Gilles Deleuze: Letters and Other Texts

Letters and Other Texts Book Cover Letters and Other Texts
Gilles Deleuze. Edited by David Lapoujade. Translated by Ames Hodges
Semiotext(e)
2020
Paperback $19.95
312

Reviewed by: James Cartlidge (Central European University, Budapest/Vienna)

It is hard to overstate the effect Gilles Deleuze had (and continues to have) on academia. For someone who defined philosophy as the creation of concepts and devoted himself to the task so prolifically, it would surely be pleasing to him that people working in every corner of the human sciences have engaged with his creations. Deleuze’s philosophy is multi-faceted and complicated, but had a constant emphasis on thinking reality in its flux and becoming – and concepts are no exception. As Daniel Smith points out: “concepts are not eternal and timeless (true in all times and all places), but are created, invented, produced in response to shifting problematics”[i], and subject to change. Deleuze’s concepts have been given countless applications, developments, revisions, interpretations and reinterpretations, and they continue to resonate with many, philosophers and non-philosophers alike. Alas, Deleuze is no longer around to develop them himself, but the hive of activity around his work and the fascination it elicits for many shows no sign of abating. Two posthumous volumes of his work have appeared so far: Desert Islands and Other Texts and Two Regimes of Madness. Collected in them are numerous essays, interviews, conferences and other texts published in French between 1953 and 1995, which do not appear in any of Deleuze’s books. Letters and Other Texts is the third and final volume of this project. While it may not be as substantial as the previous two, the letters offer us a fascinating glimpse into Deleuze’s personality as a friend and academic, and there are some very interesting additions among the ‘other texts’. Academically speaking, those familiar with Deleuze’s work will find valuable resources for chronicling the development of some of his ideas, and the uninitiated will find useful texts to read alongside some of his major works – especially the long, hitherto-unpublished interview (with Guattari and Raymond Bellour) about Anti-Oedipus.

The book is structured into three parts, as David Lapoujade clarifies in his brief introduction:

  1. A set of letters addressed to different correspondents out of friendship or circumstance;
  2. A series of texts published or circulated during Deleuze’s life that were not included in the two previous volumes of posthumous texts;
  3. The four texts published before 1953 that Deleuze renounced although their publication can no longer be avoided. (7)

The book comes with some warnings. Many of these texts were either published but renounced later by Deleuze, or unintended for publication. Some of them he was thinking about publishing, but did not necessarily prepare them for it. There are texts here that are only being published at the wishes of his family, since they are being circulated containing errors and without authorization, and the letters (with one exception) were never intended for publication. Deleuze considered them to be private and not part of his work, even though he discusses his work in them. There are also significant gaps because Deleuze did not keep his mail – we do not have the responses of his correspondents, and many of the letters are not dated (though helpful approximations are made by Lapoujade). But these are only factors to bear in mind, and should not deter anyone from engaging with this valuable collection. From the perspective of studying his work and being interested in him as a human being, there are some brilliant pieces in here. Anyone familiar with the L’Abécédaire interview with Claire Parnet will know first-hand what an engaging and articulate speaker Deleuze was, and this also comes out in the letters (and the Anti-Oedipus interview). L’Abécédaire is essential viewing for those studying Deleuze because of its depth, breadth and brilliance, but also its relative straightforwardness compared to his published works. In Deleuze’s published work there is a commitment to the idea that a philosophical concept should not necessarily be easy to grasp, and must be wrestled with, thought about, thought about again, struggled to be comprehended. This is much less obvious in his interviews and letters, which are exceptionally clear and engaging, and nowhere near as much of a struggle to understand.

Let’s begin with the letters, and especially on the point of what they tell us about Deleuze as a person and professional. They are a very pleasant read, revealing Deleuze’s amiability at every turn and his deep admiration for his correspondents, especially Pierre Klossowski, Michel Foucault and the poet Gherasim Luca. From the perspective of his philosophical work and his intimate, most personal thoughts, they do not reveal too much – but there are some notable exceptions. Most of these correspondences are of a professional nature, and the minutiae of academic life found in them are charming. Apparently his course on cinema was his most worrying and difficult, which was a surprise to  him. (81) He didn’t seem to be a big fan of conferences or speaking at them – not entirely a surprise coming from someone who “insist[ed] that the activity of thought took place primarily in writing, and not in dialogue and discussion.”[ii] His two favourite parts of A Thousand Plateaus were the intimately-connected ‘Becoming-animal’ and ‘Refrain’ plateaus, which deal primarily with music and territorialization. (84) Dryly, he claimed (probably in 1970) that he’d “rather have another tuberculosis cavity than start over at Lyon.” (29) “This thesis pursues me as much as I pursue it” (31) he wrote to Jean Piel. To Guattari: “as usual, after my enthusiasm, doubt sets in.” (51) (Who hasn’t felt this way when writing a thesis at some point?) There are refreshing sections where Deleuze imparts advice on those that ask for it, like when Clement Rosset asks about writing his thesis (20-21), or Arnaud Villani considers writing about Deleuze.

Don’t let me become an object of fascination or a headache for you. I have seen cases of people who wanted to become the ‘disciple’ of someone and who definitely had as much talent as the ‘master’ but who ended up sterilized. It’s awful. […] You deserve much more than just being my commentator. (80)

There is one tension of significance to be found in the letters, and it also comes in the correspondence with Villani. The latter published a review of one of Deleuze and Guattari’s texts that substantially downplays Guattari’s role, much to Deleuze’s annoyance. Deleuze vehemently sticks up for Guattari in multiple letters: “remember that you have often taken my defence without me asking for it and here I am defending Felix who is not asking for it either.” (85) Many of these letters seem to show Deleuze to be self-effacing, often eschewing recognition and downplaying his achievements in favour of those he writes to, always giving credit where credit is due. Nevertheless, when the spotlight is directly on him, he takes it with grace: it is hard not to smile at his veritable elation at getting a positive review from Foucault, and how genuinely pleased he is with how he engages with his work: “I have both the impression that you understand me fully and that at the same time you have surpassed me. It’s a dream.” (68)

But what do the letters have to tell us about Deleuze’s philosophy? There are a few exchanges to look out for here. In a letter to Alain Vinson, for instance, Deleuze answers questions about Kant’s critical philosophy and his book on the subject. In the only portion of the letters that was published, Deleuze answers a questionnaire about his work sent by Arnaud Villani, where Deleuze’s well-known characterization of himself as “a pure metaphysician” (78) appears. Villani also asks Deleuze to summarise his disparate texts at some point, leading him to wonder if there is any kind of unity between them. His answer describes what he takes to be the three principal characteristics of any useful book, which might provide some readers with some guidance:

a book, if it deserves to exist, can be presented in three quick aspects: you do not write a “worthy” book unless: 1) you think that the books on the same subject or on a neighbouring subject fall into a type of overall error (polemical function of the book); 2) you think that something essential has been forgotten in relation to the subject (inventive function); 3) you believe yourself capable of creating a new concept (creative function). (86)

These aspects of his texts are exemplified later with some references to his books on Proust and Sacher-Masoch. (An essay on Sacher-Masoch is also included in the diverse texts.) Elsewhere, the letters to Jean Piel include some descriptions of the development of The Logic of Sense, and there is a very helpful and clear discussion of ‘transcendental empiricism’ in the letters to Joseph Emmanuel Voeffray.

But perhaps most important is the correspondence between Deleuze and Guattari, which mostly consists of discussions about the development of what would become their most well-known and well-read work: the two-volume Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Of especial interest are the letters about Anti-Oedipus, which contain early attempts to work out the exact direction and questions of their inquiry, and to formulate their concepts, such as ‘machine’. I would emphasize that seasoned students of Deleuze and Guattari may not find anything new or surprising here, but those struggling with the undeniable difficulty of reading Anti-Oedipus for the first time may find helpful the more concise and clear propositions about the aim of the text that appear in these letters. For instance:

as long as we think that economic structures only reach the unconscious through the intermediary of the family and Oedipus, we can’t even understand the problem […] what are the socioeconomic mechanisms capable of bearing directly on the unconscious? (37, 39)

In fact, Anti-Oedipus is probably the text that comes to the fore more than any other in Letters and Other Texts, owing not just to this correspondence, but the long interview conducted with Deleuze and Guattari by Raymond Bellour, which I will come to later.

I will not go into too much detail about the ‘writings of youth’, not only because Deleuze renounced them later on, but because they are not of as much interest as the letters and ‘diverse texts’. Suffice it to say that there are some early essays and book introductions here, including the first essay Deleuze published: ‘description of women’. It is understandable, given Deleuze’s later writings, why he distanced himself from work like this. Not to say that the essay is bad, or uninteresting, but it is of a completely different style and orientation than his mature philosophy. It clearly bears influence from Sartre and phenomenology, and is of a decidedly existentialist bent both in style and content, as passages like this show:

Major principle: things did not wait for me to have their meaning. Or at least, which comes to the same from a descriptive standpoint, I am not aware that they waited for me. Meaning is objectively inscribed in the thing: there is something tiring, and that is all. This big, round sun, this climbing road, this fatigue in the lower back. I do not have anything to do with it. I am not the one who is tired. I do not invent anything, I do not project anything, I do not bring anything into the world, I am nothing, not even a nothing, especially not: nothing more than an expression. I do not attach my little meanings onto things. The object does not have a meaning, it is its meaning. (254)

Again, this is by no means a poor essay, but the kind of work Deleuze would go on to do and the philosophers he would later most associate himself with are completely different. He goes on to criticise phenomenology and place importance on philosophers that were at the time not studied that much in France. Deleuze was working in a time where ‘the three Hs’ – Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger – were prevalent in French philosophy education. Deleuze eschewed this tradition and the major philosophy of the day (existentialism, Marxism, phenomenology) in favour of what he sometimes called the ‘minor’ history of philosophy, which he found more productive: Hume, Spinoza, Proust, Nietzsche, Bergson. Deleuze’s mature work would amount to a criticism of the movements, styles and philosophers he shows more allegiance to in his early essays  – but they are nonetheless of interest for the topics he discusses.

Philosophically and academically speaking, the ‘diverse texts’ are the best in this collection. Of interest are the two texts on Hume: a course Deleuze was thinking about publishing, and an essay submitted as part of his agrégation exam on the Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion – “undoubtedly the only example of real ‘dialogues’ in philosophy.” (183) Hume was a particularly important philosopher for Deleuze – his first book, Empiricism and Subjectivity, is devoted to the interpretation of his work, and anyone interested in tracing this aspect of Deleuze’s career will find much worth in these two texts. The course is excellent, but consists of notes that Deleuze would presumably have expanded on at length in class, so it reads very densely and can be difficult to connect the dots at times. The Dialogues text is much more polished, contains brief summarizations of some of the text’s key arguments and offers reflections on the significance of the Dialogues and their correct interpretation. Deleuze explains nicely how the problem of religious belief becomes a problem for Hume because of the consequences of his wider theory of knowledge:

Hume finds belief at the foundation of knowledge. At the base of knowledge, there is belief […] The problem of religious belief then takes on greater urgency because one can no longer appeal to the heterogeneity of the two domains, knowledge and faith. […] Since everything is belief, the question is knowing under what conditions a belief is legitimate and forms true knowledge. (184)

And he is absolutely strident on which character represents Hume (which is Philo):

There is […] a common interpretation that says Hume put some of his thought into each of the characters: it is an untenable interpretation because it neglects both the originality and the essential of the Dialogues, that they go entirely against the idea of natural religion. (184)

Also in the diverse texts is a short, remarkably positive book review of an ethnographic text by Pierre Clastres, a French anthropologist Deleuze admired greatly and whose importance in relation to Deleuze and Guattari is perhaps underappreciated. Clastres is cited approvingly a couple of times in Anti-Oedipus but referenced more often and substantially in A Thousand Plateaus, which appeared three years after his untimely death in 1977. Part of the ‘war machine’ plateau is written as a tribute to his memory and makes use of his fascinating work on the Guayaki Indians, and his anti-evolutionary theory of so-called ‘primitive societies’, expressed by Deleuze and Guattari as follows:

Societies termed primitive are not societies without a State, in the sense that they failed to reach a certain stage, but are counter-State societies organizing mechanisms that ward off the State-form, which make its crystallization impossible.[iii]

The reason so-called primitive societies don’t have a state, on Clastres’ account, is because they put mechanisms in place to make sure it never arises, as though they unconsciously ‘saw’ ahead of time that this would be necessary. Given the power that Clastres’ ideas seemed to have for Deleuze and Guattari, it is interesting to see Deleuze engage with Clastres’ ethnographic text. He describes his style as one which “attains an ever-increasing sobriety that intensifies its effect and turns this book, page after page, into a masterpiece. […] In truth, it is a new ethnography, with love, humour, and procedures formed on location.” (192-193) Though the review was published in 1972, there are parts which arguably seem to anticipate the language of ‘lines of flight’ and ‘rhizomatic connections’ that would feature more heavily in A Thousand Plateaus, such as when Deleuze is describing Clastres’ method:

He enters his tribe from any direction. And there he follows the first line of conjunction that presents itself to him: what beings and what things do the Guayaki place in conjunction? He follows this line to the point where, precisely, these beings or things diverge, even if they form other conjunctions…etc. Example: there is a first line “manhunter-forest-bow-animal killed”; then a disjunction woman-bow (the woman should not touch the bow); from which a new conjunction “woman-basket-campsite…” starts; another disjunction “hunters-produce” (the hunter should not consume his products himself, in other words the animals he has killed); then another conjunction (hunter alliance-food prohibition, matrimonial alliance-incest prohibition). (193)

Clastres was clearly an influence on Deleuze and Guattari to some extent, though exactly how influential is unclear. But Deleuze’s review of Clastres, despite its brevity, is a welcome addition to the English translations of his work because it highlights an interesting (and perhaps underappreciated) intellectual, and his connection with Deleuze’s philosophy.

But the most substantial text to be found in this collection, from a scholarly viewpoint, is the Anti-Oedipus interview with Deleuze and Guattari, conducted by Raymond Bellour. Anti-Oedipus is the first volume of Capitalism and Schizophrenia (arguably Deleuze and Guattari’s most important text), so reading it is essential for anyone wanting to get to grips with their work. But reading it is a challenge for anyone: it is dense, bizarre and erudite in equal measure. The number of psychologists, philosophers, anthropologists and artists it refers to is dizzying. Concepts are often deployed without their meaning being explained – either until later or not at all. It seems determined to overwhelm the reader, confuse them and shatter their expectations of what an academic book on psychoanalysis is supposed to be. It is often ironic, makes plentiful use of foul language and takes delight in mocking its targets. It’s a brilliant text, but one that requires a lot of hard work on the part of the reader.

Some of the initial difficult to understand the main points of the book, and its arguments, can be lessened by reading this interview. It covers some of the book’s main points, the motivation behind it, the response it received, and includes some helpful questions from Bellour[iv] about the books central concept that provoke clarificatory responses from Deleuze and Guattari. They explain that the point of the book was to help a certain class of people for whom psychoanalysis, as traditionally practised, does not work.

There is a whole generation of young people in analysis, who are more or less stuck in analysis, who continue to go, who take it like a drug, a habit, a schedule and, at the same time, they have the feeling that it is not working, that there is a whole load of psychoanalytic bullshit. They have enough resistance to psychoanalysis to think against it, but at the same time, their thinking against it in terms that are still psychoanalytical. (195-196)

Deleuze and Guattari want to criticise and rethink psychoanalysis and the practise of therapy from the ground up. But doing this requires overcoming the psychoanalytic language and categories we are used to, which the authors attempt by deploying a cornucopia of new concepts. But their biggest targets, by far, are the dominant psychoanalytic conceptions of the unconscious and desire. They contend not only that these conceptions are wrong, but that they have been used to repress people and reinforce the capitalist hegemony. Desire and the unconscious contain great revolutionary potential which psychoanalysis, as usually practised, suppresses. The Bellour interview focusses more on desire, but the gist of their argument about the unconscious can be well illustrated by a quote they cite from D. H. Lawrence:

the unconscious contains nothing ideal, nothing in the least conceptual, and hence nothing in the least personal, since personality, like the ego, belongs to the conscious or mental-subjective self. So the first analyses are, or should be, so impersonal that the so-called human relations are not involved.[v]

Psychoanalysis mistreats the unconscious and obscures it because it conceives of it as ‘slightly-less-conscious’ rather than un-conscious and as a mere passive receptacle for repressed thoughts and drives. The crucial idea that motivates Anti-Oedipus –  as Foucault explains in the preface – is that we have been made to desire our own repression. The key to overcoming this is unlocking the potential of the unconscious as an active, productive machine through which desire flows.[vi] The flow of desire has been perverted such that people actually want to be oppressed, but if we could better understand the mechanisms by which this is possible, we can reprogram ourselves and begin to get out of this lamentable condition. Desire is suppressed when we treat it as a lack of something that one wants, it is rather an active force that flows through everything we do and produces our thoughts, behaviour and society itself.

One of Bellour’s strengths as an interviewer is that he, as Deleuze puts it, concertedly ‘plays the role of the simpleton’ (200). His questions and comments about desire are the sort that anyone would have on first hearing Deleuze and Guattari’s conception of desire, especially: why would we call this desire, when we always understand it in terms of lack? This provokes some helpful clarificatory responses from both authors. I have largely focussed on Deleuze here, but Guattari, though usually harder to understand, has moments of  exceptional clarity, such as when he expresses one of the key conceptions of  ourselves (that we have clear, well-defined identities) he and Deleuze are seeking to overturn.

It is an incredible illusion to think that people have an identity, are stuck to their professional function, father, mother, all that… They are completely lost and distressed. They flow. They put some shit on television, they look transfixed, caught in a constellation, but they are adjacent to a bunch of systems of intensity that run through them. You really must have a completely rationalist intellectual view to believe that there are well-built people who preserve their identity in a field. That’s a joke. All people are wanderers, nomads. (204-205)

Letters and Other Texts is the final part in a trilogy, the conclusion of an admirable project to bring the remainder of Deleuze’s texts to publication. It should be understood in context and read alongside Desert Islands and Two Regimes of Madness. Compared to the previous two volumes, Letters is much less substantial from an academic point of view, but there are still texts in here that will be of interest to Deleuzians of all stripes. In many ways, Letters is a fitting conclusion to the oeuvre of one of the 20th century’s greatest thinkers – in the letters, we see not just Deleuze the philosopher, but some of Deleuze the person: friendly, helpful, self-effacing, sincere, funny. Seasoned scholars probably won’t find much here that will be new to them, but students wanting to become familiar with Deleuze’s more difficult texts – especially Anti-Oedipus – will have a lot to go on here. Taken together as a unified project, Desert Islands, Two Regimes and Letters stand out as essential reading for anyone interested in Deleuze’s thought – and each has its place.


[i] Daniel W. Smith. 2020. “The Deleuzian Revolution: Ten Innovations in ‘Difference and Repetition.’” Deleuze and Guattari Studies, 14, Issue 1: pp. 34-49; p. 36.

[ii] Daniel Smith and John Protevi. 2020. “Gilles Deleuze.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2020/entries/deleuze/>

[iii] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. 2019. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (‘Apparatus of Capture’ plateau). Translated by Brian Massumi. Bloomsbury Academic: London/New York, p. 499.

[iv] Although Guattari certainly didn’t think they were helpful, and sometimes calls Bellour’s interventions ‘stupid’ and ‘lousy’.

[v] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. 2019. Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus. Translated by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane. Bloomsbury Academic: London/New York, p. 139.

[vi] Deleuze and Guattari suggest that we see a glimpse of what a completely unfettered unconscious would look like in schizophrenia.

Dietrich von Hildebrand: Ethics

Ethics Book Cover Ethics
Dietrich von Hildebrand. Introductory study by John F. Crosby
Hildebrand Press
2020
Paperback $26.99
554

Reviewed by: Steven Nemes (Grand Canyon University)

Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Ethics is a rigorously argued treatment of many important problems in the philosophy of morals. He puts forth a coherent and insightful realist perspective which strives to be founded in lived moral experience. And this realist aspect is in fact most important to him. As will become evident, in every way he tries to emphasize and secure the utter objectivity and autonomy of the sphere of values from all possible reductions to something else. But his treatment lacks a certain critical awareness of the transcendental-hermeneutical structure of experience. Hildebrand seems to consider that because the experience of value has an intentional character, it is therefore a direct and immediate “contact” with an objective reality that gives itself as it is. Intentionality is taken as securing realism straightaway. This is how he tries to offer a phenomenological argument from the intentionality of consciousness against various forms of value-relativism. Hildebrand wishes to understand the human being as by nature open to an ontologically independent sphere of value. But the counterargument to be given below is that the experience of the world is both of the world (intentional) and inevitably mediated (transcendental-hermeneutical). What one experiences is not simply an “in itself” but rather an “in itself for us.” This lack of transcendental awareness fatally undermines his attempt to demonstrate the pure objectivity of values. The only possible solution to this problem would be that of adopting an “anthropocentric ontology” in which the meaning of everything is its possible meaning for human beings. The “in itself” would thus correspond totally with the “in itself for us,” and the hermeneutical structure of human experience would be revelatory of things as they are. But this would be contrary to the purposes of Hildebrand, who wishes to situate human beings within the greater context of a non-anthropocentric reality. The goal in the following review is to summarize the substance of Hildebrand’s work and to pursue this line of critique in greater detail.

In the chapter titled “Prolegomena,” Hildebrand announces the method he is to adopt in the present work in addition to making certain requests of the reader. Although he does not use these terms, one could say that Hildebrand’s method attempts to be simultaneously phenomenological and realist. It attempts to be phenomenological because he desires that we be “on our guard against all constructions and explanations that are incompatible with the nature of moral data as presented in experience or that in any way fail to do full justice to them” (2). He wishes to engage in an inquiry into the moral by way of starting from “‘the immediately given,’ that is, from the data of experience” (2). And he calls upon his readers to perform along with him a kind of epoché, in which one “hold[s] in abeyance for a while all theories that are familiar to him, and that provide him with a set of terms that he is accustomed to use in sizing up that which is immediately given” (2). The reader is called to “listen to the voice of being” (3) and to pay close attention, in as unbiased and unprejudiced manner as possible, to the real given of experience. But what is this “given” of experience, and how does one arrive at it? Hildebrand is emphatic that his intended sense of the “given” is not a reference to what is experienced naïvely in everyday life, nor does it reduce to what “everyone knows,” i.e. what is taken as a matter of course in some community. Rather, the given is “the object that imposes itself on our intellect, that reveals and validates itself fully when we focus on it in an intellectual intuition” (10). The “given” in this sense would therefore seem to amount to a genuine “in itself” that has become transparent and visible to the inquiring intellect. And Hildebrand also proposes a method for attaining to it. More precisely, he proposes that one return to naïve prephilosophical experience and purify it of the distortions and malformations imposed upon it unthinkingly and perhaps “inauthentically” by conforming it to the reigning doxa of the thought-world a person happens to inhabit. This means not only refusing to deny the reality of something given in experience simply because it cannot be reduced to the categories dominating the time and place in which the experience happens, as when a modern person takes great offense at a crime but then goes on later to say that morals are a matter of subjective preference, but also rejecting the pragmatic obsession with usefulness which blinds a person to any other aspect of a thing than that which is useful. This is the substance of Hildebrand’s suggestion for what amounts to a preparation of oneself so as to attain to knowledge of a given, i.e. of a true “in itself” which has become transparent to the inquiring intellect. The method is thus phenomenological insofar as it turns to experience as the source of knowledge rather than to speculation or theorizing or hypothesizing, and it is realist insofar as Hildebrand emphasizes that knowledge is essentially a passive reception of the self-disclosure of an external “in itself.” Finally, Hildebrand cautions against the temptation to premature systematizing for a variety of reasons, the most fundamental of which seems to be that excessive zeal for the development of a system inevitably translates into an aprioristic method which can only ever disconfirmed by experience. As he says, “as soon as we believe that from certain general principles we can deduce the rest of the universe, we are bound to build up a system that is not in conformity with reality” (13). One must always prefer the truly given to the desire for a system, always prefer honesty and faithfulness to the given rather than faithfulness to a system (16-19). One could therefore summarize these points by noting that Hildebrand’s method strives to be phenomenological, realist, and non-systematizing out of a concern to be properly “empirical” or experientially founded.

Hildebrand’s ethics begins with the notion of “importance” (ch. 1). A thing presents itself as important, rather than as neutral or indifferent, when it gives itself as possessing the power to motivate a specific response on the part of the person to whom it shows itself. Its motivating power may be either positive – as when it motivates desire, or joy, or enthusiasm, etc. – or negative – as when it motivates aversion or some other such response. The positively important is designated “good” (bonum), whereas the negatively important is designated “bad” (malum).

The motivational power of things can be different from case to case (ch. 2). Some things are good in the sense that they are desirable. But desire is not the only way in which a person can relate to the good. Some good things are desired for the sake of being possessed, whereas others are good as sources of joy and to be desired even when they cannot be personally appropriated (e.g., the conversion of a sinner). And some good things are desired insofar as the formal object of the desire is its coming into existence, whereas other good things are venerated and esteemed as already existing.

Hildebrand distinguishes between three different categories of importance (ch. 3). First, there is the distinction between value and the subjectively satisfying. Value is importance-in-itself. The value imposes itself in experience as being good independently of the way in which it happens to affect a person, e.g. an act of moral heroism. The morally heroic act imposes itself as something whose positive importance is independent of the effect it happens to have upon those who are witness to it. On the other hand, the subjectively satisfying is only important because of the way it happens to affect a person in some circumstances, e.g. a warm bath or an enjoyable party. But in addition to value and the subjectively satisfying, there is also that which is objectively good for a person. This category is presupposed by the Socratic maxim that it is better to suffer injustice than to commit it, which would be unintelligible if the only way for a thing to be good for a person would be for it to be subjectively satisfying. It is better to suffer the subjectively unsatisfying than to commit an injustice, and this is because to be just is objectively good for a person, to be unjust – objectively bad. Hildebrand also emphasizes that the sphere of value is incommensurate with the sphere of the subjectively satisfying. It is not merely that one happens to be more valuable than another. A person forced to choose between caring for a friend in grave moral need and attending a social gathering is not choosing between two values on the same scale, but rather between two incommensurate forms of importance which appeal to different aspects of a person in order to move her to action. Value, mere subjective satisfaction, and the objective good for the person thus suggest themselves as the three fundamental categories of importance. And Hildebrand notes against Aristotle (63) that human freedom extends not merely to the means one chooses for the pursuit of any of these categories of importance, but also to which category of importance for which one opts in the course of life.

Although the useful is a genuine ethical category, it does not represent a category of importance on its own (ch. 4). A thing can be useful or not only relative to some important thing, whether this be value or mere subjective satisfaction or the objective good for the person. And Hildebrand is emphatic that of the three categories of importance, value — the important-in-itself — is primary (ch. 5). In fact, the primacy of value is so evidently a part of a meaningful human life that it often goes unnoticed and even obscured by theories which measure everything by the standard of the merely subjectively satisfying.

The values of things are properties which belong to beings independently of our motivations (ch. 7). These values reveal themselves in contemplation if a person is appropriately disposed, e.g. not beset by concupiscence and vice. The notion of an objective good for the person presupposes value, whether it be the value of the being the possession of which is an objective good or else the value of the human person whose enjoyment of various agreeable things is itself a value. Moreover, value is irreducible to the satisfiability of some relation to an urge or impulse of the human person (ch. 8). On the one hand, value imposes itself in experience independently of the disposition of those witnessing it, as when even a selfish person can be moved by a display of generosity. On the other hand, attempts at reducing value to a relation to some human disposition (e.g., an impulse toward admiration) all implicitly presuppose the value of the fulfillment of that disposition. These considerations lead to a refutation of relativism (ch. 9). Hildebrand responds to the argument from the diversity of moral opinions that such a diversity does not entail that there is no truth of the matter in morality and that the reality of an objective truth is in any case presupposed by the very act of taking up a moral opinion. In response to the claim of the “French sociological school” that morality is an invention and illusion owing to social pressures and cultural tradition, he responds that the moral sphere is in fact characterized by a certain essential intelligibility and necessity which puts it closer to mathematics than to mythology. Furthermore, these same relativists nevertheless inconsistently take up moral stances in response to evils such as Nazism. And Hildebrand has no patience for the view that says that the alleged value of things is in fact a feeling produced in us by the object, rather than a property of being itself, because this is contrary to the intentional nature of the experience of value itself. This is a point to which it will be important to return later.

There is a distinction to be made between ontological and qualitative value (ch. 10). Qualitative value is the value that characterizes qualities which may be possessed by different persons and is as such indifferent to each of them, e.g. the value of humility or charm or whatever. Ontological value is the value that a thing possesses simply in virtue of the fact that it is what it is, e.g. the value and intrinsic dignity of the human being as such. Hildebrand notes that the qualitative values (and disvalues) are related to each other in a way characterized by what he calls “polarity” (ch. 11). For example, thing cannot simultaneously be grand and delicate, menacing and boring, charming and imposing. Hildebrand also distinguishes various forms of polarity, some of which involve a kind of fruitful antagonism or opposition while others involve complementarity. And with respect to the relation between value and being (ch. 12), Hildebrand argues that these are distinct notions such that the grasp of one does not entail the grasp of the other. He grants that there is a formal value which belongs to every being simply qua being, but this must be distinguished from the ontological value of that being qua something as well as its qualitative values, i.e. the various valuable qualities it might possess. And it is possible for a thing to possess such ontological and qualitative disvalue that it would be better if it did not exist at all.

Speaking more generally of the connection between being and value, it is evident that the world in which human beings live is full of both good and evil, value and disvalue (ch. 13). But the presence of value alongside disvalue and indifference itself suggests that at the foundation of created being lies God who is Absolute Value. The ultimate reality could not be disvalue insofar as this would empty value of its meaning and turn it into a lie. This shows something of the relationship between God and value (ch. 14). Hildebrand compares it to the relationship between God as necessary and the creature as contingent: although it is possible to grasp a thing as contingent or valuable apart from the recognition of God, nevertheless the contingent or valuable thing depends upon God as its precondition. And the various values of things are in different ways reflections of the supreme unity of value in God.

Leaving aside questions of the relation between value and being, Hildebrand turns to the matter of moral values in particular (ch. 15). These are first and foremost values of a person, whereas nothing impersonal could be said to possess a moral value such as wisdom or temperance or the rest. And yet they are distinguished from other qualitative values of persons by the fact that it is demanded of every person as such to possess them, thus presupposing freedom of the will and in which regard the success or failure to possess them leaves one deserving either of reward or punishment. The distinctly Christian values of the saint include but also go beyond the values of “natural” morality available to all people whatsoever. With respect to the matter of moral value and its relation to nature (ch. 16), Hildebrand is firmly committed to the notion that the sphere of value cannot be subordinated to that of the human, as if value were merely a human phenomenon. This means that the morally valuable is not simply whatever is in accordance with human nature. Rather, human being is itself ordered toward the autonomous sphere of value, including the distinct sphere of moral value to which the human being has access as a result of its capacity for reason.

Hildebrand puts forth an extended discussion of the nature of value-response which is so fundamental to ethics (ch. 17). He begins by distinguishing intentional acts of consciousness, which imply a relation between a person and an object, from those nonintentional states such as exhaustion or cheerfulness. Among intentional acts, a distinction is to be made between the cognitive acts such as perception, through which an object is made present to a person, the direction of intentionality being principally from object to subject, and responses from the subject to the object which presuppose these prior cognitive acts. Responses may be of different sorts. Theoretical responses have to do with believing or disbelieving, accepting or doubting, and are aimed at the state of affairs as such. Volitional responses have to do with willing or not willing, which are principally aimed at state of affairs recognized not presently to be real, but which at least are possibly so. And there are also affective responses such as joy or sorrow, love or contempt. Some of these are principally characterized by the cognition of a value in their object, such as the admiration one feels for a saint or virtuous person. These are called value-responses. They are distinguished from other affective responses principally through the fact that they express themselves through a form of self-abandonment and self-transcendence, as when one worships God or commits oneself to the cause of justice. Some value responses such as love may manifest themselves in a manner similar to urges and impulses like thirst or strong desire, but they must nevertheless be distinguished from these in virtue of the fact that they are responses to an independently possessed value of some object. And the intentionality and object-directedness of the value response is not compromised by the thought that the human being is naturally disposed toward or benefited by certain values. The value of a thing is grasped in a special form of intentional cognition which Hildebrand calls value-perception. Hildebrand notably differs with Socrates in that he does not believe that mere indubitable value perception is sufficient to result in moral action; it is also necessary to be affected by them and to will in conformity with them.

It is essential to respond and relate appropriately to the values in things (ch. 18). There is an evident disharmony in dismissing Plato as vapid or thinking of St. Francis as “merely a lovely religious troubadour” (257). Similar considerations apply in the case of a person who responds with admiration and veneration to her robbers. And it is not merely a person or a valuable thing but rather the value itself that demands a proportionate response. Among these value-responses is the will to be good (ch. 19). One might also call this the fundamental option for moral value. Hildebrand is clear that the choice to be moral is first and foremost a response to the importance-in-itself of moral value and only secondarily a pursuit of what is objectively good for the human person. The difference between morally conscious person and morally unconscious person is that the former has considered and made this fundamental option for goodness whereas the latter has not. The morally unconscious person conforms to the moral order only accidentally, to the extent that it is natural or normal for her to do so. The morally unconscious person may also be strictly indifferent to the question of moral value while finding herself contingently inclined toward certain values which are genuinely morally good. The appropriate response to moral value in general requires moral consciousness.

Hildebrand also considers the role of the will in the response to value (ch. 21). On the one hand, the freedom of the will makes it possible for the human being to respond to the disclosure of value either positively or negatively, appropriately or inappropriately. On the other hand, the will is also what makes it possible for human beings to initiate causal sequences and to intervene in the flow of events in the world. Freedom implies the consciousness that some state of affairs both should and will obtain as a result (at least in part) of one’s own agency. Moreover, freedom is the presupposition of all moral evaluation and social action. It is distinct from the forms of voluntariness which are found even among animals (ch. 22). Contrary to the assertion of Aristotle, human freedom extends not only to the means but also to the end (ch. 23). Humans are free to choose between the merely subjectively satisfying or the important-in-itself as ends for their actions and not merely as means for the procurement of happiness. Insofar as human responsibility is coextensive with human freedom, it must be recognized that there is a distinction between things for which humans are directly responsible and those for which humans are only indirectly responsible (ch. 24). The existence of the former can be assured by an act of the will, whereas for the existence of the latter all one can do is prepare the way by means of free choices. One may not be capable of bringing about a virtue in oneself directly, but one can nevertheless be blamed for a failure of virtue if one does not at least prepare the way by willing to do the virtuous thing.

Human freedom also plays a role in the response to one’s being affected or affective responses to other things (ch. 25). It is not a matter of human freedom that one be affected or respond affectively to things, nor would it be right for it to be so, since the affective response is precisely a response to quality perceived in the object and not a matter of choice. But it is nevertheless a matter of freedom whether one “cooperates” with how one has been affected by something, e.g. whether one pursues a joy or submits to a felt offense. The morally conscious person is distinguished by the fact that she exercises her capacity to sanction or disavow her spontaneous attitudes. The morally unconscious person simply takes these affective responses for granted, whatever they might be. But this capacity can also be exercised by the morally conscious immoralist or enemy of God who specifically identifies with immoral attitudes and suppresses any noble affections that may arise within her. In general, the zone of affective responses is an area in which the human being can exercise indirect influence by either sanctioning or disavowing certain responses for the sake of preparing a ground for the advent of the appropriate ones. And in general, the factors which influence the development of a person’s character are numerous and vary with respect to the freedom a person has over them (ch. 26). One’s natural endowment with respect to temperament and body is one thing, whereas the way in which a person internalizes her own experiences and understands her own life is another. These analyses therefore yield the fundamental elements composing a moral act: it must be a free value-response to some relevant moral value perceived and pursued precisely as such, i.e. as a moral value (361).

Hildebrand posits three spheres of morality: the sphere of action; the sphere of concrete responses to things, whether volitional or affective; and the sphere of the lasting qualities of a person’s character (ch. 27). These spheres are not reducible or subordinated to each other. For example, it is possible for a morally noble person to fall into some sin as a result of temptation, in which case a distinction is to be made from the evaluation of character (she is noble), the evaluation of concrete responses (she is tempted by something), and the evaluation of action (she performs an evil action). An action is the intentional realization of a state of affairs perceived both as realizable and as valuable in a certain way. Affective responses to things can become the subject of moral evaluation when they are sanctioned or disavowed, i.e. when volition is brought into the equation. Virtues are deeply embedded qualities of a person’s character which are founded upon certain basic value-responses. This raises the question of moral “rigorism” (ch. 28). Although for Hildebrand the true drama of morality is the choice between the merely subjectively satisfying and the important-in-itself, it is nevertheless true that one should prefer the more valuable to the less. But it is also possible that in various situations it be morally required to give preference to something which otherwise would be considered a lesser value. And a distinction must be posited between what is morally praiseworthy and what is morally obligatory. “Rigorism” collapses this distinction and in this way erases the category of the merely permissible. Hildebrand also considers the question of the objective good for the person (ch. 29). There are four categories of the objective good: to be endowed with values; to possess something that makes happy because it is valuable; to have things which are indispensable for life; and to enjoy things which are legitimately agreeable.

The final chapters address the sources of moral evil. These are identified as pride and concupiscence (ch. 30). In fact, Hildebrand identifies three moral “centers” in the human being (ch. 31). These “centers” are not ontological constituents of the human person, but rather “a kind of fundamental approach to the universe and to God, a qualitatively unified ‘ego’ that is always more or less actualized when the person accomplishes a morally good act” (437). These centers are identified on the basis of certain qualitative affinities between various virtues and vices. The virtues — love, humility, reverence, justice, generosity, and so on — are united around what Hildebrand calls the “loving, reverent, value-responding center,” whereas there are two centers of evil: pride, which is the source of vices such as revengefulness, hard-heartedness, envy; and concupiscence, which is the source of covetousness, impurity, laziness, and other such. Hildebrand proposes an analysis of five possible manifestations of the coexistence of the good and evil centers in the typical human being (ch. 32). The merely subjectively satisfying can be a legitimate pursuit, but only if it is done in a recognition of the precedence and priority of value (ch. 33). Otherwise, one falls victim to pride and concupiscence. The discussions terminate with analyses of concupiscence (ch. 34) and pride (ch. 35) as distinct yet related ways of failing in the matter of value-response, concupiscence consisting in a loss of self in the pursuit of the satisfying, pride consisting in a preoccupation with self to the negation of value.

The book terminates with reflections on distinctly Christian ethics (ch. 36). Christian morality includes but also goes beyond and fulfills “natural” morality, understood as that moral knowledge which is available apart from revelation. This Christian ethics is distinguished in at least a few ways: its principal manifestation is humility; it brings together values which in natural morality are often thought exclusive (e.g., zeal for justice and meekness); it is principally founded upon the core of charity; and it conceives of the ethical life as a response to God in Jesus Christ.

Hildebrand’s discussion spanning some nearly five hundred pages is coherent, detailed, and in many places compelling without being aprioristic or unduly systematizing. His analyses of the different ways in which virtues and vices, moral battles and weaknesses manifest themselves in distinct types of persons are very astute and insightful. He demonstrates a profound and nuanced vision of the details of the moral landscape, for example in appreciation of the irreducibility of value even to the sphere of human entelechy as in some species of natural law ethics. At the same time, his writing lacks a certain transcendental awareness of his own hermeneutical situatedness. Sometimes the result is quaint, as when he takes for granted the obviousness of certain moral intuitions and attitudes typical of a faithful Roman Catholic writing decades before the Second Vatican Council. On other occasions, however, it serves to undermine the cogency of his arguments and compromises the genuinely phenomenological character of his work. Consider his discussion of the intentional character of value-response and its phenomenal quality as a perception of a value in the object itself.

Hildebrand distinguishes between cognitive acts and responses as two forms of intentional consciousness. The cognitive act is fundamentally receptive insofar as it consists in the grasping of the self-presentation of an object given to consciousness. The response is fundamentally active in that it consists in the adoption of a particular attitude toward the object grasped in the cognitive act (206-207). Although Hildebrand does not formulate it in precisely these terms, one could say that the cognitive act is a form of categorial intuition in which one grasps a state of affairs of such a nature as to motivate the adoption of some attitude in response to the grasped object. The quality which the object is grasped to possess is the motivation for the response. Insofar as some responses clearly have to do with the supposed value or disvalue of a thing to which one is responding, it therefore would seem to follow that these responses presuppose the prior cognitive grasp of a thing as possessing some value or disvalue relevant for motivating the response in question. For example, one feels admiration for a person in whom one perceives admirable qualities, e.g. moral values. The value-response is thus founded upon a form of value-perception in the way that responses more generally are founded upon cognitive acts such as perception or categorial intuition.

By way of response, one should note that Hildebrand seems to disregard the essentially hermeneutical nature of world-experience. One does not simply experience world-objects and grasp their properties directly. The external world-object is grasped through the dual hermeneutical filter of the lived body and thought-life of the individual. A door looks blurry from a distance, not because it is blurry, but because one has bad eyesight. So also, a skyscraper may appear massive, not because it is in itself massive, but because it is much larger than one’s own body. Likewise, the fact that a man does not experience his wife and his sister-in-law in the same way does not owe to a difference in the two women, nor to a difference in his body, but to a difference in his thought-life: he understands the one to be his wife and not the other. So also, a woman might experience her parents differently after learning that she was adopted, not because something is different in them or in her body but because she now understands them differently. This is what is meant by the assertion that the external world-object is grasped through the dual hermeneutical filter of the lived body and the thought-life. One does not only experience the object but rather the object as related to oneself.

Hildebrand’s arguments for the objectivity of value therefore seem unsuccessful. It is true that one experiences an object as possessing some value which motivates a particular form of response to it. But it is another matter whether one has grasped a value in the object on its own or in the object as it is related to oneself in experience. Food is experienced as delicious, but there is no property of gustatory value inhering objectively in chicken tikka masala. It can be appetizing to one but not to another. Or consider that human beings love fruit, but dogs and cats generally do not. Similarly, a purported moral value can be “noble” in the eyes of the “virtuous” but repellent to the “profligate.” It could well be that the difference in perception is accounted for merely in terms of the different structures of the persons involved. Hildebrand thus does not succeed in demonstrating the pure objectivity of value because he does not show a critical awareness of the hermeneutical contribution of the lived body and thought-life to every world-experience. This seems to be the greatest shortcoming of an otherwise quite valuable treatment of the philosophy of morals. It remains a possibility that the perception of value is accounted for by the human body and thought-life rather than in the world-objects themselves. Value could be just like food, where tastes differ.

Hildebrand could escape this conclusion if he were to opt for an “anthropocentric ontology.” Such a perspective maintains that the meaning of things is their possible meaning for human life and purposes. On this view, the hermeneutical structure of human experience would not supply merely one more possible perspective among others but would rather constitute the total framework within which every possible perspective is included. The human being is not related to a prior world which could exist independently of him, but rather the being and meaning of the world its precisely its being and meaning for the human being. Reality is subordinated to the human rather than the other way around. Adopting this perspective would be a way of admitting the fundamentally anthropo-hermeneutical character of the experience of value without compromising the reality of values, since reality is precisely reality-for-humans. This also undermines the argument for relativism, which apparently presupposes a “realist” ontological stance within which human beings are merely one more kind of beings within a greater non-anthropocentric reality that is strictly indifferent to them. But it would also be incompatible with Hildebrand’s greater project of conceiving the human being as intrinsically open to a sphere of objective values which transcends him and exists independently of him. One must therefore choose between “anthropocentric ontology” or an uncertain realism and the specter of value-relativism.

Gregory S. Moss: Hegel’s Foundation Free Metaphysics

Hegel’s Foundation Free Metaphysics: The Logic of Singularity Book Cover Hegel’s Foundation Free Metaphysics: The Logic of Singularity
Routledge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Philosophy
Gregory S. Moss
Routledge
2020
Hardback £96.00
524

Reviewed by: Emre Ebeturk (Independent Scholar)

Hegel’s Foundation Free MetaphysicsThe Logic of Singularity is a multifaceted book. It is undoubtedly an outstanding contribution to Hegel scholarship thanks to its thoroughgoing reconstruction of Hegel’s doctrine of the concept. Gregory Moss’s book is, however, not just a commentary on Hegel; its examination of the Absolute and the concept of the concept makes it a comprehensive and original work on metaphysics and philosophy of logic. Besides, throughout his examination, Moss discusses several major names from the history of philosophy in impressive depth, critically exposing decisive patterns in the history of thought. Within Hegel scholarship, it is a compelling contribution, which supports the “philosophy without foundations” and “Hegel’s logic as metaphysics” readings of Hegel.

Hegel’s Foundation Free Metaphysics is written as a defense of the Absolute from a genuinely Hegelian perspective: Moss takes Hegel literally and puts laudable effort to render Hegel’s metaphysics more intelligible. According to Moss, the Absolute has never been less popular in the history of philosophy as it is in contemporary thought, where post-modernists and new-realists are on a similar page concerning the skepticism toward its non-existence. In such circumstances, Moss undertakes a spirited defense of the Absolute that consists of two parts. The first part of the book lays out the major reasons behind the failure of the history of philosophy in accounting for the Absolute and discusses the problems generated by the compromised stance on the Absolute. The second part is an in-depth reconstruction of the Hegelian solution to those problems and a defense of the Hegelian resurrection of the Absolute.

The first part of the book sets off by explaining the grounds on which the Absolute is denied existence. Moss’s account of other major philosophers’ treatment of the Absolute is thorough and charitable to such an extent that one can easily forget that it is primarily a book about Hegel’s metaphysics. Moss explains why major philosophers avoided or failed to account for the Absolute. Finding the answer in the prevalent conception of the relationships between identity and difference and universality and particularity, Moss shows how the absolute separation of the factors of these dyads creates more significant problems than the ones they solve.

Thus, at the heart of Moss’s argument lies two central and connected claims: First, the denial of the Absolute is bound up with the separation of principles of universality and particularity. Second, this separation rests ultimately on the privileged status of and the dogmatic abidance by the principle of non-contradiction (PNC). Moss wants to show that for those who absolutize the PNC, the Absolute must be either non-existent or at least unknowable. Since every concept and every existing thing, as the argument goes, must conform to this principle, the Absolute, if it exists, must be itself and cannot be what it is not. This implies that the Absolute cannot be anything relative, and everything relative is an other to the Absolute. But this, Moss argues, makes the Absolute limited and not all-encompassing. Such a limited “Absolute” can only be known by what is other to itself, rendering it relative to another. This is, however, clearly a contradiction, as the Absolute is not supposed to be relative. Accordingly, if the Absolute is to exist or be known, then the PNC cannot be the principle governing truth or existence.

In his book, Moss frequently states that Absolute Being is bound up with Absolute Knowledge, both of which are one with the Absolute Truth (Moss: 261). Moss argues that the separation of principles of universality and particularity that holds back the pursuit of the Absolute Truth follows naturally from a strict abidance by the PNC. But this abidance brings about six fundamental problems: Nihilism; Instantiation; the Missing Difference; Absolute Empiricism; Onto-theology; and the Third Man Regress. Before showing how Hegel’s doctrine of the concept as self-differentiation can avoid these problems, Moss explains each of these problems and their connection with the PNC via the history of philosophy. Although it is difficult to give an exhaustive summary of each chapter that deals with one of those problems in a short review, it is worth speaking some of the highlights.

Chapter 1 deals with the problem of nihilism, mainly in the context of German Idealism. Moss points out that German Idealism can be construed as the attempt to ground all true knowledge on a single, foundational principle (Moss: 25). The problem of German Idealists, however, was to be able to derive difference and plurality from such a single principle. As Moss explains in Chapter 1, and discusses with respect to absolute existence in his discussion of Plotinus in Chapter 2, this problem of the Ancient Greek philosophy has survived and reappeared in many different forms during the era of German Idealism. Whether the alleged foundation is a metaphysical or an epistemological principle, the problem was the same: accounting for plurality and difference based on “one self-identical princi­ple that is completely devoid of plurality and difference” (Moss: 27). The failure to do so left the stage to nihilism, as Jacobi compellingly argued in his critique of Fichte’s philosophy. Hegel agreed that it was impossible to derive absolute being and knowledge from a single foundational principle. Nevertheless, he did not choose the Kantian way of deriving difference from some given content, such as that of intuition, either. Instead, Hegel argued for the rejection of first principles in favor of a systematic attempt to derive Absolute without foundations.

In his System of Transcendental Idealism, Schelling tried to avoid this nihilistic fate by a first principle allegedly both analytic and synthetic. He looked for a principle that accommodates both identity and difference, as he correctly saw that no merely analytic principle could bring forth difference from itself, and no merely synthetic principle could be unconditioned. His solution was self-consciousness itself, or more formulaically, the self-identity of the self. Moss argues that this principle was not only self-undermining but also confirmed that the thought of the Absolute entails approval of contradiction. An analytic principle works based on the identity of the subject with the predicate, while a synthetic principle works based on their difference. If a principle is both analytic and synthetic at once, then the subject and predicate must be identical and different at the same time. However, such a contradiction, which Hegel saw as necessary to conceive of the absolute in general, was for Schelling and other German Idealists, not welcome. The underlying problem was their absolute separation of identity from difference. Thus, Moss argues, Schelling had to revert to a Fichtean thetic, equally analytic, first principle, without any non-dogmatic way to derive additional content from itself (Moss: 64).

In Chapter 2, with reference to Plotinus’s theory of emanation, Moss discusses how a similar adherence to the separation of identity and difference brought about the same kind of problem in Neo-Platonic thought. Plotinus’s One is supposed to be undifferentiated and indeterminate, while at the same time emanating difference and plurality. Thus, although emanation implies that the One incorporates the principle of identity and difference at once, plurality and difference are absolute others to the One. Failing to account for this plurality and difference based on identity and singularity, Neo-Platonists were forced to employ metaphors such as emanation and overflow (Moss: 82-86). Moss also points out that similar problems haunted Plotinus’s account of emanation at its further stages.

After showing in reference to two different contexts that a first principle is unable to deliver plurality and difference, in Chapter 3, Moss considers the adoption of a duality of irreducible principles for identity and difference. Kant’s dualism of identity and difference rested respectively on concepts, which are universals, and intuition, the content of which are particulars. This dualism was bound up with a duality of faculties mediated by schematism: understanding as the faculty of concepts and sensibility as the faculty of intuition. Moss shows how this duality is connected to Kant’s rejection of noumenal knowledge as well as the rejection of self-predication and existential implication through intellectual intuition. Moss also explains how similar problems arising from the duality of principles, such as universality and particularity in Plato, and form and matter in Aristotle, were meticulously discussed by these philosophers themselves, without, however, producing a compelling resolution in favor of the being and knowledge of the absolute. Between Chapters 3-7, Moss examines the above-mentioned problems generated by such a duality of principles governing the relationship between identity and universality and difference and particularity.

Moss explains that, for Plato, the problem of instantiation stems from the particular’s partaking in the form, which implies either the multiplicity of one and the same form, or its being divided into parts, which are both absurdities. The problem only gets worse when we think of the possibility of the relation between universal and particular forms. Although Aristotle’s forms are not transcendent, he runs into similar problems, particularly reflected by his idea of the composites of form and matter. “Prime matter” does not exist since, without form, which is the universal, there is nothing determinate. Nevertheless, they are separate in that the form is the active, organizing principle, while matter is the passive recipient. Furthermore, the form cannot activate itself and it is not self-organizing (Moss: 122). Thus, the form needs matter to do what it does, and therefore, be what it is. In other words, the form is the principle of the composite as a determinate being, while matter is the condition of its existence. Aristotle’s universals are existentially realized in their particulars. However, because the form is a this, and therefore, one in number, yet indefinitely repeated in all its instances, Moss argues that the problem of instantiation still plagues Aristotle’s philosophy (Moss: 127).

Together with Chapter 4, Moss’s focus is shifted more directly on the relationship between the universal and the particular, than that of identity and difference, though the former incorporates the latter. This chapter is central to Moss’s problematization of the traditional ways to conceive the concept itself, as it establishes the claim that absolute separation of the universal from the particular undermines any attempt to know the absolute. What is absolutely true is unconditioned: it is not contingent on anything external and is true in virtue of itself. Insofar as the Absolute Truth involves the correspondence of the concept with the object, it cannot be known unless the concept as the universal corresponds to its particulars. In the traditional accounts, however, the concept or the universal is not true in virtue of itself and is always relative to something else. For Kant, the truth of the object is indexed to the conceptualizing subjectivity, while in Aristotle, the truth of thought is anchored to the independent thing itself. Throughout his book, Moss attempts to establish that if the concept does not amplify itself and generate its particulars, if it is not self-predicative, it cannot demonstrate its existence and cannot be truly known. Nevertheless, self-predication is not consistent with the dualistic model of conceptual constitution, which takes universality and particularity as two separate principles. When there is a duality of principles, the universal cannot account for its particulars, that is, how they are distinguished from one another. This implies that the universal cannot be known to correspond to its particulars in virtue of itself, as it would be indifferent to whatever particularity they have. Therefore, the duality of principles renders the concept relatively true at best. This, according to Moss, is “the basic systematic ground for the inability of philosophy to achieve Absolute Truth” (Moss: 147).

To build up this argument, Moss explains why the traditional forms of the concept as an abstract universal, genus, and class (or set) are equally incapable of differentiating their particulars (or accounting for their differences). He explains that these traditional forms of the concept appeal to givens, presuppose the concept as finite, and deny that the concept is existentially implicative and self-predicative. However, it is important to note in advance that in the second part of the book, Moss shows that these finite conceptions of the concept are still incorporated by Hegel’s account of the concept.

The abstract universal is the view of the concept as the common feature shared by a plurality. Such a general feature cannot contain, specify, or distinguish and individuate the particulars to which it applies. Instead, this general feature is abstracted from some given plurality existing independently of the universal. As opposed to the abstract universal, the genus contains its particulars, i.e., species, within itself. Nevertheless, it also has no say on the differentiae that differentiate species from one another, which, again, need to be given extraneously. Likewise, the class or set is not sufficient to differentiate its members, even though as the totality of its members, it is not distinct from them: “Just as abstract universality fails to distinguish instances, class membership also fails to individuate members” (Moss: 142). Moss explains that since the universal understood in these traditional ways cannot differentiate the associated particulars, another principle of differentiation must be introduced, while another universal would only reiterate the problem until some non-universal and given content is externally introduced to do the job. Second, the concept’s incapacity to differentiate its particulars or generate its concept makes it a finite or limited concept; a limit intrinsic to the traditional senses of the concept. Since in those cases, the universal will not be sufficient to account for whether or how the concept corresponds to the particulars, recourse to some external principle will be needed, rendering the concept further limited. Third, the concept’s inability to differentiate its particulars comes together with the inability to exhibit existential implication. Since the truth of the concept construed in the traditional ways will be contingent on external factors, there is no way to tell if the existence of its particulars beyond mere possibility follows from the content of the universal. Finally, Moss argues, insofar as the concept is incapable of existential implication, it follows that the universal is unable to predicate itself on its own accord as self-predication entails existential implication.

In the last section of Chapter 4, Moss elucidates how the inadequate conceptions of the concept, in which the universal is severed from the particular, necessarily follow from a dogmatic abidance by the PNC. Moss does so with reference to the philosophies of Kant and Aristotle. As to Kant, Moss argues that the PNC is a formal principle of truth, sufficient only to establish the truth of analytic judgments. Like any other formal principle, since it cannot specify the content of predicates, it cannot have a say on the truth of synthetic judgments, which assert something about the relation between the subject and the predicate. From this, Moss derives the conclusion that “the formality of the PNC entails that in order to discover the truth of the synthetic judgment, one must consult a separate source of truth beyond the domain of logic” (Moss: 151). Although Kant’s synthetic judgment does demand a separate and non-formal source or principle of truth, why the duality of principles derives from an abidance by the PNC could use further clarification, as one also needs to know whether the truth criterion of synthetic judgments is equally insufficient to affirm the truth of analytics judgments. But Moss does explain here why Kant’s determinacy of the concept is contingent on its having consistent predicates, rendering determinacy dependent on the PNC as it is on the given content of the intuition. The conclusion with reference to Aristotle is similar. Moss explains that for Aristotle, the PNC is fundamental because without it, all things could be both predicated and denied of the same thing, rendering everything indeterminate or nothing. Because the genus cannot differentiate its species, the differentiation must come from somewhere else. Otherwise, the genus would be enough to distinguish one species from another. Moss argues that this separation of identity represented by the genus and the difference represented by the species is motivated by the PNC.

Later on, Moss acknowledges that the philosophers he talks about are right to undergird their dualities by the PNC. Furthermore, he will also argue that there are particular concepts such as the genus, and they are undergirded by the PNC. In a way, I would say that the real problem seems to be not that these thinkers abide by the PNC more than the fact they cannot think of the kind of concept, the absolute concept, that does not abide by the PNC.

In the following three chapters, Moss discusses four problems created by the separation of the universal from the particular. The problem of the Missing Difference stems from the concept of the concept’s inability to differentiate its particulars, that is, particular concepts, insofar as the concept of concept only species the feature common to all concepts. What is really “missing” is a principle through which particular concepts are distinguished from one another. Accordingly, the problem cannot be resolved by defining a particular concept, since that would only point to an already differentiated particular, not to how it is differentiated in the first place. The principle cannot be found outside of the concept of the concept either, as all conceptual differences will fall in the concept of the concept as its particulars.

A clarification for why the external principle of difference could only be a conceptual difference is found at the beginning of Moss’s discussion of the problem of Absolute Empiricism in Chapter 5. Indeed, as Moss explains, the problem of Absolute Empiricism, in its ‘psychologist,’ ‘nominalist,’ and ‘naturalist’ forms, originates from the failure to find the source of conceptual difference within the concept. In other words, it is the outcome of a search for the categorical differences outside of categories. As the last section of this chapter explains, however, Absolute Empiricism is self-undermining, because in its prioritizing particulars, it makes them into universals immanent in the concept of particulars, and in its prioritizing class as the meaning of the concept, it contradictorily maintains a non-empirical justification. Again, in Chapter 5, Moss successfully explains how the paradox of thinghood and its differentiation in Aristotle’s philosophy instantiates the problem of Missing Difference. The Kantian version of the problem is somewhat different. In Kant, the problem is that the differences between intuitions are only determined by categories, that is, concepts, while categories themselves cannot be distinguished from one another in the absence of intuitions. Thus, categories cannot categorize themselves, while intuitions cannot intuit themselves. What makes the Kantian problem an instance of the Missing Difference is that the differentiation is not accounted for by appeal to what the differentiated is in virtue of itself, but by appeal to its relations.

The beginning of Chapter 6 elucidates one of the main claims of the book: a strict abidance by the PNC makes it impossible to conceive of the concept as self-differentiating, as the self-differentiating concept is one and many, being the universal and its particulars at the same time. However, unless the concept is self-differentiating, then it will be impossible to explain the particulars of the concept without an extraneous principle. This is most evident in the differentiation of the concept of the concept. If the concept of the concept does not differentiate itself, then either there will not be any particulars or particular concepts will be determined extraneously. But if the former, then insofar as the concept of the concept is itself a particular concept in virtue of being self-differentiating, the concept of the concept will itself be impossible. Likewise, if the concept of the concept is undifferentiated, this will automatically render it a particular concept, in virtue of its being an undifferentiated concept.

Chapters 6 and 7 focus on the different sides of the same problem, which stems from the concept’s self-referential character. In Chapter 6, mostly through a discussion of Heidegger’s construal of onto-theology, Moss argues that the abidance by the PNC leads to the problem of onto-theology, which consists in equivocating Being with a being or beings. Any attempt to specify what Being is cannot but end up determining Being as a being. This is similar to the equivocation of the universal with the particular, which is unacceptable to those who think that the two are absolutely distinct. As the Third Man Regress shows, trying to specify the universal will render it a particular. In other words, the denial of true contradictions necessarily leads to the non-existence of particular concepts, although this position will ultimately undermine itself by rendering the concept without particulars a particular concept.

The second part of Moss’s book is devoted to showing how these perennial problems produced by the duality of principles of identity and difference and universality and particularity can only be overcome by what he calls “Absolute Dialetheism— the view that the Absolute can only exist as a true contradiction” (Moss: 156). Moss thinks that such an Absolute Dialetheism is embodied in Hegel’s metaphysics, which can accommodate the Absolute as it denies that the PNC is the ultimate principle. Thus, Moss’s defense of the Absolute is through a reconstruction of Hegel’s doctrine of the concept, and his concept of the singular, which for Moss, constitutes the backbone of Hegel’s dialetheist metaphysics. Moss claims that as opposed to the finite concept of the tradition, Hegel’s concept can lay hold of the Absolute, and he wants to show that Hegel does not just posit this conclusion but arrives at it by following the immanent logic of the finite concept and demonstrating how the finite universality undermines and transforms itself. Accordingly, most of the second part of the book is a defense of why Hegel’s concept avoids the problems arising from the absolutization of the PNC and the separation of the concept from particularity.

Moss quotes Hegel’s complaint that it is difficult to tell what other philosophers mean by the concept because that meaning is always taken for granted and the concept of the concept is never the subject of philosophical inquiry (Moss: 258–9). Indeed, something similar can be argued with respect to the reception of Hegel’s concept of the concept. Although scholars would agree on the centrality of the concept for Hegel’s system, there are not many thorough and elucidative accounts of it. Moss’s Hegel’s Foundation Free Philosophy is one of the rare examples that undertake such an inquiry and work out the secrets of Hegel’s concept. This involves, above all, figuring out the relationship between the universal, particular, the singular, the three constituents of the concept of the concept. Unlike what most philosophers before and after Hegel thought, this problem is not one between the universal and empirical particulars. It is about the universal and particular as such, and their unity in the singular.

Moss acknowledges that one way to reconstruct Hegel’s solution to the problems explained in the first part of the book is to go through Hegel’s foundation free system of logic, from the indeterminacy to the Absolute Idea (Moss: 311). Hegel’s Foundation Free Philosophy uses a different path for the same destination by first taking a detour, examining major accounts from the history of philosophy, and then focusing on Hegel’s doctrine of the concept. Nonetheless, Moss does an admirable job in clarifying some of the fundamental logical categories that Hegel’s concept presupposes and distinguishing them from the concept and its constituents. Especially in Chapter 12, Moss does an impressive job in emphasizing the character and relevant categories of Hegel’s logic of being, essence, and the concept. In so doing, he lays bare what is distinctive about the logic of the concept and self-differentiation compared to self-othering transitions of the logic of Being and the unilaterally determining oppositions of the logic of Essence and addresses why it is Hegel’s concept of the concept rather than any previous category that can solve the perennial problems in question.

Moss undertakes a painstaking metaphysical reading of Hegel’s concept as he explicates it in the Science of Logic. It is a metaphysical reading because Moss thinks that Hegel’s concept exists and is necessary to conceive how and why the Absolute also exists and can be known. The key to the argument for the existence of the concept is Moss’s emphasis on Hegel’s identification of the universal with self-differentiation and his construal of singularity in terms of existential implication. In Chapter 8, Moss introduces the features of the self-differentiating concept, and in Chapter 10, he explains in more detail how and why Hegel’s concept eschews the problems laid out in the first part of the book.

The universal is self-differentiating, and in its differentiation, it instantiates itself without ceasing to be what it is, namely, self-particularization into instances. These instantiations are but its particulars. Thus, the universal is self-particularizing, and Moss argues, the self-instantiation of the universal as its own particulars is equally existential implication. The concept demonstrates its existence in virtue of itself through its self-differentiated particulars, and it spells out what it is only through its self-particularization. Thus, the self-differentiating concept is equally self-referential and self-predicative, and insofar it determines itself and is not determined or differentiated by anything extraneous or non-conceptual, it can be true in itself, unconditioned, and absolute (Moss: 262). In other words, the determinate content of the universal is not given, but the concept’s own doing, which is why it can avoid foundationalism and the empiricist appeal to non-conceptual givens (Moss: 309). Moreover, since Hegel’s universal is not separated from its particulars, neither Onto-theology nor the Third Man Regress constitutes a problem for Hegel’s concept of the concept.

Moss argues that the concept that is self-predicative, existentially implicative, and true-in-virtue-of-itself cannot be finite as it would not depend upon anything other than itself. In this regard, Moss argues, the concept is both analytic and synthetic. It is synthetic in virtue of its analyticity: that which is true about the concept is contained within it, but what is true about it is its being ampliative, its going beyond itself, thus, its being synthetic. Because it can account for the difference from within itself, the self-differentiating concept is immune to Jacobi’s nihilism objection as well as the problem of the missing difference (Moss: 309). Again, in Chapter 8 and 10, by explaining the structural features of Hegel’s system of logic, Moss discusses why and how Hegel’s system does not presuppose this concept of the concept or the absolute as given, but systematically derives it beginning with the indeterminate.

Given that the separation of the universal from the particular is driven by the PNC, self-predicative and existentially implicative concept, which entails that the universal will be particular in virtue of its universality, will also be self-contradicting, and therefore, in contradiction with the PNC. The true universal can only be itself in its differentiation of itself. In contrast to several other Hegel scholars, Moss owns up to Hegel’s incorporation of contradictions on its face value. Instead of trying to show that Hegel did not really mean to admit contradictions, Moss elucidates Hegel’s account of contradiction, explaining why those contradictions do not explode into `everything and nothing` but only give rise to particular categories. In this sense, he is one of the few to demonstrate that a Hegelian version of dialetheism is not just a logically exploitable tool but also offers a compelling metaphysical account of fundamental concepts such as being, existence, identity, difference, universal, particular, and the singular. In the light of his discussion of Hegelian contradictions, in Chapter 9, Moss compares his version of Absolute Dialetheism with what he calls the Relative Dialetheism of Markus Gabriel.

In Chapter 11, Moss speaks of the relationship between the concept and objectivity in Hegel’s logic before examining Hegel’s derivation of the singular from the self-differentiating universality as the micro version of Hegel’s ontological argument. By noting that a full explication of this argument requires an account for the logical system’s “amplifying itself into nature and spirit,” Moss lays out the logical structure of the argument in terms of the self-predicative and existentially implicative character of the concept and the resulting category of singularity (Moss: 353).

Chapter 13 is where Moss provides a thorough reconstruction of Hegel’s doctrine of the concept and its three constituents, universality, particularity, and singularity, according to the book’s main claims. Compared to several other commentaries on the concept of the concept, I can assuredly state that Moss’s reconstruction achieves to be one of the most careful and illuminating commentaries in Hegel scholarship. Moss does not only trace the development of the moments of the concept and explicates the relationships among the universal, particular, and the singular, but he also clarifies them in comparison with parallel determinacies and movements that came before the concept in the system of logic and were incorporated by the latter. Unfortunately, since each step in the development of singularity from the universal as self-differentiation is crucial, it is not possible to discuss Moss’s treatments of particular transitions while leaving some others out.

Since the universal as such differentiates itself as particular universals, Moss emphasizes that Hegel’s concept does not leave out forms of universality prevalent in the history of philosophy, such as the abstract universal, class, and the genus. Because they stand for the negation of the self-differentiation of the universal, and thus, for the separation of the universal from the particular, they are particular universals that are grounded upon an illusory dichotomy between the universal and the particular. The dichotomy is illusory insofar as they still fall within the concept and are still particular self-differentiations of it. Singularity is the moment of the overcoming of this false dichotomy and demonstrates the unity of the universal and the particular. The finite concept transforms itself into singularity on account of the very contradiction to which the finite concept of universality is driven. Thus, Moss attempts to show, Hegel’s solution to the problems is not merely in terms of the concept as self-differentiation, but ultimately through the result of the development of the concept: singularity. As the book tries to build up from the very beginning, this unity is the unity of the universal qua self-differentiation and the resulting differentiations: its particulars. In Chapter 14, Moss argues that by showing that the moments of particularity in Hegel’s logic of the concept follow from the self-differentiating universal, Hegel demonstrates that they are not unfounded or utterly arbitrary, as other philosophers leave them to be, but are instead the products of self-determining thought.

Again, in this chapter, “Empiricism, Judgment, and Inference,” Moss discusses how empirical concepts and judgment can be reconciled with Hegel’s doctrine of the concept, and addresses a common confusion by briefly explaining Hegel’s conception of empirical concepts, and shows why the concept in its proper sense should not be conflated with empirical concepts. Unlike the logical concept and its true instantiations in nature and spirit, empirical concepts are not infinite, self-differentiating, or existentially implicative. That is why, Moss explains, in contrast with the concept proper, an empirical concept is subject to the PNC, which has a say on abstract concepts.

Even with the book’s many merits, there are two main points on which it could be improved. First, the heavy load of content that extends to various domains and major philosophers that Moss aims to gather under certain banners seems to have encumbered a more efficient organization. This is quite natural given that Moss chose to deal with tremendously intricate problems both thematically and historically at the same time while he also did not want to leave out any relevant issue. In this regard, my second criticism contradicts the first one in the spirit of the book itself, as I will complain about the relative neglect of some further content, namely, Hegel’s Idea and its role in the solution to the problems Moss discusses. For Hegel, truth concerns not only the concept but also objectivity, which is why only the Idea, the unity of the concept with its objectivity, can be true. Accordingly, the Absolute Truth cannot be truly conceived apart from the Absolute Idea. Indeed, Moss points this out in Chapter 12 where he briefly talks about the Idea, while he also acknowledges that the concept is not itself the truth (Moss: 376). Furthermore, in several different places throughout the book, Moss also indicates that Hegel’s Absolute cannot be fully comprehended, and his ontological “argument” cannot be sufficiently assessed without engaging with how the concept gives rise to the domains of nature and spirit. Nevertheless, Moss could have made it clearer to what extent the Idea has a considerable role in Hegel’s solving the problems of his predecessors concerning the Absolute, which I believe is worth reconsideration. Nevertheless, to sum up, Hegel’s Foundation Free Metaphysics: The Logic of Singularity is an ambitious project that painstakingly covers sizeable ground. It is undoubtedly a work that deserves extensive discussion and should function as a comprehensive guide to understand Hegel’s logic of the concept.

Helmuth Plessner: Levels of Organic Life and the Human: An Introduction to Philosophical Anthropology

Levels of Organic Life and the Human: An Introduction to Philosophical Anthropology Book Cover Levels of Organic Life and the Human: An Introduction to Philosophical Anthropology
Helmuth Plessner. Translated by Millay Hyatt. Introduction by J. M. Bernstein
Fordham University Press
2019
Paperback $35.00
448

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

This publication of Helmuth Plessner’s 1928 work marks its first translation into English.  In fact, this text is one of only a few of Plessner’s many books that has seen English translation.  As Plessner describes in the Preface to the Second Edition, from 1965, this book did not reach a wide audience upon its publication due to the long shadow of Max Scheler (xix), of whom Plessner was widely seen as a disciple.  The present edition, translated from the German by Millay Hyatt, is a welcome appearance of a seminal text from German philosophy’s very productive engagement with anthropology and the philosophy of life in the first half of the twentieth century.  Regarded by numerous scholars as Plessner’s masterwork, Levels of Organic Life and the Human synthesizes philosophical biology, phenomenology, existentialism, and social philosophy in the process of constructing a systematic philosophy of life from the ground up.  The primary influence on Plessner’s composition of this work is not Scheler, as Plessner maintains in the Preface to the Second Edition, but Plessner’s teacher Hans Driesch, the biologist who favored vitalism as a framework for explaining the presence of entelechy in biological life.  Plessner also cites Wilhelm Dilthey as a major source of inspiration.  Indeed, much of Plessner’s approach seeks to tread a middle ground between the approaches of vitalism and mechanism in accounting for the principles of living things.  Plessner’s aim in fact is not to identify a hidden ingredient, force, or principle driving living things, as much as it is to describe the foundations of life phenomenologically, “finding and testing an approach that would make it possible to characterize the specific modes in which animated bodies appear” (xxiv).  In brief, he writes, the task is to reinvigorate dialogue on what we mean by terms such as “Iife,” “alive,” and “animate,” where supporting evidence can be drawn from what is available to intuition (xxxi).  A task for the specifically anthropological dimensions of this study is to analyze human life from the perspective of the lived body, as opposed to separating human being into dualistic aspects of mind and matter, subjective and objective, or spirit and sensation (32-33).  Plessner maintains that traditional dualism, inherited from the Cartesian paradigm, misconstrues the science underlying anthropology by virtue of separating science into the natural science of measurement on one hand, and the science of consciousness and self on the other hand (65).  Plessner does not want to invalidate this dichotomy entirely; instead, he aims to show how human lived experience is built upon an overlap of both of these dimensions, where human being consists of inner being and outer being at the same time, with the human self centered biologically rather than spiritually.  He stipulates that a specific aim of this anthropology is to highlight human life’s natural existence via a philosophical biology, arguing “The human is carried by living nature; no matter how spiritual he may be, he remains subjugated to it.  From nature he draws the strength and material for any sublimation whatsoever” (71). In other words, “the construction of a philosophical anthropology has as its prerequisite a study of those states of affairs that are concentrated around the state of affairs of ‘life’” (Ibid.).

The primary thesis of Plessner’s study consists of two key claims.  First, living things are defined by the possession of a “boundary” (Grenz), particularly in the manner that this boundary exceeds the physical space occupied by the object (84).  Second, living things are defined by what Plessner calls “positionality” (Positionalität) (121).  By this term, Plessner means the phenomenon of living things’ manner of depositedness or placement within themselves, such that they occupy a place relative to their surrounding environment.  The primary “levels” of the organic Plessner reckons with are plants, animals, and human beings.

To drill down on these main features of Plessner’s thesis, his focus on the concept of boundary is motivated by the fundamental notion that living things are characterized by a divergence, exhibited to intuition, of inner and outer aspects, where this divergence is constitutive of the being of the thing (84).  As Plessner summarizes, “[t]he relationship between outer and inner…determines the appearance of the thing-body as a whole” (92-93).  In other words, living things manifest themselves to intuition such that the exterior’s appearance is a function of interior structure, and vice versa.  Intuition can categorially comprehend an interior essence within the thing which is integral to its outward manifestation.  This intuited, interior essence does not arise with the intuition of inanimate bodies.  The concept of boundary is decisive here insofar as it expresses the phenomenon according to which living things direct themselves outward from inside while at the same time maintaining an inward center.  Boundary is thus not a strictly spatial concept as traditional language tends to construe this term, although it does express a living thing’s way of transcending its own space (119).  Plessner proffers the hypothesis that living things are constituted specifically by relating to their boundary, effecting the transition from where their being extends to where it ceases (94).  He does not provide many examples at this stage, but he seems to have in mind, for instance, phenomena such as that whereby plants are characterized by non-static, outward extension, stretching beyond their physical contours seeking food, water, and the like, but where this seeking is driven by an inward principle.

“Positionality” is another concept Plessner introduces in describing the ontology of living things in terms of their spatiality.  Though he expresses a wariness regarding the overtones of the notion of “position” or “positing” prevalent in German idealism, he selects positionality as a term for describing a living thing’s way of situating its specific way of reaching out of itself while at the same time maintaining its inward-turned character. He writes: “I mean by this [positionality] the fundamental feature of an entity that makes a body in its being into a posited one” (121).  Again, as with the notion of boundary, the crux concerns the fashion in which a living thing self-relates in specifically spatial terms.  A living thing possesses its boundary as its own, whereas a nonliving thing does not (121).  This realization of boundary has the implication of the living thing setting itself into a place.  Plessner describes this phenomenon as follows: “This being-for-itself or being-for-it…thus forms, as it were, the invisible frame in which the thing sets itself apart from its surroundings with the special distinctness of boundedness” (122).  Alternately stated, Plessner continues, living things have the character of “claiming” their space rather than simply occupying it; they have a place of their own, a “natural place” (123).  The Aristotelian slant of this last locution seems an intentional reference on Plessner’s part.  Finally, a further implication of the phenomenon of positionality is the observation that for a thing to exhibit a positional character requires it to become, to be constituted by process (123ff).  For a living thing cannot claim its space without actively doing so.  It must grow beyond the boundary originally given to it.  It must persist, pushing against the abandonment of its space (124).  And on the note of becoming, time comes into the picture, insofar as becoming cannot be understood outside of a framework involving time.  The positional character by which a living thing is always “ahead-of-itself” illustrates that living things are defined by existing in time (166-67).  Although Plessner does not highlight it himself, there is ostensibly a Heideggerian flavor in this discussion of the relation between living things and time; his account here seems to echo Heidegger’s claim in Being and Time that the future [Zukunft] is the fundamental temporal mode.  However, at this stage of the text, Plessner is discussing living things at large, and not yet human being.  I will offer some further comments about Plessner’s encounter with Heidegger below.

Plessner differentiates plants, animals, and human beings with the distinction of a living thing’s “form.”  “Form” characterizes for Plessner the specific way a living thing balances its self-sufficiency with its non-self-sufficiency as something alive (202).  In other words, form describes the living thing’s way of managing the divergence of what it can provide for itself and what it needs from elsewhere.  In this guise, the form of “plant” is characterized by “open” form.  Open form characterizes the type of living thing that “in all its expressions of life is immediately incorporated into its surroundings and constitutes a non-self-sufficient segment of the life circle corresponding to it” (203).  This observation describes a plant’s character of exhibiting total integration in its environment, such that everything it needs in order to persist is immediately available to its outward-directed boundary.  In this light, the plant is completely “open” to and in contact with its surroundings; it does not close itself off from its surroundings because it is stuck where it is.  The plant can only cope with the conditions posed by its surroundings by harmonizing with them, developing in coexistence with what the surroundings offer.  In contrast, the animal is characterized by exhibiting a “closed” form.  The closed form has its essence in the living thing sectioning itself off from its surroundings and maintaining a higher degree of self-reliance (209).  In its closed form, the animal relates to its surroundings in a mediate fashion as opposed to the plant’s immediate contact with its surroundings (213).  Particularly with animals possessing a central nervous system, which harmonizes the operation of organs and routes sense-data to the brain for processing, the closed form entails concentration of powers and drives, but at the expense of the immediate satisfaction of needs (215-16).  For instance, whereas plants are able to obtain all nutrition from their immediate surroundings, animals must make provisions for themselves by finding their food.  Finally, a feature of the closed form of life unique to animals which Plessner suggests is illustrative of the relationship between living things at large and their surroundings is the phenomenon of instinct.  As Plessner describes it, instinct refers to a mapping of the animal’s sensations and needs to its lived surroundings, revealing a necessary coexistence between the animal’s body and the organized field of its surroundings (240).  The occurrence whereby an animal’s instinct on one hand directs it to exhibit a kind of automatic intelligence or programmed behavior, and on the other hand, the ease whereby these patterns can be disrupted by the most miniscule changes in the animal’s field (ex. bees unable to find their hive if it is moved slightly), indicate that living thing and surroundings are reciprocal sides of being that cannot be separated.  Plessner summarizes: “the living thing has itself and its positional field in advance” (236).  The crux of this point is that, pace the theory of natural selection, the living thing’s surroundings are not a force that works against it or threatens its survival (240).  The animal’s surrounding field simply is reflective of what its body perceives and uses; what the animal does not engage with by and large has no meaning for it.

Plessner’s account comes to a climax with his description of human beings in the final chapter.  While this final chapter is the book’s briefest, the account of human beings also has implicit reference to all of the preceding material.  Now that he has accounted for all manner of living things except the human, Plessner’s final task is to highlight what the human level of life possesses in addition to the preceding levels.  In addition to unsurprising human features Plessner takes up here (memory, intelligence), a decisive move comes at the end of the book’s penultimate chapter, in which Plessner describes animal being.  While animals and human beings share in the experience of the “lived body” (an experience not afforded to plants), nonhuman animals lack insight into the contrast of the invisible and the real.  They lack categorial intuition of what is present but not perceived.  Whereas human beings plainly possess this quality.  Upon discussing Wolfgang Köhler’s experiments performed on chimpanzees, Plessner summarizes as follows: “The most intelligent living being in the animal kingdom, the animal most similar to the human, lacks a sense of the negative” (250).  In brief, animals cannot penetrate the excess of negativity in their perceptions; they cannot intuit the “backs” of things (251).  Here, Plessner shows a strong influence from Husserlian phenomenology on the features of human consciousness, although he does not acknowledge so.  This observation paves the ground for Plessner’s principal thesis regarding the human being.  This thesis holds that the human is defined by an “excentric” positionality (271), which is a way of saying that the human being is un-centered, removed from possession of itself, in contrast to the way that nonhuman animals are completely “centered” or at home in themselves positionally speaking.  The nonhuman animal’s self does not exist at any remove from its lived body; these are one.  As a result, interestingly, Plessner’s anthropology, while predicated on the elements of the philosophy of life leading up to it in the text, also contains a strongly Heideggerian overtone by virtue of its insight into the human being’s inherent disconnect with itself (what Heidegger labels in Being and Time with terms like “uncanniness,” “thrownness,” “falling,” and so forth).  One can also observe some rudiments of the early Jean-Paul Sartre regarding the inherent ungrounded negativity of consciousness.  But to reiterate, nonetheless different in Plessner’s model is the out-and-out derivation of the anthropological from the phenomenon of life, where human existence is founded in the lived body.

Two final features of Plessner’s account of the human in this last chapter of the book that are notable for their overlap with themes in German thought of the same period are “artificiality” and “expression.”  These themes are treated amidst a subsection of the final chapter entitled “The Fundamental Laws of Anthropology.”  Like Heidegger, Plessner observes that artificiality or technology is an ineradicable component of the human situation.  However, different in Plessner’s view is that artificiality is a phenomenon driven directly by human finitude whereby human beings, given existential freedom (294), are driven to create in order to secure a stronger permanence beyond themselves.  Plessner writes: “Since the human is forced by his type of existence to lead the life that he lives, to fashion what he is – because he is only insofar as he performs – he needs a complement of a non-natural, non-organic kind.  Therefore, because of his form of existence, he is by nature artificial” (288).  Similarly, “[t]he human wants to escape the unbearable excentricity of his being; he wants to compensate for the dividedness of his own form of life, and he can achieve this only with things that are substantial enough to counterbalance the weight of his own existence” (289).  One particular direction this urge for creation pushes the human being is to create what Plessner terms the “unreal,” or the antithesis of the impermanence of the real.  Ultimately, Plessner maintains, this eventuates in the creation of culture (289).

“Expression,” which Plessner regards as an ontological precursor to language, reveals a phenomenological law of “mediated immediacy” (298-99).  Expression is the phenomenon in which the human being articulates the correlativity between the situation of one’s self and the world.  It is not limited to interpersonal communication or language in the conventional sense, but more broadly includes any type of creative, inventive act.  Plessner calls this occurrence the “fortunate touch,” insofar as it metaphorically manifests a moment of human contact with or grasping of the world (299).  As with the account of artificiality, which parallels Heidegger’s description of technology, similarly here with the notion of expression there is an overlap with bread-and-butter phenomenological accounts of language or signification read as the mode through which the human articulates the state of understanding, or the presencing of what is given in one’s intentional state.  Notable about Plessner’s overlap with Heidegger on these issues and several others are the fact that Heidegger is the philosopher Plessner criticizes the most in this work’s prefatory materials, especially the Preface to the Second Edition.  There is much one could explore here regarding the grounds of Plessner’s criticism, which to its credit is well-informed by the central claims of Being and Time.  However, the brunt of Plessner’s critique of Heidegger appears to lay in the latter’s failure to include any look at embodied life in his account of Dasein.

Much more could be said about Plessner’s account of the human, which, although relatively brief in the grander scheme of the book, covers significant ground and offers many avenues for further exploration.  This relative brevity is also what I see as a shortcoming of the book’s treatment of the human.  This treatment is almost too brief, to the point of being underdeveloped, although, as Plessner asserts in various prefatory passages of the text, this work aims to describe the human specifically as a manifestation of life and as one “level” or form among living things.  So Plessner cannot be blamed too much on this angle, especially given that the final chapter of this text sets the stage for the premise of his next work, Macht und menschliche Natur (published in English translation as Political Anthropology), which appeared shortly after Levels of Organic Life in 1931.  Another challenge posed by the book is its difficulty.  Because the author frequently neglects to include examples, much of the writing is quite abstract (in the vein of the more difficult texts of G.W.F. Hegel or Hans-Georg Gadamer), requiring focused concentration from the reader.  A further complicating factor here is that Plessner frequently adopts the voice of a position he in fact aims to criticize without making this move explicit or providing citations to outside texts and authors.  As a result, in many instances the reader can easily be given the impression that Plessner endorses a given position that he actually means to undercut.  With these challenges in mind, the reader will be advised not to pick this book up casually; one should be prepared for many hours of close reading and revisiting of passages.

This book’s foremost asset is its rich account of the philosophy of life and the various structures that correspond to the “levels” of organic life.  It is a major work in the history of the philosophy of life and should be read alongside other seminal works in the subject, such as Henri Bergson’s Creative Evolution, Hans Jonas’ The Phenomenon of Life, and the writings of Hans Driesch.  In addition, its lively engagement with major philosophers of early 20th-century German thought provides a wonderful snapshot of the intellectual atmosphere of the time and the influence of Husserl, Heidegger, Scheler, and many others during their own lifetimes.  Levels of Organic Life was published one year after Heidegger’s Being and Time and in the same year as Scheler’s The Place of the Human in the Cosmos.

James G. Hart: Hedwig Conrad-Martius’ Ontological Phenomenology

Hedwig Conrad-Martius’ Ontological Phenomenology Book Cover Hedwig Conrad-Martius’ Ontological Phenomenology
Women in the History of Philosophy and Sciences, Vol. 5
James G. Hart. Edited by Rodney K. B. Parker
Springer
2020
Hardback 90,94 eBook € 71,68 €
XII, 272

Reviewed by: By Kevin M. Stevenson (PhD, of the Irish College of Humanities and Applied Sciences, ICHAS)

Before one reads Hart’s work, an introduction to Conrad-Martius’ (henceforth: CM) method which is also the title of the book, Ontological Phenomenology, it is important to bear in mind that it was originally his doctoral dissertation from the 1970s. This is important if we are to consider that much reflection most likely occurred between the time of the dissertation completion and the revisiting and further publication of this work. Not only does this allow the reader to consider the expertise Hart might have on CM, but also the importance of Hart’s academic career in further developing his dissertation into its final form.

In the Introduction, the book is informed to essentially aim to do four things in relation to CM’s ontological phenomenology. It provides a clear and concise message to the reader that the work is an interpretive summary of this phenomenological method. The four points that are to come across in the book are a) the context of CM in philosophy in general, b) why her work is pivotal for phenomenology as a method and discipline (but also why as a historical figure she is so important in the realm of phenomenology), c) the influences she has received and given to others in the field in the history of philosophy, and finally d) CM’s relationship with Natur Philosophie, in which potency and possibility are considered real ontological states of affairs.

Hart’s road map at the start of the book allows the reader to know what to expect throughout the text and provides an important background for understanding why Conrad’s (CM’s) ontological phenomenology developed in the way that it did. Being aware of her influences, standpoints and personal situation is important for this understanding, such as the debate between Goethe and Newton, being against post-Cartesian cosmologies and the reduction of nature to mathematical equation, phenomenology of colours, her attempt to give Christian cosmology ontological-cosmological foundations, and on a personal level, her financial and health difficulties (4). Throughout the book, Hart implicitly focused on the distinction between theology and philosophy within CM’s work, and on how CM would have interpreted the two, in order for the reader to consider CM as more of a philosopher than a theologian. Afterall, the series in which the book is part is based on ‘Women in History of Philosophy and Sciences’. At the same time, Hart’s omission of focusing on a label for CM, informs the reader of the context within which CM was living, where science, philosophy and theology were more alchemized together than in comparison to today.

From the beginning, Hart emphasized the importance of space for CM, and how its interpretation can be skewed by mathematical, technical, and quantifying approaches to cosmology; for her such bias orthodoxly follows a positivist faith. The mathematization of nature to be considered as the ultimate theoretical explanation for nature is notfhart a possibility for CM. Our interpretation of nature is thus important for our understanding of the world and therefore ourselves; hence, Hart informs of how theology through grace (which allows us to ‘see better’) fills the gap that appears to be missing in the interpretation of nature by positivist approaches. Disclosing the eidetic structure of the cosmos is essentially what Conrad’s ontological phenomenology aims to do through meta-methodological questioning that departs from positivism. Hart eloquently summarizes this notion within Conrad’s method that considers the world as being double-featured, stating: “One can speak of the essence of the world as it is immediately given to us on the level of felt-meaning, an essence-intuition in which we participate with the totality of our existence (5).” We can therefore ‘speak’ of the world in physical terms through essence-intuition but also in more difficult foundational terms which is characterized as metaphysical.

For Hart, CM’s ontological phenomenology essentially aims to explore the experience of the things themselves which is important for both ‘speakings’ of the world. According to Hart, CM does this in a way that does not merely repeat a Husserlian approach, despite the fact Husserl was her teacher. Rather her approach propounds that phenomenology is the ‘true’ positivism by attending fully to the given, which leads to two by-products as a result of undermining positivism: a) a qualitative rather than quantitative study of nature which considers the manner in which nature appears as inherent in realontological structure and b) the importance of the noesis and noema within the Husserlian excessiveness of particular experience. These by-products reinforce a spiritual attitude which equates with a phenomenological being-in-the-world, in turn cohering with the excessiveness of experience which Hart stresses is so important for CM’s later work. Hart thus allows his book to represent an excellent resource for first time readers of CM, not only to understand the content within his book, but other works of CM or on CM.

Throughout the book Hart does a good job at highlighting the importance of CM’s work for not only philosophy but the social sciences. This is particularly the case with the epistemological notions set out within the book which are of such importance for the social sciences. Perhaps one of the most important terms to be considered within the book, besides her realontology, is intuition. Hart emphasizes how CM countered the positivist notion that intuition is derived from inference, as the concept of an object’s body-face, in Hart’s words, is conceptualized as the totality of an objective content from self-presentation within intuitive vision’s realm (11). To comprehend CM’s approach, Hart is true to CM’s style in that he includes phenomenological experiments, such as thought experiments, in order help the reader understand her thought. His snail analogy for example challenges the reader to participate in phenomenological investigation in order to deepen one’s understanding of CM’s methodology and in this case of the snail, the aspectival presentation of body-face as intuition. This served as an excellent backdrop to understand CM’s realontology, which aims to bridge gaps between nature’s qualitative appearances and its scientific explanations (18).

The methodology for CM’s realontology involves essence-analysis, which essentially analyses that which exceeds the concretely given perceptual reality: excess which is characterized as a) immediately sensed body-face, b) materiality, c) meaning, and d) categorical foundations of things (substance/reality). The analysis of excess thus aims at a non-reductivist approach to nature without idealism. In this respect, Hart sizes CM up against Husserl to not only emphasize the influence his work on phenomenology had on CM in terms of maintaining a fresh philosophy free from scientific positivism, but also to place her within the great players of phenomenology and its intellectual historical trajectory at the time of her writings.

Hart is successful at pinpointing the important influences CM had received from other philosophers of phenomenology for clarity’s sake, such as how within the bracketing of the epoché there involves the eidetic reduction that is most influential for CM amongst the other conceptions of the epoché. The other two conceptions being bracketing epistemological questions and the transcendental reduction. The eidetic reduction is more important for CM because of its movement from the factual to the essential via essence-analysis or in other words, the search for essentials; the investigation which encapsulates CM’s ontological phenomenology. The eidetic reduction is a leading back to the essence or fact structure or in other words, the full phenomenality structure to essence on its own, which is a turning from actual concrete existence to an idea through bringing essence to its full bodiliness via ideation (23). Hart thus characterizes CM’s work as an ‘essence hunting’ that undermines the incidental, factual, and concrete. And Hart stresses that the best manner in which to conceptualize such essence-analysis is through the ideation involved in the eidetic reduction (20). The suspension involved in the epoché is crucial for understanding CM’s ontological phenomenology because not only does it cohere with the eidetic reduction which she values, but also because it highlights the importance of intuition in our analysis of nature. Intuition, as mentioned above, is important for considering immediate experience in which essential meaning can be detected without categories or systems; concepts that require reductions to objects rather than essentials.

Hart shows that CM was important for the social sciences by not only countering the positivism of her day, which believed or even still believes itself to be with the true original and immediate givens of experience as sense data and facts (21), but by showing how ideation can allow for reflection on the implicitly or intuitively known criteria of things found in nature. Hart uses his own terminology to help the reader understand this, by informing that ideation (essence-intuition) involves the know-how and the know-that of inquiry. Hart does not consider her as merely dovetailing on Husserl’s work, since though he also considered such positivist notions as the superstition of facts (21), she however did not embrace Husserlian intentionality. Hart rather frames her as a phenomenologist who was driven to discover the things themselves, and within her historical context, was brave to do so. Phenomenology was a passion for her since essences within the phenomenological method are considered immediate as well, not just the positivist criteria mentioned above is immediate therefore. To elucidate this, she originally considered there to be an intuitive essential realm in contrast to an intuitive factual realm.

The power of intuition thus lies at the heart of positivism and phenomenology for CM, though for her sake, essence-intuition requires phenomenology, since such essentiality involves the process of ideation, disciplined perception (such as in the case of the epoché) and an artistic sense of difference. Phenomenology’s principle of all principles is original intuition, as phenomenological essence does not lie simply on the surface of appearance as may be the case in positivistic approaches to nature. Hart characterizes CM’s method of ontological phenomenology as a reflexive cosmology, countering the forceful and direct approach of positivism on nature for an essence-analysis that permits the essential meaning of nature’s experience to emerge; an analysis that approaches that which in itself is considered inexhaustible and so irreducible. CM thus aims to expose the a priori laws and regions of nature through her realontology as her phenomenological ontology. Hart focuses on CM’s notions of this and the human challenge to do so, as the importance of fiction, thus the imagination and creativity, which are uniquely human attributes considered of utmost importance for CM’s approach. Essential meanings, alike those found in Husserl, are akin to ‘’horizons of indeterminate inklings’’, as peripheral inklings change our knowledge into essence-intuition. Analysing vague wholes into elements that bring forth essences, as a role of phenomenology, makes phenomenology a method more than mere language analysis (25). Hart is able to show CM’s Continental ‘feel’ by extracting concise information from the works that inspired CM, like Husserl, the Munich and Gottingen Circles, and Hering, without losing the importance and originality of her work.

Rather than get caught up in ‘works of meta’ which any work in philosophy can be guilty of committing, Hart is able to outline the relevance of CM’s work through its practical implications. This can be shown under the subtitle 2.3 ‘The Essence of Essence’, in which essence is considered something that discloses itself to the method of essence-intuition which avoids getting caught up in ‘meta-works’. Essence is thus taken to comprise of unique characteristics of objects’ fullness. Such fullness becomes understood to mean that essence requires a bearer and thus is always a reference for something else. The practical use of ideation thus becomes known to reveal if objects have core essential essences or if such elements are merely accidental. Hart emphasizes that object(s) is a broad concept and can even refer to practical issues we face in human life and experience. Hart thus informs how CM would inform of the utility of ideation in everyday life. The concept of promise was an example of a practical issue or what Hart considers as ‘states of affairs’ in contrast to the immutability of essences through a physical example involving a house, with the latter considering the notion of how its physical changes might not change its essence (27). The former example reveals the importance of CM’s work for practical ethical matters whereas the latter informs of unresolved philosophical issues since the ancient Ship of Theseus thought experiment.

CM’s method which takes the notion of essence belonging to objects themselves, in which the object’s idea remains separate from the object itself (as a result of ideating or objectifying an object’s essence leading to the object having it ideally in spite of the fact that the essence of the object is inseparable from the thing itself) has consequences for both physical scientific and social issues alike. Hart shows that the method is thus able to graft phenomenology and ontology together, echoing CM’s background in phenomenological concepts such as the Lebenswelt. CM’s Phenomenological Ontology clarifies the notion that the process of ideation leads to the idea that an object’s essence or whatness or morphé (such as the essence of an issue like promising for example) has a second separate existence to itself as an object, through a process of subsumption; a process that is often overlooked in the sciences but which CM brings to light. Although Hart could have brought in terms such as mereology or even Gestalt psychology to consider for the reader to investigate to assist in understanding CM’s method at this juncture, Hart appears to be aware of the danger of getting off topic and straying from the initial task of explaining CM’s approach from bringing in such concepts. One example however of when introducing other notions into the work could have been beneficial is with Hart quoting on CM and Hering (as one of CM’s influencers) on the importance of phenomenology’s consideration of: “relations of an object to its whatness is different than its relation to its properties (29).” Considering Gestalt psychology and even Cartesian dualism as additional notions to investigate could have been beneficial to the novice reader in philosophy or social sciences if introduced, however, we are aware of the limitations of Hart’s task at hand.

Understanding CM’s method thus requires the awareness of an object’s ‘what’ as taken to be the phenomenological basis of talking about ‘being-what’ or ‘being-such’. The concept of eidé is important here as it represents the essentialities of philosophical importance for both CM and Hering (as CM’s essential essence derives only from a comparison with Hering’s eidé). Eidé is a concept contrasted with objects which cannot be object realizable as eidé can. Here Hart does bring in Ancient philosophy to assist in considering how CM and Hering are disciples of Plato, perhaps in the sense of committing to the universality of ideas or in Plato’s terms, Forms. This helps in understanding that the eidé are not akin to whatnesses which need a bearer, since the eidé rest in themselves and are thus required for phenomena like objects (or social issues) to manifest their essences. Essences can thus be taken as eidé as that which are behind all essential essence.

Informing the reader of CM’s influences throughout the work does not lead Hart to simply consider CM as someone who chronological falls after Hering in terms of philosophical history, rather he frames their relationship as one that is akin to Husserl and Heidegger. Both relationships of their works can be said to contain an essence or spirit that does not replicate the other but rather challenges, reinforces, contributes and reciprocally builds on each other, which is perhaps why Hart was interested in nominating CM as a candidate for contributory women in philosophy and science. Her realontology in Chapter 2 is thus introduced by Hart in a manner in which we see it flowering out of the philosophical history of CM’s time. To emphasize the uniqueness of CM’s method, Hart does not hesitate to contrast it with positivistic approaches to reality. In CM’s ontological phenomenology or realontology, ideation subsumes an object’s eidos, so that eidos can be made concrete to a whatness or morphé. This is not an empirical process, but rather values more the idea that essential essences of objects are never realized in a concrete sense as a positivist would claim. Instead, an intuition or sense of an object is to be considered more fundamental than the empirical experience of an object. This is due to the fact that that which is presented to consciousness does so ‘as’ something. The object therefore bears the morphé (whatness or form) which is what is mediating the eidos (31).

In CM’s work, the eidos are juxtaposed to the universality of an idea and Hart gives the example of ‘redness’ being eidos instead of ‘red’ itself; hence the role of philosophy is to search and expose eidé as the meanings in themselves or intelligibility’s ultimate dimensions. The practicality within questioning or searching for eidé lies in the fact that such a task involves limit questions which involve reaching intelligibility’s foundations. The eidé provide objects with their essential meaning as via eidé the essence of ideal and real things can be understood which shows the epistemological implications of CM’s work. The eidé’s realm is important because it is the kosmos noetos, the latter term in this phrase related to noema and thus meaning, in turn considering a meaning-cosmos.

In order to keep in mind the fact that Hart is writing on a person of history, Hart does justice to CM’s cultural upbringing throughout the book in his analysis of the manner in which the term ‘meaning’ is taken by CM. He emphasizes that CM takes it with the German definition ‘Sinn’, which involves an objective meaning, one which is capable of disclosing itself to the intention of consciousness, thus a meaning that announces its essence through self-speaking objects (36). This unveils the ordering of CM’s approach to the experience of nature and all it entails, as essence, in its immediacy, is primary within the order of cognition, being first within knowing’s order, whereas eidé require an attachment to meaning to be cognized, since meaning realizes eidos. Ideation (the imaginary objectification of eidé) essentially brings eidé to givenness in order to get deeper into essence as the immediately given, so within the order of ontology, meaning (eidos) as defined as Sinn, is what holds as fundamental primacy within ontology. Hart informs that for CM, meaningful-topos is the terminology used to encapsulate the referential process of meaning making.

Within Chapter 2, Hart further elucidates the role of phenomenology within CM’s phenomenological ontology. Phenomenology is an investigation of essence that enters the realm of eidé, thus it is a ‘walking around’ of essence in order to find relations and properties of the meaning-topos of objects. Hart is critical of CM’s approach here, in that he believes that CM lacks an explanation of the causal categories she uses as that which is bounded to the metaphysics of participation, which is so crucial for meaning making. He highlights that Hering and CM founded phenomenology as essence analysis within meaning’s ultimate dimensions, which are apparently definite yet inexplicable. Eidé therefore cannot be merely grasped objectively, as any transcendental act of objectification of eidé in a positivistic sense distorts their essence. CM thus supports the indirect experience of objects through the concretization of eidé through ideation. Found within this notion is the practical implications of applying CM’s approach to nature and consequently science. The effort of objectification always leads to a distortion of the pure meaning of that which is objectified, so for CM, the purity of something is a realontology as essence-analysis, which involves a dialectic that is without pre-judgements and without any sort of Hegelian historical contradiction of truths. Hart explicates that for CM, it is the destined quest for meaning that is already and always intended within a horizon of meaning that is important; understood before any sort of cognition to be known through a kosmos noétos (which is juxtaposed to a reality cosmos which cannot unite with such a meaning cosmos). The horizon of meaning that is already set up for discovery and which ontology’s task is to illuminate through eidetic reduction and ideation is a study of the essence of that which presents itself. The Husserlian supported transcendental reduction on the other hand which as mentioned above CM does not adopt, purifies phenomena from the conferrals of reality. It is within these reductions that Hart highlights that CM, much like Heidegger, considered Husserl to be too subjective from the start, but she later revisited and supported his approach only to be finally contrasted with Husserl in his support for transcendental phenomenology whereas CM held onto an ontological phenomenology in which what is considered to hold meaning is actually a real being. The ‘really real’ is grounded in itself not in any sort of noema. Husserlian transcendental reduction does not involve the possibility of grasping fundamental structures of the ‘really real’ as such for CM, which allows her to refrain from supporting such a reduction.

Hart further outlines CM’s three senses of phenomenological attitude in Chapter 2, which further distances her approach from Husserl. These are a) Husserl with a purified world version, b) primacy to the eidetic reduction in order to allow for epistemological questions, and c) a realontological attitude. Essentially, CM’s realontology considers that it is only the method of essence-analysis that allows for transcendental elements to reach their givenness through the performance of the epoché bracketing. Essential analysis thus involves critical philosophy and theory of knowledge (epistemology), in turn allowing for transcendental phenomenology to correspond to realontology and the world-constitution ego without limiting itself to a transcendental reduction. Hart sums up the difference between a Husserlian approach and CM’s as the former thematizes the metaphysical-egological object of the world whereas the latter thematizes the metaphysical-transcendental actualization of the world via a realontological reduction which presents the factual and actually given. Hart emphasizes that CM’s approach can thus be considered a shift (a cosmological turn) from the finished to the pre-finished cosmological dimensions of reality. Realontology’s role can thus be considered a philosophy of nature via essence and horizonal analyses, provoking an examination of the full phenomena of nature.

The realontology thus reconnects the context within which rich concrete phenomena exits; phenomena which science essentially removes from context. In Chapter 3, the present context is considered to involve seeing the kind of being an idea possesses. Horizon-analysis increases the scientist’s awareness of the blind-spots, attitudes, and habits which they may involve towards nature. Hart stresses that this does not make CM anti-scientific nor embracing a romantic return to nature, rather her realontology involves a three-fold nature of a) a philosophy of nature, b) essence-analysis, and c) horizontal-analysis. Both a) and b) involve a reconnaissance (a unifying intuition akin to an unthematic felt-solution to issues), which Hart characterizes as looking at one’s surroundings in order to improve our perception of the immediately given, with b) involving specifically the seeing beyond of borders to see precise essence (topos) (50). Both b) and c) involve speculation, with b) having the character of seeing things within limits and c) involving the speculation of the limits we set on objection perception.

Commencing Chapter 3 by bringing an end to Chapter 2, Hart can be said to bring back the importance of the concept of the Lebenswelt. We see that for CM, any reductive mechanical interpretation of life would not be possible due to life-essences’ givenness of living creatures and the machine-ness of all that mechanical. This sort of contemporary view of CM’s work allows us to see her work as not a mere arm-chair phenomenology according to Hart (53), as the realontology intends to rescue the appearances of nature in order to thus grasp appearances’ essences and in turn disclose appearances which can be taken as mere appearances. We have seen that such analysis of essence is not of that just found in reality, but with social issues as well, which in turn gets the arm-chair phenomenologist to stand to their feet and engage with the social world around them, armed with the realontology as a method for living.

In Chapter 3, the foundation of the realontology is thus further elucidated and Hart informs of the realontology as a method aiming to show meaning objects as presented with ontological moments that are immanent, and this is framed by Hart as echoing Frege’s objects of thought with a third realm with a reality that differs from that of things. As mentioned above, promises, as states of affairs, involve objective dimensions in which judgements are considered intentional acts that must involve psychological adjustment. It is here that it is considered that the presentation of objects to consciousness does not suffice it to be a state of affair; categorical intuition (essence-intuition) thus immanently involves grasping something as such a thing that it is, which is a state of affairs through an ontological moment. It is ontological since our mere thinking of something includes us in being; a notion that must include the importance of time. Realontology’s fundamental movement is founded on the notion that that appearing in itself via out of itself in accordance with modalities of the rootedness of self involves three movements: a) substantial (bearer), b) essential (what), and c) existential (presenting object as union of a) and b)).

It is from these movements of the realontology that we consider that essence exists independently and prior to objects as things. Hart informs of the dichotomy between eidé (pure qualia, Logos, meaning) and meaning-being (objects which come from eidé) as important to understand this. The eidé are akin to Platonic Forms, and can exist without the physical world, as it is only when we speak of them that they transform from objects to subjects because they exist independently of knowing subjects. Eidos, as entities without references to anything else are thus distorted when they are objectified by human contact, as they become reduced to hypostases. Hart emphasizes here that for CM, it is phenomenology’s task as the study of the real and essence’s pure investigator, to disclose eide’s inexhaustible realm as pure meaning. For CM, reality is something that stands over nothing, a nothingness with a mode of being present which therefore allows for the possibility of eidetic analysis. Being’s essential level of present objects is through essential analysis as there is a three-fold sense of being a) pure, b) really existing, and c) existential movement linking the ideal and real. In 3.3, Hart informs that phenomenological experience which is synonymous with eidetic experience considers a potential mode of being. Any non-being involves a power in terms of emergence, as it allows for the consideration of a being grounding its own being whilst being the ground itself. This leads to the human capacity of not being confined to the present moment as the human being can ‘make present’ via the past and present; an intentional possession of time.

It is from this backdrop of connecting the essence-analysis of CM’s realontology to inspecting the emergence of essence that Hart considers CM’s transcendental-imaginative intuitive time which is grounded in fact through ontological means. The human being is thus not known empirically (as flowing in temporal time) nor transcendentally (holding a position that is outside of self and the empirical world). CM’s transcendental-imaginative time involves a z-fold motion which stands at the head of her realontological understanding of time which has important consequences for human understanding. For CM, the past therefore is the form of intuition that is transcendental imaginative, which Hart considers to be noughted (76). Time thus involves a founding process that is not within time itself, as the present holds its own kinetic. In terms of the future, it is incorrect for CM to consider it dictated by a forward motion of actuality for existence nor as moving forward into a distant future. Rather, the transcendental-imaginative temporal movement as a mere passing in the Aristotelian sense coheres with CM’s concept of time. Substance therefore involves a standing under of its own being, thus as self-grounding of itself whereas imagined objects are non-substances. Here, Hart informs that in relation to substances, there are two modes an object can stand in itself: hyletic (a being posited outside of itself) and pneumatic (substance free from essential constitutive form, thus pure essence of existing itselfness e.g. archonal being own self). The importance for this dichotomy is it allows for an understanding of how nature is able to realise itself within its own actuality.

For Hart, CM’s work over her lifetime was to inform of the speculative vision of the hyletic and pneumatic, as her realontology not only aims to link ontology and the philosophy of nature, but involves nature’s appearing in relation to metaphysical foundations; establishing the basic regions of nature through an analysis of nature in qualitative and concrete forms. Nature is taken as a symbolic whole revealing fundamental categories of the entire cosmos, which again involves the importance of her work for aesthetic and Gestalt psychology. CM thus aims to provide an analysis of nature which achieves what the idealistic tradition hopes or has hoped to do, as her involvement of retrocendence (reverse transcendence) is a spirituality that illuminates thought’s essence from the character of this mode of being itself without being limited to subjectivity. Throughout the book therefore, Hart continually informs of the importance of realising that CM’s approach is anti-Cartesian and anti-Augustinian, in the same sense that she does not adopt a transcendental reduction in a Husserlian sense. These three approaches in her view might limit themselves to either hyper-subjectivity in the case of the latter or a reduction of mind to matter in the former through hyperbolic internalization. Pneumatic substance allows her approach to hold, since it is a substance free from essential constitutional forms of itselfness, thus a substance that is being its own self, emerging as an archonal being. CM’s support of emergence reveals an underlying pragmatic essence that never completes itself.

Hart shows Heidegger’s influence on CM at this juncture on an emerging sense of substance, as the concept of care, as an ontological rather than psychological category, is existential. Such a conception of care allows for a hypokeimenal being which is thrown onto itself to be considered. This being is pneumatic and archonal as it projects beyond itself, finding itself in alterity through objectification and projection. Hart allows us to see CM’s reconfiguration of Heidegger’s being-in-the-world, as the pre-possession of the world is considered a pre-grasping of cosmic-meaning-being. The epoché is eternally in the background and such a conception of existence has implications for the manner in which space is conceptualized as well. Space that is intuited is not empty for CM, and so the essence-analysis through her realontology on apeiric space (the aperion being the infinite totality) holds great importance as it provides for this space’s ontological existence. The phenomenological experiment for CM in the sense of space is informed by Hart to involve the consideration of the qualitative change that occurs when apeiric space is aimed to be grasped. Such a task leads to a distortion and in turn the space loses its infinity as such a pure space in turn becomes a metric surface space. The concept of gestalt is important here, in that within such an experiment, the limits of dimensions’ definitions are considered and a dichotomy between a real surface space and a transcendental surface space are to be reckoned with. Heidegger again peaks his head into CM’s work at this point, as uncanniness becomes a concept to understand the ontological consideration of apeiron space. Such space is considered as an unmasking of space as something that goes beyond the limits of the human body. The real ‘now’ cannot be experienced thus a metric peiric space is taken as a ‘here’. Space thus has for CM an intuitive medium of continuity in which limits are established through essence which assists in the understanding of nature’s self-formation in the next chapter.

Chapter 4 begins with a consideration of the phenomenology of life as involving a subjectivity that discloses itself within matter. The concept to elucidate this is entelechy; a soulish potency to be realised, which is conceived psychologically. Hart informs how this put CM’s ideas against Driesh, as despite the latter’s rejection of phenomenological essence-intuition, the latter’s support of entelechy coheres with CM’s phenomenological notion of essence as having a unique character which makes it what it is. Hart informs that this consideration of the potentiality of the entelechy is important for the discipline of art, as the artist’s role is to explain the entelechy, as essence-entelechies do not equate with ideas but rather present them. And so art can assist in working out the notion of species found in nature. Hart informs that these notions coalesce into CM’s intuitive qualitative essential level which is juxtaposed to the modern causal-genetic level. This allows us to see the continental flavour of CM’s approach to nature which refrains from applying cybernetic models of machines to living organisms. Machines are given their selfness since their interiority is objective, and so Hart clarifies this with machines/computers as having subjective objectivity (subjectivity objectively), unconscious living things with objective subjectivity, and conscious living things with subjective subjectivity. Hart does not want the reader to lose sight of the view supported by CM that cybernetic perspectives for understanding the human being, just as we saw above with the mathematization of nature, are not possible for CM. The natural scientist will always involve a prejudice that considers intuitive understanding within nature’s realm to be intimately and concretely linked to physical extension and so causality; a physicalism that CM would consider dangerous for understanding nature.

Causal approaches to nature do not allow the essence of physical nature to unfold, and so the aim of phenomenology for CM is to bring forth new causal categories. Her realontology involves an essence analysis that is meant to discover the kinds of causes in nature; an ontological analysis of causality that analyses energy and potency and which reveals the two types of causality a) mechanical and b) conscious. Her essential ontological approach, however, is not to be confused with an intentional movement as a transcendental approach would support. It is within the entelechial potency that we are to discover essence-entelechy’s ontological nature. Here Hart considers the concept of actualization to encapsulate the potential energy and power that is so important for understanding CM’s view on the forces of nature. There is essentially no entelechial cause for CM, so there is no such epigenetic potency for CM as real potency (power) is always the ‘not yet’. It is from this potentiality that Hart informs of Heisenberg’s ‘Uncertainty Principle’ as coherent with the essence-intuition of CM’s approach of a potential ‘not yet’ essence of nature (its pre-actual dimensions). Aether becomes known as the elementary substance acting as a medium for a rigid and empty elasticity for substance in contrast to light as serving the ontological and consciousness. Aether discloses itself ecstatically and so it is no wonder that the realontology involves the thesis of physical energy resting on a presupposed substrate of an ontology that is definite and constituting through actualization via another dynamic that sets itself in motion and thus becoming a tendency for an accomplishment. The method of realontology involves a phenomenology that increases the visibility of the essence of the phenomenon derived from its appearing as a way of recovering the primordial movement of the cosmos as an ecstatic othering. The realontology thus describes nature as self-generating through a dialectic between essence-entelechy and essence-material.

Within CM’s system, energy contains an ontological foundation, and Hart emphasizes that for CM, energy does not equate with aether but rather energy and mass-hyle are to be taken as substrates. Energy is not a substance, however, all energy is founded on substance. The qualitative actualizing factor of nature is thus an existential moment; we take the world able to come to a pause only on the surface therefore, but this does not consider the cosmos as a hierarchy. The cosmos as Logos involves a continuing process of essence-entelechian expression. Nature is in constant revelation of essence-entelechy which is to be conceived as the complete logos of that which is in nature’s realm (AKA total essence), bringing the power of real potential into being. Within this philosophy of nature as essence-analysis disclosing essence-powers, the human being is conceived for CM as having a spirit rather than equating with spirit, with their emotions as being proper to them. The originating self in turn derives from the essence-entelechy using essence-material to configure individual Logos; an emergent essence from essence-entelechies and essence-material. Such emergence, as a philosophy of nature, is further elaborated in Chapter 5.

In Chapter 5 Hart aims to further CM’s approach as being understood as a non-empirical method. Time involves a motion that does not depend on empirical processes of change, but rather on an existential motion. The pure present in this sense is without a past and without knowledge of any real temporal motion, as CM is against any translatory motion. There exists thus the phenomenological experiment for CM of considering how the world does not change, and Hart here considers what change is for CM then, specifically if it is transcendental. If change is not empirical, then there is the consideration if nature and change involve a transcendental-empirical dimension. Hart informs of CM’s interest in Indian philosophy here, especially the transcendental character of the entity Vishnu, but also how Aristotle’s Physics had an impact on her. The latter’s notion of the world not being existent in space but rather constitutive of space is of importance for CM, as Aristotle considered that that circular motion is the only possibility of perfection. CM thus derives from these Aristotelian influences the transcendental concrete as the aethereal world-periphery (a sort of space-time), thus a cyclically moved reality as an aeonic motion. The circular motion is considered for CM the most accurate symbol of expression for the totality and trans-temporal presence. CM’s cosmos for Hart is thus to be considered as more of a tapestry than a ladder, which echoes the notion mentioned above that CM does not take the cosmos as a hierarchy. The cosmos emerges continually and aeonic space-time in turn renews the world in a constant fashion. The human being is the microcosmos existing within a polarity between the world-periphery (heaven) and the world-centre (underworld), the former characterized as an energetic potency.

Hart stresses that the human being can generate and creatively constitute things rather than create according to CM, and involves an existence with nothingness and death.  The world is expanding which makes temporal existence derive from the constant actualization of the world-event as a totality. The world-peripheral entelechies spark change and this unfolding nature is characterized as hominization for Hart. Such hominization allows for technology, abstract art, and other peculiarities of human existence. Here there appears to be a Hegelian historical development from human freedom, however without the dialectical nature of a Hegelian approach to culture. For CM, the horizon is the world background and context which is an unthematical constitution of thematic and objective experience. This echoes Hegel’s notion of zeitgeist, in which world epochs involve spiritual powers within the background as horizons. It is here that Christian spirituality is important for CM’s approach, as Christ becomes known as the final mystical body in which we understand animals as deriving from human existence not vice-versa. The Christian ‘Fall’ is commensurate for the disintegration of the organic whole of any space-time, in which the wheel can represent the symbol for the aeonic world’s continual actualization through a cyclical time. The end of temporal time through a Christian cosmic notion of time as a coming aeon allows for the realization of the potential for the great waves of aeonic time.

Despite the intellectual depth of CM’s conceptions of the cosmos, time, and space, Hart is still successful at informing the reader the significance of her work for practical matters. The thought of the schizophrenic patient not having a future is an example utilized to assist the reader in understanding just how the realontology could assist someone suffering from such a condition to cope or provide a practitioner an approach to such a condition (211). Towards the end of the book Hart taps even more into the less theoretical of CM’s work by informing of some of the historical notions important for CM’s academic trajectory. CM’s place between the two movements in phenomenology is important to keep in mind for Hart; that of the realist ontological and the transcendental idealist, both of which would play out within the Gottingen and Munich Circles of her day. CM’s support of Logos being found within human reason and her insight into the speculative movement of the Christian cosmological understanding of nature allows Hart to conceive of her with a unique phenomenological but also hermeneutical method that remythologizes the cosmos. In Chapter 6, Hart informs of how CM thought that her work truly uncovered personal powers, times, and objective mythical spaces, through the use of the aeonic world periphery which re-interprets in a unique manner the Christian cosmos. Myth therefore has three senses, that of a symbolic epistemological, a phenomenological through epoché, and the realontological through objective reference. Her remythologizing of the cosmos thus considers heaven as more than a theological concept, but rather an anthropological, cosmological, and religious one. Heaven essentially creates a heterogenous dimension which allows for fiction, schizophrenia, and love to exist, as heaven represents a constant symbolism for the human being as a ‘really real’, thus a phenomenological point which allows for the creation of the horizon and everydayness of life.

Despite the mythical nature of CM’s cosmos, Hart does an excellent job of bringing the reader back into the history of ideas which this book succeeds at highlighting throughout. The homogeneous Newtonian cosmos is at odds with CM’s cosmology of heterogeneity, the latter of which considers the existential meaning to be derived from the spatio-temporal emergence of nature. CM aims for a description of how the world presents itself before scientific understanding’s distortion. Such a contrast allows the reader to understand CM’s cosmos as taking heaven as a state, which is a phenomenological hermeneutical ontology and task. Chapter 7 furthers this exploration into heaven and phenomenology’s importance for such a concept, but also how as a method it can assist in understanding heaven’s implications for the philosophy of nature. The world becomes known as the ultimate horizon that accompanies objects, as objects in the present are not within a punctual time of ‘Nows’, but rather in a continuous stream. Human beings thus bring to perception a grounding which is characterized as a sedimentation of a historical-horizontal retention of meanings, as the world is constituted by this grounding retention, but also infinite possibility (protention) and anticipation; a horizon that is open and which stretches into the distance. Hart then connects this human experience to Heidegger’s Dasein, as he informs how Dasein’s fallenness into its everydayness leads to an anxiety that makes Dasein feel they are not at home with such unfamiliarity. Such unfamiliarity is related to CM’s remoteness found in the realm of heaven as the human being experiences alienation from the world-periphery.

In the Conclusion, Chapter 8, Hart reminds the reader of the fact that CM’s realontology does not embrace a transcendental reduction, as her method does not involve a disengagement from the natural attitude’s belief system within the reality of the world’s self-preservation as a Husserlian approach would accept. Rather, CM presupposes that the natural attitude is hypothetically valid which leaves room for the possibility of the explication of the natural attitude’s noematic correlation. For CM this a correlation that contains an essence of the ‘really real’ as the transcendental reduction does not provide the chance for an essence-analysis of the real; hence her ontological phenomenology is not just of perception, as it is not just an eidetic of a life-world existential analysis. Instead, Hart emphasizes that for CM, phenomenology involves a disclosure of Logos and that which shows itself. Phenomenology is essentially essence-analysis which aims to disclose and uncover the full sense and meaning of world-space through a discovery of its realontological status. Realontology considers the world as not in space, as time and space are considered aspects of the world’s mode of being; the trans-physical dimensions which realontology points to preserve the lived-experience of the cosmos which consists of the earth’s and heaven’s regions. And so Hart has shown that CM’s realontology is not just a method that can reinforce the experience of the life-world, but can be a way of life as well, unmasking the world-space’s antinomies in the process. It does this through a cosmological turn that brings us to the tradition of symbolizing the universe into a story through an affirmation of a holy physics which affirms objective mythical times, spaces and powers. The other worldly dimension that the realontology can bring to life echoes that of the grotesque in human experience, which makes it an existential method whilst maintaining a natural attitude to the world.  It is no wonder that Hart included an Appendix including a translation of an excerpt from CM’s Metaphysics of the Earthly, written only slightly before the ugliness found within the atrocities before and during World War 2.

In closing, Hart’s book placed the spotlight on a figure in the Western intellectual tradition who deserved such attention. Not only for the obstacles she faced in terms of her sex, race, and geographical living, but the contribution she provided particularly for the philosophy of science. In general terms, however, not only was the philosophical method of CM shown to be original and important for a plethora of theoretical disciplines, from theology to aesthetics, but it was also shown to provide practical implications that allowed her approach to phenomenology as realontology to bridge the gap between the real and the ideal, and the objective and subjective. Intentionality however, in the phenomenological sense, was a concept in the book that appeared to be a bone of contention for Hart. It appeared to be a concept that equates with Husserlian phenomenology, however, was it or was it not a concept supported within CM’s method? It can be left for the readers of the book to determine.

Abraham Anderson: Kant, Hume, and the Interruption of Dogmatic Slumber

Kant, Hume, and the Interruption of Dogmatic Slumber Book Cover Kant, Hume, and the Interruption of Dogmatic Slumber
Abraham Anderson
Oxford University Press
2020
Hardback £47.99
216

Reviewed by: Adam Andreotta (Curtin University)

Kant famously wrote in the Preface to his Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics (released two years after the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason) that: “I freely confess: it was the objection of David Hume which first, many years ago, interrupted my dogmatic slumber” (4:260). In Kant, Hume, and the Interruption of Dogmatic Slumber, Abraham Anderson attempts to understand what Kant meant by this locution. Amongst the central theses that Anderson defends in the book include: [i] the contention that it was Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding that awoke Kant from his dogmatic slumber, and not Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature; and [ii] the claim that is was Hume’s challenge to the principle of sufficient reason which awoke Kant from his dogmatic slumber, not a denial of the causal principle governing experience—the thesis that every event has a cause.

In what follows, I will present a summary, and commentary, of Abraham’s defence of these two theses which take place over the course of 5 main chapters, and a lengthy introductory chapter. Before doing so, it is important to clarify some key concepts. First, how does Anderson construe the term ‘principle of sufficient reason’? Anderson tells us that he:

shall use [the term] to refer to the causal principle not restricted to experience, which was supposed to be known by reason, and which Hume led Kant to reject (xii).

Abraham claims (xiv) that Kant was awoken from his dogmatic slumber because he accepted Hume’s criticism of this principle—Hume’s point being that we cannot know causal relations by pure reason. Why is the principle important in the first place? The rationalist principle of sufficient reason is important because without it we cannot know any causal claim that goes beyond experience, such as the claim that something cannot come from nothing. We may be more explicit about this key principle by looking at how it differs from the causal principle—a thesis which Anderson is also concerned with in the book.

The Causal Principle [Hereafter, ‘CP’]: “the principle that every event has a cause” (xi).

We can see how this differs from the former by considering the following:

Principle of Sufficient Reason [Hereafter, ‘PSR’]: “the causal principle extending beyond experience” (xi).

What is the key difference between these two theses?  PSR is concerned with what we are justified in believing—that is, it limits our knowledge of causes to experience. Whereas CP is making a definitive claim (albeit one that is negative). PSR claims that we are entitled to hold causal beliefs only insofar as they cohere to experience. If a claim about a matter of fact goes beyond experience, then we are not justified in believing it, even if doing so is natural or useful. CP, on the other hand, is making a negative metaphysical claim—namely, that it is false that every event has a cause. Anderson claims that PSR more accurately allows us to see Hume’s attack as one about metaphysics—the term ‘metaphysics’ in this context referring to the science of objects “beyond experience” (xi). Hume, according to Anderson, is not attacking the causal principle: what he is doing is presenting the limits of our grounds of justification—which is of course limited to experience for Hume. This dispute is an important one to solve, Anderson claims, because it gives us a “clue to the meaning of the Critique” (xi). Anderson point outs (xv) that since Hume is not explicit about his rejection of PSR in either the Treatise or Enquiry, his own proposal is controversial.

In the introductory chapter, titled the ‘The State of the Question’, Anderson provides a survey of the secondary literature which focuses on the issue of how to interpret Kant’s claim in the Prolegomena that, “I freely confess: it was the objection of David Hume that first, many years ago, interrupted my dogmatic slumber” (4:260).  The introduction is the longest chapter of the book (42 pages). In it, Anderson considers several different answers to the question of what Kant meant by “the objection of David Hume”, and how such an objection awoke Kant from his dogmatic slumber. Given there is no scholarly consensus about how to understand what Kant meant by the “objection of David Hume”, or how the objection interrupted Kant from his “dogmatic slumber”, Anderson summarises the different perspectives that have been taken on the issue. Anderson also points out that the issue is not only about how to interpret Kant’s famous locution, but also whether Kant should be taken at his word. Anderson states that some think Kant’s claim about being awoken by Hume is a “confusion and misremembering” (1) and should not be taken literally.  Anderson thinks that Kant should be understood literally, but he also considers reasons for thinking he should not be. These include Kant’s 1798 letter to Christian Garve, where Kant states that it was the Antinomy that awoke him from his dogmatic slumber—thus apparently contradicting what Kant himself says in the Preface to the Prolegomena. Given that Hume is not mentioned by name in the first edition of the Critique until the very last part, Anderson considers views which propose that this letter lends support to the claim that Kant was not awoken by Hume.

One of the most important views considered in the introduction is Norman Kemp Smith’s, which comes from his 1923 Commentary to Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason”. Kemp Smith claims that Kant was awoken by Hume’s attack on the ‘causal axiom’ (referred to as ‘CP’ above)—the thesis that every event has a cause. This is a view Anderson returns to throughout the book. It represents an important rival to Anderson’s own view. The view is considered by Hume in the Treatise as follows.

’Tis a general maxim in philosophy, that whatever begins to exist, must have a cause of existence (T 1.3.3.1; SBN 78-9).

Kemp Smith’s claim that Kant was awoken by the Treatise, and his claim that Hume denied CP, are controversial because, as Anderson points out, the Treatise was not translated into German until the Critique of Pure Reason was already published. This is a problem because it is commonly understood that Kant could not read English. Anderson gives several other reasons for doubting Kemp Smith’s proposal. One of the examples he cites comes from Hume’s 1754 letter to John Stewart, which says the following:

I never asserted so absurd a Proposition as that any thing might arise without a Cause: I only maintain’d, that our Certainty of the Falshood of that Proposition proceeded neither from Intuition nor Demonstration; but from another Source (Hume, 1754).

This passage seems to support Anderson’s reading, as Hume is quite upfront here about the nature of his scepticism about causation.  Anderson, further, quotes Kant who says in the Prolegomena that Hume’s question “was not, whether the concept of cause is correct, usable, and indispensable for the whole knowledge of nature, for this Hume never doubted”  (4:258). Hume’s passage, and Kant’s own admission, seem to go against Kemp Smith’s view, as Anderson suggests.

The rest of the introduction is concerned with several other controversial topics and summaries of scholarly views. For example, Anderson considers the remarks of Manfred Kuehn, Günter Gawlick and Lothar Kreimendah, who argue that it was Treatise 1.4.7. (The conclusion to Book 1) that awakened Kant from his slumber. He considers Lorne Falkenstein’s view, which says that the seeming contradiction between the letter to Garve and Kant’s Preface can be reconciled by accepting that Kant had a gradual awakening. And also, Eric Watkins’s view, which says that Kant is trying to refute Hume’s sceptical challenge to the idea of having any causal knowledge.

In chapter one, Anderson begins to address the book’s central question about what Kant meant by the ‘objection of David Hume’ in the Preface to his Prolegomena. Further, Anderson seeks to understand what Kant meant by being awoken from a ‘dogmatic slumber’. Anderson’s contention, which is further developed in subsequent chapters, is that the objection of David Hume equates to Hume’s attack on Metaphysics (Anderson call this “another name for the objection of David Hume” p. 44). This attack, Anderson tells us, is seen by Kant as a contribution to the Enlightenment because of its implications for the liberation of the human mind—one of which includes a challenge to theological authority.

The chapter touches upon many important issues.  One is the directness of Kant’s writing style. Anderson notes that it was dangerous at the time to make attacks on metaphysics too openly (50), since the battle over metaphysics had significant implications for certain religious and political matters. Another issue has to do with Kant’s actual references to Hume. If it was really the objection of David Hume which awoke Kant, then why isn’t Hume mentioned by name in the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason until late in the work (until the Discipline of Pure Reason)? Might this be a reason to doubt the veracity of Kant’s claim? Anderson thinks not, given the way Hume’s work had been received at the time. He notes of the hostile reception that Hume’s Dialogues of Natural Religion received upon its release. Anderson (53) references a 1779 review of Dialogues featured in the Göttingische Anzeigen von gelehrten Sachen, which was quite critical of the work. The review charged the text of corrupting the youth. This is an interesting reason for why Kant may have been relucent to refer to Hume explicitly initially, and Anderson does a good job of exploring it. It is interesting to note that Hume himself was also conscious of the reception of his own work, which affected the way it was written. In Hume’s December 1737 letter to Henry Home, he says: “I am at present castrating my work, that is, cutting off its nobler parts: that is, endeavouring it shall give as little offence as possible” (Hume, 1737).

To make sense of Kant’s defence of Hume, Anderson also discusses what Kant said about Hume’s critics. These include Thomas Reid, James Oswald, James Beattie, who appealed to common sense to overcome Hume’s concerns about the causal principle. Kant rejects these kinds of appeals to common sense, and Anderson shows why Kant takes Hume’s objections seriously, and how they were misconstrued by others. On page 62, for example, he looks at Priestley’s claim that Hume actually doubted the concept of cause and that the concept was useful. But as Anderson points out, Hume did not think the notion of causation was useless; and neither did he cease to believe in it. Such discussions help to show why Kant found Hume so troubling and help to understand the nature of Hume’s scepticism.

Another interesting puzzle has to do with why Kant is so explicit about Hume’s influence in the Prolegomena. If Kant wanted to avoid the controversies associated with the Dialogues, as Anderson proposes, then why is Kant so open about his debt to Hume in the Prolegomena—two years later after the release of the first edition of the Critique, where he is not so explicit? Anderson’s claim is that Kant’s avowal of his debt to Hume in the Prolegomena is a response to the Göttingische Anzeigen review of the Critique, which came out 2 years after it was released. It may have been that Kant wanted to make his point more explicit since, as Anderson notes (55), Kant regarded the review as a radical misunderstanding of the text. By that point Kant may have felt he had nothing to lose. Anderson offers a second reason for why Kant is more ready to acknowledge his debt to Hume in the Prolegomena. Also published in 1781 was the edition of the works of Sulzer, published by Blanckenburg. Anderson notes that in the Preface to the work, Blanckenburg evoked Sulzer’s Preface to Hume’s Enquiry, which was also included in the work (originally published 26 years earlier), that Hume’s writings would “pull German philosophers by the sleeve and rouse them from their peaceful rest” (cited in Anderson’s text on p. 64). It is hard to know for certain that Kant is responding directly to this passage, but it certainly looks very similar to what Kant writes in his Preface as Anderson points out (p.65).

In the second chapter, Anderson attempts to define the “Objection of David Hume.” After claiming that the objection of David Hume is really attack on metaphysics, Anderson attempts to be more specific about what this attack amounts to. According to Anderson, this attack on metaphysics has three steps, which are divided up further in the chapter. These include:

[1] “no one can know from pure concepts a priori that because one thing is, another must necessarily exist also.” (72)

[1] leads, in Anderson’s view, to two implications. The first is:

[C1] “cause is not a legitimate child of reason but a bastard of the imagination, and that all the other purportedly a-priori-subsisting cognitions of reason are mere falsely reminted common experiences.” (72)

And the second is,

[C2] “That there is no metaphysics and cannot be any” (72). (Here Anderson takes metaphysics to be reasoning beyond experience.)

Anderson suggests that Kant located this attack on metaphysics (what Anderson calls ‘Hume’s Objection) in the Enquiry and not in the Treatise, as some commentators such as Kemp Smith have suggested.  This attack, Anderson tell us, is substantial because it undermines Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason, and the causal principles of Descartes and Locke. This is consequential, as such arguments were employed to prove God’s existence (76). So [1] is clearly a significant result.

Anderson is right, in my view, to characterise Hume’s attack on the “rational origin of the concept of cause” (77–78). This seems to cohere more succinctly with Hume’s radical empiricism, rather than a denial of the causal principle, as Kemp Smith maintains. Further it also seems to cohere with what Kant himself says in his Preface to the Prolegomena. Kant claims Hume’s question:

was not whether the concept of cause is correct, useful, and indispensable for the whole knowledge of nature, for this Hume had never doubted; but whether it is thought by reason a priori (4:258–59).

Next, Anderson engages with the question of whether it was the Treatise or Enquiry that was the key source which awoke Kant from his slumber. Anderson describes the view of Kemp Smith, who follows Vaihinger and Erdmann, in thinking that it was Treatise 1.3.3 that awoke Kant from his dogmatic slumber. Anderson rehearses points made in previous chapters, noting that the Enquiry was published in German in 1755; but the Treatise was not published until 1790, putting it after the 1781 edition of the First Critique. And given that Kant did not know English, this timeline is problematic.  This is not a knock down argument, of course, as there were parts of the Treatise translated and Kant knew people who could have read it. For example, Treatise 1.4.7—where Hume advanced a series of sceptical claims—was translated. Yet Anderson claims (89) that the Treatise was less well known in relevant circles.

So where in the Enquiry, then, does Anderson claim Kant located Hume’s attack? There are various places he cites—not all of them are discussed in this chapter. One claim Anderson makes is that [C1] is stated in parts 1 and 2 of Enquiry 7, “Of the Idea of Necessary Connexion.” (90). This is where Hume argues that we have no idea of necessary connection beyond constant conjunction. Another is Anderson’s discussion of [C2], which says that there cannot be any metaphysics, by looking at section 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Enquiry. For example, he focuses on Hume’s claim at 11.30 which says that, since the idea of necessary connection is grounded in constant conjunction, there is a problem of determining a unique cause. This has implications for the concept of a divine cause.  Anderson suggests that the first step, [1], is to be found in Section 4, part 1 and at 12.29 note (d) of the Enquiry. Such a position is defended in later chapters.

In chapter 3, Anderson attempts to locate where in the Enquiry Hume’s first step in Hume’s attack on Metaphysics is (recall this is the thesis that we cannot have knowledge of causation independent of experience). Anderson also attempts to defend the thesis that the Enquiry supports his own proposal that Hume’s first step is really an attack on the principle of sufficient reason.

Anderson begins by focusing on section 4.11 of the Enquiry, and its debt to 4.2, where Hume talks about our knowledge of matters of fact—namely that, when it comes to matter of fact it is always possible to imagine things being different to the way they, are or what we are used to. While it would be odd, we can easily imagine that a rolling white billiard ball will float up when it hits the black or stop completely. This is because no contradiction materialises: as long as we reason a priori, anything can cause anything. It follows from this, Anderson claims (102), that we cannot know a causal necessity a priori. And further, Anderson states: this “implies a denial of the principle of sufficient reason” (102). This is because we could not say of a cause that it was a sufficient reason of its effect.  To put things more precisely, Anderson claims this means that we cannot know a priori, of anything at all, that it must have cause (102). This is drawn from what Hume says at 4.13 of the Enquiry:

When we reason a priori, and consider merely any object or cause, as it appears to the mind, independent of all observation, it never could suggest to us the notion of any distinct object, such as its effect; much less, show us the inseparable and inviolable connection between them  (EHU 4.13; SBN 31-32).

Does Anderson’s suggestion do a better job of explaining such a passage compared to the one put forward by Kemp Smith—namely, that Hume denies that every event has a cause? I think so. Anderson’s account—that Hume is rejecting the principle of sufficient reason—seems to capture the spirit of this passage in a more adequate way than Kemp Smith’s.

The chapter also features an interesting discussion about Hume’s disavowal of a thesis that Lucretius called ‘Ex nihilo, nihil’ (119)—nothing comes from nothing. This idea is important because it was taken by some to prove the existence God (as Locke and Clarke tried to do.) Anderson claims that Kant would have seen Hume’s rejection of this the principle as a rejection of the principle of sufficient reason. Anderson claims that

In rejecting Ex nihilo, nihil fit, then, Hume is not rejecting the principle that every event has a cause, which he emphatically accepts. Rather, he is rejecting the principle that Descartes, Locke, and Clarke had used to prove the existence of a divine Cause (109).

It is important, Anderson points out, that this principle does not disprove god; only that it cannot be used to prove god.  Again, I think this does a good job of capturing the spirit of Hume’s sceptical empiricism, which is to draw the limits of what we can be justified in believing—namely, to experience.

In chapter 4, Anderson supports his reading of Kant’s interpretation of Hume by examining the Treatise. His main contention is that Treatise 1.3.3 is not, as Kemp Smith supposed, an attack on the causal principle governing experience. He investigates Treatise 1.3.3 in order to undermine Kemp Smith’s claim.

It is important for Anderson to consider Treatise 1.3.3. because, as he states, Hume does not say explicitly in the Enquiry that he is attacking the principle of sufficient reason “in so many words” (123). In addition to arguing against Kemp Smith’s interpretation of 1.3.3, Anderson also draws upon Hume’s letter to Henry Home: the ‘Letter from a Gentleman.’ This letter is important for several reason. First, because it features a candid remark by Hume about the construction of his text—namely, that he went about “castrating” the Treatise, meaning that he cut “off its noblest parts.”  Anderson notes that this is most likely because of its implications for theology.  What this means is that some interpretive work is needed to determine what Hume is claiming. And second, and more importantly for the content of his argument, Anderson notes of Hume’s reply to critics of the Treatise. Hume claims:

The Author is charged with Opinions leading to downright atheism, chiefly by denying this principle, that whatever begins to exist must have a cause of existence (cited on p. 135 of Anderson’s text).

This is the causal principle listed above—the one which Kemp Smith claims Hume is denying. Hume’s response to this charge is interesting, however. He claims that he is not denying the principle, but rather disputing that the principle was “founded on demonstrative or intuitive Certainty”. This passage supports Anderson’s reading because it shows Hume’s focus is on justification, not on whether the causal principle is false.

Later in the chapter Anderson considers why readers have failed to see the Enquiry as the source of Kant’s awakening. He considers the claim that the causal principle is attacked in Treatise 1.3.3. Anderson disputes this on two grounds because he thinks that:

a) “The causal principle is attacked in the Enquiry too” (139)

b) “The causal principle [Hume] attacks is not the [CP] but the [PSR]” (139)

Anderson considers why Erdmann, Vaihinger, and Kemp Smith failed to see this. One reason he suggests is that while Hume in Enquiry 12.29 note (d) is direct in his rejection of the causal principle Ex nihilo nihil fit, he is indirect in his rejection of the PSR. Another reason he offers is that, while the Treatise is long and detailed in its steps, the Enquiry is “brief and elliptical” (140).

In the final chapter, titled ‘Hume’s Attack on the “Impious Maxim” as the Hidden Spine of the Critique’, Anderson attempts to locate several places in Kant’s Critique which support his contention about the PSR.  He does so by examining four places in the Critique that recall Hume’s rejection of the impious maxim (Ex nihilo, nihil fit) at 12.29 note (d). Recall this is the claim that Anderson says is the most direct attack on the PSR. The four places include: the Transcendental Ideal, the Postulates, the Analogies and the Antinomy.

One example that Anderson cites is from the ‘Postulates of Empirical Thought’, in the ‘General Note on the System of the Principles.’  There Kant says that by beginning with mere categories, “We can easily think the non-existence of matter. From this the ancients did not, however, infer its contingency” (B290n). Anderson notes that Kant discusses this matter not to argue that matter is necessary, or contingent, but to suggest that we cannot prove that it is contingent or necessary.  Anderson notes that this resembles a discussion Hume makes at 12.28-29 note (d), where Hume rejects the Ex nihilo, nihil fit maxim. The two sections are as Anderson suggests, quite similar. It is one example of the interesting connections Anderson makes between the two works.

In closing, we can ask: is the central claim that Anderson defends in the book plausible? Recall that this is:

Hume interrupted Kant’s dogmatic slumber…by attacking the rationalist principle of sufficient reason, and showing that we are not entitled to it, since we cannot conceive effects as logically necessary given causes, or vice versa, and since we cannot know, either intuitively or demonstratively, that there can be nothing without a reason why it is thus and not otherwise (159).

To my mind, Anderson’s contention does better than some of his rivals—which are, it should be noted, charitably considered in the book. Anderson is, further, careful in his analysis and does not draw any hasty conclusions when advancing his own views. Where there is speculation, it is supported with passages from Kant’s and Hume’s texts, historical documents, and possible counter interpretations. This careful nature of proceeding is one of the virtues of the book.

The book will obviously be of interest to Hume and Kant scholars who seek to understand how Hume’s ideas influenced Kant’s. But it will also be of interest to those seeking to understand the nature of Hume’s scepticism. Given this, I did wonder why Anderson did not discuss how Hume’s radical scepticism affected Kant. As Kevin Meeker (2013, 2) points out, many early readers of Hume—he includes Kant here—interpreted Hume as a radical sceptic. (An interpretation that goes against the scholarly consensus today.) Thinkers like Thomas Reid, for example, thought that if we accept Hume’s system, then we would have to say that we lack rational grounds for holding our everyday common sensical beliefs. It would have been interesting to see whether Anderson thought this radical scepticism played an integral part in Kant’s awakening.

I have only been able to touch upon a few of the issues of the book in this review. It is my hope that I conveyed the great interest of it. I found the book to offer a thorough and convincing account of the influence Hume had on Kant’s thought.

Works Cited

Hume, David. [1737] 1932/2011. “Hume to Henry Home, December 2, 1737, Letter 6.” In The Letters of David Hume, ed. J. Y. T. Greig, 2 vols, 1:23– 25. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hume, David. 1739-40 [2000 ]. A Treatise of Human Nature. Edited by David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hume, David. 1748 [2000]. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Edited by Tom L. Beauchamp. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Hume, David. [1754] 1932/2011. “David Hume to John Stewart, February 1754.” In The Letters of David Hume, ed. J. Y. T. Greig, 2 vols, 1:187. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Meeker, Kevin. 2013. Hume’s Radical Scepticism and the Fate of Naturalized Epistemology. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kant, Immanuel. [1781] 2003. Critique of Pure Reason. Translated by Norman Kemp Smith. With a new introduction by Howard Caygill. 2nd ed. Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kant, Immanuel. [1783] 2004. Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. Ed. Gary Hatfield. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Annabel Herzog: Levinas’s Politics: Justice, Mercy, Universality

Levinas's Politics: Justice, Mercy, Universality Book Cover Levinas's Politics: Justice, Mercy, Universality
Haney Foundation Series
Annabel Herzog
University of Pennsylvania Press
2020
Cloth $55.00
208

Reviewed by: David Ventura (Royal Holloway, University of London)

In Levinas’s Politics, Annabel Herzog attempts to articulate whether there might be something like a positive and coherent political philosophy in Levinas’s thought. As Herzog is the first to admit, for many critics of Levinas this effort will seem doomed from the outset. For if it cannot be denied that Levinas’s works frequently mention politics and political reasoning, these considerations seem merely peripheral to what is generally considered Levinas’s ‘real’ philosophical interest, that is, the ethical (or moral) relation between the subject and the absolute alterity of the other person. What is more, Levinas regularly opposes this ethical relation to politics, seemingly emphasising only the essential violence and irrelevance of politics for morality. Indeed, one need only turn to the very first page of Totality and Infinity to find a clear expression of this sentiment: “The art of foreseeing war and of winning it by every means—politics—(….) is opposed to morality, as philosophy to naïveté” (Levinas, 1979: 21).

From this standpoint, it might indeed seem that Herzog will be hard pressed to find a positive and nuanced conception of politics in Levinas’s work. As Herzog opens her book by countering, however, even in those texts where Levinas speaks of an opposition between politics and morality, there is more than a simple relation of mutual exclusivity between the two domains. In Totality and Infinity, for instance, this involvement between politics and morality is conceptually signalled by the “entrance of the third party”, who is said by Levinas to introduce the considerations of politics into the ‘dual’ ethical relation between the subject and the other. Crucially, far from conceiving this third party as wholly external and somehow posterior to morality, Levinas explicitly holds that its presence is always already felt in the ethical relation with the other: “The third party looks at me in the eyes of the other” (Levinas, 1979: 213). That being the case, the relation between politics and morality is certainly much more complex than Levinas’s own assertions on the opposition between those two domains might at first lead us to believe—and indeed, than some of Levinas’s critics give him credit for.

The majority of Levinas’s Politics directs itself to this intricate relation that  is posited between the fields of politics and morality in Levinas’s thought. Now, Herzog is of course not the first scholar to recognise that Levinasian politics and morality are in a certain sense “inseparable and contained within one another” (Fagan, 2009: 7, cited in LP 2-3). Instead, the major contribution of Levinas’s Politics consists of its attempt to explore this inseparability “in light of a close reading of [Levinas’s] Talmudic readings—that is, Levinas’s ‘Jewish’ works” (3).[1] As Herzog notes, the traditional approach to Levinas’s philosophy has tended to consider these Talmudic commentaries as distinct and separable from the more central ‘philosophical-phenomenological’ works. Following Levinas’s own insistence on the distinction between the two bodies of work, traditional scholarship has also tended to regard these ‘religious’ or ‘confessional’ writings as being of merely illustrative interest for the philosophical substance of Levinas’s thought. By contrast, Levinas’s Politics studies Levinas primarily from the perspective of his Talmudic writings, and it turns to the phenomenological works only in order to “document [its] interpretations of the readings, thereby inverting the traditional approach to Levinas’s work” (6).

In her Introduction, Herzog begins to defend this decision by insisting that both of Levinas’s corpuses should be considered philosophical. The distinction between the two sets of texts is not therefore that is one ‘philosophical’ and the other merely ‘confessional’. Rather, according to Herzog, this distinction is best understood in terms of differences in approach. “The ethical philosophy published in the phenomenological books expresses an unconditional and immemorial call [to responsibility] that can be considered ‘prophetic’. One hears the call and accepts it as it is” (7). The Talmudic readings, by contrast, are said to confront this apodictic and unconditional call to ethical responsibility with concrete situations. “The readings ask the question: What does ethics mean in situations that involve more than the ego and the other?” (9). In other words, though both sets of texts are similarly concerned with philosophical questions of ethical responsibility towards otherness, they each respond to these questions from a differing perspective: “the phenomenological books present a utopian and impracticable ethics, while the Talmudic readings reflect a political, and at times pragmatic, mode of thought” (5).

Herzog’s wager is that this difference in approach makes the Talmudic readings a particularly fruitful place to unearth Levinas’s positive conception of politics. Indeed, because those readings focus specifically on the meaning of ethics in concrete situations, they “constitute a genre subject to different constraints and impositions compared with Levinas’s phenomenological style” (10). That is, the situational focus of the readings gives Levinas the scope to think politics otherwise than through some of the guiding presuppositions of his phenomenological works. Significantly, they allow Levinas to “moderate” (10)  what the phenomenological texts call the absolute precedence of ethics: the idea that ethics is first philosophy, or that the ethical relation constitutes the primary reference point for any philosophical investigation. And in moderating this presupposition, Herzog argues, the Talmudic readings not only “manifest a political thinking that challenges the ethical analyses offered in Levinas’s phenomenological works” (5, emphasis added), but they also offer a radically different conception of Levinasian politics. In Herzog’s own words: “In the readings (…), Levinas tried to do two things that he could not do in the phenomenological works: first, prevent politics from bringing about the failure of ethics; and second, construct politics positively, and not as the interruption and collapse of ethics” (10).

The first chapter of Levinas’s Politics begins to advance this political portrayal of Levinas by further reflecting on what distinguishes his Talmudic from his phenomenological writings. According to Herzog, the unique character of the Talmudic readings can be approached from the perspective of Levinas’s famous distinction between the “saying” and the “said”—that is, in terms of the distinction between “the manifestation of presence through discourse” (the said), and “a form of language that does not reduce (…) otherness into sameness” (the saying) (20-21). Following Ricoeur’s reading of this distinction, which emphasises a complex mutual interplay between said and saying, Herzog’s argument is that the form of Levinas’s Talmudic writings “must be understood as part of a larger expression of the relationship between ‘saying’ and ‘said’, in which ‘saying’ and ‘said’ cannot exist without each other—indeed must confront each other” (28). For whilst, as Herzog demonstrates, Levinas certainly considers the Talmud to be the expression of an ethical saying that is irreducible to the said, his Talmudic commentaries—because they seek the unity of the many disparate texts that make up the Talmud—can be regarded as attempting to “integrate these ‘sayings’ into a thematised philosophical ‘said'” (26).

Though somewhat technical, this discussion on the form of the Talmudic readings allows Herzog to successfully articulate some of the guiding threads of her political reading of Levinas. In particular, Herzog uses this discussion to posit an essential inseparability between the domains of ethics and ontology in Levinas: “The inseparability of ‘saying’ and ‘said’ comes from the concreteness of life itself, in which ethics and ontology develop together” (28). Now, for Herzog, this inseparability is crucial from the point of view of Levinas’s politics not only because politics and ontology are regularly equated in his philosophy. More broadly, the interplay between saying and said that is formally expressed by Levinas’s Talmudic writings also tells us something about their positive political content. Specifically, it points to a substantive conception of Levinasian politics—“a livable politics” (15)—where political activity is that which simultaneously confronts and materialises the irreducible ‘saying’ of ethics.

Herzog further expounds this Levinasian conception of politics in Chapter 2. Here, Levinasian politics is introduced as an institutional enterprise that concerns itself with how responsibility and goods should be shared across humanity. On this reading, Levinas defines politics neither as a monopoly of power, nor as the guardianship of individuals’ natural rights. Rather more starkly, the Talmudic readings define politics “as concern and care for people’s hunger” (40). “To think of men’s hunger is the first function of politics” (Levinas, 1994: 18). This means that in distinction to ethics, politics also does not consist of the absolute obligation to give oneself wholly to the other. Politics is not exactly “the duty to give to the other even the bread out of one’s own mouth”, as Otherwise than Being defines ethics (Levinas, 1998a: 55). Indeed, as Herzog states, though the other’s hunger is in a certain sense the problem that unites both politics and ethics in Levinas, each of those domains develops a radically different solution to that problem. “Ethics is the name of the principle by which the other has priority over the ego. (….) That is, ethics calls for giving the other everything, now” (LP 41). Politics, on the other hand, concerns itself with calculating how some hunger can be institutionally appeased “through the practice of sharing and distributing responsibility and goods” (41).

As well as elucidating this conception of politics, Herzog’s second chapter also offers the intriguing claim that Levinasian politics is that which  in a certain sense realises ethics. Taking her cue from Levinas’s text on “Judaism and Revolution”, Herzog’s argument is that “ethics alone has no materiality. It becomes material and receives meaning only in the form of something that is very different from—and indeed, opposed to—it: politics” (41). Now, insofar as it finds clear textual evidence in Levinas’s Talmudic readings, this argument is largely successful in dispelling the “common misconception” that Levinas is wholly ‘against’ politics (42). Importantly, in pursuing this argument, Herzog also innovatively identifies a conception of Levinasian justice that finds no clear expression in the phenomenological writings: merciful or non-indifferent justice. Under this conception, justice “is synonymous with neither ethics nor politics but consists in the relation between the two” (11). Put differently, justice is that differential which expresses the extent to which the infinite responsibility of ethics has become fulfilled, or materialised, through the institutional calculation and distribution of politics.

Chapter 3 deals with another unique contribution of Levinas’s Talmudic work, namely, its conception of the social. According to Herzog, in works like “Messianic Texts” and “Cities of Refuge”, Levinas thematises a distinctive social domain that can be called neither ethical nor political. This social domain, which Levinas equates with both contemporary urban life and Western liberal democracies, is one that is characterised by individualism, conflict, and a lack of concern for others. In Herzog’s words: “the social [is] a domain of indifferent care for the self, unaffected by ethical responsibility” (54). As such, the social clearly distinguishes itself from both ethics and the political: “[it] consists of neither infinite responsibility nor the implementation of those laws of justice that that would transform the ethical demand into viable practices” (46). Nevertheless, far from being simply irrelevant to Levinas’s overall conception of politics, for Herzog, this conception of the social in fact further highlights the positive role that Levinasian politics can play in realising ethics. Indeed, Herzog’s conclusion in this chapter is that if there is never any responsibility or concern for others in the social, then “politics—understood as institutions and leadership [of shared responsibility]—is the sole way to concretely implement the ethical principle (….) the sole way, for Levinas, to give some materiality to ethics” (53).

Having in the first three chapters presented a mostly positive vision of Levinasian politics, in Chapter 4 Herzog begins to focus on the necessary connection between this politics and the problem of violence. Herzog opens this chapter by noting that the critique of politics that famously appears in Totality and Infinity—where politics is defined as the violent art of war—is not entirely absent from Levinas’s Talmudic readings (55). In essays like “The State of Cesar and the State of David”, Levinas continues to attribute an essential violence to politics: “‘By serving the State one serves repression’ (….) by which Levinas means that all State servants, like police officers, use or condone violence or repression” (60). But unlike Levinas’s phenomenological writings, Herzog adds, the Talmudic readings do not entirely reject the value of politics and the state. Indeed, despite continuing to describe politics as violent, Levinas’s Talmudic writings also insist that political violence is necessary for the task of fighting evil (60). In this particular sense, and as Herzog persuasively demonstrates, Levinas not only judges politics to be violent, but he also “accepts that the aim of political violence, namely, the fight against evil, is important and legitimates its means” (66).

In Chapter 5, Herzog further develops this account of political violence by reflecting on what Levinas understands by evil. Drawing on the notion of merciful justice introduced in Chapter 2, Herzog’s central contention in this chapter is that “evil in the Talmudic readings is the impossibility of justice” (64). Put differently, evil is a kind of disjunction between politics and ethics: it is the antithesis of that productive relation where ethics is realised or materialised by politics. “Evil is the situation of an unattainable relationship between ethics and politics, a situation in which politics and ethics cannot coexist” (64). Now, Herzog’s claim is that Levinas considers the phenomenon of evil to be possible in three different contexts. First, evil can occur when an individual—or its political community—chooses to build a private domain (or home) that is detached from otherness and collective action. Evil “is the attempt to build a fortified self—be it an individual or national home—erected against the world” (71). Second, evil for Levinas is what happens when the state, instead of fighting injustice and oppression, becomes dominated by “ideology” and “idolatry”—that is, by two deceptive forms of language that disguise themselves as moral reason, but which are in fact mystifications intended to oppress and dominate (74). Third, “evil is linked to animality, namely to a certain understanding of being” (65). More accurately, evil is what happens when we choose to give our biological and psychological inclinations—our ontological or animal desires—a preponderance over political responsibility (77).

As well as bringing Levinas into a productive dialogue with a number of significant political thinkers (including Arendt, Weil and Nussbaum), Herzog’s account of evil also begins to illustrate one of the key claims of Levinas’s Politics, namely, the idea that the Talmudic readings moderate some of the positions of Levinas’s phenomenological writings. In short, Herzog’s contention is that because the Talmudic readings conceive evil as “the choice of an order of things” (79), they are also able to develop more nuanced accounts of phenomena like dwelling and ontology than the phenomenological writings. Thus, for instance, because in the Talmudic readings “evil is not anchored in biological or psychological inclinations but in choosing to give these dispositions precedence over responsibility, (….) the extreme claim of Levinas’s 1948 book Time and the Other, that ‘Being is evil’, is, in the readings, moderated into a more complex view: Being is evil, but only when it is not subordinated to ethics” (78-79).

This line of thinking is extended in Chapter 6, which focuses on Levinas’s conception of nature in the Talmudic readings. Herzog opens this chapter by stating that due to their largely anti-Spinozist slant, it is not always easy to find an appreciation of the ethical value of nature in Levinas’s phenomenological writings, where “transcendence, or God, is not nature, and is other than nature” (81). Contrastingly, the Talmudic readings do sometimes connect the uncanny infinity of transcendence to the natural world. Indeed, as Herzog reveals, despite maintaining a distinction between the human and the natural, Levinas’s Talmudic writings do intriguingly consider non-human animals, like dogs, to in certain cases “sense or express ‘transcendence'” (88). Furthermore, this expression of transcendence in nature is not limited to the case of humanity’s ‘best friend’. Indeed, in what is this chapter’s main contribution, Herzog also attempts to demonstrate that “Levinas uncovers the complicated relationship between the ontological and the ethical in all parts of nature” (91). Specifically, Herzog sees the Talmudic readings as providing a unique notion of “elevation”, within nature as a whole, which makes nature more than a simple perseverance in being or conatus (93). In other words, for Levinas, there is “an otherwise than nature in nature” (94). And for Herzog, this idea is politically charged because it shows that Levinas’s philosophy can open onto a sort of “prudent environmentalism” (94). That is, with Levinas, we can reassess our political relation with nature, and come to regard it as a domain that mixes both conative, an-ethical struggles and moments of genuine ethical rupture.

In Chapter 7, Herzog turns to what is potentially the thorniest aspect of Levinas’s Talmudic readings: their defence of Zionism and the modern State of Israel. Herzog is of course eminently aware that such defences have led many critics to classify Levinas’s philosophy as anti-Palestinian and even racist. And in this chapter, Herzog by no means denies that there are certain problems with Levinas’s reflections on Zionism. However, and in response to such critiques, Herzog holds “that Levinas’s take on Zionism is a specific instance of his broader conception of the relation between ethics and politics” (96). In other words, Herzog’s claim is that Levinas’s thought on Zionism receives its broad outlines from the more general political philosophy of the Talmudic readings—and not vice versa. Thus, Herzog’s first argument in this chapter is that Levinas defends the State of Israel because he sees it as the only way to politically ensure the survival of the Jewish people, and thus, as the only way to concretely implement or realise the “particular version of justice” that is expressed in the Torah (99). However, Herzog also tries to demonstrate that, in line with the notion that politics is necessarily violent, Levinas repeatedly criticises and holds the State of Israel to account for its violent tendencies. As she puts it: “despite the fact that the State of Israel serves an ethical purpose and is, indeed, necessary for the survival of the Jewish people, it nonetheless puts Jewish existence in physical and spiritual danger because it entails an embrace of ontology—idolatry of the land, rootedness, conquest, and destruction” (102). For Herzog, therefore, the ‘problem’ with Levinas’s thought on Zionism is not its silence or failure to denounce the violence and oppression of the modern State of Israel. Instead, “the main weakness of Levinas’s Zionism” is that it still lends itself too readily to the dialectical Hegelianism that Levinas elsewhere so strongly criticises (96).

The final chapter of Levinas’s Politics continues to clarify Levinas’s relation to Hegel, but this time from the perspective of the general issue of political messianism. Herzog’s effort in this chapter is two-fold: first, to clarify the relation between Levinasian eschatology and concrete political laws; and second, to elucidate the relation between messianism and history. In both cases, Herzog’s key argument is that Levinasian messianism, despite signifying an anarchic divine Law that is entirely irreducible to—and even ‘ends’ the temporality of—political laws and historical realities, nonetheless relies on those same entities to find its expression in the world. As Herzog, quoting Levinas, writes: “the ethical law needs the support of political laws: ‘The Messiah is king. The divine invests history and the State rather than doing away with them. The end of History retains a political form” (116). In upholding this idea, Herzog argues further, the Talmudic readings also significantly nuance the conception of history that emerges in Levinas’s phenomenological works. Indeed, where in the latter Levinas frequently opposes ethical eschatology to history (cf. Levinas, 1979: 21), in the Talmudic readings “there is no contradiction between recognising the importance of political history and holding to an ethical messianism, because political history is the instrument that allows redemption to enter the phenomenal world” (120). Thus, for Herzog, even in their most ‘utopian’ of dimensions, that is, even where they speak of a Law that is in a certain sense irreducible to political realities, Levinas’s Talmudic readings remain political through and through.

Overall, Levinas’s Politics is a hugely successful text. Pace Levinas’s critics, Herzog’s text develops a compelling portrayal of Levinas as a thinker who does not exclusively consider politics and the state as hindrances to ethics and justice. Indeed, although from a certain perspective the aims of Levinasian politics and morality are indeed opposed, from another angle, as Herzog convincingly shows, those two domains in fact support and mutually complement one another. In this respect, there is indeed a political philosophy to be found in Levinas’s work. Furthermore, Levinas’s Politics persuasively demonstrates that this political philosophy attains a certain coherence throughout Levinas’s Talmudic writings, consistently manifesting itself in discussions of topics as varied as evil, violence, nature, and messianicity. In treating these and a breadth of other subjects with admirable clarity and succinctness, Herzog also demonstrates a commanding grasp of what is undoubtedly an underappreciated part of Levinas’s corpus. Readers of Levinas that are unfamiliar with the ‘religious’ aspects of his work will undoubtedly find a wealth of valuable new material in Levinas’s Politics, and they will likewise benefit from Herzog’s concise but supremely informative explanations of Levinas’s unique approach to religious material.

For all its scholarly richness and breadth, there are nonetheless some notable absences in Levinas’s Politics. Crucially, the text makes no reference to Bergson, a philosopher who Levinas famously described as one of the most important for his thought (second only to Heidegger and Husserl), and whose metaphysical conception of time as duration is well known to have influenced Levinas throughout his career. Yet, it is not exactly this metaphysical Bergson that might have been of interest to Herzog’s project, but rather the Bergson of The Two Sources of Morality and Religion. In that text, as Levinas himself explains in a 1988 interview, what Bergson had previously understood as the metaphysical intuition of duration becomes “interpreted as a relationship with the other and with God” (1998b: 244). Furthermore, in a move that bears a striking similarity with what Herzog calls one of the key ideas of Levinas’s political thinking, The Two Sources continually maintains that for this ethical relationship with the other and God to be upheld, it must find its “point of support” in, and even “pass through”, a set of concrete political organisations and instruments, which, in their isolation, can be seen as opposed to the aims of ethics (Bergson, 1977: 309-310). As Bergson writes, though politics has historically tended to promote violence and war, it is only “with the advent of [Western] political and social organisations which proved experimentally that the mass of people was not doomed [to hunger and poverty] (…) [that] the soul could open wide its gates to a universal love [of humanity or God]” (226-227).

Now, in fairness to Herzog, the avowed aims of Levinas’s Politics are interpretative more than they are historical (LP 9). In that respect, Herzog can be forgiven for not tracing every single one of Levinas’s influences in the political writings. That said, the conception of the interaction between ethics and politics that emerges in Bergson’s The Two Sources is clearly not without relevance to what Herzog considers to be one of the central theses of Levinas’s political thinking, namely, the idea that ethics “becomes material and receives meaning only in the form of something that is very different from—and indeed, opposed to—it: politics” (41). At the very least, it seems that Levinas might have found inspiration for this political idea in Bergson. More strongly, we might say that just as the preface of Totality and Infinity famously considers Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption as being “too often present in [the] book to be cited” (Levinas, 1979: 28), so too, perhaps Bergson’s The Two Sources plays the same role for Levinas in the Talmudic readings—particularly if, as Herzog strongly argues, those readings establish a relation where morality, far from dispensing with politics, in fact depends upon it for its concretisation. In this context, a closer examination of Bergson’s influence on Levinas’s political thinking would not only have further enriched, but even seems to be demanded by, Herzog’s own chosen focus in Levinas’s Politics.

Another potential weakness of Levinas’s Politics concerns its treatment of Levinas’s phenomenological works. Unfortunately, and perhaps because Herzog is avowedly more interested in the “‘central unity'” of Levinas’s thinking (9), the text often speaks of works like Totality and Infinity and Otherwise than Being in a monolithic way, as if these were one and the same phenomenological text. For example, Herzog at times freely switches between the two texts as a way of explaining Levinas’s presumed ‘opposition’ to ontology (cf. 24). Now, it is true that in some respects, both Totality and Infinity and Otherwise than Being oppose ontology—particularly if by ontology we mean thematisation and the politics of identification this involves. But it is equally the case that in other respects Totality and Infinity ascribes a much more positive role to ontology than Otherwise than Being. This is especially true of the sections in the last part of Totality and Infinity where Levinas speaks positively of fecundity as “an ontological category” (Levinas, 1979: 277). Far from being opposed, ontological fecundity is there thought as that which “establishes [the subject’s] relationship with the absolute future, or infinite time” (268).

Now, it is true that these kinds of exegetical considerations are not where Levinas’s Politics claims to make its contribution to the scholarship. But these considerations are nonetheless important to Levinas’s Politics, and that is because, as Herzog herself concedes (LP 5-6), the text continually refers to the phenomenological works as a way of elucidating the ‘unique’ and ‘interruptive’ character of Levinas’s political philosophy in the Talmudic readings. For example, in the chapter on “Evil as Injustice”, Herzog asserts that Levinas’s Talmudic writings insist on the importance of the home for the project of justice (68). In Levinas’s own words: “There is no salvation except in the reentry into oneself” (Levinas, 1996: 190). Crucially, Herzog adds further that these remarks on the need for a home moderate and “contradict Levinas’s general critique of interiority formulated at length in Totality and Infinity and Otherwise than Being” (LP 68). To be sure, in the very next line, Herzog shows some awareness that this thesis is perhaps more strongly upheld in the later text. But still left out of this analysis is the recognition that Totality and Infinity by no means contradicts the general affirmation that “a home is necessary to see the other” (68). Indeed, if, as Herzog claims, this idea appears in the Talmudic readings, likewise, in Totality and Infinity, not only is it dwelling which “accomplishes” the separation between the I and the Other (Levinas, 1979: 151), but even more strongly, “the whole dimension of interiority—the articulations of separation—are necessary for the idea of Infinity, the relation with the Other” (148).

These similarities are relevant for Levinas’s Politics because in a certain sense they blunt one of Herzog’s central claims in the text, specifically, the notion that “the readings manifest a political thinking that challenges the ethical analyses offered in Levinas’s phenomenological works” (LP 5). As we have already seen Herzog claim, this challenge boils down to a difference in approach between the two bodies of work: “the phenomenological books present a utopian and impractical ethics, while the Talmudic readings reflect a political, and at times pragmatic, mode of thought” (5). But if what grants the Talmudic readings a ‘political’ and ‘pragmatic’ character are ideas like the necessity of a home for justice, then surely, if the phenomenological works can be shown to offer similar affirmations, they cannot be easily be characterised as wholly ‘utopian’ and ‘impractical’.[2] Perhaps, there is also a latent ‘politics’ and a latent ‘pragmatism’ in the phenomenological works themselves, particularly in those places—like the affirmations on interiority and the home cited above—where they come closest to the Talmudic readings. What this also suggests is that on some levels, at least, there is a greater reconciliation between the Talmudic texts and the phenomenological writings than Herzog’s reading of the essential ‘challenge’ or ‘moderation’ of one by the other is capable of accommodating. And perhaps Levinas’s Politics might have achieved an even more nuanced and unified account of Levinas as a political thinker had it further excavated these latent possibilities for reconciliation between the two bodies of work.

All that said, these criticisms will perhaps be of interest only to the expert, and they nowise undermine the immense of value of Herzog’s more general contribution to the field. More than any other scholar to date, Herzog has succeeded in dispelling the false idea that Levinas’s thought has nothing to contribute to the field of political philosophy. Indeed, Herzog has not only clearly shown that Levinas’s Talmudic texts do present a coherent political philosophy, but even one that is potentially valuable in highlighting the many tensions and opportunities of contemporary, Western liberal democracies. For these reasons, but also for its clarity, depth, and scholarly richness, Levinas’s Politics deserves to find a wide and attentive readership among Levinas scholars and political philosophers alike.

Bibliography

Bergson, H. 1977. The Two Sources of Morality and Religion. Translated by Ashley Audra and Cloudesley Bereton. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

Levinas, E. 1979. Totality and Infinity: An Essay of Exteriority. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. London: Martinus Nijhoff.

Levinas, E. 1994b. Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures. Translated by Gary Mole. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Levinas, E. 1996. New Talmudic Readings. Translated by Richard Cohen. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

Levinas, E. 1998a. Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

Levinas, E. 1998b. Entre Nous. Translated by Michael Smith and Barbara Harshav. New York: Columbia University Press.

Ventura, D. 2020. “The Intensive Other: Deleuze and Levinas on the ethical status of the Other”, The Southern Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 58:2, 327-350.


[1] Herzog clarifies that by “Talmudic readings” she means “the body of texts related to the Talmud and other Jewish sources, which look different from Levinas’s phenomenological work” (5-6).

[2] Though for reasons of space I have here referred only to Levinas’s thought on the home, there are other points where the phenomenological works bear more similarity to the Talmudic readings than Herzog perhaps acknowledges. To cite another example, in the chapter “On Nature”, Herzog argues that where the phenomenological writings refuse to characterise nature as ethical, the Talmudic readings posit a “complicated relationship between the ontological and the ethical in all parts of nature” (91). But once again, this argument ignores that Otherwise than Being, for instance, also posits a complex relation of co-contamination between the realms of ethics and nature, particularly in those passages on enjoyment where Levinas insists that the immediacy of the sensibility to the elements is also the immediacy or the proximity of the other (1998a: 74). For a more extended account of this relation, see my: Ventura, 2020: esp. 341-348.

Lawrence J. Hatab: Proto-Phenomenology, Language Acquisition, Orality and Literacy. Dwelling in Speech II

Proto-Phenomenology, Language Acquisition, Orality and Literacy. Dwelling in Speech II Book Cover Proto-Phenomenology, Language Acquisition, Orality and Literacy. Dwelling in Speech II
New Heidegger Research
Lawrence J. Hatab
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
2019
Hardback $130.00, eBook $43.99
328

Reviewed by: Lawrence Berger (New School for Social Research)

This second volume of Lawrence J. Hatab’s Dwelling in Speech demonstrates the power of phenomenology to challenge both mainstream philosophy and the cognitive sciences which emeploy its metaphysical assumptions. Considerable progress has been made in this regard by Dan Zahavi, who demonstrates the contemporary relevance of Husserl, and the enactivist literature which features scholars such as Shaun Gallagher and Evan Thompson. While the latter draws largely on Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, Hatab’s contribution lies in bringing Heideggerian insights to bear together with a focus on the question of language. Heidegger’s influence is just beginning to be felt in this literature, and Hatab makes significant progress as a well-known Heidegger scholar. The same goes for language, although in this case there is the distributed cognition literature (e.g., S. Cowley (ed), Distributed Language, Benjamins Current Topics, 2011; and S. Cowley and F. Vallée-Tourangeau (eds), Cognition Beyond the Brain: Computation, Interactivity, and Human Artifice, Springer-Verlag, 2013) which takes a related ecological approach. Hatab largely avoids Heideggerian terminology to make the work more accessible, developing his own lexicon which calls for some effort but rewards the reader with a wealth of insights into questions of philosophical and scientific import.

The book consists of six chapters, where Chapter 1 reviews the first volume (Proto-Phenomenology and the Nature of Language, 2017) on proto-phenomenology and the lived world, Chapters 2 and 3 apply it to child development, and the final three chapters focus on the distinction between orality and literacy. Hatab puts forward a proto-phenomenology that examines the “first,” or pre-reflective world of normal everyday existence. The focus is on immersed engagement in practical and social environments (in the Heideggerian spirit) rather than cognition and intentionality as in other versions of phenomenology. The title Dwelling in Speech thus points to the fact that we are meaningfully immersed in the myriad worlds that language discloses. For Hatab, language presents the world before it can be represented (36). In this regard he says that language should be understood as a constellation of engaged practices, not an idealism, which is part of an overall orientation to the concrete, factical world in which we dwell.

Much effort goes into focusing on experience as we live it holistically rather than reflection and analysis (or “exposition”) of articulated components. Of course, Hatab admits that as a philosopher he is himself engaged in the latter sort of analysis, and he navigates that tension over the course of the work, arguing that proto-phenomenology provides the resources to gain access to realms such as the child’s world and ancient worlds of orality without unduly importing reflective conceptual assumptions. The approach is ecological in nature, focusing on fields such as the personal-social-environmental world over which existence extends, rather than being ensconced in private realms. Hatab argues that dichotomies such as subject-object and mind-body are derivative of such ecologies.

At the heart of the approach lies the notion of world disclosure, which is the basis for originary presentation which enables any derivative representation. Disclosure has to do with the ways in which we engage and comprehend how the world manifests itself (73), and language is paramount in this regard. It is the “the opening up of the world and the precondition for thought,” the “window to the world” and its meaning (36). Thus rather than viewing language as referring to a world of nonlinguistic entities, Hatab argues that such a view is produced by way of exposition (which tends to reification) out of the speech worlds in which we dwell. Exposition arises in turn by way of disruptions (“contraventions”) in the course of immersed dwelling, along the lines of Being and Time’s relation between the ready-to-hand and the present-at-hand.

Hatab puts forward the related notion of indicative concepts which, rather than seeking abstract definitions, point to and gather an implicit sense of lived experience which is already present. That is, rather than assuming that experience is fundamentally inchoate, indicative concepts mean to gather senses of dwelling which are always underway (13). As already intelligible it has no need for explication; indicative concepts simply show what is already in play in the factical worlds in which we dwell, rather than disengaging reflectively and reifying abstractions that are so produced. In the terms of the later Heidegger (Hatab prefers the early Heidegger), they seek to “speak from” the phenomena by staying within the realms in which we dwell rather than speaking about them from a distance. With such concepts in hand, Hatab poses a significant challenge to representationalism and physicalism by delving into the philosophical and applied literatures in which they are operative.

Turning to the discussion of the child’s world in Chapters 2 and 3, philosophers generally pay little attention to the question of human development, assuming that these early stages merely exhibit primitive versions of adult capacities. Hatab however provides a convincing argument that many features (which are accessible by way of proto-phenomenology) are still operative in the adult world and must be considered to provide a more robust vision of what it is to be human. He first notes the importance of imitation in infants, which he refers to as an example of original immersion where the self is constituted by way of external prompts, which supports the use of the field concepts that he puts forward (4). A focus on childhood learning provides support for the primacy of the lived world, and indicates the shortcomings of philosophical notions such as representational thinking, subject-object divisions, and the primacy of theoretical reason (56). In fact, we can see how the lived world is operative in adulthood given that it is the basis for the development of the factical bearings that enable rational knowledge (60). In particular, the role of the environment can be seen in providing scaffolding for the development of adult capacities (62), along with the senses of undivided co-being and we-feeling that remain in potentia as the basis for more robust bonds that may hold between us (66).

Hatab argues for the priority of immersion within childhood, and illustrates various features of the lived world that are made manifest there, such as the ecstatic (or extended) nature of existence in that ecology. He shows how childhood learning begins with an intrinsic interest in communicating and interacting with caregivers, which suggests that neonates are not tabula rasa as often assumed. For Hatab, children learn by way of mistakes (contraventions) made in the course of trial and error experiments in environments that are saturated with norms and values (81), thereby forming habits which become second nature (enabling further immersed activity). From this perspective he engages in a critique of theories of child-development which assume adult capacities, examining experimental procedures which mismeasure competence as a result (60) and calling instead for observation in natural settings. He critiques the notion that infants can be understood by way of the presumed operation of concepts and theories, and interrogates the mentalistic biases that proto-phenomenology can uncover (83).

Hatab discusses how the phenomenon of joint attention, where individuals focus on the same object and are aware that each is doing so, precedes the acquisition of language (as recognized in the large literature on the subject, e.g., A. Seemann (ed), Joint Attention: New Developments, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011). Infants have a natural capacity for joint attention, which he characterizes as one of the earliest stages of the personal-social-environing world because of the confluence of individual attention, social interaction, and a joint relation to the environment. Hatab refers to this as an “engaged co-disclosure,” which is more original than later developments of individual mentality, which puts a significant challenge to the predominant theory of mind approaches. Indeed, some joint attention theorists emphasize an immediacy and embeddedness in joint attention which also challenges representational approaches, for a focus on attention can unearth a more original “co-minded” dimension where we approach the world jointly in common endeavors.

We also see the connection between joint attention and indicative concepts, as Hatab notes that pointing to something for someone else’s attention makes communication possible (126). He goes on to critique theories which miss this background and rely on representational and referential notions, which conceal the fact that speech is a matter of shared attention, understood as such, and functioning by way of reciprocal effects (127). Moreover, Hatab says that the disclosive power of language is grounded in a shared impulse to communicate which shows itself in the joint attention that supports it (126). The intimate relation between joint attention and language that is indicated here would suggest that attention and language are equiprimordially disclosive, the import of which will be considered below.

Hatab argues that indicative concepts can provide new insight into how language emerges in a child’s world, and how the social environment of language speakers prepares that emergence long before words are first spoken by children (93). He demonstrates the power of phenomenology in this context, providing insight into the factical existence of children which continues to make itself manifest as we mature. For instance, children are exposed early on to the somatic, sonic, and affective forces of speech, which are still operative later in life (94). In this context speech shows itself as a world forming power (103), and dwelling manifests as a more original mode which is immersed in the world disclosive power of language. We see the primacy of language over thought, and as the basis for the meaningful shaping of experience as a whole (112).

Hatab argues against notions of cognitive nativism, individualism, autonomy, and self-sufficiency that are imputed to children (105), and delves into problems in the philosophy of language such as the notion that language is limited to expressing thought, arguing rather that thought is itself an internalization of speech. The world disclosive power of speech is made quite vivid with the example of Helen Keller’s opening to a new world by way of the sense of touch (118). He argues further that extant theories of concepts and mental states conceal the dwelling dimension that still has a hold on us (111).

The final three chapters argue for the primacy of speech over writing, in keeping with the emphasis on the role of the lived world. Writing for Hatab is not a natural phenomenon, but becomes second nature after the expository learning process. It provides a richer mode of disclosure but is susceptible to reification that ends up obscuring the ongoing functioning of the lived world. For instance, the ancient world had oral poetry as a source of its cultural bearings, and aurality of course remains important after the introduction of writing (162). Indeed, the face to face interaction that is so important in childhood and beyond provides the generative background for literacy itself (157). Orality is closer to the lived world in the sense of being subject only to the power of memory and thus associated with flux and becoming, whereas writing is static and permanent which enables abstractions and reification in the foundation of philosophical thought (165). We also see a process of disembodiment in writing (166) which leads to the emergence of inner mental domains that are cut off from the lived world, producing the disengaged reader who can focus on abstract linguistic forms and lend credence to the notion of truth as representation.

We now turn to a fascinating discussion of the emergence of philosophy and written literature in the Greek world. Oral poetry and its story worlds were a source of meaning that enabled a sense of collective identity for the ancients (189). With the introduction of literacy we have the potential conflict between critical thinking and the captivating language of poetry (197) as one aspect of the affective dimension that is so important in ancient (and contemporary) life. We see an excess of such captivation, for instance, in myths such as the Sirens who prevent the accomplishment of vital tasks (198), while on the other hand we see in Plato how myth and poetry and philosophy can complement one another (212). Plato puts forward ideals of autonomous selfhood which stand in contrast to the ecstatic immersion in forces and mimesis that occurs in oral myth and poetry, all of which must be harmonized in the actualized human being.

Hatab argues that although reading and writing skills become second nature, the oral as first nature still has priority (216), and we see this in the fact that philosophy cannot do without insights from speech in the lived world, which is its ground (225). He sees merit in some features of Derrida’s notion of arché writing, but his thought misses the importance of the lived world and orality (213). Hatab argues that the possibilities inherent in literacy lead to the suppression of factical experience by philosophical thought (192), with its decontextualized written systems, logical structures, and propositions (220). He is particularly critical of what he refers to as the predominant hyper-literacy which suppresses facticity (227).

The final chapter traces the development of literacy from Rome to the present day. Learned Latin as more technical results in an impoverishment relative to the wealth of meanings that are present in Greek thought (238). In this context Hatab continues the critique of features of contemporary thought such as the subject-object divide and representation as stemming from the development of literate technologies, such as the printing press and dictionaries (253). We see the development of thinking as representation, and writing as representations of a writer’s mind. The subject-object divide in particular serves to conceal the more primordial sense of extended selfhood that is associated with dwelling in the ecological personal-social-environing world, and Hatab launches into a critique of posited timeless philosophical concepts which rest on the bedrock of literate technologies (260).

A stimulating and wide-ranging work such as this will produce a variety of directions for further thought. Hatab’s focus is on applying insights from the early Heidegger to the question of language in the context of an extensive review of the empirical literature, and readers will undoubtedly have questions regarding the concept of proto-phenomenology, such as how one goes about it as a practical matter and where phenomenological reflection fits in. Moreover, he relies heavily on the immersion-contravention-exposition process that is put forward with considerable nuance, but some readers may believe that more support is required for such a setup.

One approach could focus on the role of attention, which is quite prominent in the text even though its thematization is well beyond the scope of the project. It appears early in the work when Hatab says that first-person attention to normal experience is the gateway to a proto-phenomenological account, as it enables an opening to (or disclosure of) the personal-social-environing world (2). It also plays a large role in the form of joint attention, which as discussed above is a key precondition for language acquisition. Thus, not only is attention essential for the practice of phenomenology, as also evident from Husserl’s treatment of the subject, but it is ontogenetically prior to language acquisition. This could argue for a sort of primacy relative to language, or at least an equiprimordiality with respect to disclosure. Indeed, I would argue that attention in its various forms must appear in first person accounts, and in fact it is often ubiquitous in such literature and taken for granted as such. For, as Hatab indicates, it is the gateway, the essence of the first person perspective, which has historically been of philosophical interest but has only become so recently in contemporary philosophy of mind. As he puts it, “The first-person standpoint in phenomenology cannot merely be a matter of introspective mental states, of intentional consciousness, of beliefs and desires related to actions in the world, but rather indicative attention to ecstatic immersion in fields of action” (15).

Attention appears many other ways in the text, which suggests a deep and intricate relation between attention and language. We have seen that indicative concepts function by pointing, or directing attention to features of the lived world, which Hatab refers to as indicative attention (15). One implication is that language directs attention, rather than being directed by, say, a Husserlian transcendental ego. Attention also appears in the form of expositional attention (e.g., 29, 49, 65) and reflective attention (e.g., 36, 103), and these concepts are all related in the helpful glossary definition of “indicative concepts and analysis”: “Reflective attention that simply points to immersed, factical experience on its own terms, without reducing it to expositional analysis or abstract categories” (283). Immersion is also defined in terms of “actual doing without reflective attention,” and is considered to be tacit or habitual. There is need, however, to consider the relation between attention and the tacit, for it is the essence of the explicit itself.

Hatab distinguishes between a variety of types of attention in particular circumstances, such as exposition as a more focused type of attention, which can range from ordinary attention to refined examination (29). He notes that objectification and reification take place by way of “a concentrated focus of demarcation” (236), considers patterns of infant attention (63), and talks about how learning to write involves “piecemeal attention” to the different words (202). Notions of focal concepts and meanings are also quite prevalent, such as the focal meanings of proto-concepts in which words make sense in usage rather than formal classification (112), and how children learn by way of focal indications that guide and shape ecstatic performance in meaningful circumstances. In distinguishing between speech and writing he notes how alphabetic script focuses attention on words as sonic units, which enables an expositional focus (164), and how vision enables sustained attention and a pinpoint focus, whereas sound is less focal when engaged (165), all of which has implications for the sort of worlds that emerge from such media. These deployments of attention suggest an essential role in engaging the factical worlds in which we dwell, and indeed it would appear to be intimately related to the notion of dwelling itself.

One way to conceive the general relation between attention and language would be in terms of the foreground-background distinction, where attention is how we are centered at the foreground of worldly engagement. Proto-phenomenology is conceived as attending to the factical background of reflective thinking (30), and such philosophical activity itself operates at the foreground in many forms, as has just been indicated. A broader phenomenological approach would therefore include the interaction between foreground and background, or between attention and the tacit/habitual. As noted above, Hatab recognizes that as a philosopher he is engaged in an expositive practice, and thinking in terms of the foreground-background distinction would be helpful in sorting out some of the dichotomies that are present in the text, such as immersion-exposition and habit-reflection, which are subject to the foreground-background distinction that operates in the lifeworld.

For instance, Hatab frequently points to the primacy of the lived world in terms of the habitual practices that always function in human engagement, but are often overlooked in philosophical analysis. He discusses background understanding (“intimation”) versus focused cognition (31), and says that immersion is non-reflexive performance without directed attention (17). He notes the dichotomy between reflective attention and skilled activity (16), and indeed when attention is diverted from its tasks performance will suffer, as in the case of Chuck Knoblauch’s famous throwing problems. Hatab also says that habits function without explicit attention (82), and that there is no reflective attention to components of speech when talking (36), but this does not mean that attention is inessential in the course of such engagement. For instance, chess players are often considered as examples of experts who rely on habitual skills in the course of activity, but a cursory look will show that they are extraordinarily attentive to patterns that appear on the board, and go through intensive thought processes in the course of their games. Speed chess is often cited as a case where there would appear to be little room for reflective engagement, but this ignores the powers of pattern recognition that apply under those conditions, which call for intensely focused attention.

Thinking of the movement of attention in terms of the foreground-background distinction enables dynamic shifts of context to come to the fore. Hatab provides an example in an extraordinary elaboration of the dimensions of factical existence that come into play in bringing about an orchestra performance, which includes a “mix of factical, practical, individual, social, environmental, temporal, historical, objective, factual, evaluative, and experiential elements” that proto-phenomenology incorporates in philosophical inquiry, and “hermeneutical shifts of perspective directly intimated by participants as contextually relevant in the foreground and background of a musical performance” (268). Hatab indicates elsewhere that disturbance turns attention (16), and that contravention draws attention to specific aspects of engaged activity that were in the background (37), both of which suggest that it was operative somewhere else. The implication is that attention is essential in the functioning of the lived world and must be recognized as such.

Thus we see that language plays a large role in the direction of attention and in the form that it takes in articulating the shape of engagement, but it must be recognized that it does not have to be passive in this regard. Indeed, Husserl notes the freedom of attention to move across intentional fields, which is essential for phenomenological exploration of the lived world. The joints of the world are not given in advance, but await upon the interplay of attention and language in order to make their appearance. Hatab notes a bidirectional relation between immersion and exposition in the course of establishing second nature capacities (37), but I would argue that the relation between attention and language is more general than this. For attention is the site of disclosure that comes about in conjunction with the action of language. Indeed, disclosure must be for someone, and attention is how the self is made manifest, or so I would argue (e.g., L. Berger, “Attention as the Way to Being,” Gatherings: The Heidegger Circle Annual (2020) 10:111-156).[1] Instead of immersion-contravention-exposition we have the deliverances/disclosures of attention which disturb the prevailing understanding and its associated terms. These are revised accordingly and attention is redirected as a result. Attention and language are thus world disclosive in intricate relation to one another, which determines how disclosure occurs in general as well as exposition, reflection, and all other types engaged activity.

Hatab distinguishes between engaged immersion and disengaged exposition, but the question arises as to when reflection in general is disengaged. Indeed, Hatab discusses some forms of reflection which are not, such as the sort that can occur in writing. He also discusses the notion of “dwelling on,” which would suggest such a mode of reflection in volume I (107): “In the midst of human dwelling, philosophy can help us dwell on things more carefully, attentively, and perspicuously.” Dwelling on is thus a form of attentiveness, which can be characterized as phenomenological reflection without the assumption of transcendental structures. Thus attentiveness in the course of immersed activity can enable an immanent sort of reflexivity, the benefits of which are sidelined in the digital age (270). Disengagement will now be a matter of the lack of a certain kind of attentiveness, not simply exposition or reflection, for these can proceed with an accompanying cognizance of one’s embodied presence in the world. Instead, instances of thoughtless absorption and philosophical alienation (Vol I, 78) will be associated with disengagement from immersion in the lived world, in what is a more nuanced conception.

Any work that examines a vast empirical literature from a phenomenological and ecological point of view is bound to rely on notions of attention, which in the present case has unearthed a most intriguing relation between attention and language. This is just one direction that can be pursued out of such an important work. Thus in the two volumes of Dwelling in Speech, Lawrence Hatab has applied Heideggerian conceptions such as world disclosure and dwelling to a wide array of philosophical and empirical questions, thereby demonstrating the power of phenomenology to examine underlying metaphysical assumptions and recommend concrete research directions as a result. In particular, the notion of language as world disclosive is most powerful. We also see the richness of the lived world, which is what originally excited Heidegger about Husserl’s work. Hatab helps to bring that vision to fruition with this effort.


[1] Available at https://www.academia.edu/31329912/Attention_as_the_Way_to_Being.

Sofia Miguens (Ed.): The Logical Alien: Conant and his Critics

The Logical Alien: Conant and His Critics Book Cover The Logical Alien: Conant and His Critics
Sofia Miguens (Ed.)
Harvard University Press
2020
Hardback $59.95 • £47.95 • €54.00
1080

Reviewed by: Nicola Spinelli (King’s College London / Hertswood Academy)

This is the kind of book one hates to review. Not because it is bad; it is an excellent work, rich and profound and relevant at least to: the scholar of half a dozen areas in the history of philosophy (from medieval through early modern, modern, Kant, post-Kantian, to the early analytic philosophy), the philosopher of language, the metaphysician, the philosopher of logic, and the epistemologist. But it is complex – much more complex even than your average 1069-page philosophy collection. Perhaps this is to be expected: one way to think of The Logical Alien is as a commentary (on steroids) of James Conant’s 1991 “The Search for Logically Alien Thought: Descartes, Kant, Frege, and the Tractatus”, itself a long, seminal, profound and – dealing as it does with history and theory and some of the heavyweights of the last five hundred years of philosophy – multitasking paper.[1] The papers collected in the book are written for one third by different authors engaging with Conant’s 1991 paper, and for two thirds by Conant engaging with his former self and with each of the other contributors, occasionally with more than one at the same time. The parts of the book end up being so interconnected at so many levels, that it takes several readings just to find one’s way through it – never mind figuring out what to make of even one of the numerous debates involved or convey it to prospective readers with something resembling accuracy. Yet the book is as difficult to review as it is exhilarating to read. Once you get hooked up (and you do get hooked up), you won’t be finished for a long time.

The central question is taken from Frege and is simple enough: Is there such a thing as thought which is logical but whose logical laws are different from, and incompatible with, ours? Put this way, there would seem to be an equally simple answer: yes. Consider systems with different and incompatible rules of inference: in a classical setting, Excluded Middle and Full Double Negation are laws; in an intuitionistic setting, they aren’t – yet nobody from either camp seriously thinks that the other just isn’t thinking logically. After all, intuitionistic and classical logic are equiconsistent (a proposition is classically provable if and only if its double negation is intuitionistically provable). Of course there is a qualification to make in this case: some logical laws are in common. For example, Non-Contradiction – which in any case seems to be needed for concepts like ‘consistency’, ‘incompatibility’ and ‘disagreement’ to even make sense. What about, then, thought which shares none of our logical laws – not even Non-Contradiction? Conant’s original paper, and much of the discussion in the book, revolve around this insight: that since at least some of what we call logical laws are constitutive of thought as such, thought which does not conform to them is in fact not thought at all. In one form or another is attributed by Conant, past and present, to Frege, Wittgenstein and Putnam (or Putnam at some point of his career).

The insight – which we shall call the Insight – develops in interesting ways. Consider the following way of putting the central question: Are the laws of logic necessary? If the Insight is correct, then, one might say, they are. Not so – at least on the view Conant and his critics are interested in. Since what we call logical laws are constitutive of thought as such, logically alien thought is an impossibility. Discourse about it, then, is what Conant calls philosophical fiction (768).[2] The contrast is with empirical fiction. The latter invites us to contemplate a scenario which happens not to be the case, but which ‘falls within the realm of the possible’. The former invites us to contemplate something which is not even possible. So that in philosophical fiction we ‘only apparently grasp what it would be for [the scenario] to obtain: its possibility can only seemingly be grasped in thought’. But, the view concludes, if logically alien thought is philosophical fiction, then the project of establishing its possibility or impossibility is in fact a non-starter: for in order to affirm or deny that logically alien thought is possible, or even ask whether it is possible, we first need to grasp ‘it’ – the thought with content ‘logically alien thought’ – but that is exactly what we cannot do. Far from being able to answer the question, we seem to have no question to answer. It looked as though we had one; but it turns out we never did. It was a mock-question. Hence, for example and according to Conant (past and present), the austere – non-mystical – Wittgensteinian stance at the end of the Tractatus: the necessity of logic isn’t a question which logic cannot answer; it is a non-question. Hence, too, the Wittgensteinian idea that philosophy should be conceived of not as doctrine, not even as research, but as something called ‘elucidation’: the activity of recognising that some or all of what we take to be profound philosophical problems are in fact simply nonsense.

In the original 1991 paper, Conant follows the development of this line of thought – call it elucidativism about logic – from Descartes through Aquinas,  Leibniz, Kant, Frege, to Wittgenstein and Putnam. He does not defend elucidativism, but he clearly favours it. In the first part of The Logical Alien, his critics either follow up on 1991-Conant’s historical claims in the paper (which is included in the book), or take issue with theoretical claims, or both. The following is an overview of the contributions. A.W. Moore’s is about Descartes and what he ought to have thought about modality. In particular, whereas 1991-Conant claims that Descartes’ official view was that necessary truths (amongst which are the laws of logic) are contingently necessary, Moore argues that statements to that effect to be found in Descartes are aberrations rather than expressions of the official view. Matthew Boyle’s chapter is about Kant’s and Frege’s conceptions of logic and of the formal. Arata Hamawaki’s paper is about a distinction between Cartesian and Kantian skepticism. I have to say that, while the former contributions are excellent reads, I found this one rather difficult to follow and, despite the theme, somewhat underwhelming. Barry Stroud’s paper is the skeptical contribution: historically, doubts are cast on 1991-Conant’s reading of Frege; theoretically, issue is taken with the notion that necessary truths are apt to being explained. Peter Sullivan objects to 1991-Conant’s view of Frege, and argues that the latter is more Kantian than is usually thought. The contribution also contains a very good summary of the dialectic of the 1991 article (in case you struggle to follow it). Along with Moore’s, perhaps the best of the (mainly) historical contributions (to my taste). Martin Gustafsson and Jocelyn Benoist concentrate on post-tractarian Wittgenstein: the former to examine the relations between language use and rule-following, the latter to show how Wittgenstein’s treatment of private languge is an exercise in elucidation. Finally, Charles Travis’ chapter, the longest, discusses Frege, Wittgenstein and the heart of the elucidative enterprise. Undoubtedly the most important of the critical essays. I agree with many points he makes, and I will be saying something similar in the remainder of this review – but from a very different perspective. The second part of The Logical Alien consists of present-day Conant discussing both his 1991 paper and the critics’ contributions. I see no point in saying anything here, except that he (and probably the editor, Sophia Miguens) did an excellent job of making the Conant’s own chapters a single narrative rather than a collection of discrete replies.

Now, upon my first reading of the 1991 paper, and on every subsequent reread, and indeed as I was ploughing through the book, I thought it a shame that there was (virtually) no reference to the phenomenological tradition at all. This is not to say that there should have been: as far as I can tell, phenomenology has never been among Conant’s interests, and that this should be reflected in a book about his work is, after all, only natural. On the other hand, at least some of the debates in The Logical Alien might have benefited from a phenomenological voice; and others are relevant to discussions within the phenomenological tradition. And since I am writing this review for a journal called Phenomenological Reviews, I will allow myself to expand on the above and bring phenomenology into the melee.

I have already said what the central view at stake in the book is: that the question as to whether there can be logically alien thought is a non-question, because its formulation involves something akin to a cognitive illusion. The further question, however, is: Why is grasping a thought about an impossibility itself impossible? Why, in other words, should we buy the claim that in philosophical fiction, as Conant says, we only seem to grasp a thought but we really do not? Why is the thought that there may be logically alien thought, despite appearances, no thought at all?

The reason lies in the following view, endorsed at lest to some extent by Frege, embraced by tractarian Wittgenstein and assumed in Conant and his critics’ discussions: To grasp a thought is to grasp what the world must be like for the thought to be true and what the world must be like for the thought to be false.[3] A thought for which either of these things cannot be done is a thought for which, as Frege would put it, the question of truth does not genuinely arise. It is then not a thought but a mock-thought. This is the basis of Wittgenstein’s notion that tautologies and contradictions have no content: for we just cannot imagine what the world what have to be like for tautologies to be false or contradictions true. For all the depth and complexity of the debates which Conant’s 1991 paper has sparked, and which are well represented in The Logical Alien, if what we may call the Assumption falls it is hard to see how the rest might stand. For if grasping the content of a thought is decoupled from grasping its truth-(and-falsity-)conditions, or from even bringing truth into the picture, then even if philosophically-fictitious scenarios are impossible we can still grasp them – if only to deem them impossible. Thoughts about them are not mock-thoughts; or, if they are, they are so in a weaker sense than Conant seems to envisage – too weak for the work he wants mock-thoughts to do.

Conant is aware of this. In his reply to Stroud he highlights how the 1991 paper pinpoints a tension in Frege between 1) his elucidative treatment of the logical alien in the foreword to Grundgesetze, and 2) his commitment to the idea that tautologies and axioms are true.[4] If the Insight and the Assumption are true, then 1) and 2) are (or very much seem to be) incompatible. Conant suggests that the ‘deeper wisdom’ to be found in Frege, which is also the strand of Frege’s thought which Wittgenstein develops, is 1). The claim that axioms and tautologies, despite having negations which are absurd, are true is treated by Conant as stemming from Frege’s conception of content (thought) as ‘explanatorily prior’ to judgement. So that it is only if we think that the content of a judgement pre-exists the judgement that we can take judgements about impossible scenarios to have a content. Otherwise we would have to say: there is no judgement to be made here, and therefore there is no content.

I will not go into the minutiae – or even the nitty-gritty – of Fregean scholarship. But surely the move only pushes the problem a step further. Grant that judgeable content should not be thought of as explanatorily prior (whatever that means exactly) to judgement, the question is: Why buy the claim that we cannot judge about impossibilia – not even to say that they are impossibilia? If we can, there is judgement; and therefore there is content. Are there views on the market which do not take judgeable content as explanatorily prior to judgement, and according to which we can and do judge about impossibilia?

Husserl held just such a view throughout his career. There are several ways to see this. Begin with the Investigations. There, meanings are ideal objects (universals) instantiated by the act-matter of classes of meaning-intentions. The latter are intentional acts through which a subject intends, or refers to, an object. Their matter is, with some oversimplification, their content.[5] Notice that the content of a meaning-intention is not the meaning: without an act there is no content – though there is a (perhaps uninstantiated) meaning. So even in the early Husserl, despite his ostensible Platonism, it is not obvious that judgeable content is prior to, or even independent of, judgement. In the fourth Logical Investigation, a distinction is made between nonsensical (Unsinnig) and absurd (Widersinnig) meanings. A nonsensical meaning is a non-meaning: an illegal combination of simpler meanings (illegal, that is, with respect to a certain set of a priori laws). A syntactical analogue would be a non-well-formed string of symbols: ‘But or home’. So, when it comes to nonsensical meanings, there just is no content (no act-matter). An absurd meaning, by contrast, is a (formally or materially) contradictory one: ‘Round square’. In this case there are both a meaning and an act matter; it’s just that to intentional acts whose matter or content instantiates the absurd meaning there cannot correspond an intuition – intuition being the sort of experience which acquaint us with objects: perception, memory, imagination. So we cannot see or remember or imagine round squares, but we can think about them, wonder whether they exist, explain why they cannot exist, and so on. Moreover, the very impossibility of intuitively fulfilling an absurd meaning-intention is, in Husserl, itself intuitively constituted and attested: attempting to intuit the absurd meaning leads to what Husserl calls a synthesis of conflict.

Say, then, that whilst engaging in philosophical fiction we try to make sense of logically alien thought, and we fail. This failure consists, in Husserlian phenomenology, in the arising of a conflict in our intuition, as a consequence of which we deem the scenario impossible. In the Husserlian framework this failure does not entail that there was never any thinking taking place with the content ‘logically alien thought’: it was ‘merely signitive’ thinking – thinking to which, a priori, no intuition can correspond – but contentful thinking nonetheless. We cannot intuit the impossible, but we can think about it.

So in Husserl the impossibility – the philosophical-fictitiousness – of logically alien thought does not entail that, when we think of logically alien thought, we only seem to do so. When we think of logically alien thought, we actually do think about logically alien thought; and one of the things we reckon when we think about logically alien thought is that it is impossible. All of this, notice, without appealing to the explanatory priority of judgeable content over judgement – which is what Conant finds disagreeable in Frege. Husserl, then, seems to be in a position to agree with Conant that judgeable content doesn’t come before judgement, and yet disagree with Conant that there is any wisdom whatever in Frege’s elucidative treatment of the logical alien.

All this is reflected in Husserl’s view of logic. From the Investigations throughout his career, Husserl maintained that logic comes in layers. In the official systematisation (Formal and Transcendental Logic, §§ 12-20) these are: 1) the theory of the pure form of judgements; 2) the logic of non-contradiction; 3) truth-logic. The first of the three is what in the fourth Investigation was called ‘grammar of pure logic’, and its job is to sort the meaningless – combinations of meaning which do not yield a new meaning – from the meaningful. It is the job of the logic of non-contradiction to sort, within the realm of the meaningful, the absurd meanings from the non-absurd. It is debatable whether truth is operative in this second layer of logic; I understand Husserl as denying that it is. But in any case, truth is not operative in the first layer. When Conant and his critics discuss the laws of logic, they take them to be such that, first, they are constitutive of thought, and second, truth plays a crucial role in them; and they take thoughts which misbehave with respect to truth, such as tautologies and contradictions, not to be thoughts at all (giving rise to tension in Frege). From a Husserlian perspective, what makes a thought a thought is not the laws of truth, but the laws of the grammar of meanings. Truth has nothing to do with it – nor, as a consequence, with what it is to be a thought.

The second part of Conant’s reply to Stroud (roughly, from p. 819 onwards) connects the above to another phenomenologically relevant strand of The Logical Alien: Kant and the project of a transcendental philosophy. The starting point is the difference between Frege’s approach on the one hand, and Kant’s and Wittgenstein’s on the other. The issue is, again, the central one of the relations between thoughts and judgements. Conant’s aim is to show that Frege can conceive of thought as separate from judgement – of content as distinct from the recognition of the truth of content – only by committing himself to the following conjunctive account: whenever an agent S judges that p, a) S thinks that p, and b) S recognises that p is true. These are two distinct acts on the part of S. This is contrasted with Kant’s (and, later on, Wittgenstein’s) disjunctive approach: there is a fundamental case of judgement in which S simply judges that p; and there are derived cases, different in kind from the former, in which S entertains the thought that p without recognising its truth – for example, in what Kant calls problematic judgements (‘Possibly, p’). Conant does not seem to provide a reason why we should be disjunctivists rather than conjunctivists – other than the claim that conjunctivism is at odds with the wider Kantian transcendental project. The implication being that if one buys into the latter at all, then one ought to be a Kantian rather than a Fregean when it comes to the relations between content and judgement.

What is, for Conant, Kant’s transcendental project? This is spelled out in the excellent reply to Hamawaki and Stroud.[6] To be a Kantian is first of all to put forward transcendental arguments. According to Conant, a transcendental argument is something close to an elucidative treatment of what he calls Kantian Skepticism: the worry, not that the external world may not be as experienced or not exist all, but that we may not be able to ‘make sense of the idea that our experience is so much as able to afford us with the sort of content that is able to present the world as seeming to be a certain way’ (762). Kant’s way to resolve the worry is to show that the scenario in which our experience is not able to present the world at all is philosophical fiction: if we probe the Kantian-skeptical worry enough, we find it unintelligible.

I don’t believe Conant reads Kant as endorsing elucidativism – that is, I don’t believe Conant reads Kant as making the final step: if the scenario in which experience does not present us with a world is unintelligible, then so is the scenario in which it does. But he does say that this ‘is arguably the closest Kant ever comes to an extended philosophical engagement with something approximating the question of the intelligibility of the idea of a form of cognition that is logically alien to ours’ (772). If one is a transcendentalist, in any case, one has to put forward transcendental arguments; and if Conant is right in his reading of what a (Kantian) transcendental argument is, then a transcendentalist needs to be in a position to reason from the unintelligibility of a scenario to the unintelligibility of the question as to whether the scenario is possible. But to do so – recall the (alleged) tension between Fregean conjunctivism and the Kantian project – a transcendentalist ought to avoid seriously distinguishing between content and judgement.

Another strand of Conant’s discussion of Kant, and at some level a consequence of the nature of transcendental arguments as described above, is the recognition that any account of our cognitive capacity must be given from within the exercise of our cognitive capacity – so that no account of the latter can be given in non-cognitive terms. Conant calls this ‘the truth in idealism’ (776). And this is what, for Conant, ultimately is to be a Kantian: to pursuse a philosophical project in the light of the truth in idealism. Needless to say, Wittgenstein counts as a Kantian par excellence; and so does the elucidativist half of Frege.

The phenomenologically alert reader will not have missed the fact that the truth in idealism is in fact a central tenet of Husserl’s post-Investigations philosophy. Suffice it to quote the title of Section 104 of Formal and Transcendental Logic: “Transcendental phenomenology as self-explication on the part of transcendental subjectivity”. I am less sure about Conant’s reading of transcendental arguments: granted that they do involve the recognition of the unintelligibility of skeptical scenarios, it is unclear why that should not simply be thought of as some sort of reductio ad absurdum, or perhaps of a quasi-aristotelian elenchos, rather than as something pointing to elucidation. Be that as it may, Husserl’s mature philosophy is a view in which the truth in idealism is preserved and in which, however, elucidativism is avoided – because even in the mature Husserl absurd thoughts are contentful.

Consider the relation between content and judgement. In the mature Husserl the interdependence of content and the mental is reasserted and strengthened with the notion of meaning as noema, introduced alongside the old Platonistic one in the 1908 Lectures on the Theory of Meaning, and center-stage in the first volume of Ideas in 1913. The main difference here is that the noema, one of whose component is intentional content, exists only insofar as the relevant mental act – in our case, the relevant thinking episode – does. As to the relations of noema and judgement, Husserl does think that it is possible to thematise a propositional content without judging that it is true. Yet this is claimed within a broader story – genetic phenomenology – of how more sophisticated intentional performances, together with their productions (including propositional contents), arise from more fundamental ones. The chief text here is Experience and Judgement. So Husserl could be said to hold something like what Conant calls the disjunctive account: the act of merely entertaining a thought is derivative of the act of straightforwardly judging. But this is not to say that one cannot merely entertain a thought! It simply means that we would not be able to mereley entertain thoughts if we were not able to straightforwardly judge. Indeed, for Husserl the existence of a noema such as, say, ‘ABCD is a round square’, while dependent on the relevant meaning-intention, is independent of the possibility of there being round squares at all. We can and do entertain the thought whether round squares exist, ask ourselves whether they do, and judge that they don’t. (The simplicity of the example might lead to error: it might appear as though, in this case, phenomenologically or introspectively, there were no distinction between entertaining and judging, for it is immediately clear that there are no round squares. All you have to do is try with more covert absurdities; to take a pertinent example, Frege’s very own Basic Law V.)

It really does seem to be a phenomenological fact that content and judgement are distinct. As the Husserlian case shows, one can maintain that that is so while still allowing the distinction to be derived rather than fundamental. Not only this: one can maintain the distinction, thereby blocking elucidativism, and still subscribe to the truth in idealism and be counted as a Kantian by Conant’s own standards. Or so, at any rate, it seems.

So being a Husserlian may be one way of being a Kantian without being an elucidativist. I hope it is and I hope there are others. Elucidativism usually divides people into three categories: those who buy it, those who don’t, and those who dismiss it as empty gobbledegook. I don’t dismiss it – but I don’t buy it either. For example, the argument for it discussed, and indeed put forward, by Conant seems to me to prove too much. This is a point Stroud makes in his contribution.[7]  In the reply, Conant is, I think, too concerned to show Stroud’s (alleged) misunderstandings to take his commonsense worries seriously. Regardless of that dialectic, consider any proof by contradiction in mathematics: we set up a proposition, we show that the proposition is inconsistent (either with itself or with other assumptions), we conclude that the negation of the proposition is true. If the elucidativist is right, the latter step is unwarranted: if a proposition turns out to be nonsense (which it does, being a proposition about an impossible scenario) then its denial is also nonsensical. So, if the view is correct, a large part of mathematics either is merely a cognitive illusion or, at best, is an exercise in elucidation. And yet the proposition, say, that there are infinitely many primes – whose negation is absurd in the same sense in which logically alien thought is – seems to be a perfectly legitimate proposition. So does the question whether there is a greatest prime, even though, it turns out, it makes no sense to suppose that there is. For some of us, intuitions in this respect are just too strong. In comparison, the elucidativist manoeuvre really seems sleight of hand of sorts.

Of course, even we must bow to argument. And in any case, since the stakes could not be higher, high-quality discussion is always welcome. The Logical Alien provides plenty – as I said, enough to go on for a long time. That is one reason to recommend the book – eve if, like me, you are not in the elucidativist camp. Another reason, relevant to the phenomenologically-minded reader, is that there seems to me to be a family resemblance, however faint, between elucidativism and certain strands of the phenomenological tradition broadly construed: Deleuze’s operation in Logic of Sense, Derrida with his différance, Sartre’s manoeuvres in Critique of Dialectical Reason. The Logical Alien might add something meaningful to those discussions, too.


[1]     J. Conant. 1991. “The Search for Logically Alien Thought: Descartes, Kant, Frege, and the TractatusPhilosophical Topics 20 (1): 115-180.

[2]     Part II, Section X, “Reply to Hamawaki and Stroud on Transcendental Arguments, Idealism, and the Kantian Solution of the Problem of Philosophy”: 758-782. Arabic numerals in parentheses in the main text refer to pages in The Logical Alien.

[3]     I say ‘assumed’, but it is in fact at the heart of Travis’ piece. Sullivan discusses it, too.

[4]     Part II, Section XI, “Reply to Stroud on Kant and Frege”: 783-829.

[5]     For an excellent overview of Husserl’s philosphy of language and its development, see Simons 1995.

[6]     Part II, Section X: “Reply to Hamawaki and Stroud on Transcendental Arguments, Idealism, and the Kantian Solution to the Problem of Philosophy”: 758-782.

[7]     Part I, “Logical Aliens and the ‘Ground’ of Logical Necessity”: 170-182.

John Sallis: Chorology: On Beginning in Plato’s Timaeus

Chorology: On Beginning in Plato's Timaeus Book Cover Chorology: On Beginning in Plato's Timaeus
John Sallis
Indiana University Press
2020
Paperback
192

Reviewed by: Colin C. Smith (University of Colorado--Boulder)

The first installment of the eleven-volume Collected Writings of John Sallis series from Indiana University Press is a new edition of Sallis’s watershed Chorology: On Beginning in Plato’s Timaeus. First published in 1999, the book is now well known among scholars of Plato, phenomenology, and the history of philosophy broadly. In it, Sallis offers a reading of Plato’s influential Timaeus dialogue centering around the chōra, that elusive ‘third kind’ (triton genos) that receptively mediates between being and becoming, is apprehendable only by a kind of ‘bastard reasoning,’ and always appears without ever showing itself.  The Greek word ‘chōra’ has a broad semantic range that entails notions of place and political space (compare ‘territory,’) but Sallis finds in its role in this dialogue a new and far-reaching metaphysical principle or anti-principle, a kind of ‘being beyond being’ that marks the limit of metaphysics. More than a mere Plato commentary, Sallis’s book is thus an attempt to recover lost insights into the history of metaphysics and accounts of the limits of human rationality.

What follows in this review is a discussion of Sallis’s reading and its value both to Plato studies and phenomenology. Those interested specifically in details surrounding this new volume—which, aside from its outer packaging and minor front matter, is strictly a reprinting and not an expanded edition—should skip ahead to the final paragraph of the review.

Beginning especially with the landmark Being and Logos in 1975, Sallis’s work has offered new directions for Plato research. Up until this time, there were two main interpretations of Plato developing within Anglo-American scholarship. The first was a Plato taken to be philosophically juvenile and fundamentally mistaken by the analytic philosophers. Although these readers demonstrated that then-recent developments in analytic philosophy could serve as profoundly valuable resources for unpacking the ancient texts, the understanding that emerged from this analysis was largely dismissive of the philosophical viability of Plato’s thinking. Perhaps best represented by the critical interpretations of Gregory Vlastos beginning in the 1940s, these commentators understood Plato’s dialogues to express nascent ethical and metaphysical arguments characterized by thickets of confusion that must be untangled and corrected by enlightened modern commentators.

The second was the conservative esotericist Plato of the Straussians. According to those who developed this interpretation, Plato had littered his dialogues with clues leading to a political agenda that must be untangled in a different sense, that is, through interpretive engagement with that lying just below the surface of the text in dramatic details, mythical allusions, and underdeveloped philosophical threads that point to a kind of political critique relevant both to ancient Athens and us today. In short, the analytic Plato required correction while the Straussian Plato was to correct us.

By contrast, Sallis’s Plato is a distinctly ancient Greek anticipation of the philosophical interests of continental philosophers like Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, Derrida, and Gadamer. For Sallis, reading Plato entails tracing a self-showing (phainesthai) of the truth (alētheia) as it makes itself manifest through the movement of the text. Similarly to the Straussians, Sallis’s key interpretative method for developing this conception of Plato is slow and careful reading, attending to the dramatic and implicit content of the dialogues as closely as the more explicitly “philosophical” stretches.  Sallis furthermore challenges and rejects many of the familiar and reigning 20th century interpretations of Plato, including that Plato wrote his dialogues in a “developmental” order that could be discovered by us or that Plato held “doctrines” of things like recollection that are spoken in the dialogues by the “mouthpiece” Socrates in some kind of straightforward manner. Indeed, one of Sallis’s aims in Chorology is to undermine the charge of simple metaphysical dualism through which readers have long understood Plato and his so-called and oft-misunderstood “doctrine of forms” by pointing to the chōra as a third kind that dissolves the very notion of the binary.

This reading served as a paradigm changer for continentally oriented philosophers interested in Plato, as the dialogues thus understood are full of philosophical riches discoverable by close and careful reading that, far from being thickets of confusion, in fact have much to offer us in our own time. But unlike him of the Straussians, Sallis’s Plato offers a programmatic for grasping the nature of the things themselves through noetic analysis that is necessarily bound up with a critique of the limits of human inquiry in general.   In short, on Sallis’s view, Plato teaches us that things show themselves to us through their look, but that this look is always partial, pointing beyond itself to that which continues to lie hidden.

Sallis’s interpretation of Plato might arguably find its fullest realization here in his monograph on Plato’s Timaeus, the riches of which demonstrate the value of this kind of orientation. In the Timaeus, we find Socrates regrouping with the old Critias, accomplished general Hermocrates, and wise Timaeus on a day following a discussion of a well-ordered polis that seems strikingly similar to that of the Republic. After short discourses on yesterday’s findings by Socrates (Tim. 17a-19b) and a mythical archaic city from Critias (Tim. 20c-27d), the bulk of the dialogue (Tim. 27d-92c) comprises Timaeus’ extended discussion of the origin and composition of the cosmos. The influence of the Timaeus in the history of philosophy is difficult to overstate, given this dialogue’s import in antiquity and the middle ages, impact on Enlightenment-era mathematics and physics, and profound influence on subsequent Platonisms, Christianity, German Idealism, and the metaphysical tradition broadly. (Sallis offers a summary of this influence at pg. 2-3, including fn. 2, and a critical engagement with it throughout the concluding Chapter 5.) The central notion of the chōra has, furthermore, been the site of serious interest from continental philosophers like Heidegger, Derrida, and Kristeva. Sallis’s reading of the dialogue thus represents an intersection of important themes taken from throughout the history of Western philosophy.

Sallis finds the chōra at the conceptual center of the dialogue, and his discussion of the chōra sits at the center of Chorology in its third of five chapters, which are augmented by a prologue, brief Greek lexicon, and indexHe begins in the prologue with a consideration of the Timaeus’ history of transmission and some reflections on interpretive principles.  In fact, the notions of beginning and its difficulties will be among several that Sallis traces in the book, a group that also includes the themes of the city, the relationship between production and procreation, the tensions between nous (meaning ‘intelligence,’ ‘understanding,’ and ‘mind’ in the sense of ‘knowing’) and necessity, and the mathematical triad.

Chapter 1, ‘Remembrance of the City,’ thus appropriately is not the beginning, which indicates the sense in which a ‘beginning’ is, for Sallis, always both a continuation and a rupture.  Using this as an interpretive principle, Sallis will find the problem of beginning thematized throughout his reading of the Timaeus.  He argues that the text is inscribed and reinscribed with new beginnings, each drawing out while also decisively cutting away from what came previously.  In the case of the Timaeus’ beginning, Sallis focuses on Socrates’ opening count, “One, two, three…” (Tim. 17a), as the first of many appearances of the triad that will reappear throughout. Among other reasons, the triad is significant here as an enactment of tripartite structure that will characterize many stretches of the text, such as the three speeches (i.e., those of Socrates, Critias, and Timaeus), the three major phases of Timaeus’ speech (those tracing nous [Tim. 29d-47e], necessity [Tim. 47e-69a], and their blend [Tim. 69a-92c]), and the very theme of blending itself at play in several threefold distinctions, e.g., that among being, becoming, and the mix of these in which the chōra will first be addressed explicitly.

Later in Chapter 1, Sallis considers Socrates’ remembrance at the Timaeus’ outset of the ‘eidetic city’ that closely but not entirely resembles the well-known Kallipolis of the Republic (Tim. 17a-19b, pgs. 12-35). Sallis cannot resolve the controversy surrounding the relationship between Socrates’ cities-in-speech (logos) in the Republic and Timaeus (though pgs. 15-19 and 21-30 contain some provocative suggestions), but nevertheless uses the occasion to reflect on Socrates’ act of production of speech to reflect on the difficult but crucial relationships among central concepts like artistry (technē), production (poiēsis), and nature (phusis).  Through the course of the text, Sallis will ultimately argue that the Timaeus occasions a shift in our understanding of nature from the model of production to that of procreation.  The chapter also includes the first of many discussions of the significance of the chōra, with reflections on its difficult semantic range that always, according to Sallis’s insistence here, indicates that which is “posed at the margin of what can be fabricated, marking the limit of controlled production” (pg. 19; see also fn. 16 for development of the point).  The chapter also includes a thorough consideration of the dialogue’s dramatic elements and characters, as well as a discussion of Critias’ story of the archaic city (Tim. 20c-27d, pgs. 36-45), that sets the stage for Timaeus’ extended discourse.

In Chapter Two, Sallis turns his attention to Timaeus’ speech concerning the ‘Production of the Cosmos’ (Tim. 27d-47e) from which the chapter receives its name.  Timaeus’ speech begins with a prelude (Tim. 27d-29d, covered in pgs. 46-56), and Sallis discusses key notions found therein such as ‘that which always is’ (ti to on aei, pg. 47), the tension between nous and necessity (anankēs, esp. pg. 50), the well-known crafter (demiourgos) of the cosmos that Timaeus identifies throughout in scant detail (pg. 50), and the eidos typically understood to relate to Plato’s theory of forms (which Sallis addresses critically at pgs. 48-49 and 50-51).  Commentators on the Timaeus must make sense of Timaeus’ repeated assertions that his account is merely a “likely story” (eikōs muthos or eikōs logos, Tim. 29b ff.), and while Sallis does not thematize the point as much as some, he discusses it with reference to the relationships between being, becoming, truth, and belief (pg. 54-56).

This leads, finally, to the beginning of Timaeus’ discourse (Tim. 29d ff.), and Sallis notes that Timaeus begins with the goodness of the crafter before reflecting on the important notion of nous, which guides Timaeus in his first account.  Timaeus describes the cosmos with the image of a living being, made wisely with an eye to the paradigm of that being that always is and the ‘fairest’ of ‘mediating bonds’ (pgs. 60-61) and precise mathematical ratios (which Sallis unpacks through several geometric diagrams: pgs. 61, 71-72).  Sallis offers extended discussion of the controversy surrounding the proper interpretation of the passage concerning the production of soul (esp. Tim. 34b-37c), an ambiguous stretch of text yielding competing interpretations from early Academic philosophers to Nietzsche and 20th century commentators (pgs. 65-70).  Among the competing interpretations, in each instance what is at issue is an account of blending, i.e., of the mediation of two opposites by a third acting as a principle of mixture, as in (taking the example of the third interpretation) the blending of (1) being and (2) the generated that results in (3) their mixture.  Sallis takes these to be decisive in the development of the text as a ‘chorology,’ indicating as they do a kind of “double bind,” for “to preserve the distinction between selfsame being and the generated, there must be duplication of being; and yet, duplication of being has the effect of violating the very sense of selfsame being, its determination as such, thus eroding the very distinction that was preserved;” this calls for a ‘third’ outside of being and the generated that comes from “outside the twofold in a manner that disrupts it abysmally” (pg. 70).  In addition to this consideration of the preparation for the chōra, the chapter also includes discussion of key concepts in this stretch of the Timaeus like time (Tim. 37c-39e, pgs. 73 and 77-85, with Sallis here heavily engaging with the work of Rémi Brague), and the genealogy of gods and mortals leading to an account of causes and the embodied (Tim. 39e-47e, pg. 85-90).

In Chapter 3, Sallis turns attention to the central and titular notion of ‘The Chōra.’ The chōra arises at the point in which Timaeus breaks his discourse off from the works of nous and begins to address those of necessity (Tim. 47e ff.)  Sallis therefore understands the chōra with close reference to necessity in the senses both of ‘wandering’ and ‘errancy’ that are introduced precisely when Timaeus must account for the material conditions of the cosmos (pgs. 91-98).  Sallis discusses at length problems with the traditional understanding of the chōra and the textual ambiguities of these passages (pgs. 98-104).  He ties in these problems and ambiguities closely to Timaeus’ identification of the ‘difficulty’ and ‘danger’ (chalepon) of bringing this third kind to discourse, and the numerous (and occasionally contradictory) names and images that Timaeus uses to attempt to capture this fugitive third kind.  These include the gold, the matrix, the wax, and the perfume liquid that receive shape or scent while all the while remaining self-same and never fully taking on the received form (Tim. 48e-53b, pgs. 107-109).  These images have led readers beginning with Aristotle, and falsely on Sallis’s view, to associate the chōra with matter (hulē; see Chapter 5 discussion below).  Sallis further considers the shift in emphasis from production to procreation in the text when Timaeus begins to describe the third kind with reference to nature (phusis) and the “in-which” (en hō[i]) and “from-which” (to hothen) that which is generated is begotten (Tim. 49a-50b, pg. 109).  This set of images has led readers, again falsely on Sallis’s view, to associate the chōra with place (topos, also addressed in the Chapter 5 discussion below).  Instead of understandings rooted in matter or place, we should on Sallis’s reading understand the third kind with closer reference to pure receptivity that, so far as we can think of it at all, possesses a double character: it entails both the nurturing mother (mētēr, 50d and 51a) and that which always appears but never as itself and flees precisely as nous approaches it (pgs. 109-113).  This dual character of nurturer and fugitive is central in Sallis’s account and the perplexity of the chōra to which Sallis draws attention.

These considerations, finally, allow Sallis to begin the chorology (pgs. 113-124).  In the last section of the third chapter, he addresses Timaeus’ explicit discussion of the chōra directly.  This “kind beyond kind,” or “being beyond being” (pg. 113), derives its final and best-known name from this difficult-to-translate word, chōra (used explicitly at 52b1 and 52d3). He uses this occasion again to address its difficulty with regard to its uses elsewhere in Plato, and especially the Laws, Sophist, and Republic (pgs. 113-118).  Sallis summarizes that

The chōra is said to be everlasting, perpetual, always (aei), not admitting destruction, that is, ruin, corruption, passing away (phthora).  This corresponds to its being rigorously distinguished from the generated: it is that in which that which is generated comes to be and from which that which is destroyed passes away, departs.  It is presupposed by all generation and destruction and thus is not itself subject to generation and destruction” (pg. 119).

While Timaeus has given us several images (e.g., gold) through which the chōra can be partially disclosed, Sallis argues that we must now imagine the chōra as the very grounds through which images are imaged, or that which receives the images and, through itself, allows the images to show themselves.  The strangeness and wonder that such showing occasions is, for Sallis, the central issue of the dialogue.

In Chapter 4, ‘Traces of the Chōra,’ Sallis focuses mainly on the theme of the third kind and the mathematical triad as it reappears throughout the remainder of the dialogue (Tim. 52d-92c).  These include some reflections on several perplexing aspects of Timaeus’ account, including the triangle as the most basic unit of materiality (Tim. 53b ff.) and the relationship of the four material elements of earth, fire, air, and water (Tim. 55d ff., pgs. 128-130).  While Sallis does not address in much detail the lengthy third discourse on the blended with which the dialogue concludes (Tim. 69a-92c), he does challenge Aristotle’s complaint that Timaeus loses sight of the chōra (On Generation and Corruption 329a; pg. 131) by tracing some senses in which it remains at play in the discourse (pgs. 132-136).  Sallis furthermore offers some reflections on Timaeus’ third account with an eye to the roles of comedy, sex, and gender that mark this stretch of the dialogue as a kind of “downward discourse” (pgs. 136-138).  Chapter 4 concludes with Sallis’s consideration of the political frame of the dialogue that had begun with an account of the well-ordered city through comparative discussions of Republic Book 2 (pgs. 138-143) and the fragmentary Critias dialogue that follows the Timaeus dramatically (pgs. 143-145).

Finally, in Chapter 5 Sallis considers the ‘Reinscriptions’ of the dialogue in some of its many significant contexts in the subsequent history of philosophy.  Here he is most interested in tracing the forgetting of what he takes to be the originary sense of the chōra and its displacement through understandings rooted in notions of matter (hulē) and space (topos).  He discusses the view in antiquity that Plato had forged the dialogue (pg. 147) and the actual forgery, On the Nature of the Cosmos and the Soul, falsely attributed to a Timaeus of Locri and taken to be genuine by many Neoplatonists though almost surely written several centuries after Plato’s death (pgs. 148-149).  Sallis argues that this true forgery is one of many subsequent interpretations of the chōra that misses Plato’s most profound insights, and critically addresses the history of misunderstanding the chōra by overcommitting it to notions related to matter and space through Plutarch, Plotinus, and Aristotle (pgs. 150-154), footnoting related points concerning the interpretations of Irigaray (pg. 151 fn. 9) and Heidegger (pg. 154 fn. 12) along the way.  After a brief discussion of Kant (pgs. 154-155), the remainder of the chapter (pgs. 155-167) comprises an extended consideration of Schelling’s reception of the Timaeus and particularly the chōra.  Sallis finds in Schelling the tracing of his own understanding of the chōra, albeit one that begins to be conflated with the notion of matter as Schelling’s thinking develops.  Sallis addresses the role of the chōra in Schelling’s transcendental schematism, its appearance in Schelling’s notebooks, and the shifting understanding of it between Schelling’s own Timaeus commentary (c. 1794) and Darstellung meines Systems der Philosophie (1801).  Sallis identifies a tension that develops in Schelling’s understanding of the chōra between the mere notion of matter and an “irrational principle that resists the understanding, or unity and order” (pg. 164).  Sallis interprets this both as a reawakening of tension between nous and necessity developed in the Timaeus and that which points beyond this distinction to what underlies it and remains hidden.

The depth and power of Sallis’s interpretation of the Timaeus clearly indicate the value of this approach to reading Plato.  I do stop short of suggesting that this ‘third kind’ of Plato reading has entirely mediated between the analytics and the Straussians in precisely the manner in which the chōra mediates between being and becoming.  (To be sure, Sallis certainly never suggests that this is the goal, though his pluralistic bibliography might point in this direction.)  If nothing else, it surely indicates an important set of philosophical issues that lies buried beneath the now-traditional divide in 20th century Plato scholarship and philosophy more broadly.

Furthermore, in the time since Sallis’s work began, readings like this ‘third kind’ have helped to blur the distinction altogether.  No longer can commentators from one tradition ignore the others, and those (for example) working on Plato from within the analytic tradition must consider Sallis’s contributions in Chorology to several 20th century analytic discussions.  This is perhaps most notable in his contributions to the ‘this’-‘such’ interpretive debate concerning Tim. 49c7-50a4 (pgs. 101-108), a storied debate among Timaeus commentators since the 1950s to which Sallis has some valuable insights on offer.

And of course, those looking for contemporary continental insights in an ancient register will be served well by this encounter with the chōra. Readers will recognize a set of Derridean insights underlying Sallis’s reading of Platonic metaphysics, and indeed ones that exceed the explicit connections that Derrida himself recognized in his own discussion of the chōra. (Sallis engages directly with Derrida, in terms both related and unrelated to Derrida’s own chorology, in several footnotes: pgs. 99 fn. 8, 111 fns. 21 and 22, and 113-114 fn. 23.)  And while Sallis counts Heidegger among those who have misunderstood the meaning of chōra in their own work (see pg. 154 fn. 12), he finds in Plato many anticipations of Heideggerian themes, such as the sense of truth as a kind of unconcealment of that which lies hidden that Heidegger develops at length.

Perhaps most of all, Chorology is of note to those interested in the account of the ‘end of metaphysics’ developed in 20th century continental philosophy.  The chōra, perhaps ultimately, marks the limit of the knowing of being in Sallis’s interpretation.  Sallis speaks to this directly as follows:

If one were to take metaphysics to be constituted precisely by the governance of the twofold, then the chorology could be said to bring both the founding of metaphysics and its displacement, both at once. Originating metaphysics would have been exposing it to the abyss, to the abysmal chōra, which is both origin and abyss, both at the same time. Then one could say—with the requisite reservations—that the beginning of metaphysics will have been already the end of metaphysics (pg. 123).

In other words, while many have taken Plato to be an originator of metaphysical dualism through simplistic readings of the so-called “doctrine of forms,” Sallis aims to show that Plato ends the metaphysical project already at its inception by pointing to the chōra, that ‘being beyond being’ that indicates the limit of nous, here in the Timaeus.  The chōra then replaces the traditional notions of dogmatic metaphysical rationalism with a principle of radical errancy, one possessing the double-character of mother and fugitive, and one in force “as hindering, diverting, leading astray the work of nous, as installing indeterminacy into what nous would otherwise render determinate” (pg. 132).

Sallis’s writing throughout Chorology is clear, crisp, and clean.  The book truly blurs the line between primary and secondary source, possessing value both as a Timaeus commentary and as an original piece of philosophy.  On rare occasion, the writing supporting Sallis’s creative and bold reading enters into the realm of self-indulgence.  For example, on 93: “Thus, another beginning is to be made, an other beginning, a different beginning, different from the beginning with which Timaeus began his first discourse.”  Aside from issues surrounding these occasional instances of excess, Sallis’ writing is a model of lucidity, and this text demonstrates that good philosophy can be as smooth and satisfying as good literature.  I won’t hazard to address the question of whether Sallis ultimately gets Plato right on my own view.  In any case, I do insist that readers of Plato from all philosophical traditions should learn from Sallis’s interpretation and, if they see fit, respond to, rather than ignore, its many provocations.

This new edition of Chorology is packaged nicely, designed as it is to sit on the shelf beside future editions of The Collected Writings of John Sallis series. The next generation of readers will be served well by this printing.  It is important to note, however, that aside from the outer packaging and minor front matter, this new printing contains no additions and no textual alterations to previous volumes.  The contents and pagination are, so far as I tracked through a comparative analysis, exactly the same as the previous edition.  This is hardly a complaint, as I found the text of both editions to be free of typos entirely; but it nevertheless bears noting in case any readers were, like me, hoping that this volume would offer some fresh insights from Sallis into the Timaeus.