This book succeeds as a phenomenological project guided securely by Heideggerian principles, in its philosophical assessment of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs), which conspire literally, in the making of mothers. Belu draws almost exclusively and analogously upon Heidegger’s concepts outlayed in The Question Concerning Technology (most overarchingly: the principle of Gestell [Enframing]) to fashion a critique of ARTs protocols and practices, which, since their initial inception/acceptance in the last quarter of the 20th century, have achieved globalized integration into the process of bringing a new human into the world. Although in-vitro fertilization (IVF), the premier ART, was successfully employed to fertilize a human egg in 1944; not until 1977 was an in-corpus pregnancy achieved; it’s outcome was unsuccessful. A year later in 1978, the famous ‘test-tube’ baby Louise Joy Brown was conceived via IVF technologies and successfully birthed. Today, some forty years hence, several variations of ARTs are in common use not only by heterosexual couples experiencing negative fertility, but by same-sex couples, single-mothers or fathers seeking to start a family or add an additional family member, and others who claim a banner along the now-evolved gender identity spectrum. Belu relates how the original IVF procedure has morphed into ever-more sophisticated technologies and methods designed to assist in the coming to fruition of a live birth, such as cytoplasmic transfer, the use of donor eggs and/or gestational surrogates. She also makes clear how the latter two protocols function as particularly egregious political economies which implicate younger and older women alike in a market project of conception: younger women sell their viable eggs, and surrogates of proven child-bearing capacity ‘sell’ the services of their wombs, to those [often older] women or couples who desire a child but who are either infertile, cannot physically carry to term or who simply cannot, or do not, wish to participate in the pregnancy process. The ARTs industry has succeeded in “medical fragmentation” of a women’s reproductive system into components–eggs, womb, tubes, ovaries and cycles–which are ‘optimized’ via drugs and various surgical procedures and kept primed in the manner of Heidegger’s standing reserve for use in achieving the desired goal of conception of an embryo. The reproductive parts no longer need be attached to or within the singular corpus of an intact female body, in fact, more often they are not. Such mechanistic fracturing destroys women’s bodies as wholistic “autonomous agents” according to Belu (5, 23), and has ushered in what she terms the ‘Motherless Age’.
The ‘Motherless’ Age
Belu’s use of the term motherless seems at first blush metaphysical meaninglessness[i]–an ontological dystopia or ontically obtuse ‘teaser’.[ii] Mothers are in fact in existence in our epoch–we do not lack mothers, per se, yet the traditional mother-child biological dyad relationship, which begins at conception and ends with the death of either the mother or child (some would argue against that as well), has experienced a post-modern existential crisis (if late in the game), brought on by the extended, if not ubiquitous, use of ARTs on a worldwide scale.[iii] Belu’s position sets forth (and ostensibly argues against) the phenomenological logic of ARTs which has encouraged ‘the splitting of the atom’ in relation to the term mother, historically defined as a secure subject with distinct boundaries and a single physical corporeal existence. Motherhood is now conceptually plural across an array of subjectivities that all qualify to be defined by, or at least attached to, the term. It is now possible for a baby born via gestational surrogacy to potentially have four different mothers if cytoplasmic transfer is employed: two genetic mothers (one who has lent her eggs and the other who lends her cytoplasm) (Belu, 59, fn 80), the gestational mother who bears and births the fetus, and the ‘social’ mother who rears the child (Belu, 45). In market terms, the first two mothers are the sellers, the third the worker or laborer, and the fourth and final (who is responsible for the child’s care) is the buyer, or consumer. Conversely, IVF also allows the production of offspring with no living genetic mothers at all–as viable eggs are collected from the ovarian tissue of aborted fetuses, and coaxed into near maturity via hormone stimulants. Thus a child can now be borne from a ‘mother’ who was never an actual fully grown person, much less an adult (Belu, 70). It is the offspring i.e. the child, in this process, who must ultimately face the “motherless” aspects of his/her birth. As the situation presents itself, it may even be more appropriate to use the term motherfull; the latter suffix however, conveying a generally positive connotation of maternal agency which Belu clearly argues that ARTs subvert (Belu, 79, 105).
Belu establishes ontological erasure of the ‘mother’ in the original etymological sense, at virtually every turn, particularly in Chapter 4 wherein she engages and privileges Heidegger’s concept of enframing over Aristotle’s causal concepts of physis and techné, in the argument over whether IVF processes ‘assist’, or ‘replace’, natural conception. Belu does not so much detail the legal ramifications of determining “the spark of life” (Belu, 61)[iv], but urges phenomenological clarity and currency as it might reroute a prevailing cultural attitude of “complacency” toward human artificial reproduction. We shrug off the extent of IVF’s practical ramifications for humanity, because we persist in (along Aristotelian lines), and even dote on, the misunderstanding of the role of technological prowess as a handmaid to, and not creator of, human life. This is of course, the “forgetting of the clearing” (Lichtungvergessenheit) which Heidegger says chiefly enables the chokehold of Enframing. As we do not do what Heidegger urges: “experience its unthought essence first of all”, or else we broach it superficially, we cannot see “the extent that the essence of enframing does not appear as the danger, and the essence of the danger does not appear as Beyng [sic]”; which “accounts for our misunderstanding” [of] above all technology” (Belu, 12-13, 21, fn. 26).
Citing the wry ‘twist’ of analogizing Aristotle’s male-active/female-passive principle of nature to IVF procedures within our causa efficiens-hegemonic techno-modernity (Belu, 68), Belu seriously implicates the medical establishment in the authority of its arché position, which allows it to usurp the agency of a natural mother in order to supervise the engineering of life. Ultimately, in the motherless world, the mother-effect, a term first coined by Kelly Oliver,[v] obliterates both the participation of the ‘real’ mother and ‘mother nature’, such representatives of our lingering cultural dedication to biological ownership. Moreover, these absences are “covered over” in the persistent need to preserve normativity: the arché role of the fertility doctor and the techné role of the IVF procedure are minimized as the birthed child is attributed to nature’s grace, or termed something like a miracle “Child of God”. Belu states:
IVF participants (the women, doctors, and media) can be seen to reproduce the mother-effect, caught up in a play of affirming the significance of technology for conception and gestation, yet undermining this significance in the final product, calling it (mother) nature (Belu, 71).
A Feminist Phenomenology of ARTs
In her zeal to establish a feminist phenomenology for ARTS, Belu details various reproductive enframing processes, where human life is engineered from start to finish (challenged forth). It is still startling to read, in 2017, how, after a woman’s body is shot through with hormones [via extremely painful injections] to spur superovulation (wherein her ovaries will produce up to 10 eggs or more at once) that “the eggs are then sucked out of the woman’s ovaries” and
fertilization is engineered in the Petrie dish. These procedures reveal the woman’s reproductive body as passive, fungible material, a biological system that is broken up into its component parts of uterus, tubes, eggs, endometrium and hormone cycles that are worked upon by the technités (Belu, 66).
Belu notes as well the striking ambivalence toward women, such as surrogates and/or egg/cytoplasm donors, who have offered up their body and/or its reproductive components to the commercial market toward the end goal of a live birth.[vi] Often, a woman’s psyche is outrightly neglected as it undergoes this process. The woman is treated as a “purely functional” resource (Belu, 32). Feenberg terms this autonomization, “the interruption of the reflexivity of technical action, its impact on the user, so that the subject can affect the object of technical production seemingly without being affected in return.” (Belu, 32). Heidegger’s concept of fungibility rears its significance in an extremely ugly duality in this situation: the laboring subject is also the object of technical imposition, yet any mental or physical distress she may encounter in her dual role is downplayed or remains unaddressed by the life-engineers (Belu, 32).
Belu is also keen to cite the lack of medical follow-up studies over the years on certain groups of women who have participated in any part of the IVF process (Belu, 58, fn 66). She particularly notes the plights of young women egg donors (27) which have not been studied in depth. Moreover, there is a lack of research on the children who have been borne from these procedures, in terms of issues surrounding their mental and physical health (58, fn 66).
Ultimately, Belu sufficiently establishes patriarchal bias of IVF procedures, particularly when healthy women undergo IVF in the service of men whose sperm are unhealthy or otherwise deficient (Belu, 35), or when cross-fertilization (the use of sperm from many different men in a ‘lottery’ setup in order to determine which will fertilize a woman’s egg) is employed (Belu, 34). However, she misses an opportunity to make certain inroads as to how ARTs may functionally chip away at patriarchy; she instead places their use and control firmly in the hands of patriarchy as powerful instrumentum.
Belu’s introductory chapter states her intent to devise a feminist phenomenology of ARTs and summarizes content of succeeding chapters. Chapters 2-6 each open with a brief abstract which functions as a sort of a mini-“Heidegger 101” for the uninitiated. Belu weaves each chapter’s argument in strong relation to stated Heideggerian terms or tenets, which she evidences have proven themselves as prescient ontological reasoning vis-a-vis ARTs proliferation. The book’s through-line leads from Belu’s attempt to solidify a binarist interpretation of Heidegger’s concept of Enframing as partial or total–which reinterpretation holds serious implications for female agents as they experience reproductive enframing via the IVF process; to an engagement of Heideggerian thought with Aristotelian concepts of physis and technê in determining the authority of IVF procedures to ignite “the spark of life” (Belu, 61); continuing through technophilic and technophobic representations of modern-age childbirth; and culminating in Belu’s ‘solution’ (to what she perceives are complications and difficulties caused by technical childbirth) via poiésis. Belu’s compelling argument and concluding proposal in themselves embody Heidegger’s concept of safeguarding,[vii] the idea that Being (life) is granted as a gift, which we must foster and husband via Heidegger’s suggestions of meditation, waiting, and careful use of artisanal methods, rather than mindless challenging forth via quantization, endless ordering and stockpiling. ARTs processes, Belu is saying, are often hell-bent on a singular result (conception of Life) while heedlessly disregarding of the suffering of those (mothers) who are used or even abused, to obtain such result.
Belu’s Heideggerian Debt
Acknowledging Heidegger’s The Question Concerning Technology as a key resource,[viii] Belu is quick to note that Heidegger “writes virtually nothing about reproductive technology” although from his chronological position in history he does foresee processes of “artificial breeding of human material” (witness his 1954 essay Overcoming Metaphysics). Whether Heidegger’s comment of foresight launched this book (given current ART practices), Belu does not make clear, but the extended analogy of enframing to reproductive enframing holds sway. Throughout, Belu engages phenomenologically with select other philosophers, both of antiquity (Aristotle, and to a lesser extent, Plato) and modernity (Arendt, Feenburg, Oliver, Marcuse, Ruddick, others).
Couching “Motherless Age” as a Useful/Critical Resource
Heidegger, Reproductive Technology and the Motherless Age is first and foremost a phenomenological critique of social (medical) practices which have in the 21st-century become institutionalized. That is to say, ARTS are now viewed as mainstream medical procedures marketed to women of all strata as viable options for live birth, rather than “luxury” alternatives to natural sex in the service of conceiving a live human. It is still the case however, that women who enjoy economic freedom and possess excellent health insurance to pay for the still-astronomical cost of these procedures, are most often slated to benefit from the ARTS industry.[ix]
As such, this book will most likely not find a table or shelf position in the reading rooms or professional libraries of ARTS medical professionals. Such industry professionals are essentially selling a service [technological assistance] to produce a product [a live birth], in Belu’s overwhelming view. Yet some women (including the range of ARTS participant mothers) do not have a problem with this type of economic exchange, and in fact happily undergo these procedures in committed fashion, hoping for a successful outcome. A major drawback of this book is that Belu virtually ignores the scores of women and men whose lives changed toward the better via the use of ARTS technologies by granting them children–however and by whomever these children were conceived, gestated and borne. Belu sets up an overarching negative polemic of Technology (ARTS Doctor) vs. Subject (Patient) at the beginning of her argument; such polemic holds sway until the end of the book. Additionally, Belu concerns herself neither with individual case studies reflecting either positive or negative outcomes, nor with applications of ARTS to male-gendered subjects. Finally, Belu’s text is also woefully deplete of statistical input; while it does remain primarily a work of critical theory, a chart or two inserted to support her claims–particularly those regarding ARTS damages to the psyches and physical bodies of women–would not hurt. (In her defense, Belu does state that the industry itself has largely failed to undertake either national or international studies that would statistically emphasize the negative aspects of ARTS (Belu 58, fn 66)). Ultimately, Belu’s phenomenological argument holds many truths, which are corroborated by a number of current texts on this issue which are more sociological and/or statistical in nature, in particular: Reassembling Motherhood: Procreation and Care in a Globalized World, also published in 2017.
Conclusion: Interdisciplinary Dialogue/Action is Needed
In conclusion, this text reflects the state of dialogue, conversation and problem-solving among the disciplines in place to move civil society forward: that is to say, these types of interdisciplinary activities are still in their infancy. Inter- and trans-disciplinary dialogue between and among medical ARTS professionals, academic philosophers, sociologists and social workers, ethics consultants and economists to improve the conditions and levity for all those across the board who seek to conceive/bear a child could only work for the good of these persons, and ultimately, for the human race. Unwittingly, Belu’s critical stance points the way forward toward such a dialogue even as her text concludes in what technophiliacs might consider highly Ludditian fashion: with an accent on waterbirth as an alternative to technologically-ruled live births. (A water birth assumes there is something to be born, whether technology has assisted in conception/gestation or not).
As we move into an ever-increasing technologically-mediated age for nearly every human activity or thought, a return to Heidegger’s prescient phenomenological warning to humanity is seemingly warranted. This, Belu accomplishes, with deft reverence to Heideggerian principles.
Dr. Belu ethically provides a short epilogue to her main text, explaining her position on Heidegger’s Black Notebooks (as revealing of his anti-Semitism.) Belu points out, but does not de-crypt, Heidegger’s “equivocation” (Belu, 122) regarding the ontic or ontological origins of machination. Confirming Heidegger’s conflation of machination and “World Jewry” (via causality) as “racist and condemnable” (Belu 122), Belu nevertheless finds that Heidegger’s expression/espousement of a political stance that is overwhelmingly viewed as reprehensible does not specifically deconstruct the actual application of the phenomenological principle of enframing to a study of ARTS as implicated in women’s reproductive processes (Italics mine).
[i] See Michael Wheeler, “Martin Heidegger”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/metaphysics/. Section 5. “Is Metaphysics Possible?”
[ii] Belu explains her quasi-titular use of the term motherless thusly: “I do mean…that in the age of reproductive enframing the figure of the mother is being replaced by various technologies and maternal figures who perform maternal work. In this new context, almost anyone can be seen to be a mother–so that no one is the mother” , 51.
[iii] Linda G. Kahn and Wendy Chavkin, “Assisted Reproductive Technologies and the Biological Bottom Line” in Reassembling Motherhood: Procreation and Care in a Globalized World, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), Kindle version,39. The authors note the sociobiological implications of the proliferation of ARTs use from 1978-2012, during which period “five million babies had been born worldwide using IVF”. See also Belu, 25.
[iv] Belu offers an explorative footnote in this regard. See fn 14, 75.
[v] Kelly Oliver, Technologies of Life and Death: From Cloning to Capital Punishment (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013). Oliver defines mother-effect as “the result of the absence of a real mother who is therefore mythologized and romanticized as the origin and plentitude of Nature, but whose disappearance is a prerequisite for the myth itself”, 57.
[vi] The one exception to this ambivalent treatment of the female ‘resource’ is the surrogacy market in India, whose surrogacy clinics take great pains to ensure that their ‘worker’ mothers (gestational surrogates for wealthy individuals and couples) are “as comfortable as possible, healthy, well feed, well rested, entertained, and well paid” See Belu, 50; Bailey, 19.
[vii] See Martin Heidegger, Building, Dwelling, Thinking p. 352 in The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt (New York: Harper & Row, 1977) (http://designtheory.fiu.edu/readings/heidegger_bdt.pdf) and Michael Wheeler, “Martin Heidegger”, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Section 3.4, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heidegger/.
[viii] Belu also references, to a lesser extent, material from Heidegger’s earlier essays The Danger, The Turning and Building, Dwelling, Thinking, (as well as Being and Time) the first two of which he drew upon significantly in writing The Question Concerning Technology.
[ix] Reassessing Motherhood notes the lack of agency for women situated in disadvantaged economic strata in terms of their ability to choose ARTS procedures for their own wombs, rather than lending their own wombs to those women who can easily afford to “purchase” their services. A double standard based on economic capability is firmly in place in which poor women are implicated as “tools” for economically secure women. This produces a “double whammy” for women from underdeveloped countries, who find themselves in the position of “seller”, although this phenomenon is not necessarily a Western/underdeveloped nation problem. See pp. 185, 224 and 295..
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 https://www.kent.edu/philosophy/husserl.
Report by Gina Zavota and Deborah Barnbaum
Anya Daly’s Merleau-Ponty and the Ethics of Intersubjectivity is a welcome entry to the growing secondary literature that focuses on the implicit ethical dimensions of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophical project. There is little doubt that Merleau-Ponty’s untimely death interrupted a trajectory of thinking as exciting as it was innovating; an attempt to explicate a radically new ontological view that stressed the interdependence of subject, other and world, which Merleau-Ponty thought would lead to the re-centring of the axiological in philosophy. That Merleau-Ponty saw his philosophical project containing ethical elements can be seen as early as the Phenomenology of Perception. For Merleau-Ponty, the body is not simply just a biological entity, but rather the location of multiple levels of social, sexual, expressive and emotional values that both constitute and constrain the subject in her dealings with the world. Daly picks up the challenge that Merleau-Ponty set himself to attempt and make explicit an ethical framework that originates in perception, leads to an understanding of intersubjectivity as inter-corporeality, and becomes expressed ontologically, as she characterises it, as a ‘non-dual ontology.’
In the tradition of thinkers such as Renaud Barbaras and Donald Landes (among others) Daly reads the trajectory of Merleau-Ponty’s thought as mostly continuous. This means that one is not forced to choose between a so-called ‘early’ or ‘late’ Merleau-Ponty. Daly attempts to construct an ethics in Merleau-Ponty’s project by showing that the subject of experience set out in the accounts of perception and behaviour in The Structure of Behaviour and Phenomenology of Perception become more explicitly axiological in the writings on aesthetics and language such as ‘Cézanne’s Doubt’ and The Prose of the World, where expression and style become central themes, to his final writings ‘Eye and Mind,’ and The Visible and the Invisible where he finally presents his non-dualist ontology, cashed out in the terms of ‘flesh,’ ‘reversibility,’ and ‘chiasm.’ Thus, she argues, for Merleau-Ponty the relationship between the percipient and her object of perception are fundamentally interdependent and this relationship is axiological. She combines this excellent reading of Merleau-Ponty with trends in contemporary embodied approaches to neuroscience to provide empirical validation for the ontological claims made by Merleau-Ponty. The book then can be divided into two sections: exegetical and empirical. Chapters 2-5 comprise Daly’s close reading of Merleau-Ponty while chapters 6-8 connect the account with contemporary neuroscientific approaches to perception and action, with a particular focus on the experience of empathy.
Daly’s book is well written, persuasively presented, and she clearly shows how Merleau-Ponty’s ontological insights can be useful to ethical discourse. For her, an ethical project in Merleau-Ponty arises out of the question posed by the encounter with the other that begins in perception. Thus the project is not a ‘first-order’ one of explicating norms, obligations, or practices that make up an ethical system. Rather an ethical project in Merleau-Ponty deals with the ‘second-order’ questions of who/what counts as the other, what is the nature of the relationship between the self and the other, and what is (or should be) our response to the other. Daly describes this as an ‘ethics of insight’ that finds its basis in Merleau-Ponty’s non-dualist ontology; the intimate relationship between self, other, and world that is, as she argues, inherently ethical. For Daly there is a ‘pre-objective’ and ‘pre-reflective’ relationship between the self and the other in Merleau-Ponty’s thought which allows for a ‘bottom-up’ approach to ethics. Daly provides a close, tight reading of all of Merleau-Ponty’s texts in these exegetical chapters and they are the strongest part of her book.
Daly’s argumentation throughout this first half of the book is exceptionally strong, and nowhere is this better on display than in the fifth chapter ‘Objections to the Reversibility Thesis.’ This chapter sees her defending Merleau-Ponty’s crucial reversibility thesis against criticisms from Claude Lefort and Emmanuel Levinas. The reversibility thesis argues that ‘self, other and world are inherently relational’ and as Daly has argued previously this inherent relationality is ethical. What is crucial about this thesis is that it withstands sceptical and solipsistic objections. The thesis must allow for real communication between self and other, and for there to be real difference between these two agents; ‘the Other must be a genuine irreducible Other.’ Against the objections of asymmetry and the necessity of a ‘third term,’ that names and provides the law between self and other, as presented by Lefort, Daly argues that reversibility need not require symmetry or a third term. These criticisms fail to understand the idea of flesh as identity-in-difference. She argues that the problem of asymmetry – that the experience of the other remains opaque in salient ways when compared to the experience of myself – does not undermine the reversibility thesis but rather guarantees it. Reversibility is not a mechanistic process where terms are fungible, but rather is a process of ‘dialectical reciprocity.’ Because the world, the things there-in, and the self and other are meaningful-in-themselves Lefort’s ‘third term’ is redundant. The members of the relation organise themselves into a meaningful whole and there is no necessity for external meaning to be imposed. Levinas criticizes Merleau-Ponty’s approach for being reductive, claiming that reversibility reduces the radical alterity of the other and that his ontology is homogenous. Daly argues against Levinas that Merleau-Ponty’s ontology is non-reductive and that a number of lateral relations of alterity obtain between the subject, the world, and the other. Thus, for Merleau-Ponty, responsibility between self and other is bi-directional; with neither self nor other bearing sole responsibility towards the other member of the relationship. Daly presents Merleau-Ponty’s account as a non-theistic alternative to Levinas’ theistic account.
In the second half of the book Daly brings Merleau-Ponty’s ontological claims together with contemporary phenomenological, psychological, and embodied neuroscientific approaches to perception, intersubjectivity, and empathy. She draws on the work of Shaun Gallagher, Thomas Fuchs, Francisco Valera, and Dan Zahavi (among others) to show how these accounts provide empirical verifications of Merleau-Ponty’s claims she presented in the first half of her book. These empirical accounts illustrate that the interdependent relationship between self and other is deeper than the notion of social interdependence, and help Daly transition the ‘problem of others’ from an epistemological concern towards an ethical one. These chapters are well written and present the relevant research in an organised manner, however it is unclear if what she presents here will sway anyone who is not previously sympathetic towards Merleau-Ponty’s ontological view.
Daly concludes her book by connecting Merleau-Ponty’s ontological claims to those made in Buddhist Metaphysics. She notes that there are striking similarities between Merleau-Ponty’s non-dual ontology, the inherently relational, and for Daly ethical, interconnections between self, other, and world, and the Buddhist notion of ‘dependent arising’ or ‘interdependent origination,’ that the self, other, and world are connected in ambiguous multi-causal chains which never settle into ‘pure’ identifiable entities. Both stress the interconnections and contingency of existence and offer a ground for ethics based on a form of insight. Daly is correct that there are fruitful connections and comparisons to be made between these two approaches. Although her book is not a work of comparative philosophy Daly’s use of Merleau-Ponty to illustrate Buddhist concepts and Buddhist concepts to further explicate Merleau-Pontian concepts is well executed and shows a commitment to heterodox approaches to philosophy.
Overall Daly’s book is very strong but there are a few places where her argument could be strengthened. Key to a reading of Merleau-Ponty that argues for continuity between his early and late writings are the ideas of ‘expression’ and ‘style,’ which are found throughout Merleau-Ponty’s works. Merleau-Ponty has a highly idiosyncratic understanding of these two key ideas which become more important as he transitions from his phenomenological writings to his ontological ones. For Merleau-Ponty an expression is not an exterior sign of an interior thought, but is rather the embodied subject attempting to use instituted language in a way to say something new and different about the world. Key in this is that the expression itself is meaningful, and its usage then becomes the accomplishment of expression. Style is a sub-type of expression: a way of encountering an expression as a totality and finding it interpretable. Style is the way the embodied subject carries herself in the world and the manner in which she uses available gestures and linguistic expressions to communicate and interact in the world. The salient factor is that one’s style is expressive even if one is unaware of this expressivity.
While Daly does discuss these concepts in her book their central role in the ethical relationship in Merleau-Ponty is not stressed enough. Daly’s discussion of style mostly centres on aesthetic and deliberate linguistic expressions and it is a missed opportunity to not extend the discussion to the notion of corporeal styles. This would allow for a connection to be made between style and the idea of flesh as identity-in-difference. Style, as presented by Merleau-Ponty, functions as an expression of the other’s entire being-in-the-world which is more identifiable in others than it is in ourselves. It is the manifestation of the radical alterity of the other; her complete transcendence of the other made partially available in immanent perception. For example, when we see the other act in the world we gain partial access to her alterity by the realisation that she does not comport herself in and towards the world in the same manner as we would. However, her behaviour is not so different from ours as to be incomprehensible. Style cements the notion of identity-in-difference which is key to Merleau-Ponty’s ontological claims and an ethics based on these positions. Daly’s defence of the reversibility thesis, which is well researched and expertly argued, seems another opportunity where the concept of style could be used to further her argument. Since style manifests relationally in the encounter between the self and other, or in the perception of the other’s engagement with the world, it provides evidence that the other we encounter remains always an other than myself.
A second aspect of Daly’s book that needs development is the connection she wishes to make between Merleau-Ponty’s concept of hyper-reflection and the Buddhist notion of mindfulness meditation practices such as shamatha and vipassana. While the discussion of hyper-reflection in The Visible and the Invisible is brief and not, one assumes, fully developed, the connection Daly attempts appears to miss the mark. This is due to the fact that hyper-reflection and mindfulness meditation are two very different practices meant to be used for different facets of one’s life.
Merleau-Ponty’s introduction of hyper-reflection occurs in the first chapter of The Visible and the Invisible entitled ‘Reflection and Interrogation.’ In this chapter Merleau-Ponty attempts to show how one of the ways in which philosophy has historically approached ontological problems is inadequate to describe the structure of existence. His main target in the chapter is Husserl and Husserlian transcendental phenomenology. For Merleau-Ponty reflection is the Husserlian methodology of epoché, transcendental reduction, and eidetic variation, which put out of play the nature of the world and the culturally, linguistically, and affectively formed experiencer of the world. For Merleau-Ponty, this is insufficient to allow one to understand the ontological interdependence that underpins the world of experience. Reflection, as a cognitive attempt to understand the phenomenon of perception and thus gain insight into the ontological structure of existence shows us ‘the necessity of another operation beside the conversion to reflection, more fundamental than it, or a sort of hyper-reflection (sur-réflexion) that would also take itself and the changes it introduces into the spectacle into account.’ Merleau-Ponty’s hyper-reflection, the taking into consideration both the existing world (with all its cultural, historical, and linguistic sedimentations) and the existing percipient (with all her affective, cultural, historical, and linguistic constituents), is what is necessary should we choose to attempt and gain ontological insight through the reflective or phenomenological route. This, then, is a highly cognitive process, meant to be used when one is engaged in philosophical or phenomenological undertakings. Hyper-reflection is a meta-philosophical position; it suggests how we should be doing philosophy if we choose to approach philosophy from the phenomenological standpoint. This means that hyper-reflection is a second-order conceptual process; a methodology of reflecting on how we reflect.
Sharply contrasted with this is mindfulness meditation in Buddhism. Vipassana is a practice that begins with focusing on the breath in an attempt to both calm and slow down the routine cognitive processes of the mind. The aim is to gain direct, experiential, insight into the truth of interdependent origination. It is by actively stripping away the everyday cognitive processes of the mind that one becomes aware of interdependent origination, ‘no-self,’ and the other core ideas of Buddhism. Mindfulness meditation is radically non-cognitive, or perhaps better, an anti-cognitive practice. It asks one to focus on one’s breath as a means of slowing (and eventually) stopping entrenched cognitive processes so that one can experience the ontological interdependence of self, other, and world. This is why, for example, the Zen kōan is a riddle that specifically cannot be answered by the cognitive faculties. The insight required to ‘answer’ a kōan is achieved through sitting in meditation with the riddle and not thinking about it. The point of kōan or mindfulness practice is to break down normal cognitive faculties so that we can see the world in a different way. Mindfulness meditation is a first-order practice meant to change how we experience the world.
The issue with connecting hyper-reflection and mindfulness mediation, as I hope to have illustrated, is that the two are incommensurable in at least two ways. The first is that where hyper-reflection is a second-order meta-philosophical positon about how we should do philosophy, meditation is a first-order practice concerned with transforming our experience. The second incommensurability is that hyper-refection is a highly cognitive process where mindfulness is a radically anti-cognitive exercise. Both attempt to illustrate similar ontological claims but they cannot function analogously.
The parallel that can be drawn between mindfulness meditation and Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy is to the latter’s account of perception coupled with the phenomenon of expression. In his ‘Unpublished Text,’ Merleau-Ponty describes how perception and expression can show a ‘good ambiguity,’ which would be spontaneous and gather ‘the past and the present, nature and culture into a single whole.’ He goes on to describe this ambiguity as a ‘wonder’ stating that this would be metaphysics and the beginning of the ethical. This coupling of perception and expression described as wonder is the closest Merleau-Ponty gets to a direct experiential access to his ontological view. This of course presents a difficulty. Merleau-Ponty’s account does not give us the practical tools for how we are to have this experience of perception coupled with expression nor does he state how this will help one come to understand the concepts of flesh, reversibility, and identity-in-difference. Merleau-Ponty’s account lacks the practical elements that are built into Buddhism and mindfulness practice.
None of the above criticisms are meant to detract from what is, on the whole, an excellent and welcome entry in the growing secondary literature on Merleau-Ponty and ethics. Daly presents a strong case for reconsidering the ethical encounter in Merleau-Ponty’s thought and her views will prove useful to any scholar wishing to advance an ethical project based on Merleau-Ponty’s work. Her book makes an important contribution to the linking of phenomenological philosophy with the cognitive sciences and the intertwining of Western and Eastern philosophies is extremely valuable for anyone interested in comparative philosophy. Her characterisation of his view as non-dualist ontology and her defence of the reversibility thesis are invaluable tools to anyone wishing to advance a heterodox approach to ethics.
 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, ‘An Unpublished Text by Maurice Merleau-Ponty: A Prospectus of his Work,’ trans. Arleen B. Dallery in The Primacy of Perception and Other Essays on Phenomenological Psychology, the Philosophy of Art, History and Politics, ed. James M. Edie (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 3-11, 11. Hereafter Text.
 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Donald A. Landes (London: Routledge, 2012). See especially Part One; Chapter Five ‘The Body as Sexed Being,’ (156-78) and Chapter Six ‘The Body as Expression, and Speech,’ (179-205), as well as Part Three, Chapter Three ‘Freedom,’ (458-83). Hereafter PhP.
 Anya Daly, Merleau-Ponty and the Ethics of Intersubjectivity (London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2016), 26. Daly provides an excellent gloss on the difference between ‘non-dual ontology’ and ‘relational ontology’ arguing that relational ontology can, and often is, misconstrued as a form of monism (i.e. what actually exists is the relation, not the distinct relata as constituent parts of the relation) which misses Merleau-Ponty’s ontological insight that the ‘flesh of the world’ is identity-in-difference. See note 22 at Daly, 26.
 See for example: Renaud Barbaras, The Being of the Phenomenon: Merleau-Ponty’s Ontology, trans. Ted Toadvine and Leonard Lawlor (Bloomington, IN: Indian University Press, 2004) and Donald A. Landes, Merleau-Ponty and the Paradoxes of Expression (London: Bloomsbury Academic Publishing, 2013).
 Daly, 5.
 Daly, 5.
 Daly, 5.
 Daly, 9. This is in contrast to ‘top-down’ approaches such as consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics.
 Daly, 139.
 Daly, 139.
 Daly, 140-41.
 Daly, 144-45.
 Daly, 145.
 Daly, 146.
 Daly, 153.
 Daly, 155.
 Daly, 158-60.
 Daly, 167.
 Daly, 156.
 Daly, 174.
 Daly, 298.
 Daly, 16.
 PhP, 192 and passim.
 Daly, 296.
 The concept is only explicitly used by Merleau-Ponty twice in the book. See Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, ed. Claude Lefort, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1968), 38 and 46. Hereafter abbreviated VI.
 See VI, 45-46 where Merleau-Ponty says ‘[this] is what Husserl brought frankly into the open when he said that every transcendental reduction is also an eidetic reduction, that is: every effort to comprehend the spectacle of the world from within and from the source demands that we detach ourselves from the effective unfolding of our perceptions and from our perceptions of the world, […]. To reflect is not to coincide with the flux from its source unto its last ramifications; it is to disengage from the things; perceptions, world, and perception of the world….’
 VI, 38.
 Daly, xi and 289.
 Text, 11.
 Text, 11.