Friederike Moltmann, Mark Textor (Eds.): Act-Based Conceptions of Propositional Content: Contemporary and Historical Perspectives, Oxford University Press, 2017

Act-Based Conceptions of Propositional Content: Contemporary and Historical Perspectives Book Cover Act-Based Conceptions of Propositional Content: Contemporary and Historical Perspectives
Friederike Moltmann, Mark Textor (Eds.)
Oxford University Press
Hardcover £33.59

J. Aaron Simmons, J. Edward Hackett (Eds.): Phenomenology in the 21st Century

Phenomenology for the Twenty-First Century Book Cover Phenomenology for the Twenty-First Century
J Aaron Simmons & J. Edward Hackett (Eds.)
Palgrave Macmillan
Hardcover, 99,99 €
XIX, 386

Reviewed byHeath Williams (The University of Western Australia)

When I set out to review this work I was concerned that the essence of phenomenology, and in particular the aspirations of Husserl, might be lost during this book’s attempts at cross-pollination, hybridization and interbreeding (if they have not already). My concerns were echoed in the introduction and preface where Gallagher asks how we can continue to recognise phenomenology as we push it into fresh areas. The introduction (essay #1, by one of the editors, J. A. Simmons) memorably asks “has phenomenology caught the sickness it is trying to cure?” (p. 2). I was concerned that, in its attempt to expand and chart new territory, phenomenology might contract incomprehensibility and irrationalism. We are assured early that this volume hopes phenomenology can “find a way to be a mile wide, as it were, without only being an inch deep” (pg. 2). It was, then, with keen sensibilities to the shallows that I set out.

Overall, I found the collection of 18 essays in this volume enlivening. The editors resisted giving the contributors lengthy word counts. As a result, the chapters in this volume are easily digestible, but also educational, because of their accessible style (bar essay #5 and #10). The variety of scholarship is remarkable. There is novel research, the utilisation of classical phenomenological themes, interspersed with original yet rigorous analysis and description. The exegesis of non-canonical figures and outsiders is a great way to approach the often well-worn phenomenological path. There was, also, generally a shared sensitivity in protecting the methods and contents of phenomenology from the aforementioned shallows. The division of this review will follow the six parts of the book, and reference essay numbers.

Part 1. Justice and Value.

The first essay of the first part by S. Minister (essay #2) shows how phenomenological themes can be relevant to global ethics. For example, Minister argues, there are advantages to taking on Levinas’s ethics of alterity and self-responsibility towards others as a summum bonum, because this overcomes the egocentric biases of utilitarian and deontological approaches, or those ethical theories based on either rationality or self-interest. Also, the intersubjective constitution of objectivity promotes an ethics based on mutual dialogue and interaction, and deconstructive phenomenology might help in breaking down pre-established categories—like ‘the poor’, and ‘developing countries’—which often don’t really carve concrete ethical reality at the joints. This essay is innovative and lofty, but, as would be expected, it’s a little short on detail, and thereby sometimes lacks epistemological weight.

D. M. Dalton’s essay (#3)—a highlight of this section—picks up on a theme from essay #2: the ‘problem of the other’ in Levinas’s philosophy. This essay gives an excellent genealogical trace of the ‘problem’, starting from Husserl and travelling via Heidegger to Levinas. The author argues that Levinas’s descriptive account should not be read as a solution to the problem (and that, in fact, to do so is to commit an ethical infraction). Instead, a Kierkegaardian leap of faith from phenomenology to Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, and the ‘ethics of resistance’, is made. The author states that the described transcendence, power, and even tyranny of the other can only be overcome by learning to ‘resist’ the other—to say ‘no’—without rejecting or succumbing to them. Scholars interested in the problem of the other will find this essay an invaluable exegesis, and an elegant proposed solution.

This final essay of part one (#4, by the other editor, J. E. Hackett) outlines the prima facia system of metaethical moral intuitionism advocated by W.D. Ross. Hackett discusses the problem that the moral principles Ross thinks should be considered in making context dependant ethical choices suffers from a lack of grounding which it can’t solve without resorting to the moral universalism it seeks to avoid. Hackett states that Scheler’s moral theory fills in some much needed concrete detail which grounds Ross’s list of moral principles. The third essay shifts up a gear in terms of technicity and density, particularly during the opening and closing sections.

Part 2. Meaning and Critique.

Essay #5 is N. DeRoo’s look at the Dutch transcendental philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd. It shows Dooyeweerd was concerned with a problem which Husserl, Heidegger and Derrida were very much interested in—the problem of genesis. This is the problem of the perpetual self-foundation/generation of meaning and being, ex nihilo. Reflection on this problem leads to a concentric play between transcendental consciousness and the meaning ground of the lifeworld. This concentric spiral bores down to the ‘religious root of creation’, which Dooyeweerd calls the ‘supra-temporal heart’. ‘Supra-temporality’ is a complicated concept, involving a relationship between religion, cosmic time, expression, and the heart. As would be expected of an essay concerning meaning, being and genesis, the first essay of part two is heavily technical. Dooyeweerd’s thought is packed with deeply transcendental religiosity, bordering on impenetrable mysticism, but DeRoo makes earnest attempts to explain this formidable thinker.

Essay #6, by E. J. Mohr, examines the possibility of mixing phenomenology with the seemingly opposed philosophical school of critical theory. Critical phenomenology is the attempt to investigate and express the lived experience of the inadequacy and non-identity of conceptions of justice to experience. Mohr argues that the two traditions of phenomenology and critical theory are already blended. The experience of the proletariat, person of race, gender, etc., has always formed the basis for critique, and attention to experience has the potential to cut through tired politicised language. Self-reflection and appraisal can change emotional attunement and pre-established ingrained systems of evaluative preferencing, and phenomenological practice can perform the immanent self-critique advocated by critical theory, thus creating ethical behaviour. This is an essay which emulates the hybridisation it espouses: it is dialectical and critical, yet relies on an array of many concrete experiential exemplars which demonstrate the content.

Essay #7 unearths the phenomenological aspect of Reinach’s theory of justice. K. Baltzer-Jaray shows that Reinach’s essay in the first Jarbuch of phenomenology responds to the jurisprudential underpinnings of the unifying codification of German law in the Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch of 1909. The jurisprudence of the Gesetzbuch sees the law as a codified set of constructs which served to solidify political power. The Büch thus represents the failure to prevent the notion of ‘Recht’ (justice) from collapsing into ‘Gesetzt’ (written law). Reinach’s response is that Recht is an a priori timeless and unchanging ideal, which is independent of manmade laws and our attempts to comprehend it. For Reinach justice is a material essence which can only be grasped in intuition, via ideation. The sciences which study justice must operate via rational activity which generates synthetic principles to apply to contextual circumstances. This is a timely discussion of a sometimes contemporarily neglected aspect of the phenomenological project: the idealism, a priori-ism, and rationalism of the early German school. This clarifies the crucially phenomenological aspect of the work of an important thinker.
While there is not a lot of overlap between the essays in this section, they are truly cross-traditional, interspersing diverse phenomenological themes with critical theory, theology, and theories of justice.

Part 3. Emotion and Revelation.

Both the eighth and ninth essays present original phenomenological descriptive analyses. The eighth essay by F. Bottenberg is an attempt to provide a theory of the role of emotional evaluation and motivation. It argues that the theory of simple emotional valence is not nuanced enough to account for the embodied, amorphous, and context dependent nature of emotions. The animationist position put forward argues that a dynamic interplay of the internality of the body with the externality of the world is mediated by emotions. There is a three way correlation between certain classes of emotions (i.e. aggressive vs defensive), certain profiles of motor tendencies, and the ‘soliciting feel’ of the world. Thus, emotional valuing is not valent but kineso-existential. This essay will appeal to those looking for phenomenological descriptions of 4E cognition (see especially the description of the emotional experience of fear on p. 149), and ties in nicely with themes in the essay by Colombetti in part 4. It backs up poetic flair with solid content and clear distinctions, mimics the fluidity it depicts, and is reminiscent of Merleau-Ponty.

The ninth essay addresses the phenomenology of envy. In the past, Anglophone philosophers, like Taylor and Hacker (for example), have seen envy as other-assessing, because the other is seen as the object of the emotion. Contemporary discussions of envy distinguish between a (benign) envy that focuses on the object of envy, and a (malicious) envy which focuses on the state of the other as possessing this object. M. R. Kelly argues that this schema is inadequate because envy is always a comparative intentionality, and it is always a vice. Without the notion of comparativeness, object centred envy collapses into covetousness. Kelly proposes a distinction between possessor envy and deficiency envy. With the former we believe that the other doesn’t deserve what they have, in the latter we reproach ourselves for not having it. The former is other-centred, and focuses on the undeservedness of the superiority of the other. The latter is self-centred, and we see our status as unjustly inferior. Both however are based on assessing the self in relation to the other. Finally, possessor envy manifests in resentment and hostility toward the envied, whilst deficiency empathy manifests in self-loathing. Non-other centred deficiency envy is therefore not benign, as it diminishes one’s moral character. Both envies are a form of vice. Analytic and Anglophone virtue philosophers will find familiar methodological and thematic tropes in this article, as will Husserlians.

The tenth essay is W. C. Hackett’s attempt to articulate a primer on the phenomenology of the philosophy of revelation, with reference to recent phenomenological figures including Lacoste and Marion. Unfortunately, this chapter is a low point in this edited volume, and I convey only what little of it I understood. On p.187, it is claimed that
1. Philosophy is the inquiry into the essence of humanity.
2. The revelation of God is a revelation into humanities most private mystery. Therefore,
3. A philosophy or revelation is fundamental to philosophy’s innate aim.
Furthermore, because of phenomenology’s capacity to express experience, a phenomenology of philosophical revelation holds special promise to fulfil this fundamental philosophical project. A phenomenology of religious revelation articulates the appearance of the impossible and, therefore, by definition, transcends its own limits and expands the limits of intelligibility. It is an irony that an essay on revelation conceals. It was full of unintelligible phrases, unexplained specialist terms, and Greek, French, German and Latin. Non-specialists will find it impenetrable and it is, therefore, of value only to a select few.

Part 4. Embodiment and Affectivity.

Part four is rooted in the hybrid space between empirical psychology and phenomenology. There are interlacing ‘4E cognition’ themes in this part. Both the first and third articles rely on the interpretation of first person psychiatric descriptions of disorder as a form of eidetic variation.
The first article of part four (essay #11), by M. Ratcliffe, examines what constitutes the sense that one is in an intentional state of a particular type (i.e. perception), as opposed to a different type (i.e. imagination). It has been suggested that sense of type is determined by experiencing correlative characteristic types of contents alone. Ratcliffe proposes that one can experience contents characteristic of intentional state type x, without having the sense of being in that state type, and thus content is not sufficient to dictate sense of type. Evidence is provided by certain anomalous experiences.

Ratcliffe’s example is thought insertion (TI). He argues that some features of the contents of TI are characteristic of perceptual content (i.e. seemingly extra-mental external origin), but mostly the features are characteristic of thought content. Yet, TI has the sense of being a perceptual type experience. Thus, types of experience aren’t determined by, nor wholly collapse into, types of contents. Ratcliffe argues that another factor explains our sense of type—the phenomenological (Husserlian) notion of horizonality.

An object’s horizon determines the possibilities we attribute to it, and these possibilities determine an anticipatory profile. The anticipatory profile of inserted thoughts is more consistent with perception. For example, one has a sense of lacking foreknowledge of the occurrence of inserted thoughts, and thereby one experiences an associated negative affect—anxiety over the unknown. These features belong to the anticipatory profile of external auditory experiences—a type of perception. It is thus the anticipatory profile which correlates more strongly with sense of type of experience, and explains it better than content.

Incorporation is the assimilation of either skills or objects, and it is typically a feature of embodied or perceptual capacities. In her contribution (essay #12), G. Colombetti contends that incorporation also operates in affective states like motivations, moods, and emotions. An example of affective skill incorporation would be how bodily expressive ‘styles’, such as patterns of hand gesture and body postures, become a spontaneous and prereflective form of expressing and experiencing affects.

There are, it seems, two essential parts to the claim that affective states incorporate objects. Firstly, objects become constitutive parts of affective states. For example, hiking boots might partly constitute an affective state of confidence. Secondly, these affective states then change the nature of the world we see ourselves in. For example, the state of confidence which is partly constituted by our hiking boots in turn enables a specific set of motoric affordances and colours our perception of the hiking trail.

In response to potential objections, Colombetti maintains that objects are not only incorporated into perceptual states, which in turn act as a (causal/functional) input into affective states, but objects are incorporated directly into affective states themselves. An unconsidered objection is that, seeing as it is already held that objects are incorporated perceptually, and we can concede that perception is in causal/functional interaction with affectivity, doesn’t it seems a little unparsimonious to claim that objects are incorporated into affective states as well? This will need further discussion in the near future.

Essay #13, by J. Kreuger and M. Gram Henriksen claims that, in Mobius Syndrome (MS) (lateral congenital paralysis of one side of the face), and schizophrenia, paradigmatic phenomenological senses of embodiment are highlighted because they are disrupted. MS sufferers report a sense of detachment and alienation from their body, and a feeling of being trapped in their head, like a Cartesian disembodied mind. The body loses its anonymity, performing gestures and expressions are wilful and considered. The body is experienced as a Körper but not a Leib. Schizophrenia is characterised by a diminished self-affection and hyper reflexivity, and phenomenological reports suggest it can involve a disturbance in embodied ipseity. Patients report feeling disjointed from and disown their own body. This essay is the most descriptive and least argumentative of this part of the volume.

Part 5. Pragmatism.

The fifth part is highly creative. M. Craig’s contribution (essay #14) seeks to combine phenomenology with James’s pragmatism and Bergson’s vitalism. For Bergson, the primary state of experience is temporal flux, which is anaemic to verbalisation or conceptualisation. James, of course, coined the archetypal characterisation of consciousness as a ‘flow’ or ‘stream’. Both are thus concerned with the intricacy of life beyond abstract conceptualisation, and used vivid description, depiction, and images in order to do philosophy. Further, both Bergson’s intuitionist vitalism, and James’s sovereignty of the empirical singularity and emergentist ethics, promises to reinvigorate philosophy in a way which phenomenologists could participate.

Essay #15 (by J. Bell) details the interaction between the seminal American pragmatists J. Royce and Husserl, by recounting the presidential address by Royce in 1902 to the American Psychological Association. Royce was globally one of the earliest thinkers to engage with Husserl. Royce was interested in investigating the morphology (or, adaptability) of concepts, particularly on the shared conceptual grounds between the increasingly hostile inter-disciplinary areas of psychology and philosophical logic. One area of frequent concept morphology is mathematics. For Royce, as for Husserl, this was precisely an area where empirical and a priori consciousnesses merged to create a factical world full of meanings and ideal objectivities. Of pressing importance is the function of the consciousness of affirmation and denial for system building, organisation, and categorisation. This section of essay #15 is reminiscent of Burt Hopkins historical-mathematical reconstructions.

The final section of part 5, discusses the importance of the consciousness of inhibitions and taboo for Royce. It connects this with Husserl’s core notions of activity and passivity, the ‘I can’ and the ‘I can’t’, and the actualisation of some possibilities to the expense of others. The taboo and the inhibition are found on the borders of the consciousness of the limiting cases of what can (and ought) to become actualised, and to grasp (phenomenologically) the entertaining and inhibiting of a multiplicity of possibilities is to understand intelligence, thought, and the locus of pragmatic philosophy.

Part 6. Calling Phenomenology into Question.

The final engrossing part of this book begins very much back where this review started: questioning the coherency and health of phenomenology.

Essay #16 by T. Sparrow surveys a series of introductions to phenomenology, and finds phenomenology defined as the study of consciousness (Detmer, Gallaher), a foundational science (Detmer), the science of appearances (Lewis and Staehler), and a Platonic searching for essential truths (Sokolowski). Sparrow judges the lack of a cohesive definition problematic. Faced with this diversity, Simmons and Benson resort to a defensive definition of phenomenology as a family resemblance term. However, at least some strains of phenomenology endorse the notion that there is an essence to phenomenology and, critically, theorists (some within this very volume) often suggest that phenomenology might be applied as a research method to new areas. So, it seems imperative to define what exactly phenomenology is. The basic point of this essay is convincingly made early on. For the ‘variety of definitions’ objection to be considered problematic, however, it would need to be shown that there is less coherence within phenomenology than with any other research paradigm, science, or philosophical school.

Essay #17 by P. Ennis claims that, despite Husserl’s admirable attempt to limit himself to and examine only epistemologically purified Cartesian forms of evidence, we have better forms of evidence available to us today. As Ennis notes, Husserlian foundational evidence is criticised by Sellars attack on the myth of the given. Furthermore, Ennis argues that Metzinger’s and Chruchland’s accounts of the self might not be totally incommensurate with Husserlian transcendental accounts of the self, but they are developed (not only phenomenological but also) neurobiologically, functionally, and in representational terms. They thus offer similar (but not identical) systems, but with better (empirical scientific) evidential backing. There is very little original criticism here: the value of empirical evidence over phenomenological evidence is a stalwart of contemporary cognitive science. However, it is an interesting tactic to draw parallels between Metzinger and Husserl in order to persuade the phenomenologists that they needn’t abandon their core claims if they traded a phenomenological perspective for a functional/neurobiological one.

The final article (#18) by B E. Benson is a response to the previous two. Regarding Sparrow, Benson simply denies the legitimacy of the requirement that phenomenology have any easily definable method or essence. Also, Benson claims that there is more coherency among key features (like object, experience, appearance, science) of the varied definitions that Sparrow discusses than he grants. Lastly, though there is variety, there is also much shared DNA within the phenomenological family. Benson also echoes my concerns when he argues that phenomenology is no more varied than other large philosophical traditions, nor less methodologically coherent than natural science was in its first few centuries. Like scientific method, no one phenomenologist has the authority to decide the meaning and method of phenomenology.

Finally, in response to Ennis, Benson argues that the fact that Metzinger and Husserl came to similar conclusions doesn’t really allow us to differentiate them, let alone give us good reason to favour one over the other. For Benson, Ennis nowhere entertains a pluralistic approach to explaining psychological phenomenon, wherein the strength of neuroscience needn’t imply the death of phenomenology. Lastly, Ennis only addresses Husserlian transcendental phenomenology and, even if Ennis were right, phenomenology has many other facets, as the preceding article, and this edited work more generally, shows.