Kevin Aho: Contexts of Suffering: A Heideggerian Approach to Psychopathology, Rowman & Littlefield International, 2019

Contexts of Suffering: A Heideggerian Approach to Psychopathology Book Cover Contexts of Suffering: A Heideggerian Approach to Psychopathology
New Heidegger Research
Kevin Aho
Rowman & Littlefield International
2019
Hardback £90.00
164

Iain Macdonald: What Would Be Different: Figures of Possibility in Adorno, Stanford University Press, 2019

What Would Be Different: Figures of Possibility in Adorno Book Cover What Would Be Different: Figures of Possibility in Adorno
Iain Macdonald
Stanford University Press
2019
Paperback $26.00
248

Alan Kim (Ed.): Brill’s Companion to German Platonism

Brill's Companion to German Platonism Book Cover Brill's Companion to German Platonism
Brill's Companions to Philosophy: Ancient Philosophy, Volume: 3
Alan Kim (Ed.)
Brill
2019
Hardback € 180.00, $ 232.00
xii, 388

Reviewed by: Miquel Solans (Universitat Internacional de Catalunya)

Brill’s Companion to German Platonism explores how Plato was interpreted and appropriated by some of the leading thinkers of the history of German philosophy, from Nicholas of Cusa to Hans Georg Gadamer. The book includes fifteen chapters, each of them devoted to one author or school, written by outstanding scholars. While most of the contributions deal with the reception of Plato’s epistemology and ontology, some others also—or only—address the long-disputed issue of how to interpret Plato’s philosophy. Since it is not possible to discuss all the topics in this almost four-hundred page volume, the review is limited to discussing how Plato’s most famous and controversial doctrine, the so-called theory of forms, was interpreted by German philosophers. More specifically, I will pay special attention to what we might call—to use the terminology suggested by the editor—the ‘transcendental interpretation’ of Plato’s theory of ideas. In the following lines, I focus on how this reading emerged and was developed by German philosophers in their various ways of endorsing, modifying, or rejecting Plato’s thought.

Alan Kim’s Introduction (chapter 1) provides an overview of the topics discussed by each of the contributors and identifies the two conflicting interpretative models already mentioned: the ‘transcendental’ or ‘functional’ reading of the ideas, on the one hand, and the ‘transcendent’ or ‘substantial’, on the other (2). According to the latter, which is the most common interpretation of Plato, ideas are separated substances that exist in a transcendent sphere of reality. Under this view, the forms are conceived as the true objects of knowledge and the soul is said to gain access to them through intellectual intuition. On the other hand, the former reading does not understand the forms as objects, but rather as ‘transcendental conditions of possible experience’ (3). The transcendental reading thus rejects the realism and dualism associated with the transcendent one and does not consider ideas as objects of intuition, but rather as functions of understanding. Among the figures examined in this volume that ascribe to Plato the substantialist view are Kant, Schleiermacher, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Heidegger. On the other side, the functional interpretation was anticipated to some degree by Nicholas of Cusa, Leibniz, Mendelssohn and Hegel, and explicitly supported and developed by Cohen, Natorp and Husserl.

In the first chapter after the introduction (2), Claudia D’Amico presents a detailed study of the manifold connections between Nicholas of Cusa and Platonism. She also provides a valuable survey of German authors that in one way or another were influenced by Cusanus’ thought. As for the understanding of Platonic forms, Nicholas of Cusa criticizes Plato for conceiving ideas as separated forms, suggesting instead that while forms are real, they do not exist separated from things. Cusanus thinks that real forms are inaccessible to human reason, only capable of forming conjectures.

In chapter 3, Jack Davidson examines how Leibniz incorporates Plato and Platonism into his own philosophical system. Among the most remarkable points of agreement between both philosophers, Davidson points out Leibniz’s rejection of materialism and his conviction that reality ultimately consists of immaterial, intelligible substances, of which sensible things are appearances (53). After indicating other points in which both philosophers converge, the author devotes epigraph 5 to show how Leibniz’s epistemology reshapes some Platonic themes. More precisely, this section focuses on the agreements and disagreements regarding the role and nature of innate ideas. As it is well-known, Leibniz holds that some of the most fundamental concepts are known innately. At the same time, however, he rejects two positions he ascribes to Plato: the pre-existence of the soul and the presupposition that every truth one knows has been explicitly known by the soul before (63). Despite the emphasis that Leibniz puts on his differences with Plato at this point, both philosophers agree on a fundamental level, as Davidson suggests, that sensible experience does not suffice to account for our knowledge of necessary truths. Thus, the human soul must be equipped with a special potential to know them (ibidem).

The next chapter, written by Bruce Rosenstock, studies Moses Mendelssohn’s appropriation and reworking of Plato’s Phaedo within the framework of his ‘Leibnizian Platonism’ (79) in his own Phädon. Rosenstock focuses on the ‘infinitesimal calculus of the soul’ as Mendelssohn applies it in his own version of the dialogue. The application of Leibniz’s infinitesimal calculus leads Mendelssohn to endorse a functionalist view, since he believes that the soul’s process of knowledge works—like that type of calculus—by progressively ‘integrating’ the initially indistinct mass of representations’ (83). Thus, following Leibniz, Mendelssohn understands the soul as an active Platonic idea that brings unity into multiplicity (84). However, as Rosenstock indicates, this is only one side of the story. Under Mendelssohn’s view, the Platonic ideas do not only account for the integrative nature of human knowledge; they are not merely abstract objects of understanding, but also and at the same time ‘the object[s] of the soul’s authentic (philosophic) desire for happiness’ (92). In this sense, the soul’s capacity to unify the multiplicity of appearances through conceptual unities is the ‘expression’ of the soul’s desire for happiness (93). Hence, according to Mendelssohn, the search for knowledge is necessarily entangled with the quest for the good (92).

In chapter 5, Manfred Baum examines Kant’s appropriation of the theory of ideas in both the pre-Critical and the Critical period. It is worth noting, first, that Kant never attributes the two-world doctrine to Plato, even though his primary source, Brucker, does it. The Kantian pre-critical reading of the Platonic idea assimilates it with a ‘common standard of perfection’ for measuring all other less perfect realities (115). In the critical period, Kant’s well-known differentiation between understanding and reason leads him to reshape his reading. Under this new light, Plato’s ideas are interpreted as anticipating to some extent Kant’s concepts of reason, the regulative ideas, in contrast with the concepts of understanding, the categories (123-124). According to Baum, both Kant and Plato agree that ideas do not originate in the senses and that their object is not found in the empirical world (ibidem). However, Kant rejects the alleged hypostatized nature of Platonic forms, that he presumably takes from Bruker’s Neo-Platonic interpretation of Plato (126-127). The result of Kant’s appropriation of Plato’s theory of ideas, then, is twofold (as Kim also puts it in the introduction [5]): Kant attributes to Plato a substantial or transcendent view of ideas, while at the same time he sees Platonic ideas as the first attempt towards a transcendental consideration of human knowledge.

Hegel’s reading of Plato can be seen, as Jere Surber persuasively presents it in chapter 6, as the first modern philosophical interpretation of the Platonic corpus (133). The most distinctive features of the Hegelian approach to Plato are, first, Hegel’s direct and detailed engagement with the dialogues and, second, his distinctive appropriation of the Platonic ideas. According to Hegel, Plato’s ideas anticipate in a still unsystematic way his own systematic account of genuine Begriffe (concepts) as “concrete universals” (141). Relying on his interpretation of Parmenides, Timaeus, and Republic, Hegel rejects the dualistic, transcendent interpretations of the forms. He suggests instead that the Platonic idea should be understood as an ‘identity-in-difference’, and therefore as a genuine concept in Hegelian terms, that is, one that unifies in itself the formal and material aspect of reality (136). On the other hand, Hegel also dismisses the psychological transcendentalism according to which the ideas are mere constructs (or mere concepts, as opposed to genuine concepts) of the human mind since this view fails to account for the essential connection between the ideas and the sensible things (p.136). Therefore, as Surber points out, Hegel thought of his own philosophy as the articulation of Plato’s ‘in a modern systematic form’ (142).

The following two chapters (7 and 8) are devoted to Schleiermacher’s influential approach both to Plato’s philosophy and its interpretation. In chapter 7, André Laks provides an insightful discussion of Schleiermacher’s both philological and philosophical reading of the Platonic dialogues. Regarding the interpretation of Plato’s ideas, Schleiermacher rejects Aristotle’s criticisms and defends that the forms are real concepts that actually possess causal force and can directly affect both the physical and the moral world, given that they derive from God’s power (155). Chapter 8 is at odds with the rest of the contributions since it does not offer a reconstruction of Schleiermacher’s reading of Plato, but rather presents the author’s (Thomas Szlezák) main reasons for disagreeing with it. While the philological arguments provided by Szlezák are highly illuminating, and many of his objections to Schleiermacher are indeed very persuasive—see, for instance, his detailed analysis of Plato’s critique of writing in the Phaedrus (172-179)—, one cannot but wonder why Schleiermacher’s interpretation is the only one subject to such critical scrutiny. Besides, the main objections of the Tübingen School–to which Szlezák belongs– to Schleiermacher are again developed and argued for in chapter 14 by Vittorio Hösle. In his contribution, Hösle also provides a valuable survey of some of the most representative advocates of the abovementioned school and provides a summary of the main points of Krämer’s pioneering dissertation Arete bei Platon und Aristoteles, still only available in German (337-339).

Robert Wicks’ chapter on Schopenhauer (9) stresses the role of Plato’s account of time in the former’s metaphysical account of human consciousness and reality. More specifically, according to Wick, the Platonic conception of time as ‘the moving image of eternity’ in the Timaeus inspired Schopenhauer’s consideration of the spatio-temporal world as a prison of human consciousness (192 and 215). In his mature philosophy, Schopenhauer regards Plato’s ideas as essentially dependent on the Will, which constitutes the core of reality, the thing-in-itself, which lays beyond any form of representation and time (209). Under this view, ideas are said to play an intermediary role between the thing-in-itself as Will, on the one hand, and the objects of the spatio-temporal world, on the other (210). Therefore, as Wick suggests, Schopenhauer’s reading of ideas within this framework attributes them a twofold nature: as long as they are objects, they ultimately belong to the world of representation and, to this extent, they are high-ranking illusions; however, considered in their relationship to the thing-in-itself, ideas are ‘timeless acts of Will’ (213-214). In this last sense, Plato’s forms are placed behind the veil of the ordinary experience of the world, and thus they are only apprehended by a certain timeless intuition that Schopenhauer identifies with an intense awareness of the present moment (200-201). Philosophy is thus conceived as a form of asceticism whose aim is to reach such timeless, transcendent, and even mystical awareness (215). As Richard Bennett stresses at the beginning of chapter 11, Nietzsche regards this ascetic approach to reality—that he attributes to Plato—as anti-natural, coward, and decadent (249-252). In the second section of his contribution, Bennet proves that Nietzsche’s consideration of Plato goes far beyond this one-sided evaluation and is more multi-faceted and less consistent than usually acknowledged.

The transcendental reading of Plato’s ideas was explicitly defended for the first time by the two leading figures of the Marburg School of Neo-Kantianism: Herman Cohen and Paul Natorp. In chapter 10, Karl-Heinz Lembeck examines both authors’ attempts to mediate between Kant and Plato in their ambitious philosophical-historical interpretations (217). Cohen’s early reading of the forms as psychological categories radically evolved in the mid-1870s into a purely logical-transcendental interpretation of them. Under this new approach, and drawing on Kant’s Critique of Judgement, ideas are now viewed as ‘regulative concepts’ guiding knowledge. Within this picture, the form of the Good is not seen as a real entity, but rather as ‘the function of a unifying synthesis of appearances’ (223-224). Cohen extracts this interpretation from Plato’s alleged identification of ideas as hypothesis, that is, as ‘pre-sub-positions’ which thinking anticipates in order to be able to apprehend reality (228). In other words, ideas are said to be a priori conditions of knowledge.

Unlike Cohen’s, Natorp’s appropriation of Plato is grounded on a deep engagement with the texts. In Platons Ideenlehre (Plato’s Theory of Ideas), Natorp develops his reading of Plato’s theory of ideas as a theory of the constitution of experience (231-232). From this standpoint, Natorp downplays the ontological significance of the ideas, stressing their epistemological relevance as ‘laws’ that govern the dynamisms of knowledge (233). In his late systematic philosophy, Natorp modifies his reading of Plato’s ideas, as he seems to come under the influence of Neo-Platonism. Now, forms are understood as categories and, as such, as secondary functions unable to grasp the ultimate level of reality. Such level corresponds to Plato’s form of Good, which is radically transcendent and, therefore, inaccessible by means of articulated knowledge (237).

In the next chapter (12), Alan Kim explores Husserl’s ‘productive appropriation of Plato into phenomenology’ (273), relying on the fact that Husserl considered himself a phenomenological Platonist. By doing this, Kim provides an original, perceptive reading of the theory of ideas from a phenomenological perspective and, at the same time, a compelling presentation of the Husserlian account of eidetic intuition. In a way akin to Cohen and Natorp, Husserl endorses a transcendental interpretation of Platonic ideas, rejecting the ‘static’ Platonism of separated substantial forms along with its subsequent metaphysical dualism and mystical intuitionism (274). According to Kim, Husserl’s ideas or eidê refer to the object of the apprehension of the what-ness of a given thing. Such eidê, however, differ from the empirical universal concepts derived by abstraction from contingent facts. Eidê also relates to facts, but not because they derive from them, but rather because they constitute the rule of any possible apprehension of them. In order to illustrate the process by means of which consciousness moves from facts to eidê, Kim draws on Plato’s Divided Line and Allegory of the Cave. The first is meant to represent the different psychic states, while the second focuses on the soul’s progression from one to another. Here, eidê are presented as logical structures or essential meanings ‘that had always been co-intended in my aesthetic grasp of the phenomenon as actual thing, but which had been, as it were, eclipsed by the glare of ‘reality’’ (278). The ascension of the soul towards the realm of ideas is thus understood as a progressive detachment and liberation from the blinding glare of sensible appearances of things, so as to be able to perceive the essential features of them. This interpretation explains both the fact that the highest form of knowledge according to Plato, namely, dialectics, is said to deal only with ideas, and also that the knowledge of ideas allows the ex-prisoner in his return to the cave to recognize images as what they really are (280). In the following pages, Kim equates both Husserl’s and Plato’s account of the vision of eidê with the ‘understanding of the F-ness of many f’s’ (281). As the author points out in a footnote, the state of consciousness in which we grasp an eidê is not adequately described as a learning process, that is, as certain acquisition of knowledge, but instead as some sort of perceiving or, even more accurately, re-cognizing (erkennen) (281, n. 70). In this sense, the phenomenological method of purifying the mind from its factual intentions and redirecting it towards the essential turns out to be very similar to Plato’s account of dialectic as a process of remembering (anamnesis) what one already knows in his or her soul (281). Within this framework, Kim forcefully argues that Husserl’s basic idea of a ‘noematic form implicitly governing the coherence of sense experience’ can be paralleled with Plato’s account of the relationship between noêsis and aisthêsis in the passage on the summoners in Republic VII, as well as with the role attributed to sensibility in the recollection argument offered in the Phaedo. Finally, the author points out that the Husserlian reading was deeply influenced by Lotze’s thesis that ideas do not possess existence (Sein), but rather validity (Geltung) (294).

The two remaining chapters are devoted to Heidegger’s confrontation with Plato (chapter 13) and Gadamer’s productive reshaping of the Heideggerian reading (chapter 15). Francisco J. Gonalez begins his chapter on Heidegger’ reading of Plato by focusing on the 1924/25 course on Plato’s Sophist. In these lectures, it becomes apparent a tension that characterizes how Heidegger will read Plato the rest of his life. On the one hand, the Heideggerian approach reveals several points where Plato’s understanding of being comes very close to Heidegger’s fundamental ontology. On the other, the German philosopher insists that Plato interpreted being as presence, that is, as the object of logos, and therefore that Plato’s philosophy is to be seen as the first of a long series of reductions of truth to correspondence (306). As Gonzalez clearly shows in his contribution, this tension will persist until the late Heidegger, although the latter approach will become the ‘official’ reading. The author suggests that one of the most remarkable exceptions to the official reading can be found in the Parmenides seminar of 1930/31. Drawing on both Heidegger’s class notes and Herbert Marcuse’s transcript of this seminar, Gonzalez clearly shows that Heidegger saw Plato’s discussion of exaiphnês (instant) in the Parmenides as a genuinely ontological comprehension of the problem of ‘being and time’ (314-315). We find a similar exception in Heidegger’s interpretation of erôs in the Phaedrus seminar of 1932 (319 ff.). Gadamer’s appropriation of Platonic philosophy, discussed by François Renaud in the final chapter (15), reacts against Heidegger’s official reading. Gadamer claims that ‘Plato is not a Platonist’ and argues that the theory of forms and the method of dialectic are meant to make explicit the conditions of Socrates’ practice of dialogue in the early dialogues (356). According to Renaud, Gadamer seems to think that the forms are objects independent from representation, though he also speaks of them as if they only were transcendental principles (374).

This volume is worth reading for both historical and philosophical reasons. Each of the fifteen chapters provides the reader with valuable insights into the history of German philosophy in line with the most updated research and effectively supports the general thesis of the book that Plato exerted a decisive influence over the most relevant German philosophers (1). On the other hand, anyone interested in the interpretation of Plato’s works will surely find this book an exciting source of inspiration. In particular, as I hope to have shown, it will prove especially helpful for those intrigued by the possibilities of a transcendental reading of Plato’s theory of ideas. Last but not least, this collective work reminds us of both the risks and benefits of a philosophical reading of Plato, that is, one that attempts to identify and rethink the core issues of Platonic philosophy anew.

     

Robert C. Scharff: Heidegger Becoming Phenomenological: Interpreting Husserl Through Dilthey, 1916-1925

Heidegger Becoming Phenomenological: Interpreting Husserl through Dilthey, 1916–1925 Book Cover Heidegger Becoming Phenomenological: Interpreting Husserl through Dilthey, 1916–1925
New Heidegger Research
Robert C. Scharff
Rowman & Littlefield International
2018
Paperback $39.95
176

Reviewed by: James Cartlidge (Central European University)

The story often told about the birth of phenomenology begins with the perceived proto-phenomenological tendencies of philosophers of antiquity, before the discipline eventually found its proper explicit expression in Edmund Husserl. Following in the footsteps of Husserl comes his young student Martin Heidegger, who takes his basic insights, expands on, develops them and revises them, which eventually results in a ‘phenomenological ontology’, as opposed to Husserl’s ‘transcendental phenomenology’. Though Heidegger disagrees significantly with Husserl on some issues, when it comes to how Heidegger became the kind of philosopher he did, the debt he owes is largely to Husserl. However original Heidegger goes on to be, he is ultimately, to some extent, a Husserlian revisionist. However, as more of Heidegger’s early lecture courses have appeared, another figure’s considerable influence on the young Heidegger became increasingly difficulty to deny, at the expense of Husserl and the line of interpretive thought I just described. This figure is Wilhelm Dilthey, a German historian best known in philosophical circles for his contribution to the epistemological debate surrounding ‘understanding’ and ‘explanation’. The fact that Dilthey influenced Heidegger, and that Heidegger thought his work was especially promising, is uncontroversial: even in Being and Time he wrote that “the researches of Dilthey were, for their part, pioneering work; but today’s generation has not as yet made them its own.”[1] The extent of Dilthey’s impact on Heidegger’s philosophical formation, however, has not been adequately understood, nor its primacy over the influence of Husserl. Correcting this oversight is the central aim of Robert Scharff’s Heidegger Becoming Phenomenological. Using the wealth of evidence from Heidegger’s early lecture courses and the clearly Dilthey-influenced language and theoretical framework found in them, Scharff not only elaborately illustrates Dilthey’s impact on the formation of Heidegger’s thought, but shows how it is this impact that informs his subsequent reading of Husserl. It is only based on his prior reading of Dilthey that Heidegger ‘destructively retrieves’ Husserl. The dominant interpretive line of thought with respect to the history of phenomenology from Husserl through Heidegger is therefore mistaken, a fact that is perhaps not necessarily new to us but has never been as comprehensively expressed and well-demonstrated as Scharff does here. His text is a welcome addition to the New Heidegger Research series, with its clear writing, thorough scholarship and nobly motivated project making it of interest to anyone looking to learn about the history of phenomenology.

On the one hand, Heidegger Becoming Phenomenological is a historical, scholarly work concerned with the genesis of Heidegger’s phenomenology and the specifics of his engagements with Dilthey and Husserl. But on the other hand, it is also about what it is to philosophize at all, and what kind of philosophers we need to be, or become. Its expositions of Heidegger, Dilthey and Husserl are driven and bookmarked by an impassioned call for philosophers to question the predominantly materialist/objectivist, ‘technique-happy’, scientifically-minded condition in which much philosophy finds itself, where the “primacy of the theoretical” (158) reigns. In this climate, there is a dominant tendency to conceive of ourselves as knowing subjects, rational animals, as cognizing consciousnesses to which objects appear – at the expense of the wealth of phenomenological life-experience that this conception of ourselves ignores. The effect of this ‘loss of touch with life’ on philosophers, on Scharff’s view, is particularly damning:

their work grows to be an embarrassment, increasingly displaying a tendency to become excessively logical, formalistic, or simply clever; and this is so even if in the beginning, some insightful encounter or concern that is actually lived-through was the source of hat are now just empty exercises. (153)

It is these ‘insightful encounters or concerns’ that Scharff, through Heidegger and Dilthey, insists we must get back to. But this cannot be done as long as we are mired in the normal (read, broadly analytic, scientistic) way of doing philosophy, where philosophers ‘inquire, argue and claim’ (159), ‘take positions, promote theories and influence others’ (xii) and the worth of their viewpoints are evaluated. (xvi) Here, claims are either true or false, arguments are sound or unsound, theories are coherent or incoherent, changing your mind is inconsistent, new ways of speaking perhaps ‘incoherent’, ‘obscurantist’ or ‘unscientific’, and everything a philosopher says in their work is taken at face value. It is this superficial way of doing philosophy that we must overcome, and another strength of Scharff’s text is its emphasis on and drawing out of Heidegger’s way of overcoming it – his way of reading other philosophers in a ‘destructive retrieval’. The bulk of Scharff’s text is dedicated to explicating, in detail, how Heidegger engages in such a ‘destructive retrieval’ of Dilthey and Husserl. I will briefly summarise how the book proceeds chapter by chapter before spelling out some of its most significant points in greater detail.

Chapter 1 frames the book in terms of Heidegger’s early preoccupation with how we should philosophize, his ‘preliminary question’ of what kind of philosopher one needs to be in order to be phenomenological. For Heidegger, this will involve a destructive retrieval of both Husserl and Dilthey, with the emphasis on ‘destructive’ with Husserl and ‘retrieve’ with Dilthey. The retrieval of Dilthey is the starting point of chapter 2, which begins ‘part one’ of the text. Here, Scharff introduces Dilthey’s central ideas of ‘the standpoint of life’ and ‘understanding life in its own terms’ as they arise in the most familiar contribution Dilthey has been known to make to philosophy, which is his attempt to delineate between the natural and human sciences and provide epistemology for the latter. Out of this project arises Dilthey’s idea that the human sciences attempt to understand human history from ‘the standpoint of life’, an idea that gets ‘phenomenologically replaced’ in Husserl with the ‘transcendental consciousness’, a de-historicised, de-contextualized cognizing subjectivity to which objects appear. Heidegger sees certain ‘intuitions’ in Dilthey’s idea that promise far more philosophically (for phenomenology and ontology) than even Dilthey himself realised. Chapter 3 shows how Heidegger sought to appropriate Dilthey and carry his work far beyond the epistemology of the human sciences, which Dilthey confined himself to. Here there are interesting discussions of how Heidegger engages with other philosophers, in terms of ‘appropriation’ and the ‘formal indications’ we might find implicit in their work even if they do not realise it. ‘Formal indication’ is a notoriously difficult concept in Heidegger, one that normally gets fleshed out from its application in Being and Time and beyond, so it is interesting to see its treatment in the 1920s lecture courses. Heidegger’s appropriation of Dilthey’s ‘standpoint of life’ leads us into ‘part two’ of the text, which deals with how Heidegger’s appropriation of Dilthey informs the ‘destructive’ element of his engagement with Husserl. Dilthey helps Heidegger realise that Husserl’s phenomenology is not genuine phenomenology, but an enactment of the theoretical-scientific attitude, containing an unhelpful opposition to Dilthey’s alleged ‘historicism’, which for Husserl leads to obscurity and relativism, and does not “a proper philosophical response to the empirical facts of historical-human life.” (98) Phenomenology, on Husserl’s view, must ‘get behind’ historical life to the transcendental consciousness which experiences it. However, an immersion in the historical, as Heidegger learns from Dilthey, turns out to be a requirement for genuine phenomenology, not something to be opposed by it. Chapter 5 turns to the positive retrieval of Husserl, in which Heidegger attempts to salvage Husserl’s ‘principle of all principles’ in a way that is compatible with Dilthey’s historically-immersed ‘standpoint of life’. Heidegger’s destructive retrieval of both Dilthey and Husserl for the purpose of becoming genuinely phenomenological lead Scharff to the conclusions he draws in chapter 6, about the always-ongoing nature of phenomenology, something that necessarily ‘becomes’ without ever reaching a complete state of ‘being’. The point of phenomenology is to become attuned to our historical being, a process which is always ongoing, never finished – the point is therefore to continuously ‘become’ phenomenological, not try and ‘be’ it.

 Arguably, the most important term in Scharff’s book, both for understanding how Heidegger conducts his philosophy and for understanding the project of the book itself, is ‘destructive retrieval’. Heidegger’s notion of ‘destruction’ is long-familiar to us, especially in the form of the ‘destruction of the history of ontology’ he proposes in Being and Time. But in his earlier lecture courses, which are the sole focus of Scharff’s analysis, Heidegger speaks rather of ‘destructive retrieval’, emphasizing both the positive and negative aspects of the task he would later refer to only as ‘destruction’.

Sometimes, one encounters texts whose author seems to be “on the way” toward a topic or insight that outruns, or perhaps even casts doubt on the aptness of – what they say or even consciously intend. In such cases, it is especially desirable to try to understand the text “in its own terms” (xviii)

To destroy, or destructively retrieve, a philosopher’s work, does involve a negative dismantling of it, but always with an eye towards retrieving the positive possibilities latent within it, the tools it might (in spite of itself) afford us for moving beyond it. Rather than a strict emphasis on whether someone is right or wrong, coherent or incoherent, destructive retrieval aims at ascertaining what about their historical context might drive a philosopher to say what they say and what worth this motivation might have in the long run, even if the expression this motivation was given and the work it was put to turns out to be mistaken or inadequate. It is not just about dismantling inadequate systems of thought, but “stake out the positive possibilities of that tradition” (BT, 44) in which they are situated, ascertaining what we can learn from it about how to do philosophy as well as how not to do it.

This is precisely what Heidegger does with both Dilthey and Husserl, but it is Dilthey who Heidegger owes a greater philosophical debt to, and Dilthey who informs Heidegger’s subsequent reading of Husserl, not the other way round. Scharff’s book therefore finds a happy home alongside other texts in the New Heidegger Research series such as Thomas Sheehan’s Making Sense of Heidegger, since it also aims at overturning a long-dominant interpretive tendency in Heidegger scholarship. Scharff argues at length that the influence of Husserl on the young Heidegger has been overemphasized for far too long, with “the two main interpretive options […] [being] that he is either a revisionist Husserlian or a radically revisionist Husserlian.” (vii) Scharff’s contention, backed up by the relatively recent availability of Heidegger’s 1920s lecture courses, is that both of these alternatives are wrong, and it is in fact Dilthey who helps Heidegger take up a position on how it is that he should philosophize, a position which goes on to inform his reading of Husserl.

But this is not to say that Husserl had nothing to offer Heidegger, or that Heidegger has no issues with Dilthey – Heidegger engages in a destructive retrieval of both, though “it is more a matter of critically dismantling in the case of Husserl and more a matter of appropriation/retrieval in the case of Dilthey.” (xxii) Ultimately, Husserl saw the potential of and necessity for phenomenology but was gravely mistaken in his articulation of how it should be practised. Phenomenology, for Husserl, must rise above our “concrete circumstances […] of scientific practice […] of culture, society, history” (40) in order to be able to train itself exclusively on what appears to a ‘transcendental consciousness’. Only then will we have returned ‘to the things themselves’, as his famous slogan suggests. But as anyone familiar with the Heidegger of Being and Time will know, this ‘rising above’ is precisely a step in the wrong direction. Rather,

historical-human life […] belongs to us and is possessed by us as an endlessly rich, diverse and multiply interested environmental experience that is an already meaningful and understandable process before it gets theoretically sliced up and conceptualized. (xx)

Husserl’s basic motivation to return to the things themselves as we experience them, is a noble and necessary one. However, his idea of what this means is gravely mistaken. According to Husserl, we must strip away the trappings of historical life, culture and experience in order to experience the world ‘as it really is’, and so he remains trapped in a Cartesian-Kantian framework that amounts to an “enactment of the current (predominantly scientific and philosophically scientized) ways of conceptualizing” (xxi) life as we live it. To be phenomenologists, according to Husserl, we have to become the disinterested, objective cognizing observers that science would have us be, and record our experience this way. Heidegger’s problem with this is not just that the stripping-away Husserl proposes is impossible, but that even if it were possible, would be a far from accurate reflection of our existence and experience. We are fundamentally historical beings, and this being-historical fundamentally conditions our existence and experience of it at every step. To attempt to rise above it to describe our experience of our existence, therefore, is gravely misconceived and would miss out on a constitutive element of our existence. Rather, any phenomenology worthy of the name must involve an attempt to understand our life ‘in its own terms’, cultural-historical trappings and all. And it is this insight that Heidegger gets from reading Dilthey.

Through Dilthey, Heidegger arrives at a conception of how to do phenomenology that far surpasses Husserl’s, but this is not what Dilthey had in mind. Dilthey’s original project, as chapter 2 explains, was originally to construct an epistemology of the human sciences, such that they can be shown to be distinct rom the natural sciences and yet still be called a science. Readers unfamiliar with Dilthey’s well-known contributions to the human sciences and the ‘explanation vs. understanding’ debate will learn a lot from this chapter, which reconstructs some of the most salient points before phenomenologically recasting this territory as Heidegger does. In the course of Dilthey’s project, Heidegger detects “a [very non-traditional] philosophical concern”, namely, the concern to understand the living-through of historical existence and all of its manifestations “in their own terms.”” (xxii) According to Heidegger, waiting to be retrieved in this idea is the basic attitude one must adopt if one wishes to be a phenomenologist, something Dilthey ultimately was unable to realise because of his own historical situation, and his own self-conception as an epistemologist of the human sciences. Indeed, understanding how a thinker’s work is an expression of its own historical-cultural situation is a key element of a destructive retrieval – the point is not only to understand what a philosopher got right or wrong, but what it is about their situation that drove them to say what they said in the first place and how it ‘expresses’ their situation. Dilthey’s idea of understanding life in its own terms, and working out what this might mean for phenomenology, becomes Heidegger’s primary destructive-retrieving concern in the 1920s, up until the writing and publication of Being and Time. His response to Husserl’s conception of phenomenology may initially seem obvious, but it is not without reason that Husserl opposes Dilthey, in fact this points to a deep disagreement between philosophers of all stripes over a key issue: the nature and danger of relativism.

Husserl sees Dilthey as engaging in a kind of ‘historicism’, which brings with it the danger of relativism. If everything must be understood out of and related back to our historical life, everything is relative to whichever historical period it arises out of, none of which are ‘better’ or ‘more fundamental’ than any other. Practitioners of natural science, and anyone that adopts a ‘theoretical-scientific attitude’, would obviously want to oppose this, since the very point of science is to achieve knowledge that would be true no matter what historical period we are in. But Heidegger is not advocating for (at least this kind of) relativism, as this quote shows:

those who cry, “Relativism!” typically have things backward. It is factical life in its primordial sense that is “absolute,” and the particular expressions of practice that emerge from it are “relative” (59)

Heidegger, along with Dilthey, is keen to relate everything back to “the facts of consciousness” (60) for this is where all human practises originate and have their grounding. To say this is not to say that experiential knowledge is more fundamental than natural-scientific knowledge, or that one is ‘better’ than the other, just that they are different and one emerges out of the other, as all human practises do. A phenomenology, to be truly phenomenological, must get to grips with our historical existence as that kind of being out of which disparate human practises, indeed any human practises, arise. The point of phenomenology is not to invalidate or undermine science or the knowledge it discovers, but one of its functions is to explicate science’s origin out of human life and its being grounded therein, in the facts of historical consciousness.

But this task of phenomenology, as Scharff deals with later in the book, is always a necessarily unfinished one, something we are always on the way towards but never quite reach completely because of the ever-changing historical landscape. Phenomenology is always ongoing, always ‘responsive’ to the changes of our existence as we experience them. This is where the second sense of the book’s title comes into play – the first sense emphasizes that it is a book about how Heidegger becomes the sort of philosopher he is by 1927, and the second emphasizes the unfinished nature of phenomenology as something that is always ‘becoming’, never ‘being’ in itself, complete. This is also another reason behind Husserl’s opposition to Dilthey’s ‘historicism’ – because history is ever-developing, to remain immersed in it in the course of our philosophical investigations implies an insusceptibility to a definite method or single way of proceeding, which dooms us to remain trapped in indefiniteness and obscurity. Indeed, because of the problem of history there will have to be as many or phenomenological methods or techniques as is required by whatever new challenges to it that history throws up as it proceeds. But this is not necessarily a negative consequence, but rather testifies to phenomenology’s status as a process: “no method or training regimen can protect even a well-intentioned phenomenologist from the never-ending struggle to become phenomenological” (157). Because human existence is ever-changing, developing and dependent on the whim on history, phenomenology must be ever in the process of becoming ‘responsive’ to these changes in order to capture them adequately. Though Husserl’s basic motivation of getting back to the things themselves is noble, his enactment of it precludes the required kind of attitude to phenomenology, where Dilthey’s openness to historical being better equips us for attaining it.

These are, I would suggest, the most important and salient points Scharff makes throughout the book, but this is not to mention some other interesting issues that arise along the way. The way Scharff grapples with Heidegger’s notoriously difficult idea of ‘formal indication’, and the array of formally indicative concepts and phrases in Heidegger’s early work, is admirable. So is the inclusion of Heidegger’s much-less-discussed engagement with Paul Natorp, a prominent philosopher of the time. How Heidegger uses Natorp’s criticisms of Husserl as a springboard for making a case for “a non-theoretical “immanent illumination of life experience that remains in this experience and does not step out and turn it into objectivity” (122). This is likely not to be familiar to most readers.

Which brings me to some perhaps more negative aspects of the text, of which there admittedly are not many and do not eclipse its overall merits. The influence of Dilthey on the young Heidegger, owing largely to the relatively recent publication of the lecture courses Scharff discusses, has been evident for quite some time now. Readers that are familiar already with Dilthey and Heidegger’s early lecture courses are therefore unlikely to find much that is surprising or new here. However, I find it hard to imagine that the link between Dilthey, the early Heidegger and Husserl has been as comprehensively expressed elsewhere, which is a merit in itself. The book would therefore be especially suited to students of Heidegger looking to learn about his relationship with Dilthey. This is especially the case because a basic grasp of Heidegger (and Husserl’s) work would be beneficial to have before approaching Scharff’s text, which can be dense at times. But these are not necessarily criticisms of the text itself, which is well-researched and well-constructed, and the complicated parts about the nuanced ideas of the three philosophers involved are explained in detail and at length, ultimately leaving little room for misunderstanding.

Furthermore, because of the nature of the text, some of the most interesting issues that arise within it – about the phenomenological ‘method’ and attitude, and whether it can fully escape the trappings of theoretical attitudes – do not ultimately get much attention. Scharff admirably reconstructs this specific area of phenomenological scholarship and points towards the surrounding issues it raises, but leaves the discussion open at some interesting points. To what extent can phenomenology be rigorous if it has no single method? Can we ever really escape the ‘analytic’ way of doing philosophy, where claims are made, positions analysed, etc.? What exactly is the nature of the ‘responsive’, ‘mindful’ attitude to our historical life we must attain, and how do we attain it? These are questions that the text circles around but does not try to solve definitively. Obviously, by the time he writes Being and Time, Heidegger has some ideas about how to answer these questions, but since Scharff’s aim is to ascertain how Heidegger becomes the kind of philosopher he is by that point, he does not go into this. This is part of what makes the text a good springboard toward further research and reading for whoever engages with it, and because it points to the fact that it is in the very nature of phenomenology to be unfinished, and these supposed ‘difficulties’ or ‘deficiencies’ that actually keep it alive, and allowed to develop along with our historical being.

Anyone interested in the history of continental philosophy, the interconnection of Husserl, Heidegger and Dilthey, or the history of phenomenology in general, will find much of worth in Scharff’s text. It would be especially informative for those in the early stages in their acquaintance with these topics, but those with a familiarity will undoubtedly find something worthwhile here too, if only because of the sheer detail Scharff goes into with Heidegger’s 1920s lectures, or the discussion of Dilthey’s epistemological writings, or the specifics of Husserl’s conception of phenomenology. This also because it serves as a good indicator of several interesting areas of discussion about the possibility of a phenomenological method (or methods), the nature of phenomenology and its relation to our historical nature, and how we should do philosophy at all. In fact, it is on this point that Heidegger Becoming Phenomenological is at its most admirable, passionately defending philosophy that opposes the dominance of the scientific-attitude, which questions philosophy’s reliance on established theoretical frameworks, and refuses to rely on technique-happiness and generally-accepted ways of doing things. Surely, philosophy should be an enterprise that questions itself all the time, and questions the methods and conceptions of itself that have become dominant within it. Philosophy should always be something the resists complacency, never being completely satisfied with what it has achieved, because the questions that it deals with are eternal questions, ones that we must continuously work towards a better understanding of but always in the knowledge that a complete solution of them is impossible. This is what drives philosophy forward, or at least the most interesting and philosophical kinds of philosophy, no matter where in the world it is from. The divide between analytic and continental philosophy is beginning to become more blurred, with analytic philosophers doing metaphysics, and there is more dialogue than ever between philosophers across the divide (Heidegger and Wittgenstein being a key example), Heidegger Becoming Phenomenological is also a powerful reminder of why this is a good thing, and how much continental and analytic philosophers have to learn from each other.


[1] Martin Heidegger. 1962. Being and Time (BT). Trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson, Blackwell, London, 429.

Charles Bambach, Theodore George (Ed.): Philosophers and Their Poets, SUNY Press, 2019

Philosophers and Their Poets: Reflections on the Poetic Turn in Philosophy since Kant Book Cover Philosophers and Their Poets: Reflections on the Poetic Turn in Philosophy since Kant
SUNY series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
Charles Bambach, Theodore George (Ed.)
SUNY Press
2019
Hardback $95.00
288

Karsten Harries: The Antinomy of Being, De Gruyter, 2019

The Antinomy of Being Book Cover The Antinomy of Being
Karsten Harries. Foreword by Dermot Moran
De Gruyter
2019
Hardback 109,95 € / $126.99 / £100.00*
xxii, 246

Jean-Yves Lacoste: The Appearing of God

The Appearing of God Book Cover The Appearing of God
Jean-Yves Lacoste. Translated by Oliver O'Donovan
Oxford University Press
2018
Hardback £50.00

Reviewed by: Nikolaas Deketelaere (Balliol College, University of Oxford)

Kenosis and Transcendence

Below and Beyond the Appearing of God

Oliver O’Donovan deserves great credit for undertaking the painstaking work of translating Jean-Yves Lacoste’s La phénoménalité de Dieu: not only has relatively little of Lacoste’s work been translated into English compared to that of the other contemporary French authors working within the field of phenomenology of religion (e.g. Jean-Luc Marion, Michel Henry, even Jean-Louis Chrétien); it also appears that the French edition is currently out of print, making this translation the only way most of us can access Lacoste’s nine essays on the way in which God can be brought within the scope of phenomenology. The project Lacoste sets out in these pages can perhaps most easily be understood as an attempt at correlating (paradoxically) God’s divinity with his phenomenality, or indeed his mode of being with his mode of appearing, and is in turn executed by correlating four pairs of related notions: (1) philosophy and theology; (2) transcendence and reduction; (3) experience and eschatology; and, finally, (4) love and knowledge.

Starting with the issue of philosophy and theology. Much ink has been spilled over whether the developments within French phenomenology at the end of the last century constitute an unwarranted theologisation of phenomenology, or rather its careful execution; indeed, the polemic is well-known and still ongoing. In this regard, however, it is worth noting that we are dealing here with a somewhat sui generis figure: at the time of his initial diagnosis of French phenomenology as having taken a ‘theological turn’, Dominique Janicaud explicitly excluded Lacoste from the group of authors who allowed phenomenology to swerve off the road of philosophy until it ended up in the ditch of theology.[1] Nevertheless, Lacoste is not coy about the fact that his reflections do at least attempt “to surmount the division between philosophy and theology” (xi), or “to remove the boundary that has classically divided faith and reason, since its existence was always highly arbitrary” (82). Indeed, upon closer examination—one that is carried out in a sustained dialogue with Kierkegaard throughout the book—, that frontier appears to be missing altogether. As a result, Lacoste seeks to expose “the fluid character of philosophical work” (16), which it has in virtue of the fact that it can ask questions about anything, including divine realities. The point here is not, as Janicaud might put it, that philosophy is colonised or superseded by theology, for Lacoste too is weary of the ditch we risk ending up in if we leave behind philosophy altogether: “Disciplined conceptualization or description from which the philosophical element was eliminated would be bound to run aground” (16), he warns us. However, when a philosophical text, such as Kierkegaard’s Philosophical Fragments, deals with divine realities, such as salvation and sin, “we are not,” or no longer at least, “dealing with a philosophy that is merely philosophy, but with a philosophy pushed to the limit of its range, making sense of an eclectic mix of descriptions, hypotheses, and games that make it impossible to say precisely what is going on” (17), whether it is philosophy or indeed theology. It is often in extreme situations, where we are pushed to our limits, that we gain an awareness of what exactly the limits are, and thus only as such do we fully come into our own. Such is equally the case for philosophy and theology, Lacoste suggests: “In the Fragments we find ourselves on the frontiers of philosophy, not only of theology. Precise labelling is simply not allowed at this point, and we had better make up our minds that it doesn’t matter very much. The fluidity of philosophy can be a theoretical advantage as well as a drawback. It is on the frontiers of philosophy, perhaps, that we can learn what is finally at issue in philosophy, and may we not say the same for the frontiers of theology, too?” (18).[2]

Despite Lacoste’s great emphasis on the question of the frontier demarcating philosophy from theology, he also declares that it ultimately does not matter. This is not as unintuitive as it may at first appear: precisely because the frontier is missing, the question of demarcation does not matter. We are simply free to proceed with thinking in all its fluidity, unencumbered by this methodological pseudo-question:

Here and there at the same time, or perhaps still here or already there, we can never be precise about our location. Dare we say that that is not a bad thing? (…) The present enquiries, pursued in ignorance of whether they are philosophical or theological, do not define themselves apart from the two methodological requirements of letting-appear and making-appear. (…) Whether philosophy or theology or both, our enquiry would not deserve the name of enquiry at all, if it did not make up its mind to ignore the frontiers and elicit appearances without prescribing them. To make frontiers is to break things up, and we do better not knowing where we are (x-xi).

This honesty is refreshing and certainly more dignified than, for example, Marion’s frantic but inevitably unsuccessful attempts at securing the exclusively philosophical status of his phenomenology. Essentially, the question of whether he is doing philosophy or theology is uninteresting to Lacoste; the point, rather, is that he is doing phenomenology: “From a phenomenological point of view there is no way of telling,” on what side of the frontier between philosophy and theology these studies fall, precisely because that frontier appears to be missing; yet, there is “probably no need to tell,” for, as phenomenologists, “all we want is a concept fit for the appearance” (ix). Whatever appears deserves to be described as such, without this being framed beforehand according to a frontier that itself does not. Hence, Lacoste concludes: “Phenomenology is frontier-free—it is one of its advantages” (xi).

So, the question for Lacoste then concerns the phenomenality of God, that is to say, the mode of his appearance. This brings us to our second pair of concepts in need of correlation: transcendence and reduction. Whenever one asks how God may be made the theme of phenomenology, someone is bound to pipe up and answer that he simply cannot be, precisely because the divine, as transcendent reality, falls under the reduction, and must thus be excluded from the phenomenologist’s field of view. The phenomenologist would be out of bounds, would have veered off the road and ended up in some kind of ditch, if he were to depend on anything that is not contained within the immanence of consciousness as delivered by phenomenological reduction. Lacoste tackles this challenge by starting from the observation that “a comprehensive experience of an object is possible only if an infinite experience is possible” (21), which of course means that a comprehensive experience is impossible since experience is precisely a function of finitude. It is the adumbrational character of sensory perception that Lacoste uses to argue that there is always already transcendence at the heart of every experience, namely the transcendence of what is not experienced in experience precisely in virtue of its character as experience: “Every perceptual experience,” he says, “invites us to recognize that it is fragmentary, and that what is presented here and now is transcended” (25). Indeed, this is not only true in exceptional cases, but forms a general “law of the logic of experience. Stated briefly, perceptual experience has to do with phenomena and non-phenomena at the same time. More economically still, perception has to do with the unperceived” (22-23). So, God’s transcendence need not, at least not a priori, exclude his phenomenality; for transcendence appears to be a characteristic of all appearing, which always transcends itself as appearance insofar as it appears. As such, “the appearing of God,” especially, “can only be understood in the light of his transcendence of appearing” (38). His mode of appearing involves a movement beyond appearing as such. As a result, Lacoste puts forward the concept of the irreducible, of which phenomenology “can offer no correct description (…) without recognizing its radical externality” (58), without knowing “that it cannot exclude the transcendent reality of what it describes” (60). In short, it forms “an experience that could not be described without acknowledging the irreducibility of everything to do with it: that is the sort of experience which the advent of God to consciousness would need to be” (63). God is such an experience, for he cannot be experienced without this experience being co-extensive with a belief in his existence, he cannot appear without this appearing being co-extensive with a love of God. As such, Lacoste tries to correlate divinity with phenomenality, God’s mode of being with his mode of appearing, and precisely this is a phenomenological question (indeed, strictly so). Hence, he concludes that “phenomenology cannot be faithful to its project without recognizing the irreducible” (58).

Precisely because a comprehensive experience is not possible in virtue of the fact that transcendence characterises all experience, because God transcends his appearing precisely insofar as he comes to appearance, because “experience is tied to inexperience” at all times (118); “we should be satisfied with a radically non-eschatological presence,” or, put differently, “presence is not parousia” (36).[3] This, Lacoste suggests, means we need to correlate experience to eschatology: for it implies, first of all, that the eschaton is not a question of experience, since experience cannot be completely realised by definition (“no experience is comprehensive, no presence can be taken for a parousia, enjoyment must not suppose itself in total possession” (131)); and, secondly, that phenomenology cannot be limited to the present now, for we do have meaningful experiences even if they are only partial (“experience may be wholly truthful without being whole and entire” (150)). The first is a crucial insight, according to Lacoste, for it leads us to “a conclusion of the greatest importance, implying an equally important imperative,” namely, that “God is never ‘given’” (150). It is hard not to read this as a profound critique of Marion’s “realized eschatology” (37) of intuitive givenness and it is worth quoting him at length on this: “But can the infinite be given? The suggestion seems preposterous,” for “‘seeing’ the infinite can only refer to vision of an inchoate character. No act of intuition could focus on infinity entire. Whatever we see, we know that our sight is at the same time and inescapably non-sight. Whatever is given us, we perceive only partially. But the interplay between sight and non-sight implies the promise of one day seeing differently and better. Perception may become richer, nearer to completion, but on no terms can a ‘vision’ of the infinite be thought of as actually complete. (…) Whatever the sense in which we ‘see’ the divine essence, it remains infinitely beyond sight” (148-149). Moreover, Lacoste continues, this thus means the following:

God cannot be given this side of death. If we are minded to stay with the language of vision, we can say that God ‘appears’ in the world without our intuition. There is nothing to be ‘seen.’ Giving makes its gift to faith, and faith cannot have the status of conclusive experience. Within the range of intuition visible things such as Christ’s historical body and his Eucharistic body are known as God’s self-giving only as we distinguish sensory intuition from the acquired intuition of faith. Sensory intuition on its own is misleading. Even when we have trained it to the evidences proper to objects of faith (which are not evidences of a theophany) the gift we perceive has the form of a promise, not to be taken as a last word. The appearance of the risen Christ to his disciples is a gift to sight, but not put at their disposal; it keeps its distance in conjunction with the promise of a definitive return. In the Eucharist Christ is seen through the medium of bread and wine, a medium that leaves us inevitably dissatisfied, desiring eschatological satisfaction which has no place in the world. (…) The infinite can be seen only in finite guise. But finite intuition of the infinite is no mere disappointment, and if we hold our experience of the gracious gift together with our experience of promise, we shall see why (149-150).[4]

This is not a disappointment for there is always the promise of fulfilment, and with promise comes anticipation. Moving on to the second point to be made in relation to eschatology and experience, Lacoste explains that anticipation does not give the eschaton, nor does it bring it to experience; rather, it “merely announces or adumbrates it, giving us no more than a predonation or pre-experience of it” (128). For, even though “experience of the end is ruled out,” since such an experience transcends itself; it is nevertheless as that transcending that “pre-experiences of the end are not. Everyone will agree that God cannot be known in history as he will be known finally, since the eschaton suspends the logic of sacramental presence. But eschatological desire and expectation may take on ‘pre-eschatological’ forms within the limits of the world, which is simply to say that they point us beyond the limits of being-in-the-world while making no pretence to be more than pre-eschatological. The sacrament does not bring the eschaton about; it does serve as a predonation of it” (132). In this context, “anticipation appears without the pretence of a fulfilment, and puts no end within our grasp. Yet it appears as anticipation, as experience uncompleted and promise that draws us on to further experience. So all talk of anticipation must have in view the horizon of an end. The end may be given, the event take place as we anticipated, or it may not; the eschaton is distant” (133). Since “we cannot attribute an eschatological character to any of our present experiences” (168), Lacoste uses his notion of anticipation to develop a reworked phenomenology of time-consciousness. This framework he subsequently applies, in an impressive dialogue with analytic philosophy, to the problem of personal identity, correctly removing it from the metaphysical questioning of substance and placing it firmly within the context of a phenomenological enquiry concerning time.

How must we then deal with this “eschatological reserve” (150), inhibiting us from having an actual and clear experience of God, leaving us with the pre-experience delivered by anticipation? Here, Lacoste suggests, faith comes in; or, for it is coextensive with it, this is where love plays its role. This brings us to our final pair of concepts in need of correlation: knowledge and love, which in this case refers to the knowledge and love of God. In particular, Lacoste wants to expose what he calls “the logic of love,” or its “paradoxical priority over knowledge” (37), when it comes to divine realities. Phenomenology, Lacoste suggests, has traditionally had a bias in favour for what we might call ‘objects of knowledge’, which he describes as “compelling phenomena” (78). These are phenomena that give themselves, and thus impose themselves intuitively: “the object of sight, the intelligible proposition, the reality that cannot be ignored.” However, God is not given, he does not appear as such, and therefore also does not impose himself. Thus, Lacoste suggests, “if there is one thing the object of belief and the object of love have in common, it is the power to go unnoticed” (78). When it comes to divine realities, which are “intelligible only as open to love,” their “appearance takes the form of solicitation or invitation, not coercion. (…) Love would contradict its essence or intention if it used constraint in making its appearance” (75). The phenomenality of love makes an appeal to our freedom: it does not dictate its meaning through the violent imposition of intuition, but instead demands to be loved, inviting us to take a position for or against. What is at stake is “a reality that offers itself without imposing itself, an experience formed in the element of non-self-evidence,” precisely because it requires “a decision to see it” in order to be perceived at all (79). Lacoste illustrates this elegantly as follows: “Nothing is more common than perceiving or understanding without making up our mind. I perceive the ashtray on my desk without making up my mind, I see the conclusion of a logical argument without making up my mind, except that the logic is valid. But when the absolute intervenes, we have to make up our minds,” precisely because its intervention is not of the order of an ordinary appearance, which it always transcends in intervening. Indeed, Lacoste continues, “God does not appear like the Alps, huge and undeniable. He does not appear as the conclusion of an argument we are compelled to admit (…). God appears in such a way that we can make up our mind about him, for or against” (87).

God, that is to say his divinity, does not appear except in love and indeed as love: “He does not appear to be described, since there is nothing to describe, only a man like other men. He does not appear to be thought about, since the aim of his appearance is simply and solely to win man’s love. To make an appearance in order to win love, and for no other reason, the god must be present kenotically. He wills to be loved, not to dazzle. There is appearance, for there is presence, but this is not presence for thought, or even belief” (72). The phenomenality of God is a kenotic phenomenality, one that empties itself out of appearing as appearing. God’s phenomenality is not a question of appearing, but of the decision that sits below (kenosis) and thus its movement beyond (transcendence) appearing. Precisely in this way does Lacoste correlate God’s mode of being (transcendence) with his mode of appearing (inexperience): “God appears in presenting himself to be loved; God appears among the phenomena not subject to Husserl’s ‘eidetic reduction’” (ix).

Before ending this review, a word needs to be said about O’Donovan’s English language rendering of Lacoste’s book, for some of the choices he has made in translating it seem at least worth questioning. I wonder, in particular, whether the phenomenological force of Lacoste’s argument is not somewhat blunted by this translation. To be fair to him, O’Donovan admits at the outset that “every translation must have its priorities, and I had better admit that tenderness towards the conventions of the phenomenological school has not been high among mine” (vii). As a result, he does not, for example, reprise the distinct adjectives which English translators of Heidegger have rendered as existential and existentiell, the French equivalents of which Lacoste uses, for he considers it “an inaudible distinction I take to be no more than a mark on paper, not language” (vii). As inelegant as these renderings may be, these concepts nevertheless circulate and are in use as such (as Jean-Luc Nancy might say, they make sense). O’Donovan’s refusal to stick to this convention for the sake of not letting phenomenological terminology get into the way of argumentative clarity then seems to fall over itself at times, for example in the following passage: “Since theology is an ontic science, the relation of man to God will be ontic/idiomorphic (existentiel), not ontological/existential” (98). Does the clarity of Lacoste’s summary of Heidegger’s position benefit from the choice for idiomorphic rather than the more commonplace existentiell? I highly doubt it. It could, perhaps, only do so to a reader who is entirely unfamiliar with Heidegger and thus with this conceptual (not merely semantic) distinction. However, that this book would have many such readers seems unlikely. Especially in this case, where the passage at issue comes from an essay on Heidegger, the Heideggerian terminology is not incidental to the argument, and thus abstracting from that terminology does not serve that argument. The same goes for the general phenomenological terminology found throughout the book: as I explained, Lacoste himself suggests that he is not concerned with classifying these essays as either philosophy or theology; the point, for him, is that they are works of phenomenology. As such, neither is the phenomenological vocabulary incidental to argument, for the argument is a distinctly and explicitly phenomenological one. O’Donovan’s choice not to prioritise this vocabulary in his translation therefore seems odd, not to say entirely unjustified. Perhaps the most significant example of what is lost when we pay insufficient attention to phenomenological terminology is the title: the phrase the appearing of God is by no means the most obvious translation of la phénoménalité de Dieu. The English language has a word for phénoménalité, it is phenomenality. This is, indeed, a piece of phenomenological jargon, but like all subject-specific terminology, it carries a very precise meaning: in this case, phenomenality denotes not so much appearing, but rather the mode of appearing; not the fact or the content, but the how of appearing. Or, as Lacoste puts it himself in the preliminary to the nine essays: “Our problem is simply to describe and distinguish their different ways of appearing” (ix, original emphasis). As such, the choice to present this book as a work on the appearing of God out of a noble desire to avoid overly technical language, does not allow the argument to shine with its true brilliance; rather, it obscures it.[5] In any case, this book is not so much about the appearing of God, for God cannot be said to appear but in a highly qualified sense; rather, it is about the way or the mode of his appearing, namely, kenotically, in and as love.


[1] Dominique Janicaud, ‘The Theological Turn in French Phenomenology’, trans. by B.G. Prusak in Phenomenology and the ‘Theological Turn’: The French Debate (New York: Fordham University Press, 2000), 1-103.

[2] The influence of Lacoste’s emphasis on the fluidity of thought when it comes to the missing frontier between philosophy and theology on Emmanuel Falque’s dictum that ‘the more we theologise, the better we philosophise’ seems unmistakable here. On this, see Falque’s Passer le Rubicon—Philosophie et théologie: Essai sur les frontiers (Bruxelles: Lessius, 2013); as well as his ‘Phénoménologie et théologie: Nouvelles frontières’ in Études, 404.2 (2006), 201-210.

[3] See also Jean-Yves Lacoste, Présence et parousie (Paris: Ad Solem, 2006).

[4] It is worth noting here that a similar critique of Marion is articulated by Falque and John Caputo. On this, see: Emmanuel Falque, ‘Phénoménologie de l’extraordinaire (J.-L. Marion)’ in Le Combat amoureux (Paris: Hermann, 2014), 137-193; John D. Caputo, ‘The Hyperbolization of Phenomenology: Two Possibilities for Religion in Recent Continental Philosophy’ in Counter-Experiences: Reading Jean-Luc Marion (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), 67-93. For a commentary on these critiques, see my ‘Givenness and Existence: On the Possibility of a Phenomenological Philosophy of Religion’ in Palgrave Communications 4, Article number 127 (2018), 1-13.

[5] It is entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that the choice for appearing rather than phenomenality was motivated by concerns of the publisher, rather than the translator. One can indeed imagine that this version would sell better and be of interest to a wider audience (particularly in Britain, where phenomenology, insofar as it is practiced here at all today, bears little resemblance to contemporary styles, interests and debates in France). However, if this is indeed the case, one would expect the translator to make the reader aware of the crucial importance of this distinction in his foreword. However, O’Donovan does not do this and indeed seems to simply wash his hands of the entire issue by declaring phenomenological precision not to be a priority in this case.

Ranjan Ghosh (Ed.): Philosophy and Poetry: Continental Perspectives, Columbia University Press, 2019

Philosophy and Poetry: Continental Perspectives Book Cover Philosophy and Poetry: Continental Perspectives
Ranjan Ghosh (Ed.)
Columbia University Press
2019
Hardback $75.00£58.00
344

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.

David Egan: The Pursuit of an Authentic Philosophy: Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and the Everyday

The Pursuit of an Authentic Philosophy: Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and the Everyday Book Cover The Pursuit of an Authentic Philosophy: Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and the Everyday
David Egan
Oxford University Press
2019
Hardback £55.00
272

Reviewed by: Zachary Mabee (Catholic priest and graduate student in philosophy at the University of Reading)

As neither a Wittgenstein nor a Heidegger specialist, I found David Egan’s The Pursuit of an Authentic Philosophy: Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and the Everyday to be a fascinating, creative, accessible study of perhaps the two most noteworthy figures of 20th-century philosophy.[1] One would think that such studies would be more plentiful than they are, given (as Egan reminds us) that these two monumental figures were born into the German-speaking world in the same year (1889) and then came, as he extensively argues, to advocate not so much a positive body of philosophical work but instead a sustained effort at linguistic and conceptual “disencumbrance” (6).[2] Though this dearth of comparative studies could be accounted for variously, an unfortunately obvious aspect of it would seem to be the ready-made tendency to cast Wittgenstein into the Anglo-American or “analytic” wing of contemporary philosophy (though his principal works were composed in his native tongue) and Heidegger into the “continental.” Wisely, I think, Egan avoids this simplistic and over-played distinction and instead showcases how both thinkers were monumentally first-rate philosophers who deeply engaged the aporetic task that is most characteristic of their discipline.

Interestingly, Egan introduces his study by recalling Tower of Babel, recounted in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Genesis, and the “baffling” of human languages that resulted in this proud human exercise of “attempting to arrogate to themselves the powers of naming and creation that are proper to their creator” (2). He notes that Wittgenstein’s and Heidegger’s respective philosophical projects have both already been likened to the Babel episode; and he does likewise, highlighting how they both sought to undo the self-made exile into which philosophers’ “metaphysical” aspirations too often lead us. For Wittgenstein, this undoing crucially involves allowing words to “have a home” in their everyday usage rather than in the sought-after “essences” of philosophers. For Heidegger, it involves allowing Dasein (our characteristic mode of being) to be “in the truth,” as it is; not as we otherwise posture it to be (6). They both seek to move us away, then, in their respective manners, from the frictionless vacuum of philosophical essentialisms to the concepts and being of our ordinary experience and the practices within which they are intelligible.

Chapter 1 deals with concerns of grammar and ontology, the former of which are more relevant to Wittgenstein and the latter to Heidegger. Egan commences by considering the famous Heraclitan reflection regarding whether one can step into the same river twice. Whereas this philosophical challenge is constructed so as to cast doubt on whether one in fact can step into the same river twice, Wittgenstein invites us instead to consider the “home” that talk of rivers has in our ordinary language and discourse. Within it, we quite obviously can and do speak of doing just that: having a swim in the Thames today and then, tomorrow, dipping our toes into it. The point he seeks to highlight, Egan contends, is that Heraclitan-type philosophers tend to err in thinking that they will somehow discover, through their inquiries, a deeper, metaphysical essence to what a river is; or, perhaps just that they will discover some empirical facts about rivers and how they are. Instead, for Wittgenstein, that “one can step into the same river twice” is “the expression … of a rule” and so a matter of grammar within this language-game that we play (21). The mistake that the Heraclitan philosopher makes is to aspire to a fantastical point of view—a “sideways” one, to use McDowell’s expression—according to which one can, as it were, examine one’s concepts independently of their usage or vis-à-vis the standard of concepts-as-such. For Wittgenstein, “ordinary language is all the language there is” (28).

Heidegger, as noted, takes a more “ontological” angle on our everyday practices, seeking to highlight their “significance” in this vein, which he finds too often overlooked (29). He wants to direct his inquiry toward a “fundamental ontology” that considers being more simply than in the categorized, observational manner of the “ontic sciences” (30ff.) and that, through phenomenological methodology, uncovers the ways in which it self-discloses. Like Wittgenstein, though, for Egan, Heidegger is not concerned through his philosophy to argue for or establish some new instance, class, or category of knowledge, but instead to chip away at nefarious theoretical constructions, thereby allowing our words, concepts, and ordinary practices to be more simply what and how they are—though in Heidegger’s case, more through a process of revealing discovery.

Chapter 2 begins with some helpful explication of key Heideggerian terminology: Dasein as (our) being that has an understanding of being, which is analyzed existentially in “fundamental ontology” (37–9). Egan then proceeds to discuss the noteworthy distinction that Heidegger draws between the present-at-hand and the ready-at-hand. The former deals with what we can reflectively consider, whereas the latter treats what is present to us and accessible in our environment for use, particularly in the form of tools or equipment. Heidegger notes that our being-in-the-world is often most transparent and perspicuous when we are engaging some object or thing with a tool, in a ready-at-hand manner. For while doing so, we are able to look through or beyond the tool being used to the object or thing engaged. The tool serves, as it were, as a more vivid point of connection with the world—a point of connection of which we are reminded perhaps most poignantly when our activity employing it is interrupted.

Then, following Cavell—with whose interpretations of Wittgenstein Egan is often quite sympathetic—Egan draws a parallel in Wittgenstein’s thought, noting that the ordinary-language criteria of Wittgensteinian (and Austinian) philosophy in their own way orient us to the world, and not just the words we use and the language games we play. It is just, again, that Wittgenstein takes our concepts, which we deploy linguistically, not to be independently or metaphysically discoverable from a sideways perspective, but rather disclosed, in a way, in the grammatical criteria at play in the language games in which they are deployed, and the practices relevant to these games. So knowing what a chair is or means crucially involves understanding our use of chairs, the dining practices in which they are implicated at tables, for instance, and so on (60). To return to our earlier example, the fact that one can indeed enter the same river twice is a fact intimately pertinent to the people’s interaction with and use of rivers and what is and is not grammatically admissible in such contexts (61). Egan’s broader contention in this chapter is, again, that we undertake a fool’s errand, for Wittgenstein and Heidegger alike, if we seek to find our words, concepts, or being outside the realms they normally inhabit, where they ordinarily find their home.

A critical point that is worth noting here, which is relevant in subsequent chapters, too: Egan’s engagement with secondary literature at times seems a bit sparing or perhaps selective. His bibliography is sufficiently thorough, but his deferential preference for Cavell’s Wittgenstein is at times annoyingly on display. Charles Taylor, e.g., is another commentarial voice who does garner mention but whose most obvious essay dealing with these two thinkers and their philosophical likeness does not.[3] I wondered at several junctures if a more variegated engagement with secondary literature, particularly that dealing directly with Wittgenstein and Heidegger and their work, could have helped this project.

Chapter 3 moves into an interesting discussion of Wittgensteinian attunement and Heideggerian being-with, particularly with regard to Das Man. Following upon his treatment of language games, Egan stresses that, for Wittgenstein, “attunement” is the kind of working agreement that we have in our shared forms of life, within which we converse, discuss, agree or disagree, and justify various claims. It gets at, for Cavell, the difficult and “terrifying” way in which, say, to allege truth or falsehood in some given case, there must more deeply be a working agreement with respect to the forms of life we share and that our discourse reflects (65). The claim here is not that there is some deeper underlying (or metaphysical) arrangement in such situations that we rightly call “attunement” but more simply just that our engagement in such shared activities and forms of life manifests attunement (69). This seems a further development of the previous chapter’s notion that criteria, grammar, and word usage do indeed, in surprising ways, connect us with the world and the forms of life that are home to our discourse.

Egan’s discussion continues with an illuminating treatment of Heidegger’s sense of being-with and the ways in which this pertains to the normative authority of what he terms Das Man. Egan begins by noting the way in which our interaction with other persons is similar to or reflective of the dynamic that we see on display more broadly with our use of tools, equipment, and other ready-at-hand objects. That is, when we encounter and experience other persons, we typically do not do so in the abstracted present-at-hand manner, in which they become to us objects of reflection or theoretical inquiry; instead, we encounter and experience them much in the same manner as we do tools or worldly objects that we use—as readily available to us, as co-involved in our activity in the world. They are accessible to us, often, in our engagement with the world, much in the way that a pair of shoes might be (73–5).

Egan also helpfully outlines Das Man in Heidegger, which is, as Carman notes, “the impersonal normative authority underwriting the social practices that makes things intelligible on a mundane level” (75). Comprising dimensions such as agreement in judgments and basic definitions; use of equipment; social and historical situatedness; moral and social norms; etiquette; ceremonies; shared wisdom, and so on, Das Man highlights for Heidegger the way in which Dasein is never abstractly autonomous but always, instead, embedded in a social order—even if one opts to rebel against it. One is, in a way, the milieu in which she finds herself (76). Egan stresses how Das Man can be especially vexing, among the Heideggerian lexicon, and how it, even for eminent commentators like Dreyfus, fails to stake out territory between a healthy conformity, within the world one inhabits, and an unhealthy conformism to prevailing norms.

Chapter 4 commences Egan’s broader treatment of what he terms “authentic everydayness.” To begin, he segues from his treatment of Das Man into the notion of inauthenticity in Heidegger, which amounts to an over-reliance upon Das Man in its ever-present task of self-interpretation. Egan notes:

Dasein is the being that relates to itself as a question. Accordingly, Dasein’s flourishing qua Dasein is a matter of fulfilling its nature as self-interpreting. Authentic Dasein explicitly owns up to this task of self-interpretation, whereas inauthentic Dasein hides from it. Inauthentic Dasein does a poor job or manifesting its distinctive Daseinhood (93).

[…]

Inauthenticity is not a failure of self-interpretation but is rather a mode of self-interpretation that defers the interpretive work as much as possible to Das Man, and reaches for the interpretive resources that are closest at hand (94).

Heideggerian anxiety, then, becomes a “special kind of fear” that is not so much directed at other beings that we encounter in the world, whether present- or ready-at-hand, but toward Dasein itself as being-in-the-world and so what is bound up with this. Dasein customarily seeks “absorption with innerworldly beings that anxiety disrupts” (95).

Egan then follows this discussion of Heideggerian anxiety with a treatment of what he takes to be a similar dynamic in Wittgenstein, though which more readily appears in the secondary literature on the latter under the rubric of “skepticism.” Wittgenstein famously notes that, at some point, our explanations will run out and our justifications be exhausted, and also that any set of rules we seek to abide by or implement will ultimately be subject to a variety of irresolvable interpretations, whether they regard following signposts down a trail or algorithms for adding sequentially to a numerical series (99–101). Egan seems to see a kind of isomorphism in the two authors’ work on these sorts of “anxiety.” To be sure, Heidegger’s is more chiefly concerned with the coherence of our practices and the anxiety that arises regarding them, vis-à-vis the self-interpreting tendency of Dasein; whereas Wittgenstein’s is more regarding our search for explanations, particularly final ones, and the situation that we face when we in fact do not reach them, or come to see them as unreachable. Nonetheless, Egan thinks—and I would concur—there is a noteworthy consonance between the two accounts.

The denouement of chapter 4 consists of a kind of reflective consideration of Wittgenstein as a philosopher, and is an attempt by Egan to resolve some of the aforementioned concerns, namely that the Heideggerian approach is more practical-existential, whereas the Wittgensteinian one is more conceptual-linguistic. Indeed, Egan notes that Wittgenstein had a lively sense that we are all rightly engaged in the sorts of philosophical questions that he treats—hence, for instance, his characteristic point of departure from humanly vexing questions rather than from the texts or arguments of the discipline’s “greats.” In this sense, Egan thinks, we can see Wittgenstein with Cavell, more in the vein of Socrates, Descartes, Hume, Emerson, or Austin, whose points of departure were the problematics disclosed by human experience more than they were the standard disciplinary texts (108). (And thus he stands in contrast, say, to Plato, Nietzsche, or Derrida, for whom philosophy involved a more cultural, institutional form of life and theorizing.)

I did find myself, at this point in the text and certain others, wishing that perhaps Egan would have engaged these two thinkers biographically a bit more. Such a move might not be apt in many philosophical settings, but it certainly seems more so in one such as this, where the leitmotif is a recovery of the “everyday” and a more authentic approach to the philosophical project. One thinks straightaway, for instance, of Wittgenstein’s sabbatical in the Austrian hills, teaching kindergarten; or perhaps his experience in the trenches in the First World War; or even his neurotic, suicidal, late-night strolls deliberating philosophical and existential questions. Likewise, Heidegger’s disreputable wartime political affiliations and administrative decisions or his tryst with his student Hannah Arendt come to mind in a similar vein. This is not to say that I think any one or other episode of either thinker’s life should be adduced in such a setting; but more just that I found myself as a reader wishing a bit more of an effort to this effect had been made, especially amidst a chapter on anxiety as a broadly philosophical topic.

Chapter 5 deals with an expected topic, Wittgenstein’s treatment of rule-following, and particularly Kripke’s take on it. Kripke, Egan contends, sees Wittgenstein as fundamentally presenting readers with a choice in such matters, in the face of the interpretive impasse with which they leave us: either skepticism or Platonism, the former which Kripke takes to be Wittgenstein’s preference. But Egan, once again, wants to re-situate or -contextualize our reading of Wittgenstein: here particularly as challenging our assumption as to whether or not there “is a coherent question to be asked about what justifies us in playing the language-games that we do” (115, emphasis mine). That is, the skeptic would have us doubt whether there is such an answer or justification, and the Platonist would have us look for some sort of external grounding to our language games; but Wittgenstein himself, for Egan—as we have seen already—would have us simply take them as the given, such that these sorts of meta-level questions would eventually dissolve (114). He then wonders, too, about how we might construe a Kripkean reading of Heidegger, “Kripkendegger,” as Egan terms this (117ff.).

The next section treats Heidegger’s notion of conscience, which Egan handles deftly, particularly for an issue that seems to invoke a stereotypically cluttered family of Heideggerian terms and concepts. Fundamentally, Egan links Heideggerian “conscience” to Dasein’s being-its-own whilst being-in-the world, such that its interpretive self-understanding constitutes a correlative understanding and appreciation of the world in which it is and in which it discloses itself (118–9). The conscience which at times comes “over” us serves as a kind of check against the inauthentic tendencies against which we steadily live and operate (120). The chapter continues with a broader foray into aspects of the everyday and, particularly, with a vindication of it in the two authors—in Wittgenstein, more via allowing ordinary language to be where it is, at home in its ordinariness; and in Heidegger, to allow Dasein to be as it is or inclines to be, rather than being consumed or distorted by preoccupation with Das Man.

Once again, with his treatment of Heideggerian conscience, Egan misses, I think, an opportunity to allow his work to veer more into the terrain of the “everyday,” both in a philosophical and a more ordinary sense. He notes throughout this section the uncharacteristic, and at times maddening, style of both Wittgenstein and Heidegger, and especially the latter’s sometimes befuddling lexicon. The notion of “conscience” seems to be one that highlights this tendency; but I wonder, in looking back upon it, whether Egan could have done us the service of engaging some broader literature, historical or current, regarding conscience and how others’ approaches might dovetail or conflict with Heidegger’s. (One thinks here, for instance, of the Kantian notion of conscience, which no doubt would be apt, given the ways in which the Kantian project helped shape the phenomenological tradition.) This sort of move would have been especially fitting for a notion like conscience which is, philosophically and ordinarily, quite “everyday.”[4]

Chapter 6 begins with a reiteration of Egan’s aspiration to find something of a balance between the typical “therapeutic” (later) Wittgenstein, who would have us count metaphysical and skeptical considerations as “ultimately empty” and a more “existential” Wittgenstein who, in harmony with Heidegger, is subtly attempting to draw us back to our being-in-the-world and its “uncanniness” (138). Egan leads us on an interesting foray through some of the game metaphors that Wittgenstein employs to help us understand language games and how they are constitutively embedded in various forms of life. He returns here to the key notion of attunement and to the idea that, for Wittgenstein, our attunement is manifest in the forms of life that we share and in which we participate; it is not, that is, something superadded onto them or metaphysically beneath them. Fundamental to language games and the forms of life where they are at home is education or training. The initiation that they call for is not so much typically a matter of explanation, but instead one of training and so familiarization with the various words and concepts that have meaning within them. True, there are correct and incorrect moves that one can make within the game of chess; but is also is inapt to describe (or critique) the rules themselves as correct or incorrect. They are simply the rules of the game (145). For Egan’s Wittgenstein, reasons, like explanations, will eventually “give out” (146). What matters in playing games—language games or other games, considered more broadly—is not so much having the rules down (explicitly), but instead having with the other participants a sufficient degree of attunement, such that they can together play the game.

Egan continues, noting that there are some interesting similarities between Wittgenstein’s work on rule-following and Heidegger’s on anxiety, sometimes termed the “motivation problem”—both of which can leave us wondering how to cope once our reasons or the foundations of our ordinary practices are exhausted (153). He also then engages in a fascinating aside dealing with Wittgenstein’s noteworthy pupil Rush Rhees and his concerns about the language-game approach: concerns dealing chiefly with the fact that these considerations might seem to make the ultimate goal of linguistic practice something like skill—the concern being that language use would ultimately seem to be about our practical ends and so come dangerously close to sophistry. Egan nicely, I think, deflects these concerns, following Huizinga, Gadamer, et al., by reminding us of the seriousness that games indeed demand, lest one become a spoilsport, a trifler, or a cheat (157ff). Egan closes this chapter with another nice restatement of his broader sense of the two thinkers’ respective projects, which fundamentally amounts to flagging and helping to remedy the (linguistic or ontological) blindness in which we so often, especially in philosophical circumstances, find ourselves (165–6).

Chapter 7 is largely a reckoning with the two thinkers’ treatments of typical or traditional doctrines of assertion, but also of their related conceptions of reality and theories of truth. Egan sees in Wittgenstein and Heidegger alike a criticism of a certain sort of naïve realism, no doubt predominant in popular discourse, but also perhaps surprisingly in philosophical domains. According to this sort of sensibility, things basically are the way that we think them to be, and in accordance with the ways in which we speak of them. But, again, for Wittgenstein, this tendency manifests a foundational confusion between the grammatical and the empirical and so leads to the metaphysical tendency toward nonsensical theorizing that is too often, in his view, on display in philosophical work, let alone in popular discourse. Heidegger’s work on this front is more historical and genealogical than Wittgenstein’s; and he wants to move philosophical thinking away from the Aristotelian-Scholastic conception of truth—adaequatio intellectus et rei—toward a more primitively classical one: aletheia, or truth as a kind of discoveredness of what is disclosed (183). This jostling effort, to dislodge certain of our comfortably stable presuppositions, for Egan, significantly accounts for the two thinkers’ unique philosophical idioms and for their at times vexing word-choice and argumentative structure.

Chapter 8 continues this analysis, in closing the book, with a return to the two thinkers’ notions of ordinary language and discourse. Whereas Wittgenstein seems more content to allow ordinary language to be “at home,” as it is and to shake us free from the “picture” that has held us captive, Heidegger see his phenomenological method as affording a kind of “uncovering” potential that allows us (in principle) to come into contact with deeper aspects of being. The corollary of this is that, for Wittgenstein, the key discoveries that we are likely to make philosophically are that we are variously engaged in speaking and trading in nonsense (195ff.). Accordingly, Wittgenstein is not involved—as, say, those advocates of the hermeneutic of “suspicion” are—in directing us toward some sort of deeper, more fundamental reality that our modes of speech and practice are obscuring; instead, he seems keen on helping us to see that our debates—say among solipsists, realists, and idealists—are just not as contentious or substantive as we tend to think them (202ff.). We are simply misled if we think that those various doctrines can be adjudicated in the ways that we normally attempt. An example of this tendency, for Egan, is Carnap, vis-à-vis the later Wittgenstein, as the former seeks to set up a methodological procedure for settling such disputes and then funnel various such doctrines through it, to find a victor (ibid.). Instead, the methodology that the later Wittgenstein prizes is that of offering aspectual descriptions and employing particularly the metaphor of pictures and how looking at them offers us different (and manifold) perspectives on various matters. Indeed, he takes language to be as a picture, whose use and exact purposes remain opaque, but which is rightly to be explored from various angles (210).

In closing, Egan finds Wittgenstein’s later approach to be decidedly aesthetic in its character—less about asserting propositions or claims about this or that, or how things are, and rather more about suggesting angles, perspectives, or views on various issues, which could no doubt be multiplied (as in the famous case of the duck-rabbit image). Indeed, for Egan, this is what Wittgenstein’s later philosophy, along with Heidegger’s, tends to do: Not to argue for this or that point or claim, but instead—and particularly through idiosyncratic word-choice, structure, punctuation, rhetorical strategies, and the like—to peel back this problematic with which we have become accustomed; to shake our captive gaze to our inherited picture; and instead to help us appreciate the ordinary as it is, and whatever it would happen to disclose.

One final concern I would like to register, somewhat in accord with the previous ones: This book could have profited from greater engagement with ethics and religion, two regularly philosophical topics that are decidedly commonplace—in their own ways, “everyday.” Wittgenstein famously lectured, though very sparingly, on the two in conjunction; and they do not seem to have been a focal point for Heidegger. But both areas, I think, crucially draw together “everyday” thought and action in conjunction with philosophical interest and reflection. Both areas also, I think, raise some significant concerns for the arguably more quietist tendency on display in both authors, particularly on Egan’s reading of them. For it might be fine and well to be concerned mainly with chipping away at misunderstanding and pretenses about our language and thought, whilst claiming not to be saying much in the positive sense about the world or our involvement in it. But our practical, “everyday” engagement often seems to suggest otherwise: We find ourselves needing to say various things about a whole host of matters and affairs: tax policy, what we observe in outer space, our and our loved ones’ moral choices, foods’ nutritional value, the political and military stability of various regions, how religion should interact with politics, and so on. And we often think that judgments within such debates and matters of discourse are, to varying degrees, disputable or judicable, correct or incorrect, right or wrong—and, indeed, accessible as such through clarifying philosophical reflection. I do not mean to suggest that (Egan’s) Wittgenstein or Heidegger could not somehow deal ably with our ordinary practical discourse and its significance in such “everyday” affairs; but it does strike me that attempting to deal with such points of practical connection—particularly within a book with the thrust of The Pursuit—would have been helpful and constructive, and would have expanded the scope of this work beyond its more characteristically linguistic-cum-metaphysical purview. Nonetheless, this work, as noted throughout, is instructive, edifying, and humane—an expository homage, without being unduly deferential, to these two monumental thinkers; and now a crucial addition to the joint literature regarding them.


[1] Given my non-specialist’s status, I shall at times gloss over, throughout the review, some of the more intensely exegetical points that emerge.

[2] Egan also recently helped edit Wittgenstein and Heidegger, ed. David Egan, Stephen Reynolds, and Aaron Wendland (New York: Routledge, 2013).

[3] See Charles Taylor, “Lichtung or Lebensform: Parallels between Heidegger and Wittgenstein,” in Philosophical Arguments (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), 61–78.

[4] I acknowledge here and throughout that “everyday” is being used in a somewhat more precise sense by Egan, and indeed by Wittgenstein and Heidegger. But I do not think such proposed extensions are at all specious or unreasonable.