Don Ihde: Husserl’s Missing Technologies

Husserl's Missing Technologies Book Cover Husserl's Missing Technologies
Perspectives in Continental Philosophy
Don Ihde
Fordham University Press
Paperback $24.00

Reviewed by: Aleksandra K. Traykova (Durham University)

Don Ihde has produced a total of six books in the past decade, but although the last one (Acoustic Technics: Postphenomenology and the Philosophy of Technology) appeared only two years ago, his readers were becoming impatient. Acoustic Technics was brilliant, however, its narrow focus on embodied sound left us longing for more of the American philosopher’s insights into science and technology more broadly construed. After finally getting my hands on a copy of Ihde’s latest book, I can confidently say that it was well worth the wait. Husserl’s Missing Technologies is fascinating! Winner of the Golden Eurydice Award for outstanding contributions to the field of biophilosophy, Ihde draws on more than four decades of research expertise in the contested areas of phenomenology and the philosophy of science. In accordance with his usual style, in this work Ihde addresses an astonishing plethora of issues, historical examples and philosophical ideas. The following review will discuss some of these elements.

Тhe book is comprised of seven chapters, each more layered and enthralling than the previous one. Following a lengthy introduction, which problematizes the technological gap in Husserl’s writings and thus justifies Husserl’s Missing Technologies as a project, Ihde swiftly moves straight into a discussion of technology use, scientific objects, the historical development of technoscience, and the timeline of science interpretations in philosophy. This abundance of topics might lead a less experienced writer to create a blurry, perhaps somewhat incoherent framework, but Ihde skillfully escapes this trap, instead setting the ground for a very structured and nuanced piece of writing. As a result, each chapter is sufficiently clear-cut and ambitious in its own right that it could easily be turned into a stand-alone project. Yet in spite of that, the transitions between separate chapters are executed brilliantly and without so much as a hint of discontinuity. For instance, in the first half of the book Ihde’s analysis and historical overview are left to unravel quietly while also clearly foreshadowing the claims about the role of postphenomenological, multi-instrumental technoscience that are made towards the end of the book; by the time the reader reaches the final chapters, the connections have already started to become increasingly obvious, and a complex but coherent argumentative structure gradually begins to emerge.

The title of the book sets the tone for Chapter 1 ‘Where are Husserl’s technologies?’. It opens with a statement that is fairly uncontroversial amongst Husserl scholars: namely, that Husserl’s references to technologies are sparse and usually mentioned only ‘in passing, without serious or in-depth philosophical analysis’ (13). Though this statement applies equally to ordinary-use technologies and to instruments or special technologies used in science, Chapter 1 focuses on the latter. After a short historical interlude which offers examples of the tendency for technology usage-spans to become increasingly shorter, Ihde introduces his readers to the style of science-technology analysis called postphenomenology and identifies its American pragmatist influences (e.g. John Dewey), adding that philosophies should also have usage-spans akin to those of technologies.

The book is an enjoyable read for anyone whose professional interests revolve around phenomenology and these early sections make for an excellent topic of discussion amongst introductory philosophy classes of a more general kind. Ihde questions an uncritical assumption we hold (which we would never make about scientists of the past) that all philosophers in history are our intellectual contemporaries. Science clearly has a history of ‘disappearing scientific objects’: ‘Democritus’s hard, indivisible atoms, Aristotle’s crystalline spheres, phlogiston, aether, the four humours, and most recently event horizons—all are gone except as interesting but quaint historical objects’ (17). It is not that these features of obsolescence or abandonment cannot be observed in philosophy, rather that the most notable examples have tended to appear in response to developments in technoscience; as suggested by the brief science-technology studies (STS) and the science interpretation timeline offered by Ihde in the next section.

Ihde notes that it took an astonishingly long time for anything properly resembling a ‘philosophy of technology’ to come into existence. The mid-twentieth century brought about two different sets of science interpretations ; a ‘conceptual’ and a ‘practical’ one to which scientists (or philosophers of science with notable antipositivist inclinations) and social scientists, respectively, were contributing. It took until the 1980’s for a distinct philosophy of technology to disentangle itself with authors such as Albert Borgmann, Langdon Winner, Andrew Feenberg, and Hubert Dreyfus leading the way. By this time positivism had met its demise, and the ‘acultural, ahistorical, unified, and triumphal’ understanding of science had become replaced by an outlook far more sensitive to the fallibility of science and its social and historical dimensions (22).

Ihde dives into a fascinating exploration of paradigm shifts for a reason. He does a wonderful job of accounting for the way in which ‘the rise of multiple reconsiderations of science, coupled to an increased interest in technologies […] shift the understanding of both science and technology toward more historical, cultural, and material dimensions’ (21). However, he does so in order to identify the reason for the sudden theoretical interest in instruments and technologies expressed in major works like Robert Ackermann’s Data, Instruments, and Theory (1985) or Ian Hacking’s Representing and Intervening (1983). It is only after Ihde has completed this task that he moves on to the next section which invites readers to re-visit Husserl ‘retrospectively’ and approach his writings (and the predominant science interpretations amongst his contemporaries) from a point of view located at the very end of the timeline he presented earlier (17-22)

The analysis sets out by making three important observations about Husserl’s philosophy of science: Firstly, that it remains largely on the mathematizing side in spite of occasional preoccupations regarding the separation of science and lifeworld. Secondly, that Husserl worried that rationality might be slipping away from science. Thirdly, that the praxis-lifeworld relations Husserl theorizes about in selected bits of The Origin of Geometry are apparently set up in a way which allows for sciences to be born from concrete practices – e.g. geometry arose out of the Ancient Egyptian practice of remeasuring and setting up field boundaries anew after the annual floods. The analysis then gains a comparative aspect as Ihde begins to reflect on the difference between Heidegger’s hammer, Merleau-Ponty’s extended embodiment of canes, and Husserl’s microscope-things and telescope-things. Ihde identifies a kind of ‘vestigial Cartesianism’ (31) in Husserl’s attitude toward objects, since, according to Husserl tools and technologies need to be seen and conceptually recognized as objects in their ‘objectness’ (i.e. as ‘things’) before they can be meaningfully deployed in praxis (25). Values and potential uses are seen by Husserl as things that are added on, rather than intrinsically present.

This discussion seamlessly transitions into an inspection of the relativity or correlation with the nearby-far-off-world which is enabled by instruments, and the ways that correlation fits within the wider unity of experiences. For example, when observing the moon through a telescope Ihde notes that before the ‘first revolution in sciences with technologies […] the experience through the telescope is not primarily of the telescope’ (31; his emphasis). He then explains how in cases of mediated perception the instruments which mediate the perception tend to undergo a withdrawal and become experientially transparent; something which Husserl does not describe in his writings.

However, the technologies of postmodern science no longer deliver experiences isomorphic or analogue to those of ordinary human bodily perception; they have ventured beyond optical imaging and into, e.g. instruments mapping the electromagnetic spectrum. Contemporary technologies can therefore be said to bring into being Husserl’s ‘open infinity of universal world truths’ by revealing the existence of neutron stars, black holes, gas clouds, and multiple galaxies of many and varied shapes (32-34). Ihde is right in claiming that Husserlian phenomenology was not equipped to deal with the worlds beyond the limits set by analogue-isomorphic technologies. One of the big questions of Chapter 1, then, is whether philosophies ought to be prepared for the kinds of theoretical and instrumental shifts characteristic of the sciences if they want to be successful in dealing with a new world? For Ihde the answer is a solid ‘yes’.

Chapter 2, ‘Husserl’s Galileo Needed a Telescope!’, discusses Husserl’s philosophy of science ‘in the light of contemporary analyses of science in practice’ (35). It starts out with the caveat that, for Husserl, the paradigmatic examples of science were: firstly, the ahistorical kinds of disciplines which lend themselves to mathematization, formalized expressions, and idealization and secondly, the kinds of disciplines which involve minimal amounts of embodiment practices and, with the exception of physics, minimal amounts of instrument use. These are, of course, the sciences that Husserl himself was most familiar with in terms of praxis (geometry, physics and astronomy) but they also fit within the broader process of mathematization initiated by other early twentieth century philosophers of science like Ernst Mach, Jules Poincaré and Pierre Duhem.

The next section of Chapter 2 describes the movement from mathematization (abstract and formalistic) to logical positivism or empiricism (with a pronounced focus on perception and observation). It then outlines a further move to anti-positivism (a lot more sensitive to historical context and well aware of the discontinuity present in science) which sets the ground for the next section where Ihde situates Husserl within this rich and slightly confusing intellectual landscape. Ihde notes that, for Husserl ‘science is not ahistorical, noncontextual, but rather is thoroughly historical, contextual, and cultural’, even though in science we can observe an ‘upward, slippery incline of approximations into an ideal world, which distances the investigator from the bodily-materiality of the lifeworld’ (44). The connection to the lifeworld is supposedly maintained, as long as an awareness of the whole process and its origins persists.

 But what did Husserl get wrong? The next three sections reveal that Husserl’s portrayal of Galileo’s philosophy of science may have been too reductionistic. While the astronomer was indeed confident that the language of mathematics played a crucial role in interpreting and understanding, he would have been unable to produce ground-breaking science with his bare senses unaided and unamplified by the telescope. As none of these contingencies received special mention from Husserl, Ihde notes that Husserl’s ‘preselected and reduced’ Galileo seems abstract and almost ahistorical, his ‘perceptions and practices with and through the telescope’ absent from Husserl’s histories:

…his Galileo is not the lens grinder, the user of telescopes, the fiddler with inclined planes, the dropper of weights from the Pisa Tower, but the observer who concentrates on, on one side, the already idealized “objects” of geometry and, on the other, the plenary ordinary objects that are before the eyes but indirectly analyzed into their geometrical components. (52)

The final three sections show that a different analysis would have been possible if Husserl had further developed his insights about the importance of written documents as fixed, material, embodied linguistic meaning-structures and instruments as offering a sort of transformational mediation between science and the lifeworld. However, Husserl is forgetful of Galileo’s telescopic praxis.

Just as promised in Chapters 1 and 2, Ihde does return to the reading-writing technologies in Chapter 3 (‘Embodiment and Reading-Writing Technologies’), in order to explore the issues Husserl sees there on a deeper level. The framework of the discussion is dictated by the transition from classical phenomenology to postphenomenology. Husserl’s own writing technologies – different types of pens, eyeglasses, magnifying glass, mimeographs and many others – are examined in truly remarkable detail (and featured on a timeline of writing, reading and optical technologies in Table 1, p. 64) and can be contrasted with his opinions on tools and scientific technologies.

A couple of reccurring motives appear to be that of executive consciousness governing a passive and somewhat ‘machine-like’ body, and that of typicality (of actions or practices, of standard measures, of shapes and trajectories). Ihde challenges these ideas in different ways, including by pointing at counterexamples from contemporary art (e.g. Matisse’s ‘virtuoso practice’ which clearly demonstrated atypical trajectory, especially in his late works). The final section of the chapter is dedicated to reflections on the predominant contemporary embodiment practices; whether or not they can be considered reductive, and whether and how they transform our experiences of space-time.

Chapter 4 – ‘Whole Earth Measurements Revisited’ – goes back to one of the notions first introduced towards the end of Chapter 1: that science needs instruments in order to discover new phenomena or to constitute new problems on which to focus. Structured around Ihde’s 1996 original paper of the same title, the chapter asks whether Husserl’s phenomenology, with its missing technologies, would be capable of detecting a ‘Greenhouse Effect’? It then argues in favour of a negative response; as whole earth measurements are far too complex to be accommodated by the perspectives of classical phenomenology, calling instead for two concepts Ihde refers to as firstly, the earth-as-planet perspective and secondly, an ‘understanding of measurement practice from a thorough technoscience, or instrumentally embodied science’ (80; emphasis not mine). Without those concepts and the aid of imaging technologies, we would be unable to visualize greenhouse gases, which are subperceptual. Ihde is clear that ‘instrumental mediation for Husserl yields a perceptual-correlate’, therefore in a Husserlian framework they would have to be inferred in Cartesian ways rather than perceived (81). Ihde identifies this problem as a Cartesian ‘conceptual duality between concretely perceived plena and abstractly idealized pure shapes’ (Ibid), noting that greenhouse gases are, of course, not pure shapes at all, but that if we want to account for them as material entities, we would need the assistance of postphenomenological, multi-instrumental, embodied technoscience (81-83).

Chapter 5, titled ‘Dewey and Husserl: Consciousness Revisited’, rereads Husserl and John Dewey on consciousness against the backdrop of the increased late twentieth century interest in consciousness, neurology and psychology (especially in a cognitivist context). In doing so Ihde defends phenomenology from accusations that it is subjectivist or an antiscience. From brain scans to animal studies observations of tool or technology use among corvids and primates, the realms of ‘calculating consciousness and technological innovation’ appear to be inextricably linked (92). So, Ihde turns to Dewey’s pragmatism and Husserl’s phenomenology to see exactly how the role played by consciousness differs in each of these experientially based philosophies (hint: they differ in the explanatory models they apply to epistemologies of experience, with Husserl’s essentially representing an adaptation from that of Descartes, and Dewey’s having clear Darwinian influences).

We get to take a deeper look at pragmatism and how it connects to phenomenology in Chapter 6, ‘Adding Pragmatism to Phenomenology’. Here Ihde continues addressing further critiques of phenomenology, e.g. that it relies on introspective methods and that it remains static. According to Ihde, the pragmatist    rejection of essentialism/foundationalism,  representationist/correspondence  notions of truth and transcendental/empirical distinctions is a philosophical style which postphenomenology can reclaim, i.e. replicate, ‘with and through phenomenology’ (109). But is phenomenology capable of returning the favour and enriching pragmatism in a similar manner? Ihde points at several phenomenological techniques (or tools) that could do just that: variational theory, multistability, embodiment, and critical hermeneutics. He then goes on to show how a pragmatic phenomenology or a postphenomenology can be expected to deal with technologies – especially newer and more radical imaging technologies such as the ones that postmodern radio and radar astronomy relies on – in ways that traditional forms of representation cannot.

Finally, in Chapter 7 (appropriately titled ‘From Phenomenology to Postphenomenology’) Ihde briefly outlines the evolution of phenomenology as a term referring to a style of philosophy, as well as the history of the term’s use in his own work, in order to identify the exact moment when postphenomenology began to mature and establish its own trajectory. The book ends by recapping the same ideas that made for such a spectacular and thought-provoking introduction: that philosophy, just like science, ought to keep transforming itself over time, and that as our lifeworld changes, so must our reflections on it.

Husserl in a New Generation. A conference presented by the Department of Philosophy, Kent State University, September 15-17, 2017

Gina Zavota, Deborah Barnbaum

On September 15-17, 2017, the Department of Philosophy at Kent State University held the Husserl in a New Generation conference in Kent, Ohio, USA. The lead organizers were Professor Deborah Barnbaum and Associate Professor Gina Zavota, both of Kent State University. This was the second in a series of “In a New Generation” conferences hosted by Kent State University’s Department of Philosophy; the first, Sellars in a New Generation, took place in May 2015. The aim of this conference was to revisit Husserl’s most significant contributions to a wide range of philosophical subfields, highlighting both their relevance to the questions that philosophy faces today and the important role they have played in the evolution of a wide range of academic disciplines.

The conference featured two invited keynote presentations and five additional invited talks, as well as three faculty papers and seven graduate student papers selected through anonymous peer review. As a result, the conference showcased the work of both eminent and emerging Husserl scholars at all stages of their careers.

The first day of the conference consisted of a graduate workshop where six graduate students presented their research. In the morning session, Justin Reppert, from Fordham University, showed how Husserl’s multiplicity theory [Mannigfaltigkeitslehre] can offer insight into a variety of important questions in the philosophy of mathematics in “Husserlian Contributions to the Epistemology of Mathematics.” Andrew Barrette, from Southern Illinois University – Carbondale, discussed Husserl’s treatment of questioning in “The Socio-Historical Emergence and Operation of Questioning in Edmund Husserl’s Work,” in order to lay the groundwork for a larger project in which he will demonstrate that questioning is an essential moment in the history of reason. Anthony Celi, from Duquesne University, argued in “Logic and the Epoché: Questioning the Necessity and Possibility of Bracketing Logic in Husserl’s Ideas I” that Husserl’s reduction of logic in Ideas I is neither necessary for arriving at the phenomenological attitude nor even a legitimate possibility within a larger philosophical context.

In the afternoon session, Mohsen Saber, participating via Skype from the University of Tehran (Iran), explained in “Finitude and/or Infinitude? Husserl on the Teleology of Perception” that the teleological process of perception can be characterized both as finite and as infinite. Emanuela Carta, from Roma Tre University (Italy), argued that Husserl’s notion of pure essence [eidos] plays a functional role in his phenomenology and does not rule out the possibility of other types of analysis that are not eidetic. Colin Bodayle from Duquesne University closed out the day’s presentations with “Husserl on Object Collision,” in which he discussed the ways in which Husserl, Heidegger, Hume, and Graham Harman approach the question of how and whether inanimate objects can “touch” or encounter each other. Most of the main program presenters, as well as many other attendees, were in the audience during the graduate workshop, making for particularly rich and productive discussions after each of the presentations.

The main program spanned the second and third days of the conference and featured a total of eleven speakers.

Rudolf Bernet, Emeritus Professor, KU Leuven (Belgium)

“Husserl on Imagining What is Unreal, Quasi-Real, Possibly Real, and Irreal”

The second day of the Husserl in a New Generation conference began with the first keynote talk, given by Emeritus Professor Rudolf Bernet. In his talk Bernet explored the essential difference in imagination between intentional acts of pure phantasy and acts which represent an object by means of an image or a sign. The pure phantasy of an unreal or quasi-real intentional object, he argued, can be further distinguished from perceptive phantasies and from the act of remembering the real object of an actual past perception. The opposition between what is real and what is unreal in phantasy loses further significance, Bernet argued, when one moves to the consideration of how imagination relates to the objects of a possibly actual experience. Imagined unreal objects can, indeed, become real objects which lend themselves to an actual perception. However, it is because they are not taken to really exist that objects of phantasy most easily lend themselves to an eidetic variation and to an insight into the essential constituents or ‘essence’ of a certain type of object and of their intentional experience. It is through their contribution to an insight into the real and ideal conditions of possibility of different forms of intentional acts that acts of phantasy best show their potential for Husserl’s entire philosophical project. Imagination or fiction becomes, in Husserl’s own words, the “vital element of phenomenology.”

Sara Heinämaa, Professor, Academy of Finland, University of Jyväskylä (Finland)

“Variants of Bodily Subjects: Embodiment, Expression and Empathy”

In the second presentation of the morning session Professor Heinämaa explored Husserl’s distinction between two attitudes, the naturalistic and the personalistic, for the purpose of clarifying the embodied character of human beings and animals. She argued that we have to distinguish between several different senses of the lived body [Leib] in order to understand how human beings can relate to themselves and to one another. These senses are not free-floating formations but are constituted in complicated dependency relations. By explicating the relevant relations of dependency, she demonstrated that the human being (and the animal) as a psychophysical system is a dependent formation that rests on several more fundamental sense achievements, the most important of which include (i) the human being as an embodied person, (ii) the living being as another self, and (iii) the self as a bodily agent. By distinguishing these senses and studying their relations, Heinämaa argued that Husserlian phenomenology offers us powerful conceptual tools that allow us to understand the different ways in which human beings can relate to one another and to living beings more generally.

 Anthony Steinbock, Professor, Southern Illinois University – Carbondale

“The Modality and Modalizations of the Absolute Ought in Husserl”

The morning session concluded with Professor Steinbock’s exploration of the distinctiveness of the modality of the absolute ought in Husserl. To make his point, he first distinguished in Husserl the ought-modality in the practical, praxical , and personal spheres. He then addressed in detail the absolute (personal) ought as the manner in which the absolute value of the person is revealed and the modality peculiar to vocation, and he examined the call as loving. The absolute ought, he explained, is a revelatory givenness that is not a ‘must,’ a ‘shall,’ or a wish. It is also a dimension of freedom and is the insistence of the call to love, which constitutes me as a person in a loving community. Furthermore, it is given temporally as urgency and as ‘for always’ from the perspective of our finite existence. Steinbock concluded by suggesting five ways in which the experience of the absolute ought is susceptible to modalization. While only hinted at by Husserl, these moralizations could be organized in such a way as to provide further insight into Husserl’s notion of the absolute ought.

H.A. Nethery IV, Assistant Professor, Florida Southern College

“Yancy, Husserl, and Racism at the Level of Passive Synthesis”

Professor Nethery’s talk, the first of the afternoon session, examined the influence of Husserlian phenomenology on the work of George Yancy. Yancy argues that the field of experience for white folks is always already racialized, and mobilized through what he calls the white gaze. Yancy often recognizes that his work is phenomenological, and, as such, Nethery suggested that it would be useful to highlight the ways in which Husserlian phenomenology influences his work. Specifically, he argued that Husserl’s theories of internal time consciousness and passive synthesis are implicit within Yancy’s concept of the white gaze. He did not argue that Yancy’s work can be reduced to Husserl’s but rather showed the importance of Husserlian phenomenology within critical race theory and the fight against anti-black racism. He began with a brief analysis of the white gaze and the racialized field of perception for white folks using Yancy’s now famous elevator example. He then turned to the structures of internal time consciousness and passive synthesis and showed how the black body is constituted within white experience as delinquent through these structures. He concluded with a reading of the elevator example through the work done in the previous section of his talk in order to “fill out,” as it were, Yancy’s own initial descriptions.

Lanei Rodemeyer, Associate Professor, Duquesne University

“Affectivity and Perceiving Other Subjects: A Phenomenological Analysis of the Essential Role of Affectivity in Basic Empathy”

In her presentation, Professor Rodemeyer argued that while contemporary discussions of empathy often address our ability to experience the emotions of others, for Husserl (and certain other phenomenologists), an important aspect of the question of empathy entails our fundamental experience of other subjects as other consciousnesses. The notion of ‘affectivity’ is understood as an important component of perception at the level of passive synthesis by Husserl, she explained, but it can also be seen as an essential component of empathy. Although empathy is not the same activity of consciousness as perception, they overlap each other in important ways, especially through the structures of apperception and association. Given these connections, as well as Husserl’s discussions of affectivity, awakening, and animation or governance in many of his analyses of empathy, she maintained that affectivity is arguably an essential component of our basic experience of empathy — even if the term is not mentioned in Husserl’s most famous analyses of intersubjectivity in Cartesian Meditations.

Ellie Anderson, Visiting Assistant Professor, Pitzer College

“Irreducible Otherness: Ethical Implications of Intersubjectivity in Husserl, Derrida, and Stein”

Professor Anderson’s talk explored Derrida’s defense of Husserl contra Levinas on the question of the relation to the other. She argued that this defense indicates a preservation of the first-person perspective in deconstruction that has largely gone unnoticed. Moreover, it suggests the ways that Husserl’s phenomenology of intersubjectivity in the Cartesian Meditations provides a basis for ethical concerns of preserving the otherness of other beings. After exploring Derrida’s affirmation of Husserl, she turned to the ethical implications for the distinction between self and other that Husserl upholds in his writings on intersubjectivity. Taking Husserl’s approach in tandem with Edith Stein’s phenomenology of empathy, she showed how it is crucial to both of these views that the distinction between self and other be preserved. From a phenomenological perspective, there is no direct experience of foreign consciousness. Moreover, the intersubjective relation is, for Husserl and Stein, fundamentally embodied and affective — a notion that obviates stale accusations that Husserl is not a philosopher of the body. As a result, Anderson claimed, both Stein’s and Husserl’s approaches to intersubjectivity remain highly relevant in light of contemporary inquiries into empathy, and Derrida’s affirmation of Husserl’s view suggests the relevance of analogical appresentation for contemporary poststructuralism and response ethics.

 Donn Welton, Professor Emeritus, Stony Brook University

“The Actional Roots of Husserl’s Transcendental Theory of Perceptual Intentionality”

The final day of the Husserl in a New Generation conference began with the second keynote talk, given by Professor Emeritus Donn Welton of Stony Brook University. Welton’s presentation addressed two main issues essential to any unified theory of intentionality with transcendental ambitions. First, he asked whether Husserl’s “first” phenomenology of the structure of intentionality calls, from within itself, for a “second” on which it rests — one that nests the bodily movement essential to our experience of the world in our bodily actions in the world. Utilizing Husserl’s development of a genetic phenomenology and his account of intentionality, Welton argued that a deep transformation within Husserl’s theory of perception takes place with his “genetic” turn during the 1920s. Moving to the second issue, Welton asked whether there is a way in which the lived-body [Leib] can be transposed from a factual condition, introduced to account for shifts in point-of-view and the spatial configuration of objects, to a transcendental condition that characterizes the very being of intentional consciousness itself. In response, he outlined the expansion that takes place within the notion of the body once it is viewed as an agent of perceptual action, and not just a center of movement and orientation.

Gina Zavota, Associate Professor, Kent State University

“Escaping the Correlationist Circle: A Husserlian Approach to Meillassoux’s Ancestral Statements”

Professor Zavota began by noting that phenomenology is often characterized as a form of antirealist, idealist philosophy, with Husserl’s thought put forth as a particularly extreme example of these tendencies. In After Finitude, for example, Quentin Meillassoux identifies Husserl as an adherent of what he calls ‘correlationism,’ or the view that the world and the rational subject are mutually constitutive and cannot be known in isolation from each other. One significant problem with correlationism, according to Meillassoux, is that it offers no satisfactory way of interpreting ‘ancestral’ statements: those statements which refer to a time prior to the existence of humans and thus prior to any possible correlative relationship between being and thought. Zavota argued that Husserl does not fit Meillassoux’s definition of a correlationist, and that his thought is, at the very least, compatible with some forms of realism. Furthermore, by examining the Crisis and the unfinished text “Foundational Investigations of the Phenomenological Origin of the Spatiality of Nature: The Originary Ark, the Earth, Does Not Move,” Zavota showed that Husserlian phenomenology does, in fact, allow us to attribute meaning to ancestral statements and thus escapes what Meillassoux sees as a fatal flaw of correlationist philosophies.

Denis Džanić, University of Vienna (Austria)

“Husserl, Externalism, and Compensatory Individual Representationalism”

Denis Džanić, a graduate student from the University of Vienna, won the conference award for the best submission by a graduate student, and thus his presentation was included on the main program. After being presented with the award, Džanić gave his talk, in which he addressed the question of where Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology fits into the distinction between ‘internalism’ and ‘externalism.’ To do so, he used Tyler Burge’s critique of Husserl as presented in Origins of Objectivity. In that work, Burge reads Husserl against the backdrop of his notion of ‘Compensatory Individual Representationalism’, of which he takes Husserl to be a paradigmatic representative. Džanić stated that Burge’s analysis is emblematic of the strongly internalist reading of Husserl, which he maintained is principally uninformed and misguided. First, he argued that Husserl was not an individualist in Burge’s sense of the word, and hence not an internalist. More generally, he claimed that, while this in itself does not entail that Husserl was an externalist, his later phenomenology was founded on ontological and epistemological commitments fully compatible with a broad and systematic externalism.

 Walter Hopp, Associate Professor, Boston University

“Metaphysical, Epistemic, and Transcendental Idealism”

The afternoon session of the third day began with Associate Professor Walter Hopp’s discussion of transcendental idealism and metaphysical realism. Hopp acknowledged that there are several textual and philosophical reasons to think that Husserl’s brand of transcendental idealism is incompatible with metaphysical realism about the natural world. However, he claimed, one major difficulty with this interpretation is that metaphysical anti-realism stands in tension with two other claims that enjoy significantly stronger phenomenological support. The first is that the natural world presents itself to us, in both thought and perception, as metaphysically real and largely independent, in both its existence and its nature, of our consciousness of it. Second, in accordance with Husserl’s “principle of all principles” (Ideas I, §24) this fact provides us with excellent and perhaps conclusive reasons to take the natural world to be metaphysically real. To solve this tension, Hopp suggested an interpretation of Husserl’s transcendental idealism that draws from several existing realist interpretations and that is consistent with metaphysical realism.

Chad Kidd, Assistant Professor, The City College of New York (CUNY)

“Re-examining Husserl’s Non-Conceptualism in the Logical Investigations

In the final presentation of the conference, Assistant Professor Chad Kidd began by acknowledging the recent trend in Husserl scholarship that takes the Logical Investigations (LI) as advancing an inconsistent, self-contradictory view about content of perceptual experience. Within the confines of the same work, these commentators claim, Husserl advances both conceptualist and non-conceptualist views about perceptual content. In his talk Kidd argued that LI presents a consistent view of the content of perceptual experience, which can easily be misread as inconsistent, since it combines a conceptualist view of perceptual content (or matter) with a nonconceptualist view of perceptual acts. Furthermore, the charge of inconsistency rests on a misreading of the passages in LI (specifically, in LI VI §4) where these commentators locate the core argument for nonconceptualism about perceptual content. Kidd took Husserl to be advancing a distinction between two varieties of non-conceptualism about perception, brought to prominence in recent literature by Richard Heck’s writings about non-conceptual content. One of these varieties concerns the nature of perceptual content, the other the nature of the perceptual act. Kidd argued that after certain important changes to Heck’s formulation are made, it can serve as part of a characterization of Husserl’s view of the nature of perceptual experience that exonerates it of the charge of inconsistency.

The Husserl in a New Generation conference attracted over 100 participants and attendees from throughout the United States and Europe, and from several different academic disciplines. Many commented that the event provided a unique opportunity to learn about new directions in Husserl scholarship in a welcoming, engaged, and philosophically pluralistic environment. Attendees also spoke of the openness of the participants to discussion and the exchange of ideas, and of the spirit of true collegiality that characterized the meeting. As the organizers, we are deeply grateful to all who were involved with the Husserl in a New Generation conference, and for the opportunity to explore the landscape of contemporary Husserl scholarship.

For videos of all of the main program presentations, please visit

Report by Gina Zavota and Deborah Barnbaum

Charlene Elsby, Aaron Massecar (Eds.): Essays on Aesthetic Genesis

Essays on Aesthetic Genesis Book Cover Essays on Aesthetic Genesis
Charlene Elsby, Aaron Massecar (Eds.)
University Press of America
Paperback $34.99

Reviewed by: Christopher DuPee (University College Dublin)

Essays on Aesthetic Genesis, edited by Charlene Elsby and Aaron Massecar, is a collected volume of essays responding to and discussing Jeff Mitscherling’s phenomenological trilogy, collectively titled The Revision of Hermeneutic Ontology, which consists of the books Roman Ingarden’s Ontology and Aesthetics, The Author’s Intention (coauthored with Aref Nayed and Tanya DiTommaso) and Aesthetic Genesis, from which the edited volume draws its name. In this trilogy Mitscherling develops the “New Copernican Hypothesis”, an explicitly realist revision or reversal of phenomenological interpretations regarding the nature of intentionality. Intention, under Mitscherling’s project, is to be decisively severed from consciousness, insofar as intentionality subsists within the world as a third ontological category, beside material and ideal existence. The implications of this revision, and its placement within the phenomenological tradition, make up the guiding thread for the collected responses.

The volume’s chapters are helpfully split into three thematic groupings, under Major Concepts, Historical Considerations, and Contemporary Discussion, though given the historically grounded nature of Mitscherling’s project, all three are dominated by comparative discussions.

Under Major Concepts, the prime concern for both papers is to show the historical legitimacy of Mitscherling’s hypothesis. In “On the Concept of Aesthetic Genesis”, Charlene Elsby connects the idea to certain shared theses of Plato and Aristotle. “The Copernican Turn of Intentional Being” similarly situates Mitscherling’s project within the history of 20th century philosophy, particularly relating to phenomenology but at the same time discussing Mitscherling’s promise with regards to the materialism and scientism of 20th century Anglo-American philosophy.

The general aim of the Historical Considerations section is to bring out some of Mitscherling’s often quite forgotten forbearers with Kimberly Baltzer-Jaray, Rob Luzecky, and Jason C. Robinson offering readings of Adolf Reinach, Roman Ingarden, and Hans-Georg Gadamer, respectively. Each of these bring out certain features and early formulations of Mitscherling’s own theses, while at the same time giving Reinach and Ingarden a new day in the sun after long periods of obscurity.

The notable exception is the first paper of the section, “Cartesian Soul: Embodiment and Phenomenology in the Wake of Descartes”, by Felix Ó Murchadha and Ane Faugstad Aarø. Here, the authors provide a reading of the history of phenomenology’s engagement with Cartesian thought that serves to challenge the narrative put forth by Mitscherling, and this paper is one of the high points of the volume. Rather than taking up a somewhat vulgarly dualist reading of Descartes and Cartesianism, the authors provide a reading more informed by Descartes Passions of the Soul, and its attendant concerns with embodiment and worldliness, tracing this element of Cartesianism through its French reception through Malebranche, Maine de Biran, and Merleau-Ponty. What this affords is a placement of Mitscherling’s project, not as a revolution in phenomenology, but very much in keeping with an historically realized form of interpreting intentionality to begin with. The end result is an admittedly strong qualification of Mitscherling’s own claims, insofar as the “New Copernican Hypothesis” is to be considered something so drastic as a “reversal” of phenomenology, while at the same not at all discrediting the results of such a project. Most refreshingly, this paper ends with connecting Mitscherling’s work to a number of contemporary French phenomenologists of the theological turn, such as Henry, Chretien, and Marion, who each share a number of concerns about alterity and the transcendence of the world quite similar to Mitscherling’s. This, it must be said, is the only reference to be found within the volume to any sort of contemporary phenomenological work.

This is not to say, however, that contemporary philosophical work on mind and embodied engagement with the world is somehow not represented. It is within the third section that Mitscherling’s work in brought into contact with debates concerning philosophy of mind, Peircean pragmatism, contemporary Hegelian philosophy, aesthetics, and eco-phenomenological debates, to name a few. Again, it must be said, that historical comparison makes up a good deal of the discussion, as Husserl, Stein, and Peirce make appearances as phenomenological interlocutors in the papers by Antonio Calcagno and Aaron Massecar, as do Aristotle and Hegel in Conrad Hamilton’s particularly rich contribution.

There is a curious situation, it must be said, that arises from the fact that Mitscherling’s entire project is grounded upon a specific narrative regarding the history of phenomenology, and that is that so much of the plausibility of the papers’ claims regarding the importance of Mitscherling’s work are based upon the claims of that particular narrative concerning the supposedly rampant idealism of phenomenology’s interest in consciousness. However, as was mentioned above, Murchadha and Aarø’s paper very early on challenges this narrative. So, on a sequential reading of the volume, so many of the grand pronouncements in honor of Mitscherling, and so much of the criticism of phenomenology, appear altogether inflated; that such claims are found in, Calcagno, George, and Massecar after Murchadha and Aarø’s paper generates a certain unease about the whole picture being sold. For all of that, however, this circumstance takes nothing away from any of the papers beyond the rhetorical; their specific theses stand on their own merit.

Essays in Aesthetic Genesis is, overall, a good and informative introduction to Mitscherling’s work, and certainly a good contribution to the development of a certain new wave of realist phenomenology and engagements therewith.

Jens Bonnemann: Das leibliche Widerfahrnis der Wahrnehmunghe Widerfahrnis der WahrnehmungDas leibliche Widerfahrnis der Wahrnehmung

Das leibliche Widerfahrnis der Wahrnehmung. Eine Phänomenologie des Leib-Seele-Verhältnisses Book Cover Das leibliche Widerfahrnis der Wahrnehmung. Eine Phänomenologie des Leib-Seele-Verhältnisses
Jens Bonnemann
Mentis Verlag GmbH
Paper Text 54,00 €

Reviewed by: Agata Bak (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Spain)

The present work is an essay on the theory of perception, but Bonnemann´s book aims at recovering an often overlooked dimension of perception in a profound research that establishes a dialogue with a wide scope of interlocutors from both so-called continental and analytic traditions. Given the extension and the details of the study, we resign ourselves to present exclusively the development of its main  thesis, leaving aside many valuable interpretations and debates. The study counters the over-intellectualizing trend in philosophy of perception (18) and accounts for a broader notion of this phenomenon, in order to include also the aspect of the “felt” bodily experience: leibliche Widerfahrnis (“experience” is our way of translating Widerfahrnis: it should be taken in a sense in which we say “I was hardly experienced in my life”, that is, a happening or incident that had an impact on us). The standard account of perception tends to ignore the fact that perception is also a bodily event, and conceives it rather exclusively on epistemic grounds (as the sensible moment of the sinnliche Erkenntnis), where the role of body is more ancillary and anecdotal. The turn in the philosophy of perception, as might be the case of Noë, but also of Heidegger or Sartre, highlighted also the practical dimension of perception. Nothing similar happened with the pathical dimension of experience, despite the fact that different authors referred to it in their work. This work aims at closing this gap.

As the author observes, it is sufficient to reflect on painful experience, or on joy, to see that there are many ways in which things affect us, and that these experiences are not well accommodated within standard, epistemological accounts. Predicates such as “pleasant” or “unpleasant” have no place there, or rather, they do not refer to any qualities of the object, in which the other side seems to be reduced to the object of knowledge. Also more praxis-oriented and phenomenological accounts, as stated in the first part, are object of critique; in fact, many authors, such as Schütz or Henry fail to conceive the pathic (pathisch) moment of living experience, that is, the things that attack, hurt, please or frighten us. It is so, because they do not conceive in terms of original and intentional relation with the world, that is, the fact that a thing might be pleasant or unpleasant to me, straightforwardly. The author pursues an intentional and perceptual account of this phenomenon.

It is to stress here that the author remains faithful to the idea that it is the perception, the original phenomena, he wants to study; he struggles to avoid both the extremum which dissolves perception in the phenomenology of the body, and of course the one that makes perception (and subject) transparent in the epistemology. The point is to conceive the perception as an original relation, that makes subject and object emerge, rather than the reverse. This seems the only way to overcome dualism installed in the very heart of the theory of perception. To coin this account, the author enters in the first part of the book into a very deep dialogue with a different philosophical tradition.

The departure point is the traditional problem within standard perception theory, and author´s interlocutors range from Aristoteles, Kant and Plessner to Jonas and Strauss. The most prominent feature that Bonnemann discusses in the first part is the dualism between perception, understood as part of sensible knowledge and thus an epistemological term, and experience (as Widerfahrnis) which was traditionally conceived as a feeling that does not correspond to any object or objective feature in the world (it is weltlos). Even Jonas, whose critique of the traditional notion of perception is detailed in the second chapter, falls back to this polarity, as he finally conceives the bodily affection as something that lacks connection to the world and we need to abstract from it in order to produce knowledge. Strauss integrates Empfindungen into worldly related states, but he reserves pathic experiences as self-affective and non-intentional. On the contrary, the author defends the thesis that this dualism should be overcome, as the very perception contains also features whose correlative are vital interests and necessities of the subject. Suffering also discloses properties of the object, properties that are unreachable for a distanced epistemological subject. (56)

He then proceeds to examine in detail different approaches to perception (chapter 3) and he does so in order to show three ways in which the pathic dimension can be overlooked. The first of them is the one that takes perception as part of sensible knowledge, and which is represented by Searle; and then two that stand against the primacy of theoretical aspects of perception. One of them stresses the priority of praxis (Dewey, Heidegger) and the second reduces the perception as such to philosophy of body (Henry). All of them, according to the book, fail to grasp the complex relation established in perception: Searle lacks the intuition that perception might be something bodily and that the subject is something more than the subject of knowledge; theories of action are certainly right in describing other kinds of relations with  objects (as Zuhandenheit), and are a source of very rich descriptions about our being in the world, but the circular relationship between action and perception does not account properly for the bodily relevance, and it seems that it finally embraces some kind of intellectualistic explanation of what pathic experience is. According to Schütz (in Bonnemann´s reading): “the taste of chocolate is for Schütz only a genuine motivational relevance, because I have learnt that chocolate tastes good to me” (115). It is strongly theoretical and it does not explain then this pathic experience as disclosing some straightforwardly given properties of the object. Henry´s philosophy, on the contrary, affirms clearly that experiences of the pathic kind arise in the intimacy of subjectivity, and not as effects of the world on an embodied subject (119). The last chapter of this part exams contemporary notions of embodiment, as represented by enactivism and “postcognitivist” movements. He discovers there that most of the accounts certainly accommodate bodily action in the world, but they tend to focus exclusively on the pragmatic aspect of bodily-perceptual conditionality rather than on the intentional moment of the affectivity.

The phenomenological analysis of pathic phenomena as a perception and in relation to the world is precisely the aim of the second part of the study and the thesis pursued in the book. The axis that articulates this study are Shaun Gallagher´s notions of Körperschema and Körperbild. Although the author highlights that Gallagher´s account tends to conceive pathic experience exclusively in terms of consciousness of pain/pleasure, on the reflective level and referred exclusively to the body, he thus fails to conceive the intentional character of pathic dimension, though the distinction itself is very useful. Körperschema refers to the notion of unconscious or unreflective processes that flow and in which a subject is involved. This is then the prereflective level of perception, in which the pathetic perception is world directed and consequently includes a moment of intentionality. The objects disclose themselves as pleasant, menacing, too cold etc. It is only on the second level, the one of Körperbild, defined by Gallagher as “the system of perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs pertaining to one´s own body” (147), where the pain or other experience of the kind becomes a bodily localized sensation and then refers rather to the subject than to the world. One should notice that the first part of Bonnemann´s project is not common in phenomenology, that it does not always grant intentional character to pathetic experiences. The author promotes the idea that this kind of experience is originally not an inner bodily state, but rather considers that what is lived involves objective qualities of the perceptual world (173).

The second part of the book studies then the prereflective and world oriented dimension of pathic experiences. It is about conceiving the pathic experience not as a phenomenon of Leib, but as a bodily-mediated phenomenon of the thing (323). The author stresses in many ways the urge to distinguish the practical and the pathetic dimension of perception, which turn out to be mutually influenced but non reducible, as it can be seen in his analysis of Satrean thought. Whereas it is quite common to grant that engagement (action) is necessary for knowledge, the necessity of an affective component in every perception is not that clearly pointed out in many authors. What Bonnemann wants to stress is that world does not only serve my purposes and invites me to act; it can also hurt and destroy me (169) and thus discloses our radical vulnerability and some deprivations. This dimension is not properly the resistance of things (Widerstand), but rather their capability of affecting me (widerfahren). Somehow paradoxically and also in a shocking (in a literal sense) way it anchors us in a world, and shows us how material and vulnerable we are. It is not a constitution of sense, but rather its surge or event (Ereignis) is what we experience there.

The author analyses the mode of intentionality which is presupposed in this world – subject relation, and he discovers that its object is a value, whose best expression could be “too much” or “too little”, certain maximum or minimum; its normative character should not be conceived in abstracto as an ideal, nor should it be compared to any social norms. It refers exclusively to the excess or the poverty that affects the body. These objects are in constant relation to practical and theorical objects and mutually influence; its objectual character is also confirmed by the fact that it also opens a horizon, which is very well illustrated in the book by the “menacing horizons of perception” in 225ff. The author sketches there a situation where the whole wood turns dangerous when we fearfully expect a wild boar that could emerge out of the bushes.  Probably the account that Bonnemann finds the most suitable for his purpose is Levinas´s account of joy and his notion of “life that lives from” (vivre de), for it gathers many elements that Bonneman uses to put forward his prerreflective accont of the pathic, such as: intentional character of pathic experience, the fact that it actually has an “object” (element, in French philosopher´s words), its irreducible – and in Levinas also primary – character, and it´s positive character. This long and extremely interesting chapter gives us an idea of how to phrase properly the pathic experience. Levinas conceives this affection by comparing it to the “bath” in the “environment” (258ff), where there is still no “world” (but precisely “environment”) and no objects or things, just affections like a gentle touch of the wind (but before being thematized) or the sun on the skin. Such limit experiences are rather a starting point of the pathic experience, for, as soon stated, the transition to the practical or the theoretical dimension (from “the affecting” to “the affecting thing”) is well quick. Marginally, it is interesting to notice that the Heideggerian notion of Sorge would be situated already in this second, practical dimension and not in the original (and according to Levinas) founding moment.

The pathic experience, and this is the thesis of the last part of the study, shows us that our living body (Leib) is worldly implicated and rooted in what it is not (277). The third part aims then to give an account of how the body is experienced in the pathic experience (the level of Körperbild according to Gallagher´s terminology) and what it means, as asked in the last chapter, for a theory of subject. The central notion that Bonnemann presents here is “als-Körper-von-der-Welt-Gehabtwerden” which he finds in Plügge´s philosophy. This wording stresses the fact highlighted by the phenomenologist like Böhme, namely, that the Körper is also a Widerfahrnis, that is, that it is also part of living body (Leib) in a way that it expresses our experience of being in the world, and moreover, of being in the world as a thing among things (296). Being possessed by the body also phrases the Marcelian statement that we are incapable of fully possessing our body. This is the basic structure, according to the author, of the body (Leib) – world relation, in which the latter befalls (pleasantly or unpleasantly) the former (301). It comprehends three dimensions at the same time: being a body (Leib), which is the moment of experiencing; having a body (Körper), which means that we have a tool that is useful in our exploration of the world, and being possessed by my body (Mein Körper hat mich), which points to the fact that things can affect (attack! – 302) me. So it is not only an assertion of the well know duality (being a body and having a body), but also an affirmation of their worldly interaction.

In this sense Bonnemann goes beyond the phenomenological claims of Jonas, Böhme, Schmitz and others, as he does not only advocate for a wider consideration of pathic phenomena, he also includes them in an intentional framework, as a part of the body- world relation with a disclosing character. These authors tend to embrace a certain “weltlos” character of the Leib and affection, as they focus rather on the embodied “marks” rather than on the nature or a particular dimension of the world that “causes” them. The living body is rather a closed whole with some marks on it and the analysis does not go beyond it. And although it is useful to comprehend the relation of Leib and Körper, they seem to omit its fully intentional character. But the main interlocutor here is Plessner, whose analysis of laughter and crying accomplishes the intention of conceiving a description of body that would acocmodate a world- related pathic experience. In his analysis Plessner distinguishes the dimension of being and having a body, and then introduces, inspired by Plügge, precisely the third, intermediate dimension, itself also divided into consciousness of being, a Körper, thus a consciousness of being affected by the outside world, and the consciousness of myself being a corporal thing. These distinctions enable him to conceive crying or laughter as manifestations of a suffering body; and suffering means here disorganization and sudden possession by the body and the consequent loss of ruling position of self. What the cry implies is that the real world, the causal world has imposed on me. Thanks to this intermediate dimension and its implications we are able to conceive now how it is possible that it is not only a body mark, but also a world relatedness. It is to notice that Plessner´s account amounts to an explanation of the pathic in terms of the frustration of an action more than a positive and full-fledged pathic experience.

Our Körperbild is precisely this, the experienced awareness of being Körper in the world, and being able to experience as Leib. When it comes to the reflective view on experience as Widerfahrnis, it is conceived as a phenomenal experience, in which appears both my living and material body (325). This is exactly the shift from one part of the analysis to another. Due to this double condition, it is necessary to conceive causality and intentionality as invervowen, as it enables us to comprehend the complex relation of us being affected by the world. Otherwise, our pathic experiences would be wordless and we would not be able to conceive subjectivity properly.

As to this question, on the one hand we might be running the risk of conceiving the Körper as something biological and as such pertaining to a non phenomenal layer. On the other hand, there is also a possibility, explored by Böhme, that the corporality (as well as “I”) is nothing but the abstraction from the only authentic and primordially given in affection, Leib. However, it should be clear from the preceding analysis, that Bonnemann opts for a solution where both Leib and Körper are co-original, as in Plessner. He finds a proof for that in the Husserlian analysis of the hand touching hand: whereas normally we pay attention to the dimension of the living body that unveils, it is at the same time the disclosure of our materiality. It also makes comprehensible how von-Körper-Gehabtwerden, pathic experience of my own reality might be prior to any action, as we can conceive Empfindnisse or localized sensations, as prior to kinaesthetic sensations. It is the “being irritated by the world (e.g. 337) what properly constitutes the sensory field of the body. The reflective moment, the apprehension of Körperbild is here equivalent to the shift of attention from the object to the subject and becoming aware of this texture. As long as we do not do this, our Leib remains insivisible. This, in turn means that both Körper-haben (having body) and Leib sind (being a body) are reflective stances posterior to the worldly intervowen von-Körper-Gehabtwerden.

The study culminates in describing the Merleau-Pontian notion of chair, which seems to englobe the preceding aspects highlighted by the study, namely a certain duality, or rather reversibility of the body, and its entrenchment in the world that even amounts to the confusion between both notions. In this sense it is the overcoming of dualism, as the subject is not entirely subject, and the things are close to the Leib. Körper and Leib, concludes the author, are mutually interwoven, as the experience of the latter implies the givenness of the former (358ff). It is to ponder that the notion of self that stems out from this pathic account is not the one of suffering subject, it is the one which is accommodated in the world, and whose being is not “knowledge, nor praxis, but joy” (363), joy understood in every moment as the basic moment of pathic life in which something discloses affecting to the subject interwoven in the world. This radical relatedness of the subject is perhaps the firmest assumption that is visible at every stage of the study. With this Levinasian conclusion, the author completes this overwhelming research.