Sebastian Luft: The Space of Culture: Towards a Neo-Kantian Philosophy of Culture (Cohen, Natorp, and Cassirer)

The Space of Culture: Towards a Neo-Kantian Philosophy of Culture (Cohen, Natorp, and Cassirer) Book Cover The Space of Culture: Towards a Neo-Kantian Philosophy of Culture (Cohen, Natorp, and Cassirer)
Sebastian Luft
Oxford University Press
2015
Hardback £55.00
272

Reviewed by: Tobias Endres (Technical University of Berlin)

For over a decade, Sebastian Luft has contributed to important research on the philosophy of Ernst Cassirer and is currently playing a crucial role in bridging recent Cassirer scholarship beyond the Analytic-Continental-Divide. His new book, based on his earlier habilitation thesis, The Space of Culture is a comprehensive study of the so-called Marburg School of Neo-Kantianism; it follows both historical and systematical intentions with respect to elucidating current philosophical scholars’ views on the ambitions of this school’s general idea of a philosophy of culture and connects this idea to contemporary research. The self-declared center and peak of the book relates to the philosophy of Ernst Cassirer, the last and, in Luft’s opinion as well as many others, most important representative of the Marburg School. Luft’s goal, hence, alongside others, should be seen as an important step to push forward the so called “Cassirer-renaissance”, a project that has been taken on by Donald Philipp Verene and his student John Michael Krois in the late seventies and carried out by many[i] as an international and collective endeavour that has not lost momentum since.

Against this background, I will address two main questions in Luft’s book: (1) does it succeed in justifying the validity of the idea of a “space of culture”, and (2) does it succeed in contrasting this idea to Sellars’ idea of a “space of reasons” and hence to show the current relevance of such a philosophy of culture?

The book is divided into six chapters: an introduction, a chapter about Hermann Cohen, one about Paul Natorp, one about Ernst Cassirer, one dedicated to metaphilosophical discussions and a conclusion. The overall split into two parts, the first containing the introduction plus the chapters about Cohen and Natorp presenting the basic position of the Marburg School, the second containing an analysis of Cassirer’s philosophy and its actuality, makes it formally clear that Luft’s overall aim is to defend Cassirer’s transcendental philosophy starting from his teachers’ transformation of Kant’s philosophy into a philosophy of culture. Because of the strong identity of form and content in the conception of Luft’s book and the many, sometimes surprising, and always original side remarks in the discussion, I will comment chapter by chapter and sometimes go into significant detail where it often seems, at first sight, not obviously necessary.

The introduction already sets out everything that Luft wants to show in a systematic respect: first, to demonstrate that a philosophy of culture is a meaningful and “valid project” (p. 1), and second, to show that it has been “carried out most successfully by Ernst Cassirer” (ibid.). Though the emphasis lies on those systematic aspects, they cannot be defended apart from a genealogical approach concerning the Marburg School itself as well as its reception. Following the self-image of this school as seen by its founders Cohen and Natorp, and the expectation they obviously had towards their most promising student Cassirer, there might follow a simple equation that would identify Cassirer right away with Marburg, and hence with Neo-Kantianism. On the contrary, reading Cassirer nowadays and noting the divide between research on Neo-Kantianism on the one hand, and Cassirer scholarship on the other, it seems that “one cannot but conclude that Cassirer is not (or no longer) a Neo-Kantian or a member of the Marburg School” (p. 18). Luft challenges both views that Cassirer simply is a Neo-Kantian or is no longer a Neo-Kantian by pointing out an important desideratum: there exists no study that places Cassirer legitimately within the common core project of Neo-Kantianism, which is the project of a philosophy of culture. The originality of Luft’s study lies exactly in this approach, showing that “the Marburg School can neither be adequately appreciated without Cassirer; nor can Cassirer be fully understood in his intentions, without viewing him as deeply rooted in the Marburg School” (p. 19). Anticipating the result, I, already here, at this early juncture would like to state that Luft succeeds in defending this thesis. Nevertheless, I will focus on some problematic claims within Luft’s line of argumentation that finally should lead to his view. According to Luft, “culture” is the neo-kantian “operative term” (p. 3) of the project of a philosophy of culture that “has reflected on the path from Kant to Hegel and takes the best of both, while having undergone the transition from Kant to German Idealism to Positivism” (ibid.). Though it seems plausible to establish a connection between Positivism and Cohen’s alleged scientism, one would ask how a position, informed by Hegel and the thought of German Idealism, could possibly come up with such a scientistic reading of Kant’s Critique as presented by Cohen? Luft answers twofoldly by (1) reading Kant through the eyes of Sellars and by (2) connecting the methodology of Neo-Kantianism to Kant and to Hegel. Inhabiting a space of culture, hence, for Luft means that by reflecting on the space of reasons, i.e. the project of a Critique of Pure Reason, we become essentially both citizens and rulers of this space. Whilst this idea might be in line with Kantian orthodoxy, one might still object that Sellars hardly stays within this conception of two realms as he is inclined to naturalism and the primacy of the “scientific image of man”.[ii] Against this, the claim that an extension of the space of reasons to a space of culture is motivated by Hegel’s introduction of objective spirit, just without the idea of absolute spirit, is rather adequate, though Cassirer’s metaphysics of the symbolic forms can again give rise to the idea of philosophy as absolute spirit.[iii] Regardless of these details, it is nonetheless correct to connect Hegel’s idea of objective spirit to the method of Neo-Kantianism, to the analytic method taken from Kant’s Prolegomena: to subject culture to critique means to first describe culture as it is and then to regressively analyse the normativity of each cultural form that had been found and thus to extent the space of reasons to a space of culture. With this strategy one should escape the stranglehold of either defining culture a priori (as e.g. philosophy, hence as “high culture”), an objection Luft anticipates from the Cultural Studies that point out the plurality of cultures[iv] (cf. p. 2), or as plainly empirical as suggested by modern anthropology (cf. ibid.), which would lead, at least from a philosophical point of view, to the problem of relativism. So, whilst the transition from an overly static apriorism to a dynamised transcendental philosophy of culture can be achieved with this shift in focus on Kant’s own methodology, Hegel’s stance that “the whole is the truth” should help us to avoid relativism, because Luft sees in it a forerunner to Cassirer’s alleged anti-hierarchical pluralism, “where each form [of culture] has its legitimate position in the general space of culture” (p. 5). But here lies a deep problem of Luft’s reading, both of Hegel and of Cassirer: Firstly, Hegel’s forms of consciousness evolve towards absolute spirit, which eliminates any attempt to reconcile them in a pluralistic manner, where each form of spirit has its own right retrospectively. Then, if I understand Luft correctly, he wants to solve the problem of relativism with the following argument (cf. pp. 13-14):

(P1) Forms of consciousness are forms of symbolic formation.

(P2) Thoses formations are phenomenologically found as facts of culture.

(P3) Each one’s validity is proven by analysing their internal, functional logics.

(P4) The whole is the truth.

(P5) The whole is the forms’ pluralistic coexistence without an absolute standpoint.

(C1) Without an absolute standpoint the internal logics do not compete.

(C2) Pluralism is true.

Thus, according to Luft, Cassirer’s Philosophy of Symbolic Forms should be interpreted as a “complementarism” (p. 14), in which the plurality of cultural descriptions is seen as horizontal, not vertical, complementaristic instead of competitive. Though I will come back later to this crucial point, one can already state here that the complementaristic view comes with two major objections that are both of transcendental nature. First, one might ask how the break between myth and logos would phenomenologically be best described and how at all it is possible if forms of consciousness do not practically rival with each other. Although Luft recognises a disruption between myth and all other symbolic forms, he does not discuss at this point Cassirer’s thought that “in the course of its development every basic cultural form tends to represent itself not as a part but as the whole, laying claim to an absolute and not merely relative validity, not contenting itself with its special sphere, but seeking to imprint its own characteristic stamp on the whole realm of being and the whole life of the spirit.”[v] Secondly, one might ask how the problem of relativism at all could arise, if the symbolic forms of mythical thinking and knowledge are in no competition whatsoever. As this is the crux of Luft’s interpretation of Cassirer, I will drop this point for the moment and show where the book succeeds: by reconstructing the idea of a philosophy of culture as a common project of Cohen, Natorp, and Cassirer.

The chapter about the philosophy of Hermann Cohen makes it very clear right from the beginning to what extent Luft’s ambitions are of purely systematical character, and to what extent those ambitions need to be historically informed. Luft wants to take the project of a Neo-Kantian philosophy of culture out of its historical context and keep only its best elements that we still today can benefit from. To drop other elements that are of historical importance is especially justified, because Neo-Kantianism was a serious propaganda force during the First World War and could no longer convince the youth of the Weimar Republic to be the standpoint of reason. This disappointment of the youth, hence, is important to understand the demise of Neo-Kantianism. On the other hand, the idea of a philosophy of culture itself, to look at actual culture and judge it by its rational ought “even where it seems there is none” (p. 33), is neither overly idealistic nor historical, but plainly Kantian. Going back to the transcendental method for Luft is “the key to understanding everything else” (p. 28) in the school of Marburg Neo-Kantianism. Cohen then applies Kant’s analytic method from the Prolegomena to Kant’s own writings in order to establish his interpretation of the Kantian corpus. He could do so legitimately, because Kant himself regarded the synthetic and analytic methods as equal. Luft concludes that Cohen was right to choose freely and hereby, besides already using the reconstructive method that became so important for Natorp, anticipated the idea of a Problemgeschichte that one is rather prone to connect to Wilhelm Windelband, Ernst Cassirer, Nikolai Hartmann, Hans-Georg Gadamer or Hans Blumenberg. This observation, though it is evident to place the idea of a Problemgeschichte within the movement of (Baden and Marburg) Neo-Kantianism, demonstrates brilliantly Luft’s ambition to interlink systematical and historical theses to gain new insights: To interpret a classical author, for Cohen, means “an application to one’s own understanding and one’s own time” (p. 43). As a result, Cohen clearly sees that the Critique of Pure Reason is an expression of the Newtonian worldview[vi] which is why he assumes that philosophy, instead of being metaphysics, has to be a theory of existing scientific knowledge. And because scientific knowledge is the most advanced form of knowledge when it comes to objectivity, science has to be seen as “the peak of all cultural activities” (p. 48). Theorizing aesthetics, morality, history, literature and so on, hence, can only be done scientifically. This clearly shows that Cohen was in no way ignorant of other forms of culture than science and in this bad sense scientistic. Rather he, i.e. Cohen, saw philosophy as “the reconstruction of culture in all its directions from out of this constant factor of science” (p. 60). Although throughout Cohen’s writings the idea of a static apriori had shifted to a genetic one, it is still a strict apriori view on all forms of culture that ultimately leads Luft to dismiss Cohen’s project where it aims at applying the same method to all cultural expressions and becomes “an implausible endeavour” (p. 73). Finally, Luft also rightly points out that another essential key to understanding Neo-Kantianism as a common project of a philosophy of culture is the journal LOGOS. Internationale Zeitschrift für Philosophie der Kultur as it existed between 1910 and 1933 (superseded by Zeitschrift für deutsche Kulturphilosophie and since 1994 again LOGOS). With such figures as Heinrich Rickert and Wilhelm Windelband (Baden School), but also Georg Simmel, Benedetto Croce, Ernst Troeltsch, and Edmund Husserl (to name but a few) already contributing to its first volume, it becomes plainly visible that Neo-Kantianism’s “defining moment” (p. 30) was the problem of contemporary modern culture and the problem of science being only one aspect of it. To conclude: Luft’s general findings here are firstly (1) that the reduction of the Marburg School to a theory of scientific experience is, though widely considered as being a truism, a “serious misreading” (p. 29). Secondly (2), beholding Cassirer’s famous phrase that “the critique of reason becomes the critique of culture”[vii] in the introduction to part one of The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms as stepping out of the Marburg School and distancing oneself from Cohen and Natorp “is egregiously mistaken” (p. 37). Luft convincingly makes the case for seeing Cassirer’s so often quoted words as a hommage to his teachers. Both these demonstrations are a highly original progress in research on Neo-Kantianism and especially on Cassirer.

Seen from the perspective that within Cassirer the Marburg method culminates, the philosophy of Paul Natorp is the necessary link between Cohen’s thought and Cassirer’s. Whilst Marburg Neo-Kantianism had its inception and representation to the outside with Cohen, Natorp was considered to be its “minister of the interior” (p. 78) and to represent the unity of the Marburg School. Luft nonetheless diagnoses what at first glance may appear heretic, but in fact is a rather subtle modification of Cohen’s method by Natorp taking up the inverse path to subjectivity in his writings on psychology. The overall achievement of this chapter on Natorp can be seen in Luft redefining, again, the standard view within the reception of Neo-Kantianism: for one thing the notion that Natorp was completely in line with Cohen and for another thing that Natorp was, as famously alleged by Hans-Georg Gadamer, a “method fanatic” (p. 82). To refute those views, it is first of all important to see that Natorp’s work has “a much more humanistic outlook on culture than Cohen’s” (p. 79) with publishing on the history of philosophy, logic, theory of science, pedagogy, psychology, and politics. Luft then demonstrates how Natorp implicitly criticises Cohen twice (cf. p. 81) by (1) underlining that the basic principle of thinking is relating and to deduce from this that the synthetic unity can only be created by a correlation, as well, by (2) not at all interlinking the transcendental method equally to science and to other forms of culture. From here, Natorp does not at all appear as a “method fanatic”, but rather as a methodological pluralist. Hence, by investigating subjectivity, Natorp does not depart from the Marburg method, but broadens it towards the “life of consciousness” (p. 83). As I will not go into further detail here, I will certainly state that Luft’s presentation of the whole of Natorp’s philosophy is illuminating, rich in detail, and with a special emphasis on Natorp’s last, largely unknown because unpublished, phase where he departs from Neo-Kantianism. Here, Natorp develops a general logic that follows three directions: (1) a theoretic, (2) a practic, and (3) a poietic one (cf. p. 107). It is this third direction of poiesis that Luft will connect to Cassirer’s notion of the symbol. But to make the case for Natorp, it seems worthy to me to further investigate his late philosophy and to connect it to the works of Heidegger and Schelling. This certainly goes far beyond the scope of Luft’s project, but he nonetheless shows his readers important desiderata that have not been addressed up until now.

The chapter on Ernst Cassirer exhibits Luft’s rationale right from the beginning: Besides multiple influences, such as Kant and Leibniz, the “bedrock” of Cassirer’s philosophy “remains the Marburg Method” (p. 119) and despite his innovations Cassirer stays within the movement of Neo-Kantianism. This new route in Cassirer scholarship follows a little and a big agenda (cf. p. 120), whereas the idea just expressed would be the little one and the big one, extending beyond, to demonstrate the nowadays importance of a critique of culture. Luft sees himself confronted with two problems concerning Cassirer: (1) His strength of writing a history of problems supposedly is also his weakness, because being “coolly distant from the subject matter” (p. 120) gives the impression of “hiding behind the authors” (ibid.) having “nothing to say on his own” (ibid.). (2) Along with this comes the reproach that current Cassirer scholarship takes the same path of hiding too much behind Cassirer without connecting the dots to contemporary philosophy. This diagnosis is especially true, because up until recently[viii] the conciliatory power of Cassirer’s thinking has not been of much use to bridging the Analytic-Continental-Divide in philosophy. To offer the contrary, to think with Cassirer beyond Marburg, Luft wants to introduce the idea of a symbolic formation of culture by “three unorthodox inroads” (p. 123): Firstly (1) by a symbolic reading of Natorp’s notion of poiesis, secondly (2) by undercutting Hegel by introducing mythical consciousness as a layer below sense-certainty, and thirdly (3) by reading Cassirer through the writings of Goethe. Whilst (2) and (3) can hardly be presented as unorthodox, but rather as commonplaces in contemporary Cassirer scholarship, there lies a true novelty in presenting the idea of the symbol by the late Natorp’s principle of poiesis. One might object that this unorthodoxy is unmotivated, because Arno Schubbach recently[ix] has delivered a comprehensive study on the genesis of the symbolic that is based on a until recently unpublished manuscript of Cassirer dating back to 1917. Against this, I still would defend Luft’s introduction of the symbolic by (1) as groundbreaking, because the late Natorp is, as said before, almost unknown, but still very important to Cassirer as one could derive easily from the fact that the second volume of The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms is dedicated to Natorp and with Cassirer positively commenting on Natorp’s late unpublished lectures. Now, for Natorp the principle of poiesis is life expressing itself in the form of meaning, poiesis is life or being and logos at the same time. And this view is just in line with one of Cassirer’s most central claims, namely the idea of symbolic pregnance, Cassirer’s claim that the given is already always meaningful. The only aspect that Luft misses out on here is an important shift from Cohen via Natorp through to Cassirer: whilst for Cohen reality is completely defined as law and at no point whatsoever measured from perception, but only from thought (cf. p. 52), the ideas of poiesis and symbol can reconcile life and thought and hence connect the symbolic to perception. For Cassirer too, meaning in scientific theories is largely detached from perceptual states, but the given and its symbolic expression throughout the development of different mythical, linguistic and scientific concept formations takes off at expressive perception where meaning and perceptual presence are at the start widely identical.[x] Leaving this aside, Luft then succeeds in pointing out another crucial drift away from Cohen and from Natorp by asking what status the idea of law has for symbolic forms, concluding that Cassirer will not take interest in the lawfulness of e.g. religious studies when it comes to the symbolic form of religion, but in those studies, viz. their results “themselves” (p. 130). Whereas I disagree with Luft that this leads to the conclusion that Cassirer does not search for unity anymore (cf. p. 131) at all – I would rather say that the concept of symbol is the unity of spirit in a functional manner –, the observation is right that Cassirer breaks with the “scientism” of his teachers and “opens the philosophy of culture to its true material” (p. 132), which leaves the philosopher with facta of culture instead of a factum of science. This extention of the Marburg method finally leads Cassirer beyond Cohen and Natorp to both of which a critique of primitive cultures was unthinkable (cf. p. 136).

The second path to introduce Cassirer’s philosophy of the symbolic through mythical consciousness is the most disputable, because Luft, here, evades entering scholarly literature too deeply, where in my point of view it is required. I will give some examples in the following. Luft beholds myth as being the lowest “rung” of symbolic forms and justifies this with reference to Cassirer’s allusion to Hegel (cf. p. 142) while seeing a “temporal order” (p. 143) at work here. This does not only go against Luft’s own intention to show that there is no hierarchical order whatsoever between symbolic forms, but also conflicts with the observation that especially from a genetic point of view myth and language are rather inseperable. Cassirer states this himself[xi] and scholars, such as Enno Rudolph[xii], even have tried to defend a primacy of language. Despite these difficulties, Luft claims that the primacy of myth is one of few “systematic claims about which Cassirer is unambiguous” (p. 176). Given such controversial interpretations, one might rather expect a deeper discussion within the field of myth. Then, another notion that has troubled me is the qualification of mythical space as a “transcendental illusion” (p. 142), an assumption that comes by great surprise, because one of Cassirer’s essential claims concerning the mythical world view is that it comes with absolutely no contradistinction between reality and illusion whatsoever. Perhaps, from the viewpoint of science, one could retroactively qualify myth as a transcendental illusion, but particularly the reference to Kant’s dialectic did not become clear to me. One last remark is concerning Luft’s classification of myth as “purely impressional” (p. 142) and its comparision to Husserl’s “pure passivity” (ibid.). It is true that Cassirer points out that reality in myth is perceived and experienced as purely overwhelming initially. But an essential part of any symbolic form is its productive character, its “spiritual energy” that leads to a transformation of any sensuous impression to symbolic expression. Luft’s view, hence, that religion is the first expressive force in myth through rites and customs seems problematic. Instead, I would rather propose to characterise early forms of mythical life in comparison to the middle voice in ancient Greek, a mode that is set between being purely active or purely passive. Life in myth, by extension, would rather be a process in which humans are both agents and those affected. This set aside, I want to emphasize that the presentation of Cassirer’s philosophy by the three mentioned inroads is a success. The only disadvantage in my point of view is the deliberate suspension from scholarly literature, e.g. when introducing the concept of myth, for the sake of pushing through the basic rationale and discussing obvious problems not until chapter four (cf. p. 124).

A first conclusion about Luft’s study can be drawn now by introducing the chapter about the metaphilosophical discussions that essentially deal with problems Cassirer has left for his readers. My thesis is that the strength of The Space of Culture is at the same time its weakness. Luft suggests that he has no exegetic interest, but wants to make a case for a theory of culture and “go beyond Cassirer, where neccessary” (p. 187). The problem with that is that Luft gives his readers the impression of having presented a “neutral” version of Cassirer’s philosophy, which is not the case. Against this, I want to insist that a stronger position could be developed by deriving the systematical points from a more careful interpretation, also and especially in order to show their current relevance.

Luft sees the most neuralgic point of Cassirer’s transcendental philosophy of culture in the “question as to an ethics” (p. 187). But to understand and to answer this point with and beyond Cassirer, it is mandatory to give an interpretation of quantity and order of the symbolic forms. Luft’s answer to this will be a position he calls “complementarism”, an attempt which I in the following will prove to be inapplicable to Cassirer’s thought. A first assumption of serious consequences is that Luft, approaching the question of a system of symbolic forms, makes an either-or decision: either the symbolic forms are fixed and completely presented throughout Cassirer’s works or he has presented an open, incomplete system, which would demand further interpretation. One would have to answer why the three volumes of The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms only deal with language, myth, and knowledge and why other symbolic forms, such as technology, art, law, history and so on, are only mentioned peripherally or summarized within Cassirer’s anthropological work An Essay on Man. But Luft, as so many other interpreters, misses out on the possibility of a third way: Cassirer’s magnum opus essentially investigates the functionality of the symbolic that is driven by a dialectics from perception via intuition through to pure thinking. The considered symbolic forms can be seen as ideal-typical instantiations of the three underlying symbolic functions of (1) expression, (2) presentation[xiii], and (3) pure meaning. That would leave us with a completeness of symbolic functions and at the same time the possibility of an open system of symbolic forms. Further symbolic forms, then, would feed on an amalgam and a difference in balance of their underlying symbolic functions.[xiv] But this is, for the moment, not incompatible with Luft’s idea of a “dynamization” (p. 192) of the symbolic forms that regards human civilization in need of constantly creating new symbols in order to express whatever (mental) life itself comes up with. Luft’s view that there simply is no need to determine all possible symbolic forms a priori and that new forms are always possible in principle is systematically and exegetical well-founded. Luft, for this reason, rightly establishes the idea that symbolic forms are “overlapping, intertwined, and interrelated” (p. 196), and in the end only “separate by abstraction” (ibid.).

A central problem now arises by Luft’s answering the question of a possible teleology towards knowledge resp. science. Cassirer clearly states that every single symbolic form has an inward tendency to set its underpinning world view absolute. At the same time, Cassirer suggests that this tendency is only relatively justified, because due to the internal logics of each symbolic form one form cannot be measured by the standards of another. The standards of the natural sciences simply do not apply to understanding the rational core of e.g. myth or religion. On the other hand, one needs to look scientifically (in the sense of the humanities) at the relation of the sciences and other symbolic forms to understand their rationality and their difference (if one would not just want to live a life of a mythical or religious world view). Cassirer supposedly has steered at this point into the quagmire of either defending the superior standpoint of the sciences and hence threatening his idea that every symbolic form has its own right and importance in human mental life, or defending an “initially implausible” relativism[xv] of symbolic forms that would hold that the sciences cannot explain the world better to us than e.g. mythology. This dilemma is further fuelled by Cassirer’s idea that spiritual life follows the telos that all forms of symbolic expression start with the sensuously given, but progress towards its complete liberation and enter the realm of pure thinking. This idea, and this is also important for Luft’s reading, is also connected to Cassirer’s ethico-political stance, as he regards the process of civilization as a “progressive self-liberation” where humans build up “an »ideal« world”[xvi]. Bringing those thoughts together in a coherent way is a topos in Cassirer scholarship long-since and one wonders why Luft sees his standpoint only challenged by Michael Friedman, who indeed is troubled with the compatibility of Cassirer’s “teleology without a concrete telos” and a “relativity of symbolic forms without relativism”. “Complementarism”, thus, should solve this conflict, but what is complementarism? If I understand Luft correctly, it simply is the view that (1) there is neither a true conflict between symbolic forms nor (2) is scientific thinking, philosophically speaking, the highest standpoint to judge and contemplate the symbolic cosmos. Against (1) I have already argued in the beginning of my review: from a transcendental point of view it is not comprehensible how we could at all arrive at the questions formulated here, if symbolic forms would not practically contradict themselves. Luft tries to solve this problem by distiguishing between a view from within the symbolic forms and a view from without (cf. pp. 166-168 & 178), but this strategy already presupposes the philosophical standpoint and does not take into consideradtion the genealogical dimension of Cassirer’s presentation of the symbolic. Luft argues for (2), and this is unparalleled in Cassirer scholarship, by pointing to putative textual evidence that the stage of science eventually will “be overcome by the power of the symbolic itself” (p. 205). Luft wants to show that from the philosopher’s point of view there is a “beyond science” (ibid.) in religion, art, and other dimensions of the symbolic. Complementarism then eventually means that each standpoint is by virtue of its own claim to universality “per se critical of others” (p. 210), hence a form of critique, and that Friedman simply is “conflating” (p. 204) different types of universal validity. The biggest problem with this view is that Luft’s neglect to develop his interpretation as equally exegetical as systematical backfires here: There is no textual evidence whatsoever that possibly would point in the direction that the stage of science will be overcome by the symbolic itself. To prove the hypothesis that science is not an endpoint in Cassirer’s system, Luft quotes Willi Moog’s proposition that is part of one of two reports of a lecture that Casssirer gave in 1927 under the title Das Symbolproblem und seine Stellung im System der Philosophie, which are followed by a discussion between Walther Schmied-Kowarzik and Alois Schardt.[xvii] In the closing remarks, Cassirer clearly states that opposing the symbolic and the rational might be justified from a historical point of view, but could not go more against his intention of finding a unity for the Problemgeschichte of philosophical thinking by the concept of the symbol.[xviii] The “revenge-assumption” (cf. pp. 205 & 235), hence, is an interpretation of Willi Moog that is not in line at all with Cassirer’s thinking. I therefore want to reason that complementarism is neither systematically nor exegetically a coherent position to settle the case between teleology and relativism.

The concluding chapter deals with a summary of the previous chapters and a prospect on the philosophical works of Martin Heidegger and Wilfrid Sellars in contrast to Cassirer’s. Just like his interpretative main rival Michael Friedman, Luft focusses on Davos and the famous debate between Heidegger and Cassirer. Surprisingly, Luft states that “nothing new” (p. 236) can be said about this topic, which might please Friedman but can also leave the reader baffled. Certainly Friedman wrote one of the most important works on the Davos debate, but I would like to indicate another desideratum that has not been investigated properly yet: Luft correctly works out that Heidegger’s reproach of a missing terminus a quo in Cassirer’s philosophy is unfounded (cf. p. 237), because cultural life is created by finite individuals, by exactly what Heidegger calls “Dasein”. But Cassirer actually has more to say about it throughout his anthropological phase, which culminates in An Essay on Man. Now, a true blind spot in Cassirer scholarship is that this anthropological phase already had started when Cassirer and Heidegger met and that the general topic of the Davos University Conferences was nothing less than anthropology. I thus suggest that a lot more can be said about Davos if the question of anthropology would be investigated deeper in this context.

The very last remarks finally deal with the connection between Sellars and Cassirer. Luft argues that “the space of culture is a wider concept that nevertheless integrates Sellars’s idea of the space of reason” (p. 240). As much as I agree with this thesis as somewhat disappointing is Luft’s concession that a proper comparison between their philosophies, particularly when it comes to the notion of myth, “cannot be the task here” (ibid.). Nonetheless, Luft hints precisely at the most challenging problem here: what kind of justification in the sense of the Kantian quid iuris could one give that is not linguistic or non-conceptual? For those who have studied Sellars and his follower John McDowell intensely, it should be obvious that the answer has to be given by a philosophical account of perception –something Cassirer has to say a lot about. Further investigations about those relations are hence demanded.[xix]

In closing, I want to go back to the initial two questions that I had addressed to Luft’s book: does it succeed in justifiying the idea of a philosophy of culture and showing its contemporary relevance? It has become quite clear above that Luft’s main ambition, to prove the homogeneity of a philosophy of culture within Marburg Neo-Kantianism, had been achieved unprecedentedly. Especially showing successfully that Cassirer never stepped out of the Neo-Kantian movement, but rather accomplished a common project is a true advance in Cassirer scholarship. The question for its current relevance should not alone be measured by connecting it to currently fashionable authors like Sellars alone. Surely, one could have expected a deeper comparison just by following the allusive title of the book. On the other hand, Luft has left his readers an enormous amount of worthy desiderata that would give rise to further studies on the path Luft has opened. The Space of Culture certainly is the right direction the “Cassirer renaissance” has to go to successfully revive the project of a transcendental philosophy of culture.


[i] Cf. Endres, T., Favuzzi, P., Klattenhoff, T. (2016). Cassirer, globalized. Über Sinn und Zweck eines Neulesens. In: Endres, T., Favuzzi, P., Klattenhoff, T., ed., Philosophie der Kultur- und Wissensformen. Ernst Cassirer neu lesen, Frankfurt a.M.: Peter Lang, pp. 10-13.

[ii] Cf. Sellars, W. (1963). Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man. London: Routledge, pp. 32-37.

[iii] Cf. Kreis, G. (2010). Cassirer und die Formen des Geistes. Berlin: Suhrkamp, p. 475.

[iv] Luft makes the witty observation that even philosophy itself nowadays is split into “sub-disciplines” (p. 10) in the sense of sub-cultures.

[v] Cassirer, E. (1955). The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. Volume One: Language. New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 81.

[vi] The current relevance of this thesis has once more been shown by Capeillères, F. (2004). Kant philosophe newtonien. Paris: Cerf.

[vii] Cassirer, E. (1955). The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. Volume One: Language. New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 80.

[viii] Cf. among others the forthcoming publication Breyer, T./Niklas, S. (eds.) (2018). Ernst Cassirer in systematischen Beziehungen. Zur kritisch-kommunikativen Bedeutung seiner Kulturphilosophie. Berlin: DeGruyter.

[ix] Cf. Schubbach, A. (2016). Die Genese des Symbolischen. Zu den Anfängen von Ernst Cassirers Symbolphilosophie. Hamburg: Meiner.

[x] Cf. Cassirer, E. (1957). The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. Volume Three: The Phenomenology of Knowledge. New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 73.

[xi] Cf. Cassirer, E. (2006). An Essay on Man. An Introduction to a Philosophy of Human Culture. Hamburg: Meiner, p. 126.

[xii] Cf. http://savoirs.ens.fr/expose.php?id=1021.

[xiii] Here I follow Stephen Lofts proposition of a new translation of “Darstellung” that has become pivotal recently in the anglophone Cassirer scholarship. Nonetheless I want to suggest that this translation comes with difficulties that did not arise with the old translation “representation”. An intermediate translation could be “depiction”. Luft implicitly uses this translation when writing: „the curve represents the mathematical law; it depicts it“ (p. 178).

[xiv] I will argue for this in detail in Endres, T. (2019). Phenomenological Idealism as Method and the Completeness of Cassirer’s Matrix of Symbolic Functions together with its Layers. In: Polok, A./Filieri, L. (eds.): The Method of Culture. Pisa, in preparation.

[xv] Cf. Sellars, W. (1948-49). “Review: Language and Myth. Ernst Cassirer”. In: Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 9, p. 326.

[xvi] Cassirer, E. (2006). An Essay on Man. Hamburg: Meiner, p. 244.

[xvii] This discussion is unfortunately not included in Lofts’/Calgano’s translation of The Problem of the Symbol and Its Place in the System of Philosophy from 2013.

[xviii] Though Moog’s name is not explicitely statet, I read Cassirer’s final remarks as a critique of Moog’s “revenge-assumption”, but leave the final judgement to the readers by just reciting the original text (Cassirer’s words): “Das eine möchte ich jedenfalls hervorheben, daß alle Begrenzungen und Einengungen, wie sie hier im Lauf der Diskussion vorgeschlagen worden sind, nicht geeignet scheinen, das Ganze der Anwendungen des Symbolbegriffs, wie sie sich in den verschiedensten Gebieten des Geistes und der systematischen Philosophie durchgesetzt haben, wirklich zu umspannen. Wenn wir das »Symbolische« dem »Rationalen« entgegensetzen, wenn wir es als Ausdruck dessen nehmen, was der strengen Erkenntnis nicht faßbar und zugänglich ist, so mag dies vom Standpunkt des geschichtlichen Ursprungs des Begriffs gerechtfertigt erscheinen […]. Aber wer es auf diese seine Grund- und Urbedeutung beschränken wollte – der müßte große und weite Gebiete seiner heutigen Anwendung, und zwar die wichtigsten und fruchtbarsten, von ihm abscheiden.” Cf. Cassirer, E. (2004). Aufsätze und kleine Schriften (1927–1931). Hamburg: Meiner, pp. 280-281.

[xix] Meanwhile, Luft has continued investigating this route and hence did not just compare Cassirer’s and John McDowell’s positions, but was also able to establish a link between the philosophies of Cassirer and John Dewey. Cf. Luft, S. (2018). Mind als Geist in der Welt der Kultur. Kulturphilosophie, „Naturalistische” Transzendentalphilosophie und die Frage nach dem Raum der Kultur. In: Breyer, T./Niklas, S. (eds.): Ernst Cassirer in systematischen Beziehungen. Zur kritisch-kommunikativen Bedeutung seiner Kulturphilosophie, Berlin: DeGruyter, pp. 129-149.

Christoph Durt, Thomas Fuchs, Christian Tewes (Eds.): Embodiment, Enaction, and Culture

Embodiment, Enaction, and Culture: Investigating the Constitution of the Shared World Book Cover Embodiment, Enaction, and Culture: Investigating the Constitution of the Shared World
Christoph Durt, Thomas Fuchs, Christian Tewes (Eds.)
MIT Press
2017
Hardcover $55.00
456

Reviewed by: Anya Daly (University College Dublin)

Enactivism as a theoretical framework that addresses diverse domains is establishing itself firmly as the paradigm of the 21st century.[1] Not only does it have the potential to bridge the so-called analytic-continental philosophy divide and the east-west divide, but it also offers cogent reinterpretations of key issues in all the disciplines concerned with the human and animal sciences. The enactivist account challenges and is differentiated from paradigms that explicitly or implicitly rely on rigid external-internal oppositions as well as those grounded in a reductive materialist metaphysics such as the currently popular paradigm of neurocentrism.  Any persisting Cartesian dualisms in addition to monist reductivisms are thus revealed as bankrupt endeavours in the investigation of consciousness, agency, subjective experience and our shared worlds.

This current collection of essays presents a rich offering of interdisciplinary scholarship from some of the leading thinkers alongside emerging scholars connected to the enactivist tradition and its progenitor phenomenology; their remit – to investigate how the various dimensions and domains of our shared world are crucially informed by cultural modes of embodiment and enactively galvanized cultural contexts. Many of the chapters were presented as papers at the conference Enacting Culture: Embodiment, Interaction and the Development of Culture, October 15-17, 2014, University of Heidelberg, Germany. This was the final conference marking the end of the European Commission funded Innovative Training Network, Towards an Embodied Science of Intersubjectivity.

Embodiment, Enaction and Culture: Investigating the Constitution of the Shared World comprises 20 chapters organized around 4 themes: Phenomenological and Enactive Accounts of the Constitution of Culture; Intersubjectivity, Selfhood and Persons; Cultural Affordances and Social Understanding; and Embodiment and its Cultural Significance. It is important to note that, while the title may be taken to suggest otherwise, any reader expecting the cultural themes of aesthetics to be addressed in this book will be disappointed. The writers in this current collection represent the disciplines of philosophy, neurophysiology, cognitive science, psychology, psychiatry, sociology, anthropology and evolutionary studies and so address ‘culture’ in the broader sense. This volume will be an important resource not only for philosophers, but also for those researching and teaching in any of the disciplines represented here by these various writers.

As Merleau-Ponty has declared “the very first of all cultural objects which enables all the rest to exist, is the body of the other person as a vehicle of behavior (Phenomenology of Perception: 364). As soon as I perceive the living body of an-other, my environment attains significance not just as the context and means of my possible agency but also that of the other. Through the potentialities and actualities of interaction, our bodies form a system” (Daly, 2016). Merleau-Ponty here articulates the central organizing insight that motivates this collection of essays; that culture, embodiment and sociality are intrinsically and dynamically interdependent.

Christophe Durt, Thomas Fuchs and Christian Tewes in their introduction acknowledge the intellectual debts of enactivists to the ground-breaking book, The Embodied Mind (1991), in which the authors, Francisco Varela, Eleanor Rosch and Evan Thompson, launch the enactivist vision; and they in turn have acknowledged their intellectual debts to biology, Buddhist philosophy, phenomenology and specifically the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty. As the editors explain, the writings address the constitution of the shared world through the interrogations of “participatory and broader collective sense-making processes manifested in dynamic forms of intercorporeality, collective body memory, artifacts, affordances, scaffolding, use of symbols, and so on.  The contributors investigate how preconscious and conscious accomplishments work together in empathy, interaffectivity, identifications of oneself with others through emotions such as shame, we-intentionality, and hermeneutical understanding of the thoughts of others. The shared world is seen as something constituted by intersubjective understanding that discloses things in the shared significance they have for the members of a culture” (Durt, Fuchs, Tewes, 2017:1). The initial inspiration for enactivism came from the biological sciences with the idea that the organism both geared into its environment through its active sensorimotor engagement and itself became cognitively constituted through this engagement; in other words, the salience of the environmental features depended on the survival requirements of the organism and the perceptual, agentive and cognitive capacities of the organism reciprocally became structured by the demands of the environment. In the cultural domain, enactivism interrogates how collective cultural activity constitutes worlds of shared significance, not, as the editors insist, in any constructivist sense but rather in the mode of disclosure. And they give recognition to Merleau-Ponty and his notion of the ‘intentional arc’ for this enactivist notion regarding the human life-world. Due to its perspicacity and relevance to this book, it is worth repeating here:

The life of consciousness – cognitive life, the life of desire or perceptual life – is subtended by an “intentional arc” which projects round about us our past, our future, our human setting, out physical, ideological and moral situation, or rather which results in our being situated in all these respects. It is this intentional arc which brings about the unity of the senses, of intelligence, of sensibility and motility.  (Phenomenology of Perception, 2006: 157; 2012: 137)

The chapters in this volume address all of these various aspects of the cultural world from the everyday sensorimotor perceptual engagements, to affective intersubjective life, through to artifacts and technology, to institutions, and finally to the psychopathological which, in the breakdown and failures of the ‘intentional arc’, provide unique and incisive insights into the life of consciousness.

It is impossible in a review to do justice to each and every chapter in this broad collection and so I will briefly discuss only a few that have relevance to my own current research interests.

The collection begins with a groundwork piece by Dermot Moran, who sets the scholarly context for much that the later chapters depend, with his essay – ‘Intercorporeality and Intersubjectivity: A Phenomenological Exploration of Embodiment’. His opening statement gives recognition to the centrality of phenomenology for revolutionizing philosophy in the twentieth century by offering a radical reconceptualization of human existence that continues to inform the philosophy of mind and action, and the cognitive sciences.  Moran offers a rigorous analysis of the lines of investigation, the conceptual convergences and divergences of key contributors in the phenomenological tradition.  Given the complexity of the domain and that intellectual debts were not always explicitly acknowledged in both some of the primary literature and the secondary literature, this is no mean feat.  Importantly, he alerts scholars to the fact that in the evaluations of Husserl’s work, his later “original, radical and fundamentally groundbreaking explorations of intersubjectivity, sociality, and the constitution of historical cultural life” (25) are often overlooked. And while Moran reminds us that this later work was key to both Heidegger and Schutz, it is Merleau-Ponty, in the preface to his opus Phenomenology of Perception, who famously ‘outs’ Heidegger as having developed central ideas in his Being and Time on the basis of Husserl’s unacknowledged later work Ideas II (Phenomenology of Perception, 2006: viii; 2012, lxx, lxxi). Moran is more circumspect about this omission on the part of Heidegger and turns his focus on Husserl’s mature reflections to give them the appreciation they deserve and, moreover, set the record straight. Specifically, Moran’s interrogations are concerned with Husserl’s elaborations of the role of lived embodiment in the intentional constitution of culture, our mutual being-for-one-another and the riddle of transcendental subjectivity.

Moran alerts us to the Husserlian origins of key concepts found in the work of later phenomenologists such as ‘world-consciousness’, ‘generativity’, the interrelation that holds between objectivity and intersubjectivity – as he writes: “The sense of objectivity is co-constituted by us, and we are constituted as living beings in relation to this backdrop of world” (27).   And it is this co-constitution of worlds that become expressed in all the various dimensions of culture. The discussion then turns to a key distinction in the phenomenological analyses of body and embodiment between Leib (lived body) and Körper (physical body), more readily associated with the work of Merleau-Ponty, but nonetheless, as Moran notes, already present in the writings of Fichte, Husserl, Scheler, Stein and Plessner.  So too, the signature notion of the ‘I can’ as elaborated by Merleau-Ponty is prefigured in Husserl’s later work and this contributes to self-constitution as much as denoting capacities and powers in world-engagement.  Here we have the dialectical dynamic as expressed through the enactivist framework and this is further elaborated on in discussions tracking the scholarly sources of enactivist ideas such as co-constitution, embeddedness and participatory sense-making in the earlier notions of situatedness, reversibility, empathy, intercorporeity and intersubjectivity.

One of the discussions that especially drew my interest was that concerning intrauterine lived experience from the perspectives of mother and fetus. Whereas Merleau-Ponty, drawing on Piaget, erroneously argues for an indistinction of perspectives between mother and fetus or newborn, Husserl recognizes that there is both an attunement and distinction between subjectivities from the beginning. Moran identifies a number of correspondences between the thinking of Husserl and current research in developmental psychology, referencing in particular the work of Colwyn Trevarthan (37). Vasudevi Reddy in Chapter 6 – ‘The Primacy of the “we”’, develops an account compatible with and extending some of Trevarthen’s founding ideas.

Ezequiel Di Paolo and Hanne de Jaegher, in Chapter 4 ‘Neither Individualistic nor Interactionist’, give a review of key debates in the enactivist account of intersubjectivity that continue to generate controversy, suggesting that some of these have arisen in the first place due to misinterpretations which call for clarification. This is exactly what they seek to do, differentiating those accounts that intersect partially with enactivism but which failed to appreciate key aspects from those that remain attuned to the central organizing insights of enactivism.  There are two misreadings that they target particularly. Firstly, there is a confusion, they claim, between the operational account of social interactions versus interaction as participatory sense-making. They write: “The realm of intersubjectivity is animated by a force that is neither what goes on in people’s brains or in their self-affective bodies nor what occurs in social interaction processes – if we consider each alternative on its own.  On the contrary, intersubjective phenomena emerge only as a dynamic relation between these two broad domains: the personal and the inter-personal.  Any emphasis on either side of this relation at the expense of the other fails to capture the complete picture” (87). It is exactly this insight that is prefigured in Merleau-Ponty’s argument that while I am always “this side of my body”, there is nonetheless an internal relation between self and other and that it is this category of otherness at the heart of subjectivity which underwrites relations between external others. He writes: “Between my consciousness and my body as I experience it, between this phenomenal body of mine and that of another as I see it from the outside, there exists an internal relation which causes the other to appear as the completion of the system” (Phenomenology of Perception, 2006:410; 2012:368). The crucial point di Paolo and de Jaegher defend is that “social interaction and embodied agency are equiprimordial loci of scientific and philosophical inquiry” and further that “intersubjective phenomena emerge only as a dynamic relation between the two broad domains; the personal and the interpersonal” (87); the relation thus transcends the relata; and importantly while the relata maintain their autonomy, their coupling “constitutes an emergent autonomous organization in the domain of relational dynamics” (89).  They furthermore stress that the coupling is never guaranteed, because if we allow the “autonomy conditions for both interaction patterns and participants, the experience of the other never achieves full transparency or full opacity but rather intermittently moves through regions of understanding and familiarity toward provinces of misunderstanding and bemusement, corresponding to phases of interactive coordination or breakdown respectively” (91). The second misreading they target is the claim that enactivism is unable to account for interior life, as in imagining, planning and thinking, without recourse to representation.  In brief, Di Paolo and de Jaegher argue that the ‘agent-world’ coupling in the here and now is not, contrary to representationalists’ claims, the only possible source of meaning-generation for enactivists. Due to the length constraints of this review I will not rehearse the careful and persuasive arguments they marshal in support of their case, but just note that in the section titled ‘Deep Entanglement’, de Jaegher and di Paolo, recruit experimental neuroscience to add force to their analyses.  So too they address the emergence of hybrid accounts that seek to patch the holes in their theoretical frameworks by aligning with another theory; these accounts never achieve coherence or explanatory sufficiency; and notably, they often smuggle in Cartesian commitments entirely incompatible with enactivism, such as the distinction between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ cognition.

Chapter 6, ‘The Primacy of the “We’’, brings the integrated expertise of philosophy, phenomenology, developmental psychology and cognitive science together to investigate collective intentionality in human sociality.  The authors, Ingar Brinck, Vasudevi Reddy and Dan Zahavi stress the importance of clarifying both the theoretical commitments and the on-the-ground science regarding collective intentionality so that when it is invoked in the diverse disciplines, from psychology, politics, anthropology through to economics etc., these invocations will be on a surer footing.  Despite the philosophical work already accomplished in this domain, the authors argue that there are a number of key issues that remain controversial and unresolved.  As they write: “… it is by no means clear exactly how to characterize the nature, structure, and diversity of the we to which intentions, beliefs, emotions, and actions are often attributed.  Is the we or we-perspective independent of, and perhaps even prior to individual subjectivity, or is it a developmental achievement that has a first- and second-person-singular perspective as its necessary precondition? Is it something that should be ascribed to a single owner, or does it perhaps have plural ownership? Is the we a single thing, or is there a plurality of types of we” (131). Here I recognize particularly the issues with which Zahavi has been grappling over the past few years, reaching evermore refined articulations of the philosophical questions and precision with regard to the philosophical stakes.

Reddy brings the developmental psychological perspective into the investigation suggesting that the empirical claims and the conceptual interpretations originally expressed in Piaget’s research from the 1960s, notably the claims of a fusion of perspectives between the neonate and others, are coming under serious challenge. She stresses the significance of the empirical research regarding “infant discrimination at birth between internally and externally originating sensory stimulation, fetal distinctions between own and other bodies as targets for actions, and early forms of social interactions” (133). Reddy draws on other cutting edge research (other than her own) in infant and fetal attention, interaction, affectivity, neural response etc., to give further support to her key claim that the self-nonself differentiation and sense of agency are ontogenetically basic and well in advance of being able to pass the ‘mirror self-recognition’ test and also in advance of any awareness of group affiliation or its converse social ostracism.

Zahavi and his coauthors develop one of the key lines of their argument in opposition to that of Hans Bernhard Schmid (2014), who argues for a plural self-awareness that precedes both self-experience and other-experience. They rightly argue that not only does this imply an unacceptable ‘fusion’ but also that Schmid has failed to differentiate between “social relatedness, common ground, and we-intentionality” (137). They further argue that while the first two shared experiences are necessary for interaction, ‘we-intentionality’ cannot be guaranteed, most notably in conflictual situations.

Brinck, Reddy and Zahavi build a rigorous case for the view they are defending.  They conclude by differentiating between three possible options: “First, the we is conceptually and developmentally prior to the I and the you.  Second, the I, the you, and the we are equiprimordial.  Third, the I and the you are conceptually and developmentally prior to the we” (142).  It is the third option which they favor.  Nonetheless, I would like to suggest there is another option that has not been considered and which has clear philosophical support from Scheler and Merleau-Ponty; the philosophical support of this view from Husserl is somewhat ambiguous.[2]  This fourth option proposes that the I and the we of primary subjectivity are equiprimordial but without fusion; these, the constitutive modes of identification and belonging, both underwrite and become further shaped and developed at the secondary level of concrete interpersonal relations.  According to Scheler there is an a priori ‘logic of the heart’ that underwrites:

… all morally relevant acts, experiences and states, in so far as they contain an intentional reference to other moral persons; obligation, merit, responsibility, consciousness of duty, love, promise-keeping, gratitude and so on, all refer, by the very nature of the acts themselves, to other people, without implying that such persons must already have been encountered in some sort of experience, above all without warranting the assumption that these intrinsically social acts… can only have occurred and originated in the actual commerce of men with one another. They demonstrate that even the essential character of human consciousness is such that the community is in some sense implicit in every individual, and that man is not only part of society, but that society and the social bond are an essential part of himself; that not only is the ‘I’ a member of the ‘we’, but also that the ‘we’ is a necessary member of the ‘I’ (Scheler, The Nature of Sympathy, 1913) my italics.

Merleau-Ponty writes:

We must conceive of a primordial We [On] that has its own authenticity and furthermore never ceases but continues to uphold the greatest passions of our adult life and to be experienced anew in each of our perceptions.  (‘The Philosopher and His Shadow’, Signs, 175)

For Merleau-Ponty, Otherness is a category internal to the subject and without which apprehension of external others would be impossible; the internal sense of otherness can thus be understood as ‘others-like-me’ – ‘us’ or ‘we’, which necessarily requires differentiation from ‘others-not-like-me’.

What I dispute in Brinck, Reddy and Zahavi’s account is the assertion that: “I can be aware of myself (for instance, as a subject of experience or embodied agent) without being reflectively or prereflectively aware of myself as part of a we, and I can be aware of another without that awareness necessarily giving rise to a shared we-perspective” (143).  Just as in the perception of a figure, the ground even though indeterminate is nonetheless a positive presence that is always there, so too in the awareness of myself as an embodied agent or subject of experience, there is always the implicit awareness of myself as belonging to a particular we, whether of species or culture which necessarily informs engagement in that particular context.  With regard to the awareness of another, that other is always culturally situated as like-me or not-like-me, as belonging to my sphere of we-ness or not.  And so whether or not the encounter gives rise to a shared-perspective, depends entirely on the intersubjective identification of we. For further discussion of this alternative view, see Merleau-Ponty and the Ethics of Intersubjectivity, (Daly, 2016).

Matthew Ratcliffe, in Chapter 7 – ‘Selfhood, Schizophrenia, and the Interpersonal Regulation of Experience’, extends the discussions of enactivism into the domain of psychopathology. The central thought that Ratcliffe pursues in this chapter is that while understanding psychopathology in terms of disturbances of the self offers fruitful reconceptualizations of problematic issues within psychiatry, the invocation of minimal selves remains to be fully and convincingly articulated.  Ratcliffe cites Zahavi’s articulation of this notion (151) – that the minimal self is the most fundamental, underpinning all forms of self-experience and that whereby the integrity of experience itself is assured.  This integrity of experience is challenged in schizophrenia in ways that are more profound than in other mental disorders, and hence, according to Zahavi, schizophrenia must be understood as a disturbance of the minimal self.  While Ratcliffe does not dispute any of the above, he insists that the minimal self needs to be understood also in terms of the concrete interpersonal in contrast to Zahavi’s view that minimal selfhood is anterior to interaction.  Thus Ratcliffe challenges the widely held view, as above, that schizophrenia originates solely in disturbances of the minimal self and proposes that rather the interpersonal dimension is also key as both the source of a precipitating trauma and oftentimes also the means of compounding misidentifications and delusions.  Ratcliffe builds an integrated analysis from diverse philosophical sources and clinical research, concluding that trauma and damage to basic trust vindicate the claim that investigations of schizophrenia must take account of relational factors rather than regarding it as a solely individual disorder.

The next chapter ‘The Touched Self’ also offers a critique of Zahavi’s account of the minimal self.  While neither Ratcliffe nor Ciaunica and Fotopoulou dispute the existence of a minimal self, they do, however, dispute how this minimal self is conceived and constituted; both of their accounts insist on the importance of the concrete interpersonal to the sense of ‘I’.  For Ciaunica and Fotopoulou, selfhood, even minimal selfhood emerges in the mutuality and proximity of social interactions. It is to the editors’ credit that they invited Zahavi to respond to these critiques and in this way we have the advantage in reading, of witnessing the evolution of this aspect of the self debates.

In Zahavi’s own words, his account of the minimal self is that “experiential episodes are neither unconscious nor anonymous; rather they necessarily come with first-personal givenness or perspectival ownership.  The what-it-is-likeness of experience is essentially a what-it-is-likeness-for-me-ness (Zahavi and Kriegel, 2016)” (194). Importantly for advancing the debate, Zahavi identifies a significant shift in Ratcliffe’s account from the stronger claim that the minimal self is interpersonally constituted to the claim that the minimal self is not an unchanging core of selfhood and with this Zahavi then asserts that his “thinner and more minimalist self is a condition of possibility for Ratcliffe’s interpersonally constituted minimal self” (195).  And I agree with Zahavi that a minimal self is the condition of possibility of interpersonally constituted minimalist selves, but would like to suggest following the same thread of thought in my response to Chapter 6, that the minimal self includes both the ‘I’ and ‘we’ (without fusion); and this is how subjects can break out of egoic isolation, how they can be constitutively open to the later interpersonal dimensions (Daly, 2014, 2016).

I was interested to read Zahavi’s response to the chapter from Ciaunica and Fotopoulou; that he had also found that their criticisms had not hit the mark and that there were some idiosyncratic and confusing use of terms – such as ‘mentalization’. Nonetheless, in my view, Ciaunica’s and Fotopoulou’s identification of the need to tackle the affective dimension of minimal selfhood is a most promising avenue of investigation. I hope that they pursue this and that they also reassess and refine their philosophical differences with Zahavi in future work. Zahavi is proving his value as a philosophical provocateur in the esteemed tradition of Socratic gadflies!

Chapter 11, ‘The Significance and Meaning of Others’, is yet another demonstration of the breadth of scholarship and versatility in thinking that Shaun Gallagher brings to all his writings.  In this contribution, he examines social cognition through the lens of hermeneutics, focusing specifically on the distinction between significance and meaning with regard to interpretation.  Gallagher weaves together a number of the key threads in his philosophical repertoire to deliver a compelling case for pluralism with regard to social cognition. The chapter begins with a clear survey of the contributions from leading historical figures in the hermeneutical tradition, contrasting the traditional approaches to textual interpretation (Hirsch and Betti) which sought to establish meaning as the truth of the text, in other words, that which corresponded to the author’s original intention, with that of Gadamer who gave priority to significance – the interpretation that the reader brings to the text. While it is Hirsch who introduces the distinction, as Gallagher points out (219), for Gadamer any access to the meaning of the text is inevitably via an interpreter and so significance always informs meaning. There is no objective unchanging meaning. These interpretations can be further complicated and deepened, as Gallagher reminds us with Habermas’ notion of ‘depth hermeneutics’ which brings into play all the cultural and socio-political forces that shape any interpretation. Gallagher writes: “In this view, the deeper meaning is equivalent not to the author’s intentions, or to the original audience’s understanding, but to a realization of how certain socioeconomic forces shaped such intentions and understandings and their subsequent interpretations” (220).

In what follows, Gallagher employing hermeneutical practice in the domain of social cognition, maps the notions of meaning and significance onto the current theory of mind accounts, noting the theoretical and methodological ‘fit’ between Theory-Theory (TT) and traditional hermeneutics, whereas his own account of Interaction Theory (IT) coheres well with the Gadamerian account. Gallagher offers cogent critiques of the purely inferential TT account and he builds a convincing case for his hermeneutical analysis of social cognition in terms of interaction (IT) and also understanding others through the dynamical processes of narrative. To my mind these comparisons of differing theoretical domains testify yet again to not just the viability but even moreso the perspicacity of the enactivist account which coheres with the insights of Interaction Theory.

Chapter 12, ‘Feeling Ashamed of Myself Because of You’, by Alba Montes Sánchez and Alessandro Salice is one of the most philosophically satisfying papers I have read on this subject.  It offers a succinct and critical synthesis of the literature, and furthermore identifies precisely the point that these other accounts overlook. The ‘I’ is co-constituted with the ‘we’ and this underwrites our susceptibility to feeling shame for others on two counts; shame-inducing others as members of our in-group and also in the wider sense as belonging to our human species.  And it is this rendering of the primordial ‘we’ to which I have previously referred (in this review) and also in the context of the empathy debates (Daly, 2014, 2016). They distinguish their current proposal from earlier discussions which focus on the fact that “shame is not possible for a monadic, isolated self” (Zahavi 2014, 2012; Montes Sánchez 2014), that “the self of shame is intrinsically social”, arguing that there is an additional aspect to shame which is able to account for hetero-induced shame (231), when one feels shame because of the behavior or experience of another.  I have now removed the ‘Shame’ paper off my ‘to-do’ list.  This current chapter from Montes Sánchez and Salice has not only made this entirely redundant but they have also accomplished their analysis of this overlooked aspect of shame in such a superb way that it would be extremely difficult to improve on.

Daniel Hutto and Glenda Satne’s Chapter 5, ‘Continuity Skepticism in Doubt: A Radically Enactive Take’ is, like a number of chapters in this collection, another foray into the fine-tuning of the articulation of the enactivist account so as to ensure that counterfeits are not mistaken for the real-thing.  Their particular aims are to clarify the related issues of content, representations and evolutionary continuity in the REC account and its rivals. Importantly, they stress that content-involving cognitions are compatible with the REC account, but are only available to those entities that have some mastery of sociocultural practices. This will be a particularly rewarding read for those already familiar with the debates and acronyms as the analyses not only reference earlier critical engagements between the various proponents but also offer an incisive if not fully resolved response to the continuity skeptic.

Chapter 10, ‘The Emergence of Persons’, by Mark. H. Bickhard, takes the discussion into the domain of metaphysics and as he stresses he is drawing on process metaphysics not entity metaphysics to give an account of the emergence of persons.  Bickhard defends a view that aims to challenge the account of Radically Enactive Cognition and its critique of representationalism.  He argues that even some of the more primitive life forms require normative truth-valued representational capacities.  It seems that the conflict between the two accounts might be reconfigured by; firstly, determining what constitutes mastery of sociocultural practices; and secondly, whether what constitutes representation may be construed more broadly beyond narrow cognitivist formulations.

Chapter 16, ‘Neoteny and Social Cognition: A Neuroscientific Perspective on Embodiment’, by Vittorio Gallese, proposes a new model of social perception and cognition through the simulationist paradigm, and suggests what might qualify as the neural underpinnings for such an account.  The thrust of Gallese’s argument is that a closer examination of neoteny (according to Stephen Jay Gould – that humans “retain in adulthood formerly juvenile features, produced by the retardation of somatic development” (309)) will support his claim that embodied simulation plays a key role in evolution and ontogeny.

The discussions are all philosophically interesting, but in my view the last section deserves special mention; here Gallese ties his analyses of neoteny with the aesthetic experience of fictional worlds.   And while I would challenge Gallese’s claim (Daly, 2018) that during “the aesthetic experience of fictional worlds, our experience is almost exclusively mediated by a simulated perception of the events, actions and emotions representing the content of fiction”, nonetheless, that he brings this aspect of human experience into the debates is important. As I alerted in the beginning of this review, the artistic dimensions of culture were a regrettable but understandable omission from the selection of chapters.

Chapter 17, ‘Collective Body Memories’, by Thomas Fuchs extends the usual considerations of memory and body memory as individual experience into the intersubjective and collective domains, drawing principally on phenomenology and also indicating intersections with enactivism and dynamical systems theory.  Fuchs’ key thought is that the similarities of embodiment and the commonalities of the human situation and practices, contribute through familiarity and repetition to the transfer of bodily memories and habits across time to become collectively embedded in cultural practices and rituals. Our bodies respond with a collective ‘know-how’ when solicited by the cultural situation or the interactive dynamic which have roots in a bodily remembered past.  These all serve to establish and consolidate collective body memory.  He writes: “Cultures preordain and suggest certain ways of sitting, standing, walking, gazing, eating, praying, hugging, washing, and so on.  In so doing, they induce certain dispositions and frames of mind associated with these bodily states and behaviors: for example, attitudes of dominance or submission, approximation and distance, appreciation and devaluation, benevolence or resentment, and the like” (333).  Fuchs examines bodily memory from the perspective of the individual experience, within the interactions of a dyad and also social groups across the domains of philosophy, psychology, sociology, sport and everyday culture.  His thorough scholarship conjoined with his thought-provoking analyses add an important dimension to the overall aims of the project.

The final chapter, ‘Embodiment and Enactment in Cultural Psychiatry’, by Laurence J. Kirmayer and Maxwell J.D. Ramstead, examines the implications of cultural diversity for individuals undergoing anomalous experience in psychopathology, in illness, and also for those seeking to intervene on behalf of these individuals.  They propose there is a bi-directional relevance between the paradigms of embodiment, enaction and narrative practice, with the concerns of cultural psychiatry.  None of these approaches dismisses the value of neuroscience in the understanding of human experience, but nonetheless there is a warranted wariness of the neurocentric tendency in much modern psychiatry.  The focus of this chapter as the authors outline is to examine “the cultural neurophenomenology of mental disorders that focuses on the interplay of culturally shaped developmental processes and modes of neural information processing that are reflected in embodied experience, narrative practices that are structured by ideologies of personhood, culturally shared ontologies or expectations, and situated modes of enactment that reflect social positioning and self-fashioning” (397).  They specifically draw on the phenomenology of delusions to establish their case that “psychopathology cannot be understood completely in neurobiological or individual terms but requires a broader social and cultural perspective” (Kirmayer and Gold, 2012) which also takes account of the often blurred lines between what is considered pathologically mentally ill and what may be described as self-limited forms of psychopathology that are not debilitating (399).  The analyses extend from enaction, to predictive processing, to metaphor and embodiment, to the metaphoric mediation of illness narratives, to embodiment, enactment and intersubjectivity in delusions, to cultural ontologies and constructions of normativity, culminating in a discussion of the cultural neurophenomenology of psychopathology. Each analysis displays a breadth and acuity of scholarship that deserves a more extended treatment – another book perhaps.

Unfortunately, this review could not do justice to all the chapters in this collection.  These other chapters include: ‘We Are, Therefore I Am – I Am, Therefore We Are: The Third in Sartre’s social ontology’ by Nicolas de Warren; ‘Consciousness Culture and Significance’ by Christoph Durt; ‘The Extent of Our Abilities: The Presence, Salience and Sociality of Affordances’ by John Z. Elias; ‘The Role of Affordances in Pretend Play’ by Zuzanna Rucinska; ‘Ornamental Feathers Without Mentalism: A Radical Enactive View on Neanderthal Body Adornment’ by Duilio Garofoli; ‘Movies of the Mind: On Our Filmic Body’ by Joerg Fingerhut & Katrin Heinmann; ‘Painful Bodies at Work: Stress and Culture’ by Peter Henningsen & Heribert Sattel.

Conclusion:

Given the potential scope of such a topic it is of no surprise that other equally important dimensions of enaction and culture were not included in this volume such as those flagged in the introduction – notably the work achieved by Lambros Malafouris in regard to material culture and his fascinating book How Things Shape the Mind (2013), appreciatively referencing Shaun Gallagher’s earlier book How the Body Shapes the Mind (2005).  So too Richard Menary’s work in the area of ‘tools’ as elucidated in his books Cognitive Integration: Mind and Cognition (2007) and as editor of and author in The Extended Mind (2010).  The fine arts, music and theatre, the high-cultural domains, are conspicuously absent (apart from the last section of Gallese’s chapter) and this is a great pity particularly given the centrality of Merleau-Ponty’s thought to the origins of enactivism and his enduring fascination and appreciation of painting in revealing our shared worlds. Nonetheless, the chapters included in this volume present new insights, refinements of the debates and extremely valuable contributions to our understandings of the cultural dimensions of subjectivity and intersubjectivity both in anomalous experiential contexts and in the everyday context.

References:

Daly, Anya. 2014. “Primary Intersubjectivity: Empathy, affective reversibility, ‘self-affection’ and the primordial ‘we’”. Topoi, Special Issue: Embodiment and Empathy: Current Debates in Social Cognition, Vol. 33, Issue 1,

Daly, Anya. 2016. Merleau-Ponty and the Ethics of Intersubjectivity. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Daly, Anya. 2018. “Merleau-Ponty’s Aesthetic Interworld: From Primordial Percipience to Wild Logos”. Philosophy Today.

Durt, Christoph, Thomas Fuchs, Christian Tewes (Eds). 2017. Embodiment, Enaction and Culture: Investigating the Constitution of the Shared World. Boston: MIT Press.

Gallagher, Shaun. 2017. Enactivist Interventions: Rethinking the Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gallagher, Shaun. 2005. How the Body Shapes the Mind. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Pres.

Husserl, Edmund. 1989. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy – Second Book: Studies in the Phenomenology of Constitution, Trans. R. Rojcewicz and A. Schuwer. Amsterdam: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Jardine, J. 2017. Empathy, Embodiment, and the Person: Ipseity and Alterity in Husserl’s Second Ideen. Copenhagen: Faculty of Humanities, University of Copenhagen.

Kirmayer, L. J., and I. Gold. 2011. “Re-socializing psychiatry: Critical neuroscience and the limits of reductionism“. In Critical Neuroscience: A Handbook of the Social and Cultural Contexts of Neuroscience, (eds) S. Choudhury and J. Slaby, 307-330. Blackwell.

Malafouris, Lambros. 2013. How Things Shape the Mind. Boston: MIT Press.

Menary, Richard (Ed). 2010. The Extended Mind. Boston: MIT Press.

Merleau-Ponty, M. 1962, 2006. The Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. Colin Smith. London: Routledge Kegan Paul.

Merleau-Ponty, M. 2012. The Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. Donald A. Landes. Abingdon, New York: Routledge.

Merleau-Ponty, M. 1964. “The Philosopher and his Shadow”, Signs. Trans. Richard C. Mc Cleary. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

Scheler, M. 1970. The Nature of Sympathy. Trans. P. Heath, Hamden, CT: Archon Books.

Schmid, Hans Bernhard. 2014. “Plural Self-awareness”, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences. 13:7-24.

Varela, Rosch and Thompson. 1991. The Embodied Mind. The MIT Press.

Zahavi, D. and U. Kriegel. 2016. “For-me-ness: What it is and what it is not”. In Philosophy of Mind and Phenomenology: Conceptual and Empirical Approaches, (eds) D.O. Dahlstrom, A Elpidorous and W. Hopp, Routledge, 36-53.

 

 


[1] See Shaun Gallagher’s latest book – Enactivist Interventions: Rethinking the Mind, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

[2] In Ideas II, and in the section titled – ‘Transition from solipsistic to intersubjective experience’ (trans, 1989), Husserl outlines various implications of pursuing the solipsistic thought experiment, indicating that it is only in the interaction with others, particularly in conflictual situations, that the intersubjective sphere and a shared world can be established. Nonetheless, he points to an underlying condition for any interaction to take place in a footnote. “Of course, this conflict should not be considered total. For a basic store of communal experiences is presupposed in order for mutual understanding to take place at all” (84). It is this that I would suggest is pointing to Merleau-Ponty’s ‘primordial we’, and Scheler’s ‘I’ within the ‘we’, and the ‘we’ within the ‘I’.  The intrasubjective experience of belonging to a ‘we’, lays the ground for shared intersubjective experience and this is not a fusion because the attention constantly shifts between ‘I’ and ‘we’, just as perception shifts between figure and ground. An alternative interpretation of this quote was suggested to me by James Jardine, “namely that Husserl is here indicating that, in order for reciprocal understanding to occur I must ‘assume’ that the other’s experiential world is similar to mine in certain respects (an assumption that is then confirmed in the ongoing course of the other’s expressive ‘behaviour,’ particularly when that behaviour exhibits that the other has recognized and is responding to me as a fellow embodied subject). The term which Husserl uses here, ‘gemeinsam,’ could just as well be translated as ‘common’ rather than ‘communal’” (Jardine, 2017).

Timo Helenius: Ricoeur, Culture, and Recognition

Ricoeur, Culture, and Recognition: A Hermeneutic of Cultural Subjectivity Book Cover Ricoeur, Culture, and Recognition: A Hermeneutic of Cultural Subjectivity
Studies in the Thought of Paul Ricoeur
Timo Helenius
Lexington Books
2016
Hardcover $90.00
254