Patricia M. Locke and Rachel McCann (Eds.): Merleau-Ponty. Space, Place, Architecture

Merleau-Ponty: Space, Place, Architecture Book Cover Merleau-Ponty: Space, Place, Architecture
Series in Continental Thought
Patricia M. Locke and Rachel McCann (Eds.)
Philosophy, Architecture
Ohio University Press
Hardcover $64.00

Reviewed by: Paul A. di Georgio (Duquesne University)

With this collection of essays, which is in fact the first of its kind, Patricia M. Locke and Rachel McCain have assembled a provocative group of papers which explore one of the most compelling dimensions of contemporary Merleau-Ponty scholarship. The set of papers contained in this volume all take to task the relation, as well as the application, of key concepts in Merleau-Ponty’s oeuvre to a refocused examination of architecture, spatiality, and, importantly, the political.

For Merleau-Ponty the phenomenological subject is, as Locke puts it, “firmly embedded in the world, even before we represent it to ourselves through geometrical or symbolic means.” (5) It follows that the way in which environment, and architecture in particular, are, as Merleau-Ponty would say, “interwoven” with phenomenal experience holds significant influence over our thinking of being, whether it comes down to our construction of dwelling structures or our interpersonal relations.

So if the idea, here, comes down to the co-constitution of the phenomenal lifeworld, which Locke aptly calls “corporeal companionship,” then it is apparent that we can productively reconsider architectural theory and design from an embodied phenomenological perspective. Furthermore we can reexamine this same perspective not for the way in which it situates space, but rather, for the way in which space situates it. The textual launching point for this insight, in the writing of Merleau-Ponty, is found in “Eye and Mind” in the well-known passage where he indicates that the articulation of “light and space” in fact “speak to us,” and he suggests that it is here that a new conception of being bursts onto the scene. Locke’s introduction aptly opens with an epigraph which reminds us of this.

So what exactly are these new conceptions of being? Locke suggests that there are three main strands of philosophical thinking which operate in this area of inquiry, predicated upon either phenomenological space or, with respect to Merleau-Ponty’s later thought, the philosophy of the “flesh.” The three strands are as follows: i) feminist philosophies and critiques of culture, ii) ecophenomenology or so-called “deep ecology,” and iii) material-object philosophies inspired by Deleuze (6). While the collection of essays in the text are organized into three groups, these groups in fact do not correspond to the philosophical strands which Locke here enumerates. Rather, the editors have grouped the papers together in terms of how they relate to the idea of phenomenological limits. Locke does maintain, however, that each paper in the volume engages the claims of these three strands of thinking. I would argue that this is the case, although some of the papers point back to these divisions more so than others.

In any case, the volume is comprised of three parts: liminal space, temporal space, and shared space. Overall I would argue that the third section is, of the three, the most explicitly occupied with the three strands which Locke identifies in her introduction, and in particular, with the political dimensions thereof. That said, there are certainly papers throughout the volume which are at the very least implicit in their reference to the strands, if not exactly exoteric in their presentation.

The essays in the first part, liminal space, all to some extent concern what Locke calls “border regions or boundaries.” (8) As Locke notes, for Merleau-Ponty these experiences have a definite part to play in the constitution of experience. In the first two papers of this section Glen Mazis and Galen Johnson each offer thoughtful examinations of the way in which depth plays into phenomenological thinking, not to mention phenomenological experience itself. Mazis takes up a study of the depth of darkness and the onset of the night. He concludes that some architects, including Gehry, actually design structures which in their housing of a person embody Merleau-Ponty’s construal of spatial inhabitation by bodies. (40-1) Johnson is mainly concerned with the idea of “unreason” as exemplified in (baroque) painting, and Rembrandt’s Nightwatch in particular, which is, of course, a work of special interest to Merleau-Ponty. I was impressed and intrigued by how, at the end of his paper, Johnson cleverly compared Merleau-Ponty and Deleuze on the movement or “rhythm” at work, while at the same time he called into question the sufficiency of the sort of non-phenomenological rhythm which Deleuze identifies.

It goes without saying that this specific set of essays would be incomplete without a contribution from Edward Casey, who has been involved in this area of phenomenological scholarship for quite some time. Casey’s paper, like Mazis’s, takes up a sustained reflection on a specific work of culture. Here he presents his take on the way in which the very design and phenomenology of the Parthenon is rife with edges and boundaries. His punctilious phenomenological description of the this monumental structure is so in-depth that the edges at play practically disappear before us (just as they arguably do in ordinary experience)―and Casey points out this very fact himself. (85)

The final paper in this first section, that on liminal space, is pretty different, especially compared to the inclusion from Casey, and for this reason the paper really stood out to me. Randall Johnson ambitiously weds a phenomenological analysis of what I’d like to call being-in-water, although not in lip service to English translations of Heidegger, to (what seems to me to be) Lacanian psychoanalytic theorety. Johnson focuses on water as unique in how primitively and directly it is phenomenologically experienced, in contrast, as Locke notes, to the “high-altitude” thinking condemned by Husserl (and echoed by Merleau-Ponty). The sort of boundary at play in liquid immersion is at once drastically different from and markedly similar to the other sorts of experience which are described in the papers of this first section.

The next part of the book is focused on the theme of temporal space, and the way in which, following the thought of Merleau-Ponty, the notion of the flesh is interwoven with a dimension which is oriented in time (not to mention space). This second part of the book almost conceives of time as the sort of “glue” which maintains the myriad boundaries explored in the first part.

Here the first essay, by David Morris, takes a look at how memory transcends what is present on a personal level or basis, and extends outward to—or perhaps extends from—things like “places, buildings, and things.” (109) This essay really resonated with me, and I would imagine with others, right at the beginning when Morris notes how various spatial strategies have been known to masters of memory for a long, long time. In the rest of the paper Morris artfully weaves Merleau-Ponty’s thought with a very reasonable argument for how it is that architecture is “articulating temporality in place.” (121)

Dorothea Olkowski’s paper, which is next in the collection, is particularly useful for how it insightfully situates Merleau-Ponty within a broader phenomenological and philosophico-temporal context. Ultimately her conclusion is that the work of Merleau-Ponty stands superior in a way to that of both Husserl and Bergson (and perhaps Sartre as well) for the manner in which it “brings time to space and articulates how it is that our acts are our abode, our dwelling.” (144)

As was the case with Johnson’s paper at the end of the first part, the next paper in this second part, written by Lisa Guenther, constitutes a shift from the way in which the first two papers are framed. Here Guenther examines the phenomenological position of the person who is profoundly confined, that is, the solitary prisoner, who indubitably is crushed in her or his being by the deliberately diminished version of the lifeworld to which this person is relegated. In spite of my contention that it is the final part of this book which is the most overtly political, here Guenther gives us a lot to think about when it comes to policy, and her paper actually opens with a bevy of statistics reminding us of just how preponderant incarceration is in the present-day USA. Guenther’s conclusions in the paper are most touching and provocative, including her insight that if it is the case that our personal freedom is derived from the “punitive isolation of others” then this is a “sham and shameful kind of freedom.” (164)

Lastly in the second part we find D.R. Koukal’s take on the phenomenological implications of torture, and I have to admit that, like Guenther’s paper, Koukal’s contribution calls for significant political consideration. His paper is focused on the sense in which, following Merleau-Ponty, she or he who is subject to torture is irreparably harmed by the “architect of torture” who institutes a damaged space within which one finds “holes” where previously there was meaning. For Koukal these holes are “distortions of the social fabric” that violate space as we, and others, “terrorists” or not, live it.

The third part of the book concerns space which is shared or communal. There is a lot of interesting material here since one of the fundamental questions comes down to how it is that we phenomenologically experience with others the making or designation of public places. The first paper in this final part is from Rachel McCann, and it offers a very nuanced inspection of Merleau-Ponty’s choice of metaphors in his descriptions of phenomenology. Ultimately McCann’s conclusion is that we as readers should strive to really inhabit the metaphors of which Merleau-Ponty makes use, even if the natural temptation is to engage his thought on the linguistic level alone, since, after all, we know his ideas through his writing. McCann presents an alternative way of reading his writing which is drastically more phenomenological, since what is called for is imaginative thought when it comes to the shared-spatial dimension of the “encounter.”

Next, and in the spirit of some of the more politically-direct work in the second part of the book, there is an essay by Suzanne Cataldi Laba, in which she carries out a phenomenological examination of shelter. Particularly intriguing is her suggestion that some members of our society are subject to fundamental violence to the extent that space, especially in a sheltering sense, is not ensured for all persons, and the absence of such space causes deep phenomenological harm.

Nancy Barta-Smith, in the following paper, presents a phenomenology of being a twin. The upshot of this paper is her suggestion that those of us who are not twins can lean something about Mitsein by considering the ontological and phenomenological position of the twin qua natural double. But the point is to notice how others always already “move us affectively” and Barta-Smith argues that this experience is felt resoundingly by the widow, the reminiscent siblings, and even the lifelong friends.

The final paper of the third part, and of the book, is from Helen Fielding, and it’s on a lot: public art, Irigaray, the body as sexed, and the basic experience of difference. Like the paper by Casey, Fielding’s contribution here is really admirable and worthwhile for how directly it appropriates the phenomenological method in all of its richly descriptive splendor. For Fielding, this is done with art in a Toronto airport, as well as the sculpture Maman by Louise Bourgeois. Fielding’s conclusion is that public spaces and public art operate as confluences out of difference, confluences which arise out of the primordial sameness or proximity which permits us to identify difference in the first place. The implicit suggestion is that it would behoove us to strive to become more cognizant of this fact.

In all, I think that this is an exceptionally impressive collection of provocative essays, all of which apply Merleau-Ponty’s ideas to new fields and frontiers. This book will probably be of most use and interest to those who already familiar with Merleau-Ponty’s work, as well as those who are interested in the political implications which are expressed in or entailed by phenomenological concepts and techniques.

Jeremy Bell, Michael Naas (Eds.): Plato’s Animals. Gadflies, Horses, Swans and Other Philosophical Beasts

Plato’s Animals. Gadflies, Horses, Swans, and Other Philosophical Beasts Book Cover Plato’s Animals. Gadflies, Horses, Swans, and Other Philosophical Beasts
Studies in Continental Thought
Jeremy Bell, Michael Naas (Eds.)
Indiana University Press
Cloth $80.00

Reviewed byGeorgios Tsagdis (University of Westminster)

It is a book that had to be written, awaited to be written and was written. And it took the form of a collection of fourteen essays, the sonority of its polyphony matched by a rare combination of erudition and critical creativity. It has thus set a precedent and a measure of how to engage in the present with a thought both ancient and historically diffuse. I strove to avoid summary brushes and ready assessments. Instead, I tried to follow as closely as possible the contours of each essay, in the hope of inducing a first and perhaps a second reading of the essays themselves, for which no supplement will suffice.

 Part I. The Animal of Fable and Myth.

  1. Heidi Northwood, Making Music with Aesop’s Fables in the Phaedo.

 Northwood examines Phaedo, the dialogue that recounts the last hours of Socrates, to draw closer two figures tradition has kept apart. Socrates sets the stage with a musing on the inseparability of pleasure and pain, before wishing that Aesop had composed a fable to portray the divine conjoining of the two warring forces. This gives Cebes occasion to enquire why Socrates has turned to poetry, composing a hymn to Apollo and setting Aesopian myths to metre. The famous Socratic alibi is that recurring dreams induced him to music; despite believing to have done nothing his whole life but compose the highest music through philosophy, he’s decided to obey the literal command of the night. Why however Aesop? Northwood assumes the full significance of the question. The extensive biographical similarities, notwithstanding distinctive differences, would never suffice, if the common understanding of the fables was right. If the latter were mere depictions of a Hobbesian state of nature, of generalized war, Plato would have never put them in the mouth of Socrates (16-17). One must read again. The essay does this closely, within and beyond Phaedo, picking the countless threads that weave together Plato and Aesop. What she recovers is the shared principle of an ordered cosmos, within which all is set into bounds, not arbitrarily through sheer violence, but in a justified, just way (21). Plato inherits at once Aesop and his rough contemporary, Anaximander. Moreover, next to the what and the why of the world, Aesop and Plato share a vision of the how of enquiry. It is possible to trace Socratic epagoge (induction by analogy) and elenchus to Aesop. In the fables the reader is not offered a ready code, but made to assume an inalienable epistemological and ethical responsibility (21-3). There is thus something paradigmatic in what Socrates decides to set to music, the harmony of notes, as an exception to his higher music, the philosophic harmony of ideas (19-20). This harmony of harmonies is the Aesopian act of Plato that conjoins, like pleasure and pain, the warring forces of mythos and logos.

  1. David Farrell Krell, “Talk to the Animals”: On the Myth of Cronos in the Statesman.

 In inimitable style Krell lays out a pattern of constitutive associations across life and governance, across the whole spectrum of zoopolitics. Accordingly, the essay arranges itself like an ellipse around two textual foci of the Statesman: the myth of Cronos and the subsequent dialectical search for the ideal ruler. What the latter painstakingly tries to decide is the political middle, the human mean between divine logos and bestial physis, between virtue and depravity, presence and negation (35). The myth complicates the search, invoking questions that will remain open, along with an ultimate answer that will destabilize the political middle. Before our anthropological time, the Age of Zeus, when man was abandoned without divine protection and guidance – discounting the vital aid of Prometheus and Hephaestus (33) – the Age of Cronos saw the best of days for all creation. These days were backwards: the arrow of entropy was reversed, the second law of thermodynamics revised. The humans and animals that had died in the previous anthropological era would rise again from the earth, grow younger, all along discussing philosophy, free from the shackles of their species and the shackles of violence, before gradually diminishing into inexistence (30). At the end of this age, their seeds would remain dormant in the earth to initiate a new anthropological, forward time. Thus the cosmos, which having a body could not remain at eternal rest, would assume the best Platonic motion, that of a cycle. Krell presses on what lies beyond this cycle, the first origin, a primary disorder that the Age of Cronos set into its backward harmony and the Age of Zeus transformed into a forward corruption. About this Age of Chaos little can be said. Equally little is to be said about the transitive moment when humanity would no longer be born from the soil of mother earth, but from a human womb. This enquiry is tied, along with all of its political implications, to the mythic account of reincarnations related in the Timaeus; in all its intricacy it will remain suspended. Instead, by means of a double confession, Krell will rather intimate: what if, in our anthropological age, we can still hearken in the language of animals something of the Age of Cronos?

 Part II. Socrates as muōps and narkē.

  1. Michael Naas, American Gadfly: Plato and the Problem of Metaphor.

Naas undertakes a certain essai, a certain trial of a double etymology. Muōps and gadfly, classical Greek and American English—for centuries in every translation of Plato the latter renders the former, a word occurring only once in the corpus, bearing a singular weight. The attempt of this double lexical exercise is then to show how the translation of the defining metaphor of the Apology, of Socrates as a gadfly, is both uniquely apt and therefore, in its excessive fidelity, misleading. The manifold etymology and polysemy of muōps, opens the possibility of shortsightedness (myopia), but also of the familiar fly and of the horse goad, a spur perhaps (46). Naas vindicates Socratic vision, turning instead to the Greek synonym for a gadfly, oistros, and to the kentron, the spear or sting—both more current in Plato. This semantic family designates the incitement of material and sexual desire leading to a blind and deaf frenzy, the very malady Socrates tries to cure (50). The same family however refers also to the ways and instruments used to drive slaves and animals (48). Significantly, of the two horses of the soul in the Phaedrus, the good one will resist the kentron of desire, while the bad won’t obey the kentron of its charioteer (50). For Naas, this double potential of the sting allows Socrates to exercise his familiar irony, debasing himself to a fly while declaring himself a godsend, farsighted horseman. This irony constructs a position that in American English will dominate the meaning of the word. Gadfly becomes accordingly a dead metaphor, referring not so much to an animal species, as to those rare cases of the political animal, provocateurs rather than criminals, who expose the crimes of power. Herein lies also the danger, of hearing nothing except the political in the gadfly. For Naas, Socrates is the archetype, the Platonic form of the gadfly, and that must mean also an ethical and metaphysical provocateur of truth, a significance silenced in the English. Notwithstanding the danger, if “the notion of a gadfly-provocateur seems to fit our image of Socrates to a T” (54), it might be less because Socrates offered the metaphysical form of the notion, but because, as Vlastos would argue about Socratic irony, Plato made historically the word change forever.

  1. Thomas Thorp, Till Human Voices Wake Us and We Drown: The Aporia-fish in the Meno.

In Thorp’s essay Derrida, the vanishing point of this collection’s lines of flight, meets Kant on the way to Plato. This transforms the “originary act of repetition” of this “pause, or hiccup, if you will,” which is nothing but our paralysis in the face of the wonder of the world, into the sublime condition of possibility of encountering appearances as more than appearances, precisely as something, as the eidos that therefore they are (70). This originary repetition appears in the guise of narkē, the fish which Guthrie, among many, translates into the stingray, but which with Jowett and Lamb we must identify as the torpedo ray. The distinction is not a finer taxonomic detail, but the very difference of proximity and distance. While the stingray benumbs in defense through its venomous touch, the torpedo attacks by electrifying the water, stirring the question of the medium and the controversy over the possibility of actio in distans (61). For Thorp the Greek (narkē) and the Latin (torpedo) name not the animal but rather designate its effect, whereby being-as-presence withdraws, the medium being altered and thus coming to the fore (62). Accordingly, Socrates as torpedo produces a torpor in which assumed knowledge recedes for the sake of aporia, which opens the possibility of truth. This truth is never arrested in the permanence of Forms; rather the Forms represent the incessant question of what a being is (63), the each time unique enactment of Being (64) that determines beings as the beings that they are. This is the distant recollection with which Socrates the torpedo confronts the proximal memory of Meno the stingray (73). It offers at once the possibility of virtue, the end of philosophical desire, the desire to touch the truth, to truly touch, by not touching, by relinquishing touch. “Space and time are warped in order to reassure [this] touch” (74), while the infinite possibilities opened by the philosophical desire of distance pronounce an infinite danger.

Part III. The Socratic Animal as Truth-Teller and Provocateur

  1. S. Montgomery Ewegen, We the Bird-Catchers: Receiving the Truth in the Phaedo and the Apology.

Ewegen chooses an uncommon direction: from Phaedo to the Apology, reversing their dramatic succession (79) in order to examine the relationship of logos to itself and to its divine beyond. In his last days in prison, Socrates reinterprets his old dreams, forever compelling him to music. He, who thought his whole life to have composed the highest music, philosophy, interprets now anew, differently (80). He heeds Apollo without reserve, following his command in metre. But he will also offer an interpretation of the song of those other servants of Apollo, the swans. Humans project their own fear of death upon their joyous song, their purest expression of elation before encountering the divine. The swans, like Socrates, are joyful—not only now, but always, essentially (82). Always in touch with the God, possessed by him, they possess a prophetic vision (mantikē). Like the prophets of Phaedrus and the poets of Ion, they are in contact with something more important than foresight, truth. While the former, like winged Cassandras, sing the truth without being understood, the latter sing the truth without themselves understanding it. They, the seers and poets, are messengers of messages they cannot decipher (83). Thus their songs, like the song of the swans, require interpretation. As the Laws will ultimately decide, the risk of allowing the seers and poets to interpret the truth they bear is too great. Plato will require that they, whom Greek tradition saw as the interpreters of the gods, be reinterpreted. This, already in the Phaedo, is the meaning of philosophy, the highest music. But here Socrates will interpret himself backwards, allow the god to speak through him. Ewegen rediscovers the poetic next to the philosophic Socrates in the Apology. At the bar, Socrates will at once reinterpret the Delphic oracle against the facile assumptions of Chaerephon (85-6), but also follow the orders of Apollo, offering an apo-logy, in which he is beside (apo) himself (90), recasting order and reason in his akosmos and alogos logos that leads to prophecy (89). Socrates remains throughout the Apology in touch with the divine, calling us to examine the lie of our ready interpretations and the truth we possess despite ourselves, calling us to reinterpret the dialogues in joy.

  1. H. Peter Steeves, The Dog on the Fly.

In his maverick essay Steeves champions Diogenes the dog against Socrates the fly—or rather against Plato the human, the aristocrat, the author. The essay opens by reducing the significance of the Platonic corpus to less than a trifle of contingency. We read it because it’s there (96), as though condition and cause were identical, as though the stage of contingency were less than a prison, a coffin perhaps, too narrow for heads to turn the other way. For Steeves, the whim of fate has placed Diogenes at the margins, despite him being there, just like Socrates, whom Plato chose to follow and set centre-stage. Steeves accuses Socrates of complicity with the dictatorship of the Thirty Tyrants, because he was there during the thirteen months of their reign (103), yet re-places him closer to Diogenes, much closer than Plato would have ever wanted (104). In his reading, Socrates becomes the ‘domesticated beast’ (108) of the reactionary Plato, who uses the radicalism of the latter, complicit and anti-democratic as it might have – already – been, for his authoritarian agenda. Socrates becomes thus in the hands of Plato, against the latter’s intentions, the animal without writing, the animal that reduces others to silence: it is himself rather than Thrasymachus who turns out to be the wolf that steals human voice in the Republic (100). Again and again, the bestial Socrates turns against his master, ultimately showing himself to be not Theseus, but the Minotaur slain by a heroic city of Athens (109). The animality of Socrates proves recalcitrant to the Platonic design, regressing to its canine kinship with Diogenes. Should historic contingency have chosen another path, we might have all lived the life of the dog. Will an act of writing manage to mend at long last the inexplicable vagary, redeem our prelapsarian scriptless existence?

Part IV. The Political Animal.

  1. Jeremy Bell, Taming Horses and Desires: Plato’s Politics of Care.

Bell returns to the gadfly of the Meno, to probe the other side of the simile, the great, lethargic horse of the polis, that Socrates spurs and unsettles (115-6). Socrates is however not only a gadfly—he is also the goad: the horse-trainer of the Apology and the charioteer of the Phaedrus (119, 125). In all of these functions Socrates exercises care. Bell makes care (epimeleia) the articulating word of Platonic psycho-politics, a word silenced by the pervasive resounding of justice, knowledge, symmetry and harmony, governance and certainly of the Platonic project of taming. Bell attempts to show how, in the shadow of these familiar moments, care operates all the more effectively; it is the horse he chooses to follow. The horse, like the human, is tame by nature yet in need of the supplement of training and education, of law and ultimately reason, in order recover its nature (116, 120). Taming becomes thus the becoming-nature of nature. This is the Socratic gesture and the function of the ideal city. It amounts to an awakening from slumber, the sibling of death (118). For Bell, it amounts to autonomy, as an ‘exercise of freedom’ (126). While however care might educate desire, keeping thus in check psycho-political tyranny, this “liberation of the citizenry for the sake of their own self-governance” (126), is far from absolute: self-governance is ultimately a more efficient form of governance and always for the sake of the whole. Platonic care is less an act of unconditional ministration, than the administration of diligent vigilance, the universal command of the Good.

  1. Christopher P. Long, Who Let the Dogs Out? Tracking the Philosophical Life among the Wolves and Dogs of the Republic.

With the precision and faithfulness of a hound Long attempts to trace the scent of the wolves and the dogs of the Republic. Although smell is an absent word in the dialogue Long discovers between its lines a rich array of odours (132). His scent takes its cue from Santayana, who makes Democritus in his Dialogues in Limbo claim that “a philosophy can be smelt,” should one possess the nose of a hound (132). There is indeed an etymological connection between the Greek nous and the Sanskrit nãsã, the root of the English nose; its significance hinges on the ability to distinguish. Long will explore in this ability the potential of demarcating a community of dogs (Polemarchus, Glaucon) against the threat of lupine foes (Thrasymachus), which will itself constitute nothing less than the education of the guardians, a metaphor of rearing and training running conspicuously deep. When education is reduced to conditioning and the family to eugenics something is certainly foul (139). Interestingly however it is here that the nose loses its track. For it is not enough for those among the guardians who will become kings, to be able to distinguish. They will wish to know the whole and this they must, lest they forever remain puppies, able only to tear the argument apart (139, 141). They, the philosophers among the guardians, will thus leave behind the senses in dialectic flight: the nose becomes nous, guiding the community and philosophy beyond being.

Part V. The (En)gendered Animal.

  1. Marina McCoy, The City of Sows and Sexual Differentiation in the Republic.

McCoy examines the famous retort of Glaucon to the first Socratic attempt at constructing an ideal city, his exclamation that this is but a city of pigs, or a city of sows, as McCoy will translate throughout. Three principle elements interweave her examination: i. The ritual and socio-political significance of the pig in the celebration of Thesmophoria, a commemoration by the city’s women of Hades’s abduction of Persephone or Korē, literally daughter, of Demeter, the mother of earth. ii. The meaning of hus, or pig (which can actually refer to both male and female as well as tame and wild swine) and which in ancient Greek everyday slang as well as in extant literature, serves in its various forms (delphax, hus and choiros) as an innuendo on female genitalia (151). iii. Drawing on the interrelation of the two grounding moments, a recasting of the meaning of Glaucon’s resistance to the city of sows. This does not originate in the fear of relinquishing luxury (after all what luxury do the guardians possess? 157), but in the desire of the male, spirited part of the soul, the part that constitutes actual, historical politics, striving for honour and glory, against the cyclical life of women, a life of the body, of simple community and religion, without elaborate art and science, without hierarchy and without war. Accordingly, the city of sows appears as one were men are reduced to the existence of women, while the counter-paradigm of the inflamed Kallipolis, appears as a city were women are elevated to the status of men, participating in the same education, in politics and war. In both cases, the antinomy of the necessity to eliminate sexual difference on the one hand, against the necessity of eros to sustain the city, on the other, is shown in exemplary manner (157). Even if the Socratic practice of questioning is politically unproductive and thus liminally feminine in its cyclical orality (155), are we to place Plato between the two cities (158), at the tension between the reduction and the elevation of the other, always other, sex? Before answering, we might need to interrogate anew, with McCoy, the gendering of the soul, as well as logos as the ultimate pscyho-political moment.

  1. Sara Brill, Animality and Sexual Difference in the Timaeus.

Her invocation of Nietzsche is not fortuitous; Brill’s essay on the Timaeus philosophizes with a hammer, sounding out the quasi-eternal idols of the dialogue to determine whether they are hollow. The diagnosis is disconcerting: “in its treatment of the ‘race of women’ as somehow distinct from that of men, its assumption that the male is the more quintessentially human, and its alignment of the female with other animals, Timaeus’s cosmogony” appears hardly more philosophical than Hesiod’s Pandora tale (170). Philosophical means here strictly dialectical, which implicates precisely the act of sounding out—testing, circumscribing and proofing the hypotheses, upon which thought proceeds. The attempt to produce an onto-cosmogony that is at once zoo-anthropological, both as the object as well as the method of the enquiry (171), without engaging with the political presuppositions of this enquiry, is bound to remain shroud in the violent mystification of myth. It is because politics is left for another day, a day never to come, that this account (logos), is condemned to remain merely likely (eikōs), an idol of truth. It is impossible to follow here the intricate movement of the essay, as it delineates the function of motion in the production of the cosmos from the celestial to the animal. Being, becoming and the chōra have their respective motions (165), which result in three ‘laws’ or estrangements of the human – from its origin, from its unity and from its own nature (166). It is the latter that makes possible the distinction of superiority and inferiority, male and female, female and animal. Accordingly, as soon as the plurality of human souls emerges, it does so as gendered. The first human is masculine and it is the failure of that masculinity that will produce women (and one should think also men), as well as, in turn, animality. Gender engenders sexual difference and then the difference of the species (168). This logic of generation is complicated twice over: on the one hand, vis-à-vis the genderless eternity of the souls and of the life of the cosmos, which abides without the need of generation (169); on the other, with regard to creative activity of the paternal demiurge and the creating passivity of the maternal chōra (170), which re-places sexual difference at the beginning. And yet, perhaps, at the end of the Timaeus, we are not even at the beginning.

Part VI. The Philosophical Animal.

  1. Holly Moore, Animal Sacrifice in Plato’s Later Methodology.

The art and knowledge of dissection, in the double genitive, is the theme of Moore’s essay. Plato, in both the Statesman and the Phaedrus, presents dialectic as an act of division, an act of cutting: not arbitrary, but according to the natural joints. The Phaedrus constitutes logos itself as an animal. Like an animal it must be well articulated, with a body, limps and a head, lest it be a monstrosity, such as the speech of Lysias (180). Moreover, logos must be animated, it must possess the kind of life that will make speech superior to writing (181). This logos will dissect, while being itself dissected. But in order to do either, it must establish its unity first. Dialectic is thus in the first instance the ability to collect phenomena into a singular idea (181). It is this ability for unity that defines the human, and preeminently the philosophical, as opposed to the animal soul. Thus, the divided animal must be dissected. Moore pays close attention to the inextricable unity of butchering and sacrificing and their significance in ancient Greece, while drawing on the master carver of the Zhuang-zi (183-4). The demand of minimal resistance throughout the practice is revealing. On the one hand, the one who cuts, by discovering the space between the joints, renders merely visible an already existing division, while on the other, the ritual necessitates docile, domesticated animals. Dialectic, like the sacrificial practice, undertakes the production of both: a unity that is ready – always already – for division and a unity that is domesticated, a unity of the idea, for us, rather than in itself (187). Is Plato bound to such a constructivist correlationism? Moore’s strategy is twofold: on the one hand to make late Plato a dogmatist, unable to doubt the intellect’s (immediate) intuition of forms (190). On the other to shift the role of dialectic from collection and division to a third: the questioning of the relationship of the intuition of these forms to our representation in thought (190). Notwithstanding Plato’s alleged dogmatism however, how can intuition, the unity of which is constructed by and for us, as long as we are captive within its dialectic correlation, fail to validate our representations as ipso facto congruent? Would it be possible that the gods could offer the sacrificial lamb, which will be in turn offered back to them? This is the guiding question, the intuition of Platonism.

  1. Drew A. Hyland, The Animals That Therefore We Were? Aristophanes’s Double-Creatures and the Question of Origins. 

Hyland revisits the speech of Aristophanes in the Symposium to examine the relation of desire and eros, of humanity to the animal and the monstrous. The trajectory of the essay is set against the Derridean challenge of a demarcation in the history of philosophy between the reasoning human and its homogenous other, the mute, unthinking animal. Hyland’s is meant as a contribution to the vindication of Plato’s project as a question, precisely the question of the animal (193, 205). The speech of Aristophanes is seen as the comico-tragic depiction of the human lot, where bestial desire reigns unchecked, eclipsing all beauty (202). Wishing to show eros as the very essence of human nature, as the force that tries in vain to recover is originary wholeness, Aristophanes reinscribes the ancestral desire that once challenged the gods in an act of hubris, into our present desire to reconstitute our shattered existence. In both cases the force of this force is lack (197-199). Socrates through Diotima will sublate this narrative, making lack or poverty the maternal origin of Eros (Penia), while insisting on its paternal pedigree of resourcefulness and plenty (Poros), a trait earlier praised with rare eloquence in the speech of Agathon. Accordingly, the Socratic speech represents a dialectic synthesis of Agathon and Aristotphanes (199-200). To the elated encomium of the former it offers a reality of pain, to the piety of fear and trembling of the latter, the emancipated hope of transcendence (204). For Socrates, aside of the bestial desire that knows no reason, a desire that we can never altogether abandon, logos wings eros to lead us beyond. Aside however of the ramifications for Platonic psychology regarding the proper place of eros vis-à-vis Aristophanic desire, what remains questionable is how this Aufhebung that Socrates offers through Diotima might become anew a question. Aristophanes will always be vested in the dialogue, like the animal in us. Yet, how is this duplicity of our nature, a duplicity foreign to the animal that knows only desire, a question?

Part VII. Animals and the Afterlife.

  1. Claudia Baracchi, Animals and Angels: The Myth of Life as a Whole in Republic 10.

Beginning like Baracchi’s essay at the end, opening with its last word: community. Baracchi examines the Republic’s closing myth of Er, in order to ex-pose the community of life. The elegance and nuance with which her vitalist reading challenges the millennial indoctrination in Platonic idealism, precludes any ready assumptions—it was no act of violent over-exegesis that led later Neoplatonism to recover the centrality of life in Platonic thought. Psychē often means in the Greek no more and no less than life; justice, as question of the soul, is indubitably a question of life (210). Accordingly, the myth of Er, a myth of the transmigration of souls, depicts the transmigration of life as the perennial articulation of justice. Two tensions account for the phenomenon: on the one hand, the circle of life that seems to ebb and flow, alternating between animal and human forms, a metabolism that even though it is neither merely mechanistic nor psychological, but deeply ethical, seems to retain a certain equilibrium (214). The eternal exile of the souls, their being always-elsewhere, without transcendental guidance aside of their own choices (214), follows at large a pattern of circularity in which a frictionless, lighthearted life induces one to a false reincarnation, while a life of suffering and labour, a life-long confrontation with injustice is the highest propaedeutic for the right choice of the life to come (219). This alternation of good and base lives is however confronted by the possibility of sedimentation, of the creation of traces, marks and inscriptions, a memory of this and other past lives (211, 218), which guides the choice at hand. Accordingly, the argument, just like the souls, seems to move in a vicious one-and-a-half circle: between wave-like cycles of reincarnation and a linear history of traces. The second tension, that follows from the first is the individuality of soul and thus of life. Certainly it is a dispossessed individuality, scattered across countless past and future forms (222). And yet it is discrete: the demiurge produces a plurality of singular souls, each one of which will manifest a community of life, within the greater cosmic and hyper-cosmic community of life, which would later be called hypostatic. The permeation of these two communities, of these two double tensions, is the vital psycho-political justice.

  1. Francisco J. Gonzalez, Of Beasts and Heroes, The Promiscuity of Humans and Animals in the Myth of Er.

In the final essay of the collection, Gonzalez offers a second reading of the myth of Er, shifting the emphasis to the nature of human and animal souls in order to test the historic hermeneutic attempts to segregate the community of the two. The breathtaking breadth of the essay assumes the Procline account of the myth, before returning to the Plotinian theory of transmigration, then leaping forward to Ficino’s positioning vis-à-vis Plotinus and Proclus, finally turning to contemporary readings, principal among which, that of Luc Brisson. Gonzalez undertakes thus to show the resistance of the myth to Platonist exegesis (225), in order to set into relief the myth’s tragicomic tone. Only the barest of outlines is possible here. Proclus is seen to maintain an absolute distinction of human and animal souls, the former inhabiting the latter in a merely external way. For Gonzanlez Proclus has little textual ground to support his moralism (229-232). Plotinus’s position appears more faithful both to the letter and intention of Plato’s narrative: the soul possesses all logoi, being the same for humans and animals. In its coming to inhabit an animal it merely manifests an animal logos. Still, for Gonzalez even this position confines the animal to a radical inferiority (235). Ficino’s is a new perspective: here the myth is read ‘metaphorically’. The insurmountable Procline prerogative of the human over the animal soul is retained, by turning all animals into mere tropes of traits already within us (237). Like Ficino, modern thinkers will rarely seek in the myth an ontology, but they will draw from its metaphor diametrically opposing conclusions. Accordingly, for Brisson the myth testifies to the community of humanity and animality, the latter appearing indeed, like us (239). Instead, Gonzalez, in a Derridean gesture, suggests that the myth as tragicomedy primarily shows the ways in which we are like the animals: since like them we choose our future lives, not according to reason, but according to habit, “we need comedy to remind us of both our comic foolishness and our tragic limits” (241). The essay remains open, calling attention to every encounter, to every reading of the myth. We are compelled to read again—perhaps, the best place to start our second sail is Brill’s account of the generation of women and animals in the Timaeus.

What’s wrong with Phenomenology (according to Spinoza)?

Spinoza Contra Phenomenology Book Cover Spinoza Contra Phenomenology
Cultural Memory in the Present
Knox Peden
Stanford University Press
Cloth, paper, digital

Reviewed by: Michael Deckard (Lenoir-Rhyne University)

Perhaps the weightiest critique of a phenomenological approach belongs to rationalism, rooted in Spinoza. This is a break with Descartes, in which phenomenology finds its inspiration. Rationalism or Myth? These are our choices. Are these real choices? The first stands for Spinozism and the second phenomenology. How is it that Spinozism and phenomenology became antagonistic? The important point to notice here is not that Spinoza himself represents the contra, as the title of this book seems to suggest, but rather ‘followers’ or readers or manipulators of Spinoza have come to use him. Thus, this is a primarily historiographical, but also philosophical question— perhaps better expressed in the phrase “Spinozism contra phenomenology.” What kind of rationalism prevails over what may appear to be myth?

“This book is a history of a countervailing strand of development in which a series of French thinkers sought to salvage rationalist philosophy from its phenomenological denigration by reconfiguring it in Spinozist terms,” (4) Knox Peden writes. The series of French thinkers thus creates the narrative, and it is a particular kind of narrative. “Rationalism” as a term of art for Peden means a lot of things, and he points out how Ricoeur thought of Husserl as a kind of rationalist. The importance for the series of French figures he considers points to the fact that rationalism means that reason, “however it is conceived, supervene[s] on the spontaneous insights of lived experience” (6). At the core of this problem then is a difference between Cartesian and Spinozist rationalism, the former entailing a phenomenological outlook, the latter an anti-phenomenological and anti-Bergsonian one. But how Spinoza plays a role in Spinozism is a fraught issue, as Peden is well aware. None of the figures he considers would be called “Spinoza specialists”. What is then most fascinating about this history, and one that Peden is very keen on telling, is the fact that this division impacts disciplines such as philosophy of science as well as history of philosophy and philosophy of history. If phenomenology was seen as irrationalist, then the development of these disciplines from within philosophy could also be seen that way. The hinge of the book, and one that might be split in the middle from around 1968, concerns those thinkers before 1968 vs. those thinkers after. This is not a perfect split or hinge, of course, but how we historically situate a split – before and after or tension and resolution. But there is no resolution. Not to mention that the different senses of Spinozism are matters of emphasis rather than substance. The “disjunctive synthesis” that Deleuze attempts between Spinoza and phenomenology has not won the day. “There is a difference between understanding ideas and understanding where they came from, however much the one may illuminate the other” (13).

While it is indeed true that “few philosophers in the canon are as ahistorical as Spinoza,” it is also true that Peden tells an historical story. He appears to be a Spinozist historicist, if such a thing is possible. The story begins with Cavaillès in chapter one where

the idea of Cavaillès as a historical character will come to be expressive of the desire that there be a prescriptive or revolutionary politics of Spinozism, or if not Spinozism per se, of rationalism and a commitment to formalism and logic that is at the very least inspired by Spinoza. (20)

The danger of phenomenology for Cavaillès and the story that Peden is telling concerns the seeming danger of solipsism and irrationalism, which may be seen as the threat of Schwärmerei. Thus, in Cavaillès, the choice is between universal reason and historical negation. The way to avoid the dangers of phenomenology and neo-Kantianism, against which he is reacting, is to have a philosophy without cogito. Religiously, this opposed most Catholic thinking of the time. Cavaillès was a Calvinist who might be called a “militant Protestant” and Peden associates this with Spinozism even though

Barthian Protestantism and Spinozist rationalism seem like polar opposites—Barth’s God is wholly absent; Spinoza’s God is fully present—the theoretical effect of these positions is the same: God is nonanthropomorphic and, more important, noninterventionist in the world of human affairs (274).

This was a means for using religion against phenomenology, but even better Spinoza against the cogito. For Cavaillès, love was an experience of transcendence, and thought an experience of immanence. “Philosophy only works in the light,” he writes, “between rational clarity and the obscure night of religious life.” (30) One finds the roots of his Spinozist ontology in a letter of October 7, 1930 where he says, “I believe that, outside of rationalism, philosophy can only be self-defeating” – for Peden’s Cavaillès, being is not transcendent but rather immanent, “coexistent with existence itself.” Cavaillès thinks of Spinoza as the true Christian, unlike Leibniz. Later, Peden notes, “if there is incompatibility between Kant’s and Spinoza’s philosophies, it is not to be found in the critique but in the metaphysics that kept Kant tethered to Leibniz and Wolff.” (33) There can be no “intuitive or empirical confirmation” of the rational on this picture of Spinoza, says Peden.

The most important point for this development within 20th century French philosophy has both historical and philosophical elements. First, Cavaillès who was the caïman from 1931-35 (before Merleau-Ponty took up the same position) has a particular role in the influence of later generations of French thinking. Second, it is to mathematics that Cavaillès believes a philosophy of the concept can overcome a philosophy of consciousness. The problem with philosophy from Descartes to Kant, and the problem with phenomenology is that it became too closely tied to consciousness. “Cavaillès’s concern is that Kantian categories are viable only for a science that remains within the domain of finite mathematics; but since ‘genuine mathematics begins with the infinite’ (73), a philosophy of consciousness that attempts to ground the forms of the understanding in the empirical forms of experience itself will be unable to make philosophical sense of the developments in mathematics and physics from Cantor to Gödel and beyond.”

Chapter 2 regards Gueroult vs. Alquié, each of whom accused the other of being an historicist, reducing philosophy to contextualism. For such a contextualist as Peden is, “The dispute in question began over Descartes in 1951, the year of Gueroult’s appointment to the Collège de France, and it ended with the publication of Alquié’s Le Rationalisme de Spinoza in 1981” (66), there is no questioning the historicism of this chapter. After Descartes, the concern became one over Spinoza, and historicism was replaced by theology. Each accused the other then of occultism, which sounds a little like the phenomenological critique of ‘onto-theology’. Gueroult was chosen instead of Koyré at College de France because they were afraid of Koyré’s historicism His predecessors had been Bergson and Gilson. Gueroult thought of them as too subjective and wanted a radical idealism as a reversal of Hegelianism: “Where Hegel had made his subjective apprehension of philosophy’s history serve as the very basis for his account, Gueroult wanted to effect an inversion, thus making ‘the reality of philosophy’s history’ the foundation for our systematic assessment of it. This method would dictate a militant fidelity to the letter of philosophical texts and a practice of reading devoid of hermeneutic intentions.” (71) Husserl was just as guilty of “subjectivism” as Bergson, according to Gueroult. The debate over Descartes occurred in 1955 in Royaumont, and then they met again in 1972 in Brussels (where Serres and Lefebvre also presented) when they still disagreed and Gueroult still distrusted phenomenology for its “inaccessible interiority” (see p. 79), Alquié thought that Descartes, Kant and Husserl were basically saying the same thing. As a chapter in French “Spinozism”, Peden is interestingly putting into historicist terms what is supposedly a philosophy of the concept. But we do not really get the concept here. Paul Ricoeur’s description of Levi-Strauss’s structuralism as a “Kantianism without a transcendental subject” is an apt description of Gueroult’s Spinozism as well. Spinozism is a method for Gueroult and that method concerns the following: “Just because God, or Substance, is ‘unknowable’ in an exhaustive sense does not mean that an ‘adequate’ comprehension of the idea of Substance is impossible. To know in the sense of savoir, which involves an abstracted and genetic understanding, is predicated on the impossibility of knowing as connaître, which involves an intimacy and familiarity, a kind of burrowing out of the object in question.” (87) From this Gueroult accuses Alquié of being occultist and Alquié accuses Gueroult of being antiphilosophical, but in the end Peden calls their views “mirror images of one another.” (91)

Chapter three furthers this philosophical-historical story with reference to Desanti, one of the most controversial figures of the French communist party (PCF) who took up the ‘debate’ between Aristotle and Galileo. Desanti utilized Spinoza to defend geometric abstraction, particularly “what he praised in Spinoza was the linking of philosophy to the exigencies of … Galilean science” (114). Already, in Desanti’s own lifetime, we see a breakdown of the pre- and post-1968 divide that this book supposedly makes when Peden writes, “This sense of permanent tension at work in Desanti’s own philosophical efforts of the 1960s and 1970s accounts for the effect they have of being at once stimulating and frustrating in their constant deferral of any sense of resolution” (98). While Desanti does follow the French thinkers Cavaillès, Gueroult, and Alquié and does interpret Spinoza in an Hegelian and Stalinist direction, his “feverish tension” between thought and action makes him an uneasy bedfellow to Spinoza contra of the title. For Peden’s story, we see him essentially as a political transitional figure to Althusser, who had him as a teacher.

Chapter four and five thus concern Althusser. Along the lines of Desanti’s geometric abstraction, Althusser also made “positive references to Galileo and Galilean science, committed as it was to a mathematization of nature devoid of transient causes, origins, or goals” (299n83). As the chapter titles state, “recuperating science” and “redefining philosophy”, Peden is telling the story of Althusser’s sources and development of Spinozism from the 1960s to the 1980s, which greatly influenced figures like Badiou and Balibar. It was to the effort of making Marxism scientific that all of his work tended. The following two passages must speak for Peden’s long and interesting story:

Althusser’s efforts in 1967– 68 to philosophically siphon the “spontaneous philosophy of the scientists” from their scientific practice were designed to articulate the distinction between scientific practice, on the one hand, and the ideologically driven interests of the scientists as members of society, on the other. But this was no mere abstract enterprise resulting from Althusser’s own fanatical embrace of scientificity. We can trace its roots to particular historical developments. (143)

Althusser’s decision to place the Spinozist conception of the true—verum index sui et falsi (the true is its own sign, and that of the false)—at the heart of his contribution to Reading Capital was a veritable rebuttal of a conception of Marxist philosophy indebted to a renovated Hegelian dialectical philosophy of history and inspired by Giambattista Vico’s verum-factum principle, the latter of which claimed that man can know his history precisely because he has made it. In this reading, history is man’s creation. (145)

According to Peden, then, it is due to historical specificity and the construction of reality through history that Althusser came when he did. As early as his 1959 book on Montesquieu, particular political events occur due to “the historical singularity of political formations”. Whether or not this is really a Spinozism contra phenomenology remains to be seen, since, according to Peden, what science does is discover and phenomenology recognize, taking up the very divide between Descartes and Spinoza with which we began, since Althusser saw Spinoza as articulating all of the problems of Descartes’ philosophy. Against Peden’s own way of writing, then,

One does not need to subscribe to a concept of politics as mainly a matter of narratives to recognize that Althusser’s own understanding of materialist philosophy as a disavowal of stories seriously compromises its bearing on political questions. (186)

The last two chapters of the book concern Deleuze. Here Peden finally uses Spinoza himself (from definition IV of Book I of the Ethics): By attribute I mean that which the intellect perceives of substance as constituting its essence. Is this a question of perceiving or conceiving? Deleuze stands at the door and knocks, playing with this very notion, this very problem at the basis of rationalism, which he calls “distinct-obscure.” And here is where much of the rationalism vs. myth comes to play, but also the return to Ptolemy instead of Copernicus (and thus Galileo).

In Deleuze’s reading, the post-Kantian “self” for Maimon and Fichte plays the same role as “Substance” in Spinoza’s philosophy, as a relational site of genesis. In his attempt to progress beyond Kantianism, Deleuze deliberately regresses to a metaphysics prior to Kantianism, with the result that what was simply a site of epistemological synthesis in Kant’s philosophy becomes formally transformed into a site of ontological genesis. (209)

Peden simply summarizes the thought of Deleuze in this simple catchy formula: Foucault’s overcoming of Heidegger was through historical epistemes, Levinas’s through ethics, and Deleuze through rationalism itself. If Deleuze is a return to Spinozist rationalism over against phenomenology, then one must avoid texts like Bergsonism or Proust and signs. Spinozist beatitude or blessedness is hostile to hermeneutics, says Peden, but music, expression that refuses resolution (255), not the reward of virtue, but virtue itself. Spinozism leads to enthusiasm for Kant:

the supreme virtue of Spinozism…is its foreclosure of Schwarmerei, a foreclosure that results from its abnegation and recourse to any discrete, extrinsic instance that might serve to obviate the responsibilities of thought and action left to their own devices. (262)

Badiou’s problem is that Spinoza doesn’t allow for politics. Althusser and Deleuze critique phenomenology for entailing politics from ontology. How ought we to live?

The Spinozism of Gilles Deleuze ends with neither a bang nor a whimper but a stutter. In this, it accomplishes a goal not unlike Althusser’s evacuation of any fixed meaning or predetermined content for philosophy in favor of a “philosophy without object” that operates through punctual, divisive interventions in a field not of its making. (257)

The rationalism vs. myth question remains and the break between Spinozism vs. phenomenology is both a real break and a mythical one. As historically derived as Peden makes it out to be in order to tell his story, the real Spinoza would have had much more friendly and consonant conversations with phenomenology if he had lived and if the story could be told, though he would not have liked everything he heard. If the story could be told.

Frederick Beiser: The Genesis of Neo-Kantianism, 1796-1880

The Genesis of Neo-Kantianism, 1796-1880 Book Cover The Genesis of Neo-Kantianism, 1796-1880
Frederick C. Beiser
Oxford University Press
Hardback £75.00

Reviewed by: Nicolás Trujillo-Osorio (Diego Portales University, Chile and Leiden University, The Netherlands)

When the first dossier on neo-Kantianism was published in the 2008 Summer edition of Philosophical Forum, several scholars considered it as an unexpected work about some forgotten philosophers. Since the publication of those papers, much work has been done in this field.[1] Almost ten years later it is no surprise then that neo-Kantianism has come back as a particular subject of research, as much for philosophers as for social scientists.[2] However, it is also true, as the author of this book states, that the study of neo-Kantianism is still in its infancy (Beiser, 2014; 12). To contribute to understanding neo-Kantianism as a historical source of our contemporary philosophy, Frederick Beiser takes on the task of explaining the historical emergence of this fuzzy movement, known maybe too uncritically, as neo-Kantianism.

The book is organized in three chronological parts. The first part titled The Lost Tradition. It clusters around four German philosophers: Jakob Friedrich Fries (1773-1843), Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776-1841), Friedrich Eduard Beneke (1824-1882), and Herman von Helmholtz (1821-1894). The emergence of psychologism as the leading interpretation of Kant’s philosophy is the crux of the matter here. The second part is called The Coming of Age. It deals with the work of Kuno Fischer (1824-1907), Eduard Zeller (1814-1908), Otto Liebmann (1840-1912), Jürgen Bona Meyer (1829-1897) and Friedrich Albert Lange (1828-1875). It also analyzes two important polemics of the period: pessimism and darwinism. Finally, the last part of the book bears the title The New Establishment. Beiser presents here the work of the philosophers who became the official spokesmen of Neo-Kantianism, as it is commonly understood: Hermann Cohen (1842-1918) – father of the Marburg School –, Wilhelm Windelband (1848-1915) – father of the Southwest School – and Alois Riehl (1844-1924) – main representative of the Göttingen School.

Besides the chronological and biographical methodology, Beiser organizes the book on the basis of two fundamental theoretical problems: the identity crisis of philosophy and the materialism controversy (Beiser; 2014; 35-41). Just like in his earlier books on the history of German Philosophy, [3] Beiser interprets the 19th century as the period of confrontation with these two problems. Hence, Neo-Kantianism is understood first and foremost as a particular stance in the middle of a hectic scenario, where philosophy was the antagonist of the emergent natural sciences. What is the task of philosophy? Is it true that everything can be reduced to material grounds? What is the nature of matter and what can philosophers say in this regard? One principal aim of the book is to analyze the main neo-Kantian sources, in order to display the different discussions and arguments stressed by these German Scholars in and against their intellectual context. A closer look into the three parts of the book will show the main thesis of the book. Since I cannot analyze here the interpretation of each philosopher mentioned by the author, I will focus on explaining the core ideas of each section and on mentioning a few exemplar topics. Finally, to conclude I will develop two critical remarks on Beiser’s definition of neo-Kantian transcendental philosophy.

I am of the opinion that the First Part of the book is by far the most intrepid one. It aims at redefining the common, traditional understanding of the history of neo-Kantianism. According to the literature, neo-Kantianism was an academic philosophical movement which began around 1860. The point of departure was Otto Liebmann’s book Kant und die Epigonen (1865), which forged for the first time, as a catchphrase, the idea of going back to Kant. From then on, the emergence of three different schools of neo-Kantianism seemed almost natural. Each School developed distinct interpretations and emphasized different concepts of Kant’s critical philosophy. This produced the impression that neo-Kantianism was nothing but a fuzzy university movement. But nothing comes from nothing. Every idea, as small it might be, emerges from a lengthy period of inception, dissemination, and struggle. It is Beiser’s aim to prove that the traditional interpretations of the history of neo-Kantianism have hitherto been too narrow. Unlike Ernst Cassirer and Klaus Christian Köhnke, Beiser maintains that Liebmann’s book is rather the end point of a trend begun seventy years earlier, exactly in 1790, even before Kant’s own death. The date of birth is not meaningless. On the contrary, it allows us to understand neo-Kantianism not only as a university movement, but also as a truly cultural renewal on German soil. By the end of the 18th century, Jakob Friedrich Fries, Johann Friedrich Herbart, and after that of Friedrich Eduard Beneke, criticized Speculative Idealism for its metaphysical and foundationalist doctrines. They were the first advocates of Kantian doctrines, and with their criticisms mostly against Schelling and Hegel, they settled the first phase of the neo-Kantian movement. Notwithstanding their different readings of Kant’s philosophy, they all developed an empirical-based psychology under Kantian terms. In particular, they shared five fundamental positions. First, the central role of empirical psychology for epistemology. Second, the fundamental truth of transcendental idealism. Third, the reaction against speculative idealism. Fourth, the need for an empirical and analytical method for philosophy. Fifth, allegiance to the Kantian tradition. According to Beiser, the gist of the first phase was represented by Jakob Fries’s book Reinhold, Fichte, Schelling, published in 1803.

In spite of their academic posts in well-known German universities, and unlike speculative idealists, the early neo-Kantian inception movement disappeared rather rapidly. Beiser points out two reasons for their vanishing. First, the political and intellectual dispute with the hegemonic rationalist-speculative tradition of Reinhold, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. Second, the interpretation of their “advocacy of empirical psychology” as a manifestation of “psychologism”. In this regard, one of the merits of the book is to have shown the inadequacy of such an interpretation. By means of a comparison with later neo-Kantian developments, Beiser holds that Fries, Herbart, and Beneke also seek to steer epistemology away from psychology, as well as from every form of foundationalism. In doing so, they advocated a “science of human nature” which was not a foundation for empirical science, but an enquiry into its empirical-natural roots. Thus, the early neo-Kantians defended a well known Scottish project at the time, which was known in Germany under the name of Anthropologie (Beiser, 2014; 70).

The First Part ends with a brief mention of Hermann Lotze, Adolf Trendelenburg, and Hermann von Helmholtz. At this point, Beiser limits himself to claim that the three philosophers built the bridge between the first and the second generation of neo-Kantians. Further reasons for holding this interpretation are unfortunately absent here. [4].

Although the Second Part of the book, The Coming of Age, informs of the second phase of the formation of Neo-Kantianism, it turns out to be more eclectic than the First Part. This is due to the diverse group of philosophers analyzed here, as well as to the polemics analyzed at the end of the section: Pessimism and Darwinism. In fact, the unity of this phase is not provided exclusively by the identity crisis of philosophy, which was the main trigger of the so-called Lost Tradition. Rather, Beiser claims that the second phase was also triggered by political and scientific reasons. By the 1860s Kant’s philosophy was understood as much as a political liberal philosophy in the midst of the aftermaths of the 1848 Revolutions, as an antidote against the nascent materialism of Karl Vogt, Ludwig Büchner, and Heinrich Czolbe (Beiser, 2014; 573ff). Undoubtedly, it is possible to trace common themes between these two phases. For example, the idea of philosophy as a critical enterprise, the opposition between idealism and materialism, the rejection of Speculative Idealism (with the exception of Kuno Fischer’s Hegelian interpretation of Kant), the aesthetic foundation of morality and religion (due to Herbart’s philosophy of pedagogy), and the enduring psychological interpretation of Kant’s theoretical philosophy (most notably developed by Lange’s Geschichte des Materialismus). However, the intellectual background of these themes was more political than strictly philosophical. Furthermore, new approaches to Kant’s philosophy arose during the 1860s which have to do more with Kant’s philosophical and philological interpretation, than with its usefulness for the political scenario. This is the case for the following problems: the function and meaning of the thing in itself, Liebmann’s critique to the psychological interpretation of philosophy, the development of Kant’s philology, and the development of the problem of history with the subsequent emergence of a new field: philosophy of history (due specifically to Eduard Zeller’s historical criticism).

In the Third Part, The New Establishment, Beiser finally deals with the Marburg School, The Southwest School and the Gottingen School of neo-Kantianism. The aim of the third and last part is to interpret these three schools as the consolidation of neo-Kantianism. According to Beiser, political reasons made the establishment of neo-Kantianism possible in the German academic milieu, in particular, the liberal political atmosphere: the independence of academic life from the Church, and the Berufungsboom of the 1870s (Beiser, 2014; 1230). In principle, the decade of consolidation, as Beiser calls it, continued the following themes: the critical philosophy as a bulwark against materialism, the defense of philosophy from the attacks of empirical sciences, and the distinction between psychology and epistemology. Although this distinction was present in the works of Fischer, Lange, and Liebmann, Cohen, Windelband, and Riehl understood it in a completely different way. Cohen, for example, developed for the first time in his Kants Theorie der Erfahrung a strict epistemological interpretation of the transcendental. Unlike his predecessors who saw the transcendental as a psychological realm of empirical functions and events, Cohen understood the transcendental as the realm of the logical conditions of possibility of scientific knowledge. In Windelband’s case the transcendental is the realm of a normative consciousness, that is, a fundamental plane for the constitution of the validity (Geltung)

of practical propositions. Finally, in spite of his realist interpretation of Kant’s philosophy, Riehl also understood the transcendental as an epistemological, non-psychological space of meaning. As Beiser sums it up, the crucial difference between the phase of consolidation and the earlier ones is the understanding of the transcendental not as the quid facti? but as the quid juris?, such as Kant exposed it in the second edition of the Transcendental Deduction of the Kritik der reinen Vernunft.

Beiser’s explanation of the transcendental in its three scholastic versions is rich in bibliographical analysis and historical references. However, this point deserved perhaps a more systematic consideration. Beiser describes the difference between quid facti? and quid juris? by using the distinction between first-order theories and second-order theories. While the former deals with empirical content (this would be the case of the psychological readings of Kant from 1790 to 1860), the latter deals with the logical structures of scientific knowledge. Unfortunately, Beiser’s strategy has two weaknesses. On the one hand, it does not offer a detailed description of the transcendental in contrast with other second-order theories. Furthermore, it does not explain why the psychological programs were first-order theories. If we consider that Fries, Herbart, Beneke, Lange, and others understood psychology as a πρώτη φιλοσοφία, then the epistemological status of psychic faculties and events is at least dubious. On the other hand, Beiser’s strategy does not allow for an involvement with more systematic interpretations of the history of neo-Kantianism. Thus, Beiser seems closer to the readings of Überweg and Österreich[5], who offered a chronological understanding of the period, than to Ernst Cassirer’s critical understanding of neo-Kantianism.[6] This is perhaps the reason why Beiser does not discuss other important contemporary contributions to the history of neo-Kantianism, such as those of Eric Dufour and Massimo Ferrari, which are explicitly built on Cassirer’s systematic interpretation of the period.[7] The problem that arises here is noteworthy, insofar as it leads us to ask what kind of genesis Beiser builds in his work? What kind of “history of neo-Kantianism” are we dealing with here? A possible answer might be that Beiser’s interpretation is more a history of ideas, than a history of problems (Problemsgeschichte).

In any case, I do not want to diminish with a critical remark the main contribution of the book. In a famous review of Dilthe’s and Euler’s philosophies of history, Paul Natorp, representative of the Marburg School, defines the contribution of history to philosophy in the following terms:

“Das Tun der Geschichte scheint auf die Vergangenheit gerichtet; doch zielt es in Wahrheit vielmehr darauf, den lebensfähigen Gehalt der Vergangenheit für Gegenwart und Zukunft zu retten. Sie ist nicht — wie jener „Historismus”, gegen den Nietzsche streitet — beschäftigt, selbst als ein totes Ding, die Toten zu begraben, sondern vielmehr den tätigen Kräften des Lebens einen gewaltigen Zuwachs zu verschaffen, indem sie alle die „potentielle Energie” lebendig zu machen strebt, die in der bisherigen Arbeit der humanen Kultur aufgesammelt worden ist. (Natorp, 1908; 564)”

Among the diverse themes and problems exposed by neo-Kantians, Beiser pays special attention to those that reveal similarities with our own context. Lange’s critique of the materialist interpretation of consciousness, the aesthetic foundation of morality pursued by Herbart, Fries, and others, Cohen’s contribution to the philosophy of science, and finally, Windelband’s conception of normativity are exposed as significant antecedents to our current philosophy. In other words, Beiser analyses these subjects in such a way that the more we read The Genesis of Neo-Kantianism the more we realize the potential energy of neo-Kantian philosophy for our present and near future.


Cassirer, E. (1929) “Neo-Kantianism”: in Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. XVI 214-15.

Dufour, É. (2003) Les Néokantiens. Valeur et Verité, Paris: J. Vrin.

Edgar, S. (2015) “Review of Frederick Beiser, The Genesis of Neo-Kantianism: 1796-1880 (Oxford University Press, 610pp)”, in: The British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 23:5, pp. 1009-1012.

Ferrari, M. (1997) Introduzione a Il Neocriticismo, Roma-Bari: Editori Laterza.

Patton, L. (2015) “Review: Frederick C. Beiser, The Genesis of Neo-Kantianism, 1796-1880, Oxford University Press, 2014, 610pp.” in: Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. An Electronic Journal (

Natorp, P. (1908) “Über Philosophie, Geschichte und Philosophie der Geschichte”, in: Historische Zeitschrift, nº 100: pp. 564–584.

Staiti, A. (2016) “The Genesis of Neo-Kantianism, 1796-1880 by Frederick Beiser (review)”, in: Journal of the History of Philosophy, Volume 54, Number 1, January 2016, pp. 177-178.

[1] See Krijnen, C. (ed.), Neukantianismus-Forschung Aktuell, Ausgabe 2016, 1. (

[2] Beiser mentions in the Preface to his book the following studies: Friedman, M and Nordmann, A. (eds.) (2006) The Kantian Legacy in Nineteenth-Century Science, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press; Chignell, A. Irwin, T. and Teufel, T. (eds.) (2008) Back to Kant: Neo-Kantianism and its Relevance Today, The Philosophical Forum, Summer 2008); Makkreel, R. and Luft, S. (2010) Neo-Kantianism in Contemporary Philosophy, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press; Boyle, N., Disley, L. and Cooper, I. (2013) The Impact of Idealism: The Legacy of Post-Kantian German Thought, 4 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. I would like also to mention the following studies: Luft, S. (2015) Neo-Kantian Reader, Routdlege; Staiti, A. and De Warren, N. (2015) New Approaches to Neo-Kantianism, Cambridge University Press. For a more detail account on studies about neo-Kantianism, s. note 1

[3] S. Beiser, F. (2011) The German Historicist Tradition, Oxford University Press, 2011; Beiser, F. (2013) Late German Idealism: Trendelenburg and Lotze. Forthcoming 2013, Oxford University Press. Beiser, F. (2014) After Hegel: German Philosophy, 1840-1900, Princeton University Press.

[4] For a further explanation s. Beiser, F. (2013) Late German Idealism: Trendelenburg and Lotze. Forthcoming 2013, Oxford University Press. Beiser, F. (2014), After Hegel: German Philosophy, 1840-1900, Princeton University Press.

[5] Überweg, F. (1923) Grundriß der Geschichte der Philosophie, Vierter Teil, Berlin.

[6] Cassirer, E. (1929) “Neo-Kantianism”: in Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. XVI, pp. 214-15.

[7] s. Dufour, É. (2003) Les Néokantiens. Valeur et Verité, Paris: J. Vrin. Ferrari, M. (1997) Introduzione a Il Neocriticismo, Roma-Bari: Editori Laterza.

Cyril McDonnell: Heidegger’s Way Through Phenomenology to the Question of the Meaning of Being

Heidegger’s Way Through Phenomenology to the Question of the Meaning of Being Book Cover Heidegger’s Way Through Phenomenology to the Question of the Meaning of Being
Orbis Phaenomenologicus, Studien, Bd. 39
Cyril McDonnell
Königshausen & Neumann
Paperback €49,80

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

The stops and starts leading up to Heidegger’s completion of his masterwork have occupied scholars going back some decades. While it is easy to hold up Being and Time in the abstract as solely a product of Heidegger’s sweeping philosophical vision, it has been long known that Heidegger is as much of a patchwork philosopher as any other major historical philosopher. For Plato and Aristotle, the pre-Platonic philosophers were key predecessors. For Kant, it was German metaphysics and the British empiricists, and so on. Being and Time is a product of re-formulations and re-castings of many other important philosophical theses of the period. One could say that a significant part of Heidegger’s accomplishment lay in synthesizing just the right combination of ingredients in the service of a larger inquiry.

Probably best-known in Anglophone scholarship is Kisiel’s mammoth text The Genesis of Heidegger’s Being and Time, which provides an exhaustive overview of the writings, lecture courses, and correspondence of Heidegger’s from the late 1910’s into the mid-1920’s. Kisiel’s definitive study traces Being and Time’s themes from the start of Heidegger’s career, laying out the smaller discoveries that later came to inform the much fuller vision of Heidegger’s masterwork.

Cyril McDonnell’s book, Heidegger’s Way Through Phenomenology to the Question of the Meaning of Being, takes a somewhat different approach than Kisiel. Whereas Kisiel’s book represents a thorough look at the buildup to Being and Time by way of dissecting the pre-Being and Time work that came from Heidegger’s own hand, as it were, what McDonnell does is examine in depth some of the influential sources that Heidegger grappled with as he matured from his study of phenomenology under Husserl and came to formulate his own vision of phenomenology. Thus, McDonnell’s book is a study of the sources that Heidegger appropriated in his formulation of the problematic regarding the meaning of being articulated in Being and Time, and specifically insofar as this work’s brand of phenomenology appropriates and transcends Husserl.

In McDonnell’s view, the chief philosophical commitments that most motivate Heidegger’s break with Husserl lay in the transcendental version of phenomenology formulated by Husserl in Ideas I, and in particular, Husserl’s account of the phenomenological reduction in that book’s central chapters. For McDonnell, the transcendental deduction of Ideas I represents the principal, decisive element of Husserlian phenomenology that cannot accommodate the phenomenon of factical, existing Dasein that is so central in Heidegger’s approach to fundamental ontology. In other words, the conception of finite, historical, lived experience as the early Heidegger understands it is at odds with Husserl’s reduction to pure consciousness. And this is because (as McDonnell argues) any phenomenological reduction (in Heidegger’s mind) will always be performed by and for factical, individual Dasein. According to this view, Husserl’s limitation is that he construes the transcendental reduction as an act performed by a history-less, abstract subject. So the difference between the two philosophers here stems from their competing views of philosophy’s starting point. For Heidegger it is the factical Dasein of today who philosophizes in and from the present; for Husserl philosophy starts from a suspension of the natural attitude, where one has distinguished consciousness of experience from consciousness of the object.

The individual chapters of McDonnell’s book provide a very thorough survey of the sources representing Heidegger’s encounter with and eventual response to these issues. The initial premise of the text as stated in the opening chapter is the lack of clarity regarding a claim Heidegger makes in the late essay “My Way to Phenomenology.” In that essay, Heidegger comments on his philosophical development to the effect that he “was brought onto the path of thinking about the question of being, illumined through the phenomenological manner of thinking” (3). McDonnell argues preliminarily that we must be able to follow Heidegger in this course through phenomenology to the question of the meaning of being in order to properly reckon with the task of Being and Time, particularly that book’s assessment and understanding of phenomenological philosophy. The point is not simply to unravel the meaning behind a casual statement made by the later Heidegger about his autobiography. Instead, McDonnell regards this quotation as posing a genuine question for Heidegger scholarship, namely, how are we to understand Heidegger’s encounter with phenomenology in the 1910’s and 20’s in its relationship to Heidegger’s eventual formulation of Being and Time’s guiding question? Is the guiding question something Heidegger discovers solely through his engagement with the Husserlian/Brentanian paradigm? Or does Being and Time’s guiding question develop out of some conflict with this school of thought? Above all, what continuity can be discerned in Heidegger’s appropriation of phenomenology from his teachers?

The central chapters of Heidegger’s Way Through Phenomenology take up various aspects of Heidegger’s philosophical development that speak to these questions. The first of the book’s five chapters examines the topics in Husserl’s Logical Investigations and Ideas I that most occupied the early Heidegger. It is well-known that the young Heidegger spent considerable time reading and re-reading the Logical Investigations; however, McDonnell makes a persuasive case that Heidegger’s eventual differences with Husserl’s conception of phenomenology stem from the transcendental idealism of the later Ideas I.

The middle chapters take up the alternate sources that, according to McDonnell, inform Heidegger’s own formulation of the task of phenomenology. Chapter Two presents a thorough, careful study of Heidegger’s encounter with Dilthey, with significant discussion of how Dilthey can be seen to figure into Heidegger’s lecture courses of the early 1920’s and his initial divergence from Husserl. According to the exegesis of this chapter, Heidegger appropriates from Dilthey the notion of lived experience, specifically insofar this notion becomes crucial for Being and Time’s starting claim that Dasein is always one’s own. In this light, the historical component of Dilthey’s notion of lived experience is to become the seed of what Heidegger will go on to label “facticity.” McDonnell also gives attention to Dilthey’s influence upon Heidegger’s interest in hermeneutics. Chapter Three takes up Heidegger’s appropriation of Kierkegaard’s philosophy of existence, although much of this chapter’s argumentation suggests that Heidegger’s existentialism is influenced by Augustine. In this light, McDonnell gives reasons supporting the notion that Heidegger is not an existentialist philosopher in the colloquial sense of the term. Chapter Four engages facets of Biblical hermeneutics. McDonnell suggests the issue of understanding the living word of God as it is encountered in the tradition of Biblical hermeneutics can be said to exhibit some parallels with understanding the meaning of being (as Heidegger would later come to describe this problem in Being and Time). McDonnell proceeds under the assumption that this development in Heidegger’s thought is influenced by Schleiermacher, but the treatment here is somewhat brief and still rooted very much in Dilthey. Of all the book’s chapters, this fourth chapter is perhaps the thinnest and most speculative in terms of the evidence it leverages for its position.

Chapter Five, the last main chapter, takes somewhat of a left turn.   This chapter gives a very long, though careful account of Heidegger’s conception of finitude as it appears in Being and Time. It considers the compatibility of this notion with Husserl’s view of phenomenology as expressed in the transcendental reduction. The approach of this chapter differs from the others in that McDonnell treats finitude – more precisely, Heidegger’s formulation of being-toward-death – as a concept principally of Heidegger’s own formulation. Whereas the previous chapters are more devoted to developing Heidegger’s appropriation of the thought of his predecessors from the side of these preceding sources. Thus, the fifth chapter reads more like an analysis of finitude in Being and Time posed against the question of whether finitude is has any coherence in Husserl. McDonnell’s primary motivation for this shift appears to be that, in his view, Dasein’s disclosure of its own finitude is the ultimate, definitive manifestation in which Heidegger’s phenomenology transcends the limits of Husserl’s reduction, especially vis-à-vis the alternative framework of human experience he appropriates from Dilthey and the Christian existentialists. McDonnell does not argue in favor of Heidegger against Husserl per se, but he does suggest that Heidegger’s brand of phenomenology can subsume Husserl’s transcendental reduction, whereas the reverse would not hold true.

This book genuinely shines in its extensive demonstration of secondary research and its broad survey of many important primary sources. McDonnell weaves together a vast array of material into an impressive, yet very accessible narrative. Readers who are interested in Heidegger’s pre-Being and Time development will find in this text a very readable, authoritative guide to a key period in Heidegger’s complex intellectual biography. It will also provide a very good complement to Kisiel’s book on the genesis of Being and Time; McDonnell’s book is more focused and contemplative in its examination of Heidegger’s influences without getting encumbered by the vast swath of primary writings from Heidegger that one could take up in such a study.

In terms of critical comments, my input is rather brief. On one hand, there is a definite need in Heidegger studies for careful examination of the influences on Heidegger’s thought during the 1910’s and 20’s. And given the extensive paper trail of published writings, lecture transcripts, letters and personal notes we have of Heidegger, Husserl, and others from this period, certainly there is ample material that can point the way toward unraveling the pre-Being and Time narrative. On the other hand, I believe where McDonnell’s book could succeed better is in demonstrating more correspondence between the historical sources he identifies, and the thought of Heidegger as exhibited in the published writings up to and including Being and Time. As written, this book’s exegesis comes across as somewhat speculative, with many moving parts. This issue is less prominent in the first two chapters, but it becomes more prominent from the third chapter onward. As a result, the connection of Heidegger with Kierkegaard, Augustine, and related figures comes across as incidental and under-defended. Occasionally in these contexts there is a noticeable lack of justification for why some sources are chosen as factually relevant to Heidegger’s development. Among the historic sources to which McDonnell ties Heidegger, Dilthey is the figure whose connection is illustrated best. This book may have been more successful if it were to focus just on Heidegger’s appropriation of Dilthey. In any event, the best antidote for these shortcomings would be a more rigorous analysis of how the historical influences figure into Heidegger’s writing, with more emphasis on primary sources in Heidegger. However, such improvements would require a much longer book or even a whole second volume. As it stands McDonnell’s book provides a great service to Heidegger studies.

Rolf Kühn: Begehren und Sinn. Grundlagen für eine phänomenologisch-tiefenpsychologisch fundierte Psychotherapie und Supervision

Begehren und Sinn. Grundlagen für eine phänomenologisch-tiefenpsychologisch fundierte Psychotherapie und Supervision. Book Cover Begehren und Sinn. Grundlagen für eine phänomenologisch-tiefenpsychologisch fundierte Psychotherapie und Supervision.
Seele, Existenz und Leben, Nr. 25
Rolf Kühn
Karl Alber

Rezension von: Damian Peikert (Heidelberg Universität)

Die Phänomenologie hat innerhalb der Psychiatrie eine lange Tradition – das Verhältnis der Phänomenologie und der Psychoanalyse ist dahingegen lange von einer vermeintlichen Unvereinbarkeit geprägt gewesen. Karl Jaspers, der die phänomenologische Methode in die Psychopathologie integrierte, erweiterte den Begriff der phänomenologischen Beschreibung um das Moment der Einfühlung. Dieses Zusammengehen der Methoden von Phänomenologie und Psychopathologie, kultiviert in der philosophischen Besinnung, richtet sich ganz auf das (An)Erkennen des Anderen. Ein Begriff von Therapie („Heilung“) beruht bei Jaspers immer schon auf der Praxis selbst, d.h. auf der Widerfahrnis des Einzelnen innerhalb der therapeutischen Beziehung. Jaspers verneinte so auch eine strikte Trennung von Theorie und Praxis: „Aus der Absicht der Heilung und den Erfahrungen, die erst durch die therapeutische Tätigkeit gemacht werden, läßt sich ein Entwurf der Psychopathologie gewinnen, der von vornherein die Erkenntnisse am praktischen Ziel orientiert, von ihm her bewertet und ordnet. Lehrbücher der Psychotherapie sind daher zum Teil solche der Psychopathologie.“ (Jaspers 1973, 661)

Rolf Kühn legt mit Begehren und Sinn eine Untersuchung vor, die sich aus der therapeutischen Praxis an die therapeutische Praxis richtet. Aus langjähriger Beschäftigung mit den Grenzgängen von Phänomenologie und Psychotherapie und einer tiefen Auseinandersetzung mit der Phänomenologie des Lebens, bietet Kühn ein Lehrbuch an, das sich der Ganzheit des Individuums und seinem Selbsterscheinen im Lebensvollzug widmet und so alle bestehenden und vermeintlichen disziplinären Grenzen ausschreitet. Die Grundlagen für eine phänomenologisch-tiefenpsychologisch fundierte Psychotherapie und Supervision, die Kühn mit den Protagonisten Jaques Lacan und Michel Henry begründet, richten sich daher zuerst und zurecht an den angehenden Psychotherapeuten. Obwohl diese Grundlagen weit mehr weiterbildend denn als einführend präsentiert werden. Denn auch für Begehren und Sinn bildet Henrys Philosophie der „radikalen Lebensphänomenologie“, das leiblich sich individuierende Subjekt und die Begegnung der Individuen in ursprünglich affektiver Gemeinschaft (Mit-Pathos), Ausgang und Vorsatz.

Tatsache bleibt, dass beständig sich wandelnde Lebenswelten und der Pathos des Zusammenlebens Einzelner darin, einen ungeheuren Stoff ansammeln, den es dem Einzelnen zu vermitteln gilt, will dieser sich einer Wirklichkeit (d.i. das Wechselspiel von „psychischer Realität“ und Realitätsanforderung) und einem mündigen Ich („System des Ich“) darinnen vergewissern. Aus dieser Tatsache erwächst die Notwendigkeit der lebensphänomenologischen Einsicht, dass das Wesen von Gemeinschaft (von Beziehung) die Affektivität ist, dass Gemeinschaft in ihrem weitesten Sinne ein Mit-Pathos (Henry), ein Zwischen-uns (Nancy) ist, und dieser Affektivität ein Sinn für die Selbstvergewisserung des Einzelnen zukommt. Dieser Sinn liegt in der Begegnung im Mit-Pathos und an dieser Stelle in besonderem Maße in der therapeutischen Begegnung. Und ist die Selbstvergewisserung des Einzelnen schon durch die Lebensverkennung einer sich (vermeintlich) verkomplizierenden Lebenswelt erschwert, durch das Ausbleiben oder Misslingen der Affektion, so kommt in der Psychotherapie vornehmlich ein Existenz- und Lebensgefühl zur Sprache, in dem sich der Einzelne als schuld- bzw. schamhaft empfindet, sich selbst also Schuld am Versiegen des Mit-Pathos gibt (Kühn 2015, 10). An dieser Ambiguität der Selbstvergewisserung des Einzelnen und dem Zwischen-uns der Gemeinschaft wird die doppelte Aufgabe des Therapeuten deutlich, nicht nur Sorge um seine je eigene Vergewisserung zu tragen, sondern auch um die Wirklichkeit der Widerfahrnis des Anderen. Vor diesem Hintergrund erscheinen Kühns Grundlegungen, die ein leidendes Subjekt, als ein dezentriertes, als ein „Subjekt des Verschwindens“ (Lacan), als zerrissen durch die Anforderungen des Anderen begreift.

Der Titel Begehren und Sinn „verweist dabei auf eine doppelte Struktur, die in der bisherigen Tradition auch mit Trieb und Existenz bezeichnet wurde“ (Kühn 2015, 9). Die Umdeutung der freudschen Vokabeln in Begehren und Sinn erschließt sich einerseits erst durch seine Fundierung in einer phänomenologisch-tiefenpsychologischen Lesart, durch die der Autor eine nur (neo-)psychoanalytische oder nur existenzanalytische Untersuchung von Trieb und Existenz überschreitet, und andererseits durch die unmittelbare Reziprozität von Begehren und Sinn innerhalb einer „radikalen Leiblichkeit“, einer radikal leiblichen Subjektivität. Leib ist absolute Situiertheit des „Ich kann“ im Leben; Leib ist Handeln und Erleiden (Kühn 2015, 43ff.). Dieser Problembestimmung widmet sich Kühn in einer detaillierten und umfangreichen Einleitung. Der erste Teil klärt dem folgend die Vorannahmen und Ausdifferenzierungen und zeigt in nachvollziehbarem Dreischritt, (1) Radikale Leiblichkeit, (2) Ego, Affekt und Welt, (3) Trieb und Psychoanalyse, worin die Umdeutung ihre Berechtigung erfährt.

Der Begriff Sinn wird phänomenologisch von Seiten Edmund Husserls und Paul Ricoeurs, existenzanalytisch von Seiten Ludwig Binswangers und Viktor Frankls (Sinn wird gefunden, nicht gemacht) betreten. Der Begriff des Begehrens wird maßgeblich auf Lacans neu-freudianischem, strukturalistisch-linguistischen Verständnis von Begehren als Streben des Unbewussten aufgebaut. In diesem lacanschen Sinne entfaltet sich auch die doppelte Struktur des Begehrens selbst; teils taucht Begehren (mit der Sprache) durch den Anderen auf, teils ist es als Begehren von etwas anderem immer schon Teil des Ego. Es wird deutlich, dass die Lektüre voraussetzungsreich ist und für einen in beiden Disziplinen, Phänomenologie und Tiefenpsychologie, unbedarften Leser mit erheblicher methodischer und begrifflicher Arbeit verbunden ist.

Die radikale Leiblichkeit, das ist i.S. Kühns die Erneuerung des Denkens in und durch die immer schon leibliche Verfasstheit des Individuums, wird zum unbedingten gedanklichen Vorzeichen. Denn der Autor legt sie einem jeden subjektiven (Lebens)Vollzug zugrunde, nimmt eben ein „absolutes Situiertsein im Leben“ durch den Leib an und vermeint sogar die Unmöglichkeit, dass „Leiblichkeit – existentiell wie kulturell – jemals auf einen empirischen Körper reduziert werden kann“ (Kühn 2015, 43). Es ist die Unhintergehbarkeit der Subjektivität, die durch den subjektiven (oder immanenten) Leib epistemologisch begründet ist. So bleibt Begehren und Sinn ganz dem Lacanschen Programm verschrieben, ein Gefühl dafür zu bekommen, dass Wahrheit nie ganz ist, dass sie nicht für jeden wahr ist, dass sie nicht allgemein und nicht für alle gültig ist – Wahrheit daher nur teilhaft (da subjektiv, perspektivisch, partikular) ausgesagt werden kann. Aus diesem Grunde wird die therapeutische Beziehung, von der Neuen Phänomenologie herkommend, als eine vorübergehende gemeinsame Situation begriffen, darin sich zwei Einzelne zu einem sinnfälligen Ganzen verbinden, um in bestmöglich unverstellter Leiblichkeit (i.S. von Schmitz‘ Einleibung) eine unmittelbare Kommunikation, ein unmittelbares Erfahren zu gewährleisten.

Vor diesem gedanklichen Vorzeichen erscheint dann auch Kühns kritischer Blick auf die psychologischen Postulate Dysfunktionalität und Störung folgerichtig, rekurrieren diese doch auf ein „Normalverhalten“, welches sich selbst in doppelter Hinsicht als fragwürdige Konstruktion anzeigt: Erstens kennt ein pathisches Leibverständnis als immanent subjektive Modalisierung keine Normalverteilung von Normalität und Abnormalität; zweitens weist sich der Versuch einer Funktionalität des Individuums als Universalisierung einer „allgemeinen Natur“ des Menschseins aus bzw. einer installierten „äußeren Norm“. Beides muss als eine erste Fehltat an der eigenständigen existentiellen Verwirklichung des Individuums angesehen werden. Schlussendlich ist es dann auch diese Universalisierung einer äußeren Norm, einer allgemeinen Art des Menschseins, die im Sinne des Autors jene Symptome auslöst, die aus dem sich entfaltenden Subjekt ein leidendes Subjekt machen und es überhaupt erst in eine therapeutische Bedürftigkeit treiben. Kühn liefert daher eine umfangreiche Meditation der phänomenologischen Reduktion und der Epoché, um insbesondere das Ich/Mich, als ursprünglich auf Affekt/Sinn verwiesen, in den Blick zu bekommen. Es ist dies der zweite Teil, der in konsistenter Weise durch die Kapitel (4) Neo-Psychoanalyse Lacans, (5) Differenz und Immanenz in der Psychotherapie auf die (6) Konkretionen therapeutischer Praxis hinführt. In diesen Konkretionen werden die praktischen Implikationen für das Therapieziel „Heilung“ ausgearbeitet, ja geradezu angewendet. Im oben beschriebenen Sinne erscheint Begehren und Sinn als ein psychopathologischer Entwurf, obwohl es sich selbst nicht als solches anbietet und schlussendlich doch nicht als Psychopathologie gelesen und verstanden werden will.

Ein Begriff von „Heilung“ bezieht sich in Begehren und Sinn vornehmlich darauf, alle Potentialitäten subjektiven Lebens wiederherzustellen, d.h. die Autonomie der existentiellen Verwirklichung aus der eigenen Perspektivität (und ihrer Vitalität) zu ermöglichen. „Mit anderen Worten bedeutet dies eine ungehinderte Reziprozität zwischen Begehren und Sinn sowie Sinn und Begehren, so dass alle gegebenen Fähigkeiten eines Individuums zu einer Realisierung hinfinden, welche sowohl dem inneren Empfinden wie den äußeren Realitätsanforderungen entspricht“ (Kühn 2016, 340). Es ist eben dieses Gelingen des Wechselspiels zwischen unleugbaren Realitätsanforderungen und der Autonomie des Lebensvollzugs, das in die Formulierung des Therapiezieles einfließt. Es geht sicherlich einerseits um die Wiederherstellung von Autonomie in der Sinnfindung und Expression, andererseits geht es jedoch auch um die Richtigstellung des Verhältnisses zu einer vermeintlichen Realität bzw. der Beseitigung ihrer möglichen Verstellung. Die bewusste wie unbewusste Realität ist dabei gleichermaßen Gegenstand des Therapieverhältnisses. Man kann nicht umhin zu bemerken, thematisiert Begehren und Sinn auch dezidiert das therapeutische Verhältnis, dass dieser Gegenstand auch gleichermaßen Ziel und Grund der Selbsterforschung des Ich/Mich ist – der Therapeut macht seine eigene Psychologie zum Gegenstand bewusster Reflexion.

Wie Karl Jaspers immerzu betonte, sind Freiheit (Autonomie des Einzelnen) und Transzendenz nicht zu machen, sondern stets nur zu erfahren. Insofern müsse der gute Arzt (in unserem Sinne zurecht: der Therapeut), „unausweichlich“ Philosoph sein (Jaspers 1973, 674). Der Versuch Kühns, „radikale Phänomenologie und Tiefenpsychologie“ in der therapeutischen Praxis zusammenzuführen, gerät so zu einem psychopathologischen Entwurf (nämlich der Sinnfindung des Subjekts innerhalb seiner [absoluten] Ipseität) – der von vornherein die Erkenntnisse am praktischen Ziel orientiert, von ihm her bewertet und ordnet – auch und insbesondere wenn Kühn klarstellt, dass Therapie nicht Philosophie und Philosophie nicht Therapie wird.

Der Autor behält die geschilderte Absicht der „Heilung“ und der Unmittelbarkeit des Erfahrens in der therapeutischen Tätigkeit konsequent im Blick. Durch die so notwendige Versöhnung der (tiefen)psychologischen Praxis und der Phänomenologie, und durch den immer schon selbsttransformativen, in jedem Sinne an der Praxis orientierten Impetus ist man in vielfältiger Weise an Jaspers psychopathologisches Programm erinnert: Die Praxis des Arztes ist konkrete Philosophie. Der zuvorderst gestellten Einlassung Jaspers‘ – Lehrbücher der Psychotherapie sind daher zum Teil solche der Psychopathologie – verleiht Begehren und Sinn neue Aktualität. Die ausdrücklich weder nur interdisziplinär, nur komparatistische, nur parallel verfahrende Kritik Kühns sucht eine tiefere Gemeinsamkeit psychologischer und philosophischer Methoden auf, die den Anderen (vornehmlich als Patienten/Klienten) nicht aus dem Blick verliert und so tatsächliche Praxisrelevanz offeriert – an keiner Stelle der phänomenologischen/(tiefen)psychologischen Analyse, so Kühn, kann es um etwas anderes gehen als die „Erlebnisintensität“ des Anderen in seinem Leben.

Vor diesem Hintergrund des Wechselspiels von subjektiver Erlebnisintensität und therapeutischer Beziehung sind die Kapitel „Klinischer Blick“ (Kap. 5, 3) und „Konkretionen therapeutischer Praxis“ besonders zu beachten. Einerseits wird hier das Unterfangen „angehende Psychotherapeuten in ihrer Ausbildung und Supervision zu begleiten“ (Kühn 2015, 9) besonders greifbar, andererseits fällt in dieser Konkretion der Verlust durch Kühns hermetische Sprache besonders groß aus. Es ist mit Blick auf die Anschlussfähigkeit und Symbiose der zusammengeführten Methoden von herausragendem Interesse eine klare und verständliche Sprache zu sprechen. So dicht und reichhaltig Kühns Untersuchung ist, so ist ihre Sprache nicht minder dicht und bisweilen kaum zu durchdringen.

Auch bleibt das immer wieder aufkommende Moment einer ursprünglichen Selbstaffektion, einer absoluten Ipseität, i.S. einer immanenten Selbstbewegtheit kritisch zu befragen. Es ist eine bei der Lektüre wiederkehrende Frage, ob nicht doch der Andere und sein konstitutives Auftauchen für das Ich/Mich schlussendlich unterbestimmt bleibt. Zwar wird von einem Mit-Pathos und einem Zwischen-sein ausgegangen, doch bleibt Leben begriffen als „Sich-Offenbaren des ursprünglichen Lebens an sich selbst in seiner ausschließlichen Innerlichkeit“ (Kühn 2015, 324). Eingedenk der an anderer Stelle ausgeführten Konzeption von Narrativität als radikale Lebensphänomenologie (Kühn 2016), verbleibt Begehren und Sinn in dem zu hinterfragenden Begriff von Leben/Existenz als Selbstbewegtheit/Selbstaffektion: „Seine [des ursprünglichen Lebens, Vf.] Selbstbewegtheit als Prozess des Sich-Selbst-Übereignens im Sich-Selbst-Empfangen ist mithin das inner-narrative Wort des Lebens, sein Sich-offenbaren, welches wir als sein Sagen diesseits aller Dinge als unsere ständige Lebendigkeit selbst vernehmen.“ (Kühn 2015, 324)

Mit Begehren und Sinn erweitert Kühn den Pflichtkanon für den phänomenologisch-tiefenpsychologisch interessierten Therapeuten, gleich welcher Disziplin er auch angehören mag. Auch von einer Unvereinbarkeit von Psychoanalyse und Phänomenologie kann hernach nicht länger die Rede sein. Dem gesetzten Ziel, weder nur interdisziplinär, noch nur komparatistisch vorzugehen, wird der Autor mehr als gerecht und erinnert einmal mehr daran, dass der (Psycho)Therapeut keiner Schule angehören soll, aber alle Schulen dem (Psycho)Therapeuten. Man darf sagen, auch im Hinblick auf das Erscheinen in der Reihe Seele, Existenz und Leben, dass hier doch ein Lehrbuch vorliegt, welches nicht weniger als alle dieser drei Dimensionen zur Sprache bringt, indem es ihre Unauflöslichkeit in der Klärung „der prinzipiellen Grundlagen für einen existentiell wie gesellschaftlich immer wichtiger werdenden Erfahrungsbereich, wie ihn die Begegnung zwischen Patient und Therapeut darstellt,“ (Kühn 2016, 9) aufzeigt.

Jaspers, Karl: Allgemeine Psychopathologie. Für Studierende, Ärzte und Psychologen. 4. überarb. Auflage, Berlin/Heidelberg 1942/1946; 9. unveränderte Auflage, Heidelberg 1973.

Jeffrey A. Bell, Andrew Cutrofello, Paul M. Livingston (Eds.): Beyond the Analytic-Continental Divide

Beyond the Analytic-Continental Divide. Pluralist Philosophy in the Twenty-First Century Book Cover Beyond the Analytic-Continental Divide. Pluralist Philosophy in the Twenty-First Century
Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy
Jeffrey A. Bell, Andrew Cutrofello, Paul M. Livingston (Eds.)
Hardback £90.00

Reviewed by: Elizabeth Drummond Young (University of Edinburgh)

This collection of papers, which covers a wide variety of philosophical topics, aims to go beyond a discussion of differences between analytic and continental philosophy. Instead, the collection purports to show the results of philosophers whose work combines both traditions – synthetic philosophy, as the editors call it. The aim is not just to mash together malleable work from the two traditions, but to consider philosophical projects in the light of a more fully fledged set of contributions than would be available if working from within one tradition only.

Questions about the overall aim of this project might include, first; will it result in new philosophical projects, perhaps crossing boundaries of the traditional philosophical sub-disciplines, such as epistemology, ethics and so on? Second, how will the success of these projects be assessed; both at an overall level and at the level of criticising and reviewing individual papers? In answer to the first, we should note that the collection came about through new collaboration on the internet. A paper on connections between Derrida’s deconstructive notion of ‘the undecidable’ and Kurt Godel’s formalization of that problem in arithmetic was the starting point for discussion, which drew in a number of participants. Technology thus makes it easy to establish a ready community of philosophers who are able and willing to take up the challenge of this sort of philosophy, and it is equally easy to imagine that new projects will be generated in this way. Judging the success of the resulting philosophy as a whole will be more difficult, at least initially. Presumably, it will require an established group of philosophers, who have been practising synthetic philosophy for a while to comment authoritatively on the overall output, rather than relying on specialists in individual philosophers or particular areas of study. The group will also need to reach critical mass, too, in order to avoid synthetic philosophy becoming yet another philosophical niche industry. Most contributors come from universities in the USA, and it would also be fruitful if the project were taken up elsewhere.

The collection is in four parts. I shall comment in detail below on the first part, Methodologies, since by its very nature it has a bearing on any synthetic philosophical project and therefore has a relevance to all papers in the collection, but I will deal briefly with the other parts here, mentioning only those papers which throw up something of interest for the overall project, rather than merely being of merit in themselves.

The second part, with four papers on Truth and Meaning, contains an important paper by David Woodruff Smith, titled Truth and Epoche, which uses Tarski’s semantic conception of truth to provide a phenomenological analysis of truth as it occurs in experiencing consciousness. Husserl and Tarski are not unexpected bedfellows (both mathematicians by training) and so a discussion involving both philosophers has a naturalness, which is perhaps not so true of another paper in the section, Metaphors without Meanings: Derrida and Davidson as complementary by Samuel C. Wheeler III. Derrida and Davidson are chalk and cheese; good examples of the ‘opposite poles’ of the continental and analytic tradition, and whilst Wheeler gets something out of the comparison, the paper feels slightly forced in an attempt at synthesis.

An example of a new question emerging from synthetic philosophy is the first paper in the third section, Metaphysics and Ontology: Why is Time Different from Space? by John McCumber. To explore the question, he starts by assuming that there was a situation when time and space were indistinct and that we may have experiences of that. Part of his paper revolves around the novel concept of ‘co-occupancy’ together with the idea that time and space originate in place, which is itself a dynamic set of ‘nearing and farings’. This is in danger of sounding fanciful to the analytic philosopher, but it is saved from obscurity by a wonderfully vivid literary example and illustration from Graham Greene. The second paper in this section, Wittgenstein Reads Heidegger, Heidegger Reads Wittgenstein: Thinking Language Bounding World by Paul Livingston, like the Husserl and Tarski paper, gives the impression of a very smooth comparative feel as the author basis his paper on actual quotations about each other by the two respective philosophers.

In part four of the collection, the first paper, Relativism and Recognition by Carol Rovane is a wide ranging discussion on how we should understanding relativism, taking in contributions from Axel Honneth, Bernard Williams and Habermas. The paper has the merit of stepping back from the narrow confines of discussing moral relativism and thinking about our position in different communities from a ‘world view point’. Revolutionary Actions and Events by Andrew Cutrofello in the same section is a less successful paper from the point of view of drawing in the analytic philosopher (and the reviewer is one such), mainly because Badiou is supposed to contribute to the interesting discussion of Arendt’s view on revolution and the nature of events, but it is hard to see how he does this, even on a sympathetic reading. The paper raises the problem of how some opaque continental philosophers can be treated in a way which will lead to a genuinely synthetic philosophy, rather than one which is lop-sided in favour of one or other tradition.

To sum up, the papers include happy pairings with productive results (Husserl and Tarski, Wittgenstein and Heidegger), a new question about time and space forged out of the synthesis, a wider perspective on an old problem and some papers which do not quite achieve synthesis.

The most successful part of the book overall is the first part which deals with methodologies. Despite the editors’ claiming to want to avoid old-style discussions of the analytic/continental divide, the first paper by James Conant represents something of a reprise of the theme of the origins of analytic philosophy and what it means to contrast analytic and continental philosophy. It does an excellent job in opening the collection. His analysis of how the ‘founding fathers’ of analytic philosophy described their philosophical enterprises provides a good insight to start the set of papers. Conant reminds us that the early analytic philosophers could not know that they were ‘founding’ anything; they were reacting to existing philosophy (Kant and Hegel and British Idealism, for example) and trying to establish how philosophy should be done. Is analytic philosophy determined by its content, method or style? Conant notes that some in the tradition, such as Williams, McDowell and Murdoch, come to reflect on the point that the way philosophy is done may establish, or at least constrain the content, for good or ill. Conant also notes the increasing trend to ‘excommunicate’ members of the analytic community when they show tendencies ‘to swim in the waters of rhetorical metaphysics’ (to borrow a phrase from Crispin Wright’s review of John McDowell’s Mind and World, quoted by Conant). Conant considers that what sparks such criticism might be both a slip into vices of style connected with continental philosophy (fuzziness, extravagance of metaphor and so on) and the fear that the sort of philosophy will lead others astray. Analytic philosophers have adopted some humility, however, and this is shown in their attitude to the history of philosophy. There is now a more sensitive approach to philosophers of the past, which goes beyond being forced to treat them as though they were present day contributors to Mind. Two very recent, exciting trends highlighted by Conant are first, the development of analytic studies of historical philosophers previously ‘banned from the canon’ such as Hegel and Marx; and secondly, the interest in the history of analytic philosophy itself. Historians of analytic philosophy must be philosophers as well as historians, as they challenge the current philosophical thought with their interpretations, he thinks. Philosophy, unlike science, is necessarily ill at ease with itself, Conant suggests, because it seems that some issues will never be resolved. There will just be different ways of discussing them. The historian of analytic philosophy has an important role in that he helps to establish the ‘tradition’ of analytic philosophy, and it is this concept of tradition which will give analytic philosophy its sense of self.

The second paper in this part, on Austin and Deleuze by Richard Eldridge and Tasmin Lorraine, rather neatly picks up the theme of history and the temporal perspective in philosophy. Austin’s reflection on language, where a word does not have a fixed meaning and consequently the study of philosophical concepts is more shaking and unsettling than some suppose, is linked with Deleuze’s insistence that we should take temporality into account in philosophical discussion. For Austin, concepts evolve; for Deleuze, they are ‘events’, perhaps best understood by his reference to cinematography or art. The paper makes no demand on the reader to change linguistic gear from the analytic to the continental style and, as such, is a successful representation of the synthetic philosophy promised in the collection.

The third and last paper in this section is an active realisation of Conant’s remarks about history and analytic philosophy, whilst at the same time garnering inspiration from Foucault. Catarina Dutilh Novaes is a historian of the philosophy of logic and her paper extols the merits of a genealogical approach to philosophical concepts. This is a historical approach focussed not on authors but on concepts such as logical form. By tracing the genealogy of such a concept we are able to appreciate various influential factors such as the straightforward historical context (how a concept is used at a particular time) and the ‘layering’ that takes place over time. The conceptual genealogy of philosophical concepts will provide us with an explanation of the historical shaping of such a concept through time, thereby widening the space of theoretical possibilities.

The impression at the end of the first section is that the papers are written with a view to justify the project of including continental philosophy in what are essentially concerns of analytic philosophy. Papers in the later sections come from contributors who are either situated in the continental tradition or who are happy to travel close to the borderland between analytic and continental philosophy. The whole purpose of the collection is of course to encourage the reader to jump beyond those boundaries and it is very successful in doing so.

Florence Burgat, Cristian Ciocan (éd): Phénoménologie de la vie animale

Phénoménologie de la vie animale Book Cover Phénoménologie de la vie animale
Florence Burgat, Cristian Ciocan (éd.)
Philosophie, Phénoménologie
Zeta Books
Paperback €18.00

Publisher Page
Reviewed by: Maxime Lallement (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Ce livre se propose d’aborder la question de l’animalité sous un angle original. Plutôt que de trouver racine dans une problématique éthique du rapport à l’animal qui consiste le plus souvent à se demander si une conduite éthique à son égard doit ou peut être motivée par le fait que l’animal est objet d’action éthique pour l’homme, cet ouvrage choisit de faire de la question de l’animalité un problème phénoménologique à part entière. Dès lors, il n’est plus ici seulement question d’interroger la nature du rapport de l’homme à l’animal ou de l’animal à l’homme, mais d’interroger la place de l’animal à l’horizon d’un monde de sens.

Chaque auteur participe brillamment à cette entreprise qui souffle un vent frais sur le domaine des études philosophiques concernant la question de l’animalité sans pour autant en ignorer l’héritage. Aussi, on ne manque pas de lire dès l’introduction que « [la phénoménologie] doit faire dès le début abstraction de toute compréhension traditionnelle de l’animal » (Burgat & Ciocan : 2016, 8).

Cet ouvrage se compose de trois sections distinctes. La première, intitulée « Apparence, Mouvement, Expressivité », se propose d’étudier l’animalité comme forme expressive de vie. Au lieu de partir du postulat selon lequel l’animalité constituerait un degré inférieur ou intermédiaire sur l’échelle d’un concept de vie subdivisé en trois grandes familles distinctes (le végétal, l’animal et l’humain), cette première partie considère la vie animale comme un niveau d’expressivité du vivant non moins dépourvu de sens que l’est le monde de l’homme.

Le premier article, écrit par Benjamin Berger, se propose d’examiner le problème de la vie comme manifestation dans les écrits de Raymond Ruyer et d’Adolf Portmann. Il en résulte une analyse de la valeur attribuée à la manifestation des apparences dans le règne animal prenant le contre-pied des approches strictement génétiques et conservatrices. Contrairement à l’idée Darwinienne selon laquelle la sélection naturelle entraîne la pérennité des formes, Berger argumente avec Portmann que c’est l’apparaître qui détermine l’apparence du vivant, et non pas un simple souci de conservation ou simple rapport au milieu. Ce n’est donc pas simplement la survie qui dicte l’apparaître du vivant mais l’apparaître du vivant lui-même qui conditionne et dépasse le rapport du vivant à son environnement : en ce sens, la lecture qu’offre Berger de Portmann, Ruyer puis Merleau-Ponty questionne le problème de l’intentionnalité animale qu’il appelle « autoprésentation ». C’est l’autoprésentation elle-même qui, dès lors, va conditionner le mode d’apparaître du vivant et non l’inverse : on ne peut donc lire, selon une logique néo-darwinienne, l’apparence que prennent les animaux comme un symptôme d’un rapport prédéterminé à l’environnement. C’est au contraire parce que l’apparaître animal est toujours déjà en excès des formes qu’il peut prendre qu’il peut nous apparaître surprenant. C’est en ce point précis que le concept d’apparition remplace celui de manifestation : si la perception humaine semble comprendre chez l’animal les symptômes d’une manifestation (et donc du déploiement d’un rapport au monde prédéterminé), le concept d’apparition montre que l’animal, en tant que vivant, dépasse ce cadre de prédétermination.

La seconde contribution, écrite par Josef H. Reichholf, poursuit la ligne tracée par la première et interroge la pertinence de la théorie darwinienne de l’adaptation pour expliquer l’expression de la beauté dans le règne animal. Là où cette dernière est traditionnellement perçue comme atout pour l’union, l’accouplement et la reproduction et mènerait à penser que la beauté de l’animal est signe extérieur de supériorité, Reichholf lecteur de Portmann avance au contraire l’idée que les formes encouragées par la sélection naturelle sont le fruit de mécanismes intérieurs. Ce n’est donc plus l’adaptation à l’environnement qui dicte la manifestation voyante de la beauté animale. Au contraire, cette dernière marque la possibilité d’une prise de distance et d’une autonomie de l’animal vis-à-vis de celui-ci. L’auteur démontre que c’est l’animal qui a s’est davantage montré capable de survivre dans un environnement dont il surmonte les contraintes (en affirmant une beauté ni strictement protectrice ou utile) qui remporte l’épreuve de la sélection sexuelle.

Le troisième article, écrit par Nicolas Zaslawski, se propose de dégager un niveau de sens commun à la chose naturelle, à l’organisme et à autrui en-deçà du concept de représentation de manière à montrer que le niveau de compréhension que chacun partage intervient avant intellection ou la saisie par le concept kantien. Aussi, c’est le concept de forme qui devient le dénominateur commun aux êtres naturels. Zaslawki complète sa lecture de Portmann avec celle de Merleau-Ponty et insiste sur le fait que l’animal doté de monde n’en requiert ni la connaissance, ni la conscience objective. C’est le rapport toujours ouvert entre un être animal et le monde qu’il habite – rapport qui précède toujours déjà la conscience – qui permet de penser le vivant comme horizon de sens en tant que corporéité.

Le dernier article de cette première section, écrit par Annabelle Dufourcq, étudie l’analyse du mimétisme chez Portmann à la lumière de Merleau-Ponty. Celle-ci permet de remettre en question l’approche scientifique de compréhension du mimétisme animal afin de comprendre que les cas de mimétisme observés chez les animaux sont autres qu’imitation du comportement humain. L’auteure s’appuie sur la lecture de Portmann par Merleau-Ponty pour montrer que l’animal est expression et communication d’un sens qui n’est pas celui que lui prête son observateur mais bien celui d’une intention liminaire propre à l’animal lui-même. C’est pourquoi l’auteure attire notre attention sur la dimension onirique qui peuple l’imaginaire humain à l’égard de l’apparence prise par certains animaux : le sens qui échappe à la rationalité humaine n’est pas strictement disqualifiant mais appartient à une expressivité animale primordiale qui excède toute compréhension anthropocentriste.

La seconde section de cet ouvrage, intitulée « Vie et Existence », met l’accent sur l’analyse du seuil supposé séparer l’existence animale de l’existence humaine d’un point de vue phénoménologique. Va-t-il de soi, comme on le dit souvent à la lecture de Heidegger, que les animaux sont pauvres en monde car ils évoluent dans un domaine de sens limité qui échappe à l’angoisse existentielle et à la possibilité d’une ouverture indéterminée ?

C’est dans cette perspective que le premier article, écrit par Christiane Bailey, se propose de remettre en question l’idée souvent trop vite reçue selon laquelle Heidegger a toujours refusé l’horizon d’un monde aux animaux. L’auteure s’appuie sur la proximité des lectures du jeune Heidegger (avant Être et Temps) et d’ Aristote (de De Anima notamment), pour montrer que le premier a développé l’analyse d’un rapport esthétique au monde qui précède la compréhension intellectuelle à laquelle il reviendra encore au Dasein d’échapper. Aussi, à regarder de plus près les écrits de jeunesse de Heidegger, Bailey nous montre que les animaux se meuvent dans un monde qui précède la compréhension intellectuelle et parviennent à faire sens en-deçà d’une rationalisation strictement humaine. L’auteure dégage donc un sol commun de compréhension partagé à la fois par l’animal et l’homme par lequel l’animal (au sens large) « s’y connaît », c’est-à-dire établit une rapport pratique, esthétique et immédiat dans le monde par le biais du mouvement.

Le second article, écrit par Dragoş Duicu, s’attaque à la question de la différence anthropologique au moyen du concept de « tendance » chez Patočka. Ce concept permet d’aborder la question de l’animalité du point de vue d’une phénoménologie dite « asubjective » : ce n’est plus l’ego qui fonde alors l’appréhension phénoménologique mais une appréhension phénoménologique dont le sujet n’est plus que le résultat. Ceci permet à la fois de séparer les conditions d’entrée dans l’apparaître du concept de subjectivité et de permettre en même temps à ce mouvement d’excéder le cadre d’une subjectivité déterminée. Ce mouvement de recul et de dépassement permet à l’auteur de trouver chez l’animal la possibilité d’un rapport au monde proprement phénoménologique. C’est l’animal, non limité par le carcan du rapport à soi, qui peut ainsi au mieux établir un rapport au monde avant et après toute compréhension rationnelle permettant tout en même temps son ouverture toujours maintenue.

Enfin, la troisième contribution à cette section, écrite par Florence Burgat, interroge la possibilité de rapprocher le concept d’angoisse de la condition animale. L’auteure commence par interroger le concept d’angoisse que la phénoménologie applique d’ordinaire strictement à la condition humaine. C’est l’homme qui, ne semblant pas avoir de place préétablie dans le monde qu’il habite, paraît toujours en excès de sa propre finitude. Burgat remet en question ce postulat reçu par la tradition en s’appuyant sur Husserl, Merleau-Ponty et Simondon. L’angoisse ne se situe plus simplement au moment de l’émergence d’une subjectivité proprement humaine mais au moment d’une individuation antérieure qui sépare le vivant de l’apeiron primordial. C’est la rémanence du pré-individuel qui, selon Burgat avec Simodon, permet de rendre compte des émotions. Or, cette rémanence pré-individuelle ne concerne pas uniquement la condition humaine mais aussi animale. Cette rémanence possède une dimension historique qui dépasse l’individu (animal ou humain) dont il est question, ce qui permet à Burgat, lectrice de Barbaras, de conclure que le désir n’est pas un donné proprement subjectif mais le mouvement du vivant qui s’individue.

Enfin, la dernière section de cet ouvrage, intitulée « Approche Analogique, Approche Empathique », pose le problème du rapport humain-animal non pas en de manière à en questionner la frontière, mais afin de dégager la possibilité d’un monde commun à l’homme et à l’animal à la fois malgré et au moyen de cette frontière.

Pour ce faire, le premier article écrit par Cristian Ciocan interroge la possibilité d’un champ commun de normalité pour soutenir le rapport humain-animal. Non pas que la normalité possède une réalité empirique a priori, mais qu’elle procède d’une projection transcendantale opérée par l’homme lui-même. Aussi, c’est l’homme, dans sa saisie de l’animal comme objet, qui établit la normalité de l’animal qu’il observe. Ce constat permet à Ciocan de poser la question d’un rapport au normal et à l’anormal au sein même de l’animalité proprement dite. Si la décision de normalité procède d’un rapport à une corporéité différente de celui qui perçoit (qu’il s’agisse d’une corporéité animale ou humaine), il devient possible de présumer que le rapport à l’anormalité se vit également au sein même de la sphère animale.

La seconde contribution de cette section, écrite par Nathalie Frogneux, pose le problème d’une ontologie du vivant chez Hans Jonas. Cette ontologie du vivant a pour caractéristique de saisir que l’animal occupe chez Jonas une place spécifique et décisive. L’animal, perçu comme syndrome, est à la fois signe et processus inachevé : il permet à la fois d’établir une continuité ontologique au sein du vivant (entre le végétal et l’humain) et de marquer ce qui n’est pas encore exprimé. Ainsi, l’animal est condition herméneutique du vivant (il permet de comprendre comment il dessine une trajectoire depuis les organismes primitifs) et ouverture d’un indéterminé : l’animal est l’exemple d’un gain ultérieur de liberté qui, s’il permet de penser une continuité ontologique du vivant, caractérise aussi une discontinuité phénoménologique propre à tout ce qui vit et vise à se dépasser.

Enfin, le denier article de cet ouvrage repose sur l’analyse philosophique d’une œuvre de fiction. A travers la lecture du roman Animal du Coeur d’Herta Müller, Laura Tusa-Ilea cherche à déterminer la nature de l’affect qui sous-tend les relations entre les hommes et les animaux. Parler d’affect, c’est refuser comme le fait l’auteure de se poser le problème de la continuité ontologique entre l’animal et l’homme. S’il s’agit pourtant de continuité, Tusa-Ilea la trouve dans un rapport primordial au monde, une « vie nue » qui apparaît dans les cas de solitude forcée par certains régimes totalitaires qui désolidarisent les hommes d’une cause commune. Paradoxalement, c’est cet isolement qui permet à l’auteure d’affirmer que l’homme qui renoue avec la vie nue d’animal isolé retrouve le sol commun que partage tout vivant. Or, il s’agit d’un sol commun qui ne repose pas sur le postulat biologique d’une vie nue (pour parler comme Agamben) mais sur le rapport à une altérité proprement distante et différente. Ainsi, l’auteure pense un commun extra-politique de la manière la plus originale qui soit : non pas le commun métaphysique fondé par la raison mais un commun phénoménologique qui fonde l’égalité par le concept irréductible de différence. Il n’est alors pas surprenant de constater que l’auteure cite Foucault et l’idée d’un rapport à l’altérité radicale (le fou) au-delà de l’exigence ontologico-politique de la co-appartenance au domaine connaissable de la raison.


Ivo De Gennaro: The Weirdness of Being

The Weirdness of Being: Heidegger's Unheard Answer to the Seinsfrage Book Cover The Weirdness of Being: Heidegger's Unheard Answer to the Seinsfrage
Ivo De Gennaro

Reviewed by: Marilyn Stendera (University of Melbourne)

In The Weirdness of Being, Ivo De Gennaro stakes out a pilgrimage of sorts through the stark, shadowy terrain mapped out by what he calls the “pentalogy” (2) of recent Heideggerian publications. These are the five works – the Beiträge (GA 65) as well as Besinnung (GA 66), Die Geschichte des Seyns (GA 69), Über den Anfang (GA 70) and Das Ereignis (GA 71) – whose gradual release over the past few decades brought with them so many questions and complications that Heideggerian scholarship birthed a subfield dedicated to their study. De Gennaro’s book touches upon many of the familiar landmarks of that discourse, from the implications of the pentalogy for readings of Heidegger’s ‘project’ as a whole (especially those that reference the increasingly criticised narrative of the so-called Turn), to the difficulties of connecting the concepts used within ‘the five’ to the better-known vocabularies of Heidegger’s other works (and the new light this could shed upon well-trodden themes such as the critique of metaphysical thinking).

At its heart, however, The Weirdness of Being is a treatise on translation. According to De Gennaro, something “has happened” (2, DG’s italics) in the Beiträge and its companion texts that redefines both the role that we should ascribe to translation within Heidegger’s thought, and the approach that the translator of this thought ought to take. The pentalogy, De Gennaro maintains, manifests “the truth […] of the Denkweg” (2) in a way that shows the latter to be “a work of translation, namely, of a language translating itself into the world of that issue”. (3) This, he claims, needs to be reflected in the work of translation. The translator of Heidegger’s words must embark upon the same kind of process that led to the original formulations in order to bring their “necessary and fundamental transformation of our relation to language” (3) into tongues other than German. It is this task that occupies most of The Weirdness of Being, where De Gennaro – who has also worked on Italian editions of Heidegger – puts forward a series of new and often controversial English translations of key Heideggerian terms.

A map for the reader
The book is divided into a preface, six chapters, a brief epilogue that summarises De Gennaro’s translations, and an appendix detailing a conversation between De Gennaro and fellow scholar/translator Parvis Emad. Five of these chapters and the appendix have been previously published as papers or book chapters, while the sixth chapter is adapted from a keynote address De Gennaro gave in 2006. According to the author, each piece has been significantly reworked for this book “in order to work in […] more sufficient translations of certain key words” (ix).

This is a work that is best read out of order. Anyone not readily conversant with De Gennaro’s project is strongly advised to start at the back, tackling the appendix first. There, he sets out the theoretical framework of his approach to translation in more accessible terms than elsewhere in the book. The exchange with Emad – perhaps most likely known to the reader as the co-translator of the first English edition of the Beiträge – also serves to provide a foil for De Gennaro’s approach. The contrast between their perspectives helps to contextualise and hence clarify some of De Gennaro’s analyses. Indeed, one often feels that the chapter explicitly dedicated to Emad (Chapter 4) is not the only one addressing him as a silent interlocutor. An awareness of this connection will enhance one’s reading.

De Gennaro’s model of translation: The appendix
Turning to the contents of the book, this review will take its own advice and begin with the dialogue between Emad and De Gennaro. There, several key motifs emerge which together form a model of translation that informs that informs the main chapters of the book.

One such theme is the idea that translation involves an act of “saying again” (131), rather than just an approximation of a given content. De Gennaro, an advocate of the former, claims that dealing with Heidegger’s words requires the translator to say “’anew’ that which has been indicated and says itself in those German words.” (133) The focus should not be on dictionary-bound accuracy, but rather on re-enacting the thinking that brought forth the original word and expressing “the trait of Being” (136) they reveal in a way that reflects the target language’s particular relation to and understanding of Being. This is contrasted to Emad’s process of translation, which seeks to approximate the meaning of the original term without severing the translation’s dependence upon – and recognition of – the otherness of the original language. De Gennaro claims that approximation clings too much to the idea of the “transfer” of a set conceptual content from one vehicle into another, which he relegates to Vorhandenheitsdenken. Instead, he suggests that the original term itself is already a translation of the “soundless silence” of being into German, meaning that this – rather than the original language – is the source of any “otherness” which must be maintained. (137) This helps to situate the unusual and, as said above, often controversial translations that populate the main chapters of the book. Rather than focusing on conventional methods, De Gennaro’s method of ‘saying again’ involves an almost playful mining of connotations, etymologies and grammatical reconstructions, a delving into and piling up of associations in both German and English until one connection stands out as the most fruitful path of the saying anew of this “trait of being”. (136) The resistance to the idea of a ‘mere’ transfer and the striving towards capturing that Ur-otherness which renders Heidegger’s words strange even to German ears run through De Gennaro’s disquisitions like silver threads.

The second and related motif through which the appendix frames the preceding chapters is that of a porousness of the boundary between translation and interpretation. In contrast to Emad’s insistence on the duty of the translator to maintain a distinction between themselves and the author, De Gennaro suggests that translation and interpretation are as inseparable as “a wave and its crest”. (148) This means, too, that De Gennaro rejects the need for what he calls an “external criterion” (141) of the validity of a particular translation. In opposition to Emad’s plea that “demonstrability” is vital to philosophy as such (142), De Gennaro claims that translation must be “nachvollziehbar […] but it can never be a demonstration”. (143) This reverberates through De Gennaro’s six chapters; his translations, as he freely admits, often seem initially counter-intuitive and even “repulsive” (139) to German and English ears. To get the most out of his project, therefore, the reader must be prepared to be confronted by a method that does not reflect the kinds of justifications one normally expects as either a translator or a reader of translations. It is only after one follows the intricate paths of De Gennaro’s almost-poetic discourse for a while that one gains a sense of whether these words can speak as resonantly to oneself as they do to him.

Finally, the appendix orients the book by marking out its intended audience. This takes place in De Gennaro’s responses to what are arguably some of Emad’s most significant objections. Emad suggests that De Gennaro’s refusal to demonstrate the aptness of his translations deprives them of pedagogical value. The endeavour of ‘saying again’ is not one that would help students, for example, grasp the meaning or worth of particular translations, let alone the outlines of Heidegger’s thought. More perilously, the esoteric nature of De Gennaro’s approach summons the dual demons of obscurantism and elitism. De Gennaro refuses to banish these spectres entirely. He states bluntly that “our principal preoccupation must be to devote ourselves to the task of thinking rather than catering to the demands of the editors, the public, and the universities.” (142) The categories of elitism – of “’private opinion’ vs. ‘general accessibility’” – are, he claims, not worth raising, since “the truth of being […] is by definition accessible to any human being.” (144) As for our students, De Gennaro writes, the best we can do is demonstrate thinking with the hope that they will follow – and, if we fail, at least show them what a failure to follow the Denkweg looks like. This, again, is worth bearing in mind in approaching the substance of De Gennaro’s work. His book is neither teaching nor demonstrating, but rather asking us to enact a particular kind of thinking. Whether this justifies the difficulty of parsing its content is left to the reader to decide.

‘Saying again’: The six chapters
With this conceptual framework in place, a summary of the chapters themselves is in order. The six chapters can mostly be read in any order according to the reader’s interests, though each carries its predecessors’ translations forward, which will necessitate some going back and forth; here, the epilogue is a useful guide.

In Chapter 1, De Gennaro sets out his claim that the pentalogy has a unique role in Heidegger’s thought, revealing the truth of the Denkweg and showing what it means to carry out this thinking. This chapter traces out what De Gennaro takes to be three senses of Sein that feature in Heidegger’s pursuit of the Seinsfrage before defending a translation that will be key to the rest of the book – a rendering of Möglichkeit as ‘likelihood’ rather than ‘possibility’. According to De Gennaro, the former better captures the German term’s connection to capacity (Vermögen) and liking (mögen), as well as many other associations too numerous to mention here.

Chapter 2 sees De Gennaro defend his approach against the accusation that it simply reiterates Heidegger’s claims by asserting the importance of “rethinking” the Denkweg, something that “can unfold only when our ordinary relation to language is unsettled”. (30) This ‘unsettling’ is at the heart of De Gennaro’s translations here, which seek to ‘say again’ Seyn as ‘Beȝng’, Geschichte as ‘wyrd’; and Geschick as ‘the weird’. The first of these replaces the ‘y’ of the more commonly seen ‘Beyng’ with the Middle English ‘yogh’, which is also used to stand for the Anglo-Saxon ‘gyfu’. The latter, a runic symbol for “gift, generosity”, lets Beȝng express “the original trait of generosity” of “es gibt”. (35, DG’s italics) ‘Wyrd’ and ‘weird’, meanwhile, are derived from the Old English use of ‘weird’ to mean either “the principle, power, or agency by which events are predetermined” or (as a verb) “to preordain by the decree of fate”. (42) De Gennaro also wants to preserve the contemporary connotations of the word, giving us a sense of something as fated and yet also ineluctably strange – a wordplay that lends the book its title.

Chapter 3, originally part of a paper co-authored with Frank Schalow, offers a series of reflections on the relations between tradition, translation and interpretation. In Chapter 4, De Gennaro takes the book’s only step away from its focus on Heidegger to briefly compare the latter’s conception of Dasein with Husserl’s use of the term. Concluding that Husserl remains caught up in Vorhandenheit (which is here translated as ‘contingency’), De Gennaro then proceeds to argue that the shifting meanings of Dasein and Da-sein across Heidegger’s works can best be ‘said again’ as ‘there-being’ (rather than ‘being-there’).

Chapter 5 focuses upon Das Ereignis (both the text and the concept). Here, De Gennaro tests and ultimately accepts Emad’s famous translation of Ereignis as ‘enowning’ before suggesting that we should render Wesen as biding. This, De Gennaro thinks, captures the important “trait of ‘staying’ that the word owes to a sense of resistance, suffering, and enduring”, and preserves the connection to the ‘abiding’ of Anwesenheit. (170n24) Along the way, De Gennaro draws upon the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins to suggest that ‘inscape’, instress’ and ‘sake’ can describe traits of being in ways that would enrich Heidegger’s German, showing that ‘saying anew’ is not neither unidirectional nor fixed. This is not the first appearance that poetry makes in The Weirdness of Being; Hopkins and Emily Dickinson feature throughout, with De Gennaro suggesting that English poetry has a way of ‘saying’ that both English and German philosophy could learn from. Finally, Chapter 6 sees De Gennaro connect his interpretation of the ontological difference to his claim that “the capacity for silence [forms] the ‘origin and ground’ of speech.” (122)

Selected reflections
Any reader with an interest in the translation of Heidegger’s works will find something of value and interest in De Gennaro’s work. The questions it raises crystallize choices familiar to the translator and the reader of translations. These are struggles that we have had with others, with critics and with ourselves as we grapple with the unique intertwining of content and form we find in Heidegger’s texts – a problem brought to dizzying heights in the enigmatic proclamations of the pentalogy.

Moreover, the transpositions and connections that De Gennaro draws out in his process of translation offer riches to the persistent reader. At the very least, they shed new light on terms that have become too familiar. There is insight in the idea that the works of Heidegger involve “intralingual” translation that must be connected to any “interlingual” renderings of his concepts, and that this requires acknowledging and maintaining the uneasy strangeness of certain formulations. (132) The startling nature of De Gennaro’s wordplay often proves to be refreshing and bracing even as it can be frustrating, recalling the experience of reading Heidegger for the first time. One certainly looks at well-read texts with new eyes afterwards. Of particular note is the first chapter’s discussion of the Seinsfrage and Möglichkeit. The rendering of the latter as ‘likelihood’ is intuitively appealing to some extent, an impression strengthened by the many resonances that De Gennaro traces out. Whether or not one agrees with this translation in the end – whether one thinks it perhaps too concrete a transposition of the radical openness of Möglichkeit – the connotations that it picks out and the contrast to the history of ‘possibility’ are worth considering. De Gennaro’s comparison of Husserl and Heidegger is also especially noteworthy. While its overarching argument – that Husserl remained caught up in Vorhandenheitsdenken and (for De Gennaro) a misguided search for transcendental grandeur – is not novel, it is made in an especially illuminating way that uses the book’s idiosyncratic style to full advantage.

However, this style is not always so well used. De Gennaro’s writing is extraordinarily complex. At its best, it is poetic and almost meditative as it weaves dense networks of associations, metaphors and histories. At times, though, De Gennaro’s formulations are more labyrinthine than Heidegger’s own. Indeed, it often seems that Heidegger’s own cited musings are islands of clarity that the reader can cling to before being swept up once more in the swirling intensity of De Gennaro’s prose. This is heady stuff, and it is not always clear that it needs to be expressed this way. Of course, one might make allowances for the fact that De Gennaro’s philosophy of language requires counter-intuitive formulations. Yet even then, some passages are so involved, so caught up in self-referential terminological interplay, that Emad’s concerns about elitism and pedagogy come to mind with renewed urgency.

This is not the only point of Emad’s that is reinforced when one is working through De Gennaro’s chapters. The worry that the line between translation and interpretation becomes too blurred, and the thought that some kind of criterion for judging the accuracy or demonstrability of a translation is necessary, press in upon one when confronted with De Gennaro’s more radical renderings. ‘Contingency’ may capture something important to the core of Vorhandenheit and ‘biding’ reflects something of the underlying stability we might associate with Wesen. However, it seems that appreciating the full value of De Gennaro’s translations requires a discussion as full and detailed as his. If we don’t have those chapters to hand but only see a sentence about the ‘contingency’ of objects, it seems as if there would be the danger of something missing. While translation is never a completed endeavour – while the very importance of a term is often inversely proportional to the possibility of finding a single satisfactory candidate for it in another language – it seems precipitous to cast oneself adrift with a ‘saying again’ commensurate to the Denkweg as the only guidance. This is especially so when the latter’s lighting upon a particular a connection or allusion at times seems worryingly underdetermined by anything other than intuition.

Of course, De Gennaro – in a particularly compelling discussion of the limits of translation – notes that he welcomes the possibility that his own translations will eventually be superseded in the progress of thinking. Therein, however, lies the rub. These are translations that position themselves so that they can only be properly evaluated or challenged from within the scope of thinking by fellow travellers along the Denkweg. Critical attempts that originate outside of this perspective – and that indeed seek to challenge that perspective itself – may well find themselves lumped in with the editors, universities and public that these translations do not address, or with supposedly benighted attempts at mere conceptual transfer, approximation or dictionary-pointing. This does not leave much space for critical engagement. Perhaps anyone who disagrees with the rendering of Wesen as biding, for example, has simply not heard the silence of being or not succeeded in taking up the Denkweg. Yet what does this mean if there is no concrete way of telling or demonstrating that one has really done so; if there are no criteria for an apt translation beyond some kind of Nachvollziehbarkeit?

There is another potential danger here. The idea that Heidegger’s original words enacted a powerful revelation of some kind and set out a path for us to follow suggests a reverential attitude towards Heidegger’s writings that is rather troubling. It may seem contradictory to make this point after previously suggesting that De Gennaro’s translations were not bound tightly enough to the original words. However, that was a point about semantic accuracy. The ‘reverential attitude’ in question is more one of endowing Heidegger’s key words with such unique power that translation threatens to become a novice’s faithful imitation of the master. This is cemented by the way in which Heidegger himself is discussed throughout the book by both De Gennaro and Emad. In one passage in their conversation, for example, the latter describes Heidegger as “exception”, a rare and “favoured” “recipient” of “’be-ing’s enowning-throw’ (der ereignende Zuwurf des Seyns)”. (152) Here and elsewhere, Heidegger is almost treated as a prophetic figure, the chosen witness of a rare, fated dispensation of being in whose steps we can only hope to follow. This seems like a problematic tendency, particularly in view of who it is that is being treated as the ‘favoured recipient’. Surely someone with Heidegger’s life, views and deeds is not fit to be a sage of any kind, not even of being.

All in all, The Weirdness of Being is a rich, unsettling text that is true to its title and that rewards those who persist – though whether taking up the Denkweg is an endeavour worth pursuing remains for the reader to decide.

Paul Ricoeur: Philosophical Anthropology. Writing and Lectures, Volume 3

Philosophical Anthropology Book Cover Philosophical Anthropology
Paul Ricoeur. Edited by Johann Michel and Jérôme Porée. Translated by David Pellauer
Polity Press
Paperback €25.53

Reviewed by: Michael Maidan

This volume, much like its two predecessors, gathers Ricoeur’s miscellaneous papers and conferences; and this is all the more true for the French edition, as almost all the papers in this particular volume have already been published in English. The first volume in this collection is dedicated to psychoanalysis, and the second to hermeneutics. Subject matter is what unifies the papers in the first book, while in the case of the second the unity is predicated on the method. As for the third book, unification comes from its object, but what kind of object are we exactly talking about here?

In this publication’s introduction, the scope and limitation of the title chosen for this particular collection is explained as follows. On the one hand, Ricoeur rarely used the expression ‘philosophical anthropology’ to refer to his own work (ix) except in the essay that opens this book: ‘The Antinomy of Human Reality and the Problem of a Philosophical Anthropology’. In his intellectual autobiography, included in the series The Library of the Living Philosophers, Ricoeur refers to the Philosophy of the Will as a project of philosophical anthropology but adds that the program remains unfulfilled (ix-x). On the other hand, the major themes of Ricoeur’s philosophy seem to belong to a philosophical anthropology.

The book is composed of 16 papers, divided into three sections, representing the many stages in Ricoeur’s thought. Within each section, papers are arranged mostly by chronological order, though at times the editors chose to emphasize the thematic to the chronologic. This is the case of the first paper, which was selected as an introduction to the whole, and one of the rare ones to discuss, in an introductory paragraph, the project of a philosophical anthropology (1). Ricoeur’s claim is that there is urgency to the task of a philosophical anthropology because man is being pulled apart into the naturalized form prevalent in the sciences, the metaphysical retreat to ontology (possibly a reference to Heidegger), and the diagnostic of an alienated man in the criticism of modernity (possibly a reference to Marxism and to the theories of alienation). Nevertheless, the paper focuses on one issue, ‘both specific enough and revelatory enough to show what makes it a problem’ (2), the ambivalence in which man finds himself ‘tended between an infinite and a finite pole’. Ricoeur rejects the idea that finitude is the central concept for a philosophical anthropology, and suggests instead the triad ‘finitude-infinitude-intermediary’. Accordingly, we cannot start from something simple, such as perception, but from something double, perception and language, or maybe better, the prephilosohpical richness that exists in language, symbol and myth. But because philosophy can only partially elucidate this richness, a philosophical anthropology is a task that can never be completed (19).

The opening section, on Will, comprises four papers. The first one, on attention —Ricoeur’s first published philosophical work— is a revised and expanded version of a talk he gave in 1940, shortly before joining the army at the wake of WWII, during which he will be imprisoned in a German camp for the rest of the war. This paper is particularly interesting for its exploration of Ricoeur’s relationship to Husserl’s phenomenology, which is mentioned several times. But Ricoeur does not appear, at that time, committed to the phenomenological approach, which coexist with references to other thinkers and schools in the text (Wundt, behaviorism, William James, Gestalt psychology, etc.).

The second paper, on the phenomenology of the voluntary and the involuntary, is contemporaneous with Ricoeur’s doctoral thesis, published as Philosophy of Will, I. The Voluntary and the Involuntary (1950). Ricoeur states that the study of the voluntary and the involuntary moments of consciousness have to be guided by the ideal of the unity of the human person (53). This study has also the intention to address the big philosophical question of the relationship between nature and freedom by proposing a practical mediation between them (54). Ricoeur approaches the problem carefully, sidelining the ontological problem, engaging in a second-order reflexion on the reflexive aspects of the will.

This goes on in two additional papers focusing on the philosophy of Will, marking Ricoeur’s realization of the need to combine the phenomenological approach with an approach inspired by the analytical philosophy of language and with an hermeneutic approach, each having their own domains of legitimacy and justification (73). This is accomplished in the fourth essay in this section, which is devoted again to the relationship between phenomenology and philosophy of language.

The second section, on Action, opens with ‘The symbol Gives Rise to Thought’, which presents Ricoeur’s distinctive philosophical approach. Playing with the multiple meanings of the expression in French, Ricoeur claims that ‘the symbol gives; I do not posit its meaning; it is what gives meaning, but what it gives has to be thought, has to be thought through’ (108). The immediacy represented in the symbol is already mediated in Ricoeur’s approach, as he takes his examples from the domain of the history of religion, psychoanalysis, and poetics (110). This material is further refined in a three staged process, a phenomenological, a hermeneutical and finally, a properly philosophical one. His approach starts with symbols but steers clear of allegorical interpretation (120). Ricoeur explains this point with an example taken from his Fallible Man, published the same year. Ricoeur claims that in order to speak about guilt we need to have recourse to certain symbols (e.g., pollution, deviation, erring, hybris, etc.). According to Ricoeur, these symbols do not add to the original experience of evil, but are the experience of evil. The symbol truly opens and uncovers a domain of experience (121, and philosophy should ‘decipher human beings starting from the symbol of chaos, of intermixture, and of a fall’ (121). In this context Ricoeur refers to Kant’s essay on ‘radical evil’ (a recurring reference in other papers), and refers to his philosophical approach as a form of ‘transcendental deduction’ (122). But the ‘symbolic turn’ does not end at the anthropological and reflexive level. Ricoeur tasks philosophy with the challenge to surpass anthropology, and reintegrate human beings in a totality (123). He does not elaborate about the meaning of such totality, which does seem to point to a religious dimension.

The next two papers in this section, respectively on freedom and myth were written for the Encyclopaedia Universalis, a French offshoot of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. They illustrate Ricoeur’s combination of a philosophy of language and the hermeneutics of symbols.

In ‘The Symbolic Structure of Action’ Ricoeur argues that ‘there is no human action unless it has already been articulated, mediated, and interpreted by symbols’ (176). This is valid not only for social action but also for elementary actions, insofar as singular agents can confer meaning to them. Ricoeur proposes to postpone to a second stage the study of how an individual, a group, or a culture represents the symbolic conditions of its existence (representative symbolism), and to look first at symbolism as constitutive of action. He achieves it by temporarily bracketing the difference between symbol and signification. Signification is analytically present in action, insofar as we understand action as being different from an event. Action refers to intention, motives, agent, i.e., to the language game of action. The next step is to ask what it is exactly that the symbol adds to this signification. Ricoeur lists six features: (1) the term symbol accentuates the public character of the signifying; (2)the symbol introduces us to the structured character of action; (3)the symbol introduces us to the idea of a rule; (4) the symbolic order is ruled-governed, and the rule for rules is exchange, a notion that Ricoeur borrows here from Levy-Strauss; (5) A symbolic system provides a context for the description of particular actions; (6) Finally, we can speak of symbolism as a readability of action. But is it legitimate to speak of the symbolism of action as a discourse? Ricoeur underlines a few potential objections but concludes that, within a certain limit, it is possible speak of a culture as a discourse (186). The second part of the paper focuses on symbolism as representation of action. The problems exposed here concern the ‘representative gap’ between the symbolic order and the order of action. Citing a famous section of Marx and Engels’s German Ideology, Ricoeur suggests that the real problem is not the presumed gap between the material praxis and its imaginary representation, but ‘the passage from constitutive symbolism [in Marx’s text, ‘the language of real life’ MM]…to representative symbolism’, i.e., from one symbolism to another (188). This change does not preclude the existence of a gap between these two symbolisms, which Ricoeur studies briefly in the following sections on narrative fiction and on ideology. Ricoeur concludes his paper with a reflexion on the role of the philosopher in identifying and condemning the hijacking and perverse use of symbolism and discourse for a rhetoric of domination (194)

This section concludes with Ricoeur’s address to the 1988 World Congress of Philosophy. Entitled ‘Human Beings as the Subject of Philosophy’, this paper is probably the closest that Ricoeur comes to offering an account of his philosophical anthropology. This paper follows closely the argument which will be later presented in Oneself as Another, published in 1990.

Ricoeur begins by asking what kind of discourse on human beings is the philosopher’s own. He goes on saying that this restriction of the field reflects the linguistic turn adopted by most contemporary thinkers, but even from there it ‘cannot proceed in a direct…immediate and intuitive fashion’ (195). Rather, we would need to take a number of stages in an itinerary that starts with the almost neutral idea of a person, until we progressively reach the complex determination of the self. Ricoeur suggests here three levels: linguistic, praxeological and ethical. The linguistic level is itself divided into a semantic and a pragmatic level. At the semantic level, we can speak of an individual as just an entity we can refer to (197). It is only at the pragmatic level, a level that takes into account the context of interlocution, that the individual appears not only as something that can be spoken about but also as the one who speaks, as in the illocutionary act. But the self shown in the speech acts is still mired into paradoxes, which cannot be resolved at this level, without involving a form of pre-understanding, similar to the one presented in Husserl and Heidegger’s philosophy. According to Ricoeur, the relationship between the results of analytical philosophy and phenomenology is that of a ‘reciprocal implication’ (201).

The transition between the linguistic and praxeological level is somewhat abrupt. Ricoeur explains: ‘I propose to make concrete the characterization of the person as a self, by tying the notion of a speaking subject to that of an acting and suffering subject’ (201). Human action is action that is spoken about, but action cannot immediately be reduced to the philosophy of language. The theory of action has a certain degree of autonomy. This section concludes with a reaffirmation of the necessary entanglement between phenomenological approach and philosophy of language, already stated at the end of the prior section.

From the theory of action Ricoeur moves to the ethical level in the next section, which centers in the experience of moral imputation. Imputation, a judgment that a person is responsible for the consequences of his or her actions, presupposes not only the linguistic and practical aspects of the self previously accounted for, but also to consider the ‘logical, historical and teleological structure of action’. Ricoeur also refers to the need to elucidate the role of self-evaluation and to account for the potentially conflictual nature of action. Ricoeur ends his exposé with two methodological comments. In the first one, he explains his journey as a cumulative one, as a grafting procedure, whereas the ethical is added to the practical dimensions, as these were previously added to the linguistic ones. In the second one, he offers, in a few lines, a brief but stern defense of philosophy’s role elaborating the presuppositions of any empirical science of man (208).

The third section is composed of Ricoeur’s late papers. The first three focus on Ricoeur’s reworking of the analytical discussion of personal identity. A fourth paper explore a phenomenology of the uncanny, concentrating on the experience of the foreign or Other.. This last paper is followed by a conference talk, presenting a two-fold interest. First, it is one of the rare occasions in which Ricoeur addresses explicitly the question of religion in a philosophical context, as opposed to his many confessional writings; second, it is possibly the first time that Ricoeur uses the notion of the ‘capable man’, appearing first in the subtitle and then as the headline of the essay’s first section.

Ricoeur begins in agreement with the organizers, stating that what constitutes the modern understanding of religion is the shift from ontology to ethics. He goes on considering his contribution as the exploration of a region of human experience, the experience of the capable man, and of the way religion can be said to address this experience. In the short development that follows, Ricoeur presents the discourse of capability as a discourse that precedes the ethical discourse, while intimately bound to the hermeneutic of selfhood. Capability appears as the primary ground, reflecting different types of inabilities or incapacities. It also appears as the presupposition of imputability, defined here as the capacity of an agent to be subject to an imputation, and the capacity of an agent to submit his or her action to the requirement of a symbolic order (271) –the most important aspect of which is an agent’s capacity to place his or her action under the role of justice. Capability is not an ontological trait, but a belief that is more than an opinion (275). This belief coexists with its opposite, disbelief, where Ricoeur now places much of what he placed before under the umbrella of the fallible. Ricoeur then goes on presenting religion in its interaction with man as capable man, though we should note that he does so under the form of the ‘incapable’. Ricoeur lists several points to this interaction: (1) Religion touches man at the level of a specific incapacity; (2) Religion purports to bring help and liberate a buried capacity; (3) Religion brings about this regeneration by specific symbolic means that reawaken fundamental moral capacities (276).

Ricoeur here analyzes over several pages Kant’s notion of a radical evil, reframing the problem of evil from an ontological stance into an anthropological and phenomenological one; rendering evil as a crisis of attestation, one whose origin is inscrutable (286). But even if man is corruptible, there is hope insofar as man possesses also a good will. Here, hope is primarily mediated by religion, a mediation that includes also tensions that may develop between hope and its institutional and symbolic instances. Finally, Ricoeur states, together with Kant, that hope is beyond the alternative of ontology and ethics, it is the ‘opening to a dimension alien to the dichotomy’ (289). Ricoeur’s considerations certainly reflect his deep personal beliefs, but the reader may wonder if he is not inadvertently crossing the fine line between a phenomenology —albeit one instructed by a negative hermeneutics— of religion and theology here.

The epilogue of this compilation is a short text prepared by Ricoeur for the award of the Kluge Prize in 1994. Ricoeur’s paper examines the ‘bases of his humanism’ (290). In the first section Ricoeur describes the notion of capacities while developing a typology of basic capacities: capacity to say, capacity to act, capacity to recount, imputability and promising (291), presented from the morally neutral to the explicit moral pole, in which the capable subject attests to himself or herself as a responsible subject. The second section focuses on the correlative nature of these capabilities, where each of them requires a vis-à-vis. But this correlativity is not immediately mutual, nor is it without conflict, and this introduces the question of the struggle for recognition. In the final section, Ricoeur wonders if the social bond can be established solely in the basis of a ‘struggle for recognition’, or whether is not also based on a prior experience of ‘good will’, based on the resemblance of one person to another, on practices of compromise and of generosity. As it is always the case with Ricoeur, such possibilities are raised and carefully examined, but the question remains unanswered.

The conference talks and articles gathered in this volume offer an overview of the manifold aspects of Ricoeur’s work around the possibility of a philosophical anthropology. But this collection is not a propaedeutic for such a discipline. As stated in the ‘Translator Note’, the main objective of this series is to give the English reader access to Ricoeurs’s important ‘early texts or previously not widely known’. This has certainly been accomplished here.