Sylvie Avakian: Being Towards Death: Heidegger and the Orthodox Theology of the East

‘Being Towards Death’: Heidegger and the Orthodox Theology of the East Book Cover ‘Being Towards Death’: Heidegger and the Orthodox Theology of the East
Volume 191 in the series Theologische Bibliothek Töpelmann
Sylvie Avakian
De Gruyter
Hardback 89,95 € Ebook 89,95 €

Reviewed by: Vanessa Freerks (St. Kliment Ohridski University of Sofia)


In “Being Towards Death: Heidegger and the Orthodox Theology of the East”, Sylvie Avakian (19) considers Martin Heidegger’s thought in relation to Orthodox Christianity by dealing with the “early Fathers of the Church”, as well as the “religious existentialism” of Nikolai Berdyaev (19).

Heidegger’s most central themes of “being, openness to the Mystery, freedom, the human being, the human condition, death, letting be, authenticity, existential falsehood” are all compatible, according to Avakian (17), with central theological concerns and especially with the works of Berdyaev and the Orthodox theological heritage. Avakian emphasises also that methodically, Heidegger and Berdyaev share a style of writing that “challenges the abstract-speculative constructions of most philosophical and theological enterprises and aspires to attain meaning and inner (spiritual) freedom” (1).

Indeed, Berdyaev’s strong focus on personal freedom and human creativity made him a very “unorthodox” Christian thinker. In a footnote (49) that should perhaps be in the main text (19) of her “Introduction”, Avakian states that Berdyaev was a critic of conservative approaches in Orthodoxy. For Berdyaev, no institution (secular or sacred) and no fact (psychological, sociological, scientific or historical) can grasp or explain the unique mystery of the human personality. As a personalist philosopher, Berdyaev had an intense belief in the unique and absolute value of every person, which is the cornerstone of his philosophy. In Berdyaev’s work, we see the inextricable link between truth and personal experience. Berdyaev saw personal involvement as crucial to theology and philosophy (4).

In her attempt to solidify the relation between Heidegger and Berdyaev, and in a ‘personalist’ vein, Avakian refers to Heidegger’s own close relation to Christianity with the support of a quote drawn from Heidegger’s “Mein Bisheriger Weg” (1937/38). Despite being part of the intricate fabric of his youth and upbringing, Heidegger simultaneously sought to free himself from Christianity (18). Heidegger’s struggle against the dogmas of religion led him to an interminable quest to find an absent God.

On the relation between Heidegger and Berdyaev, Avakian (13) starts by making the following preliminary remarks and assumptions (13):

  • both authors shared sources harking back to ancient Greek philosophical writings, towards early Christian thought, Meister Eckhart and Jacob Böhme and to Friedrich Schelling. For instance, both authors followed Schelling’s focus on existence, the primacy of being and the limits of human reason (7, footnote 17; 297, footnote 165).
  • Berdyaev referred on several occasions to Heidegger’s works, whereas the same cannot be said of Heidegger.
  • Heidegger might not have been “aware of the compatibility of his thinking with the Russian Orthodox tradition; yet several thinkers who influenced him, such as Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926), were deeply indebted to Russian thought” (13). In a footnote (38), Avakian mentions that Heidegger also did not acknowledge the “great influence of Rilke” on him (13).
  • both thinkers “played the role of spiritual resistance, whether against Soviet Communism or against the highly technical-objectified world of modernity in Europe” (13).

Like the thinkers she tackles, Avakian (32) aims to represent theological claims in a way that is free of the dogmas of religion, the ideologies of politics and the systematisations of science. The main title of Avakian’s own book indicates a resistance to ‘orthodox’ perspectives, considering that Orthodox Christianity is centred on “rebirth” and “resurrection” rather than the crucifixion of Christ. Specifically, the book seeks to open dialogue in contemporary theology by arguing that Heidegger’s phrase “‘being towards death’ is the core and true nature of the Christian faith” (20).

Avakian associates ‘being towards death’ with “becoming”; as a bridge between “temporality and eternity”; a unification of the material and immaterial worlds (2). As Avakian rehearses in her “Introduction”, the Heideggerian phrase ‘being towards death’ is not to be regarded as a journey to a final static destination (2-3). Life and death are intertwined, as phenomena. In addition, ‘being with others’ and ‘being towards death’ are inextricably linked. The human acquires an openness towards others as well as itself, by ‘being towards death’. Avakian says that

“[t]he human being who experiences ‘care’ in the world necessarily experiences ‘being towards death’ and only then does one truly comport oneself towards one’s inner reality” (2).

The person who cares has an increased awareness of human finitude by anticipating threats and recognising the fragility of human existence. According to Avakian’s relational emphasis on Heidegger’s notion of ‘being towards death’, human beings are never alone in dealing with mortality. In addition, ‘care’ and openness to others are important conflictual dimensions of the human being’s trajectory towards authenticity and “inner reality” (2; 181-184).

Central to Avakian’s book is the connection she sees between Heidegger’s ‘being towards death’ and Berdyaev’s path to ‘spiritual freedom’ (303). ‘Being towards death’ is ‘being towards freedom’. Both involve the movement of the self to the unknown, to the Other (God or the other person), or being as such, and then, the return to the free, genuine self. ‘Being towards death’ enables a twofold movement: a mutually dependent move involving the divine and the human (304).

In her conclusion, Avakian takes the liberty of adapting William J. Richardson’s (1962, 75)[1] neologism (“mittence”) for her theological purposes:

“the journey that ‘being towards death’ entails is, then, essentially a mittence, a sending to an Other, which being, or God, conveys to the person as it bestows itself/Godself on him/her. And yet, in order for the journey to occur, the human subject must let him/herself be seized by being, or God, as by offering itself, being, or God, entrusts the person with guarding the Mystery which it itself is” (306).

For Avakian, being a Christian does not mean looking to ‘God’ for stability; it does not involve a purely intellectual endeavour of abstract theorising; it is a gift. ‘God’ is mysteriously and immanently found in the depths of historical life. Avakian claims that the nature of ‘God’ can only be caught sight of in a historical journey of self-disclosure.

Most significantly, throughout her book, Avakian places much emphasis on poetry (also by originally composing her own to close all chapters). She takes care to highlight the importance of the German poets Friedrich Hölderlin and Rainer Maria Rilke on Heidegger’s thought.  Thanks to Hölderlin, Heidegger understood that it is only through “letting-be – that is through death – that one can allow being as such to come to presence through beings” (31). Poetry can express what Avakian calls ‘divine Mystery’, or the non-objective, non-empirical presence of God in faith (1). Heidegger saw poetry as a potentially powerful resource for the theoretical project of articulating Christian faith from ‘within’.

Overall, Avakian’s project aims to overcome the rift between religious fundamentalism and what she (32) calls a “fear of religiosity”. Where can the Christian of today stand when faced with the “popular religiosity of the pre-modern – or anti-modern – era and the implicit religiosity of a ‘religious-less’, secular age” (17).  The author seeks to find a balance between apparent extremes and to bring

“philosophy and theology together, the West and the East, Europe, Russia and the Middle East, as well as Christianity in its relationship with other religious traditions, so that the Christian is addressed as a free spirit – in the world – and Christianity is perceived as authenticity and freedom” (20).

She wishes to promote dialogue in contemporary theology through an existential focus, symbolic perception and an openness to the “divine Mystery” (20).

Throughout her book, Avakian equates philosophy and theology, as they both, in her view, lack a direct object of inquiry. Neither ‘being’ nor ‘God’ can be scrutinised ‘as such’, and both must accept their own inadequacy regarding the attainment of absolute or certain knowledge (12).

In her first chapter “Openness to the Mystery” (34-78), Avakian starts by sketching how Berdyaev conceives “true theology as mystical and apophatic, as it is about the spiritual perception of divine Mystery” (35). The apophatic view is that God is not objectifiable, because God is the ultimate mystery with no possible rational concept.  Apophatic theology accepts that theological language is unable to demonstrate divine truth. Maintaining the analogical-symbolic nature of all theological assertions, it claims that absolute mystery is beyond human grasp (15). Unlike cataphatic theology, apophatic theology “requires the abandonment of all knowledge of beings, so that the divine is truly beyond every affirmative description, namely it is the nothing” (21).

Avakian links the apophatic-mystical approach of Eastern theology to Heidegger’s view regarding the incomprehensible nature of being as such. For Heidegger, the “human being remains incapable of any knowledge of its essence, maintaining that the true path is a mystical path” (36). Avakian emphasises that in Heidegger’s work, ‘pure thinking’ is conceived as openness to mystery and astonishment (52-58), which involves passion, suffering (54-55) and inwardness (57) – this is because things or beings “emerge from their own ground” (73). ‘Being’ or ‘truth’ in Heidegger is necessarily related to an ongoing process of “revelation” or becoming unhidden (45).

In the final section of the first chapter, “The Mystery and the Necessity of the Leap” (71-80), Avakian scrutinises Heidegger’s quest to find a realm free from modern science and reason. With regards to Heidegger‘s reformulation of Leibniz’s “Principle of Sufficient Reason” (“Der Satz vom Grund”), Avakian discusses Heidegger’s play on the German word Grund (which can either mean reason/justification or ground/foundation). According to Avakian (74-5), Heidegger subverts Leibniz’s Principle by claiming that:

“being as such is the ground of every being, and things carry within themselves their own grounds and reasons, without their need to supply any reasons for their existence. Thus, the basic question for philosophy – and theology – is the question of being (or God), which is simultaneously the same as the question of truth. This basic question is, however, of a particular kind, since it has to be approached ‘without why’” (74).

In chapter two, Avakian goes on to delineate Heidegger’s view that a “true understanding of technology, science and art” belongs essentially to the poetic way of being in the world rather than the mere objective perception of the world (83).

Furthermore, regarding especially the question of technology, Avakian says “Heidegger resorted to particular theological language and terminologies, though through an abstruse and veiled framework” (106). The themes of science and technology enable Heidegger to address major theological questions: “God the Creator, the whole of creation as a gift, the human being – the creature – in his/her relation to the Creator, and the question of salvation” (106).

Taking a clear position with regards to Heidegger, Avakian (103) says that his critique of technology is not altogether satisfying. Berdyaev went further than Heidegger, because he saw that when technology is used unreflectively it conceals and distorts the real, and brings “the human being into an illusionary world and forged relations” (104). What Avakian means by “forged relations” becomes clearer thanks to a quote by Berdyaev pertaining to how (104) “the mechanization of life” results in an artificial “collective reality” which inaugurates the end of individual existence (104). For Berdyaev, man now comes second to technology.

Technology does not enable the real (or ‘being as such’) to manifest itself; it does not merely allow the human to control nature. Technology permits humans now to have power over people’s lives. Avakian (104) says that Berdyaev understood the crisis of his day as being a matter of technology, and he saw this as a “primarily spiritual crisis”.  Berdyaev calls on Christian theology to wake up to the new human reality by intensifying “the inner spiritual power of the human being” so that the spirit does not “become a tool used for the purposes of technical organizations” (104). In contrast to Berdyaev’s clear verdict on technology, Avakian suggests that several statements by Heidegger seem to be too optimistic (104).

In addition to dealing with Berdyaev and Heidegger’s views on technology (98-106), their critiques of rationality and science (88-98), Avakian also dedicates chapter two to a discussion of art (106-111), freedom (130-5) and poetry (142-6).

Chapter three (“The Human Spirit and the Divine”) goes on to deal with the role of “spirit” in Berdyaev and Heidegger, a notion which Avakian (176) claims permeates all of Heidegger’s work even when not directly referred to. Berdyaev’s immanent conception of the divine also collapses the opposition between the divine and the human, the spiritual and physical world (161). In addition, religious revelation is conceived in his work as an interactive, rather than a passive, top-down experience (166).

While considering the relation between theological language and the poetic, Avakian discusses the distinction between symbols, allegory, signs (168-171), with the overall aim of bringing to light the relation between revelation, art, meaning and spirit.

Avakian concludes (181) chapter three by linking Berdyaev and Heidegger’s analysis on the “fallenness” of the human being (which is defined as the failure to know the self as spirit). Avakian regards “fallenness” as a comparable but a highly preferable alternative to the problematic notion of sin, which she claims in a footnote (129) has a “disadvantageous history” (184).

The subsection “Spirit and Human Consciousness as Care and Resoluteness” (190-201) starts with an important discussion of “care” in Heidegger’s work and reconstructs its Kierkegaardian lineage (191-2). Avakian explains that the “human being in the world is necessarily there for an Other, and, hence, his being is actualized in and though care in relation to that Other” (192). In this respect, Avakian raises the distinction between care and humanism: unlike humanism, care does not simply focus on the “objective existence of the human subject”, it draws persons towards their “essence” (193) As opposed to care, humanism “fails to realize the appropriate dignity of the human being” (193).

Both care and freedom are based upon experiencing life as openness (194). It is in this context that Avakian goes on to discuss how care in Berdyaev is expressed through “the biblical notion of love” (194) – for him, it signifies, also in a Kierkegaardian vein, “carrying within oneself the pain and the injustice that the whole of mankind goes through” (194).

The subsection “The Call of Conscience” (194-199) explores how “guilt” is key to understanding the notion of the “spirit” in Berdyaev. Similarly in Heidegger, the call of conscience is the call to the realisation of guilt (199) which in turn leads to the authentic self.  In addition, an authentic being in the world and being-with-the-Other requires a process of resolutely being ready for anxiety. In this resoluteness, “one takes upon oneself one’s utmost potentiality for being, that is one’s ‘being towards death’” (200).

This smoothly inaugurates the next chapter four, entitled “Christianity as Authenticity”, in which Avakian turns specifically to her main theme (and the title of her book) ‘being towards death’, before relating it directly to the central concerns of Christian theology, including the meaning of creation, incarnation and resurrection.

Avakian recapitulates the link between ‘being towards death’, care and authenticity, (203-4) all of which are based upon the importance of the existential acceptance and inner consciousness of one’s death and of the temporality of being. Avakian links Heidegger’s notion of ‘anticipatory resoluteness’ with Berdyaev’s notion of ‘spiritual development’ (205), which both involve a resolve to progress to that which is still outstanding (death). This is the “responsibility of the inner self and the free and creative nature of one’s spirit” (205).

Chapter five (“Temporality and Eternity”) (253) deals with how “movement, repetition, temporality, finitude and eternity – lie in (sic) the foundations of ‘being towards death’”. Avakian starts the chapter with a discussion of how Berdyaev’s work conceives of “eternity” as the guarantor of meaning. Eternity, emphasises Avakian on two consecutive occasions, does not refer to a “natural” realm and cannot be “objectified” (254; 255). Neither is eternity a separate otherworldly dimension, outside of time as it “has its past in every moment…It has its present and future elements in like manner” (255).

Berdyaev’s sense of eternity is Kierkegaardian in Avakian’s eyes as it is not based upon the denial of change and becoming. In the subsection on “Movement and Repetition” (256-265), after a short overview of time and motion in Plato and Aristotle (257-8), Avakian thus goes on to provide an exposé of Kierkegaard’s notion of “becoming and continuous movement” (258-264).  Importantly for the purposes of the book, Avakian notes that “Kierkegaard’s thought and philosophical concerns correspond significantly to the spiritual theology of Eastern Orthodoxy, which has the early Greek Fathers of the Church as its foundation” (259).

Avakian makes special references to Clare Carlisle’s work on Kierkegaard’s “philosophy of becoming” (257-8; 260-3) in order to conclude that “Kierkegaard set existential and spiritual becoming in sharp contrast to pure metaphysical speculation, and thereby overturned the dominating philosophical-metaphysical project and gave room for introspection and spiritual passion” (263).

As mentioned above, Avakian dedicates sections of her book to presenting and reconstructing how Kierkegaardian elements are mobilised in the works of Heidegger and Berdyaev, especially with regards to the concept of care and temporality. This is because, as Avakian rightly states (31) in her “Introduction”, Heidegger and Berdyaev’s works do not sufficiently acknowledge the influence of other thinkers, such as Kierkegaard, Eckart and Nietzsche, on their philosophy (see also footnote 18, on page 151).  In her “Conclusion”, Avakian again mentions that both Heidegger and Berdyaev do not make the ‘origins’ of their thinking clear. References to previous thinkers are minimised and their importance reduced (301).

As the Kierkegaardian notion of “movement and repetition” discussed by Avakian attests to however, and although it is indeed important to clarify influence (one might even reveal how a work is merely derivative or the effect of an original cause) – this does not say anything of the unity and strength of the work at hand. The character of all significant thought after all is that in repeating the influences upon it, it makes something else of them. As Avakian herself puts it: “after repetition the being no longer remains the same, but becomes another” (271).

Via Kierkegaard’s sense of “movement and repetition”, Avakian links Berdyaev’s notion of ‘eternity’ with Heidegger’s concept of ‘authenticity’, both of which involve the present, past and future. In Berdyaev, when one encounters death without fear or anxiety one “is given to experience eternity” (254). “[I]t is through the willingness of the person to take upon oneself his/her own death that he/she conquers death itself” (255).

Similarly, in Heidegger, “it is only through such being towards one’s end that the human subject exists as ‘authentically whole’, and it is this perception of the self that makes ‘being towards death’, or ‘care’ possible” (274). Authenticity (like ‘eternity’ in Berdyaev) hinges on the resolute acceptance of one’s ‘being towards death’ and nothingness. Ontologically speaking, death is the possibility of no-longer-being-there, and at the same time, it is what makes our being-in-the-world possible. Being towards death opens up possibilities ontically for Dasein because it is the projection to what lies beyond actuality and what is positively there. The human being moves from the past towards his/her self as “authentically futural” (274). This also implies that any understanding or discovery of the self aspires repeatedly to approach otherness.

Concluding Remarks

“Being Towards Death: Heidegger and the Orthodox Theology of the East” is a post-doctoral degree (Habilitationsschrift) completed in January 2018 for the Protestant faculty of the University of Tübingen. In Germany, most candidates qualify for a university professorship by means of such a habilitation process – and this includes writing a habilitation treatise to certify the ability to teach in an academic subject.

In the spirit of ‘personalist philosophy’, Avakian begins her work by emphasising her personal background, involvement and justification for the project (20) and she occasionally intersperses contextual paragraphs appealing to the practical fallout of her work, e.g., regarding her aim of addressing and bridging the divide between what she calls a fear of religiosity vs fundamentalism (17; 190).

The habilitation-turned-book (published by de Gruyter) was not however conceived with a wide audience in mind or even scholars in general. The research is of a tightly knit scope. The insular style intertwines thematic interconnections between Berdyaev and Heidegger, makes explicit the influence of key figures such a Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and establishes original in-depth links between Heidegger and Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, the 5th century Christian theologian and “father of mysticism” (21-2; 29; 60; 242; 306). Since mysticism is a major theme of her study, Avakian could also have widened her contextual scope by referring to commentators who draw parallels and differences between Heidegger and Asian mysticism.


Carlisle, Clare. 2005. Kierkegaard’s Philosophy of Becoming: Movements and Positions. New York: State University of New York Press.

Gungov, Alexander. 2012. “From Living Tradition to Cosmic Transfiguration: Six Elements of Eastern Orthodox Theology.” Bulgarian in Religiya, tzennosti, ortodoksalnost i interculturen dialogIdei filosofsko spisanie, Sofia (Religion, Values, Orthodoxy and Intercultural Dialogue, Sofia), a supplement to Philosophical Journal Ideas, pp. 54-63.

Kockelmans, Joseph. 1973. “Heidegger on Theology.” The Southwestern Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 4, No. 3, Heidegger Issue (Fall, 1973), pp. 85-108. University of Arkansas Press.

Law, David R. 2000. “Negative Theology in Heidegger’s ‘Beiträge zur Philosophie.’” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 48, No. 3 (Dec), pp. 139-156 Springer.

Miller, James. 1996. “Heidegger’s Guilt.” Salmagundi, No. 109/110 (Winter-Spring), pp. 178-243. Skidmore College.

Richardson, William J.  1962. “Heidegger and the Problem of Thought.” Revue philosophique de Louvain, Vol. 60, pp. 58-78. Peeters Publishers.

Zernov, Nicholas. 1948. “Nicholas Berdyaev.” The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 27, No. 68 (Dec), pp. 283-286. The Modern Humanities Research Association and University College London, School of Slavonic and East European Studies.

[1] William J. Richardson’s (1962, 75) writes: “Being is conceived as sending itself unto its There. We may speak of this self-sending as proceeding from Being and call it a ‘self-emitting’ , or if we may be permitted a neologism to designate a completely new concept, a ‘mittence’ (Geschick) of Being” .

Richard Rojcewicz: Heidegger, Plato, Philosophy, Death, Lexington Books, 2021

Heidegger, Plato, Philosophy, Death: An Atmosphere of Mortality Book Cover Heidegger, Plato, Philosophy, Death: An Atmosphere of Mortality
Richard Rojcewicz
Lexington Books
Hardback $95.00 • £73.00

Elizabeth Cykowski: Heidegger’s Metaphysical Abyss

Heidegger's Metaphysical Abyss: Between the Human and the Animal Book Cover Heidegger's Metaphysical Abyss: Between the Human and the Animal
Oxford Philosophical Monographs
Elizabeth Cykowski
Oxford University Press
Hardback £55.00

Reviewed by: Hikmet Unlu (Middle East Technical University)

In Heidegger’s Metaphysical Abyss, Beth Cykowski provides a novel discussion of Heidegger’s views on animality. In his 1929–30 lecture course The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics (hereafter FCM), Heidegger presents three controversial theses: the stone is worldless, the animal is world-poor, and the human is world-forming. In her charitable interpretation of Heidegger, Cykowski pays special attention to the second thesis, according to which the animal is limited in its capacity to access the world. In so doing, she tries to defend Heidegger against what she calls the hierarchizing charge, which is advanced by several philosophers who have criticized Heidegger for attempting to secure human uniqueness by reinstating traditional hierarchies concerning the order of nature. One virtue of Heidegger’s Metaphysical Abyss is that it tries to offer a comprehensive overview of FCM without divorcing the sections on animals from their wider context and thereby tries to lay bare Heidegger’s broader philosophical agenda. Despite its several merits, however, the book is at best a partial success (i) because Cykowski’s attempt to dissociate Heidegger from the world-poverty thesis is not sufficiently backed up by textual evidence and (ii) because the book fails to clarify the traditional conception of the order of nature against the background of which Heidegger’s views on animality need to be understood and evaluated.

At the beginning of her monograph, Cykowski summarizes the different ways in which FCM has been interpreted and criticized by subsequent philosophers. She notes that some scholars have maintained that Heidegger’s reflections on animality are incompatible with the findings of evolutionary biology, others that despite his protestations to the contrary Heidegger ends up “succumbing to the traditional hierarchy of the scala naturae” (23; all references are to Heidegger’s Metaphysical Abyss unless otherwise indicated). Cykowski explains moreover that insofar as this latter charge is concerned, some commentators like David Krell have argued FCM to be an aberration in the (otherwise unproblematic) Gesamtausgabe (18), whereas for others like Derrida the evaluative prejudices contained in the lecture course are consistent with Heidegger’s reflections on animality over the course of his career (19). Cykowski points out that yet another charge levelled at Heidegger concerns his tendency in these lectures to treat all animals under one heading; she paraphrases the interpretation endorsed by Alasdair MacIntyre, according to whom Heidegger presents “a grossly oversimplified depiction of animal life” (24), disregarding “the many and complex differences between species” (35), which in turn amounts to overlooking the ways in which different species of animals can be said to have different kinds of world-relation.

One virtue of the opening chapter is that it familiarizes the reader with the scholarship on Heidegger’s reflections on animality. There is hardly any serious engagement with the argumentation of Heidegger’s critics, however, in the absence of which their conclusions seem too uncharitable to Heidegger. Moreover, the introduction as well as the first chapter of the book would have been the perfect place for Cykowski, who frequently refers to the “traditional hierarchies” concerning the order of nature, to offer a discussion of what, exactly, these hierarchies are and who, exactly, ends up endorsing them, yet the author remains silent on these questions throughout her study.

In Chapter 2, which arguably contains the strongest sections of the book, Cykowski provides a discussion of Heidegger’s analysis of the concept of metaphysics. In one of his papers Walter Brogan has criticized those commentators who would consider “Aristotle as the metaphysician par excellence and…those who would understand Heidegger’s own work as an overcoming of the oblivion of being that begins with Aristotle’s distortion of Greek thinking” (Brogan 1984, 250). Cykowski’s Heidegger adopts neither an anti-metaphysical nor an anti-Aristotelian perspective. “Ancient philosophy thus meets its ‘acme’ with Aristotle,” Cykowski writes, rephrasing Heidegger, but “it has since been in a state of decline” (55), in the sense that the insights gained from metaphysics have long been obscured and trivialized (43), in which case, she argues, it is no wonder that the 1929–30 lecture course contains an attempt to uncover the profundity of the original conception of Aristotelian metaphysics.

In this part of her work, Cykowski stresses two important points about metaphysics. First, she correctly describes the Heideggerian view according to which the question of what metaphysics is sits within the question of what the human being is (45). Second, she spends a great deal of time discussing Heidegger’s remark that the human speaks about nature from within nature. As she puts it:

The human embodies a peculiar ambivalence to the extent that it is both part of physis and capable of ‘speaking out’ about physis in the logos.…Its own form of life is such that it ‘exists among’ natural beings, and it is also the being that, via its participation in the logos, is the medium through which physis is given expression. (47–48)

More or less the same idea can be found in a later passage, where Cykowski writes that “as a result of its endowment of logos, the human ‘speaks out’ about the totality of beings while belonging to this very totality” (97). In these and similar passages, Cykowski provides an interesting analysis of the strange predicament that the human being finds itself in, yet when she contrasts this “Greek” conception of the human’s position in nature to the life/spirit divide that allegedly characterize the contemporary epoch, which exemplify “the more superficial conceptions of the human” (54), it is not immediately clear how the two conceptions are supposed to be alternatives of each other, unless we are forced to make the further assumption that life and spirit—unlike physis and logos—are two alien realms that can never share anything in common. However, we are not forced to make this further assumption (nor is it clear that Heidegger makes it); it would be highly implausible to ascribe to all philosophers after antiquity a position according to which life and spirit are irreconcilably distinct concepts.

The next chapter picks up from the previous one, and Cykowski once again begins by rephrasing Heidegger’s remarks concerning the nature of metaphysics. This sets the stage for Cykowski to discuss Heidegger’s interpretation of the Kulturphilosophie of his time and, more specifically, of the views held by thinkers whom Heidegger considers to be the four spokespeople of the then contemporary epoch: Oswald Spengler, Ludwig Klages, Max Scheler, and Leopold Ziegler. In the lecture course, Heidegger briefly summarizes their “worldviews” so as to show that they all turn on the relation between the fundamental concepts of life and spirit. Cykowski correctly points out that “this foray into Kulturphilosophie is included because the four thinkers represent the received view concerning key characteristics of contemporary thinking, and not because they are philosophically enlightening on their own” (65) but adds in the same breath that “this examination is critical for piecing together the overarching metaphysical context of FCM” (65), which gives the impression that Heidegger’s treatment of the Kulturphilosophie of his time can serve as a model that encapsulates the essential orientation of FCM as a whole—that, in other words, the entire lecture course can be seen as an extended attempt to lay bare the fundamental concepts and the hidden assumptions operative in contemporary philosophy and science.

In Chapter 4, Cykowski examines Heidegger’s discussion of the three forms of boredom. Lest it remains unclear how this excursus, how this journey through boredom pertains to the general progression of the lecture course, Heidegger maintains that profound boredom, which is one of the three forms of boredom discussed in FCM, is the fundamental attunement, the basic mood of the contemporary epoch. In Heidegger’s view, it is precisely this boredom, this indifference to beings as a whole that compels us to pursue the kind of insipid cultural diagnoses provided by Spengler and others. According to Cykowski, Heidegger’s message here is that for a philosophical restoration we must first begin to understand the fundamental attunement of our contemporary context of philosophizing. In her view, this understanding is meant to be part of Heidegger’s “philosophical restoration project, part of his attempt to bring about a philosophical confrontation with ourselves, a genuine ‘living philosophising’” (74).

The next chapter is the longest of the book, which should not come as a surprise given that Cykowski here tackles Heidegger’s reflections on the essence of animality. Cykowski understands the structure of the Heideggerian text to be one that proceeds from a discussion of the insipid worldviews held by Spengler, Klages, Scheler, and Ziegler to a discussion of the fundamental attunement of the contemporary epoch (profound boredom), which then would help explain their insufficient understanding of the fundamental concepts of life and spirit as well as the relation between them. Cykowski points out that “Heidegger’s critique of Kulturphilosophie…was an examination of the ‘outer expression’ of the contemporary situation…[and] is then replaced by an exposition of the internal character of the fundamental attunement that determines it” (96). If this is right, however, one may also expect what follows in the lecture course to be an attempt by Heidegger to steer us in the right direction this time and engage in a genuine living philosophizing—and what raises such expectations all the more is that Heidegger’s unmistakable praise of Uexküll, the famous biologist whom Heidegger next focuses on, starkly contrasts with his strong dismissal of the philosophers of culture—but this is not Cykowski’s interpretation. While she does not turn a blind eye to the passages where Heidegger speaks well of Uexküll, she maintains nevertheless that Uexküll, while in some respects wiser than his contemporaries, is nevertheless unaware of the metaphysical prejudices of his biology, in which case the principal objective of Heidegger’s discussion of Uexküll is to uncover the hidden assumptions behind contemporary science. As Cykowski puts it, “Having looked at the ‘worldview’ side of this dichotomy in his analysis of Kulturphilosophie in Part One, Heidegger now wishes to explore aspects of the ‘science’ side in Part Two” (99). In a later passage she adds even more clearly that “Heidegger is treating Uexküll in the same manner as he treats the four philosophers of culture he discusses in Part One” (121).

It is important to come to grips with what Cykowski believes to be the internal progression of Heidegger’s lecture course because the main message of Chapter 5 can only be understood from within this wider context. Simply put, for many of the key passages of FCM, which happen to be the very passages for which Heidegger has been criticized in the literature, Cykowski will claim that these do not reflect Heidegger’s own position, that in these passages Heidegger is in fact only describing the metaphysical prejudices operative in contemporary science. “If we pick up The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics (FCM) and turn straight to Heidegger’s analysis of biology,” she writes, Heidegger will seem “uncharacteristically…to frame his discussion within a hierarchical understanding of life…[and to endorse] an evaluative ontology of life” (99). What she means to say here is that it would be wrong to ascribe to Heidegger this evaluative hierarchy; it would be more correct to understand Heidegger as trying to bring out into the open the metaphysical prejudices upheld by the scientists of his time.

In a nutshell, the main motivation behind Cykowski’s argumentation is to foist what she understands to be the difficulties associated with the thesis concerning the word-poverty of the animal to contemporary biology. Cykowski asserts in no uncertain terms that the thesis at issue here “is not Heidegger’s own distinct formulation” (123) but rather an attempt by Heidegger to lay bare the metaphysical presuppositions of biologists like Uexküll. Her view is that in such passages Heidegger is not clarifying his own position but rather rephrasing others, but arguably she makes this point without sufficiently showing the relative merits of this alternative reading, which dissociates Heidegger from the world-poverty thesis. While Heidegger’s Metaphysical Abyss does contain many refences to FCM, there are hardly any references in this section of the book to back up Cykowski’s specific interpretation, in the absence of which she seems to rely too much on Heidegger’s treatment of Kulturphilosophie, which she believes serves as a model for the entire lecture course.

In FCM, Heidegger talks about the possibility of establishing a “communal cooperation” (Heidegger 1995, 190) and a “mutual understanding” (Heidegger 1995, 191) between science and philosophy. He writes, for example, that we can “discover a proper stance with respect to the connection between living philosophy and living science only if we can sow among us the seeds of an appropriate mutual understanding” (Heidegger 1995, 191). It is therefore natural to assume, especially considering Heidegger’s praise of Uexküll, that in the former’s discussion of the latter an attempt is being made to sow the seeds of a collaboration between science and philosophy, but according to Cykowski, Uexküll is not the profound biologist whose works can be utilized to render possible this communal cooperation and mutual understanding between science and philosophy. Rather, Uexküll is at best a successful biologist who “unwittingly renders explicit some of the defining themes of the contemporary zeitgeist” (120). If this is right, Uexküll must be credited not with important insights that enable a collaboration between science and philosophy but with an “incidental articulation of this zeitgeist” (120). In other words, Uexküll unwittingly and incidentally happens to be “one of the clearest articulators of the implicit metaphysical commitments of contemporary biology” (127).

Cykowski wants to stress time and again that the thesis that the animal is world-poor is not Heidegger’s own thesis, that it does not reflect Heidegger’s own position on the issue. As she puts it, “Heidegger’s thesis that the animal is ‘poor in world’ is an attempt to express, as specifically and baldly as possible, precisely what is metaphysically implicit in this Uexküllian account” (115). In a later passage she adds: “Heidegger bases his claim that the animal is ‘poor in world’ on what he considers to be metaphysically implicit in Uexküll’s depiction of the organism as confined to a surrounding environment” (122). In a word, this controversial thesis must be ascribed not to Heidegger but to Uexküll. More precisely, the thesis in question explicates what is metaphysically implicit in Uexküll’s biology. Hence, if there is something wrong with the thesis, we cannot blame Heidegger because, in Cykowski’s view, Heidegger was not speaking in his own voice.

In Chapter 6, Cykowski focuses on the spirit side of the life/spirit divide. This section of her study also features what appears to be Cykowski’s sole criticism of the 1929–30 lecture course, which she calls “Heidegger’s problematic neglect of anthropology in FCM” (141). She complains that whereas Heidegger “dedicates four chapters to life and biology, he is finished with anthropology after one or two sentences” (138). More precisely, Heidegger’s mistake is to turn a blind eye to “the connection between contemporary anthropological and ancient philosophical thought” (151). Cykowski argues that Heidegger’s quick dismissal of the philosophical-anthropological tradition is unwarranted because a closer analysis of the works of Scheler et al. could have paved the way toward a fruitful dialogue between philosophical anthropology and Heidegger’s own attempts to retrieve the insights gained in antiquity but has long since been trivialized. As she puts it,

had Heidegger looked with a more charitable, thorough, and imaginative eye at Scheler and the philosophical-anthropological tradition, he would have found that it is not only mindful and critical of the metaphysical prejudices that have been inherited throughout history, but that it reads, at certain points, like a direct rearticulation of the Greek conception of the human as a being that “speaks out” about physis from within physis, which he takes to be so illuminating. (151)

Let us keep in mind that, according to Cykowski, Heidegger “does not see any profound affiliation between biology and his own philosophical project” (150). It would have been natural, in fact, for the Heidegger that Cykowski has in mind to dedicate more pages to a discussion of Scheler than a discussion of Uexküll—the latter of whom only “unwittingly” and “incidentally” explicates the metaphysical prejudices of his time—so it is not difficult to understand Cykowski’s objection. It may be argued, however, that there is a simple reason for why Heidegger spends much more time on biology than on anthropology. Namely, the reason could be that the concept of world-poverty is, indeed, a Heideggerian concept and that, in his discussion of Uexküll, Heidegger is actually trying to sow the seeds for a “communal cooperation” and a “mutual understanding” between science and philosophy. After all, Heidegger states in no uncertain terms that Uexküll’s investigations have not been sufficiently appreciated for their true worth, that they “have not yet acquired the fundamental significance they could have if a more radical interpretation of the organism were developed on their basis” (Heidegger 1995, 263). In the same vein, Heidegger adds a few lines later that “the engagement with concrete investigations like this is one of the most fruitful things that philosophy can learn from contemporary biology” (Heidegger 1995, 263). Arguably, these insights to be gained from biology exemplify the communal cooperation between philosophy and science, in which case they cannot be confined to expressions of the metaphysical prejudices operative in contemporary thought.

In the final chapter of her book, Cykowski once again contrasts the original Greek conception of speaking about nature from within nature to what she calls “the delusions of modern metaphysics” (166), which is marked by “the derived, simplistic life-spirit categories” (162) as well as a “false dichotomy” (165) between these two concepts. This echoes her earlier discussion of “the divisions and categorisations that comprise the history of metaphysics” (151), which in turn is associated throughout her study with “the tradition.” What Cykowski has in mind with the tradition seems to be an undefined and ambiguous range of post-Greek thinkers, so it only seems natural to raise the following questions: Does this post-Greek tradition include Aristotle’s medieval commentators whom the Cartesians were reacting against? Does it include Hegel, whose philosophy of mind appropriates the Aristotelian model? Does it include Husserl and the entire phenomenological tradition? Cykowski does not provide an answer but suggests instead that somewhere along the way (and apparently without any exceptions) the profound philosophy of the Greeks has become trivialized. Cykowski’s unstated assumption is that—at least insofar as the human-animal relation is concerned—all the Greek philosophers had more or less the same view, but this is highly misleading. Nor is there a convergence between the views held by all philosophers after antiquity. At the risk of oversimplification, I should say that in discussions of life, soul, mind, and the like there are, in the main, two traditions: the Aristotelian tradition and the Cartesian tradition. Cykowski does not try to disentangle the one from the other, but the lack of such an attempt obscures her interpretation of Heidegger.

What further complicates things, however, is that Cykowski understands the tradition to be the source of hierarchies, and one would assume that in saying this she has in mind post-Greek philosophy in general, especially because she also writes that “the originary Greek conception…does not flatly, unambiguously promote the ontological superiority of the human” (168). But this is confusing, to say the least, for there is an even more unambiguous hierarchy—that is, an unmistakable ordering of the grades of soul—in Aristotelian philosophy. If so, however, how would a return to Aristotle help with the abolishment of hierarchies? The question is not addressed because, unfortunately, no sections of her monograph are devoted to the Greek conception of the soul, which is regrettable both because it would have helped clarify the background context in the light of which Heidegger’s discussion of animality can be better understood and because in a number of his lectures the early Heidegger himself devotes many passages to the analysis of the psyche.

To provide some of the missing context, Aristotle’s conception of the soul is one that incorporates a multi-layered structure. As Charles Kahn puts it,

Aristotle is not a dualist but a quaternist: he takes for granted four fundamental categories, not two. The conceptual scheme for Aristotle’s philosophy of mind is best represented by a pyramid with four distinct levels. The lowest level is that of body…[while] the three upper levels are marked off by different forms of psyche or soul: nutritive, sensory, and rational. (Kahn 2004, 194)

To state these levels more precisely, corporeality (i.e., the merely material/inorganic level of nature) contains in itself a suitability for life to emerge, life provides the foundations for the emergence of sentience/perception, and sentient life serves as the enabling condition for thinking to arise. In the words of Frederick Weiss, “Each grade of life has for its condition the grade below it, and in turn is a further development of that grade” (Weiss 1969, 14). In Hegel’s philosophy, Weiss adds, this would mean that “each grade of soul is aufgehoben in the grade above it” (Weiss 1969, 15). What is important to realize here is that the Aristotelian understanding of the actualization of that which exists potentially is such that the aforementioned levels are not “opposed” to one another in any straightforward way; what is at issue here, rather, is an appropriation (i.e., “further development”) of a suitable structure. Similarly, the sublation (Aufhebung) that Hegel speaks of can be understood in this context as an emergence of a grade of life from a lower stage (or “moment”) wherein the latter is preserved in the former.

This way of thinking is strictly antithetical to the Cartesian conception of the two substances (res extensa and res cogitans), which are two alien entities that somehow confront each other and that otherwise share nothing in common with one another. On this model, entities no longer fall under four categories (bodies, living things, animals, humans) but under two: extended substances (bodies, living things, animals) and thinking substances (humans). Hence, the Cartesian tradition perfectly exemplifies what some believe to be an unwarranted conception of “human uniqueness” that Cykowski often talks about, so she is quite correct, after all, in maintaining that a return to the Aristotelian model would provide a remedy in this context, but not by way of shattering hierarchies or abolishing essences, as her study sometimes seems to suggest.

There is an important extent to which Heidegger believes much of modern philosophy to be on the wrong track, and there is some extent to which the early Heidegger believes Aristotle and the phenomenological tradition to provide a remedy (on the condition, of course, that they are correctly interpreted). In my view, this is the background against which we must try to make sense of Heidegger’s attempts to uncover the hidden metaphysical assumptions lying behind much of contemporary philosophy and science. The biggest drawback of Cykowski’s work is the absence of an attempt to articulate this historical background, which she sidesteps to jump directly to a defense of Heidegger who she claims to have been unjustly subjected to a hierarchizing charge by several commentators. However, a sufficient evaluation of this charge would itself demand a more thorough discussion of the question of what, exactly, these hierarchies are and who, exactly, ends up endorsing them, but the demand is not met in the confines of her study.

In the last few pages of her book, Cykowski calls Heidegger “an authority on the concealed danger of metaphysical prejudices” (180) and notes that one of the primary objectives of the lecture course is “to get us to appraise metaphysical principles that are buried in the recesses of contemporary thinking” (188). She concludes that FCM “aims, not at the institution of hierarchical principles, but at the indication of ones to which we are already held fast” (188). In her view, while it is true that Heidegger ascribes to human beings the unique capacity to speak out about physis from within physis, this does not entail that Heidegger is attempting to pursue “the idea of human uniqueness and superiority simply for its own sake” (171). According to Cykowski, FCM still presents us with “a hierarchical picture of things, but it is not one that simplistically celebrates human existence” (186). If we pay attention to the broader context of FCM, she argues, we will come to realize that the contrary is true, that “Heidegger is describing human Dasein as a being that must learn to cope with the fact that its life is not an animal life” (172). If so, the hierarchizing charge levelled at Heidegger is mistaken; it misses the nuances of Heidegger’s reflections on animality.

Despite the complexity of FCM, Cykowski’s discussion of the 1929–30 lectures features a clear prose that remains consistent throughout the work. In general, Heidegger’s Metaphysical Abyss does a good job familiarizing the reader with the scholarship on Heidegger’s reflections on animality and the ways in which he has been criticized by subsequent philosophers. One of the most important virtues of Cykowski’s monograph is that it tries to offer a comprehensive overview of FCM without divorcing the sections on animals from their wider context. Unfortunately, however, Cykowski does not provide us with sufficient textual evidence to support her specific interpretation of this context, in the absence of which she seems to have overstated the extent to which the entire lecture course can be seen as an attempt to uncover the fundamental concepts and the hidden assumptions operative in contemporary philosophy and science. Moreover, and perhaps even more importantly, Cykowski’s construal of the history of philosophy in terms of the difference between Greek and post-Greek thinkers is somewhat too simplistic; her study would have benefited from a deeper engagement with the history of philosophy, which arguably comprises several different traditions concerning the conceptualization of the order of nature and our place in it.


Brogan, W. A. 1984. “Heidegger’s Interpretation of Aristotle: The Finitude of Being.” Research in Phenomenology 14: 249–58.

Heidegger, M. 1995. The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude. Translated by W. McNeill and N. Walker. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Kahn, C. H. 2004. “Aristotle versus Descartes on the Concept of the Mental.” In Metaphysics, Soul, and Ethics in Ancient Thought: Themes from the Work of Richard Sorabji. Edited by R. Salles. New York: Oxford University Press.

Weiss, F. G. 1969. Hegel’s Critique of Aristotle’s Philosophy of Mind. The Hague, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff.

Maria Agustina Sforza: Sein und Leben: Zur Andersheit des Tieres bei Heidegger, Klostermann, 2021

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Heidegger Forum 18
Maria Agustina Sforza
Hardback 49,00 €

Nik Byle: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christological Reinterpretation of Heidegger, Lexington Books, 2021

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Nik Byle
Lexington Books
Hardback £77.00

Stuart Elden: The Early Foucault

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Stuart Elden
Paperback $26.95

Reviewed by: Michael Maidan (Independent Scholar)

Stuart Elden’s The Early Foucault is the third of a four-volume study of the origins and development of Michel Foucault’s thought. This book is the first one regarding the period it covers, basically the 1950s, but it is the third to be published. It will be soon followed by a fourth and final book, that will cover the ‘archaeological’ period and Foucault’s forays into art history and literary criticism. External factors explain the disconnect between the order of production and the chronology. Elden’s first two books dealt with the publication of Foucault’s lectures at the Collège de France.  The publication of the Lectures began in 1997, with the publication of the sixth lecture, Il faut défendre la société (1975-1876). Additional volumes followed it, released not in the order of their delivery by Foucault, but on the availability of audio recordings of the lectures. Foucault’s preparatory notes and other ancillary materials later supplemented and eventually displaced the recordings. Elden’s earlier books responded to the availability of the Lectures and the will to integrate the new material into a coherent picture. The First Foucault and the forthcoming book on Archaeology deal with the archive material made available to the public in recent years. This material includes reading and preparatory notes, lectures of the period before his appointment to The College de France, manuscripts in different degrees of development, philosophical diaries, bibliographies, etc.

Elden is one of the first to attempt a synthetic picture of this wealth of materials. He relies on archival material from Foucault and his contemporaries, detailed comparisons between different editions of published works, and a thorough familiarity with the secondary literature.

While we have three superb biographies of Foucault (Eribon, Miller, and Macey) and numerous specialized studies, these are primarily based on Foucault’s published work and interviews with Foucault and his contemporaries. But the opening of Foucault’s literary estate — deposited today in the Bibliothèque nationale de France — necessitates revisions, or at least qualifications, of our prior understanding of Foucault’s thought and development. Elden’s book is a thorough study of the archive. It also explores Foucault’s stay in Upsala (Sweden) and his use of its University Library’s significant collection of medical books and printed materials. Also, using documents unearthed in recent years by Polish historians, he sheds some light on the sordid story of how the communist Polish secret police attempted to entrap and possibly blackmail Foucault.

It is not possible to describe in detail the riches of the book in this review. Therefore, I will concentrate on a few issues previously insufficiently documented and on how newly discovered materials sheds light on the formation of Foucault’s thought. Ultimately, the book’s structure is strongly indexed to a foretold result, writing the two texts Foucault submitted for his doctoral degree (Doctorat d’État). This structure necessarily downplays the roads not taken. Elden is aware of this, and on several occasions, he considers projects that Foucault abandoned or reoriented into newer ones.

Chapter 1 discusses Foucault’s university studies in philosophy and psychology, with particular emphasis on a Master’s thesis that Foucault prepared under the supervision of Jean Hyppolite.  This work was presumed lost, but it was recently recovered and would be published soon. Chapter 2 investigates Foucault’s first teaching assignments at the University of Lille and the Ecole normale superieure (ENS) in Paris. Chapter three discusses Foucault’s earlier publications and describes several other projects that Foucault began in this period but left unfinished. Chapter 4 looks at his work as a co-translator of the existentialist psychiatrist Binswanger and the philosopher and essayist von Weizsäcker. Chapter 5 analyzes Foucault’s study of Nietzsche and Heidegger, his reading of the work of Dumezil, and his relationship with the composer Jean Barraqué. Chapter 6 covers Foucault’s postings in Upsala and Warsaw, while chapter 7 does the same for the Hamburg period. In Hamburg Foucault translated and commented Kant’s Anthropology, that he submitted as his secondary thesis for his Doctorat d’état. Finally, chapter eight deals with the defense, publications, and after story of Madness and Civilization, his principal doctoral dissertation.

One of the many strengths of Elden’s account is its attention to Foucault’s study of Hegel, Husserl, Kant, the Dasein analytical movement, and many more. This is particularly welcome because Foucault is not very loquacious about his readings. In particular, there is almost no explicit reference in Foucault’s published writings to his extensive reading of Husserl. Elden shows that Foucault studied Husserl intensively, even reading and annotating some of Husserl’s unpublished manuscripts. The same is true of other master thinkers, such as Freud, Binswanger, Nietzsche, and Heidegger.

Chapter 1 presents the teachers Foucault encountered first in Lycée Henri-IV during the preparation for the entrance examination to the École normale supérieure (ENS) and later at the ENS and the Sorbonne. These teachers were not only sources of knowledge and inspiration for Foucault but also incarnated the philosophical establishment, and Foucault will meet them as teachers, examiners, members of his doctoral jury, and later, as colleagues. Of particular interest is the figure of Jean Wahl, who played an essential role as a relay for German philosophy, was interested in the philosophy of Heidegger, but also in Hegel and Kierkegaard. Foucault attended Wahl’s courses on Heidegger in 1950 and possibly also in 1952.

Elden then presents the figure of Jean Hyppolite, and most importantly, the thesis that Foucault wrote under his direction and submitted in 1949. The dissertation asks three questions: (a) what are the limits of the field of phenomenological exploration and what are the criteria for the experience that serves as the point of departure; (b) what the limits of the transcendental domain in which experiences are made up; (c) what the relations of the transcendental world with the actuality of the world of experience (12).

Elden describes Foucault’s arguments (12-17) and adds that Foucault refers to Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit, other Hegel writings, and a wide range of secondary literature, including the work of Kojève, Lukacs, Hyppolite, Löwith, and Croce. Foucault also references Husserl and expositors of Husserl’s philosophy, such as Levinas, Fink, and Sartre. According to Elden, Foucault argues that The Phenomenology of Spirit is not an introduction to the Hegelian system or its first part, but rather an assessment of how a ‘system as the totality of knowledge… could be conceived’ (13).

Elden concludes that it is ‘an apprentice work’ and is surprised that Foucault does not evoke the famous ‘master slave’ theme. He points out some continuity between the thesis and Foucault’s later interests. For example, Elden lists the idea of the transcendental and the stress on the question of knowledge (16). Elden also notes the absence of references to Heidegger and Nietzsche (17). However, he seems less surprised by Foucault’s strikingly ‘unhegelian’ reading of the Phenomenology.

Foucault studied not only philosophy but also psychology and psychopathology. Elden refers to his teachers, Lagache and the psychiatrist and neurologist Ajuriaguerra.  Foucault also read the work of Georges Politzer, who proposed a Marxist oriented ‘concrete psychology,’ critical of psychoanalysis.  Foucault was also interested in the historical approach to psychology that  Ignace Meyerson developed. Regarding psychoanalysis, Elden refers briefly to Pierre Morichau-Beauchant, one of the earliest French psychoanalysts and a friend of his family. Foucault attended Lacan’s seminars. Based on Maurice Pinget, a close friend at that period, Elden writes that Foucault attended Lacan’s seminars in 1951 and until his departure for Upsala in 1955.  But while Pinget claims that Foucault was very enthusiastic about Lacan, other witnesses seem to remember that Foucault had little sympathy for Lacan’s project and philosophical ambitions (20). And Foucault’s early publications do not reflect Lacan’s teachings.  Elden promises more on the relationship between Foucault and Lacan in his forthcoming book about Foucault’s Archaeology (21).

Maurice Merleau-Ponty was another significant influence. Foucault attended Merleau-Ponty’s lectures in 1947-48 in the Sorbonne, but probably not his lectures at the College de France. Foucault wrote an unpublished manuscript on Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy (see chapter 4). Elden describes the influence of Merleau-Ponty as being significant for the young Foucault, in particular, because of Merleau-Ponty’s project to bridge between psychology and philosophy (23).

A section in this chapter deals with the preparation for the aggregation examination. Elden explains the mechanism of the exams (24-25) and portraits some important characters for Foucault in this period, mainly Althusser and Canguilhem. Foucault failed in his first attempt but retook the exam the next year and was graded second in philosophy. One anecdotical aspect of his exams is that Foucault’s subject for the oral exam was sexuality, a topic newly introduced by Canguilhem to the program. It seems that Foucault complained about the subject.

Chapter 2 deals with the Lille and ENS period, from 1949 to his departure for Upsala in 1955. Following his aggregation, Foucault applied for a scholarship to conduct doctoral research at the Foundation Thièrs. His proposal was the study of the problem of human science in post-Cartesian thought and the work of Malebranche and Bayle. Elden remarks that this subject seems to link back to Merleau-Ponty’s lectures on Malebranche and Maine de Biran. In this period, Foucault also worked as an assistant lecturer in psychology at the University of Lille. He taught contemporary psychology and its history, psychoanalysis, psychopathology, Gestalt theory, the work of Pavlov and other Soviet psychologists, Rorschach tests, and the existential psychologies of Roland Kuhn and Binswanger. He also taught psychology at the ENS, covering psychology, experimental psychology, Pavlov, and the psychoanalytical theory of personality.

In parallel to his teaching activities, Foucault obtained a certificate in psychopathology from the Institute of Psychology of Paris. The studies there included lectures and practical observations at the Sainte-Anne psychiatric hospital.

We have several archival materials from this period. Three ‘substantial manuscripts’ were preserved: ‘Connaissance de l’homme et réflexion transcendantale’ (Knowledge of man and transcendental reflection), an untitled manuscript on Binswanger, and one on phenomenology and psychology.  We also have indirect materials, such as student notes, which cover Foucault’s teaching at the ENS.  Elden describes and summarizes the content of this archival material.

Regarding ‘Knowledge of Man,’ the manuscript is in a binder labeled ‘Cours 1952-3’, and its content overlaps with a course that Foucault taught in 1954-5 at the ENS with a different title. Elden suspects these notes may be more than just teaching material, maybe material for a projected thesis. In these manuscripts, Foucault takes leave from his Master’s thesis and explores the notion of a ‘philosophical anthropology.’ The manuscript begins with references to the origins of philosophical anthropology in the early modern era. In a typical Foucauldian gesture, he dates the origins of the word ‘anthropology’ to the work of the physician and philosopher Ernst Platner, a Kant’s contemporary. Next, Foucault surveys the development of anthropology in early modern times, referring to Scheler, Husserl, and Binswanger. Finally, Foucault claims that philosophy did not recognize anthropology as an autonomous discipline because of the influence of dualism, theology, and the privilege given to abstract a priori rationality. Foucault refers abundantly to Leibnitz, Spinoza, Lessing, Malebranche, Descartes. Still, Elden suspects that these sections are most likely oriented to the curricular requirements and are not the kernel of Foucault’s project.  The second part of the course studies Kant’s anthropology in relation to the critical project overall.  A few pages inserted after the concluding chapter of the manuscript deal with ‘the end of anthropology,’ an idea that he powerfully develops many years later in The Order of Things. The final pages are devoted to a reading of Nietzsche, to the relationship of biology to psychology, and the criticism of psychologism, religion, and universal history.  Finally, Foucault reviews current views on anthropology, discussing Jaspers, Heidegger, Löwith, Kaufmann, and Vuillemin.

Elden dedicates a few paragraphs to the question of when and how Foucault knew about Heidegger’s reading of Nietzsche, which was still unpublished at that time. The question is whether Foucault developed his reading of Nietzsche independently of the influence of Heidegger, a query that Foucault himself addressed ambiguously.  Elden discusses this issue in chapter 5.

Another important manuscript of this period is the one on Binswanger.  This manuscript has been, in the meantime, published in a critical edition with the title Binswanger et l’analyse existentielle (2021).  Elden discusses the problems of dating the manuscript, presents Binswanger’s career, and his relationships with Freud, Husserl, and Heidegger.  According to Elden, one of the key themes of Foucault’s manuscript is whether Binswanger was able to move from a descriptive and pre-scientific apprehension of the human being to a rigorously scientific anthropology (34). Elden does not pursue this lead but concentrates instead on showing the extent of Foucault’s mastery of Binswanger’s work.  What attracted Foucault to Binswanger? Elden says that Foucault was attracted by Binswanger’s interest in ‘modes of being of the human.’ Binswanger also provided an alternative to Sartre’s anthropological-phenomenological project (37). Elden adds that while Foucault did not publish this text, it is quite developed. While the manuscript overlaps with his Introduction to Dream and Existence, Foucault did not use this manuscript as a basis for his later essay. Elden speaks of a road not taken, even if eventually the interest in Daseinsanlysis may have inspired Foucault to write History of Madness. But Foucault soon will reject the whole idea of philosophical anthropology and its impossible hermeneutical circle. In his later work, Foucault will castigate as an ‘empirico-transcendental doublet’ the pretension of a philosophical anthropology.

The third manuscript reviewed in this chapter has for title Phénoménologie et psychologie. Foucault gave a course with the same title in 1953-4 and the following year. A different manuscript on psychology in Husserl and Merleau-Ponty may also be part of the course. And a third manuscript, intitled Psychologie et phénoménologie’, seems to date from the same period, but it has only a thematic but not textual relation to the manuscript (40).

Foucault begins with the claim that ‘The tradition attributed two forms to psychological experience, recognizing each as an independent source: introspection…and objective observation…in the first psychology sought its philosophical foundation, in the other its scientific justification. The situation was clear, but it was an alibi: psychology was never where it was suspected to be’ (Foucault, quoted and translated by Elden, 41).

The manuscript follows with the claim that the death of God contributed to the division between subjective and objective forms of experience. But according to Elden, the reference throughout the manuscript is Husserl. Elden comments that Husserl was a major focus of Foucault’s research at this point in his career, even if he rarely discussed Husserl in his writings (42).

Archival material regarding Foucault’s lectures on psychology, child psychology, testing, etc., is not extant. Still, we know indirectly of Foucault’s lectures through notes from students at the ENS, Lagrange, and Simon in particular (43-46).

Elden also refers to Foucault’s internship in the Sainte-Anne hospital, collaborating with Jacqueline and George Verdeux on various testing and electroencephalography research. Foucault also participated in studies conducted at the Fresnes prison, part of a project to evaluate new inmates suitability for different institutions and programs.  Elden observes that Foucault seems to have had in this period an earlier exposure to many of the issues that he will explore in-depth in his mature work. Elden also mentions that Foucault never referred in detail to his previous work, and his recollections were not very consistent. For example, we know that Jacqueline Verdeux requested Foucault’s help for her translation of Binswanger’s work. But Elden does not say if Foucault knew Binswanger before his collaboration with Verdeux or how he came to be interested in his work.

Chapter 3 deals with Foucault’s first publications in the early ’50s. In this period, Foucault wrote three essays and one book, which reflect on Foucault’s interests in psychology and psychopathology. They are the Introduction to the French translation of Binswanger’s Dream and Existence, a review essay on the history of psychology from 1850 to 1950, and finally, one on scientific research and psychology. Maladie mentale et personnalité, a book, was published in 1954, reissued in 1962 with profound changes, and finally abandoned by Foucault. While these writings were published between 1954 and 1957, Elden estimates that they were written simultaneously.

Elden’s decision to separate the published from the unpublished works may be a disservice to himself and his readers, insofar as the detailed descriptions do not coalesce into a clear hypothesis about what drives Foucault’s explorations. We don’t know if Maladie Mentale et Personnalité and the Introduction to Dream and Existence represent the ideas developed in the early manuscripts or their abandonment.

Maladie Mentale et Personnalité was commanded by Jean Lacroix for the series ‘Initiation Philosophique’ published by the prestigious Presses Universitaires de France. The collection was planned as a series of introductions to philosophical subjects. Lacroix accepted Foucault’s proposal in February 1953, and Foucault delivered a manuscript in October 1953. In Chapter 8, Elden compares the original with the revised edition Foucault published after publishing Madness and Civilization. Elden summarizes the book and emphasizes that the way Foucault presents the problem of psychology and pathology is similar to the approach that he will develop in his mature works, namely, uncovering the structures that make possible forms of scientific knowledge (63). At this stage of Foucault’s evolution, the problem is still presented in philosophical anthropological terms: the approach must be grounded on Man itself, not on the abstraction of illness (Elden 65, quoting Foucault). Evaluating the impact of this book, Elden argues that as Foucault’s profile raised, more attention was paid to this book, especially to the (heavily edited) second edition, despite Foucault’s attempts to forget the book. Nonetheless, some have argued that if we want to examine ‘the archaeology of Foucault’s thought,’ we should consider the first edition (quoted by Elden, 78).

Summarizing his argument, Elden states that “it is striking how much of the work that Foucault undertook in the 1960s has its roots back in the period studied here (190). And he adds, ‘what seems striking in reading all of Foucault’s writings, published and unpublished, are links between periods, rather than clear breaks’ (190). Foucault himself characterized his evolution as a philosopher who moved on to psychology and from psychology to history. Elden shows that these transitions are not breaks but the reconfiguration of some initial questions and their development in new directions.

Elden’s book is undoubtedly a treasure trove for the student of Foucault. Elden says that ‘I have read what he [Foucault] read and analyzed what he wrote.’ The extent of his scholarship, the sources, and the available secondary literature are impressive. Elden benefited from access to Foucault’s papers and the work of a group of young researchers that are busy publishing critical editions of several of the documents that Elden refers to. A good example of this is the recent special issue of the journal Theory, Culture and Society, edited by Elden, Orazio Irrera and Daniele Lorenzini with the title ‘Foucault Before the Collège de France.’ And we should commend his selflessly sharing in his blog many facts, big and small, that he helped uncover.

When all is said and done, how is this going to impact our understanding of Foucault? It is too early to say how this will affect our future interpretation of the life and work of Michel Foucault. Most likely, not in a revolutionary way, but we will have a better context and insights on how some of his ideas developed and what they mean. But the philological and the reception dimensions of a work often do not run in parallel. The misunderstandings around Foucault are at least as productive as the historical record. The student of Foucault knows that a concept such as ‘biopolitics’ has a very short half-life in Foucault’s work. But we can argue that it becomes the inspiration for a renewed interest in Foucault’s work several years after his untimely death. The same is true of his criticism of the ‘repressive hypothesis,’ the idea of the ‘death of man,’ the ‘ontology of the present’ and other metaphors easy to weaponize that, tend to disappear from Foucault’s conceptual universe as soon as coined, only to reappear later in a new metaphor.

Reiner Schürmann: Reading Marx: On Transcendental Materialism, Diaphanes, 2021

Reading Marx: On Transcendental Materialism Book Cover Reading Marx: On Transcendental Materialism
Reiner Schürmann Selected Writings and Lecture Notes
Reiner Schürmann. Edited by Malte Fabian Rauch and Nicolas Schneider
Paperback $30.00

Witold Płotka, Patrick Eldridge (Eds.): Early Phenomenology in Central and Eastern Europe. Main Figures, Ideas, and Problems

Early Phenomenology in Central and Eastern Europe: Main Figures, Ideas, and Problems Book Cover Early Phenomenology in Central and Eastern Europe: Main Figures, Ideas, and Problems
Contributions to Phenomenology, Vol. 113
Witold Płotka, Patrick Eldridge (Eds.)
Softcover 72,79 €
IX, 220

Reviewed by: Peter Andras Varga (Institute of Philosophy, Research Centre for the Humanities, Budapest, Hungary)

Why study Central and Eastern European Phenomenology?

I. Introduction: The Geographies of Phenomenology

There have been conspicuous asymmetries in the historiography of local phenomenological traditions which are as unjust as they are pauperizing phenomenology in its entirety. Already the pioneering professional historian of phenomenology, Herbert Spiegelberg (1904-1990), a late-generation Munich phenomenologist who studied at Husserl in Freiburg in WS 1924/25, contributed dedicated studies on key episodes of the nascent Anglophone reception of phenomenology (see esp. Spiegelberg 1981, 105 ff., 144 ff.), and the research field has, in the meantime, matured enough to accommodate, e.g., a comprehensive survey of the institutional focal points and leading figures of North American phenomenology (Ferri 2019). In the recent decades, the historiography of Francophone phenomenology has developed into a genre on its own (see esp. Waldenfels 1983; Gondek and Tengelyi 2011), which is arguably on the verge of being a form of productive phenomenology in historiographical disguise (consider, e.g., the announcement of a purported “theological turn” of its subject matter, see Janicaud et al. 2000). Regardless of its creative ambitions, there also exists an exemplary historiographical study of the origins of Francophone phenomenology, written as early as in 1997 (Dupont 2014).

Other local branches of phenomenology proved less fortunate. Witold Płotka and Patrick Eldridge aim to remedy one of the most conspicuous omissions by charting the large terra incognita that lies east of the Central European phenomenological heartland on the imagined historical map of phenomenology. Geographical explorations have always been welcome parts of scientific endeavor, and maybe it is ample time for phenomenology, which turned from an iconoclastic philosophical revolution into a century-old philosophical tradition, to engage in comprehensive stocktaking, including the survey of its own geographical diversity. However, this raises the crucial question as to whether the historiography of local phenomenological traditions would become capable of enriching phenomenology in a direct and generally relevant way. The editors of the reviewed volume appear to think so, as they not only argue that the “survey of Husserl’s students from Göttingen, or from Freiburg, or Stumpf’s pupils from Berlin” (3) could provide us with East European phenomenologists in dire need of dedicated scholarly analyses, but the editors also emphasize the potential broader contributions of Central and Eastern European (CEE) phenomenology, respectively of its study, to phenomenology in general: The inhabitants of this white patch “confronted phenomenology with new schools in philosophy, e.g., the Prague school in linguistics, the Lvov-Warsaw School in logic, or the strain of irrationalism in Russian thought,” thereby fostering “a permanent dialogue and confrontation with these traditions” (5). The promise of cross-fertilization with local traditions undoubtedly constitutes one of the main rationale for studying the local varieties of intellectual traditions in general, but Płotka and Eldridge put forward another, more specific and simultaneously more phenomenological consideration in favor of including Central and Eastern Europe in the general historical narrative of phenomenology: The “lack of centre,” which is a peculiar feature of this geographical region, “resulted in pluralistic interpretations and reinterpretations of Husserl which were not dominated by any ‘standard’ reading” (6). The purported standard reading of Husserl is, the editors believe, epitomized by the case of Germany, where “the reception of Husserl was to some extent centralized, or dominated by such a reading” (ibid.). The latter claim might sound surprising, given the relatively low profile of phenomenology against other contemporaneous currents of thought in Germany, e.g., pre-war Neo-Kantianism, not to mention Husserl’s delayed academic career (his first full professorial appointment came only in 1916), and the sweeping rise of aphenomenological scientific philosophy in the post-1945 German philosophical climate. In fact, pre-1945 phenomenology, even in its heydays, is probably best regarded as a creative philosophical niche (especially in terms of its institutional footprint), the radiating philosophical and general scientific-cultural influence of which had much exceeded the number of its actual followers. But let us set aside the historiography of German-speaking phenomenology (by the way, writing the specific history of phenomenology in German-speaking countries, in contrast to the usual German-centric universal history of phenomenology, still remains an unfulfilled desideratum; not to mention the inexplicable lack of biographical attention dedicated to phenomenology’s founding fathers); and let us return to the subject matter of phenomenology in Central and Eastern Europe.

I am inclined to concur with the editors that there is also a specifically phenomenological stake of studying CEE phenomenology (besides the usual legitimation of comparative investigations detailed above); albeit it might be less trivial to ascertain what this alleged benefit consists in. The review of the individual chapters in Section II below, thus, simultaneously serves the aim of identifying the purported larger stakes of studying CEE phenomenology. Finally, in Section III, I will try to directly address these general observations.

II. Individual Chapters: From an Eccentric Baron to the Passengers of the Philosopher Streamer and to a Magnum Opus lost in a Ghetto

Hynek Janoušek and Robin D. Rollinger’s study of the Prague roots of phenomenology – which, as the authors point out, reach as deep as Carl Stumpf’s Prague professorship between 1879 and 1884 (!) – is, as always, impressively well-informed and conceptually insightful. They introduce a fresh angle by contrasting Anton Marty (1847-1914), the doyen of the Prague School of orthodox Brentanoism, with baron Christian von Ehrenfels (1859-1932), an eccentric philosopher associated with the heterodox wing of Brentano’s disciples. Marty was not only self-avowedly unoriginal in transmitting Brentano’s doctrine, but he also constitutes a surprise counterexample to the conspicuous lack of progress in publishing Brentano’s Nachlass (see esp. Marty 2011; cf. Binder 2012). Based on these texts, the authors present Brentano’s idiosyncratic tripartite division of psychical phenomena into presentations, judgements, and emotive-volative acts. They skillfully contrast Marty’s reluctance to bestow object-presenting power to the acts of the third class with Ehrenfels’s less-studied theory of values. The object-presenting function of acts beyond presentations also played a prominent role in Husserl’s own development between the two editions of the Logical Investigations (cf. Melle 1990), which, in turn, is mirrored in Husserl’s correspondence with Marty that the authors analyze with an exemplary sensitivity towards its polyphonic historical subtexts.

Janoušek and Rollinger’s chapter is, regrettably, the only one dealing with phenomenology’s (pre)history prior to Husserl’s watershed first publication of the Logical Investigation in 1900-1901, respectively one of the very few parts of the book exclusively dedicated to pre-WWI phenomenology. It is not only that, as even the editors seem to admit (cf. 8), the School of Brentano constitutes an integral part of Early Phenomenology (extending, by the way, well into the 1930s); but the different political geography of pre-WWI Central Europe, especially the existence of the Habsburg Monarchy until 1918, created the preconditions of a shared cultural and scientific space, without which the eastward migration of phenomenology – or, maybe, its genesis in the first place (!) – would not have been possible.

One is even compelled to ask whether pre-WWI CEE phenomenology should be regarded as part and parcel of phenomenology per se? In terms of the geographical designator employed, one might wonder whether it would be better suited with regard to pre-war phenomenology to talk about Central European phenomenology (especially given the general prominence of German-speaking culture and philosophy at that time)? Conversely, whether and to which extent could the undeniably distinct philosophical and cultural identity of CEE phenomenology be regarded as a product of the political and life-world divisions introduced in the wake of the wars, most notably, the installment of the Iron Curtain?

The equally excellent chapter by Dariusz Łukasiewicz is dedicated to another branch of the early School of Brentano, namely the semi-heterodox Viennese student Kasimir (Kazimierz) Twardowski (1866-1938), even though the chapter’s temporal focus is shifted towards the first half of the twentieth century. The author intends to map the historical and conceptual interactions between not only Husserl and Twardowski, but also the Lvow-Warsaw School (LWS), “one of the first branches of analytic philosophy in the world” (37). Not unlike the authors of the previous chapter, Dariusz Łukasiewicz is also preoccupied with the ontological status of intentional objects, though he confined himself to theoretical acts. In exchange for this thematic limitation, his chapter involves a compelling metaphilosophical perspective, ranging from Jan Łukasiewicz (1878-1956) – who not only was a “Christian believer,” loyal “to the Roman Catholic Church in public,” but also believed “that logic and mathematics have their foundation in the divine mind” (48), even though he restraining this conviction from directly influencing his scientific research – to the “logical anti-irrationalism” (3) of the LWS, which, as Dariusz Łukasiewicz argued, still significantly differed from the standpoint of the Vienna Circle, insofar as metaphysical propositions were regarded by the former as “scientifically undecided,” rather than “cognitively nonsensical” (39).

However, the declared main aim of Dariusz Łukasiewicz’s chapter is to identify influences (including both unilateral influences originating from Husserl, as well as interactions and parallel developments) between Husserl’s early philosophy and the LWS. He seems to concur (see esp. 48) with an interpretative tradition in the Polish history of phenomenology, namely with the claim of Władysław Tatarkiewicz (1886–1980), according to which Twardowski’s Viennese habilitation thesis (Twardowski 1894) “inspired Husserl to reject psychologism” and “even stimulated the beginning of Husserl’s phenomenology” (43). At the same time, he claims (see 51 ff) that precisely his pronounced metaphilosophical framework prevented Twardowski from developing a detailed theory of states of affairs (Sachverhalten), in contrast with the developments around Husserl in Göttingen (cf. esp. Reinach 1911).

The question of influences undeniably stands in the focal point of the research in CEE phenomenology, since influences – especially ones purportedly originating from Eastward directions (as assumed by Tatarkiewicz’s original thesis) – would, all at once, solve the aforementioned problem of the relevance of studying the history of CEE phenomenology. This kind of solution, however, is too attractive and convenient to be true. For instance, and with all due respect to long-standing local interpretative traditions in the history of philosophy, Tatarkiewicz’s thesis about the origins of the content-object distinction (COD) is, at best, oversimplifying: Even though Husserl indeed penned a text he himself described an immediate “reaction to Twardowski” (Husserl 1994, I:144; cf. Husserl 1990); the development of his theory of intentionality between 1894 and the Logical Investigations in 1900/1901 is complex and far from being linear, not least due to the roots of COD at others members of the School of Brentano (e.g. Alois Höfler’s [1853-1922], cf. Höfler 1890), as well as Robert Zimmermann (1824-1898), the oft-ignored teacher of Husserl and other Brentanoists in Vienna. This clue is briefly mentioned, but left undeveloped by Dariusz Łukasiewicz (see 44), even though a broader survey of published and archival sources could further corroborate the non-Brentanoian roots of Husserl’s theory of intentionality (see also Varga 2014, 2015, 2018a). What renders this subordinated question of historical details especially important for the purposes of CEE phenomenology is, I think, that precisely these non-Brentanoian sources of Husserl’s philosophy represented the specifically CEE philosophy of the late nineteenth century (e.g., Herbartianism and the omission of German Idealism in general, cf. Sauer 1982).

In general, the historiographic model of simple causal »influences« – let them be uni- or bidirectional – will probably have to be refined, as already indicated by clues of a more nuanced understanding scattered in Dariusz Łukasiewicz’s sophisticated chapter (e.g.: “indirect reference to Husserl,” p. 41, n. 11; “partial” influence, p. 41; historical prejudices concerning a certain epoch of the history of philosophy, p. 45, n. 24 etc.). On the one hand, such a refined notion of »influence« designates an even broader fertile field of research for historians of CEE phenomenology. On the other hand, it could also prevent us from reducing the merits of CEE phenomenology to its purported direct influences on some canonical figures of the general history of phenomenology.

Natalia Artemenko’s thoughtful and thoroughgoing chapter not only moves the geographical focus further Eastwards, but her investigation of Gustav Špet (or Shpet; 1879-1937) also involves another promise – and, simultaneously, another methodological challenge – of mapping the potential contribution of CEE phenomenology: namely, the issue of isolated »towering figures« who were philosophically significant on their own (at least in their local cultures and under the constraints of their personal fates), but whose actual ties to the mainstream Phenomenological Movement were not always unambiguous, both in biographical and intellectual terms, as well as regarding their reception histories. While Artemenko acknowledges that Špet’s “early creative work […] lies in the wake of phenomenology” (already allowing for some “deviations;” 60); she argues that Špet’s oeuvre is best regarded as an example of “the synthesis of the humanities that emerged during the first half of the twentieth century” (ibid.). What makes Špet’s case intriguing is that the historical problem of his allegiance to the Phenomenological Movement (Špet studied at Husserl in Göttingen in 1912-1913) is, at the same time, a theoretical problem of the viability and outlook of his “conjunction of phenomenology and hermeneutics” (70). Similar projects aiming at the phenomenology of historical knowledge were also pursued by other phenomenologists in Husserl’s shadow (to name a less prominent example: Landgrebe 2010); but what distinguishes Špet’s one is its proximity to Husserl’s Ideas (Husserl 1913), not only temporally, but also in terms of Špet’s appropriation, though not entirely uncritical, of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology expounded therein, which infamously became the stumbling block for early phenomenologists around Husserl in Germany (even if, contrary to p. 62, the prize for the first monograph on Husserl’s  Ideas goes, technically, to Eugen Enyvvari’s [1884-1959] fifty-five-pages-long book of descriptive nature: Enyvvári 1913). Špet, Artemenko believes, was “immersed in the tradition of humanistic thought (Dilthey, Schleiermacher)” (69) but “adhered” to Husserl’s “phenomenology” “in his hermeneutical studies” (67); thereby challenging the path famously taken by Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) and Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002). As Artemenko aptly remarks, this raises the question: “does the semantic history [of hermeneutics] coincide with the actual history and chronology?” (66.)  It is all the more regrettable that the unfolding of Špet’s philosophy, as well as of its contemporaneous reception, were tragically precluded by the course of history; even if Artemenko, interestingly, regards Špet’s status as “ ‘outsider,’ […] not shackled by institutional constraints or disciplinary frameworks” (63) as a philosophically beneficial factor for him. In any case, it tells a lot about the Sitz im Leben of twentieth-century CEE phenomenology to compare the admittedly not entirely unhospitable conditions, under which Paul Ricoer (1913-2005) translated Husserl’s Ideas in Western prisoners of war camps (see Reagan 1996, 9 ff.), with Špet’s ill-fated attempt to re-translate Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit in a lager in Siberia.

The descriptive-phenomenologically dense and rewarding chapter by Alexander Kozin continues the thread of Russian contributions to phenomenology, even if its subject matter exemplifies a different, though not uncommon kind of biographical trajectory. Semyon Frank (1877-1950) was born and raised in an affluent Jewish family in Moscow. Around 1912, he became converted to orthodoxy; within one decade, he found himself aboard one of the two infamous Philosophy Streamers, which deported more than 150 members of the Russian intelligentsia – handpicked by Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) himself – from Petrograd (today’s Saint Petersburg) to Stettin (today’s Szczecin in Poland), where, unbeknownst to many, another series of misfortunes awaited them (see Chamberlain 2008).

While Frank is not customarily labelled as phenomenologist, Kozin argues that “Frank’s philosophical psychology is more phenomenological than it seems” (90); thereby Frank could belong to the series of thinkers embodying the intertwinement of CEE phenomenology and religious thought (more specifically in Frank’s case, “Christian idealism;” 76). In order to demonstrate this classification, Kozin analyses at length Frank’s phenomenological psychology of the soul, which involved not only Brentano and Husserl, but also Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). In an interesting footnote, Kozin claims, on the basis of referring to Husserl’s Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology (first partial edition: Husserl 1936; unabridged critical edition: Husserl 1962), that “Frank anticipated Husserl’s appreciation of psychology as a discipline adjacent to phenomenology by its purpose and method.” (82, n. 7), since Husserl’s Crisis “points to psychology as one of the two ways into phenomenology” (ibid.). I think this insightful remark could be made even stronger on the basis of Husserl scholarship, insofar as Husserl, according to the received scholarly view, regarded the »way through psychology« as any one of three main types of introducing phenomenology philosophically (see its classical exposition: Kern 1962). In other words, Husserl was convinced throughout the entirely mature phase of his career that a pure (i.e., non-transcendental) psychology, if executed in a careful enough way phenomenologically, would necessarily transfigure into transcendental phenomenology (or, at least, lead us directly to the doorsteps of the latter). From this point of view, the envisaged historical parallel between Frank’s religious psychology of the soul and Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology could acquire a deeply theoretical-philosophical underpinning.

The informative and sensitive chapter by Dalius Jonkus on the Lithuanian and Russian philosopher Vasily (or: Vosylius) Sesemann (1884-1963) also involves one of the main historical counterparts of phenomenology, namely Neo-Kantianism, especially its scientifically-oriented Marburg variant, as epitomized by Paul Natorp (1854-1924), with whom, by the way, Husserl sought to be on friendly terms, even if this friendship remained somewhat unilateral. According to Jonkus’ theses, Sesemann’s philosophy was “more associated with the phenomenological tradition rather than the Neo-Kantian one” (94); and, furthermore, Sesemann’s philosophy “is very close to Husserl’s own late project of genetic phenomenology, which Husserl developed within roughly the same timeframe” (109). While Jonkus’ reconstruction of Sesemann’s analysis of the significance of non-objectifying, pre-scientifical knowledge is convincing, this thesis hints at a serious challenge for the historiography of phenomenology in general, namely the lack of an effective two-way communication of ideas between the historical figures, especially the asynchrony between the inner development of Husserl’s thought and what his disciples, located in Germany or abroad, ascribed him as influence. After all, as seen above, already in the 1900s Husserl started working in the 1900s on the problem of non-objectifying presentation that involve domains of knowledge beyond pure logic (see already Melle 1990), not to mention that Husserl seems to have formulated the basic tenets of his genetic phenomenology already around 1910-1911 (see already Sakakibara 1997). In this regard, one could speak of the »synchronicity of non-synchronicities« within the history of phenomenology. Of course, what it implies for us is only to double-down our efforts at writing the history of phenomenology. It also belongs to the merits of Jonkus’ chapter that he also takes into account possible lateral connections between early phenomenologists (involving not only Max Scheler [1874-1928] but even Dietrich von Hildebrand [1889-1977], see 100).

The impressive chapter by Marek Piwowarczyk is dedicated to Roman Ingarden (1893-1970). There is, Piwowarczyk observes, a tectonic movement taking place in Ingarden scholarship, insofar as “now his ontology and epistemology” comes to the fore (instead of “his work on aesthetics;” 111), which goes hand in hand with a change in scholarly audience: “analytic philosophers” nowadays “seem to be more interested in the Ingardenian legacy than phenomenologists” (114). I wonder whether this shift is not entirely unconnected to a certain general waning of Ingarden’s fame in the phenomenological pantheon (even though he still counts as one of, if not the most known CEE phenomenologist, especially as we become more and more distant from the core scholarly community of present-day phenomenologists). In any case, Piwowarczyk’s study of Ingarden’s early works (up to Ingarden’s habilitation thesis) undoubtedly transcends the old rigid dichotomy between analytical philosophy and phenomenology: it combines a meticulous conceptual and philological analysis (he is aware, e.g., of Ingarden’s “change of mind” between the “first and second parts” of a text; 177) with general references to the scientifical-philosophical mainstream views of that time (cf. 115). In his hands, Ingarden’s “youthful theory of the objects” manifests itself as a theory that is not only distinctly different from its version at the mature Ingarden, but maybe even exemplifies a “sui generis doctrine” (125) that cannot be directly classified under any of the textbook object theories that gained currency in contemporary analytical philosophy (cf. 118 ff.).

The informative chapter by Viorel Cernica on Nae Ionescu (1890-1940), who studied at Husserl around 1913-14 (cf. 129), and Romanian phenomenology in general is important not only because it further augments the picture of local sub-histories of phenomenology, but also because it touches upon a topic that animated the interest in phenomenology in CEE and beyond, namely religion and metaphysics (not to mention their »grafting« onto phenomenology by Martin Heidegger). According to Cernica, Ionescu could legitimately be regarded as phenomenologist, because, even though his oeuvre undoubtedly belongs “to a metaphysical way of philosophizing, he carries it out with phenomenological techniques from Husserl’s toolbox” (137). Intriguing elements of this toolbox include the phenomenological ontology of images and the issue of “virtuality” (133), respectively intentional modifications in general; while the open questions raised by Ionescu’s approach and Cernica’s interpretative thesis range from the long-standing debate on whether phenomenology should be considered as a system of doctrines or, rather, as a mere method to the question of theistic intentionality – in this regard, Cernica rightly invokes Jean-Luc Marion’s phenomenological theology (see 139) – and to the historiographical questions of school formation and philosophical lineages. In the latter regard, Cernica mentions that Ionescu himself instructed some of his own pupils to study phenomenology in Germany in the 1930s (cf. 142), which hints at a certain generational dynamism – in phenomenological parlance: generativity – in the encounters between CEE and global (German) phenomenology. In each of these facts, Cernica’s chapter manifests the richness of the Romanian local sub-history of CEE phenomenology, as well as the exemplary intensity of interest in phenomenology by present-day philosophers in Romania.

The chapter by Uldis Vēgners on the Latvian phenomenologist Theodor Celms (1893-1989) is well-researched and philosophically engaging. While Vēgners definitely maintains an independent scholarly profile with regard to Celms (see, e.g. Vēgners 2012), he also stands on the shoulders of giants: one can but wish that all CEE phenomenologists would be devoted as much scholarly attention as Celms, who is not only subject of a several research articles but there also exists a scholarly edition of his selected writings in German. The other side of the same coin is that Celms, as acknowledged by Vēgners (see esp. 147), stands in the intersection of complex historical and philosophical identities: he could be equally well regarded as member of the Freiburg Phase of Early Phenomenology (after all, he studies at Husserl in Freiburg in the 1920s), not to mention his explicit ties to unambiguously non-phenomenological philosophers (to begin with, Celms obtained his doctoral degree in 1923 under the supervision of Josef Geyser [1869-1948] who, even though Vēgners did not mention this, was a Catholic philosopher explicitly committed to philosophia perennis and his professorship was officially a Catholic chair, see, e.g., Husserl 1994, VIII: 163, n. 6). What I find particularly fascinating is that prior to 1928, Celms had been working on interpreting “Husserl’s phenomenology as transcendental historism” (146). Together with the aforementioned Ludwig Landgrebe and Gustav Špet, there seems to have been a forgotten strain of phenomenological hermeneutics – i.e., Husserlian phenomenology of history and interpretation – with a noteworthy considerable CEE involvement, which is completely overshadowed by Dilthey-Heidegger-Gadamer lineage, not to mention the charges of Husserl’s lack of sensitivity towards history which were circulating already amongst his contemporaries.

Vēgners’ chapter is, however, dedicated to another facet of Celms’ oeuvre, namely his involvement in the ill-fated Idealism-Realism Debate, which erupted already in Göttingen by 1913 at the latest and which, sadly, led to the deterioration of the personal and professional relationships between Husserl and his disciplines and, possibly, to the demise of classical phenomenology as such (and the subsequent rise of Heidegger’s fame). In this debate, Celms is customarily perceived as a comrade-in-arms of the realist Göttingen phenomenologists, but Vēgners also argues that Celsm, on the basis of his philosophical allegiances and occasional writings, “actually might not have been a phenomenologist anymore, but rather a critical realist” (149) by that time. He provides a meticulous analysis of Celms’ standpoint and arguments. It belongs to Vēgners’ virtues that he pays special attention to the reception of Celms, including not only the historical thesis that Celms was behind the anonymous objections to which Husserl replied in his Fifth Cartesian Meditation, but also the discussion of Celms 1928 book by his contemporaries, in which CEE phenomenologists, too, played a fully legitimate role. Interestingly, the issue of phenomenological hermeneutics returns twice: First, Vēgners conjectures that Celms’ “turn was a consequence of his realization that Husserl’s phenomenology does not lead to transcendental historism as he previously believed” (149). The second promising lead is constituted by Vēgners’ discussions (see 155-156) of Celms’ idea of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology being a “Lebensphilosophie” (155), more precisely an “absolute biographism” (156).

That said, I disagree with the way Vēgners, in the introduction of his chapter (145 f.), equates phenomenological reduction and transcendental idealism (following in the footsteps of the old Munich interpretation by Eberhard Avé-Lallemant and others). I think that the former is a method of avoiding explanatory circularities (see the masterly interpretation: Lohmar 2002) and the latter is a standpoint vis-à-vis the classic metaphysical question regarding the priority of opposite poles (usually the world and the sense-giving ego). This sense of transcendental idealism is, I think, well expounded in the texts of the recent volume of Husserliana on transcendental idealism (Husserl 2003), which might have been a good addition to Vēgners’ bibliography. By the way, it also makes the historical case that Husserl already arrived at idealism in around 1908 (while the discovery of reduction is customarily dated at 1906).

The exemplary chapter by Witold Płotka on Leopold Blaustein (1905-1942/1944) explores a “rather unknown” (164) actor of CEE phenomenology and his contribution to aesthetics, another neighboring discipline of core phenomenological philosophy (which Blaustein, in a fascinating way, also applied to the new media of his age: “radio” and “cinema;” 180). Blaustein’s intellectual biography epitomizes the multifaceted and, more often than not, ruptured nature of CEE phenomenology: born in a Polish-Jewish family in Lemberg in Galicia (then part of the Habsburg Empire; during Blaustein’s adult life: Lvov in Poland; today Lviv in Ukraina), his philosophical allegiances ranged from Twardowski and the LWS to Husserl, at whom he studied in Freiburg in 1925, and to orthodox members of the School of Brentano, e.g., Alexius Meinong (1853-1920). He never assumed a teaching position at a university and died, together with his wife, a fellow disciple of Twardowski, and their child in the Lvov Ghetto (it is also possible that he took his own life). His German “magnum opus” (165), entitled Die ästhethische Perzeption (The Aesthethical Experience), was also lost in historical calamities.

Płotka’s masterful chapter is a match for the complexity Blaustein’s biography and oeuvre: It is not only that Płotka offers a meticulous reconstruction of the circumstances of Blaustein’s encounter with Husserlian phenomenology (up to the question as to exactly which portions of Husserl’s lecture courses were attended by him, cf. 166, esp. n. 4), as well as his philosophical standpoint on the basis of his extant Polish doctoral dissertation of 1928 and other minor writings (including Blaustein’s review of Ingarden). As if that were not enough, Płotka goes on to reconstruct a possible Husserlian counter-critique of Blaustein’s critique of Husserl, based on not only Ingarden’s own critique of Blaustein and what Blaustein could have learnt from his studies at Husserl (cf. 175), but also on the most recent text on Husserl’s eidetical phenomenology (Husserl 2012), not yet available to many of the scholars writing about Blaustein (not to mention Blaustein himself). Blaustein’s misconstruction of eidos as “transcendent timeless object” (174) is, Płotka argued, ultimately rooted in a combination of specific and general misinterpretations: e.g., overseeing the iterative closure operation of eidetical intuition, as well as a general ignorance of the proper nature and vistas of transcendental-constitutive phenomenology. Just one side remark: it might also be interesting to assess the possible consonance between Blaustein’s proposal of anti-eidetical phenomenology as a “descriptive science of types […] of lived experiences” (as quoted on p. 167) and the understanding of eidos as intuited type (Typus), as proposed by the interpretation devised by Dieter Lohmar (see, e.g., Lohmar 2005), in contrast to the interpretation by Rochus Sowa (see already: Sowa 2008), upon which Płotka’s analysis relied.

Płotka goes even further, insofar as he proceeds to locate the own merits of Blaustein’s aesthetical theory, using philosophically tricky edge cases of intentionality (mathematical objects possessing too many sides to be intuited, nested pictures etc.). In sum, Płotka’s chapter aptly demonstrates that historical and philosophical-thematical sensitivities are far from being mutually exclusive alternatives in approaching the history of philosophy.

The chapter on Jan Patočka’s (1907-1977) early confrontation with Husserlian phenomenology by Karel Novotný is yet another masterful contribution in an excellent volume. In fact, it is safe to regard Patočka as the currently most studied CEE phenomenologist and Novotný as not only one of Patočka’s most skilful interpreters but also as one of the major voices of contemporary phenomenology eastwards of Germany. The philosophical and historical analyses and the textual basis of the chapter are correspondingly dense (to begin with, it relies on writings of Patočka first published posthumously only in 2014 and even then, only in Czech). Patočka was “the first in the Czechoslovakia to” (189) introduce Husserl’s ideas but, in contrast to his fellow philosophers with same epitheton ornans throughout CEE (as presented in the reviewed volume), Patočka was also keen to embrace Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology as well. I dare to think that the latter fact is not entirely unrelated to his later ability to put forward an original philosophical oeuvre that deserves a place in the global canon of twentieth century philosophy in general. At the same time, Patočka was also not devoid of an interest towards Lebensphilosophie, another recurring thread of CEE phenomenologists in the reviewed volume. It must also be said, in defence of Patočka’s fellow CEE phenomenologists, that the Czech philosopher was fortunate in two key respects: (1) he had a privileged access to Husserl’s mature research manuscripts (see esp. p. 191, n. 6 and p. 192, n. 7), which enabled him, inter alia, to harmonize Husserl’s mature genetic phenomenology – that not infrequently speaks of »transcendental life« – with the pretensions of Lebensphilosophie; (2) his habilitation thesis late (and well-informed) enough to investigate the published fragment of Husserl’s last book torso, the Crisis (Husserl 1936), which is not only the most accessible amongst Husserl’s mature published writings (in 1937, Husserl himself deemed his previous book nearly incomprehensible, see Husserl 1994, IV:60), but also promising thematically.

The novel texts discussed by Novotný manifest “fundamental change” in Patočka’s understanding of Husserl’s genetic-transcendental phenomenology (Patočka as quoted by Novotný, p. 197); and, according to Novotný’s central and significant interpretative thesis, in is this “novel interpretation” upon which the post-war writings “that garnered Patočka the most fame as original philosopher with innovative views […] were grounded” (201). This tectonic change stems from Patočka’s quest for a “pristine” coincidence “between subject and object enclosed within itself” (Patočka as quoted by Novotný, p. 197), on the basis of which special experience (“lacking the very possibility of distance;” 199), Novotný argues, Patočka developed a non-subjective version of the transcendental-phenomenological correlation that became productive when, in the post-war period, Patočka once again resumed his intellectual investment in the philosophy of life. In this regard, it might be interesting to draw a comparison with the contemporaneous ideas of Eugen Fink (1905-1975) who, in an even closer personal proximity to Husserl, also experimented in a similar, though more overtly metaphysical form of closure of the subject-object movement in the form of his ambitious notion of the meontic absolute. Even though the declared scope of Novotný’s chapter prevents him from dwelling upon Patočka’s biography, it is worth mentioning for the sake of foreign readers that Patočka’s life, too, ended prematurely at the merciless hands of history: the septuagenarian philosopher had to become hospitalized and died after being interrogated by the secret police due to his involvement in the Charta 77 anti-communist civil rights movement.

The last chapter of the book, written by Dragan Prole on the Zagorka Mićić (1903-1982), not only casts light on a lesser-known local sub-history of phenomenology, but it is also of paramount importance because Mićić is the only woman amongst the protagonists of the reviewed volume (apart from the passim reference to Eugénie Blaustein née Ginsberg; cf. 165).

It is generally acknowledged that Early Phenomenology, especially the circle of disciples around Husserl in the late Göttingen and early Freiburg years, was at the forefront of academic emancipation of women. Several of the female early phenomenologists – most notably Edith Stein (1891-1942) and Hedwig-Conrad Martius née Martius (1888-1966) – embarked on philosophical careers on their own and the academic hindrances they encountered in doing so, e.g., the refusal of Stein’s repeated habitation attempts, were, I think, outside of the scope of control of the core Phenomenological Movement (at least, when it comes to the scope of Husserl’s direct influence). From this point of view, it might be desirable to address this aspect of CEE phenomenology in more detail, as I am convinced that CEE phenomenology was in no way inferior to its global counterpart in this regard.

Prole thankfully introduces a refreshing angle into presenting the early reception of phenomenology in the inter-war Kingdom of Yugoslavia, insofar as he discusses the broader political and cultural debates in the wide-ranging and often contradictory contexts of which the reception process took place. Not unlike the intellectual preconditions in other countries (the German heartland included), the pioneers of phenomenology in Yugoslavia were, Prole wrote, philosophers who “no longer believed in the mere appropriation of inherited forms” (206). It also belongs to the virtues of Prole’s chapters that he takes into account the explicitly theological strain of the early reception of phenomenology (curiously or not, phenomenology was fiercely opposed by Jesuits on the grounds that it “embodies the Protestant longing for the truth and the real world;” 207).

Mićić’s private studies at Husserl and Fink – in early 1935 (see Husserl 1994, IV:373, n. 219) or in 1934 (cf. 210) – dated at the less-documented period when only a seclusive tiny group of disciples remained around Husserl (in exchange, Mićić had easier access to Husserl’s Crisis that was published in an exile journal precisely in Belgrade). Mićić’s dissertation, originally defended in 1934, was published three years later, thus she was able to utilize Husserl’s book published in the meantime (Husserl 1936), not to mention her “personal communication” with Husserl, as well as the ability “to consult a wealth of Husserl’s unpublished manuscripts” (209). The threads of the chapter’s investigation join in Mićić’s claim that the exposition of transcendental phenomenology must pay a greater attention to history (cf. 211). In doing so, she self-avowedly diverged from Fink’s views – who contributed a separate preface to her book – with regard, e.g., to the possibility of motivating or criticising phenomenology from an external, non-phenomenological standpoint (while she simultaneously participated replied to a fierce external critique of Husserl by one her compatriots). Ironically, the young doctoral student whose dissertation had, until now, buried by being written in a non-Western language (not to mention its place of publication), could have been closer to Husserl’s own specific understanding of the methodology of his mature phenomenological philosophy, than Eugen Fink, Husserl’s privileged assistance and co-philosophizing partner in Freiburg. It is, thus, not only the circumstances of her life that, I think, should make translating her original doctoral dissertation into English or German into one of the top priorities of scholarly efforts dedicated to CEE phenomenology (besides expressing our gratitude to Prole for filling the gaps of our knowledge about Mićić).

III. General Remarks: The Movement without a Centre?

It is hard to overstate the merits of Witold Płotka and Patrick Eldridge in putting together this volume. For international readers, it is also worth highlighting that Witold Płotka not only maintains a strong scholarly profile in researching the history of phenomenology in Poland (see, e.g., Płotka 2017), but – through his enthusiasm, commitment,  and professionalism – he is one of the main driving forces behind the current fortunate revival of cooperation between younger CEE phenomenologists (following in the footsteps of similar earlier revival attempts undertaken by the previous scholarly generations in this region, several meritorious representatives of them are included amongst the contributors of the reviewed volume). For a venture of this kind, it is only natural that the reviewed volume did not attain an exhaustive enumeration of the history of CEE phenomenology, either geographically or temporally or in terms of senior contemporary representatives of phenomenology in this region (as far as I am aware of it, what came closest to such an attempt was the enumeration of the local traditions of phenomenology in the entries of Lester Embree’s [1938-2017] encyclopedia: see, e.g., Mezei 1997). It also goes without saying that the selection and weighting of historical figures in such a volume do not exactly correlate with the full historical canon of CEE phenomenology (not least because the complete exploration of the latter still remains a scholarly desideratum). While many of the omitted historical figures are buried by their primary and secondary literature being available only in local languages; there is, in a welcome change, a growing body of scholarly editions and research literature on CEE phenomenology in Western languages. In their introduction, the editors mention some of these publications which might help augmenting the historical picture provided by them (e.g., Zoltán Szalai’s German monograph [Szalai 2017] on the Hungarian-born Wilhelm Szilasi [Szilasi Vilmos; 1889-1966] who was teaching at the chair of philosophy in Freiburg, once assumed by none else than Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger). Let me mention only one further piece of writing in this regard (Vydrová 2020), both for the sake of its methodological sensitivity and as a representative of the local phenomenological and interpretative traditions in the CEE region not covered by the reviewed volume.

One general aspect that the readers might find underexposed in the reviewed volume is, though, the presentation of CEE phenomenology’s deep embeddedness in its multifaceted historical, political, and social contexts (some of these possible contexts were specially emphasized above in the present review essay). Perhaps we can attribute this underexposure to phenomenology’s deep-seated aversion against a historical approach to philosophy: “the mathematician too will not turn to historical science,” Husserl once thundered in his ill-fortunate Philosophy as rigorous science, “[…h]ow, then, is it to be the historian’s task to decide as to the truth of given philosophical systems” (Husserl 1911, 325–326; quoted translation: Husserl 1965, 126)? But this heritage should not necessarily bind the historians of CEE phenomenology, especially since investigations of these rich contexts could serve as a bridge between scholars of phenomenology and other disciples in humanities and social sciences. What I find particularly fascinating in this regard is the fact that the reception of phenomenology fulfilled different, sometimes even diametrically opposed roles in this region, especially in the Eastern Bloc states. For instance, it is instructive to compare the role classical phenomenology played in the thinking of, say, Karol Wojtyła (Pope St John Paul II; 1920-2005; cf., e.g., Gubser 2014, 188 ff.) vis-à-vis some members of the Budapest School around Georg Lukács (1885-1971), see: Vajda 2016. This variety of phenomenology’s multifaceted political involvements and social contexts – in which respect CEE phenomenology might be ahead of its more fortunate Western counterpart – seems like a worthy and promising subject matter of further scholarly investigations.

CEE phenomenology has, since its inception, been haunted by its geographic and linguistic fragmentation, resulting in a strange form of compartmentalized parallel sub-histories of phenomenology in this region, with little vertical integration between its strains, except for the Western (i.e., German and French) tradition of phenomenology being their common origin and contemporary points of reference. Curiously, one of the rare counterexamples to this peculiar twist of reception history took place precisely due to the now-forgotten dialogue between phenomenology and Eastern bloc Marxism that might be worthy of further scholarly attention (see, e.g., Waldenfels et al. 1977 and the subsequent volumes), including the general institutional substructure of philosophical exchange of ideas within the Eastern bloc (e.g., the regular symposia in the island of Korčula in the then relatively permissive Yugoslavia). It also goes without saying that the unfolding of the full promise inherent in CEE phenomenology has been further impeded by the multifaceted calamities of history in this region, as well as its comparative lack of academic and general cultural and societal resources. The latter issue, arguably, still persists today, even if only to a lesser degree; and we can but hope that history will not repeat itself in the former respect.

From a scholarly point of view, there is, however, a further scientific factor that impedes the historiography of CEE phenomenology, namely yet incomplete task of writing the history of CEE philosophy in the first place. Given its similarly fragmented and compartmentalized nature, as well as its incomparably broader scope, this task present itself as an even more demanding and, more often than not, a thankless job. To cite a specific local example: The nineteenth and twentieth century Hungarian philosophers frequently questioned whether Hungarian philosophy existed at all, referring to the specifically anti-philosophical nature of their supposed national character (see Steindler 1988), which, of course, amounts to a form of performative contradiction, ultimately rooted in the tension of philosophical creativity versus reception (cf. Perecz 2003). At the same time, the “chimaera of the concept of national philosophy” is, at least from a historiographic-scholarly point of view, probably better accommodated within the framework of a comparative history of CEE philosophy and its neighboring disciples, e.g., literature (Mester 2012, 271); and exploratory research (e.g., Varga 2020) may still be needed in many areas. Yet, non-phenomenological historical figures could shed light even on the (pre-)history of global phenomenology (see, e.g., Alexander 2018; cf. Varga 2018b). In sum, even though the actual intricacies of CEE history of philosophy might vary from region to region and from language to language, it could be safely assumed that neither of them constitutes an easy historiographical prerequisite for writing the history of the corresponding local chapter of phenomenology that is to be embedded in it (not to mention the problem of their comparative investigations).

Interestingly, an analogous problem arises within the history of German philosophy: Rather than being a creatio ex nihilo, phenomenology originated from the oft-ignored historical context of late nineteenth century post-Hegelian German academic philosophy (Universitätsphilosophie). This period has, for long, been overshadowed by an alternative canon of the history of nineteenth century German philosophy after Hegel, the monumental protagonists of which were proto-existentialist and left-Hegelian thinkers (as presented emphatically by, e.g., Löwith 1941). This scholarly situation is gradually changing (cf., Köhnke 1986; Beiser 2014), even though comparatively less attention is paid to finding the place of phenomenology within this new paradigm of post-Hegelian German philosophy (cf. Varga 2016a; a case study on the role of the hitherto forgotten nineteenth century logician Christoph von Sigwart [1830-1904]: Varga 2016b). In this regard, the compartmentalized pre-histories of CEE phenomenology can serve as instructive example for the historiography of phenomenology in general. There is, however, more to it, insofar as CEE phenomenology could bring more to global phenomenology.

As I said above, I disagree with the editors’ assessment that CEE phenomenology were a “pluralistic movement which we cannot reduce to a few research centres” (5). I disagree because I think it applies not only to CEE phenomenology, but, a fortiori, to global phenomenology as well. Setting aside the historical question concerning the weight of the Phenomenological Movement in pre-war and inter-war periods of German philosophy; it is a well-known phenomenon of contemporary academic philosophy that phenomenology (especially its classical core), is to a large extent, sustained by an intense interest in it by scholars on the peripheries, rather than at the academic centers in Western world – i.e., the nominal centers of phenomenology – which are, with some honorable exceptions, dominated by Analytical Philosophy or other branches of contemporary nonphenomenological philosophy. Central and Eastern Europe, esp. the former Eastern bloc, is, of course, not the only such periphery (in this regard, one should definitely mention Far East and South America as well); but it is undoubtedly one of the regions whose historically rooted, rejuvenating enthusiasm for phenomenology contributes to keeping phenomenology at the forefront of contemporary philosophy. It is through the laudable and courageous achievement of Witold Płotka and Patrick Eldridge, as well as their authors that this lesson – and with it, the special legacy of CEE phenomenology, namely the heightened sensitivity towards historical and thematical ruptures – is brought to our attention once again.


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———. 2016b. “The Impersonalien Controversy in Early Phenomenology. Sigwart and the School of Brentano.” Brentano Studien 14: 229–280.

———. 2018a. “Husserl’s Early Period: Juvenilia and the Logical Investigations.” In The Oxford Handbook of the History of Phenomenology, edited by Dan Zahavi, 107–134. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

———. 2018b. “A Snapshot of Austrian Philosophy on the Eve of Franz Brentano’s Arrival. The Young Bernhard Alexander in Vienna in 1868–1871.” Magyar Filozófiai Szemle 62 (4): 182–207.

———. 2020. “Who Were the First Modern Professional Philosophers in Hungary? The Authors of the Journal Magyar Philosophiai Szemle (1882–1891).” In Lords and Boors – Westernisers and ‘Narodniks’ : Chapters from Polish and Hungarian Intellectual History, edited by Béla Mester and Rafał Smoczyński, 135–170. Budapest: Gondolat.

Vēgners, Uldis. 2012. “Theodore Celms’s Critique of Husserl’s Transcendental Phenomenology.” Quaestiones Disputatae 3 (1): 48–64.

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* Page numbers without further bibliographical specifications refer to the reviewed volume. If possible, I only cite literature that is not mentioned in the reviewed volume.

Jean Grondin (Dir.): Herméneutique et métaphysique. Une articulation renouvelée

Herméneutique et métaphysique. Une articulation renouvelée Book Cover Herméneutique et métaphysique. Une articulation renouvelée
Revue Le Cercle Herméneutique, 34-35 (2020)
Jean Grondin (Dir.)
Le Cercle Herméneutique
Paperback 23,00 €

Reviewed by: Elena Romagnoli (Scuola Normale Superiore –Pisa)

There is no doubt that hermeneutics today does not have the role of cultural koinè it enjoyed at the end of the last century. On the contrary, hermeneutical thought appears underestimated and misunderstood as fundamentally anti-modern. The rediscovery of the real essence of hermeneutics and the appreciation of its contemporary relevance requires that we critique several of its post-modern interpretations. This volume goes precisely in this direction. It is the product of a conference held on the 27th and 28th of September at the University of Montréal, where some of the most relevant scholars of hermeneutics aimed to rethink the relation between hermeneutics and metaphysics, traditionally considered antithetical.

Jean Grondin, the editor of the volume, immediately underlines that this signals a specific stance against those post-modern philosophers (Vattimo, Rorty, Ferraris), who have tried to read hermeneutics as “anti-metaphysical” or “post-metaphysical”, unbinding it from every “perennial structure” and underlining the heterogeneity of reality and languages with no possibility of a superior unity. These interpretations also differ, I can add, from Di Cesare’s conception of hermeneutics as “a-metaphysical” (Di Cesare 2013). The aim of this volume is to delineate a new way of connecting these two disciplines – a path already traced by Grondin’s fundamental works (Grondin 2004, 2013, 2019) – with the presupposition that metaphysics is only possible as hermeneutics just as hermeneutics is only possible as metaphysics.

As Jean Greisch notes in his contribution, this might appear as a “backward-looking operation” (18). Indeed, hermeneutics is based on the assumption of radical finitude and the centrality of history, which seems opposed to the metaphysical inclination to determine universal and perennial structures. However, the two most important heirs of Heidegger’s philosophy, i.e., Gadamer and Ricoeur, distanced themselves both from Heidegger’s critique of metaphysics and from post-metaphysical readings. Against the Nietzsche-Heidegger duo that criticizes metaphysics and claims its overcoming, the authors of this volume follow distinct paths that go in the same general direction: they try to show the intimate connection between hermeneutics and metaphysics. The relevance of this volume rests in this attempt to highlight some possibilities for the renewal of hermeneutics. At the same time, the contributors to this volume try to reassess the very concept of metaphysics, freeing it from exceedingly rigid interpretations and trying to harmonize metaphysics with contemporary needs.

The task of this volume is in this respect very ambitious and tackles two complex and variegated concepts, hermeneutics and metaphysics, both from historical and theoretical points of view. The risks of generalization or naiveté, sometimes incurred in the single contributions, is on the whole avoided. The different papers promote stimulating proposals that invite further development. In particular, the focus of the volume and its relevance consists in the fundamental aim just mentioned; namely, rethinking hermeneutics against its underestimation, an underestimation that derives from the association of hermeneutical thought with so called “weak thought” or with “new realism”. This accords with a recent recovery given to hermeneutics, in particular in the USA (George-Heyden, 2021), a path that could hopefully be developed in order to underline and exploit the import of hermeneutics with regard to contemporary questions. Paradoxically, its contemporaneity can be underlined only by reconnecting it with metaphysics: this is the fundamental challenge of this volume.

The contributions can be divided into three main parts: in the first, the authors (Greisch, Rodrìguez) try to rethink hermeneutics, while in the second, complementarily, the essays aim to renew metaphysics (Perrin, Beuchot). In the last part, the contributions focus on the main “hermeneutical thinkers” in order to see how they realize (Boutet, Jaran, Canullo) or trace (Vallée) a renewing of the relation between hermeneutics and metaphysics.

Rethinking Hermeneutics: Transcendence and Ontology

There are different ways to tackle the complex question of the relation between hermeneutics and metaphysics. Jean Greisch chooses a theoretical approach that moves from the conceptual analysis of the notions of “hermeneutics”, “metaphysics” and “transcendence”. He follows a thread that unites Dilthey, Rosenzweig and Heidegger, showing that they do not simply oppose metaphysics; rather, they stress the “meta” function of thought, which is a crucial element of metaphysics as such. Both Dilthey (in Introduction to the Human Sciences) and Rosenzweig (in The Star of Redemption) underline the need for a new understanding of metaphysics. The latter, moreover, talks not merely of philosophical anthropology, cosmology and theology, but rather of “meta-physics”, “meta-ethics” and “meta-logic”. Analogously, Heidegger talks of a “metaphysics of Dasein” that has its prerogative in the “transcendence of Dasein”, as it emerges in Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics and in the 1928-30 lessons in Freiburg and Marburg (Introduction to Philosophy, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, and The Basic Problem of Phenomenology). The author stresses that for Heidegger (as for Dilthey) Dasein is intrinsically “transcendent”. As the fundamental quote of Heidegger emblematically explains, Dasein, as a monad, has no door and no windows because it does not need them. This is not because Dasein does not need to “go beyond”, but because it is “already beyond”. Indeed, Heidegger focuses on the concept of the “hermeneutic of transcendence” in relation to the concepts of “freedom”, “essence of ground”, and “essence of truth”. Greisch affirms that all of us “engage” an explicit metaphysical questioning, because we all are fundamentally the play of “originary transcendence” (23).

Greisch follows this path, aiming to underline the need to keep transcendence as an intrinsic characteristic of Dasein: this necessarily requires the elaboration of a “metaphysics of Dasein”. Moving from the strict connection between metaphysics and Dasein, reconnecting to a terminology used by Ricoeur (in Réflexion faite), he focuses on the double structure that characterizes metaphysics: expansion [enlargement] (with Aristotle’s refutation of Parmenides that shows the unification of the attributes in ousia) and hierarchisation [hiérarchisation] (with Plato’s discourse on the five categories of same, other, being, rest and movement). In this same direction, the author refers to Stanislas Breton, who, in Reflexion sur la function méta, analyses three aspects of the “meta” function, and which become four in Greisch’s own account (metaphor, metamorphosis, metastasis, metabolism). These issues of the function “meta” are connected by the author with those of transcendence. Transcendence relates to “trans-ascendance”, an idealization without elevation, and to “trans-descendance”, as incarnation. The author explains this structure by drawing a diagram that shows how the vertical axis (consisting of trans-ascendance and trans-descendance), intersects with the horizontal axis, encompassing the directions of “trans-possibility” (understood as the extension of Dasein into the future, with reference to Heidegger’s “project”) and “trans-passibility” (understood as excess and not as mere constriction, like Heidegger’s “thrownness”).

Ramon Rodrìguez’s contribution focuses on another fundamental pair of concepts, often considered opposites: historicity (the leading concept of the nineteenth century, indicating what is essentially becoming and situated in a specific context) and ontology (the emblem of perennial structures). The author analyses Gadamer’s conception, which has often been misinterpreted as “historicist”, with the intent to underline that, on the contrary, Gadamerian thought must be considered opposed to historicism [Historismus]. He thus reads Gadamer as capable of thinking a new way forward not only for hermeneutics, but also for metaphysics, by conceiving the concept of history in connection with truth.

At first glance, Gadamerian hermeneutics might appear clearly distinct from metaphysics, as several post-metaphysical thinkers claim. First of all, hermeneutics focuses on the concept of the “radical finitude” of the human being: only on that basis can every relation between Dasein and the world be understood. In this respect, we are in front of a thought that rejects every globalizing or exhaustive concept of existence. Secondly, hermeneutics opposes presence, which is characteristic of the structure of essence and being in metaphysics, with “the happening of the event [Geschehen]”. Hermeneutics in fact aims to think the constant motility and openness of understanding [Verstehen]. Despite this fundamental claim, Rodrìguez determinately claims that it is possible to talk of a “hermeneutical philosophia prima” (42).

The author aims to stress the relevance of Gadamer’s conception of history for a correct understanding of his conception of language. Analyzing the second part of Gadamer’s Truth and Method, he shows Gadamer’s intent to criticize historicism as the tendency, I claim, to historicize everything except the very subject who understands the historicized content. In opposition to this idea, Gadamer points to the relevance of tradition (as Überlieferung, and not as monolithic tradition, as the author correctly stresses). History is a specific spatial-temporal context where Dasein is situated and where comprehension begins. It is remarkable that here the author underlines Hegel’s influence over Gadamer’s philosophy. However, this fundamental reference is not fully developed. It might be relevant to analyze how Gadamer develops the insights of Hegel’s philosophy in contraposition to historicism, pointing to the fundamental issue of the connection between history and truth without returning to the concept of “absolute spirit”. This emerges not only in Truth and Method but also in a previous essay titled The Problem of Historical Consciousness. It is also notable for the relation with metaphysics that Gadamer often defines himself as a defender of the “bad infinite”.

Rodrìguez wants to show that only by focusing on this issue it is possible to correctly understand the famous and controversial Gadamerian saying “being that can be understood is language” (Gadamer, 1960). This sentence must be conceived neither as a classical metaphysical formulation, namely that language is the supreme being – in this respect I claim that it is important to stress that Gadamer himself returned to these questions, rethinking the role of language in relation to its limits (as the essay on The Limits of the Language testifies) – nor as a post-metaphysical complete absence of truth in the multiplicity of languages that lack any unity. The author claims that we need to understand language as the fundamental medium of our historical being (45). Passing from Geschichtlichkeit to Sprachlichkeit means that the famous concept of the “fusion of horizons” (between the interpreter and the text, between different cultures) is only possible in the communal horizon of language. When it comes to this fundamental claim, I think it is crucial to stress that speaking of language as a medium does not mean it is an instrument [Mittel], but rather is a center [Mitte] where the human being is inevitably situated, as Gadamer affirms with reference to Hegel.

At the end of his contribution the author aims to restate his claim: it is possible to conceive of a “philosophia prima” in Gadamer, but this does not imply the recovery of the idea of a final foundation of philosophy. The connection between being and history constitutes a path of Dasein open to experience and connected with its transcendence (as Heidegger understands it). It is my belief that this could be explained as the infinite possibility of the finite. In this direction, Rodrìguez stresses that there is no reference to an “onto-theological” conception, with a hierarchical classification of being. As the concept of the “classical” implied by Gadamer testifies, his conception of history does not entail an atemporal vision, but rather the way in which the past is able to talk to the present: “This atemporality is rather a way of historical being” (51).

Rethinking Metaphysics: Physis and Analogy

The next two contributions in the volume follow a complementary path, renovating the concept of metaphysics in order to show its compatibility with contemporary hermeneutics. Christophe Perrin’s paper inspects the conflictual relation between physics and metaphysics, aiming to underline the impossibility of doing away with metaphysics. In light of this, not even hermeneutics can surpass metaphysics: what must be done is to establish a ground for a “metaphysical hermeneutics”. The author moves from the famous assertion ascribed to Newton to “guard oneself against metaphysics”. This represented a fundamental warning to the positivists and, in general, for those thinkers who tried to overcome metaphysics. The author tries to show that the assertion does not mean a mere critique of metaphysics, but rather a “sage memento” (62), by appealing to the classical argument that criticizing metaphysics necessarily implies doing metaphysics. In this respect, the two disciplines – i.e., physics and metaphysics – appear strongly connected, despite having been considered separate since the modern age, with the former being focused on corporeal entities and the latter on the higher causes that account for the very possibility of those entities (God, the cosmos, the soul). The author follows this path by analyzing the conception expressed by Newton, showing that the exhortation to “guard oneself against metaphysics” does not refer to something external one must drive away, but rather to an intrinsic tendency that is always present in the physicist himself, a “metaphysical drive” that may lead physics to lose its purpose and dissolve in the “curiosity” mentioned by Aristotle. In this respect, the physicist must follow the advice presented in Voltaire’s Candide: cultivate your garden. In sum, Perrin aims to show the hermeneutical circularity that inhabits metaphysics: “In order to understand metaphysics we must think, but in order to think we must understand metaphysics” (68). The somewhat rhetorical conclusion of the author is that the perpetual stimulus to think metaphysically helps us understand that not even hermeneutics can escape the metaphysical temptation.

Mauricio Beuchot also engages with the concept of metaphysics in order to propose its reformulation. He focuses on ontology in particular, claiming, contra Vattimo, that hermeneutics without ontology would be “acephalous”. The author underlines that both Gadamer and Ricoeur – the two fundamental hermeneutical thinkers of the contemporary world – developed a kind of ontology (an ontology of art in Gadamer, an ontology of the self in Ricoeur). For the author it is possible to rethink metaphysics only by elaborating a concept able to face the objection raised by Nietzsche and Heidegger. In this direction, the author develops the concept of “analogical ontology” proposed by Paul Gilbert. He focuses on the role of analogy, moving from Aristotle’s intuition that “being can be said in many ways”. Analogy – as developed by Pseudo-Dionigi in the three phases of negation, affirmation, and excess – aims to affirm that God’s being neither coincides with that of other entities nor wholly transcends it; rather, it is analogically related to it, encompassing both similarity and differentiation. An analogical ontology makes use of the concept of symbol as what mediates between the universal and the particular. In light of this, the human being is a symbol of God in a way that is neither univocal (as in classical metaphysics) nor equivocal (as in post-modern thought). These categories are of course too schematic, but they are directed at exposing the author’s proposal: “The human is the metaphor of being in a metonymical way, as a part that is sign of the whole” (77). The focus is an ontology of man that follows Heidegger’s conception expressed in his fundamental Ontology: Hermeneutics of facticity. The author wants to present an intermediate way. The last part of the essay appears to be less cogent, for the author tries to show the need for this concept of metaphysics by considering the metaphysical tendency as a sort of “pharmakon” for the modern melancholia that would be aggravated by post-metaphysical thinking. The aim of analogical ontology should thus be ethical and political. It should be a concept able to take into account the motility of the modern philosopher and to answer Nietzsche’s and Heidegger’s critiques: an ontology that is both universal and concrete, based on the historical situation of man.

Dilthey, Heidegger, Gadamer, Ricouer: “Hermeneutical Metaphysics?”

Rudolf Boutet’s contribution aims to stress the connection between metaphysics and hermeneutics moving from the tendency, common to Gadamer and Ricouer, to hearken back to the metaphysical tradition. This approach, the author stresses, is not merely a kind of “history of philosophy”, but rather a “creative interpretation of metaphysics”. This is particularly evident in Ricouer’s The rule of metaphor where he recovers the Aristotelian conception of being with the aim of giving a metaphysical basis to the internal dynamism of being concealed by the historical assimilation of being to substance. He addresses the Aristotelian doctrine of being conceived of as a “poetic of being”: being reveals the metaphor as an actualization of being (Ricouer, 1975). Analogously, Gadamer concludes Truth and method by making referencing to the Platonic-Plotinian conception of beauty as the emblem of the manifestation of truth. Boutet claims that this is not just a historical reference but rather a movement that keeps together philosophy and history. He specifically analyses Ricouer’s conception of time developed in Time and narrative.  Ricouer deals with the aporia of time, that is, time is at the same time both plural and unique. The author correctly affirms that this analysis is the basis for Ricouer’s conception of history and its criticism of both utopianism (that paralyses action) and the mere restatement of past structures. This approach to tradition is what the author defines as a “creative interpretation” of metaphysics that does not come down to a merely subjective decision. It is rather “an interpretation that, in order to be adequate to the object, decides to produce a sense” (91). The fundamental claim is to rethink the creation of sense through a symbolic interpretation connected to both the metaphorical and conceptual levels. Just like Beuchot proposes an intermediate way via analogy, Boutet claims a mediation between the metaphysical issue and the multiplicity of reality.

François Jaran’s paper contributes to the general aim of the volume by focusing on how hermeneutics is able to tackle fundamental metaphysical questions such as the existence of the external world. In particular he wants to show that Heidegger inherits the “resolution” of this problem from Dilthey, despite his critique of Dilthey’s philosophy. The author contends that the intent animating Dilthey’s thought is to “explain life with itself”. This informs his critique of metaphysics and in particular its separation between man and world, such as theory and praxis, as it appears in the Introduction to the Human Sciences. Even though Dilthey strongly criticizes metaphysics (Dilthey, 1924), the author affirms that it is possible to talk of a “Diltheyan ontology” (101). According to the author, the concept of Erlebnis (crucial for Dilthey) should constitute the analogy of being. In fact, for Dilthey, the problem of the justification of the external world does not exist, because man is naturally situated in this world, as it emerges from his lived experience. From here, the author comes to affirm that, for Dilthey, Erlebnis is substance and the external world its accidents. This entails that the external world is given immediately to human beings. In strong connection with this, Dilthey refers to the concept of Innewerden (to become aware) that perfectly fits the relation between man and reality. In this direction Jaran claims: “Erlebnis is a primitive datum, whose seizing gives access to the more fundamental reality” (104). The author also claims that the concept of Innenwende is at the center of Heidegger’s and Gadamer’s conception, as a sort of key word of hermeneutics – I would rather claim that this cannot be the case for Heidegger nor for Gadamer, even though they inherit Dilthey’s conception of the relation between human and world. Indeed, they distance themselves from a philosophy of mere interiority based on Erlebnis, opposing to it, as is well known, the concept of Erfahrung.

Dilthey’s claim is undoubtedly a rehabilitation of a kind of experience where there is no distinction between the perceiver and the perceived; as such, he is critical of the traditional metaphysical conceptions that separate man and world. So the author aims to stress the “metaphysical aspect” present in Dilthey’s philosophy: “It is a philosophy that criticized the so-called ‘metaphysical speculation’, but it is however itself a metaphysical speculation” (106). Using this interpretative key, Jaran stresses that this is the main thread that leads to Heidegger, in particular referencing paragraph 43 of Being and Time, defined by Jaran as one of the “most metaphysical” paragraphs of Heidegger’s book. Heidegger in fact, following Dilthey, affirms that there is no separation between man and the world, because Dasein is co-originary with the world: it is not possible to think the world and Dasein separately; in fact Dasein gibt es (is given) together with the world. Thus, the author wants to stress that both Dilthey and Heidegger provide a solution to a crucial metaphysical problem. One last remark: following this parallelism, it would seem that Heidegger’s Dasein has the same role as Dilthey’s Erlebnis, being (in the author’s view) the substance whose accidents make up the world. I think this could be problematic and could make us lose sight of the claim of Heidegger’s philosophy (the role of Dasein as a peculiar being and not at all as being), thereby implying an existentialist reading of Dasein.

Marc-Antoine Vallée’s intent is to investigate whether hermeneutics has the “sufficient resources” to elaborate a metaphysics, conceived in the widest possible sense as “a reflection on beings and on its principles” (114). The author has a prudent (and sharable) vision, claiming that in the main contemporary hermeneutical thinkers, namely Gadamer and Ricouer, there is only the basis for a further development of “metaphysical hermeneutics”. The author rightly wants to oppose Caputo’s criticism of Gadamer’s hermeneutics (Caputo, 1987) as still connected with metaphysics, proposing a “radical hermeneutics” that intertwines with deconstruction and refuses every metaphysical problem. On the contrary Vallée claims that we must recover the relation of Gadamer and Ricouer to the main metaphysical questions. He investigates two central metaphysical topics in Truth and method, namely, the role of language and the connection of beauty with truth. I think, however, that it could be useful to remind ourselves that, as far as the question of art is concerned, Gadamer has notably rethought the Platonic-Plotinian conception of art in a more “anthropological” direction, as we see in the fundamental essay The Relevance of the Beautiful. Vallée also focuses on Gadamer essay Phenomenology, Hermeneutics, Metaphysics, in which the author affirms that “phenomenology, hermeneutics and metaphysics are not different philosophical points of view, but rather the same expression of the philosophical act itself” (116). Analogously, the author indicates three possible metaphysical directions in Ricouer: the metaphysics of symbol (in Existence and Hermeneutics), the metaphysics of text (The Rule of Metaphor), and the metaphysics of the self (Oneself as Another).

The author’s main claim is that these philosophers are not metaphysical in a traditional sense (as Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, and Hegel), but rather, following Grondin (2003), it is possible to talk of a “silent metaphysical dimension”. For Vallée, Gadamer and Ricoeur exhibit a sort of reticence to explicitly think metaphysically; moreover, there are some bases that prevent a complete development of a metaphysical conception. In fact, hermeneutics inherits the main claim of Heidegger’s thought as the openness of thinking and a refusal of every fundamental. From this point of view, going beyond the conceptions of Gadamer and Ricouer, hermeneutics could deal with a concept of “metaphysical rationality”. In his last remark, the author wants to recover the thought of Augustine, considered as a metaphysical thinker who set the stage for a “metaphysics of existence”. The message that emerges, I claim, is that, to promote hermeneutics nowadays, we need to recover a metaphysical conception, as proposed by Augustine.

The last article moves from Gadamer’s proposal in the above mentioned essay Phenomenology, Hermeneutics, Metaphysics, in which he claims that the question of metaphysics is “still open” in the contemporary age. Carla Canullo aims to show the intrinsic connection of metaphysics and hermeneutics by taking into account their etymologies. The two disciplines emerge in Greek philosophy: specifically, while metaphysics arises in Aristotelian thought in the aim of showing that being can be said in different ways, hermeneutics is conceived by Plato in his Ion, affirming that the poet’s interpretation is able to grasp the essence of reality. However, in modern metaphysics (since the Scholastics) being is thought in terms of a “fixed conception”, while hermeneutics is a discipline that allows for the openness of thought. In opposition to this conception, the author claims that since its birth, metaphysics represents a “second navigation” that moves from the investigations of natural beings to their essence. Since that time, metaphysics is always renovating itself. This can be confirmed by the term “meta” (already at the center of Greisch’s contribution) which, among different significances, means “between two”, i.e., the crack which metaphysics has always left open. Following the author’s argumentation, this implies that metaphysics is not a fixed discipline, but is rather in a constant, dynamic movement from and to physis – the movement expressed by the “meta” of metaphysics. On the other hand, hermeneutics, following the Greek “legein”, is connected with “collection”, keeping together. So, as metaphysics passes through physics, hermeneutics presupposes the need of “something” that must be collected: “Hermeneutics collects what the ‘meta’ prefix divides” (131). This recollection, however, does not imply the elimination of difference. The author affirms that metaphysics and hermeneutics mirror each other in a continuous work of renewal. This movement, which happens continuously, constitutes the emblem of the relation between the two, and can never arrive to an end.


Caputo, John D. 1987. Radical Hermeneutics. Indiana University Press.

Di Cesare, Donatella. 2013. Gadamer. A Philosophical Portrait. Translated by Niall Keane. Indiana University Press.

Dilthey, Wilhelm. 1924. Die geistige Welt. Einleitung in die Philosophie des Lebens. Teubner. Translated by R.A. Makkereel, F. Rodi, Introduction to the Human sciences. 1989. Princeton University Press.

Ferraris, Maurizio. 2014. Introduction to New Realism. Bloomsbury.

Gadamer, Hans-George. 1960. Wahrheit und Methode, Mohr Siebeck. Translated by J. Weinsheimer, D.G. Marshall. 2004. Truth and Method. Continuum.

George, Theodore, Gert, Jan Van der Heyden (eds.). 2021. The Gadamerian Mind. Routledge.

Grondin, Jean. 2004. Introduction à la métaphasique. Presses de l’Université de Montréal.

Grondin, Jean. 2013. Du sens de choses. L’idée de la métaphysique. Puf.

Grondin, Jean. 2019. La beauté de la métaphasique. Essais sur ses piliers herméneutiques. Puf.

Heidegger, Martin. 1927. Sein und Zeit, Niemeyer. Translated by J. Stambaugh, 2010. Being and Time. State University of New York Press.

Ricouer, Paul. 1975. La métaphore vive, Éditions du Seuil. Translated by R. Czerny. The Rule of Metaphor. 1977. University of Toronto Press.

Vattimo, Gianni, Rovatti Pier Aldo (Eds.). 2012. The Weak Thought. SUNY Press.