Martin Heidegger, Otto Pöggeler: Briefwechsel 1957-1976, Karl Alber, 2021

Briefwechsel 1957-1976 Book Cover Briefwechsel 1957-1976
Martin Heidegger Briefausgabe Band II/3
Martin Heidegger, Otto Pöggeler.
Karl Alber
Hardback 60,00 €

Joseph Cohen, Raphael Zagury-Orly: L’Adversaire privilégié, Éditions Galilée, 2021

L'Adversaire privilégié Book Cover L'Adversaire privilégié
Joseph Cohen, Raphael Zagury-Orly
Éditions Galilée
Paperback 18.00 €

Daniele De Santis, Burt Hopkins, Claudio Majolino (Eds.): The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy

The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy Book Cover The Routledge Handbook of Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy
Routledge Handbooks in Philosophy
Daniele De Santis, Burt C. Hopkins, Claudio Majolino (Eds.)
Hardback £190.00

Reviewed by: Gabriele Baratelli (University of Cologne)

This volume arguably represents the most ambitious and complete attempt until today to collect in a uniform form a series of highly qualified contributions on the entire spectrum of phenomenological philosophy.[1] Given the peculiar character of each entry of this Handbook, it will be no surprise if the text will be taken as a useful guide by students entering for the first time in the difficult terrain of phenomenology as well as by experienced scholars. On the one hand, the book is, in fact, certainly meant as an introduction, as a “conceptual cartography” that alludes to the answers and to the immense potentialities that this philosophical practice has expressed in its history. This is done by means of the precise but not esoteric description of its language and conceptuality. On the other hand, with diverse gradations, the entries are also original contributions that certainly make significant progresses in phenomenological research.

The text is divided into five main parts. The first one is devoted to history, conceived in two senses.  The first essay of this section, written by Pierre-Jean Renaudie, gives an excellent and concise overview of the history of the phenomenological movement itself. The others concern instead the conceptual heritage of phenomenology and the original transformation of traditional doctrines and methods coming from the history of philosophy that it brought about. The style of the contributions varies a lot. This is certainly a virtue for the expert, but it can easily become a limit for the beginner. To make a comparative example, Burt Hopkins’ “Phenomenology and Greek Philosophy” provides an analysis of one of the classical themes of phenomenology, namely its relationship with ancient metaphysics. This is realized in three steps. Since the terms of the discussion have been laid out by Heidegger in the 1920s, Hopkins takes into critical account at first his interpretation of Husserl’s method through the lens of Plato’s and Aristotle’s philosophies. It is argued that both Heidegger’s identifications (of the doctrine of categorial ideation with Aristotle’s doctrine of the apprehension of eide, and of the theory of intentionality with Plato’s statement that speech is about something) are totally unwarranted. This technical assessment of Heidegger’s miscomprehension of Husserl’s main tenets leads Hopkins afterwards to the related conclusion that the entire Heideggerian conception of Greek philosophy has to be recognized as the “myth not only of Plato’s philosophy being limited by a prior understanding of the meaning of Being as presence, but also of it being a fundamentally driven by an ontology”. After a brief intermezzo devoted to a not very well-known Husserlian discussion over the origins of philosophical thought and the role played in it by the sceptics and Socrates, Hopkins presents Jacob Klein’s account of Plato’s doctrine of the eide. Besides its intrinsic interest, this last part helps clarifying Hopkins’ critical account of Heidegger. It has moreover the merit of assigning to Klein’s analyses of Greek philosophy the deserved position next to the other classical phenomenological interpretations. The presentation of the subtlety of his arguments as well as the skilful use that Hopkins makes of them to confute and correct Heidegger’s shortcomings is certainly proof of the richness Jacob Klein’s thought. To come back to our concern, it is clear that this text has strong theoretical claims, whose authentic appreciation could require the reference to the other texts of the author and, especially for the beginner, to the other entries of the Handbook (including the one dedicated to Klein himself).

Francesco Valerio Tommasi’s “Phenomenology and Medieval Philosophy” has instead a less demanding theoretical commitment, as it displays an historical outline of the different approaches to Medieval philosophy (and religion and theology in general) that characterizes phenomenology (Tommasi focuses on Brentano, Scheler, Stein, Heidegger and Marion). The reconstruction is driven from the outset by a clear interpretative idea, namely, as Tommasi puts it: “The history of the relationship between phenomenology and medieval philosophy is, for the most part, the history of the relationship between phenomenology and Neo-Scholasticism”. The paper has then a twofold utility: by studying the reciprocal influences of two of the greatest philosophical tendencies of the XXth century, it shows indirectly, so to speak, the noteworthy role that Medieval thought played in phenomenology itself. Regarding the conceptual viewpoint, the key-concept that allows Tommasi to give uniformity to his reconstruction is arguably that of analogia entis. This “fragile architrave” of Scholastic thought gathers together the initial emergence of a phenomenological conceptuality in Brentano (for whom, as it is well known, the encounter with Aristotle’s doctrine of category and Being was decisive) and some of its most radical outcomes, including Heidegger’s philosophy. On this view, significant differences among the phenomenologists can be detected through the analysis of their appropriation of this pivotal notion. This undoubtedly sheds new light on phenomenology overall and on its conflicting relationship with Neo-Scholasticism. Without this common ground, in fact, even the “very heavy blow to the Neo-Thomist model” provoked by Heidegger’s critique of “ontotheology” would remain inexplicable.

The other essays concern the relationships with the Cartesian tradition, British empiricism, German idealism and Austrian philosophy.

The second section is the real core of the text. It presents a list of concepts and issues that form, so to speak, the basic ingredients of phenomenology. The entries are either fundamental concepts that often immediately refer to a specific author, for example “Dasein” and “Life-World”, or general topics, like “Ethics”, “Time”, “Mathematics” and so forth. The order is alphabetic, so that any hierarchical connotation and immanent principle of organization is excluded. The complex technicality of phenomenological vocabulary is here analysed thanks to a useful kaleidoscopic operation. Since many terms have already taken upon various meanings, one the strategy followed in the texts of this section is to refract the successive sedimentations of meanings showing the hidden reasons and the misunderstandings responsible for their complex conceptual history. Paradigmatic of this choice is the crucial entry “Phenomenon”, written by Aurélien Djian and Claudio Majolino, in which the connotations of this fundamental concept are unfolded throughout the history of phenomenology. Among the important shifts that characterized this history, two of them appear probably as the most significant ones: Husserl’s departure from Brentano’s notion of phenomena, and Heidegger’s departure from Husserl’s. Thus, in the first case, while for Brentano a phenomenon is “what appears as it truly is, something whose existence is tantamount to its appearance”, for Husserl is rather “what appears beyond existence and non-existence, something whose existence is indifferent with respect to its appearance”. This change clearly determined the “eidetic” character of Husserlian phenomenology as a “purely descriptive” science in the Logical Investigations. This feature will be constant in Husserl’s further reflections, despite the increasing sophistication of his method and the corresponding substantial modifications of the concept of phenomenon itself (modifications that are recognized in three further steps and painstakingly described in the paper). Heidegger’s case involves something else. Thanks to a precise clarification of the famous §7 of Being and Time, the authors explain how Heidegger considered phenomenology as a method that has to deal with the “how” things show themselves, and not with a certain “what”, namely phenomena themselves. Moreover, he distinguished between the “vulgar concept of phenomenon”, something that “initially and for the most part” shows-itself in the world, namely entities, and something that, by showing itself, is essentially concealed, namely Being, the “proper phenomenological concept of phenomenon”. A different phenomenological method corresponds to each pole of this ontological difference: the one of positive sciences and the one of hermeneutical ontology, i.e., “a method to wrestle from its concealment what essentially does not show itself (Being) and yet is fundamental with respect to the immediate and unproblematic self-showing of worldly entities”. This new peculiar scientific attempt is then irreducible to Husserl’s original one, as it focuses not on “phenomena” simpliciter, but exclusively on “the most exceptional phenomenon of all”. The final part of the essay reconstructs the more recent developments of phenomenology by showing the “Heideggerian logic” they embody. Be it Levnias’ phenomenon of the Other, Henry’s Life or Marion’s Givenness, in all these cases it is reiterated that the idea of an authentic phenomenological thought has to face the most exceptional phenomenon of all. The differences lie rather in determining which is the most fundamental one. This paper, therefore, alongside with many others, not only elucidates a central theme in conceptual and historical terms, but it also offers indirectly an interpretation of the sense of several, apparently contradictory, phenomenological trajectories.

The third part is composed of a list of major phenomenologists. For each of them is given an overview of their work. It is noteworthy that this section dedicates deserved space to authors that are still little known (the list includes, for example, Aron Gurwitsch, Jacob Klein, Enzo Paci). Here, the ideas analytically set forth in the previous section form specific constellations of meanings within the unitary production of each philosopher.

The fourth part, —“Intersections”—concerns the significant influence of phenomenology on other philosophical traditions and the positive sciences. This section not only stresses once again the peculiarities and the theoretical richness of phenomenology, but also its fundamentally relational nature. In “Phenomenology and Analytic Philosophy”, for instance, Guillaume Fréchette takes into account the vexata quaestio of the alleged fracture between “continental” and “analytic philosophy” that occurred during the XXth century. The author recollects the most significant episodes of dialogue (and reciprocal incomprehension) of the last decades and gives an overview of the philosophers that, explicitly or not, tried to “bridge the gap”. However, Fréchette underlines the fact that this divide is exclusively determined by contextual and institutional factors, and not by fundamental theoretical principles, as it has been usually the case for conflicting schools of thought in the history of philosophy. In the last part of the essay he conceptually formulates both traditions by invoking the realist/anti-realist distinction. On the one hand, this analysis proves the previous thesis, since it is shown that these opposing tendencies are equally present in both traditions. On the other, by an overarching reflection concerning the so-called “philosophy of mind”, it sheds light on the (often undervalued) similarities and influences that, besides any actual recognition, inform the course of recent philosophical research. Other papers are instead devoted to the relationships with psychoanalysis, medicine, deconstruction, cognitive sciences.

The fifth and final part of the text connects phenomenology, historically grounded in the Western world, to other areas and thus to conceptualities apparently distant from the philosophical tradition. As Bado Ndoye notes in the first essay of the section dedicated to “Africa”, this operation can even appear odd, if not paradoxical, if we think that when Husserl mentioned “African or non-Western people in general, it was always in order to make a contrast with what he used to call the ‘Idea of Europe’, as if the very essence of the latter could not be cleared if not opposed to a radical exteriority”. Husserl’s “eurocentrism”, however, is of a peculiar kind since it privileges the role of European humanity as that which factually revealed the authentic idea of reason and science. The content and especially the telos of this idea are not of course limited to one culture, but rather represent the common horizon that has to define humanity as such. Given this premise, the wide interest that phenomenology received all over the world cannot be a surprise and does not imply eo ipso an endorsement of relativism. Ndoye shows precisely this by analysing the work of Paulin J. Hountondji and his critique of the philosophical Western prejudices over Africa from the exact standpoint of Husserl’s universal idea of science. This happens in Hountondji’s account of Tempels’ Bantu Philosophy (1947), which is charged with confusing philosophy and ethnology, and in this way creating “philosophemes” attributed to a “fantasized vision of African societies”. This attitude does not rule out the importance of empirical research but is useful, on the contrary, to appreciate its authentic role and meaning. Ndoye suggests that in this sense Hountondji’s trajectory repeats Husserl’s, inasmuch as the latter finally encounters the question of the life-world as the unavoidable dimension that precedes every objective science. Despite the plurality of its manifestations, the correct interpretation of this original dimension helps “to pass through the element of the particular, in this instance the local cultures, as a gateway to the universal”.

Two things have to be certainly recognized in the editorial composition of this Handbook. The first is to have successfully produced and assembled a useful and insightful instrument for further phenomenological studies. The second is the courage behind the realization of such a project. The unity of this book, in fact, surpasses the collection of excellent contributions that it contains. Through its pages, phenomenology is not presented in the rigor mortis of definitions and historical analyses dictated by an eccentric scholarly curiosity. It is instead fierily depicted as a “living movement” whose role within and outside the philosophical sphere is not exhausted. In other words, this book does not impose the seal of the past to phenomenology, but rather it vividly presents it in its actual force, as a cultural project that is still in becoming in such a way that it can still meaningfully respond to our present needs.

Now, if this is what motivated, at least partially, this enterprise, then a very basic assumption is here presupposed. Namely, the fact that phenomenology, whatever it really is, exists. Given a superficial knowledge of the history of philosophy after Husserl up to the present, a sceptic could simply deny this alleged fact: the contrasts among philosophers at first recognizing themselves as belonging to the same scientific community inspired by Husserl’s works are so fundamental and the paths taken from them so diverse that any possible feature giving an acceptable unity and coherence seems to vanish.  The sceptic could find in the constant appeal to metaphors describing the course of phenomenology further evidence for his thesis. For instance, in Renaudie’s already mentioned historical essay, it is said that phenomenology cannot be characterized as a systematic doctrine, having fixed and clear fundamental principles and a cumulative-like progress. On the contrary, what is common to its different manifestations is only a “philosophical style”. As a consequence, Renaudie himself describes the history of phenomenology through a series of “conceptual shifts” (“transcendental”, “existential” and so forth) and he finally compares this flourishing of expressions to a plant, “the wilting of which does not necessarily prevent its growing back under a new and rejuvenated shape”. On this view, the many unorthodox interpretations stemming from Husserl’s texts would not destroy the sense of the entire project but, on the very contrary, would be essential to foster its development. Surely fascinating, but again, the sceptic would reply: is it  really so? Is it not just a verbal escamotage to cover the historical failure  of phenomenological thinking, whatever it tried to be at the end? Is not this narrative even more doubtful in contrast to Husserl’s own words, where in the Crisis the existence of almost as many philosophies as philosophers is presented as an urgent contemporary problem?

As said before, the editors do not elude this question and, in the introduction, they give a few remarkable hints to clarify their position. Even more clearly, perhaps, the collection of essays itself indicates a possible reply to the sceptic. The way in which they are organized, as well as the very diversified contents and perspectives offered, reveal a tension towards two complementary directions. The first one has to do with the “origin” of phenomenology, and specifically with the inevitable theoretical heritage of Edmund Husserl’s epoch-making work. Without Husserl, that is, without his immense factual influence, phenomenology, and therefore any history of phenomenology, would have never been arisen. Having in mind Paul Ricouer’s notorious dictum, namely that phenomenology is the sum of Husserl’s works and the heresies that stemmed from them, the editors suggest that this history has to be primarily described as a “‘self-differentiating’ history, a series of more or less dramatic (theoretical or even spatial) departures from Husserl, or even as a sum total of all the one-way train and air tickets away from him”. This does not amount to saying that the inevitable coming back to Husserl has to be meant as a return to “the things themselves”, in the sense of an auroral locus in which phenomenology was authentically conceived and practiced, untouched by its successive distortions. This solution cannot work since the sceptical arguments could be in fact repeated on this level. After all, who really is Husserl? Given the profound changes that mark his philosophical career, not to mention the various interpretations and criticisms to which his work underwent, the sceptic would maybe paraphrase what Einstein once bitterly said of Kant, namely that every philosopher has his own Husserl. Be that as it may, the state of affairs that occasioned the “ongoing cluster of heresies of heresies”, is not in contradiction with its grounding in Husserl’s texts. The latter do not contain a fixed and coherent system of doctrines, but rather (despite the huge amounts of material) a “small beginning” that has to be still understood and, when necessary, criticized. The very content of Husserl’s ground-breaking philosophizing, in other words, has not finished to be unfolded with his death: new shades appear in a circular motion in which phenomenology tries to define itself in such a manner that “Husserl’s own doctrine assumes a constantly new aspect and shape as it is looked at from such and such an angle”. The ultimate reference point, therefore, is not a mythological Husserl, “the true one”, but the conceptual space that he opened and that still waits for its authentic discovery.

The other side of the reply to the sceptic involves a certain view of the future. The connection to an origin meant in this way cannot but find its verso in a unity that is still to come. Now, despite the appearances, it is undoubtful that phenomenological doctrines share a certain “family resemblance”, whose sense points beyond each of them. Just like “the many different adumbrations do not exclude the dynamic unity of what is experienced though them”, the multiple directions presented in this text are directed to a common ideal pole. In other terms, each of them cannot live without the others in a multiplicity of positions that, insofar as they are genuinely phenomenological, contribute to build the very same “Husserlian” theoretical space.

In conclusion, this book is a great guide for everybody who is looking for an orientation in a certain domain of phenomenology. But we could say, it is a phenomenological guide, a book of phenomenology, that gathers a (empirical but ideally infinitively extendable) community whose project is shared. The implicit tension that crosses the contributions hides thus a promise, the promise that many heard at first in Husserl’s own words and that this text has succeeded in making audible once again. The restoring of this philosophical ambition is what preserves the necessary looking back to the past into a nostalgic and antiquarian task and at once what projects the very same enquiry into the future.

[1] To my knowledge, the only comparable text in English is The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Phenomenology (2012) edited by D. Zahavi, published by Oxford University Press, which is limited to a smaller portion of this spectrum.

Sebastian Luft: Subjectivity and Lifeworld in Transcendental Phenomenology, Northwestern University Press, 2021

Subjectivity and Lifeworld in Transcendental Phenomenology Book Cover Subjectivity and Lifeworld in Transcendental Phenomenology
Sebastian Luft
Northwestern University Press
Cloth Text $89.95 Paper Text – $39.95

Mikko Immanen: Toward a Concrete Philosophy, Cornell University Press, 2020

Toward a Concrete Philosophy: Heidegger and the Emergence of the Frankfurt School Book Cover Toward a Concrete Philosophy: Heidegger and the Emergence of the Frankfurt School
Signale: Modern German Letters, Cultures, and Thought
Mikko Immanen
Cornell University Press
Paperback $27.95

Nicolas de Warren: Original Forgiveness, Northwestern University Press, 2020

Original Forgiveness Book Cover Original Forgiveness
Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy
Nicolas de Warren
Northwestern University Press
Paperback $34.95

Karl Kraatz: Die Methodologie von Martin Heideggers Philosophie, Die Methodologie von Martin Heideggers Philosophie, 2020

Die Methodologie von Martin Heideggers Philosophie. Über die Grenzen der neuzeitlichen Wissenschaft und die Möglichkeiten der Philosophie Book Cover Die Methodologie von Martin Heideggers Philosophie. Über die Grenzen der neuzeitlichen Wissenschaft und die Möglichkeiten der Philosophie
Karl Kraatz
Königshausen & Neumann
Paperback 68,00 €

Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann: Transzendenz und Ereignis. Heideggers „Beiträge zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis)“. Ein Kommentar

Transzendenz und Ereignis. Heideggers „Beiträge zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis)“. Ein Kommentar Book Cover Transzendenz und Ereignis. Heideggers „Beiträge zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis)“. Ein Kommentar
Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann
Königshausen & Neumann
Paperback 19,80 €

Reviewed by: Prof. Dr. Alexander Schnell (Bergische Universität Wuppertal)

Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmanns Kommentar zu Martin Heideggers Beiträgen zur Philosophie ist eine hilfreiche Einführung in das von ihm selbst als „zweites Hauptwerk“ bezeichnete Manuskript, das nach mehrjähriger vorbereitender Arbeit von Heidegger 1936-37 verfasst und 1989 vom Kommentator selbst herausgegeben wurde. Dieser Kommentar besticht durch eine sehr klare Darstellungsart, die den Zugang zu dem als schwierig angesehenen Werk Heideggers auf eine sehr willkommene Weise erleichtert.

Der Kommentar ist in zwölf Kapitel eingeteilt. Das erste Kapitel hat eine einleitende Funktion und liefert eine „vorbereitende Verständigung“, welche die Wahl des Titels „Transzendenz und Ereignis“ erläutert. Zwei „Bahnen“ oder „Ausarbeitungswege“ der Seinsfrage werden dabei vorgestellt, die laut Vf. jeweils der Position Heideggers in Sein und Zeit bzw. den Beiträgen zur Philosophie entsprechen: die „transzendental-horizontale Fragebahn“ und der „seinsgeschichtliche Ausarbeitungsweg“. Es wird von vornherein deutlich, dass mit der hier sichtbaren Annäherung einer „transzendentalen“ Fragestellung und der Transzendenzproblematik die Überwindung jenes Horizontes laut Vf. einer Überwindung des transzendentalphilosophischen Ansatzes überhaupt gleichkomme. Dass dies keine unbestreitbare Auslegung ist, wird später begründet werden.

Die Darstellung dieser beiden „Fragebahnen“ liegt auch der Gliederung des Kommentars zugrunde. Die Kapitel 2 und 3 sind in erster Linie Sein und Zeit und dem transzendental-horizontalen Weg der Seinsfrage gewidmet; Kapitel 4, 5 und 6 haben einen ein- bzw. überleitenden Charakter und sollen zur Fragestellung der Beiträge hinführen; die Kapitel 7 bis 12 legen schließlich wesentliche und sehr erhellende Aspekte der sechs „Fugen“ der Beiträge dar, d. h. der sechs Hauptteile des kommentierten Werkes.

Vf. verzichtet darauf, den letzten Teil der Beiträge ebenfalls zu kommentieren (der immerhin gut ein Fünftel des veröffentlichten Bandes ausmacht), weil dieser „nachträglich entstandene Text ‚Das Seyn‘ […] keine systematische Erweiterung des Weges der sechs ineinandergreifenden Fügungen“ sei und seiner Ansicht nach nicht zur „systematischen Konzeption der ‚Beiträge‘“ gehöre (S. 8). Dieser willkürliche Ausschluss eines Teils des von Heidegger selbst so zusammengestellten Werkes suggeriert dem Leser entweder, dass dieser Teil nutzlos sei (weil er eine simple Wiederholung des vorher Ausgearbeiteten darstelle) oder dass Vf. sich nicht die Mühe machen wollte, auch diesen letzten Teil in seinen Kommentar mitaufzunehmen. Beides ist unplausibel, sodass diese Entscheidung des Vf. bedauerlich und für die Leserin oder den Leser nicht nachvollziehbar ist. Der letzte Abschnitt „Das Seyn“ enthält nämlich durchaus interessante Gedanken (etwa zur ontologischen Differenz oder zum Ursprung des Kunstwerks), die den Kommentar durchaus noch hätten weiter bereichern können.

Der Tatsache, dass der Bezug der Beiträge zur Philosophie zu Sein und Zeit in den Beiträgen selbst mehrfach zum Thema gemacht wird, trägt Vf. dadurch Rechnung, dass er dem eigentlichen Kommentar der sechs „Fugen“ eine Zusammenfassung bedeutsamer Thesen aus Heidegger Hauptwerk von 1927 voranstellt. Das dritte (und längste) Kapitel des Kommentars ist aber allenfalls für diejenigen Leserinnen und Leser von Interesse, die noch keine tieferen Kenntnisse von Sein und Zeit haben.

Worin besteht der systematisch entscheidende Bezug zwischen den Beiträgen zur Philosophie und Sein und Zeit? Wenn, wie in Sein und Zeit entwickelt, jeder Seinsbezug ein Daseinsentwurf ist, dann besteht die Gefahr, dass die Beantwortung der Seinsfrage in einen Subjektivismus mündet. Im vierten Kapitel, das die Grundthesen des Kommentars ein erstes Mal vorstellt, zeigt Vf. sehr eindringlich, wie Heidegger in den Beiträgen zur Philosophie den Subjektivismus einer zu einseitig am Dasein orientierten Herangehensweise vermeidet. Die beiden zentralen Begriffe dabei sind einerseits der des „Er-eignetseins“, den von Herrmann auf der Grundlage des mehrmaligen Gebrauchs des Verbs „er-eignen“ gebildet hat, und der des „Zuwurfs“, der bezeichnenderweise nur im Text „Das Seyn“ vorkommt. Der Hauptgedanke ist folgender. Zwar muss der Seinsentwurf weiterhin als ein Entwerfen des Daseins aufgefasst werden; allerdings nun auch so, dass die Vollzugsweise dieses Entwerfens „zur Wahrheit des Seyns selbst gehört“ (S. 80) – und zwar dadurch, dass der geworfene Seinsentwurf nur durch den „Zuwurf“ ein geworfener sein kann und eben gerade als solcher zur Wahrheit des Seyns „gehört“ (S. 82). Die „Wahrheit des Seyns“ bringt also – und das ist die wesentliche Neuheit der Beiträge zur Philosophie gegenüber Sein und Zeit – die grundlegende Unablösbarkeit von geworfenem Seinsentwurf und ereignendem Zuwurf zum Ausdruck. Zugleich wird damit der Begriff des „Ereignisses“ bezeichnet, denn dieser ist schlicht „das Zueinandergehören“ des „ereigneten Entwurfs“ und des „ereignenden Zuwurfs“ (S. 83). Sofern nun jeweils der ereignete Entwurf dem „Da-sein“ und der ereignende Zuwurf dem „Seyn“ entspricht, ist „‚Ereignis‘ der Name für die Zusammengehörigkeit von Seyn und Da-sein“ (S. 83f.).

Äußerst hilfreich für ein einleitendes Verständnis ist auch das fünfte Kapitel, das den von Heidegger selbst gelieferten „Aufriss“ der Beiträge zur Philosophie erläutert und kommentiert. Heidegger eröffnet in den Beiträgen einen „anderen Anfang“ des philosophischen Fragens“, den er dem „ersten Anfang“ der bisherigen Geschichte des abendländischen Denkens (von den Vorsokratikern bis Nietzsche) entgegensetzt. Der Hauptunterschied beider „Anfänge“ liegt in der ihnen eigens zukommenden Frageart. Der „erste Anfang“ hatte eine „Leitfrage“, der „andere Anfang“ stellt eine (radikalere) „Grundfrage“. Die „Leitfrage“ fragt nach der „Seiendheit“, also dem Sein des Seienden, die „Grundfrage“ fragt nach dem Sein selbst (= dem „Seyn“) und das heißt gleichbedeutend: Sie fragt nach der Wahrheit des Seyns. Aber war diese Fragestellung nicht bereits in Sein und Zeit angeklungen?

Vf. bejaht dies – zumindest teilweise. Leider ist aber der Gedankengang (auf S. 87) nicht völlig klar. Offenbar ist Folgendes gemeint: Drei Ausgestaltungen der Seinsfrage, genauer: drei „Blickbahnen“ müssen unterschieden werden – die metaphysische Blickbahn (welche die gesamte [!] abendländische philosophische Tradition umfasst), die transzendental-horizontale Blickbahn (für die Sein und Zeit steht) und die Ereignis-Blickbahn (deren erste Ausgestaltung in den Beiträgen versucht wird). Worin unterscheiden sie sich?

Entscheidend für das Verständnis dieser drei Blickbahnen ist die Frage nach der Wahrheit qua Erschlossenheit bzw. Unverborgenheit. Diese kommt in der metaphysischen Blickbahn gar nicht in den Blick. In Sein und Zeit wird sie bereits gedacht, allerdings nur in der (freilich der Metaphysik entlehnten) transzendental-horizontalen Blickbahn. Erst in der Ereignis-Blickbahn wird sie aus dem Rahmen von Horizontalität und Transzendenz herausgelöst. Interessant ist, was Vf. dabei (noch im vierten Kapitel) als Hauptunterschied zwischen der Herangehensweise in Sein und Zeit und jener in den Beiträgen herausstellt: Der „wesentliche Unterschied gegenüber aller nur transzendentalen Erkenntnisart hinsichtlich der Bedingungen der Möglichkeit“ (S. 82), die also noch in Sein und Zeit maßgeblich geblieben war, besteht darin, dass in den Beiträgen (wie bereits im „Hüttenexemplar“ von Sein und Zeit in einer Fußnote zu lesen ist) der Horizont „zugunsten der Ereignis-Blickbahn überwunden“ wird (ebd.). Vf. hält diesbezüglich fest: „Im Übergang aus der transzendental-horizontalen in die Ereignis-Blickbahn wandelt sich der transzendierende Bezug [zum Horizont des nichtdaseinsmäßigen Seins] in den [Bezug] des ereigneten Entwurfs [= Da-sein] und wandelt sich der horizontale Bezug zur transzendierenden Existenz in den Bezug des ereignenden Zuwurfs [= Seyn], in den Gegenschwung der Ereignung“ (S. 83). Im „Gegenschwung der Ereignung“ findet überhaupt kein Transzendieren mehr statt, sondern das Denken richtet sich nun ganz auf die „Herkunft“ (vgl. Sein und Zeit, HGA 2, S. 53). Es ist bedauerlich, dass Vf. diesen Punkt nicht weiter ausführt.

Die genuine „Systematizität“ der Beiträge zur Philosophie wird dagegen ausführlicher herausgearbeitet (Vf. widmet ihr mit dem sechsten Kapitel eine gesonderte Betrachtung). Von „System“ kann eigentlich nur im Leitfragen-Denken die Rede sein: Es bezeichnet dort eine sachliche Ordnung, die auf die „sich als Subjektivität selbst begründende Vernunft“ zurückzuführen ist (S. 89). Die innere Ordnung des Grundfragen-Denkens wird dagegen als „Fuge“ aufgefasst: „Die Fuge ist das Gefüge, das […] einen anderen Ordnungscharakter hat als das neuzeitliche Vernunftsystem“ (ebd.). Worin besteht genau dieser „andere Ordnungscharakter“?

Vf. stellt hierfür drei „Hinsichten“ oder Kriterien heraus und fügt dann noch eine weitere Grundbemerkung hinzu. Das eigentümliche der „Fuge“ gegenüber den in der Neuzeit insbesondere durch die Mathematisierung gekennzeichneten Vernunftsystemen besteht in der Strenge (gleichsam ein epistemisches Kriterium der Fuge), der Endlichkeit (hermeneutisches Kriterium) und der Nicht-Erzwingbarkeit (phänomenologisches Kriterium). Bezüglich der Rigorosität und Strenge steht die Fuge den überlieferten wissenschaftlichen Abhandlungen in nichts nach. Allerdings ist sie je das Werk einer oder eines Einzelnen, was alternative Wege oder Werke offenlässt (es besteht also kein Anspruch auf Einzig[artig]keit des Systems wie etwa bei Descartes, Kant oder den Deutschen Idealisten). Und schließlich verschreibt sich die Fuge – darin besteht ihr phänomenologisches Erbe – ganz der „Sache“. Das Gefüge des Ereignis-Denkens ist in der Tat niemals etwas Erzwingbares.

Die abschließende Grundbemerkung zur Fuge lautet folgendermaßen: Sie besteht aus sechs „Fügungen“ (oder „Fugen“ im engeren Sinne), die jeweils einen anderen Wesensbereich des „Selben“ ausmachen, über das gleichwohl jeweils „dasselbe“ zu sagen versucht wird. Das Ereignis ist somit Vielheit (genauer: Sechsfachheit) in Einheit. Und jedes Mal – in jeder einzelnen Fuge, bzw. Fügung – ist dabei der Gegenschwung von ereignetem Entwurf und ereignendem Zuwurf maßgeblich.

Bevor auf die einzelnen Fugen eingegangen werden soll, sind noch drei erwähnenswerte Punkte anzuführen.

1.) Das Ereignis-Denken spielt sich nicht in einer raum- oder zeitlosen Ideenwelt ab, sondern die „Wahrheit des Seyns“ verfügt über ein eigenes raumhaftes und zeithaftes Gefüge, das Heidegger den „Zeit-Spiel-Raum“ nennt. Heidegger gibt also seinen früheren Gedanken einer ursprünglichen Zeitlichkeit und Räumlichkeit nicht auf. Aber anders als in Sein und Zeit wird der (ursprüngliche) Raum nicht mehr auf die (ursprüngliche) Zeit zurückgeführt, sondern beide werden in ihrer Gleichursprünglichkeit gedacht. (Siehe hierzu ausführlicher S. 190-195.)

2.) Im „Er-eignen“ vollzieht sich das Denken „als das Seyn selbst und seine Wahrheit eröffnender, enthüllender Entwurf, aber so, dass es sich als geworfen erfährt aus dem Zuwurf der Wahrheit des Seyns, die sich ihm als im Entwurf denkbare zuwirft“ (S. 94). Dieser Begriff kommt dem sehr nahe, was in Finks VI. Cartesianischer Meditation als eine „phänomenologische Konstruktion“ (im operativen Sinne) erscheint. Der „Entwurf aus dem Zuwurf“ ist in der Tat ein phänomenologisches Konstruieren, das nicht einfach etwas ins Blaue entwirft, sondern sich an das hält, was sich qua Denkbarkeit des zu Denkenden in seinem Sein je gibt. Es handelt sich dabei um einen „Sprung“ in die „Zusammengehörigkeit von denkendem Da-sein und zu-denkender Wahrheit des Seyns“ (S. 94). Der Bezug auf die „phänomenologische Konstruktion“ bietet sich deswegen an, weil Heidegger selbst die „Gründung“ des Ereignis-Denkens als ein „bauend-gründendes Entwerfen“ (S. 95) versteht. Vf. betont berechtigterweise, dass der gründende Entwurf nicht bloß für einen „gründenden Grund“ sorgt, sondern darüber hinaus auch auf den Grund baut, also ein „bauendes Gründen“ ist (ebd.).

3.) Der „Sprung“ und die „Gründung“ werden vom Da-sein vollzogen. Dieses wird – im Plural – als die „Zukünftigen“ bezeichnet (dies ist zugleich der Titel des fünften Wesensbereichs des Ereignis-Denkens). Die Seinsweise der „Zukünftigen“ ist die der „Inständlichkeit im Da-sein“ bzw. schlicht die „Inständigkeit“ (ebd.; vgl. auch S. 143). Dieser Terminus setzt sich laut Heidegger an die Stelle der in Sein und Zeit gebrauchten „Existenz“. Sofern er die Entrückung in die Offenheit des Seins, also ein „ausstehendes Innestehen“ und zudem auch eine Entrückung „in der Weise des geworfenen, ereigneten Entwurfs“ (S. 95) bezeichnet, hängen das „ausstehende Innestehen“ und das bauende Gründen, also die „phänomenologische Konstruktion“ zusammen.

Stellen wir nun die Hauptgedanken der sechs Fugen (bzw. insbesondere der ersten vier Fugen), so wie sie von Vf. vorgestellt werden, dar.

Der Anklang. Welche denkerische Erfahrung liegt dem „anderen Anfang“ zugrunde? Was führt in das Ereignis-Denken ein? Wodurch klingt die „Wahrheit des Seyns“ an? Diese denkerische Erfahrung ist die der Seinsverlassenheit des Seienden und der dazugehörigen („korrelativen“) Seinsvergessenheit des Menschen. Für Vf. ist diese „geschichtliche Offenbarkeitsweise des Seienden“ phänomenologisch beschreibbar. Heidegger liefere eine solche Beschreibung im 58. Abschnitt der Beiträge mit den drei Gestalten der „Berechnung“, der „Schnelligkeit“ und des „Aufbruchs des Massenhaften“.

Von großer Bedeutsamkeit ist in der ersten Fuge ferner die Tatsache, dass hier eine neue Grundstimmung (nach der „Angst“ in Sein und Zeit und der „Langeweile“ in den Grundbegriffen der Metaphysik) aufgewiesen wird – nämlich die „Verhaltenheit“. Sie ist nichts Geringeres als die Grundstimmung des „andersanfänglichen“ Denkens überhaupt. Sie faltet sich in den Fugen unterschiedlich (als diese oder jene „Leitstimmung“) aus – nämlich als „Schrecken“, als „Scheu“ usw.

Auf der Grundlage dieser ersten denkerischen Erfahrung wird dann verständlich, was genau „anklingt“: „In der dem Denken widerfahrenden Verlassenheit des Seienden von der Bergungsweise der Wahrheit seines Wie- und Was-seins klingt die Wahrheit des Seyns in ihrer äußersten Verweigerung an“ (S. 116f.). Wichtig dabei ist nun, dass allein durch das Sichhineinführenlassen in die Seinsverlassenheit der Zugang zum zunächst entzogenen und fortan zu öffnenden Wesungsgeschehen des Seyns möglich ist.

Am Ende des Kapitels zum „Anklang“ führt Vf. den Begriff des „Enteignisses“ ein, um das Ereignis im Bereich des „Anklangs“ terminologisch angemessen fassen zu können: „Im Bereich des ‚Anklangs‘ hat das Ereignis den Charakter des Enteignisses“ (S. 124). Im „Enteignis“ – das für den Vf. zugleich auch den Begriff des „Ge-stells“ (das im „Anklang“ seinen „fugenmäßigen ‚Ort‘“ habe) als „‚Vorspiel‘ des ‚Ereignisses‘“ (S. 125) verständlich macht – klingt das noch verweigerte Ereignis an. Das Ereignis wird sich dann im weiteren Fortgang der Beiträge enthüllen.

Das Zuspiel. Die zweite Fuge wird als „Zuspiel“ bezeichnet. Hier haben die Vorlesungen Heideggers über „Geschichte“ der Philosophie ihren fugenmäßigen „Ort“. Dabei wird in erster Linie die denkende Auseinandersetzung der Notwendigkeit des anderen Anfangs aus der ursprünglichen Setzung des ersten Anfangs zum Thema (S. 127 u. 138). Hierbei geht Heidegger vom „Anklang“ der sich verweigernden Wahrheit des Seyns ausgehend in die geschichtliche Herkunft der Seinsverlassenheit zurück. Dabei wird zwischen „erstem Anfang“ und „Geschichte des ersten Anfangs“ unterschieden. Letztere ist die Geschichte des Entfernens (des „Fort“- bzw. „Weg-gangs“) vom ersten Anfang, hier bleibt – im Gegensatz zum ersten Anfang selbst (bei der denkerischen Erfahrung der altgriechischen physis und alétheia) – die Frage nach dem Wesen der Wahrheit aus. Für Vf. ist dieses Denken der geschichtlichen Herkunft der Seinsverlassenheit des Seienden das Denken der Geschichte des „Enteignisses“. In diesem Punkt schließe die zweite Fuge an die erste an. Dennoch gehe die zweite insofern über die erste hinaus, als die Klärung der Geschichte des ersten Anfangs jener des anderen Anfangs diene. Hierdurch werde das Denken des Er-eignisses vorbereitet. Das Denken im „Zuspiel“ hält sich somit „im Zwischen von ausbleibendem, ent-eignendem Zuwurf und er-eignendem Zuwurf und damit auch im Zwischen von ent-eignetem und er-eignetem Entwurf. Was sich dem Denken im ‚Zuspiel‘ zuwirft als denkend zu Entwerfendes, ist einerseits die Geschichte des wachsenden Ausbleibs der Wahrheit des Seyns und andererseits der mögliche andere Anfang der zögernd sichzeigenden Wahrheit des Seyns in ihrem freien, d. h. offenen Wesungsgeschehen“ (S. 139).

Der Sprung. Was hat dieses „Zögern“ des Sichzeigens der Wahrheit des Seyns zu bedeuten? Dass dieses „Sichzeigen“ kein unmittelbares, direktes Zeigen ist (und sein kann), sich aber auch nicht durch Vernunftschlüsse, Deduktionen o. ä. bewerkstelligen lässt. Das Denken als Sprung „erwartet nichts unmittelbar vom Seienden, sondern erspringt allem zuvor die Zugehörigkeit zum Seyn in dessen voller Wesung als Ereignis“ (S. 142). Die „Zugehörigkeit zum Seyn“ wird nicht durch den Verstand bewiesen und auch nicht anschaulich aufgewiesen (es gibt hier keinerlei „fließenden Übergang“), sondern „denkend“ ersprungen – das „Erspringen einer Zugehörigkeit“ (was betont, dass diese Zugehörigkeit nicht von vornherein feststeht, das Erspringen aber auch nicht ein solches von völlig Fremdem ist) ist ganz offensichtlich eine andere Ausdrucksweise für das phänomenologische Konstruieren, von dem eingangs bereits die Rede war und auf das noch einmal zurückzukommen sein wird. „Das Denken als Sprung erspringt und eröffnet sein eigenes Wesen als aus dem ereignenden Zuwurf ereigneter Entwurf“ (ebd.).

Von hier aus kann der Ereignisbegriff bzw. das „Wesen des Seyns“ noch genauer gefasst werden. Entscheidend hierfür ist der Begriff der „Kehre“, welche die „Gegenwendigkeit im Ereignis selbst“ (S. 156) bzw. „das in sich gegenschwingende Ereignis“ (S. 151) benennt. Was „schwingt“ hier „gegen“? Es handelt sich dabei um den Gegenschwung von „Brauchen“ und „Zugehören“. Das Seyn „braucht“ das Da-sein und zugleich „gehört“ das Da-sein dem Seyn „zu“. Das Brauchen entspricht dabei dem ereignenden Zuwurf und das Zugehören dem ereigneten Entwurf.

Ein weiterer ganz wesentlicher Punkt (und eine der wichtigsten Neuerungen der Beiträge überhaupt) betrifft Heideggers Neufassung des Begriffs der „Modalitäten des Seins“. Hierfür führt er den Begriff der „Zerklüftung des Seyns“ an. Die systematische Bedeutung wird allerdings in den entsprechenden drei kurzen Seiten dazu (S. 157-160) nicht befriedigend herausgestellt.[1] Es geht bei der „Zerklüftung des Seyns“ nämlich darum, den modalen Charakter des Seyns selbst diesseits einer Kategorialisierung des Seienden (wie diese mit Kants Kategorientafel geleistet wurde) neu zu denken.

Bemerkenswerte Hinweise zur Zusammengehörigkeit von Seyn und Nichts qua „Erzitterung des Seyns“ (S. 161), zur fundamentalontologischen Bedeutung des Todes (S. 164) und zum Bezug des Tieres zur Welt, der nicht mehr (wie noch in den Grundbegriffen der Metaphysik von 1919/30) als „Weltarmut“, sondern als „Weltlosigkeit“ aufgefasst wird (S. 167), runden das neunte Kapitel ab.

Die Gründung. Der systematisch bedeutendsten Fuge – der „Gründung“ – ist das zehnte Kapitel gewidmet. Der Hauptgedanke besteht im Nachweis, dass das Seyn nur auf dem Grunde des Da-seins zum Seyn kommt (S. 170). Entscheidend ist dabei die Idee, dass „Da-sein der in der Gründung wesende Grund des künftigen Menschseins“ ist (ebd.). Der Gründung (der Wahrheit des Seyns) liegt das gründende, vielmehr: das ergründende Da-sein zugrunde – Da-sein ist „Dagründer“, wie es in der sechsten Fuge (Beiträge zur Philosophie, S. 409) heißen wird.

Der Begriff der „Gründung“ ist freilich zweideutig. Einerseits geschieht die Gründung als er-eignender Zuwurf; dabei wird der gründende Grund selbst entworfen und übernommen. Das bedeutet, dass das Ereignis nicht nur Gegenschwung, sondern gewissermaßen auch Selbstdurchsichtigmachung ist (ohne dass Heidegger hierbei natürlich in jegliche Reflexionsphilosophie zurückfiele – siehe hierzu die Ausführung von Vf. zum „Eignen“ [S. 180]; vgl. auch S. 208). Daraus folgt: „Die beiden Bedeutungen des Gründens bilden zusammen das Ereignis: das Geschehen der Wahrnehmung des Seyns als sichzuwerfender gründender Grund im Gegenschwung des geworfenen gründenden Entwurfes“ (S. 177). Andererseits ist die Gründung auch „Ergründung“: Das bedeutet sowohl ein Grund-geschehen-Lassen als auch ein Auf-den-Grund-Bauen (womit wiederum der Bezug zur phänomenologischen Konstruktion hergestellt wäre) (S. 178). Das Er-gründen vollzieht sich nicht passiv, neutral, asubjektiv, sondern daseinsmäßig (was in den Abschnitten 187 und 188 der Beiträge über das „Er-gründen“ gesagt wird, entspricht in der Tat dem, was in den Abschnitten 170 und 171 über das „Da-sein“ behauptet wurde). Hierfür kommt der Begriff des „Beständnisses“ ins Spiel: „die Er-gründung als das Beständnis des Da-seins vollzieht sich somit als ‚Gründung des Da-seins‘“ (S. 179).

Man könnte sich nun fragen, ob die Gründung qua Er-gründung, deren innere Selbstgründung (im und durch das Da-sein) einen durchaus transzendentalen Zug hat, nicht ihrerseits die Absage an jede transzendentale Perspektive in den Beiträgen in Frage zu stellen gestattet. Selbstverständlich kann in den Beiträgen nirgends von einer transzendentalen Subjektivität die Rede sein: Aber die Tatsache, dass das Gründen ein Er-gründen ist (die an Heideggers eigene Ansätze in Sein und Zeit, den Grundproblemen der Phänomenologie und den Grundbegriffen der Metaphysik erinnert, wo jeweils der Entwurf [des Daseins, der Zeitlichkeit, der Welt] einen Selbstentwurf impliziert), und das zudem die daseinsverfasste Struktur hierbei betont wird, wirft doch die Frage auf, ob sich nicht die Beiträge in einer (freilich neuzugründenden) transzendentalen Perspektive auslegen lassen. Es ist ein bemerkenswertes Verdienst dieses Kommentars, Argumente für die Wohlbegründetheit eines solchen Ansatzes zu liefern.

Die Zu-künftigen und Der letzte Gott. Die letzten beiden Fugen sind systematisch weniger bedeutsam und sollen hier auch nur kurz Erwähnung finden. Interessant ist aber u.a., wie Vf. die Rolle des „Göttlichen“ für die Bestimmung des Wesens des Volkes auslegt. „Ein Volk ist nur Volk, wenn es in der Findung seines Gottes seine Geschichte zugeteilt erhält“ (S. 209). Der Volksbegriff wird also bei Heidegger nicht politisch – und noch weniger biologisch – bestimmt. Die Geschichte eines Volkes wird vielmehr an die „Findung seines Göttlichen“ angebunden. „So gesehen ‚entgeht [das Volk] der Gefahr, um sich selber zu kreisen und das, was nur Bedingungen seines Bestandes sind, zu seinem Unbedingten zu vergötzen‘“ (S. 209).

Was den „letzten Gott“ angeht, weist Vf. ein wechselseitiges Bedingungsverhältnis zwischen letztem Gott und anderem Anfang auf (S. 216 u. 218). Bezüglich des „spekulativen Entwurfs“ des „letzten Gottes“ (S. 242), der „in der Lichtung des Seyns in der Weise seines geschichtlichen Vorbeigangs dem da-seinsverfassten Menschen“ (ebd.) erscheine, begnügt sich Vf. vielleicht ein wenig zu sehr mit einer wortgetreuen Aufreihung von Zitaten, ohne die Verheißung eines solchen Göttlichen näher zu bestimmen. Diese muss zweifelsohne im Bezug zur Transzendenz gesucht werden, die sich offenbar (auch für Heidegger selbst) nicht ohne den Bezug zum „Göttlichen“ denken lässt.

Der rezensierte Band eines der ausgewiesensten Kenner Heideggers ist aus vielerlei Gründen ein sehr stimulierendes Buch, das, wie eingangs bereits gesagt, nicht nur für eine Einführung in die Beiträge zur Philosophie sehr gut geeignet ist (die Klarheit des Aufbaus und des Stils machen es relativ leicht zugänglich). Er wirft nämlich zudem auch Fragen auf, die in der heutigen Debatte zu einer „phänomenologischen Metaphysik“ von zentraler Bedeutung sind – in welcher die Beiträge zur Philosophie bisher sträflich unterrepräsentiert sind. Transzendenz und Ereignis trägt gewiss dazu bei, diese Lücke zu schließen, auch wenn dafür die Heidegger’sche Terminologie (mehr als das in diesem Buch der Fall ist) in eine Sprache übersetzt werden muss, die auch für andere Denkansätze zugänglich ist.

[1] Hierzu wäre auf Claudia Serbans exzellente Studie „La pensée de la fissuration de l’être (Zerklüftung des Seyns) dans les Beiträge zur Philosophie, in A. Schnell (Hsg.). 2017. Lire les Beiträge zur Philosophie de Heidegger. Paris: Hermann, S. 253-270 zu verweisen.

Corijn van Mazijk: Perception and Reality in Kant, Husserl, and McDowell

Perception and Reality in Kant, Husserl, and McDowell Book Cover Perception and Reality in Kant, Husserl, and McDowell
Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy
Corijn van Mazijk
Hardcover £120.00

Reviewed by: Tony Cheng 鄭會穎 (National Chengchi University, Taiwan)

In Perception and Reality in Kant, Husserl, and McDowell, Corijn van Mazijk takes up an ambitious project of dealing with a group of central issues in western philosophy, namely: the nature of perception, the nature of reality, and the relation between perception and reality. He does this via explicating some aspects of the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, Edmund Husserl, and John McDowell. It is no news that McDowell’s thinking has a robust Kantian root, but McDowell’s relation to Husserl is less clear. McDowell himself never engages with Husserl’s thinking, and his engagements with the phenomenological tradition – with Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty via Dreyfus – have been reactive and minimal (2007a/2008a, 2007b/2008a). That being said, I believe van Mazijk is right in seeing the hidden connections between McDowell and Husserl. Generally speaking, both painstakingly explicate the nature of perception, the nature of reality, and the relation between these two poles. More specifically, both see close connections between intentionality and phenomenality. It is a basic dictum in Husserl’s thinking that consciousness is inherently intentional (Ideas I, 1911/1983), and though McDowell seldom remarks on the phenomenal or conscious aspect of our mental lives, he does think the intentional and the phenomenal are closely connected: “Not, of course, that we cannot distinguish sapience from sentience. But they are not two simply different problem areas: we get into trouble over sentience because we misconceive the role of sapience in constituting our sentient life” (1989/1998, 296). This sketchy remark seems to suggest certain version of representationalism (Cheng, forthcoming a), but even if not, it certain echoes Husserl’s idea that consciousness is inherently intentional.

The main text has only 172 pages, which means van Mazijk needs to be selective for both the topics – perception and reality – and the figures – Kant, Husserl, and McDowell. The book has six chapters, with two chapters for each figure. For Kant, ch.1 covers sensibility, perception, and reality; ch.2 covers concepts, deduction, and contemporary debates. For Husserl, ch.3 covers intentionality, consciousness, and nature; ch.4 covers perception, judgement, and habit. For McDowell, ch.5 covers concepts, perceptions, and connections to Kant and Husserl; ch.6 covers reasons, nature, and reality. Given the breadth of the grounds it covers and the space limit, the contents are necessarily compressed, but van Mazijk does an excellent job in explaining things clearly, and making sure the discussions of the three philosophers cohesive. Moreover, he does not aim for a historical study; “Instead, I develop my interpretations of both Kant and Husserl in part to show that history provides us with viable alternatives to McDowell’s theory of our perceptual access to reality” (7), van Mazijk writes. Given this, in what follows I will devote this brief discussion primarily on van Mazijk’s McDowell, as that reflects better his overall aim in the book. This should not be taken to imply, to be sure, that there is nothing more to be discussed concerning Kant and Husserl in the book.

In the two chapters on Kant, there are discussions of traditional Kantian themes such as sensibility and understanding, idealism, noumenon, ideality of space and time, intuition and concepts, synthesis, transcendental deduction, and incongruent counterpart. There are also discussions of contemporary issues such as the Myth of the Given, disjunctivism, and non-conceptual content. A substantive move van Mazijk makes in his interpretation of Kant is the attribution of “weak conceptualism,” “the view that all intuition and perception is, for us at least, open to conceptual exercises” (4). More specifically, “the central thesis Kant sets out to defend here is that intuitions are always already at least in accordance with pure concepts, which commits Kant to weak conceptualism” (8). In these two chapters van Mazijk touches on convoluted relations between (sheer) intuition, categories, synthesis, and apperception. For example, he writes that “sheer intuitions have the appropriate unity to be conceptualized in the first place is said to rest on synthesis of the imagination, which brings intuitions in accordance with pure concepts” (46). This implies that sheer intuitions are themselves non-conceptual, though they have the potential to become conceptual. A stronger reading of Kant, though, is that the exercise of apperception already implicates categories, so sheer intuitions themselves have to be already conceptualised in a certain sense. I do not take side concerning this interpretative question on this occasion, but it is worth noting that what van Mazijk defends here is close to “sensibilism” in today’s terminology: “at least some intuitions are generated independently of the intellect itself,” and the stronger reading is called “intellectualism,” which holds that “the generation of intuition is at least partly dependent on the intellect” (McLear, 2020). It would be helpful for the readers if this context were explicitly flagged.

In the two chapters on Husserl, the distinction between traditional themes and contemporary issues seems less clear, but this is by no means a criticism: topics such as fulfillment, simple apprehension and perceptual explication, horizons, kinaesthetic habit, and constitution do have distinctive Husserlian flavours, but other topics such as the intentional approach to consciousness, sensation contents, the space of consciousness, fields of sensations, types of conceptuality, objects of thoughts, and pre-conceptual norms are both Husserlian and contemporary themes. This should not be surprising, as Husserl is closer to our time, and his influences on contemporary philosophy have been enormous and visible. There are two elements of Husserl’s thinking that van Mazijk highlights but has not noted their potential connections with McDowell’s thinking. The first is “cultural-linguistic upbringing” and “habit” (96, 111, 117) and their connections to McDowell’s Bildung; the second is “passive synthesis” (99, 103, 107) and its connection to McDowell’s conceptualism, especially the idea that “conceptual capacities are drawn on in receptivity” (McDowell, 1996, 9), and similarly, “conceptual capacities… are passively drawn into play in experience belong to a network of capacities for active thought” (ibid., p.12). Perhaps van Mazijk does not think the connections here are clear enough, but in any case I suggest these are further directions for connecting Husserl to McDowell. There are other highlights and potential points of contact with the analytic tradition as well, for example the “space of consciousness” (74 onwards) can be compared with the hard problem of consciousness (e.g., Chalmers, 1996), the “field of sensations” (98 onwards) can be compared with the tactile field debate (e.g., Martin, 1992, O’Shaughnessy, 1989, Cheng, 2019), and “lived body” (10, 96, 109) can be compared with Kantian spatial self-awareness (e.g., Cassam, 1997; Cheng, forthcoming b). And there are more. This shows that Husserl’s thinking has much to offer for contemporary philosophy, as van Mazijk rightly points out.

The two chapters on McDowell cover canonical McDowellian themes such as conceptualism, the space of reasons and the realm of law, and Bildung, and also broader issues connecting to Kant, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Dreyfus, including skillful coping, animal consciousness, and transcendental reasons. In what follows I discuss some highlights and points of potential disagreements. First of all, although van Mazijk mentions the “realm of law” in several places (21, 148, 149, 161), he uses the label the “space of nature” much more (passim), and this can generate the harmful implication that the “space of reasons” is unnatural; for example, he writes that for McDowell some contents are “in some sense not natural, insofar as they stand in a sui generis space of reasons” (124). Charitably, we can say that van Mazijk specifies “in some sense,” and that leaves room for another sense in which the space of reason is natural, i.e., Aristotelian second nature. However, other remarks show that van Mazijk’s understanding of this crucial McDowellian divide between the space of reasons and the realm of law cannot be entirely correct. For example, in introducing this divide, van Mazijk mentions “causal order” to characterise the realm of law, or with his label, the space of nature. But this is problematic on two fronts: first, that might imply that the space of reasons has no causation, which is not true of McDowell’s characterisation: McDowell certainly follows Davidson (1963) here in that they both think, correctly I believe, that reasons can be causes. Second, McDowell also discusses Russell’s view that causation might not be a suitable notion for the realm of law (McDowell, 1996, 71; Russell, 1912-3). Now, such view has become quite unpopular nowadays, but even if Russell and McDowell are wrong in avoiding causation in the realm of law, McDowell would certainly insists on causation in the space of reasons (see also Gaskin, 2006, 28 onwards). Therefore, when we read van Mazijk’s discussions and criticisms of this McDowellian distinction, we need to bear in mind that the characterisation in the book might not be entirely accurate.

There are other oddities concerning van Mazijk’s understanding of the divide between the space of reasons and the realm of law, and relatedly, second nature. For example, consider this passage:

These refer to two ways of speaking about things, of finding things intelligible. However, as it turns out, both spaces ultimately consist simply of natural phenomena. The space of reasons thus fits entirely within that of nature. (van Mazijk, 2020, 150)

Taken literally, this passage might be a fine characterisation of McDowell’s framework. However, since for unclear reasons van Mazijk insists on using the “space of nature” to refer to the “realm of law,” the passage thus implies that the space of reasons is simply “one way of speaking about things.” That is, there is only one kind of things, but there are two ways of speaking about them or finding them intelligible. Now this looks like a description of Davidson’s anomalous monism (1970), which McDowell has emphatically rejects (1985). Whether McDowell’s criticism here is plausible is irrelevant; what is crucial in this context is that he does not hold anomalous monism, but van Mazijk’s characterisation of McDowell’s position makes it indistinguishable from anomalous monism. On another occasion I have argued that McDowell’s view should be interpreted as a kind of emergent dualism (Cheng, forthcoming a), but that requires much more elaborations, and arguably McDowell himself would refuse to acknowledge this classification. Concerning the space of reasons, van Mazijk says that “McDowell’s own definition of the space of reasons is what makes conceptualism attractive” (van Mazijk, 2020, 151). This is meant to be a criticism, but to this McDowell would reply that his invocation of the notion of “concept” is a matter of “stipulation: conceptual capacities in the relevant sense belong essentially to their possessor’s rationality in the sense I am working with, responsiveness to reasons as such” (2005/2008b, 129). His point is that given this stipulation or definition, let’s see what significant would follow. To simply point out that there is a definition involved here can hardly be an objection by itself.

Also relatedly, McDowell’s appropriation of Gadamer’s distinction between environment and world (1960/2004) is not acknowledged in the book, and that affects van Mazijk’s verdict of McDowell’s view on animal minds. Gadamer writes,

Language is not just one of man’s possessions in the world; rather, on it depends the fact that man has a world at all. The world as world exists for man as for on other creature that is in the world. But this world is verbal in nature… that language is originarily human means at the same time that man’s being in the world is primordially linguistic. (ibid., 440)

[Although] the concept of environment was first used for the purely human world… this concept can be used to comprehend all the conditions on which a living creature depends. But it is thus clear that man, unlike all other living creatures, has a “world,” for other creatures do not in the same sense have a relationship to the world, but are, as it were, embedded in their environment. (ibid.,  441)

Simply put, “environment” here refers to what philosophers normally call “world,” and corresponds to McDowell’s realm of law and first nature. By contrast, “world” here corresponds to the space of reasons and second nature. In Mind and World, Lecture VI, McDowell has explained how human animals like us can possess the world and inhabit an environment, while other animals can only do the latter. This also corresponds to McDowell’s later distinction between “being responsive to reasons” and “being responsive to reasons as such”:

The notion of rationality I mean to invoke here is the notion exploited in a traditional line of thought to make a special place in the animal kingdom for rational animals. It is a notion of responsiveness to reasons as such. (2005/2008b, 128)

And this “wording leaves room for responsiveness to reasons… on the other side of the division drawn by this notion of rationality between rational animals and animals that are not rational” (ibid., 128). That is to say, when other animals see predators and run, they are responsive to reasons, but they cannot recognise those reasons as reasons. With these dualistic distinctions in mind, let’s come back to van Mazijk’s texts and see why the interpretation there is not entirely fair.

In chapter 5, van Mazijk notes that McDowell holds “animals see things or items in the outer world ‘no less’ than we do,” and argues that:

But it is difficult to see how this fits into the conceptualist thesis as discussed so far. For wasn’t the whole idea of conceptualism to take the very givenness of things as a result of conceptual functions of an understanding only rational creatures like us enjoy? It seems that… McDowell contradicts his own conceptualism, which rests on the idea that the sensible presentation of things in the outer world relies on functions specific to rational creatures like us, namely on concepts and the capacity to judge. (131)

We can readily give a “No” to the query in this way: for McDowell, other animals can perceive things or items in the outer world in the sense of Gadamerian environment, while rational animals can perceive things or items in the outer world in the sense of Gadamerian world. This can also be seen that in later writings, McDowell speaks of “world-disclosing experience” (2007a/2008a, 319): rational animals like us enjoy experiences that can disclose aspects of the world, while other animals are also capable of experiencing, but of their environment only, not the world. This view can be found already in Mind and World, and McDowell further develops it in recent decades. It is worth noting that this view has a clear Heideggerian flavour as well (1927/2010). Similar considerations are applicable to van Mazijk’s discussion in 132, and in chapter 6, especially from p. 150 to 153 on animal consciousness. I shall not repeat my response elaborated just now.

Another point is that van Mazijk does not distinguish between “propositional” and “conceptual”; for example he writes that many philosophers “hold that our thoughts have propositional or conceptual content” (2, my emphasis). It is true that in most cases they coincide: the constituents of propositions are concepts, one might say. However, in relatively recent writings McDowell seeks to set them apart:

I used to assume that to conceive experiences as actualizations of conceptual capacities, we would need to credit experiences with propositional content, the sort of content judgments have. And I used to assume that the content of an experience would need to include everything the experience enables its subject to know non-inferentially. But these assumptions now strike me as wrong. (McDowell, 2008c/2008b, 258)

“What we need,” McDowell carries on, “is an idea of content that is not propositional but intuitional, in what I take to be a Kantian sense” (ibid., 260; my italics). Now, whether this position is plausible or coherent is not important for our purposes (van Mazijk argues that it is implausible in p. 129); what is crucial is that McDowell does hold that view since 2007 or so, and that needs to be taken into account for interpreters. In effect, McDowell’s intuitional content seems to fit weak conceptualism as van Mazijk defines it. McDowell writes,

If it is to become the content of a conceptual capacity of hers, she needs to determine it to be the content of a conceptual capacity of hers. That requires her to carve it out from the categorially unified but as yet, in this respect, unarticulated experiential content of which it is an aspect, so that thought can focus on it by itself. (McDowell, 2007a/2008a, 318)

Now, recall that weak conceptualism has it that “all intuition and perception is, for us at least, open to conceptual exercises” (van Mazijk, 2020, 4). So van Mazijk is right in noting that McDowell has hold strong conceptualism, but he might have missed, or at least does not believe, that later McDowell has retreated from that to weak conceptualism since 2007 or so. Elsewhere I have argued that McDowell’s new view might disqualify his conceptualist credential, and might cause trouble for his environment/world distinction (Cheng, forthcoming a), but those are quite different matters.

A final point I would like to highlight is van Mazijk’s understanding of the nature of McDowell’s overall project. He writes,

I want to deal with conceptualism as McDowell understands it – not as a theory concerning the psychology, phenomenology, or epistemology of perception, but as one purporting to address a problem regarding our access to reality. (van Mazijk, 2020, 121)

It is understandable to make such a division, but it is unclear how the above domains can be set apart from one another. It is true that McDowell’s primary concern is not psychology and phenomenology (understood as consciousness), but how can “our access to reality” fail to be epistemological? In the next page van Mazijk rightly reminds that McDowell thinks epistemological anxieties do not go to the root; the problem of intentionality itself is the deepest problem. However, in that context by “epistemology” McDowell means questions concerning justification or warrant; he certainly would not deny that “our access to reality” is broadly (and rightfully) an epistemological issue. Moreover, although the problem of intentionality is McDowell’s primary concern, what he says for that purpose imply theses in psychology and phenomenology (understood as consciousness), and it does not help to insist that the project is transcendental and therefore human psychology is irrelevant (van Mazijk, 2020, 147): for example, if the possibility of intentional action presupposes certain kind of body representation (O’Shaughnessy, 1995), this transcendental conditional can be falsified by what we know about human psychology (Bermúdez, 1995). Van Mazijk mentions that “McDowell’s theory [pertains] to ‘rational relations’ rather than, say, sub-personal psychological contents” (van Mazijk, 2020, 122; quoting Bermúdez and Cahen, 2015). However, McDowell’s view can be about personal psychological contents (McDowell, 1994/1998). This shows that at least some “misunderstandings” concerning arguments for non-conceptual contents van Mazijk tries to point out (137 onwards) are actually not misunderstandings, but it will take us too far if we go into those details.

Overall, van Mazijk has offered a substantive and original effort of explicating aspects of Kant’s, Husserl’s, and McDowell’s philosophy, and identifying various strands in their thinking. It would be unfair to demand any such book project to be close to comprehensive. This is not the first contemporary discussion of the relations between these figures (e.g., Christensen, 2008), and will certainly spark many further investigations into these interrelated themes. My critical points above should be taken as my will to carry on the conversations, and I am sure many others will join and make the exchanges even more fruitful.


I would like to thank Cheng-Hao Lin and Kuei-Chen Chen for helpful inputs. Daniel Guilhermino also reviews this book for this journal; I have made sure our reviews do not overlap much.


Bermúdez, J. L. 1995. «Transcendental Arguments and Psychology: The Example of O’Shaughnessy on Intentional Action.» Metaphilosophy, 26(4), 379-401.

Bermúdez, J. L., & Cahen, A. 2015. «Nonconceptual Mental Content.» In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Cassam, Q. 1997. Self and World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Chalmers, D. 1996. The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory. New York: Oxford University Press.

Cheng, T., Deroy, O., & Spence, C. (Eds.) 2019. Spatial Senses: Philosophy of Perception in an Age of Science. New York: Routledge.

Cheng, T. 2019. «On the Very Idea of a Tactile Field.» In T. Cheng, O. Deroy, and C. Spence (Eds.), Spatial Senses: Philosophy of Perception in an Age of Science. New York: Routledge.

Cheng, T. (forthcoming a). John McDowell on Worldly Subjectivity: Oxford Kantianism meets Phenomenology and Cognitive Sciences. London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic.

Cheng, T. (forthcoming b). «Sensing the Self in World.» Analytic Philosophy.

Christensen, B. C. 2008. Self and World: From Analytic Philosophy to Phenomenology. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Davidson, D. 1963. «Actions, Reasons, and Causes.» The Journal of Philosophy, 60(23), 685-700.

Davidson, D. 1970. «Mental Events.» In L. Foster and J. W. Swanson (Eds.), Experience and Theory. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press.

Gadamer, H-G. 1960/2004. Truth and Method. Joel. Weinsheimer and Donald Marshall (trans.), New York: Continuum.

Gaskin, R. 2006. Experience and the World’s Own Language. New York: Oxford University Press.

Heidegger, M. 1927/2010. Being and Time. J. Stambaugh (trans), Albany: State University of New York Press.

Husserl, E. 1911/1983. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy: First Book: General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology. F. Kersten and D. Haag (trans.), Boston, Lancaster: Martinus Nijhoff.

McDowell, J. 1985/1998. «Functionalism and Anomalous Monism.» In E. LePore and B. McLaughlin (eds.) Actions and Events: Perspectives on the philosophy of Donald Davidson. Oxford: Blackwell, pp.387-98; reprinted in his Mind, Value, and Reality, pp. 325-40. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McDowell, J. 1989/1998. One strand in the private language argument. Grazer Philosophische Studien, 33/34, pp.285-303; reprinted in his Mind, value, and reality, pp.279-96. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McDowell, J. 1994/1998. «The Content of Perceptual Experience.» The Philosophical Quarterly, 44, pp.190-205; reprinted in his Mind, Value, and Reality, pp.341-58. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McDowell, J. 1996. Mind and World, 2nd edition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McDowell, J. 1998. Mind, Value, and Reality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McDowell, J. 2005/2008b. Conceptual capacities in perception. In G. Abel (Ed.), Kreativität: 2005 Congress of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Philosophie, pp. 1065-79; reprinted in his Having the world in view: Essays on Kant, Hegel, and Sellars, pp.127-44. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McDowell, J. 2007a/2008a. «What Myth?» Inquiry, 50, pp. 338-51; reprinted in his The Engaged Intellect: Philosophical Essays, pp. 308-23. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McDowell, J. 2007b/2008a. Response to Dreyfus. Inquiry, 50, pp.366-70; reprinted in his The Engaged Intellect: Philosophical Essays, pp.324-8. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McDowell, J. 2008a. The Engaged Intellect: Philosophical Essays. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McDowell, J. 2008b. Having the World in View: Essays on Kant, Hegel, and Sellars. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McDowell, J. 2008c/2008b. «Avoiding the Myth of the Given.» In J. Lindgaard (Ed.), John McDowell: Experience, Norm, and Nature, pp.1-14. Oxford: Blackwell; reprinted in Having the World in View: Essays on Kant, Hegel, and Sellars, pp. 256-71. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McLear, C. 2020. «Kantian Conceptualism/Nonconceptualism.» In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Martin, M. G. F. 1992. «Sight and Touch.» In T. Crane (Ed.), The Contents of Experience: Essays on Perception. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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O’Shaughnessy, B. 1995. «Proprioception and the Body Image.» In J L. Bermúdez, A. J. Marcel, & N. Eilan (Eds.), The Body and the Self. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Russell, B. 1912-3. «On the Notion of Cause.» Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 13, 1-26.

van Mazijk, C. 2020. Perception and Reality in Kant, Husserl, and McDowell. New York, NY: Routledge.

Mahon O’Brien: Heidegger’s Life and Thought: A Tarnished Legacy

Heidegger's Life and Thought: A Tarnished Legacy Book Cover Heidegger's Life and Thought: A Tarnished Legacy
Mahon O'Brien
Rowman & Littlefield International
Paperback $19.99

Reviewed by: Christos Hadjioannou (University of Cyprus)

Introductions are historical pieces of work conditioned by the tendencies and urgencies of the moment, and that means they need to be rewritten again and again. Still, one might be excused for thinking that the world doesn’t need another introduction to Heidegger. After reading O’Brien’s excellent book, though, one will be convinced otherwise. Accessible and intellectually honest, this critical introduction to Heidegger’s life and works is a timely contribution to the field, which I recommend highly to beginners as well as specialists.

Today, undergraduates and other first-time readers of Heidegger do not come to his works empty-handed. We can assume that most of them have been exposed to “the Heidegger controversy.” Preserving Heidegger’s legacy requires addressing that controversy. O’Brien is therefore wise not to bypass it, but instead tell the story of Heidegger’s thought partly against that political backdrop. Nor does the book pretend to offer a guide to Heideggerian philosophical concepts from a “neutral standpoint.” It is a polemical introduction, taking a stand on the political issues as well as important interpretive questions that haunt Heidegger scholarship.

In his preface, O’Brien clarifies what he takes to be uncontroversial about Heidegger’s works, and what remains contentious to this day. Instead of painting a sacrosanct picture, he thematizes the controversies and presents a nuanced picture—one that cancels out neither the controversies and weaknesses in Heidegger’s thought, nor the immense value of Heidegger’s philosophical insights.

O’Brien identifies two extreme positions in Heidegger interpretation and rejects the squabble between them as a false dilemma. One position holds that Heidegger is “the greatest scourge to have afflicted academic philosophy,” while to the other, he is “the most important philosopher to have emerged from the Western tradition since Hegel” (ix). O’Brien offers an interpretation that accepts a version of both positions. He argues that while it is undeniable that Heidegger’s association with National Socialism was neither brief not incidental to his thought, and that his commitment to it was based on some of the core elements of his magnum opus, Being and Time (BT), this does not justify “the extirpation of Heidegger’s thought from the canon” (ibid.). Heidegger’s impact remains profound, and striking him from the canon obliterates his intellectual achievements and makes it impossible to explain the origin of subsequent thinkers, who were influenced by him. But O’Brien also warns against the extreme devotion displayed by some commentators, who are “guilty of all kinds of intellectual acrobatics and apologetics in an attempt to rehabilitate Heidegger’s image” (xi). He vows to avoid such misplaced loyalty, which risks alienating prospective readers of Heidegger “who will eventually learn for themselves that Heidegger was a Nazi and a selfish, arrogant egomaniac to boot” (ibid.).

In Chapter One, entitled “Ways Not Works,” O’Brien addresses Heidegger’s methodology and influences, and takes a clear stand on the Kehre debate, which concerns the relationship between the early and later works. Although this issue is decisive in determining what narrative is offered not only regarding the late works but most crucially regarding BT, it is often set aside in introductory texts. O’Brien warns against the two extremes that see either radically disjointed efforts over the course of his oeuvre or an overt systematicity. Instead, he supports the so-called “continuity thesis,” which finds unity across the Heidegger corpus. Thus he sees Heidegger’s work as “a continuous, evolving, if not entirely seamless, enterprise” (xi). Invoking Heidegger’s maxim “ways not works”, O’Brien presents his oeuvre as a series of attempts at thematizing the question of the meaning of being (2-3), which question he addressed most rigorously in BT. This approach helps us appreciate the reasons why Heidegger moved beyond that central work without ever actually rejecting it. O’Brien’s narrative thus rejects a distinction between “Heidegger I” and “Heidegger II,” and counters the assumption that the later works are incompatible with the earlier (5).

O’Brien also does a fine job in this chapter of acknowledging the most important influences on Heidegger’s work without giving a reductive account that denies his philosophical originality. As he argues, Heidegger’s work cannot be categorized under any of the movements that influenced him. Nonetheless, O’Brien identifies Husserl’s phenomenology as having exerted the most influence on his early thought.

Chapter 2, “Early Life,” covers the most significant biographical information with bearing on Heidegger’s philosophical ideas (and is actually not confined only to his early years), including his attempts at a political philosophy. What is crucial to take away from this chapter is the connection between Heidegger’s philosophical confrontation with modernism and his sense of belonging to his native region and its heritage. O’Brien argues that Heidegger himself made it “very clear that the biographical details of his own life […] were crucial to an understanding of the manner in which his thinking developed” (8). Accordingly, he relates the basic facts about Heidegger’s upbringing and family: his father’s vocational connection to the Catholic Church, and his many ties to the countryside and peasant communities, including his mother’s farming background. Thus he contextualizes Heidegger’s distrust of city life and cosmopolitanism (9), which he associated with inauthenticity.

O’Brien draws attention to the interpretive difficulty that hampers any serious attempt to distinguish between those of Heidegger’s philosophical discoveries that resulted from honest thinking, and ideas he espoused disingenuously, ad hoc, in order to justify his private proclivities. It is challenging to identify and appreciate some of Heidegger’s important philosophical ideas on their own merit when he himself attaches them to ridiculous personal views. As a result, some interpreters end up throwing the baby out with the bathwater (12), allowing these associations to discredit profound insights.

In the chapter, O’Brien does not shy away from commenting on Heidegger’s bad personality traits, such as his feigned humility, his extraordinary arrogance and pretentiousness, his serious messiah complex, as well as his philandering (12). The chapter closes with references to his wife Elfride’s antisemitism and nationalism, and shows that also Heidegger himself was fiercely nationalistic (14).

Chapter 3, “Rumours of the Hidden King,” tracks Heidegger’s intellectual development from the early Freiburg period, when he served as Husserl’s teaching assistant, to his years lecturing at Marburg, in the early 1920s. Once he took up employment at Marburg, Heidegger begun formulating his own ideas and themes, moving away from neo-Kantianism and Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology, and recognizing “the importance of time as history for the philosophical project he wished to inaugurate” (21).

One topic stands out in this chapter: Heidegger’s break from Husserlian phenomenology. Here the book’s characterizations of Heidegger’s person are again harsh: O’Brien claims that while Heidegger was indeed at one point deeply inspired by Husserl, nevertheless he “carefully choreographed” the impression that Husserl was his mentor, dedicating BT to him as part of a “calculated piece of manipulation designed to win the favour of one of the most important and influential philosophical voices in Germany at the time” (19).

Chapter 4, “The Hidden King Returns to Freiburg,” is the longest and most important chapter of the book. Here, O’Brien discusses BT and tries to properly contextualize its main arguments in relation to the entire corpus. Discussing the structure of BT, O’Brien analyzes its incompleteness in terms of both philosophical motivations and purely professional-strategic ones. He finds a deep consistency between the projected (missing) second part of BT with the work of his later period. Proponents of the discontinuity thesis, he argues, misinterpret the idea of a “turn” (Kehre), supposing that the new approach and language characteristic of Heidegger’s later texts represent a “reversal,” a “turning away from” and thus a repudiation of BT. But on the contrary, O’Brien points out, the later works constantly invoke BT in order to explain key developments. Heidegger himself recommended that the 1935 Introduction to Metaphysics (IM), be read “as a companion piece to Being and Time” (30). While the later works are not reducible to the earlier, still “Heidegger never fully relinquishes some of the key ideas that he was developing in Being and Time” (28).

Having made his case for continuity, O’Brien is free to turn to important texts that postdate BT in order to clarify some of the latter’s central arguments. Interpreting BT as a book that tries to address the ontologically suppressed interplay of presence and absence, O’Brien refers to the 1949 introduction to “What Is Metaphysics?” (WM) (1929) in order to clarify the purpose that animates BT, which is none other than “to prepare an overcoming of metaphysics” (33). According to Heidegger, the meaning of being as traditionally understood in philosophy privileges presence, something which O’Brien says “distorts the nature of reality for us and indeed our own self-understanding” (30). Part of what Heidegger tries to do is challenge the prejudice that the word “being” and its cognates mean that something exists or is present (ibid.). In fact, when we say that things “are,” “it is not clear that that means that they exist as fully present or actualised before us” (32).

In WM, Heidegger would blame this “metaphysics of presence” for misrepresenting the way we actually experience the world (33). WM’s discussion of nothingness targets the principle of non-contradiction, O’Brien says—a principle “routinely invoked to dismiss all talk of the nothing as simply wrong-headed, illogical, unscientific, in short, as contradictory” (34). The tradition has decided in advance that being reduces to presence and that it itself is not nothing. According to O’Brien, this treatment of nothingness is anticipated early on in BT, specifically in the account of moods as the site which throws open the interplay of presence and absence (34). “Heidegger returns to and defends this idea in 1929, in 1935 and again in his 1940’s introduction and postscript to the 1929 lecture [WM]” (ibid.). Heidegger, O’Brien writes, is trying to show that “traditional approaches miss out on all of the possibilities inherent in what we ‘mean’ when we say that a [an entity] is here, or there, or is something or other” (39). Being means possibility—a multiplicity of possibilities—and although beings stand in Being, they never overcome the possibility of not-Being, something that the philosophical tradition has missed by conceiving being in terms of continuous presence. As O’Brien explains, “[w]hat is suppressed is the role that absence or nothingness plays in our experience and how most of our experience involves a constant interplay of presence and absence” (40).

O’Brien concedes that the existential analytic of Dasein does tend toward anthropocentrism or an excessive prioritization of human subjectivity, but he draws attention to the methodological reasons that led Heidegger to begin with Dasein. Heidegger was convinced that “a new brand of phenomenology, unencumbered with the transcendental baggage of the later Husserl, was the appropriate method, while recognizing that time (or temporality) should be central to any attempt to begin to investigate the meaning of being” (42). Rather than “beginning with some abstract theory or idea, Heidegger insisted that we should begin with ordinary, everyday existence, before any abstractions” (ibid.).

In the same chapter, O’Brien also critically responds to realist readings of Heidegger’s late work, which—as he convincingly argues—rely on a misreading of BT. Without attributing to Heidegger the view that Dasein actively creates meaning, O’Brien disagrees that the meaning of being subsists in the absence of Dasein. He clarifies that Heidegger does not deny that entities exist “out there,” only that their meaning (i.e. the phenomenological “world”) exists independently of Dasein. Here the analysis would benefit from a reference to Taylor Carman’s work, whose use of the term “ontic realism” could help O’Brien consolidate his position further.[1]

In the rest of the chapter, O’Brien offers an eloquent explication of the basic structures of Dasein as presented in BT, without ever becoming tiresome or overly technical. Thus he explains how “understanding” works in terms of projects and possibilities, how “affectivity” (Befindlichkeit) works in terms of moods in which we already find ourselves, and how “falling” works in terms of understanding being as presence.

As regards the focus on death in BT, O’Brien argues that Heidegger is not interested in the actual event of death per se, but rather in the fact that our manner of understanding everything in the world around us is conditioned by our own finitude (47). Heidegger wants to move from the metaphysics of presence to an ontology which reckons with the role that absence or nothingness plays in the meaning of a thing’s being (48).

Chapter 5 is entitled “The 1930s – Politics, Art and Poetry.” The chapter begins with Heidegger’s so-called “linguistic turn,” in which the poetic use of language in particular emerged as a key concern. While some commentators see Heidegger’s focus on language, and particularly his preoccupation with Hölderlin’s poetry during the 1930s and 40s, as a shift away from the project of BT, O’Brien argues that if we remain faithful to the fact that BT is about the meaning of Being, then there’s no surprise in the linguistic turn. In my opinion, O’Brien’s thesis here would benefit from a reference to Heidegger’s early notion of “formal indication,” which is also a precursor to poetic language.

Next O’Brien turns to Heidegger’s linguistic chauvinism, which he argues contributed to shaping his political views. Heidegger believed that German and Ancient Greek were philosophically superior languages that could grasp the world in the origin of its being, and that other languages, such as French and English, were philosophically destitute (57). O’Brien brings up the worrisome recurrence of Heidegger’s prejudice about a supposed inner affinity between Germany and Ancient Greece. He also discusses Heidegger’s intense criticism of “everything in the Western tradition that has led to modernity and eventually the age of technology” (60). It is in this context, argues O’Brien, that Judaism is thrown “into the melting pot along with everything else that he sees as a consequence of the history of the metaphysics of presence, a metaphysics which he believes the German people alone can overcome” (ibid.).

One of the most interesting moments in the book comes when O’Brien questions whether Heidegger’s confrontation with modernity is really as unique as we have been taught to think. Thus he calls for an excavation and identification of the sinister and at times disappointingly derivative motivations behind ideas that many have taken to be unique features of Heidegger’s critique (60-61). Some aspects of Heidegger’s critique of modernity, O’Brien says, are but “a variant on what were ultimately a series of stock antisemitic prejudices that proliferated in Germany from the late 1700s onwards” (59). In some of the most nationalistic and antisemitic remarks to be found in the 1933-1934 seminar Nature, History, State, Heidegger argues that for Slavic people, German space would be revealed differently from the way it is revealed to Germans, and that to “Semitic nomads” it would “perhaps never be revealed at all” (62). O’Brien argues that these attempts to relate philosophical views to a renewal of German spiritual and cultural life under National Socialism can be registered under a certain tradition to which also Fichte belonged (ibid.). Yet Heidegger’s conviction that this “revolution” must be based on key elements of his own philosophical vision, i.e. the attempt to overcome the metaphysics of presence and the inauguration of a new beginning which was specifically tied to the destiny of the German people, makes him stand out in this tradition. Heidegger was “as naïve as he was megalomaniacal” (63), O’Brien says, while reminding us not to dismiss the philosophy just because of the political ends the philosopher thought it could serve.

The final part of the chapter turns to the topic of art and follows Heidegger’s engagement with Hölderlin’s poetry in his 1934 lectures, as well as his 1935-1936 essay “The Origin of the Work of Art.” According to O’Brien, Heidegger was keen to distance his discussion of the origin of art from any conventional aesthetics, and previous analyses of this work have overlooked how Heidegger situates his treatment of art within his larger political vision. Invoking the unique destiny of the German people, Heidegger identifies Hölderlin as the poet the Germans must heed in order to foster an authentic happening, a new political and cultural beginning (65).

In chapter 6, “The Nazi Rector,” O’Brien addresses the apogee of the “Heidegger controversy”: his involvement with Nazi politics and his rectorship at the University of Freiburg. His appointment as rector came as a complete surprise to his students, the Jewish ones included, because as far as they were concerned, “there had been nothing in his demeanor or attitude to that point to suggest that he might be sympathetic to Nazism” (71). On the other hand, argues O’Brien, it’s unlikely that Heidegger happened upon his political allegiances overnight in 1933 (71). He draws attention to the fact that Heidegger reportedly read and was impressed by Mein Kampf, and that he held  antisemitic and reactionary views from early on (ibid.). Thus on O’Brien’s view, the Black Notebooks only confirm previously available evidence that Heidegger was an antisemite who thought he could articulate antisemitic views from within his own philosophical framework.

The whole controversy, argues O’Brien, “should have and could have been dealt with comprehensively and exhaustively a long time ago” (74). He identifies two key factors that contributed to the unnecessary protraction of the whole issue: firstly, the drip-feeding of problematic texts, which created the impression that further revelations, which might complicate the picture, were continuously underway; secondly, the fact that the most critical voices were philosophically weak or obviously biased, resulting in a superficiality that “managed to conceal the deep underlying philosophical questions which must be put to Heidegger’s thought” (ibid.). The chapter offers a critical review of the most influential books on Heidegger’s Nazism, analyzing their scope and breadth and ideological bents, and assessing their strengths and weaknesses. Here, O’Brien shows his prowess, and demonstrates an excellent grasp of the topic.

As regards the political philosophy, O’Brien argues that Heidegger was not a bloodthirsty biological racist, but an archconservative and traditionalist “prone to some rather bizarre provincialist notions which he sought to justify philosophically” (74). Heidegger unsuccessfully tried to marry his own provincialism with a philosophical antimodernism and ethnic chauvinism, thinking this political philosophy was the way to resist the growing dominion of technology (74-75). O’Brien’s verdict is that Heidegger failed to articulate a coherent political philosophy, “owing in part to the fact that his philosophy doesn’t really admit to being employed in the manner in which he wants to use it” (75). O’Brien also finds that Heidegger’s flawed character must have played a role in his stint with National Socialism (76).

Chapter 7, “Return from Syracuse,” covers the period following his banishment from teaching after the denazification proceedings, especially his philosophical output of the 40s, 50s and 60s. It discusses Heidegger’s musings on language, poetry and technology, specifically his analysis of technology, of releasement (Gelassenheit) and the notion of “appropriation/enownment” (Ereignis) (79). While in chapter 5, O’Brien argued that some aspects of Heidegger’s confrontation with modernity might not be as original as initially thought, here he argues against a reductionist misapprehension that his work on technology is simply a symptom of his antimodernism (80). Instead, he says, Heidegger’s essay on technology stands today as the single most important philosophical work on some of the issues concerning the philosophical age we live in (81).

Turning to the Bremen lectures, O’Brien offers a nuanced analysis of the infamous “Agriculture Remark.” The point of the remark, he argues, is not to liken the Holocaust with the harvesting of grain, as some commentators have suggested, nor is Heidegger arguing that agricultural methods are morally equivalent to genocide. What interests him is the role that the essence of technology (Enframing) has figured into everything that has taken place in the twentieth century, including genocide, war and agriculture (82).

Next O’Brien discusses “The Question Concerning Technology”—a good text for a first-time reader of Heidegger to begin with, he says, because in this essay Heidegger touches upon most of his fundamental concepts and views, such as “equipmentality,” “publicness”, das Man, etc. (83). Here, O’Brien’s continuity thesis is on full display, as he argues that Heidegger’s worries about technology are already hinted at in BT: “it is clear that Heidegger’s thinking about technology was there in embryonic form in Being and Time” (85).

O’Brien interprets Heidegger’s critique of (the essence of) technology as a critique of eliminativism, i.e. a critique of positivist approaches that posit that classes of entities which do not fall within the horizon of their investigation do not exist (89). The problem of Enframing is its eliminative character, namely that it is a mode of revealing that governs the way beings come to presence. Other forms of revealing, like poetry, are necessary in order to “allow people to see things coming to presence in ways other than what is rather aggressively demanded by Enframing” (93). O’Brien then discusses “releasement” (Gelassenheit) as the appropriate comportment of human beings that will enable such a non-eliminative, pluralist disclosure of beings, and closes the chapter by contextualizing Enframing in the history of Being (94). Acquainted as I am with O’Brien’s earlier books,[2] I think he could have spent a few more paragraphs elaborating in greater detail how Gelassenheit relates to Entschlossenheit and the project of dismantling of the ontology of presence.

Chapter 8 is entitled “Heidegger ‘Abroad’.” This is a rather short chapter that breaks up into three sections. The first covers Heidegger’s remarkable success on the French intellectual scene, especially among the existentialists, and gives some historical context to that success. The second concerns Heidegger’s relation to Eastern thought and covers his interactions with a number of Eastern intellectuals, briefly also referring to the body of secondary literature devoted to the intersection between Heidegger’s philosophy and Eastern traditions. The third section covers the impact his thought has had in the United States.

Chapter 9, “The Final Years,” is only three pages long, and provides biographical details of the peaceful and happy years at the end of Heidegger’s life. It notes that he faced his own death with a certain “grace and serenity” (109), and that in the end he arranged a Christian burial for himself after all.

In the tenth and final chapter, “Heidegger’s Legacy,” O’Brien sums up his verdict as regards the “Heidegger controversy.” The recent publication of the Black Notebooks refuelled the controversy, O’Brien says, because it discredited Heidegger’s own “official story” about his association with National Socialism. Heidegger was a committed Nazi and an antisemite who “tried zealously to use some of his core elements of his thought to articulate a philosophy of National Socialism, for a period of time at least” (111). However, Heidegger’s own “political vision was ultimately at quite a remove from historical National Socialism, and he clearly became more and more disillusioned with the regime from the mid-1930s onwards” (ibid.). O’Brien reiterates his own position against other interpretations, insisting that despite claims made even by Heidegger himself, he did try to offer a political philosophy, and deep inside believed “he could be the spiritual and philosophical Führer of an awakening in Germany that would change the course of history in Europe and the Western world in general” (112).

In addition to the political controversy, Heidegger’s legacy is entangled in another controversy, argues O’Brien, namely the divide between analytic and continental philosophy. In analytic circles, “Heidegger is often portrayed as the arch-villain for having led philosophy astray through his promotion of ambiguity, imprecision, a lack of rigour and the proliferation of jargon, mysticism and bad poetry masquerading as philosophical profundity” (114). O’Brien defends Heidegger’s writing style, arguing that the subject itself demanded such a style, but lambasts those “disciples” who try to imitate Heidegger’s style simply because they themselves are unable to write more clearly.

O’Brien ends the book by reflecting on the future of Heidegger studies, saying that it is difficult to foretell what course it will take. He believes that the Heidegger controversy “is only truly beginning, as scholars face squarely the question of how to read the texts of a thinker whose work, while not reducible to National Socialism, was nevertheless twisted and manipulated in various ways owing to his own belief that a happy union could be forged between his own thought and the new awakening in Germany which he initially saw as an underlying possibility of National Socialism” (115).


Carman, Taylor. 2003. Heidegger’s Analytic. New York: Cambridge University Press.

O’Brien, Mahon. 2011. Heidegger and Authenticity: From Resoluteness to Releasement. London and New York: Continuum.

O’Brien, Mahon. 2015. Heidegger, History and the Holocaust. London and New York: Bloomsbury.

O’Brien, Mahon. 2020. Heidegger’s Life and Thought: A Tarnished Legacy. London and New   York: Rowman & Littlefield.

[1] See Carman, Taylor. Heidegger’s Analytic. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

[2] See O’Brien, Mahon. Heidegger and Authenticity: From Resoluteness to Releasement. London and New York: Continuum, 2011; O’Brien, Mahon. Heidegger, History and the Holocaust. London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2015.