Karsten Harries: The Antinomy of Being

The Antinomy of Being Book Cover The Antinomy of Being
Karsten Harries. Preface by: Dermot Moran
De Gruyter
2019
Front matter: 22. Main content: 246

Reviewed by: Richard Colledge (School of Philosophy, Australian Catholic University)

Karsten Harries’ The Antinomy of Being, which is based on his final Yale graduate seminar, is a deeply ambitious study that brings to the table vast scholarship across a range of philosophical, as well as literary, theological, early modern scientific, and art historical sources. Focusing especially on what he presents as a key problematic in the work of Kant, Nietzsche and Heidegger, Harries demonstrates the way that this notion of the antinomy of Being is at the heart of the condition of possibility of truth, and thus for any response to the spectre of nihilism. When taken as a whole, his arguments make a compelling case not only for the centrality and irreducibility of this issue across a range of philosophical fields, but also for any rigorous meta-philosophical reflection. This welcome development in Harries’ work is a text that challenges contemporary thought across various fields.

The idea of the antinomy of Being is one that Harries has presented and discussed numerous times in his writings over the last decade and a half in particular, generally as part of a more finely focused argument that opens into this larger underlying set of concerns.[1] However, in this 2019 monograph, Harries provides a fully developed account of what he describes as “the unifying thread of [his] philosophical musings” from over half a century of teaching, even if the term itself appeared in his work only comparatively recently (AB, 1).

“Antinomy” is associated with paradox; aporia; the limits of language; cognitive dissonance; and possibly even the limits of logic. More specifically (especially in a Kantian context), it relates to the clash between two apparently contradictory beliefs, each of which is entirely justifiable. Two of the four famous antinomies in Kant’s first Kritik (relating to space and time, freedom, substance and ultimate necessity) are the subject of explicit attention in this book, as is the way that the same fundamental problematic can be seen as being deeply at play in the work of Martin Heidegger and various other post-Kantian thinkers. The ways that these more specific cases arise in Harries’ text will be surveyed below. However, it is important also to note that Harries’ concern is not to simply paint his topic as an issue in the thought of a particular group of philosophers. To the contrary, his larger and more basic project is to show that the antinomy of Being is an irreducible element in all thought, cutting across all disciplines and genres. Consequently, its denial amounts to the distortion of thought, while coming to terms with it is the only pathway to intellectual (perhaps also existential) authenticity. For ultimately, it is a question of how it is possible to respond to the ever-present threat of nihilism (the topic of his 1962 doctoral dissertation). As he puts it early in his Introduction:

[O]ur thinking inevitably leads us into some version of this antinomy whenever it attempts to comprehend reality in toto, without loss, and that a consequence of that attempt is a loss of reality. All such attempts will fall short of their goal. What science can know and what reality is, are in the end incommensurable. Such incommensurability however, is not something to be grudgingly accepted, but embraced as a necessary condition of living a meaningful life. That is why the Antinomy of Being matters and should concern us. (AB, 2)

What is the nub of Harries’ contention? In a sense, the book is something of a manifesto for hermeneutical realism, and in such a way that places equal weight on both hermeneutics and realism as complementary poles of the antinomy of Being as a whole. On one hand, there is an absolute insistence on the finitude of all understanding (“hermeneutics goes all the way down” as the old adage has it), while on the other hand there is an equally strong insistence on the real as that which is finitely understood. In this way, the twin disasters of nihilism – i.e., idealism (nothing can be known; or there is no real as such) and dogmatism (in its many guises, be it scientism, religious fundamentalism, etc) – are both variations on the theme of denial of the ineluctable antinomy of Being. Both idealism and realism contain kernels of truth, but in canonising one side of the antinomy and marginalising the other, both are ideologies that destroy the balance required to underpin the possibilities of knowing in any genuine sense. On one hand, idealism absolutizes the rift between mind and world so that it is portrayed as an unbridgeable chasm that makes knowledge of the real impossible. On the other hand, in its claim to have captured and represented the real, there is something absurd and self-undermining in rationalistic realism, and in presenting a shrunken parody of the real it too vacates the space for nihilistic conclusions.

In seeking to do justice to both sides of the antinomy, Harries is not afraid to defend what he sees as the key insight of the Kantian antinomies that he links respectively (if unfashionably) to the transcendental and the transcendent dimensions of the real:

[T]he being of things has to be understood in two senses: what we experience are first of all phenomena, appearances, and as such their being is essentially a being for the knowing subject. Science investigates these phenomena. But the things we experience are also things in themselves, and as such they possess a transcendent being that eludes our comprehension. The identification of phenomena, of what science can know, with reality is shown to mire us in contradiction. (AB, 1)

I suggest that Harries’ stance invites comparison with other contemporary forms of hermeneutical realism, such as that developed by Günter Figal.[2] Figal’s approach places the focus on the problem of objectivity: of the thing’s standing over against the subject as irretrievably other, even in its being understood and grasped. As Figal puts it, “[h]ermeneutical experience is the experience of the objective [das Gegenständliche]—of what is there in such a way that one may come into accord with it and that yet never fully comes out in any attempt to reach accord.”[3] Similarly, it is this simultaneous knowability and unknowability of things that Harries highlights in his observation of the antinomy that characterises all understanding of the objective, of that which shows itself – only ever finitely and incompletely – as the real.

In the first chapter of the book, Harries sets out his account predominantly with reference not to Kant, but to Heidegger. These pages provide a condensed summary of some of the major aspects of his previously published readings of Heidegger that gather around this theme. For Harries, the confrontation with the antinomy of Being is at the heart of a key tension in Being and Time, a tension that Heidegger repeatedly returns to for the rest of his life. Even if Heidegger never used the term, Harries asserts that it is directly evoked in his notion of “the ontological difference” (the difference between beings and their Being [Sein]), for to attempt to think this difference Heidegger, he claims, “had to confront the Antinomy of Being” (AB, 15). As Heidegger outlines in §§43-44 of Being and Time, but more directly in his summer 1927 lecture course, there is a formidable problem here. On one hand, without Being, there would be no beings, and so Being is transcendental. Further, there is Being only when truth (and thus Dasein) exists, for without Dasein, there would be no revelation of beings. But on the other hand (and here the antinomy becomes evident), it cannot be said that beings, or nature as such, only are when there is Dasein. Nature does not need to be revealed to Dasein (there need be no event of truth) in order to be what it already is. We do not create beings; they “are given to us,” and our “experience of the reality of the real is thus an experience of beings as transcending Being so understood” (AB, 15). Being “transcend[s] … the Dasein-dependent transcendental Being to which Being and Time sought to lead us” (AB, 14). The antinomy of Being thus arises in this distinction Heidegger implicitly notes “between two senses of Being: the first transcendental sense relative to Dasein and in this sense inescapably historical, the second transcendent sense, gesturing towards the ground or origin of Dasein’s historical being and thus also of Being understood transcendentally” (AB, 15-16).[4]

To be sure, with this Heidegger interpretation Harries intervenes in well-established debates within (especially American) Heidegger scholarship. However, unlike the way much of that debate circles around early Heideggerian thought (and sometimes only Division 1 of Being and Time), Harries is concerned with the way that this same issue continued to play out – albeit in different terms –  in Heidegger’s later works. For example, he makes the interesting (unfortunately undeveloped) suggestion that Heidegger sometimes looks to differentiate these two senses of Being via the introduction of the Hölderlin-inspired spelling “Seyn” or in placing “Sein” under erasure. “Sein and Seyn are the two sides of my antinomy,” he explains: “Being understood as the transcendent ground of experience (Seyn) transcends Being understood transcendentally (Sein)” (AB, 16). However, the attempt to comprehend … the presencing (das Wesen) of Seyn will inevitably “become entangled in some version of the Antinomy of Being. Thus:

Any attempt to conceptually lay hold of that originating ground threatens to transform it into a being, such as God or the thing in itself and must inevitably fail. Here our thinking bumps against the limits of language. Being refuses to be imprisoned in the house of language. And yet this elusive ground is somehow present to us, calls us, if in silence, opening a window to transcendence in our world. (AB, 16)

For Harries, the notion of the Kehre in Heideggerian thought – understood as Heidegger himself presents it, as “a more thoughtful attempt to attend to the matter to be thought” –  is a step made necessary by “the antinomial essence of Being, which denies the thinker a foundation.” Indeed, Harries goes still further in doubling back to Kant: the “Antinomy of Being shows us why we cannot dispense with something like the Kantian understanding of the thing in itself as the ground of phenomena, even as the thing in itself eludes our understanding” (AB, 16-17).

In Chapter 2 (“The Antinomy of Truth”), Harries continues his engagement with Heideggerian thought, specifically concerning the paradox of language. Accordingly, language is both the way that beings are revealed and thus (transcendentally) come to be for us, whilst also limiting us to a finite encounter with the real that in itself transcends the limits of linguistic and thus worldly presentation. In other words, as Heidegger emphasised time and again (though it is also an insight voiced throughout philosophical history, from Plato to Wittgenstein and beyond), language both reveals and conceals the real, both revealling and “necessarily cover[ing] up the unique particularity of things” (AB, 25). Harries illustrates this point by opening the chapter with citations from Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s evocative 1902 “Letter of Lord Chandos,” before then showing how Hofmannsthal’s insights were already voiced by figures as diverse as Aquinas, Kant and Nietzsche. After focusing on “the truth of phenomena” through a Kantian lens (in the course of which he illuminatingly quotes Copernicus on his own distinction between appearance and actuality in planetary observation), Harries then provides an extended analysis and critique of Heidegger’s account of truth. In partially sympathising with Tugendhat’s critique of Heidegger’s early notion of truth as alētheia, Harries goes on to maintain that transcendental subjectivity only makes sense in the context of transcendental objectivity. The real is only ever encountered and uncovered perspectivally, but the (infinite) array of possible perspectives (via the contingencies of worlding) points to a transcendent whole that is nonetheless inaccessible in its completeness to the finite subject:

To understand the subject as a subject that transcends all particular points of view is to presuppose that consciousness is tied to perspectives but transcends these perspectives in the awareness that they are just perspectives. The transcendental subject has its foundation in the self-transcending subject. (AB, 45)

In Harries view, in its focus on the finitude of phenomenological access, Heidegger’s early position fails to do justice to this larger context: Heidegger’s fundamental ontology “suggest[s] that the perspectival is prior to the trans-perspectival without inquiring into the meaning of this priority.” Further, it must be recognized that “the perspectival and the transperspectival cannot be divorced,” for human self-transcendence “stands essentially in between the two” (AB, 45). Nonetheless, even given this critique, Harries continues to insist, with Heidegger, on the ineluctability of finitude:

[T]he transcendental philosopher remains tied to a given language and subject to the perspectives it imposes, even as he attempts to take a step beyond them. The absolute of which he dreams must elude him. The pursuit of objectivity cannot escape its ground in the concrete. (AB, 45)

Chapter 3 (“The Architecture of Reason”) is largely devoted to the relationship between Kant and Nietzsche on this question. Focusing especially on the latter’s essay “On Truth and Lies in an Extra-moral Sense,” Harries is in agreement with Nietzsche in his staunch opposition to linguistic realism: words do not simply express the inner essence of the things they re-present. “What we can grant him is that the thing in itself remains quite incomprehensible,” and so “what we are dealing with are always only appearances.” However, Harries also wants to insist on the key distinction between the thing-in-itself and objective appearance as such. After all, if the phenomenon just is the self-giving of the thing as it is – albeit finitely and perspectivally – then this makes sense of the possibility of similar perceptions; and this in turn is what makes shared concept formation possible. Furthermore, he argues, it is only thus that Nietzsche is able to sustain his own “social contract theory of language” (AB, 55). But on the other hand, Nietzsche’s linguistic idealism produces a savage critique of scientific rationalism which, he suggests, fails to see that its concepts are really metaphors, the product of the imagination. Concepts are “the ashes of lived intuition”, and scientific rationalism is therefore nothing other than a chasing after shadows. In leaving behind lived experience, science leaves us with death: a “columbarium of concepts” (AB, 63).

This link between science and loss – of the dangers of intellectualism that imperils the natural human experience of the real – is accentuated in the following chapter (“The Devil as Philosopher”) that presents an intriguing diptych of Fichte and Chamisso. Harries’ engagement with the former – who is his major philosophical interlocutor in this chapter – surveys the train of thought that led Fichte to the nihilism of his absolute idealist conclusions. But he also addresses the sense in which Fichte’s path of thought equivocally led out the other side through his conception of “conscience” by which a disinterested intellectualism is replaced by a spirit of conviction. It is thus that Harries sees Fichtean thought as subject again to “the call of reality, which is submerged whenever the world is seen as the desiccated object of a detached, theoretical understanding” (AB, 77). The hinge of the aforementioned diptych is made possible by Fichte’s historical exile from Jena to Berlin, where he met and befriended the romantic poet Adelbert von Chamisso, author of the cautionary tale of Peter Schlemihl. In Harries’ interpretation, Schlemihl – a character who (Faust-like) bargains with a demonic (Mephistopheles-like) philosopher to trade his shadow for unending wealth – is emblemic of the dark side of Enlightenment reason that would have us lose our natural embodied selves, our cultural and social particularities, our “homeland,” in pursuit of the ashes and emptiness of objectivity, soulless freedom and universal reason. Only disembodied ghosts cast no shadows. As Nietzsche would later suggest, disembodied reason is a form of living death. The rationalistic road by which Fichte would propose the inescapable mirror of consciousness that posits the world through its own volition is yet another form of failing to think through both sides of the antinomy of Being.

This leads Harries the full circle back to Heidegger, in a chapter titled “The Shipwreck of Metaphysics”, but also to a very contemporary application of the Heideggerian problematic. He begins by recalling his diagnosis of the antinomy of Being that emerges from Heidegger’s early thought (two irreducibly opposed senses of Being), and he notes Heidegger’s own admission (in his 1946/47 “Letter on Humanism”) that “[t]he thinking that hazards a few steps in Being and Time has even today not advanced beyond that publication.” Harries has us dwell on this impass with Heidegger. Was the whole incomplete project of Being and Time was therefore a dead-end? For Heidegger, it was not simply a “blind alley” (Sackgasse), but something far more telling: a Holzweg. The path of his thought was a very particular kind of losing of one’s way that is typical of “a genuinely philosophical problem” as Wittgenstein would put it (AB, 86). The Holzweg of Heideggerian thought leads us directly into the to the aporia of Being as such.

Harries goes on in this chapter to provide a very contemporary and “concrete” illustration of how this plays out in our own time with regard to the contortions of scientific materialism. He might have chosen any number of interlocutors in this field, but instead (in another hint of Harries’ intellectual generosity) he selects an interlocutor close at hand: a philosophically-minded colleague from Yale’s computer science department, Drew McDermott. With a nod to the medieval doctrine of “double truth” (condemned at Paris in 1277), Harries notes the way that his colleague is completely committed to the basic proposition that the natural sciences hold the key to all that is, can be, and will be understood, even as he admits that science cannot explain key aspects of our first-person experience of the world, including values we hold to be true. In this, he was inspired by Heidegger’s account of Dasein’s Being-in-the-world (that undermined a materialist “present-at-hand” projection of the world) , even though his commitment to the scientific attitude puts him at loggerheads with Heidegger. Harries sees in McDermott’s apparent cognitive dissonance the very aporia with which Kant and Fichte wrestled, and to which Heidegger’s own work was also to point.

The following chapter (“Limits and Legitimacy of Science”) expands upon this problem of the incompatibility of science with meaning, seen through the lens of the nineteenth century German physicist Heinrich Hertz (in his search for simple comprehensive scientific principles to comprehend the world), the early Wittgenstein (who despite similar aspirations famously concluded that “the sense of the world must lie outside the world”), and Kant (who similarly wanted to entirely affirm the scientific attitude even as he affirmed the truth of dimensions that transcend, and are precluded by, the sciences: freedom, immortality, God).

What begins to emerge in Chapter 7 (“Learning from Laputa”) are twin themes that will come to dominate the later parts of the book: the notion of seeking to escape from the confines of earthly existence through rationality and scientific application, and the theme of being-at-home. Harries’ major inspiration here is Swift’s portrayal of the Laputians in Gulliver’s Travels, who in creating their flying island revel in their (albeit ambiguous) transcendence of standard physical constraints and social bonds. These men of Laputa literally “have their heads in the clouds,” as they exist detached from their earthy home. Indeed, Harries notes the allusions here to Aristophanes’ The Clouds, and he sees both productions as parodies of rationalistic hubris (AB, 119). Here we see the link made to Heidegger’s critique of technology, which not only involves the triumph of curiosity (seen also in the Laputians), but also the flight from grounded human dwelling. Like Peter Schlemihl, with technological enframing, we lose our shadows.

Harries’ upward orientation continues in Chapter 8 as he turns to the cosmological revolution of the sixteenth century. A key figure here is Giordano Bruno, whose execution is understood in the context of an absolute commitment to the sovereignty of rational freedom, and more specifically the implications of his championing of the idea of infinite time and space. In such a universe, conceptions of boundedness, constraint, society, embodiedness, home and homecoming – one might say facticity –  are lost. As Nietzsche pointed out, there is no longer any horizon, no up or down. But Harries similarly points to the earlier tradition of Germanic mysticism (from Walther von der Vogelweide, to Ruysbroeck, to Eckhart and Suso) that made similar gestures toward the power of self-transcendence and freedom of thought to leave the body behind and even challenge the boundary between the human and the Divine. Here the thinking of space through intellectual freedom leads to antinomy. On one hand, space must be limited, since otherwise location would be impossible; but on the other hand, space cannot be limited since there can be nothing outside of space.

On the basis of this extensive groundwork, in Chapters 9 and 10 Harries turns, respectively, to other Kantian antinomies: concerning freedom and time. With reference also to Fichte, he sets out the terms of Kant’s antinomy of freedom: that on one hand there are two kinds of causality in the world (via laws of nature, and via the law of freedom, since otherwise it would be impossible to account for spontaneous events that are not reducible to natural cause and effect), while on the other hand freedom is clearly precluded by the necessary laws of nature (since otherwise the flow of events would lose their regularity). He follows this line of thought into Kant’s Critique of Judgment, in which freedom is defended “from a practical point of view” in terms of the experience of persons (AB, 159). But again, Harries is keen to show the perennial nature of this problem, returning to the Paris Condemnations to show that these same irresolvable issues are at play both in terms of the understanding of God’s freedom (Divine voluntarism vs rationalism) and human freedom (in the context of knowledge and sin).

The richly textured chapter on Kant’s antinomy of time (that draws in also Plato’s Timaeus, Aristotle, Rilke and Heidegger), takes a series of perspectives on the theme. On one hand, time must be bounded (and the world must have a beginning), since otherwise there could be no foothold in time within which events could occur. But on the other hand, it makes no ordinary sense to conceive of an event outside of time, so time must be infinite. As Harries points out concerning the latter, Kant is thinking here of the idea of time as a complete and infinite whole, an incomprehensible “noumenal substrate.” Here the notion of the sublime in the third Kritik is helpful. Sublime nature, for example, cannot be phenomenonally comprehended as a whole, but it can be thought, and here reason comes to the fore even as imagination and understanding are outstripped. This power of reason to think the infinite, points to the human capacity to transcend its finitude in a certain sense at least that nonetheless conflicts with the ongoing finitude of understanding. The noumenal is thinkable, but not understandable.

It is perhaps something of a shortcoming of the book that Harries doesn’t do the detailed work of relating the structure of the Kantian antinomies in general to his proposal about the antinomy of Being as such. However, the main outlines can be inferred. The logic would seem to be that the “thesis” and “antithesis” sides of Kant’s antinomies speak to the two senses of Being that Harries delineates: the transcendental and the transcendent (or the phenomenological and the noumenal). If, for Kant, transcendental idealism was the means by which these two were held in tension, Harries would seem to be suggesting that we need a robust sense of the Holzwege that both joins and separates what Heidegger wrote of as Realität and des realen: worldly reality and the inaccessible real.[5]

The final chapters of the book (Chapter 11 on “The Rediscovery of the Earth”, and Chapter 12 on “Astronoetics”) focus on this notion of the tension between human finitude and our attractedness to the heavens, to the infinite. We live with a double truth here: we are at home in our local domestic communities even as we are aware that we dwell on a planet that is spinning through space at extraordinary speed. Some of us long to realise the ubiquitous human desire to transcend our earthly dwelling place (as seen in ancient theories and myths, from Thales, to Vitruvius, to Icarus, to Babel, to modern hot air balloons and space flight), and the recent innovation of literal astronautical transcendence of the earth’s atmosphere has given us a taste of what this might mean. In our own times, there is talk of humanity becoming a space-travelling, multi-planetary species. However, Harries insists that we remain mortals, and (for the foreseeable future) creatures of the earth. The brave new world of space flight remains parasitic on the rich and nurturing resources of our home planet. He goes on to reminds us of the long tradition of Christian suspicion of pagan hubris (Augustine vs Aristotle): yes, we are made in God’s image, but human curiosity is also at the root of the fall.

These many themes are continued into the chapter on Astronoetics. The key question here concerns the human relationship to our origin: our earthly home. Are there limits to human self-manipulation and our manipulation of the earth? In order to think through such questions, aeronautics needs to be complemented by what Hans Blumenberg termed astronoetics: the act of thinking or dreaming our way imaginatively through space while remaining “safely ensconced at home.” (AB, 189). This is eventually a matter of thinking deeply about what is at stake in human ambition. Harries presents Jean-François Lyotard and the artist Frank Stella as representatives of the alternative he terms “postmodern levity.” This approach is uninterested in what they characterise as the modern (philosophical and artistic) nostalgic longing for a “lost centre or plenitude,” instead freely revelling in immanence and innovation. If modern art, in its “unhappy consciousness” is “never quite at home in the world,” the post-modern is characterised by a resolute this-worldliness (AB, 204). If modernity looks to evoke that which is finally unpresentable, artists like Frank Stella strive to create works of art that simply satisfy, are fully present, and eschew any ambition to point beyond themselves to obscured dimensions of truth or reality. Needless to say, such an approach is the antithesis of Harries’ account of the incomprehensible presence of the real in things as ordinary and precious as the experience of other human beings and the beauty of nature (see AB, 209).

It cannot be said that Harries’ Conclusion (titled “The Snake’s Promise”) succeeds in pulling together the various threads of his rich and ambitious book. But then again, for a book that deals with the the irreducible antinomy of Being, this seems apt. There are no neat resolutions to be had here. Perhaps this is already intimated in the re-encapsulation of the meaning of the antinomy of Being with which the chapter begins: that “reality will finally elude the reach of our reason, that all attempts to comprehend it will inevitably replace reality with more or less inadequate human constructions.” (AB, 216) In musising further on Heidegger’s critique of technology, Harries shows himself to be largely on the same page as Heidegger, though he is slightly sceptical about a simplistic nostalgic call to return to a pre-industrial golden age. Science and technology have profoundly changed our context, and there is no lineal return.

However, what the final pages do provide is a concluding and scathing critique of the distortions and banishments of the real by science, by art, in education and in popular culture. Science “seeks to understand reality in order to master it” (AB, 233), but in this never-ending quest, it reduces the real through perspectivalism and objectification, alienating us from it. Second, “aestheticizing art” obscures the real insofar as in simply looking to entertain it asks nothing of us. In both cases, the real lies inaccessible and largely forgotten behind the image. In fact, neither the artist, nor the scientist, are second Gods (as per the snake’s promise in the garden), for the work of both is parasitic on the underlying reality that make them possible. Third, and worse still, is the aestheticization of thinking itself: “the transformation of humanistic scholarship into an often very ingenious intellectual game.” (AB, 233) Fourth, and worst of all, is the attempt to aestheticize reality, especially by technological means, for in this way, reality is counterfeited; the real becomes the surreal.

Where does Harries’ extraordinary book leave us? Perhaps most of all with a plea to respect the real, by making a space for its unexpected appearings, to await its uncontrolled showings, and to resist the temptation (driven by our own anxieties) to partialize or even falsify it. I can do no better than to end with Harries’ own appeal:

[E]very attempt to [manipulate reality] … makes us deaf to its claims, denies us access to its transcendence in which all meaning finally has its ground, a ground that by its very essence will not be mastered. To open windows to that reality we must find the strength to abandon the hope to take charge of reality, the hope to be in this sense like God. Only such strength will allow us to be genuinely open to the claims persons and things place on us, will let us understand that we do not belong to ourselves, that we cannot invent or imagine what will give our lives measure and direction, but have to receive and discover it. (AB, 233-34)


[1] See Karsten Harries, “The Antinomy of Being and the End of Philosophy,” in Division III of Heidegger’s Being and Time: The Unanswered Question of Being, ed. Lee Braver (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015), 133-47; Harries, “The Antinomy of Being: Heidegger’s Critique of Humanism,” in The Cambridge Companion to Existentialism, ed. Steven Crowell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 178-198; and Harries, Wahrheit: Die Architektur der Welt (München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2012). For a thoughtful engagement with the last of these, see Steven Crowell, “Amphibian Dreams: Karsten Harries and the Phenomenology of ‘Human’ Reason,” in Husserl, Kant and Transcendental Phenomenology, ed. Iulian Apostolescu and Claudia Serban (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2020), 479-504.

[2] For more on this, see my “Thomism and Contemporary Phenomenological Realism: Toward a Renewed Engagement,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 95, no. 3 (2021): 411–432 (esp. 417ff).

[3] Günter Figal. Objectivity: The Hermeneutical and Philosophy. trans. Theodore George (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010), 2.

[4] For a not dissimilar reading of the dynamics at play in this area of early Heideggerian thought, and of how this plays out in his later thought, see my “The Incomprehensible ‘Unworlded World’: Nature and Abyss in Heideggerian Thought,” forthcoming in The Journal of the British Society of Phenomenology.

[5] See, e.g., Martin Heidegger, Being and Time (Oxford: Blackwell, 1962), 255 [SZ: 212]; Heidegger, History of the Concept of Time (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985), 217 [GA20: 298].

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391

Reviewed by: Tóth Réka (SZTE-BTK/PhD, Hungary, Szeged)

Phenomenological Interpretations of Ancient Philosophy is a collection of thirteen essays. At first glance, the title of this book may strike us as somewhat surprising. One may be forgiven for thinking that phenomenology cannot be paralleled with ancient Greek philosophy in a meaningful manner. But, after reading the studies, the reader will undoubtedly come to the conviction that these two types of philosophy have something to do with each other after all. Some phenomenologists tend to view ancient Greek philosophy as if it were the beginning of Western thought, a philosophy that can be seen as a kind of starting point that defines every new thought. According to them, exploring the thoughts of Greek philosophers—or rather just approaching them—can help us understand what the meaning of philosophy is. But it can also help us gain a better understanding of how modern philosophical systems operate — for example, what the ancient foundations of political philosophy, social philosophy, philosophy of science, or even metaphysical research are and how the former impact the latter. On the other hand, many phenomenologists merely undertook to make the ancient Greek texts understandable to the laity, so they try to give a clear description of them. Each of the phenomenological research methods mentioned above appears in the book.

It may seem quite disproportionate that the first five chapters of the book are more about Husserl and Heidegger, specifically an overview of interpretations of ancient philosophers given by these two philosophers. Other chapters contain the approaches of lesser-known or more modern philosophers — the overarching aim of the editors seems to have been to provide an overview of the phenomenological approaches of antiquity. It is important to have insight into this subject, and so far we have not read many books that have dealt with how phenomenology in general could relate to Greek philosophy.

Husserl’s main questions—namely, how to understand the connection between our experience and the world itself, and how to treat science and naturalism—have also raised new questions for later phenomenologists. At the same time, these thinkers were also greatly influenced by Heidegger, especially the way he approached ancient Greek philosophy. Therefore, the work of Arendt, Gadamer, Derrida or other modern philosophers cannot really be interpreted without Heidegger and Husserl.

The first chapter deals with Husserl’s relationship to the Stoics. Within this, Husserl’s interpretation of the term „lecton” is explored by the authors who later turn to Heidegger’s interpretation. In addition to Heidegger’s relationship with Aristotle and Presocratics, they are also talking about the German philosopher’s relationship with the Nazi regime, as this seems inevitable in the present case.

Husserl argued that although the foundations of Western philosophy come from the views of the Greeks, modern philosophers often do not represent the original Greek views, but these ideas are reshaped, rethought or embedded in social philosophy, ethics or other subject areas of philosophy. According to the authors of this book, Husserl believes that Greek philosophy – of course only in its original form – could help diagnose the so-called diseases of contemporary philosophy (3): it is true that it speaks of diseases that often seem to stem from the problems articulated by Greek philosophers themselves. Husserl has a different attitude towards the Greeks than Heidegger — he is generally considered as an ahistorical thinker, but of course this is only partly true. For some reason, however, his opinion of the Greeks have not proven to be nearly as influential as Heidegger’s interpretations. Nevertheless, the editors of the book thought it worthwhile to review Husserl’s ancient philosophical reflections, so we also make a few comments about these ideas based on the book’s introductory explanations.

According to Husserl, not only Plato and Socrates are pioneers of Western philosophy, but Descartes can also be considered a forerunner of modern philosophical methods. So there are actually three pioneers in philosophy and science. Husserl thinks that Descartes can be considered the second forerunner because his response to skepticism is so relevant that it cannot be ignored (6). According to Husserl, despite Plato’s rigor, he failed to overcome skepticism. But Descartes had the same goal as Plato: to deny radical skepticism. According to Husserl, however, Descartes differed from his predecessors in that he tried to explore subjectivity in a scientific way.

Embarking on this path, Descartes wanted to develop an apodictic theory that could not be overturned by any skepticism — thus reaching an ego that, in spite of all other doubts, could not doubt itself. In doing so, he proved an unwitting pioneer of phenomenology, in that he initiates a transcendental turn in philosophy. This is why the authors may think that it is essential to talk about Descartes in a volume that explores the relationship between phenomenology and the Greeks (8). We could also say that Descartes reinterpreted the Greeks and that is why Husserl thinks that modern philosophy begins with the former. According to Descartes, the soul is the first axiom to be considered certain, and from which our knowledge of the world can be derived. However, Husserl thinks Descartes did not take into account the fact that subjectivity also limits the notion of truth.

The authors of the book hold that Husserl—just like Heidegger—deserved more chapters in the volume because, in addition to Heidegger, he was the one who saw this kind of fundamental crisis and this kind of motif in modern philosophy — in his last, unfinished work: Die Krisis der europäischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phänomenologie (1936).

Heidegger, in his early twenties, devoted much work to the study of both Descartes and Aristotle. Together with Husserl, they had a tremendous influence on philosophers such as Arendt, Strauss, Klein, Fink, and Marcuse, to name but a few. The authors mentioned above are also included in the book, but the main focus is nonetheless on Husserl and Heidegger, so we also place more emphasis on the presentation of these two philosophers. It is also true that Heidegger himself based his late philosophy (reflections on the history of existence) on these initial researches.

In the following, I would also like to provide a closer look at each chapter. In the first five chapters we read about Husserl and Heidegger, specifically how they approach and deal with Greek traditions.

In the first chapter, we may read Claudio Majolino’s analysis of Husserl (Back to the Meanings Themselves: Husserl, Phenomenology, and the Stoic Doctrine of the Lekton), in which he raises questions as to why Husserl, unlike other phenomenologists, praises the Stoics for their insight. Majolino also attempts to find an answer to the question how Sartre and Deleuze might have thought that Husserl’s interpretation of „noēma” could be paralleled with the „lecton” (meaning of a proposition) of the Stoics. According to the author, none of Husserl’s writings explicitly mentions that the two concepts can be set in parallel. It is simply believed that Husserl combines the two concepts because of structural similarities. Sartre, according to Majolino, draws quite provocative conclusions: the former claims that in his statement about „noēma”, Husserl betrayed his most basic phenomenological claim or discovery: the intentionality of consciousness. This is how Sartre’s judgment sounds:

Husserl defines consciousness precisely as transcendence. This is his essential discovery. But from the moment he makes the noēma unreal, and the noesis correlation  correlate of the noēsis, he is totally unfaithful to his principle. (Sartre 1943, 61).

The author then decides to analyze in detail Sartre’s and Deleuze’s thoughts on the concept of lecton. He then notes the distinction between them: Deleuze does not interpret it as a strange physical or spiritual entity like Sartre (33). Majolino performs a fairly precise analysis. We can then learn that although Deleuze refers to some passages from Husserl’s text, it is interesting that in these Husserl himself does not mention the lecton anywhere the noēma appears. So Majolino does not draw a parallel between the two either.

Sartre and Deleuze sought to reconcile Stoic philosophy with phenomenology—especially Husserl’s phenomenology. In retrospect, this seems like a rather difficult undertaking, and the complexity of this task is presented to us by Majolino in convincing detail. He shows that Sartre neglected the propositional nature of „lekta” and confused „noēma” with „ennoēma” (36)—while Deleuze confused the two interpretations of the senses, using them once in a semantic sense and another in a transcendental sense. One of the main questions of the author is then, why does Husserl mention the term lecton so many times and why does he hold the stoic concept to be of such significance? In this study, we see an analysis that is often neglected by philosophers when researching the connections between phenomenology and ancient philosophy. In addition, Majolino helps clarify some unclear concepts about Husserl’s philosophy. The author discusses in detail what the actual significance of the lecton is for Husserl, and also what kind of correlation can be observed between the lecton, the Husserlian conception and formal ontology. After these analyzes, he also discusses how we can derive phenomenology from the Stoics.

The second chapter is composed of Thomas Schwarz Wentzer’s study of Aristotle’s anthropological-political interpretations (Speaking Being: Heidegger’s Aristotle and the Problem of Anthropology). The main purpose of this study is to answer certain philosophical-anthropological questions. In this chapter, the author discusses the question of why Heidegger was so committed to Aristotle and how Greek philosophy in general oriented Heidegger’s way of thinking. This chapter is about how, according to the author, Heidegger related to his predecessor, who takes the same hermeneutical approach to the human question as he does — in particular in De Anima, the Nicomachean Ethics, the Rhetoric, and the Politics. According to Max Scheler, man is characterized by indeterminacy. However, Heidegger finds his way with the help of Aristotle to build his phenomenological anthropology.

In the third chapter, Pål Rykkja Gilbert talks about Heidegger’s interpretation of Aristotle, specifically those dedicated to the latter’s ethics (Virtue and Authenticity: Heidegger’s Interpretation of Aristotle’s Ethical Concepts). It is well known that Heidegger devoted much time to understanding Aristotle in his first works. It is generally accepted that phronesis is one of the most important concepts in Being and Time. In this chapter, the author first examines some of Heidegger’s passages, those that relate primarily to Aristotle’s ethics, especially the concepts of „phronesis” and „prohairesis”. The author firstly tries to lay out the background of how Heidegger approaches these works and concepts of Aristotle. Secondly, he attempts to compare Heidegger’s interpretation with other, more conventional Aristotelian analyses. Thirdly, he also strives to answer the question of whether Heidegger “ontologizes” Aristotle’s ethical project. To this he replies that it is incorrect to say that the Aristotelian concepts were transformed into Heidegger’s „Ontological” concepts. The author approaches the problem mainly on the basis of parts of the Nicomachean Etics and De Anima, displaying excellent knowledge of these Aristotelian works. Gilbert identifies one thing as the main concept of Aristotle: the concept of prohairesis. According to him, an understanding of prohairesis is an essential part of understanding the Aristotelian phronesis and, in general, what he claimed about virtues.

We can read Charlotta Weigelt’s study of Heidegger’s thoughts relating to the Platonic concept of truth in the fourth chapter (An “Obscure” Phenomenology? Heidegger, Plato, and the Philosopher’s Struggle for the Truth of Appearance). The author bases her analysis on the 1930s lecture text: On the Essence of Truth: Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and “Theaetetus” from 1931/2 (GA 34). According to Weigelt, Heidegger completely rethought the cave analogy and at the same time had a great influence on transcendental phenomenological research. Weigelt, following Heidegger, analyzes the cave analogy in four parts (139). According to the author, Heidegger treats the concepts of truth and appearance here as phenomenological concepts. It would also be important to discuss these issues because, in general, Heidegger’s reading of Plato is divisive among historians of philosophy. The author argues that Heidegger saw Plato (as most philosophers) through the lens of Aristotle and that is why he does not pay much attention to Plato’s dramatic contexts and Socrates, but merely analyzes Platonic works literally. But of course sometimes we have to ignore these while reading Heidegger, because in the meantime he says important things about the Platonic concept of ideas. The author bases her findings mainly on Metaphysics, Physics and The Sophist.

In the fifth chapter, Hans Rubin explains Heidegger’s notion of „moira” among others (A Strange Fate: Heidegger and the Greek Inheritance). The author conducts his analysis based on what was said during the Parmenides courses. He admits that this series of lectures adds a much to Heidegger’s notions of „destiny”, „fate”, and „the destinal”, and he thinks it can answer us a lot about why Heidegger drew so much from Greek philosophy (163). These two concepts, namely „fate” and „destiny”, are strongly interlinked, according to the author, to Heidegger’s political philosophy, and more specifically to his nationalist sympathies. But how can all this be connected with the thinking of Parmenides? In the fifth chapter, we get interesting answers to this question and, among other things, how the concepts of „fate” and „destiny” („moira” and „meiromai”) can be related to our modern globalized world today. The author conducts a very thorough examination, uses certain parts of Homer’s Iliad, Plato’s notion of moira, and is very critical of Heidegger’s late works.

We again read a study related to Plato in the sixth chapter (Dialectic as a Way of Life: Hans-Georg Gadamer’s Interpretation of Plato). In this section, Morten S. Thaning conducts research on Gadamer’s analysis of Plato. He wants to find out how Gadamer approached the Platonic dialectic. According to Thaning, Gadamer’s aim in analyzing Plato’s dialectics is, on the one hand, to shed light on significant elements of Aristotle’s critique of Plato. On the other hand, the author not only researches Gadamer in this respect, but also asks on what Heidegger might have based the idea that Plato was a forerunner of the Western metaphysical tradition. It also turns out that Gadamer was passionate about the Platonic method, and that he thought Plato should be interpreted as a practice of philosophy in the Socratic sense (182). In addition, the chapter also discusses how Gadamer’s theory of dialectics can be described. Moreover, we can see an interesting subchapter in which the author seeks to figure out how Socrates’s self-confessed ignorance (Nichtwissen) reshapes the Platonic concept of knowledge and the relationship between dialectics and knowledge (179). But the main question is what is the essence of philosophy in the Socratic sense and how is the dialectic of Socrates is related to the hermeneutical experience in the Gadamerian sense? According to the author, Gadamer has an excellent grasp of the language of Plato’s dialogues, and for this reason he thinks we should examine the concept of Platonic knowledge together with the dialectical language itself and understand one through the other.

An interpretation of Plato follows in the seventh chapter (Counting (on) Being: On Jacob Klein’s Return to Platonic Dialectic). In this section, the author, Kristian Larsen delves again into the topic of dialectics. He tries to summarize and rather rethink Jakob Klein’s interpretation, which deals with Platonic dialectics as a method. According to Jens, modernity, as a kind of second Platonic cave, alienates us from ourselves and the world (203). Larsen finds a good basis for this idea in Jakob Klein’s thoughts on the distinction between ancient and modern science and philosophy. The main purpose of this study is to show and thoroughly delineate these differences. In addition to this, he also discusses in this study how Klein’s distinctions (ancient and modern science) resemble or differ from the views held by Heidegger and Leo Strauss. Comparing these three thinkers, the author concludes that Klein is essentially in agreement with Heidegger and Husserl, for all three hold, because of the anxiety and alienation in modernity, that it is the duty of Western philosophy to return to the Greeks. A significant part of the terms used by the Greeks have been radically reinterpreted (and misunderstood) in the modern age. The author links his research to this position. He argues that Klein and Strauss have many points in common about the relationship between modernity and Greek philosophy and also shows these common points in his study. We have to think here about modern (especially late-modern) philosophy. The practical usefulness of the study may also be to try to answer questions such as: how can we deal with our prejudices against capitalist societies and transform our overarching sense of alienation from modern society?

In the eighth chapter, Husserl’s analysis takes center stage once more (Phenomenology and Ancient Greek Philosophy: Methodological Protocols and One Specimen of Interpretation). Burt Hopkins analyzes Husserl’s concept of intentionality through the research of Jakob Klein. Hopkins examines Klein’s analyzes in which he discusses the differences between the Greek ontology and the Cartesian sciences. The author pays special attention to Greek works in this study, but primarily analyzes one of Klein’s 1936 studies entitled “Die griechische Logistik und die Entstehung der Algebra” (Klein 1934, 18−105). In addition to examining Klein’s interpretations (including the study of the concept of „arithmos”), the author also provides an in-depth analysis of Husserl’s concept of intentionality. In addition, we can see a detailed textual analysis of that section of Plato’s The Sophist, aporia of „Being” („einai”), and parts of Theaetetus, and, as a matter of fact, he also looks critically at the studies published on these works. Hopkins’s study primarily requires a detailed examination of the concepts of „Whole” („holon”), „All”(„pan”), and „All of something” („panta”).

In the ninth chapter, we can read Jussi Backman’s study of Hannah Arendt (The (Meta)politics of Thinking: On Arendt and the Greeks). The philosopher examines Arendt in terms of how she approached ancient Greek philosophy. According to Arendt, the roots of twentieth-century totalitarian regimes go back to ancient Greek philosophical theories, so perhaps we can get obtain a solution to these social problems through the Greeks as well. Arendt’s attitude towards the Greeks can be seen primarily through one of her main works, The Human Condition (1958). In this text, she writes, among others, that Plato’s political philosophy has been transformed. Arendt was discovered in Plato’s mind the phenomena that make philosophy „disgusting” and thus left a mark on the whole tradition of politics. That was „the political turn” according to her, the philosopher returned to the cave and brought rules alien to the laws of human cohabitation for the inhabitants of the cave. It seems that nowadays we interpret the thoughts of the founder of Western philosophy as if it were some kind of tool that would enable us to achieve a higher goal. The author also mentions Arendt’s Life of the Mind (1977−8), in which the philosopher explains how harmless Greek terms (such as the term «fear») were born thousands of years later than other terms such as «judgment.» The author believes that Arendt explored very precisely the connection between the «thinking» and the «action» of the study of antiquities. He also draws attention to the gap between the two (Arendt uses the terms „vita contemplativa” for the former and „vita activa” for the latter.) The author considers Arendt’s work to be hermeneutics on the one hand (265), because he thinks she tries to interpret our contemporary modes of thinking. On the other hand, it is also very phenomenological, in the sense that it seeks to trace the Greek tradition back to the initial (Greek) experiences from which they emerged.

Vigdis Songe-Møller presents Eugen Fink’s study of Heraclitus and Heidegger in the tenth chapter (Heraclitus’ Cosmology: Eugen Fink’s Interpretation in Dialogue with Martin Heidegger). The chapter revolves around a question that intrigued both Heidegger and Fink: what is the relation between „hen”, „One”, and „ta panta”, „All things”, in Heraclitus’ thinking? According to Fink, this question and the relationship between the two can be explored by examining the cosmology of Heraclitus. The author notes the great similarity between the cosmology of Fink and the Greek philosopher, and explores this similarity in her study, mainly in confrontation with Husserl and Heidegger. Of course, Fink essentially follows Heidegger in his approach to the Greeks and uses his tools in many ways, but he shows uniqueness in his analysis of Heraclitus. The main difference is that „Fink is able to confirm an interpretation of the relation between hen and panta that Heidegger from the very beginning had been critical of.” (300) In order to show the differences, the author presents Fink’s cosmological ideas in detail.

In the subsequent study, Filip Karfik analyzes Jan Patočka’s interpretation of Plato on the soul (Jan Patočka on Plato’s Conception of the Soul as Self-Motion). Patočka argues that the idea of being as „self-moving” can help to understand the whole Platonic philosophy, of which the soul is central. Karfik discovers an interesting paradox by Patočka in his research on the philosophy of the soul. Patočka, according to Karfik, summarizes the whole spirit of Platonic philosophy and provides us with convincing arguments. The author also investigates the phenomenological background of Patočka’s own philosophy and he also attempts to uncover the question of what self-movement has to do with self-determination, based on a reading of Patočka philosophy.

The last two chapters show us how the Presocratic philosophers and Plato influenced the philosophies of Lévinas and Derrida. In the twelfth chapter (Elemental Embodiment: From the Presocratics to Levinas via Plato), the relationship between Plato and Lévinas is examined from a phenomenological perspective by the authors, Tanja Staehler and Alexander Kozin. They investigating this topic because they suggest that the value of Plato’s contribution can best be best uncovered by applying a phenomenological perspective. In general, the authors tend to discuss the differences between Plato and Lévinas, such as how their views on «love» differ. This was investigated by Sarah Allen whose research is thoroughly analyzed by the authors of the study. But the differences were also examined, for example, by Wendy Hamblet, who saw the difference between the two in his conception of the concept of truth. In the present case, however, Staehler and Kozin prefer to emphasize commonalities by focusing on the complex phenomena under discussion. The study is based on an analysis of two key concepts: «eros» and «zōion«.

And last but not least, in the thirteenth study, Derrida’s complex reading of Plato’s Phaedrus is analyzed in detail by Arnaud Macé (Outside the Walls with Phaedrus: Derrida and the Art of Reading Plato). Derrida considers one of his most important own thoughts to be, following Plato’s lead, the view that philosophy cannot be practiced through writing alone (348). According to Macé, Derrida engages in a special reading of Plato, which is called “harmonic,” a term often used by the phenomenologically-influenced postmodern philosopher. According to Macé, the Platonic dialogues are far different from other philosophical writings because of their hidden structural elements, and Derrida collects these elements precisely. Derrida sees the connection between these elements in the term „pharmakon”, a concept with a rich polysemy — „Remedy”, „Poison”, „Drug”, to name a few of its principal meanings. By reading Derrida, we can learn about the non-philosophical elements of Plato that he places in a philosophical context for his own deconstructivist reasons.

In this book we read about the confrontation of many notable authors with Greeks. In addition, it should be mentioned that these authors all seem to have singled out terms from an ancient Greek philosopher that can, arguably, describe the entire oeuvre of a given philosopher. Such was the case with Husserl and Heidegger, among others, who are absolute pioneers in the subject, which is why they were understandably given a bigger role in this book. It is interesting to mention that, although Heidegger’s hermeneutical phenomenology is fundamentally different from Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology, we can still discover some similarities between them. One such similarity can be seen, for example, between Husserl’s reflection on traditions and the crisis of European philosophy of science and Heidegger’s notion of „nihilism” and „oblivion”. At the same time, it seems that Heidegger’s interest in antiquity and Husserl’s philosophy also had a great influence on Arendt, Gadamer, Derrida, Lévinas, Fink, and so on. None of the latter can be interpreted effectively without the philosophy of the former two. Every study composing this book is situated in the context of modern problems, which can go a long way toward clarifying our current situation, deepening our understanding of the contemporary problems we face.

References:

Klein, J. 1934. Die griechische Logistik und die Entstehung der Algebra. Berlin: Verlagsbuchhandlung Julius Springer.

Sartre, J.−P. 1943. Being and Nothingness. An Essay in Phenomenological Ontology. Oxfordshire: Routledge.

Hanne Jacobs (Ed.): The Husserlian Mind

The Husserlian Mind Book Cover The Husserlian Mind
Routledge Philosophical Minds
Hanne Jacobs (Ed.)
Routledge
2021
Hardback GBP £190.00
568

Reviewed by: Mitchell Atkinson III (IFiS PAN)

 

 Introduction

I am not aware of any recent collection of pieces by Husserl scholars that includes so many of the most important names in the field. Hanne Jacobs has demonstrated an astonishing prowess at organizing not only the material within the text but also in choosing and arranging contributors for this compilation. The book has, in its substance, aspirations to be the definitive introduction to Husserl—and by implication to phenomenological philosophy—in the English language. As philosophers and good critical readers, we must assess these aspirations in light of the works we already have while attempting to bring Husserl to a wider readership within and outside of the academy.

Perhaps it’s appropriate to examine for a moment the question why one makes such a fuss over Husserl in the first place. There has been a line of discussion in phenomenology, and several “post”-phenomenological disciplines, that makes of Husserl a sort of spastic Cartesian, chastised by Frege for psychologism, flailing ineffectually between an outdated dualism, an outdated essentialism, and a metaphysics he dare not name. This sort of dismissal can be found among so-called analytic as well as continental philosophers, although the level and volubility of the attack tends to differ between the schools. Strong phenomenologists have published doubts of central Husserlian notions, including essence and the epoche. Others have attempted to refine or expand Husserl’s work into new domains of human experience. Still others have attempted to use parts of the phenomenological method to deepen work in adjacent disciplines, most notably the social sciences, psychology, and cognitive science. But the question of Husserl’s value remains, nonetheless. We can ask ourselves, as Adorno’s imagined interlocutor says of Hegel, “Why should I be interested in this?”[1] Are there not many other philosophers, many other more contemporary dealers in concepts whose work will bring me closer to the intellectual promised land? The question is related intimately with the question why one does philosophy to begin with. The money’s no good and hardly anyone reads it. If J.K. Rowling or Stephen King wrote a text on transcendental epistemology, would anyone care to read it? Philosophers, as a group, have given weak answers to the question of the utility of philosophy. Socrates, in line 38a of Plato’s apology, famously says the unexamined life is not worth living. Wittgenstein seems to have thought sometimes that philosophy isn’t good for much at all. Philosophers like Schopenhauer see in philosophy the path to a kind of resignation to the dreariness of life. The existentialists give us angst and its attendant pleasures.  And what of Husserl? How would he answer this question? And might we, if we tease out a possible answer for him, not see something penetrating about what it is that Husserl has to offer us today?

One of the problems with trying to catch hold of Husserl’s motivations for doing his philosophy—and by extension what he thought philosophy could do—is that Husserl wrote so much that had implications for so many disciplines. One need only glance at the list of works in Husserliana to get a sense of the dizzying and perhaps dismaying depth of Husserl’s Nachlass. What this means in practice is that one must always interpret Husserl with a certain air of humility. It is always possible that a new page, maniacally scribbled over in his modified shorthand, will be discovered, and one’s prize interpretation will be sent to pot. This difficulty has been noted before, and it haunts all scholars who choose to tangle with prolific thinkers. There is always the threat of another level or dimension in the work which one has not quite reached, an aspect of the work which, having remained obscure to you for years, comes into focus just in time to obliterate the paper you’re currently writing. If our Husserl presents himself as such a bottomless pit of philosophical insight, perhaps the power of philosophy was for him also bottomless. In which case, the answer to the question, what for Husserl, can philosophy do? would be exceedingly simple: everything.

Now, invocations of “everything” are not so common in good philosophy without adequate justification, and we certainly have not yet provided it. Further, if we take a step back and examine our aims in this little review, we will find a much more satisfying route toward the answer that we seek. It is not an undifferentiated omnipotence that Husserl saw in philosophy. What is more differentiated than the work of Edmund Husserl? Rather it is a multifarious form of experiential description, questioning, analysis and elaboration—according to a sharply defined method—that he sees in philosophy. The value of the activity and method we’ll say ever-so-few words about at the end of this text.

In the meantime, it would be nice to get straight about what it is philosophy can do by Husserl’s lights. It so happens the book currently being reviewed is beautifully structured to do just that. Jacobs’ collection is divided into seven parts: (1) Major works, (2) Phenomenological method, (3) Phenomenology of consciousness, (4) Epistemology, (5) Ethics and social and political philosophy, (6) Philosophy of science, (7) Metaphysics. A naive interpretation of the structure of the book would be that Husserl’s thought fits comprehensively within these categories. To the extent that it does, we can say the book captures the Husserlian mind, thereby living up to its title. Where such a set of categories misses Husserl, where he slips away, may mark territory where this collection refuses to follow him.

Major Texts

The book appropriately opens with an overview of Husserl’s major texts. Pierre-Jean Renaudie writes on the Logical Investigations, Nicolas de Warren on Ideas I, Sara Heinämaa on the Cartesian Meditations, Mirja Hartimo on Formal and Transcendental Logic, and Dermot Moran on The Crisis. We can see the logic in this selection of texts. We begin with Husserl’s first mature philosophical book and end with his last one. We have the lynchpin of the transcendental turn in Ideas I. Sara Heinämaa writes persuasively on Husserl’s egology in the Cartesian Meditations, as well as helping us to contextualize the extent to which Husserl can be called a Cartesian. Heinämaa writes, “Husserl presents Descartes’ doubt as a great methodological innovation which provided the possibility of reforming all philosophy. However, he immediately points out Descartes made a series of fundamental mistakes that blocked the entry to the transcendental field that radicalized doubt laid open” (p. 41). Heinämaa shows that Husserl is a Cartesian in a rather qualified sense, in the sense of having received a limited inspiration in the theme of Cartesian skepticism. The themes in Descartes that are most commonly attacked, most notably a rather untenable mind-body dualism, are not at all operant features of Husserl’s mature philosophy. Nicolas de Warren, in his contribution, tells us something illuminating of Husserl’s approach to doing philosophy. The title of his piece, “If I am to call myself a philosopher,” refers to a line from a 1906 writing in which Husserl, characteristically, sets himself a task in order to gain philosophy as such. While de Warren’s contribution is eminently useful as an elucidation of difficult phenomenological concepts like noesis and noema, the natural and naturalistic attitudes, and many others, perhaps the greatest insight it provides is given in this short quotation. Still in 1906, Husserl was writing things like “If I am to be…” He had not, on some level, settled into an image of himself. Or perhaps better, he was still challenging himself to develop in order to match the philosophical aspirations he held so dear.

When setting out a philosopher as prolific as Husserl’s “major works,” there will necessarily be some difficult omissions. Here, one might like to see a chapter on either the Analysis Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis or Experience and Judgment. In that way, with one or both represented, the importance of the theme of genesis, the technique of genetic phenomenology all told, would receive a fuller exposition. No text as comprehensive as this one can possibly avoid the genetic theme altogether, but it would be helpful to see one of the major genetic texts included with the ”major works.”

Phenomenological Method

The second part of this book is, to my mind, the most important for young philosophers. The method of phenomenology must always be front and center because phenomenology is something philosophers do; it is not a list of conclusions other philosophers have already reached. Those who focus on and reiterate the method as Husserl’s major discovery enact a tradition of phenomenology that allows it to be a living, dynamic branch of philosophical practice as opposed to a stodgy cul-de-sac of philosophical history. In this collection, we have Dominique Pradelle discussing transcendental idealism, Andrea Staiti on the transcendental and the eidetic in Ideas I, Rochus Sowa on eidetic description, Jacob Rump on reduction and reflection, Jagna Brudzińska on the genetic turn, and Steven Crowell on Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology. Pradelle’s text is absolutely essential for unlocking the association between Kant and Husserl, and the ways in which Husserl suffers under the Kantian influence. An under-appreciation of the nuances in both thinkers might tempt us to characterize the phenomenological reduction as merely a restatement of Kant’s Copernican revolution. Such a reading would see the Kantian transcendental and the Husserlian transcendental as one and the same; their differences, as philosophers, would be relegated to style and method. Pradelle writes that for Husserl, “Kant discovers the region of pure consciousness or subjectivity, which is not intra-worldly but supra-worldly, which is not objective but constitutes all objectivity, and which is not inserted in the spatio-temporality or causality of the world but is fundamentally different from any worldly entity” (77). But for Husserl, as a central feature of his philosophy, the Kantian thing in itself is inimical to consciousness, a strange exteriority to conscious life that can’t, in the end, have anything whatsoever to do with a philosophy grounded in the transcendental as a method as well as a theme.

Rochus Sowa and Andrea Staiti together help us to clarify the eidetic method as we see it in Husserl. Sowa takes us from Husserl’s insistence that descriptions are facts, due to the factual nature of experience, to an analysis of Husserl’s descriptive eidetic laws which Husserl needs to motivate a view of phenomenology as general enough to undergird other forms of human enquiry. Key to this generality of application is the distinction between empirical concepts and pure descriptive concepts, the latter of which apply to possible or ”thinkable” objects and states of affairs irrespective of their empirical instantiation. Sowa also helps us to see that in eidetic work, the examples brought before the mind, whether objects in the world as experienced or possibilities in phantasy, are not the theme of the analysis; the examples are there to help guide us to an essential relation or an eidetic law. It is against such precise considerations that we can read Andrea Staiti’s contribution on the relation between eidetics and the transcendental. Staiti points to a tendency in the literature to treat the suspension of the being of the world as an instant path to essential description, as if all one had to do was dunk one’s head in the transcendental waters to see the colorful essential fish. This idea is sharply incongruous with Husserl’s work ethic, with his almost superhuman drive to add, distinguish, complexify. At the same time, those who acknowledge the need for eidetic work can draw too sharp a distinction between the transcendental and the eidetic, the implication being that we can pick one or the other to motivate our phenomenology. Staiti concludes that the eidetic and transcendental are “inextricably linked’ (96). Although this may sound obvious, it has implications. Perhaps most importantly, it places rigorous limitations on the degree to which phenomenologists are doing phenomenology when they engage in interdisciplinary work. On Staiti’s view, phenomenologists may have much to say about case-specific, empirically oriented studies in the human sciences but their properly phenomenological contributions will be bound by the transcendental and characterized by the eidetic.

Jagna Brudzinska gives us a penetrating overview of Husserl’s turn to a genetic phenomenology, a development in his thinking that is increasingly seen as crucial for understanding his later works. Brudzinska points out that even today many phenomenologists view the eidetic method as purely static. If phenomenology is meant to be anything like a theory of subjectivity, however, a static methodology is bound to be inadequate. The experience of the subject is dynamic, flowing, changing in our awareness of time’s passage. Brudzinska gives us a quick historical overview, making the claim that the importance of the genetic theme was there for Husserl as far back as the Logical Investigations. From there, Brudzinska develops the expansion of the field of inquiry that the genetic method achieves. She says, “In this context, it becomes possible to take into account not only present and immediately intuitive experiences. In addition to consciousness of the past we also gain the possibility to consider alien and future consciousnesses.” (132). Phenomenology needs this breadth of enquiry if it is to become the philosophy of subjectivity, for experiencing subjects are constituted and constituting in time.

Steven Crowell’s contribution is in many ways a commentary on the other pieces in the methodology section. His aim is to further clarify Husserl’s phenomenology by examining his notion of the transcendental and distinguishing it from Kant’s.

Phenomenology of Consciousness

Although the papers on method are some of the most important in this collection for young philosophers, part three, on consciousness, will no doubt be of interest to many seasoned Husserl researchers. Christopher Erhard introduces us to Husserlian intentionality by exploring three questions, why intentionality matters philosophically, what intentionality is, and finally what the lasting impact of intentionality is. He develops, through a reading motivated by a tight logical style, a view of Husserl’s idealism that shows its fundamental differences from both Kant and Berkeley. Maxime Doyan works through the normative turn in intentionality, citing a normative theme in Husserl’s studies of intentionality that is seldom observed. Doyan identifies the most important norms for this discussion as identity and recognition, identifying them with noema and noesis respectively. This allows a discussion of illusion and hallucination to unfold alongside a Husserlian rejection of the conjunctivist/disjunctivist distinction. Doyan here sides with Zahavi and Staiti, claiming that from the Husserlian view the question whether perceptions, illusions and hallucinations are the same kind of experience hardly makes sense at all.

Lanei Rodemeyer’s work on inner time consciousness is required reading for anyone attempting to understand Husserl and his place in the literature today. In her contribution here, she provides an overview of Husserl’s phenomenology of internal time consciousness, displaying as ever her unique pedagogical powers. She reiterates Husserl’s claim that the phenomenology of time is the most difficult of philosophical topics. Indeed, getting the phenomenology of time in a digestible package is difficult for various reasons. Husserl changed his mind concerning the structure of inner time consciousness in at least one major way and his ideas on time are scattered throughout his works. Rodemeyer treats us to a general introduction to the problem in Husserl, discusses the place of content in inner time consciousness and describes levels of constitution in Husserl. There are few practitioners in contemporary phenomenology as helpful in introducing the reader to Husserl’s work on temporalization.

Chad Kidd, in his contribution, seeks to rescue the theme of judgment from philosophical obscurity. His approach outlines Husserl’s theory of judgment while avoiding a reiteration of the commonplace debates concerning psychologism. Roberto Walton provides us with an excellently researched elaboration of Husserl’s work on language as a ground of the common world. Among the piece’s many useful contents, it stresses the distinction between Wittgenstein’s insistence on language as a “proto-phenomenon” and Husserl’s understanding of prelinguistic modes of consciousness that “condition the general structure of predicative statements” (255). Walton’s work sets the stage beautifully for Phillip Walshes’s text on other minds. Walsh is keenly aware that one of the most common charges against phenomenology is that of solipsism, or even more—Cartesian methodological solipsism. Walsh notes that the problem of intersubjectivity, of the constitution of the other in consciousness, is a fundamental phenomenological problem to which Husserl returned again and again. Zahavi’s chapter on three types of ego is the last in the section on consciousness. Because of Zahavi’s extraordinary precision as a scholar and reader of Husserl, his papers on changes to phenomenology, false starts and complete reversals, are incredibly valuable. Here, he unveils the steps Husserl took from an almost absolute disinterest in the ego concept to placing it so prominently in later works like the Cartesian Meditations. The chapter has extraordinary pedagogical value, not least because Zahavi synthesizes Husserl’s complex egology into the three phases given in the title while at the same time going painstakingly over the important details in the body of the text.

Epistemology

Clinton Tolley’s is the first paper on epistemology in Husserl. Here, he helps us understand Husserl’s project as a clarifying of cognition. This task is placed in a Kantian shadow that Husserl labored in throughout his career. Many of his pages were filled with responses to neo-Kantians like Natorp, Cohen, and Rickert. The chapter helps bring into focus the extent to which Kant’s preoccupation with (human) reason is taken up by Husserl. Walter Hopp begins his work with a nod to the challenge posed by the philosophical zombie. He develops an argument whereby we come to see the notion of unconscious intentionality as absurd on its face. Philipp Berghofer’s seeks to establish the sources of knowledge available in phenomenological work. He provides a typology of knowlege that includes types of object, experience, givenness and evidence. Using these categories, we can better understand the range of knowledges available to philosophical discussion. In John Drummond’s contribution, Husserl’s concept of objectivity is explored. Here, we begin by rejecting any reliance on either subjectivism or objectivism. If these categories, as naive theoretical types, are cast aside, the question of what it is to be an object for consciousness remains. Drummond motivates his discussion with what he calls putative and intersubjective objectivity. Hanne Jacobs, the editor of the volume, makes her contribution by discussing Husserl on epistemic agency. Jacobs uses a reading of Husserl to challenge deflationary accounts of epistemic agency, accounts that would minimize the role of our active participation in the formation of beliefs. Husserl’s emphasis on the centrality of attention in our holding of any proposition to be true as epistemic agents. Jacobs takes the reading of Husserl to the realm of personal responsibility, arguing that, for Husserl, one can be responsible not only for positively held beliefs but also for what one does not believe, doesn’t know, or doesn’t want to know.

Ethics, Social, and Political Philosophy

The fifth division of the book collects chapters on ethics, social and political philosophy. One might fault this section for being a kind of grab bag of “social» topics, but in reading the chapters here, one sees how they are inter-related as levels of exploration of the intersubjective theme in Husserl’s phenomenology. Inga Romer imagines Husserl’s history of ethics as a battlefield, pitting reason and feeling against one another. Romer’s text is a deep resource for understanding the works in philosophical history that informed Husserl’s development as an ethical thinker. The chapter also lays bare a tension in Husserl’s sometimes stated aims with respect to formal and material axiology and praxis as a science of ethics and the view of ethics toward which his late phenomenology pulled him. Mariano Crespo situates Husserl’s ethics among his contemporaries, including Lipps, Pfänder and Geiger. In the discussion, Crespo uncovers insights related to live issues in phenomenology, including especially the need for a phenomenology of the will. Sonja Rinofner-Kreidl writes about evaluative experience in prose whose grace is a relief after many turgid lines. Rinofner-Kreidl reminds us that Husserl does not hold that evaluative experiences infringe upon our rationality. The axiology Husserl develops is nonetheless complex, involving top-down formal axiology and formal praxis with bottom-up descriptions of associated experiences. We are even given an analysis of Husserl’s Kaizo articles and a discussion of the complex late ethics, culminating in a teleological view that grants us a universalism, as it were, from within. Sophie Loidolt writes on the fragility of the personal project. Loidolt moves from Husserl’s claim in Ideas II that motivation is the “basic law that governs the life of the person” (393) to a discussion of various topics guiding the debate on personhood and practical agency in Husserlian phenomenology. We end up with the claim that the person for Husserl is not defined as an achieved unity; the person is rather a fragile potential unity, ever missing its ultimate aim. Indeed, Loidolt ends with the rumination that it may only be through the support of others that our fragile projects of personhood can be maintained. Sean Petranovich takes us through Husserl’s work on social groups, exploring Husserl’s mereological work to draw attention to Husserl’s relevance to contemporary discussions regarding mereology and the social. The final chapter in this section of the book is by Esteban Marín-Ávila, discussing Husserl’s conception of philosophy as a rigorous science and its influence on his axiology and ethics. Marín-Ávila tackles the problem of Eurocentrism in Husserl with candor, refusing to dismiss it as an idle charge yet at the same time insisting that a Husserlian ethics, as elaborated in works like the Crisis, have much to say to non-European peoples. Husserl’s unfortunate writings on the impossibility of European peoples “Indianizing” themselves are referenced here, as well as his apparent belief that the achievements of Europe were such as to motivate a kind of rationally motivated mimicry in all other peoples of the world. Marín-Ávila ends with an affirmation of transcendental phenomenology that sees it as an already critical discipline capable of leading us toward a philosophy that matters.

Philosophy of Science

The sixth division of the text takes up Husserl’s work on the philosophy of science. We begin the division with Marco Cavallaro’s text which attempts to outline Husserl’s theory of science and posits a distinction between pure and transcendental phenomenology. Cavallaro sees ”pure” phenomenology as related to the project of a theory of science and transcendental phenomenology as related to ultimate epistemic foundations. Cavallaro is quick to point out this distinction is not made explicitly by Husserl. Jeff Yoshimi is the first in this collection to focus on the deepening field of phenomenological psychology. In this chapter we encounter Husserl’s main contemporary psychological influences (Wundt, Stumpf, Brentano, Dilthey). Yoshimi wants to link phenomenological psychology with transcendental phenomenology, phenomenological with empirical psychology and finally phenomenological psychology with philosophy of mind. One might misconstrue this as an effort to naturalize phenomenology, but it seems Yosimi is after a much more Husserlian move—establishing a transcendental dimension in the philosophies of mind and cognitive science. David Carr’s contribution looks to history as a science and its relation to phenomenology. This piece has pedagogical value as a general introduction to philosophy of history as well as an example of good Husserl scholarship. Carr helps us to see history as a study of the natural attitude in temporal development. Carr’s important Husserlian claim is that in the Crisis phenomenology takes on a decidedly historical character, for it is here that Husserl makes of philosophy as such a human endeavor with a history. The proper description for the historical a priori is something, Carr reminds us, Husserl struggled with until the very end. We are once again in full view of Husserl as a philosopher forever unsatisfied and unwilling to yield to his own limitations. The final contribution on the philosophy of science is Harald Wiltsche’s text on physics. Wiltsche quickly contextualizes the early twentieth century as a time of great upheaval in the sciences, noting above all others the arrival of relativity theory and quantum theory as fundamental disruptions to the way we view the world. He associates these shifts with changes in dominant philosophical discourses. Wiltsche shows that while Husserl himself may have demonstrated limited interest in the cutting edge physics of his day, in the person of a one-time student, Hermann Weyl, Husserlian ideas found their way into the scientific mainstream. Wiltsche also, rightly, points out that the discursive divide between analytic and continental philosophy is still far too robust today, despite our best efforts to pretend its dissolution a thing already achieved.

Metaphysics

The final division of the text is devoted to metaphysics. We may find the inclusion of these chapters strange because, as Daniele De Santis points out, Husserl’s relationship to metaphysical philosophy is all-too-often taken for granted. If for no other reasons (and of course there are other reasons) the chapter is useful in that it contributes to the literature refuting the charge that Husserl is a naive metaphysician of presence. De Santis is a systematic thinker whose penetrating Husserl scholarship attempts to make the development of the metaphysical in Husserl something clear and useful for scholars. Claudio Majolino takes on the Herculean task of mapping Husserl’s ontology. The difficulty, as Majolino points out, is that Husserl is so vast and many of his works have ontological elements and implications. Majolino’s work here—using Burnyeat and Aristotle to seek out contours of Husserl’s ontology—is too original for a few lines in a review such as this. The chapter is worth serious study. Timo Miettinen’s contribution begins with a general introduction to the theme of teleology, moving quickly to a detailed exposition of the place of teleology in Husserl’s phenomenology. Miettinen notes the importance of genetic method in exploring the development of experiential structures demonstrating immanent teleological character. This means that early static analyses of teleology were not sufficient given the temporal requirements of goal-directed experience. Miettinen also, here, deepens our understanding of Husserl’s alleged Eurocentrism, responding to an accusation by Derrida that, Miettinen shows, relies on a crucial misreading. One unresolved question in the chapter is whether and how all of Husserl’s teleological descriptions can be subsumed under transcendental phenomenology. The final chapter of the final section of the book is Emiliano Trizio’s paper on teleology and theology. Trizio, more than any other scholar in this compilation, is concerned with Husserl’s investigations of the nature of God and what they can do to deepen our phenomenological understanding. For Trizio, God is a necessary theme of phenomenology. Trizio shows how theology fits within Husserl’s overall phenomenology. And, finally, Trizio develops a non-objectivist reading of Husserl’s most theological passages.

Concluding Remarks

Having commented on these contributions, we are left dizzied by the depth and variety of Husserlian concern. Beginning this review, we confronted two basic questions. The first, Why Husserl?, asks us to assess Husserl as a thinker today. The second, What for Husserl can philosophy do?, is a refinement and extension of the first. What perhaps a collection like The Husserlian Mind gives us is the scope to determine, for ourselves, the answers to these questions. At the very least, we have within these pages the first lengths of many different paths one might take through the mind of Edmund Husserl and accordingly through philosophy as such. In so doing, we can discover for ourselves the value of great minds and the philosophies they make.

Bibliography

Adorno, Theodor W. 1993. Hegel: Three Studies. Translated by Shierry Weber Nicholsen. MIT Press.

Husserl, Edmund. 2001. Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis: Lectures on Transcendental Logic. Translated by Anthony J. Steinbock. Kluwer Academic Publishers.

———. 1970. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy. Translated by David Carr. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press.

———. 1973. Experience and Judgment. Translated by James Spencer Churchill and Karl Ameriks. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press.


[1] Adorno (1993: 109).

Antoine Grandjean: Empirisme et philosophie transcendantale selon Kant, Vrin, 2022

Empirisme et philosophie transcendantale selon Kant Book Cover Empirisme et philosophie transcendantale selon Kant
Bibliothèque d'Histoire de la Philosophie
Antoine Grandjean
Vrin
2022
Paperback
448