Giorgio Lando: Mereology: A Philosophical Introduction

Mereology: A Philosophical Introduction Book Cover Mereology: A Philosophical Introduction
Giorgio Lando
Bloomsbury
2017
Paperback $35.96
240

Reviewed by: Alessio Persichetti (University of Aberdeen)

Mereology studies the nature and relationships of parthood in objects, considered in the most general way. The book by Giorgio Lando, “Mereology: A Philosophical Introduction,” aims to provide an oriented introduction to the topic.

The literature on the subject does not lack examples of introductory volumes. However, monographs until now have had two weaknesses: they were either too focused on a specific aspect of mereology or provided merely a broad-spectrum summary. Regarding the former, there are F. Moltmann’s Parts and Wholes in Semantics (1997) regarding linguistic structures,  A. Varzi and R. Casati (1999) and Kleinschimdt (2014) on parts and space, and C. Calosi and P. Graziani (2014)’s collection on mereology and special sciences. In the latter case, there are the good — but outdated —  introductions of P. Simons (2000) and M. Libardi (1990), and the recent H. Burkhardt et al. Handbook of Mereology (2017). Lando’s book is the first real attempt to present an accessible general introduction to the problems of the field from a precise standpoint. In particular, this book adopts the perspective of CEM (Classic Extensional Mereology), the theory of parts and parthood that has its roots in Nelson Goodman’s A World of Individuals (1956) and David Lewis’ Parts and Classes (1991) and On the Plurality of Worlds (1986).

The book is organised into one introductory chapter, three main parts, and an appendix. The first part describes how mereology works and which relations and features a mereological theory must satisfy; the second part defends the idea that CEM is the only correct theory of mereology (i.e. argues for monism); the final part defends and clarifies the core principle of Unrestricted Composition from different kinds of criticisms.

The introduction (Chapter 0) expounds the main concepts of Classic Extensional Mereology. CEM is the theory according to which: 1) parts are in transitive relationships with other parts; 2) given n objects, there exists another thing n+1 composed by the n objects; and 3) given some objects, there exists only one fusion of them. Giorgio Lando then distinguishes the semantical senses of the term “mereology”: mereology can be intended as the sub-discipline of metaphysics that studies parts, as a theory that explains the parthood relation, or as the correct theory that describes parts. Lando identifies mereology with the third sense; specifically, he chooses CEM as the best candidate for being a unique and proper mereological theory. In this perspective, Lando claims that he has oriented his explanation towards a defence of CEM. Afterwards, he explains how the CEM arises from David Lewis’s attempt to develop a topic-neutral tool to solve problems concerning classes. Lando’s primary aim is to develop Lewis’ account into a full metaphysical theory with ambitions of generality. At the same time, the secondary goal is to clarify CEM and monism against the most common objections.

The first part, “Methodology of Mereological Monism,” is dedicated to methodological remarks concerning the scope of mereology — and the role CEM plays in it. Chapter 1 explores the semantic sphere of mereology: it starts by clarifying the semantics of the term “part” and formulating criteria a part must satisfy.  Lando argues that a part should satisfy spatial location, selectivity and formality. A part is spatially located when it has a spatio-temporal location relationship through the same region of space.  In addition, a part must satisfy selectivity, that is, it must have clear boundaries in order to be identified. Finally, a part must stand in a binary relation with another part; in this sense it must satisfy formality. Furthermore, Lando wants to make clear that mereology concerns literal parthood, not metaphorical cases. For example, the notion of parthood invoked in the sentence “You are part of my heart” is not a genuine example of parthood as investigated in mereology, because it is not literal.

Chapter 2 defends mereological monism and shows why CEM could be useful in a range of different cases. Lando argues in favour of monism that it gives clear and unambiguous criteria to decide what is a part and what is not a part. This is an advantage that pluralism, in which one accepts multiple mereological theories, does not have. Because pluralism accepts numerous ways to discriminate parthood, each different from the others, it offers no unified notion of part.

Chapter 3 elucidates the relationship between mereology and formalism. The fact that mereology aims at generality and must be characterized as neutral does not imply that mereology is a kind of logic. Mereology aims to describe parthood in the broadest way possible. In this sense, it must be understood as formal: mereology can be applied to every part-whole relationship, independently from what “part” means in the context. Consequently, Lando argues, CEM is the best candidate to achieve the ambition of generality.

Having described the overall requirements and goals of a mereological theory, Chapter 4 argues in favour of the axioms of CEM. Here, Lando expounds and justifies the axioms of Transitivity, Reflexivity, Antisymmetry, and the Proper-Parthood definition.

The second part, on “Extensionalism,” enters into fine-grained details in responding to examples against Extensionalism and the Uniqueness of Composition. Chapter 5 analyses why uniqueness of composition and extensionalism are not negotiable points of CEM, and how these two points are essential to a nominalist account of structures of parts. Lando claims that nominalism is necessary in order to have a general mereological theory that is independent of single structures. By “structure” Lando means the configuration and order of individual parts. If a mereological theory is case-sensitive regarding structures, then it would lose some degree of generality.

Chapter 6 clarifies the conceptual distinction between Extensionalism and Uniqueness of Composition: firstly, how they differ in their formalization; secondly, which tasks the quantifiers in the formulations cover.

Chapter 7 offers a concrete application of CEM in order to show its virtues. Taking the example of a mountain, Lando demonstrates that CEM is able to: a) distinguish parts (e.g. the trees on its surface) from the proper parts of the mountain; b) give a clear account of cases of counterparts; and c) settle the issue of overlapping objects, that is, the mountain and the “mountmatter” on it, such as rocks, forests, rivers, etc.

Chapter 8 faces the most difficult mereological cases, which relate to abstract objects. For Lando, a theory that aims for generality must also be able to explain parts of abstract entities, such as numbers and sets. But a problem for CEM arises when one allows for the stipulation of entities that the theory cannot accommodate, namely facts and propositions. In what sense does a fact have parts, or does a word share the same letters with other words? Lando solves the issue claiming that these sorts of objects do not belong to mereology: abstract entities have their own identity criteria, independent from those of CEM.

Chapter 9 examines alternatives to Extensionalism useful for fictional and controversial scenarios. These include, for instance, objects without clear boundaries among their parts (e.g. forms), or scenarios where it is no clear relationship involved (e.g. reciprocal parts). Nevertheless, non-extensional variants must be employed if and only if there are strong metaphysical motivations to apply them.

The third part of the book, “Unrestricted Composition,” is dedicated to defending the principle of Unrestricted Composition. Chapter 10 treats the notion of fusion and its relationship with ontological economy. Specifically, Lando settles the issue regarding how quantifiers in Fusion’s axiomatization have plural variables as domain. Chapter 11 refines further this formal definition of the concept of Fusion. Chapter 12 upholds the existence of counterintuitive fusions, like that of the Statue of Liberty and a chair. However, Lando stresses that CEM accepts the plurality of fusions only as long as the parts involved are actual existing parts.

Chapter 13 examines the problem of vague fusions. Unrestricted Composition could give rise to disquieting consequences like spatial or temporal disconnected fusions. However, the principle accommodates many of our standard intuitions, for instance, the case of spatially distributed things. A classic example is that of a fleet, in which the sum of the ships is not spatio-temporally contiguous. Despite this non-contiguity, on Unrestricted Composition, each ship counts as a part of the fleet.

Finally, Chapter 14 evaluates the consequences of Unrestricted Composition for meta-ontology. In particular, Lando examines how the principle interacts with Quinean meta-ontology, Meinongianism, Williamson’s conception of being, and Kit Fine’s meta-ontology. In the brief Appendix that closes the book, Lando argues against the equivalence between Composition and Identity in mereological monism.

Giorgio Lando’s book has the virtue of offering a clear introduction to mereology from CEM’s perspective. It explains what the methodology of the discipline is, and what is required for a theory of parthood. Every axiom of the theory is expressed and explained with clarity, and supported by a multitude of useful examples. Furthermore, it does this from the specific point of view of monism and CEM theory. In this sense, Lando covers an important gap in the literature: here we have a monograph that expounds a major topic and at the same time suggests to the reader a definite approach to follow.

This approach avoids a deficiency possessed by many other introductions. Quite often, they are merely compendia of positions and notions. In contrast, this book starts by immediately giving reasons why CEM is the best candidate among competitor mereological theories. This is helpful in two ways: on the one hand, it benefits newcomers by offering a precise way of facing mereological problems; on the other hand, it helps the expert reader evaluate from the beginning whether CEM is convincing or not.  Regarding the defence of CEM, Lando’s arguments are solid: he succeeds in defending the main principles of CEM from classic objections. His criticism regarding fusion and the unrestrictedness and uniqueness of composition — the most contentious points of CEM – is especially strong. The volume is also successful in upholding monism as respectable choice in meta-mereology: for example, by demonstrating why pluralism has problems in managing criteria of identity about parts and objects.  In this regard, Giorgio Lando has reached his goal.

Although the book is an extremely welcome addition to the study of mereology, it is not perfect. The first flaw is theoretical, while the second concerns the third part of the book, and the third regards some choices in the exposition. As already mentioned, Lando provides good arguments in favour of both monism and extensionalism. However, his account fails in its treatment of abstract objects. Lando’s justification of CEM is successful only in the case of spatio-temporal located entities. A mereological theory aspiring to be the single correct theory and the most general explanation does not have this luxury. Lando claims in Chapter 8 that CEM cannot treat stipulated cases violating its principles, or that abstract things such as numbers and words lack definite identity criteria. Thus, his argumentative strategy is to maintain that abstract objects are not in the scope of CEM. Nonetheless, on this issue he is not persuasive: CEM in conjunction with monism and the pretence of topic-neutrality cannot rule out abstract objects. Otherwise, CEM would lose its status of generality or one would be forced to admit that abstract entities require different mereological criteria. These are two unpleasant outcomes for a monist mereology. Excluding a class of entities from a theory is a respectable move, but it cannot be accepted as long as the goal of the theory is generality.

About the second flaw of the book: as mentioned earlier, most of the book is accessible; however, the third part becomes a bit complex for a beginner. In particular, from Chapter 13 to 15, the discussion presupposes knowledge of many metaphysical positions. Despite the fact that they are summarized briefly, this treatment is insufficient for understanding these positions. The non-expert reader or philosopher with a different background will have some difficulties in following the explanation. This renders the last part more appealing to a philosopher already engaged in the debate than to a student with no expertise in the subject. My last critical remark concerns the space given to the pluralistic arguments: the discussion would have gained even more from the confrontation of CEM with other types of theories and pluralistic options. A deeper comparison of CEM with the competing alternatives would have been beneficial for the introductory purposes of the monograph. But I suppose that precise editorial requirements might have led the author not to include material on these different perspectives.

To sum up, “Mereology: A Philosophical Introduction” is a fundamental addition to the extant literature on mereology: it describes systematically the basics of Classical Extensional Mereology, and the relevant arguments in its favour. It is the first introduction explicitly oriented to monism in the literature. Moreover, it addresses the classic objections to CEM; this makes the book valuable also for specialists interested in defending this approach. Moreover, the book discusses with completeness collateral issues like meta-ontological consequences, nominalism, etc. Nevertheless, it has some limits, theoretically speaking. Giorgio Lando is able to defend CEM in the case of spatio-temporal objects; however, it appears that there is a difficulty in treating abstract objects and defending CEM’s generality at the same time. Moreover, a confrontation with different theories would have been preferable for two reasons: it would have emphasized the strength of CEM in comparison and, simultaneously, would have informed the reader about opposing views in the field. An opinionated introduction does not mean that other positions must be excluded. Finally, the third part is sometimes too difficult for introductory purposes. Nevertheless, I warmly recommend the book, perhaps not to newcomers in metaphysics, but to a graduate student or philosopher with metaphysical commitments, who wants to deepen his or her understanding of CEM.

Bibliography

Burkhardt, H., Seibt, J., Imaguire, G., Gerogiorgakis, S. (Eds.), 2017. Handbook of Mereology, Analytica. Philosophia Verlag GmbH, Munich.

Calosi, C., Graziani, P. (Eds.), 2014. Mereology and the Sciences. Parts and Wholes in the Contemporary Scientific Context, Synthese Library. Springer, Cham Heidelberg New York Dordrecht London.

Goodman, N., 1956. A World of Individuals, in: Bochenski, J.M., Church, A., Goodman, N. (Eds.), The Problem of Universals. A Symposium. Notre Dame University Press, Notre Dame, pp. 13–31.

Kleinschmidt, S., 2014. Mereology and Location. Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York.

Lewis, D., 1991. Parts of Classes. Blackwell, Oxford.

Lewis, D., 1986. On the Plurality of Worlds. Blackwell, Oxford.

Libardi, M., 1990. Teorie delle parti e dell’intero. Mereologie estensionali, Quaderni del Centro Studi per la Filosofia Mitteleuropea. Trento.

Moltmann, F., 1997. Parts and Whole in Semantics. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Simons, P., 2000. Parts. A Study in Ontology. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Varzi, A., Casati, R., 1999. Parts and Places. The Structures of Spatial Representation. MIT Press, Cambridge MA, London.

Cologne-Leuven Summer School of Phenomenology 2017: A Summary

Andrew Krema

The 10th annual Cologne-Leuven Summer School of Phenomenology – the world’s only summer school devoted solely to Husserlian phenomenology – convened from July 31 – August 4, 2017 at the University of Cologne. This year’s theme was “Phenomenology and its Methods,” and the session topics included intentional analysis, description, constitutional analysis, eidetic methodology, reductive methods, genetic analysis of human consciousness, the relation between experimental and phenomenological methods, and method in phenomenology and the human sciences (Geisteswissenschaften).

The daily program consisted of two lectures in the morning and an afternoon session of either a discussion on a foundational text on Husserlian methodology or graduate student project presentations. The lecturers and text discussion leaders were professors and doctoral students from Romania, Germany, Poland, Italy, and Mexico.

Christian Ferencz-Flatz (Bucharest/Cologne), “Das Experiment bei Husserl”

In the first lecture of the Summer School on Husserl’s notion of “experiment,” Christian Ferencz-Flatz delves into Husserl’s understanding of the relationship between phenomenology and experiments. Husserl’s Ideen III is one of the few texts that touches upon experiments without fully rejecting their validity for phenomenological analyses. Ferencz-Flatz highlights four relevant points from this text. First, the difference between an inductive method of experiment and eidetic variation is that the single cases that are considered in eidetic variation are connected to reality but they can also be created by phantasy. It is the imagined cases of some type that push the logical limits of the object being varied allowing us to gain knowledge of its essence. Second, experience plays a larger role in grounding the eidetic analyses of certain kinds of experiencing. One example is memory: a better starting point would be in this case an actual memory and not a fantasy of a memory. Third, Husserl suggests experiments could supplement challenging investigations in which first-person experience or imagined first-person experience is not accessible (e.g. experiencing anger). Fourth, Ferencz-Flatz suggests that Husserl’s concept of experiment is not the same as normal scientific experiments requiring an intersubjective consensus because that is not important for phenomenology; rather, what is important is that any and every subject comes to the same eidetic insights.

Although it is unclear as to whether or to what extent Husserl supports empirical experiments, perhaps he is keener on thought experiments in these passages of Ideen III. One early interpretation of Husserl by Siegfried Kracauer understood Husserl’s eidetic variation to be a kind of thought experiment and even contemporary phenomenologists use thought experiments in their work. In Husserl, we see cases like the early form of what would be later called the primordial reduction in the fifth Cartesian Meditation or the annihilation of the world (Weltvernichtung) scenario in Ideen I as closely resembling thought experiments. Nonetheless, there are two important differences between these examples from Husserl and traditional thought experiments. First, Husserl’s scenarios are set within the context of phenomenological variation; in other words, Husserl cannot just freely think of any conceivable scenario, rather he is bound by eidetic variation to the realm of possibility i.e. concrete experiences like a dream or delusion. The second difference is that Husserl is bent on proving the possibility of these scenarios. It is thus clear that the main difference between Husserlian variations and thought experiments is the fact that the variations are bound to the experiential realm.

Phenomenology finds itself in a strange paradox in which it depends upon empiricism, and at the same time is eidetically independent of experience. This latter position has made it difficult to dialogue with other sciences and areas of philosophy. Ferencz-Flatz believes that relating phenomenology to and weakening its stark differences with other sciences and areas of philosophy is justified and appropriate.

Dieter Lohmar (Cologne), “Intentionality and Description in Phenomenology”

Dieter Lohmar’s first talk on Monday focused on the central topic of intentionality in phenomenology. His starting point was Husserl’s distinction between the reell and intentional content of consciousness, which is to be seen in perception. In the example of perceiving a red billiard ball, we perceive it to be smooth, colored, and round. The ball however does not appear as a homogenously single-toned red ball, rather this red ball reflects light and our perceiving ignores this reflecting as part of the ball itself. Thus, we want to examine our own constitutive activity in perception, and this examination requires a “reduction” in which the subject takes a step back from the “ready-made” world to examine how it is we come to constitute or interpret an object – in other words, how we give it sense. The interpretation of sense objects is called “apperception” and should be understood as a synthesis and not as a causal affair. The synthetic character of apperception is apparent in the example of perceiving a car driving past me: I hear the roaring engine come and then see it coming towards me quickly as it seems to increase in size as it approaches while I at the same time also have a toothache. The object guides this activity: we discriminate parts of sensibility and this choice is guided by the idea of the object. In this example, I discriminate the toothache from the car experience. Time consciousness is also an essential structure in apperception as I anticipate a fast car coming from behind me upon hearing the sound. Previous knowledge also plays a role in my apperceiving an object: when I perceive a lemon, I not only see its shape and color, but I also image its smell and bitter taste. These are examples of Husserl’s goal to manifest the fundamental “rules” that govern perception. In order to bring these “rules” of cognition to light, all presuppositions must be suspended, even presuppositions of the existence of objects. In phenomenology, we start with what is given, sense perception, not an object existing in the world. We then let it constitute itself.

Apperceptions can modify themselves based on their givenness. For example, this ‘A’ (that is written on the chalk board) could be apperceived as a letter, as a drawing of a tent, or as a chalk mark. Depending on many factors, this symbol could be apperceived as one of these, but then it could be modified when one realizes the letter is actually a sketch of a tent. These examples do not suggest a causal theory of perception because the change in apperception is due to sensibilities and an order of relevance based on i.e. the context. Phenomenology is concerned with how an object is given and interpreted. Lohmar concluded his talk on intentionality by stressing the mistake of presuming the world “in itself” and the world as it appears. Husserl instructs us to analyze our own knowledge and how the world appears to us.

Jagna Brudzinska (Cologne/Warsaw), “Intentionalgenetische Analyse”

Jagna Brudzinska’s talk on Tuesday built upon Lohmar’s Monday lecture by going further in depth into the analysis of intentionality from the genetic perspective. She began by highlighting time as the key factor that differentiates static from genetic approaches. In static phenomenology, we descriptively analyze single conscious acts of interpreting an intuitively given object; however, the temporality (Zeitlichkeit) is left out. A temporally dynamic analysis of consciousness would allow for us to reveal the structure of motivation in pre-predicative experience, which is historically determined while it also determines experience. By thematizing the whole stream of consciousness as a single contiguity of time, we have access to the temporal succession of experiences and can view the associations of one to another. Prior experience “sediments” itself as self-knowledge in consciousness, which plays an essential role in interpreting the present and future. A genetic analysis allows us to analyze processes of becoming, dynamics of individuation, horizonedness (Horizonthaftigkeit) and teleological motivation processes of development. Thus, a whole new dimension can be considered in passive genesis. Brudzinska’s ultimate claim in the lecture is that genetic phenomenology is not supplemental but essential for establishing the absolute foundation of knowledge.

 

D. Lohmar, “Searching for Evidence”

In this talk on the topic of evidence, Lohmar began with Hume’s concept of belief as the conviction of the existence of a given state of affairs that was felt by the mind. Hume’s concept of belief inspired Husserl’s understanding of evidence in terms of a performance of the mind in which we presence the intelligible object. The kind of evidence that can be gained is dependent upon the mode of givenness of the object. For example, there is a notable difference between signitive, pictorial, and intuitive intentionality with respect to their mode of evidence. A signitive intention (a sign in a system of signs) cannot deliver any adequate evidence. A picture represents a characteristic of the object but is not sufficient in acquiring evidence of the pictorialized object. Eventually, direct perception serves as evidence, though there is an optimality in viewing that object, e.g. if I walk too close when viewing a house, I can only see a small portion of the whole. Adequate evidence of external things is therefore impossible to obtain, but it constantly leads our perceptual dynamics as a regulative idea.

Lohmar then moves to distinguish different kinds of evidence. The first distinction is between adequate and inadequate evidence. Adequate evidence is the self-givenness of all aspects of the object. No three dimensional object can give itself adequately because every thing always has a back side that is absent from the view. Husserl struggles to say that in the reflective attitude, objects of “inner perception” can give themselves fully. Another kind of evidence is apodictic evidence (i.e. impossibility to think the opposite). In Logical Investigations, Husserl claims that logical principles would belong to this kind of evidence, but in Formal and Transcendental Logic, he revokes this claim and says that it is more complicated. There are thus three aspects to be considered by a phenomenology of evidence: (1) the kind of object you intend (of cognition, imagination, real, etc.); (2) the style of gaining evidence belonging to these kinds of objects; (3) the degree to which you are able to achieve evidence for this special object.

 

 D. Lohmar, “Categorial Intuition”

On Wednesday, Dieter Lohmar continued his discussion of evidence by discussing its relation to categorial intuition. Categorial intuition is for Husserl a developed form of cognition. When I begin to shift my intention from one object to another, I begin to cognize identities and general typicalities. For instance, I cognize the fruity smell belonging to lemons, and if I expect to encounter a certain acquaintance with a certain set of characteristics and the man who taps me on the shoulder does not fit my expectations, I naturally act surprised and confused because the type is not fulfilled. A further fundamental aspect of categorial intuition that appears in the late Husserlian genetic analyses of judgment in Experience and Judgment (1939) is the so-called “explication.” This process alludes to the fact that I first perceive the object as a whole and then concentrate on a certain aspect without losing the intentional reference to the object as such. The many aspects or sides are related to the object by means of what Husserl calls a synthesis of coincidence. This form of association of the contents of experience is made by the subject, but the result of the synthesis is absolutely dependent upon reality: the object shows itself and its inner characters and the subject passively follows its lead. The moments of the objects that the subject may focus on vary based on interests or contextual factors. Language is not necessary for cognition understood as categorial intuition; this is demonstrated by animals, which, according to Lohmar, show a form of immediate and non-discursive kind of cognition very similar to ours.

 

D. Lohmar, “Eidetic Method”

Lohmar concluded Wednesday with a lecture on Husserl’s method to discuss essences. For Husserl, the intuition of essences belongs to how we experience the world and our consciousness thereof. The result of seeing essences is however a priori. In seeing variance, we gain a priori knowledge, i.e. when we vary all possibilities of a kind – not just our own sensible experiences of this given thing, but also our phantasies of it that stretch the realm of possibilities to its limit – we are able to gain a priori knowledge about this object. Not all essences of objects, however, can be intuited by this method. Cultural objects, for example, cannot be successfully varied by this method because one culture could have a rather different understanding of some object than another. God or virtue could be included in examples in which different cultures have notions that are totally different and could not be varied. Eidetic variation instead grasps for eidetic structures of experience. How is it that we carry out this method so that the result is valid for all cases? Eidetic intuition is not a kind of induction in which we think of 100,000 cases and then come to a general rule. The principle of eidetic variation rests on the synthesis of coincidence: it is seeing what remains the same among all the differences. The type plays an important role by guiding the variations: through types, we can regulate our variations of trees to things that fit the type, “tree,” and the type will guide and eliminate things not befitting to it. Types are limited to our own experience and can be adjusted to our own empirical knowledge. Thus, through this type-led variation, we have an experience of the “a priori” – a rather misleading Husserlian term for which he means non-empirical necessity.

 

Marco Cavallaro (Cologne), “Method in Phenomenology and the Human Sciences”

Thursday’s first presentation was given by Marco Cavallaro on phenomenology’s connection to the human sciences. The background of this topic, as Cavallaro explained, is a discussion on the nature of descriptive psychology between Wilhelm Dilthey and Husserl. It was Dilthey who claimed that in order to understand the systems of culture, a thorough study of the human soul is required. He proposed a descriptive psychology – as opposed to an explanatory psychology that uses natural scientific methods to explain psychical facts – whose goal is to understand the presentation of components and continua found uniformly throughout all developed modes of human psychic life in which these components form a unique nexus that is neither added nor deduced, but concretely lived. This descriptive psychology is, according to Husserl, a kind of empirical science. Instead, Husserl wanted to develop a “pure” psychology in which the psychical is separated from the physical allowing the psychical a priori to be disclosed. In order to carry out this science, the ego must undergo a twofold reduction (transcendental and eidetic) in which we go back to the eidetic structures of subjective (and intersubjective) experiencing. Pure psychology serves three functions: the foundation of empirical psychology, the foundation of the human sciences, and as a propaedeutic to transcendental phenomenology. Both phenomenology and the human sciences overlap in their subject matter (i.e. understanding the other, foreign cultural objects, social habits, and classificatory types). Their methods also conflate insofar as they both seek universal structures that are valid for every person regardless of culture. Cavallaro concluded by praising and presenting the theses of Phillippe Descola’s Beyond Nature and Culture (2005), which offers a foundational approach to anthropology akin to the Husserlian one.

 

Lohmar, “Reductive Methods”

“A phenomenologist must not accept transcendental phenomenology, but you miss something in life if you don’t do it once,” Prof. Lohmar said at the beginning of his final lecture of the week. Husserl’s transcendental turn was made known in 1913 upon the publishing of his Ideen I, which was considered a return to Kantian philosophy. Transcendental phenomenology thematizes the thetic characteristic of the given object. In so doing, we try to see the real form of evidence that lets us take up reality. Yet to investigate how it is that we claim something to be real, we cannot start with the claim that the thing is indeed real. Thus, a reduction is necessary in which both the thetic quality – whether something is given as truly there, or doubtful or probable – and the matter of the object, which tells us what we are seeing, have to be bracketed or ignored. Instead of the real, we focus just on the phenomenological content. The reduction hinders the subject from prejudging and allows for one to see how steps are taken towards completing a certain act.

In Husserl’s work, there are many other reductions, one of which is the primordial reduction. The setting of this reduction is, “How does it come to be that I have the tendency to interpret a body appearing as a human subject?” This reduction differs from the transcendental because it does not bracket everything, only that which is necessary to eliminate the presuppositions in how we perceive others. On our way to the “primordial island,” cultural sense is totally lost, yet language and emotions are difficult to eliminate. There is much debate as to whether or to what extend this reduction is successful. Nonetheless, Professor Lohmar instructed the participants that even if “it may turn out to be impossible… it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try!”

Alice Pugliese (Palermo), “Analysis of Motivation in Genetic Phenomenology”

Alice Pugliese began her presentation on the last day of the Summer School with a question based on observations that were suggested throughout the week; namely, could motivation provide a ground for the idealistic and transcendental philosophy of subjective life, even if motivation is considered by many other sciences to be to be an empirical and experience-related element? The intentional and constitutive flow of consciousness is a motivated process. This means that motivation has “lawfulness” i.e. it shows regularities, similarities and uniformities, it always holds a direction, and it is strongly influenced by past experience. One common misconception is that motivation is always causal, yet only apodictic motivation is causal. Motivation often appears in the form of association: for example, A reminds me of B. New experiences will modify and transform past experiences by adjusting or rewriting our experiential history. This account of motivation suggests a low-level teleology: an object’s value is immediately given in our experience of that thing e.g. I apperceive the ice cream immediately as “tasty.” Motivation is an interplay between passivity and activity: it is not just from our being affected that moves us to practical action, but practical action also leads us to be affected. Pugliese concluded by listing Husserl’s three levels of motivation: (1) thematic motivation that guides thinking or imagination; (2) passive motivation that implicitly guides kinesthesia; (3) Drives (Triebe) that are the deepest and also a non-thematic form of motivation providing orientation.

 

Thiemo Breyer (Cologne), “Phenomenological Psychology”

The final lecture of Summer School 2017 was given by Thiemo Breyer on Husserl’s phenomenological psychology. In the first part, he gave a historical overview of Husserl’s relation to psychology. From early on, Husserl was in contact with the leading psychologists and was concerned with psychology’s connection to mathematics and philosophy. Husserl began his philosophical career using descriptive psychological terms and methods but gradually shifted towards more logical terms and methods. In his phenomenological psychology, Husserl wants to establish a new a priori psychology, which was not meant to replace empirical psychology, but to serve as the basis for other sciences such as the humanities (Geisteswissenschaften). This new psychology is an eidetic science that makes analytic distinctions between different elements of consciousness, which is an artificial procedure existing in abstraction. In phenomenological psychology, we take many single concrete experiences and abstract a general experience of what it means to have e.g. a perception, or a fantasy etc. Husserl compares the science to geometry because they both abstract from concrete things (for psychology, experiences and for geometry, imperfect everyday circles and squares) to the ideal. The difference between this science and geometry is that phenomenological psychology can be falsified by encountering something contradictory in the life world or a fantasy of some type of experience, whereas in geometry, factual occurrence does not falsify the ideal nature of some figure.

Phenomenological psychology is the science of the ego and everything that makes up the personal “I”. Husserl sets up three “spheres” of psychic experiences: cognition/theoretical reason (Verstand); emotion and axiological reason (Gemüt); and volition or practical reason (Wille). Each category is comprised of different faculties or factors: under cognition is perception, memory, fantasy, and judgment; under emotion is affect, feeling, mood, Stimmung, atmosphere, and evaluation; and under the will are drives (Triebe), conative, motivations, deliberations, action. The order of the categories (i.e. cognition, then emotion and then will) shows the direction of the “foundational relationship.” Breyer concluded the talk by noting phenomenology’s accomplishments and impact on the various fields related to psychology such as psychopathology, Gestalt psychology, and embodied cognitive science.

The only way to conclude this summary is to share Dieter Lohmar’s parting words to the participants: “Stay true to Husserl!”

Reviewed by: R. Andrew Krema (Cologne)

For more information on the Husserl Archive at the University of Cologne, go to:

http://www.husserl.phil-fak.uni-koeln.de/

Giuseppina D’Oro, Søren Overgaard (Eds.): The Cambridge Companion to Philosophical Methodology

The Cambridge Companion to Philosophical Methodology Book Cover The Cambridge Companion to Philosophical Methodology
Cambridge Companions to Philosophy
Giuseppina D'Oro, Søren Overgaard (Eds.)
Cambridge University Press
2017
Paperback £ 23.99
482

Reviewed by: Roland Bolz (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

In the 21st century, the landscape of philosophical methods and orientations seems increasingly complex. Reference to ‘schools of thought’ may be misleading, suggesting more internal coherence than exists. Yet, (non-)allegiance to certain ideas about style and method can have real institutional consequences. At present, one can observe an increasing number of debates focused on the reliability of certain philosophical methods. Some attention is being given to how the ever-changing methods and scope of philosophy set it apart from the sciences. Lastly, there have been attempts to understand certain philosophical disagreements as disagreements on a meta-philosophical level, i.e. disagreements about the proper scope, data, standards, and goals of philosophy itself. The Cambridge Companion to Philosophical Methodology situates itself in this context of increasing reflection on methods and on the role of philosophy itself.

The editors Giuseppina D’Oro and Søren Overgaard have gathered an admirable roster of twenty authors with the aim to exhibit the contemporary wealth of positions and debates regarding philosophical methods. Quite generally, nearly all the contributions can be described as normative in scope, i.e. as giving arguments for why one should espouse certain methods. The collection gives a very good cross section of contemporary orientations in philosophy, with some of the essays aimed at a general philosophical readership and others more focused on issues internal to certain traditions. Although the collection is naturally heterogeneous (given the heterogeneity of the philosophical field itself), there is plenty of implicit conversation between the essays, including between those from adherents of different traditions.

The volume is organized into four main parts. The first section concerns broad views of philosophy. It includes essays on the merits of philosophy for the individual, the need for a systematic impulse, the centrality of the human perspective, and on disagreement in philosophy. The second part is concerned with the central thesis of analytic philosophy, which is that the proper method of philosophy is conceptual analysis. Here, different versions of this claim are defended and criticisms from naturalism and experimental philosophy are considered. The third part gathers essays about philosophical methods/orientations (e.g. Kantianism, pragmatism, and quietism) which are not classifiable as continental or analytic. The final part gathers essays clearly continental in orientation (concerning the methods of phenomenology, deconstruction, existentialism, and hermeneutics).

This division into parts befits the content of the essays well. It has the disadvantage of reifying the analytic/continental divide somewhat, perhaps discouraging cross-reading the essays, despite the editors’ reservations regarding the usefulness of this divide. Hence, the remainder of this review is organized around certain dominant themes which appear throughout the volume and which mostly disregard the organization into parts by the editors. Instead of giving detailed summaries of all twenty essays here, which would be beyond the scope of this review, the following will be an impression of the contents of the book in a single account.

The Data of Philosophy

One of the recurrent themes of the volume and a good start when orienting oneself in the vast field of philosophy is the question regarding the data for philosophizing. As Nicholas Rescher points out in his chapter, the available data for philosophy are very diverse, ranging from common sense beliefs, to recent scientific findings, to history, to empirical experience of the world around us, to ideas delivered to us from the philosophical tradition – as he says: “we always begin with a diversified cognitive heritage.” (34) The choice of a method for philosophizing seems to correlate with a preoccupation with certain data. This, of course, is reflected in the other essays in the volume as well, where very different data are considered key to the conceptual work that philosophers engage in. One may extend Rescher’s idea somewhat by recognizing that some philosophers consider the artistic productions of past and present times among the most important data for their philosophizing. This is common in continental philosophy, were one can expect philosophical books about the meaning of Franz Kafka’s work, among others. Also, for some philosophers, transformative first-person life experiences are among the key data to philosophizing (as for Sartre and Adorno, discussed in the essays of J. Reynolds & P. Stokes and Fabian Freyenhagen).

Apart from a positive choice, I would submit that a philosophical method may include the choice to disregard certain sorts of data in favor of others. In the example of methodological doubt (Descartes), the negative aspect of choosing to limit oneself to certain data only is clear. One can find similar tendencies in varieties of ‘critical philosophy’ such as Kantianism and in Wittgenstein’s quietism (explored in the chapter by David MacArthur). The latter chooses to view with suspicion the doctrines of classical ontology and favors observations of actual language use as more reliable data for philosophizing. As a philosophical approach, this is clearly powered by a negative (yet enabling) decision regarding the ‘correct’ data.

Another example of a disagreement about the data of philosophy is between proponents of naturalism and proponents of conceptual analysis, where the former advocate the primacy of phenomena over our concepts and the latter advocate the primacy of linguistic meanings for settling philosophical disputes. That said, as the essay by Hans-Johann Glock about ‘impure conceptual analysis’ shows, intermediate positions are possible. He sketches a form of conceptual analysis where concepts are still regarded as a priori, but where empirical and ethical concerns are put into play. The downright naturalistic perspective, where thinking about knowledge becomes inseparable from the cognitive sciences, is sketched by Hilary Kornblith in his chapter.

Another important theme in the volume concerns the reliability of data. Even if philosophers largely agree on the choice of data for philosophizing, there may be worries about how reliable those data really are. In analytic philosophy, one commonly employs the method of cases, where a short vignette is presented to establish or put into question certain intuitions about philosophical claims. In recent years, so-called ‘experimental philosophers’ have put into question the reliability of this method. The main issue is that one can show, using statistical methods, that certain choices made in the design of the vignette may influence the outcome, even if those choices should be irrelevant. If the outcome of such tests is not stable upon changing seemingly irrelevant details, it may be called into question whether the case reliably prompts the kind of intuition which was taken as evidence for the philosophical claim under discussion. This theme is taken up in detail in the chapter by Jonathan M. Weinberg. Far from criticizing the method of cases in its entirety, Weinberg explains that experimental philosophy aims to exercise a type of ‘quality control’ having both a restrictive and constructive side. This debate is best understood as internal to the tradition of philosophy as conceptual analysis in the armchair.

The question of the accessibility of philosophical data also emerges in phenomenology, addressed in the chapter by David R. Cerbone. In short, there is a gap between the ‘natural attitude’ (when we engage with our surroundings without reflecting on the role of consciousness) and the act of phenomenological reflection (when we consider the active role consciousness plays in constituting reality). But clearly, when engaging in the latter, one reflects on what is ‘given’ in consciousness – the question of data. The next question then becomes: what is it in the natural attitude that permits or calls us into the mode of phenomenological investigation? Cerbone draws attention to how Husserl and Heidegger try to bridge this gap differently. He points out that with both authors, an act of phenomenological reflection must be performed by the reader if she wants to understand a phenomenological text; she must somehow recall that the ideas in such a text also adequately describe her own experience.

Philosophical Disagreement

Several of the chapters focus on understanding the nature and extent of philosophical disagreement. As has often been noted, disagreement seems to be a rather pervasive feature of the philosophical field, especially when compared to the sciences. One can readily find ways to account for this. It may be that philosophy is simply harder than regular science. Alternatively, it may be that for many problems, it has not found the proper perspective (a sentiment that is strong in Kant’s philosophy, who thought that he had for the first time found the right perspective on the relation between intuition and understanding). The essays in the volume explore more subtle explanations.

Amie L. Thomasson presents an interesting perspective which accounts for at least some of the lasting disagreement. She builds on the already mentioned idea from Wittgenstein, Carnap, and others that philosophy is ultimately a form of conceptual analysis and thus primarily concerned with the proper use of concepts. This perspective has the great advantage that it does not put philosophy in a position rivalling physics (our best way of explaining ‘reality’), by focusing on language and not directly on reality itself. However, as she points out, according to the classical analytic conception, this type of work has a strictly descriptive character. Hence, it remains somewhat obscure how there can be lasting disagreement if all one needs to do is analyze the meaning of a concept. Also, if it is merely descriptive, this type of work is not so easily distinguished from linguistics after all. Her proposal to counteract these worries is to regard conceptual analysis as not only descriptive, but also prescriptive in nature. In other words, on her view, philosophers do not only debate about how words are used, but also about how they should be used – they engage in “metalinguistic negotiations” (David Plunkett quoted by Thomasson, p. 109). This proposal amounts to admitting that our conceptual schemes are often malleable and open to “ameliorative” revision (Sally Haslanger quoted by Thomasson, p. 115).

Questions that could be debated on this level are, for example, whether alcoholism is a disease, or what the best definition of ‘a person’ is. In both cases, wider societal, legal, and ethical concerns may inform our attempts at conceptual revision. An advantage of this view is that it does allow us to reinterpret a lot of ‘heavyweight metaphysics’ as negotiations of this sort. Often, it indeed seems to be the case that debates are so heated because participants are not merely trying to hit upon the one ‘correct’ usage of a pre-given concept but are advocating the best analysis among possible candidates. This opens the door to an ethical and at times imaginative type of conceptual analysis. (Thomasson suggests some compatibility between this notion and Foucault’s work on madness.)

Another essay concerned with the question of philosophical disagreement is Giuseppina D’Oro’s. The dispute she focuses on is between causalists (those who believe there are only events) and anti-causalists (those who believe there are events and actions). She asserts that on an abstract level, there seems to be little hope of resolving such debates, since there are respectable discourses which are causalist in character (engineering, physics, biology) and discourses which also speak of actions (history, sociology, psychology). D’Oro’s proposal, which follows suggestions from R.G. Collingwood’s philosophy of history, is that this debate is “best understood as a conflict between methodological practices which govern different forms of enquiry and the conception of reality that is entailed by them.” (221) The role of philosophy becomes not so much to settle the debate in favor of either of the positions, but to recognize that reality admits of several ontological schemes, dependent on the mode of inquiry undertaken (e.g. history or physics). Since both modes of enquiry are deemed legitimate as sciences, the two ontological schemes are ‘conditions of possibility’ for those modes of enquiry. Certainly, this seems to be applicable to the example debate, but one wonders whether other debates may be recast this way.

A chapter by Robert B. Talisse on pragmatism documents how the relation of pragmatist philosophies (Peirce, James, Dewey, Rorty) to the rest of philosophy is decidedly meta-philosophical. That is, the pragmatists related to other philosophies not on the level of first-order ideas but by developing intricate meta-ideas about philosophy itself. Talisse proposes this as a distinctive feature and risk of pragmatism. Finally, the chapter by Herman Cappelen, most explicitly about disagreement, tackles the claim that philosophy seems plagued by deep disagreements on a more empirical level. By and large, he puts into question the evidence for this claim in a convincing yet somewhat apologetic manner.

The Aims of Philosophy

Another important marker of methodological orientation appearing throughout this volume is the aim one ascribes to philosophy. Again, I would submit that one’s views on the aims of philosophy will generally correlate to some first-order philosophical ideas and with some view regarding philosophy’s data. For example, a scientifically inclined philosopher (‘science is our best way to describe reality’) might declare philosophy to be an “underlabourer to the sciences” (Locke), helping to elucidate the workings of science (epistemology, philosophy of science) whilst warning not to go above and beyond science. On the other hand, the larger one considers the conceptual and experiential territory outside of the bounds of science strictu sensu, the larger one may consider the task of philosophy. Also, there is the recurrent theme of the irreconcilability of internal and external perspectives on such phenomena as consciousness. Certainly, philosophers must not be oblivious about such external investigations (e.g. cognitive sciences) but they need not hand over the keys just like that either. Both the philosophy of mind and phenomenology seem to agree on this. On such views, the aim of philosophy may become to reconcile the findings of cognitive science with our first-person experience of our life-world (as advocated in the chapter by Jean-Luc Petit).

Although the volume has a section which is sort of devoted to the aims of philosophy (Part I: Visions of Philosophy), the theme certainly resonates throughout the entire volume. We already saw Amie L. Thomasson’s extension of conceptual analysis into normative and ameliorative territory. Along similar lines, Robert Piercey presents a case study of the analytic-continental divide, focusing on Richard Rorty (allegedly on the analytic side) and Paul Ricoeur (allegedly on the continental side), who share certain metaphilosophical convictions. Piercey calls these the metaphilosophy of hope and the metaphilosophy of historicity. The former designates that a central goal of philosophy should be to theorize for a better future. He shows us in some detail how this view takes shape in both thinkers and suggests that such metaphilosophical views are ultimately more helpful to orient oneself in the larger philosophical field (beyond the analytic-continental divide). Fabian Freyenhagen’s essay about critical theory and Adorno’s relation to philosophy can be taken along similar lines. There, Adorno is shown to both criticize classical philosophy to work towards its unfulfilled promises. The aim of critical theory is to soften the all too rigid hold certain problematic conceptual schemes have on society at large. This procedure both borrows from philosophy and criticizes it wherever it is found to be complicit in reinforcing the present social order. All of this also raises the questions how creative (in the sense of producing novelty) philosophy should aim to be. As A.W. Moore points out in his essay, the enduring influence of Wittgenstein in analytic philosophy has turned that tradition away from the creative conception of philosophy, an idea which is well alive with continental thinkers such as Deleuze & Guattari.

Beyond such collective aims, philosophy may also have real consequences for individuals engaging in it. Alessandra Tanesini explores a broadly Socratic view of philosophy on which the central aim for the individual is to find a way to live beautifully. She promotes the idea that this requires one to train one’s epistemic self-confidence. This includes skills pertaining to argumentation and concept-formation as well as the emotional capacity to defend unorthodox views within one’s community. Philosophy, construed as such, can greatly contribute to this effort and hence help an individual aiming to live beautifully.

Final Remarks

The volume offers a diverse and valuable cross section of discussions regarding philosophical methods. By and large it focuses on methodological ideas which are supported by tradition. The essays display a healthy degree of implicit conversation between them. Reading the entire volume at once will sharpen even the advanced reader’s sensitivity and appreciation of the matter. All the essays are directed at an uninitiated readership, fulfilling the aim of facilitating conversation between different methodological orientations. Let me now close this review with some minor criticisms.

The volume may be found wanting with regards to methods of formal logic. Positions on the role of logical methods for philosophy differ greatly, but it seems that a sufficient segment of academic philosophy attaches great value to them (especially in connection to conceptual analysis and philosophy of language). Many of the classical philosophical paradigms went hand in hand with views on logic. At a more mundane level, logic plays into the (re)construction of arguments, which is part and parcel of philosophical activity. The volume lacks any discussion of the role of logic in the narrow or wide sense.

A more nuanced worry is the following. By focusing on established methods which seem to be shared between many philosophers, the volume furthermore risks neglecting that the history of philosophy is often marked by a degree of methodological extremism. That is, it sometimes seems like each philosopher invents his/her own methods anew. It may be that the volume, despite its pluralist stance, ends up portraying the philosophical field as more unified than it really is. Relatedly, it does not always recognize the negative experience of not understanding an opponent’s position – an experience surely at the heart of philosophical activity since Plato’s Euthyphro.

Here is a final question regarding the evolution of new methods that the essays in the volume suggest but do not really breach. Consider the following: Let us say that upon reading the works of a certain philosopher X, we discern that she is a proponent of the new method Y. Such schemes are by now familiar, and the Cambridge Companion to Philosophical Methodology offers an abundance of examples. Now consider the following question: before X committed their thoughts to paper, what was their ‘method’ Z for arriving at the method Y? In other words, is there a useful distinction for methods understood as internal to philosophical programs and methods used to develop new ones? Given the plurality of different philosophical methods that have accompanied philosophy since its inception, is not deliberation about (new) methods among the key tasks of the philosopher? Far from suggesting an infinite regress, I merely want to express that there may be more dynamism to the philosophical practice than an evaluation of framework-internal methodologies will be able to bring to the surface. If, as Stanley Cavell puts it “philosophy is one of its own normal topics” (Cavell cited in D’Oro & Overgaard, 4), one might add that reflection on philosophical methods is one of philosophy’s normal methods. The Cambridge Companion to Philosophical Methodology is a recommendable way into this terrain.

Works Cited

  1. Cavell, S. Must We Mean What We Say? A Book of Essays. updated edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  2. Collingwood, R. G. The Principles of History. eds. W. H. Dray and Jan van der Dussen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  3. Descartes, R. Meditations on First Philosophy. trans. D. Cress. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1993.
  4. D’Oro, Giuseppina, and Søren Overgaard, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Philosophical Methodology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017.
  5. Foucault, M. Madness and Civilization. trans. R. Howard. New York: Vintage Books, 1965.
  6. Haslanger, S. Resisting Reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
  7. Locke, J. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Glasgow: Collins and Sons, 1964.
  8. Plato. Complete Works. Ed. J. Cooper. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1997.
  9. Plunkett , D. “Which Concepts Should We Use?: Metalinguistic Negotiations and the Methodology of Philosophy,” Inquiry 58, no. 7-8 (2015): 828-74.

 

Giuseppina D’Oro, Søren Overgaard (Eds.): The Cambridge Companion to Philosophical Methodology, Cambridge University Press, 2017

The Cambridge Companion to Philosophical Methodology Book Cover The Cambridge Companion to Philosophical Methodology
Cambridge Companions to Philosophy
Giuseppina D'Oro, Søren Overgaard (Eds.)
Cambridge University Press
2017
Paperback £ 23.99
482