Jan Patočka: The Natural World as a Philosophical Problem

The Natural World as a Philosophical Problem Book Cover The Natural World as a Philosophical Problem
Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy
Jan Patočka. Edited by Ivan Chvatík and Lubica Ucník. Translated by Erika Abrams. Foreword by Ludwig Landgrebe
Northwestern University Press
2016
Paperback $34.95
240

Reviewed by: Michael Deckard (Lenoir-Rhyne University)

There is something slightly mysterious about reading this book, like finding a notebook in a desk in the attic in a drawer full of cobwebs. Or searching the archives for something you only have an inkling of what you might find (see below for a further description of the Patočka archives in Prague). Even though everything in this book besides the Translator’s Note has previously been published before in other languages, this collection of texts provides in English an insight into a thinker’s life hitherto inaccessible, or at least forgotten. Hence, the mystery. Erazim Kohák’s work in the 1980s brought forth a life story and a philosopher, but focused on the phenomenological and Czech thinker. The dates of the texts from The Natural World as a Philosophical Problem are fascinating in themselves. The main text is Patočka’s habilitation from 1936, Přirozený svét jako filosofický problém, first translated into French forty years later in 1976 (a year before he died), Le monde naturel comme problème philosophique, and then in German in 1990 as Die natürliche Welt als philosophisches Problem. Now the English in 2016, some eighty years after the original publication and forty years after his death. I mention these three translations because the nature of the natural world, for Patočka, is at issue: why is this a philosophical problem, and not an historical or scientific one? What has become of this problem in the intervening eighty years since he wrote the text? Normally, one does not review a book published eighty years earlier, but besides the main text, there is a “remeditated” supplement to it written 33 years later (1970), and then an afterword to the first French translation (1976). But that still leaves a mystery: what can be recalled anew about such texts?

The mystery begins with the foreword, written by a close friend of over forty years, who speaks to the life of the man himself and not just his thought: “our conversations were never purely philosophical,” and that these took place “for nights on end in my Prague years between 1933 and 1939”, Ludwig Landgrebe writes. These years seem to haunt this book, and perhaps the life and country if not all of Europe itself. Experiencing these years in “a kind of exile” in Prague, Landgrebe says, “Talk of personal life, family, comments on the alarming political situation in Europe, common concern for the future of Germany…For me, the development of Patočka’s philosophy is inseparably linked with the history of a friendship.” (ix) This is not a normal foreword. In fact, it was written as memories right after Patočka’s death in 1977. In being guided through the homeland and Prague in particular, “History came alive on these occasions in its interwovenness with art and literature” (x). The foreword is a document in history concerning a time “near and far, familiar and alien,” (xv) and according to Landgrebe, it was the first book on the problem of the life-world (Lebenswelt) (xiv). And yet, the title of the work is not the lifeworld as a philosophical problem, but the natural world. Is this only a problem of translation? Should this 1936 book be interpreted as truly a book about the problem of the lifeworld, or rather as one regarding the natural world, which is a broader problem in philosophy and science than the “well-nigh uncatalogable” literature on the life-world problem. (See the recent review on this site by Philipp Berghofer of The Phenomenological Critique of Mathematisation and the Question of Responsibility: Formalisation and the Life-World).[1]

The introduction to the main text begins thus: “Modern man has no unified worldview. He lives in a double world, at once in his own naturally given environment and in a world created for him by modern natural science, based on the principle of mathematical laws governing nature. The disunion that has thus pervaded the whole of human life is the true source of our present spiritual crisis.” (3) The one philosopher mentioned in this introduction is Descartes—but isn’t Descartes himself a kind of founder of phenomenology as well as science? In a certain sense, then, this book is about “the history of the development of modern science” (113) for which he points to “Leonardo the engineer, Bacon the insatiable political practitioner and visionary, Descartes the mechanistic physician, and even Galileo himself” in the conclusion. Instead of calling it a disenchantment of the world, it is a “dehumanization of the world.”

Chapter 1, “Stating the Problem,” expands upon this fundamental “disanthropomorphization” (6), speaking to how one can philosophise again not just “through mere wonder (thaumazein), but rather on account of the inner difficulties of his spiritual life.” (7) The problem is simply that humans who have experienced modern science “no longer live simply in the naïve natural world; the habitus of his overall relationship to reality is not the natural worldview.” (8) If this book is considered a debate with the founders of modern philosophy, then after stating the problem, Patočka poses some answers: a return to the feeling of life (9-11), an historical typology of possible solutions (11-19), and Patočka’s own proposed solution (19-22). To put it as simply as possible, “to state what we expect from this philosophical anamnesis and why we look upon the subjective orientation as a way to reestablish the world’s unity, the breaking of which threatens modern man in that which, according to Dostoyevsky, is most precious to him: his own self.” (19) There are thus three parts to his solution: subjectivity, the natural world (through history), and language. All of these are meant to unify the self from its fractured nature.

Chapter 2, “The Question of the Essence of Subjectivity and Its Methodical Exploitation,” begins from Descartes, and follows a trajectory of Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Schelling, and finally the method of phenomenology as recapturing subjectivity. Several guiding clues are given as to this method, reduction and time consciousness being two of the most important. Regarding the first,

“the reductive procedure applies, of course, to each and every particular thesis, but above all to the so to say general theses, which are already presupposed in singular judgments, and so on, e.g., the thesis that the world exists with its specific real structures. The reduction applies thus not only to propositions about what is but also to propositions about the structure of what is: not only to ontic but also to ontological propositions. Reduction should not be regarded, as is sometimes the case, as a method for acquiring a priori knowledge.” (38)

By means of this guiding clue, both subjectivity and knowledge are saved through “abstaining” (Epoche), and thus purifying experience of sedimentation in order to achieve some singularity in “pure givenness” or “pure consciousness” as “lived-experience.” (41) It is worth pointing out here that occasionally an endnote by the editors mentions the “recently discovered personal copy of his habilitation thesis” in which there is a penciled note. (201n52) Part of Patočka’s thesis of this chapter is thus to show similarities between phenomenology and the “Platonic-Aristotelian noesis.” (203n71) Due to ideation’s relationship to time-consciousness, the human is intersubjectively constituted. Differentiating this view from Fichte, Schelling, Kant, and Descartes, to go in reverse historical order, nevertheless allows a “passage through phenomenological reflection.” (51)

Chapter 3, “The Natural World,” the heart of the book, entails that subjectivity is not enough, but rather that man is in relation to a world. Erazim Kohák has already written of this work in his 1989 collection of Patočka’s writings, touching upon the difference between přirozený svét and English or German or French: “the world of nature, the entire realm of animate being, including humans in their mundane dimension, with its vital order and natural teleology…the world—now in the sense of the coherent, intelligible context of our being rather than as a sum of existents—which comes ‘naturally’ to us, the prereflective, prepredicative coherence of our context which we take so much for granted.” (Kohák 1989: 23) The point, going back to Patočka’s text, is a conscious co-living with others, with regard to them, and common to all. Criticisms of his 1936 conception, even mentioned 33 years later in his French afterword, is that it was too human-centric. The references are to “home”, “refuge”, “alien”, but he is still aware of the human and the extrahuman dimension. While animals are mentioned within “living nature,” as well as “generations,” “traditions,” and even “myth,” there seems to be no references to fossils. minerals, or flora as part of this natural world. The historical development of the problem accentuates this absence in which something of German idealism is still too stuck in human sensibility, despite mentions of biologists like von Baer and Uexküll or philosophers like Bergson.

Chapter 4, “A Sketch of a Philosophy of Language and Speech,” takes up the third aspect of his proposal, basing language in sensibility, history, and acoustics. While using insights from the Czech school of linguistics, as Landgrebe says in his foreword, “the whole chapter can be read as echo of the discussions that took place in the 1930s in the Prague Linguistic Circle. Many issues of fundamental philosophical import discussed at that time have disappeared from current linguistics under the influence of the nominalist tradition.” (xvii)

When Patočka added a supplement to this main text 33 years later (115-180), he later wrote about that supplement, “Written in haste, under the pressure of circumstances, the added text falls short to this aim, i.e. to clarify and update our view of the problem.” (182) The main problem is thus whether to listen to him or not. If we did, we would only read the afterword, some nine pages long (181-190) Most Patočka scholars ignore this, as did the German edition as well as the editors and translator of this book “despite his openly stated criticism of the first of the two and its omission from the 1976 French edition.” (191) Now, in reviewing this whole text from the perspective of eighty-years later, the sense of mystery returns. The translator’s note, then, should really be read first, or at least at the same time, as Landgrebe’s foreword, since she concludes that “the two afterwords are mutually complementary.” (192) Remembering that for most of Patočka’s life he was under great scrutiny, Kohák points out: “Altogether, of the forty-six years of his active life as a philosopher, Jan Patočka lived only eight years free of censorship.” (Kohák, 1989: 27) This is not an arbitrary point of history. “Man is not only thrown into the world but also accepted. Acceptance is an integral part of throwness, so much so that being-at-home in the world is made possible only through the warmth of acceptance by others,” Landgrebe writes (xvii). It is not without irony and a sense of sadness that Patočka died, having been arrested and interrogated for over eleven hours, forty years ago this year and that we can now read his earliest book for the first time in English.

My own experience, having spent a few days this year in the Patočka archive, was remarkable. Upon discovering a 200+ page manuscript on Ficino with pages and pages of drawings, astrological and artistic, hidden in the 1940s in the Strahov Library in Prague, the content of the archive can truly astonish and surprise one. A few pages of this ms. have been translated into German in Andere Wege in die Moderne: Studien zur europäischen Ideengeschichte von der Renaissance bis zur Romantik by Ludger Hagedorn. The amount of time Patočka spent studying and researching this period from the Renaissance to Romanticism is incredible. Any good phenomenologist or historian wanting to understand the richness of Patočka should visit the archive. The mystery of the text mentioned at the beginning of this review concerns the prophetic style of the philosopher, and how such a text brings out a renewal of thought. Once the cobwebs are blown off, and the archive uncovered, thought and even resistance can begin anew.


[1] Philipp Berghofer. Review of The Phenomenological Critique of Mathematisation and the Question of Responsibility: Formalisation and the Life-World by Ľubica Učník, Ivan Chvatík, Anita Williams (Eds.), Springer, 2015.

Ľubica Učník, Ivan Chvatík, Anita Williams (Eds.): The Phenomenological Critique of Mathematisation and the Question of Responsibility: Formalisation and the Life-World

The Phenomenological Critique of Mathematisation and the Question of Responsibility: Formalisation and the Life-World Book Cover The Phenomenological Critique of Mathematisation and the Question of Responsibility: Formalisation and the Life-World
Contributions to Phenomenology 76
Ľubica Učník, Ivan Chvatík, Anita Williams (Eds.)
Springer
2015
Hardcover 109,99 €
223

Reviewed by:  Philipp Berghofer (Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz)

Husserl’s last major work, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, is not only his main contribution to a phenomenological approach towards a philosophy of science, but also offers a new way to the transcendental reduction, namely the ontological one. This ontological way crucially depends on Husserl’s conception of the life-world. The life-world is also key in understanding Husserl’s discussion of modern science, as it is considered to be the meaning-giving foundation for all (non-phenomenological) sciences. Modern science, due to its formalised nature, seems to have forgotten this. However, it is important to point out that Husserl does not criticize science or the formalisations which take place in scientific investigations per se. So what precisely does Husserl criticize?

The Phenomenological Critique of Mathematisation and the Question of Responsibility: Formalisation and the Life-World has the important and ambitious objective not only to clarify what a phenomenological critique of mathematisation and formalisation consists in but also to reveal the relevance and actuality of such a critique. This means the aim is “to offer phenomenological accounts of the nature of self-responsibility as a critical, self-reflective and ethical practice, which is required in order to correct the increasingly value-free formalism of scientific knowledge.” (2)

The volume consists of four parts. The first part is a single paper of Patočka, namely his review of Husserl’s Crisis that has been translated by the editors especially for this volume. The second part is interpretive in nature, comprising five contributions devoted to “Patočka’s Phenomenological Philosophy.” The third part is also primarily interpretive, consisting of four contributions to “Husserl’s Phenomenology.” The fourth and final part, which unfortunately but tellingly is the shortest part, contains three contributions that aim at highlighting “The Continued Relevance of the Phenomenological Critique.”

In nuce, this volume succeeds in delivering interesting and high-quality individual analyses, but it has trouble meeting its self-imposed goal of clarifying the nature, genuineness, and relevance of a phenomenological critique of formalisation in modern science. More than half of the contributions do not even explicitly address “formalisation” or “mathematisation.”

The exception is Rosemary Lerner’s detailed and enlightening contribution “Mathesis Universalis and the Life-World: Finitude and Responsibility” that discusses Husserl’s critique. Rightly, she points out that “Formalism cannot per se be criticised – even when it is equated with the purely technical dimension of signs, calculative operations and their ‘game rules’.” (157) She moves on by clarifying that according to a Husserlian critique there are “three ways in which formalism conceals and forgets its meaning-foundation” (157). Of special importance is the third critique that “an ontological interpretation of forms replaces their merely methodological meaning,” which means that “modern physicalistic rationalism has forgotten its meaning-foundation in the life-world” (159).

Modern science is not aware of its own limitations anymore, and its successes led to “a nascent philosophical ‘naturalism’” (160). To be sure, Lerner makes it clear on more than one occasion that formalisation cannot and should not be criticized as such. Formalisation has positive aspects in the positive sciences (162 f.) and also “within objectively oriented philosophical research” (161). Aside from the fact that such formalisation is only applicable for some kinds of scientific research (while it should not be the role model for scientific investigation as such) the problem is that the practice and success of formalisation can conceal the difference between what is a method and what is reality. Mathematics and geometry are methods to describe reality; they are not the “true” reality lying behind what we can intuitively observe.

Lerner clarifies that according to Husserl,

“The ‘crisis of European sciences and humanity’ is due not to the ‘application’ of analytic geometry to the physical world but to the ‘shift in meaning’ whereby it is concealed and forgotten that mathematical disciplines are only powerful ‘methods’ and ingenious ‘hypotheses’ constructed by finite human beings, not ontological descriptions regarding a supposed reality ‘such as God sees it in itself’” (168).

This is why “Husserl’s aim in the Crisis – much as in Philosophy of Arithmetics – is to understand (and thus ‘recover’) the forgotten meaning-foundation of this mathematised natural science” (160), which also means that a “critical philosophy must attempt to clarify the question of the essential origin of every positive science, including formal logic.” (165) I absolutely agree with Lerner that precisely “[t]hese issues led Husserl in 1898 to the ‘universal a priori of correlation’ (Husserl 1970b: §46), and thus to the version of intentionality he developed in his transcendental phenomenology” (165).

In my opinion, Husserl holds that the life-world is the meaning-foundation for all positive sciences and that it is transcendental phenomenology that has to investigate and clarify the basic role the life-world plays. To be sure, transcendental phenomenology cannot deliver the basic axioms, principles or laws that occur in the “exact” sciences, but it can and has to clarify why axioms, principles or laws of such and such a type are appropriate for such and such a science. Transcendental phenomenology can do so as it is the only science that goes beyond the life-world. It goes beyond the life-world by adopting the transcendental attitude in which we are not directed towards the objects that occur in our everyday lives but towards the way in which these objects appear (cf. Husserliana VI, 155, 161 f.). In investigating how different types of objects can be given to us, i.e., investigating the correlation between consciousness and world, transcendental phenomenology has realized that the ultimate foundation of knowledge and science is not the life-world but subjectivity (cf. Husserliana VI, 70, 115). All objective knowledge is founded on subjectivity.

All knowledge is knowledge of an agent and in explaining how knowledge is possible, you ultimately have to turn away from objective states of affairs and focus on the subject’s consciousness. The ultimate evidence for my knowing that there is a table in front of me is not the existence of the table but my experiencing this table. My experiencing this table gets its justificatory force not from the reliability of my sensory apparatus but from the distinctive, originally presentive phenomenal character of this experience. What ultimate evidence is cannot be investigated objectively but only subjectively by turning to one’s experiences and to how these experiences can be described from a first-person perspective.

As transcendental phenomenology precisely is this science that investigates the structures of consciousness and experience from a first-person perspective, transcendental phenomenology is the ultimate science. Not because it can deliver the axioms, principles, laws or theorems of every or even any individual science, but because it is concerned with how the specific objects of investigations of any science can be given and what type of evidence is appropriate for what type of object.

The only worry I have with Lerner’s paper is that she does not focus on or even ignores this most fundamental role that subjectivity plays, especially as this is crucial for understanding why Husserl’s phenomenology is a transcendental phenomenology. She rightly mentions that for Husserl ultimate evidence is evidence of experience (169), but she does not deliver a more detailed analysis of precisely how phenomenology is the science that investigates from the first-person perspective what it is that gives experiences their justificatory force.

Be that as it may, Lerner’s paper is a great contribution that precisely fits the topic of this volume. The papers in this third part addressing “Husserl’s Phenomenology” are in general outstanding contributions, arguably the best of this volume. It is unfortunate, however, that this volume does not succeed in taking contributions like Lerner’s as a basis for discussing the actuality of a phenomenological critique by addressing questions like “Is Husserl’s critique best applicable to what he takes to be Galilean physics or is it equally applicable to physics in the 21st century?”, “What is Husserl’s stance on unobservable entities like electrons and quarks?” (cf. Wiltsche 2012), “What does Husserl’s critique mean for recently popular ontic scientific realism?” I will return to such missed opportunities below.

In “Everydayness, Historicity and the World of Science: Husserl’s Life-World Reconsidered” Dermot Moran provides an excellent discussion of Husserl’s conception of the life-world. Of course, one might question whether we really need another discussion of Husserl’s life-world. Anticipating this objection, Moran points out that, despite all the works on this topic, “the deep meaning and transcendental sense of Husserl’s concept of the life-world remains troublingly obscure” (110). Moran aims at presenting “a coherent exposition of this influential yet ambiguous concept” and at clarifying “how the life-world can function both as a universal ground (Grund, Boden) of all experience and as a potential horizon (Horizon) for experience” (110). One important aspect we have already touched on is the relationship between the life-world and subjectivity. Moran brings this into focus by quoting a passage where Husserl already around 1917-18 tells us: “Everything objective about the life-world is subjective givenness, our possession, mine, the other’s, and everyone’s together” (119; Husserl 1989, 375). Unfortunately, Moran does not discuss this transcendental character of Husserl’s doctrine in more detail. The central topic Moran wishes to shed light on is the relationship between science and life-world:

“The life-world, on the one hand, on Husserl’s conception, grounds and supports the world of science (which is essentially different from it); and, on the other hand, it also completely encompasses the world of science, since all scientists as human beings are themselves members of the life-world and scientific discoveries evolve in and are carried along by historical human communities and cultures” (121).

How is this possible? According to Moran, Husserl’s life-world can ground and encompass science at the same time as “the life-world is actually a horizon that stretches from indefinite past to indefinite future and includes all actualities and possibilities of experience and meaningfulness” (121 f.). The life-world as horizon and the life-world as ground can be reconciled if we “think of grounding in a new sense,” namely “as a constant ongoing contextualisation and re-contextualisation whereby meaning itself is secured through its horizonal connections with meanings lived through and established in the non-objectifiable world of living and acting” (126). Since such a grounding is not an objective but an “ultimately subjective” one (126), we, again, touch on the epistemic impact of subjectivity. While there is no doubt that Moran’s paper delivers a conception of Husserl’s life-world that is not only elegant and based on textual evidence but also sheds light on the relationship to the sciences, the precise relationship between science and life-world remains hazy and vague. We see in what way the life-world can ground and encompass science, but we still do not know how they can influence each other. What influence does science have on the life-world? Can science directly influence the life-world as culture does or only indirectly, for instance via influencing culture? What happens if there is a clash of science and life-world? Given Husserl’s criticism of modern science, one might be tempted to think that natural science cannot or at least should not “overrule” the life-world in the sense of shattering and shifting horizonal structures. This, of course, is not true. Our life-world is significantly different from the one of Ptolemy. When we observe the stars, planets or the sun what is originally given to us might be the same, but the horizonal structures of these experiences are clearly different simply in virtue of our scientific background beliefs.

The life-world is also the topic of Nicolas de Warren’s contribution “Husserl’s Hermeneutical Phenomenology of the Life-World as Culture Reconsidered.” Here the main target is Sebastian Luft’s recent Subjectivity and Lifeworld in Transcendental Phenomenology (Luft 2011) as De Warren forcefully argues against Luft’s thesis that Husserlian phenomenology “becomes a hermeneutical phenomenology of the correlational a priori of the world as historical world, as a world of culture, and of subjectivity as intersubjectivity, connected in a history and a tradition” (Luft 2011, 27). For De Warren, this interpretation and specifically the “identification of the life-world with a world of culture” is “untenable on the basis of Husserl’s own thinking” (135). De Warren’s contribution can be seen as a clash between two prominent and outstanding scholars, which naturally leads to a stimulating and controversial debate.

Before I turn to De Warren’s criticism in more detail, I briefly want to present Luft’s main points. When he presents his thoughts in the Introduction to his book, Luft begins with some basic but crucial Husserlian assumptions like “the only way to experience the world is from my own perspective,” (Luft 2011, 10); “it is impossible to leave the confines of our mind,” (Luft 2011, 12); and “[t]he Husserlian turn to transcendental idealism, by contrast [to Kant], is motivated by the factum of the world and its justification” (Luft 2011, 13). With respect to Husserl’s famous correlational a priori, which Luft calls the “One Structure,” Luft’s claim, then, is that “Husserl’s entire focus is on the thoroughgoing correlation of subjective and objective” (Luft 2011, 15). Luft considers this the main thesis of his book (cf. Luft 2011, 14).

I totally agree with these foregoing claims. Luft rightfully focuses on the correlational a priori and rightly declares this aspect the main core of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology. Husserl does not aim at proving that there is objective knowledge and justification but at explaining how this is possible. In doing so, one has to focus on the subject, more precisely, on the structures of intentionality. By explicating my knowledge of objects and states of affairs, I have to investigate from the first-person perspective how these objects are given to me within my experiencing them. The aim, then, is gaining essential insights about the structures of intentionality, such as the essential feature of perception to have the phenomenal character of self-givenness or givenness in actuality (Husserliana XVI, 14) − what Husserl often but most notably in his “principle of all principles” calls originary givenness.

Having said this, the question, of course, is how does Luft determine this correlational a priori? What are the end points of this correlation? In the literature, most often, it is described as a correlation between subject and object, sometimes between subject and world. Luft makes clear that he does not view this correlation “as a thoroughgoing correlation of the One structure with its poles, I and world” but “as a balance between both poles in which they are ‘always already’ intertwined, interrelated, dancing a tango” (Luft 2011, 18). This world, for Luft, is the life-world, which is (and this is the “provocative” part of Luft’s analysis) the world of culture (Luft 2011, 27). My main issue with this portrayal is its narrow focus on how our culture and history shape our experiencing. Interpreted modestly, this means that already in Husserl you find claims like “There is no view from nowhere,” or “All experience is theory-laden” (Cf. Moran’s remark at p. 118). Interpreted strongly, this can lead to the implausible phenomenalist consequence that there is an ontological distinction between what we experience and the things in themselves. (De Warren accuses Luft of undermining a non-phenomenalist reading of Kant at p. 150.) Either way, this disguises what I take to be the most important insight of Husserl’s correlational apriori. Namely that,

Category of objectivity and category of evidence are perfect correlates. To every fundamental species of objectivities – as intentional unities maintainable throughout an intentional synthesis and, ultimately, as unities belonging to a possible ‘experience’ – a fundamental species of ‘experience’, of evidence, corresponds, and likewise a fundamental species of intentionally indicated evidential style in the possible enhancement of the perfection of the having of an objectivity itself” (Husserl 1969, 161).

This means that the type of object I experience determines the type of evidence that is available to me (e.g. adequate evidence for physical objects, apodictic evidence for mathematical truths, adequate evidence for my existence). As Heffernan puts it, “evidence is a function of the evident” (Heffernan 1998, 22). Husserl is interested in what it means to experience, for instance, a physical object, how such an object can be given within experience and what it means that in perception such an object is self-given, i.e., originally given. The answers to these questions are essential insights and independent from a subject’s culture or history.

Let us return to De Warren’s criticism of Luft’s identification of life-world and culture. Luft provides the following clarification:

“Culture, then, is the safe haven and our home, and nothing could be further from living an enlightened life than dwelling and feeling at home in the niches of subcultures, which deliberately depart from the ‘mainstream’. Subcultures, which consciously depart from the ‘grand discourse’ of Culture, are the enemy of culture” (Luft 2011, 356).

De Warren has two main objections against the claim that culture (in this sense) captures the idea of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology.

  1. Husserl’s method of reduction is “diametrically opposed” to the claim that one should strive for “mainstream” (145). Referring to Patočka, De Warren insists that, contrary to Luft, “the phenomenological reduction can be understood as instituting a ‘break’ or ‘shattering’ of belonging to a human-made world of culture” (145).
  2. The life-world cannot be identified with the world of culture as “there are a multiplicity of irreducible worlds” and only some of them are culture but “most are not” (153). In this context, De Warren points out that it is misleading to call Husserl’s a priori correlation a “One Structure” as there is no uniform meaning to this correlation (153).

While this debate between Luft and De Warren is of fundamental importance for understanding Husserl and transcendental phenomenology in general, this does not tell us much about a phenomenological critique of mathematisation and formalisation. The same is true for Moran’s contribution and also for Thomas Nenon’s.

In part II, “Patočka’s Phenomenological Philosophy,” the contribution of Učník & Chvatík entitled “Patočka on Galileo” and Burt Hopkins’ “Nostalgia and Phenomenon: Husserl and Patočka on the End of the Ancient Cosmos” both more directly address the topic of mathematisation. Učník & Chvatík shed light on Patočka’s claims that “we cannot await moral answers from a mathematised nature” and that the source of such a deceptive expectation is “the assumption that if we can mathematise nature we can also mathematise human relations; and that mathematics can give us all the answers, in every sphere of our living, from physics to ethics” (49). My worry with this contribution and the second part of this volume in general is twofold: First, it is not clear to me in what ways Patočka is supposed to go beyond Husserl in complementing his phenomenological critique. Secondly, and this is true for the volume as such, while there are many topics mentioned that perfectly fit current debates in epistemology, philosophy of science and meta-ethics, it is hardly ever discussed how Husserl and Patočka could contribute to current debates. In the context of formalising ethics, for instance, one could mention the currently very popular method of reflective equilibrium and question that every moral intuition can be sacrificed for greater coherence of the belief-system (cf. Daniels 1996). I will return to such missed opportunities when discussing the final part.

Hopkins argues that Patočka not only “goes beyond Husserl’s fragmentary account of Galileo” but also that Patočka’s account “is informed by actual history” (59). But is it important that philosophy of science is informed by actual history? Can philosophy profit from integrating history? This is precisely the topic of the currently popular and widely discussed research field of “Integrated History and Philosophy of Science” (cf. Patton 2011). But neither in Hopkins’ contribution nor elsewhere in this volume are these connections discussed. This is worrisome as this volume has the self-imposed goal of revealing “the continued relevance of the phenomenological critique of formalism” (6).

In the light of this criticism, let us now turn to the final part of the book, “The Continued Relevance of the Phenomenological Critique.” This part only consists of three contributions. Broadly speaking, there are four interesting ways of arguing for a continued relevance of a phenomenological critique of formalism. 1. To show how technological progress has led to consequences Husserl and Patočka have warned about. 2. To point out that modern natural science is still interpreted (either by scientists or non-scientists) as revealing that the world we perceive is mere illusion and that the world’s true nature is captured by formalisations. 3. To reveal that modern natural science is still interpreted (either by scientists or non-scientists) as the role model for all scientific investigations (including philosophy). 4. To show that there are current philosophical debates that share the basic idea of Husserl’s and Patočka’s critique and could benefit from adopting (elements of) transcendental phenomenology.

In his “Formalisation and Responsibility” James Mensch touches on all four topics but none is elaborated upon in great detail. He begins with the example that

“During the Vietnam War, US bombing missions were set by a computer program that, based on field reports, calculated the probability of the Vietcong’s being in a particular location at a particular time. Such missions, with their use of napalm, were responsible for the destruction of much of the countryside. Who or what was responsible for this: the computer, the writers of its algorithms, the pilots flying the missions, the operations research analysts that worked to ‘rationalise’ these missions?” (188)

I take this example to capture well the basic idea of the relevance of a phenomenological critique along the lines of critique 1 specified above. Mensch, however, does not return to this example. He also briefly complains that by an electron a scientist understands “this formula for the probability-density of its position” (187) and that adopting a naturalist attitude has led to a “devaluation of consciousness” by philosophers like Daniel Dennett (192). The recurrent theme of his contribution is embodiment. This is a very important aspect of a phenomenological critique of formalisation as it takes place, for instance, in artificial intelligence research. In this volume, Mensch is the only one who aims at systematically developing the role of embodiment in a phenomenological critique, which I take to be his main accomplishment.

Anita Williams’ “Perceiving Sensible Things: Husserl and the Act of Perception” and Ivan Chvatík’s “Are We Still Afraid of Science?” both pursue very specific goals. This is especially true for Chvatík, who discusses Stephen Hawking’s and Leonard Mlodinow’s popular-science book The Grand Design in order to see how it exemplifies what Husserl and Patočka have criticized. The upshot is that it exemplifies pretty much all of what, according to a phenomenological critique, could be worrisome.

From the claim that M-theory [multiverse theory] will turn out to provide a complete and final theory of the universe, to the naturalisation of consciousness, including the denial of free will, to the statement that “philosophy is dead” as it “has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics” (Hawking and Mlodinow 2010, 5) there is not much left that could provoke a phenomenological critique. You can feel Chvatík’s discomfort when he tells that he “would not have believed that a position like this is still possible in the present day” (212). It should not come as a surprise, however, that in the vast field of sometimes genuinely provocative popular-science there are works to which a phenomenological critique can be perfectly applied. Also, it should be mentioned that The Grand Design has been harshly criticized not only by philosophers but also by physicists.

In her contribution, Williams questions the so-called neurocognitive model of perception in which, according to Williams, “sense is reduced to sensation and human sense-making is confined to the end point of a causal process.” (197) She argues against the assumption of neurocognitive researchers “that mind can be reduced to the functioning brain” (197 f.) and wants “to show that a brain-based model of perception does not resolve the mind-matter problem” (198). The basis of her critique is Husserl’s conception of sensuous and categorial intuition. This means that Williams aims at an extremely important task, namely exploring the relationship between cognitive neuroscience and Husserlian phenomenology. However, it is not clear to me why this relationship should be negative in the sense that cognitive neuroscience clashes with Husserlian phenomenology. Of course, if Williams is right in asserting that neurocognitive researchers claim to solve the mind-matter problem by reducing the mind to brain, then somebody should step in. But even if they do, it seems obvious to me that their research is not committed to such claims. In his Sixth Logical Investigation Husserl makes the following remark about the relationship between his phenomenological investigation of perception and a potential natural scientific one:

“In sense-perception, the ‘external’ thing appears ‘in one blow’, as soon as our glance falls upon it. The manner in which it makes the thing appear present is straightforward: it requires no apparatus of founding or founded acts. To what complex mental processes it may trace back its origin, and in what manner, is of course irrelevant here” (Husserl 2001, 283).

Of course, there is a lot of debate about whether phenomenology should take a more active stance, some even claiming that phenomenology should be naturalized (cf. Zahavi 2004). Still, I am not convinced by Williams’ conclusion that “Husserl provides a way to question the causal explanations of perception adopted by neurocognitive psychologists” (207) as I believe that such causal explanations are non-phenomenological but not anti-phenomenological at least as long as there is not the claim involved that such causal explanations tell us everything we can know about perception, rendering a phenomenological account obsolete.

In conclusion, this volume offers a number of high-quality papers on important and current topics, but it does not succeed in bringing this currency, the relevance of a phenomenological critique in the 21st century, to the forefront. There are many missed opportunities as there definitely is such a relevance, and while this volume manages to provide many stimulating and important first beginnings for exploiting the fruitfulness of a phenomenological critique, it does not really go beyond such first steps.

References

Daniels, Norman (1996): Justice and Justification, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hawking, Stephen & Mlodinow, Leonard (2010): The Grand Design, London: Bantam Press.

Heffernan, George (1998): “Miscellaneous Lucubrations on Husserl’s Answer to the Question ‘was die Evidenz sei’: A Contribution to the Phenomenology of Evidence on the Occasion of the Publication of Husserliana Volume XXX,” Husserl Studies 15, 1-75.

Husserl, Edmund (2001): Logical Investigations, transl. by J. N. Findlay, New York: Routledge.

Husserl, Edmund (1970): The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, transl. by David Carr, Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Husserl, Edmund (1969): Formal and Transcendental Logic, transl. by Dorion Cairns, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Luft, Sebastian (2011): Subjectivity and Lifeworld in Transcendental Phenomenology, Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Patton, Lydia (ed.) (2014): Philosophy, Science, and History, New York: Routledge.

Wiltsche, Harald (2012): “What is Wrong with Husserl’s Scientific Anti-Realism?” Inquiry 55, 2, 105-130.

Zahavi, Dan (2004): “Phenomenology and the project of naturalization,” Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 3, 331-347.

Cologne-Leuven Summer School of Phenomenology 2016 “Genetic Phenomenology”: A Report

Marco Cavallaro

Since 2008 the Cologne-Leuven Summer School for phenomenology has been a hallmark within the landscape of the phenomenological summer schools of philosophy. Moreover, it is the only school which deals specifically with Edmund Husserl, and, as such, it is a must for anybody interested in the founder of the phenomenological movement.

This year’s topic was genetic phenomenology. Related issues, such as pre-predicative experience, the lived body, the relation of phenomenology to psychology, the access to other persons, intersubjective constitution, history, phantasy and the life-world, were also touched upon by a series of presentations carried out by internationally renowned Husserl scholars.

In the morning sessions, professors and post-graduates presented accessible lectures which unraveled particular topics related to Husserl’s thought. The afternoon sessions were devoted to either textual discussions or presentations by graduate students.

Dieter Lohmar (Cologne, Germany): “Static and Genetic Phenomenology”

Dieter Lohmar’s talk during the first day of the summer school focused on the distinction between static and genetic phenomenology. His aim was to show the continuity rather than the discontinuity between these two methods of phenomenological investigation. Lohmar stressed the fact that, thanks to the new critical edition of Ideas II, we can now place the date of the beginning of the genetic phenomenology between 1912 and 1915, i.e. the time when Husserl was working on his drafts of the publication of Ideas II. According to Lohmar, both different topics as well as different methods distinguish genetic from static phenomenology. Static phenomenology takes into account the structure of isolated complex acts, whereas it does not investigate the dynamics of the experiential history, which is rather a characteristic topic for the late genetic phenomenology.

It is possible to mention at least two paradigms or dogmas that broadly characterize static phenomenology. Phenomenology generally starts as an investigation of the essential structures of consciousness. From the point of view of static phenomenology, we can pursue this investigation only by focusing on singular acts (Lohmar baptizes this trait, the “one-act-paradigm” of static phenomenology). Furthermore, static phenomenology relies on the so-called “one-way-foundation-paradigm” related to the general direction of constitutive effects: doing phenomenology, we have to start from the lowest levels of constitution and then work from the bottom up. In the Logical Investigations, Husserl understands the relation between acts primarily in terms of the notion of “foundation” (Fundierung). For instance, the act of feeling is regarded as a complex whole made out of two different acts. The founding act is an act intending a single object: in order to feel something, we need first to have a consciousness of the particular object of our feeling. On the other hand, the founded act is the feeling itself. High level objectivities like states of affair, essences are also grounded on a given cluster of simple acts. From this perspective, however, there is no room for a consideration of the constitutive effects that go the other way around, i.e. from the higher back to the lower levels of constitution. According to Lohmar, the latter is namely more a concern for genetic phenomenology, which focuses on the history of experience and the temporal succession and intertwining of multiple acts.

Diverse topics can be solved or addressed only by going into the genetic history of experience – for instance, the phenomena of language, consciousness, and especially the constitution of experiential “types”.

Types are regarded by Husserl as a product of the process that brings about the sedimentation of experience. They function actively in guiding and determining our perceptual as well as our practical life. Lohmar points out that any sedimented experience does not rest calmly and unknown in an alleged obscure soil, as the metaphor of sedimentation at first glance suggests; rather it influences our further perceptual and practical life. In fact, the term “sedimentation” should not be misunderstood: It does not imply that experiences are simply stocked and rest calm without effecting the life of consciousness; quite the opposite, they determine in a crucial way our experience of the present and likewise our expectations towards the future.

A characteristic example of genetic analysis is given by the experiential, pre-predicative origin of the sense of negation set forth in Experience and Judgment (cf. EU § 21). Husserl’s level of investigation here is well before full-blown cognition, that is, before the sphere of predicative judgment. The sense of negation needing to be addressed in the first place by the genetic phenomenologist belongs to the pre-predicative perceptual dynamics itself. Consider the perception of a tomato. At the beginning, I can just see the front-side of the tomato and notice that it is red. I am therefore motivated to make the experiential judgment that the tomato is red. However, I may afterwards turn the tomato in my hands and see the other side: I then realize that the other side is green. It is still one and the same tomato, but it is an unripe tomato that can no longer be considered fully red: my expectations on the level of perception have been disappointed, or more precisely, my expectation concerning the redness of the tomato was frustrated. This points to the fact that we have usual expectations concerning certain types of objects, but these expectations may undergo a complete or partial delusion. This experience of delusion is illustrated by Husserl with the model of a “fight” (Kampf) between evidences. A kind of evidence is already there before actual perception takes place: It is the evidence of expectation that I already have before I am going to directly perceive the object itself or the currently unperceived side of the object. The evidence of expectation “fights” with the evidence of perception. Yet, after the fight, the looser is still there, i.e. the evidence of anticipation is still alive and forceful, but its force undergoes now a modulation. Thus, a negation of the type “S is not p” is, in Lohmar’s own words, an “historiographic information”. I believed this object be red, but it revealed itself to be green. This information is sedimented in my experience, as “we are historical creatures”: everything that I experience speaks about what I was expecting before and, in this way, it speaks about me, my subjective view and attachment to the world with all its practical expectations, desires, values, etc.

Andrea Staiti (Cologne, Germany/Boston, USA): “The Late Conception of the Eidetic Method”

Andrea Staiti’s lecture focused on a further aspect of Husserl’s phenomenological method, namely eidetics. In the first part of his talk, Staiti investigated the notion of essence within Ideas I. Although Ideas offer the first substantial presentation of the notion of essence, anticipations of this method can be found in the Logical Investigations, for instance in the Second Investigation where Husserl introduces the concept of species or in the Sixth Investigation with the reference to the phenomenological structure of categorial intuition. In Ideas I, however, Husserl explicitly puts forth his theory of essences. Staiti noticed that the backdrop of the introduction of essences in Ideas I is “wissenschaftstheoretisch”. Husserl is introducing here a new kind of sciences, the so called Wesenswissenschaften as opposed to the Tatsachenwissenschaften. Essences fundamentally are the object of investigation for the first type of sciences, to which phenomenology also belongs.

In this way, Husserl is contrasting the idea that philosophy should be considered solely as a second order discipline that is a mere appendage of the empirical sciences. According to this view, philosophy does not have a subject matter, but is rather a reflection on the procedure of other sciences. This is the (Neo-Kantian) picture that Husserl precisely seeks to overcome in Ideas I.

The second part of Staiti’s talk dealt with the method of eidetic variation in Experience and Judgment. In this work, Husserl undertakes an analysis of the condition of possibility for experiencing and cognizing generalities. Staiti maintained that generality is already an ingredient of our direct experience of things, not a byproduct of intellectual procedures. We do in fact encounter a sort of generality in experience. However, this kind of generality is not the same generality of concepts or essences. This is a line of thought that goes back to Hermann Lotze, who introduces for the first time the notion of “first generality” (erste Allgemeinheit). Both Lotze and Husserl argue that this generality is grounded in the experience of similarity or syntheses of coincidence (Deckungssynthese): passive syntheses of associations which are at work in every experience without any active engagement or performance (Leistung) on the side of the subject. Anything we experience evokes certain expectations related to a generality called “type”. Types are, thus, a result of the fundamental cumulative aspect of our experience.

Staiti introduced then a fundamental distinction within the realm of generalities between essences, empirical concepts, and types. Empirical concepts, unlike types, do not depend on experience. An empirical concept opens up the extension of the type to infinity. It is not bound to that which I have seen. Differently from essences, however, empirical concepts are tied to the contingency of the world, since the method of attaining them does not get rid of the aspect of contingency and thus bounds the validity of the concept to the existence of the world. In order to purify our concepts, we need a different method, i.e. the method of free variation. This method enables us to discover, as Staiti put it, “what is not negotiable in the properties of an object in order for the object to count as that particular object”. This also means that we do not harvest essences which are already given in perception, but eidetic intuition or experience of essences is a process through which we try to get clear of our cognitive commitments. Staiti ultimately noticed a fundamental difference between type and stereotype. The latter may be characterized in terms of an upshot of the petrification of types. Experiential types, then, are intrinsically fluid and open to change and rectification on the basis of further experience.

Christian Ferentz-Flatz (Cologne, Germany/Bucharest, Romania): “Geschichte in der Sicht der genetischen Phänomenologie”

Christian Ferentz-FlaTZ’s talk developed in three sections. In the first part, he engaged with the objection concerning the absence of the historical dimension within the Husserlian phenomenology. This absence has been first justified with Husserl’s own critique of historicism in the Logos article of 1911, where Husserl was contraposing its biased method to the radical method of phenomenology based on direct intuition and the grasping of essences. This led many interpreters to consider phenomenology and history as fundamentally incompatible. The transcendental standpoint Husserl develops from the years in Göttingen onwards has also been regarded as a departure from the dimensions of historicity and facticity towards a focusing of the performances of a pure I completely bereft of any content and consequently of history. Furthermore, the eidetic method has been alleged to abstract from the dimension of history due to its prevailing interest on timeless eidetic truths (cf. especially Adorno’s critique of Husserl).

Especially two authors, Lembeck and Landgrebe, sought to provide an answer to this everlasting objection. They both pinpoint to the founding function that phenomenology, due to its eidetic method, can provide with respect to historical sciences.

Heidegger, on the other hand, sets forth with his own conception of phenomenology developed in lectures during the Twenties a new understanding of the relationship between systematic method and historicity. According to him, historicity does not necessarily imply the loss of objective, systematic knowledge. This is possible, however, only by adopting a hermeneutic standpoint, which Heidegger fundamentally misses in Husserl’s own methodology.

In the second part of the talk, Ferentz-Flatz considered a series of sources in which Husserl himself poses the question of historicity and its relationship to the phenomenological method. For example, in a letter to Cornelius from 1906 Husserl draws a distinction that he did not mention in the Logical Investigations: namely, the distinction between causal-explanatory psychology (kausal-erklärende Psychologie) and genetic psychology. The first type of psychology provides causal explanations by making reference to transcendent causes, whereby the second type opens up the possibility of a genetic consideration of experience which is not based upon external causation. Thus, Ferentz-Flatz concludes that a new concept of genesis begins to take hold in Husserl already during the 1910s.

The very breakthrough of the genetic phenomenology is however firstly documented in the appendix XLV of Husserliana XIII, which is dated 1916-17. Here Husserl provides four different meanings of the term “originality” (Ursprünglichkeit): 1) original givenness as opposed to indirect givenness, 2) founding as opposed to founded, 3) prior as opposed to posterior (temporal succession), 4) unmodified as opposed to modified (reproductive modification).

In Formal and Transcendental Logic (1929), Husserl will apply the genetic method in order to clarify the origin of judgments. This implies the consideration of the history of sense (Sinngeschichte) that pertains to each judgment as such as well as to each form of judgment. Further, Experience and Judgment (1939) purports to follow a similar undertaking, whereby the Cartesian Meditations contain a treatment of the experience of others that does not completely get rid of genetic explanations. Especially in this case, as Ferentz-Flatz underlined, Husserl makes a methodical use of the concept of genesis: he simulates a “fictive genesis” in order to discover new layers of experience – as when in the Fifth Cartesian Meditation one is requested to abstract from others and from any intentional implication that refers to others in order to discover a primordial sphere from which to begin the phenomenological analyses of the intersubjective experience. In this sense, a parallelism between genetic phenomenology and developmental psychology becomes evident. This is, however, only a parallelism, Ferentz-Flatz points out, since psychology has to do with empirical laws of the succession of stages of development, whereas phenomenology is concerned with eidetic laws of succession that strive for being universally valid.

The third and last section of Ferentz-Flatz‘s talk was devoted to a clarification of the third appendix of Husserl’s Crisis. His reading of the Husserlian reconstruction of the origin of geometry points to the fact that we are confronting here not a historical investigation devoted to rendering the objective truth about how things really happened. On the contrary, Husserl is here rather keen to show how things should have developed, how geometry should be born of conscious accomplishments. Genesis in this sense does not refer to the factual, objective history. As Rudolf Bernet points out in his preface to the German edition of the introduction to Husserl’s appendix written by Derrida, the history of consciousness has nothing to do with the factual history.

Emanuele Caminada (Cologne, Germany): “Lebenswelt in Ideen II”

Emanuele Caminada tackled the problem of tracing the historical genesis of the problem of the lifeworld in Husserl from Ideas II onward as well as engaged with its late systematic account in Husserl’s philosophy. At the core of Husserl’s idea there is the constitutive function of attitudes (Einstellungen). In Ideas II, Husserl distinguishes between the phenomenological attitude, the naïve attitude, the naturalistic attitude, the personalistic attitude, and the so called “geisteswissenschaftliche Einstellung”, i.e. the attitude proper to the humanities. Caminada characterized the notion of attitude in general as a form of perspectivity, a habit, a mindset.

Phenomenology defines itself in the first place as an attitude, namely the phenomenological attitude. In order to perform phenomenological analyses, one is required to adopt a new attitude that allow her to grasp phenomena in their richness beyond any scientific bias and prejudices. The natural attitude and the naturalistic are, according to Caminada, “absolute attitudes”: they provide us with a complete vision of the world. On the other hand, the attitude of the humanities and the personalistic attitude are attentive to the role that the fundamental correlation between subject and the world plays in every experience; these latter two are thus more committed to a form of relativism.

The phenomenological attitude can help us to distinguish the different attitudes, that is, it makes us sensitive towards the grasping of changes between attitudes. In fact, the phenomenological task is not only to pursue a classification of the different attitudes, but to investigate the correlation and transition from one attitude to another, as well as the way they interplay in concrete experience.

Jagna Brudzinska (Cologne, Germany/Warsaw, Poland): “Genetische Phänomenologie und Psychologie”

Jagna Brudzinska delves into the much debated question of the relation between phenomenology and psychology. Phenomenology characterizes itself as a descriptive science of experience and, under this perspective, it shares the descriptive character of its method with psychology. However, unlike empirical psychology phenomenology deals with eidetic laws and truths concerning the essential structures of experience. Its method is therefore not deductive and empirical, as in the case of psychology. Brudzisnka underlined further that one of Husserl’s main goals was to lay the foundations for a new kind of psychology as an a priori discipline. In this sense, one can speak of a parallel development of phenomenology and a pure, a priori psychology in Husserl’s thinking. The difference between the two derives from the transcendental character of the former, i.e. its attempt to unravel the constitution of being by the transcendental subject.

A topic further addressed by Brudzinska’s talk was the character of motivation as opposed to proper causation. According to her, it is important not to conflate motivation with a weak form of causality, as the former has a totally different structure of relation with respect to the latter.

The genetic turn in Husserl’s phenomenology means a turning point in the analysis of the life of consciousness. If in static phenomenology the singular act was the primary focus of the phenomenological investigation, with total abstraction from the temporal dimension of experience, genetic phenomenology instead points at illustrating the meaningful connections that join experiences together. One of these connections is the temporal succession which is far from being a mere “one-after-the-other” (Nacheinander), but which is more better described as a “one-upon-the-other” (Aufeinander) or “one-in-the-other” (Ineinander) relationship. Thus, there is a dynamic structure underlying the succession of experiences; one that cannot be seized upon by static phenomenology alone. The genetic method permits precisely the singling out of this structure and makes it the object of a phenomenological, a priori analysis.

Dieter Lohmar (Cologne, Germany): “Prepredicative Experience, Negation, Explication”

In his second talk, Lohmar tackled the topic of pre-predicative experience in the late Husserl by introducing a number of examples from everyday life. Pre-predicative experience is a knowledge each individual has about the properties and practical usefulness of determinate objects. This knowledge is not propositional; ratherit is founded in the past experiences the subject has of this or that object. Furthermore, the way that this specific kind of knowledge appears in phenomenological terms is a phantasmatic anticipation of the distinctive characteristics that individuate an object as that particular object. This phantasmatic anticipation is a form of evidence that Lohmar contrasts to impressive evidence. In the case of disappointment, a pre-predicative experience Husserl poses as the basis of the predicative form of negation, anticipative and impressive evidences clash together giving rise to a conflict of evidences in which impressive evidence usually has the upper hand.

According to Lohmar, pre-predicative experience functions primarily in an unconscious way. Whether the subject can find out what she already knew in advance depends on the particular situation in which she finds herself, and it is pre-predicatively functioning by shaping her experience of a determinate object and of the world in general. Methodically, we need to make a conscious repetition of the situation, and then we may gain insight into the knowledge and pieces of information that were operative in it.

Lohmar emphasized once more the fact that we have an historiographic knowledge of past experiences. Our present situation is informed by what we have lived in the past. This holds true also for predicative formations like negation, addition, and subject-object predication. They all have their origin in experience or, more specifically, in the history of experience. This is the main idea Husserl advocates, for instance, in Formal and Transcendental Logic, in which he argues that logic needs a theory of experience in order to become understandable and justified from a phenomenological perspective.

Sebastian Luft (Marquette University, USA/Padeborn, Germany): “Husserl’s Mature Phenomenology of the Life-World and His Critique of the Sciences”

Sebastian Luft offered a survey of Husserl’s phenomenology of the life-world from its beginnings in Ideas II to its extensive development in the Crisis-work. Husserl envisioned the task of describing the intuitive lifeworld in its concrete typicality especially in the lecture on Nature and Spirit from 1919. In Ideas I (1913), this project is not yet fully developed, although one can find there a description of the natural attitude, i.e. the way in which human beings naturally live and are conscious of a world that is intuitively given in experience. Therefore, Luft argues that the theme of the life-world was introduced in 1913 whereas the concept only in 1919. The first time both the theme and the concept were set forth in a published work was in the first volume of the Crisis in 1936. For this reason, the theme of the life-world was usually understood as a result of Heidegger’s influence on Husserl’s later work. This is, however, far from being true, as the unpublished Husserl’s reflections on this particular topic from the 1910s and 1920s unmistakably prove.

Luft discussed the concept of the natural attitude as the horizon within which the theme of the life-world gradually emerged in Husserl’s thought. The natural attitude is the normal attitude underpinning our everyday activities and opinions. Most importantly, we do not know that we are in the natural attitude as long as we are in it. The main thesis of the natural attitude is that the world exists and  more precisely does so independently of any experiencing consciousness. Thus, according to Luft the correlation between the subject and the object of experience remains absolutely concealed in the natural attitude. Only phenomenology and its proper methodology can reveal that everything objectively existent is the correlate of a subjective “doing”. In this sense,  science is deemed to be a specific doing guided by the intention of gaining objective (subject-independent) knowledge. This doing is further characterized by a proper form of attitude that Husserl calls “naturalistic attitude,” which distinguishes itself from the natural attitude through the epistemological goal informing its activity. This primarily consists in the task of de-perspectivizing the perspectival view on the world proper to the natural attitude and achieving thereby a “view from nowhere”. The world of the natural attitude is therefore prior to science and to the naturalistic world that is a product of the objectivizing and de-perspectivizing standpoint the natural sciences assume with respect to the given, intuitive world.

The world of the natural attitude, which Husserl lately baptizes as the life-world, is not a pre-linguistic world, but rather a world of opinions, musings, projects, and interests. Luft provided the following definition of the life-world: “The life-world is the product of constitution on the part of transcendental subjectivity, living in the mode of the natural attitude”.

In the Crisis Husserl explicitly carries out the project of a phenomenological description of the a priori of the life-world as it is given to us prior to science. This world is eminently a social world, and the naturalistic attitude of the positive sciences has concealed this fundamental worldly dimension by identifying the world with (material) nature. Hence, Husserl’s project amounts to the attempt to develop a science of the “despised doxa”, i.e. of the subjective-relative that characterizes the natural attitude and the experience within the original dimension of the life-world. This experience is at the same time the starting point of every scientific endeavor, and the life-world can thus lay the “meaning-foundation” of and for every kind of science. Sciences “cover up” the life-world with a “shroud of ideas” and take the result of this operation, which is the world according to the science, as the real world while relegating the life-world to an illusion. But this is the reverse of the truth, according to Husserl. Science reverses the natural order of things or, to put it in Cassirer’s terms, science is the one symbolic form of meaning that has become the measure of all others. This position characterizes the so-called naturalistic reductionism against which Husserl’s phenomenology of the life-world wants to take over. This implies the development of a new science able to describe and to conceptually fix the structure of a world that is most known and familiar to us, and in that way most distant. This world contains a material a priori structure – spatially, temporally, and genetically. A science of the life-world, Luft finally remarked, is precisely a transcendental science of the subjective, i.e. of the conditions of the possibility for the subjective access to the world.

Alice Pugliese (Palermo, Italy): “Intersubjectivity in Late Genetic Phenomenology”

Alice Pugliese provided in her talk an overview of Husserl’s understanding of intersubjectivity. In particular, she questioned the method through which Husserl intended to illustrate the experience of the other in the Fifth Cartesian Meditation. In this work, the analysis carried out by Husserl boosts a static account of intersubjectivity in which the individualities of the encountering subjects are already constituted and pre-given. Pugliese argues that this is certainly one aspect of the intersubjective encounter, but it does not exhaust all of the dimensions and facets in which intersubjectivity may appear. The face-to-face encounter that Husserl has in mind in describing intersubjectivity within the Fifth Meditation presupposes that each person has already a history of experiences that constitute her individuality and make her a full-blown subject. There may be, however, encounters with subjects at different levels of genetic development, for instance the relation between the mother and child, which has also been object of scrutiny in Husserl’s posthumously published manuscripts. According to Pugliese, it is precisely the static account characterizing Husserl’s most known theory of intersubjectivity that poses the problem of the accessibility of the other’s consciousness life. In this view, the subjects are mutually inaccessible, they are opaque to each other. This depends, at least partly, on the fact that the already constituted subjects do not share the same experiential history. This represents, however, both a term of differentiation as well as a term of continuity between the subjects. In fact, Pugliese stressed that the individuation of the subject through a lived history means that they are profoundly different, but this is at the same time the basis for their mutual recognition. A single experience is by definition not sharable; and, therefore, the other is given to me in this regard in the mode of the accessible inaccessibility. Yet, if one puts the single experience in the web of a continuous flow of experiences, the identification with the other subject can take place, since we both share the structure of a meaningful life spreading over a number of different, successive experiences. This general structure is what links us together and gives evidence of our commonality, which is then the basis for the mutual recognition of the other as a subject like me, that is as an alter ego.

Pugliese continued by saying that a specific kind of individuation takes place in the experience of the other. There is a process that Husserl labeled with the term “communalization” (Vergemeinschaftung) that means the process of becoming subjects within a given community of other subjects – what the sociologists nowadays probably would call “socialization”. Through this process of becoming intersubjectively recognized by other subjects, everyone achieves a characteristic individuation as a social subject. Everyone becomes an individual for a community and thus identifies herself with specific social roles and values.

Saulius Geniusas (Hong Kong, China): “Phantasy in Late Phenomenology”

Saulius  Geniusas undertook a discussion of Husserl’s phenomenology of phantasy. He focused in particular on the question about productive imagination and sought to answer this on the basis of Husserl’s reflections on the phenomenon of phantasy. The issue regarding productive imagination is a critical one and concerns the alleged absence of a treatment of this phenomenon within the Husserlian phenomenology. According to Geniusas, this represents a bias of post-Husserlian phenomenologists, according to whom Husserl ultimately never recognizes productive imagination as a proper object of investigation. Geniusas’ talk provided an argument against this bias.

The talk was divided into four sections. First, Geniusas elucidated the meaning of the concept of “reproductive phantasy”, with which Husserlian phenomenology is particularly concerned. According to a widespread view, the reproductive character of phantasy derives from the fact that it replicates copies of actual objects given in actual experience. This however does not exhaust the meaning of the reproductive character in phantasy experiences. In addition to this Geniusas identifies two other forms of phantasy reproduction: namely, the reproduction of the experience (Erfahrung), e.g. the act of seeing Peter, and the reproduction of experiencing (Erlebnis), e.g. the act of seeing as such without its intentional object. This should allow us to draw a distinction between memory, as a reproduction of experience in the first sense, and phantasy, which has the freedom to reproduce the act of experiencing in isolation from the object of experience.

Second, Geniusas tackled the question of whether phantasy can be regarded as an immanent component of perception. With the help of the example of cross-modal illusions, he showed how the transfigurative function of phantasy does not go smoothly together with the fundamental capacity of perception for presentingthe given in its own pure givenness. Hence, phantasy cannot be taken to be an ingredient of the perceptual experience. This does not mean, however, that phantasy is completely disconnected from perception. As Geniusas pinpoints, in fact, the function of phantasy in perception has to be found on the objective side of the experience, i.e. in the internal and external horizon that surrounds the object as perceived. Every perception is, according to Husserl, an apperception. This entails that the perception of the front side of an object is always at the same time accompanied by the givenness of the back side and of the other objects that physically surround the first object. In this sense, Geniusas sees a function of phantasy in providing an experience of these horizons of the objects that cannot be grasped in immediate perception.

Third, Geniusas discussed three fundamental senses on which one can speak of productive phantasy in the framework of Husserl’s phenomenology. In the first place, productive phantasy may be intended as referring to the capacity to intend original fictive objects, such as centaurs, round squares, etc. Secondly, productive phantasy is associated with the activity of opening up the field of pure possibilities. This sense is employed by Husserl in his discussion of the eidetic method and the function of phantasy as one of its pre-conditions. Ultimately, productive phantasy intends configurations of sense in the sphere of inactuality with the practical purpose of transferring them into the sphere of actuality. This latter sense has been then the topic of the last part of Geniusas’ talk.

In the fourth section, Geniusas argued for an understanding of the constitution of the cultural world in terms of a product of phantasy. His argument began with addressing the question of meaning that is at the core of Husserl’s philosophical enterprise. Namely, all philosophical questions represent for Husserl questions of meaning. The actual reality, and in particular the reality of the cultural world, is in this view also a particular configuration of meaning. The problem of constituting a cultural world equals, therefore, the problem of constituting a new sphere of meaning that is shared by a plurality of subjects. The main question here amounts to asking how a subject can participate in and gain access to a particular cultural world. A first answer would be simply communication: the subject apprehends the culture in question through communication with the ones who belong to that particular cultural world. This, however, begs the initial question according to Geniusas. Communication does not make me intuitively present the sense that is communicated; rather, it points towards this sense and its correlative intuition. An empty intention of the sense and meaning contained in a cultural practice does not allow the actor to fully understand what she is doing while performing this or that practice. There must be an intuitive access to the content of sense conveyed by the cultural practice. Now, the question turns out to be, what kind of experience can provide us with an intuitive access to this content? Geniusas’ answer is that only phantasy can and must play a role here by furnishing an intuitive experience of a sense that would otherwise be inaccessible and concealed.

Dieter Lohmar (Cologne, Germany): “Kritik und Begründung von Wissenschaften im Spätwerk Husserls“

Lohmar’s last talk addressed the issue of Husserl’s foundation of sciences. Hereby, one intends three kinds of scientific inquiry: humanities, formal sciences (like mathematics and logic), and natural sciences. Husserl attempted, on the one hand, to provide a critique of those sciences as they are historically handed down by the Western tradition and, on the other hand, to found them on the basis of a phenomenological investigation into their a priori conditions. Probably taking up a concern which Dilthey expresse before him, Husserl especially aimed at establishing a foundation of the humanities (Geisteswissenschaften), and this is attested by a series of lectures he gave in 1913, 1915, 1919, and 1927 that bear the title “Natur und Geist” as well as the lectures on Phenomenological Psychology from 1925 and, ultimately, the Crisis (1936). Ideen II (1912-15) is also informed by this project, since is displays analyses concerning the intersubjective constitution of cultural sense as well as a consideration of the development of habitual, spiritual meaning and the “teleological” dynamics of sinking-down and re-actualization of cultural formations.

In the discussion of the constitution of a cultural world, the body (Leib) plays a prominent role. This is so, according to Lohmar, because the communication between subjects takes place first and foremost at a bodily level rather than a merely linguistic one. There is a huge number of conversational patterns that are possible and are actually performed only through body movements and behaviors. The body is an organ of communication and also is the principal path allowing us to discover the other as another subjectivity like us, as the well-known analyses of the experience of the other in the Cartesian Meditations suggest. The activity of interpreting or re-enacting (Nachvollziehen) in one’s mind what the other thinks, feels and judges relies on the direct experience of the other’s body in analogy with our own.

In the Crisis Husserl pinpoints the role played by the evidences of the life-world in laying the foundation for the natural sciences. He shows how everyday evidences supervise and ultimately render possible every step of the scientific inquiry, starting from the bare handling with experiment devices to the communication of scientific results within a community of trusted co-researchers.

Reviewed by: Marco Cavallaro (PhD Fellow at a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne; Department Member of the Husserl-Archive Cologne; Visiting Researcher at Boston College)

 

Lubica Učník: The Crisis of Meaning and the Life-World

The Crisis of Meaning and the Life-World. Husserl, Heidegger, Arendt, Patočka Book Cover The Crisis of Meaning and the Life-World. Husserl, Heidegger, Arendt, Patočka
Series in Continental Thought
Lubica Učník
Ohio University Press & Swallow Press
2016
Hardcover $76.00
296

Klaus Held: Phänomenologie der natürlichen Lebenswelt

Phänomenologie der natürlichen Lebenswelt Book Cover Phänomenologie der natürlichen Lebenswelt
New Studies in Phenomenology / Neue Studien zur Phänomenologie
Klaus Held
Philosophy
Peter Lang
2012
Hardcover
331

Reviewed by: Susan Gottlöber (Maynooth University)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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