Matthew Burch, Jack Marsh, Irene McMullin (Eds.): Normativity, Meaning, and the Promise of Phenomenology

Normativity, Meaning, and the Promise of Phenomenology Book Cover Normativity, Meaning, and the Promise of Phenomenology
Routledge Research in Phenomenology
Matthew Burch, Jack Marsh, Irene McMullin (Eds.)
Routledge
2019
Hardback £120.00
358

Reviewed by: Steven DeLay (Old Member, Christ Church, University of Oxford)

On one common telling of the history, phenomenology originates as a philosophical movement incubated in professional jealousy, personal rivalry, and intrigue. If someone as Emmanuel Falque has called the recent work among phenomenologists in France a “loving struggle,” the same cannot be said for phenomenology’s earliest beginnings in Germany. Surrounded initially by a burgeoning cadre of students whom he hoped would be heirs to a research program united in its philosophical vision, Edmund Husserl, father of transcendental phenomenology, instead found his aspirations increasingly disappointed as the years passed. As he was to remark in a note towards the end of his career, the general sentiment of his time, one against which he never ceased to struggle, took a dismissively dim view of the systemiticity he so favored: “Philosophy as science, as serious, rigorous, indeed apodictically rigorous science—the dream is over” (Husserl 1970, 389). At the end of his life, he stood alone in his unflagging zeal for the cause of philosophy as science. One after another, Husserl’s former disciples with rare exception had deserted that vision of phenomenology and its future. Among the most notable of those to go their own way rather than following Husserl’s was Heidegger of course, who, beginning with 1927’s publication of Being and Time, broke publically with his mentor’s view of philosophy as a rigorous science, abandoning phenomenology as a science of trancendental consciousness for fundamental ontology’s Seinsfrage.

Expansive and sometimes rather convoluted, the details of this acriminous yet vibrant phenomenological milieu’s institutional reception (first across Europe then on to the Anglophone world and beyond) is far too complex to summarize here fully. Entire books have been written on such matters. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that there has for many decades existed a tendency on the part of commentators to reinforce the feud between Husserl and Heidegger. Rather than looking for any deep common ground between their philosophies, focus instead has been payed to highlighting the differences thought to separate them. This is particularly true in the North American context. For instance, when Hubert Dreyfus upon developing his criticisms of Artificial Intelligence at MIT brought Heidegger’s philosophy to students at Berkeley (William Blattner, Taylor Carman, John Haugeland, Sean Kelly, Iain Thomson, and Mark Wrathall among them), his presentation of phenomenology, which became a commonplace in many publishing circles, relegated Husserl to a piñata for Heidegger. From the 1970s on, Dreyfus’s reading dominated considerable portions of the Anglophone phenomenology world as orthodoxy. The picture it presented was tidy. Husserl was the antiquated cartesian who had underestimated the importance of matters like embodiment and intersubjectivity, while Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, representatives of a so-called “existential phenomenology,” were pioneers whose innovative emphasis on being-in-the-world freed phenomenology from the history of philosophy’s misleading assumptions. In the rush to accentuate what it believed makes Heidegger’s philosophy captivating, Husserl unfairly became something of a footnote to the story, a sort of hors d’oeuvre before the main philosophical dish.

A notable exception to this trend is Dan Zahavi, whose work has done bright things to vindicate the continued importance of Husserl’s legacy. But perhaps the one who above all is responsible for snatching Husserl from the jaws of misunderstanding is Steven G. Crowell, who, in books as Husserl, Heidegger, and the Space of Meaning: Paths towards Transcendental Phenomenology (Northwestern: 2001) and Normativity and Phenomenology in Husserl and Heidegger (Cambridge: 2013) as well as in numerous essays has developed an iconoclastic and sophisticated account of the relation between Husserl and Heidegger. Crowell’s position is one which maintains, against Dreyfus and much of the received wisdom in Anglophone Heidegger studies, that in fact Husserl and Heidegger are collaborators in the shared undertaking of what Crowell himself characterizes as transcendental phenomenology’s distinctive project: namely, its preoccupation with the normative structure of intentional meaning (Sinn). Thus, at stake in the collection of essays contained in Normativity, Meaning, and the Promise of Phenomenology is the very status of phenomenological philosophy as Crowell proposes it be understood, as a transcendental “clarification of meaning” (Crowell, 336). Naturally, continual reference throughout is made to the interface between Husserl and Heidegger, but not, note well, for the purposes of mere exegesis, but instead as a wellspring of inspiration for a philosophical legacy whose unique approach to phenomenology is animating the continued work of thinkers carrying on its tradition. Many of the essays are accordingly not the typical kind of banal laudatory pieces one is accustomed to finding in a Festschrift. For, in paying homage to Crowell’s vision of transcendental phenomenology, they aim to return to the “things themselves,” precisely as Crowell himself has for many years urged others to do. In short, this is an excellent volume whose aim is not so much to read Husserl and Heidegger, but to think with, and, where necessary, against them.

This transcendental approach—or, a “critique of meaning”—is exemplified in Crowell’s own contribution to the volume. In an “Afterword” that closes the discussion by answering the essays preceding it, Crowell begins his response by noting how the grand language Husserl himself frequently employed when trying to convey the discovery of transcendental phenomenology’s significance may lead to some puzzlement. As Crowell recognizes, Husserl’s personal enthusiasm at first could seem a touch overstated.

With his turn to transcendental phenomenology, Husserl increasingly spoke of his work in the most exalted terms. He was Moses taking the first tentative steps toward the “promised land” whose riches he would not exhaust had he the years allotted Methuselah (Husserl 1989, 429); he was the explorer of “the trackless wilderness of a new continent” (1989, 422) where “no meaningful question” is left “unanswered” (Husserl 1970a, 168); he was Saul on the way to Damascus, the discovery of phenomenology affecting him like a “religious conversion” (Husserl 1970a, 137); he was the redeemer of “the secret yearning of all modern philosophy” (Husserl 1983, 142). What could motivate such language? (Crowell, 329).

According to Crowell, Husserl’s exuberance becomes understandable when the latter’s fundamental philosophical insight is appreciated properly. Husserl’s phenomenological breakthrough, says Crowell, lies not so much in the thesis that “intentionality is the mark of the mental” (as Franz Brentano had noted already), but rather in its distinctive concern with (to borrow the Heideggerian phrase) a kind of “ontological difference”: philosophy is seen to thematize not entities, but meaning. Further, the focus is not just on meaning but specifically the fact that such meaning is normative: “Phenomenology’s promise land, meaning, has a normative structure” (Crowell, 330). Hence, for Crowell, modern philosophy’s transcendental turn (as represented by Husserlian phenomenology) is at once a “normative turn” (MacAvoy, 29). It is in this context that the phenomenological reduction should be understood.

“[T]his method,” says Crowell, “requires askesis, suspending worldly commitments. I ‘put out of action the general positing which belongs to the essence of the natural attitude’ and ‘make no use’ of any science that depends on it (Husserl 1983, 61) so as to thematize the inconspicuous phenomenon of meaning, where the world and everything in it is available to us as it in truth is. This askesis characterizes all phenomenological philosophy” (Crowell, 329).

With this “reduction” to meaning, a new field of inquiry opens, one Husserl in works like Cartesian Meditations characterizes as “an infinite realm of being of a new kind, as the sphere of a new kind of experience: transcendental experience” (Husserl 1973, 66). And as Crowell contends, it is this reduction to meaning that unifies those thinkers belonging to the tradition of transcendental phenomenology. Moreover, it is the normative approach’s distinctive clarification of meaning that holds out the promise for re-establishing today the kind of research program Husserl had sought for his own. An approach calling for collaborative effort, not only does it promote the open exchange of ideas through critical argument, it does so while always remaining oriented by a methodological commitment to phenomenological Evidenz, the distinctive warrant of what shows itself intuitively in first-person self-givenness.

Husserl insists that phenomenology is not a “system” deriving from the head of a single “genius” (Husserl 1965, 75), but a communal practice, a “research program” in the loose sense that analytic philosophy might be considered one. What unites this program—including Heidegger, Sartre, Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, and even Derrida—is a “reduction” from our ordinary concern with entities, beings, the “world,” to the meaning at issue in such concern. Of course, these and other practitioners interrogate both the reduction and the meaning it brings into view, and so we who take up the promise of phenomenology must assess, by our own lights, the legitimacy of such “heresies,” revisions, and revolutions. And while criticism of arguments is always in place, assessing the legitimacy of phenomenological claims finally requires Evidenz, what one can warrant for oneself in the intuitive self-givenness of the “things themselves.” As a kind of empiricism, phenomenology embraces the responsibility of first-person experience (Crowell, 330-31).

However, if transcendental phenomenology’s concern is meaning, and such meaning in turn concerns the normative, what is a norm? As Crowell recounts, a form of that question has long vexed philosophy’s effort to comprehend the realm of “ideality”: it led Plato to his theory of Forms, just as it later motivated nineteenth-century thinkers including Emil Lask and Hermann Lotze to their respective accounts of Geltung (validity), of a “third realm” where the “categories” in question do not exist, but rather “hold” or “obtain.” Accordingly, the basic question concering the ontological status of the ideal (or normative) serves as the volume’s point of departure with Sara Heinämaa’s essay, “Constitutive, Prescriptive, Technical or Ideal? On the Ambiguity of the Term ‘Norm.” In contemporary phenomenology, as Heinämaa says, “the terms ‘norm’ and ‘normative’ are used in several contexts. One dominant argument is that the structure of intentionality is teleological and as such normative” (Heinämaa, 9). Using the examples of being a teacher or a soldier, Heinämaa highlights a difference between two norms. Following a distinction originating in Max Scheler, she notes how there is Tunsollen (“normative ought”), which “implies the concept of rule-following” (Heinämaa, 20) exhibited in customs or social habits. On the other hand, there is Seinsollen (“ideal ought”), a kind of “ideal principle” supplying a constitutive norm involving a “striving for something” (Ibid.) Ideal principles, as Heinämaa observes, “have a constitutive and enabling character: they are not motivational causes for our actions but are conditions that define ways of being” (Ibid.). Crowell further underscores this distinction when, in his reply, he observes that the ideal principles Heinämaa mentions are equivalent to what he means by the term “practical identity” or what Heidegger called a “for-the-sake-of-which” or “ability-to-be” (Seinkönnen); the norm at issue involves a way of understanding oneself, a standard of success or failure exemplified in a felt sensitivity to what is best (or good) given what one is trying to be. Whether we consider being a teacher or a solider, the general point, says Crowell, is that “knowing is something we do in a way possible only for a being who can be guided by a Seinsollen or ideal norm, a ‘minded’ being” (Crowell, 334). Drawing a point that later will become important in the context of Crowell’s understanding of transcendental phenomenology’s relation to metaphysics, he states how, as our knowledge of such ideals is always existential, so it therefore is unsettled and fundamentally unspecifiable. That is just what it means for them to be at issue or at stake in Heidegger’s sense: “Because the ideal that guides what I am trying to be cannot be grounded in truth (fulfillment through Evidenz), it cannot be the topic of a purely theoretical discipline” (Crowell, 333). In doing whatever it is in terms of what one in turn is striving to be, the very ideal of the practical identity itself is at stake, insofar as one’s doing what one does is to work out its meaning, of what it means to live up to it (or not). This is what makes the ideal a measure, and, in the relevant sense, accordingly normative.

Leslie MacAvoy’s essay “The Space of Meaning, Phenomenology, and the Normative Turn,” further clarifies Crowell’s position regarding the normative before going on to criticize the claim that such normativity is imperative to the constitution of meaning. Explaining how the normative turn situates the topic of meaning and validity in relation to the practical norms “for what one ought to do or be” (MacAvoy, 29), she recounts how such an approach thereby characterizes the space of meaning’s purported normativity “in terms of the experience of obligation or binding force” (Ibid.). This normative claim said to underpin meaning, as Crowell has explained elsewhere, amounts to the existential or ontological commitment explaining intentionality and reason: in acting as I do, I always already am implicitly responsible for taking over those “factic grounds” as my reasons. According to MacAvoy, however, phenomenology’s concern with meaning does not entail that such normativity truly plays the role in the formation of meaning that Crowell has argued it does: “While there is a normativity to meaning, it does not consist in the understanding of normativity that has to do with a binding force or claim” (Ibid.). In effect, MacAvoy claims that the phenomenological thesis about the logical, categorial “space of meaning” does not extend to the domain of normativity, as Crowell understands that domain. The binding force of the “ought” does not “capture the normativity of meaning” (MacAvoy, 33). In summarizing the three aspects of Crowell’s characterization of the normative,[1] MacAvoy notes how, for the former, “the norms for whether something can be something are established relative to the norms for doing something” (MacAvoy, 35). By now this will sound familiar. For as Heinämaa had made clear earlier, the very skills and practices in terms of which a thing shows up as what it is are themselves grounded in a practical identity (an “ideal principle”) itself said to be assessible in terms of success or failure. Hence, as MacAvoy says, on the view Crowell defends and which Heinämaa summarizes, the space of meaning bottoms out “in a norm for being a certain type of agent” (Ibid.). This raises the question of the practical identity’s validity, of how such an ideal can be binding, that is to say, of how it can exert a “normative force.” Her main objection is that Crowell’s answer to that question reintroduces the specter of psychologism. Just as psychologism in logic distorts the validity of logic’s content, so interpreting the space of meaning as normative does too, she says. In summarizing MacAvoy’s objection to his position, Crowell writes, “If the normative turn means that phenomenology is a normative discipline, it cannot be fundamental since, on Husserl’s view, all normative disciplines presuppose a theoretical discipline that rationally grounds their prescriptions” (Crowell, 331). If transcendental phenomenology is to be a rigorous science as Husserl envisioned, this appears to entail that it cannot take the normative turn Crowell implies it should, since if it did, so the argument continues, to do so would be to undermine phenomenology’s very claim to theoretical fundamentality to which Husserl took it to be entitled. Before unpacking Crowell’s answer to this concern, it is necessary to further explicate the charge.

To do so, we turn to the question of logic. For if MacAvoy is skeptical as to whether meaning’s categorality is best understood in terms of the bindingness characterizing the existential commitment of practical identity, Walter Hopp’s later essay “Normativity and Knowledge” likewise questions whether the theoretic domain of ideal truth and its connection to knowledge can be understood normatively.[2] Husserl’s phenomenological approach certainly agrees with neo-Kantianism that logical laws cannot be understood empirically, as if they are mere descriptions of how our minds happen to think. The laws of logic are necessary, and hence they are irreducible to descriptive generalizations. And yet at the same time, as Hopp says, for Husserl the laws of logic are not primarily prescriptive judgments regarding how we ought to think, but instead objective in their ideal content and therefore theoretical. Owing to their objective validity, logical laws do have regulative implications for how we ought to think. But that is not their essence. Validity is not the same as normativity.

These disputes concerning the connection between normativity and meaning implicate a more general one that will recur throughout the volume: namely, concern over the relation between transcendental phenomenology and metaphysics. Taking up this metaphilosophical question in “Mind, Meaning, and Metaphysics: Another Look,” Dan Zahavi asks, “Did [Husserl’s] turn to transcendental philosophy, did his endorsement of transcendental idealism, entail some kind of metaphysical commitment, as was certainly believed by his realist adversaries, or did Husserl’s employment of the epoché and phenomenological reduction on the contrary entail a suspension of metaphysical commitments?” (Zahavi, 47).  In Zahavi’s estimation, Husserl’s transcendental turn does not entail the mode of metaphysical neutrality that Crowell contends. As Zahavi concedes, this admittedly is not the dominant view:

“Many interpreters have taken Husserl’s methodology, his employment of the epoché and the reduction, to involve an abstention of positings, a bracketing of questions related to existence and being, and have for that very reason also denied that phenomenology has metaphysical implications” (Zahavi, 51).

Call this widespread reading the “quietist” one. Popular though it is, Zahavi claims that it cannot be correct. Were it true, he suggests, we would be unable to explain why, for instance, Husserl rejected the Kantian Ding an sich and phenomenalism, and why he would obviously have rejected contemporary eliminativism about experience. Even more basically, Zahavi finds the quietist interpretation of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology as “[running] counter to Husserl’s ambitions” (Zahavi, 50): transcendental phenomenology, says Husserl, as Zahavi notes, is such that there is “no conceivable problem of being at all, that could not be arrived at by transcendental phenomenology at some point along its way” (Ibid.). If transcendental phenomenology’s reduction to meaning involves the kind of radical askesis Crowell maintains, how could Husserl have seen it as being equal to the task of answering every philosophical question we might have? In support of his thesis, Zahavi produces a striking passage from the Cartesian Meditations: “Finally, lest any misunderstanding arise, I would point out that, as already stated, phenomenology indeed excludes every naïve metaphysics that operates with absurd things in themselves, but does not exclude metaphysics as such” (Ibid.) Now as Zahavi acknowledges, passages as these are decisive only to the extent that we clarify the term “metaphysics,” which notoriously is ambiguous. He proposes at least three senses it can mean in Husserl: first, a theoretical investigation of fundamental reality (Zahavi, 51); second, philosophical engagement with questions as “facticity, birth, death, fate, immortality, and the existence of God” (Zahavi, 52); third, reflection on the status of “being and reality” (Ibid.). But here, the crucial caveat Crowell rightly mentions in reply must be noted: although Husserl claims that so-called metaphysical questions retain their sense, that is so only “insofar as they have possible sense in the first place” (Zahavi, 51). Accordingly, then, the task becomes one of determining the limits of sense, of what is open to phenomenological Evidenz, and what is not.

If Crowell on one front must defend his conception of radical askesis from the charge that it neglects the metaphysical implications of phenomenology, he must also on the other face challenges from a series of articles by Mark Okrent, Glenda Satne and Bernado Ainbinder, and Joseph Rouse, which, taken together, aim to undermine the transcendental thesis that meaning and normativity are irreducible to nature. As for Okrent, he levels two objections, the first of which, amounting to a reformulated version of the infamous “decisionist objection” to Heidegger’s conception of Angst, Crowell dispatches quickly. As for the second, it contends that there is no way of truly understanding the human mode of being-oneself as a normative achievement whose form is different from “our animal cousins” (Okrent, 173). But as Crowell responds, even if one grants that animals do in some relevant sense act in accord with norms, they do not act in light of them—not only do they lack language so as to be answerable to others for their actions as we are for ours, they also are unable to measure themselves in a non-representational way that is responsive to an intelligible sense of what is best. Even in the simplest forms of perception, the domain of sens sauvage Charles Siewert calls “recognitional appearance,” there is an element of normativity at work marking the experience as distinctively human. In seeing as we do, experience as Siewert notes is “as much in the service of imagination as of judgment, and integral to the activity of looking, which is subject to norms of its own” (Siewert, 290). That this distinctively human richness to experience is lacking in other creatures is evident in that, just as they do not dwell in a “world” wherein things are inflected by the claim of a “good beyond being” (a claim concerning how things ought to be), so they only inhabit an “environment,” a surrounding in which beings are what they are, and nothing more. Satne’s and Ainbinder’s proposal—to “put agents back into nature”—which in turn aims to rehabilitate a “relaxed naturalism,” accordingly takes issue with this conclusion. Contrary to Crowell’s transcendental approach, the aim is to ground normativity in the contingent features of life “shared with other animals.” Joseph Rouse’s essay which contends for a “radical naturalism” joins the cause, seeking to explain our normative capacities in terms of our biology. In defending what he sees as a methodological gap between transcendental phenomenology and empirical science, Crowell reverts to a powerful strategy: according to him, these kinds of attempts to naturalize meaning and normativity require a construction—in this case, “life” —that “transcends the kind of Evidenz to which transcendental phenomenology is committed” (Crowell, 347). Further, because such accounts make use of empirical beings, they are “ontic” and therefore metaphysical in precisely the sense Crowell’s notion of reductive askesis forbids.

Presuming Crowell is correct that transcendental phenomenology establishes why nature cannot explain normativity and thereby fails to ground meaning, what then is the source of normativity? In reply, here one might to choose follow Husserl’s path as John Drummond does, maintaining that intentionality as such (and hence normativity along with it) is governed by a rational telos. As he says, “Husserl believed that in all three rational domains—the theoretical, the axiological, and the practical—the aim of experiential life is the same: to live a life of intuitive evidence, to live the life of a truthful, rational agent” (Drummond, 110). Just as intentionality is structured by the norm of intuitive fulfilment, so we are beings whose form of life involves a kind of rational self-responsibility that remains inexplicable on naturalistic terms. Drummond’s essay concludes by stressing what he takes to be a great merit of his account’s view of self-responsible convictions, namely its easy ability to also account for moral—or ethical—normativity. The issue of practical normativity with which Drummond’s contribution ends is taken up through the lens of Levinas’s relation to Kant in the volume’s next essay, Inga Römer’s “The Sources of Practical Normativity Reconsidered—With Kant and Levinas.” Contrary to what a reading limited only to Levinas’s early thinking may suggest, Levinas finds Kant’s philosophy of practical reason congenial to his own mission of exploring the ethical implications of a good beyond being. As Römer comments, Kant’s notion of disinclination can be seen as a relative to what Levinas himself characterizes as the an-archic and rational desire for the infinite. To see the two’s similarities, however, is not to deny their important differences. Römer lists three, the most significant perhaps of which is that, while it is not entirely misleading to name Levinas’s thinking “a philosophy of heteronomy,” there is a sense in which the self becomes truly autonomous due to “the signifying call of the Other” (Römer, 123). After further unpacking the Kantian position through an analysis of Christine Korsgaard’s notion of practical normativity, Römer then recounts Crowell’s Heideggerian criticism of it, finally to formulate an objection against Crowell’s view of reason-giving as constitutive of the second-personal ethical stance. The concern is that a trace of egoism still remains: “Even if I am required to give an account of my reasons to others, does such an account not tend toward a certain ethical self-conceit? If I am the ultimate source of measure, even if I need to defend this measure with respect to others in order to not contradict myself by taking my reasons to be private ones, does this view not place the self at the center of ethics?” (Römer, 131). Concern that the Heideggerian approach to practical normativity cannot eliminate all residue of self-conceit is well-founded. But while Römer takes Levinas’s own approach to avoid such a pitfall, one may wonder whether it does. When she remarks, for example, that in Levinas’s view there is “no God beyond ethical significance that would be the source of ethical normativity” (Römer, 126), does not the threat of self-conceit arise once again? Even if the asymmetry said to define one’s encounter with the other suffices to annihilate a kind of egoism, does it purge the least trace of it? For the total annihilation of self-love Levinas claims to be seeking, one might argue that only an encounter before God is truly sufficient.

Returning to the question of meaning’s source left hanging in the debate between Drummond and Crowell, Irene McMullin for her own part leans towards a view closer to the latter’s own, preferring a Heideggerian approach in which both meaning and the normative are said to be ungrounded—ultimately, says McMullin, there is no forthcoming answer as to how we find ourselves immersed in a meaningful world. We simply do, and that we find ourselves so situated is a reason for gratitude. Thus, as she says, although “resolute Dasein” experiences the “dizzying, disorienting sense of panicked terror” (McMullin, 149) accompanying the felt realization of meaning’s groundlessness, that realization is followed by another, the “incredible sense of relief and gratitude”(Ibid.) that there is any meaning at all, however ungrounded and contingent it is. This gratitude in turn resolves us to “love better, to strive more fully, to treat the goods in our lives more tenderly” (McMullin, 150). If McMullin’s analysis of the role of receptivity in resoluteness is a welcome corrective to the tendency to see authenticity in overly heroic or active terms, Joseph K. Schear’s essay, “Moods as Active,” does well to correct for an error arising from the opposing tendency of viewing moods as purely passive. Not only are moods an expression of agency, says Schear, they are structured normatively insofar as they are responsive to intelligible interrogation (by others and ourselves). As he notes, it is far from committing a category mistake for someone to ask of us why we are feeling as we are. Interrogating a mood is fair game. While we cannot choose our moods as we choose to make up our minds about what to believe, neither are moods always experiences in which we are just passive. Against a consensus that sees moods as “closer to sensations than judgments” (Schear, 220), he notes that moods do not arrive like “a hurricane, or the fog” (Ibid.). They are episodes in which we may intervene. A mood is an item we can manage, whether by trying to escape it through replacing it with another one, distracting ourselves from it, or by conspiring with it so as to feed and prolong it. However, ultimately the kind of agency interesting Schear is not the preceding kind of “agency over our moods” (Schear, 221), but the expression of agency in it. This second sense of agency is present in moods, he argues, precisely to the extent that we are able to answer intelligibly to the mood-question: “Why are you anxious?” or “Why are you joyful?” Such answerability, so he concludes, is due to being in a mood’s involving one’s living it out as a “responsive orientation to one’s situation.” In a contribution complementing Schear’s well, Matthew Burch in “Against our Better Judgment” explores the phenomenon of akrasia. There is much to be said for this very rich and thoughtful selection, but perhaps most noteworthy is its phenomenological clarification of the notion of “interest,” a middle category between brute desire and explicit judgment or commitment. Interests, hence, are meaningful affections, “things we care about” and things “in which we have a stake” (Burch, 233). Though Burch goes on to develop the notion of interest into a wider account of how a Heideggerian conception of authenticity answers to how norms bind us, with an eye toward concluding the review, here I should like to take Burch’s discussion in a slightly different direction: what is our interest in doing phenomenology? What exactly calls us to it, and what guides and sustains its commitment?

To answer these questions is to return to Crowell’s understanding of phenomenological philosophy’s role in the task of clarifying meaning—here, specifically the task becomes making sense of the very one who philosophizes in the way its normative turn proscribes. As has become clear in assessing Crowell’s response to his critics, the notion of askesis is the cornerstone to his approach. According to him, the reduction to meaning entails that transcendental phenomenology neither demands (Heidegger) nor entails (Husserl) a metaphysics to complete itself. Thus, his own position parts ways with both Husserl and Heidegger. As he observes in his concluding essay, as the question of transcendental phenomenology’s relation to metaphysics “constitutes the horizon of transcendental phenomenology, so I will conclude by considering it under three closely related headings: naturalism, metaphysics, and theology” (Crowell, 345).

Taking the measure of things (we ourselves above all not excepted) in its distinctive fashion, Crowell’s notion of transcendental phenomenology is a philosophy of enigma. What can be intuited in the light of Evidenz is clear and distinct, while anything beyond is consigned to antinomy. The situation accordingly comes to one of deciding how to understand where transcendental phenomenology draws the limits of intuitable meaning. Where precisely does the threshold lie? And what about the meaning, if any, lying beyond the threshold separating what is given in genuine first-person evidence from what is not? Is such meaning to be set to the side, or must not it somehow be integrated into the existence of the one who encounters it? If it must be integrated, how is that task of existential incorporation to be coordinated in terms of the norm of reductive askesis which, qua phenomenologist, entails bracketing such meaning? There looms, so it would seem, a fissure in the being of the one thinking phenomenologically. To begin with, as just noted, there is the difficulty of deciding what does (and thus does not) lie within the bounds of intelligibility. To decide with Crowell that we ought to refrain from taking a phenomenological stand on anything beyond the intuitable is a mark of intellecutal humility, to be sure. Nobody should deny that it is advisable to suspend judgment when things are sufficiently ambiguous. Yet such a suggestion remains formalistic; it cannot resolve how we are to apply it. How, then, are we to determine when not making a commitment in the face of the meaning at issue is truly the humble and rationally reponsible thing to do? To be confident in a given situation that we are doing what humility dictates implies that we are entitled in judging that what before us seems less than self-evident is in fact as obscure as it appears. How, however, are we to know that we are correct, that we are justified in that stance?

It is not an uncommon experience in life to come to learn that something we initially thought was unclear actually was not; the unclarity resided in our vision and not the thing. It is was not that the thing was veiled, just that we were failing to see. Hence, while it is good to be duly skeptical of claims that make genuiniely ungrounded claims of metaphysical speculative excess (“Everything is illusion, for we are in a quantum simulation!”), we should be mindful that determining when that is so can itself be fraught; something could in principle be grounded in evidence even if, or when, it does not yet seem so to us. Anyone who is honest will admit that there are reasons for thinking that the judgments we reach based on what we believe is humility can turn out instead to have been motivated by a subtle pride or stubborness. It is important to note, for instance, that this strand of epistemic humility is for all its virtues only partial; it essentially is an intellectual askesis. Or more exactly, insofar as it is it supposed to be an effort of epistemic self-discipline, it begins to undermine its own spirit of modesty the moment it slips into more than that by coming to resemble more so a general posture toward the whole of existence. When that happens, one important norm governing our trafficking in meaning is elevated to something instead approaching an absolute. And it is not difficult to see how, in doing so, it can propel the one who treats it in that way along his own path of error and blindness. This becomes more apparent when we consider another of humility’s aspects: namely, humility’s willingness to yield to things by accepting something for what it is, thereby submitting to the disclosed. Crowell’s reductive askesis, along with its norm of epistemic humility, arguably threatens to imperil an authentic encounter with meaning so interesting it if absolutized to trump all else. A commitment to the norm of truth-seeking, for example, may at times require passing beyond what presently appears to be grounded in evidence. Life presents us with these situations constantly. We resolve the indeterminateness by commiting to a course of judgment or action despite the ambiguity. Just as the meaning of some situations becomes clear only in retrospect years later or in an unanticipated flash of insight, so some truths become evident after a period in which they had not been. To refuse to commit to taking a stand on something that remains less than intuitively clear means what might have crystalized never will. If, then, humility is not synthesized with other considerations (including trust, hope, patience, wisdom, or courage), it threatens to constrict rather than expand meaning.

Insofar as the reductive askesis of Crowell’s position ends with enigma, it has been my suggestion that such enigma potentially implicates more than what that methodological stance admits. Meaning by its nature implicates our having to take a stand on what lies on the margins of intentionality, what at any moment makes itself felt as an unspecifiable more. To ignore this surplus of sense in the name of a humility that does not take a stand on what it sees as undecidable is to neglect precisely what puts our existence at stake and at risk in the first place. The respective imperatives of the transcendental (epistemic askesis) and the ontological (existential commitment) appear to be tugging in opposite directions. As a philosophy of meaning, transcendental philosophy can attempt to delimit the things whose meaning we are said to be justified in taking a stand on philosophically. In refusing to take a stand on what it considers the metaphysical, however, this gesture of refusal only implicates the omnipresence of that something more—that excess—with which we all must grapple existentially. Thus, while we may have reached the limits of what a certain mode of intuitive thought can decrypt, it does not follow that it has thereby established the bounds of the meaningful as such. Could not more remain to be given?

Here a detail concerning the earlier debate between Zahavi and Crowell over transcendental phenomenology’s relation to metaphysics will be recalled. Zahavi mentions that, taken in its second sense, metaphysics for Husserl deals with matters of birth, death, fate, immortality, and the existence of God. Do these metaphysical questions have a possible sense? What is their relation to transcendental phenomenology, as Crowell understands it? For his own part, Crowell states that while a “phenomenology of faith” is possible, it does not disrupt any of the essential metholodological commitments of transcendental phenomenology. For Crowell, that means rejecting a traditional commonplace according to which revelation is said to complete what reason cannot. Whatever room it leaves for faith, it must not interfere with the autonomy of a presuppositionless phenomenological reason.

This expulsion of faith from the project of transcendental phenomenology is, in a way, simply a specific application of the general reduction from entities to meaning. As Crowell says, “Transcendental phenomenology is not concerned with entities at all” (Crowell, 337). But if transcendental phenomenology is not concerned with entities, what about the entities that we ourselves are? How does the normative turn handle la question du sujet? Because such an approach seemingly comes up lacking, it calls for another inquiry to accomplish what it cannot. Transcendental phenomenology, after all, can trace the general contours of existence, telling us that we should live a self-responsible existence in light of the rational norm of evidence. It can clarify what it most generally means to be in the space of meaning. But it cannot decide where the limits between sense and nonsense lie in a given case, nor what precisely living up to the norm of evidence entails in any or every particular instance. We can reflect on the general normative structures of existence and how those structures make an encounter with entities possible, yet ultimately life still must be lived. For Crowell, perhaps much of what we take at a first-order level to be meaningful is not. Or at least the meaning in question falls short of Evidenz, in the transcendental sense. The things we take ourselves to know, on closer inspection, really are a matter of antinomy. This would be true for the theological, for in giving a name to what it takes to have addressed it, it does so without sufficient evidence. As Martin Kavka says in characterizing banal theologizing, “This argument entails the claim that the problem with any and all theologization of phenomenology is that theology determines” (Kavka, 92). Or as Crowell puts it, by trying to give a name to the anonymous claim that has addressed it, such a response crosses into antinomy.

Antinomy is also the figure which best describes the third horizon of transcendental phenomenology, the “theological turn,” in which phenomenology abandons reductive askesis to posit a prior condition of correlation, variously called “event,” Erscheinung als solches, “givenness,” “phenomenality,” or “revelation” (Crowell, 349).

Where, then, does this leave man’s search for meaning, and the question of his destiny? Concluding with a provocative but basic question does well to underscore the exigency of the methodological situation’s existential import. What, in short, are we to make phenomenologically of the claim that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? Does the claim fall within phenomenology’s remit? Outside it? Is it essential to phenomenology’s venerable aim of putting oneself in question, or orthogonal to that attempt? Is to affirm such a claim consistent (or not) with the promise of meaning, as Crowell understands that promise? One must make the decision to leap—or not. Either way, a decision is made. Seen strictly from the perspective of a transcendental critique of meaning, what faith claims to see—namely, that because Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, he is the absolute measure by which our own individual existences are to be measured—probably will be viewed as an affirmation having succumbed to “metaphysical” tempation. It views faith as epistemic folly. But assuming this is what a transcendental phenomenology’s critique of meaning entails, why not then see it as a reductio of that position?

To succeed in its aim of clarifying meaning, cannot it be suggested that transcendental phenomenology must be understood not as deeming what faith sees as inscrutable, but rather as itself calling for it?[3] To rest content with phenomenological askesis is to leave ourselves in a state of unnecessary indeterminateness. As it does not countenance the mysteries of God, so for it the enigmas of human existence find no solution.[4] It is thus left to face a potential incoherence of its own approach. The latent incoherence is manifest methodologically insofar as it fails to make intelligble what could be made so were it to complement its vision with what its own commitment to the imperative of self-givenness implicates. By not doing so, it ends in a failure of sense-making. For this reason, arguably it can be considered a failure relative to its own internal aim of trying to clarify meaning. The lack of success is most evident when seeing its inability to make adequate sense of ourselves.

We are finite creatures, and so meaning is finite. We can grasp the world as it is, though never as a whole; and if there is anything beyond that, it is a matter of faith, not philosophy. A phenomenology of faith is certainly possible, but transcendental phenomenology cannot be said to be exceeded by something that escapes it and yet grounds it, such that a “theological”—or “naturalistic” or “speculative” or “metaphysical”—turn is required. One who nevertheless wishes to make such a turn must show why it does not end in antinomy, the “euthanasia of pure reason” (Kant 1998, 460). Take your pick: deus sive natura; mereological universalism or nihilism; “neutral monism”; panpsychism; flesh, life, desire. In the face of antinomy, the askesis of transcendental phenomenology is not egoism but modesty, not a “theory of everything” but a clarification of what matters. Its claim on our “ultimate philosophical self-responsibility” (Husserl) is irrevocable if we are committed to having evidence for what we say. Just this defines the normative turn from entities to meaning, the promised land, “the secret yearning of all modern philosophy” (Crowell, 352).

By addressing the “question of the subject” in a way that entails no answer is ever forthcoming, reductive askesis renders the need for putting ourselves into question otiose, even futile. The misunderstanding at work in its approach to the entities that we ourselves are is seen precisely in its failing to live up to its own impulse to truly make sense of our existence. Here, in short, would be a philosophy concerned with explicating the meaning of things while simultaneously failing to ground its own existence in any firm meaning. If, in fact, there ultimately was no true meaning to existence because there were no answers to life’s ultimate questions, why then should a philosophy about meaning try to make sense of that meaning? To be sure, doing so could still serve as an idle pursuit perhaps, as a way for those so inclined to pass the time. But philosophy must be more than intellectual tiddlywinks. For were it not more than that, what reasons do others have for caring about what such a philosophy says? Philosophy would not just lose its exigency, but its universality too. In the last analysis, any philosophy of meaning stifling the yearning for the absolute does so on pain of compromising the coherence of its express aim. In restless pursuit of a meaning it cannot find, its is a critique of meaning that renders human existence as if it ultimately had none. Reaching only a mirage of the true promised land, as with Dathan it dies in the wilderness.

Bibliography

Husserl, Edmund. Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology. Translated by Dorion Cairns. The Hague: Martin Nijhoff, 1973.

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


[1] With Crowell, MacAvoy notes, first, the distinction originating in Husserl’s Phenomenology as Rigorous Science between the empirical and transcendental (that is, between the natural and normative); transcendental consciousness, MacAvoy explains, is governed by a lawfulness other than the causality of the psychical and physical. Second, and relatedly, the intentional experience of an object involves a command over its “implications,” the inner and outer horizons of sense in terms of which the object itself can be taken as what it is, the paradigmatic example being the perceptual object, since, say, in perceiving a cube, I must “co-intend” its sides that are not directly seen but are nevertheless implicated. Perceptual intentionality accordingly has a “motivational” logic: If I were to move here, then the cube’s other sides should come into view.

[2] In this way, Hopp’s essay follows in the footsteps of his mentor, the late Dallas Willard, whose early works on Husserl’s view of logic, ideality, and the possibility of knowledge remain exemplary. See, for example, Logic and the Objectivity of Knowledge: A Study in Husserl’s Philosophy (Ohio University Press, 1984).

[3] For a comprehensive analysis of God’s role in Husserl’s transcendental philosophy, see Emmanuel Housset’s Husserl et l’idée de Dieu (Paris: Cerf, 2010). For a critical appraisal of Husserl’s attempt to incorporate God into his transcendental approach, see John Drummond’s draft paper, “Phenomenology, Ontology, Metaphysics,” The Boston Phenomenology Circle, Accessed September 18, 2019.

[4] If this language is recognizably Blondelian, it is because Maurice Blondel’s own thought systematically explored the reciprocal interface between reason and revelation, philosophy and faith. For an explanation of how philosophy’s concern over the enigma of existence implicates a fulfillment in the mysteries of God, see Jean Lacroix’s short study Maurice Blondel: An Introduction to His Philosophy, trans. John C. Guiness (Sheed and Ward: New York, 1968), 64-66.

J.L. Chretien: Spacious Joy: An Essay in Phenomenology and Literature

Spacious Joy: An Essay in Phenomenology and Literature Book Cover Spacious Joy: An Essay in Phenomenology and Literature
J.L. Chretien. Translated by Anne Ashley Davenport
Rowman & Littlefield International
2019
Paperback £29.95
208

Reviewed by: Paul Downes (Dublin City University)

Seeds of a Primordial Spatial Phenomenology: Chrétien’s Spacious Joy

A dual, entwined argument takes place throughout this book. These arguments require disaggregation. One layer of argument is a concern with foreground phenomenological content in experience. The second layer pertains to background phenomenological structure. The foreground argument is a highly distilled one that concentrates its focus on a specific term, dilation (dilatatio), as a content of experience. This experiential content is sensitively explored through multifarious dimensions across predominantly Christian thinkers and mystics, though with a range of poets also embraced, such as Whitman, Rimbaud and Rilke. Chrétien explicitly states that his focus is on ‘spiritual authors’ such as poets and mystics where ‘the Christian tradition predominates’ (2) rather than on philosophers,

This phenomenological content of experience goes beyond simply Husserlian intentionality, in terms of both scope and claimed source; it also interrogates the precognitive in experience and invokes experience of a Christian God. The range of texts chosen for interrogation in terms of experiential dilation is quite limited, while Chrétien largely resists the temptation to invite obvious resonances with wider philosophical sources for these accounts of experiential content in relation to dilation.

The background argument is somewhat more surreptitiously expressed and unfolded. It is in terms of a spatial structure or system of experience. Dilation is irredeemably spatial, resting on background spatial suppositions. The contours of this spatial background for experiencing, underpinning experience of dilation, is adverted to in a sustained way throughout the book, though not in terms of a systematic argument or overarching conclusion as to the features and trajectories of these spaces of experience in experience. The structural features of these spaces tend to remain for Chrétien as illustrative, though his claim at the outset of the book is that these spaces are primordial and are prior to metaphor.

Chrétien seeks to retrieve a space for experience that has been glossed over in much of the Western tradition. Significantly, Aquinas is viewed by Chrétien as taking ‘the fatal step of splitting the concept of dilation into two, namely, into a physical meaning and a metaphorical meaning’ (7). He seeks to challenge this Aristotelian construction between the literal and metaphorical for space, upon which Aquinas built this cleavage. Chrétien raises the pivotal question, ‘Is there not a more primordial sense of dilation, anterior to the split ?’ (7), a split that reduces space to mere metaphor or bodily experience. Chrétien explicitly states that he draws on authors in this book that ‘do not treat the dilation of the heart as a mere metaphor’ (7). He seeks a more primordial space than the metaphorical and possibly also prior to the metaphysical. In doing so, he assails the Cartesian definition of matter that ‘implies that spiritual substances such as Gods, angels, or our own mind cannot be extended’ (9). Moreover, given that Descartes treated space as an empty non-entity,[1] Chrétien is challenging this whole Aristotelian-Cartesian edifice for space.

With explicit search for ‘their phenomenological basis’ (47), the accounts of the content of dilation as lived experience of the various thinkers offer some common threads pertaining to space. However, the broad range of experiences invoked for dilation raises the question as to whether, grasp all, lose all ? Do the wide domains of dilation dilute its meanings ? It is purportedly both an extremity of experience and yet, available naturally in the everyday; ‘dilation is found at every level of experience, including at the highest level of mystical moments’ so that the ‘supernatural is not necessarily the supra-sensible’ (96). Dilation is and brings both love and joy, as well as renewal (100). Though for St. Theresa of Avila, it is a passage to a higher spacious mode of experience, dilatatio invades the senses of sight, sound, smell, as an expansion of perception, as a ‘transformation of all the senses’ (128); it is proposed to infiltrate action, emotion, memory and thought, while emanating from a level of soul prior to the heart. As a spatial movement, ‘dilation is an act and a motion; it cannot form a perpetual state’ (175). It is an experiential process of movement.

Dilation is portrayed as including cognition within its ambit, both as intellect and volition (117), while also accommodating contemplation as dilation. Thus, dilation as a mode of experience appears to stretch into terrains of both the Dionysian as a prerepresentative experience of rapture in early Nietszche, and the Apollonian as self-conscious condensing into form as a process of cognition, without being reducible to either or all aspects of the Dionysian or Apollonian in Nietszschean terms.  A powerful final chapter 9 on the breath in terms of expansion/contraction, as a mode of dilation, offers a prior site of experience to sheer sensuality.

The retort that Chrétien would give to this risk of dilution of understanding of dilation is that it is part of an inner unification process (71) and unity is not totality of experience, ‘the very act of dilation unifies the self’ (16). Yes, the scope of dilation is ambitious on Chrétien’s account. His spatial search via dilation is not merely the phenomenology of space as perception, as that of Gaston Bachelard. Bachelard acknowledges his spatial concerns are in the miniature and not at the extremes of experiential and conceptual depths, ‘Such formulas as being-in-the-world […] are too majestic for me and I do not succeed in experiencing them […] I feel more at home in miniature worlds’ of space (1964: 161). In contrast, Chrétien is entering the caverns of experience to extract a unifying pulse of principle as dilated spatial movement.

This quest is for a spatial system of dilation as ‘porous boundaries, or boundaries with holes, allowing it to open itself to the infinite and incorporate it’ (169), which can be juxtaposed with the ‘heart…as thick as grease’ (v.69 Bible of Jerusalem), cited by Chrétien (63) and implicitly echoed by Schopenhauer’s ‘thick partition’ (211) between self and other in the person lacking compassion. Chrétien’s spatial phenomenological concern is with boundaries for experience, not only as constraints but as the opening process of dilation; ‘dilation is an opening up’ (31), a ‘joy that opens space up’ as ‘the gift of space’ (42). This opening ‘does not denote a simple expansion of space. It denotes a space that is different from the old space’ (42).

Dilation operates as a counterpole to compression with both as spatial movements, as Chrétien invokes St. Gregory’s words, ‘compressed by pain and torments’ (48), for ‘the theme of dilation of love, joy, and hope in the very midst of tribulations’ (49). Dilation serves as a directional counterpoint to the relative closure of compression of experiential space, ‘If we are assigned a boundary that cannot in any way be pushed back or overtaken, we are filled with dread at the thought of a definitive imprisonment, of a constriction that diminishes us and stifles us’ (155). Where existentialist dread dwells in the awareness of the constricted space of sealed boundaries, resistant to the expanse of dilation in their firmness of closure, dilation is the possibility of an opening of space, a capacity for spacious experience that lives in a precise correlation to this dread, as a directional opposition. Angst may offer the awareness of the capacity for this directional movement between these Siamese twins, namely, the relatively more closed and open spaces of dread and dilation.

This spatial phenomenological questioning of background structure shaping lived experiential contents offers a key insight regarding a spatial expansion of experience that is not simply a blank space removal of all boundaries, ‘another kind of dread would take hold of me, characteristic of dilation, namely the dread of self-loss and self-dissolution. Since the joy of dilation does not desire or aim at self-loss, it requires that I remain at all times the self that dilates’ (155). He continues, distinguishing the opening of dilation from a frantic obliterative opening, ‘Otherwise, what is involved would be more like an explosion than a dilation’ (156). A spatial structure is needed to distinguish the relative opening of dilation that retains a sense of assumed connection to self from a monistic fusion with background stimuli that surrenders all sense of personal identity. The spatial expansion of dilation is not simply empty space, it is not space as the nonentity of limitlessness.

He emphasises that capacity to receive experience of divinity is a spatial concern, tracing the etymology of capacity to the Latin capax, with spatial connotations. In his account of St. Augustine, Chrétien appears to accept the traditional Christian framework of grace that would treat dilation as a gift outside the control of the subjective ego, of the conscious mind. If so, a precognitive dimension to dilation as an expansion of space requires amplification, one that does not simply rest in a stale selfconsciousness or state of reflection as contemplation, though Chrétien also subsequently includes these modes within the ambit of dilation processes. Augustine’s cogitatio as thought is also treated as being infiltrated with dilation. The vacillation here between the precognitive and cognitive for dilation may be that Chrétien is more concerned with revealing the positions of the various thinkers whose texts he explores than with exploring in detail clashes between their various positions or emphases.

Chrétien highlights that St. Gregory ‘ties wicked dilation to power’ (47). An unexplored implication of Chretien’s acknowledgment of ‘evil dilation’ (48), envisaged also to include pride, is that it suggests an active spatial force propounding evil that appears prima facie to challenge the traditional Thomist doctrine of evil as privatio boni. An implication of dilation as a spatial movement also pertaining to evil is undernourished in Chrétien’s book. This implication is that as a spatial movement, evil is not simply a negation of good, as a kind of non-being as privation, but an active force in some way. Much may depend here on the level of description, as for example, what may be initially a negation may gain momentum as an active movement in space; causal and ontological levels of description may also import different characterisations of evil as lack or active force. Going further, this could be construed as seeking spatial movements prior to the diametric opposition of absence/presence that melds together a framework of evil as negation of good rather than as a spatial movement. However, this book is less concerned with theological implications of the spatial analysis of the phenomenology of dilation, whether as joy, love or even evil, than with describing the specific experiential unfolding of dilation as a spatial movement, across a range of thinkers.

Much of Chrétien’s concerns with dilation and space is to characterise them in terms of a prior judgment as good or bad, as life giving or pathological. Yet this is itself a space, a diametric spatial projection. Moreover, Chrétien’s exploration of Pierre Corneille’s experiential accounts ‘with an open heart’ (99) invites what Chrétien describes in diametric oppositional terms as where the heart ‘must win the struggle against what blocks it’ (99). This diametric oppositional space lurks in the background without any explicit analysis in his spatial structural questioning.

Like Wordsworth who crossed the Alps without knowing it, Chrétien has arguably discovered a whole spatial system of experience. A pervasive aspect of these spaces in this book is that they express expansion and contraction, as a spatial movement, as a rhythm where both the expansion of dilation and the narrowing of contraction are in mutual tension and interaction; dilation is part of a unified rhythm in spatial-structural terms for experience, as ‘a set of rhythmic and palpitating systems’ (169). This experience is treated as a cosmic spatial system affecting experience though not reducible simply to experience as subjectivity; it is ‘a process of cosmic widening’ (150). The relative openness of the expansion in dilation as a space of experience and a spatial ‘capacity’ for experience is frequently characterised by Chrétien’s selected thinkers and writers as being circular in movement, as part of a circular widening, where ‘the furthest circumference preexists already in the center’ (160); it is a ‘radiant’ (145) circular movement ‘spreading out in waves and circles’ (115).

Portrayed at the level of imagery in terms of fluidity, as ‘heavenly liqueur’ (p. 88), citing Claudel’s ‘liquid breathing’ (178), this can be further construed in spatial structural terms, where, by way of contrast, desiccation is a feature of contraction, a drying up as a loss of dilation. Moreover, this fluidity of the breathing experience as part of experiential dilation offers a fluid space to be distinguished structurally from monistic fusion and empty space, ‘Airy or liquid respiration, together with its dilation, forms the place where we are related to the limitless, but not to a limitlessness that loses itself in emptiness; to a limitlessness, rather, that is a totality’ (178). Chrétien thus invokes and quests for a space that is a fluid unity or unifying process for an experiential opening. He contrasts this space not only with contraction but also with the empty space of monistic fusion as a totality. This is first cousin of a recognition that truth unity claims are to be distinguished from truth totality ones.

Another argument made, albeit en passant, is that thought is structured like the structure of our breathing, and needs to reflect this interplay between systole and diastole. Spatialisation of experience moves into a terrain of impact upon thought, as a spatialisation of thought. This is a different embedded structure for thought than one simply resting on bodily analogy, such as that employed by Freud for oral, anal and phallic stages of development. The breath gains force as an animating space underlying thought. This is a promising argument left largely in the shadows in this book, though hovering at its edges. The inhalation/exhalation superstructure for thought may offer a counterpoint, as a different mode of interactive polarity to the Gestalt figure/ground focus on foreground and background in thought. If ‘the rhythm of breathing characterizes all living things’, where ‘the general laws of respiration…are the laws of dilation’ (168), this invites treatment of thought as a living thing giving expression to this breath rhythm of dilation, of spatial movement as expansion and contraction, in the very structure of thought itself.

The discussion of dilation as pathology offers rich resources for interpretation, resonant with recognition in a Jungian tradition that mystics and schizophrenics find themselves in the same ocean, where the mystics swim and the schizophrenics drown. Dilation of space in experience offers an account of this ocean, pertinent also to the oceanic feeling recognised by Freud through his friend Romain Rolland. This oceanic feeling contrasts with ‘the airless dungeons we have built for ourselves’ (20), in Chrétien’s memorable phrase.

Chrétien’s challenge to treatment of space as a mere metaphor is stated at the outset of his book. While it is developed through examples of dilation, he does not seek to amplify this argument in detailed philosophical terms. Nevertheless, his argument for a realm of spatial experience that is irreducible neither to mere metaphor nor to the body offers a rapprochement with concerns of Paul Ricoeur in La métaphore vive. Ricoeur seeks to suspend primary reference of truth as correspondence to an external world in science and to invoke a split reference to encompass another referential domain for metaphor in discourse, a ‘world’ or state of affairs of poetic reference. Chrétien can be understood as taking a further expansive step through a concern with a phenomenological reference to a state of experience of dilation in its multidimensional forms expressed in language.

Spatial understandings pervade much of Ricœur’s discussion of metaphor in terms of proximity and distance, tension, substitution, displacement, change of location, image, the ‘open’ structure of words, closure, transparency and opaqueness. Yet this is usually where space is discussed within metaphor, and as a metaphor itself, rather than as a precondition or prior spatial system of experience interacting with language.[2] Chrétien also invokes language in terms of a poetics of dilation though again he leaves reservoirs in his text to explore a conception of a spatial system of experience, for unifying experience that is prior to metaphor and language. He reaches this threshold in this book, but does not carve out this pathway in detailed, sustained terms as part of a structural spatial phenomenological argument. He offers seeds of a primordial spatial phenomenology.

Viewed in contrast with Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age that explored temporality as a horizon of experience taken for granted in the social imaginary, in a distinct socio-historical set of contexts across Europe with implications for a secularist Zeitgeist, Chrétien’s scope of works are more confined. However, they can be construed as overcoming a key caesura in Taylor’s work with regard to spatial conditions or horizons underpinning religious and mystical experience. Moreover, Chrétien is not pitting space against time, he incorporates a temporal dimension into the rhythm of the dilation as openness interacting with the compressed, contraction process of closure. This temporal dimension is of space as a movement, of spatial capacity for movement.

A key strength of this book is its opening of a series of promissory notes to a more primordial spatial phenomenological structural questioning, regarding dilation, its interplay with contraction, the structural features of this spatial movement, its embedding in the breath, the circular expansive movement in what is tantamount to concentric spatial terms of infinite dilation sustained as a series of extended concentric spatial movements. This important contribution of Chrétien is allied with the pulse of vitality that runs through the sensitive interpretation of the accounts of the various thinkers regarding dilation, to embed dilation as a major feature of mystical experience, with dilation arguably offering as much of an Archimedean point for these experiences as does Angst for existential-phenomenological concerns.

It can be inferred that four modes of space, not necessarily all distinct from each other, emerge from Chrétien’s spatial phenomenological account. A fluid open and opening concentric circular space of dilation, a contracting, compressed, desiccated space, and an empty space of monistic fusion, as mere limitless totality through obliteration and explosion of all boundaries. The other space is that of diametric spatial opposition, whether between good and evil, openness and closure, as oppositional directions in mutual tension. This is a diametric space not only as structure and position, but as direction. Chrétien does not directly address the interplay between these spaces of experience.[3]

Though the argument for a spatial system of experience as dilation and contraction is as part of a claim for a primordial space prior to metaphor, it is this key argument that merits much more expansion, dare it be said, dilation, in this work. What is the ontological status of dilation as a mode of space, as a spatial system in rhythm with contraction, as a dynamic interactive spatial movement ? This pivotal question is only addressed indirectly by Chrétien, with hints and fragrances, in Spacious Joy.

References: 

Bachelard, G. The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press, 1964/1994.

Descartes, R. Descartes: Philosophical Writings. Trans. E. Anscombe & P.T. Geach. London: Nelson, 1954.

Downes, P. The Primordial Dance: Diametric and Concentric Spaces in the Unconscious World. Oxford/Bern: Peter Lang, 2012.

——— At the Threshold of Ricoeur’s Concerns in La Métaphore Vive: A Spatial Discourse of Diametric and Concentric Structures of Relation Building on Lévi-Strauss. Ricoeur Studies/Etudes Ricoeuriennes, 2016, 7 (2): 146-163.

———Concentric Space as a Life Principle Beyond Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Ricoeur: Inclusion of the Other. New York/London/New Delhi: Routledge, 2019.

Nietzsche, F. The Birth of Tragedy, trans. D. Smith. Oxford: Oxford University Press, (1872/2000).

Ricœur, P. La Métaphore Vive. The Rule of Metaphor: Multi-disciplinary Studies of the Creation of Meaning in Language, trans. R. Czerny, with K. McLoughlin & J. Costello London: Routledge, 1978.

Schopenhauer, A. On the Basis of Morality. Trans. E. F. J. Payne. Providence: Berghahn Books, (1839/1995).

Taylor, C.  A Secular Age. Boston: Harvard University Press, 2007.


[1] Descartes referred to ‘empty space, which almost everyone is convinced is mere nonentity’ (1954: 200).

[2] Downes, P. At the Threshold of Ricoeur’s Concerns in La Métaphore Vive: A Spatial Discourse of Diametric and Concentric Structures of Relation Building on Lévi-Strauss. Ricoeur Studies/Etudes Ricoeuriennes, 2016, 7 (2): 146-163.

[3] For detailed examination of these modes of spatial experience as a spatial phenomenological questioning not only of space but through space, distinguishing concentric and diametric spaces from monistic fusion, see Downes, The Primordial Dance: Diametric and Concentric Spaces in the Unconscious World. Oxford/Bern: Peter Lang, 2012 and Downes, Concentric Space as a Life Principle Beyond Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Ricoeur: Inclusion of the Other. New York/London/New Delhi: Routledge, 2019.

Ethical Experience: A Phenomenology

Ethical Experience: A Phenomenology Book Cover Ethical Experience: A Phenomenology
Nicolle Zapien, Susi Ferrarello
Bloomsbury Academic
2018
Paperback £17.99
256

Reviewed by: Emanuela Carta (University of Cologne)

Susi Ferrarello and Nicolle Zapien’s book Ethical Experience: A Phenomenology is an ambitious and thought-provoking attempt to show how philosophy (and, especially, phenomenology) and psychology can collaborate concretely towards the achievement of shared aims.

The book, as a whole, has two core aims. On the one hand, it aims to offer a phenomenological analysis of the experience of decision-making, as it occurs in everyday life and as individuals recognize it in their personal narratives. The authors conceive this approach to moral psychology and the phenomenon of decision-making in open contrast to the approaches of cognitive science and contemporary analytic philosophy (2). On the other hand, the book aims to argue that the understanding of the multiple ways in which individuals approach time and intimacy contributes to shaping our ethical choices and can even improve our well-being (10).

The book is conveniently divided into two parts: Part One is written by Ferrarello and is philosophical in nature; Part Two is written by Zapien, instead, and is (mostly) psychological.

Part One clarifies fundamental methodological and theoretical points, which are mainly taken from Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology. In particular, in Part One, Ferrarello illustrates the distinction between different layers of reality, of time, and of identity and thematizes individual approaches to time and intimacy. Crucially, these distinctions and themes will be employed in the philosophical interpretation of the empirical findings of Part Two.

Part Two presents qualitative studies concerning three kinds of ethical decisions (unexpected leadership decisions, parental decisions, and those of individuals who face the choice of engaging in extramarital affairs), as well as offering philosophical interpretations of their findings. The general approach of Part Two involves the application of Amedeo Giorgi’s phenomenological research method for psychology.

Chapter I.1 of Part One opens with an intriguing explanation of the method employed throughout the book – that is, the phenomenological method. More precisely, the phenomenological method is understood as a method that aims towards the reactivation of sedimented meanings or the production of new meanings. It consists of two parts, which should not be considered as chronologically separated moments, but, rather, as complementary halves of one process operating simultaneously: one is the pars destruens and the other is the pars construens. They correspond to Husserl’s static and genetic methods, respectively. The goal of the pars destruens, which is the expression of the static method, consists in grasping the essential traits of the phenomenon whose meaning the phenomenologist aims to question and reactivate. This operation can be accomplished only if the phenomenologist is able to free himself or herself from prejudices and hasty associative habits he or she might have, and to “challenge any previous authority and the meanings that have been accepted in previous investigation” or “by the intersubjective community” (21). The goal of the pars construens, which is the expression of the genetic method, is to relate the new meaning produced (or awakened) with the passive layers of sense. With this goal in mind, the phenomenologist establishes whether the newer meaning can appropriately substitute the older.

Importantly, Ferrarello stresses that the attempt to attribute new meaning to phenomena is not just embedded in a general epistemological goal, but also in a specifically ethical one. According to Ferrarello, there is, indeed, a strong connection between ethics and the project of the amelioration of meanings.

After the clarification of the general methodology employed in the book, Ferrarello moves on to distinguish between three different layers of reality, of time, and identity in Chapter I.2 and Chapter I.3. Such descriptions constitute the theoretical core of the book.

Ferrarello explains that our life features three layers to which correspond three forms of temporality and three forms of identity (or ego). One of these is the layer of the passive, ego-less life, which Ferrarello also describes as the natural or psychological life. This level is characterized by a linear sense of time. Another layer consists of the practical and ethical life of the “just-awoken ego”. This ego, embodied in a “volitional body”, lives and acts in the time of the here-and-now. Lastly, a third level is identified with the layer of the philosophical life; the life lived from an absolute standpoint and from an absolute, timeless time.

The layer of the practical ego or volitional body is particularly important, since without this level it would be “neither ethical awareness nor an actual effort to become responsibly self-reflectively aware of our deeds” (37). However, Ferrarello also claims that these layers are all present in the life of an individual and that, typically, individuals continuously shift from one level to another. Ferrarello’s idea is that the balance that we find between these three layers of reality, time and identity, “is what shapes our sense of goodness, normal behavior and knowledge” (47).

In Chapter I.4, she expands on this idea by reference to the examples of the schizophrenic and the mystic who display, each in their own way, a unique between the three layers of life, time, and identity. For example, people with schizophrenia are not able to float from one layer of reality to another, but they are rather mostly stuck in the layer of absolute, timeless time. Because of this, they lack intimacy with their passive selves and, this, in turn, prevents them from finding a fulfilling meaning for their lives. Ferrarello insists that the schizophrenics’ relation with reality and time should not be stigmatized, because this would intensify the schizophrenics’ struggle to become intimate with their passive selves. On the contrary, it is pivotal to acknowledge that there are a variety of perspectives and ways to relate to reality and time (as that of the person with schizophrenia) so one can develop empathy towards others and be able to build a sense of intimacy with others.

The first part of the book closes with stimulating and original analyses delving into the central issue outlined in Chapter I.2 – that is, the volitional body. More specifically, Chapter I.5 clarifies the notion of practical intentionality introduced in Chapter I.2. Practical intentionality refers to the intentionality displayed in the moment in which the ego awakes and enters into a responsible contact with its passive habits and instincts. Ferrarello clarifies practical intentionality in relation to love and intimacy.

Following Husserl’s phenomenology, Ferrarello claims that that love is the force guaranteeing the true awakening of the ego and putting our passive selves in contact with our active life. Love opens a space of intimacy through which the subject can regain touch with his or her passive self and his or her factual existence, while, at the same time, shaping his or her identity and values. Intimate love allows us to break old habits and, as a result, it finds new sensuous lower matter (90). As such, love is a meaning- and value-giving activity. Unfortunately, the possibility that things take the wrong turn in this regard is an ineliminable live possibility, as in the case of intimacy forced through violence. This issue is explored in Chapter I.6, together with the notion of existential sexuality.

Part Two, the second part of the book, revolves around the analyses of the qualitative psychological studies carried out by Nicolle Zapien. Her research focuses on three kinds of ethical experiences of decision-making: unexpected leadership decisions, parental decisions, and those of individuals who face the choice of engaging in extramarital affairs despite the promise of monogamy. Importantly, the first kind of experience concerns the sphere of external relationships, whereas the second and third kinds concern the private sphere of our life – that is, the first kind concerns a comparatively less intimate dimension of personal relationships with respect to the dimension of the second and third kinds.

In the introduction, Zapien illustrates Giorgi’s phenomenological research method for psychology and the reasons why she decided to carry out her research by employing this method rather than the phenomenological psychological methods of van Manen, Moustakas, and Colaizzi. Moreover, and notably, Zapien carefully reviews all the choices made in the process of collecting and interpreting the data.

Zapien selects and publishes in the book large excerpts of the interviews that she performed, for each kind of the experiences of decision-making that she discusses. As Zapien explains, the participants of the three groups involved in the case studies were interviewed (orally or in writing), and they were left free to choose and explain the experience of decision that they preferred, as it came to their minds.

After the presentation of these personal narratives, Zapien then arranges in the following order: first, her interpretation of the findings; second, the explication of the constituents of the experience(s) at stake; third and lastly, a short philosophical commentary of the relevant experience. Each of Zapien’s philosophical commentaries puts to use the theoretical points that Ferrarello presents and clarifies in Part One of the book.

For example, the unexpected decisions that the leader must face for his or her own good and for his or her employees’ good are interpreted as a transformative experience that helps him or her to come into deeper contact with his or her identity as a leader.

The second case study, which concerns parents’ decisions for their children, makes explicitly evident the relevance of the dimension of time that Ferrarello stresses in Part One of the book. The realization that there is some problem that can dangerously affect their children’s future leads parents to rekindle the meaning of parenting and their identity as parents. This is, once again, a transformative experience that breaks the natural organic relation that parents have with their children and the daily linear time that characterizes such an experience. When facing such problems, parents feel the need – and the pressure – to make choices on behalf of the volitional body of their children, so to protect them and their natural life. If they otherwise refrain from making such choices, they feel that they are bound to lose their identity of good parents (159).

Similar considerations seem to hold with respect to the third kind of experience examined by Zapien – that is, the decisions of individuals partaking in marital relations who decide to engage in extramarital affairs. As for the previously examined cases, Zapien identifies the essential structural elements connecting the narratives of individuals with similar experiences. Specifically, she notes that individuals starting an affair fail to have active access to their passive intentions. Indeed, the volitional body of the person who starts the affair decides to negate active access to his or her passive self, so as to maintain a view on reality that is ethically acceptable to the self (180). The affair is only later acknowledged as such, when it could not be lived passively anymore.

Moving on to the critical assessment of the book, one of its most remarkable elements consists of Ferrarello and Zapien’s intent to engage with the book’s core themes in an original manner and without being afraid to voice their own opinion on these matters. This is clear, among other reasons, from Ferrarello and Zapien’s attempt to rejuvenate Husserl’s analyses, to recover their current relevance, instead of presenting these as valuable for specialized scholarship only. The authors show to have internalized phenomenology’s core points well enough to succeed in this difficult task.

Further, the book is well organized, and the authors take notable care of its pedagogical aspects. For example, the reference apparatus placed at the end of the book is extremely detailed, and it contributes to give solid ground to the claims advanced in the main parts of the book. Moreover, each chapter ends with a summary, and both the introduction and the conclusion summarize both the entire book’s structure and the main theses defended.

Yet, the care that the authors devote to the structure of the book for the purpose of conveying their views in an intelligible way is sometimes counterbalanced by the book’s confusing formulations, which run the risk of hindering the general understanding of the authors’ theses. This risk is also embodied in the authors’ choice to resort to metaphors at crucial points in their analyses, and doing so without further clarification using comprehensible terminology. For example, at the conclusion of Chapter I.4, Ferrarello uses the metaphors of the “static eye” and of the “genetic eye” in relation to the schizophrenic’s experience.

On a related note, one may be puzzled by some of Ferrarello and Zapien’s terminological choices, as, for example, the use of the adjective ‘trinitarian’ in relation to Husserl’s philosophy in a number of parts of the book. This and other theoretical choices should have been better justified.

As far as the content of the book goes, my main concern lies with the authors’ attempt to describe a large variety of experiences related to decision-making, by resorting to only one theoretical device – that is, the multi-layered dimensions of time and intimacy. Surely, the authors demonstrate that their approach has a certain explanatory power, given that the three kinds of ethical decisions investigated by their book permit, indeed, interpretations grounded in the relations occurring between time and identity. One might, however, be left with the impression that more examples of analogous and dissimilar ethical experiences and more phenomenological descriptions relying on a broader variety of theoretical devices would have been necessary to clarify the meaning of the phenomenon in question fully. Ferrarello and Zapien themselves seem to acknowledge the need for further investigations in this regard and, in fact, they explicitly consider some of their analyses presented in Part Two of the book as open-ended and merely provisional in nature.

Overall, Ferrarello and Zapien’s book is a very-welcomed and much-needed attempt to show how phenomenology and psychology can collaborate concretely with each other towards the achievement of a shared aim and how theoretical and applied analyses can be meaningfully combined. The book constitutes Ferrarello and Zapien’s challenge for their contemporary peers – that is, the challenge to develop a comprehensive phenomenological understanding of ethical experiences, such as that of decision-making. Furthermore, it provides a first attempt to rise to this interesting challenge.

Michela Beatrice Ferri (Ed.): The Reception of Husserlian Phenomenology in North America

The Reception of Husserlian Phenomenology in North America Book Cover The Reception of Husserlian Phenomenology in North America
Contributions To Phenomenology, Vol. 100
Michela Beatrice Ferri (Ed.)
Springer
2019
Hardback $119.99
XXVII, 482

Reviewed by: Justin Humphreys (The University of Pennsylvania)

There is more than one way to conceptualize the development of North American phenomenology. An image of “transplantation” would take the classical phenomenological tradition extending from Brentano to Husserl to be essentially the product of a European cultural sphere exported to the New World. In this view, Husserl’s thought is a seed planted in foreign soil and cultivated by his students. An image of “absorption” would portray North American philosophy as an autonomous enterprise enriched in stages by the themes and problems of classical phenomenology. On this conception, its origin in the European university is a contingent historical fact about phenomenology rather than a feature of its essential nature.

The choice between these images has consequences for how one reads the archive of phenomenological texts produced in North America. For example, in the course of a series of letters in 1940 discussing William James’ psychology, Aron Gurwitsch remarks to Alfred Schutz that they share the “goal of using James to present motives leading to phenomenology to a public which is unfamiliar with phenomenology.” Though Gurwitsch takes James never to have escaped completely the atomistic and sensualistic understanding of consciousness he criticized, he insists that James’ thought leads to and motivates the phenomenological project. American philosophy may therefore be translated into the language of phenomenology and “both parties gain infinitely with this translation.”[i] While the transplantation image implies that the gain is the ability of the phenomenologist to communicate to an American audience, the absorption image suggests that there are indigenous forces in American philosophy that could add to the phenomenologist’s project of fundamentally clarifying the structures of intentionality.

I approached Michela Beatrice Ferri’s new volume, The Reception of Husserlian Phenomenology in North America, with the hope of gaining tools for understanding this transition of a set of philosophical problems and methods from one surrounding world to another. Indeed, in his elegant if somewhat enigmatic Preface, Robert Sokolowski claims that the book is an “exercise in hermeneutics” concerning the displacement of phenomenology from one cultural-historical setting to another (vii). Continuing this theme, Ferri’s Introduction portrays this displacement as a “transplanting of Husserl’s thought” occasioned by the rise of Nazism (xvii) and as an “endeavor to graft phenomenology into American intellectual culture” (xxiv). Ferri suggests that by examining the reception of Husserl’s phenomenology in the United States and Canada (for reasons that are unclear to me, Mexico is excluded), the book will contribute to an understanding of “the division of philosophical discourse in North American [sic] that has been called the ‘Analytic-Continental Divide’” (xviii). The book proposes, then, to cut to the root of the divergence between the “analytic” and “continental” traditions in North American philosophy.

Unfortunately, the book is organized and edited in a way that does not contribute to a unified description of American phenomenology. Even worse, most of the discussions of the reception of Husserl’s philosophy remain on the level of merely factual history, without providing phenomenological analyses of particular receptive acts. Since I cannot discuss every one of the book’s twenty-six chapters here, this review will focus on those parts most salient to gaining an understanding of phenomenology in North America.

Jonathan Strassfeld’s meticulously researched opening chapter shows how the professionalization of philosophy at Harvard beginning in the 1890s required that the department offer a diverse curriculum rather than establish a single school. Indicative of this diversity effort, seven of the ten North American students who studied with Husserl before 1925 were associated with Harvard (7). Among them, the Canadian-born Winthrop Pickard Bell went to work under Husserl in Germany in 1911. With the internment of foreign nationals at the outbreak of the first World War, in 1914 “Bell became the first Anglo-American to receive a doctorate from Husserl; but only after defending his thesis inside a detention facility” (12). The chapter continues by offering a chronology of how other early notables – Marvin Farber, Dorion Cairns, Charles Hartshorne, and V. J. McGill – studied with Husserl during the interwar period. Drawing on Farber’s 1925 dissertation, Strassfeld argues persuasively that Husserl’s foundational program was not understood as part of a separate, “continental” tradition until at least the 1930s, when the work of Russell, Moore, and Wittgenstein began to hold sway at Harvard (16-20).

Jason Bell’s chapter proposes the project of examining Winthrop Bell’s 1927 Harvard course, “Husserl and the Phenomenological Movement,” the first class on phenomenology offered in North America. Perhaps the most interesting question raised in this chapter is whether logic is “purely a priori” or “dependent on induction,” a discussion of which would allow for a comparison of the phenomenological and pragmatistic theories of truth and evidence (33). But the chapter neither offers a phenomenological analysis, nor makes of any use of primary texts by Husserl, Peirce, Royce, or James. Consequently, this question is never addressed. Moreover, although the chapter is clearly written, it really examines only the first week of the course, and thus fails to give a comprehensive view of the earliest phenomenological curriculum in North America.

After discussing the seeding of phenomenology at Harvard, the book turns to the growing of phenomenology at the New School for Social Research. Judith Friedlander’s chapter offers a careful institutional history of the philosophy department at the New School. Lester Embree and Michael Barber’s chapter on the “Golden Age” of phenomenology at the New School is more anecdotal, but likewise contains interesting information on the role of three major figures associated with the school – Schutz, Gurwitsch, and Cairns. But although these chapters offer insight into the history of the New School, they are not recognizably concerned with Husserl’s thought – hardly any mention is made of his specific works, much less how his ideas were received or modified by North American philosophers.

The chronological orientation of these early chapters is not incidental to the structure of the book. Ostensibly, the chapters are organized into seven sections, beginning with the introduction of phenomenology at Harvard, and its establishment at the New School, and then proceeding to discussions of individual figures, centers and societies, phenomenological journals, regional schools, and finally to a comparison of the phenomenological and analytic traditions. Inexplicably, however, treatments of individual figures spill over into the first section (a chapter on Gurwitsch), and into the penultimate section (a chapter on Dallas Willard). Moreover, it is difficult to characterize what is going on in many chapters of the book that focus on phenomenological publications, societies, and centers. For example, Nenon and Ferri’s chapter on “Important Twentieth Century American Husserl Scholars” (145-149) is a mere list of “leading researchers” working in North American universities. A chapter by McKenna and Hopkins on the journals Husserl Studies and The New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy (337-341) provides only very brief editorial histories of these journals, quoting extensively from the publishers’ websites.

What do these chapters contribute – if anything – to an understanding of the reception of Husserl’s phenomenology? They certainly do not employ a phenomenological method. But nor do they draw on themes that have been investigated by well-known phenomenologists.

Even a clearly written and informative chapter, such as Jeffrey McCurry and Chelsea R. Binnie’s history of The Simon Silverman Phenomenology Center at Duquesne University seems out of place in series of “contributions to phenomenology.” In this chapter one learns, for example, how Erwin Straus’ office furniture was saved due to an encounter in 1938 with an SS Officer who had been his patient. Out of gratitude, the officer made special arrangements to ship the physician-phenomenologist’s possessions to the United States, which after Straus’ death in 1975 were donated to the Silverman Center (300-301). But what was the significance of the furniture within the face-to-face encounter between a Jewish physician and a Nazi Officer? How does the intact collection today allow one to reenter the embodied space of a working phenomenologist? What is the meaning of removing a culturally meaningful object – Straus’ Victorian music stand, for example – from one surrounding cultural world to another? This story could provide the starting point for a phenomenological investigation that would be appropriate to Straus as an emigre and as a theorist of embodied thinking. But the discussion remains merely factual, without exploring the meaning of the preservation of the furniture that constituted Straus’ workspace.

Though as mere catalogues of facts, these central chapters fail to elucidate how Husserl’s thought made inroads in North America, the chapters focusing on phenomenological figures have a more recognizably philosophical content. I shall focus on these chapters in the remainder of the review.

Daniel Marcelle’s chapter argues that Aron Gurwitsch’s “field theory” of attention advances the project of Husserlian phenomenology by breaking with Husserl’s own “searchlight” theory of attention. On Marcelle’s reading, Husserl focused on the noetic or “act” aspect of attending, which he described metaphorically as a “ray of regard” directed towards the object of thought (65-66). This spatial metaphor led Husserl to assume that noematic parts of the object remain constant as the consciousness undergoes attentional modifications, for example, that individual notes remain the same, whether they are heard separately or as part of a melody (67). By focusing instead on the noematic or “object” aspect of attention, Gurwitsch offers a richer descriptive theory that dispenses with this presupposition. Gurwitsch distinguishes among theme, the focal point of consciousness, thematic field, the content of which is not thematic but is contextually relevant to the theme, and margin, the content of which is not relevant to the theme but which is nevertheless featured in the stream of consciousness (50). This theory rejects the constancy implicitly assumed by Husserl, while offering richer resources for the description of attentional change (68). Marcelle’s reconstruction of these positions, as well as his characterization of Gurwitsch as promoting the project of phenomenology even while criticizing some of Husserl’s views, is on the mark. Phenomenology as both philosophers conceived it was not a static set of doctrines but a research program intended to uncover the fundamental structures of consciousness. My only objection concerns the chapter’s use of the “Freiburg Encounter” between Husserl and Gurwitsch to frame the discussion. Surely it was his decades of work at the intersection of classical phenomenology and gestalt psychology, rather than his brief 1927 encounter with the person of Husserl, that provides the proper context for understanding Gurwitsch’s field theory of attention.

Eric Chelstrom’s chapter examines Marvin Farber’s “idiosyncratic” understanding of Husserl. On the one hand, Farber wrote a dissertation on Husserl, advanced Husserl’s work for an English-speaking audience, and edited Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, a journal that, in its early period, was dominated by research conducted in a Husserlian phenomenological vein. On the other hand, Farber disagreed fundamentally with Husserl’s idealism, going so far as to separate the “logical” works as the only acceptable texts in Husserl’s corpus (109). Chelstrom makes a convincing case that Farber harbored doubts about Husserl’s methodology from early in his career, though they later emerged as more definite criticisms of Husserl’s idealism. According to Chelstrom, Farber saw the epoché as a valuable method of logical criticism, but argued that the turn to idealism smuggled in metaphysical assumptions that revealed Husserl’s “absolutist and eternalist” political views (112-113). Chelstrom holds that although Farber understood his own materialist and pluralist commitments to be opposed to pure phenomenology, the separation of Husserl’s logical and metaphysical doctrines was arbitrary. I am not so convinced. Doesn’t Husserl’s conception of a transcendental ego speak against the primacy of the empirical self? Likewise, Farber’s pluralism requires that he accept more than one method in philosophy, not that he accepts Husserl’s method. Though Chelstrom’s chapter raises important questions about a difficult figure, it does not explain how Farber used phenomenology within his own naturalistic and pluralistic project.

Though it offers a nice overview of Dorion Cairns’ career, Richard Zaner’s chapter also seems philosophically thin. Its central conceit is that Cairns introduced a novel and helpful principle into phenomenological philosophy, according to which “no belief is philosophically acceptable unless it is established on the basis of adequate evidence. This is a condition of the legitimacy of any epistemic claim” (139). But who would disagree with that? The principle is so general that, on its own, it adds nothing interesting to epistemology. The real question is: what counts as adequate evidence for a belief? In order to answer that question, one would need a more substantive phenomenological analysis of evidence and its adequacy than is available here.

Carlo Ierna’s chapter on Herbert Spiegelberg takes a biographical approach, outlining the phenomenologist’s education, studies, emigration to the United States, and finally his polemical exchange with Farber in the wake of the publication of Spiegelberg’s The Phenomenological Movement (Farber complained that phenomenology did not have the internal consistency to count as a “movement” but would be better described as a “tendency.” Spiegelberg disagreed.) (163-164). The most interesting part of the chapter concerns Spiegelberg’s phenomenological  “workshops,” in which participants would attempt to enter sympathetically into one another’s perspectives. This is an alternative model to the current lecture- and text-based practices of most American phenomenologists. Indeed, it would have been interesting to read more about the methodology and content of these workshops.

Gabriel R. Ricci’s chapter focuses on Jitendra Nath Mohanty’s decades-long project of comparing Indian philosophy to Husserlian phenomenology. For example, whereas in the Vedantic tradition consciousness plays the logical role of mobilizing sources of knowledge but not of judging, in Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology consciousness is taken to have “judicative authority” (176). However, without a strong background in the various traditions of Indian philosophy, it is difficult to understand what is at stake in such a comparison. Moreover, since it neither quotes not cites any primary text of Indian philosophy, nor includes a bibliography, this chapter serves more as an encomium of Mohanty than as a critical engagement with his work.

The chapter on Robert Sokolowski by Molly Brigid McGrath presents similar problems. To be sure, McGrath makes an excellent case for Sokolowski’s anti-solipsistic interpretation of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology, according to which the epoché exposes “not a solitary ego” but an intersubjective intentionality (197). But in attempting to summarize nearly a half-century of philosophical scholarship, it is not clear how this essay contributes to the volume’s stated purpose. As attractive as Sokolowski’s interpretation may be, what is the broader lesson concerning the reception of phenomenology? Would this understanding of the epoché have been acceptable to Husserl himself? What does it add to the phenomenological project that is not already available in Husserl’s philosophical writings?

Daniela Verducci’s chapter, which purports to show how Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka wove together pragmatic and phenomenological traditions, likewise strays from the topic of Husserl reception. An extended section on Scheler’s critique of pragmatism (210-214) is illustrative of this lack of focus. Indeed, the main point Verducci attributes to Scheler, that “the basic error of pragmatism” is “identifying knowledge exclusively as the knowledge of control” (212) rests on a misunderstanding of pragmatism. More importantly, it is unclear what this has to do with Tymieniecka’s reception of Husserl. The last section argues that the synthesis of phenomenology and pragmatism requires, in Tymieniecka’s words, that “not constitutive intentionality, but only the constructive march of life that supports it can reveal to us the beginning of all things” (215). But Husserl’s use of epoché, insofar as it reduces the field of phenomenological inquiry to the constitution of meanings, should block any claims about the beginnings of things. It is hard to read Tymieniecka’s statement as respecting this “immanent” orientation of phenomenological inquiry. However, given Verducci’s references to a plethora of philosophical figures, free use of Greek, Latin, and German technical terminology and neologisms, and large number of creative capitalizations and typographical errors, it seems that the issue is less philosophical than editorial. The editors should have worked more on the chapter before it went to print, which might have led to a more lucid treatment of an interesting topic.

California Phenomenology, a chapter co-written by Jeffrey Yoshimi, Clinton Tolley, and David Woodruff Smith, offers an historical outline of the development of Husserlian phenomenology on the west coast beginning in the 1960s. Interestingly, the founding figure of this movement was not a Californian but the Norwegian-born, Harvard-educated philosopher Dagfinn Føllesdal, who trained a generation of phenomenologists at Harvard and Stanford. Among those who attended early meetings in the Bay Area, most of whom were once Føllesdal’s students, were Hubert Dreyfus, David Woodruff Smith, Ronald McIntyre, and Robert Tragesser; they were later joined by such notables as Izchak Miller, John Haugeland, and Richard Tieszen. The authors note that the California school of Husserl interpretation is marked by an emphasis on exploring the relationship between analytic philosophy and phenomenology, and a “reading of Husserl as developing a semantic theory that can be viewed as a generalization of Fregean semantics, from language to consciousness” (372). As opposed to the “orthodox Gurwitschian” understanding of the noema as the object of thought, this “Fregean semantic” interpretation takes the Husserlian noema to be an abstract object mediating between the act and object of reference (372-373). For the California phenomenologists, your act of thinking of a tabby cat is able to pick out the furry thing on your doormat in virtue of its instantiating a noema or “sense” in you that puts your thinking of the cat into potential inferential relations with the other noemata you constitute. The fact that the noema can be pre-predicative makes it more general than Frege’s notion of Sinn: a noema enters into any description of thinking, regardless of whether that thinking is propositional. Unfortunately, the authors do not develop the consequences of this view but continue the memoir, which relies heavily on direct quotations of emails from various members of the group. However, this memoir is somewhat marred by the fact although the reader can usually tell who is writing, it is unclear which author was the recipient of the email. Another idiosyncracy is that although the chapter is dedicated to Richard Tieszen, precious little discussion of his work is included in the piece.

Micah D. Tillman’s chapter stands out as one of the strongest in the collection, managing to introduce Dallas Willard’s work, while offering fruitful suggestions for attaining a unitarian reading of Husserl’s corpus. On Tillman’s reconstruction, Willard pursued a realist interpretation according to which Husserl’s fundamental aims are at once to provide an ontology of objects, and to account for the possibility of objective knowledge. This attempt to account for objective knowledge is faced with two fundamental paradoxes. The first is that although knowledge must be objective, it is only realized in a subject’s mental acts. The second is that while any such realization must be immediate (in Tillman’s terms, “intuitive”), most of our scientific knowledge is not immediate but is grasped through symbols (393). On Willard’s reconstruction, Husserl resolves the first paradox by developing an account of universals as modes of intentionality that can be fulfilled. Thus, Willard maintains that universal meanings have objective validity but in their fulfillment are apprehended by a subject. The second paradox is also resolved via the notion of fulfillment, which ensures the validity of mechanical or symbolic reasoning not through direct inspection, but through the possibility that any symbolic mathematical proof could be “reactivated” or intuitively “fulfilled” (396). Even for those who, like this reader, are not versed in Willard’s thought, Tillman’s presentation is lucid and philosophically compelling. Though the rest of Tillman’s paper is too rich to be summarized here, one can only hope that Tillman continues this line of inquiry, perhaps by exploring the theological consequences of Willard’s view that are merely signaled at the beginning of the essay (390).

Several chapters are less relevant to the reception of classical phenomenology. Ihde’s chapter is a reprint of a somewhat polemical article on the analytic-continental divide from the 1980s, which now seems dated. Rescher’s chapter on Pittsburgh philosophy has little to do with phenomenology. Calcagno’s chapter on Edith Stein is interesting, but has no direct bearing on Husserl reception in North America.

The final essay in the collection, by Paul M. Livingston, argues that there is a fundamental methodological difference between Husserlian phenomenology and analytic philosophy, in virtue of which the two cannot be directly reconciled (435). According to Livingston, analytic philosophy since Frege has looked to linguistic patterns of public usage to understand the structure of thought (442). Exploiting the work of several figures central to this tradition, Livingston argues that a “characteristic methodological and ontological” assumption of analytic philosophy is that “the objective explanation of mental phenomena requires locating them in an intersubjectively and publicly available network of causally related phenomena” (453-454). Though there is much to be said for Livingston’s use of this literature, it seems to me that the entire weight of this latter claim rests on how one construes the word “objective.” If “objective” here means “true,” then all first-personal statements must indeed be excluded as subjective and false. This leaves no place for Husserl but amounts to the extravagant claim that in order to do philosophy at all, one must forfeit one’s first-personal grasp of the world. In distinction, if “objective” here means “empirical,” it is hard to imagine that Husserl or anyone else would object: surely the mark of an empirical explanation is its causal relation of a phenomenon to other publicly observable phenomena. Of course, there is a residual question of whether there are non-empirical explanations, that is, whether priori knowledge is possible. And some philosophers have answered this question negatively. But this denial could never be a general methodological commitment of analytic philosophers, some of whom have made non-empirical claims, including claims about logic.

I have suggested that in privileging facts over analyses of the reception of Husserl’s thought in North America, the volume includes too much information. But one may also remark on what it excludes. The lack of a chapter relating Husserl to James is strange, especially given Geniusas’ work in the same book series exploring the connection between James’ “fringes” and Husserl’s “horizon.”[ii] There is very little discussion of the work of Alfred Schutz, despite the fact that his work in phenomenology exerted tremendous influence in the social sciences, particularly through The Social Construction of Reality, the bestselling sociology text by Luckmann and Berger, who studied under him at the New School.[iii] Likewise, though his furniture is described in some detail, a chapter dedicated to Straus’s work would have been a welcome addition, and might have provided an opportunity to examine the theme of embodiment that haunts the history of phenomenology and is a concern of current work in philosophy. Another figure who is ignored is Hermann Weyl, who drew from Husserl and had an influential career at Princeton. Finally, it is surprising that there is no chapter on Kurt Gödel, who both attended meetings of the Vienna Circle and, while in the United States, dedicated himself to the study of Husserl. An examination of his views on phenomenology could be used stage an encounter between the mid-century analytic philosophy that stemmed from logical positivism and the continental tradition, which is one of the acknowledged aims of the volume.

This theme of the relationship between, and potential rapprochement of phenomenology and analytic philosophy is an important one, and merits further discussion. Analytic philosophy began as an approach that, like phenomenology, aimed to provide an ultimate clarification of the problems of philosophy. But traditional analytical topics like the problem of mental causation, the justified true belief theory of knowledge, or the metaphysical “debate” between three- and four-dimensionalists today look like artefacts of a stagnant and outmoded philosophical methodology. One’s sense of disappointment is not alleviated by observing the plethora of new philosophical research programs – formal philosophy, experimental philosophy, and critical theories of race and gender – that ape the methods of mathematics, experimental psychology, and sociology. The shattered hegemony of linguistic analysis leaves American philosophers in need of new, distinctively philosophical methods. While the wholesale revival of classical phenomenology might be a tall order, the critical and judicious use of first-personal description and a commitment to elucidating the meanings of lived experience may have much to offer practicing philosophers today.

This book has the virtue of discussing a number of figures in phenomenology who have received less attention than they deserve. In doing so, it shows that despite a common prejudice that takes phenomenology to be primarily a Western European phenomenon, phenomenologists have also been doing interesting work on this side of the Atlantic. However, the book ignores some key figures and leaves important questions unanswered. Indeed, it never makes thematic the fundamental questions about phenomenology in North America. In being received on this continent, how have the interests and methods of phenomenology been transformed? Is this transmission better conceived as the transplantation of a European cultural product to the New World, or as the absorption of a way of theorizing by North American philosophers? What sort of enrichment of philosophy was envisaged by figures like Gurwitsch and Schutz that could justify the countless hours they spent working out the details of a phenomenological philosophy, even while their families and friends were in danger of extermination at the hands of the Nazis? In failing to address these questions, the The Reception of Husserlian Phenomenology in North America misses an opportunity to raise the radical problems that would allow one to grasp the telos of the phenomenological project.


[i] Grathoff, R. [Ed] Philosophers in Exile: The Correspondence of Alfred Schutz and Aron Gurwitsch, 1939-1959. Indiana University Press, 1989, 30-31.

[ii] Geniusas, S. The Origins of the Horizon in Husserl’s Phenomenology. Dordrecht/New York: Springer (Contributions to Phenomenology, Vol. 67), 2012.

[iii] Berger, P. L. and Luckmann, T. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge, Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1966

The New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy, Volume 17, 2019

New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy, Volume 17, 2019 Book Cover New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy, Volume 17, 2019
New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy
Timothy Burns, Thomas Szanto, Alessandro Salice, Maxime Doyon, Augustin Dumont (Eds.)
Routledge
2019
Hardback £115.00
336

Reviewed by: Bence Peter Marosan (Budapest Business School, Pázmány Péter Catholic University)

The 2019 issue of The New Yearbook of Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy has two main parts: the first one (consisting of eleven texts) is a Festschrift for the 65th birthday of Dermot Moran, the second one (with seven texts) contains updated version of the papers presented at a workshop held at the University of Montreal on the problem of imagination in Kant and in the phenomenological tradition, (The Imagination: Kantian and Phenomenological Models, 5-6 May, 2017). The volume ends with a “Varia” section,[1] with the study of Emiliano Trizio, (“Husserl’s Early Concept of Metaphysics As the Ultimate Science of Reality”).

*

Dermot Moran is a key figure of contemporary philosophy and phenomenology. He has an immense, extensive knowledge in the field of natural sciences (having originally studied applied mathematics, physics, and chemistry), the humanities, and particularly, philosophy. He defended his PhD Thesis in Medieval Philosophy at the University of Yale University in 1986; the title of his thesis was: Nature and Mind in the Philosophy of John Scottus Eriugena: A Study in Medieval Idealism.

He counts as one of the leading researchers and experts in phenomenology, and especially in Husserl. He wrote several excellent books on Husserl and phenomenology (Introduction to Phenomenology, 2000; Edmund Husserl – Founder of Phenomenology, 2005; Husserl’s Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology – An Introduction, 2012), and has a long list of articles published in a number of highly rated philosophy journals. His publications have always generated intensive scientific discussions. He was the President of the Programme Committee for the 23rd World Congress of Philosophy which took place in Athens (August 4-10 in 2013), as well as the President of the 24th World Congress of Philosophy which took place in Beijing (August 13–20 in 2018). Professor Moran is the founding editor of the International Journal of Philosophical Studies and the co-editor of the books series Contribution to Phenomenology.

One of his main goals has been to mediate in the greatest schism of our present day’s philosophy: the Analytic-Continental Division. He is urging a more intensive dialogue between the two sides. As an original philosopher, his basic philosophical stance is adopting transcendentalism, the critique of naturalism, with an openness to natural scientific research (from the transcendental point of view), and with continuous integration of the newest results of positive sciences into the considerations of transcendental philosophy. In our present days, when analytic naturalistic philosophy has a huge predominance, I think, these above-mentioned motifs are especially important.

I find myself fortunate that I was his PhD-student in 2008, so I know his personal side as well. I can say that he does not only represent the highest scientific and academic standards, and he is not just an exceptional teacher, but he is also an astonishingly kind person, very open to everybody and extremely helpful to all. This present volume pays a tribute to his outstanding career by his friends and colleagues. [2].

*

  1. The Festschrift contains eleven texts, with the “Editors’ Introduction”. This part of the volume was edited and introduced by Timothy Burns, Thomas Szanto and Alessandro Salice. In their introduction, they give a detailed and also a very personal overview of Dermot Moran’s career; and they also briefly summarize the essays of the first part of the book. I think that every single essay of the Festschrift is an original contribution to it, with new insights concerning the topic they treat. The essays reflect issues or topics that were of concern to Dermot, such as: transcendentalism, embodiment, intersubjectivity.
  2. In his study “Husserl’s Account of Action: Naturalistic or Anti-Naturalistic? A Journey through the Studien zur Struktur des Bewusstseins”, Andrea Staiti touches upon two motifs which are central for Moran: his commitment to the transcendental and anti-naturalistic attitude and his openness to contemporary natural scientific research and analytic philosophy of mind. He refers to one of Moran’s more recent essays in this context: “Defending the Transcendental Attitude: Husserl’s Concept of the Person and the Challenges of Naturalism” (2014). In this essay, Staiti focuses on Husserl’s view of action, drawing on his – at the moment unpublished, but shortly forthcoming – research manuscript “Studien zur Struktur des Bewusstseins” (1900-1914[-1924]) (Ms. M III 3 I-III). He tries to show that Husserl’s account of action, his fundamentally anti-naturalistic stance, is compatible with contemporary naturalistic description of action (according to which the action is not the result of the will as a supernatural causal source).

He attempts to prove this thesis through a microanalysis of Husserl’s depiction of the structure of action, as it is elaborated in “Studien zur Struktur des Bewusstseins”. Husserl interprets the will as a peculiar sort of conscious acts, which stand under the law of motivation. In Husserl’s view, subjectivity is essentially embodied, bodily consciousness, which is part of nature, and this conscious body is the source of will (and voluntary decisions). According to Husserl, free will is just the free functioning of this lived, autonomous and conscious body. As Staiti emphasizes, Husserl creates an elegant balance between anti-naturalistic and naturalistic interpretations of the will, and this could be a fruitful approach within the contemporary debates concerning the relationship of will and action.

  1. Mette Lebech engages in reconstructive work in her paper „Essence, eidos, and dialogue in Stein’s ‘Husserl and Aquinas. A Comparison’”. She discusses the original version of Edith Stein’s Festschrift essay for Husserl’s 70th birthday essay entitled: “What Is Philosophy? A Conversation Between Edmund Husserl and Thomas Aquinas”, originally written, as the title suggests, as a dialogue. Heidegger, who edited the Festschrift, requested Edith Stein to rewrite her work in prosaic form – which she did. She gave the revised version the new title: “An Attempt to Contrast Husserl’s Phenomenology and the Philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas”. The revised version was a comparison of the thinking of the authors, which changed the original content, in so far as the dialogue form itself contributed to the content.

In the original paper a dialogue is recorded between Husserl, as founder of phenomenology, and Aquinas, committed to an ethos of rational faith. The dialogue is possible because of the willingness of the two thinkers to enter into it, and together explore the differences between their respective positions. An important motif is the discussion of the nature of philosophy as well as the idea of essence: together the two thinkers try to attain rational insights concerning basic philosophical topics. The main point of the article is that it is the idea of intelligibility present in their respective understanding of essence that allows the two interlocutors to engage in a dialogue, and that the dialogue form brings this out. According to Stein (in Lebech’s interpretation) essence is a presupposition for the intersubjective, dialogic praxis of communities.

  1. Steven Crowell’s article, “Twenty-first-Century Phenomenology? Pursuing Philosophy With and After Husserl”, partly treats Moran’s narrative in his seminal work: “Introduction to Phenomenology” (2000). In this book, Moran portrays the history of phenomenology of the 20th century as a deviation from Husserl’s transcendental and idealistic formulation of phenomenology. Crowell, on the one hand, offers a critical overview of this interpretation of the phenomenological movement, and poses the question (based on the results of his essay) of what should phenomenology be in the 21st century?

According to Moran, the main authors of phenomenology – after Husserl – rejected both his transcendental attitude and his idealistic tendencies. The “inflection point” of phenomenology in this story was Heidegger’s philosophy of Being, and his vehement criticism of Husserl. Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, some really naturalistic features were gained, and finally in Derrida, the phenomenological method “collapsed” into deconstruction.

But in Crowell’s opinion, we could interpret the history of phenomenology in another way: phenomenologies – after Husserl – could be interpreted as transformations of transcendentalism. One could clearly identify the transcendental motif in Heidegger’s account of being-there (Dasein, the subject), as well as in (e.g.) Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of chiasm and the phenomenology of nature.

Relying on this interpretation of phenomenological tradition, Crowell offers us a possible way of phenomenology for the 21st century, which keeps the transcendental attitude onwards in the future, but abandons classical metaphysical demands. It should be a phenomenology – as Husserl (and also Moran) claimed – of radical self-responsibility, a radical claim concerning evidence and ethical responsibility.

  1. In his essay entitled: “Merleau-Ponty and Developing and Coping Reflectively”, Timothy Mooney takes issue with Hubert Dreyfus’ interpretation of Merleau-Ponty on “skilled coping,” arguing that reflective work is to be found in many of our daily embodied experiences. He emphasises a self-differentiating and bodily field of experience from which the conscious and objectifying subject emerges and to which it makes its own contributions.

In the background of every movement, there is an anonymously functioning body, though the embodied agent is at once an encultured and thoughtful one. In this account, we do not find an indifferent animal body surmounted by human reason. Following on Joseph Berendzen’s work, Mooney stresses that Merleau-Ponty rejects a “layer-cake” model of human subjectivity (according to which there could be hermetically separated layers of body and mind). As Berendzen states: “There are certainly elements that we share with animals, […] but there is no shared layer” (76). Both body and bodily-founded consciousness are specifically human, and every so-called layer mutually determines and shapes the other.

Mooney illustrates the functioning of this embodied and culturally formed awareness in everyday life with a series of examples. The central concept in his essay is that of “little reflections”. These refer to the way in which we consciously adjust our bodily movements (and not just our speech) to changing events in the lived environment. We frequently make explicit corrections to our movements and in so doing contribute to replanning them. Without these little reflections, we would be literally unable to survive.

  1. Similarly to the previous study, Matthew Ratcliffe’s paper “Grief and Phantom Limbs: A Phenomenological Comparison”, first and foremost also relies on Merleau-Ponty. Ratcliffe emphasizes certain deep parallelism, and what is even more: identity between phantom limb experience and experience of losing a beloved person, that is to say: grief. Phantom limb experiences manifest for us the essentially embodied nature of consciousness, and that we are entangled with the world – in the same way that in the experience of grief, it became clear for us that we and the other person belong together in a much stronger than metaphoric way, in a nearly literal sense. The other (beloved) person is almost an extension of my body. The other person grants me access to the world in nearly the same way as my sensory organs and limbs do. In his essay, Ratcliffe focuses on our active, back-and-forth determinative relationship to the world, and on the manner in which our relations to other persons shape the access to our own body and to the world that surrounds us.
  2. In the center of Lilian Alweiss’s contribution (“Back to Space”) discusses the relation between place and space. It is generally agreed that Husserl’s phenomenology prioritises place over space. Lilian Alweiss questions this interpretation of Husserl by drawing on Edward Casey’s work. Casey claims for both early Kant and Husserl embodiment, the place we find ourselves in, is central to our understanding of space. Although Alweiss acknowledges that embodiment plays a central role in cognition and our relation to others, she believes that neither Kant nor Husserl ever argue that our understanding of space is a posteri or derived from our understanding of space. She thereby takes to task Casey’s anti-modern or romantic reading that tries to question our scientific conception of space.
  3. Anthony J. Steinbock’s article: „Hating as Contrary to Loving” is an essential and enlightening study concerning the phenomenology of emotions and feelings. The principal thesis of Steinbock’s essay is that hate and love are not parallel and coeval feelings, neither do they have a dialectical relationship. Love is more fundamental and original than hate, and the latter is founded on the former; so they have a foundational relation.

Steinbock makes a difference between feeling-states and feeling-acts. States are objective and static, and they could be conceived as objects. Acts are always dynamic, and could never be conceived as objects, in the way states could be. States are founded by acts. Hate is founded by love, both as act and state. It gains its entire reality and energy from love.

A key conception of Steinbock’s paper is at first a mysteriously sounding phrase: the hate hates the beloved (121). What does it mean? It means that hate is founded upon the positivity of love and beloved. It is a counter-movement, a negative striving against love and the beloved; it is a closing down with regard to the beloved (or a turning away from it), or even a destructive action against the beloved. But in its entire negativity, it is made comprehensible only through love, against which it is directed. It is the denial of the beloved.

  1. Thomas Nenon’s study “Do Arguments about Subjective Origins Diminish the Reality of the Real?” again joins a central topic of the whole volume and Moran’s basic philosophical attitude: the defence of transcendental stance. Nenon treats the criticism of two main authors of “speculative realism”, Tom Sparrow and Quentin Meillassoux against transcendental philosophy in general, and Husserl in particular. According to the criticism of speculative realists, transcendental philosophy and especially phenomenology fall prey to “correlationism”, which means “the irreducibility of subject and object, thinking and being” and „never considering either term apart from the other”. According to speculative realism, transcendentalism makes reality dependent on subjectivity. Nenon attempts to show that this criticism is false.

In Nenon’s interpretation, transcendental philosophy does not make reality dependent (objectivity) from consciousness, nor is it unable to consider and treat them apart. Transcendentalism is rather the first-person view treatment of experienced objectivity, and the ways in which objectivity appear in experience. It is Meillassoux’s realism which is somehow naïve and naturalistic, because it is simply oriented toward the worldview and achievement of modern natural sciences. Nenon says that Meillassoux’s concept of objectivity is too narrow – as opposed to phenomenology which has a much richer and sophisticated notion of objectivity, with many different regions, (the world of nature, the realm of culture, the sphere of ideal meanings etc.).

  1. Richard Kearney’s essay: “God Making: An Essay in Theopoetic Imagination” is a really beautiful writing about philosophy (phenomenology) of religion. It is a survey about the transformation of divine into human and human into divine, a mutual fusion of these two spheres of Being. A main topic of the paper is creation: how God makes the human being a partner, a playmate in the act, the process of creation; moreover: how humans become lovers of God in the act of creation. Creation is an erotic act; it is the fusion of creator and creature, divine and human, their mutual transition into each other. Creation is the manifestation of an erotic desire of God. Creation is moreover a poetic deed; the divine creation is “theopoiesis”.

An important point of Kearney’s paper is the motif of return, which he emphasizes with the Greek prefix “ana”. Kearney speaks about “anatheism” which is “returning to God after God: a critical hermeneutic retrieval of sacred things” (152). Anatheism is not just the Hegelian “Aufhebung” (uplifting); it is not simply a moving through the opposition of theism and atheism towards something higher. It is an ultimate re-opening to the radically new, it is the final union with the divine dimension.

In the final part of his study, Kearney applies and demonstrates his insights on the artwork of the contemporary artist, Sheila Gallagher.

  1. Nicolas de Warren, in his essay “Husserl’s Awakening to Speech: Phenomenology as ‘Minor Philosophy’”, highlights the peculiar philosophical importance of Husserl’s working method of thinking in writing, using his special stenography. His study is also a novel approach to Husserl’s relationship to language and his philosophy in general. Husserl’s way of meditating in writing shaped his thoughts, and his streams of thoughts also formed the way he wrote. Nicolas de Warren also wants to revise the still currently prevailing view concerning Husserl’s conception of language, according to which language was merely external to thought. De Warren tries to show that this is not the case. Language, not in a thematic way, but rather in a methodological manner, gained a central role in Husserl’s works. In Husserl’s unpublished manuscripts (in the process of writing them) phenomenology became really linguistic and phenomenological. In Husserl’s writings, phenomena really seeked expression, and all the concepts were in formation, everything was fluid and flexible. In de Warren’s interpretation: “Husserlian phenomenology is an unprecedented historical awakening of philosophy to its own speech” (164). De Warren characterizes it as a “Minor Philosophy”, as a radically new form of philosophising, which “struggles to create novel philosophical concepts within established – inherited and institutionalized – dominant languages of philosophy” (161).

*

  1. The second part of the volume (“The Imagination. Kant’s Phenomenological Legacy”) consists of six studies, plus the “Editors’ introduction” by Maxime Doyon and Augustin Dumont, which offers a brief survey of the philosophical importance of the imagination.
  2. Maxime Doyon’s study (entitled “Kant and Husserl on the (Alleged) Function of Imagination in Perception”) is a systematic comparison of Kant’s and Husserl’s conception of imagination and its purported role in experience and cognition. The text begins by arguing that there are at least three ways in which the imagination could be interpreted as playing an essential role in perception in Kant’s philosophy: firstly, it is said to be necessary to account for the amodal character of perception, (“amodal” in this context refers to the holistic feature of perception; that is to say: that we see objects as wholes, even if we see directly only a few details of them); secondly, the imagination would be essential to account for the constitution of the identity of object through time; and thirdly, the imagination would help us to classify objects, that is to say, to conceive them as particular examples of certain types or classes.

Doyon then tries to show that Husserl inherited this set of problems (amodal perception, constitution of perceptual identity through time and classificatory functioning of perception), without, however, subscribing to Kant’s explanation, which grants to the imagination a transcendental role. In Husserl, there is no place for the imagination in perception, except in two (relatively) rare situations: in image consciousness (when we perceive images [photos, paintings, sculptures, etc.]) and perceptive phantasies (experiencing of works of art; such as theatrical plays, operas, etc.). Otherwise, there is – pace Kant – just no place for the imagination at all in perception.

  1. Andreea Smaranda Aldea, in her long and thorough work entitled „Imagination and Its Critical Dimension: Lived Possibilities and An Other Kind of Otherwise” offers us a detailed and critical analysis of Husserl’s conception of imagination, highlighting its merits, but sketching a basically alternative model.

In Husserl, imagination and perception belong to essentially different sorts of acts. Imagination has a special – and very important! – epistemological role, but fundamentally it is the “inversed mirror” of perception. It is everything which perception is not, (with the exception that both are intuitive acts). Imagination is not-doxic, free, neutralized and quasi-positional act. According to Aldea this account, though at certain points grasps some fundamental features of imagination, at certain points it is rather insufficient, what is even more: misleading. In Aldea’s opinion, imagination cannot be interpreted in such a negative way as Husserl has.

Aldea, in an alternative model, which – notwithstanding – relies on Husserl, describes perception and imagination, which are radically different, but at certain essential points are nevertheless intertwined and in strong cooperation with each other. “Imagining possibilization” (a key conception in Aldea’s framework) has – as opposed to Husserl’s view on imagination –a motivated and teleological structure, and is embedded into the concrete medium of the life-world of the proper subject in question. “Imagining possibilization” plays a fundamental role in the constitution of meanings, and thus in cognition and experience in general. Aldea wishes to present such a model of imagination, which is bound by contingent cultural and historical conditions on the one hand, but – on the other hand – nevertheless has a fundamental transcendental necessity too.

  1. Samantha Matherne’s central thesis, in her essay, “The Hidden Art of Understanding: Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty’s Appropriation of Kant’s Theory of Imagination”, is that there is a fundamental continuity between Kant’s theory of imagination and Heidegger’s as well as Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy (despite the no less important differences). In her study, she attempts to demonstrate some essential elements of this continuity.

In the beginning of her writing, she emphasizes that there are four basic claims in Kant’s conception of imagination: firstly, the “perceptual presence”-claim (according to which imagination plays a constitutive role in the perception of a concrete material thing); secondly, the “transcendental”-claim (which says that imagination makes experience possible in a transcendental and apriori way); thirdly, the “pre-cognitive”-claim (which states that imagination operates prior to cognition, and founds the latter), and fourthly, the “know-how”-claim (in accordance with which imagination has a deeply practical function). Matherne tries to show that all these motifs could be found in Heidegger’s and Merleau-Ponty’s notion of imagination.

The Heidegger-part of this study is also a very creative analysis: the author (Matherne) does not investigate Heidegger’s Kant-book, which would be all too trivial in this context (though she – of course – mentions that work). She focuses on Heidegger’s Being and Time (of which she offers a closer reading) in order to show that the above-mentioned four elements could be found in Heidegger’s existential analysis of the Dasein (being-there). She completed the same work in analysing Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception; highlighting that Merleau-Ponty embeds the fore-mentioned Kantian claims into his conception of bodily existence. Imagination, in Merleau-Ponty, is fundamentally the functioning of the embodied subjectivity – but this treatment of imagination, according to Matherne, also has its roots in Kant.

  1. Michela Summa’s essay entitled: “Are Fictional Emotion Genuine and Rational? Phenomenological Reflections on a Controversial Question”, is a very sensitive and even touching investigation concerning the problem of fictional emotions. Though her study is not restricted to that, but the article mostly treats the phenomenon of fictional emotions in the aesthetical context. The question: do we experience real and rationally motivated emotions within aesthetical circumstances (e.g. seeing a theatrical play or reading a novel)? For example: Kendall Walton says: “no”, to this question. Michela Summa, on the contrary, answers this question with a definite and emphatic “yes.”

According to her, though the characters of fictional stories aren’t real, our emotions concerning them could be. Presence and real existence of things aren’t criteria for our emotions to be real; as Summa emphasizes, (real) emotions are often intertwined with the absence of its object (as in the case of e.g. grief). The sadness, she states, we are feeling for Anna Karenina, is both real and rationally motivated; (the situation, the experience is such that it is just rational to feel this way); the tears we shed for her fate are real, though she is not. Our entire personality could live in such fictional emotions – just as in the case of real emotions.

  1. Daniele de Santis – in his study entitled: “‘Das Wunder hier ist die Rationalität’: Remarks on Husserl on Kant’s Einbildungskraft and the Idea of Transcendental Philosophy (With a Note on Kurd Laßwitz)” – offers us an exhaustive study on Husserl’s reading of Kant, at the early stage of his elaboration of transcendental phenomenology, mostly between the years 1907-1909 (manuscripts mostly published in Hua 7).[3] De Santis focuses on details of Husserl’s harsh criticism of Kant during this period; and also on the implicit ways in which Kant nevertheless influenced Husserl’s own transcendental position. Husserl criticized Kant in those, above-mentioned manuscripts, for his alleged anthropologism. That means: in Husserl’s interpretation, Kant states that a world, which is supposed to be understood by human beings, is essentially a human world, which presupposes human consciousness. Husserl, on the contrary, operates with a much broader form of rationality. The world need not be a particularly human world, in order to be understood, the rationality need not be specifically human in order to understand the world. The human being is a particular, empirical entity – but Husserl is interested in necessary and apriori structures of consciousness (and rationality) and of the world. De Santis emphasizes that we could highlight two different and fundamental forms of rationality in Husserl: a transcendental one (apriori structures of constituting consciousness) and ontology (apriori structures of constituted object); which together make up a non-anthropologic, more complete form of rationality.

An interesting and creative moment of this essay is the analysis, devoted to Husserl’s contemporary, Kurd Laußwitz, a Neo-Kantian author, who spoke about different, non-human parallel worlds, and to whom Husserl also refers in the manuscripts of the treated period.

  1. Augustin Dumont’s article entitled: “Imagination and Indeterminacy: The Problematic Object in Kant and Husserl” is a thorough, insightful, comparative analysis of Kant’s and Husserl’s account of imagination, and its role of the epistemology of these two authors; with special regard to their understanding of the “problematic object”.

Kant’s and Husserl’s conception of imagination, despite all the common points, are essentially different. Imagination, for Kant, in a certain way, serves as a condition of possible experience; while for Husserl, it is a possible (particular) form of experience. But there is also an important connection between them: the question of the “problematic object”. For Kant, the problematic object was the “object in general”, before every determination. In Husserl, the “problematic object” was the object of imagination or fantasy which – at certain points – played nevertheless an important role in Husserl’s epistemology, (e.g. in his method of “eidetic variations”).

*

  1. The closing unit of this volume, Emiliano Trizio’s writing, entitled: “Husserl’s Early Concept of Metaphysics As the Ultimate Science of Reality”, is an enlightening, very profound, astonishingly in-depth survey of the formation of Husserl’s early notion of metaphysics. Trizio’s main aim in his essay is to dispel such misunderstanding, according to which Husserl’s phenomenologically was – at least – metaphysically neutral, or even anti-metaphysical. In contrast to this, Trizio attempts to show that Husserl’s chief philosophical efforts were deeply metaphysically motivated, and that his ultimate goal was to establish a phenomenologically grounded metaphysics. In this regard, what is of the utmost importance is Husserl’s considerations on the relationship between theory of knowledge and metaphysics.

Trizio follows Husserl’s intricate trains of thought concerning the relationship of these two disciplines – from 1896 (Lecture on Logic)[4] up to some of the earliest documents of his transcendental turn (Such as the Introduction to logic and the theory of knowledge. Lectures 1906/07).[5] The theory of knowledge, according to Husserl, was about the essence of justified knowledge, and the proper means to attain grounded knowledge. Metaphysics, on the other hand, was about being; in the end, for Husserl, it was the ultimate science of factual reality.

Husserl hesitated for a while on how to define the boundaries between theory of knowledge and metaphysics. His final stance on this question began to crystallize in his above-mentioned 1906/07 lectures; according to which they are distinct and separate fields. Theory of knowledge (as “first philosophy”) yields the ultimate foundation of every knowledge; metaphysics (as “second philosophy”) is the supreme form of the philosophical disclosure of reality.

*

In my opinion, the 2019 volume of The New Yearbook of Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy meets the highest standards. Both sections are excellent, with studies of very high standard, and the closing essay is also a very good one, treating a topic (Husserl’s early metaphysics), which deserves much more attention than it received until now. The first part is a compilation of studies of very high quality, in the honour of one of the most important contemporary philosophers; the second part is a collection of essays, which illuminate, in a very precise way, the peculiar philosophical importance of the phenomenon of imagination.


[1]  A section for papers, which do not fit into the thematic parts of the volume.

[2] This paper was supported by the János Bolyai Research Scholarship of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, (No. BO/00421/18/2). I would like to express my gratitude to everybody, who helped with her/his comments and corrections the completion of the final version of this article – first of all, to the authors of this volume. I am also very grateful to Zsuzsanna Keglevich, for proofreading the article.

[3] Husserliana 7. Erste Philosophie (1923/4). Erster Teil: Kritische Ideengeschichte (The Hague, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff 1956).

[4] Husserliana Materialien 1. Logik. Vorlesung 1896 (Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001).

[5] Husserliana 24. Einleitung in die Logik und Erkenntnistheorie. Vorlesungen 1906/07 (The Hague, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff 1985).

Andrew Haas: Unity and Aspect

Unity and Aspect Book Cover Unity and Aspect
Orbis Phaenomenologicus Studien, Band 46
Andrew Haas
Königshausen & Neumann
2018
Hardback 68,00 €
384

Reviewed by: Mark Tanzer (University of Colorado at Denver)

Unity and Aspect has been short-listed as a finalist for the 2019 Prix Mercier.

Andrew Haas’ Unity and Aspect is a work in an area philosophy that is rarely addressed any longer; in Haas’ words, “something that might have previously been named first philosophy or metaphysics, or at least just philosophy, if there is such a thing” (16).  With this characterization, which concludes the initial paragraph of the book, Haas sets the tone for his own foray into metaphysics.

To begin to get a foothold in Haas’ thinking, we note that he conceives of metaphysics as “the study of implications” (18), but not just any implications.  The specific relations of implication on which Haas focuses are those between being, unity, time, and aspect.  Haas sees the consideration of these relations as essential to metaphysics insofar as the traditional prioritization of being qua being compels the metaphysician to take up the problem of unity, since “being and unity imply one another” (16).  First philosophy as ontology, then, is more properly “onto-henology” (16).  Furthermore, being and unity imply time, which itself implies aspect; and so metaphysics, ultimately, is “onto-heno-chrono-phenomenology, or just metaphysics for short” (17).  Haas’ metaphysics, then, is anchored in these four notions; Unity and Aspect traces the ways in which their relations of mutual implication play out.

Haas’ project is further complicated, when he notes that implication itself requires examination.  For the notion of the implicated that he adopts is not simply the traditional negative counter-concept to the explicit, the precise, the clear and distinct.  Instead of conceiving of the implicated as that which, in fact, has not been brought to its possible explication, Haas sees it as a type of implication that can never, even in principle, be made explicit, a type of being-implied that “repeatedly problematizes our desire to make what we mean explicit” (36).  Herein lies the fundamental challenge of Haas’ book: to articulate a metaphysics of implication, despite its intrinsic resistance to explication.  Thus, Haas avers that “we probably should not be surprised to find it difficult to give an account of our work” (76).  For as he notes when he takes up the theme of explication, it is “the language of the explicit that serves as the norm” (307) in traditional Western thought.  That is, our thinking has been, and continues to be, grounded in “a language that presupposes the possibility or necessity of presence” (308), i.e., in an ontology for which to be is to be present or at least presentifiable.  This traditional ontology limits thought since it cannot accommodate a lack of presence that is not equivalent to mere absence, to mere non-being, and so “would seem unable to unfold that which is merely implied” (309), unable to give an account of that which lies outside the scope of presence and absence.

In view of the intrinsic difficulty of articulating a metaphysics of implication, Haas invokes several examples of familiar phenomena whose analyses at least facilitate an understanding of implication, as these phenomena exhibit structural similarities with that which is implied.  For instance, Haas compares implications with memories, noting that just as an implication is neither present nor not present, so a memory is “neither the thing itself…nor is it simply not the thing at all” (67).  Neither a purely positive phenomenon, nor the simple negation thereof, a memory, like an implication, is some kind of “third thing” (67).  Haas draws similar comparisons between implications and apparitions (67), hints (122), marks (139), light (168), visual objects (198), and other phenomena.  The upshot of these comparisons is that implications, being neither present nor absent, indicate a position outside of presence and absence, or “the suspension of both” (142) presence and absence.  And Haas maintains that it is its suspension of this traditional opposition that renders implication characteristically “problematic” (75), characteristically inexplicable.  A metaphysics of implication, then, articulates that which can only be addressed in suspension, that which is intrinsically a problem.

From this outline of the basic framework of Unity and Aspect, the influence of Heidegger is patent, particularly with regard to the clear kinship between Haas’ rejection of a metaphysics of presence and Heidegger’s critique of the ontology of the present-at-hand.  Haas hints at this connection, when he holds that “[t]he problem of Being and Time is the problem of the problem” (359).  For this can also be said of Unity and Aspect.  A metaphysics of implication, addressing that which is intrinsically problematic, that which continually frustrates our need for resolution, for relief from suspension, is a metaphysics of what it is to be problematic, a metaphysics of the problem as such.  In this sense, Haas’ endeavor bears a clear similarity with Being and Time’s project of articulating a conception of being that resists traditional philosophy’s attempts to render being explicit, to bring it to presence.  Thus, Heideggerian being can only be thought as a problem, or more precisely, as what it is to be a problem, what it is to preclude a final resolution: in Haas’ formulation, “the problem of the problem.”

Although Unity and Aspect is too rich and wide-ranging to be read solely through a narrow Heideggerian lens, this seems to be a valuable way to approach the book, as a first reading.  (Even the title suggests this approach, as unity and aspect are the most direct implications of being and time, respectively, which can be taken as implying that Unity and Aspect is the implication of Being and Time.  For Haas, I suspect, what exactly that means depends on what is meant by implication, and so requires a metaphysics of implication.)  Through this approach, we gain a point of orientation in the complex and difficult course of argumentation that constitutes Haas’ work. And though a good deal of late 20th Century and early 21st Century philosophy can be seen as developments of Heideggerian thought, Haas’ book is unique.  To see the originality of Unity and Aspect, we first note the writing style that Haas adopts.

In consonance with its subject-matter, Haas’ writing reflects the enigmatic, indeterminable character of implication itself.  Rather than asserting determinate claims, he makes suggestions, saying that something “might be” the case, that something else “would perhaps” follow, or “would probably” obtain.  Haas sustains this suggestive, elusive mode of discourse throughout the entirety of Unity and Aspect, never making any fully definitive assertions, nor allowing any train of exposition to arrive at a determinate, unequivocal conclusion.  This unyielding open-endedness may frustrate our need for resolution, our need to relieve the disquiet of suspense and arrive at a moment of presence.  But, as we have seen, this resistance to presence lies at the very heart of a metaphysics of implication.  The suspense is further maintained by Haas’ manner of articulating the pivotal terms discussed in the book.  He gives detailed accounts of what being, unity, time, and aspect, along with other key terms, are not, contrasting them with traditional conceptions thereof.  Being, for example, is introduced as not “a thing, nor just a universal, analogous, or paronymous…nor does it seem that it could be merely a word, one among many, nor just a thought, nor simply the position or existence or presence of a thing, nor a relation of things to themselves, like self-presence or self-identity” (17).  Here, however, Haas is not merely practicing a negative ontology, as being is also not “their opposites, like non-self-presence, absence, withdrawal…” (17).  In this way, traditional conceptions of being, like those of the book’s other key terms, are exposed as variations on the purported need to choose between presence and non-presence, a choice that overlooks implication and its suspension of both terms.  The way that Haas carries out the exposition of his analyses also exhibits the indeterminacy of implication. Although it is not presented in the form of a linear, logical argument, the book follows a logic of its own, continually circling back to previous discussions, thereby relentlessly re-assessing, and further problematizing the metaphysical notions addressed in those discussions.  By writing in a manner that does not merely proclaim, but exhibits, the indeterminacy of its subject-matter, Haas’ work is distinctive.  It is an original metaphysics written in a way that is designed to afford a unique angle on the problems of metaphysics, specifically in their ineluctably problematic character.  And Haas shows that such work is a valuable way of developing some of the fundamental insights of Heideggerian thought, of explicating the inexplicable withdrawal of being, and its implications.

Haas concludes Unity and Aspect by suggesting that a metaphysics of implication could be seen as engaging in a kind of waiting, that “waiting might also suggest how to consider something like suspension” (325).  For the suspension intrinsic to implication leaves metaphysics unfulfilled, always on the way to an impossible presence that the metaphysician of implication recognizes as such.  The ultimate insights that traditional metaphysics expects will eventually come to presence are now recognized as unpresentifiable, and thus as essentially “delayed,” “deferred,” “deterred” (325), as that which can only be encountered as still to come, as waited for.  The danger of this characterization is that waiting can easily be conceived as waiting for a possible presence, rather than waiting for a suspension that is neither present nor absent—a waiting for rather than a waiting toward.  To succumb to this danger would constitute a regression into the metaphysics of presence.  Here, we can see why a metaphysics of implication must remain problematic, unresolved.  Since its operations lies beyond the scope of that which our thinking can articulate, its expositions will always be no more than hints or suggestions.  Conceiving of metaphysics as waiting, then, is no more than a hint.  But it also no less than a hint.  It may give a distorted view of the objects of a metaphysics of implication, but a distorted view is nevertheless a view.  And waiting might be a particularly felicitous distortion.  In Haas’ words, “waiting might far more be, possibly or necessarily, our normal way of being one with things, temporally and aspectually” (325).  Although that, like all claims made in the context of a metaphysics of implication, remains to be seen.

Giuliano Bacigalupo, Hélène Leblanc (Eds.): Anton Marty and Contemporary Philosophy

Anton Marty and Contemporary Philosophy Book Cover Anton Marty and Contemporary Philosophy
History of Analytic Philosophy
Giuliano Bacigalupo, Hélène Leblanc (Eds.)
Palgrave Macmillan
2019
Hardback $99.99
XVII, 237

Reviewed by: R.A. Goodrich (ARC Centre for History of Emotions – University of Melbourne & ADI Philosophy & History of Ideas – Deakin University)

This nine-chapter anthology edited and introduced by Giuliano Bacigalupo and Hélène Leblanc is one of the recent volumes within the History of Analytic Philosophy series. The series aims not only to open debate and research into its nominated field of philosophy, but also to engage those thinkers nowadays regarded as “founders” of the analytic movement. These include Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein—as well as those influencing and succeeding them—who shaped contemporary concerns as much rooted, for example, in the logico-linguistic as in the psycho-phenomenological terrain. To that extent, the three main parts of Anton Marty and Contemporary Philosophy respectively step readers into language broadly and narrowly conceived; competing conceptions of space and time; and theoretical approaches to existence and philosophy. Whilst so doing, contributors (re)position Marty against both his contemporaries such as Franz Brentano and Edmund Husserl as well as current philosophers such as Graham Nerlich and Alberto Voltolini (who contributes the penultimate chapter of the anthology).

Readers will therefore find that this volume is not merely an exegesis of one of the less familiar figures associated with Brentano’s intellectual circles, it is also an act of retrieval in an historical or diachronic sense. It consequently shares a duality of aims traceable in recent anthologies centred upon Marty, including, for instance, those edited since the ’nineties by Kevin Mulligan, Robin Rollinger, Laurent Cesalli with Hamid Taieb, and Guillaume Fréchette also with Hamid Taieb. Therefore, this review essay faces two tasks. Firstly, it will critically probe the actual way in which Marty is presented in light of contemporary debates with particular reference to the logico-linguistic realm which at least half the chapters engage. Secondly, it will examine more closely how this philosophical anthology more generally operates historically despite the editors’ overt declaration that “this volume is not a reconstruction of Marty’s theories for historical purposes” as distinct from an effort to resurrect his thinking “via the lenses of a contemporary perspective” (3).

I

Because Marty has tended to be recruited as a precursor of Paul Grice by Frank Liedtke (1990), Laurent Cesalli (2013) and Guy Longworth (2017) amongst others, let us begin by concentrating upon two opening chapters. In Chapter Two, François Recanati counters this tendency by proposing a marked contrast in their respective conceptions of communicative acts. Grice (1957: 213-223; cf. 1980: 290-297) claims that two distinctive kinds of meaning operate within our acts of communication. For example, if Laura says, “Those dark clouds mean that it will rain,” then the meaning of “dark clouds” functions as a “natural” sign of an impending change of weather. In other words, in cases like “dark clouds” where “rain” can be inferred or predicted from the fact that they are present, Laura is giving expression to “natural” meaning. By contrast, if her older sibling Lucantonio keeps pointing to the wispy grey sky overhead, repeatedly exclaiming “You’ll see, it will rain,” his pointing can be taken to mean “it will rain.” However, it does not as a matter of fact actually follow that it will rain since Lucantonio may well, for example, be teasing or mocking others accompanying him. Here, the meaning communicated is not “natural”: it is not a case of what follows from what. Rather, what Lucantonio means by pointing and playfully declaring “it will rain” reveals a communicative intention of leading his listeners to recognize his intention of teasing or mocking them. Meaning here, now tied to the speaker’s intention of inducing a particular psychological effect amongst his listeners by their recognition of his intention, is regarded by Grice as “non-natural” meaning.

Recanati reminds readers that Grice (1969: 93ff.), even when subsequently elaborating his analysis of a speaker’s intention and a listener’s response, did not waver from upholding “non-natural” meaning as independent of “natural” meaning nor did he explicitly resort to rationalising the difference purely in terms of, say, conventions or rules governing acts of spoken communication. Instead, to cite Recanati, “Communicative intentions have a nested structure and […] potentially involve an infinite sequence of sub-intentions pertaining to the recognition by the hearer of a previous sub-intention” (14).  So, for Recanati, “to make the speaker’s communicative intention fully ‘overt’,” Grice needs to allow the communicative intention to be “reflexive” (14). This perhaps explains why Grice concedes that the listener’s recognition is grounded “at least partly on the basis of” the speaker’s utterance (1969: 94, 96).

Turning to Marty (1908: 283ff.), there appears to be no evidence for treating “natural” and “non-natural” meaning in strictly binary terms. Recanati contends that Marty construes the two kinds of meaning as “continuous” (15).  Indeed, he continues, human behaviour itself can be “a natural sign of ‘internal psychological processes’” (15 (citing Marty)), especially in instances such as involuntary tears of sorrow, grief or anguish and screams of pain, horror or fear. Yet, if Laura’s tears merely expressed her sorrow, that alone is insufficient a criterion for being a communicative act. From Marty’s perspective, for Laura to engage an act of communication, her principal intention should be directed at her listeners, inducing in them “a matching attitude towards the object of the expressed thought” (15) where expressing her own psychological response is but a means to that end. That said, when Laura’s tears on the death of her beloved nonna enable her listeners to align themselves with her anguish, grief, or sorrow, then for Marty unlike Grice an instance of “natural” meaning need not exclude an instance of “non-natural” meaning.

Pursuing the difference between Marty and Grice further, Recanati finds the former assigns “only one semiotic relation” which characterises “natural” meaning whereas “non-natural” meaning comprises “three distinct semiotic relations at work” (17). The three relationships are said to be the expressive meaning of the utterance; the wider or communicative meaning of the utterance; and the narrower or denotational meaning of the utterance. Collectively, as some readers might surmise, Marty’s threefold depiction seems to form an antecedent of that of Karl Bühler (1918: 1; cf. 12-13) initially in his review of theories of sentences and subsequently in his seminal Sprachtheorie (1934: 34ff.) on three basic semantic functions of language. For Recanati, the threefold relational features underpin how Marty “views linguistic communication as continuous with natural meaning” without incorporating the “nested/reflexive structure” Grice assigns to communicative intentions (19 & 18). The line of demarcation between Marty and Grice is that the latter ultimately adheres to the view that “a natural sign ceases to be a natural sign as soon as the hearer recognizes that it is produced deliberately” (20).  Recanati re-enforces what is at stake by briefly alluding to the highly frequent use we make of experientially- or situationally-bound utterances when interacting with others, best known as the deictic field or indexical dimension of language. Consider, for example, when Laura and Lucantonio are momentarily separated in a crowd and lose sight of each other. Lucantonio shouts, “I am here” to the relief of Laura (whether or not she deictically replies, “Now I see you”). Here, as Bühler (1934: 93ff.) in Part Two of Sprachtheorie also maintains, both “natural” and “non-natural” meaning are at play within the deictic field. Lucantonio’s communicative intention to advise or re-assure Laura that he is in her vicinity exemplifies the “non-natural” and, for Laura, his very act of shouting embodies a “natural” sign indicating his location to her.

In Chapter Three, Mark Textor continues investigating Marty and Grice on communicative intentionality and meaning, but adds the contrasting position of Marty’s teacher Brentano. According to Textor, what Brentano, unlike Marty and Grice, brings to the debate over the nature of meaning is that it primarily centres upon the speaker’s utterance “independently of whether utterances are made in order to influence the thought [or response] of others” (35).  This, we are told, can be best demonstrated by counter-examples of “non-natural” meaning without communicative intentions found in assertoric judgements. Let us revisit the situation where Lucantonio, when first looking at the cirrostratus clouds overhead, states “I claim that it is going to rain.” If Laura afterwards reports, “He claimed that it was going to rain,” all she has conveyed is what was communicated by his initially uttered claim, not any effect it had upon her. Again, if Lucantonio afterwards conceded that, despite his subsequent teasing and mocking manner, the very presence of cirrostratus clouds first became associated with the assertion “It is going to rain,” then this can be done without implying his utterance was necessarily true. Nor was the assertion self-referential in the way that Marty (1908: 495) and Grice (1969: 112-113) exemplify, including addressing one’s imagined future self or pretending to address someone else.

By Textor’s account, in so far as statements of claims or contentions instantiate judgements and evaluations more broadly, they reveal the speaker’s attitudes. Such attitudes contain the speaker’s (rational) commitment that his or her assertions or assumptions are correct. That is to say, the “non-natural” communicative meaning of utterances here is definable without reference to any listeners. Textor formulates his point as follows: “If I assume that p, I am committed to the correctness of my assuming and the state of affairs that p is worthy of this attitude” (54). Textor’s solution, for some readers, might still leave gaps in their understanding of Marty’s more controversial commitments “about how things are” (42). What are the consequences of Marty’s somewhat paradoxical handling of claims or judgements about entities or events that do not exist? Perhaps, it is here that they should consider the interpretive strategies of other contributors. For example, Ingvar Johansson in Chapter Five argues that the later Marty does not identify “non-real” with “non-existing” or “subsisting” with another mode of existing unlike “real” ordinary objects (100). Furthermore, Alberto Voltolini in Chapter Eight takes Marty to be analysing the “non-real» as “grounded” upon the “real” (184).

If nothing else, the respective attempts by Recanati and Textor to draw Marty into latter-day arguments surrounding Grice warn readers against searching for simple one-to-one correlations between an intellectual precursor and his putative successor. That each often appears to express comparable solutions is not tantamount to concluding that each is responding to an identical set of problems.

II

The second section of this review essay will focus upon Kevin Mulligan’s lengthy Chapter Nine in Anton Marty and Contemporary Philosophy. By so doing, it will give us the opportunity to examine, albeit briefly, how Marty (when leaving aside his approach to communicative acts discussed above) construes language as threatening to undermine philosophical enquiry. At the same time, Mulligan himself traces the way in which Marty’s strategies when dealing with modality, logic, and intentionality anticipate those influentially deployed by Wittgenstein.

Modality pervades much of our attitude towards and thinking about our actions, ideas and world, ranging from certainties, doubts and necessities to obligations, possibilities, and willingness. Marty (1908: 354) seizes upon the erroneous way we construe not some, but “all possibilities” which “are, of course, merely something non-real,” something “treated as things, which have effects and are effected.” How does it come about that we treat possibilities, and for that matter impossibilities, as if they were “real” in the sense of being “causally efficacious” as Mulligan succinctly notes (199 (cf. e.g., Johansson 100; Mac Cumhaill 123, 129; Sattig 170, n. 6; and Voltolini 183-184))? Marty’s reply unequivocally identifies the problem in largely linguistic terms:

All our names have as their inner linguistic form either the presentation of a substance or of an accident, thus of something real. But we always designate the non-real, too, indeed even what is completely fictitious, with the help of a substantive (such as […] possibility, impossibility, etc.) […] or with the help of an adjective which is attributed to a real or apparent subject as a predicate or attribute… (1908: 354-355)

We are, in brief, misled by our use of nouns and adjectives into thinking of possibilities either as substances or as if they were properties inhering in substances. Because “language uses expressions for what is real also for what is non-real,” we face “more disastrous” epistemological consequences such as when “a physicist takes for the truth what is, in his [or her] field, merely a picture and an attempted illustration” (1908: 356). Whilst we find many analogous examples in Wittgenstein (1945) of how possibilities become conflated with actual states of affairs when our “forms of expression […] send us in pursuit of chimeras” (§94; cf. §194), Marty appeals to “inner linguistic forms” which Mulligan immediately understands to be “a conceptual presentation which has a certain function, that of directing an interlocutor’s attention to what the speaker has in mind” (199).

What has been ignored at this juncture in Chapter Nine, especially from a more linguistic point of view, is how and why Marty should have appealed to the contestable notion of “inner linguistic form”; a notion explicated through debates against which Marty reacted by Werner Leopold (1929) & (1951) and through earlier iterations of Noam Chomsky’s transformational generative theory of language as first broached by Sige-Yuki Kuroda (1972: 8ff.). On the information given, it is not entirely obvious how such inner forms, which Marty finds in metaphors particularly and language development generally, can be connected with linguistic signs of, say, the “non-real” and the “fictitious” yet have no role in their meaning.

Next, Mulligan deftly portrays the manner in which the kinds of difficulties besetting modality in effect ricochet throughout the way consciousness is all too often erroneously depicted irrespective of whether emphasis is laid upon cognitive, conative, or emotional factors. We need only witness here how Marty summarises his analysis of earlier thinkers from Aristoteles onwards:

One wanted to get to the bottom of the secret of consciousness and in so doing took more or less seriously a linguistic picture used in the description of the peculiar process. The more abstract locution […] of what is thought in the thinker (and likewise what is felt in one who feels) […] is, in my opinion, only justified as a fiction of pictorial, inner, linguistic form, […] but leads to a falsification as soon as it is taken more seriously. (1908: 397)

Similarly, Wittgenstein (1945), when considering how easily one enters “that dead end in philosophizing where one believes that the difficulty of the problem consists in our having to describe phenomena that evade our grasp” (§436), continues:

expectation is unsatisfied, because it is an expectation of something; a belief, an opinion, is unsatisfied, because it is an opinion that something is the case, something real, something outside the process of believing. (§438)

In what sense can one call wishes, expectations, beliefs, etc. “unsatisfied”? What is our prototype of non-satisfaction? Is it a hollow space? And would one call that “unsatisfied”? Wouldn’t this be a metaphor too? (§439)

Mulligan then turns to how Marty and Wittgenstein oppose the view of logic as a framework or scaffold and its implications for how propositions are construed. Marty, citing Husserl in passing, questions “the picture” of an “ideal framework which every language fills up and clothes differently” (1908: 59). Instead, he suggests, “The tissue of the elementary meaning-categories” of propositional forms within logic “stands to real language and their makers more like a pattern which they try to trace” and “not as a frame which would stand before the consciousness of all in the same way and which they would merely fill out in different ways” (1908: 59). Wittgenstein examines “the question of the essence of language, of propositions, of thought” and finds that his attempts to comprehend the nature of language, especially “its function, its structure” that “already lies open to view, that becomes surveyable through a process of ordering,” is not the target of such a question (1945: §92). Instead, he remarks:

 

The essence is hidden from us’: this is the form our problem now assumes. We ask: “What is language?”, “What is a proposition?” And the answer to these questions is to be given once for all, and independently of any future experience. (1945: §92)

Such a misunderstanding immediately leads to “the sublimation of our whole account of logic” with the “tendency to assume a pure intermediary between the propositional sign and the facts. Or even to purify, to sublimate the sign itself” (1945: §94). Logic, the “essence” of thinking, “presents an order: the a priori order of the world; that is, the order of possibilities, which the world and thinking must have in common,” the quest for which is aligned with a superordinate “order existing between the concepts of proposition, word, inference, truth, experience, and so forth” (1945: §97).

As Mulligan realises, the rejection by Marty and Wittgenstein of logic as a framework or scaffold applies to “conceptions of propositions as ideal entities, as intermediaries […] as immanent or private objects” (208). Equally, propositions do not “represent states of affairs or the world in a sui generis and irreducible way” by virtue of a “special sort of unity” (208). He does acknowledge that Marty only implicitly construed natural language to be pervaded by a “family of structures more or less akin to one another,” with terms forming “a complicated network of similarities, overlapping and criss-crossing” popularly characterised nowadays as “family resemblances” (Wittgenstein 1945: §108, §66 & §67). However, Mulligan believes Marty’s theory of language was more explicitly developed by Karl Bühler (1934: 247ff.) especially when Bühler analysed the processes of merging or fusion where “partial, overlapping similarities hold” within the symbolic field of language under the concept of the “synchytic” (210).

For Mulligan, the above-mentioned distortions afflicting philosophical enquiry lead both Marty and Wittgenstein to make “the critique of language necessary” (212). Marty overtly identifies the habitual role language can and does play:

the presentation of thing and property always and everywhere forces itself on us, if not as a consequence of an innate necessity, then thanks to the power of a strong and general linguistic habit. (1908: 355)

Wittgenstein, too, is convinced that linguistic habits are deeply engrained when commenting how “problems arising through a misinterpretation of our forms of language […] are as deeply rooted in us as the forms of our language” (1945: §111). In addition, Mulligan draws our attention to the “affective and conative” dimension of misleading images and metaphors in philosophy (214). Marty, for instance, writes of the potency of urges:

An instinctive urge leads us, at first, to take whatever appears in a sensory fashion to be real, i.e. to ascribe “external” reality to it; to the colours, sounds, places and changes of place which are present for us in sensation or hallucination

to the point where

We therefore transfer what in them is intuitive and forces itself upon us as real, in an instinctive belief, into the mind. (1908: 396)

Wittgenstein, too, is mindful of how wrestling with “the workings of our language” occurs “despite an urge to misunderstand them” (1945: §109).

Both thinkers noticeably vacillate over what precisely they define as misleading within language per se (its symbols or similes? its analogies or metaphors?). However, what is not in doubt, as Mulligan observes, is that both agree that philosophy’s “first task is to identify the misleading pictures” which impair if not corrupt philosophical enquiries which take their “first orientation from them” (217). Hence, it is hardly surprisingly when, in the course of asking how philosophical problems about mental processes and states arise, Wittgenstein (1945: §308) should insist that the “first step is the one that altogether escapes notice.”

III

Having pinpointed crucial views given significant weighting within Anton Marty and Contemporary Philosophy to Marty’s approach to communication and language, in the limited space remaining let us briefly question how, in practice, this anthology construes its task of illuminating the history of analytic philosophy.

First of all, when is analytic philosophy clearly identifiable? Indeed, are we safe in saying that its origins can be unequivocally traced to a set of Anglo-Germanic thinkers? Jan Claes and Benjamin Schneider in their logico-linguistic analysis (59ff.) have little hesitation drawing upon the multi-volume 1837 Wissenschaftslehre by Bernard Bolzano whereas Voltolini when delving into kinds of being and first- and second-order properties of existence (175ff.) alludes to the 1884 monograph Die Grundlagen der Arithmetik by Gottlob Frege. Again, Johansson, when tracing the antecedents of Marty’s conception of space as a container (99ff.) contrasts the superficially similar metaphors of spatiality in Immanuel Kant as well as Isaac Newton without specifying their respective texts. If nothing else, such examples suggest the shifting, albeit implicit, commencement dates and associated canonical texts in what have been and can continue to be taken as analytic antecedents.

Secondly, was analytic philosophy ever a unified, self-aware intellectual movement? After all, the first attested use of the attributions “logico-analytic philosopher” and “analytic philosopher” was first coined a century later by John Wisdom (1931) when exploring Jeremy Bentham’s posthumously published Notes on Logic (circa 1831) and its technique of paraphrasis and analysis of propositional meaning. Even a cursory glance at Clare Mac Cumhaill (121ff.) or Thomas Sattig (153ff.), both juxtaposing Marty and contemporary debates in the field of spatio-temporal apprehension, reveals the tendency to refer to clusters of modern thinkers and their arguments considered relevant to the contentions being raised rather than owing to their analytic credentials.

Thirdly, are we, in view of the foregoing, witnessing convergences upon a specific problem rather than a convergence of specific problems in the unfolding of analytic philosophical debates? Does this, on the one hand, suggest that philosophical movements are open-ended by nature to the point where critical exchanges amongst self-nominated “schools” or “movements,” such as the analytic, the phenomenological, and the pragmatic, gradually became commonplace? On the other hand, need being open-ended preclude the occurrence of distinctive phases (as distinct from problems) of the kind the Bacigalupo and Leblanc volume seems to make manifest when threading logico-linguistic discussions through so many of its chapters?

To that extent, have the detailed explorations here of Anton Marty’s assumptions about language helped to demonstrate two crucial features? The first, more specifically, in many of the debates and problems engaging Marty in the decade preceding the twentieth-century’s first world war the anthology has, perhaps unwittingly, exposed the centrality of the confrontation between “ideal” formal language associated with logic and “ordinary” natural language associated with everyday discourse as what marks analytic philosophy of the period. To return to Werner Leopold, he intuitively senses the foregoing tension between theories of “ideal” and “ordinary” language—a topic most recently addressed by Hans-Johann Glock (2017: 214-220; cf. 2008: 39ff., 52ff., 115-116 & 153ff.), Kelly Jolley (2017: 229-238), and Scott Soames (2017: 34-40)—when he finds Marty’s “theoretical mind” employing “an a-priori approach going from meaning to form” whilst admonishing “philosophers’ overemphasis on logic” (1951: 368). In fact, Leopold proclaims to his audience of linguists: “Marty is a philosopher who does not use language for the purposes of philosophy, but applies philosophical thinking in the service of linguistics” (1951: 370).

The second feature, more generally, was initially voiced by Moritz Schlick, founder of what became the Wiener Kreis:

Every philosophical movement is defined by the principles that it regards as fundamental and to which it constantly recurs in its arguments. But in the course of historical development, the principles are apt not to remain unaltered, whether it be that they acquire new formulations, or come to be extended or restricted, or that even their meaning gradually undergoes noticeable modifications. (1932: 259)

If “some terminological dispute of the old from the new” occurs amongst “the various adherents of a ‘movement’” and results “in hopeless misunderstandings and obscurities,” then these only dissipate, Schlick (1932: 259) claims, when “the various principles” at “cross-purposes” are “separated from each other and tested individually for meaning and truth on their own account […].” Not unlike Bacigalupo and Leblanc rejecting the task of reconstructing Marty’s theories “for historical purposes” (3), Schlick believes “cross-purposes” are “best” handled by disregarding “entirely the contexts in which [disputed principles] have historically arisen” (1932: 259). Or, for those of us who prefer to talk in terms of analytic philosophy as a “tradition,” perhaps we ought to heed the widely disseminated view of Alasdair MacIntyre that any tradition, presumably including intellectual traditions, can be characterised as an

argument extended through time in which certain fundamental agreements are defined and redefined in terms of two kinds of conflict: those with critics and enemies external to the tradition […] and those internal, interpretive debates through which the meaning and rationale of the fundamental agreements come to be expressed and by whose progress a tradition is constituted. (1988: 12; cf. 354ff.)

Furthermore, as Glock (2008; 212ff.) elaborates, the tradition ascribed to analytic philosophy is one “held together both by ties of mutual influence and by family resemblances.” Clearly, Anton Marty and Contemporary Philosophy ultimately sides with “internal, interpretive debates.”

References

Bühler, K.L. 1918. “Kritische Musterung der neuen Theorien des Satzes.” Indogermanisches Jahrbuch 6: 1-20.

Bühler, K.L. 1934. Theory of Language: The Representational Function of Language. Edited by Achim Eschbach; translated by D.F. Goodwin. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Co., 1990 [abbreviated as Sprachtheorie in the review essay above].

Cesalli, Laurent. 2013. “Anton Marty’s Intentionalist Theory of Meaning.” In Themes from Brentano. Edited by Denis Fisette & Guillaume Fréchette, 139-164. Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi.

Glock, H.-J. 2008. What is Analytic Philosophy? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Glock, H.-J. 2017. “P.F. Strawson: Ordinary Language Philosophy and Descriptive Metaphysics.” In Analytic Philosophy: An Interpretive History. Edited by Aaron Preston, 214-228. New York: Routledge.

Grice, H.P. 1957. “Meaning.” In Studies in the Way of Words, 213-223. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1989.

Grice, H.P. 1969. “Utterer’s Meaning and Intentions.” In Studies in the Way of Words, 88-116. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1989.

Grice, H.P. 1980. “Meaning Revisited.” In Studies in the Way of Words, 283-303. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1989.

Jolley, K.D. 2017. “Austin Athwart the Tradition.” In Analytic Philosophy: An Interpretive History. Edited by Aaron Preston, 229-238. New York: Routledge.

Kuroda, S.-Y. 1972. “Anton Marty and the Transformational Theory of Grammar.” Foundations of Language 9 (1): 1-37.

Liedtke, Frank. 1990. “Meaning and Expression: Marty and Grice on Intentional Semantics.” In Mind, Meaning and Metaphysics: The Philosophy and Theory of Language of Anton Marty. Edited by Kevin Mulligan, 29-49. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Leopold, W.F. 1929. “Inner Form.” Language 5 (4): 254-260.

Leopold, W.F. 1951. “Reviews.” Language 27 (3): 367-370.

Longworth, Guy. 2017. “Grice and Marty on Expression.” In Mind and Language – On the Philosophy of Anton Marty. Edited by Guillaume Fréchette & Hamid Taieb, 263-284. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

MacIntyre, A.C. 1988. Whose Justice? Which Rationality? London: Gerald Duckworth & Co.

Marty, Anton. 1908. Untersuchungen zur Grundlegung der allgemeinen Grammatik und Sprachphilosophie. Erster Band. Halle an der Saale: Verlag von Max Niemeyer [accessible at: https://archive.org/details/untersuchungenzu01martuoft/page/n4 ; translations adapted from the anthology under review].

Schlick, Moritz. 1932. “Positivism and Realism.” In Philosophical Papers: Volume II (1925-1936). Edited by H.L. Mulder & B.F.B. van de Velde-Schlick; translated by P.L. Heath, 259-284. Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Co., 1979.

Soames, Scott. 2017. “The Changing Role of Language in Analytic Philosophy.” In Analytic Philosophy: An Interpretive History. Edited by Aaron Preston, 34-51. New York: Routledge.

Wisdom, John. 1931. Interpretation and Analysis in Relation to Bentham’s Theory of Definition. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 1945. Philosophical Investigations, 4th rev. edn. Edited by P.M.S. Hacker & Joachim Schulte; translated by G.E.M. Anscombe, P.M.S. Hacker & Joachim Schulte. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

Hermann Schmitz: Wie der Mensch zur Welt kommt. Beiträge zur Geschichte der Selbstwerdung

Wie der Mensch zur Welt kommt Book Cover Wie der Mensch zur Welt kommt
Hermann Schmitz
Verlag Karl Alber
2019
Paperback 24,00 €
120

Reviewed by: Jonas Puchta (University of Rostock)

Nach sechzigjähriger Schaffenszeit widmet sich Hermann Schmitz, der Begründer der Neuen Phänomenologie, in seinem 56. Buch der Individuation der Person als „Geschichte der Selbstwerdung“. Dabei entfaltet er sein Denken nicht grundsätzlich neu, sondern reformuliert Grundthemen der Neuen Phänomenologie wie das „affektive Betroffensein“, den „Leib“ oder die „Zeit“, die in zehn Kapiteln den „Zugang zur Welt“ der Person ersichtlich werden lassen. Zwar sind die Kapitel auch unabhängig voneinander lesbar, jedoch so konzipiert, dass sich bei sukzessiver Lektüre die „Selbstwerdung“ des Menschen nachvollziehbar entfalten soll.

Der Weg zur Selbstwerdung setzt ein mit dem „affektiven Betroffensein“, das stattfindet, wenn jemanden etwas spürbar so nahegeht, dass er auf sich selbst aufmerksam wird. (13) Dafür ist kein bestimmtes Denk- oder Reflexionsvermögen von Nöten, sodass auch schon Tiere oder Säuglinge affektiv betroffen sind. (Ebd.) Die Tatsachen des affektiven Betroffenseins sind für Schmitz subjektive Tatsachen, die er von den objektiven unterscheidet. Während subjektive Tatsachen ausschließlich die Person aussagen kann, die auch tatsächlich spürbar betroffen ist, können objektive Tatsachen von jedem ausgesagt werden, der ausreichend Informationen über den Sachverhalt besitzt (13, 15f.). Objektive Tatsachen umfassen beispielsweise den Blick eines distanziert protokollierenden Beobachters, während die subjektiven Tatsachen den unmittelbar Getroffenen nahegehen. (16, 19f.) Die Missachtung der Subjektivität in der Philosophiegeschichte führte, so Schmitz, zu einer Spaltung des „wirklichen Subjekts“ in ein erscheinendes empirisches und ein metaphysisches transzendentales Subjekt, das von der Lebenswelt des Menschen gänzlich unabhängig ist, und wird somit zur Grundlage „aller möglichen idealistischen Erkenntnistheorien“. (20f.) Das affektive Betroffensein soll dabei zugunsten von Konzepten der Seele oder des Bewusstseins übersehen worden sein, die Schmitz anhand seiner Analysen der Leiblichkeit und der Gefühle überflüssig machen will. (23f.)

Dazu beleuchtet er zunächst im zweiten Kapitel die Atmosphären des Gefühls als eine Quelle des affektiven Betroffenseins. Dabei will Schmitz über die philosophische Tradition hinausgehen, wobei er Kants Position kritisiert, Gefühle als bloße Lust oder Unlust aufzufassen und Brentano und Scheler vorwirft, diese auf intentionale Akte zu reduzieren. (37) Dafür sei es erforderlich, sich in „phänomenologisch haltbarer Weise“ zu vergewissern, wie Gefühle dem Menschen begegnen. (Ebd.) Atmosphären wie Zorn, Freude oder Schuld ergreifen den Leib spürbar so, dass die Person immer erst nachträglich zum Gefühl Stellung beziehen kann. (26, 28) Die „Macht“ der Atmosphären besteht im Moment der Ergriffenheit, wenn dem zunächst passiv Betroffenen bestimmte „Bewegungssuggestionen“ eingegeben werden und dieser so dem Gefühl anfänglich unterworfen ist. (47) Diese spürbaren Bewegungen oder Richtungen geben dem Ergriffen zum Beispiel gewisse Haltungen oder Impulse ein, wie es am gesenkten Kopf eines Trauernden zu beobachten ist. (Ebd.) Die „Gesinnung“ als aktives Empfangen des Gefühls, welches auch schon bei Tieren vorhanden ist, stellt sich als bestimmte präpersonale Art des Sich-Einlassens auf das Gefühl heraus (27f.), wenn sich zum Beispiel auf die Trauer weinerlich oder standhaft eingelassen wird. Erst in der darauffolgenden aktiven personellen Stellungnahme im „Dialog“ mit dem Gefühl ist es aber möglich, einen „personalen Stil des Fühlens“ als Teil der personellen „Fassung“ zu entwickeln, die zwischen „personaler Regression“ und „personaler Emanzipation“ vermittelt. (27, 38, 107) Die Stellungnahme variiert dabei zwischen einer Preisgabe an das Gefühl, wenn sich der Betroffene von diesem mitreißen lässt oder im Widerstand, bei dem sich der Macht der Ergriffenheit entzogen wird. (27f.) Die „Kunst der Bewältigung“ des Gefühls besteht für Schmitz darin, die Zeit zwischen Ergriffenheit und Stellungnahme kurz zu halten (48), also frühzeitig die Möglichkeit der Auseinandersetzung mit der Gefühlsmacht wahrzunehmen, wobei eine konkrete Beschreibung dieses Umgangs ausbleibt.

Wie Schmitz im dritten Kapitel verdeutlicht, ist das affektive Betroffensein nicht nur für die Wirklichkeitsgewissheit, sondern auch für die Lebensführung von Bedeutung. (52) Die „Autorität der Gefühle“ wie auch die „Evidenz von Tatsachen“ sind Möglichkeiten, die Verbindlichkeit von Normen geltend zu machen. Gefühle haben im Moment der Ergriffenheit eine Verbindlichkeit von Normen mit der „Autorität unbedingten Ernstes“, welche die Person vor eine große Verantwortung im Handeln stellt. (53) Auf dem „höchsten Niveau personaler Emanzipation“, das Schmitz auch mit der „Vernunft“ gleichsetzt, gilt es zu überprüfen, ob sich der Evidenz oder der Autorität zu entziehen oder zu unterwerfen ist, ohne dabei von einer ethischen Handlungsmaxime auszugehen, die auf jede Situation gleichermaßen anzuwenden ist. (54, 60) In dieser Hinsicht wird der „Vernunft“ wie auch dem Rationalismus ihr Recht eingestanden, wenn es „angemessener Informationen“ oder der sinnvollen Einschätzung über eine Sachlage bedarf. (55) So muss beispielsweise der Wissenschaftler, der bei seiner Arbeit von Zorn oder Eifer ergriffen ist, sich zugunsten seiner Erkenntnisse von diesen Gefühlen freimachen. (Ebd.) Daran anschließend geht Schmitz beiläufig im vierten Kapitel der Bedeutung der „Autorität der Gefühle“ im Christentum nach, das er von der Metaphysik losgelöst sehen will. (57, 62) Religion wird verstanden als „Verhalten aus Betroffensein von Göttlichem“ (57) und ist damit ursprünglich immer mit einer spürbaren Erfahrung verbunden und nicht auf bloße Lektüre oder Rezeption heiliger Schriften zu reduzieren. Göttliche Gefühle entfalten ihre Kraft aus der ihnen eigentümlichen Autorität unbedingten Ernstes (59), sind aber auch eingebunden in unübersichtliche Situationen. In diesen werden die Gefühle oftmals als „Plakatierungen“ – der Begriff ist hier frei von negativen Konnotationen zu verstehen – anschaulich „zusammengefasst“, worunter Schmitz vor allem Feste, Symbole, Personen, aber auch die Götter selbst versteht. (60f.) Ohne sich als Christ oder zur Religiosität zu bekennen, hält er dem Christentum zugute, die Autorität eines Gefühls mit unbedingtem Ernst, wie der Liebe, dem gegenwärtigen „ironistischen Zeitalter“ entgegen zu halten, das sich in einer haltlosen Beliebigkeit des „Anything goes“ oder der „Coolness“ verrennen soll. (62f.)

Alles affektive Betroffensein ist leiblich spürbar vermittelt, weshalb der Leib als wesentlicher Ausgangspunkt der menschlichen Lebenserfahrung vom äußeren sicht- und tastbaren Körper, der zum Beispiel Gegenstand der Naturwissenschaft ist, unterschieden wird. (65f.) Während der Körper in einem flächenhaltigen messbaren Raum zu verorten ist, sind der Leib wie auch die Atmosphären flächenlos (40, 66f.), woraus aber kein an die Philosophietradition anknüpfender Dualismus zwischen Leib und Körper abzuleiten ist. (67) Der Leib wird vielmehr durch „Einleibung“ mit dem Körper dynamisch zusammengeschlossen, was zum Beispiel dann ersichtlich wird, wenn „Bewegungssuggestionen“ der Musik den Leib ergreifen und sich auf die körperlichen Glieder beim Tanzen „übertragen“. (68) Schmitz gesteht ein, dass der Körper für die Funktionen des Leibes von Bedeutung ist, verweist aber mittels Phantomglieder oder Berichten von Nahtoderfahrungen auf die Möglichkeit, eines nicht notwendigen oder dauerhaften Zusammenhanges, (70) wobei er darüber hinaus keine „gültige Bestätigung“ bzw. eindeutig nachweisbare Kausalität vorliegen sieht, dass der Leib aufgrund körperliche Prozesse entsteht oder auf diese zu reduzieren ist. (69) Zur Beschreibung der menschlichen Lebenserfahrung ist für Schmitz einzig der Leib von Bedeutung, wobei der Körper vielmehr einen „sperrigen Block“ im „In-der-Welt-sein“ des Menschen darstellt. (70) Diese Einschätzung durchzieht Schmitz´ gesamtes Werk, in dem er bewusst auf die Einbeziehung von biologischen oder physikalischen Erkenntnissen der Naturwissenschaft verzichtet. Dagegen könnte der Vorwurf laut werden, dass der Leib zu autonom von körperlichen Prozessen verstanden wird. Wenn dieser Einwand auch nicht unbegründet ist, kann Schmitz´ Bestreben aber gerade auch als Widerstand gegen das reduktionistische und mittlerweile alltägliche Selbstverständnis des Menschen gelesen werden, welches die Lebenserfahrung auf Hormonausschüttungen oder neuronale Prozesse reduziert und damit das eigentliche Erleben auszuschalten droht.

In den Kapiteln sechs bis neun beleuchtet Schmitz die Zeit, die stets an das präpersonale wie auch personale Leben geknüpft ist. Die „primitive Gegenwart“ als „plötzlicher Einbruch des Neuen“, der zum Beispiel spürbar als engender Schreck leiblich erfahrbar wird, stiftet die „absolute Identität“ und legt damit den Grundstein zur „Selbstheit“. (74f.) Die vorhergehende selbstlose Weite, wie sie zum Beispiel am Kontinuum oder im Dösen nachzuvollziehen ist, wird durch die „primitive Gegenwart“ zerrissen in die Dauer als „Urprozess“ einer Bewegung zum untergehenden „Vorbeisein“ und einer Bewegung des „Fortwährens“ zum Neuen (83) und legt damit den Ursprung der Zeit. Schmitz richtet sich gegen die alltägliche Vorstellung, dass die Zeit eine alle Prozesse umfassende Bewegung sei und bezeichnet dessen vermeintlich gleichmäßiges Voranschreiten – wie es die Bewegung einer Uhr suggeriert – als bloßes Kunstprodukt. (Ebd.) Vielmehr soll die Zeitlichkeit an die Leiblichkeit der Person geknüpft und essentieller Bestandteil der Selbstfindung des Menschen sein. Die Dynamik des Leibes, so Schmitz, ahmt demnach die Strukturen der Zeit nach, wenn die gespürte „Enge“ die Richtung zum Vergehen und die „Weite“ das Fortschreiten in die Zukunft vermitteln soll. (Ebd.) Mit dem Eintritt der „absoluten Identität“ gliedert sich die „Weite“ in Situationen (75), die auch einen wesentlichen Anteil der Zeiteinheiten ausmachen sollen. (86) Die Verteilung der Dauer orientiert sich zum Beispiel an „zuständlichen“ oder „aktuellen“ Situationen. (84f., 91f.) Der Mensch ist durch die Sprache zur „Explikation“ oder „Vereinzelung“ fähig, um so aus den Situationen einzelne Bedeutungen zu individuieren und eine konkrete Einteilung der Zeit als „modale Lagezeit“ vorzunehmen, die aus der „Modalzeit“ einerseits und der „Lagezeit“ andererseits besteht. Die ursprünglichere „Modalzeit“ spaltet sich mit dem „Einbruch des Neuen“ in die Vergangenheit, als das, was nicht mehr ist, in die Zukunft, als das, was noch nicht ist und in die Gegenwart. (89, 93) Die „Lagezeit“ ist dagegen zu verstehen als Anordnung gleichzeitiger einzelner Ereignisse oder Daten in einer linearen Folge des Früheren zum Späteren. (Ebd.) Die Verbindung von „Lage“- und „Modalzeit“ zur „modalen Lagezeit“ macht sich der Mensch zunutze, indem er wie beim Gebrauch von Uhren die Dauer in Zeitstrecken mit jeweils einzelnen messbaren Zeitpunkten einteilt (79 ff.), was für die Orientierung des Menschen unerlässlich ist. Der „gewöhnliche Rhythmus des Lebens“ geschieht aber abschließend nicht in einem allumfassenden zeitlichen Rahmen oder einer Abfolge regelmäßig aufeinanderfolgender Zeitpunkte, sondern besteht in den immer wiederkehrenden „Einbrüchen des Neuen“, welche die fortwährende ruhende Dauer „zerreißen“ und durch welche sich der Mensch auf diese Weise immer wieder selbst finden soll. (91)

Diese zeitlichen Prozesse sind auch für das Personsein des Menschen von erheblicher Bedeutung. Im letzten Kapitel fasst Schmitz seine Erkenntnisse zum Prozess der Individuation des Menschen zusammen, die er aber nicht als Geburt in eine bereits vorhandene Welt begreift. (97) Auf der ersten Stufe der bloßen Selbstlosigkeit in der Weite des Kontinuums wird mit dem „Einbruch des Neuen“ wie beim affektiven Betroffensein durch den Schreck die absolute Identität gestiftet und gleichzeitig der Ursprung der Zeit gelegt. (97ff.) Aus der „primitiven Gegenwart“ resultiert die „leibliche Dynamik“ und die „leibliche Kommunikation“, mit der auch die Bildung von bedeutsamen Situationen einhergeht. (99f.) Die „leibliche Dynamik“ differenziert Schmitz nach ihrer Bindungsform zwischen gespürter Enge und Weite, die charakteristisch für die „leibliche Disposition“ der Person wird. Aus diesen Dispositionen werden Charaktertypen abgeleitet, die sich hinsichtlich der Offenheit oder Empfänglichkeit im Umgang mit Gefühlen oder Personen unterscheiden. (33ff.) Erst der Mensch, der über das Säuglingsalter hinausgegangen ist, kann dann auf einer nächsten Stufe mittels Sprache einzelne Bedeutungen aus der Situation explizieren und sich so auf andere Weise in seiner Umgebung zurechtfinden. (101 f.) Erst auf diesem Niveau ist es möglich, von einer Person zu sprechen, die in der Lage ist, sich in einem „Netz von Gattungen“ als Etwas zu verstehen und sich zum Beispiel anhand von bestimmten Rollen zu verorten oder selbst zu bestimmen. (104) Das „Sammelbecken“ als Ort der explizierten vereinzelten Bedeutungen und Gattungen bildet daran anschließend auf einer vierten Stufe die „Welt“, die nicht statisch vorhanden ist, sondern erst mit dem fragenden Explizieren der Person entsteht. (104f., 110) Die labile Person steht in diesem Zusammenhang vor der Aufgabe, sich zwischen „personaler Regression“ wie im „affektiven Betroffensein“ und „personaler Emanzipation“ in kritischer Distanz zur Betroffenheit zurechtzufinden. (106ff.) Damit einher geht auch die immer fortwährende Bildung der „persönlichen Eigenwelt“, die sich aus den Bedeutungen ergibt, welche für die Person durch die unmittelbare Betroffenheit subjektiv sind, während die „persönliche Fremdwelt“ alle Bedeutungen umfasst, die durch Abstandnahme in der personalen Emanzipation objektiviert sind. (Ebd.)

Schmitz greift bei der Darstellung seiner Thesen auf sein umfassendes Werk zurück, um in aller Kürze und mit teilweise auffälligen Wiederholungen – bedingt durch seine Erblindung (10) – im Stil eines Vortragenden der Thematik der Selbstwerdung gerecht zu werden. Zwar wirken seine Formulierungen an einigen Stellen gedrängt und verlangen nach mehr Ausführlichkeit, jedoch sind seine Überlegungen bereits detaillierter in seinem opus magnum, dem „System der Philosophie“, angelegt und in zahlreichen Büchern weiterentwickelt. Schmitz spürt dem, was andere Philosophen wie selbstverständlich voraussetzen – dass sich der Mensch „immer schon“ in einer Welt vorfindet – akribisch nach, indem er auch den Zugang zur Welt auf der Basis strenger, phänomenologischer Begriffe beleuchtet.

Dabei scheinen seine Überlegungen in die Nähe eines Idealismus zu rücken, wenn er die Zeit stets an die Leiblichkeit knüpft und auch die Entstehung der Welt an eine explizierende Person gebunden ist. Betroffenheit wie auch die Explikation der Person sind fundamentale Bestandteile der Weltentstehung im obigen Sinne, weshalb „Selbstwerdung“ auch immer Weltwerdung mit meint. Es wäre jedoch voreilig, Schmitz´ Weltbegriff als eine Form des traditionellen Idealismus zu deuten, von dem er sich nämlich explizit abgrenzen möchte. Den „naiven Idealismus“, der den Geist des Menschen in der Rolle des „Weltbaumeisters“ übertrieben haben soll, will Schmitz mit seiner Konzeption gerade überwinden. (108) Schmitz schreibt dem Menschen keine Schöpferqualitäten zu,[1] gesteht aber ein, dass die Person durch „eigene Zusätze“ wie im bereits erwähnten Uhrengebrauch die Welt „vervollständigen“ oder zu ergänzen versucht. (108) Daneben muss auch klar sein, dass bei der Explikation der Person keine Welt aus dem Nichts konstruiert wird, denn die explizierte Bedeutsamkeit ist immer primär[2] und liegt bereits „chaotisch mannigfaltig“ vor, ist aber ohne die Leistung der Person noch nicht vereinzelt, weshalb sich Schmitz´ Konzeption auch gegen ein konstruktivistisches Weltverständnis richtet. Dass etwas existiert, ist damit nicht vollständig an die Explikationsleistung der Person gebunden.

Dass die Person aus der Weltwerdung nicht wegzudenken ist, kann sich auch auf das Philosophieverständnis des Autors zurückführen lassen. Philosophie definiert dieser von Beginn seines Schaffens an als „Sichbesinnen des Menschen auf sein Sichfinden in seiner Umgebung“.[3] Einen objektiven oder distanzierten „Blick von Nirgendwo“, wie Schmitz mit Rückgriff auf Thomas Nagel formuliert (20f.), der gänzlich unabhängig von einer Person besteht, sucht man bei diesem „Sichfinden“ des Menschen vergeblich, denn affektives Betroffenensein des Leibes oder fragendes Explizieren in einer bestimmten Situation sind unhintergehbare Bestandteile des menschlichen Lebens. Schmitz fundamentaler phänomenologischer Anspruch, diese Facetten der Lebenserfahrung herauszustellen, spiegeln sich gerade in seinem Weltverständnis wider, dass sich auch deshalb unvereinbar mit dem Naturalismus von diesem unterscheidt.

Seine Konzeption ist aber auch kaum mit dem Weltverständnis des „Neuen Realismus“ vereinbar wie ihn Markus Gabriel prominent zu begründen versucht und der sich damit ebenfalls gegen die Vorherrschaft des Naturalismus behaupten will.[4] Schmitz´ Buch „Gibt es die Welt?“[5] kann zumindest dem Titel nach als unausgesprochene Antwort auf Gabriels zuvor erschienenes Werk „Warum es die Welt nicht gibt“ gelten, aber auch anderweitig stellte er immer wieder Bezüge her. (51f.)[6] Gabriel richtet sich gegen die These, dass es eine Welt als absolute Totalität geben könnte, weil man stets unfähig ist, diese vollständig zu beschreiben.[7] Stattdessen will er im Rahmen seiner „Sinnfeldontologie“ zeigen, dass Gegenstände in unzähligen „Sinnfeldern“ vorkommen und das die Rede von Existenz bedeutet, dass etwas in einem solchen „Sinnfeld“ „erscheint“.[8] Im Vergleich zu diesem Ansatz bekämpft auch Schmitz einen Weltbegriff, der traditionell als einheitliche und absolute Totalität postuliert wird, verwendet dabei aber grundsätzlich andere Mittel. Dass es primär Gegenstände sein sollen, welche ein Sinnfeld ausfüllen, muss für Schmitz aufgrund seines phänomenologischen Anspruchs befremdlich wirken. Denn er will primär gerade nicht von bloßen Gegenständen ausgehen, sondern von ganzheitlichen Situationen, aus denen erst sekundär einzelne Bedeutsamkeit und nicht vordergründig Gegenstände individuiert werden. Daher müsste für ihn auch anstatt vom „Erscheinen“ von der „Explikation“ die Rede sein, die eng an die Leistung der Person und der Selbstwerdung gebunden ist, aber in Gabriels Überlegungen kaum eine Rolle spielen. Während dieser in seiner Ontologie den Weltbegriff verabschieden will und deshalb auch das „Zur-Welt-Kommen“ des Menschen nicht im Blick hat, versucht Schmitz´ das traditionelle Weltverständnis durch ein neues zu ersetzen. Bei allen Unterschieden zwischen den Autoren verfolgen aber beide immerhin eine gemeinsame Absicht: Denn neben der Kritik am Naturalismus richtet sich Gabriels philosophisches Vorhaben auch gegen einen radikalen Konstruktivismus[9], weshalb eine Verständigung zwischen den Autoren nicht von vorneherein auszuschließen, sondern vielmehr ertragreich sein kann.

Schmitz versucht in seinen Beiträgen zur „Geschichte der Selbstwerdung“ und der damit einhergehenden Weltentstehung, sowohl den Realismus als auch den Idealismus hinter sich zu lassen. Weder die Person noch die Welt sind einfach statisch vorhanden, wenn die erstere immer wieder durch spürbare Erfahrungen auf sich aufmerksam wird, um letztere erst durch Sprache für sich und andere ersichtlich zu machen. Unter Berücksichtigung der Lebenserfahrung vermag Schmitz es so, stufenartig die Geschichte der Selbstwerdung und damit auch die Grundlagen der Person aufzuzeigen.


[1] Hermann Schmitz, Wozu philosophieren? (Freiburg/München: Karl Alber, 2018), 94.

[2] Hermann Schmitz, Adolf Hitler in der Geschichte (Bonn: Bouvier, 1999), 27.

[3] Hermann Schmitz, System der Philosophie Bd. 1: Die Gegenwart (Bonn: Bouvier 2005 [1964]), 14.

[4] Vgl. Markus Gabriel, Sinn und Existenz (Berlin: Suhrkamp 2016), 89-94.

[5] Für den Bezug zu Gabriel vgl. Hermann Schmitz, Gibt es die Welt? (Freiburg/ München: Karl Alber 2014), 21, 26.

[6] Vgl. zum Beispiel Hermann Schmitz, Ausgrabungen zum wirklichen Leben (Freiburg/München: Karl Alber 2016), 245.

[7] Eine Möglichkeit, dies zu beweisen, entwickelt Gabriel mit dem „Listenargument“. Vgl. Gabriel, Sinn und Existenz, 45ff.

[8] Vgl. z.B. Gabriel, Sinn und Existenz, 163f., 173f., 183f.,191f., 193f.

[9] Vgl. Gabriel, Sinn und Existenz, S. 34f., 174f.

Phenomenology in France: A Reply to Claudio Tarditi

Phenomenology in France: A Philosophical and Theological Introduction Book Cover Phenomenology in France: A Philosophical and Theological Introduction
Steven DeLay
Routledge
2019
Paperback £19.99
254

Author: Steven DeLay (Old Member, Christ Church, University of Oxford)

I have no real objections to Claudio Tarditi’s very thorough and judicious review of Phenomenology in France: A Philosophical and Theological Introduction (hereafter “PF”). I offer the ensuing remarks I do, then, in the same sympathetic spirit in which he has offered his, not so much with the intention to initiate a debate, but instead simply to reflect upon and thereby explore some of what his review gives to think. Rather than pursuing minutia over which we might disagree, the goal, thus, as I see it, is to try to break some new ground by thinking together. I hope that in aiming to adopt this approach, he and other readers will find the following reply constructive rather than tedious.

At the beginning of his review, Tarditi explains that PF “scrutinizes the relation between phenomenology and theology in a series of important French phenomenologists,” a task, he notes, which in directing its attention to the set of texts and figures it does will for Anglophone readers conjure the terminology of a “theological turn”; that phrase, as Tarditi reminds us, has become a catch-all description for what with Dominique Janicaud in the 1990s originated as a pejorative label to “denounce an improper use of the phenomenological method” in thinkers as Emmanuel Levinas, Jean-Luc Marion, Michel Henry, Paul Ricœur, and Jean-Louis Chrétien. As Tarditi says, when the work is placed in that familiar hermeneutic perspective, PF can thus be seen as contributing to that ongoing debate, “[aiming] at providing new arguments in favor of a serious confrontation between phenomenology and theology as a strictly philosophical issue.” Without doubt this is true. One of the text’s main goals in introducing these French thinkers to an audience for whom they may still be unknown is to underscore the important role that the question concerning the relationship between philosophy and theology occupies in their thought. After all, each of the main thinkers addressed (Claude Romano excepted) sees the relationship between philosophy and theology as a matter of basic concern. There are two important observations worth emphasizing, however.

First, it would be an oversimplification to reduce these figures and their texts to an exclusively theological frame of reference. For, as Tarditi himself notes correctly, the exegetical work in PF is “an effort to do justice to the high complexity of a theoretical movement that we are used to calling ‘French phenomenology’ although it includes a number of different approaches to phenomenology, often in open opposition to Husserl’s one.” It is misguided, then, to see French phenomenology as just an apologetics. That impression, however prevalent it may be, is nevertheless ungrounded, and the sooner we leave it behind the better. At the same time, that is not to deny these texts open a philosophical terrain that can be used as a basecamp for apologetical aims—they certainly do, which in my view is something to be counted to their credit. In any case, as Tarditi says, the French texts at issue form a very complex and rich tapestry, meaning it would be a mistake to think they can be understood fully on theological terms alone. To see that complexity means abandoning the myth that the so-called nouvelle phénoménologie can be understood through a strictly theological lens.

This first point leads to a second, itself an observation of caution. It is worth underscoring that the very term “French” can potentially be a misleading adjective here. While the tradition in question is French insofar as it comprises thinkers living and working in France, its problems are not peculiar only to that context. As Tarditi notes at the outset of his essay insightfully, phenomenology was incorporated into a French philosophical scene that in the early twentieth-century was already infused with many varying and rich philosophical currents—following Husserl’s 1929 Paris lectures, “Husserl’s philosophy is reinterpreted in the light of (or in line with) other traditions and perspectives already existing in France, such as spiritualism, cartesianism, the Hegel-renaissance, etc.” As for today, it continues to take up matters inherited from Husserl and Heidegger in Germany, and, before that, other philosophical movements including German Idealism, Neo-Kantianism, and hermeneutics. Hence, the work of these French figures lies squarely within the philosophical mainstream. There is nothing provincial about it.

This is further evident should one consider its standing with regard to analytic philosophy. Here, too, the work being done in France offers much from which those in the philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of art, ethics, and metaphysics may learn. To cite just one example of obvious but unexpected overlap, take Kit Fine’s and Timothy Williamson’s work in modal logic and metaphysics. Fine and Williamson are known for articulating a very robust role for philosophical inquiry. Against the linguistic turn and other deflationary currents in philosophy, they contend there are truths that are not only a matter of language or empirical science. Therefore, philosophy in some sense investigates things, not words; it investigates how things are, not just how we speak about them, and, in conducting its investigations, it accordingly does what other inquiries do not. As for the present French phenomenological context, someone as Claude Romano’s own criticism of linguistic idealism springs immediately to mind as saying essentially the same. And it’s not at all surprising that Romano has developed insights regarding the relationship among mind, language, and world that are beginning to circulate in the analytic tradition. Romano’s own view has a venerable history behind it in phenomenology, since phenomenology is a tradition that has since its beginning occupied itself with ideality, objectivity, logic, semantics, and truth as such. As is well known, Husserl himself was a mathematician who knew Frege and Cantor. Thus, in a way, the issues Romano is exploring (and others as Jean-Yves Lacoste in Thèses sur le vrai) on language, perception, and ideality trace to matters that had united Husserl himself with early analytic philosophers as Bertrand Russell. To expand on the point some, one might further characterize phenomenology’s meta-philosophical innovation by highlighting how, in questioning deflationary visions of philosophy’s role, it extends the domain of necessity and truth beyond the formal, conceptual, or linguistic and into the experiential—the synthetic a priori is more robust than we had thought, it says. All this is philosophical material with which those working in the analytic tradition can immediately recognize, and something many of them may even find congenial. And even more still, in the case of the French figures who have said the most about theological matters (Marion, Henry, Chrétien, Lacoste, and Falque), they too have contributed extensively to similar fundamental matters of philosophical import: art, language, embodiment, perception, intersubjectivity included. In fact, the work in French phenomenology is not only addressing matters that are now associated with twentieth-century analytic philosophy, it is conscientious of the entire history of philosophy, as evidenced in its sophisticated and creative readings of Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Kant, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Freud, and others.

Contemporary French phenomenology, hence, is of general philosophical interest. It is so, however, not due just to its dealing with mainstream problems, as well as philosophy’s canonical texts and major traditions. It is philosophical precisely to the extent that it takes up the problem of reason—or so at least I shall suggest. In what follows, I should like to locate the philosophical dimension of this work being done in light of the problem of reason. Doing so, we might begin with a question hanging over the Husserl and Heidegger feud. What is phenomenology to be? Why has there always been disagreement over what phenomenology is? Now part of that dispute, it seems to me, turns on one over the status of reason. What are reason’s authority and limits? What may we hope from it? What is it able to achieve? What is its role in human life? Some, as Husserl, took a very exalted view of it, holding that individual consciousness (and humanity) is teleologically oriented to transhistorical truth; others have taken a more postmodern approach, viewing this sort of robust rationalism as itself cause for incredulity. If one of philosophy’s aims is to make rational sense of the human condition, then after the World Wars many in Europe were convinced that life is absurd. Why then, so some thought, bother with philosophy which is running a fool’s errand, looking for sense where no sense is to be made? It is within this bleak context—immediately before the Second War—that one finds Husserl in the Crisis struggling to convey his vision of a philosophy capable of responding to what he himself characterizes as a crisis of reason, or meaning. Heidegger later does something similar when criticizing the pernicious aspects of modern technology’s Gestell. And Michel Henry (as Tarditi observes later in his review) follows suit when his “phenomenology of life” objects to what Henry terms the nihilism of contemporary mass society. It is from within this shared phenomenological perspective that even the theological concerns of some of those working in today’s French context make eminent philosophical sense. Such work is the continuation of the earliest of phenomenological attempts by Husserl and Heidegger to address perennial questions of concern: Who am I? Is humanity rational? What is the meaning of life? Does history have a purpose?

It should be noted that, by trying to answer questions as these, the question of God inevitably arises. Thus, when I ask rhetorically in PF whether future work in phenomenology can hope to shed light on the questions of meaning and reason by proceeding independently from faith, the question was deliberately provocative, but not without its reasons. In broaching the question of meaning in response to postmodernity’s crisis of reason, we are led to consider the matter of faith: in what may we have faith, in what may we hope and trust? To the extent that the question of phenomenology’s method and matter is entwined with the role of reason, it cannot escape the question of faith. The problem of reason is entwined with meaning, which itself is entwined with basic questions as man’s ultimate destiny and his relation (or not) to God. Consequently, while it is understandable that many have seen the dispute between Janicaud and his French colleagues as primarily revolving around the methodological issue of phenomenology vis-à-vis theology, that is not the entire story. A closer look suggests perhaps another aspect to the familiar dispute, one centering on the horizons of intentionality and thus in turn the very possibility of meaning (Sinn) and the scope and nature of reason.

It is this focus on intentionality that seems to me to also guide Tarditi’s review, as he situates his discussion of each thinker in terms of their own respective relation to the problem. I think that is a productive and promising unifying approach to take. The debate over the “theological turn,” in fact, one might observe, is itself an exemplary case of this more general debate concerning the origins and conditions of meaning—what makes intentionality possible, and what, if anything, can be given beyond what intentionality itself gives?

To provide a bit of historical context to the current French debate, it is worth noting that there is, for example, an intriguing way of interpreting Husserl and the early Heidegger as both being engaged in a quasi-Kantian project of what one might call a transcendental critique of meaning. On this way of viewing the matter, Husserl and Heidegger are wary of traditional metaphysical attempts to totalize reality into some system—think of Leibniz’s monadology, for instance—because the sorts of philosophical claims that such metaphysical systems make must be assessed in terms of first-person evidence, but their claims are not amendable to intuitive evidence. This emphasis on first-person justification is recognizably cartesian—things must be given clearly and distinctly, or else they lack any legitimate basis to be treated as claims to philosophical truth. But there is a kind of radical empiricist strand to this phenomenology, since this cartesian proviso for evidence is interpreted in terms of a confirmation that is to be intuitive, not merely speculative or formal. Turning to the French context, we may observe that, for his own part, Janicaud took things even a step further, settling on a view that seems to contend for what is in some ways a deeply positivistic view of phenomenological method; for him, a phenomenological statement has genuine sense only to the extent that its conditions of verification can be given in what he takes to be intuitive insight. Thus, for him, the domain best exhibiting the kind of phenomenological essence he prizes is restricted to sensory perception and categorial intuition. Janicaud sees the visible, and he is dubious of anything else.

Tarditi brings this out excellently when analyzing the controversy surrounding Levinas’s response to Husserl and Heidegger. As he notes, a rejection of the invisible is why Janicaud is so critical of Levinas. The phenomenon of the invisible can be juxtaposed with intentionality. In Totality and Infinity, Levinas argues that the bounds of meaning—what can be experienced both first-personally and intelligibly—are not determined by the horizons of intentionality as understood by Husserl. Perhaps the key takeaway about “the face” is that it institutes a “counter-intentionality.” Levinas in effect argues that what makes a meaningful encounter with entities as entities possible is not due to the capacities of the subject qua transcendental ego; rather, it is the I that finds itself constituted in the encounter with the other. Levinas has reversed things, locating the origin of meaning as lying outside the subject, and thus beyond the horizons of intentionality. For Janicaud, however, the very notion of a “counter-intentionality” is tantamount to a nonsense. In reputing to discover a domain of meaning lying beyond what is intentionally constituted, Levinas has signaled a nonsense, says Janicaud, for, in violating what is said to lie within the limits of intentionality and the norm of intuitive evidence, the face thereby violates the very terms of what makes sense meaningful. Intentionality for Janicaud is the bedrock explaining how we experience entities, and it cannot be violated without whatever is said to be given deteriorating into speculative (and hence unconfirmable) nonsense. His is thus a very Kantian position, one that insists on the claim that certain conditions determine what can be encountered. Anything said to violate such conditions will not appear.

It is this Kantian commitment to intentionality that Marion challenges by widening the scope of Levinas’s original contention about the face. According to Marion, transcendental phenomenology only is able to reveal a partial area of the phenomenal field. What it identifies as the field of meaningful entities opened in the horizons of intentionality does not delimit the borders of what can be given. Rather, it only accentuates one specific domain of the given—what Marion in Reduction and Givenness calls the object (l’objet) or the entity (l’étant). As for the phenomena that do appear despite having violated the conditions of ordinary intentionality, Marion terms them “saturated phenomena”: the event, the icon, the idol, and the flesh. His phenomenological texts as Reduction and Givenness and Being Given are thus to be understood within the philosophical context of the question of appearing—they are attempts at explicating the limits of intentionality, and what appears beyond them. As Tarditi rightly emphasizes, Marion aims to show how the given exceeds what can be constituted by a transcendental ego (Husserl) or disclosed by Dasein (Heidegger). Accordingly, Tarditi again rightly stresses how, in reply to Janicaud, Marion would contend that Janicaud has not defended the philosophical integrity of phenomenology by confining phenomenality to the limits of meaning coextensive with intentionality; rather, such an approach neglects phenomena that are so meaningful they remain unaccounted for from within a transcendental framework that arbitrarily limits everything to the intentional object. Here, it is worth adding a related comment on how Michel Henry’s so-called “inversion of phenomenology” reworks the traditional Husserlian problem of intentionality. As it happens, Henry maybe is the one most directly at odds with Janicaud. For Henry, there are two modes of phenomenality, what he calls the “truth of the world”—exteriority, transcendence, visibility, and intentionality. This is the way entities are manifest—at a distance as objects of intentional consciousness. What, though, are we to say about this consciousness itself of such entities? How does it appear? Henry’s innovation is to show that such self-consciousness exhibits an entirely different kind of phenomenality. Consciousness—Henry calls it “life”— manifests itself differently than that which is given to intentionality. Life, as he says, is a primal auto-affection, a transcendental pathos: “The affect is, first of all, not a specific affect; instead, it is life itself in its phenomenological substance, which is irreducible to the world. It is the auto-affection, the self-impression, the primordial suffering of life driven back to itself, crushed up against itself, and overwhelmed by its own weight. Life does not affect itself in the way that the world affects it. It is not an affection at a distance, isolated, and separate, something one can escape, for example, by moving away or by turning the regard away. The affect is life affecting itself by this endogenous, internal, and constant affection, which one cannot escape in any way.”[1] It is this mode of immanence that Marion for his own part will identify, following Henry, as the flesh. And according to Henry, the closest that the phenomenological tradition came to uncovering the true form of self-manifestation—the flesh—was in Husserl’s analyses of inner-time consciousness. But even here, Henry claims in works such as Incarnation or Material Phenomenology that the manifestation in question was characterized in terms of intentional transcendence. Hence, Husserl’s account of retention and protention fails to account for how the “living present” is even conscious in the first place. As Henry says, “The givenness of the impression, whose essence is the pure fact of being impressed as such, is stripped of its role in givenness in favor of an originary consciousness of the now. That is to say, in favor of what gives the now itself, which is perception in the Husserlian sense of what is given in its own being and ‘in flesh and bone.’ Thereafter, the essence of the impression is cast outside of being and into an irreality in which what gives it reality and an ontological weight has faded.”[2]

How to summarize? The debate over the horizons of intentionality overlaps with the debate over phenomenology’s handling of the relationship between theology and philosophy. From a Levinasian perspective, Janicaud’s view of intuitive givenness presupposes a commitment to intentionality failing to accommodate that which appears in a “counter-intentionality.” Tarditi summarizes the Levinasian position as so: “Rather than being merely based on intentionality, human subjectivity is constituted by the invisible appeal of the other that, appearing from beyond consciousness, commands us ‘thou shall not commit murder.’” “It is,” as he continues, “precisely for this reason that Levinas refuses both Husserl’s and Heidegger’s account of phenomenology: what is really at stake for phenomenology is not intentionality or Being, but our ethical responsibility to others.” According to Marion, who in this respect radicalizes Levinas, Janicaud thereby fails to free the phenomena so that everything that appears is taken as it appears—what cannot appear within the horizons of intentionality is prematurely discarded as inapparent. Thus, as Tarditi highlights, for Marion the task is to come to see that “objects do not complete the whole horizon of givenness, rather, they represent a little part of all the phenomena one may experience.” There is, says Tarditi, “a wide range of phenomena whose main trait is to manifest themselves as totally unpredictable events.” Artificially confining all appearing to what Marion terms “common” or “poor” phenomena, Janicaud’s positivism therefore neglects the phenomenality of the saturated phenomena. Thus, although Levinas’s face, Marion’s saturated phenomenon, and Henry’s life all have theological implications, they arise in the first place as philosophical responses to the longstanding phenomenological problem of intentionality.

It is important to appreciate how the problem of intentionality provides the backdrop against which the dispute over the theological turn unfolds. For it leads to a reassessment of the original dispute between Husserl and Heidegger. Henceforth, we can see that dichotomy in a new light precisely insofar as we now see that it amounts to a false dichotomy. As Tarditi notes early on in his review, trying to make sense of the debate between Husserl and Heidegger means that “a dilemma seems to arise regarding the very nature of phenomenology: is it about a description of intentional acts of a transcendental subject, or an ontological interpretation of Dasein in view of an interpretation of Being huberhaupt?” However, by taking stock of Levinas, Henry, and Marion, it is possible to see the dispute between Husserl and Heidegger as one wholly internal to transcendental phenomenology—the disagreement between the two takes place within a shared commitment that sees intentionality as the ultimate horizon for meaning. Thus, I would suggest that approaches to phenomenology highlighting only Husserl and Heidegger have a tendency to be misleading simply to the extent that they omit the important contributions of Levinas, Marion, Henry, and others, who have already gone on to question transcendental phenomenology’s restriction of meaning to what lies within the horizons of intentionality. The story of Husserl to Heidegger, while important and interesting, is incomplete.

However, this is not to say that none of the developments after classical phenomenology are above criticism. While Janicaud may have been wrong to criticize Levinas on the specific grounds that he did (“counter-intentionality” is not the oxymoron Janicaud thought it was), there remains something to the idea that Levinas’s position is somehow unstable. I would not be the first to observe that there is an ambiguity—or maybe even ambivalence—in Levinas’s thought regarding the theological. Merold Westphal and Jeffrey Bloechl, among others, have noted so too. Once again, it seems to me that the phenomenon of intentionality provides the lens through which we can see the problem clearly. How is the face to be understood? Sometimes Levinas will speak of it as though it is an actual empirical face—a concrete other present experientially before us in the flesh. At other times, however, he will say otherwise, emphasizing instead that it is more akin to a transcendental enabling condition not at all to be confused with an empirical other. I would note that, however one chooses to negotiate this tension, there can be no mistaking that he saw his work as a radicalization, but not for that a total disavowal, of Husserl’s and Heidegger’s thought. Here again, the issue seems to return to intentionality and the status of meaning. Levinas can be seen as continuing a line of thought he inherits from them—how is experience of entities as entities possible? At the same time, he broaches that question while challenging the idea that meaning originates in intentionality. For Levinas, it is a “counter-intentionality” ultimately responsible for making meaning possible. It is only insofar as I have experienced myself as addressed in the second-person, as a “you” for the other, that the transition from an environment (Umwelt) to a world (Welt) occurs. Thus, “ethics is first philosophy” because ethics so understood—as an experience of oneself as addressee in the second-person mode of encounter with the other—determines the context in which an intentional relation with entities becomes possible. What Levinas is attempting to describe, in short, is what explains the difference between the experience of a small child, the mentally-handicapped, or the senile, all on the one hand, and a competent rational human being suitably attuned to his surroundings as a normatively-governed space of meaning and reasons. This is one way of interpreting the “face of the other” as continuous with Husserl’s and Heidegger’s own interest in meaning.

What, however, about the “trace of God”? It will be noted that many have claimed Levinas himself was an atheist. As to the question of theology’s role in his thought and that thought’s theological implications, there can be no doubting that very likely his use of theologically-laden terminology is only a heuristic. Or better, he sometimes uses such terminology in a way that evacuates it of its ordinary content in the hopes of explicating what he takes to be some more fundamental structure of experience. This is a strategy that Heidegger also frequently deploys throughout the 1920s when appropriating notions such as finitude, fallenness, death, guilt, conscience, and authenticity for the existential analytic. For Levinas (unlike someone like Kierkegaard), God in no way appears in or through the human other. The face is not a theophany. Nor for that matter does Levinas see a need to “triangulate” human intersubjectivity: whereas for Kierkegaard one’s relation to the other must always be seen as mediated by one’s relation to God, for Levinas our being-with-others is humanistic. Thus, when I state at the end of the Levinas chapter that in the face of the other the eyes of faith see the face of Christ, I don’t mean to be taken as attributing such a view to Levinas himself. That is not what he believed! But Levinas could be wrong, and to note that he could be wrong is simply to observe that, having taken his analysis of intersubjectivity to the extremes he did, it makes sense that someone like Marion would come along later and see an opportunity to take that account of the face in a direction Levinas himself never took it.

This discussion of Levinas returns us to Janicaud’s original objection: is not to broach the phenomenon of God to transgress the bounds of acceptable phenomenological method? We may now say far from it! We have seen that this objection appeared plausible only to the extent one adopts the perspective of transcendental phenomenology. However, there is reason to question that framework insofar as it reduces appearing to the conditions determined by ordinary intentionality. Hence, in identifying the limits to the horizon of intentionality, we surpass the transcendental approach, undercutting in turn its presupposition that phenomenological method blocks God’s entering into the phenomenal field. There is justification for a rejection of the transcendental approach in the phenomena as we encounter them. I think, for instance, there is something very perceptive in Marion’s response to Jocelyn Benoist regarding the issue of givenness. Marion in effect notes that while one’s saying that one has seen is not sufficient to prove one has seen, neither is one’s saying not to see sufficient proof that there is nothing given to be seen.

Here, of course, one of the most pressing questions of givenness regards the potential givenness of God. That Benoist’s atheism is in many contexts taken as the norm has much to do with the fact that many working today take it for granted that methodological atheism has already prevailed a long time ago—due mainly to arguments we owe to Sartre or Heidegger. Those arguments, however, it seems to me fail. I mention just two for now, both of which are thought to originate in Husserl actually. Take the first argument one might try extracting from Husserl’s early period, the locus classicus of which is probably §58 of Ideas I. Admittedly, Husserl says there that the transcendence of God should be bracketed. What does the term transcendence mean here, though? It is premature to assume that by saying so he is endorsing a methodological atheism, as if the epoché and reduction mean transcendental phenomenology henceforth must have nothing to do with God. When his work is appreciated as a whole, we know as a matter of fact that this could not be what he meant: in his manuscripts he develops a very sophisticated and extensive account of the relation of God to transcendental phenomenology. Nevertheless, one might try reformulating the original argument. Can the contention that Ideas I endorses a methodological atheism perhaps be rehabilitated by invoking the text’s distinction between the natural and phenomenological attitudes? Whereas in the natural attitude one posits a thing’s existence, in the phenomenological attitude one brackets any such commitment to existence—hence, so the argument concludes, the existence of God must be neutralized along with other entities.

The distinction between the natural and phenomenological attitudes is not as fixed as Husserl himself makes it out to be. And for two reasons. On the one hand, some things in quotidian experience show up in a way that involves no commitment to their existence—even while still in the natural attitude, well before the epoché or reduction, the thing’s existence is irrelevant to the experience. As an example, consider certain kinds of aesthetic experience. The painting or the symphony are the examples Lacoste analyzes in The Appearing of God. When listening to Bach, as he notes, I am not concerned with the fact that I am listening to Bach, but simply with what I hear. Listening to Bach in ordinary experience seems, then, to be more akin to what Husserl would classify as the phenomenological attitude than the natural one—I am entirely immersed in the essence of what appears, and not the fact of its appearing, much less that it exists. In short, in such cases an incipient reduction is already at work in everyday perceiving. On the other hand, it also is not so obvious that everything without exception can be bracketed without thereby distorting its appearance. The other person comes to mind, says Lacoste: if I suspend the natural commitment to the other’s very existence and try to describe his mode of appearing, have I not distorted precisely what I am trying to describe? Reducing the phenomenon destroys it. And, second, one might observe the same of God: bracketing God’s existence while trying to describe whatever remains after such a reduction does not give access to what appears (or its mode of phenomenality), but obscures it. Accordingly, there are what Lacoste calls “irreducible phenomena.” An appreciation of them provides another reason for concluding that separating the natural and phenomenological attitudes is not so easy—as he says, such a distinction probably is untenable. Hence, what is needed is a “demythologization of the reduction,” a phenomenology that no longer sees (as Eugene Fink) a radical rupture between the everyday and phenomenological attitudes. If so, then there’s no solid Husserlian basis for bracketing God.

Phenomenology, I have suggested, concerns itself with meaning and with reason. To do so, it responds to the problem of intentionality. We have seen that by radicalizing the problem of intentionality to incorporate “counter-intentionality” (Levinas), “saturated intentionality” (Marion), or even “non-intentionality” (Henry), phenomenology subverts facile divisions between theology and philosophy. But it does more than that. Such an approach broadens the given, draws attention to phenomena we would have either overlooked or distorted, and, in doing so, sheds light on aspects of the historical postmodern moment of crisis that would otherwise have remained undetected. It is with aims as these in mind that Henry develops his phenomenology of life, which always stressed that the nihilism of our present age is to be explained by the negation of subjectivity. In short, classical or transcendental phenomenology’s preoccupation with intentionality is itself the manifestation of an underlying malaise in thought—and in turn life. Summarizing Henry’s position, Tarditi says, “Without the pathos of life revealing itself in the flesh, nothing can be seen. It is precisely throughout this priority of pathos of life over intentionality that Henry undoubtedly develops his account of the interaction between phenomenology and theology.” Any philosophy (or culture) that forgets the fact that life gives everything will end in death, in a felt lack of meaning. Hence, says Tarditi, “the motives of [our culture’s] malaise are to be found in the historical process—from the birth of modern science—when the description of subjectivity has been gradually reduced into a description of a world made of objects.” I should like to note that while Tarditi is correct that this is Henry’s own position, one might question Henry himself. Is it really so that the negation of subjectivity Henry identifies is to be taken as a historical process? Did it originate with the emergence of the modern natural sciences as represented by Galileo? To the contrary, one might think that modern Technopoly’s scientism has certainly exacerbated or accelerated the negation of life, but it seems more plausible that this is an ontological slippage, something occurring at all times and places, simply insofar as it is a potentiality rooted in individuals strictly in virtue of their being alive. In other words, it could be argued that Henry’s metanarrative of a crisis of meaning (which in many ways follows Husserl’s own Crisis) gets in the way of the experiential facts themselves. There are places in Henry’s own work, such as Barbarism, where he seems to recognize it, noting as he does that the choice to flee life into an illusion is itself an impulse within life itself. This isn’t the place to attempt to reconcile this apparent tension in Henry’s thought; we merely note it. Or more exactly, the relevant point is to note, as Tarditi himself does, that what Henry does for phenomenology is related directly to what Levinas and Marion did too: “In line with both Levinas’ description of the ‘face’ and Henry’s meditation on life, Marion’s phenomenology of givenness accomplishes that inversion of phenomenology so wished by Henry.”

The reader will have noticed that we have said only a very little of Lacoste, and nothing yet of either Emmanuel Falque or Chrétien. That is partly because it is more difficult to locate their contributions to phenomenology in terms of the problem of intentionality. To be sure, Chrétien’s thought, which dwells on the relation between the call and response, ultimately prioritizes the excess of things, a fact which places his position in proximity to Marion’s notion of the saturated phenomenon. But unlike Marion who tries to reach whatever theological territory he does by painstakingly thinking through the nature of intentionality, Chrétien’s works often begin without any such methodological fastidiousness. If, as Tarditi says, the goal for Chrétien is to provide “An original description of the relation between man and God,” Chrétien never sees it necessary to work through the extensive methodological warm-ups Marion does. It could be simply because Chrétien sees the human condition as always already exposed to the claim of God, whether it be through the beauty of creation that points to God as Creator or to the beauty and power of speech (parole) which itself points to its origin in the Word. Following Fénelon, Chrétien in The Ark of Speech says characteristically, “It is only because God has encountered us, has come to meet us, that we can turn away from him, or try to turn away from him, and forget him.”[3] God has always already spoken. Here, it would be a mistake to underestimate the economy of desire. For Chrétien, desire is infinite in that it desires to desire, which is to say, it desires God. God, who is love, has made us so that we desire him. Our passage through time is an odyssey, an attempt to find a future in eternity that will satisfy the very immemorial desire responsible for having launched it. And as Tarditi says, it is something like this immemorial, inexhaustible desire that also guides the thinking of Lacoste. Lacoste’s image of kenotic existence—of “liturgical man”—is an account that places the desire for God at the center of things. Here again, the experience of desire and time are unthinkable apart from God and eternity. “It is precisely in this desire for something beyond the limits of time, and thus of death,” says Tarditi, “that man experiences the presence of God […] Accordingly, entering such a space, we discover ourselves as pilgrims directed to an eschaton beyond the time of the world.” If Chrétien and Lacoste aim to account for our experience of being-in-the-world insofar as it propelled on by the desire for God, it is impossible to avoid the language of a transformation or change in the fundamental tenor of that experience. That brings us to Falque, who probably more than anyone has attempted to account for that metamorphosis. How does the experience of finitude—suffering, anxiety, and death—change through the event of Jesus Christ? How does it transform time, transfigure our suffering, assuage our anxiety, and allow us to see the time of the world as no longer blocked by death absolutely? These are Falque’s questions. Attempting to answer them is to grapple with la question du sujet (in Ricœur’s sense). As such, it demands in turn a thinking that is at once theological and philosophical.

As Tarditi highlights, Falque’s phenomenology emphasizes how Christian existence can be joyful despite its sorrow; confident despite its confusion; hopeful despite its afflictions. Death is unavoidable, but it is not absolute—only the love of God is. In a way reminiscent of Kierkegaard’s knight of faith who takes on existence lightly but earnestly, Falque has in view what he calls a mode of being of childhood. At the end of The Guide to Gethsemane, he with approval quotes Hans Urs von Balthasar who himself quotes the words of Novalis: “‘To be childlike: That is the best of all. Nothing is more difficult than bearing one’s own weakness. God helps with everything.”[4] What does this transformation—or rebirth—of our being-in-the-world mean for thinking? For philosophy? For theology? It means thinking beyond such divisions or thresholds and thus concerning itself with going wherever thinking is taken by what calls it. Truly liberating phenomenology for what calls for thinking, in short, means thinking what needs to be thought without feeling the least bit constrained by any artificial methodological provisos. Phenomenological method must be an anti-method, because only an anti-method ensures the last word is given to what itself appears, not the limits we would impose on that appearing. What matters is getting things right, by finding the words for what has encountered us. Its, then, is an aspiration born of the inherently philosophical impulse to understand. A desire, that is to say, to be true to reason, to experience the power of intelligibility, even if that means allowing reason to take us beyond what we had formerly thought to be its limits, to experience what, as Romano has called it, a “big-hearted reason.” As Tarditi himself notes, such an approach centers on the phenomenality of the event. “According to Romano,” he says, “in order to grasp the phenomenological uniqueness of the event, one has to deal with a new paradigm of rationality based upon a non-objective experience in which we could be flooded by the event of an absolute manifestation (something recalling the Pauline figure of the parousia). As a consequence, the advenant, namely [he] who receives the event, is confronted with a non-objective experience, approachable only through interpretation.” Even, then, if things are always a matter of interpretation because we must decide what we take to have encountered us, what better test of ourselves and of what is in our heart? This disclosure of the heart is the event of meaning, whose trial determines what things will mean, given what sort of individual we are and aspire to be. By being encountered by something, we ourselves are revealed through what we take to have encountered us. Hence, in coming to terms with both what it is to exist and what it takes to subject that existence to rational reflection successfully, philosophy comes into its own. Does such an approach recommend ignoring the invisible or bracketing faith? Nothing could be any less obvious. By appropriating the problem of meaning in the individual life of the one who faces it, existence itself takes on the meaning it will come to have: either one of despair or hope, unbelief or faith.

When a life ends, not only will it have been completed in the time that leads to death, it is now assessible—it has entered the ideal, eternal realm of the judgeable. Whether he likes it or not, each of us presses onward towards that judgment. This lends existence its weight and urgency. Were it not so, it would not matter to us as it does that existence leaves room for choosing between thinking and living, and how we should think and live. We feel that we must navigate between their two competing claims, so as to bring them into some kind of harmony. And so, when we spend the time we do thinking phenomenologically, with a freedom whose rigor accomplishes itself in the form of an anti-method, this thinking freely means finally coming into one’s own. An individual before God, one experiences the splendor of all that is around us.[5]

References:

Chrétien, Jean-Louis. The Ark of Speech. Translated by Andrew Brown. London and New York: Routledge, 2004.

Falque, Emmanuel. The Guide to Gethsemane: Anxiety, Suffering, Death. Translated by George Hughes. New York: Fordham University Press, 2018.

Henry, Michel. Material Phenomenology. Translated by Scott Davidson. New York: Fordham University Press, 2008.


[1] Michel Henry, Material Phenomenology, trans. Scott Davidson (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008), 130.

[2] Michel Henry, Material Phenomenology, 25.

[3] Jean-Louis Chrétien, The Ark of Speech, trans. Andrew Brown (London and New York: Routledge, 2004), 55.

[4] Emmanuel Falque, The Guide to Gethsemane: Anxiety, Suffering, Death, trans. George Hughes (New York: Fordham University Press, 2018), 106.

[5] Elements of this reply appeared in an online interview in 3:16: Richard Marshall’s Philosophy Interviews after 3:AM. Richard Marshall, “Is Phenomenology in France Theology of Philosophy?”.

Adam Knowles: Heidegger’s Fascist Affinities: A Politics of Silence

Heidegger's Fascist Affinities: A Politics of Silence Book Cover Heidegger's Fascist Affinities: A Politics of Silence
Adam Knowles:
Stanford University Press
2019
Paperback $28.00
256

Reviewed by: Gabriel Popa (Independent Scholar)

One may approach Heidegger’s affinities with the National Socialism movement starting from the most evident/overtly expressions as in his rectoral address Self assertion of the German university and other so called political writings or discourses from 1933-1934, continuing with the now available Black Notebooks which offer some of Heidegger’s private insight regarding the intellectual foundation of his «spiritualized» Nazism (including the anti-Semitic dimension), and then start a thorough examination of Heidegger’s GA in order to find the proper philosophical justification for such abhorring political views. All of that has been done and will probably occupy or contaminate any future research even if it not conducted with a sole view on these specific topics. There are efforts trying to identify and to reconcile Heidegger’s more arid topics of being and historicity with his political views[i], while, on some part, Heidegger invites us to do so, by allowing and even imposing his ontology upon such things as the German state, soil, blood, Volk and its Führer.

The fact is that Heidegger tries not only to justify, but to ground National Socialism as the political-spiritual expression of his perpetual quest for authenticity, historicity, origin and other recurrent themes, within a world that blinds itself, forgetful of being. It is not clear what type of reflection would be able to clarify if Heidegger was a Nazi avant la lettre, or if he sought to take advantage of a position like the rector of Freiburg University in order to impose some of his views and try to reverse the German and the worldly spiritual decline. When he tries such a thing, he does it by an appeal which is always to be found within Heidegger’s seminars, namely an appeal to the root or the origin of Western thought, the Greek philosophy and its seminal connection with the German language and spirit.

What Adam Knowles does in his book, is to propose us a reflection about this rootedness of Heidegger’s affiliation with Nazi movement, which is to be found within the German-Greek exploitation of a phenomenon which does not allow a frontal confrontation if only because the object of research lies beneath and hides under any attempt at overtly expressing it, being it in writing, speaking, or artistic configurations.

The main constellations of terms and expressions configuring most themes within Heidegger’s Fascist Affinities are related to language (discourse or speech), rootedness and their counterparts, silence and uprootedness. There is a double play here between speech and silence exposed through the intervention of sigetics – a peculiar form of privation stemming from Aristotle and used here to suggest the absence of speech or the presence of absence of speech. When turning to Greek meaning of legein, Heidegger often relies on one of its originar meanings as gathering, while Knowles emphasizes this throughout his book in order to suggest that, progressively, Heidegger’s own use of language related expression come to determine more of an ontic placing of one’s attunement to being while, in opposition, the uprotedness brought by modern Machenshaft and Gestell (127) or even by the infamous «world Jewry» (7), is nothing but an attempt of a worldwide desewering making the ones caught in this turmoil a-topoi and a-logoi (147).

Against this background of an accelerated deterioration of an already fallen possibility of average language to express being, which is nonetheless a lack of a proper audience for him, Heidegger will employ a strategy of a disclosure which conceals what is most essential in order to preserve a space of authenticity which is not to be betrayed by complete silence (25). An entire «hermeneutics of reticence» (26) is thus deployed, underlying both public appearances and periods of complete silence, which is but «the core of Heidegger’s life, teaching, politics, and thinking» (26).

Arguably as it may seem, the above sentence turns the reader towards the ontic background and implication of Heidegger’s entire life’s interrogation addressing being and its various determinations, while it is mainly the politic dimension which may help us best understand this ontic exposure of both being and the one which is to be its keeper as Da-sein. As a politics of silence, which serves as a subtitle of this Knowles book, Heidegger seemed to see is as the possibility of a European spiritual renaissance appraised in terms of German-Greek congeniality, thus preserving a space of clearing for the historical disclosure of being, while we may count it as one of the most influential encounters, in terms of its impact and consequences for both parties, between philosophy and political regimes, wherefrom we may «draw larger conclusions about the response of the humanities to totalitarian regimes, and in particular about philosophy’s historical contribution to ethno-nationalist authoritarian regimes» (8).

Emphasizing sigetics in Heidegger’s work and speeches has no other ground than the fact that, in Knowles’ terms, it is «one of the branches of his philosophy most deeply saturated with anti-Semitic and völkisch affinities» (56). The latter are best depicted when reading Heidegger against a background of deeply anti-Semitic and nationalistic writings of some of Heidegger’s contemporaries, which, even if not so philosophically convincing, are more closely connected in both spirit and language, to a general trend in Weimar Germany.

Various instances of silence are also analyzed in terms of instituting a red wire connecting Greek Dasein and the Nordic-Germanic soul, while both are seen in their average comportment and even physiognomic features as being profoundly attuned to a space of silence and reticence. These are set against an enemy depicted as the rootles foreigner, being it the capitalist, the city dweller or even the world Jewry (40). The affinities between Heidegger and his more völkish contemporaries are found both their proximity of language visiting current themes and in Heidegger openly anti-Semitic and anti-modern passages of his writings, correspondence and speeches, of which the most notorious is his first speech as Rector of Freiburg University in 1933.

But sometimes Knowles falls prey to his own attempt of impregnating every instance of Heidegger’s silence with traces of National Socialism and anti-Semitism as when emphasizing one of the passages of SuZ within the existential analysis of Dasein as instantiating the above opposition between silence, reticence and rootless verbiage. In short, Knowles assimilates Heidegger’s famous discussion of one’s world’s intelligibility where the initial guidance is prompted by concern and circumspection and there is no need for sentential legein as things are firstly seen in their ready-to-hand dimension, with the peasantry understanding of handiwork which goes by without unnecessary verbiage such as to be found in one of Heidegger’s contemporaries (48). There is also no need for words between coworkers, in Heidegger’s passage, since they share the same understanding of their tools and of the work to be done (as being-in-the world and being-toward). But what Heidegger does within the lines emphasized by Knowles is to point out explicitation as a relative way of understanding and interpretation, while the latter usually go by in circumspective concern, that is without need of  explicit wording, and the former lays out the explicit features of a thing making it suitable for logical assertion. It would require a biased hermeneutical travail to find in Heidegger’s own «without wasting words» which are to be found in SuZ 157, some political commitment being it National Socialism or some other.

Third and fourth chapters are the most philosophically intriguing and original ones, dealing with the transition Heidegger makes between a preliminary idea of silence tied to the existential dimension of discourse (rede) as seen in SuZ, and, through the intervention of nothing and notness in his What is Metaphysics?, a more thorough analysis of silence in connection to his interpretation of Aristotle from 1931. The hermeneutical effort of Knowles is here as its best, searching for clues to support his main thesis, for which these two chapters offer the red wire connecting Heidegger’s phenomenology with his political views, while setting the ontological on the way to its ontical promiscuity by means of a silence which will find its way to both world and word.

Mainly based on an original reading of chapter 34 of SuZ, the reader will find the third chapter to develop some of Heidegger’s less explicit intention, while his own reticence in finding an expression for the unspeakable will be translated by Knowles as a struggle «to develop a language adequate to the task of bringing silence to language as silence» (75). Heidegger’s analysis in chapter 34 of SuZ employs discourse as another existentiale of Dasein, alongside understanding and attunement, while language is the mean that discourse finds for its expression within the world. As vocalization of discourse (60), language will be then its worldly being or dimension, thus both the possibility and the completion of expression (as utterance and statement) rendering discourse to public disclosure within the averageness of the «they», in the proximity of chatting and idle talk.

 The nothing which silence brings through the call of conscience into the very meaning of discourse (73, 74) leaves the interrogation open since Heidegger does not yet render this nothingness to its ontological dimension (which will eventually happen in What is metaphysics?). SuZ works its way through the already established conceptual architecture of the Dasein‘s existential constitution as fully immersed in the everyday averageness, while Heidegger is not yet eager to employ the full scale ontological apparatus needed in order for Dasein to find its way back from the scattered world of das Man. Appraised in SuZ as a possibility belonging to discourse and rendered merely to an ontic opposition to fallen and scattered language, while reticence could only bring forth for Dasein the possibility of its withdrawal from the public sphere of chatting and idle talk (74), silence will finally insinuate within the existenzial-existenziell hiatus between discourse and language, merging them and contributing to the collapse of this difference.

As a clarification for the reader, the issue at stake here is to find a way to deliver the more authentic – existential dimension of discoursing to a language which is already fallen, but not only as silence and listening as these are the only possibilities belonging to «discoursing speech» (a transitional expression itself) listed in the 34th chapter of SuZ, but as and within a meaningful speech. «That is to say», in Knowles’ words, «Heidegger cannot capture the possibility of speaking through silence until language becomes folded into silence to such a degree that it even requires silence.» (73) This would only happen few years later, when the analysis of silence will get a decisive clue from Aristotle’s idea of withdrawal within his opposition between dynamis and energeia.

The idea is to capture silence through and within legein, that is through a kind of «discoursive speech» which is no longer opposed to vocalization as a form of corrupted speech, but it makes way for steresis, understood as a type of privation that withdraws/robs (robbing) what essentially belongs to something or someone, as sickness is a privation of health or blindness is a privation of seeing. In the same vein, while in the SuZ the absence of overt utterance does not necessarily mean that interpretation or discourse are absent, here we may find that even in the presence of speaking there may be a form of silencing still active which does not mean the absence of words. The idea of steresis clears the path for the introduction of silence into the handicraft of writing (81), by means of altering, if not totally collapsing, the distinction between discourse and language. As a form of poiesis, it will guide one through the manifoldness of logos, according to a guiding meaning (96), working its way by means of separation and elimination of wrong paths, same way as the «sculptor hews away the marble to bring out a form» (99).

In his interpretations to Aristotle’s Metaphysics Θ2, Heidegger takes model and form to be confronted with material as to bound what is initially unbounded, and this is the meaning of the opposition enacted by what the Greeks understood by enantia and enantiotes: «a lying opposites each other and confronting each other face to face (GA33, 119)[ii]. Within production, such a confrontation is always guided by the model, eidos, which is foreseen or re-presented, and will act like a catalyzing force within the producer’s soul, «by bringing into bounds of what belongs to a model» and it does it by means of » a selective gathering of what belongs together» (GA33, 121). The assimilation of model with logos is now two-folded, once through the meaning of logos as gathering and again through the its more current meaning as discourse and language, when what is to be produces is addressed during its production as what is to be present later. When visiting these themes, alongside some of Heidegger’s public speeches and notes within his Black Notebooks, Knowles will emphasize the selective nature of logos (99, 100), since it works by means of progressive exclusions as during the production guided by eidos, the initial unbounded material will finally give way to what is to be produced. Selection and exclusion are re-instantiated through recalling various statements of Heidegger during the same period when he lectures about Aristotle’s Metaphysics, thus connecting them to some popular thesis among völkish movement and even, questionably indeed, with the Nazi language of eugenics (100).

With some help from Heidegger’s Black Notebooks starting from the early 1930s, what Knowles wants the reader to acknowledge is another dimension of Heidegger’s famous Kehre, in terms of an in-famous turn towards a more political history of being which will become more and more appraisable in terms of a destinal community between the Greek people and German Völk. While this transition usually revolves around stressing the inception of new understanding of the place of being as Ereignis (event), in order to emphasize Heidegger’s immersion in the proxy facticity of a Nazi Germany, Knowles focuses on the «steretic» dimension of Heidegger activity during those times, bringing together his public appearances, writings, public notes and letters.

There are two chapters (5 and 6) dealing with different instances of exclusion which may be found in Greek philosophy and literature, supposedly revived by Heidegger through his fascination with the Greek rooted inception of the long standing quest for being and manifold possibility of expressing it more or less adequate. As we expect, Greek philosophy, literature and politics have a lot to offer in terms of exclusion grounded on various traits starting from human physiognomy, gender, citizenship and social status. Focusing on the possibility of acquiring the proper measure for speaking, Knowles analysis starts by tracing the crudest, earliest forms of exclusion, the Pythagorean physiognomic human traits and gestures rendering one as (im)proper for philosophical training, in order to complete the first chapter with an interpretation of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, «especially in Aristotle’s concern with the proper amount of precision applicable to the analysis of the matter at hand»(104).

Regarding Aristotle, the whole of ethical inquiry involves the least of precision in terms of its status as a science, since it involves the least amount of generality, addressing one’s proper comportment within a particular situation. Aristotle’s analysis is carried on searching for proper means of acting within different situations, while the impossibility of an all encompassing cartography of the latter involves the impossibility of acquiring a standard set of resolutions which may grant us knowledge similar to that of logic, mathematics or physics. The one endowed with phronesis[iii], is said to be able to skillfully deliberate regarding the means for attaining the proper measure when facing a states of matter which could be ethically appraised. This time, having already in mind what is to be said about connecting Heidegger through his sigetics to Aristotle’s ethical inquiry, Knowles shortcuts a text which usually poses difficult problems for Aristotle’s scholars, in order to find that, since prudence is only acquirable through a certain length of time, it may also be a matter of disposition, making thereafter a peculiar transition to «one’s potential fitness or unfitness for philosophy» being «nonetheless a matter of one’s disposition, as indicated by the careful delineation of different types of character in the Nichomachean Ethics» (118, 119).

Not being in the position to deliver a lengthy discussion of Aristotle’s text, we must nevertheless remind the reader that the main question which drives Aristotle’s investigations in his Nicomachean Ethics is directed towards the chief good which may be obtained as a result of our actions, the own most possibility of the human being, his most desirable state or condition. Now, phronesis is that faculty of the soul through which it attains the truth in regard to things whose principles could be otherwise, namely the action which is ethically appraisable in terms of virtues and vices. Objects of prudence are matters of actions, therefore both universals and particulars, but mainly the latter (1141b 20). There is a difference between the acquiring of knowledge in mathematics or geometry and prudence, which reside in the fact that the former do not suppose an experience to be accumulated over the years (objects and principles come from abstraction in case of mathematics, 1142a 15), while these later fields are concerned with things like individuals or principles which mostly come from experience. Prudence is then a peculiar kind of a natural disposition of the soul, not of a kind to be born with, but a disposition which is acquired through experience, and which is said to be the prerequisite of skilful deliberation according to correct reasoning about issues the moral virtues are concerned with.

Wherefrom the moral virtues are usually attainable through experience and habit, and not through inner disposition, there is no philosophical formation required for Aristotle concerning the attaining of moral virtues, while it is sophia, the fifth and the highest capacity of the soul which will turn out to be the one that is best suited in terms of human happiness, being mostly connected to a such a intellectual formation. The reader may find Heidegger’s own interpretation of Aristotle’s phronesis in his Natorp Report[iv] and Sophist, in order to find out that his own emphasis of Aristotle’s term is more connected to Heidegger’s early analysis concerning the hermeneutics of facticity and temporality. Nevertheless, Knowles is perhaps too eager to provide us with his hermeneutical commitments when stating that «Heidegger’s lecture courses on Greek philosophy [thus] must be read as deeply political pedagogical acts intended to teach hearers how to better dwell within the proper place» (124). Place, which is a late theme in Heidegger’s thinking, is easier to connect with contemporary völkish themes and figures, following an already settled way of argumentation in Knowles which translates silence into sigetics and the latter into different form of exclusions, race or gender based.

Besides Aristotle’s general statement about the scientific deficit which essentially impacts the ethical inquiry, Knowles also emphasizes some of Aristotle’s worries about that type of discourse regarded by Heidegger in SuZ as chatter and idle talk, which may impeach virtuous reasoning and acting. An act of reticence and even silence is needed when feeling the danger of placing ourselves in situations that may be considered unworthy of a free man. We must remind the reader that what Aristotle does during his inquiry is to search for that middle ground between lack and excess and for the means of attaining it, while speaking and listening are actions both ethically appraisable in their selves but also deeds which may impact the means to achieve an ethical comportment. Instead, Knowles’ analysis revolves around the groundedness and groundlessness of legein which, stemming from its meaning as gathering, may facilitate the encounter and understanding of concerned matters, when properly used, or, contrary, it may sever the speaker from the things spoken about. This may be the case and there is here an undisputedly common ground between Aristotle and Heidegger, but the connection between prudence, silence, sigetics and what follows, namely the transition to Heidegger’s völkish themes fall short of being convincing.

What gathering means in terms of language is said to be a motif of Heidegger’s attunement to such gatherings as inward gathering and völkish gathering which may even be attained through serving in labor camps, militias and other para-military organizations (123, 124). Surely, Heidegger’s own scattered but nevertheless anti-modern and anti-Semitic nuances within his Black Notebooks during the 30s, invites us to such an interpretation, as Knowles remarks (124). If Heidegger seized the National Socialist revolution as a way to give political reality to his ideas[v], even if he later refutes the possibility of philosophy offering guidance for actual living[vi], the invitation to read Heidegger’s analysis of language in these terms would be similar to what Knowles has warned us against, namely to read Heidegger backwards.

Nevertheless, analyzing steresis in terms of different gestures of exclusion does right to Heidegger when inscribing him within a long standing philosophical tradition, while the privilege Heidegger contents to Greek philosophy maintains all of the latter’s forms of exclusion. The Black Notebooks translates these into various explicit ontic instances of denying access to authenticity, the history, event or the topology of being, as we traverse the development of Heidegger’s philosophy (125). As Jeff Malpas states when Assesing the significance of Heidegger’s Black Notebooks in 2016, those subsequent gestures of exclusion would culminate in Heidegger remaining the only one being able to grasp the call of being.

Knowles interprets Heidegger’s later assumptions regarding a possible topology of being, namely the emergence of an explicit concern with place which will also translate in Machenshaft giving way to Gestell, as an adaptation of Greek make self-mastery stemming from one’s habituation within a polis (126). The latter determines the being-there (das Da) of the historical being in terms of both temporality and place, thus allowing a fully fledged coming into being of its gods, temples, priests and all other essential figures which populates the various Greek expressions of being (147). Being a-polis or a-topos, out of place, does not mean here an exclusion in terms of physical interdiction, but it characterizes a complex and seemingly paradoxical situation, of being at the same time within and without polis, which is best illustrated by the «measureless measure» of the feminine figure in Greek lyrical and philosophical compositions. The duplicitous figure of woman is said to be a-topos by mean of her being a-logos, thus not being granted with free speech while, at the same time, her silence being treated as essentially deceptive. In Knowles’ words, «Women possess logos in a manner of not-having that is not a full privation, for their very having is a not-having—a relationship best described as steretic» (147). This type of steresis is more of a dramatization of Aristotle’s concept, thus describing a kind of a structural privation, which is not yet full, but nevertheless essential.

When used in depicting Heidegger’s own use and analysis of instances of silences, steresis suggests a more voluntary use of silence and reticence in order to be able to come to terms with a more proper use of language or to conceal what one would consider that it would not be yet suitable to openly express due to historical and/or average means of understanding.

Before one starts dwelling into the multifaceted meaning and relevance of such an encounter, between the most preeminent/notable figure of the XXth Century philosophy and a criminal organization such as the NSDAP political party, one has to inquiry its own motivation for approaching and assessing that fact. The fact, in Thomas Sheehan’s words, may be simply stated as there is no compromise in saying that Heidegger was a «blatant anti-Semite» and a supporter of the Nazi movement. As member of the NSDAP party and rector of the University of Freiburg, he delivers speeches which, beside his perpetual verbose about the history and destiny of being, may be easily counted as political guidelines for Nazi members, supporters or even for the yet unconvinced. As to his anti-Semite worldview, it is supported by explicit evidence in his infamous marginalia known as the Black Notebooks.

The author of Heidegger’s Fascist Affinities writes after the initial shockwave of Heidegger’s now explicit mentioning of anti-Semitism has passed, and when we may be able to take stock of what has been achieved through consulting his most intimate notes, as to the relevance they may bring for phenomenological inquiry and for Heidegger’s scholars. Even if they are usually disregarded as to their philosophical insights, there are some private mentions made by Heidegger which may prove useful in philosophical key, especially regarding Heidegger’s turning points of the transition from one dimension of being, temporality, to others like event, logos or place. Another key aspect of the publication of the Notebooks, targeting a larger audience, is the possibility of providing some insights of a never-ending story concerning the possibility of assessing one’s opera per se, regardless or even in spite of his or her personal life-options.

Turning towards Heidegger’s Fascist Affinities, we may say that this is one of the most philosophically engaging works related to Heidegger’s political views, which unrolls/unravels as a meta-investigation of the polivocality of logos and legein, while the main interrogation addresses Heidegger’s ontological motivation for keeping his most striking worldly notes private. We call it a meta-investigation since it appears to be an investigation of Heidegger’s own inquiry about the possibility of keeping silent pertaining to and within language itself.

As to the place of the Black Notebooks within Heidegger’s work, it must be said that firstly they offer Heidegger a place where he may come back every time he considers that overtly discoursing is in danger to lose its rootedness and grounding, in other words, a place which may be seen as a reservoir of authenticity, where he may somehow overtly speak through silence without any compromise that may be needed in order to get published and/or promoted or even for the care of average comprehensibility. This is the ontological meaning of placing the Black Notebooks, but here is its ontical counterpart: placing authenticity and sigetics in their rooted, inherited tradition and land, that is placing them within the völkish, rural dimension of German landscape, and this means away from the corruption of urban areas infected with modern technology and idle talk, which aggressively disrupt and aggravate/hasten the fallenness of a language already fallen. Away from fallenness, this happens by a double folded gesture of exclusion mirroring the ontological-ontical dimension of placing the Black Notebooks. Namely, there will be an ontological exclusion of anything that may accelerate the oblivion of being which already characterizes western civilization, but also the ontic exclusion of anything and anyone who may threaten even more the proper housing of being within language. While in SuZ the average dimension of discourse which is language is looked upon especially as a proper technique for the existential analysis of being-in-the-world, starting with the 1930s, and especially in the Black Notebooks, Heidegger builds its own sigetic way of interrogation for delivering, as much as possible, the proper tools for speaking through silence.

How and where do we place Heidegger? But, maybe more important, where do we place ourselves as readers of the history of western civilization and philosophy? Are we situated as objective, neutral observers of some historical facts and figures of which we may dispose, with the means offered by the possibility of an objective confrontation? Thrashing Heidegger out of the history of philosophy or absolving him of any philosophical commitment to national socialism would have us granted with the above high seat of objectivity and connoisseurs of «what would have been, if». Presumably, we are not granted such a thing. As Rorty, Gadamer and even Heidegger, especially during his hermeneutical period, often observe, historical observation is never free of prejudices and biases, as long as the very interpretation is historically situated and conditioned.

Thus, as Adam Knowles warns us, we have to resist the temptation of reading Heidegger’s involvement with the National Socialism backwards, namely as being already in the position to confront the totality of Nazi regime, meaning its policy of political, ethical and racial annihilation of anything and anyone not willing or not being able to conform to its world-view. This implies, in Knowles’ view, that any consideration of Heidegger’s political involvement which may be tempted to diminish the relevance of Heidegger’s public or private defense of such a regime when measured against the large scale murder machinery of the same regime, should inquire into the motivation of an already tenured philosophy professor, nonetheless a notable international figure, willing to offer his support to an already dictatorial and authoritarian political movement. The gaze should be turned upon Heidegger’s fully appropriation/embrace of Nazi themes during his rectorate but also after this period, through a throughout investigation of his work, since this encounter wasn’t born out of nothing or by a misfortune.

On the other part, our abhorrence when reading some passages of the Black Notebooks, Heidegger’s discourse a rector at Freiburg, other related political discourses or writings, but also his scare phrases connecting him to the »inner greatness» of the Nazi movement, is fully comprehensible since we see them against the background of the totality of its atrocities. Arguably, we will never be in the position of absolving him as naive and apolitical, since, as Besancon observes in his Century of Horrors, the fully fledged extermination policy of National Socialism strikes us as something extra-ordinay, beyond human comprehension, thus benefiting of a long lasting placing within our memory, especially when compared to its more easily forgettable dizygotic twin, communism.


[i] See the controversy between Thomas Sheehan and Emmanuel Faye.

[ii] Pagination indicates the samen English translation Knowles uses.

[iii] The English version Knowles uses translates it as «prudence».

[iv] «Phenomenological Interpretations in Connection with Aristotle: An Indication of the Hermeneutical Situation»

[v] According to Jeff Malpas «assessment of Heidegger’s Black Notebooks«.

[vi] Heidegger’s interview in Der Spiegel.