Jean-Luc Marion, Christiaan Jacobs-Vandegeer (Eds.): The Enigma of Divine Revelation

The Enigma of Divine Revelation: Between Phenomenology and Comparative Theology Book Cover The Enigma of Divine Revelation: Between Phenomenology and Comparative Theology
Contributions to Hermeneutics, Volume 7
Jean-Luc Marion, Christiaan Jacobs-Vandegeer (Eds.)
Springer
2020
Hardback 88,39 €
IX, 301

Reviewed by: N. M. Bunce (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

What is the nature of revelation? Can it be interpreted? By interpreting, do we strip it of its divine nature? How do other religious traditions deal with these questions? These are the  ever-present tensions which press the authors of The Enigma of Divine Revelation: Between Phenomenology and Comparative Theology. By attempting to answer, reformulate, and live in these tensions, they offer a compelling vision into the relevance of phenomenology and comparative theology to these issues.

The Enigma of Divine Revelation—part 7 of the ‘Contributions to Hermeneutics’ series published by Springer—is edited by two prominent scholars: phenomenologist Jean-Luc Marion and comparative theologian Christiaan Jacobs-Vandegeer. Although written from a Catholic Christian perspective, the volume touches on a myriad of other intellectual and religious traditions. After dedicating Chapter 1 to an introduction, the editors divide the essays into 4 parts—Givenness and Interpretation (Chapters 2-3), The Phenomenality of Revelation (Chapters 4-6), Transforming Ways of Being in the World (Chapters 7-10), The Future of Revelation, Propositions (Revisited), and Close Reading (Chapters 11-13). In order to lay a foundation for the theme of the volume, Chapter 1 gives a brief history of the evolution orthodox Catholic conceptions of divine revelation and the role of interpretation therein.

The collection launches Part I with an essay by one of its editors: Jean-Luc Marion. “The Hermeneutics of Givenness,” translated by Sarah Horton, builds on his concept of ‘saturated phenomena’ by drawing out a provocative vision of the hermeneutic demand created therein. Marion writes to address fears of ‘pure’ givenness, which is sullied by any form of signification, which have driven many hermeneutics scholars to denounce the usefulness of phenomenology. What use is the given if introducing a hermeneutic makes it disappear? Marion responds by first reversing the common understanding of givenness—“we must not conceive of givenness as a de facto authority but as a de jure authority, or rather conceive that the fact of the given suffices to assure to this given the full status of a phenomenon: everything that shows itself shows itself because it gives itself” (Marion 21). Furthermore, he distinguishes between the given, which “imposes itself as a fact, and givenness, which “establishes the norm of this fact” (22). He argues that what he calls the ‘myth of the given’ goes back to Locke’s empiricism, which suggests the given is unmediated sense datum. In this formulation, the given has the inexorable character of immediacy, a character which is inevitably destroyed in moving from the immediate sense datum of the given to the subsequent realization of an object.

Marion enjoins his readers to throw off this empiricist formulation of phenomenology which demands so much of the given’s immediacy. In fact, he goes so far as to argue that “it belongs precisely to the given not to give itself immediately, and above all not in the immediacy of sense data—even though it gives itself in perfect facticity, or rather because it gives itself as an unconditioned and originary factum” (28-29, emphasis original). Thus, signification, he claims, is anterior to givenness. It is only through the process of reduction that we can arrive at the offshoots of the given: sense data, objects, knowledge. We always experience the world as signified first.

Finally, Marion distinguishes between what gives itself and what shows itself. In his words, “the given does not yet show itself through the simple fact that it gives itself” (39). We can reason, as he did, that something things give itself without showing itself. This distinction allows Marion to further argue for his concept of saturated phenomena: that in many cases what gives itself “exceeds what the concept presumed regarding signification, such that the phenomenon escapes any foresight, to the point of becoming impossible to aim at [invisable], if not invisible [invisible]” (41). Allowing for saturated phenomena gives Marion theoretical space for revelation. He addresses the persistent question of how something divine could maintain its status while becoming immanent by suggesting what we encounter in revelation totally exceeds our comprehension, such that what gives itself as divine shows itself only partially in immanence, and even then only appears to us as signified.

The volume’s 3rd chapter offers an opposing view in Shane Mackinlay, who argues Marion’s saturated phenomenon maintains the absolute character of the transcendent, but in doing so severely limits the scope of interpretation. By positing the transcendent in givenness, Mackinlay argues, Marion implies discernment is not necessary. But how do we know if our experience was a veridical experience of the transcendent or a glimmering fraud? In other words, how do we distinguish between the transcendent and the mundane? In an effort to address these questions, Mackinlay proposes adapting three principles of Hans-Georg Gadamer’s hermeneutics to discernment of revelation.

Mackinlay’s essay launches with a critique of ‘The Theological Turn in French Phenomenology,’ arguing figures like Emmanuel Levinas, Paul Ricoeur, Jean-Luc Marion fail to fully realize the importance of hermeneutics in transcendence. He recalls admonitions for discernment from figures like Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, and Martin Luther in support of his argument. Moving further, he endorses Richard Kearney’s analogy between discernment and meeting a stranger: should we treat strangers with awe or suspicion? Likewise, should we treat an ecstatic encounter with awe or suspicion?

As tools for encountering ‘a stranger,’ Mackinlay proposes adopting “a critical and modest hermeneutics of the phenomenon in its actual appearing, undertaken in dialogue with others who propose interpretations of it” (59-60). As the author notes, Kearney likewise calls for a hermeneutic which operates in the appearing of the phenomenon, but fails to give any indication of how this might be done. This is where Gadamer is useful. Mackinlay echoes Gadamer’s belief that perfectly ‘true’ interpretation cannot exist, only provisional truths can be exposed. As such, all judgments require ongoing critical examination. If truths are provisional, then ongoing examination must continuously question the validity of the original judgment. Finally, this examination should not be done in isolation; a communal examination will further solidify the ongoing examination.

By inducting Gadamer’s hermeneutics into the practice of discerning the transcendent, Mackinlay offers a concrete lead into sifting out the divine from the immanent. One may object that the judgments and examinations Mackinlay introduces will sully the character of the transcendent, but he maintains that “While the introduction of these immanent judgements qualifies any absolute claim to immediate and unambiguous encounter with the transcendent, they remain modest and provisional judgements, and they therefore refrain from simply reducing that transcendence to the immanence of experience” (61-62). Ultimately, he reminds us, we must forward the provisional nature of language, always vigilant in our awareness of the precarious divide between the natural and the supernatural.

Part II of the collection focuses on “The Phenomenality of Revelation.” In Chapter 4, “Revelation as a Problem for Our Age,” Robyn Horner addresses revelation in a post-secular age. Philosopher Charles Taylor famously identified a ‘secular age’ in which traditional religion was waning and expected, by many, to disappear completely through the process of modernization. Yet Horner, following Jürgen Habermas and Daniele Hervieu-Leger, argues society has entered a post-secular age, in which “religion maintains a public influence and relevance, while the secularistic certainty religion will disappear worldwide in the course of modernization is losing ground” (72-73, quoting Habermas). Horner goes further, though. to endorse Hervieu-Leger’s view that secularization primarily reconstructs belief, resulting in new secular religions and reimagined traditional religions.

Secular and post-secular ages have also shifted emphasis from the communal to the individual, placing revelation, among other things, in the experience of the individual. In academic circles, however, revelation has largely been rejected as irrational or even superstitious. As a result, secular philosophers like Nick Trakakis have tried to completely evict theology from philosophy, arguing theology, in assuming metaphysical truths before inquiry has even begun, is less critical towards its own beliefs than philosophy. Richard Colledge recants: “so much of what we passionately maintain on the basis of the weighty tools of rational argumentation are things that we already cared about previously. As such, while the tools of argumentative reason are used to defend them, these come too late to explain why we hold such views in the first place” (77). Colledge’s response, Horner notes, reflects Derrida’s argument that much of rational thought is actually theological in nature, no matter how vehemently secular academics deny it.

Having established revelation’s significance for the post-secular age, Horner moves on to trace its history with theology from what is perhaps its first appearance in Thomas Aquinas to the change made by Vatican II. In sum, she argues, “revelation is understood within Catholic thought chiefly in two ways, as content and as relationship” (91). Within the latter way, Horner finds an additional shift from questions of belief and unbelief to questions of experience, which is where phenomenology enters the scene. She lays out several ways in which French phenomenologists Jean-Yves Lacoste, Jean-Luc Marion, and Emmanuel Falque have offered experiential frameworks for revelation. Lacoste, for example, introduces a liturgical reduction meant not to bring God into view, but to expand our horizon beyond the world. Additionally, his concept of ‘paradoxical phenomena’ accounts for phenomena which we know primarily through affective rather than intellectual means. Horner posits views like this, which includes Marion’s saturated phenomena, expand our horizon of possible transcendence. In fact, she concludes with a notable endorsement of this tradition: “In short, if it is the case that revelation no longer makes sense in contemporary life, perhaps it is because it has been locked for too long in the language of beliefs and made unavailable to experience; perhaps it is because of a diminished sensitivity to its impression in the affect, and perhaps it is because its effects are no longer visible in the persons who proclaim it as knowledge” (100).

In Chapter 5, ‘Revelation and Kingdom,’ Kevin Hart makes the case that the phenomenological revelation introduced by Vatican II uncovers the Kingdom of Heaven as multi-stable phenomena. Like Horner, Hart traces the use of revelation back to Thomas Aquinas, but he adds that the Thomistic concept revelatione divina was a significant turn away from illuminatio as used by Augustine. It was in Aquinas’s legacy that Vatican II first introduced the term ‘divine revelation’ to Catholic constitution in Vatican I, where it formulated divine revelation as “de facto propositional” (111). Vatican II, however, reworks this understanding to one of self-revelation. Although its authors do not explicitly acknowledge it, this self-revelation, as Hart points out, “quietly [slips] from theological epistemology to phenomenology” (111).

This shift enjoins believers to encounter Jesus not simply as a fixed “object among others but as an intentional object: desired, loved, worshipped, and so on, in the context of prayer, reception of sacraments, or anticipation of the life of the world to come” (113-114). Even so, it is imperative that we recognize no matter what we do, the Jesus that appears to us always appears within the limits of our gaze. Our past experiences, current circumstances and values, prejudices, personality delimit the ways in which Jesus appears to us. The difficulty, then, is in recognizing the provisionality of that encounter and expanding our gaze in hope of more multi-stable encounters in the future.

Attempting to address this difficulty, Paul Tillich argues that instead of bring Jesus, God the Son, into our gaze, and in the process irrecoverably altering God’s character, we must “find ourselves in his gaze, which comes in hearing his parables and in meditating on his acts” (114). Hart’s rejoinder says this goes too far; hoping to preserve the character of Jesus by arguing he does not come into our gaze takes him too far out of the world. Instead, Hart argues, the difficulty of recognizing the depth of the Kingdom through revelation comes from its appearance as a multi-stable phenomenon: “It is here yet to come, within yet without, coming in strength while also the smallest of things, visible yet invisible, ordinary yet extraordinary” (117). Revelation, understood as self-revelation, goes beyond the possibilities of proposition in uncovering the multi-stable character of the Kingdom.

Chapter 6, William C. Hackett’s “‘A Whole Habit of Mind’: Revelation and Understanding in the Christology of St. Cyril of Alexandria”, moves beyond the specific nature of revelation to address the conundrum of taking a personal first-person experience of God and interpreting it through the distant third-person plane of hermeneutics. Our experience of revelation is already limited to the scope of our gaze, so how can hermeneutics be laid over divine encounter without completely covering the transcendent therein? By applying St. Cyril of Alexandria’s “sacrifice Christology” to this issue, Hackett offers a sturdy foundation for the inherently unstable interpretation of revelation.

To lay this foundation, Hackett begins by explaining three essential steps of Cyrilline Christology he relies on: 1) for St. Cyril, theology’s first appearance and task is in liturgy, or in the possibility of deifying flesh by henosis; 2) the Eucharistic “reduction” enacts seeing through enfleshment and self-emptying, resulting in the advancement into theosis; and 3) Christ’s appearance, the first Eucharist, represents the kenotic incarnation of reason. These three steps provide the background for Hackett’s own fourth, which states that “The intellectual practice that corresponds to the sensible manifestation of divine glory in Christ is less one of classical philosophical allegoresis than of using Scriptural images to give flesh to thought” (120). This final step is redolent of St. Cyril’s understanding of the metaphysical expressive possibilities in images, which surpasses the ability of human reason to expose the mind to revelation. For example, St. Cyril’s image of a burning coal, inspired by Isaiah’s hekhalot theophany, imagines the coal to be an image anticipating the character of Christ. Like the burning coal, “[Christ] is conceived as being from two things which are unlike each other and yet by a real combination are all but bound together in unity” (Hackett quoting St. Cyril 127). Both realities, a burning coal and an incarnate God, express the realities of two entirely disparate realities coming wholly into one while retaining the essential characteristics of the disparate realities. In the Eucharist, Hackett concludes, we enjoy this reality; eating the bread and drinking the wine, we participate in a ritual at once real on a material level and on a spiritual level—what we partake is both bread and Christ’s body, both wine and his blood.

Part III of the book, on “Transforming Ways of Being in the World,” begins with Chapter 7 by Werner G. Jeanrond. Reflecting the call of this section of the book, Jeanrond’s chapter dives deeper into developing phenomenological hermeneutics shaped by praxis rather than abstracted theological logic puzzles. Titled “Revelation and the Hermeneutics of Love,” it proposes a theology radically shaped by relational love. This love, as he sees it, is not the flippant whim of attraction, but rather is steeped in the often painfully difficult task of loving the other in their otherness.

Contrasting the erstwhile Yale and Chicago traditions of hermeneutics, traditions he coins the ‘hermeneutics of revelation’ and the ‘hermeneutics of signification’ respectively, Jeanrond puts stock in the latter school, proposing that thinkers like David Tracy and Paul Ricoeur’s universal horizon in addressing fundamental questions of otherness ignored by the professors at Yale. Their universal horizon keeps with Jeanrond’s project, putting otherness at the center of its inquiry, a move which, we are told, is essential for a rich understanding of love in practice. The task of loving the other as other (e.i. without attempt to twist the other into the self) is inextricably linked to hermeneutics because, following Gadamer’s claim that all human communication is ensconced within the limits of the language, Jeanrond argues “the center of love is the recognition of relational subjectivity and its potential for enabling experiences of transcendence and revelation” (145).

Chapter 8 features Mara Brecht questioning what bodies comparative religion centers on and how those habits of bodying can be decentered. She begins “Embodied Transactions” with an admonition for comparative theology to self-critical regarding its hermeneutics—specifically its understanding of subjectivity. Following Gadamer and Ricoeur’s discussions of the embodied dimension of human experience, Brecht traces out the implications of their findings for comparative theology. Going even further, she draws on the work of Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Michelle Voss Roberts to propose that “it is only in the particularity of embodied experience that revelation is rendered meaningful” (152). Rather than retracing Barth’s attempt to circle around the problem of subjectivity by placing revelation specifically within a single discrete tradition, Brecht joins other scholars practicing the so-called “new” comparative theology, a school dedicated to embracing the tensions of interreligious dialogue rather than attempting to diffuse them.

Still, Brecht argues, comparative theology should go further to uncover the status of its own subjectivity. Like Andreas Nehring, she rejoins her fellow theologians to deconstruct the contexts in which interpretation takes place. This context is composed, she claims, by what Shannon Sullivan calls “embodied habits,” which not only reflect our identities but determine them. Hence, “We cannot understand the lived realities of religion in the abstract, and thus apart from embodied environments, which—importantly—are always and inevitably shot through with power” (168). As a result, the work of uncovering and improving the embodied habits in comparative theology, a practice known as somaesthetics, requires critical self-examination of the way theologians are bodying, living as racialized, gendered, religiously committed bodies. This is not, however, a rejection of comparative theology; Brecht instead proposes the possibilities of comparative theology as an environment which “[disrupts] the automaticity of our habits” and can, therefore, “be the work of becoming an “outsider within”—a subjective position from which the fullness of revelation be taken in and known” (173).

Chapter 9—Into the Blue: Swimming as a Metaphor for Revelation—explores living as a liminal experience, one “in the middle of things” already started and not yet over. The author, Michele Saracino, cites George Steiner’s discussion of living as a “Saturday” experience, caught between the unutterable pains of “Friday” and the Utopia of “Sunday.” To live a flourishing life, Saracino argues, one must “swim” in the transient “waters” of life not by trying to control the water, but by resigning your control, accepting its otherness, and adapting to its hydrodynamic drag. The admonition to resign oneself, she notes, comes in the wake of Jean Vanier’s call to vulnerability and Hans Urs von Balthasar’s idea of revelation as an act of giving oneself over to God. The water metaphor, however, further actualizes the intimacy of our relationship with alterity by bringing alive the uncertainty and mystery inherent therein.

Yet Saracino’s in extended metaphor, we are not treading water—we are swimming. As many swimmers already know, this necessarily involves working against, and with, hydrodynamic drag. Liking this drag to the challenges we all face in relating to and loving others, Saracino advocates working in harmony with life’s protean waves through improvisation. This improvisation allows us to experience the other without trying to control it, ultimately revealing new ways of being in the world. As she concludes, “empathy emerges when we relinquish power over another, mourn that power, and let the other have an impact on us” (193). By harnessing the insights offered by the swimming metaphor, Saracino further elucidates the transformative power of communion with the other.

The final chapter of Part III, chapter 10, features Frederick G. Lawrence unpacking “Revelation as Sharing in God’s Self-Understanding as Absolute Love.” Like several others in this collection, Lawrence begins with a short history of patristic understanding of revelation; unlike the ones we saw before, this recapitulation highlights the shift in how Catholic theologians have understood St. Thomas Aquinas’s writings on the subject. Earmarking the differences between Vatican I’s Dei Filius and Vatican II’s Dei Verbum, he alerts his readers to the impact theologian Yves Congar had on the latter document. In this new paradigm, revelation is conceptualized as God’s self-communication gifted to us. While many scholars have taken issue with the nature/supernature distinction assumed in Dei Verbum, Lawrence still finds it necessary and even productive to identify as different nature and grace.

Given this distinction, Lawrence activates Bernard Lonergan’s conception of revelation as God’s self-understanding given through grace, that is through Jesus Christ. While grace abounds in the world, the Paschal mystery is the consummate act of revelation. This leads Lawrence to consider the role of the Holy Spirit in revelation, a role he defines by paraphrasing St Paul: “the Spirit sent into human hearts by the Father through the Son transforms us by the graces of conversion, justification, and sanctification” (215-216 emphasis original). The experience of this transformation, which leads us faith, he argues,  is not a process of rational recalculation or the adopting of a set of orthodox axioms; Rather, the existential step into faith is better defined as “the knowledge born of religious love” (quoting Lonergan 223). Hence, the religious knowledge too often paraded as the end of a logical syllogism illuminated by the light of reason is instead, to use Herbert McCabe’s words, arrived at through “the darkness of faith” (233).

Chapter 11, the first in Part IV “The Future of Revelation, Propositions (Revisited), and Close Reading”, invites the reader for the first time beyond the horizons of the Christian tradition to that of another Abrahamic religion—Islam. Professor of Qur’anic Studies Maria Massi Dakake interrogates the use of ta’wīl in the Qur’an as well as in Islamic intellectual history, ultimately arguing that integral to the Qur’an’s teachings for Muslims is the understanding that its meaning is multivalent and continues to unravel over time. Rather than a text with clear and discrete religious meaning which has already been uncovered by early witnesses and scholars, Massi Dakake invites us to see meaning in the Qur’an as inexhaustible.

Qur’anic scholars and teachers, as well as the Qur’an and Hadīth, have warned against tafsīr, or explanation of texts by opinion. Many have taken this as a rejection of interpretation full-stop, suggesting the early interpreters arrived at the “correct” understanding of the texts. But Massi Dakake believes this is a grave misunderstanding: “If read in this way, the error [Qur’an 3:7] points to is not the effort to contemplate and find new or hidden meaning in the verses, but on the contrary, the desire to claim that no such new or hidden meanings exist of can be found, and thus to question the legitimacy of continuing to ponder and reflect upon Qur’anic verses—an endeavor the Qur’an itself repeatedly encourages” (259). By alerting us to Qur’anic uses of ta’wīl, which tenth-century theologian and commentator al-Māturīdī, among others, propose avoid the condemnation of Qur’an 3:7, Massi Dakake opens us up to a present, living encounter with the text.

In Chapter 12, Jewish Studies scholar Peter Ochs dismisses the “two-valued propositional logics” so prevalent in the modern West to propose a “Logic of Revelation” (LR) which incorporates a “multivalued” logic. For LR, first premises are “words revealed to some language community” (i.e. revelation) (262). Thus, Ochs admits, one can only access the LR in the Tanakh by way of the “Rabbinic Logic of Revelation,” whose second premises uncover the original conditions for the reception of the first premises.

Using Charles Peirce’s distinction between iconic and indexical signs, Ochs argues the “force of revelation is displayed through its indexicality” (266). While revelation is directly caused by its object, “its meaning is disclosed only by way of predications”—meaning is predicated on revelation in a particular time and place (266). Additionally, this implies that revelation is received in human language communities. In sum, revelation—the relation of God to God’s word—comes to us through language in our worldly setting and bears the weight of indexicality. Interpretive reading (derash), therefore, “is predicative, relational, historically conditioned, and it is authoritative only when and where it is articulated” (272).

In the 13th and final chapter, comparative theologian Francis X. Clooney demonstrates the power of the discipline through the application of the Vedic hermeneutic tradition Mīmāmsā to a reading of the Gospel According to John. Defining Mīmāmsā as “intense investigation,” the chapter begins with a gloss of how Hindu practitioners use the method and its connection to Vedic revelation. Of the extant literature on the subject, perhaps the key text is Mīmāmsā Sūtras, a collection of twelve books attributed to Jaimini (c. 300-200 BCE). Using these works alongside the thought of Śabara Swāmin and Kumārila Bhātta, Clooney argues that, for Mīmāmsā, “Revelation lies in the detail, and revelation is accessible not as received content, but in the work of skilled interpretation” (286-287). Yet this interpretation does not primarily seek to uncover the original context and intentions of a text’s author; a close reading of the actual text will open the way for revelation without imposing on it.

Of course, the religious context and aims of Mīmāmsā are significantly distinct from Clooney’s Catholicism, a key difference being that Mīmāmsā finds revelation in the text itself rather than seeing the text as a sign of something beyond it. Still, Clooney claims, their similarities are weighty enough to make comparison productive. In the final section of the essay, he does just that—applying the principles of Mīmāmsā to sections of the Gospel According to John, particularly the scenes leading up to Jesus’s crucifixion. One such scene, the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and the surrounding community’s reaction, brings Clooney’s method to light: “From a Mīmāmsā perspective, good reading always implicates the reader: does the miracle draw us into the circle of believers, or rather locate us among those intent upon killing Jesus?” (299-300). By encouraging us to lean in to the text, Mīmāmsā helps us prioritize the ethical demands made on us by the text, leading us on a path toward a greater understanding of our place in the world.

Engaging diverse hermeneutical traditions at the crossroads of phenomenology and comparative theology, The Enigma of Divine Revelation alerts readers to the contingent and situated nature of each person’s understanding of revelation. The resulting bricolage invites reflection on what is given in revelation, the significance of revelation for our age, the ways revelation may invite praxis, and the importance of close reading for opening revelation. This concoction perhaps appears eclectic, yet it is a capacious model of the benefits of interdisciplinary thought—and the existential potence of rich theological soil.

Corijn van Mazijk: Perception and Reality in Kant, Husserl, and McDowell

Perception and Reality in Kant, Husserl, and McDowell Book Cover Perception and Reality in Kant, Husserl, and McDowell
Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy
Corijn van Mazijk
Routledge
2020
Hardcover £120.00
192

Reviewed by: Tony Cheng 鄭會穎 (National Chengchi University, Taiwan)

In Perception and Reality in Kant, Husserl, and McDowell, Corijn van Mazijk takes up an ambitious project of dealing with a group of central issues in western philosophy, namely: the nature of perception, the nature of reality, and the relation between perception and reality. He does this via explicating some aspects of the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, Edmund Husserl, and John McDowell. It is no news that McDowell’s thinking has a robust Kantian root, but McDowell’s relation to Husserl is less clear. McDowell himself never engages with Husserl’s thinking, and his engagements with the phenomenological tradition – with Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty via Dreyfus – have been reactive and minimal (2007a/2008a, 2007b/2008a). That being said, I believe van Mazijk is right in seeing the hidden connections between McDowell and Husserl. Generally speaking, both painstakingly explicate the nature of perception, the nature of reality, and the relation between these two poles. More specifically, both see close connections between intentionality and phenomenality. It is a basic dictum in Husserl’s thinking that consciousness is inherently intentional (Ideas I, 1911/1983), and though McDowell seldom remarks on the phenomenal or conscious aspect of our mental lives, he does think the intentional and the phenomenal are closely connected: “Not, of course, that we cannot distinguish sapience from sentience. But they are not two simply different problem areas: we get into trouble over sentience because we misconceive the role of sapience in constituting our sentient life” (1989/1998, 296). This sketchy remark seems to suggest certain version of representationalism (Cheng, forthcoming a), but even if not, it certain echoes Husserl’s idea that consciousness is inherently intentional.

The main text has only 172 pages, which means van Mazijk needs to be selective for both the topics – perception and reality – and the figures – Kant, Husserl, and McDowell. The book has six chapters, with two chapters for each figure. For Kant, ch.1 covers sensibility, perception, and reality; ch.2 covers concepts, deduction, and contemporary debates. For Husserl, ch.3 covers intentionality, consciousness, and nature; ch.4 covers perception, judgement, and habit. For McDowell, ch.5 covers concepts, perceptions, and connections to Kant and Husserl; ch.6 covers reasons, nature, and reality. Given the breadth of the grounds it covers and the space limit, the contents are necessarily compressed, but van Mazijk does an excellent job in explaining things clearly, and making sure the discussions of the three philosophers cohesive. Moreover, he does not aim for a historical study; “Instead, I develop my interpretations of both Kant and Husserl in part to show that history provides us with viable alternatives to McDowell’s theory of our perceptual access to reality” (7), van Mazijk writes. Given this, in what follows I will devote this brief discussion primarily on van Mazijk’s McDowell, as that reflects better his overall aim in the book. This should not be taken to imply, to be sure, that there is nothing more to be discussed concerning Kant and Husserl in the book.

In the two chapters on Kant, there are discussions of traditional Kantian themes such as sensibility and understanding, idealism, noumenon, ideality of space and time, intuition and concepts, synthesis, transcendental deduction, and incongruent counterpart. There are also discussions of contemporary issues such as the Myth of the Given, disjunctivism, and non-conceptual content. A substantive move van Mazijk makes in his interpretation of Kant is the attribution of “weak conceptualism,” “the view that all intuition and perception is, for us at least, open to conceptual exercises” (4). More specifically, “the central thesis Kant sets out to defend here is that intuitions are always already at least in accordance with pure concepts, which commits Kant to weak conceptualism” (8). In these two chapters van Mazijk touches on convoluted relations between (sheer) intuition, categories, synthesis, and apperception. For example, he writes that “sheer intuitions have the appropriate unity to be conceptualized in the first place is said to rest on synthesis of the imagination, which brings intuitions in accordance with pure concepts” (46). This implies that sheer intuitions are themselves non-conceptual, though they have the potential to become conceptual. A stronger reading of Kant, though, is that the exercise of apperception already implicates categories, so sheer intuitions themselves have to be already conceptualised in a certain sense. I do not take side concerning this interpretative question on this occasion, but it is worth noting that what van Mazijk defends here is close to “sensibilism” in today’s terminology: “at least some intuitions are generated independently of the intellect itself,” and the stronger reading is called “intellectualism,” which holds that “the generation of intuition is at least partly dependent on the intellect” (McLear, 2020). It would be helpful for the readers if this context were explicitly flagged.

In the two chapters on Husserl, the distinction between traditional themes and contemporary issues seems less clear, but this is by no means a criticism: topics such as fulfillment, simple apprehension and perceptual explication, horizons, kinaesthetic habit, and constitution do have distinctive Husserlian flavours, but other topics such as the intentional approach to consciousness, sensation contents, the space of consciousness, fields of sensations, types of conceptuality, objects of thoughts, and pre-conceptual norms are both Husserlian and contemporary themes. This should not be surprising, as Husserl is closer to our time, and his influences on contemporary philosophy have been enormous and visible. There are two elements of Husserl’s thinking that van Mazijk highlights but has not noted their potential connections with McDowell’s thinking. The first is “cultural-linguistic upbringing” and “habit” (96, 111, 117) and their connections to McDowell’s Bildung; the second is “passive synthesis” (99, 103, 107) and its connection to McDowell’s conceptualism, especially the idea that “conceptual capacities are drawn on in receptivity” (McDowell, 1996, 9), and similarly, “conceptual capacities… are passively drawn into play in experience belong to a network of capacities for active thought” (ibid., p.12). Perhaps van Mazijk does not think the connections here are clear enough, but in any case I suggest these are further directions for connecting Husserl to McDowell. There are other highlights and potential points of contact with the analytic tradition as well, for example the “space of consciousness” (74 onwards) can be compared with the hard problem of consciousness (e.g., Chalmers, 1996), the “field of sensations” (98 onwards) can be compared with the tactile field debate (e.g., Martin, 1992, O’Shaughnessy, 1989, Cheng, 2019), and “lived body” (10, 96, 109) can be compared with Kantian spatial self-awareness (e.g., Cassam, 1997; Cheng, forthcoming b). And there are more. This shows that Husserl’s thinking has much to offer for contemporary philosophy, as van Mazijk rightly points out.

The two chapters on McDowell cover canonical McDowellian themes such as conceptualism, the space of reasons and the realm of law, and Bildung, and also broader issues connecting to Kant, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Dreyfus, including skillful coping, animal consciousness, and transcendental reasons. In what follows I discuss some highlights and points of potential disagreements. First of all, although van Mazijk mentions the “realm of law” in several places (21, 148, 149, 161), he uses the label the “space of nature” much more (passim), and this can generate the harmful implication that the “space of reasons” is unnatural; for example, he writes that for McDowell some contents are “in some sense not natural, insofar as they stand in a sui generis space of reasons” (124). Charitably, we can say that van Mazijk specifies “in some sense,” and that leaves room for another sense in which the space of reason is natural, i.e., Aristotelian second nature. However, other remarks show that van Mazijk’s understanding of this crucial McDowellian divide between the space of reasons and the realm of law cannot be entirely correct. For example, in introducing this divide, van Mazijk mentions “causal order” to characterise the realm of law, or with his label, the space of nature. But this is problematic on two fronts: first, that might imply that the space of reasons has no causation, which is not true of McDowell’s characterisation: McDowell certainly follows Davidson (1963) here in that they both think, correctly I believe, that reasons can be causes. Second, McDowell also discusses Russell’s view that causation might not be a suitable notion for the realm of law (McDowell, 1996, 71; Russell, 1912-3). Now, such view has become quite unpopular nowadays, but even if Russell and McDowell are wrong in avoiding causation in the realm of law, McDowell would certainly insists on causation in the space of reasons (see also Gaskin, 2006, 28 onwards). Therefore, when we read van Mazijk’s discussions and criticisms of this McDowellian distinction, we need to bear in mind that the characterisation in the book might not be entirely accurate.

There are other oddities concerning van Mazijk’s understanding of the divide between the space of reasons and the realm of law, and relatedly, second nature. For example, consider this passage:

These refer to two ways of speaking about things, of finding things intelligible. However, as it turns out, both spaces ultimately consist simply of natural phenomena. The space of reasons thus fits entirely within that of nature. (van Mazijk, 2020, 150)

Taken literally, this passage might be a fine characterisation of McDowell’s framework. However, since for unclear reasons van Mazijk insists on using the “space of nature” to refer to the “realm of law,” the passage thus implies that the space of reasons is simply “one way of speaking about things.” That is, there is only one kind of things, but there are two ways of speaking about them or finding them intelligible. Now this looks like a description of Davidson’s anomalous monism (1970), which McDowell has emphatically rejects (1985). Whether McDowell’s criticism here is plausible is irrelevant; what is crucial in this context is that he does not hold anomalous monism, but van Mazijk’s characterisation of McDowell’s position makes it indistinguishable from anomalous monism. On another occasion I have argued that McDowell’s view should be interpreted as a kind of emergent dualism (Cheng, forthcoming a), but that requires much more elaborations, and arguably McDowell himself would refuse to acknowledge this classification. Concerning the space of reasons, van Mazijk says that “McDowell’s own definition of the space of reasons is what makes conceptualism attractive” (van Mazijk, 2020, 151). This is meant to be a criticism, but to this McDowell would reply that his invocation of the notion of “concept” is a matter of “stipulation: conceptual capacities in the relevant sense belong essentially to their possessor’s rationality in the sense I am working with, responsiveness to reasons as such” (2005/2008b, 129). His point is that given this stipulation or definition, let’s see what significant would follow. To simply point out that there is a definition involved here can hardly be an objection by itself.

Also relatedly, McDowell’s appropriation of Gadamer’s distinction between environment and world (1960/2004) is not acknowledged in the book, and that affects van Mazijk’s verdict of McDowell’s view on animal minds. Gadamer writes,

Language is not just one of man’s possessions in the world; rather, on it depends the fact that man has a world at all. The world as world exists for man as for on other creature that is in the world. But this world is verbal in nature… that language is originarily human means at the same time that man’s being in the world is primordially linguistic. (ibid., 440)

[Although] the concept of environment was first used for the purely human world… this concept can be used to comprehend all the conditions on which a living creature depends. But it is thus clear that man, unlike all other living creatures, has a “world,” for other creatures do not in the same sense have a relationship to the world, but are, as it were, embedded in their environment. (ibid.,  441)

Simply put, “environment” here refers to what philosophers normally call “world,” and corresponds to McDowell’s realm of law and first nature. By contrast, “world” here corresponds to the space of reasons and second nature. In Mind and World, Lecture VI, McDowell has explained how human animals like us can possess the world and inhabit an environment, while other animals can only do the latter. This also corresponds to McDowell’s later distinction between “being responsive to reasons” and “being responsive to reasons as such”:

The notion of rationality I mean to invoke here is the notion exploited in a traditional line of thought to make a special place in the animal kingdom for rational animals. It is a notion of responsiveness to reasons as such. (2005/2008b, 128)

And this “wording leaves room for responsiveness to reasons… on the other side of the division drawn by this notion of rationality between rational animals and animals that are not rational” (ibid., 128). That is to say, when other animals see predators and run, they are responsive to reasons, but they cannot recognise those reasons as reasons. With these dualistic distinctions in mind, let’s come back to van Mazijk’s texts and see why the interpretation there is not entirely fair.

In chapter 5, van Mazijk notes that McDowell holds “animals see things or items in the outer world ‘no less’ than we do,” and argues that:

But it is difficult to see how this fits into the conceptualist thesis as discussed so far. For wasn’t the whole idea of conceptualism to take the very givenness of things as a result of conceptual functions of an understanding only rational creatures like us enjoy? It seems that… McDowell contradicts his own conceptualism, which rests on the idea that the sensible presentation of things in the outer world relies on functions specific to rational creatures like us, namely on concepts and the capacity to judge. (131)

We can readily give a “No” to the query in this way: for McDowell, other animals can perceive things or items in the outer world in the sense of Gadamerian environment, while rational animals can perceive things or items in the outer world in the sense of Gadamerian world. This can also be seen that in later writings, McDowell speaks of “world-disclosing experience” (2007a/2008a, 319): rational animals like us enjoy experiences that can disclose aspects of the world, while other animals are also capable of experiencing, but of their environment only, not the world. This view can be found already in Mind and World, and McDowell further develops it in recent decades. It is worth noting that this view has a clear Heideggerian flavour as well (1927/2010). Similar considerations are applicable to van Mazijk’s discussion in 132, and in chapter 6, especially from p. 150 to 153 on animal consciousness. I shall not repeat my response elaborated just now.

Another point is that van Mazijk does not distinguish between “propositional” and “conceptual”; for example he writes that many philosophers “hold that our thoughts have propositional or conceptual content” (2, my emphasis). It is true that in most cases they coincide: the constituents of propositions are concepts, one might say. However, in relatively recent writings McDowell seeks to set them apart:

I used to assume that to conceive experiences as actualizations of conceptual capacities, we would need to credit experiences with propositional content, the sort of content judgments have. And I used to assume that the content of an experience would need to include everything the experience enables its subject to know non-inferentially. But these assumptions now strike me as wrong. (McDowell, 2008c/2008b, 258)

“What we need,” McDowell carries on, “is an idea of content that is not propositional but intuitional, in what I take to be a Kantian sense” (ibid., 260; my italics). Now, whether this position is plausible or coherent is not important for our purposes (van Mazijk argues that it is implausible in p. 129); what is crucial is that McDowell does hold that view since 2007 or so, and that needs to be taken into account for interpreters. In effect, McDowell’s intuitional content seems to fit weak conceptualism as van Mazijk defines it. McDowell writes,

If it is to become the content of a conceptual capacity of hers, she needs to determine it to be the content of a conceptual capacity of hers. That requires her to carve it out from the categorially unified but as yet, in this respect, unarticulated experiential content of which it is an aspect, so that thought can focus on it by itself. (McDowell, 2007a/2008a, 318)

Now, recall that weak conceptualism has it that “all intuition and perception is, for us at least, open to conceptual exercises” (van Mazijk, 2020, 4). So van Mazijk is right in noting that McDowell has hold strong conceptualism, but he might have missed, or at least does not believe, that later McDowell has retreated from that to weak conceptualism since 2007 or so. Elsewhere I have argued that McDowell’s new view might disqualify his conceptualist credential, and might cause trouble for his environment/world distinction (Cheng, forthcoming a), but those are quite different matters.

A final point I would like to highlight is van Mazijk’s understanding of the nature of McDowell’s overall project. He writes,

I want to deal with conceptualism as McDowell understands it – not as a theory concerning the psychology, phenomenology, or epistemology of perception, but as one purporting to address a problem regarding our access to reality. (van Mazijk, 2020, 121)

It is understandable to make such a division, but it is unclear how the above domains can be set apart from one another. It is true that McDowell’s primary concern is not psychology and phenomenology (understood as consciousness), but how can “our access to reality” fail to be epistemological? In the next page van Mazijk rightly reminds that McDowell thinks epistemological anxieties do not go to the root; the problem of intentionality itself is the deepest problem. However, in that context by “epistemology” McDowell means questions concerning justification or warrant; he certainly would not deny that “our access to reality” is broadly (and rightfully) an epistemological issue. Moreover, although the problem of intentionality is McDowell’s primary concern, what he says for that purpose imply theses in psychology and phenomenology (understood as consciousness), and it does not help to insist that the project is transcendental and therefore human psychology is irrelevant (van Mazijk, 2020, 147): for example, if the possibility of intentional action presupposes certain kind of body representation (O’Shaughnessy, 1995), this transcendental conditional can be falsified by what we know about human psychology (Bermúdez, 1995). Van Mazijk mentions that “McDowell’s theory [pertains] to ‘rational relations’ rather than, say, sub-personal psychological contents” (van Mazijk, 2020, 122; quoting Bermúdez and Cahen, 2015). However, McDowell’s view can be about personal psychological contents (McDowell, 1994/1998). This shows that at least some “misunderstandings” concerning arguments for non-conceptual contents van Mazijk tries to point out (137 onwards) are actually not misunderstandings, but it will take us too far if we go into those details.

Overall, van Mazijk has offered a substantive and original effort of explicating aspects of Kant’s, Husserl’s, and McDowell’s philosophy, and identifying various strands in their thinking. It would be unfair to demand any such book project to be close to comprehensive. This is not the first contemporary discussion of the relations between these figures (e.g., Christensen, 2008), and will certainly spark many further investigations into these interrelated themes. My critical points above should be taken as my will to carry on the conversations, and I am sure many others will join and make the exchanges even more fruitful.


Acknowledgements:

I would like to thank Cheng-Hao Lin and Kuei-Chen Chen for helpful inputs. Daniel Guilhermino also reviews this book for this journal; I have made sure our reviews do not overlap much.


References:

Bermúdez, J. L. 1995. “Transcendental Arguments and Psychology: The Example of O’Shaughnessy on Intentional Action.” Metaphilosophy, 26(4), 379-401.

Bermúdez, J. L., & Cahen, A. 2015. “Nonconceptual Mental Content.” In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Cassam, Q. 1997. Self and World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Chalmers, D. 1996. The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory. New York: Oxford University Press.

Cheng, T., Deroy, O., & Spence, C. (Eds.) 2019. Spatial Senses: Philosophy of Perception in an Age of Science. New York: Routledge.

Cheng, T. 2019. “On the Very Idea of a Tactile Field.” In T. Cheng, O. Deroy, and C. Spence (Eds.), Spatial Senses: Philosophy of Perception in an Age of Science. New York: Routledge.

Cheng, T. (forthcoming a). John McDowell on Worldly Subjectivity: Oxford Kantianism meets Phenomenology and Cognitive Sciences. London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic.

Cheng, T. (forthcoming b). “Sensing the Self in World.” Analytic Philosophy.

Christensen, B. C. 2008. Self and World: From Analytic Philosophy to Phenomenology. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Davidson, D. 1963. “Actions, Reasons, and Causes.” The Journal of Philosophy, 60(23), 685-700.

Davidson, D. 1970. “Mental Events.” In L. Foster and J. W. Swanson (Eds.), Experience and Theory. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press.

Gadamer, H-G. 1960/2004. Truth and Method. Joel. Weinsheimer and Donald Marshall (trans.), New York: Continuum.

Gaskin, R. 2006. Experience and the World’s Own Language. New York: Oxford University Press.

Heidegger, M. 1927/2010. Being and Time. J. Stambaugh (trans), Albany: State University of New York Press.

Husserl, E. 1911/1983. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy: First Book: General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology. F. Kersten and D. Haag (trans.), Boston, Lancaster: Martinus Nijhoff.

McDowell, J. 1985/1998. “Functionalism and Anomalous Monism.” In E. LePore and B. McLaughlin (eds.) Actions and Events: Perspectives on the philosophy of Donald Davidson. Oxford: Blackwell, pp.387-98; reprinted in his Mind, Value, and Reality, pp. 325-40. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McDowell, J. 1989/1998. One strand in the private language argument. Grazer Philosophische Studien, 33/34, pp.285-303; reprinted in his Mind, value, and reality, pp.279-96. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McDowell, J. 1994/1998. “The Content of Perceptual Experience.” The Philosophical Quarterly, 44, pp.190-205; reprinted in his Mind, Value, and Reality, pp.341-58. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McDowell, J. 1996. Mind and World, 2nd edition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McDowell, J. 1998. Mind, Value, and Reality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McDowell, J. 2005/2008b. Conceptual capacities in perception. In G. Abel (Ed.), Kreativität: 2005 Congress of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Philosophie, pp. 1065-79; reprinted in his Having the world in view: Essays on Kant, Hegel, and Sellars, pp.127-44. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McDowell, J. 2007a/2008a. “What Myth?” Inquiry, 50, pp. 338-51; reprinted in his The Engaged Intellect: Philosophical Essays, pp. 308-23. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McDowell, J. 2007b/2008a. Response to Dreyfus. Inquiry, 50, pp.366-70; reprinted in his The Engaged Intellect: Philosophical Essays, pp.324-8. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McDowell, J. 2008a. The Engaged Intellect: Philosophical Essays. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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McDowell, J. 2008c/2008b. “Avoiding the Myth of the Given.” In J. Lindgaard (Ed.), John McDowell: Experience, Norm, and Nature, pp.1-14. Oxford: Blackwell; reprinted in Having the World in View: Essays on Kant, Hegel, and Sellars, pp. 256-71. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McLear, C. 2020. “Kantian Conceptualism/Nonconceptualism.” In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Martin, M. G. F. 1992. “Sight and Touch.” In T. Crane (Ed.), The Contents of Experience: Essays on Perception. New York: Cambridge University Press.

O’Shaughnessy, B. 1989. ‘The Sense of Touch.” Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 67(1), 37-58.

O’Shaughnessy, B. 1995. “Proprioception and the Body Image.” In J L. Bermúdez, A. J. Marcel, & N. Eilan (Eds.), The Body and the Self. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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van Mazijk, C. 2020. Perception and Reality in Kant, Husserl, and McDowell. New York, NY: Routledge.

Alberto Romele: Digital Hermeneutics: Philosophical Investigations in New Media and Technologies

Digital Hermeneutics: Philosophical Investigations in New Media and Technologies Book Cover Digital Hermeneutics: Philosophical Investigations in New Media and Technologies
Alberto Romele
Routledge
2019
Paperback
168

Reviewed by: Eddo Evink (Faculty of Philosophy, University of Groningen)

Introduction

It is a commonplace to say that digital media and communication technology have thoroughly transformed the world we live in. This is obvious to all of us. The impact of the digital revolution, however, is so immense that philosophy, in spite of a multitude of books and articles, has only started to get a grip on it, as far as that is possible at all. Although one might expect a large number of contributions of the hermeneutic tradition to the philosophical reflections on digital media, since these are mainly information and communication technologies, philosophical hermeneutics has remained relatively silent with regard to the new media.

Alberto Romele’s monograph Digital Hermeneutics is therefore a more than welcome intervention in the philosophical reflections on the new media. Romele has written a rich book that discusses many aspects of this complicated field of research. His book does not only develop a hermeneutic approach to digital media, it also shows the mutual influence of hermeneutic interpretation theory and the new media technology.

Renewing Hermeneutics

Romele’s approach is in line with the hermeneutics of Paul Ricoeur. Especially the notion of distanciation is used to highlight how new media are both object of research and actor in the networks in which they are embedded. But also Romele’s style is reminiscent of Ricoeur: he develops his ideas in discussion with many other theorists, showing ever new insights into the complicated relations between information and interpretation, internet and society, imagination and mediation, humans and technology. Also in line with Ricoeur’s style, the conclusions of the different parts of the book are more like new chapters than integrating summaries. This makes the book as a whole a dense and rich composition of many lines of thought, starting with an Overture, followed by two large parts, while ending with a grand Finale. The book has a large scope: after the introduction of its approach in the Overture, Part 1 offers an epistemological and methodological account of the digital, Part 2 is about an ontology of the digital, while the Finale discusses several ethical end political consequences.

Romele rightly argues that a hermeneutic approach of new media cannot be a matter of simply applying existing points of view of the hermeneutic tradition to the digital. The hermeneutic tradition itself needs to be taken up and renewed. In the Overture he starts with a ‘confession’ (2) that he began the project of this book with the intention to deconstruct the hermeneutics of Gadamer and Ricoeur. In Gadamer’s philosophy Romele recognizes a focus on unity, with theological roots, that, notwithstanding all the emphasis on dialogue, is a monologue of “the sole truth of the Event.” (1) In Ricoeur’s work, Romele finds what he calls an “idealism of matter”, a tendency to focus exclusively on language as the main or even only mediator of meaning. The same concentration on unity and ontology can also be found in Heidegger’s philosophy of technology that takes all technological phenomena together from the single perspective of Gestell. Instead, a hermeneutic-phenomenological philosophy of technology should not only be fixated on a general ontology but embrace the ontic plurality of many technical devices, projects and phenomena. Romele therefore makes a plea for a “minor and pragmatic hermeneutics” (1) that highlights the multi-linear and multi-medial character of interpretation, including digital and non-linguistic interpretation; a hermeneutics that embraces ideas of post-phenomenology, empirical philosophy and actor-network-theory. Interpretation does not only take place in language, but also in other media, matter and machines. It is also a matter of images, websites, cell phones and algorithms.

Of course, this approach is not a break with the hermeneutic tradition, it is a renewal. Just as post-phenomenology takes up several aspects of Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein in Sein und Zeit, Romele’s digital hermeneutics follows his ontological turn in hermeneutics that regards every relation between Dasein and world as an interpretation. Thus, instead of deconstructing hermeneutics, Romele picks up Ricoeur’s concept of distanciation (11) and uses it to reveal how, on the one hand, we are connected with the world through all kinds of digital and technical-material relations, while, on the other hand, the digital devices and networks can become object of scientific research and philosophical reflection as well. In this way Romele also transforms Ricoeur’s idea of distanciation, giving it a material deepening beyond the merely linguistic understanding by Ricoeur.

In this respect, he also uses a distinction made by Don Ihde (1998) between a ‘special’ and a ‘general’ hermeneutics. Special hermeneutics refers to the specific kind of technologies that offer a representation of the world, while general hermeneutics alludes to the fact that all technologies are hermeneutic in the sense that they selectively frame and mould the human-world relations in which they function. A philosophical hermeneutics of the digital needs to take into account the active interpretative performances of technical tools and procedures that are at work in all our engagements with it. Digital hermeneutics is a hermeneutics of the digital in both meanings of the subjective and objective genitive.

Epistemology of the Digital

Under the somewhat confusing heading “The Virtual Never Ended” Romele examines epistemological and methodological issues, disputing several lines of thought that tend to minimize the distance between the virtual and the real. In the first reflections on the internet and digital media, now a few decades ago, many theorists emphasized the difference between the virtual and the real. The virtual was a ‘second world’ in which we could easily experiment with what was not possible or harder to accomplish in the real world. Later, this perspective changed in its opposite: many researchers now maintain that no distinction can be made anymore between the virtual and the real. Romele uses the notion of distanciation to criticize both points of view. The virtual is like the glasses or contact lenses that we can see, but also through which we can see and that change the way we see, although they seem to be completely transparent.

In the first chapter Romele takes a position against those who believe that “the virtual invaded the real.” In particular, he discusses the “semantic theory of information”, formulated by Luciano Floridi. Floridi (2005) defines information as “data + meaning + truth” (27). This is a very objectivist view that includes meaning and truth as internal ingredients of information. Floridi even gives a Hegelian-style formula to express this belief: “what is real is informational, and what is informational is real.” (35) Based on this view, Floridi also develops the more practical view that in everyday life the real and the virtual are blurred, mixing ‘life’ and ‘online’ in an Onlife Manifesto (35). This leads to all kinds of problems and contradictions: thruth-values as supervening on semantic information; the difference between factual and instructional information, and more.

As an alternative, Romele sketches a hermeneutic approach of information, describing it as part of contextual communication. He draws on several other authors, as well as on etymological research that shows that the pre-modern meaning of information was ‘giving a (substantial) form to matter’ (24). For those who are well educated in hermeneutics, his criticism is not very surprising: information can only manifest its meaning in contexts, it is in need of interpretation, and therefore the meaning can never be entirely fixed. The conclusions of this chapter, however, show the importance of the material aspects in Romele’s approach:

“…the hermeneutics of information (and, more broadly, digital hermeneutics) is a material hermeneutics for three reasons: (1) because it starts from an analysis which is internal and not extrinsic to the object in question; (2) because it deals with the varieties of contexts of production and reception of meaning; (3) because it is interested in the matter (the techniques and technologies) through which digital traces are transformed into data, and data into information.” (38)

The introduction to the second chapter discusses several topics, among them the growing awareness that the real and the virtual are not two separated worlds, but are thoroughly intertwined. In terms of the title: the real invaded the virtual. This involves, besides many other issues, problems with privacy; but in this part of the book Romele directs our intention mainly to digital sociology, asking the epistemological question how society can be studied with digital methods. Several examples of data visualization, Big Data and computational sociology are discussed, while Romele underscores the view that digital methods do not give a transparent window on the world or on ourselves. There always remains “an inexhaustible gap between the self and its digital representations.” (50) So again, the virtual and the real do not coincide. In the second section Romele chooses an unexpected opponent: Bruno Latour.

One might expect, Romele rightly suggests, that Latour would show how digital representation and research methods do not simply represent the world as it is, how digital technology needs its own material structure of cables, electricity, hardware, etc., and how the internet can be seen as a dense network of actants. To the surprise of both author and readers, this is not what Latour writes about the digital. Romele shows how Latour usually combines an emphasis on matter and on networks, but with regard to the digital he seems to forget its material shapes and almost entirely focusses on how digital networks offer us a view on real networks:

“It is as if Latour’s attention to the matter of the spirit applies to everything except to digital technologies and methodologies because they allow social reality to be seen as Latour wants to see it. For him, the digital has a double function. From an ontological point of view, it is a model and a paradigm for seeing the society as an actor-network. From an epistemological perspective, it offers a new resource to study society ‘in action.’” (53)

Latour seems to try to erase the difference between map and territory: “…digital traceability has transformed reality in  a global laboratory in which entities and events can be followed step by step.” (54) However, arguing that the real and the virtual never coincide, Romele reads Latour against Latour, showing how Latour’s interest in uncovering networks in the real world conceals the matter of the digital as a web of constructing actants. In other words, with regard to the digital Latour seems to behave like the ‘modern’ scientist that he elsewhere claims we have never been:

“In his We Have Never Been Modern (1993), Latour denoted with the word ‘modern’ two orders of practices: the ‘translation,’ consisting of creating hybrids, and the ‘purification,’ which continuously hides these same hybridizations. Are we not facing such a process right here? Are we not, on the one hand, creating hybrid entities of (social) nature and (digital) culture (digital traces and the methods for their analysis as ‘presentification’ of social reality) and, on the other hand, concealing the very process of creation of these entities?” (58)

After this criticism Romele mentions several ideas and methods that are better candidates to be incorporated in a methodology of digital hermeneutics. Big Data do not simply show massive facts, but, with a reference to Rob Kitchin (2014), could better be called “capta (from the Latin capere, ‘to take’), because they are extracted through observations, computations, experiments, and recordings that have nothing immediate in themselves.” (60)

How can we develop methods that make use of the giant new possibilities of massive digital information, while remaining aware of its perspective and constructive elements? Romele refers to the work of the digital sociologist Noortje Marres (2017), perhaps “the most Latourian in this field, more Latourian than Latour himself,” (61) who indicates the impossibility to establish a clear boundary between digital methods and their objects. In her digital sociology she has decided to accept the fluidity of the distinction between methods and objects, and to investigate this unsolidified distinction. Marres’ sociology includes “the continuous effort to trace the boundaries between medium, methods, and social reality.” (62) Sociology therefore needs to combine digital and classical methods, while placing the constructive effects of digital settings in the centre of scientific analysis. Marres calls this “issue mapping.” (63)

This is where hermeneutics meets post-phenomenology. This last current of thought (Romele mainly refers to Don Ihde and Peter-Paul Verbeek) investigates how technologies are co-constitutive in the mediation between humans and the world. It offers another perspective on the same insights of actor-network-theory: “…while actor-network theory is attentive above all to the plurality of relations, postphenomenology, which usually considers only one relation at a time, addresses somewhat the different types of relations and the different types of actors involved in these relations.” (65) Digital hermeneutics thus includes the use of digital methods as well as reflections on these methods and the many ways  they participate in shaping their objects. Further investigations in this field of research will probably lead to very complex analyses of many different sorts of multidimensional and flexible networks. Romele has developed a promising epistemological vantage point for this kind of research. I would have liked to read a bit more about advanced elaborations on it, but these lie beyond the scope of this book.

In this way Romele sketches not only a material and technological turn in hermeneutics, but also a hermeneutical turn in the philosophy of technology. Digital hermeneutics is an actualization of Ricoeur’s “long route” of hermeneutics, “making existence, preconceptions, and specific worldviews emerge from an internal analysis of the methods and the objects themselves.” (74) This approach includes negotiations about the methods and terminologies that the researcher has to link his own work to, in order to keep a dialogue going. On the one hand Romele seems to join theories of information, trying to give a hermeneutic twist to them. On the other hand he suggests another terminology, developing the notion of “digital trace” as a “hermeneutic alternative to the concept of semantic information” of Floridi and others (75). Although information and communication are still relevant features of the digital, Romele writes: “I believe that today recording, registration, and keeping track represent the most appropriate paradigm for understanding the digital and its consequences.” (72) Again, he follows Ricoeur in this respect, for whom the trace was “the matrix of a difficult but possible epistemology.” (77). Tracking or following traces is a general notion for a style of research in many different practices, like medicine, hunting and art history. “A hermeneutic of the trace would therefore be much wider (both in depth and width) than the classic hermeneutics of texts, documents, or monuments.” (78)

Ontology of the Digital

The second part of this book is dedicated to the ontology of the digital. Its aim is a new ontological turn in hermeneutics, now within the context of digital hermeneutics, by investigating to what extent digital machines are able to interpret. This is a farewell to the anthropocentrism that has accompanied modern hermeneutics for centuries. In the third chapter Romele goes step-by-step from Kantian imagination to Emagination – this term is also the title of part II.

The Kantian transcendental scheme or Einbildungskraft is the famous faculty of the first Critique that brings sense data and understanding together: the transcendental construction of objects in the mind. In the third Critique Kant adds a reflective imagination that is less dependent on the twelve categories of understanding. In the twentieth century this imagination as faculty of human consciousness was replaced by Simondon and Ricoeur in a, respectively, practical-technical and a semiotic-historical imagination. Romele refers several times to Simondon, but mainly elaborates on Ricoeur. In Ricoeur’s narrative theory productive imagination is externalized in language: “The synthesis between receptivity and spontaneity happens outside, in linguistic expressions such as symbols, signs, metaphors, and narrations.” (87) Imagination is not a creatio ex nihilo, but is a recombination of already existing elements, a process of distanciation and re-appropriation, which takes place in language. Ricoeur has articulated this process with the help of the Aristotelian notions mimesis and mythos. The re-arrangement of elements of a series of events in the structures of a story takes the place of the Kantian imagination that combines sense data and the categories of the understanding. This emplotment is performed in several levels of mimesis: prefiguration, configuration and refiguration.

In a move that is analogous to his argument in the first part, Romele now transposes productive imagination from language to machines. Digital imagination, or emagination, however, is more than an extension of human imagination from language to machines: the machines work by themselves. “Digital technologies, I would say, imitate with increasing fidelity the way human productive imagination actually works.” (100) They are “imaginative machines” that work by mimesis and mythos.

With regard to mimesis, Romele refers to, among others, Don Ihde, who has distinguished several ways in which technology mediates between humans and the world. All these mediations are transparent, in the sense that, after a while, we hardly notice them anymore:

“(1) embodied relations, whose specificity lies in the high transparency of the technological artefact after a period of adaptation (for instance, glasses); (2) hermeneutic relations, which give a representation of the world that interprets the world, and that must in its turn be interpreted (for example, thermometers and maps); (3) alterity relations, in which the relation with the world is temporarily suspended, and the technology itself assumes the role of interlocutor/competitor (for instance, computer games); and (4) background relations, when a technology creates the conditions of our own relation with the world (for example, heating and lighting systems).” (100-101)

Digital technologies can perform all these mediations. In doing so, they interpret, represent and reproduce the world for us. But however transparent they may seem, we still need to be aware of the distanciation that is at work here: digital representations do not coincide with reality.

With regard to mythos, digital software is able to perform productive imagination. The emplotment is created by databases and algorithms, analogous to the Kantian sense data and categories – and perhaps also to series of events combined in narrative structures. This last comparison is suggested but not specified by Romele. A few pages further, this analogy is relativized, when he mentions differences between narrative imagination and Big Data analytics. The latter is abstracted from its context of production and, moreover: “…data mining and machine learning are based neither on narrative emplotment nor on the research of causes […], but on the correlation of heterogeneous data.” (108) Nevertheless, digital technologies work autonomously and can guide our perceptions and actions. They are “…not only interfaces to our imagination and the world but are one of the ways (probably the main one today) in which productive imagination externalizes and realizes itself in the world.” (103)

Moreover, digital machines are increasingly performing faster and on a larger scale than humans. Big Data and the newest algorithms work more and more autonomously, and with a productive imagination that surpasses human sensibility and understanding. According to Romele, at the end of the last century productive imagination could still be said to be “lower” than human imagination. In the social web of the last two decades there is rather a correspondence between the two. But today, now that databases have become data streams and because of the development of machine learning algorithms,

“the relation between human and digital imagination is going to be inversed, since the latter is overpassing the possibilities of the former. Or at least, even without wanting to confront them, it seems fair to say that digital imagination is taking an autonomous path which has concrete consequences on our decisions.” (91)

Given the fact that the analogy between narrative and digital imagination is, in my view at least, less convincing than other parts of the book, it makes sense to suggest that the latter is different from human imagination, but that it also, at least in several respects, outperforms human productive imagination.

This last observation, one of the most important ideas of this book, is not only fascinating, but also deeply worrying, as becomes clear in the example of algorithmic governmental profiling. The third chapter ends with the larger question how human freedom can be understood in this understanding of productive imagination and in relation to the digital. Romele pleas for a relatively modest view of our freedom: “Human beings are essentially hetero-determinate, and what we call ‘freedom’ is a long and difficult detour through our technological, but also bodily, cultural, and social exteriorities.” (109) Nonetheless, the newest digital technologies may have enormous consequences on our subjective sense of freedom.

In chapter 4 Romele goes further in “frustrating” our human self-esteem. He states that human imagination is not as creative and ingenious as we often think. All innovation is a recombination and further developing of what already existed. Romele combines the Kantian distinction between determining imagination in the first Critique and free reflective imagination in the third Critique with Lévi-Strauss’ distinction between the engineer and the bricoleur. The engineer looks for the right materials and can develop a large number of tools and concepts, whereas the bricoleur only uses the material at hand. According to this distinction, the bricoleur is productive and the engineer is creative. Romele criticizes the idea that human imagination works like creative engineering, following Derrida’s deconstruction of the distinction: the engineer is a myth. Thus, we have never been engineers, as the title of this chapter says (124).

In addition, Romele stresses the increasing role of Artificial Intelligence in influencing our aesthetic judgments (machines recommending us what to watch and what to listen to), as well as aesthetic production in some areas. All this means “…that digital machines are also teaching us to be modest when it comes to us pretending to be engineers.” (132)

In the conclusion of this chapter, Romele compares several phases of the relation between hermeneutics and nature with phases of digital hermeneutics. These phases are a “level zero” (nature cannot be interpreted), “level one” (nature as object or our projections) and “level two” (nature has interpretative capacities). Comparably, for a long time hermeneutics made a strong distinction between humans and non-humans, which can be called “level zero”. At “level one” interpretation “…is a result of the articulation between human and non-human intentionalities.” (138) “Level two” still mainly has to come. The question here is whether we can “…attribute to digital technologies, or at least to an emerging part of them, an autonomous interpretational agency.” (139)

A part of the answer to this last question is given on the first page of the Finale. Among the many distinctions Romele has made in his book, is a list of different degrees and kinds of interpretation. Several levels of complexity can be distinguished. The more complex the level of interpretation is, the less it can be attributed to digital technologies. Classification in already established orders can be done more efficiently by machines, whereas digital technologies cannot (yet) beat human pattern-recognition abilities (143).

Ethics and Politics of the Digital

The plea for symmetry between humans and digital machines does not make Romele blind for the political consequences it may have. He argues for a critical posthumanism that needs to address differences between humans and machines, “… while remaining within the limits of a principle of symmetry.” (144) This critical posthumanism has to investigate “…the kind of interference between human and non-human (in this case, digital) claims for meaning when the object of interpretation and eventual understanding is human subjectivity.” (145) In recent years this interference has been growing because of the collection, analysis and trade of user and consumer data. Romele speaks of a “general ‘algorithmization’ and ‘Big Datafication’” that has created a superstructure with a central role in our digital economy, culture and society (148).

What worries Romele is the indifference he finds in many people, “the most important affection in the present digital age.” (145) He tries to understand this indifference with Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of habitus. Habitus is a “supra- or infra-cultural entity that frames our intention without us even being conscious of such hetero-determination.” (149) It shapes our behaviour, postures, wishes, etc., and makes us part of a specific social and economic class. The digital, Romele writes, “must be considered as a sort of habitus generator.” (146, 151) At the end of his book he formulates the following important question:

“The question I want to ask at this point is how it is possible to make subjects able to deal with the digital habitus in order to carve out room for manoeuvring or allowing a margin of freedom before the power and the configuring force exercised on them by and through the sociotechnical systems.” (153)

His answer makes use of three notions that are articulated by Michel Foucault. The first is the Panopticon: surveillance is an increasing problem of social media. The second notion is confession. Foucault states that Western self-understanding and expression have adopted a form of confession that gives rise to problematic power relations. The way to deal with these power relations may lie in a third notion: parrhesia, speaking freely, in a way that interrupts the usual codes. The problem is, however, that algorithmic digital technology seems to have anesthetized our free speech or to have made it irrelevant. What can speaking freely help us, if the algorithms of insurance companies or the police have already profiled us as suspicious? Romele suggests that only socio-economic and institutional initiatives can constitute contexts and situations that make parrhesia possible. The justice we would need to look for, he concludes,

“…would consist of creating sociotechnical conditions for an ethos of distanciation from one’s own digital habitus. In other words, it would mean to contribute to framing a sociodigital environment in which people can become sensitive to the insensibility and indifference of the digital.” (158)

Digital Hermeneutics is a rich and dense book that offers many views on the rapidly developing digital structures of our world. It discusses several important questions that philosophy needs to address today. At the same time it is a very good effort to re-invent hermeneutics in a contemporary setting, incorporating post-phenomenology and other philosophies of technology. In short, this is a must-read for everyone who is interested in hermeneutic philosophy and the digital.

References

Don Ihde. Don. 1998, Expanding Hermeneutics: Visualism in Science. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Floridi, Luciano. 2005. “Is Semantic Information Meaningful Data?”, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 70 (2): 351–370.

Kitchin, Rob. 2014. The Data Revolution: Big Data, Open Data, Data Infrastructures and Their Consequences. London: Sage.

Marres, Noortje. 2017. Digital Sociology: The Reinvention of Sociological Research. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Ricoeur, Paul. 1991. From Text to Action: Essays in Hermeneutics, II. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Wayne Veck, Helen M. Gunter (Eds.): Hannah Arendt on Educational Thinking and Practice in Dark Times

Hannah Arendt on Educational Thinking and Practice in Dark Times: Education for a World in Crisis Book Cover Hannah Arendt on Educational Thinking and Practice in Dark Times: Education for a World in Crisis
Wayne Veck, Helen M. Gunter (Eds.)
Bloomsbury Academic
2020
Hardback £81.00
200

Reviewed by: Julien Kloeg (Erasmus University College)

Hannah Arendt on Educational Thinking and Practice in Dark Times: Education for a World in Crisis (ed. W. Veck & H. Gunter) is an edited collection which seeks to connect the thought of Hannah Arendt to education in the broadest possible sense. There are nine chapters in total, plus an extensive introduction that extensively prepares the themes considered in the book and a conclusion that takes stock of what has been achieved. Contributions cover a wide range. As the title suggests, there are interventions that are mostly practical in nature. Critical discussions of privatization in education (Gunter, chapter 5) and ‘Holocaust education’ (Morgan, chapter 7) are examples of this practical orientation. On the other, more theoretical end of the spectrum stand considerations on the notion of educational authority (Berkowitz, chapter 1) and the promise of narrative imagination in connection with the work of Paul Ricoeur (Dillabough, chapter 4). The volume as a whole is structured by the idea that we can today legitimately speak of “not only a crisis in education, but rather about the crisis of education”, which “encompasses the entire public realm” and thus creates “an existential crisis for the very idea of public education itself” (3). A sense of discomfort at the disorientation of adults, a general disconnect from the world, and the aforementioned privatization agenda pervades the volume. The public prominence of the likes of Greta Thunberg (1) and Malala Yousafzai (155) are included as convincing examples of admirable public action which is itself however a ‘symptom’:

“Nothing (…) could speak more loudly of the shunning of adult responsibility to the young than the situation in which newcomers feel themselves left with no other recourse than to take up responsibility for safeguarding the earth” (1).

But why is Arendt’s perspective the one that is chosen to explore this crisis of education? Arendt wrote two essays devoted to education, which means that from an exegetical perspective education plays a relatively minor role in her work. In the conclusion, the editors state the other structuring thought of the volume: of primary importance are Arendt’s “broader insights into the public realm that help educators and researchers to think about the purposes of education” (151). The typical approach of the contributions is thus as follows: first, a theme from Arendt’s writing on education is selected (authority, renewing the world, pearl-diving) and then, second, connected to more ‘mainstream’ writings by Arendt, mostly her political writings but also for instance her final, unfinished work The Life of the Mind (1977). Third, the elaborated theme is then either connected to a current challenge to education or put to the test on a conceptual level, depending on the practical/theoretical orientation of the chapter.

This three-step could have been a formulaic approach, but in truth this almost never shows. The only exception is the tendency of each author to once more explain Arendt’s The Crisis in Education (1954), which of her two essays on education is the main one that is referred to. The second, Reflections on Little Rock (1959), is controversial and does not receive as much attention in the volume – although Berkowitz (Chapter 1), Baluch (Chapter 2), and Nixon (Chapter 3) provide varying and thought-provoking evaluations of the latter. The editors seem to have avoided repetition with respect to themes from The Crisis in Education as much as possible, and the different emphases and points of departure of the contributions also mean that even when similar fragments from Arendt are selected, they are put to different uses. The only alternative seems to be to offer a ‘shared interpretation’ in the introduction, which contributors can then simply refer to – but this would somewhat break the integrity of the individual contributions. It thus seems that in volumes such as this one it is the nature of Arendt’s work itself that necessitates a certain level of ‘setting up’ and thus repetition. Future volumes would do well to follow the approach taken by the editors of Hannah Arendt on Educational Thinking and Practice in Dark Times.

The second step, which connects Arendt’s writing on education to her other writings, sees the contributors relate to a wide variety of Arendtian themes and writings. Popular choices in the volume are The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), The Human Condition (1958) and The Life of the Mind. This broadly reflects the general orientation of the volume: respectively the threat of the closure and destruction of the public sphere, Arendt’s technical notions of action and the world, and imagination, thinking and judgment. Still, the range of the references is impressive, featuring both the most well-known titles but also various more ‘minor’ writings. The references are laid out in a highly accessible fashion, following Bowring’s use of abbreviations of Arendt’s titles. This is clearly a good choice. At a few points in the volume references are made to entire works. When contributors simply refer to ‘(OT; HC)’, which happens in some of the chapters, one does wonder whether a more specific support for the contributors’ claim about Arendt would not have been preferable. In part this is perhaps a trade-off: the sheer inclusiveness of the volume with respect to Arendt’s work means that some ideas are not discussed in full. As a result of the wide range of works that is discussed, the volume has the considerable advantage that it can serve as an introduction to many of Arendt’s writings, for readers with an educational interest but also more generally for those interested in Arendt’s work as it speaks to our times. Authority in the Twentieth Century (1956) and Elemente und ursprünge totaler Herrschaft (1955) could have been consulted and Arendt’s doctoral thesis on Love and Saint Augustine (1929) is used quite sparsely considering the importance of Augustine for Arendt’s notions of action, temporality, and newcomers – all of which are important to the volume. Still, these are minor comments which reflect a specific approach to Arendt’s oeuvre. The volume breathes Arendtian scholarship throughout and on top of that makes Arendt highly relevant to current thinking about education. This is to be commended.

The third step takes us from Arendt on education and her other work to either a theoretical or practical area of interest where the Arendtian perspective on education is fully realized. Before we consider the success of this third step, we should reflect on the theoretical/practical continuum itself and the role it plays in the volume. The nine contributions are organized thematically in three parts of three chapters each: The Promise of Education, Education and Crisis, and Education for Love of the World. The three parts are set up dialectically: the first part “brings together new insights into the depth and complexity of Arendt’s thinking about and for education and its promise” (8), which then paves the way for reflections on the current crisis of education (3) in the second part through the perspective of “various social crises” (8). The final section is focuses on “prospects for education” (8). Much of the introduction is devoted to showing how the individual contributions fit into this thematic organization – however, the volume’s contents protest its dialectics. The contribution by Nixon (Chapter 3) in effect combines all three themes, reflecting on populism before connecting elements of Arendt’s ‘educational’ forays to possible strategies to move beyond today’s ‘dark times’. The following contribution by Dillabough (Chapter 4) indicates in its title that education theorizing is at stake, and does not connect to ‘social crises’ in the way Gunter (Chapter 5) does in connection to privatization in education, or in the way that Gunter (Chapter 6) does in connection to the education of refugee children. Chapters 5 and 6 do fit excellently. Whereas Nixon’s contribution seems to straddle the divides between the three parts, Dillabough’s contribution simply does not feel at home in the most practically oriented part of the volume. The third part is thematically the most open-ended and this is born out by the contributions: from ‘Holocaust education’ (Morgan, chapter 7), a comparison between Dewey and Arendt on the topic of their respective institutional-democratic proposals (Schutz, chapter 8), and, closing out the book, a reflection on Arendt’s notion of thinking and its connection to an educational perspective on her work (Duarte, chapter 9). There is thus more variety to the volume than it seemed to want to allow itself. This warrants a short discussion of the individual contributions.

The first chapter is by Roger Berkowitz, who is among other distinctions the academic director of the Hannah Arendt center for Politics and Humanities at Bard College. His contribution reengages with the notion of authority, which is central to Arendt’s work on education and is also part of her history of politics. Berkowitz convincingly problematizes Arendt’s view of education as taking place within the private sphere, while also showing the power of her educational thought without avoiding Reflections on Little Rock. The political aspect of authority is not really considered as such; nor is there a consideration of earlier work on educational authority by Mordechai Gordon, which is mentioned in the introduction to the volume. However, the reflection on the importance of privacy adds to both educational and political considerations of Arendt’s work and sets up a valuable notion of public education.

Faisal Baluch, who is a versatile political scientist, reflects on education and temporality. He uses the notion of ‘thinking with Arendt against Arendt’ (Sayla Benhabib) to unravel the interdependency between Arendt’s notion of education and her notion of the political, keeping in mind Arendt’s own “method of reading” (32). This methodological exploration is both interesting and convincing. The interdependency between education and the political is based on Arendt’s notion of temporality, according to Baluch. As above, Gordon’s work would have been a useful reference point; this is also where a reflection on Arendt’s Augustinian notion of time would have added further depth to the text. The argument itself is philosophically inspired and may make readers wish for a more long-form reflection.

Rounding off the first part is John Nixon’s chapter on worldliness and education in a world of difference. This is in part a continuation of Nixon’s project in Hannah Arendt and the Politics of Friendship (2015), one that in this volume is focused on the ‘dark times’ we live in and what this should mean for how we think about education. Important to this consideration is the threat of populism, which is mentioned at other points in the volume as well but here receives theoretical treatment – discussions of populism in other contributions can be overly general, which comes with the risk that the victory achieved by educational theory against populism is based on a strawman fallacy. In Nixon’s contribution populism is approached through the work of Jan-Werner Müller. Here, too, however, one may wonder whether this solves the problem completely. Müller’s work, while highly influential, offers a normative description of populism that does not sit well with Arendtian distinctions between morality and politics – and there are independent philosophical reasons to be critical of such a description as well. Here it shows that Arendtian notions of education and Arendt’s insight in public concerns more generally often intersect and interact with each other. Nixon’s educational answer to the threat of dark times itself is very interesting: he proposes to view education as a protected space devoted to and supportive of thoughtfulness, always in close connection with the world as it really is. This combines insights by Arendt on various topics, in various works, to produce a true synthesis.

The fourth chapter is by Jo-Anne Dillabough, who has researched a wide variety of topics related to youth culture and education, with a continued engagement with Arendt’s work. Using Ricoeur’s work, she argues for a notion of selfhood between self and other and shows how this links up naturally with Arendtian notions such as the plurality of public space. Dillabough suggests that ‘seeing each other as ethically meaningful’ requires a storied and interconnected rather than an isolated self. Education, then, is at its most powerful when it “moves us beyond ourselves precisely for the sake of others, and in the name of others” – and this again is connected to the Arendtian theme of the primary importance of action rather than the actor (78). Dillabough’s contribution, by adopting this perspective, also provides a strong argument against a bureaucratized notion of education “in the name of endless and perilous competition” (ibid). As indicated above, it is not clear that this chapter concerns ‘social crises’. Dillabough’s reflections on the ‘storied self’ and the way this is implied positively and negatively in different ways of thinking about education are highly memorable. It would be interesting to reflect more on the relationship between Berkowitz’ contribution, which insists on the ‘darkness’ of individual subjects, and this account of selfhood: this is simultaneously to ask to what extent – or perhaps in what sense – this account of selfhood remains Arendtian.

The two remaining contributions are by the editors – Helen Gunter writes on privatization and education policy, and Wayne Veck on providing education to refugee children. Both have written extensively on theory and philosophy of education as well as educational policy. These chapters are clearly the most practical in nature, addressing specific societal concerns and seeking to apply Arendt’s thought – not in order to generate clear-cut answers, but in order to offer another way of thinking about them. Gunter zooms into UK educational policy relevant to English schools and how its ‘privatism’ is depoliticized by references to biological determinism and eugenics, which she likens in Arendtian terms to the crystallization of totalitarian conditions (91-92). For Gunter, this has implications for social scientists who should avoid “becoming trapped by their own ideas” (79; 159) by seeing the “rationality in the segregation and disposability of children” and teachers, but instead should “challenge the attack on humanity” (92). All in all, this is a passionate knock-down argument against an entrenched normality, which could draw even more from The Origins of Totalitarianism than it currently does: for instance, related to the importance of the appeal to ‘anonymous’ forces such as History. Veck, in his own chapter, argues against ‘merely compensatory’ approaches to educating refugee children. Said children are ‘newcomers’ in a double sense and thus pose particularly pressing questions both of education and of the responsibility of educators (95). Here Arendt’s distinction between responsibility for the life of the child and responsibility for the education of the new person to orient them in a world that is not theirs is crucial. Approaches to the education of refugee children focus on the former at the expense of the latter, Veck convincingly argues; whereas refugee children, perhaps even more than other children, need to be introduced to the world as theirs. This enrooting in the world can take place precisely by allowing refugee children to withdraw from it at school, offering time and space for solitude (as opposed to loneliness, in Arendt’s technical sense) which allows “thinking and remembering” (105). This at the same time provides a powerful argument against narratives of assimilation. The contributions by Gunter and Veck are both exemplary applications of Arendt to pressing ‘social crises’, with Veck’s chapter especially demonstrating the sheer power of Arendt’s work, creating a new and forceful argument out of positions taken from different (sometimes less well-known) texts.

The third and final part starts with a reflection on ‘Holocaust education’ by Marie Morgan, who like Veck works at the University of Winchester and has written influentially on Post-Holocaust Jewish thought in America. Teaching on the Holocaust has difficult dimensions: disrupting and being disrupted is important, but in considering the Holocaust we are confronted with unimaginable suffering. Does this fit the protective environment of the school? Morgan shows how the freedom of the newcomer is not compromised by being exposed to suffering we may never understand, but rather enabled; but also that this makes the position of the educator particularly difficult, and that high demands are placed on his/her own ability to be at home in the world.  The chapter is also instructive for the continuity it establishes between ‘the political’ and ‘the educational’, in the face of the threat posed by totality.

Aaron Schutz, in the penultimate chapter of the book, draws on his research into theories of democratic education in schools and collective action for social change. His contribution can be construed as a reflection on the relationship between those two fields. Schutz uses John Dewey and then Arendt as his guides, even though the questions relevant to the two thinkers are in fact different, as Dewey is interested in outcomes and Arendt in action as such. The central question is: how does small-scale collaborative democracy in the style of what Schutz calls ‘classroom democracy’ translate to institutional politics on a larger scale? Here lies the problem with what Jane Mansbridge termed the ‘paradox of size’. Dewey did not solve the problem of ‘the public’ to his own satisfaction; Arendt can be usefully seen as carrying forward the discussion in a different, more inherently democratic, way. Schutz, with James Muldoon, offers the democratic council system praised in Arendt’s On Revolution as a “proof of concept” for the requirements Arendt poses for politics in terms of the participation of each unique voice in the public realm (132). Schutz gives the Deweyan perspective further importance by using it to reflect on potential shortcomings of a council system. This chapter provides a very insightful piece of analysis of the requirements and accompanying difficulties besetting a truly ‘public’ form of politics.

In the final contribution, Eduardo Duarte, who is well-known for philosophical work on education and musicality, unearths deep philosophical roots for Arendt’s “almost dialectical” note on schools in The Crisis in Education: “the function of the school is to teach children what the world is like and not to instruct them in the art of living” (137). These roots reach back to ancient philosophy in an attempt to reconstruct the ontological meaning of the common world for Arendt. Epictetus stands for the art of living, in the Stoic mold, and Heraclitus stands for teaching what the world is like. The Stoic starts with powerlessness in the face of inexorable Logos which leads to “passivity and fatalism” (147), whereas Arendt, as quote by Duarte, sounds a Heraclitian note: “For us, appearance – something that is being seen and heard by others as well as by ourselves – constitutes reality” (136). The repair and renewal of the world is thus a mimesis of the ever-changingness and permanent flux of the world on an ontological level, and that helps us to understand Arendt’s somewhat puzzling remarks about the out-of-jointness of the world. While it may be too much “to recognize in the Stoic sophos the prototype of the banality of evil” (147), which according to Duarte is not difficult to do, the ancient philosophical positions brought in to bear witness to Arendtian themes succeed in their purpose overall. While Duarte makes the clearest reference to Augustine in the volume, here too one wonders to what extent it is the Augustinian influence that makes itself felt, either directly or via criticism of his works.

In the conclusion (‘The promise of education revisited’), the editors return to the “themes that have shaped the essays” in the volume (151). This is structured by the idea of the ‘promise of education’, which was also the first theme of the volume. It thus seems that the reflections on social crises and love of the world have enriched the theoretical material out of which an Arendtian approach to education can be constructed: they jointly form an account of the “reality, potential and challenges” of and to the promise of education (152). The conclusion provides a summary of the preceding positions and debates and ends on a call for thoughtful research.

Many enduring lessons are on offer in this volume, which advances Arendtian scholarship as well as educational thought, and itself embodies the thoughtful research it calls out for. There is still much exploring to be done, of course, but the intention of the book was never to provide the final word on issues of education. All contributions are just that – solid contributions that clearly show the continued importance of Arendt in our day and age. It establishes, among other things, the importance and the problematic nature of authority, the interconnection between education, politics and the public realm, and the idea of thoughtfulness in education secured by a protective space of solitude in which to think and remember. Above we have already expressed the view that the reflections on populism in this volume do not yet rise to the challenge of the current ‘populist moment’, in Chantal Mouffe’s term. In addition, it is surprising that, in a volume that opens with a discussion of Greta Thunberg, climate change is only listed as an example along with other examples. Especially in terms of education in (response to) a crisis, one would perhaps expect a more sustained reflection on climate change education ‘with and against Arendt’, for instance in terms of her notions of world and earth. While these are critical remarks, it is always a good sign when new scholarship leaves the reader not only happy to have encountered it, but also wanting more.

Hannah Arendt on Educational Thinking and Practice in Dark Times: Education for a World in Crisis makes a solid contribution to a research agenda that is theoretically promising and at the same time remains in touch with some of the most pressing problems of our age. It is an important document for anyone interested in Arendtian perspectives on education, and for many others, too.

Mahon O’Brien: Heidegger’s Life and Thought: A Tarnished Legacy

Heidegger's Life and Thought: A Tarnished Legacy Book Cover Heidegger's Life and Thought: A Tarnished Legacy
Mahon O'Brien
Rowman & Littlefield International
2020
Paperback $19.99
140

Reviewed by: Christos Hadjioannou (University of Cyprus)

Introductions are historical pieces of work conditioned by the tendencies and urgencies of the moment, and that means they need to be rewritten again and again. Still, one might be excused for thinking that the world doesn’t need another introduction to Heidegger. After reading O’Brien’s excellent book, though, one will be convinced otherwise. Accessible and intellectually honest, this critical introduction to Heidegger’s life and works is a timely contribution to the field, which I recommend highly to beginners as well as specialists.

Today, undergraduates and other first-time readers of Heidegger do not come to his works empty-handed. We can assume that most of them have been exposed to “the Heidegger controversy.” Preserving Heidegger’s legacy requires addressing that controversy. O’Brien is therefore wise not to bypass it, but instead tell the story of Heidegger’s thought partly against that political backdrop. Nor does the book pretend to offer a guide to Heideggerian philosophical concepts from a “neutral standpoint.” It is a polemical introduction, taking a stand on the political issues as well as important interpretive questions that haunt Heidegger scholarship.

In his preface, O’Brien clarifies what he takes to be uncontroversial about Heidegger’s works, and what remains contentious to this day. Instead of painting a sacrosanct picture, he thematizes the controversies and presents a nuanced picture—one that cancels out neither the controversies and weaknesses in Heidegger’s thought, nor the immense value of Heidegger’s philosophical insights.

O’Brien identifies two extreme positions in Heidegger interpretation and rejects the squabble between them as a false dilemma. One position holds that Heidegger is “the greatest scourge to have afflicted academic philosophy,” while to the other, he is “the most important philosopher to have emerged from the Western tradition since Hegel” (ix). O’Brien offers an interpretation that accepts a version of both positions. He argues that while it is undeniable that Heidegger’s association with National Socialism was neither brief not incidental to his thought, and that his commitment to it was based on some of the core elements of his magnum opus, Being and Time (BT), this does not justify “the extirpation of Heidegger’s thought from the canon” (ibid.). Heidegger’s impact remains profound, and striking him from the canon obliterates his intellectual achievements and makes it impossible to explain the origin of subsequent thinkers, who were influenced by him. But O’Brien also warns against the extreme devotion displayed by some commentators, who are “guilty of all kinds of intellectual acrobatics and apologetics in an attempt to rehabilitate Heidegger’s image” (xi). He vows to avoid such misplaced loyalty, which risks alienating prospective readers of Heidegger “who will eventually learn for themselves that Heidegger was a Nazi and a selfish, arrogant egomaniac to boot” (ibid.).

In Chapter One, entitled “Ways Not Works,” O’Brien addresses Heidegger’s methodology and influences, and takes a clear stand on the Kehre debate, which concerns the relationship between the early and later works. Although this issue is decisive in determining what narrative is offered not only regarding the late works but most crucially regarding BT, it is often set aside in introductory texts. O’Brien warns against the two extremes that see either radically disjointed efforts over the course of his oeuvre or an overt systematicity. Instead, he supports the so-called “continuity thesis,” which finds unity across the Heidegger corpus. Thus he sees Heidegger’s work as “a continuous, evolving, if not entirely seamless, enterprise” (xi). Invoking Heidegger’s maxim “ways not works”, O’Brien presents his oeuvre as a series of attempts at thematizing the question of the meaning of being (2-3), which question he addressed most rigorously in BT. This approach helps us appreciate the reasons why Heidegger moved beyond that central work without ever actually rejecting it. O’Brien’s narrative thus rejects a distinction between “Heidegger I” and “Heidegger II,” and counters the assumption that the later works are incompatible with the earlier (5).

O’Brien also does a fine job in this chapter of acknowledging the most important influences on Heidegger’s work without giving a reductive account that denies his philosophical originality. As he argues, Heidegger’s work cannot be categorized under any of the movements that influenced him. Nonetheless, O’Brien identifies Husserl’s phenomenology as having exerted the most influence on his early thought.

Chapter 2, “Early Life,” covers the most significant biographical information with bearing on Heidegger’s philosophical ideas (and is actually not confined only to his early years), including his attempts at a political philosophy. What is crucial to take away from this chapter is the connection between Heidegger’s philosophical confrontation with modernism and his sense of belonging to his native region and its heritage. O’Brien argues that Heidegger himself made it “very clear that the biographical details of his own life […] were crucial to an understanding of the manner in which his thinking developed” (8). Accordingly, he relates the basic facts about Heidegger’s upbringing and family: his father’s vocational connection to the Catholic Church, and his many ties to the countryside and peasant communities, including his mother’s farming background. Thus he contextualizes Heidegger’s distrust of city life and cosmopolitanism (9), which he associated with inauthenticity.

O’Brien draws attention to the interpretive difficulty that hampers any serious attempt to distinguish between those of Heidegger’s philosophical discoveries that resulted from honest thinking, and ideas he espoused disingenuously, ad hoc, in order to justify his private proclivities. It is challenging to identify and appreciate some of Heidegger’s important philosophical ideas on their own merit when he himself attaches them to ridiculous personal views. As a result, some interpreters end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater (12), allowing these associations to discredit profound insights.

In the chapter, O’Brien does not shy away from commenting on Heidegger’s bad personality traits, such as his feigned humility, his extraordinary arrogance and pretentiousness, his serious messiah complex, as well as his philandering (12). The chapter closes with references to his wife Elfride’s antisemitism and nationalism, and shows that also Heidegger himself was fiercely nationalistic (14).

Chapter 3, “Rumours of the Hidden King,” tracks Heidegger’s intellectual development from the early Freiburg period, when he served as Husserl’s teaching assistant, to his years lecturing at Marburg, in the early 1920s. Once he took up employment at Marburg, Heidegger begun formulating his own ideas and themes, moving away from neo-Kantianism and Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology, and recognizing “the importance of time as history for the philosophical project he wished to inaugurate” (21).

One topic stands out in this chapter: Heidegger’s break from Husserlian phenomenology. Here the book’s characterizations of Heidegger’s person are again harsh: O’Brien claims that while Heidegger was indeed at one point deeply inspired by Husserl, nevertheless he “carefully choreographed” the impression that Husserl was his mentor, dedicating BT to him as part of a “calculated piece of manipulation designed to win the favour of one of the most important and influential philosophical voices in Germany at the time” (19).

Chapter 4, “The Hidden King Returns to Freiburg,” is the longest and most important chapter of the book. Here, O’Brien discusses BT and tries to properly contextualize its main arguments in relation to the entire corpus. Discussing the structure of BT, O’Brien analyzes its incompleteness in terms of both philosophical motivations and purely professional-strategic ones. He finds a deep consistency between the projected (missing) second part of BT with the work of his later period. Proponents of the discontinuity thesis, he argues, misinterpret the idea of a “turn” (Kehre), supposing that the new approach and language characteristic of Heidegger’s later texts represent a “reversal,” a “turning away from” and thus a repudiation of BT. But on the contrary, O’Brien points out, the later works constantly invoke BT in order to explain key developments. Heidegger himself recommended that the 1935 Introduction to Metaphysics (IM), be read “as a companion piece to Being and Time” (30). While the later works are not reducible to the earlier, still “Heidegger never fully relinquishes some of the key ideas that he was developing in Being and Time” (28).

Having made his case for continuity, O’Brien is free to turn to important texts that postdate BT in order to clarify some of the latter’s central arguments. Interpreting BT as a book that tries to address the ontologically suppressed interplay of presence and absence, O’Brien refers to the 1949 introduction to “What Is Metaphysics?” (WM) (1929) in order to clarify the purpose that animates BT, which is none other than “to prepare an overcoming of metaphysics” (33). According to Heidegger, the meaning of being as traditionally understood in philosophy privileges presence, something which O’Brien says “distorts the nature of reality for us and indeed our own self-understanding” (30). Part of what Heidegger tries to do is challenge the prejudice that the word “being” and its cognates mean that something exists or is present (ibid.). In fact, when we say that things “are,” “it is not clear that that means that they exist as fully present or actualised before us” (32).

In WM, Heidegger would blame this “metaphysics of presence” for misrepresenting the way we actually experience the world (33). WM’s discussion of nothingness targets the principle of non-contradiction, O’Brien says—a principle “routinely invoked to dismiss all talk of the nothing as simply wrong-headed, illogical, unscientific, in short, as contradictory” (34). The tradition has decided in advance that being reduces to presence and that it itself is not nothing. According to O’Brien, this treatment of nothingness is anticipated early on in BT, specifically in the account of moods as the site which throws open the interplay of presence and absence (34). “Heidegger returns to and defends this idea in 1929, in 1935 and again in his 1940’s introduction and postscript to the 1929 lecture [WM]” (ibid.). Heidegger, O’Brien writes, is trying to show that “traditional approaches miss out on all of the possibilities inherent in what we ‘mean’ when we say that a [an entity] is here, or there, or is something or other” (39). Being means possibility—a multiplicity of possibilities—and although beings stand in Being, they never overcome the possibility of not-Being, something that the philosophical tradition has missed by conceiving being in terms of continuous presence. As O’Brien explains, “[w]hat is suppressed is the role that absence or nothingness plays in our experience and how most of our experience involves a constant interplay of presence and absence” (40).

O’Brien concedes that the existential analytic of Dasein does tend toward anthropocentrism or an excessive prioritization of human subjectivity, but he draws attention to the methodological reasons that led Heidegger to begin with Dasein. Heidegger was convinced that “a new brand of phenomenology, unencumbered with the transcendental baggage of the later Husserl, was the appropriate method, while recognizing that time (or temporality) should be central to any attempt to begin to investigate the meaning of being” (42). Rather than “beginning with some abstract theory or idea, Heidegger insisted that we should begin with ordinary, everyday existence, before any abstractions” (ibid.).

In the same chapter, O’Brien also critically responds to realist readings of Heidegger’s late work, which—as he convincingly argues—rely on a misreading of BT. Without attributing to Heidegger the view that Dasein actively creates meaning, O’Brien disagrees that the meaning of being subsists in the absence of Dasein. He clarifies that Heidegger does not deny that entities exist “out there,” only that their meaning (i.e. the phenomenological “world”) exists independently of Dasein. Here the analysis would benefit from a reference to Taylor Carman’s work, whose use of the term “ontic realism” could help O’Brien consolidate his position further.[1]

In the rest of the chapter, O’Brien offers an eloquent explication of the basic structures of Dasein as presented in BT, without ever becoming tiresome or overly technical. Thus he explains how “understanding” works in terms of projects and possibilities, how “affectivity” (Befindlichkeit) works in terms of moods in which we already find ourselves, and how “falling” works in terms of understanding being as presence.

As regards the focus on death in BT, O’Brien argues that Heidegger is not interested in the actual event of death per se, but rather in the fact that our manner of understanding everything in the world around us is conditioned by our own finitude (47). Heidegger wants to move from the metaphysics of presence to an ontology which reckons with the role that absence or nothingness plays in the meaning of a thing’s being (48).

Chapter 5 is entitled “The 1930s – Politics, Art and Poetry.” The chapter begins with Heidegger’s so-called “linguistic turn,” in which the poetic use of language in particular emerged as a key concern. While some commentators see Heidegger’s focus on language, and particularly his preoccupation with Hölderlin’s poetry during the 1930s and 40s, as a shift away from the project of BT, O’Brien argues that if we remain faithful to the fact that BT is about the meaning of Being, then there’s no surprise in the linguistic turn. In my opinion, O’Brien’s thesis here would benefit from a reference to Heidegger’s early notion of “formal indication,” which is also a precursor to poetic language.

Next O’Brien turns to Heidegger’s linguistic chauvinism, which he argues contributed to shaping his political views. Heidegger believed that German and Ancient Greek were philosophically superior languages that could grasp the world in the origin of its being, and that other languages, such as French and English, were philosophically destitute (57). O’Brien brings up the worrisome recurrence of Heidegger’s prejudice about a supposed inner affinity between Germany and Ancient Greece. He also discusses Heidegger’s intense criticism of “everything in the Western tradition that has led to modernity and eventually the age of technology” (60). It is in this context, argues O’Brien, that Judaism is thrown “into the melting pot along with everything else that he sees as a consequence of the history of the metaphysics of presence, a metaphysics which he believes the German people alone can overcome” (ibid.).

One of the most interesting moments in the book comes when O’Brien questions whether Heidegger’s confrontation with modernity is really as unique as we have been taught to think. Thus he calls for an excavation and identification of the sinister and at times disappointingly derivative motivations behind ideas that many have taken to be unique features of Heidegger’s critique (60-61). Some aspects of Heidegger’s critique of modernity, O’Brien says, are but “a variant on what were ultimately a series of stock antisemitic prejudices that proliferated in Germany from the late 1700s onwards” (59). In some of the most nationalistic and antisemitic remarks to be found in the 1933-1934 seminar Nature, History, State, Heidegger argues that for Slavic people, German space would be revealed differently from the way it is revealed to Germans, and that to “Semitic nomads” it would “perhaps never be revealed at all” (62). O’Brien argues that these attempts to relate philosophical views to a renewal of German spiritual and cultural life under National Socialism can be registered under a certain tradition to which also Fichte belonged (ibid.). Yet Heidegger’s conviction that this “revolution” must be based on key elements of his own philosophical vision, i.e. the attempt to overcome the metaphysics of presence and the inauguration of a new beginning which was specifically tied to the destiny of the German people, makes him stand out in this tradition. Heidegger was “as naïve as he was megalomaniacal” (63), O’Brien says, while reminding us not to dismiss the philosophy just because of the political ends the philosopher thought it could serve.

The final part of the chapter turns to the topic of art and follows Heidegger’s engagement with Hölderlin’s poetry in his 1934 lectures, as well as his 1935-1936 essay “The Origin of the Work of Art.” According to O’Brien, Heidegger was keen to distance his discussion of the origin of art from any conventional aesthetics, and previous analyses of this work have overlooked how Heidegger situates his treatment of art within his larger political vision. Invoking the unique destiny of the German people, Heidegger identifies Hölderlin as the poet the Germans must heed in order to foster an authentic happening, a new political and cultural beginning (65).

In chapter 6, “The Nazi Rector,” O’Brien addresses the apogee of the “Heidegger controversy”: his involvement with Nazi politics and his rectorship at the University of Freiburg. His appointment as rector came as a complete surprise to his students, the Jewish ones included, because as far as they were concerned, “there had been nothing in his demeanor or attitude to that point to suggest that he might be sympathetic to Nazism” (71). On the other hand, argues O’Brien, it’s unlikely that Heidegger happened upon his political allegiances overnight in 1933 (71). He draws attention to the fact that Heidegger reportedly read and was impressed by Mein Kampf, and that he held  antisemitic and reactionary views from early on (ibid.). Thus on O’Brien’s view, the Black Notebooks only confirm previously available evidence that Heidegger was an antisemite who thought he could articulate antisemitic views from within his own philosophical framework.

The whole controversy, argues O’Brien, “should have and could have been dealt with comprehensively and exhaustively a long time ago” (74). He identifies two key factors that contributed to the unnecessary protraction of the whole issue: firstly, the drip-feeding of problematic texts, which created the impression that further revelations, which might complicate the picture, were continuously underway; secondly, the fact that the most critical voices were philosophically weak or obviously biased, resulting in a superficiality that “managed to conceal the deep underlying philosophical questions which must be put to Heidegger’s thought” (ibid.). The chapter offers a critical review of the most influential books on Heidegger’s Nazism, analyzing their scope and breadth and ideological bents, and assessing their strengths and weaknesses. Here, O’Brien shows his prowess, and demonstrates an excellent grasp of the topic.

As regards the political philosophy, O’Brien argues that Heidegger was not a bloodthirsty biological racist, but an archconservative and traditionalist “prone to some rather bizarre provincialist notions which he sought to justify philosophically” (74). Heidegger unsuccessfully tried to marry his own provincialism with a philosophical antimodernism and ethnic chauvinism, thinking this political philosophy was the way to resist the growing dominion of technology (74-75). O’Brien’s verdict is that Heidegger failed to articulate a coherent political philosophy, “owing in part to the fact that his philosophy doesn’t really admit to being employed in the manner in which he wants to use it” (75). O’Brien also finds that Heidegger’s flawed character must have played a role in his stint with National Socialism (76).

Chapter 7, “Return from Syracuse,” covers the period following his banishment from teaching after the denazification proceedings, especially his philosophical output of the 40s, 50s and 60s. It discusses Heidegger’s musings on language, poetry and technology, specifically his analysis of technology, of releasement (Gelassenheit) and the notion of “appropriation/enownment” (Ereignis) (79). While in chapter 5, O’Brien argued that some aspects of Heidegger’s confrontation with modernity might not be as original as initially thought, here he argues against a reductionist misapprehension that his work on technology is simply a symptom of his antimodernism (80). Instead, he says, Heidegger’s essay on technology stands today as the single most important philosophical work on some of the issues concerning the philosophical age we live in (81).

Turning to the Bremen lectures, O’Brien offers a nuanced analysis of the infamous “Agriculture Remark.” The point of the remark, he argues, is not to liken the Holocaust with the harvesting of grain, as some commentators have suggested, nor is Heidegger arguing that agricultural methods are morally equivalent to genocide. What interests him is the role that the essence of technology (Enframing) has figured into everything that has taken place in the twentieth century, including genocide, war and agriculture (82).

Next O’Brien discusses “The Question Concerning Technology”—a good text for a first-time reader of Heidegger to begin with, he says, because in this essay Heidegger touches upon most of his fundamental concepts and views, such as “equipmentality,” “publicness”, das Man, etc. (83). Here, O’Brien’s continuity thesis is on full display, as he argues that Heidegger’s worries about technology are already hinted at in BT: “it is clear that Heidegger’s thinking about technology was there in embryonic form in Being and Time” (85).

O’Brien interprets Heidegger’s critique of (the essence of) technology as a critique of eliminativism, i.e. a critique of positivist approaches that posit that classes of entities which do not fall within the horizon of their investigation do not exist (89). The problem of Enframing is its eliminative character, namely that it is a mode of revealing that governs the way beings come to presence. Other forms of revealing, like poetry, are necessary in order to “allow people to see things coming to presence in ways other than what is rather aggressively demanded by Enframing” (93). O’Brien then discusses “releasement” (Gelassenheit) as the appropriate comportment of human beings that will enable such a non-eliminative, pluralist disclosure of beings, and closes the chapter by contextualizing Enframing in the history of Being (94). Acquainted as I am with O’Brien’s earlier books,[2] I think he could have spent a few more paragraphs elaborating in greater detail how Gelassenheit relates to Entschlossenheit and the project of dismantling of the ontology of presence.

Chapter 8 is entitled “Heidegger ‘Abroad’.” This is a rather short chapter that breaks up into three sections. The first covers Heidegger’s remarkable success on the French intellectual scene, especially among the existentialists, and gives some historical context to that success. The second concerns Heidegger’s relation to Eastern thought and covers his interactions with a number of Eastern intellectuals, briefly also referring to the body of secondary literature devoted to the intersection between Heidegger’s philosophy and Eastern traditions. The third section covers the impact his thought has had in the United States.

Chapter 9, “The Final Years,” is only three pages long, and provides biographical details of the peaceful and happy years at the end of Heidegger’s life. It notes that he faced his own death with a certain “grace and serenity” (109), and that in the end he arranged a Christian burial for himself after all.

In the tenth and final chapter, “Heidegger’s Legacy,” O’Brien sums up his verdict as regards the “Heidegger controversy.” The recent publication of the Black Notebooks refuelled the controversy, O’Brien says, because it discredited Heidegger’s own “official story” about his association with National Socialism. Heidegger was a committed Nazi and an antisemite who “tried zealously to use some of his core elements of his thought to articulate a philosophy of National Socialism, for a period of time at least” (111). However, Heidegger’s own “political vision was ultimately at quite a remove from historical National Socialism, and he clearly became more and more disillusioned with the regime from the mid-1930s onwards” (ibid.). O’Brien reiterates his own position against other interpretations, insisting that despite claims made even by Heidegger himself, he did try to offer a political philosophy, and deep inside believed “he could be the spiritual and philosophical Führer of an awakening in Germany that would change the course of history in Europe and the Western world in general” (112).

In addition to the political controversy, Heidegger’s legacy is entangled in another controversy, argues O’Brien, namely the divide between analytic and continental philosophy. In analytic circles, “Heidegger is often portrayed as the arch-villain for having led philosophy astray through his promotion of ambiguity, imprecision, a lack of rigour and the proliferation of jargon, mysticism and bad poetry masquerading as philosophical profundity” (114). O’Brien defends Heidegger’s writing style, arguing that the subject itself demanded such a style, but lambasts those “disciples” who try to imitate Heidegger’s style simply because they themselves are unable to write more clearly.

O’Brien ends the book by reflecting on the future of Heidegger studies, saying that it is difficult to foretell what course it will take. He believes that the Heidegger controversy “is only truly beginning, as scholars face squarely the question of how to read the texts of a thinker whose work, while not reducible to National Socialism, was nevertheless twisted and manipulated in various ways owing to his own belief that a happy union could be forged between his own thought and the new awakening in Germany which he initially saw as an underlying possibility of National Socialism” (115).

References

Carman, Taylor. 2003. Heidegger’s Analytic. New York: Cambridge University Press.

O’Brien, Mahon. 2011. Heidegger and Authenticity: From Resoluteness to Releasement. London and New York: Continuum.

O’Brien, Mahon. 2015. Heidegger, History and the Holocaust. London and New York: Bloomsbury.

O’Brien, Mahon. 2020. Heidegger’s Life and Thought: A Tarnished Legacy. London and New   York: Rowman & Littlefield.


[1] See Carman, Taylor. Heidegger’s Analytic. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

[2] See O’Brien, Mahon. Heidegger and Authenticity: From Resoluteness to Releasement. London and New York: Continuum, 2011; O’Brien, Mahon. Heidegger, History and the Holocaust. London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2015.

Andrea Staiti: Etica Naturalistica e Fenomenologia

Etica naturalistica e fenomenologia Book Cover Etica naturalistica e fenomenologia
Percorsi
Andrea Staiti
Società editrice il Mulino
2020
Paperback € 16,00
160

Reviewed by: Susi Ferrarello (California State University)

Staiti’s book is a very engaging metaethical investigation of naturalism in ethics (7). Here, phenomenology serves a twofold purpose. As it is in the nature of phenomenology, in this book, too, phenomenology is used as a method and theory. On the one hand, phenomenology’s methodological approach can provide the right ‘atteggiamento’ (attitude, 30) for addressing problems proper to naturalism, such as nihilism and the relative limits of physicalism (20-25); on the other hand, phenomenological theory in axiology, specifically in relation to the notion of material a priori (38), offers ideas in support of a “liberal way” (29) of interpreting naturalism and handling some of the thorniest debates in metaethics. This is especially clear when Staiti discusses the problem of moral intuition and perception and the behavior of axiological properties in mereological foundations (8).

What does phenomenology have to gain from this interaction? Staiti’s answer is that metaethics can help phenomenology to position itself in the contemporary philosophical metaethical traditions (9). Since metaethical problems are very close to the issues tackled by the phenomenological tradition, the two can help each other in the most problematic areas.

The book is organized into four chapters. The first starts with a description of naturalism, in general, and ethical naturalism, in particular. Staiti describes two aspects of naturalism: ontological and methodological. Methodological naturalism is based on and limited by the natural sciences and the scientific community that gathers around them (16). In this form of naturalism, the philosophical discussion is based on the solid ground of what can be proven by science. In doing so, methodological naturalism does not leave much room to discuss what cannot yet be proven. This problem also occurs in ontological naturalism. Ontological naturalism, in fact, focuses on the description of concrete entities; what is labelled as spooky (17) exceeds this category. For this reason, Staiti seems to welcome De Caro’s proposal of a liberal naturalism (19-20), which connects philosophical rationality to empirical sciences in order to revise scientific positions that would oppose the experimental nature of science and philosophy (20).

In ethics, naturalism expresses itself in the forms of physicalism and realism. In ethical physicalism, what matters for the ethical discourse is what we can ‘tangibly’ see; hence, in the case of a nihilistic solution what matters is Nothing, or, in the case of psychologism and expressivism, what matters are feelings and emotions. A naturalistic approach to the good leads the investigator to take into consideration only what exists in reference to the world (22). This form of naturalism in ethics tends to reinforce a moral psychology that limits the investigation to what can be proven as true and good from the perspective of the Geisteswissenschaften (sciences of mind). The other declension of naturalism in ethics is realism, which considers axiological properties as real entities accessible to the philosophical investigation. Similarly to the liberal naturalism proposed above, Staiti points to a liberal form of naturalism in ethics that would avoid a nihilist solution to ethical problems. In fact, the liberal version of ethical naturalism supports “the existence of axiological properties as natural properties accessible in the same way as natural properties” (25). In order to access these properties, philosophy needs to adopt the right attitude which seems to be best provided by the phenomenological method (31).

As we know from Husserl’s essay Philosophy as a Rigorous Science (1910), phenomenology discusses naturalism in a new fashion. The essence of one’s experience of a natural phenomenon cannot be reduced to a mere aggregate of physical or psychical atoms (in the case of scientific or psychological naturalism). Having experience means to refer to something that constitutes the object of my experience in the world (34-35). The natural phenomenon can never be the summation of its parts, but instead is the intentional content of a given lived-experience that we can access and describe through the reflective analysis of the lived-experience itself. Similarly to liberal ethics, phenomenology shares the idea of being able to access the axiological properties of ethical experience as much as its perceptual properties (37) as the two are bound together by a mereological foundation in which the results of the natural givenness is not mere summation but the supervenience of the relationship between its elements. Speaking to this, Staiti gives the example of Husserl’s notion of material a priori as an a priori model for explaining how the material axiological aspects of the experience stand in relation to a specific region of reality and its logical properties. For example, pain is a disvalue, hence what we know as torture is wrong as it produces this specific disvalue consequence in this region of reality.

Continuing on this road, the second chapter of Staiti’s book shows how the phenomenological attitude can lend itself to the understanding of the mereological supervenience of axiological and logical properties. Focusing on moral intuition and perception, Staiti shows how the natural entity of the ontological and methodological approach used in naturalism is explained in phenomenology as the intentional fulfillment correlated to the intentional essence. Referencing Audi, Staiti explains in great clarity how in Husserl, differently from Audi, the perceptual awareness of the correspondence between reality and experience (49) tends to distinguish experience from one’s lived-experience as this latter involves a reflective quality proper to the intentional act that escapes the mere representationalist point of view. According to representationalism, in fact, the sensorial multitude on which the perceptive experience of something is based is lived but not experienced—hence it is for us a mental representation of the direct perceptive experience. For Husserl, instead, ”the intentional relationship establishes that an act of perceptual awareness refers to a perceived object and this relationship is a phenomenal [manifestativa] and not representational one” (52). The direct perceptual experience is a phenomenal manifestation, while one’s lived experience has a phenomenological reflective quality that is missing in the spontaneity of the natural attitude. The correctness of the description of the natural phenomenon in ethics, as the scientist experiences it in a natural spontaneous life, does not amount to the representations of that phenomenon but to the intuition of the axiological properties pertaining to that ethical phenomenon as they are perceived in that intentional act. “The simple perception—seeing a lemon—will evolve, most probably, in the predicative perception ‘seeing a yellow lemon’ because the lemon is yellow. If I were to always sell lemons, therefore continuously exposed to their brightness of that yellow, probably it would not be its yellow so immediately apparent, but another property, for example the opacity of its skin that reveals that the lemon has not been treated with chemicals” (56). Any perception of axiological properties is a thematization of the intentional relationship that connects the individual to a specific region of that lived experience.

In chapter three, Staiti explains how the concreteness of what is perceived can emerge as a content that is congruent to what is perceived and intuited in the lived-experience of the subject. In fact, Staiti remarks, “in phenomenology, intuition represents the apex of an experiential process, that is, the congruence between the sense as it is thought and the sense as it has been actually experienced” (63). How this congruence comes together in the intentional content is explained through the notion of supervenience or mereological foundation. In phenomenology, foundation (Fundierung) describes a mereological relationship of parts and whole (81) in which a complex experience and its object can be analyzed according to their mutual inferences. In the case of a naturalistic liberal ethics, we want to ask ourselves “what kind of objects are the objects qualified in an axiological manner? What’s their structure? What kind of experience is the one in which objects of this kind are intentionally meant? (81).

To describe how the concreteness of the intentional content is shaped in relation to axiological properties, Staiti uses emotional acts (Gemütsakte). These acts can be described as those acts with which we refer to objects whose axiological properties we can clearly perceive—Maria loves Giulio, for example. Giulio is the positive object of Maria’s emotional act. As with any other intentional act, emotional acts are also constituted of a form (Maria loves Giulio, i.e. subject + verb + object) and a matter (what is in the act of Maria loving Giulio). Any matter is generally qualified by a position-taking with which we can tell whether the subject refers to reality (Maria loves Giulio, her partner) or fantasy (Maria loves Giulio, her imaginary friend). The position taken in emotional acts – such as “I love,” “I respect,” “I value” – need to be completed by the emotion that qualifies that position-taking and the objectivating acts that make sense of their content-matter (87). Maria loves Giulio because she knows Giulio (epistemological, doxic, logic position) or at least she can bring his matter to the predicative form—Giulio. The position-taking proper to emotional acts needs a logical layer for the emotional content matter to be brought to the fore. If this layer is missing, what remains is a motivational necessity that moves Maria’s emotion of loving to connect with the object of her love but without being able to express it in words or being aware of it. Maria is attracted to this person. Axiological properties in general, like those that characterize emotional acts, need objectivating predicative acts to bring that motivating/-ed matter to the fore. The intentional essence of the emotional content needs to be meant in order to be epistemologically understood, yet their axiological quality can already be perceived in intuition (the essence of the beloved person as a positive value, for example). Axiological properties do not necessarily refer to the ‘real’ object (91); Giulio can be just Maria’s fantasy, or he might no longer be living, or he could be the character of her favorite play. Axiological properties relate to the content-object in the same way as logical properties do. Yet, while logical properties are necessary for the content to preserve its objectual unity (92), axiological properties do not seem to be essential to this unity; they come as a co-existent addition to that unity (Giulio, the person Maria has in mind, versus Giulio, the person Maria loves). In fact, even if I do not know whom I love, that person will continue to be, although my feelings in relation to that person and the values that I attribute to her will be perceived as disconnected moments that hinder the possibility of fully grasping the content of my intention. Parenthetically, I think that this magnitude of disruption is exactly what occurs in cases of borderline and bi-polar personalities where the inability to mean the axiological properties related to the intentional content of an emotional act has the power to disrupt the unity of the emotional content as much as logical properties do.

To come back to Staiti’s argument, the asymmetry between axiological and logical acts does not involve that axiological acts are not intentional. The necessity connecting the essential integrity of an object (constituted by the logical properties that make that object what it is) to its axiological properties is a motivational necessity. According to this motivational necessity, the object of my experience comes to acquire a value after I have grasped its nature (101); this understanding motivates me to feel and act in a certain way toward it. Axiological and logical properties refer to each other in a complementary way. This complementarity structures the way in which I see the object of my experience and determines the meanings and values that I am going to assign to that object. “The more easily I will understand the supervenient axiological properties of my object, the more familiar I am with the logical properties of the same object” (101). If I am not wrong in my understanding of Staiti’s argument, I think that his argument would flawlessly work in the example of the lemon vendor he mentioned above. The lemon seller will know more the value of what she is selling the more she knows about the product. Yet, once again, I think that this argument would be less effective when applied to emotions. Logical properties do not seem to be more essential than axiological ones in emotional acts. In fact, it might happen that the more I know someone the less I feel I can value her because her personality is puzzling to me or the less I feel that I know her because she keeps showing side of herself that are contradictory.

Yet, here Staiti raises an important point: there is a parallelism between axiology and logic, which he explains as a parallelism between the good and truth, that makes liberal naturalism in ethics possible. Using Husserl’s reference to this same parallelism, which in Husserliana XVIII and XXXVII focused, though, on ethics, axiology, and logic–respectively the good, value, and true—Staiti builds an interesting strategy for describing the concreteness of the good in ethics as a natural phenomenon. He writes that “the good is the axiological equivalent to the notion of existence in the logical-theoretical sphere” (115). Staiti proposes the parallelism between axiology and ethics as a stratagem for solving the problem of realism in ethics. While I believe that this stratagem is quite effective, I also think that a passage is missing here: the object of axiology, in fact, is a value and not the positive value—the good as Staiti seems to affirm. I think that the parallelism he proposes is not between axiology and logic but between ethics and logic which modifies, of course, the terms and results of Staiti’s argument. Moreover, he indicates that the logical equivalent of the good is the notion of existence, and not the expected notion of truth. Although unexpected, I agree with Staiti’s explanation of Husserl’s argument. The truth is in continuity with the notion of existence, that is a property of Sätze (115) propositions. What exists is what is posited (gesetzt), that is, the objectual correlate of what has been posited in a categorical act (114).

In the last chapter, Staiti applies this parallelism as a convincing stratagem for tackling G. E. Moore’s Open Question Argument (1903). Moore’s Open Question Argument relates to the impossibility of defining good (1903, 50). If ethics cannot find a convincing definition of good, no analytic proposition around the good holds, accordingly all the propositions used to describe the good must be all synthetic ones. “Interrogating whether something is good, equates to ask oneself if pleasure is pleasant” (1903, 64). “Moore shows that the notion of good is irreplaceable when it appears together with complex proposition, otherwise their meaning would change” (122).

Yet, if we look at this problem from a phenomenological perspective and ask ourselves “what does the question ‘x is good’ truly ask?” we will see how what we want to know is the concretum of goodness as it belongs to that specific intentional act correlated to that specific ontological region. The question addresses the kind of properties and objects with which the notion of good is in a mereological foundation. Since the good correlates with its logical properties in an essential way and since the logical properties are what is posed, then the good is the mereological foundation of those parallel properties. We know how to answer the Open Question in relation to the good without leaving x as an incognitum. The good is that Satz (proposition) which receives a cognitive fulfillment qualified by axiological properties related to a specific ontological region existing in one’s experience of a given space and moment in time. Differently from Geach’s argument toward Moore (1956, 33), Staiti is not saying that the good is an attribute of being because there is a mereological relationship between logic and axiology, the posited and the good. While an attribute can be removed or changed without altering the essence of the object, in this mereological relationship the good and the posited are interwoven with each other via a motivational necessity; changing any of these terms will change the nature of the phenomenon itself.

I think that Staiti succeeds in his goal of showing the mutual enrichment deriving from applying phenomenology in metaethics. The argument presented in this concluding chapter is a tangible proof of it.

References

De Caro, M. 2016. “Natura e Naturalismi.” Hermeneutica, 16: 9-24.

Geach, P. 1956. “Good and Evil.” Analysis, 17: 33–42.

Husserl, E. 1988. Vorlesungen ueber Ethik und Wertlehre. Dordrecht: Kluwer. (Hua, XXVIII).

Husserl, E. 2004. Einleitung in die Ethik. Dordrecht: Kluwer. (Hua, XXXVII).

Husserl, E. 1965. “Philosophy as Rigorous Science,” trans. in Q. Lauer (Ed.), Phenomenology and the Crisis of Philosophy. New York: Harper.

Moore, G. E. 1903. Principia Ethica. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

 

Hans Blumenberg: Die Nackte Wahrheit

Die nackte Wahrheit Book Cover Die nackte Wahrheit
suhrkamp taschenbuch wissenschaft 2281
Hans Blumenberg. Edited by Rüdiger Zill
Suhrkamp Verlag
2019
Paperback 20,00 €
199

Reviewed by: Sebastian Müngersdorff (University of Antwerp)

On Unbearable Reality and Beautiful Appearances

I.

Ferdinand Hodler’s painting ‘Die Wahrheit’ features a naked woman dispelling six cloaked male figures as if they were dark thoughts. She finds herself standing on an isle of grass while the men – lies? – turn from her and look for shelter in barren lands. In Jean-Léon Gérôme’s depiction of the truth, titled ‘The Truth Coming from the Well with Her Whip to Chastise Mankind’, one sees exactly what the title promises. At least, presuming the beholder knows that truth always comes as a naked, angry woman ready to hysterically chase you down. I would hardly be surprised if the painter kept the words “How could you!” in mind, or, more accurately, “Comment peux-tu!”, when drawing the contours of her screaming mouth. Perhaps he even pictured the face of his wife at the moment he told her the truth about his many models and the adulterous state of affairs.

In other paintings, by Merson, for example, or Lefebvre or Baudry, lady truth brandishes a mirror instead of a whip. In the version of Édouard Debat-Ponsan, two men, one of whom is blindfolded, try to restrain her and her charged mirror, to no avail. Her clothes tear from the male grip while her flaming red hair blows bravely and unhinderedly, her gaze aimed at some point outside the frame: her holy mission? Ultimate victory in the Age of Reason?

Venus, Eve, Leda, the Sirens, Diana, Phryne, nymphs: figurative painting has always gratefully seized upon the offer to depict naked women. Nonetheless, it is not self-evident that Hodler’s ‘The Truth’ belongs to this list of subjects. Why is truth female? Why can she only show herself unveiled? Why is she angry? Why is she victorious? Why is she armed? Why is she white? And why does she have no pubic hair?

At least some of these questions spurred Blumenberg’s collection of small excerpts exploring the metaphor of ‘the naked truth’ in Western thought, now published from his archives as Die Nackte Wahrheit by Rüdiger Zill. This book makes quite clear that the depiction of truth as naked is more than a mere representation. There is a longstanding tradition in which truth is deeply intertwined with a pure female nature understood as clarity, innocence, attraction and unapproachability. Such equation of truth with female nudity creates a variety of unuttered associations. Truth, for example, is accessible only to few – something that will play into the democratizing project of Enlightenment. It installs a connection between eros and the pursuit of truth, a desire, a libido sciendi. Prohibition is involved and it gives rise to the problem of whether truth is still truth when she presents herself dressed up. Truth becomes contaminated by male deception. The quest for truth becomes “an expedition to some exotic place”, as Kołakowski terms it in his text on nakedness and truth (Kołakowski 2004, 235). Truth becomes a capture, an ambiguous purpose of curiosity, an ideal of knowledge which is godlike, forever beyond reach yet nonetheless worth chasing, “a passion deserving of death” as Blumenberg calls it (NW 105). Just like in the story of Artemis and Actaeon (NW 104-6), the male gaze automatically becomes indiscrete and inappropriate, and curiosity becomes a kind of unacceptable voyeurism. Just like Actaeon, anyone who looks at the divine must die, an implication of a lethal danger of pursuing truth. It is worth considering that such a passion is rewritten in the expression “vedi Napoli e poi muori”, especially when bearing in mind how often a beautiful city – the word city, like truth, has a female genus in most European languages – is considered in similar female terms: the Jewel of Europe, La sposa del mare, the Pearl of the Orient, la Superba or Elbflorenz. In the case of Paris, it is expressed in terms of this other metaphor for truth: la ville lumière.

That in the European languages “truth appears on the stage as a female act”, Blumenberg writes, gives “truth an erotic-aesthetic trait […] which is not taken for granted by the misogynist” (NW 126). Whether this implies that skeptics must also be misogynists remains unclear. And whether this applies to the skeptic Blumenberg himself is a question that perhaps only a modern Diogenes might dare to ask Blumenberg’s daughter, Bettina.

Be that as it may, in view of the topic it is rather striking that this book devotes only a single page to a female writer, Madame du Châtelet. This one page, however, does not discuss her writing or thought; instead, it addresses an anecdote that tells how Mme du Châtelet shamelessly undressed in front of her servant Longchamp. Blumenberg links this behavior to the project of Enlightenment itself, in which “truth shows herself unembarrassedly in front of those who ought to serve her” (NW 103). In short, rather than her writings and ideas, it is only Madame du Châtelet’s indifference to her own nakedness that becomes a significant expression of the “new methodological ideal of objectivity” (NW 103).

Although Blumenberg does not render it explicitly, the short chapter on Actaeon following this page suggests that the divine nakedness of truth becomes human in the nakedness of Émilie du Châtelet. The hunter Actaeon, servant of the goddess Artemis, watches his mistress undress and consequently he must be punished for seeing her in her nudity. Someone who looks at Medusa, however, instantly dies. In other words, Acteon already signals an alteration in the mythic gaze upon a deity, which in Artemis’ bathing scene changes from tremendum into fascinosum. He doesn’t die immediately, he is punished for his violation. In the anecdote of Madame du Châtelet, then, a succeeding shift occurs. In contrast to Actaeon, the servant Longchamp is not punished, he is not even noticed. Longchamp becomes a subject “of conscious exposure” and is regarded as not being there: “in the witness of nudity an awareness is raised […] of remaining unnoticed in his presence” (NW 103).

This reversal in the relation of nakedness, fascinosum, between mistress and servant, punisher and the one punished, is still far from Nietzsche’s later take, “to think of the naked truth as a frightening and unbearable dimension” (NW 126). Whether a comparison of Nietzsche’s views on the ugly truth and his lashing attitude towards women – note the double inversion of Gérôme’s depiction concerning the appearance of lady truth and the one who is cracking the whip – could add something to the debate about his possible misogyny is merely a suggestion discerned between the lines.

Like this example, and completely in line with his longstanding interest in the non-conceptual (Unbegrifflichkeit), i.e. metaphoric, narrative, anecdotal and mythic substratum of conceptual thought, Blumenberg delves into the layers of implicit imagery and associations so as to note significant changes in meaning over time. Moreover, he lays bare – an expression which is itself already part of the semantics of the naked truth – inconsistencies in the rational discourse that is built on this metaphoric level and shows how it can be deconstructed and eventually turned against itself. He does so by discussing writers and philosophers such as Adorno, Kafka, Pascal, Fontenelle, Rousseau, Vesalius, Fontane, Schopenhauer, Kant, Kierkegaard and Lichtenberg. The seemingly incoherent order of these names mirrors both Blumenberg’s own avoidance of chronology and his preference of association. Although he refuses an all too systematic approach of the issue, the intrinsic connection of the different chapters is always clear: “How does the metaphor portray the position of the thinker, in which he maneuvered himself because of more or less compelling reasons and under more or less unavoidable conditions” (NW 127)?

Applied to truth, this question brings him to many considerations about the implications of viewing truth as naked: “If truth only is right when naked, then every cover is a disguise and eo ipso wrong” (NW 71). However, when we embrace the conviction that truth is true only when it is naked, we can never undo the threat that “even its nakedness is still costume” (NW 92). Nakedness then turns into “the illusion […] which is created by the gesture of tearing down dresses”, which in turn evokes “the scheme of the onion skin” (NW 97). “When once opened, nothing ever is something final” (NW 102). And at the same time, there is the thought that “truth might be as unbearable to humans as nakedness” (Blumenberg 1960, 51). In this case, “the cover of truth seems to grant us our ability to live”, a thought which appears in “Rousseau’s pragmatic exploitation of the metaphor of truth in the water well […]: leave her there. The depth of the well protects us from the problem of its nakedness” (Blumenberg 1960, 57).

In this regard, it is remarkable how rarely Blumenberg refers to the Christian tradition. In “The Epistemology of Striptease”, Leszek Kołakowski, for example, traces “the entire foundations of the theory of nakedness which has been so important in our culture” back to the Judaeo-Christian tradition (Kołakowski 2004, 225). The Book of Genesis indeed tells of an intrinsic connection between the fruit of the tree of knowledge and the shame which immediately manifested itself when the fruit was eaten. A shame “not of their crime, but of their nakedness” (Ibid., 223). Thus, “a double relation has been established: between truth and nakedness on the one hand, and between truth and shame on the other” (Ibid., 225).

Another absence which resounds throughout the book is that of the name Heidegger, which appears not even once. Nonetheless, Die Nackte Wahrheit can be read as an implicit yet fundamental critique of Heidegger’s conception of truth as alètheia. By dissecting the metaphor of truth, Blumenberg’s text offers a perspective which shows that Heidegger still fits perfectly within the dominant Western tradition, a tradition Heidegger himself sought to destruct by thinking beyond the ontological difference and the forgetting of being. Blumenberg, however, implicitly shows that Heidegger and his conception of truth as disclosure or ‘unconcealedness’, still wades through the Western waters that Heidegger himself thought he had traced to their source.

Despite this absence of Christianity and Heidegger, Blumenberg convincingly illustrates how metaphor functions “as a more or less easily fixable crack in the consistency of thought, a stimulant, and as such it refreshes reason; it also is, however, a sedative in other cases, where it covers up the failure of the concept or remedies its lack by a merely different procedure” (NW 127).

At this point, Die Nackte Wahrheit surpasses being just a study of the naked truth and begins to concern the project of metaphorology itself. As Rüdiger Zill notes, “already since the late 1960s, Blumenberg had been thinking about a detailed revision of his metaphorology” (NW 186). Concerning his distanced relation to his initial approach, Blumenberg wrote to his English translator: “The text is not only outdated – after a quarter of a century! – it is also poor” (NW 189).

In Blumenberg’s project of ‘metaphorology’, metaphor is always more than a disguise of truth or a thought expressed in non-conceptual language. “It is essentially aesthetic”, which means “that it is not something like the mere cover of the naked thought, of which one had to constantly think as the true purpose of its interpretation and unlocking that has to be reached in the end. Who constantly thinks beyond its limits, loses what he has without receiving what he cannot possess” (NW 176). In other words, there is no naked truth to be found beyond the metaphor. And more specifically, the power of metaphor is precisely this lack of precision sought by advocates of a clear and distinct conceptual language. Thus, Blumenberg argues, in contrast to the views of many thinkers he discusses, that “history” is not the “course of the self-exposure of the concept” (NW 155). Blumenberg’s associative selection of authors and topics stresses that metaphor, with its ambiguity and openness to many interpretations, is always “far more intelligent than its composer” (NW 176).

II.

The first fifty pages of Die Nackte Wahrheit concern Nietzsche and Freud. The only other pieces that come close to even ten pages are those on Pascal, Kant and the Enlightenment. Thus, of all the names figuring in Blumenberg’s posthumous book, Nietzsche and Freud can be called his main interlocutors.

Nietzsche immediately shows a fundamental reversal of truth as a beautiful naked creature. When he writes that “Truth is ugly. We have art so that we are not ruined by truth” (NW, 14), it is clear that something in the metaphor of truth changes. We are no longer in pursuit of the naked truth – she lies within reach in her unbearable ugliness – and so our interest shifts to the beautiful veils that are produced to conceal her.

“There would be no science, if science would only care about this one naked goddess and about nothing else” (NW, 20). With this thought, both Freud’s concept of sublimation and Blumenberg’s apotropaic function of myth are prefigured: art and culture function as a “human safety device” (NW 15), a protective shield which safeguards us from something insufferable. Or as Nietzsche formulates it: “Every type of culture starts with an amount of things that are veiled” (NW 15).

Blumenberg’s text from 1971 on the relevance of rhetoric and anthropology directly evidences the strong influence of this Nietzschean thought: “Ah, it is impossible to have an effect with the language of truth: rhetoric is required” (NW 31). Nietzsche defends rhetoric as a right to deceive vis-à-vis an unbearable truth. For the sceptic Blumenberg, however, truth cannot be unbearable, because the very possibility of truth itself is bracketed and remains an open question. In his writing on Hannah Arendt and Freud it is “the absolutism of truth” which becomes unbearable, this intimate European conviction “that the truth will triumph” (Blumenberg 2018, 57). Yet, as Blumenberg proclaims, “[n]othing is less certain than that the truth wishes to be loved, can be loved, should be loved” (Blumenberg 2018, 3).

This critique of Freud, already present in Rigorism of Truth, is continued in Die Nackte Wahrheit. The notion that psychoanalysis lives from the metaphor of revealing and concealing and connects the intellectual with the sexual can only barely be called a renewing insight. Blumenberg, however, uses this as a step to a subtler point. He reproves Freud’s rigorism because his therapy prioritizes the affirmation of his theory rather than the well-being of his patients. In other words, via Freud, Blumenberg criticizes the longstanding tradition “in which truth is justified at every cost” (NW 38), the same rigorous conviction that resonates in Thoreau’s famous phrase that “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”

Read from within the metaphor of ‘the naked truth’, Freud’s quest for truth – a quest strongly intertwined with the centrality of sexuality and the prudery of the society in which he lived – shows that it is not at all clear when something is yet more ‘resistance’, a symptom, a still-clothed kind of nudity, and when exactly someone has encountered the bare piece of the reality they are searching for. “The general premise for resistance as a criterion might be (this): what people gladly accept cannot be the truth” (Blumenberg 2018, 59). In discussing this central concept of resistance as an element of Freud’s “para-theory” (loc. cit.) he comes rather close to Popper’s rejection of Freud’s methodology. In his archive there are two manuscripts with the respective abbreviation TRD and TRD II, in which Blumenberg shows how ‘resistance’ is a kind of parachute that recuperates elements falling from or even objecting to Freud’s main theory (Zill 2014, 141-43). This way, even the critics of his theory can still be fitted within it. Blumenberg points out how Freud’s quest for countering resistance and his rigorist search for truth, his urge to reveal secrecy after secrecy, eventually lead to a “hysteria of revelation for which history has an analogy in hysteria of confession” (NW 47).

III.

Die nackte Wahrheit is certainly not Blumenberg’s first engagement with either Nietzsche or Freud. He had already dealt with both authors extensively and quite similarly in his earlier writings: reading them through the lens of their own imagery in order to criticize them from within the logic of these images and metaphors. In Arbeit am Mythos, for instance, both authors receive ample treatment on several occasions and are the focus of important passages. Freud and Thomas Mann, for example, are bound together in a trenchant and meaningful anecdote: Mann reading his lecture on Freud to Freud himself during his visit to Freud’s villa in Grinzing on Sunday, May 14, 1936. Blumenberg calls this a “great scene of the spirit of the age, which hardly had another scene comparable to it”, and notes that one of the “preconditions” of this “incomparable event” precisely “is the relationship to Nietzsche that both partners shared” (Blumenberg 1985, 516).

Other important passages include Blumenberg’s extensive discussion of Nietzsche’s approach of Prometheus against the light of his aesthetic conception of reality and of Nietzsche’s famous proclamation of the death of God. In the last section, ‘The Titan in His Century’, Blumenberg’s analysis of Freud’s use of Prometheus follows his assessment of Nietzsche’s use of Prometheus, such that Freud and Nietzsche, joined by Kafka, share the final page of Work on Myth. In Die nackte Wahrheit Kafka likewise follows upon Nietzsche and Freud, although it would surely be mere speculation to look for further significance here. Nonetheless, despite his longstanding and rather critical occupation with Nietzsche and Freud, Blumenberg clearly incorporated and continued many aspects of their thought.

Blumenberg’s aesthetic conception of reality, his attention for rhetoric, myth and metaphor and his truth-sceptic attitude can all be directly linked to Nietzsche. Just as rhetoric gains importance when the conviction of “the one clear and whole truth” (Blumenberg 2001b, 350) is given up, so too does myth return to view when this ideal of truth is abandoned. And here Blumenberg, already in his earlier work, shows himself to be an heir of Nietzsche. As Blumenberg writes in his first text on myth, “Nietzsche’s affinity to myth begins with the rule of truth becoming problematic to him. The poets lie – this saying comes back into favor” (Blumenberg 2001b, 352). Blumenberg’s name can be perfectly interchanged with Nietzsche’s here. The shift towards the aesthetic, and the revaluation of the ancient Platonic reproach of the poets implied in this reference, is a central concern underlying all of Blumenberg’s aesthetic texts from the 1960s, as assembled by Anselm Haverkamp in his Ästhetische und metaphorologische Schriften. Moreover, Blumenberg‘s two important texts on rhetoric and myth from 1971 both start from the truth-sceptic premise he shares with Nietzsche and which spans his work from the very beginning to this posthumous publication of Die Nackte Wahrheit. And this last publication is probably inconceivable without Nietzsche’s “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense”. Indeed, Blumenberg’s general endeavor is essentially summed up in one of Nietzsche’s most famous sentences: “Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions — they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins”.

Blumenberg’s approach of die vakante Stelle and his descriptions of Umbesetzung, elaborated in his Die Legitimität der Neuzeit, can be read as a direct translation of Nietzsche’s worn-out coins and his dictum of the “Death of God”. Herewith, Blumenberg translates Nietzsche’s nihilism into a general philosophical endeavor of Entselbstverständlichung, a process marking “the great epochal revolutions of historical life” (Blumenberg 2017, 54). This endeavor, according to Blumenberg, eventually is “the basic process of philosophical thinking: for how could the inherent task of philosophical work be characterized more fittingly than as the persistent opposition of matter-of-factness with which our daily life and thought is interspersed, yes, substantiated into their very cores – much more than we could ever suspect?” (Blumenberg 2017, 54).

Furthermore, Blumenberg’s later, more literary and anecdotal style evokes Nietzsche’s claim that it is possible to present the image of a person with only three anecdotes, just as it should be possible to reduce philosophical systems to three anecdotes. When, for example, it comes to Blumenberg’s highly ironical and critical pieces on Heidegger in Die Verführbarkeit des Philosophen, he not only takes up Nietzsche’s challenge but even seems to have added something to it: the challenge becomes not only to render an image of the person and a summary of his philosophical thought, but also to get even with him in the same move.

IV.

Rüdiger Zill has wittily but quite perceptively characterized the sort of relation Blumenberg has with Freud: “Just like family members you sometimes hate and sometimes love, who from time to time grate on your nerves but who also occasionally inspire, yet always, however, still belong in the family, authors as well can be ranked among the intellectual family formation” (Zill 2014, 148). Zill’s assessment on this matter is clear: Freud undoubtedly belongs to Blumenberg’s intellectual family. However, the more he reads Freud, the more critical Blumenberg becomes, without Freud ever losing his force of fascination (Zill 2014, 128). Ironically, when Blumenberg received the Sigmund Freud Prize for Academic Prose in 1980, he did not refer to Freud in his acceptance speech. He mentioned Socrates, Diogenes, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche as exemplar thinkers who should be admired because they did not allow their thinking to be hindered by any safeguarding method.

There is, however, quite some common ground between Freud and Blumenberg which might be easily overwritten by Blumenberg’s recent critical works on Freud from the archives. When Blumenberg ascribes rationality to aspects of thought, such as metaphor and rhetoric, that have been banished to irrationality by the tradition of philosophy there is a general similarity to Freud’s Traumdeutung and his overall endeavor of psychoanalysis. Indeed, there are at least two specific and critically important points of contact between them: Freud’s idea of sublimation and detours.

In his text on rhetoric, Blumenberg refers to Freud’s analysis of the funeral repast: “Freud saw in the commemorative funeral feast the sons’ agreement to put an end to the killing of the tribal father” (Blumenberg 1987a, 440). It is the Freudian principle of sublimation that is evoked here and Blumenberg is explicit about the importance of this matter: “If history teaches anything at all, it is this, that without this capacity to use substitutes for actions not much would be left of mankind” (loc. cit.). Herewith an important crux of Blumenberg’s thought is laid bare: “The human relation to reality is indirect, circumstantial, delayed, selective, and above all ‘metaphorical’” (Ibid., 439). This means that metaphor is not a deficit of rational thought, as it has been understood by Descartes or British empiricism (NW 110-1); nor is it even an aid of theory or merely a way of thinking in its own right; rather, it is a way of coping with reality. This “metaphoric detour by which we look away from the object in question, at another one” (Blumenberg 1987a, 439) immediately ties to the second important overlap between Freud’s and Blumenberg’s work: if Blumenberg acknowledges sublimation as the human capacity to have culture, and if sublimation – the possibility of taking a metaphoric detour – lies at the heart of this capacity, then Blumenberg’s concept of culture should be one of detours.

Blumenberg, in his 1971 text on myth, refers to Freud’s notion of Umwege. In his “Jenseits des Lustprinzips”, Freud classed the drives of self-preservation under the general concept of “detours to death”. As Freud states, “If we can accept it as an experience without exception, that all the living dies because of internal reasons, that it returns to the inorganic, then we can only say: the purpose of all life is death” (Freud 1940, 44). Everything working against this destruction and everything delaying “the achievement of the purpose of death” (Ibid., 45) becomes a “detour to death”. In this Freudian scheme, life itself is “a still more difficult and risky detour” (Blumenberg 1985, 90) and Blumenberg recognizes in these “detours to death”, this “final return home to the original state” (Ibid., 91), the same mythic circle underlying the Oedipus myth, the Odyssey and even Nietzsche’s thought of “the eternal return of the same” (loc. cit.). On the one hand, Blumenberg critically reveals the total myth (Totalmythos) of the circle underlying Freud’s thought; on the other hand, Blumenberg incorporates this notion of detour in his work as a life-spending mechanism opposing omnipotence. As he writes, for example, in his 1971 text on myth, “Essentially, omnipotence refuses somebody to tell a story about its bearer. Topographically represented, stories are always detours” (Blumenberg 2001b, 372).

Die Sorge geht über den Fluss, published in 1987, includes a short chapter titled Umwege, in which Blumenberg again stresses the importance of the possibility of taking detours: “It is only if we are able to take detours that we are able to exist. […I]t is the many detours that give culture its function of humanizing life. [… The] shortest route is barbarism” (Blumenberg 1987b, 137-8). In these descriptions of culture as Umwege, some of its psychoanalytical origin still sounds through: it is by means of culture, by the possibility of taking detours, that we can avoid our own self-destruction. As Blumenberg puts it, “Not to choose the shortest path is already the basic pattern of sublimation” (Blumenberg 1985, 93). Or as Freud states in the penultimate sentence of his letter to Einstein: “whatever makes for cultural development is working also against war” (Freud 1950, 27).

This is the very basis of Blumenberg’s thought. Whether it is his approach to rhetoric and its power of delay, whether it is the apotropaic function of myth and the dynamic of storytelling vis-à-vis the absolutism of reality – man’s metaphoric way of dealing with the world – whether it is Blumenberg’s own elaborate and meandering writing style or his anecdotal and narrative philosophy as an effort to ironically undermine the authority of certain thinkers, whether it is the construction of his archive and the delayed publication of his own works or this metaphoric study of the naked truth aimed against the “Absolutism of Truth” (Blumenberg 2001b, 350), all of it falls under this “basic pattern of sublimation”, this decision “not to choose the shortest path”. In this specific sense and despite his highly critical piece on Freud in Die nackte Wahrheit, Blumenberg’s thinking remains Freudian at its very core.

V.

As Blumenberg had noted in his Paradigmen zu einer Metaphorologie, “The metaphor of ‘the naked truth’ belongs to the pride of enlightened reason and its claim to power” (Blumenberg 1960, 54). Hence, it is clear that Die Nackte Wahrheit should be understood as a critique of this enlightened self-consciousness. And yet Blumenberg did not abandon the project of rationality entirely, despite paying profound attention to non-standard philosophical topics such as metaphor and myth. “Myth itself is a piece of high-carat ‘work of logos’”, he points out in Work on Myth (Blumenberg 1985, 12) and Blumenberg himself employs this power of reason to trace the metaphor of the naked truth in thinkers such as Kant, Rousseau and Fontenelle. Herewith, a last characteristic of Blumenberg returns in Die Nackte Wahrheit: the correspondence of form and content. In Work on Myth, for example, Blumenberg offers a theory of how myth is a process of variation and, as he develops the theory, he himself engages in the same process of selection and rewriting. In his fragmentary book Die Verführbarkeit des Philosophen, in which Blumenberg exposes thinkers such as Heidegger, Freud and Wittgenstein and shows how they seduce their audience with rhetorical tools and attractive imagery; he himself tries to persuade his readers by rhetorically and wittingly affirming his own superiority of thought. The same applies for Die Nackte Wahrheit, where Blumenberg discusses the traces, consequences and changes of the metaphor of the naked truth, as he himself undresses other thinkers. As he emphasizes, the use of metaphor often indicates the “embarrassment of its theoretical situation” (NW 127). In other words, he seeks for the weak spots of thinkers such as Freud and Pascal in order to unmask them. If metaphor is indeed at work in the “front court of concept formation” (Blumenberg, 2001a), then Blumenberg clearly seeks to expose his interlocutors in their changing rooms. At the same time, he precisely questions these implications of thinking about truth in such terms of covering and uncovering. Certainly, Blumenberg does not claim that his disclosures touch upon “the naked truth” or a final word about these writers, yet nonetheless he somehow contributes to this enlightened topos of “tearing down the mask” (NW 134). He still partakes in what Kołakowski calls this “sadistic game” of “intellectual curiosity”, even as he precisely lays bare its rules and tools and does away with the purpose the game has pursued for ages. However, one asks after reading Blumenberg’s book, what use does this vocabulary preserve when the “reality” revealed under this mask is yet another mask, no more or no less reality than the one just dispelled. To make a final appeal to Kołakowski: Blumenberg involves us in a philosophical striptease, in which he exposes, “from a superior (clothed) position”, “another’s shame (nakedness)” (Kołakowski 2004, 235). Only it has become uncertain what happens with a philosophic tradition of revealing when the possibility of truth disappears, nakedness itself becomes yet more costume and the feeling of shame is revaluated. No purpose, no revelations, only detours and descriptions (Umschreibungen). Nonetheless, Blumenberg certainly exemplifies like no other that whenever philosophy thinks there will be a moment that Lady Truth will rise from her well and create clarity, philosophy, just like science, is once more deceived “by a pipe dream […] which its scholars pursue without ever achieving it” (NW 77).

 

Bibliography

Hans Blumenberg, Die Nackte Wahrheit, Hrsg. von Rüdiger Zill (Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2019).

–, Rigorism of Truth. “Moses the Egyptian” and Other Writings on Freud and Arendt, ed. by Ahlrich Meyer and transl. by Joe Paul Kroll (New York: Cornell University Press, 2018).

–, Schriften zur Literatur: 1945-1958, Hrsg. von Alexander Schmitz und Bernd Stiegler (Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2017).

–, “Licht als Metapher der Wahrheit. Im Vorfeld der philosophischen Begriffsbildung” in Ästhetische und metaphorologische Schriften, Hrsg. von Anselm Haverkamp (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2001a), 139–171.

–, “Wirklichkeitsbegriff und Wirkungspotential des Mythos“ in Ästhetische und metaphorologische Schriften, Hrsg. von Anselm Haverkamp (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2001b), 327–405.

–, “An Anthropological Approach on the Contemporary Significance of Rhetoric”, in After Philosophy: End or Transformation?, ed. by Kenneth Baynes, James Bohman and Thomas McCarthy (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987a), 429–458.

–, Die Sorge geht über den Fluss (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1987b).

–, Work on Myth, transl. by Robert M. Wallace (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1985).

–, “Paradigmen zu einer Metaphorologie,” Archiv für Begriffsgeschichte 6 (1960): 7–142.

Sigmund Freud, “Warum Krieg?”, in: Sigmund Freud, Gesammelte Werke. Band XVI, Hrsg. von Anna Freud e.a. (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer Verlag, 1950), 11–27.

–, “Jenseits des Lustprinzips” in Gesammelte Werke. Band XIII, Hrsg. von Anna Freud e.a. (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer Verlag, 1940), 3–69.

Leszek Kołakowski, “The Epistemology of Striptease,” in The Two Eyes of Spinoza & Other Essays on Philosophers (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2004), 222–238.

Rüdiger Zill, “Zwischen Affinität und Kritik. Hans Blumenberg liest Sigmund Freud” in Blumenberg Beobachtet, Hrsg. von Cornelius Borck (München: Karl Alber Freiburg, 2014), 126-148.

Jeremy Arnold: Across the Great Divide: Between Analytic and Continental Political Theory

Across the Great Divide: Between Analytic and Continental Political Theory Book Cover Across the Great Divide: Between Analytic and Continental Political Theory
Jeremy Arnold
Stanford University Press
2020
Paperback $28.00
232

Reviewed by: Ben Turner (University of Kent, UK)

Disagreements over the nature of the divide between continental and analytical philosophy are perhaps as common as disputes between these two parts of the discipline. A consequence of the heterogeneity of understandings of this division is that attempts to cross it are often isolated cases rather than widespread philosophical practices. Jeremy Arnold’s Across the Great Divide: Between Analytic and Continental Political Theory represents one such attempt to construct a bridge between the two traditions within political philosophy rather than philosophy as such. In doing so he makes two claims: that ‘political theorists and philosophers ought to engage in…cross-tradition theorizing’ and that what he calls ‘aporetic cross-tradition theorizing is a viable and attractive mode of cross-tradition theorizing’ (14). In contrast to what Arnold calls the synthetic mode, which seeks to unify the two traditions within a single theory, the aporetic mode highlights the incompatibilities between the two traditions and shows how neither can give exhaustive accounts of political concepts. Arnold’s claim that the aporetic mode is a desirable mode of thinking across traditions is compelling due to the strength it lends to arguments in favour of theoretical and methodological pluralism in political theory. However, one might question the extent to which the aporetic mode is truly as agnostic with respect to method as it is intended to be.

Before moving to an overview and evaluation of the argument that Arnold makes in favour of the aporetic mode, it is worth highlighting the complexity that is added to the task of defining the divide between continental and analytic schools when it is examined within political philosophy. Within philosophy, one can begin from clear historical examples, as Arnold does (1-3), in which divisions between Husserl and Heidegger, on the one hand, and thinkers such as Ryle, Russel, Carnap and Frege, on the other, were established in the early to mid 20th century. It is a more complex task to identify the manner in which this division was transferred to political philosophy because of what Arnold acknowledges as the discipline’s ‘capacious’ character (5). Oscillation between the terminology of ‘political theory’ and ‘political philosophy’ indicates nominal differences which unfold in a variety of ways, such as the distinction between those based in philosophy departments and those in political science departments or the way political science and political philosophy are differentiated. In addition to the continental/analytical axis, political philosophy or theory is also divided along another axis which distinguishes it from political science or philosophy more broadly.

Arnold’s argument is situated within this definitional quagmire and is admirable for the clarity of the position which it articulates. Political theory, for Arnold, emerges in the context of the influence of European emigres to America upon normative debates regarding the crisis of liberalism and methodological debates regarding behaviourism in political science (4-5). Theodor Adorno, Hannah Arendt, Leo Strauss, and Eric Voegelin are pivotal in the constitution of political theory insofar as they carried with them a set of continental influences that were critical of both liberalism and positivism, such as Heidegger, Nietzsche and Weber. Political philosophy, in contrast, has a simpler genealogy. It ‘has its institutional home primarily in philosophy departments, which in the Anglophone world are largely analytic’ (4). Normative political philosophy owes as much to its proximity to analytic moral philosophy as it does to debates about the nature of the political (6-7). Consequently, two different approaches to liberalism arise from these historical circumstances (7-8). Politically, liberalism is criticised by political theorists and endorsed by political philosophers of continental and analytic dispositions respectively. Methodologically, analytic political philosophers put great stock in the content of intuitions, particularly those of a liberal variety, whereas continental political theorists are more likely to scrutinise the ideological basis of these intuitions due to their scepticism of dominant liberal values.

That political philosophy is largely analytic and political theory is largely continental is cemented by Arnold’s articulation of three key differences within the contemporary unfolding of these historical trajectories. First, analytical political philosophers engage in justifying resolutions to problems found within political concepts, whereas continental political philosophers are more concerned with highlighting the impossibility of this enterprise (9). Second, this leads to differences in ‘style, interdisciplinarity and canon’ (11). An eclectic canon of references in the case of continental political philosophy–such as psychoanalysis, literature, film studies and neuroscience–leads to a wider diversity of argumentative styles, whereas a more tightly honed argumentative style is characteristic of analytic philosophy’s lesser use of interdisciplinary materials (11-13). Third, where analytical political philosophers work within a framework that is at the very least sympathetic to modernity and seeks to correct its wrongs, continental political theory is largely critical of the consequences of modernity (13-14).

Arnold’s overview of these differences is striking because it shows how Beyond the Great Divide is as much about bridging the divide between political theory and political philosophy as much as it is about the division between continental and analytic thinkers. To establish aporetic cross-tradition theorizing as the most desirable way of bridging this gap, Arnold argues that both traditions offer something to the study of political phenomena. Political phenomena are dense: a single concept, such as freedom, is not only defined by historical complexities and a range of practical interpretations; theorists which try to explain them bring their own normative and explanatory baggage to these problems (14-15). For Arnold, these dense concepts cannot be exhausted by a single theory. Consequently, each tradition responds to different elements of political problems–analytic political philosophers engage in the conceptual justification of reasons for the legitimacy or acceptability of particular political practices or expressions of power, whereas continental political philosophy highlights the historical, cultural or social contingency of those concepts and often the impossibility of any ‘final’ justification for them. More often than not these are incompatible philosophical trajectories. Aporetic cross-tradition theorising is justified with reference to the intellectual payoff of utilising both traditions to investigate dense phenomena.

Arnold gives three reasons for this. First, if political phenomena are dense and if the methods and approaches within the two traditions that approach them are irreconcilable, then no single approach can exhaust the complexity of the concepts studied within political theory. Synthetic cross-tradition theorising can only fail in the face of the fact that ‘dense phenomena contain irreconcilable elements, elements we cannot eliminate and cannot unify’ (17). The aporetic mode, in contrast, recognises that we cannot resolve these tensions. Second, the aporetic mode turns this irresolvability into a virtue. Different phenomena and conceptual approaches have a range of intellectual needs. By navigating across these approaches, the aporetic mode seeks to ‘discover the limits of our intellect’ insofar as a single account will never be exhaustive of political phenomena (19). Third, Arnold argues that the aporetic mode has ‘at its ethical core the demanded of the singular, embodied, all-too-real coerced individual, the simple demand for justification, for an answer to “why?”’ (20). If analytic political philosophy is often abstract and ignores concrete individuals in its justification of particular concepts and if continental philosophy focuses on the contingencies of concepts and eschews justification, then neither, for Arnold, can truly live up the simple fact that political practices involve individuals who need to be addressed with a justification for the exercise of power. If these approaches are translated into the aporetic mode, this can lead to ‘a powerful expression of the unrealizable but valuable ethical and political ideal of answering to this person’s subjection to power with reasons this person can accept’ (21). With this third claim Arnold switches from a methodological to an ethico-political register that addresses what he perceives as a deficiency common to both traditions: their abstraction from justifications that are acceptable to everyday individuals.

This argument is established over two main sections. The first consists of an overview and critique of two approaches to synthetic cross-tradition theorizing, realist political philosophy and the work of Stanley Cavell, whilst the second consists of two examples of aporetic cross-tradition theorizing, comparing Philip Pettit and Arendt, and John Rawls and Jacques Derrida. The first section discusses the difficulty of finding a justification for state violence in both realism and Cavell, whereas the second discusses freedom as found in Pettit and Arendt, and justice as found in Rawls and Derrida. Arnold’s aim across these chapters is to move from the deficiencies of the synthetic mode of cross-tradition theorizing to an advocation of the aporetic mode, whilst also producing meaningful insights into the thinkers and topics covered.

The first substantive chapter of the book deals with realism. According to Arnold,  the realist critique of moralism in political philosophy represents an example of synthetic cross-tradition theorizing. The goal of this synthetic enterprise is the production of claims to legitimacy based on terms that would be acceptable to those individuals rather than on pre-political moralistic arguments of the kind articulated by figures like Rawls, Cohen or Nozick. Realists seek to provide political rather than pre-political accounts of justification and of legitimacy. Ultimately, Arnold argues, the synthetic mode is not up to this task. This claim is based on the argument that realists do not adequately distinguish between state legitimacy and the legitimacy of state violence. This difficulty arises as much from realism’s synthetic method as it does from the intellectual problem of legitimacy.

Realism is synthetic insofar as it combines the need for justification and legitimacy characteristic of the analytic tradition with an attention to context, history and conflicting interpretations of political events characteristic of continental thought. One might lose a particular political battle over the interpretation of, say, whether the state is legitimate in imposing a particular form of taxation, but those who disagree with such an account may still find its terms acceptable (39). In the case of state violence, however, Arnold argues that interpretation does not provide a strong enough case for legitimating that violence in terms that an individual could accept–for it is likely that there are multiple competing interpretations within which state violence is not legitimate. Moreover, if in these interpretations state violence is not agreeable to the individual who is subject to it, then it can only be justified in pre-political terms which realists reject (41). By synthesising the analytic justificatory impulse with the continental emphasis on interpretation and conflict, realists end up satisfying neither demand in the case of state violence (47). Rather than trying to synthesise these two demands, Arnold argues that instead the aporia represented by the tension between the need for justification and its impossibility should be embraced as a core element of realist theorising about legitimacy.

Violence is also the political issue at stake in Arnold’s critique of Cavell. In Cavell’s reading of the social contract tradition, our participation in community implies complicity with the exclusions that are a necessary part of social life (49-50). Cavell diverges from the classical aim of the contract, to justify state violence through consent, in order to explore how we are morally compromised by our participation in unjust societies. Arnolds’s reading of Cavell makes two claims. First, he argues that Cavell’s focus on social violence is too general to make sense of the specificity of political issues relating to consent. Second, the focus on consent as membership of a community rather than the authorisation and legitimation of state action and violence means that Cavellian consent cannot account for this integral part of the ‘“grammar” of political consent’ (52). Arnold makes this case by emphasising the role that the community plays in underpinning the search for reasons in Cavell. Claims to reason find their transcendental conditions in community and draw on the distinct grammar of those communities (58). However, for Arnold Cavell does not provide sufficient detail for articulating the grammar of a specifically political community because consent is primarily an issue of complicity with social violence that arises from one’s participation in community as such (62-3). Consent merely implicates one in social violence within a particular community but does not expressly authorise the legitimate use of violence by the state.

This reading of Cavell continues the line of argument found in the previous chapter on realism, however, the link between synthetic cross-tradition theorising and the criticism of Cavell’s work is less clear. When considered as a form of cross-tradition theorising, realism falls short of providing a convincing justification of state violence because its synthetic method fails to reconcile the justificatory project of analytic political philosophy with continental political theory’s emphasis on interpretation. Within Arnold’s critique of Cavell, however, method is at a distance from the problem of legitimacy. Cavell utilises a synthetic method which treats philosophical texts as texts and not simply as examples of political argumentation: a continental method is synthesised with analytical texts. Arnold argues that this method falls short insofar as by reading texts ‘as texts we will often fail to take them seriously, on their own terms’ (75). Cavell’s method fails to treat analytical texts on their own terms precisely because he treats them as texts and not as pieces of philosophical argumentation. There is no disputing that this is a salient issue in an account of why cross-tradition theorising in the aporetic mode is superior to the synthetic mode. However, the criticism of the substance of Cavell’s account of violence and consent is at a remove from this methodological complaint: one might criticise the category of social violence without recourse to a critique of synthetic cross-tradition theorising. Thus, while both of these points stand it does not appear that the account of legitimacy in Cavell is essential to pursuing the project of advocating for aporetic cross-tradition theorising, and the point against the synthetic mode is somewhat weakened as a result (an issue that we will return to).

Following this critique of Cavell, The Great Divide shifts gear into advocating openly for aporetic cross-tradition theorising. In contrast to the first two chapters, where realism and the work of Cavell were taken as examples of synthetic cross-tradition theorizing, in the remaining chapters Arnold seeks to engage in aporetic cross-tradition theorizing himself.  It is here that Arnold turns to the work of Arendt and Pettit on freedom and Rawls and Derrida on justice. Each of these chapters represents an attempt to demonstrate the viability of the aporetic mode by showing ‘that a crucial feature of the concept theorized by a representative of one tradition cannot be harmonized with another crucial feature of that concept when theorized from the other tradition’ (76). The account of Arendt and Pettit spans two chapters which deal with freedom as such and political freedom respectively. At issue in both is the problem of control: whether it concerns freedom in general or political freedom, Pettit and Arendt’s respective approaches to control do not fully explain the density of the concept of freedom. As such, an aporetic approach is necessary to do justice to the complexity of freedom as a dense concept.

For Pettit freedom in general is understood in terms of responsibility. Responsibility gives a richer understanding of freedom than accounts which focus on the rational control of one’s actions or the ability to align one’s actions with second-order desires (volitional control) because, in Pettit’s account, freedom as responsibility requires the agent to exert ‘discursive’ control over the connections between their actions (81). Responsibility arises from the ability to give an account for the links between actions, for which rational and volitional control are necessary but not sufficient conditions. For Arnold, this leaves three common questions about freedom unanswered: what is its value, can freedom be spontaneous, and to what extent can we distinguish between acts that are considered as free because we exercise them consciously and those that arise from ‘virtual’ control or habit (84-9). These criticisms are introduced to facilitate the transition to Arendt’s concept of freedom, wherein freedom has a clear value: the capacity to create something new. Moreover, free acts must not be guided or dictated by others or by the self. They must be spontaneous (92-5). Free acts create something new under conditions of spontaneity while also maintaining that this act is intelligible to others. Arendt’s account of freedom shows, in contrast to liberal theories of non-interference, that a lack of control of the sovereign self is valuable for free action. While Arnold is more critical of Pettit than Arendt he is not dismissive of the former: the purpose of this comparison is to highlight that freedom as control and freedom as a lack of control represent irreconcilable accounts of freedom that nevertheless both have something valuable to say about freedom as a dense concept.

This insight is pursued further in Arnold’s account of specifically political forms of freedom in Pettit and Arendt. Both accounts fail to exhaust the permutations of political freedom as a dense concept. Pettit elaborates upon the conditions of freedom as non-domination, where republican institutions are intended to ensure that political decisions and forms of interference are non-dominating insofar as they track the interests of citizens (106-7). Freedom is conditioned as citizens can be subject to interference so long as their interests are tracked, and thus enhanced, by government action (106-8). In contrast, Arendt is concerned with institutions that support isonomy, or the ability to participate in unconditioned ‘disclosive’ action that reveals something about the world and that makes it meaningful to others (124-5). Isonomy is Arendt’s response to the conditions of modernity in which the ability of all to participate in political action is negated by conditions of alienation from both oneself and the world (125-7). Arnold’s account is intended to bring out the difference between Pettit and Arendt in sharp relief. Arendtian political freedom is incompatible with the kind of interference Pettit describes, no matter how non-dominating it intends to be, and the republican theory of non-domination would require a degree of self-control and control by the state for actions to be classed as free that would be unacceptable for Arendt.

As we already know, the aim of this account of Pettit and Arendt is not simply to state that they have different accounts of freedom. Instead, Arnold aims to show how they each run into difficulties that provide meaningful insights about the nature of freedom as a dense concept. While he seeks to distance himself from the difficulties associated with positive liberty that also plague forms of republicanism, Pettit fails to eliminate them. The classic critique of positive liberty is that aligning the state with the interests of citizens in a way that shapes the liberty of those citizens requires interference which, in Rousseau’s famous words, forces those citizens to be free (109-11). Pettit’s version of political freedom is intended to avoid the problems of republicanism in the Rousseauian and Kantian traditions, but for Arnold the state fostering of discursive control ends up repeating the problems of positive liberty. Arendt is faced with the opposing problem. A political entity based on the ideal of isonomy might have as its aim the defence of the right to unconditioned action, but it is difficult to conceive of an institution which could both create and maintain a political space while also refraining from controlling actors within those spaces (132-45). A synthetic account of freedom in Pettit and Arendt would attempt to iron out these issues by combining their opposed approaches into a single system. Arnold’s case, however, is that there is more value in treating them as distinct and irreconcilable approaches that are plagued by their own problems. If political concepts are dense, then a single, synthetic account would still fall short of the impossible goal of unifying several perspectives in a way that exhausts the complexity of political concepts.

The same approach is applied in Arnold’s reading of Rawls and Derrida, where he focuses on their attempts to provide non-metaphysical accounts of justice. Arnold gives an account of the changes that Rawls’ makes to his system between Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism, focusing on the stability of the principles of justice chosen from behind the veil of ignorance. In Theory of Justice they are chosen according to rational principles shared by all individuals, whereas in Political Liberalism the definition of society used to guide deliberation within the original position represents the fundamental ideas of constitutional democracies (143-144). For Arnold, this non-metaphysical justification made with reference to historical conditions fails as it invests the historical trajectory towards liberalism with metaphysical significance for considerations of justice (154-5). Derrida’s account of justice suffers from the opposite problem. Here the question posed by Arnold is how one can move from a quasi-metaphysical account of justice to a historical account of its permutations? Arnold does an admirable job of simplifying the aporias within Derrida’s understanding of justice: justice requires the absolute singularity of the decision, as it is ‘owed to a singular other’, but it must occur through the application of rules which are not singular (163). Justice, therefore, is irreducible to history but must be realized within it. The issue that Derrida runs into here, according to Arnold, is the necessity of law in this process. Why must justice take place through legal institutions? This is clarified with respect to Derrida’s account of forgiveness: even though no act of forgiveness can live up to the forgiving of the unforgivable, we would nevertheless still recognise an act of forgiveness as participating in this unreachable ideal form. This is not true of justice: it is manifestly clear that legal institutions do not just live up to the ideal of justice because it requires an unconditioned decision on behalf of the other, but also because some legal institutions would not be considered to be just in any manner. Bridging the gap between justice and history is difficult for Derrida, insofar as it is unclear why justice as a quasi-metaphysical idea must be realised in the factual institution of law (169).

In Arnold’s account, both Rawls and Derrida fail to produce non-metaphysical conceptualisations of justice. The former turns to history but by doing so transforms its contingencies into metaphysical justifications, whereas the latter fails to provide a convincing reason for the link between a quasi-metaphysical form of justice and the historical fact of law. Again, a synthetic account of justice would eradicate this complexity. The density of the relationship between metaphysics and politics can only be fully appreciated in an aporetic mode where the need to dispense with metaphysics must co-exist with the necessity of metaphysical grounding (170). This problem cannot be overcome, and therefore a synthetic approach to it will necessarily fail in its attempt to do so.

Arnold concludes with three reasons why the model of aporetic cross-tradition theorizing demonstrated across the accounts of freedom and justice in Pettit, Arendt, Rawls and Derrida is a desirable one. First, the aporetic mode is more viable than the synthetic because it refuses to treat political problems as ‘solved,’ whereas the synthetic mode attempts to resolve political problems despite the impossibility of this task in the face of dense concepts (172-5). A brief example is given here of how calls for reparations from the accumulation of American wealth through slavery are characterised by complex and contradictory elements of historical and metaphysical justifications which an aporetic form of theorising might make sense of. Second, aporetic theorising challenges the cloistering of intra-tradition debates and opens political theory to new discussions and the discovery of new problems (178-179). Third, and similarly, it fosters an ethic of openness and responsiveness to the differences between approaches to political theory as a discipline and a recognition of how what is common within one part of the discipline may, in fact, pose a serious intellectual problem in another.

Arnold’s case for the aporetic mode is a compelling one, particularly in the context of methodological developments in political theory that call for comparative methods that refuse the possibility of exhaustive, synthetic theoretical enterprises. However, we might consider the extent to which aporetic theorising, while appealing, is truly agnostic with respect to the traditions that it attempts to treat equally. If we take Arnold’s own definition of analytic political philosophy, it would appear that the aporetic method is something that most analytical thinkers would view as defeatist obfuscation. Contrastingly, this method fits very neatly into the continental perspective which seeks to press problems in order to uncover aporias rather than resolve them.[1] Aporetic cross-tradition theorising may draw on both traditions, but it could be said to do so from a broadly continental perspective that focuses on the value of intellectual aporias. Of course, Arnold’s perspective is an account of the intellectual characteristics of analytic political philosophy as a tradition. Justification may be an aim of this tradition as a whole, but individual thinkers would most likely accept the point that no single account will exhaust a particular political problem or phenomena. Understood in this way Arnold is brought back to the agnostic ground between continental and analytical perspectives, as the eponymous aporia of the aporetic approach could be seen to represent a claim about intellectual inquiry rather than the nature of political problems.

However, Arnold does hold to the stronger version of this claim which stresses that dense political concepts cannot be fully explained. This is noteworthy because density does not necessarily have as its consequence a total failure of explanation. While analytical thinkers may indeed accept that no single account exhausts the density of concepts, this tradition as a whole would be more receptive to the gradual unpacking and explication of dense concepts across multiple, competing accounts of the phenomena they represent. Here complexity is not insurmountable. In contrast, continental thinkers would be more likely to hold to a thicker understanding of complexity in which both the phenomena and the explanation are equally complex, and which must be integrated into the very nature of political inquiry. Density in the analytic tradition is a concern for the political philosopher, whereas in the continental it is the political itself which is dense and thus complexity is a concern for both the theorist and the political agent. We might also note here that Arnold’s account of the problem of the return of metaphysics faced by the post-metaphysical political theories of both Rawls and Derrida is a quintessentially a continental way of thinking about these problems. Indeed, it is one that is explored within Derrida’s own work. While Arnold might be seen to be agnostic with respect to the two traditions, insofar as he characterises political problems themselves as aporetic he could be seen to be a ‘continental’ thinker.

Leaning to one side or the other of the divide is not necessarily a problem for Arnold’s position. Analytic or continental thinkers engaging in cross-tradition theorising have to start from somewhere. However, this unacknowledged propensity towards one side rather than the other belies challenges that face the argument made in The Great Divide. While political phenomena are treated as dense, one might also note that the divide between analytic and continental thinkers is itself a dense and complex concept. Arnold does not give the impression that he is of the opinion that his account of the difference between the two traditions is the only one. However, the multiplicity of ways of distinguishing between the two traditions is a problem that is not dealt with in the course of the defence of aporetic cross-tradition theorizing. Moreover, if the division between the two traditions is contested, one might also contest the division between synthetic and aporetic modes of cross-tradition theorising. The aporetic and synthetic modes are not necessarily opposed or mutually exclusive: one might engage in aporetic inquiry and recognise elements of two thinkers that can be synthesised, or one might engage in a synthetic inquiry that highlights incompatible aspects of two systems of thought.

Arnold’s conclusions are pre-empted with the claim that while cross-tradition theorising is taking place between political theory and other disciplines, there is a lack of cross-tradition theorising that ‘moves between’ analytic and continental political theory (171). This advocation of the aporetic mode takes the above points for granted: the difference between the two traditions is simple rather than complex, that the complexity of political phenomena is by necessity irreducible to explanation, and that synthetic and aporetic methods represent mutually exclusive methodological alternatives. The case for taking the aporetic path is a convincing one insofar as it presents methodological pluralism as a worthwhile goal. However, if disciplinary pluralism is our aim, then the most fruitful approach may be to commit more fully to the methodological agnosticism that Arnold sets out. While synthetic theorising may fail in the particular case of realist accounts of legitimacy, it is not clear that this rules out in advance the impossibility of situations where synthetic theorising is more beneficial than aporetic theorising. As noted above, the gap between the critique of Cavell’s claims about violence and his textual method indicates that such an approach may be fruitful insofar as Arnold does not present a convincing argument as to why Cavell’s failure to account for state violence is necessarily a result of his synthetic method, instead of a result of a disagreement about legitimacy itself.

Understood in this way, political theory might be best served by an understanding of synthetic and aporetic modes of cross-tradition theorising that sees them as tools to be used as appropriate for the political and conceptual challenges facing the theorist. Such an approach would go some way to alleviating the way that Arnold leans towards a more continental approach in his advocation of an aporetic method and would further the ethos of disciplinary pluralism that implicitly underpins his argument. I do not wish to suggest that any of these objections invalidate Arnold’s argument–far from it. The value of The Great Divide is that it makes space for further discussion about how political theory navigates its own disciplinary divides, and for this it is a laudable intervention.


[1] Here I refer to the work of Thomas J. Donahue and Paulina Ochoa Espejo, to which Arnold also refers. See: ‘The analytical–Continental divide: Styles of dealing with problems,’ European Journal of Political Theory, 15:2 (2016): 138–154.

Alison Laywine: Kant’s Transcendental Deduction: A Cosmology of Experience

Kant’s Transcendental Deduction: A Cosmology of Experience Book Cover Kant’s Transcendental Deduction: A Cosmology of Experience
Alison Laywine
Oxford University Press
2020
Hardback £60.00
336

Reviewed by: Thomas Nemeth (USA)

Every student of Kant’s thought is familiar with his reflective assertion that the Transcendental Deduction in the first Critique cost him more labor than any other part. The centrality of that presentation for his entire argument coupled with its sheer conceptual difficulty lay behind Kant’s efforts and the attention he afforded to elaborate it correctly. Countless students from his time to our own have themselves spent an inordinate amount of time attempting to follow the train of thought Kant pursued in it. Not just have disagreements surfaced on the actual steps Kant took in the Deduction, but differing opinions arose on how he could best achieve his intended end. We know that even in his own day Kant’s contemporaries were puzzled by the Transcendental Deduction as it appeared in the Critique’s first edition. Kant took the criticism to heart, and in a second edition of the work he gave a completely new version of the argument. Regrettably, what many thought should be the clearest of all presentations in the Critique – owing to its centrality – has been viewed by able scholars over the ensuing decades, nay centuries, as puzzling and obscure, but above all as inconclusive. Whereas many have ventured opinions on the success of Kant’s endeavor, few, if any, have concluded that he succeeded in achieving whatever it is that he had set out to do.

Numerous attempts have been made even in recent years to do what Kant himself seemingly was unable to accomplish, namely to give a clear account of Kant’s argument in the Deduction, quite apart from whether it succeeds or not. Even if we lay aside the presentations in the form of journal articles, the number of book-length studies alone is surprising, even astonishing – and this just in the English language. Fortunately, we have two eminently lucid expositions of Kant’s Transcendental Deduction, namely Guyer’s Kant and the Claims of Knowledge and Allison’s Kant’s Transcendental Deduction, though as the titles suggest the latter is more pointedly directed at explaining Kant’s text than the former. Both, however, are works that no serious student of Kant can afford to ignore. Certainly, there are considerable differences between the two books in their conclusions and their manner of executing their respective projects. Nevertheless, regardless of one’s familiarity with Kant’s text, whether a graduate student trying to understand Kant’s problem for the first time or an accomplished Kant-scholar, both books offer much clarification and many insights. Moreover, both books make ample use of Kant’s writings from his so-called “Silent Decade” and thus attempt to trace the evolution of Kant’s problem in the Deduction from his early “pre-Critical” writings. Now, we have Laywine’s dense contribution to the literature.

Alison Laywine is one of the few scholars who already in 1995 undertook an examination of Kant’s pre-Critical works in considerable depth with the hope of shedding light on the basic tenets of his Critical writings and positions. In that previous work, Kant’s Early Metaphysics and the Origins of the Critical Philosophy, Laywine told us that an understanding of the first Critique’s dichotomy between the faculties of sensibility and the understanding requires an understanding of his earlier position, why Kant adopted it at the time, and what led him to alter it, assuming, of course, that he did. Implicit in Laywine’s train of thought here is that such knowledge of Kant’s development is necessary in order to arrive at Laywine’s understanding of Kant. She and so many others who make similar claims take no account of the fact that others with a different understanding of Kant may not feel the need to turn to Kant’s pre-Critical writings. Given her position regarding just what the Deduction seeks to achieve, her argument for an examination of Kant’s early writings surely would include that he retained the kernel of his early metaphysics but reinterpreted and adapted it to fit those aspects of his philosophy that changed over the intervening years.

In any case, Laywine claims – and not without good reason – that Kant came to realize the inadequacies of his 1770 Inaugural Dissertation and tried during the subsequent decade or so to investigate and establish the limits of human cognition and the role of the respective faculties he delineated within those limits. He argued that what could be known under the conditions of one faculty could not be known under the conditions of the other. Yet unlike in 1781, the year of the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant held earlier in 1770 that the understanding through its concepts can cognize things in themselves, whereas things conceived through the senses are representations of things merely as they appear to us. He drew this conclusion from his contention that space and time are formal conditions of our sensibility. The strict separation of the faculties would go on to pose significant issues for him, and the attempt to resolve them led him to his mature system.

Laywine’s newest book essentially takes up where she left off previously, namely with a discussion of a set of Kant’s papers now known collectively as the Duisburg Nachlaβ, written most likely in 1775, and thus just about half-way between the Inaugural Dissertation and the first Critique. Short of paper, Kant often wrote notes on whatever paper was at hand including in the blank areas on letters he received. The so-called Duisburg Nachlaβ is such a set of jottings written in the blank areas of a letter bearing a date. Based on that fact, we know approximately when the note was scribbled. For those interested in the development of Kant’s mature positions, these notes are of great importance, since we have little else by which we can see the evolution of his thought. Although Laywine acknowledges Guyer’s treatment of the Nachlaβ in his own book, she charges him with neglecting Kant’s early metaphysics and with resisting the idealism that she sees present in the Nachlaβ. She, on the other hand, recognizes “some kind of idealism” (19) in them, but in doing so she in effect begs us to ask of her what kind of idealism is it that she sees. We get an answer or, rather, to use her own words, “some kind of” answer, further on in her detailed exposition of the Nachlaβ, where she says that the idealism is not transcendental idealism, but an idealism based on the idea that the cognizing subject intuits oneself directly through an intellectual insight and “bodies” – presumably meaning all else besides the subject – only insofar as they affect me. In this she explicitly sees herself as diverging from Guyer’s reading of the Nachlaβ, according to which Kant’s writing hopes to provide a theory of the a priori conditions of empirical knowledge but without thereby establishing an unbridgeable chasm between the world as cognized and the world as it is apart from our human cognition, i.e., as it is “in itself.” Even if one were to agree with Guyer in his reading of the Nachlaβ, one must wonder along with Laywine what Guyer meant by realism, particularly if he had Kant’s own definition in mind. Kant claimed, after all, to be an empirical realist even while espousing his transcendental idealism. Thus, the onus falls here on Guyer to clarify his position and interpretation – or at least it does on Laywine’s reading of Guyer.

However, even if we agree that Guyer failed to provide such a clarification, this does not absolve Laywine from providing her own account of Kant’s idealism. She writes that based on her reading of the A-Deduction, i.e., the Deduction as found in the 1781 Critique, Kant was an idealist about objects taken as objects of knowledge, but this need not mean that he was a skeptic concerning the external world (137). Clearly in 1781 Kant did not offer, and presumably therefore saw no need to offer, a special refutation of idealism. To Laywine’s thinking, Kant must have been as surprised as anyone that his sheer confidence concerning externality could be questioned. That critics charged him with Berkeleyan idealism forced Kant to add a distinct “Refutation of Idealism” in the 1787 second edition of the Critique. The question, then, is whether Laywine’s understanding of Kant’s idealism as presented in 1781 stands scrutiny given her premise that Kant took for granted the existence of the external world at the time. To be sure, Laywine finds nothing in Kant’s idealism that would disturb his confidence in externality. However, for us the question is whether Laywine’s confidence is itself misplaced. Are there not ample grounds in the 1781 Critique to think that Kant must have recognized the significance of the problem? And since he did not offer a refutation in the first Critique, is it not possible that he was still searching for one? Much, then, depends on the nature of Kant’s 1781 position, to which Laywine writes she will return in §3d (147-150) of the second chapter of her book. Indeed, Laywine there does somewhat return to the issue, albeit only in a footnote, in which she stresses her disagreement again with Guyer’s treatment of Kant’s idealism in the Nachlaβ. Unfortunately, determining Laywine’s own position requires an understanding of Guyer’s in order then to set Laywine’s against it. Certainly, this can be done, but the procedure requires the reader to make the necessary inference. The burden Laywine thrusts upon her readership is not aided by her assertion that Kant’s idealism in 1775 is “something like” (149f) the idealism that Guyer attributes to Kant in 1781. If the two positions are merely “like” each other, then in what way are they different?

Regrettably, Laywine, by her own admission, states that although she will take into account both versions of the Deduction – the A-Deduction and the substantially revised version in the second edition, or B-Deduction – her focus throughout her treatment is on the latter. This may be understandable given the argument she develops, but it does significantly narrow her potential audience, who may want an understanding of the Deduction on the whole, and not just her particular argument. In this respect, Henry Allison’s earlier work, in patiently dealing with both versions of the Deduction, succeeds far better and is far more accessible to a general reader. True, the B-Deduction may be, as Laywine writes, “more perspicuous” (14), but it is for that very reason, then, that one might well expect her to devote more attention to the first version. To be sure, she does not wholly dispense with the first edition tout court. She does draw instructive parallels between passages in the two versions of the Deduction, but she often finds the A-Deduction more convoluted and the argument more ambiguous than in the B-Deduction. An understanding of Laywine’s discussion here is again helped by the juxtaposition of her understanding with that of Allison’s.   Laywine states (14) that a second reason for concentrating on the B-Deduction is to show that certain “infelicities” some have seen in the A-Deduction concerning metaphysics are not mistakes that are “ironed out” in the B-Deduction. On the contrary, Laywine believes that they are essential to the Deduction as such.

Laywine’s devotion to the Nachlaβ in the context of the present work concludes with the assertion that it more or less shows that Kant recognized already in the middle of his “Silent Decade” the need for a deduction of the categories, regardless of their number, of the understanding, i.e., for an, in effect, legal argument substantiating the claim that pure concepts in the understanding apply to appearances and do so a priori. Even stronger, Laywine holds that Kant did provide such a deduction already in the Nachlaβ at least in outline. This can hardly come as a surprise to readers familiar with the vast secondary literature. For example, Wolfgang Carl in a paper “Kant’s First Drafts of the Deduction of the Categories” originally read in 1987 to an audience at Stanford University, but published in 1989, noted that Kant had already drafted several versions of the deduction before the 1781 Critique.

In turning to the Deduction itself in the B-Deduction, one of Laywine’s first concerns is understanding what Kant meant by such terms and expressions as “manifold” and “synthetic unity of apperception.” She turns again to Kant’s pre-Critical writings for clarification as to how he employed the word “manifold” previously, hopefully, thereby, throwing light on his use of the word in the Critique. Laywine writes that for Kant every intuition has a manifold, including a priori intuitions. This would seem incontestable, particularly since Kant himself clearly makes that assertion, for example at B160. Whatever the case, Laywine suggests that not everyone recognized this, Dieter Henrich being one.

Particularly since Henrich’s 1969 article on the proof-structure of the B-Deduction, virtually every commentator on Kant’s first Critique has had something to say on whether the B-Deduction presents two distinct steps or two distinct arguments for a single conclusion. The Deduction, in Laywine’s words, is to show that the categories or pure concepts of the understanding “are the formal conditions of thought in the same way that the pure intuitions of space and time are the formal conditions of sensibility” (13). The problem, so to speak, is that the argument of the B-Deduction extends through §26 of the Critique, but the conclusion offered there does not appear to be substantially different from that already presented in §20, where Kant writes that “the manifold in a given intuition also necessarily stands under categories,” the categories being nothing other than the functions for judging (B143). Only by standing under categories is the unity of the sensible manifold possible. Thus, does the first step of the B-Deduction end with the quite brief §20 (B143) and then resume with a second step at §22 or does §22 advance another distinct argument? If what we have here are two arguments for one conclusion, it looks as though Kant was saying you should pick the one that you like best (209). On the other hand, if the B-Deduction consists of two steps, how do the two steps differ?

Laywine writes that she “prefers” to think that the B-Deduction consists of two steps rather than two arguments (209). Stating that one of the two options is preferred is hardly a ringing endorsement of a choice. We can only hope that now having completed her inquiry Laywine is firmly convinced that she made the correct decision. She does realize, though, that having made her choice she must now say what the second step offers to the argument beyond what the first affirmed. Kant provides the answer, or as Laywine herself calls it “an important clue” to the answer, at the beginning of §26. She then quotes one sentence from that section – in her own translation – after which she remarks that its significance lies in its announcement that the “final step” of the Deduction will be an attempt to account for how nature is possible (210). Are we, therefore, to conclude that what sets the “second step” apart from the first is that it finally answers how nature is possible? But, then, the first step, contrary to its appearance, cannot have reached the same conclusion as the second step. Laywine’s answer lies in understanding that Kant uses the word “nature” in two different senses, a material and a formal sense. Laywine finds the material sense given explicitly in Prolegomena §36, where Kant writes that nature is the totality of all appearances, and the formal sense concerns appearances governed by laws so that they form a unified whole. Stated in such terms what is at issue appears simple enough. But interpreting the intricate and puzzling B-Deduction through the lens of the Prolegomena asks us to assume that the twofold sense given in the Prolegomena accurately reflected Kant’s thinking at the time of the Prolegomena – and not one offered for the sake of simplicity alone – but also that Kant continued to maintain the same stance in 1787. That the B-Deduction does indeed hold to the twofold sense of nature is a major task of Laywine’s treatise.

Laywine sees her proposal for understanding the B-Deduction as unique. Henrich, for one, wrote that what Laywine sees as the respective sections of the B-Deduction constituting the two steps in fact do not actually come to the same conclusion. For Henrich, Kant presents two different arguments with two different conclusions. Others have proposed variations. In Laywine’s estimation, Hans Wagner came close to her own by recognizing that the second step focuses on empirical intuition and perception, whereas the first step deals only with intuition as such. While this train of thought leads him to recognize the importance of the question how nature is possible, he failed to exploit this insight. In focusing on how perception is possible, Wagner, in Laywine’s estimation, overlooked accounting for how perceptions can be connected. Certainly, she correctly remarks that without such an explanation of connected perceptions there can be no explanation of how nature is possible. But we may ask of Laywine what more needs to be added to Wagner’s argument to produce her own. The answer is both easy and hard. That is, it can easily be stated as that we must notice the cosmological aspect of the second step, the contribution of a cosmology of experience makes to the completion of the B-Deduction argument.

We know that Laywine puts much weight on this conception of a “cosmology of experience.” After all, it features prominently in her book’s subtitle, and she mentions the expression many times in her text. She tells us on page 87 that such a cosmology – she also calls it a “metaphysics” (3f) – treats experience “as a unified whole of appearances … and tries to establish its conditions of possibility by showing that its unity comes from laws legislated to appearances by the understanding through its categories.” This treatment of experience, allegedly, is conspicuously absent from the first step of the B-Deduction. The emphasis here is on the word “unity,” for it allows us to characterize the world as a whole. Laywine claims that the germ of this conception of a cosmology of experience “informs” Kant’s account of human sensibility already in the Inaugural Dissertation and again is revealed in the Nachlaβ and even in the A-Deduction. Of course, if it is as easy as Laywine says, it is hard to see why the answer to Henrich’s challenge appears explicitly only on page 214, but in her defense she did prepare much of the needed groundwork up to this point. In her own estimation, the hard part of her argument is to make an understandable presentation of what a cosmology of experience will contribute to the Deduction.

Even by her own reckoning, having reached §26 of the B-Deduction, the final section of the argument, Laywine, by her own opinion, has still not been able to clinch the required proof. According to her, to say, as Kant does, that the categories are valid for all objects of experience in B161 is not the same as invoking universal laws to make the unity of appearances possible. But is it? Laywine continues, holding that if we are to speak of universal laws of nature, they must either stem from God, which Kant has dismissed for his purposes here, or from the categories. Kant at B163 wrote that the “categories are concepts that prescribe laws a priori to appearances, thus to nature as the sum total of all appearances. … Here is the solution to this riddle.” Can we say that with this Laywine’s task is complete?

Hermann Cohen, in his own all-too-brief commentary from 1907, found, like Laywine, that these words contained the transcendental question. He found the answer – or so he says – in the distinction between objects and things in themselves, a distinction that Laywine fortunately does not invoke. But she does, like Cohen, find that the solution she seeks lies in the understanding’s self-activity and the imagination. Cohen writes, “Here we see, however, how the imagination and the connection that it creates between sensibility and the understanding make the resolution more plausible. … Thus by means of the imagination nature, as the sum total of appearances, becomes nature, ‘as the original ground of its necessary lawfulness’” (63, B165). Certainly, while there are many nuances that distinguish Cohen’s endeavor from that of Laywine, there is a distinct similarity that Laywine does not so much as mention.

There are certainly many positive points to Laywine’s treatment of the B-Deduction. Not one of them, however, is that her investigation is largely ahistorical. In this too, though, she is not unique. Despite all the scholarship over the more than two centuries that preceded her work, she makes little reference to it. Does she think that her formulation of and solution to the central problem of the Deduction is original as compared to all that has gone before? If it is unique, that would be a stunning claim in light of all of the nineteenth century German scholarship alone, not counting those from the twentieth, some of which she does briefly mentions. But if it is not, in what way does her treatment contribute to what has gone before? Or is she, in effect, saying that each of us should attempt for ourselves unaided by the past to square the circle? Frederick Beiser has remarked with regard to contemporary Anglophone scholarship on German idealism that many of the champions of a normative interpretation of it do not realize that their reading was worked out with greater sophistication and subtlety long ago (10). Can we not draw a parallel comparison to the core message in Laywine’s reading of the B-Deduction – apart from the many details she provides – but referring instead to Cohen’s interpretation?

Undoubtedly, Laywine’s treatment of the Duisburg Nachlaβ in relation to the B-Deduction is a valuable addition to contemporary English-language Kant scholarship. It is this rather than her actual treatment of the Deduction that sets her book apart. It is not an easy read for the casual or beginning student of the first Critique, who might come upon it looking for guidance. But those already quite familiar with the B-Deduction will find a number of observations they will have likely overlooked previously.

References:

Beiser, Frederick C. 2009. “Normativity in Neo-Kantianism: Its Rise and Fall.” International Journal of Philosophical Studies, vol. 17 (1): 9-27.

Cohen, Hermann. 1907. Kommentar zu Immanuel Kants Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Leipzig: Verlag der Dürr’schen Buchhandlung  .

Alfredo Ferrarin, Dermot Moran, Elisa Magri, Danilo Manca (Eds.): Hegel and Phenomenology

Hegel and Phenomenology Book Cover Hegel and Phenomenology
Contributions To Phenomenology, Vol. 102
Alfredo Ferrarin, Dermot Moran, Elisa Magri, Danilo Manca (Eds.)
Springer
2019
Hardback 103,99 €
XIII, 190

Reviewed by: Daniel Herbert (University of Sheffield)

While Hegel has long been acknowledged as an important influence upon several figures within the phenomenological tradition, the relation of his system to the movement’s founder, Husserl, has been largely overlooked. Husserl’s few, and – for the most part – unenthusiastic references to Hegel, together with the anti-Hegelian attitudes of his teacher, Brentano, have seemed, for most, to suggest that there is nothing to learn from comparing Husserl’s thought with Hegel’s, however much Hegelian and Husserlian themes are to be found combined in the works of subsequent phenomenologists. As such, the recent collection of essays, Hegel and Phenomenology, edited by Alfredo Ferrarin, Dermot Moran, Elisa Magrì and Danilo Manca, represents a most welcome contribution to current debates concerning Hegel’s legacy for Continental philosophy, and the affinities between Hegelian and Husserlian approaches. The collection leans very much towards Husserl, with eight of its eleven chapters centring upon Husserl’s relation to Hegel. Other members of the phenomenological tradition, customarily thought closer to Hegel, are less well-represented here, although there are very interesting chapters on Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur, each of which makes an original contribution to phenomenology scholarship while offering a distinct perspective from which to assess Hegel’s twentieth century legacy.

Although several of the contributors note significant agreements between Husserl and Hegel in earlier works, it is no surprise that the Hegelian motifs in Husserl’s project are most apparent in the posthumous Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology. Whether or not Husserl himself became conscious of his affinities with Hegel, his successors in the phenomenological tradition were not slow to appreciate the Hegelian implications contained within a post-Kantian philosophy of subjectivity once it has become sensitive to the importance of intersubjective and inherited historical factors conditioning the subject’s understanding of its experience. The first three chapters of the collection are therefore specifically devoted to interpreting Husserl’s Crisis text in the light of such Hegelian motifs. Chapters four and five compare methodological approaches in Hegel’s phenomenology, whereas chapters six, seven and eight make subjectivity their central theme. The remaining three chapters examine Hegel and Husserl by way of Adorno, Ricœur and Sellars.

The first chapter of the collection, by Dermot Moran, delivers a fascinating account of Hegel’s passage from disrepute to prestige during the early history of the phenomenological movement. As Moran explains, Hegel’s reputation suffered enormously in Germany during the second half of the nineteenth century, when the call for a return to Kant left Hegelian speculative idealism discredited as an extravagantly metaphysical position vulnerable to epistemic critique. Brentano typifies the anti-Hegelian attitudes of this period in German philosophy, identifying Hegel as part of an irrationalist wave terminating a cycle of philosophical progress. The monumentally influential lectures of Koyré, Kojève and Hyppolite notwithstanding, however, Moran shows Heidegger’s rehabilitation of Hegel to pre-date these developments in France, so that it is in Germany that Hegel’s journey to phenomenological respectability originates. Moran stresses the importance of Heidegger’s Freiburg lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit in restoring Hegel’s esteem amongst a new generation of phenomenologists, and devotes particular attention to Finks’s Hegelian inheritance and its possible influence upon the ultimate shape of Husserl’s Crisis text.

Husserl’s early disregard for Hegel aside, Moran clearly identifies deep affinities between Hegel’s treatment of subjectivity in terms of historically developing intersubjective Spirit and the concerns of the Crisis, examining possible sources of conscious or unconscious Hegelian influences upon this work. Moran’s assessment of the Hegel-Husserl relationship is compelling, original and productive, opening a route to significant re-evaluation of a pairing frequently regarded as fundamentally incompatible. Moran arguably overstates Hegel’s proximity to Husserl, however, on the crucial and much-contested issue of transcendental philosophy – a matter of decisive importance in assessing Hegel’s place in the post-Kantian tradition. Whereas Husserl never abandons his commitment to transcendental methods following his 1907 Kantian epiphany, Hegel’s consciously anti-Kantian methodology greatly complicates efforts to classify him as a transcendental philosopher in any straightforward, unqualified sense.

The complex relationship between Hegel’s system and Husserl’s later work is further examined in the second chapter of the collection, by Tanja Staehler, which addresses their respective treatments of history and teleology. Whereas, according to Staehler, both thinkers identify a purposiveness in European history, and an orientation towards a telos, Hegel takes the goal of history to have been prescribed in advance by the logic of the Absolute Idea, while Husserl allows for changes in historical trajectory owing to the revisability of its telos. In spite of a common teleological approach to historical understanding, Husserl and Hegel differ very significantly, according to Staehler, in their treatments of the future. For Staehler, Hegel’s omnivorous system struggles to accommodate genuine spontaneity into its grand design, which entails that the horizons of historical possibility completely fixed by a process which achieved maturation in the early nineteenth century. Husserl, however, is better able to acknowledge contingencies of time and culture not anticipated in the historical experience of any given community. As such, the future never loses its potential for radical novelty on Husserl’s account, according to Staehler, who takes Husserl to deny the possibility of an ‘absolute’ perspective from which all historically-conditioned limits of understanding are overcome.

Those who are sympathetic to Hegel shall no doubt take issue with Staehler’s familiar objection that there is no contingency or spontaneity worthy of the title in Hegel’s treatment of history. All the same, Staehler identifies a crucial point of disagreement between Hegel and Husserl, insofar as Husserl treats the telos of European history as originating within a specific historical life-world, whereas, for Hegel, teleology involves the realisation in space and time of a conceptual order originating elsewhere. As such, Staehler is well-supported in maintaining that Husserl’s historical teleology is more modest in its claims than Hegel’s.

Danilo Manca’s chapter – the third of the collection – compares Hegel’s and Husserl’s respective treatments of the history of philosophy, with particular focus upon their differing relations to Kant’s approach to the same topic. Beginning with a discussion of Kant’s position, Manca outlines the notion of a ‘philosophizing history of philosophy’ which Kant introduces to distinguish a narrative of specifically philosophical significance within the events leading from Thales to the Enlightenment. Although the first Critique presents the history of philosophy as a cyclical process of metaphysical indulgence and sceptical renunciation, Manca notes evidence from Kant’s posthumous documents suggesting a more progressive interpretation of the same events, whereby reason’s own nature entails its elaboration over time. According to Manca, Hegel and Husserl are Kant’s successors in the project of a philosophizing history of philosophy, each seeking for an underlying rationale and a generally progressive direction to the same historical sequence of events.

Manca’s contribution is the first of the collection to discuss in detail the shared Kantian inheritance to the Hegelian and phenomenological movements, and his comparison of Hegel’s and Husserl’s respective accounts of the history of philosophy neatly illustrates their points of departure from a common ancestor. Manca notes that, for Hegel, contingencies in the historically-situated articulations of the Absolute Idea are the result of the spatiotemporal medium in which reason strains to express itself, whereas Husserl understands the same contingency to originate in more mundane cultural differences. Ultimately, Manca concludes, Husserl remains closest to Kant, insofar as he interprets the history of philosophy as orbiting around a set of problems, rather than as the unidirectional process by which reason realises itself over an organic series of stages. Whereas, for Hegel, history articulates a conceptual structure outlined in the Science of Logic, Husserl recognises no such extra-historical standard informing history’s development.

Hegel’s critique of immediacy and its implications for Husserl’s foundationalist project provides the theme for Chapter Four, by Chong-Fuk Lau, in which it is argued that Husserl came ultimately to concede the impossibility of the very presuppositionless standpoint to which his epoché had been intended to facilitate access. As Lau notes, Hegel and Husserl are similarly committed to the possibility of a rigorously scientific and presuppositionless philosophy, differing principally over whether presuppositionlessness is the feature of a starting-point or a system taken as a whole. Lau is sympathetic to Hegel’s anti-foundationalism, which he takes to fatally undermine the pursuit of ultimate beginnings to which Husserl is committed in his transcendental phenomenology. According to Lau, whereas Hegel had shown that there is nothing altogether free of mediation, Husserl’s performance of the epoché is intended to facilitate a radical beginning from which all mediation has been expelled. For Lau, there is simply no room for compromise between Husserl and Hegel over this Cartesian methodological issue, and Husserl’s appearance of having moved closer to Hegel by the time of the Crisis is the result of his having abandoned his earlier foundationalist ideals.

Lau’s expert discussion of Hegel compellingly makes the case for a fundamental incompatibility between Hegel’s method and that of the Husserlian transcendental phenomenologist. Whereas, however, he is on secure ground in maintaining that Heidegger or Gadamer represent greater prospects for a phenomenological appropriation of Hegelian insights than is afforded by Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology, his claim that the Crisis involves a complete reversal of earlier foundationalist aspirations is more questionable. The ideal of “European science” to which Husserl re-affirms his commitment in the Crisis does not significantly differ from that which he presents in the Cartesian Meditations, and Husserl does not suppose his greater attention to the life-world to undermine earlier aspirations.

Chapter Five, the first of the collection specifically to compare Hegel and Heidegger, is by Antoine Cantin-Brault and examines Hegel’s and Heidegger’s respective understandings of the Heraclitean logos. In its profounder sense, as the principle (arche) of nature (phusis), logos may, according to Cantin-Brault be understood either as (i) the dialectical and determinate truth of being, or as (ii) the unveiling of that which is concealed. Although Heraclitus does not, Cantin-Brault maintains, explicitly make any such distinction, Hegel interprets Heraclitean logos from the first perspective, whereas Heidegger’s interpretation emphasises the second. For Cantin-Brault, Heidegger’s approach to Heraclitus is mediated by a Hegelian interpretation which he tries, and ultimately fails, to overcome. As such, Cantin-Brault argues, Heidegger is unsuccessful in his attempt to understand Heraclitean logos apart from Hegelian dialectic. Hence, for Cantin-Brault, as for Hegel, Heraclitus is a dialectical thinker, in whose work a process of rational self-articulation is driven by the dynamic relation between certain fundamental concepts. Indeed, Cantin-Brault maintains, it was Heraclitus that first instituted a logos which provides Hegel’s philosophy with its central governing principle.

Heidegger’s changing approach to Heraclitean logos, and his disagreements with Hegel on this matter, are, according to Cantin-Brault, illustrative of differing understandings of the nature of ontology, and Heidegger engages differently with Heraclitus before and after his famous Kehre. Cantin-Brault’s chapter strikingly highlights the very different issues relevant to comparing Hegel with either Heidegger or Husserl, and marks quite a thematic departure from the previous, more Husserl-focussed contributions. This is apparent not only in the respectively epistemic and ontological priorities which distinguish Husserl and Heidegger, but also in their divergent attitudes towards the pre-Socratics. Although Plato marks a watershed for both Husserl and Heidegger, he is, for Husserl, the first true philosopher, and for Heidegger, the initial step to modernity’s ontological forgetfulness.

In Chapter Six, Andrea Altobrando compellingly makes the case that, from the time of his transcendental turn, Husserl came to share with Hegel a commitment to the pure ego as a necessary abstraction from the concrete self. After the initial Humean-Brentanian scepticism towards the unified self which he displays in the Logical Investigations, Husserl moves, according to Altobrando, in the contrary direction, acknowledging the pure ego as a necessary condition of any possible experience. Like Hegel, however, in the Phenomenology of Spirit and Philosophy of Mind, Husserl is not, Altobrando shows, committed to Cartesian substance dualism, but recognises the pure ego as an abstraction from a more concrete self, upon which it is therefore ontologically dependent. Both Hegel and Husserl, Altobrando maintains, recognise a demand to develop a more concrete understanding of one’s ontological identity which is not, therefore, merely abstract. For Hegel as well as Husserl, the pure ego, according to Altobrando, is entirely barren of content, simple, indeterminate and negative, without being unreal. Such an abstract pure ego is, Altobrando maintains, necessary for both Hegel and Husserl in order to accommodate the possibility of free agency and the intentionality of consciousness.

With this discussion of the pure ego, Altobrando highlights a feature of Husserl’s philosophy which might – in view of his well-known Cartesian inheritance – initially be thought to disqualify any prospect of overlap with Hegel, and shows that such impressions are unfounded. What is more, as Altobrando explicitly remarks, the comparison of Hegel’s and Husserl’s respective views concerning the pure ego represents a large and difficult project with very significant potential for re-assessing the prospects for dialogue between Husserlian and Hegelian traditions. As such, Altobrando’s contribution indicates the beginning of an exciting and promising larger project concerning the place of the pure ego in Husserl’s thought and Hegel’s.

Chapter Seven, by Alfredo Ferrarin, examines the much-neglected topic of Hegel’s and Husserl’s respective views concerning the imagination and, in so doing, identifies fascinating and unexpected points of agreement between the two thinkers, along with more predictable disagreements. According to Ferrarin, Hegel and Husserl share, first, a common Humean target, and, second, an understanding of the mind as stratified into layers of capacity which support and build upon one another. Unlike Hume, who recognises only a difference in degree of liveliness and vivacity between the ideas and impressions which furnish the contents of the mind, Hegel and Husserl recognise logically irreducible functional differences between the imagination and other subjective capacities. Such capacities are vertically ordered, for Hegel and Husserl, each of whom maintains that the capacity for sensible perception is conditional and grounded upon that of imagination.

Whereas, for Ferrarin, Hegel stresses the continuities between imagination and perception, Hegel emphasises their discontinuities, but both acknowledge a mutual dependence between the possible representation of the real and that of the unreal. In accordance with their contrasting methodological approaches, however, Hegel and Husserl differ very significantly, according to Ferrarin, in their assessments of the philosophical role of the imagination. Husserl’s eidetic discoveries are presented as the products of phantasy or imaginative variation, whereas Hegel understands the imagination as an intermediate stage on subjectivity’s self-propelling journey towards the pure Idea, wherein the sensible content of one’s representations is abstracted and their logical form laid bare to the contemplation of speculative intelligence. Since for Hegel it is the business of philosophy to transform representations into thoughts, the products of imagination are, in spite of their necessary contribution in facilitating the possibility of sensible knowledge and experience, part of what needs to be overcome in effecting the self-mediated transition from ordinary consciousness to philosophical science.

In her chapter – the eighth of the collection – Elisa Magrì argues that Hegel and Merleau-Ponty confront a similar paradox concerning expression, and pursue a common strategy in response. According to Magrì, the concept of expression occupies a central role in Hegel’s thought and Merleau-Ponty’s, but is in neither case to be understood in terms of the manifestation of a pre-existing logos. Beginning with Kant’s account of genius in the third Critique, Magrì shows that, for Kant, expression involves the spontaneous production of a representation which is communicable to others without having been generated according to a fixed procedure or rule. Expression takes on a broader systematic role for Hegel and Merleau-Ponty, Magrì maintains, both of whom employ genetic description to make sense of its pervasive significance in every aspect of thought and subjective experience. Magrì examines Hegel’s discussions of the concepts of expression and manifestation in the Science of Logic and identifies how their respective shortcomings contribute to the emergence of the self-conditioning concept which is the articulation of its own significance. Hegel’s account of expression in the Philosophy of Subjective Spirit is then explored in depth and its systematic connections with the argument of the Logic brought into view.

Merleau-Ponty is seen to agree with Hegel in treating expression properly understood as the origination of meaning, rather than the making publicly available of a privately originating significance. According to Magrì, expression depends, for Hegel and Merleau-Ponty, upon a complex dialectical interplay of activity and passivity, the importance of which for their respective post-Kantian approaches is difficult to overstate. Such a dialectic is particularly well-illustrated, Magrì suggests, in Hegel’s and Merleau-Ponty’s respective accounts of the processes by which the body becomes habituated to the expression of meaning – a series of developments involving moments of subjectivity and objectivity, interiority and exteriority.

Chapter Nine, by Giovanni Zanotti, represents something of a change in direction for the collection, with Hegel taking a step into the background and his place being filled by one of his most important twentieth century enthusiasts – Theodor Adorno. Zanotti examines Adorno’s Hegelian critique of Husserl’s commitment to a presuppositionless first philosophy grounded in the immediate deliverances of intuition. According to Zanotti, Adorno shows Husserl’s ambitious foundationalist project to fall victim to Hegel’s critique of pure immediacy, insofar as Husserl falsely assumes the possibility of an immediate foundation to knowledge which is yet able to mediate the transfer of epistemic support to propositions to which it must therefore stand in relations of mediation. Zanotti explicitly maintains that Adorno’s critique is effective specifically against such earlier Husserlian works as the Logical Investigations, leaving open the possibility that Husserl may be less vulnerable to such criticisms in the Crisis and related works of that period.

What is especially interesting about Zanotti’s admirably lucid and finely-crafted chapter is the way it explains Adorno’s discovery of an unintended dialectical tendency in Husserl’s work. According to Zanotti, Adorno shows that Husserl is led, in spite of himself but nonetheless through a kind of logic immanent within his position, to qualify the earlier Platonic realism of the Logical Investigations in recognition of a necessary subjective ground for the logical concepts he intends to elucidate without, however, sliding into the naïve psychologism which, Adorno maintains, Husserl was right to reject. As such, Zanotti’s chapter amplifies a theme recurrent throughout the collection – that in spite of his ignorance of and early antipathy to Hegel’s thought, the trajectory of Husserl’s philosophical development is towards increasingly greater proximity to Hegel. This is not to deny, however – as Adorno well-recognises – that the one-sidedness of Husserl’s earlier works indicates a genuine insight.

The penultimate chapter of the collection, by Gilles Marmasse, explores Ricœur’s ambivalent assessment of Hegel’s system and its legacy. According to Marmasse, Ricœur understands Hegel’s absolutist ambitions as a temptation which must be resisted, but the renunciation of which cannot be experienced without a sense of profound loss. For Ricœur, the events of the twentieth century have made it impossible to subscribe any longer to the self-grounding and totalising conception of philosophy which Hegel offers in reply to the finitude of the Kantian system, without having eliminated the appeal of such an ideal. The contemporary predicament is well-illustrated by the remarkable fascination which Hegel’s system retains, according to Ricœur, notwithstanding that it is no longer possible seriously to regard philosophy as party to anything else than a partial interpretation of the multifaceted cultural environment to which it belongs and by which it is conditioned.

Ricœur exaggerates Hegel’s dogmatic proclivities, according to Marmasse, who confronts Ricœur’s familiarly speculative interpretation of Hegel with a more deflationary approach which emphasises the Hegelian ambition to accommodate contingency and particularity within the system without annihilating their status as irreducible moments of a greater whole. Contrary to Ricœur’s inflationary reading, Hegel’s notion of Spirit does not, Marmasse maintains, commit him to any disembodied extra-human agency. All the same, according to Marmasse, Ricœur’s criticisms of Hegel retain, in spite of their shortcomings, a contemporary value and interest, especially in respect of their highlighting of authoritarian implications in Hegel’s theory of the state. Marmasse’s chapter is especially interesting in the way it exemplifies a phenomenon frequently remarked upon in the history of Hegel’s reception – namely, the peculiar allure of his system even for those seeking to identify its failings, and the apparent impossibility of ‘getting beyond’ Hegel – with whom it therefore seems necessary to remain in continued dialogue.

Daniele De Santis concludes the collection with a chapter defending Husserl against charges of the kind raised by Sellars’s monumentally influential critique of the myth of the Given. As De Santis remarks, Sellars’s Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind is often taken as the original source of a Hegel renaissance within analytic philosophy by which Cartesian approaches of the kind which Husserl advocates have been largely discredited. De Santis identifies three aspects of Sellars’s Hegelianism; (i) a ‘three-fold critique’ of givenness, comprising epistemological, metaphysical and genetic elements, (ii) a historical counter-account to a received view of Hegel’s relation to Cartesian philosophy, and (iii) a conceptual holism subsequently embraced by Brandom and McDowell. According to De Santis, Sellars intends for his initial attack against sense-datum theories to open a route towards the rejection of a general picture of givenness of which no philosopher has been altogether innocent. Sellars’s self-described Méditations Hégéliennes are intended to recall Husserl’s Méditations Cartésiennes, De Santis maintains, and therefore to implicate Husserl as complicit in the myth which Sellars means to unveil and dispel.

Identifying a problematic conception of evidence as the core of Sellars’s three-fold critique of givenness, De Santis proceeds to argue that performance of the transcendental-phenomenological reduction, or epoché, leads Husserl to reconceive of the intentional object as the product of acts of transcendental synthesis. Appearances are not mere isolated ‘givens’ according to Husserl, but originate within a normative network of combination-guiding principles which has more in common with Sellars’s conceptual holism than analytic Hegelians have yet to recognise. De Santis’s contribution carries the welcome implication that the so-called ‘Hegelian turn’ in recent analytic philosophy need not preclude productive engagement with phenomenology, any more than phenomenologists have been prevented from making significant contributions to Hegel scholarship or to contemporary understandings of Hegel’s current relevance.

The omission of chapters devoted specifically to Sartre, de Beauvoir and Gadamer and their respective responses to Hegel is perhaps surprising, although a volume addressing each of the major figures of the phenomenological movement would have significantly increased the length of the collection and shifted its focus away from the movement’s founder. Certainly other phenomenologists are more explicitly indebted to Hegel, and Husserl is one of the least obviously ‘Hegelian’ figures of the tradition, but the collection’s unusual attention to Husserl’s widely unacknowledged affinities with Hegel’s thought is, for this very reason, amongst its many virtues. Few other collections offer such thorough studies of the congruences and points of departure between Hegel’s ambitious project and the tradition of philosophical research originating with Husserl, without failing to respect the complex unity of the phenomenological movement as a venture of Husserlian origin. The essays in the present volume – the result of a conference on “Hegel and the Phenomenological Movement” held in Pisa in 2014 – collectively and compellingly make the case for a fresh approach to the relation between Hegelianism and phenomenology, which does not assume Husserl’s basic philosophical orientation to be antithetical to Hegel’s but sees both traditions as responses to a common Kantian heritage and capable of productive cross-fertilisation in the development of anti-naturalist strategies centring upon the meaning-constitutive priority of historical subjectivity. Such a re-evaluation – it might reasonably be hoped – shall be met with enthusiasm by an audience which has become impatient with dismissive treatments of Husserl as a naïve Cartesian, radical only in his uncompromising foundationalism and unmoved by the era-defining concerns which have, since the mid-twentieth century, made Hegel increasingly difficult to ignore for analytic as well as Continental philosophers. While the history of the phenomenological movement has typically been seen as one of successive heretical departures from an original Husserlian ideal of ‘philosophy as rigorous science’ and the greater acceptance of a hermeneutic and historicist approach antithetical to Husserl’s, the present collection invites readers to question such received wisdom by considering the Hegelian potential implicit in Husserl and re-examining his legacy from a perspective informed by Hegel.