Chad Engelland: Heidegger’s Shadow: Kant, Husserl, and the Transcendental Turn

Heidegger's Shadow: Kant, Husserl, and the Transcendental Turn Book Cover Heidegger's Shadow: Kant, Husserl, and the Transcendental Turn
Routledge Studies in Twentieth-Century Philosophy
Chad Engelland
Routledge
2017
Hardback
276

Reviewed by: James Kinkaid (Boston College)

In his WS 1935-36 lecture course on Kant, Heidegger remarks that every philosopher must attempt the impossible task of leaping over his own shadow. In his excellent book Heidegger’s Shadow: Kant, Husserl, and the Transcendental Turn, Chad Engelland persuasively argues that Heidegger’s shadow is transcendental philosophy. Transcendental philosophy, and in particular Heidegger’s Husserlian reading of Kant, serves as a necessary entry point into Heidegger’s thinking, and the unity of Heidegger’s thought between his two masterworks—Being and Time and the Contributions to Philosophy (of the Event)—must be understood in terms of Heidegger’s struggles to free himself of the limitations of the transcendental tradition. A recurring theme of Engelland’s discussion is the “problem of motivation,” that is, the problem of explaining what motivates the turn from mundane experience toward the transcendental “experience of experience” (2).[1] On Engelland’s reading, Heidegger grows dissatisfied with the “Cartesian” appeal to the authenticity of the researcher as a motivation for the transcendental turn, turning in his work of the 30s to an account of the “fundamental dispositions” that motivate philosophy.

There is much to applaud in Engelland’s treatment. Particularly welcome is Engelland’s suggestion that mining the transcendental origins of Heidegger’s thinking may not only resolve stand-offs in the literature on the abiding topic of Heidegger’s long career, but also help us to identify and fill the aporias in Heidegger’s own thinking and thus “find ourselves working as transcendental phenomenologists in the Heideggerian tradition” (4). To this end, Engelland closes the book with some critical reflections on the limitations of Heidegger’s own approach and the promise for creative appropriation of his thought in the future. In the same spirit, after briefly summarizing the central chapters of the book, I will suggest some directions in which I would like to see more philosophical development of some of the positive proposals Engelland puts forward.

After an introductory chapter that situates Engelland’s reading in relation to contemporary Heidegger scholarship and raises the problem of motivation, Engelland traces Heidegger’s development from the “casting” of the shadow in Being and Time (Chapter 1) and Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics (Chapter 2) to his attempts to leap over the shadow in the “revised Kant book” of 1935-36 (Chapter 3) and the Contributions (Chapter 4). A closing chapter reflects upon both the merits and limits of what Engelland calls Heidegger’s ‘affective transcendentalism’.

Engelland begins Chapter 1 by arguing that commentators have failed to distinguish two questions that the Being and Time project seeks to answer: the “preparatory [question] about the timely openness of Dasein” and the “fundamental [question] about the temporal reciprocity of that openness and being” (30). The preparatory question is taken up in the extant part of Being and Time, whereas the fundamental question would have been addressed in the unpublished third division. Engelland claims that Heidegger came to recognize that his transcendental approach to the preparatory question was a necessary, if misleading and transitional, path to his later attempts to answer the fundamental question, which “is not itself adequately stated in transcendental terms” (30). Chapter 1 also offers an interpretation of the “destruction of the history of ontology” envisaged for the second part of the book. Engelland presents the destruction as a corrective to two prejudices: the “logical prejudice” that locates the locus of truth in the judgment and the “mathematical prejudice” that interprets all beings as on-hand (vorhanden) (51-4).

Chapter 2 begins with a helpful tour of the development of Heidegger’s reading of Kant: “In four phases and with reference to Husserl, Heidegger interpreted Kant as first falling short of phenomenology, then approaching phenomenology, then advancing phenomenology, and finally recovering phenomenology” (84). Engelland then argues that Heidegger reads Kant as a “phenomenological collaborator” who “glimpsed that intentionality can happen thanks to the transcendence engendered by the ecstatic-horizonal bringing forth of timeliness” (105). Engelland suggests that we who are working as transcendental phenomenologists today should follow Heidegger’s lead in “returning judgment to givenness” by disclosing “the transcendental ground that makes judgment possible” (105). What is most novel and perhaps unusual about Engelland’s reading is his claim that Heidegger’s reading of Leibniz is the key to understanding the Kantbuch (see Golob’s review for criticism of this claim).

There are two significant omissions in Engelland’s otherwise careful and interesting discussion of the Kantbuch. The first is a lack of any significant discussion of Husserl’s attitude toward Kant. Engelland claims that by Being and Time and especially in the Kantbuch, “[f]or Heidegger, Husserl has been superseded by the phenomenological Kant he made visible” (75). I think a case can be made that Husserl is drawn to precisely that aspect of Kant’s critical philosophy that Heidegger considers the “central core” of the first Critique (KPM 63): the doctrine of the schematism and the transcendental imagination (see Kinkaid, “Phenomenology, Idealism, and the Legacy of Kant”). A thorough account of Husserl’s relation to Kant is surely outside the scope of Engelland’s specific concerns, but it would, I suggest, be important for a full accounting of how new work in transcendental phenomenology should proceed—and in particular, whether and to what extent there is a need to “supersede” Husserl. The second omission is the lack of discussion of the Marburg neo-Kantian reading of Kant. Engelland mentions the contrast between the constructivist tendencies of the neo-Kantians and the “genuine empiricism” that Heidegger adapts from Husserl (71), but another striking feature of the Marburg interpretation that puts it at complete odds with Heidegger’s phenomenological interpretation is the claim that “‘intuition’ no longer remains a cognitive factor which stands across from or is opposed to thinking […] It is thinking […]” (Natorp, “Kant and the Marburg School,” 186). These gaps could be filled, I suggest, by reading the Kantbuch more closely in conjunction with the WS 1927-28 lectures Phenomenological Interpretation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.

In Chapter 3 Engelland examines Heidegger’s revised interpretation of Kant in his WS 1935-36 lectures, which are published as What Is a Thing? Toward Kant’s Doctrine of the Transcendental Principles. This revised reading focuses on the Analytic of Principles, which Heidegger reads as uncovering the “‘context’ (Zusammenhang) in which we can encounter and know things that are genuinely other than ourselves” (148). Heidegger interprets the “context” uncovered by the principles as the “open” or “between” in which intelligibility happens. Though he sees Kant as anticipating this important concept of his Contributions, Heidegger is also critical: “The subjective starting point and the exclusive interest in objectivity mean that, while Kant illumines the open between in which alone judgments are possible, he does not fathom that the open in fact allows humans to be themselves” (149). A more adequate account of the “open between,” Engelland suggests, requires a recognition of the historical and affective character of the context of experience, as well as of its self-concealing nature: “Put in the poetic terms of Heidegger’s later philosophy, we can say that Kant glimpsed world, but missing history, he could not fathom earth” (157-8).

Chapter 4 explores how Heidegger’s being-historical thinking in the Contributions answers the question of what motivates philosophy. In the “first beginning,” philosophy was motivated by the fundamental disposition (Grundstimmung) of wonder, but “[c]uriously, wonder carries within itself the seeds of its own dissolution” (181). This is because, by disclosing entities, wonder covers over the self-withdrawing space or clearing in which entities come to presence. Heidegger thus calls for an “other beginning” motivated by a fundamental disposition comprised of terror, awe, intimating, and reservedness (192-3). Heidegger’s narrative about the history of being, Engelland explains, is his attempt to awaken the fundamental disposition that discloses the “between” that “is richer than transcendental philosophy could fathom” (198).

In the closing chapter Engelland praises Heidegger for his “post-subjective” “affective transcendentalism” while leveling three criticisms. First, Engelland argues that Heidegger is a mere theoretician rather than a philosopher. By this Engelland means that Heidegger is concerned throughout his career solely with the transcendental theme of the grounds of experience, rather than with questions concerning the examined life. One upshot of this limitation, Engelland argues, is that Heidegger’s many personal failings are irrelevant to the interpretation of his thought. Second, Engelland finds Heidegger’s narrative about the history of being to be dogmatic and unnecessary to motivate transcendental philosophy. Pointing to his own earlier work on ostension, Engelland suggests that “the manifestation of the body in ostensive acts or the difference in presentation between an actor on stage and in real life” may function like Heidegger’s famous description of tool breakdown to motivate reflection on “the play of presence and absence at work in all our experience” (238). Third, Engelland finds Heidegger’s later tendency to speak of the clearing in anthropomorphic terms unnecessarily mystifying.

Having completed a summary of the rich contents of Engelland’s book, let me now turn to some criticisms, requests for clarification, and directions for future research into the promise of transcendental phenomenology in a Heideggerian style. I wholeheartedly agree with Engelland concerning the continued philosophical significance of transcendental phenomenology, but I think this significance comes out most forcefully when emphasis is placed on the relationship between transcendental phenomenology and metaphysics. As I read Being and Time, Heidegger is centrally concerned with what makes a priori knowledge—in particular the a priori sciences that Husserl calls ‘formal’ and ‘regional’ or ‘material’ ontology—possible. Consider how Heidegger describes his inquiry into being and its meaning:

The question of being aims therefore at ascertaining the a priori conditions not only for the possibility of the sciences which examine entities as entities of such and such a type […] but also for the possibility of those ontologies themselves which are prior to the ontical sciences and provide their foundation. Basically, all ontology, no matter how rich and firmly compacted a system of categories it has at its disposal, remains blind and perverted from its ownmost aim, if it has not first adequately clarified the meaning of being, and conceived this clarification as its fundamental task. (BT 31)

On the one hand, an inquiry into being involves the development of regional ontologies, i.e., accounts of the natures or essences of entities that fall into highly natural kinds and comprise the subject matters of the natural, mathematical, and social sciences. The central question of Being and Time, however, is the question of how that is possible—how ontological knowledge is possible. Answering this deeper question—the question of the meaning of being—requires an ontology of the ontological questioner, i.e., a “fundamental ontology.” Similarly, Heidegger reads the first Critique as “laying […] the ground for metaphysics” through an “ontological analytic of the finite essence of human beings” (KPM 1).

One interesting upshot of reading Being and Time as an account of how a priori knowledge is possible is that it sheds light on Heidegger’s notion of the clearing (die Lichtung). Die Lichtung is clearly meant (in Being and Time) to have resonances of Descartes’s lumen naturale and Augustinian divine illumination. (See Capobianco, Engaging Heidegger, Chapter 5 for a discussion of Heidegger’s shift away from understanding die Lichtung in terms of light.) Both of these concepts are meant to explain how a priori knowledge is possible, and both appeal to a divine guarantee of that knowledge. For Heidegger, “[t]o say that it is ‘illuminated’ means that as being-in-the-world it is cleared in itself, not through any other entity, but in such a way that it is itself the clearing (BT 171). Heidegger’s suggestion here seems to be that skepticism about a priori knowledge is put to rest by an adequate ontology of Dasein. This is an intriguing suggestion, which would require much more space to develop in a plausible way than I have here. This way of understanding Heidegger’s transcendental aspirations, though, has a number of ramifications.

First, it would allow us to make a powerful case for the continued philosophical relevance of transcendental phenomenology. In recent years there has been a surge in interest within analytic philosophy in metametaphysical questions about the substantivity and methodology of metaphysics. One important question concerns modal epistemology: metaphysicians often claim knowledge of possibility, impossibility, necessity, and essence, and there is a growing body of literature on how such knowledge is possible (see Tahko, Chapter 7 for a survey). Husserl and Heidegger’s writings are also rife with claims to modal knowledge, and I suggest a central task of both of their brands of phenomenology is to vindicate such claims. If this is right, it opens up room for a productive discussion between transcendental phenomenologists and analytic metaphysicians.

Second, this reading of the role of transcendental philosophy has the advantage of answering Engelland’s “problem of motivation.” Metaphysics has long between the target of suspicion and abuse by Humeans and Carnapians, giving the likes of Kant and David Lewis plenty of motivation for defending it (albeit in very different ways). Indeed, this reading explains Heidegger’s attraction to Kant, whose primary goal in the first Critique and Prolegomena was to put metaphysics on the secure path of a science. It is suggestive that Husserl explicitly identifies the subject matter of material ontology with synthetic a priori truths. This reading raises an important interpretive question: if Husserl and Heidegger are, like Kant, interested in putting metaphysics on the secure path of a science, do they also follow him in holding that the “proud name of an ontology […] must give way to the modest one of a mere analytic of the pure understanding” (A247/B303)?

I agree with Engelland, then, in giving pride of place to the transcendental aspects of Heidegger’s thought, but I think a shift in emphasis toward the connection between transcendental philosophy and metaphysics would bring out its most promising aspects. This is not to say that Engelland doesn’t recognize this thread of Heidegger’s thought at all; he repeatedly and approvingly cites, for example, Heidegger’s praise of Husserl’s non-constructive, intuitive conception of the a priori (BT 75n). The importance of Heidegger’s metametaphysical project is obscured, however, by a lack of clarity about the meaning of some of Heidegger’s terminology, especially Sein.

In the introductory chapter, Engelland discusses the debate between Thomas Sheehan and Richard Capobianco over the topic of Heidegger’s Seinsfrage: “for Sheehan, the lasting topic is the finitude of human existence as that which makes meaning possible; for Capobianco, the lasting topic is the manifestation of being” (6). Though Engelland does not endorse either position outright, he does seem to foreclose an interpretation on which Sein means, well, being. In Being and Time and surrounding works, Heidegger distinguishes the following senses of ‘being’: that-being, essence, and such-being. On my reading, the early Heidegger uses ‘being’ in a wholly traditional sense; where he disagrees with the tradition is in his substantive critiques of previous category schemes and accounts of the essence of the human person. Relying on an interpretation on which talk of being is really talk about meaning or manifestation, I submit, covers up the promising connection between Heidegger’s transcendentalism and metaphysics.

Getting clearer on what ‘being’ means would also substantially enrich Engelland’s discussion of realism. In the final chapter, Engelland criticizes Taylor Carman’s view that Heidegger is an ontic realist and an ontological idealist. Carman defines ‘ontic realism’ as “the claim that occurrent entities exist and have a determinate spatiotemporal structure independently of us and our understanding of them” (Heidegger’s Analytic, 157). Engelland accepts ontic realism but rejects ontological idealism, the claim that being depends on Dasein:

Yes, “there is” no being independent of Dasein, but that does not make being into a projection of Dasein; rather Dasein only is thanks to the affectivity of being […] Realism about entities entails     realism about the context for interpretation. The meaning of being is not some thing independent of entities; it is the domain in   which we meet with them. The domain and the entities can be distinguished but not separated

Engelland here alludes to an infamous passage that has been enlisted in support of two ways of interpreting Being and Time: (1) interpretations on which Sein means Sinn and (2) Blattner’s temporal idealist interpretation.

Of course only as long as Dasein is [] ‘is there’ [gibt es] being. When Dasein does not exist, ‘independence’ ‘is’ not either, nor ‘is’ the ‘in-itself’. In such a case this sort of thing can be neither understood nor not understood. In such a case even entities within-the-world can neither be discovered nor lie hidden. In such a case it cannot be said that entities are, nor can it be said that they are not. But now, as long as there is an understanding of being and therefore an understanding of presence-at-hand, it can be said that in this case entities will still continue to be. (BT 255)

Engelland’s passing endorsement of a realist reading would benefit from dwelling longer on this puzzling passage. If I’m right that ‘being’ means that-being, essence, and such-being, it’s hard to see how this passage is even compatible with ontic realism. One strategy for taking the anti-realist bite out of the passage is suggested by Sacha Golob: “it should be read with the stress on the phrase ‘“gibt es Sein’” (Freedom, Concepts and Normativity, 177). In other words, Heidegger is making a substantive claim about the conditions for having being given. That is, he is gesturing toward an analysis of how a priori ontological knowledge, understood on the model of Husserl’s “genuine empiricism,” is possible (see Kinkaid, “Phenomenology, Idealism, and the Legacy of Kant,” 609-11).

In general, I’d like to hear more about how Engelland understands the relations between being, the meaning of being, and the domain of intelligibility. I’d like to hear more, too, about how he understands Heidegger’s praise of idealism in Being and Time: “If what the term ‘idealism’ says, amounts to the understanding that being can never be explained by entities but is already that which is ‘transcendental’ for every entity, then idealism affords the only correct possibility for a philosophical problematic” (BT 251). I agree with Engelland that Heidegger is a realist, but absent clarification about how he understands ‘realism’, ‘idealism’, and ‘being’, it’s not clear to me what this agreement amounts to. Is Heidegger a metaphysical realist, as Lafont and Carman deny he is (see Lafont, “Hermeneutics,” 269 and Carman, Heidegger’s Analytic, 166)? How does his position relate to Husserl’s brand of transcendental idealism or analytic anti-realists like Hilary Putnam? Is there any interesting sense in which Heidegger is a relativist (see Lafont, “Hermeneutics” versus Golob, “Was Heidegger a Relativist?” and McManus, “Heidegger and the Supposition of a Single, Objective World”)? A full-blown defense of a realist interpretation of Heidegger would need to answer these and other questions.

As a reader sympathetic to Heidegger’s Being and Time project, I find myself unpersuaded of the need to make the “post-subjective turn” Engelland praises. Similarly, Golob urges Engelland to take up a more critical stance with respect to Heidegger’s claims about the open: “What exactly is this deeper sense that the tradition has missed?” (review of Heidegger’s Shadow). As I read it, Being and Time is already as “post-subjective” as we need to get. That is, Being and Time articulates a compelling picture of human persons as constitutively dependent on a holistic and historically contingent network of social kinds, roles, and institutions. As Engelland notes, Heidegger criticizes Husserl in his SS 1925 lectures for a failure to clarify the mode of being of the subject (33). Doing so requires an analysis of the structure of being-in-the-world. Now the world, understood as a referential totality of significance, stands in interesting relations of dependence with Dasein. On the one hand, there clearly would not be a world, in Heidegger’s sense of the word, without Dasein. But the world also has a kind of independence from Dasein. Consider an economy, for instance. Economies depend for their existence and nature on human beings, but once established, they take on a life of their own. Economic facts have a kind of objectivity, which is why social scientists can be wrong about or discover economic facts and I cannot through sheer force of will increase the balance of my bank account (though willing a decrease is no trouble at all). Furthermore, the existential possibilities for being a self available to a person depend on a world: what it is to be a stockbroker or an economist, say, depends on the existence and nature of economies. Finally, what existential possibilities are open to me is a historical matter: “I cannot now be a samurai since the necessary web of goals, tools and dispositions of other agents no longer exist” (Golob, Freedom, Concepts and Normativity, 217).

What is missing in this account? Engelland suggests that this early account places too much emphasis on projection at the expense of thrownness, is too ahistorical, and misses the phenomenon Heidegger calls ‘earth’. I can’t evaluate each of these charges in detail here, but one point worth noting is the importance of a kind of historical reflection in the early work. Ontology is supposed to be guided by our “vague understanding of being,” but that understanding is “infiltrated with traditional theories and opinions about being” (BT 25). Rooting out the distortive effects of this infiltration, I suggest, requires not only a destruction of the history of ontology (which Engelland skillfully discusses in Chapter 1), but also attention to non-philosophical ways in which Dasein expresses itself. Think here of Heidegger’s early interests in Paul and Augustine, his remarks about ethnology and myth (BT 76 and the review of Cassirer’s Mythical Thought), the fable of Cura in BT §42, and the analysis of the existential content of the concept of original sin (BT 354n and “Phenomenology and Theology”). This element of Heidegger’s method has both interpretive and philosophical significance. On the one hand, interpreters have long worried that Being and Time is, as Karl Löwith claimed, a “disguised theology,” which has been taken to undermine its transcendental ambitions (see Kisiel, Genesis, 423 and Philipse, Heidegger’s Philosophy of Being). On the other hand, the suggestion that transcendental philosophy needs this kind of historical corrective is a ripe topic for future research.

Heidegger’s later affective and historical thought is supposed to be a deepening of “the phenomenological task […] to undermine prejudice and recover the breadth of experience” (224). We need Heidegger’s later thought today, Engelland argues, because “[t]he contemporary intellectual landscape remains dominated by the mathematical prejudice” (207). I have two worries about the claim that the contemporary intellectual landscape is dominated by this prejudice. First, the contemporary intellectual landscape is not as monolithic as Engelland’s comment suggests, and I would at least like to see some representative examples of the mathematical prejudice from contemporary philosophy. Second, the mathematical prejudice seems to pick out two distinct worries, the conflation of which, I suggest, creates an illusion of more continuity between Heidegger’s early and late work than is really there. On the one hand, the mathematical prejudice may be the tendency to interpret all entities, including artifacts and persons, as on-hand. More needs to be said about what Vorhandenheit means (see McManus, Measure of Truth, 53-6 for a discussion of some interpretive difficulties); even assuming we have a firm grasp on the concept, what resistance to the mathematical prejudice in this first sense requires is a more sophisticated ontology—one that does justice not only to natural kinds but also social kinds. On the other hand, the mathematical prejudice may be the tendency to interpret nature as something to be mastered, to overlook the meaning of ordinary objects, and so on. On the first reading, the mathematical prejudice is primarily a theoretical error; on the second, it’s an evaluative error. Now Heidegger certainly sees some connection between these two errors, but that connection surely falls short of entailment. Moreover, it seems to me that Heidegger’s attempts to awaken a new fundamental disposition serve primarily to combat the second kind of error. If this is right, though, it is highly misleading to represent Heidegger’s entire career of thought as answering one question, the Seinsfrage.

This last suggestion surely contradicts Heidegger’s own pronouncements about the path of his thought. It seems to me, however, that commentators need to balance two, perhaps competing, hermeneutic principles when interpreting Heidegger’s staggering body of work. Interpretations like Engelland’s and Sheehan’s have the merit of respecting Heidegger’s claims to continuity, while my interpretation runs the risk of being uncharitable by accusing Heidegger of changing the subject while misleadingly calling it by the same name. Nevertheless, it seems to me that Heidegger’s attempt to bring experience to greater givenness is serving very different ends in the early and late work: in the early work, to show how ontology is possible, and in the late work, to evoke a new fundamental disposition in the face of the threat of nihilism. If this is right, I remain unconvinced that we need to follow Heidegger’s way in order to get the most out of the transcendental elements of his early thought.

These worries and requests for clarification should not be taken to detract from what Engelland has accomplished in Heidegger’s Shadow. The book is clearly written and carefully researched, drawing on an enormous swath of Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe. Like Engelland, I believe the tradition of transcendental phenomenology contains philosophical riches that are yet to be fully mined; the foregoing challenges come from someone who, like Engelland, stands in Heidegger’s shadow but seeks to go beyond him. While my assessment of what is most worth preserving in Heidegger’s thought surely differs from Engelland’s, he has done a great service to scholarship by attempting the daunting task of motivating a way into Heidegger’s huge body of at once fascinating and frustrating thought.[2]

Bibliography

Capobianco, Richard M. 2011. Engaging Heidegger. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Carman, Taylor. 2007. Heidegger’s Analytic: Interpretation, Discourse and Authenticity in Being and Time. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Engelland, Chad. 2017. Heidegger’s Shadow: Kant, Husserl, and the Transcendental Turn. New York: Routledge.

Golob, Sacha. 2014. Heidegger on Freedom, Concepts and Normativity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Golob, Sacha. 2017. Review of Heidegger’s Shadow: Kant, Husserl, and the Transcendental Turn by Chad Engelland, Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews: https://ndpr.nd.edu/news/heideggers-shadow-kant-husserl-and-the-transcendental-turn/.

Golob, Sacha. 2019. “Was Heidegger a Relativist?” In The Emergence of Relativism: German Thought from the Enlightenment to National Socialism, edited by Martin Kusch, Katherina Kinzel, Johannes Steizinger, and Niels Wildschut, 181-95. New York: Routledge.

Heidegger, Martin. 1962. Being and Time [BT]. Translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

Heidegger, Martin. 1997. Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics [KPM]. Translated by Richard Taft. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Heidegger, Martin. 1998. “Phenomenology and Theology.” Translated by James G. Hart and John C. Maraldo. In Pathmarks, edited by William McNeill, 39-62. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kant, Immanuel. 1998. Critique of Pure Reason. Translated and edited by Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kinkaid, James. 2019. “Phenomenology, Idealism, and the Legacy of Kant.” British Journal for the History of  Philosophy 27: (3): 593-614.

Kisiel, Theodore. 1993. The Genesis of Heidegger’s Being and Time. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Lafont, Cristina. 2005. “Hermeneutics.” In A Companion to Heidegger, edited by Hubert Dreyfus and Mark Wrathall, 265-84. Malden: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

McManus, Denis. 2012. Heidegger and the Measure of Truth. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McManus, Denis. 2012. “Heidegger and the Supposition of a Single, Objective World.” European Journal of  Philosophy 23 (2): 195-220.

Natorp, Paul. 2015. “Kant and the Marburg School.” In The Neo-Kantian Reader, edited by Sebastian Luft, 180-97. New York: Routledge.

Philipse, Herman. 1998. Heidegger’s Philosophy of Being: A Critical Interpretation. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Tahko, Tuomas E. 2015. An Introduction to Metametaphysics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


[1] Parenthetical citations refer to Engelland, Heidegger’s Shadow unless indicated otherwise.

[2] Thanks to Dan Dahlstrom, Emma Jerndal, and Eden Kinkaid for helpful comments and discussion.

Rafael Winkler: Philosophy of Finitude: Heidegger, Levinas and Nietzsche

Philosophy of Finitude: Heidegger, Levinas and Nietzsche Book Cover Philosophy of Finitude: Heidegger, Levinas and Nietzsche
Rafael Winkler
Bloomsbury
2018
Hardback $102.60
208

Reviewed by: Denis C. Bosseau (University of Sussex)

With the publication of the Philosophy of Finitude: Heidegger, Levinas and Nietzsche, Rafael Winkler embarks on a much needed contemporary re-evaluation of the human cogito beyond a traditional Cartesian and Kantian framework of analysis in which what is own-most to human experience, its uniqueness, must be understood beyond the limits of the ‘I think’ of the first person as the necessary condition and foundation of possible experience. On a walk of thought that is, at least for this reviewer, echoing a problem poetically explored by Paul Celan’s Gespräch im Gebirg[1], the present book is concerned with the existential movement from one’s being to one’s self; a passage seemingly accomplished on the horizon of a fundamental absence. This absence is that of the unified self and the sense of ownership one may often take for granted regarding one’s uniqueness as conveyed by the human cogito, the cardinal ‘I’ of the first person which is commonly thought to accompany all possible human experience.

Here, we could say that ‘thought’ is directed upon the ‘one’ that does not accompany our ‘self’ in its life experiences[2]; this part of what we are which is absent from the conscious mind of everyday deliberative thinking. Winkler’s analysis asks us about what happens when the seeming certainty of the Cartesian ‘I think’, as the ground of human existence, dissolves and one’s experience can no longer be thought of, or expressed as ‘mine’, my own, as if emerging from an unrecognisable other. Most importantly, one may ask how this phenomenon itself emerges. What may such an experience, if at all possible, tell us about what we are?

As the reader discovers early on in the pages of the first chapter, Winkler invites us to consider the figure of the schizophrenic as an example to shed light on this existential problem in concrete terms. By turning one’s attention to the issue of dissociation or dislocation of the self, what is posed as a problem here is not the discovery of the unique as a singular entity or what is own-most to Man as an essence or a ‘what’ which would lie behind the I of the unified self rather, the problem posed is that of the whole horizon of being as a passage which itself discloses the plenitude of what we are as human beings. It is not question of uncovering that secret chamber of the mind in which may lie the true nature of human uniqueness, who we truly are. The book generously approaches the ground of uniqueness as a passage and movement through which the anonymous language of the ‘other’ of Man, of this absolute stranger, gradually trans-forms into the language of the subject who identifies himself as an individual, a recognisable self. As such, what is at stake is then not only to see whether such an experience of the dissolution of the self is even possible, but how to talk about it. Winkler presents a philosophical attempt to bring intelligibility to the ambiguous and anonymous language of absolute difference and by this process, he also provides the reader with a highly interesting contribution to contemporary phenomenological thinking.

Exploring the legacies of Heidegger, Levinas and Nietzsche, Winkler invites us to confront the possibility that the genuine uniqueness of human experience is prior to its formalisation under the expression of the ‘I’, which at first glance, always seem to accompany conscious thought. The bold nature of this claim is best expressed when Winkler tells us that ‘the unique is not the individual’[3] but a ‘formal feature of existence’; one that is experienced as an original absence in the world and makes the emergence of the first person possible. And it is as such that a thinking of uniqueness may be approached as a thinking of absolute difference which, as he argues, calls for a thinking of finitude. But as the author carefully reminds us, the language of finitude must extend beyond the consideration of Man’s ultimate finiteness, the inescapable advent of its death. A thinking of finitude must press us to the very limits of thought, of the thinkable, as it is perhaps only when the unity of the self is dissolved and our habitual reliance on the concept, language and experience of identity is overcome, that we can really start to embrace the thought of uniqueness. Maybe it is here that lies the most enduring relevance and actuality of phenomenology; when it reminds us of the un-thought of thought as the inescapable and unremovable ‘other’ of Man where the unique really emerges. Here, it is with particular attention to the works of authors such as Derrida, Levinas, Ricœur and especially Heidegger that Winkler invites  his readership to consider the unique in terms of ‘the uniqueness of being, of the self, of the other human being, of death, and of the responsibility for the other’.[4]

***

If the general theme of the book allows for a wide variety of philosophical approaches, its overall tone and character would be best described as scholarly and aimed at a specialised audience interested in Heidegger studies more specifically. The methodology sustained in this volume is exegetical and the specialism of its author is made particularly evident by an ubiquitous focus on Heidegger’s works of the 1930s and 1940s, which at times appear to overshadow other philosophical discussions regarding the two other thinkers announced in the title of the book, namely Levinas and Nietzsche.  Although the chapters are often dominated by a sustained exercise in textual interpretation of this interesting period of Heidegger’s work, it cannot be said that it diminishes the impact and relevance of the general thesis presented in the volume. In fact, Winkler’s clear interpretative competence and lucidity regarding the author of Being and Time adds a certain degree of depth to a contemporary re-thinking of finitude. However, it must be said that the title of the book may appear somehow confusing to some readers expecting more of an interpretative balance between the three major figures which the title announces. One is at times surprised to read more about Derrida and Ricœur than about Levinas and Nietzsche, more particularly as the latter’s published works are unfortunately only mentioned and discussed with greater depth in section 7 of the 5th chapter of the book. Elsewhere in the same chapter, the reader will find out more about Winkler’s interpretation of Heidegger’s Nietzsche than about Nietzsche’s own significance and original contribution to a thinking of finitude. It is perhaps only when one comes to read the introduction to the volume that one may realise that an exegetical exercise focused on Heidegger’s literature of the 1930s and 1940s is the connecting rod which holds the book together. Taking this issue into consideration, this most interesting project may be better characterised as a significant contribution to Heidegger Studies. The symptoms of this analytical posture are visible in each chapter of the book through the unmissable reliance on a Heideggerian vocabulary which non-specialists may at times struggle with in the case of a first encounter.

The opening chapter of the book concentrates on the idea of the uniqueness of existence where the author argues that what we may call ‘existence’ in ontological terms does not emerge from the unity of the first person but from immanence of death or the responsibility for the other. From the onset, the Heideggerian focus sets the tone. This may give a hint to the reader that the use of the word ‘existence’ will from now on have to be understood in Heideggerian terms, in a way  closer to the Latin ‘Ex –sistere’ denoting the idea of that which stands out of itself or of that which is ‘made to stand out and beyond’[5]. Only with this prior understanding in mind will the reader feel comfortable with the term’s relation to the other notion of Dasein (being there), which is here recurrently used to explore the theme of uniqueness. Indeed, as Heidegger suggests in Being and Time, one would have to see the uniqueness of Dasein in its existence [6] and thus the study of fundamental ontology will have to be found in ‘the existential analytic of Dasein’[7].

As previously mentioned in this review, future readers for whom Heidegger’s philosophy remains an unfamiliar terrain may find it difficult to get to grips with this meticulous and rich vocabulary which is not often problematized or re-evaluated in this book.  That said, Winkler’s scholarly analysis does carry the message across with its clarity of phrasing and with a carefully executed argumentative development which is always impeccably introduced in all chapters; an aspect which most readers will greatly appreciate. This indeed may help the reader overcome the complexity of the Heideggerian terminology and the first chapter does succeed in bringing an interesting discussion of the dynamism or mouvance implied in the notion of  ‘the uniqueness of existence’, which, as Winkler reminds us, is not to be misunderstood as implying an essence or fixed entity.

To explore the notion of the uniqueness of existence in this important first chapter, the author argues that Heidegger and Derrida’s reflections on death may call for a radical rethinking of the sense of consciousness or experience one may usually find in previous contributions to the history of transcendental phenomenology. That is, both thinkers may be read as presenting the human relation to death as dissolving the unity of the self, and moreover, as making the argument that the relation to death and this phenomenon of estrangement is indeed a possible experience or encounter. This brings Winkler to boldly ask the reader: ‘Is Dying Possible?’[8] Or in other words, can one encounter one’s own death, this ultimate finitude, this absolute absence of presence where one is no longer ‘able to be able’[9]? A possible answer, according to Winkler, may lie in Heidegger’s analysis of the phenomenon of being-towards-death. Through a close reading of the latter, it is suggested that finitude should not be reduced to the thought of a morbid passivity of the human animal (das Man) destined to die but should rather be thought through as the very activity which in itself calls for emergence of one’s receptivity regarding what is. The idea seems to be that, in order for something (e.g. death, finitude) to possibly be encountered, the horizon of its appearing (i.e. the phenomena) must have already been deployed. Perhaps, one could then say that the relation of the human being towards death and dying, rather than being a relation of passivity and mere resignation to fate, is a relation that is itself constitutive of Man’s own being. Hence, our relation to death, this active mode of being-towards-death can be understood as a formal or constitutive feature of existence. As such, this uniquely Human mode of being towards death is here given sense to as prior to, and constitutive of, the emergence of the first person of the ‘I think’ which will subsequently accompanies conscious experiences.

As Winkler interestingly points out across sections 3 and 4 of this first chapter, this particular instance of a Heideggerian ‘thinking of finitude’ would suggest that Man, in its unique existence, already has a relation or encounter with death prior to being able to consciously called it ‘his’ as one would talk of ‘my death’, ‘her death’, ‘theirs’ etc. as if it were possible to be in possession of it and individually declare ownership over it. As Winkler remarks concerning Heidegger’s confrontation of the idea of one’s sense of ownership over one’s own death: ‘death is in every case mine’ but only ‘in so far as it “is” at all’[10]. With diligence and clarity, Winkler at this stage understands that the discussion of this possible experience with uniqueness, in terms of the Human being’s relation to death, must be extended to the possibility of expressing this experience; of making it intelligible by giving it a voice. In that regard, he succeeds brilliantly by introducing the reader to Heidegger’s treatment of ‘anxiety’ as a mood (stimmung) which discloses this unique mode of being towards death. The uniqueness of this experience, if it indeed comes prior to the emergence of the first person, could hardly be thought as expressible conceptually through the habitual language of identity. As Winkler puts it:

‘The unique is, strictly speaking, the unclassifiable, the unidentifiable.(…) That is why an experience of it leaves us speechless, is traumatic, is, like an event that cannot be anticipated in advance, an absolute surprise, a shock.’[11]

Hence, the language of the experience of the unique can only be grasped as the anonymous language of the absolute ‘other’ of Man. The conscious I of the Cartesian cogito is here absent in such an experience. The experience is one that is felt or thought in the sense of the activity of the un-thought of thought. As Winkler suggests, it is in such terms that we could better understand what Rimbaud meant when he expressed in a poetic letter to an old mentor that in the process of one’s poetic encounter with oneself, ‘I is another’ (Je est un autre). It is through this subtle approach to the problem of the possibility of one’s experience of the unique that Winkler, is at the end of the chapter, able to meet previous scepticism, as that expressed by Derrida in that regard, by arguing that the unique relation to death is possibly one that could only be encountered as an anxious anticipation and ‘a mode of being beyond mere presence’[12].

In chapter 2 titled ‘Self and Other’, Winkler brings the discussion of the uniqueness of human experience, of this ‘other’ of Man (i.e. absolute difference) deeper by arguing that the experience of uniqueness does not grant access to the uniqueness of some other human being. Here the author refers to this problem as the ‘principle of singularisation’ which finds its expression in Heidegger through the notion of the ‘immanence of death’ and as the ‘responsibility for the other’ in Ricœur and Levinas. In Winkler’s own words, the core of the argument in this part of the book is that the fundamental alterity that is interior to oneself, the unique, is ‘neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition to access the alterity of the other human being, that is, his or her uniqueness’[13]. Here the author chooses to approach this problem by focusing on comparative accounts of Heidegger’s position in the period of the 1930s and 1940s with selected elements Levinas’ thesis in Time and the Other and Totality and Infinity. The chapter thus attempts to offer a new reading of Heidegger’s position which would effectively undermine the Levinassian stance which proposes that the irreducibility of the ‘alterity of the other human being’ to ‘the alterity that inhabits the self’ is ‘a necessary and sufficient condition of ethics, and by extension, of sociality’[14]. With added support extracted from the more recent works of Ricœur (i.e. Oneself as Another), as well as Heideggerian scholars such as Françoise Dastur (The Call of Conscience: The Most Intimate Alterity) and François Raffoul (The Origins of Responsibility), the main concern of the author is to show that the Heideggerian perspective would bring a serious challenge to the idea that one’s uniqueness of being allows for the experience of another’s, thus destabilising all possibility of founding an ethics on such a basis.

Although the introduction to the chapter suggests an in depth analysis and discussion of Levinas’ legacy as a thinker of finitude, one gradually realises that Levinas’ corpus will not be the subject of the same depth of engagement that is reserved for Heidegger as the cement which connects each chapters of this book. In fact, rigorous discussion of Levinas’ material is mostly limited to the first three sections before a return, for the three remaining sections of the chapter, to the more familiar domain of Heideggerian scholarship. Perhaps, we could say that the genuine originality and strength of this chapter lies less in its analysis of Levinas’ work and more in hermeneutical efforts to dissect Heidegger’s perspective from Being and Time up to the finer tuning of his positions in the 1940s. In this chapter, the reader will find the themes of ‘alterity’, ‘the call’, ‘guilt’ and ‘responsibility’ as the points of articulation of Winkler’s exegetical work. Therein, most of the other sources called upon to approach the theme of ‘self and other’ seem to serve as a fulcrum enabling the author to test the ‘workability’ of the Heideggerian system, which will ultimately be presented as getting us ‘closer to the truth’ of the matter[15] while Levinas’ perspective is presented as doomed to fail as a phenomenological argument. What remains undeniable is that the originality of the argument in this chapter lies in the competency of the exegetical exercise prompted by each of the chapter’s subsections; and it may be best not to spoil the reader’s pleasure by pre-emptively dissecting each part of the chapter. That said, it would not be doing justice to the rigour and assertiveness of the voice of this book’s author if we were to abstain from providing an example of clarity with which the core of the argument is expressed in the concluding section of this chapter. There, after careful considerations of Ricœur’s thesis in Oneself as Another, Winkler asserts that:

‘There is no phenomenological or hermeneutic justification for transposing the vertical relation that structures the interiority of the self onto the social relation between the self and the other (something that Ricœur apparently thinks we can do with good reason). In the final analysis, I know who the source of the injunction is. It is my conscience that enjoins me in the second person that I am indebted to the other. I assign myself that responsibility towards the other in the hetero- affective experience of conscience. Since it is authored and conditioned by nothing other than myself, it issues from an act of freedom.’[16]

Having shown us how one’s relation to death (chapter 1) and sociality (chapter 2) can, in different ways, only be accomplished as a relation with a future that is discontinuous with the present; chapters 3 and 4 attempt to bring intelligibility to the phenomenon of being as a passage, a movement towards. To do so, the third chapter considers the idea that ‘being’ is perhaps unthinkable otherwise than as a ‘figuration of someone or something’, an image formed around a potentiality or possibilities rather than an actual entity which can be truthfully seized and represented. This figurative atmosphere with which the philosopher wraps the phenomenon of the uniqueness of being could indeed be argued to be more real, that is, closer to the phenomena than the mundane representation one could formulate through the language of identity.

In this chapter, Winkler attempts to make the phenomenon of being intelligible in these terms through two different figures of ‘hospitality’: the ‘feminine’ in Levinas and the ‘Absolute Arrivant’ in Derrida. Here once again, Heidegger comes into the picture as a key reference point to evaluate the fruitfulness of these two figurations of being proposed by Levinas and Derrida. These figures of the ‘feminine’ and the ‘absolute arrivant’ are discussed against the background of Heidegger’s notion of ‘dwelling’ which Winkler presents as inextricably linked to the notion of hospitality; especially in the latter’s literature of the 1940s[17]. This argumentative strategy on the author’s part will then prepare the reader for a deeper consideration of the theme of dwelling in Heidegger in chapter 4 which explores the possibility of ‘being at home in the world’ without relying on the traditional metaphysical assumption of being as presence and the language of identity. Here, Winkler considers some of the said ‘figurations of being’ that appear in Heidegger’s reading of Hölderlin, with a particular accent on the 1934-5 lecture on Germania and the 1942 lecture on Der Ister. In these complementary chapters, Winkler sails to and fro between a variety of images of thought present in Levinas, Heidegger and Derrida in order to highlight the necessarily protean quality of the language of being. The language of figuration is an original and pertinent addition to Winkler’s analysis and one which convincingly shows that the phenomenon of being can only be rendered intelligible if it actively resists the ossification that the language of identity would bring. It is precisely because the phenomenon of ‘being’ existentially precedes the advent of the conscious ‘I’ that we cannot reduce it to a stable language, a singular point of reference, word, concept or even image. As Winkler seems to suggest in these two chapters, the uniqueness of being and its experience could best be expressed through a multiplicity of figures of passage and transition. Echoing the insights of the first chapter which posed the problem of the nature of the unique and the possibility of experiencing the uniqueness of being and absolute difference, it is here question of the possibility of talking about the experience of uniqueness and therefore the limits of its expressibility. Thus, what the philosophers of finitude tell us is that expressing the ground of the uniqueness of being might require us to think and talk about it in terms of a passage or movement between Man and its other. Never one with ourselves, it would seem that what we are, the uniqueness of our being, lies in the multiplicity of facets by which it emerges in time as an ever unique event that is always in the process of being determined.

With the fifth chapter of this volume, Winkler announces an analysis of Nietzsche’s contribution to the philosophy of finitude which he titles ‘Beyond Truth’. At first glance, one may justifiably think that the problem of truth, which hasn’t been discussed in the book so far, presents an awkward shift from the previous discussions about the possibilities of thinking and talking about the uniqueness of being as the ‘really real’[18]. In fact, the introduction to the volume only mentions Nietzsche in one brief sentence, thus leaving the reader somehow in the dark as to the possible importance of the author in Winkler’s project. From the onset, Winkler’s concern seem to lie more with how the author of Also Sprach Zarathustra has been painted in 20th century philosophy than with the latter’s enduring relevance in contemporary thought as a thinker of finitude. The aim of the chapter is thus announced: to offer ‘an alternative reading of Nietzsche to the one Heidegger and Derrida respectively provide and consider the non- metaphysical sense of being as light that is operative in Nietzsche’s text’[19]. These two authoritative readings of Nietzsche Winkler seeks to overcome are described as such: ‘Nietzsche, the metaphysician of the will to power and the eternal return’ whose main proponent is Heidegger, and ‘Nietzsche, the sceptic, the iconoclast and the destroyer of metaphysical systems and ideas’ which Winkler perceives in Derrida’s treatment. These two categorisations are, to say the least, rather broad and do little to tell the reader how they may come to be antithetical in the first place. However, as the chapter develops, one is able to see the main trajectory of the author unfold with greater clarity: to dress a portrait of Nietzsche and Heidegger as thinkers of the ‘limit’ of Metaphysics. What this ‘limit’ – in the singular – is, however, remains unclear and underdeveloped within the chapter as the analysis therein privileges a textual interpretation of Heidegger’s 1930s and 1940s reading of Nietzsche’s late notebooks and posthumously crafted Will to Power. That said, the chapter offers its strongest arguments in the last three sections where Winkler’s own reading of Nietzsche emerges and where selected parts of the latter’s late published works are analysed. Here, the strength of the chapter lies less in the analysis of Heidegger’s Nietzsche and the critique of the ‘will to truth’, than in Winkler’s exploration of the physiological dimension of Nietzsche’s thought of finitude through a discussion of the latter’s attempt at a philosophy of self-overcoming which would assert as its condition of possibility, the ‘forgottenness of being’[20].  This is perhaps the more pertinent element of the analysis in relation to the book as a comprehensive whole as it links Nietzsche’s late work to previous discussions of European thought’s attempt to overcome traditional metaphysics’ reliance on the language of identity and being as presence which had been dominant since Plato.

Finally, in its sixth and final chapter, the book offers what may be its most original contribution with an interesting philological approach to the language of substance and the peculiarity of its philosophical uses  in Roman literature (1st Century BC – 4th Century AD) – with a particular focus on Cicero and Seneca. This tactful exploration of the language of substance allows Winkler to bring back the discussion to the problem of the uniqueness of being as substantia without its traditional metaphysical amalgamation with the language of determinable identity and entity. This is a brilliant move on Winkler’s part and an original way to close the volume. Indeed, this brings to the author the possibility to present a strong argument regarding the need for philosophy to adopt a plastic, supple attitude towards the language of being via metaphorical language or what Nietzsche would call the importance of learning to ‘think in images’. The chapter thus comes to strengthen what was previously argued in Chapter 3 wherein ‘being’ is presented as ‘unthinkable except as a figuration of something or someone, that is, as a figure in which the force of the distinction between the who and the what is suspended’[21]. In the pages of this chapter, the reader is invited to re-think the relevance of previously discussed authors such as Derrida and Levinas whose figures of the ‘absolute Arrivant’ and the ‘Feminine’ could now be read anew as examples among a multitude of possible simulacra for the experience of the ‘really real’ or the uniqueness of being which Winkler has attempted to make intelligible in this interesting project.  With this return to the problem of possible figurations of being, the reader is now better equipped to consider the unique as the differential element grounding all discursive representations in Human experience and to ponder upon the significance of such claims. The last chapter of the book ultimately reminds us of the enduring relevance of phenomenological inquiry for contemporary philosophy. However, it is perhaps because of the highly relevant nature of the topic explored here that a more fastidious reader may wonder what could have been or could be if the author wondered away from Heidegger’s gravitational pull and turned his attention to more secondary, yet key, philosophical sources such as Deleuze’s influential analysis of ‘Différence’ as found in Différence et Répétition or indeed Michel Guerin’s ‘Figurologie’ as it appears in La Terreur et La Pitié, among others.

***

Overall, with the publication of Philosophy of Finitude, Rafael Winkler offers a highly relevant and insightful analysis of key figures who have effectively shaped the way contemporary philosophy explores the problem of the unique and the ‘other’ of Man. However, the very manner in which the philosophical investigation is here conducted could have benefited from a greater degree of reflexive engagement. One could here think that the predominantly exegetical nature of the exercise, if left unquestioned by the inquirer, could mask a non-negligible issue which today often seems to mark philosophical practice. Indeed, each time that we meticulously dig within the depth of such authors’ corpus and translate their work into our professional philosophical agenda, we do what is required, but as Ansell-Pearson and Hatab have pointed out, in doing so we perhaps also ‘bring to ruin something special and vital. … It seems we must “murder to dissect”’[22]. But what does it mean? And what is the nature of the risk? This problem extends far beyond the present book and is not specifically directed at it but to all of us who engage in philosophical research today.

William Wordsworth once tried to bring this issue to our attention in his beautiful poem the Tables Turned (1798) in which he suggested that all too often in our appreciation and at times scientific exploration of literature, ‘Our meddling intellect — Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things; – We murder to dissect’. And indeed, this warning was not left unheeding by two of the key figures considered in the present volume. Namely, Nietzsche and Heidegger for whom our search for knowledge should resist being turned into an autopsy by which the inquirer is compelled to cut and dig within the entrails of the author’s corpus in order to bring to the light of the microscope elements of clarity concerning the ‘workability’ and soundness of the thought presented therein.  Yet again, it will be argued that it often must be done in order to encounter the author, to find him or her and ‘understand’ the material. But can this only be achieved by means of analytical vivisection, by having blood on our hands? A difficult question to answer, without a doubt; but one that should not escape the contemporary philosopher’s scrutiny. As Heidegger himself noted, being no stranger to the complexity of this issue which Nietzsche’s works would have brought to his mind: ‘(…) in order to encounter [the author’s] thought, one must first find it[23]. And as both he and Nietzsche remarked[24], the task of the philosopher as well as that of the respectful and agile reader is not to re-cognise signs, ideas and fragments within the corpus of the author, but rather to encounter the thought of the author; and from this vivid encounter, to find the other’s thought only in order to lose it. Thus, opening ourselves to the possibility of thinking differently, of creating new images of thought and thereby even bring new life to a contemporary thought of finitude. But losing the thought of the author that inspires us does not mean discarding or leaving it behind as one would dispose of an inanimate object of inquiry. Rather,  it implies leaving the thought of the author alive, to rest in its own enigmatic place awaiting future encounters from which could spring new thought, new possibilities of life. Here, the tact and obvious respect Winkler demonstrates with regards to the authors analysed in this book only too clearly suggest that such a path of thought has a place within contemporary academic writing; but it may also show that it could be pursued with a greater degree of intensity if it is to become ever more fruitful in the future.


[1] Celan, P. Entretien dans la Montagne [Gespräch im Gebirg]. Verdier (bilingue), Der Doppelganger. Lagrasse. 2001.

[2] Cf. Blanchot, M. Celui Qui Ne m’Accompagnait Pas. L’Imaginaire, Editions Gallimard, Paris. 1953.

[3] Winkler, Rafael. Philosophy of Finitude: Heidegger, Levinas, Nietzsche. Bloomsbury Publishing, London. 2018, p. xiv.

[4] Ibid. p. xvii.

[5] Sheehan, T. Making Sense of Heidegger: A Paradigm Shift. New Heidegger Research Series. Rowman & Littlefield Int. London. 2015, p. xvi.

[6] Winkler, R. Philosophy of Finitude: Heidegger, Levinas and Nietzsche. Bloomsbury Press. London. 2018, pp. 1-2.

[7] Heidegger, M. Being and Time. Translated by J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1962 (first published in 1927), 3: 33–4.

[8] Winkler, 2018, pp. 6-9.

[9] Levinas mentioned in Winkler, 2018, p. 28.

[10] Heidegger cited in Winkler, 2018, p. 7.

[11] Winkler, 2018, p. xv. See also, pp. 15-19.

[12] Ibid. pp. 19-24.

[13] Ibid. p. 25.

[14] Ibid. pp. 25-26.

[15] Ibid. p. 46.

[16] Ibid. p. 45.

[17] Ibid. p. 55.

[18] Ibid. xii.

[19] Ibid. xvii.

[20] Ibid. p. 88-110.

[21] Ibid. p. 126.

[22] Keith Ansell-Pearson. Nietzsche’s Search for Philosophy – On the Middle Writings. Bloomsbury Publishing, London. 2018, p. 6.

[23] Martin Heidegger. Was heißt Denken? [Qu’appelle –t- on penser?], Trans. By Gerard Grand, 1959. PUF, Paris. [1954], p. 50.

[24] Cf. Friedrich Nietzsche. UM, I, 6. pp. 36-7.

Antonio Cimino, Cees Leijenhorst (Eds.): Phenomenology and Experience: New Perspectives, Brill, 2018

Phenomenology and Experience: New Perspectives Book Cover Phenomenology and Experience: New Perspectives
Studies in Contemporary Phenomenology, Volume: 18
Antonio Cimino, Cees Leijenhorst (Eds.)
Brill
2018
x, 204

Robert D. Stolorow, George E. Atwood: The Power of Phenomenology: Psychoanalytic and Philosophical Perspectives, Routledge, 2018

The Power of Phenomenology: Psychoanalytic and Philosophical Perspectives Book Cover The Power of Phenomenology: Psychoanalytic and Philosophical Perspectives
Robert D. Stolorow, George E. Atwood
Routledge
2018
Hardback
142

Françoise Dastur: Questions of Phenomenology: Language, Alterity, Temporality, Finitude

Questions of Phenomenology: Language, Alterity, Temporality, Finitude Book Cover Questions of Phenomenology: Language, Alterity, Temporality, Finitude
Perspectives in Continental Philosophy
Françoise Dastur. Translated by Robert Vallier
Fordham University Press
2017
Paperback $32.00
264

Reviewed by:  Rhonda Siu (University of New South Wales)

Françoise Dastur’s aim in her most recent monograph, Questions of Phenomenology, is to examine how various phenomenologists have responded to the essential questions of philosophy, especially those which challenge the phenomenological approach (Dastur 2017, xiii-xiv).  The background to Dastur’s project is the transformation of the meaning of “phenomenology” in the early twentieth century from a specific philosophical discipline to a new understanding of philosophy itself (ibid., xiii).  This new understanding is based on the view adopted by Husserl from the ancient philosophers that philosophy is a collective enterprise that brings different thinkers together (ibid.).  Dastur thus emphasises not individual theorists but rather the interconnections between them that revolve around their shared concerns (ibid.).  A broad range of concerns underlie the fourfold structure of Dastur’s monograph: (1) language and logic, (2) the self and the other, (3) temporality and history, and (4) finitude and mortality.

There are several particularly meritorious aspects of the monograph.  Despite the considerable ground she traverses, Dastur’s discussions are highly integrated; she moves fluidly from one to another by drawing connections between the themes that emerge throughout the work.  For example, Dastur notes that the difference between Husserl and Heidegger’s emphases on the immortality of the “transcendental ego” and finitude, respectively, also results in different perspectives of history, and of the threat that technology poses to human existence (in Patočka’s thought).  Equally as fluidly, Dastur weaves phenomenologists’ views into an intricate tapestry of different but interconnected perspectives.  Rather than seeking to eliminate the conflicts between viewpoints, Dastur acknowledges the existence of “irreconcilable positions” (ibid.) and immerses herself into the complex relationships between them.

This fluidity is also embodied in Dastur’s own approach to phenomenology, which allows for a nuanced and sustained analysis of the central themes.  Two main influences underlie her approach.  Following Husserl and Heidegger, Dastur also believes that phenomenologists share “the practice of a method” rather than a particular “doctrine” or “school” (ibid.).  Following Merleau-Ponty, she conceives of phenomenology as a constantly evolving “movement” rather than a finished or fixed structure (ibid.).  Consequently, rather than pitting different phenomenologists against each other, Dastur establishes a conversation between them by examining how each has participated in, and thereby contributed to, this movement by developing, critiquing and even diverging from the ideas of his predecessor/s.  To her credit, Dastur explores not only the movement between different philosophers’ views, but also within each philosopher’s views as they evolve.  While Dastur’s analysis centres on the complex relationship between Husserl and Heidegger’s phenomenologies, she also explores the notable contributions of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Paul Ricoeur, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Eugen Fink, Jan Patočka and Emmanuel Lévinas.  Whereas she recruits the first five philosophers as mediating figures between Husserl and Heidegger, she enlists Lévinas as her main interlocutor in her unifying endeavour.  Given her focus on phenomenology as a movement, Dastur does not argue that Husserl’s views are superior to Heidegger’s, or vice versa.  Rather, she acknowledges that Heidegger is indebted to Husserl for providing the groundwork for his own phenomenological views and for prompting him to “designate his own mode of thinking as ‘phenomenology’ until the end of his career” (ibid., 46).

Commentators such as Burt Hopkins note that such unbiased approaches are “conspicuously lacking” in the analyses of the Husserl-Heidegger relationship in the existing scholarship (Hopkins 1993, 4, emphasis in original).  Instead, Hopkins claims:

The literature treating the relationship between the phenomenologies of Husserl and Heidegger has not been kind to Husserl.  Heidegger’s “devastating” phenomenologically ontological critique of traditional epistemology and ontology, advanced under the rubric of “fundamental ontology” in Being and Time, has almost been universally received, despite the paucity of its references to Husserl, as sounding the death knell for Husserl’s original formulation of phenomenology.  (ibid., 1)

In part one, Dastur begins by examining Husserl’s views of language, logic and knowledge before turning to the transition of Husserl’s approach to phenomenology to Heidegger’s through the inclusion of the hermeneutical dimension.  In chapter one, Dastur investigates Husserl’s early theory of knowledge, focussing on how his epistemological views in Logical Investigations were influenced by the German philosopher, Rudolph Hermann Lotze’s theory of “validity”.  Lotze’s work, Dastur claims, was a key contributing factor in Husserl’s transition from the “psychologism” he adopted from Franz Brentano to “logicism” and its attendant Platonic underpinnings (Dastur 2017, 5).  What Husserl takes from Plato (and Lotze) is the notion that the validity of a proposition (when understood as “universality”) is based on its being a “truth in itself” (ibid., 14).  Dastur claims that it is this idea of “truth in itself” and the wider “logicism” wherein it is embedded that Husserl will later abandon following his “idealist ‘turn’” in 1905-07 (ibid.).

Continuing her investigation of Husserl’s epistemology in chapter three, Dastur provides a reading of Husserl’s more mature text, Experience and Judgment which focusses on the “genealogy of logic” (ibid., 29).  She distinguishes between Husserl and Heidegger’s notions of “originary experience” (ibid., 35).  Whereas Husserl associates this experience with the “individual”, she argues that Heidegger associates it with Dasein’s “originary openness to a world”, which also includes its relations with others (ibid., 35 and 40).  Also in this chapter, Dastur expands on the reasons behind Husserl’s departure from Brentano’s psychologism.  She claims that psychology, for Husserl, approaches its limits when it attempts to go back to “originary experience”; it can only reach an experience that has already been informed by “idealizations” originating in the “modern natural sciences” (ibid., 29).  In departing from this psychological perspective, Husserl, Dastur argues, does not dismiss science but rather seeks to attain a more comprehensive understanding of it by revealing the implicit assumptions behind its idealizations (ibid.).

In chapter two, Dastur examines Husserl’s enterprise of developing a “pure logical grammar”, focussing on the fourth Logical Investigation (ibid., 15).  Departing from the modern linguists of his time who relied heavily on empirical methodology, Dastur claims that Husserl seeks to revitalise the former notion of “‘universal’” and “‘a priori grammar’” through revealing the “conditions of possibility for all language and all meaning” (ibid., 15-16 and 19, emphases in original).  Dastur also astutely challenges Husserl’s privileging of the “category of the substantive” in this enterprise due to his (questionable) assumption that it underlies the grammatical forms of all languages (ibid., 25-26).  She employs Johannes Lohmann’s observation that while “Indo-European languages” may have the “predicative structure of the proposition” as their basis, this does not apply to other languages like Chinese (ibid., 26-27).

In chapter four, Dastur details Heidegger’s combination of phenomenology with hermeneutics to form the notion of “hermeneutic phenomenology” (ibid., 52).  This, she claims, partakes in Heidegger’s endeavour to show more emphatically than Husserl how phenomenology, rather than being a new direction in philosophy, is actually an extension of Plato and Aristotle’s “philosophical project” (ibid.). As commentators like Günter Figal (2012, 525) observe, “the hermeneutical dimension of phenomenology remains at the margins” of Husserl’s philosophy.  Although acknowledging that hints of this dimension can be found in the first Logical Investigation and the fifth Cartesian Meditation, Figal maintains that “Husserl never discussed the hermeneutical aspects of his conception of phenomenology; he never clarified what precisely he meant by ‘explication’, and how it should be practiced” (ibid., 525-526).

Dastur claims that a key difference between Husserl and Heidegger’s philosophies lies in their views of how the subject initially experiences the world.  In what she refers to as Husserl’s “philosophy of the pure gaze”, the world first appears to the subject as impenetrable and perplexing; the meaning-giving act of the “constituting consciousness” is required to render it intelligible (Dastur 2017, 51).  By contrast, Dastur suggests that in Heidegger’s “hermeneutic phenomenology”, the subject is from the very beginning already embedded in, and engages with, the world and thus finds it comprehensible upon first contact (ibid., 51-52).  Aligning himself with the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle, Heidegger believes that the world cannot be reduced to a “pure sensuous given” inasmuch as perception is already a reaction to, and the initiation of a conversation with, the world (ibid., 43-44).

Part two of Dastur’s monograph is multifaceted, comprising analyses of: (1) Husserl’s “transcendental reduction”, (2) the self-other/patient-therapist relationship in the medical domain from a Heideggerian perspective, and (3) the crucial question of intersubjectivity in Husserl and Heidegger’s phenomenologies by way of Levinas’ distinctions between the same and the other, and between ethics and ontology.  In chapter five, Dastur outlines the ways that Husserl distinguishes his method of “phenomenological reduction” from that employed by the positive sciences (ibid., 57-58). Positive science assumes a pre-existing object that will be subjected for analysis, but Husserl’s “reductive method” does not (ibid., 57).  Dastur also analyses how Husserl departs from Descartes’ “representational” view of knowledge when he develops the notion of the “constituting consciousness” that marks the “transcendental turn” in his philosophy (ibid., 62-63).  Whereas the object and consciousness are completely distinct in Descartes’ epistemology, they are interrelated in Husserl’s philosophy (ibid.).  Dastur argues that, for Husserl, this does not entail that the constituting consciousness is responsible for founding the object; rather, the object initially becomes meaningful to us through the interpretative activity of consciousness (ibid., 63).  She also argues that what eventually motivated Husserl to distance himself even further from Descartes was his perception of Descartes’ inability to adequately address the issue of intersubjectivity, which Husserl regarded as essential to grasping the meaning of subjectivity (ibid., 65).

In chapter seven, a highly distinctive and interesting section of the monograph, Dastur examines how Heideggerian phenomenology can be applied to the medical domain, especially the possibility of deriving from it a “‘doctrine of human illness’” or a “therapy and preventative medicine” (ibid., 84).  Her analysis concentrates on two Swiss psychiatrists, Medard Boss and Ludwig Binswanger, who applied Heidegger’s ideas to their psychiatric practice in different ways.  Heidegger, Dastur claims, approved of Boss’ method of Daseinsanalyse because it forged a potential bridge between the ontological and ontic domains (ibid., 83).  By contrast, Heidegger claimed that Binswanger’s “psychiatric analysis of Dasein” constituted a “complete misunderstanding” of his thought as it did not progress beyond “an ontic and existentiell interpretation of factual Dasein” (ibid., 83-84).  A Heideggerian therapy that avoids the shortcomings of Binswanger’s approach, Dastur suggests, would necessitate a deeper engagement on the doctor’s part than the simple application of the ontological to the ontic by requiring the doctor to actually “experience himself as Da-sein” and perceive “all human reality” through this lens (ibid., 84).

In chapters six and eight, Dastur takes up the crucial “question of the other” in phenomenology by examining the relationship between Husserl and Heidegger’s views of intersubjectivity.  In both chapters, Lévinas serves as Dastur’s main interlocutor as she critiques his strict distinction between Being and ontology, on the one hand, and Ethics and the Other/alterity on the other.  In chapter six, she argues against Lévinas’ contention that the “question of the other” is adequately accounted for in Husserl’s philosophy but not in Heidegger’s, claiming instead that this question should be further examined in both their philosophies in an unprejudicial way (ibid., 69-70).  Temporality is central to Dastur’s investigation of intersubjectivity here insofar as she bases her analysis on what she perceives as Lévinas’ worthwhile contention that the “alterity of the other” is entwined with the “alterity of time itself” (ibid., 70).  She claims that Husserl’s notion of “self-constitution” relies on the alterity of time because the ego is necessarily constituted at a moment other than the present, meaning that the “constituting” and “constituted” cannot coincide (ibid., 71).  Dastur suggests that for Husserl this also applies to the self-other relationship.  Just as the ego cannot have immediate or direct access to its “past ego” (i.e. it can only recollect its past experiences later through reflection), in Husserl’s notion of “empathy”, the self only has indirect access to the other through “appresentation” (ibid., 74).  Moreover, just as the self’s recollection of its “past-ego” assumes that it shares a “community of consciousness” with the latter, so too does the “appresentation” of the other to oneself presuppose an “originary co-presence of the other” within the flux of time (ibid.).

In Heidegger’s philosophy, Dastur suggests that we find an even more intimate relationship between the self and time because the self is not simply subject to, and in, time, Dasein is time (ibid., 76).  As Heidegger’s well-known analysis of “being-toward-death” illustrates, Dasein’s finite nature means that time is essential to how it understands and interprets its own Being.  Dastur emphasises that, for Heidegger, the term, “being-with”, does not simply entail the fact that other people exist (ibid., 76-77) but is rather implicated and presupposed in how the self understands, and engages with, its finite existence.  Refuting Lévinas and those who accuse Heidegger of “solipsism”, she argues that “[i]t is therefore not at all a paradox to claim that in Being and Time, the question of the other is posed everywhere.” (ibid., 77-78, emphasis in original)

In chapter eight, Dastur recruits ideas from Ricoeur’s Oneself as Another to present a mediating position that adheres neither to Heidegger’s “thought of being” nor to Lévinas’ notion of “otherwise than being”, but rather contains and contests elements of both (ibid., 93 and 101-102).  She challenges Lévinas’ distinction between ontology and ethics by using Heidegger’s Letter on Humanism as an example (ibid., 92).  There, Heidegger combines these two notions by reanimating an ancient notion of ethics, namely, “ethos” (or “place of habitation”), which he conceptualises as the study of the “truth of Being” (Dastur 2017, 92 and Heidegger 1977, 234-235).  Positioning herself against Lévinas, Dastur claims that ontology, for Heidegger, is already “practical”, “engaged” and “ethical”, qualities which help to explain why he did not explicitly produce an ethics (Dastur 2017, 93).

In part three, Dastur establishes a dialogue between Husserl and Heidegger’s phenomenological accounts of time by way of Merleau-Ponty’s views of temporality and the notion of the “event”.  Ricoeur and Gadamer’s views of the entwinement of hermeneutics and narrativity in history are also examined.  In chapter nine, Dastur designates Merleau-Ponty as the “figure of the phenomenological movement situated ‘between’ Heidegger and Husserl” by tracing the “movement” of the section on “Temporality” in Phenomenology of Perception (ibid., 112).  There, Merleau-Ponty refutes both the realist and idealist responses to the problem of time.  On the one hand, Dastur claims that the realist view, for Merleau-Ponty, posits that the “subject is in time”, whereby time regarded as an object (ibid., 107, emphasis in original).  In Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty (2002, 481) suggests that this conventional notion of “objective time” is unviable because it would simply consist in a “series of instances of ‘now’, which are presented to nobody, since nobody is involved in them”.  Rather than being supposedly applicable to everyone, objective time would in fact be inapplicable to anyone.  On the other hand, Dastur claims that the idealist view, for Merleau-Ponty, posits that the subject is “outside” of time and thus supposedly liberated from its confines (Dastur 2017, 107-108, emphasis in original).  For Merleau-Ponty, Dastur argues, this so-called “freedom” is misleading because the subject can only conceive of time’s “passage” or flow by inhabiting time rather than remaining completely detached from it (ibid., 108-109).  Merleau-Ponty’s alternative phenomenological response to the problem of time is that the “subject is time” (ibid., 107, emphasis in original).  By this, he means that an account of time must take the lived experience of the particular subject as its starting point.  It is the subject that either connects, or distinguishes between, the events of his/her past, thereby organising them into an integrated and meaningful narrative.

Dastur suggests that Merleau-Ponty formulates his phenomenological account of time by taking up an unconventional mediating position between Husserl and Heidegger’s views of temporality (ibid., 110 and 112).  Whereas Merleau-Ponty, she claims, follows Heidegger in interpreting Husserl’s notion of “intentionality” as “transcendence”, he follows Husserl in interpreting “ek-stasis” as pertaining to the subject rather than to existence (ibid., 110-111).  Moreover, she continues, by emphasising the subject’s “ek-static rather than synthetic character”, Merleau-Ponty reinforces Husserl’s notion of the “‘living’” or “‘enlarged’” present which, unlike the conventional notion of the present, comprises both the “retentional and protentional horizons” of the past and future (ibid., 113 and 115).  Dastur deems this marriage of Husserl and Heidegger as “the proper singularity of Merleau-Ponty’s work, which manages to give an eminent sense to the unity of what we have rightly called not the ‘school’ but the ‘movement’ of phenomenology” (ibid., 115).

In chapter ten, Dastur tackles the challenging question of how phenomenology can conceive of the “event”.  Specifically, Dastur claims that “the question is to show how a phenomenology of the event (if it is possible) constitutes the most proper completion of the phenomenological project rather than an announcement of its destitution or impossibility, as thinkers of absolute exteriority and alterity (such as Levinas and Derrida) sometimes suggest” (ibid., 120).  In her view, the event poses a challenge to philosophy (including phenomenology) because it exemplifies the “contingency” of time (ibid., 116).  The event, she argues, is brought about through an unexpected rupture between the past and future, which, in turn, is crucial to human experience because it allows for its transformation (ibid., 120).  Dastur investigates the significance of the “event” by examining the “phenomenology of expectation and surprise” that she finds in both Husserl and Heidegger’s philosophies (ibid., 121).  Influenced by Heidegger’s characterisation of death as “possibility” (or an “impossible” paradoxically made “possible”), Dastur links the “phenomenology of eventuality” with the “phenomenology of mortality” (ibid., 121).  Husserl’s philosophy intersects with Heidegger’s in Dastur’s analysis through her claim that Heidegger’s delineation of the possible as “a structure of existence” is grounded in Husserl’s “intentional analyses”, with the notion of “excess” being common to both (ibid., 122).  Just as the “possible” exceeds the “real” in Heidegger’s existential analysis, the “intentional aim” exceeds the “intentional object” in Husserl’s intentional analysis (ibid., 121-122).

Dastur perceptively raises a potential objection to developing a “phenomenology of the event”, namely, the possibility of confronting events of such magnitude (e.g. the death of a lover and “religious conversion”) that they provoke not only a “reconfiguration of possibles” within human experience but the total annihilation of them (ibid., 123).  In such circumstances, Dastur suggests, our ability to even confront the event becomes doubtful insofar as what “we experience in moments of crisis is our incapacity to experience the traumatizing event in the present” (ibid., emphasis in original).  Dastur’s counterargument is that the fact that we attempt to attribute meaning to the event in the first place presupposes that we are already in the process of engaging with it (rather than simply being at its mercy) (ibid., 124).  She argues that, “[w]e must therefore not oppose phenomenology to the thought of the event, but rather conjoin them, so that the opening to the phenomenon can be merged with the opening to the unforeseeable.” (ibid., 124-125).

In chapter eleven, Dastur turns her attention to the issue of “historicity”.  Her analysis centres on the “philosophies of historicity” that arose as a reaction against the undesirable relativism that followed the demise of Hegelianism (ibid., 128).  She claims that these philosophies presented a new way of conceiving the link between “truth and history”, which had previously been overlooked by relativistic approaches (ibid.).  The beginnings of this new conception, Dastur suggests, can be found in Husserl’s phenomenology and, to a certain extent, in the “life-philosophy” of theorists such as Wilhelm Dilthey and Yorck von Wartenburg (ibid.).  However, she also argues that a common weakness amongst these “philosophies of historicity”, including in Husserl’s thought, is their inability to situate history fundamentally in the concepts of “death and finitude” (ibid., 129).  For example, Dastur suggests that Husserl is ultimately unable to grasp the “absolute historicity of consciousness” because he maintains that the transcendental ego is immortal (ibid., 130-131).  By contrast, Dastur believes that “only in Heidegger are finitude and historicity thought as essentially linked to one another, with mortality constituting the hidden ground of the historicity of existence” (ibid., 131).  Dastur stresses here (and in other chapters) that Heidegger’s view of history is not solipsistic because the finite subject is embedded in a community of other finite subjects with whom it remains in conversation (ibid., 132-133).  Aligning herself with Heidegger, Dastur concludes that mortality is the basis of truth and history, and that the acknowledgement of the interconnectedness of “human finitude” and the wider “finiteness of being” signals the opportunity for developing a “new alliance of truth and history” (ibid., 137).

In chapter twelve, Dastur begins by discussing David Carr’s interpretation of Ricoeur’s views on the philosophy of history, concentrating on the relationship between the “ontological” and “epistemological” aspects of narrative (ibid., 138).  Dastur sets out Ricoeur’s view that epistemology and ontology are entwined in narrative in such a way that epistemology transforms into ontology, in turn effecting the “opening of the hermeneutic dimension itself” (ibid., 139-140).  This uncovering of the hermeneutic dimension is possible in Ricoeur’s philosophy, Carr claims, because he departs from the traditional “representational” view of historical knowledge whereby the latter is said to mirror the “real past” (ibid., 139).  By contrast, Carr stresses that historical knowledge for Ricoeur is transformative, maintaining a “‘re-creative’ or reconfigurative” relationship with the past with which it actively engages (ibid.).  As Dastur explains, for Ricoeur it is through the act of interpretation that a profound relationship is established between the historian/interpreter and the past (ibid., 140).  This relationship permeates his/her “fundamental mode of being”, encompassing his/her connection with the texts s/he interprets, other people and to himself/herself (ibid.).

To advance her analysis of history and hermeneutics, Dastur turns to Gadamer’s philosophy, believing that he “most forcefully expressed the linkage of epistemology and ontology in the intermediary dimension of hermeneutics” (ibid.).  She argues that, for Gadamer, the historian’s relationship with the past is not one of domination, but is instead “dialogical” in that the past “speaks” to the historian who simultaneously interprets it (ibid., 140-142).  Dastur claims that, due to the time lapse between the moments of composition and interpretation, the meaning of a text for Gadamer is neither completely foreign nor completely understandable, but is rather situated between “strangeness and familiarity” (ibid., 140 and 142).  Gadamer (2002, 330-331) himself views this “temporal distance” not as an obstacle to be eliminated, but rather as “a positive and productive condition enabling understanding”.  Dastur concludes by concurring with Carr’s contention that “hermeneutics and narrativity” are implicated in each other, such that one can no longer “‘clearly separate life and the activity of recounting this life’” (Dastur 2017, 146).

In the final part of the monograph, Dastur explores the interrelated themes of finitude, worldliness and the divine through Patočka and Fink’s interpretations of Heidegger’s thought.  In chapter thirteen, Dastur further investigates the linkages between Husserl and Heidegger, this time recruiting Jan Patočka as a mediating figure.  While recognising both philosophers as important figures in the phenomenological movement, Dastur claims that Patočka highlights “the unifying elements subtending their opposition…by adopting a critical attitude with respect to both doctrines, to make the profound meaning of phenomenology appear as a ‘reflection on the crisis of thinking,’ which is also a crisis of humanity” (ibid., 151, emphasis in original).

In chapter fourteen, Dastur analyses three of Patočka’s texts that focus on Heidegger’s philosophy.  In the first text, The Crisis of Meaning, Patočka explores the similarities between Heidegger’s work and that of Thomas Masaryk, a Czech politician and philosopher (ibid., 157).  Patočka, Dastur claims, perceives in both Heidegger’s “eminently practical philosophy” and Masaryk’s act of establishing the state, prime examples of “‘engaged thought’” based on Heidegger’s notion of “resoluteness” (ibid., 158-159).  The second text, “Martin Heidegger, Thinker of Humanity”, is the “immediate posthumous elegy” that Patočka wrote for Heidegger (ibid., 160).  There, Dastur claims, Patočka portrays Heidegger as a “thinker of humanity” instead of a “thinker of being”, which is aligned with Heidegger’s own views in Letter on Humanism (ibid.).  Finally, Dastur examines a text that Patočka wrote following his “Varna lecture from September 1973” (ibid., 163).  According to Dastur, Patočka claims that Heidegger’s philosophy constitutes the “‘first truly radical attempts to situate philosophy in finitude’”, with the latter constituting the primary theme in both his early and more mature writings (ibid.).  Based on this assessment, Patočka distances himself from Husserl’s version of phenomenology, with its insistence on the immortality of the transcendental ego, and draws closer to Heidegger’s version.  In Dastur’s reading of Patočka, Heidegger’s emphasis on mortality also means that he perceives technology as a more ominous threat to humanity than Husserl (ibid., 164).  Technology contributes to the illusion of our domination over nature, which is perceived simply as a measurable resource for indiscriminate exploitation (ibid.).  According to Dastur, Patočka’s Heideggerian viewpoint is that technology obscures how “sacrifice” brings the “human nonmastery over beings” to light, thereby tempering the illusory “unconditional mastery” over beings that technology seeks to promote (ibid., 164-165).

In chapter fifteen, Dastur focusses on Eugen Fink’s course, “World and Finitude”, which is based on ideas from Heidegger’s course, Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude (ibid., 167).  Fink explores in it the interconnections between the themes of finitude and “worldliness”, that is, our relationship with “nonhuman” entities in the world (ibid., 168).  Whereas Heidegger characterises this issue as “ontological difference”, Fink characterises it as “cosmological difference” (ibid., 167).  Fink, Dastur claims, avoids formulating his notion of “cosmological difference” based on Heidegger’s notion of “ontological difference” because he regards cosmology as more fundamental than ontology whereas Heidegger argues for the reverse (ibid., 169).  When investigating cosmological thought, Fink posits the notion of the “‘double experience’ of death” as a counterpart to Heidegger’s notion of death as the “condemnation to extreme individuation” (ibid., 173).  When confronted with death, Fink believes that we experience both “solitude” and “love”, where love is a means of liberating ourselves from solitude (ibid.).  In Dastur’s view, Fink conceives of “love” as an intersubjective experience that emphasises the regeneration of life, that is, the experience of merging with the “‘original and unformed ground of all life and being’”, such as is featured in Nietzsche’s “philosophy of life” (ibid., 173-174).  Dastur argues that, “[i]n opposition to the unilaterality of the Heideggerian interpretation that […] gives primacy to death, Fink wants to give value to the double aspect, individual and social, of death and to conjoin the perspective of the dying with the perspective of the survivor.” (ibid., 176)

In the final chapter, Dastur explores the role of the divine in the phenomenological movement.  Dastur claims that Husserl, like Kant, abandons the traditional philosophical notion of “a metaphysical God” who acts as a “supreme ontological guarantor” (ibid., 180).  Rather, Husserl conceives of God as subject to the “laws of intentionality” in the same way as humans (ibid., 178).  However, Dastur suggests that this conception of God proved problematic for Husserl when he attempted to subject it to the transcendental reduction, because it did not fit neatly into his categories of “immanence” and “transcendence” (ibid., 179-180).  Husserl ultimately arrived at a conception of God as “a perfect and totally rational humanity” constituting the “absolute logos” towards which humans are heading (ibid., 181).  However, Dastur emphasises that this development does not signal “a ‘religious’ turn for phenomenology” in the context of his philosophy (ibid.).

Turning then to Heidegger, Dastur claims that he formulates his own notion of the “last God” based on the experience of the “death of God” in Nietzsche, and the “flight of the Gods” in Hölderlin’s poetry (ibid., 183). Dastur identifies several aspects of this “last God” that Heidegger believes would allow us to develop a more profound grasp of the divine than past conceptions of God (ibid., 184).  First, unlike the “God of revelation”, the “last God” “passes” into time, meaning that it only interacts with us as it retreats (ibid.).  Second, being subject to the flux of time, the “last God” reveals to us “‘the most intimate finitude of being’” rather than the “divine infinitude” of the Christian God (ibid.).  Lastly, unlike the “moral God”, the “last God” does not decree anything (ibid.).

As stated at the beginning of this review, Dastur’s exploration of key phenomenological questions is fluid, nuanced and engages with, rather than avoids, the complexities that emerge from such an investigation.  There are a few more evaluating remarks I want to make to conclude this review.  First, this monograph would be most useful to those seeking an analysis of diverse issues in the phenomenological movement from various perspectives rather than a detailed analysis of a particular issue.  Second, although Dastur raises some astute criticisms of the theorists she examines (e.g. her critique of Husserl’s privileging of the substantive in chapter two), besides Lévinas, I felt that a few more figures who clearly distinguish between Husserl and Heidegger could have been included to render the analysis more balanced.  Lastly, although there are clear lines of argument within the individual chapters that render them cohesive, the reader may sometimes feel frustrated at the lack of an overall topic that unites all parts of the work.  This, however, is probably a result of the approach that Dastur has chosen to adopt, and, moreover, part of the point she wants to make.  As she continually emphasises, phenomenology should be viewed as an evolving movement that encompasses diverse perspectives rather than a doctrine whose followers are assumed to share a common subject-matter or common principles.  The notably diverse nature of phenomenological contributions has been noted by commentators like Dan Zahavi (2012, 1), who observed that sometimes, despite Husserl’s crucial status as the forefather of phenomenology, “virtually all post-Husserlian phenomenologists ended up distancing themselves from most aspects of Husserl’s original program” (ibid.).  He even goes so far as to ask whether “there really [is] something like a phenomenological tradition, let alone a phenomenological method” (ibid.).  From this perspective, then, Dastur’s approach is not flawed but rather an attempt to contribute to the phenomenological movement by tackling a key challenge to it.

References

Dastur, Françoise. 2017. Questions of Phenomenology: Language, Alterity, Temporality, Finitude. Translated by Robert Vallier. New York: Fordham University Press.

Figal, Gü 2012. “Hermeneutical Phenomenology”. In The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Phenomenology, edited by Dan Zahavi, 525-542. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 2002. “Elements of a Theory of Hermeneutic Experience” from Truth and Method. In The Phenomenology Reader, edited by Dermot Moran and Timothy Mooney, 314-338. London and New York: Routledge.

Heidegger, Martin. 1977. Letter on Humanism. In Basic Writings, edited by David Farrell Krell, 189-242. New York: Harper and Row.

Hopkins, Burt C. 1993. Intentionality in Husserl and Heidegger: The Problem of the Original Method and Phenomenon of Phenomenology. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 2002. Phenomenology of Perception. Translated by Colin Smith. London: Routledge Classics.

Zahavi, Dan. 2012. “Introduction” to The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Phenomenology, edited by Dan Zahavi, 1-4. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jeff Kochan: Science as Social Existence: Heidegger and the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge, Open Book Publishers, 2017

Science as Social Existence: Heidegger and the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge Book Cover Science as Social Existence: Heidegger and the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge
Jeff Kochan
Open Book Publishers
2017
Hardback £29.95
444