Iain Macdonald: What Would Be Different: Figures of Possibility in Adorno, Stanford University Press, 2019

What Would Be Different: Figures of Possibility in Adorno Book Cover What Would Be Different: Figures of Possibility in Adorno
Iain Macdonald
Stanford University Press
2019
Paperback $26.00
248

Adam Knowles: Heidegger’s Fascist Affinities: A Politics of Silence

Heidegger's Fascist Affinities: A Politics of Silence Book Cover Heidegger's Fascist Affinities: A Politics of Silence
Adam Knowles:
Stanford University Press
2019
Paperback $28.00
256

Reviewed by: Gabriel Popa (Independent Scholar)

One may approach Heidegger’s affinities with the National Socialism movement starting from the most evident/overtly expressions as in his rectoral address Self assertion of the German university and other so called political writings or discourses from 1933-1934, continuing with the now available Black Notebooks which offer some of Heidegger’s private insight regarding the intellectual foundation of his “spiritualized” Nazism (including the anti-Semitic dimension), and then start a thorough examination of Heidegger’s GA in order to find the proper philosophical justification for such abhorring political views. All of that has been done and will probably occupy or contaminate any future research even if it not conducted with a sole view on these specific topics. There are efforts trying to identify and to reconcile Heidegger’s more arid topics of being and historicity with his political views[i], while, on some part, Heidegger invites us to do so, by allowing and even imposing his ontology upon such things as the German state, soil, blood, Volk and its Führer.

The fact is that Heidegger tries not only to justify, but to ground National Socialism as the political-spiritual expression of his perpetual quest for authenticity, historicity, origin and other recurrent themes, within a world that blinds itself, forgetful of being. It is not clear what type of reflection would be able to clarify if Heidegger was a Nazi avant la lettre, or if he sought to take advantage of a position like the rector of Freiburg University in order to impose some of his views and try to reverse the German and the worldly spiritual decline. When he tries such a thing, he does it by an appeal which is always to be found within Heidegger’s seminars, namely an appeal to the root or the origin of Western thought, the Greek philosophy and its seminal connection with the German language and spirit.

What Adam Knowles does in his book, is to propose us a reflection about this rootedness of Heidegger’s affiliation with Nazi movement, which is to be found within the German-Greek exploitation of a phenomenon which does not allow a frontal confrontation if only because the object of research lies beneath and hides under any attempt at overtly expressing it, being it in writing, speaking, or artistic configurations.

The main constellations of terms and expressions configuring most themes within Heidegger’s Fascist Affinities are related to language (discourse or speech), rootedness and their counterparts, silence and uprootedness. There is a double play here between speech and silence exposed through the intervention of sigetics – a peculiar form of privation stemming from Aristotle and used here to suggest the absence of speech or the presence of absence of speech. When turning to Greek meaning of legein, Heidegger often relies on one of its originar meanings as gathering, while Knowles emphasizes this throughout his book in order to suggest that, progressively, Heidegger’s own use of language related expression come to determine more of an ontic placing of one’s attunement to being while, in opposition, the uprotedness brought by modern Machenshaft and Gestell (127) or even by the infamous “world Jewry” (7), is nothing but an attempt of a worldwide desewering making the ones caught in this turmoil a-topoi and a-logoi (147).

Against this background of an accelerated deterioration of an already fallen possibility of average language to express being, which is nonetheless a lack of a proper audience for him, Heidegger will employ a strategy of a disclosure which conceals what is most essential in order to preserve a space of authenticity which is not to be betrayed by complete silence (25). An entire “hermeneutics of reticence” (26) is thus deployed, underlying both public appearances and periods of complete silence, which is but “the core of Heidegger’s life, teaching, politics, and thinking” (26).

Arguably as it may seem, the above sentence turns the reader towards the ontic background and implication of Heidegger’s entire life’s interrogation addressing being and its various determinations, while it is mainly the politic dimension which may help us best understand this ontic exposure of both being and the one which is to be its keeper as Da-sein. As a politics of silence, which serves as a subtitle of this Knowles book, Heidegger seemed to see is as the possibility of a European spiritual renaissance appraised in terms of German-Greek congeniality, thus preserving a space of clearing for the historical disclosure of being, while we may count it as one of the most influential encounters, in terms of its impact and consequences for both parties, between philosophy and political regimes, wherefrom we may “draw larger conclusions about the response of the humanities to totalitarian regimes, and in particular about philosophy’s historical contribution to ethno-nationalist authoritarian regimes” (8).

Emphasizing sigetics in Heidegger’s work and speeches has no other ground than the fact that, in Knowles’ terms, it is “one of the branches of his philosophy most deeply saturated with anti-Semitic and völkisch affinities” (56). The latter are best depicted when reading Heidegger against a background of deeply anti-Semitic and nationalistic writings of some of Heidegger’s contemporaries, which, even if not so philosophically convincing, are more closely connected in both spirit and language, to a general trend in Weimar Germany.

Various instances of silence are also analyzed in terms of instituting a red wire connecting Greek Dasein and the Nordic-Germanic soul, while both are seen in their average comportment and even physiognomic features as being profoundly attuned to a space of silence and reticence. These are set against an enemy depicted as the rootles foreigner, being it the capitalist, the city dweller or even the world Jewry (40). The affinities between Heidegger and his more völkish contemporaries are found both their proximity of language visiting current themes and in Heidegger openly anti-Semitic and anti-modern passages of his writings, correspondence and speeches, of which the most notorious is his first speech as Rector of Freiburg University in 1933.

But sometimes Knowles falls prey to his own attempt of impregnating every instance of Heidegger’s silence with traces of National Socialism and anti-Semitism as when emphasizing one of the passages of SuZ within the existential analysis of Dasein as instantiating the above opposition between silence, reticence and rootless verbiage. In short, Knowles assimilates Heidegger’s famous discussion of one’s world’s intelligibility where the initial guidance is prompted by concern and circumspection and there is no need for sentential legein as things are firstly seen in their ready-to-hand dimension, with the peasantry understanding of handiwork which goes by without unnecessary verbiage such as to be found in one of Heidegger’s contemporaries (48). There is also no need for words between coworkers, in Heidegger’s passage, since they share the same understanding of their tools and of the work to be done (as being-in-the world and being-toward). But what Heidegger does within the lines emphasized by Knowles is to point out explicitation as a relative way of understanding and interpretation, while the latter usually go by in circumspective concern, that is without need of  explicit wording, and the former lays out the explicit features of a thing making it suitable for logical assertion. It would require a biased hermeneutical travail to find in Heidegger’s own “without wasting words” which are to be found in SuZ 157, some political commitment being it National Socialism or some other.

Third and fourth chapters are the most philosophically intriguing and original ones, dealing with the transition Heidegger makes between a preliminary idea of silence tied to the existential dimension of discourse (rede) as seen in SuZ, and, through the intervention of nothing and notness in his What is Metaphysics?, a more thorough analysis of silence in connection to his interpretation of Aristotle from 1931. The hermeneutical effort of Knowles is here as its best, searching for clues to support his main thesis, for which these two chapters offer the red wire connecting Heidegger’s phenomenology with his political views, while setting the ontological on the way to its ontical promiscuity by means of a silence which will find its way to both world and word.

Mainly based on an original reading of chapter 34 of SuZ, the reader will find the third chapter to develop some of Heidegger’s less explicit intention, while his own reticence in finding an expression for the unspeakable will be translated by Knowles as a struggle “to develop a language adequate to the task of bringing silence to language as silence” (75). Heidegger’s analysis in chapter 34 of SuZ employs discourse as another existentiale of Dasein, alongside understanding and attunement, while language is the mean that discourse finds for its expression within the world. As vocalization of discourse (60), language will be then its worldly being or dimension, thus both the possibility and the completion of expression (as utterance and statement) rendering discourse to public disclosure within the averageness of the “they”, in the proximity of chatting and idle talk.

 The nothing which silence brings through the call of conscience into the very meaning of discourse (73, 74) leaves the interrogation open since Heidegger does not yet render this nothingness to its ontological dimension (which will eventually happen in What is metaphysics?). SuZ works its way through the already established conceptual architecture of the Dasein‘s existential constitution as fully immersed in the everyday averageness, while Heidegger is not yet eager to employ the full scale ontological apparatus needed in order for Dasein to find its way back from the scattered world of das Man. Appraised in SuZ as a possibility belonging to discourse and rendered merely to an ontic opposition to fallen and scattered language, while reticence could only bring forth for Dasein the possibility of its withdrawal from the public sphere of chatting and idle talk (74), silence will finally insinuate within the existenzial-existenziell hiatus between discourse and language, merging them and contributing to the collapse of this difference.

As a clarification for the reader, the issue at stake here is to find a way to deliver the more authentic – existential dimension of discoursing to a language which is already fallen, but not only as silence and listening as these are the only possibilities belonging to “discoursing speech” (a transitional expression itself) listed in the 34th chapter of SuZ, but as and within a meaningful speech. “That is to say”, in Knowles’ words, “Heidegger cannot capture the possibility of speaking through silence until language becomes folded into silence to such a degree that it even requires silence.” (73) This would only happen few years later, when the analysis of silence will get a decisive clue from Aristotle’s idea of withdrawal within his opposition between dynamis and energeia.

The idea is to capture silence through and within legein, that is through a kind of “discoursive speech” which is no longer opposed to vocalization as a form of corrupted speech, but it makes way for steresis, understood as a type of privation that withdraws/robs (robbing) what essentially belongs to something or someone, as sickness is a privation of health or blindness is a privation of seeing. In the same vein, while in the SuZ the absence of overt utterance does not necessarily mean that interpretation or discourse are absent, here we may find that even in the presence of speaking there may be a form of silencing still active which does not mean the absence of words. The idea of steresis clears the path for the introduction of silence into the handicraft of writing (81), by means of altering, if not totally collapsing, the distinction between discourse and language. As a form of poiesis, it will guide one through the manifoldness of logos, according to a guiding meaning (96), working its way by means of separation and elimination of wrong paths, same way as the “sculptor hews away the marble to bring out a form” (99).

In his interpretations to Aristotle’s Metaphysics Θ2, Heidegger takes model and form to be confronted with material as to bound what is initially unbounded, and this is the meaning of the opposition enacted by what the Greeks understood by enantia and enantiotes: “a lying opposites each other and confronting each other face to face (GA33, 119)[ii]. Within production, such a confrontation is always guided by the model, eidos, which is foreseen or re-presented, and will act like a catalyzing force within the producer’s soul, “by bringing into bounds of what belongs to a model” and it does it by means of ” a selective gathering of what belongs together” (GA33, 121). The assimilation of model with logos is now two-folded, once through the meaning of logos as gathering and again through the its more current meaning as discourse and language, when what is to be produces is addressed during its production as what is to be present later. When visiting these themes, alongside some of Heidegger’s public speeches and notes within his Black Notebooks, Knowles will emphasize the selective nature of logos (99, 100), since it works by means of progressive exclusions as during the production guided by eidos, the initial unbounded material will finally give way to what is to be produced. Selection and exclusion are re-instantiated through recalling various statements of Heidegger during the same period when he lectures about Aristotle’s Metaphysics, thus connecting them to some popular thesis among völkish movement and even, questionably indeed, with the Nazi language of eugenics (100).

With some help from Heidegger’s Black Notebooks starting from the early 1930s, what Knowles wants the reader to acknowledge is another dimension of Heidegger’s famous Kehre, in terms of an in-famous turn towards a more political history of being which will become more and more appraisable in terms of a destinal community between the Greek people and German Völk. While this transition usually revolves around stressing the inception of new understanding of the place of being as Ereignis (event), in order to emphasize Heidegger’s immersion in the proxy facticity of a Nazi Germany, Knowles focuses on the “steretic” dimension of Heidegger activity during those times, bringing together his public appearances, writings, public notes and letters.

There are two chapters (5 and 6) dealing with different instances of exclusion which may be found in Greek philosophy and literature, supposedly revived by Heidegger through his fascination with the Greek rooted inception of the long standing quest for being and manifold possibility of expressing it more or less adequate. As we expect, Greek philosophy, literature and politics have a lot to offer in terms of exclusion grounded on various traits starting from human physiognomy, gender, citizenship and social status. Focusing on the possibility of acquiring the proper measure for speaking, Knowles analysis starts by tracing the crudest, earliest forms of exclusion, the Pythagorean physiognomic human traits and gestures rendering one as (im)proper for philosophical training, in order to complete the first chapter with an interpretation of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, “especially in Aristotle’s concern with the proper amount of precision applicable to the analysis of the matter at hand”(104).

Regarding Aristotle, the whole of ethical inquiry involves the least of precision in terms of its status as a science, since it involves the least amount of generality, addressing one’s proper comportment within a particular situation. Aristotle’s analysis is carried on searching for proper means of acting within different situations, while the impossibility of an all encompassing cartography of the latter involves the impossibility of acquiring a standard set of resolutions which may grant us knowledge similar to that of logic, mathematics or physics. The one endowed with phronesis[iii], is said to be able to skillfully deliberate regarding the means for attaining the proper measure when facing a states of matter which could be ethically appraised. This time, having already in mind what is to be said about connecting Heidegger through his sigetics to Aristotle’s ethical inquiry, Knowles shortcuts a text which usually poses difficult problems for Aristotle’s scholars, in order to find that, since prudence is only acquirable through a certain length of time, it may also be a matter of disposition, making thereafter a peculiar transition to “one’s potential fitness or unfitness for philosophy” being “nonetheless a matter of one’s disposition, as indicated by the careful delineation of different types of character in the Nichomachean Ethics” (118, 119).

Not being in the position to deliver a lengthy discussion of Aristotle’s text, we must nevertheless remind the reader that the main question which drives Aristotle’s investigations in his Nicomachean Ethics is directed towards the chief good which may be obtained as a result of our actions, the own most possibility of the human being, his most desirable state or condition. Now, phronesis is that faculty of the soul through which it attains the truth in regard to things whose principles could be otherwise, namely the action which is ethically appraisable in terms of virtues and vices. Objects of prudence are matters of actions, therefore both universals and particulars, but mainly the latter (1141b 20). There is a difference between the acquiring of knowledge in mathematics or geometry and prudence, which reside in the fact that the former do not suppose an experience to be accumulated over the years (objects and principles come from abstraction in case of mathematics, 1142a 15), while these later fields are concerned with things like individuals or principles which mostly come from experience. Prudence is then a peculiar kind of a natural disposition of the soul, not of a kind to be born with, but a disposition which is acquired through experience, and which is said to be the prerequisite of skilful deliberation according to correct reasoning about issues the moral virtues are concerned with.

Wherefrom the moral virtues are usually attainable through experience and habit, and not through inner disposition, there is no philosophical formation required for Aristotle concerning the attaining of moral virtues, while it is sophia, the fifth and the highest capacity of the soul which will turn out to be the one that is best suited in terms of human happiness, being mostly connected to a such a intellectual formation. The reader may find Heidegger’s own interpretation of Aristotle’s phronesis in his Natorp Report[iv] and Sophist, in order to find out that his own emphasis of Aristotle’s term is more connected to Heidegger’s early analysis concerning the hermeneutics of facticity and temporality. Nevertheless, Knowles is perhaps too eager to provide us with his hermeneutical commitments when stating that “Heidegger’s lecture courses on Greek philosophy [thus] must be read as deeply political pedagogical acts intended to teach hearers how to better dwell within the proper place” (124). Place, which is a late theme in Heidegger’s thinking, is easier to connect with contemporary völkish themes and figures, following an already settled way of argumentation in Knowles which translates silence into sigetics and the latter into different form of exclusions, race or gender based.

Besides Aristotle’s general statement about the scientific deficit which essentially impacts the ethical inquiry, Knowles also emphasizes some of Aristotle’s worries about that type of discourse regarded by Heidegger in SuZ as chatter and idle talk, which may impeach virtuous reasoning and acting. An act of reticence and even silence is needed when feeling the danger of placing ourselves in situations that may be considered unworthy of a free man. We must remind the reader that what Aristotle does during his inquiry is to search for that middle ground between lack and excess and for the means of attaining it, while speaking and listening are actions both ethically appraisable in their selves but also deeds which may impact the means to achieve an ethical comportment. Instead, Knowles’ analysis revolves around the groundedness and groundlessness of legein which, stemming from its meaning as gathering, may facilitate the encounter and understanding of concerned matters, when properly used, or, contrary, it may sever the speaker from the things spoken about. This may be the case and there is here an undisputedly common ground between Aristotle and Heidegger, but the connection between prudence, silence, sigetics and what follows, namely the transition to Heidegger’s völkish themes fall short of being convincing.

What gathering means in terms of language is said to be a motif of Heidegger’s attunement to such gatherings as inward gathering and völkish gathering which may even be attained through serving in labor camps, militias and other para-military organizations (123, 124). Surely, Heidegger’s own scattered but nevertheless anti-modern and anti-Semitic nuances within his Black Notebooks during the 30s, invites us to such an interpretation, as Knowles remarks (124). If Heidegger seized the National Socialist revolution as a way to give political reality to his ideas[v], even if he later refutes the possibility of philosophy offering guidance for actual living[vi], the invitation to read Heidegger’s analysis of language in these terms would be similar to what Knowles has warned us against, namely to read Heidegger backwards.

Nevertheless, analyzing steresis in terms of different gestures of exclusion does right to Heidegger when inscribing him within a long standing philosophical tradition, while the privilege Heidegger contents to Greek philosophy maintains all of the latter’s forms of exclusion. The Black Notebooks translates these into various explicit ontic instances of denying access to authenticity, the history, event or the topology of being, as we traverse the development of Heidegger’s philosophy (125). As Jeff Malpas states when Assesing the significance of Heidegger’s Black Notebooks in 2016, those subsequent gestures of exclusion would culminate in Heidegger remaining the only one being able to grasp the call of being.

Knowles interprets Heidegger’s later assumptions regarding a possible topology of being, namely the emergence of an explicit concern with place which will also translate in Machenshaft giving way to Gestell, as an adaptation of Greek make self-mastery stemming from one’s habituation within a polis (126). The latter determines the being-there (das Da) of the historical being in terms of both temporality and place, thus allowing a fully fledged coming into being of its gods, temples, priests and all other essential figures which populates the various Greek expressions of being (147). Being a-polis or a-topos, out of place, does not mean here an exclusion in terms of physical interdiction, but it characterizes a complex and seemingly paradoxical situation, of being at the same time within and without polis, which is best illustrated by the “measureless measure” of the feminine figure in Greek lyrical and philosophical compositions. The duplicitous figure of woman is said to be a-topos by mean of her being a-logos, thus not being granted with free speech while, at the same time, her silence being treated as essentially deceptive. In Knowles’ words, “Women possess logos in a manner of not-having that is not a full privation, for their very having is a not-having—a relationship best described as steretic” (147). This type of steresis is more of a dramatization of Aristotle’s concept, thus describing a kind of a structural privation, which is not yet full, but nevertheless essential.

When used in depicting Heidegger’s own use and analysis of instances of silences, steresis suggests a more voluntary use of silence and reticence in order to be able to come to terms with a more proper use of language or to conceal what one would consider that it would not be yet suitable to openly express due to historical and/or average means of understanding.

Before one starts dwelling into the multifaceted meaning and relevance of such an encounter, between the most preeminent/notable figure of the XXth Century philosophy and a criminal organization such as the NSDAP political party, one has to inquiry its own motivation for approaching and assessing that fact. The fact, in Thomas Sheehan’s words, may be simply stated as there is no compromise in saying that Heidegger was a “blatant anti-Semite” and a supporter of the Nazi movement. As member of the NSDAP party and rector of the University of Freiburg, he delivers speeches which, beside his perpetual verbose about the history and destiny of being, may be easily counted as political guidelines for Nazi members, supporters or even for the yet unconvinced. As to his anti-Semite worldview, it is supported by explicit evidence in his infamous marginalia known as the Black Notebooks.

The author of Heidegger’s Fascist Affinities writes after the initial shockwave of Heidegger’s now explicit mentioning of anti-Semitism has passed, and when we may be able to take stock of what has been achieved through consulting his most intimate notes, as to the relevance they may bring for phenomenological inquiry and for Heidegger’s scholars. Even if they are usually disregarded as to their philosophical insights, there are some private mentions made by Heidegger which may prove useful in philosophical key, especially regarding Heidegger’s turning points of the transition from one dimension of being, temporality, to others like event, logos or place. Another key aspect of the publication of the Notebooks, targeting a larger audience, is the possibility of providing some insights of a never-ending story concerning the possibility of assessing one’s opera per se, regardless or even in spite of his or her personal life-options.

Turning towards Heidegger’s Fascist Affinities, we may say that this is one of the most philosophically engaging works related to Heidegger’s political views, which unrolls/unravels as a meta-investigation of the polivocality of logos and legein, while the main interrogation addresses Heidegger’s ontological motivation for keeping his most striking worldly notes private. We call it a meta-investigation since it appears to be an investigation of Heidegger’s own inquiry about the possibility of keeping silent pertaining to and within language itself.

As to the place of the Black Notebooks within Heidegger’s work, it must be said that firstly they offer Heidegger a place where he may come back every time he considers that overtly discoursing is in danger to lose its rootedness and grounding, in other words, a place which may be seen as a reservoir of authenticity, where he may somehow overtly speak through silence without any compromise that may be needed in order to get published and/or promoted or even for the care of average comprehensibility. This is the ontological meaning of placing the Black Notebooks, but here is its ontical counterpart: placing authenticity and sigetics in their rooted, inherited tradition and land, that is placing them within the völkish, rural dimension of German landscape, and this means away from the corruption of urban areas infected with modern technology and idle talk, which aggressively disrupt and aggravate/hasten the fallenness of a language already fallen. Away from fallenness, this happens by a double folded gesture of exclusion mirroring the ontological-ontical dimension of placing the Black Notebooks. Namely, there will be an ontological exclusion of anything that may accelerate the oblivion of being which already characterizes western civilization, but also the ontic exclusion of anything and anyone who may threaten even more the proper housing of being within language. While in SuZ the average dimension of discourse which is language is looked upon especially as a proper technique for the existential analysis of being-in-the-world, starting with the 1930s, and especially in the Black Notebooks, Heidegger builds its own sigetic way of interrogation for delivering, as much as possible, the proper tools for speaking through silence.

How and where do we place Heidegger? But, maybe more important, where do we place ourselves as readers of the history of western civilization and philosophy? Are we situated as objective, neutral observers of some historical facts and figures of which we may dispose, with the means offered by the possibility of an objective confrontation? Thrashing Heidegger out of the history of philosophy or absolving him of any philosophical commitment to national socialism would have us granted with the above high seat of objectivity and connoisseurs of “what would have been, if”. Presumably, we are not granted such a thing. As Rorty, Gadamer and even Heidegger, especially during his hermeneutical period, often observe, historical observation is never free of prejudices and biases, as long as the very interpretation is historically situated and conditioned.

Thus, as Adam Knowles warns us, we have to resist the temptation of reading Heidegger’s involvement with the National Socialism backwards, namely as being already in the position to confront the totality of Nazi regime, meaning its policy of political, ethical and racial annihilation of anything and anyone not willing or not being able to conform to its world-view. This implies, in Knowles’ view, that any consideration of Heidegger’s political involvement which may be tempted to diminish the relevance of Heidegger’s public or private defense of such a regime when measured against the large scale murder machinery of the same regime, should inquire into the motivation of an already tenured philosophy professor, nonetheless a notable international figure, willing to offer his support to an already dictatorial and authoritarian political movement. The gaze should be turned upon Heidegger’s fully appropriation/embrace of Nazi themes during his rectorate but also after this period, through a throughout investigation of his work, since this encounter wasn’t born out of nothing or by a misfortune.

On the other part, our abhorrence when reading some passages of the Black Notebooks, Heidegger’s discourse a rector at Freiburg, other related political discourses or writings, but also his scare phrases connecting him to the ”inner greatness” of the Nazi movement, is fully comprehensible since we see them against the background of the totality of its atrocities. Arguably, we will never be in the position of absolving him as naive and apolitical, since, as Besancon observes in his Century of Horrors, the fully fledged extermination policy of National Socialism strikes us as something extra-ordinay, beyond human comprehension, thus benefiting of a long lasting placing within our memory, especially when compared to its more easily forgettable dizygotic twin, communism.


[i] See the controversy between Thomas Sheehan and Emmanuel Faye.

[ii] Pagination indicates the samen English translation Knowles uses.

[iii] The English version Knowles uses translates it as “prudence”.

[iv] “Phenomenological Interpretations in Connection with Aristotle: An Indication of the Hermeneutical Situation”

[v] According to Jeff Malpas “assessment of Heidegger’s Black Notebooks“.

[vi] Heidegger’s interview in Der Spiegel. 

Felix Duque: Remnants of Hegel: Remains of Ontology, Religion and Community

Remnants of Hegel: Remains of Ontology, Religion, and Community Book Cover Remnants of Hegel: Remains of Ontology, Religion, and Community
SUNY series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
Félix Duque. Translated by Nicholas Walker
SUNY Press
2018
Paperback $19.95
182

Reviewed by: Oded Balaban (Dept. of Philosophy, University of Haifa, Israel)

Felix Duque is arguably the most important living philosopher in the Spanish-speaking world. Remnants of Hegel is the first book translated into English. It is not a mere interpretation of Hegel, but rather a critical study that attempts to drive the aspects of its subject matter toward their ultimate consequences using Hegelian criteria. In other words, if Hegel’s philosophy is a critique of Kant’s critical philosophy, then Duque’s exposition is a critique of Hegelian philosophy. Furthermore, and just as Hegel develops Kantian categories in order to reveal a truth that goes beyond Kant, Duque develops Hegelian concepts in order to deduce a truth that transcends them. Indeed, Duque says that “The Hegelian system, impressive as it is, ultimately reveals itself as a miscarried attempt to reconcile nature and theory, individuality and collective praxis” (Duque, x).

Moreover, I should begin my review by noting that the book is clearly written for readers who are well acquainted with Hegel’s philosophy. In this respect, my review will attempt to overcome this difficulty by limiting itself to a reading that makes it accessible to those who are not conversant with this philosophy.

The book itself contains five chapters:

Chapter I: Substrate and Subject (Hegel in the aftermath of Aristotle). This chapter is concerned with the famous expression made in the preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit: “According to my view of things, which can be justified through the exposition of the system itself, everything depends on apprehending and expressing the true not as [nicht als] substance, but just as much [eben so sehr] as subject” (Duque, 17).

Chapter II: Hegel on the Death of Christ, is a discussion that seeks to analyze the transition from nature to society, or, rather, the transition from a natural human being to a historical being, and to a being having a second nature, which is the political life of man, a transition which is made possible by the understanding of society and politics as a higher level of self-consciousness.

Chapter III: Death Is a Gulp of Water. This chapter is concerned with terror in World History. More specifically, it is a critical exposition of Hegel’s idea of revolution and terror which primarily refers to the French Revolution. The politics of terror, the chapter argues, is the necessary result of trying to implement the revolution without mediations, that is, directly and as an abstract revolution (Duque, 83). Here Duque does not limit himself to an analysis of Hegel and his time, but also deals with its historical reception by the likes of Communism and Stalinism in the twentieth century. Such an idea of terror does much to radically undervalue the value of life and also makes us remember Hanna Arendt’s Banality of Evil. Indeed, terror is, paradoxically, a result of the French Revolution in its historical imagining of Napoleon, namely, the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity as mediated by his political force appearing as the opposite of those values’ true essence.

Chapter IV: Person, Freedom, and Community is an analysis of the last chapter of Hegel’s Science of Logic which is concerned with the notion of the absolute idea. It is an essential problem to understanding the book as a whole since Hegel begins and ends the book by praising this notion rather than explaining or developing it.

Chapter V: The Errancy of Reason. This chapter summarizes the previous chapters and engages in a holistic critical analysis of the topics discussed.

I would now wish to develop some ideas on Hegel inspired by reading Duque’s work and by my own understanding of Hegel’s philosophy.

Hegel’s logic is not normative. Unlike formal logic, which determines how we should think and not how we actually think, Hegel‘s Science of Logic, proceeds in the opposite direction by studying thought as it is as well as its development from the most abstract stage (the thought of pure being without further determinations) to the most concrete, this being the absolute idea as the unit of theoretical and practical thinking. Duque’s interpretation adopts this principle, and unlike the interpretations offered by Alexandre Kojève and many others, asserts that it should be taken literally, that is, by not trying to correct the author in order to understand him! Understanding by correcting makes the original a tabula rasa since it allows the interpreter to introduce any idea as it occurs to her or him to the work in the belief that it is an interpretation, while it is actually a creation of her or his own mind.

Hegel’s Logic is a reflective study of the concept. In Duque’s words, “the entire Logic is nothing but a relentless attempt to furnish a conscious and deliberate reconstruction of fugitive and fleeting linguistic forms and determinations.” (Duque, ix). The terms in his Logic do not have the fixity that they have in formal logic (both classical and modern), but their meaning varies according to the context, and especially according to the level in which the study is developed. Hegel perceives only the term, the word, as fixed, but not the concept or content that is expressed through words.

Hegel’s logic attempts to solve the classic problem of Aristotelian logic, in which “to say what something in the last instance really is, its ultimate logos, amounts to affirming all the affections, properties, and determinations of that thing” (Duque, 4). Hegel, however, is not successful in resolving this difficulty despite believing he is.

Hegel suggests that thought and reality, as well as mind and world, are inseparable in the sense that their meaning undergoes constant change and construction with respect to the conceptual level and context in which it takes place. A concept’s level of abstraction or concreteness thus simultaneously determines the degree of reality to which it refers. Put differently, this reading suggests that the Science of Logic ultimately serves as an ontological proof which not only proves the existence of God but also the existence of every concept subjected to actual thought. In other words, if I really believe in the concept of having a hundred thalers in my pocket, and not merely imagining them, then the hundred thalers become real and become part of my patrimony. I thus either have them in my pocket or, alternately, owe them and am obliged to pay them. This is not the case with Kant, since he merely imagines them, that is to say, recognizes from the very outset that they are not real thalers. This, in turn, is the difference between abstract and concrete concepts.

The process of concretion is clearly explained in the “logic of the judgment” discussion in the third part of Science of Logic, which is nothing but logic from the perspective of the relationship between the two essential components of judgment—subject and predicate. Thus, every judgment announces that the subject is the predicate. More explicitly, the subject of the judgment is the entity whose identity is being subjected to inquiry, and the answer is offered by all the predicates that refer to that subject. Each predicate thus changes the meaning of the subject, and, in reality, amplifies its meaning. In this respect, a subject is enriched by having more predicates attributed to it – as each of the latter forms another subject with other questions. In other words, to think is – formally – to pass from the subject, which functions as what is unknown and in need of becoming known, to the predicate, which functions as what is known and therefore as what bestows knowledge and meaning on the subject. It is thus a relation between a bearer of meaning (the subject) and a meaning (the predicate).

However, this relationship occurs within the frame of another relationship that occurs in the same intentional field. It is the relation (entirely unlike that of subject and predicate) between subject and object. Despite their difference, subject-predicate and subject-object relations cannot be separated but only distinguished. In effect, when the thought passes from the subject to the predicate, it does not consider the predicate (that is to say, it does not think about grammar) but its content, that is, the object or, rather, something that acquires the status of an object. The subject thus objectifies the target of though by means of predication. In the case of philosophy, that is to say, thinking about thinking, thought passes to something else, to what is being thought about, namely the object. And what is an object if not something that stands in front of the subject as a correlative to the subject? Hegel indeed argued that the object possesses nothing more than this relational character. The object is thus what was thought about by the subject. It is the entire universe existing insofar as it is the content of thought. There is no other universe. However, it is not the thought of my individual reflection. It is ultimately a universal reflection, and Hegel goes so far as to maintain that everything is Spirit (“There is nothing at hand that is wholly alien to spirit” (Hegel, Encyclopedia § 377, note, quoted by Duque, 38).

The Spirit is the objectification of subjectivity, the whole universe as thought of, a conceptualized universe, insofar as another does not replace it. But if something else remains, it is the task of thought to appropriate it, that is, as we said, to conceptualize it and thus imbue it with reality. This, in turn, is the secret of the coincidence of logic and metaphysics.

Thus, it turns out that the object is the complete expression of the subject. A strange reflection indeed. Fully aware of being a reflection and its denial at the same time—because it always returns to thinking about the object when it is supposed to be thinking about thinking about the object.

Hegel nonetheless moves backward. He rethinks the thought, concentrating not on content but on the fact of thinking about it. Hegel and his readers believed that they were thinking about Being when they were actually thinking about Essence; they thought they were thinking about Essence, and they were actually thinking about Concept! That is to say, Hegel was not concerned with a question of being but with the concept of being. It was not a question of essence but of the concept of essence, and it was not about concept but about the concept of concept. Hegel and his readers believed that they were thinking about substance when they were actually thinking about themselves—about the subject. Duque is therefore right in saying that all this does not mean we are solely concerned with thinking about substance, but also about the subject. This is because the substance is not even the truth, although it is a reflection, but this is a reflection that lacks reflection, or that does not know that it is a reflection. In other words, we are ultimately concerned with a subject thinking about itself.

The culmination of this backwards-advancing reflection is the Absolute Idea, which also serves as the culmination of subjectivity in the Subjective Logic (the third and last part of the Science of Logic). This must not be forgotten, as must the assertion that Hegel’s thought cannot migrate to another sphere, or does not enter it because Hegel does not need it, although he promises to explain something new, viz. the content of the Absolute Idea. But it is precisely here, at the end of the Science of Logic, that Hegel begins being poetic and stops being philosophical: he offers pure promises without any fulfillment. Such is the end of the great Science of Logic despite its colossality. Duque, in turn, ascribes a great deal of importance to this abrupt end in Hegel’s Logic. When the Absolute Idea is reached, according to Duque, “Everything else [Alles Übrige] is error, obscurity, struggle, caprice, and transience [Vergänglichkeit].” (Hegel, Science of Logic, quoted by Duque, 38). Is it not the case that everything should be included in the Absolute Spirit? Is the whole path unnecessary, as is the case of the ladder for the young Wittgenstein? This would go against the spirit of Hegel’s philosophy no less than his own assertion about error, obscurity, etc.

The Absolute Idea, then, does not fulfill Hegel’s intention. The universal absolute should deduce the individual in her or his singularity from itself because the individual is absolutely relational. It is a being that includes what is not her or him in itself, as well as what is other than itself, as the determinant of what it is. In other words, it is a concrete individuality understandable in its concrete universality. This is especially apparent when we think of the individual as a social being. If we take away all of the individual’s “environment” and context, namely, every socially shared issue and every general feature including language and clothing it will remain, contrary to what could be expected, an abstract individual: Just as when attempting to isolate the individual in order to understand it in her or his singularity, nothing remains and the very individual disappears. This, in turn, means that individuals are wholly social, that is, totally relational. This does not, however, imply that the individual is not individual, but that this is what it consists of: The more singular the individual, the more dependent she or he is on her or his network of relationships. Thus, the more relationships the individual has, the more individual she or he becomes.

When the individual denies her or his otherness, as in the case of the worker or the slave in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, she or he not only denies the other but it denies her or himself when alienating her or himself from her or his other because that other is her or his own other, not an abstract, isolated other. Thus, the more she or he is social, the more individual she or he becomes. The more she or he has relations to and dependencies on other individuals, the more she or he is a concrete singularity, a singularity determined by its relationships. This is entirely unlike the Aristotelian relations of genera and species, where the individual is obtained through isolation. The Aristotelian individual is obtained by excluding all difference. In Hegel the opposite is true: the more a thing includes the differentiated as differentiated in itself, the more individual it becomes. History is thus a process of socialization which is – in actual fact – a process of individuation. In Aristotelian logic, intension and extension are opposed: the greater the intension, the smaller the extension; the greater the definition, the smaller the subsumed individual(s). In Hegel, there is no such opposition. The individual is more social the more determined she or he is and the more she or he includes the other. Hegelian logic is not, however, intended as an alternative logic to Aristotelian logic, but rather as the self-consciousness of the Aristotelian logic as well as its inner development and evolution. Formal logic is thus a stage that the spirit must pass through in order to be finally be criticized by consciousness, as it is in the Logic of Essence, the second part of the Science of Logic, which engages in the critique of the “laws” of identity, non-contradiction, and the excluded middle.

I will now turn to the relationships between substance and subject. According to Aristotle, a substance is that which is neither said of a subject nor in a subject, namely, it is not a predicate as predicates are said about a substance (individuals, like this individual man or this statue). However, entities which say what a substance is are “secondary” substances, genera and species, that can be also subjects as well as predicates and are always general and never individual. However, saying what an individual is, has the genera and species as an answer, something that is not individual. The individual man belongs to a species, man, and an animal is a genus of that species. Thus, both man and animal are considered secondary substances. In this respect, Duque rightfully claims that the Aristotelian definition of substance as a negative definition arises from the impossibility of saying what it is without making it into something other than what it is. In other words, predicates will always betray their original intention since they cannot be individuals.

If there is something that is neither said of a subject nor exists in a subject, this is obviously because it is itself the subject, as Aristotle himself concedes: “All the other things are either said of the primary substances as subjects or in them as subjects” (Aristotle, Categories, 2a, 34–35, quoted by Duque, 6). Duque then proceeds to state:

Yet secondary substance does not exist of itself, unless it is given with primary substance. We are evidently confronted with a certain inversion here, with an irresolvable chiasmus: that which is first in the order of being is second in the order of logical discourse, and vice versa.” (Duque, 7)

The substance is for Aristotle the being of the being, and it is the fixed (permanent) side of change, something that does not change as things change. As a being of being it has a double function, meaning that it has two meanings in the sense that it is both the essence of the being and the being of the essence.

As the essence of being, the substance is the determinate being, the nature of the necessary being: the man as a two-legged animal. As the being of the essence it is the two-legged animal as this individual man.

This is a duality that Aristotle did not manage to resolve. When Aristotle says that the substance is expressed in the definition and that only the substance has a true definition, the substance is understood as the essence of the being, as that which reason can understand. But when, on the contrary, he declares that the essence is identical to determinate reality, as beauty exists only in what is beauty, Aristotle understands the substance as the being of the essence, and as a principle that offers necessary existence to the nature of a thing.

As the essence of being, the substance is the form of things and bestows unity on the elements that make up the whole where the whole is a distinct proper nature unlike its component elements. Aristotle refers to the form of material things as a species, and species is, therefore, its substance. As the being of the essence, the substance is the substrate: that about which any other thing is predicated but that cannot be a predicate of anything else. And as the substrate it is matter, a reality without any determination other than a potentiality. As the essence of being, the substance is the concept or logos that has neither generation nor corruption, that does not become but is this or that thing. As the being of essence, the substance is the composition, namely, the unity of concept (or form) with matter—the existing thing. In this sense, the substance comes to being and comes to its end.

As the essence of being, the substance is the principle of intelligibility of the being itself. In this sense, it is the stable and necessary element on which science is founded. According to Aristotle, there is no other science than that which is necessary, whereas the knowledge of what can or cannot be is rather an opinion. Substance is thus, objectively, the being of the essence and the necessary reality, and subjectively the essence of being, as necessary rationality. In short, the distinction Aristotle makes between primary substances (0ρώται οὐσίαι) and secondary substances (δεύτεραι οὐσίαι) consists of understanding the former as physical individuals and the latter as species (τά εἴδεα) and genera (τά γένη) of those individuals (Aristotle, Categories, 2a14).

In Hegel, on the other hand, the substance is the principle from which the individual is deduced. He argues for the primacy of the universal and the primacy of substance over the individual. Unlike with Aristotle, the universal is the principle of individuation, so that the individual has no meaning without the universal. This, in turn, is the basis on which his understanding of truth as substance but also as subject can be understood. Duque contends that “primary substance is entirely subsumed in secondary substance, or in universality. But this universality is indeed concrete since it bears and holds all particularity and all individuality within itself. It is concrete, but it does not yet know that it is.”  (Duque, 2018, 24). Namely, it doesn’t know that it is also a subject.

The intentional character of the subject, as it is understood in self-consciousness, means the understanding of the subject as the one that externalizes itself and then internalizes what was rejected, that is, that understands that this is its way of acting. It also means that being is ultimately recognized in reflection as a first instance, that is, as thinking. Substance is itself thinking, though not recognized as such. Ultimately, therefore, subject is a synthesis of self-consciousness and objectivity.

In judgment, when the subject moves toward the predicate, when it is objectified and when, in subsequent reflection, discovers that it returns to itself (since the predicate is predicated from the subject), then the subject ends up enriched with what the predicate attributes to it.

This, in turn, allows us to understand the controversial and somehow obscure dictum in the 1806 preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit:

According to my view of things, which can be justified through the exposition of the system itself, everything depends on apprehending and expressing the true not as [nicht als] substance, but just as much [eben so sehr] as subject (quoted by Duque, 17)

Hegel therefore contends that self-consciousness is externalized and thus becomes an object. But this posited object is itself the very subject that has been placed as another, thus appearing as an opposite to itself: it knows itself knowing the other.

And this happens because that object is not, as it were, a natural object, a given, but an object created or engendered (like any object, according to Hegel) by self-consciousness. They are, then, two momenta, that of subjectivity (being-for-itself) and that of objectivity (being-in-itself). In reality, however, they are not merely two momenta, but a single reality split into two momenta that are only true in their opposition and in their unity. For subjectivity does not become true if it is not objective and true objectivity cannot be natural but only produced by human endeavor (in the broad sense of the word). This is why the fact that men, at one point in history, had subjected other men to work, to externalize themselves, to produce objects out of themselves, and thus transform a given natural environment into a human environment, is a necessary step in human development, as this is a human creation, an elevation above the natural.

A misreading, according to Duque, is to believe that the substance is not true as if the subject has nothing to do with the substance (or mutatis mutandis, a misreading that believes that freedom has nothing to do with necessity). Just as reason does not exist without understanding, subject does not exist without substance. The subject is thus the conceptual understanding of the substance and the consciousness of necessity. Put differently, it is a continuation of Spinozism taken to its logical extreme.

Günter Figal: Philosophy as Metaphysics: The Torino Lectures, Mohr Siebeck, 2019

Philosophy as Metaphysics: The Torino Lectures Book Cover Philosophy as Metaphysics: The Torino Lectures
Günter Figal
Mohr Siebeck
2019
Paperback 24,00 €
IX, 177

Edward Baring: Converts to the Real: Catholicism and the Making of Continental Philosophy, Harvard University Press, 2019

Converts to the Real: Catholicism and the Making of Continental Philosophy Book Cover Converts to the Real: Catholicism and the Making of Continental Philosophy
Edward Baring
Harvard University Press
2019
Hardback $49.95 • £35.95 • €45.00
504

Alexandre Kojève: The Religious Metaphysics of Vladimir Solovyov

The Religious Metaphysics of Vladimir Solovyov Book Cover The Religious Metaphysics of Vladimir Solovyov
Alexandre Kojève
Palgrave Macmillan
2018
Hardback $69.99
VII, 81

Reviewed by: Thomas Nemeth (USA)

Kojève’s slim volume, a translation of a two-part article that originally appeared in 1934/35, while its author was conducting his famous seminars on Hegel in Paris, is itself an “adaptation,” as the translators’ put it, of a 1926 dissertation submitted as a dissertation in Heidelberg under the supervision of Karl Jaspers. This French-language article “La métaphysique religieuse de Vladimir Soloviev” was not Kojève’s first presentation of Solovyov’s ideas. He had previously published in 1930 a short piece entitled “Die Geschichtsphilosophie Wladimir Solowjews,” presumably also culled from his dissertation. Kojève was also not the first Russian to submit a dissertation to a German university on Solovyov. Fedor Stepun had already in 1910 – only a decade after Solovyov’s death – submitted a dissertation also with the title Die Geschichtsphilosophie Wladimir Solowjews to Heidelberg University.

Alexandre Kojève’s name needs little introduction to Western audiences familiar with secondary literature on Hegel. The notes from Kojève’s Parisian lectures at the École Pratique des Hautes Études on the Phenomenology of Spirit have long been available to English-speaking philosophy students. Kojève, born Aleksandr Kozhevnikov in Russia in 1902, had by all accounts a unique personality. In the same year that he completed his dissertation, he moved to Paris, where another well-known Russian émigré scholar/philosopher Alexandre Koyré happened to have established himself as early as 1912 after Husserl had rejected his dissertation. (Despite this, Koyré remained on quite friendly terms with his former mentor, who attended Koyré’s dissertation defense in Paris.) Later in life after World War II, Kojève worked in the French Ministry of Economics and from there was instrumental in establishing the European Common Market. Although a Marxist, at least of sorts, he was invited to Berlin in 1967 by radical students to whom he allegedly advised that they should turn their attention instead to learning ancient Greek!

Kojève’s book can be read from two distinct viewpoints. We can, on the one hand, comb the text for Kojève’s own positions at the time of its writing. Bearing in mind his later emphasis on the Hegelian dialectic and in particular on the master-slave riposte Kojève made famous in his reading of Hegel’s Phenomenology, we can attempt to see its anticipation here. Indeed, there are good grounds for doing just that, and we find within the pages of this book a considerable discussion of the Absolute vis-à-vis the Other. Within the framework of Kojève’s concern, this is both understandable and cannot be held to be inappropriate or incorrect. Kojève’s familiarity with Schelling and Hegel as well as with the German mystical tradition is clearly evident throughout his text. Whether Kojève’s emphasis on Solovyov’s debt to those German writers is excessive or not is for the reader to determine. No one has seriously questioned, however, that Solovyov owed a great debt to Hegel and the later Schelling, even though specific references to the latter in Solovyov’s writings are virtually non-existent.

On the other hand, one can read Kojève’s book apart from its author’s later writings, taking it as what it purports to be, namely, a secondary text on Vladimir Solovyov, which is how we shall approach the book here. Solovyov is likely to be a name less familiar to an English-speaking philosophical audience. Although generally regarded as the greatest Russian philosopher of the nineteenth century, his works are almost invariably classified as belonging to religious philosophy. We find in them, especially his early writings, hardly a trace of the concerns that would rivet either the budding German neo-Kantian movement or the logic of such figures as Bolzano, Frege, or Husserl. Solovyov, instead, was deeply religious in that his beliefs were carried over into his philosophical investigations, something that cannot be said about the other figures mentioned. Solovyov did seek to express his religious faith in the form of a philosophy employing his knowledge of both the history of philosophy and philosophical terminology, suitably adapted of course. Thus, a reader coming with contemporary analytic sensibilities will look in askance at such claims as that ideal Humanity, the Soul of the World (note the capitalizations) is an individual, free, and independent being (58). Kojève, especially in his later pages, is particularly prone to such statements without comment, let alone critical assessment. Solovyov, certainly, writes in such a manner. However, should a twentieth-century philosopher let such a claim pass freely? There are countless additional statements that Kojève affirms as Solovyov’s position and that the former fails to question or to clarify. To be sure, he offers a masterful paraphrase, but it is just that and no more than that.

We see, then, that Kojève is correct in seeing the starting point and the center of gravity of Solovyov’s thought lies in metaphysics. What Kojève does not make sufficiently clear is that his characterization applies most poignantly to the early Solovyov, but, arguably to be sure, not to his later works. Indeed, Kojève focuses almost exclusively on the early Solovyov, though he does reference from time to time Solovyov’s 1889 Russia and the Universal Church, which appeared originally in French and in some proffered periodizations belongs to Solovyov’s middle period.

As with most Solovyov-scholars, Kojève sees Solovyov’s literary activity falling into three distinct periods. Doing so is in keeping with Solovyov’s own fixation on triadic schemes. Kojève in his earlier German-language essay on Solovyov’s philosophy of history from 1930 found that the first period featured a philosophy of history under the influence of the Slavophiles. During a second period a Catholic influence predominated, and the third period or standpoint, which was also the briefest, was represented by just one writing, the three conversations known in English translation as War, Progress and the End of History from 1900. This appeared just a short time before Solovyov’s death. We could object to Kojève’s particular delimitations, but we should keep in mind that his concern in this early essay was with Solovyov’s philosophy of history, not his metaphysical system. Unfortunately, Kojève was noticeably silent on just when this supposed “Catholic period” in Solovyov’s thought began, but presumably it extended until the writing of the 1900 piece.

In the book under review here, Kojève offered a different periodization for Solovyov’s philosophical works, presumably owing to the book’s different orientation – but, nevertheless still three and only three periods. Kojève finds that the first one serves as a historical and critical introduction to Solovyov’s metaphysical system, a system that he had already in his mental possession by this time. Kojève, unfortunately, fails to demarcate how long this period extended. But it surely includes Solovyov’s first major writing, viz., his magister’s thesis The Crisis of Western Philosophy, for he there declares, as Kojève notes, that a definitive metaphysical system would emerge on Russian soil in the near future. Kojève is somewhat misleading in stating that this system would, in Solovyov’s eyes, be his own. The metaphysical system Solovyov had in mind at the time of writing his Crisis text was that presented by the Eastern Church Fathers. Contrary to Kojève’s claim, Solovyov had neither a fully formed system at this early date nor would he ever if by that we mean Solovyov had already conceived all the details. For example, when he published his major systematic work the Critique of Abstract Principles he had not yet, nor would he ever, have a hammered out comprehensive philosophy of art. Kojève characterizes the second period of Solovyov’s activity to be the shortest, and during this time he presented an outline of his metaphysics. It is from the works of this period that Kojève will draw much of his discussion. The third period is the longest. However, since Solovyov apparently at this time lost much of his interest in theoretical questions and in metaphysics proper, it is of little concern to Kojève. Indeed, the latter has little to say about the works stemming from this last phase in Solovyov’s thinking. What is hard to countenance is Kojève’s dismissal of those works on the grounds that by 1890 – and thus just after the publication of Russia and the Universal Church – Solovyov had completed the elaboration of his metaphysics and would not make any changes to it important enough to mention. In light of the fact that Solovyov explicitly rewrote his ethics resulting in The Justification of the Moral Good and started a revision of his “theoretical philosophy” immediately after doing so, it is hard to assent to Kojève’s claim.

Kojève draws his discussion of Solovyov’s metaphysics from three early works in addition to the 1889 one. Although Kojève recognizes that there are obscurities, inaccuracies, contradictions, and shortcomings in Solovyov’s works, these are not often carefully indicated. Kojève also charges Solovyov’s thinking with being often abstract and superficial, more religious than philosophical. Yet, Kojève avoids philosophical, i.e., rational, and secular criticism of that thinking. As have many other commentators on these writings, Kojève sees a marked inspiration from Schelling in Solovyov’s constructions. Kojève goes so far as to say that Schelling served almost exclusively as Solovyov’s model and that the German Idealist’s philosophy lay at the root of nearly all of the Russian’s metaphysical ideas. What Kojève does not point out is the fundamental differences between Schelling and Solovyov. One of the most striking, of course, is that for the former the “positive” reconstruction of Christianity is merely the first step on the road to a philosophical metaphysics, whereas for Solovyov his elaborations are meant as an expression of the truth of Christianity. Solovyov had no intention of replacing Christianity with philosophy of any sort.

Notwithstanding the alleged influence of Schelling, we cannot be surprised that Kojève sees as well a dialectic of the “Other” in Solovyov’s metaphysics, although he finds that dialectic to be the most obscure and most abstract part of it. Those interested in Kojève’s thought for its own sake can surely find much of interest here. Most curious, though, is that instead of seeing Solovyov’s discussion as drawn from Hegel’s Phenomenology, Kojève sees it as a “simplified and impoverished paraphrase” of the relevant speculations found in Schelling, who, in turn, is largely indebted to Jakob Böhme (23). In a sense, we cannot truly be surprised. Others even more recently, such as Zdenek David, have recognized the influence of the German mystic Böhme on Solovyov and Russian religious philosophy in general. Solovyov may have first turned to Böhme through the former’s philosophy professor at Moscow University Pamfil Jurkevich and the spiritualist circle around Ivan Lapshin, a civil servant, orientalist, and father of the St. Petersburg philosophy professor Ivan Ivanovich Lapshin. Kojève, in turn, may have been alerted to this German source of Solovyov’s own metaphysics through the 1929 book on Böhme by his friend Koyré.

Kojève, of course, recognizes that there is a certain “kinship” between the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and Neoplatonic teachings, but he finds that kinship to be extremely vague. What kinship there is between the Christian doctrine and Neoplatonism can be easily explained through the influence of Neoplatonism on early Christianity, when the latter was still in its formative stages. Solovyov himself gave neither any direct indication nor any evidence of the source or sources of his own conception of the Christian Trinity. We have no basis to hold that Solovyov was directly influenced by Plotinus or any of his disciples here. For Kojève, Solovyov saw his own version of the Trinitarian doctrine arising from his idea of the Absolute independently of the Christian tradition to which he otherwise expressed such allegiance. Solovyov’s conviction in his originality in this matter is illusory and shows the extent to which Solovyov thought was permeated by dogmatism. He believed that thinking through his religious experience he could deduce all dogmatic truths including that of the Trinity. In Kojève’s eyes, the speculations of the German Idealists, rather than the Neoplatonists, served as Solovyov’s more immediate source (28).

What we have seen thus far forms a section of the book that Kojève calls “The Doctrine of God.” The next section, “The Doctrine of World” is frankly more metaphysical, if that is imaginable. Kojève provides a faithful recounting of Solovyov’s early metaphysical position, but without extended critical reflection on it from the standpoint of concrete, empirical substantiation. Solovyov’s conception of Divine Humanity is above all the “culmination and crown” of his religious metaphysics (31). Whereas we can affirm that it is the crown of that doctrine, it strains logic to hold that it, in the same breath, is also the starting point of Solovyov’s doctrine of the world. How it can be both the culmination and starting point is unclear unless we distinguish in some ill-defined manner Divine Humanity from the world. Solovyov, after all, has precious little to say about the world apart from humanity. Even more egregious, though, is Kojève’s assertion that Solovyov’s idea of Divine Humanity, being the “keystone” of his metaphysics, is, for that reason, the pivot of his entire philosophical system. Such an assertion may be true on the face of it for Solovyov’s early writings, but it needs demonstration when affirmed of the writings stemming from the last decade of Solovyov’s life.

Kojève is on firmer grounds in claiming that the presentation of Sophia in Solovyov’s metaphysics and that in his alleged mystical experience is enormous. Since the manuscript material related to Sophia has now been widely available for some years, the reader can easily confirm Kojève’s statement that many of the elements in the mysticism associated with Sophia have equivalents in Solovyov’s early metaphysics. Yet, Kojève correctly recognizes that the Sophia depicted in that metaphysical doctrine cannot be the image he supposedly saw as a vision while sitting in the British Museum’s library and which directed him to proceed forthwith to Egypt.

Kojève holds that whereas Solovyov purports to analyze the dialectical notion of the Absolute deductively to obtain his doctrine of God, the doctrine of World employs an empirical method. It is to Kojève’s credit to recognize that Solovyov does not adhere rigorously to these two respective methods in their respective domains. In fact, Kojève is, if anything, too polite. In both doctrines, the assumptions made are staggering in number. Solovyov sees the entire doctrine of God as merely a rational deduction from what is contained in a mystical intuition of divine love. He makes no allowance for those who are unable to intuit this Godly presence, and the premises for his a posteriori, inductive doctrine of the World are similarly not ones with which everyone would agree. The early Solovyov has God doing this and that spelled out in language just as questionably appropriate as the general idea being expressed. On what basis Solovyov determines that God imparts freedom to his creation and then separates Himself from that creation is anyone’s guess. Kojève, following in Solovyov’s footsteps, apparently feels no trepidation in using the word “freedom” in conjunction with the Soul of the world, but Kojève provides no non-circular definition of the term. Indeed, even an idea itself can be characterized as free! Again to Kojève’s credit, he recognizes that Solovyov is indebted to others, particularly to Schelling, which can come as a surprise to no one. Immersed as he was in the metaphysical aspects of German Idealism, Kojève finds Schelling behind Solovyov’s formulations, with the general ideas and structure being similar (71).

There is little here in Kojève’s work that we can easily characterize as phenomenological, focusing as it does on the early metaphysics of Solovyov. Kojève makes no attempt to provide a non-metaphysical reading. Certainly, Solovyov himself understood his position as definitely, even defiantly, religious. But what we, as readers, can ask is why this work at this time. The translators in their introduction admirably discuss the difficult writing style Kojève employed. To their credit, were it not for their comments the reader would likely not realize the points they make. The English is generally smooth and flows as gently as one could wish given the abstruse subject matter. Knowing something about Kojève’s writing style might tell us something about Kojève, but it does little for our knowledge of Kojève’s thoughts on Solovyov. It would have been helpful if the translators had situated this work within Kojève’s corpus and at least have compared the ideas presented with those found in his work on Solovyov in German. Perhaps that was not their intention. But if we look at this extended essay as an intended contribution to scholarship on Solovyov, we can ask what its relationship was at the time of its original appearance to other works on Solovyov in general but particularly to those in the French-speaking world.

Unfortunately, the translators also do not inform us why they singled out this work for their efforts. Is it outstanding in some special manner compared to others? Were it not for the fact that Kojève later became widely known for his Hegel-interpretation would they have translated it nonetheless? Most regrettably, the translators do not situate Kojève’s work within the body of Solovyov-scholarship in recent years. They take no account of the vast literature in either Russia or the West that has appeared particularly since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Again, the question, then, arises: Why this work at this time? Is Kojève’s extended essay in some manner better than recent work on the same topic?

The translators’ references can be confusing or at least troublesome. Whereas the translators make the appropriate references to Solovyov’s works, these are to the now obsolete first edition of the collected works from the first decade of the 20th century instead of availing themselves of the far more accurate and detailed 21st century ongoing edition together with its detailed commentary. Additionally, the references given are always to the mentioned Russian edition even when an English-language translation exists. This poses an obstacle to anyone without knowledge of Russian but who wishes to pursue some idea further. It certainly would also have been helpful to mention the title of the individual work by Solovyov, rather than simply the volume and page number within the set of the collected works.

In conclusion, whereas the advanced student of Solovyov may find Kojève’s work unnecessary, those largely unacquainted with the ideas of the Russian religious philosopher will find this to be a splendid introduction as well as further evidence of the infiltration of German Idealism into Russia.

Giuliano Bacigalupo, Hélène Leblanc (Eds.): Anton Marty and Contemporary Philosophy, Palgrave Macmillan, 2019

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