This volume of fourteen essays honors and explicates the underappreciated Belgian phenomenologist Jacques Taminiaux. The essays cluster around the theme that there is in phenomenology and society a primacy of the political echoing Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s primacy of perception. The book treats the political not as foundational to philosophical inquiry but as inescapable. The claim made by the editors is that “almost any sort of philosophical research, whatever its specific object, will find itself confronted by the mirror of the political,” and, therefore, phenomenology cannot claim the attitude of the uninvolved spectator and “exempt itself from being reflected in the mirror of the political.” (vii) Instead, phenomenology must enact a fundamental attitude of judgment and respect. Not all of the essays in this book, however, directly address the thought of Taminiaux, the primacy of the political, or phenomenology, but all of the essays contribute to phenomenology in general.
Shaun Gallagher’s essay, “The Struggle for Recognition and the Return
of Primary Intersubjectivity,” explores the distinction between primary and secondary intersubjectivity. Gallagher’s approach is to contrast Fichte’s concept of summoning, Honneth’s concept of a Hegelian struggle for recognition, and Ricoeur’s concept of a gift. The question that Gallagher takes on is whether mutual recognition emerges as a natural and automatic event regardless of any practical response an individual makes. His response is basically that it does not. He takes a somewhat negative view of Honneth’s Hegelian theory that dialectical struggles for recognition lead to self-realized individuality and then onward to politico-economic justice and social solidarity. Acknowledging that an individual’s autonomy depends on intersubjective mutual recognition, Gallagher astutely points out that that this situation does not necessitate that we accept that mutual recognition is perfectly reciprocal. Gallagher proposes a model of primary intersubjectivity that does not depend on reciprocal recognition but instead acknowledges that recognition relations are imperfect. At times, we give recognition without expecting reciprocation and receive recognition without being able to return it. In these circumstances, recognition is best seen as a gift or summons. Primary intersubjectivity, therefore, does not require a dialectical struggle to find ourselves where we are.
Fabio Ciaramelli in “Intuition and Unanimity: From the Platonic Bias to the Phenomenology of the Political” extends Taminiaux’s claim of a Platonic bias in philosophy. For Taminiaux, the Platonic bias in speculative philosophy subordinated the body politic’s life and action to the sage’s life of contemplation that brought with it a problematic failure in understanding human affairs. (16) Ciaramelli takes the impetus of Taminiaux’s antispeculative research to connect the Platonic bias in speculative philosophy’s ontological paradigm of an ideal truth with the preference for unanimous solutions to social and political issues. For Ciaramelli, the issue is a matter of totality versus plurality because the Platonic bias to unanimous solutions implies a repression of plurality. (18-19) Ciaramelli takes an unexpected and interesting approach to the issue, basing his essay on a 16th century text by Etienne de La Boétie, Discourse of Voluntary Servitude. La Boétie’s essay criticizes passive submission to a unique center of power. La Boétie goes so far as to blame the people for their servitude, reasoning that by continuing to submit to power, they prefer servitude to liberty. Ciaramelli interprets La Boétie as advocating two conflicting social models: a pluralism that allows uniqueness to flourish and a totalizing model that dominates individualities and produces uniformity. (20-21) La Boétie argues that nature does not give us a model for either servitude or freedom; therefore, the ways to safeguard individual uniqueness and pluralism must be socially instituted. From this concept, Ciaramelli deduces that it is necessary to reject the Platonic bias of a universal solution. He insightfully extends this thought to La Boétie’s conception that to achieve liberty “nothing more is needed than to long for it,” connecting this conception with the preference for unanimous solutions that threaten plurality. (25) Ciaramelli concludes that La Boétie, despite his insights, is also guilty of confirming the domination of unanimous solutions.
In “Phronêsis and the Ideal of Beauty,” Danielle Lories extends Hannah Arendt’s discussion of the difference between Aristotelian phronêsis and the Kantian judgment of taste. Lories’s close analysis of particular passages in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Kant’s Third Critique is of interest to scholars of those books, or of Arendt’s Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy, but Lories does not connect her topic to Taminiaux, the primacy of the political, or phenomenology.
Rosemary R.P. Lerner’s essay, “The Ethical Dimension of Transcendental Reduction,” attempts to craft a “coherent, unitary view of [Edmund Husserl’s] thought that integrates all of its various dimensions.” (46) Her first step is to free Husserl from Martin Heidegger’s interpretation of Husserl’s project as intellectualist, and Lerner gives a useful overview of the history of Husserl interpretation as background for her argument. Lerner recasts Husserl’s phenomenological reduction “as an eminently practical—namely, ethical—achievement (Leistung), driven by a practical virtue, responsibility.” (45) Lerner argues that ethics were a systematic locus in Husserl’s proposed idea of philosophy. She describes Husserl’s gradual transition from viewing ethics as founded upon formal a priori laws to viewing the ethical motivation of right and valuable actions as love in its diverse forms. (52) Husserl never wavered in his view of the importance of the rational, but, Lerner points out, Husserl also included acts of loving, hating, and desiring. This connects with Lerner’s thesis that Husserl’s motivation is responsibility as a function of practical reason. “The intellect is the servant of the will in the same way that I am the servant of those that configure our practical life, as leaders of humanity,” she quotes Husserl as writing and offers other quotes to back up the idea that this idea guided Husserl’s thought. (55) Lerner connects this thought to the primacy of the political in that even if Husserl does not mean that philosophers should immediately dedicate themselves to political life they should set the bedrock of the essential structures of being human, a bedrock on which authentic moral philosophy can be built. (55) She concludes that Husserl’s transcendental reduction can be understood as a resolution to adopt an authentic, good, and responsible life and, therefore, as an ethical renewal. (61-62)
“Individuation and Heidegger’s Ontological ‘Intuitionism’” by accomplished Heidegger scholar Mark A. Wrathall explores the meaning of individuation. Following Taminiaux, Wrathall defines intuitionism as the privileging of perception over thought and the necessity of approaching the Self by means of intuition rather than symbolism. For Wrathall, this means that what individuates each of us is something to which we have direct access. (71) It is possible and necessary to see the distinct individual that I am and to do so in the most radical way. We transcend everyday intelligibility and arrive at an intuitive apprehension of Self that is required for an authentic selfhood. Wrathall states, however, that the transcendental moment in the intuition of the self can never dispense with shared, everyday modes of self-interpretation. Again agreeing with Taminiaux, Wrathall holds that Heidegger erred in thinking that the Self is separated from and constituted independently from relations with others, a view that closes off the Self from ethical demands. Intuition is the priority of “seeing” over thought, (75) but the kind of sight involved in individuating oneself as an authentic agent is a particular type of seeing: perspicuity. (78) Wrathall says that “the sight of perspicuity plays an intimate role in the process of the realization of myself as a self, because it allows me to recognize myself as co-responsible for the opening up of the world.” (83) We are not cut off from others when we individuate ourselves but we see our Self in a shared public world within which we realize ourselves as individuals. The purpose served by achieving a perspicuous grasp of myself and an authentic disclosure of the world, then, is to allow me to comport myself toward my existence in such a way that I “own” or take responsibility for it. The end goal of owning myself is to forge a stable, autonomous character. A responsible existence ultimately depends on an intuitive grasp of myself.
Pol Vandevelde’s “Historicizing the Mind: Gadamer’s ‘Hermeneutic Experience’ Compared to Davidson’s ‘Radical Interpretation’” is as the title advertises. Vendevelde contrasts the two differing views of interpretation. Hans-Georg Gadamer characterizes interpretation as an event of hermeneutic experience, whereas Donald Davidson, against what he sees as Gadamer’s relativism, sees interpretation as an ahistorical but empirical process of triangulating subjective, objective, and intersubjective positions. The difference between the two theories of interpretation, Vendevelde argues, lies in their treatments of concrete individuals within their own historical situations. (104) Davidson’s theory, by dehistoricalizing interpretation, depersonalizes the concrete historical individuals who have made their own interpretations. The political ramifications of Davidson’s presumed neutrality is a neutralizing, if not empowering, of dominant cultural narratives that prevents concrete individuals, who perform interpretation, from being observed and considered, and therefore is a marginalizing of individual interpretations from subaltern groups.
Focusing on Merleau-Ponty, Stephen Watson addresses the issue of the incompleteness of the phenomenological reduction. Watson observes that “the search for truth is always an embodied truth, but equally a veiled truth.” (108) In “On the Metamorphoses of Transcendental Reduction: Merleau-Ponty and ‘The Adventures of Constitutive Analysis,’” Watson analyzes Merleau-Ponty’s writings on incompleteness to uncover the nature of what is incomplete in the reduction. Watson’s position is that the incompleteness is owing to the inexhaustible transformations involved in the work of making origins manifest rather than a failure fully to grasp originary evidence. Watson links this realization with what he claims is Merleau-Ponty’s idea that we barely coincide with the originary: “what justification we have comes to an end without attaining ultimate determinacy—but not because its itinerary does.” (122) Therefore, Watson concludes, phenomenology itself becomes an open multivocal practice of symbolic institutions as the world is revealed.
Also writing on Merleau-Ponty is Babette Babich in her essay, “Merleau-Ponty’s Lamellae: Aesthetic Feeling, Anger, and Politics.” Babich attempts to show how throughout Merleau-Ponty’s writings is a sustained engagement with psychology and biology. She draws mainly on Merleau-Ponty’s thoughts on embodiment and bodily engagement with the lifeworld to show how his phenomenology is a multifaceted topography of thought and intercorporeal life. Babich’s overview of Merleau-Ponty’s views on flesh, spacings, and lamellae does not break new ground, nor do her observations on the relevance of Merleau-Ponty warning’s against violence and capitalist imperialism. She does make some good observations on Merleau-Ponty’s connection between lamellae and flare-ups of anger in relation to embodiment and space (137-139) but does not pursue them fully. A further pursuit of the political implications of personal anger would be highly valuable to social and political theory, and Babich provides some thoughts and resources on this important issue.
Of significant value to addressing the current crisis in education is Sharon Rider’s insightful essay, “Coercion by Necessity or Comprehensive Responsibility? Hannah Arendt on Vulnerability, Freedom and Education.” Speaking on an important current topic, Rider questions recent trends in education policy and provides a much needed counterpoint to them. First, she argues that there is a false image in education of children’s autonomy. She accuses educational “progressivism” of advancing the idea that there is “a child’s world” separate from the adult world that educators and the education process must take into account and therefore not guide but merely support children. (165) She then turns to the related assumption in educational progressivism that there that there can be a science of teaching that can be studied and implemented without mastery in the subject matter taught. Any teacher who has been dragged into certain “training sessions” will commiserate. Armed with an understanding of these two false assumptions, Rider argues, we can move to the more fundamental problem of what the crisis in education says about our form of life. Rider applies Hannah Arendt’s thought to the philosophy of education and proposes the idea of an institution of truth-telling and critique (173) in which we understand human beings as part of the world, always beginning again. Rider says that “it is within the public organization of a collectivity where we are not under the sway of necessity that the new emerges.” (173) The answer to the crisis in education is to treat education as a collectivity that recognizes our shared vulnerability and exercises authority to build stable institutions in which children learn to face facts about who we are and what the world is, as well as learning the discipline of sound judgment.
Environmental ethics are at the center of “Edmund Husserl, Hannah Arendt, and a Phenomenology of Nature” by Janet Donohoe. She starts with Husserl’s concepts of the lifeworld and the distinction between homeworld and alienworld. Donohoe contends that lifeworld is so deeply intertwined with homeworld and alienworld as to be inseparable, providing the foundation for the objective world but not being itself an objective world. (177) She then addresses the question of whether nature is something separate from us that we define ourselves against or whether we are immersed in and inextricably part of nature. Donohoe is firmly on the side of the latter, drawing on Arendt and Kelly Oliver to craft an understanding of us as intertwined with nature. Her purpose in this analysis is to argue for a conception of animal ethics based on the idea that our human lifeworld is not separate from the animal environment. In other words, animals are not an alienworld to our homeworld, but our homeworld is grounded in the same environment shared with nonhuman animals. We are therefore responsible to Earth and the other creatures with whom we share the Earth. (187)
In the most directly political essay in the book, Paul Bruno’s “Symbols and Politics,” the author takes on the thorny issue of the display of the Confederate flag in the United States. Taking as his starting point debates over display of the flag at a particular university, (190) Bruno understands the conflict as regarding the definition and meaning of a symbol, not only in a political sense, but in an aesthetic sense. Bruno is employing aesthetics less in an artistic sense and more in the sense of how humans perceive the meanings of objects. With this move, he can adroitly position the symbol of the flag within the setting of a culture and language. To assist in his analysis, he engages in a phenomenological reading of Kant’s Third Critique, assisted by Taminiaux, focusing on the concepts of symbol and imagination. Our thought takes into account others’ ways of presenting something to compare our own judgments with human reason in general. Importantly, this means that “impartiality is achieved by taking into account other people’s way of seeing or feeling, including those ways of seeing and feeling that we may not find palatable.” (202) Education and politics require that we interact with others’ biases so that we may see our own biases in a new light. Bruno therefore concludes that: “Becoming sensitized to evils perpetrated under the Confederate flag or Nazi flag requires a place in public discourse for those flags. Putting those images in a lockbox is a recipe for them becoming rancid, tools of resentment and disillusion that fester in the hands of the disengaged, or dare I say, the excluded.” (203)
In “Poetics and Politics,” Françoise Dastur examines Taminiaux’s interpretation of tragedy from 1967 to 1995. Dastur reconstructs Taminiaux’s argument of the connections between poetics and politics from Aristotle to Heidegger, assessing it mostly positively. Dastur is critical, however, of Taminiaux’s attempt to argue for a distinction between praxeological and speculative readings of Greek tragedy. She is skeptical of the need for a speculative reading, and drawing on the German Idealists and Niezsche, states that perhaps a praxeological reading of tragedy is adequate to uncover the varied speculative aspects of Greek tragedy. Dastur then questions Taminiaux’s core thesis that poetics and politics are two sides of the same coin. Dastur instead holds that both the ontological
dimension and the political dimension of the tragedy have to be taken into account because they concern human beings in their entirety.
Finally, the two editors each contribute an essay. Véronique M. Fóti stresses the impotence of understanding Merleau-Ponty to understand Taminiaux in “Nature, Art, and the Primacy of the Political: Reading Taminiaux with Merleau-Ponty.” Similar to Donohoe, Fóti argues against treating nature as separate from us. Fóti uses Merleau-Ponty’s arguments against the intellectual subjugation of nature and in favor of the intercorporeality, or interanimality, of animal being and humanity. Her exegesis of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of nature highlights the need to understand our place in nature as the inter-being of self and other and that our unique spatio-temporal emplacement is a radical contingency, leading us to accept that we cannot intellectually dominate nature. From this concept, we can place our emphasis on lateral rather than hierarchical relationships of power that reject structures of domination. Fóti then turns to Merleau-Ponty’s interrelation between political philosophy and the philosophy of art, a question she relates to an ontology of nature. The political dimension, Fóti says, is not a region set apart but is fundamentally co-extensive with the lifeworld and we must abandon a binary opposition of political and nonpolitical life.
The book concludes with Pavlos Kontos’s “The Myth of Performativity: From Aristotle to Arendt and Taminiaux.” “The Myth of Performativity” in the title Kontos understands
as the conception in philosophy that some actions constitute pure performances in that they do not leave behind them concrete traces in the world. Kontos identifies the pitfall of the myth in Heidegger who, Kontos claims, celebrates pure performativity, distorting the performativity proper to actions. Kontos praises Taminiaux’s theory of political action, which speaks against the legitimacy of the Myth. Kontos sees Taminiaux as a corrective for how philosophers like Heidegger and Arendt, under the influence of the Myth, misunderstand the notion of solidarity, power, and memory. For example, Arendt’s idea that the actor and storyteller occupy two different positions is problematic. The storyteller is portrayed as not engaged in the web of political action so that the elusive character of actions is therefore not a predicament. When we reject the Myth, we put the storyteller and the actor into a new light showing that the practice of historical storytelling is intrinsically political.
Perception and its Development in Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology (henceforth Perception and its Development) is a volume of fifteen papers from different authors, each addressing the most significant (or at least the most explicitly addressed) topic of the philosophical path of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, that is perception. Each chapter focuses on a specific subset of philosophical issues related to perception, all of them initially addressed by Merleau-Ponty in The Phenomenology of Perception (henceforth the Phenomenology).
Perception and its Development has two strikingly original aspects. First, although the authors use ideas thematized by Merleau-Ponty in the Phenomenology as guidelines for their expositions, their understandings of these ideas are not limited to this context. Rather, the authors commonly enlarge the scope of their analyses beyond the Phenomenology, tracking conceptual developments through Merleau-Ponty’s later works. This strategy both offers us a different and broader perspective on the Phenomenology, and opens the door to new hermeneutical possibilities of this work that are unexplored in other companion readers. Secondly, while the authors do considerable hermeneutical work to reach this wider perspective, they do not subject us to extensive commentaries of Merleau-Ponty’s original texts. Instead, they usually appeal to more contemporary problems in diverse areas of philosophy, science, arts, and even politics, a method that unveils through demonstration the similar approach used by Merleau-Ponty in his work to the philosophical problems of his concern.
The fifteen chapters are separated in four sections. The logic behind the section divisions, the editors claim (8), is to reproduce the progressive advance made by Merleau-Ponty in the Phenomenology, from the most basic aspects of our perceptual experience (i.e. our practical engagement with the environment as individuals), to the most complex contexts where our perception is at work—namely, in arts and politics, those activities proper to human culture. Despite the general similitude in the organization of Perception and its Development with the Phenomenology, the structure of this volume also displays a very different order of exposition. For instance, Perception and its Development begins by explicitly addressing the questions of passivity, intersubjectivity, and even freedom—all subjects that are addressed much later in the Phenomenology. This new order has both negative and positive consequences. The fact that there is no detailed account of the notions of “perception” and “the body” in the context of Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology before deeper consequences of this phenomenological approach (especially those in later periods of his philosophy) are addressed may prove a real challenge for the novice reader of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy who, without first being lead to the proper conceptual clarity, may find themselves confused by claims made in Perception and its Development. Nevertheless, the alternative would be to follow the less original path already taken by most companion readers to the Phenomenology. In a positive light, then, the reordering of the topics of the Phenomenology, together with their integration with his later accounts of expression (a fundamental aspect of his post-phenomenological period) and his unfinished ontology highlights the pertinence of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy for addressing the ongoing philosophical concerns on particular aspects of perception like intersubjectivity.
Given their depth and complexity, a detailed description of the ideas posited in each chapter surpasses the scope of this review. In what follows, I shall summarize the main proposals of each author, focusing on the four conceptual divisions of this book.
Part I is titled “Passivity and Intersubjectivity” and deals explicitly with these topics, but it quickly becomes clear that freedom is also a crucial concept for immersing ourselves in the question of passivity in our perceptual lives. In chapter one, John Russon describes the act of (paying) attention as an act of freedom. This freedom is, however, not to be understood as the independent will of our minds (25), but as an act shaped and constrained by the organic nature of our bodies, the physical conditions of the environment, and, fundamentally, our engagement with others in shared projects (28-29). This is because our perceptual attention exhibits the capacity of our bodies to be responsive to particular conditions of the environment that call for a specific set of actions (i.e. bodily skills) on particular features of the environment, which appear as possibilities for action or affordances (30). This responsiveness of the body is generated through a process of habituation (31), but the normative process of habit acquisition is importantly determined by the intersubjective dimension. This is because the plasticity of the world and of the body is not enough to establish the necessary conditions for the criteria of adequateness needed to make our bodies responsive to worldly situations (32). Work and communication are described by Russon as further expressions of our freedom in human contexts (35-36).
In chapter two, we find a more detailed description of the nature of the interrelation of the body and the environment in what Maria Talero calls experiential workspace. This experiential workspace describes “the enactive coupling of bodily and environmental potentialities” (45). That is, the space where the bodily skills and the affordances of the environment are related. In this regard, the attunement of the body and the environment, in Talero’s metaphor, is like catching the rhythm of a piece of music when we dance. It is by understanding the rhythm of music in my body that I am able to coordinate my body movements with those of my partner, and effectively dance (49).
In chapter three, Kym Maclaren employs two further concepts to improve our understanding of the body/environment entanglement: institution and emotion. In Merleau-Ponty’s later work, the notion of institution clarifies how the body, the world, and their interrelation are not set in advance of their actual interaction. Maclaren names this process an entre-deux dialogue between an embodied being and the environment (52). The open-ended nature of the body-world entanglement, become stabilized (instituted) in a narrative form (56), like a story that help us to understand where something comes from (its past), but also, by setting the orientation of its future developments, where something is going, thus establishing “a matrix for future elaborations” (56). Maclaren offers three examples of institution: artistic expression, perception, and emotion, the most intriguing of which is the latter. Emotions, such as the love described by Merleau-Ponty in his lectures of Institution, are not psychological states of individuals, but the very relation through which two people are entangled (66). The expressive behavior of the other (their gestures, words, and actions) shapes the way I open toward them, and vice versa, such that the realm of emotion institutes a way of being with the other, a “binary rhythm” (66). Maclaren draws on an example of this from Merleau-Ponty’s essay “The Child Relations with Others,” (in The Primacy of Perception) in which a child needs to reconfigure his emotional relation with his family after the birth of a new brother. Essentially, this child needs to “institute” a new form of interrelation with his family, given the loss of his position as the youngest son. This process of institution is possible only when the child reestablishes the equilibrium of the interfamilial relations (69).
Maclaren’s descriptions of emotions working as institutions of our relations with others preludes the central idea of chapter five, in which Susan Bredlau shows that perception may involve the active role of others as a form of incorporation. Merleau-Ponty argues in the Phenomenology that a blind person using a cane to navigate, given their habitual use of it, may incorporate the tool to the sensibility of their body. Likewise, for Bredlau, our perception extends its reach by involving the active participation of other people (82). An incorporation, Bredlau explains, involves a new form of sensitivity: the use of the cane is not the transformation of tactile experience in vision-like experience. Rather, it entails the acquisition of a new form of spatial navigation. Thus, “both perceiver and perceived take on new identities” (82). Bredlau distinguishes three types of scaffoldings based on other people incorporations: placement, engagement, and handling. The first type concerns the role of others drawing the paths of movement; the second refers to the influence of other people in constraining the possible actions that can be afforded in particular situations; and the third involves their participation in the development of the bodily skills necessary to function in such situations (95).
In part II, “Generality and Objectivity” the focus is turned from the most basic layers of our immediate perceptual experience of and ability to cope with the world to what gives to perception its “general” or even “objective” character, that is, that we naturally experience the world of perception as an independent reality given the stable structures of our perceptual field. In this regard, Kristen Jacobson, in chapter five, focuses on the virtual dimension of the body (the set of bodily skills learned by the body in his developmental path to cope with the environmental conditions) and the establishment of spatial orientation in what Merleau-Ponty names spatial levels (the meaning of the situation that is revealed through “calls,” or possibilities for action, corresponding to the acquired bodily skills) (103). From this perspective, Jacobson addresses the case of spatial neglect, a condition where people, having suffered brain damage, are incapable of moving one side of their bodies, and equally incapable of explicitly perceiving this same side in their visual field (104). In Jacobson interpretation, patients neglect one side of their visual fields because, while their “habitual” body (the body as structurally instituted in the past) is able to perceive the actual set of affordances in the environment, their actual bodily capacities, given their new physical condition, impede their ability to adequately respond to this environment such that they are no longer capable of making sense of this part of their visual field (113). They have lost the capacity to actualize their body/world relation—a condition that is similarly analyzed by Merleau-Ponty in the Phenomenology, in cases such as that of Schneider (111). Thus, what is at stake in this condition is the incapacity of their lived bodies to create new spatial levels by actualizing the relation between their actual bodily skills and the present environmental conditions, a capacity we normally possess, and through which we adapt ourselves to the ever-changing realm of worldly situations (115).
The nature of the constitution (or institution, in the proper vocabulary of Perception and its development and of Merleau-Ponty’s late philosophy) of these spatial levels and the habitual body is a temporal process that Don Beith describes in more detail in chapter six. The crucial step of this chapter is to highlight that the habitual body grounds its own stability through movement. As it has been argued in the previous chapters of this volume, the body “learns” to respond to situations by establishing patterns of movement, or motor habits, in developmental time (127), which are seen to be physical constraints on the scale of evolutionary time (128). The differences between the living bodies of humans and octopuses provide a good example of the peculiarities of movement and the institution of their bodies. Octopuses do not possess joints like us, their bodies are quite flexible. Joints, however, are fixed points of articulation that enable the opposition of different parts of our body and support further sequences of movement and patterns of locomotion. Since an octopus lacks these joints in its physical body, it needs to create the fixed points in its own patterns of movement—that is, in moving, it creates its own joints (126). By contrast, we have joints that certainly constraint the flexibility of our limbs, but at the same time increases the possibilities of movement for our whole body. Thus, paradoxically, the reduced flexibility of our limbs increases the range of freedom of our bodily movements (129). An interesting comparison between perceiving and learning to read is made by Beith at the end of this chapter. Beith believes that we learn to read by writing, and only understand the meaning of read words by also being actively engaged in the motor task of speaking and writing (135).
Although the editors say that the second part of Perception and its development would directly deal with the concepts of generality and objectivity in perception, it is not until chapters seven and eight that such concepts are explicitly addressed. In chapter seven, Moss Brender turns our attention from the perceptual realm of lived space to the perceptual experience of objective space, and in particular our perception of things. Drawing on two of Koehler’s experiments with chimpanzees, both quoted by Merleau-Ponty in the Structure of Behavior (his first important philosophical work), Moss Brender argues that chimpanzees do not possess the capacity to understand the localization of a thing in space if this localization is not relative to the motor actions of their own bodies (145); they remain attached to the present demands of a given situation (147). Humans, by contrast, are capable of understanding the position of things by virtually positioning their own body as if they were occupying the position of the thing, thus possessing a “mobility of perspective” (149). The key to understand the difference between lived and objective spatiality is the exercise of symbolic conduct (150): a sort of second order capacity, a second power (152), that turns the habitual motor significances into explicit or thematic objects of our experience (152). Moss Brender further describes how space has a crucial temporal dimension. On the one hand, space, as grounded in the developmental nature of the body, has an unfixed meaning that is open to the constant changes of that body. On the other hand, the meaning of space cannot be reduced to the activity of this body since space also involves a general or impersonal dimension that precedes the very existence of any-body (154). Hence space has a meaning or a particular orientation before the birth of my body, such that my body and the space it accesses is inherited by a past that is general, like its “evolutionary history” (154). Therefore, the space in which the body participates, the general space embodied by the orientation of the general past, is a tradition or an institution (155), but one that cannot be made fully explicit insofar as it transcends every possible individual body.
In chapter eight, David Ciavatta explicitly approaches the subject of time, and in particular its generality. He argues that, although our notion of time as an objective dimension of the world is rooted in the lived time of the embodied subject, it is the cyclical nature of time that gives it its generality, which does not correspond to any particular experience, but makes all of them possible. Essentially, the cyclical nature of the organic aspects of our bodies (such as breathing) and of natural events (such as day/night patterns) engender an attitude of indifference in experience of any particular moment of these cycles (161). Nonetheless, there is a discontinuity within this generality that makes these recurrent patterns identifiable as episodes of an even more general (or continuous) time, just like this present moment is part of the present day of the present week, and so on. (172). These temporal episodes, always nested in broader cycles, do not represent a simultaneous happening of all of them at once (173), but a disintegration of cycles into more general fields of presence (174). However, since the generality of time is grounded on the existence of individual cycles, each episode of time has an individuality that makes it unique in the general field of time (175). In this regard, any experiential subject has a limited duration marked by the start of their own birth. The time before their birth cannot, nonetheless, be experienced by them, though it can be experienced by someone else. The experience of natural cycles has the same historical or episodic feature. Consequently, the world has its own duration, its own history, its own episode, that is also part of a more general time. But here, we face a level of generality that cannot be lived by anybody—that is, the world has a past that has never been present, and this reveals some sort of natural a priori of time (177).
Part III, “Meaning and Ambiguity,” addresses the eponymous themes in terms of perceptual experience. In keeping with the question of time, David Morris, in chapter nine, lead us deeper into the question of how the temporally open-ended relation of living beings and the environment grounds the emergence of meaning. Morris’s metaphor of “balancing” is helpful in understanding Merleau-Ponty’s description of meaning as something “never fully present” for a subject, but instead present only as a temporal phenomenon of expression and institution. Although “balance” might be “represented” as a point in the idealized space of Newtonian physics, this “point” is actually unreachable in the temporal unfolding of the world. This balance, though, still might be considered as real if we consider it as a phenomenon of time—that is as balancing (201). Briefly, the balancing movement might be oriented towards an optimal state of balance, but this optimality depends on the forces already at work at any particular moment of the movement (such as gravity, momentum, inertia). Thus a balancing object moves towards this never fully given point of balance (its future) that carries on its past (the preset of the dynamic forces) (201). The establishment of (spatial) levels exhibits the same characteristic of balance in terms of the body. The habitual response of the body to the call of different situations is guided by a norm that is not fixed or set in advance of the actual history of embodiment and enactment of the space of any particular situation (198). However, in this latter case, the past of the body is not only the immediate past of its movement, but also the stable structure of the past represented by the habitual or virtual body, and the actualization of his actions when coping with the present conditions of the environment (199). This same phenomenon occurs in perception, where significant changes take place at the level of the stable structure of the environment (200). Finally, to understand the logic of perceptual development, in this normative sense, Morris turns our focus to the questions of expression and institution in Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy. Basically, Morris argues that perception is an expressive act that involves the generation of new meanings through an institutional process (203). Perception articulates new levels by generating new optimal points of balance (meaning), from the already given forces (the instituted past) in its encounter with the present. However, since this expressive act generates a never fully given meaning, the indeterminateness of meaning leaves room for the institution of new meanings (205). This indeterminateness, however, possess a directedness which is an excess, or a pregnancy of potential for new meanings. This excess, Morris argues, is temporality itself (212).
In chapter ten, we find one of the most peculiar texts of this volume. Ömer Aygün, begins by addressing Merleau-Ponty’s characterizations of binocularity from the Structure of Behavior to his posthumous work The Visible and the Invisible. Later, Aygün contrasts the different modes of existence implicated in binocularity and in the monocular vision of Cyclopes, as described in ancient Greece literature. Fundamentally, Aygün argues that binocularity, for Merleau-Ponty, cannot be grounded on the Cartesian idea of two already given separated (retinal) images that are later unified by consciousness. Neither the physical stimuli nor an act of consciousness are enough to explain its unified nature (223-24). This raises the problem of the integration of two different perspectives unified in the visual experience we habitually have. A more holistic approach to binocularity is taken by Merleau-Ponty as early as the Structure of Behavior, but it is in the Phenomenology that Merleau-Ponty offers an account of this issue in terms of an existential project (225)—that is, in terms of the articulation of the body in light of a particular situations soliciting movement. The synthesis of binocular visual fields is thus reached through the seeing subject’s the being-in-the-world rather than in consciousness. Moreover, the kind of unification represented by this binocularity is more than a synthesis. In the Visible and the Invisible, Merleau-Ponty describes this synthesis as a metamorphosis that expresses the power on perception (perceptual faith) to reveal the world as a unified whole where communication with others is possible (228). This communication, like binocular vision, also entails the ambiguity of two perspectives looking at the same object, but nonetheless engaged in one single project (237). By contrast, for the monocular view of the cyclops, the world is revealed as a sheer positivity (that is, presences without ambiguity) (230). This makes him an isolated being, enclosed in his solipsism, and thereby excluded from the normative domain of law, language and love, characteristic of humans.
In chapter eleven, Marrato responds to Levinas criticisms on Merleau-Ponty’s account of alterity. For Levinas, Merleau-Ponty ignores the radical separation between the self and the other (243). Marrato identifies three main lines of criticism. First, Levinas considers that the reversible experience of the body, of touching and being touched, is not equivalent to the experience of touching and being touched by another person’s body. Secondly, he argues that Merleau-Ponty’s account of expression does not highlight the fundamental communicative role of this phenomenon. Finally, Marrato argues, for Levinas, Merleau-Ponty’s focus on visual perception for his philosophical inquiries makes him more concerned with questions about the knowledge of the world than about the ethical engagement with the other (243). In response, Marratto argues that Merleau-Ponty’s account of vision is not the typical theoretical model found in Western philosophy, where the perceiver is detached from the perceived. Instead, vision is an act very similar to touch. But unlike touch, vision is a distancing experience that further emphasizes the inherent depth of the horizons of the world (245). To perceive is, indeed, an active engagement of the body in its response to the solicitations of the environment, Perception, that is, is already an expressive behavior, and the art of painting “prolongs” this power of expression (244). Painting, thereby, does not represent the world but articulates new forms of meaning, a new way to look at the world. Painting, Marratto argues, is already an ethical act since a normative dimension is already present in the very act of expression (246). Expression is achieved when the painter or the seer gives birth to a new meaning—but this meaning is not merely the creation of the painter or the seer. Rather, the visible imposes its own criteria of correctness on the act of expression (246), even as the visible is itself not fully determined in advance (246-47). In this regard, vision opens up to something that is other than itself, questioning and responding through the expressive act of painting and perception. It is in the distance between the question and the response that “the spade of alterity” emerges (247). This space of alterity inhabits the body itself since the reversible act of the hand touching and being touched exhibits a never fully given coincidence within itself (248). A similar account is given across the different modalities of perception (such as vision and touch, 248) and in binocularity (249). Hence the expressive act of perception always involves some degree of alterity.
The last part of the book— “Expression”—is comprised of four texts that turn our attention from Merleau-Ponty’s account of perception towards his inquiries into expression and ontology, and lead us beyond the Phenomenology. In chapter twelve, Mathew J. Goodwin explores the notion of aesthetic ideas. Instead of adopting the traditional position, which considers thinking and sensation as two separated realms, Goodwin argues that aesthetic ideas make our perception more profound, by revealing the sensible in “its lining and depth” (253). Goodwin starts by introducing us to the distinction made by Merleau-Ponty (adapted from Leonardo da Vinci) between two different kinds of artistic expressions: prosaic lines and flexuous lines. Prosaic lines aim to define, once and for all, the positive attributes of things, like “an eidetic invariant that is never actually perceived” (257)—namely, it is a mere process of abstraction. By contrast, flexuous lines aim to bring our aesthetic experience toward the very genesis of our perceptual experience, the lived space where things are situated and where they become enacted by our bodily activity. Likewise, an object is drawn “…according to whatever interior forces of development originally brought it into being…”. (258). Thus, it is by revealing this genesis that an artist gives us an aesthetic idea, making visible the usually invisible depth of a thing (258). Goodwin later argues in this chapter that Mata Clark’s sculptural performances are a good instance of these aesthetic ideas.
Stefan Kristensen, in chapter thirteen, makes reference to another artist’s work: that of Ana Mendieta. He argues that phenomenal space and the ontological notion of the flesh in Merleau-Ponty entail the phenomenon of mourning. Phenomenal Space or depth are concepts that redefine our traditional notions of space and time (273). Instead of conceiving space and time as already given dimensions where objects and events are juxtaposed and mutually excluded, depth is the dimension where they are seen to encroach upon one another (273). Kristensen is especially interested in the phenomenon of mourning as it is implicated in the temporal dimension of depth (275). Merleau-Ponty describes our experience of the world as involving not only its presence, but also its past. This past is not the discovery of a pre-existence, but the formation of something “that appears as having already been there” (276). Hence when we understand, for instance, a sentence or perceptual gestalt, we make a “backwards movement.” Likewise, the meaning of an utterance or a picture is given only afterwards (276). For perception, it is the structure of the body schema that establishes the “ground of praxis” for individuals’ action and perception (277). However, this foundational dimension of the body represents the already-being-there of the body, its past that cannot be seen but afterwards (278). Mourning, then, is the process of restructuring bodily spatiality (279) insofar as it is a process that set us free from the past, allowing us to become newly instituted in the present. Nonetheless, the divergence of the body from itself is a process of loss, through which the subject of perception has already vanished even before they try to look at themself. Ana Mendieta’s work, for Kristensen, exhibits the intertwining of presence and absence that make manifest the overlapped temporality of the body and space where the past (that has never been present) and the present (enacted by the presence of the past) converge (280).
In chapter fourteen, Peter Costello reveals the political dimension of the ontological descriptions of the flesh in Merleau-Ponty’s late philosophy. The immersion of the body in the world, becoming part of the flesh (the ontological basis of meaning) exhibits its dual form of appearance as seeing and being seen. This phenomenon, for Costello, is analogous to the Aristotelian affirmation that democracy requires the capacity of citizens to govern and being governed (285). The flesh is also defined as the “formative medium of the object and the subject” (285), and represents the prior dimension of that traditional dichotomy. Moreover, the immersion of the body in the flesh involves the interrelation of the body with multiple (anonymous) other bodies, and thus has an intercorporeal aspect to it (285). This means that the flesh enables an anonymous dimension of visibility (286), like the space of the intertwining with other people—that is, the public space where we are always already interrelated one each other. Nevertheless, the full access to this public space involves our explicit engagement in it, by mutually caring for one another so as to create a community (288). In this regard, Costello considers that for Merleau-Ponty, Cézanne incarnates the democratic nature of the flesh in his paintings by considering color not as an already given property of things (292)—what Cézanne calls “the tyranny over color”—but as symptomatic of the relational space of things and the body, where colors emerge as a spontaneous organization (ibid) only insofar as we participate in their visibility. This makes the observers part of the enactment of colors in Cézanne’s paintings, thereby introducing us to the public space in which things, the painter, and the observer are intertwined in the visual experience (296).
The volume ends with an exquisite text from Laura McMahon, where phenomenology is described as (the reflection on) first order perception. McMahon begins her argument by distinguishing between first- and second-order expression. For Merleau-Ponty, a thought or an idea cannot be given before its linguistic expression since it is in the process of its concrete articulation in language that thought become explicit for the thinker themself, and for the others. Consequently, it is in the moment of speaking or writing that thoughts acquire their particular meaning, their existence (310). However, linguistic expression involves two possibilities: the banal enunciation of already given meanings in second-order speech; and the first-order speech that involves the first-time enunciation of a meaningful utterance, such as when children first begin speaking, or when a poet or philosopher opens a new field of meaning or “world” (314). The institution of a new meaning, therefore, does not constrain the individual to expressing themself through the already given network of significations of the human world, but allows them to break the “primordial silence” of the world (315) by enacting new manners of experiencing it. Expression, nonetheless, is not limited to human speech, since perception is already an expressive act that maintains a “creative dialogue with the things of the world” (316); perception itself is a “nascent logos” (ibid.). The meaningful wholes of perception (Gestalten) are the analogous unities of meaning to sentences in speech (317). In here, McMahon argues, it is also possible to find a second order of perception where things appear as already made objects, fully given in advance to our encounter, as if our own presence were irrelevant for their appearance. This second-order perception describes the experience of the world in a natural or unreflective attitude (320). By contrast, first order perception looks at the very genesis of things: the lived space where we, as perceivers, are already involved in the genesis of the appearance of things. In this regard, the act of perception looks at itself, and not only at what is perceived (321). This kind of self-perception leads Merleau-Ponty in the Visible and the Invisible to talk about what he calls radical reflection. This kind of reflection uncovers its own roots (322), by revealing the genesis of signification in the already given meaning of things. The implicit order of the world experience in second-order perception and in second-order reflection is best carried out by “positive” scientific thought (323). By contrast, the task of radical reflection, analyzing first-order perception, is the task of phenomenology itself. (324).
At the end of the introduction (18-19), the editors mention two important aspects of what they hope this book will achieve. One is to use this book as a companion for the Phenomenology; another is to treat Merleau-Pontian phenomenology as a practice rather than an object. In terms of the first target, I believe the success of this book depends on the degree of Merleau-Pontian expertise that reader brings to their reading. The novice reader may find the multiple terms and metaphors used by the authors, corresponding to different periods of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy, confusing. Furthermore, a semantic promiscuity is pervasive across the different chapters, and readers might get confused by the multiple names used to refer to what seems to be the same concept, or at least concepts more closely linked than any author lets on (e.g. lived space, phenomenal space, depth and flesh). Without a further clarification, it is not clear if these terms are used as synonyms or if a nuanced sense is developed through the use of each term. By contrast, for someone already immersed in the vocabulary and general ideas of the Phenomenology, the use of this book as a companion piece will help them deepen their reading of the Phenomenology, explore Merleau-Ponty’s later philosophy, and track the development of certain concepts. In respect of the second purpose, I find this volume undoubtedly successful. The fresh approach to the subject of perception that incorporates Merleau-Ponty’s late thought, as well as topics of more immediate, contemporary philosophical concern, avoids the repetitive enunciation of the concepts that one can already find in other companions to the Phenomenology. In conclusion, the works bound in Perception and its Development in Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology certainly open new possibilities for our practice of reading Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy, and for the use of his ideas in addressing contemporary concerns.
Cited Works by Merleau-Ponty
The Structure of Behavior. Trans. Fisher, Alden L. Vol. 3: Beacon Press Boston, 1942/1967. Print.
Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. Landes, Donald A. New York, NY: Routledge, 1945/2012. Print.
The Visible and the Invisible: Followed by Working Notes. Northwestern University Press, 1964/1968. Print.
The Primacy of Perception: And Other Essays on Phenomenological Psychology, the Philosophy of Art, History, and Politics. Northwestern University Press, 1964. Print.
Institution and Passivity: Course Notes at the College De France (1954-1955). Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2003/2010. Print.
Luca Vanzago’s The Voice of No One is a thought provoking study in a newer line of Merleau-Ponty studies that seeks to build connections between the phenomenological tradition and process philosophy. Although the connections have not gone completely unobserved (cf. Hamrick 1974, 1999, and 2004), the majority of commentaries on Merleau-Ponty’s thought have completely ignored the importance of Whitehead’s philosophy to it. This situation is unfortunate for any number of reasons, but perhaps mostly due to how such a lacuna forecloses more radical understandings of the phenomenological project in general. By attempting to reinterpret the major concepts of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy in terms of the commitments of process metaphysics, Vanzago’s book moves in the direction of closing that gap and offering a different approach within the world of Merleau-Ponty scholarship that emphasizes the importance of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of nature.
With that said, Vanzago takes a traditional approach to what would be a rather dramatic re-thinking of Merleau-Ponty’s work. After a helpful introduction announcing the book’s main project of drawing the phenomenological and process views closer together by focusing upon the nature of relations, the book begins with several chapters discussing methodological questions regarding the phenomenological reduction (primarily in comparison to Husserl’s method), the nature and possibility of dialectic (with reference to Hegel and Lyotard), reconsidering how relations work (the first major appearance of Whitehead in the book), and how the problem of intersubjectivity plays out in a relational context. These chapters are undertaken utilizing the classic dialogical methodology of European philosophy, and Vanzago offers exemplary studies of the philosophers with whom he engages. In these chapters, he is laying the foundations for the conceptual reconsiderations he introduces in the next several chapters before concluding the book with what this reader took to be the text’s most important contributions, namely those to the ontology of nature. This organizational strategy makes sense, but I found myself wanting the narrative to progress more rapidly toward the book’s announced themes of nature and time, which appear most substantially toward the end of the manuscript. Although Vanzago provides helpful introductory sections to each chapter describing its goals, the aforementioned studies are constructed in a rather self-contained manner. At times, their hermetic quality made it challenging to keep track of how, say, the chapter on passivity (Chapter VI), which contains Vanzago’s close reading of Merleau-Ponty’s reading of Freud’s and Husserl’s views on the passivity of consciousness, contributes to a process view of nature in which consciousness emerges from a previous intersubjective unity.
For that is the main project of the book, arguing that understanding the practice of phenomenology in terms of process metaphysics transforms the problem of intersubjectivity. The persistent criticism of phenomenology, essentially since its inception, has been that even the insistence on the “consciousness is consciousness of …” structure of intentionality and the coexistence of noesis and noema within the intentional act is insufficient to have phenomenology escape one variety of subjectivism or another. For Vanzago, this situation is an opportunity to rethink the nature of phenomenology starting from its foundations, beginning not from the perspective of consciousness, but rather from the perspective of relations. Largely this shift entails an inversion of the usual problem: “when exceeding the limits of egology, phenomenology must become able to bring into its realm that which escapes it, what Merleau-Ponty calls, with an expression coming from Schelling, the ‘barbaric principle,’ the ‘shadow’ of philosophy. In other words, phenomenology must reinvent itself in order to overcome the traditional limits of rationality” (33). A break with the traditional limits of rationality is necessary because the phenomenological thinker must look to what conditions give rise to the possibility of consciousness—the pre-objective, pre-subjective condition out of which consciousness arises—rather than remain ensconced within how phenomena appear to a conscious perceiver. The phenomenologist achieves this break dialectically, proceeding through a number of negations immanent to relational, bodily being, spontaneously creating sedimented “institutions” through which the body habitually relates to the world (44). Chapter III: Chiasms, which offers an understanding of the chiasm through concepts found in Whitehead’s thought, was a true highlight of the book. Here, Vanzago imports a “coherent relationist approach” (48) in the service of making sense of Merleau-Ponty’s attempt to construct a metaphysics that does not rely upon the philosophical tradition’s usual substance-property ontology. Here is where the heart of the process ontology is developed, in the parallelism between Merleau-Ponty’s descriptions of a “logos of the aesthetic world” in which bodily perceptual relations are primary (54) and Whitehead’s claim that every relation is an act of experience (62). Since phenomenology seeks to return to the things themselves through a return to experience, one can substitute the relational theory of experience for the more traditional phenomenological account based in the idea of intentional consciousness.
From there, Vanzago uses the idea of chiasmic relations to reinterpret Merleau-Ponty’s own ideas of bodily intentionality in two interesting and innovative ways. The first is to utilize the process view of time as a way of accounting for the emergence of particular objects from within undifferentiated Being or Nature, which seem to be roughly synonymous for Vanzago (e.g., 195). Being is understood as “the texture that is woven between in the concrete existence of men [sic] and beings” (107), the relational stuff, so to speak, out of which specific beings emerge in their particularity. These chapters, V-VIII, roughly argue that Being, when taken as a process, can account for all of the traditional features usually attributed to mind or spirit in a dualistic, substance-based metaphysics—time, “negativity,” intentionality—without resorting to the materialist “realism” that is still so philosophically popular in Anglo-American metaphysics and is currently experiencing a resurgence in so-called “new materialisms” and “object-oriented” ontologies. Doing so, however, calls for the second project: to utilize Merleau-Ponty’s key commitments to reconstruct a conception of nature that does not define humanity and nature in an oppositional or dualistic manner. Appealing to concepts such as flesh, expression, Whiteheadean events, and metaphor, Vanzago reconstructs a conception of nature that in many ways goes beyond the one Merleau-Ponty develops explicitly in his incomplete later works. Chapter IX: Processes and Events is a highlight in this regard and serves as a complement to the aforementioned Chiasms chapter for those interested in an in-depth analysis of Merleau-Ponty’s relationship to Whitehead.
This latter goal, of course, has been the goal of any number of environmental and philosophies in the critical tradition for decades, a fact Vanzago acknowledges (187). Unfortunately, there is no attempt to engage with those thinkers or traditions and a major shortcoming of Vanzago’s book is the nearly complete absence of consideration of either philosophers outside the canon of major 20th Century (male) European thinkers or the wide array of commentaries that already address these concerns. On the first point, particularly noteworthy is the omission of the work of Val Plumwood, whose Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (1993) argued for a non-dualistic conception of nature in a way that accounts for both continuity between humanity and the rest of nature and the distinctiveness of the various forms of life and inanimate beings that comprise nature. Even within the canon of 20th century European thought, however, there are omissions. It is difficult to see how one could write a book on this specific subject without at least acknowledging Luce Irigaray’s (1993) criticism of Merleau-Ponty on precisely the point on which Vanzago focuses: the notion that Being is unitary and difference is something that needs to be accounted for rather than being a foundational element of being. Although getting bogged down in the literature can have a stultifying effect when one is attempting to articulate a new theoretical perspective, it is also true that entering into dialogue with those who are working with similar if not identical questions might help to refine one’s own work. English language scholars have been discussing these issues for some time, with commentaries such as Aarø (2010), Bannon (2011; 2014), Hamrick and Van Der Veken (2011), and Toadvine (2009)—just to name a selection from within the last decade—arguing for similar perspective to Vanzago’s. Rather than, in some cases, treading on familiar ground, I would have like Vanzago to further develop his innovative thesis further with reference to extant interpretations.
In some ways, this book is torn between two audiences. On the one hand there is the world of Merleau-Ponty scholarship where the organization and methodological choices make the most sense, but there is also very little in the way of engagement with other scholars in that field. On the other hand there is the broader world of philosophy, for whom there is much of interest in the book. Here, the ideas would be better presented by organizing around specific questions or problems rather than concepts. Doing so might appeal to the broader audiences alluded to in the book itself: ecological thinkers, philosophers of science and scholars within science studies interested in the ontology of scientific practice, phenomenologists who work on figures other than Merleau-Ponty, etc.
Despite these reservations, however, The Voice of No One is a substantial addition to the literature and deserves a reading from Merleau-Ponty scholars due to its careful analysis of the texts of both Merleau-Ponty and many of his major interlocutors. The text presents a well-argued case for its central thesis and presents strong evidence that the more established interpretations of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy, particularly the later work, are in need of revision in order to accommodate Merleau-Ponty’s engagement with process thought in general and with Whitehead in specific.
Aarø, Ane Faugstad. 2010. “Merleau-Ponty’s Concept of Nature and the Ontology of Flesh.” Biosemiotics 3: 331-345.
Bannon, Bryan E. 2011. “Flesh and Nature: Understanding Merleau-Ponty’s Relational Ontology.” Research in Phenomenology 41: 327-357.
–. 2014. From Mastery to Mystery: A Phenomenological Foundation for Environmental Ethics. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.
Hamrick, William S. 1974. “Whitehead and Merleau-Ponty: Some Moral Implications.” Process Studies 4: 235-251.
–. 2004. “Whitehead and Merleau-Ponty: Healing the Bifurcation of Nature.” In Whitehead’s Philosophy: Points of Connection, edited by Janusz A. Polanowski and Donald W. Sherburne, 127-142. Albany: State University of New York Press.
–. 1999. “A Process View of the Flesh: Whitehead and Merleau-Ponty.” Process Studies 28: 117-129.
Hamrick, William S. and Jan Van Der Veken. 2012. Nature and Logos: A Whiteheadian Key to Merleau-Ponty’s Thought. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Irigaray, Luce. “The Invisible of the Flesh: A Reading of Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, ‘The Intertwining—The Chiasm.’” In An Ethics of Sexual Difference, 151–84. Translated by Carolyn Burke and Gillian C. Gill. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993.
Plumwood, Val. 1993. Feminism and the Mastery of Nature. New York: Routledge.
Toadvine, Ted. 2009. Merleau-Ponty’s Philosophy of Nature. Evanston, Northwestern University Press.
Gina Zavota, Deborah Barnbaum
On September 15-17, 2017, the Department of Philosophy at Kent State University held the Husserl in a New Generation conference in Kent, Ohio, USA. The lead organizers were Professor Deborah Barnbaum and Associate Professor Gina Zavota, both of Kent State University. This was the second in a series of “In a New Generation” conferences hosted by Kent State University’s Department of Philosophy; the first, Sellars in a New Generation, took place in May 2015. The aim of this conference was to revisit Husserl’s most significant contributions to a wide range of philosophical subfields, highlighting both their relevance to the questions that philosophy faces today and the important role they have played in the evolution of a wide range of academic disciplines.
The conference featured two invited keynote presentations and five additional invited talks, as well as three faculty papers and seven graduate student papers selected through anonymous peer review. As a result, the conference showcased the work of both eminent and emerging Husserl scholars at all stages of their careers.
The first day of the conference consisted of a graduate workshop where six graduate students presented their research. In the morning session, Justin Reppert, from Fordham University, showed how Husserl’s multiplicity theory [Mannigfaltigkeitslehre] can offer insight into a variety of important questions in the philosophy of mathematics in “Husserlian Contributions to the Epistemology of Mathematics.” Andrew Barrette, from Southern Illinois University – Carbondale, discussed Husserl’s treatment of questioning in “The Socio-Historical Emergence and Operation of Questioning in Edmund Husserl’s Work,” in order to lay the groundwork for a larger project in which he will demonstrate that questioning is an essential moment in the history of reason. Anthony Celi, from Duquesne University, argued in “Logic and the Epoché: Questioning the Necessity and Possibility of Bracketing Logic in Husserl’s Ideas I” that Husserl’s reduction of logic in Ideas I is neither necessary for arriving at the phenomenological attitude nor even a legitimate possibility within a larger philosophical context.
In the afternoon session, Mohsen Saber, participating via Skype from the University of Tehran (Iran), explained in “Finitude and/or Infinitude? Husserl on the Teleology of Perception” that the teleological process of perception can be characterized both as finite and as infinite. Emanuela Carta, from Roma Tre University (Italy), argued that Husserl’s notion of pure essence [eidos] plays a functional role in his phenomenology and does not rule out the possibility of other types of analysis that are not eidetic. Colin Bodayle from Duquesne University closed out the day’s presentations with “Husserl on Object Collision,” in which he discussed the ways in which Husserl, Heidegger, Hume, and Graham Harman approach the question of how and whether inanimate objects can “touch” or encounter each other. Most of the main program presenters, as well as many other attendees, were in the audience during the graduate workshop, making for particularly rich and productive discussions after each of the presentations.
The main program spanned the second and third days of the conference and featured a total of eleven speakers.
Rudolf Bernet, Emeritus Professor, KU Leuven (Belgium)
“Husserl on Imagining What is Unreal, Quasi-Real, Possibly Real, and Irreal”
The second day of the Husserl in a New Generation conference began with the first keynote talk, given by Emeritus Professor Rudolf Bernet. In his talk Bernet explored the essential difference in imagination between intentional acts of pure phantasy and acts which represent an object by means of an image or a sign. The pure phantasy of an unreal or quasi-real intentional object, he argued, can be further distinguished from perceptive phantasies and from the act of remembering the real object of an actual past perception. The opposition between what is real and what is unreal in phantasy loses further significance, Bernet argued, when one moves to the consideration of how imagination relates to the objects of a possibly actual experience. Imagined unreal objects can, indeed, become real objects which lend themselves to an actual perception. However, it is because they are not taken to really exist that objects of phantasy most easily lend themselves to an eidetic variation and to an insight into the essential constituents or ‘essence’ of a certain type of object and of their intentional experience. It is through their contribution to an insight into the real and ideal conditions of possibility of different forms of intentional acts that acts of phantasy best show their potential for Husserl’s entire philosophical project. Imagination or fiction becomes, in Husserl’s own words, the “vital element of phenomenology.”
Sara Heinämaa, Professor, Academy of Finland, University of Jyväskylä (Finland)
“Variants of Bodily Subjects: Embodiment, Expression and Empathy”
In the second presentation of the morning session Professor Heinämaa explored Husserl’s distinction between two attitudes, the naturalistic and the personalistic, for the purpose of clarifying the embodied character of human beings and animals. She argued that we have to distinguish between several different senses of the lived body [Leib] in order to understand how human beings can relate to themselves and to one another. These senses are not free-floating formations but are constituted in complicated dependency relations. By explicating the relevant relations of dependency, she demonstrated that the human being (and the animal) as a psychophysical system is a dependent formation that rests on several more fundamental sense achievements, the most important of which include (i) the human being as an embodied person, (ii) the living being as another self, and (iii) the self as a bodily agent. By distinguishing these senses and studying their relations, Heinämaa argued that Husserlian phenomenology offers us powerful conceptual tools that allow us to understand the different ways in which human beings can relate to one another and to living beings more generally.
Anthony Steinbock, Professor, Southern Illinois University – Carbondale
“The Modality and Modalizations of the Absolute Ought in Husserl”
The morning session concluded with Professor Steinbock’s exploration of the distinctiveness of the modality of the absolute ought in Husserl. To make his point, he first distinguished in Husserl the ought-modality in the practical, praxical , and personal spheres. He then addressed in detail the absolute (personal) ought as the manner in which the absolute value of the person is revealed and the modality peculiar to vocation, and he examined the call as loving. The absolute ought, he explained, is a revelatory givenness that is not a ‘must,’ a ‘shall,’ or a wish. It is also a dimension of freedom and is the insistence of the call to love, which constitutes me as a person in a loving community. Furthermore, it is given temporally as urgency and as ‘for always’ from the perspective of our finite existence. Steinbock concluded by suggesting five ways in which the experience of the absolute ought is susceptible to modalization. While only hinted at by Husserl, these moralizations could be organized in such a way as to provide further insight into Husserl’s notion of the absolute ought.
H.A. Nethery IV, Assistant Professor, Florida Southern College
“Yancy, Husserl, and Racism at the Level of Passive Synthesis”
Professor Nethery’s talk, the first of the afternoon session, examined the influence of Husserlian phenomenology on the work of George Yancy. Yancy argues that the field of experience for white folks is always already racialized, and mobilized through what he calls the white gaze. Yancy often recognizes that his work is phenomenological, and, as such, Nethery suggested that it would be useful to highlight the ways in which Husserlian phenomenology influences his work. Specifically, he argued that Husserl’s theories of internal time consciousness and passive synthesis are implicit within Yancy’s concept of the white gaze. He did not argue that Yancy’s work can be reduced to Husserl’s but rather showed the importance of Husserlian phenomenology within critical race theory and the fight against anti-black racism. He began with a brief analysis of the white gaze and the racialized field of perception for white folks using Yancy’s now famous elevator example. He then turned to the structures of internal time consciousness and passive synthesis and showed how the black body is constituted within white experience as delinquent through these structures. He concluded with a reading of the elevator example through the work done in the previous section of his talk in order to “fill out,” as it were, Yancy’s own initial descriptions.
Lanei Rodemeyer, Associate Professor, Duquesne University
“Affectivity and Perceiving Other Subjects: A Phenomenological Analysis of the Essential Role of Affectivity in Basic Empathy”
In her presentation, Professor Rodemeyer argued that while contemporary discussions of empathy often address our ability to experience the emotions of others, for Husserl (and certain other phenomenologists), an important aspect of the question of empathy entails our fundamental experience of other subjects as other consciousnesses. The notion of ‘affectivity’ is understood as an important component of perception at the level of passive synthesis by Husserl, she explained, but it can also be seen as an essential component of empathy. Although empathy is not the same activity of consciousness as perception, they overlap each other in important ways, especially through the structures of apperception and association. Given these connections, as well as Husserl’s discussions of affectivity, awakening, and animation or governance in many of his analyses of empathy, she maintained that affectivity is arguably an essential component of our basic experience of empathy — even if the term is not mentioned in Husserl’s most famous analyses of intersubjectivity in Cartesian Meditations.
Ellie Anderson, Visiting Assistant Professor, Pitzer College
“Irreducible Otherness: Ethical Implications of Intersubjectivity in Husserl, Derrida, and Stein”
Professor Anderson’s talk explored Derrida’s defense of Husserl contra Levinas on the question of the relation to the other. She argued that this defense indicates a preservation of the first-person perspective in deconstruction that has largely gone unnoticed. Moreover, it suggests the ways that Husserl’s phenomenology of intersubjectivity in the Cartesian Meditations provides a basis for ethical concerns of preserving the otherness of other beings. After exploring Derrida’s affirmation of Husserl, she turned to the ethical implications for the distinction between self and other that Husserl upholds in his writings on intersubjectivity. Taking Husserl’s approach in tandem with Edith Stein’s phenomenology of empathy, she showed how it is crucial to both of these views that the distinction between self and other be preserved. From a phenomenological perspective, there is no direct experience of foreign consciousness. Moreover, the intersubjective relation is, for Husserl and Stein, fundamentally embodied and affective — a notion that obviates stale accusations that Husserl is not a philosopher of the body. As a result, Anderson claimed, both Stein’s and Husserl’s approaches to intersubjectivity remain highly relevant in light of contemporary inquiries into empathy, and Derrida’s affirmation of Husserl’s view suggests the relevance of analogical appresentation for contemporary poststructuralism and response ethics.
Donn Welton, Professor Emeritus, Stony Brook University
“The Actional Roots of Husserl’s Transcendental Theory of Perceptual Intentionality”
The final day of the Husserl in a New Generation conference began with the second keynote talk, given by Professor Emeritus Donn Welton of Stony Brook University. Welton’s presentation addressed two main issues essential to any unified theory of intentionality with transcendental ambitions. First, he asked whether Husserl’s “first” phenomenology of the structure of intentionality calls, from within itself, for a “second” on which it rests — one that nests the bodily movement essential to our experience of the world in our bodily actions in the world. Utilizing Husserl’s development of a genetic phenomenology and his account of intentionality, Welton argued that a deep transformation within Husserl’s theory of perception takes place with his “genetic” turn during the 1920s. Moving to the second issue, Welton asked whether there is a way in which the lived-body [Leib] can be transposed from a factual condition, introduced to account for shifts in point-of-view and the spatial configuration of objects, to a transcendental condition that characterizes the very being of intentional consciousness itself. In response, he outlined the expansion that takes place within the notion of the body once it is viewed as an agent of perceptual action, and not just a center of movement and orientation.
Gina Zavota, Associate Professor, Kent State University
“Escaping the Correlationist Circle: A Husserlian Approach to Meillassoux’s Ancestral Statements”
Professor Zavota began by noting that phenomenology is often characterized as a form of antirealist, idealist philosophy, with Husserl’s thought put forth as a particularly extreme example of these tendencies. In After Finitude, for example, Quentin Meillassoux identifies Husserl as an adherent of what he calls ‘correlationism,’ or the view that the world and the rational subject are mutually constitutive and cannot be known in isolation from each other. One significant problem with correlationism, according to Meillassoux, is that it offers no satisfactory way of interpreting ‘ancestral’ statements: those statements which refer to a time prior to the existence of humans and thus prior to any possible correlative relationship between being and thought. Zavota argued that Husserl does not fit Meillassoux’s definition of a correlationist, and that his thought is, at the very least, compatible with some forms of realism. Furthermore, by examining the Crisis and the unfinished text “Foundational Investigations of the Phenomenological Origin of the Spatiality of Nature: The Originary Ark, the Earth, Does Not Move,” Zavota showed that Husserlian phenomenology does, in fact, allow us to attribute meaning to ancestral statements and thus escapes what Meillassoux sees as a fatal flaw of correlationist philosophies.
Denis Džanić, University of Vienna (Austria)
“Husserl, Externalism, and Compensatory Individual Representationalism”
Denis Džanić, a graduate student from the University of Vienna, won the conference award for the best submission by a graduate student, and thus his presentation was included on the main program. After being presented with the award, Džanić gave his talk, in which he addressed the question of where Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology fits into the distinction between ‘internalism’ and ‘externalism.’ To do so, he used Tyler Burge’s critique of Husserl as presented in Origins of Objectivity. In that work, Burge reads Husserl against the backdrop of his notion of ‘Compensatory Individual Representationalism’, of which he takes Husserl to be a paradigmatic representative. Džanić stated that Burge’s analysis is emblematic of the strongly internalist reading of Husserl, which he maintained is principally uninformed and misguided. First, he argued that Husserl was not an individualist in Burge’s sense of the word, and hence not an internalist. More generally, he claimed that, while this in itself does not entail that Husserl was an externalist, his later phenomenology was founded on ontological and epistemological commitments fully compatible with a broad and systematic externalism.
Walter Hopp, Associate Professor, Boston University
“Metaphysical, Epistemic, and Transcendental Idealism”
The afternoon session of the third day began with Associate Professor Walter Hopp’s discussion of transcendental idealism and metaphysical realism. Hopp acknowledged that there are several textual and philosophical reasons to think that Husserl’s brand of transcendental idealism is incompatible with metaphysical realism about the natural world. However, he claimed, one major difficulty with this interpretation is that metaphysical anti-realism stands in tension with two other claims that enjoy significantly stronger phenomenological support. The first is that the natural world presents itself to us, in both thought and perception, as metaphysically real and largely independent, in both its existence and its nature, of our consciousness of it. Second, in accordance with Husserl’s “principle of all principles” (Ideas I, §24) this fact provides us with excellent and perhaps conclusive reasons to take the natural world to be metaphysically real. To solve this tension, Hopp suggested an interpretation of Husserl’s transcendental idealism that draws from several existing realist interpretations and that is consistent with metaphysical realism.
Chad Kidd, Assistant Professor, The City College of New York (CUNY)
“Re-examining Husserl’s Non-Conceptualism in the Logical Investigations”
In the final presentation of the conference, Assistant Professor Chad Kidd began by acknowledging the recent trend in Husserl scholarship that takes the Logical Investigations (LI) as advancing an inconsistent, self-contradictory view about content of perceptual experience. Within the confines of the same work, these commentators claim, Husserl advances both conceptualist and non-conceptualist views about perceptual content. In his talk Kidd argued that LI presents a consistent view of the content of perceptual experience, which can easily be misread as inconsistent, since it combines a conceptualist view of perceptual content (or matter) with a nonconceptualist view of perceptual acts. Furthermore, the charge of inconsistency rests on a misreading of the passages in LI (specifically, in LI VI §4) where these commentators locate the core argument for nonconceptualism about perceptual content. Kidd took Husserl to be advancing a distinction between two varieties of non-conceptualism about perception, brought to prominence in recent literature by Richard Heck’s writings about non-conceptual content. One of these varieties concerns the nature of perceptual content, the other the nature of the perceptual act. Kidd argued that after certain important changes to Heck’s formulation are made, it can serve as part of a characterization of Husserl’s view of the nature of perceptual experience that exonerates it of the charge of inconsistency.
The Husserl in a New Generation conference attracted over 100 participants and attendees from throughout the United States and Europe, and from several different academic disciplines. Many commented that the event provided a unique opportunity to learn about new directions in Husserl scholarship in a welcoming, engaged, and philosophically pluralistic environment. Attendees also spoke of the openness of the participants to discussion and the exchange of ideas, and of the spirit of true collegiality that characterized the meeting. As the organizers, we are deeply grateful to all who were involved with the Husserl in a New Generation conference, and for the opportunity to explore the landscape of contemporary Husserl scholarship.
For videos of all of the main program presentations, please visit https://www.kent.edu/philosophy/husserl.
Report by Gina Zavota and Deborah Barnbaum
Enactivism as a theoretical framework that addresses diverse domains is establishing itself firmly as the paradigm of the 21st century. Not only does it have the potential to bridge the so-called analytic-continental philosophy divide and the east-west divide, but it also offers cogent reinterpretations of key issues in all the disciplines concerned with the human and animal sciences. The enactivist account challenges and is differentiated from paradigms that explicitly or implicitly rely on rigid external-internal oppositions as well as those grounded in a reductive materialist metaphysics such as the currently popular paradigm of neurocentrism. Any persisting Cartesian dualisms in addition to monist reductivisms are thus revealed as bankrupt endeavours in the investigation of consciousness, agency, subjective experience and our shared worlds.
This current collection of essays presents a rich offering of interdisciplinary scholarship from some of the leading thinkers alongside emerging scholars connected to the enactivist tradition and its progenitor phenomenology; their remit – to investigate how the various dimensions and domains of our shared world are crucially informed by cultural modes of embodiment and enactively galvanized cultural contexts. Many of the chapters were presented as papers at the conference Enacting Culture: Embodiment, Interaction and the Development of Culture, October 15-17, 2014, University of Heidelberg, Germany. This was the final conference marking the end of the European Commission funded Innovative Training Network, Towards an Embodied Science of Intersubjectivity.
Embodiment, Enaction and Culture: Investigating the Constitution of the Shared World comprises 20 chapters organized around 4 themes: Phenomenological and Enactive Accounts of the Constitution of Culture; Intersubjectivity, Selfhood and Persons; Cultural Affordances and Social Understanding; and Embodiment and its Cultural Significance. It is important to note that, while the title may be taken to suggest otherwise, any reader expecting the cultural themes of aesthetics to be addressed in this book will be disappointed. The writers in this current collection represent the disciplines of philosophy, neurophysiology, cognitive science, psychology, psychiatry, sociology, anthropology and evolutionary studies and so address ‘culture’ in the broader sense. This volume will be an important resource not only for philosophers, but also for those researching and teaching in any of the disciplines represented here by these various writers.
As Merleau-Ponty has declared “the very first of all cultural objects which enables all the rest to exist, is the body of the other person as a vehicle of behavior (Phenomenology of Perception: 364). As soon as I perceive the living body of an-other, my environment attains significance not just as the context and means of my possible agency but also that of the other. Through the potentialities and actualities of interaction, our bodies form a system” (Daly, 2016). Merleau-Ponty here articulates the central organizing insight that motivates this collection of essays; that culture, embodiment and sociality are intrinsically and dynamically interdependent.
Christophe Durt, Thomas Fuchs and Christian Tewes in their introduction acknowledge the intellectual debts of enactivists to the ground-breaking book, The Embodied Mind (1991), in which the authors, Francisco Varela, Eleanor Rosch and Evan Thompson, launch the enactivist vision; and they in turn have acknowledged their intellectual debts to biology, Buddhist philosophy, phenomenology and specifically the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty. As the editors explain, the writings address the constitution of the shared world through the interrogations of “participatory and broader collective sense-making processes manifested in dynamic forms of intercorporeality, collective body memory, artifacts, affordances, scaffolding, use of symbols, and so on. The contributors investigate how preconscious and conscious accomplishments work together in empathy, interaffectivity, identifications of oneself with others through emotions such as shame, we-intentionality, and hermeneutical understanding of the thoughts of others. The shared world is seen as something constituted by intersubjective understanding that discloses things in the shared significance they have for the members of a culture” (Durt, Fuchs, Tewes, 2017:1). The initial inspiration for enactivism came from the biological sciences with the idea that the organism both geared into its environment through its active sensorimotor engagement and itself became cognitively constituted through this engagement; in other words, the salience of the environmental features depended on the survival requirements of the organism and the perceptual, agentive and cognitive capacities of the organism reciprocally became structured by the demands of the environment. In the cultural domain, enactivism interrogates how collective cultural activity constitutes worlds of shared significance, not, as the editors insist, in any constructivist sense but rather in the mode of disclosure. And they give recognition to Merleau-Ponty and his notion of the ‘intentional arc’ for this enactivist notion regarding the human life-world. Due to its perspicacity and relevance to this book, it is worth repeating here:
The life of consciousness – cognitive life, the life of desire or perceptual life – is subtended by an “intentional arc” which projects round about us our past, our future, our human setting, out physical, ideological and moral situation, or rather which results in our being situated in all these respects. It is this intentional arc which brings about the unity of the senses, of intelligence, of sensibility and motility. (Phenomenology of Perception, 2006: 157; 2012: 137)
The chapters in this volume address all of these various aspects of the cultural world from the everyday sensorimotor perceptual engagements, to affective intersubjective life, through to artifacts and technology, to institutions, and finally to the psychopathological which, in the breakdown and failures of the ‘intentional arc’, provide unique and incisive insights into the life of consciousness.
It is impossible in a review to do justice to each and every chapter in this broad collection and so I will briefly discuss only a few that have relevance to my own current research interests.
The collection begins with a groundwork piece by Dermot Moran, who sets the scholarly context for much that the later chapters depend, with his essay – ‘Intercorporeality and Intersubjectivity: A Phenomenological Exploration of Embodiment’. His opening statement gives recognition to the centrality of phenomenology for revolutionizing philosophy in the twentieth century by offering a radical reconceptualization of human existence that continues to inform the philosophy of mind and action, and the cognitive sciences. Moran offers a rigorous analysis of the lines of investigation, the conceptual convergences and divergences of key contributors in the phenomenological tradition. Given the complexity of the domain and that intellectual debts were not always explicitly acknowledged in both some of the primary literature and the secondary literature, this is no mean feat. Importantly, he alerts scholars to the fact that in the evaluations of Husserl’s work, his later “original, radical and fundamentally groundbreaking explorations of intersubjectivity, sociality, and the constitution of historical cultural life” (25) are often overlooked. And while Moran reminds us that this later work was key to both Heidegger and Schutz, it is Merleau-Ponty, in the preface to his opus Phenomenology of Perception, who famously ‘outs’ Heidegger as having developed central ideas in his Being and Time on the basis of Husserl’s unacknowledged later work Ideas II (Phenomenology of Perception, 2006: viii; 2012, lxx, lxxi). Moran is more circumspect about this omission on the part of Heidegger and turns his focus on Husserl’s mature reflections to give them the appreciation they deserve and, moreover, set the record straight. Specifically, Moran’s interrogations are concerned with Husserl’s elaborations of the role of lived embodiment in the intentional constitution of culture, our mutual being-for-one-another and the riddle of transcendental subjectivity.
Moran alerts us to the Husserlian origins of key concepts found in the work of later phenomenologists such as ‘world-consciousness’, ‘generativity’, the interrelation that holds between objectivity and intersubjectivity – as he writes: “The sense of objectivity is co-constituted by us, and we are constituted as living beings in relation to this backdrop of world” (27). And it is this co-constitution of worlds that become expressed in all the various dimensions of culture. The discussion then turns to a key distinction in the phenomenological analyses of body and embodiment between Leib (lived body) and Körper (physical body), more readily associated with the work of Merleau-Ponty, but nonetheless, as Moran notes, already present in the writings of Fichte, Husserl, Scheler, Stein and Plessner. So too, the signature notion of the ‘I can’ as elaborated by Merleau-Ponty is prefigured in Husserl’s later work and this contributes to self-constitution as much as denoting capacities and powers in world-engagement. Here we have the dialectical dynamic as expressed through the enactivist framework and this is further elaborated on in discussions tracking the scholarly sources of enactivist ideas such as co-constitution, embeddedness and participatory sense-making in the earlier notions of situatedness, reversibility, empathy, intercorporeity and intersubjectivity.
One of the discussions that especially drew my interest was that concerning intrauterine lived experience from the perspectives of mother and fetus. Whereas Merleau-Ponty, drawing on Piaget, erroneously argues for an indistinction of perspectives between mother and fetus or newborn, Husserl recognizes that there is both an attunement and distinction between subjectivities from the beginning. Moran identifies a number of correspondences between the thinking of Husserl and current research in developmental psychology, referencing in particular the work of Colwyn Trevarthan (37). Vasudevi Reddy in Chapter 6 – ‘The Primacy of the “we”’, develops an account compatible with and extending some of Trevarthen’s founding ideas.
Ezequiel Di Paolo and Hanne de Jaegher, in Chapter 4 ‘Neither Individualistic nor Interactionist’, give a review of key debates in the enactivist account of intersubjectivity that continue to generate controversy, suggesting that some of these have arisen in the first place due to misinterpretations which call for clarification. This is exactly what they seek to do, differentiating those accounts that intersect partially with enactivism but which failed to appreciate key aspects from those that remain attuned to the central organizing insights of enactivism. There are two misreadings that they target particularly. Firstly, there is a confusion, they claim, between the operational account of social interactions versus interaction as participatory sense-making. They write: “The realm of intersubjectivity is animated by a force that is neither what goes on in people’s brains or in their self-affective bodies nor what occurs in social interaction processes – if we consider each alternative on its own. On the contrary, intersubjective phenomena emerge only as a dynamic relation between these two broad domains: the personal and the inter-personal. Any emphasis on either side of this relation at the expense of the other fails to capture the complete picture” (87). It is exactly this insight that is prefigured in Merleau-Ponty’s argument that while I am always “this side of my body”, there is nonetheless an internal relation between self and other and that it is this category of otherness at the heart of subjectivity which underwrites relations between external others. He writes: “Between my consciousness and my body as I experience it, between this phenomenal body of mine and that of another as I see it from the outside, there exists an internal relation which causes the other to appear as the completion of the system” (Phenomenology of Perception, 2006:410; 2012:368). The crucial point di Paolo and de Jaegher defend is that “social interaction and embodied agency are equiprimordial loci of scientific and philosophical inquiry” and further that “intersubjective phenomena emerge only as a dynamic relation between the two broad domains; the personal and the interpersonal” (87); the relation thus transcends the relata; and importantly while the relata maintain their autonomy, their coupling “constitutes an emergent autonomous organization in the domain of relational dynamics” (89). They furthermore stress that the coupling is never guaranteed, because if we allow the “autonomy conditions for both interaction patterns and participants, the experience of the other never achieves full transparency or full opacity but rather intermittently moves through regions of understanding and familiarity toward provinces of misunderstanding and bemusement, corresponding to phases of interactive coordination or breakdown respectively” (91). The second misreading they target is the claim that enactivism is unable to account for interior life, as in imagining, planning and thinking, without recourse to representation. In brief, Di Paolo and de Jaegher argue that the ‘agent-world’ coupling in the here and now is not, contrary to representationalists’ claims, the only possible source of meaning-generation for enactivists. Due to the length constraints of this review I will not rehearse the careful and persuasive arguments they marshal in support of their case, but just note that in the section titled ‘Deep Entanglement’, de Jaegher and di Paolo, recruit experimental neuroscience to add force to their analyses. So too they address the emergence of hybrid accounts that seek to patch the holes in their theoretical frameworks by aligning with another theory; these accounts never achieve coherence or explanatory sufficiency; and notably, they often smuggle in Cartesian commitments entirely incompatible with enactivism, such as the distinction between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ cognition.
Chapter 6, ‘The Primacy of the “We’’, brings the integrated expertise of philosophy, phenomenology, developmental psychology and cognitive science together to investigate collective intentionality in human sociality. The authors, Ingar Brinck, Vasudevi Reddy and Dan Zahavi stress the importance of clarifying both the theoretical commitments and the on-the-ground science regarding collective intentionality so that when it is invoked in the diverse disciplines, from psychology, politics, anthropology through to economics etc., these invocations will be on a surer footing. Despite the philosophical work already accomplished in this domain, the authors argue that there are a number of key issues that remain controversial and unresolved. As they write: “… it is by no means clear exactly how to characterize the nature, structure, and diversity of the we to which intentions, beliefs, emotions, and actions are often attributed. Is the we or we-perspective independent of, and perhaps even prior to individual subjectivity, or is it a developmental achievement that has a first- and second-person-singular perspective as its necessary precondition? Is it something that should be ascribed to a single owner, or does it perhaps have plural ownership? Is the we a single thing, or is there a plurality of types of we” (131). Here I recognize particularly the issues with which Zahavi has been grappling over the past few years, reaching evermore refined articulations of the philosophical questions and precision with regard to the philosophical stakes.
Reddy brings the developmental psychological perspective into the investigation suggesting that the empirical claims and the conceptual interpretations originally expressed in Piaget’s research from the 1960s, notably the claims of a fusion of perspectives between the neonate and others, are coming under serious challenge. She stresses the significance of the empirical research regarding “infant discrimination at birth between internally and externally originating sensory stimulation, fetal distinctions between own and other bodies as targets for actions, and early forms of social interactions” (133). Reddy draws on other cutting edge research (other than her own) in infant and fetal attention, interaction, affectivity, neural response etc., to give further support to her key claim that the self-nonself differentiation and sense of agency are ontogenetically basic and well in advance of being able to pass the ‘mirror self-recognition’ test and also in advance of any awareness of group affiliation or its converse social ostracism.
Zahavi and his coauthors develop one of the key lines of their argument in opposition to that of Hans Bernhard Schmid (2014), who argues for a plural self-awareness that precedes both self-experience and other-experience. They rightly argue that not only does this imply an unacceptable ‘fusion’ but also that Schmid has failed to differentiate between “social relatedness, common ground, and we-intentionality” (137). They further argue that while the first two shared experiences are necessary for interaction, ‘we-intentionality’ cannot be guaranteed, most notably in conflictual situations.
Brinck, Reddy and Zahavi build a rigorous case for the view they are defending. They conclude by differentiating between three possible options: “First, the we is conceptually and developmentally prior to the I and the you. Second, the I, the you, and the we are equiprimordial. Third, the I and the you are conceptually and developmentally prior to the we” (142). It is the third option which they favor. Nonetheless, I would like to suggest there is another option that has not been considered and which has clear philosophical support from Scheler and Merleau-Ponty; the philosophical support of this view from Husserl is somewhat ambiguous. This fourth option proposes that the I and the we of primary subjectivity are equiprimordial but without fusion; these, the constitutive modes of identification and belonging, both underwrite and become further shaped and developed at the secondary level of concrete interpersonal relations. According to Scheler there is an a priori ‘logic of the heart’ that underwrites:
… all morally relevant acts, experiences and states, in so far as they contain an intentional reference to other moral persons; obligation, merit, responsibility, consciousness of duty, love, promise-keeping, gratitude and so on, all refer, by the very nature of the acts themselves, to other people, without implying that such persons must already have been encountered in some sort of experience, above all without warranting the assumption that these intrinsically social acts… can only have occurred and originated in the actual commerce of men with one another. They demonstrate that even the essential character of human consciousness is such that the community is in some sense implicit in every individual, and that man is not only part of society, but that society and the social bond are an essential part of himself; that not only is the ‘I’ a member of the ‘we’, but also that the ‘we’ is a necessary member of the ‘I’ (Scheler, The Nature of Sympathy, 1913) my italics.
We must conceive of a primordial We [On] that has its own authenticity and furthermore never ceases but continues to uphold the greatest passions of our adult life and to be experienced anew in each of our perceptions. (‘The Philosopher and His Shadow’, Signs, 175)
For Merleau-Ponty, Otherness is a category internal to the subject and without which apprehension of external others would be impossible; the internal sense of otherness can thus be understood as ‘others-like-me’ – ‘us’ or ‘we’, which necessarily requires differentiation from ‘others-not-like-me’.
What I dispute in Brinck, Reddy and Zahavi’s account is the assertion that: “I can be aware of myself (for instance, as a subject of experience or embodied agent) without being reflectively or prereflectively aware of myself as part of a we, and I can be aware of another without that awareness necessarily giving rise to a shared we-perspective” (143). Just as in the perception of a figure, the ground even though indeterminate is nonetheless a positive presence that is always there, so too in the awareness of myself as an embodied agent or subject of experience, there is always the implicit awareness of myself as belonging to a particular we, whether of species or culture which necessarily informs engagement in that particular context. With regard to the awareness of another, that other is always culturally situated as like-me or not-like-me, as belonging to my sphere of we-ness or not. And so whether or not the encounter gives rise to a shared-perspective, depends entirely on the intersubjective identification of we. For further discussion of this alternative view, see Merleau-Ponty and the Ethics of Intersubjectivity, (Daly, 2016).
Matthew Ratcliffe, in Chapter 7 – ‘Selfhood, Schizophrenia, and the Interpersonal Regulation of Experience’, extends the discussions of enactivism into the domain of psychopathology. The central thought that Ratcliffe pursues in this chapter is that while understanding psychopathology in terms of disturbances of the self offers fruitful reconceptualizations of problematic issues within psychiatry, the invocation of minimal selves remains to be fully and convincingly articulated. Ratcliffe cites Zahavi’s articulation of this notion (151) – that the minimal self is the most fundamental, underpinning all forms of self-experience and that whereby the integrity of experience itself is assured. This integrity of experience is challenged in schizophrenia in ways that are more profound than in other mental disorders, and hence, according to Zahavi, schizophrenia must be understood as a disturbance of the minimal self. While Ratcliffe does not dispute any of the above, he insists that the minimal self needs to be understood also in terms of the concrete interpersonal in contrast to Zahavi’s view that minimal selfhood is anterior to interaction. Thus Ratcliffe challenges the widely held view, as above, that schizophrenia originates solely in disturbances of the minimal self and proposes that rather the interpersonal dimension is also key as both the source of a precipitating trauma and oftentimes also the means of compounding misidentifications and delusions. Ratcliffe builds an integrated analysis from diverse philosophical sources and clinical research, concluding that trauma and damage to basic trust vindicate the claim that investigations of schizophrenia must take account of relational factors rather than regarding it as a solely individual disorder.
The next chapter ‘The Touched Self’ also offers a critique of Zahavi’s account of the minimal self. While neither Ratcliffe nor Ciaunica and Fotopoulou dispute the existence of a minimal self, they do, however, dispute how this minimal self is conceived and constituted; both of their accounts insist on the importance of the concrete interpersonal to the sense of ‘I’. For Ciaunica and Fotopoulou, selfhood, even minimal selfhood emerges in the mutuality and proximity of social interactions. It is to the editors’ credit that they invited Zahavi to respond to these critiques and in this way we have the advantage in reading, of witnessing the evolution of this aspect of the self debates.
In Zahavi’s own words, his account of the minimal self is that “experiential episodes are neither unconscious nor anonymous; rather they necessarily come with first-personal givenness or perspectival ownership. The what-it-is-likeness of experience is essentially a what-it-is-likeness-for-me-ness (Zahavi and Kriegel, 2016)” (194). Importantly for advancing the debate, Zahavi identifies a significant shift in Ratcliffe’s account from the stronger claim that the minimal self is interpersonally constituted to the claim that the minimal self is not an unchanging core of selfhood and with this Zahavi then asserts that his “thinner and more minimalist self is a condition of possibility for Ratcliffe’s interpersonally constituted minimal self” (195). And I agree with Zahavi that a minimal self is the condition of possibility of interpersonally constituted minimalist selves, but would like to suggest following the same thread of thought in my response to Chapter 6, that the minimal self includes both the ‘I’ and ‘we’ (without fusion); and this is how subjects can break out of egoic isolation, how they can be constitutively open to the later interpersonal dimensions (Daly, 2014, 2016).
I was interested to read Zahavi’s response to the chapter from Ciaunica and Fotopoulou; that he had also found that their criticisms had not hit the mark and that there were some idiosyncratic and confusing use of terms – such as ‘mentalization’. Nonetheless, in my view, Ciaunica’s and Fotopoulou’s identification of the need to tackle the affective dimension of minimal selfhood is a most promising avenue of investigation. I hope that they pursue this and that they also reassess and refine their philosophical differences with Zahavi in future work. Zahavi is proving his value as a philosophical provocateur in the esteemed tradition of Socratic gadflies!
Chapter 11, ‘The Significance and Meaning of Others’, is yet another demonstration of the breadth of scholarship and versatility in thinking that Shaun Gallagher brings to all his writings. In this contribution, he examines social cognition through the lens of hermeneutics, focusing specifically on the distinction between significance and meaning with regard to interpretation. Gallagher weaves together a number of the key threads in his philosophical repertoire to deliver a compelling case for pluralism with regard to social cognition. The chapter begins with a clear survey of the contributions from leading historical figures in the hermeneutical tradition, contrasting the traditional approaches to textual interpretation (Hirsch and Betti) which sought to establish meaning as the truth of the text, in other words, that which corresponded to the author’s original intention, with that of Gadamer who gave priority to significance – the interpretation that the reader brings to the text. While it is Hirsch who introduces the distinction, as Gallagher points out (219), for Gadamer any access to the meaning of the text is inevitably via an interpreter and so significance always informs meaning. There is no objective unchanging meaning. These interpretations can be further complicated and deepened, as Gallagher reminds us with Habermas’ notion of ‘depth hermeneutics’ which brings into play all the cultural and socio-political forces that shape any interpretation. Gallagher writes: “In this view, the deeper meaning is equivalent not to the author’s intentions, or to the original audience’s understanding, but to a realization of how certain socioeconomic forces shaped such intentions and understandings and their subsequent interpretations” (220).
In what follows, Gallagher employing hermeneutical practice in the domain of social cognition, maps the notions of meaning and significance onto the current theory of mind accounts, noting the theoretical and methodological ‘fit’ between Theory-Theory (TT) and traditional hermeneutics, whereas his own account of Interaction Theory (IT) coheres well with the Gadamerian account. Gallagher offers cogent critiques of the purely inferential TT account and he builds a convincing case for his hermeneutical analysis of social cognition in terms of interaction (IT) and also understanding others through the dynamical processes of narrative. To my mind these comparisons of differing theoretical domains testify yet again to not just the viability but even moreso the perspicacity of the enactivist account which coheres with the insights of Interaction Theory.
Chapter 12, ‘Feeling Ashamed of Myself Because of You’, by Alba Montes Sánchez and Alessandro Salice is one of the most philosophically satisfying papers I have read on this subject. It offers a succinct and critical synthesis of the literature, and furthermore identifies precisely the point that these other accounts overlook. The ‘I’ is co-constituted with the ‘we’ and this underwrites our susceptibility to feeling shame for others on two counts; shame-inducing others as members of our in-group and also in the wider sense as belonging to our human species. And it is this rendering of the primordial ‘we’ to which I have previously referred (in this review) and also in the context of the empathy debates (Daly, 2014, 2016). They distinguish their current proposal from earlier discussions which focus on the fact that “shame is not possible for a monadic, isolated self” (Zahavi 2014, 2012; Montes Sánchez 2014), that “the self of shame is intrinsically social”, arguing that there is an additional aspect to shame which is able to account for hetero-induced shame (231), when one feels shame because of the behavior or experience of another. I have now removed the ‘Shame’ paper off my ‘to-do’ list. This current chapter from Montes Sánchez and Salice has not only made this entirely redundant but they have also accomplished their analysis of this overlooked aspect of shame in such a superb way that it would be extremely difficult to improve on.
Daniel Hutto and Glenda Satne’s Chapter 5, ‘Continuity Skepticism in Doubt: A Radically Enactive Take’ is, like a number of chapters in this collection, another foray into the fine-tuning of the articulation of the enactivist account so as to ensure that counterfeits are not mistaken for the real-thing. Their particular aims are to clarify the related issues of content, representations and evolutionary continuity in the REC account and its rivals. Importantly, they stress that content-involving cognitions are compatible with the REC account, but are only available to those entities that have some mastery of sociocultural practices. This will be a particularly rewarding read for those already familiar with the debates and acronyms as the analyses not only reference earlier critical engagements between the various proponents but also offer an incisive if not fully resolved response to the continuity skeptic.
Chapter 10, ‘The Emergence of Persons’, by Mark. H. Bickhard, takes the discussion into the domain of metaphysics and as he stresses he is drawing on process metaphysics not entity metaphysics to give an account of the emergence of persons. Bickhard defends a view that aims to challenge the account of Radically Enactive Cognition and its critique of representationalism. He argues that even some of the more primitive life forms require normative truth-valued representational capacities. It seems that the conflict between the two accounts might be reconfigured by; firstly, determining what constitutes mastery of sociocultural practices; and secondly, whether what constitutes representation may be construed more broadly beyond narrow cognitivist formulations.
Chapter 16, ‘Neoteny and Social Cognition: A Neuroscientific Perspective on Embodiment’, by Vittorio Gallese, proposes a new model of social perception and cognition through the simulationist paradigm, and suggests what might qualify as the neural underpinnings for such an account. The thrust of Gallese’s argument is that a closer examination of neoteny (according to Stephen Jay Gould – that humans “retain in adulthood formerly juvenile features, produced by the retardation of somatic development” (309)) will support his claim that embodied simulation plays a key role in evolution and ontogeny.
The discussions are all philosophically interesting, but in my view the last section deserves special mention; here Gallese ties his analyses of neoteny with the aesthetic experience of fictional worlds. And while I would challenge Gallese’s claim (Daly, 2018) that during “the aesthetic experience of fictional worlds, our experience is almost exclusively mediated by a simulated perception of the events, actions and emotions representing the content of fiction”, nonetheless, that he brings this aspect of human experience into the debates is important. As I alerted in the beginning of this review, the artistic dimensions of culture were a regrettable but understandable omission from the selection of chapters.
Chapter 17, ‘Collective Body Memories’, by Thomas Fuchs extends the usual considerations of memory and body memory as individual experience into the intersubjective and collective domains, drawing principally on phenomenology and also indicating intersections with enactivism and dynamical systems theory. Fuchs’ key thought is that the similarities of embodiment and the commonalities of the human situation and practices, contribute through familiarity and repetition to the transfer of bodily memories and habits across time to become collectively embedded in cultural practices and rituals. Our bodies respond with a collective ‘know-how’ when solicited by the cultural situation or the interactive dynamic which have roots in a bodily remembered past. These all serve to establish and consolidate collective body memory. He writes: “Cultures preordain and suggest certain ways of sitting, standing, walking, gazing, eating, praying, hugging, washing, and so on. In so doing, they induce certain dispositions and frames of mind associated with these bodily states and behaviors: for example, attitudes of dominance or submission, approximation and distance, appreciation and devaluation, benevolence or resentment, and the like” (333). Fuchs examines bodily memory from the perspective of the individual experience, within the interactions of a dyad and also social groups across the domains of philosophy, psychology, sociology, sport and everyday culture. His thorough scholarship conjoined with his thought-provoking analyses add an important dimension to the overall aims of the project.
The final chapter, ‘Embodiment and Enactment in Cultural Psychiatry’, by Laurence J. Kirmayer and Maxwell J.D. Ramstead, examines the implications of cultural diversity for individuals undergoing anomalous experience in psychopathology, in illness, and also for those seeking to intervene on behalf of these individuals. They propose there is a bi-directional relevance between the paradigms of embodiment, enaction and narrative practice, with the concerns of cultural psychiatry. None of these approaches dismisses the value of neuroscience in the understanding of human experience, but nonetheless there is a warranted wariness of the neurocentric tendency in much modern psychiatry. The focus of this chapter as the authors outline is to examine “the cultural neurophenomenology of mental disorders that focuses on the interplay of culturally shaped developmental processes and modes of neural information processing that are reflected in embodied experience, narrative practices that are structured by ideologies of personhood, culturally shared ontologies or expectations, and situated modes of enactment that reflect social positioning and self-fashioning” (397). They specifically draw on the phenomenology of delusions to establish their case that “psychopathology cannot be understood completely in neurobiological or individual terms but requires a broader social and cultural perspective” (Kirmayer and Gold, 2012) which also takes account of the often blurred lines between what is considered pathologically mentally ill and what may be described as self-limited forms of psychopathology that are not debilitating (399). The analyses extend from enaction, to predictive processing, to metaphor and embodiment, to the metaphoric mediation of illness narratives, to embodiment, enactment and intersubjectivity in delusions, to cultural ontologies and constructions of normativity, culminating in a discussion of the cultural neurophenomenology of psychopathology. Each analysis displays a breadth and acuity of scholarship that deserves a more extended treatment – another book perhaps.
Unfortunately, this review could not do justice to all the chapters in this collection. These other chapters include: ‘We Are, Therefore I Am – I Am, Therefore We Are: The Third in Sartre’s social ontology’ by Nicolas de Warren; ‘Consciousness Culture and Significance’ by Christoph Durt; ‘The Extent of Our Abilities: The Presence, Salience and Sociality of Affordances’ by John Z. Elias; ‘The Role of Affordances in Pretend Play’ by Zuzanna Rucinska; ‘Ornamental Feathers Without Mentalism: A Radical Enactive View on Neanderthal Body Adornment’ by Duilio Garofoli; ‘Movies of the Mind: On Our Filmic Body’ by Joerg Fingerhut & Katrin Heinmann; ‘Painful Bodies at Work: Stress and Culture’ by Peter Henningsen & Heribert Sattel.
Given the potential scope of such a topic it is of no surprise that other equally important dimensions of enaction and culture were not included in this volume such as those flagged in the introduction – notably the work achieved by Lambros Malafouris in regard to material culture and his fascinating book How Things Shape the Mind (2013), appreciatively referencing Shaun Gallagher’s earlier book How the Body Shapes the Mind (2005). So too Richard Menary’s work in the area of ‘tools’ as elucidated in his books Cognitive Integration: Mind and Cognition (2007) and as editor of and author in The Extended Mind (2010). The fine arts, music and theatre, the high-cultural domains, are conspicuously absent (apart from the last section of Gallese’s chapter) and this is a great pity particularly given the centrality of Merleau-Ponty’s thought to the origins of enactivism and his enduring fascination and appreciation of painting in revealing our shared worlds. Nonetheless, the chapters included in this volume present new insights, refinements of the debates and extremely valuable contributions to our understandings of the cultural dimensions of subjectivity and intersubjectivity both in anomalous experiential contexts and in the everyday context.
Daly, Anya. 2014. “Primary Intersubjectivity: Empathy, affective reversibility, ‘self-affection’ and the primordial ‘we’”. Topoi, Special Issue: Embodiment and Empathy: Current Debates in Social Cognition, Vol. 33, Issue 1,
Daly, Anya. 2016. Merleau-Ponty and the Ethics of Intersubjectivity. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Daly, Anya. 2018. “Merleau-Ponty’s Aesthetic Interworld: From Primordial Percipience to Wild Logos”. Philosophy Today.
Durt, Christoph, Thomas Fuchs, Christian Tewes (Eds). 2017. Embodiment, Enaction and Culture: Investigating the Constitution of the Shared World. Boston: MIT Press.
Gallagher, Shaun. 2017. Enactivist Interventions: Rethinking the Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gallagher, Shaun. 2005. How the Body Shapes the Mind. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Pres.
Husserl, Edmund. 1989. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy – Second Book: Studies in the Phenomenology of Constitution, Trans. R. Rojcewicz and A. Schuwer. Amsterdam: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Jardine, J. 2017. Empathy, Embodiment, and the Person: Ipseity and Alterity in Husserl’s Second Ideen. Copenhagen: Faculty of Humanities, University of Copenhagen.
Kirmayer, L. J., and I. Gold. 2011. “Re-socializing psychiatry: Critical neuroscience and the limits of reductionism“. In Critical Neuroscience: A Handbook of the Social and Cultural Contexts of Neuroscience, (eds) S. Choudhury and J. Slaby, 307-330. Blackwell.
Malafouris, Lambros. 2013. How Things Shape the Mind. Boston: MIT Press.
Menary, Richard (Ed). 2010. The Extended Mind. Boston: MIT Press.
Merleau-Ponty, M. 1962, 2006. The Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. Colin Smith. London: Routledge Kegan Paul.
Merleau-Ponty, M. 2012. The Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. Donald A. Landes. Abingdon, New York: Routledge.
Merleau-Ponty, M. 1964. “The Philosopher and his Shadow”, Signs. Trans. Richard C. Mc Cleary. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.
Scheler, M. 1970. The Nature of Sympathy. Trans. P. Heath, Hamden, CT: Archon Books.
Schmid, Hans Bernhard. 2014. “Plural Self-awareness”, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences. 13:7-24.
Varela, Rosch and Thompson. 1991. The Embodied Mind. The MIT Press.
Zahavi, D. and U. Kriegel. 2016. “For-me-ness: What it is and what it is not”. In Philosophy of Mind and Phenomenology: Conceptual and Empirical Approaches, (eds) D.O. Dahlstrom, A Elpidorous and W. Hopp, Routledge, 36-53.
 See Shaun Gallagher’s latest book – Enactivist Interventions: Rethinking the Mind, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.
 In Ideas II, and in the section titled – ‘Transition from solipsistic to intersubjective experience’ (trans, 1989), Husserl outlines various implications of pursuing the solipsistic thought experiment, indicating that it is only in the interaction with others, particularly in conflictual situations, that the intersubjective sphere and a shared world can be established. Nonetheless, he points to an underlying condition for any interaction to take place in a footnote. “Of course, this conflict should not be considered total. For a basic store of communal experiences is presupposed in order for mutual understanding to take place at all” (84). It is this that I would suggest is pointing to Merleau-Ponty’s ‘primordial we’, and Scheler’s ‘I’ within the ‘we’, and the ‘we’ within the ‘I’. The intrasubjective experience of belonging to a ‘we’, lays the ground for shared intersubjective experience and this is not a fusion because the attention constantly shifts between ‘I’ and ‘we’, just as perception shifts between figure and ground. An alternative interpretation of this quote was suggested to me by James Jardine, “namely that Husserl is here indicating that, in order for reciprocal understanding to occur I must ‘assume’ that the other’s experiential world is similar to mine in certain respects (an assumption that is then confirmed in the ongoing course of the other’s expressive ‘behaviour,’ particularly when that behaviour exhibits that the other has recognized and is responding to me as a fellow embodied subject). The term which Husserl uses here, ‘gemeinsam,’ could just as well be translated as ‘common’ rather than ‘communal’” (Jardine, 2017).
Since 2008 the Cologne-Leuven Summer School for phenomenology has been a hallmark within the landscape of the phenomenological summer schools of philosophy. Moreover, it is the only school which deals specifically with Edmund Husserl, and, as such, it is a must for anybody interested in the founder of the phenomenological movement.
This year’s topic was genetic phenomenology. Related issues, such as pre-predicative experience, the lived body, the relation of phenomenology to psychology, the access to other persons, intersubjective constitution, history, phantasy and the life-world, were also touched upon by a series of presentations carried out by internationally renowned Husserl scholars.
In the morning sessions, professors and post-graduates presented accessible lectures which unraveled particular topics related to Husserl’s thought. The afternoon sessions were devoted to either textual discussions or presentations by graduate students.
Dieter Lohmar (Cologne, Germany): “Static and Genetic Phenomenology”
Dieter Lohmar’s talk during the first day of the summer school focused on the distinction between static and genetic phenomenology. His aim was to show the continuity rather than the discontinuity between these two methods of phenomenological investigation. Lohmar stressed the fact that, thanks to the new critical edition of Ideas II, we can now place the date of the beginning of the genetic phenomenology between 1912 and 1915, i.e. the time when Husserl was working on his drafts of the publication of Ideas II. According to Lohmar, both different topics as well as different methods distinguish genetic from static phenomenology. Static phenomenology takes into account the structure of isolated complex acts, whereas it does not investigate the dynamics of the experiential history, which is rather a characteristic topic for the late genetic phenomenology.
It is possible to mention at least two paradigms or dogmas that broadly characterize static phenomenology. Phenomenology generally starts as an investigation of the essential structures of consciousness. From the point of view of static phenomenology, we can pursue this investigation only by focusing on singular acts (Lohmar baptizes this trait, the “one-act-paradigm” of static phenomenology). Furthermore, static phenomenology relies on the so-called “one-way-foundation-paradigm” related to the general direction of constitutive effects: doing phenomenology, we have to start from the lowest levels of constitution and then work from the bottom up. In the Logical Investigations, Husserl understands the relation between acts primarily in terms of the notion of “foundation” (Fundierung). For instance, the act of feeling is regarded as a complex whole made out of two different acts. The founding act is an act intending a single object: in order to feel something, we need first to have a consciousness of the particular object of our feeling. On the other hand, the founded act is the feeling itself. High level objectivities like states of affair, essences are also grounded on a given cluster of simple acts. From this perspective, however, there is no room for a consideration of the constitutive effects that go the other way around, i.e. from the higher back to the lower levels of constitution. According to Lohmar, the latter is namely more a concern for genetic phenomenology, which focuses on the history of experience and the temporal succession and intertwining of multiple acts.
Diverse topics can be solved or addressed only by going into the genetic history of experience – for instance, the phenomena of language, consciousness, and especially the constitution of experiential “types”.
Types are regarded by Husserl as a product of the process that brings about the sedimentation of experience. They function actively in guiding and determining our perceptual as well as our practical life. Lohmar points out that any sedimented experience does not rest calmly and unknown in an alleged obscure soil, as the metaphor of sedimentation at first glance suggests; rather it influences our further perceptual and practical life. In fact, the term “sedimentation” should not be misunderstood: It does not imply that experiences are simply stocked and rest calm without effecting the life of consciousness; quite the opposite, they determine in a crucial way our experience of the present and likewise our expectations towards the future.
A characteristic example of genetic analysis is given by the experiential, pre-predicative origin of the sense of negation set forth in Experience and Judgment (cf. EU § 21). Husserl’s level of investigation here is well before full-blown cognition, that is, before the sphere of predicative judgment. The sense of negation needing to be addressed in the first place by the genetic phenomenologist belongs to the pre-predicative perceptual dynamics itself. Consider the perception of a tomato. At the beginning, I can just see the front-side of the tomato and notice that it is red. I am therefore motivated to make the experiential judgment that the tomato is red. However, I may afterwards turn the tomato in my hands and see the other side: I then realize that the other side is green. It is still one and the same tomato, but it is an unripe tomato that can no longer be considered fully red: my expectations on the level of perception have been disappointed, or more precisely, my expectation concerning the redness of the tomato was frustrated. This points to the fact that we have usual expectations concerning certain types of objects, but these expectations may undergo a complete or partial delusion. This experience of delusion is illustrated by Husserl with the model of a “fight” (Kampf) between evidences. A kind of evidence is already there before actual perception takes place: It is the evidence of expectation that I already have before I am going to directly perceive the object itself or the currently unperceived side of the object. The evidence of expectation “fights” with the evidence of perception. Yet, after the fight, the looser is still there, i.e. the evidence of anticipation is still alive and forceful, but its force undergoes now a modulation. Thus, a negation of the type “S is not p” is, in Lohmar’s own words, an “historiographic information”. I believed this object be red, but it revealed itself to be green. This information is sedimented in my experience, as “we are historical creatures”: everything that I experience speaks about what I was expecting before and, in this way, it speaks about me, my subjective view and attachment to the world with all its practical expectations, desires, values, etc.
Andrea Staiti (Cologne, Germany/Boston, USA): “The Late Conception of the Eidetic Method”
Andrea Staiti’s lecture focused on a further aspect of Husserl’s phenomenological method, namely eidetics. In the first part of his talk, Staiti investigated the notion of essence within Ideas I. Although Ideas offer the first substantial presentation of the notion of essence, anticipations of this method can be found in the Logical Investigations, for instance in the Second Investigation where Husserl introduces the concept of species or in the Sixth Investigation with the reference to the phenomenological structure of categorial intuition. In Ideas I, however, Husserl explicitly puts forth his theory of essences. Staiti noticed that the backdrop of the introduction of essences in Ideas I is “wissenschaftstheoretisch”. Husserl is introducing here a new kind of sciences, the so called Wesenswissenschaften as opposed to the Tatsachenwissenschaften. Essences fundamentally are the object of investigation for the first type of sciences, to which phenomenology also belongs.
In this way, Husserl is contrasting the idea that philosophy should be considered solely as a second order discipline that is a mere appendage of the empirical sciences. According to this view, philosophy does not have a subject matter, but is rather a reflection on the procedure of other sciences. This is the (Neo-Kantian) picture that Husserl precisely seeks to overcome in Ideas I.
The second part of Staiti’s talk dealt with the method of eidetic variation in Experience and Judgment. In this work, Husserl undertakes an analysis of the condition of possibility for experiencing and cognizing generalities. Staiti maintained that generality is already an ingredient of our direct experience of things, not a byproduct of intellectual procedures. We do in fact encounter a sort of generality in experience. However, this kind of generality is not the same generality of concepts or essences. This is a line of thought that goes back to Hermann Lotze, who introduces for the first time the notion of “first generality” (erste Allgemeinheit). Both Lotze and Husserl argue that this generality is grounded in the experience of similarity or syntheses of coincidence (Deckungssynthese): passive syntheses of associations which are at work in every experience without any active engagement or performance (Leistung) on the side of the subject. Anything we experience evokes certain expectations related to a generality called “type”. Types are, thus, a result of the fundamental cumulative aspect of our experience.
Staiti introduced then a fundamental distinction within the realm of generalities between essences, empirical concepts, and types. Empirical concepts, unlike types, do not depend on experience. An empirical concept opens up the extension of the type to infinity. It is not bound to that which I have seen. Differently from essences, however, empirical concepts are tied to the contingency of the world, since the method of attaining them does not get rid of the aspect of contingency and thus bounds the validity of the concept to the existence of the world. In order to purify our concepts, we need a different method, i.e. the method of free variation. This method enables us to discover, as Staiti put it, “what is not negotiable in the properties of an object in order for the object to count as that particular object”. This also means that we do not harvest essences which are already given in perception, but eidetic intuition or experience of essences is a process through which we try to get clear of our cognitive commitments. Staiti ultimately noticed a fundamental difference between type and stereotype. The latter may be characterized in terms of an upshot of the petrification of types. Experiential types, then, are intrinsically fluid and open to change and rectification on the basis of further experience.
Christian Ferentz-Flatz (Cologne, Germany/Bucharest, Romania): “Geschichte in der Sicht der genetischen Phänomenologie”
Christian Ferentz-FlaTZ’s talk developed in three sections. In the first part, he engaged with the objection concerning the absence of the historical dimension within the Husserlian phenomenology. This absence has been first justified with Husserl’s own critique of historicism in the Logos article of 1911, where Husserl was contraposing its biased method to the radical method of phenomenology based on direct intuition and the grasping of essences. This led many interpreters to consider phenomenology and history as fundamentally incompatible. The transcendental standpoint Husserl develops from the years in Göttingen onwards has also been regarded as a departure from the dimensions of historicity and facticity towards a focusing of the performances of a pure I completely bereft of any content and consequently of history. Furthermore, the eidetic method has been alleged to abstract from the dimension of history due to its prevailing interest on timeless eidetic truths (cf. especially Adorno’s critique of Husserl).
Especially two authors, Lembeck and Landgrebe, sought to provide an answer to this everlasting objection. They both pinpoint to the founding function that phenomenology, due to its eidetic method, can provide with respect to historical sciences.
Heidegger, on the other hand, sets forth with his own conception of phenomenology developed in lectures during the Twenties a new understanding of the relationship between systematic method and historicity. According to him, historicity does not necessarily imply the loss of objective, systematic knowledge. This is possible, however, only by adopting a hermeneutic standpoint, which Heidegger fundamentally misses in Husserl’s own methodology.
In the second part of the talk, Ferentz-Flatz considered a series of sources in which Husserl himself poses the question of historicity and its relationship to the phenomenological method. For example, in a letter to Cornelius from 1906 Husserl draws a distinction that he did not mention in the Logical Investigations: namely, the distinction between causal-explanatory psychology (kausal-erklärende Psychologie) and genetic psychology. The first type of psychology provides causal explanations by making reference to transcendent causes, whereby the second type opens up the possibility of a genetic consideration of experience which is not based upon external causation. Thus, Ferentz-Flatz concludes that a new concept of genesis begins to take hold in Husserl already during the 1910s.
The very breakthrough of the genetic phenomenology is however firstly documented in the appendix XLV of Husserliana XIII, which is dated 1916-17. Here Husserl provides four different meanings of the term “originality” (Ursprünglichkeit): 1) original givenness as opposed to indirect givenness, 2) founding as opposed to founded, 3) prior as opposed to posterior (temporal succession), 4) unmodified as opposed to modified (reproductive modification).
In Formal and Transcendental Logic (1929), Husserl will apply the genetic method in order to clarify the origin of judgments. This implies the consideration of the history of sense (Sinngeschichte) that pertains to each judgment as such as well as to each form of judgment. Further, Experience and Judgment (1939) purports to follow a similar undertaking, whereby the Cartesian Meditations contain a treatment of the experience of others that does not completely get rid of genetic explanations. Especially in this case, as Ferentz-Flatz underlined, Husserl makes a methodical use of the concept of genesis: he simulates a “fictive genesis” in order to discover new layers of experience – as when in the Fifth Cartesian Meditation one is requested to abstract from others and from any intentional implication that refers to others in order to discover a primordial sphere from which to begin the phenomenological analyses of the intersubjective experience. In this sense, a parallelism between genetic phenomenology and developmental psychology becomes evident. This is, however, only a parallelism, Ferentz-Flatz points out, since psychology has to do with empirical laws of the succession of stages of development, whereas phenomenology is concerned with eidetic laws of succession that strive for being universally valid.
The third and last section of Ferentz-Flatz‘s talk was devoted to a clarification of the third appendix of Husserl’s Crisis. His reading of the Husserlian reconstruction of the origin of geometry points to the fact that we are confronting here not a historical investigation devoted to rendering the objective truth about how things really happened. On the contrary, Husserl is here rather keen to show how things should have developed, how geometry should be born of conscious accomplishments. Genesis in this sense does not refer to the factual, objective history. As Rudolf Bernet points out in his preface to the German edition of the introduction to Husserl’s appendix written by Derrida, the history of consciousness has nothing to do with the factual history.
Emanuele Caminada (Cologne, Germany): “Lebenswelt in Ideen II”
Emanuele Caminada tackled the problem of tracing the historical genesis of the problem of the lifeworld in Husserl from Ideas II onward as well as engaged with its late systematic account in Husserl’s philosophy. At the core of Husserl’s idea there is the constitutive function of attitudes (Einstellungen). In Ideas II, Husserl distinguishes between the phenomenological attitude, the naïve attitude, the naturalistic attitude, the personalistic attitude, and the so called “geisteswissenschaftliche Einstellung”, i.e. the attitude proper to the humanities. Caminada characterized the notion of attitude in general as a form of perspectivity, a habit, a mindset.
Phenomenology defines itself in the first place as an attitude, namely the phenomenological attitude. In order to perform phenomenological analyses, one is required to adopt a new attitude that allow her to grasp phenomena in their richness beyond any scientific bias and prejudices. The natural attitude and the naturalistic are, according to Caminada, “absolute attitudes”: they provide us with a complete vision of the world. On the other hand, the attitude of the humanities and the personalistic attitude are attentive to the role that the fundamental correlation between subject and the world plays in every experience; these latter two are thus more committed to a form of relativism.
The phenomenological attitude can help us to distinguish the different attitudes, that is, it makes us sensitive towards the grasping of changes between attitudes. In fact, the phenomenological task is not only to pursue a classification of the different attitudes, but to investigate the correlation and transition from one attitude to another, as well as the way they interplay in concrete experience.
Jagna Brudzinska (Cologne, Germany/Warsaw, Poland): “Genetische Phänomenologie und Psychologie”
Jagna Brudzinska delves into the much debated question of the relation between phenomenology and psychology. Phenomenology characterizes itself as a descriptive science of experience and, under this perspective, it shares the descriptive character of its method with psychology. However, unlike empirical psychology phenomenology deals with eidetic laws and truths concerning the essential structures of experience. Its method is therefore not deductive and empirical, as in the case of psychology. Brudzisnka underlined further that one of Husserl’s main goals was to lay the foundations for a new kind of psychology as an a priori discipline. In this sense, one can speak of a parallel development of phenomenology and a pure, a priori psychology in Husserl’s thinking. The difference between the two derives from the transcendental character of the former, i.e. its attempt to unravel the constitution of being by the transcendental subject.
A topic further addressed by Brudzinska’s talk was the character of motivation as opposed to proper causation. According to her, it is important not to conflate motivation with a weak form of causality, as the former has a totally different structure of relation with respect to the latter.
The genetic turn in Husserl’s phenomenology means a turning point in the analysis of the life of consciousness. If in static phenomenology the singular act was the primary focus of the phenomenological investigation, with total abstraction from the temporal dimension of experience, genetic phenomenology instead points at illustrating the meaningful connections that join experiences together. One of these connections is the temporal succession which is far from being a mere “one-after-the-other” (Nacheinander), but which is more better described as a “one-upon-the-other” (Aufeinander) or “one-in-the-other” (Ineinander) relationship. Thus, there is a dynamic structure underlying the succession of experiences; one that cannot be seized upon by static phenomenology alone. The genetic method permits precisely the singling out of this structure and makes it the object of a phenomenological, a priori analysis.
Dieter Lohmar (Cologne, Germany): “Prepredicative Experience, Negation, Explication”
In his second talk, Lohmar tackled the topic of pre-predicative experience in the late Husserl by introducing a number of examples from everyday life. Pre-predicative experience is a knowledge each individual has about the properties and practical usefulness of determinate objects. This knowledge is not propositional; ratherit is founded in the past experiences the subject has of this or that object. Furthermore, the way that this specific kind of knowledge appears in phenomenological terms is a phantasmatic anticipation of the distinctive characteristics that individuate an object as that particular object. This phantasmatic anticipation is a form of evidence that Lohmar contrasts to impressive evidence. In the case of disappointment, a pre-predicative experience Husserl poses as the basis of the predicative form of negation, anticipative and impressive evidences clash together giving rise to a conflict of evidences in which impressive evidence usually has the upper hand.
According to Lohmar, pre-predicative experience functions primarily in an unconscious way. Whether the subject can find out what she already knew in advance depends on the particular situation in which she finds herself, and it is pre-predicatively functioning by shaping her experience of a determinate object and of the world in general. Methodically, we need to make a conscious repetition of the situation, and then we may gain insight into the knowledge and pieces of information that were operative in it.
Lohmar emphasized once more the fact that we have an historiographic knowledge of past experiences. Our present situation is informed by what we have lived in the past. This holds true also for predicative formations like negation, addition, and subject-object predication. They all have their origin in experience or, more specifically, in the history of experience. This is the main idea Husserl advocates, for instance, in Formal and Transcendental Logic, in which he argues that logic needs a theory of experience in order to become understandable and justified from a phenomenological perspective.
Sebastian Luft (Marquette University, USA/Padeborn, Germany): “Husserl’s Mature Phenomenology of the Life-World and His Critique of the Sciences”
Sebastian Luft offered a survey of Husserl’s phenomenology of the life-world from its beginnings in Ideas II to its extensive development in the Crisis-work. Husserl envisioned the task of describing the intuitive lifeworld in its concrete typicality especially in the lecture on Nature and Spirit from 1919. In Ideas I (1913), this project is not yet fully developed, although one can find there a description of the natural attitude, i.e. the way in which human beings naturally live and are conscious of a world that is intuitively given in experience. Therefore, Luft argues that the theme of the life-world was introduced in 1913 whereas the concept only in 1919. The first time both the theme and the concept were set forth in a published work was in the first volume of the Crisis in 1936. For this reason, the theme of the life-world was usually understood as a result of Heidegger’s influence on Husserl’s later work. This is, however, far from being true, as the unpublished Husserl’s reflections on this particular topic from the 1910s and 1920s unmistakably prove.
Luft discussed the concept of the natural attitude as the horizon within which the theme of the life-world gradually emerged in Husserl’s thought. The natural attitude is the normal attitude underpinning our everyday activities and opinions. Most importantly, we do not know that we are in the natural attitude as long as we are in it. The main thesis of the natural attitude is that the world exists and more precisely does so independently of any experiencing consciousness. Thus, according to Luft the correlation between the subject and the object of experience remains absolutely concealed in the natural attitude. Only phenomenology and its proper methodology can reveal that everything objectively existent is the correlate of a subjective “doing”. In this sense, science is deemed to be a specific doing guided by the intention of gaining objective (subject-independent) knowledge. This doing is further characterized by a proper form of attitude that Husserl calls “naturalistic attitude,” which distinguishes itself from the natural attitude through the epistemological goal informing its activity. This primarily consists in the task of de-perspectivizing the perspectival view on the world proper to the natural attitude and achieving thereby a “view from nowhere”. The world of the natural attitude is therefore prior to science and to the naturalistic world that is a product of the objectivizing and de-perspectivizing standpoint the natural sciences assume with respect to the given, intuitive world.
The world of the natural attitude, which Husserl lately baptizes as the life-world, is not a pre-linguistic world, but rather a world of opinions, musings, projects, and interests. Luft provided the following definition of the life-world: “The life-world is the product of constitution on the part of transcendental subjectivity, living in the mode of the natural attitude”.
In the Crisis Husserl explicitly carries out the project of a phenomenological description of the a priori of the life-world as it is given to us prior to science. This world is eminently a social world, and the naturalistic attitude of the positive sciences has concealed this fundamental worldly dimension by identifying the world with (material) nature. Hence, Husserl’s project amounts to the attempt to develop a science of the “despised doxa”, i.e. of the subjective-relative that characterizes the natural attitude and the experience within the original dimension of the life-world. This experience is at the same time the starting point of every scientific endeavor, and the life-world can thus lay the “meaning-foundation” of and for every kind of science. Sciences “cover up” the life-world with a “shroud of ideas” and take the result of this operation, which is the world according to the science, as the real world while relegating the life-world to an illusion. But this is the reverse of the truth, according to Husserl. Science reverses the natural order of things or, to put it in Cassirer’s terms, science is the one symbolic form of meaning that has become the measure of all others. This position characterizes the so-called naturalistic reductionism against which Husserl’s phenomenology of the life-world wants to take over. This implies the development of a new science able to describe and to conceptually fix the structure of a world that is most known and familiar to us, and in that way most distant. This world contains a material a priori structure – spatially, temporally, and genetically. A science of the life-world, Luft finally remarked, is precisely a transcendental science of the subjective, i.e. of the conditions of the possibility for the subjective access to the world.
Alice Pugliese (Palermo, Italy): “Intersubjectivity in Late Genetic Phenomenology”
Alice Pugliese provided in her talk an overview of Husserl’s understanding of intersubjectivity. In particular, she questioned the method through which Husserl intended to illustrate the experience of the other in the Fifth Cartesian Meditation. In this work, the analysis carried out by Husserl boosts a static account of intersubjectivity in which the individualities of the encountering subjects are already constituted and pre-given. Pugliese argues that this is certainly one aspect of the intersubjective encounter, but it does not exhaust all of the dimensions and facets in which intersubjectivity may appear. The face-to-face encounter that Husserl has in mind in describing intersubjectivity within the Fifth Meditation presupposes that each person has already a history of experiences that constitute her individuality and make her a full-blown subject. There may be, however, encounters with subjects at different levels of genetic development, for instance the relation between the mother and child, which has also been object of scrutiny in Husserl’s posthumously published manuscripts. According to Pugliese, it is precisely the static account characterizing Husserl’s most known theory of intersubjectivity that poses the problem of the accessibility of the other’s consciousness life. In this view, the subjects are mutually inaccessible, they are opaque to each other. This depends, at least partly, on the fact that the already constituted subjects do not share the same experiential history. This represents, however, both a term of differentiation as well as a term of continuity between the subjects. In fact, Pugliese stressed that the individuation of the subject through a lived history means that they are profoundly different, but this is at the same time the basis for their mutual recognition. A single experience is by definition not sharable; and, therefore, the other is given to me in this regard in the mode of the accessible inaccessibility. Yet, if one puts the single experience in the web of a continuous flow of experiences, the identification with the other subject can take place, since we both share the structure of a meaningful life spreading over a number of different, successive experiences. This general structure is what links us together and gives evidence of our commonality, which is then the basis for the mutual recognition of the other as a subject like me, that is as an alter ego.
Pugliese continued by saying that a specific kind of individuation takes place in the experience of the other. There is a process that Husserl labeled with the term “communalization” (Vergemeinschaftung) that means the process of becoming subjects within a given community of other subjects – what the sociologists nowadays probably would call “socialization”. Through this process of becoming intersubjectively recognized by other subjects, everyone achieves a characteristic individuation as a social subject. Everyone becomes an individual for a community and thus identifies herself with specific social roles and values.
Saulius Geniusas (Hong Kong, China): “Phantasy in Late Phenomenology”
Saulius Geniusas undertook a discussion of Husserl’s phenomenology of phantasy. He focused in particular on the question about productive imagination and sought to answer this on the basis of Husserl’s reflections on the phenomenon of phantasy. The issue regarding productive imagination is a critical one and concerns the alleged absence of a treatment of this phenomenon within the Husserlian phenomenology. According to Geniusas, this represents a bias of post-Husserlian phenomenologists, according to whom Husserl ultimately never recognizes productive imagination as a proper object of investigation. Geniusas’ talk provided an argument against this bias.
The talk was divided into four sections. First, Geniusas elucidated the meaning of the concept of “reproductive phantasy”, with which Husserlian phenomenology is particularly concerned. According to a widespread view, the reproductive character of phantasy derives from the fact that it replicates copies of actual objects given in actual experience. This however does not exhaust the meaning of the reproductive character in phantasy experiences. In addition to this Geniusas identifies two other forms of phantasy reproduction: namely, the reproduction of the experience (Erfahrung), e.g. the act of seeing Peter, and the reproduction of experiencing (Erlebnis), e.g. the act of seeing as such without its intentional object. This should allow us to draw a distinction between memory, as a reproduction of experience in the first sense, and phantasy, which has the freedom to reproduce the act of experiencing in isolation from the object of experience.
Second, Geniusas tackled the question of whether phantasy can be regarded as an immanent component of perception. With the help of the example of cross-modal illusions, he showed how the transfigurative function of phantasy does not go smoothly together with the fundamental capacity of perception for presentingthe given in its own pure givenness. Hence, phantasy cannot be taken to be an ingredient of the perceptual experience. This does not mean, however, that phantasy is completely disconnected from perception. As Geniusas pinpoints, in fact, the function of phantasy in perception has to be found on the objective side of the experience, i.e. in the internal and external horizon that surrounds the object as perceived. Every perception is, according to Husserl, an apperception. This entails that the perception of the front side of an object is always at the same time accompanied by the givenness of the back side and of the other objects that physically surround the first object. In this sense, Geniusas sees a function of phantasy in providing an experience of these horizons of the objects that cannot be grasped in immediate perception.
Third, Geniusas discussed three fundamental senses on which one can speak of productive phantasy in the framework of Husserl’s phenomenology. In the first place, productive phantasy may be intended as referring to the capacity to intend original fictive objects, such as centaurs, round squares, etc. Secondly, productive phantasy is associated with the activity of opening up the field of pure possibilities. This sense is employed by Husserl in his discussion of the eidetic method and the function of phantasy as one of its pre-conditions. Ultimately, productive phantasy intends configurations of sense in the sphere of inactuality with the practical purpose of transferring them into the sphere of actuality. This latter sense has been then the topic of the last part of Geniusas’ talk.
In the fourth section, Geniusas argued for an understanding of the constitution of the cultural world in terms of a product of phantasy. His argument began with addressing the question of meaning that is at the core of Husserl’s philosophical enterprise. Namely, all philosophical questions represent for Husserl questions of meaning. The actual reality, and in particular the reality of the cultural world, is in this view also a particular configuration of meaning. The problem of constituting a cultural world equals, therefore, the problem of constituting a new sphere of meaning that is shared by a plurality of subjects. The main question here amounts to asking how a subject can participate in and gain access to a particular cultural world. A first answer would be simply communication: the subject apprehends the culture in question through communication with the ones who belong to that particular cultural world. This, however, begs the initial question according to Geniusas. Communication does not make me intuitively present the sense that is communicated; rather, it points towards this sense and its correlative intuition. An empty intention of the sense and meaning contained in a cultural practice does not allow the actor to fully understand what she is doing while performing this or that practice. There must be an intuitive access to the content of sense conveyed by the cultural practice. Now, the question turns out to be, what kind of experience can provide us with an intuitive access to this content? Geniusas’ answer is that only phantasy can and must play a role here by furnishing an intuitive experience of a sense that would otherwise be inaccessible and concealed.
Dieter Lohmar (Cologne, Germany): “Kritik und Begründung von Wissenschaften im Spätwerk Husserls“
Lohmar’s last talk addressed the issue of Husserl’s foundation of sciences. Hereby, one intends three kinds of scientific inquiry: humanities, formal sciences (like mathematics and logic), and natural sciences. Husserl attempted, on the one hand, to provide a critique of those sciences as they are historically handed down by the Western tradition and, on the other hand, to found them on the basis of a phenomenological investigation into their a priori conditions. Probably taking up a concern which Dilthey expresse before him, Husserl especially aimed at establishing a foundation of the humanities (Geisteswissenschaften), and this is attested by a series of lectures he gave in 1913, 1915, 1919, and 1927 that bear the title “Natur und Geist” as well as the lectures on Phenomenological Psychology from 1925 and, ultimately, the Crisis (1936). Ideen II (1912-15) is also informed by this project, since is displays analyses concerning the intersubjective constitution of cultural sense as well as a consideration of the development of habitual, spiritual meaning and the “teleological” dynamics of sinking-down and re-actualization of cultural formations.
In the discussion of the constitution of a cultural world, the body (Leib) plays a prominent role. This is so, according to Lohmar, because the communication between subjects takes place first and foremost at a bodily level rather than a merely linguistic one. There is a huge number of conversational patterns that are possible and are actually performed only through body movements and behaviors. The body is an organ of communication and also is the principal path allowing us to discover the other as another subjectivity like us, as the well-known analyses of the experience of the other in the Cartesian Meditations suggest. The activity of interpreting or re-enacting (Nachvollziehen) in one’s mind what the other thinks, feels and judges relies on the direct experience of the other’s body in analogy with our own.
In the Crisis Husserl pinpoints the role played by the evidences of the life-world in laying the foundation for the natural sciences. He shows how everyday evidences supervise and ultimately render possible every step of the scientific inquiry, starting from the bare handling with experiment devices to the communication of scientific results within a community of trusted co-researchers.
Reviewed by: Marco Cavallaro (PhD Fellow at a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne; Department Member of the Husserl-Archive Cologne; Visiting Researcher at Boston College)