The recent book by Jocelyn Benoist, Professor of Contemporary Philosophy at the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, in line with his previous monographs, particularly Sens et sensibilité. L’intentionalité en context (2009), Éléments de Philosophie Réaliste. Réflexions sur ce que l’on a (2011) and Le Bruit du Sensible (2013), constitutes the next step in the development of his work in reestablishing and rethinking realist philosophy. His method rests on one of building his system in confrontation with classical contemporary philosophers. In that way, the book offers both an original speculative contribution to systematic philosophy (primarily, ontology and epistemology, secondly, moral philosophy, aesthetics, philosophy of language and philosophy of mind) and a thorough new reading in the history of philosophy with the leading figures of Frege, Husserl and Wittgenstein.
The pretext for this newest contribution is the emergence of so-called New Realism in the continental philosophy of the first decade of the 21st century. The author asks in what sense anything could possibly be new about rightly conceived realism. The critical analysis of the positions of two eminent representatives of the movement, Markus Gabriel and Maurizio Ferraris, leads the author to postulate rather than refurbish and correct the ‘old’ realism as a proper way towards a rightful account of reality. However, to accomplish the double task of the criticism of the defective realisms and positive realist model for ontology and epistemology, Benoist must begin with formulating what criteria the sought realism should meet.
The point of the departure is taking a proper distance from the two extremities that has marked contemporary philosophy: the idealism that surrenders reality to the thought (the cognition) and the metaphysical idol of an access to the being that would be independent from the context of thinking. This double confrontation leads Benoist to the central distinction governing his subsequent considerations: the one between ‘real’ and ‘true’ that corresponds to the further distinction between ‘factual’ and ‘normative’. That approach enables him to reconcile the objectivism of knowledge with its contextuality. Epistemic realism does not have to imply a form of absolutism. Quite to the contrary, context-dependence is the necessary foundation of realism. In that line, the de-contextualisation of reference constitutes an ontological error twinned with semantic idealism, common in the analytic philosophy of the 20th century but criticized already by Aristotle. The semantic relativity (contextuality) becomes an objective point for establishing the discourse in reality. The referred thing is precisely the one as it is described but it is always given in the determined circumstances. The contextuality becomes the fundamental ontological and epistemological property of reality. The lack of ‘contextual immunity’ does not speak against realism but is its only guarantee.
Having defined preliminary of what kind of realism the author shall speak, it becomes comprehensible why he is rejecting the two programs of New Realism. The first, by Markus Gabriel, proposes an ultra-intensional (and ultra-intentional, as Benoist remarks) ontology expressed in a paradoxical slogan: ‘Everything exists apart from the world’. The phrase is not only provocative. The author proceeds to shed some light on its hidden consequences. First, he comments on the exclusion of the world from the kingdom of existence. Gabriel, following the line drawn by Kant, Husserl and Wittgenstein, remarks that if everything that exists exists within the world, there is no point in speaking about the existence of the very world. So the world does not exist in consequence. Does he not go too far? Indeed, as Benoist remarks, if that is the case, it would be equally erroneous to talk about the non-existence of the world as about its existence. One would do better pointing out just the error of category. Also, the ‘existence of everything’ is problematic. Does this not lead to the conclusion that finally nothing exists? The notion of existence excessively extended is made extremely fragile. That is in line with what Benoist criticizes further, the theory of semantic fields of Gabriel to which the German philosopher attributes illegitimately a strong ontological status. According to Benoist, we need no special intentional entities to strengthen our realism. Quite to the contrary, they would cut us from reality. What we do need is the intentionality oriented towards the reality. And that is something different from what Gabriel intends to do.
The philosophy of the second representative of New Realism, Maurizio Ferraris, can be read as a reaction to postmodern ‘culturalism’. The Italian philosopher is drawing a sharp opposition between natural and social reality, the second being constructed. Benoist notices, against him, that the social world is as immediately real as the natural one. I cannot decide whether the man I see is a policeman or not. Even if the institution concerned has been created by humans, from the perceptual point of view, it is as real as natural properties. According to Benoist, the reasoning of Ferraris is rooted in a confused notion of reality, the one that treats it as ascribed to one kind of being against another one. In contrast, reality is a categorial concept. It says nothing more nor less than that the thing concerned is the thing it is. The case of Ferraris is yet another example of the misconception of the normative aspect of knowledge that has to be corrected in the following part of the book. It should be noted that it is the very aspect of traditional realism that needs some amendment as well. Here, conversely, the norms were given a strong ontological dimension while they were treated as parts of the objects. The distinction between truth and reality is coming back. The independence of reality should be understood exactly in light of the categorial difference between reality and the norm. If renewed realism has a program, that should be it, according to the author.
The first two chapters of the book consecrated to the primordial sketch of the discussion’s ground, the next four are devoted to the commentaries on the three contemporary masters in rethinking realism: Frege, Wittgenstein and Husserl. As mentioned before, they should be of great interest for historians of philosophy as well. The Fregean distinction of sense and reference is explained and reestablished in the polemic with Markus Gabriel. The latter one, in the last chapter of Sinn und Existenz, has questioned the very distinction as well as the one between sense and representation. As a result, sense becomes a property of reference. As Benoist warns, that leads to the risk of psychologism. However, he shares the concern that the second distinction has impoverished the notion of sense. The radical antisubjectivism of Gabriel’s account on semantics is missing the intermediary position in the sense that original Fregean thought corresponded to its epistemic function. In Gabriel, the Fragean senses become a dimension of reality. Not only are they objective, but real as well. Yet again, Benoist remarks the grammatical error of confusing determination with property. It corresponds to the fundamental distinction between the normative and the factual. Sense has ontological implications but no ontological dimension. Just to note, Benoist stresses that the distinction he is defending is not an opposition. An opposition would require that its components belong to the same category. In our case, we rest always on two different categorial grounds. The real does not need the normative. It is we who need it, on the other hand, to conceive the structures within reality.
The primordial confusion of Gabriel has its further implications that fall in line with what Benoist calls, ‘phenomenological fallacy’. To exist means to him to appear in the field of sense. The project of de-subjectivization leads to the ontologization of appearances. This is however another grammatical error. Gabriel confounds two determinations of reality: the structuralization of the being itself and the notion of appearance. The second one requires its subject: the one to whom an object is to appear. The ontologization Gabriel is desperately seeking cuts off that subject. Once again, he seems to pass from the grammar of facts to the grammar of norms. As Benoist points out, the object belongs to the second one. He compares the appearance to an actor who cannot enter the stage before the rule of play has been determined. There is no objective, context-immune sense of being. We cannot apprehend the being but for the given norms.
The notion of the grammar, which enters regularly into discussion, requires a separate analysis. This one is furnished in the fourth chapter. The lesson one can learn from the late Wittgenstein is the recognition of the profound realist-orientation of language. To speak is to act, and one cannot act if not within the world. Even the language games that presuppose taking the world in brackets are played in the world. That is why, according to Benoist, a study of language games is the privileged way towards realism. Some questions however should be raised. Grammar constitutes order in itself, independent from reality. Is language-orientation not so much an escape from reality? The author maintains the thesis of the double independence of reality and grammar that are nonetheless coupled by the usage of language. A fragment of reality never has its linguistic meaning – the latter belongs to grammar (that, following Wittgenstein, contains semantics). This leads to the commentary on the §371 of the Philosophical Investigations where Wittgenstein states that essence is expressed by grammar. The passage was widely commented in the literature. It was considered as the anti-essentialist declaration of the Austrian philosopher. Anscombe, on the other hand, has proposed an essentialist lecture. Benoist revises both interpretations. He focuses on the anti-nominalist dimension of the §371. Essentialism is understood here as nominalism about the ideal. The error of the essentialist lecture of Wittgenstein consists in falling into descriptivist illusion. This Wittgenstein reminded us that grammar does not describe the facts. Anscombe confounds the naming by words with expressing by grammar. The essence should not be understood as the thing I am referring to but by what I am thinking or understanding. It stands on the side of the norm. And the norm is the norm of usage. Finally, that is the usage that determines and guarantees the realist dimension of grammar.
The fifth chapter concerns the status of impossibility. Traditionally, it was presented as the most external of the concentric circles, beginning from the ‘actual’. Benoist distinguishes two notions of impossibility: empirical (real) and logical (absolute). The negation in the first case supposes a virtual possibility. The negation in the second case seems to be of some special kind: it does not concern lack of a reference, but lack of a sense that would have a reference. Benoist stands against the ontological interpretation of the logical impossibility. He rectifies a false opinion on Husserl that would have admitted an ontological consistency to impossibilia. On the contrary, phenomenology treats the impossible a priori as empirical, but of the higher order, mediatized by the mathematical notion of the limit. Benoist’s own answer turns to the usage of norms. Squaring the circle would require changing the norms. The sought circle would not be a circle in standard meaning. Impossibility a priori has a logical signification. There is no impossibility in itself. The myth of the absolute impossibility results from the pseudo-theoretical position that would like to be both inside and outside some activity. The realism defended by the author does not need that notion. To say that there is no absolute impossibility does not mean that everything is allowed. It means rather that where anything goes, one really does nothing.
In the next chapter, Benoist continues his commentary on Husserl and revises the notion of epoché in the context of his own realist project. The theoretical epoché is seen as the anti-hermeneutical turn. Husserl absolutizes the describing that constitutes a part of the form of our life. He wants to focus on what is seen independently of any particular norm. He passes from a particular to an absolute language game. Is that possible though, given the contextual embeddedness defended by Benoist? More light is casted on the phenomenological epoché. Benoist points out that the thesis of the existence of the world is not a thesis properly speaking. Any doubt is local. As an activity, it is still in the world. (Here Benoist follows the grammar of the doubt by Peirce and Wittgenstein.) No one can question it. And Husserl does respect it. He does not invite us to abandon the thesis of the existence of the world, but only not to use it. Too often has the German philosopher been confused with sceptics. Epoché is not intended to liberate us from judgments, but their world-orientation. What epoché discovers seems not to be an independent aspect of reality, but quite to the contrary, our own activity. The methodological side of the epoché can help us to highlight the normative nature of objects. An object is not given, but is a measure of the given. And, finally, any norm can be understood only in reference to reality. This orientation, as it has already been remarked, is inscribed in grammar. In addition, Benoist presents the notion of the acousmatic sound by Pierre Schaeffer in light of epoché. He notices that even in the case of that radical reduction, we rest always within the real. The given does not precede reality. It refers to the fact that it is perceived according to a norm that has its real conditions.
The next two chapters continue the reflection towards the philosophy of perception. The first one, particularly of interest, concerns the reality of appearances and gives some comments on the use of hallucinations in the argumentation for disjunctivism and conjunctivism about perception. Benoist refers to the works by Juan Gonzalez and Katalin Farkas. In the first point, he remarks that the hallucinations used in philosophy are generally philosophical fictions. The natural hallucinations aren’t as perfect as the philosophers maintain and a less-than-perfect cognition is sufficient to recognize them from a standard perception. Nonetheless, he accepts the answer of Michel Martin who agrees that he is not speaking about empirical hallucinations, but about some hypothetical entity defined as a mental state indistinguishable from perception. Benoist leaves hallucinations for a while and proceeds to illusions. Following Austin, he maintains that illusions are perceptions. They are not deceptive as far as one can properly interpret them. Once again, what returns is the conviction of the author that apprehension cannot be abstracted from its context. Perception cannot be taken as detached from its conditions. Nor are illusions false perceptions. That approach would ignore the diversity of what perception is. Thus, against conjuctivism, perceptual illusions are not evidence for the existence of a layer of pre-perceptual appearances within perception and independent from perception. At the same time, against disjunctivism, illusions are not something radically different from perception. What can be said about illusions is that they are problematic perceptions but sensual reality is present within them on the same level as in the case of other perceptions.
Then, Benoist asks in what respect we can distinguish hallucinations from illusions. The visual hallucinations (eg. those provoked by LSD) are rather visual deformations and because of that they can be treated together with visual illusions. Austin would point out the subjective cause of the first and objective of the other, but the comparison with myopia shows that what is essential to the hallucinations is not that they come from me, but that the hallucinating ‘me’ is ‘me’ transformed. This should solve the question of deformational hallucinations. However, real hallucinations, that is those without a real object, still pose a problem. Thus, Benoist questions the indistinguishability of hallucinations. Quoting Gonzales, the author remarks that it is not the phenomenology but the etiology that provokes confusions about hallucinations. Notably, hallucinations are clinically described as extremely realistic – ‘too real to be true’. For that reason, they are phenomenologically distinguishable as surreal. Hallucinations operate on the ground of reality and not on truth. They are not false beliefs about reality, but pure experience (without belief) of reality. That experience-orientation enables Benoist to reject as well the hypothetical (philosophical) notion of hallucinations held up by Martin. The latter maintains that perceptions and hallucinations share the appearance of perception. They both appear to be perceptions. However, appearance refers to the grammar of an object. The experience (that hallucination is) has no appearance. The notion of indistinguishability results from the illegitimate absolutizing of phenomenal conscience.
The next chapter goes on to study the structure of intuition. The dispute on the conceptual/non-conceptual content of perception is reduced to the question whether perception has its content. That leads to another question: Is perception an experience? Benoist points out that perceptual vocabulary is primarily epistemic. The object is not given. It is a norm that identifies what is given. Thus, it is reality-oriented, but belongs to normative grammar. That normativity guarantees the conceptual character of any perception. That is a grammatical point (the grammar being taken in light of what has been said in the previous chapters). The perceptual syntax requires an object. The myth of the given consists in taking the object as though it was not a logical form. As if it was possible to identify anything without implying any norm. Following McDowell, Benoist makes some important distinctions. The concept cannot be non-conceptual, whereas reality cannot be conceptual. The difference between ‘conceptual’ and ‘non-conceptual’ is the difference of category and corresponds to the fundamental difference between truth and reality. Reality cannot be conceptual because it cannot be true nor false. It could not be not-itself. The distinction between reality and intentionality is fundamentally onto-logical. The first operates within the grammar of being, the second – within the grammar of truth/falsity.
One can continue and ask whether there is anything real in perception. That leads Benoist to turn to Gestalt Theory and correct some common errors around it. First, he distinguishes Gestalt from the object of perception. The latter being epistemic, the former is not. Thus, it should be treated rather as the matter of perception. Second, Gestalt is not a primitive, purely perceptual meaning. That would be an error in category. Gestalt is not corrigible since the correction concerns the grammar of validity. On the contrary, it is modifiable by belonging to the grammar of reality. Finally, the philosopher refutes any interpretation that would treat Gestalt as a sort of entity screening the perception of reality. Normally, I do not perceive Gestalt (the exceptions concern some special uses as the one of a painter). I perceive directly the object of perception. Gestalt, being a part of reality, ‘incarnates’ the perception.
The last two chapters indicate some consequences of the proposed realism for aesthetics and moral philosophy. The first one develops some ideas already presented in Bruit du Sensible. Benoist postulates to substitute aesthetics for poetics. The latter highlights the role of revelation in exploring the sensible as opposed to manifestation. The sensible has to be revealed. It does not manifest itself spontaneously. Modern aesthetics had taken the point of view of the spectator. Poetics recognizes the perspective of the artist. Benoist remarks the way how the Kantian paradigm of aesthetics has overstressed the formal priority in defining art – corresponding to his rejection of ‘pleasant’ in favor of ‘beautiful’, and of color in favor of sketch. That has led to a paradoxical de-sensualization of aesthetics. That is why the author invites us to de-epistemologize sensuality so that it could be taken in its reality and not as a mere sign of some external sense. That is what contemporary art has meant to do. Benoist focuses on the concrete music and program of Giacomo Scelsi. The avant-garde composers have negated the primacy of tones and scales as definitive to music. Reducing their scope, eg. by the effects of repetition, they have shed light on other aspects of sound. Above all, they helped to see the matter of sound that cannot be reduced to any form. That is for Benoist an excellent illustration of poiesis in action that helps philosophers to reveal the sensible as sensible.
The final chapter treats the moral implications of realism. The return to reality is drawn not only as an intellectual but as well a moral obligation. In the approach of Benoist, moral realism is not a particularization of general realism but rather its test. Thus, the question arises of what kind of moral realism corresponds to the realism presented in the work. The author takes an indirect methodology and evokes two examples of a failure of realism in morality: empirism and transcendental absolutism. The first one is represented by Buck Mulligan from Joyce’s Ulysses. The empirism of the protagonist consists in absolutizing the given and words. However, the contextual indifferentism makes the words meaningless. The death is a death in general, but never a concreate one. While commenting on the passage about the death of the mother of Stephen Dedalus, Benoist highlight that the guilt of Mulligan is not the one of reducing people to beasts, but of refusing any importance to the word used in the given context. The lack of intentionality is coupled with a contextual immunity. The immorality resides in the indifference.
On the other hand, realism can fail because of its absolutism. In fact, the contextual blindness is shared by both positions, although their ontological engagements do not seem to be more opposed than they are. Benoist quotes the Diaries of Marta Hillers from Berlin of 1945. Here the words become of greatest importance. Reality appears to be much more complicated than any fixed moral valuation would say. The narrator gives herself to a Soviet officer to earn the basic goods for living and to be protected against the private soldiers. Neither can she classify it as rape nor as prostitution. Obviously, rape is not a matter of any subjective feelings. Nonetheless, the evoked example points out that the moral reflection cannot put aside the point of view of the moral agents. Hiller’s own distinctions are inscribed in some particular context and, though they have no universal range, they are significant in that context and that signification can be apprehended from an outside point of view. As in the case of impossibility, Benoist does not maintain that the complexity of the situation given to prevent us from making a moral judgment. We are indeed justified to judge, but never independently from the context. The de-intentionalization of empirism becomes a symmetrical phantasm to the one of the de-contextualization of transcendental idealism.
The work of Jocelyn Benoist represents the best tradition of the philosophical enterprise that sees hermeneutics as its method (although, to my best knowledge, the author is far from accepting hermeneutics as a doctrine). A critical analysis of the philosophical tradition becomes the point of departure for an original speculation. Both historians and theoretical philosophers gain. Especially, because the erudition and methodological lack of prejudices of the author enable him to correct some widespread misinterpretations of the classics of contemporary philosophy. One can be skeptical whether the New Realism really is a movement important and original enough to merit a broad study. However, doubtlessly, for the sake of the realism proposed by Benoist, to which it plays a role of a departure point, it seems totally justified. The grammatical point of view, pointing out consequently the categorial distinctions ignored by not so few philosophers is one of the most important and inspiring contributions of the work that I would like to stress once more at the conclusion.
We may tell the story of the phenomenology of time in many ways, each of them evoking (and constructing) a slightly different meaning of temporality. The story’s plot does not merely depend on the style of a storyteller and historical figures he decides to cover. It is also important what we are having in mind when we talk about time. Michael Kelly’s story in Phenomenology and the Problem of Time is about a series of radicalizations of Husserl’s transcendental theory of time, those of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Derrida. The story is based on the plot of rise and fall. It all begins with Husserl, who radicalizes himself, and is later radicalized by Heidegger who missed his teacher’s own radicalization. Soon afterwards, Heidegger overcomes not only Husserl but also himself. Similarly, Merleau-Ponty and Derrida do. They all overcome phenomenology. While the tension increases with the initial progress, it is released with the ultimate “regress”. Since the question of time is posited, and rightly so, as the most important question of phenomenology, the dissolution of time-constituting consciousness becomes the demise of the whole of the phenomenological enterprise.
Kelly’s initial point is that Husserl’s inheritors were not charitable enough in interpreting his account of time-consciousness so that a defense of Husserl is due. Heidegger’s perspective is that Husserl’s phenomenological reduction binds him to the modern subjective idealist sense of immanence, which reduces being to a construction of consciousness. It is only him, Heidegger, who finally liberates it (a view analogical to Husserl’s critique of Descartes and Kant). Heidegger’s criticism, however, is based on Logical Investigations (1900) and Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy (1913). Kelly argues that the view of intentionality as presented in these works is immature. If we want to truly examine the related notions of intentionality, subjectivity and time, we must look upon Husserl’s mature theory of genuine phenomenological immanence, originally given in his 1907 lectures The Idea of Phenomenology. This overlooked theory of immanence equals a theory of time-consciousness that is far more nuanced than the subjective idealistic reduction of transcendence to immanence, and certainly not simply synonymous of consciousness.
Many critics failed to appreciate the difference between the two notions of immanence in Husserl. But these two notions (and not just one that was misunderstood) exist. In the thought experiment of annihilation of the world, Husserl himself partly presented himself as a subjective idealist who suggests that consciousness may exist independently of the material world. Naturally, a phenomenological reduction only brackets a naïve engagement with the world and does not cut consciousness off the world. Nevertheless, there are certain “imperfections of immanence” in Husserl, to use Kelly’s catchy phrase, which Heidegger correctly points out. When intentionality functions as a bridge between the two realms of subject and object, Husserl still operates within a dualistic framework. Separating intentional acts from intentional contents creates a tension that prevents an exposition of their original unity. Such a notion of intentionality is not subjective idealist per se since a turn to lived experience has been already made, but it keeps attached to the ontological distinction between consciousness and its object.
In the ordinary or psychological conception of immanence, consciousness appears as a box of representations and, hence, yet another object. In Husserl’s early conception, on the other hand, immanence is given as a stream of consciousness and not as an object. It is real immanence. This stream of consciousness or the truly immanent is not intended. What is intended is an object transcendent to this stream. Intended objects (which exist extra-mentally) are perceived but not experienced or “lived through” (in the sense of the German Erlebnis and not Erfahrung). Acts, on the other hand, are experienced but not perceived. Kelly argues that this view is still haunted by the modern dualism since lived experience is divorced from intended objects situated outside of the stream of consciousness. The move away from objectified consciousness towards real immanence does not yet reach genuine phenomenological immanence.
In On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time (1893-1917) and in The Idea of Phenomenology (1907), Husserl abandons the still dualistic model from Logical Investigations and presents his new theory of intentionality. According to Kelly, immanence now becomes genuine and presents pure phenomena – being, appearances and their self-giveness at the same time. In this mode of intentionality we encounter transcendence in immanence. “Unlike psychological immanence, which the epoché puts out of play, and unlike reell immanence, which remained tied purely to the act of knowing without contact with the irreell or transcendence, genuine phenomenological immanence denotes the ‘absolute and clear’ giveness of whatever appears, intentions and intendeds, as it were” (53). Husserl thus discovers a difference between objectifying intentionality of acts and non-objectifying intentionality of absolute consciousness. The latter is understood not as a bridge between subject and object, neither of which is reducible to the other, but as a phenomenon preceding this distinction. The self is given through and across different acts and objects in terms of pre-reflective self-awareness immediately accompanying all of our experiences. In defending the concept of minimal or immediate self-awareness, Kelly to a great extent follows Dan Zahavi’s interpretation from his Self-Awareness and Alterity (1999). Such a tacit and non-objectifying awareness is finally different from Cartesian and Kantian objectifying intentionality of acts.
Kant, surely, was one of the great predecessors of Husserl, as Kelly is the first to admit. The inner intuition of time from the First Critique foreshadows phenomenological non-epistemic mode of intentionality. It is because time as an a priori feature of consciousness precedes the intentionality of acts. Through the consciousness of time, the subject intuits itself, even if it cannot see itself. Upon Heidegger’s reading at least (from his Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics), pure (transcendental) syntheses of apprehension, reproduction and recognition extend consciousness beyond the present. On the other hand, Kant never escaped the atemporal view of the subject and the concept of time as a series of atomistic impressions. The transcendental unity of apperception provides the “I” that thinks and is not an object while remaining atemporally identical. Kelly argues that, ultimately, Kant presented a transcendental version of psychological immanence, in which there is transcendental time-constituting consciousness and psychological time of the flux of appearances.
If we want to move away from the psychological model of the self and the dualistic model of intentionality towards absolute consciousness, we must not only step beyond the transcendent time but also abandon the psychological notion of subjective time as a quantity (studied by the cognitive sciences and experimental psychology). That is, we must look upon a “third” and basic level, which in Kelly’s book goes under many names. It is genuine phenomenological immanence, but also consciousness of internal time, living-present in the non-objective sense, non-objectifying intentionality, non-temporal temporalizing, etc. Such a consciousness is neither atemporal nor temporal in the sense of a sequence of moments (either of objectified clock time “nows” or the moments of a subjective flow). In lived experience, of course, the three levels – transcendental, subjective, and objective, if you like – exist in a unity. At least, such is the case of an ordinary experience in which everything goes smoothly and without major interruptions. “Consciousness reveals itself as a non-temporal temporalizing (or unfolding), that is, a time-constituting consciousness that makes possible the disclosure of temporal objects insofar as it makes possible the disclosure of the self’s temporality by accounting for our original sense of pastness in the retentional dimension of the living-present” (92).
Within the psychological model of immanence haunted by the modern dualism of inner and outer, one cannot account for self-consciousness other than reflectively. The self represents itself to itself in the same way that it represents external objects. The problem of temporal experience illustrates well the difference between the non-dualistic and the dualistic accounts (the latter often practiced in modern scientific studies of time perception). Upon the dualistic account, non-temporal impressions are temporalized through time-constituting acts. The mind – or the brain, as many empirical scientists would say – thus creates time through its elementary modes of processing information. Husserl’s early theory departs from this conception but remains close. Apprehension of the experiential content as past, present or future takes place thanks to three temporal intentional rays. Each momentary phase of consciousness contains those three rays so that past, present, and future overlap in lived experience. It might thus seem that the consciousness of succession successfully replaces the succession of consciousness. But the perception of a temporal object is not really temporal here. It is atemporal and momentary. What the early theory gives us is merely a succession of consciousness of succession (or a sequence of impressions of a sequence) and not a consciousness of succession (or an impression of a sequence). It is, therefore, still burdened by the clock time account of the sequence of “nows”, even if each of these conscious “nows” has now a triple intentionality directed towards immediate past, present, and future.
In order to be fully temporal and in each of its phases aware of its acts, consciousness must be construed as non-temporal in the ordinary sense. Upon the non-dualistic account, a living present “intends itself” without a need for a reflective – and, hence, spanning at least two different moments in time – mediation. In Husserl’s own language, the move to non-objectifying intentionality is marked by a shift in language from a primary memory, which is like an after-image of the past, to retention, which represents an implicit intentional relation between two phases of consciousness. Retention is not a re-presentation of the past in the present but a presentation of the past of consciousness. There is no ordinary temporal “distance” between the two moments. In other words, the difference between past and present does not yet come into the fore. Retention, primal impression, and protention are all inseparable moments of the living present and not pieces of a process. The whole process is passive, automatic and non-objectifying. In this way, consciousness is extended beyond the now before being temporal in the psychological sense (where the word “before” does not mean earlier in objective time). Such non-thematic time-consciousness grounds the objectifying intentionality of acts and of intended objects, including ordinary time perception. While the foundation is non-temporal in the sense of not being sequential, it is not atemporal in the sense of the Kantian subject. It is temporal because it is not “frozen” and it is atemporal because it is not a series. Consciousness persists outside of conventional (psychologically experienced) time, but since consciousness is time-consciousness it persists as a flow.
Kelly’s depiction of genuine immanence as time-consciousness is compelling. There are, however, important questions concerning the actual varieties of the lived experience of temporalizing left out of his considerations. Many forms of bodily and conscious temporal engagements with the world do not require an explanatory recourse to some deeper, underlying levels of immanence and time-constituting consciousness. There are, however, some that may lead us to worry about the absolutization of absolute time-constituting consciousness. One example are the experiences of time of the self coming to a standstill (as often reported in depression), despite the fact that the acts and contents of psychological time are largely left intact. Would such a frozen self, clearly inhibited at a pre-reflective level, equal a cessation of a primordial temporalization? It seems unlikely given that this temporal experience is still pre-reflectively self-aware and that objectifying intentionality (dependent upon genuine immanence) operates at least to some extent. The detachment of the self from the temporal flow (a self in a standstill) does not preclude the possibility of objectifying time-consciousness. On the other hand, some schizophrenic experiences seem to affect the deepest core of time-consciousness. According to the so-called ipseity theory of self-disorders, it happens when the tacit presence of the self is disrupted. Are we then talking about absolute or about “normal” time-constituting consciousness? The difference is far from being minute for an absolute consciousness should function in spite of any possible psychological disturbances.
If we take genuine phenomenological immanence seriously, Heidegger’s radicalization of the Husserlian phenomenology in Being and Time (1927) appears as still depending on Husserl. Indeed, from the perspective of Heidegger’s later work the notion of Being-in-the-World may seem fairly subjectivist. Kelly contends that the actual radicalization of phenomenology takes place when in Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics (1929) the self is identified with time. Only then Heidegger liberates intentionality from consciousness – a process that Kelly calls the emergence of Spinozism in phenomenology. Already in 1929, Kelly argues, Heidegger sees Dasein as depending on “clearing” (which, by that time, goes under the notion of temporality). This marks the beginning of the fall of phenomenology in Heidegger’s later work.
The fall is due to the fact that time activates itself independently of experience and that the subject depends on time’s affection of itself. Dasein as a finite mode of givenness is thus grounded in an infinite, absolute mode. Throughout the book, Kelly calls this step of radicalization the exchange of an “absolute time-constituting consciousness” for an “absolute-time constituting consciousness” – a move that gives time an autonomous ontological existence. Kelly’s rightful worry is that it implies a potential backslide to metaphysics. Another concern is that it might entail a return to physicalism and a naturalist ontology of time. Whatever the possible route, certainly phenomenology becomes an ontology. The notion of “phenomenological monism” grasps this process quite well.
Kelly’s chapter on Heidegger is partly disappointing because it wholly evades the question of finitude. It is also hardly convincing that early “Heidegger’s account of Dasein’s temporality remains tied to the now despite the emphasis often put on time coming from the future” (113). The argument is that Dasein’s temporal ecstases are a functional equivalent to the tripartite structure of Husserl’s time-constituting consciousness, which is, of course, true, but does not justify the thesis.
If Heidegger predicts and then carries out the end of phenomenology, Merleau-Ponty presents an epilogue to the fall. Merleau-Ponty’s view of the subject as the movement of transcendence evades early Husserl’s (still partly idealist) account of the subject that is out of time (or contemporary with all times) and follows Heidegger’s lead from the latter’s Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics. Later on, Merleau-Ponty fully departs from Husserl and the philosophy of consciousness as such. The notion of operative intentionality in Phenomenology of Perception (1945) is still Husserlian in spirit. In The Visible and the Invisible (1959-61) a new thought appears, namely, that time constitutes consciousness and not the other way around. In Kelly’s narrative, again, it means bringing in an ontological view of time, which he calls mythical immanence.
As far as operative intentionality is concerned, consciousness is not a quasi-eternal subject transparent to itself, but a process. The self relates to itself by transcending itself. Its essence is transcendence. The shift from such an existential reading of consciousness in The Visible and the Invisible is radical. Analogically to Heidegger’s hypothesis that time constitutes itself, Merleau-Ponty observes that Husserl’s subject was not fully temporal. In Merleau-Ponty’s own formulation of latent intentionality, which is more basic than pre-reflective self-awareness, all consciousness is constituted by time. There is no privilege of the present nor of the past, because they are simultaneous. The past, therefore, must not be derived from the present, it must not have been present before it became past. “Perhaps his [Merleau-Ponty’s] thought follows the internal logic of phenomenology? Perhaps it is the realization of ‘the end of phenomenology’ or the working out of its historical destiny?” (171). Kelly’s question is, hopefully, a rhetorical one. The very idea of phenomenology is quite far from any logic of historical development. Even if a story is a property of life, life is more than just a single story, and, certainly, not a story that has its end organically prescribed in the beginning. However, several of Kelly’s claims suggest he would support such a view. Time is “the germ of phenomenology that either consumes it from within or blooms into phenomenological theology. In the case of the former, phenomenology’s quest for certainty is unrealizable. In the case of the latter, we might find an unexpected apodicticity of absence” (177). Fortunately, a hermeneutic turn easily saves phenomenology from the dilemma. We know that certainty is unrealizable precisely because we are temporal and interpreting creatures. Life cannot be fully completed but it does not mean that the self must be lost to time. A theology or a philosophy of history is needed only if we can’t dwell in the precariousness of human existence. The question is, rather, to what extent we must abandon the idea of existential becoming to account for the shift from operative to latent intentionality.
An analogical inevitability allegedly stems from Derrida’s narrative in Speech and Phenomena (1967). According to Derrida, Husserl’s idea of a self-given subject is an example of the metaphysics of presence. Husserl privileges expression over indication by distinguishing the former through its proximity to present (at the very moment) intentional consciousness. In an expression, the signifier and the signified are one, and the voice silently hears itself speaking. Consciousness is transparent. At stake in retaining such a fully transparent meaning of one’s own expression to oneself, without a mediation of a reflective gap, is the presence of self-presence. Derrida criticizes the privilege of the voice that is supposed to provide this indubitable meaning. Every present moment is contaminated by the movement of temporalization that contradicts pure self-presence of consciousness. Implicit in Husserl’s account is that in order to retain the notion of absolute consciousness, we must speak what we are unable to speak. In this sense, mythic immanence is already contained in Husserl’s view of time-consciousness. The movement of temporalization infects consciousness in a way that it is never pure so that Husserl’s project undermines itself.
Kelly demonstrates how Derrida’s disapproval of the privileging of consciousness follows Heidegger’s insights on absolute-time constituting consciousness. Simultaneously, taking advantage of Brough, de Warren, and Zahavi, among others, he takes a position against Derrida claiming that he missed the development of Husserl’s thought, and specifically the latter’s abandonment of the scheme-apprehension model of intentionality. At the same time, Kelly thinks that Derrida is right in asserting that an apodictically given absence stems from Husserl’s account of time-consciousness.
Kelly’s position is not clear. It doesn’t seem, as Kelly tries to argue, that Derrida confuses retention with primary memory’s recollection or that he perceives primal impression as a discreet instant of time and thus overlooks Husserl’s insights on genuine immanence. Derrida’s argument would hold well in the case of properly temporalized consciousness. Even if we accept the notion of pre-reflective self-awareness, the movement of temporalization within the living presence makes a full transparency of the self to itself impossible. The self being temporal is constantly undermined by itself and therefore itself only so far as different from itself – simply through unfolding in time and not necessarily through reflecting upon itself. Hence, the movement of temporalization is what, as Derrida postulates, produces the transcendental subject, and not something that is produced by it. This movement is more primordial than consciousness. It is true that by introducing language, Derrida “places the chip of deconstruction under the skin of phenomenology” (196). But must it all end with a phenomenological theology? Upon Kelly’s reading, the inner logic of time-consciousness grounds it in the “ultratranscendental” concept of life. Since the ultratranscendental is ontologically primordial and unnamable, there can be no pure presence. The present is itself by becoming the past. What is presently absent – and not just a retention that is literally “retained” in consciousness and, therefore, still present – is the origin of what is present. The movement of temporalization itself constitutes all presence. Again, even if the ultratranscendental life destroys ahistorical certitude, must it fully destroy phenomenology?
While Kelly proves to be an expert reader of the phenomenological tradition, his own stance vis-à-vis the discussed thinkers is not always unambiguous. If Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Derrida have partly misread Husserl’s conception of time, was the nutshell of their radicalizations already contained within his philosophical enterprise? And if so, did they just go too far with their “transcendentalizing” of phenomenology or was it an inevitable interpretative development stemming from the “things themselves”? Was the ultimate overcoming of phenomenology a regress? At times, Kelly does not take sides. At times, he seems to argue against the critics and hold to Husserl’s original position from his unpublished writings, as if it could save phenomenology from its alleged internal decomposition. It must be remembered, however, that academic phenomenology, historically speaking, did not simply decompose or develop into becoming more distant and esoteric. The return of applied phenomenology within the natural sciences during the last decades proves quite otherwise, not to mention many less transcendental paths phenomenology went through in the last century. Remaining within Kelly’s scope, it is perhaps right to say that if later phenomenologists have dwelled upon Husserl’s mature thinking on temporality, consciousness understood as self-presence would have been saved without the need to retreat to mysticism. Whether this retreat leads to some sort of Spinozism, as the author suggests, or something else, the consequences for academic philosophy are grim.
A few words about the shortcomings of the book are due at the end. For an unprepared reader, it is quite technical and difficult to follow. Scarce examples certainly don’t make it engaging. The justification of the claim that the story of phenomenology in the second and third generations is a series of misunderstandings of Husserl’s conception of time-consciousness, if we take this claim literally, is quite weak. Unfortunately, Kelly does not discuss the problems of historicity and finitude, even if the question of time begs for it. The book is also full of repetitions and lacks lightness. Kelly’s insightful work would not have lost its substance by being a half shorter. At the moment, it is an example of a dense academic, if not scholastic writing – an almost proverbial list of footnotes to Husserl. It must be also noted that secondary sources are limited to the English language only. Quite regrettably, the concept of time is restricted to its transcendental phenomenological notion. There is neither discussion nor mention of the varieties of pre-reflectively and reflectively lived temporalities – layers, modes, structures, and modalities of temporal experience, about which phenomenology has had so much to say. As a result, the view of the phenomenology of time presented in this book, despite its indisputable depth, is not comprehensive.
Carl Sachs identifies himself a Kantian naturalist (2). What he means by this is that he accepts as plausible the transcendental standpoint and that its task is one of cognitive semantics, identifying the minimally necessary conditions for an utterance to be expressive of a thought. He identifies as a naturalist in the sense that he aims to provide an account of intentionality that is fully naturalizable. He argues that transcendental naturalism is the view that “transcendentally-specified roles must have empirically-specifiable role-players” (9). Sachs frames his book not only around the Myths of the Given, but around the question of how to account for original intentionality as opposed to derived intentionality. In laying out his solution, he favors a two-fold sense of original intentionality, what he calls bifurcated intentionality. He argues “both discursive and somatic intentionality must be considered as equally original…because discursive intentionality and somatic intentionality are individually necessary and jointly sufficient for judgments with empirical content” (8). This is endorsed in order, Sachs argues, to answer the naturalists challenge. It is a cornerstone of Sachs’s attempt to realize John Haugeland’s claim that there is a position between neo-behaviorists (Quine, Dennett) and neo-pragmatists (Sellars, Brandom). In contrast with Haugeland, Sachs approaches his challenge by relying heavily on the work of Merleau-Ponty. This, he believes, enables him an opportunity to construe one form of original intentionality as both non-social and non-linguistic, namely somatic intentionality: the intentionality of the body in its lived engagements and comportments.
Sachs makes a reasonable case that Wilfrid Sellars’s Myth of the Given has traditionally been too narrowly interpreted in terms of its scope. He argues that the problem is not just with an empirical given, but rather whatever sort of thing one treats a given. What’s more, Sachs argues that to understand Sellars’s criticisms of C.I. Lewis, one needs to appreciate that the given in question is not an epistemic given, but a cognitive-semantic given. To clarify, “the epistemic given has both epistemic efficacy (it plays a justificatory role in our inferences) and epistemic independence (it does not depend on any other justified assertions). The semantic given is both efficacious and independent with regard to cognitive semantics” (22). The Myth of the semantic Given is “the thesis that cognitive significance, objective purport, requires something with a semantic status, or a kind of meaning, independent of and yet bearing on the meaning of objectively valid judgments” (29). Sachs’ view of these two Givens is that his account of bifurcated intentionality opens room for non-conceptual content that does not violate the Myth of the semantic Given. Sachs believes a benefit of his account is that it preserves “transcendental friction,” which is “that it must be possible, by reflecting on our most basic conceptual and perceptual capacities and incapacities, to guarantee that we are in cognitive contact with the world we discover and do not create” (13).
Chapter one provides a lot of the groundwork for the book. This includes defining terms like non-conceptual content and transcendental friction. By the former, Sachs means “personal-level representational cognitive-semantic content that does not conform to the Generality Constraint [that a subject cannot conceive of a is F if she cannot also entertain the thought that a is G and that b is F]” (12). The latter is the requirement that “it must be possible, by reflecting on our most basic conceptual and perceptual capacities and incapacities, to guarantee that we are in cognitive contact with a world we discover and do not create” (13). The first two chapters are basically dedicated to explicating and defending a view of C.I. Lewis’s thought. It is done to establish a basis for the thesis of bifurcation. One might contend that Sachs is establishing a neo-Lewisian view. Indeed, the entire setup seems to leave one the impression that Lewis was very close to the truth, but lacked a sufficient understanding of somatic intentionality to make his semantic foundationalism work. In particular, Sachs argues at the close of chapter two, that one of Lewis’s critical errors was to adopt an Augustinian conception of language.
Chapter three is broken into three subsections. The first section outlines the dispute between Roy Wood Sellars and C.I. Lewis, specifically between the former’s physical realism and the latter’s conceptualistic pragmatism. The middle section establishes how this contextual backdrop informs Wilfred Sellars’s formulation of the Myth of the Given and his criticisms of Lewis. The final section establishes the place of non-conceptual content in lieu of the arguments presented by the younger Sellars. This chapter should be of immense historical value to the history of analytic philosophy. In terms of phenomenology, I believe that there is substantial potential for further engagement. The first section in particular has much in common with disputes between Husserl and Heidegger. This is in no way to assert that the disagreements or their terms are the same, only that there are sufficient parallels to warrant further comparison. The middle section might provoke an interest in drawing Mikel Dufrenne’s work on the a priori into dialogue with the analytic literature on the synthetic-analytic distinction in fruitful ways. As for the final section of the chapter, its concern for transcendental structures bears clear interest to the phenomenologist, even if the latter is not generally concerned for the causal role of said structures. That said, the way Sachs frames the chapter could be helpful for phenomenologists in thinking about how their work relates to work in other fields. That said, there is one clear complaint that anyone with a phenomenological background would raise. At the end of the chapter, Sachs quotes Sellars’s remarking: It is by the introduction of visual sensations that we transcend phenomenology or conceptual analysis. They are not yielded by phenomenological reduction but postulated by a proto-(scientific)-theory” (Sellars in Sachs, 69). Puzzlingingly, no relation of this passage to phenomenology is ever provided. Given the care in which Sachs works through the analytic literature, this is very surprising. This idea only returns directly in the Appendix. In either case, no mention is made of Sellars’s relationship to Marvin Farber or that Sellars is clearly claiming to have bettered both Husserlian phenomenology (Husserl, Farber) and conceptual analysis (Ryle, Lewis) on the question of non-conceptual content. It is disappointing that this comes at the end of the chapter without discussion or more critical attention.
Chapter four outlines the Brandom-McDowell dispute, and their shared rejection of non-conceptual content. It ends with a discussion of Dreyfus’s and McDowell’s exchanges. All of this seems to serve the purpose of establishing that non-conceptual content is rightly dismissed where one begins from discursive intentionality as paradigmatic. However, it is not clear that discursive intentionality is the (sole) original form of intentionality. Hence Sachs’s advocacy in the fifth chapter for Merleau-Ponty’s emphasis on somatic intentionality as a co-original form of intentionality.
This all leaves open a position that might challenge Sachs. One might argue that somatic intentionality is original and that discursive or linguistic intentionality is secondary. This challenge does get a response at the end of chapter six, when Sachs offers his reasons for rejecting this sort of position in the work of Dreyfus and Todes. I’m not convinced that this possibility is so easily rejected, as it seems to hang on the requirement that defining intentionality in terms of language and not vice versa is true. While the latter is at odds with the Sellarsian approach, one might want more careful reasons for rejecting that alternative. Alternatively, why not think that something like somatic intentionality – or a system of affectations that might grow more and more sophisticated – is more basic? This certainly would make more sense of the evolutionary continuity one finds across species, and would help make sense of human development as well.
Chapter five brings Merleau-Ponty into the discussion. Merleau-Ponty’s criticism of intellectualism and empiricism are used by Sachs to ground the necessity that somatic or motor intentionality is distinctive from discursive intentionality. For Sachs, discursive intentionality consists of both directedness and aboutness, especially since he couches it in terms of Sellars’s community of language users, i.e. the deontic scorekeepers. Somatic intentionality, on the other hand, lacks aboutness but consists of directedness. It is also non-apperceptive. Sachs presses the distinction between the “I think” and “I can” in accentuating this difference. Discursive intentionality is associated with intellectual activity and judgments; somatic intentionality with the habitual deployment or execution of embodied postures or gestures. Habits are understood as quasi- or proto-normative. With regard to somatic intentionality, Sachs argues that the Myth of the Given – in either epistemic or semantic form – is avoided only insofar as one appreciates a distinction between pre-personal and sub-personal senses of non-conceptual content. If one locates non-conceptual content at a sub-personal level, then, he argues it cannot take on an intentional structure. That point is not consistent with Merleau-Ponty’s broad application of intentionality to the natural world (Merleau-Ponty 2003; see also Hamrick 2011). However, Sachs believes that conceiving of non-conceptual content in pre-personal terms avoid this problem.
Sachs makes a surprising, if subtle, error in his discussion of Merleau-Ponty (107-108). He correctly indicates that motor intentionality is directedness without aboutness. A dog might be directed towards the object of play, even if it might not experience play as something about which it participates. However, he misapprehends what is meant by Merleau-Ponty identifying it as non-apperceptive. Apperceptive contents in Husserl and Merleau-Ponty – unfortunately ambiguously used by both – refer to the adumbrated profiles associated with the object of experience, or to the pre-reflective mineness of experience. That is apperception refers to the unity of the experience of this or that both in relation to the “object” and to the “subject.” Motor intentions aren’t necessarily constituted through profiles. Nor are they the sorts of things that one generally recognizes their self to be enacting or embodying in an explicit, voluntaristic manner. The later part Sachs gets right, though his interpretation is perhaps a little intellectualist, thinking this is about a reflective “I think.” It’s more a comment for Merleau-Ponty about the absence of the pre-reflective sense of an “I” in the experience of these intentional states. For example, one affects a posture, but one is neither aware of one’s affecting one’s posture nor is one’s affectation of a posture something that’s adumbrated. There are no posture-profiles intended in absence of the intentional affectation of the posture itself. By denying that there are profiles, absences co-constituting internal horizons of the intention, one does not deny that motor horizons have temporal dimensions that involve action-possibilities.
Chapter 6 pulls all of the parts together firmly and offers closing arguments. Interestingly, Sachs believes that it is worthwhile retaining Sellars’s non-relational conception of discursive intentionality over Merleau-Ponty’s relational conception, though he concedes that somatic intentionality is by its nature relational (136). Sachs offers a succinct three thesis summary of what he’s arguing for, which is helpful for his pointing out how he resolves both the Sellars-McDowell and the McDowell-Dreyfus debates. They are:
(a) discursive intentionality is non-world tracking;
(b) perceptual episodes have somatic intentional content (phenomenologically considered);
(c) perceptual episodes have world-tracking representational content (naturalistically considered) (138).
Sachs insists upon preserving (a) on the basis that rejecting (a) “leads one right back to all the problems of ‘intentional inexistence,’ realism about universals, and so on” (ibid). I’m not sure why that would have to follow, though Sachs seems to treat language games as abiding by their own internal rule-systems without necessary reference to the world. The deontic scorekeepers track whether one’s usage is correct, not whether one’s claims track true. Sachs understands our embodied coping skills in terms of “sheer receptivity” (ibid). It should be warned that Sachs does not equate receptivity with passivity (139). Rather it is a spontaneous non-conceptual, non-inferential state of affairs. Phenomenology’s role in this line of reasoning is to dislodge the assumption that “rational conceptuality is the paradigm of intentional activity” (139). Rejecting the view attributed to Dreyfus and Todes that somatic intentionality grounds discursive intentionality, Sachs does accept that the former constrains the latter. By this he understands that “the normativity of bodily habits constrains (but does not determine) the normativity of social norms” (139). More formally, somatic intentionality is necessary, but not sufficient for discursive intentionality. As noted above, one is wont perhaps for a more complete set of reasons why one should reject the thesis of somatic-intentionality’s grounding discursive intentionality. Sachs is skeptical in no small measure because, he argues, were somatic intentionality necessary and sufficient for discursive intentionality, one would succumb to the Myth of the Given again. I’m not sure why that would have to be the case, even if I accept the reasons he offers. In other words, I don’t see why one can’t agree that the relationship is as Sachs states – that somatic intentionality is necessary but not sufficient for discursive intentionality – and not still prioritize somatic intentionality as more basic. Granted, that might require going with Merleau-Ponty in denying (a) and affirming a relational account of language.
The book closes with an Appendix, addressing the question as to whether or not phenomenology commits itself to the Myth of the Given. In brief, Sachs’s argument is that Merleau-Ponty successfully avoids the Myth in either form, but that the early Husserl commits to the Myth. Specifically, Husserl commits to the Myth through the correlation of noesis and noema. Says Sachs, “Correlationism is Mythic dues to its foundational role within the total system as the presuppositionless condition of possibility of cognitive experience, just because our awareness of the correlation is achieved when all presuppositions are suspended, i.e. when the phenomenological reduction is complete” (161). Sachs believes this fits Sellars’s metaphor of the “seal on melted wax.” I’m not sure how this is supposed to be, as it strikes me as a misunderstanding of Husserlian phenomenology. That we discover noetic-noematic correlation while maintaining the phenomenological reduction is not a problem in this manner. Sachs forgets that the reduction effects the suspension of the natural attitude. That is, our everyday comportments in the world are focused on the objects themselves as given. The reduction enables us to step back from that naïve standpoint in order to identify and explicate the subjective roles played in consciousness in experience. A shift of attentional focus is a necessary condition for discovery of the workings of consciousness. Nor does presuppositionless mean suspension of contents, only suspensions of interests and judgments. I suspend my affirmations and negations, specifically my existential commitments. Husserl never asserts that “the categorial structure of the world imposes itself on the mind as a seal on melted wax” (Sellars in Sachs, 161). What Husserl does argue is that the categorial structure of consciousness arises in relation to the experienced contents of lived experience. What’s discovered is that our epistemic and semantic starting points involve an exchange or relation between the subject and the world – which is precisely the thing Sachs praises Merleau-Ponty for discovering. I can appreciate that if one interprets Husserl’s reduction as violating the demand for transcendental friction, that one might argue that he is committed to the Myth. However, Husserl is careful to articulate how the content of consciousness involves the relationship between the subject and her world. That relationship grounds his consistent concern for evidentiary fulfillment. There could be no concern for fulfillment unless it were possible that both that the subject be mistaken – either noetically or noematically – and that evidences be possible. Husserl’s neither granting justificatory nor semantic roles to the given. One might think that noema can stand in isolation and that this is precisely what the reduction realizes or reveals. However, that cannot be the case, because Husserl is clear that noema emerge from out of a horizonal network, i.e. meanings are the results of interactive relations between categorial elements (see Logical Investigation VI) and the subject’s comportment within and towards the world. Unfortunately, it may be the case the Sachs is inheriting mistaken attributions about Husserl’s philosophy from Sellars, who received those mistakes from Marvin Farber (1943).
A quibble with Sachs’s book might be raised about the book’s approach on the whole is how quickly Sachs is to brush over applying categories associated with historical figures. For example, much of the book involves consistent usage of Kantian v. Hegelian labels to distinguish different positions or thinkers in their disputes. Given that these labels aren’t always defined, and that they represent potentially niche interpretations of those labels, one wonders if they might not obscure things at times. For example, in one of the early chapters, Sachs associates Kantianism with Lewis White Beck’s translation. While that was an influential translation of Kant’s Critique, it is now generally regarded as excessively Humean in its interpretive approach. More recent Kant scholarship is far less enamored of the Beck paradigm that Kant was directly responding to Hume. Rather, Kant is far more grounded in the development of the Leibniz-Wolff tradition, and in responding to Baumgarten’s work. This isn’t to say that Kant is not influenced by empiricism as well, just to note that Hume’s role in spurring Kant’s philosophical development is much less important than Beck and cohort asserted. What’s more, the term Hegelian has different meanings in different circles as well. Within British Idealism it meant one thing, and variants from that school of thought inform the American Hegelian lines. But this is not obviously the same Hegel that one finds in Marx or the German tradition. None of this is Sachs’s doing, historical chains of influence are intrinsically complex. But the plurality of these interpretive lineages do raise questions about the efficacy of using the labels so freely.
A more substantive question I have is whether or not Edmund Husserl’s account of the genetic origins of judgment in Experience and Judgment poses a challenge to Sachs’s approach. Not only does Husserl offering a rather robust account of how judgments – discursive intentionality – arise from out of non-discursive origins; but it is well known that Merleau-Ponty was familiar with most of Husserl’s later works – as Sachs acknowledges in The Appendix. As such, there is a possibility that Merleau-Ponty has an intrinsic objection to how Sachs is approaching bifurcated intentionality. This is in no way an argument here, only to raise the consideration – as such scholarship is beyond the scope of this review.
On the whole Sachs’s Intentionality and the Myths of the Given is a worthwhile text. It provides careful and precise elucidations of Sellars’s Myth. It deepens the historical context and understanding of important debates in contemporary philosophy, especially analytic philosophy – for which Sachs’s contribution might be invaluable. And it joins a growing chorus of works that bring phenomenological philosophers into prominent dialogue with more widely read philosophers. The book’s aim to outline an approach to intentionality without succumbing to the Myths of the Given and to preserve transcendental friction both succeed. While the book is often very technical and dense in the usage of terminology that would be potentially prohibitive for a broader audience, I believe it merits recommendation for those working on issues relating to the nature of intentionality or the Myth(s) of the Given.
Dufrenne, Mikel. 1966. The Notion of the A Priori. Edward S. Casey, trans. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
Farber, Marvin. 1943. The Foundation of Phenomenology. Albany: SUNY Press.
Hamrick, William. 2011. Nature and Logos: A Whiteheadian Key to Merleau-Ponty’s Fundamental Thought. Albany: SUNY Press.
Husserl, Edmund. 1970. Logical Investigations. J.N. Findlay, trans. London: Routledge. Husserliana (Hua) XIX/1 and XIX/2: Logische Untersuchungen. Untersuchungen zur Phänomenologie und Theorie der Erkenntnis, Zwei Bänden, ed. Ursula Panzer. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1984.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 2003. Nature: Course Notes from the College de France. Robert Vallier, trans. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
Sachs, Carl. 2014. Intentionality and the Myths of the Given. New York: Routledge.
From Deleuze to Derrida, from Badiou to Nancy and Marion, the concept of event (évènement) witnessed an important development in the last fifty years of French philosophy and it is present in the most influential authors’ thought. Today, this notion still plays a central role in several attempts to rethink ontology and phenomenology, such as Claude Romano’s evential hermeneutics (hermenéutique événementiale). Even if the ideas of these philosophers substantially differ from each other and cannot be simply grouped together, we can trace at least one common issue in the notion of possibility. Events – with capital E – are happenings inaugurating a new horizon of possibility. They can actualize unforeseeable potentialities or make the impossible possible. For this reason, Events are said to be extraordinary moments and it has been argued that they should be unpredictable (imprévisible) or even impossible (impossible) since they lie beyond the ordinary structure of possibilities in which normal ontological movements take place. It goes without saying that the foundation of the modal structure of Being in such Events attests several theoretical problems If such Events overstep the general structure of Being, how are they supposed to happen? And where should an Event take place and have a place if Being cannot harbor its excess?
Some years before the flourishing of French “event” philosophy, Emmanuel Levinas formulated the notion of nocturnal events (événements nocturnes) in the preface of his masterwork Totalité et Infini. Levinas’ purpose is not to develop a philosophy of events. Indeed, in the whole book the expression “nocturnal event” is no more used and the adjective “nocturnal” appears just a few more times. However, even this parsimonious use of the term is enough to give us an important suggestion. The ultimate events that allow the deployment of new possibilities and which our comprehension of the world is based on are maybe not to be thought as impossible (im-possible), neither as unpredictable (im-pré-visible). They could rather be just invisible (in-visible).
After his impressive book on Derrida and Searle, Raoul Moati keeps deepening his researches about contemporary French philosophy dedicating an entire essay to Levinas and his idea of nocturnal events. What these two works have in common is the great attention given to the concept of intentionality and its Husserlian origins in the phenomenological tradition. Levinas and the Night of Being offers a fine reconstruction of the path undertaken by Levinas in Totalité et Infini to trace the way from the sensible ego to the infinite Other. Moreover, Moati shows us to what extent Levinas takes distance from other phenomenologists such as Husserl, Heidegger and Sartre as well as what does he own to their ideas. This review will first address which are the ontological and phenomenological involvements of nocturnal events that Moati highlights in his book. We will then retrace the way to the infinite in the context of a nocturnal conception of Being. Finally, we will have an overview of this book and its English translation by Daniel Wyche.
The Night of Being.
What Levinas reproaches to ontology and phenomenology is not, as other philosophers would have it, to be a sort of metaphysics of presence. Moati shows that the main critique that Levinas addresses to ontology and phenomenology is to be in a certain sense a metaphysics of light: they are based on “structures of illumination” (65), such as intuition, intentionality or comprehension. Sight and touch tended to have absolute primacy in the philosophical tradition, where “to be” means thus to be visible and graspable (67). The immediate consequence of this “diurnal sense of being” (XVI), from which Totalité et Infini attempts to liberate ontology, is that there is no more room left for otherness and exteriority: being becomes a totalizing structure and the Other is reduced to the self. A drastic rethinking of ontology, as a nocturnal broadening, is therefore needed in order to establish a place for those events that cannot be understood as being part of Being as a totality. That is to say, the nocturnal events:
There must be an ontology that establishes a place for ultimate events of being. […] Such events will no longer draw their significance from a Hegelian totalization or even from phenomenological constitution (Husserl) or the comprehension of the sense of being (Heidegger). The horizon of their deployment consists in a relation to being that overflows the light of objective evidence and of which all of these cases constitute various avatars (11).
The representation of Being that Moati presents us with is thus not that of a light irradiating the sensible world anymore, nor would it be that of a unique and totalizing illuminated surface. There are actually more than one illuminated surfaces, and we are only able to perceive them because of the dark background that encloses and undergirds them. Being does not correspond to these bright spots, but rather to the infinite night surrounding them. This night can be lightened by our “structures of illumination” and this is what originates diurnal events. However, there will always be a dark part not being seen in which nocturnal events are taking place.
Nocturnal events are “the nocturnal dramas by which being exhaustively produces itself” and amount to “a more originary experience for consciousness than transcendental constitution” (15). Is it possible to find a concrete case of nocturnal events? Moati provides us several examples taken from Levinas’ philosophy to describe these “nocturnal dramas”, among them we find the erotic encounter, fecundity, sociality and messianic peace. All these are for Levinas elements that, on the one hand, ground our primordial openness toward the Other and his or her face and which, on the other hand, constitute the base of an ontology that renounces to contain Being within the unity and recognises rather its plurality, taking up the discontinuity of the same and the other (81).
Even though Levinas affirms the primacy of events that are more primordial than subjective comprehension and transcendental constitution, Moati decisively stresses that this gesture does not correspond to a denial of the fundamental role that subjectivity, sensibility and ego play on the path to infinity. Indeed, without the ego’s sensible rooting in Being, no experience of infinite otherness would be possible: “the metaphysical alterity of the Other requires the precondition of the position of the self, a here-below positioned in relation to an over-there” (30). We will now see how nocturnal events and the sensible ego lead us on the way to infinity.
The Terrestrial Condition.
While in the first and last chapters of Levinas and the Night of Being Moati outlines the idea of a nocturnal ontology and unfolds the ontological involvements of nocturnal events, in the central chapters he deploys Levinas theory of the sensible ego and follows the path to infinity he had already sketched in Totalité et Infini. The book structure self is in this way a good representation of the nocturnal conception of being, where nocturnal events are the dark frame of our illuminated terrestrial experience.
First of all, Moati recalls the Levinasian notions of jouissance and element (élément). As it is known, according to Levinas the pre-objective degree of sensation corresponds to what he calls il y a (there is), that is the undefined existence without the existent, the undifferentiated element in which the self is originally immersed, the starting point of any further experience: “the element is the content from which forms are carved out, but it is not, as such, itself delimited by anything” (52). The first break in the uniformity of the element coincides with the subject’s jouissance, representing “the concrete mark of separation” (41). Enjoyment is “the contact between sensibility and the formless quality of the element” (94). It corresponds to sensation and more precisely to the very moment when the instrumental schema of the sensible is rejected and the subject just perceives his or her distinction and independence from the elemental world. Before having the possibility to be part of an ethical encounter with the Other, the subject should first have an ontic consistency: “enjoyment thus reveals the fundamental priority of the ontic for ontology” (47). This idea of a detachment and a constitution of the subject from and through the element questions the phenomenological distinction between constituent and constituted. Indeed, if on the one hand the ego shapes objectivity starting from the undifferentiated element, it is itself in turn delimited by the element:
Enjoyment reveals the impossibility of reducing the constituted to the position of the intentional correlate of the constitutive acts of transcendental consciousness. Every constituted object reveals itself through enjoyment just as much as it occupies the position of the constituent, which is to say the sensible nourishment of the self (55).
Once subjectivity consolidated, the self is ready for the encounter with the Other. This encounter begins in two other well known topoi of the Levinasian production: the dwelling (demeure), that is “the starting-place of any finalized human activity” (91), and the labor (travail), that consists “in the transformation of elemental nature into a world of identifiable things” (94). In order to encounter the Other, that is to manifest himself or herself to the Other, the subject should first have some possession to share with the Other, something to communicate to him or her. Here lies the fundamental importance of labor. It allows us to substantialize the element and fix it between the dwelling’s walls. Through labor we make the world and its objects identifiable and we start having possessions. At this point, Moati highlights and develops another great Levinasian intuition that, as the idea of a nocturnal ontology does, anticipates and responds to several difficult theoretical issues emerging in later event philosophy, especially the ones related to the possibility of the given and to its ontological status. Labor and possession – says Moati – turn the category of being into the category of having and they do that through a neutralization of being:
The thing is also, therefore, nothing more than the element, because it coincides with an element whose ontological independence has been neutralized and, in other words, whose being has been anesthetized. Put differently, through labor and the possession that results from it, the being (l’être) of the element becomes the having (l’avoir) of the self. […] The element becomes something only through the suspension of its being. Here, the ontological frontiers of the element no longer exceed those of the self, which is to say that we are now dealing with being insofar as it is possessed by someone (the self) (95).
Furthermore, in the event of the encounter our possessions become gift for the Other (136), and this gift is the content of the fundamental relation of teaching, that is the constitutive relation that marks the Other as such. As someone being my master not because of his or her deeper knowledges, but because of his or her radical otherness (126). Our shared world, that is the object of our ontology, does not follow the logic of being anymore, but that of having and giving. We are here facing a movement from être to il y a, from sein to es gibt.
Our possessions, shared in the social contest, exceed thus the ontology of light and become constitutive of the nocturnal event of sociality, a feature that marks us as humans. As the last step of the reconstruction, Moati finally points out how such nocturnal events, way far from being transcendent moments indirectly concerning the terrestrial condition, are not to be thought separately from our sensible way of being and how it grounds all other diurnal activities. We will now cite two cases Moati presents us with: sociality and fecundity.
Sociality is the base of our relationship with the Other. Because ofit we always already possess the idea of the infinite (107), which otherwise would be paradoxical and unreachable, for it would be reducible to totality of the self. Through sociality, ultimate event of Being, it is possible to articulate a relationship between the two terms (me and the Other) and at the same time maintain their separation (112). It is remarkable that sociality is an event of Being itself, constitutively belonging to its nocturnal structure. Because of sociality, Being is not a totalized monolithic Eleatic Being but is rather open and plurivocal. Moreover, in reason of this fundamental sociality, subjects can live their ethical relationship with the others expressing themselves through their discourse and interlocutory presence. Discours and teaching are the way in which the Other reveals to us his or her transcendence and allows us to have a relation with the infinite without reducing it to ourselves. Moati stresses one more time that this kind of expression is not to be understood in the context of a structure of illumination: “The one who expresses himself or herself does not draw his or her intelligibility from the light ‘borrowed’ from intentionality and unveiling, from which the same emerges” (115).
If sociality allows a relation without totalising elements of a plurivocal being, fecundity makes possible the production and realization of the infinite becoming of being. Moreover, it also represents a valuable alternative to the Heideggerian Geworfenheit to describe our terrestrial condition and our rooting in the concrete temporal situation. Moati recalls the famous example of the father/son relationship and gives us an account of its ontological meaning:
For the self, to be is also, through fecundity, to be other. The father is his son, in the precise sense in which the father transcends the horizon of his own selfhood in the son. The selfhood of the son, in the form from which the self of the father emerges, no longer coincides with the selfhood of the departure, that of the father. In fecundity, the self is discontinuous, fragmented. This discontinuity is an ultimate event of being itself, insofar as it is social, which is to say, transcendent and plural (172).
Levinas and Phenomenology.
As we mentioned before, together with a detailed development of the concept of nocturnal events and a reconstruction of the sensible ego’s relation with the infinite, Moati provides us with illuminating comparisons between Levinas and other prominent phenomenologists throughout this book . These comparisons aim at explaining to what extent he kept following the Husserlian and Heideggerian ideas and what kind of disagreements he had with his contemporaries.
It goes without saying that the greatest dissent with Husserl concerns the ideas of transcendental ego and intentionality. We already saw how Levinas gives up the primacy of intentionality as a mean of objective representation since it is reduced to a structure of illumination, and how the distinction between constituent and constituted is questioned. Besides it, Moati also stresses the fact that Levinas cannot accept Husserl’s notion of transcendental ego for at least two reasons. First of all, the ego is always already sensible and we cannot think of an ego beyond its sensible situation. Second, Levinas reproaches the subjective non determination of the concept of transcendental ego. Indeed, its generality “hinders the possibility of establishing a relation that departs from the concrete immanence, from which only the other may speak — which is to say, deploy its ethical infiniteness” (182). All these remarks could be summed up in the general critic that Husserlian phenomenology brings about a totalization of the other and reduces it to the self.
Concerning Heidegger, Moati highlights that in the eyes of Levinas his historical and temporal conception of Dasein and thrownness (Geworfenheit) surely represent a step forward compared to the Husserlian suprahistorical model of consciousness. However, it would be a mistake to describe the sensible installation of our sensible ego within the element in terms of thrownness. More specifically, the concept of thrownness is linked to a conception of our existence based on the notion of power, that Levinas instead wants to quit: thrownness reveals our limits only in regard to the power that we have over our being. On the contrary, for Levinas our primordial situation is a position that locates consciousness beyond any positive or negative reference to power (78) and corresponds to the nocturnal event of fecundity. While thrownness puts us in the tragic condition of being powerless faced with our historical sensible determination and subject to the given horizon of possibility that is opened up to us with our birth, fecundity frees our terrestrial condition from this tragic connotation. Indeed, fecundity is here situated in the context of an ontology that renounces every claim of totalization and, therefore, renounces the primary role of power in representing our relationship with the Other: “the primacy of sensible happiness over any condition of misfortune becomes intelligible only once the nocturnal event of fecundity is elucidated, which in turn opens up the sensible depth of our being-in-the-world. It is thus fecundity that exhausts the reference to power and allows us to grasp the depth of our foundation in being” (83).
Another important disagreement drawn by Moati concerns Sartre. It is true that for both Levinas and Sartre the Other cannot be the object of a phenomenological reduction because of his or her transcendence and the encounter with the other takes the form of a dispossession of the world. But in this disagreement, Sartre understands this dispossession as a kind of alienation from the world, while for Levinas it actually corresponds to the “real becoming an objective world” (135). Indeed, Levinas sees a world that is only possessed and not shared, a silent world without discourse, as a contradictory world that remains subjective and relative. Since sociality grounds our being in the world, sharing our possessions with the other becomes the realization of our humanity and does not imply for us any kind of loss. The world is always a common world.
The last comparison that Moati presents us with is the one with Derrida and focuses especially on Derrida’s essay Violence et métaphysique. First of all, Moati points out a misunderstanding concerning the concept of “transcendental violence” in Derrida’s reading of Totalité et Infini. This misunderstanding is caused by the different grasping of the concept of intentionality and egoity that the two authors have: while Derrida thinks about the ego in the ethical relation as a transcendental ego (even if, as we all know, he strongly criticizes the Husserlian idea of transcendental), Levinas is instead talking about a sensible ego. The critique Derrida addresses to Levinas on “transcendental violence” thus misses its addressee, since Levinas refuses to problematize the subject’s relation with the other in transcendental terms (181). Moreover, the most stimulating remark that is formulated by Moati in this comparison is for sure the one concerning their two different conceptions of eschatology, for this thematic directly relates to event philosophy. Roughly, the greatest difference between the two authors lies in the fact that Derrida thinks the infinite in eschatology as a negativity, an endless process of spacing produced by the infinite waiting for an Other that never comes. In other words, as an infinite différance. For Derrida history designates “the ever-unachieved work of transcendental constitution” and is to be understood as “opening up to a nonpresence at the heart of phenomenality” (186). On the other hand, eschatology “lies in history as the movement of overflowing the closure of finite sameness” (187). Quite the opposite, Levinas sees eschatology as a relation to positive infinity. The Other manifests his or her infinite transcendence to us in a positive way, without a negative withdrawing. For Levinas eschatology is not contained within history but rather suspends it, “not only in that the transcendent passage from finite totality to the positivity of the infinite happens through it, but also in that eschatology suspends any recourse to our constituent powers to deduce the event of the revelation of the infinite” (187).
I would like to underline this final remark. In his late works, starting with Psyché. Inventions de l’autre, Derrida explicitly mentions the event of the coming of the Other as a fundamental – even quasi-transcendental – element of our experience and the human condition. Nevertheless, for Derrida the Other never comes and should never come in order to keep open the empty space needed to welcome him or her. This is why the event is impossible for Derrida; its conditions of possibility are its condition of impossibility. Levinas’ nocturnal events, and above all the event of sociality allowing our relationship with the infinite transcendence of the Other, free us from the paradox of an impossible foundation of our experience and knowledge. Indeed, both in Derrida and Levinas, our theoretical openness is based on the previous ethical striving for the Other. But while the Levinasian ethics finds its foundation in the nocturnal event of sociality, Derrida always misses the fundamental encounter with the Other.
In the night of Being, the Derridean spectre of the impossible could be chased by invisible ghostbusters: the nocturnal events.
Levinas and the Night of Being is an outstanding work of research in which Raoul Moati fully develops the ontological and phenomenological consequences of the notion of “nocturnal event” – on which very few was previously written – and properly contextualizes Levinas production in the phenomenological frame. Moati’s reading of Levinas thus provides us with new conceptual instruments to understand the key concept of ethics and otherness, theoretical core of Totalité et Infini. Inlight of his knowledge of phenomenology and French philosophy, Moati manages to explain with a remarkable clarity what is Levinas’ relation toward Husserlian phenomenology and how it is developed in contemporary philosophy, while also presenting critical readings of his work, such as the Derridean argument. Even though the chapters dedicated to the reconstruction of the sensible ego’s relation to infinity give us a general glimpse of Levinasian main concepts, I would not suggest reading this book to first approach Levinas’ philosophy because of its complex critique of ontology and phenomenology. I would rather warmly suggest this reading to anyone who is already familiar with Levinasian ideas in general and with Totalité et Infini in particular. Indeed, Moati’s book not only helps us understanding his work by giving us a rigorous phenomenological context but it also prevents us from misreading Levinas as an anti-metaphysical or anti-ontological author. On the contrary, Moati shows us that an ontology is definitively possible insofar as we accept to also consider its nocturnal component.
Last but not least, I would like to spend a few words about Daniel Wyche’s translation as conclusion. Translating such a book is for sure not an easy task. Beyond the difficulties caused by philosophical jargon and complex argumentative structures there are several expressions in French, untranslatable in English, that should be rendered with neologism or directly rewritten in French. The most complex paragraphs may therefore prove more difficult to understand in the English version. It is maybe for this reason that the author chose to completely rewrite several passages exclusively for the English version. Overall, Wyche’s realized an elegant translation and managed to render in English concepts that are so idiosyncratically French. However, I would suggest to francophone readers to check also the original version, at least the least clear passages.
The collection of papers edited by Arnaud Dewalque and Charlotte Gauvry aims to give an insight into the broad landscape of representationalist theories of mind in contemporary philosophy, doing justice to its variety and richness. Besides providing a wide selection of texts belonging to the representationalist tradition, some examples of critical perspectives are also available. Thanks to this volume, pivotal works in philosophy of mind and perception are made available to a French audience, offering an extremely useful tool to non-English speakers who approach the Anglo-Saxon analytic tradition. More than an introduction to one of the most relevant issues in philosophy and one of the liveliest and most stimulating debates in these recent years, this book provides a thought-out perspective on representationalism, supported by very accurate references and a rich bibliography.
The volume is organized into four sections, three of which contain the translations of several book chapters and papers, representative of three variants of representationalism put forward during the last 20 years. According to the proposed taxonomy – which is faithful to the historical and chronological development of this debate – such macro-perspectives are: (I) First Order Representationalism, (II) Higher Order Representationalism, and (III) Self-Representationalism. The concluding section (IV) is devoted to positions that are critical towards representationalism.
The structure and richness of the volume is duly presented and supported by an Introduction where the editors trace the relationships between the different kinds of representationalism, both along an historical and a conceptual axis. Which is not an easy task, given the intersections that have characterized the debate so far. Since several reviews of the books from which the translated chapters are drawn are already available, this review will focus on the introductory section of the volume, so as to provide an exhaustive overview of the discussion, rather than a set of brief abstracts.
The ongoing debate about the representational status of experience came recently to constitute a “new orthodoxy” in the philosophy of mind. The pivotal thesis of representationalist perspectives is that the human mind is essentially characterized by its capacity to represent objects or states of affairs as being in a certain way. The attempt to clarify the notion of consciousness in connection with this conception of the mind, brings the reader straight into the core of the debate: the complex relations between mind, intentionality and consciousness. And if the need for a satisfactory account of the qualitative aspects of experiences led by philosophers like Thomas Nagel and Franck Jackson to distinguish between first person and third person experiences, it also opens the door to reductivism and the so-called “mind-body problem” (8-13). The reference to this issue allows the editors to introduce one of the fundamental reasons animating representationalism, say, the attempt to preserve, by means of a descriptive approach, the qualitative aspect of experience from the reduction to its physical components. And it is precisely such a need that is believed to have been the impulse for representational theories to analyse consciousness and mental states in terms of representations and intentionality (14).
The possible relations connecting what is mental to what is intentional and conscious are analysed by Dewalque and Gauvry along the sides of a triangle having such notions as vertexes. Indeed, taking the mental to be bi-dimensional, that is, constituted both by intentionality and by consciousness, is a thesis that traces back to early phenomenology. According to Brentano, for something to be mental is for it to be intentional, showing the characters of directedness and aboutness. Husserl, however, had already called into question this view, claiming that there are at least some affective states that, despite being mental, are devoid of intentionality. Such original disagreement on the alleged identity between what is mental and what is intentional, is the symptom of another, more general one, that is: how can we class mental states and distinguish them from one another? Needless to say, this issue is still much debated among representationalist philosophers, called to take a stance on the legitimacy of the distinction between the content of mental states (what they are about) and their qualitative phenomenal character (19).
The second side of the triangle corresponds to the question whether consciousness is coextensive to the mental. Given that the word “consciousness” is employed in several different ways to indicate different states and properties, the concern is whether for a state to be mental, is for it to be conscious, or rather there exist mental states that need not be conscious (in one of the many senses of the word).
All these issues are to be considered in light of the wider theoretical aim to put forward a complete and unified theory of human consciousness. On the one hand, the need for completeness has to do with accounting at once for all the alleged components of human consciousness, while, on the other, aiming at unification implies providing a theory that is both descriptively and explanatorily satisfying. But, as the editors suggest, it seems that philosophers face a sort of dilemma when trying to fulfil both requirements: if mind is bi-dimensional in the just sketched sense, then a complete theory of the mental implies accounting both for its intentional and its conscious component. In case the two notions were not coextensive, this obviously would turn out to be problematic. On the ‘flipside’, a unified theory of mind should be either a theory of consciousness or a theory of intentionality, preventing it from being complete (25).
Representationalist theories of mind can be conceived as successful attempts to face this challenge. Indeed, rather than focusing on the two distinct axes: mental-intentional and mental-conscious, representationalism develops along the third side of the triangle, that is the one having as its vertexes, consciousness and intentionality. The main concern becomes finding a way to either ground consciousness in intentionality or, conversely, to ground intentionality in consciousness. Representationalist theories and theories of phenomenal intentionality (or phenomenal intentionalism) are the headings of the two groups of theories trying to apply one of the two strategies respectively (this is why representationalism is sometimes referred to as intentionalism). In other words, neither according to the former nor to the latter, a radical separation between intentionality and consciousness is viable. Philosophy should instead look for the relation connecting such components to appropriately describe and consistently explain our mental life (30).
Depending on how this grounding is intended, representational theories can be categorised as follows:
– First Order Representationalism (FOR), is well interpreted by the works of Fred Dretske and Michael Tye (namely, the volume contains the translated versions of Dretske’s «The Representational Character of Sense Experience», Ch.1 of Naturalizing the Mind, 1995, and Tye’s «The Intentionality of Feelings and Experiences», Ch. 4 of Ten Problems of Consciousness, 1995). Generally speaking, FOR claims that a mental state is conscious if it represents something. This amounts to say that the phenomenal character of a mental state (the way it is like to undergo it) is exhausted by its content. Accordingly, what identifies a mental state and distinguishes it from other mental states is precisely what is presented in its content. More precisely, according to both Dretske and Tye, a representational relation consists in the causal co-variation involving a representation and its content: if the content varies, then also what represents such content changes. Despite being evocative and able to capture a fundamental aspect of representational relations, this view requires further refinements. In fact, it is not always simple to individuate the relevant causal relations within a chain. Dretske replies that this difficulty of claiming that which actually fixes the content of a mental state is the function of such a state within the system of the organism. Subsequently, a mental state consists in an informational content plus a certain causal or functional role. The main argument in favour of this view is the well known “argument from transparency”, which insists on the fact that every descriptive effort concerning our experience leads nowhere but to the properties of its content. In a certain sense, we look through our experience, which presents us its objects as a transparent medium. In their sum up to the most relevant and influential representationalist theories, the editors of this volume do not neglect an important consequence of what has been also called strong representationalism: accounting for experiences in terms of their intentional content paves the way to naturalistic reductionism insofar as it allows for a reduction of the properties instantiated by experience to causally connected natural properties. This consequence clearly applies less straightforwardly to weaker versions of representationalism, that hold the phenomenal character to supervene on the representational (or intentional) content. Finally, one of the main and most controversial issues of strong representationalism (reducing the phenomenal character of experiences to their intentional content) concerns the typical case of moods and the analogous affective states that seem quite far from being directed towards something (see 36 and Tye’s essay, 97-133).
– Higher Order Representationalism (HOR) is the approach that can be attributed to philosophers like David Rosenthal, Peter Carruthers, Rocco Gennaro, and William Lycan. The volume contains both a translation of Rosenthal’s «Explaining Consciousness» (belonging to the collection edited by David Chalmers Philosophy of Mind. Classical and Contemporary Readings, 2002) and the one of Carruthers’s «HOP over FOR, HOT theory» (Ch.4 of his Consciousness. Essays from a higher-order perspective, 2005). Such thinkers generally believe that FOR does not account for the possibility to represent P without being aware to represent P. Thus, supporters of HOR claim that there must be something more that characterizes conscious mental states, distinguishing them from non-conscious ones. Their view implies the existence of second order intentional states, having as their intentional content, other – per se non conscious – intentional states. Armstrong and Lycan characterise such second order states as Higher Order Perceptions capable of providing information about our (first order) mental states (39). On the contrary, Rosenthal famously claimed that Higher Order Thoughts characterise our conscious states (his notorious argument against the perceptual view is nicely presented in the Introduction (39-40). Alternatively, one may endorse, with Carruthers, a dispositional view, according to which conscious states are those mental states that are available as contents for a second order thought (40 and his paper, 171-197).
– Self-Representationalism is represented in the collection by two works: the first is Uriah Kriegel’s «The Self-Representational Theory of Consciousness» Ch. 1 of his Subjective Consciousness. A Self-Representational Theory (2009), while the second is «Consciousness and Intentionality» by George Graham, Terence Horgan and John Tienson (originally included in The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness, 2007). Self-Representationalism holds against HOR that the awareness we have to have in a certain mental state comes immediately with such mental states, and it is not a matter of higher order representations (42). Conscious states are at the same time representing and represented by themselves. More importantly, Self-Representationalism is a clear variant of phenomenal intentionalism inasmuch as it values the phenomenal character of experience as being the ineludible starting point of any theory of mental states. Needless to say, such a perspective refers to the phenomenological tradition that standard representationalism had originally taken as its target.
– Naïf Realism is instead radically critical towards representationalist theories of mind. John Hinton, Bill Brewer and Mike Martin share the view that perceiving the world means being in direct contact with it and, at the same time, being conscious of its independence from our experiences. Naïf or empirical (the reference to Berkeleyan empiricism is explicit) realists argue against representationalism and theories of content, that they cannot account for the phenomenal character of our perceptual experiences and that they rely on false presuppositions. Namely, the representationalist’s reference to content implies that every experience is evaluable in terms of truth values, and this – according for instance to Brewer’s translated paper «Perception and Content» (European Journal of Philosophy, 2006) – is both phenomenally and epistemologically unacceptable, while additionally misinterpreting the singularity that is essential to each perceptual experience (52).
– Concluding the section dedicated to critical perspectives is the paper which exemplifies Contextualism. In his «Is Seeing Intentional?» (published in Perception. Essays after Frege, 2013) Charles Travis not only rejects the notion of content, but also the view that perception is a relation between a subject who represents the world as being in a certain way, and the content of such representation. Contextualism considers this view radically misleading, insofar as it takes perceptions to be evaluations about the world, just like judgements are. Instead, supporters of contextualism, mostly relying on philosophy of ordinary language, claim that our perception is always situated within a network of relationships most of which are conventional. This should prevent philosophy of mind from reducing perceptions to relations between subjects and (allegedly physically reducible) contents.
Essays on Aesthetic Genesis, edited by Charlene Elsby and Aaron Massecar, is a collected volume of essays responding to and discussing Jeff Mitscherling’s phenomenological trilogy, collectively titled The Revision of Hermeneutic Ontology, which consists of the books Roman Ingarden’s Ontology and Aesthetics, The Author’s Intention (coauthored with Aref Nayed and Tanya DiTommaso) and Aesthetic Genesis, from which the edited volume draws its name. In this trilogy Mitscherling develops the “New Copernican Hypothesis”, an explicitly realist revision or reversal of phenomenological interpretations regarding the nature of intentionality. Intention, under Mitscherling’s project, is to be decisively severed from consciousness, insofar as intentionality subsists within the world as a third ontological category, beside material and ideal existence. The implications of this revision, and its placement within the phenomenological tradition, make up the guiding thread for the collected responses.
The volume’s chapters are helpfully split into three thematic groupings, under Major Concepts, Historical Considerations, and Contemporary Discussion, though given the historically grounded nature of Mitscherling’s project, all three are dominated by comparative discussions.
Under Major Concepts, the prime concern for both papers is to show the historical legitimacy of Mitscherling’s hypothesis. In “On the Concept of Aesthetic Genesis”, Charlene Elsby connects the idea to certain shared theses of Plato and Aristotle. “The Copernican Turn of Intentional Being” similarly situates Mitscherling’s project within the history of 20th century philosophy, particularly relating to phenomenology but at the same time discussing Mitscherling’s promise with regards to the materialism and scientism of 20th century Anglo-American philosophy.
The general aim of the Historical Considerations section is to bring out some of Mitscherling’s often quite forgotten forbearers with Kimberly Baltzer-Jaray, Rob Luzecky, and Jason C. Robinson offering readings of Adolf Reinach, Roman Ingarden, and Hans-Georg Gadamer, respectively. Each of these bring out certain features and early formulations of Mitscherling’s own theses, while at the same time giving Reinach and Ingarden a new day in the sun after long periods of obscurity.
The notable exception is the first paper of the section, “Cartesian Soul: Embodiment and Phenomenology in the Wake of Descartes”, by Felix Ó Murchadha and Ane Faugstad Aarø. Here, the authors provide a reading of the history of phenomenology’s engagement with Cartesian thought that serves to challenge the narrative put forth by Mitscherling, and this paper is one of the high points of the volume. Rather than taking up a somewhat vulgarly dualist reading of Descartes and Cartesianism, the authors provide a reading more informed by Descartes Passions of the Soul, and its attendant concerns with embodiment and worldliness, tracing this element of Cartesianism through its French reception through Malebranche, Maine de Biran, and Merleau-Ponty. What this affords is a placement of Mitscherling’s project, not as a revolution in phenomenology, but very much in keeping with an historically realized form of interpreting intentionality to begin with. The end result is an admittedly strong qualification of Mitscherling’s own claims, insofar as the “New Copernican Hypothesis” is to be considered something so drastic as a “reversal” of phenomenology, while at the same not at all discrediting the results of such a project. Most refreshingly, this paper ends with connecting Mitscherling’s work to a number of contemporary French phenomenologists of the theological turn, such as Henry, Chretien, and Marion, who each share a number of concerns about alterity and the transcendence of the world quite similar to Mitscherling’s. This, it must be said, is the only reference to be found within the volume to any sort of contemporary phenomenological work.
This is not to say, however, that contemporary philosophical work on mind and embodied engagement with the world is somehow not represented. It is within the third section that Mitscherling’s work in brought into contact with debates concerning philosophy of mind, Peircean pragmatism, contemporary Hegelian philosophy, aesthetics, and eco-phenomenological debates, to name a few. Again, it must be said, that historical comparison makes up a good deal of the discussion, as Husserl, Stein, and Peirce make appearances as phenomenological interlocutors in the papers by Antonio Calcagno and Aaron Massecar, as do Aristotle and Hegel in Conrad Hamilton’s particularly rich contribution.
There is a curious situation, it must be said, that arises from the fact that Mitscherling’s entire project is grounded upon a specific narrative regarding the history of phenomenology, and that is that so much of the plausibility of the papers’ claims regarding the importance of Mitscherling’s work are based upon the claims of that particular narrative concerning the supposedly rampant idealism of phenomenology’s interest in consciousness. However, as was mentioned above, Murchadha and Aarø’s paper very early on challenges this narrative. So, on a sequential reading of the volume, so many of the grand pronouncements in honor of Mitscherling, and so much of the criticism of phenomenology, appear altogether inflated; that such claims are found in, Calcagno, George, and Massecar after Murchadha and Aarø’s paper generates a certain unease about the whole picture being sold. For all of that, however, this circumstance takes nothing away from any of the papers beyond the rhetorical; their specific theses stand on their own merit.
Essays in Aesthetic Genesis is, overall, a good and informative introduction to Mitscherling’s work, and certainly a good contribution to the development of a certain new wave of realist phenomenology and engagements therewith.