Timo Miettinen: Husserl and the Idea of Europe

Husserl and the Idea of Europe Book Cover Husserl and the Idea of Europe
Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy
Timo Miettinen
Northwestern University Press

Reviewed by: Tommi Hjelt (University of Turku)

Husserl’s Phenomenology as Philosophy of Universalism?

In academic discussions of the past decades – at any rate in disciplines linked to the so-called continental philosophy – it has become common practice to view universalistic notions with extreme suspicion. After the Second World War, the insight into the oppressive character of western rationality and the realization that “the project of modernity” has not delivered and cannot deliver on its promise of an ideal society have led to a conviction that all cultural formations, even when (or rather, especially when) making claims to universality, are inevitably partial and contingent. Monolithic teleological models of world history that depict the present as a legitimate moment in a process of inevitable gradual advancement towards ideality have lost their credibility. Universalism has come to be associated with illegitimate expansionism and homogenizing tendencies of western culture, motivated not by innocent benevolence but by fear of indeterminacy and striving for dominance. And yet, while western rationality has been criticized for its false pretensions, there has been a deliberate push for more universality, most notably in the form of universal human rights and international political co-operation (ideals, one has to add, that in the light of current global crises have once again shown their precarious nature, but perhaps also their indispensability). And remarkably, the push for more universalism has gathered most of its impetus from the same tragedies of modernity that seemingly delivered the irrefutable evidence against universalism. As we have witnessed in the last decade or so, the internationalist tendencies have found a new adversary in the right-wing nationalist movements that in their turn call for cultural inviolability often deploying the argument that different cultures and value systems are irredeemably incommensurable. This argument is strikingly reminiscent of postmodernist ideas of pluralism, albeit with one major difference: in setting the nation-state as its reference point it implies cultural uniformity where a postmodernist view would already recognize incommensurable diversity. All in all, what one can gather from present political and theoretical debates is that there is a massive disagreement over universalism, which not only concerns the desirability of it but the definition of the concept itself.

These tensions are the underlying motivation of Timo Miettinen’s study Husserl and the Idea of Europe. Miettinen sets out to formulate a novel understanding of universalism, which could respond to the current “general crisis of universalism” (4) without losing sight of the problems related to universalist attitudes. As Miettinen argues, a similar interest can be seen as the driving force of Edmund Husserl´s late transcendental phenomenology. For many, Husserl still represents a rigorous philosopher of science, who aimed at establishing a methodological foundation of all scientificity on an unhistorical transcendental structure of consciousness, and in this sense, his phenomenology is easy to understand as a universalist undertaking. But Miettinen shows that as Husserl delved ever deeper into the constitution problematic, the simple image of a self-sufficient transcendental structure had to make way for a more complex and nuanced account of situatedness of all human experience, which at the same time called for a radical rethinking of the concept of universalism. The necessary situatedness of experience is, in fact, reflected already in the title of Miettinen’s book. If the book is ultimately about universalism, one might ask, why not call it “Husserl and the idea of universalism”? First of all, Husserl regarded Europe as the broad cultural space where a special kind of universalist culture was established and developed – a culture of theoretical thought, to which he felt obliged as its critical reformer. In this sense, for Husserl, the idea of Europe is the idea of universalism. But the point is more subtle than that: by omitting the notion of universalism from its title the book implies that what follows has European culture as its starting point and as its inescapable horizon. In other words, what is promoted from the very first page onward, is an idea of universalism that constantly reflects on its own situatedness. “To acknowledge Europe as our starting point,” as Miettinen notes later in the book, “means that we take responsibility for our tradition, our own preconceptions.” (133–134).

In keeping with the idea of situatedness, the first part of the book deals with the historical context in which Husserl was developing new ideas that came to be associated with his late transcendental phenomenology. Like many intellectuals of the early 20th century, Husserl interpreted the present time in terms of a general crisis. Even though a “crisis-consciousness” was sweeping Europe at that time, there was no common understanding as to what was the exact nature or the root cause of the present crisis and what conclusions should be drawn from it. This indeterminacy was, in fact, part of its success, for it made the notion viable in different political and philosophical settings. Nevertheless, some common features of the crisis discourse can be delineated, as Miettinen demonstrates. First of all, the idea of a general crisis was not used in a descriptive context, but rather it “was now conceived as a performative act. For the philosophers, intellectuals, and political reformists of the early 20th century, crisis not only signified a certain state of exception, but was also fervently used as an imperative to react, as a demand to take exceptional measures” (27). By the same token, the idea of a crisis was not solely seen in a negative light but at times – as was especially the case with the First World War in its early days – greeted with enthusiastic hope. There was also a certain depth of meaning attached to the crisis. For example, the war wasn’t interpreted as an outcome of some current historical or political development but rather as a “sign” or a “symptom” of “something that essentially belonged to the notion of modernity itself, as a latent disease whose origin was to be discovered through historical reflection” (31).

The need for a historical reassessment of modernity’s past already points to the question, which Miettinen singles out as the most crucial for Husserl’s considerations. Some notable intellectuals of the time viewed the ongoing crisis as evidence that fundamental ideas of modernity, which up to that point had laid claims to universality, had shown themselves to be finite and relative. For instance, Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West conceived the development of different world-historical cultures in terms of an ever-repeating lifecycle analogous to that of living organisms and implied that the current crisis was a natural end stage, “the death-struggle” of the western culture: “This struggle was something that all cultures descend into by necessity without the possibility of prevailing through a voluntaristic renewal” (33). In addition, Spengler perceived every culture to have a radically distinct worldview incommensurable with others and encompassing spheres that many would consider as universal, for example, mathematics. While Spengler went to extreme lengths, he was by no means alone in promoting a cultural relativist view. From the early nineteenth century onward a tradition of “historicism,” as it came to be known, had established itself and by the early 20th century it was mainly seen as an idea of radical historical relativism, “that all knowledge is historically determined, and that there is no way to overcome the contingencies of a certain historical period” (38).

According to Miettinen, Husserl had a twofold attitude towards the crisis discourse. In relation to the present-day debates he characterized his own position as that of a “reactionary,”but this did not stop the discourse from having an impact on his thinking. Yet, as Miettinen points out, the impact of popular debates on Husserl’s phenomenology should not be exaggerated either, since the idea of a crisis can be seen at least in two important ways “as a kind of leading clue for Husserl’s whole philosophical project” (45). Already Husserl’s critique of the objectivist attitude in natural sciences can be interpreted this way. For Husserl, the crisis of the western rationalism was linked to the “radical forgetfulness” regarding the experiential origin of its abstractions. In other words, the modern scientific attitude, just like the “natural attitude” of our every-day-life, takes the objective existence of the world for granted without reflecting the activity of meaning constitution, which makes such an “objectivity” possible in the first place. Although this “transcendental naïveté” is already present in the prescientific domain of the natural attitude and hence an unavoidable feature of human experience in general, for Husserl the real reason behind the present crisis was to be found in the triumphant natural scientific attitude of the nineteenth and 20th centuries, which not only forgot but actively attacked the other side of the transcendental relation, the notion of human subjectivity as the domain of self-responsibility and rationality.

On the other hand, however, the possibility of a positive interpretation of crisis was also built into the basic structure of phenomenology: For Husserl, self-responsible theories and cognitions should be ultimately founded on experiential evidence, on the “originary givenness” of the content of consciousness. But if our way of relating to the world nevertheless tends to “habituate” past experience and forget originary givenness, it follows that our judgments need to be constantly led back to the immediate intuitive evidence. If judgments then happen to reveal themselves as unfounded, a crisis ensues: “From the perspective of acquired beliefs, judgments, and values, a crisis signifies a loss of evidence, a situation in which our convictions have lost their intuitive foundation” (49). At this point the underlying argument of the whole book begins to shine through. Husserl saw the crisis as a possibility of cultural renewal, which called for a self-responsible, i.e. self-critical attitude towards values, convictions, and beliefs. The idea of renewal opposes “false objectivity” by reinstating the relation between genuine human agency and objectivity. But most of all it combats the passivity and fatalism inherent in theories of radical cultural relativity and finitude endorsed by the likes of Spengler. Husserl argued that even though cultural limits must always be considered in self-critical assessments of one’s own situation, these limits are not set in stone but redefinable through self-responsible, self-critical human agency.

In summary, the first part of Miettinen’s book gives an account of Husserl that seeks a balance between cultural situatedness (crisis as “crisis-consciousness”) and inherent logical development of phenomenology (crisis as an overarching theme in Husserl’s project in general). The contextualization does offer an interesting perspective on Husserl’s late phenomenology by drawing comparisons between some main features of the crisis discourse and Husserl’s thoughts. But there is still a certain one-sidedness to the narrative. Miettinen follows the general crisis discourse only up to the point where it becomes possible to distinguish Husserl’s reflections on the crisis, which, as we saw, concentrated amongst other things on the issue of “false objectivism.” However, false objectivism was not an exclusively Husserlian idea, but rather one of the most central themes of the intellectual debate of the early 20th century, and, in fact, of the crisis discourse itself. It was, after all, the problem of objective spirit assuming an independent existence from subjective spirit, which constituted for Georg Simmel “the tragedy of culture” (see Simmel 1919). And it was the issue of reification, which Georg Lukács situated at the core of his History and Class-Consciousness. For Lukács, one of the most disadvantageous effects of the capitalist society was the emergence of a contemplative attitude, which takes the surrounding world as an objectivity that has no intrinsic connection with the subject – a very similar strain of passivity that Husserl was opposing. (See e.g. Honneth 2015, 20–29). One is compelled to ask, then, whether a more thorough comparison of Husserl’s ideas with those of his contemporaries could have shed some new light on the historical situatedness of phenomenology itself.

Even though Husserl did not accept the thesis of radical cultural relativism, he had to reevaluate the role of situatedness in the phenomenological problem of constitution. The second part of Miettinen’s study gives a concise overview on topics related to these questions. First, Husserl became exceedingly aware that acts of meaning-constitution have their own historicity, that they are made possible by prior achievements. The domain of “static phenomenology” needed to be complemented with “genetic phenomenology,” which was to concern itself with descriptions of “how certain intentional relations and forms of experience emerge on the basis of others,” or more broadly “what kinds of attitudes, experiences, or ideas make possible the emergence of others” (62). This opened a set of phenomena that Husserl addressed with a whole host of new concepts. Miettinen manages to introduce this terminology remarkably well by giving concise yet intuitive characterizations that make the general point of genetic phenomenology come across. A reader only superficially acquainted with phenomenology might still take exception to the fact that there are hardly any practical examples of these abstract concepts, and when there are, some of them seem unnecessarily complicated. Take, for instance, the illustration of the term “sedimentation,” which, as Miettinen explains, “refers to the stratification of meaning or individual acts that takes place over the course of time” (64). However, he illustrates this by referring to development of motor skills in early childhood: “children often learn to walk by first acquiring the necessary gross motor skills by crawling and standing against objects. These abilities, in their turn, are enabled by a series of kinesthetic and proprioceptic faculties (the sense of balance, muscle memory, etc.)” (64). As much as acquiring new skills on the basis of prior ones has to do with sedimentation, the emphasis on abstract motor skills leads to a set of problems concerning the complicated topics of “embodiment” and “kinesthesia,” which are quite unrelated to the questions that Miettinen is principally addressing.

Nevertheless, Miettinen describes comprehensibly how questions related to genetic phenomenology led Husserl ever deeper into questions of historicity and cultural situatedness. As the phenomenological problematic expanded to encompass the genesis of meaning-constitution, the notion of transcendental subjectivity had to undergo a parallel conceptual broadening. The abstract transcendental ego made way for a more concrete and historical account of the transcendental person: “We do not merely ‘live through’ individual acts, but these acts have the tendency to create lasting tendencies, patterns, and intentions that have constitutive significance” (64–65). In other words, the transcendental person evolves through habituating certain ways of experiencing that, once internalized, work as the taken-for-granted basis for new experiences. But Husserl’s inquiry to the historical prerequisites of meaning constitution did not stop there either. What becomes habitual to a transcendental person, goes beyond the historicity of the person itself, for the genesis is not a solipsistic process but an interpersonal and intergenerational one, where ways of meaning constitution are “passed forward.” Husserl’s umbrella term for problems of this kind was “generativity.” As Miettinen points out, it was the notion of generativity that really opened up a genuine historical dimension in Husserl’s phenomenology, with far-reaching consequences: “Becoming a part of a human community that transcends my finite being means that we are swept into this complex process of tradition precisely in the form of the ‘passing forward’ (Lat. tradere) of sense: we find ourselves in a specific historical situation defined by a nexus of cultural objectivities and practices, and social and political institutions” (68–69).

In this way, generativity points to another turning point in the problem of constitution, the constitution of social world through intersubjectivity. Unlike natural or cultural objects, other subjects are given to me as entities that “carry within themselves a personal world of experience to which I have no direct access” (72). This “alien experience” nevertheless refers to a common world and in doing so “plays a crucial role in my personal world-constitution” (72). That is to say: the meaning of a shared and objective validity is bestowed on my world only in relation to other world-constituting subjects. The lifeworld, which is constituted as the common horizon of intersubjective relations, acquires “its particular sense through an encounter with the other” (75). It is easy to see what Miettinen is driving at: if a lifeworld emerges in intersubjective relations, then it is not only in a constant state of historical change but also, especially in the case of an encounter with an alien tradition, open for active redefinition and renewal. However, this renewal cannot just be a matter of transgressing the boundaries between different traditions, as Miettinen makes clear by pointing to the constitutive value of the division between “homeworld” (i.e. the domain of familiarity or shared culture), and “alienworld” (the unintelligible and unfamiliar “outside”). According to Husserl this division belongs to the fundamental structure of every lifeworld, and in a sense, the homeworld acquires its individual uniqueness, its intelligibility and familiarity only in relation to its alien counterpart. It follows, that if the distinction between the home and the alien were to be destroyed through one-sided transgression, the experience of an intersubjectively constituted, shared cultural horizon of meaning would vanish with it, or, as Miettinen sums it up: “In a world without traditions, we would be simply homeless” (78).

This poses a question: if a tradition by necessity has its horizon, i.e. its limits, which cannot be simply transgressed without losing the sense of home altogether, how is universalism thinkable? The third part of Miettinen’s study suggests that Husserl’s generative interpretation of the origins of European theoretical tradition provides the answer to this question. Miettinen gives a manifold and nuanced account of the historical origins of Greek philosophy and of Husserl’s interpretations thereof. Obviously, this account cannot be repeated here in its entirety; an overview of such defining features that point directly to the underlying problematic of universalism will have to suffice.

In this regard the key argument of Husserl, which Miettinen accordingly emphasizes, is that philosophy itself is a generative phenomenon. What makes this idea so striking, is the fact that for Husserl philosophy denoted a “scientific-theoretical attitude,” which takes distance from immediate practical interests, views the world from a perspective of a “disinterested spectator,” and in so doing seeks to disclose the universal world behind all particular homeworlds. However, according to Husserl, even such a theoretical attitude emerged in a specific cultural situation, namely in the Greek city-states, which, as Miettinen points out, were at that time in a state of rapid economic development that called for closer commercial ties between different cultures: “Close interaction between different city-states created a new sensitivity toward different traditions and their beliefs and practices” (95). The encounters did not lead to a loss of the home-alien-division but to a heightened sense of relativity of traditions, which in turn promoted a theoretical interest in universality and a self-reflective attitude towards the horizon of one’s own homeworld: “Through the encounter of particular traditions, no single tradition could acquire for itself the status of being an absolute foundation – the lifeworld could no longer be identified with a particular homeworld and its conceptuality” (97).

Another important generative aspect of this development was the emerging new ideals of social interaction. The Greek philosophy gave birth to an idea of “universal community,” which, at least in principle, disregarded ethnic, cultural, and political divisions and was open to all of those who were willing to partake in free philosophical critique of particular traditions and striving toward a universal and shared world. Moreover, the emerging theoretical thought organized itself as a tradition of sorts, as an intergenerational undertaking that was aware of its generativity. Miettinen avoids calling this new form of culture “tradition,” for it “did not simply replace the traditionality of the pre-philosophical world by instituting a new tradition; rather, it replaced the very idea of traditionality with teleological directedness, or with a new ‘teleological sense’ (Zwecksinn) which remains fundamentally identical despite historical variation.” (111) This unifying idea of an infinite task meant that what was ultimately passed forward from generation to generation, was not some predetermined custom, ritual or even a doctrine but a common intergenerational commitment to the task itself. In other words, the theories of earlier philosophers were in principle open for criticism and had to be assessed always anew in relation to the shared goal of universality. Philosophy was generative also in the sense that it didn’t cast the world of practical interests aside, but rather called for a new kind of rational attitude towards it. Philosophy understood its own domain of interest in terms of universal ideals and norms, which were ultimately to be made use of in the practical sphere of life as well. As philosophical ideals came into contact with practical life, for example with political or religious practice, they changed the surrounding culture itself. As Miettinen puts it, “politics and religion themselves became philosophical: they acquired a new sense in accordance with the infinite task of philosophy” (114).

As stated, Miettinen offers a detailed discussion of Husserl’s views on the origins of European universalism, which, among other things, acknowledges that Husserl’s interpretations of classical Greek philosophy and culture are heavily influenced by his own philosophical ideals. Miettinen’s portrayal does suffer a bit from the multiperspectivity implicit in the subject matter itself. It is not always clear, which parts are meant as presentations of genuine Greek philosophy, which as Husserl’s idealistic interpretations, and which as Miettinen’s own contributions. But the main idea is still quite clear: Husserl interpreted European history from classical Greek culture all the way to his own time in terms of an infinite task that consists first and foremost in critically reflecting and relativizing traditional horizons of meaning constitution. The intergenerational collectivity unified by this task subjects its own accomplishments to the same criticism and strives through infinite renewal towards a universal world behind all traditional homeworlds, towards the “horizon of horizons” (75), as Miettinen calls it with reference to Merleau-Ponty. As the formulation “horizon of horizons” implies, the point of this universalism is not to destroy or occupy but to make the universal lifeworld visible, of which particular traditions, particular homeworlds are perspectives. This is the understanding of universality that Miettinen wants to bring to the contemporary theoretical and political discussions.

But if Husserl conceived the whole of European history within the framework of one massive idealistic undertaking, it seems that Husserl’s understanding of history and historicity amounts to nothing more than a new version of the age-old teleological model, which interprets – and simultaneously legitimizes – historical events as part of a monolithic and predetermined process. In other words, maybe Husserl’s generative interpretation is just another “grand narrative.” In part 4 of his study, Miettinen offers a twofold argument against this assumption. First, Husserl did not understand his teleological model as one that ought to correspond with empirical reality, but rather as Dichtung, as “a poetic act of creation” (145), which has its relevance only in relation to the present situation. Second, Miettinen argues in reference to Marx and Engels that narratives are necessary in criticism of ideologies, for “[i]t is the common feature of dominating ideologies that they seek to do away with their own genesis, for instance by concealing the historical forms of violence and oppression that led to the present. For this reason, historical narratives are needed in order to criticize the seeming naturality of the present moment – in order to show its dependency and relativity in regard to the past” (139). This idea is perfectly in tune with the Husserlian problem of constitution in general and it reinforces the critique of “false objectivism” and the call for self-responsible human agency at the core of Husserl’s late phenomenology. In other words, his notion of teleology should be understood as a critical tool for understanding the finitude of the present and the possibility of going beyond it, or as Miettinen succinctly puts it: “Teleological reflection is crucial, because we are ‘not yet’ at the end of history, or, more precisely: because we constantly think we are” (144).

While this argument is compelling, it still seems to neglect one important aspect in the complicated relationship between ideology and narrative. Not all ideologies are aimed at legitimizing the present as a natural order; on the contrary, some rely on a narrative structure that depicts the current state of affairs as a fall from grace and shows the way out by defining clear-cut ideals to realize. Instead of serving the purpose of legitimizing the present and making subjects passively accept the alleged naturality of it, ideologies of this kind, as Peter V. Zima (1999, 14–21) points out, serve to mobilize people for certain goals, to make them able to act. And precisely ideologies of this kind came under suspicion in the interwar period. As one can read from Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, the ambivalence of all “grand ideas” undermines the credibility of ideologies, narrative structures, and goal-oriented agency all at once (see Ibid., 55–69). This connectedness of narrative form and ideology shouldn’t be taken too lightly in the present political climate either: the most pressing ideological challenges of Europe aren’t, as they perhaps once were, concerned with the loss of ideals in politics or in individual life, arguably facilitated by neoliberalist and postmodernist ideologies, but rather with its dialectical counterpart: the threat of ideological mobilization. The critical potentiality of Husserl’s notion of teleology doesn’t quite seem to allay the suspicions concerned with ideologies of this kind, or if it does, Miettinen doesn’t make clear how.

What obviously makes Miettinen’s study stand apart, is its unique position at the crossroads of traditional Husserl scholarship, history of ideas, and contemporary political philosophy. It not only shows how Husserl’s ideas about historicity, situatedness, and teleology emerged out of the interplay of his phenomenological endeavor and the cultural context saturated with crisis-consciousness; it also seeks to bring these ideas to fruition in the contemporary political and philosophical setting. This kind of hermeneutical approach to Husserl’s philosophy is of course to be whole-heartedly endorsed, but on the other hand, the “in between” -character of the undertaking does also raise some issues: If Miettinen wants to promote a new kind of universalism, which aims at addressing contemporary questions in a novel way, then a more thorough discussion on newer developments in philosophical and political thought might be in order. In keeping with the idea of situatedness, it would be interesting to see Miettinen seriously engaging with contemporary theories, starting perhaps with a more systematic treatment of postmodernist notions of pluralism and going all the way to ideas attributed to the so-called post-humanism, which seems to once again challenge “alien-home”-distinctions in a profound way. In order to highlight the distinct character of his ideas on relativization of horizons, communality, and normativity, he might do well to also define his relation to some contemporary “kindred spirits” (for example, Habermas comes to mind). All in all, one can look forward to Miettinen developing his theory of universalism further, and as he does, he will undoubtedly address these minor issues, too.


Honneth, Axel. 2015. Verdinglichung. Eine Anerkennungstheoretische Studie. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Simmel, Georg. 1919. “Der Begriff und die Tragödie der Kultur.” In: Philosophische Kultur. Gesammelte Essais. Leipzig: Alfred Kröner, 223–253.

Zima, Peter V. 1999. Roman und Ideologie. Zur Sozialgeschichte des modernen Romans. München: Wilhelm Fink.

Daniele De Santis, Burt Hopkins, Claudio Majolino (Eds.): The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy, Routledge, 2020

The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy Book Cover The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy
Daniele De Santis, Burt Hopkins, Claudio Majolino (Eds.)
Hardback £190.00

Kenneth Knies: Crisis and Husserlian Phenomenology, Bloomsbury, 2020

Crisis and Husserlian Phenomenology: A Reflection on Awakened Subjectivity Book Cover Crisis and Husserlian Phenomenology: A Reflection on Awakened Subjectivity
Kenneth Knies
Bloomsbury Academic
Hardback £76.50

Dominika Czakon, Natalia Anna Michna, Leszek Sosnowski (Eds.): Roman Ingarden and His Times, Księgarnia Akademicka, 2020

Roman Ingarden and His Times Book Cover Roman Ingarden and His Times
Dominika Czakon, Natalia Anna Michna, Leszek Sosnowski (Eds.)
Księgarnia Akademicka

Edward Baring: Converts to the Real: Catholicism and the Making of Continental Philosophy

Converts to the Real: Catholicism and the Making of Continental Philosophy Book Cover Converts to the Real: Catholicism and the Making of Continental Philosophy
Edward Baring
Harvard University Press
Hardback $49.95

Reviewed by: Elad Lapidot (University of Bern)

Is Catholicism a Religion?

Over the last decades, scholars have increasingly called into question the universal validity of the category “religion” as referring to a supposed ahistorical constant domain of all human mind and civilization, the domain of faith. The claim has characteristically been that, even though nowadays we often speak and think of religion this way, both in everyday life and in scholarship, in fact our notion of religion is a historical construct. This conceptual construct, so the claim, is fashioned after a specific cultural tradition, the Christian West, which, as part of obtaining or preserving its global epistemic hegemony, has asserted its own culture – Christianity – as a universal and superior feature of human nature as such: religion. Consequently, all cultures would have their religions: the Jewish, the Greek, the Chinese, the Indian, the Aztec, which could therefore be compared and evaluated in view of the underlying paradigm – and ultimate paragon – of religion, Christianity.

This sort of critique of religion is commonly deployed in postcolonial-like discourses, which confront the Christian West with its non-Christian others. Could the same critique apply within Christianity itself (West vs. East) or even within the Western? Wouldn’t the construct “religion” arise not only from a geo-political bias, i.e. the West, but also from a chrono-political bias, i.e. Modernity? And if so, wouldn’t it give effect and perpetuate a bias within the Christian West, namely in favor of modern Christianity, marked by Protestantism and Secularism, so as to undermine premodern, Catholic forms of Christian civilization? Is Catholicism a religion?

There is much in Baring’s intriguing new book to suggest that Catholicism is in fact not primarily a religion, but a philosophy, or even – philosophy. The main theme of the book is continental philosophy, whose center according to Baring is phenomenology. Its explicit concern is intellectual and institutional genealogy, “the Making of Continental Philosophy”, namely how a specific direction in 20th century philosophy, phenomenology, has been able to transform “from a provincial philosophy in southwest Germany into a movement that spanned Europe” (2), and so to become “continental”. Here and elsewhere in the book, Baring highlights the political significance of epistemic constellations, underlying the transnational, pan-European character of phenomenology as “continental” philosophy. His own historiography performatively turns away from national narratives (phenomenology in France, Husserl in Spain, Heidegger in Italy etc.) in search of a more transnational, universal ground. The movement that spread Husserl’s word among the nations (“the single most important explanation for the international success of phenomenology in the twentieth century”, 5), Baring suggests, is the one that goes under the name of the universal itself, the catholicos, Catholicism. Catholicism is the principal agent in this continental, transnational, catholic historiography of philosophy.

It is somewhat paradoxical that Baring’s professed transnational perspective nonetheless preliminary features phenomenology as belonging to “southwest Germany”, namely as originally particular, which accordingly begs the question of its continental success. According to this logic, this transnational success can only be accounted for by something beyond phenomenology itself, something more European, more universal, which would be Catholicism. However, in what sense would phenomenological philosophy itself not be sufficiently universal to account for its own universal spread? In what sense is Catholicism more obviously universal, and what explains its own international success, beyond the province of Rome?

Be that as it may, the notion of success, namely the ability of philosophy or thought, the ability of ideas, to obtain and expand their hold on the world, on reality, is central to Baring’s project. The primary transnational feature of Catholicism that the book foregrounds is its global institutional presence. Next to the transnational and universal, “catholic” historiographic perspective, Baring’s study accommodates Catholicism also in focusing on the worldly reality of the Church. The Catholicism that, as the book suggests, carried phenomenology across the continent is first and foremost a “network of philosophers and theologians that stretched across Europe” (7); “we can speak of ‘continental philosophy’ because phenomenology could tap into the networks of a Church that already operated on a continental scale” (11).

The story of “making” continental philosophy, as told in the book, is indeed concerned less with conceptual genealogy of ideas and more with how they spread. It’s a story of thought as an inter-personal, inter-institutional happening, where events of thinking take place between works, between thinkers. The great individual names of phenomenology – Husserl, Heidegger, Scheler, the “phenomenological trinity” Baring calls them (6) – are there, but they function as basic coordinates for describing the real plot, which is scholarship. Primary and secondary literatures switch here places. The main protagonists of this book are neither the great names nor the great book, but their less known scholarly recipients, the clerics, who read, translate, introduce, interpret, discuss and institutionalize ideas, convene conferences and found archives, journals and schools. Most importantly, and this is one of the great achievements of this book, the history of thought is told through formative debates, such that polemics – and with it politics – is posited at the heart of epistemology, a real at the heart of the ideal. Could polemics too – next to transnationalism and institutionalism – count as Catholic heritage?

At any event, Baring tells continental philosophy’s church history, and according to him the early church of phenomenology was Catholic. To quote some impressive facts:

“self-professed Catholic philosophers produced more than 40 percent of all books and articles on Husserl, Heidegger, and Scheler written in French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch in the period before World War II, making Catholic phenomenology by far the largest constituent part of the early European reception” (8-9);

“Within Europe, phenomenology has been most successful in Catholic countries, while tending to skip, at least at first, the Protestant strongholds of Scandinavia and the United Kingdom. Across the Atlantic, it has flourished in Latin America and at Catholic universities in the United States, such as Notre Dame, Boston College, DePaul, and Duquesne. The geography of phenomenology is best described, not by the contours of mainland Europe, but by the reach of the ‘universal Church’.” (11).

What is certain, in Baring’s account Catholicism does not just function as a contingent carrier of phenomenological philosophy, a vessel which would remain external to the content that it spreads. The Church is not simply a vehicle for Husserl’s word. The network of catholic intellectuals and institutions does not feature in this book as a mere logistical structure, but as the institutional embodiment of its intellectual content, of thought. Is Catholicism a religion? In this book, the Catholic emerges primarily as a philosophy. Insofar as Catholicism accounts for making phenomenology the philosophy of the European continent, Baring argues, it is because “before existentialism and before phenomenology, the first continental philosophy of the twentieth century was Catholic.” (19)

What is Catholic philosophy? This question is not really developed in the book, which has a very clear answer: medieval scholastic philosophy as it has been oriented by the works of Thomas Aquinas, namely Thomism. In the relevant period for the book, the first decades of the 20th century, Catholic philosophy consisted in the attempt to renew Thomism, namely in neo-Thomism or neo-scholasticism, which according to Baring was in these decades “the largest and most influential philosophical movement in the world” (8). Neo-Thomism was global philosophy, which makes one wonder about the reason it was only able to turn phenomenology “continental”, but no more than that. Neo-Thomism, as Baring portrays it, had set to itself a daring task. It translated medieval philosophy into modern terms not in order to modernize this philosophy, but, on the contrary, in order to effect “a philosophical conversion of modernity, a movement from modern to medieval metaphysics” (14). Neo-Thomism was the Catholic mission to the Moderns, aiming to reconvert modernity “back to Catholicism” (ibid.).

“Conversion” is a key word in Baring’s book. It is the basic description of the intellectual event that it portrays, and the plot is articulated by the personal conversions – official or not – of the protagonists. What was the nature of the conversion “back to Catholicism”, which neo-Thomists were trying to generate? The answer to this question lies at the heart of Baring’s historiographic thesis: it designates the ultimate purpose of Catholic, neo-Thomist philosophy, explains why phenomenology was deemed useful for Catholic intellectuals to pursue this purpose and so would account for why Catholicism helped phenomenology to its continental and international success.

Were neo-Thomists interested in converting modernity, modern thought and philosophy, from secularism or atheism back to religion? Obviously, as already indicated, neo-scholasticism was not looking to promote “religion” in its modern, paradigmatically Protestant or secular sense. But furthermore, Baring most often does not describe Catholic thought in terms of religion or what is commonly – in modern discourse – associated with religion as a special domain, of faith, transcendent God, holiness, spirituality etc., in short, as a different domain than secular, atheological or even atheistic philosophy.

On the contrary: neo-Thomism was looking to renew Thomism, for which, as described by Baring, theology implied worldly thought. Catholic thinkers “were convinced that the world incarnated a divine order, and that the institution of the Catholic Church was the worldly locus of redemption” (14); God is present in “His effects in the world” (30), such that faith is deemed “the perfection of natural knowledge” (29). The goal of Neo-Thomists was accordingly, among others, to connect Catholicism to science, natural science: by going back to Aquinas they were trying to reconnect with Aristotle. In other words, whether or not Catholicism was interested, in the first decades of the 20th century, in renewing something like religion, in Baring’s book Catholic philosophy emerges as a powerful agent for the renewal of Aristotelian philosophy, which historically speaking is perhaps nothing but Western philosophy, or philosophy tout court. Just as philosophy’s first and ultimate concern is with Being, Baring’s Catholicism is concerned with “the Real”.

“The Real” is the central concept of Baring’s narrative, which thus connects the contemporary discourse on philosophy and religion with the contemporary philosophical conversation on realism. Explicating this connection may have been a useful way for Baring to provide a more precise explanation of what he understands by “the Real”. Considering the pivotal centrality of this concept for the book’s argument, it remains rather vague and sometimes ambivalent. In fact, its basic significance in this book seems to be above all polemic, in that it designates what neo-scholasticism, seeking to renew medieval, premodern philosophy, was asserting against modern thought. Indeed, throughout the book, Catholic positions are characterized in various ways as opposing the negation of realism by modern philosophy, namely as opposition to the idealism, relativism and subjectivism that would characterize modern thought.

That non-realism (a negation of or distance from the Real) is constitutive to modern philosophy, is a decisive presupposition of Baring’s project. The exact significance of this presupposed non-realism or idealism remains as much an open question as the exact meaning of “the Real”. If the supposed non-realism of modern philosophy means detachment from the worldly and natural order, in favor of some dimension of transcendence, of some supernatural or transcendental subjectivity, will or spirit, this would mean that modern thought, far from being secular and “worldly”, has rather become closer to religion, as a relation to the unworldly. This kind of analysis no doubt sits well with accounts of modernity, such as Hans Jonas’, as arising from man’s liberation from and subsequent domination of nature (NB: not against but precisely through modern, technological science), which would resemble or even be the avatar of ancient Gnosticism, religion of the Alien God. Neo-Thomism, working to effect on modernity a – as the title of Baring’s book reads – “Conversion to the Real”, which is actually a re-conversion, a movement back to the world, would accordingly be the modern permutation of the same anti-heresiological movement that for someone like Hans Blumenberg, for instance, accounted for the emergence of Christian doctrine. This movement may be described less as a conversion from philosophy to religion than as a conversion from religion back to philosophy, from faith back to reason.

Converting modern philosophy to the Real was in any case, so Baring, the missionary goal of neo-scholasticism in the first decades of the 20th century. It is for this mission that Catholic networks identified phenomenology as suitable and for this purpose they “made” it continental. The reason that phenomenology was found by neo-Thomist to be such a suitable discourse for deploying the conversion of non-realist modern philosophy to realism, Baring argues, is that phenomenological thought, to begin with Husserl’s notion of intentionality (consciousness is always of an object), was identified as an anti-idealist movement back to the Real within modern philosophy itself, so to speak a spontaneous movement of self-conversion: “phenomenological intentionality seemed to bypass the distortions of idealism and provide access to the mind-independent real. For neo-scholastics, phenomenology could help secular thinkers recognize God’s order in the world.” (14) How exactly neo-scholastic thinkers and institutions tried to achieve this goal, their more or less successful negotiations – and debates – among themselves, with phenomenology, as well as vis-à-vis other Catholic, Protestant and non-religious intellectual currents, and how all this contributed to the making of continental philosophy – this is the story told by Baring’s rich book.

One basic and far-reaching insight of Baring concerns the ambivalent nature of conversion: the shift from one conception to another at the same time connects both conceptions and thus opens the way to a counter-conversion, from the second conception to the first. Conversions work “in both directions” (16). This insight may be deemed as a structural principle that regulates – and complicates – basic dynamics in the history of thought, something like the Third Law of Intellectual Motion. It seems to be particularly significant in conversions that are not just spontaneous, but induced, namely in conversion projects, in missionary movements.With respect to the neo-Thomist mission to convert modern philosophy “back to Catholicism”, in order to do so it established “the Real” as a connection between modern phenomenology and medieval scholasticism, which would serve as a passage from the former to the latter. As Baring shows, however, this passage also facilitated the inverse movement, to the effect that the bridge built between Thomism and phenomenology also served Catholic thinkers to cross to the other side and to “break with Roman Catholicism” (15). The paradigmatic example discussed by Baring is Heidegger.

What is however the meaning of this counter-conversion, away from Catholicism, which according to Baring has become so prevalent in post-WWII phenomenology so as to completely obliterate its early Catholic years? Would it be that phenomenology, and continental philosophy, was moving away from religion, towards secular and atheistic thought? Is Catholicism religion? The question of religion, as already noted, interestingly does not explicitly frame the narrative of the book, which foregrounds instead the debate of realism vs. idealism. Catholicism is realism, but is it therefore more or less a religion?

It is only in the Epilog that Baring directly addresses the question of religion. “Continental philosophy today is haunted by religion” (343): the famous return to religion, a contemporary conversion – or perhaps even a contemporary mission? By whom – to whom? Is Baring’s book a part of this project, namely facilitating the passage from contemporary continental philosophy to religion by recalling how it was Catholicism that originally “made” phenomenology into continental philosophy? The “religious specters” that “haunt” continental philosophy today, Baring argues, indeed arise from its “family history”, namely phenomenology’s transmission to the world as it was “passed down through Catholic scholars” (344), so to speak phenomenology’s Catholic womb. The current return to religion in continental philosophy is connected to its Catholic heritage.

However, according to Baring’s further insight into the Third Law of Intellectual Movement, just as conversion is not only unidirectional, inheritance too is not simply linear. He points out that intellectual inheritance may pass on not just positive, affirmative doctrines, but also negative positions, what he terms “negative inheritance” (347). According to Baring’s analysis, it is by way of “negative inheritance” that phenomenology’s Catholic past, namely neo-Thomism, continues to operate within continental philosophy’s return to religion. In other words, Catholicism, as portrayed in Baring’s book, is present in this contemporary return to religion not as the positive agent, not as the agent of religion, but on the contrary in the negative, anti-religious positions – more specifically in their realism.

He brings the example of Quentin Meillassoux, who “presents himself as a rationalist ally to the natural sciences, seeking to reinvigorate realism after a period of idealist hegemony. Meillassoux is aware of his proximity to Thomism, which he defines as ‘the progressive rationalization of Judeo-Christianity under the influence of Greek philosophy’”. (348) Baring’s conclusion: “The atheist scourge of much contemporary continental philosophy appears as the inverted image of those Catholic thinkers who helped make philosophy continental in the first place.” (ibid.)  It is not in the return to religion but rather in the resistance to this return that current continental philosophy would be inspired by Catholicism, which consequently operates, at least in this context, not as a religion, but as anti-religion.


Synopsis of the Book:

Baring’s story is told in three chronological parts, which concern three different periods in the early history of phenomenology in its reception by Catholic scholars: 1900-1930, 1930-1940 and 1940-1950. The narrative is organized by another triad, three main figures of early German phenomenology, the “phenomenological trinity”: Husserl, Heidegger and Scheler, and the debates around them.

Part I, “Neo-Scholastic Conversion. 1900-1930” deals with the immediate Catholic reception of German phenomenology. Baring traces back the initial reception to a specific current within neo-Thomism, “progressive Thomism”, promoted by the Louvain School of Léon Noël, head of the Institut supérieur de Philosophie. Progressive Thomism was oriented by the work of Cardinal Désiré Mercier (Critériologie), who translated Thomist realism into the discourse of epistemology. This anti-Kantian epistemology was the site of early Catholic reception of Husserl, as told in Chapters 1 and 2. The first reception referred to The Logical Investigations of 1900-1901 and was enthusiastic, as Husserl’s anti-psychological notions, such as intentionality (which goes back through Brentano to scholasticism) and categorical intuition, appeared to secure epistemic access to “the objective order of the world” (40). “For Catholics around Europe, reading Husserl’s Logical Investigations was a revelation”, Baring writes (48). Modern philosophy’s “conversion to the Real” was celebrated by scholars such as Jospeh Geyser, Erich Przywara and the Milan School’s Agostino Gemelli, and even existentially performed through a personal conversion, such as by Edith Stein, to whom phenomenology has showen “the way into ‘the majestic temple of scholastic thought’” (75). All the more disappointing was Husserl’s return to the transcendental consciousness in his Ideen of 1913. The second reception identified in Husserl a second, reversed conversion, from realism back to idealism, which “was experienced by neo-scholastics as a betrayal— both of Husserl’s earlier work and, by implication, of their own project” (61).

Chapter 3 follows the intellectual development of early Heidegger, a phenomenological convert away from Catholicism. Influenced by Joseph Geyser, young Heidegger, “a progressive scholastic” (88), in his 1913 dissertation embraced Husserl’s anti-Psychologism, and in his 1916 Habilitaiton on Dun Scotus, the “pinnacle of Heidegger’s neo-scholastic period” (97), formulated a meaning-based realism. The disengagement is signaled in 1917, as Heidegger stated that Catholicism “forgot religion for theology and dogma” and looked for religious experience in Christian mysticism, Augustine and Protestants from Luther, Otto, Overbeck, Kierkegaard, Dilthey and Schleiermacher. Being and Time of 1927, so Baring’s perceptive analysis, features a curious atheism based on “two confessional strands” (113): Catholic ontology, but no longer perennis, and Protestant Dasein-analysis, but indifferent to faith.

Chapter 4 traces a similar dynamic with respect to Max Scheler, extending the plot from theory to ethics and politics. Scheler’s 1913 Formalism in Ethics provided a phenomenological access (Wert-nehmen, axiological intuition) to an “objective order of value” (140) and his personalism, the notion of Gesamtperson, gave this ethics a socio-political embodiment. Both combined offered practical philosophy to Catholic social revival and anti-liberal, anti-bourgeois, anti-capitalist corporatism. Carl Muth’s influential Catholic magazine Hochland celebrated Scheler as “Black Nietzsche” (124) and intellectuals followed him in his early WWI patriotism, growing distance from nationalism and anti-republicanism in Weimar, such as Paul-Ludwig Landsberg’s “conservative revolution” (137). Disenchantment manifested itself, on the Catholic side, in doubts raised by neo-scholastics, such as Przywara, as to Scheler’s too heavy reliance on human intuition and emotional intentionality, and on Scheler’s side, in the pantheistic turn of his late work (1928, The Human Place in the Cosmos).

Part II, “Existential Journeys 1930-1940”, describes how, beyond its initial reception by neo-scholasticism, phenomenology “became a privileged battlefield in intra-Christian debates” (152). The central intra-Christian tension in Baring’s narrative is between neo-scholastics and existentialists. Chapter 5 tells about the rise of “Christian Existentialism across Europe” by portraying the tension between two converts to Catholicism, Gabriel Marcel and Jacques Maritain. Marcel (Metaphysical Journal, 1927; Being and Having, 1935), influence and mentor to existentialists such as Nicolai Berdyaev, René Le Senne, Jean Wahl as well as Simone de Beauvoir, Emmanuel Levinas, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Paul Ricoeur and Jean-Paul Sartre, criticized neo-Thomist intellectualism as “hubris”, and insisted on the “unintelligibility of existence”, its embodiment and “mystery”. Maritain claimed “existential philosophy” describes rather Thomism itself, which deals with esse and acknowledges its mystery, deems it nevertheless “open to intellectual understanding” (163).

Chapter 6 goes back to the Catholic reception of Husserl and how during the 1930s it was shaped by a division within neo-scholasticism, between progressive and strict Thomists. Baring portrays this division through the “Critical Realism Debate”, concerning the attempt of the Louvain School’s progressives, such as Léon Noël and René Kremer, to base realism on epistemology, namely on critique of subjective knowledge (leading to post-WII “transcendental Thomism”). “Strict” Thomists such as Étienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain rejected the notion of “critical” – Cartesian or Kantian – realism as self-contradictory, insisting on the primacy of metaphysics over epistemology. Baring shows how this debate pressed progressive intellectuals, such as Kremer, Kurt Reinhart and Sofia Vanni Rovighi, who initially embraced Husserl’s phenomenology, to reject and rectify his perceived idealistic tendencies, especially as manifested in the Cartesian Meditations of 1931.

Chapter 7 presents the 1930s’ reception of Heidegger as the battleground for the inter-confessional debate between neo-Scholastics (such as Przywara, Alfred Delp and Hans Urs von Balthasar) and Protestants, in particular Karl Barth’s Kierkegaard-inspired Dialectical Theology. Baring describes this debate as arising from “two diametrically opposed, if symmetrical, accounts of Heidegger’s atheism: Thomists explained it by the restrictions placed upon Heidegger’s ontology by his (Protestant) prioritization of human subjectivity; Protestant theologians understood it through his attempt to ground the analysis of human finitude in an ontology, which arose from an excessive and Catholic faith in our rational capacities.” (213) In other words, both (dialectical theology’s) emphasis on the unintelligible and (neo-Thomist) emphasis on intelligibility could be construed, from the opposite  perspective, as subjectivist and so proto-atheistic. This leads Baring to the brilliant observation whereby “religious notes” of atheistic conceptions (he speaks of existentialism) may arise not from “uncomplicated inheritance of a believing antecedent, but rather as the reflection of a more distant voice, directed toward and bouncing of a common religious foe” (240), i.e. “negative inheritance”.

Chapter 8 returns to the reception of Scheler, “The Black Nietzsche”, in Catholic political thought. Baring shows how the Schelerian notion of social corpora as embodying spiritual order of values could support to conflicting conceptions of Catholic anti-liberal politics. Luigi Stefanini drew on Scheler to affirm a “hierarchical order of values” enacted by an authoritarian and totalitarian state, which led him to collaborate with the Fascist regime and even acknowledge “racial defense” as “an act of the sovereignty and transcendence of the spirit” (259). In contrast, for Paul-Louis Landsberg, as Paul Ludwig Landsberg was known in his French exile and anti-Fascist resistance, “the divine order is always to come and can never be fully worked out. For that reason, authoritarianism runs the risk of shutting down the process by which the true order is revealed” (263), which led him to reject Nazism and Communism. Baring exemplifies the same ambivalence in Scheler in the development of Emmanuel Mounier’s Catholic-Nietzschean magazine Esprit, from support of Vichy to Resistance and post-WII negotiations of Thomism and Marxism.

Part III, “Catholic Legacies 1940-1950”, discusses how after “the Catholics who had helped promote phenomenological ideas around Europe withdrew from the stage”, “[t[he script that they had written […] persisted, to be picked up and adapted by new actors.” (276) Chapter 9 is dedicated to the story of the Husserl Archives, famously smuggled from Germany to Belgium by the young Franciscan Herman Leo Van Breda, to be institutionalized within Louvain’s Institut Supérieur de Philosophie. According to Baring, after WWII Van Breda, who was looking for means to secure the archives’ further existence (which he obtained at last from UNESCO), realized that “the archives would flourish only if they became independent of the Church” (297). Catholicism, which made phenomenology continental, was now required, in order to prefect its own making, to retreat. Like the truth of Heidegger’s Beyng, the appearance of neo-Thomism in phenomenology was completed by the concealment of neo-Thomism in phenomenology’s Veröffentlichung. It is thus that the first volume of the Husserliana was dedicated to the Cartesian Meditations, “the text where Husserl distinguished his work most clearly from scholasticism” (300).

Chapter 10, the last one, indicates traces of neo-scholasticism in “Postwar Phenomenology”, once again through an intellectual tension, this time between the secular Merleau-Ponty and the Protestant Paul Ricoeur. Both of “Marcelian bent”, affirming embodiment and existence versus idealism, their diverging interpretations of Marcel reproduced the debate between Thomism and Existentialism, inasmuch as Merleau-Ponty emphasized the intentional order of perception and Ricoeur the mystery and the “fault”. The disagreement on Marcel was intertwined with a disagreement on Husserl, which reproduced the debate between progressive and strict Thomism: whereas Merleau-Ponty, like the Louvain School, strove to protect Husserl’s realism from his transcendentalism, Ricoeur, like Maritain, read Husserl as an idealist. Commenting on the Protestant philosopher’s surprising affinity to strict Thomism, Baring provides a precious polemic triangulation, which is perhaps the real glory of scholastic sophistication: “Against the Thomists, Ricoeur denied that Christians could use philosophy to defend religious dogmas. Against the Barthians, Ricoeur did think philosophy retained an important role. It could challenge the pretension of science to have provided ‘a final solution.’ Christian philosophy would thus be a ‘science of limits, an essentially Socratic, ironic position [. . .] forbidding all thought to be totalitarian’.” (327)


Three Concluding Reflections:

  1. The key concept of the book’s argument is “the Real”. Catholicism promoted phenomenology for the sake of converting modern philosophy to the Real. As noted above, however, realism signifies in this book primarily polemically, in contrast to the alleged idealism of modern thought. However, as Baring insightfully shows with respect to “atheism”, polemic meanings are unstable and easily turned around. Just like criticism of “atheism” can be found in any religious position against any other religious position, isn’t criticism of “idealism” as detached from the real, i.e. as false, inherent to the disagreement of any philosophical position against all the others? Wasn’t metaphysical dogmatism for Kant too disconnected from reality, as the Ptolemaic system for Copernicus? For Hegel, an arche-idealist, the real was the reasonable. Baring shows how neo-Thomism too deemed the real intelligible, whereas existentialism and dialectical theology experienced reality in unintelligibility.
  2. It seems that ultimately “the Real” for Baring signifies the limit of human autonomy and power, where reason means intelligibility of – and subjection to – the given, eternal, cosmic order (Thomism), in contrast to modern “self-affirmation of reason” (Blumenberg). Conversion to the Real means something like undoing modern hubris, disempowering the human. Baring portrays at least two divergent ways of doing so in Catholic thought, rationalism and existentialism, both inspired by Husserl’s phenomenology. One may wonder, however, whether both modes of “the Real” are equally defining for continental philosophy. The very term “continental” philosophy, determines reason by existence, i.e. actual geography, politics, history, which arguably condition more continental than analytic thought. It is rather Anglo-American philosophy that may be said to represent anti-idealist, positive rationalism, where reason is limited qua “analytic”. Wouldn’t this modern philosophy – which is closer to natural sciences, and arises from phenomenology only within its alliance with logical positivism against psychologism – be a more suitable ally for neo-scholasticism?
  3. There seems to be a third way of limiting or determining reason, which is very present in Baring’s study, albeit unthematized as such. Next to rationalism (reason determined by given logical order) and existentialism (reason determined by given non-logical being), his narrative centrally features also the determination of reason through the inter-personal plurality of thought: thought as a school, the institution that gave scholasticism its name. As such, scholasticism determines reason neither by the given intelligible, nor by the unintelligible, but by the overintelligible, namely by the open excess of thought as polemics. By choosing the debate as a primary figure of thought, Baring’s book manifests perhaps scholarship itself, next to analytic and continental philosophies, as a third post-modern manifestation of scholastic realism, and perhaps of philosophy überhaupt.

Rudolf Carnap: The Collected Works of Rudolf Carnap, Volume 1, Early Writings

The Collected Works of Rudolf Carnap, Volume 1, Early Writings Book Cover The Collected Works of Rudolf Carnap, Volume 1, Early Writings
Rudolf Carnap. Edited by A.W. Carus, Michael Friedman, Wolfgang Kienzler, Alan Richardson, and Sven Schlotter
Oxford University Press
Hardback £70.00

Reviewed by: Flavio Baracco (Institut Wiener Kreis)

After the complete collection of the published works of Rudolf Carnap (1891-1970) was accepted to be published by Oxford University Press in 2016, the long-awaited first volume of the 14-volume edition of the Collected Writings of Rudolf Carnap has been finally published. This volume represents the first ever English translation of Carnap’s early writings published from 1918 through 1926, before Carnap moved to Vienna becoming one of the leading figures of the Vienna Circle. Carnap is rightly considered one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century. He made contributions in many areas, from the philosophy of science to the philosophy of logic, always stressing the need for a critical assessment of the role logic, mathematics and philosophy should play in scientific knowledge. His works played a key role in the development of Logical Empiricism; one of the main sources of what would become analytic philosophy. Although in the present day a fruitful dialogue between analytic philosophy and other philosophical traditions is not always easily achievable, at that time rather different philosophical perspectives were coexisting. The perspectives shared a common cultural framework and, most importantly, they were used to profitably interact with each other in a way that has since become increasingly difficult and Carnap’s early writings are a perfect example of this. Carnap was an eclectic intellectual whose interests embraced different philosophical ways of thinking to such an extent that his multifaceted interests appeared to some as objectionable or even inconsistent, as he recalls in his autobiography. However, he was proud to claim that he acquired valuable insights from philosophers and scientists of ‘a great variety of philosophical creeds’. Carnap’s early writings indeed shows a clear influence of the main philosophers usually regarded as belonging to the analytic tradition, such as Frege and Russell, but Husserl’s phenomenology and many neo-Kantian thinkers such as Natorp and Cassirer play an important role as well. These essays  represent a fundamental resource for both Carnap scholars and historians of analytic philosophy. Firstly, these writings make possible a better understanding of Carnap’s thought and its development since the early years and, secondly, they shed some light on the origins of analytic philosophy and the multi-faceted nature of the cultural framework around  that time.

I wish now to make a few general considerations on the editorial work. First of all, let’s say the present volume represents an outstanding work in Carnap scholarship both for its great attention to detail and for its richness in several in-depth analyses that furnish all the historical and mathematical background needed to understand Carnap’s writings. The volume is the final outcome of the work of many people and the editors present an  overall picture of all those who have  contributed to the  project. The volume begins  with a brief chronology of Carnap’s life followed by an Introduction edited by Carus and Friedman which presents  an exhaustive overview of the essays that  follow. The editors show the original German alongside the English translation and at the end of volume they accurately report any minimal changes they have made with respect to the original text. Each essay is followed by a section giving further information that carefully helps the reader to contextualize and understand the text, and in places,  the editorial notes are impressively accurate. The editors indeed make  extensive use of Carnap’s Nachlass to furnish us with a clear representation of Carnap’s view. Although, reference to an English translation of much of the literature quoted in the final bibliography would have been useful to the reader. The editors accurately report the corrected bibliographic information for all items cited in Carnap’s texts, but they do not indicate whether  an English translation of each item is available . As  the present volume is mainly addressed to an English audience, this would have been useful even though  it would have resulted in a longer bibliographical list. Finally, I would report a misprint at page 189: towards the end of the page the editors refers to note mm (twice), but it should be note ll. In the following I will briefly show the content of the different essays and give a few remarks on the editorial work on these texts whenever appropriate.

The first essay is entitled Völkerbund – Staatenbund and depicts a young Carnap in his twenties engaged in the social-political life of his country towards the end of World War I. At that time Carnap was actively engaged with the German Youth Movement, particularly the parts of the movement politically engaged against the war, and this text represents his contribution to the first issue of the left-wing political newsletter Politische Rundbriefe, published by Karl Bittel in October 1918. This brief text should have been followed by another text where a few critical considerations on the German’s defeat in the war were addressed; however, this second text was never published. However, in the  Introduction the editors sketch the content of both texts and we can then see how they present  an overview of Carnap’s political world view at that time. According to Carnap, politics is not to be understood in a narrow sense, rather  it refers to everything that has ‘some connection with the public social life of people’. As the editors suggest, this view of politics underlies Carnap’s philosophical work for most of his life, especially with respect to the role that reason, and more specifically ‘scientific’ reasoning should play in a society or a community where all the activities should be regulated and so removed ‘from the realm of chaotic whim’ and subordinated ‘to goal-oriented reason’. On the contrary, an excessive contemplative, quietist, or even mystical approach of mental life, not properly balanced by a politically active life is instead suggested to be one of the main reasons for Germany’s guilt for causing the war. This text represents an important resource in order to understand the interconnection between the political and philosophical reflections that were co-existing in Carnap’s philosophy and more generally, in the ambitious and multi-faced cultural phenomenon represented by the Vienna Circle.

In Wer erzwingt die Geltung des Naturgesetzes? Carnap reviews Hugo Dingler’s Physik und Hypothese where the author defends a conventionalist account of the primary laws of nature. Carnap acknowledges Dingler’s philosophical view as one of the most important influences on his own  thought. In 1920 Carnap even considered writing a doctoral dissertation under Dingler’s direction at the physics department in Munich, and a joint publication was also planned till September 1921. Despite several disagreements, Dingler remained an important influence Carnap’s writings in the early 1920s. At the very beginning Carnap asked himself a question: what if someone comes along and claims that laws of nature are matter of free decision? That’s exactly the kind of question  that Dingler’s book seeks to address. Dingler holds that nature can neither impose a particular choice, nor ever contradict our stipulations, but we are free to choose the primary laws of nature; the spatial and causal laws. Carnap admits that a view of this sort appears  odd, and he is reluctant to  agree with Dingler, (especially with respect to Dingler’s rejection of Einstein’s general theory of relativity), but he proudly claims that this book ‘clears the ground on which an examination of the foundations of physics, and in particular the theory of relativity, could rest’. The present essay is an important resource in order to better understand the genesis of  very distinctive Carnapian notion, i.e. Carnap’s conventionalism. This notion is clearly influenced by Dingler’s view on the conventional nature of the laws of nature that Carnap identifies as critical conventionalism, thereby distinguishing it from Poincaré’s notion of conventionalism. According to Carnap, Poincaré’s conventionalism relies on a free choice that is completely arbitrary, whereas Dingler’s view holds that our choices can be uniquely determined by a certain principle of maximal simplicity. Carnap favours Dingler’s conventionalism over Poincaré’s account and  will reformulate Dingler’s criteria of simplicity in later years. Carnap’s early conventionalism then seems to find its roots in a critical reformulation of Dingler’s conventionalism. Moreover, this essay shows us the  extent to which Carnap’s philosophical considerations rely on an in-depth knowledge of physics and scientific practice. This is  evident from his remarks on stipulations that rely on a critical analysis of physical knowledge, conceived not simply as a study of empirical data, but as a stratified and articulated measurement practice of empirical phenomena.

Der Raum is definitely a fundamental text for Carnap scholars. It is a lengthy and substantial book, it was largely written in late 1920, then submitted in 1921 to the philosophy department as a doctoral dissertation, and eventually published in Kant-Studien in 1922. The book aims to make things clear on the  debate taking place at the time regarding  the source of our knowledge of space and, especially, to what extent an objective knowledge of space could depend on experience. Carnap argues that the many different perspectives advocated by philosophers, mathematicians and physicists are contradictory as their differences rely on confusion over the different meanings of space. Der Raum then aims to show that a proper conceptual clarification of the different meanings of space and their interconnections can shed light on this debate and finally dissolve the controversy.

The first three chapters deal respectively with three different meanings of space; formal, intuitive and physical space, whereas the last two chapters focus on their interconnections and how each space is related to experience. The notion of formal space (formale Raum) is defined in terms of ‘relational or structural system’, i.e. a system fully determined by a set of formal axioms whose objects and relations (holding among them) are indeterminate and not related to any specific intuitive meaning. From this formal system we can obtain the spatial system once we substitute spatial elements (point, line, …) for their indeterminate correlation. Carnap refers to this formal system also in terms of “pure theory of relations” (reine Beziehungslehre). He further claims that the construction of formal space can be undertaken in a different way, which is the only path that ‘makes the complete construction of formal space possible, comprising all the special cases’. Starting from formal logic, i.e. the general theory of classes and relations, Carnap then briefly sketches this construction. He introduces the basic notions of ‘judgment’, ‘proposition’, ‘concept’, ‘relation’, and so on, until he defines the notion of ‘(ordered) series’ (natural numbers, real numbers, etc) and finally he arrives at the most general notion of formal space, called n-dimensional topological space and designated by Rnt. By imposing specific conditions on this structure, Carnap obtains the n-dimensional projective space Rnp and the n-dimensional metrical space Rnm. Starting from these formal structures we can obtain the three different intuitive spaces (topological, projective, metrical) by substituting their indeterminate elements with spatial elements. Carnap explicitly claims that ‘a relation of substitution (Einsetzung) holds between the theory of formal and that of intuitive space’, even though the connection between formal space and intuitive space is not so straightforward since postulates and generalizations also play a role in the construction of the order-structure of intuitive space (for any dimension). However, this kind of connection resembles Husserl’s distinction between formal ontology and regional ontology and Carnap is well aware of this and he explicitly refers to it in order to clarify his perspective. Moreover, Husserl’s Wesenserschauung is mentioned to specify the kind of intuitive knowledge involved, making clear that it is not to be confused with ‘intuition (Anschauung) in the narrower sense, focused on the fact itself’ as it pertains to the essential features that can be grasped within phenomena. In agreement with Husserl’s remarks on Kant’s conception of a priori, Carnap claims that the essential features of intuitive space turn out be ‘the synthetic a priori propositions claimed by Kant’. Therefore, the principles governing the formal space are analytic a priori, whereas the ones governing the topological space are synthetic a priori. These two kinds of space, however, are not enough to give a comprehensive picture of scientific knowledge of space. We need to introduce the physical space that represents the domain of synthetic a posteriori knowledge. The knowledge of physical space, however, other than being based on the empirical results of experiments, necessarily relies on conventions that are based on the choice of metric stipulation we decide to adopt. Carnap further claims that, if we wish, we could impose a different metric geometry and still obtain a physical space that is compatible with all our everyday and scientific observations, even though the final outcome might be far from straightforward. Physical space, therefore, relies on conventions but the choice of metric stipulation should be evaluated in terms of some criteria of simplicity that consider the overall description of nature.

Carnap’s Der Raum shows an impressive richness both from a philosophical and mathematical point of view. Carnap’s appendix ‘Pointers to the Literature’ contains substantial resources to historically contextualize many of the issues raised in the book. Starting from his adherence to the logistic approach of Frege and Russell, then going through the neo-Kantian perspectives of Natorp and Cassirer, on to Husserl’s phenomenology and Dingler’s conventionalism, Carnap’s Der Raum turns out to be a very interesting re-elaboration and combination of different philosophical perspectives. Moreover, the most important mathematical and physical literature of the time is seriously taken into account and the major works of Hilbert, Poincaré, Weyl, Riemann, and many others, are discussed and their results are assimilated into Carnap’s view. Several issues in Der Raum, therefore, should be enlightened by reference to the rich cultural framework that underlies this book. For instance, further investigation into the interconnections between Der Raum and Weyl’s Raum-Zeit-Materie would prove  very interesting and fruitful. Carnap explicitly makes reference to Weyl’s writings several times, and a comparison between Carnap’s and Weyl’s studies on space – the latter being clearly influenced by Husserl’s phenomenology – might shed light on the nature of Husserl’s influence on Der Raum. Similarly, further investigation into Carnap’s re-elaboration of Russell’s and Husserl’s perspectives on logic to construct formal space could be useful in order to clarify several aspects of Carnap’s later notion of rational reconstruction. Carnap’s notion of metrical stipulation is another example. A detailed analysis of Carnap’s account on stipulations could shed light on the development of his  later conventionalism. The editorial work on Der Raum (edited by Michael Friedman) successfully achieves a great deal of this task. It is extremely accurate and several in-depth analyses furnish the historical and mathematical background that a reader needs to properly understand the many issues contained in this book. The editor further includes Carnap’s marginalia (contained in Carnap’s own copy of Der Raum) in the editorial notes at the corresponding points which gives the reader a clearer picture of Carnap’s view on this specific issue.

However, a few critical remarks can be put forward. Friedman does not seem to capture the exact nature of the Husserlian framework underlying Carnap’s view nor how it relates to the neo-Kantian framework that – as Friedman rightly suggests – underlies Der Raum. In the Introduction (edited also by Carus), for instance, the editors charge Carnap with  confusion in respect to his conception of intuitive topological space, which ‘somewhat confusingly’ shares the status of conditions for the possibility of experience with formal topological space. This remark seems to underlie a misconception of Husserl’s philosophy. The introduction of phenomenology is definitely one major difference between the previous Masters dissertation of 1920 and the published version of Der Raum. The published edition of 1922, indeed, is a revisited version of the previous Masters dissertation that Carnap had written for the philosophy department in 1920. In the revisited version Carnap substitutes his previous conception of ‘pure geometry’ with ‘intuitive space’ and this very change marks a shift from a neo-Kantian notion of ‘condition for the possibility of experience’ to a Husserlian reinterpretation thereof. I do not mean that Carnap adheres completely to Husserl’s perspective, but his major interest in phenomenology relies exactly on the Husserlian reformulation of Kant’s synthetic a priori propositions in terms of regional axioms that belong to a certain regional ontology. It is precisely this notion of regional ontology that shapes Carnap’s notion of intuitive topological space, and more generally it is precisely the Husserlian distinction between regional ontology and formal ontology that shapes the overall Carnapian distinction between intuitive and formal space. Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology is a philosophical account that – by the introduction of the notion of categorial intuition (that later develops into the notion Wesenserschauung) – enables Husserl to speak in terms of essential structures intuitively given in a phenomenal domain and playing the role of regional axioms, i.e. conditions for the possibility of experience of this very domain. These regional axioms, moreover, are connected to their correlated abstract structures – free from any intuitive elements and belonging to the domain of formal ontology – by means of relations of formalization and de-formalization (categorical intuitions come into play again). These abstract structures, moreover, share the status of experience-constituting validity since they represent the categorical form of the essential structures governing the given phenomenal domain. Carnap’s intuitive topological space – shaping Husserl’s notion of regional ontology – does not share ‘confusingly’ the status of conditions for the possibility of experience with formal topological space, rather they both have this experience-constituting validity – even though in a different way – in agreement with Husserl’s perspective. Further remarks can be found in the editorial notes that do not seem to capture adequately the nature of the Husserlian framework underlying Der Raum. The editors rightly point out that Husserl’s phenomenology is essentially a descriptive science based on essential insight (Wesenserschauung), but they do not seem to ascribe the role of essences – grasped by Wesenserschauung – directly to the axioms of intuitive space. They designate these axioms as ‘describing the Wesenserschauung’ of our perceptual experience of objects in space, or as ‘codifying certain attributes of intuition’. These remarks seem to underlie that firstly, they keep distinct essences grasped by Wesenserschauung and the axioms describing them, and secondly, they do not ascribe to the axioms any intuitiveness by essential insight. Although the relation between a phenomenological description of a given phenomenal domain and the regional ontology characterizing the domain itself is a complex, multi-faced, and problematic field of phenomenological research, Husserl clearly states that they both have to investigated by Wesenserschauung. Therefore, the axioms themselves are intuitively given and they do not ‘describe’ or ‘codify’ an intuitive knowledge but, at most, we could say that in-depth phenomenological analysis can clarify their meaning-constitution.

It seems to me that this misconception of Husserl’s philosophy undermines their evaluation of Husserl’s contribution to Der Raum in several instances. However, the editors are right not to over-estimate Husserl’s influence on Der Raum over Carnap’s adherence to Kant’s philosophy or neo-Kantian thinkers. Der Raum is arguably a personal re-elaboration of several philosophical perspectives rather than a complete adherence to one specific account. It is not clearto what extent Carnap is fully accepting Husserl’s phenomenology in Der Raum, especially, with respect to the possibility to explore exhaustively a given phenomenal domain by Wesenserschauung in all its essential and stratified connections. Instead he seems interested in Husserl’s perspective only so far as it represents a philosophical account (with a Kantian flavor) within which it is possible – starting from the domain of empirical reality – to avoid the restrictions imposed by a neo-Kantian approach. This would enable him  to freely explore the ‘characteristic structures’ belonging to this domain as without it implies a contingent knowledge and laying the foundations for a structural objective analysis of experience.

Über die Aufgabe der Physik addresses the question of what should be regarded as a criterion for maximal simplicity within a physical theory. Two different possibilities are examined with the aim of clarifying the relevant aspects that should rule the choice between them, even though no decision between these two possibilities is suggested in the paper. This text is an important resource to better understand Carnap’s view on simplicity and stipulations within a physical theory and how they both are related to Carnap’s conception of scientific rationality.

In Dreidimensionalität des Raumes und Kausalität Carnap explores how we construct reality starting from a world of sense impressions. Carnap draws an important distinction between experience that exhibits only necessary formation – or first-order experience – and experience that is processed further – or second-order experience. This distinction echoes the previous one in Der Raum between the necessary topological form and the various metrical conventions that could be imposed on it. In the paper Carnap explores this specific issue in a wider perspective where his conventional view is elaborated in the light of Vaihinger’s pragmatic view. It is no coincidence that the paper was published in Annalen der Philosophie, regarded as the house journal of Vaihinger and his followers. Vaihinger argues that we are able to access only the ‘chaos’ of our world of sense impressions whereas the reality we construct is not genuine knowledge but is rather based on useful fictions that allow us to get things done and live in the world. Carnap agrees with Vaihinger as far as it concerns the role of fictions in constructing the reality, but he argues that such a construction is not completely arbitrary. Firstly, we face a first-order experience that exhibits a basic form of ordering, and secondly, certain kinds of logical connections can be established among fictions shaping second-order experience. The paper aims to show that the fiction of three-dimensionality of space and the fiction of physical causality ‘stand in a relation of logical dependence with each other’, and the former is conditioned by the latter. This text is especially important because it helps us to shed light on the development of Aufbau. The first draft of Aufbau dates back to early 1922 and it was completed in 1925. During these years we can observe an important shift: in the early phase (1922-24) Carnap distinguishes a fixed ‘primary world’ of immediate experience – in accordance with the text we are discussing – from a ‘secondary world’ (or ‘realities’) that could be constructed by quasi-analysis on this intuitive basis. However, sometime during 1924 the distinction between primary and secondary world was dropped. Further investigation of Carnap’s intellectual encounters during these years is required , but the present text is clearly an important resource to better understand the development of his thought from Der Raum to Aufbau, especially with respect to his changing perspective on the epistemic value of intuitive knowledge.

In Über die Abhängigkeit der Eigenschaften des Raumes von denen der Zeit Carnap argues that statements about the topological structure of physical space can be reduced to statements about temporal or causal order. The paper needs a proper mathematical and physical background to be properly understood and Malament’s appendix satisfies this requirement. Malament gives a detailed reconstruction of Carnap’s account and he further discusses a number of mathematical problems suggesting how they could be fixed. This text is clearly an important resource for understanding Carnap’s efforts during these years not only in logic and philosophy of science, but also in physical and mathematical research of the time.

The last paper, entitled Physikalische Begriffsbildung, is an important paper written shortly before Carnap moved to Vienna in 1926. In the Introduction Carnap outlines what is science: an activity of collecting and organizing items of knowledge with the aim of subjecting the reality ‘to an ever higher degree of control’”. According to this pragmatic view of science, the task of physics is ‘to order perceptions systematically and to draw inferences from perceptions at hand to perceptions to be expected’. Carnap then explores thoroughly the hierarchical structure of physical concept formation, subdividing its formation into three main stages: qualitative stage, quantitative stage, and abstract stage. The present paper gives us an interesting overall picture of Carnap’s conception of rational reconstruction at the very moment when Carnap was on his way to the final version of the Aufbau. The editorial work (edited by Creath and Richardson) is again very accurate and detailed, although a few remarks on the comparison between Carnap’s Begriffsbildung and Weyl’s Begriffsbildung (as well as Weyl’s Konstitution) might have been useful, especially with respect to Carnap’s later conception of Konstitution.

But aside from these last considerations, the editors have done an excellent job firstly, in making all these texts available to English readers for the first time, and secondly, in making them more understandable thanks to their very rich in-depth analysis. This volume enhances the increasing English literature on the early young Carnap, which in turn provides a clearer picture of the development of logical empiricism and early analytic philosophy. The essays provide a fundamental resource to explore the multi-faceted cultural framework of the time where different philosophical movements were used to profitably interact with each other in a way that has become increasingly difficult in the later years. For all these reasons, the present volume is of considerable merit and should be of interest to Carnap scholars, historians of analytic philosophy and to Husserl scholars and researchers working at the intersection between the philosophy of science, logic and phenomenology.

Günther Anders: Phénoménologie de l’écoute, Éditions Philharmonie de Paris, 2020

Phénoménologie de l'écoute Book Cover Phénoménologie de l'écoute
La rue musicale
Günther Anders. Martin Kaltenecker (Traducteur), Diane Meur (Traducteur).
Éditions Philharmonie de Paris
Paperback 16,90 €

Edmund Husserl: Logic and General Theory of Science

Logic and General Theory of Science: Lectures 1917/18 with Supplementary Texts from the First Version of 1910/11 Book Cover Logic and General Theory of Science: Lectures 1917/18 with Supplementary Texts from the First Version of 1910/11
Husserliana: Edmund Husserl – Collected Works, Volume 15
Edmund Husserl. Translated by C.O. Hill
Hardback 88,39 €
L, 437

Reviewed by: Matthew Clemons (Stony Brook University)

In a passage (§56) from his 1929 Formal and Transcendental Logic, Husserl expresses frustration at a particular group of interpreters of his Logical Investigations. Fearing the specter of the historical-empiricist move that denies the objectivity of the ideal, these interpreters reject the phenomenological investigations in Volume II of the LI. This rejection  is based on the critiques of psychologism that Husserl provides in Volume I. Presumably, what the interpreters found to celebrate in the LI was its insistence that logical formations—e.g. judgments, proofs, theories—are not mental events, which secured the possibility of a purely formal logic. Their disappointment with the foray into the constitutive acts correlative to the logical formations in Volume II likely persisted in light of Husserl’s subsequent publications. Around the time of the publication of Ideas I (1913), Husserl admits to having cooled to formal logical investigation, preferring instead the examination of transcendental subjectivity.[1]

For this reason, Claire Ortiz Hill’s 2019 translation of Volume 30 of the Husserliana Series entitled Logik und Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie may come as a surprise to an English-speaking readership. The volume, with the English title Logic and General Theory of Science, consists of the final version of a series of lectures given by Husserl on the topic of formal logic, its bounds, fundamental formations, and its relation to the Idea of science in general. The lectures date from the Winter Semester of 1910/11 through Winter 1917/18, the same decade that saw the publication of his Ideas I and Ideas II. Given those dates, it would seem that, whatever his interest in the constitutive acts of logical formations, his interest in those objective formations themselves did continue.

The volume is divided into three sections with a series of appendices added to the main text. In Section I, Husserl is concerned with setting the bounds for formal logic. This is a preparatory step for the  formal logical investigations in Section II that seek to develop systematically a theory of the forms of meaning. Section III deals with the Idea of Science, which for Husserl includes formal logic but, as he outlines, encompasses more than just formal logic. The appendices are Husserl’s notes and additions to the lectures. In what follows, I give a brief overview of each of the three sections.

Setting the Bounds of Formal Logic (Section I)

The first section is entitled “Fundamental Considerations for the Demarcation and Characterization of Formal Logic.” Husserl begins the section with a series of reflections on the understanding, which, as the activity that sets norms for both the sciences and extra-theoretical life, serves as a leading clue for the scope of logic. Rather than reflecting on the acts of understanding, those “mental activities and achievements” (§1) at work in the norm-setting, we can inquire into the norms themselves, or the forms that the various acts of understanding imprint on their content. The work of logic, Husserl suggests, is to fix these forms conceptually and systematically.

However, before that work can get underway, it is necessary to distinguish understanding as norm-setting from understanding as a mental event. Interpreting the norm-setting activity of understanding as a mental event would result in subsuming logic under psychology, the science that deals with the “inner sphere.” Note that, just as in the earlier Logical Investigations and the later Formal and Transcendental Logic, Husserl is again careful at the outset to disentangle logical investigation from psychological investigation. The major difference between psychology and logic is that, while the latter is normative, the former is not. In other words, logic strives after normative laws by which to measure if purported knowledge is actually knowledge. The origin of the norms of logic lies in, in Husserl’s own words, “the ideal essence of acts of understanding and their contents” (§4), whereas the understanding figures in psychology only as a mental event to be explained according to natural, i.e., causal laws. One of the major consequences of this distinction is that the logical norms are unconditionally binding and discoverable regardless of any reference to factual, or empirical, existence.

Anticipating the controversy of his position (he predicts that he will be pejoratively dubbed a “Scholastic” or “mystic” (§4)), Husserl retorts that the psychologizing interpretation of logic falls prey to the prevalent naturalistic prejudice in the sciences. By naturalism, Husserl understands the rejection of any sort of any non-natural, i.e., non-empirical, non-spatiotemporal, objectivity. Thus, any ideal objectivity, be it logical norms, cardinal numbers, or self-evident statements is reinterpreted psychologically. In contrast, Husserl insists on the admission that Ideas are genuine objects that merely give themselves differently (“as eternal, selfsame, as non-temporal and non-spatial, as unmoved, as unchangeable” (§8)) than spatiotemporal objects.

This difference in position on the status of Ideas proves consequential for formal-logical investigation. On the one hand, Husserl identifies the failure to recognize Ideas as the basis of a series of errors propagated by traditional logic, a point substantiated more in Section II of the volume. On the other, acknowledging the genuineness of Ideas at the outset opens up an avenue of inquiry in formal logic, namely investigating according to ideal meaning forms rather than empirical contents. To that end, Husserl notes that in these lectures he is foregoing a noetic orientation, i.e., one that takes up the cognitive and related acts constitutive of logical objectivities, for a noematic one. To clarify what he means by a noematic orientation, he points us to a series of distinctions, beginning with that between knowing and known. The former is a cognitive act while the latter leads us towards the ideal. A parallel distinction between judging and judgment (§7) and another between naive judgment as directed at the state-of-affairs and judgment as proposition and Idea (§9-10) help to clarify. Judgments as ideal objects are importantly not determinate, therfore not empirical, and yet they have ideal properties (e.g., all judgments with the form of a contradiction are false). When the idea is made into an object of reflection, it becomes the basis of norms sought in logical investigation.

As far as the demarcation of formal logic goes, the introduction of the Idea of judgment places us in the terrain of apophantics, or the logic of affirmative statements. This harkens back to Aristotle’s original demarcation of pure logic, which he called analytics. Husserl sometimes adopts this term. It is worth noting that he employs several related terms synonymously throughout the lecture, namely analytics, along with pure logic, formal logic, and the mathesis universalis (more accurately, he uses these terms to emphasize different aspects of the same science). In contrast to Aristotle, Husserl’s own demarcation of analytics is not limited to affirmative statements. It includes an underlying level of investigation into more basic forms of meaning. This level both serves as a foundation for a second level of logic and also provides some crucial conceptual distinctions that allows for its expansion. It could be said that one of the ubiquitous features of Husserl’s thinking on formal logic is its effort at expansive unity. The second level of logic, for instance, is not only concerned with the logic affirmative statement (“A is b”), but also with its modifications (e.g. “It is possible that A is b”). Further, in a series of complexifications that occur at the second-level, Husserl further expands the notion of logic to include cardinal and ordinal numbers, sets, and eventually a third level. This third level, the highest of analytics, is the formal theory of manifolds, or the theory of theories (§47).

For Husserl, then, formal logic is a three-tiered science, connecting disciplines and Ideas that were once thought to belong to disparate sciences. Importantly, Husserl’s insistence on the genuineness of Ideas makes this possible. As ideal, the basic meaning forms that constitute the first-level of logical investigation and are the basis of the other two exhibit an ideal structure and conformity to law. These basic meaning structures can then combine in indefinitely many ways in accordance with their conformity to laws, allowing an ideal building up and out of formal logic that itself occurs with lawful regularity. Husserl compares this structure to crystals in that each form exhibits its own structure that is also taken up in the crystal system (§27 B).

The Systematic Investigation into Forms of Meanings (Section II)

If Section I concerns the demarcation of formal logic, Section II jumps into the discipline itself. Husserl’s strategy is to start with the most basic forms of meaning and, insofar as it is possible in a lecture-series, to obtain a systematic overview of the possible kinds. From there, he gradually builds his way up to propositionally simple judgments and beyond to more complex judgments, to inferences, and to theories. My own synopsis of the section is divided into two parts. First, following Husserl, I give a very general outline of the development from the most basic meaning components up to the highest tier of formal logic. Second, I indicate a handful of the concrete ways in which, as I stated above, Husserl imagines that traditional logic’s rejection of Ideas leads it astray.

The point of departure for the investigation of meaning forms is the ideal distinction between independent and dependent meaning (§20). Independent meanings are those which are capable of standing alone, i.e., complete propositions. Dependent meanings, on the other hand, are those that, although they may express something, intrinsically belong to an independent unit as a component. These dependent meanings cannot be put together in any half hazard way, but fall under fixed types governed by laws (e.g., in the proposition S is p, grammatically speaking, p cannot have any kind of meaning (§22)). Any basic component also admits of a conceptual distinction between syntactical form, which refers to its role within the proposition (e.g., the subject-form, object-form, predicate-form), and syntagma, or the “stuff” (§24), the content of the component. The phrase “ethical human beings,” for instance, can function as the subject-form in one case, the antecedent in a hypothetical in another, but in any case retains the same content, namely “ethical human beings.” A further, parallel distinction in the syntagmas between the nucleus-form (e.g. nominal-forms, or adjectival-forms) and the nucleus-stuff gives us the most basic components in our investigation of the meaning of forms. This last distinction is especially important because the nucleus need not contain any definite content and could instead be “an empty something.” For one thing, it allows for the entrance of generality, or universality and particularity. For another, formal logic, says Husserl, is characterized by this emptiness (§26 B), as this emptiness signifies its being ideal rather than empirical.

Equipped with the most basic meaning components, namely the syntagma, Husserl moves on to the basic forms of simple judgments. He arrives at that basic form by considering in what way the fewest syntagmata might unite to form a judgment. Similarly to Aristotle, he decides that the most basic form involves one nominal and one adjectival syntagma (S is p) (§28). This simple judgment-form is then the basis for another series of variations and complexifications. Of note, here, is his discussion of the effect of empty syntagma (§32), of plural judgments (S is p and/or n) as the origin of the Ideas cardinal numbers, arithmetic, and sets (§3437), and existential and impersonal judgments (§40). After the simple judgment-forms, Husserl turns to the propositionally complex judgment-forms (conjunction and disjunction) (§4142), following which is his introduction of modifications (e.g., possibility and probability). This latter topic is of particular note in that it is accompanied by an extended treatment of the Ideas of law, apodicticity, and analyticity (§4445). Husserl insists not only that analytic (apodictic) laws have been crucial in the investigations up to this point in apophantics, but that a proper conception of analyticity allows for the connection between formal logic, formal ontology, and mathematics to emerge (§46). Finally, Husserl turns to inference, whose ideal laws allow for the introduction of the third-level of formal logic, i.e., the theory of manifolds, or the theory of theories (§47, §54), a discussion which spills over into Section III (§4659).

That suffices for a general outline of Husserl’s thinking in Section II. Because he is insistent on the unity of what might seem, from the perspective of the history of logic, like disparate disciplines, it might already be visible in broad strokes how Husserl’s own account differs. Additionally, there are several, concrete, and persistent logical problems dealt with in the course of Section II. In general, if Husserl disagrees with logicians, it is on the grounds of their mistakingly rejecting Ideas, and so of not sufficiently recognizing the ideal as the guide in formal logical investigations. For instance, Husserl accuses logicians of conflating equivalence and identity (§29, §39, §48). Two judgments might be equivalent in their relation to a state-of-affairs, but not identical with regard to their ideal meaning form. Among the errors that Husserl identifies in this regard are:

  1. Traditionally, affirmative and negative judgments (S is p; S is not p) are thought to be coeval. But if analyzed according to their meaning-form, it seems that the negative is a modification of the affirmative, which must then be prior.
  2. Instead of recognizing the difference in meaning-form between determinative judgments and functional judgments (universal and particular judgments), traditional logic takes all judgments to be either universal, particular, or individual.

These are far from the only topics of interest that Husserl treats in Section II, but it suffices to give the examples mentioned above as an indication.

Reflections on the Idea of Science (Section III)

In Section III, the final section of the lecture, Husserl concludes the thorough, systematic investigation of the forms of meaning and begins to consider the relationship of the science of analytics to other theoretical sciences. By theoretical science, he means those that are not normative and practical and whose primary interest is explanatory. Theoretical sciences, insofar as they are applicable to any particular science without that particular science’s forfeiting its unique domain, comprise the general Idea of science. Analytics has priority because, insofar as it deals with those activities present in every science, it is operative in every science. But there are other sciences that can be included in the Idea of science as well, and even those that deal with a particular region of being can be included insofar as they deal with it in an a priori manner. Among these sciences are pure natural science, which deals with objectivity and spatiotemporal being in general (§61), the science of consciousness, both individually and communally (§63-64), and formal axiology (§61). The final chapter in the Section offers some reflections on noetics, which, as mentioned above, Husserl has set aside in these lectures in favor of a noematic analysis. Central in this chapter is the question of justification of knowledge and the relevant concepts of Evidenz and givenness.

Husserl, of course, says much more than I am able to relay here, but the above should suffice as direction for further inquiry. Those who do delve into the volume further will find it  readable, and well-edited and translated. As Ortiz Hill mentions in her introduction, that these are lectures make them clearer and more transparent than some of the writings published during Husserl’s lifetime. For any given point, Husserl offers a variety of examples, and approaches it from several directions. Further, Ortiz Hill provides a lucid translation of an already well-edited volume. There are a handful of pesky German terms that are difficult to translate, which she either alerts readers to or leaves untranslated. She decides on “presentation” for Vorstellung, but points to its ambiguity in Husserl’s writing (xliv-xlv)—Husserl himself also notes the difficult ambiguity of the term. I should also note that, in the case of terms like “nucleus-stuff,” the “stuff” is presumably translating Stoff, which more generally means material in German (der Stoff des Mantels—the material of the coat). Given that terms like “nucleus-stuff” are often contrasted with something formal, it might seem more appropriate to translate Stoff as material. However, Husserl does use the latinized Materie sometimes making it seem worthwhile to translate Stoff differently. Only in the case of the terms Geist and Gemüt do I hesitate with the translation. The former, she translates as “mind” (l), which might seem strange in the context of the discussion of community and culture in Section III. For Gemüt and its variations, Ortiz Hill employs adjectival expression with the word “inner.” Although I think this doesn’t quite capture the emotive connotation that translations like “heart” do, this term plays almost no role in the volume. The few passages in which it  could cause some confusion, such as its being contrasted with will and understanding at the beginning of Section I (§1), do not interfere with the trajectory of Husserl’s thought. Beyond these terms, there are a handful that Ortiz Hill leaves untranslated, e.g. Unsinn, Widersinn, and Evidenz. In each case, I appreciate the choice to leave the terms in their original German. In the case of the first two, no English equivalents readily suggest themselves that capture their contrast. In the case of Evidenz, the English cognate “evidence” suggests something like external proof, which is different than the “consciousness of fulfillment” that Husserl has in mind.

In closing, I offer a few words on the significance of the volume. For those primarily interested in Husserl or more broadly in phenomenology, the edition offers an interesting link between different periods of Husserl’s thought. Many of the topics that he addresses in Section II, for instance, harken backward to his Logical Investigations (which he himself notes on occasion) and also point forward to the concerns of Formal and Transcendental Logic (such as the preoccupation with the unity of disciplines thought to be disparate under the banner of formal logic). This is especially significant for those who, as I suggest above, accuse Husserl of abandoning formal analyses in favor of transcendental ones. For those primarily interested in formal logic, or in topics predominately discussed in analytic philosophy, the volume represents a significant overlap of concerns. In both the translator’s introduction and a review of the German edition, Ortiz Hill does a remarkable job at indicating the overlap and ultimate differences between Husserl and the school of thought that emerges from Frege and runs through Russell, Carnap, Hilbert, and Gödel.[2] At any rate, readers of all kinds may be surprised to find Husserl undertaking a systematic survey of formal logic in the decade of the 1910’s, and that makes the volume a welcome contribution to the scholarship.

[1] See Ursula Panzer’s “Einleitung” in the original German volume, quoted in Ortiz Hill’s “Introduction.”

[2] Ortiz Hill, Claire. “Review of E. Husserl, Logik Und Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie. Vorlesungen 1917/18, Mit Ergänzenden Texten Aus Der Ersten Fassung 1910/11.” History and Philosophy of Logic, 1998.

Timo Miettinen: Husserl and the Idea of Europe, Northwestern University Press, 2020

Husserl and the Idea of Europe Book Cover Husserl and the Idea of Europe
Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy
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Northwestern University Press
Paperback $34.95

Martin Koci, Jason Alvis (Eds.): Transforming the Theological Turn: Phenomenology with Emmanuel Falque, Rowman & Littlefield, 2020

Transforming the Theological Turn: Phenomenology with Emmanuel Falque Book Cover Transforming the Theological Turn: Phenomenology with Emmanuel Falque
Martin Koci, Jason Alvis (Eds.)
Rowman & Littlefield
Hardback £85.00