Jean-Luc Nancy: The Banality of Heidegger

The Banality of Heidegger Couverture du livre The Banality of Heidegger
Jean-Luc Nancy. Translated by Jeff Fort
Fordham University Press
Paperback $25.00

Reviewed by:  Zühtücan Soysal (Middle East Technical University)


A recent wave of Heidegger scholarship has been developing with the ongoing publication and translation of the Black Notebooks. The notebooks created an immediate controversy, so much so that Heidegger’s thought was a subject of discussion in popular Anglophone media even before the appearance of the English publication of the first volume. Planned to be published as the concluding volumes of Heidegger’s Collected Works, the notebooks are found particularly interesting in relation to their antisemitic content. The prevalent issue for many commentators and critics revolves around whether Heidegger’s apparent antisemitism is a personal engagement which would keep his philosophy sterile or whether there is an inherent antisemitism at the core of his thought, indispensable to the very notion of the truth of being. Nancy’s The Banality of Heidegger departs from this context and overreaches that basic either/or predicament by undertaking a rather post-Heideggerian reading of the notebooks. Holding on to what he thinks to be the essential resource of the Heideggerian enterprise of “reduction of naive ontology” (5),[1] Nancy puts into question what remained unthought by Heidegger and reveals the play of deconstructive and antisemitic motifs within his thought.

The Banality of Heidegger consists of 12 numbered chapters, a coda and a supplementary chapter on a passage from Anmerkungen I-V, the fourth volume of the Black Notebooks, which was published after Nancy’s book. The merits of the Heidegger-Levinas-Derrida lineage are visible throughout the book with carefully situated ambivalences and rigorously structured interpretations at the limits of the possibility of a discourse. Nancy focuses primarily on the notebooks and operates within their discourse by assuming an earlier acquaintance with Heidegger’s fundamental ontology. The first two chapters introduce the framework and lay out a few preliminary remarks.

The book does not have the author’s preface or introduction; thus, the first chapter bears the responsibility to justify the title, “the banality of Heidegger.” Nancy repeatedly notes that the fact that antisemitism is “banal” is not to be taken as something that would result in a relative indifference to the horrific moments in empirical history. It means, rather, that Heidegger’s corpus inherited some values of the dominant antisemitic discourse of its time. In fact, Heidegger’s identification of Jewishness with calculative reasoning, manipulation, historylessness, internationalism, and the will to domination is drawn from the “most banal, vulgar, trivial, and nasty discourse . . . propped up for some thirty years by the miserable publication of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” (23).

Yet Nancy seeks the philosophical significance of what Heidegger has to say with this notorious jargon, which will go beyond the crude fact of its notoriety. To this end, before any close reading, Nancy eliminates a certain untenable—yet still widespread—interpretation in which Heidegger’s antisemitism is identified as or at least associated with a form of racism. Notwithstanding, Heidegger explicitly renounces the racial principle in the notebooks, and also in Contributions to Philosophy, because it “proceeds from a biological, naturalist, and therefore ‘metaphysical’ conception” (4). This is not to say that Heidegger did not argue about the Jews as the embodiment of a greedy vulgarization of the world (24), but to say that “Jews” in that context does not signify a racial determination. What does it signify, then? This is a question Nancy resolves by first outlining a few cardinal concepts from the broader context of the Heideggerian thought in the second chapter.

The first of those concepts is “the reduction of naive ontology” (5), a term Nancy uses with reference to Derrida’s Speech and Phenomena and equates with both Heideggerian Destruktion and Derridean deconstruction (6), which here designates the general critical stance of Heidegger and of the thinkers following the pathway opened by him—including Nancy—on traditional Western metaphysics from Ancient Greece to Hegel and beyond. Secondly, the reduction of naive ontology requires an essentially novel way of grasping metaphysics, a “second beginning” of metaphysics (6). This new beginning or the “other beginning” [Anfang] would be driven by the thoughtful scrutiny and radical questioning directed at the conceptualization of the human essence as something shared equally by the entire homogeneous bulk of humankind irrespective of how Dasein constitutively understands itself with regard to its being. Such a conception of human essence, which lies at the heart of the Western metaphysics and in particular of the Enlightenment, amounts to the uprooting of Dasein from its ecstatico-horizontal temporality (Being and Time, H. 388; pagination of the later German editions). Thirdly, the constitutive understanding of being which belongs to a “people” [Gemeinschaft], whose shared understanding implicates a shared history [Geschichte] as their shared ground. As Nancy summarizes Heidegger’s point concisely, “a people—which is not a race—can be considered as a . . . force of historial [geschichtlich] beginning” (7-8). The reciprocity among a people, history, and being has thus been established.

It has already been said that a people is not a race but a historial determination, and Nancy touches upon the purport and significance of a particular people at the beginning of the third chapter, the Jewish people, in the context of the Black Notebooks. The opening passage has this remarkable quote from Heidegger: “The question concerning the role of world Jewry is not a racial question but the metaphysical question that bears on the type of human modality which, being absolutely unbound, can undertake as a historial ‘task’ the uprooting of all beings from being” (10). Such is called “historial anti-Semitism” by Peter Trawny. Accordingly, being Jew is being in a certain human modality, which does not stipulate consanguinity or any other biological or natural circumstance. From all these, an affinity between the Jews and the “they” [das Man] as evinced in Being and Time is visible (H. 129). To be sure, Heidegger presumes that he has the right to use the word “Jews” to designate a people who are eo ipso dispersed into the “they,” that is, entrapped in their everyday, inauthentic existence in which they see the world through a scientific-historiological objectification. Yet it would be untenable to claim that “they” is just a euphemism for “Jews,” because, as the above quote shows, for Heidegger, the Jews are not only characterized by being “absolutely unbound” and thus “groundless” but also specified as those whose historial task is “the uprooting of every being” by way of calculative reasoning and machination (11), which have only been aggravated since the “first beginning” of Western metaphysics in Ancient Greek thought. In other words, Heidegger takes Jewishness to be more than an inauthentic human modality; it also indicates the task with whose accomplishment such an inauthenticity would dominate the world.

In the fourth chapter, this line of thought is furthered and one of the major questions of The Banality of Heidegger, namely, the question of how Heidegger locates the Jews with respect to the history [Geschichte] of being, or, in other words, to the destiny [Geschick] of the West, is introduced. Nancy here draws a striking parallel between the Marxist narrative and Heidegger’s account of the Jews. To begin with, Marx’s interpretation of the homogenization of labor in the form of a “general equivalent” as alienation from the proper value of the human productivity calls for a specific understanding of, and a political-spiritual stance against, a certain type of nondifferentiation (cf. Capital, 46-55). It is under the light of this portrayal that Nancy reads the Jews’ claiming for themselves the principle of “‘domination of life by machination’ . . . in the direction of a complete ‘deracialization’ (Entrassung) of a humanity reduced to the undifferentiated equality of all, and in general of all beings” (15). In a mixed discourse of Marx and Heidegger, then, the Jews would be the commodity fetishists par excellence. Moreover, a different as yet even more striking parallelism suggests that both the Jews of the Black Notebooks and the proletariat suggests “a certain eschatological and figural regime of thought: an end is approaching—an end, and therefore a beginning—and this advent requires a figure, the identification of the annihilating force” (15). This time, the Jews are the proletariat par excellence as the bearers of the task of annulling the multiplicity of peoples’ being. Therefore, with their incapability of acknowledging Dasein’s essential belongingness to a people, the Jews in the discourse of the Black Notebooks constitute the historial force which drives the West to its devastating self-alienation [Selbst-entfremdung].

In the following few chapters, Nancy expands the scope of his investigation into the designation of the Jews in the context of Geschick/Geschichte. It has been said that the Jews, with regard to their historial determination, embody the decline of the West, and Nancy shows that the historico-destinal possibility of the devastation of Western civilization is put to be the ultimate condition of its salvation, viz., of the second beginning. Indeed, Heidegger had already maintained in “Overcoming Metaphysics” that overcoming metaphysics necessitates a stage of decline, and the notebooks confirm that the Heideggerian depiction of the West resembles a phoenix; the “other beginning” is possible only after the destruction of the predecessor (19). This does not mean, nonetheless, that the historial force that has been characterized by Jewishness is to achieve complete annihilation of the West or its turning into nothingness, but means that the Western-destinal schema must harbor the epitome of “a failure to identify itself, to recognize itself, and to accept itself” (20) and thus must employ the Jewishness as a part of its ownmost destining (25).

Once the task of “destruction of the spirit of beginning” is set to belong to the West itself, the task becomes at once self-affirmation and self-destruction. By destroying itself, the West fulfills “a necessity of its destining, and it requires the destruction of its destructiveness, so as to liberate another beginning” (25). Thus, there are multiple tasks and intertwined historialities, which constitute the unique history of being. Nancy examines these interweaving historialities. This does not only put forward a framework to read Heidegger’s historial understanding of the people of the West, but it also provides Nancy with a textual margin within which a manoeuvre of radicalization would render Heidegger’s narrative to be the subject of its own questioning. While doing so, Nancy proceeds from a play of equivocalities to a relatively clear interpretation of how Heidegger positions the Jews with respect to the history of being. There are four particularly important nodes that set the ground for a deconstructive discourse within the margins of the Black Notebooks.

The first of those nodes is the “first beginning,” i.e., the Ancient Greek thinking. “The West bears within itself a fatality [Verhängnis]” (19), which is inscribed by the destining of being in the “first beginning” (30). That is to say, the self-detestation of the West was not alien to Ancient Greek thought, as if imposed by the Jews as an external force, but to the contrary was inaugurated by it. “[The] erosion began with Plato . . . [who] is not Jewish” (33), and it is not by accident but as a necessity that the initial unveiling (ἀ-λήθεια) stipulates the subsequent decline. Nancy states that investigating this necessity falls outside the scope of the book, except just once he gives a hint: “Thus have we learnt that the unveiling is always initial, but also that it was necessary that the veiling come along to show this to us” (53-4). Then, given that “Jewishness” is inscribed within Ancient Greek thought, one questions Heidegger’s choice of the “Jews” as the leading agent of modern devastation. The answer will be given in the second nodal point of the discourse, which is Christianity.

Heidegger’s account of Christianity displays a double character. On the one hand, he reduces Christendom to the Jews and sees the former as an extension or as the twin of the latter. It is not so seldom that Heidegger arrives at Christianity as the roots of an idea by way of a rigorous and elaborate investigation, then jumps to Judaism by simply stating that Christianity is issued from Judaism (cf. 69). Bringing Christianity and Judaism together results in nothing but the calcification of the status of the Jews as the principal agent of the devastation of the West in Heidegger’s discourse, because Christianity in this way is seen as the Roman appropriation of the Jewish groundlessness and nothing more. By insistently avoiding any interest in questioning this “self-evident” caricature and by submitting to a violent and hateful depiction of the Jews, Heidegger joins the banality and vulgarity of the antisemitism of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion without a question, which is also why he feels no discomfort at labeling the entire tradition of the forgetting of being as “Jewish.” On the other hand, Heidegger’s narrative is shown by Nancy to exhibit an affinity with Christianity insofar as Christianity itself is antisemitic. From this perspective, Christendom is the first to renounce the groundlessness in Judaism by claiming for itself an identity which is detached from the Jews. However that identity is rooted in the Jewish convictions, its historial legacy fosters antisemitism, which Heidegger eagerly adopted (34-5). On the whole, Christianity as a historico-destinal human modality stands in contradistinction to itself, and thus becomes the true heir of the West’s self-rejection.

Thirdly, there is Jewishness, whose portrayal by Heidegger is already the main thematic of The Banality of Heidegger. To sum up, there are three aspects to Jewishness in Heidegger’s understanding. First, the Jews are inherently bound with technics and machination, and thereby epitomize the primary historial force that leads to the devastation of the West. In this respect, the Jews are thoroughly repudiated by the destining of being. However, for this exact reason, secondly, they appear as an indispensable part of the history of the West and hence of its second beginning. In this respect, the Jews are included as a cardinal part of the Western destiny. And thirdly, by being a people whose historial task is the dissolution of all peoples into a non-differentiated array of calculable atoms, that is, by being self-destructors per se, they represent the grounding possibility of the Western beginning in general. As Nancy confirms, “the Jew is the oldest figure of a self-destruction of the West” (30), and in this respect, the Jews’ historico-destinal standing is elevated, although in the form of a “detestable exception . . . of a foreign intrusion” (28). Thus, repudiation, inclusion and elevation frame the constitutive aporia of Jewishness.

Finally, Nazism. In the notebooks, Heidegger states that “[o]nly someone who is German can in an originarily new way poetize being and say being—he alone will conquer anew the essence of θεωρία and finally create logic” (Ponderings II-VI, 21). Here and in many other places, for example, in Being and Truth and in “Europe and German Philosophy”, the Germans appear as the “spiritual nucleus” of the West. Accordingly, the Germans are the rightful bearers of the task to undertake the second beginning. Notwithstanding, by the very fact that they are the nucleus of the West, they carry within themselves the self-annihilating force, which led to the self-betrayal of Germans with the thoughtlessness of the Nazi regime (8, 71), so much so that through the end of 1941 Heidegger even considered the possibility of a non-German “new beginning” that might arise out of Russian authenticity as opposed to communism (7-8). It is important here to clarify that for Heidegger, the horror of Nazism is not related to a moral, political, or sociological account of the extermination camps but has always been “the extreme destinal point of technics” and machination (40). For this matter, the Nazi regime, for Heidegger, indulged in the ultimate German hypocrisy, as it were, by taking as its principle the domination of the masses despite the Greek legacy of authentic thought. It is ontically the closest to the possibility of the second beginning, that is, by being German, yet ontologically maybe the farthest.

Nancy’s investigation into the historial-political discourse of the Heidegger of the Black Notebooks does not employ the schematic description outlined here. The four textual nodes of tension, namely, the first beginning, Christianity, Jewishness, and Nazism, are rather to be taken as the outcome of an effort to structurize the unsystematic unfolding of The Banality of Heidegger. Furthermore, they are neither the consecutive stages in a continual history nor the moments of a dialectic movement. They rather designate a set of non-sequential yet in a way interrelated encounters of the peoples with the historial possibility they open.

World War II is seen from this perspective as the Jews’ “simultaneous combat against its counterpart (the Nazi racial principal) and against itself [Bolshevism]” (50). Thus, Nazi thoughtlessness is seen to be the counterpart of the Jewish groundlessness. While Jewishness dictates metacultural neutrality, Nazism dictates its extreme opposite: the racial principle. “This struggle—at once Jewish/Nazi and Bolshevik/American—determines ‘the high point of self-annihilation [Selbstvernichtung] in history’” (69). Yet “at the height of devastation ‘there continues to shine [and is therefore undestroyed] the light of a history capable of decision’” (21; Nancy’s insertion). In other words, neither the Nazi betrayal nor the overarching ravage of the war, which, in the eyes of Heidegger, is nothing but the domination of the technical calculating machination, then, does eliminate the possibility of the second beginning. Accordingly, there remains an untouched authenticity within the West, not in the sense of a self-subsistent spirit but as a necessity of the overflowing of being, which ultimately grounds the possibility of all forgetting and concealment, and thus of all machination and also the war itself (cf. 30). Apparently, Heidegger locates his own discourse within this authentic Germanness, whose victory over the historyless can only arrive through the self-destruction of the agent of the Western destruction. Depending on this, Nancy concludes that “Heidegger was not only anti-Semitic: he attempted to think to its final extremity a deep historico-destinal necessity of anti-Semitism” (51-2).

The historial, non-racial antisemitism of Heidegger stems from the banality of Heidegger, which puts the Heideggerian discourse on the Jews in contradistinction to itself, and this is where Nancy extends his reading towards questioning the unthought of Heidegger. The demonstration is spread throughout the book, but is condensed in the final chapters. One facet of the banality of Heidegger has already been mentioned, in that, Heidegger’s antisemitism “carts around the vulgarity spread by an incessant discourse crystallized as hateful, racist denunciation” (71). In other words, Heidegger adopts the antisemitic vocabulary of his time, a time which is shaped by the mass propaganda of the antisemitic discourse. If one prefers the rhetoric of Being and Time, the vocabulary that Heidegger so blatantly adopts is the “public” [Öffentlich] vocabulary of the “they” (cf. H. 126-7). Therefore, to the extent that Heidegger remains reluctant to question what is ordinarily self-evident, i.e., a deep-rooted antisemitism, his narrative rivets the “long error and/or wandering of the West” (30). And yet if one prefers rewording this finding in the rhetoric of the Black Notebooks, it would be Heidegger’s own “thoughtlessness” to assume the antisemitism of the tradition.

There is another facet of Heidegger’s banality, and that is more deeply entangled with the core of the Heideggerian enterprise. Nancy quotes Elisabeth Rigal to summarize the issue: “Heidegger’s error is to have believed in a unique destining” (42). To explain, despite its difference from the traditional understanding of history as the succession of happenings [Historie], Heidegger’s understanding of history as destining of being inherits the idea of “origin” from the tradition. Thus, having a proper, authentic, delineable and determinable origin, viz., Ancient Greek thought, which is also free from the “darkening of the world” (69), the entire history is perceived with reference to that origin and to everything inscribed within it, that is, decline, second beginning, etc. Hence, the multiplicity of peoples is—not melted into or sublated by but—conglomerated into one single heterogeneous play of forces revolving around the first beginning towards the second beginning upon the unique destining of being (41-2). Having related the concept “origin” to the “uniqueness of destining,” Nancy claims that this obsession with the origin is the “metaphysical” obsession par excellence, which led Heidegger into his own way of self-hatred (47), which is in general the peculiarity of Western metaphysics. Therefore, what is obstructed [verstellt] in the discourse of Heidegger is the possibility of a wholly other destining, which would entail the acknowledgement of, if not respect for, the Jews as a people towards an other destiny than what Heidegger thinks to be the singular one.

However, these do not mean that the Destruktion of ontology, as an attempt to destabilize that which is ordinarily self-evident, has to operate within a self-annihilating banality. As for the first facet of the banality of Heidegger, Nancy points out that the Heideggerian impetus has resulted in the flourishing of many philosophical pathways, such as that of Levinas, Derrida, Lacan, Lyotard, which did not “pick up anything remotely resembling anti-Semitism from the always murmuring gutters of banality” (47). As for the second facet, Nancy considers Heidegger’s thought not as a static doctrine but as a way of questioning which is open to transformation. Thus, he still has the hope that the currently unpublished volumes of the Black Notebooks may harbor a transformation in Heidegger’s understanding of “beginning” (38). Furthermore, Nancy also thinks that Heidegger’s thought already implies the Destruktion of the “rage for the initial or for the archi-” even though that rage is one of the main tenets that shape how Heidegger considers historiality; accordingly, it would still be “thinking” [Denken] even if the uniqueness of destining is questioned (43).

On the whole, by way of deconstructive plays with the intertwined textual tensions in Heidegger’s Black Notebooks, Nancy’s reading demonstrates that Heidegger’s unthought partakes in the antisemitism which has been a constitutive element of the discourse of Western thought since the early days of Christianity. Identification of the Jewish people with the “thoughtless will to domination” is the persistent characterization on which the entire antagonism is built in the Black Notebooks. Nevertheless, it must also be noted that Heidegger’s antisemitism does not stem from the racial principle of Nazism; it rather takes its departure from the concept of the destining of being, according to which, as Nancy’s reading shows, Nazism is the German counterpart of “Jewishness,” both serving to the spiritual decline of the West. While Nancy examines the antisemitic character of the Black Notebooks, he in no way disregards the fact that Heidegger is one of the leading figures—and indeed he states Heidegger’s “operation was the most frontal” (12)—of contemporary thought. All in all, Nancy does not only think that the Destruktion of ontology can operate without the antisemitic elements in Heidegger’s thought, but also demonstrates that the Heideggerian legacy paves the way for the deconstruction of those very elements.


Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. Harper & Row, 1962.

———. Ponderings II-VI: Black Notebooks 1931-1938. Trans. Richard Rojcewicz. Indiana UP, 2016.

Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production. Vol. 1. Trans. Samuel Moore. Wordsworth, 2013.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. The Banality of Heidegger. Trans. Jeff Fort. Fordham UP, 2017.

[1] All page references are to The Banality of Heidegger unless stated otherwise.

Ronald C. Arnett: Levinas’s Rhetorical Demand: The Unending Obligation of Communication Ethics

Levinas’s Rhetorical Demand: The Unending Obligation of Communication Ethics Couverture du livre Levinas’s Rhetorical Demand: The Unending Obligation of Communication Ethics
Ronald C. Arnett. Foreword by Algis Mickunas
Southern Illinois University Press
Paperback $40.00

Reviewed by: Simon Thornton (University of Essex)

Any attempt to practically apply Levinas’s ethical philosophy within the domain of normative or applied ethics is bound to be controversial. In considering recent attempts to apply Levinas’s ethical philosophy to the fields of nursing and psychology, for instance, Diane Perpich has argued that it is a mistake to think that Levinas’s philosophy can be read as a ‘constructive ethics that offers ethical norms that can be put to work in care-giving professions’ (Perpich 2012: 128): Levinas’s ethics, Perpich continues, ‘is not a defence of our inherently ethical nature nor a guarantee of our ethical responsibility’ (Perpich 2012: 128), rather what one finds in Levinas’s philosophy, above all, is a painstaking attempt to excavate the ‘constitutive uncertainty and fragility of ethical life’ (Perpich 2012: 128). That is, while the resonant – if often baroque – terminology employed by Levinas may seem eminently relatable to certain clinical settings, the metaphysical complexities and phenomenological ambiguities lying behind this terminology precludes any straightforward practical application. On first blush, then, the conception of Ronald C. Arnett’s Levinas’s Rhetorical Demand: The Unending Obligation of Communication Ethics, which sets out to find ‘practical application of Levinas’s work…in explicating communication ethics’ (Arnett 2017: 4), is apt to invite considerable suspicion from Levinasians.

Yet, there are two reasons why such suspicion may be misplaced. Firstly, while some construals of communication ethics may aim at providing a constructive ethics composed of ethical norms for communication, construed more broadly communication ethics concerns the study of ‘communication phenomena from the standpoint of ethics and morality’ (Cheney et al. 2011: 1). And it is evident even from a cursory reading of Levinas’s key works, Totality and Infinity (1961) and Otherwise than Being (1974), that Levinas himself was centrally concerned with the ethical significance of language and interpersonal communication. So the practical application of Levinas’s work in explicating communication ethics initially looks to be a more natural fit than those attempts to apply Levinas’s ethics to other practical domains isolated for criticism by Perpich. Secondly, the central insight Arnett that hopes to import from Levinas to the field of communication ethics is that ‘our responsibility to and for the Other has no demarcation or conclusion’ (Arnett 2017: 1). That is to say, for Arnett, ‘communication ethics from a Levinasian perspective admits the challenge, ambiguity, and necessity of learning in the performative enactment of responsibility’ (Arnett 2017: 2). Thus, what Arnett’s study promises to provide is an attempt to apply Levinasian insights concerning the constitutive uncertainty and fragility of ethical life to the domain of communication ethics. And, in this respect, Arnett’s study initially looks to be consonant with Perpich’s claim that ‘if practical professions are to make anything practical of Levinas’s thought, it is this fragility and vulnerability that must arguably become central to their self-understanding and to their appropriation of texts like Totality and Infinity’ (Perpich 2012: 129).

Importantly, then, the conception of Arnett’s study looks to be philosophically fruitful, in that it proposes a plausible application of Levinas’s ethics to a relevant practical domain, and exegetically sensitive, in that it resists the temptation to derive a system of norms from Levinas’s ethics and instead focuses on the uncertainty and fragility of ethical life emphasised by Levinas. However, in terms of its execution, Arnett faces some not inconsiderable difficulties: Centrally, we might wonder what, if anything, Levinasian insights concerning the fragility and uncertainty of ethical life can offer in terms of practical guidance for communication? On the one hand, to attempt to derive any practical guidance from such Levinasian insights risks descending into vague, pious exhortation. Yet, on the other hand, to refrain from proposing any direct practical applications of Levinas’s ethics within the domain of communication risks exposing the limited utility of a Levinasian perspective for explicating communication ethics, and, thus, the limited interest of Arnett’s study as a whole. Does Arnett manage to avoid these two risks in the execution of his study?

The book begins with a foreword by Algis Mickunas comprised of ‘a brief introduction to the main trends in Russian literature and aspects of phenomenology, relevant to understanding Levinas’s encounter with “the other”’ (Arnett 2017: vii). Presumably, the aim of the foreword, then, is to provide orientation for readers new to Levinas to his complex and involved path of thinking. As such, however, while not without interest, Mickunas’s strategy is curious and provocative. The majority of the discussion is devoted to developing the provocative claim that Russian literature, which Levinas often emphasised as being a formative influence on his thinking, occupies a ‘point of crisis’ between two worlds – the industrial, enlightened West and the spiritualized and provincial East.[1] Mickunas claims that it is from this point of crisis that a vantage point opens up within Russian literature whereby the comparative worth of these respective life-worlds is adjudicated by a third factor – namely, intrinsic human worth. Thus, Mickunas appears to be suggesting that Levinas’s philosophical focus on the pre-cultural ethical significance of the Other germinated in his readings of Pushkin and Dostoyevsky. Both aspects of Mickunas’s argument – concerning the spiritual impetus of Russian literature and its effect on Levinas’s thinking – are contestable. But for the purposes of this review, the important point is whether this discussion provides a helpful and illuminating way in to Levinas’s thought. And it seems to me that it does not. This worry is only compounded by Mickunas’s comparatively brief and rather curious discussion of the ‘phenomenological issues’ at stake in Levinas’s thinking, which constitutes the second part of the foreword. Rather than providing a context for Levinas’s thinking within the phenomenological tradition, perhaps by explaining the ways in which Levinas critically appropriates elements of Husserl’s and Heidegger’s respective philosophies or the ways in which Levinas tests the limits of phenomenology by drawing on religiously loaded terminology, Mickunas engages in rather curious discussion of ‘corporeity,’ mythology and kerygma. Again, it seems to me that if the purpose of this foreword is to provide the reader with some orientation and context for Levinas’s thinking then it is not particularly helpful.

The main body of the text is composed of ten chapters which tend to repeat a similar structure: Beginning with a ‘case study’ relevant to the domain of communication ethics, Arnett then goes on to draw on different aspects of Levinas’s ethical thought in order to explicate the communication phenomena at stake in the case study before concluding each chapter by proposing a set of Levinas-inspired theses to be adopted by communication theorists. These chapters are framed in the introduction by two guiding principles concerning (1) Arnett’s basic conception of communication ethics and (2) his interpretive approach to Levinas. Concerning the former, Arnett writes that ‘this work understands communication ethics [as] an obligation to discover multiple means of understanding and ratifying communication ethics action in the depths of attentiveness to uniqueness and particularity’ (Arnett 2017: 5-6). Plausibly, this definition is already imbued with certain Levinasian emphases, but the point is nonetheless clear: Communications ethics, for Arnett, aims to make explicit the ethical significance of communication through careful phenomenological analyses of the interpersonal context of communication. As for Arnett’s approach to Levinas, he writes that ‘Levinas’s work has practical application when met as an awakening guide about responsibility that refuses to shelter “me” from accountability in my actions to and for the Other’ (Arnett 2017: 5). Here, the point seems to be that all interpersonal communication has ethical significance which can be specified in terms of a ‘rhetoric of demands’ (Arnett 2017: 9) made on the self by the Other. And Levinas’s ethical philosophy will be used in this text as a resource to give shape and definition – in the form of ‘awakening’ – to the nature of this rhetoric of demands putatively intrinsic in interpersonal communication. The aim of the following chapters, then, will be to bring Levinas’s ethical philosophy to bare on certain prototypical instances of communication in order to explicate their ethical significance.

Before moving on to the arguments, I want to register two ambiguities present in Arnett’s introduction. The first concerns to whom the arguments of the text are addressed: Is the ethical awakening putatively provided by Levinas’s philosophy an awakening for communications theorists or for us qua communicators? This question may sound facetious, but it is compounded by further ambiguities concerning Arnett’s heavy use of the term ‘rhetoric’ in his introduction. While Arnett admits that in Totality and Infinity, Levinas ‘offers a contentious response to rhetoric’ (Arnett 2017: 1), Arnett nonetheless asserts that, from a Levinasian perspective, ‘one must respond to the rhetorical demands of the face of the Other’ (Arnett 2017: 2). But, one wonders, isn’t this move exegetically illegitimate? In Totality and Infinity, Levinas states that ‘Our pedagogical or psychological discourse is rhetoric, taking the position of him who approaches his neighbour with ruse…It approaches the other not to face him, but obliquely…[I]t is pre-eminently violence, that is, injustice – not violence exercised on an inertia (which would not be a violence), but on a freedom…’ (Levinas 2012: 70). Given Levinas’s associations of rhetoric with a violence which, rather than facing the other tries to manipulate her and rob her of her freedom, Arnett’s claim – inscribed in the title of his book – that Levinas advocates for a rhetorical demand at the centre of interpersonal communication looks interpretively problematic. However, read in a different way, it might be the case that Arnett’s claim here is a subtler, reflexive one: Namely, that communication ethics as a practically-oriented discipline is a form of ‘pedagogy’ or ‘psychological discourse’ which, for that reason, must, in Levinas’s eyes, take the form of rhetoric. As such, the practical import of Levinas’s ethics to communication ethics is to impress on communications ethicists the limitations of their practice and to encourage greater restraint and sensitivity when it comes to proscribing codes of conduct for communication. In either case, the major claim of Levinas’s Rhetorical Demand is not made ideally clear in Arnett’s introduction.

The first chapter compares Levinas to the work of George Herbert Mead and Jeffrey Murray in developing the claim that ‘the human being is defined by ethics, not as first philosophy, but via a communicative first gesture of responsibility toward and with another’ (Arnett 2017: 38) in which ‘communication ethics is a primordial gesture that ignites a series of ethical events performed within a difficult freedom, a world without assurance or clarity of formulas that demands urgency of response from no one by me’ (Arnett 2017: 40). In other words, the work of the first chapter is devoted to emphasising (1) the primitive ethical significance of symbolic gestural interaction for communication and (2) the fragility and uncertainty intrinsic to such primordial forms of interaction. What is surprising about this claim is that Arnett seems to immediately discard Levinas’s central claim that ‘ethics is first philosophy’ in favour of Mead’s behaviourist theory of symbolic interactionism. It is left unclear what motivates this unexpected move and, indeed, whether Mead’s sociological method is at all compatible with the parts of Levinas’s phenomenology that Arnett seeks to appropriate.

In chapter 2, Arnett provides as his case study a rich and interesting discussion of Levinas’s life, aimed at describing how Levinas’s life influenced his ethical thinking. It is comprised of a discussion of Salomon Malka’s biography of Levinas, Phillipe Nemo’s interviews with Levinas, published as Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Phillipe Nemo, and Levinas’s autobiographical fragment, ‘Signature,’ published in Difficult Freedom. The chapter, ‘working under the metaphors of footprints and echoes, reminds us of the importance of concrete experiences in conjunction with ideas of weight and height that infuse time before time with ethical import’ (Arnett 2017: 65). While it is not ideally clear what Arnett means by this, the thrust of the claim appears to turn on Levinas’s distinction between the Saying and the Said. As Michael Morgan aptly describes the distinction, the Said refers to the construction of languages, ‘the form and content of linguistic systems of systems of symbols’ (Morgan 2011: 135), that enable interpersonal interaction, while the Saying is the ‘ethical matrix in which language as communication takes place;’ it describes the ‘social, concrete context for language’ which has at its core ‘the call of the other person to the self to accept and acknowledge it’ (Morgan 2011: 135). And, without wanting to be reductive, Arnett’s claim in this chapter could perhaps be summarized as arguing for the need to take account of both the Saying and the Said in the practice of communication ethics.

The third chapter meditates on Levinas’s claims concerning the enigma of the face of the Other and the ethical importance of remaining attentive to this enigmaticalness rather than reducing the Other to a caricature. The case study for this chapter is Levinas’s relationship with a fantastical and legendary Jewish mystic called Chouchani. Chouchani cultivated an air of mystery about himself; he ‘functioned as an enigma to those he taught; he intentionally kept his life a mystery from others’ (Arnett 2017: 71). The lesson Levinas drew from Chouchani’s cultivated mysteriousness, Arnett avers, was the importance of ‘patience and waiting’ (Arnett 2017: 77) – what Arnett sometimes describes as ‘existential trust’ – in interpersonal communication. That is, ethical communication requires cultivating in oneself a sensitivity to the thought that the Other always exceeds the pictures, theories and prejudices one may naturally impose on them, where the ethical task of communication is to refrain from imposing meaning on the other and rather to learn from them. As Arnett puts it, ‘the task was to learn from Chouchani, not to violate the infinity of learning. To understand from the enigma of Chouchani, one had to watch and learn without the assurance of one’s assessment of this man of difference’ (Arnett 2017: 84). The appeal to Levinas’s relationship to Chouchani is interesting and informative. But it leads me to wonder how much of an exemplar Chouchani actually is for communication ethics: Is cultivating a sense of mystery around oneself and refusing to answer other’s questions in a straightforward way ethically commendable? This seems debatable. Furthermore, to my mind, there is a philosophical worry arising from the lesson taught by Chouchani – at least as it is presented by Arnett – namely, that interpersonal communication requires patience and waiting. The worry is that by overstating the enigma of the Other, one will be lead to confusion and paralysis in one’s interpersonal communications. Surely there are many things about the Other that are self-evident? This is not to contest the important point made in the chapter, but just to urge caution and restraint in stating it: The point, surely, is not simply that we should behold the deep enigma of the other, but, more modestly, that we should remain sensitive to the other’s alterity in our encounter with them.

Chapter 4 looks to Levinas’s text Proper Names. The chapter is comprised of an informative reconstruction of the text, in which Levinas discusses his relations with the thought of figures that influenced his way of thinking, such as Kierkegaard, and his philosophical, theological and literary contemporaries, like Martin Buber. The philosophical point made in this chapter is that proper names occupy a particular place in language in that, while they are part of linguistic system of symbols that make up the Said, they resist full incorporation into the Said and retain a ‘trace’ of Saying. Arnett illustrates this point by way of an episode in To Kill a Mocking Bird in which Scout manages to keep an angry mob at bay by calling on the proper names of some of the members of the mob. In a sense, the philosophical point made here compliments and tempers the one made in the previous chapter: While there is an intrinsic enigmaticalness to the Other, they also have a name, and that name has an important ethical resonance that seems to bridge the distinction between the Saying – and the enigma of the Other more generally – and the Said.

The fifth chapter turns to a discussion of ‘the impersonal’ and ‘the sacred.’ The chapter aims to investigate ‘the pragmatic limits of a personal consideration that seeks to possess certainty of answers for the Other’ (Arnett 2017: 115). As its case study, this chapter looks to Gregory Bateman’s book Angel’s Fear: Towards and Epistemology of the Sacred. The central insight of Bateman’s text taken up by Arnett is the thought that it is sometimes important to leave certain dimensions of interpersonal communication inexplicit and unarticulated, where this sometimes involves acknowledging, rather than trying to overcome, one’s epistemic limitations and embracing forms of ‘metaphorical understanding’ (Arnett 2017: 119). Turning to Levinas, Arnett pursues a comparative discussion of Levinas and Kant based on Catherine Chalier’s text What Ought I to Do? Morality in Kant and Levinas. Arnett’s aim here is to elucidate Levinas’s emphasis on the importance of a disinterested – rather than self-interested – stance and the correlative importance of embracing an impersonal rather than personalized relation to the other in interpersonal communication. Arnett concludes by claiming that ‘for Levinas, the sacred embraces ethics devoid of reification and imposition. Ethics has an impersonal cast of disinterest that nourishes the sacred dimension of the human condition’ (Arnett 2017: 128). The difficulties of this chapter stem initially from the fact that it is not clear in what way Arnett’s introduction of notions such as the sacred, the impersonal and disinterestedness move the discussion forward: How does the conclusion reached in this chapter add to the conclusion in chapter 3 concerning the importance of remaining sensitive to the enigma of the Other? Moreover, Arnett’s introduction of such loaded terms as ‘the sacred’ and his comparative discussion of Levinas and Kant may seem to muddy the waters: The introduction of a dimension of the sacred into his discussion invites familiar worries concerning the secular intelligibility of Levinas’s theologically-inspired ethics, and his comparison of the impersonal in Kant, which is based in the impersonality of reason, with the impersonal in Levinas, which is based in the face of the Other, invites a different set of difficulties concerning the normative foundations of Levinas’s ethics.[2]

Chapter six concerns Levinas’s conception of justice, where Arnett draws on Umberto Eco’s celebrated novel The Name of the Rose as a case study. Arnett notes that justice is a protean term in Levinas’s oeuvre and, for that reason, is difficult to pin down. However, Arnett focuses on one core feature of Levinas’s notion of justice, namely, that it involves an attentiveness to ‘the Third,’ or the wider community of individuals, who temper the face-to-face relation in important ways. More specifically, Arnett emphasises that Levinas’s notion of justice draws our attention to the disempowered and voiceless members of the community. The importance of this point for Levinas’s philosophy and, Arnett suggests, for communication ethics more generally, is in balancing one’s immediate obligations to the Other in the face-to-face relation with the wider demands of the community – and specifically the oppressed and the voiceless within society. As Arnett explains, Levinas’s notion of justice introduces ‘a form of equality and measure’ (Arnett 2017: 147).  

The seventh chapter considers the News of the World phone-hacking scandal from a Levinasian perspective. The moral failings exemplified in the phone-hacking scandal are obvious: They reflected an intrusive invasion of privacy for the sake of producing sensational news stories that, in some cases, seriously affected the lives of those involved. However, from a Levinasian perspective, Arnett avers, the phone-hacking scandal ‘functions as an exemplar of Levinas’s critique of the West seduced by the demand for totality. This story displays possession at work with little resistive creative thought that invites space for reflection on the “should”; instead decisions emerge from the technological “can,” alone’ (Arnett 2017: 159). In other words, for Arnett, the phone-hacking scandal is seen to be symptomatic of a need to know everything, so to speak; to recuperate everything into the totality of the Same. And Levinas’s ethical philosophy ‘awakens’ us to this damaging tendency through his critique of the primacy of ontology. Construed as a chapter about the lessons to be learned from the phone-hacking scandal, this point is pretty uncontroversial. However, it seems to me that the force of this argument would be stronger if Arnett had devoted more space to explaining why Levinas’s ethical philosophy helps us to expose the distinctive wrongness of the phone-hacking scandal in a way that, say, the public reaction that led to the newspaper’s closure missed. As it stands, the specific Levinasian contribution to our understanding of the wrongness of the phone-hacking scandal remains unclear.

Chapters 8 and 9 consider Levinas’s fraught relation to Heidegger. Chapter 8 considers Levinas’s experience of, and subsequent reflection on, the infamous Davos conference, where Heidegger debated the prominent neo-Kantian Ernst Cassirer. There are many dimensions to the discussion in this chapter: For instance, it involves a discussion of Levinas’s reflections on his own behaviour at the conference, of his relation to humanism and to Cassier’s cosmopolitanism; and of his relation to Heidegger’s meditations on ‘dwelling’ and enrootedness. However, the central point of the chapter is that, in contrast to Cassirer’s ‘philosophy of culture’ (Arnett 2017: 184), Levinas proposes an analysis of the ethical significance of the face-to-face encounter that is pre-cultural. Chapter nine continues the discussion of Heidegger by turning to Heidegger’s notorious rectorate address in 1933, which is often seen as the moment where Heidegger was most aligned with the Nazi project. In discussing Levinas’s response to Heidegger, Arnett claims that, on the one hand, Levinas was concerned to move away from the kind of existential phenomenology promoted by Heidegger – which focuses on dwelling and enrootedness – by ‘re-transcendentalizing’ (Arnett 2017: 214) his own philosophy in terms of an analysis of the transcendence of the Other. However, curiously, on the other hand, Arnett concludes with the thought that ‘Levinas understood ethics as dwelling within the concrete in contrast to Heidegger’s notion of dwelling, which is “spare” and seeks to “preserve”’ (Arnett 2017: 218). From an exegetical perspective, the claim that Levinas understood ethics as dwelling seems very dubious: While it is true that ‘the dwelling’ forms part of Levinas’s architectonic in Totality and Infinity, it is treated as a function of separated being – not as the place of ethics as Arnett implies.[3] Furthermore, when compared with Arnett’s earlier claim, that Levinas sought to ‘re-transcendentalize’ phenomenology, and, thus, move away from Heidegger’s focus on dwelling and enrootedness, Arnett’s argument in this chapter is apt to confuse.

The final chapter discusses Levinas’s thinking on death, as laid out in God, Death and Time, in conjunction with Jacques Derrida’s text Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas. In contrast to Heidegger, for whom resolutely facing up to one’s own death is a central aspect of authenticity, Levinas emphasises the death of others. As Arnett puts it, ‘the death of another awakens my ethical responsibility, and my own death calls forth responsibility in another’ (Arnett 2017: 231). More specifically, on Arnett’s reconstruction, Levinas holds that the Other’s calling us to responsibility survives their death. We might think, for instance, how the memory of a loved one who has passed away exerts an influence on our behaviour. Then, without much ceremony, Arnett finishes his text, concluding that ‘communication ethics, for Levinas, resists an apriori metaphysic, the imposition of a code or procedure, and, fundamentally, the self-righteous smirk of a knowing do-gooder. Communication ethics dwells in an immemorial space before, beyond, and ever more powerful than death itself’ (Arnett 2017: 245).

In concluding this review, I will return to the framing questions specified in the introduction. Namely, (1) what, if anything, can Levinasian insights concerning the fragility and uncertainty of ethical life offer in terms of practical guidance for communication? And (2) to whom is this book addressed? Concerning the first question, Arnett’s book is successful in raising some important Levinasian issues relevant to communication ethics. In particular, Arnett’s discussions of the enigma of the face and its pre-cultural ethical significance are interesting and relevant. Yet, the practical applicability of these Levinasian insights always remains in doubt. Arnett should be commended for his inventive use of examples and illustrations in attempting to apply Levinas’s ethical philosophy to concrete communication phenomena: Attempting to illustrate Levinas’s high-altitude and often ponderous path of thinking through examples is a difficult task, and Arnett’s efforts in this direction are valiant. But, in the end, it seems to me that what Arnett’s discussion demonstrates above all else is the limited applicability of Levinasian ethics to practical domains: Levinas’s ethical philosophy is descriptive and speculative, and resists direct and prescriptive application to empirical events. Whether this signals a weakness in Arnett’s text or a limitation of Levinas’s philosophy, of course, remains debatable.

Concerning the second question, there seems to be an unresolved issue in the text concerning how much the discussion is supposed to constitute a critique of communication ethics as it is often practiced and how much the discussion is supposed to constitute a modification of it. If Arnett intended the former, then he certainly shies away from making this explicit. Yet, if he intended the latter, then lingering issues concerning Levinas’s reservations towards ‘rhetoric’ and the compatibility of Levinas’s methodological framework with the more empirically-focused resources and methodologies on which Arnett draws remain unanswered. Moreover, I feel the text often sacrifices the task of detailed exegesis of Levinas’s texts for the sake of discussions of empirical case studies and their Levinasian resonances. As a result, there is a surprising omission of any sustained discussion of Levinas’s important interventions into the nature of language and discourse in Totality and Infinity and communication in Otherwise than Being, for instance, where such discussions would, to my mind, have contributed to a more satisfying argument. Nonetheless, Arnett’s text contains many interesting and important insights and will surely stimulate further discussion within the field of communication ethics.


Arnett, R. C., Review of Ronald C. Arnett Levinas’s Rhetorical Demand: The Unending Obligation of Communication Ethics. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. 2017

Cheney, G., et al., ‘Encountering Communication Ethics in the Contemporary World: Principles, People, Contexts’ in Cheney, G., May, S., & Munshi, D., Eds., The Handbook of Communication Ethics. London: Routledge. 2011: pp. 1-14

Janicaud, D., ‘The Theological Turn of French Phenomenology.’ Phenomenology and the “Theological Turn:” The French Debate. Trans. B. G. Prusak. New York: Fordham University Press. 2000: pp. 16-103.

Levinas, E., Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Phillipe Nemo. Trans. R. A. Cohen. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. 1985.

Levinas, E., Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Trans. A. Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. 2012.

Morgan, M. L., The Cambridge Introduction to Emmanuel Levinas. Cambridge: CUP. 2011.

Perpich, D., ‘Don’t try this at home: Levinas and Applied Ethics’ in Davidson, S., & Perpich, D., Eds. Totality and Infinity at 50. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. 2012: pp. 127-152

Stern, R., The Radical Demand in Løgstrup’s Ethics. Oxford: OUP. Forthcoming.

[1] Cf. Levinas (1985): 22.

[2] Cf. Janicaud (2000) and Stern (forthcoming), Ch. 9 for two examples of these criticisms.

[3] Cf. Levinas 2012: ‘The primary agreement, to live, does not alienate the I but maintains it, constitutes its being at home with itself. The dwelling, inhabitation, belongs to the essence –to the egoism – of the I.’ (143)

Andrew J. Mitchell: Heidegger unter Bildhauern: Körper, Raum und die Kunst des Wohnens, Klostermann, 2018

Heidegger unter Bildhauern: Körper, Raum und die Kunst des Wohnens Couverture du livre Heidegger unter Bildhauern: Körper, Raum und die Kunst des Wohnens
Heidegger Forum 15
Andrew J. Mitchell. Aus dem Englischen von Peter Trawny
Paperback 24,80 €

Andrew Haas: Unity and Aspect, Königshausen & Neumann, 2018

Unity and Aspect Couverture du livre Unity and Aspect
Orbis Phaenomenologicus Studien, Band 46
Andrew Haas
Königshausen & Neumann
Paperback €68.00

Françoise Dastur: Figures du néant et de la négation entre Orient et Occident, Les Belles Lettres, 2018

Figures du néant et de la négation entre Orient et Occident Couverture du livre Figures du néant et de la négation entre Orient et Occident
Encre Marine
Françoise Dastur
Les Belles Lettres
Broché 25.50 €

Dan Zahavi (Ed.): The Oxford Handbook of the History of Phenomenology, Oxford University Press, 2018

The Oxford Handbook of the History of Phenomenology Couverture du livre The Oxford Handbook of the History of Phenomenology
Dan Zahavi (Ed.)
Oxford University Press
Hardback £110.00

Eric S. Nelson: Chinese and Buddhist Philosophy in Early Twentieth-Century German Thought

Chinese and Buddhist Philosophy in Early Twentieth-Century German Thought Couverture du livre Chinese and Buddhist Philosophy in Early Twentieth-Century German Thought
Eric S. Nelson
Bloomsbury Academic
Hardback £76.50

Reviewed by: Erik Hoogcarspel (Independent Scholar)

For those who are interested in the exchange between early phenomenology and China a new interesting study has appeared. The book is divided into nine chapters, some of which are based on articles that have been published before, most of them in the Journal of Chinese Philosophy. The first chapter describes the reception of Confucianism in Germany. It relates how different writers, such as Martin Buber, Georg Misch, Helmuth Plessner, and Karl Jaspers debated the merits of Confucianism.

The second chapter deals with different views on the meaning of life in China and Europe, as expressed in the exchange between the Chinese writer Zhang Junmai and the German vitalists Rudolf Eucken and Hans Driesch. In China, Zhang’s defence of German idealism strongly influenced Chinese philosophy in the 20th century. The third chapter is a comparison of Confucian ethics with the philosophies of Nietzsche and Max Scheler. It focuses on the concept of resentment, in the Western view often considered as caused by a lack of equality, but in Confucianism seen as a flaw in the inner cultivation of harmony.

Next follow three chapters that investigate the different aspects of Euro-centrism in the phenomenology of Husserl and Heidegger. One of those aspects is the naturalistic influence of Taoist thought on the critical attitude towards technology of both Buber and Heidegger. Another aspect is the question of whether philosophy is a single historical event or a general human activity which unfolds itself in different situations and from different causes. Finally, before a concluding chapter investigates the possibilities of an intercultural philosophy, two penultimate chapters explore a confrontation of Martin Heidegger with Zen Buddhism and the relation between emptiness and language. The book is well written and further study is facilitated by many footnotes and an extensive bibliography. There is a general index for quick reference that includes subjects as well as names of Chinese and European writers.

The chapters consist of a series of philosophically-orientated historical case studies, focusing on the confrontation between Chinese and German philosophy. Against the often-quoted opinion of Husserl and Heidegger that philosophy can only be European, the author proposes a more universal concept of philosophy, assuming that philosophy is a universally human potency. The rejection of non-Western philosophy is therefore associated with the denial of humanity to non-Western cultures. For Nelson the intercultural approach also implies a rejection of essentialism, which leads to the conclusion that a multicultural or comparative approach is out of the question. There are no essences or identities of philosophy that can be compared, no inherent differences that can be listed and opposed to each other. The key word Nelson uses is ‘inter-textualism’, the dynamic exchange between texts through the ages by which they cooperate and refer to each other.

Arguably classical Greek and Roman philosophy, in which philosophy is an enquiry about the good life, is closer to non-Western philosophical discussion than our modern Western conception. Nelson complains: “Modern Western philosophy—which is simultaneously universal in its pretensions about its scope and provincial in its actual practises—has been largely indifferent, when not allergically antagonistic, to non-Western forms of thinking” (13).

The first chapter concerns the bad press of Confucianism. This prejudice is, according to Nelson, a heritage of colonial thinking. The prejudices towards Confucianism and the term itself initiated from the reports of Jesuit missionaries who stayed for some time at the court of the Chinese Emperor during the late Ming and early Ching dynasties (roughly the seventeenth century). Since then Confucianism has met with little appreciation in the West, but according to its admirers it can offer interesting ethical political insights that can be useful in Western political philosophy. Nelson mentions some philosophers who were more sympathetic. Pierre Bayle and Nicolas Malebranche identified Confucianism with the pantheism of Spinoza. Christian Wolff even had to leave the University of Jena in 1726 because of the protests of Christian theologians after he equated Jesus and Confucius in his lecture on the practical philosophy of the Chinese.

In the sayings of Confucius, the Analects (Lunyu ), he often appeals to the will of tian 天 (mostly translated as ‘heaven’; sometimes as ‘God’). Because of this translation many philosophers interpreted Confucianism as a kind of Deist or atheist ethics, and inadequate to the rational individualism of the West. Nelson argues that the critics overlooked the openness of Confucianism to critical reflection and reformation of practises and institutions along with the acceptance of the authority of the existing ethical order. Hegel was the most outspoken critic, because he thought Oriental peoples were not capable of understanding the concept of true freedom. Weber admitted that the Chinese and Islamic culture used to be more advanced than the Western, but found them incomplete, because they both lacked transcendence and final redemption. Moreover, Chinese philosophy failed in the complete rationalisation of the life-world and never rid itself of traces of magical thought. Nietzsche associated Confucian and Buddhist ethics with an altruistic ethics similar to Christendom, which he rejected. On the other hand, others were enchanted by the Chinese pure aesthetics that was supposed to be in harmony with nature. Confucius was sometimes compared to Socrates, for instance by Karl Jaspers, but Schelling makes him an anti-Socrates. In the intercultural hermeneutics of Georg Misch (in his book The Dawn of Philosophy), however, Nelson finds some well-founded argumentation for a positive reception of Confucius and of non-Western philosophy in general. Martin Buber and Helmuth Plessner elevated Confucianism beyond the scope of philosophy, because they found it too subtle and noble.

The second chapter describes the work of Zhang Junmai (1886-1969), who introduced the principle of self-reflection of life (shengming 生命) into modern Confucian philosophy. His early work reflects the crisis of meaning that befell the Chinese during the late 19th and early 20th century when several political changes and revolutions took place and the Chinese army appeared to be no match for the Western forces. After a first attempt to assimilate the philosophy of the Western invaders, Zhang looked for concepts similar to Western ideas in the Confucian tradition. If necessary, Confucian ideas could be reformulated or adapted to match the demands of the new era. This was a hazardous strategy, because it could be seen as giving in to the foreign domination and cutting ties with the very Chinese tradition that was to be saved. Zhang wrote a book together with Rudolf Eucken, called The Problem of Life in China and Europe (Das Lebensproblem in China und Europa, 1922), which consists of an abridged history of Western philosophy, an overview of the history of Chinese ethics and a diagnostic reflection on the contemporary ethical situation in China and Europe. Nelson praises it as a nice example of a cross-cultural dialogue, in which Eucken was convinced of the need of a renewal of spiritual life in the West as an answer to the crisis of modernity that had unleashed so much cruelty in the first World War. What is at stake is reason, its nature, its relation to life, and the question of whether it is universal or restricted to the mainstream of Western philosophy.

Nelson relates how Zhang thinks that Western philosophy, with exception of German idealism and the philosophy of Eucken, has failed to integrate life and reason. Eucken maintains that life has originated from metaphysical sources. In this aspect his philosophy contains a spiritual ontology. According to Nelson, Zhang wants to counterbalance the Western will to power by the Chinese emphasis on personal ethical development. In China this message resonated with the classical philosophies of Mengzi (372-289 BCE) and Wang Yangming (1472-1529), but it did not quite fit in with the discourse in China at the time. Zhang was very much opposed to racist and nationalist ideologies, and he rejected the theory that the Han people were a group of one blood and identity. Hans Driesch, who stayed with Zhang in China for nine months, also rejected any difference of essence, nature, or substance between Eastern and Western people, or between Germans and Jews for that matter. In those days the fear of the ‘yellow peril’ (sinophobia) spread around, amongst others propagated by Kaiser Wilhelm, who had a nightmare in 1895 in which the Buddha riding a dragon was conquering Europe. In 1950 this idea was even endorsed by the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. Zhang was later forced to go in exile to the U.S.A., and his successor Mou Zongsan became one of the most important philosophers in China. On both sides of the globe, Nelson writes, xenophobia had permeated the pores of academics as well as politicians. Nevertheless, there was an opposite current of fascination with the East, both in art and philosophy. However, in the eyes of many this current became affiliated with the romantic and magical thought of theosophy and the New Age. In the meantime China had adopted Marx and Western capitalism.

The third chapter deals with the view on China of Max Scheler and Friedrich Nietzsche, who claimed that China suffered from a culture of ressentiment. According to Nelson, Scheler maintained contra Nietzsche that ressentiment (resentment being a feeling of unhappiness due to exposure to unfairness and ressentiment a complex attitude of hating life because of spite towards successful people, blaming them for one’s own misfortune) is not linked to Christendom, but to its negation and that of religion in general. It defies the basic moral character of humanity, which can be found in many places in human history, like the teachings of the Stoics and Epicureans as well as those of Taoism and Buddhism. For Nietzsche, however, ressentiment is the very source of all moralities, especially the Christian one, because they all hold that the strong are repressed for the benefit of the week. The opposite of ressentiment is self-affirmation. In Nietzsche’s book Twilight of Idols, Confucius is a preacher of ressentiment, just like Jesus and Plato, in comparison to Nero and Napoleon (84). Nietzsche claims that China is a warning, because there ressentiment merely seems to have been overcome, whereas in fact it still silently rules the hearts of the people. In Nietzsche’s view, the altruism preached by the Buddha and Confucius made the Chinese passive and fearful. This had to be avoided in Europe in order to liberate the strong and noble persons from the domination by the weak masses. Nelson does not share Nietzsche’s verdict; he is convinced that in the Analects many examples are to be found where a selfish attitude is cut short by the cultivation of sincere benevolence and altruism. In his view, earlier Confucian ethics integrates a realistic moral psychology of negative emotions such as resentment with a model of self-cultivation that is aiming at an attitude of benevolence towards others. Early Confucian ethics in general minimizes the expectation of others and maximizes the need for self-discipline, obviously because one is powerless over the other’s expectations and high expectations could lead to resentment. Moreover, the noble person earns respect by helping others. According to Nelson, this is not a matter of self-sacrifice as Scheler and Nietzsche would have it, but a matter of self-cultivation.

Nelson remarks in the fourth chapter that the reception of Chinese philosophy is flawed by inadequate translations, prejudice, and lack of familiarity with the cultural context and differences in circumstances. Intercultural philosophy is captured in a dilemma between rigorous and narrow expertise, and free, creative reading between the lines. Romantic writers contrasted Taoist spontaneity and naturalness with the alienation of the technological modernity. The image of mystic love of nature was combined with wild Orientalistic imagination. Nelson finds in Schelling the first to write an intelligent commentary on the Daodejing. Schelling describes the dao as pure potency, the link between finite and actual being. Knowledge of the dao requires practical wisdom. A milestone in the understanding of Taoism in Germany was Martin Buber’s German translation of the Zhuangzi from the English translations of James Legge and Herbert Allen Giles, which appeared in 1910. Heidegger reportedly read it several times (121). Buber’s preference for this book is quite understandable in light of his most famous book I and Thou that appeared in 1923. Zhuangzi looks in Buber’s eyes a lot like the hasidim of the Jewish tradition, of which he knew the stories all too well. Moreover, the Zhuangzi teaches through humour, contrary to the Daodejing. Ten years later, however, Buber preferred the Daodejing because of its political dimension.

Buber has, according to Nelson, a positive view on Taoism, in which to be one with the dao is to be one with the creativity of life, through non-doing (wu wei). Buber finds a drive towards the actualization of the divine in ordinary life by sensitive persons in both Taoism and Hasidic Judaism. Nelson speculates that Buber’s language of surrender, letting go and inaction anticipated and perhaps influenced Heidegger. Buber once even uses the word Gelassenheit (‘releasement’), which is quite similar to the Chinese concept of non-action (wu wei), but Heidegger claims to have found it in the work of Meister Eckhart. Interestingly enough, however, Buber expressed his concern about the threat of modern science and technology before Heidegger did, emphasizing the need for a European alternative for Taoism. He calls the Taoist writings a source of inspiration (anticipating Peter Sloterdijk’s book Eurotaoism). So in this way Buber thinks an encounter between Chinese wisdom and European rationality to be possible and even necessary. Confucianism is in Buber’s opinion too demanding for the egoist Westerners and tied up with traditional Chinese values, while Taoism looks more promising. Although there is nothing of the Zhuangzi in his writings, Heidegger seems to have taken a great interest in the book. He was inspired by it for his conception of being-with (Mitsein), natural artistry without relying on a technique, and finally the necessity of the unnecessary or the use of the useless. At the end of the second World War the Chinese scholar Paul Shih-yi Hsiao engaged with Heidegger in conversations concerning the Daodejing and they translated sections of the text together into German. Heidegger interpreted the text rather idiosyncratically; understanding other cultures was not his forte. He mentions in the collection On the Way to Language the Chinese word for way, dào, and equals it to the Greek word logos. He calls it “the secret of all secrets of thoughtful saying.” As for Buber, it serves Heidegger as a counterbalance to the threat of technology that is hanging over Western philosophy. Technology causes humans to treat each other as objects, putting all personal relations into oblivion. So for both Heidegger and Buber, Zhuangzi provided a model for non-religious aesthetic freedom. Asian philosophy does not play any part in Heidegger’s history of being; the latter is increasingly assimilated in the West through the planetary advance of the technological world-image and its destructive reduction of beings to instrumental calculation, which originates in the Greek experience of nature as physis. So what makes Asian philosophy relevant to Heidegger? According to Nelson, Heidegger tries to dismantle the history of being and reveal the origins of philosophy in order to reawaken the freshness of its origin. Heidegger insists, however, that this new beginning must come from Greek philosophy. Heidegger is explicitly opposed to the possibility of non-Western philosophy, despite his plagiarism of Taoist texts. Nelson mentions the most famous quote in that regard, which comes from a talk Heidegger gave for the Bayerischen Rundfunk (German radio) in 1952 called What is Called Thinking? (Was heisst Denken?) Asian people are not without thought, but they cannot think, because they do not understand the logos. Nelson thinks Heidegger’s decision to part with Taoist texts must have been taken in 1934, when his sympathies for Hitler increased, such that Heidegger seems never to have reconsidered this decision. Even in 1960 he called the Asian culture ‘dark’ and the ancient Greek one ‘light’. In the interview in Der Spiegel of 1966 he warns against the barbarian influence of Zen Buddhism. He is not alone in this. Even deconstructive philosophers as Derrida and Rorty stated that a non-Western philosophy is not possible. Heidegger rejected Dilthey’s thesis of the multiple origins of philosophy in his Introduction into Philosophy. His argument is that philosophy must be a unity, because there is only one real question, the question of being. This leaves very little room for discussion since Heidegger himself is the only one in the history of philosophy who has asked this question. Nelson does not agree, of course. He thinks that the point of departure for reflection necessarily is the hermeneutical situation of life itself. Whereas the ontological prejudice inhibits every possibility for a dialogue.

Nelson explains that for Misch, as well as for Dilthey, every interpretation oscillates between the alien and the familiar, so in that case no radical difference exists between the hermeneutics of texts from one’s own culture and texts from other cultures. Philosophy does not begin at a certain place at a certain time; it happens every time a human being is confronted with the abyss of meaninglessness. It is an internal break with immediacy and an occasion for self-reflection. Nelson notes that Misch points to several stories in the Zhuangzi that serve as examples. The Analects of Confucius show in Misch’s view that not all philosophy started with the question of being. In China it started with the question of ethics. This fact suffices in Misch’s eyes to falsify Heidegger’s thesis (later he also mentions an Indian origin of philosophy). Moreover, Misch contends that the beginning of philosophy in Greece was not the question of being but the concrete self-reflexive moment of life concerning itself.

Nelson notices that Taoism takes special place in the philosophy of Misch. All philosophies are expressions of the self-reflection of life, but Zhuangzi has the final hermeneutical word. Misch thinks Zhuangzi provocatively challenges, expands and reverses life’s perspectives and horizons. His stories and paradoxes liberate one from dogmatic inhibitions and put situations into perspective through articulating life from within life itself. In the oracle book the Yijing Misch finds a logic that is different from that of Western philosophy. The book consists of comments on ideograms. The comments are generated by a detached observation of worldly situations, combined with self-reflection. It has a holistic structure, the parts are reflected in the whole, and vice versa. Each input ideogram or symbol describes a situation together with preferred strategies. Nelson, in dialogue with Heidegger, thinks this is another beginning of philosophy, one which is even more in tune with the concrete human being that lives his life, seeks to adapt to circumstances, and make sense of his existence. To make a long story short, Nelson praises Heidegger for taking an interest in Chinese philosophy, but blames him for not having understood one shred. Heidegger’s monologue about being is totally unsuitable for any kind of cross-cultural philosophy.

Classical phenomenology can be helpful for understanding Asian philosophy, Nelson admits. Returning to the things themselves opens a cross-cultural perspective, because those things are not restricted to just one culture. This has often been overlooked. Merleau-Ponty, however, remarked that: “[philosophy’s] centre is everywhere, its circumference nowhere” (164). Both Husserl and Heidegger made clear they were opposed to the idea of a non-Western philosophy, but in a few short texts Husserl wrote very positively about Buddhism (167). The first is called “Socrates – Buddha.” Here he comes to the conclusion that Indian philosophy does not go beyond the practical and ethical level; it never reaches an epistemological bracketing of the whole world as Descartes has achieved. Husserl argues that the Buddhist path pursues knowledge for the sake of emancipation, but the Socratic path leads to knowledge for its own sake. So it is only through the eyes of the Western philosopher, who is seeking knowledge as such, that Indian philosophy becomes real philosophy. According to Husserl Buddhist philosophy never transcends the natural attitude of daily life, because it is not capable of a complete reduction. Even Buddhist meditation does not transform the natural attitude.

The other short text is a review of a translation of the Majjhima Nikaya, the collection of middle-length discourses of the Buddha. Here the Buddhist teachings are said to be parallel to the highest achievements of Western civilization. Western philosophy can come to a breakthrough of its own predicament of degeneration by the confrontation with the Buddhist teachings. The adoption of Buddhist philosophy by the West or a possible fusion of Western and non-Western philosophy is still out of the question. So here too Husserl sticks to his paradigm of the historical uniqueness of Western philosophy. He justifies his position by pointing to the unique development of science in the West, which he sees as a result of a unique theoretical attitude. Husserl also published three articles in the Japanese journal Kaizō (167). In these he articulates a sense of an intellectual and spiritual crisis; he calls for a renewal by returning to the origins of philosophy. The Japanese are invited to join in, because Japan is becoming a new branch of European culture.

Nelson describes how other phenomenologists even went a step further (172). Stanislaw Schayer published a comparison between the phenomenological method of reduction and Buddhist meditation. He found the Buddhist method of reduction even more radical than the one Husserl practised. Dorion Cairns, who worked closely together with Husserl and his assistant Eugen Fink, also claims that the various phases of Buddhist self-discipline were essentially phases of phenomenological reduction; both consist of an analysis of the structure of subjective consciousness. In both cases the interdependence of consciousness and world is revealed. So while the phenomenological method appears to have strong affinities with Buddhist meditation, their framework and goals are radically divergent. Husserl aims at a fundamental philosophy that has to become a new foundation for science, which he sees as a logical result of a development that started with the ancient natural philosophers. Within this framework he could not recognize genuine philosophy in the Indian and Chinese cultures.

Nelson accepts that cultures have each their own histories, but he thinks that the encounter between different cultures can create new individualities, that histories may intertwine. The problem he finds with Husserl is the priority of a life-world which is not phenomenologically neutral, but tainted by historical and ideological bias. In Heidegger’s mature thinking technology and globalization are pathologies of the culmination of the history of Western metaphysics. The only solution is a new beginning, which means a return to the Greek origins of philosophy, because the West is appointed by history to be in the lead.

Nelson mentions an essay by Heidegger about the differences between French and German philosophy, called “Ways of Speaking.” Here Heidegger mentions the confrontation with the other that articulates by mutual understanding the differences and the identity of each participant. He called it a strife for the sake of understanding. An example of this would be the dialogue with Count Kuki about the translatability of the Japanese word ‘iki’ entitled “A Dialogue on Language: Between a Japanese and an Inquirer” (‘Aus einem Gespräch von der Sprache‘, in the collection ‘Unterwegs zur Sprache‘). Nelson makes clear that Heidegger is not very interested in the understanding being mutual. The latter maintains that ‘iki’ is untranslatable and reproaches Kuki for not being true to his own culture. In other words, Kuki doesn’t play the part Heidegger had mind for him. Japanese are (according to Heidegger) unfit to understand the concept of aesthetics because the Japanese language is incommensurable with the German one. (Quite a risky claim for someone who does not speak any Japanese, I would say!) So the reason for the dialogue seems to be rather enigmatic. Heidegger maintains that a genuine dialogue is anticipated, but obviously impossible as well. Heidegger opens a dialogue, but only to prove the impossibility of any mutual understanding!

Nelson describes very well how attempts of Martin Buber to interpret Eastern texts are a gust of fresh air into the heavy atmosphere of East-West dialogue. Buber was attracted by the laid-back attitude in these texts and he thought they could teach Westerners to go easy on consumerism. Heidegger knew Zen-Buddhism from the introductory works of Suzuki and other anthologies. According to Nelson, Buber moved away from the Eastern philosophies later in his life because he shifted from mysticism to ethics. In Buber’s work on Hasidism Nelson finds, however, many comments on Zen. He notes that Buber rejects full transcendence, because it is selfish to merge into a mystic state and leave your neighbours behind. Nevertheless Buber writes about the Buddha with sympathy, but he does not want to follow him all the way. According to Buber, the Jewish experience is fundamentally different, because it celebrates the divine while being exiled in the world. He remains, however, true to his principles and keeps the dialogue with other philosophies open, stressing their validity and good intentions.

Nelson also relates the criticism of Keiji Nishitani, member of the Japanese Kyōto school, a philosophical movement famous everywhere but in Japan itself. Nishitani wrote an essay called “the I-thou relation in Buddhism,” in which he describes the profoundly dialogical character of the Zen kōan. Nishitani criticises Buber for keeping the interpersonal dialogue on the level of just words and not touching the level where the communication between Zen master and pupil really takes place. He claims that Buddhism developed an ethics that transcends the self; Zen ethics is therefore an ethics of encounter where the care of the other is paramount. What Western commentators on Zen didn’t realise according to Nishitani, was that the irrational and seemingly unethical utterances of Zen masters were meant to break through the cultivation of personal idols, they are not academic philosophical statements.

Before he reaches the concluding chapter, Nelson presents a comparative analysis of emptiness. According to Nelson both Zen and Heidegger came close to primordial experience through a dismantling of conceptual thinking (228). In Heidegger’s work the deconstruction discloses an original experience of being; in Zen there is the disclosure of original mind and self-nature. Nelson thinks that there still remains a trace of reification in Heidegger’s concept of nothingness. Since Parmenides, he claims, nothing comes from nothing, so we need God or being in order for something to exist. Western philosophers understood Buddhist emptiness either as a self-contradictory concept or a nihilistic void. Heidegger is said to question these suppositions. He returns to Leibniz’s question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” The answer in the Western tradition, where nothingness is conceived as the absence of being, seems to need a third term, God, who transcends both and is the ground. Heidegger speaks of an uncanniness at the moment when existence is experienced as slipping away. Like death, it is an abyss that cannot be anticipated. According to Nelson, Heidegger is looking for a new language that is not re-presentational, but he tries to do this by asking questions about metaphysics. Zen practises a way of speaking without speaking, which is not referential but performative. Emptiness is not a thing, because it is empty of itself. Nelson sees an affinity with Heidegger’s groundlessness of the ground. In Zen language is self-deconstructing, it is performative, it indirectly enacts a reorientation of human dwelling through various strategies by the anecdotal and the shocking. Zen’s emptiness and Heidegger’s nothingness approach each other, according to Nelson, in emphasizing the original groundlessness and temporal impermanence of human existence.

One of the pitfalls of an intercultural hermeneutics is that no philosopher can cover all points of view exhaustively on their own. There is the risk of purifying the other so much that it becomes sterile. Nelson sees a beginning of cross-cultural hermeneutics in Dilthey’s philosophy of worldviews (which was criticised by Heidegger in his article the era of world views, “The Age of the World-View” (Die Zeit des Weldbildes, in the collection Holzwege)) and the comparative work of Georg Misch. Nelson hopes for an intercultural hermeneutics that keeps apart from nationalistic bias, gives ample room for the opponent to expose his or her points of view, is sensitive to complexity, and critically reflexive.

Nelson’s book is quite informative and covers most of the interchange that took place between Zen and Germany in the beginning of last century. Many more Buddhist schools existed in Japan and China of course, but those did not take much part in the exchange. Nelson does not mention what happened in this area in France or Great Britain, so the picture he offers is not quite complete. It is also not as neutral as he likes it to be. Confucianism has become the official philosophy of the ancient and new empire, but this was and is mainly for political reasons, not because it is philosophically more interesting than its competitors. It is diverse, its history is rich with reorientations and discussions, as is the history of Chinese Buddhism. The recent upsurge in praises of Confucianism might have a nationalistic bias, therefore Confucianism is often erroneously presented with an unequivocal message.

On a few occasions Nelson makes disputable claims. Confucius did not advocate equality, but a natural hierarchy.  This was one of the main topics of the so-called mo-ru discussions between his followers and those of Mozi. To call Li (禮) “appropriate practices, socially oriented individual self-cultivation, and learning and self-reflection” (17), seems a modernistic rationalisation, as it usually means ‘rites’. Mozi called it a waste of time and money, because it required the payment of lots of musicians and people walking around with funny hats. Another example is the obligation of a three-year mourning period following the death of a parent: this could mean ‘bankruptcy’. In Chinese texts many things are not as they appear to be and philological research remains very important. The Confucian texts are not the sayings of a single historical wise man; most of them are from different sources and from a later date. And the history of Zen is not quite like the monks themselves think it is. Nelson leaves these problems out of the discussion, but they are part of the exchange between East and West. The discussion between Zen and Heidegger is incomplete, because the latter wrote like he did not have a body, whereas Zen monks are sitting motionless for hours at a stretch, training their body and mind to be one. It is also a pity that Nelson did not follow up on his own suggestions and pay more attention to the carefully executed Husserlian reductions and genetic phenomenology. This could have been more fertile than a discussion about nothingness.

Nevertheless, this book offers lots of valuable information and entries for further research. It is well-written and has all the tools for easy reference and an impressive bibliography.

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

Science as Social Existence: Heidegger and the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge Couverture du livre Science as Social Existence: Heidegger and the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge
Jeff Kochan
Open Book Publishers
Hardback £29.95

Jean-Luc Marion: On Descartes’ Passive Thought: The Myth of Cartesian Dualism, University of Chicago Press, 2018

On Descartes’ Passive Thought: The Myth of Cartesian Dualism Couverture du livre On Descartes’ Passive Thought: The Myth of Cartesian Dualism
Jean-Luc Marion. Translated and with an Introduction by by Christina M. Gschwandtner
University of Chicago Press
Cloth $50.00

Ondřej Švec, Jakub Čapek (Eds.): Pragmatic Perspectives in Phenomenology

Pragmatic Perspectives in Phenomenology Couverture du livre Pragmatic Perspectives in Phenomenology
Routledge Research in Phenomenology
Ondřej Švec, Jakub Čapek (Eds.)
Hardback £88

Reviewed by: Jonathan Lewis (Dublin City University)

This volume seeks to provide a critical analysis of pragmatic themes within the phenomenological tradition. Although the volume is overwhelmingly geared towards presenting critiques of some of the most authoritative pragmatic readings of Martin Heidegger – readings by Hubert Dreyfus, John Haugeland, Mark Okrent and Richard Rorty – a handful of the fourteen chapters expand the discussion of the pragmatic dimension of the history of phenomenology by engaging with the work of Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Max Scheler and Jan Patočka. Although the contributors do well to explain their ideas, useful appropriation of the volume will require a working knowledge of the developments in twentieth-century pragmatism and phenomenology, their basic features as philosophical enterprises and, most importantly, the central tenets of Heidegger (in particular), Merleau-Ponty and Husserl.

I will now outline what I see to be the primary claims of some of the collected papers (unfortunately, there are too many to be discussed with the level of detail required), linking those claims to the aims of the volume as a whole and providing some modest comments of my own.

For the editors, there are several characteristics of pragmatism:

  1. According to pragmatists, ‘intentionality is, in the first and fundamental sense, a practical coping with our surrounding world’;
  2. According to pragmatists, ‘language structures derive their meaning from their embeddedness in shared, practical activities’;
  3. According to pragmatists, ‘truth is to be understood in relation to social and historically contingent practices’;
  4. Pragmatism maintains ‘the primacy of practical over theoretical understanding’;
  5. Pragmatism criticises ‘the representationalist account of perception’;
  6. According to pragmatists, ‘the social dimension of human existence’ is prior to an individualised conception and manifestation of agency.

Although the editors and contributors do not explain whether these are necessary and sufficient conditions for a pragmatist reading of the phenomenological tradition (after all, the notion of necessary and sufficient conditions cannot be easily reconciled (if at all) with pragmatist and phenomenological approaches to philosophical method), whether by adhering to just one of these conditions makes one a pragmatist or whether these conditions are fundamentally interrelated, we may claim (in no particular order) that pragmatists tend to subscribe to one or more of the following (indeed, individual contributors touch upon some of these themes):

  • ‘Subject naturalism’ (whereby naturalism should be understood as ‘naturalism without representationalism’) is either prior to or a rejection of ‘object naturalism’ (Price 2013);
  • The representationalist order of explanation, which, broadly speaking, presupposes the non-deflationary structure of identification between representations and states of affairs, is a misleading explanatory model from ontological, linguistic, experiential and epistemological points of view;
  • The notion that something is ‘given’ in experience, that is, that there is something existing ‘out there’ – in reality but independent of our minds – to which our claims, beliefs, justifications, theories and meanings should correspond, is a myth;
  • Semantics does not come before pragmatics – notions such as reference and truth are not explanatorily basic and cannot account for inference;
  • Metaphysics tends to be deflationary in the sense that the contents of our concepts lay claim to how the world is;
  • In addition to the fact that the sense of a word, term, proposition, sentence, belief, fact, value or theory is how it is used in actual practices, semantic notions of truth, reference and meaning are to be understood in terms of social norms;
  • Judgments that concern normative statuses, fact-stating talk and objectivity-claims are to be understood in, and gain validity from, the realm of giving and asking for reasons.

The revival of pragmatism during the latter half of the twentieth century and a renewed focus on exploring the nature and origins of normativity in other areas of philosophy has coincided with an increasing body of literature dedicated to exploring some of these pragmatic themes in various canonical texts in the history of Western philosophy, particularly those of Kant, Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. That said, the majority of today’s most prominent pragmatists draw inspiration from their immediate predecessors. In terms of Anglo-American pragmatism, for example, references are almost always made to Ludwig Wittgenstein, Wilfrid Sellars (who, in turn, engaged extensively with the work of Kant), W. V. O. Quine, Donald Davidson, Richard Rorty and Hilary Putnam. Indeed, when pragmatists engage more broadly with the history of philosophy (as is the case with Robert Brandom, for example), the focus tends to be on the work of Kant and Hegel. Consequently, in the context of twentieth-century pragmatism, Rorty and Hubert Dreyfus were peculiarities in the sense that they were two of the first self-professed pragmatists (in English-speaking academic circles) to explore the pragmatic dimension of phenomenological traditions of Western philosophy. Through their correspondence, the pragmatic interpretation of the history of phenomenology, and of Heidegger in particular, began in earnest. It is not altogether surprising, therefore, that Rorty and Dreyfus’ respective interpretations are, perhaps, the paradigmatic pragmatist readings of Heidegger and a driving force behind pragmatic appropriations of other well-known phenomenologists, specifically, Husserl and Merleau-Ponty. In terms of Heidegger exegesis, not only have they inspired equally famous readings by Haugeland and Okrent, the interpretations of Rorty and Dreyfus, as this volume testifies, continue to demand critical engagement from Heidegger scholars.

It is apt, therefore, that the book begins with an essay by Okrent – an implicit focal point for the majority of the discussions and criticisms that follow in the other chapters. Along with Okrent’s introduction to some of the most important features of a normalised pragmatic reading of Heidegger, part one of the volume is made up of chapters dedicated to elaborating the pragmatic dimension of the history of phenomenology. Part two critically engages with extant pragmatic readings of the phenomenological tradition and addresses some of the issues that emerge through pragmatic engagements with texts by non-canonical authors such as Scheler and Patočka. The final section contains four contributions that attempt to advance the debates in the history of phenomenology through new perspectives.

After the editors’ introduction, Okrent begins by outlining two features of normative pragmatism – a position he attributes to Heidegger and one that is also affirmed by certain figures in the current Anglo-American pragmatist movement, specifically, Robert Brandom. For Okrent, normative pragmatism is, firstly, committed to the idea that an object’s nonnormative, factual properties are ‘possible only if there is some respect in which it is appropriate to respond to certain situations or to certain entities in certain ways’ (p. 23). Secondly, après Wittgenstein, normative pragmatism is committed to the claim that it is correct to respond to certain situations or to certain entities in certain ways primarily due to ‘the norms implicit in behaviour rather than with following explicit rules’ (ibid.). To speak about appropriate responses to objects, whereby appropriateness is measured according to the norms of social practices, is to think of objects as tools or equipment. According to pragmatist readings of Heidegger, tools are not primarily conceived in terms of their hermetically-sealed physical make-up in space-time. Rather, tools are understood, initially, in terms of what they are used for – the practical contexts and instrumental ends that will be fulfilled through their use. Furthermore, whether tools are used ‘correctly’ comes down to whether they are appropriated according to the norms of tool-use derived from social practices. The key point is that both Okrent and Heidegger view linguistic phenomena as tools. In accordance with the two theses attributed to normative pragmatism, Okrent states that ‘to grasp an entity as merely present, then, an agent must grasp it as essentially a possible object of an assertion. But to grasp something as an object of an assertion is to use the appropriate group of assertions as they are to be used within one’s community’ (p. 26). It follows that an object’s nonnormative properties are ‘simply invisible to an agent if she can’t use assertions to make claims about that entity’ (ibid.).

Okrent’s chapter is a response to criticisms that Brandom has levelled against Dreyfus, Haugeland and Okrent and their respective interpretations of Heidegger. In laying out the central tenets of normative pragmatism, Okrent highlights the similarities between Brandom’s reading of Heidegger and his own. However, disagreements emerge over their respective conceptions of intentionality. According to Brandom, Okrent, Dreyfus and Haugeland adopt a ‘layer-cake’ model, according to which our meaningful, norm-governed, practical responses to certain objects in certain ways is, in a sense, pre-predicative and nonconceptual and, therefore, distinct from (but also the basis of) the propositional articulations we make concerning such objects and our engagements with their nonnormative properties. In other words, the view that Okrent supports, and that Brandom believes is based on a misinterpretation of Heidegger, claims that ‘there are two layers to Dasein’s intentionality, the nonlinguistic skilful coping involved in the utilisation of equipment as tools that are essential to Dasein as Dasein and the linguistic, assertoric intentionality that intends substances as substances and is not essential for Dasein as Dasein’ (p. 29). Okrent goes on to defend the layer-cake model of intentionality on the basis that, for Heidegger, not all interpretations of entities as what they are involves assertion.

In terms of defending his interpretation of Heidegger as a layer-cake theorist in the face of Brandom’s reading, Okrent is convincing. That said, in terms of defending the layer-cake model of intentionality against Brandom’s claim that intentionality does not contain a nonconceptual component – that all experience can be understood in terms of the space of reasons – he is less successful. The other contributions in this volume do far better justice at demonstrating some of the problems with Okrent’s account than I can here. However, what I will say (paraphrasing the main issue in the Dreyfus-McDowell debates) is that although one can claim that propositions, assertions, sentences and theories are embodied, and even originate in our practical activities, that does not mean that our absorbed involvements that grasp the world as what it is are fundamentally and distinctly nonconceptual. Indeed, Brandom’s starting point is to conceive the world ‘as a collection of facts, not of things; there is nothing that exists outside of the realm of the conceptual’ (Brandom 2000: 357). On that basis, he has presented a whole system of normative pragmatics and inferential semantics to support his non-representationalist metaphysical project. Whether we agree with him or not, it follows that Brandom has the means to defend the view that even those interpretations, repairs and improvements of tools and equipment that seemingly operate outside of the bounds of general acceptability, and that Okrent takes to be nonlinguistic, are predicated upon a (at least implicitly) conceptual understanding of intentionality. In other words, our perceptions and skilful copings are permeated with the as-structure of interpretation that fundamentally understands seeing something as something in discursive terms (regardless of whether those concepts are made explicit in discursive practices).

The theme of layer-cake interpretations of both pragmatism and intentionality and the question of the dependency of skilful coping on conceptual meaning are taken up again in Carl Sachs’ contribution. The starting point for Sachs is the debate between Dreyfus and John McDowell regarding the relationship between rationality and absorbed coping and the consequences of this relationship for understanding intelligibility and intentionality. Like Brandom and McDowell, Sachs recognises the problems inherent in the layer-cake model of nonconceptual skilful coping – a distinct kind of intelligibility with its own internal logic. He also acknowledges McDowell’s claim that layer-cake pragmatists make the mistake ‘in thinking both that rationality consists of detached reflection and that rationality is the enemy of absorbed coping’ (p. 96). Unlike Dreyfus, Okrent and Haugeland, both Brandom and McDowell argue that rationality should not be construed as detached contemplation. Furthermore, intentionality is fundamentally conceptual. However, as Sachs observes, the problem with claiming that conceptuality permeates all of our skilful copings is that intentionality tends to be treated as only ‘“thinly” embodied’ (p.94). Through the work of Joseph Rouse, and by confronting the question of how absorbed, embodied coping can fit within the space of giving and asking for reasons, Sachs provides a convincing and highly innovative critique not only of layer-cake interpretations of the phenomenological tradition, but of approaches to contemporary pragmatism that do not pay sufficient phenomenological attention to the embodied dimension of intelligibility. Undermining Dreyfus’ distinction between the ‘space of reasons’ and the ‘space of motivations’, Rouse follows McDowell (and Brandom) in, firstly, rejecting the view that rationality is found in detached contemplation and, secondly, claiming that discursive practices are embodied. Where Sachs sees McDowell as paying only lip service to an embodied conception of rationality, Rouse uses developments in evolutionary theory to naturalise the space of reasons and, by implication, our norm-governed engagements with the world. Having arrived at the claim that discursive practices are conceived as ‘highly modified and specialised forms of embodied coping’ (p. 96), Sachs builds on Rouse’s account by defending a distinction between sapient intentionality and sentient intentionality in order to demonstrate that ‘McDowell is (mostly) right about sapience and that Dreyfus is (mostly) right about sentience’ (p. 88).

Whereas Okrent and Sachs’ respective contributions tackle the Dreyfusian tradition of Heidegger scholarship, Andreas Beinsteiner provides a critical assessment of Rorty’s engagement with the pragmatic dimension of Heidegger’s thought. The focus is on Rorty’s purely language-oriented interpretation of the ‘history of Being’. According to Beinsteiner, even though Rorty agrees with Heidegger’s claim that our vocabularies and practices are contingent, Rorty’s criticism of Heidegger’s ‘narrative of decline’, which is characterised by a lack of recognition regarding the contingent nature of both meaning and language, is problematic. For Beinsteiner, the issue Rorty has with the idea that contemporary Western society, when compared with previous epochs, is less able to grasp the contingency of language rests upon Rorty’s two conflicting versions of pragmatism – instrumental pragmatism and poetic pragmatism. According to Beinsteiner, when Rorty argues for social hope as opposed to decline, he has seemingly failed to acknowledge the contingency of his own language and has, as a result, fallen into the trap that instrumental and poetic pragmatism disclose in different ways. Ultimately, Rorty is trapped within his linguistic conception of intelligibility, one that, he believes his instrumental conception of language has some sovereignty over, when, in fact, according to Beinsteiner, our conception of meaningfulness not only precedes the purposes of our language, it grants Rorty’s language with the purpose of instrumentality in the first place. In the remainder of the chapter, and in the face of what he sees as Rorty’s linguistic treatment of meaningfulness, Beinsteiner offers a challenge to Rorty’s critique of the narrative of decline by demonstrating technology’s ability to guide our understanding of intelligibility.

One of the problems with Beinsteiner’s critique is that Rorty is clearly aware of the dangers of becoming trapped in non-contingent conceptions of one’s language and understanding of meaningfulness. Rorty acknowledges that we can and, indeed, must aim for as much intersubjective agreement as possible by opening ourselves up to other cultures and their associated languages. As he explains, ‘alternative cultures are not to be thought of on the model of alternative geometries’; ‘alternative geometries are irreconcilable because they have axiomatic structures, and contradictory axioms. They are designed to be irreconcilable. Cultures are not so designed, and do not have axiomatic structures’ (Rorty 1991, 30). Consequently, by engaging with different cultures, it is at least a possibility that our language and conception of intelligibility can be destabilised and transcended. However, Heidegger claims that exposure to other cultures through media technology will fail to transform our conceptions of language and meaningfulness. As is evident from Beinsteiner’s contribution, Heidegger’s claim rests upon a one-sided interpretation of technology, one that is justified by criteria located in his own ‘final vocabulary’. This raises a problem, one that is emphasised when Beinsteiner makes claims regarding the pragmatic dimension of technology that coincide with Heidegger’s narrative of decline (even though Beinsteiner states that his point ‘is not to defend a supposed Heideggerian pessimism against Rorty’s optimism’ (p. 64)). A critic would likely argue that if Beinsteiner wishes to argue for the contingency of language and meaning and, thereby, avoid falling prey to the criticisms he levels at Rorty, he needs some criteria for judging the ‘primordiality due to new media and communication technologies’ (p. 64). Indeed, in order to avoid the charge that he is trapped within Heidegger’s vocabulary, such criteria would need to come from elsewhere. Unfortunately, a comprehensive and justified account of such criteria is noticeably absent in both the work of Heidegger and Beinsteiner’s contribution.

Returning to the Dreyfusian tradition of Heidegger scholarship, Tucker McKinney’s contribution addresses a long-standing problem with layer-cake approaches to pragmatism; specifically, the issue of whether and how (what Okrent calls) ‘the nonlinguistic skilful coping involved in the utilisation of equipment as tools that are essential to Dasein as Dasein’ (p. 29) can be reconciled with self-conscious inquiry and the resulting ‘first-personal knowledge of one’s activity’ (p. 71). In the face of traditional approaches to philosophy of mind that interpret self-consciousness in terms of self-representing contemplation, which he acknowledges is a form of self-consciousness that Heidegger criticises, McKinney sees Heidegger as advancing a conception of positional self-awareness ‘as an action-guiding practical knowledge of what to do to sustain one’s being in the world, realised in our affective lives’ (ibid.). Whereas typical pragmatist readings of Heidegger claim that our nonconceptual and non-representational ability to skilfully and habitually cope with the world means that the capacity to represent (the world and our representations of the world) through concepts is both merely derivative and something we can identify or attribute to ourselves only after our unselfconscious practical activities, McKinney defends the view that, according to Heidegger, ‘our engagements with entities are permeated with a sense of our own agency, our own active and participatory engagement with objects’ (p. 78).

In the face of problematic normalised and normalising pragmatic readings of Heidegger, many will welcome McKinney’s contribution. Whether it provides ‘a new ontology of self-possessed activity’ is questionable. Indeed, the approach shares some affinities with Hegel’s account of self-consciousness, Wittgenstein’s conception of private language and (more obviously) Habermas’ work on the relationship between self-awareness, affectivity and intersubjective communicative action. The basis for divergence stems from McKinney’s focus on ‘attunement’ [Befindlichkeit], which he translates as ‘findingess’ but can also be interpreted as ‘affectivity’ (Crowell 2013) and ‘state-of-mind’ (Braver 2014), and its concrete manifestation as ‘mood’ or, more literally, ‘tuning’ [Stimmung] (such as when the sound of a musical instrument changes depending on how it is tuned).[1] At a very basic level, Heidegger describes moods as ‘fleeting experiences that “colour” one’s whole “psychical condition”’ (GA 2, p. 450). From a phenomenological point of view that McKinney adopts in his discussion of the concept of fear, moods influence how things are meaningfully encountered in the ways they are during my practical engagements. On the basis of moods, my activities express an understanding of my own agency (p. 83). Furthermore, and this is matter that McKinney does not discuss (but Heidegger does), it is an existential-ontological condition of my capacity to interpret the world that I, myself, must be affectively attuned. Without attunement, any act of skilful coping would not present itself to me as intelligible. Consequently, in terms of a phenomenological reading of the concept of mood and ontological considerations of attunement, there is, as McKinney recognises, scope to innovatively extend non-Cartesian debates regarding the nature of self-consciousness.

Turning to part two of volume, in which the contributors focus specifically on the phenomenological dimension of the work of Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Scheler and Patočka, Jakub Čapek’s contribution exemplifies some of exegetical challenges that face traditional pragmatist readings of the phenomenological canon. On the basis of Merleau-Ponty’s concept of ‘perceptual faith’, which describes ‘how our involvement in the world precedes and sustains all perceptions, the true and the false’ (p. 141), Čapek argues that although Dreyfus and Charles Taylor’s pragmatic readings do not address ‘perceptual faith’ directly, their understanding of objects as mere correlates of our practical involvements, which Čapek sees as a consequence of the ‘primacy of the practical’ in pragmatism, generates a restricted interpretation of Merleau-Ponty’s account of perceptual experience. Čapek acknowledges that Merleau-Ponty does in fact claim that perception is an engaged, interested and skilful activity that allows us to cope with the world (in contrast with the interpretation of perception as an intermediary in a two-step, realist epistemological model, whereby passive receptions of something like sense data are synthesised as representations of external objects). However, that does not mean that the objects we perceive can be completely reduced to the meanings we accord them in our practical dealings. Even though Merleau-Ponty claims that our ontological commitments are embodied to the degree that an object is, as Čapek says, ‘a correlate of the body’, it is a feature of phenomenologically-oriented ontology that an object transcends ‘action-relevant predicates’ such that it is irreducible ‘to all that makes it a familiar part of our surroundings and of our activities’ (p. 152). In the sense that the ontology of things is dependent upon embodied perception to the degree that ‘in perception, we are directed to the things themselves, not through their appearances but to things themselves as they appear’ (p. 147), Čapek draws upon Merleau-Ponty’s conception of the transcendent dimension of ontology to argue that the latter’s account of ‘perceptual faith’ leaves room for an ‘interrogative, non-practical or disinterested’ dimension to perception (p. 143).

The only downsides to Čapek’s chapter are that he provides neither an in-depth account of the meaning of ‘the interrogative mode’ of perception (minimal references are made to perception as ‘transcend[ing] things’ and affirming ‘more things than are grasped in it’ (p. 154)) nor a discussion of how specifically pragmatic interpretations of the history of phenomenology could be revised in light of such a phenomenologically-oriented conception of disinterested perception. This is indicative of the limitations of the volume in general. Specifically, because the majority of the contributions employ interpretations of texts in the history of phenomenology to either elaborate upon or challenge more paradigmatic readings, there is little room for exploring the implications of such scholarship for debates at the forefront of contemporary phenomenology and pragmatism.

Bearing in mind the limitations imposed on the volume due to the purely hermeneutical approach taken by the majority of the authors, it should be said that James Mensch does offer interpretations of Aristotle, William James, Heidegger, Patočka, Husserl, Merleau-Ponty and Emmanuel Levinas in his contribution. But these readings are for illustrative purposes only, employed to elaborate upon the respective natures of pragmatic and theoretical attitudes in philosophy and their relationships to broader concepts of objective truth and freedom. For Mensch, what defines the pragmatic attitude is not only (as Čapek highlights in his contribution) the treatment of objects and their properties as mere correlates of practical involvements, but, more specifically, the reduction of an object’s essence to instrumentality – ‘its function as a means for the accomplishment of my projects’ (p. 191). The pragmatic attitude is seen as particularly problematic for the philosopher ‘who seeks simply to understand’ (p. 194) as it results in a performative contradiction. Conversely, the theoretical attitude deals with the ‘objectivity’ of phenomena ‘in terms of the evidence we have for what we believe about them’ (p. 195), evidence that can transcend our means-ends understanding of objects. Mensch goes on to explain the relationships between the respective ontological commitments that arise from the pragmatic attitude and the theoretical attitude in terms of the concept of freedom. Following Heidegger, Mensch recognises that there are many possibilities for the intelligibility of objects and their properties, and it is up to the philosopher to choose which possibility to actualise. In short, for Mensch, freedom is an ontological condition on the basis of which philosophers choose to adopt a theoretical attitude that suspends their pragmatic concerns in order to inquire into the ‘intrinsic sense’ of objects qua their objectivity. Furthermore, whereas the pragmatic attitude does not allow the object to ‘transcend the [pragmatic] conventions that govern our speaking’ (p. 199), the ‘intrinsic sense’ of an object does make room for such transcendence because (due to the fact that it is conceptually constituted and predicated upon intersubjective agreement) we can recognise the alterity of other objectivity claims that call my claims into question. Indeed, Mensch states that it is the alterity of the ‘Other’ that makes both philosophical freedom and a theoretical inquiry into the ‘intrinsic sense’ of things possible.

Critics would likely argue that Mensch’s distinction between pragmatic attitudes and theoretical attitudes is altogether too simplistic, resulting in an argument that is explanatorily weak. Indeed, due to the reification of pragmatic and theoretical attitudes, it would be difficult to abstract any genuine pragmatic (let alone broader metaphilosophical) concerns without being charged of straw-man-building. For example, contemporary Anglo-American pragmatists would challenge the claim that the pragmatic attitude purely apprehends the essence of objects in terms of its instrumentality. For example, as Beinsteiner observes earlier in the volume, Rorty advocated both instrumental and world-disclosing dimensions of pragmatism. In addition, as already mentioned, Brandom is a pragmatist, one that, simultaneously, adopts a theoretical attitude in order to inquire into Mensch’s conception of the ‘intrinsic sense’ of objects. Brandom is clear that not only do the contents of our concepts lay claim to how the world is, the meaning of our concepts is derived from the reasoning practices and inferential processes of discursive practitioners in the space of giving and asking for reasons. Furthermore, Brandom is also aware that freedom plays a pivotal role in the realm of contestable objectivity-claims. He argues that judgment, in terms of committing oneself to deploying concepts and, simultaneously, taking responsibility for the integration of the objectivity-claims and their associated conceptual contents with others that serve as reasons for or against them, is a ‘positive freedom’ (Brandom 2009, 59). I do not have the space to expand further. Suffice it to say, however, that Brandom’s inferential semantics and normative pragmatics articulates a number (if not all) of the themes that Mensch attributes to the theoretical attitude.

If Mensch’s characterisation of the pragmatic attitude is representative of a concrete approach in pragmatism, then perhaps one could claim that it only holds for layer-cake readings of Heidegger. Even then, however, the likes of Dreyfus and Okrent are careful to explain the fact that what Mensch apprehends as the theoretical attitude is dependent upon, and, ultimately, derives from, our shared, practical involvements in a world that is constituted by the activities of others, rather than something we can ‘choose’ to adopt completely outside of our practical copings and activities (a choice, based on Mensch’s account, without any causal repercussions and considerations and no rational constraint or motivation). Furthermore, whereas Mensch claims that the ontological condition of the ‘Other’ allows us to disclose a theoretical alternative to the pragmatically-apprehended world, the Dreyfusian tradition is well aware that we, as a skilful and absorbed copers, are ‘being-with’ [Mitsein], in the sense that when we encounter something as both meaningful and as what it is, it discloses to us those ‘others’ that also find the same thing meaningful in the same ways. To stress the importance of the ‘Other’ for the conditions of the theoretical attitude in particular, as Mensch does, is to severely misinterpret or (worse still) ignore the concept of the ‘Other’ in layer-cake pragmatism. This begs the question that if what Mensch defines as the pragmatic attitude does not successfully capture the complexities that surround layer-cake approaches to pragmatism, let alone contemporary pragmatism in general, then why should pragmatically-oriented philosophers take Mensch seriously? Furthermore, why should they care? Perhaps one could argue that Mensch’s chapter is a lesson in what can happen when not enough attention is paid by phenomenologists to developments in pragmatism, just as this volume as a whole discloses the problems that arise from pragmatic interpretations of the history of phenomenology.

Does the volume as a whole succeed in meeting its aims? If the aim of the volume is to offer a ‘complex analysis of the pragmatic theses that are present in the works of leading phenomenological authors’, then (despite the proclivity for Heidegger at the expense of other central figures from phenomenological tradition, including those that are still alive and still researching), I would say ‘yes’. However, as the volume is oriented towards the relationship between pragmatism and phenomenology through interpretations of canonical works in the history of Western philosophy, there is very little meaningful discussion of the theoretical implications of the dialogue for either current phenomenologically-oriented philosophical research or the pragmatic dimensions of contemporary metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of science and ethics. In this sense, the title of the volume is misleading and perhaps should be taken as ‘pragmatic perspectives in the history of phenomenology’. Nevertheless, there are some excellent papers here that not only articulate the pragmatic turn in the history of phenomenology, but offer much-needed insight into the problems associated with long-standing pragmatic interpretations of the works of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Husserl.



Brandom, R. (2000) ‘Facts, Norms and Normative Facts: A Reply to Habermas’, European Journal of Philosophy 8 (3): 356-74.

Brandom, R. (2009) Reason in Philosophy: Animating Ideas, Cambridge, MA and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press

Braver, L. (2014) Heidegger, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Crowell, S. (2013) Normativity and Phenomenology in Husserl and Heidegger, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Heidegger, M. (1977) Gesamtausgabe, GA 2: Sein und Zeit, ed. F. von Herrmann, Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann.

Price, H. (2013) Expressivism, Pragmatism and Representationalism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rorty, R. (1991) Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth: Philosophical Papers, Volume 1, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[1] Sachs also addresses the concept of attunement when he argues that affordances and solicitations (traditionally distinctive of embodied coping) should also be contextualised within the space of reasons.