Any attempt to practically apply Levinas’s ethical philosophy within the domain of normative or applied ethics is bound to be controversial. In considering recent attempts to apply Levinas’s ethical philosophy to the fields of nursing and psychology, for instance, Diane Perpich has argued that it is a mistake to think that Levinas’s philosophy can be read as a ‘constructive ethics that offers ethical norms that can be put to work in care-giving professions’ (Perpich 2012: 128): Levinas’s ethics, Perpich continues, ‘is not a defence of our inherently ethical nature nor a guarantee of our ethical responsibility’ (Perpich 2012: 128), rather what one finds in Levinas’s philosophy, above all, is a painstaking attempt to excavate the ‘constitutive uncertainty and fragility of ethical life’ (Perpich 2012: 128). That is, while the resonant – if often baroque – terminology employed by Levinas may seem eminently relatable to certain clinical settings, the metaphysical complexities and phenomenological ambiguities lying behind this terminology precludes any straightforward practical application. On first blush, then, the conception of Ronald C. Arnett’s Levinas’s Rhetorical Demand: The Unending Obligation of Communication Ethics, which sets out to find ‘practical application of Levinas’s work…in explicating communication ethics’ (Arnett 2017: 4), is apt to invite considerable suspicion from Levinasians.
Yet, there are two reasons why such suspicion may be misplaced. Firstly, while some construals of communication ethics may aim at providing a constructive ethics composed of ethical norms for communication, construed more broadly communication ethics concerns the study of ‘communication phenomena from the standpoint of ethics and morality’ (Cheney et al. 2011: 1). And it is evident even from a cursory reading of Levinas’s key works, Totality and Infinity (1961) and Otherwise than Being (1974), that Levinas himself was centrally concerned with the ethical significance of language and interpersonal communication. So the practical application of Levinas’s work in explicating communication ethics initially looks to be a more natural fit than those attempts to apply Levinas’s ethics to other practical domains isolated for criticism by Perpich. Secondly, the central insight Arnett that hopes to import from Levinas to the field of communication ethics is that ‘our responsibility to and for the Other has no demarcation or conclusion’ (Arnett 2017: 1). That is to say, for Arnett, ‘communication ethics from a Levinasian perspective admits the challenge, ambiguity, and necessity of learning in the performative enactment of responsibility’ (Arnett 2017: 2). Thus, what Arnett’s study promises to provide is an attempt to apply Levinasian insights concerning the constitutive uncertainty and fragility of ethical life to the domain of communication ethics. And, in this respect, Arnett’s study initially looks to be consonant with Perpich’s claim that ‘if practical professions are to make anything practical of Levinas’s thought, it is this fragility and vulnerability that must arguably become central to their self-understanding and to their appropriation of texts like Totality and Infinity’ (Perpich 2012: 129).
Importantly, then, the conception of Arnett’s study looks to be philosophically fruitful, in that it proposes a plausible application of Levinas’s ethics to a relevant practical domain, and exegetically sensitive, in that it resists the temptation to derive a system of norms from Levinas’s ethics and instead focuses on the uncertainty and fragility of ethical life emphasised by Levinas. However, in terms of its execution, Arnett faces some not inconsiderable difficulties: Centrally, we might wonder what, if anything, Levinasian insights concerning the fragility and uncertainty of ethical life can offer in terms of practical guidance for communication? On the one hand, to attempt to derive any practical guidance from such Levinasian insights risks descending into vague, pious exhortation. Yet, on the other hand, to refrain from proposing any direct practical applications of Levinas’s ethics within the domain of communication risks exposing the limited utility of a Levinasian perspective for explicating communication ethics, and, thus, the limited interest of Arnett’s study as a whole. Does Arnett manage to avoid these two risks in the execution of his study?
The book begins with a foreword by Algis Mickunas comprised of ‘a brief introduction to the main trends in Russian literature and aspects of phenomenology, relevant to understanding Levinas’s encounter with “the other”’ (Arnett 2017: vii). Presumably, the aim of the foreword, then, is to provide orientation for readers new to Levinas to his complex and involved path of thinking. As such, however, while not without interest, Mickunas’s strategy is curious and provocative. The majority of the discussion is devoted to developing the provocative claim that Russian literature, which Levinas often emphasised as being a formative influence on his thinking, occupies a ‘point of crisis’ between two worlds – the industrial, enlightened West and the spiritualized and provincial East. Mickunas claims that it is from this point of crisis that a vantage point opens up within Russian literature whereby the comparative worth of these respective life-worlds is adjudicated by a third factor – namely, intrinsic human worth. Thus, Mickunas appears to be suggesting that Levinas’s philosophical focus on the pre-cultural ethical significance of the Other germinated in his readings of Pushkin and Dostoyevsky. Both aspects of Mickunas’s argument – concerning the spiritual impetus of Russian literature and its effect on Levinas’s thinking – are contestable. But for the purposes of this review, the important point is whether this discussion provides a helpful and illuminating way in to Levinas’s thought. And it seems to me that it does not. This worry is only compounded by Mickunas’s comparatively brief and rather curious discussion of the ‘phenomenological issues’ at stake in Levinas’s thinking, which constitutes the second part of the foreword. Rather than providing a context for Levinas’s thinking within the phenomenological tradition, perhaps by explaining the ways in which Levinas critically appropriates elements of Husserl’s and Heidegger’s respective philosophies or the ways in which Levinas tests the limits of phenomenology by drawing on religiously loaded terminology, Mickunas engages in rather curious discussion of ‘corporeity,’ mythology and kerygma. Again, it seems to me that if the purpose of this foreword is to provide the reader with some orientation and context for Levinas’s thinking then it is not particularly helpful.
The main body of the text is composed of ten chapters which tend to repeat a similar structure: Beginning with a ‘case study’ relevant to the domain of communication ethics, Arnett then goes on to draw on different aspects of Levinas’s ethical thought in order to explicate the communication phenomena at stake in the case study before concluding each chapter by proposing a set of Levinas-inspired theses to be adopted by communication theorists. These chapters are framed in the introduction by two guiding principles concerning (1) Arnett’s basic conception of communication ethics and (2) his interpretive approach to Levinas. Concerning the former, Arnett writes that ‘this work understands communication ethics [as] an obligation to discover multiple means of understanding and ratifying communication ethics action in the depths of attentiveness to uniqueness and particularity’ (Arnett 2017: 5-6). Plausibly, this definition is already imbued with certain Levinasian emphases, but the point is nonetheless clear: Communications ethics, for Arnett, aims to make explicit the ethical significance of communication through careful phenomenological analyses of the interpersonal context of communication. As for Arnett’s approach to Levinas, he writes that ‘Levinas’s work has practical application when met as an awakening guide about responsibility that refuses to shelter “me” from accountability in my actions to and for the Other’ (Arnett 2017: 5). Here, the point seems to be that all interpersonal communication has ethical significance which can be specified in terms of a ‘rhetoric of demands’ (Arnett 2017: 9) made on the self by the Other. And Levinas’s ethical philosophy will be used in this text as a resource to give shape and definition – in the form of ‘awakening’ – to the nature of this rhetoric of demands putatively intrinsic in interpersonal communication. The aim of the following chapters, then, will be to bring Levinas’s ethical philosophy to bare on certain prototypical instances of communication in order to explicate their ethical significance.
Before moving on to the arguments, I want to register two ambiguities present in Arnett’s introduction. The first concerns to whom the arguments of the text are addressed: Is the ethical awakening putatively provided by Levinas’s philosophy an awakening for communications theorists or for us qua communicators? This question may sound facetious, but it is compounded by further ambiguities concerning Arnett’s heavy use of the term ‘rhetoric’ in his introduction. While Arnett admits that in Totality and Infinity, Levinas ‘offers a contentious response to rhetoric’ (Arnett 2017: 1), Arnett nonetheless asserts that, from a Levinasian perspective, ‘one must respond to the rhetorical demands of the face of the Other’ (Arnett 2017: 2). But, one wonders, isn’t this move exegetically illegitimate? In Totality and Infinity, Levinas states that ‘Our pedagogical or psychological discourse is rhetoric, taking the position of him who approaches his neighbour with ruse…It approaches the other not to face him, but obliquely…[I]t is pre-eminently violence, that is, injustice – not violence exercised on an inertia (which would not be a violence), but on a freedom…’ (Levinas 2012: 70). Given Levinas’s associations of rhetoric with a violence which, rather than facing the other tries to manipulate her and rob her of her freedom, Arnett’s claim – inscribed in the title of his book – that Levinas advocates for a rhetorical demand at the centre of interpersonal communication looks interpretively problematic. However, read in a different way, it might be the case that Arnett’s claim here is a subtler, reflexive one: Namely, that communication ethics as a practically-oriented discipline is a form of ‘pedagogy’ or ‘psychological discourse’ which, for that reason, must, in Levinas’s eyes, take the form of rhetoric. As such, the practical import of Levinas’s ethics to communication ethics is to impress on communications ethicists the limitations of their practice and to encourage greater restraint and sensitivity when it comes to proscribing codes of conduct for communication. In either case, the major claim of Levinas’s Rhetorical Demand is not made ideally clear in Arnett’s introduction.
The first chapter compares Levinas to the work of George Herbert Mead and Jeffrey Murray in developing the claim that ‘the human being is defined by ethics, not as first philosophy, but via a communicative first gesture of responsibility toward and with another’ (Arnett 2017: 38) in which ‘communication ethics is a primordial gesture that ignites a series of ethical events performed within a difficult freedom, a world without assurance or clarity of formulas that demands urgency of response from no one by me’ (Arnett 2017: 40). In other words, the work of the first chapter is devoted to emphasising (1) the primitive ethical significance of symbolic gestural interaction for communication and (2) the fragility and uncertainty intrinsic to such primordial forms of interaction. What is surprising about this claim is that Arnett seems to immediately discard Levinas’s central claim that ‘ethics is first philosophy’ in favour of Mead’s behaviourist theory of symbolic interactionism. It is left unclear what motivates this unexpected move and, indeed, whether Mead’s sociological method is at all compatible with the parts of Levinas’s phenomenology that Arnett seeks to appropriate.
In chapter 2, Arnett provides as his case study a rich and interesting discussion of Levinas’s life, aimed at describing how Levinas’s life influenced his ethical thinking. It is comprised of a discussion of Salomon Malka’s biography of Levinas, Phillipe Nemo’s interviews with Levinas, published as Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Phillipe Nemo, and Levinas’s autobiographical fragment, ‘Signature,’ published in Difficult Freedom. The chapter, ‘working under the metaphors of footprints and echoes, reminds us of the importance of concrete experiences in conjunction with ideas of weight and height that infuse time before time with ethical import’ (Arnett 2017: 65). While it is not ideally clear what Arnett means by this, the thrust of the claim appears to turn on Levinas’s distinction between the Saying and the Said. As Michael Morgan aptly describes the distinction, the Said refers to the construction of languages, ‘the form and content of linguistic systems of systems of symbols’ (Morgan 2011: 135), that enable interpersonal interaction, while the Saying is the ‘ethical matrix in which language as communication takes place;’ it describes the ‘social, concrete context for language’ which has at its core ‘the call of the other person to the self to accept and acknowledge it’ (Morgan 2011: 135). And, without wanting to be reductive, Arnett’s claim in this chapter could perhaps be summarized as arguing for the need to take account of both the Saying and the Said in the practice of communication ethics.
The third chapter meditates on Levinas’s claims concerning the enigma of the face of the Other and the ethical importance of remaining attentive to this enigmaticalness rather than reducing the Other to a caricature. The case study for this chapter is Levinas’s relationship with a fantastical and legendary Jewish mystic called Chouchani. Chouchani cultivated an air of mystery about himself; he ‘functioned as an enigma to those he taught; he intentionally kept his life a mystery from others’ (Arnett 2017: 71). The lesson Levinas drew from Chouchani’s cultivated mysteriousness, Arnett avers, was the importance of ‘patience and waiting’ (Arnett 2017: 77) – what Arnett sometimes describes as ‘existential trust’ – in interpersonal communication. That is, ethical communication requires cultivating in oneself a sensitivity to the thought that the Other always exceeds the pictures, theories and prejudices one may naturally impose on them, where the ethical task of communication is to refrain from imposing meaning on the other and rather to learn from them. As Arnett puts it, ‘the task was to learn from Chouchani, not to violate the infinity of learning. To understand from the enigma of Chouchani, one had to watch and learn without the assurance of one’s assessment of this man of difference’ (Arnett 2017: 84). The appeal to Levinas’s relationship to Chouchani is interesting and informative. But it leads me to wonder how much of an exemplar Chouchani actually is for communication ethics: Is cultivating a sense of mystery around oneself and refusing to answer other’s questions in a straightforward way ethically commendable? This seems debatable. Furthermore, to my mind, there is a philosophical worry arising from the lesson taught by Chouchani – at least as it is presented by Arnett – namely, that interpersonal communication requires patience and waiting. The worry is that by overstating the enigma of the Other, one will be lead to confusion and paralysis in one’s interpersonal communications. Surely there are many things about the Other that are self-evident? This is not to contest the important point made in the chapter, but just to urge caution and restraint in stating it: The point, surely, is not simply that we should behold the deep enigma of the other, but, more modestly, that we should remain sensitive to the other’s alterity in our encounter with them.
Chapter 4 looks to Levinas’s text Proper Names. The chapter is comprised of an informative reconstruction of the text, in which Levinas discusses his relations with the thought of figures that influenced his way of thinking, such as Kierkegaard, and his philosophical, theological and literary contemporaries, like Martin Buber. The philosophical point made in this chapter is that proper names occupy a particular place in language in that, while they are part of linguistic system of symbols that make up the Said, they resist full incorporation into the Said and retain a ‘trace’ of Saying. Arnett illustrates this point by way of an episode in To Kill a Mocking Bird in which Scout manages to keep an angry mob at bay by calling on the proper names of some of the members of the mob. In a sense, the philosophical point made here compliments and tempers the one made in the previous chapter: While there is an intrinsic enigmaticalness to the Other, they also have a name, and that name has an important ethical resonance that seems to bridge the distinction between the Saying – and the enigma of the Other more generally – and the Said.
The fifth chapter turns to a discussion of ‘the impersonal’ and ‘the sacred.’ The chapter aims to investigate ‘the pragmatic limits of a personal consideration that seeks to possess certainty of answers for the Other’ (Arnett 2017: 115). As its case study, this chapter looks to Gregory Bateman’s book Angel’s Fear: Towards and Epistemology of the Sacred. The central insight of Bateman’s text taken up by Arnett is the thought that it is sometimes important to leave certain dimensions of interpersonal communication inexplicit and unarticulated, where this sometimes involves acknowledging, rather than trying to overcome, one’s epistemic limitations and embracing forms of ‘metaphorical understanding’ (Arnett 2017: 119). Turning to Levinas, Arnett pursues a comparative discussion of Levinas and Kant based on Catherine Chalier’s text What Ought I to Do? Morality in Kant and Levinas. Arnett’s aim here is to elucidate Levinas’s emphasis on the importance of a disinterested – rather than self-interested – stance and the correlative importance of embracing an impersonal rather than personalized relation to the other in interpersonal communication. Arnett concludes by claiming that ‘for Levinas, the sacred embraces ethics devoid of reification and imposition. Ethics has an impersonal cast of disinterest that nourishes the sacred dimension of the human condition’ (Arnett 2017: 128). The difficulties of this chapter stem initially from the fact that it is not clear in what way Arnett’s introduction of notions such as the sacred, the impersonal and disinterestedness move the discussion forward: How does the conclusion reached in this chapter add to the conclusion in chapter 3 concerning the importance of remaining sensitive to the enigma of the Other? Moreover, Arnett’s introduction of such loaded terms as ‘the sacred’ and his comparative discussion of Levinas and Kant may seem to muddy the waters: The introduction of a dimension of the sacred into his discussion invites familiar worries concerning the secular intelligibility of Levinas’s theologically-inspired ethics, and his comparison of the impersonal in Kant, which is based in the impersonality of reason, with the impersonal in Levinas, which is based in the face of the Other, invites a different set of difficulties concerning the normative foundations of Levinas’s ethics.
Chapter six concerns Levinas’s conception of justice, where Arnett draws on Umberto Eco’s celebrated novel The Name of the Rose as a case study. Arnett notes that justice is a protean term in Levinas’s oeuvre and, for that reason, is difficult to pin down. However, Arnett focuses on one core feature of Levinas’s notion of justice, namely, that it involves an attentiveness to ‘the Third,’ or the wider community of individuals, who temper the face-to-face relation in important ways. More specifically, Arnett emphasises that Levinas’s notion of justice draws our attention to the disempowered and voiceless members of the community. The importance of this point for Levinas’s philosophy and, Arnett suggests, for communication ethics more generally, is in balancing one’s immediate obligations to the Other in the face-to-face relation with the wider demands of the community – and specifically the oppressed and the voiceless within society. As Arnett explains, Levinas’s notion of justice introduces ‘a form of equality and measure’ (Arnett 2017: 147).
The seventh chapter considers the News of the World phone-hacking scandal from a Levinasian perspective. The moral failings exemplified in the phone-hacking scandal are obvious: They reflected an intrusive invasion of privacy for the sake of producing sensational news stories that, in some cases, seriously affected the lives of those involved. However, from a Levinasian perspective, Arnett avers, the phone-hacking scandal ‘functions as an exemplar of Levinas’s critique of the West seduced by the demand for totality. This story displays possession at work with little resistive creative thought that invites space for reflection on the “should”; instead decisions emerge from the technological “can,” alone’ (Arnett 2017: 159). In other words, for Arnett, the phone-hacking scandal is seen to be symptomatic of a need to know everything, so to speak; to recuperate everything into the totality of the Same. And Levinas’s ethical philosophy ‘awakens’ us to this damaging tendency through his critique of the primacy of ontology. Construed as a chapter about the lessons to be learned from the phone-hacking scandal, this point is pretty uncontroversial. However, it seems to me that the force of this argument would be stronger if Arnett had devoted more space to explaining why Levinas’s ethical philosophy helps us to expose the distinctive wrongness of the phone-hacking scandal in a way that, say, the public reaction that led to the newspaper’s closure missed. As it stands, the specific Levinasian contribution to our understanding of the wrongness of the phone-hacking scandal remains unclear.
Chapters 8 and 9 consider Levinas’s fraught relation to Heidegger. Chapter 8 considers Levinas’s experience of, and subsequent reflection on, the infamous Davos conference, where Heidegger debated the prominent neo-Kantian Ernst Cassirer. There are many dimensions to the discussion in this chapter: For instance, it involves a discussion of Levinas’s reflections on his own behaviour at the conference, of his relation to humanism and to Cassier’s cosmopolitanism; and of his relation to Heidegger’s meditations on ‘dwelling’ and enrootedness. However, the central point of the chapter is that, in contrast to Cassirer’s ‘philosophy of culture’ (Arnett 2017: 184), Levinas proposes an analysis of the ethical significance of the face-to-face encounter that is pre-cultural. Chapter nine continues the discussion of Heidegger by turning to Heidegger’s notorious rectorate address in 1933, which is often seen as the moment where Heidegger was most aligned with the Nazi project. In discussing Levinas’s response to Heidegger, Arnett claims that, on the one hand, Levinas was concerned to move away from the kind of existential phenomenology promoted by Heidegger – which focuses on dwelling and enrootedness – by ‘re-transcendentalizing’ (Arnett 2017: 214) his own philosophy in terms of an analysis of the transcendence of the Other. However, curiously, on the other hand, Arnett concludes with the thought that ‘Levinas understood ethics as dwelling within the concrete in contrast to Heidegger’s notion of dwelling, which is “spare” and seeks to “preserve”’ (Arnett 2017: 218). From an exegetical perspective, the claim that Levinas understood ethics as dwelling seems very dubious: While it is true that ‘the dwelling’ forms part of Levinas’s architectonic in Totality and Infinity, it is treated as a function of separated being – not as the place of ethics as Arnett implies. Furthermore, when compared with Arnett’s earlier claim, that Levinas sought to ‘re-transcendentalize’ phenomenology, and, thus, move away from Heidegger’s focus on dwelling and enrootedness, Arnett’s argument in this chapter is apt to confuse.
The final chapter discusses Levinas’s thinking on death, as laid out in God, Death and Time, in conjunction with Jacques Derrida’s text Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas. In contrast to Heidegger, for whom resolutely facing up to one’s own death is a central aspect of authenticity, Levinas emphasises the death of others. As Arnett puts it, ‘the death of another awakens my ethical responsibility, and my own death calls forth responsibility in another’ (Arnett 2017: 231). More specifically, on Arnett’s reconstruction, Levinas holds that the Other’s calling us to responsibility survives their death. We might think, for instance, how the memory of a loved one who has passed away exerts an influence on our behaviour. Then, without much ceremony, Arnett finishes his text, concluding that ‘communication ethics, for Levinas, resists an apriori metaphysic, the imposition of a code or procedure, and, fundamentally, the self-righteous smirk of a knowing do-gooder. Communication ethics dwells in an immemorial space before, beyond, and ever more powerful than death itself’ (Arnett 2017: 245).
In concluding this review, I will return to the framing questions specified in the introduction. Namely, (1) what, if anything, can Levinasian insights concerning the fragility and uncertainty of ethical life offer in terms of practical guidance for communication? And (2) to whom is this book addressed? Concerning the first question, Arnett’s book is successful in raising some important Levinasian issues relevant to communication ethics. In particular, Arnett’s discussions of the enigma of the face and its pre-cultural ethical significance are interesting and relevant. Yet, the practical applicability of these Levinasian insights always remains in doubt. Arnett should be commended for his inventive use of examples and illustrations in attempting to apply Levinas’s ethical philosophy to concrete communication phenomena: Attempting to illustrate Levinas’s high-altitude and often ponderous path of thinking through examples is a difficult task, and Arnett’s efforts in this direction are valiant. But, in the end, it seems to me that what Arnett’s discussion demonstrates above all else is the limited applicability of Levinasian ethics to practical domains: Levinas’s ethical philosophy is descriptive and speculative, and resists direct and prescriptive application to empirical events. Whether this signals a weakness in Arnett’s text or a limitation of Levinas’s philosophy, of course, remains debatable.
Concerning the second question, there seems to be an unresolved issue in the text concerning how much the discussion is supposed to constitute a critique of communication ethics as it is often practiced and how much the discussion is supposed to constitute a modification of it. If Arnett intended the former, then he certainly shies away from making this explicit. Yet, if he intended the latter, then lingering issues concerning Levinas’s reservations towards ‘rhetoric’ and the compatibility of Levinas’s methodological framework with the more empirically-focused resources and methodologies on which Arnett draws remain unanswered. Moreover, I feel the text often sacrifices the task of detailed exegesis of Levinas’s texts for the sake of discussions of empirical case studies and their Levinasian resonances. As a result, there is a surprising omission of any sustained discussion of Levinas’s important interventions into the nature of language and discourse in Totality and Infinity and communication in Otherwise than Being, for instance, where such discussions would, to my mind, have contributed to a more satisfying argument. Nonetheless, Arnett’s text contains many interesting and important insights and will surely stimulate further discussion within the field of communication ethics.
Arnett, R. C., Review of Ronald C. Arnett Levinas’s Rhetorical Demand: The Unending Obligation of Communication Ethics. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. 2017
Cheney, G., et al., ‘Encountering Communication Ethics in the Contemporary World: Principles, People, Contexts’ in Cheney, G., May, S., & Munshi, D., Eds., The Handbook of Communication Ethics. London: Routledge. 2011: pp. 1-14
Janicaud, D., ‘The Theological Turn of French Phenomenology.’ Phenomenology and the “Theological Turn:” The French Debate. Trans. B. G. Prusak. New York: Fordham University Press. 2000: pp. 16-103.
Levinas, E., Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Phillipe Nemo. Trans. R. A. Cohen. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. 1985.
Levinas, E., Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Trans. A. Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. 2012.
Morgan, M. L., The Cambridge Introduction to Emmanuel Levinas. Cambridge: CUP. 2011.
Perpich, D., ‘Don’t try this at home: Levinas and Applied Ethics’ in Davidson, S., & Perpich, D., Eds. Totality and Infinity at 50. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. 2012: pp. 127-152
Stern, R., The Radical Demand in Løgstrup’s Ethics. Oxford: OUP. Forthcoming.
 Cf. Levinas (1985): 22.
 Cf. Janicaud (2000) and Stern (forthcoming), Ch. 9 for two examples of these criticisms.
 Cf. Levinas 2012: ‘The primary agreement, to live, does not alienate the I but maintains it, constitutes its being at home with itself. The dwelling, inhabitation, belongs to the essence –to the egoism – of the I.’ (143)
Das 1961 erschienene erste Hauptwerk von Emmanuel Lévinas, Totalité et infini. Essai sur l’exteritorité, hat auch im Jahre 2017 nichts von seiner Aktualität verloren. Die darin behandelte Frage nach der Andersheit und dem Anspruch des (ganz) Anderen behält angesichts von Flüchtlingskrise, Terrorismus und kriegerischen Auseinandersetzungen in vielen Teilen der Welt seine thematische Relevanz, die zu dem Denken über Gerechtigkeit, Ethik und Ansprüche wie es etwa im Kontext von Habermas oder Rawls geschieht, eine ernst zu nehmende Infragestellung und Alternative darstellt.
Lévinas steht für ein Denken von Alterität oder Ander(s)heit, die sich jeder Verfügung entzieht und nur als Überschuss verstanden werden kann, der zugleich das Subjekt in seiner oder vielmehr als Verantwortung für den Anderen konstituiert. Er eröffnet damit den Blick für einen Bezug auf den Anderen, in dem wir schon stehen, bevor wir Verträge schließen und Politik treiben. So bringt er zur Sprache, was „‚zwischen uns’ geschieht, bevor es überhaupt zu normativen Fragen des Guten und des Gerechten kommen kann“ (Liebsch, 23). Der Andere begegnet dem Ich als Gesicht bzw. Antlitz und das Einzige, was positiv über ihn gesagt werden kann, ist gerade, dass er konstitutiv nicht in dem Eigenen aufgeht. Diese Fremdheit des Anderen macht zugleich seine Freiheit aus, die zu schützen die unbedingte Forderung ist, die an das Ich ergeht.
Die radikale Unverfügbarkeit des Anderen sprachlich zu fassen stellt ein Paradox dar, das Lévinas zu immer neuen Formulierungen an der Grenze der Sprache treibt. Dabei geht es darum, ein Jenseits des Seins zu denken bzw. den Anderen anders zu denken denn als „Teil einer als ‚Schauspiel’ aufgefassten Welt oder als ‚Theater’ eingestuften Weltgeschichte“ (vgl. Liebsch 46). Die Geschichte ist nicht das „Maß aller Dinge“ (Vgl. Lévinas, Schwierige Freiheit 151), sondern kann und muss von der Beziehung Von-Angesicht-zu-Angesicht her korrigiert werden (vgl. Liebsch 11), die sich der Totalität entzieht. Notorisch problematisch bleibt dabei die Frage, wie radikale Geschichtskritik und anti-historisches Denken der Alterität doch wieder mit der Geschichte und vor allem mit dem Politischen zusammenzubringen sind. Es resultiert das dringende „Desiderat, in diesem alteritätstheoretisch anspruchsvollen Sinne ethisches und historisches Denken zusammenzubringen“ (Liebsch 14).
Diesem Desiderat nähert sich Burkhard Liebsch an und fügt mit seinem 2016 im Karl Alber Verlag erschienenen kooperativen Kommentar der breiten Literatur einen neuen und informativen Beitrag hinzu, dessen Alleinstellungsmerkmal darin besteht, sich dem vieldiskutierten Werk in Einzelanalysen zu widmen, die sich chronologisch den einzelnen Abschnitten des Werkes widmen. Der 400 Seiten starke Kommentar ist dafür in 16 Einzelanalysen plus Einführung und Nachtrag des Herausgebers organisiert, in denen bekannte Namen der Lévinas-Forschung jeweils einen kurzen Abschnitt des Werkes behandeln. Anstelle einer akribischen Interpretation bemühen sich die einzelnen Autoren und Autorinnen dabei, die Thematik des jeweils behandelten Abschnittes in einen größeren Kontext zu fassen und auf je eigene Weise zu fokussieren. Die einzelnen Analysen unterscheiden sich dabei erheblich darin, ob sie sich ganz auf den Ausschnitt beschränken oder diesen eher zum Anhaltspunkt für weiterführende Überlegungen nehmen. So entsteht ein sehr reichhaltiger Überblick mit detaillierten Einzelinterpretationen, der zudem – nicht zuletzt dem Schreiben von Lévinas selbst geschuldet – mit der Polyphonie der Stimmen ein Sagen und Wieder- bzw. Wider-Sagen der zentralen Motive beinhaltet. Die großen Themen wie der Genuss und die Sinnlichkeit des Subjekts, ein anderes Denken der Intentionalität, die Vorgängigkeit des Anderen und die Verantwortung für ihn, Ontologiekritik und das Jenseits des Seins und natürlich das Gesicht bzw. Antlitz werden so immer noch einmal neu perspektiviert. Im Gespräch mit Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, Sartre, Derrida, aber auch Proust und Beckett werden einzelne Diskursstränge herausgeschält, gesagt und wi(e)der gesagt. Neben der vorwiegend affirmierenden Lektüre richten sich dabei auch einige kritische Fragen an den Autor, die insbesondere die Implikationen des Alteritätsdenkens und die philosophische Haltbarkeit der vorgebrachten Thesen betreffen. So entsteht ein lebendiges, reiches und auch spannungsvolles Bild des Werkes, das zeigt, dass die Auseinandersetzung mit Lévinas auch nach mehr als 55 Jahren nicht abgeschlossen ist.
Zum Auftakt thematisiert Hans-Christoph Askani die Beziehung zum ganz Anderen, die das Ich sich selbst entreißt und die Lévinas als Metaphysik bezeichnet . Er zeigt, dass der hiermit angezeigte Bruch mit der Totalität sich in der Sprache und als metaphysisches Begehren ereignet, das dem (weltlichen, leiblichen) Bedürfnis entgegensteht. Dieser Bruch wird als Bedingung der Möglichkeit von Frieden ausgewiesen; es gibt aus der Totalität und d.h. vom Krieg „einen Ausgang, weil es in sie einen Einbruch gibt.“ (87)
Der Herausgeber selbst, Burkhard Liebsch, nimmt sich Lévinas’ „sozialphilosophisch gewendet[e]“ (89) Lesart von Descartes vor, mit der dieser zu zeigen versucht, dass das Soziale, verstanden als Begegnung mit dem ganz Anderen, das Epistemische fundiert (vgl. 90f.). Diese Begegnung ist, so Lévinas, nur möglich in einem getrennten Psychischen, das sich der „Aufhebung in Geschichte“ (95) widersetzt. Das Begehren des Anderen bewirkt dann eine Umkehrung oder „Konversion“ des Seienden, in der es sein Glück, seinen Genuss, für den Anderen aufzugeben bereit ist. Liebsch stellt jedoch die beschriebene Selbstgenügsamkeit dieses Subjekts der Trennung in Frage – „Können wir wirklich in psychischem Leben derart bei uns selbst ‚zuhause’ sein […] ?“ (110) – die zudem in Spannung mit Lévinas’ späteren Andeutungen steht, denen zufolge das Subjekt immer schon ein Empfangenes, d.h. dem Anderen schon begegnet sei.
Bernhard H.F. Taureck gibt den wohl am wenigsten favorablen Ausblick auf Lévinas. Seine Analyse der Freiheit stellt „kritisch-polemische“ und „eklektische“ „Evidenzen“ heraus, die nur durch die weitere „Evidenz“ der „Verklärung“ eine gewisse Attraktivität erhalten, und sieht Lévinas letztlich in einer Komplementärstellung zu Beckett: „Wenn Levinas die Verwüstung verklärt, so wird hier die Verklärung verwüstet. […] Was der eine befestigt, reißt der andere ein und umgekehrt.“ (134f.)
Auf den dann folgenden Seiten stellt Sophie Loidolt die „Intentionalität des Genießens als Grundstruktur der Subjektivität“ (136) heraus, die sowohl zu der Intentionalität Husserls als auch zu der Sorgestruktur des Daseins bei Heidegger eine Alternative darstellt. Als „leben von…“ hat Existenz eine irreduzibel sinnliche Qualität, die es nur gestattet, eine Unabhängigkeit des Subjekts in der Abhängigkeit von etwas zu denken, die die Voraussetzung für die Begegnung mit dem Andern ist. In dieser Darstellung fährt Alwin Letzkus fort, der den Genuss als „die eigentliche, weil tiefste Wurzel der Intentionalität“ (161) herausstellt: Die Vorstellungen des Bewusstseins selbst sind vom Genuss getragen. Nur diese Konzeption eines nicht auf Intentionalität und Repräsentation reduzierten Bewusstseins soll es erlauben, die Transzendenz des Anderen zu denken.
Pascal Delhom arbeitet die „Struktur der bedingten Bedingung“ (186) heraus, die sich zuerst in der doppelten Vorgängigkeit von Gegenständen und Ich zeigt (176f.) und sich bezüglich der Begegnung mit dem Anderen wiederholt: Einerseits setzt diese die Trennung des Individuums voraus, andererseits ist diese Trennung aber nur möglich, weil das Subjekt dem Anderen bereits begegnet ist, d.h. von ihm empfangen wurde. Delhom sieht hier „jenseits aller Dialektik“ eine spezifische Verbindung von Aktivität und Passivität beschrieben, die die Setzung eines Ichs ermöglicht, das der Offenbarung des Anderen fähig ist (vgl. 187).
Auch Gabriella Baptist stellt die Vorgängigkeit der Begegnung mit dem Anderen heraus, durch die eine „Dimension der Aufmerksamkeit eröffnet [wird], die sich vom Genuss der Elemente und von den Bedürfnissen des Lebens und deren Nahrung befreien kann“ (192) und die letztlich auch die Enteignung durch den Anderen, nämlich das Geben, erlaubt. Die Autorin kontrastiert Lévinas’ Darstellung der Bleibe mit dem In-der-Welt-sein bei Heidegger, dem sich auch Antje Kapust noch einmal als der Bedingung und dem Anfange menschlicher Bezugnahme zur Welt widmet (vgl. 203).
Matthias Flatscher und Sergej Seitz gehen auf die Rolle der Sprache ein, die bei Lévinas „nicht in epistemologischer Hinsicht betrachtet, […] sondern als ein responsives Geschehen gefasst [wird]“ (220) und Transzendenz ermöglicht (vgl. 223). Der Andere sei kein Inhalt, der sich thematisieren ließe, sondern er wird angesprochen und drückt sich aus; ihm gegenüber steht das Ich in der Verantwortung, die es erst konstituiert. Gegen die Selbstkritik von Lévinas an seinem eigenen Werk schlagen die Autoren vor, „eines der produktivsten Momente von Totalität und Unendlichkeit  [in dem] Anbieten eines alteritätsaffinen Seinsbegriffs [zu] verorten“ (234).
Der Frage, wie etwas zugleich Modalität des Bewusstseins und Exteriorität sein kann, widmet sich Alain David. Um diese paradoxe Qualität des Gesichts zu denken, muss – gegen Husserl und Heidegger – eine Sinnlichkeit gedacht werden, die die Intentionalität des Bewusstseins überschreitet und bei der es nicht um „die Offenbarung der Welt, sondern [um] diejenige der Sprache – als Sprache des Anderen“ (255) geht.
In einem stärker systematisch orientierten Zugang beleuchtet Werner Stegmaier die Destruktionen, die Lévinas vornimmt, indem er den Blick für die ethische Beziehung zum Anderen öffnet: An die Stelle des Spekulativen, des Prinzipiellen, des Theoretischen und des Definitiven rückt das Über-sich-hinaus-gezogen-werden des Denkens, die ethische Beziehung, die Umorientierung im Denken des Denkens, der Sprache und der Gesellschaft. Der Beitrag von Hans-Martin Schönherr-Mann hat eine ähnliche Stoßrichtung, indem er den Institutionen, dem Werk und der Geschichte, in denen das Individuum nicht als solches erhalten bleibt, den Pluralismus entgegensetzt, der sich in der Beziehung zum Anderen ereignet und durch die Geduld, die Epiphanie des Antlitzes und die Verantwortung expliziert wird. Wie der Autor zeigt, ermöglichen es diese Figuren, eine Subjektivität zu denken, die sich von sich selbst entfernt, ohne dass dies als Unterwerfung unter das Universelle zu denken wäre.
Vor dem Hintergrund eines Überblicks über die großen Themen, die in Totalität und Unendlichkeit verhandelt werden, – die Priorität der Alterität vor der Identität, die (Inter-)Personalität und Pluralität vor Universalität und Rationalität und die Individualität und Responsivität vor der Intentionalität und Totalität – gibt Christian Rößner ein Bild jener „Phänomenologie des Eros“ (313, nach einer Überschrift in Jenseits des Seins), wo die „Zweisamkeit zu keiner erotisch-platonischen Einheit“ (316) verschmilzt. Dabei stellt er heraus, dass dieser Teil des Buches, der vor allem feministische Kritiken auf sich gezogen hat, seine literarische Vorlage in Prousts Albertine hat. Christina Schües stellt die Fruchtbarkeit, die Lévinas im letzten Teil seines Werkes behandelt, als eine Möglichkeit heraus, Transzendenz zu denken, indem sich das Subjekt hier nicht „mitnimmt“ und damit die Einheit der Selbigkeit aufgebrochen wird. Der Sohn bedeute die Befreiung des Vaters und erlaube es, eine unendliche und diskontinuierliche Zeit zu denken, in der Vergebung möglich sei.
Dieter Mersch stellt im Sinne der „Konversion des Bezugs“ (351), die die Destituierung der Ontologie, die Priorisierung der Passivität vor der Aktivität und eine Ethik der Alterität beinhaltet, das „Von-Angesicht-zu-Angesicht“ als Quelle des Sozialen heraus, das einerseits dieses Soziale anders verstehen lässt – nämlich nicht als Gefüge von „‚Interaktion’ bzw. den Regeln interpersonaler Verständigung“ (359) – und andererseits eine „Ethik ohne Gesetz“ (369) begründet.
Und schließlich differenziert Alfred Hirsch zwei Stufen der Freiheit: zuerst jene willkürliche und einsame Freiheit des genießenden Subjekts und dann die moralische Freiheit, in die das Ich durch den Anderen eingesetzt wird. Hirsch sieht durch den Eintritt des Dritten die „Möglichkeit der Symmetrie, des Austausches und die Gerechtigkeit“ (386) gegeben, wobei es der „Asymmetrie des ethischen Anspruches durch den Anderen “ bedarf, die „verhindert, dass der Staat nicht zum Unrechtsstaat mit gutem Gewissen wird.“ (387)
Hiermit kehrt das Buch letztlich zu der Ausgangsfrage nach der Stellung des Anderen in der Geschichte zurück. Abschließend lässt sich sagen, dass es sich bei dem kooperativen Kommentar um eine solide Einführung in das erste große Hauptwerk von Lévinas handelt, die zudem an vielen Stellen Bezüge zu anderen Schriften des Autors herstellt und Verbindungen zu anderen Autoren eröffnet. Naturgemäß werden die bekannten Gedankenfiguren behandelt, die für Lévinas-Vertraute eher keine Neuigkeit darstellen werden. Darüber hinaus bietet das Buch aber auch Fokussierungen auf randständigere Aspekte des Werkes und besticht durch detail- und kenntnisreiche Analysen. Der im Titel angekündigte Geschichtsbezug wird dabei allerdings nur sporadisch aufgegriffen und darf durchaus auch weiterhin als Desiderat gelten
When I set out to review this work I was concerned that the essence of phenomenology, and in particular the aspirations of Husserl, might be lost during this book’s attempts at cross-pollination, hybridization and interbreeding (if they have not already). My concerns were echoed in the introduction and preface where Gallagher asks how we can continue to recognise phenomenology as we push it into fresh areas. The introduction (essay #1, by one of the editors, J. A. Simmons) memorably asks “has phenomenology caught the sickness it is trying to cure?” (p. 2). I was concerned that, in its attempt to expand and chart new territory, phenomenology might contract incomprehensibility and irrationalism. We are assured early that this volume hopes phenomenology can “find a way to be a mile wide, as it were, without only being an inch deep” (pg. 2). It was, then, with keen sensibilities to the shallows that I set out.
Overall, I found the collection of 18 essays in this volume enlivening. The editors resisted giving the contributors lengthy word counts. As a result, the chapters in this volume are easily digestible, but also educational, because of their accessible style (bar essay #5 and #10). The variety of scholarship is remarkable. There is novel research, the utilisation of classical phenomenological themes, interspersed with original yet rigorous analysis and description. The exegesis of non-canonical figures and outsiders is a great way to approach the often well-worn phenomenological path. There was, also, generally a shared sensitivity in protecting the methods and contents of phenomenology from the aforementioned shallows. The division of this review will follow the six parts of the book, and reference essay numbers.
Part 1. Justice and Value.
The first essay of the first part by S. Minister (essay #2) shows how phenomenological themes can be relevant to global ethics. For example, Minister argues, there are advantages to taking on Levinas’s ethics of alterity and self-responsibility towards others as a summum bonum, because this overcomes the egocentric biases of utilitarian and deontological approaches, or those ethical theories based on either rationality or self-interest. Also, the intersubjective constitution of objectivity promotes an ethics based on mutual dialogue and interaction, and deconstructive phenomenology might help in breaking down pre-established categories—like ‘the poor’, and ‘developing countries’—which often don’t really carve concrete ethical reality at the joints. This essay is innovative and lofty, but, as would be expected, it’s a little short on detail, and thereby sometimes lacks epistemological weight.
D. M. Dalton’s essay (#3)—a highlight of this section—picks up on a theme from essay #2: the ‘problem of the other’ in Levinas’s philosophy. This essay gives an excellent genealogical trace of the ‘problem’, starting from Husserl and travelling via Heidegger to Levinas. The author argues that Levinas’s descriptive account should not be read as a solution to the problem (and that, in fact, to do so is to commit an ethical infraction). Instead, a Kierkegaardian leap of faith from phenomenology to Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, and the ‘ethics of resistance’, is made. The author states that the described transcendence, power, and even tyranny of the other can only be overcome by learning to ‘resist’ the other—to say ‘no’—without rejecting or succumbing to them. Scholars interested in the problem of the other will find this essay an invaluable exegesis, and an elegant proposed solution.
This final essay of part one (#4, by the other editor, J. E. Hackett) outlines the prima facia system of metaethical moral intuitionism advocated by W.D. Ross. Hackett discusses the problem that the moral principles Ross thinks should be considered in making context dependant ethical choices suffers from a lack of grounding which it can’t solve without resorting to the moral universalism it seeks to avoid. Hackett states that Scheler’s moral theory fills in some much needed concrete detail which grounds Ross’s list of moral principles. The third essay shifts up a gear in terms of technicity and density, particularly during the opening and closing sections.
Part 2. Meaning and Critique.
Essay #5 is N. DeRoo’s look at the Dutch transcendental philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd. It shows Dooyeweerd was concerned with a problem which Husserl, Heidegger and Derrida were very much interested in—the problem of genesis. This is the problem of the perpetual self-foundation/generation of meaning and being, ex nihilo. Reflection on this problem leads to a concentric play between transcendental consciousness and the meaning ground of the lifeworld. This concentric spiral bores down to the ‘religious root of creation’, which Dooyeweerd calls the ‘supra-temporal heart’. ‘Supra-temporality’ is a complicated concept, involving a relationship between religion, cosmic time, expression, and the heart. As would be expected of an essay concerning meaning, being and genesis, the first essay of part two is heavily technical. Dooyeweerd’s thought is packed with deeply transcendental religiosity, bordering on impenetrable mysticism, but DeRoo makes earnest attempts to explain this formidable thinker.
Essay #6, by E. J. Mohr, examines the possibility of mixing phenomenology with the seemingly opposed philosophical school of critical theory. Critical phenomenology is the attempt to investigate and express the lived experience of the inadequacy and non-identity of conceptions of justice to experience. Mohr argues that the two traditions of phenomenology and critical theory are already blended. The experience of the proletariat, person of race, gender, etc., has always formed the basis for critique, and attention to experience has the potential to cut through tired politicised language. Self-reflection and appraisal can change emotional attunement and pre-established ingrained systems of evaluative preferencing, and phenomenological practice can perform the immanent self-critique advocated by critical theory, thus creating ethical behaviour. This is an essay which emulates the hybridisation it espouses: it is dialectical and critical, yet relies on an array of many concrete experiential exemplars which demonstrate the content.
Essay #7 unearths the phenomenological aspect of Reinach’s theory of justice. K. Baltzer-Jaray shows that Reinach’s essay in the first Jarbuch of phenomenology responds to the jurisprudential underpinnings of the unifying codification of German law in the Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch of 1909. The jurisprudence of the Gesetzbuch sees the law as a codified set of constructs which served to solidify political power. The Büch thus represents the failure to prevent the notion of ‘Recht’ (justice) from collapsing into ‘Gesetzt’ (written law). Reinach’s response is that Recht is an a priori timeless and unchanging ideal, which is independent of manmade laws and our attempts to comprehend it. For Reinach justice is a material essence which can only be grasped in intuition, via ideation. The sciences which study justice must operate via rational activity which generates synthetic principles to apply to contextual circumstances. This is a timely discussion of a sometimes contemporarily neglected aspect of the phenomenological project: the idealism, a priori-ism, and rationalism of the early German school. This clarifies the crucially phenomenological aspect of the work of an important thinker.
While there is not a lot of overlap between the essays in this section, they are truly cross-traditional, interspersing diverse phenomenological themes with critical theory, theology, and theories of justice.
Part 3. Emotion and Revelation.
Both the eighth and ninth essays present original phenomenological descriptive analyses. The eighth essay by F. Bottenberg is an attempt to provide a theory of the role of emotional evaluation and motivation. It argues that the theory of simple emotional valence is not nuanced enough to account for the embodied, amorphous, and context dependent nature of emotions. The animationist position put forward argues that a dynamic interplay of the internality of the body with the externality of the world is mediated by emotions. There is a three way correlation between certain classes of emotions (i.e. aggressive vs defensive), certain profiles of motor tendencies, and the ‘soliciting feel’ of the world. Thus, emotional valuing is not valent but kineso-existential. This essay will appeal to those looking for phenomenological descriptions of 4E cognition (see especially the description of the emotional experience of fear on p. 149), and ties in nicely with themes in the essay by Colombetti in part 4. It backs up poetic flair with solid content and clear distinctions, mimics the fluidity it depicts, and is reminiscent of Merleau-Ponty.
The ninth essay addresses the phenomenology of envy. In the past, Anglophone philosophers, like Taylor and Hacker (for example), have seen envy as other-assessing, because the other is seen as the object of the emotion. Contemporary discussions of envy distinguish between a (benign) envy that focuses on the object of envy, and a (malicious) envy which focuses on the state of the other as possessing this object. M. R. Kelly argues that this schema is inadequate because envy is always a comparative intentionality, and it is always a vice. Without the notion of comparativeness, object centred envy collapses into covetousness. Kelly proposes a distinction between possessor envy and deficiency envy. With the former we believe that the other doesn’t deserve what they have, in the latter we reproach ourselves for not having it. The former is other-centred, and focuses on the undeservedness of the superiority of the other. The latter is self-centred, and we see our status as unjustly inferior. Both however are based on assessing the self in relation to the other. Finally, possessor envy manifests in resentment and hostility toward the envied, whilst deficiency empathy manifests in self-loathing. Non-other centred deficiency envy is therefore not benign, as it diminishes one’s moral character. Both envies are a form of vice. Analytic and Anglophone virtue philosophers will find familiar methodological and thematic tropes in this article, as will Husserlians.
The tenth essay is W. C. Hackett’s attempt to articulate a primer on the phenomenology of the philosophy of revelation, with reference to recent phenomenological figures including Lacoste and Marion. Unfortunately, this chapter is a low point in this edited volume, and I convey only what little of it I understood. On p.187, it is claimed that
1. Philosophy is the inquiry into the essence of humanity.
2. The revelation of God is a revelation into humanities most private mystery. Therefore,
3. A philosophy or revelation is fundamental to philosophy’s innate aim.
Furthermore, because of phenomenology’s capacity to express experience, a phenomenology of philosophical revelation holds special promise to fulfil this fundamental philosophical project. A phenomenology of religious revelation articulates the appearance of the impossible and, therefore, by definition, transcends its own limits and expands the limits of intelligibility. It is an irony that an essay on revelation conceals. It was full of unintelligible phrases, unexplained specialist terms, and Greek, French, German and Latin. Non-specialists will find it impenetrable and it is, therefore, of value only to a select few.
Part 4. Embodiment and Affectivity.
Part four is rooted in the hybrid space between empirical psychology and phenomenology. There are interlacing ‘4E cognition’ themes in this part. Both the first and third articles rely on the interpretation of first person psychiatric descriptions of disorder as a form of eidetic variation.
The first article of part four (essay #11), by M. Ratcliffe, examines what constitutes the sense that one is in an intentional state of a particular type (i.e. perception), as opposed to a different type (i.e. imagination). It has been suggested that sense of type is determined by experiencing correlative characteristic types of contents alone. Ratcliffe proposes that one can experience contents characteristic of intentional state type x, without having the sense of being in that state type, and thus content is not sufficient to dictate sense of type. Evidence is provided by certain anomalous experiences.
Ratcliffe’s example is thought insertion (TI). He argues that some features of the contents of TI are characteristic of perceptual content (i.e. seemingly extra-mental external origin), but mostly the features are characteristic of thought content. Yet, TI has the sense of being a perceptual type experience. Thus, types of experience aren’t determined by, nor wholly collapse into, types of contents. Ratcliffe argues that another factor explains our sense of type—the phenomenological (Husserlian) notion of horizonality.
An object’s horizon determines the possibilities we attribute to it, and these possibilities determine an anticipatory profile. The anticipatory profile of inserted thoughts is more consistent with perception. For example, one has a sense of lacking foreknowledge of the occurrence of inserted thoughts, and thereby one experiences an associated negative affect—anxiety over the unknown. These features belong to the anticipatory profile of external auditory experiences—a type of perception. It is thus the anticipatory profile which correlates more strongly with sense of type of experience, and explains it better than content.
Incorporation is the assimilation of either skills or objects, and it is typically a feature of embodied or perceptual capacities. In her contribution (essay #12), G. Colombetti contends that incorporation also operates in affective states like motivations, moods, and emotions. An example of affective skill incorporation would be how bodily expressive ‘styles’, such as patterns of hand gesture and body postures, become a spontaneous and prereflective form of expressing and experiencing affects.
There are, it seems, two essential parts to the claim that affective states incorporate objects. Firstly, objects become constitutive parts of affective states. For example, hiking boots might partly constitute an affective state of confidence. Secondly, these affective states then change the nature of the world we see ourselves in. For example, the state of confidence which is partly constituted by our hiking boots in turn enables a specific set of motoric affordances and colours our perception of the hiking trail.
In response to potential objections, Colombetti maintains that objects are not only incorporated into perceptual states, which in turn act as a (causal/functional) input into affective states, but objects are incorporated directly into affective states themselves. An unconsidered objection is that, seeing as it is already held that objects are incorporated perceptually, and we can concede that perception is in causal/functional interaction with affectivity, doesn’t it seems a little unparsimonious to claim that objects are incorporated into affective states as well? This will need further discussion in the near future.
Essay #13, by J. Kreuger and M. Gram Henriksen claims that, in Mobius Syndrome (MS) (lateral congenital paralysis of one side of the face), and schizophrenia, paradigmatic phenomenological senses of embodiment are highlighted because they are disrupted. MS sufferers report a sense of detachment and alienation from their body, and a feeling of being trapped in their head, like a Cartesian disembodied mind. The body loses its anonymity, performing gestures and expressions are wilful and considered. The body is experienced as a Körper but not a Leib. Schizophrenia is characterised by a diminished self-affection and hyper reflexivity, and phenomenological reports suggest it can involve a disturbance in embodied ipseity. Patients report feeling disjointed from and disown their own body. This essay is the most descriptive and least argumentative of this part of the volume.
Part 5. Pragmatism.
The fifth part is highly creative. M. Craig’s contribution (essay #14) seeks to combine phenomenology with James’s pragmatism and Bergson’s vitalism. For Bergson, the primary state of experience is temporal flux, which is anaemic to verbalisation or conceptualisation. James, of course, coined the archetypal characterisation of consciousness as a ‘flow’ or ‘stream’. Both are thus concerned with the intricacy of life beyond abstract conceptualisation, and used vivid description, depiction, and images in order to do philosophy. Further, both Bergson’s intuitionist vitalism, and James’s sovereignty of the empirical singularity and emergentist ethics, promises to reinvigorate philosophy in a way which phenomenologists could participate.
Essay #15 (by J. Bell) details the interaction between the seminal American pragmatists J. Royce and Husserl, by recounting the presidential address by Royce in 1902 to the American Psychological Association. Royce was globally one of the earliest thinkers to engage with Husserl. Royce was interested in investigating the morphology (or, adaptability) of concepts, particularly on the shared conceptual grounds between the increasingly hostile inter-disciplinary areas of psychology and philosophical logic. One area of frequent concept morphology is mathematics. For Royce, as for Husserl, this was precisely an area where empirical and a priori consciousnesses merged to create a factical world full of meanings and ideal objectivities. Of pressing importance is the function of the consciousness of affirmation and denial for system building, organisation, and categorisation. This section of essay #15 is reminiscent of Burt Hopkins historical-mathematical reconstructions.
The final section of part 5, discusses the importance of the consciousness of inhibitions and taboo for Royce. It connects this with Husserl’s core notions of activity and passivity, the ‘I can’ and the ‘I can’t’, and the actualisation of some possibilities to the expense of others. The taboo and the inhibition are found on the borders of the consciousness of the limiting cases of what can (and ought) to become actualised, and to grasp (phenomenologically) the entertaining and inhibiting of a multiplicity of possibilities is to understand intelligence, thought, and the locus of pragmatic philosophy.
Part 6. Calling Phenomenology into Question.
The final engrossing part of this book begins very much back where this review started: questioning the coherency and health of phenomenology.
Essay #16 by T. Sparrow surveys a series of introductions to phenomenology, and finds phenomenology defined as the study of consciousness (Detmer, Gallaher), a foundational science (Detmer), the science of appearances (Lewis and Staehler), and a Platonic searching for essential truths (Sokolowski). Sparrow judges the lack of a cohesive definition problematic. Faced with this diversity, Simmons and Benson resort to a defensive definition of phenomenology as a family resemblance term. However, at least some strains of phenomenology endorse the notion that there is an essence to phenomenology and, critically, theorists (some within this very volume) often suggest that phenomenology might be applied as a research method to new areas. So, it seems imperative to define what exactly phenomenology is. The basic point of this essay is convincingly made early on. For the ‘variety of definitions’ objection to be considered problematic, however, it would need to be shown that there is less coherence within phenomenology than with any other research paradigm, science, or philosophical school.
Essay #17 by P. Ennis claims that, despite Husserl’s admirable attempt to limit himself to and examine only epistemologically purified Cartesian forms of evidence, we have better forms of evidence available to us today. As Ennis notes, Husserlian foundational evidence is criticised by Sellars attack on the myth of the given. Furthermore, Ennis argues that Metzinger’s and Chruchland’s accounts of the self might not be totally incommensurate with Husserlian transcendental accounts of the self, but they are developed (not only phenomenological but also) neurobiologically, functionally, and in representational terms. They thus offer similar (but not identical) systems, but with better (empirical scientific) evidential backing. There is very little original criticism here: the value of empirical evidence over phenomenological evidence is a stalwart of contemporary cognitive science. However, it is an interesting tactic to draw parallels between Metzinger and Husserl in order to persuade the phenomenologists that they needn’t abandon their core claims if they traded a phenomenological perspective for a functional/neurobiological one.
The final article (#18) by B E. Benson is a response to the previous two. Regarding Sparrow, Benson simply denies the legitimacy of the requirement that phenomenology have any easily definable method or essence. Also, Benson claims that there is more coherency among key features (like object, experience, appearance, science) of the varied definitions that Sparrow discusses than he grants. Lastly, though there is variety, there is also much shared DNA within the phenomenological family. Benson also echoes my concerns when he argues that phenomenology is no more varied than other large philosophical traditions, nor less methodologically coherent than natural science was in its first few centuries. Like scientific method, no one phenomenologist has the authority to decide the meaning and method of phenomenology.
Finally, in response to Ennis, Benson argues that the fact that Metzinger and Husserl came to similar conclusions doesn’t really allow us to differentiate them, let alone give us good reason to favour one over the other. For Benson, Ennis nowhere entertains a pluralistic approach to explaining psychological phenomenon, wherein the strength of neuroscience needn’t imply the death of phenomenology. Lastly, Ennis only addresses Husserlian transcendental phenomenology and, even if Ennis were right, phenomenology has many other facets, as the preceding article, and this edited work more generally, shows.