Hans Blumenberg: Die Nackte Wahrheit

Die nackte Wahrheit Book Cover Die nackte Wahrheit
suhrkamp taschenbuch wissenschaft 2281
Hans Blumenberg. Edited by Rüdiger Zill
Suhrkamp Verlag
2019
Paperback 20,00 €
199

Reviewed by: Sebastian Müngersdorff (University of Antwerp)

On Unbearable Reality and Beautiful Appearances

I.

Ferdinand Hodler’s painting ‘Die Wahrheit’ features a naked woman dispelling six cloaked male figures as if they were dark thoughts. She finds herself standing on an isle of grass while the men – lies? – turn from her and look for shelter in barren lands. In Jean-Léon Gérôme’s depiction of the truth, titled ‘The Truth Coming from the Well with Her Whip to Chastise Mankind’, one sees exactly what the title promises. At least, presuming the beholder knows that truth always comes as a naked, angry woman ready to hysterically chase you down. I would hardly be surprised if the painter kept the words “How could you!” in mind, or, more accurately, “Comment peux-tu!”, when drawing the contours of her screaming mouth. Perhaps he even pictured the face of his wife at the moment he told her the truth about his many models and the adulterous state of affairs.

In other paintings, by Merson, for example, or Lefebvre or Baudry, lady truth brandishes a mirror instead of a whip. In the version of Édouard Debat-Ponsan, two men, one of whom is blindfolded, try to restrain her and her charged mirror, to no avail. Her clothes tear from the male grip while her flaming red hair blows bravely and unhinderedly, her gaze aimed at some point outside the frame: her holy mission? Ultimate victory in the Age of Reason?

Venus, Eve, Leda, the Sirens, Diana, Phryne, nymphs: figurative painting has always gratefully seized upon the offer to depict naked women. Nonetheless, it is not self-evident that Hodler’s ‘The Truth’ belongs to this list of subjects. Why is truth female? Why can she only show herself unveiled? Why is she angry? Why is she victorious? Why is she armed? Why is she white? And why does she have no pubic hair?

At least some of these questions spurred Blumenberg’s collection of small excerpts exploring the metaphor of ‘the naked truth’ in Western thought, now published from his archives as Die Nackte Wahrheit by Rüdiger Zill. This book makes quite clear that the depiction of truth as naked is more than a mere representation. There is a longstanding tradition in which truth is deeply intertwined with a pure female nature understood as clarity, innocence, attraction and unapproachability. Such equation of truth with female nudity creates a variety of unuttered associations. Truth, for example, is accessible only to few – something that will play into the democratizing project of Enlightenment. It installs a connection between eros and the pursuit of truth, a desire, a libido sciendi. Prohibition is involved and it gives rise to the problem of whether truth is still truth when she presents herself dressed up. Truth becomes contaminated by male deception. The quest for truth becomes “an expedition to some exotic place”, as Kołakowski terms it in his text on nakedness and truth (Kołakowski 2004, 235). Truth becomes a capture, an ambiguous purpose of curiosity, an ideal of knowledge which is godlike, forever beyond reach yet nonetheless worth chasing, “a passion deserving of death” as Blumenberg calls it (NW 105). Just like in the story of Artemis and Actaeon (NW 104-6), the male gaze automatically becomes indiscrete and inappropriate, and curiosity becomes a kind of unacceptable voyeurism. Just like Actaeon, anyone who looks at the divine must die, an implication of a lethal danger of pursuing truth. It is worth considering that such a passion is rewritten in the expression “vedi Napoli e poi muori”, especially when bearing in mind how often a beautiful city – the word city, like truth, has a female genus in most European languages – is considered in similar female terms: the Jewel of Europe, La sposa del mare, the Pearl of the Orient, la Superba or Elbflorenz. In the case of Paris, it is expressed in terms of this other metaphor for truth: la ville lumière.

That in the European languages “truth appears on the stage as a female act”, Blumenberg writes, gives “truth an erotic-aesthetic trait […] which is not taken for granted by the misogynist” (NW 126). Whether this implies that skeptics must also be misogynists remains unclear. And whether this applies to the skeptic Blumenberg himself is a question that perhaps only a modern Diogenes might dare to ask Blumenberg’s daughter, Bettina.

Be that as it may, in view of the topic it is rather striking that this book devotes only a single page to a female writer, Madame du Châtelet. This one page, however, does not discuss her writing or thought; instead, it addresses an anecdote that tells how Mme du Châtelet shamelessly undressed in front of her servant Longchamp. Blumenberg links this behavior to the project of Enlightenment itself, in which “truth shows herself unembarrassedly in front of those who ought to serve her” (NW 103). In short, rather than her writings and ideas, it is only Madame du Châtelet’s indifference to her own nakedness that becomes a significant expression of the “new methodological ideal of objectivity” (NW 103).

Although Blumenberg does not render it explicitly, the short chapter on Actaeon following this page suggests that the divine nakedness of truth becomes human in the nakedness of Émilie du Châtelet. The hunter Actaeon, servant of the goddess Artemis, watches his mistress undress and consequently he must be punished for seeing her in her nudity. Someone who looks at Medusa, however, instantly dies. In other words, Acteon already signals an alteration in the mythic gaze upon a deity, which in Artemis’ bathing scene changes from tremendum into fascinosum. He doesn’t die immediately, he is punished for his violation. In the anecdote of Madame du Châtelet, then, a succeeding shift occurs. In contrast to Actaeon, the servant Longchamp is not punished, he is not even noticed. Longchamp becomes a subject “of conscious exposure” and is regarded as not being there: “in the witness of nudity an awareness is raised […] of remaining unnoticed in his presence” (NW 103).

This reversal in the relation of nakedness, fascinosum, between mistress and servant, punisher and the one punished, is still far from Nietzsche’s later take, “to think of the naked truth as a frightening and unbearable dimension” (NW 126). Whether a comparison of Nietzsche’s views on the ugly truth and his lashing attitude towards women – note the double inversion of Gérôme’s depiction concerning the appearance of lady truth and the one who is cracking the whip – could add something to the debate about his possible misogyny is merely a suggestion discerned between the lines.

Like this example, and completely in line with his longstanding interest in the non-conceptual (Unbegrifflichkeit), i.e. metaphoric, narrative, anecdotal and mythic substratum of conceptual thought, Blumenberg delves into the layers of implicit imagery and associations so as to note significant changes in meaning over time. Moreover, he lays bare – an expression which is itself already part of the semantics of the naked truth – inconsistencies in the rational discourse that is built on this metaphoric level and shows how it can be deconstructed and eventually turned against itself. He does so by discussing writers and philosophers such as Adorno, Kafka, Pascal, Fontenelle, Rousseau, Vesalius, Fontane, Schopenhauer, Kant, Kierkegaard and Lichtenberg. The seemingly incoherent order of these names mirrors both Blumenberg’s own avoidance of chronology and his preference of association. Although he refuses an all too systematic approach of the issue, the intrinsic connection of the different chapters is always clear: “How does the metaphor portray the position of the thinker, in which he maneuvered himself because of more or less compelling reasons and under more or less unavoidable conditions” (NW 127)?

Applied to truth, this question brings him to many considerations about the implications of viewing truth as naked: “If truth only is right when naked, then every cover is a disguise and eo ipso wrong” (NW 71). However, when we embrace the conviction that truth is true only when it is naked, we can never undo the threat that “even its nakedness is still costume” (NW 92). Nakedness then turns into “the illusion […] which is created by the gesture of tearing down dresses”, which in turn evokes “the scheme of the onion skin” (NW 97). “When once opened, nothing ever is something final” (NW 102). And at the same time, there is the thought that “truth might be as unbearable to humans as nakedness” (Blumenberg 1960, 51). In this case, “the cover of truth seems to grant us our ability to live”, a thought which appears in “Rousseau’s pragmatic exploitation of the metaphor of truth in the water well […]: leave her there. The depth of the well protects us from the problem of its nakedness” (Blumenberg 1960, 57).

In this regard, it is remarkable how rarely Blumenberg refers to the Christian tradition. In “The Epistemology of Striptease”, Leszek Kołakowski, for example, traces “the entire foundations of the theory of nakedness which has been so important in our culture” back to the Judaeo-Christian tradition (Kołakowski 2004, 225). The Book of Genesis indeed tells of an intrinsic connection between the fruit of the tree of knowledge and the shame which immediately manifested itself when the fruit was eaten. A shame “not of their crime, but of their nakedness” (Ibid., 223). Thus, “a double relation has been established: between truth and nakedness on the one hand, and between truth and shame on the other” (Ibid., 225).

Another absence which resounds throughout the book is that of the name Heidegger, which appears not even once. Nonetheless, Die Nackte Wahrheit can be read as an implicit yet fundamental critique of Heidegger’s conception of truth as alètheia. By dissecting the metaphor of truth, Blumenberg’s text offers a perspective which shows that Heidegger still fits perfectly within the dominant Western tradition, a tradition Heidegger himself sought to destruct by thinking beyond the ontological difference and the forgetting of being. Blumenberg, however, implicitly shows that Heidegger and his conception of truth as disclosure or ‘unconcealedness’, still wades through the Western waters that Heidegger himself thought he had traced to their source.

Despite this absence of Christianity and Heidegger, Blumenberg convincingly illustrates how metaphor functions “as a more or less easily fixable crack in the consistency of thought, a stimulant, and as such it refreshes reason; it also is, however, a sedative in other cases, where it covers up the failure of the concept or remedies its lack by a merely different procedure” (NW 127).

At this point, Die Nackte Wahrheit surpasses being just a study of the naked truth and begins to concern the project of metaphorology itself. As Rüdiger Zill notes, “already since the late 1960s, Blumenberg had been thinking about a detailed revision of his metaphorology” (NW 186). Concerning his distanced relation to his initial approach, Blumenberg wrote to his English translator: “The text is not only outdated – after a quarter of a century! – it is also poor” (NW 189).

In Blumenberg’s project of ‘metaphorology’, metaphor is always more than a disguise of truth or a thought expressed in non-conceptual language. “It is essentially aesthetic”, which means “that it is not something like the mere cover of the naked thought, of which one had to constantly think as the true purpose of its interpretation and unlocking that has to be reached in the end. Who constantly thinks beyond its limits, loses what he has without receiving what he cannot possess” (NW 176). In other words, there is no naked truth to be found beyond the metaphor. And more specifically, the power of metaphor is precisely this lack of precision sought by advocates of a clear and distinct conceptual language. Thus, Blumenberg argues, in contrast to the views of many thinkers he discusses, that “history” is not the “course of the self-exposure of the concept” (NW 155). Blumenberg’s associative selection of authors and topics stresses that metaphor, with its ambiguity and openness to many interpretations, is always “far more intelligent than its composer” (NW 176).

II.

The first fifty pages of Die Nackte Wahrheit concern Nietzsche and Freud. The only other pieces that come close to even ten pages are those on Pascal, Kant and the Enlightenment. Thus, of all the names figuring in Blumenberg’s posthumous book, Nietzsche and Freud can be called his main interlocutors.

Nietzsche immediately shows a fundamental reversal of truth as a beautiful naked creature. When he writes that “Truth is ugly. We have art so that we are not ruined by truth” (NW, 14), it is clear that something in the metaphor of truth changes. We are no longer in pursuit of the naked truth – she lies within reach in her unbearable ugliness – and so our interest shifts to the beautiful veils that are produced to conceal her.

“There would be no science, if science would only care about this one naked goddess and about nothing else” (NW, 20). With this thought, both Freud’s concept of sublimation and Blumenberg’s apotropaic function of myth are prefigured: art and culture function as a “human safety device” (NW 15), a protective shield which safeguards us from something insufferable. Or as Nietzsche formulates it: “Every type of culture starts with an amount of things that are veiled” (NW 15).

Blumenberg’s text from 1971 on the relevance of rhetoric and anthropology directly evidences the strong influence of this Nietzschean thought: “Ah, it is impossible to have an effect with the language of truth: rhetoric is required” (NW 31). Nietzsche defends rhetoric as a right to deceive vis-à-vis an unbearable truth. For the sceptic Blumenberg, however, truth cannot be unbearable, because the very possibility of truth itself is bracketed and remains an open question. In his writing on Hannah Arendt and Freud it is “the absolutism of truth” which becomes unbearable, this intimate European conviction “that the truth will triumph” (Blumenberg 2018, 57). Yet, as Blumenberg proclaims, “[n]othing is less certain than that the truth wishes to be loved, can be loved, should be loved” (Blumenberg 2018, 3).

This critique of Freud, already present in Rigorism of Truth, is continued in Die Nackte Wahrheit. The notion that psychoanalysis lives from the metaphor of revealing and concealing and connects the intellectual with the sexual can only barely be called a renewing insight. Blumenberg, however, uses this as a step to a subtler point. He reproves Freud’s rigorism because his therapy prioritizes the affirmation of his theory rather than the well-being of his patients. In other words, via Freud, Blumenberg criticizes the longstanding tradition “in which truth is justified at every cost” (NW 38), the same rigorous conviction that resonates in Thoreau’s famous phrase that “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”

Read from within the metaphor of ‘the naked truth’, Freud’s quest for truth – a quest strongly intertwined with the centrality of sexuality and the prudery of the society in which he lived – shows that it is not at all clear when something is yet more ‘resistance’, a symptom, a still-clothed kind of nudity, and when exactly someone has encountered the bare piece of the reality they are searching for. “The general premise for resistance as a criterion might be (this): what people gladly accept cannot be the truth” (Blumenberg 2018, 59). In discussing this central concept of resistance as an element of Freud’s “para-theory” (loc. cit.) he comes rather close to Popper’s rejection of Freud’s methodology. In his archive there are two manuscripts with the respective abbreviation TRD and TRD II, in which Blumenberg shows how ‘resistance’ is a kind of parachute that recuperates elements falling from or even objecting to Freud’s main theory (Zill 2014, 141-43). This way, even the critics of his theory can still be fitted within it. Blumenberg points out how Freud’s quest for countering resistance and his rigorist search for truth, his urge to reveal secrecy after secrecy, eventually lead to a “hysteria of revelation for which history has an analogy in hysteria of confession” (NW 47).

III.

Die nackte Wahrheit is certainly not Blumenberg’s first engagement with either Nietzsche or Freud. He had already dealt with both authors extensively and quite similarly in his earlier writings: reading them through the lens of their own imagery in order to criticize them from within the logic of these images and metaphors. In Arbeit am Mythos, for instance, both authors receive ample treatment on several occasions and are the focus of important passages. Freud and Thomas Mann, for example, are bound together in a trenchant and meaningful anecdote: Mann reading his lecture on Freud to Freud himself during his visit to Freud’s villa in Grinzing on Sunday, May 14, 1936. Blumenberg calls this a “great scene of the spirit of the age, which hardly had another scene comparable to it”, and notes that one of the “preconditions” of this “incomparable event” precisely “is the relationship to Nietzsche that both partners shared” (Blumenberg 1985, 516).

Other important passages include Blumenberg’s extensive discussion of Nietzsche’s approach of Prometheus against the light of his aesthetic conception of reality and of Nietzsche’s famous proclamation of the death of God. In the last section, ‘The Titan in His Century’, Blumenberg’s analysis of Freud’s use of Prometheus follows his assessment of Nietzsche’s use of Prometheus, such that Freud and Nietzsche, joined by Kafka, share the final page of Work on Myth. In Die nackte Wahrheit Kafka likewise follows upon Nietzsche and Freud, although it would surely be mere speculation to look for further significance here. Nonetheless, despite his longstanding and rather critical occupation with Nietzsche and Freud, Blumenberg clearly incorporated and continued many aspects of their thought.

Blumenberg’s aesthetic conception of reality, his attention for rhetoric, myth and metaphor and his truth-sceptic attitude can all be directly linked to Nietzsche. Just as rhetoric gains importance when the conviction of “the one clear and whole truth” (Blumenberg 2001b, 350) is given up, so too does myth return to view when this ideal of truth is abandoned. And here Blumenberg, already in his earlier work, shows himself to be an heir of Nietzsche. As Blumenberg writes in his first text on myth, “Nietzsche’s affinity to myth begins with the rule of truth becoming problematic to him. The poets lie – this saying comes back into favor” (Blumenberg 2001b, 352). Blumenberg’s name can be perfectly interchanged with Nietzsche’s here. The shift towards the aesthetic, and the revaluation of the ancient Platonic reproach of the poets implied in this reference, is a central concern underlying all of Blumenberg’s aesthetic texts from the 1960s, as assembled by Anselm Haverkamp in his Ästhetische und metaphorologische Schriften. Moreover, Blumenberg‘s two important texts on rhetoric and myth from 1971 both start from the truth-sceptic premise he shares with Nietzsche and which spans his work from the very beginning to this posthumous publication of Die Nackte Wahrheit. And this last publication is probably inconceivable without Nietzsche’s “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense”. Indeed, Blumenberg’s general endeavor is essentially summed up in one of Nietzsche’s most famous sentences: “Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions — they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins”.

Blumenberg’s approach of die vakante Stelle and his descriptions of Umbesetzung, elaborated in his Die Legitimität der Neuzeit, can be read as a direct translation of Nietzsche’s worn-out coins and his dictum of the “Death of God”. Herewith, Blumenberg translates Nietzsche’s nihilism into a general philosophical endeavor of Entselbstverständlichung, a process marking “the great epochal revolutions of historical life” (Blumenberg 2017, 54). This endeavor, according to Blumenberg, eventually is “the basic process of philosophical thinking: for how could the inherent task of philosophical work be characterized more fittingly than as the persistent opposition of matter-of-factness with which our daily life and thought is interspersed, yes, substantiated into their very cores – much more than we could ever suspect?” (Blumenberg 2017, 54).

Furthermore, Blumenberg’s later, more literary and anecdotal style evokes Nietzsche’s claim that it is possible to present the image of a person with only three anecdotes, just as it should be possible to reduce philosophical systems to three anecdotes. When, for example, it comes to Blumenberg’s highly ironical and critical pieces on Heidegger in Die Verführbarkeit des Philosophen, he not only takes up Nietzsche’s challenge but even seems to have added something to it: the challenge becomes not only to render an image of the person and a summary of his philosophical thought, but also to get even with him in the same move.

IV.

Rüdiger Zill has wittily but quite perceptively characterized the sort of relation Blumenberg has with Freud: “Just like family members you sometimes hate and sometimes love, who from time to time grate on your nerves but who also occasionally inspire, yet always, however, still belong in the family, authors as well can be ranked among the intellectual family formation” (Zill 2014, 148). Zill’s assessment on this matter is clear: Freud undoubtedly belongs to Blumenberg’s intellectual family. However, the more he reads Freud, the more critical Blumenberg becomes, without Freud ever losing his force of fascination (Zill 2014, 128). Ironically, when Blumenberg received the Sigmund Freud Prize for Academic Prose in 1980, he did not refer to Freud in his acceptance speech. He mentioned Socrates, Diogenes, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche as exemplar thinkers who should be admired because they did not allow their thinking to be hindered by any safeguarding method.

There is, however, quite some common ground between Freud and Blumenberg which might be easily overwritten by Blumenberg’s recent critical works on Freud from the archives. When Blumenberg ascribes rationality to aspects of thought, such as metaphor and rhetoric, that have been banished to irrationality by the tradition of philosophy there is a general similarity to Freud’s Traumdeutung and his overall endeavor of psychoanalysis. Indeed, there are at least two specific and critically important points of contact between them: Freud’s idea of sublimation and detours.

In his text on rhetoric, Blumenberg refers to Freud’s analysis of the funeral repast: “Freud saw in the commemorative funeral feast the sons’ agreement to put an end to the killing of the tribal father” (Blumenberg 1987a, 440). It is the Freudian principle of sublimation that is evoked here and Blumenberg is explicit about the importance of this matter: “If history teaches anything at all, it is this, that without this capacity to use substitutes for actions not much would be left of mankind” (loc. cit.). Herewith an important crux of Blumenberg’s thought is laid bare: “The human relation to reality is indirect, circumstantial, delayed, selective, and above all ‘metaphorical’” (Ibid., 439). This means that metaphor is not a deficit of rational thought, as it has been understood by Descartes or British empiricism (NW 110-1); nor is it even an aid of theory or merely a way of thinking in its own right; rather, it is a way of coping with reality. This “metaphoric detour by which we look away from the object in question, at another one” (Blumenberg 1987a, 439) immediately ties to the second important overlap between Freud’s and Blumenberg’s work: if Blumenberg acknowledges sublimation as the human capacity to have culture, and if sublimation – the possibility of taking a metaphoric detour – lies at the heart of this capacity, then Blumenberg’s concept of culture should be one of detours.

Blumenberg, in his 1971 text on myth, refers to Freud’s notion of Umwege. In his “Jenseits des Lustprinzips”, Freud classed the drives of self-preservation under the general concept of “detours to death”. As Freud states, “If we can accept it as an experience without exception, that all the living dies because of internal reasons, that it returns to the inorganic, then we can only say: the purpose of all life is death” (Freud 1940, 44). Everything working against this destruction and everything delaying “the achievement of the purpose of death” (Ibid., 45) becomes a “detour to death”. In this Freudian scheme, life itself is “a still more difficult and risky detour” (Blumenberg 1985, 90) and Blumenberg recognizes in these “detours to death”, this “final return home to the original state” (Ibid., 91), the same mythic circle underlying the Oedipus myth, the Odyssey and even Nietzsche’s thought of “the eternal return of the same” (loc. cit.). On the one hand, Blumenberg critically reveals the total myth (Totalmythos) of the circle underlying Freud’s thought; on the other hand, Blumenberg incorporates this notion of detour in his work as a life-spending mechanism opposing omnipotence. As he writes, for example, in his 1971 text on myth, “Essentially, omnipotence refuses somebody to tell a story about its bearer. Topographically represented, stories are always detours” (Blumenberg 2001b, 372).

Die Sorge geht über den Fluss, published in 1987, includes a short chapter titled Umwege, in which Blumenberg again stresses the importance of the possibility of taking detours: “It is only if we are able to take detours that we are able to exist. […I]t is the many detours that give culture its function of humanizing life. [… The] shortest route is barbarism” (Blumenberg 1987b, 137-8). In these descriptions of culture as Umwege, some of its psychoanalytical origin still sounds through: it is by means of culture, by the possibility of taking detours, that we can avoid our own self-destruction. As Blumenberg puts it, “Not to choose the shortest path is already the basic pattern of sublimation” (Blumenberg 1985, 93). Or as Freud states in the penultimate sentence of his letter to Einstein: “whatever makes for cultural development is working also against war” (Freud 1950, 27).

This is the very basis of Blumenberg’s thought. Whether it is his approach to rhetoric and its power of delay, whether it is the apotropaic function of myth and the dynamic of storytelling vis-à-vis the absolutism of reality – man’s metaphoric way of dealing with the world – whether it is Blumenberg’s own elaborate and meandering writing style or his anecdotal and narrative philosophy as an effort to ironically undermine the authority of certain thinkers, whether it is the construction of his archive and the delayed publication of his own works or this metaphoric study of the naked truth aimed against the “Absolutism of Truth” (Blumenberg 2001b, 350), all of it falls under this “basic pattern of sublimation”, this decision “not to choose the shortest path”. In this specific sense and despite his highly critical piece on Freud in Die nackte Wahrheit, Blumenberg’s thinking remains Freudian at its very core.

V.

As Blumenberg had noted in his Paradigmen zu einer Metaphorologie, “The metaphor of ‘the naked truth’ belongs to the pride of enlightened reason and its claim to power” (Blumenberg 1960, 54). Hence, it is clear that Die Nackte Wahrheit should be understood as a critique of this enlightened self-consciousness. And yet Blumenberg did not abandon the project of rationality entirely, despite paying profound attention to non-standard philosophical topics such as metaphor and myth. “Myth itself is a piece of high-carat ‘work of logos’”, he points out in Work on Myth (Blumenberg 1985, 12) and Blumenberg himself employs this power of reason to trace the metaphor of the naked truth in thinkers such as Kant, Rousseau and Fontenelle. Herewith, a last characteristic of Blumenberg returns in Die Nackte Wahrheit: the correspondence of form and content. In Work on Myth, for example, Blumenberg offers a theory of how myth is a process of variation and, as he develops the theory, he himself engages in the same process of selection and rewriting. In his fragmentary book Die Verführbarkeit des Philosophen, in which Blumenberg exposes thinkers such as Heidegger, Freud and Wittgenstein and shows how they seduce their audience with rhetorical tools and attractive imagery; he himself tries to persuade his readers by rhetorically and wittingly affirming his own superiority of thought. The same applies for Die Nackte Wahrheit, where Blumenberg discusses the traces, consequences and changes of the metaphor of the naked truth, as he himself undresses other thinkers. As he emphasizes, the use of metaphor often indicates the “embarrassment of its theoretical situation” (NW 127). In other words, he seeks for the weak spots of thinkers such as Freud and Pascal in order to unmask them. If metaphor is indeed at work in the “front court of concept formation” (Blumenberg, 2001a), then Blumenberg clearly seeks to expose his interlocutors in their changing rooms. At the same time, he precisely questions these implications of thinking about truth in such terms of covering and uncovering. Certainly, Blumenberg does not claim that his disclosures touch upon “the naked truth” or a final word about these writers, yet nonetheless he somehow contributes to this enlightened topos of “tearing down the mask” (NW 134). He still partakes in what Kołakowski calls this “sadistic game” of “intellectual curiosity”, even as he precisely lays bare its rules and tools and does away with the purpose the game has pursued for ages. However, one asks after reading Blumenberg’s book, what use does this vocabulary preserve when the “reality” revealed under this mask is yet another mask, no more or no less reality than the one just dispelled. To make a final appeal to Kołakowski: Blumenberg involves us in a philosophical striptease, in which he exposes, “from a superior (clothed) position”, “another’s shame (nakedness)” (Kołakowski 2004, 235). Only it has become uncertain what happens with a philosophic tradition of revealing when the possibility of truth disappears, nakedness itself becomes yet more costume and the feeling of shame is revaluated. No purpose, no revelations, only detours and descriptions (Umschreibungen). Nonetheless, Blumenberg certainly exemplifies like no other that whenever philosophy thinks there will be a moment that Lady Truth will rise from her well and create clarity, philosophy, just like science, is once more deceived “by a pipe dream […] which its scholars pursue without ever achieving it” (NW 77).

 

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2018
Paperback £32.99
160

Michel Henry: Können des Lebens: Schlüssel zur radikalen Phänomenologie, Alber Verlag, 2017

Können des Lebens: Schlüssel zur radikalen Phänomenologie Book Cover Können des Lebens: Schlüssel zur radikalen Phänomenologie
Michel Henry. Herausgegeben von Rolf Kühn
Alber Verlag
2017
Kartoniert 24.00 €
128

Béatrice Longuenesse: I, Me, Mine: Back to Kant, and Kant Again

I, Me, Mine: Back to Kant, and Back Again Book Cover I, Me, Mine: Back to Kant, and Back Again
Béatrice Longuenesse
Oxford University Press
2017
Hardback £30.00
288

Reviewed by: Çağlan Çınar Dilek (Central European University)

I, Me, Mine: Back to Kant, and Back Again by Beatrice Longuenesse presents a comprehensive study on different understandings of the notion of ’I’ through focusing particularly on how ‘I’ is used by Kant in ‘I think’ and comparing it with its usage by Descartes, Wittgenstein, and Sartre. This book presents the provocative claim that Freud is a good candidate for being a descendant of Kant by naturalizing his view of ‘I’. The book consists of three parts. Firstly, the author starts with a comparative analysis of ‘consciousness as a subject’ in Kant, ‘usage of I’ in Wittgenstein and ‘pre-reflective cogito’ in Sartre. Then she moves back to Kant’s understanding of ‘I’ in ‘I think’ and in ‘I ought to’ through his criticism of rationalist ideas on the nature of ‘I’ as a substance, as simple, and as a person. Lastly she presents how Freud’s notions of ‘ego’ and ‘superego’ have similarities to Kant’s ‘I think’ and ‘I ought’ and how Freud can naturalize Kant’s transcendental philosophy.

Longuenesse does not intend to give an historical study but rather aims to present a strong Kantian picture of ‘I’ that is most loyal to him and also strongest in today’s discussions, as the topic fits nicely into the contemporary discussions in philosophy of mind and language. The choice of historical figures in this sense works towards a better understanding of the intended strong Kantian position. In this direction, Descartes’ argument against skepticism for the existence of ‘self’ provides also a foundational starting point for the peculiarity of ‘I’ in ‘I think’ — that we necessarily experience ourselves as a simple substance and as a person with diachronical unity, but we cannot infer these qualities of the ‘I’ as an object as conceived by rationalists. While Wittgenstein’s distinction between ‘use of I as subject’ and ‘use of I as object’ has framed discussions in philosophy of language on self-ascription and the referent of ‘I’, phenomenological ideas like ‘pre-reflective consciousness’ have made a great influence in the philosophy of mind and consciousness in last decades, reviving a move towards One-Level Accounts of Consciousness in contrast to Higher-Order Representational Theories of Consciousness. And Freud’s notions help us to understand Kant’s ‘I’ in his theoretical and practical philosophy in an embedded and embodied context.

In the first part (Chapters 2 and 3), Longuenesse starts by treating self-consciousness as a first-person usage of ‘I’. In this direction, she introduces Wittgenstein’s distinction between two uses of ‘I’: ‘the use as an object’ and ‘the use as subject’. The author then compares this distinction by Wittgenstein with Kant’s distinction between ‘consciousness of oneself as subject’ and ‘consciousness of oneself as object.’ For Wittgenstein, the ‘use of I as object’ is exemplified in cases where you utter sentences like “my arm is broken,” “I have grown six inches,” while the ‘use of I as subject’ is exemplified as you say “I see so and so,” “I think it will rain,” and “I have toothache”. The distinguishing feature of the ‘use of I as a subject’ is that there is no possibility of error, while there is one in the ‘use of I as object’. Shoemaker describes this by saying ‘the use of I as subject’ is “immune to error through misidentification relative to first-person pronoun” and Longuenesse goes along with this description throughout the book while treating Wittgenstein’s notion. Accordingly, even when ‘I’ actually refers to ‘oneself as an object’ and that person later infers that the mentioned subject is identical to himself (as in John Perry’s example where he finds out that the person who is making a mess in the market turns out to be himself), the final criterion for finding out the truth about the statement (person x = ‘I’) is not objective. Rather, “there needs to be a point at which no more search for objective criteria is called for in order to establish the identity between the entity of which the predicate is true, and the believer and speaker of the current thought asserting the predicate to be true.” To establish this, the believer should have a special access to information about herself.

Longuenesse argues that even the ‘use of I as object’ depends on the kind of information that, expressed in a judgment, would ground a ‘use of I as a subject’. So, the question becomes what this ‘I as subject refers to’ (of course if it refers to anything at all; Anscombe argues that it does not, but Longuenesse argues against such a position). Evans thinks that the referent is the embodied entity. Accordingly, self-ascriptions, which are immune to error through misidentification (IEM), “are not limited to mental states but include bodily mental states.” For him, the referent as an embodied entity constitutes the conditions of the possibility for a referential use of ‘I’. He makes use of Kant’s ‘I’ as accompanying all our perceptions, and argues that without such an embodied and embedded referent we end up with at most a formal ‘I think”. It follows that ‘I’ in ‘I think’ represents only “a form of thought and it is not used to refer to any entity at all.” Longuenesse agrees with Evans on emphasizing the role of the embodied entity, while she disagrees that Evans’ claim about the referent of ‘I’ is true, both as a Kantian interpretation and as a claim in itself. According to Longuenesse, it is right only to say that in the lack of information about the properties of the referent of ‘I’, one cannot derive any property ‘I’ refers to. Nevertheless, this does not mean that ‘I’ in ‘I think’ does not refer to any entity at all. This is an important point on which Longuenesse builds the second part of the book where she treats Kant’s criticisms of rationalist claims about the nature of ‘I’. Accordingly, Kant denies that we can infer the properties of the ‘I’ — as being a substance, simple and a person, as claimed by rationalists, while he does not deny that ‘I’ refers to any such entity at all.

Longuenesse thinks that Kant`s distinction between ‘consciousness as a subject’ and ‘consciousness as an object’ does not match Wittgenstein’s distinction. The ‘use of I as a subject’ that grounds all the uses of I (as an object or subject) is better understood through the Kantian notion of ‘transcendental unity of self-consciousness’, which maps only a part of  Wittgenstein`s ‘use of I as a subject’ — as in ‘I think’. So one needs to distinguish different uses of I as subject: 1) self-location, 2) self-ascription of bodily predicates, 3) self-ascription of P predicates and 4) the unity of `I’ that grounds `I think’. The fourth kind of self-consciousness on which ‘I think p` rests is presupposed in all other uses of I and is a necessary condition for any use of I and any judgment.

Chapter 3 is devoted to different uses of ‘I’ as a subject, this time from a phenomenological perspective, and continues to investigate its relation to ‘I’ as an embodied entity. Longuenesse makes use of Sartre`s distinction between ‘non-thetic/non-positional’ consciousness and ‘thetic/positional’ consciousness. ‘Non-thetic consciousness’ accompanies all consciousness that is directed to an object, and it is omnipresent, while it is not itself taken as an object (which is the case in thetic consciousness). Thetic consciousness is a reflective kind of consciousness where one`s attention is directed to the non-thetic consciousness. Sartre considers both the awareness of one`s own body (body-for-itself) and awareness of the unity of mental activity (pre-reflective cogito) as forms of non-positional consciousness. Longuenesse makes a comparative analysis between Sartre`s ‘pre-reflective cogito’, Wittgenstein`s ‘use of I as subject’ and Kant`s ‘consciousness of oneself as a subject’. She argues that Sartre`s and Wittgenstein`s notions share the weaknesses vis-a-vis Kant`s notion: Sartre and Wittgenstein defend stronger and broader claims than Kant by aiming to offer an account of the kinds of self-awareness that back all cases of the use of I as subject, but then they fall into a contradictory position. Kant`s position is stronger by presenting a less comprehensive position: it only tries to back the ‘use of I as subject’, which is then considered as a ground for other kinds of uses of I (like of our body).

It is interesting to see a comparison between Kant and Sartre that also includes Wittgenstein, if we consider recent discussions on consciousness in philosophy of mind. Phenomenology has been having an effect on theories of phenomenal consciousness in the last decades, through using ideas by Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre. Dan Zahavi has been one of the pioneers to bring these ideas back to analytical philosophy to argue against representational theories – particularly Higher-Order Representational Theories. An important focus of attack of such phenomenological approaches is David Rosenthal with his classical Higher-Order Thought Theory. He argues that one can explain what-is-like-ness, a subject’s being phenomenally conscious of being in a mental state, through explaining state-consciousness. State-consciousness of a particular state that is directed to the worldly object is explained through a higher-order mental state, which is thought-like in form and makes the first-order mental state conscious by representing it in an immediate and non-inferential manner. Without the presence of such an occurrent Higher-Order Thought (HOT), our first-order mental state is not conscious and there is nothing-it-is-like to undergo that particular mental state. This state has still the property of ‘mentality’ as having a particular qualitative object as its content and this is explained though a theory of mentality, distinct from a theory of consciousness. Dan Zahavi argues against such an approach by using notions from the phenomenological tradition such as ‘mineness’, ‘subjectivity’, ‘first-person perspective’, and ‘pre-reflective consciousness’. The essential idea is that there is always a form of pre-reflective consciousness present in our experience, for which a higher-order representation is not necessary and even destructive to understand that particular phenomenological consciousness, because representation changes the nature of conscious experience by objectifying and thus modifying it. This pre-reflective consciousness makes an experience ‘for-me’, through which I experience the world and of which I am always aware. Thus, this is at the same time a form of self-consciousness: there would not be any form of self-consciousness possible without the minimal, pre-reflective consciousness, and we don’t need to give a different account for self-consciousness by explaining it through meta-representation or reflexivity.

It is important for such a discussion that Longuenesse points to the relation between a Kantian ‘I’ in ‘I think’ as the condition of possibility for any experience and ‘pre-reflective cogito’ as the condition for Cartesian ‘cogito’. But the similarities are not limited to this: both in Sartre and Kant ‘I’ is not an object, the representation of which falls under the concept ‘I think’/cogito, but rather ‘I think’ is “the very expression of the act of thinking.” This emphasis is again important to consider the activity and the subject of activity together. Only by understanding this interrelatedness is it possible to discuss the subject of experience in a proper way, for which phenomenology has had important effect against theories distinguishing between subject and its experience (and which then try to understand how an experience belongs to a self and how the unity of self is constituted through distinct theories), and against views which treat ‘I’ as representation as the outcome of a developed ability of concept usage.

The second part of the book (Chapters 4, 5 and 6) deals with the Cartesian ‘cogito, ergo sum’ and with the question of whether we can infer anything about the nature of ‘I’. Kant accuses «Descartes and his rationalist followers for having been under the illusion that they could derive not only ‘I exist’, but also an answer to the question ‘What am I?’ from the mere consideration of the proposition ‘I think’» (74). Chapter 5 deals with the different reasons Descartes and Kant choose to infer from ‘thinking’ to ‘I think’ rather than ‘it thinks’. Chapters 5 and 6 deal with Kant`s refutations of rationalist arguments that `I’ is i) a substance , ii) simple, and iii) a person (with personal identity across time).

It is illuminating to see in Chapter 4 how far Descartes and Kant agree on the role of ‘I’, while they have different motivations to use ‘I think’ in their arguments. Longuenesse explains how Descartes deals with skeptical doubt and presents ‘I think’ as a foundational solution to it, while Kant responds to a Humean skepticism that is “primarily directed at the objective validity of the idea of causal connection.” According to Kant, for a representation to be possible or to be something to me, it should always be accompanied by the ‘I think’. Kant does not progress from there to “I think cannot be true unless ‘I’ is true”, nor does he infer the nature of ‘I’, but he rather moves to the claim that “all representations I ascribe to myself are so ascribed in virtue of being taken up in one and the same act of bonding and comparing them, an act that is determined according to some universal concepts of the understanding,” and the concept of causal connection is one of these with which Kant primarily deals. The author does a great job comparing the notion of thought and consciousness between these two philosophers in depth that is helpful towards any contemporary theory of consciousness, as lots of theories lack clear distinctions between different kinds of consciousness and how these relate to ‘thought’ and ‘I’.  Accordingly, Descartes’ notion of ‘thought’ is broader than Kant’s in terms of including any occurrent mental state, while Kant refers only to conceptual representations, particularly to judgments.

Longuenesse’s categorization of three kinds of consciousness in Kant is useful to compare him with Descartes and Sartre: 1) the mere consciousness of the act of thinking, 2) the indeterminate perception that I think, 3) the empirically determined consciousness of the sequence of one’s mental states. The first one is self-consciousness as consciousness of the pure act of thinking. We cannot represent it as an object and we cannot categorize it. We cannot infer anything about its essence, even if we cognize it as the subject and ground of thinking. This spontaneous consciousness is considered similar to Sartre’s ‘pre-reflective cogito’. The latter kind of consciousness is an empirical intuition, “a mere perception of an act of thinking I take to be mine.” It has ‘time’ as its form and ‘sensation’ as its matter that is constituted of affecting oneself with one’s own act of thinking. This propositional ‘I think’ is located in time in relation to other perceptions but it remains indeterminate in so far as it is not. The third one is a “consciousness of my own existence in time as a thinking being” and here ‘I think’ contains ‘I exist.’ Longuenesse compares this explicit reflection on the sequence of my thoughts with Sartre’s ‘reflective self-consciousness’. The first kind of consciousness provides an immediate consciousness of myself, while the third kind of consciousness plays an important role to refute Descartes’ idealism. Descartes establishes the epistemic certainty of ‘I think’ through the identity between ‘perceiving that one thinks’ and ‘thinking’, and then infers ‘I exist’ from ‘I think’. On the other hand, Kant does not need such a move by considering ‘I think’ as a Cartesian, simple inspection of mind, because his argument is that ‘I think’ just means ‘I exist thinking’. Kant secures our knowledge of ‘I think’ through ‘perceiving that I think’, but he characterizes that perception as an act of self-affection differently from Descartes. So Longuenesse argues that there are more similarities than supposed between Descartes and Kant, while she shows that Kant essentially differs from Descartes by arguing that the consciousness of my thinking that grounds the consciousness of my own existence does not show anything about the nature of ‘I’. From the premise that ‘I think’ includes ‘I exist’, it does not follow the conclusion that “I exist merely as a thinking being distinct from my body.” This entity only refers to the individual currently thinking the proposition in which ‘I’ is used.

Chapter 5 deals with Kant’s argumentation against the ‘Paralogism of Substantiality’ and ‘Paralogism of Simplicity’ – fallacious arguments used by the rationalists towards the nature of ‘I’, respectively, that it is a substance and that it is simple. For Kant, they make use of a middle term, which has a “different meaning in [the] major and minor premise[s].” This is the reason they make syllogistic inferences from the apparently same concept that has in fact two different meanings. Kant aims to analyze these different meanings to show how rationalist arguments are valid in appearance but in fact invalid.

According to Kant’s formulation, the rationalist arguments have a ‘major premise’, a ‘minor premise’ and a ‘conclusion’. In the Paralogism of Substantiality, rationalists refer from the major premise that a subject that cannot be thought of something other than a subject as it cannot be a predicate of something else, and the minor premise that ‘I’ as thinking can only be thought of as a subject and cannot be predicated of something else to the conclusion that ‘I’ as thinking is a substance. However, there is a difference between saying ”I can only think of myself under the concept of substance” and “I am a substance,” where Kant agrees with the former claim and rationalists infer the latter one. For Kant, the minor premise is wrongly constructed to lead to an invalid inference from major premise and minor premise to the conclusion: The “entity thought under the concept ‘I’ is represented as an absolute subject only in a logical sense.” While ‘subject’ in the major premise refers to an absolute subject, ‘subject’ in the minor premise refers to a ‘logical subject’ — the substantiality of the subject is only represented to the subject itself. Hence ‘subject’ (and thus substance) that is used as a middle term by rationalists is actually not a middle term at all. Similarly, in the Paralogism of Simplicity, from the major premise “that something whose action can never be regarded as the concurrence of many acting things, is simple”; and the minor premise that “‘I’, as thinking, am something whose action can never be regarded as the concurrence of many acting things”; the conclusion “So I, as thinking, am simple” is inferred. Again, the concept ‘I’ is only logically simple and the subject thought under the concept ‘I’ is necessarily thought to be simple because “its action is thought to be indivisibly one.” However, the simplicity of the subject of the action is represented only to that subject itself.

Longuenesse infers from these discussions a positive Kantian idea that has found its place in contemporary philosophy of mind in the distinction between the “first-person standpoint and third-person standpoint”. Accordingly, the entity that represents itself under ‘I’ necessarily represents itself as an existing thing (substance), as indivisibly present in all its thoughts (simple), but ‘this first-person standpoint’, however universally indispensable to the act of thinking, tells us nothing about the objective nature of the thing that thinks” (131). That Longuenesse considers this distinction as the positive Kantian idea is valuable when we consider the discussions in contemporary philosophy of mind, epistemology and science on the question whether one should apply a special first-person methodology for a research on consciousness, or whether one can give a scientific and/or reductive explanation of consciousness with a third-person methodology that is used by science and on other philosophical notions.

In Chapter 6, the focus is Kant’s argument against ‘Paralogism of Personality’ — the claim that ‘I’ is a person. For Kant, the rationalist argument has a similar structure, inferring from the major premise that someone conscious of the numerical identity of itself in different times is a person, and the minor premise that ‘I’ as thinking is conscious of the numerical identity of itself in different time, to the conclusion that ‘I’ am a person. Again, Kant accepts the major premise and he is in favor of an idea of person that is diachronically synchronous contrary to the Lockean idea of person whose memory is enough to establish psychological continuity. However, Kant rejects the idea that the consciousness of identity expressed by the use of ‘I’ in ‘I think’ is sufficient to infer that I am, as an existing entity, a person. Longuenesse sums up this issue nicely as follows:

So the paradox of ‘I’ is this: ‘I’, as used in ‘I think, refers to an existing thinking, known by the I-user (the thinker) to exist, in virtue of the fact that the I-user, in each instance of thinking knows herself to exist. ‘I’, as used in ‘I think’, is even the only purely intellectual concept that does give access to an existing thinking. But if, from the way we think of ourselves in using ‘I’ in ‘I’ think, we infer there is an object that we take to be, as a thinking thing, a substance, simple, and numerically identical through time, then we make a mistake: that object is a fiction. The error of the rationalist metaphysician (the error of Kant himself in his pre-critical incarnation) is to insist that on the basis of the thought ‘I’ think we have sufficient ground to assert that the fictitious object of that representation is transcendentally real: real in itself. The mere thought ‘I think’ in fact provides no such ground (164).

What is especially different in the discussion about personality is that Kant enriches the concept of personality by focusing on moral personality in addition to psychological personality. Moral personality is dependent on two components: i) “being an empirically determined, persisting entity, conscious of its own numerical identity through time, and ii) having the capacity to prescribe the moral to oneself, as the principle under which one’s maxims are determined.”  Without an understanding of moral personality, it is not possible to comprehend Kant’s criticism of Syllogism of Personality and also his full picture of ‘I’ in general. This notion also relates previous discussions in the book to Longuenesse’s important final claim in the last part (Chapters 7 and 8) that Freud can be considered in a sense a descendant of Kant, if we consider the parallels between Kant’s ‘I’ in ‘I think’ with Freud’s ‘ego’, and Kant’s ‘I ought to’ with ‘superego’.  Kant’s ‘I’ in ‘I’ think, as the concept of ‘unity of apperception’, is an organization of mental processes governed by logical rules. This is a formal condition and Kant is known to assign this capacity “to an unknown and unknowable transcendental subject” (175). Kant’s methodology is clearly not empirical and the discussion is part of his transcendental philosophy, which constitutes a clear polarity to Freud’s empirical investigation and causal-developmental account of the capacity to think in the first person. Despite the differences, Longuenesse argues that we can see important similarities between them, and Freud can naturalize Kant’s transcendental subject.

The author considers the similarities under four points: Firstly, Kant’s ‘I’ in ‘I think’ (‘I’ as discursive thinking) has its counterpart in Freud’s ego. Kant’s ‘logical use of the understanding’ is similar to Freud’s ‘reality principle’. Ego functions in line with the ‘law of secondary processes’ according to this principle and it can conflict with ‘id’ and the ‘laws of primary processes’. “Intuitions are brought under concepts and then combined in judgments and inferences according to logical rules.” So, the differentiations Freud makes between ‘id’ and ‘Ego’; ‘laws of primary processes’ and ‘secondary processes’; ‘consciousness as an immediate quality of mental states’ and ‘consciousness as the property of mental states’ (whose content obeys the rules of the ego) can be compared to the distinctions Kant makes between different kinds of consciousness (as discussed in Chapter 5). The nature and function of ‘ego’ is parallel to the second notion of consciousness in Kant, “according to which I am conscious of a representation if it is taken up in the unity of consciousness that makes objective representation and thinking possible.” Secondly, there are parallels between Kant’s ‘synthesis of imagination’ and Freud’s perceptual images that are organized according to the rules of ego. Just as in Kant the discursive expression of the unity of consciousness in concepts and judgments presupposes a “prediscursive activity of combination or synthesis performed by the imagination,” in Freud perceptual images and representations of imagination are subject to the rule of the ego, and if they are pre-conscious, these images can become conscious only if they are associated with words. Thirdly, Kant and Freud have parallel views on the mental activities of which we are generally not conscious. For Kant, there is no thought without language and intuitions are blind if they are not subsumed under concepts. In Freud, “access to words is the way a representation enters the realm of reason and level-headedness.” Kant emphasizes that qualitative or intentional consciousness of the working of our imagination is blind (not conscious), while Freud also argues that “the complex operations that go on in our minds are mostly unconscious.” Fourthly, it is necessary for Kant that ‘I’ is represented as an object in the world. The transcendental unity of apperception gets information of the body via the sensory information carried by a bodily state. Freud also argues that “the ego is first and foremost a bodily ego” and thus the emphasis on embodiment of ‘I’ in Kant and ‘ego’ in Freud is again parallel.

Freud’s naturalization of ego makes use of ‘second nature’ as the developmental account he presents on the occurrence of ego happens in a social context. This structure that includes the social aspects of this developmental process is understood through his notion of ’super-ego’ (ego-ideal). This is in accordance with the notion of ‘I’ in Kant’s ‘I ought to’ and his account of ‘personality’ that includes a moral self (as dealt in Chapter 6). The argument on this similarity between Kant and Freud has the same structure:  just as we can give a causal-development account of Kant’s ‘I’ in ‘I think’ through Freud’s ‘Ego’, we can do the same of ‘I ought to’ through Freud’s ‘super-ego’, which “can be seen as providing a developmental story for the conflicted structure of mental life that grounds, according to Kant, the use of ‘I’ in the moral ‘I ought to’” (226). Freud considers Kant’s ‘categorical imperative’ as the direct heir of ‘Oedipus complex’ — as an unconditional normative constraint on the ego. Freud explains the practice of reason-giving and justification as characteristic of a developed ego, and gives a causal history of the idea of categorical imperative through the development of ideas from eigtheenth-century rationalistic philosophy. More than that, just as Kant considers the manifestation of moral attitude primarily through a feeling of respect, there is also a moral feeling at work in Freud’s picture on “curbing libido and aggression,” which he calls the “supra-personal side of human nature” (221). Another point is that in both pictures we have blindness to one’s real motives. Even if this blindness is to be treated in different ways, there is one thing in common: Freud’s ‘unconscious’ and Kant’s ‘motivated blindness’ both refer to our lack of knowledge of our real motives for performing an action, even in cases when we believe we acted upon a universal maxim. Lastly, the relation between ego and body is comparable to the way Kant indexes transcendental unity of apperception to a particular body.

After showing the similarities and differences, Longuenesse ends up with the claim that Freud gives us a naturalized account of Kant’s picture of ‘I’:  firstly, in Freud we do not need to refer to an unknown and unknowable transcendental subject to explain ‘I’ in ‘I think’ and ‘I ought to’. Secondly, a developmental history is presented to our capacity to settle norms of cognition and practical agency. Thirdly, second nature is naturalized. The contents of our norms are constituted by the internalization of parental figures and (through language) by the social and symbolic tools, rather than by our relation to nature. All of these parallel points present us a path to understand a non-transcendental subject through relating bodily and transcendental self in an empirical way, while also doing justice to a Kantian, broad understanding of ‘I’ by including psychological and moral self under the study of self.

Longuenesse’s book does not only provide us with a deeper and enriched understanding of Kant’s understanding of ‘I’, but it is also packed with many insightful ideas about how we can relate different notions of various philosophers from different paradigms and disciplines. She fills in the gaps within the history of philosophy to get a better understanding of contrary positions both within a particular time-period and across time, and traces back many important distinctions and ideas in contemporary philosophy of mind to Kant. This is a special source for anyone working in Kant for sure, but other than that it will also be an invaluable source for philosophers of mind and language and epistemologists who work in any aspect of self and consciousness such as phenomenal consciousness, phenomenology of our experience, the nature of self, first-person perspective, unity of self, first-person usage of ‘I’, personal identity, agency and moral self, and ego. I believe it will lead to further analysis of Kant under the auspices of such contemporary discussions, and it will motivate further comparisons between Kant and other historical figures. Most importantly, her treatment of Kant through Freud’s ego and superego opens up a new dimension of discussion, and as her argumentation has a deep and solid structure, it is not easy for anyone working in philosophy of mind and ethics to stay unresponsive to this provocative and thought-provoking comparative analysis.

Paul Ricoeur: Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action and Interpretation

Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action and Interpretation Book Cover Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action and Interpretation
Cambridge Philosophy Classics
Paul Ricoeur
Cambridge University Press
2016
Paperback £ 14.99
313

Reviewed by: Francesco Poggiani (Pennsylvania State University)

  1. Introduction

The title of this anthology (originally published in 1981 and including eleven studies published in the 70’s) hints at the prospect of expanding our knowledge of human affairs in light of a general theory of textual interpretation (“hermeneutics). The more immediate purpose of these essays, however, consists in the articulation of the basic motivations for considering the “method” of the human sciences (sciences de l’esprit) as hermeneutical without renouncing their status as sciences. Indeed, according to Paul Ricœur, the psychological, social and historical disciplines constitute not so much a potential application of hermeneutics as its proper domain — hermeneutics being conceived by the French author as the “theory of the fixation of life expressions by writing” (even if, originally, it was confined to the field of biblical exegesis). At the same time, many of the essays in this collection are not merely concerned with methodological and epistemological questions. By reflecting on the nature and paradigmatic features of textual interpretation, Ricœur was engaged in the project of exploring the “subjectivity” which at once presides over and results from action as well as text-interpretation.

As Ricœur explains in his response to John Thompson’s illuminating introduction, his own hermeneutical turn, in the second volume of his first major project on the will (especially The Symbolism of Evil) was at least partially motivated by the desire to overcome a “disturbing gap” between “the essential structures of the volitional consciousness” (the subject of his first two books, Freedom and Nature and Fallible Man), and “the historical or empirical condition of the human will, prisoner of the passions and prone to evil.” That is to say, Ricœur’s interest in interpretation (of symbols and, later, of “all phenomena to a textual order”) was initially motivated by his identification and critical engagement with the tradition of “reflective philosophy” (or philosophy of reflection) – as developed by Descartes, Kant, and Husserl – which “seeks to disclose authentic subjectivity through a reflection upon the means whereby existence can be understood.”

Accordingly, and since a detailed summation would require more words than the present review can offer, I shall focus here on the way in which these essays reflect the development of Ricœur’s understanding of subjectivity. This emphasis is also justified by the fact that the anthology constitutes an important transition to Ricœur’s later studies of selfhood and narrativity. I will focus primarily, although by no means exclusively, on one essay (arguably the most significant) from each of the three parts in which the collection is organized: “Phenomenology and Hermeneutics,” regarded by Ricœur as “the real introduction” to his subsequent work; “Appropriation,” which appeared for the first time in this collection; and “The Model of the Text: Meaningful Action Considered as a Text,” which was originally written in English and represents the most immediately relevant essay to the anthology’s topic. As Ricœur points out, “the basic analogy between text and action is the key to the relation between the theory of interpretation and the social sciences.”

In his preface to this edition, Charles Taylor writes that the similarity between “text interpretation” and “making sense” of action, as it is entailed by the dialectic between explanation and understanding, is also reflected by the “impossibility of claiming closure” in both domains. “No matter how convincing our present reading, it is always possible that someone could propose a better one. And the same applies to human action in history.” Ricœur’s overall project in these essays, as I read them, consists in showing that while all interpretation (the very means by which subjectivity can be realized as well as disclosed) entails the impossibility of “absolute knowledge,” the inherent openness of the interpretative process —its irreducible distance from its own ideal fulfillment — is at the same time the positive condition for pursuing a “science” of human life.

  1. The Central Discovery of Phenomenology

Ricœur was a Husserlian phenomenologist well before his involvement with Gadamer’s work and philosophical hermeneutics. Indeed, such an interest emerged from his realization that, insofar as all “intuition” entails “explication” (explicitation) — a coincidence which Husserl “perceived” without being able to “draw all its consequences” — “phenomenology can be realised only as hermeneutics.” At the same time, the inescapable character of explication — the fact that nothing at all can be intuited, grasped or experienced without being somehow articulated or “interpreted” in the most basic sense of this word — is itself explained by the “universality of intentionality” — the idea that, since all consciousness is consciousness of an object, “no consciousness is self-consciousness before being consciousness of something towards which it surpasses itself.” Thus, if phenomenology can only be realized as hermeneutics, it is only because intentionality, our being “outside” of ourselves “towards meaning,” is the (phenomenological) presupposition of all forms of understanding.

In particular, according to Ricœur, it is “the reference of the linguistic order back to the structure of experience” which constitutes “the most important phenomenological presupposition of hermeneutics.” Indeed, “when the latter subordinates lingual experience to the whole of our aesthetic and historical experience, it continues, on the level of the human sciences, the movement initiated by Husserl on the plane of perceptive experience.” But if experience is always already “structured” or articulated, we cannot confuse it with any sort of “ineffable immediacy;” rather, “Lebenswelt” must be understood as “the surplus of sense in living experience” which “renders the objectifying and explanatory attitudes possible.” This is why Ricœur eventually moved away from an idealistic phenomenology of “foundations” toward a speculative philosophy of ontological manifestation. As he puts it, “the concept of manifestation of a world, around which all other hermeneutical concepts are organised, is closer to the idea of the ‘self-presentation’ of the true, following the preface to The Phenomenology of Mind, than to the Husserlian idea of constitution.”

  1. Belonging, Distanciation, Appropriation

This triad constitutes the core of Ricœur’s conception of interpretation. Belonging — “the hermeneutical experience itself” — represents the positive counterpart of the experience of finitude which is entailed by the discovery of intentionality. If we cannot become conscious of ourselves without explicating features of a world in which we are already implicated, it follows that such a worldly engagement “comes before any constitution of the object by a sovereign subject.” Belonging expresses, in this sense, the Heideggerian concept of being-in-the-world, hence the “primacy of care over the gaze,” or, more precisely, the “priority of the ontological category of the Dasein which we are over the epistemological and psychological category of the subject which posits itself.”

Up to this point, Ricœur was commenting upon aspects of Heidegger and Gadamer’s hermeneutical thought. His novel contribution consists in the way he tried to overcome what he saw as the “central problem of hermeneutics,” implied in the “epistemological specificity” of interpretation: the fact that interpreting a text appears as a radically different process than, for example, explaining a natural phenomenon, as Dilthey and others had already pointed out. What makes this difference particularly problematic is that interpretation, unlike explanation, seems to involve a circularity whose hypothetical viciousness would affect the validity of its results. If the “human sciences” as a whole are hermeneutical in their method, it might be the case that, after all, no scientific knowledge of human affair could ever be attained.

According to Ricœur, both Heidegger and Gadamer partially supported this conclusion for the sake of preserving the specificity of philosophical, historical, and other forms of “human” understanding. This move, however, depended upon accepting, without questioning any of it, an opposition between “alienating distanciation”, allegedly produced by scientific explanation (alienating because it abstracts from our concrete experience of being-in-the-world) and the “participatory belonging” which is the constant presupposition of all interpretation. In light of this antinomy — which, according to Ricœur, is “the mainspring of Gadamer’s work,” as attested by the very title of his major book (Truth and Method) — all forms of objectification entail some level of falsification of the experience they intend to describe and explain.

By contrast, Ricœur wants to think of “distanciation” (or objectification) as a “moment” of belonging. To be clear, he did not intend to deny that the natural and human sciences are concerned with different “regions” of reality. His point was rather that, if we pay attention to the “paradigm of writing” and its counterpart, reading, distanciation ceases to be a merely necessary but problematic dimension of understanding — necessary because all signification requires interrupting our “lived experience in order to signify it;” problematic because thereby the problem emerges how not to distort experience in the very act of signifying it. And it ceases to be problematic because it now appears as having a “positive and productive function at the heart of the historicity of human experience.” In this respect, as Gadamer himself perceived (“without perhaps giving it the emphasis which it deserves”), “mediation by the text is the model of a distanciation which would not be simply alienating… The text is, par excellence, the basis for communication in and through distance.”

Of course, distance here doesn’t merely refer to the temporal distance of texts and other text-like monuments from the past, but also to that “positive distancing” which, on the one hand, “establishes the autonomy of the text with respect to its author, its situation, and its original addressee” and, on the other and, projects “a new being-in-the-world … freed from the false evidences of everyday reality.” With respect to the latter, Ricœur suggests that the “non-ostensive reference” or “matter” of the text, as he often calls it, can be understood or “rendered near only in and through” the distance generated by the “imaginative variations” which the text “carries out on the real.” Thus, in the last essay of the collection (“The Narrative Function”), Ricœur argues that this dialectic between the alien and the familiar “places history in the neighborhood of fiction.” Similarly, after recalling Benedetto Croce’s claim that there is only a history of the present, he suggests to modify it as follows: “there is only a history of the potentialities of the present. History, in this sense, explores the field of ‘imaginative’ variations which surround the present and the real that we take for granted in everyday life. Such is the way in which history, precisely because it seeks to be objective, partakes of fiction.”

The “consubstantiality” between belonging and (positive) distanciation has two important implications. First, as we have already seen, “there is no need to search, under the title ‘sphere of belonging’, for some sort of brute experience which would be preserved at the heart of my experience of culture, but rather for an antecedent which is never given in itself.” I belong to this or that tradition, or undergo a given experience, always according to a certain modality of participation or engagement, under a certain description or respect, and from the perspective generated by certain interests. “In spite of its intuitive kernel, this experience remains an interpretation. ‘My own too is discovered by explication and gets its original meaning by virtue thereof’,” as Husserl himself wrote. Second, insofar as understanding a text involves a final act of “appropriation” (the act of rendering near what is far), interpretation can no longer be understood as a projection into the text of the reader’s prejudices. This is because the act of appropriation is dialectally related to the experience of distanciation (of the matter of the text from the reality of our habitus) whereby, “as reader, I find myself only by losing myself.”

But how is this possible? “How can this letting-go, this relinquishment, be incorporated into appropriation?” How can it be anything more than a temporary distraction from which we must eventually recover in order to ascertain, from the perspective of our own interests and concerns, what the text means (to us)? In order to answer this question, Ricœur links the act of appropriation “to the revelatory power of the text which we have described as its referential dimension. It is in allowing itself to be carried off towards the reference of the text that the ego divests itself of itself.” Here as elsewhere, Ricœur makes clear that it is not a matter of compromising between objective meaning and personal subjectivity, but of showing how they are reciprocally generated. “The notion of subject must be submitted to a critique parallel to that which the theory of metaphor exercises on the notion of object. In fact, it is the same philosophical error which must be understood from both extremities: objectivity as confronting the subject, the subject as reigning over objectivity.”

Consequently, as writing carries out imaginative variations on the real, “reading introduces me into the imaginative variations of the ego” (Ricœur goes so far as to say that “it is the text, with its universal power of unveiling, which gives a self to the ego”). Indeed, “the metamorphosis of the world in play is also the playful metamorphosis of the ego.” And since the later “implies a moment of distanciation in the relation of self to itself … understanding is as much disappropriation as appropriation.”

  1. Text as Paradigm of Action

One of the most interesting aspects of this anthology is Ricœur’s attempt to find a concept of interpretation which could explain the foregoing experience of reading, in which a text seems to have intentions or “injunctions” of its own, independent of its author, and capable of engendering self-transformation through the imaginative variations it induces of the reader’s world and ego. A text, in this sense, is not only the embodiment of the author’s intentions, but a semi-autonomous source of potential meaning. If “to interpret is to follow the path of thought opened up by the text” — to comply with its injunctions — our concept of interpretation as a subjective act on the text must be replaced by, or combined with, an understanding of it as an objective act of the text itself (upon the reader). In this respect, Ricœur’s appeal to Aristotle’s On Interpretation and, above all, to Charles Peirce’s semiotics, become central to his argument.

Unfortunately, Ricœur’s engagement with Peirce’s work does not go beyond a superficial assessment and appears to be mostly informed by secondary sources. At the same time, he does capture a quite crucial point of Peirce’s concept of interpretation: its “synechistic” nature, namely the continuous, non-extrinsic character of the relationship between (to use Ricœur ’s terminology) “tradition” — what a text or other forms of discourse signify (tradit) — and “interpretation” — what it evokes in the mind of the interpreter. “According to Peirce, the relation of a ‘sign’ to an ‘object’ is such that another relation, that between ‘interpretant’ and ‘sign’, can be grafted onto the first.” We have here another expression of the consubstantiality between belonging and distanciation, in that a sign can signify or “belong” to an object only by determining a further sign (the interpretant). For instance, the word “chair” can only signify a chair by evoking an image of it, which is course another sign. Yet this irreducible “distance” of any sign from its object is a necessary condition for understanding it. A sign incapable of generating a further interpretant of its object would be as incomprehensible as a sign without any object whatsoever — it would indeed be meaningless.

Accordingly, the above mentioned continuity between tradition and interpretation does not entail the kind of deductive closure one might expect from it. Paradoxically, the more one enters into the actual meaning of a text, the more her insights are “open” to interpretation, not only in the sense of being revisable, but also in the positive sense of being intellectually fecund, capable of generating new ways of being read, articulated and developed (the Gospel’s notoriously enigmatic phrase might be illuminating in this context: “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath [Matthew 13:12, KJV]). Ricœur clarifies this point by citing Gilles-Gaston Granger: “The sign-interpretant association, realised by whatever psychological processes, is rendered possible only by the community [continuity], more or less imperfect, of an experience between speaker and hearer,” or text and reader. But this experience “can never be perfectly reduced to the idea or object of the sign,” that is, to an immediate or “brute” notion of belonging. “Whence the indefinite [open] character of Peirce’s series of interpretants.”

We finally come across Ricœur’s argument concerning the analogy between text and action. “My claim is that action itself, action as meaningful, may become an object of science, without losing its character of meaningfulness, through a kind of objectification similar to the fixation which occurs in writing” — a fixation in virtue of which, as we have seen above, “the author’s intention and the meaning of the text cease to coincide.” But how can the same dissociation take place with action? Doesn’t an action by definition require the contemporaneous presence of an agent? Isn’t here a deeper subjective irreducibility than in the case of the text? For instance, while a text can indeed become relatively independent of the original writer’s intentions, the action of writing cannot in the same way be dissociated from the agent’s intention to write.

And yet, as Ricœur insists, unless human behavior can be “fixated” or objectified without losing its significant (intentional) character — unless “the expressions of life undergo a kind of objectification” — it won’t be suitable to become an object of scientific inquiry. This is because inquiry always requires its object to be inscribed in “external marks,” in the same way in which a discourse must be written down in order be not only practically understood but also theoretically analyzed. And if it is indeed impossible for the meaning of “action events” to be inscribed, a scientific understanding of human affairs could only amount to explaining away their original significance as a subjective phenomenon (as it happens with reductive explanations of action in terms of biological and neural concepts). This phenomenon, in turn, could only be understood or interpreted in a “romantic” sense of the term, namely, in virtue of our “pretension of recovering, by congenial coincidence, the genius of the author.” This is why there might be a genuine antinomy between understanding and explanation.

On the other hand, as Ricœur points out, action does sometime appear to dissociate itself from the agent’s intentions without losing its meaningful character. That is the case of actions which, as we sometime put it, leave “traces” or “marks” — not only because they have consequences (this is true of all actions), but also insofar as their importance goes beyond their relevance to the initial situation, even if only by embodying general features (such as “desirability characters”) which may be made the object of subsequent practical reflection. Accordingly, “could we not say that the process of arguing linked to the explanation of action by its motives unfolds a kind of plurivocity which makes action similar to a text?” Thus an action-event, like a speech-act, entails “a similar dialectic between its temporal status as an appearing and disappearing event, and its logical status as having such-and-such identifiable meaning or ‘sense-content’.” On this point, I believe Ricœur’s work might benefit by an even deeper interaction with “analytic” theories of agency — an interaction he continued to pursue in his subsequent work (see especially Oneself as Another).

“But if the ‘sense-content’ is what makes possible the ‘inscription’ of the action-event… what corresponds to writing in the field of action?” In other words, how can an action become “detached from its agent” and develop “consequences of its own”? Ricœur’s answer to this question echoes the above seen concept of interpretation as an essentially open and communal process. If the inscription of discourse has a spatial dimension, it is in “social time” that the “autonomization” of action occurs. And social time, Ricœur points out, “is not only something which flees; it is also the place of durable effects, of persisting patterns. An action leaves a ‘trace’, it makes its ‘mark’ when it contributes to the emergence of such patterns which become the documents of human action.” The objectification of meaningful behavior is essentially social, and it is social in virtue of the temporal dimension of all human interactions, in which certain actions and events come to be seen as weighing more than others, and their effects are consequently more lasting and pervasive (however less discernible and thus more easily discardable).

But in order for the effect of an action to last, its capacity to be recollected is not enough. It must, on the contrary, be developed into persisting and increasingly complex patterns of behavior, so as to transcend its original address and situation. In order for an action to become important (worthy of being recollected, registered, celebrated, questioned, interrogated, institutionalized, etc.), it must be capable, like a text, of opening up a “world” whose relevance “exceeds … the social conditions of its production and may be re-enacted in new social contexts. Its importance is its durable relevance and, in some cases, its omni-temporal relevance.”

  1. Conclusion

This is only the skeleton of Ricœur’s answer to the question about the nature of “truth” in the human sciences. The essays of the third part, in particular, articulate the implications of the foregoing remarks for critical theory, psychoanalysis, and history. Most importantly, the anthology as a whole reflects Ricœur’s commitment to show how a philosophy of reflection can become “concrete” without renouncing its “scientific” aspirations. It can do that by pursuing, at all levels of analysis, the dialectical relation between freedom and necessity, distanciation and belonging, method and tradition, fiction and history or, from another perspective, critique and ideology. Thus, one the one hand, “all objectifying knowledge about our position in society, in a social class, in a cultural tradition and in history is preceded by a relation of belonging upon which we can never entirely reflect.” On the other hand, the impossibility of “complete reflection” is but an expression of that “potentiality of meaning” which it is our fundamental responsibility to “appropriate” by giving up our dominant world-interpretations for the sake of their impending explications.

 

Béatrice Longuenesse: I, Me, Mine: Back to Kant, and Back Again, Oxford University Press, 2017

I, Me, Mine: Back to Kant, and Back Again Book Cover I, Me, Mine: Back to Kant, and Back Again
Béatrice Longuenesse
Oxford University Press
2017
Hardback £30.00
288

Alice Holzhey-Kunz: Introduction à la Daseinsanalyse. Un regard existential sur la souffrance psychique et sa thérapie, Association Le Cercle Herméneutique, 2016

Introduction à la Daseinsanalyse. Un regard existential sur la souffrance psychique et sa thérapie Book Cover Introduction à la Daseinsanalyse. Un regard existential sur la souffrance psychique et sa thérapie
Collection Phéno
Alice Holzhey-Kunz. Préface de Thomas Fuchs
Le Cercle Herméneutique
2016
Broché
300