Maren Wehrle: Phänomenologie: Eine Einführung, J.B. Metzler, 2021

Phänomenologie: Eine Einführung Couverture du livre Phänomenologie: Eine Einführung
Philosophische Methoden
Maren Wehrle
J.B. Metzler
2021
Softcover 22,35 €

Agata Bielik-Robson, Daniel Whistler (Eds.): Interrogating Modernity: Debates with Hans Blumenberg

Interrogating Modernity: Debates with Hans Blumenberg Couverture du livre Interrogating Modernity: Debates with Hans Blumenberg
Political Philosophy and Public Purpose
Agata Bielik-Robson, Daniel Whistler (Eds.)
Palgrave Macmillan
2020
Hardback 96,29 €
XXV, 277

Reviewed by: Bruce J. Krajewski (University of Texas at Arlington)

In a recent review, Kate Hayles praises Catherine Malabou for admitting in Morphing Intelligence that she was “dead wrong” about some scholarly matter. While not begrudging Malabou her applause, most academics would have to admit the low cost of such an admission for a full professor invited to speak across the globe, and treated as a “celebrity,” as Malabou is. More praiseworthy is for younger academics, and those with unsubsidized careers in higher education’s hierarchy, to write that some prominent author is wrong. Those assertions can mean banishment from conferences, withdrawal of speaking invitations, and the like, since professional societies devoted (in the questionable sense) to major authors are understandably controlled almost always by an author’s fans, disciples, and sometimes family members. Speaking truth to yourself (a confession) and speaking truth to power is a distance similar to being winged in a Twitterstorm for your views and being “canceled.” None of this should be compared to the kind of courage, say, Alexey Navalny exhibits. That’s a different realm, but needs to be part of the context, lest academics damaged by schoolhouse politics slip into masochism.

The contributors to Interrogating Modernity demonstrate an inspiring irreverence and willingness to declare that the volume’s star, Hans Blumenberg, has gotten things wrong. That virtue makes for an admirable collection worthy of its subtitle. At this early stage—Blumenberg’s ashes were scattered only a quarter century ago—the scholarly work on Blumenberg has been uncritical, making Interrogating Modernity a refreshing novelty on the Blumenbergiana shelf.

Blumenberg’s followers have fashioned a mythic Blumenberg, portraying him as a mysterious intellectual Colossus, adopting Blumenberg’s own tendency later in his life toward self-aggrandizement. Thus, we have the film The Invisible Philosopher, for example. The followers’ strategy has upped the stakes for anyone who might question or criticize the great philosopher.

Willing to be heretical, the contributors to this volume refuse to be intimidated by The Wizard of Oz scenario fabricated by Blumenberg’s fans to promote knee-bending as opposed to scholarly spinefulness. The volume’s editors charged the authors with “putting [Legitimacy of the Modern Age, the book that arguably launched Blumenberg’s international reputation] into dialogue with later versions of modernity” (vii). The editors insisted on rethinking issues Blumenberg raises in Legitimacy, and the contributors frequently exceed expectations in responding to the call for rethinking.

The first essay out the gate encapsulates all that is good about this book. It’s not a head-on meeting with Blumenberg’s Legitimacy. It’s creative. It takes risks. It could have failed. Here’s a taste of Bielik-Robson’s experimentation: “Although it does not mention Job explicitly, Hans Blumenberg’s reading of Descartes suggests this affinity very strongly” (4). Bielik-Robson resurrects an old-fashioned scholarly recipe: rub any two things together and see what sparks fly.

Bielik-Robson recognizes Job as a figure of “self-assertion,” a topos in Blumenberg. Unable to tie Blumenberg directly to Job, Bielik-Robson uses a side door. Blumenberg’s research counterpart in the Hermeneutik und Poetik group, Hans Robert Jauss, views “Job as the first hero of self-assertion” in his essay “Job’s Questions and Their Distant Reply” (6). This clever move allows Bielik-Robson the opportunity to demonstrate an incompleteness in Blumenberg’s attention to Descartes. In Legitimacy, Blumenberg acknowledges the importance of Descartes: “Descartes appear[s] not so much as the founding figure of the epoch as rather the thinker who clarified the medieval concept of reality all the way to its absurd consequences and thus made it ripe for destruction.” Blumenberg wants to downplay “the founding figure,” the singular Descartes,” in order to promote “the thinker,” synonymous with anyone who employs the method Descartes used to bring about the old reality’s destruction.

The new reality Descartes advocates post-destruction appeals to Blumenberg, because it involves principles of construction to philosophize. That is, Descartes emphasizes the form and conditions of thinking rather than the contingent content. Like Descartes, Blumenberg wants “reoocupation” to function as a transcendental model untainted by historical events, a point fleshed out in the last chapter by Whistler. Historical changes are to be explained by Blumenberg’s ahistorical model.

Descartes studies his “own self” in a room of his own, where it occurs to him “that frequently there is less perfection in a work produced by several persons than in one produced by a single hand.” The primacy of the individual thinker is Job redux. Bielik-Robson describes Job’s situation in memorable prose. Job’s story becomes important when “the anthropological minimum [Job] asserted itself for the first time against … the theological maximum [God]” (15). In a schoolbook, this might be described as individuality versus omnipotence.

Job becomes a synonym for “enough is enough!” (16). For Bielik-Robson, Job’s story is the journey of a patient moving toward health. “According to [Jonathan] Lear, the patient reaches the point of relative health when she is able to exclaim: ‘Oh, this is crap!’—which very nicely corresponds with Blumenberg’s take on Descartes, who may be said to have reacted in a similar way, by simply deciding to cut himself off emotionally from the theological morass and call deus fallax a ‘metaphysical fable’—basically, a very crappy story” (16). Unfortunately, Blumenberg’s focus on the meta-analysis instead of the patient means the trauma of being fed up is not given its due as a revolutionary catalyst (18).

Elad Lapidot’s “Legitimacy of Nihilism” juxtaposes Hans Jonas and Blumenberg. Lapidot argues that Blumenberg rejects Jonas’s critique of modernity as “the return of Gnosticism” (45). For Blumenberg’s taste, that would leave modernity without as radical a break as he wants. Blumenberg needs a way past the logic that “legitimacy enters the world through negation, through illegitimacy” (48). Modernity establishes its own legitimacy apart from the previous historical epoch. According to Lapidot, the New itself “is a category of entitlement and legitimation.”

Opposing not only Jonas but also Martin Heidegger, Blumenberg seeks to jettison a notion of continuity attached to a substance. Lapidot writes, “This original constant substance is the basic assumption of all critiques against any historical age” (45). Blumenberg is uninterested in substantialism. He is after something more radical. “The new has no other foundation but itself, and so its specific form of legitimacy is self-legitimization” (47). This antifoundationalism is partly what attracted Richard Rorty to Blumenberg (Rorty was an early Anglophone reviewer of Blumenberg’s Legitimacy book).

Lapidot’s essay pairs well with Daniel Whistler’s “Modernizing Blumenberg.” Whistler begins boldly: “[Blumenberg] gets modernity wrong” (257). According to Whistler, Blumenberg supplements modernist figures’ arguments for modernity’s legitimation, fashioning a case that the modernist figures themselves did not make.

Like Lapidot, Whistler reports that the continuity between the middle ages and modernity Blumenberg emphasizes is functional, but not substantive. In a way, it’s the old form versus content argument. Rather than seeing the two as dependent on other, Blumenberg elevates form over content, since that’s the airplane ticket out of any historical ruptures at ground level. Forms fly above temporality’s constraints. From such a height, anyone might have anticipated Blumenberg to look down on things. Thus, Whistler writes, “[I]t is hard not to discern a slight tone of condescension in Blumenberg’s narrative of modernity” (259).

By siding with form and functionality, Blumenberg asserts that his account offers a novel stability. Whistler: “[W]henever the content of history changes, the forms stay the same. Forms may themselves be changing slowly, but their inertia is sufficient for them to remain a stable reference point by which to make sense of any novelty in history” (263). Blumenberg is not content with the messiness of mere history. “Like Kant, Blumenberg considers his transcendental apparatus to be immutable, to exist outside of the frame of historical change and epochal transformation” (264). Whistler concludes that this viewpoint makes Blumenberg a “right Aristotelian” (268). Given Blumenberg’s allegiances to far-right ideas linked to Latinate Catholicism, Whistler’s “right Aristotelian” designation rings true. Blumneberg is a “conservative” (267).

In the chapter contrasting Bruno Latour and Blumenberg, Willem Styfhals understands Blumenberg as an “apologist” (77) for the ecological mess we are in, and decides Latour offers better options for the predicted apocalypse. “The apocalypse is an unstable, unbearable position that might be conceptually appealing but not practically endurable. This is what Blumenberg made crystal clear in Lebenszeit und Weltzeit as well as in Legitimacy. The apocalypse is so attractive because it allows us to see the world in a radically different perspective, liberates us from the old world for a moment. But this moment does not give rise to a stable and durable position in the world” (77). Syfhals has missed Frederic Jameson’s insight, cited in Slavoj Žižek’s Living in the End Times, that calls for distinguishing among apocalypses: “[I]t is easier to imagine a total catastrophe which ends all life on earth than it is to imagine a real change to capitalist relations” (334).

Latour does not see capitalism as the problem; it’s religion: “If modernity were not so deeply religious, the call to adjust oneself to the Earth would be easily heard.” (71). Thus, Styfhals says, “[W]e should develop a political theology of the environmental apocalypse” (61).

While Blumenberg published at least one book specifically about technology, it’s difficult to categorize any other of his major writings as confronting environmental issues in the way Styfhals does with his focus on Latour and the Anthropocene. No one would think of Blumenberg as a stand-in for Rachel Carson.

The fourth chapter by Joseph Albernaz and Kirill Chepurin also addresses the theme of political theology. Styfhals’s use of apocalypse in the previous chapter has its place in the fourth chapter. For anyone acquainted with televangelism, the continual announcement of forthcoming apocalypses is a staple of populist Christianity. No matter that a specific date for the rapture is given and then passes. That failure is overlooked while a new date for the end is announced. The misreading of signs can be chalked up to human fallibility rather than an indication of a flaw in “God’s plan.” Albernaz and Chepurin recognize that what becomes important for Christianity is not that the world didn’t end as predicted, but that it continues: “But as Christianity found itself needing to explain the world’s continued existence, it was also establishing itself … as a [worldly] power. As a result, it needed to justify not the end of the world, but its prolongation” (86). The Christian Church sets itself up “as the institution of the not-yet that is the world – as the institution ‘stabilizing’ this not-yet” (86).

Within this context of an ever-delayed apocalypse, Christians fashioned a God with unlimited sovereignty and omnipotence. However, by the late medieval period God’s characteristics became incomprehensible, “alien to consciousness,” according to Albernaz and Chepurin (88). In response to this affront to consciousness, human beings develop their own rationality to give themselves security that is comprehensible (91-92).

The deleterious effects of Christianity’s global power as explored by Albernaz and Chepurin also concern Lissa McCullough. Her essay makes the case that if you thought Martin Heidegger and Carl Schmitt were harmful, then you need to take a second look at John Locke (124). “Locke founded a new religion focused around the sacrality of proprietas in The Second Treatise on Government, while retaining in The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695) as much as was reasonably salvageable of the trappings of Christian faith to give the new religion a respectable pedigree, hitching it to . . . the authority of an apparent continuity with Jewish-Christian tradition (122). If you wonder why some people feel it legitimate to kill others for stealing, you can thank Locke for valorizing property over human lives. McCullough writes that Locke and his advocates managed to persuade numerous capitalists that the individual’s only incentive to consent to “join” society is to protect the property he has” (122).

McCullough sifts through Blumenberg to demonstrate Blumenberg’s allegiance to Locke’s valorization of property, despite Blumenberg’s efforts to make Locke seem insignificant to the massive scholarly buttresses Blumenberg uses to build his cases. Vital matters pivot on a reference to Locke in a footnote, for example. “[A]n extended footnote in Paradigms for a Metaphorology (1960) … proves a vein of gold when mined for its immense implications. This footnote expands on the notion of truth as a product of labour. In it, Blumenberg remarks that this sort of produced [constructed?] truth is truth that is legitimately one’s own. The possession to be taken” (110). McCullough’s hermeneutical attention shows Blumenberg’s participation in Locke’s scheme. Blumenberg contributes to overturning the Horatian view that what is natural is not something one can own: “Nor he, nor I, nor any man, is made/by Nature private owner of the soil” (111).

In addition to articles that confront Blumenberg’s arguments and politics, the collection features authors who affirm Blumenberg’s positions. Zeynep Talay Turner’s “Political Legitimacy and Founding Myths” corroborates Blumenberg’s criticism of Hannah Arendt in Blumenberg’s “Moses the Egyptian,” written around 1978. Turner writes, “As Freud took Moses the man from his people [Blumenberg says Freud “damaged” his people’s “self-confidence”], so Hannah Arendt took Adolf Eichmann from the State of Israel.” Blumenberg does not hide his “indignation” towards this “stealing” (129).

Turner captures the salient features of “Moses the Egyptian” and presents an effective précis of Blumenberg’s use of the term “prefiguration.” Even though Turner seems ultimately to agree with Blumenberg about Eichmann in Jerusalem, Turner notes in his conclusion that Blumenberg may have been venturing outside his area of expertise in taking up the question of “what a Jewish state should do with someone who had sought to destroy the Jews” (146).

According to Turner and Blumenberg, Israel needed Eichmann to take on a mythic role at his trial in order to solidify Israeli nationhood. It’s not clear whether anyone ever laid that task at Arendt’s feet during the trial, since she was writing in the moment, as events unfolded. Unlike Blumenberg, Arendt did not have the luxury of hindsight, nor was she alive in 1978 to respond to such criticism. Furthermore, Turner and Blumenberg do not provide details of how Arendt’s book on Eichmann undermined Israel, then or since. Conceptual damage is of a different order from “stealing” a nation’s legitimacy.

In Chapter 7, Robert Buch concentrates on a “neglected” (153) part of Legitimacy of the Modern Age, the section about theoretical curiosity. Why has it been neglected? Buch: “The reasons for the relative neglect of the third part undoubtedly have to do with its length and more specifically its detail and apparent digressiveness, but above all its sheer material abundance.”

The editors sought to bring Blumenberg into conversation with other thinkers, and Buch chooses Husserl as Blumenberg’s conversation partner. Buch’s aim is “to juxtapose Blumenberg’s account of the genesis of early modern science with Husserl’s Crisis of the European Sciences” (153).

Perceptions of science’s legitimacy have relevance, Buch writes, given “the modern suspicion of science, aggravated dramatically in our times of climate crisis” (164). Husserl questioned the cause of a universal science, a science that adhered to rational structures and objectivity (166). Husserl reacted against the easy division between objectivity and subjectivity. Husserl posits that modern science fails to consider consciousness as a component of its investigations.

In Buch’s account, Blumenberg owes many debts to Husserl’s view of science and technology. The differences are fewer than the commonalities. One important difference appears in Blumenberg’s narrative about the electric doorbell in an essay Buch leans on heavily, “Phenomenological Aspects on Life-World and Technization,” now available in English in The Blumenberg Reader. Blumenberg says the electric doorbell, the workings of which are hidden in comparison to a mechanical doorbell, “is ‘packaged’ in a way that it conceals this history and deprives it from us in its abstract uniformity…. [I]t is legitimized by being … put into operation” (Blumenberg Reader, 386). The “artificial product,” the doorbell, is “shrouded” with “obviousness”; technization produces this unquestioned obviousness (Reader, 387), a point Blumenberg claims shows the limits of Husserl’s commentary on the connection between life-world and technization. Blumenberg aims to show that his account is “more complicated.” To appreciate Blumenberg’s point, think of the unknowability about the functioning of crosswalk buttons in urban centers, many of which remain deliberately unfixed. Even a non-working button gives the illusion of control.

Charles Turner’s chapter on “infinite progress” in science concludes with an exploration of time and the life of the politician (175). In the middle of the two topics is C. Turner’s choice for Blumenberg’s partner in dialogue, Max Weber. The question Weber poses that C. Turner investigates is: [W]hat are the chances that someone whose life is necessarily limited to one arena of activity can achieve something of lasting significance?” (181). Weber directs that question at scholars and politicians.

In making Weber’s question contemporary, C. Turner reminds readers about the fast pace of contemporary life coupled with an increase in life expectancy. In the infinity of time, how are finite individuals to gather meaning for their lives? For scholars, the fear is that one’s work becomes obsolete within the scholar’s lifetime. For the politician, long-lasting glory can come with great success, but few politicians are remembered beyond their lifetimes. As Weber puts it, the scholarly life is chained to progress (thus fear of obsolescence), while the political life is more like art in that multiple spectacular achievements by different artists are possible, though those achievements must be of a stature to escape temporal constraints (184).

Weber’s long view echoes Blumenberg’s considerations of Lebenszeit and Weltzeit, the tension between the individual’s tiny lifetime amidst the ocean of time that is world history. Blumenberg suggests we leave the tension in place, lest the world itself suffer as it did with Adolf Hitler. According to Blumenberg, Hitler’s sin was an effort at melding Lebenszeit and Weltzeit. The evidence lies in a quotation from Hitler: “I … stand under the command of fate to achieve everything within a short human life … That for which others have an eternity, I have merely a few meagre years” (191).

In Chapter 9, Oriane Petteni escorts her readers into the world of art history and optics. This gives Petteni reason to ponder Blumenberg’s preference not to be photographed (202), as if Blumenberg’s own study of optics caused his wish to avoid the medium. Petteni is well aware Blumenberg’s avoidance of selfies is something more than shyness. Petteni sees it as connected to much larger matters, like truth. The visible and the hidden link up with Western beliefs about truth. Petteni writes, “[I]n the modern age, truth no longer reveals itself; instead, it must be revealed by decisive action” (195). That is, we must work for our truth.

The comments on truth correspond to Blumenberg’s views about biology. Petteni sees that Blumenberg derives his anthropology from biology. Petteni turns to The Genesis of the Copenican World for evidence. “The Earth requires both exposure to the Sun for complex lifeforms to arise and protection from direct exposure to sun rays, which would otherwise threaten to consume every living thing. The exposure to light requires—for the Earth as well as for human beings—a kind of filter or screen” (203). Others back up Petteni’s sense that Blumenberg foregrounds the importance of indirection and camouflage, such as the recent biography by Uwe Wolff, who notes multiple times Blumenberg’s penchant for indirect communication.

Petteni finishes her reflections on Blumenberg via a journey through Franz Kafka’s Der Bau. The unfinished Kafka text parallels, for Petteni, Blumenberg’s open-endedness regarding the human impulse to fashion “endless significance” (211). The story about a burrow also fits in with a quotation Petteni cites by Heinz Wisman, “[Blumenberg’s] thought is strongly marked by the worry not to remain at the surface of things” (202).

Chapter 10 might serve readers best read in conjunction with the first and the last chapters where Descartes has a prominent role. One difference about Adi Efal-Lautenschläger’s chapter is the linkage between Descartes and Blumenberg’s book The Legibility of the World. Blumenberg himself points out the parallels between his theme in Legibility and Descartes’s Traité du monde et de la lumière. What does Blumenberg find in Descartes’ book? “The self is to be experienced according to the measure of the world, as compatible or not with its changing conditions” (Legibility, 92). This lesson runs counter to interpretations of Descartes that rely on the celebrated cogito ergo sum and tend to make Descartes a happy solipsist. The lesson also seems a challenge to Whistler’s essay in which Blumenberg leaves behind the messy world for timeless forms and models, though keep in mind that Whistler’s interpretation launches from a different Blumenberg work, Legitimacy rather than Legibility.

Efal-Lautenschläger contributes a useful dichotomy based on the arguments of Legibility: “Blumenberg chooses to put his concept of reality on the side of world-imaging, instead of world-modelling. [R]eality is understood as belonging to the arena of representations or of world-imaging. World imaging – and, with it, reality itself – has an interpretative orientation: the reality that results from the image of the world is designated as an act of reading” (224-25).

Credit the editors with choosing to follow Efal-Lautenschläger’s essay with one that expands Efal-Lautenschläger’s points. Returning to Blumenberg’s Legitimacy of the Modern Age, Sonja Feger dives into another pairing, “reoccupation” (Umbesetzung) and “reality-concepts” (Wirklichkeitsbegriffe). Feger tells readers that Blumenberg uses reoccupation “to explain how epochal change can be grasped. On the other hand, and in other texts, he provides a historical analysis of what he calls “reality-concepts.” “In this chapter, I attempt to bring these two concepts into line with each other” (237).

Reoccupation is up first. Feger: “It is important to note that “reoccupation”, that is, the English term Wallace uses to translate the German word Umbesetzung, does not allude to anything antagonistic; it is not about any kind of (intellectual) conquest or usurpation. Rather, the term brings into focus the process-character of epochal change” (244). Emphasizing the “process-character” of change points to Whistler again, because “reoccupation” is about a perennial question-and-answer model Blumenberg wants to say is at work. Not that a “firm canon” of “great questions” exists. Fegel warns readers not to become fixated on answers or questions in their concrete content. Relying on a quotation from Blumenberg’s essay on secularization, Fegel asks readers to remember that “the historical identity and methodical identifiability of supposedly secularized notions is an illusion created by the identity of the function that altogether heterogeneous contents can assume in certain positions within man’s system of understanding the world and himself” (245).

How do we find out about reality? In some places, like Blumenberg’s famous essay on the possibility of the novel, his response seems to be “sometimes we won’t.” Feger pinpoints his wording: “[I]t is quite natural that the most deeply hidden implication of an era – namely, its concept of reality – should become explicit only when the awareness of that reality has already been broken.” (246). It’s a version of not being able to see the forest for the trees. “The subject as historically situated can only account for earlier concepts of reality, not current ones” (246).

Exiting that reality dilemma depends on reality-concepts. “Making a reality-concept explicit draws on the distinction between an object (i.e. a certain behaviour towards reality) and reflection on that object” (247). While it looks as if Blumenberg’s position is that our reflecting on an object called reality is accurate only for earlier periods, Feger says our access to what’s real about the moment we are in depends on Husserlian transcendental phenomenology. “[T]ranscendental consciousness both carries out and simultaneously reflects upon the process of (reality-) constitution” (248). Problem solved (if Blumenberg is correct).

References

Bajohr, Hannes, Florian Fuchs, and Joe Paul Kroll (Eds.). 2020. History, Metaphor, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader. Ithaca, NY. Cornell University Press.

Hayles, N. Katherine. 2019. “Review of Morphing Intelligence.” Posted May 17, 2019. Accessed November 1, 2020. https://criticalinquiry.uchicago.edu/n._katherine_hayles_reviews_morphing_intelligence.

Prisco, Jacopo. 2020. “Illusion of Control: Why the World is Full of Buttons that Don’t Work.” CNN.com. Accessed November 1, 2020. https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/placebo-buttons-design/index.html.

Wolff, Uwe. 2020. Der Schreibtisch des Philosophen: Erinnerungen an Hans Blumenberg. München: Claudius Verlag.

Žižek, Slavoj. 2011. Living in the End Times. London: Verso.

David Carr: Historical Experience: Essays on the Phenomenology of History, Routledge, 2021

Historical Experience: Essays on the Phenomenology of History Couverture du livre Historical Experience: Essays on the Phenomenology of History
David Carr
Routledge
2021
Hardback £96.00
224

Irene Breuer: Ort, Raum, Unendlichkeit, Königshausen & Neumann, 2020

Ort, Raum, Unendlichkeit. Aristoteles und Husserl auf dem Weg zu einer lebensweltlichen Raumerfahrung Couverture du livre Ort, Raum, Unendlichkeit. Aristoteles und Husserl auf dem Weg zu einer lebensweltlichen Raumerfahrung
Orbis Phaenomenologicus, Studien Bd. 52
Irene Breuer
Königshausen & Neumann
2020
Paperback
380

Renaud Barbaras: Introduction to a Phenomenology of Life, Indiana University Press, 2021

Introduction to a Phenomenology of Life Couverture du livre Introduction to a Phenomenology of Life
Renaud Barbaras. Translated by Leonard Lawlor
Indiana University Press
2021
Paperback $50.00
448

Dominique Pradelle: Intuition et idéalités: Phénoménologie des objets mathématiques, Puf, 2020

Intuition et idéalités: Phénoménologie des objets mathématiques Couverture du livre Intuition et idéalités: Phénoménologie des objets mathématiques
Épimethée
Dominique Pradelle
PUF
2020
Paperback
744

Karel Novotný & Cathrin Nielsen (Hrsg.): Die Welt und das Reale, Verlag Traugott Bautz, 2020

Die Welt und das Reale Couverture du livre Die Welt und das Reale
libri nigri, Band 78
Karel Novotný & Cathrin Nielsen (Hrsg.)
Verlag Traugott Bautz
2020
Paperback 35,00 €
327

Larry Davidson: Overcoming Psychologism: Husserl and the Transcendental Reform of Psychology, Springer, 2020

Overcoming Psychologism: Husserl and the Transcendental Reform of Psychology Couverture du livre Overcoming Psychologism: Husserl and the Transcendental Reform of Psychology
Larry Davidson
Springer
2020
Hardback 103,99 €
VIII, 318

Lucilla Guidi, Thomas Rentsch (Eds.): Phenomenology as Performative Exercise

Phenomenology as Performative Exercise Couverture du livre Phenomenology as Performative Exercise
Studies in Contemporary Phenomenology, Volume 19
Lucilla Guidi, Thomas Rentsch (Eds.)
Brill
2020
Hardback €121.00
x, 236

Reviewed by: Thomas Arnold (University of Heidelberg)

The book is a whole divided into three parts, with the first part concerned with the performativity of phenomenology, the second with the phenomenology of performativity and the third with exercises in phenomenology. In this review, first I briefly discuss the volume as a whole. Then I focus on individual entries present in the volume, since they differ by topic and in quality. I conclude with some remarks.

I. Overview

The aim of the book is “to establish the first systematic connection between phenomenology and performativity” (1), which concerns both the performativity of phenomenology as well as the phenomenology of performativity (2). The third part of it “aims to sketch out three phenomenological exercises devoted to the constitution of contemporary performative phenomena” (7). The label “exercises” is somewhat misleading since all phenomenological inquiries are exercises in phenomenology. Moreover, all three essays in the exercise-section of the book are themselves phenomenological investigations into specific performances (as opposed to performativity in general), which thematically justifies their inclusion.

While we do get a promised look into the different ways in which phenomenology can be considered “performative,” I hold that the “transformation of attitude [performance] effects through a number of parallels between phenomenology and the ancient understanding of philosophy as an exercise and a way of life” (2) does not get enough attention. The specifics of this transformation do not seem to be discussed thoroughly enough in the book. How is the subject transformed exactly? From which state to what other state? Is subject-transformation desirable? Then again, this collection is just that: a collection – and therefore it cannot be expected to provide the same encompassing systematic reach a monograph might achieve.

What I liked in this volume was the systematic engagement with both historically close (Foucault, Derrida, a lot of Butler) as well as distant theories (e.g., Plato), which shows that phenomenologists are still interested in theoretical (as opposed to merely exegetical) issues and that we read and talk outside the boundaries of the phenomenological tradition, thus preventing conceptual in-breeding.

As I highlight later in this review, almost all papers contain more or less implicit assumptions about what phenomenology is and what it is supposed to do. If we follow some of the authors in this collection, it ought to be critical, active, transformative, not too intellectual or detached; yet there is not much open discussion about the foundations and justifications of these conceptions and I think this is a debate still waiting to happen – and one which can never really come to an end as long as philosophy demands radical justification for, of and by itself.

As far as I am concerned, paying close attention to how things appear (including texts) should still be the fundamental tenet of phenomenology, because that is how we adequately grasp things instead of just dealing with our own presuppositions and projections. As simple as this sounds, neither close attention (i.e. attention without prejudice, readily available formulae or random associations) nor the focus on the how of appearing (as against the what) are very well developed in our societies. And as Guidi points out, phenomenology is – in one sense – already “critical” inasmuch as it “draws our attention” (2) to sundry phenomena and their (contingent, problematic) modes of appearing, which for example include our naturalistic conceptions and inauthentic tendencies.

My final question however targets the subject and the object of these reflective operations. If we as phenomenologists are supposed to draw “our attention,” does this refer only to us phenomenologists or to us as simple humans? Put in the vocabulary of the present volume, who is supposed to be the benefactor of these phenomenological performances and exercises? And consequently, how should these exercises look? Should they be more academic exercises? More tentative theoretical acrobatics, language games within the same tedious vernacular, or maybe the umpteenth reading of Husserl’s descriptions of inner time consciousness? Or could they be more public exercises in reflecting on presuppositions and attending how things appear?

These questions are not trivial. For example, Husserl famously envisioned a social renewal centred around transcendental phenomenology. While I do not wish to advocate another attempt at healing (or bettering) the world through philosophy, I think phenomenologists are not in a bad position to contribute to what one might call “public philosophy”; especially since phenomenology is not a set of theorems or arguments or a doctrine one can extol, but a way of living, a way of looking, something we do and something we can train others to do too, maybe even to their (and our) advantage – a “performative exercise” indeed.

II. Review of Individual Entries

Dahlstrom characterises Heidegger’s phenomenology as performative insofar as it is obviously something we perform (as in: do), but mainly because “the phenomenologist’s philosophical act of understanding certain experiences entails carrying out the experience herself” (14). This leads him to the language used to prompt these re-enactments of experience – and to Heidegger’s reflection on the performativity of (phenomenological) language. Dahlstrom thus notes several concordances between Austin’s analyses of performatives and Heidegger’s early thoughts on language, especially on everyday performative discourse. Dahlstrom also mentions Heidegger’s engagement with authentic and inauthentic discourse as something that goes beyond Austin’s work.

In section two Dahlstrom deals with the phenomenological re-enactment (Vollzug) of experience in the sense of truth-proclamations. This touches upon the problem that phenomenological description does not simply mimic what it describes, but gives it “shape” (24). This is an example of  “Gestaltgebung” (24).[1] From here, Dahlstrom links Heidegger’s account of formal indication and its “existential-disclosive aspect” (26) to Searle’s take on performatives as creating linguistic facts. Dahlstrom ends on the observation that Heidegger’s account of speech acts is embedded in a much larger framework, while the speech act theorists focus more on specific issues and thus bring out more details, such that both could profit from each other (28).

From Dahlstrom’s considerations in section two, one might further question the function of re-enactment: why is it even necessary to “perform” experiences in phenomenology? And to what end? The repetition of experiences is necessary for our adequate grasp of what is given in experiences. Asserting without experience, i.e., asserting without direct contact to the things themselves, merely verbally, is what Husserl calls “empty” or even “inauthentic” discourse. How we perform our assertive acts is important because “empty” speech is phenomenologically worthless – hence the insistence on first-hand experience or, as Husserl calls it, “intuition.” Dahlstrom hints at the necessity of unpacking the distinction between authentic and inauthentic in Heidegger in FN 48. The end of all these efforts is ontological for Heidegger, for he is never interested simply in understanding experiences or even types of experiences for their own sake or in service of practical, “critical” projects. For Heidegger, questioning aims at something deeper: i.e., understanding being.

Legrand asks “What does happen if one practices an epochê without reduction?”(33). To arrive firstly at the fact that the epochê itself “is a performance of the subject” and that “the subject is performed by practicing the epochê,” the epochê becomes something specific to a suspension of judgement, a “suspension of anything that would prevent to work with what gives itself, as it is given, in the very field in which it is given.” (33-4, 40). Legrand sees Barthes practising a kind of epochȇ by suspending “that which makes his experience of the photograph ‘banal’” thereby also “suspending any narcissistic identifications with one’s mundane identity and normative identification with social roles” (36-7). In performing this bracketing, the subject shows itself to be certain without employing categories like “real” or “fictional”.

This allows Barthes to experience the “singularity” of the photograph, a singularity apparent just for him. However, the singularity for one is also singularity of one, an encounter between two singularities: “I am singular for the other” (37). Moreover, “the structure of singularity is not reflexivity but: the address of one to another” (38).  Arguably, then, one could describe this whole structure comprising the two singularities as reflexivity, given that the other reflects me onto myself (and vice versa).But the point seems to be that singularity requires more than individual reflection.

At any rate, Legrand fleshes out some of the differences between phenomenology and psychoanalysis and finds that the latter is decidedly non-transcendental, but still operates with a form of epochê. The psychoanalytic epochê consists in suspending the categories of the “correct, appropriate, relevant, interesting, true, or embarrassing, shameful, false, stupid, ridiculous etc.” (47) so as to “consider speech as Saying” (48) without judging the adequacy of the spoken to reality. The analyst instead listens with the presumption “that who I hear is irreducibly singular” (48). Following Legrand, in this act one would perform themselves as a singularity as well as the other. She offers the takeaway or insight that there are either different species of epochê or different paths to take, springing from the one epochê and leading to very different subjects/situations, depending on the mode and aim of the performance of the bracketing.

Cimino argues for deep agreements between Husserl and Plato. He begins by pointing out that Plato and Husserl agree on the fundamental nature of philosophy in regard to the other sciences. He fleshes out this distinction by drawing on a distinction between “discursive thinking and intuitive thinking” (53) as well as the necessity of other sciences “to rely on assumptions” (53) which philosophy questions; he then focusses on the former difference (56). I obviously agree with the general idea that Husserl and Plato are in accordance on central systematic issues (whether Husserl is aware of it or not); I disagree with Cimino’s more specific claim that they both endorse “the specific method of philosophy as inuitive thinking” (50).

For what could this “intuitive method” (56) even be? Firstly, what is intuition? As Cimino points out, self-givenness of any thematic object is fundamental to Plato and Husserl and both criticise mere verbal, i.e. non-intuitive speech. For both it “is rather the familiarity with the thing itself that produces real philosophical knowledge” (58) and when Cimino speaks of the “dialectical method” (57) he claims that “it entails the direct, first-hand grasp of essences or ideas” (57). To explain one metaphor through two others: intuition (for Cimino as well as for Plato and Husserl) is familiarity is first-hand grasp. Now can this be a “method” in and of itself? As Cimino himself says, the “dialectical method” “entails” it, which means it is not identical to it. And I venture it entails it because dialegesthai, literally “talking it through”, leads to what we have described as seeing, i.e. first-hand grasping. But the method, the way to go, is logical, it proceeds through logoi, through speeches, through questioning presuppositions, drawing out implications, discussing (varying) examples etc. Therefore intuition might either be a result or even a presupposition of Plato’s (and Husserl’s) philosophical method, but not a method in and of itself.

This has bearing on another issue, namely the intersubjective dimension of philosophy. In regard to this, what I hod to be a mistranslation of a passage from Plato’s 7th Letter is noteworthy. According to Cimino it states that insight appears “as a result of continued application to the subject itself”; however this passage ought to read that insight appears “in joint pursuit of the subject” (as translated by Morrow), since “synousia” means “being-together” and refers to the intersubjective dimension of philosophy, similar to “syzên”, “living together” in the very same sentence (one line further in 341d1). This being-together necessitates the logos as medium of philosophy since we cannot share intuitions directly. It is the intersubjective and reflective giving and taking of reasons which is the “method” of Platonic philosophy.

It is here, as I have argued,[2] that Husserlian phenomenology could benefit from a little more Platonism, given that some of Husserl’s own methodological characterisation of phenomenology turn it into a rather private, even solipsistic enterprise of inner monologue rather than the intersubjective endeavour he clearly wants it to be.

D’Angelo aims at establishing “four principles of every performance of phenomenological reading” (63) by reading and expanding on Gadamer’s reading of Plato’s Lysis. He sets out with highlighting that “phenomenology seems to happen mostly through texts and the interpretation of texts” (64); interestingly, D’Angelo does not call us (us phenomenologists that is) out on this (which he very well could and which Husserl would surely do), but rather asks “whether there is a distinctly phenomenological way of reading texts” (64) and claims that reading Husserl (for example) can still be a genuinely phenomenological exercise.

D’Angelo takes a basic principle from Gadamer, employs it (again) to the Lysis and then develops “four central moments of Plato’s theory of friendship which are, in my interpretation, at the same time four central moments of philosophy in general” (66). In a sense he performs a phenomenological reading to establish what a phenomenological reading is. These are the principles he wants to establish. First principle: There needs to be a “conjunction” of word and deed or attention to “the peculiar performance of a text” (76). For example, in the Lysis, “Socrates does things (erga) with words (logoi), by obtaining Lysis friendship through discourse.” (76) Were we to only focus on the explicit logoi, we would miss Plato’s enactment (in the sense of staging) of friendship, like Vlastos does, as D’Angelo contends (FN 19). The second principle D’Angelo gains from the fact that we are creating a logos about something for someone, which he translates into a principle of reading charitably, but also attending to the topic of the text itself, as to be able to criticise the text on its own terms. The third principle derives from the fact that “ignorance is a necessary component of philosophy” (74) and is basically a call to stay open-minded. The fourth principle reads: “There must be co-belonging, but also distance”, which implies a search for “common ground” (77). D’Angelo admits to a “feeling of triviality” (78) in regard to the principles listed, but points out that the triviality of these norms rather cements their validity while they are still continuously violated.

In reading D’Angelo’s account, two questions sprang to my mind: a) Why should we consider these principles to be especially “phenomenological”? b) Even if I happen to fully agree with his principles, where does their normativity stem from? Why should Gadamer or Plato (or their accordance) justify any principle for phenomenological reading whatsoever? An answer to both questions might lie in the phenomenological motto, since if we want to attend to the things themselves or let them show themselves as they are (be they texts or things or the world or…), we need to focus both on their explicit and implicit dimensions, apply categories of description not foreign to the phenomenon, stay open-minded and while attending the things themselves keep the appropriate descriptive distance.

Delving once again into the platonica, I have only a small gripe with how D’Angelo presents a basic Socratic tenet. Socrates’ principle is not “knowing only not to know” (69), as D’Angelo puts it, it is knowing when and if he does not know and abstaining from claiming such knowledge he does not possess (Apology 21d). In things of love and eidetic pregnancy, so to speak, Socrates always appears well-versed, indeed knowledgeable and proud of the fact. In the Symposium he even reveals his teacher in regard to these things, Diotima. Socrates knows that he knows of these things because he constantly proves to himself that he does, namely by performing his midwifery, i.e. dialectics. This does not however impede D’Angelo’s overall point that philosophy appears as the “in-between” (70) and as concerned with such.

Guidi focusses on the transformative dimension of phenomenology, which she then analyses in terms of the middle voice. Recalling the early Heidegger’s considerations about how understanding of formal indication requires a transformation on the side of the reader, Guidi concludes that phenomenological “speech is an enactment” (86), drawing the reader towards certain experiences, especially towards our thrown-ness: “Thus all phenomenological speech does is to indicate and address the very actual situation of the reader, by allowing her to experience the impossibility of founding that situation.” (85)

To conceptualise this enactment further, she draws on Benveniste’s analyses of the so called “middle voice”, which she claims opens “a topological perspective” (88), meaning that one can analyse actions as external or internal, the middle voice referring to a situation “where the agent is situated inside the process” (88), is “being affected” (89) in action. Guidi sees thinking according to Heidegger as exactly such an enactment, but denies its priority: “I claim that the ungrounded character of Dasein, the very same which phenomenology addresses in a performative way, opens up the ordinary and never fully accomplished task for every Dasein of transforming oneself and therefore relating to Dasein’s ungrounded facticity.” (90). Guidi then goes on to discuss four examples of middle-voice enactments, namely dialogue, expressing oneself, play and vulnerability, as analysed by Butler. She concludes with the conjecture that the “middle voice, by prompting the assumption of a topological perspective, may reveal the transformative potential of our ordinary comportments, and may further offer a new grammar for political action, one which is no longer founded on a sovereign account of subjectivity and agency” (96).

My main questions about Guidi’s account revolve around the notion of transformation. What transformation exactly are we talking about? And who has decided that it is to be the “task for every Dasein” (90)? The transformation involved in phenomenology is fairly specific and implies a shift away from “ordinary comportments”, not within or through it. This is why Husserl keeps writing introductions to phenomenology to explicate both the epochê as well as the reduction(s) in terms of a massive rupture with the natural attitude. Similarly for Heidegger; for while his philosophy certainly implies “acknowledging the ungrounded character of Dasein” (79), it also constitutes a radical break with the ordinary (even ordinary philosophy) towards fundamental ontology, the history of being or “thinking” in an eminent sense. Therefore I would be very interested in how exactly ordinary comportment transforms itself relating to Dasein’s ungrounded facticity without simply becoming philosophy, poetics or “thinking” – and how this transformation might be achieved. To be clear, this is not an ironic or rhetorical question, as I think it might really be better for everyone involved if more people acknowledged “the ungroundedness and the constitutive opacity” of our situation and acted accordingly. Could and should it be the “task” of philosophy to further this transformation?

Summa discusses the relation between performing and expressing, refuting Butler’s early claim that expression and performance are mutually exclusive, based on the assumptions that expression does not contribute to the constitution of what is expressed and presupposes a substantial subject (102). Instead, Summa offers a complementary account.

In the first section she sets out the false dichotomy between expression and performance. In the second section she discusses different notions of performance which inform current debates, namely Austin’s linguistic account of performatives and Turner’s cultural-anthroplogical account of ritual and the social drama. The common denominator Summa sees in “the accentuation of the productive and transformative power of the activity” (108) while pointing out that Turner’s concept is farther reaching, including the institution of norms and social identities through repetition – or their breaking. In the third section, Summa argues both that the “sincerity condition for the success of performative utterances” (112) cannot be understood apart from considerations of expression, and that expression itself is one way to exercise the power of institution as described by Merleau-Ponty. In each case, Summa shows that expression does not presuppose “the assumption of the subject as substance” (116). What is presupposed in but also formed by expression and acknowledgement, is experience. Moreover, any “expressive impulse emerges as a response to or a way to cope with some form of impasse within an already given order” and this presupposes an “embodied history of a style, which can itself become the object of modification, or écart, which will have an impact on our subsequent experience.” (118)

Summa’s contribution is both precisely argued and strategically interesting, as she, like Wehrle in her paper (see below), brings phenomenology systematically and critically into contact with concurrent theories, especially Butler’s. In doing so she disabuses us of certain common misconceptions about phenomenology, namely of being a subjectivist, pre-post-modern (i.e. modern) project. At the same time she actualises a transcendental line of questioning by elaborating on the conditions of possibility of expression and performance as well expression and performance as conditions of the possibility of subject-formation.

Wehrle contends “that Butler’s account of performativity as well as her ethics of precarity could profit from a phenomenologically-informed account of bodily performativity, which includes its passive and active aspects.” (126) She then explicates bodily performativity in terms of engagement: “as embodied, we are engaged with our environment and creative with regard to our relation with it. […] This relation, the performances of the body, so I want to argue here, have ontological relevance in that they can create real and lasting changes in situations, the environment and the bodies themselves.” (127) This “performative force of the body often goes unnoticed” (128), because it is usually anonymous.

While our bodies can actively perform, they can also be acted on, for example through bodily discipline, which Wehrle interprets as “forced or prefixed habituation” (130), be it through external forces or internalised norms. Thus bodies are normalised. Depending on the situation, the norms working on bodies and bodily behaviour are either experienced as comfortable (in case we conform to them) or uncomfortable (in case we do not conform to them) (132).

In dealing with these norms, Wehrle votes for a “pragmatic approach” according to which we do not simply abolish uncomfortable norms, but use the discomfort to enact the norms in “slighlty different ways”: changing their script so to speak, “thus integrating more possibilities and more possible subjects into it” (133). In fact, since no bodily act ever reproduces the underlying norms completely and since we (can) experience this discrepancy, Wehrle argues that we ought “regard embodied experience by itself as perfomative and, therefore, potentially subversive” (134) – like language. The starting point to any of these subversive acts is the “distance that is inherent to our very embodiment and experience”, namely that between being a body and having a body to which we can relate and which we ourselves can objectify, discovering “our ordinary ways of moving” (137) and lining them up for scrutiny – and consequently change through self-discipline, which Wehrle links with Foucault’s “care for the self”. She concludes: “In enacting norms, we thereby make them “real”, but always retain the capacity to transcend them.” (139)

As with parallel discussions in the realm of linguistic acts and norms, the next question – which can use Wehrle’s concise conceptual work as a starting point – would be how exactly this transcendence takes place, especially in extremis. For while it is easier to envisage how we can (bodily) transcend (bodily) norms in (more or less) free societies, it is harder to imagine how one can enact and subvert norms in, say, Guantanamo Bay or an Uighur internment camp. The enforced performances in such “Vocational Education and Training Centers” are exactly aimed at stopping any form of subversion, even to reduce fellow human beings to obedient bodies, collapsing the critical distinction between being and having a body.

Laner offers “(Post)Phenomenological Considerations of Contending Bodies” (140), taking Butler’s account of assembly and her criticism of Arendt’s perceived intellectualism as her starting point. She then goes on to develop a concept of “bodily forms of critique” (145), drawing on Merleau-Ponty and Ryle.

What then is “critique” and how can it be “bodily”, according to Laner? What are “performances of critique” (144) if not criticising? “Critique, as performed on a bodily level, […] means to question a situation not from a distanced perspective” (140), “critique” is about “altering” (142) a situation and attacking the norms inherent in it, indeed, critical “performances aim at transgressing such limitations” (143); “it is by means of bodily enactment that one takes a critical stance toward an existing system of norms” (146); “taking a critical stance on a bodily level can, in a very basic sense, be regarded as a form of bodily enactment that transgresses or subverts the existing norms.” (147) Bodily criticism is “a response to a given situation that does not affirm, but that questions the norms prefiguring our performances” (149). Such critical stances are performed by “[b]odies that claim to be recognized as free” (144) and it “it is the body that thinks and reflects” (151). Laner thus wants to overcome the “Dualistic characterisation” (144) of us humans as divided in body and mind.

In light of this aim it is odd that she a) constantly distinguishes between body and mind rather than focusing on the person as a whole but also b) keeps using mentalistic vocabulary to describe bodily actions. It is unclear why we should say that the body claims something, takes a stance or questions anything; surely it is the whole, embodied as well as minded person who performs all these acts? And does the difference between simply failing to properly enact a norm and subverting it reside in the body as opposed to the mind? Also having an “aim” (152) surely is something the person rather than the body ‘performs’? Even “performing intelligently” (153) in Ryle’s sense does not justify the term “bodily criticism” as Ryle himself says of a person or the “agent” that he does or does not exercise “criticism”, not of the body (as quoted by Laner on p. 153). So does Merleau-Ponty: the artist “questions perceptual norms” (155), as Laner says, not the artist’s body. Discovery and analysis are feats of the person as a minded entity, so why go back to the harsh duality of body and mind to then misapply these activities?

I do not advocate a view according to which “bodies are not able to perform critically, since their performances are understood in terms of necessary reaction” (145), but a view according to which criticality is an attribute of activities and dispositions of the whole person rather than one aspect. That is not to say that bodily performance cannot subvert norms, as Summa and Wehrle both establish very clearly (see above), but both successfully avoid forcing mentalistic vocabulary or dualism into their spelling out of the subversive possibilities of bodily engagement. Humans can question norms bodily, even by performing (or failing to perform) certain movements, yes. But why call this “bodily criticism”?

Then again, Laner also sees herself “questioning a notion of critique that underlines its merely rational nature and the distanced attitude it presupposes” (147) – a notion of critique she characterises as “trivial” and traces back to Kant. “Trivial notions of critique often refer to the etymology of the concept krinein, stressing its original meaning of discriminating. If critical performances are regarded as performances that simply detect differences and discriminate, critique seems to loose its normative impact.” (148) According to Laner it is also “clear that only a small elite even qualifies for critical engagement” (148) in this sense, although she does not say in which way it is so “clear”.

Firstly, where does the imperative of “normative impact” of critique come from? Or is that “simply” a presupposition? Secondly, as to the triviality of critique: the main aspect of “krinein” is to differentiate adequately, to detect a difference that makes a difference in a given context and to conceptualise it aptly – to “carve nature at the joints” as Plato has it (Phaidros 265e), A judge for example “simply” has to judge (discriminate) whether someone is guilty or not and what punishment is adequate. Critical thinking thus is not a passive “becoming aware of differences” or a bodily response of “detecting differences” (155), but actively seeking out differences according to certain criteria, employing conceptual skills. The ability to differentiate properly does therefore not seem “trivial” to me; or if it is “trivial” in the sense of belonging to the “trivium”, i.e. to any form of halfway proper education, it is not very well received – it certainly is not widely spread even within academia.

It is also arguably different from the drive or wish to change something one has previously identified (and thus differentiated from what it is not) as defective, which can follow acts of criticism but does not have to.

Regarding Kant, his notion of “Kritik” is very specific and concerns the possibility of metaphysics and the range of valid conclusions reason is allowed to draw (Critique of Pure Reason, A-Vorrede) and which is supposed to answer the question “How are synthetic a priori judgements possible?” – which is not what most people mean when they speak of the intellectual activity or disposition of being “critical”, presumably. Then again, in a more general understanding of a “critical” stance, Kant asks all of us (rather than a “small elite”, as Laner has it) to “dare to know”.

The connection between what Laner calls “trivial” as well as “non-bodily forms of critique” remains vague as she just says they are “somehow complementary”, since bodily critique relates “towards a matter from within”, whereas non-bodily critique supposedly operates “from outside the system” (156). Which is, again, highly problematic, given that the whole issue with Kant and post-Kantian idealism is the acute awareness that we are always “within”. There is no view from outside, no view from nowhere, no side-ways on view, no context-less context, no a-perspectival perspective etc. – pick your favourite “trivial” formula. Also, given that Kant talks mainly about theology, how is his critique not at least associated with “actual desires, affects and needs of the performer” (156)? Kant himself at least sees his critique as a matter of life and death after all – and lest we forget, with Plato, the proper critical, dialectical stance is the proper way to deal with death and the only worthy expression of Eros.

Laner’s divestment of critique from reflection is motivated by her concern about those unable to reflect as “they too deserve to be attributed the possibility of taking a critical stance.” (148) I am unsure who decides who is deserving, but surely the validity of attributions ought to rest on clean definitions rather than moral considerations?

Finally I think “postphenomenology” is an odd term in this context, since considerations about the “broader horizon of changing times, various cultures, political systems and power mechanisms shaping bodies as well as the diverse social roles attributed to them” (142) are well inside the range of phenomenological thought; after all, Husserl himself already conceives of a “historical apriori” (Krisis, 380) and takes the differences between “homeworld” and “otherworld” into account, as well as the cultural differences between say, Greek and non-Greek thought which sparked philosophy in the first place in his view. See Rentsch’s take on “situative contextuality” (164) in Husserl in the same volume (see below).[3]

Classical phenomenology always calls for a “Leitfaden” to any discussion, i.e. a given phenomenon from which the structure of interest can be lifted and analysed. This would have been very helpful in this case, since at least to me it is still very unclear what bodily critique is supposed to be.

Rentsch moves away from the body, towards the “transcendence of logos”, which refers to the “unavailability and withdrawal of the performative constitution of meaning, that is, its negativity”, i.e. “that which precedes and is outside of logos cannot be grasped or conceived of, except once again through linguistic forms.” (159) Rentsch situates this topic within the thematic range of the present volume by positing: “Linguistically, this transcending manifests in performativity” (167).

He proceeds from Wittgenstein’s silence at the end of the Tractatus and his subsequent practical turn, to Heidegger, Adorno’s constellation and Husserl’s passive synthesis, in all of which he sees attempts to conceptualise the unavailable performativity that constitutes meaning. Where Husserl is concerned, one might even go further than Rentsch in that not only the living present “does not exist as such, […] is unthinkable and unrepresentable” (166); the same holds for the ur-sphere and the “Urstand” therein, which is the form of subjectivity constituting all objects (Gegen-stand as opposed to Ur-stand) and which Husserl also considers to be no object in any way (cf. Bernauer Manuskripte 277) .

This line of thinking that certain structures are both “limits and ground” (167) of something can – again – be easily traced back to (at least) Plato, in whom the structuring principle always transcends whatever it structures, a thought that found its home at the heart of Neoplatonism, leading from Plotinus to Proclus on to the Florentine Academy, Cusanus and further. Rentsch can be read as analysing an instantiation of this very basic structure in its aspect concerning meaning and language, truth (161).

As with Platonic takes on the issue, one might ponder what exactly “inexplicability” (167) means in this context. After all, Rentsch asks us “to conceive of [the inexplicable conditions] as conditions of meaning” (167), thus conceptualising, explicating and expressing them, namely “as conditions”. The formerly non-thematic performance becomes thematic and thus loses its transcendence – otherwise it could not be object of inquiry.

In his conclusion he hints at ways in which “fundamental domains of the constitution of meaning on the life-world” (169) are affected by recent developments and mentions fake news, exchange trade, artificial intelligence in warfare and pornography. In all these cases he sees the irreducible and to some extent inexplicable basis of meaning-constitution under threat. The connection of these issues to his former elucidations of the performative withdrawal at the heart of meaning-constitution remains somewhat tentative however. He ends on an ethical note: “what is at stake is that we develop ways to take back […] and strengthen the critical faculty of judgement” (169) – and who would argue against that?

Slaby bridges a wide gap, “From Heidegger to Afro-Pessimism”. In this he aims at a “temporal account of affectivity” (173), specifically the “background affectivity” which permeats our being-in-the-world and which is shaped by “historical events” (174). Slaby wants to “revive” Heidegger’s take on the relation between affectivity and time “for the purpose of motivating and informing a critical phenomenology of affectivity” (174), where to be “in an affective state amounts to finding oneself “here”, at a particular juncture, confronted by what has been, what is factual, what has come to be so that we have no choice but to go on from here.” (175) Affectivity both discloses and occludes our situation, however. Slaby’s goal is thus partially critical, to “reveal layers of distrust, dishonesty and inauthenticity” (176).

He then draws on Fanon, Rankine and Coates (among others) to portray the affectivity of many black lives in the US, “constitutively placed on the brink of death” through the “violent appropriation of black lives” (179). He goes on to discuss Merleau-Ponty’s concept of social sedimentation as it impacts the body-schema, as well as Al-Saji’s and Ahmed’s contributions to phenomenology. It is here that the phenomenological meat of his approach lies as he establishes the connection between the historical (re-)embodiment of white privilege “in the spaces and operations of public institutions, and how it becomes manifest within affective modes of embodied being-in-the-world.” (186)

Slaby follows this with a look at Sharpe’s concept of the Wake (of the Middle Passage), which is both a factual condition as well as a mode of caring. He sees Wake work as similar to phenomenology in regard to the attention to the natural attitude (192; additionally he posits the condition of being in the Wake as a “Grundstimmung”, alongside the phenomenological favourites “anxiety” and “nausea” (192): “Living under the reign of capital is living in the Wake, still embodying, continuing, re-enacting this concrete history.” (192-3) – This is, of course, tricky terrain, since while capitalism affects non-black people as well, the Wake shapes black lives, especially in the USA, very differently from how it shapes the lives of white people; or – on average – white people are living in the Wake differently than black people.

The only point I do not quite understand in Slaby’s contribution is his criticism of aspiring to “evaluative” “detached neutrality” (194) as opposed to a stance which would “require practitioners to thoroughly situate their respective subject matters historically and to devise philosophical methods adequate to this task – methods that work performatively so as to crack open ossified formations of understanding and being.” (194) Again I am tempted to ask where the imperative to crack open anything stems from and why that cannot or should not be performed in a detached way. After all, even Husserl’s fairly detached way of philosophising always aimed at negating what he called ossification in order to get at the things themselves and renew society. And surely “neutrality” in this context simply means not to be unfair or prejudiced?

Kozel writes about her engagement with the works of the choreographer Margrét Guðjónsdóttir and states that “A phenomenology of affect affords a parallel between Guðjónsdóttir’s choreographic practices and Cambridge Analytica’s political manipulations”, namely as “choreographies of affect and somatic states”, in each case affective states being the “material” of the work in question. The difference for Kozel lies in the fact that in the former case, the “reflective process” is in play, while it is “missing from social media users’ attitudes” (205), as the reflective process is part of the choreographer’s work. The paper also contains a detailed description of the experience of viewing a piece by Guðjónsdóttir.

In terms of theory I could not find a definition for what she calls “hyper-reflection” (205). In general, Kozel’s idea of how and why we “do a phenomenology” (206) seems to be more practical than theoretical. Her description of the steps involved in doing “a” phenomenology sounds more like a form of mindfulness-meditation followed by a written account; to me it certainly seems further removed from traditional philosophical theorising than the other contributions – which in itself is not a reason to evaluate it negatively, of course.

Buongiorno’s paper deals with “digital performativity” in the sense of the “ways we act ourselves out” and “construct ourselves by means of digital artefacts” (214) After briefly sketching the differences in self-constitution brought on by digitalisation, drawing on work by Belk, Buongiorno discusses three phenomenological concepts, which he thinks will help to understand these new forms of self-constitution: a) epochê: this constitutes the distance necessary to do phenomenology, as is the case with Husserl, b) variation: our digitalised mediated experience can be conceptualised as variations of non-digital experience – “we may understand digital experiences as a virtual transposition of the contents of real experience” (222) and c) the flesh, which serves to undercut the discussion about disembodiment through digitalisation and its dualist presuppositions, in order to better understand digital “reembodiment”.

“Phenomenology” for Buongiorno is supposedly “far from being just a theory resorting to reflection and analysis” (220) but rather a “form-of-life” (221) – something no traditional phenomenologist would doubt, presumably. However the specifics of this form-of-life seem to me to rest exactly in “reflection and analysis”, as phenomenology both as a stance and an activity is based on turning our attention back (reflectere) towards conditions of possibility, towards conceptual structures and frames of mind, towards our constituting activities, ill-grounded presuppositions etc. and then carefully taking them apart (analyein) and explicating them in order to foster understanding.

III. Conclusion

As can be gleaned from my remarks, I am rather taken aback by some of the implicit or explicit disavowals of the ideals of earlier phenomenology, namely to strive for a differentiated, analytic, reflexive, neutral, i.e. theoretical account of the things themselves (including ourselves). This striving is itself already a performative as well as a transformative exercise and thus a way of life,[4] one which is sorely in need of proponents in my mind, since it implies a thoughtfulness and an understanding of our own presuppositions and (epistemic) limits which in turn are the bedrock both for reasonable political action as well as fruitful research. Temporal philosophical disengagement neither implies global (political) inactivity or a general disembodiment, yet only reflection can curb some of our more unproductive reflexes.

This reflection also ought to include the “ought”, as quite a few papers in the present collection simply assume certain norms or directives without either arguing for or at least describing the sources of their validity, which ought to be a problem for any radical, self-critical philosophy – as phenomenology traditionally purported to be.

Despite my critical remarks, most of the contributions to the volume qualify as solid academic performances, some are outstanding in clarity and concision. The volume as a whole shows (again) that current phenomenology is divers, well suited to place itself in a wider context and able to engage with other traditions and new topics. As the Guidi states in the introduction, “We wish [to] bring to light the mutual relation between phenomenology and performativity and set the ground for further exercises” (10). This it accomplishes very well.


[1]   Cf. Florian Arnold, Logik des Entwerfens (Paderborn, 2018) for an account of the connection between philosophy and design.

[2]  Thomas Arnold. 2017. Phänomenologie als Platonismus. Berlin/New York, §§ 22.

[3] See also Aldea’s take on the criticality of Husserlian phenomenology in: Smaranda Aldea, « Making Sense of Husserl’s Notion of Teleology: Normativity, Reason, Progress and Phenomenology as ‘Critique from Within’, » Hegel Bulletin 38/1 (2017): 104–128 and « Phenomenology as Critique: Teleological-Historical Reflection and Husserl’s Transcendental Eidetics, » Husserl Studies 31/1 (2016): 21–46.

[4] Cf. the locus classicus, Pierre Hadot. 1995. Philosophy as a Way of Life. Blackwell .

Nikolay Milkov: Early Analytic Philosophy and the German Philosophical Tradition

Early Analytic Philosophy and the German Philosophical Tradition Couverture du livre Early Analytic Philosophy and the German Philosophical Tradition
Nikolay Milkov
Bloomsbury Academic
2020
Hardback £76.50
x + 296

Reviewed by: R.A. Goodrich (ARC Centre for History of Emotions – University of Melbourne & ADI Philosophy & History of Ideas – Deakin University)

The four sections of this review essay will each pursue a major facet of Nikolay Milkov’s monograph, a monograph mainly directed at professional philosophers and their postgraduate students, but not without interest for historians of ideas. Within the space available, we shall give particular attention to the opening chapters. Indeed, it is in these chapters that the fundamental framing of Early Analytic Philosophy and the German Philosophical Tradition is erected. They are finally re-engaged in the concluding pair of chapters, chapters that portray two dominant conceptions of analytic philosophy influencing its subsequent factional development; the consequent proliferation of incomplete often methodological definitions of analytic philosophy; and, finally, what amounts to the author’s manifesto for the future renewal of analytic philosophy. The questions governing the four sections of this critique can be summarised as follows. Firstly, how does Milkov construe the context of historical enquiries into early analytic philosophy? Secondly, what does he believe ought to be the task and goal of such endeavours? Thirdly, how do the demands of a case-study of the impact of a controversial major intellectual upon early analytical philosophers demonstrate his actual historical practice? Finally, to what extent do other significant, contemporaneous historical approaches invite further questions? Or, to recast this issue, do the assumptions Milkov makes about the very nature and crafting of the history of philosophy raise closer scrutiny and debate?

I

Milkov’s re-framing of the history of the early phase of analytic philosophy comes a half-generation after Daniel Garber’s reflection upon attitudes to the intellectual past by so many of its practitioners.  Garber’s own generation was “reacting against … a bundle of practices” that could be characterized by several trends (2004: 2). These included the tendencies “to substitute rational reconstruction of a philosopher’s views for the views themselves,” “to focus upon an extremely narrow group of figures,” “to focus on just a few works … that best fit with … current conception[s] of the subject of philosophy,” “to work exclusively from translations and to ignore secondary work … not originally written in English,” and “to treat philosophical positions as if they were those presented by contemporaries” (2004: 2).

Before assessing how Milkov differs in his historical approach, let us focus upon the first two theoretical chapters of his sixteen-chapter volume in order to examine the underpinnings of that approach. Whereas the vast majority of chapters draw upon a dozen articles and chapters published between 1999 and 2012, both introductory chapters implicitly provide Milkov’s readers with his most recent thinking. It occurs within the statement of his over-arching aim of transforming the “largely disparate efforts” (4), notably but not exclusively since the ‘’seventies when Michael Dummett (1981: 628ff. & 665ff.) began probing the development of Gottlob Frege and the philosophy of language (also succinctly critiqued by George Duke (2009)). Milkov believes this can be achieved by “developing a comprehensive account of early analytic philosophy as a movement that both inherited and transformed an entire spectrum of themes … in mainstream German philosophy” (4). A significant factor amongst English-speaking commentators in avoiding, if not disparaging, the role of Germanic thinking from the twentieth century’s first world war to the aftermath of the second was “socio-cultural animosity and clashing ideologies” (4).

Milkov is well aware that his effort to construct “a theoretically balanced and comprehensive, ideologically unbiased account” involves him in pursuing “pioneering figures” of analytic philosophy such as B.A.W. Russell and G.E. Moore. More particularly, it demands that he demonstrates how they probed “inherited problems and doctrines” originating in Germanic philosophical thinking “in the language and theoretical idiom of a far different cultural and intellectual environment” (5). By so doing, we find that Milkov overtly opposes five historical conceptions of what many scholars construe as the Anglo-Germanic intellectual relationship (or lack thereof) during the initial period of the analytic movement (and subsequently elaborated when dealing with “incomplete definitions” of the extended analytic movement’s “methodological” and “defining themes” (208-212)). In brief, they comprise the following objections:

[i] that, as the twelfth and sixteenth chapter in the first volume of Scott Soames (2003) might be interpreted, Kant’s analytic-synthetic dichotomy was central to early analytic projects (5, cf. 8, 11-12);

[ii] that, despite efforts to reconnect two historically divorced yet aligned traditions in Paul Redding (2007) and thereby contend that Hegel’s “grand … theories” were central, but not his methods which Milkov specifically upholds subsequently (e.g. 46ff.) (5);

[iii] that, as promoted by the likes of Kevin Mulligan and Barry Smith, Kant and his followers operated “in principle” with a “universe of ideas” totally independent of the analytic movement (5-6);

[iv] that neo-Kantians, notably Ernst Cassirer of the Marburg school, “were largely preoccupied with the philosophy of culture,” thereby ignoring their continuation of “the logicalization of philosophy initiated by Kant” (6, cf. 7, 221); and,

[v] as Dummett (e.g. 1981: xlii, 665-684) influentially maintained, that “Frege alone introduced analytic philosophy as a kind of philosophy of language” (6, cf. 12, 111, 209-210).

From the pivotal occurrence of Kant’s “recalibration” of occidental philosophy by “synthesizing logic with the rest of the field” (7), Milkov proposes the next major pivot to be neither Hegel nor Frege but Hermann Lotze. His investigations would later be identified, if not always acknowledged, as “signature concerns” of early Cambridge analyses, ranging “from the proposition, objective content—both conceptual and perceptual—of knowledge, and intentionality to the theory of logical forms, the objective nature of values and logical validity” (7). As Hans-Johann Glock (1999: 141ff.) emphasizes, the “logocentric” factor in what he regards as German analytic philosophy saw the pronounced rejection of the naturalist trend of reducing philosophy to an empirical science such as psychology to which the laws of logic were subservient and thereby functioning as little more than empirical, inductive generalisations.

The subsequent questioning of logocentric constraints rationalises Milkov upholding a distinctive, “discrete” second (or “middle”) phase of analytic philosophy initially associated with the Vienna Circle’s focus upon “problems of explanation in science” (9). Thereafter, he observes, a “clearly distinguishable” third (or “late”) phase emerged from the ’sixties with Van Quine, Thomas Kuhn, and John Rawls epitomizing “leading exemplars” of shifts into questions of translatability and interpretation, scientific revolutions and commensurability, and socio-political rules and cohesion. In sum, synoptic attempts to define analytic philosophy fail to “discriminate … different stages” (10) and thus distort historical actualities of its “multifacteted” development (11).

Chapter One ends by returning to its goal of “a fine-grained” investigation of topics “from alternative perspectives” that were “formative” of early analytic philosophy to be treated by way of its “methodology … which was more focused on descriptions than explanations” (11). Rather than impose a “monothematic,” if not hierarchical, interpretation upon actual analytic development, such as Soames’ singular notion of analysis or Dummett’s one of language (11-12), Milkov points elsewhere. We, in fact, face “concepts that survived the demise of the grand theories in which they originally figured” (13). At the same time, when “later recast by thinkers,” the “supersession of historically successive philosophical contexts, whereby seminal ideas make their way through history, explains why philosophically formative ideas are often difficult to recognize” (13). Furthermore, “the progress of these ideas was not always linear … nor was it always a function of a proximate influence” (13).

II

Chapter Two ends Milkov’s theoretical introduction by initially surveying attitudes of philosophers, be they analytic or other, towards their intellectual antecedents. Whilst so doing, he notes that even philosophers “cannot, in principle, write down their completely finished story” (18). This state of affairs holds irrespective of whether their successors, be they “friends or rivals,” develop “steps” suggested or even when others, attempting to demonstrate how their ideas are “constructed” or related, typically interpret such ideas as contributing to a “completely new problem” (18-19). Curiously, for a chapter devoted to the logical, systematic history of philosophy, Milkov does not pursue the conceptual consequences of history as retrospective narrative, a point to be expanded in our fourth section.

Milkov contends that the task of an historian of philosophy is fourfold, namely:

[i] explicating “elements” of the “different range and level of specific philosophical works”;

[ii] relating these elements within “a logical net” or, still metaphorically speaking, mapping them;

[iii] logically relating them to “the ideas of other philosophers: predecessors, contemporaries, successors” irrespective of whether they are “members of the philosopher’s school or group”; and, finally,

[iv] aiming to “develop them further in their authentic sense” (19).

That said, Milkov makes allowance for more implications arising from his four designated tasks. These include, for example, the need for historians—especially for those pursuing “logical connections” aiming to detail “a map without omissions” (26)—to adopt two directions. On the one hand, there is a diachronic quest for the “origins of particular concepts, problems, and theories” (20). On the other hand, there is a synchronic “reporting” about how other philosophers deploy these differently in order to “delineate … how the systematic philosophical problems and concepts, past and present, interrelate in formally determinate ways” (20). In his penultimate chapter, Milkov reframes this dual task along the lines of what Peter Strawson (1992: 17-28) once called “connective” as opposed to “reductive” analysis (203).

The foregoing may nonetheless leave readers wondering if Milkov’s fourfold set of tasks above is sufficiently explicated. Consider, for instance, why Milkov’s preferred “elements”—concepts, problems, theories—gradually focus upon the first two at the expense of the third. Consider again, how one is to construe Milkov’s metaphorical notions of “net” and “map.” The latter, as we shall consider in our final section, reveals some questionable presuppositions bedevilling theories of history applied to the realm of ideas. Finally. consider why his reference to “specific … works” omits the interpretive nature, let alone assumptions and consequences, of translations, transcriptions, and reconstructions of published and unpublished work or works; all the more so, when pitted against the goal of approaching its or their “authentic sense” (19). Is this appeal to “authentic sense” in danger of becoming embroiled in a potential dilemma? As argued in more literary circumstances by Saam Trivedi (2001), the underlying conception of communication ultimately “implies a commitment” to “the view that the correct meanings and interpretations … are fixed” or “at least … constrain[ed]” by their authors’ “actual intentions” in constructing their works (195). In other words, the problem is “an epistemic dilemma, a dilemma with redundancy as one of its horns, and indeterminancy as the other” (198). Imagine a situation in which Antonio and Alessia, archaeologists and keen students of accounts of the settlement of the Azores archipelago begin reading the fifteenth chapter of the 1894 Raymond Beazley history of “one continuous thread of Christian” European exploration and expansion across the Atlantic which “treat[s] the life of Prince Henry as the turning point” albeit one “clouded by the dearth of compete knowledge… but enough … to make something of … a hero, both of science and of action” (xvii). Both sense the above-mentioned danger of confronting them, namely, whether or not Beazley’s textual or oral sources are pervaded by ambiguity. If ambiguity is pervasive according to Antonio, the historian’s attempt to appeal to contexts if not conventions as a sufficient constituent of his sources’ meaning in cases of failed or indeterminate intentions begins to crumble. The dilemma remains if, as Alessia contends, ambiguity here is not pervasive because the sources threaten to become superfluous especially in the face of Beazley’s ideological pre-occupations.

III

Our previous section has in passing questioned Milkov’s conception of the goal and task of historians of (early) analytic philosophy in terms of retrospective narratives and metaphors of mapping. However, before turning to these issues in our final section, we shall pursue, albeit briefly, how the demands of a significant philosophical case-study demonstrate his actual practices. Here, we find a rich array from Chapter Three onwards. In practical terms, we would hardly expect a volume of under three hundred pages to present a fully “comprehensive,” let alone an “unbiased,” account (5); rather, it acts as a corrective by challenging engrained scholarly perspectives with alternative ones. An example of a complex major German thinker, initially rejected by Russell and Moore as intersecting with early analytic philosophy, should suffice, namely, Hegel, a pivotal figure for what is popularly called the European idealist movement.

Milkov acknowledges the recent role of Redding (2007) and Angelica Nuzzo (2010) in drawing parallels between analytic philosophy and Hegel’s approach to concepts (46). However, he elects to highlight an “unexplored” perspective of the “methods employed” not as the “genealogical connection between … two theoretical orientations, but rather … [as] their kinship” (47). His prime candidate is the “economic method of elimination” (as distinct from the “reductive” conception of analysis in which particular concepts were assigned to specific classes (cf. 49)). Early analytic philosophers, beginning with its “only one founding father,” Russell (221), deployed elimination to rid analysis of “a superfluous duplication of terms” (47). For instance, if Antonio knows the words comprising a proposition (“The Azores is Europe’s largest volcanic archipelago”), then by that very fact he knows its meaning. If his colleague Alessia can confirm that the hypogea of the Azores are products of human activity at least a millennium before European settlement from 1433, then, ipso facto, she can prove that there were ancient people and things before and beyond herself.

This method, asserts Milkov, is akin to Hegel’s mereological approach in logic to analysing the relationship between a whole or totality and its parts or elements. By so analysing the connections between parts of a whole by “the most economic type of connection between them,” Hegel can simultaneously characterize those between the parts and the whole which “are unities of individuals” (48), the latter, citing Hegel (1830: §158), functioning as “only moments of one whole.” Nonetheless, Milkov concedes that the above method specifically “related to Hegel’s dialectics” was “a major trend” amongst fin de siècle philosophers ranging from William James, a key contributor to the North America pragmatist movement, to Edmund Husserl, a major instigator of the European phenomenological movement, and not peculiar to the early analytic movement as such (49).

For Milkov, only the early Wittgenstein (1922) fully embodies Hegel’s dialectics where “every concept transforms into another concept” and thereby making it “more precise” (50). His other nominee is Rudolf Carnap who, during the middle or second period of the analytic movement’s trans-Atlantic debates over the logical quest for conceptual or definitional precision, “called the practice of analysis explication” (50). Thereafter, the relatively open-ended use of “explication”—nowadays known as “conceptual (re)engineering”—by advocates in philosophical and psychological fields has seized upon experimentally or experientially driven applications of theoretical enquiries. Whereas Milkov subsequently concentrates upon Susan Stebbing’s criticisms (e.g. 186-187), the contested arguments of Quine and Strawson amongst others continue to reverberate. These include, for example, the viability of securing necessary and sufficient conditions; the validity of distinctions between analytical and empirical truths; the separation of denotative and connotative meanings; the division between semantic and pragmatic kinds of context and reference; and the methodological question of whether “explication” ultimately alters the subject of enquiry or forcibly resolves it by way of implicit stipulation.

Hegel’s mereological approach above carries implications for its relationship to the “absolute” or “absolute idea” which Milkov construes more generally amongst German idealists as determining “the characteristics and behavior of all individuals that fall under it with necessity of a law” (62). Later, focusing upon the early Russell under the specific influence of Lotze, Milkov claims that Russell, when first emphasizing “the logical discussion of metaphysical problems,” conceptually distinguished between space and time “as consisting of relations” and “as adjectives to the absolute” (89). What is ignored here is an alternative account of the “absolute idea” which, according to Markus Gabriel (2016), is grounded in “methodological assumptions designed to guarantee the overall intelligibility of what there is, regardless of its actual natural, social or more broadly normative structure” (181). Gabriel’s challenging perspective centres upon “how reality as a whole is the main topic of Hegel’s philosophy” which includes the crucial task in the face of scepticism of “accounting for the presence of self-conscious thinking in nature” (2018: 383). Irrespective of the merits of this alternative, it compels intellectual historians to ask if early analytic philosophers realised that Hegel’s “absolute idea” was not a first-order metaphysical method for disclosing, in Gabriel’s words, “the composition of ultimate reality in the sense of the furniture of mind-independent fundamental reality” (2016: 185).

There is something else Milkov largely seems to overlook in his treatment of Hegel’s mereological mode of dialectical analysis which only tangentially comes to the fore when his sixth and seventh chapters delve into Lotze’s focus upon the logical relations within judgements and its influence upon Russell and Moore (e.g. 73-74 & 76-77). For many readers, especially those more familiar with the third (or “late”) phase of analytic philosophy and its persistent debates about semantic holism, curiosity centres upon the extent to which the early analytic phase and its German antecedents wrestled with holistic assumptions. Yet only passing mention of Moore’s widely disseminated and influential Principia Ethica is made. Milkov simply remarks that the volume was “developed around the concepts of ‘organic unity’” or organic whole in a “quasi-Hegelian manner” (49)—notably, it may be added, in terms of the intrinsic and non-intrinsic values of whole and parts (e.g. 1903: §18-23, 27-36)—without any explicit mention of Lotze.

From an historical perspective, amongst the basic conceptions upheld by the generation of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the organic kind, as Dennis Phillips has long argued, took root in efforts to deny the adequacy of atomistic or mechanistic assumptions associated with the physical and chemical sciences of the day when applied, for example, to conscious beings, human societies, or even “reality as a whole” (1976: 6). Why? Because the “parts of an organic system are internally related to each other” (1976: 7). Internal relations are commonly explained by such propositions as the “whole determines the nature of its parts”; “parts cannot be understood … in isolation from the whole”; and, parts are “dynamically” inter-dependent or -related (1976: 6). To accept internal or intrinsic relations, continues Phillips, rapidly leads to the contestable belief that “entities are necessarily altered by the relations into which they enter” (1976: 8). Hegel’s mereological approach in, for example, The Science of Logic is replete with holistic assumptions. This becomes all the more so as Hegel probes the “essential relation” in that work’s 1813 The Doctrine of Essence as “the relation of the whole and the parts” wherein the whole “consists of the parts, and apart from them it is not anything” (1813: 449-450). Because the whole “is only relative, for what makes it a totality is rather its other, the parts” (1813: 451), Hegel unhesitatingly declares:

Nothing is in the whole which is not in the parts, and nothing is in the parts which is not in the whole. The whole is not an abstract unity but the unity of a diversified manifoldness; but this unity within which the manifold is held together is the determinateness by virtue of which the latter is the parts. (1813: 452)

In sum, we might ask, would focusing upon Hegel’s holistic commitments give us a more cohesive framework for explaining why the development of early analytic philosophy hinged upon overtly rejecting them for several decades at least? Or, if Milkov’s cryptic remarks about Hegel’s dialectical approach (e.g. 46-51, 75-76) tempt us to accept the reconstruction proposed by Gabriel (2011: 104-119), might this, in turn, explain why early analytic philosophers misinterpreted Hegel’s concept of the absolute in so far as it was premised on the “dialectical failure of transcendent metaphysics” from Kant onwards?

IV

The last two chapters deftly portray three key issues motivating Milkov’s monograph which some readers may find worthwhile reading first of all before retracing earlier chapters for the expository details. These key issues include the emergence of two dominant conceptions of analytic philosophy influencing its subsequent factional development which, as Gordana Jovanović (2010) unwittingly demonstrates, echoes tensions within the early history of psychological theory and practice. Thereafter, Milkov turns to the resultant proliferation of incomplete, and often implicitly reified methodological, definitions of analytic philosophy. Finally, he ends Early Analytic Philosophy and the German Philosophical Tradition with what amounts to a manifesto for the future renewal of analytic philosophy partly by contrasting its fundamentally asymmetric relationship with “continental” philosophy and partly by looking to how reconnecting to scientific developments promises its theoretical interdisciplinary enrichment (217ff.).

Milkov’s closing chapters seek “to articulate a clear definition” based upon “the findings” of his preceding chapters and to “foster a more historically informed and theoretically nuanced understanding of analytic philosophy in general” (208). This statement returns us to his initial one about the ideal goals and tasks facing the historian of philosophy: “a theoretically balanced and comprehensive, ideologically unbiased account” (5). As noted in our previous sections, this left at least two historical issues in abeyance which we rather tersely associated with the retrospective character of narratives and the misleading metaphors of mapping. We shall briefly conclude by questioning the presuppositions of these and related issues whilst drawing upon recent re-conceptualisations of the crucial explanatory dimension of history of philosophy.

To ask Milkov what the criteria are that mark an historical account of analytic philosophy as balanced, comprehensive, and unbiased may well be accompanied by such questions as “From whose perspective?” or “By what objective measure?” More unsettling here is the possibility that we are dealing with an idealised set of attributes. How, were this the case, would we ever recognise a comprehensive or an unbiased historical account? The contrast with actual historical accounts immediately shifts our focus. For example, the question might now become whether any historical narration of the occurrences and persons said to be instrumental in the formation of the analytic movement—the role, for instance, assigned to the neglected Dimitri Michaltschew and Johannes Rehmke (153ff.) or Jacob Fries and Leonard Nelson (167ff.)—changes with each re-description by the historians involved, irrespective of whether their chronological, let alone intellectual, scope is relatively narrow or expansive.

Or, to change tack, do individual re-descriptions multiply other kinds of consequences facing historians of analytic philosophy? For example, if Dummett identifies Frege, Redding identifies Hegel, and Milkov identifies Lotze as pivotal to the development of early analytic philosophy, have we become trapped between Scylla and Charybdis, between accepting, on the one hand, a multiplicity of different pasts, different formative occurrences and persons, different causal sequences and accepting, on the other hand, an incapacity for historical accounts to become synthesized and for historical understanding to accumulate? Again, do we confront another consequence? To what extent is any historical narration ultimately a product of imaginative re-enactment where the historian has, as R.G. Collingwood proposed, “no direct or empirical knowledge of … facts … no transmitted or testimonial knowledge of them” (1936: 282)? Hence, when probing the formation of analytic philosophy, the historian is not engaging in an act of recollection where “the past is a mere spectacle” as distinct from being “re-enacted in present thought” (1936: 293). If so, how are we to defend the historical reconstruction’s claim to have disclosed the truth of the matter? Would it be feasible here to appeal to all narrated propositions within the account as not only constituting the facts but also corresponding to a past and actual state of affairs? Or would it feasible to presume that the narrative account is simply justified by an appeal to generalisations about intellectual influences, the Zeitgeist, which map particular occurrences and persons as necessary to the historical terrain being explored, namely, how the nineteenth-century German philosophical tradition or a pivotal figures within it influenced the early twentieth-century analytic movement? In turn, is that historical act of mapping or charting the means for automatically justifying what is therefore construed as significant and hence worthy of inclusion?

The foregoing questions, drawing upon the concerns of Louis Mink (1987) amongst others with the very idea and practice of history, emphasize that the past is not somehow immutable and unchanging, that the past is not somehow awaiting historical discovery to be told (by analogy with the excavations undertaken by our archaeologists, Antonio and Alessia, in the Azores archipelago). Rather, as Mink (1987: 140 & 79) contends, historical enquiries plumb developmental processes retrospectively. Being written from at least one particular perspective at the historian’s time and place, his or her account is thereby characterized by its “conceptual asymmetry” with the antecedent time and place under examination. In that respect, Milkov can be rightly seen as taking particular care over what might be implied and thus translated by Lotze’s concepts (e.g. 98ff.) that have misled Anglophone commentators and translators. Furthermore, Mink portrays a distinctive feature of historical accounts. Their significant conclusions are not so much a mathematical quod erat demonstrandum as what the preceding narrative “argument” aims to have “exhibited”: “they are seldom or never detachable” so that “not merely their validity but their meaning refers backward to the ordering of evidence” (1987: 79).

Finally, as Paul Roth (1989: 468ff.) suggests, there is a “logic internal” to the way in which a narrative account proves explanatory by using “cases … taken to be exemplary instances of problem solving.”  In the course of so saying, Roth seems to have provided us with a set of criteria by which any historian of philosophy, Milkov included, can be evaluated. Does the historical account under examination establish the significance of the occurrence or the event, the person or the puzzle; what is problematic about that occurrence or event, person or puzzle; why have other rational reconstructions failed; and how has the narrative presented solved the problem set (1989: 473).

References

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Collingwood, R.G. 1936. “History as Re-enactment of Past Experience.” In The Idea of History with Lectures 1926-1928. Edited by W.J. van der Dussen, rev. edn., 282-302. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.

Duke, George. 2009. “Dummett and the Origins of Analytical Philosophy.” Review of Metaphysics 63(2): 329-347.

Dummett, Michael. 1981. Frege: Philosophy of Language. 2nd edn. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co.

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——-. 2018. “Transcendental Ontology and Apperceptive Idealism.” Australasian Philosophical Review 2(4): 383-392.

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——-. 1830. Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Basic Outline. Part 1: Science of Logic. 3rd edn. Edited and translated by Klaus Brinkmann & D.O. Dahlstrom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

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Nuzzo, Angelica (ed.). 2010. Hegel and the Analytic Tradition. London & New York: Continuum International Publishing.

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