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. 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.
 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.
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.
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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.
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, 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.
 See Carman, Taylor. Heidegger’s Analytic. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
 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.
Is Catholicism a Religion?
Over the last decades, scholars have increasingly called into question the universal validity of the category “religion” as referring to a supposed ahistorical constant domain of all human mind and civilization, the domain of faith. The claim has characteristically been that, even though nowadays we often speak and think of religion this way, both in everyday life and in scholarship, in fact our notion of religion is a historical construct. This conceptual construct, so the claim, is fashioned after a specific cultural tradition, the Christian West, which, as part of obtaining or preserving its global epistemic hegemony, has asserted its own culture – Christianity – as a universal and superior feature of human nature as such: religion. Consequently, all cultures would have their religions: the Jewish, the Greek, the Chinese, the Indian, the Aztec, which could therefore be compared and evaluated in view of the underlying paradigm – and ultimate paragon – of religion, Christianity.
This sort of critique of religion is commonly deployed in postcolonial-like discourses, which confront the Christian West with its non-Christian others. Could the same critique apply within Christianity itself (West vs. East) or even within the Western? Wouldn’t the construct “religion” arise not only from a geo-political bias, i.e. the West, but also from a chrono-political bias, i.e. Modernity? And if so, wouldn’t it give effect and perpetuate a bias within the Christian West, namely in favor of modern Christianity, marked by Protestantism and Secularism, so as to undermine premodern, Catholic forms of Christian civilization? Is Catholicism a religion?
There is much in Baring’s intriguing new book to suggest that Catholicism is in fact not primarily a religion, but a philosophy, or even – philosophy. The main theme of the book is continental philosophy, whose center according to Baring is phenomenology. Its explicit concern is intellectual and institutional genealogy, “the Making of Continental Philosophy”, namely how a specific direction in 20th century philosophy, phenomenology, has been able to transform “from a provincial philosophy in southwest Germany into a movement that spanned Europe” (2), and so to become “continental”. Here and elsewhere in the book, Baring highlights the political significance of epistemic constellations, underlying the transnational, pan-European character of phenomenology as “continental” philosophy. His own historiography performatively turns away from national narratives (phenomenology in France, Husserl in Spain, Heidegger in Italy etc.) in search of a more transnational, universal ground. The movement that spread Husserl’s word among the nations (“the single most important explanation for the international success of phenomenology in the twentieth century”, 5), Baring suggests, is the one that goes under the name of the universal itself, the catholicos, Catholicism. Catholicism is the principal agent in this continental, transnational, catholic historiography of philosophy.
It is somewhat paradoxical that Baring’s professed transnational perspective nonetheless preliminary features phenomenology as belonging to “southwest Germany”, namely as originally particular, which accordingly begs the question of its continental success. According to this logic, this transnational success can only be accounted for by something beyond phenomenology itself, something more European, more universal, which would be Catholicism. However, in what sense would phenomenological philosophy itself not be sufficiently universal to account for its own universal spread? In what sense is Catholicism more obviously universal, and what explains its own international success, beyond the province of Rome?
Be that as it may, the notion of success, namely the ability of philosophy or thought, the ability of ideas, to obtain and expand their hold on the world, on reality, is central to Baring’s project. The primary transnational feature of Catholicism that the book foregrounds is its global institutional presence. Next to the transnational and universal, “catholic” historiographic perspective, Baring’s study accommodates Catholicism also in focusing on the worldly reality of the Church. The Catholicism that, as the book suggests, carried phenomenology across the continent is first and foremost a “network of philosophers and theologians that stretched across Europe” (7); “we can speak of ‘continental philosophy’ because phenomenology could tap into the networks of a Church that already operated on a continental scale” (11).
The story of “making” continental philosophy, as told in the book, is indeed concerned less with conceptual genealogy of ideas and more with how they spread. It’s a story of thought as an inter-personal, inter-institutional happening, where events of thinking take place between works, between thinkers. The great individual names of phenomenology – Husserl, Heidegger, Scheler, the “phenomenological trinity” Baring calls them (6) – are there, but they function as basic coordinates for describing the real plot, which is scholarship. Primary and secondary literatures switch here places. The main protagonists of this book are neither the great names nor the great book, but their less known scholarly recipients, the clerics, who read, translate, introduce, interpret, discuss and institutionalize ideas, convene conferences and found archives, journals and schools. Most importantly, and this is one of the great achievements of this book, the history of thought is told through formative debates, such that polemics – and with it politics – is posited at the heart of epistemology, a real at the heart of the ideal. Could polemics too – next to transnationalism and institutionalism – count as Catholic heritage?
At any event, Baring tells continental philosophy’s church history, and according to him the early church of phenomenology was Catholic. To quote some impressive facts:
“self-professed Catholic philosophers produced more than 40 percent of all books and articles on Husserl, Heidegger, and Scheler written in French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch in the period before World War II, making Catholic phenomenology by far the largest constituent part of the early European reception” (8-9);
“Within Europe, phenomenology has been most successful in Catholic countries, while tending to skip, at least at first, the Protestant strongholds of Scandinavia and the United Kingdom. Across the Atlantic, it has flourished in Latin America and at Catholic universities in the United States, such as Notre Dame, Boston College, DePaul, and Duquesne. The geography of phenomenology is best described, not by the contours of mainland Europe, but by the reach of the ‘universal Church’.” (11).
What is certain, in Baring’s account Catholicism does not just function as a contingent carrier of phenomenological philosophy, a vessel which would remain external to the content that it spreads. The Church is not simply a vehicle for Husserl’s word. The network of catholic intellectuals and institutions does not feature in this book as a mere logistical structure, but as the institutional embodiment of its intellectual content, of thought. Is Catholicism a religion? In this book, the Catholic emerges primarily as a philosophy. Insofar as Catholicism accounts for making phenomenology the philosophy of the European continent, Baring argues, it is because “before existentialism and before phenomenology, the first continental philosophy of the twentieth century was Catholic.” (19)
What is Catholic philosophy? This question is not really developed in the book, which has a very clear answer: medieval scholastic philosophy as it has been oriented by the works of Thomas Aquinas, namely Thomism. In the relevant period for the book, the first decades of the 20th century, Catholic philosophy consisted in the attempt to renew Thomism, namely in neo-Thomism or neo-scholasticism, which according to Baring was in these decades “the largest and most influential philosophical movement in the world” (8). Neo-Thomism was global philosophy, which makes one wonder about the reason it was only able to turn phenomenology “continental”, but no more than that. Neo-Thomism, as Baring portrays it, had set to itself a daring task. It translated medieval philosophy into modern terms not in order to modernize this philosophy, but, on the contrary, in order to effect “a philosophical conversion of modernity, a movement from modern to medieval metaphysics” (14). Neo-Thomism was the Catholic mission to the Moderns, aiming to reconvert modernity “back to Catholicism” (ibid.).
“Conversion” is a key word in Baring’s book. It is the basic description of the intellectual event that it portrays, and the plot is articulated by the personal conversions – official or not – of the protagonists. What was the nature of the conversion “back to Catholicism”, which neo-Thomists were trying to generate? The answer to this question lies at the heart of Baring’s historiographic thesis: it designates the ultimate purpose of Catholic, neo-Thomist philosophy, explains why phenomenology was deemed useful for Catholic intellectuals to pursue this purpose and so would account for why Catholicism helped phenomenology to its continental and international success.
Were neo-Thomists interested in converting modernity, modern thought and philosophy, from secularism or atheism back to religion? Obviously, as already indicated, neo-scholasticism was not looking to promote “religion” in its modern, paradigmatically Protestant or secular sense. But furthermore, Baring most often does not describe Catholic thought in terms of religion or what is commonly – in modern discourse – associated with religion as a special domain, of faith, transcendent God, holiness, spirituality etc., in short, as a different domain than secular, atheological or even atheistic philosophy.
On the contrary: neo-Thomism was looking to renew Thomism, for which, as described by Baring, theology implied worldly thought. Catholic thinkers “were convinced that the world incarnated a divine order, and that the institution of the Catholic Church was the worldly locus of redemption” (14); God is present in “His effects in the world” (30), such that faith is deemed “the perfection of natural knowledge” (29). The goal of Neo-Thomists was accordingly, among others, to connect Catholicism to science, natural science: by going back to Aquinas they were trying to reconnect with Aristotle. In other words, whether or not Catholicism was interested, in the first decades of the 20th century, in renewing something like religion, in Baring’s book Catholic philosophy emerges as a powerful agent for the renewal of Aristotelian philosophy, which historically speaking is perhaps nothing but Western philosophy, or philosophy tout court. Just as philosophy’s first and ultimate concern is with Being, Baring’s Catholicism is concerned with “the Real”.
“The Real” is the central concept of Baring’s narrative, which thus connects the contemporary discourse on philosophy and religion with the contemporary philosophical conversation on realism. Explicating this connection may have been a useful way for Baring to provide a more precise explanation of what he understands by “the Real”. Considering the pivotal centrality of this concept for the book’s argument, it remains rather vague and sometimes ambivalent. In fact, its basic significance in this book seems to be above all polemic, in that it designates what neo-scholasticism, seeking to renew medieval, premodern philosophy, was asserting against modern thought. Indeed, throughout the book, Catholic positions are characterized in various ways as opposing the negation of realism by modern philosophy, namely as opposition to the idealism, relativism and subjectivism that would characterize modern thought.
That non-realism (a negation of or distance from the Real) is constitutive to modern philosophy, is a decisive presupposition of Baring’s project. The exact significance of this presupposed non-realism or idealism remains as much an open question as the exact meaning of “the Real”. If the supposed non-realism of modern philosophy means detachment from the worldly and natural order, in favor of some dimension of transcendence, of some supernatural or transcendental subjectivity, will or spirit, this would mean that modern thought, far from being secular and “worldly”, has rather become closer to religion, as a relation to the unworldly. This kind of analysis no doubt sits well with accounts of modernity, such as Hans Jonas’, as arising from man’s liberation from and subsequent domination of nature (NB: not against but precisely through modern, technological science), which would resemble or even be the avatar of ancient Gnosticism, religion of the Alien God. Neo-Thomism, working to effect on modernity a – as the title of Baring’s book reads – “Conversion to the Real”, which is actually a re-conversion, a movement back to the world, would accordingly be the modern permutation of the same anti-heresiological movement that for someone like Hans Blumenberg, for instance, accounted for the emergence of Christian doctrine. This movement may be described less as a conversion from philosophy to religion than as a conversion from religion back to philosophy, from faith back to reason.
Converting modern philosophy to the Real was in any case, so Baring, the missionary goal of neo-scholasticism in the first decades of the 20th century. It is for this mission that Catholic networks identified phenomenology as suitable and for this purpose they “made” it continental. The reason that phenomenology was found by neo-Thomist to be such a suitable discourse for deploying the conversion of non-realist modern philosophy to realism, Baring argues, is that phenomenological thought, to begin with Husserl’s notion of intentionality (consciousness is always of an object), was identified as an anti-idealist movement back to the Real within modern philosophy itself, so to speak a spontaneous movement of self-conversion: “phenomenological intentionality seemed to bypass the distortions of idealism and provide access to the mind-independent real. For neo-scholastics, phenomenology could help secular thinkers recognize God’s order in the world.” (14) How exactly neo-scholastic thinkers and institutions tried to achieve this goal, their more or less successful negotiations – and debates – among themselves, with phenomenology, as well as vis-à-vis other Catholic, Protestant and non-religious intellectual currents, and how all this contributed to the making of continental philosophy – this is the story told by Baring’s rich book.
One basic and far-reaching insight of Baring concerns the ambivalent nature of conversion: the shift from one conception to another at the same time connects both conceptions and thus opens the way to a counter-conversion, from the second conception to the first. Conversions work “in both directions” (16). This insight may be deemed as a structural principle that regulates – and complicates – basic dynamics in the history of thought, something like the Third Law of Intellectual Motion. It seems to be particularly significant in conversions that are not just spontaneous, but induced, namely in conversion projects, in missionary movements.With respect to the neo-Thomist mission to convert modern philosophy “back to Catholicism”, in order to do so it established “the Real” as a connection between modern phenomenology and medieval scholasticism, which would serve as a passage from the former to the latter. As Baring shows, however, this passage also facilitated the inverse movement, to the effect that the bridge built between Thomism and phenomenology also served Catholic thinkers to cross to the other side and to “break with Roman Catholicism” (15). The paradigmatic example discussed by Baring is Heidegger.
What is however the meaning of this counter-conversion, away from Catholicism, which according to Baring has become so prevalent in post-WWII phenomenology so as to completely obliterate its early Catholic years? Would it be that phenomenology, and continental philosophy, was moving away from religion, towards secular and atheistic thought? Is Catholicism religion? The question of religion, as already noted, interestingly does not explicitly frame the narrative of the book, which foregrounds instead the debate of realism vs. idealism. Catholicism is realism, but is it therefore more or less a religion?
It is only in the Epilog that Baring directly addresses the question of religion. “Continental philosophy today is haunted by religion” (343): the famous return to religion, a contemporary conversion – or perhaps even a contemporary mission? By whom – to whom? Is Baring’s book a part of this project, namely facilitating the passage from contemporary continental philosophy to religion by recalling how it was Catholicism that originally “made” phenomenology into continental philosophy? The “religious specters” that “haunt” continental philosophy today, Baring argues, indeed arise from its “family history”, namely phenomenology’s transmission to the world as it was “passed down through Catholic scholars” (344), so to speak phenomenology’s Catholic womb. The current return to religion in continental philosophy is connected to its Catholic heritage.
However, according to Baring’s further insight into the Third Law of Intellectual Movement, just as conversion is not only unidirectional, inheritance too is not simply linear. He points out that intellectual inheritance may pass on not just positive, affirmative doctrines, but also negative positions, what he terms “negative inheritance” (347). According to Baring’s analysis, it is by way of “negative inheritance” that phenomenology’s Catholic past, namely neo-Thomism, continues to operate within continental philosophy’s return to religion. In other words, Catholicism, as portrayed in Baring’s book, is present in this contemporary return to religion not as the positive agent, not as the agent of religion, but on the contrary in the negative, anti-religious positions – more specifically in their realism.
He brings the example of Quentin Meillassoux, who “presents himself as a rationalist ally to the natural sciences, seeking to reinvigorate realism after a period of idealist hegemony. Meillassoux is aware of his proximity to Thomism, which he defines as ‘the progressive rationalization of Judeo-Christianity under the influence of Greek philosophy’”. (348) Baring’s conclusion: “The atheist scourge of much contemporary continental philosophy appears as the inverted image of those Catholic thinkers who helped make philosophy continental in the first place.” (ibid.) It is not in the return to religion but rather in the resistance to this return that current continental philosophy would be inspired by Catholicism, which consequently operates, at least in this context, not as a religion, but as anti-religion.
Synopsis of the Book:
Baring’s story is told in three chronological parts, which concern three different periods in the early history of phenomenology in its reception by Catholic scholars: 1900-1930, 1930-1940 and 1940-1950. The narrative is organized by another triad, three main figures of early German phenomenology, the “phenomenological trinity”: Husserl, Heidegger and Scheler, and the debates around them.
Part I, “Neo-Scholastic Conversion. 1900-1930” deals with the immediate Catholic reception of German phenomenology. Baring traces back the initial reception to a specific current within neo-Thomism, “progressive Thomism”, promoted by the Louvain School of Léon Noël, head of the Institut supérieur de Philosophie. Progressive Thomism was oriented by the work of Cardinal Désiré Mercier (Critériologie), who translated Thomist realism into the discourse of epistemology. This anti-Kantian epistemology was the site of early Catholic reception of Husserl, as told in Chapters 1 and 2. The first reception referred to The Logical Investigations of 1900-1901 and was enthusiastic, as Husserl’s anti-psychological notions, such as intentionality (which goes back through Brentano to scholasticism) and categorical intuition, appeared to secure epistemic access to “the objective order of the world” (40). “For Catholics around Europe, reading Husserl’s Logical Investigations was a revelation”, Baring writes (48). Modern philosophy’s “conversion to the Real” was celebrated by scholars such as Jospeh Geyser, Erich Przywara and the Milan School’s Agostino Gemelli, and even existentially performed through a personal conversion, such as by Edith Stein, to whom phenomenology has showen “the way into ‘the majestic temple of scholastic thought’” (75). All the more disappointing was Husserl’s return to the transcendental consciousness in his Ideen of 1913. The second reception identified in Husserl a second, reversed conversion, from realism back to idealism, which “was experienced by neo-scholastics as a betrayal— both of Husserl’s earlier work and, by implication, of their own project” (61).
Chapter 3 follows the intellectual development of early Heidegger, a phenomenological convert away from Catholicism. Influenced by Joseph Geyser, young Heidegger, “a progressive scholastic” (88), in his 1913 dissertation embraced Husserl’s anti-Psychologism, and in his 1916 Habilitaiton on Dun Scotus, the “pinnacle of Heidegger’s neo-scholastic period” (97), formulated a meaning-based realism. The disengagement is signaled in 1917, as Heidegger stated that Catholicism “forgot religion for theology and dogma” and looked for religious experience in Christian mysticism, Augustine and Protestants from Luther, Otto, Overbeck, Kierkegaard, Dilthey and Schleiermacher. Being and Time of 1927, so Baring’s perceptive analysis, features a curious atheism based on “two confessional strands” (113): Catholic ontology, but no longer perennis, and Protestant Dasein-analysis, but indifferent to faith.
Chapter 4 traces a similar dynamic with respect to Max Scheler, extending the plot from theory to ethics and politics. Scheler’s 1913 Formalism in Ethics provided a phenomenological access (Wert-nehmen, axiological intuition) to an “objective order of value” (140) and his personalism, the notion of Gesamtperson, gave this ethics a socio-political embodiment. Both combined offered practical philosophy to Catholic social revival and anti-liberal, anti-bourgeois, anti-capitalist corporatism. Carl Muth’s influential Catholic magazine Hochland celebrated Scheler as “Black Nietzsche” (124) and intellectuals followed him in his early WWI patriotism, growing distance from nationalism and anti-republicanism in Weimar, such as Paul-Ludwig Landsberg’s “conservative revolution” (137). Disenchantment manifested itself, on the Catholic side, in doubts raised by neo-scholastics, such as Przywara, as to Scheler’s too heavy reliance on human intuition and emotional intentionality, and on Scheler’s side, in the pantheistic turn of his late work (1928, The Human Place in the Cosmos).
Part II, “Existential Journeys 1930-1940”, describes how, beyond its initial reception by neo-scholasticism, phenomenology “became a privileged battlefield in intra-Christian debates” (152). The central intra-Christian tension in Baring’s narrative is between neo-scholastics and existentialists. Chapter 5 tells about the rise of “Christian Existentialism across Europe” by portraying the tension between two converts to Catholicism, Gabriel Marcel and Jacques Maritain. Marcel (Metaphysical Journal, 1927; Being and Having, 1935), influence and mentor to existentialists such as Nicolai Berdyaev, René Le Senne, Jean Wahl as well as Simone de Beauvoir, Emmanuel Levinas, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Paul Ricoeur and Jean-Paul Sartre, criticized neo-Thomist intellectualism as “hubris”, and insisted on the “unintelligibility of existence”, its embodiment and “mystery”. Maritain claimed “existential philosophy” describes rather Thomism itself, which deals with esse and acknowledges its mystery, deems it nevertheless “open to intellectual understanding” (163).
Chapter 6 goes back to the Catholic reception of Husserl and how during the 1930s it was shaped by a division within neo-scholasticism, between progressive and strict Thomists. Baring portrays this division through the “Critical Realism Debate”, concerning the attempt of the Louvain School’s progressives, such as Léon Noël and René Kremer, to base realism on epistemology, namely on critique of subjective knowledge (leading to post-WII “transcendental Thomism”). “Strict” Thomists such as Étienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain rejected the notion of “critical” – Cartesian or Kantian – realism as self-contradictory, insisting on the primacy of metaphysics over epistemology. Baring shows how this debate pressed progressive intellectuals, such as Kremer, Kurt Reinhart and Sofia Vanni Rovighi, who initially embraced Husserl’s phenomenology, to reject and rectify his perceived idealistic tendencies, especially as manifested in the Cartesian Meditations of 1931.
Chapter 7 presents the 1930s’ reception of Heidegger as the battleground for the inter-confessional debate between neo-Scholastics (such as Przywara, Alfred Delp and Hans Urs von Balthasar) and Protestants, in particular Karl Barth’s Kierkegaard-inspired Dialectical Theology. Baring describes this debate as arising from “two diametrically opposed, if symmetrical, accounts of Heidegger’s atheism: Thomists explained it by the restrictions placed upon Heidegger’s ontology by his (Protestant) prioritization of human subjectivity; Protestant theologians understood it through his attempt to ground the analysis of human finitude in an ontology, which arose from an excessive and Catholic faith in our rational capacities.” (213) In other words, both (dialectical theology’s) emphasis on the unintelligible and (neo-Thomist) emphasis on intelligibility could be construed, from the opposite perspective, as subjectivist and so proto-atheistic. This leads Baring to the brilliant observation whereby “religious notes” of atheistic conceptions (he speaks of existentialism) may arise not from “uncomplicated inheritance of a believing antecedent, but rather as the reflection of a more distant voice, directed toward and bouncing of a common religious foe” (240), i.e. “negative inheritance”.
Chapter 8 returns to the reception of Scheler, “The Black Nietzsche”, in Catholic political thought. Baring shows how the Schelerian notion of social corpora as embodying spiritual order of values could support to conflicting conceptions of Catholic anti-liberal politics. Luigi Stefanini drew on Scheler to affirm a “hierarchical order of values” enacted by an authoritarian and totalitarian state, which led him to collaborate with the Fascist regime and even acknowledge “racial defense” as “an act of the sovereignty and transcendence of the spirit” (259). In contrast, for Paul-Louis Landsberg, as Paul Ludwig Landsberg was known in his French exile and anti-Fascist resistance, “the divine order is always to come and can never be fully worked out. For that reason, authoritarianism runs the risk of shutting down the process by which the true order is revealed” (263), which led him to reject Nazism and Communism. Baring exemplifies the same ambivalence in Scheler in the development of Emmanuel Mounier’s Catholic-Nietzschean magazine Esprit, from support of Vichy to Resistance and post-WII negotiations of Thomism and Marxism.
Part III, “Catholic Legacies 1940-1950”, discusses how after “the Catholics who had helped promote phenomenological ideas around Europe withdrew from the stage”, “[t[he script that they had written […] persisted, to be picked up and adapted by new actors.” (276) Chapter 9 is dedicated to the story of the Husserl Archives, famously smuggled from Germany to Belgium by the young Franciscan Herman Leo Van Breda, to be institutionalized within Louvain’s Institut Supérieur de Philosophie. According to Baring, after WWII Van Breda, who was looking for means to secure the archives’ further existence (which he obtained at last from UNESCO), realized that “the archives would flourish only if they became independent of the Church” (297). Catholicism, which made phenomenology continental, was now required, in order to prefect its own making, to retreat. Like the truth of Heidegger’s Beyng, the appearance of neo-Thomism in phenomenology was completed by the concealment of neo-Thomism in phenomenology’s Veröffentlichung. It is thus that the first volume of the Husserliana was dedicated to the Cartesian Meditations, “the text where Husserl distinguished his work most clearly from scholasticism” (300).
Chapter 10, the last one, indicates traces of neo-scholasticism in “Postwar Phenomenology”, once again through an intellectual tension, this time between the secular Merleau-Ponty and the Protestant Paul Ricoeur. Both of “Marcelian bent”, affirming embodiment and existence versus idealism, their diverging interpretations of Marcel reproduced the debate between Thomism and Existentialism, inasmuch as Merleau-Ponty emphasized the intentional order of perception and Ricoeur the mystery and the “fault”. The disagreement on Marcel was intertwined with a disagreement on Husserl, which reproduced the debate between progressive and strict Thomism: whereas Merleau-Ponty, like the Louvain School, strove to protect Husserl’s realism from his transcendentalism, Ricoeur, like Maritain, read Husserl as an idealist. Commenting on the Protestant philosopher’s surprising affinity to strict Thomism, Baring provides a precious polemic triangulation, which is perhaps the real glory of scholastic sophistication: “Against the Thomists, Ricoeur denied that Christians could use philosophy to defend religious dogmas. Against the Barthians, Ricoeur did think philosophy retained an important role. It could challenge the pretension of science to have provided ‘a final solution.’ Christian philosophy would thus be a ‘science of limits, an essentially Socratic, ironic position [. . .] forbidding all thought to be totalitarian’.” (327)
Three Concluding Reflections:
- The key concept of the book’s argument is “the Real”. Catholicism promoted phenomenology for the sake of converting modern philosophy to the Real. As noted above, however, realism signifies in this book primarily polemically, in contrast to the alleged idealism of modern thought. However, as Baring insightfully shows with respect to “atheism”, polemic meanings are unstable and easily turned around. Just like criticism of “atheism” can be found in any religious position against any other religious position, isn’t criticism of “idealism” as detached from the real, i.e. as false, inherent to the disagreement of any philosophical position against all the others? Wasn’t metaphysical dogmatism for Kant too disconnected from reality, as the Ptolemaic system for Copernicus? For Hegel, an arche-idealist, the real was the reasonable. Baring shows how neo-Thomism too deemed the real intelligible, whereas existentialism and dialectical theology experienced reality in unintelligibility.
- It seems that ultimately “the Real” for Baring signifies the limit of human autonomy and power, where reason means intelligibility of – and subjection to – the given, eternal, cosmic order (Thomism), in contrast to modern “self-affirmation of reason” (Blumenberg). Conversion to the Real means something like undoing modern hubris, disempowering the human. Baring portrays at least two divergent ways of doing so in Catholic thought, rationalism and existentialism, both inspired by Husserl’s phenomenology. One may wonder, however, whether both modes of “the Real” are equally defining for continental philosophy. The very term “continental” philosophy, determines reason by existence, i.e. actual geography, politics, history, which arguably condition more continental than analytic thought. It is rather Anglo-American philosophy that may be said to represent anti-idealist, positive rationalism, where reason is limited qua “analytic”. Wouldn’t this modern philosophy – which is closer to natural sciences, and arises from phenomenology only within its alliance with logical positivism against psychologism – be a more suitable ally for neo-scholasticism?
- There seems to be a third way of limiting or determining reason, which is very present in Baring’s study, albeit unthematized as such. Next to rationalism (reason determined by given logical order) and existentialism (reason determined by given non-logical being), his narrative centrally features also the determination of reason through the inter-personal plurality of thought: thought as a school, the institution that gave scholasticism its name. As such, scholasticism determines reason neither by the given intelligible, nor by the unintelligible, but by the overintelligible, namely by the open excess of thought as polemics. By choosing the debate as a primary figure of thought, Baring’s book manifests perhaps scholarship itself, next to analytic and continental philosophies, as a third post-modern manifestation of scholastic realism, and perhaps of philosophy überhaupt.