The Aesthetic Dimension of Life and the Freedom of Thought: A Hans Blumenberg Reader Review
The Cornell University Press edition of the History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader is a first of its kind volume, masterfully edited and translated by Hannes Bajohr, Florian Fuchs, and Joe Paul Kroll. Continuing to widen the Hans Blumenberg (1920 – 1996) readership in the English-speaking world, the wide-ranging collection includes Blumenberg’s “most important philosophical essays, many of which provide explicit discussions of what in the large tomes often remain only tacit presuppositions and often act as précis for them, as well as selections of his nonacademic writings” (5). The editors organize Blumenberg’s writings thematically, beginning in Part I with Blumenberg’s accounts of the historical significance of secularization and his assessment of the concept of the real. Part II encompasses select writings on language and rhetoric including Blumenberg’s seminal and groundbreaking conceptualization of metaphoricity (e.g., Introduction to Paradigms for a Metaphorology 1960 and Observations Drawn from Metaphors 1971). Unique in his thinking about the metaphorical process, Blumenberg is a contemporary of Ricoeur, whose own analyses of metaphor begin to appear in the mid-seventies in French (e.g., La Métaphore vive 1975). Moving from Blumenberg’s examination of new modes of poetic, rhetorical, and metaphoric thinking and writing (what Blumenberg refers to as “nonconceptuality”), Part III of the book offers several key compositions on the meaning of technology and nature. The volume closes with Part IV that contains Blumenberg’s literary varia and more whimsical pieces that reflect Blumenberg’s interest in playfulness and riddles as entryways to a revivified philosophical reflection that breaks free from canonical meaning and form.
There are “two criteria” that the editors of the Reader cite as determining their “selection: the centrality of the texts for Blumenberg’s oeuvre as such—the core canon, as contestable as this notion is—and their illustrative value for the genres, topics, or types of question he was engaged in but for which no such canon has yet crystallized” (20). The editors situate their selections in the historical background of Blumenberg’s intellectual development, which they discuss in the Introduction. There Bajohr, Fuchs, and Kroll remind us that Blumenberg’s father worked extensively on the philosophy of Edmund Husserl and that Blumenberg’s 1950 Habilitation thesis, Ontological Distance, an Inquiry into the Crisis of Edmund Husserl‘s Phenomenology, examined Husser’s ideas at length. Being half-Jewish (Blumenberg’s mother was Jewish) just as Husserl, Blumenberg suffered during the reign of the National Socialists in Germany. This background makes Blumenberg’s criticism of Carl Schmitt’s take on law, politics, and exceptional power (The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, originally published in 1966) all the more poignant.
Blumenberg’s own understanding of the task of thinking – and especially philosophical thinking – arrives early on, in one of the opening selections in Part I, entitled World Pictures and World Models (1961), where Blumenberg writes, “countless definitions that have been given for philosophy’s achievements in its history have a basic formula at their core: philosophy is the emerging consciousness of humans about themselves” (42). However, this externalizing power of philosophical reflection, which takes us out of our cultural and historical belonging in order to allow us to examine both, according to Blumenberg, results if not in utter alienation, then at least in a loosening of national and political convictions. Paradoxically, the pluralism of cultures and views, and the resultant inability “to adopt one of these worlds obviously and unquestionably as our own” (42), makes us all the more malleable when it comes to political manipulation. On Blumenberg’s view, “beneath the competing world pictures, interests stemming from rather less rarefied spheres interpose themselves imperceptibly. World pictures are becoming pretexts under which interests are advanced. This type of substitution is implied when one speaks of world pictures as ideologies” (50). Blumenberg contrasts the world picture with a more theoretical and scientific construction such as a “world model” (43), and which he defines as an “embodiment of reality through which and in which humans recognize themselves, orient their judgments and the goals of their actions” (43). The possibility of a successful substitution of a world picture for an ideology makes Blumenberg’s critique of the sort of political theory that Schmitt proposes all the more salient. For Blumenberg, “Whoever campaigns for the state as a “higher reality” and whoever identifies himself with the state thinks it as a subject of crises—and is easily inclined to think it into crises” (84), and as we know already from Plato’s Republic, which both Blumenberg and Schmitt studied at length, a tyrant, who identifies with and as the state is “always stirring up war” (567a).
However, the observation that Blumenberg fails to make is that his own take on the meaning of the Republic makes this dialogue out to be, precisely, the kind of tool of ideological manipulation against which he warns us to start, i.e., in his remarks on the world picture. Blumenberg reads the dialogue literally, which is clear from his own gloss on the supposed function of the Kallipolis. He writes, “Plato had derived his Republic from the three-tiered structure of the human soul; at the center of the work stood the theory of ideas, and the famous cave allegory illustrated the necessity of binding the state to the knowledge of absolute reality” (87). Blumenberg directly attributes to Plato those images and ideas that are a part of the city in speech that is a construct and a product of the dialogical exchanges between the interlocutors. Any product of the discussions among the dialogical characters cannot be directly identified with what Plato may have thought or believed. If Plato wanted us to think that a surface and literal reading was the correct one, he would have written in the first person, and straightforwardly recommended his ideas as being correct and true. Instead, Plato writes dialogues and there is not a single dialogue of Plato’s where we have him address us in the first person. Blumenberg’s claim about Plato’s alleged prescription of the “necessity of binding the state to the knowledge of absolute reality” (87) allows Blumenberg to set Plato up as a subject of Machiavelli’s discontent and attacks, but it makes Plato’s thought out to be much too simplistic and brings it in the vicinity of ideology. Another problematic set of connections that Blumenberg makes has to do with his swift excursus through the history of ideas – from Aristotle to Husserl. Blumenberg’s take on this tradition in The Concept of Reality and the Theory of the State chapter is set in the epistemological key. In other words, Blumenberg omits the ontological register. This omission allows him to establish a clean and clear-cut, but mistaken view of the conceptual continuities between ancient philosophy, the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and then also late 19th Century German thought. Blumenberg thinks that
Aristotle’s dictum that, in a way, the soul is everything, was the maximally reduced formula that was still prevalent in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. To this formula corresponds the expectation that experience is, in principle, finite and can be reduced to a catalog of distinct Gestalten, each of which communicates its reality in the instantaneous self-evidence of a confirmed ought-to-be. The Platonic theory of ideas and the notion of anamnesis [recollection] are merely consistent interpretations of the basic fact that such instantaneous self-evidence, such confirmation in propria persona [Leibhaftigkeit], might exist. Even Husserl tried to rediscover this self-evidence in his phenomenology by choosing the metaphor of an experience in propria persona for the original impression. (122)
Blumenberg misses the fact that, for Aristotle, psyche ta onta pos esti panta (Peri Psyche 431b20) – the “soul somehow is all beings” – is a hard ontological claim. In Aristotle, the soul is not a totality of knowledge in terms of a faculty of the mind, but in terms of the very reality and being of things. This oversight skews Blumenberg’s interpretation in the direction of an epistemic clarity, rather than in the direction of thinking about a nascent possibility. In other words, Blumenberg thinks of the soul as something that both undergirds and grants access to the always already existing and knowable noetic reality. Given Blumenberg’s direct attribution to Plato of the “Theory of Ideas,” he then establishes a simple continuity between the reality and the world-forming status of the “Ideas”; the epistemic status of the soul in Aristotle; the hypostatization of divine and noetic reality in the human world (the Middle Ages and Renaissance); and lastly, Husserl’s philosophy. The last, being an epistemologist, misunderstands Aristotle in his own right. Husserl treats psychology as phenomenology, i.e., as a mode akin to Wesensschau. It is Heidegger, who in a sense, offers a corrective to Husserl’s program and sounds out the ontological significances of the Greek language and, in particular, of Aristotle’s thought. Blumenberg’s interest in establishing philosophical continuities that inform the history of the Western world from antiquity to the modern era is a leitmotif of The Concept of Reality and the Theory of State (1968/69), which along with the Preliminary Remarks on the Concept of Reality (1974) concludes Part I.
Part II, which is entitled Metaphors, Rhetoric, Nonconceptuality, showcases Blumenberg’s interest in rethinking the traditional notion of concept-based philosophy through the lens of poetry, rhetoric, and the power of metaphor. It opens with a chapter on Light as a Metaphor for Truth: At the Preliminary Stage of Philosophical Concept Formation (1957). In this essay, Blumenberg takes the Schellingian idea of mutually belonging, but opposing tendencies or states, i.e., light and darkness, as being at the heart and at the beginning of the all. Following Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Blumenberg claims that “despite an abundance of gods of nature, Greek religion did not have a deity of light” (129). The intimation is that this designation is saved for the monotheistic god and especially of a Christian religion. However, this is an oversight, because the ancient Greeks not only had Apollo Phanaios or Apollo of Light, but also in the Orphic cosmogonies we have an androgynous god, Phanes – a deity of light. In any case, Blumenberg’s consequent analysis of the way in which light, as a metaphor, operates in the history of Western thought is fascinating. For example, turning to modern thought, Blumenberg sees that
in the idea of “method,” which originates with Bacon and Descartes, “light” is thought of as being at man’s disposal. Phenomena no longer stand in the light; rather, they are subjected to the lights of an examination from a particular perspective. The result then depends on the angle from which light falls on the object and the angle from which it is seen. It is the conditionality of perspective and the awareness of it, even the free selection of it, that now defines the concept of “seeing.” (156)
This is Blumenberg’s conclusion, i.e., that with the onset of modern thought we experience a reversal in the dynamic of revelation. Heretofore, things revealed and presented themselves to human beings, but now we engage in the kind of experimental and scientific examination whereby human beings control the revealing potency of light and use this power at will. The next step, as Blumenberg sees it, is the pervasive and subjugating power of technology, which speeds up our work, extends our work-day well into the night, and depends – largely – on “artificial light” (156). Technology subjugates us and permeates our lives through and through. Blumenberg wonders whether we can find an opposing power to counterbalance this advance of technicization. He sees this opposing force in metaphors. According to Blumenberg, they can loosen the hold of technocracy on our thinking and on our lives. The Reader offers Blumenberg’s ideas on this theme in the chapter entitled, Introduction to Paradigms for a Metaphorology (1960).
Blumenberg seeks to uncover the “the conditions under which metaphors can claim legitimacy in philosophical language” (173). In the first place, he wants us to note that “Metaphors can first of all be leftover elements, rudiments on the path from mythos to logos; as such, they indicate the Cartesian provisionality of the historical situation in which philosophy finds itself at any given time” (173). In other words, just as Descartes’ Discourse on Method offers provisional Maxims of Morality, likewise Blumenberg wants metaphors to fulfill a similar function. Metaphors would serve as a temporary measure of thought or as a passage from the already by-gone to the not-yet established way of philosophizing and living. It is questionable whether Descartes means for us to take his Maxims of Morality – of which the thinker famous for his discoveries in geometry and algebra tells us there are “three or four” (Discourse on Method Part 3) – as provisional. An alternative reading of Descartes, which does not undermine Blumenberg’s comparison, is that morality and its maxims are always only provisional; subject to re-examination and re-valuation depending on the place and time we find ourselves in. Descartes’ insistence that we continuously seek to rejuvenate our ethical outlook and relations agrees with Blumenberg’s interest in finding a surreptitious element that would allow us to undermine, undo, and then recast outmoded ways of thought. “Metaphorology,” he writes, “would here be a critical reflection charged with unmasking and counteracting the inauthenticity of figurative speech. But metaphors can also—hypothetically, for the time being—be foundational elements of philosophical language, ‘translations’ that resist being converted back into authenticity and logicality” (173). It is this “resistance” to the structure of accepted, logically-sound language and presentation that attracts Blumenberg to the metaphorical process.
Blumenberg probes and pivots our understanding of the philosophical value of poetic, metaphoric, and rhetorical expression in the consequent selection that the Reader offers, which is entitled An Anthropological Approach to the Contemporary Significance of Rhetoric (1971). Blumenberg’s claim about rhetoric is that its “modern difficulties with reality consist, in good part, in the fact that this reality no longer has value as something to appeal to, because it is in its turn a product of artificial processes” (202). There is a need, in other words, to get to the underlying truth-structure of reality, which moves past the artificiality of social engineering, the technocratic state, or simply the sedimentation of interpretive layers that dictate what reality is supposed to be for us. However, this need in the guise of an imperative (and here Blumenberg again recalls Husserl and his “Zur Sache und zu den Sachen!” 202) and issued as “an exhortatory cry” (202) itself becomes rhetorical. The latter is a technology in its own right, i.e., that of language, of shaping opinions, and influencing emotions. In this estimation, Blumenberg comes close to a Derridean position, which offers us both the elemental and complex nexuses of the world, including the world of nature, in terms of the techniques, expressions, and formations that can only be reached because of and by means of language. Thus, both for Derrida and for Blumenberg (at least on this presentation in An Anthropological Approach to the Contemporary Significance of Rhetoric), as central as the logos is, it must be displaced to give way to a possibility of re-interpreting our relation to our thinking and to our world. This insight, along with his thinking about metaphors, allows Blumenberg to proceed to a discussion of “nonconceptuality.” This discussion, which concludes the selections in Part II of the Reader is preceded by two other pieces: Observations Drawn from Metaphors (1971) and Prospect for a Theory of Nonconceptuality (1979).
In the very last essay in Part II, which is an excerpt from the 1975 Theory of Nonconceptuality, Blumenberg outlines his program. Prior to giving us this outline, he entertains the meaning and pitfalls of theoretical reflection in the context of ancient Greek theoria. Blumenberg’s take on theoria, which equates it with motionless and stilling contemplation of eternal reality written in the starry sky, misses the important sense that the Greeks themselves attributed to theorein (at least prior to the arrival of Pythagorean thought). This term, theorein—to contemplate or to spectate—includes spectatorship of various religious, theatrical, and athletic events. As such, it is much more immersive and emotionally engaged than the purified, rarified sense of theorein, which comes into play after Pythagorean beliefs and practices take hold. The self-possessed, reserved, and calm theoretic practice (although we have allusions to it made by various characters in Plato’s dialogues, e.g., Timaeus, Republic, Symposium, Phaedrus, and Phaedo) is not a good representation of the originary meaning of theorein. Nonetheless, Blumenberg takes the meaning of theoria, which is already purified of its sensual alloys, to be representative of the Greek understanding of this practice. He writes, “for the Greeks, contemplating the sky meant not only contemplating a special and divine object of the highest dignity, but the paradigmatic case of what theory ought to be, what is at stake for it. The ideal of theory is the contemplation of the sky as an object that cannot be handled” (260). Blumenberg then takes this sense of theory as what has been handed down through the history of Western thought and what must be counteracted by a new engagement with the non-conceptual, emotional, sensible, sensitive, and intuitive dimension of life. It is this latter recommendation that we must heed in order to follow Blumenberg’s intimations on the point of nonceptual philosophizing.
To state the key moments of his program briefly, 1) “The turn away from intuition is wholly at the service of a return to intuition. This is, of course, not the recurrence of the same, the return to the starting point, and certainly not anything at all to do with romanticism” (262). This interest in re-inscribing thinking by retracing the intuitive dimension – a retracing, which is not a simple repetition, but a deepening of our reckoning with it – is the first postulate. Then comes a key aesthetic and emotional attunement 2) “Pleasure [which] requires the return to full sensibility [Sinnlichkeit]” (262). This call to pleasure hearkens us back to the Greek beginnings of contemplation as both a mental and an emotional immersion in and an attunement to the world – the kind of activity that pleasure properly completes (e.g., Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, esp. Bk. X). And finally, a medium or passage that must go between the noetic and the aesthetic, for Blumenberg just as for Riceouer, is 3) “Metaphor [which] is also an aesthetic medium precisely because it is both native to the original sphere of concepts and because it is continually liable and has to vouch for the deficiency of concepts and the limits of what they can achieve” (262). This, then, is the basic outline of Blumenberg’s program in the excerpt from Theory of Nonconceptuality with which Part II of the Reader ends.
Part III, entitled Nature, Technology, and Aesthetics, begins with Blumenberg’s The Relationship between Nature and Technology as a Philosophical Problem (1951), and proceeds historically to show how a distinction between nature and being insinuates itself in philosophical reflection. Blumenberg then traces out a further divide between nature and divinity in Christian thought. A short section on enjoyment in this essay is reminiscent of Hegel’s analyses in the Phenomenology of Spirit (VI. B. II. b. § 581 – Spirit, Culture, Truth of Enlightenment). In Hegel, this section on the totalizing function of “utility” leads to a situation in which “heaven is transplanted to earth below” (§ 581), which are the last words of the section that precedes Hegel’s discussion of “Absolute Freedom and Terror” – a discussion that is informed by Hegel’s reflections on the French Revolution. Blumenberg’s analyses, too, lead up to a revolution, but of a different kind, i.e., to the revolutionazing, but also totalizing, and not altogether salubrious power of technology.
In part 7. Of The Relationship between Nature and Technology as a Philosophical Problem, entitled “The ‘Second Nature’ of the Machine World as a Consequence of the Technical Will,” Blumenberg speculates about the way in which the displacing effect of technology or the “technical ‘out-of-itself’” (302) can be understood as “second nature” (302) for us. Blumenberg frames his reflections on this possibility in terms of Heidegger’s thinking and poses them in the form of a question. He asks:
does the concept of a “second nature” really carry the implications of the modern age’s understanding of nature to their conclusion, to the end of all its possible consequences? Is the claim to “unconditioned production,” as Heidegger has called the technical will, enacted in the “second nature” of a perfected machine-world? Or does such unconditionality imply that it will suffer nothing else alongside it—which is to say that not only has “second nature” provided the potency for the nullification of the first nature but that the former’s essence also pushes toward the latter’s realization? Man’s experience of this ultimate stage of possible technical fulfillment is only just beginning. (302)
This prescient formulation and the possible danger it expresses is all the more worth exploring in our world – today – permeated, navigated, run, and shaped by a heretofore unseen proliferation of virtual communication and technology. Blumenberg, having offered for us this portentous problem, then goes on to lay out its roots in the relationship between nature, divinity, and creative power – both divine and human, the latter of which is largely a power to imitate. These reflections appear in the essay that follows in the Reader next and which is entitled Imitation of Nature: Toward a Prehistory of the Idea of the Creative Being (1957).
In the immediately following essay, entitled Phenomenological Aspects on Life-World and Technization (1963), Blumenberg traces out the transformation of the intuition of life into a totalization of world-horizon and the consequent objectification of the life-world. This transformation sets the stage for the thoroughgoing displacement of nature by the “second nature.” The displacement that Blumbenberg outlined in The Relationship between Nature and Technology as a Philosophical Problem. Concretely, Blumenberg explains that “the intentionality of consciousness is fulfilled in the most comprehensive horizon of horizons—in the ‘world’ as the regulative pole-idea of all possible experience, the system that keeps all possibilities of experience in a final harmony, and in which alone what is given to experience can prove itself to be real” (356). This unification and fulfilment of intentionality as and in the world prepares the stage for the transformation of the world into an object. This happens because of the identification that takes place between the world-totality “in which alone what is given to experience can prove itself to be real” (356) and the fact that, for Husserl, according the Blumenberg, it is “in the ‘world’ as the horizon of all horizons [that] objecthood is likewise isolated and stressed” (356). Not only that, but also “’Nature,’ [which] is essential for our topic—is the result of such emphasis. It is thus not equiprimordial to world but a derivative, already constricted objective horizon. Nature, so much can already be seen, cannot be the counterconcept to technology, for already in the concept of nature itself we find a deformation—an emphasis—of the original world-structure” (356). Since the latter is object-skewed, also nature is not free from objectification and is already prepared for being worked over and substituted with or nullified through the “second nature,” i.e., through the all-encompassing technological transformation. However, Blumenberg does not assign to Husserl the blame for this transformation, instead Blumenberg’s “Husserl is only concerned with making visible in exemplary fashion how disastrous in the broadest sense human action can be where it no longer knows what it is doing, and with exposing what one might call active ignorance as the root of all those disoriented activities that have produced human helplessness in the technical world” (367). The counterpoint and a saving force to this onslaught of “active ignorance” and in the face of a thoroughgoing technicization, has to do with our reorientation toward the intuitive, sensible, and aesthetic dimension of life.
The remaining essays in Part III, as well as Blumenberg’s engagement with various literary and philosophical figures and thinkers such as Socrates, Valéry, Kafka, Freud, Faulkner, Goethe, Nietzsche, and Aesop (among others) point the way to this aesthetic reorientation. For example, in Socrates and the Object Ambigu: Paul Valéry’s Discussion of the Ontology of the Aesthetic Object and Its Tradition, Blumenberg engages with Valéry’s Eupalinos or the Architect and the accounts of noetic construction and the role of necessity in the Timaeus; Aristotle’s unmoved mover; as well as reflections on beauty and finitude from the point of view of the Phaedrus. Blumenberg concludes that “the Socrates of Valéry’s dialogue does not arrive at an aesthetic attitude toward the objet ambigu because he insists on the question, definition, and classification of the object—thereby deciding to become a philosopher. The aesthetic attitude,” Blumenberg continues as he contrasts it to the Socrates of Valéry, “lets the indeterminacy stand, it achieves the pleasure specific to it by relinquishing theoretical curiosity, which in the end demands and must demand univocity in the determination of its objects. The aesthetic attitude,” in the final analysis, “accomplishes less because it tolerates more and lets the object be strong on its own rather than letting it be absorbed by the questions posed to it in its objectivation” (434). The attitude for which Blumenberg argues, then, is a kind of intuitive, aesthetic, deeply pleasurable – and having offered a reconstruction of theoria, I can also say – an originary contemplative attitude that immerses us into the world and thereby allows the world to show itself to us anew.
The closing set of selections in Part IV of the Reader offers Blumenberg’s analyses of philosophically significant literature, which I see as a kind of propaedeutic to the aesthetic, metaphoric, nonconceptual, but originarily theoretical thinking and being in the world. Thus, in The Concept of Reality and the Possibility of the Novel (1964) essay, Blumenberg examines the relationship between truth, poetry, nature, and imitation in its literary and historical unfolding. This multi-disciplinary and cross-historical examination is characteristic of Blumenberg’s style of analysis. He moves through Plato, Aristotle, Scholasticism, the Renaissance, and on to the emergence of the concept of the absurd. In the final analysis, Blumenberg claims about the novel that it does not need to take on the guise of the absurd or be guided by it as a concept (502). The sphere of possibilities that the novel encompasses and iterates surpasses the straightforward mimetic schema where culture seeks to imitate nature. Because of this, the novel does not run aground once this schema shatters against the absurdity of life where nature has become infused with culture through and through; subtended in the conceptual delimitation of its object within a world-horizon; or displaced by means of technological dissolution of the natural being of the world. These latter eventualities call for a break-through and an overcoming by means of the absurd, but the novel circumvents this need, because the novel serves as “the extension of the sphere of the humanly [and not naturally] possible” (502). What does this mean concretely in terms of the philosophical mode of reflection and thought? Blumenberg’s answer is forthcoming in the essay entitled Pensiveness (1980), which is both a prelude to the more whimsical selections in this Reader and also offers Blumenberg’s estimation of the task and value of philosophy. Blumenberg first lets us know that “pensiveness is … a respite from the banal results that thought provides for us as soon as we ask about life and death, meaning and meaninglessness, being and nothingness” (517). In this formulation, pensiveness evokes both Descartes’ resolve to waver and to be of a wandering, instead of a weak mind (Discourse on Method Part 3) and also Heidegger’s call to authentic openness in anticipatory resoluteness or Entschlossenheit (Being and Time Sect. 54). Blumenberg goes on to offer us his “conclusion—since I must present one because of my profession—is that philosophy has something to preserve, if not revive, from its life-world origin in pensiveness” (517). This is both lyrical and evocative, as well as a methodologically rigorous a conclusion.
Although the Reader does not end here, I would like to close my review with the following quotation that expresses both a recommendation and a challenge that Blumenberg issues to us. “Philosophy must not be bound, therefore, to particular expectations about the nature of its product. The connection back to the life-world would be destroyed if philosophy’s right to question were limited through the normalization of answers, or even through the obligation of disciplining the questions by beginning with the question of their answerability” (517).
While Adorno and others maintained that, after the Second World War, poetry and philosophy are impossible, Blumenberg belonged to that group of post-war, German philosophers committed to exploring what would be possible in and with philosophy. Did Blumenberg succeed in this endeavour, and is that why some today find his work inspiring?
This new volume by Felix Heidenreich examines the operation of the work of Blumenberg, focusing on the operation of his metaphorology as political metaphorology. Yet he does not merely inquire into Blumenberg’s metaphorology. Indeed, there is a certain ambiguity in the title Politische Metaphorologie Hans Blumenberg heute. Hans Blumenberg heute is surely a more expansive topic than his metaphorology. What is the book about?
The book is structured as follows. In chapters 1-6 the author approaches metaphorology as philosophy, or more broadly as thought movement, thinking style. Chapter 6, on myth, is transitional, with chapters 7 and 8 being explicitly about political metaphorology. In chapter 9 the relationship of politics, morals, and truth is the central theme, with a focus on the political character of metaphorology. Chapter 10, the closing chapter, returns to the core question: What can we do with or make of Blumenberg’s philosophy and with his metaphorology?
The first chapter elaborates the core question: What is the operation of Blumenberg’s work? Thus it is clear that the book will not be an introduction to Blumenberg’s work (enough manuals are already available) nor an argument for a single thesis. Rather, it is a search for an answer to the question of what we are able to make of Blumenberg. Instead of a doxography, the author prioritizes investigation as a style of thinking. He wants to offer something other than the usual perspective, moving away from the question “What does Blumenberg say?” and towards the questions, “How does Blumenberg operate?” and “Is it possible to continue this operation?” By investigating these questions as paradigms, as examples of a working style and thinking style, the book attempts to contribute to the self-understanding of philosophy, as well.
The second chapter focuses on Die Legitimität der Neuzeit (1965), the book that made Blumenberg famous. Blumenberg examines European intellectual history, arguing that the modern representation of the self-assertion of the human, the representation that the human uses to take his fate into his own hands, is that by which he can and must transform his world. European modernity is thus not opposed to the Christian world, but procreated by it. The author refers to Anselm Haverkamp, who argues that Blumenberg at the end of the 1960s was conceived as left or progressive philosopher not least because of this book. In Die Legitimität der Neuzeit, the concept of rearrangement is important. Blumenberg’s conception of rearrangement suggests that themes and arguments exist in a functional coherence, in which separate elements can be exchanged and altered, but that there is no absolute “point zero,” an originary place from which new interpretations spring. Since every new idea arises from combinations of existing narratives, concepts, and metaphors, intellectual history becomes a series of changes, rearrangements, and bricolages.
In the third chapter the central question is whether there are any constants in innovation dynamics. What connects the contemporary person to the human being of the Middle Ages, to the ancients, or even to primitive times? Classically, philosophical anthropology gives the answers here. For instance, Kant’s question, “What is man?”, establishes a telos of the human being: Man is substantially social, substantially seeking knowledge, substantially gifted with reason. But according to Blumenberg, this essential determination cannot be continued today. As opposed to the essentialism of traditional European philosophy, he asks the question of man in his own, narrative way. The author points to two strategies in this context. First, in Blumenberg’s narrative philosophy, in place of attributions of being come stories and histories; second, there is Blumenberg’s plea for the generation and use of descriptive categories. In stories and descriptions, Blumenberg’s goal is also to produce distance, not a vision of the absoluteness of reality. He aims for an integration of the phenomenological, first-person-perspective on the one hand and natural-anthropological, third-person perspective on the other. In doing so, his descriptions are strongly bound to historical and personal circumstances, so that culture becomes a shield against the absolutism of reality. To describe this project, Blumenberg uses the metaphor of “caves” that are not built of stone, but of histories, texts, theories woven into houses. Thus, in his last major monograph, Höhlenausgänge (1989), the history of European philosophy becomes a series of cave metaphors. Yet, in contrast to Blumenberg’s emphasis on distance, Heidenreich argues that man is a being who alternates between distance and intimacy, and aligns one with the other.
In the fourth chapter the author discusses the relationship between culture and technology in Blumenberg’s anthropological variations. Not only do humans have means to anticipate danger and to prevent it, but animals also have rudimentary forms of technology: they build nests, communicate, and reap the benefits of their labour. Technology does not contrast with the world, but comes from it. The author applies Blumenberg’s concepts to phenomena that Blumenberg himself never described: digitisation, the Internet, development of self-learning machines. What do these technologies mean for people? They affect us by transforming us into data-producers and consumers. So, here, there appears to be a fruitful way to build on Blumenberg’s anthropological approach to technology.
In the fifth chapter the author points out something more explicitly about Blumenberg’s approach to anthropology and to rhetoric. Anthropological arguments always carry the danger of a certain reductionism. How does Blumenberg face this danger? As already indicated, for Blumenberg, description constants replace essence determinations. And while Blumenberg follows Kant in directing his thinking against a certain pathos of reason, his more powerful contribution is to rehabilitate a justification for rhetoric. Such rehabilitation is necessary because rhetoric has for too long been perceived primarily as an art of seduction. In contract, for Blumenberg, rhetoric is a technique of delay, a substitute for violence. Blumenberg is not so much interested in the rationality of rhetoric as he is in its formalising, delaying, and deflecting effect. In this context, Blumenberg’s understanding of education or Bildung as a kind of distancing or refusal to be impulsive is important. For Blumenberg, political education is not about rhetoric as display or framing, but about rhetoric as a kind of exercise in slowness and thoughtfulness. Nevertheless, rhetoric and metaphor do not always slow down, but can make things more complex, confuse, enthuse, but also oversimplify, leading to questionable cognitive “shortening.”
Criticism of an “essentializing anthropology”, which is based on a given being of man, cannot neglect to hold on to description constants, as already indicated. Chapter 6 starts with Blumenberg’s central thesis of the complexity reduction via narrative by man: Man likes to keep the world off the body and live with the things he experiences by telling himself and others a history. In this view, anthropology is systematically intertwined with myth. The foundational hypothesis here is that man as a narrative, myth-forming, myth-gathering being can never fully outgrow the premodern techniques of world-conquering. From chapter 6 onwards, the book moves towards Blumenberg’s political metaphorology. This chapter, not yet explicit about this, functions as a transition.
In German-language post-war philosophy, myth is a major field of study, and Blumenberg plays a central role in the intense struggle concerning how to understand myth and its function (the origins of this discussion are found in Carl Schmitt, Ernst Cassirer, and Albert Camus). According to Blumenberg, myths organize chaos. The first detailed and explicit presentation of the theme of myth theory can be found in Blumenberg’s contribution to the band on Probleme der Mythenrezeption (1968) under the title “Wirklichkeitsbegriff und Wirkungspotential des Mythos”, on how myth production and myth reception relate to each other. Yet it is Blumenberg’s monograph Arbeit am Mythos (1979) that dogma becomes central, and with it a questioning of the Christian tradition. Unlike Plato, Blumenberg does not pit myth against logos, but instead opposes it to dogma. In particular, he conceives myth as liberal and open in the face of the closedness and authoritarian character of dogma. At the end of the 1960s, this view produced the Blumenberg –Taubes controversy. Whereas Jacob Taubes stressed that the myth can also become anti-liberal, even becoming a means of spreading terror, Blumenberg has no plausible reply. He does write about the Hitler myth, but simply assumes that myth must be ambiguity-tolerant and ambiguous. Nevertheless, even ambiguity can be dangerous, as evidenced by the ideological promiscuity of the national socialist elite. Heidenreich concludes, I think quite rightly, that the outlining the form of thought and presentation of myth does not yet say anything about its content, a point Blumenberg largely missed.
In the seventh chapter, Blumenberg’s investigation of metaphor, as developed in his Paradigmen zu einer Metaphor (1960), takes centre stage. Indeed, Paradigms is Blumenberg’s methodically most important text, and perhaps the one for which he is most famous. Heidenreich argues that with this text Blumenberg opened up an entire field of research within philosophy, its important offshoot emerging, for example, in Ralf Konersmann’s Wörterbuch der philosophischen Metaphern (2007).
What is the core of metaphorology? The author indicates that this question is not easy to answer. The term suggests that it is a scientific treatment of metaphors, so that metaphorology relates to metaphor formation as a kind of reflexive science. But the significance of the project only becomes clear when it is placed in relation to the history of understanding, something that Blumenberg himself never accomplished. When concepts shape our thinking, the historically informed handling of these concepts becomes a requirement of controlled thinking. I think this implicitly shows a focus on the content of metaphors, but that is not yet an answer to the question of what metaphorology is. So, the question arises again: is metaphorology just the history of metaphors (akin to the history of concepts, which includes the history of their content) or a theory of metaphor and its function?
Another important question arises in this connection: Are metaphors ornaments or are they more fundamental? The view that metaphors should be understood not as an appendage but as a foundation of human language, is usually traced back to Nietzsche’s text Über Lüge und Wahrheit im aussermoralischen Sinne (1896). This is a central question about metaphor, but is it addressed by metaphorology? Blumenberg refers to Nietzsche, but offers no extended discussion, nor is Heidenreich clear on this point.
Heidenreich does point out that Blumenberg’s metaphorological texts have been compared to topos research. A classic objection to topos research is its associative character. One jumps among text types, eras, and reception contexts, to compare similar usage modes. But this purely associative linking counters Blumenberg’s approach, which looks to a structuring background narrative, as in Licht als Metapher der Wahrheit (1957). The decisive distinction between a metaphor-collecting topos-research and a metaphorological study is the presence in the latter of an historical thesis, which organizes the material. The concept of “Leitfossile” (leading fossils) is significant here. It means that metaphorology must assume significant cases in any given period, without which it would become a collection of bare materials.
The detection of analogies itself leads to thinking in analogies, for Blumenberg. Thus, the question arises: do people constitute metaphors or do metaphors constitute people? For Blumenberg, the study of metaphor shows that texts know more than their writers, since reality speaks through them. According to Heidenreich, this observation means that people do not have ideas, but ideas have people. But this leads to a methodological difficulty concerning the capacity of metaphorology to oversee the context of its research objects. This question about the relationship of metaphors and people, which appears in various places, seems to be a blind spot in the book, since the author never makes it thematic nor takes any real position on it.
Chapter 8 raises the key issue: what is political metaphorology? In Blumenberg, the word combination of political metaphorology does not occur. Heidenreich wants to investigate how metaphors themselves become political, and hence to understand how metaphors exercise power. His concern is not so much about metaphors within the history of ideas as it is about intellectual martial art, which keeps out questionable ideas. But it seems to me that one need not choose between the polemical function of metaphors, and metaphors as guiding fossils. Again, as far as I am concerned, the author does not offer a lucid treatment of this ambiguity in the functions of metaphor.
The author points out that the dimension of power in Blumenberg’s metaphorology remains implicit, but the next chapter considers political, military, and violent metaphors in the work of Blumenberg and of his pupils. It has long been acknowledged that such metaphors can lead from the point of view of theoretical knowledge. But, then, why is this discussion of violent metaphor necessary? Do these metaphors have depth, or do they serve as merely collective concepts? The same question can be asked about the author’s digressions about Brexit and about the French yellow jackets. Heidenreich even says that metaphors can at once be deadly and guiding. But the point of this observation eludes me. Perhaps we are once again asking whether metaphors form us or whether we form metaphors, but the discussion here does not gain any clarity on that question.
Though they do not resolve this crucial question, the author mentions several valuable features of Blumenberg’s approach. First, Blumenberg’s work clarifies the great relevance of cultural contexts and historical connotations to understanding metaphor: as a phenomenologist, Blumenberg knows that we always “see more than we see.” Second, Blumenberg’s approach makes it possible to consider the mixing of metaphors and myths. Indeed, metaphors can be understood as “micro-myths” insofar as they already have a narrative structure and are in many cases woven into larger narrative, which may even have its own mythical connections. Third, we learn something from Blumenberg about the dynamics of realignment.
The author then elaborates on the metaphorology of “the ship of state” and the question of the democratic “captain,” following Blumenberg’s Schiffbruch mit Zuschauer (1979). Here he refers in passing to Blumenberg’s analyses of the nautical metaphors that unfold in a Bundestag debate. The discussion of this example shows mainly how difficult a good political metaphor can be to unpack.
The author raises another methodically decisive question in this context: do these metaphors guide political relationships ornamentally, or do they have a real, channeling effect? How exactly should the relationship between expression and the expressed be understood here? Metaphors are plastic, so even the limited image of the state ship branches into a variety of theories and themes. Do metaphors really form our thought and action, or do we form metaphors as ornaments to our pre-existing ideologies and decisions? Could it be that metaphors are not deep guide fossils but rather a kind of surface foam?
The author tends somewhat towards the surface foam view. He holds, in a stronger way than Blumenberg himself, that one must assume the incoherence of human metaphor use. Blumenberg imagines that leading metaphors fundamentally pre-structure our view of the world, of which we ourselves are parts. In this view, metaphors are incoherent in the sense that they do not push our thinking through a single compelling channel, but rather through a complex network as in Venice, with side arms, dead-ends, main and side canals. Modernisation also contributes to this pluralisation, since in the absence of an absolute metaphor, there is rather a horizon of meanings, that terminate in one another. Our use of metaphors, including those that form political communication, is a bricolage.
For Heidenreich, the toolbox of Blumenberg’s political metaphor, unlike its pure framing analysis, provides an historically grounded analysis of primary philosophical leading metaphors. Against this background, the author indicates what he believes an integrative political metaphorology should look like. He makes a attempt at systematization, guided by a maxims of political metaphorology:
- Analyse the entire network of image fields! Metaphors are semantic compactions, or nets of concepts that refer to one other. For instance, consider the field of architectural metaphors such as buildings and houses, foundations, pillars or struts, and so on. Each metaphor in the network is constituted as a member of a metaphor family, the members of which, in Wittgenstein’s sense, bear a certain family resemblance to one another.
- Familiarize yourself with important matters! A broadening of the metaphorological programme concerns the exposure of technical historical and social contexts. For example, light can become a metaphor for truth because people see in light but not in the dark. When Blumenberg analyses the ‘Licht als Metapher der Wahrheit’, this analysis gains depth by examining the history of the luminous agent at the same time.
- Ignore media boundaries! This is not Blumenberg’s, though today it is trivial. It is precisely the manifestations of metaphor in the mass media that have the greatest political effect.
- Specify the character of the metaphor’s leadership! The most difficult step in political metaphorology is to show that there is not only strategic use of ornamental metaphors, but also a leading function in metaphor itself. Yet, according to Heidenreich, even Blumenberg often fails to show this.
In the end, the author also stresses that a political metaphor in the continuation of Blumenberg’s work has a deconstructive character: Metaphorology is hardly focused on the question of whether metaphor is “correct”, but will only make explicit what connotations and implications are built in; the metaphors of people in the struggle for the appropriate expression must be understood analytically.
Chapter 9 focuses on the relationship between politics, morality, and truth, based on Hannah Arendt’s writing on the Eichmann trial. The question of truth here is focused on the truth of the existence of evil, while Arendt emphasizes the banality of evil. Though it takes effort to see what relevance this has to metaphorology, the link seems to be that political metaphorology must be guided in terms of power and democracy, and therefore also in terms of good and evil. Blumenberg blames Hannah Arendt for creating the myth of everyday – and thus innocent – evil, by portraying Eichmann as a stupid pawn. I will not go into the discussion between Blumenberg and Arendt about Eichmann, because recent research on Eichmann has shed new light on her assessment of the man and his crimes.
What is important is how we value myth-making. According to Blumenberg, collective myths can have a function. The unsustainability of their imagination does not have to be presented to the weak. As a means of defensive self-confidence, community-forming myths can be legitimate. Myths and truth thus become pharmaka, substances whose use presupposes a context-related clarity. But how can myth distinguish between right and wrong? When is a political myth useful for self-defence and when does it become hegemonic? Blumenberg lacks an answer to these questions, according to Heidenreich, for principled reasons. These questions depend on common sense and practical experience that is indicated in traditional philosophy with the concept of phronesis or prudentia. Because these are eminently practical questions, there is no rule that can be used to answer them. So, Heidenreich argues, there is no moral philosophy in Blumenberg, or at least nothing that solves these practical questions. But if that’s right, does this disqualify Blumenberg’s metaphorology from being political?
Chapter 10 turns to a key question in Blumenberg’s thinking: Where can philosophy still be practiced? As Heidenreich portrays it, Blumenberg gets rid of hard dividing lines of classical philosophy: the image of rhetoric as the enemy of philosophy disappears, myth is no longer directly opposed to reason. Blumenberg is taken as a representative of a soft, empathetic, deconstructive philosophy that allows authors, theories, and perspectives to manifest their metaphorical, time-bound and literary assumptions. But what does Blumenberg have to say about the mission of academic philosophy? Does philosophy disappear into scholarly writing, argument and insight into essayistic commentary?
For Blumenberg himself, it was internal philosophical doubt that makes a certain representation of the profession questionable. He is also clear in his rejection of the usefulness or applicability of philosophy. Heidenreich agrees that the current culture puts research projects under heavy time pressure, a problem already stressed by Blumenberg. Blumenberg opposed the instrumentalization of philosophy by industry, its economization. But since for him, theory was already form of praxis, he also saw little interest in the left-wing thinkers’ demand for the coherence of theory and revolutionary political praxis. The idea that theory could produce solutions to social problems, must have struck him as naïve.
One problem that presents itself in interpreting Blumenberg is that he left few programmatic texts in that set out his intentions. Yet Blumenberg clearly has a narrative style intended to allow one to consider objects from different perspectives, to explore detours and side roads, and to slow down and to express doubts. He allows for impressions to be processed in freedom without immediately reaching a judgment. Blumenberg is therefore very much in a phenomenological tradition. But according to Heidenreich, this narrative style is not dialogical, so the reader is left wondering how any statement could be contradicted or corrected. Perhaps narrative and dialogical philosophy could indeed develop further together, without contradiction, but for further answers about Blumenberg’s philosophy, a lot of research is needed.
But could Blumenberg’s ideas nevertheless help us understand the leading metaphors of the present day? According to Heidenreich, the great potential of Blumenberg’s approach lies in the careful deconstructive effect of a consistent survey of unselected background metaphors and narrative structures, and the apparent plasticity of meanings within that structure. Analysis should focus not only on dramatic metaphors, such as “struggle” but also on less conspicuous metaphors. With Blumenberg, we can initiate the questioning of those images, which in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s words “hold us captive.” Metaphorology is thus at once a cultural techniques and a reflective approach to meaning that may ultimately be more than a deconstructive act.
Although the book contains much of interest, its investigation of the main question, about the politics of Blumenberg’s metaphorology, makes no real reference to Blumenberg’s own conception of politics. The author writes as if Blumenberg approached politics as a necessary evil, about which philosophy does not have to make much of a fuss. And to be sure, we rarely find an explicit discussion of the political in Blumenberg. It does arise, however, in his discussions of political theology, in which he questions traditional views on human nature. Similarly, in his posthumous book Beschreibung des Menschen (2007) (Description of the Human), he treats the state not so much as representing the citizens, but as prevailing over them. That’s a little different than seeing the politics as a necessary evil. Perhaps Blumenberg does politicize philosophy, just in a very different way than Heidenreich would like.
A few other criticisms I made in passing can also be made more explicit. First, no clear definition of metaphor is offered. Since metaphorology is a reflection on metaphors, this makes it a little difficult to grasp what the book is reflecting on. More importantly, in Heidenreich’s argument, metaphor and metaphorology are often mixed, which leads to ambiguities, particularly when he asks about the political operation of metaphor. In many places in the book, he wants to draw on the politically operational nature of metaphors as understood by Blumenberg. But a politically operative metaphor need not depend on politically-operational metaphorology, nor would a non-politically-operational metaphor detract from a politically-operational metaphorology. By the end of the book, the author seems to agree with Blumenberg’s broad understanding of the political dimensions of metaphor, as thinking routines. But since this emerges only at the end of the book, much of the earlier discussion remains ambiguous.
Another criticism is that the author is not always sharp about which point he wants to make, especially when he asks whether we form metaphors or whether metaphors form us. This question is regularly run together with the question of whether a metaphor is a superficial ornament or a guiding or channeling idea, e.g.
The methodically decisive question now is: do these metaphors guide purely ornamental world and political relationships or do they actually have a channeling effect? How exactly should the relationship between expression and the expressed be understood here? …… Do metaphors really channel or do we form metaphors? (90)
We see that the author shifts to the second question, without the first question being answered. But whether a metaphor is ornamental or channelling, does not seem to bear on whether man determines it.
If humans are creators of language, they can produce both superficial metaphors and channeling ideas. But perhaps the author has a different view, and he believes that a metaphor can be a guiding idea, only if man is guided, and not creative himself. The author could have offered a clearer argument by drawing on the extensive French philosophical discourse on this subject (e.g. the work of Lacan, Kristeva, and Ricoeur).
Ultimately, it could be the case that Heidenreich fails to find unity in Blumenberg’s work simply because it is not there. Blumenberg hardly mentions metaphorology in his later work, perhaps because Gadamer in Wahrheid und Methode (1960) has sharply worked out this theme. Blumenberg moved on to myth and incomprehensibility, themes that mark a deepening of his phenomenology. The connection with the earlier work is increasingly loose and unclear, and it becomes increasingly difficult to see the political significance in his later work. Nevertheless, despite these concerns, with Politische Metaphorology: Hans Blumenberg Heute, Heidenreich has produced a rich book that provides a welcome, fresh look at Blumenberg’s work.
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.
Enactivism as a theoretical framework that addresses diverse domains is establishing itself firmly as the paradigm of the 21st century. 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. 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.
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.
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.
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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.
 See Shaun Gallagher’s latest book – Enactivist Interventions: Rethinking the Mind, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.
 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).