Johanna Oksala: Feminist Experiences: Foucauldian and Phenomenological Investigations

Feminist Experiences: Foucauldian and Phenomenological Investigations Book Cover Feminist Experiences: Foucauldian and Phenomenological Investigations
Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy
Johanna Oksala
Northwestern University Press
Paper Text $32.95

Reviewed by: Tina Sikka (Simon Fraser University)

Johanna Oksala’s book, Feminist Experiences: Foucauldian and Phenomenological Investigations, is a perceptive, engaging and weighty text that makes a substantial contribution to the field of feminist philosophy. Oksala draws on phenomenology as critique, Foucault’s later work on governmentality, a grounded interpretation of personal experience, and a flexible understanding of language and meaning to strengthen contemporary feminist philosophy. Her objective is to build a model of feminist critique that pulls on the past as inheritance and the present to revive feminist theorizing and action. She argues this is vital “if feminist philosophy is to withstand and face up to the political challenges of our rapidly changing world” (17).

Some of the most interesting parts of the book can be found in the passages where Oksala actually fleshes out and develops her interpretation of experience, neoliberal governmentality and phenomenology. A prime example of this is her account of Foucault’s theory of experience as shaped by both knowledge and power yet also self-related. She makes this clear in a skillful passage which explains how the subjective and objective parts of experience and identity should be conceived of as an inter-related “series of foldings: the subject must fold back on itself to create a private interiority while being in constant contact with its constitutive outside. The external determinants or historical background structures of experience and the internal, private sensations fold into and continuously keep modifying each other” (57). This framework allows Oksala to show how both structure and subjectivity can exist in a non-binarized form.

With respect to phenomenology, Oksala suggests a postphenomenological framework which resists the reductive subjectivity that often results from bracketing. Instead, she posits that a partial bracketing, coupled with a focus on naturalized and notable ‘foreign’ assumptions, can be used to reach the ontological schemas that shape our lives – while remaining attendant to the fact that these schema are “tied to cultural normativity – to language, history, and culture” (107). It is precisely because these schema are normative, Oksala argues, that they are subject to challenge and reformation.

A third strand of Oksala’s revived feminist philosophy is her theory of language whose role in constructing experience and meaning is understood neither as a poststructural swirl of discourses or as prediscursive in origin. Rather, she claims that phenomenology itself can provide a “resource for thinking about the constitution of linguistic meaning, as well as the fundamental entwinement of language and experience” (73), that is, not reducible to either discourse or the prediscursive.

Taken together, Oksala shows how all three modes of analysis can be knit together to explain precisely how the contemporary feminine subject has been constituted. This mode of subjectivity is made concrete through a process of imposed and internalized neoliberal governmentality where women come to act as willing participants in a system that is inherently oppressive. This system sets up a structure of sanctions, habits and self-surveillance in order to discipline women with respect to expectations about the body, beauty, labor, roles, and general comportment. The internalizing of these norms produces a kind of feminine subjectivity that is simultaneously exteriorized and economic. Self-interest, “personal freedom, economic independence and professional success in all areas of employment” (121), creates the illusion of free choice when in fact one’s options are tightly circumscribed by power relations that “make women more, not less, vulnerable to sexism” (126).

This brings me to one area of the book that could have benefited from a more nuanced analysis. Specifically, I contend that the author’s brief discussion of sex work/prostitution as ‘work’ that traps women through a deceptive discourse of choice and empowerment is somewhat reductive. Oksala warns against seeing prostitution as sex work, a position advocated by supporters of sex worker’s rights, since, in doing so, there is a real danger of reconfirming neoliberal governmentality. This is because by focusing less on the “moral limits of markets,” and more on attempts to “ameliorate the destructive effects” (143), this approach fails to address the fundamental problem posed by governmentality.

While this argument is sounds, it also relies too much on a reading of decriminalization and legalization (of prostitution) as espoused by libertarians like Camille Paglia whose embrace of capitalism, which she claims produces the modern independent woman, mixes with empowerment discourse to frame sex workers as flourishing under fetishized neoliberal governmentality. Oksala states that, “in neoliberal governmentality, they [sex workers] must be treated solely as economic issues concerned with adequate working conditions, toughening markets, and forms of entrepreneurial conduct” (142-3). This misses some interesting scholarship on sex work as challenging patriarchal sexuality, acting as a subversive strategy, and as challenging moral norms and traditional institutions (like that of monogamy and marriage). It also leaves out the application of postmodern frameworks to sex work which focuses on individual experience, activism, the complex situatedness of women, and the breaking down of binaries (good girl/bad girl, agent/victim) as discussed by Shannon Bell. To be fair, Oksala does acknowledge the importance of a feminist stance that respects the fluidity of women’s subjectivities, but concludes that neoliberalism governmentality represents a unique challenge that requires more attention.

Overall, emerging from this dense theoretical framework is a theory of the feminist subject that is simultaneously reflexive, critical, agential and socially and discursively formed. Mobilizing collective responsibility and solidarity based on a theory of inheritance, for Oksala, is the best way to push for transformative and feminist social change. Rather than Nietzschean ressentiment, the works of Derrida and Benjamin are drawn on to argue for an approach to history grounded in remembrance and disrupted linearity. Oksala concludes that for this to occur, feminist politics needs to become comfortable with eschewing definitive readings of history and begin “to choose differing, often incompatible, interpretations of history which acknowledging the limits and the fallibility of that choice” (157). Rounding out the book is a thought experiment where the reader is asked to imagine a utopian world of totally equality and emancipation. Oksala asks whether, were this to take place, past injustices, sexism, and misogyny would be forgotten. The answer, not to put too fine a point on it, is a clear no. Rather, Oksala challenges the reader to find a way towards action that acknowledges “the weak which messianic power with which we are endowed” and use it “for redemption” (158).

Oksala’s writing is both demanding and detailed. Moreover, her complex use and close reading of primary sources requires some background in feminist and continental philosophy. As such, the book itself is definitely not light reading. It is, however, absolutely essential for anyone wanting to learn about the contribution a feminist philosophy comprised by an innovative interpretation of neoliberal governmentality, a reflexive conception of language, and a historically grounded theory of phenomenology can make to fostering tangible social change.

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

Jeffrey A. Bell, Andrew Cutrofello, Paul M. Livingston (Eds.): Beyond the Analytic-Continental Divide Book Cover Jeffrey A. Bell, Andrew Cutrofello, Paul M. Livingston (Eds.): Beyond the Analytic-Continental Divide
Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy
Jeffrey A. Bell, Andrew Cutrofello, Paul M. Livingston (Eds.)

Reviewed by: Marcos Silva (Federal University of Alagoas, Brazil)

One of the many ideas that will remain with the reader after reading this very thought-provoking book edited by Bell, Cutrofello and Livinston is how some themes can become outdated even in philosophy. The troublesome distinction between analytic and continental philosophy which animated many discussions in the last century is gradually fading away. Now it is more a matter of ideology and institutional division than a philosophical problem. Moreover, we should be suspicious of the very origin of this divide. The enthusiastic consensus that this divide provoked throughout the last decades is by no means a matter of geography; furthermore, the distinction between analytic and continental philosophy is neither an exhaustive nor exclusive criterion for what matters in philosophy or for what it means to seriously engage in philosophical discussions. Conant shares the following provocative observation:

‘[It is] no more promising a principle for classifying forms of philosophy into two fundamentally different kinds than would be the suggestion that we should go about classifying human beings into those that are vegetarian and those that are Romanian’ (p. 17).

As the editors point out, the arbitrariness of the distinction followed an increased specialization of philosophical work in many highly nuanced sub-areas of research and motivated much ‘dissension, mutual distrust, and institutional barriers to the development of common concerns and problems among working philosophers and so has significantly limited, in many cases, the range and fruitfulness of philosophical discussions and debates’. (p. 2)

It is not an exaggeration to say that it is a timely book with a political message. This book encourages a high-quality examination of a more pluralist, cosmopolitan and tolerant way of doing philosophy. It also encourages engaging in fruitful dialogue with influential philosophers of the past and with contemporary interlocutors from different traditions. The international community will profit significantly from this book.

It offers a very comprehensive overview of recent relevant literature through the discussion of unexpected, but welcome, pairs of philosophers, such as Putnam and Foucault, Derrida and Davidson, Heidegger and Wittgenstein, Husserl and Tarski, Arendt and McTaggart, and Austin and Deleuze.

The volume will inform and educate new generations of philosophers to see how the distinction between analytic and continental philosophy may be unjustified, outdated and, in some cases, pointless when trying to address several important contemporary philosophical debates about robust problems concerning culture, mind, language, logic, subjectivity, politics and rationality.

Conant, Braver, McCumber, Livinston, Rovane, Zahavi and Satne deliver top-quality contributions to both the history of philosophy and to contemporary discussions, ranging from philosophical methodology to metaphysics.

I myself began as an undergrad fascinated by Kant, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and then turned to (early) Wittgenstein and Frege. But now, through the recognition of some deficiencies in methodologies and perspectives in professional analytic philosophy, I am realizing the need to come back to other authors from a continental tradition because some present stereotypes are prejudicial and unable to address natural research demands without much institutionalization. Of course, some form of scientific naturalism or even of acritical realism should not be the only forms of intellectually valuable position open to a serious analytic philosopher.

In Chapter I, the editors show great optimism in their introduction regarding the volume’s potential to develop what they call ‘synthetic philosophy’; however, no other contribution in the volume even mentions this notion of a synthetic philosophy. This is supposed to run beyond the divide in which the contributions operate, i.e. in a context wherein the divide is no longer assumed to limit philosophical thought. The editors entertain the possibility of the two streams running together by illustrating some of the genuine emerging possibilities for synthetic philosophy today.

While the volume is expected to be pluralist and open-minded, there is no clear reason why so many of the contributors are from the US on the table of contents.

Some absences may be noted in the volume. While there are some discussions on anti-representationalism (broadly construed), there is no discussion at all about enactivism, which is a very important approach to contemporary philosophy of mind. No contribution even mentions philosophical problems in developing artificial intelligence. There are some peripheral discussions about Hegel, but no substantial investigation of the recent phenomenon of an analytic reading of Hegel. There is just one contribution that touches the important contemporary issue of non-classical logics, but not a single contribution about intuitionism and its possible connections with computer science through the philosophically significant Curry-Howard isomorphism. The relations between logic and philosophy could have been investigated, e.g. some lines of constructivism like the one championed by Dummett and its roots in Brouwer, Schopenhauer and Kant. Moreover, the only contribution on non-classical logic (i.e. on paraconsistent logic) seems to have forgotten all other paraconsistent traditions in this very philosophically seminal discussion on rationality and limits of language and thought.

The volume is divided into four parts and includes fourteen chapters. In what follows I will briefly address each contribution.

The first part of the book deals with methodologies and begins with a contribution by James Conant. He opens with a very lucid and critical evaluation of history and the main line of discussions in the analytic tradition. Since the Introduction is presented as Chapter I, Conant’s paper, ‘The Emergence of the Concept of the Analytic Tradition as a Form of Philosophical Self-Consciousness’, comprises Chapter II. In this paper he argues that there is no philosophically significant contrast to be drawn between the traditions. He observes as follows: ‘Contemporary analytic philosophers have begun to recognize that their tradition has nourished stereotypes about its differently minded (non-analytic) neighbors that were as uninformed as they were dismissive, regarding them as, for example, sloppy and overwrought’. (p. 49) Conant sheds light on the very idea of an analytic tradition in philosophy, tackling some salient aspects of its ideology and internal rituals of excommunication as some authors crossed an invisible line of typical methodology and issues and were more susceptible to the ‘fuzziness of thought, liberal employment of metaphors, extravagance of expression: to corrupt the youth, inspire imitation, and lead the next generation astray’ (p.34). Analytic philosophy’s relation to the rest of the history of philosophy and the history of analytic philosophy as a new form of philosophy are also investigated at length in his paper.

Conant presents and discusses an impressive list of quotes, which he includes chronologically. He shows Moore, Russell, early Wittgenstein, Carnap, Schlick, Austin, Ryle, late Wittgenstein, Strawson and Quine addressing the nature of analytic philosophy and its methods. It is interesting that Frege and Ramsey were not mentioned in this list.

They also maintain that Deleuze’s explicitly temporal modes of analysis and reflection on the basis of sense can be seminally connected to the sort of pragmatical conceptual-analytic methodology of Austin’s variety of ‘ordinary language’ philosophy. They summarize the following general question: ‘How could standards of correctness of use and necessary relations of implication be established by merely empirically existing entities with roles governed, at best, by empirical laws?’ (p. 61). Although the bridge built by the authors seems to me justifiable, the pragmatical touch given by Austin and Deleuze for this new view on conceptual analysis can be applied to several different philosophers. Some considerations, for instance, are incredibly close to Wittgenstein’s famous position that meaning is use.

Chapter IV presents Catarina Dutilh-Novaes’s paper ‘Conceptual Genealogy for Analytic Philosophy’, where she defines and defends a methodology of historical and conceptual ‘genealogy’ inspired by Nietzsche and Foucault, contrasting it to a Hegelian sort of historicism. Analytic philosophy frequently embraced what could be taken as a general ahistorical and anti-historical conception of philosophy, whereas historical analysis is always important for continental philosophers. She argues that a conceptual genealogy can be very seminal for conceptual analysis in an ‘analytic’ mode too, and makes a case for a future development of this tradition based on an historically informed analysis. She then provides a good overview of her recent work in which she systematically applied her proposed analytic genealogy to problems related to medieval philosophy and philosophy of logic. She writes that her paper ‘should not be seen as a systematic discussion of the concept of genealogy as such, but rather perhaps as a “methodological manifesto”’ (p. 102).

Chapter V opens the volume’s second part with David Woodruff Smith’s contribution, ‘Truth and Epoché: The Semantic Conception of Truth in Phenomenology’. In his paper, Smith examines in detail how the formal analysis which grounds Tarki’s semantic conception of truth for specific formal languages can be systematically applied to a more general phenomenological analysis of truth as it occurs in experiencing consciousness. He tries to accommodate both authors without prejudice towards some phenomenological topics that seem to be deprived of linguistic status. Smith holds that a realistic attitude towards realism can be compatible with some traditional topics of Husserlian phenomenology. He explores a model of truth in intentional experience, working within a broadly Husserlian model of intentionality which is central to Husserl’s conception of phenomenology, while drawing on a broadly Tarskian model of truth which is central to Tarski’s conception of semantics in logical theory.

Since there is no contribution on enactivism in the volume, we might see his statement that, ‘today it is a commonplace in philosophy of mind and perception that the content (or meaning) in a thought or perception is defined by appropriate truth or satisfaction conditions’ (p. 112) with some suspicion. Here let us turn to the ‘language’ of intentional consciousness, i.e. the structure of intentional experiences bearing structured meaning contents (p. 116). The question then is ‘why that?’ One of the main topics in some enactivist approaches to philosophy of mind is to negate Smith’s presuppositions on the representational content of our basic perception. I have doubts whether both Tarski and Husserl would commit to that thesis as well: ‘my act of thinking that Husserl was Moravian, with the content <Husserl was Moravian>, is true if and only if Husserl was Moravian. Thus, my thinking that Husserl was Moravian truly reaches out to the situation or state of affairs that Husserl was indeed Moravian. What could be simpler? What more is there to say about truth?’ (p. 118) Simple or not, Smith’s account seems to work properly with true elementary propositions, but it is revealing that he does not even mention how he could apply it to issues concerning complex facts, false elementary propositions and true negated propositions.

Chapter VI presents Jeffrey A. Bell’s paper ‘From Difference-Maker to Truthmaker (and Back)’, in which the author examines how the phenomenon of truth might have realist but nevertheless pre-linguistic foundations in a realist metaphysics of underlying difference. He investigates how some problems recently discussed by analytic philosophers regarding the form and nature of ‘truthmakers’, as the difficulties associated with explaining the relationship between a non-propositional truthmaking world and the propositions that describe this world, should be addressed from a Deleuzian realist standpoint using an underlying metaphysics of differentiation or ‘difference-making’. Bell states that, ‘it is precisely the nature of identity itself that needs to be accounted for if we are to explain the relationship between a non-propositional reality and the propositions this reality makes true.’’ (p. 142).

Chapter VII presents Lee Braver’s very interesting paper ‘Reasons, Epistemic Truth, and History: Foucault’s Critique of Putnam’s Anti-Realism’. Braver considers the relationship between Putnam’s ‘internal realism’ as a special kind of anti-realism and Foucault’s philosophical project of historical genealogy. Braver recognizes in both philosophies some influence from Kant’s rejection of realism and defence of transcendental idealism. For Braver,

 ‘both locate the starting point of modern thought, including their own work, in Kant’s rejection of realism, i.e., the view that the world possesses an inherent, defined essence with the concomitant definition of knowledge as the mind passively copying this structure. This rejection shifts the topic of epistemology and metaphysics from the intrinsic organization of mind-independent reality to the organizing principles of experience and knowledge, thus founding what has become known in analytic circles as anti-realism’ (p. 151).

Demonstrating that they are working on similar topics can enable dialogue and show how desirable such interactions would be since each tradition can employ the distinctive insights and strengths they have developed to criticize and contribute to the other on topics both are interested in. Braver also argues that, in defending an anti-realist approach to truth and history, Foucault’s position is more fruitful than Putnam’s as it advances important topics about the recognition of meta-ethical and normative problems posed by realist attitudes and positions. Braver further argues that Foucault and Putnam aim at naturalizing asymmetric power relations. As a result, Foucault offers better tools to cope with political and ethical stakes in anti-realist projects.

Samuel C. Wheeler III’s contribution in Chapter VIII, titled ‘Metaphor without Meanings: Derrida and Davidson as Complementary’, addresses how the different versions of the analysis of language’s structure developed by Davidson and Jacques Derrida actually led the two philosophers to complementary views about the relationship of metaphor to metaphysics. Wheeler investigates some of the ways in which these two philosophers’ respective considerations of metaphor unite them in the critique of metaphysical assumptions about meanings as substantial entities correlative to words. As Wheeler acknowledges,

‘What they have to say about metaphor is therefore quite different from accounts that view meanings as trans-linguistic entities. Derrida’s (1971) “White Mythology” and Davidson’s (1978) “What Metaphors Mean” are the best works on metaphor I know of. While the issues about metaphor these essays discuss are quite different, these essays agree on some fundamental theses about language and meaning’ (p. 172).

In this vein, we may call Wheeler’s paper a heroic attempt to connect two very difficult texts about a difficult issue. Derrida’s work is very enigmatic and sometimes pretentious; on the other hand, Davidson’s work is sometimes too lean, displaying, however, some important and difficult technicalities. I doubt that the knowledge of both texts increases with Wheeler’s contribution to this volume. Derrida’s text is so hard to understand that it requires a whole text of its own. I also really doubt that ‘Davidson thus would agree with Derrida’s characterization of the metaphors he discusses as “catachreses”’ (p. 183).

Chapter IX opens the third part of the volume on metaphysics and ontology. In his essay ‘Why is Time Different from Space?’, John McCumber investigates some classical metaphysical problems regarding the very nature and relationship of time and space. He uses a seminal perspective informed both by the outcomes of twentieth-century phenomenological analyses and by ‘analytic’ thinking about the problems of tense, change and becoming. From a Kantian framework of space and time, he states that

‘the issue of how, and so that of why, space differs from time is embedded in a variety of other, and deep, issues. Understanding why space and time are different may require tackling such other preliminaries as whether their distinction is apparent or real, why representations are sorted into inner and outer ones, why space and time can or must be ordered serially, what action is, and what it means for components of space and time to be compatible and incompatible with each other’ (p. 197).

McCumber is really provocative and critical about the Kantian tradition regarding the distinction between space and time, but in no place does he address the typical Kantian problem of the applicability of mathematics in our experience. What would be the consequence of his arguments for the indistinction between space and time for the nature of geometry and arithmetic and their application in our daily perception and activities?

Chapter X presents Paul M. Livingston’s paper ‘Wittgenstein Reads Heidegger, Heidegger Reads Wittgenstein: Thinking Language Bounding World’. He discusses the two philosophers who seem to be responsible, in the analytic and continental variants of contemporary philosophy, respectively, for the so-called linguistic turn. Livingston presents some very interesting, though brief and rare, examples of these two philosophers’ commentaries on each other. Livingston argues that both share a deep recognition of the problems about the relationship of sense to the structure and totality of the world as such. These problems are not simply concerning language as an historical phenomenon or as a formal structure, but are rather about our radical finitude, contingency and intramundality. Livingston states that, ‘Wittgenstein and Heidegger share a significantly broader and more general question of the relationship of language and world that remains open, and probably remains with us even today’ (p. 228). Livingston poses very interesting questions, such as the following about the problems of limits: ‘How is a being in the world nevertheless capable of grasping something of the world as a whole in which it exists, if it is capable of doing so at all?’ (p. 238). However, we might have the impression that he is addressing two great philosophers by using inadequate periods in the development of their thoughts. As some works have concluded, the most seminal comparison between Heidegger and Wittgenstein should be drawn using the former’s early philosophy and the latter’s late philosophy. However, Livingston addresses texts from Wittgenstein’s early philosophy and Heidegger’s late philosophy.

Chapter XI presents Graham Priest’s brief but very interesting paper, ‘The Answer to the Question of Being’, where he argues that an answer to Heidegger’s top problem regarding the meaning and truth of being can be found by drawing on the resources of non-classical (in particular, paraconsistent) logic. Priest reformulates Heidegger’s problem into the question of what makes anything be. In this vein, the ground of Heidegger’s aporia and its implications are some expected and deep contradictions in his existential inquiry. Priest then shows that being is an object and not, and then applies his paraconsistency machinery. Priest states that,

‘Heidegger was right, then, in his conclusion that one cannot say anything about the being of an object (even though one can)! And in case one thinks this is some peculiarity of Heideggerian philosophy, it is worth noting that the very same situation occurs in some paradoxes of self-reference’ (p. 256).

One of the lines that make Priest’s contribution seminal for contemporary problems in philosophy of logic is his proposal to connect Heidegger’s difficulties in his early philosophy to some paradoxes of self-reference. He amends the problem appealing to a certain construction concerning unity and its possibility, in the shape of his gluon theory. What Priest unfortunately omits in his contribution is that there are several approaches to paraconsistency which do not need to assume any real contradiction; other variants are much more deflationist and anti-realist, as they hold that contradictions are to be found within theories, among information and conflicting rules, but not in objects out there in the world.

Chapter XII opens the fourth and final part of the book on values, personhood and agency. Carol Rovane’s essay examines the problem of how to understand the possible rationality of genuine disagreement on values between distinct cultures or traditions by discussing challenges in characterizing relativism. Rovane presents a very interesting contribution regarding relativist challenges to morality. She addresses the consequences of assuming what she calls ‘Unimundialism’—the thesis of a single world—contrasting it to a multimundialist approach to morality in which there is an irreducible multiplicity of worlds. She addresses what is involved in multimundialism, providing distinctive and valuable resources for the logical, practical and metaphysical consideration of ethical issues and debates. She argues that the contrast between moral relativism and a robust metaphysical realism is a never declared presumption. Furthermore, she also argues that this presumption has fuelled significant anxiety among analytic philosophers, who tend to worry that if relativism is true then there are no real normative constraints on belief—or, as the most well-worn, if imprecise and airy, cliché has it, anything goes (p. 261). As a result, she holds that the opposition is false objectivity and relativism. Although universality and objectivity receives much attention in her essay, we do not see any talk about necessity.

Chapter XIII presents Andrew Cutrofello’s paper, ‘Revolutionary Actions and Events’, in which he addresses the work of Hannah Arendt, Alain Badiou and David Lewis, among others, thereby considering the structure of politically transformative events. Those are ontological entities that bring fundamental structural changes in existing political communities and regimes. He discusses revolutionary actions and events using a theoretical framework more commonly used to think about normal actions and events, namely, John McTaggart’s distinction between A series and B series representations of time. He states as follows: ‘Representing Arendt’s council system in set theoretic terms makes it easier to compare her conception of revolutionary actions to Badiou’s conception of revolutionary events’ (p. 291). Although Badiou’s ontological reading of Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory  is just assumed and is not explained or even critically discussed by Cutrofello, it is a welcome surprise, typical of this volume, to have Goedel, Cohen and Cantor being addressed in a paper on politics. It is likewise refreshing to see Arendt’s view of revolutionary actions being discussed with McTaggart’s A and B series and Lewisian possible worlds ontology and modal realism.

In Chapter XIV, Zahavi and Satne’s essay, ‘Varieties of Shared Intentionality: Tomasello and Classical Phenomenology’, really shows how some strands in analytic philosophy of mind and language and classical phenomenology can profitably work together. As they state, ‘There are many ways in which we can be together, have joint goals, share intentions, emotions and experiences. However, current accounts tend to explain these different ways of being-together in terms of one single form of collective intentionality’ (p. 305). They face this problem by addressing both contemporary anthropological research and classical phenomenology to consider the foundations of the collective intentionality at the basis of communities. Their contribution fosters dialogue between some analytic authors, such as Tomasello, Brandom and Davidson, and authors that belong to the classical phenomenological tradition, including Walther, Schutz and Husserl. Zahavi and Satne convincingly make the case for the existence of some seminal overlaps between their philosophies, showing how they could complement each other in the elaboration of a more nuanced theory of shared activities and human rationality. The connections between Davidson’s triangulation, Brandom’s account of mutual recognition and Husserl’s theory of intersubjectivity are striking indeed.

James R. Mensch: Levinas’s Existential Analytic: A Commentary on Totality and Infinity.

Levinas's Existential Analytic: A Commentary on Totality and Infinity Book Cover Levinas's Existential Analytic: A Commentary on Totality and Infinity
Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy
James R. Mensch
Northwestern University Press
Cloth Text $79.95

Reseña de: Esteban Beltran Ulate (Universidad de Costa Rica)

Totalidad e Infinito (TI) resulta ser una obra compleja. Ante el estilo de Levinas para la exposición de sus ideas, resulta oportuno contar con un apoyo para los nuevos lectores, con el objetivo de poder indagar en aspectos que podrían pasar desapercibidos. El trabajo desarrollado por James R. Mensch, profesor de Filosofía de la Charles University en República Checa y de Saint Francis Xavier University en Canadá, le permite incorporarse dentro de la lista de comentadores destacados de Levinas. El acercamiento a TI desde la analítica existencial posibilita un panorama al lector de la obra a partir de la confrontación con un interlocutor ineludible: Martin Heidegger.

La presente reseña busca hacer eco del trabajo del profesor Mensch en el ámbito levinasiano en castellano, proyectando las principales consideraciones de la obra e impulsando el acceso a este trabajo cuidadosamente publicado por la editorial Northwestern University Press, específicamente en la serie “Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy“.

Para una comprensión general del texto, se procede a exponer ideas generales de cada uno de los apartados: (i) Introduction, (1) Heidegger’s Existential Analytic, (2) The Preface, (3) Metaphysical Desire, Totality and Infinity, I, A, (4) Separation and Discourse, Totality and Infinity, I, B, (5) Truth and Justice, Totality and Infinity, I, C, (6) Separation and Absoluteness, Totality and Infinity, I, D, (7) Interiority and Economy, Totality and Infinity, II, A-B, C, §§1-2, (8) Dwelling and Freedom, Totality and Infinity, II, C §3-E §3,  (9) The arce, Totality and Infinity, III, A-B, (10) The Temporality of Finite Freedom, Totality and Infinity, III, C, (11) Beyond the Face: The Analitic of the Erotic, Totality and Infinity, IV, A-G, (12) Conclusions, Totality and Infinity, IV, Conclusions §§ 1-12. Luego de la exposición de los planteamientos generales según cada sección, se procede a esgrimir una serie de consideraciones finales por parte del autor de la reseña.

En la sección (i) “Introduction“, Mensch manifiesta que el objetivo del libro radica en brindar una guía que permita un acercamiento al pensamiento de Levinas a partir de la obra Totalidad e Infinito. Bajo un discurso modesto, el autor procura brindar una ayuda al lector para enfrentar lo que denomina un texto asistémico. La caracterización que brinda sobre TI es la de un discurso con características de espiral, donde siempre hay un decir nuevo; de modo que el texto resulta ser un discurso siempre presente, como si Levinas estuviera reconduciendo constantemente al lector. Desde un inicio, Mensch expone el impacto ejercido por Heidegger en el joven Levinas, así como el desplazamiento de las tesis de éste por parte del francés.

En el capítulo, (1) “Heidegger’s Existential Analytic”, se presenta una síntesis del pensamiento heidegeriano, específicamente de la obra Sein und Zeit. El Dasein es el modo de acceso a la pregunta por el ser. Envuelve en sí la definición de cuidado; el discurso del mundo es el discurso del ser-en-el-mundo, el Dasein en relación como temporalidad, frente a sí mismo como proyecto. Se expone como el Sí como proyecto se encuentra ligado al Sí como posibilidad, inherente a la situación histórica, al contexto. Para Heidegger, el tiempo no se comprende desde una estructura lineal que viaja de pasado a futuro, sino que el pasado se origina desde el futuro. Su planteamiento lo desglosa en una triple modalidad de comprensión: “éxtasis”, que le permite vislumbrar que el Dasein se encuentra enraizado en el tiempo. El autor finaliza el apartado centrando su atención en la inminente muerte, resultado de la temporalidad del Dasein, “Death is always ahead of us” (p.16); así como en el llamado de la conciencia para anticipar las posibilidades del Dasein, actualizar su proyecto, para saldar la deuda antes de que sea la nada, la imposibilidad de existir. Levinas descubre en el itinerario heideggeriano mayor preocupación en la muerte del Dasein que en la muerte del Otro. Como indica Mensch: “Levinas asserts that Heidegger would probably be more afraid of dying than of being a murderer” (p.18).

En capítulo siguiente (2), “The Preface“, se considera el valor de la pregunta a propósito del sentido de la moral; esto en medio de un contexto de guerras, en el que el ser humano deja de ser asumido como fin en sí mismo. El clamor levinasiano es una denuncia ante la mirada totalizante de la modernidad occidental; el anuncio que proclama es el del Otro que se posiciona fuera de toda objetividad y que, presentado ante la experiencia, se exhibe como infinitud. La concepción de infinitud según el filósofo es la manifestación del exceso; es la no limitación que imposibilita la tematización. El Otro se presenta ante el “Yo” pero lo trasciende. No se puede adecuar al pensamiento del “Yo”; no hay experiencia previa que logre su conceptualización. Es frente al Otro que el “Yo” descubre su llamado ético. El mismo no depende de un conocimiento objetivo, sino mas bien es producto de una especie de percepción que posibilita la acción. Como expresa Mensch: “ethical action is its own seeing, it’s own relation with the truth” (p.24). El apartado finaliza con la reflexión sobre la escatología y la noción de paz como posibilidad incesante en la relación con el Otro en tanto Otro.

El apartado (3) “Metaphysical Desire, Totality and Infinity, I, A” se inicia considerando lo irreversible de la relación, la diacronía frente al Otro, que pende del deseo metafísico. El Otro es una alteridad que no puede ser poseída; el deseo que se describe se encuentra en las antípodas de la necesidad; por ende, no puede ser satisfecho. De lo anterior se desprende que es imposible la relación reversible entre el Mismo y el Otro. Existe una radical separación. El Mismo es punto de partida del deseo metafísico ante el aparecimiento del Otro; sin embargo, este anclaje no es absoluto en la temporalidad, sino que existe en el flujo de sus experiencias, identificándose a sí mismo como sí y experiencia que envuelve el mundo.

En lo concerniente a la otredad del Otro, se recalca el carácter de exceso, por lo que el aparecimiento ante el Mismo no logra ser absolutamente comprendido; no es suficiente la experiencia de su aparecer. Como expresa Mensch: “memories, perceptions, and anticipations… Cannot coincide with those of the Other” (p.30). Levinas describe al Otro en términos de lo abierto. Escapando siempre más allá de la dimensión del “Yo”, no se puede anticipar. Lo anterior evidencia lo radical e irreversible de la relación. En la asimetría de la relación, la conversación es el vínculo que permite mantener la distancia; es una respuesta de índole ético. Es responder al Otro sin totalizarlo, interpretar y suspender la interpretación para atender la interpretación del Otro; es rasgar lo dicho y estar a la espera del decir incesante.

El autor finaliza el apartado reflexionando a propósito de la ontología y la trascendencia. En primer instancia, describiendo de manera concisa la crítica a la ontología como filosofía primera, para exponer el giro ético levinasiano; y en un segundo momento, recorriendo la noción de trascendencia, parte de la tercera meditación cartesiana para clarificar la posición de Levinas, la trascendencia de lo infinito. Es “excedencia” que se revela en la exterioridad; el deseo metafísico no implica una absorción o unión con el radical Otro; la manifestación de lo infinito se testifica en la mirada (visage). La trascendencia no es, por tanto, el resultado de la culminación de la historia, ni siquiera un privilegio místico que posibilita la revelación total de los eventos. Para Levinas, la trascendencia se revela en el Otro como traza.

En el capítulo (4), “Separation and Discourse, Totality ad Infinity, I, B”,  se considera la noción de separación, teniendo en cuenta que la experiencia del sí-mismo es distinta a la experiencia del Otro. El autor retoma la lectura colativa de la estructura temporal de Levinas y Heidegger, atendiendo a la relación entre futuro y presente, así como en la raíz del pasado vista como situación. Toda esta lectura desplaza la concepción sincrónico-lineal del tiempo e interpela al ser humano como proyecto. La diferencia que esboza el autor se devela en el tratamiento del carácter posible de lo histórico, en las antípodas de la idea levinasiana de pasado como inversión, de tiempo histórico, en el proyecto del sí-mismo. Por tanto, no sólo es el futuro la proyección, sino que en el pasado se encuentra incesante desde la vida interna, justo donde la trascendencia ocurre, ahí donde el tiempo universal no puede homogenizar lo radical de cada existente. El Dasein heideggeriano no tiene interioridad, en contraposición al Otro que es futuro.

Para Levinas, la separación posibilita la verdad por medio del discurso. “The manifestation of the face is already a discourse” (p. 50); la libertad de palabra en el discurso implica no manipular la relación. El apartado finaliza con una exposición de las consideraciones levinasianas a propósito de Dios, a partir de los elementos “viuda”, “pobre” y “huérfano”, en tanto lo divino es comprendido como trascendencia que se oculta y revela en el rostro, en el extranjero. Levinas se desprende de la lectura ontológica de lo divino, donde se lo caracteriza como sustancia, causa primera, sumo bien u otra denominación propia de la lectura totalizante de la filosofía.

La sección (5), “Truth and Justice, Totality and Infinity, I, C”, aborda la crítica que Levinas esgrime a la primacía de la epistemología sobre la ética, dado que esto implica una escisión entre conocimiento y el deber-ser, como lo evidenció el Dr. Mengele –por mencionar un ejemplo de las atrocidades en nombre del conocimiento por parte del nacionalsocialismo alemán. La premisa es la ética como filosofía primera. Ésta debe conducir el conocimiento. Mensch retoma el contraste con Heidegger y analiza las bases morales del conocimiento. Mientras que para el autor alemán el conocimiento es un “darse a conocer”, donde todo sentido humano deviene del proyecto de sí (Dasein),  el conocimiento está circunscrito a la mirada del Dasein y su necesidad. En oposición a esta lectura, Levinas se posiciona desde un enfoque del discurso relacional, por lo que el mundo es el discurso entablado entre el Mismo y el Otro. El mundo objetivo y sus significaciones se hace patente; por tanto, no se reduce a la culminación de la necesidad de un individuo. Como expresa Mensch: “Together we talk about the world, which in our discourse becomes the world for both of us, the objective world with its significances” (p. 66). La clave que brinda Levinas es la comprensión del Otro (que me excede) como alteridad, y permite la comprensión del mundo no de manera objetiva sino desde una intersubjetividad.

En (6) “Separation and Absoluteness, Totality and Infinity, I, D”, el autor aborda la  mirada totalizante que deviene de la filosofía de Parménides y que da origen a las filosofía del ser de la modernidad ante la postura de Levinas. En las antípodas de la tiranía del ser, Levinas adhiere al paradigma de la separación, lo cual quebranta el privilegio del ser. A partir de una lectura filosófica del Bereshit, erige el paradigma de la diferencia desde la paradoja de la creación. Donde la multiplicidad es compatible con lo Infinito, no hay intervalos entre Dios y la creación y tampoco sinonimia. Mientras que la filosofía que da primacía al “ser” concibe la separación como privación, para Levinas la separación permite deseo. Se concluye la sección con una reflexión a partir del mandamiento “no matarás”, desde una lectura levinasiana del relato de Abraham e Isaac en el monte Moriah donde el discurso resulta ser la principal meditación.

El apartado (7), “Interiority and Economy, Totality and Infinity, II, A-B, C §§1-2″ aborda la interrupción de la egología del Mismo por medio del aparecimiento del Otro. Mensch retoma la distinción entre necesidad y deseo desde una lectura que contrasta el pensamiento de Levinas y Heidegger. Mientras que el Dasein procura el cuidado de sí, el gozo desde la perspectiva de Levinas evidencia la relación intersubjetiva con el Otro. El autor procede a analizar la noción de encarnación en Levinas, como cuerpo liberado del mundo por necesidad que se rehúsa a la conceptualización y que, a su vez, es insustituible. La encarnación distingue al individuo. Como indica Mensch, evita la reducción del individuo a mundo, “The liberation is from the dependency on the world that would reduce us to the world” (p. 77). En el sub-apartado “Intentionality and Embodiment“, se desarrolla la comprensión husserliana a propósito de la objetivación, la interpretación como acto constitutivo de la experiencia y se desenlaza con la mirada levinasiana del cuerpo como desnudez, donde el cuerpo no representable es punto de partida, dado que los sentidos no están expuestos al mundo como lo hace el cuerpo en su vivencia, “senses are not exposed to the world, but the body, as naked, is” (p. 82).

Frente a la concepción heideggeriana de “Bezugsbereich“, como área de relación en correlación con el Dasein como proyecto, Levinas concibe que la relación no es de índole utilitaria; el cuerpo es inmerso en la vivencia y su experiencia no es de utilidad sino de gozo. El aire, el agua, la tierra y otros aspectos más del mundo aparecen como gozo, producto de la inevitable inmersión de la persona en el mundo. Frente a esta realidad y frente al otro cuerpo encarnado, es que la necesidad y la generosidad se conjuntan en el llamado ético. Mensch finaliza el apartado reflexionando a propósito de la comprensión de sensibilidad como gozo; el cuerpo experimenta sin necesidad de representación; anticipa la objetivación. El cuerpo posibilita la interioridad; es interiorización del gozo, separación que produce la economía del ser.

El capítulo (8), “Dwelling and Freedom, Totality ad Infinity, II, §3-E §3″, tiene como punto de partida la concepción del ser orgánico del ego, de la interioridad. Las funciones orgánicas del individuo son intransferibles. De lo anterior se desprende un análisis por Mensch sobre la noción de alteridad vista desde el existencialismo en confutación con la mirada levinasiana. La alternativa de libertad expuesta en TI se ejerce en el proyecto del trabajo, ya que establece las bases  de a autonomía del individuo. Es el paso para acallar el ego del infante que percibe todas sus necesidades cubiertas por su madre. Se establece la separación, dado que es imposible la posesión, “The child enjoys the mother but cannot posses her” (p. 93).

En una sub-sección intitulada “Dwelling and the Feminine“, se aborda la relación entre la concretización del mundo por medio del hogar. Para Levinas, la conciencia del mundo es ya conciencia a través del mundo; la metáfora de la casa permite comprender esta idea de interioridad del individuo, que incluso le permite suspender reacciones del mundo para atender al mundo. La intimidad de la casa, donde se acoge con hospitalidad, es donde se descubre lo femenino. Para Levinas, el hogar permite posesión. A su vez, permite el aplazamiento del gozo. El trabajo se encuentra entrelazado con el hogar, para tener, guardar; en cambio, el Dasein de Heidegger olvida el hogar, la economía. No comprende la necesidad de transformar lo elemental en propiedad por medio del trabajo. El Dasein no conoce la intimidad del hogar que le permita una relación ética que responda al Otro.

Levinas asume que el cuerpo no es un objeto entre objetos; es más bien la separación, que se cristaliza únicamente en el gozo, y justo ahí se evidencia la ambigüedad de su independencia y dependencia. Lo anterior es materia de contraste; evidencia la asimetría entre la concepción de libertad levinasiana y  la heideggeriana, así como para el abordaje de la concepción de corporalidad y temporalización: “in distinction to Heidegger, Levinas explicitly bases the temporal structure of Dasein on its embodiment” (p. 101). Mensch recalca la tesis levinasiana de separación, que da lugar al hogar como manifestación metafórica de libertad. No se limita a ser una condición de independencia, cumplimiento de necesidades, sino que posibilita una nueva acción, la hospitalidad entendida como generosidad hacia el Otro.

En el capítulo (9), “The Face, Totality and Infinity, III, A-B”, Mensch comienza reflexionando la sentencia de Levinas expuesta en “Diachrony and Representation“: el rostro (Visage) es la ruptura de la fenomenología. La concepción del rostro expuesta por Levinas es una respuesta a la doctrina intencional de Husserl y a la lectura de la “Lichtung” expuesta por Heidegger respecto al Dasein. El aparecimiento del rostro provee una luz que permite una caracterización de toda la experiencia sensible. La relación con el Otro se devela en la trascendencia; frente a la experiencia del Otro hay un exceso que no logra ser objetivado; el Otro no puede ser limitado ante el contenido intencional de la subjetividad que lo afronta: “This excess is what manifests the infinity of the Other” (p.120).

El autor finaliza el apartado abordando la noción de lenguaje a partir del Otro. Si bien no es posible acceder a las percepciones o las memorias del Otro, el lenguaje posibilita el encuentro, la otredad. Es por medio de la comunicación que se hace posible la objetividad, comprendida como una presencia lingüística. Aunado a lo anterior, se expone el lenguaje en consonancia con la justicia, dado que para Levinas éste se constituye en una demanda profética que ha de responder ante la responsabilidad develada en el rostro del Otro.

El capítulo (10), titulado “The temporality of Finite Freedom, Totality and Infinity, III, C”, inicia haciendo una exposición de la pregunta levinasiana en torno a la libertad de la voluntad encarnada que, lejos de ser equivalente a una concepción de razón universal, responde a la característica del ser encarnado como ser plural. Mensch retoma nuevamente la contraste entre Levinas y Heidegger para exponer las nociones de temporalidad y libertad finita, siendo en Levinas donde se expone que es el tiempo el que da sentido a la noción de libertad finita, y no viceversa.

Para el autor de TI, la relación con el Otro posibilita la apertura del tiempo; es el rostro que quebranta la totalidad y desde la exterioridad se hace patente la libertad. En esta sección, se aborda la concepción levinasiana acerca de la muerte; Mensch expone la ambigüedad en la que habita el ser encarnado: siendo para la muerte y posponiéndola. Nuevamente será contrastado el pensamiento de Levinas y Heidegger, contraponiendo el “Sein zum Tode” al “être au-delà la mort“, ya que lejos de asumir la muerte como la posibilidad de la imposibilidad, se presenta en Levinas como radical alteridad. Tal como manifiesta Mensch: “We cannot even talk here of anticipating death, given that we have no idea what to expect from it” (p. 139).

El apartado (11), “Beyond the Face: The Analytic of the Erotic, Totality and Infinity, IV A-G” inicia exponiendo los criterios de Levinas a propósito de la individuación y la libertad en respuesta al Otro. “The Other who makes me an individual in calling me to respond to him invest my freedom” (p. 152). Retoma el lenguaje como acción que posibilita lo interpersonal frente a lo impersonal, dado que el ser humano no es singularidad numérica, sino más bien un ser irremplazable. Mensch reflexiona a propósito de la categoría heideggeriana de “Mitsein” en lo que respecta a la concepción levinasiana de lo erótico. La exposición de la fenomenología de lo érotico evoca una propedéutica a la tesis levinasiana, distinguiendo entre la relación ética y la relación erótica (p. 155). Posteriormente, se presenta la categoría ontológica de la “fecundidad”, que desplaza la lectura parmenídea de unidad. Para Levinas, el ser es plural; la categoría de “hijo” –“In the child, it can both be other and itself and, as  such, be an origen” (p. 162)– resulta oportuna para expresar la concepción de trascendencia y fraternidad, “The future that the child represent involves fraternity and hence Others” (p. 168). Mensch finiquita el apartado acercándose a la noción de perdón según Levinas, una aproximación de corta extensión pero exquisita en la exposición de sus ideas. Desarrolla una narrativa en torno al perdón, lo irreversible y el tiempo.

El último apartado, intitulado (12) “Conclusions, Totality and Infinity, IV, Conclusions” §§ 1-12, recurre, nuevamente, a la distinción entre el pensamiento de Levinas y Heidegger, recalcando la posición de exterioridad como alteridad del autor de TI. Es a partir de la exterioridad que se posibilita el reconocimiento del Otro que se aparece; es en virtud de la exterioridad que el pluralismo se hace patente y refuta la noción de unidad. Mensch hace referencia a la noción de creación como acto que supera la necesidad, así como la posición respecto al lenguaje desde una lectura que supera la propuesta de Husserl y Heidegger: “while Heidegger`s and Husserl`s account of language privilege vision, Levinas`s privileges hearing” (p. 186). El ser como exterioridad determina la concepción de libertad según Levinas. Esta idea es la que desarrolla Mensch en la última sub-sección del apartado, en oposición a la postura que asume la libertad desde la autonomía, es el Otro el que cuestiona la libertad del “Yo”.

Una vez finalizado el comentario sintético de cada uno de los apartados, me permito concluir con una serie comentarios. En primer lugar, la obra de Mensch resulta oportuna al ámbito académico levinasiano, ya que son escasos los trabajos que procuran una guía en la lectura del autor. Considero que el texto aborda categorías fundamentales esbozadas en TI. Sin embargo, dado la complejidad del libro de Mensch, es recomendable que su lectura se lleve de la mano con la lectura de TI o posterior a ella.

De lo anterior se desprende que el libro no se recomienda como una introducción a TI, sino más bien como un texto de gran auxilio para la lectura de TI.

En segundo lugar, considero que el autor no cumple a cabalidad su objetivo planteado en el prefacio del libro: “It is to guide the reader through this text, laying on its arguments, detail if it’s referents, and thereby situating it in relation to the history of philosophy” (p. xi). De ninguna manera estoy desacreditando el detallado trabajo del profesor Mensch. Sin embargo, en la totalidad de la obra la figura de Heidegger se presenta, constantemente, como un mecanismo para contrastar y exponer la novedad del pensamiento levinasiano. La debilidad radica en la ausencia de mayor referencia a otros autores que se encuentran en relación con el pensador francés, tales como Rosenzweig, Buber, Husserl, por mencionar los más representativos. Heidegger es un interlocutor necesario cuando se lee TI. Pero no se puede pasar desapercibido la presencia de otros autores. Esto, por su puesto, si se pretende guiar al lector a través de la obra levinasiana, escrutando argumentos, detallando referentes y estableciendo relaciones con la historia de la filosofía.

El profesor James R. Mensch posibilita un texto necesario para estudiantes que se introducen en el pensamiento levinasiano, específicamente en la comprensión de la obra TI. A partir de distintas categorías, elabora una serie de reflexiones que estimulan en el lector nuevas posibilidades de abordar las nociones levinasianas. Su comentario a TI es una constante discusión con Heidegger. Por medio de una lenguaje familiar, cercano, acoge al lector y lo guía en el intrincado lenguaje de Levinas. Mensch nos permite encontrarnos en medio del claro del bosque para admirar y reflexionar la profundidad de las categorías elaboradas por Emmanuel Levinas.

Lee Braver (Ed): Division III of Heidegger’s Being and Time. The Unanswered question of Being

Division III of Heidegger's 'Being and Time': The Unanswered Question of Being Book Cover Division III of Heidegger's 'Being and Time': The Unanswered Question of Being
Lee Braver [Ed]
The MIT Press
Hardcover $45.00

Reviewed by: Emily J Hughes (University of New South Wales)

Division III of Heidegger’s ‘Being and Time’: The Unanswered Question of Being is a collection of 16 essays edited by Lee Braver. Authored by a range of prominent Heidegger scholars, the collection takes as its point of departure the fact that Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time — “an extraordinary book…widely acknowledged as one of the great works of twentieth-century philosophy” (1) — is an unfinished work.

As many of the essays in this collection iterate, Being and Time, as Heidegger originally conceived it, was to be composed of two Parts of three divisions each.

Part One: the Interpretation of Dasein in terms of temporality, and the explication of time as the transcendental horizon for the question of Being.

Part Two: basic features of a phenomenological destruction of the history of ontology, with the problematic of Temporality as our clue.[i]

In 1926 Heidegger was under consideration for the chair of philosophy at Marburg University. With his drafts of Being and Time not yet completed, but under pressure to redress his “not very large literary accomplishments,”[ii] Heidegger made preparations to print the ‘First Half’ of Being and Time in the 1927 Edition of Husserl’s Jahrbuch für Philosophie und phänomenologische Forschung. This ‘First Half’ should have contained Part One:

Division I: The preparatory fundamental analysis of Dasein

Division II: Dasein and temporality

Division III: Time and Being[iii]

However, after “friendly but lively disputes” with Jaspers in December of 1926, Heidegger became uncertain about the “comprehensibility” of the third division,[iv] and so, it was held back. Part One Division III, and Part Two were never published.

As the segment of Being and Time that was supposed to provide the ‘answer to the question of Being,’ the incompletion of Division III in particular introduces a profound ambiguity or uncertainty into Heidegger’s path of thinking, one that Heidegger scholarship has long struggled to resolve. Why did Heidegger never publish Division III? Did he complete the project, or reach aporia so insurmountable that the project was necessarily abandoned? The way in which one interprets the incompleteness of Division III has important implications for the way in which one understands Heidegger’s path of thinking as a whole.

The essays in this collection are given a difficult task, namely, as Braver writes in the Introduction: to “produce a secondary literature on a nonexistent primary work,” to “write about a work unwritten,” and thus “to create a book about a part of a book that is not” (1). In taking on this task, the collection as a whole makes an important contribution to Heidegger scholarship. It does so by carefully reconstructing some of Heidegger’s most dense and difficult thinking — in particular his incomplete attempts at thematizing time as the transcendental horizon for the question of Being — and by subjecting this thinking to rigorous critical interpretation.

The subject matter of this book is difficult. Because Division III is an unwritten work, the reader is perhaps more closely reliant upon the different interpretive reconstructions being put forward in each essay. Understanding the differences between these interpretations, without being able to orient oneself with the primary text, has the potential to be somewhat disorienting. The way in which the book is organized does not make the subject matter more accessible. The essays are sequenced alphabetically, and are thus not cohered or grouped according to any underlying thematic structure. There are no waymarkers. Given these challenges, this collection will be most rewarding for those readers who have at least some prior understanding of Heidegger’s Being and Time, and of the philosophical questions at stake in both Heidegger’s philosophy, and in contemporary Heidegger scholarship more generally.

In the review that follows, I will give an overview of each of the essays included in the collection, with some brief concluding remarks.

In the ‘Introduction,’ Lee Braver maps out four possible “conceptual obstacles” that may have prompted Heidegger to leave Being and Time unfinished. These are: ‘Subjectivism,’ ‘History,’ ‘Metaphysics or the Forgetfulness of Being,’ and ‘all of the above.’ Though the way in which Braver sets up these conceptual obstacles is very much grounded in his particular reading of Being and Time — namely as a work of transcendental phenomenology, profoundly influenced by Kant — the majority of essays will go on, directly or indirectly, to refute or reinforce one or other of these concerns. In this way, his Introduction does give a good sense of the philosophical questions at issue in the collection.


Chapters 1 and 2 are both contributions by Alain Badiou. Chapter 1 ‘Heidegger’s Parmenides’ is adapted from the lecture transcript of the October 29 1985 session of a seminar Badiou gave on Parmenides, translated here into English for the first time. In this lecture, Badiou calls into question Heidegger’s reading of Parmenides as the thinker who first thinks the connections and irreconcilable differences between both being and non-being, and being and seeming, and, in so doing, brings about the “originary condition of philosophical discourse” (27). Sketching his own interpretation of paternity and parricide in Plato, Badiou argues that whilst “Parmenides is in fact the founder of philosophy,” it is “not for the reasons that led Heidegger to assign him this role” (34–35).

In Chapter 2 ‘Metaphysics without Metaphysics,’ Badiou calls Heidegger’s ‘hermeneutic antimetaphysical position’ into question, arguing that — “in the suspension of the meaning of an indeterminate that is simply left to the historical contingency of its arrival” — it is in fact an “archi-metaphysical” position (45). Calling by contrast for the “continuation of metaphysics” (39), Badiou aligns himself with the “courageous argument” of the dialectical antimetaphysical position (a ‘metaphysics without metaphysics’), because it “tries to break away from the transcendent indeterminacy where metaphysics prospers, without falling into the promises or moralisms of archi-metaphysical finitude” (50).

The decision to include Badiou’s two texts at the beginning of a collection focused upon Division III of Heidegger’s Being and Time is an interesting one. By calling into question both Heidegger’s interpretation of being and non-being in Parmenides, and his critique of metaphysics, Badiou’s texts undoubtedly serve to open up the questionability of some of the most fundamental theses in Heidegger’s philosophy. Yet neither of Badiou’s texts makes any reference to Being and Time, nor to the question of ‘Time and Being’ in Division III. As such, the quite specific aim of the book, as it is set up in the Introduction, is almost immediately obscured.

In Chapter 3 ‘Turning from a Given Horizon to the Givenness of Horizons’ Lee Braver develops a hypothesis that he calls the “Overstuffed Division Theory.” According to Braver, when Being and Time is understood as a work of transcendental phenomenology (57) that aims to “take up Kant’s project and do it right” (63), it is possible to see that the drafts of Divisions II and III of Being and Time are in fact contained — albeit in a “rushed and disorganized way that’s hard to recognize” (60) — in the published version of Division II. I find Braver’s ‘Overstuffed Division Theory’ to be reductive, in part because I find the transcendental interpretation underpinning it to be problematic. But if one grants the underlying interpretation, the theory itself is not implausible. Braver sets it out in a very clear, systematic way, and demonstrates how his interpretation — carried to its logical end — might indeed come to the conclusion that Heidegger completed Being and Time.

In Chapter 4 ‘The End of Fundamental Ontology,’ Daniel Dahlstrom aims to reconstruct the main theme of Division III, and to argue that its failure represents the end of fundamental ontology. Dahlstrom here gives a very clear account of both the three-fold ecstatical “timeliness” (Zeitlichkeit) of Dasein’s being-here given in Being and Time, and the incomplete sketch of the horizonal schema of ontological ‘Presence’ (and ‘Absence’) given in Basic Problems of Phenomenology. For Dahlstrom, Heidegger fails to clarify the relation between the transcendental projection and the horizon, between the timeliness of Dasein and the temporality of being, which means, ultimately, that Heidegger fails to demonstrate how “temporality is the sense of being as such” (97). In an interesting formulation of a transcendental interpretation, Dahlstrom notes briefly that this failure is grounded in Heidegger’s “overreaching attempt to combine, in a fundamental ontology, the two traditional meanings of ‘transcendental’: medieval and modern, i.e., Scotistic and Kantian meanings, respectively” (100, Note 9). Dahlstrom’s reconstruction is immensely valuable as a clear and concise exposition of Heidegger’s difficult sketch of horizonal temporality.

In Chapter 5 ‘The Place of Division III in Heidegger’s Plan for Being and Time: Part One as Discovering a ‘Clue’ and Part Two as Giving the Answer,’ Charles Guignon argues that Division III was “a way to move beyond the temporality (Zeitlichkeit) of Dasein to time itself…(Temporalität)” (109) and thus toward the ‘horizon of intelligibility.’ Yet, referring to Heidegger’s 1949 ‘Letter on Humanism,’ Guignon considers that the division was held back because it “failed in the adequate saying of this turning and did not succeed with the help of the language of metaphysics.”[v] This failure prompted a “radical shift” or turn in Heidegger’s thinking, which for Guignon, culminates in the Contributions to Philosophy. This is a brief essay, and whilst it does not attempt a particularly innovative interpretation, it maps out clearly the prevailing account of the trajectory between Being and Time and the Contributions, between the transcendental-phenomenological and the being-historical in Heidegger’s path of thinking.

In Chapter 6 ‘The Beings of Being: On the Failure of Heidegger’s Ontico-Ontological Priority,’ Graham Harman attempts to “link Heidegger’s incomplete three divisions of Being and Time, Part One” (119) with the “three types of priority of the question of being: the ontological, the ontical, and the ontico-ontological” (124–25). For Harman, whilst the ontic and ontological priorities of the question of Being correspond to Divisions I and II respectively, the ontico-ontological priority — which pertains to the ‘Being of the entities of a character other than [Dasein’s] own’ (128) — constitutes “the missing subject matter that would have made up Division III” (125). This means, “a finished Division Three would have given us a new theory of beings” (128), “something more like a noumenology of things” (130). Harman’s chapter is interesting, but the decision to ground the three divisions in the three types of priority of the question of being — after a detour through three-folds in Hegel and Husserl — may feel arbitrary to those unfamiliar with his work on object-oriented ontology.

In Chapter 7 ‘The Antinomy of Being and the End of Philosophy,’ Karsten Harries engages Heidegger’s attempt to ground the question of Being in original time (136–37). For Harries, this “attempt to grasp the essence of Being here suffers a shipwreck,” namely the “antinomy of Being, which forces us, on one hand, to think Being relative to Dasein, and on the other, as transcending Dasein” (139). The antinomy arises in the fact that “any attempt to lay hold of that originating ground threatens to transform it into a being, such as God, and must inevitably fail” (139). It is this antinomy that prompted Heidegger away from the “still familiar landscapes of neo-Kantianism and transcendental phenomenology,” into the bewildering and unfamiliar: the question of Being understood in terms of the history of Being (140). Like Dahlstrom’s essay, Harries’ essay is very helpful in thinking the dissonance arising between the transcendental projection and the horizon, again confronting the problem of the relation between Dasein and Being. I wonder to what extent Heidegger wanted his fundamental ontology to be a fundamentum inconcussum?

In Chapter 8 ‘The Drafts of Time and Being: Division III of Part One of Being and Time and Beyond,’ Theodore Kisiel aims primarily to “reconstruct Heidegger’s various efforts toward drafting the Third division immediately after the completion of the ‘First Half’ of Being and Time” (150), and thus to conceptualise time as the transcendental horizon for the question of Being. Kisiel does this through a careful textual analysis of both Heidegger’s published works — moving systematically through The Basic Problems of Phenomenology (152–56), The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic (156–58), The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics (160–61 and 168), and The Introduction to Philosophy­ (162–63) — and his unpublished works — drawing upon handwritten marginalia, draft manuscripts, correspondence and archival notes. Like Dahlstrom’s essay, Kisiel’s reconstruction is immensely valuable as a clear and concise exposition of Heidegger’s difficult attempts to think through time as a transcendental horizon. In many ways, Kisiel’s essay would be a good opening to the book as a whole.

In Chapter 9 ‘On Being as a Whole and Being-a-Whole,’ Denis McManus considers whether the manifold senses of Being inherent in Heidegger’s ontological pluralism, “Zuhanden, the Vorhanden, and other Dasein,” can in fact be unified into the concept of Being in general (178), within his “discussion of authenticity” (176). In so doing, McManus considers the way in which the “formal structure” of Dasein’s “wholeness” might be the means through which “Being in general” is disclosed (181–88). This essay covers a lot of ground and, though it is well worked out, the emphasis placed upon explicating Dasein’s Being-a-whole means that the significance of the question of Being in general gets somewhat diminished. As an aside, I wonder what role, if any, Being as such has to play in the conception of Being in general, or Being as a whole discussed here?

In Chapter 10 ‘What is Missing? The Incompleteness and Failure of Heidegger’s Being and Time,’ Eric S. Nelson considers the very idea of fragmentariness and failure, as Heidegger himself interprets it. Whether as: an “inability to overcome the limitations of metaphysics” (199–201), as a “methodology or way,” as a “woodpath” (Holzwege) rather than an “abrupt end,” or as “a limited and yet still promising step that can be returned to an renewed in another direction” (203–04). According to Nelson, Heidegger’s divergent self-interpretations of failure should not be grounded in transcendental or pragmatic interpretations — which “appear to miss elements of Heidegger’s project as well as the twisting journey of his thinking” (211) — but, following the hermeneutical strategy of Dilthey or Misch, in the “conditions,” “contexts,” “epochal and generational complexities and complicities” of “a life” (206–10). This hermeneutic strategy remains underdeveloped in Nelson’s essay and is thus more of a sketch than an argument. Nonetheless, Nelson’s essay makes an important contribution to this collection, precisely because he remains with the idea of fragmentariness and failure itself, and thus, perhaps more than any other contribution, attempts to think that which is unthought within the incompleteness of Being and Time.

In Chapter 11 ‘From the Understanding of Being to the Happening of Being,’ Richard Polt aims to demonstrate that, in the attempt to “reveal time as the horizon for the understanding of being,” Heidegger was brought “to questions about the origin of time that could not be raised within the transcendental framework of that temporal ontology” (220). According to Polt, these new questions prompted Heidegger — from ‘the understanding of being to the happening of being’ — to think about the origin of time an eruptive “event that founds Dasein’s time,” that is Ereignis (220). Polt’s essay is one of the most compelling in the collection. His tracing of the trajectory from the understanding of being to the happening of being, through a subtle account of Heidegger’s nonsubjectivist transcendentalism, brings to the fore that which is fundamentally at issue in Division III, namely, the origin of time an eruptive “event that founds Dasein’s time.” I wonder to what extent we could understand Heidegger’s conception of Augenblick­ in Being and Time as an attempt (correlate to Ereignis) to think about ‘the origin of time as an eruptive event that founds Dasein’s time?’ That is, though it remains underdeveloped in Being and Time, could Augenblick be oriented towards the happening of Being, and thus constitute an entry into time?

In Chapter 12 ‘The Incompletion of Being and Time and the Question of Subjectivity,’ François Raffoul argues that the “failure” of Being and Time should be understood as an “interruption.” For Raffoul, this interruption was motivated by the attempt to overcome that which led to the “subjectivist misunderstanding” of Being and Time (249), namely: “the language of subjectivity” (250). This overcoming leads to a turning that — because it is inherent to the question of being itself — is already operating within Being and Time. This turning — “from the subjectivistic horizon to the belongingness to the truth of be-ing (Da-sein) (254) — “ultimately names the ‘relation’ of Dasein to being,” such that Da-sein “now designates the belonging-together of the human being and Being” (255). Raffoul’s essay too, is one of the strongest in the collection. By separating out subjectivism from Heidegger’s construal of the language of subjectivism (a distinction others collapse), Raffoul gives a convincing argument that Dasein should be understood in “direct opposition to the classical determination of the subject as self-consciousness, to the immanentist conception of subjectivity” (246). Further, Raffoul brings to light the critical fact that — however obscured by the language of subjectivity — Being and Time is grounded in the ‘belonging together’ of Dasein and Being, a reciprocal relation, in which neither can be collapsed into the other.

In Chapter 13 ‘Did Heidegger Ever Finish Being and Time?’ Thomas Sheehan argues that “once one sees what Heidegger’s basic question was” (the question of what makes the meaningful presence of things possible) “and was not” (the question of being) “it becomes clear that he did complete the task he set for himself in 1926” (260–61). Sheehan’s essay aims to “sketch out diachronically the fulfillment of the ‘being and time’ project from 1926 to 1976” (261). He does so by mapping a trajectory through the transcendental project of Being and Time, the failure of this project in Basic Problems of Phenomenology, and the completion of this project from ‘On the Essence of Ground’ onwards. This meticulously constructed essay constitutes a rich elaboration of Sheehan’s interpretation of Heidegger. Like Dahlstrom and Kisiel’s chapters, it gives a clear and concise exposition of Heidegger’s difficult attempts to think through time as a transcendental horizon, which is immensely valuable. As with Braver’s chapter above, I find Sheehan’s theory to be reductive, in part because I do not consider Heidegger’s fundamental question to be focused on what makes the meaningful presence of things possible. But if one grants the underlying interpretation, the theory itself is internally coherent, and sets out clearly and concisely how one might logically conclude that Heidegger did in fact finish the project of Being and Time.

In Chapter 14 ‘The Failure of Philosophy: Why Didn’t Being and Time Answer the Question of Being?’ Iain Thomson argues that the ‘question of being’ in Being and Time was “deeply misguided” because it was grounded in “ontotheology,” that is, “the dual metaphysical ambition to ground the entire intelligible order from its innermost (ontological) core to its outermost (theological) expression” (288). For Thomson, this ontotheological ambition failed when the “dynamic phenomenological ‘presencing’” (299) of time revealed that it could not be the “single, unchanging ontological ground beneath all things” (296). Thomson’s article demonstrates an interesting application of the ontotheological interpretation of Heidegger to the incompleteness of Being and Time. For those unfamiliar with Heidegger’s complex and contested engagement with ontotheology (something Thomson takes up in more depth in his other works), the presupposition that Heidegger’s Fundamental Ontology was in search of ‘stable, permanent, ahistorical conditions of possibility,’ as it is represented here, feels somewhat thin.

In Chapter 15 ‘Being and the Sea: Being as Phusis, and Time,’ Katherine Withy considers (following Sheehan) that “Being and Time was supposed to address the question of the sense of being,” which for Withy, “is to make sense of both how it shows itself and how it hides itself” (311). Engaging Heidegger’s interpretation of the opening strophes of the choral ode from Sophocles’ Antigone — as given in the Introduction to Metaphysics — Withy argues that where Divisions I and II of Being and Time can be seen analogously to illuminate both ‘being as a living thing,’ and ‘being as the earth,’ Division III “falters when it tries to reach being as the sea” (312), which means it fails to capture the “image of being’s simultaneous granting and withholding” (312). This faltering is for Withy grounded in Heidegger’s failure in Division I to recognize that, “to be falling is for being to withdraw even as entities show up in their being” (322). As a result, Heidegger “neglects the critical finitude in sense-making” (325) in Division II, such that Division III is unable to think the withdrawal of being. As such, for Withy, “the story of falling should have been the story of being’s withholding” (319). This is a very interesting essay and the connection between being’s self-withholding, and being as the sea is an insightful one. I wonder though if there is a conflation here between the withdrawal of being and the forgetting of being. Is it that being is ‘withdrawn’ (at the ontological level of the Nothing/ Being, Absence/ Presence, Enteignis/ Ereignis) in falling, or is it not rather ‘forgotten’ in the midst of Dasein’s distracted immersion in the world?

In Chapter 16 ‘Was There a Turn in Heidegger’s Philosophy?’ Julian Young argues that there was indeed a turn in Heidegger’s philosophy, which was precipitated by fact that Being and Time “not only deploys the language of metaphysics’ but actually is a form of metaphysics” (333). Because Heidegger was unclear around the difference between “sense” and “reference” in his question of the meaning of Being (335), Young argues that Being and Time, “misses being’s double transcendence, the fact that it transcends both beings and the being of being” (336), and thus collapses into metaphysics. Given that metaphysics for Heidegger denotes the forgetting of the meaning of being, Being and Time, Young argues, “ends up betraying its fundamental impulse,” and comes to a “dead-end” (333). It is this that prompts the turn in Heidegger’s thinking, from metaphysics to “meditative thinking,” the “return to the point at which Being and Time started but then lost sight of” (333). Young’s essay is important in that it calls into question Heidegger’s critique of metaphysics. Yet his assumption that Heidegger’s use of the ‘language of metaphysics’ necessarily confirms Being and Time as a form of metaphysics feels too hasty. I would consider that this is not self-evident, and needs to be better demonstrated from within the framework of Heidegger’s own thought (rather than through recourse to thinkers like Frege).

To conclude: As some of the essays in this collection note, Heidegger directs us to two quite different texts to help us better understand the (incomplete) project of Being and Time: the Basic Problems of Phenomenology and the Introduction to Metaphysics.[vi] Many of the essays in this collection work closely with the relation between Being and Time and the first of these texts, Basic Problems of Phenomenology. As a result, they are overwhelmingly oriented towards the question of Dasein’s transcendental understanding. I cannot help but wonder how differently we would understand the incompleteness of Being and Time if the essays were to work instead with the relation between Being and Time and the Introduction to Metaphysics? If the inquiry was oriented not to the question of Dasein’s transcendental understanding, but to the question of Dasein’s Being-disposed through fundamental attunements, to the Nothing? Perhaps this remains to be seen. Irrespective of that which perhaps still remains unthought, Division III of Heidegger’s Being and Time: The Unanswered Question of Being makes a very important contribution to Heidegger scholarship. It is thoughtful, thought-provoking, and I would recommend it to scholars working in any area of Heidegger’s thought.



[i] M Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. J Macquarrie and E Robinson (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1962), 63/ GA SZ, 39.

[ii] T Kisiel, The Genesis of Heidegger’s Being and Time (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 480.

[iii] Heidegger, Being and Time, 64/ GA SZ, 39.

[iv] Kisiel, The Genesis of Heidegger’s Being and Time, 486.

[v] M Heidegger, “Letter on ‘Humanism’,” in Pathmarks, ed. W McNeill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 249–50/ GA 9, 159.

[vi] See M Heidegger, The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, trans. A Hofstadter (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 1, Note 1/ GA 24, 1, Note 1 and the Author’s Preface to the Seventh German Edition of Heidegger, Being and Time.


Heidegger, M. The Basic Problems of Phenomenology. Translated by A Hofstadter. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.

———. Being and Time. Translated by J Macquarrie and E Robinson. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1962.

———. “Letter on ‘Humanism’.” Translated by F.A Capuzzi. In Pathmarks, edited by W McNeill, 239–276. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Kisiel, T. The Genesis of Heidegger’s Being and Time. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Heath Massey: The Origin of Time. Heidegger and Bergson

The Origin of Time. Heidegger and Bergson Book Cover The Origin of Time. Heidegger and Bergson
SUNY series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
Heath Massey
State University of New York Press
Paperback $25.95

Reviewed by: Massimiliano Zanin (The Innaxis Foundation & Research Institute José Ortega y Gasset)

This work offers a comparative analysis of two philosophers of the 19th and 20th century, Henri Bergson and Martin Heidegger, around their revision of the concept of time. If Heidegger is considered one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century, the former is much less popular. Indeed, Bergson’s ideas are classified as old-fashioned by some, ignored by others. Nevertheless, in their analysis of the concept of time, both Bergson and Heidegger share many similarities, casting doubts about such difference in recognition. Massey’s book specifically focusses on the relation between Heidegger and Bergson, how much the former constructs on top of the ideas of the latter, and to what degree is Heidegger unfair in dismissing Bergson’s ideas as old-fashioned.

At first glance, both philosophers appear to walk quite different paths. Bergson criticises classical thinkers for being almost obsessed with the idea of getting rid of time, and thus elevate the mind from the temporal realm to a position from which the eternal can be contemplated. In doing so, temporal phenomena are mainly interpreted as spatial ones: this raises many problems, the most important being free will. According to Bergson, the solution is to “go back into duration”, and distinguish between “pure duration”, a succession of overlapping qualitative states, and “time”, our way of measuring duration and making it explicit in spatial terms. Heidegger’s approach is somewhat more radical. He avoids questions such as“what is time?”, as they already presuppose that time is something; the problem is thus shifted towards understanding the origin of the concept itself and to see how time , and the objectiveness we attribute to it, emerges from a priori structures of consciousness. At the end, time emerges from the way Dasein understands and interprets being itself. Despite these differences, it has to be recognised that both thinkers share a common goal: challenge the common conception of time as something akin to space, an idea that was shared by philosophers from Aristotle to Kant.

Throughout Heidegger’ works,  several reference are made to Bergson’s ideas, mostly dismissed as old-fashioned, if not mere copies of Aristotle’s ones: bad examples from which Heidegger wants to differentiate himself. The aim of this book is to show that this is indeed not true and that Bergson’s theory of time is indeed quite revolutionary . This is achieved by accentuating that Heidegger himself partly constructs on top of what proposed by the French philosopher. While Heidegger deeply studied the work of Bergson and engaged with Bergson’s theories, he never acknowledged that fact. Massey thus tries to  shed light on the true relationship between the two philosophers, focusing on the period from 1915 to 1928, in which Heidegger most directly confronts the ideas of Bergson.

The relationship between Heideggerand Bergson’s ideas on time is complex and in constant evolution. Massey makes this evident in the book structure. It starts in Chapter 1 with an analysis of Heidegger’s work before Being and Time, mainly based on several lectures, e.g. his habilitation lecture of 1915. In this first phase, Heidegger mainly analyses Bergson’s Time and Free Will, on the one hand praising him for distinguishing between time and duration, while on the other hand criticising him for not being radical enough in his thinking. Chapter 2 reverses this approach, by deeply analysing Bergson’s Time and Free Will and explaining the ideas there contained. Chapters 3 and 4 go back to Heidegger, respectively with an analysis of Being and Time and of The Basic Problems of Phenomenology. Here, Heidegger’s critique become more explicit. He associates Bergson’s theories with that of Aristotle, suggesting Bergson equates time with space, a thesis that is easily dismissed in the light of what was explored in Chapter 2. He goes further suggesting that Bergson misunderstood the message of Aristotle, although we should consider this with caution as it is based on rather “free” interpretations of the classical Physics text. Finally, Heidegger criticises the fact that Bergson neglects the question of being which is later disproved in Chapter 5, where the evolution of the concept of time in Bergson’s Matter and Memory is presented and discussed.

What will the reader learn from this book? Well, quite a lot. Massey does an excellent job in showing the evolution of both philosophers’ thought. Indeed, deas are not presented as static objects, but as dynamical entities evolving through time. This embodied in the very structure of the book, in which the focus oscillates between Bergson and Heidegger, actually suggesting that there is a subtle parallelism in the evolution of both philosophers’ ideas.  All concepts are presented clearly with many references to other thinkers that have discussed similar topics – from Kant to Dilthey and Husserl among others. It has to be appreciated that the text is far from being a simple collection of copy/pasted reference.While relevant paragraphs are reported, the author always presents the main ideas in an original and accessible way. As a result, the text itself   remains appealing even when  complicated concepts are discussed.

The main objective of the book is achieved insofar as it elucidates the relationships between both philosophers. It clearly illustrates that Heidegger’s criticism of Bergson is  not always founded, and that in some cases his own work leverages on concepts previously developed by the french philospher. But beyond this,one has the impression that something else is missing, and that Heidegger’s dismissal of Bergson’s work may be due to conflicts of a personal nature.

If a lot can be learnt from this book, this does not mean that it could be used as a textbook on Bergson’s or Heidegger’s philosophies, not evento explain their conceptualisation of time. This is especially clear in the introduction, many concepts, which will be subsequently developed, are shortly presented and discussed. Someone who is not familiar with such concepts may easily get confused, although any doubt will be clarified in the main part of the text. It is an interesting exercise to go back and read again the introduction after having finished the book the introduction then becomes the conclusion.

All in all, Massey’s book is highly recommendable. While it does not provide an overall view of theories related to time, as the title may initially suggests, it nevertheless presents us with two theories. Their commonalities and differences, and the relationships between them and other classical visions of time are all outlined clearly and in a well organised way.

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 und Michael Naas (Hrsg.)
Antike Philosophie, Platon
Indiana University Press

Rezension von: Laura Martena (Ruhr-Universität Bochum)

Die platonischen Dialoge werden nicht nur von unterschiedlichen Gesprächspartnern, vom rechtschaffenen athenischen Bürger über den verschlagenen Sophisten bis hin zum geheimnisvollen eleatischen Fremden, sondern auch von einer Vielzahl verschiedener Tiere bevölkert: Bremsen und Pferde, Zitterrochen und Schwäne, Wölfe und Hunde, Bienen, Ameisen und Zikaden tauchen in ihnen auf, um nur einige wenige zu nennen. Plato’s Animals widmet sich diesen Tiermetaphern, -vergleichen und -analogien in den Dialogen. Ihr Interesse an Plato’s Menagerie begründen die Herausgeber des Bandes, Jeremy Bell und Michael Naas, in ihrer Einleitung (1-10) damit, dass diese Tierbilder nicht, wie meist angenommen, bloß schmückendes Beiwerk seien, sondern von zentraler Bedeutung für die Auslegung der Dialoge und damit für eine Gesamtdeutung der Philosophie Platons und seiner besonderen Form des Philosophierens. Nicht nur könnten sie seine Anthropologie und Epistemologie, seine politische Philosophie, Ethik und Ästhetik gleichermaßen erhellen; auch die für die Dialoge so wichtigen Figuren, Sokrates inbegriffen, würden häufig mithilfe solcher Tiervergleiche charakterisiert – man denke beispielsweise an Thrasymachos, der in der Politeia als Wolf erscheint, der dem Mythos nach einen Menschen, wenn er ihn zuerst erblickt, zum Verstummen bringt. (Politeia 336d) Schließlich werde das Wagnis des Philosophierens selbst immer wieder als Jagd beschrieben, in der die Dialogpartner die Jäger und die gesuchte Sache – die Gerechtigkeit, Tapferkeit oder Freundschaft, prominent vor allem: der Sophist – ihre schwer zu fassende Beute sind. „Um Platons Dialoge zu verstehen“, sei es deshalb erforderlich, „das Auftauchen all dieser Tiere in den Dialogen sowohl hinsichtlich ihrer strategischen Funktion und rhetorischen Relevanz als auch hinsichtlich ihrer philosophischen Bedeutung zu erklären.“ (2)

Mit diesem Ziel versammelt der Band vierzehn Essays, die in sieben Themenfeldern gruppiert sind: I. The Animal of Fable and Myth, II. Socrates as muōps and narkē, III. The Socratic Animal as Truth-Teller and Provocateur, IV. The Political Animal, V. The (En)gendered Animal, VI. The Philosophical Animal und VII. Animals and the Afterlife. Was die Beiträge verbindet, ist aber nicht nur dieser gemeinsame Gegenstand, sondern ein bestimmter Blick auf die platonische Philosophie, eine gesteigerte Aufmerksamkeit auf die literarische Gestaltung und dramatische Inszenierung der Dialoge sowie auf die Rolle des Lesers, dessen Engagement in den Text, die Transformationen, die im Text vollzogen werden und die der Leser im Prozess seiner Lektüre nach- und mitvollziehen kann. Dabei zeichnet sich in den einzelnen Beiträgen und zwischen ihnen, in der Zusammenschau, ein im weitesten Sinne ‚postmodernes‘ Platon-Bild ab – eine Deutung, die weniger darauf abzielt, bestimmte platonische Lehrmeinungen aus den Dialogen herauszupräparieren als vielmehr deren genuine Poetizität und plurale Offenheit zu betonen und die sich selbst als prinzipiell unabschließbar begreift. Die Bemerkung Drew A. Hylands zu Beginn seiner Überlegungen zu Aristophanes’s Double-Creatures and the Question of Origins (193-205), es könne in einer solchen Forschungsperspektive immer nur um die vielfältigen Fragen nach den Tieren bei Platon, nicht aber um eine „platonische Theorie“ oder „Lehre vom Tier in den frühen (mittleren, späten) Dialogen“ gehen, gilt insofern für alle Autoren. Einen wichtigen Bezugspunkt vieler Beiträge, von denen im Folgenden nur einige ausgewählte genauer in den Blick genommen werden, bildet darüber hinaus die französische Philosophie des 20. Jahrhunderts, vor allem das Denken Jacques Derridas, dessen berühmt-berüchtigte Platonlektüre in La pharmacie de Platon und dessen Schrift L’animal que donc je suis Thema und Ausrichtung des Bandes in besonderer Weise inspiriert haben.

Deutlich wird dieser Bezug unter anderem in den Essays, die sich den Tiervergleichen zuwenden, die Sokrates selbst charakterisieren. In American Gadfly. Socrates and the Problem of Metaphor (43-59) beschäftigt sich Michael Naas mit dem Bild von Sokrates als muōps, als „Bremse“ oder „Stechfliege“, die das große und edle, aber zur Trägheit neigende Pferd Athen stetig reizt, indem sie es sticht. (Apologie 30e) (Schleiermacher übersetzt „Sporn“, eine Bedeutung, die er ebenfalls thematisiert und die in seinem Text mitläuft.) Laut Naas ist dieser wohl berühmteste platonisch-sokratische Tiervergleich in einem Doppelsinn zu verstehen: einerseits in einem politischen, der prägnant in der Übersetzung gadfly zum Ausdruck komme, einer ‚leeren‘ oder ‚verblassten‘ Metapher, die im Amerikanischen einen politischen Provokateur bezeichnet, der den Status Quo durch unbequeme Fragen herausfordert und wichtige kritische Impulse liefert; anderseits in einem genuin philosophischen. In diesem Sinn werde Sokrates von Platon nicht nur als ein politischer Provokateur unter anderen portraitiert, sondern als die philosophische „Bremse“ schlechthin, die in demjenigen, den sie sticht, eine Hinwendung zur Philosophie auslösen kann. Im Bild von Sokrates als muōps würde sich damit der philosophische Wandlungsprozess verdichten, der in den Dialogen immer wieder beschrieben wird – den Naas allerdings nur andeutet –; in der Apologie dargestellt durch den in wenigen Zeilen vollzogenen Übergang von der niedrigsten animalischen Kreatur über den Menschen hin zum Quasi-Göttlichen. Eben diese Transformation lasse sich im platonischen Text auch auf der Ebene der Sprache beobachten, wenn Platon einem gewöhnlichen Ausdruck wie diesem durch seine ironisch-metaphorische, auf den ersten Blick sogar „absurde“ (Apologie 30e) Verwendung eine neue, originär philosophische Bedeutung verleihe, dadurch die Sprache gleichsam „erhebe“ und sich ein ganz eigenes begriffliches Register schaffe. Vor diesem Hintergrund argumentiert er mit Derrida, dass die sokratischen Tiervergleiche insgesamt dazu dienen, die „Konturen des anthrōpos“ erscheinen zu lassen, den Menschen also zwischen dem Animalischen und dem Göttlichen zu verorten. (Tier-)Analogien und -metaphern wie die des muōps seien Platons machtvollstes Mittel, diese Konturen sichtbar zu machen, und damit zentral für seine Anthropologie.

Das Bild von Sokrates als muōps ruft auch H. Peter Steeves in The Dog on the Fly (96-111) auf. Anders als Naas, der darin das Urbild der philosophischen „Bremse“ erblickt, die durch ihren Stich eine Hinwendung zur Philosophie bewirken kann, hält er diesen Vergleich jedoch für verräterisch: Indem sich Platons Sokrates so beschreibe, mache er nicht nur sich selbst, sondern auch seine Mitmenschen zu Tieren; stummen und sprachlosen Tieren, die gerade nicht zum philosophischen logos fähig sind. Und tatsächlich sei Platons Sokrates in seinem Auftrag der „Sorge um die Seele“ weitgehend gescheitert – lasse er seine Gesprächspartner, die bald nur noch zu zustimmenden Gemurmel imstande seien, doch in kürzester Zeit verstummen. In dieser Lesart, die wohl auch von denjenigen geteilt worden sei, die ihn zum Tode verurteilten, sei auch nicht Thrasymachos – der schließlich in animalischer Sprachlosigkeit versinke –, sondern Sokrates selbst der wahre Wolf, der seinen Gesprächspartnern die Stimme stehle und sie ihrer Menschlichkeit beraube. Diese Ambivalenz im platonischen Text, die sich gegen die Intention des Autors wende, dieses Wirken der différance lasse sich nach Steeves unter anderem auch an der doppeldeutigen politischen Rolle des Sokrates beobachten, der zwischen radikalem Revolutionär und Verteidiger einer elitären und autoritären Ordnung schwanke. Unter der Feder Platons werde Sokrates so zu einer halb wilden, halb gezähmten, „seltsam hybriden Kreatur“, die nie vollständig das eine oder das andere sei; eine Spannung, die sich in den sokratischen Tiervergleichen in besonderer Weise Bahn breche. Interessant ist dabei, wie Steeves die Gegenüberstellung von Platon und Sokrates in den platonischen Text hinein verlegt und als Spannungsverhältnis zwischen der Absicht des Autors und dem animalischen Eigenleben seiner Figur deutet. Seine These, diese Spannung resultiere aus den klassenspezifischen und damit auch politischen Unterschieden zwischen Platon und seinem Lehrer Sokrates ist dann allerdings wieder hinlänglich bekannt; auch wenn er dabei die von Diogenes von Sinope, dem „Hund“, unternommenen Angriffe auf den Aristokraten Platon rekapituliert und die „hündische“ Lebensweise des Diogenes, der als eine Art philosophischer Performancekünstler erscheint, der sokratischen annähert.

Doch wer zähmt hier eigentlich wen? Was kann es bedeuten, dass Sokrates in der Apologie nicht nur sich selbst, sondern im selben Atemzug auch die polis Athen und seine Mitbürger zum Tier macht? In Taming Horses and Desires. Plato’s Politics of Care (115-130) geht Jeremy Bell nicht vom Bild der sokratischen „Bremse“, sondern von der anderen Seite der berühmten Analogie aus: dem Vergleich Athens mit einem Pferd, das gestochen, angespornt und gereizt werden muss, um nicht in Trägheit und Lethargie zu verfallen. Ausgehend davon versucht er zu zeigen, dass Platon das Bild des Pferdes als einem Tier, das von Natur aus zahm, aber von Geburt an wild ist und deshalb trainiert werden muss, in den Dialogen immer wieder verwendet, um die Doppelnatur des Menschen zu beschreiben. So trage auch der Mensch zugleich die Anlage zu Wildheit und Zahmheit in sich und bedürfe deshalb Praktiken der Sorge (epimeleia), um seine eigentliche Natur zu verwirklichen. Die sokratische Praxis begreift Bell entsprechend als eine von der „Sorge um die Seele“ angespornte Form der Erziehung und Bildung, der Übung und des Trainings. Dessen erste und wichtigste Voraussetzung sei das Erwachen aus dem ‚dogmatischen Schlummer‘ im Sinne einer Einsicht in das eigene Nichtwissen und die Begrenztheit des menschlichen Wissens überhaupt – Philosophie als Kunst, nicht schlafende Hunde, sondern Pferde zu wecken. Diese Einsicht wäre es dann auch, die den sokratischen Gesprächspartnern zeitweise die Sprache verschlägt, auch wenn Bell ebenfalls der Auffassung ist, dass einige Dialoge eher vom Scheitern seiner Bemühungen zeugen. Einmal begonnen, schreite das philosophische Trainingsprogramm dann als Ausbildung eines spezifischen Selbstverhältnisses voran, einer Kultivierung des eigenen Begehrens; eine Vorstellung, die Platon auch politisch gewendet habe und in der Politeia und den Nomoi in den Verfassungen und Institutionen der besten bzw. zweitbesten Stadt habe verankern wollen. Resultieren würde es schließlich in einer ‚Selbstzähmung‘, die dem Menschen allererst die Ausübung seiner Freiheit ermögliche. Damit erweise sich die Praxis der „Sorge um die Seele“ letztlich als Praxis der persönlichen und politischen Freiheit; eine Form nicht der Freiheit von…, sondern der Freiheit zu…, die über eine gleichsam animalische Freiheit, wie Steeves sie in der Figur des Diogenes verkörpert zu sehen scheint, hinausweist.

Wie, wenn überhaupt, kann es gelingen, die erste und wichtigste Bedingung für einen solchen genuin philosophischen Erziehungs- und Bildungsprozess, die Einsicht in das eigene Nichtwissen, zu schaffen? In Till Human Voices Wake Us and We Drown. The Aporia-Fish in the Meno (60-76) rückt Thomas Thorp einen weiteren berühmten sokratischen Tiervergleich in den Blick: Das Bild von Sokrates als Zitterrochen (narkē), einem Fisch, der seine Beute nicht sticht oder aus dem Hinterhalt angreift, sondern aus der Distanz heraus durch einen Elektroschock lähmt. Anders als das Bild des muōps wird es nicht von Sokrates selbst, sondern von seinem Gesprächspartner Menon heraufbeschworen (80a), der zu Beginn des Dialogs hatte wissen wollen, ob die Tugend (aretē) lehr- und lernbar sei. Statt diese Frage zu beantworten, erwidert Sokrates, er wisse gar nicht, was die Tugend eigentlich sei, und stellt die berühmte ti esti-Frage. Nach einigen gescheiterten Definitionsversuchen befindet sich Menon im Zustand der Aporie und attackiert Sokrates, indem er ihn als „Zitterrochen“ bezeichnet, der jeden, der in seine Nähe kommt, zum Erstarren bringt. Die mysteriöse Kraft dieses Rochens, die von ihm ausgelöste Aporie, die als Beginn jedes genuin philosophischen Lernprozesses gelten kann, deutet Thorp nun als Kraft, ein für gewöhnlich nicht sichtbares Medium – im Bild: das Meerwasser, in dem der Fisch und seine Beute selbstverständlich leben – zu elektrisieren und dadurch mit einem Schlag sichtbar zu machen. Was zuvor die selbst unsichtbare, aber für alles Leben notwendige Voraussetzung bildete, das Element, in dem sich Menon wie ein Fisch im Wasser bewegte, werde also in dem Augenblick, in dem Sokrates die ti esti-Frage stellt, plötzlich präsent und damit problematisch. Zugleich werde die Aporie damit auf den Leser zurückgeworfen, der sich bis zu diesem Punkt noch in einer überlegenen Position hatte wähnen können, sich nun aber ebenfalls gezwungen sehe, sich auf das Medium der bisher geführten Rede, auf den logos selbst zurückzuwenden. Aber nicht nur Menon und dem Leser des Dialogs, auch Sokrates selbst verschlage der Auftritt des imaginären Fischs einen Moment lang den Atem. In eben dieser betäubten Pause werde nun, so Thorp, die so zwingende wie verführerische Logik der von ihm aufgeworfenen ti esti-Frage, das Postulat eines Seienden, das als „Tugend“ benennbar wäre, selbst suspendiert – und mit ihm einige der wichtigsten Doktrinen, die Platon für gewöhnlich zugeschrieben werden.

Eine solche Suspendierung, Re-interpretation und Re-signifizierung deutet auch S. Montgomery Ewegen in We the Bird-Catchers: Receiving the Truth in the Phaedo and the Apology (79-95) an, indem er sich auf den Vergleich des Sokrates mit einem prophetischen Schwan im Phaidon bezieht. Der auf seine Hinrichtung wartende Sokrates erzählt die Geschichte der Schwäne, nachdem Kebes und Simmias in der Stille, die auf ihr Gespräch über die Unsterblichkeit der Seele gefolgt war, zu tuscheln begonnen, aber zunächst gezögert hatten, ihre Bedenken bezüglich der bisherigen Unterredung zu äußern, aus Sorge, sie könnten Sokrates in seinem Unglück unangenehm sein. Um ihnen klar zu machen, dass er alles andere als unglücklich sei, erzählt Sokrates von den Schwänen, die kurz vor ihrem Tod am schönsten und besten singen würden, weil sie dank ihrer göttlichen Voraussicht spürten, dass sie nach ihrem irdischen Tod zu ihrem Herrn, dem Gott Apollon, zurückkehren würden. Die Menschen, die den Gesang der Vögel fälschlich für ein Klagelied hielten, würden nur ihre eigene Todesfurcht hineininterpretieren, statt ihn für das zu nehmen, was er sei: ein Zeichen der Freude. Und gleich den Schwänen sei auch Sokrates selbst ein Diener des Gottes und insofern mit gleichsam wahrsagerischen Fähigkeiten ausgestattet, und könne deshalb ebenso glücklich wie sie aus dem Leben scheiden. (84e-85b) Für Ewegen zeigt sich in diesem Bild von Sokrates als prophetischem Schwan die Besonderheit des sokratisch-platonischen Philosophierens. Wie die Schwäne ihre Botschaft durch den Gott erhielten, der durch sie spräche und dem sie als Zeichen dienten, die von den Menschen interpretiert werden müssen, und so wie Sokrates in der Apologie selbst den berühmten Spruch des Orakels, niemand sei weiser als er, deute und umdeute, so sollten auch Platons Leser Äußerungen in den Dialogen nicht einfach als Behauptungen nehmen oder gar als feststehende Lehrmeinungen übernehmen. Ihre Wahrheit enthülle sich, so Ewegen, vielmehr in einem komplexen Prozess der Interpretation und Re-interpretationen, die immer schon ein Engagement in den Text voraussetze und der prinzipiell unabschließbar sei. Indem Platon seine Leser in seinen sokratischen Dialogen nicht lediglich Wörter, nicht nur logoi, sondern die Figur des Sokrates selbst als Zeichen gebe, stelle er sie vor ein Rätsel, über das es nachzudenken, aber dass es nicht unbedingt ein für alle Mal zu lösen gelte. Ewegens Interpretation des sokratischen Schwanengesangs erweist sich insofern als paradigmatisch für die eingangs skizzierte ‚postmoderne Wende‘ in der Platonforschung, Deutungen, wie sie im deutschsprachigen Raum früh unter anderem von der Phänomenologie und Hermeneutik, etwa von Hans-Georg Gadamer, aber auch von Vertretern der Klassischen Philologie wie Philip Merlan und Hermann Gundert entwickelt wurden.

Nicht nur die hier besprochenen, auch die weiteren Essays des Bandes verdienen eine aufmerksame Lektüre; seien es Heidi Northwoods Vergleich der sokratischen Dialoge und der äsopischen Fabeln in Making Music with Aesop’s Fables in the Phaedo (13-26) oder Holly Moores Überlegungen zur dihairesis in Animal Sacrifice in Plato’s Later Methodology (179-192), um nur zwei herauszugreifen. Den Beiträgen insgesamt gelingt es, Passagen in den Dialogen, die in Kommentaren für gewöhnlich nur wenig Aufmerksamkeit erfahren oder gänzlich übergangen werden, in den Mittelpunkt zu rücken und ihre Bedeutung für den Gesprächsverlauf herauszustellen; andererseits allzu bekannte Stellen in neuem Licht erscheinen zu lassen. Dabei werden die platonischen Tierbilder nicht nur um ihrer selbst willen diskutiert, sondern daraufhin untersucht, inwiefern in ihnen wesentliche Aspekte des platonischen Philosophierens zum Ausdruck kommen – bisweilen auch auf die Gefahr hin, die hier gewählten Bilder überzustrapazieren. Der Anspruch der Herausgeber, einen Band vorzulegen, der mehr und anderes ist als ein bloßes „Lexikon“ der vielfältigen platonischen Tier-Referenzen (3) ist damit mehr als erfüllt. Gleichzeitig kann der Band, auch aufgrund des beigefügten Stellenverzeichnisses, das alle platonischen Tierbilder versammelt, durchaus auch als ein solches Nachschlagewerk dienen, insbesondere wenn es darum geht, diese Passagen in einen größeren Kontext einzuordnen, in der Auslegung noch stärker auf den Skopos und den Gesamtverlauf des jeweiligen Dialogs zu beziehen und auf diesem Wege tatsächlich zu einer Gesamtdeutung des platonischen Philosophierens zu kommen – auch wenn diese sich selbst niemals absolut setzen kann.

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.