Hans Blumenberg: Die Nackte Wahrheit

Die nackte Wahrheit Book Cover Die nackte Wahrheit
suhrkamp taschenbuch wissenschaft 2281
Hans Blumenberg. Edited by Rüdiger Zill
Suhrkamp Verlag
2019
Paperback 20,00 €
199

Reviewed by: Sebastian Müngersdorff (University of Antwerp)

On Unbearable Reality and Beautiful Appearances

I.

Ferdinand Hodler’s painting ‘Die Wahrheit’ features a naked woman dispelling six cloaked male figures as if they were dark thoughts. She finds herself standing on an isle of grass while the men – lies? – turn from her and look for shelter in barren lands. In Jean-Léon Gérôme’s depiction of the truth, titled ‘The Truth Coming from the Well with Her Whip to Chastise Mankind’, one sees exactly what the title promises. At least, presuming the beholder knows that truth always comes as a naked, angry woman ready to hysterically chase you down. I would hardly be surprised if the painter kept the words “How could you!” in mind, or, more accurately, “Comment peux-tu!”, when drawing the contours of her screaming mouth. Perhaps he even pictured the face of his wife at the moment he told her the truth about his many models and the adulterous state of affairs.

In other paintings, by Merson, for example, or Lefebvre or Baudry, lady truth brandishes a mirror instead of a whip. In the version of Édouard Debat-Ponsan, two men, one of whom is blindfolded, try to restrain her and her charged mirror, to no avail. Her clothes tear from the male grip while her flaming red hair blows bravely and unhinderedly, her gaze aimed at some point outside the frame: her holy mission? Ultimate victory in the Age of Reason?

Venus, Eve, Leda, the Sirens, Diana, Phryne, nymphs: figurative painting has always gratefully seized upon the offer to depict naked women. Nonetheless, it is not self-evident that Hodler’s ‘The Truth’ belongs to this list of subjects. Why is truth female? Why can she only show herself unveiled? Why is she angry? Why is she victorious? Why is she armed? Why is she white? And why does she have no pubic hair?

At least some of these questions spurred Blumenberg’s collection of small excerpts exploring the metaphor of ‘the naked truth’ in Western thought, now published from his archives as Die Nackte Wahrheit by Rüdiger Zill. This book makes quite clear that the depiction of truth as naked is more than a mere representation. There is a longstanding tradition in which truth is deeply intertwined with a pure female nature understood as clarity, innocence, attraction and unapproachability. Such equation of truth with female nudity creates a variety of unuttered associations. Truth, for example, is accessible only to few – something that will play into the democratizing project of Enlightenment. It installs a connection between eros and the pursuit of truth, a desire, a libido sciendi. Prohibition is involved and it gives rise to the problem of whether truth is still truth when she presents herself dressed up. Truth becomes contaminated by male deception. The quest for truth becomes “an expedition to some exotic place”, as Kołakowski terms it in his text on nakedness and truth (Kołakowski 2004, 235). Truth becomes a capture, an ambiguous purpose of curiosity, an ideal of knowledge which is godlike, forever beyond reach yet nonetheless worth chasing, “a passion deserving of death” as Blumenberg calls it (NW 105). Just like in the story of Artemis and Actaeon (NW 104-6), the male gaze automatically becomes indiscrete and inappropriate, and curiosity becomes a kind of unacceptable voyeurism. Just like Actaeon, anyone who looks at the divine must die, an implication of a lethal danger of pursuing truth. It is worth considering that such a passion is rewritten in the expression “vedi Napoli e poi muori”, especially when bearing in mind how often a beautiful city – the word city, like truth, has a female genus in most European languages – is considered in similar female terms: the Jewel of Europe, La sposa del mare, the Pearl of the Orient, la Superba or Elbflorenz. In the case of Paris, it is expressed in terms of this other metaphor for truth: la ville lumière.

That in the European languages “truth appears on the stage as a female act”, Blumenberg writes, gives “truth an erotic-aesthetic trait […] which is not taken for granted by the misogynist” (NW 126). Whether this implies that skeptics must also be misogynists remains unclear. And whether this applies to the skeptic Blumenberg himself is a question that perhaps only a modern Diogenes might dare to ask Blumenberg’s daughter, Bettina.

Be that as it may, in view of the topic it is rather striking that this book devotes only a single page to a female writer, Madame du Châtelet. This one page, however, does not discuss her writing or thought; instead, it addresses an anecdote that tells how Mme du Châtelet shamelessly undressed in front of her servant Longchamp. Blumenberg links this behavior to the project of Enlightenment itself, in which “truth shows herself unembarrassedly in front of those who ought to serve her” (NW 103). In short, rather than her writings and ideas, it is only Madame du Châtelet’s indifference to her own nakedness that becomes a significant expression of the “new methodological ideal of objectivity” (NW 103).

Although Blumenberg does not render it explicitly, the short chapter on Actaeon following this page suggests that the divine nakedness of truth becomes human in the nakedness of Émilie du Châtelet. The hunter Actaeon, servant of the goddess Artemis, watches his mistress undress and consequently he must be punished for seeing her in her nudity. Someone who looks at Medusa, however, instantly dies. In other words, Acteon already signals an alteration in the mythic gaze upon a deity, which in Artemis’ bathing scene changes from tremendum into fascinosum. He doesn’t die immediately, he is punished for his violation. In the anecdote of Madame du Châtelet, then, a succeeding shift occurs. In contrast to Actaeon, the servant Longchamp is not punished, he is not even noticed. Longchamp becomes a subject “of conscious exposure” and is regarded as not being there: “in the witness of nudity an awareness is raised […] of remaining unnoticed in his presence” (NW 103).

This reversal in the relation of nakedness, fascinosum, between mistress and servant, punisher and the one punished, is still far from Nietzsche’s later take, “to think of the naked truth as a frightening and unbearable dimension” (NW 126). Whether a comparison of Nietzsche’s views on the ugly truth and his lashing attitude towards women – note the double inversion of Gérôme’s depiction concerning the appearance of lady truth and the one who is cracking the whip – could add something to the debate about his possible misogyny is merely a suggestion discerned between the lines.

Like this example, and completely in line with his longstanding interest in the non-conceptual (Unbegrifflichkeit), i.e. metaphoric, narrative, anecdotal and mythic substratum of conceptual thought, Blumenberg delves into the layers of implicit imagery and associations so as to note significant changes in meaning over time. Moreover, he lays bare – an expression which is itself already part of the semantics of the naked truth – inconsistencies in the rational discourse that is built on this metaphoric level and shows how it can be deconstructed and eventually turned against itself. He does so by discussing writers and philosophers such as Adorno, Kafka, Pascal, Fontenelle, Rousseau, Vesalius, Fontane, Schopenhauer, Kant, Kierkegaard and Lichtenberg. The seemingly incoherent order of these names mirrors both Blumenberg’s own avoidance of chronology and his preference of association. Although he refuses an all too systematic approach of the issue, the intrinsic connection of the different chapters is always clear: “How does the metaphor portray the position of the thinker, in which he maneuvered himself because of more or less compelling reasons and under more or less unavoidable conditions” (NW 127)?

Applied to truth, this question brings him to many considerations about the implications of viewing truth as naked: “If truth only is right when naked, then every cover is a disguise and eo ipso wrong” (NW 71). However, when we embrace the conviction that truth is true only when it is naked, we can never undo the threat that “even its nakedness is still costume” (NW 92). Nakedness then turns into “the illusion […] which is created by the gesture of tearing down dresses”, which in turn evokes “the scheme of the onion skin” (NW 97). “When once opened, nothing ever is something final” (NW 102). And at the same time, there is the thought that “truth might be as unbearable to humans as nakedness” (Blumenberg 1960, 51). In this case, “the cover of truth seems to grant us our ability to live”, a thought which appears in “Rousseau’s pragmatic exploitation of the metaphor of truth in the water well […]: leave her there. The depth of the well protects us from the problem of its nakedness” (Blumenberg 1960, 57).

In this regard, it is remarkable how rarely Blumenberg refers to the Christian tradition. In “The Epistemology of Striptease”, Leszek Kołakowski, for example, traces “the entire foundations of the theory of nakedness which has been so important in our culture” back to the Judaeo-Christian tradition (Kołakowski 2004, 225). The Book of Genesis indeed tells of an intrinsic connection between the fruit of the tree of knowledge and the shame which immediately manifested itself when the fruit was eaten. A shame “not of their crime, but of their nakedness” (Ibid., 223). Thus, “a double relation has been established: between truth and nakedness on the one hand, and between truth and shame on the other” (Ibid., 225).

Another absence which resounds throughout the book is that of the name Heidegger, which appears not even once. Nonetheless, Die Nackte Wahrheit can be read as an implicit yet fundamental critique of Heidegger’s conception of truth as alètheia. By dissecting the metaphor of truth, Blumenberg’s text offers a perspective which shows that Heidegger still fits perfectly within the dominant Western tradition, a tradition Heidegger himself sought to destruct by thinking beyond the ontological difference and the forgetting of being. Blumenberg, however, implicitly shows that Heidegger and his conception of truth as disclosure or ‘unconcealedness’, still wades through the Western waters that Heidegger himself thought he had traced to their source.

Despite this absence of Christianity and Heidegger, Blumenberg convincingly illustrates how metaphor functions “as a more or less easily fixable crack in the consistency of thought, a stimulant, and as such it refreshes reason; it also is, however, a sedative in other cases, where it covers up the failure of the concept or remedies its lack by a merely different procedure” (NW 127).

At this point, Die Nackte Wahrheit surpasses being just a study of the naked truth and begins to concern the project of metaphorology itself. As Rüdiger Zill notes, “already since the late 1960s, Blumenberg had been thinking about a detailed revision of his metaphorology” (NW 186). Concerning his distanced relation to his initial approach, Blumenberg wrote to his English translator: “The text is not only outdated – after a quarter of a century! – it is also poor” (NW 189).

In Blumenberg’s project of ‘metaphorology’, metaphor is always more than a disguise of truth or a thought expressed in non-conceptual language. “It is essentially aesthetic”, which means “that it is not something like the mere cover of the naked thought, of which one had to constantly think as the true purpose of its interpretation and unlocking that has to be reached in the end. Who constantly thinks beyond its limits, loses what he has without receiving what he cannot possess” (NW 176). In other words, there is no naked truth to be found beyond the metaphor. And more specifically, the power of metaphor is precisely this lack of precision sought by advocates of a clear and distinct conceptual language. Thus, Blumenberg argues, in contrast to the views of many thinkers he discusses, that “history” is not the “course of the self-exposure of the concept” (NW 155). Blumenberg’s associative selection of authors and topics stresses that metaphor, with its ambiguity and openness to many interpretations, is always “far more intelligent than its composer” (NW 176).

II.

The first fifty pages of Die Nackte Wahrheit concern Nietzsche and Freud. The only other pieces that come close to even ten pages are those on Pascal, Kant and the Enlightenment. Thus, of all the names figuring in Blumenberg’s posthumous book, Nietzsche and Freud can be called his main interlocutors.

Nietzsche immediately shows a fundamental reversal of truth as a beautiful naked creature. When he writes that “Truth is ugly. We have art so that we are not ruined by truth” (NW, 14), it is clear that something in the metaphor of truth changes. We are no longer in pursuit of the naked truth – she lies within reach in her unbearable ugliness – and so our interest shifts to the beautiful veils that are produced to conceal her.

“There would be no science, if science would only care about this one naked goddess and about nothing else” (NW, 20). With this thought, both Freud’s concept of sublimation and Blumenberg’s apotropaic function of myth are prefigured: art and culture function as a “human safety device” (NW 15), a protective shield which safeguards us from something insufferable. Or as Nietzsche formulates it: “Every type of culture starts with an amount of things that are veiled” (NW 15).

Blumenberg’s text from 1971 on the relevance of rhetoric and anthropology directly evidences the strong influence of this Nietzschean thought: “Ah, it is impossible to have an effect with the language of truth: rhetoric is required” (NW 31). Nietzsche defends rhetoric as a right to deceive vis-à-vis an unbearable truth. For the sceptic Blumenberg, however, truth cannot be unbearable, because the very possibility of truth itself is bracketed and remains an open question. In his writing on Hannah Arendt and Freud it is “the absolutism of truth” which becomes unbearable, this intimate European conviction “that the truth will triumph” (Blumenberg 2018, 57). Yet, as Blumenberg proclaims, “[n]othing is less certain than that the truth wishes to be loved, can be loved, should be loved” (Blumenberg 2018, 3).

This critique of Freud, already present in Rigorism of Truth, is continued in Die Nackte Wahrheit. The notion that psychoanalysis lives from the metaphor of revealing and concealing and connects the intellectual with the sexual can only barely be called a renewing insight. Blumenberg, however, uses this as a step to a subtler point. He reproves Freud’s rigorism because his therapy prioritizes the affirmation of his theory rather than the well-being of his patients. In other words, via Freud, Blumenberg criticizes the longstanding tradition “in which truth is justified at every cost” (NW 38), the same rigorous conviction that resonates in Thoreau’s famous phrase that “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”

Read from within the metaphor of ‘the naked truth’, Freud’s quest for truth – a quest strongly intertwined with the centrality of sexuality and the prudery of the society in which he lived – shows that it is not at all clear when something is yet more ‘resistance’, a symptom, a still-clothed kind of nudity, and when exactly someone has encountered the bare piece of the reality they are searching for. “The general premise for resistance as a criterion might be (this): what people gladly accept cannot be the truth” (Blumenberg 2018, 59). In discussing this central concept of resistance as an element of Freud’s “para-theory” (loc. cit.) he comes rather close to Popper’s rejection of Freud’s methodology. In his archive there are two manuscripts with the respective abbreviation TRD and TRD II, in which Blumenberg shows how ‘resistance’ is a kind of parachute that recuperates elements falling from or even objecting to Freud’s main theory (Zill 2014, 141-43). This way, even the critics of his theory can still be fitted within it. Blumenberg points out how Freud’s quest for countering resistance and his rigorist search for truth, his urge to reveal secrecy after secrecy, eventually lead to a “hysteria of revelation for which history has an analogy in hysteria of confession” (NW 47).

III.

Die nackte Wahrheit is certainly not Blumenberg’s first engagement with either Nietzsche or Freud. He had already dealt with both authors extensively and quite similarly in his earlier writings: reading them through the lens of their own imagery in order to criticize them from within the logic of these images and metaphors. In Arbeit am Mythos, for instance, both authors receive ample treatment on several occasions and are the focus of important passages. Freud and Thomas Mann, for example, are bound together in a trenchant and meaningful anecdote: Mann reading his lecture on Freud to Freud himself during his visit to Freud’s villa in Grinzing on Sunday, May 14, 1936. Blumenberg calls this a “great scene of the spirit of the age, which hardly had another scene comparable to it”, and notes that one of the “preconditions” of this “incomparable event” precisely “is the relationship to Nietzsche that both partners shared” (Blumenberg 1985, 516).

Other important passages include Blumenberg’s extensive discussion of Nietzsche’s approach of Prometheus against the light of his aesthetic conception of reality and of Nietzsche’s famous proclamation of the death of God. In the last section, ‘The Titan in His Century’, Blumenberg’s analysis of Freud’s use of Prometheus follows his assessment of Nietzsche’s use of Prometheus, such that Freud and Nietzsche, joined by Kafka, share the final page of Work on Myth. In Die nackte Wahrheit Kafka likewise follows upon Nietzsche and Freud, although it would surely be mere speculation to look for further significance here. Nonetheless, despite his longstanding and rather critical occupation with Nietzsche and Freud, Blumenberg clearly incorporated and continued many aspects of their thought.

Blumenberg’s aesthetic conception of reality, his attention for rhetoric, myth and metaphor and his truth-sceptic attitude can all be directly linked to Nietzsche. Just as rhetoric gains importance when the conviction of “the one clear and whole truth” (Blumenberg 2001b, 350) is given up, so too does myth return to view when this ideal of truth is abandoned. And here Blumenberg, already in his earlier work, shows himself to be an heir of Nietzsche. As Blumenberg writes in his first text on myth, “Nietzsche’s affinity to myth begins with the rule of truth becoming problematic to him. The poets lie – this saying comes back into favor” (Blumenberg 2001b, 352). Blumenberg’s name can be perfectly interchanged with Nietzsche’s here. The shift towards the aesthetic, and the revaluation of the ancient Platonic reproach of the poets implied in this reference, is a central concern underlying all of Blumenberg’s aesthetic texts from the 1960s, as assembled by Anselm Haverkamp in his Ästhetische und metaphorologische Schriften. Moreover, Blumenberg‘s two important texts on rhetoric and myth from 1971 both start from the truth-sceptic premise he shares with Nietzsche and which spans his work from the very beginning to this posthumous publication of Die Nackte Wahrheit. And this last publication is probably inconceivable without Nietzsche’s “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense”. Indeed, Blumenberg’s general endeavor is essentially summed up in one of Nietzsche’s most famous sentences: “Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions — they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins”.

Blumenberg’s approach of die vakante Stelle and his descriptions of Umbesetzung, elaborated in his Die Legitimität der Neuzeit, can be read as a direct translation of Nietzsche’s worn-out coins and his dictum of the “Death of God”. Herewith, Blumenberg translates Nietzsche’s nihilism into a general philosophical endeavor of Entselbstverständlichung, a process marking “the great epochal revolutions of historical life” (Blumenberg 2017, 54). This endeavor, according to Blumenberg, eventually is “the basic process of philosophical thinking: for how could the inherent task of philosophical work be characterized more fittingly than as the persistent opposition of matter-of-factness with which our daily life and thought is interspersed, yes, substantiated into their very cores – much more than we could ever suspect?” (Blumenberg 2017, 54).

Furthermore, Blumenberg’s later, more literary and anecdotal style evokes Nietzsche’s claim that it is possible to present the image of a person with only three anecdotes, just as it should be possible to reduce philosophical systems to three anecdotes. When, for example, it comes to Blumenberg’s highly ironical and critical pieces on Heidegger in Die Verführbarkeit des Philosophen, he not only takes up Nietzsche’s challenge but even seems to have added something to it: the challenge becomes not only to render an image of the person and a summary of his philosophical thought, but also to get even with him in the same move.

IV.

Rüdiger Zill has wittily but quite perceptively characterized the sort of relation Blumenberg has with Freud: “Just like family members you sometimes hate and sometimes love, who from time to time grate on your nerves but who also occasionally inspire, yet always, however, still belong in the family, authors as well can be ranked among the intellectual family formation” (Zill 2014, 148). Zill’s assessment on this matter is clear: Freud undoubtedly belongs to Blumenberg’s intellectual family. However, the more he reads Freud, the more critical Blumenberg becomes, without Freud ever losing his force of fascination (Zill 2014, 128). Ironically, when Blumenberg received the Sigmund Freud Prize for Academic Prose in 1980, he did not refer to Freud in his acceptance speech. He mentioned Socrates, Diogenes, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche as exemplar thinkers who should be admired because they did not allow their thinking to be hindered by any safeguarding method.

There is, however, quite some common ground between Freud and Blumenberg which might be easily overwritten by Blumenberg’s recent critical works on Freud from the archives. When Blumenberg ascribes rationality to aspects of thought, such as metaphor and rhetoric, that have been banished to irrationality by the tradition of philosophy there is a general similarity to Freud’s Traumdeutung and his overall endeavor of psychoanalysis. Indeed, there are at least two specific and critically important points of contact between them: Freud’s idea of sublimation and detours.

In his text on rhetoric, Blumenberg refers to Freud’s analysis of the funeral repast: “Freud saw in the commemorative funeral feast the sons’ agreement to put an end to the killing of the tribal father” (Blumenberg 1987a, 440). It is the Freudian principle of sublimation that is evoked here and Blumenberg is explicit about the importance of this matter: “If history teaches anything at all, it is this, that without this capacity to use substitutes for actions not much would be left of mankind” (loc. cit.). Herewith an important crux of Blumenberg’s thought is laid bare: “The human relation to reality is indirect, circumstantial, delayed, selective, and above all ‘metaphorical’” (Ibid., 439). This means that metaphor is not a deficit of rational thought, as it has been understood by Descartes or British empiricism (NW 110-1); nor is it even an aid of theory or merely a way of thinking in its own right; rather, it is a way of coping with reality. This “metaphoric detour by which we look away from the object in question, at another one” (Blumenberg 1987a, 439) immediately ties to the second important overlap between Freud’s and Blumenberg’s work: if Blumenberg acknowledges sublimation as the human capacity to have culture, and if sublimation – the possibility of taking a metaphoric detour – lies at the heart of this capacity, then Blumenberg’s concept of culture should be one of detours.

Blumenberg, in his 1971 text on myth, refers to Freud’s notion of Umwege. In his “Jenseits des Lustprinzips”, Freud classed the drives of self-preservation under the general concept of “detours to death”. As Freud states, “If we can accept it as an experience without exception, that all the living dies because of internal reasons, that it returns to the inorganic, then we can only say: the purpose of all life is death” (Freud 1940, 44). Everything working against this destruction and everything delaying “the achievement of the purpose of death” (Ibid., 45) becomes a “detour to death”. In this Freudian scheme, life itself is “a still more difficult and risky detour” (Blumenberg 1985, 90) and Blumenberg recognizes in these “detours to death”, this “final return home to the original state” (Ibid., 91), the same mythic circle underlying the Oedipus myth, the Odyssey and even Nietzsche’s thought of “the eternal return of the same” (loc. cit.). On the one hand, Blumenberg critically reveals the total myth (Totalmythos) of the circle underlying Freud’s thought; on the other hand, Blumenberg incorporates this notion of detour in his work as a life-spending mechanism opposing omnipotence. As he writes, for example, in his 1971 text on myth, “Essentially, omnipotence refuses somebody to tell a story about its bearer. Topographically represented, stories are always detours” (Blumenberg 2001b, 372).

Die Sorge geht über den Fluss, published in 1987, includes a short chapter titled Umwege, in which Blumenberg again stresses the importance of the possibility of taking detours: “It is only if we are able to take detours that we are able to exist. […I]t is the many detours that give culture its function of humanizing life. [… The] shortest route is barbarism” (Blumenberg 1987b, 137-8). In these descriptions of culture as Umwege, some of its psychoanalytical origin still sounds through: it is by means of culture, by the possibility of taking detours, that we can avoid our own self-destruction. As Blumenberg puts it, “Not to choose the shortest path is already the basic pattern of sublimation” (Blumenberg 1985, 93). Or as Freud states in the penultimate sentence of his letter to Einstein: “whatever makes for cultural development is working also against war” (Freud 1950, 27).

This is the very basis of Blumenberg’s thought. Whether it is his approach to rhetoric and its power of delay, whether it is the apotropaic function of myth and the dynamic of storytelling vis-à-vis the absolutism of reality – man’s metaphoric way of dealing with the world – whether it is Blumenberg’s own elaborate and meandering writing style or his anecdotal and narrative philosophy as an effort to ironically undermine the authority of certain thinkers, whether it is the construction of his archive and the delayed publication of his own works or this metaphoric study of the naked truth aimed against the “Absolutism of Truth” (Blumenberg 2001b, 350), all of it falls under this “basic pattern of sublimation”, this decision “not to choose the shortest path”. In this specific sense and despite his highly critical piece on Freud in Die nackte Wahrheit, Blumenberg’s thinking remains Freudian at its very core.

V.

As Blumenberg had noted in his Paradigmen zu einer Metaphorologie, “The metaphor of ‘the naked truth’ belongs to the pride of enlightened reason and its claim to power” (Blumenberg 1960, 54). Hence, it is clear that Die Nackte Wahrheit should be understood as a critique of this enlightened self-consciousness. And yet Blumenberg did not abandon the project of rationality entirely, despite paying profound attention to non-standard philosophical topics such as metaphor and myth. “Myth itself is a piece of high-carat ‘work of logos’”, he points out in Work on Myth (Blumenberg 1985, 12) and Blumenberg himself employs this power of reason to trace the metaphor of the naked truth in thinkers such as Kant, Rousseau and Fontenelle. Herewith, a last characteristic of Blumenberg returns in Die Nackte Wahrheit: the correspondence of form and content. In Work on Myth, for example, Blumenberg offers a theory of how myth is a process of variation and, as he develops the theory, he himself engages in the same process of selection and rewriting. In his fragmentary book Die Verführbarkeit des Philosophen, in which Blumenberg exposes thinkers such as Heidegger, Freud and Wittgenstein and shows how they seduce their audience with rhetorical tools and attractive imagery; he himself tries to persuade his readers by rhetorically and wittingly affirming his own superiority of thought. The same applies for Die Nackte Wahrheit, where Blumenberg discusses the traces, consequences and changes of the metaphor of the naked truth, as he himself undresses other thinkers. As he emphasizes, the use of metaphor often indicates the “embarrassment of its theoretical situation” (NW 127). In other words, he seeks for the weak spots of thinkers such as Freud and Pascal in order to unmask them. If metaphor is indeed at work in the “front court of concept formation” (Blumenberg, 2001a), then Blumenberg clearly seeks to expose his interlocutors in their changing rooms. At the same time, he precisely questions these implications of thinking about truth in such terms of covering and uncovering. Certainly, Blumenberg does not claim that his disclosures touch upon “the naked truth” or a final word about these writers, yet nonetheless he somehow contributes to this enlightened topos of “tearing down the mask” (NW 134). He still partakes in what Kołakowski calls this “sadistic game” of “intellectual curiosity”, even as he precisely lays bare its rules and tools and does away with the purpose the game has pursued for ages. However, one asks after reading Blumenberg’s book, what use does this vocabulary preserve when the “reality” revealed under this mask is yet another mask, no more or no less reality than the one just dispelled. To make a final appeal to Kołakowski: Blumenberg involves us in a philosophical striptease, in which he exposes, “from a superior (clothed) position”, “another’s shame (nakedness)” (Kołakowski 2004, 235). Only it has become uncertain what happens with a philosophic tradition of revealing when the possibility of truth disappears, nakedness itself becomes yet more costume and the feeling of shame is revaluated. No purpose, no revelations, only detours and descriptions (Umschreibungen). Nonetheless, Blumenberg certainly exemplifies like no other that whenever philosophy thinks there will be a moment that Lady Truth will rise from her well and create clarity, philosophy, just like science, is once more deceived “by a pipe dream […] which its scholars pursue without ever achieving it” (NW 77).

 

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314

Dimitris Apostolopoulos: Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Language, Rowman & Littlefield, 2019

Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Language Book Cover Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Language
Dimitris Apostolopoulos
Rowman & Littlefield
2019
Hardback £80.00
326

Lawrence J. Hatab: Proto-Phenomenology, Language Acquisition, Orality and Literacy, Dwelling in Speech II, Rowman & Littlefield, 2019

Proto-Phenomenology, Language Acquisition, Orality and Literacy, Dwelling in Speech II Book Cover Proto-Phenomenology, Language Acquisition, Orality and Literacy, Dwelling in Speech II
New Heidegger Research
Lawrence J. Hatab
Rowman & Littlefield
2019
Hardback $130.00 • £85.00
328

Hans Blumenberg: History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader, Cornell University Press, 2020

History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader Book Cover History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader
signale|TRANSFER: German Thought in Translation
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Cornell University Press
2020
Paperback $29.95
624

Eugene T. Gendlin: Saying What We Mean: Implicit Precision and the Responsive Order

Saying What We Mean: Implicit Precision and the Responsive Order Book Cover Saying What We Mean: Implicit Precision and the Responsive Order
Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy
Eugene Gendlin. Edited by Edward S. Casey and Donata M. Schoeller. Foreword by Edward S. Casey
Northwestern University Press
2017
Paperback $34.95
328

Reviewed by: Hillel D. Braude (The Mifne Center for Treatment of Infants with Autism, Rosh Pina, Israel)

Saying What We Mean [SWWM] provides a collection of selected philosophical writings by Eugene Gendlin (1926-2017) edited by editors Edward S. Casey and Donata M. Schoeller. As Schoeller notes this volume is intended to “excite an appetite for the extraordinary thinking of Eugene Gendlin and for the effects of his concepts as well as his practices that, in paraphrasing Adorno, ‘open up’ the phenomena they make thinkable.” [xv] SWWM is the first collection of Gendlin’s specifically philosophical writings, and is Gendlin’s final publication, appearing several months after his passing. It presents a final explication of Gendlin’s personal philosophy of experience, in which he explored the contours of the relation between implicit and explicit knowing, and the generation of language and conceptual meaning from the ground of our embodied senses. At the same time this “farewell letter” invites the reader to carry forward this exploration in her own personal way. The publication of SWWM reminds us that, as Gendlin himself insisted, his professional identity was first and foremost that of a philosopher. Gendlin’s intellectual roots extend deeply into Continental, Analytic philosophy as well as American pragmatism. His intellectual influences include among others: Dilthey, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Wittgenstein, Whitehead, and McKeon – the latter with whom Gendlin studied at the University of Chicago, and had a great influence on shaping Gendlin’s philosophical outlook. Gendlin was a prolific author, and his philosophical writings have been published in numerous essays and several books.[1]

Despite Gendlin’s prolific philosophical output, the publication of SWWM serves as a needful reminder of Gendlin’s philosophical ideas. Other than as a philosopher, Gendlin is most popularly remembered as the founder of the practical experiential method called Focusing, which provides a structured methodology to bring open, non-judging attention to embodied, experiential internal knowing – often referred to as the “felt sense” – prior to its conceptualization in language.[2]  Focusing is most widely used as an aid for psychotherapy, although it is accessible to everyone interested in a practical methodology for personal transformation. Focusing developed out of Gendlin’s research at the University of Chicago with humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers into the phenomenological-process-oriented theory of experience and its transformation. Gendlin’s original research revealed that the way in which a client related to his or her personal experience during psychotherapy sessions, irrespective of the particular psychotherapeutic approach, provided a single significant predictor of the therapy’s success. As a process oriented methodology with deep roots in phenomenological philosophy, Focusing can be applied to enhance any particular psychotherapeutic approach, or can occur as a stand-alone methodology to enhance human potential. The essays in SWWM attest that Gendlin’s practical method of Focusing would be unthinkable without its underlying philosophical foundation. At the same time, the practical and the theoretical aspects of Gendlin’s lifework cannot and should not be artificially separated. The practice of Focusing provided Gendlin with material for philosophical reflection, as much as philosophical reflection provided the conceptual apparatus for the development of Focusing’s methodology. The core insight animating all of the essays in SWWM is the unceasing bidirectional relation between experience and rational conceptualization.

Gendlin’s focus on process means that he is not limited to espousing a particular philosophical school; but rather provides a process model approach that can ground different forms of philosophical conceptualization. Gendlin’s emphasis on the processes of thinking rather than on the final forms themselves is no doubt inspired in large part by Edmund Husserl’s phenomenological critique of psychology and the natural sciences. Gendlin’s philosophical feat has been to radically personalize philosophy, countering the age-old tendency towards universalization in philosophical reflection, while at the same time respecting structures of explicit rationality and cognition. This personalized perspective – both in terms of personal philosophical meaning, as well as in terms of self-healing– has deep roots in Gendlin’s personal history. In a German language interview with Lore Kolbei (1994), Gendlin described how his childhood experience fleeing Nazi occupied Vienna with his family, shaped his future life and single-minded intellectual focus. In determining how to escape the clutches of the Nazis together with his family, Gendlin’s father relied on following his internal feelings in deciding which individuals they encountered could be trusted in their escape. Gendlin’s later life was dedicated to deciphering the meaning of these internal feelings, both through psychotherapeutic processes and philosophical reflection. I feel it important to mention this biographical history, since it is of central importance in shaping Gendlin’s personalized philosophy. It is of interest that Gendlin does not refer to such cultural and biographical influences in his philosophical writings, as if wanting to emphasize the universal nature of pre-conceptual sensations in giving rise to language and explicit cognition.

SWWM provides in single volume some of Gendlin’s most influential essays. As such, this volume makes Gendlin’s philosophical reflections accessible to a wider audience in a concentrated form, and may be important in bringing Gendlin’s intellectual work to the attention of philosophers who have not yet come across his work, or have glossed over its importance providing a structured methodology to analyze pre-conceptual cognition in relation to explicit forms of knowing. (It is also worth mentioning the collection of critical studies on Gendlin’s work in the philosophy of language entitled Language beyond Postmodernism [LBM] (1997),  published more than two decades ago and which like SWWM served as a kind of introductory volume for Gendlin’s philosophical ideas.)  The essays in SWWM are primarily philosophical, though they speak equally to Gendlin’s practice of Focusing, and the later application of Focusing to analyze professional knowing called Thinking at the Edge (TAE). TAE is a practical methodology for applying the “intricate precision” immanent in our experiential knowing to professional, scientific and private contexts. [xix] For example, a clinician reflecting on aspects of a clinical case, could apply TAE to investigate the boundaries of intuition and explicit knowing. Perhaps the most important function of SWWM is to provide a general framework for Gendlin’s conceptual evolution. Unfortunately, chronological details of each essay are not provided, which would give information about the progressive development of Gendlin’s thinking.

The edited volume is divided into four parts:

Part 1. Phenomenology of the Implicit;

Part 2. A Process Model;

Part 3. On the Edges of Plato, Heidegger, Kant, and Wittgenstein, and

Part 4. Thinking with the Implicit.

Part 1 provides different approaches of Gendlin towards developing a conceptual methodology and language to differentiate different layers of implicit experience. Phenomenology provides the major philosophical ground for this engagement with implicit experience; though Gendlin uses his phenomenological approach to interrogate different philosophical schools and methodologies, especially linguistic analysis and philosophy of language. Phenomenology too, is not spared Gendlin’s critical gaze, as depicted in his brilliant essay, “Two Phenomenologists Do Not Disagree,” in which he analyzes the situation whereby two committed phenomenologists disagree over a single observed phenomenon. As opposed to following a particular phenomenological school or individual philosopher, Gendlin proposes to ‘study the formulating process itself,’ as well as the ‘roles of experience in it’ in order to determine how experience can ‘ground different formulations differently,’ including different phenomenological statements or perspectives. [8] Even though a particular statement may be differentiated as phenomenological from a non-phenomenological statement by following a well demarcated phenomenological methodology or “noticeable signposts,, for example Husserl’s proposed methodology of bracketing, in order to enable a primordial experience of a particular object of inquiry, Gendlin observes that phenomenological statements may possess many unintended logical implications.[8] These hidden intentions or meanings are amenable to being uncovered or elicited through further processes of concentrated focusing or introspection.

Gendlin’s essays depict his intellectual debt to the tradition of phenomenology; and at the same time develops his own philosophy of the implicit in new directions, navigating between age-old dichotomies, such as reductionism and idealism. An important aspect of the collection of philosophical essays in SWWM lies in providing a means of tracing and analyzing the influence of various phenomenological traditions on Gendlin’s thinking, including that of Husserl, Heideger, and Merleau-Ponty, and how Gendlin carries this tradition forward in his personalized philosophical   way.

In his critical essay response to Gendlin’s philosophy entitled, “Experience and Meaning,” J.N. Mohanty (1997) provides key insights regarding Gendlin’s relation to Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology, which are still relevant in relation to Gendlin’s collection of philosophical essays in SWWM. In his analysis of the relation between experience and meaning in Gendlin’s philosophical theory, Mohanty discerns four levels of meaning:

1. Experiencing with implicit, incomplete felt meanings;

2. Explicit, felt but prelinguistic (though still symbolized) meanings, inwardly attended to;

3. Experiential concepts (arising out of the interaction of felt meanings with language);

4. Logical concepts. [184]

The core tension animating each of the essays in SWWM is the inherent relation between each of these four levels of meaning. While not participating in logical inference, the “most basic level,” i.e., the implicit background has its own precise kind of order, which functions in the formation of new and ever more precise scientific concepts. Thus, Gendlin posits a pre-conceptual rational order, that is not the same as explicit logic, but which grounds the possibility for explicit rationality. In Part 2. “A Process Model,” which refers to Gendlin’s magnum opus of the same name, Gendlin articulates further this pre-conceptual rational order, or what he now refers to as the ‘conditions of possibility’ for the ‘implicit precision of experience.’ [xvii] Implicit precision refers to the embodied process generated through interaction between the conscious organism and its environment. While logical precision is explicitly rational and depends on defined units, the process of implied precision ‘generates and regenerates the background objects and their relationships, including logical scientific units.’ [111] Implicit precision articulates Gendlin’s basic insight that there is a direct reference between preconceptual and explicit cognition. Moreover, as the name implicit precision implies, this level of organismic consciousness possesses a rational structure, even if it is not ordered according to explicit logical principles. Movement between these two forms of precision can occur in either direction. Indeed, scientific logic is unthinkable without this foundational level of embodied knowing.

Mohanty claims that Gendlin requires a mediating concept, a “Zwischenglied” between implicit experience and logical concept. Gendlin’s concept of direct reference provides this Zwischenglied. In SWWM Gendlin refers to this direct relationality between felt sense and logical concept using the terminology of ‘direct experience’ and ‘direct referent.’ In my own imagination, this Zwischenglied of direct reference is analogous to the sensation in holding two opposing poles of a magnet in close proximity. One feels the invisible magnetic force between the two poles of experience and logic. However, maintaining this force is a slippery undertaking that gives rise to a perplexing sensation. Trying to elicit the connection and opposition between these different levels is key to getting a sense of Gendlin’s philosophical task. As Gendlin writes, saying exactly how ‘direct experience can function as a ground in each step of formulating’ ‘opens up a whole new field of enquiry.’ [7]

Names such as “implicit precision” and “carrying forward,” referring to the infinite possibility for bodily implying beyond explicit concepts, are terms that Gendlin provides in the Process Model for conceptual structures arising from and referring to his process methodology. This process of naming felt-sensations as they emerge into language is an integral part of the Focusing process. Gendlin would undoubtedly invite readers of his philosophical writings to extend his philosophical practice by developing their own names for universal processes of meaning-making. One can debate the precise relation between Husserl’s use of act and intentionality in relation to Gendlin’s process model. For example, Mohanty notes that Gendlin did not regard Husserl’s conception of act and intentionality as including data of awareness, but rather as principles presupposed by such data. [183] Similarly, Gendlin held that Husserl did not include felt experiencing as part of the datum given in meaningful awareness. [ECM, p. 276] However, Gendlin’s views on Husserl appear to have shifted, since he notes in his essay, “Two Phenomenologists Do Not Disagree,” that Husserl did not begin his phenomenological explorations with analyzing the relations between feelings, situations, and language. Yet, through his contact with direct experience, he encountered these interrelations in that experience. [54] However, even if felt experiencing can be traced back to Husserl’s conception of act and intentionality, Gendlin’s expansion and delineation of the methodology to track the relation between experience and meaning moves beyond its phenomenological foundations. Moreover, the process of giving provisional name to conceptual structures emerging from reflection on one’s felt experience, such as “implicit precision” and “carrying forward,” blending personal experience with rational conceptualization is a unique philosophical contribution of Gendlin’s.

Any reader of SWWM must necessarily be divided into two groups. Those with a first-hand familiarity of the process of Focusing, and those who approach the text as a purely philosophical text to be understood conceptually. In a sense, it is not possible to approach these texts purely intellectually, since Gendlin’s method explicitly aims to bridge the mind-body dichotomy. In her introduction, Schoeller writes that, ‘Gendlin’s thinking and practices move across the body-mind split, expanding the field of experience and thinking beyond so-called subjective or objective approaches in order to cultivate an awareness of the preciseness of what he calls a “responsive order.”’ [xiv] Gendlin peppers his essays with practical examples, exhortations to his readers to engage practically with his methodology. For example, in his essay “The New Phenomenology of Carrying Forward,” Gendlin notes how in writing a poem one’s body has a precise sense of what needs to be said. [84] The process of Focusing is similar in many ways to the poet’s attending to her felt sensations in the process of writing a poem. Grappling with Gendlin’s conceptual ideas necessitates an induction into the process of Focusing. Yet, Gendlin would argue that any meaning-making process incorporates this kind of embodied sense-making, formalized in a structured process, or not. Readers who do not concretely explore Gendlin’s practical examples through deep introspection, and who merely try to understand his conceptual arguments from a disembodied perspective, must necessarily fail to comprehend the tenor of his argument.

The “Process Model” emphasizes the embodied nature of Gendlin’s philosophical project. (As a Feldenkrais Method Somatic Education Practitioner I am particularly receptive to the centrality of the body in Gendlin’s philosophy of the implicit. The Feldenkrais Method is similiar to Focusing in providing a practical methodology to explore the relation between one’s felt sense and cognition; however, the Feldenkrais Method introduces the added dimension of movement exploration.) In his essay “The Derivation of Space,” Gendlin notes that, ‘… the clarity which an analytic layout brings lies not only in the layout before us. It has an effect in the body. It brings an implicit whole bodied understanding. “Aha!” we say.’ [156] Following Stuart, in the essay on “Implicit Precision,” Gendlin refers to a perceptual concept called enkinaesthesia, i.e., ‘the sentient half of a behavior sequence and the sentience of patterned interactions which is the sequence of bodily shifts I call versioning.’  [121] Taking the cue from Gendlin’s terminology, an embodied adaptation of Focusing, called Whole-Bodied Focusing, developed by Kevin McEvenue [2015], integrates Focusing with somatic experiential techniques from the Alexander Method. Nonetheless, even though Gendlin’s philosophy of the implicit does provide a means of overcoming mind-body dualism, the body is emphasized only tangentially, in the sense that real attention to the body requires an embodied practice, as in Whole Body Focusing, other somatic education practices, such as Feldenkrais Method. The complete intellectual grasping of Gendlin’s ideas requires an embodied practice in conjunction with attention to the embodied basis of our logical conceptualization.

Part 3. “On the Edges of Plato, Heidegger, Kant and Wittgenstein presents” Gendlin’s philosophical thinking in relation to major philosophers in the Western tradition. Gendlin’s philosophy does indeed present a methodology to reengage and reinvigorate the Western philosophical canon. His philosophical ambitions are simultaneously grand and modest, in the sense that Gendlin has enough confidence in his insights to re-read ancient philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle; yet does this, not by contesting their philosophical claims and arguments, but by “lifting out” the most basic experiential sensations elicited through engaging with the textual ideas. In other words, through his process model, Gendlin finds a means of re-engaging with ancient philosophical texts and ideas, to provide fresh insights and meanings, without attempting to disprove any particular philosophical approach.

This process of “lifting out” also has relation to phenomenology, though not Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology, but Martin Heidegger’s phenomenology of Being, and particularly his concept of Befindlichkeit. As Francesca Brencio (2019) notes in her recent review of Befindlichkeit in relation to psychopathology:

Befindlichkeit stresses the basic state of Dasein in its being situated: finding ourselves already in situatedness, means finding ourselves gathered to a “there” (being-there, in German Dasein). The situatedness is strictly related to the existence’s facticity and it becomes manifest to us through our own moods and affectivity. [344]

Our moods and affective states provide the grounds of our pre-conceptual experience, and the means of becoming attuned to the external world. There is, therefore, a strong affinity between Heidegger’s concept of Befindlichkeit and Gendlin’s philosophy of the implicit. In his essay, “Befindlichkeit: Heidegger and the Philosophy of Psychology,” Gendlin observes that, ‘Heidegger’s concept denotes how we sense ourselves in situations. Whereas feeling is usually thought of as something inward, Heidegger’s concept refers to something both inward and outward, but before a split between inside and outside has been made.’ [195]

In referring to psychological affective states and moods, Befindlichkeit has obvious clinical importance for clinical psychology and theories of psychopathology, and resonates strongly with Gendlin’s philosophical project and practical methodology of Focusing. However it is in providing the phenomenological possibility of original disclosing that provides the strongest link between Gendlin and Heidegger. Gendlin quotes the following paragraph from Heidegger’s magnum opus, Being and Time:

Befindlichkeit is a basic existential way in which Dasein (being-here) is its here. It not only characterizes Dasein ontologically, but because of its disclosing, it is at the same time of basic methodological significance for the existential analytic. Like any ontological interpretation whatsoever this analytic can only, so to speak, “listen in” to the previously disclosed being of something that is… Phenomenological interpretation must give Dasein the possibility of original disclosing, to raise the phenomenal content of this disclosing into concepts. [178-79]

For Heidegger it is the disclosing of Befindlichkeit which renders a statement phenomenological, from a state of free-floatingness. [216] Gendlin claims to extend Heidegger’s concept of Befindlichkeit in his own practical philosophy through adding the bodily dimension; which Gendlin claims is missing in Heidegger’s philosophy. Additionally, Befindlichkeit provides a means of explaining Gendlin’s process methodology in Focusing, through getting in touch with and “lifting out” implicit felt meanings for conceptualization. As mentioned, for Gendlin, this lifting out process, while phenomenological, is not limited to any particular philosophical formulation, including that of Heidegger’s analysis of Being. The deep relation between Befindlichkeit and Gendlin’s philosophy of the implicit means that even though Gendlin’s philosophy is greatly indebted to the Husserlian phenomenological tradition, in his heart of hearts Gendlin appears more aligned with Heidegger’s philosophy of Being-in-the-world, though this relationship is not without its personal ambivalence. In his sole biographical observation in all of the essays in SWWM, Gendlin notes his indirect indebtedness to Heidegger, who he only came to read later in life once he overcame his personal antipathy to Heidegger:

My own work for many years preceded my reading Heidegger. I came to him quite late. Both the personality change mentioned above, and the philosophical work I will now mention, were written before I read Heidegger. But I had read those philosophers that most influenced Heidegger, and so I emerged from the same sources, at least to some extent. I had also read Sartre, Buber, and Merleau-Ponty, who were greatly and crucially following Heidegger. Hence my own work continues from Heidegger, and stands under his influence, although I did not recognize that until later….  [223]

Gendlin’s attraction towards Heidegger’s concept of Befindlichkeit can also be explained because of its inherent potential for developing a psychological or psychopathological theory. Since moods and affective feelings ground our experience of reality, psychopathological conditions such as anxiety are characterized by a breakdown or collapse of our affective experiential foundations.[3] It is not by chance that the practice of Focusing tends to emphasize uncomfortable physical and mental felt sensations, as the core of its therapeutic work.[4] Gendlin is attracted to and reworks Heidegger’s concept of Befindlichkeit because of his own deep therapeutic concern that informs both the practice of Focusing and his philosophical theorizing about the implicit. In “Befindlichkeit: Heidegger and the Philosophy of Psychology,” Gendlin observes that the essence of psychotherapy is phenomenological in the therapeutic process through the Heideggerian concept of lifting out. Thus, Gendlin notes that ‘any statements and interprerations are effective only when they lift something from the directly senses and preverbally “understood” felt complexity. Even very sophisticated statements by patients and therapists alter nothing in the patient’s living, unless there is the distinct effect of lifting something out.’ [218] This sentence encapsulates Gendlin’s life-work in interweaving philosophical conceptualization with lived experience in general, and psychotherapy in particular.

The final section of SWWM, Part 4. “Thinking with the Implicit,” presents an introduction to the practice of Thinking at the Edge (TAE), the extension of the practice of focusing to scientific and professional contexts. In Gendlin’s words, ‘TAE is a systematic way to articulate in new terms something which needs to be said but is at first only an inchoate “bodily sense.”’ [282] It seems to me (without having personally experienced its practice) that TAE applies the Focusing methodology in a specific structured context, as opposed for example, simply trying to assess one’s felt bodily sense, in order to elicit new logical analytical formulations and creative theorization. In other words, TAE is concerned with developing explicit logical concepts relating to specific spheres of interest or expertize out of the grounds of implicit knowing. Gendlin has an explicit political awareness around TAE, considering that it provides a tool for people from all social strata and intellectual backgrounds to articulate their experiences, and to develop new patterns of thought. Through TAE, Gendlin claims, the capacity to develop novel philosophical ideas and logical and scientific concepts is no longer limited to an intellectual elite, but is open to all.

TAE is of especial personal interest to me in terms of its potential applications to medicine and clinical reasoning. I have an abiding interest in the philosophy of the implicit, having conducted analogous research into the tacit foundations of clinical reasoning.[5] This work was not fundamentally informed by Gendlin’s writings, but rather was influenced by other phenomenologists, such as Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Emmanuel Levinas, as well Michael Polanyi’s philosophy of tacit knowing. Similar to Gendlin, my focus on the role of intuition in clinical reasoning has also brought me to conceptualize a kind of rationality in clinical reasoning that is not modelled on explicit knowing; but rather envisages clinical reasoning as a kind of embodied practical wisdom modelled on the Aristotelian conception of phronesis. Reading SWWM with this background context in mind, suggests that Gendlin’s delineation of a responsive order to pre-conceptual reflection does provide an important intellectual resource for re-conceptualizing the role of practical wisdom in clinical reasoning, especially through the application of practical techniques from Focusing and TAE. Theoretically, TAE might be of real value in expanding understanding of the tacit foundations of various forms of clinical reasoning, including the intuitive component of clinical judgement, and developing ideas from bench to bedside in translational medicine. Arguably, applying TAE to the clinical context could re-invigorate contemporary epistemology of medical knowledge.[6] As of yet, the application of TAE to the medical clinical context does not yet appear to have been formally developed. The collection of Gendlin’s selected philosophical essays in SWWM invites the reader to continue engaging with Gendlin’s philosophical ideas, and to continue the path that he forged finding one’s own personalized meanings as a means of individual and intellectual renewal.

References:

Brencio, Francesca. 2019. “Befindlichkeit: Disposition.” In The Oxford Handbook of Phenomenological Psychopathology, edited by Giovanni Stanghellini, et al.  Oxford. Oxford University Press: 345-353.

Heidegger, Martin. 1962. Being and Time. Translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. London: SCM.

Mohanty, Jitendra Nath. 1997. «Experience and Meaning.» In Language beyond Postmodernism: Saying and Thinking in Gendlin’s Philosophy, edited by David Michael Levin. Evanston, IL. Northwestern University Press: 176-190.

Levin, David Michael (Ed.). 1997. Language beyond Postmodernism: Saying and Thinking in Gendlin’s Philosophy. Evanston, IL. Northwestern University Press.

Korbei, L. 1994. Eugen(e) Gend(e)lin. In O. Frischenschlager (Hg.), Wien, wo sonst! Die Entstehung der Psychoanalyse und ihrer Schulen. Wien/Köln/Weimar: Böhlau: 174-181. From http://www.focusing.org/gendlin/docs/gol_2181.html

McEvenue, Kevin. 2015. Wholebody Focusing: Life Lived in the Moment. Copyright Whole Body Focusing.


[1] See most notably, Gendlin, Eugene. 1962. Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning (ECM). Glencoe, IL. Free Press, Evanston; 2017. A Process Model. Evanston, IL. Northwestern University Press.

[2] See, for example, Cornell, Ann Weiser and McGavin, Barbara. 2002. The Focusing Student’s and Companion’s Manual. 1. Berkeley, CA. Calluna Press.

[3] See, Brencio, Francesca. 2019. “Befindlichkeit: Disposition.” In The Oxford Handbook of Phenomenological Psychopathology, edited by Giovanni Stanghellini, et al.  Oxford. Oxford University Press: 345-353.

[4] See, for example, Gendlin, Eugene. 1984. «The Client’s Client: The Edge of Awareness.» In Client-Centered Therapy and the Person-Centered Approach: New Directions in Theory, Research and Practice, edited by Ronald Levant & John Shlien. New York. Praeger: 76-107.

[5] See, Braude, Hillel. 2012. Intuition in Medicine: A Philosophical Defense of Clinical Reasoning. Chicago. The University of Chicago Press; 2016. “Clinical Reasoning and Knowing.” In Companion to Contemporary Philosophy of Medicine, edited by James Marcum, Bloomsbury Press: 323-342; 2013. “Human All Too Human Reasoning: Comparing Clinical and Phenomenological Intuition,” The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy. 38(2): 173-189; 2016. “Skilled Know-How, Virtuosity and Expertise in Clinical Practice.” In Handbook of the Philosophy of Medicine, edited by Thomas Schramme and Steven Edwards, Springer Press: 699-716.

[6] See, Braude, Hillel. 2016. «Review of Miriam Solomon’s Making Medical Knowledge.» Theoretical Medicine & Bioethics, 37(5): 433-436.

Jean-Luc Marion, Christiaan Jacobs-Vandegeer (Eds.): The Enigma of Divine Revelation: Between Phenomenology and Comparative Theology, Springer, 2020

The Enigma of Divine Revelation: Between Phenomenology and Comparative Theology Book Cover The Enigma of Divine Revelation: Between Phenomenology and Comparative Theology
Contributions to Hermeneutics, Vol. 7
Jean-Luc Marion, Christiaan Jacobs-Vandegeer (Eds.)
Springer
2020
Hardback 88,39 €
IX, 301

Gustav Shpet: Hermeneutics and Its Problems: With Selected Essays in Phenomenology

Hermeneutics and Its Problems: With Selected Essays in Phenomenology Book Cover Hermeneutics and Its Problems: With Selected Essays in Phenomenology
Contributions To Phenomenology, Vol. 98
Gustav Shpet. Thomas Nemeth (Ed.)
Springer
2019
Paperback
XXVII, 304

Reviewed by: Abdullah Basaran (Ph.D. Candidate in Philosophy at Stony Brook University)

We know Edmund Husserl not only through his rigorous attempts to set forth the phenomenological method but also from his brilliant disciples from various countries: Stein and Heidegger, Levinas and Merleau-Ponty, Landgrebe, Ingarden, Patočka are only a few. The Russian/Ukranian philosopher Gustav Shpet, whose works have been discovered not long ago, appears among them as the introducer of Husserl’s phenomenology into Russian philosophy. Not unlike any other student of Husserl, however, he carries the phenomenological thinking further by elaborating its main themes and questions with a rather peculiar perspective. In this regard, Springer’s new volume of the series “Contributions to Phenomenology,” the new translation of Shpet’s Hermeneutics and Its Problems (Germenevtika i ee problemy, 1918), gives the reader a broader picture of his philosophy that inaugurates the problems of the hermeneutic tradition to phenomenological investigations. Unlike his previous work, Appearance and Sense (Javlenie i smysl, 1914), which was a commentary of Husserl’s Ideen I, Shpet turns his focus away from the development of the study of hermeneutics from its roots in Biblical interpretations toward his contemporaries, such as Bernheim, Lappo-Danilevskij, Spranger, Dilthey, and Simmel.

In so doing, Shpet aims to not only provide a historical presentation of the topics of hermeneutics but also to scrutinize the shortcomings of the theories so far suggested, so that he manages to explain why hermeneutical inquiries need a method at least as rigorous as Husserl’s. In contrast to the empirical and natural foundation of human experience, hermeneutics devotes its attention to comprehending the written words as historical signs that can be interpreted. Thus, with respect to understanding the sense and significance of the historical objects (namely texts), history for Shpet (let alone other candidates for hermeneutical inquiries such as philology and psychology) becomes a problem of logic with respect to the part-whole structure: that is, history as a model of knowledge for the individual with the integrity of the whole. The second half of the book includes essays from different dates, which on the other hand, appeals by and large to the task of reversing the question at hand back to phenomenology: given the historicality of consciousness, any kind of cognition is an interpreting cognition, indeed, that necessarily entails historical understanding. For this reason, Shpet pursues an overturning of Husserl’s phenomenology into a hermeneutic phenomenology wherein the written text is recognized not as a physical object, but as a historical object that calls for an interpretation of the reader. After the foundation of the theory of historical knowledge, which is nothing but the act of “understanding” in Shpet’s opinion, the task of hermeneutics as a rigorous science will finally be an achievement of the entire logic of semasiology, i.e., the hermeneutic logic of words as the expressions of interpreting cognition. Shpet’s hermeneutic phenomenology, as a result, contains not only a critical history of the questions of understanding and interpretation in the hermeneutic tradition but also notable elements predating the linguistic turn in the 20th-century philosophy.

As just mentioned, Hermeneutics and Its Problems is comprised of two parts: the translation of Shpet’s work itself and the five essays added to the main body of the text. His highly praised essay, “Consciousness and Its Owner” (1916); a meditation on Husserl’s project of phenomenology, “Wisdom or Reason?” (1917); another important essay, “Philosophy and History” (1916), “Skepticism and Dogmatism of Hume” (1911), and an encyclopedic entry written by Shpet depicting his own philosophical portrait. The editor and translator of the book, Thomas Nemeth is a well-known scholar of Russian philosophy, and of Shpet in particular, stretching back to his earlier translation of Shpet’s Appearance and Sense as well as other essays and entries. Nemeth’s editorial work is satisfying; not only does he meticulously handle the various editions and copies of Shpet’s book but also in the introductory remarks added to the main text and to each appendix, all succinctly written. These introductions are worth reading to grasp their context in terms of the frame of references and historical background.

The main body of the text, Hermeneutics and Its Problems, begins with a short preface that clearly points out the author’s task: if we succeed in critically assessing the significance of “the history of hermeneutics as a scientific discipline” (xxv), hermeneutics as the epistemology of history will pave the way for an authentic methodology for historical knowledge, which remained Shpet’s ultimate project in the following years. The first chapter, “Origin of the Idea and the Methods of Hermeneutics,” opens a discussion on the necessity of the emergence of hermeneutical inquiries in understanding the written texts. In order to grasp the allegories and moral senses in epic poems, such as Homer’s myths, fragments from the Sophists to dialogues from Plato and Aristotle, Ancient Greek thought made the first effort to address the question of the role of the word (slovo) in moralistic, allegorical and historical interpretations of written texts. The encounter of the West and the East in Hellenistic culture formed the next phase of the need for different methods and techniques particularly because of the translation of the Old and the New Testament into the Greek language. The task of hermeneutics, rendered as a theological discipline in this period, was to distinguish between different kinds of interpretations. Here Shpet examines how St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas, Dante, and more thoroughly Origen and Augustine make their distinctions in terms of the contrast between literal/grammatical/historical interpretation and allegorical/spiritual interpretation of Biblical texts.

Even more to the point, the early Christian theologian Origen identifies the problem of interpretation to the extent that there are not only ordinary and historical but also ambiguous and arbitrary senses of the Holy Scripture itself. Thus, hermeneutic techniques are required to address this variation in order to reach consistency in the text. Augustine, on the other hand, is the most important figure in the history of Biblical hermeneutics because of his theory concerning the role of signs in achieving the meaning and sense of the Holy Scripture. Shpet diligently analyzes the two works of Augustine, De doctrina Christiana and De magistro, in order to make manifest Augustine’s psychological theory of understanding: a sign (e.g., a word that signifies in this case) is “a thing that not only conveys its appearance to the senses, but also introduces something into thought along with itself.” (9) Thus, understanding the meaning of written texts is the process of transfer from the thought (i.e., the idea) of the author through signs (written by their writer, perceived by the reader) toward the thought of the reader. It is true that understanding what is written, for Augustine, is to grasp what is intended by the author (11), but once it is asked how the reader’s reception is even possible, Augustine foreseeably brings the theory of anamnesis into view: understanding takes place in the divinatory act of recollecting ideas. Shpet does not find Augustine’s theory satisfactory precisely because of its unclarity on the “originary act” of understanding (12). That there seems no criterion for verifying the accuracy of what is understood leaves the interpreter in the shadows of subjectivism.

A resolution of this arbitrariness in interpretation is achieved as the main concern of Flacius in the 16th century. Though he pursues practical (meaning, rhetorical) goals of the hermeneutical endeavor in reading Biblical texts, the chapter “Flacius and Biblical Hermeneutics in the Renaissance” argues that Flacius makes the first genuine attempt at a theoretical understanding of the “sense” of the text by revealing the part-whole structure. A theory of sense, in this regard, delineates the ways of discerning a harmonious sense between each particular element of the context, the undivided end, and the intention of the whole text (16, 19). Despite the fact that Flacius does not confine himself to Augustine’s unascertained methods of interpreting the Holy scripture, his theory of understanding the sense of the text in Shpet’s final assessment does not suffice in proving its principles as explicitly unbreakable: it gives us neither any clear analysis of the act of understanding (i.e., how we pass from the signs to what they signify) nor any reason why we have to penetrate into the subjective ideas and thoughts of the author (20).

The next chapter, “General Remarks on the Relation of the Sciences to Hermeneutics as a Transition to Ernesti,” has two objectives: explicating the place of hermeneutics within the rise of the natural sciences after the Renaissance and giving an account of modern philosophers dealing with the question of the nature of linguistic signs. As for the former, hermeneutics loses its priority in grammatical and allegorical interpretations of the written text, yet obtains a subsidiary role in deciphering the nature of words as communicative signs. Hence, in the 17th and 18th centuries, hermeneutics, as the logic of communication, inquires into the correspondence between the signs of the written text and the meaning intended and understood. Here we read a concise history of modern philosophy related to the topics of hermeneutics so much broader than what can be found in any other book of the history of hermeneutics. Shpet carries out a critical inquiry on, respectively, Locke’s theory of communication in human understanding, Berkeley’s conceptualism, Hume’s analysis of habit as an explanation of understanding, Reid’s theory of the social object, Leibniz’s idea of meanings as possibilities, Wolff’s rationalist philology, and Meier’s ontology of signs.

Of these figures, Wolff holds a special position in the history of hermeneutics since he is the first theorist breaking the divinatory explanation of understanding and relieving the interpreter of the burden of receiving the intention of the author. Understanding, therefore, is not any kind of reproduction of the “ideas” of the author, as seen in Augustine and Flacius; rather, it is “knowledge of truth itself.” (42) Since “truth” is now the main concern of hermeneutics, we can even argue that the interpreter can understand an author better than the author understands himself. But what is the supervisor of the execution of the task of interpreting? What controls and verifies the reader’s understanding of the sense of the text? As Wolff replies, it is purely and simply “reason” itself. Shpet criticizes this strict rationalism for the reason that the concept of truth is considered limited only to the achievement of “someone who [already] has in mind a certain system of truths.” (42) As he maintains, “this reader will be immediately disappointed upon learning that the entire problem amounts to a very narrow demand, namely, to connect the author’s individual words to precisely the same concepts that the reader connects to them.” (42)

In chapter four, “Ernesti and Ast: The Reorientation of Hermeneutics from Theology Toward Philology,” Shpet concentrates on the philological period of the development of hermeneutical thinking. The problem of ambiguity is restored by the 18th-century philologist Ernesti to be solved with the help of explaining the structure and historical discoveries of the author’s language. On this account, understanding the sense of the text is a scrupulous explication of the multiple circumstances of the author: time, geography, social and economic status, community, and the state, all set of conditions that shape the author’s language used in the text. Hence, in order to find an answer to the ambiguity of meaning, the task of the interpreter should be devoting themselves to the singularity of the author’s particular application of the meaning of a word. Every different use of a word is another application in a different context; ergo, the hermeneutical inquiry should divulge the particular usage of the author. Besides the fact that Ernesti carries the focus of hermeneutics backward to the problem of authorial intention, Shpet is also discontent with Ernesti’s failure of addressing the primary questions: “What is the act of understanding?” and “What is the role of the sign in that act?”

Ast, on the other hand, assigns a new task to philology as the empirical foundation of hermeneutics by following the premises of 18th century idealism and the Romantic dignification of words: “the philologist,” explains Shpet, “should not limit oneself to an investigation merely of the letter and form of language, but should also disclose the spirit that permeates them as their higher meaning.” (50) The method Ast offers is a classical one; the part-whole structure. From the particularity of the letter and the originality of the intention of the author, the interpreter must discover the unity of these parts with the spirit of the text’s sense. In other words, all the particular inquiries must lead to the whole idea of the interpreted work. Shpet’s analyses of Ast’s hermeneutics are quite accurate: because spirit only replaces “reason” in modern philosophy, understanding cannot be explained in terms of the eligibility of spirit. Thus, Ast explains the process of how we come to understand the meaning of a text by appealing to the idea of divination. No more clarification is given concerning the questions of how the reader apprehends the spirit of the text and from what criteria we have correct understanding. In Shpet’s words, that is to say that the very act of understanding remains a mystery in Ast’s hermeneutics (55-56).

The chapter on “Friedrich Schleiermacher” elaborates the biggest leap of hermeneutics. Schleiermacher is the most key figure in the hermeneutic tradition, not only because of extending the sphere of applicability of interpretation toward philosophical and literary texts but also because of his meticulous attempts to establish a methodological technique for all hermeneutical inquiries. Here is not the place to go into details of Schleiermacher’s distinction between explanation and interpretation and his famous division of interpretation into grammatical and psychological moments. These are only the obvious portions of his comprehensive method that has still been accepted and defended with revision, even after Gadamer’s harsh criticisms. What is worth mentioning for our present purposes is Shpet’s making manifest the shortcomings of Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics: To begin with, for Schleiermacher, as for many others before him, the difference between interpretation and understanding is unclear (62, 64). Where interpreting begins, where it ends, where it differs from understanding… These critical points are never issues for the German philosopher. As a recurrent theme in Shpet’s critical history of hermeneutics, the lack of ambiguity concerning the quiddity of understanding “as such” is what Schleiermacher’s method remains inadequate in its claim.

Shpet carries his search for clarity in method further by responding to the very grounding of hermeneutics: the language of the author and the original audience, on the one hand, and the part-whole structure between the sense of every word and the sense of the context, on the other (66-67). According to Shpet, however, Schleiermacher’s inquirer does not have a clear map to easily follow: studying the language of the author and its first readers seems to be a historical one, and yet it also needs grammatical and even psychological interpretation. Likewise, the connection between words and their context requires both grammatical and historical investigations employing the study of logic and philology. That is to say, grammatical and psychological moments of interpretation are utterly indistinguishable from each other (73). Where things get complicated, Shpet always shows a discomfort with any ambiguity in the method. Instead, since the rigorous method for hermeneutical sciences has to be pure and precise, what Schleiermacher’s method needs is further explication concerning the definitions and extents of the various kinds of interpretation. As Shpet writes, “By separating the grammatical from the psychological moment of interpretation and ascribing an independent role to each of them, he made a very important distinction. However, considering that a single understanding underlies both, i.e., a single type of lived experience, he deprived his division of much of its significance.” (72)

The chapter entitled “Hermeneutics After Schleiermacher” mostly focuses on Boeckh’s philological hermeneutics and his elaboration of different kinds of interpretation. Philology, however, is no longer simply an account of grammatical structure and historical developments of words. With Boeckh, philology bears a renewed assignment concerning all systems of knowledge: a knowledge of the known, which is simply, “understanding.” Thus, Boeckh, in Shpet’s opinion, holds the first genuine consideration of the act of understanding and the moments of comprehension together with the real question of philology: the role of the written word as a communicative sign. But Boeckh aims to expand the field of philology aided by the study of history: philological hermeneutics concentrates on the historical reconstruction of what is understood (81). Despite its impressive attempt at the act of understanding and comprehension, Boeckh’s theory, for Shpet, still seems to be unsatisfactory because of the unclarity of transitioning between philology and history, and even between philology and psychology. The method of philology becomes an indeterminate in hermeneutics’ penetration into the responsibilities of other provinces. The chapter ends with a circumstantial presentation of the kinds of interpretation mostly suggested by Schleiermacher and Boeckh (92-97).

“Hermeneutical Moments of Historical Methodology” is a chapter on how 19th-century historians took part in the methodological foundations of hermeneutical sciences. Shpet begins with Steinthal’s insightful conclusion that one interprets in order to understand the historical object. Understanding, therefore, is not an immediate occasion taken for granted; rather, it is the goal of the business of interpretation. Shpet also touches upon Steinthal’s division of interpretation into three processes: psychological/philological, factual/historical, and stylistic. The next historian, Droysen, is the key figure for hermeneutical development of the study of history as opposed to Rankean historical positivism. For Droysen not only lays the foundations of a logical methodology for understanding and interpretation of the historical objects, but also employs the part-whole structure to find out the dynamic structure between the individual and the community. That being so, as an expression of the community, the individual person is not only a psychological subject but also an objectively social phenomenon. Shpet’s favorite historian Bernheim separates the task of interpretation in terms of its object: an interpretation of historical remnants, in this regard, differs from that of tradition as well as the interpretation of one source by means of another. Since the scope of interpretation becomes much broader, provided that the study of history occupies the center of the investigation, the historian should now take into account the complementary facts and knowledge obtained by other fields, such as linguistics, anthropology, statistics, and so on. The chapter ends with Shpet’s contemporary, Lappo-Danilevskij and his theory of historical interpretation. The remarkable move of this Russian historian is the idea that the interpreter of historical materials first presupposes the existence of the “other I” whose psychic activity is similar to my own. The principles and techniques of the historical interpretation are based upon this psychic significance, which is predetermined between the interpreter and the author of the work. Shpet’s main criticism of these 19th-century theorists, let alone Steinthal’s highly critical perspective, is their negligence of a proper explanation of the act of understanding per se. According to Shpet, they mistakenly thought that one reads the historical text and then understanding comes by itself; the only task of the reader thereby is to interpret. Shpet also disapproved the aforementioned methodologies based on their faulty subjectivism. Since the historical text owes its being to the author, the only way to understanding its meaning contains two registers: the interpreter’s penetration into the personality of the author or the historical study of how the text was received by the original audience (114). For Shpet, this can only mean to limit the interpreter’s original act of understanding to the psychology of the individual “represented” in the text.

The order of chapter eight, “Dilthey’s Development of Hermeneutics,” is somewhat complicated. It begins with a section on the philosopher Prantl’s idea of understanding as an immediate apprehension. After discussing the middle years of Dilthey’s hermeneutics, Shpet focuses on Spranger’s psychology of the individual with the integrity of the whole and goes back to the later philosophy of Dilthey. The last figure he deals with is rather peculiar: Simmel and his idea that the object of history is the psychological and social conditions of the individual person. Despite the subtle arguments of other theorists that are slightly touched upon, Shpet truly does justice to Dilthey’s finalization of an elaborate hermeneutical method for human sciences. In addition to enlarging the hermeneutical pursuit concerning the question of understanding, Dilthey rephrases the goal of interpretation for the objective character of scientific inquiry. Unencumbered by psychologism, Dilthey’s methodological hermeneutics focuses on the hermeneutic circle formed in between the individual’s lived experience, the objectified expression of the historical subject, and the inquirer’s understanding the objective spirit (i.e., the commonality of the individual) through the processes of interpretation. Shpet concurs with Dilthey’s attempt to resolutely modify the hermeneutical inquiry from the subjective level to the objectivity of the social individual. However, Dilthey too cannot escape Shpet’s razor of purity in descriptions: “Dilthey fails to provide an answer to the question that once again arises before him, namely, what, properly speaking, is the essence of understanding as a sui generis source of knowledge in the human sciences.” (130) Since Shpet believes the question, what understanding is is blurred once again, Dilthey’s hermeneutics too cannot be the final destination of our search for an unshakeable foundation for hermeneutics.

After all historical accounts of the hermeneutic tradition, the final chapter entitled, “The Contemporary Situation,” epitomizes what Shpet’s project was in Hermeneutics and Its Problems. It begins with the conclusion that the theories dealing with historical knowledge have failed to provide a “clear” analysis of the originary act of understanding. Until Shpet, the act of understanding is taken for granted: when you read the historical text, understanding comes by itself; what the reader needs to do is now to interpret it. In Shpet’s opinion, conversely, the question concerning understanding underlies every possible hermeneutical inquiry (149). He rightly argues that we cannot solve hermeneutical problems without such clarification; namely, the problems of authorial intention, ambiguity, arbitrariness in interpretation, the part-whole structure, the kinds of interpretation, the role of the word as a communicative sign, and so on.

For this reason, in concert with Husserl’s project, Shpet reveals in these last pages what he suggests for hermeneutics actually turning out to be “a material-logical foundation for the historical sciences in the broadest sense.” (97) Shpet’s exhibition of hermeneutics as a rigorous science includes three tokens: first, new developments in contemporary psychology accommodate the ways in which the inquirer transfers the psychic content of what the text says by reading signs as communicative media. This latter issue leads us to the second leg of Shpet’s theory: semasiology, i.e., the study of the determination of the role of the sign in the act of understanding, which requires a logical methodology to prevail over the objective character of the task of interpretation. Shpet does not hesitate to refer to Husserl’s and Meinong’s efforts, nor does he confine his study only to a search for a phenomenological method.[1] This is where the Russian philosopher makes his last step toward hermeneutic phenomenology: turning the question of method to the semasiological inquiry on the objective logic of truth. The written text, for Shpet, is a historical residue for the present reader to make sense out of signs by recognizing the unity of the particularity of the reader’s lived experience and the spirit of the to-be-understood text. Understanding, therefore, cannot be reduced to the reader’s penetration into the psychology of the author represented in the text. Far from these subjectivist and psychologistic attitudes of the contemporary era, hermeneutics now adopts a new task of disclosing the intentional structure between the noetic understanding of the reader and the noematic content of the text.

Shpet relates the intentional structure between understanding and spirit to the historical reality subjected to hermeneutical inquiry. For what is historical (the written text, in this case) is the concrete object by which the reader reaches an understanding of what is realized. “Only in such a sense,” he writes, “can we speak of reality itself as history, for history has to do only with what has been realized. The reason that comprehends is not an abstract reason, but a reason that has been realized in this history.” (150) To put it differently, even before Heidegger’s lecture “The Idea of Philosophy and the Problem of Worldview” (1919) where he introduced the requirement of hermeneutical intuition in Husserl’s phenomenological method (Heidegger, 2008, 83-90), Shpet had highlighted the historical character of phenomenological investigation, which requires a method of its own in order to reflect historical consciousness. Consciousness is historical, thereby it always appeals to an interpretation of the object of consciousness and that of itself.

All that is left to be answered by Shpet is our basic question of what understanding truly is. Hermeneutics and Its Problems gives us a history of hermeneutics at length, scrutinizes how it has developed and dealt with the question of understanding, makes manifest where all attempts have failed. And yet, Shpet’s work falls short of delivering a consistent description of “the act of understanding,” because, like Husserl’s many introductive works to the phenomenological method, Shpet’s project too seems to be suffering from incompleteness in the sense that he did not find a chance to write the third volume of his History as a Problem of Logic, whose main task would be “an examination of strictly logical and methodological problems in our investigation of the fundamental problems of understanding.” (147) However, I believe, Shpet’s momentous essay, “Consciousness and Its Owner,” published in 1916, compiled in the present volume, provides an indirect suggestion to answer the basic question concerning understanding. The essay examines the extent to what we call “the I” is transcendent in terms of its irreducibility in the phenomenological reduction. This is important for our concern because the essence of consciousness directly relates to the interpreting reader, who understands the sense of a written text: what kind of “I” carries out the act of understanding?

The opening statement of Shpet’s argument in the essay is the uniqueness of every single, concrete “I.” In its own empirical life surrounded by other objects, the I is “this haecceity” of which it is unable to be generalized (161-62). This, however, leaves us with a conundrum: if uniqueness pertains to the peculiarities of an individual I, we can maintain that “each” I is distinct from other Is, so that all Is “share” a nature of uniqueness. In other words, every singular I is replaceable with other Is as irreplaceable (202). From this conundrum, Shpet unearths a non-egological conception of consciousness as opposed to the subjectivist and psychologist understanding at the time: the I as the bearer of lived experiences is not a “general subject” centered among other objects; rather, it is a unity of consciousness with regard to the surroundings, the historical situation, and the social conditions in which the I itself exists. Therefore, Shpet disapproves of Husserl’s constitution of the pure I as a foundation of consciousness: no “general I” can embrace the entire consciousness that is specific to “singular I.” What is this plurality of the singular individual, then? Shpet says in response that the I is a particular so-and-so, which is conditioned with a social milieu (191, 196). The I cannot exist without its social relations; that being so, the significance of haecceity lies at the specific unity of the experiences lived by “the communal I.” As Shpet continues, consciousness is a communal consciousness, i.e., the primary “we” rather than the pure I. In this sense, the singular I is plural.

Getting back to the basic question, i.e., that of understanding, we can conclude that the historically situated interpreter is the one who reads and understands the sense of a written text within the circumstances that determine one’s unique relations with the community. These constituents of consciousness (i.e., historicality and sociality) describe how the reader (as the “social we”) intersubjectively carries out the act of understanding. As opposed to the psychologistic and subjectivist accounts of the task of interpretation, Gustav Shpet brilliantly suggests a non-egological theory of hermeneutic phenomenology that precedes Heidegger, Gadamer, Ricoeur, and Nancy’s attempts.

References:

Heidegger, Martin. 2008. Towards the Definition of Philosophy, translated by Ted Sadler. London and New York: Continuum.


[1] In the second appendix, “Wisdom and Reason,” adopting the premises of Husserl’s project of “philosophy as a rigorous science,” Shpet examines the great disparity between philosophy as pure knowledge and the metaphysics of scientific philosophy. Shpet concludes the essay with another dichotomy, namely between the European sophia and the Eastern wisdom.