Saulius Geniusas: The Phenomenology of Pain

The Phenomenology of Pain Book Cover The Phenomenology of Pain
Series in Continental Thought, № 53
Saulius Geniusas
Ohio University Press · Swallow Press
Hardback $95.00

Reviewed by: Fredrik Svenaeus (Södertörn University, Sweden)

In his recently published study The Phenomenology of Pain Saulius Geniusas sets himself the task of developing precisely that – a phenomenology of pain – on the basis of Edmund Husserl’s philosophy. According to Geniusas, in Husserl’s work (including the posthumously published manuscripts) we find all the resources needed to develop such a phenomenology. Husserl took the first steps himself in developing a phenomenology of pain and by following in his footsteps, proceeding by way of the phenomenological method and concepts he developed, we can achieve this important goal. Why is it important to develop a phenomenology of pain? Apart from the general impetus of exploring all phenomena relevant to human life, we may in this case also point towards the mission of helping those who suffer from severe and chronic forms of bodily pain. Pain is from the experiential point of view generally something bad to have, even though it may guide our actions and call for changes of life style that are in some cases beneficial for us in the long run.

The definition that Geniusas develops in his book and defends in comparison with other suggestions and conceptions of what pain consists in is the following: “Pain is an aversive bodily feeling with a distinct experiential quality, which can be given only in original firsthand experience, either as a feeling-sensation or as an emotion” (8). The strategy of his investigation is the following. In the first chapter he presents Husserl’s phenomenology and method, he then in the second chapter turns to the way pain was viewed by Husserl and some other (proto) phenomenologists in the beginning of the 20th century, primarily Franz Brentano, Carl Stumpf and Max Scheler. With the exception of Jean-Paul Sartre, other major phenomenologists that have dealt with pain, such as Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Paul Ricoeur, are scarcely mentioned, even less brought into the analysis. In chapter three Geniusas tests his Husserlian theory by confronting it with rare disorders, which have been reported in the medical literature and have been elaborated upon by (mostly) analytical philosophers, in which pain is not perceived in standard ways. In chapter four he turns to the temporality of pain on the basis of Husserl’s theory of internal time consciousness. In a sense this is the high peak of the analysis where Geniusas enters the terrain of the transcendental stream of consciousness and the constitution of the ego. In chapter five, the author moves downwards from the transcendental peak exploring more mundane topics such as the lived body, which is obviously an important subject for a phenomenologist of pain. Chapter six introduces the notion of personhood and the idea of a personalistic in contrast to naturalistic view on pain. In this and the following chapter seven, dealing with pain and the life world, Geniusas aims to show how his Husserlian alternative can improve upon the philosophical anthropology at work in fields such as medical humanities, cultural psychopathology, psychoanalysis and psychosomatic medicine when it comes to pain. The main concepts he makes use of in the last two chapters, in addition to the ones found in his definition of pain, are depersonalization, re-personalization, somatization and psychologization.

In general I think the strategy of first developing a phenomenological point of view on a subject and/or in a field of research and/or practice (in this case pain research and treatment of pain patients) and then try show how this phenomenological angle can enlighten the researchers and practitioners in the field(s) is a good one. I am convinced that pain needs a phenomenological analysis to be fully understood as the personal experience it truly is. What makes me ambivalent about Geniusas’ book is that I am less convinced that Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology is the best, or, at least, only alternative to work with when it comes to developing a phenomenology of pain, and a bit disappointed that Geniusas does not acknowledge the works on pain that have been carried out in phenomenology of medicine and medical humanities already. The reason he omits, rejects or limits the discussion of such phenomenological efforts to the footnotes is no doubt that they proceed from phenomenological strategies and concepts that are rejected by the author because of deviating from Husserl’s basic set up. I am a bit worried that these two shortcomings (shortcomings at least to my mind) will make this review a bit more negative than I feel the author deserves. Geniusas is a fine philosopher and he certainly makes the most out of the cards that Husserl has dealt him when it comes to understanding pain. Researchers in the field of cognitive science and cultural anthropology will benefit greatly from reading this work and it will also be interesting to Husserl scholars. Phenomenologists of medicine could also learn a great deal from Geniusas’ consistent analysis although I think many of them will have objections similar to my own.

Geniusas distances his own definition of pain from the influential definition put forward by the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP): “Pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage” (2). The reason for this is not only that Geniusas’ alternative is much more precise and comprehensive than IASP’s definition. Actually, the wording of “unpleasant sensory and emotional experience” comes quite close to the stratified phenomenology of pain that Geniusas wants to develop (“an aversive bodily feeling given as a feeling-sensation or emotion”) himself, but it is of vital importance for him to keep the first-person analysis clean of any third-person perspective involving the talk of tissue damage. This is phenomenologically spoken correct, of course, but I cannot help thinking that the cautious account of “actual or potential tissue damage” have been created by the IASP for the reason of prioritizing the point of view of the pain sufferer in comparison with the medical scientist, and I think this should be acknowledged rather than belittling the definition.

Geniusas states that he wants to keep a door open to enrich the phenomenology of pain with other perspectives, but the first impression in reading his book is that he is rather busy closing such doors to ensure that the phenomenology of pain will be “pure” in the sense of not resting on any “pain biology or pain sociology” (4). Many times in the book, the need to stay clear of naturalistic theories of pain is mentioned. At other points in his analysis the author questions the relevance of distinguishing between curing in contrast to healing and disease in contrast illness, distinctions standardly made in the philosophy of medicine (155-56). Geniusas’ reasons for this are no doubt to give privilege to the phenomenological (also called personalistic) perspective in health care in view of the dominance of medical science, but the phenomenological privilege-claim easily begins to sound a bit preposterous in the case of medicine. It is one thing to urge the medics to complement the third-person perspective with a first- (and second-) person perspective – this is greatly needed and called for in health care – but Geniusas appears to come close to a position in which phenomenology should replace other perspectives in the case of pain. This would, of course, be quite absurd in light of what medical science has achieved the last 70 years or so in understanding and treating pain. Most phenomenologists working with themes highlighted by illness and healing (including these two concepts) would be more humble than Geniusas when it comes to positioning their own work in relation to the research done by medical scientists, psychologists, sociologists, etc. Complementing is certainly different from replacing and although the phenomenologists would ultimately privilege the first-person perspective by understanding empirical science as a project originating in the life world, they could learn a lot of value for their own analyses by leaving the arm chair and inform themselves about what is happening not only in the everyday world but also in the world of empirical science, especially when it comes to themes such as pain.

Geniusas tries to keep such a door open to both medical science and the everyday world by the way he sets up and develops his Husserlian method. His elegant and promising idea is that what is known in phenomenology as eidetic variation can be used not only to imagine possible variations of a phenomenon but also to import examples found by way of everyday narratives and empirical science (27). Geniusas goes as far as calling this “dialogical phenomenology” but in order for his book to qualify as dialogical he would, to my mind, have needed to do more when it comes to learning from pain narratives and pain physiology, including brain science and current treatment programs for (especially) chronic pain. As it now stands the dialogue most often consists in showing other researchers of pain that they need to read more Husserlian phenomenology to even understand what they are dealing with. I think the third chapter of the book is indicative of this one-sidedness, this is the chapter in which we should have been taken through at least the basics of contemporary pain research, but what we get instead is a dialogue (or rather attempts to correct) various philosophers in the analytical tradition trying to define pain by taking account of various rare disorders, such as congenital insensitivity to pain, pain asymbolia and what is called pain affect without pain sensation. Do not get me wrong, I do think that these disorders are important to understand what pain truly is and they need to be brought into the analysis, but the way they are presented in this chapter, out of context, not taking into consideration all the interpretational difficulties created by the different historical time points and research traditions in which they have been gathered the last 100 years or so, makes it very hard to follow and critically evaluate the philosophical moves. This goes for phenomenologists, but also, and perhaps more importantly, for all sorts of people experiencing or working with people in pain. Geniusas perhaps succeeds in reaching through to the philosophers working in the field of cognitive science, but my guess is that he does so at the expense of losing many of the phenomenologists and researchers of pain on the way.

Chapter four, dealing with Husserl’s C-Manuscripts on how the living present opens up in and by the stream of consciousness, will probably do the job of scaring away the last remaining empiricist readers. Perhaps I am unfair to Geniusas at this point, after all it is perfectly possible to skip chapter three and four and move directly from the basic introduction of the Husserlian pain-theory outlined in chapter two to the discussions of pain and embodiment (chapter five), personhood (chapter six) and life world (chapter six). But I cannot help feeling there is something absurd about moving to the transcendental heights (or perhaps rather depths) of Husserl’s genetic phenomenology in a book on pain. How could the transcendental ego be in pain? The way I view Husserl’s analysis of transcendental consciousness and its underpinnings is as a methodological point of view for the phenomenologist, not as a piece of ontology per se.

This brings me back to Geniusas’ second chapter on the phenomenological method and what it means for him to do phenomenology. The author claims that for an investigation to qualify as phenomenological it is not enough to proceed from the first-person point of view in contrast to the third-person perspective; the moves performed by the phenomenologist must also include the well-known epoché paired with a phenomenological reduction including eidetic variation (12-20). As Dan Zahavi has recently pointed out, such demands will necessarily be rather off putting and unproductive for empirical researchers wanting to do phenomenology (Zahavi 2019). For a Husserlian – and Zahavi certainly qualifies as a such – it is better to distinguish between philosophers doing transcendental phenomenology – including the epoché and all steps of the phenomenological reduction – and empirical phenomenologists using phenomenological concepts in their research that have been developed by the philosophers (different types of intentionality, lived body, life world, etc.). I have issues with Zahavi concerning the understanding of what it means to perform the epoché – is a researcher not by default performing the epoché at least to some extent when making use of a phenomenological concept? – but when it comes to Husserl’s presentation of the phenomenological reduction I think Zahavi is perfectly right concerning empirically based phenomenologists not having to perform these moves. With Geniusas definition of phenomenology there will be very few remaining phenomenologists in the world except for philosophers like Zahavi, me and himself. From his point of view this may not be a problem, the empirical researchers working with first- and second-person accounts of and attitudes towards pain and persons in pain will just have to rechristen themselves; they can still go on with their work and ideally learn more and more about phenomenology by reading Husserl and Geniusas. At some point they may even become able of doing real phenomenology and earn the badge. To me, however, this sounds like a rather unilateral set up of phenomenology, not deserving the name of dialogical that Geniusas claims.

It is now about time to come back to Geniusas’ definition of pain that is stated early (already in the introduction) and then gradually explained, defended and repeated throughout the book: “Pain is an aversive bodily feeling with a distinct experiential quality, which can be given only in original firsthand experience, either as a feeling-sensation or as an emotion”. The author is commendably clear and pedagogical in the development of his phenomenological theory of pain even though he at some points walks through rather muddy terrains (muddy in the sense of hard to walk through, not in the sense of being obscure). That pain is given only in original firsthand experience is common sense, at least for a phenomenologist. We witness the pain of others and also to some extent feel their pain (it is called empathy and sympathy), but this pain is not a bodily feeling with the same experiential quality that pain in its original form has. That pain is aversive and, at least to some extent, distinct in contrast to other bodily sufferings is also, to my mind, phenomenologically correct. Some of the rather bizarre medical disorders mentioned above question the necessary aversiveness of pain, but I trust there are phenomenological explications of these cases that allow us to keep the aversiveness in the definition.

My quarrel with Geniusas regards the last part of his definition created by a combination of points found in Stumpf, Brentano and Husserl: that pain is given either as a feeling-sensation or as an emotion. The reason for my skepticism is that this appears to come rather close to what in the analytical tradition is known as a perceptual theory of pain (Svenaeus 2020). According to Geniusas, at the most basis level pain is a bodily sensation lacking meaning and content except for its aversively felt quality (Husserl calls these feelings “Empfindnisse”), but pain can also take on an object (the part of the body that hurts) and it then becomes an intentional feeling, what is known as an emotion in the philosophical literature. Inner perception is different from outer perception, Geniusas is quick to point out, but is not this difference an indication that we at this point need a different phenomenological conception of pain altogether? Emotions are standardly looked upon as feelings having objects by being about things in the world (say if you love or hate another person or a thing you have to do). The things emotions can be about admittedly includes one’s body (like when you love or hate your looks or the fact that you are, or are not, capable of running one mile in less than four minutes). But this is different from feeling your foot hurting when you trip on a stone or your chest hurting when you try to force yourself to run faster. Pain, also when it is recognized as “filling up” parts of one’s body, does not carry any cognitive content except the hurting feeling itself. Therefore it is to my mind misleading to call pain an intentional feeling (an emotion) if what is meant by this is merely that the feeling body has been brought to awareness of (parts) of itself. A better alternative is to talk about embodied moods or existential feelings that aside from making you aware of the body also opens up (and close down) various aspects of and possibilities in the surrounding world (Rattcliffe 2008). Geniusas mentions such pain moods (atmospheres) when briefly addressing Merleau-Ponty and Sartre in chapter two (48, 51, 60, 63) but he does not proceed with the concept in his own analysis. The reason for this, I think, is the way he looks upon the relationship between the subject (ego) and the lived body.

In chapter five, Geniusas finally arrives at the well-known phenomenological distinction between “Körper und Leib” introduced by Husserl himself and known in English as the distinction between the physical and the lived body. The lived body is no doubt a key concept for phenomenologists of pain but in Geniusas analysis it is developed in a different way than the standard more or less Merleau-Pontyian version. According to Geniusas, the lived body is not something I am, it is something I have constituted and consequently I exist separately from it (135, 142). This is in accordance with Husserl’s philosophy of transcendental consciousness, but such a position creates many difficulties when trying to give a phenomenological account of pain (and many other mundane matters). Geniusas claims that pain is necessarily “lived at a distance” (137 ff.) but the immediate question to such a position is: where is the conscious ego when it feels this distance between itself and the hurting knee or head (to just mention two examples)? In the head? Hardly. In the rest of the body that does not hurt? Definitely not. In transcendental space-time? Perhaps, but it is hard to even understand what this would mean in this case. Phenomenologists of pain and illness have most often worked with a more radical conception of the lived body according to which I am my own body but yet the this living body is also foreign to me because it has its own ways, which do not always fit with my ambitions and projects (when it hurts is a major example of this). Drew Leder is the most prominent phenomenologist in this tradition, he figures in the footnotes of Geniusas’ book but is never brought into the main analysis (Leder 1984-85, 1990).

In the last two chapters, the author enters into a discussion with philosophers of suffering and illness, such as Eric Cassell and Kay Toombs, and with cultural anthropologists, such as Laurence Kirmayer and Arthur Kleinman. His aim is to introduce the concepts of depersonalization, re-personalization, somatization and psychologization as pertinent for a phenomenology of chronic pain when it comes to understanding and helping patients. The concept of depersonalization is a bit surprising in this context given its standard meaning in psychiatry (a feature of psychotic experiences) but Geniusas aims to give it the meaning of being separated by way of pain from one’s body, one’s world, other people and, finally, one’s own personal being (148 ff.). Pain brings about a series of ruptures in human existence that makes one less of oneself. Having developed such a phenomenology of illness (including pain) since a long time by way of the keywords of bodily alienation and unhomelike being-in-the-world I cannot help feeling a bit hurt of not even being mentioned here (eg. Svenaeus 2000). The same goes for Geniusas’ praise of narratives as a way of better understanding experiences of pain and meeting with pain patients (157-162). What happened with the whole tradition of phenomenological hermeneutics as a way of articulating the understanding established by way of the clinical encounter? Hans-Georg Gadamer is just as absent as Martin Heidegger in this book and this may be perfectly fine concerning the phenomenology of pain – not every type of phenomenology can be made use of – but it is more than strange if you want to consider narratives in medicine and health care as a way of developing self-understanding (for patients) and clinical understanding (for physicians, nurses, psychotherapists and other medical professionals) (Gadamer 1996).

The terminology of somatization and psychologization employed by Geniusas in the last chapter fits nicely into the fields of cultural anthropology, psychosomatic medicine and psychoanalysis that he wants to connect with, but it also carries heavy dualistic cargo. The author is aware of this and assures us that the phenomenological perspective and attitude he is employing by way of his definition prevents us from ending up with any dualism. Nevertheless, I think it is hard to use this terminology without employing some form of at least minimal dualism and that there are better alternatives if you want to address medical professionals (including psychotherapists) trying to help persons suffering from chronic pain.

I want to end on a positive note by saying that even though I do not agree with some of the ideas concerning the basic set up and strategies for developing a phenomenology of pain in this book, I think the author shows admirable consequence and strength in pushing his Husserlian alternative through. Despite dealing with hard matters and making use of a very complex conceptual set up Geniusas is always lucid when arguing and stating his views. I hope the book gets many readers and would recommend skipping chapter three and four if you have any doubts or allergies concerning analytical philosophy of mind or Husserl’s theory of internal time-consciousness. If these are your preferences you will have no difficulties in getting through.


Gadamer, H.-G. 1996. The Enigma of Health: The Art of Healing in a Scientific Age. Trans. J. Gaiger and N. Walker. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Leder, D. 1984-85. “Toward a Phenomenology of Pain.” Review of Existential Psychology and Psychiatry 19: 255–266.

Leder, D. 1990. The Absent Body. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ratcliffe, M. 2008. Feelings of Being: Phenomenology, Psychiatry and the Sense of Reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Svenaeus, F. 2000. The Hermeneutics of Medicine and the Phenomenology of Health: Steps towards a Philosophy of Medical Practice. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Svenaeus, F. 2020. “Pain.” In Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology of Emotions, eds. T. Szanto and H. Landweer. London: Routledge, 543-552.

Zahavi, D. 2019. “Applied Phenomenology: Why it is Safe to Ignore the Epoché.” Continental Philosophy Review (published online). DOI:

Olga Louchakova-Schwartz (Ed.): The Problem of Religious Experience

The Problem of Religious Experience: Case Studies in Phenomenology, with Reflections and Commentaries Book Cover The Problem of Religious Experience: Case Studies in Phenomenology, with Reflections and Commentaries
Contributions To Phenomenology, Vol. 103
Olga Louchakova-Schwartz (Ed.)
Hardback 88,39 €
XXV, 339

Reviewed by: Jarrod Hyam (University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire)

The terms “mysticism” and “mystical experience” were commonly used in twentieth century scholarship, particularly in psychology of religion studies. These terms, highly loaded and ambiguous as they are, were gradually replaced by references to “religious experience” in English-language scholarship by the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. What is meant by “religious experience?” How is it distinguished from our other, everyday kinds of experiences – is it something that can be clearly separated from mundane experiences, and if so, how? Do such experiences vary cross-culturally, and are they conditioned by specific religious traditions? What of religious experiences that lie outside of institutional religious settings? These questions continue to cause controversy and lively debate from multidisciplinary perspectives. Applied phenomenology is particularly relevant for this ongoing mystery.

Related to these questions are the issues of context: what religious experience(s) are we referring to? How is this understood in theistic systems – and how might this appear in non-theistic traditions? is there such a thing as a universal human religious experience, or do these experiences differ cross-culturally and across world religious traditions?

The Problem of Religious Experience: Case Studies in Phenomenology, with Reflections and Commentaries, edited by Olga Louchakova-Schwartz, represents a massive, multivolume undertaking to address some of these contextual issues. An extensive study of the intersection of phenomenology and religious experience is much needed, and we are fortunate to be gifted such a voluminous work. The editor includes generous notes and reflections, including a detailed introduction, where she notes that this work stems from a collaborate research effort from the Society for the Phenomenology of Religious Experience. The editor is an extremely accomplished scholar who displays true expertise in the phenomenology of religious experience.  Professor Louchakova-Schwartz clearly states a foundational question regarding this research in the introduction: “a question of what exactly makes religious experience what it is – that is, gives it a specific quality distinguishing it, for its subject, from all other experiences – remained open” (3). Given over a century of robust phenomenological studies, the question of subjective experience generally and religious experience specifically continues to invoke confusion and mystery, and this ambitious work turns to various case studies and theorizing to respond to this confusion.

The introductory section effectively sets out a cohesive structure for this multivolume study. An initial confusion I encountered in the introduction is: what is the scope of the analysis here? The word “God” is referenced, and it is made clear that Abrahamic and South Asian religious studies are included, as well as both phenomenological theory and theologically-centered studies. However, what religions are specifically covered in the comparative analyses, and what, if any, constraints and issues were encountered when including cross-cultural studies?

Relatedly, having so much material in one book may prove to be daunting. This is split into two volumes with four parts: the first volume containing The Primeval Showing of Religious Experience while the second volume is explicitly theological, entitled Doxastic Perspectives in the Phenomenology of Religious Experience. I am concerned about such a broad spectrum of content lacking cohesion; fortunately, dividing the book into parts and respective case studies helped to preserve an overall cohesive structure. The notion of the concretum or concrete aspects of religious experience is invoked in the introduction. Yet quickly in the introductory sections, a nearly incomprehensible web of nested phenomenological jargon is spun – this is clearly a common feature of modern philosophical theory, also a feature in the many phenomenological subtraditions stemming from the master of incomprehensibly dense prose himself, Edmund Husserl. This caused another concern; after I turned to the first case study presented in Chapter Two, I wondered if non-specialists in this subject would be able to make sense of the material. As the subject of religious experience is multidisciplinary, this work may attract those who are not specialized in phenomenological technical terms, such as the various reductions. Nonetheless, Professor Louchakova-Schwartz is particularly clear in her writing and unpacks the incredible amount of debate and abstraction surrounding the phenomenology of religious experience with deftly precise prose. She includes helpful reflections at the conclusion of each Part, from Part I – IV.

Proceeding the critiques of Cartesian mind-body dualism and subsequent focus on embodiment found in the works of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and modern thinkers such as Natalie Depraz and Thomas Csordas, the notion of embodiment and embodied religious experience is germane to this research. It is encouraging to see this topic approached multiple times, including in Chapter II of Volume I, “Reconnecting the Self to the Divine: The Role of the Lived Body in Spontaneous Religious Experiences” by Shogo Tanaka. This first volume, The Primeval Showing of Religious Experience, sets out what is to be “presuppositionless” accounts of religious experience, contrasted with theological or “doxastic” approaches found in volume II – hence the “showing” of experiences mentioned in the title.

Tanaka presents the oft-neglected domain of “spontaneous” religious experiences – those experiences falling outside the purview of institutionally-structured traditions. Inspired by William James’ famous analysis of mysticism in The Varieties of Religious Experience, Tanaka focuses on the notion of mystical “passivity” and how this may lead to shifts in one’s sense of embodied experience, also referred to phenomenologically as “the lived body.”

Beginning primarily with Plato and Parmenides among ancient Greek thinkers, thriving throughout medieval European Scholasticism and culminating with Rene Descartes’ philosophy, the history of Western philosophy is that of dualistic tension: tension between the status of mind and matter, spirit and corporeality. Descartes’ famous formulation of res cogitans and res extensa formalized the ontological separation of spirit or mind from “mindless” matter. The directly visceral experience of living itself is consistently denied in the Western philosophical tradition, brushed aside as irrelevant compared to the power of reasoning. A critique of this dualistic orientation is found initially in Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological work, continued in the religious analyses of the “lived body” in Tanaka’s chapter. The role of embodiment is a crucial aspect within religious experience accounts that will hopefully continue to inspire future phenomenological religious studies.

Tanaka concludes his chapter with a critique of body-mind dualism and apt observations regarding a false dichotomy often posited in religious experience studies between “ordinary” and “nonordinary” states of consciousness: “. . . the distinction itself seems to reflect a tacit, dichotomous understanding of the sacred and the secular, the supernatural and the natural, the other world and this world, and the religious and the nonreligious. This dichotomy may foster the view that religious experiences are essentially different from ordinary experiences” (35). This essentializing of different modes of experience contrasts with Tanaka’s emphasis on spontaneous religious experiences, which may occur in perfectly mundane situations and contexts, outside any specifically institutional religious setting. One is reminded of the quotidian, simple imagery often employed in Zen Buddhist poetry and parables to refer to ultimate awakening – which is not fundamentally distinct from everyday experience.

One insightful aspect of this book is the clarification of phenomenological methods and key terms, including the often-invoked method of “reduction.” Espen Dahl defines and clarifies a few of these reductions in Chapter 4, “Preserving Wonder Through the Reduction: Husserl, Marion, and Merleau-Ponty.” These include Husserl’s Cartesian-influenced reduction, Marion’s reduction, and Merleau-Ponty’s method of reduction. Husserl’s notion of epoché, the “bracketing” of our presuppositions about what constitutes our universe, is described by Dahl as “the way inward” (60). This is certainly a fitting way to describe the process of bracketing, and it is a key feature that marks the unique orientation of Husserl’s innovative philosophy. Such an inward turning also parallels aspects of stilling the mind during certain meditation exercises, which is addressed in Chapter 5, written by Olga Louchakova-Schwartz. Louchakova-Schwartz focuses on the transmutation of emotion in numerous Buddhist meditation practices, what she refers to as “neo-Buddhist” practices. Processes underlying the emotional transformation in these practices are compared to numerous phenomenological methods, including the reductions and epoché. The array of comparative phenomenological studies is a particularly impressive feature of this anthology, and there is still much insightful cross-cultural analysis to be gained by applying the phenomenological methodologies to varied cultural religious practices.

Volume I continues with other nondoxastic approaches, focusing on themes of Lebenswelt or the “lifeworld,” intersubjectivity and transcendence. As previously stated, Volume II shifts the focus by including doxastic, explicitly theological frameworks. These by and large draw influence from Christian theistic perspectives and philosophers such as Kierkegaard, in addition to an intriguing analysis of Raimon Panikkar’s intercultural, pluralistic philosophies in Leonardo Marcato’s “Mystical Experience as Existential Knowledge in Raimon Pannikar’s Navasūtrāni.” The anthology is two hundred pages in by Volume II, and this book culminates with over three hundred pages. Despite this substantial amount of material and plethora of topics, the cohesively structured flow of thought is even more apparent by the end of Volume II. This is a particularly ambitious project to complete and subdividing the content into two main volumes helped to break the material into manageable sections, with clear demarcations in analytical foci.

I am quite impressed by the plurality of themes and lucid unpacking of densely abstruse phenomenological topics found within The Problem of Religious Experience: Case Studies in Phenomenology, with Reflections and Commentaries. Dr. Olga Louchakova-Schwartz’s commentary and original contributions greatly assist in making sense of this complex territory.  There is an impressive array of cross-cultural religious analyses explored. Again, this ambitious work may overwhelm readers who are not previously familiar with the many developments of phenomenology within the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Nonetheless, the various methods, reductions, and “bracketing” are clearly explicated in relation to the ongoing mysteries of religious experience. This anthology leaves us with further reflections on wonder, mystery, transcendence – even with silence, outside the conceptually symbolic constraints of language itself. At the crossroads of these conceptual fringes, the explanatory methods of phenomenology can effectively shed light on the enigmatic nature of cross-cultural descriptions of religious experience.

Federica Buongiorno, Vincenzo Costa Roberta Lanfredini (Eds.): Phenomenology in Italy

Phenomenology in Italy: Authors, Schools and Traditions Book Cover Phenomenology in Italy: Authors, Schools and Traditions
Contributions To Phenomenology, Vol. 106
Federica Buongiorno, Vincenzo Costa, Roberta Lanfredini (Eds.)
Hardback 103,99 €
IX, 178

Reviewed by: Bruno Cassarà (Fordham University)

The publication of Phenomenology in Italy: Authors, Schools, and Traditions is, to say the least, a breath of fresh air for the anglophone, especially American, philosophical community. This book is nothing less than the introduction of an entirely new phenomenological tradition into the international phenomenological conversation. For, though Italy has a long and rich phenomenological tradition that lacks nothing when compared to, for example, the French reception of Husserl and Heidegger, it has remained mostly unknown to English-speaking scholars and especially to those working in the United States. This collection features essays by Italian scholars on the most important figures of the Italian phenomenological tradition, from Antonio Banfi to Paolo Parrini, spanning three academic generations. Each essay tackles a different author and the order is, as much as possible, chronological. The result is a volume that should spark a curiosity analogous to that of the discovery of a new continent, for the Italian phenomenological tradition has taken phenomenology in directions that, outside of Italy, will result entirely novel. From aesthetics to political philosophy to philosophy of science and even mathematics, the contributions of Italian phenomenologists are sure to breathe new life into the discipline. To this end, I would like to point to the SUNY Press series in Contemporary Italian Philosophy, which features translations of important contemporary Italian philosophers, including some of those featured in this book.

Before giving a summary of the contents, there is an important critique that should be made to this book, namely, that of a certain one-sidedness in the philosophers who were chosen to be showcased. Certainly, the Italian phenomenological tradition is far too vast to be covered in a single volume, but here phenomenology is entirely synonymous with Husserl. There is in fact a conspicuous absence of Heidegger and his reception which was certainly, if not as widespread, then as influential as the Husserlian. In fact, this collection centers mainly on the Milan School of Phenomenology, which has prospered in the State University of Milan since the 1920’s. Yet one wonders why there are no chapter devoted to what we might call the “Turin School,” which would include at the very least Luigi Pareyson, who was among the first to introduce Heidegger to Italy, and his student Gianni Vattimo, already known in anglophone circles for his hermeneutics and political thought. And perhaps the most glaring absence in the book is that of Aldo Masullo, the recently deceased philosopher from Naples who wrote extensively not only on Husserl, but also on Heidegger, Fink, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty, and who influenced the direction of research in Naples in a way that we still observe today (consider, for example, the work of his student Eugenio Mazzarella).

I will discuss each essay in turn, lingering over what I take to be the most original and important contributions.

Federica Buongiorno, one of the editors of this volume, opens the book with a fascinating essay of the reception of Husserl in Italy through the phases of the translations of his works. This is a philological analysis of the decisions made by Husserl’s various translators, which, Buongiorno sees, are indicative of how Husserlian phenomenology was received in Italy. This essay investigates mainly the so-called “second phase” of Husserlian reception, focusing on Enzo Paci and his interpretation of Husserl. The first phase would be in the time of Antonio Banfi, who was Paci’s teacher and belonged to the earlier generation, and the third would be the current proliferation of phenomenological philosophy at the hands of Paci’s students and their contemporaries. Enzo Paci is here cast as the protagonist of Husserlian studies in Italy, and his interpretation is considered one of the most influential, if not the most influential. Paci’s interpretation takes Husserl’s Crisis as his most important and primary work, thus giving his understanding of Husserl an existential, practical, and historical thinker. In this light, Husserl’s “early” preoccupations with logic and transcendental foundations would be a preparatory step toward the discovery of the pre-categorial and the Lebenswelt as the grounds of such theoretical activity. In this regard, Buongiorno points us to her own contribution to the translation of Husserl’s works. She translated HUA/XXIV, which contains the important 1906/1907 lectures Introduction to Logic and Theory of Knowledge. Buongiorno helpfully points out that the very title of this work, along with several decisions which had to be made with regard to terms such as “Kunstlehre” and “Formenlehre,” confirm Paci’s reading of Husserl’s works as unified in their subject matter and purpose.

Buongiorno proceeds to identify two differing tendencies or, less radically, two emphases in the reception of Husserlian phenomenology, and sees them as the result of how and when translations of Husserl appeared in Italy. One places emphasis on the question of logic, and the other on the theme of history. Once again, this is the identification of an “early” and a “late” Husserl, and we have seen how Paci sees a continuity between these two poles. Two translators of the Cartesian Meditations, first Filippo Costa in 1960 and then Renato Cristin in 1989, both agree with Paci’s reading and interpret the Meditations accordingly. In sum, Buongiorno’s essay is informative and creative in the way that it explains the Italian reception of Husserl. It prepares readers well for the interpretation of Husserl they should expect in the following chapters, but one also wonders why Buongiorno does not include the reception of Ideas I and II, especially since she informs the reader in a footnote that they were the first works to be translated (1950) and that she sees the “second phase” of the Husserlian reception as starting precisely in the early 1950’s.

The second essay, authored by Luca Maria Scarantino, gives an account of how Husserl was first received in Italy by Antonio Banfi in 1923. Scarantino sees this as nothing less than a new era, a “transcendental turn” in Italian philosophy. Against the dominating neo-idealism of the early 20th century, Banfi proposed a “transcendental rationalism” that grafted onto a pre-existing neo-Kantian framework. This made subject and objects poles of a cognitive relation and left behind the need for any ontological realism. In this way, Husserl helps Banfi justify a “law of pure consciousness.” Banfi’s main work, Principi di una Teoria della Ragione [Principles for a Theory of Reason] extols Husserl’s transcendental method as liberating the “rational system” from the need for an absolute (metaphysical) ground. In this work, pragmatism and phenomenology converge in a “transcendental functionalism” which doesn’t take itself to establish a metaphysical ground for the experience of consciousness, but rather a suitable intersubjectivity based on the eidetic variation that the phenomenological method offers. We are left with an intersubjectively valid, correlational/synthetic form of rational consciousness. Furthermore, that intuition carries within itself the condition of its own understandability is for Banfi the establishment of a pragmatic a-priori.

In Banfi’s critique of Husserl we see, according to Scarantino, the limitation of his philosophy. This critique is directed at the concept of intuition, which he thinks does not do enough to distinguish between the material and the rational contents. For Banfi, this ultimately brings us to mix individual experience and the rational universal. At this point Scarantino skips forward to one of Banfi’s disciples, Giulio Preti, whom he reads as correcting and ultimately completing Banfi’s quest for a transcendental rationalism free of metaphysical grounds. Preti’s philosophy will be discussed below as part of the summary of the essay dedicated to him, but here the important thing to highlight is the extent to which Banfi’s work on Husserl was influential in Italian philosophy. Later scholars have retroactively identified Banfi as the “father” of the Milan school of phenomenology because of the influence his philosophy had on his students, many of whom are also discussed in the book. It seems that Banfi should be seen just as much one of the originators of phenomenological studies in Italy as a philosopher in his own right, though in practice the two cannot and should not remain separate.

The third essay in the book is authored by Angela Ales Bello, whose own work on Husserl is known beyond the Italian scene. She writes about Sofia Vanni Rovighi, who taught the history of philosophy at the Catholic University of Milan and encountered Husserl’s works in the late 1930’s after extensive work in medieval and specifically Thomist philosophy. Rovighi’s main contribution to phenomenology in Italy, according to Bello, was the discovery of the medieval root of intentionality. Like many who engage Husserl, Rovighi finds it difficult to settle on a definitive understanding of Husserlian intentionality. She reaches back to Aristotle and medieval philosophy, especially the Franciscan thinker Petrus Aureolus, to show that the concept of intentionality originates in these historical sources. Intentionality for her means that consciousness is always consciousness of an ideal entity (“the ideal objectivity of the meaning obtained…through the eidetic reduction”) which has its foundation in a real, existing entity. Ultimately, she takes Husserl to be placing consciousness above being in a metaphysical sense (in se) and proceeds to reject this position, claiming instead that being precedes consciousness of it. At this point, Bello interjects that, in her own view, the Husserlian primacy of consciousness should be understood as quoad nos and not in se.

Because of this idealist interpretation, Rovighi can only be critical of Husserl. If consciousness is the absolute principle and precedes being, then God himself can only be encountered as immanent in consciousness, as thus as dependent on it. Ultimately, Rovighi levels against Husserl’s phenomenology the same criticism that she has for Plato: phenomenology cannot help us to escape the cave, because doing so requires taking on a superhuman point of view that is simply not available to phenomenologists. Now, despite her misinterpretation of Husserl, Rovighi’s work is significant in that it was the first to open a dialogue between phenomenology and medieval philosophy. To this end, Rovighi not only carried out her own work, but also brought Edith Stein’s phenomenology to Italy to aid in this project. If Rovighi’s idealist interpretation of Husserl is corrected, then it becomes clear just how similar he and Thomas Aquinas are on many fronts. Ultimately, Bello’s appreciation of Vanni Rovighi comes just as much from her historical importance in the context of the phenomenological reception in Italy, as from her admiration for Rovighi’s intellectual honesty, which, she states, is a rare quality to find in a scholar.

The fourth essay, by Roberto Gronda, introduces us to the works of Giulio Preti, the student of Banfi who was already mentioned briefly in the second chapter. Preti taught and worked in Florence beginning in the mid 1930’s, and he is credited with bringing to completion Banfi’s transcendental rationalism. Husserl was a constant interlocutor during Preti’s career, up to the very last chapters of his important work Retorica e Logica [Rhetoric and Logic]. It seems that Preti was mostly influenced by Husserl’s work on logic, in particular the first Logical Investigation and Formal and Transcendental Logic, with particular interest in the idea of a pure logic, the notion of fulfillment, and the distinction between meaning and expression.

Preti’s philosophy begins with what he calls the “principle of immanence,” a principle drawn from Husserl which states that the object’s transcendence means that it is never fully given in a single experience and therefore always indicates the possibility of further completion. In this way, the object’s transcendence is another form of immanence in the sense that its objectivity is constituted in experience. This principle affects Preti’s understanding of experience as always implying a horizon, such that no experience is fully intuitive and always carries absences within it. This notion of an excess of experience leads Preti to claim that idealism and positivism are two sides of a single philosophical reality, which he calls “integral realism.” Husserlian phenomenology itself is cast as a positivism that spills over into an idealism, in particular its notion of “form” not as what is opposed to content, but as what represents, i.e., as symbol. This notion of symbol as what pre-ordains the law of the object is essential to a rationalism that wants to give the empirical its full value. To this end, Preti rejects Husserl’s hypostasis of “immediate sense data” and criticizes Husserl’s strong conception of intuition. Later, Preti writes of categories not as structures that are gleaned from experience, as Husserl would have it, but as man-made postulates that at once play a transcendental role in experience and are historically effected. Preti’s last works heavily criticize Husserl’s Crisis, rejecting his diagnosis of a crisis of the sciences and his solution in the form of transcendental phenomenology. These are “philosophers’ follies,” Preti states, deriving from an inversion of the relation between philosophy and life. Preti thus had his share of criticisms for Husserl, but nevertheless the German philosopher exercised an enduring influence on him.

With the fifth essay, authored by Amedeo Vigorelli, we come to Enzo Paci, the Milanese philosopher who is in many ways at the center of this volume. Paci was active beginning in the 1950’s after some time spent in the Italian army before and during the Second World War. He met Paul Ricoeur as a prisoner of war in Wietzendorf and read Husserl’s Ideas with him. As a professor at the State University of Milan, Paci brought about a veritable phenomenological renaissance in a time when Husserl was not widely read and neo-Enlightenment was the dominant philosophy. He travels to Leuven to converse with van Breda and Boehm, reads Husserl’s unpublished works, and corresponds with Sartre, Patocka, and Ricoeur.

Paci’s reading of Husserl is greatly influenced by, and conducted in conversation with, the neo-idealism of Giovanni Gentile. Although Paci criticizes Gentile’s idealism as a naturalism (Gentile’s consciousness posits nothing more than the world as it is in the natural attitude and does not gain access to its own constituting activity), he still wants to understand the main structures of Husserl’s phenomenology (world, constitution, reduction) as a dialectical triad. Paci is most influenced, according to the author, by the fifth Cartesian Meditation, taking the “intermonadic relationship” to be even more fundamental than the process of self-identification itself, and constitutive of it. His reflections on the constitutive function of intersubjectivity bring him, on one hand, to a phenomenology of need and eros, and, on the other, to materialist and economic integrations. The main interlocutors here are Freud and Marx, each of whom witness to the essentiality of intersubjectivity and to the needs of the ego. A particularly original contribution here is Paci’s phenomenological account of sex: the sexual act here acquires a generative meaning not only in a procreative sense, but in a constitutive one, making up a sui generis temporal ekstasis and opening the ego teleologically to a relationship with humanity as a whole—birth and rebirth.

Paci’s return to Marx and Freud within phenomenology also serves to break the false dichotomy of natural science and philosophy of culture within which both Marxism and psychoanalysis found themselves at this time. He reads the transference in the psychoanalytic relation as a privileged place where the intersubjective “Paarung” takes place. Furthermore, “even the Marxist concept of economic structure, in its dialectical interrelations with the superstructures, requires subjective constitution” (69), Paci states. An intentionality of needs must found Marx’s account of economic and material relations between people and classes. This amounts to nothing less than a rethinking and even a rewriting of Marx’s capital by underpinning the material and dialectical relations it described with phenomenologically purified notions of need, desire, and praxis.

The sixth essay in the volume, by Elio Franzini, takes up the phenomenological aesthetics of Dino Formaggio. Also active beginning in the early 1950’s, Formaggio was another student of Antonio Banfi, a colleague of Enzo paci, and another personality of the Milan School. Though he inherited from Banfi a critical view of Italian neo-idealism and its Hegelian roots, Formaggio nevertheless sought to bring together the two meanings of “phenomenology” (the Husserlian and the Hegelian) rather than rejecting the latter in favor of the former. Formaggio’s departure from his teacher is also observed in his definition of art as a “field” that is not superimposed on objects, but rather derives from them and is therefore constantly expanded and constructed through the exercise of art itself. Such a definition of art seems to come from the derivation of the definition of aesthetics from the original Greek meaning of aisthesis as sensory knowledge or perception. Aesthetics is thus a general theory of sense-perception and the artistic object is a peculiar object in the field of aisthesis. It is this Greek understanding of aesthetics that brings Formaggio to the claim that phenomenology, as the philosophy of experience, is the method most proper to it. Phenomenology is the method for “bringing out the meaning of things” encountered in aisthesis, especially artistic objects. And, because it applies to the whole field of sense perception, it is capable of cutting across different artistic movements and periods, grasping the universal structures that define the artistic as such.

The general definition of aesthetics is therefore what is at stake throughout Formaggio’s oeuvre. In his view, aesthetics must be sharply distinguished from both poetics and criticism, each of which have their objects and aims. Aesthetics, unlike these other disciplines, must be a general method of formalization that is capable of theoretical rigor and philosophical awareness, and not the analysis of concrete instances, no matter how sublime. Ultimately, art is understood aesthetically as the shared project of depicting our existence in the life-world. This is precisely the kind of universal definition that unifies art as a field, and the analysis of art, starting from this definition, must look at the artwork as the product of a body-at-work, of the transcendental praxis of the ego.

In a marked excursus, Franzini also states that the desire to identify the “Truth,” though understandable, is driven by either teleological assumptions or psychological (empirical) convictions. Hence, it can be ignored at the level of method. This, according to Franzini, is one of the traits that unifies the Milan School. And it sounds important, but unfortunately Franzini does not explain further what this means. What is “Truth”? In what way can a descriptive, phenomenological method ignore this “Truth”? Such an important point should have been made more clearly so as to show the values held in common by the Milan School, which is at the center of this volume.

The seventh figure discussed in the volume is Giuseppe Semerari. The essay, written by Ferruccio De Natale, highlights Semerari’s friendship with Paci, his interest in the historiography of philosophy, his materialist interpretation of phenomenology, and the convergence in his thought of phenomenology and Marxism. A contemporary of Paci, Semerari had a relationship of reciprocal influence with the Milanese philosopher even as he spent his life teaching and researching in the south of Italy at the University of Bari. The kinship between the two can be observed in their mutual interest in Marx and in their shared belief that any account of knowledge must see knowing as first and foremost a praxis enmeshed in the life-world.

Semerari’s interest in phenomenology seems to arise from his dissatisfaction with the dominant ways of understanding history. On one hand, Semerari studied and contributed to the history of philosophy for many years—in fact, he is one of the most important scholar of Schelling and Spinoza in Italy to this day. However, the philosophical relationship with the thought of the past can never be exhausted by the historiographical exercise. On the other hand, Semerari rejected both the neo-idealist and the historicist accounts of history. The question of history led Semerari to Husserl’s late thought, which allows him to formulate an understanding of history as based on human temporality. Semerari thus begins to conceive of the human being as a privileged center of relations, especially temporal ones. In this way, Semerari’s philosophy is a humanist “Relationism.” Husserl’s phenomenology is taken up within the context of this relationism in order to stress its humanist implications. For Semerari, phenomenology shows that the subject has not only a role in, but a responsibility for, the constitution of objects in their sense. Phenomenology is thus absorbed into Semerari’s humanistic project as a way to critique the naturalism that divests the subject of its responsibility and alienates it from the world. The use of the term “alienation” is not accidental here, as it emphasizes Semerari’s debt to Marx. The result is an exciting mingling of phenomenology, humanism, and Marxism, one that is able to put the human being and its historical relations at the center of philosophical discourse without losing itself in a structuralism that leaves the individual behind.

The next essay, penned by Stefano Besoli, concerns the phenomenological thought of Enzo Melandri. Beginning his career in the early 1960’s, Melandri’s philosophy tackles a staggering diversity of topics, from Aristotle to Husserl, from formal logic to literature, from empiricism to analogy. Although he is not well-known outside of Italy, I find it worthy of mention that Giorgio Agamben named Melandri’s La Linea e il Circolo [The Line and the Circle] as the most important philosophical work of the twentieth century along with Being and Time.

Melandri recognizes in Husserl’s phenomenology a return to two Aristotelian maxims: first, that the object determines the method of research according to its essence; second, that the meaning of being is not univocal. From the first he draws the more radical conclusion that logic and mathematics, as formal-eidetic sciences, cannot claim a methodological or essential primacy over a material-eidetic science like phenomenology. In other words, phenomenology must found both logic and mathematics. Phenomenology is thus the prote philosophia that weds the formal and the experiential, the material and the ideal. The outcome of such an understanding of phenomenology would be nothing less than a definitive clarification of the “sense of the relationship between the formal and the transcendental” (100). Drawing a comparison with Kant, Melandri identifies the phenomenological a-priori as a material one, so that “the logic of thought cannot renounce its inherentness to the world and therefore can only be founded in the logic of experience, grasping the essential structuring of the experience itself, which does not stand on principles projected from above as heteronomous conditions of its mere thinkability” (104). One should keep in mind that Melandri discovers this at the beginning of his career, before the publication of the Analyses on Passive Synthesis). The result of this juxtaposition of Kant and Husserl leads Melandri to identify the thematic continuity in the Husserlian oeuvre as that of finding an intermediate stage between the particular and the universal. This mediating moment can be found as early as the Philosophy of Arithmetic in the construction of the concept of cardinal number, and as late as Experience and Judgment in the concept of Typus. For Melandri, this Husserlian discovery amounts to a redefinition of the Kantian concept of “schema” through the doctrine of eidetic intuition.

As to the maxim on the non-univocity of being, Melandri sees in husserl the support for this position because in phenomenology, being does not have a single mode of givenness. Even the categorial, that is, in being of an ideal nature, can be legitimately given in a way that is ontically different from that of real being. Inasmuch as being is relative to its mode of givenness, it is always spoken of in many ways with reference to subjectivity, on account of which in the transcendental reflection of phenomenology there is no naturalistic limit, and intentionality is designated as the “universal principle of the analogy of being” (112). Melandri brings together these two Aristotelian-Husserlian insights in his work on the concept of analogy. Analogy is for him what allows philosophy to navigate between the complete equivocity and the complete univocity of being, by virtue of a reflection on language as what brings together the a-priori and the a-posteriori, consciousness and world, thought and being. We see how Melandri is once again reworking of Kantian schematism, allowing language to occupy the mediating position that accomplishes a truly analogical position not only with regard to the question of the relationship between thought and being, but also with regard to the question of the plurivocity of being itself.

The ninth essay in the book, by Roberta Lanfredini, concerns the experimental phenomenology of Paolo Bozzi. A psychologist, Bozzi was one of the foremost scholars of Gestaltpsychologie in Italy and a proponent of phenomenology as a methodology for the sciences that would rival what the author calls the “psychophysical” one. He was also influenced by pragmatism and the Berlin School. Bozzi’s reflections begin with the “non-privative” definition of the phenomenon: to say that something is a phenomenon is not to say that it is an appearance as opposed to a reality, but rather to say that it is an object for our experience. Perception, our capacity to be in contact with what appears, has its own structure and dignity which should not be assumed to distort its object. In this, Bozzi takes over, but also critiques, Ernst Mach’s views on perception. He also inherits from Mach the conviction that it is possible to create a “naïve” or “phenomenological” physics that would begin from perception rather than try to remove its effects. In this paradigm, experience is the adaptation of ideas to sensations.

In establishing an alternate method for the natural sciences, Bozzi also critiques the concept of “datum,” which he understands not as a pure fact or sensation, but as an already eidetically reduced phenomenon. As such, a datum is a field of possible essential variation whose boundaries can be clearly fixed in reflection (for Husserl) or in experimentation (for Bozzi). What Husserl calls the “eidetic boundary” of the phenomenon Bozzi calls its “determination” (126). Bozzi’s take on Husserl’s eidetic variation is in this way the conjunction of two principles, namely, that of stability and that of sufficient differentiation: if a perception is sufficiently stable and pinned down through a sufficient differentiation of its components, then its identity and homogeneity are guaranteed and certain. Correspondingly, Husserl’s regional ontology is adapted to represent the “absolute threshold” beyond which a phenomenon simply does not appear.

Against the physicalist prejudices of “brain states” and “stimuli” as causes of experience, Bozzi counters with Wittgenstein that “nothing in the visual field permits us to conclude that it is seen by an eye,” or, in the case of the brain, “nothing in the experiential field permits us to conclude that it is caused or experience by the brain.” The stimulus and the brain state do not exist for us, and so they should not exist for the natural sciences if they are to be faithful to the phenomenon. To this end, Bozzi seeks to reinsert the qualitative aspects of the phenomenon into the scientific method, so that the true scientific step is not the projection of the quantitative into the qualitative, but vice versa a projection of the qualitative into the quantitative. Furthermore, Bozzi strengthens the scientific palatability of perception by postulating its non-ineffable, public, and independent character against the fear of so-called “private perceptions.” This lands him in a position of empirical realism, where “the object must be viewed as it is and as it seems. In phenomenological observation there is a perfect coincidence between ‘esse’ and ‘percipi’” (132). We end up with a conception of the scientific phenomenon as “pure phenomenon” in the sense of something original and independent of conceptualization and judgment, the perceived as a result of unification and synthesis of appearances, “invariance in the variations” (134). All this contributes to a theory of scientific method that will be of interest to philosophers and scientists alike.

The tenth essay, authored by Federico Leoni, introduces to the philosophy of Carlo Sini, one of the most important philosophers in Milan still active today. A student of Enzo Paci, Sini brought phenomenology, neo-idealism, and pragmatism together in his remarkable philosophy. Though his study of neo-idealism came first, Paci’s first major works from 1965, Introduzione alla Fenomenologia come Scienza [Introduction to Phenomenology as a Science] and Whitehead e la Funzione della Filosofia [Whitehead and the Function of Philosophy], already reveal deep influences from Husserl and Anglo-American pragmatism.

The work on phenomenology introduces the reader to what will be one of Sini’s philosophical preoccupations for the rest of his career, namely, the problem of how to begin a rigorous philosophical investigation. “One begins…precisely with the realization that one has already begun” (139), which is to say that the only point of beginning for a rigorous methodology is in media res. The starting point is a bundle of ongoing activities and practicing phenomenology means illuminating what is normally confined to the darkness of what remains unthought. Thus, to begin means going back to describing all the operations belonging to the domain of perception, memory, imagination, but also expressiveness, motility, bodily gestures, and the whole set of practices that a body constantly performs in order to inhabit a world. However, Sini comes to radical conclusions about the boundaries of the body, which for him turn out to be blurred. The body extends itself into many other bodies and things, so that the beginning of philosophy lies in the fact that the body is lived by and in infinite other bodies, and that each operation shapes its circumstances and produces its objectifications while configured and objectified by and in infinite other operations. This indicates that the Husserlian attempt to begin by isolating the transcendental plane already implies an infinite task destined to remain incomplete.

At the same time, Sini’s subjectivist interpretation of Husserl, perhaps gained through his reading of Heidegger, lead him beyond transcendental phenomenology. It is in Heidegger and Peirce that he seeks a philosophy that can lead him to the world of things and practices, and he finds it in Being and Time, which he reads in conjunction with Peirce’s semiotic pragmatism. Being-in-the-world means being enmeshed in a set of material practices and references, which is why no presence is ever a mere presence, but always the sign of another presence. Heidegger’s mistake, according to Sini, is to collapse common and semiotic signs, thereby emptying the semiotic structure of its philosophical import. Sini then imports this existential semiotic into Husserl, reinterpreting phenomenological kinesthesis and praxis as the acts of drawing signs and creating distances between phenomena. This is an engagement of the question of the genesis or event of the sign—not merely what a signitive relation is, but how it is generated: “What we want is to witness the tracing of the trace,” he states (144). In this way, Sini reinscribes the question of beginning into his semiotic phenomenology: how do we begin, how is the sign created? And just as with phenomenology, Sini finds that the sign has no beginning, but is always already a matter of having been interpreted. Peirce’s “interpretant,” the one who establishes the semiotic relationship, thus cannot be a subject: “to interpret is to have already interpreted, and the interpretant is nothing else than this having already interpreted…. each present interpretation occurs on the basis of infinite past interpretations which exert their pressure on it” (142). In the end, the whole universe is the interpretant and the thing interpreted, offering itself as its own source and its own destination. In this sense, semiosis is not a capacity or activity of the subject, but an anonymous source, a cosmological event. If all praxis is semiotic praxis, if life is drawing and interpreting signs and creating distances between the sides of the semiotic relation, then the “subject” as the creator of signs, and “Being” as the sender of beings, are fetishes of the sign (or, more precisely, of the event of the sign). Sini’s later work pursues the further conclusions of this realization, developing on one hand a phenomenology of gestures, and on the other a philosophy of rhythm. Both seek to describe the performance of the already-established semiotic relation.

The eleventh essay, by Roberto Miraglia, describes the phenomenology of Giovanni Piana, another of Paci’s students and a colleague and interlocutor of Sini. Piana, recently deceased, developed a “phenomenological structuralism” that interprets phenomenology as a non-ontological, comparative description of experiential structures. He de-ontologizes phenomenology by replacing the term “essence” with that of “structure,” and the concept of evidence with that of “exhibition.” In so doing, Piana rids phenomenology of any Platonic interpretations and makes it possible to describe and compare structures without having to locate them within the ontological dichotomy of consciousness and world. What results is the laying bare of a field of experience that is neither ontological nor psychological.

Phenomenology thus becomes the clarification of how concepts are used in our daily life and how they relate to the world. The point of the reduction is nothing more than simply circumscribing the field of genetic-descriptive analysis. Likewise, it makes no sense to think that phenomenology can resolve the crisis pointed out by Husserl. All phenomenology can do is present, in general, a variety of constitutive tasks. Of the two strains that he identifies in Husserl’s philosophy, the theoretical and the ethical, Piana thinks that only the theoretical accurately represents and carries out the tasks of phenomenology. The ethical, by contrast, is ideological insofar as it confuses phenomenology for some kind of philosophy of renewal, whose task it would be not only to answer ethical questions, but to make humanity more responsible. Piana then brings this non-foundationalist phenomenology back to its empirical roots as a philosophy that derives ideas from impressions.

Miraglia tells the reader that Piana’s greatest accomplishments were more applied than theoretical. In particular, Piana is famous for his work on imaginative-expressive phenomena, especially music. Imagination is seen as a sui generis structure of experience, but one that affects all others. It not only places us in front of imaginary objects, but also enhances experience of perceived objects, making creative syntheses possible and ultimately art itself: “The pseudo-predicative synthesis of imagination steps into the associative connection: the sun is the eye of the sky. Being transforms into Value. This transformation consists of a real intermingling among objects: the result of the synthesis is an entirely new kind of object, an iridescent object which is not what it really is because it is what it is. Neither sun nor eye—but sun and eye together, the one through the other” (155). This understanding of imaginative constitution is then applies to the phenomenon of music, resulting in groundbreaking analyses that have left their mark not only in philosophy, but in Italian culture more broadly.

Finally, the twelfth essay, by Andrea Pace Giannotta, discusses the philosophy of Paolo Parrini, who teaches theoretical philosophy at the University of Florence still today. Parrini is a student of Giulio Preti, who is also introduced in this volume, and has worked on contemporary analytic philosophy, the philosophies of Husserl and Kant, and the history of epistemology and science in the 19th and 20th centuries. Gianotta argues that Parrini’s reading of phenomenology leads to a phenomenological form of empirical realism.

Parrini calls his own philosophy “positive philosophy,” which stands as an alternative to both radical relativism and metaphysical realism. The former is, for Parrini, the result of those views that carry to the extreme the “theory-ladenness of observation” (162). Metaphysical realism, on the other hand, comes from the attempt to overcome the critique of metaphysics on the part of Kant and the logical empiricists. These attempts result, for Parrini, in a reprisal of metaphysics that seeks to give a foundationalist account of knowledge as adaequatio intellectus ad rem. In the realm of scientific knowledge, positive philosophy translates into a moderate epistemic realism that affirms as its basis the empirical underdetermination of scientific theories as well as the theoretical overdetermination of experience. This means not only that it is always possible for a theory to be disproved by new experiential/experimental evidence, but also that, in principle, the same experiential evidence can translate into more than one theoretical framework. Positive philosophy is completed by what Parrini calls empirical realism, which differs from the metaphysical version according to the classical Kantian distinction.

These epistemological positions are affirmed on the basis of the possibility to test hypotheses empirically. It is in relation to this need for empirical verification that Husserlian phenomenology makes an appearance in Parrini’s epistemological thought. According to Parrini, Husserl finds a “fourth way” to the tree epistemological options presented by Friedman, namely, Neokantianism, logical empiricism, and Heideggerian hermeneutics. The “phenomenological way” makes possible an analysis of the empirical basis for knowledge that is cashed out in terms of a structural continuity between Kant and Husserl. In the first place, both philosophers highlight the irreducible contribution that each side of the form/matter distinction plays in cognition, where instead the neo-Kantians and the logical empiricists tend to downplay the role of matter. At the same time, Husserl is interpreted as seeking a way to ratify a kind of knowledge completely devoid of formal components. As a consequence of this interpretation, Husserl is castigated in favor of Kant, who famously foreclosed the possibility of any “judgments of perception.” This interpretation of Husserl carries on for the rest of the essay, where the possibility of Husserl’s material a-priori, here understood as “a priori knowledge (i.e. universal and necessary knowledge) of the content or matter of knowing, which would be expressed through apodictic judgements” (172), is considered and then rejected. This rejection is due to the claim that this material a-priori can only provide us with psychological-subjective validity, not transcendental validity. At the end of the essay, an appeal is made to the “genetic turn” in Husserl’s phenomenology so as to claim that Husserl himself dealt with the static conception of a material a-priori in the same way as Parrini. Lastly, Giannotta compares Parrini’s positive philosophy to the “network model” and to “neutral monism.”

In conclusion, Phenomenology in Italy is a substantial collection of essays and witnesses to the rich phenomenological tradition that Italy has to offer to the rest of the world. Although there are some conspicuous absences in the choice of authors to showcase, I hope that this collection will herald the beginning of the dissemination of Italian thought in the international philosophical community, and that it will inspire more efforts in the translation of Italy’s philosophical treasures.

Jan Patocka: Europa und Nach-Europa: Zur Phänomenologie einer Idee, Karl Alber, 2020

Europa und Nach-Europa: Zur Phänomenologie einer Idee Book Cover Europa und Nach-Europa: Zur Phänomenologie einer Idee
Jan Patocka. Edited by Ludger Hagedorn, Klaus Nellen
Karl Alber
Hardback 29,99 €

Corijn van Mazijk: Perception and Reality in Kant, Husserl, and McDowell

Perception and Reality in Kant, Husserl, and McDowell Book Cover Perception and Reality in Kant, Husserl, and McDowell
Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy
Corijn van Mazijk

Reviewed by:  Daniel Guilhermino (PhD Student, Department of Philosophy, University of São Paulo, Brazil)

The decisive influence of McDowell in shaping the contemporary debate over non-conceptual content is well known. After the release of Mind and World (1994), almost any attempt to assign non-conceptuality to the contents of perception had to engage with McDowell’s conceptualist model of experience. The rich discussions inspired by conceptualism in the current literature on non-conceptual content, however, often ignore the original philosophical motivation behind McDowell’s thesis, or so goes the premise of Van Mazijk’s new book Perception and Reality in Kant, Husserl, and McDowell (2020). This motivation comes from the tradition initiated by Kant in the 18th century, and followed by Husserl in the late 19th, known as transcendental philosophy, whose main idea is to put into question that which is the fundamental presupposition of the sciences, namely the availability of reality to us. The central aim of Van Mazijk’s book is to recover this original transcendental concern of McDowell’s thought by inserting his conceptualism within this broader tradition mainly represented by Kant and Husserl. As a result, it ends up by exploring how Kantian and Husserlian approaches of transcendental problems avoid certain inconsistencies in McDowell’s conceptualism, thus providing better alternatives for understanding the relation between mind and world.

The book is structured in three parts, each containing two chapters dealing with those thinkers’ theories of perception, since perception represents the most basic way through which the world is made available to us. Given the author’s overall aim to offer a new critique of McDowell’s thought, both Kantian and Husserlian theories of perception are analyzed through the lens of the conceptualism debate. This is made possible with the help of the distinction between weak conceptualism and strong conceptualism, which represents the key distinction of the entire book. Weak conceptualism is defined as “the view that all intuition and perception is, for us at least, open to conceptual exercise” (4), and strong conceptualism as the view that “concepts structure sense experience, and this is in fact what first makes reality perceptually available” (4). All the discussions that follow are carried out in view of this important hermeneutical tool.

The book follows historical sequence, thus beginning with Kant and ending with McDowell. The author himself, however, suggests that the chapters could be read independently of one another, and that any reader specifically interested in McDowell and in contemporary philosophy of perception could begin with the two last chapters on McDowell. I would rather suggest that readers not familiar with the contemporary discussion of conceptualism in philosophy of perception do that. This way they will better understand what is mainly at stake in the discussions with Kant and Husserl in the remaining chapters.

The first part focuses on how Kant’s transcendental philosophy provides us the tools to have an immediate access to reality, and not, e.g., an inferential one. The overall purpose is to advocate a weak conceptualist reading of Kant’s theory of perception, in opposition to, for instance, McDowell’s strong conceptualist reading of it. After introducing the basics of Kant’s theory of knowledge in the first chapter, Van Mazijk proceeds, in the second chapter, to the transcendental deduction. An adequate reading of the deduction is essential to a conceptualist interpretation of Kant’s theory. For instance, according to Van Mazijk, McDowell’s reading of the deduction is at the basis of his strong conceptualist interpretation of Kant. The author reads McDowell as stating that Kant places the dependence of sensible intuition on the categories at the same level as the dependence of it on space and time (41). This is a mistake, Van Mazijk’s points out, as the necessity of a transcendental deduction is justified precisely due to the fact that the “pure concepts, in Kant’s view, stand at a certain distance from the world; they are not sine qua non conditions for sensible intuitions in the way space and time are” (40).

Van Mazijk’s analyses of the A and B-Version of the deduction yield basically the same conclusion, namely that Kant is mainly concerned with weak conceptualism, as long as he insists that appearances have to be relatable to a unitary consciousness (which does not compel them to be always necessarily related to a self-consciousness or standing I). Apperception, so goes Van Mazijk in a close reading of Kant, is defined in terms of potentiality: “Apperception, then, need not be understood as a permanent, onlooking I; it is rather itself the potential for the I to be awakened; a transcendental potential for becoming actively aware of what is intuited” (45).

Besides that, however, strong conceptualism seems to also play a role in the deduction, especially in the A-Version. This is due to the synthesis of imagination and its specific role in the openness of intuitions to conceptualization. The main idea seems to be the following: The adequacy of intuitions to pure concepts – what Kant calls their affinity (46) – is the product of the synthesis of imagination. This affinity is already to be found previously in the sensibility itself as an “aptitude” of intuitions to be associable with pure concepts. This means that the contents of sensibility must already have an affinity with the understanding. Now, the synthesis of the imagination, Kant states, is grounded in the categories (46). Therefore, the categories are constitutive of intuitions, which is exactly the strong conceptualist thesis. That is, intuition is open to conceptualization (weak conceptualism) precisely because it is conceptually structured (strong conceptualism). Van Mazijk concludes from this that “pure concepts might after all play an important role in intuition, insofar as they would supply the imagination with the forms of synthesis required to make intuitions open to conceptualization” (47). In the end, however, the greater prominence seems to be given to weak conceptualism: “It can be concluded that, in both versions of the deduction, Kant’s principal aim is to show that pure concepts apply unconditionally to any intuition” (49). With regard to strong conceptualism, Van Mazijk only states that we have “some textual support” (49) for it.

The second part deals with Husserl’s theory of perception and knowledge. The third chapter begins by introducing the basic elements of Husserl’s early theory of intentionality that comes from the Logical Investigations. They are the quality (the way of intending something), the object-reference and the matter (the Fregean sense) of the act (63). Another important element within the intentional structure of consciousness is the sensation content, which Van Mazijk interprets not as unstructured data, but as having some kind of non-intentional and non-conceptual structure (66). Despite being non-conceptual, sensations are not regarded as merely natural facts, and are not, therefore, excluded from the concern of philosophy as a matter of, e.g., physiology, as in Kant’s account.

Nevertheless, sensations do not play any role in Husserl’s account of knowledge as synthesis of fulfillment, as long as they do not have an articulable structure, that is, a propositional structure which can be also instantiated in beliefs. Van Mazijk begins his explanation of Husserl’s theory of fulfillment by stressing that “it is crucial to observe first that, in Husserl’s view, signitive acts alone can be defined as meaning acts” (68). Knowledge is then explained as a coincidence that happens between this empty act of meaning and an appropriate fulfilling act. When I merely entertain the thought of a blackbird in the garden, for instance, I have an empty signitive act of meaning. When I look and see the blackbird, this act of intuition comes into a coincidence with my former signitive act and gives rise to a synthesis of fulfillment (69). Van Mazijk goes on to explore that not only sensible perception can provide fulfillment, but also memory, categorial intuition of ideal states-of-affairs and universal intuition. (69-70). Importantly, the fulfillment does not rely on all the aspects of the act, but only on the intentional ones: “all and only intentional contents come up for fulfillment and allow of propositional articulation” (71). From this, the author concludes that Husserl “clearly defends a version of weak conceptualism” (71). The reason why this conceptualism is weak is because “the articulable content of the fulfilling act (say, a perceptual content) can play its fulfilling part only by virtue of the fact that it is not just a conceptual content” (79). That is, the fulfillment can provide warrant for empty beliefs due to the fact that it makes an extra-conceptual contribution to it.

The clarity with which the theory is presented hides, however, the greatest difficulties of Husserl’s text. There are, for example, some problematic passages in the Logical Investigations where Husserl states that “the very thing that we marked off as the ‘matter’ of meaning, reappeared once more in the corresponding intuition” (Husserl, 2001, 241). This kind of statement seems to challenge the author’s affirmation that “signitive acts alone can be defined as meaning acts” (68), since the “matter” – understood as the Fregean sense and hence as conceptual content – would make both signitive and intuitive acts as carriers of meaning. Another problem not faced by the author is one concerned with the concept of fullness. It is only stated, at the end of the section dealing with fulfillment, that it is the “peculiar character of fullness” that “distinguishes perception (as an intuitive act) from thinking (as an empty act) – instead of, say, a real causal relation to an object” (72). Nothing, however, is said about this peculiarity itself, and the difficulties that are implied by this statement are not deemed important by the author. I find this to be a mistake, since the exact way in which the fullness gives fulfillment is one of the most important and controversial aspects of Husserl’s theory, and its clarification seems to me to be necessary to make understandable the “extra-conceptual contribution intuition makes relative to our empty beliefs” (72) mentioned above. The apparent inconsistencies in Husserl’s description of fulfillment was, by the way, one of the initial motives for the dispute over conceptualism with regard to his theory of perception.

The second half of the third chapter deals with Husserl’s transcendental turn and offers an interesting and original reading of the phenomenological reduction. The reduction should show us that all the sorts of nature-reason divide that somehow sets consciousness apart from the world are in the wrong path. Rather, reason and nature form a whole that could be investigated from the perspective of consciousness (as manifestations in my streaming conscious life) and from the perspective of nature (as real facts in the world). This results in a view the author calls “the double aspect theory” (80), which allows both natural science and philosophy to study the relation between mind and world: the former studies it as a natural fact under a natural attitude, forming a space of nature; the latter as a relation in the streaming of conscious life under a phenomenological attitude, forming a space of consciousness (81).

I find this way of presenting the phenomenological reduction to be one of Van Mazijk’s most interesting contributions that should be explored in the approximations between Husserlian phenomenology and conceptualism. Particularly important is that it understands the space of consciousness as wider than the space of concepts, thus making room for non-conceptual and non-intentional sensations in the philosophical approach of consciousness. For instance, the naturalistic psychology of Husserl’s time tended to see everything that does not have a relation to an apperception as a natural fact. By the same token, McDowell tends to see everything that falls outside the conceptual space of reasons as a natural fact. From Husserl’s perspective, in Van Mazijk’s view, this results from a failure to see that the world is not divided into two separated regions, mind and world, but is rather “one totality of being (mind and world), which can be viewed either under the aspect of nature or that of consciousness” (87). Absolutely everything is encompassed by the space of consciousness, only that under its specific attitude, which is not the same of the natural sciences. There is no reason, therefore, to exclude the non-conceptual and the non-intentional from it.

The fourth chapter turns to Husserl’s later genetic investigations in order to demonstrate how phenomenology can accommodate all accomplishments of consciousness. Van Mazijk proceeds here to the concrete analyses of non-conceptual levels of perception, showing that they are not restricted to empirical investigations, as in Kantian and McDowellian pictures. The chapter exhibits the powerful scope of phenomenology, which ranges from the most basic level of mere sensation to conceptual thought. This is considered by the author “Husserl’s master thought”, namely that “the space of consciousness can be analyzed as a unitary whole” (117), and not only as empty a priori forms of knowledge (Kant) or as conceptual capacities in the space of reasons (McDowell).

The genetic investigations present our openness to the world in a stratified manner. Three levels of perceptual accomplishments as well as three levels of conceptual ones are distinguished by the author. The analysis of these accomplishments provides an occasion for an interesting discussion with McDowell. Husserl is said to obey a strict divide between perceptual and conceptual content (105). Thus, to perceive something as being thus and so and to judge something as being thus and so are two different things, one involving a perceptual content, the other involving a conceptual content. But how do we get from perception to judgment? This is, of course, one of the most important problems of McDowell’s Mind and World, and it is there solved by appealing to strong conceptualism: the conceptual contents determine the perceptual experience. Husserl, in turn, has another story to tell. It is possible to perceive something as being thus and so without forming a judgment about that, that is, it is possible to “perceptually explicate relations between things perceived, yet lacking the ability to attain the propositionally articulated content” (104). Therefore, it is not the judgment that determines perception, but the other way around: it is because we can intentionally (albeit non-conceptually) be related to things in perception, that we can form judgments about them, and not the other way around. In order to make a judgment, “the ego must repeat the passive process, but this time in a changed, active attitude” (105). By doing this, the ego “extracts” the contents of perception and informs them with propositional articulation in judgment.

This narrative is a bit obscured, however, as Husserl speaks of the propositionally structured object being “pre-figured” in perception (105). This paradoxical statement serves to complicate the matters in the attempt to fit Husserl in the conceptualist or non-conceptualist parties. Van Mazijk does not overlook this challenging problem and engages with it in the second half of the chapter by exploring Husserl’s notions of horizonal awareness, motivation and bodily action – which form a “kinesthetic system” (107-110) –, and also his concept of habit (acquired skill) (111-117). Generally speaking, the idea is that perception considered as a simple intentional relation to an object is, on Husserl’s account, an abstraction. It is not a starting point (as it is in almost any theory of perception), but a resulting process. The original genetic analyses provided in this section show that “for us, then, perception is saddled with concepts after all” (118). This, however, in the author’s view, is not enough to assign Husserl a strong conceptualist theory of perception, since “intellectual acts are not a condition of possibility for a rich perceptual intentionality”, and  “the fact that (some) perceptual contents are fit to figure in judgments does not derive from a capacity to judge; it is due to perception itself” (p118). Husserl remains, thus, in the end, a weak conceptualist.

The last part of the book focuses on the theory that orients all the discussions of the previous chapters, namely McDowell’s conceptualism. The fifth chapter introduces the central conceptualist claim that the contents of experience are all conceptual and explains how it arises as the only way out of the epistemological dilemma between the myth of the given and coherentism. As is well known, McDowell’s solution is to expand the conceptual domain beyond the mental sphere and to place it in the world, admitting experience to have conceptual content.

Having stated the conceptualist thesis, Van Mazijk goes on to ask some important questions that challenge its overall consistency. The author lists and analyzes 14 fragments from McDowell’s writings in order to find out what exactly does it mean to say that the contents of experience are conceptual. A close and detailed reading of these fragments reveal that McDowell oscillates between a weak and strong conceptualism, but in the long run favours the strong version. Strong conceptualism, in turn, raises the most important issues with respect to the consistency of McDowell’s idea. Particularly, it does not explain which concepts specifically are necessary to inform perceptual experience and leaves unanswered the question of how perception in non-rational animals is possible (since they do not possess concepts) (124-132).

After exploring these inherent difficulties in McDowell’s conceptualism thesis, Van Mazijk goes on to discuss how Kant and Husserl could offer better answers to them. The main purpose is to show that a weak conceptualism “should suffice to establish intuition’s inclusion in the McDowellian space of reasons” (133). That is, since weak conceptualism, either in its Kantian or Husserlian forms, avoids the issues raised above against McDowell’s strong conceptualism, then the former is preferable to the latter. With respect to Kant, the author states that it is at least conceivable that an imagination functioning differently from ours synthesizes intuitional contents in a non-conceptual manner (134). Therefore, it is at least thinkable, in the Kantian framework, to have a non-conceptual relation to the world. As to Husserl, it is said that both the early theory of fulfillment and the genetic investigations of later phenomenology offer good reasons not to account for the contents of perception under the unique category of the conceptual. Both Kantian and Husserlian more detailed distinctions in the realm of perceptual content should then make room for some kinds of nonconceptuality in the contents of perception that do not fall prey to the myth of the given, thus avoiding the necessity of strong conceptualism.

The sixth and final chapter criticizes the most important assumption of McDowell’s conceptualism, namely his division of spaces. In short, this division amounts to two ways of dealing with things: as natural lawful phenomena (the space of nature) or as rationally relevant exercises (the space of reasons). Van Mazijk proceeds to analyse how McDowell, in order to avoid any threat of non-naturalism, allows everything else but conceptual contents to be placed within the space of nature. This generates several problems. Among them, it makes it impossible for McDowell to give a satisfactory account of the genesis of reason (Bildung), thus making rationality a kind of miracle (150-153). A more adequate picture of perception, which does not preclude the possibility of offering a genesis of reason, is offered by Husserl, as the author showed in the fourth chapter. Another problem concerns the transcendental significance of McDowell’s enterprise. Conceptualism, in McDowell’s view, is said to refer to “prior conditions of being directed at reality” (156). This way, any claim concerning the space of nature (actually, any claim at all) must be made through the space of reasons. But this clearly contradicts McDowell’s affirmations that “thinking and knowledge can after all be conceived of as natural phenomena” (156). In Van Mazijk’s view, there is no way to conceive the space of reasons as being both condition of and conditioned by the space of nature (156). Both Kant and Husserl show that this is a “transcendental absurdity”, since it “conflates distinct levels of explanations” (161).

On the way towards a conclusion, Van Mazijk points out that it is precisely this division of spaces which makes conceptualism attractive after all. That is, only if one accepts that the space of reasons consists exclusively of concepts, one will tend to ascribe conceptuality to perception (in order to make it rationally intelligible). But, as all the analyses of both Husserlian and Kantian framework have shown, there are good reasons not to consider concepts to be the exclusive accomplishment of rationality and therefore not to accept this division of spaces. The rest of the chapter is then dedicated to reinforcing the main conclusion of the book, namely the idea that the Kantian and (specially) Husserlian accounts of perception and reality avoid the inconsistencies generated by McDowellian conceptualism and offer, therefore, better alternatives to it. The final preference is given to the Husserlian framework, as it “provide[s] the most interesting and viable alternative when it comes to determining reference for concepts of the mental, as well as for specifying the contents of various types of sensible operations” (157).

In sum, Van Mazijk’s rich book does an excellent job of showing how the three authors work towards the same epistemological problems and have shared ambitions. To all of them, the Cartesian approach on subjectivity is misguided; and to all of them, it is precisely this approach that is at the basis of the epistemological problems concerning the gulf between mind and world. As to the overcoming of the Cartesian picture, they all want to reject transcendental realism, that is, the idea that reality is radically independent of our knowledge. This way, Kant, Husserl and McDowell intend to show that the world is a priori a world of rational experience. The conflict emerges when McDowell achieves that by appealing to the exclusively conceptual configuration of the world, which is denied by both Kant and Husserl. In this way, the book successfully accomplishes one of its purposes announced in the preface of “connecting [McDowell’s work] to key figures of the German transcendental tradition”, and so of “uncovering a continuing tradition hidden underneath today’s more specialized and fragmented philosophical landscape” (7). Therefore, it should appeal to anyone interested in a historical study of Kant, Husserl and McDowell. As to its more original purpose, “to develop new critical reflections on core tenets of McDowell’s philosophy” (7), that is principally achieved by the author’s recourse to Husserl in order to advocate weak conceptualism. I am not convinced, however, that the Husserlian perspective as offered here by the author is free of difficulties. At most, it seems to me to be as problematic as McDowell’s views. The early theory of fulfillment, as I have said, has many problems concerning the concepts of matter and fullness. As to the genetic analyses, the author himself recognizes that Husserl’s work on habit poses serious difficulties to the overall interpretation of his theory as conceptualist (weak or strong) or non-conceptualist. It seems that these problems should be faced more at length if Husserl is to be seriously considered as an alternative to conceptualism.


This research was supported by Grant #2019/01444-6, São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP).


Van Mazijk, C. 2020. Perception and Reality in Kant, Husserl and McDowell. New York: Routledge.

Husserl, E. 2001. Logical Investigations, Volume II. J. N. Findlay, trans. London and New York: Routledge.

Jorge Montesó Ventura: Interés, atención, verdad. Una aproximación fenomenológica a la atención

Interés, atención, verdad. Una aproximación fenomenológica a la atención Book Cover Interés, atención, verdad. Una aproximación fenomenológica a la atención
Jorge Montesó Ventura
Paperback 18,00 €

Reviewed by: Diego D'Angelo (Universität Würzburg)

Jorge Montesó Ventura delivers with his book Interest, Attention, Truth. A Phenomenological Approach to Attention (all translations in the following are mine) a valuable contribution to ongoing debates on the phenomenology of a particular phenomenon, that is, of attention. In general, phenomenological authors (e.g., Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Waldenfels, Depraz, Blumenberg, and many others) understand attention as a phenomenon that occurs mostly at the level of perception. Montesó’s book is no exception to this approach, although with some necessary distinctions, since for Montesó attention is also related to truth and to anthropological questions. In what follows, I will try to make this clear by pointing out the main ideas of the book, which could be of interest also for scholars who do not read Spanish.

From the start of the book it emerges clearly that Montesó adopts a perspective on attention which is clearly cognitive: on the very first page of the book it is expressively stated that attention occurs when we “want to know” something (2). This cognitive approach is also clearly visible in the title of the book, which gives attention the central role between interest and truth.

These three concepts (attention, interest, and truth) are also the main concepts of the three parts into which the book is divided, although the first (and longest) part of it deals with attention, which therefore emerges as the leitmotif keeping interest and truth connected together. That this is possible is due precisely to the fact that the author understands attention in a cognitive fashion. Attention is powered by our interest to know truth.

But the stress I lay on the author’s cognitive approach should not be taken as the claim that the author’s view is blurred by a lens that allows him to see only the cognitive aspects of the phenomenon he wants to analyze. Quite the contrary: the cognitive dimension is the starting-point for an analysis that is focused throughout on the human being as such. The enquiry is therefore at once existential, anthropological, and cultural. The book ends with a call for the development, out of a phenomenology of attention, of a philosophy of culture as such.

A word should be said about the meaning of “phenomenology” in this book. The author has already published a monograph dedicated to José Ortega y Gassett, surely the most prominent phenomenological and existential philosopher to write in Spanish (La atención en el piensamento de Ortega y Gassett, Centre D’Estudis Antropològics ACAF, Castellò 2016). And Ortega y Gassett remains the point of reference for the way in which phenomenology must be understood in this newer book as well. This means that we are dealing not so much with a phenomenology in the sense of Husserl, with all the different technical means he developed for the analysis of a pure experience, but with an existential phenomenology mediated by Scheler and by Heidegger. An approach of this kind to the phenomenology of attention is quite unusual and therefore deserves careful engagement.

In the first part of the Book Montesó delivers a balanced reconstruction of some of the most important points in the history of the concept of attention and of its philosophical, but also psychological, analysis. Wherever possible, Montesó complements philosophical insights with the results of empirical research in neurosciences and psychology, although he never precisely discusses the methodological problems related to this way of proceeding. This omission is somewhat problematic. Obviously, the aim of the book is not to provide a general methodological framework, but if the reference to empirical literature is to be more than the simple attempt so “spice up” the philosophical soup, then one should make clear when the recourse to empirical sciences makes sense and when not, at least in a very preliminary and superficial way.

Nevertheless, the attempt to merge phenomenology and empirical sciences is obviously laudable and profitable in many respects. This first part of the book is cleverly designed as the piece-by-piece assembly of the definition of attention; the full definition is delivered after the single parts have been introduced and discussed at length.

“[…] Attention presents itself to us as a singularity of intentionality in its cognitive or understanding capacity, as the token or expression of the tendencies of the subject in its possibilities to apprehend something cognitively. For this, it works like a lighthouse which, requested or solicited, emerges to reality (be it sensible or imaginary) through a systemic mobilization of the body, selecting (voluntarily or automatically) the things on which the light falls, the things it discovers” (104).

As we can see from this definition, attention is conceived in a fairly straightforward way, since – as Merleau-Ponty already pointed out in the Phenomenology of Perception – the use of a spotlight metaphor when discussing attention was already common in the 1940s. If we add the idea that this light not only makes things stand out more clearly from the background but selects those things, we add to the classical metaphor of attention as a spotlight the equally classical view of attention as a selection mechanism, a metaphor that goes back (as Montesó briefly but exhaustively reconstructs) to the work of Broadbent in the 1950s. This selection mechanism can be voluntary or automatic – that is, in the parlance of current research, top-down or bottom-up. Moreover, attention is an entirely cognitive capability and does not create anything but only illuminates things (cf. 70).

However, building on the basis of this classical understanding, the phenomenological and existential approach of Montesó adds that attention is a bodily gesture that expresses and betokens the tendencies of the subject. In this aspect of attention, which Montesó rightly stresses more than many other researchers on this phenomenon, we have two moments, on the one hand the necessary relation of attention to interest, and on the other the necessary relation of attention to corporeality.

Indeed, this point of novelty is also the point that allows Montesó to construct his own narrative about attention. Precisely by diving into the phenomenon of interest, in the second part of the book he is able to stress the fact that attention is always already shaped by the culture in which the active subject is embedded, because culture is one of the most important builders of interests, if not indeed the single most important. Indeed, the world in which we live is shaped, according to Montesó (and to Ortega y Gassett), first of all by the way in which the culture we live in interprets the surrounding things and phenomena. And in this collective act of interpretation, interests play a crucial role and are the real “motivators” of attention: the phenomenon of interest “plays the same role as the fuel that gives energy to the attentional gesture, it is the impetus that moves attention from one part of reality to another” (129). The idea is basically that interest is the “hand that moves the attentional lamp” (41). Attention rises, in the eyes of the author, always on the basis of some previous interest. Against some of the most classical ideas, according to which only the material features of the object attract our attention, Montesó stresses the meaningfulness for our lives that is the basis for interests to be built and therefore for attention to rise and, as the Author says, “come to reality”: “The life-project of the subject activates and deactivates in each case the functioning of attention, thereby creating her own landscape, her own truth” (101).

Through the interest, attention raises and allows the subject to select her own perspective on realty, within which each subject then selects her own “truth”: “the couple interest-attention is responsible for our particular view of the universe” (181). The notion of truth, which is clearly derived from Heidegger’s understanding of truth as Unverborgenheit (cf. 229), remains fairly open and unclear. Montesó seems to understand truth in the sense of discovery. Attention and interest allow the subject to discover the surrounding world in her peculiar way. This way is certainly subject-centered and peculiar, but not therefore already completely relativistic (in the negative sense of the term), since an intersubjectively shared culture functions as the motor of interests and, therefore, of discovery of the surrounding world: “every culture represents a specific regime of attention within which every individual acts as a unique organ of perception” (119). Attention and interest gives rise to the particular Weltanschauung of a particular people in a particular time (cf. 246).

In the end, one could argue that the concept of attention for Montesó is excessively vague and that it encompasses many different phenomena, from the perceptual, to cultural forms of attention, all to way to love (some nice analyses are developed on falling in love and neurasthenia – cf. 218 ff. – following Ortega y Gassett) and so on. But precisely this is one of the most important achievements of this book: keeping together many different ways (many different “cognitive phenomena”, 20; cf. also 41) in which we speak about attention in a view that defines accurately the phenomenon itself, but which also keeps this phenomenon in the broader context of other phenomena without which attention would be incomprehensible, such as interest and the anthropological striving for truth and knowledge. Furthermore, the author seems to explicitly go in that direction and to recognize the (necessary) vagueness of the concept of attention when he states that “everything is attention” (254). And this way of understanding attention as a “constant and unavoidable gesture” (16) reflects the main intuition of Ortega y Gassett on attention: “tell me what you attend to and I’ll tell you who you are” (Ortega y Gassett, quoted on 117).

Sebastian Luft: Subjectivity and Lifeworld in Transcendental Phenomenology, Northwestern University Press, 2021

Subjectivity and Lifeworld in Transcendental Phenomenology Book Cover Subjectivity and Lifeworld in Transcendental Phenomenology
Sebastian Luft
Northwestern University Press
Cloth Text $89.95

Luís Aguiar de Sousa, Ana Falcato (Eds.): Phenomenological Approaches to Intersubjectivity and Values

Phenomenological Approaches to Intersubjectivity and Values Book Cover Phenomenological Approaches to Intersubjectivity and Values
Luís Aguiar de Sousa, Ana Falcato (Eds.)
Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Hardback £64.99

Reviewed by: Dag August Schmedling Dramer (University of Oslo)

In the opening lines of the excellently compiled essay collection by Luís Aguiar de Sousa and Ana Falcato titled Phenomenological Approaches to Intersubjectivity and the Values (originally published August 2019), it becomes clear that the innovative aspect of this work is not the tried and true cognitive discussion of the role the complex phenomenon of intersubjectivity plays in our lives, although most of section I is dedicated to this “classical” discussion. It is rather the volume’s focus on the axiological parts of our existence that is of particular interest. In this review, I will present a short summary of the articles and essays presented in the volume, as well as offer commentary and critique of their central themes. I have selected only a few due to length constraints. I also present some further discussions in order to contextualize for the wider debates in phenomenology.

We can begin with the introduction, for there it is stated that the approach the collection intends to take, is axiological. According to the editors, it is the case that “what makes this volume special and distinct from other collective works on the phenomenology of intersubjectivity is its insistence on the axiological—that is, the ethical and existential—dimension of phenomenology’s account of intersubjectivity.” (2) However, further explication or discussion dedicated to accounting for what exactly the field of “axiology” denotes is not pursued.

“Within continental philosophy, phenomenology is more widely understood and engaged with than axiology. As such, it would have been prudent to dedicate more time to accounting for what exactly axiology is. Especially since “there has been a renewed interest in phenomenology in recent Anglo-American philosophy” (1).

This seems to imply the equal familiarity between the two on behalf of the readers though; phenomenology on the one hand, and axiology on the other, where it can be claimed that between the two, phenomenology is arguably the more known. This is not necessarily the case, however. That said, it is indeed true, as the editors also claim, that the essays in the collection quickly move from the more classical debates about how to account for the presence of the other, (the realm that is often most interested in the cognition-focused Anglo-American philosophy) and into the realm of ethics and even theology. This fact, is most welcome. This is especially the case given the explicitness with which this fact is confirmed. It is the case, for instance, that the ethical dimension of the phenomenological quest of investigating our social natures as intersubjectively constituted creatures, often looms in the background of the contemporary phenomenological writing, and this is the case for almost all the writing on intersubjectivity both classic and more recent. Yet surprisingly, this very fact does not seem to be explicitly focused on, as the ethical dimension of the phenomenological project, often approached at the end of a given text, trails off or is relegated to “another occasion”. This is where “values” comes in, and as such, this collection can be seen as a form of bridge between the two now less estranged banks of intersubjectivity and the values, crossing the river of phenomenology that gives rise to both.

The book is divided into three parts, each with their own focus. The essays in part I. are dedicated to “The Cognitive and Epistemological Dimension of the Problem of the Other” consisting of 5 essays. Although thorough, this section is perhaps the least original, as it is dedicated to the classical discussion from within the writings of some major phenomenologists, such as Merleau-Ponty and Husserl. Yet, the interesting thing is how the essays in the section, despite what can be claimed is the generally unoriginal approach of their points of departure—exegesis of the classical texts (which Zahavi, in several places, claims is the tendentious trap of much contemporary phenomenology)—all have original streaks in several of their main points. For instance, the text by Jorge Goncalves on Intersubjectivity in Psychiatry brings phenomenology to bear on some background assumptions in psychiatry concerning the status of the self. He shows how longstanding debates in phenomenology can greatly help the psychiatrist get a grip on his or her patient, and the latter’s fundamental needs. He concludes that although some of the prevailing theories in psychology concerning our access to the other’s mind, namely Theory-Theory and Simulation Theory, can provide relevant and helpful explanations for psychiatry, the fundamental problem remains the same: how to truly open oneself up to the other person, when the other person resides on the outside of “normality”. The conclusion is that phenomenology, with its traditional methodological operation manifested in the attempt to “suspend judgment and perceive things themselves as they are” (109) may prove to be more successful in this perennial and forever pertinent endeavor. Goncalves fails however, to note that a recent formulation of this “phenomenological approach” is termed “interaction theory” by Gallagher, as the latter opposes them explicitly to Theory-Theory and Simulation Theory as on equal footing.

A more classical exegetical discussion is found in another paper, the paper presented as chapter 1 by Paul F. Zipfel which is a thoroughgoing and careful analysis of Husserl’s notion of inaccessibility.

From the get-go, it becomes clear that, although well written, the essay is best read by someone already initiated into the core ideas of Husserl’s phenomenology. Introductory remarks are not made, and we jump right into the middle of the action, which is subtended by the paradoxical question of how the other appears to the subject, because of, not in spite of, his or her inaccessibility. The main thesis defended by Zipfel is that inaccessibility is a “function of the originality of the conscious act” and as such, is quite a fundamental part of our encounters with the other. A preparatory section is dedicated to the important, if somewhat exasperated discussion of direct versus indirect experience, before Zipfel moves into “the originality of experience” as he accounts for how that which is most original in the other subject’s experience, is not directly given to the experiencer of the other, but rather in the form of a “consciousness of a consciousness that is not my own.” This is quite subtle, and Zipfel presents some good examples in order to clarify this complex point. He draws on several contemporary commentators, as well as meticulous readings of Husserl’s own reflections as recounted on Cartesian Meditations and Husserliana in order to develop his discussion. The main conclusion in the essay is that the other is accessible exactly in his/her inaccessibility. The other person’s mind is in many ways directly perceived, but not fully or completely. There is always some mystery that eludes us, always something left to explore, yet this is what opens the door to ethics, and what we might call “the mystery of the other.”

The perhaps most original essay in part 1 is chapter 4, by Roberta Guccinelli, in which she discusses the notion of “the ecological self”. Interesting though it is, the author can be said to perhaps assume too much, as she jumps straight into it with the question of whether an “ecological self really exists” which is presumptuous due to its assumption that the reader has dedicated some time pondering this question, and it also perhaps assumes an already parallel standpoint taken on the very notion of the self, on the readers’ part. That said, Guccinelli’s approach to Scheler, attempting to use his phenomenology to (re)construct a self that is not just intersubjectively constituted, but ecologically constituted (what we might call “eco-subjective”) is most welcome. Although there has been literature that have drawn the background conceptual links between phenomenology and ecology out into the explicitly ethical open (like David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous), Guccinelli’s focus on the Self, along with Guccinelli’s usage of Scheler’s phenomenology in that regard, is highly interesting and original.

I stand by the contemporary Husserl scholar Dan Zahavi’s general comment mentioned in the bracket above, that there is a widespread tendency among current phenomenologists to dabble in egregious over-exegesis of the original source material. This is done with the best educational intentions, but it often only serves, ironically, to render it tiresome to the pragmatically oriented reader, who in many cases simply wants to see its immediate relevance to the discipline (nursing-studies, psychiatry, biology etc.) i.e. their own field. I have to present a lengthy quote which can help to moderate this view a little, which with its helpful and thorough discussion of the difference between (and similarities of) Husserl and Merleau-Ponty’s views on intersubjectivity, makes us see how the underlying and “classical” discussion is as alive and relevant as ever. Here are the concluding sentences from the final part of chapter 3, by one of the editors, de Sousa himself, as he compares Merleau-Ponty and Husserl.

Merleau-Ponty’s view has the great merit of making a very strong connection between subjectivity and intersubjectivity—of showing, in other words, that it is only possible for us to form the idea of other subjects because our self is radically different from the Cartesian self, and vice versa. As a result, Merleau-Ponty manages to turn Husserl’s account of intersubjectivity on its head, undermining the foundations of Husserlian phenomenology (even if this remains polemical from a Husserlian point of view). (79)

Now, it might be argued that there is an overabundance in the literature when it comes to the exegetical accounts of what the phenomenological forefathers actually meant to say, and that there should be a stricter separation between “scholarly work” and “contemporary application” in the literature than what is currently fashionable, but that belies the way phenomenology is actually working. The early founding phenomenologists themselves, as de Sousa more than hints at above, argued intensely amongst themselves, and any usage of phenomenology today will have to take a stand on the premises in the debate in order to present their positive views on the applicability of the discipline to other fields. Especially when phenomenology meets contemporary empirical research. And these roots go way back to Husserl’s concern with The Crises of the European Sciences. More immediately engaged was Merleau-Ponty for instance, who was very much up to date with the empirical sciences of his day. Indeed, he was informed by the empirical sciences to such a degree that the neurological and psychological case studies buttressed central aspects of his phenomenology. Those studies are indispensable to his magnum opus, Phenomenology of Perception, and the approach developed therein. When the psychologist J.J. Gibson read Merleau-Ponty, he was directly inspired by the philosopher’s concept of motor-intentionality to develop his interactionist view of perception as directly action-guiding in The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception.

Today, links are drawn between Heidegger’s Being and Time and recent developments in the cognitive sciences. These links were first drawn by Hubert Dreyfus in his (in)famous reading of Heidegger’s existential analytic and phenomenology and used as a direct attack on the program of early research into artificial intelligence in the early 70s. From the get-go, the writings of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre (as well as Gabriel Marcel, as we see below) were greatly influencing literature and literary criticism in a sensitive and highly creative time in French writing. This could not have been done without the direct and indirect influence of Husserl, and his early investigations (that Raymond Aron, Sartre and de Beauvoir were exposed to and inspired by) of intentionality. In other words, exegetical or not, phenomenological and existentialist ideas have always, in one way or another, been in mutual engagement with the broader cultural streams, and in turn been affected and changed by them. As such, it can be claimed that “the problem of exegesis” is not a problem at all, but part and parcel of what good phenomenology is all about. So much for part I. of the collection.

In part II. “The Ethical and Existential Approach to the Problem of the Other” the essays become more general, as the consequences of the phenomenological analyses discussed are pursued with a more general look at their ethical and theological import. Part II consists, then, of five essays, ranging from Scheler’s phenomenology of otherness, through discussions on Being-With and Being-Alone in the young Heidegger, Sartre and intersubjectivity, Gabriel Marcel’s thesis of availability on the importance of solicitude for our understanding of fundamental philosophical enquiry.

The perhaps most interesting and informative essay in part II is written by Elodie Malbois, and sets out to account for Gabriel Marcel’s oft neglected contribution to the phenomenological literature. Malbois’ twenty-six page essay can in many ways be described as an homage to Marcel’s thinking, as well as an analysis of his central focus on the notion of “Availability”, which he considered as not just an essential part of how we relate to others, but as an indispensable mode of authentically connecting with them. It actually turns out that for Marcel, intersubjectivity as a phenomenon can only strictly speaking be said to occur when you are available to the other person. Physical proximity, embodied encounters and basic perceptual openness to other people are perhaps necessary preconditions, yet they are hardly sufficient for genuine familiarity with the otherness of the other. The otherness of the other can only appear in the intersubjective mode once the fundamental phenomenon of availability is in play; indeed, intersubjectivity proper for Marcel is not fully understood without reference to availability. But in what, then, does availability consist?

As most phenomena that are closest to us, it is hard to describe. A central role is ascribed to attention; for the available person is according to Marcel hetero-centered, that is, focused on the other. A problem that can arise even within this positive account of the necessity of attention for understanding the phenomenon in question, is that one often runs the risk of simply paying attention to oneself through the other. Malbois uses a Marcelian example of a young man who goes to a party and finding himself quite unable to feel that the others are looking at him, judging him with their gazes. Now, the point here is that while the other man is indeed directed at the other minds, and take their otherness in many ways, seriously, this is not to get to know them better, but rather, involves a return to the self, as he only cares about their minds insofar as they care about him. He is encombré soi, “cluttered up in himself” (187). So being truly available is not just about having your mind directed at another’s mind, and the other person’s object of attention (for that object might just be you) but actively engaging in the other person’s perspective, the other person’s position. This is where Marcel, according to Malbois, allows himself concepts such as agape to slip in, while, according to the latter, arguing further about the necessity of using them (ibid.) But the important roots with Christian theology and mysticism are evident, as being concerned with the otherness of the other for his/her own sake finds its parallel in the language of the believer. Love and charity are central concepts, and they of course imply this fundamental mode of (basic) self-sacrifice through a forgetting of the self for the sake of the other. This is where the original analysis of intersubjectivity turns axiological. Other aspects endemic to classical existential and phenomenological problematics come up, such as authenticity, which for Marcel is tied to availability, a concept that itself turns increasingly complex as Malbois exposition strides forth. Malbois is throughout careful in her discussion, as she never presumes the question of exactly how best to define “availability” to be a settled one. The essay is a well written and critical homage in its entirety, and ends on the thoroughly axiological account of availability as a reciprocal act happening between minds.

The other essays in part II. share the trend of arriving at what we might call “the deeper level” of intersubjective analysis, as the thorough analysis of the phenomenon is pulled in the direction of viewing it as constitutive of our very being-in-the-world, and the fundamental and indispensable parts of this structure. Such as Scheler’s notion of love (chapter 6), which turns theological, or Heidegger’s differentiation between Being-With and Being-Alone (chapter 7) and Sartre’s ambivalent account of intersubjectivity, the chapter (chapter 8) in which André Barata brings in the outspoken atheist Sartre’s more theological reflections on Nothingness, God and, (the classical) question of what love is.

Then, finally, there is part III in which we move into the more esoteric parts of the phenomenological problematics concerning intersubjectivity. Chapter 11 is dedicated to a discussion on the development and connection between Merleau-Ponty’s thinking and Foucault’s by Gianfranco Ferraro, and in it he draws the lines towards what he dubs “a contemporary ontology of immanence” (241). The essay is a difficult read, not just due to the inherently difficult source material discussed, but also due to the lines drawn. Although the original quest set out on from part 1 of the essay, namely that of accounting for the “possible influences and relations between the two authors” and their varied import for the new ontology of the subject emerging after World War 2, I fear that too much is already at stake from the get-go, and that Ferraro fails to bring everything together in a fruitful way. There simply seems to be too many thinkers involved, as Levinas, Heidegger and then Deleuze are brought to bear on the debate. One not well versed in the continental development over the last 100-50 years will have a great difficulty following the many stranded argumentations. That said, for the initiated, the lines drawn are interesting (though at times confused) and merit further investigation.

A refreshing essay is presented by Grace Whistler, constituting chapter 13 in which she discusses the interesting links between form and content in Albert Camus’ L’Etranger. She argues that Camus indeed intended to communicate his very philosophy in the simple style of L’Etranger, which best comes out in the French wordings, which she does her best to convey in an English manner. The essay is nothing short of an analysis of what Whistler takes to be the essential relation between literary style and the content of the philosophy in question. She claims that Camus can be said to attempt a direct showing (show don’t tell) of Merseault’s world through his prose, allowing us to experience it directly as intersubjective. The essay is well written and highly original.

Chapter 14 with its essay entitled “The Poetry and the Pity” is easiest the odd one out in the collection. This is something the editors themselves note in the introduction It is a poetic post-ludium depicting the echoes of the voices crying out from our not-so-distant past; the voices of pain from World War 1. The essay highlights in an effective yet indirect way the running theme throughout the collection; namely the ethical consequences of phenomenology. It is poetically fitting that an essay that does not explicitly engage with phenomenology and intersubjectivity, all the same points us towards the redeeming powers of narrative, which we, now more than ever, are in dire need of.

Thomas Arnold: Phänomenologie als Platonismus

Phänomenologie als Platonismus: Zu den Platonischen Wesensmomenten der Philosophie Edmund Husserls Book Cover Phänomenologie als Platonismus: Zu den Platonischen Wesensmomenten der Philosophie Edmund Husserls
Quellen und Studien zur Philosophie 133
Thomas Arnold
De Gruyter
Hardback €109.95
ix, 333

Reviewed by: Pier Alberto Porceddu Cilione (University of Verona)

The problem of determining whether or not Husserl belongs to a broader “Platonic” tradition is destined to remain open. The philosophical importance of Thomas Arnold’s Phänomenologie als Platonismus. Zu den platonischen Wesensmomenten der Philosophie Edmund Husserls rests on the fact that this text places the issue on a solid theoretical basis. Arnold’s work, in fact, through its paratactic structure, helps us to avoid an historical reconstruction or a mere scholarly discussion of the problem, and advocates the idea that a Plato-Husserl confrontation has to be analyzed through “Wesens-Momenten,” through “essential moments.” In what sense does our approach to Platonism change, when seen through a Husserlian perspective? First of all, it is useful to read how the idea of ​​“Platonism” should be understood:

“‘Platonismus'” wird im Folgenden nicht nur als Bezeichnung einer Familie von realistischen Positionen innerhalb des Universalienstreits oder spezieller der Ontologie der Mathematik verstanden, d. h. als Synonym einer schmal verstandenen ‘Ideenlehre’, sondern vielmehr als Name einer ganzen Philosophie” (6).

[“‘Platonism'” is here understood not only as a designation of a family of realistic positions within the problem of the universals, or more specifically, of the ontology of mathematics, i.e. as a synonym of a narrowly understood ‘theory of ideas’, but rather as the name of an entire philosophy”].

It is clear that the intention of the book is not to trace a conceptual filiation between Platonism and phenomenology, but rather to measure how philosophy quo talis, that is, in the spirit of Husserl, philosophy “als strenge Wissenschaft,” can be fully achieved by Plato or by Husserl. In a few words, the underlying idea is that, regardless of the diversity of conceptual vocabularies, the gnoseological requirements of the two authors coincide in many points. Arnold even goes so far as to hold that already in Plato there are the “regional ontologies” presented in Husserl’s Ideen, tracing a correspondent symmetry in Platonic dialogues:

“Regionale Ontologien finden sich etwa im Phaidon (Ontologie der psychê), in der Politeia (Ontologie der Kunst) oder im Timaios (Ontologie der Natur); neben pädagogischen und epistemologischen Querelen der Ethik stellt auch die Ontologie der Tugend ein Problem dar, bis sie im Gorgias und weiter in der Politeia als ‘Ordnung’ erkannt wird” (58).

[“Regional ontologies can be found in the Phaedo (ontology of psychê), in the Republic (ontology of art) or in the Timaeus (ontology of nature); in addition to the pedagogical and epistemological quarrels of ethics, the ontology of virtue also poses a problem until it is recognized as an ‘order’ [Ordnung] in the Gorgias and further in the Republic”].

But regardless of the possible conceptual symmetries between the texts of the two authors, the question always remains a theoretical one. The ambition of philosophy coincides with its claim to an absolute foundation, or to a conceptual foundation of the Absolute:

“Die sogenannten Wissenschaften sind bloße Techniken, insofern sie ihre Voraussetzungen nicht aufklären können. Wissenschaft muss absolut fundiert sein. Absolute Fundierung ist Fundierung im Absoluten. Nur Philosophie kann die Normen der absoluten Reflexion erfüllen. Sie ermöglicht damit Wissenschaft und ist selbst absolute Wissenschaft” (35).

[“The so-called sciences are mere techniques in that they cannot elucidate their pre-conditions. Science must be absolutely founded. Absolute foundation is foundation in the absolute. Only philosophy can fulfill the norms of absolute reflection. It enables science and is itself the absolute science”].

To do this, the text elaborates two strategies: firstly, underlining an analogical relationship between the Platonic and the Husserlian argumentative processes, it challenges the pre-eminence of the Cartesian approach, placing Husserl, through a Rückblick to Plato, already beyond modernity; secondly, in order to understand the Platonic analogies in Husserl, it assumes the existence of an already “phenomenological” Plato (30). In continuity with the Platonic and Husserlian arguments, Arnold claims the idea that philosophy does not exhaust itself in a mere gnoseological or epistemological approach, but it invests the very idea of “life.” According to this view, philosophy becomes the “absolute Rechtfertigung des Lebens” (Arnold: 129) [“the absolute justification of life”], overcoming the abstract antagonism of doxa and episteme:

“Die Radikalität der Phänomenologie selbst, kombiniert mit dem Selbstverständnis ihrer Stellung in der teleologischen Entwicklung des Menschen in Richtung Rationalität, erzwingt den Antagonismus zwischen Tradition (doxa) und Philosophie (episteme)” (129).

[“The radical nature of phenomenology itself, combined with the self-understanding of its position in the teleological evolution of man toward rationality, forces the antagonism between tradition (doxa) and philosophy (episteme)”].

Nevertheless, the most striking continuity between the Platonic and the Husserlian philosophical approach is the fact that “ideas” occupy the central theoretical position, i.e. the idea that the proper philosophical activity coincides with an act of Wesenschau. The “idea of ​​idea” represents the conceptual strategy through which the essence of an “intentional psyché” is realized, contesting every naturalization of the mind, even in ancient times (Anaxagoras) and particularly in modern ones (Psychologism) (see, Arnold: 136). Ideas are the intelligible structures of things, “d. h. das, was ihre erkennbare, allgemeine Bestimmtheit ausmacht, ihr ‘Prinzip der Bestimmtheit’ oder das ‘Organisationsprinzip einer Gegenstandseinheit’, d.h. auch das ‘Kriterium’ (Uhlmann), dem gemäß ein Gegenstand ein solcher und nicht ein anderer Gegenstand ist” (Arnold: 207) [“i.e. what constitutes their recognizable, general determinateness, their ‘principle of determinateness’ or the ‘organizing principle of an object-unity’, i.e. also the “criterium” (Uhlmann), according to which an object is such and not another”]. The fundamental importance of ideas and essences, both in Plato and Husserl, suggests the fact that philosophy still aims to be, according to the Husserlian perspective, a “science of essences”:

“Wesen sind für Husserl die intelligiblen Bestimmtheitsstrukturen der Gegenstände und das, was ihnen ihre Möglichkeiten apriori vorgibt; ein Gegenstand, der ein Eidos instantiiert, hat in diesem Eidos seine Bestimmung” (214).

[“For Husserl, essences are the intelligible structures of the definiteness of objects, and what gives them their possibilities a priori; an object that instantiates an eidos has in this eidos its determination”].

The fundamental purpose inscribed in every platonic/realistic approach is to reflect on how and why our gnoseological capacities provide us with the ability to get in contact with ideas/essences, which, although transmaterial, possess the concreteness of a specific Gegenständigkeit. As Arnold points out, “die Ideen sind keine sichtbaren Dinge und keine Gedanken, aber sie sind nichtsdestotrotz in einem bestimmten Sinn eigenständige Gegenstände” (Arnold: 220) [“Ideas are not visible things and neither thoughts, but they are nonetheless – in a certain sense – independent objects”]. Tracing the idea of ​​an essential analogy between Plato and Husserl, Arnold’s work provides a new conceptual legitimacy to the fundamental terms of our philosophical tradition. Through Plato and Husserl, a transhistorical conceptual vocabulary still conserves those certain powerful words, which are the very glory of philosophy: “idea,” “science,” “justification,” “essence,” “Absolute.”


Harald A. Wiltsche, Philipp Berghofer (Eds.): Phenomenological Approaches to Physics, Springer, 2020

Phenomenological Approaches to Physics Book Cover Phenomenological Approaches to Physics
Synthese Library, Volume 429
Harald A. Wiltsche, Philipp Berghofer (Eds.)
Hardback 103,99 €