Hans-Georg Gadamer: The Beginning of Philosophy

The Beginning of Philosophy Book Cover The Beginning of Philosophy
Bloomsbury Revelations
Hans-Georg Gadamer
Ancient Philosophy, History of Philosophy
Bloomsbury Academic
Paperback $20.66

Reviewed by: Zachary Isrow (Global Center for Advanced Studies)

Where does philosophy begin? Often, in the West, Thales of Miletus is considered father of philosophy. Yet, if one looks Eastward towards India and China, or South towards Egypt, there are surely philosophical origins long before Thales existed. Still, in the West the presocratics are where we look to uncover the beginning of philosophical thought. While many texts have been written addressing and interpreting the presocrates and their thought, Hans-Georg Gadamer’s The Beginning of Philosophy is not one of these – at least not in the typical sense. Gadamer’s book, based on the lectures he gave in 1988 at the Naples Institute for the Study of Philosophy in Italy, does not strictly seek to explore presocratic philosophy in its own regard, but rather hopes to address the hidden origins of philosophy.

Gadamer, a renowned philosophy of the 20th Century, with these lectures, introduces a new approach to ancient philosophy. Much of the current literature on presocratic philosophy focuses strictly on the ideas generated and discussed in relation to their influence on the future development of philosophy. While Gadamer does not fall far from this in his lectures, the book’s beginning two chapters “The Meaning of Beginning” and “Hermeneutic Access to Beginning” pave the way for a unique approach to thinking about presocratic philosophy. For this review, I will focus on this new approach Gadamer suggests and then briefly discuss how this new approach to presocratic thought lends itself to a more complete system of thought, rather than a series of seemingly sporadic fragments.

When we ask ourselves “where does philosophy begin?,” it is often question answered by reference to a time, place, or individual. Interest in actual interpretation of presocratic philosophy was never really a task set forth by intellectuals until the nineteenth century romantics in Germany, with Hegel and Schleiermacher (10). Still, none questioned the very origins of presocratic thought. Why did it develop the way it did? Was it mere curiosity? Was it the myths that sparked interest in things unseen? Gadamer, thinks that there is a secret origin to which “beginning” refers. He writes that “there is yet another, far more obscure precursor – something that lies prior to all rich in tradition, prior to medical literature as well as presocratics, namely, the language spoken by the Greeks” (13).

The Greek language is well-formed to investigate philosophical questions. Gadamer notes two aspects of the Greek language which make it most suitable for philosophic inquiry as being, in the first place, the use of the neuter, and in the second, the existence of the copula (14). Regarding the former, he writes that “It has to do not with the quality of a being, but the quality of a whole space, “being,” in which all beings appear” (14). This poses Greek as a language not only capable of abstraction, but rooted in an abstraction. The copula, which relates to the actual sentence structure in Greek, refers to the “use of the verb ‘to be’ to link the subject and the predicate” (14). Together, these two important distinguishing characteristics of the language used by the presocratics, positioned them to be able to immerse themselves into what would become philosophy.

The second sense of “beginning” is reflective, in that it already presupposes an end. “The anticipation of an end is a prerequisite for a concrete beginning” Gadamer suggests (15). In other words, beginnings always have an end or goal towards which they progress. There is, then, a teleology at work in the development of history, particularly in the history of philosophy. However, this development, already contains its end within its beginning and as such, nothing given to it along its progression is innovative or unexpected. So long as “nothing new, no innovation, and nothing unforeseen is present, there is also no history to relate” and so thus the “primordial opposition between nature and spirit” enters into philosophical discourse (16).

Gadamer here offers a final consideration of the meaning of “beginning,” which is most suitable for discussing the presocratics and their role in the history of philosophy. This is “beginning” as incipience, rather than the incipient entity. This allows that “many eventualities – within reason, of course – are still possible (17). More so, it escapes a predetermined or a presupposed path – it signifies an element of “uncertainty”. Gadamer thinks this is true of presocratic thought, in which there is “a seeking without knowledge of the ultimate destiny” that their seeking will have or at which it may conclude.

After setting up the three meanings of beginning as his premises, Gadamer shifts to focusing on the history of philosophy from a hermeneutic standpoint. This is what he calls ‘effective history’ and approaches the issue of scholarship through problemgeschichte, or, “problem history.” “In this sense,” writes Gadamer, “a problem is something that impedes the progress of knowledge” (25). Thus, in different fields and disciplines, the problemgeschichte is different. In more scientific fields we must continuously seek additional confirmation, never feeling fully satisfied by the current theory. Likewise, in most fields, if we disprove a theory, it is of little to no more use.

Philosophy, unlike other disciplines, does not disregard the problem simply because any possible solution has also been eliminated. It is, then “not correct to say that if a problem admits of no falsification then it presents no question to the thinker” (26). We must therefore approach the presocratics differently than has been previously attempted. Rather than interpreting the texts out of our own vantage point, that is, via reflection, we should instead let the text itself provided us with an interpretation. This means simply that “it is not correct to assert that the study of a text or tradition is completely dependent upon our own decision making” (28).

As Gadamer continues on with his lectures on the presocratics, he uses this approach so as to only use what the text itself allows for, without filling in gaps with speculation and reasoned interpretation. Only what the texts suggest does he consider to be a valid method of understanding the presocratic philosophers and their views. In doing so, he offers a unique approach to the contemplation of the very origin of philosophic thought.

Overall, this work provides an attempt to reconsider the presocratics in a way not typically found. The approach offered by Gadamer is one which enables the reader to reconnect with the texts themselves rather than resting only upon various interpretations. While this gives one a different method with which they can approach the presocratic texts and philosophies, it does not actually result in a new way of perceiving the presocratics. No real new insight is offered into the presocratics and their views, other than some details which have perhaps at times been overlooked due to the current “survey” methods used.

Due to its depth, I would not recommend this book to anyone altogether unfamiliar with ancient Greek thought as much of the value of the book would be lost in such a case. However, this text is valuable, especially for those who study philosophy and ancient philosophy in particular. It carries with it not only the new approach offered throughout, but also a new appreciation for the presocratics which are so often overlooked or by-passed.

Hans-Georg Gadamer: The Beginning of Philosophy

The Beginning of Philosophy Book Cover The Beginning of Philosophy
Bloomsbury Revelations
Hans-Georg Gadamer
Ancient philosophy
Paperback $20.66

Reviewed by: Guy Bennett-Hunter (University of Edinburgh)

The textual history of The Beginning of Philosophy is long and convoluted. Its origins are in Gadamer’s final lecture course as Professor Emeritus at Heidelberg delivered shortly before his retirement at the end of 1967. 20 years later, Gadamer delivered a series of Italian lectures on the same topic without a script. These were recorded and transcribed by Vittorio DeCesare. Reclam published a German translation by Joachim Schulte (Der Anfang der Philosophie (1988)). The present volume is based on Gadamer’s own ‘definitive revision’ of Schulte’s translation (ix).

It is perhaps appropriate that there should be such ambiguity about whether, and in what way, we can reasonably hope to have the authoritative version of this text. For rendering such questions explicit was Gadamer’s life’s work.

Gadamer’s theme is the beginning of Western philosophy, which he says also represents the beginning of Western culture (1). But what is most illuminating about the volume is the way in which Gadamer approaches his subject. He claims early on that ‘the sole philosophical access to an interpretation of the Presocratics’ is not Thales, Homer, or the Greek language but Plato and Aristotle. ‘Everything else is historicism without philosophy.’ (2) And, as he explains towards the end of the book, ‘I would not by any means want to be understood as though I did not appreciate the method of the historians. It is just that philosophy is something different.’ (102)

This ‘something different’ is a way of thinking that, rather than trying to eliminate the prejudices that are integral to all understanding, acknowledges them and works within their constraints. For, as Gadamer defines them, our prejudices are simply our rootedness in a tradition (38). Gadamer’s insistence on Plato and Aristotle as our sole hermeneutic access to the Presocratics is motivated by his recognition of the inadequacy of the concept of method ‘in the sense of guaranteeing objectivity’. For when they spoke of their predecessors, ‘Plato and Aristotle did not have our historical scholarship in mind but were guided by their own interests, by their own search for truth’ (22). Therefore, the sense of ‘beginning’ that Gadamer has in mind is ‘that of the beginning that does not know in advance in what way it will proceed’ (12). True research is not about finding answers as much as it is about discovering new questions and imagining fruitful new ways of posing them (17). Thus Gadamer embarks on his discussions of the Presocratic conception of the soul and its relationships to life and death.

His distinctive philosophical approach to these discussions, however, draws attention to his key point. Every text has at least two contexts: that in which it was created and that in which it is read. It follows from the fact that it is impossible, in a given case, to know whether these contexts align that, ‘torn out of its context,’ a quotation can be used for any purpose whatsoever. ‘Whoever quotes,’ Gadamer says, ‘already interprets by means of the form in which he or she presents the text of the quotation.’ (13) Witness the quite different purposes for which the Presocratics were quoted by the Stoics, Sceptics, and patristic writers. While there are significant difficulties involved in using the texts of Plato and Aristotle (which were not written for this purpose) to find out about this other tradition, Gadamer believes that Plato’s transparent use of that tradition to depict ‘his own turn toward the Idea’ (31) permits him to ‘guess at certain tendencies of the culture of this bygone era’ (30) in a way denied to the compilers of compendia of Presocratic quotations.

With regard to the first context, that in which the ancient Greek texts were created, Gadamer displays an erudition that is rare today. But it is their second context, that of contemporary philosophy, that impresses this reader with greater urgency. Through his engagement with Greek culture, Gadamer hopes to realize his ideal of philosophical research as ‘a movement that is open at first and not yet fixed but which concretizes itself into a particular orientation with ever-increasing determinateness’. What this engagement shows is that the supposed freedom of modern science to stand at a distance from the object being investigated simply does not exist. ‘We all stand in the life-stream of tradition’, Gadamer writes, ‘and do not have the sovereign distance that the natural sciences maintain in order to conduct experiments and to construct theories.’ (19) Rather than a philosophically problematic relation between subject and object, which is simply presupposed by the empirical method, Gadamer stresses ‘participation’, ‘like the believer who is faced with a religious message’ (22). While this may read like a challenge to the natural sciences’ ideal of objectivity, which they threaten to extend even to the human subject, Gadamer reassures us that the human sciences are properly occupied with quite different tasks (21).

In instructive contrast to the contemporary academy, where not only the social sciences but also the human sciences and philosophy have arguably been infected by these naturalistic inclinations, Gadamer identifies the ‘highest point of Greek philosophy’ as the idea of a ‘mutuality of participation existing between object and subject’. ‘For the Greeks,’ he writes, ‘the essence of knowledge is the dialogue and not the mastery of objects’. (60)

Such thoughts emerging from Gadamer’s reading of the Presocratics via Plato and Aristotle, will be familiar to the readers of phenomenologists like Karl Jaspers, who explicitly described the nature of the subject–object split [Subjekt–Objekt Spaltung] in similar terms. Subject and object are not to be reified, considered as entities or substances, each of which could possibility exist without the other. A Spaltung, usually translated as ‘split’ or ‘cleavage’, is not a dichotomy. It is a distinction between aspects of reality that are, at the most primordial level, unified. In form as well as content, then, The Beginning of Philosophy leads us to the perhaps unexpected conclusion that it is the phenomenological method, for Gadamer represented by Husserl and Heidegger, that has ‘pointed the way for contemporary philosophy’ (60).

Ursula Renz (Ed.): Self-Knowledge: A History, Oxford University Press, 2017

Self-Knowledge: A History Book Cover Self-Knowledge: A History
Oxford Philosophical Concepts
Ursula Renz (Ed.)
Oxford University Press
Hardback £64.00

Mauro Antonelli, Federico Boccaccini (Eds.): Franz Brentano, Routledge, 2017

Franz Brentano Book Cover Franz Brentano
Critical Assessments of Leading Philosophers
Mauro Antonelli, Federico Boccaccini (Eds.)

John Sallis: The Return of Nature

The Return of Nature: On the Beyond of Sense Book Cover The Return of Nature: On the Beyond of Sense
Studies in Continental Thought
John Sallis
Continental Philosophy
Indiana University Press
August 10, 2016

Reviewed by: Zachary Isrow (Global Center for Advanced Studies)

There is a growing concern in the world today, especially in contemporary philosophy, regarding nature. However, despite the strong concern, few texts adequately address the topic. In his work The Return of Nature, John Sallis attempts to show just how imperative it is that we reflect on nature and come to a new understanding of the relationship between humans, the current state of our world, and nature. This book serves as a solid call to arms, forcing us to reevaluate the meaning of nature and compelling us to take up the challenge of re-envisioning a future that is both sustainable and more fulfilling of our being.

The work emerges at the forefront of an ever growing concern with nature. With increased awareness of climate change and other environmental issues we face today, scholars from a wide array of disciplines have sought to address ways we can combat the evolving crises. In philosophy, nature has long been subject to investigation. Up until recently, the focus on nature was aimed at understanding its relationship to being or law, and related issues. Today, much of the focus has been on reconsidering various perspectives of nature in an attempt to account for the current movement to “return to nature,” with advocates for natural medicine, ecological living and energy.

This is indeed where Sallis fits; the goal of his text is to raise awareness to the necessity of accounting for nature in such a way that a paradigm shift occurs from man vs. nature, to man with nature. As with any text in this field it must not only provide a coherent and valid argument, but it must also draw from the tradition out of which it arises. Sallis utilizes German Idealism and American Transcendentalism to establish differing conceptions of nature as well as to interpret what a return to nature might mean for us today. Specifically, he focuses on the works of Emerson, Hegel, and Schelling in order to give an account of nature.

I believe that Sallis’ book can be broken down into three major sections based on the goal of each chapter. These are as follows: understanding nature, evaluating nature, and connecting nature to man. The first of these is the objective in the first three chapters, the second the middle three chapters, and the last the final two chapters. I will consider each of these sections as I see them in greater detail.

First, Sallis must provide a detailed background for viewing nature in the many ways that it has been understood. Accounting for the pre-Socratics through Nietzsche, he has done precisely this. In the first section, Sallis discusses the various ways in which nature can be said to “return.” He points out changing seasons, abandoned cities or buildings, and other instances in which nature may return – the meaning of return changing in different senses. In addition, “There are occasions when nature lets its beauty appear, when it shines forth in a scene so wondrous that it draws us into a contemplative repose in which we linger before the scene” Sallis writes (7).

Having set forth an explanation of the ways in which nature can be said to return, that is, the various meanings of “return” such that nature may do so, Sallis attempts to outline, in the second chapter, the origins of thought regarding nature, or what the Greeks termed φύσις, which reveals the etymological origins of the word to mean “birth” (28). Sallis then seeks to explore the foundations of nature in theoretical thought. He suggests that nature is “the place from within which natural things are born and determined as such” (29). Tracing nature in thought through German Idealism, and specifically through the philosophy of Schelling, Sallis concludes that nature tends to serve as grounding, a replacement for God. With this, “God can no longer be regarded as the causa sui but rather as progeny of the ground, as given birth by nature” (42).

Next, Sallis insists upon stablishing a distinction between the phrasing a “return of nature” and a “return to nature,” the former having been dealt with in the first chapter. The return to nature represents an often philosophical assertion, that we must derail the current trend of societal development and instead return to a state in which we give more regards to nature. As Sallis writes, it is an imperative which “presupposes that its addressees either have themselves retreated from nature or somehow been withdrawn from it, so that in either case they have been separated or at least distanced from nature” (44). Sallis considers the focus on a ‘return to nature’ through the theories of natural man in Rousseau, aesthetic judgment in Kant, and nature in Emerson. Following this, he briefly continues on into the German idealist tradition, as well as its successors in Nietzsche and Heidegger.

In accounting for Rousseau’s position on natural man as a starting point for a ‘return to nature’, Sallis notes that it “opens the way to a condition that, though not that of a savage, in a way accordant with modern life, approximate the state of nature” (46). It is thus theoretical and descriptive in content as it describes the state of nature, with the goal of leading to a method of critiquing or analyzing the modern political state. In the case of Rousseau then, the notion of a ‘return to nature’ is not asked on a sharp contradistinction between the separation of nature and this return. However, the opposite is true in Kant.

In his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant “begins by acknowledging the dependence of knowledge on experience, the primary movement enacted in the critical project consist in a regress from experience – primarily the experience of nature – to the a priori conditions of such experience, conditions that lie not in nature but in the subject,” Sallis notes (49). The separation of man from nature is evident in Kant’s theoretical philosophy, but is perhaps more profound in his practical, moral theory. According to Kant, morality consists in acting in accordance with the categorical imperative and goes against nature. Sallis writes “morality itself lies in self-determination that, utterly detached from natural inclination, is carried out in accordance with the moral law” (49).

Stemming out of this separation, this fierce distinction between man and nature, Emerson’s essay Nature,  argues in favor of a ‘return to nature’ considering that man has so far removed himself from nature due to his entrapment in urban atmospheres. Emerson, Sallis suggests, saw “the human spirit is expanded by coming into proximity to nature, by returning from the detachment from nature inculcated and enforced by city life” (50). Thus nature serves as the means through which spirit manifests itself and presents itself contrary to its becoming subservient to materialism and the goals associated with materialism.

While I will not comment further on the general outline of the views of a return to nature as it develops in the German idealist tradition, it is clear the direction which it is headed. As Sallis writes, “From nature one is displayed to oneself in some specific manner” and that “The return to nature also awakens a sense of the elemental in nature and of our capacity to master and control it,” we can already note the progression this takes (51). For example, Nietzsche’s conception of the ‘Will to Power’ is easily traced and tied into this development of a ‘return to nature.’

In the first section of the text, Sallis has set-up the background for the ability to analyze the concept of ‘nature’ as such, a task which I have described as understanding nature. He has provided a detailed history of the development of ‘nature’ as a concept, including its ancient Greek origins as well as its changing tone in German Idealism. Additionally, he examined the conceptions of “return of nature” and a “return to nature” differentiating the two and clarifying the concern over nature in contemporary continental philosophy. In doing so, Sallis has given the reader the ability to understand nature such that they may critique and analyze nature along with the next aim of the text: evaluating nature.

The goal of evaluating nature is one of analysis and critique, through examining in detail the theories in which a certain conception of nature is presupposed. This section is condensed into a single chapter, chapter four, “Return to Nature from a Beyond Nature,” though it penetrates into the remainder of the work. In this chapter, Sallis argues that nature is, in one sense, reduced to mere sensation, i.e., colors and shapes. In this case, nature is no longer ‘nature’, i.e., landscapes and environs. In order that the former can be determined to be “reconstituted” as the latter, “determinacy must supervene upon it from elsewhere, from somewhere beyond nature,” and so thus, “posits a nature beyond nature” (61). Sallis traces this ‘beyond nature’ through Nietzsche’s thought and notes that the metaphysical ground of the beyond nature is shifted to a subjective ground. “Nature is thus recalled to nature,” or, in other words, nature is not constituted by a “nature beyond nature” anymore, but instead contains its own self-determinacy, nature as such (63).

Sallis then shifts in chapter five, “The Elemental Turn,” to applying philosophy to practical political and ecological concerns. This final section of the book, which I have termed, connecting man to nature, seeks, by making philosophy contemporary in its goals, to illustrate ways the philosophical conception of “return to nature” may be applied to a revised concern for nature and the environment. Thus, this section serves ultimately as a “call to arms,” a militancy, with the objective of eliminating a particular mode of living in the world that is not only contrary to, but ultimately destructive of our nature. It is the task of philosophy to “dismantle the frame of this turn so as to return to a nature,” which we have neglected throughout the whole of philosophy (74).

Overall then, this book is one of many in a push to reconsider and reevaluate nature, and our place within it. More importantly however, it joins the contemporary effort to utilize humanities research, especially philosophical research, to impact the global effort to combat our own actions that have proven devastating to the environment as well as to our very own nature. With that said, while this book expertly provides insight into how we ought to conceive of ‘nature’ such that a “return of nature” is possible, and even necessary, little is done to suggest where this might lead. The one effort made to provide a suggestion is what Sallis calls the “disintegration of difference” which involves the elimination of being a particular of being, and instead focused on the “plurality of being.” It is, Sallis writes, “precisely in being the kind it is, it would be devoid of selfsameness and so would not be a kind. There would be a disintegration of difference at the very heart of being” (119).

Sallis ends with questioning what this would lead to, but does not himself posit this future. Without this, the book almost feels incomplete. Unless, however, one considers this book amongst another which may perhaps put into perspective this emphasis on the plurality of being. Read together with the other works that complement each other in this emerging push for philosophy to influence practical issues, this book might be able to offer an alternative to our current mode of being in the world.

The Return of Nature is nevertheless an inspiring read which engages its readers from the very beginning. It can be read by anyone looking to open up their mind to the reflection on other ways to live more closely in tune with their own nature and to the nature that is around them.

Martin Heidegger: Interprétations phénoménologiques en vue d’Aristote. Introduction au cœur de la recherche phénoménologique, Gallimard, 2016

Interprétations phénoménologiques en vue d'Aristote. Introduction au cœur de la recherche phénoménologique Book Cover Interprétations phénoménologiques en vue d'Aristote. Introduction au cœur de la recherche phénoménologique
Collection Bibliothèque de Philosophie, Série Œuvres de Martin Heidegger
Martin Heidegger. Trad. de l'allemand par Philippe Arjakovsky et Daniel Panis
Broché 29,00 €

Hans-Georg Gadamer: The Beginning of Philosophy, Bloomsbury, 2016

The Beginning of Philosophy Book Cover The Beginning of Philosophy
Bloomsbury Revelations
Hans-Georg Gadamer
eBook £14.99

Klaus Held: Phänomenologie der natürlichen Lebenswelt

Phänomenologie der natürlichen Lebenswelt Book Cover Phänomenologie der natürlichen Lebenswelt
New Studies in Phenomenology / Neue Studien zur Phänomenologie
Klaus Held
Peter Lang

Reviewed by: Susan Gottlöber (Maynooth University)

Klaus Held, the ‘father of the Wuppertaler philosophy’, is without doubt one of the leading German phenomenologists of the present day. With his book Phänomenologie der natürlichen Lebenswelt, published in 2012, a collection of a number of separate lectures and articles (not all of them published previously), Held intends to tackle the urgent question of the ‘ecological crisis’. He does this by working his way back through some of those philosophical ideas that still influence today’s perception of nature. These are mainly from Kant and Aristotle, but he also goes back to the Pre-Socratics searching for answers that can help us reconsider our understanding of nature as life-world.

The book is divided into four major parts. The first two parts are dedicated to the concept of nature in Kant (first part) and Aristotle (second part), the third to addressing the question of elementary aspects in the life world, focusing on the Pre-Socratics Anaximander and Heraclitus. The final part presents an overview of particular aspects of reflections on the natural life-world such as the intercultural, the Japanese perspective as well as some final reflections on the topics of physis and birth.

The task of the book is, as Held states in the introduction, to investigate the ‘experience of the life-world as nature’ (p. 13). Held is very much aware of the fact that his choice of philosophers and the order in which the philosophers are discussed could be questioned or even be perceived as arbitrary. However, he presents a convincing argument for the composition of his book which proceeds in a hermeneutic and phenomenological manner, i.e. working through the dominating pre-judices (in a Gadamerian understanding). He makes it clear, that his book is not primarily looking at the history of philosophy but it is a phenomenological analysis of the life-world experience of nature (p. 13). And because the horizon of experience changes with the historical change of understanding of what nature means, any analysis only does justice to the object if it traces this hermeneutical change (p. 13). An investigation thus has to start from the modern objectivist understanding of nature of the natural sciences and therefore has to start with Kant who was the first thinker to establish this understanding with outstanding systematic clarity (pp. 13f.). Working historically ‘backwards’, Held aims at uncovering how we get through Kant as a bridge to a phenomenological analysis of Aristotle’s physis-thinking (showing also the impoverishment of the concept of nature in both thinkers) and from there to the Pre-Socratic understanding of nature and the elements. The latter is an important concept for Held, since unlike the modern idea of the elements, this Ancient idea still maintains a close connection between the elements and life (18ff). Held starts in his introduction with a brief history of the Western concept of nature. The wonder, thaumazein, which the Ancient philosophers felt, Held believes, is in danger of becoming lost in modern concepts. This feeling of awe and wonder when engaging with being is a topic Held will return repeatedly in his book as a linking concept.

The first part is dedicated to Kant’s understanding of nature. Held makes very clear that he does not intend to attempt a comprehensive analysis. Rather, his reflections on Kant aim at showing that even in the founding of the modern natural sciences a position can be found that leads back to early Greek thinking about the elements and nature (p. 26/27). The starting point for Kant arose out of the philosophical concerns of the past such as the established idea of interpreting theoretical knowledge in a technical manner or the question of certitude. Kant then, in the Critique of Pure Reason, according to Held, takes up Aristotle’s ‘defining of the definable’ in four ways: through defining the sensations, space and time, that which is given through the sensations through the spontaneity of thinking, and finally the differentiation of the formal and material concept of nature (p. 40). It becomes clear, according to Held, that the ‘possibility of the appearance and perception of nature as appearance has to be grounded in two fundamental principles: the a priori intuitions of space and time and the sensations’ (p. 58). This then leads to two fundamental principles which determine Kant’s concept of nature. Firstly, since appearances are characterized by extension in time and space they can be measured; an idea that still today is a central foundation of the natural sciences. The second principle is concerned with measuring the intensive quantity of that which is given in sensation. Two things are important here: First of all, it is a general human experience that sensations are always experienced with an intensity which varies, i.e. a more or less (p. 69; 75). In addition, while we cannot anticipate a priori which sensations will overcome us (Kant speaks of experiencing the real as resistance) we know that given sensations have a polar structure, i.e. the opposite is always present though in a hidden way – a point that will be taken up with the Pre-Socratics (p. 81).

The second part of the book is dedicated to Aristotle’s understanding of nature. Starting with the Aristotelian distinction between technē and physis, and basic ideas of Aristotle’s metaphysics such as the four causes, Held develops Aristotle’s views in relations to his predecessors. Held makes it clear that Aristotle’s distinction between technē and physis stems from a narrowing of the concept of nature that in itself does not pay attention to the two different horizons of being and need which led to the forgetting of the understanding of physis as beginning, as arché (p. 119). In addition, Held shows that by identifying physis with arché for Aristotle the beginning of being remains hidden in darkness. Held concludes the part on Aristotle by developing Aristotle’s concept of the four elemental qualities, the hot, the dry, the cold and the moist which through their combinations make up the qualities of the four elements of earth, fire, water and air (p. 164).

The third part of the book is dedicated to the elements in Ancient Greek thought with a focus on the Pre-Socratics, Anaximander and Heraclitus. In showing the insights as well as the limits of Aristotle’s metaphysics, Held gains an overview on the Pre-Socratics’ understanding of nature which is independent of Aristotle’s perspective and thus independent of the comparison between technē and physis (p. 186). The next chapter on Anaximander is unusual in so far as it is centred on a very careful analysis of the sources which Held quotes at length. That the arché is constantly present in physis means for Held that with Anaximander we can identify the following idea: because of the unbounded (ápeiron) character of physis, the beginning (arché) entails both light and darkness, and the appearance of light is at the same time the process of expanding limit as well as a retreat into the hiddenness (pp. 218f). The idea of physis entailing opposites is again picked up in the third chapter on Heraclitus. The presence of opposing elements such as both death and birth in life, illness in health etc., forms a non-apparent harmony in physis and thus an ontological dependence between the opposites. This is also an idea, according to, which is not possible in Plato’s thought and which influences so much of Western philosophy (pp. 239; 247). However, and Heraclitus makes this very clear, this insight into the functioning of the cosmos is not possible for the many. This is an important point for the phenomenological approach Held is using and we can see here, according to Held, how Heraclitus is in many ways the first to raise the question between philosophical thinking and natural attitude (p. 260).

The final part presents an overview on different aspects of the life-world and raises a number of questions. Held makes the point that all experiences are embedded in a horizon and that despite the goal of the natural sciences to achieve absolute objectivity, every situation in life is embedded in a universal context of references (p. 262). Especially within the context of globalization the question arises whether we will be able to develop one life-world for all humanity – one of the main questions a phenomenology of the life-world is concerned with (p. 266). One potential characteristic could be that developed by Husserl, the Umstandskausalität (p. 268). The relationship between nature (e.g. climate) and culture still needs to be further investigated phenomenologically (p. 278). As an example of a non-European perspective on nature and world, Held then develops some aspects of the Japanese outlook (pp. 279ff). Finally, Held rethinks the question of physis and birth as an example of our relationship to technology, a point to which we will return in our critical assessment below.

The book captivates the reader with its outstanding clarity, and this in two ways: Firstly, very complex philosophical considerations are developed in a clear and careful manner. Secondly, the structure: Held constantly presents the the reader with short and precise summaries at the beginning and the end of each chapter to show where he or she is, and shows how already developed positions lead on to the next part of the book, how answers are given to question posed earlier, and also what still needs to be developed. Held thus does not follow the postmodern trend of breaks in and throughout the history of philosophy, rather he shows how ideas are interconnected, influence each other and how seeing ideas through a particular lens sometimes obstructs a view of the actual concept.

Two critical points could be made. The first concerns referencing. Held works in the already familiar style of the phenomenologists which means references to sources used as well as other literature is scarce and one often wishes for further guidance as to where particular ideas can be found, especially when the reader might not be familiar with the texts. The second point is more ideological in nature and concerns Held’s conclusions in the final part. In using the example of birth, Held tries to show that through the taking over by téchne, and the loss of the ‘insurmountable subsequentness’ (unüberwindbare Nachträglichkeit) we are not only losing the experience of resistance which characterizes our experience of reality as such but also invoking the danger of excess (pp. 316ff). This stance evokes the distrust of the early phenomenologists (Scheler, Heidegger etc.) of technology and technological advancement. However, this stance is problematic for a number of reasons: from a metaphysical/anthropological point of view one could argue that the use of reason as exercised in the use of téchne belongs essentially to human nature and thus physis itself. Secondly, it ignores how the advances of technology and its application play a major role in reducing human suffering. Finally, one has to point out that any use of technology in the widest sense such as medicine, glasses, pacemakers, surgery but even clothes, computers, diving equipment etc., are an imposing of human téchne on the limitations of our (biological) nature. Thus to draw a line between one téchne and the other seems rather arbitrary.

Nonetheless, Held’s call for caution and the need for philosophical reflections regarding technology and nature is an important one. Again, the author’s considerations do not necessarily lead to his final personal conclusions. Thus, Held gives the reader the freedom to follow him or not. In addition, the reader benefits from Held’s expertise in phenomenology and Ancient Greek philosophy. Thus, one is left with an eloquently written, insightful and very balanced book which in a convincing way presents the thesis that the history of thought is all interconnected and that by seeing through our philosophical prejudices we uncover the insights of previous thinkers and make them relevant for today’s issues.