Carl B. Sachs: Intentionality and the Myths of the Given: Between Pragmatism and Phenomenology

Intentionality and the Myths of the Given: Between Pragmatism and Phenomenology Book Cover Intentionality and the Myths of the Given: Between Pragmatism and Phenomenology
Routledge Studies in American Philosophy
Carl B. Sachs
Taylor & Francis
Paperback £25.59

Reviewed by: Eric Chelstrom (St. Mary's University)


Carl Sachs identifies himself a Kantian naturalist (2). What he means by this is that he accepts as plausible the transcendental standpoint and that its task is one of cognitive semantics, identifying the minimally necessary conditions for an utterance to be expressive of a thought. He identifies as a naturalist in the sense that he aims to provide an account of intentionality that is fully naturalizable. He argues that transcendental naturalism is the view that “transcendentally-specified roles must have empirically-specifiable role-players” (9). Sachs frames his book not only around the Myths of the Given, but around the question of how to account for original intentionality as opposed to derived intentionality. In laying out his solution, he favors a two-fold sense of original intentionality, what he calls bifurcated intentionality. He argues “both discursive and somatic intentionality must be considered as equally original…because discursive intentionality and somatic intentionality are individually necessary and jointly sufficient for judgments with empirical content” (8). This is endorsed in order, Sachs argues, to answer the naturalists challenge. It is a cornerstone of Sachs’s attempt to realize John Haugeland’s claim that there is a position between neo-behaviorists (Quine, Dennett) and neo-pragmatists (Sellars, Brandom). In contrast with Haugeland, Sachs approaches his challenge by relying heavily on the work of Merleau-Ponty. This, he believes, enables him an opportunity to construe one form of original intentionality as both non-social and non-linguistic, namely somatic intentionality: the intentionality of the body in its lived engagements and comportments.

Sachs makes a reasonable case that Wilfrid Sellars’s Myth of the Given has traditionally been too narrowly interpreted in terms of its scope. He argues that the problem is not just with an empirical given, but rather whatever sort of thing one treats a given. What’s more, Sachs argues that to understand Sellars’s criticisms of C.I. Lewis, one needs to appreciate that the given in question is not an epistemic given, but a cognitive-semantic given. To clarify, “the epistemic given has both epistemic efficacy (it plays a justificatory role in our inferences) and epistemic independence (it does not depend on any other justified assertions). The semantic given is both efficacious and independent with regard to cognitive semantics” (22). The Myth of the semantic Given is “the thesis that cognitive significance, objective purport, requires something with a semantic status, or a kind of meaning, independent of and yet bearing on the meaning of objectively valid judgments” (29). Sachs’ view of these two Givens is that his account of bifurcated intentionality opens room for non-conceptual content that does not violate the Myth of the semantic Given. Sachs believes a benefit of his account is that it preserves “transcendental friction,” which is “that it must be possible, by reflecting on our most basic conceptual and perceptual capacities and incapacities, to guarantee that we are in cognitive contact with the world we discover and do not create” (13).

Chapter one provides a lot of the groundwork for the book. This includes defining terms like non-conceptual content and transcendental friction. By the former, Sachs means “personal-level representational cognitive-semantic content that does not conform to the Generality Constraint [that a subject cannot conceive of a is F if she cannot also entertain the thought that a is G and that b is F]” (12). The former is the requirement that “it must be possible, by reflecting on our most basic conceptual and perceptual capacities and incapacities, to guarantee that we are in cognitive contact with a world we discover and do not create” (13). The first two chapters are basically dedicated to explicating and defending a view of C.I. Lewis’s thought. It is done to establish a basis for the thesis of bifurcation. One might contend that Sachs is establishing a neo-Lewisian view. Indeed, the entire setup seems to leave one the impression that Lewis was very close to the truth, but lacked a sufficient understanding of somatic intentionality to make his semantic foundationalism work. In particular, Sachs argues at the close of chapter two, that one of Lewis’s critical errors was to adopt an Augustinian conception of language.

Chapter three is broken into three subsections. The first section outlines the dispute between Roy Wood Sellars and C.I. Lewis, specifically between the former’s physical realism and the latter’s conceptualistic pragmatism. The middle section establishes how this contextual backdrop informs Wilfred Sellars’s formulation of the Myth of the Given and his criticisms of Lewis. The final section establishes the place of non-conceptual content in lieu of the arguments presented by the younger Sellars. This chapter should be of immense historical value to the history of analytic philosophy. In terms of phenomenology, I believe that there is substantial potential for further engagement. The first section in particular has much in common with disputes between Husserl and Heidegger. This is in no way to assert that the disagreements or their terms are the same, only that there are sufficient parallels to warrant further comparison. The middle section might provoke an interest in drawing Mikel Dufrenne’s work on the a priori into dialogue with the analytic literature on the synthetic-analytic distinction in fruitful ways. As for the final section of the chapter, its concern for transcendental structures bears clear interest to the phenomenologist, even if the latter is not generally concerned for the causal role of said structures. That said, the way Sachs frames the chapter could be helpful for phenomenologists in thinking about how their work relates to work in other fields. That said, there is one clear complaint that anyone with a phenomenological background would raise. At the end of the chapter, Sachs quotes Sellars’s remarking: It is by the introduction of visual sensations that we transcend phenomenology or conceptual analysis. They are not yielded by phenomenological reduction but postulated by a proto-(scientific)-theory” (Sellars in Sachs, 69). Puzzlingingly, no relation of this passage to phenomenology is ever provided. Given the care in which Sachs works through the analytic literature, this is very surprising. This idea only returns directly in the Appendix. In either case, no mention is made of Sellars’s relationship to Marvin Farber or that Sellars is clearly claiming to have bettered both Husserlian phenomenology (Husserl, Farber) and conceptual analysis (Ryle, Lewis) on the question of non-conceptual content. It is disappointing that this comes at the end of the chapter without discussion or more critical attention.

Chapter four outlines the Brandom-McDowell dispute, and their shared rejection of non-conceptual content. It ends with a discussion of Dreyfus’s and McDowell’s exchanges. All of this seems to serve the purpose of establishing that non-conceptual content is rightly dismissed where one begins from discursive intentionality as paradigmatic. However, it is not clear that discursive intentionality is the (sole) original form of intentionality. Hence Sachs’s advocacy in the fifth chapter for Merleau-Ponty’s emphasis on somatic intentionality as a co-original form of intentionality.

This all leaves open a position that might challenge Sachs. One might argue that somatic intentionality is original and that discursive or linguistic intentionality is secondary. This challenge does get a response at the end of chapter six, when Sachs offers his reasons for rejecting this sort of position in the work of Dreyfus and Todes. I’m not convinced that this possibility is so easily rejected, as it seems to hang on the requirement that defining intentionality in terms of language and not vice versa is true. While the latter is at odds with the Sellarsian approach, one might want more careful reasons for rejecting that alternative. Alternatively, why not think that something like somatic intentionality – or a system of affectations that might grow more and more sophisticated – is more basic? This certainly would make more sense of the evolutionary continuity one finds across species, and would help make sense of human development as well.

Chapter five brings Merleau-Ponty into the discussion. Merleau-Ponty’s criticism of intellectualism and empiricism are used by Sachs to ground the necessity that somatic or motor intentionality is distinctive from discursive intentionality. For Sachs, discursive intentionality consists of both directedness and aboutness, especially since he couches it in terms of Sellars’s community of language users, i.e. the deontic scorekeepers. Somatic intentionality, on the other hand, lacks aboutness but consists of directedness. It is also non-apperceptive. Sachs presses the distinction between the “I think” and “I can” in accentuating this difference. Discursive intentionality is associated with intellectual activity and judgments; somatic intentionality with the habitual deployment or execution of embodied postures or gestures. Habits are understood as quasi- or proto-normative. With regard to somatic intentionality, Sachs argues that the Myth of the Given – in either epistemic or semantic form – is avoided only insofar as one appreciates a distinction between pre-personal and sub-personal senses of non-conceptual content. If one locates non-conceptual content at a sub-personal level, then, he argues it cannot take on an intentional structure. That point is not consistent with Merleau-Ponty’s broad application of intentionality to the natural world (Merleau-Ponty 2003; see also Hamrick 2011). However, Sachs believes that conceiving of non-conceptual content in pre-personal terms avoid this problem.

Sachs makes a surprising, if subtle, error in his discussion of Merleau-Ponty (107-108). He correctly indicates that motor intentionality is directedness without aboutness. A dog might be directed towards the object of play, even if it might not experience play as something about which it participates. However, he misapprehends what is meant by Merleau-Ponty identifying it as non-apperceptive. Apperceptive contents in Husserl and Merleau-Ponty – unfortunately ambiguously used by both – refer to the adumbrated profiles associated with the object of experience, or to the pre-reflective mineness of experience. That is apperception refers to the unity of the experience of this or that both in relation to the “object” and to the “subject.” Motor intentions aren’t necessarily constituted through profiles. Nor are they the sorts of things that one generally recognizes their self to be enacting or embodying in an explicit, voluntaristic manner. The later part Sachs gets right, though his interpretation is perhaps a little intellectualist, thinking this is about a reflective “I think.” It’s more a comment for Merleau-Ponty about the absence of the pre-reflective sense of an “I” in the experience of these intentional states. For example, one affects a posture, but one is neither aware of one’s affecting one’s posture nor is one’s affectation of a posture something that’s adumbrated. There are no posture-profiles intended in absence of the intentional affectation of the posture itself. By denying that there are profiles, absences co-constituting internal horizons of the intention, one does not deny that motor horizons have temporal dimensions that involve action-possibilities.

Chapter 6 pulls all of the parts together firmly and offers closing arguments. Interestingly, Sachs believes that it is worthwhile retaining Sellars’s non-relational conception of discursive intentionality over Merleau-Ponty’s relational conception, though he concedes that somatic intentionality is by its nature relational (136). Sachs offers a succinct three thesis summary of what he’s arguing for, which is helpful for his pointing out how he resolves both the Sellars-McDowell and the McDowell-Dreyfus debates. They are:
(a) discursive intentionality is non-world tracking;
(b) perceptual episodes have somatic intentional content (phenomenologically considered);
(c) perceptual episodes have world-tracking representational content (naturalistically considered) (138).
Sachs insists upon preserving (a) on the basis that rejecting (a) “leads one right back to all the problems of ‘intentional inexistence,’ realism about universals, and so on” (ibid). I’m not sure why that would have to follow, though Sachs seems to treat language games as abiding by their own internal rule-systems without necessary reference to the world. The deontic scorekeepers track whether one’s usage is correct, not whether one’s claims track true. Sachs understands our embodied coping skills in terms of “sheer receptivity” (ibid). It should be warned that Sachs does not equate receptivity with passivity (139). Rather it is a spontaneous non-conceptual, non-inferential state of affairs. Phenomenology’s role in this line of reasoning is to dislodge the assumption that “rational conceptuality is the paradigm of intentional activity” (139). Rejecting the view attributed to Dreyfus and Todes that somatic intentionality grounds discursive intentionality, Sachs does accept that the former constrains the latter. By this he understands that “the normativity of bodily habits constrains (but does not determine) the normativity of social norms” (139). More formally, somatic intentionality is necessary, but not sufficient for discursive intentionality. As noted above, one is wont perhaps for a more complete set of reasons why one should reject the thesis of somatic-intentionality’s grounding discursive intentionality. Sachs is skeptical in no small measure because, he argues, were somatic intentionality necessary and sufficient for discursive intentionality, one would succumb to the Myth of the Given again. I’m not sure why that would have to be the case, even if I accept the reasons he offers. In other words, I don’t see why one can’t agree that the relationship is as Sachs states – that somatic intentionality is necessary but not sufficient for discursive intentionality – and not still prioritize somatic intentionality as more basic. Granted, that might require going with Merleau-Ponty in denying (a) and affirming a relational account of language.

The book closes with an Appendix, addressing the question as to whether or not phenomenology commits itself to the Myth of the Given. In brief, Sachs’s argument is that Merleau-Ponty successfully avoids the Myth in either form, but that the early Husserl commits to the Myth. Specifically, Husserl commits to the Myth through the correlation of noesis and noema. Says Sachs, “Correlationism is Mythic dues to its foundational role within the total system as the presuppositionless condition of possibility of cognitive experience, just because our awareness of the correlation is achieved when all presuppositions are suspended, i.e. when the phenomenological reduction is complete” (161). Sachs believes this fits Sellars’s metaphor of the “seal on melted wax.” I’m not sure how this is supposed to be, as it strikes me as a misunderstanding of Husserlian phenomenology. That we discover noetic-noematic correlation while maintaining the phenomenological reduction is not a problem in this manner. Sachs forgets that the reduction effects the suspension of the natural attitude. That is, our everyday comportments in the world are focused on the objects themselves as given. The reduction enables us to step back from that naïve standpoint in order to identify and explicate the subjective roles played in consciousness in experience. A shift of attentional focus is a necessary condition for discovery of the workings of consciousness. Nor does presuppositionless mean suspension of contents, only suspensions of interests and judgments. I suspend my affirmations and negations, specifically my existential commitments. Husserl never asserts that “the categorial structure of the world imposes itself on the mind as a seal on melted wax” (Sellars in Sachs, 161). What Husserl does argue is that the categorial structure of consciousness arises in relation to the experienced contents of lived experience. What’s discovered is that our epistemic and semantic starting points involve an exchange or relation between the subject and the world – which is precisely the thing Sachs praises Merleau-Ponty for discovering. I can appreciate that if one interprets Husserl’s reduction as violating the demand for transcendental friction, that one might argue that he is committed to the Myth. However, Husserl is careful to articulate how the content of consciousness involves the relationship between the subject and her world. That relationship grounds his consistent concern for evidentiary fulfillment. There could be no concern for fulfillment unless it were possible that both that the subject be mistaken – either noetically or noematically – and that evidences be possible. Husserl’s neither granting justificatory nor semantic roles to the given. One might think that noema can stand in isolation and that this is precisely what the reduction realizes or reveals. However, that cannot be the case, because Husserl is clear that noema emerge from out of a horizonal network, i.e. meanings are the results of interactive relations between categorial elements (see Logical Investigation VI) and the subject’s comportment within and towards the world. Unfortunately, it may be the case the Sachs is inheriting mistaken attributions about Husserl’s philosophy from Sellars, who received those mistakes from Marvin Farber (1943).

A quibble with Sachs’s book might be raised about the book’s approach on the whole is how quickly Sachs is to brush over applying categories associated with historical figures. For example, much of the book involves consistent usage of Kantian v. Hegelian labels to distinguish different positions or thinkers in their disputes. Given that these labels aren’t always defined, and that they represent potentially niche interpretations of those labels, one wonders if they might not obscure things at times. For example, in one of the early chapters, Sachs associates Kantianism with Lewis White Beck’s translation. While that was an influential translation of Kant’s Critique, it is now generally regarded as excessively Humean in its interpretive approach. More recent Kant scholarship is far less enamored of the Beck paradigm that Kant was directly responding to Hume. Rather, Kant is far more grounded in the development of the Leibniz-Wolff tradition, and in responding to Baumgarten’s work. This isn’t to say that Kant is not influenced by empiricism as well, just to note that Hume’s role in spurring Kant’s philosophical development is much less important than Beck and cohort asserted. What’s more, the term Hegelian has different meanings in different circles as well. Within British Idealism it meant one thing, and variants from that school of thought inform the American Hegelian lines. But this is not obviously the same Hegel that one finds in Marx or the German tradition. None of this is Sachs’s doing, historical chains of influence are intrinsically complex. But the plurality of these interpretive lineages do raise questions about the efficacy of using the labels so freely.

A more substantive question I have is whether or not Edmund Husserl’s account of the genetic origins of judgment in Experience and Judgment poses a challenge to Sachs’s approach. Not only does Husserl offering a rather robust account of how judgments – discursive intentionality – arise from out of non-discursive origins; but it is well known that Merleau-Ponty was familiar with most of Husserl’s later works – as Sachs acknowledges in The Appendix. As such, there is a possibility that Merleau-Ponty has an intrinsic objection to how Sachs is approaching bifurcated intentionality. This is in no way an argument here, only to raise the consideration – as such scholarship is beyond the scope of this review.

On the whole Sachs’s Intentionality and the Myths of the Given is a worthwhile text. It provides careful and precise elucidations of Sellars’s Myth. It deepens the historical context and understanding of important debates in contemporary philosophy, especially analytic philosophy – for which Sachs’s contribution might be invaluable. And it joins a growing chorus of works that bring phenomenological philosophers into prominent dialogue with more widely read philosophers. The book’s aim to outline an approach to intentionality without succumbing to the Myths of the Given and to preserve transcendental friction both succeed. While the book is often very technical and dense in the usage of terminology that would be potentially prohibitive for a broader audience, I believe it merits recommendation for those working on issues relating to the nature of intentionality or the Myth(s) of the Given.

Works Cited
Dufrenne, Mikel. 1966. The Notion of the A Priori. Edward S. Casey, trans. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
Farber, Marvin. 1943. The Foundation of Phenomenology. Albany: SUNY Press.
Hamrick, William. 2011. Nature and Logos: A Whiteheadian Key to Merleau-Ponty’s Fundamental Thought. Albany: SUNY Press.
Husserl, Edmund. 1970. Logical Investigations. J.N. Findlay, trans. London: Routledge. Husserliana (Hua) XIX/1 and XIX/2: Logische Untersuchungen. Untersuchungen zur Phänomenologie und Theorie der Erkenntnis, Zwei Bänden, ed. Ursula Panzer. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1984.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 2003. Nature: Course Notes from the College de France. Robert Vallier, trans. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
Sachs, Carl. 2014. Intentionality and the Myths of the Given. New York: Routledge.

Béatrice Longuenesse: I, Me, Mine: Back to Kant, and Back Again, Oxford University Press, 2017

I, Me, Mine: Back to Kant, and Back Again Book Cover I, Me, Mine: Back to Kant, and Back Again
Béatrice Longuenesse
Oxford University Press
Hardback £30.00

Ursula Renz (Ed.): Self-Knowledge: A History, Oxford University Press, 2017

Self-Knowledge: A History Book Cover Self-Knowledge: A History
Oxford Philosophical Concepts
Ursula Renz (Ed.)
Oxford University Press
Hardback £64.00

John Sallis: The Return of Nature

The Return of Nature: On the Beyond of Sense Book Cover The Return of Nature: On the Beyond of Sense
Studies in Continental Thought
John Sallis
Continental Philosophy
Indiana University Press
August 10, 2016

Reviewed by: Zachary Isrow (Global Center for Advanced Studies)

There is a growing concern in the world today, especially in contemporary philosophy, regarding nature. However, despite the strong concern, few texts adequately address the topic. In his work The Return of Nature, John Sallis attempts to show just how imperative it is that we reflect on nature and come to a new understanding of the relationship between humans, the current state of our world, and nature. This book serves as a solid call to arms, forcing us to reevaluate the meaning of nature and compelling us to take up the challenge of re-envisioning a future that is both sustainable and more fulfilling of our being.

The work emerges at the forefront of an ever growing concern with nature. With increased awareness of climate change and other environmental issues we face today, scholars from a wide array of disciplines have sought to address ways we can combat the evolving crises. In philosophy, nature has long been subject to investigation. Up until recently, the focus on nature was aimed at understanding its relationship to being or law, and related issues. Today, much of the focus has been on reconsidering various perspectives of nature in an attempt to account for the current movement to “return to nature,” with advocates for natural medicine, ecological living and energy.

This is indeed where Sallis fits; the goal of his text is to raise awareness to the necessity of accounting for nature in such a way that a paradigm shift occurs from man vs. nature, to man with nature. As with any text in this field it must not only provide a coherent and valid argument, but it must also draw from the tradition out of which it arises. Sallis utilizes German Idealism and American Transcendentalism to establish differing conceptions of nature as well as to interpret what a return to nature might mean for us today. Specifically, he focuses on the works of Emerson, Hegel, and Schelling in order to give an account of nature.

I believe that Sallis’ book can be broken down into three major sections based on the goal of each chapter. These are as follows: understanding nature, evaluating nature, and connecting nature to man. The first of these is the objective in the first three chapters, the second the middle three chapters, and the last the final two chapters. I will consider each of these sections as I see them in greater detail.

First, Sallis must provide a detailed background for viewing nature in the many ways that it has been understood. Accounting for the pre-Socratics through Nietzsche, he has done precisely this. In the first section, Sallis discusses the various ways in which nature can be said to “return.” He points out changing seasons, abandoned cities or buildings, and other instances in which nature may return – the meaning of return changing in different senses. In addition, “There are occasions when nature lets its beauty appear, when it shines forth in a scene so wondrous that it draws us into a contemplative repose in which we linger before the scene” Sallis writes (7).

Having set forth an explanation of the ways in which nature can be said to return, that is, the various meanings of “return” such that nature may do so, Sallis attempts to outline, in the second chapter, the origins of thought regarding nature, or what the Greeks termed φύσις, which reveals the etymological origins of the word to mean “birth” (28). Sallis then seeks to explore the foundations of nature in theoretical thought. He suggests that nature is “the place from within which natural things are born and determined as such” (29). Tracing nature in thought through German Idealism, and specifically through the philosophy of Schelling, Sallis concludes that nature tends to serve as grounding, a replacement for God. With this, “God can no longer be regarded as the causa sui but rather as progeny of the ground, as given birth by nature” (42).

Next, Sallis insists upon stablishing a distinction between the phrasing a “return of nature” and a “return to nature,” the former having been dealt with in the first chapter. The return to nature represents an often philosophical assertion, that we must derail the current trend of societal development and instead return to a state in which we give more regards to nature. As Sallis writes, it is an imperative which “presupposes that its addressees either have themselves retreated from nature or somehow been withdrawn from it, so that in either case they have been separated or at least distanced from nature” (44). Sallis considers the focus on a ‘return to nature’ through the theories of natural man in Rousseau, aesthetic judgment in Kant, and nature in Emerson. Following this, he briefly continues on into the German idealist tradition, as well as its successors in Nietzsche and Heidegger.

In accounting for Rousseau’s position on natural man as a starting point for a ‘return to nature’, Sallis notes that it “opens the way to a condition that, though not that of a savage, in a way accordant with modern life, approximate the state of nature” (46). It is thus theoretical and descriptive in content as it describes the state of nature, with the goal of leading to a method of critiquing or analyzing the modern political state. In the case of Rousseau then, the notion of a ‘return to nature’ is not asked on a sharp contradistinction between the separation of nature and this return. However, the opposite is true in Kant.

In his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant “begins by acknowledging the dependence of knowledge on experience, the primary movement enacted in the critical project consist in a regress from experience – primarily the experience of nature – to the a priori conditions of such experience, conditions that lie not in nature but in the subject,” Sallis notes (49). The separation of man from nature is evident in Kant’s theoretical philosophy, but is perhaps more profound in his practical, moral theory. According to Kant, morality consists in acting in accordance with the categorical imperative and goes against nature. Sallis writes “morality itself lies in self-determination that, utterly detached from natural inclination, is carried out in accordance with the moral law” (49).

Stemming out of this separation, this fierce distinction between man and nature, Emerson’s essay Nature,  argues in favor of a ‘return to nature’ considering that man has so far removed himself from nature due to his entrapment in urban atmospheres. Emerson, Sallis suggests, saw “the human spirit is expanded by coming into proximity to nature, by returning from the detachment from nature inculcated and enforced by city life” (50). Thus nature serves as the means through which spirit manifests itself and presents itself contrary to its becoming subservient to materialism and the goals associated with materialism.

While I will not comment further on the general outline of the views of a return to nature as it develops in the German idealist tradition, it is clear the direction which it is headed. As Sallis writes, “From nature one is displayed to oneself in some specific manner” and that “The return to nature also awakens a sense of the elemental in nature and of our capacity to master and control it,” we can already note the progression this takes (51). For example, Nietzsche’s conception of the ‘Will to Power’ is easily traced and tied into this development of a ‘return to nature.’

In the first section of the text, Sallis has set-up the background for the ability to analyze the concept of ‘nature’ as such, a task which I have described as understanding nature. He has provided a detailed history of the development of ‘nature’ as a concept, including its ancient Greek origins as well as its changing tone in German Idealism. Additionally, he examined the conceptions of “return of nature” and a “return to nature” differentiating the two and clarifying the concern over nature in contemporary continental philosophy. In doing so, Sallis has given the reader the ability to understand nature such that they may critique and analyze nature along with the next aim of the text: evaluating nature.

The goal of evaluating nature is one of analysis and critique, through examining in detail the theories in which a certain conception of nature is presupposed. This section is condensed into a single chapter, chapter four, “Return to Nature from a Beyond Nature,” though it penetrates into the remainder of the work. In this chapter, Sallis argues that nature is, in one sense, reduced to mere sensation, i.e., colors and shapes. In this case, nature is no longer ‘nature’, i.e., landscapes and environs. In order that the former can be determined to be “reconstituted” as the latter, “determinacy must supervene upon it from elsewhere, from somewhere beyond nature,” and so thus, “posits a nature beyond nature” (61). Sallis traces this ‘beyond nature’ through Nietzsche’s thought and notes that the metaphysical ground of the beyond nature is shifted to a subjective ground. “Nature is thus recalled to nature,” or, in other words, nature is not constituted by a “nature beyond nature” anymore, but instead contains its own self-determinacy, nature as such (63).

Sallis then shifts in chapter five, “The Elemental Turn,” to applying philosophy to practical political and ecological concerns. This final section of the book, which I have termed, connecting man to nature, seeks, by making philosophy contemporary in its goals, to illustrate ways the philosophical conception of “return to nature” may be applied to a revised concern for nature and the environment. Thus, this section serves ultimately as a “call to arms,” a militancy, with the objective of eliminating a particular mode of living in the world that is not only contrary to, but ultimately destructive of our nature. It is the task of philosophy to “dismantle the frame of this turn so as to return to a nature,” which we have neglected throughout the whole of philosophy (74).

Overall then, this book is one of many in a push to reconsider and reevaluate nature, and our place within it. More importantly however, it joins the contemporary effort to utilize humanities research, especially philosophical research, to impact the global effort to combat our own actions that have proven devastating to the environment as well as to our very own nature. With that said, while this book expertly provides insight into how we ought to conceive of ‘nature’ such that a “return of nature” is possible, and even necessary, little is done to suggest where this might lead. The one effort made to provide a suggestion is what Sallis calls the “disintegration of difference” which involves the elimination of being a particular of being, and instead focused on the “plurality of being.” It is, Sallis writes, “precisely in being the kind it is, it would be devoid of selfsameness and so would not be a kind. There would be a disintegration of difference at the very heart of being” (119).

Sallis ends with questioning what this would lead to, but does not himself posit this future. Without this, the book almost feels incomplete. Unless, however, one considers this book amongst another which may perhaps put into perspective this emphasis on the plurality of being. Read together with the other works that complement each other in this emerging push for philosophy to influence practical issues, this book might be able to offer an alternative to our current mode of being in the world.

The Return of Nature is nevertheless an inspiring read which engages its readers from the very beginning. It can be read by anyone looking to open up their mind to the reflection on other ways to live more closely in tune with their own nature and to the nature that is around them.

Frank Schalow: Departures: At the Crossroads between Heidegger and Kant

Departures: At the Crossroads between Heidegger and Kant Book Cover Departures: At the Crossroads between Heidegger and Kant
Quellen und Studien zur Philosophie 112
Frank Schalow
De Gruyter
Paperback 19,95 €
viii, 243

Sacha Golob: Heidegger on Concepts, Freedom and Normativity, Cambridge University Press, 2016

Heidegger on Concepts, Freedom and Normativity Book Cover Heidegger on Concepts, Freedom and Normativity
Modern European Philosophy
Sacha Golob
Cambridge University Press
Paperback £19.99

Alix Cohen (Ed.): Kant’s Lectures on Anthropology: A Critical Guide

Kant's Lectures on Anthropology: A Critical Guide Book Cover Kant's Lectures on Anthropology: A Critical Guide
Cambridge Critical Guides
Alix Cohen (Ed.)
Cambridge University Press
Paperback £20.00

Klaus Held: Phänomenologie der natürlichen Lebenswelt

Phänomenologie der natürlichen Lebenswelt Book Cover Phänomenologie der natürlichen Lebenswelt
New Studies in Phenomenology / Neue Studien zur Phänomenologie
Klaus Held
Peter Lang

Reviewed by: Susan Gottlöber (Maynooth University)

Klaus Held, the ‘father of the Wuppertaler philosophy’, is without doubt one of the leading German phenomenologists of the present day. With his book Phänomenologie der natürlichen Lebenswelt, published in 2012, a collection of a number of separate lectures and articles (not all of them published previously), Held intends to tackle the urgent question of the ‘ecological crisis’. He does this by working his way back through some of those philosophical ideas that still influence today’s perception of nature. These are mainly from Kant and Aristotle, but he also goes back to the Pre-Socratics searching for answers that can help us reconsider our understanding of nature as life-world.

The book is divided into four major parts. The first two parts are dedicated to the concept of nature in Kant (first part) and Aristotle (second part), the third to addressing the question of elementary aspects in the life world, focusing on the Pre-Socratics Anaximander and Heraclitus. The final part presents an overview of particular aspects of reflections on the natural life-world such as the intercultural, the Japanese perspective as well as some final reflections on the topics of physis and birth.

The task of the book is, as Held states in the introduction, to investigate the ‘experience of the life-world as nature’ (p. 13). Held is very much aware of the fact that his choice of philosophers and the order in which the philosophers are discussed could be questioned or even be perceived as arbitrary. However, he presents a convincing argument for the composition of his book which proceeds in a hermeneutic and phenomenological manner, i.e. working through the dominating pre-judices (in a Gadamerian understanding). He makes it clear, that his book is not primarily looking at the history of philosophy but it is a phenomenological analysis of the life-world experience of nature (p. 13). And because the horizon of experience changes with the historical change of understanding of what nature means, any analysis only does justice to the object if it traces this hermeneutical change (p. 13). An investigation thus has to start from the modern objectivist understanding of nature of the natural sciences and therefore has to start with Kant who was the first thinker to establish this understanding with outstanding systematic clarity (pp. 13f.). Working historically ‘backwards’, Held aims at uncovering how we get through Kant as a bridge to a phenomenological analysis of Aristotle’s physis-thinking (showing also the impoverishment of the concept of nature in both thinkers) and from there to the Pre-Socratic understanding of nature and the elements. The latter is an important concept for Held, since unlike the modern idea of the elements, this Ancient idea still maintains a close connection between the elements and life (18ff). Held starts in his introduction with a brief history of the Western concept of nature. The wonder, thaumazein, which the Ancient philosophers felt, Held believes, is in danger of becoming lost in modern concepts. This feeling of awe and wonder when engaging with being is a topic Held will return repeatedly in his book as a linking concept.

The first part is dedicated to Kant’s understanding of nature. Held makes very clear that he does not intend to attempt a comprehensive analysis. Rather, his reflections on Kant aim at showing that even in the founding of the modern natural sciences a position can be found that leads back to early Greek thinking about the elements and nature (p. 26/27). The starting point for Kant arose out of the philosophical concerns of the past such as the established idea of interpreting theoretical knowledge in a technical manner or the question of certitude. Kant then, in the Critique of Pure Reason, according to Held, takes up Aristotle’s ‘defining of the definable’ in four ways: through defining the sensations, space and time, that which is given through the sensations through the spontaneity of thinking, and finally the differentiation of the formal and material concept of nature (p. 40). It becomes clear, according to Held, that the ‘possibility of the appearance and perception of nature as appearance has to be grounded in two fundamental principles: the a priori intuitions of space and time and the sensations’ (p. 58). This then leads to two fundamental principles which determine Kant’s concept of nature. Firstly, since appearances are characterized by extension in time and space they can be measured; an idea that still today is a central foundation of the natural sciences. The second principle is concerned with measuring the intensive quantity of that which is given in sensation. Two things are important here: First of all, it is a general human experience that sensations are always experienced with an intensity which varies, i.e. a more or less (p. 69; 75). In addition, while we cannot anticipate a priori which sensations will overcome us (Kant speaks of experiencing the real as resistance) we know that given sensations have a polar structure, i.e. the opposite is always present though in a hidden way – a point that will be taken up with the Pre-Socratics (p. 81).

The second part of the book is dedicated to Aristotle’s understanding of nature. Starting with the Aristotelian distinction between technē and physis, and basic ideas of Aristotle’s metaphysics such as the four causes, Held develops Aristotle’s views in relations to his predecessors. Held makes it clear that Aristotle’s distinction between technē and physis stems from a narrowing of the concept of nature that in itself does not pay attention to the two different horizons of being and need which led to the forgetting of the understanding of physis as beginning, as arché (p. 119). In addition, Held shows that by identifying physis with arché for Aristotle the beginning of being remains hidden in darkness. Held concludes the part on Aristotle by developing Aristotle’s concept of the four elemental qualities, the hot, the dry, the cold and the moist which through their combinations make up the qualities of the four elements of earth, fire, water and air (p. 164).

The third part of the book is dedicated to the elements in Ancient Greek thought with a focus on the Pre-Socratics, Anaximander and Heraclitus. In showing the insights as well as the limits of Aristotle’s metaphysics, Held gains an overview on the Pre-Socratics’ understanding of nature which is independent of Aristotle’s perspective and thus independent of the comparison between technē and physis (p. 186). The next chapter on Anaximander is unusual in so far as it is centred on a very careful analysis of the sources which Held quotes at length. That the arché is constantly present in physis means for Held that with Anaximander we can identify the following idea: because of the unbounded (ápeiron) character of physis, the beginning (arché) entails both light and darkness, and the appearance of light is at the same time the process of expanding limit as well as a retreat into the hiddenness (pp. 218f). The idea of physis entailing opposites is again picked up in the third chapter on Heraclitus. The presence of opposing elements such as both death and birth in life, illness in health etc., forms a non-apparent harmony in physis and thus an ontological dependence between the opposites. This is also an idea, according to, which is not possible in Plato’s thought and which influences so much of Western philosophy (pp. 239; 247). However, and Heraclitus makes this very clear, this insight into the functioning of the cosmos is not possible for the many. This is an important point for the phenomenological approach Held is using and we can see here, according to Held, how Heraclitus is in many ways the first to raise the question between philosophical thinking and natural attitude (p. 260).

The final part presents an overview on different aspects of the life-world and raises a number of questions. Held makes the point that all experiences are embedded in a horizon and that despite the goal of the natural sciences to achieve absolute objectivity, every situation in life is embedded in a universal context of references (p. 262). Especially within the context of globalization the question arises whether we will be able to develop one life-world for all humanity – one of the main questions a phenomenology of the life-world is concerned with (p. 266). One potential characteristic could be that developed by Husserl, the Umstandskausalität (p. 268). The relationship between nature (e.g. climate) and culture still needs to be further investigated phenomenologically (p. 278). As an example of a non-European perspective on nature and world, Held then develops some aspects of the Japanese outlook (pp. 279ff). Finally, Held rethinks the question of physis and birth as an example of our relationship to technology, a point to which we will return in our critical assessment below.

The book captivates the reader with its outstanding clarity, and this in two ways: Firstly, very complex philosophical considerations are developed in a clear and careful manner. Secondly, the structure: Held constantly presents the the reader with short and precise summaries at the beginning and the end of each chapter to show where he or she is, and shows how already developed positions lead on to the next part of the book, how answers are given to question posed earlier, and also what still needs to be developed. Held thus does not follow the postmodern trend of breaks in and throughout the history of philosophy, rather he shows how ideas are interconnected, influence each other and how seeing ideas through a particular lens sometimes obstructs a view of the actual concept.

Two critical points could be made. The first concerns referencing. Held works in the already familiar style of the phenomenologists which means references to sources used as well as other literature is scarce and one often wishes for further guidance as to where particular ideas can be found, especially when the reader might not be familiar with the texts. The second point is more ideological in nature and concerns Held’s conclusions in the final part. In using the example of birth, Held tries to show that through the taking over by téchne, and the loss of the ‘insurmountable subsequentness’ (unüberwindbare Nachträglichkeit) we are not only losing the experience of resistance which characterizes our experience of reality as such but also invoking the danger of excess (pp. 316ff). This stance evokes the distrust of the early phenomenologists (Scheler, Heidegger etc.) of technology and technological advancement. However, this stance is problematic for a number of reasons: from a metaphysical/anthropological point of view one could argue that the use of reason as exercised in the use of téchne belongs essentially to human nature and thus physis itself. Secondly, it ignores how the advances of technology and its application play a major role in reducing human suffering. Finally, one has to point out that any use of technology in the widest sense such as medicine, glasses, pacemakers, surgery but even clothes, computers, diving equipment etc., are an imposing of human téchne on the limitations of our (biological) nature. Thus to draw a line between one téchne and the other seems rather arbitrary.

Nonetheless, Held’s call for caution and the need for philosophical reflections regarding technology and nature is an important one. Again, the author’s considerations do not necessarily lead to his final personal conclusions. Thus, Held gives the reader the freedom to follow him or not. In addition, the reader benefits from Held’s expertise in phenomenology and Ancient Greek philosophy. Thus, one is left with an eloquently written, insightful and very balanced book which in a convincing way presents the thesis that the history of thought is all interconnected and that by seeing through our philosophical prejudices we uncover the insights of previous thinkers and make them relevant for today’s issues.