Alison Laywine: Kant’s Transcendental Deduction: A Cosmology of Experience

Kant’s Transcendental Deduction: A Cosmology of Experience Book Cover Kant’s Transcendental Deduction: A Cosmology of Experience
Alison Laywine
Oxford University Press
Hardback £60.00

Reviewed by: Thomas Nemeth (USA)

Every student of Kant’s thought is familiar with his reflective assertion that the Transcendental Deduction in the first Critique cost him more labor than any other part. The centrality of that presentation for his entire argument coupled with its sheer conceptual difficulty lay behind Kant’s efforts and the attention he afforded to elaborate it correctly. Countless students from his time to our own have themselves spent an inordinate amount of time attempting to follow the train of thought Kant pursued in it. Not just have disagreements surfaced on the actual steps Kant took in the Deduction, but differing opinions arose on how he could best achieve his intended end. We know that even in his own day Kant’s contemporaries were puzzled by the Transcendental Deduction as it appeared in the Critique’s first edition. Kant took the criticism to heart, and in a second edition of the work he gave a completely new version of the argument. Regrettably, what many thought should be the clearest of all presentations in the Critique – owing to its centrality – has been viewed by able scholars over the ensuing decades, nay centuries, as puzzling and obscure, but above all as inconclusive. Whereas many have ventured opinions on the success of Kant’s endeavor, few, if any, have concluded that he succeeded in achieving whatever it is that he had set out to do.

Numerous attempts have been made even in recent years to do what Kant himself seemingly was unable to accomplish, namely to give a clear account of Kant’s argument in the Deduction, quite apart from whether it succeeds or not. Even if we lay aside the presentations in the form of journal articles, the number of book-length studies alone is surprising, even astonishing – and this just in the English language. Fortunately, we have two eminently lucid expositions of Kant’s Transcendental Deduction, namely Guyer’s Kant and the Claims of Knowledge and Allison’s Kant’s Transcendental Deduction, though as the titles suggest the latter is more pointedly directed at explaining Kant’s text than the former. Both, however, are works that no serious student of Kant can afford to ignore. Certainly, there are considerable differences between the two books in their conclusions and their manner of executing their respective projects. Nevertheless, regardless of one’s familiarity with Kant’s text, whether a graduate student trying to understand Kant’s problem for the first time or an accomplished Kant-scholar, both books offer much clarification and many insights. Moreover, both books make ample use of Kant’s writings from his so-called “Silent Decade” and thus attempt to trace the evolution of Kant’s problem in the Deduction from his early “pre-Critical” writings. Now, we have Laywine’s dense contribution to the literature.

Alison Laywine is one of the few scholars who already in 1995 undertook an examination of Kant’s pre-Critical works in considerable depth with the hope of shedding light on the basic tenets of his Critical writings and positions. In that previous work, Kant’s Early Metaphysics and the Origins of the Critical Philosophy, Laywine told us that an understanding of the first Critique’s dichotomy between the faculties of sensibility and the understanding requires an understanding of his earlier position, why Kant adopted it at the time, and what led him to alter it, assuming, of course, that he did. Implicit in Laywine’s train of thought here is that such knowledge of Kant’s development is necessary in order to arrive at Laywine’s understanding of Kant. She and so many others who make similar claims take no account of the fact that others with a different understanding of Kant may not feel the need to turn to Kant’s pre-Critical writings. Given her position regarding just what the Deduction seeks to achieve, her argument for an examination of Kant’s early writings surely would include that he retained the kernel of his early metaphysics but reinterpreted and adapted it to fit those aspects of his philosophy that changed over the intervening years.

In any case, Laywine claims – and not without good reason – that Kant came to realize the inadequacies of his 1770 Inaugural Dissertation and tried during the subsequent decade or so to investigate and establish the limits of human cognition and the role of the respective faculties he delineated within those limits. He argued that what could be known under the conditions of one faculty could not be known under the conditions of the other. Yet unlike in 1781, the year of the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant held earlier in 1770 that the understanding through its concepts can cognize things in themselves, whereas things conceived through the senses are representations of things merely as they appear to us. He drew this conclusion from his contention that space and time are formal conditions of our sensibility. The strict separation of the faculties would go on to pose significant issues for him, and the attempt to resolve them led him to his mature system.

Laywine’s newest book essentially takes up where she left off previously, namely with a discussion of a set of Kant’s papers now known collectively as the Duisburg Nachlaβ, written most likely in 1775, and thus just about half-way between the Inaugural Dissertation and the first Critique. Short of paper, Kant often wrote notes on whatever paper was at hand including in the blank areas on letters he received. The so-called Duisburg Nachlaβ is such a set of jottings written in the blank areas of a letter bearing a date. Based on that fact, we know approximately when the note was scribbled. For those interested in the development of Kant’s mature positions, these notes are of great importance, since we have little else by which we can see the evolution of his thought. Although Laywine acknowledges Guyer’s treatment of the Nachlaβ in his own book, she charges him with neglecting Kant’s early metaphysics and with resisting the idealism that she sees present in the Nachlaβ. She, on the other hand, recognizes “some kind of idealism” (19) in them, but in doing so she in effect begs us to ask of her what kind of idealism is it that she sees. We get an answer or, rather, to use her own words, “some kind of” answer, further on in her detailed exposition of the Nachlaβ, where she says that the idealism is not transcendental idealism, but an idealism based on the idea that the cognizing subject intuits oneself directly through an intellectual insight and “bodies” – presumably meaning all else besides the subject – only insofar as they affect me. In this she explicitly sees herself as diverging from Guyer’s reading of the Nachlaβ, according to which Kant’s writing hopes to provide a theory of the a priori conditions of empirical knowledge but without thereby establishing an unbridgeable chasm between the world as cognized and the world as it is apart from our human cognition, i.e., as it is “in itself.” Even if one were to agree with Guyer in his reading of the Nachlaβ, one must wonder along with Laywine what Guyer meant by realism, particularly if he had Kant’s own definition in mind. Kant claimed, after all, to be an empirical realist even while espousing his transcendental idealism. Thus, the onus falls here on Guyer to clarify his position and interpretation – or at least it does on Laywine’s reading of Guyer.

However, even if we agree that Guyer failed to provide such a clarification, this does not absolve Laywine from providing her own account of Kant’s idealism. She writes that based on her reading of the A-Deduction, i.e., the Deduction as found in the 1781 Critique, Kant was an idealist about objects taken as objects of knowledge, but this need not mean that he was a skeptic concerning the external world (137). Clearly in 1781 Kant did not offer, and presumably therefore saw no need to offer, a special refutation of idealism. To Laywine’s thinking, Kant must have been as surprised as anyone that his sheer confidence concerning externality could be questioned. That critics charged him with Berkeleyan idealism forced Kant to add a distinct “Refutation of Idealism” in the 1787 second edition of the Critique. The question, then, is whether Laywine’s understanding of Kant’s idealism as presented in 1781 stands scrutiny given her premise that Kant took for granted the existence of the external world at the time. To be sure, Laywine finds nothing in Kant’s idealism that would disturb his confidence in externality. However, for us the question is whether Laywine’s confidence is itself misplaced. Are there not ample grounds in the 1781 Critique to think that Kant must have recognized the significance of the problem? And since he did not offer a refutation in the first Critique, is it not possible that he was still searching for one? Much, then, depends on the nature of Kant’s 1781 position, to which Laywine writes she will return in §3d (147-150) of the second chapter of her book. Indeed, Laywine there does somewhat return to the issue, albeit only in a footnote, in which she stresses her disagreement again with Guyer’s treatment of Kant’s idealism in the Nachlaβ. Unfortunately, determining Laywine’s own position requires an understanding of Guyer’s in order then to set Laywine’s against it. Certainly, this can be done, but the procedure requires the reader to make the necessary inference. The burden Laywine thrusts upon her readership is not aided by her assertion that Kant’s idealism in 1775 is “something like” (149f) the idealism that Guyer attributes to Kant in 1781. If the two positions are merely “like” each other, then in what way are they different?

Regrettably, Laywine, by her own admission, states that although she will take into account both versions of the Deduction – the A-Deduction and the substantially revised version in the second edition, or B-Deduction – her focus throughout her treatment is on the latter. This may be understandable given the argument she develops, but it does significantly narrow her potential audience, who may want an understanding of the Deduction on the whole, and not just her particular argument. In this respect, Henry Allison’s earlier work, in patiently dealing with both versions of the Deduction, succeeds far better and is far more accessible to a general reader. True, the B-Deduction may be, as Laywine writes, “more perspicuous” (14), but it is for that very reason, then, that one might well expect her to devote more attention to the first version. To be sure, she does not wholly dispense with the first edition tout court. She does draw instructive parallels between passages in the two versions of the Deduction, but she often finds the A-Deduction more convoluted and the argument more ambiguous than in the B-Deduction. An understanding of Laywine’s discussion here is again helped by the juxtaposition of her understanding with that of Allison’s.   Laywine states (14) that a second reason for concentrating on the B-Deduction is to show that certain “infelicities” some have seen in the A-Deduction concerning metaphysics are not mistakes that are “ironed out” in the B-Deduction. On the contrary, Laywine believes that they are essential to the Deduction as such.

Laywine’s devotion to the Nachlaβ in the context of the present work concludes with the assertion that it more or less shows that Kant recognized already in the middle of his “Silent Decade” the need for a deduction of the categories, regardless of their number, of the understanding, i.e., for an, in effect, legal argument substantiating the claim that pure concepts in the understanding apply to appearances and do so a priori. Even stronger, Laywine holds that Kant did provide such a deduction already in the Nachlaβ at least in outline. This can hardly come as a surprise to readers familiar with the vast secondary literature. For example, Wolfgang Carl in a paper “Kant’s First Drafts of the Deduction of the Categories” originally read in 1987 to an audience at Stanford University, but published in 1989, noted that Kant had already drafted several versions of the deduction before the 1781 Critique.

In turning to the Deduction itself in the B-Deduction, one of Laywine’s first concerns is understanding what Kant meant by such terms and expressions as “manifold” and “synthetic unity of apperception.” She turns again to Kant’s pre-Critical writings for clarification as to how he employed the word “manifold” previously, hopefully, thereby, throwing light on his use of the word in the Critique. Laywine writes that for Kant every intuition has a manifold, including a priori intuitions. This would seem incontestable, particularly since Kant himself clearly makes that assertion, for example at B160. Whatever the case, Laywine suggests that not everyone recognized this, Dieter Henrich being one.

Particularly since Henrich’s 1969 article on the proof-structure of the B-Deduction, virtually every commentator on Kant’s first Critique has had something to say on whether the B-Deduction presents two distinct steps or two distinct arguments for a single conclusion. The Deduction, in Laywine’s words, is to show that the categories or pure concepts of the understanding “are the formal conditions of thought in the same way that the pure intuitions of space and time are the formal conditions of sensibility” (13). The problem, so to speak, is that the argument of the B-Deduction extends through §26 of the Critique, but the conclusion offered there does not appear to be substantially different from that already presented in §20, where Kant writes that “the manifold in a given intuition also necessarily stands under categories,” the categories being nothing other than the functions for judging (B143). Only by standing under categories is the unity of the sensible manifold possible. Thus, does the first step of the B-Deduction end with the quite brief §20 (B143) and then resume with a second step at §22 or does §22 advance another distinct argument? If what we have here are two arguments for one conclusion, it looks as though Kant was saying you should pick the one that you like best (209). On the other hand, if the B-Deduction consists of two steps, how do the two steps differ?

Laywine writes that she “prefers” to think that the B-Deduction consists of two steps rather than two arguments (209). Stating that one of the two options is preferred is hardly a ringing endorsement of a choice. We can only hope that now having completed her inquiry Laywine is firmly convinced that she made the correct decision. She does realize, though, that having made her choice she must now say what the second step offers to the argument beyond what the first affirmed. Kant provides the answer, or as Laywine herself calls it “an important clue” to the answer, at the beginning of §26. She then quotes one sentence from that section – in her own translation – after which she remarks that its significance lies in its announcement that the “final step” of the Deduction will be an attempt to account for how nature is possible (210). Are we, therefore, to conclude that what sets the “second step” apart from the first is that it finally answers how nature is possible? But, then, the first step, contrary to its appearance, cannot have reached the same conclusion as the second step. Laywine’s answer lies in understanding that Kant uses the word “nature” in two different senses, a material and a formal sense. Laywine finds the material sense given explicitly in Prolegomena §36, where Kant writes that nature is the totality of all appearances, and the formal sense concerns appearances governed by laws so that they form a unified whole. Stated in such terms what is at issue appears simple enough. But interpreting the intricate and puzzling B-Deduction through the lens of the Prolegomena asks us to assume that the twofold sense given in the Prolegomena accurately reflected Kant’s thinking at the time of the Prolegomena – and not one offered for the sake of simplicity alone – but also that Kant continued to maintain the same stance in 1787. That the B-Deduction does indeed hold to the twofold sense of nature is a major task of Laywine’s treatise.

Laywine sees her proposal for understanding the B-Deduction as unique. Henrich, for one, wrote that what Laywine sees as the respective sections of the B-Deduction constituting the two steps in fact do not actually come to the same conclusion. For Henrich, Kant presents two different arguments with two different conclusions. Others have proposed variations. In Laywine’s estimation, Hans Wagner came close to her own by recognizing that the second step focuses on empirical intuition and perception, whereas the first step deals only with intuition as such. While this train of thought leads him to recognize the importance of the question how nature is possible, he failed to exploit this insight. In focusing on how perception is possible, Wagner, in Laywine’s estimation, overlooked accounting for how perceptions can be connected. Certainly, she correctly remarks that without such an explanation of connected perceptions there can be no explanation of how nature is possible. But we may ask of Laywine what more needs to be added to Wagner’s argument to produce her own. The answer is both easy and hard. That is, it can easily be stated as that we must notice the cosmological aspect of the second step, the contribution of a cosmology of experience makes to the completion of the B-Deduction argument.

We know that Laywine puts much weight on this conception of a “cosmology of experience.” After all, it features prominently in her book’s subtitle, and she mentions the expression many times in her text. She tells us on page 87 that such a cosmology – she also calls it a “metaphysics” (3f) – treats experience “as a unified whole of appearances … and tries to establish its conditions of possibility by showing that its unity comes from laws legislated to appearances by the understanding through its categories.” This treatment of experience, allegedly, is conspicuously absent from the first step of the B-Deduction. The emphasis here is on the word “unity,” for it allows us to characterize the world as a whole. Laywine claims that the germ of this conception of a cosmology of experience “informs” Kant’s account of human sensibility already in the Inaugural Dissertation and again is revealed in the Nachlaβ and even in the A-Deduction. Of course, if it is as easy as Laywine says, it is hard to see why the answer to Henrich’s challenge appears explicitly only on page 214, but in her defense she did prepare much of the needed groundwork up to this point. In her own estimation, the hard part of her argument is to make an understandable presentation of what a cosmology of experience will contribute to the Deduction.

Even by her own reckoning, having reached §26 of the B-Deduction, the final section of the argument, Laywine, by her own opinion, has still not been able to clinch the required proof. According to her, to say, as Kant does, that the categories are valid for all objects of experience in B161 is not the same as invoking universal laws to make the unity of appearances possible. But is it? Laywine continues, holding that if we are to speak of universal laws of nature, they must either stem from God, which Kant has dismissed for his purposes here, or from the categories. Kant at B163 wrote that the “categories are concepts that prescribe laws a priori to appearances, thus to nature as the sum total of all appearances. … Here is the solution to this riddle.” Can we say that with this Laywine’s task is complete?

Hermann Cohen, in his own all-too-brief commentary from 1907, found, like Laywine, that these words contained the transcendental question. He found the answer – or so he says – in the distinction between objects and things in themselves, a distinction that Laywine fortunately does not invoke. But she does, like Cohen, find that the solution she seeks lies in the understanding’s self-activity and the imagination. Cohen writes, “Here we see, however, how the imagination and the connection that it creates between sensibility and the understanding make the resolution more plausible. … Thus by means of the imagination nature, as the sum total of appearances, becomes nature, ‘as the original ground of its necessary lawfulness’” (63, B165). Certainly, while there are many nuances that distinguish Cohen’s endeavor from that of Laywine, there is a distinct similarity that Laywine does not so much as mention.

There are certainly many positive points to Laywine’s treatment of the B-Deduction. Not one of them, however, is that her investigation is largely ahistorical. In this too, though, she is not unique. Despite all the scholarship over the more than two centuries that preceded her work, she makes little reference to it. Does she think that her formulation of and solution to the central problem of the Deduction is original as compared to all that has gone before? If it is unique, that would be a stunning claim in light of all of the nineteenth century German scholarship alone, not counting those from the twentieth, some of which she does briefly mentions. But if it is not, in what way does her treatment contribute to what has gone before? Or is she, in effect, saying that each of us should attempt for ourselves unaided by the past to square the circle? Frederick Beiser has remarked with regard to contemporary Anglophone scholarship on German idealism that many of the champions of a normative interpretation of it do not realize that their reading was worked out with greater sophistication and subtlety long ago (10). Can we not draw a parallel comparison to the core message in Laywine’s reading of the B-Deduction – apart from the many details she provides – but referring instead to Cohen’s interpretation?

Undoubtedly, Laywine’s treatment of the Duisburg Nachlaβ in relation to the B-Deduction is a valuable addition to contemporary English-language Kant scholarship. It is this rather than her actual treatment of the Deduction that sets her book apart. It is not an easy read for the casual or beginning student of the first Critique, who might come upon it looking for guidance. But those already quite familiar with the B-Deduction will find a number of observations they will have likely overlooked previously.


Beiser, Frederick C. 2009. “Normativity in Neo-Kantianism: Its Rise and Fall.” International Journal of Philosophical Studies, vol. 17 (1): 9-27.

Cohen, Hermann. 1907. Kommentar zu Immanuel Kants Kritik der reinen Vernunft. Leipzig: Verlag der Dürr’schen Buchhandlung  .

Federica Buongiorno, Vincenzo Costa, Roberta Lanfredini (Eds.): Phenomenology in Italy: Authors, Schools and Traditions, Springer, 2020

Phenomenology in Italy: Authors, Schools and Traditions Book Cover Phenomenology in Italy: Authors, Schools and Traditions
Contributions To Phenomenology, Vol. 106
Federica Buongiorno, Vincenzo Costa, Roberta Lanfredini (Eds.)
Hardback 103,99 €
IX, 178

Thomas Bedorf, Steffen Herrmann (Eds.): Political Phenomenology: Experience, Ontology, Episteme, Routledge, 2019

Political Phenomenology: Experience, Ontology, Episteme Book Cover Political Phenomenology: Experience, Ontology, Episteme
Routledge Research in Phenomenology
Thomas Bedorf, Steffen Herrmann (Eds.)
Hardback £96.00

Antonio Cimino, Cees Leijenhorst (Eds.): Phenomenology and Experience: New Perspectives

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Studies in Contemporary Phenomenology, Volume: 18
Antonio Cimino, Cees Leijenhorst (Eds.)
Hardback €135.00, $162.00
x, 204

Reviewed by: Heath Williams (Sun Yat-sen University)

A series of variegated contributions to the development of the concept of experience. Thought provoking and refreshingly interesting, with some exceedingly high-quality scholarship. There is scant space here to do justice to all the topics, so I’ll touch on a few highlights and critique one low-point.

Emmanuel Alloa: What is Diaphenomenology? A Sketch

Alloa argues that we ought to take a nuanced understanding of the notion of returning to the things themselves; just because Husserl states he can return to things themselves and therefore operate only within the realm of pure experience which is given to us in intuition, this shouldn’t be taken to mean that phenomenology has immediate access to the pure unadulterated stuff that experience is made of, nor should we assume that this stuff originates from consciousness. Alloa argues that phenomenology ought to be diaphenomenology: which rests on the core claims that what appears in experience (the phenomena) always “appears through [dia] something else” (12); diaphenomenology is, purportedly, the terminus of the development of phenomenology.

Alloa observes an aporia which begins from the observation that, for Husserl, the things themselves are given in intuition via a direct relation to an individual. Alloa then points out that such individuals, however, always appear as more than what they are because they are meant. “When something appears, it appears as something, and this appearing as something is what gives the appearance its very meaning” (17). For Husserl, the structuring function of intentionality allows experience to go beyond the perceptually given sense data and intend a meaningful object. Even though things are given directly, consciousness must do some of the work to allow individuals to appear ‘directly’ (i.e. be meant) in the first place. Alloa argues that, to account for how this is possible, Husserl’s analysis that begins with the things themselves inevitably ends up granting consciousness and the ego a wider role in the bestowal of sense than a phenomenological analysis allows.

Alloa argues that every way through the reduction leads to the same antimony between mediacy and appearance. The way through the lifeworld brings us only to the backdrop on which things appear, the way through the lived body leads only to that via which I experience the world. Thus, Alloa arrives at his central conclusion: “While Husserlian phenomenology sets off as an exclusion of all mediations, the very return to the things themselves forces him to take mediations into account” (24). Alloa’s analysis suggests an inevitability about this conclusion.

What is meaningful can only appear in a medium which can allow sense to be bestowed on it, a medium itself stripped of meaning. Thus, Alloa argues that we ought to adopt a diaphenomenological perspective which examines the mediums through which things appear.

This article presents a precise capitulation of a very important position within the landscape of contemporary phenomenology. It explains how Alloa’s position develops as a response to Husserl’s as much as via a reading of Merleau-Ponty (in Alloa 2017). But of course, one can ask what one asks of any reading of Husserl: which Husserl are you criticising? Alloa’s article explains how to avoid some of the pitfalls of the path taken by the transcendental and egological Husserl of Ideas 1 and Cartesian Meditations, yet many of Alloa’s suggestions concerning the development of a phenomenology of sensory medium would not contradict the Husserl of Ideas 2 (wherein we find the concrete analysis of sensation) and particularly Husserl’s suggestion, found in Ideas 3, that we ought to develop a somatological science. I found myself wondering whether these Husserlian works weren’t more in line with the method that Alloa is proposing.

This essay is mainly a theoretical piece which suggests how we might avoid the pitfalls of a particular path of analysis by practicing another, and in this regard the case is clear and compelling. However, it is very difficult to assess Alloa’s proposal without seeing exactly how the project of diaphenomenology might be put to practice in some concrete analyses, and how these analyses might differ from non-diaphenomenological ones. Perhaps I am asking to ‘brutish’ a question, and one that belies a lack of imagination or comprehension, but I struggled to understand how a standard Husserlian analysis would differ, precisely, from the sort of analyses Alloa has in mind.  What exactly does it mean to focus on the medium through which something appears instead of the thing itself, especially given that Alloa insists that the latter amounts to the former anyway?  A couple of examples wouldn’t go astray, but perhaps they are forthcoming in future works (his or others); I certainly hope so, as the last thing phenomenology needs is another theoretical banknote which is never cashed out in small change.

Bernardo Ainbinder: Transcendental Experience

Ainbinder begins by pointing out that transcendental conditions cannot be experienced (or else they would lie within the empirical field), and so the adherence to the principle of all principles conflicts with phenomenology’s transcendental aspirations. Ainbinder proposes that a solution is that the transcendental be considered “the multi-layered network of norms that govern our evidentiary practices” (33).

Points out that Husserl thought that normativity governed even our perceptual experiences, considering the noema an organising principle which governs object perception. We might, for example, fear that we are mistaken about the colour of an object. Under such circumstances, we might put our glasses on to view it better, view it under better light, or from different angles. We may conclude that the object is not as we thought, that it is orange instead of red. However, the colour of the object itself in this scenario serves as a sort of objective standard–an optimum. This optimum is judged against my physical state (my sore eyes) and the state of the world (the lighting and my position). Thus, the noema is a landmark that facilitates perceptual normativity.

This “normative network is the essential structure of experience” (37); it determines what is the case, what only seems to be the case, and on what basis we may correctly make judgements about the world. Thus, the analysis of everyday experience reveals the transcendental conditions of that experience. This is a hallmark characteristic of phenomenology’s transcendentalism: we do not ask transcendental questions “in order to arrive at a better understanding of the world… but rather to find legitimation for the pretences involved in such experience” (38). It also reveals that, the question isn’t how we can impose ‘oughts’ upon a neutral sensory experience, but how experience itself is already riddled with oughts–already normative through and through.

Thus, truth or ‘evidence’ is a transcendental ground towards which all experience tends. Truth is the “basis for any assessment” based in experience (41). This leads to Husserl’s idiomatic epistemological approach to practical and ethical life: “the disclosure of truth is to be seen as a part of an overall conception of rationality as an ideal for human life” (42). Thus, experience is normative, and this provides an ethical demand to behave rationally in our practical lives, but because experience and normativity are dialectical, rationality is tendentious, iterative, open to revision, and a matter of exercising our autonomy and freedom to look more closely (sometimes literally) and revise our beliefs.

So, we can access the transcendental field when “we make the rules that govern our processes of revising our position-takings in the future course of our experience explicit” (43). The final question concerns just how claims about this field might be justified.

Ainbinder shows that it is because the course of practical and ethical experience challenges not only what exists in the world but our own so-called ‘rational credentials’ as perceivers that we gravitate towards a transcendental inquiry into the conditions of truth. Ainbinder certainly explains why we are motivated toward transcendental inquiry, and that such an inquiry could never be satisfied via empirical investigation alone, but not sure if he has answered whether such an inquiry can be justified. How could we possibly judge whether such an account was correct? Surely, if truth is that into which we inquire, we would now need some account of the meta-criterion of the correctness of this inquiry, one which, if non-circular, doesn’t refer to truth as ground or standard. It is these sorts of ‘problems of the criterion’ that have motivated anti-foundationalism and anti-transcendentalism in the analytic and pragmatic traditions.

Lorenzo Girardi: Experience and Unity in Husserl’s Solution to the Crisis

This work demonstrates an expertise in the Crisis, Husserl’s overarching project, and secondary Husserlian literature. Girardi provides a lucid overview of Husserl’s two crises:

1) The idealisation of the lifeworld by the natural sciences.

2) The loss of the capability of the human sciences (and philosophy) to provide a rational basis for culture and society.

Girardi shows that Husserl’s solution to both problems lies in the metaphysical ideal of a perfectly ordered, rational, and complete system of science.

This ideal runs into conflict with the conception of the lifeworld, which is not exclusively nor even preeminently a perceptual world of spatial things but also cultural. However, the cultural lifeworld is too pluralistic to ever found Husserl’s rational ideal. The only all-pervasive and common notion that might found an ideal rational science is the pregiven lifeworld as backdrop or horizon for all experience. This shift from situated cultural world to universal horizon is realised via an incessant and progressive “double move of critique and rationalisation” (89).

So, Husserl’s ideal of completed science progresses via critique from individual cultural worlds towards a unified and hence singular conception of the world. But, as Girardi points out, this ideal belies a kind of intellectual chauvinism: after all, there “might be equally different, equally rational ways the world can take shape without these ways converging on each other” (90). Girardi argues that Husserl’s unificationism shows that he has made a category mistake and confused the lifeworld as horizon, which would by definition imply an open endedness, with the lifeworld as an object, which could at least in principle be brought to a (unified) state of completion (91). Objects are poles of identity which have an internal horizon; a lawlike givenness dictated by a correspondence with an object. The external horizon (the world), on the other hand, has no such object to determine it and this has no guarantee of ultimate coherence; it “operates according to a potential infinity” (93). Thus, in confusing external and internal horizonality, Husserl attributes a potential unity to the latter which is not within its nature to afford.

So, realising a universal science seems impossible. Girardi ends with the rather startling suggestion that for Husserl the possibility of realising a purely rational science is a matter of faith which is justifiable only from the perspective of practical reason; it is the sort of faith that there are practical reasons for holding. Girardi hits on the fact that there is an optimistic rationalism in Husserl’s philosophy which can’t ever really be grounded. For Husserl, this optimism was a matter of faith which prevented the encroachment of the sort of philosophical hopelessness and meaninglessness that pervades, for example, the anti-rationalist philosophy of Nietzsche or the existential philosophy of Sartre.

Genki Uemura & Alessandro Salice: Motives in Experience: Pfänder, Geiger, and Stein

This article aims to delineate three theories of motivation. This topic is certainly interesting and important. Unfortunately, much of the analysis in this article was confusing at key points and would’ve benefited from another round of review.

One of the strong parts of the article is the exposition of Pfänder’s account, the first stage of which is mentally noticing, in an interrogatory way, a stimulus (i.e. the cold of a room). Secondly, receiving an answer or demand to our interrogation: we know what we want to do in response to the stimulus (which may or may not convert to decision to act yet). Finally, I respond or rely on the answer and move into decision and action, and therefore develop a motive. The demand the cold air provided as a response to my interrogation of a stimulus becomes a motive as I rely on it and make the decision to leave the room. It is, thus, this ‘relying on’ that distinguishes motives from other inclinations that may arise yet are never acted on. Importantly, for Pfänder, the motive itself is not an act of consciousness but ‘out there,’ in the world (the demand made by chill in the air), which becomes a motive when treated in a certain attitude (reliance).

Uemura and Salice then attempt to show the difficulties Pfänder has, given his schema, in accounting for cases of ill-motivation. This section was unclear–I was left confused over how the authors were using the terms ‘grounds,’ ‘reasons,’ and ‘motives.’ Uemura and Salice talk about the example where we feel the chill of the air, register our desire to leave, but do not act on it. They dismiss the possibility that this amounts to a case of ill-motivation because “there is a sense in which the decision [not to leave the room] is motivated anyway. Being a decision, it must have a reason that grounds it” (136). I was left a little baffled at exactly what assumptions were informing this excerpt: are reasons, grounds, and motives thought of as largely synonymous here? Is the claim that Pfänder thinks they are synonymous? Clearer is the point that, in the case where we don’t leave the room, the reason for staying “must be something numerically distinct of the demand from the perceived chill in order for there to be a discrepancy between them” (136).

So, if Pfänder wants to identify motives with things out there in the world, then he “makes not room for the possibility of a discrepancy between the reason for a decision and the demand” (136). Even though Pfänder does allow for the possibility that the difference in question here might be relying-on the demand, such relying-on is a mental act (not a state of affairs in the world), and thus, if this is the explanation for ill-motivation, the ontological status of the motive becomes called into question (136). This, from what I could reconstruct, is the point.

The paper then moves on to discuss Geiger, for whom not only volitions but also emotions are motivated. In Geiger’s analysis, we can distinguish between the emotion (joy), the object of the emotion (a new car), and the motive for the emotion (now I can drive to work). The motivation for the emotion (the reason why we feel joy) is thus the experience of a possible state of affairs in which the object of the emotion is related. For Geiger, the possible state of affairs itself constitutes not the motivation but the grounds of the motivation. The object of the motive (the grounds) and the experience of possibly realising them can thus be pulled apart, which explains cases of ill-motivation.

So, three key shifts are made from Pfänder to Geiger. Firstly, we have moved from an extra- to an inter-mental phenomenon. Secondly, because of this we have been more clearly been able to distinguish between (objective) grounds and (mental) motives. Thirdly, we have moved from the sphere of action to other experiences.

Stein expands the concept of motivation so that any aspect of experience that results from another experience can be called a motivation. For Stein there are rational, perceptual, and volitional forms of motivation. Thus, both Husserl and Stein want to use the term ‘motivation’ in a much wider sense than is found in Pfänder and Geiger.

For Stein, motivations are the contents of our mental acts, or, intentional objects. Specifically, it is the relationship amongst contents of acts that constitutes the motivational relation. A motivates B if A is a content of a mental state that gives rise to B. We can deem Stein’s position noematic, Pfänder’s objective, and Geiger’s noetic.

One of the unclear passages in Uemura and Salice’s essay concerned the voluntary nature of motivation, given Stein’s radical expansion of this concept to cover a wider variety of phenomena. For example, according to Stein, perceptions motivate apperceptions (i.e., the front side of an object motivates my apperception of its non-presented third side). However, we can hardly call such a motivation voluntary, as it is not something we have a choice over, and it occurs automatically.

The authors write that, to solve this problem, Stein expands the definition of what free action consists in beyond the scope of decisions. However, they then say that “free acts include not only deciding but also asserting, lying and other acts we perform spontaneously” (144). I found this passage most puzzling; what exactly is spontaneous about these acts? Perhaps we might sort of lie or say something off the cuff but we definitely sometimes plan and decide to perform such actions in a contrived way. No explanation is given as to why we might classify these acts as spontaneous in the first place, and thus how classifying them as free serves to solve Stein’s problem.

Moreover, in this explanation, the authors seem to be targeting the wrong class of phenomena; the problem Stein has is that, if she thinks motivation is voluntary, how to account for perceptual motivations (like apperceptions) not motivations for our speech acts; the latter are uncontroversially voluntary.

The discussion of how these different conceptions of motivation map onto the present debate is one of the most useful aspects of the paper. However, I don’t think the claimed  correspondence between Davidson and Geiger is totally correct. For Davidson, it is not mental states qua mental states which are the reason for action, but that a certain position (desiring) is taken on a mental object of a specific sort. A “belief and a desire explain an action only if the contents of the belief and desire entail that there is something desirable about the action… This entailment marks a normative element, a primitive aspect of rationality” (Davidson 1987, 116). Thus, Davidson’s theory could be deemed a noematic account of reasons, in that it is the relationships amongst the intentional objects of our mental states that introduces normativity and accounts for why they count as reasons for acting. In this sense he is as close to Stein as he is to Geiger.


Alloa, E. 2017. Resistance of the Sensible World: An Introduction to Merleau-Ponty: Fordham University Press.

Davidson, Donald. 1987. “Problems in the explanation of action.” In Metaphysics and Morality, edited by Philip Pettit, Richard Sylvan and J. Norman. Blackwell.

Severin Sales Rödel: Negative Erfahrungen und Scheitern im schulischen Lernen, Springer, 2019

Negative Erfahrungen und Scheitern im schulischen Lernen: Phänomenologische und videographische Perspektiven Book Cover Negative Erfahrungen und Scheitern im schulischen Lernen: Phänomenologische und videographische Perspektiven
Phänomenologische Erziehungswissenschaft, Band 6
Severin Sales Rödel
Softcover 54,99 €
IX, 380

F. Buongiorno, V. Costa, R. Lanfredini: La fenomenologia in Italia. Autori, scuole, tradizioni

La fenomenologia in Italia. Autori, scuole, tradizioni Book Cover La fenomenologia in Italia. Autori, scuole, tradizioni
F. Buongiorno, V. Costa, R. Lanfredini

Reviewed by: Vittoria Sisca (Independent Scholar)

Raccogliendo undici contributi degli allievi più vicini ai personaggi che hanno dato avvio alla tradizione fenomenologica italiana, il volume a cura di Federica Buongiorno, Vincenzo Costa e Roberta Lanfredini intitolato La fenomenologia in Italia. Autori, scuole, tradizioni mostra la possibilità di raccontare la fenomenologia attraverso un’operazione che non si esaurisce in una sterile ricostruzione storica ma si configura come il tentativo di convertire un tema “a portata di fanciullo” in una Rückfrage: un esercizio intimo, che consiste nel ricercare le parole adatte per descrivere il proprio maestro, in una domanda che scava all’indietro cercando di scorgere anche la propria storia nel movimento di quella stessa vicenda di pensiero. Il risultato di questo esercizio è il quadro di un percorso che attraversa almeno tre generazioni di filosofi: un itinerario decentrato, dislocato in varie “scuole”, eppure tutt’altro che scolastico se col termine “scuola” intendiamo «la ripetizione, malgrado allargata, di temi di origine» (109). Leggendo il testo, in effetti, risulta difficile tracciare delle parole-guida che lo caratterizzano, nella misura in cui ciò che sopravviene è la netta impossibilità di ridurre il variegato panorama fenomenologico italiano a una «preconcetta visione d’insieme» (11) o altrimenti l’inadeguatezza di coprire, a beneficio di una definizione, l’intreccio di autori, scuole e tradizioni che gli dà forma.

Partendo dal principio, si potrebbe dire che il pensiero di Edmund Husserl abbia fatto capolino, in Italia, sull’onda di una reazione storica alle ipoteche metafisiche che ostacolavano l’emergere di una ragione differente. In particolare, come si legge nei contributi di Luca Maria Scarantino e Angela Ales Bello, Antonio Banfi riconobbe alla trattazione husserliana dell’intenzionalità il merito di aver trasformato la necessità ontologica della «correlazione metafisica fra percezione e rappresentazione» (17) in una necessità di ordine storico; mentre Vanni Rovighi, pur attribuendo al pensiero di Husserl una cifra idealistica di fondo, si avvalse di quella teoria o, come direbbe lei, di quel «guardare come stanno le cose» (44), per contrastare il neoidealismo imperante ai suoi tempi. I saggi successivi di Roberto Gronda e Elio Franzini esemplificano perfettamente come, coerentemente rispetto al proposito di porre le «condizioni di una teoria del sapere relazionale, antidogmatica e aperta a una pluralità di forme culturali» (16), l’insegnamento di Banfi ebbe un’influenza molto diversa all’interno delle opere dei suoi allievi. Comparando i due scritti, infatti, è possibile notare che, se Preti continuò e approfondì il razionalismo critico banfiano, Formaggio ereditò dal maestro quella capacità di «“tentare la sordità dell’esperienza”» (117) che gli consentì di comprendere, a partire dall’arte, «come un corpo in azione» riesca ad «essere protagonista di una trasformazione del mondo»: una trasformazione che, per un verso, ne rivela le qualità e, per l’altro, «scopre se stesso come dimensione percettiva, memorativa e immaginativa» (127).

Leggendo il contributo di Amedeo Vigorelli è possibile constatare, invece, che fu Enzo Paci a proseguire la missione pedagogica del maestro Banfi. Egli vi riuscì perché, analogamente a Banfi, non si limitò mai a guardare a Husserl solo come a un interlocutore privilegiato per il proprio pensiero, bensì fece della fenomenologia husserliana il punto di partenza per la costruzione di una vera e propria Gemeinschaft: una dimensione culturale «aperta, che “senza essere ostile al pensiero scientifico” evitasse di “farsene colonizzare e di sviluppare complessi di inferiorità”» al fine di reagire a un «diffuso scetticismo anti-filosofico» (88). Una tappa fondamentale di questa costruzione, nel percorso di Paci, è la rivista “aut aut”, che egli fondò nel 1951. Attorno ad essa, infatti, si svilupparono dei legami particolarmente significativi per lo sviluppo della fenomenologia italiana, al punto che si potrebbe paragonare questo progetto all’ossatura di quella Husserl Renaissance che, soprattutto in seguito alla pubblicazione nella Husserliana del secondo volume di Ideen e della Krisis, interessò il panorama culturale italiano degli anni Cinquanta e Sessanta. Fra questi, il legame fra Paci e Semerari di cui si parla nel contributo del Ferruccio De Natale ha il merito di mostrare come, oltre alla volontà di «superare i pregiudizi legati ad una lettura pigra, stereotipata della fenomenologia» (90), alla base della rilettura italiana dei testi di Husserl vi fosse anche quella «avvalersi delle analisi husserliane per configurare un “atteggiamento”» suscettibile di essere trasformato «in prassi, in lotta per l’emancipazione del soggetto da ogni forma di reificazione della sua attività intenzionale» (141) attraverso il confronto col materialismo storico di Marx.

I richiami marxiani che innervano le opere di Enzo Paci si colgono perfettamente nell’entusiasmante Prefazione alla terza edizione de La crisi delle scienze europee e la fenomenologia trascendentale che egli scrisse nel ’68, all’interno della quale paragonò le idee di coloro i quali attaccavano «la fenomenologia come una fuga della realtà che mancava di praxis» a quelle degli «intellettuali della Russia zarista» che «consideravano puramente teorici e astratti i ragionamenti di Lenin e di Trockij». Tuttavia, l’audace paragone paciano dice qualcosa anche in merito alla tendenza del filosofo a ricomprendere il pensiero husserliano dalla fine all’inizio, mostrando l’insensatezza di distinguere fra un “primo” Husserl logico e slegato dalla prassi, e un “secondo” Husserl storico, impegnato a recuperare la problematica della Lebenswelt. Un’attitudine che dalla sua opera si riverserà sull’intero panorama fenomenologico italiano, dando avvio a un cammino che si proporrà riallacciare, dentro e fuori i testi husserliani, il piano della logica a quello dell’esperienza, la sfera del sapere a quella della vita.

Tutto questo però richiede una precisazione: dal momento che la fenomenologia italiana è lo specchio di una postura che non veicola tendenze dogmatiche, questa tendenza si realizzerà in maniera ogni volta diversa, rendendo difficile per molti versi rintracciarne i connotati. Come si legge nel contributo di Roberto Miraglia, ad esempio, Giovanni Piana, a differenza di Paci, criticò alcuni aspetti dell’opera testamentaria di Husserl riscontrando come gli scritti husserliani, nel corso del tempo, tendessero sempre di più a far spazio a «un Hussel ideologico che ripropone i temi etico-fondazionalisti, senza che questo incremento di drammaticità» potesse però «rendere più adeguata ad affrontarli una cassetta degli attrezzi pensata invece in vista della realizzazione di una analitica fenomenologica» (243).  Un discorso analogo, peraltro, si potrebbe fare in merito ai riferimenti che contribuiranno, insieme a Husserl, a determinare le linee della scena fenomenologica italiana, perché se lo Husserl di Paci e Semerari va a braccetto con Marx, mentre è humeano invece lo Husserl di Enzo Melandri di cui tratta il saggio di Stefano Besoli, quello di Sini, conformemente alla convinzione che tornare alle cose stesse (come scrive Federico Leoni) significhi tornare alle operazioni «attraverso cui le cose stesse si costituiscono», diventa un Husserl copernicano, e cioè «radicalmente kantiano» (222).

Ovviamente, si possono individuare anche dei punti comuni negli studi fenomenologici italiani, come l’antiriduzionismo che accomuna ad esempio due personalità per molti versi differenti come Paolo Parrini, di cui scrive Andrea Pace Giannota, e Paolo Bozzi, a cui è dedicato il contributo Roberta Lanfredini. Ma quello che bisognerebbe chiedersi è: posto che quelle che abbiamo individuato non siano affatto le uniche spaccature individuabili all’interno della Fenomenologia in Italia, ha davvero senso parlare di una fenomenologia italiana? Il contributo finale di Federica Buongiorno suggerisce che per affrontare questo problema occorra spostare la questione su un piano diverso rispetto a quello della mera teoria. Questo perché sul piano dell’esperienza, e cioè di un esercizio filosofico che si fa, lo scontro di prospettive differenti muta di senso. Al suo posto, come avviene quando si traduce un testo e ci si trova, da un lato, ad affrontare «la sfida di trovare, se non per certi versi “inventare” la “parola giusta” con cui rendere il termine originale» e, dall’altro, a doversi confrontare con le «scelte già consolidate e difficilmente aggirabili» (299) di una terminologia già presente, emerge l’idea di una comunità di studiosi grazie alla quale l’eco primitivo di un pensiero si è prodotto (o riprodotto) in un determinato contesto.

Quello che si tratta di capire, se è vero che non è affatto semplice individuare i caratteri della fenomenologia italiana, è che questa difficoltà però non è un elemento accidentale, e neanche la dimostrazione che si debba per questo parlare per forza di una pluralità di pensieri che apre le porte a una deriva scettica. Piuttosto, essa è la conseguenza dell’impossibilità di circoscrivere a priori qualcosa che somiglia più a uno stile, a una maniera «che esiste come movimento ancor prima di essere giunta a un’intera coscienza filosofica», come diceva Merleau-Ponty nella Fenomenologia della percezione. Se consideriamo che non si può ripetere quello stile, quella maniera, come si ripeterebbe un proverbio, non possiamo che convenire con i curatori de La fenomenologia in Italia rispetto al fatto che l’unico modo per raccontare la fenomenologia è allora quello di procedere von unten, e cioè quello di ricollegare questo racconto all’esperienza degli autori che le hanno dato forma. Volendo, però, potremmo spingerci anche oltre: riprendendo le parole di John Keats, potremmo affermare che non solo una particolare vicenda di pensiero, ma «Niente può mai diventare reale, senza essere vagliato dall’esperienza. Persino un proverbio: che proverbio è, prima che la vita te l’abbia mostrato?».