkeit noch als Vorrang des Einen vor dem Anderen, sondern als „Koexistenz“, deren Beschreibung, so Zippel, allgemein der Phänomenologie „vorbehalten“ ist. (89)

Um eine ganz andere Form der Freiheit handelt es sich in Georgy Chernavins Beitrag, „Die flimmernde Natur der Doxa: Zwischen Gefangenschaft und Durchbruch der Befangenheit“ (90–101). Wie der Titel auch schon festhält, geht es um die Möglichkeit der Fragwürdigkeit in der Doxa, um die Möglichkeit zum Erstaunen, um das „Entkommen aus der Doxa“ (100). Die ausschlaggebende Frage greift Charnavin mit Fink, Husserl und Wittgenstein auf: „Weshalb versucht man überhaupt, aus seiner Befangenheit und versunkenen Situation ins Offene zu spähen, wenn man doch gar keine Offenheit kennt? Von woher taucht die »dumpfe Ahnung« des eigenen Gefangenseins auf?“ (98) Der stabilisierende Faktor der Doxa ist zugleich eine Gefangenschaft – als Verlorensein und nicht nur als „Wahlblindheit der Scheuklappenauffassung“ (ebd.) – die jedoch den Ausweg in sich trägt. „Die Doxa verhilft dazu, die innerweltlichen Erscheinungen zu stabilisieren und jede Form des Umschlagens zu vermeiden. Und trotzdem ist sie nicht allmächtig: Im Sein blitzt der Schein auf, in der Fraglosigkeit blitzt die Fragwürdigkeit auf, im Selbstverständlichen die Unverständlichkeit“ (100). Und ferner: „Die flimmernde Perspektive gestattet es uns, die vermeinten stabilen Selbst- und Dingidentitäten als fragwürdige erscheinen zu lassen.“ (ebd. 100)

Mit einer phänomenologischen Analyse des finkschen Grundphänomens der Arbeit thematisiert Giulia Cervo im Beitrag „Das Menschenwesen als endliches Schöpfertum: Natur im Kontext von Arbeit und Freiheit“ (S. 102–125) die problematische Natur menschlicher Freiheit. Die Arbeit wird als Medium von Natur und Freiheit erörtert: „In der Arbeit äußern sich zugleich die irdische Natur des Menschen und sein geistiges Wesen, die miteinander verwoben und voneinander untrennbar sind.“ (103) Anhand des Begriffs der „Entmenschung“ wird die finksche kosmologische Differenz, wie sie ab der Sechsten Cartesianischen Meditation Finks Ansatz zur Freiheit bestimmt, zur Geltung gebracht, im Unterschied zu Heideggers ontologischer Differenz. Dabei ist für Fink das Seinsverstehen ein Weltverstehen, wobei der Mensch sich als Arbeiter zur Welt so verhält, dass seine Natur – die allgemein als solche vorausgesetzt wird, ohne dass Natur überhaupt hinterfragt wird – etwas Problematisches bleibt, „da sie nur im Tun und Schaffen hergestellt und ausgelegt wird“ (102) und somit zur Verdinglichung der menschlichen Existenz als Notwendigkeit aber auch Hauptgefahr wird. (118) Anhand des Themas der Arbeit und des Begriffs der Entmenschung wird die schlecht gestellte Frage nach der Natur des Menschen erörtert. Die Freiheit wird als „Kampf um Transzendenz, d.h. als me-ontische Negation des Binnenweltlichen, verdeutlicht“ (102), wobei im Beitrag auch eine Entwicklung des finkschen Freiheitsbegriffs sowie Formen der Entmenschung nachgezeichnet werden.

Der dritte und letzte Buchabschnitt zum Thema „Welt“ ist mit fünf Beiträgen am umfangreichsten. Auch in diesem Abschnitt werden ganz unterschiedliche Perspektiven auf das Thema ohne exhaustiven Anspruch zusammengetragen. Mit Überlegungen zur Bildhaftigkeit der ontologischen Erfahrung des Menschen, zur Erziehung, zum exzentrischen Wohnen bis hin zu grundsätzlichen Fragen zu zeitgenössischen kosmologischen Ansätzen lässt der Abschnitt die Vielfältigkeit der finkschen Ausarbeitungen in seiner Kosmologie durchscheinen.

Anna Luiza Colli hebt in ihrem Beitrag „Tantalus und die kosmologische Dialektik: Bildhaftigkeit der ontologischen Erfahrung des Menschen als ens cosmologicum“ (S. 126–141) die von Fink eingesetzte mythische Figur des Tantalus hervor, durch welche die „Unfassbarkeit der Begegnung des Menschen mit dem Sein“ erhellt wird (135), wobei verdeutlicht wird, dass „eine vollkommene Aneignung des Seins nicht möglich ist“ (136) Maßgeblich wird hier die Spanne von Himmel und Erde, in der die Dinge „Zwischendinge“ als „Abbilder der Erde wie des Himmels“ sind, und der Mensch zwischen der „Verborgenheit und der Unverborgenheit des Seins“ endlich und seiner Endlichkeit bewusst und somit auf Seiten der Erde aber auch des Himmels ist. (134)

Das Unfassbare erhält – und darauf läuft dieser Beitrag hinaus – im Bild „die Chance, sich […] zumindest als Erscheinung im Wirklichen darzustellen.“ (139): „Da es Wirklichkeit und Unwirklichkeit als Bestandteile an sich hat, öffnet das Bild einen Zugang zu einer Zwischenwelt, in der das Unfassbare, Unsagbare, Ungreifbare zum Scheinen kommen kann (Fink, E., 1966, Studien zur Phänomenologie 1930-1939, Phänomenologica, Bd. 21, 18). Das schöpferische Spiel, das auch in der Struktur des Bildes anwesend ist, »reflektiert somit nicht nur die ekstatische Aufgeschlossenheit des menschlichen Daseins zur Welt, sondern – spekulativ formuliert – die Welt selbst reflektiert sich im Spiel und erweist so das menschliche Spiel als Geschehen im Welt-Spiel selbst« (Sepp, H. R., 2012, Bild. Phänomenologie der Epoché I, Orbis Phänomenologicus Studien, Bd. 30, Würzburg, 100). Deswegen nennt Fink das Bild ein »Fenster ins Absolute«.“ (139) Das Bild wird als mediale Form der Erfahrung des Menschen als Mittler erwiesen, das zum Scheinen bringt, was nicht scheinbar ist, das Unwirkliche bestehen lässt aber als Erscheinung in die Wirklichkeit vermittelt, d.h. das dialektische Spiel der Gegensätze erkennen lässt, so dass das himmlische Licht gezeigt werden kann, wobei das Dunkle des Seins doch unfassbar bleibt. (vgl. 140)

Hans Rainer Sepps Beitrag „Exzentrisch wohnen: Anmerkungen zu Finks Bestimmung des Menschen als eines Verhältnisses“ (S. 142–161) steht thematisch dem zweiten Teil des Titels des Bandes am Nächsten: „Das Wohnen als Weltverhältnis“ wird in diesem Beitrag ausdrücklich zur Sprache gebracht. Wenn das „Wohnen“ bei Fink im Selbstverhalten des Menschen besteht, so umfasst dieses auch das Weltverhältnis, zumal das Selbstverhalten nur welthaft möglich ist. Festgehalten wird dieses als die Exzentrizität des Menschen, die Sepp hier als in einem besonderen Grenzverhältnis gründend darstellt: „Der Mensch ist so bei sich, dass er außer sich ist, er ist im Unverfügbaren der Welt verankert und gezwungen, in seinem Verhältnisssein die dem Weltverhältnis inhärente Spannung von Natur und Freiheit auszutragen.“ (142)

Sepp gibt einen bedeutsamen Hinweis für die Deutung der finkschen Kosmologie: Was an diesem Selbst- und Weltverhältnis als éthos, Wohnen im ort-zeitlichen Sinne aufgefasst werden könnte, bezeichnet Fink mit physis, was „die antike Bestimmung Eingefügtsein des Menschen in Welt“ aufgreift. (144) Anhand einer weiterführenden Erörterung des „Verhältnisses“ als solchem, geht Sepp auf die finkschen Grundphänomene ein, die diese begriffliche Wahl erhellen: Der Bezug zur Welt, zum Kosmischen, wird vordergründig, das kosmische Geschehen als Physis bestimmt jeden Bezug und erschließt sich meontisch als Entzug auch im Selbstverhalten. (149) Über die Grundphänomene in die Welt eingelassen, erfährt der Mensch dieses Geschehen allerdings jeweils fragmentarisch, obzwar das Wissen um das Fragmentarische, darum dass „was jetzt und hier ‚ist‘, nicht alles ist“ durchscheint. (S. 147) Wohnen ist „verstehendes Wohnen im Weltall“ (Fink, 1987, 225), und zugleich ‚Sitte‘, d.h. „Selbstauslegung“ einer „menschlichen Gemeinschaft“ (Fink 1992, 34).

Die Denkaufgabe des Beitrags gilt allerdings – im Anschluss an eine eingehende Analyse der Spannung, des „Risses“ (156) zwischen Natur und Freiheit – der Spannung von Vereinzelung und Sozialisierung, einzelner und gemeinschaftlicher Existenz (151 f.). Sepp analysiert die Gleichursprünglichkeit dieser, in dem Sinne, dass die eine nicht auf die andere zurückgeführt werden kann, und wirft die Frage auf, ob die „vereinzelte Existenz aufgrund ihrer gebürtlichen Separation früher als ihr Sozialkonnex ist“ (155). Dieser Ansatz zieht die Frage nach einer vorweltlichen, nicht verstehenden Erfahrung nach sich, eines „außerhalb des Verstehens fungierenden ‚Egos‘“, für das der Begriff „schlechterdings“ fehlt (156), das jedoch bei Levinas als „das Selbe“, beim frühen Nishida als „Reine Erfahrung“ und bei Michel Henry als eine „selbstaffektive Bewegung einer vorgängigen Subjektivität, die sich mit Mitteln des Verstehens nie einholen kann“ thematisiert wird.

Bei Fink betrifft der genannte „Riss“ nicht nur das „Gegenwendige“ Natur und Freiheit, sondern auch die „Spannung von Welt und Selbst“. Die Folge wäre, dass auch das „Insein menschlicher Existenz“ (156), so Sepp, differenziert werden müsste. „Das Insein als In-der-Welt-Sein bzw. als »Mit-Teilen« im coexistenziellen Sinne Finks würde nur diejenige Art und Weise bezeichnen, wie sich Existenz versteht, nämlich ‚zunächst und zumeist‘ als solche, die in einen sozialen Verband verfugt ist.“ (ebd.) Fink rückt die „Natur-‚Seite‘“ menschlicher Existenz als einen Randbereich existenziellen Verstehens“ in den Blick, aber „verbleibt dabei noch im Kontext des Verstehens“ wobei er den „meontischen Grenzbereich“ nur auf die Welt, nicht aber auf das Selbst bezieht. (ebd.)

In dieser Annahme wäre das „a-soziale Insein leibkörperlicher Existenz“ als „Randzone verstehenden Weltbezugs“ in der meontischen Auffassung des Abgrunds des Selbst „nicht hinreichend gefasst“. (157) Die Folge wäre, dass „ein Verstehen der Reichweite des Könnens menschlicher Existenz, seiner Freiheit“ vom „‚positiven‘ Verstehen“ aus nicht erfasst werden kann und somit im Unterfangen der Theoría unzugänglich bleibt. (159) Sepps Vorschlag wäre „ ein anderes Insein“ anzusetzen, „welches das Leben in bloßer leib-körperlicher Faktizität, im Berühren der Erde, im Ein- und Ausatmen der Luft, in der Nahrungsaufnahme, im Wachen und Schlafen etc., zum Ausdruck bringt.“ (ebd.) Anhand des Widerstands der Erde, der „als solcher“ nicht mit einem Sinn, sondern mit ihrer namenlosen Festigkeit und Undurchdringlichkeit korreliert (etwa in der Arbeit, wo sie sich der „anlegenden Hand verweigert“, 158), worin sich die „Verschlossenheit der Erde“ ankündigt, ist die Grenze verstehender Erfahrbarkeit zu sehen. „Leib-körperlich erfahrene Widerständigkeit bricht mein (verstehendes) Verhalten, und erst meine daraufhin erfolgende Reaktion kann eine sinnhafte sein.“ (158) Daraus schließt Sepp, dass es eine „Erfahrung, die nicht über das Verstehen verläuft, gibt“ und weist im Weiteren auf die Folgen für die Reichweite des Könnens menschlicher Existenz, seiner Freiheit“ hin. (159 f.)

Der Philosophie der Erziehung, einem gewichtigen Teilbereich des Finkschen Denkens, wendet sich Tatiana Shchyttsova mit „»Der Zug der Welt«: Erziehung und Heilen im Miteinandersein von Alt und Jung“ zu (S. 162–179). Shchyttsova nimmt eine kritische Stellung ein gegenüber dem Festhalten der Erziehungseinrichtungen wie Schulen und Universitäten an „jenem technisch-bürokratischen Verstand (…), der den erzieherischen Vorgang systematisch als Instrument eines Gewährleistens wirtschaftlicher Effizienz begreift“ (163). Sie widmet sich zwei Ansätzen den „ungeheueren Reduktionismus des technisch-ökonomischen Ansatzes“ (ebd.) mit neuen Richtlinien für „eine Beantwortung der Frage nach dem »Wozu« zu belegen, nämlich der kosmologischen Deutung des Erziehungsphänomens durch Eugen Fink und der filmischen Darstellung der Beziehung zwischen einem alten Mann und einem Jungen in „Is Anybody There?“ von John Crowley, die beide auf vor-wissenschaftliche, intergenerative Erziehung setzen. Worauf der Beitrag abzielt ist zu zeigen, „dass Erziehung und psychisches Heilen zwei gleichursprüngliche Dimensionen der intergenerativen Co-Existenz bilden und dass der genannte Film gerade diese These in einer gewissen Hinsicht zur Anschauung bringt.“ (164) Der psychisch heilsame Aspekt der Erziehung geht auf das den Generationen gemeinsame urtümliche Leben zurück, das die Sterblichkeit des Einzelnen mit der Unsterblichkeit unseres Geschlechts verknüpft: „Heilend kann die erzieherische Co-Existenz eben insofern sein, als es sich dabei um das Erleben handelt, welches die jeweilige intergenerative bzw. erzieherische Relationalität durch die Lebendigkeit untermauert, deren Lebensbejahung der Permanenz des urtümlichen Lebens entspringt.“ (170)

Wie Shchyttsova festhält, ist Finks anthropologische Auffassung des Menschen als weltoffen – wobei die Welt als „ein Geschehen, welches nie in seiner Totalität fassbar wie auch nie auf den Bereich des Erscheinenden reduzierbar ist“ (165) – auch für seine Auffassungen zur Erziehung entscheidend: „Die klassische dualistische Gegenüberstellung von Geist und Materie“ wird in der „kosmologischen Dialektik“ so umgedacht, dass die Natur nicht im Widerspruch zur Freiheit steht, sondern mit ihr zusammen die Wirklichkeit der menschlichen Existenz ausmacht. (166) Das allumfassende Leben, auf das der Mensch in seiner Leiblichkeit als tieferen Lebensgrund angewiesen ist, ist mit der Existenz, mit der Idee der individuellen Freiheit dialektisch verwoben und macht den Menschen so als „Mittler“ aus. (166 f.) Mit dem „Kreis des Mitleids und der Neugier“, in den die Generationen in der Interaktion zentripetal hineinfinden, bietet Shchyttsova ein plastisch anschauliches Modell einer Erziehung wieder, bei der es um „die Intensivierung der Angewiesenheit auf die Permanenz des Lebens“ gehen kann, so dass der „geheilte Lebenszustand“ vordergründig wird (179).

Als einziger auf Englisch verfasster Beitrag, unterbricht Krystof Kasprzaks „Absolute Incomprehension as Meontic Singularization in Eugen Fink’s Critique of Hermeneutics“ (S. 180–200) den sprachlichen Duktus des Bandes, was allerdings auch ein Aufmerken bewirken kann, sprachlich Routiniertes neu zu bedenken. Kasprzak knüpft sich Finks Kritik der Hermeneutik vor, um zu zeigen, wie diese Kritik zur Entwicklung seiner meontischen Philosophie beiträgt. Im Mittelpunkt steht die Bedeutung des Nichtverstehens, das Fink als Anfang des Denkens und der philosophischen Erfahrung sieht. Finks Auffassung der Erfahrung wird in Gegenüberstellung mit jener Hans-Georg Gadamers als Auslegung des hegelschen Ansatzes dargelegt. (vgl. 180) Das absolute Nichtverstehen wird schließlich in Nähe zu Rainer Schürmann’s Begriff der „kommenden Vereinzelung“ gebracht um die Frage nach der meontischen Philosophie auf die meontische Natur der Vereinzelung zurückzuführen (ebd.), die die Existenz aus dem geschlossenen Kreis des Allgemeinen und Individuellen hinausführt (199).

Den Band rundet Karel Novotnýs Beitrag „Die Welt und das Ereignis des Erscheinens: Bemerkungen zu einem zeitgenössischen kosmologischen Ansatz“ (S. 201–222) ab und eröffnet zugleich exemplarisch den Blick auf weitere zeitgenössische kosmologische Ansätze, indem es den Ansatz Renaud Barbaras im Vergleich zu jenem Finks anführt. „Der Beitrag weist auf Parallelen und Unterschiede beider Denkansätze hin und kommt zu einem Schluss, der die Rolle der Leib-Körperlichkeit betont: Die Dynamik der Manifestation erwächst trotz der Übermacht der Welt aus einem Bezug des endlichen Lebens zur Welt und ist von der Erde getragen, die in diese Dynamik selber weder eingeht noch in ihr aufgeht.“ (201, vgl. 221)

Den Ausgang nimmt dieser Beitrag in einem Unterschied zwischen Barbaras und Fink: „Während für Fink das »Ereignis« auf die Seite der Welt selbst gehört, ist es für Barbaras eine Bezeichnung dafür, was zwar der Welt zuteil wird, ihr selbst aber nicht eigen ist und in diesem Sinne sozusagen als etwas ihr Fremdes geschieht. Fremd ist es deshalb, weil es nicht aus der Welt kommt.“ (203) Novotný ist um eine Art Vermittlung der beiden Positionen bemüht: „Das Erscheinen als ein Ereignis zu fassen, welches die Subjektivität der Welt eröffnet, die durch den Weltbezug zugleich sich selbst begegnet.“ (203) Dabei wird das Ereignis weder, wie bei Fink, der Welt zugeschrieben, noch, wie bei Barbaras, dem Moment der Subjektivität (als Nichts der Subjektivität). Das „Ereignis“ soll dafür stehen „dass es etwas nicht nur gibt, sondern dass es eben erscheint.“ (203) Konsequenterweise bedeutet dies, dass sich dem Erscheinen nicht nur die Subjektivität sondern auch die Welt entzieht, wobei die Erde als Tragende hervortritt. „Die Erde bleibt diesseits der erhellten Manifestation, und das Ereignis dieser Auflichtung – das Erscheinen als solches, das bereits die Subjektivität impliziert, auch wenn es vom Schenken und Nehmen durch die Erde her nicht erklärt werden kann – verweist doch auf die Erde, weil die implizierte Subjektivität nicht anders als leiblich-irdisch lebt.“ (221)

Aaron Ben-Ze’ev: The Arc of Love

The Arc of Love: How Our Romantic Lives Change over Time Book Cover The Arc of Love: How Our Romantic Lives Change over Time
Aaron Ben-Ze’ev
University of Chicago Press
2019
Cloth $40.00
288

Reviewed by: Cecilea Mun (Arizona State University)

In The Arc of Love, Aaron Ben-Ze’ev (2019) aims to convince us of the possibility of enduring romantic love (5), what he also often refers to as long-term, profound love (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 14). Such love is not to be simply equated with enduring love or romantic love, which he also respectively refers to as long-term romantic relationships and profound love, and these two kinds of love can come apart (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 11, 66). Ben-Ze’ev fulfills his aim throughout his book by providing accounts of enduring romantic love which may make those who have yet to experience such love optimistic about its possibility, and those who are in the midst of actualizing such a love more secure in the path they chose. It is also a book that I would highly recommend to those who are still wondering exactly what romantic love is in general regardless of its endurance and how they might achieve it. So, I will not contest Ben-Ze’ev’s claim that enduring romantic love is possible. My concern in this review is with specifying what Ben-Ze’ev believes to be the differentia and the genus of enduring romantic love, along with his claim that love is not a property of nor resides in the connection between a lover and their beloved.

More specifically, I will be concerned with precisifying Ben-Ze’ev’s account of the ontological nature and structure of enduring romantic love, especially in terms of what differentiates enduring romantic love from what Ben-Ze’ev might refer to as acute romantic love and extended romantic love. In other words, I will be concerned with what Ben-Ze’ev regards to be the differentia of enduring romantic love compared to the kind of emotion that a romantic lover might have while observing that way their beloved protected their mother from the rain, which made them fall in love, or during that time when they were jealous of their beloved’s colleague for the time they had together (possible occasions of acute romantic love), and the kind of love that a romantic lover might have while on a date with their beloved or perhaps while recalling their date at the end of the evening, after saying good-bye (possible occasions of extended romantic love). I will also be concerned with what it is about these kinds of experiences, if anything at all, that unify them under the genus of enduring romantic love (i.e., romantic love), and I will argue that in light of my discussion, Ben-Ze’ev ought to reconsider his argument against the dialogue model of love (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 48). My conclusion, however, does not also deny that love is a property of lovers. That love is a property of or resides in the connection between a lover and their beloved can instead entail that love is also a property of lovers as well as their beloved.

I begin with my account of Ben-Ze’ev’s notions of acute, extended, and enduring emotions, focusing on explicating their ontological structure and identifying their differentia. I then discuss the two models of romantic love that Ben-Ze’ev introduces—the care model and the dialogue model—highlighting his argument against the claim that “love is a property of, and in some formulations resides in, the connection between the two lovers” (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 48). Although this claim can be understood in at least one of two ways—as a claim about the essence of the genus romantic love or the essence of the overarching genus, love—I will concentrate on the implication of Ben-Ze’ev’s argument against this claim for his conception of the genus romantic love. I will argue that Ben-Ze’ev’s rejection of the claim that love can be a property of or reside in the connection between two lovers jeopardizes his book’s primary aim: to convince us of the possibility of enduring romantic love. Ben-Ze’ev should, therefore, reconsider his claim that romantic love is not a property of or resides in the connection between two lovers, and accept that it is at least possible.

Before I begin, however, it is important to note two things. First, Ben-Ze’ev employs a prototype framework for conceptualizing experiences of enduring romantic love, which was initially introduced in The Subtlety of Emotions (Ben-Ze’ev 2000, ch. 1). That he does so was also recently conveyed during his author-meets-critics session for the Society for Philosophy of Emotion, at the 2020 American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division conference. As he stated during the session:

I am not in the business of defining, but rather in the more modest task of describing and explaining. I do not work with binary categories, which provide clear criteria constituting sufficient and necessary conditions for membership in the category. I rather use prototypical categories, where membership is determined by an item’s degree of similarity to the best example in the category: the greater the similarity, the higher the degree of membership. The prototypical category has neither clear-cut boundaries nor equal degrees of membership.[1]

Second, although I speak of the “differentia” and the “genus” of enduring romantic love, I do not necessarily apply these terms under the presupposition of a materialistically essentialist framework about emotional categories that reifies emotions as distinct entities in-themselves, independent of the emotional beings that are the subjects of such experiences (read Mun 2016; also read Rorty 1985 and Russell 2009). I am also not presupposing a framework that requires one to give necessary and sufficient conditions for identifying either the differentia or the genus of enduring romantic love. I use these terms to simply speak of the feature or features, if any, that give a specified meaning to the use of the relevant words, such as “enduring romantic love.” I admit that such features, along with the genus of enduring romantic love may be prototypical or fuzzy, but such conceptualizations do not defy giving a definition of some kind, even though such a definition can be regarded to capture only the most typical experiences of the kind in question. So, for prototypical approaches, the concern in this review is about identifying the feature(s) that identify “the best example in the category,” as Ben-Ze’ev put it, of enduring romantic love and its greater genus romantic love.

I. ACUTE, EXTENDED, AND ENDURING EMOTIONS

According to Ben-Ze’ev, “intentionality and feeling are two basic mental dimensions,” and both can be said to describe emotions and moods as types of affective attitudes (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 21). The intentionality of an emotion is therefore distinguished from an emotion’s feeling, although both are regarded to be “mental.” “Intentionality” refers to the aboutness of an emotion, i.e., that emotions are about something (a subject-object relation), and “feeling” refers to what I take to be felt physiological experiences along with what Ben-Ze’ev refers to as “a certain (implicit or explicit) evaluative stance (or concern)” (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 21). This is all also consistent with the view Ben-Ze’ev put forward in Subtlety of Emotions ([2000] 2001). More recently, Ben-Ze’ev, also noted that feelings have a “primitive-level” of intentionality while also denying that they entailed any kind of evaluation. As Ben-Ze’ev stated:

The feeling component. I agree with Mun that one may consider feelings as having a primitive-level intentionality. Since I tend to steer clear of absolute borderlines, the issue is of lesser significance to my view. However, I would certainly not identify feeling with evaluation. [2]

Also according to Ben-Ze’ev, emotions differ from moods to the extent that moods may lack two additional components to their intentionality: a motivational component of a readiness to action and a cognitive component of being about practical implications (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 21). Thus, according to Ben-Ze’ev’s book, in contrast with moods, emotions necessarily involve three major intentional components: cognition, evaluation, and motivation (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 23).

At this point, I want to first call attention to one particular concern I had regarding the way Ben-Ze’ev conceived the nature or structure of emotions in general. In short, given the primitive-level of intentionality that feelings have, according to Ben-Ze’ev, it was a bit unclear from The Arc of Love exactly how he conceived the relationship between feelings and the other three major intentional components of cognition, evaluation, and motivation, which he identified therein. In Subtlety of Emotions, however, Ben-Ze’ev noted that emotions can be divided into four basic components: cognition, evaluation, motivation, and feeling (Ben-Ze’ev [2000] 2001, 49). Cognition, evaluation, and motivation all belong to what Ben-Ze’ev refers to as the intentional dimension of emotions and feelings constitute their own dimensions (the feeling dimension). Both dimensions are also central to an experience of emotion (Ben-Ze’ev [2000] 2001, 50). For, Ben-Ze’ev conceived the intentionality and the feeling dimensions as two aspects of the same mental state. As Ben-Ze’ev noted:

Intentionality and feeling are not two separate mental entities but rather distinct dimensions of a mental state. The typical relation between these dimensions is not that of causality—which prevails between separate entities—but that of accompanying or complementing each other. Since the two dimensions are distinct aspects of the same state, it is conceptually confusing to [speak] about a causal relation between them within this particular state. (Ben-Ze’ev [2000] 2001, 51)

Yet Ben-Ze’ev conceptually distinguishes the feeling dimension apart from the intentional dimension because he does not take feelings to have the adequate kind of intentionality to regard them as components of the intentional dimension. For Ben-Ze’ev the intentional dimension is constituted by mental states that necessarily have some reference to an object and, according to Ben-Ze’ev, feelings lack this kind of intentionality Ben-Ze’ev [2000] 2001, 50).

The intentional dimension, according to Ben-Ze’ev, also involves the emotional complexities of emotional diversity, emotional ambivalence, and behavioral emotional complexity, which respectively correspond to the cognitive, evaluative, and motivational components of emotional experiences (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 23). These three components can also be cashed out in more detail in terms of an emotion’s typical cause by some positive or negative change in the subject’s personal situation; typical focus on the subject’s personal concerns; typical objects of which are other persons; typical comparative meaning, which involves a deliberative emotional weighting of possibilities; and as taking place in affective time, which includes the factors of location, duration, pace, frequency, and meaningful direction (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 20).

These features—respectively, of cause, focus of concern, emotional object, emotional meaning, and affective time—can also help us identify what Ben-Ze’ev refers to as the “major emotional characteristics” of acute emotions: instability, intensity, partiality, and brevity (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 18). The instability of acute emotions differentiate them from extended and enduring emotions in the sense that it indicates the introduction or experience of a novel context, which also characterizes the intensity, partiality, and brevity of acute emotional experiences: they are respectively intense, both cognitively and evaluatively focused on a narrow target, and brief (i.e., almost instantaneous) (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 19). Yet the most notable ontological characteristic of acute emotions is that they are singular or particular in occurrence, and they are the experiences on which both extended and enduring emotions are constructed. They are the atoms of emotional experiences.

Extended emotions are experiences constituted by repetitive experiences of acute emotions that are bounded together by the feeling that they “belong to the same emotion” (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 20). Note here the unifying role that Ben-Ze’ev gives to such a feeling. This also suggests that, in extended emotions, the acute emotions which constitute them share at least the same aspects of affective time (e.g., location, duration, pace, frequency, and meaningful direction). Both acute and extended emotional experiences are, therefore, synchronic, and what significantly differentiates the two is that the first is always occurrent and the second is always that which is constituted by a set of acute emotions that are felt to belong to the same emotion.

In contrast, enduring emotions are constituted by both acute and extended emotions. They are also the most temporally extended of the three kinds of emotional experiences—possibly lasting for a lifetime (21). Enduring emotions are, therefore, diachronic experiences, and may be understood as being in some sense always under construction or as always being discovered by a lover (and it seems that Ben-Ze’ev would agree with both[3]). It is also in this construction or discovery that one can find the dispositional affectivity of “having an inherent (built-in) potential to develop” (22), which distinguishes enduring romantic love from both acute and extended romantic love. As Ben-Ze’ev notes, “This specific sense of ‘dispositional’ is key for our inquiry into the possibility of long-term profound love” (22).

THE CARING AND DIALOGUE MODELS OF LOVE

Ben-Ze’ev also offers a discussion of what he takes to be the two most relevant models of romantic love for the topic of enduring romantic love: the care model and the dialogue model of romantic love (45). The care model, according to Ben-Ze’ev, takes love to be centrally about a lover’s concern for their beloved’s well-being. It represents an essentially sacrificial kind of love, especially in its extreme versions (46), which is why it is often more appropriate for loving relationships between unequal partners (45); and although it is necessary for long-term profound love, it is not sufficient for such love (46). This is because, for Ben-Ze’ev, long-term profound love requires a reciprocal concern for the flourishing of the other between the lover and the beloved. Such reciprocity can be found in what Ben-Ze’ev refers to as the dialogue model of love, in which a mutual respect for the other’s autonomy also involves a joint commitment toward shared emotional experiences and activities that lead to the personal growth of both lovers (46-47).

This kind of appreciation for the beloved’s autonomy leads to an emotional complexity in experiences of profound romantic love, including long-term profound love, that involves what Ben-Ze’ev refers to as a kind of holistic diversity, which is the kind of diversity in which the “love is directed at the beloved as a diverse, whole person” (24). As Ben-Ze’ev observes:

Profound romantic love involves a comprehensive attitude that takes into account the rich and complex nature of the beloved. The lover’s comprehensive attitude is complex in the sense that it does not focus on simple narrow aspects of the beloved but considers the beloved as a whole, multifaceted being. Sexual desire or friendship, by contrast, are more limited. In romantic love, we see both the forest and the trees, whereas in sexual desire we often focus on one or several trees. (24)

Such emotional complexity can manifest what Ben-Ze’ev refers to as the emotional diversity—that of “experiencing many different specific emotional states (e.g., anger, shame, and sadness)” (23)—of our emotional experiences in general, as well as the emotional experiences of romantic love.

Given the kind of emotional complexity involved in enduring romantic love, Ben-Ze’ev takes the dialogue model to be more suitable for an explanation of this kind of love, although he also rejects the aspect of the dialogue model which identifies love as a property of or as residing in the connection between two lovers. Ben-Ze’ev’s primary reason for this rejection is his belief that doing so would also deny that various features, including feelings, can be a psychological property of lovers. As Ben-Ze’ev argues:

[F]eelings such as pain or enjoyment, which are essential to love, are not a property of the connection between two lovers. Love is a psychological property of a lover. Accordingly, we would expect that some features of love, such as feelings, evaluations, and action tendencies, are properties of the lover, whereas other features, such as compatibility, resonance, and harmony, are properties of the connection. (Ben-Ze’ev 2019, 48-49)

This criticism of the dialogue model of love can be understood in at least one of two ways: it can be understood as a claim about the essence of the genus of enduring romantic love (i.e., romantic love) or the essence of the overarching genus (i.e., love). Assuming that Ben-Ze’ev is speaking of romantic love, one central question is what Ben-Ze’ev believes to be the features that unify experiences of acute romantic love, extended romantic love, and enduring romantic love under the genus romantic love, albeit from a prototypical perspective. In section four, I will address this question by focusing on the implications of Ben-Ze’ev’s criticism against the dialogue model of love for his conception of romantic love. I will argue that one consequence of such a criticism is that it presents Ben-Ze’ev with a problem of unification. Before doing so, I will first address another central question, which will also involve identifying the differentia of acute romantic love and extended romantic love: the question of how the components of an emotional experience and the notion of dispositional affectivity, according to Ben-Ze’ev, can help us identify the differentia of enduring romantic love.

ACUTE, EXTENDED, AND ENDURING ROMANTIC LOVE

By “profound romantic love” in the first quote cited in the previous section, I take Ben-Ze’ev to be referring to the genus of acute, extended, and enduring romantic love, the essence of which involves the holistic diversity that leads a lover to take a comprehensive attitude toward their beloved. Earlier, I referred to this as the genus romantic love. Given Ben-Ze’ev’s account of acute, extended, and enduring emotions, and his account of both the care and the dialogue model as capturing at least some of the necessary conditions of romantic love, we can propose the following accounts as possible accounts of Ben-Ze’ev’s notion of acute romantic love in contrast with extended romantic love and enduring romantic love.

Experiences of acute romantic love are typically those brief, unstable, occurrent experiences of love in which the emotional experience is focused on the reciprocal well-being of the lover and the beloved, and the meaning of this experience gains its significance from a comparative contrast with the contents of experiences of non-romantic love. The object of the experience is the beloved taken as a whole, autonomous individual. Thus, the experience of what a lover might simply call love when they observed that way their beloved protected their mother from the rain might be something Ben-Ze’ev would refer to as an experience of acute romantic love. An experience of extended romantic love would be constituted by similar components compared to an experience of acute romantic love except that these experiences would be temporally extended and unified by the feeling that the discrete experiences belong to the same emotion of love. Furthermore, one might question whether or not it may also be possible, given the emotional complexity involved in romantic love, for an acute emotional experience of some other kind (e.g., jealousy) to be an experience of acute romantic love. Although one can have an experience of jealousy that is not an experience of acute romantic love—for example, I can be jealous of my siblings for the attention given to them by my mother—consider a case in which I am jealous of my partner’s colleague because they get to spend so much time with my partner. Would this experience of jealousy be an experience of acute romantic love?

If so, I would refer to such an emotional experience as a meta-emotional experience, which is an emotional experience that explains another emotional experience (cf. Katz, Gottman, and Hooven 1996, along with relevant associated articles; also cf. Miceli and Castelfranchi 2019). Although Ben-Ze’ev denies the need to speak of such meta-emotions,[4] I believe doing so is quite instructive. Given the notion of a meta-emotional experience introduced here, I suggest that we can contrast both the experiences of extended romantic love and enduring romantic love with experiences of acute romantic love by noting that there is no question that the first two can be meta-emotional experiences.

The question then is how experiences of extended romantic love can be differentiated from experiences of enduring romantic love? We can answer this question by focusing on the question of how an experience of extended romantic love and an experience of enduring romantic love can play their role as meta-emotional experiences since that which binds the various components of extended romantic love or enduring romantic love (e.g., the various acute emotions that at least partially constitute these experiences) would be essential to such an explanation. Given what is stated in The Arc of Love, Ben-Ze’ev might conclude that the feeling that a series of acute emotions belong to the same emotion is the unifying element of extended romantic love. So, for example, the feeling that the experiences of acute surprise, anger, and contempt may all be bound by the feeling that such experiences are all components of the same extended emotion of shame, and in this way the experience of shame explains the experience of acute surprise, anger, and contempt. Ben-Ze’ev, however, also noted that such a feeling is only “one unifying element,” and that “there should also be a similarity in the nature of the experience.”[5] Yet it is the nature of the experience that is in question.

With regard to enduring romantic love, given the unifying element of extended emotions that Ben-Ze’ev identifies in his book, I initially concluded that such a feeling would also be the binding element for Ben-Ze’ev’s conception of enduring romantic love. According to Ben-Ze’ev’s recent comments, however, this is not the case. As Ben-Ze’ev states:

What does unify the emotion of enduring romantic love? In addressing this question, one should not focus on one feature, but rather on various features relating to our personality and circumstances. Thus, I disagree with Mun’s claim that the unifying factor is the feeling of belonging to the same emotion. This is indeed a typical subjective characteristic of extended emotions involving constant repetitions. Enduring emotions, like long-term love, are more complex, and such a feeling is of little relevance; in any case, it cannot be the unifying factor of enduring romantic love.[6]

Here then, we have to some extent Ben-Ze’ev’s answer to what unifies the components of enduring romantic love into experiences of enduring romantic love in contrast with experiences of extended romantic love: “various features relating to our personality and circumstances” for experiences of enduring romantic love and the feeling of belonging to the same emotion for experiences of extended romantic love. Yet there is a question as to whether or not what unifies experiences of enduring romantic love is enough for Ben-Ze’ev to fulfill his aim to convince us of the possibility of enduring romantic love. One might supplement this response with the notion of dispositional affectivity, which Ben-Ze’ev identifies as the key to our inquiry into enduring romantic love. For example, Ben-Ze’ev might suggest that such a dispositional affectivity lies in at least some feature of our personality, and given certain circumstances, the disposition to have experiences of enduring romantic love are actualized. Yet this supplement still leaves one wanting.

The main problem with this response is that it does not consider the implications of the compositional relations between experiences of acute, extended, and enduring romantic love, which unfold within a temporal sequence. Note that various experiences of acute emotions (e.g., jealousy, followed by rage, followed by shame, or joy, followed by appreciation, followed by admiration), each of which might also be regard by some as an experience of acute romantic love, may all be unified as an experience of extended romantic love, even in prototypical cases. They can, therefore, be identified as components of an experience of extended romantic love. Furthermore, these same components, as well as the experience of extended romantic love under which they are unified in virtue of a feeling, can also be components of an experience of enduring romantic love. Given this, Ben-Ze’ev may suggest that a certain kind of dispositional affectivity is what unites all the components of an experience of enduring romantic love, but if that is the case, then the same dispositional affectivity must also be involved in each experience of acute romantic love as well as the experience of extended romantic love even if such components never in fact become components of an experience of enduring romantic love.

In some sense, it is always in hindsight that one experiences their romantic love as an experience of enduring romantic love, and some may never have such an experience although they may have experiences of its components. These components must, therefore, be rooted in the same dispositional affectivity as that of the experience of enduring romantic love if such an affectivity is to unify these components in such a way so as to allow for the possibility, and actuality in hindsight, of enduring romantic love. Thus, neither the dispositional affectivity nor the personality and circumstances to which Ben-Ze’ev appeals can help him unify the components of enduring romantic love so as to differentiate such experiences from experiences of extended romantic love or acute romantic love. It may, however, help Ben-Ze’ev unify these experiences under the genus romantic love, and I will turn to this possibility in the final section of this review. Ben-Ze’ev can and does, however, differentiate experiences of acute, extended, and enduring romantic love in accordance with their temporal characteristic: respectively, occurrent, extended, and potentially lasting for a lifetime.

THE GENUS ROMANTIC LOVE

With the foregoing arguments in mind, Ben-Ze’ev’s claim that romantic love is not a property of or resides in the connection between lovers may also challenge his aim to convince us of the possibility of enduring romantic love by challenging the possibility of its genus: romantic love. For, assuming that one’s personality and circumstances are what unify the components of enduring romantic love, especially in virtue of a certain kind of dispositional affectivity as suggested in the previous section, it may not be possible to unify acute, extended, and enduring romantic love under the genus of romantic love without presupposing that love can also reside in the relation (i.e., the connection) that exists between the lover and the beloved. Ben-Ze’ev, himself, notes that, “At the heart of romantic love lies the connection between the lovers” (82). Furthermore, he notes that, “As the tie between two lovers lies at the heart of romantic love, how they interact with each other is one of the building blocks of such love” (58). Ben-Ze’ev, therefore, imagines the connection involved in romantic love as a connection that informs the interaction between two lovers, and it is only through this connection that the diversity of emotional experiences that are possible in experiences of romantic love can be identified as experiences of romantic love. Yet he denies that the love in experiences of romantic love can lie in the connection between the lover and the beloved. As he recently reiterated:

The ontological status of love. After describing the two models, I briefly mention in the book the ontological issue of love’s location. There, I suggest that while I accept the central tenet of the dialogue approach that mutual shared interactions are essential for enduring profound love, I reject its ontological assumption that love resides in these shared interactions, which are located between the lovers.

The rival view, which is compatible with the care model and which assumes that love is a property of the lover, seems to be intuitively true, as love is similar in this regard to other personal attitudes. We attribute to the lover not merely emotions, but other attitudes, such as moods, character traits, and political attitudes. Thus, it is implausible to argue that the love for a child, or the love for a country, is located somewhere between the agent and the child or the country.[7]

Ben-Ze’ev cites Martin Buber and Angela Krebs as proponents of the dialogue model of love, yet what he seems to find problematic about the dialogical model of love—that love is located somewhere between the lover and the beloved—can be attributed to Martin Buber (Krebs 2014, 7). The problem with Ben-Ze’ev’s criticism is that it is based on an uncharitable ontological interpretation of Buber’s claim that “love is between I and Thou” (Buber [1923] 1937, 14-15). In I and Thou, Buber ([1923] 1937) observes that the world of human beings is twofold: there is the world of relations, which is implied by the use of the primary word I-Thou and the other is the world of objectification implied by the use of the primary word I-It (Buber [1923] 1937, 3). So, in suggesting that love is between the I and the Thou, Buber is suggesting that love involves the lover relating to the beloved as a subject and denies any objectification of the beloved by the lover. The “between” is the relation in the relating, which does not involve an experience of the beloved but rather taking one’s stand in relation to the beloved ([1923] 1937, 3-6).

In consideration of Ben-Ze’ev’s account, the relation in which romantic love lies can be understood as that which is captured by the dispositional affectivity, which Ben-Ze’ev regarded to be the key to his inquiry into enduring romantic love, or the features of a lover’s personality and circumstances that Ben-Ze’ev takes as the unifying element of enduring romantic love. For the kinds of relations that are relevant in the philosophy of emotion, such as the relations of emotional intentionality, are products of psychological dispositions or features of one’s personality which relate one to their external circumstances.

I also argued in the previous section that such a dispositional affectivity, or features of a lover’s personality and circumstances, would be better suited to make sense of how the categories of acute, extended, and enduring romantic love can be unified under the genus romantic love. Granting this, to say that romantic love is “located” in the relation between the lover and the beloved would be to say that this kind of love is an aspect of a lover relating to their beloved as a subject, and this kind of relating can be taken to be a product of a kind of dispositional affectivity or a feature of the lover’s personality. Ben-Ze’ev would speak of such relating as a lover relating to their beloved as a “diverse, whole person” (24), which Ben-Ze’ev believes to be a necessary condition for romantic love.

In conclusion, by dispensing with Buber’s claim that love is a relation between the lover and the beloved, Ben-Ze’ev can be understood as discarding what he could take as the key to unifying his categories of acute, extended, and enduring romantic love under the genus romantic love or what he takes to be a necessary condition of romantic love. Ben-Ze’ev would, therefore, also be foregoing the possibility of fulfilling his aim to convince us of the possibility of enduring romantic love by rejecting that which could make his category of romantic love a unified and therefore a possible category. Accordingly, I recommend that Ben-Ze’ev ought to reconsider his claim and accept that it is at least possible for romantic love to also lie in or reside in the connection between a lover and their beloved.[8]

References

Ben-Ze’ev, Aaron. The Subtlety of Emotions. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, (2000) 2001.

______. The Arc of Love. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2019.

Buber, Martin. I and Thou. Translated by Ronald George Smith. Edinburgh and London, UK: Morrison and Gibb, (1923) 1937.

Krebs, Angelika. “Between I and Thou—On the Dialogical Nature of Love.” In Love and Its Objects, edited by C. Maurer, T. Milligan, and K. Pacovská, 7-24. London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Miceli, Maria, and Cristiano Castelfranchi. “Meta-Emotions and the Complexity of Human Emotional Experience.” New Ideas in Psychology 55 (2019): 42-49. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.newideapsych.2019.05.001

Mun, Cecilea. “The Rationalities of Emotion.” Phenomenology and Mind 11 (2016): 48-57. DOI: 10.13128/Phe_Mi-20105.

Rorty, Amélie O. “Varieties of Rationality, Varieties of Emotion,” Social Science Information 24, no. 2 (1985): 343-353. https://doi-org.sheffield.idm.oclc.org/10.1177/053901885024002010.

Russell, James A. “Emotion, Core Affect, and Psychological Construction.” Cognition and Emotion 23, no. 7 (2009): 1259-1283. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699930902809375.

Aknowledgement: I’d like to thank Aaron Ben-Ze’ev for his comments in response to my review. I have, and I am sure the readers of this review will also greatly benefit from them. Thank you!


[1] Aaron Ben-Ze’ev, “Author’s Response” (Presentation, Author Meets Critics: Aaron Ben-Ze’ev, The Arc of Love, Society for Philosophy of Emotion Affiliated Group Session, American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division Conference, Philadelphia, PA, January 2020). https://sites.google.com/site/societyforphilosophyofemotion/spe-events.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Aaron Ben-Ze’ev, emailed comments, January 26, 2020.

[6] Ben-Ze’ev, “Author’s Response.”

[7] Ibid.

[8] And, as Ben-Ze’ev noted in his correspondence with me on January 26, 2020, “If ‘in between’ is just an agent’s attitude toward the beloved, I have no problem with this, except for saying that it is extremely odd to use this expression in this context.”

Dietrich von Hildebrand: Morality and Situation Ethics

Morality and Situation Ethics Book Cover Morality and Situation Ethics
Dietrich von Hildebrand. With a new foreword by John Finnis
Hildebrand Project
2019
Paperback $ 16.99
220

Reviewed by: Norman Lillegard (The University of Tennessee at Martin)

This is an inquiry into a specifically Christian ethics, one that at first sight looks multiply parochial. It is an extended argument for quite traditional Roman Catholic positions on moral matters.  Moreover, it instances a more or less Augustinian approach to ethics and may thus represent a (large) minority position even within the Roman Catholic community, which has been dominated philosophically by Aquinas. And, its original polemical targets were particularly prominent a half century ago, and arguably reflected a zeitgeist that has withered on its own.  Nonetheless it still has some bearings on persisting issues germane to any Christian ethic, protestant or Catholic, as well as on some more or less secular ethical views, and applications to current culture are readily available.

The principal aim is to lay out some of those features of a Christian ethic that distinguish it from “situation ethics.” Hildebrand insists that Christian ethics requires moral commands or general moral principles that are non-negotiable, that must be observed in every case without any modification in the light of possible consequences, or in light of the peculiarities of a situation, or of the person in the situation, or some combination of these.  The prominence of “absolutism” or anti-consequentialism in specifically traditional Roman Catholic teaching is brought out in John Finnis’ introduction to this edition, where citations from papal encyclicals, most notably Veritatis Splendor, with its stress on intrinsically evil acts, figure prominently.  Moreover, this edition includes as an appendix an address by Pope Pius XII on “moral law and the new morality” dating from 1952. The notions of law and of intrinsic wrongness thus figure prominently throughout, but there is no attempt to argue for the superiority of a distinctly deontological ethics over more teleological approaches to ethics and natural law.  In fact there is no sharp distinction drawn in these terms; nonetheless the principal concern is with the idea that certain actions (or less commonly omissions) are always and everywhere impermissible. Although clearly wedded to Roman Catholic traditions and emphases, the analysis is deployed against a trend, againstthe creeping influence of situation ethics both in the culture at large and also among some Roman Catholic scholars and Catholic institutions.

That trend may have been particularly noticeable in the latter half of the last century, and it appeared to some as a capitulation to a more general spirit or trend, particularly prominent in the late 50’s and ‘60s, which opposed what was perceived to be a kind of legalism, a morally rigid stress on the letter of the law (the rule, the command, the principle), in favor of the idea that one should simply love or do what love, or some similarly strong pro attitude, required.    One important source of situation ethics was the wildly popular Situation Ethics: The New Morality (1956) by the protestant theologian Joseph Fletcher.  Many of that book’s readers, both devotees and critics, shared the sense that it summed up the antinomian sensibilities of the 60’s counterculture. Nonetheless it is not difficult to find applications of Hildebrand’s critique to the less optimistic and more ironical culture of today.

The notion of “situation ethics” is vague and some versions arguably contain inconsistent elements. Versions of relativism, non-cognitivism, and emotivism reside uneasily, not always with explicit acknowledgement, with act and rule utilitarianism in Fletcher’s work, to take one example. But clearly utilitarianism is cognitivist and rules out cultural or individual relativism.

However, Hildebrand is less interested in a direct analysis and critique of some version of situation ethics, than in an analysis of what it rules out, and why. There are I think no strawmen in his argument.  He attempts to show how some of the motivations of the situation ethicist deserve careful attention and respect.  In fact, he holds that by doing justice to some of the “valuable contributions” (p. 9) of situation ethics a clearer elaboration of Christian ethics becomes possible. Here the details are of general interest; Catholics, protestants, secularists, whether philosophers, theologians, or even novelists (sic!) may find in his detailed discussion of pharisaism,  self-righteous zealotry, self-righteous mediocrity, the self-righteous timorous person,  and the tragic sinner, significant distinctions and contrasts that are often mischaracterized or overlooked.

Situation ethics is sometimes motivated by an aversion to pharisaism, which may be construed as a thoughtless application of rules or principles to every morally fraught situation. But Hildebrand argues that the most essential ingredient in pharisaism is not a spiritless devotion to the letter of the law, but rather pride, the urge to judge others, the complete rejection of charity or mercy, and the use of moral principles as a means to self-glorification. The Pharisee is thus opposed to the spirit of the law, the spirit of repentance and self-abasement. The true pharisee (obviously an ideal type in Hildebrand’s taxonomy) is thus opposed to God as God, as infinitely above his creatures.   It is, arguably, those features of pharisaism, rather than reliance on rules or principles per se, that accounts for the negative connotations of “pharisee” which the situation ethicist responds to.

The pharisaism of “the pharisee” can be usefully contrasted with the mitigated pharisaism of the self-righteous zealot or the self-righteous mediocre individual. The self-righteous zealot does not oppose the spirit of the law, but she is primarily concerned with the violations of other persons.  She is a moralizer who focuses on moral wrong, the violation of a law, principle or code, rather than on the complexities of the situations within which all people choose, and regularly fail, when measured only by that law.  The law is a blunt instrument in her undiscerning hands, and its being so serves her purpose, since use of the law as a tool in sensitive self-evaluation would disable her focus on the violations of others.  Hildebrand mentions the main character in Mauriac’s Woman of the Pharisees as an instance of this type.  She tends to mix social improprieties with moral failings; moral rules are just further specifications of “what is commonly done.”  Thus she may even be suspicious of saints, since they seem to stand outside common norms. To the extent that the situation ethicist detects and rejects this banality and bluntness, he must get positive credit.

The self-righteous mediocre person, on the other hand, lacks the perverse focus on morality instanced by the self-righteous zealot. His principle concern is that he be morally secure, and his attempts to abide by the letter of the law enable the desired sense of security.  Once secure, he can get along with the ordinary business of life, business, politics, family etc. in a favorable state of mind. He is not overly focused on others or heedless of his own failings, but his attempts at external conformity suffice for him. He does not attempt to edit away any of the demands of the letter of law, but he does not heed its penitential function.  The important thing is to be correct, and he is, like the zealot or the true pharisee, intolerant of the failures of others with respect to the letter, and also tends, like the zealot, to mix moral with merely social correctness.

Both of these types of self-righteousness can be contrasted with what we find in a morally timorous man.  He uses conformity to the letter of the law to avoid risk taking. His primary concern is with safety. He does not have the pride of the Pharisee, or the hardness of the zealot or the mediocre man in judging others.  But the letter of the law shields him against any deep and sometimes risky investment in morally difficult circumstances.  Typical proponents of situation ethics are particularly likely to contrast this feature of the timorous man with the kind of risk taking and deep responsibility of the truly moral man who on their view must dare to act for the best without guidance or guarantee.

The situation ethicist contrasts the “tragic sinner” with all of the types mentioned so far; although the tragic sinner does not deny the relevance or importance of principles or laws, she does not advert to them to establish moral superiority, or retreat to them to avoid risk and conflict.  In fact she holds them in such high regard that a violation causes her great pain.  But we can imagine a situation in which she can only achieve a great life good (for example the fulfillment of a great love) by violating a moral requirement. Her capacity for love, her earnestness in the face of her situation and the impossibility of achieving a life of deep fulfillment and even nobility without the violation makes her a “tragic” figure. It is easy to sympathize with the claim that she is morally superior to the self-righteous or the timid, and to infer that “rule worship” would constitute a personal failure in her situation.

It is even possible to have a kind of moral admiration for those who feel no pressure from rules or moral laws, and thus are anything but tragic, but who act spontaneously from motives of kindness, generosity, or fellow feeling.  Tom Jones in Fielding’s novel may rightly get more admiration than the grim and judgmental legalists who surround him at church.

Finally, the situation ethicist may go so far as to accord some positive value to sin itself. There is a kind of sinning that expresses spiritual energy, a concerted rejection of self-righteousness, and may lead to various goods.  On the one hand it may lead to a deeper recognition of unworthiness, of the sort unknown to the “correct” but self-righteous person.  Or it may seem to function as a felix culpa, understood as calling forth of greater “soul benefits” than would otherwise have been possible. It is in relation to these ideas about the tragic sinner and the “happy fault” that Hildebrand’s discussion of situation ethics intersects with his account of “sin mysticism.” The two are logically distinct, but Hildebrand notes their confluence in the thinking of many, due to a shared detestadon of pharisaism in all its modalities and of spiritual sloth or merely conventional observance of moral principles, which figure prominently in both.

The foregoing summary does not, of course, do more than touch upon a few of the features of the detailed moral phenomenology explored by Hildebrand in his effort to credit the “valuable contributions” of situation ethics. It is easier to say briefly how situation ethics nonetheless fails to escape justified criticism from the absolutist.  The principal criticism is simple; none of the praiseworthy elements in human moral struggle highlighted by the situation ethicist depend for their existence on the exclusion from full ethical life and deliberation of fundamental laws, principles, divine commands or any other deontological elements. This point is quite clear; none of the positive traits of the tragic sinner (to take the case most favorable to the situation ethicist’s position), her passion and multiform depth of character, would necessarily be absent from a person who flatly refuses to contravene a moral rule. Arguably such a person exhibits even greater depth of character. The ability to sacrifice a kind of self-fulfillment in obedience to moral law can bespeak a remarkable personal development and energy that logically requires the hardness of the rule.  Variations in this basic critique are spread throughout the first nine chapters; though the basic critique here is worth emphasizing, and varies somewhat in sundry applications, this book ends up being somewhat repetitious .

There are other criticisms of situation ethics worth mentioning here. Consider Hildebrand’s attack on the relativism of situation ethics. Situation ethics is relativistic since it denies that there are any “values” that govern more than one case at a time. It thus endorses the most extreme form of relativism, individual relativism. A consistent statement of this view is very difficult to formulate, as the writings of Montaigne attest. It implies the claims that ideas of moral progress and moral advice are empty, and that there can be no moral exemplars or moral education (142). These claims arguably entail some version of non-cognitivism, but the situation ethicist does not endorse non-cognitivism.  He may insist that one can know some such general principle as “always follow conscience” but this principle is empty, or in Hildebrand’s terms, merely “formal.”

The individual relativism of situation ethics also requires a denial of common experiences of the differences between cruelty and kindness, generosity and selfish hoarding and the like, which Hildebrand regards as pre-theoretical “givens” (cf. Charles Taylor’s notion of “thick description”). In fact, Hildebrand argues that despite the situation ethicist’s emphasis on the contingent multiplicity of ethically charged “situations” he in fact fails to appreciate the full complexity of ethical life. He may miss the way judgement on evil is ideally, at least in the Christian vision, combined with an appreciation for the complexities of human lives and the universality of moral weakness. The Christian is well situated to assert, with St. Augustine, that “man’s heart [is] an abyss” (quoted on  118). The dominical admonitions to refrain from judging (in the sense of assuming a Godlike ability to see everything that is in a person) respect that abyss, and are combined with the sense that there, but for the grace of God, go I. Thus situation ethics may itself be subject to a kind of simple mindedness, when it is not simply confused.  These are not parochial criticisms.

Hildebrand also employs a tu quoque that has some force against the situation ethicist. A fundamental motive of situation ethics appears to be the desire to avoid judgementalism.  But the situation ethicist often seems eager to dismiss as legalists, slaves to convention, hypocrites, cowards, or insensitive to context those who take seriously rules or principles (understood as more than rules of thumb) or who believe that there are real distinctions among virtues and vices. Thus, he exhibits thoroughly judgmental attitudes towards much of humanity, perhaps especially those who take moral matters seriously.

In ch. 10 Hildebrand sets out what he considers to be three “basic errors” of situation ethics, at least in its more extreme forms.

First, the situation ethicist ignores or tends to discount the force of the moral “ought,” which he may view as a mistaken importation of juridical notions into ethics. He tends to contrast the person acting under obligation with the person (much to be preferred on his view) who spontaneously does what is right or good. This contrast, between duty and sentiment or inclination, so prominent in arguments between Kantians and “sentimentalists,” is irrelevant on Hildebrand’s view. He contends that each and every “moral value response” including those in which a person acts with passion and enthusiasm, is experienced as “something that should be;” each “contains an element of obedience” (128).

Hildebrand’s language here is (as is often the case in this book) vague or slippery. Is loving ones enemies “obedience” to a command or law, or not? At first sight Hildebrand seems to discount any contrast between the deontic and the axiological, as we might now put it. We might expect the result to be anti-supererogationism, a view characteristic of the protestant reformers.  Compare that to the contrast, found in Aquinas, between acting from principle or under a law, and acting for the good. Aquinas distinguished precepts, which are universal in their scope (like laws), from counsels, which are addressed to the few who have the capacity and inclination to pursue the life of perfection. For Thomas, the open-texture character of the counsels makes the morality of love superior to mere obedience to or conformity with divine law or commands. But Thomas does not draw a clear borderline between duty and supererogation. It is, for example, not clear whether “love thy enemy” is a precept or a supererogatory counsel. It is similarly unclear whether acts of charity (such as almsgiving) are duties or lie beyond duty, and so on for other cases. In view of the evident difficulty here we can appreciate Hildebrand’s apparent conflation of precepts and counsels and his treatment of the love commands (Mk 12: 29-31) as foundational for the entire “moral” (unexplained) domain. But there is a further related difficulty in this neighborhood.

The first edition of this book preceded the groundbreaking essay “Modern Moral Philosophy” (1958) by Gertrude Anscombe, who argued that the idea of a “moral ought” was a leftover from a time when divine law and divine commands were essential to ethics (metaethics).  She argued that since the belief in the divine has largely disappeared, the notion of a “moral” ought, which elicits so much philosophical puzzlement, should be abandoned. The notion of the moral, with its lingering hint of something demanded (and thus perhaps of “obedience”) is now meaningless. That being the case she advocates a return to a more or less Aristotelian virtue ethics for the purposes of contemporary debates on ethics. Hildebrand makes unexamined uses of “moral” quite central to his discussion; such expressions as “moral demand,” “moral value response,” “morally relevant values,” positively clutter this book. It is of course true that he has not abandoned theism. It does not follow that he is entitled to a continued use of these expressions, since he refuses to make a clear distinction between obedience to divine commands or divine law and any other “moral” (unexplained) responses (cf. the discussion on p. 132 of “general morally relevant” values vis a vis “general principles and laws” and “positive commandments of God.”) Some such distinction is back of Anscombe’s critique.  Otherwise put, he does not account for “moral obligation” by grounding it in a command issued by God or a standing obligation in natural law, but neither does he account for it some other way. Given his very heavy reliance on unexamined uses of “moral,” Hildebrand’s failure, in later (post 1958) editions, to respond in at least some minimal way to Anscombe’s critique will be considered a serious defect by many, including those who dissent from Anscombe’s view.

Secondly, situation ethics is criticized for eliminating the general (general principles or rules) from ethics.  The situation ethicist’s motivation for doing so resides in his belief, which is surely widely shared, that it is obvious that there are situations which not only permit, but require (“morally”), violation of such rules as “promises are to be kept” or “one must not swear falsely.” Hildebrand considers the case of swearing falsely to a tyrant, perhaps in order to save a life. Rather than insist (as Kant might have) that even in such a situation one must not swear falsely,  Hildebrand suggests that in some such situation the “oath” might lack “the intrinsic presuppositions” (131) for authenticity (and thus would not be a real oath) so that “swearing” falsely might be permissible or even required. Nowhere, however, does he say exactly what those presuppositions might be. This looks like mere evasion, and not just to a situation ethicist.

It of course does not follow that there can be no account of those “presuppositions.”  Nicholas Wolterstorff argues (in Justice: rights and wrongs, 2008) that commands, standing orders or laws obligate if and only if they are issued by agents who have standing and its associated potestas. A sergeant’s order obligates only where he has standing in relation to those he commands. He has no such standing in relation to those not in his platoon, so his production of the locutionary act of uttering an imperative sentence does not constitute the illocutionary act of issuing a command, when directed upon, say, the army’s commander-in-chief (or the writer of this review). There are very plausible arguments for the claim that tyrants lack standing to issue some commands, extract oaths, et al, so those commands are not real commands, those oaths not real oaths (Hildebrand: not “authentic”).  Hildebrand’s failure to respond to a quite compelling objection with little more than flat assertion will look serious to those seeking some philosophical illumination of the fundamental concepts in play here (obligation, command, duty, etc.).  Wolterstorff shows just one way to respond.

Hildebrand looks to be on firmer ground when he criticizes the situation ethicist’s use of “conscience” to do all the moral work.  The ability of conscience to warrant the very opposite of what morality requires is too well known (cf. Huck Finn’s misguided conscience, and “the Corsican Matteo Falconi” mentioned on p. 136). Conscience, Hildebrand rightly insists, only gets content by a struggle with precepts of some kind or other. But as already suggested, he does not give us an account of divine commands or natural law that shows how to sort the good precepts from the bad. Rather he alludes to features of a Christian life and Christian formation (the “imitation of Christ”, 142).  Practically that might suffice.  Philosophically it does not.

Thirdly, Hildebrand argues that the situation ethicist has a wrong conception of the relation of natural law to revealed law; he seems to assume that the latter invalidates the former. Hildebrand denies that natural law precepts can ever be invalidated.  But there are special cases where a revealed call supersedes natural law. St. Francis disobeyed his father.  His doing so was in response to a “call” which superseded, but did not invalidate, principles requiring filial obedience.  The specifically Christian sources of Hildebrand’s ethics become particularly evident here.  Once again someone who seeks philosophical illumination rather than Christian edification may feel shortchanged; are such natural law precepts as “parents are to be obeyed” binding always and everywhere, or not? If not, what considerations favor disobedience? Or are there cases of non-compliance that don’t amount to disobedience? Utilitarian or consequentalist reasonings would not be countenanced by Hildebrand. What then? Individual directives from the Holy Spirit? Is there some scale of higher and lower “moral values” that can in principle be accessed by any morally responsive person, or would specifically Christian formation be necessary to discern any exceptions or overriding factors?

In this book Hildebrand does not, so far as I can see, do what many Christian philosophers have tried to do, namely show in what ways an ethics devoid of theological reference must be defective, for example through failure to square with some widely shared ethical intuitions or beliefs. Hildebrand remarks that separation of morality from God causes it to lose the “breath of the eternal” (147). This idea from Kierkegaard challenges heart and mind when surrounded with the profound rhetoric and dialectic of his authorship. In Hildebrand it has only a faint appeal if any.

Thus the lingering parochialism of this work. Nevertheless, the detailed dissection of the moral simulacra that motivate some people to adopt situation ethics, or even attempt to abandon moral concerns altogether, will no doubt prove useful to many readers, and add to the substantial burden under which situation ethics already labors.

Dawne McCance: The Reproduction of Life Death: Derrida’s La vie la mort

The Reproduction of Life Death: Derrida’s La vie la mort Book Cover The Reproduction of Life Death: Derrida’s La vie la mort
Dawne McCance
Fordham University Press
2019
Paperback $28.00
224

Reviewed by: Dong Yang (The University of Georgia)

“This book is not a translation of La vie la mort,” McCance states in the introduction of The Reproduction of Life Death—a study of Jacques Derrida’s series of lectures conducted at the ENS from 1975 to 1976— “Nor is the book an exegesis of the seminar” (McCance, The Reproduction of Life Death, 5). Without offering further clarification, the author seems to have posed a curious riddle for the reader: after all, this work appears to be a translation of sorts, given the multiple inserted and interlaced quotations from various seminal works of Derrida; and it appears to be an exegesis of Derrida’s consistently deconstructive effort within and beyond the seminar to problematize the oppositional logic that renders the form of reproduction as a repetition of the identical and that lends theoretical and scientific force to the eugenic movements, exemplified chiefly in the thoughts of Aristotle, Hegel and François Jacob, by tracing the lines of thought of Nietzsche and Freud that consider the relational difference between life and death as interdependent and mutually inclusive. Already there is a curious aporia between the author’s aim and the organization of the text, a struggle that perhaps reflects McCance’s careful effort to keep her study of La vie la mort from becoming an ironic proof of what Derrida attempts to refute in the seminar: a programmed form of inheritance that strictly follows a predetermined nonliving model and consequently subjects difference to identity. Hers is a dynamic double gesture of both reworking the Derridian positions on biology and pedagogy and breaking the spell of “technoscientific and philosophical ‘modernity,’” a time of experimental science in which “invention has become less a ‘discovery’ than a ‘production’” (9). Following the author’s winding attempt to decode a work of Derrida’s that defies simplistic explication, therefore, surpasses the intellectual pleasure of the source text, especially when Derrida’s principle task—to critique the mode of biological or educational reproduction as repetition of an identical model—seems to echo what Gilles Deleuze formulated in Difference and Repetition years before Derrida’s seminar. In that work, Deleuze strives to overturn the ruling primacy of identity in the history of philosophy and thereby restore the significant function of difference in weaving together an image of thought prior to any static formation of concepts and repetitions. In such a spirit Deleuze writes, for instance, “When we define repetition as difference without concept, we are drawn to conclude that only extrinsic difference is involved in repetition; we consider, therefore, that any internal ‘novelty’ is sufficient to remove us from repetition proper and can be reconciled only with an approximative repetition, so called by analogy” (Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, 27). The invisible Deleuzian presence in La vie la mort thus weakens the joy of deconstruction one usually feels when reading a Derridian text, but at the same time, it separates McCance’s study from its source text and continues the inquiry into its nature and grounding, as the publication of this neither-translation-nor-exegesis precedes the real English translation of the seminar. McCance’s overall methodology of approaching Derrida’s seminar in a thematic rather than a linear way implies a relational inquiry, that is, instead of treating La vie la mort as a stand-alone text, McCance examines how Derrida’s central thesis fits into his oeuvre, and it is the rhizomic effort to trace the course of the envelopment of an idea that constitutes the primary significance of the book.

Before delving fully into the seminar, McCance begins the first chapter with a detour of Derrida’s suspicious attitude towards the telos of modern experimental science by revisiting his account of the change of meaning in the notion of invention in Psyche: Inventions of the Other. No longer is invention related to unearthing something new, rather, it has become a mode of production that follows a programmed and oppositional logic (9-10). McCance then helpfully underscores the key line of thought in Derridian philosophy, the concept of heritance, and then links it to a provocative work of biological science—La logique du vivant— by Nobel Laureate biologist François Jacob, provocative because of its declaration of “biology’s release from metaphysics and its coming of age as a science” (11). With McCance’s careful reminder of the unsatisfactory English title of the book, The Logic of Life, which obscures the departure of the study of life from its metaphysical tradition, we come to understand the inherent opposition in modern biology that aims to demystify living life via nonliving entities (that is, DNA), an effort that consequently establishes juxtapositions between life/living and death/nonliving. She captures what is at stake in Derrida’s account: the relation between life and death, be it connective or predicative. As already suggested in the title of the seminar La vie la mort, inserting an undecidable difference or “trait blanc” is thus necessary—Derrida speculates in the spirit of Freud and Nietzsche—for launching a qualitative transformation of the dynamism between life and death from oppositional or dialectical to supplementary. McCance writes “Derrida chooses the titles La vie la mort, he says, not in order to suggest either that life and death are not two, or that one is the other, but rather that the difference at stake between the two is not of a positional (dialectical or nondialectical) order” (11-12). Situating the book back in the mid-70s context where poststructuralist momentum was thriving in France, such an attempt to break with binary oppositions would not seem revolutionary or overly creative; rather, it reads more like an affirmation of philosophical trends of the era. But McCance extends our interest by drawing on the power of such oppositional logic in the process of auto-reproduction by associating La vie la mort with Derrida’s critique of the Hegelian family in Glas, where Hegel claims the privilege of the father-son lineage while crossing out the role of the female. It is precisely this coded mechanism in familial reproduction that finds its echo in the writing of François Jacob and Georges Canguilhem, where the meaning of heritage becomes understood as mere transmission of hierarchical information (26-27), with the result that eugenic measures would proceed to eliminate unwanted differences. The grounding of such a critique comes from Derrida’s explication of an analogy Jacob makes between DNA and text, a view that helps him initiate the accusation of phonologocentrism in Jacob, and McCance concurs: “Indeed, to refer to DNA as a ‘text’ is to borrow a metaphor, in Jacob’s case, an all but outdated metaphor of text drawn from structuralist semiotics, a metaphor through which he reduces ‘text’ to a phonologocentric communicative entity” (30). Hence Derrida’s understanding of DNA’s function: it is the difference along with sameness that get processed and extended through sexual reproduction (31).

Derrida’s critical objective in the seminar not only aims at cultivating an awareness of the problem of inheritance in biological science, but also—and perhaps more interestingly and convincingly—at highlighting the application of such an oppositional logic in biology in modern philosophical institutions, in particular the ENS, where Derrida—teaching then as an agrégé-répétituer—likens the way the philosophy program operates at the institution to the concept of genetic program Jacob proposes, a logos-like message that instructs and repeats generation after generation. Drawing on this theoretical resemblance, in the second chapter McCance then walks us through Derrida’s theory of pedagogy and reemphasizes the unavoidable power inherent in the process of teaching where structural signs are passed along. One problematic function of teaching, especially teaching philosophy, as Derrida diagnoses in his essay “What Is a Teaching Body,” is exactly the auto-productive program that transcribes the coded and repetitive information via the teaching body of the agrégé-répétituer. The act of teaching, therefore, must base its effectiveness on a kind of machinic institutional power “presented as a defense against mutant or contraband influences that threaten the death of the biological or institutional body” (47). By highlighting the mutually supportive roles of the two Derridian texts, McCance, instead of overly emphasizing the rather trite thesis of La vie la mort regarding the oppositional logic of the repetition of the same, directs our attention to the analogy that reveals the pervasiveness of such a biological model on which Jacob relies in educational institutions; we learn from her concluding statement that:

In his reading of Jacob’s program as an apt description of the aggregation program, Derrida demonstrates that both the biological and pedagogical institutions, attempting to ward off difference, constitute reproduction as repetition of the same, although as he remarks every reproduction involves selection and thus the failure of philosophical-biological-pedagogical metalanguage. (50).

Given Derrida’s predicament regarding the presence of ideological power in both academic and scientific institutions, McCance unpacks further the working mechanism of such effort to automate and rigidify the process of teaching and biological reproduction in the following chapter, by invoking Derrida’s curious rendering of Nietzsche’s name and philosophical legacy in The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation. This reading of Nietzsche’s autobiography Ecce Homo functions as an apology for Nietzsche’s posthumous negative influence by arguing that the dissemination of the autobiography depends not on the author’s own signature but the ear of the other who cosigns with differences in hearing or translating the original text. The riddle with which Derrida begins his text—the death of Nietzsche’s father and the life of his mother at the moment he is born—helps foster the sense of self in Nietzsche’s course of life, which, in turn, leads to Derrida’s association of Nietzsche’s description of his life with the process by which one obtains an identity and becomes oneself. Such a process is represented through the development of the name:

“There, this is who I am, a certain masculine and a certain feminine. Ich bin der und der, a phrase which means all these things. You will not be able to hear and understand my name unless you hear it with an ear attuned to the name of the dead man and the living feminine—the double and divided name of the father who is dead and the mother who is living on” (Derrida, The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation, 16).

But the continuation of the name after death—the living, namely—depends not on the bearer of the name but on the persons who listen to the name and revive it in the process of infinite eternal return; hence, according to Derrida, one cannot ascribe to Nietzsche the atrocities that the Nazi perpetrated: “One can imagine the following objection: Careful! Nietzsche’s utterances are not the same as those of the Nazi ideologues, and not only because the latter grossly caricaturize the former to the point of apishness” (30). To emphasize the fluidity of life death that refuses any form of consolidation of Nietzsche’s thought under the unity of his proper name, as Heidegger reads and interprets Nietzsche through the “Aristotelian-Hegelian tradition” (The Reproduction of Life Death, 57), McCance aptly connects the three seminal concepts Derrida exploits to contest the institutional or scientific subjectivity grounded by oppositional and hierarchical logic: autobiography, the ear, academic freedom (53), of which the ear is given special emphasis in the rest of the book. After a brief characterization of the Hegelian-Heideggerian line of thought that shares a synthetic tendency to fold and classify an identity within an unchanging personal proper name, McCance explains the Derridian alternative that sees heritance as a process, with the remark that

“The temporal deference upsets the linear notion of time, making the writing of autobiography an ongoing life death affair, an alliance between the living and the dead, a case of death in life […]” (61).

An intriguing idea that appears near the end of the third chapter and runs throughout the rest of the book—perhaps the most memorable elements of the text—is the (re)formulation of Derrida’s view that the study of the relation between life and death demands an interdisciplinary effort. Modern biologists’ efforts to decode the living by treating it as text, Derrida argues, by no means simply the methodology; quite the contrary. The texualization of life inserts a third term—the text—between life and death, and thus, “the referential subject/object paradigm no longer suffices, a changed situation for all disciplines—or at least, a change that would be required for revitalization of the academic institution” (69). An interdisciplinary transition of the academic institution—in the spirit of Nietzsche—is necessary for the future collaborative study of life, a key point McCance proposes here: “The radical ‘interdisciplinarity’ that, for want of a better term, I read La vie la mort to recommend is as much needed today as it was in the 1970s and as it was in the German university of Nietzsche’s day” (69). In such a spirit, Chapter 4 traces the transdisciplinary effort of an oppositional logic that may be found in Marxist political economy, the Jacobian biological theory of life, Alexander Graham Bell’s speech reproduction theory, and the eugenics movements in American history. Centering on the notion of production that entails man’s distinct cerebral ability to control products and eliminate the redundant and undesirable, Derrida surmises that interchanging usages of production and reproduction in Jacob’s work indicates his belief that “man distinguishes himself from animals by assuming control over the products of evolution” (77). In a similar fashion, McCance adds, phonetic speech is reproduced via Bell’s invention of the phonautograph, a speech producing apparatus preceding the appearance of the telephone that makes visible the phonetic signs by a “mechanical theory of hearing” (87). Bell’s essentialist momentum of reproducing the same speech by reducing its abnormal patterns finds its echo in the American eugenics movement, where inheritance is controlled in accordance with a mechanical model that helps produce offspring of desired types.

Chapter 5 develops in detail an essential line of thought Derrida addresses in La vie la mort, the dangerous power of scientific knowledge that is in part unavoidable. McCance finds inspiration in Derrida’s final seminar, “The Beast & the Sovereign,” where a consciousness of knowledge-as-sovereign is always present alongside the process of scientific inquiries, a demonstration of man’s hierarchical and theological power over the beast that lends force to a Catholic ethics, one that “reproduces a double body, an imperishable life worth more than natural or animal life, even as, paradoxically, the church reduces ethics to the automaticity, to the technics or technical reason, from which, at least since Vatican I (1869-1870), it has sought self-protection” (116). However, for Derrida, such a religious goal of self-protection or immunization—standing in line with the oppositional logic criticized in La vie la mort—causes an internal conflict: “religion’s efforts at immunization end up attacking, as an external contaminant, what is already internal to its own body, and indeed necessary for its survival” (116). This self-destructive tendency within religious bodies (similar to the concept of “the politics of politics” that Geoffrey Bennington has recently proposed) finds its secular recurrences in the contemporary “non-speciesism” ethical theories developed by Peter Singer and Tom Regan, two modes of thought that primarily concern the rights of the animal. Conjoining other works of Derrida, such as The Animal Therefore I Am, The Beast & the Sovereign, McCance returns to the principal theme in La vie la mort and contends that Derrida’s formulations provide “a critical resource for developing non-sovereign, non-prescriptive, non-oppositional and non-anthropocentric approaches to ethics in the age of the Anthropocene” (122).

By way of Freud’s implicit counter to the Hegelian and Jacobian oppositional logic of the living in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, McCance offers a holistic account of an earlier theme that the study of life requires an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach that is beyond the capacity of science or philosophy. Derrida was intrigued by the Freudian methodology of speculation, a view that tends to explicate the meaning of pleasure in terms of the variation of quantitative energy, an economic theory that concentrates on the relation between two quantities with unknown essences (130). Grounded by such a model, Derrida moves on to note that the Freudian theory of life death—or Eros Thanatos—defies the Hegelian-Jacobian program that reproduces only the same. On the contrary, Freud writes with a sense of confusion that also surprisingly breaks with the logocentric convention of the production of sameness: “[…] Derrida reads Freud’s account of reproduction in Beyond as offering an alternative ‘logic’ to Jacob’s, an alterity on the side of life and living on” (146). Life, therefore, is not opposed to death in the form of an either/or, but supplements and becomes interdependent with it, with a nexus of difference that always moves beyond disciplinary boundaries and binary judgements.

The Reproduction of Life Death is a strange book, precisely because McCance writes it in deconstruction but at the same time out of Derrida. We read an anxious awareness of the not-so-spectacular source text with a rather trite thesis along with a rhizomic effort of McCance’s to move beyond the scope of La vie la mort—just as Derrida tries to move beyond the limitations of the life/death opposition in the process of the continuation of heritance—to make the seminar itself an intertextual nexus in relation to Derrida’s oeuvre. McCance rigorously highlights the necessity of an interdisciplinary approach to the study of life and the living—a central theme of La vie la mort and, perhaps most importantly, reveals Derrida’s courage in the text to confront the dogmatism and sacredness of modern science, a spirit of the spur that is increasingly difficult to find in the weakening voice of the humanities.

References:

McCance, Dawne. The Reproduction of Life Death: Derrida’s La vie la mort. New York: Fordham University Press, 2019.

Deleuze, Gilles. Difference and Repetition. Trans. Paul Patton. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.

Derrida, Jacques. The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation. Trans. Peggy Kamuf and Avital Ronell. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988.

Sergio Genovesi: Tracce dell’informe. L’indecostruibile e la filosofia dell’evento in Jacques Derrida

Tracce dell'informe. L'indecostruibile e la filosofia dell'evento in Jacques Derrida Book Cover Tracce dell'informe. L'indecostruibile e la filosofia dell'evento in Jacques Derrida
Eterotopie
Sergio Genovesi
Mimesis
2019
Paperback
160

Reviewed by: Marta Cassina (Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn)

Ogni grande pensatore – molte volte e da più parti è stato già detto e molte volte forse lo si ripeterà ancora – non fa che ritornare nel corso della sua vita sulle medesime questioni, come fosse preda di un’ossessione, quasi non potesse fare a meno di rispondere, esistendo ed insistendo, al richiamo di un solo e tenace appello. Quando capita poi che tale pensatore sia insieme un grande autore, allora tutta la sua opera diventa col tempo testimonianza sempre più inequivocabile e chiara di una vocazione, mostrando infine quella limpidezza rispetto a se stessa che è uno dei tratti sicuri della validità di una proposta speculativa. Questo è il caso di Derrida e dei suoi “movimenti di pensiero”. Sicuramente i testi del filosofo sono molti e difficili da attraversare, perché difficile da attraversare è il “deserto” caotico e abissale di ciò che resta della parola, se la scrittura diventa il luogo della sua assenza e della sua lontananza originarie. Ugualmente, sono molti gli autori e i temi con cui Derrida continua a intrattenersi. Tuttavia, al fondo di una così articolata “disseminazione”, non si può non cogliere l’andamento di una stessa tensione, o di una preoccupazione, il che non equivale certo a dire che è un oggetto a ripetersi, attraverso diversi accenti e modulazioni, tanto meno qualcosa di semplice, tutt’al più il suo contrario, se di contrario si può ancora parlare, perché si tratta qui propriamente di una «legge della complicazione iniziale del semplice», di rimanere fedeli a ciò che fa segno all’assolutamente Altro che viene e che preserva lo spazio vuoto di questo evento, che a sua volta è un esercizio etico e irriducibile.

Tracce dell’informe. L’indecostruibile e la filosofia dell’evento in Jacques Derrida, opera prima di Sergio Genovesi pubblicata recentemente da “Mimesis Edizioni” per la collana Eterotopie, si propone di restituire al lettore una fine ricostruzione del tema dell’indecostruibile e della sua comparsa nella filosofia di Derrida. Genovesi ben argomenta come tale comparsa non corrisponda esattamente a un’appendice tematica rispetto a un corpus di riflessioni preesistenti, e nemmeno a qualcosa come una loro torsione verso una direzione inattesa, come invece hanno avuto modo di sostenere quei critici di Derrida che nella sua opera matura hanno intravisto quasi un ripensamento, se non una contraddizione, dei motivi giovanili della decostruzione. Dire che «c’è l’indecostruibile», secondo Genovesi, non aggiunge né toglie nulla, ma esplicita semplicemente qualcosa che, in forma “spettrale”, riecheggia nel pensiero derridiano fin dall’inizio, e che, se rimane celato tra le sue pieghe, è perché resta da pensare come la sua stessa condizione di possibilità (o di impossibilità) e il suo orizzonte di senso: è «la spaziatura stessa della decostruzione» (113), ovvero quell’esperienza pre-originaria di “differimento” dell’essere e del senso rispetto a se stessi di cui tutta la decostruzione non fa che parlare – mancandola costitutivamente –, perché vi riconosce la condizione paradossale in cui siamo e di cui dobbiamo parlare, perché in fondo non c’è proprio nient’altro di cui parlare.

Rispetto a quanto detto sopra, il saggio di Genovesi può essere considerato allora del tutto esemplare, e la sua ricognizione nel territorio dell’indecostruibile deve essere letta alla maniera di una sintesi perfetta di come la riflessione derridiana sia rimasta sempre leale a se stessa rispetto a questo fine – e anche a una fine –: l’apertura di uno spazio vuoto in margine all’ontologia della presenza, dell’identità, del logos e del fondamento, che permetta l’accadere dell’evento, ovvero di comprendere, per quanto si stia parlando di una comprensione iperbolica, spinta al limite della follia e quindi in realtà incomprensibile, cosa significhi che qualcosa possa accadere in generale. Questa spaziatura, che ha il carattere atopico del non-luogo, e quello raddoppiato del «supplemento d’origine» è, nelle parole del giovane filosofo italiano, indecostruibile, «perché come si può decostruire uno spazio vuoto, un luogo puro?» (130), è «allo stesso tempo presupposto e risultato della decostruzione» (146), ha molti nomi, che tuttavia si sovrappongono tra loro in un gioco di rimandi e scarti infiniti, perché «dare ai vari nomi che sono associati all’indecostruibile […] dei valori a sé stanti e ontologicamente distinti l’uno dall’altro vorrebbe dire farne dei feticci» (141), e coincide nella sua massima espressione con una sorta di «messianismo privato di qualsiasi contenuto positivo» (135), ovvero una forma di “giustizia” che consiste in null’altro se non nel rispondere esponendovisi alla chiamata dell’Altro, senza alcuna pretesa di afferrarlo, di ridurre la sua inesauribile trascendenza. Su questo punto, sui tratti distintivi dell’indecostruibile e sul perché finisca per caratterizzare tutta l’epopea della decostruzione come un’avventura fondamentalmente etica, torneremo in conclusione, dopo aver analizzato nel dettaglio il resto dell’impianto argomentativo attorno al quale Tracce dell’informe è costruito.

A questa analisi è bene premettere che, sebbene le tesi di Genovesi incalzino un’interpretazione sicuramente unitaria dell’opera di Derrida, l’importanza di una simile identità qui non cancella, anzi valorizza le diverse declinazioni attraverso le quali essa si è affermata. A questo riguardo, Genovesi non rinuncia a parlare infatti di due momenti o lavori distinti: il primo temporalmente, cui si dà il nome di «decostruzione letteraria», coincide con la pars destruens dell’impresa e si rifà soprattutto all’esercizio di scomposizione del significato dei “vecchi segni”, in altre parole, di tutti gli schemi positivi che reggono la «dogmatica della metafisica della presenza, dell’economia ristretta e del ritorno al medesimo» (88). In questa prima fase, per decostruzione si deve intendere eminentemente una pratica testuale negativa, che mira a destrutturare qualsiasi totalità pensata per ridurre l’evento dell’Altro alla forma di una presenza e di un “appropriabile” all’interno di un sistema ristretto di “scambi” logici tra medesimi. La lezione heideggeriana della «differenza ontologica» e della critica alla «metafisica della presenza» è qui insomma intesa come un’autorizzata celebrazione dell’assenza, del non-fondamento, e della fine del soggetto. Il secondo momento, che Genovesi, per evitare fraintendimenti o sovrapposizioni al pensiero ermeneutico, chiama «decostruzione evenemenziale» (49), corrisponde invece a una pars costruens e a un graduale avvicinamento della decostruzione alla filosofia dell’evento, fino al punto in cui esse sostanzialmente si indeterminano l’una con l’altra nell’espressione di un medesimo richiamo: quello all’idea di una “soggettività” inedita che sappia farsi carico dell’ospitalità e della testimonianza della venuta del nuovo, dell’Altro che arriva, dell’impossibile che ha luogo nell’accadere. Soggettività come puro luogo abitato da un “dono” e da un “segreto” che nessun sapere sarebbe in grado di dominare.

Rispetto a quest’ultima esortazione, ossia in quanto gesto di apertura a una venuta, sarebbe insensato pensare di poter ridurre la decostruzione, come molti dei suoi detrattori o cattivi lettori hanno tentato di fare, a una prestazione nichilistica «di puro rifiuto e sovvertimento» (90). E, tuttavia, questa “venuta” non sarebbe possibile se non perché già preparata dall’operazione negativa e decostruttiva, in senso sia letterale, sia “letterario”, che l’ha preceduta; donde l’invito di Genovesi a immaginare «due facce della stessa medaglia, che non solo coesistono sotto lo stesso nome, ma si complementano anche a vicenda» (50). Quali siano poi i termini di questa vicendevole complementarietà, Genovesi lo esplicita nell’ultima parte della trattazione. Nella sua accezione “positiva” – questo voler dire «Sì!» all’evento, che non è una parola specifica, ma un’«archi-parola», è un «ripetere il proprio assenso alla possibilità di questa venuta» (90) prima ancora che si possa dire alcunché – la decostruzione, «non trattandosi di un atto esercitato su qualcosa» (129), non ha più propriamente un oggetto. Soffermiamoci un secondo su questa affermazione, la cui portata diventa tanto più pregnante, quanto più la ricolleghiamo a quella “genesi dell’indecostruibile” di cui Tracce dell’informe percorre la storia. Che la decostruzione, nella sua formulazione più matura, rappresenti una sorta di invito positivo ad accogliere l’evento, senza però una positività vera e propria cui applicarsi, deriva dal fatto che essa diventa, incarnandolo, quello stesso evento e «un puro accadere» (129), vale a dire qualcosa che per sua stessa natura eccede e precede la dinamica esclusiva in cui la contrapposizione soggetto/oggetto risulta sensata. A questo proposito, allora, se è sempre vero che dove c’è oggetto (costrutto) c’è sempre la possibilità che questo oggetto possa subire una decostruzione stricto sensu, nei termini del lavoro negativo della decostruzione, è anche vero che dove l’oggetto sparisce, o meglio, si complica con l’ingiunzione originaria della sua oggettificazione, del suo “venire alla luce”, non c’è più nulla da decostruire in quanto tale, non c’è mai stato, così come non c’è più nulla di costruito. Ciò che resta è un indecostruibile, che, rispetto al lavorio di svuotamento dell’oggetto è, a seconda di come lo si voglia guardare, sempre anteriore e sempre posteriore: esso presiede e si nutre dell’atto negativo della decostruzione, così come quest’ultimo postula e risulta sempre nel primo. Inseparabilmente e circolarmente, in una temporalità «scardinata, out of joint» (132).

Veniamo dunque all’illustrazione della struttura del lavoro di Genovesi. Il punto di partenza delle analisi del filosofo può essere individuato molto chiaramente nel fitto confronto che il giovane Derrida intrattiene con i motivi e i concetti cardine dello strutturalismo, dell’etica levinassiana, del «pensiero sovrano» in Bataille e, più dettagliatamente, della fenomenologia husserliana, dei quali testi-testamento come La scrittura e la differenza, La voce e il fenomeno e Della grammatologia – facendo lo sforzo di pensare all’ordine in cui li elenchiamo qui come un crescendo, per quanto i tre volumi siano stati pubblicati tutti nel 1967 –, rappresentano prima una rilettura nella forma della “nota a margine” e poi un superamento, nella direzione di quello che diventerà il manifesto tutto personale della decostruzione nel suo stadio embrionale. Il primo capitolo di Tracce dell’informe può essere insomma pensato come l’abbecedario essenziale di una terminologia nascente; e infatti Genovesi studia da vicino la filosofia di Derrida rispetto ai momenti, ai luoghi e soprattutto alle sue scelte lessicali inaugurali: il «supplemento d’origine», l’«economia generale dell’Altro», la «decostruzione», la «scrittura», la «traccia», l’«indecidibile» e la «différance», che Genovesi sceglie di mantenere sempre in francese, perché, come esplicita sin dall’Introduzione, «nessuna delle due traduzioni [in italiano “dif/ferenza” e “differanza”, n.d.r.] riesce però a sortire l’effetto voluto da Derrida, quello di un evento inaudito» (11), l’evento cioè di una sostituzione che tuttavia non può e non deve essere intesa in quanto tale. Di queste parole viene proposta quella che indubbiamente è una spiegazione, ma che Genovesi ci esorta a non scambiare mai per una definizione; piuttosto bisognerà accettarla come l’«approssimazione al limite» (10) di un’incognita che – come appena detto a proposito della différance –, non esprimendo più qualcosa come una “pienezza” o un “senso” metafisicamente intesi, non deve neppure essere compreso pienamente.

Lo scopo di questa prima parte del saggio è quello di descrivere il funzionamento di una macchina, quella della decostruzione, rispetto ai propri ingranaggi e ai propri oggetti. Se, da un lato, questa operazione va delineandosi negli scritti di Derrida come un’azione di svuotamento e di desedimentazione del linguaggio, delle tradizioni, della presenza e della voce, è anche vero che, dall’altro, essa «non ha di mira la distruzione dei sistemi su cui opera, altrimenti distruggerebbe anche se stessa» (48). Così dicendo, Genovesi chiarisce con grande immediatezza uno degli aspetti più difficili, ma costitutivi della decostruzione, qualcosa in cui è racchiusa la sua logica esorbitante, quella del doppio, del double bind: essa non può decostruire se non, da un certo punto di vista, conservando, perché l’Altro cui anela, l’alterità che la metafisica della presenza finisce sempre per ricondurre all’Uno, non è una negazione assoluta, non è l’Altro irrelato, ma la complicazione dell’Uno con se stesso, è uno sdoppiamento della totalità lungo la linea di faglia di un cedimento che preme contemporaneamente dall’interno e dall’esterno. Uno sdoppiamento e un differimento – la différance – che non distruggono la totalità, bensì dischiudono lo spazio negativo in cui la stessa struttura della totalità può essere concepita ed esistere in quanto totalità, dicono il suo darsi. Decostruzione non è sinonimo di negazione della presenza, di negazione tout court; anzi, se teniamo presente questo meccanismo fondamentale e lo applichiamo ai vari obiettivi polemici di Derrida di cui Genovesi dà conto nel capitolo, essa ci appare piuttosto come un modo di restituire la verità della presenza, nelle sue molteplici forme e declinazioni, relativamente a quella che è la sua «mancanza originaria a se stessa» (34). Come scompaiono le nozioni di “origine” e “centro” che definivano il canone di struttura, ma solo per lasciare posto a una loro versione paradossale, supplementare, che «si inaugura solo nel momento dell’accadimento di ciò di cui è origine e rimane celata dietro il suo originato» (20), perché il proprio accadimento è esattamente ciò che l’originato manca di afferrare di se stesso; così si infrange il circolo ristretto dell’economia, intesa come la legge della circolazione e della conservazione del Medesimo, ma l’Altro cui si accede attraverso la negazione “sovrana” del circolo non è l’assolutamente trascendente, piuttosto l’inarrivabile cui ci si avvicina attraverso «il fenomeno della sua non-fenomenicità» (24).

Alla luce del double bind devono anche essere letti, a maggior ragione, i passaggi critici in cui Derrida elabora la nozione di “différance” a partire da e contro Husserl: non tanto come demolizione di un impianto teoretico, ma come apertura delle sue maglie verso le forme di uno scarto originario che c’è già nella trattazione husserliana della presenza, ma che vi rimane inespresso, incompatibile com’è con il lessico del “dato”, del donné, attorno al quale si costruisce la fenomenologia. Tra i differimenti, Genovesi rimarca: la discronia rispetto a sé dell’“ora presente” nella ritenzione e la non-coincidenza istitutiva dell’idealità, in ordine al meccanismo della sua infinita ripetibilità. C’è infine una forma di differimento, di supplemento, che si espande fino a fare da cornice a quell’imperativo programmatico della decostruzione di sostituire la “scrittura” alla “voce”: si tratta del rinvio dell’ego alla propria mancanza nell’atto auto-affettivo, di cui la voce è immediatamente un correlato. Il nome di questa ritenzione d’assenza è quello in cui si sovrappongono «la possibilità per il soggetto trascendentale di avere un rapporto con sé differendo da sé» (33), e la possibilità per la parola di avere un “rapporto con sé”, ovvero di realizzarsi nel gioco dei segni con «il loro accadere arbitrario e il corrispondere a un significato differenziandosi l’uno rispetto l’altro» (39); è la «traccia», intesa come trascrizione grafica della parola e struttura vuota di rimando a una “morte”, a ciò che nella parola si trova e deve trovarsi come puro rimando e in stato di assenza: l’origine assoluta del senso.

Passiamo ora al secondo capitolo. Qui Genovesi si occupa di gettare luce sull’“altro” di Derrida, cioè sul tipo di risonanza che le sue opere giovanili hanno avuto negli ambienti filosofici e letterari a lui contemporanei, per arrivare a sostenere che lo spostamento di baricentro nel corpo della decostruzione dalla critica testuale e letteraria all’evento sia in parte motivata dalla reazione di Derrida a una certa mislettura del suo pensiero a opera dei critici del post-moderno e, in particolare, degli studiosi statunitensi meglio noti come “Yale Critics”. Se il primo capitolo di Tracce dell’informe deve essere letto come una sorta di abbecedario, dicevamo, il secondo ha allora invece il carattere definitorio di una “soglia”. Qui con soglia non vogliamo alludere soltanto allo spazio liminare che esiste, ovviamente, tra i testi di Derrida, pensati nella loro autonomia, e le interpretazioni cui essi hanno dato luogo – di cui l’autore discute esaustivamente nel testo. Quello che ci sembra interessante sottolineare – diversione dovuta, perché spezza una lancia in favore all’argomentazione di Genovesi –, è che questo confronto tra il “dentro” e il “fuori” ha posto effettivamente Derrida nella condizione di lasciarsi andare a un’enfasi definitoria e ri-definitoria (per quanto, chiaramente, la parola “definizione” sia sempre da collocare nel contesto di senso della decostruzione) senza precedenti, e che resterà un unicum nel corso della sua opera. Quasi tutte le pseudo-definizioni di “decostruzione» che possediamo appartengono a questa soglia, sia dal punto di vista concettuale, sia da quello temporale: la seconda metà degli anni ’80, rispetto ai testi Memorie per Paul de Man, Come non essere postmoderni e Psyché. Invenzioni dell’altro, che, non a caso, nella trattazione di Genovesi trovano ampio spazio d’analisi. Le vogliamo elencare qui e commentare; il riferimento è motivato dal fatto che, non solo rappresentano un valido supporto a spiegare l’andamento del capitolo, da un lato, ma, in questo specifico ordine, comunicano anche il senso dell’evoluzione del pensiero di Derrida, nella lettura di Genovesi, dall’altro: 1) La decostruzione è l’America; 2) La decostruzione è plus d’une langue; 3) La decostruzione è ciò che accade; 4) La decostruzione è l’impossibile.

  1. Che il nome stesso della decostruzione sia l’America, ci ricorda Genovesi, è evidentemente un’affermazione provocatoria. A prima vista, essa si pone già come un détournement scherzoso del titolo del volume The Yale Critics: Decostruction in America, alla cui stesura Derrida non volle partecipare, e non solo a causa della «volontà da parte degli editori del libro di parlare degli Stati Uniti come se questi rappresentassero tutto il continente» (71), ma soprattutto perché, per quanto gli Stati Uniti – e, in particolare, il dipartimento di letteratura di Yale – si siano dimostrati lo spazio storicamente più ricettivo e sensibile al primo messaggio della decostruzione, è anche vero che questa sensibilità è sfociata in una sua lettura eccessivamente testualista e in una riappropriazione culturale indebita, che ne ha fatto prevalentemente, nelle parole dell’autore, «una metodologia critica post-strutturalista che dettava un insieme preciso di regole per affrontare un testo» (70)
  2. Se la prima definizione che riportiamo è, al contempo, scherzosa e sintomatica di un disagio, la seconda – che Genovesi nel saggio cita solo in nota (95), ma che, in un certo senso, sembra essere sempre presente in controluce – ha invece un peso filosofico enorme, andrebbe letta come una parola d’ordine, e ci piacerebbe allora pensarla come se avesse un punto esclamativo finale. Definizione ambigua, perché, a sua volta, significa tre imperativi distinti, tre risposte di Derrida al modo in cui, secondo Genovesi, gli Yale Critics avevano addomesticato i contenuti della decostruzione, così come sono tre i sensi in cui plus de ha da essere inteso in francese. Innanzitutto, che la decostruzione sia «plus d’une langue» significa che di essa si abusa quando la si prende alla maniera di un prontuario per la demolizione sistematica del testo, perché semplicemente non la si può forzare in un unico idioma o racconto, in altre parole, in un “-ismo”: «l’atto della totalizzazione può sempre essere visto come un gesto di violenza […], nel caso della decostruzione quest’operazione porta con sé un fraintendimento essenziale del termine» (72). In secondo luogo, «plus de» attesta una malcelata insofferenza a chi vorrebbe fare della decostruzione una mera faccenda linguistica, trascurando così la sua esortazione a rimanere attenti, invece, di fronte a tutto ciò che non può arrivare a farsi lingua: il silenzio, l’illeggibile, la vita. Questo “tutt’altro che lingua” compare infine compiutamente nel terzo senso, quello per cui «plus d’une langue» occhieggia a ciò che nel linguaggio c’è sempre d’eccessivo, al suo plus: l’eccedenza irriducibile del significante sul significato, l’intraducibile che resta tra linguaggi diversi, l’accadere della lingua.
  3. Da qui alla filosofia dell’evento il passo è breve, così come ci ricorda la terza definizione, che invece Genovesi analizza direttamente, e che getta un ponte tra la decostruzione e la stessa natura paradossale dell’accadere. Cosa l’autore intenda per “decostruzione evenemenziale” l’abbiamo già esplicitato, ci limitiamo quindi ad aggiungere che quest’identificazione della decostruzione, nel suo «carattere imprevedibile e sempre aperto» (72), con l’evento, nei suoi tratti di imprevedibilità, assoluta novità, gratuità e incoercibile differimento, conduce Derrida lontano dall’orizzonte della critica in cui la sua filosofia sembrava essere rimasta imprigionata, impone la necessità di una filosofia “nuova”, che si lasci «strutturare dall’alea». Qui la decostruzione può manifestarsi in quella che viene chiamata la sua «portata inaugurale e dirompente» (73).
  4. Il confronto con l’impossibile e le sue figure, tra le quali Genovesi mette in primo piano l’«invenzione», il «dono» e l’«invocazione», è poi presentato dal filosofo italiano come il luogo inabituale in cui lo spazio dell’elaborazione di Derrida si reinventa, facendosi a misura dell’evento dell’Altro che viene, che , che chiama. Assumendo come trópos privilegiato il lavoro su figure specifiche, la cui stessa possibilità incarna il paradosso di qualcosa che non si può tenere od occupare, se non attivandone un continuo debordamento, la decostruzione si prepara infatti all’accoglimento dell’evento, nei termini in cui l’evento dice il paradosso della possibilità del senso e del reale. Il paradosso consiste nel fatto che questa possibilità del possibile, ovvero «il margine all’interno del quale il possibile può situarsi» (86) e che al possibile appartiene intimamente come il proprium più autentico, è, in ragione di ciò, sottratta alla possibilità di essere compresa essa stessa in quanto senso possibile, quindi impossibile. L’evento è impossibile, ma anche evidente; dice Genovesi: «il suo carattere ostico può essere in qualche modo giustificato se si considera che esso […] si verifica e l’evento arriva» (88). L’impossibile «ha luogo», e ha luogo specificamente nel fatto che c’è possibile; il punto è che questo “esserci”, che aziona il circolo dove trovano posto enti e significati, quest’evidenza, che non solo non possiamo denegare, ma che anzi dobbiamo ricercare, fare in modo che si produca, è ciò che il circolo – e la filosofia! – non può che restituire razionalmente, se non come il suo Altro, la sua follia. Evidenza, allora, e follia dell’evento, da cui la necessità per la filosofia di debordare il proprio registro, di farsi “altro” lavoro del pensiero, di dirsi a sua volta impossibile, e non come deriva o punto di fuga, ma come centro stesso della questione che la definisce e destina.

L’ultima sezione di Tracce dell’informe tematizza l’insorgenza e la natura dell’indecostruibile. Torniamo così a ciò da cui abbiamo preso inizialmente le mosse, cercando di chiarirne gli aspetti che erano rimasti più impliciti. Da un certo punto di vista, questo “tornare a…” ha a che vedere con la struttura dell’indecostruibile molto più di quanto accidentalmente potrebbe sembrare, così come non è casuale la scelta di Genovesi di dedicarvi gli ultimi due capitoli del saggio – che vogliamo leggere in maniera unitaria, nel segno del medesimo “avvento” –, avendone però preparato la via, si potrebbe dire, in ogni sua pagina precedente. Decisivo è, a tal proposito, l’intendimento di ciò che Genovesi sostiene, quando presenta l’indecostruibile come un punto d’approdo nella riflessione matura di Derrida, includendo che, pur essendo evidente una certa attenzione mirata soltanto nei testi a partire dalla fine degli anni ’80, la questione dell’indecostruibile fosse già presente in nuce negli scritti degli anni ’60. Il punto è che l’indecostruibile, come abbiamo già fatto notare a proposito di quella dinamica di completamento circolare che descrive e mette in moto la macchina della decostruzione rispetto alla sua pars destruens e alla sua pars costruens, indica, al contempo, ciò che resta della presenza, in ordine allo spazio di vuoto che la macchina in questione ne estrae internamente – e questo spazio, è un affacciarsi sulla venuta dell’Altro, «mai presente e sempre a-venire, nella sua differenza infinita» (146), – e ciò che a quest’opera di svuotamento è sempre presupposto alla maniera di un «quasi-trascendentale» e di un cominciamento. All’indecostruibile, in questo senso, “si torna” sempre come si torna a un’origine, ma quest’origine è a sua volta sempre differita, supplementare – «al posto del fondamento, come supplemento d’origine, troviamo piuttosto l’indeterminatezza radicale e infinita della differenza» (144) –, e quindi, paradossalmente e in virtù di ciò, sempre ancora a venire, sempre ancora mai avvenuta, archi-originaria venuta di e da un futuro impossibile. Tenere a mente queste considerazioni serve a comprendere uno degli aspetti, a nostro avviso, più pregnanti che emergono dalla trattazione di Genovesi: il fatto che per parlare dell’indecostruibile serva parlare anche e soprattutto degli indecostruibili, che a esso si debbano dare dei nomi diversi. Aspetto apparentemente contraddittorio, in quanto qui i nomi rinviano a qualcosa che non possono essere, sono fondamentalmente inadeguati rispetto a ciò che vorrebbero significare, ossia questa archi-origine, questo «abisso senza fondo» (141) della spaziatura, che, come non può essere decostruito, per il semplice fatto che in esso non è rimasto nulla da decostruire, nessun agglomerato di senso da disseminare, così, a rigor di logica, non dovrebbe essere nemmeno nominato; da cui consegue quella singolare vicinanza tra Derrida e la teologia negativa, che Genovesi non manca di approfondire. E, tuttavia, di questo indecostruibile bisogna pur parlare, è importante parlarne affinché qualcosa arrivi, poiché l’evento si dà ogni qualvolta ricomincia l’essere – e il suo racconto –, poiché è insomma inseparabile dall’effettività storico-concreta che esso positivizza nella traccia dell’esperienza. Non solo bisogna parlarne, ma usare anche nomi differenti. I nomi dell’indecostruibile, infatti – nomi che, in ogni caso, possono essere utilizzati solo «in maniera provvisoria, per fini pedagogici e retorici» (140) – sono molteplici, allo stesso modo in cui intrinsecamente molteplice è l’indecostruibile, sempre supplementare a se stesso, indistinzione dell’origine e del punto di approdo, e anche, come si diceva sopra, di passato e futuro nel segno di ciò che non è mai potuto e che quindi aspetta sempre di accadere.

Se c’è una «sconnessione» e una proliferazione dei nomi dell’indecostruibile, è anche perché a essi spetta il compito di dire – certo, frammentandolo, isolandone momenti che nell’evento sono irriducibilmente concomitanti – il tempo disconnesso e plurale della venuta originaria. Ora, questo aspetto, che ci sembra di assoluta rilevanza teoretica, rimane purtroppo nell’interpretazione di Genovesi implicito, se non addirittura trascurabile, in quanto l’autore preferisce concentrarsi sul motivo della coincidenza dei nomi dell’indecostruibile nella comune referenza alla nozione di “spaziatura”. Eppure, come c’è modo di pensare gli indecostruibili in senso unitario rispetto a quello spazio di vuoto che è il «ritrarsi che ogni posizione e ogni manifestazione sottende» (139), così bisognerebbe dar conto della ragione per cui essi debbono differire tra loro, in riferimento invece alle dimensioni del tempo della spaziatura. Qui, d’altronde, non diciamo nemmeno qualcosa di incompatibile con la maniera in cui questi indecostruibili vengono presentati in Tracce dell’informe; si tratta soltanto di portare in primo piano un registro che nella trattazione non riceve troppo peso. A conferma di ciò, basti riflettere brevemente sulla scelta di Genovesi di affrontare l’indecostruibile a partire da «chora» e «giustizia», due figure che, per come vengono descritte e in questo senso, potrebbero essere valorizzate separatamente come due nomi – approssimativi, precari nella loro distinzione, ma funzionali – per due versanti della temporalità scardinata dell’evento. Da un lato, chora, che Genovesi introduce, guarda caso, come il primo nome che Derrida dà all’indecostruibile (113), direbbe soprattutto l’esteriorità e l’anteriorità assoluta dell’evento, per quanto concerne la sede spaziale – il «ricettacolo informe» (142) – della genesi e della collocazione dell’essente. Chiaramente, questa anteriorità non è da intendersi come una legge della precedenza temporale, come se alludesse a qualcosa che non è presente solo perché lo sarebbe stato una volta, ma come un rapporto di vertiginosa indipendenza e di inevitabile differimento all’indietro, tra questo non-luogo – «il luogo indecostruibile che dà luogo al gioco tra Dio e il suo creato» (113), origine più antica dell’origine – e ciò che vi si sistema per essere ricevuto. Dall’altro lato, la giustizia, intesa come «responsabilità dell’Altro» e verso l’Altro, aprendo a quella che Genovesi chiama «la venuta dell’altro come evento singolare senza anticipazione possibile, all’esposizione alla sorpresa assoluta» (140), diventerebbe invece simbolo per la necessità di un trascendimento dell’orizzonte temporale nella direzione di qualcosa che è una chance di accadere soprattutto al futuro, sempre inattuale e ritardata. La giustizia dice infatti dell’evento che esso non verrà mai del tutto, che lascerà sempre qualcosa a venire, dice il suo altrove imminente, ma impresentabile nell’attesa.

Due parole, infine, sono da dedicare a questa formulazione della giustizia e all’etica. «Se quindi la giustizia non è decostruibile,» – scrive Genovesi – «è perché essa si presenta come un gesto decostruttivo, fino al punto di andare a coincidere con la decostruzione stessa, che per converso ci appare adesso come un indecostruibile atto di giustizia» (133). L’ultimo atto della decostruzione è insomma un testamento etico: come emerge da quanto detto a proposito di Derrida in Tracce dell’informe, tutto il senso della decostruzione potrebbe essere infine riassunto nell’imperativo etico fondamentale di “fare spazio” per l’ospitalità dell’Altro assoluto; un incontro che non prevede relazione, o ancora, una relazione senza alcuna reciprocità, senza reciproco riconoscimento, sempre aperta alla sua dissoluzione e al suo sacrifico. In questo senso, bene hanno detto quei lettori di Derrida che in questa forma di non-rapporto hanno intravisto, più che la promessa del «dono dell’altro», soprattutto lo spettro del suo abbandono. E infatti la giustizia è collocata in una dimensione escatologica e messianica, che, come ci ricorda l’autore, da un lato costituisce un potenziale sovversivo immenso, nutrendosi di una costante insoddisfazione nei confronti del presente e dei suoi limiti, dall’altro, vicendevolmente, «non contemplando la venuta finale dell’altro, si presenta come un messianismo privo […] di ogni idea di rivelazione o compimento ultimo (135). Alla stessa maniera, aggiungiamo noi, l’apertura nei confronti dell’Altro, per il fatto stesso che si annulla nel momento in cui entriamo in relazione con quest’alterità nel mondo, nel momento in cui abbiamo presente l’altro, rischia sempre di tramutarsi in una chiusura. Non c’è verso in questi termini, per esempio, di ripopolare il mondo dei volti dell’altro, volti che possano chiamarsi per nome e realmente accogliersi, senza mettere a rischio il valore della loro incolmabile trascendenza.

Eppure un dato innegabilmente “positivo” rimane, e su questo concludiamo; Genovesi ce lo ricorda in chiusura, tra le ultime questioni del testo, che rimangono domande aperte sulla natura dell’evento e su come concepire la sua “irruzione” su piani differenti da quelli tematizzati nell’opera di Derrida (l’estetica, o la fisica, giusto per citarne un paio). Tale positività dell’etica consiste prevalentemente in questo, e questo sicuramente costituisce una consapevolezza preziosa: l’altro (il nostro prossimo, il fratello, lo straniero) rappresenta l’unico «evento dell’Altro» nella nostra quotidianità che possa dirsi tale, e che come tale deve essere rispettato, indipendentemente dal fatto che l’opera del suo avvicinamento e della sua comprensione rimangano necessariamente aporetiche, e spingerci a cambiare la nostra vita; «nel caso del sopraggiungere dell’altro, la rottura avviene sul piano etico del nostro vivere la quotidianità: l’irrompere dell’altro scombussola i nostri piani, è l’elemento incalcolabile che comporta la necessità di una riconfigurazione totale della nostra vita» (148).

Matthew Handelman: The Mathematical Imagination: On the Origins and Promise of Critical Theory

The Mathematical Imagination: On the Origins and Promise of Critical Theory Book Cover The Mathematical Imagination: On the Origins and Promise of Critical Theory
Matthew Handelman
Fordham University Press
2019
Hardback $95.00
256

Reviewed by: Françoise Monnoyeur (Centre Jean Pepin, CNRS, Paris)

The Mathematical Imagination focuses on the role of mathematics and digital technologies in critical theory of culture. This book belongs to the history of ideas rather than to that of mathematics proper since it treats it on a metaphorical level to express phenomena of silence or discontinuity. In order to bring more readability and clarity to the non-specialist readers, I firstly present the essential concepts, background, and objectives of his book.

The methodology of this book is constructed on the discussion of concepts and theoretical perspectives such as Critical Theory, Negative Mathematics, Infinitesimal Calculus, expression and signification of silence and contradictions in language. Borrowed from the mathematics or from the thinkers of the Frankfurt School, each of these concepts becomes refined, revisited and transposed by Handelman in order to become operative outside of their usual context or philosophical domain. The term Critical Theory was developed by several generations of German philosophers and social theorists in the Marxist tradition known as the Frankfurt School. According to these theorists, a critical theory may be distinguished from a traditional theory as it seeks human emancipation from slavery, acts as a liberating tool, and works to create a world that satisfies the needs and powers of human beings (Horkheimer 1972). Handelman revisits what he calls a “negative mathematics”: a type of mathematical reasoning that deals productively with phenomena that cannot be fully represented by language and history, illuminating a path forward for critical theory in the field we know today as the digital humanities.

In The Mathematical Imagination, negative mathematics encapsulates infinitesimal calculation, logic and projective geometry as developed by Gershom Scholem (1897-1982), Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929), and Siegfried Kracauer (1889-1966). These three German-Jewish intellectuals were connected to the thinkers of the Frankfurt School but distinct because they found ways to use math in their cultural theory. The negative mathematics found in the theories of Scholem, Kracauer or Rosenzweig (inspired by their famous predecessors Salomon Maimon (1753-1800), Moses Mendelsohn (1729-1786) and Hermann Cohen (1842-1918)), are not synonymous with the concept of negative numbers or the negative connotation of math that we see in the works of the other members of the Frankfurt School.

Handelman’s objective is to present his book on the path of Scholem, Kracauer and Rosenzweig using math and digital technology as a powerful line of intervention in culture and aesthetics. The Mathematical Imagination investigates mostly the position of these three German Jewish writers of the XX century concerning the relationship between mathematics, language, history, redemption, and culture in the XX century and extending his analysis to digital humanities. Mathematics is convened metaphorically in their theory of culture as pathways to realizing the enlightenment promises of inclusion and emancipation. The silence of mathematical reasoning is not represented by language but by the negative approach that is to say absence, lack, privation, discontinuity or division like in the conception of the infinite. One example of this productive negativity is to look at how mathematics develops concepts and symbols to address ideas that human cognition and language cannot properly grasp or represent, and surfs metaphorically with the concept of the infinite (Monnoyeur 2011, 2013). The infinite calculation is a generative spark for theorizing the influence of math in culture as differentials represent a medium between experience and thought. For Scholem, Rosenzweig, and Kracauer, these mathematical approaches provide new paths for theorizing culture and art anew, where traditional modes of philosophical and theological thought do not apply to modern life or situation of exile.

In The Mathematical Imagination, Matthew Handelman wants to give legitimacy  to the undeveloped potential of mathematics and digital technology to negotiate social and cultural crises. Going back to the Jewish thinkers of the Weimar Republic, namely Scholem, Rosenzweig and Kraucauer, he shows how they found in mathematical approaches strategies to capture the marginalized experiences and perspectives of German Jews in Germany or exile at the beginning of the XX century. In doing so, he re-examines the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, specifically those philosophers who perceived in the mathematization of reason a progression into a dangerous positivism and an explanation for the barbarism of World War II. Handelman re-evaluates Adorno and Horkheimer‘s conception of mathematics, according to which math should not be treated as a universal science able to solve any problem because it is not able to rule the human world of culture, art and philosophy. For them, as for Adam Kirsch, who wrote in 2014 the article “Technology Is Taking Over English Departments” (published in New Republic), both mathematical and computational mechanization of thought exclude the synthetic moment of the intellect and cannot produce new or meaningful results.

The first chapter, titled “The Trouble with Logical Positivism: Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, and the Origins of Critical Theory,” recounts the debate that took place between the members of the Frankfurt School — Max Horkheimer (1895-1973), Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), Theodor W. Adorno (1903-1969)—, and members of the Vienna Circle, such as Otto Neurath (1882-1945) and Rudolf Carnap (1891-1970). Mathematics, according to the Frankfurt School’s critical theory, is in apparent opposition to language, since there is a dialectical tension between two forms of thought, one expressed in mathematics that circumvents representation and the other mediated by language and representation. Adorno gave, through the tension between mathematics and other forms of knowledge, the political dimension that we find in his works and his confrontation with the Vienna Circle. For Adorno, the attempt in mathematics to abandon meaning, the ability to signify something else, constitutes the philosophical flaw of the logical positivists’ proposal to reduce thought to mathematics.

The second chapter, titled “The Philosophy of Mathematics: Privation and Representation in Gershom Scholem’s Negative Aesthetics,” revisits the relation between language and mathematics in the context of Kabbalist culture. In his writings on the language of lamentation, “On Lament and Lamentation,” Scholem explores the dilemma of saying the ineffable and the oscillations between spoken and unspoken language, in order to reconcile the paradoxes inherent in language (Scholem, 2014). At the heart of these paradoxes lies the deep dialectic between openness and secret, concealment and revelation. He underlines a common privative structure of communication in mathematics and laments that it negatively communicates language’s own limits, but it also reveals an aesthetic strategy. For Scholem, the philosophy of math deals with the problem of language by omitting its representation, and its inexpressibility represents the privation of life in exile with the possibility to recover a productive vision of mathematics. Math is done to speak purity, privation, a language without representation, and it deals with the shortcomings of language. According to Gershom Scholem, this fruitful approach lies beyond language within the sphere defined by the signs of mathematical logic. Scholem understands math, history, and tradition metaphorically, as characterized by silences and erasures that pave the way for the acknowledgment of historical experiences and cultural practices which rationalist discourses, majority cultures, and national, world-historical narratives may marginalize, forget, or deny.

The third chapter analyses the relation between infinitesimal calculus and subjectivity/motion in Franz Rosenzweig’s Messianism. Rosenzweig’s (1886-1929) major work, The Star of Redemption (1921), is a description of the relationships between God, humanity, and the world, as they are connected by creation, revelation, and redemption. He is critical of any attempt to replace actual human existence with an ideal and, for him, revelation arises not in metaphysics but in the here and now. He understands knowledge not as what is absolutely proven, but rather what individuals and groups have verified through their experience. For Rosenzweig, verification did not mean that ideas substantiated in experience automatically counted as knowledge; neither does it imply that theoretical statements become meaningful when verified by experience, as Carnap later argued. He analyzes thus how concepts such as subjectivity, time, and redemption are central to critical theory and avoided by the official languages of philosophy and theology. Rosenzweig’s thought is an example of how cultural criticism can borrow from mathematics to illuminate its concepts without mathematizing culture. For instance, the way infinitesimal calculus linked nothingness with finitude represented a tool that could be used to reorient epistemology around the individual subject. For him, mathematics possesses the ability to resolve a fundamental problem for both theology and philosophy, which is the creation of something from nothing. Calculus is motion over rest, reveals multiplicities of subjectivity and representation, and shows how the theoretical work done by mathematics offers epistemological tools useful for cultural criticism. These tools could help theorists to think through concepts that remain obscure in aesthetics and cultural theory, as fractal geometry illuminates the theory of the novelty. Mathematics helps us to construct more capacious versions of these concepts as well, and conceptual tools exist that allow us to intervene more immediately in a project of emancipation, in the service of theories of culture and art, and where they are at work.

Chapter fourth presents geometrical projection and space in Siegfried Kracauer’s Aesthetics. In The Mass Ornament, written in 1921 but published in 1960, Siegfried Kracauer reads the ephemeral unnoticed and culturally marginalized phenomena of everyday city life as an ornament.  His attention to the quotidian leads him to decipher in urban life a hidden subtext referring to biblical figures that comfort his experience of intellectual exile. Improvisation constitutes a key category in Kracauer’s critical engagement with metropolitan experience and modern culture; improvisation, with its invocation and representation, lies at the confluence of Kracauer’s preoccupation, the contemporary cityscape. In this book, he decodes the surface meanings of the new city phenomena in their shallowness, personal and political significance. These collected essays dream wild about the ultimate meaning of the banal and the beautiful in cities and gather a diverse range of observations such as boredom and bullfights, dance crazes and detective novels, to reviews of sociology, theology and Biblical translation. The Mass Ornament offers an opportunity to reflect historically on culture and connects the theoretical or philosophical discourse to the passing flux of fashion and the inexorable demands of quotidian life in the city. As a report from the past, this book invites us to renewed reflection on the relation between theory and history, fashion and tradition. Kracauer, in relation to the entire range of cultural phenomena, includes fascinating portions of history and situates man’s relation to society and time. By rearranging the language and textual space as a projection of rationalization, Kracauer explores the point of transference where geometric projection and the metaphors of space become a natural geometry in cultural critique. For Kracauer, geometry is a bridge across void because the mathematical study of space bridges the void between material reality and pure reason. The logic of mathematics informed his readings of mass culture, which sought to advance, rather than oppose, the project of the Enlightenment. For him, geometry enabled a literary approach to cultural critique in which the work of the critique helped to confront the contradictions of modernity and, through such confrontation, potentially resolve them. In The Mass Ornament, geometric projection turned into a political mode of cultural critique, projection, and the metaphors of space became aesthetically operative in the exploration of the rationalized spaces of the modern city.

In his final historical book, titled The Last Things Before the Last (1969), Kracauer presents mathematics as a web of relationships between elements abstracted from nature (Kracauer, 1969). The surfaces Kracauer describes are not an objective reality in the sense of the natural sciences describe them; surfaces exhibit innate breaking points built into by the phenomenology of his approach of a reality stripped of meaning. For Kracauer, the study of history had to mediate between the contingency of its subject matter and the logic of the natural sciences. Nonetheless, this type of cultural critique, enabled by negative mathematics, must resonate with those of us who live in a world of new media, one ever more mediated and controlled by computers and other digital technologies. Kracauer assessed popular culture on its own terms, with a mind open to new technology and communications, and articulated a still valid critique of popular culture.

In his last chapter, titled: “Who’s Afraid of Mathematics? Critical Theory in the Digital Age,” Handelman concludes that digital technology with textual analysis is engaged in social emancipation and can give an answer to the crisis in the humanities. In his analysis of Gershom Scholem, Franz Rosenzweig, and Siegfried Kracauer’s project, he develops the concept of Negative Mathematics in the tradition of Maimon, Mendelson, and Cohen to show how certain mathematical features and concepts can express the unexpressed part of language. In this endeavor, he focuses on infinitesimal calculation and reveals how culture, emancipation and social life can benefit from mathematics. That is to say, the seemingly tautological repetition of mathematics or digital technologies can act as a cultural aesthetics and interpretative medium. Handelman considers that mathematics and digital technology are by nature able to be a tool of liberation and emancipation if a good use is made of them. According to Handelman, if critical theory accepts the way Horkheimer and Adorno associate mathematics with instrumental reason and politics of domination, it risks giving up the critical potential of mathematics and any other interpretive tool such as technology or computer science.

Handelman poses the question: what happens if we allow mathematics to speak with analogy and image, to work with the integral of tradition, the continuity and derivative of truth? What if we applied mathematics more directly to cultural criticism? What possibilities, if not also, dangers, arise in using mathematics as an instrument of cultural thought?

Conclusion

Handelman’s choice to focus on Scholem, Rosenzweig, and Kracauer’s approach to mathematics in order to reveal pathways through the apparent philosophical impasse and an opportunity to realize the Enlightenment promise of inclusion and emancipation is exhilarating. His endeavor to build on the thought of these three lesser-known German-Jewish intellectuals of the interwar period can help move today’s debates that pit the humanities against the sciences. By locating in mathematics a style of reasoning that deals productively with something that cannot be wholly represented by language and history, The Mathematical Imagination illuminates a path forward for critical theory in the field we know today as the digital humanities. Furthermore, this volume explores mathematics as more than just a tool of calculation but one that is a metaphorically powerful mode for aesthetics and cultural analysis. Handelman reintroduces critical theory in the benefice of mathematics as access to culture and expression of the inexpressible. In other words, Handelman revitalizes a forgotten field of research at the intersection of language, math, history, and redemption, so as to capture the irrepresentable presence and interpretation of the complementarity of silence, and the language to express what was forgotten by the official language and culture. He also questions Adorno and other members of the Frankfurt School as unremitting opponents to mathematics. Instead, negative mathematics offers a complement to the type of productive negativity that Adorno, in particular, had located originally in the Hegelian dialectic. Negative mathematics reveals prospects for aesthetics and cultural theory neither as a result of being opposed to language, as Adorno and Horkheimer suggested, nor because it uses the trajectory of history or the limit of tradition. Instead, negative mathematics constitutes its own epistemological realm alongside history and mysticism, illuminating, based on its problematic relationship to language, in the dark corners and hidden pathways of representation. In this sense, it is positive because it deals successfully with what cannot appear in normal use of language or disappears behind official discourse. To this point, Handelman maybe meets the critical and social purpose of the Frankfurt School and fulfills his ambition to produce a theory both critical and mathematical, and even digital.  If we take the Frankfurt School main critique regarding mathematics, according to which mathematical and computational mechanization of thought excludes the synthetic moment of the intellect and thus cannot produce new or meaningful results, we have to question then if Handelman’s negative mathematics can actually produce new and meaningful results? Handelman’s negative mathematics does not propose a general way to social critique as a block but rather opens space for the expression of what is suppressed, forgotten, hidden or impossible to realize because of official culture. Silences, disruption, movement, fashion, improvisation, news and materiality occupy the world of culture and are brought to existence by adapted mathematical processes. In this sense, the special treatment of mathematics does not repress the synthetic moment of the intellect but gives a voice to what could not exist before. Common, traditional, usual and politically dominant ideologies cannot resist or foresee this new critical mathematical cultural theory. Of course, this perspective is limited and is not enough to prepare a general critique of society as the thinkers of the Frankfurt School pursued it but improves significantly cultural and critical analysis.

Matthew Handelman noticed that many humanists nowadays have turned to mathematics and digital technologies and tries to forge new paths for modernizing and reinvigorating humanistic inquiry. The Mathematical Imagination presents mathematics and digital technologies as providing a key to unlock the critical possibilities hidden in language to give a voice to silenced communities. Handelman’s book improves cultural and critical analysis, and results into a new and thought-provoking Critical Theory bridging humanities and digital/mathematical technologies. His methodology and ideology are deliberately provocative, and he intends to develop a post-academic approach to fix the weaknesses of traditional and official discourse. His endeavor is also fruitful from the perspective of the history of the science as it shows the relation between various mathematical processes, such as the infinitesimal calculation and everyday phenomena that remain unexplored.

References

Horkheimer, M. 1972. Critical Theory. New York: Seabury Press.

Kirsch, A. 2014. “Technology Is Taking Over English: The False Promise of the Digital Humanities.” New Republic, May 2, Article 117428.

Kracauer, S. 1969. History: The Last Things Before the Last. New York: Oxford Univ Press.

Monnoyeur, F. 2011. Infini des philosophes, infini des astronomes. Paris: Belin.

Monnoyeur, F. 2013. “Nicholas of Cusa’s methodology of the Infinite.” Proc. Conference on History & Philosophy of Infinity, Cambridge: University of Cambridge. DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.1.1595.0881

Scholem, G. 2014. “On Lament and Lamentation.” In Ferber I. & Schwebel P. (Eds.), Lament in Jewish Thought: Philosophical, Theological, and Literary Perspectives, 313-320. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter.

Richard I. Sugarman: Levinas and the Torah: A Phenomenological Approach

Levinas and the Torah: A Phenomenological Approach Book Cover Levinas and the Torah: A Phenomenological Approach
SUNY series in Contemporary Jewish Thought
Richard I. Sugarman
SUNY Press
2019
Hardback $95.00
426

Reviewed by: Hannah Bacon (Stony Brook University)

The eminent French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1905-1995) has garnered recent renewed interest, both in terms of his philosophy and his reflection on Judaism. Sugarman contributes to this emergent scholarship in his extensive analysis Levinas and the Torah: A Phenomenological Approach (published by SUNY Press in 2019), which extends and deepens his own body of work on Levinas.[1]

Sugarman’s extant Levinas scholarship includes the articles «Emmanuel Levinas: The Ethics of ‘Face to Face’/ The Religious Turn» in Phenomenology World-Wide; “Messianic Temporality: Preliminary Reflections on Ethical Messianism and the Deformalization of Time in Levinas” in Recherches Levinassiennes; and “Toward a Rationality of Transcendence: The Importance of Emmanuel Levinas to Contemporary Jewish Thought” published in A Perennial Spring.[2] Sugarman, with H.A. Stephenson, translated Levinas’s Talmudic text “To Love the Torah More Than God.” Pertinent to this project is the collection of John Wild’s work that Sugarman edited with R.B. Duncan entitled Speaking Philosophy: The Posthumous papers of John Wild.[3] John Wild (1902-1972), an influential phenomenologist, was Sugarman’s former teacher and mentor at Yale. Sugarman credits Wild with introducing Sugarman to the work of Levinas. As a result of his association with Wild, Sugarman personally met with Levinas in 1973.

Levinas and the Torah, an approachable but extensive text, begins with Sugarman’s own introduction and study of Levinas’s work, including a short, but relevant, biography of Levinas. This biographical framing includes three events pertinent to his philosophical work: the political horror that served as the backdrop of Levinas’s early life, including World War I; the Russian October Revolution which precipitated his family’s exile and relocation as Lithuanian Jews to the Ukraine; and, most saliently, World War II, during which he was imprisoned in a labor camp, his wife and daughter went into hiding, and most of his extended family was murdered. He dedicates Otherwise than Being: Beyond Essence to these family members murdered during the Holocaust of World War II. Sugarman’s biography also highlights his lifelong Jewish education in Talmudic Studies, his early philosophical immersion in phenomenology as a student of Edmund Husserl, and the trajectory of his work and the anxiety over influence as a colleague, admirer, and eventual critic of Martin Heidegger.

The guiding principle of Dr. Sugarman’s study is that, “The approach of Levinas to both Talmudic texts and philosophy is governed by the discipline of phenomenology.”[4] That said, Sugarman is a professor of religion: the book leans more towards religious studies than philosophy. To wit, there are more than twice as many commentators cited on the rabbinical texts as there are commentators on Levinas. Despite this focus, one need not be a religious scholar. The book is accessible and provides contexts and historical interpretations for the texts cited (such as the differences between the Pentateuch, the Mishnah, and the Bible).

Levinas and the Torah is decidedly focused on Levinas’s religious hermeneutics. The five main books of the Torah is the organizing taxonomy of the book (Genesis: Bereishis, Exodus: Shemos, Leviticus: Vayikra, Numbers: Bamidbar, and Deuteronomy: Devarim). These five sections are further divided down into the weekly readings portion of the Pentateuch. Sugarman pairs these readings with an equally diverse array of Levinasian concepts and interpretations of the underlying topics. Needless to say, this rich and multifaceted text covers a lot of ground, making it a difficult book to summarize.

One drawback to this structure is that the Levinasian philosophical concepts are spread across different sections. For example, the Talmudic concept of the Hineini, or the “Here I am,” that Levinas employs in his philosophical writings is discussed not in Genesis and the story of Abraham where one might expect it. Instead, it is treated in the section on proper names and Exodus 1:1-1:6 and then again in more depth in the section devoted to Prophetism: Inspiration and Prophecy, Numbers 22:2-25:9. These sections are almost two hundred pages apart and there is no indexical entry for this concept despite the centrality to Levinasian thought. For a Levinasian neophyte it is difficult to trace certain Levinasian specific concepts or ideas that are treated in multiple sections, but also to have a view of how specific leitmotifs fit together to form in his overarching philosophy. Similarly, Sugarman fails to attend to the nuanced way in which specific Levinasian concepts shift over time.[5]

In addition to the Jewish inflection that one can find in Levinas’s’ straightforward philosophical texts, Levinas also produced scholarship specifically on Jewish religious texts. Levinas lectured on the weekly Torah portions at École Normale Israelite Orientale. These lectures have no transcripts as recording and note-taken is forbidden during Shabbat. Levinas published two notable collections of essays specifically on Judaism: in 1963 with a book translated as Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism) and in 1968 with Nine Talmudic Readings. New Talmudic Readings was published posthumously in 1996. Sugarman draws on both the Talmudic texts and the philosophical texts. Sugarman puts Levinas’s Talmudic readings in dialogue with other Jewish scholars such as Mordechai Shoshani, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Rashi, Maimonides, Abrham Ibn Eza, Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner, and others.

Levinas and the Torah: A Phenomenological Approach yokes Levinas’s conceptual framework to Talmudic passages and hermeneutical religious scholarship. Beginning with Genesis, Sugarman lays out Rashi’s, Erwin Straus’s, and Abraham Ibn Ezra’s readings of Genesis, drawing out the passages that pertain to Levinasian philosophy. In the first of fourteen subsections on Genesis, Sugarman gives an in-depth reading of Cain’s query, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). The obvious Levinasian response to this is affirmative: Responsibility to and for the other is one of Levinas’s central underlying ethical tenets. The Levinas that is juxtaposed is not always the most obvious. For instance, I assumed a discussion of fraternity in Levinas and its role in justice would ensue, but instead Sugarman focuses on God withdrawing his face as a form of grave punishment. The face and its appeal, specifically its appeal in terms of its unspoken command, is another central concept for Levinas. From there, Sugarman moves on to a discussion of responsibility to the future, and whether Cain is guilty not just of fratricide but guilty of the violence against Abel’s future bloodline in what he terms generational responsibility. Levinas argues one has a responsibility to the other not just in the current moment, but a responsibility to the other in ensuring their future. One is infinitely responsible to the other. Sugarman’s treatment of Levinas’s theories of fraternity and justice did come later. By highlighting minor or less overworked aspects both in the Torah and in Levinas, Sugarman opens room for the reader to pursue lines of thought that are not already so established and exhaustively treated as to be clichéd.

One of the more compelling and interesting moments is the discussion of Levinas’s 1935 text On Escape with relation to the Talmudic account of Abraham and Sarah (also found in Genesis). The Abrahamic story begins with the command Lech Lecha, which is often translated as meaning ‘go for yourself.’ Sugarman however, proposes an alternate reading of “go out from yourself” (19). This interpretation is then put in conversation with Levinas’s phenomenological description of embodiment as being trapped in the self and under the thumb of various affects such as hunger, exhaustion, restlessness, and malaise. In other places the most dynamic insights come from these close hermeneutical alternative readings.

In Levinas, the self becomes a self by sacrificing for the other. Egoism, or putting the self before the other, is a grave ethical failure and a form of spiritual death. Abraham becomes the father of faith by being willing to make the most profound sacrifice for the divine. Sugarman is a close reader: he reminds the reader of details that are often forgotten because they do not seem relevant, but they become significant because of the Levinasian framing.  In his reading, Sugarman returns us to the less sanitized version of Biblical stories, although he does not say as much. I, for one, had forgotten that Jacob had children with four women and that Sarah convinces Abraham to sleep with their slave/servant (depending on your reading) Hagar, an act that Sugarman characterizes as ‘selfless’ of Sarah.  Sarah then casts Hagar out when Ishmael (Hagar’s and Abraham’s son) and Isaac, (Sarah’s and Abraham’s son) get into a verbal altercation. The return to the original text opens us up to the possibility of less cemented hermeneutical readings, and raises questions as to what we forget or exclude when we tell the story of Abraham. This incident could be an interesting counter-example of Abraham and Sarah as “exemplars of hospitality.”[6] Sugarman does not go this far, and in fact does not have a critical reading of either Levinas or the Talmudic sections. By bringing in the actual text, however, the reader can take the task of critical reading upon herself.

One powerful aspect of the Talmudic stories that Sugarman highlights is that these are not stories in which one returns home in the end, but instead lives in exile. Sugarman argues that this narrative arc essentially differs from the hero’s journey of Greek myths such as Odysseus, or the teleological structure of human nature put forth by Aristotle. Odysseus and Abraham are fundamentally different cultural narratives: when a person leaves without the guarantee of returning or even the hope of returning, this is the basis of an essentially different kind of narrative and thus an essentially different kind of subject. Pointing out the resonance between the story of Abraham and the centrality of responsibility to the other in Levinas’s construction of the subject is not a fresh or new idea. Sugarman provides a compelling hermeneutical argument that, in its most successful passages, makes the reader newly aware of how uncommon specific narratives and arguments are in present-day culture and contemporary intellectual thought. By sharing the joyful ruminations gleaned from a close hermeneutical reading practice, this book is a successful argument for the importance of revisiting the Torah. Sugarman reminds the reader of what a radical shift it is to think of the self or the subject as inherently for the other, and he also demonstrates how against the grain Levinasian thought is in relation to the prevailing intellectual history of the subject or ego.

In the sections devoted to “Exodus: Shemos,” Sugarman outlines experiences of exile, revolution, tyranny, oppression and the duty towards social justice. Sugarman relates these concepts and narratives to the consequences they have for identity, morality, and temporality in the Talmudic text. These passages on temporality include a clarifying distinction between nostalgia and tradition. This constellation of ideas is related to Levinas’s conceptual framework of responsibility, freedom, law, and development of the moral subject. The most interesting aspect of this section is an account of the moral importance of the act of promising and the essential role it plays in intersubjective relationships. In order to promise one must have hope for a future. The discussion of promising emerges in Exodus in form of the promise G’d makes to the enslaved Jewish people. One consequence of slavery is the loss of individual identity evinced in the loss of proper names (Shemos the Hebrew for Exodus means names).[7] For Levinas, to be a subject, one must be responsible to the other. Sugarman shows, through his reading, how enslavement inhibits one’s ability to be a Levinasian ethical subject, in that one cannot make a promise to the other, nor can one respond to the needs of the other, or take responsibility for the future of the other. Exodus contains the command to protect ‘the widow, the orphan, and the stranger’ a phrase that regularly appears in Levinas’s ethical philosophy, suggesting that these Talmudic passages are immensely pertinent for Levinas in terms of our ethical duty to others.

Sugarman’s analysis of Leviticus: Vayikra focuses on holiness, religious law, the duty to study, and the atonement or repentance of Yom Kippur for transgressions against each other and against G’d. Leviticus is often considered the most esoteric and least well-known book of the Torah. Sugarman draws on Levinas’s discussion of holiness, the importance of language and dialogue, further analysis of diachrony (the time of the other), the difference between holiness and sacredness, and the phenomenology of human suffering to enliven this section successfully. In it Sugarman returns to his analysis of Nietzschean ressentiment.[8] Levinas is attentive to the ritual of Yom Kippur and how forgiveness and pardon can only be enacted after genuine action is taken to repair or alleviate the ongoing suffering that one’s actions have caused. Levinas also cautions against the rationalization of evil and suffering with relation to the Holocaust, which he argues was wholly inexplicable and unjustifiable. This section also puts forth a reading of the environmentalism inherent in Talmudic laws around agriculture.

The Book of Numbers: Bamidbar gives account of the period from the teachings on Sinai to the journey to the Promised Land. It begins with two censuses, which Sugarman juxtaposes with insights gleaned from Levinas’s book Proper Names. It then moves to a discussion of peace, prophecy, and most saliently Israel, which is central to the complicated issue of the relationship between ethics, politics, and Judaism in Levinas. Other topics discussed include fanaticism and obsession, infinity, and justice as it relates to cities of refuge for those who have committed involuntary manslaughter. Each of these sections, although often only a few pages long, are filled with provocative readings raising rich philosophical and religious questions.

Deuteronomy: Devarim, the last of the five books, mostly hinges on Moses’s dictum on how life ought to be lived in the Promised Land and what can be learned or what needs to be reiterated from the journey there. These sermons, Sugarman notes, contain a sense of urgency in that they would have been given in the last 37 days of Moses life.[9] This form of reflection aligns with Levinas’s notion of the past as trace, and the importance of facing that past in order to open a new future. Sugarman discusses topics that include prayer, profundity in the prosaic, whether it is righteous to exist, the responsibility to pursue and enact justice, and revolution. In his Nine Talmudic Readings, Levinas emphasizes the Talmudic basis for social justice and workers rights. Sugarman points out that Levinas’s text was written immediately following the 1968 Paris uprising. Here, and elsewhere, Sugarman indicates the lessons we may still need to learn or the concepts that may be pertinent in securing a more open future today. The book closes with an epilogue, two appendices—a useful and compact glossary of Talmudic and Biblical Terms, along with a glossary of Levinas’s terminology—and a brief but descriptive list of the Talmudic scholars or commentators that Sugarman is employing.

One possible criticism of Levinas and the Torah is that in order to make Levinas’s philosophy accessible, complex concepts are occasionally given superficial treatment. It is debatable whether necessary nuance and complexity were sacrificed. Sugarman seemingly makes these choices for the sake of clarity. For example, when Levinas speaks of the face of the other, at times it seems he is in truth speaking of an actual face or visage; at other times the face is clearly a metaphor, the face of the other is language or expressivity, or the face is meant in terms of orientation but not the literal sense of face. Other concepts developed and shifted over the course of his work: for instance Levinas’s descriptions of role of justice or politics shift in significant ways from his early texts to his later texts.

These conflicting meanings and connotations are often left unsaid in Sugarman’s hermeneutic reading, whether for the sake of clarity, efficiency, or simplification. There are passages in Levinas and the Torah where the move from the specific and singular other to multiple others, or the transition from ethics to justice, is more fluid and neat than it is in Levinas. Debates about what the face means in Levinas and what a Levinasian politics is are live and contentious, but these competing readings are not brought in. The narrowness of Sugarman’s reading could lead to misunderstandings or misinterpretations if the reader has not already read Levinas, or is not reading the original Levinasian texts in concert with Levinas and the Torah.

In the most successful exegetical analysis, Sugarman does not shy away from the complexities in Levinasian philosophy. This attention to nuance is shown in his careful and persuasive account of substitution and Levinas’s claim that one must take responsibility even for one’s persecutors. Arguably, with these lean arguments, there is more room for other types of rumination. When one is not reading and re-reading dense and convoluted Levinasian texts one can see the simplicity of this assertion. The reader can instead focus on an argument for radical responsibility for one’s persecutors that was made by someone who was held in a labor camp and whose family was murdered during the Shoah. For Sugarman this room for rumination is more important than making sure his reader understands all the subtle tonalities of the face in Levinasian philosophy.

Readers will most likely not always agree with Sugarman’s readings of either the Torah or Levinas. Additionally, some of the specific resonances between the Talmud and Levinasian philosophy feel more tenuous than other. By Sugarman’s reading it seems that anytime one leaves one’s house is an example of the Levinasian passage from the self to alterity and radical exteriority. Hopefully, any reader will be motivated to return to the original texts in order to ground productive disagreements and participate in the rich tradition of Jewish argument.

In this way the book is doing something different. There is already a wealth of scholarship that interrogates Levinas’s use of the concept of fraternity or whether or not one can use Levinas to move from an ethics to a robust account of justice or politics. While not every book needs to be critical of Levinas—and if criticism is what one wants there are plenty of resources for a more measured reading of Levinas outside of this book—there are instances where it would have opened a more nuanced or rich reading. The author recommends reading Levinas and the Torah alongside of the Talmudic readings. I would advise to read it alongside the wealth of contemporary Levinas scholarship that analyzes both the strengths and weaknesses of his work.

There are three main aspects of Levinas that are usually the focus of criticism. First, he tends to employ an overly masculine account of ethics in his reliance of concepts such as fraternity, and the son rather than the child (This is central to Derrida’s criticism and is all the more striking in that Levinas had two daughters, although one did not survive) and his equivocating femininity with the domestic sphere and with alterity. Second, Levinas’s actual political statements occasionally verge on nationalism in the case of France and Israel. Perhaps Levinas’s most controversial opinion was given during a 1982 radio interview weeks after the Sabra and Shalita massacre of between 700-3,000 Palestinian men, women and children in which Israeli courts later deemed the IDF complicit. When repeatedly pressed by the interviewer Levinas avoided finding fault in this behavior, and implied that these victims perhaps did not rise to the level of being an ethical other. Last, Levinas has been accused of Euro-centrism in his championing of Europe and European culture through his claim that Greek culture and the Bible were the pinnacle of civilization and societal achievements, and that other cultures were non-serious or lesser. These issues raise crucial questions of who can be an ethical other, of whether or not hospitality has its limits, and whether Levinas makes exception to his own dictums. This sometimes overly laudatory account of Levinas’s work does not even footnote the criticisms that Levinas has received, let alone place them in conversation.

Although clearly rooted in intense Talmudic scholarship, this text does not provide a critical lens for Levinas’s religious readings. A generous reading would state that Sugarman is not concerned with these debates and that they are well documented elsewhere. A more critical reader may see this as a missed opportunity to provide a more robust discussion and also a chance to respond to these criticisms and defend Levinas’s positions. In the tradition of questioning within the Jewish intellectual tradition, it would benefit the readers of Levinas and the Talmud to have this same hermeneutical precision trained on the full range of readings and scholarship.

Levinas and the Torah is a rich and compelling text that provides the reader with a general overview and the necessary exegesis and hermeneutic tools for further inquiry. Through persuasive and spirited analysis, Sugarman makes clear a generous intention for his reader. I would recommend Levinas and the Torah for those who are curious or towards the beginning of their study but feel overwhelmed by the jargon and complexity of other exegetical readings of Levinas’s Jewish thought or to those with familiarity with either the Talmudic texts or Levinas and have a thirst for knowledge for the other. Moreover, this seems to be a book conscious of the zeitgeist of our time, with its pertinence to questions of apocalypse, exile, revolution, suffering, political uncertainty, and futurity. Levinas and the Torah is rich without being exhaustive; it is penetrating without being abstruse and esoteric.  In Levinasian terms we have an infinite responsibility to the future. Sugarman argues compellingly for the importance of learning the narratives and ideas of the deep past in order to enact a more ethical and just future for the coming generations.


[1] Sugarman, Richard I. 2019. Levinas and the Torah: A Phenomenological Approach. Albany: State University of New York.

[2] Sugarman, Richard I. 2003. «Emmanuel Levinas: The Ethics of ‘Face to Face’/ The Religious Turn.» In Phenomenology World-Wide, ed. Anna Teresa Tymieniecka (Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers), published in Analecta Husserliana 80: 409-430; Sugarman, Richard I. 2012. “Messianic Temporality: Preliminary Reflections on Ethical Messianism and the Deformalization of Time in Levinas.” Recherches Levinassiennes, ed. R. Burrggreave et al. Series Bibliotheque Philosophique de Louvain 82, 421-436, Peeters Publishers, Leuven, Belgium; Sugarman, Richard I. 2013. «Toward A Rationality Of Transcendence: The Importance Of Emmanuel Levinas To Contemporary Jewish Thought.» In As A Perennial Spring: A Festschrift honoring Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, 473-493.

[3] Wild, John. 2006. Speaking Philosophy: The Posthumous papers of John Wild,ed. Richard I. Sugarmn & R.B. Duncan; Phenomenological Inquiry 24 (2000): 205-292.

[4] Sugarman, Ibid. 8.

[5] For instance, the face-to-face, the neighbor, and the trace are omitted from the index but are treated in multiple sections. Incomplete Indices is a common problem in academic books.

[6] Sugarman, Ibid. 32.

[7] Sugarman, Ibid. 96. Curiously, this section on Proper Names does not make reference or use of Levinas’s book Proper Names in this section, but in the beginning of The Book of Numbers.

[8] This was the topic of his book Rancor Against Time: The Phenomenology of Ressentiment (Felix Meiner, 1980)

[9] Sugarman, Levinas and the Torah, 303.