Twelve strong essays in this excellent and impressively well-knit collection present different but convergent examinations of master-themes in Husserl’s philosophy like intentionality and the reduction/s, while also discussing specific doctrines relating to psychologism, the eidetic method, objectifying acts, time-consciousness, truth and error, monadological construction, and the intersection of phenomenology and cultural critique. The authors use a variety of approaches, historical or developmental readings and analytic commentary, comparative analysis and speculative interpretation, and, while several authors, along with the editors, are well-known to anglophone phenomenologists and Kantians, even the less familiar ones are easily recognized names in the field (the collection features four deceased philosophers, five emeritus professors, four senior figures, and one younger researcher). The essays were originally written in German, dating mostly from the 1980s-1990s with a few from the first decade of our century, and the translators Hayden Kee, Patrick Eldridge, and Robin Litscher Wilkins have conveyed their different philosophical and rhetorical styles with facility. Overall, the collection promises to present (to a non-initiate, it should be noted) Husserl’s thought through “German perspectives.”
It is worth pausing to consider what this last could mean. For it promises to show a whole force-field of thought determined by linguistic, geographical, and historical connections, and even how these determinations are themselves determined by what is left out, that is, the kind of work occurring in other, principally anglophone traditions. For instance, the collection emphasizes the dense overlap of Husserlian and Heideggerean views as opposed to cleanly separating the two, while it underplays treatments of Gadamer and Merleau-Ponty and with them certain types of questions of aesthetics, materiality, and intersubjectivity, which form a dominant thrust in the anglophone reception of phenomenology in Continental-philosophical quarters. Similar determining occlusions can be mentioned with respect to Analytic-philosophical quarters, for example, the absence of applications of phenomenology to cognitive science (and vice-versa) or the interpretation of Buddhist doctrines, or, given the unifying thread throughout the volume, which understands intentionality in highly active and teleological terms, the absence of treatments of kinaesthesia and action-in-perception views. Finally, aside from the last essay on Husserl’s thought through the Crisis, the collection passes up the chance to examine the very notion of a perspective as cultural, such as one that might be German but also European (itself universalized and universalizing) by way of recovering ancient Greek thought according to a German self-understanding prepared over the 18th and 19th centuries.
Or one could bring under “German perspectives” a number of major, agenda-setting articles unavailable in translation; or those from a devoted journal or issue or proceedings from a signal conference, whose historical significance has been recognized; or the workings of a particularly productive group or research from a particular archive; or translations of introductions to standardized editions of Husserl’s works; or simply the task of introducing some well-known figures and works to anglophone readership as R.O. Elveton’s classic little collection did several years ago, although several authors in the present volume require no introduction; or the relation of Husserl’s thought to other points taken as definitive of German philosophy (Leibniz-Wolff, German Idealism). In their short, elegant introduction, the editors state that the volume simply aims to bring before an English-language reader some previously untranslated articles by important German-language commentators, showcasing conversations they have with other important German-language philosophers. Of course, neither this deflationary description nor the curious designation “German Perspectives” in any way detracts from the high quality of the collection, and, in fact, the conversations linking the pieces in multiple ways, I find, constitute its greatest strength. I take the designation, however, as recording the need for further attempts along lines noted in the list above, some of whose elements can be glimpsed occasionally through the collection, which this review will highlight in the course of addressing each article in order.
Sonja Rinofner-Kreidl (1997) revisits Hussserl’s critique of psychologism in the Prolegomena to show that it was only partially successful, which helps understand in a subtler way the major philosophical re-orientation that followed. Thus, no rectilinear path takes us from the psychologism-critique to the transcendental-philosophical stages of Husserl’s work and questions broached in earlier stages persistently re-appear later. This is because Husserl’s critique did not attend as much to the presuppositions of a psychologistic view as it did to the debilitating consequences of that view, which were taken as endorsing subjectivism and skepticism. This conflated different skeptical charges (logical, epistemological, metaphysical) and missed, quite directly, the issue of a dispute of principles, or the problem of the criterion, between psychologistic and anti-psychologistic standpoints, and, indirectly, the need to interrogate the latent issues of psychologism and Platonism in Husserl’s use of descriptive psychology and the foundations of normativity asserted in both psychologistic and anti-psychologistic models, albeit differently.
Husserl’s development of the phenomenological reduction enabled such interrogations spanning across static and genetic phenomenological inquiries. They did not arise with sole regard to developing a practical-philosophical framing against an overly theoretical one (a view tempted by the later talk of the life-world) but by reframing of the operative conception of science in order to handle the previously overlooked skeptical problems. Pure logic’s “objectivistic” model of science is replaced by a more subjectivistic model supplied by philosophy itself, as the debate shifts from being between logic and psychology to one between philosophy and psychology and the rejection of epistemological skepticism as a condition of philosophy replaces a narrower overcoming of logical skepticism for the sake of pure logic as a science of science (36-38). Rinofner-Kreidl proceeds carefully and meticulously, but perhaps due to this it is hard to find many references to German perspectives beyond the odd citation of a counter-critique from a psychologistic point of view, and one gets the impression that an obvious and influential German elephant in the room has been neglected, namely, the German Idealist shape of this transcendental-philosophical battle with skepticism at the level of principles and over the possibility of philosophy itself as a science of science. Rinofner-Kreidl’s detailed analysis thus sheds light on the dark corners of Husserl’s articulation of the problem of psychologism, but has the unfortunate effect of making the Logical Investigations appear insufficiently philosophical, philosophy itself being discovered by Husserl only afterwards.
Ludwig Landgrebe (d.1991; undated essay), by contrast, stresses the inner philosophical unity running through Husserl’s oeuvre, thus, a unity animating, even if in embryonic form, the early works as well as the psychologism-critique of the Investigations (51-59), by focusing on the concept of intentionality and underlining its achieving, striving character. Further, he provides the German context for a divided reception of this concept: on the one hand, phenomenology took up the descriptive-psychological investigations as de-linked from this inner thematic, widened a growing rift between eidetics- and ontology-centric approaches, and overall divorced from phenomenological studies a deeper ontology-critique that was always a part of Husserl’s efforts; on the other hand, phenomenology retained this deeper critical edge and fundamentally re-thought the inner thematic itself, which Heidegger did in re-situating the analysis of intentionality on the grounds of the facticity of Dasein.
According to Landgrebe, it is not simply the case that Heidegger rejects the reduction as a method (for it was always more than a way to initiate constitution-analyses of consciousness and already engaged the possibility of ontology in Husserl), nor merely that Heidegger begins his intentional analysis from being-in-the-world rather than the other way around (for the Husserlian apprehension of intentionality as active, self-producing and self-temporalizing form already broke through mundane comportments towards their inner structure). Rather, Heidegger contests the model of subjectivity assumed in these conceptions of intentionality and reduction, which comprises reflection and an “attitude of impartial observing” (75) achieved by bracketing one’s determinate Dasein in order to universalize the partial acts of reflection. This, however, conceives oneself as only an indifferent other and fails to apprehend the self-knowing of Dasein in its performance of existence, which takes us to the limits of intentional analysis, since the synthetic constitution of an object can no longer be found here. How an a priori is to be still articulated here, how a metaphysic of facticity is possible – these questions remained on Husserl’s mind in the last years and remain open for future phenomenology, for Landgrebe.
Jan Patočka (1982) too takes intentionality in its active, dynamic form to be a guiding principle for phenomenology at large and uses it to examine the Husserl-Heidegger relation, although not to see in it a parting of ways but an interweaving of interests and a critical continuity of the phenomenological project. At the heart of such a reconciliation is Patočka’s reading of the reduction as marked by a fundamental circumscription (the suspension of the epoché distinguished from an alleged march to reduce all being to the absolute sphere of consciousness), which both bridges the rift Landgrebe outlined between eidetic and ontological strains of phenomenological research and qualifies Heidegger’s seeming rejection of the reduction. Patočka bases his reading on Husserl’s 1907 lectures on The Idea of Phenomenology to find that the reduction maintains a positivity of being and envisions research into phenomena as resisting a total absorption into immanence by inexhaustible progress through experience, balancing eidetic reflection against the constructions of positivity in science or modernity itself.
Although Husserl couched the reduction in a subjectivist vocabulary stemming from Kant and Fichte, the tension present in it between reifying and non-objectifying aspects, and of questions of being and nothing, allows us to discern Heideggerean motives that are otherwise expressed in the language of moods and errances of being. Thus, “the possibility of an epoché and its limbo is inherent in the experience of annihilation… [I]t is not the epoché that establishes the limbo upon which the phenomenological reduction is built up, but rather the epoché presupposes the experience of the limbo….” (99-100). While Heidegger’s critique takes this nihilating moment to the greatest distances from Husserl in using it to launch a metaphysical critique of the presupposition of acts of negation in formal logic, Patočka believes it possible (and believes Heidegger believed a reconciliation was possible) to see both thinkers grounding their overall visions for philosophy upon a reflection on crisis as such, which remains the task of future shapes of phenomenology.
Dieter Lohmar’s (2005) defense of eidetic intuition and variation as a self-standing phenomenological method continues within the outline of the German reception of Husserl’s thought as given by Landgrebe and continues with Patočka to question the reduction’s claims to be a univocal, unitary phenomenological method. Lohmar argues that eidetic intuition should be seen as a variety of categorial intuition insofar as both preserve a basic orientation to the possibility of knowing an object through a pathway of syntheses of coincidence. This clarifies how eidetic variation is the key element of a method centered on eidetic intuition, which overcomes nagging questions in that method about non-givenness in intuition for certain classes of objects (image consciousness, universal objects) by asserting the functional primacy of free variation in phantasy over perception. One might hold that free variation needs the reduction to get off the ground, but Lohmar explains that both eidetic variation and the phenomenological reduction suspend the factual to reveal universals, but their purposes are different, as reduction targets validity justifications but variation lets us uncover structures of clarity answering to initially vague concepts, thus undertaking the philosophical clarification of knowledge itself.
This is a clear account of the method, and Lohmar does address worries about its limits (how far must we go? when do we stop? do we presuppose a concept in clarifying a concept? is cultural parochialism inherent in the limits of the operation and the concept clarified?), but Lohmar hastily brushes aside other questions in its wake or gestures towards the genetic theory of types for further development of the method, undermining its claims to theoretical independence. If the process sounds like an empiricist account of the generation of concepts or even what Kant calls their logical origin in acts of comparison and abstraction, we are told that Husserl is not indulging in a genetic psychology of concepts, but is in pursuit of universal objects, and in any case, Kant too buried many secrets about the imagination’s powers in the depths of the human soul; if the Platonism charge is recalled at this point, we are told that Husserl really treats Platonism as little more than mysticism and does not assert a separate realm of irreal being; if we ask after the apriority these objects may still claim, even without reminders about their location in the realm of absolute being of consciousness, we are told that Husserlian apriority is not severed from experience like Kant’s but more like Humean induction; if we ask about the Humean legacy, we are referred to Husserl’s un-Humean, mitigated Platonism; etc. What one misses is an actual confrontation with these issues, which are either invoked by Lohmar himself (not only when he brings up Kant as a foil, but also when he describes seeing the a priori in the very ways that trouble Kant’s problematic theory of constructing concepts [137-138n.57]) or which are present in Husserl and call for greater scrutiny (the relation of the doctrines of eidetic intuition and variation in the 6th Investigation to the critique of Modern nominalism and of Humean doctrines like ‘circles of resemblance’ in the 2nd Investigation). Overall, however, that eidetic investigation seems to have kept the Husserl-Archiv in Köln busy relatively recently (133n.1) indicates that this German perspective of inquiry is alive and well, Landgrebe’s diagnoses notwithstanding.
Karl Schuhmann (1991) presents an historical German perspective as he takes us back to Husserl’s manuscripts prior to the Logical Investigations and complicates the story of origins, somewhat as Rinofner-Kreidl did, by arguing that the discovery of intentionality did not occur entirely within the scope of Brentano’s doctrine, as the 5th Investigation may lead us to believe, but emerged from efforts to resolve Twardowski’s proposals in its vicinity. This also yields the corollary that Husserl’s progress towards a theory of noema does not follow directly from the initial conception of intentionality. The problem posed by Twardowski asks about the way representations can both relate to an object (for a representation represents something) and yet not relate to an object (when nothing in actuality answers to it). Twardowski’s solution proposed two kinds of objects to reconcile the universal relation to objects as well (as psychic contents) cases of actual objects. Husserl rejected this solution for its psychological implausibility (unlimited variety and complexity of psychic contents) and epistemological redundancy (the object known is always one and the object of a contradiction does not exist in any guise).
This, however, moved him into treating all propositions as falling under a guiding assumption for the relevant discourse, which modifies not objectivity but the position of the subject and its representations. Husserl’s solution thus turns to the subject, its doxic investments and the discursive form of knowledge, which suggest the new concept of intentionality; but he is still far from clarifying the systematic place of the subject in which these acts and contents take place, the consistency and priorities among different discursive forms of objectivity, and the coherence of judgment forms with perceptual knowing. But the future concept that dealt with the latter issues cannot be said to simply arise from the early concept, because the question of being was not posed in any critical way at all earlier and because the later concept of noema recalls elements of Twardowski’s interpretation, which had supposedly been overcome. Schuhmann leaves us with tantalizingly brief indications (which may be the case when working from fragmentary manuscripts, although Brentano’s and Twardowski’s theses could have been developed more broadly to give a fuller sense of the territory within which Husserl worked), without paving with further clues from developmental history the actual path from here to the theories of intentionality in the Logical Investigations and Ideas I.
Verena Mayer and Christopher Erhard (2008) take up the concept of intentionality as developed in the 5th Logical Investigation, and, although this essay is a solid and detailed exposition of the main sections of this Investigation (thus filling an oppressive gap in the literature while also conversing with the few who do attend to this topic), it also helps understand more broadly some key areas of concern for the early Husserl signaled by Schuhmann, such as the question of fitting judgment with perception, details from the general background and the internal critique of Brentano that contextualized Husserl’s own forays, the holism about mental contents that enables an analysis at the level of acts rather than isolated attention to representations or images or names or judgments, etc.
Importantly, Mayer walks us through the 5th Investigation as it integrates different mental components into the concept of an act with its intentional essence, which is crucial for understanding the active nature of intentionality as a horizonally shaped process of a cognitive fulfillment. Erhard provides a detailed reconstruction of the concept of objectifying acts, which is important to understand how the intentionality of an experience is variously articulated and modified, sometimes at the level of content, sometimes at the level of quality, in regard either to imaginative variation or to identifying syntheses in actual cognition. Owing to the expository nature of this commentary, one sometimes feels the need for critical argumentation over merely presenting Husserl’s view, which is admittedly hard to discern in these thickets. The authors are aware that the 5th Investigation is tortuous terrain, but precisely its complexity offers a rich field of interaction with Analytic Philosophy and their own effort to craft a workable platform across this terrain is already a necessary step towards such dialogue.
Ulrich Melle (1990) deepens the investigation into objectifying acts by clarifying it against non-objectifying acts, which Mayer and Erhard had noted as a topic developed more fully by Husserl only after the Logical Investigations, and by drawing out the larger context of these acts, which tug at the models of perception and judgment in different ways and inform Husserl’s “pluralistic theory of reason…[as] logical-cognitive, axiological, and practical.” (193) Melle relies on manuscripts of Husserl’s ethics lectures (1908/9, 1911, 1914, 1920) to bring out Husserl’s vexations over adjusting objectifying and non-objectifying acts at different levels, trying at times to understand the latter acts of valuing, feeling, desiring, and willing in terms of the former acts of perception and intellection, recognizing at others a self-sufficiency of non-objectifying acts in terms of objective content or existence-positing modifications.
Even if these attempts are not settled conclusively, Melle persuasively shows both the blurring of the distinction between the two types of acts and the concomitant unification of theory of reason as obtaining over different types of objectivities. This lucid essay is too short, however, to learn more about the way the theory of reason develops along the traditional axes of the true, the beautiful, and the good, while responding to the new objectivities on offer through non-objectifying acts, or about ways to strengthen suggestions that these reflections on value-theory bend Husserl’s overall project or put pressures on particular tendencies in it, such as the content-apprehension scheme. One is left wanting especially in regard to other German perspectives on these questions, whether other phenomenological work on ethics like Scheler’s, or, what is better known in the anglophone world, Heidegger’s attention to the question of being and to art and Gadamer’s investigations of aesthetics.
Klaus Held (1981, with references updated to include recent publications) provides a dense meditation on the phenomenology of time to explicate the Husserlian notion and to outline possibilities beyond it by overcoming its residual Cartesianism. The latter is indicated in the very terminology of time-consciousness that lures the underlying idea into the trap of subjectivism, from which Held seeks to liberate that idea to see time as that which “measures the phenomenal field in its fluctuation” (210; the Aristotelian-Heideggerean punning intended by Held). Like others in this volume, Held views intentionality as a fundamentally dynamical condition and one vividly sees the interaction with other German perspectives here as he thinks collaboratively with other authors in this volume like Landgrebe and Patočka. But he stresses, with distinctively dialectical imagery (placing yet other German perspectives in view), the primacy of various tensions and oscillations, flow and passivity, withdrawals and emergences, which constitute the field of appearance stretching between or before subject and object.
This field of appearance in its essential fluidity should explain subjectivity, rather than the other way around, and instead of getting by with surrogates like “pre-objective” or “primal impression,” one must genuinely get hold of the ways in which unity of presentation is determined by the pulsating functions of the field itself. Further, Held seeks to explain how the latter becomes fixed in form-content distinctions that, as revealed by his dissection of it, cloud Husserl’s account of time-consciousness. Thus, by undoing presuppositions and untying knots in apprehending features of the phenomenal field such as its past and futural directionality, the subjective phenomena of remembering and forgetting, Held intends for his own proposal to remain phenomenological just when it is in danger of becoming an external dialectical construction. Where this danger seems to be greatest is in Held’s attempt to reconcile the appropriatedly revised Husserlian theory with Heidegger’s discussion of moods and the disclosedness of the basic rhythm of life between poles of natality and mortality, which lends the “living present” its material vitality and actional character. The undeniable appeal of the resulting view, however, encourages the interpretive risks.
Rudolf Bernet (2012) continues the attempt to think Husserl along with Heidegger by seeing the latter’s concepts of truth and untruth as grounded in Husserlian viewpoints, which also helps see a continuity between early and late Heidegger himself. Untruth, for Husserl, is thought in terms of empty intending, which is shown to be consistent with accounts of idle chatter in Heidegger, and the way that idle chatter still bears a relation to truth, as do all human comportments, allows consistency with the essential cognitive drive of intentionality for Husserl. Husserl’s conception of falsehood as a disappointment or conflict lies in a stronger dimension of truth than a merely unfulfilled intention. This too agrees with Heidegger’s conception in Being and Time of Dasein’s covering-over comportment, which still manifests a self-showing in cases of semblant appearing.
In one respect, Heidegger’s later conception through alethic disclosing draws closer to Husserl’s conception as he now “think[s] disclosedness and hiddenness through one another” (148) essentially and not only in terms of Dasein’s modes of fallenness. But the increasing role of mystery in the later Heidegger escapes Husserlian synthetic projections entirely, and Bernet tries to show with reference to the Parmenides lectures that this leads to internal problems of its own, as Heidegger tries to derive the concept of mere falsehood and the concept of untruth proper or mystery as both types of a fundamental hiddenness. Bernet’s exploration of the latter point could have been bolstered by an examination of Heidegger’s own critique of logic, which was touched on in Held’s essay. But that would be a different essay, while the present one provides a very economical discussion of the central concepts at play and includes a very helpful list of references to all relevant texts on the doctrine of truth in Heidegger, and also broadens its own German perspectives to works written in French.
Karl Mertens (2000) examines the arguably directly German perspective invoked by Husserl himself in his invocations of Leibnizian monadology to articulate problems of intersubjectivity. Since this dialogue, Mertens finds, is ultimately nugatory, it serves to caution against merging traditional metaphysics with Husserlian phenomenology. Yet, it may also be seen as spurring reformulations of phenomenology itself: in this regard Mertens’s essay is well positioned as leading into the last two essays considering Husserl’s thought in the Crisis, and, even if his essay is too short to dig deeper, Mertens rightly recognizes this juncture as a broadening of German perspectives by those opened up by Merleau-Ponty. The endnotes include particularly useful pointers for further (German-language) discussions of various issues, both classic and contemporary.
Husserl turns to Leibniz as to a compatriot seeking to replace the bare Cartesian ego with an appropriately complex account of the concrete structures of subjectivity in the concept of the monad. Leibniz was responding to classical problems about the individuality of substance and so his solutions simply do not work for a phenomenology operating on a very different plane. Indeed, it is a mystery why Husserl looks to Leibniz at all, for the windowless monad allows no genuine intersubjectivity and the perspectivalist approach they seem to share goes no further than superficial similarity. Unfortunately, Mertens does not help understand this mystery, nor the compounding mystery that Husserl foists atop this failed conversation his own problematic account of intersubjectivity, which Mertens, and not him alone, deems irredeemably solipsistic. This creates suggestions for renewed efforts, however, and perhaps Husserl was ultimately driven by the Leibnizian encounter to yet greater interest in the constitution of horizons, as much as he was perhaps held back by his allegiance to notions of consciousness and predicative experience at just the point that phenomenology could have turned to questions of pre-predicative embodiment to articulate the truly social self in a truly worldly perspective.
Elisabeth Ströker (1988) reminds us that Husserl’s interest was directed towards the validity and meaning of science across his oeuvre and the theory of intentionality was prepared for the sake of connecting mind and world in a way that ultimately restores that lost validity and meaning. The meaning of science is related to forms and contexts of practice and the transcendental theory of intentionality is related to the particular cultural-historical actuality of reason. While talk of crisis was very much in the air when Husserl wrote his Crisis, his view is distinctive in taking philosophy as a critique of itself that is a critique of science that is a critique of culture. This rests on a vision of unity of philosophy, science, and humanity, and of history as a long decay of a telic golden past, a “binding inheritance of Greek philosophy” (298). Ströker strives to show how various technical concepts like life-world, constitution-analysis, subjectivity, etc. figure into this easy wisdom, and perhaps all this is forgivable given that this essay was in fact at first a public memorial address rather than a scholarly publication, but, also, perhaps unwittingly, it is a testimony to the kind of tritely tragic and grand-historical self-narrative that too can count itself as a German perspective.
Ernst Wolfgang Orth (1987) complements Ströker’s essay both by turning to the issue of culture primarily (over science) and by lending gravity to the issues at play therein, such as problems about universalizing particular forms of practice or concepts such as “humanity,” which stretches across space and time (Greeks and us) all too easily in Ströker’s essay. Instead, he makes a compelling case for seeing cultural anthropology as uneasily integrated with transcendental phenomenology, which became evident to Husserl himself over the period from the Ideas to the Crisis. The human being is neither that from which the transcendental ego is abstracted nor is the latter a real part of the former, but the human being is constituted from transcendental subjectivity and Husserl increasingly locates in this connection the coevality of a universal human science and a first philosophy.
The resulting approach differs sharply, to Orth’s mind, from a narrowly natural scientific orientation, and progressively complicates phenomenology’s inner premises (many reductions, not a single overarching one; the dialectic of emergence and withdrawal at the heart of intentionality as Held argued). This, in turn, proceeds towards a conception of the cultural sphere, which is neither a mere occasion for transcendental reflection, nor subsumed under transcendental constitution, but, rather, under the title “lifeworld,” names the broader viewpoint in which culture with its own irreducible thickness (which includes naturalized forms within itself) is integrated with phenomenological reflection on humanity, which is a variegated presupposition and a limit idea that constantly shapes the phenomenological project. This is a wide-ranging and powerful proposal that simultaneously sheds light on many methodological questions about the Crisis as well as interfaces with other German perspectives, in this volume but also beyond. But one wonders if, at the end, it is not just the problem of horizons that has been re-discovered under the name of culture, and, moreover, one remains as curious as before if any advance is made on questions of cultural difference, parochialism, and universalism, that is “culture” in the usual senses of the contingent and disparate determinations of human life.
 This is the date of the original German version of the essay. I will provide this information for each essay.
 Resonances with Fichtean exertions over the identity of the transcendental and the empirical subject, the assumed possibility of a science of science, the grounding of questions of method in questions of freedom, are present in several essays implicitly (we can already look back at Rinofner-Kreidl’s and Landgrebe’s essays in the light of these exertions) or explicitly in Patočka’s essay (97; and Hegel’s pistol-shot reference to Schelling is quoted on p. 99) or later in Held’s essay (236). A mention of Fichte (or, for that matter, Hegel) is missing, however, in the helpful Index provided in the book, and perhaps this only indicates the need for including German Idealist background in a consideration of German Perspectives. Another wholly missing index entry is Gadamer, while Merleau-Ponty receives two indexical references to the same page, missing brief appearances on two other pages.
 Brentano’s concept of intentionality asserted a universal relation to an object, while Bolzano upheld objectless representations, so Schuhmann names this “the Brentano-Bolzano” problem. Brentano’s auxiliary theses about converting any existential proposition into a judgment form and distinguishing determining predicates (which enrich a subject, e.g. “educated person”) and modifying predicates (which change the subject itself, e.g. “dead person”) were used by Twardowski to solve the problem.
Mereology is the philosophical study of parthood and composition. These are fairly commonplace relations. My legs are part of my body; the handle is part of the mug; Stewart Island is part of New Zealand. Canis Minor comprises two observable celestial bodies, Gomeisa and Procyon (itself a binary star system). Like all stars, Gomesia is composed of gases, mostly hydrogen and helium. The philosophical project is of course not concerned with creating a catalogue of the parts of things (although perhaps some philosophers will engage in conceptual analysis, reflective equilibrium, experimental philosophy, etc., to settle specific ‘compositional’ questions—a toy example being whether we ought consider, say, the ice cubes in the glass a proper part of the cocktail or not), but to inquire into the nature of the two relations, parthood and composition. Indeed, this is the ‘narrow’ understanding of mereology that Giorgio Lando adopts in Mereology: A Philosophical Introduction. Accordingly, mereological inquiry “is only about the formal features of the relation of parthood, and about identity and existence conditions for wholes” (p. 2, emphasis in original). Thus Lando leaves debate about other concepts in the vicinity such as essentiality, dependence, supervenience, and so on, to other areas of metaphysics. (I shall set aside questions about whether this move is legitimate or not—I will simply follow Lando’s narrowing of mereology’s domain in his book given its aims and scope.)
In the book, Lando introduces, motivates, and defends a theory about parthood and composition. It is not a novel theory, but a sensible tweak of the view dominant in twentieth century analytic philosophy, Classical Extensional Mereology (CEM), associated with Nelson Goodman, W.V.O. Quine, and David Lewis, among others. Despite its great influence (and its rejection by many contemporary scholars), this is the first book-length exposition and defence of CEM, filling a significant gap in the literature. The writing is clear and accessible, and thus the book deserves its subtitle; I cannot think of a better in-road into modern analytic mereology for the uninitiated reader than via an extended consideration of CEM. That said, there is also much in the book for the initiated. Participants in the debate will want to respond to Lando’s defence of CEM and thought-provoking critique of purportedly intuitive counterexamples.
CEM is the thesis that (1) parthood is transitive (i.e., if A is part of B, and B is part of C, then A is part of C), and (2) given some things, there is a unique thing composed by them. The first conjunct is thus the principle of transitivity applied to parthood; the second is the conjunction of the principles of uniqueness of composition and unrestricted composition. Lando articulates these latter two principles as follows: “given some things, there is at most one thing composed by them” and “no matter how heterogenous and disparate they are, there is at least one thing composed by them” (p. 1; emphasis mine). CEM is usually intended to be a unitary, exhaustive theory of composition and parthood (which has led Kit Fine to dub it ‘mereological monism’). However, Lando restricts its scope to concreta. Fair enough. In my view (admittedly, a nominastically inclined view), for any theory of mereology to be plausible it must do well when it comes to physical objects, first. I’ll return to this point later.
CEM is widely attributed to David Lewis, given his comments in his 1991 book, Parts of Classes. Lando’s defence, however, is not a mere recapitulation of Lewis’s views, since Lando and Lewis part ways on several key issues. Indeed, Lando takes these points of departure to be stances where Lewis’s version “stand at the basis of the discredit into which mereological monism has fallen” (p. 7). First, Lando disagrees that mereology is a logical doctrine. Of course, mereological theses can be axiomatised and expressed in some logical framework, but Lando points out that this does not identify mereology with logic. This issue is discussed in chapters 3 and 10.
Second, Lando emphasises mereological controversies, against Lewis’s claim that mereology is unproblematic, certain, perfectly understood. Plausibly, Lewis is best interpreted as making a normative claim: i.e., “that mereological monism should not be a topic of philosophical controversy” (p. 9). Lando argues that this normative claim too is wrong. The main purpose of the book, Lando writes, is to provide “an in-depth analysis and balanced assessment of mereological monism”, within a nominalistic framework that is “not everyone’s cup of tea” (p. 9).
Third, Lando disagrees about the application of CEM to abstracta. As noted, he explicitly restricts his application of CEM to spatiotemporal, concrete entities. After all, abstract entities (if they exist) are finicky. It is all too easy to use alleged abstracta to violate some mereological principle: one simply stipulates that some abstracta violates it. Lando hopes to show in the book that “abstract entities are both the most difficult and the least important field of application of mereological monism, and there is nothing surprising in the fact that counterexamples to mereological principles can be found among abstract entities. Concrete entities are the decisive field of application for mereological monism” (p. 10). Hear, hear.
To be sure, despite his nominalist leaning, Lando does not outright deny the existence of all abstract entities. After all, debate about which (if any) abstracta exist falls outside Lando’s narrow conception of mereology. Rather, Lando concedes a restriction of the application of CEM to concreta. This is probably the right move for Lando to make. So, “the general thesis of the book is that Classical Extensional Mereology is a highly general theory of parthood and composition. Analogously, mereological monism is understood as the thesis that there is only one highly general theory of parthood and composition. Given these stipulations about terms such as ‘general’ and ‘monism’, the difficulties of mereological monism in the realm of abstract entities do not defeat it” (p. 11; emphasis in original). This is discussed in chapters 5, 8, 12 and 13.
Fourth, and finally, Lando departs from Lewis with respect to the Composition As Identity thesis. As far as Lando is concerned, Lewis’s contention that composition is (like) identity is not an integral part of a defence of CEM and nor is it constitutive of CEM. Although the Composition As Identity thesis has engendered an increasing literature, of which much is orthogonal to a defence of CEM, Lando aims to show that CEM can be presented and defended without a foray into identity, and without “its typical, obscure, tendentiously circular jargon according to which a whole is ‘nothing over and above its parts’, or ‘a whole and its parts are the same portion of reality’” (p. 12). This issue is discussed in the appendix, where Lando argues that the Composition As Identity thesis conflicts with his narrow conception of mereology. The idea is this: “Insofar as Leibniz’s Law is a constitutive principle of identity, to claim that a whole is identical to its parts is to claim either that they share all or some of their properties or that something similar is the case (e.g., that the features of a whole determine the features of its parts, and vice versa). This consequence has nothing to do with the formal features of parthood, and with the identity and existence conditions for wholes” (p. 12). Thus the Composition As Identity thesis “runs counter to the need to separate the explanatory scope of mereological monism from other areas of metaphysics” (p. 13).
So, in summary, Lando supports CEM—the thesis that parthood is transitive and that given some things, there is a unique thing composed by them—i.e., the general mereological framework associated with Lewis, except to say “mereology is not logic, but a problematic metaphysical doctrine; it fails to work for many abstract entities; and we should not say that a whole is identical to its parts. Still, mereological monism is a defensible and promising metaphysical doctrine about concrete entities. This—I contend—is the interesting core of mereological monism” (p. 13).
The book is split into three parts: The Methodology of Mereological Monism (Part One), Extensionalism (Part Two), and Unrestricted Composition (Part Three). I briefly outline each in turn.
Part One (chapters 1-4) explains what CEM, understood as a highly general thesis about composition and parthood, is all about, with an eye on methodological issues. In chapter 1, Lando notes the ambiguous nature of the English lexeme ‘part’ and its cognates. Lando places several constraints on parthood’s formal characterisation by considering some intuitive presuppositions about what it is to be part of something, in the literal sense; he distinguishes genuine, literal parthood (i.e., what mereologists are concerned with) from merely metaphorical parthood (e.g., when lovers proclaim they are both ‘part of’ one another) and other cousins of the notion of parthood at stake in mereological debate (e.g., selective parthood).
Chapter 2 explains why mereology matters: for example, mereological theses place constraints on, and can be used to refute, various metaphysical positions. Taking seriously certain mereological theses also restricts the range of available solutions to various philosophical puzzles. To give just one example that Lando mentions, David Lewis famously argued that set membership is not parthood, given that set membership violates the principle of transitivity, an essential aspect of CEM. The general idea goes as follows. Let L be the set of all Low records (the album by David Bowie), and let DB be the set of all sets of David Bowie records (which thus includes L, and also H, the set of all Heathen’s, E, the set of all Earthling’s, and so on). My copies of Low and Heathen are members of L and H, respectively, but they are not thereby members of DB. Indeed, DB has no records as members whatsoever, but sets. This refutes the hypothesis that set membership is formally equivalent to genuine, literal parthood (at least, if we are operating under CEM’s jurisdiction; that is, taking seriously CEM constrains the identity and existence conditions for wholes: having members is not identical to having proper parts).
Chapter 3 is a foray into formality, explicating connections between mereology and formal ontology, and distinguishing various characterisations of formality. Chapter 4 discusses several key concepts (transitivity, reflexivity, and antisymmetry) standardly taken to be features of the parthood relation. Again, take transitivity, an essential feature of genuine parthood, according to CEM. Lando discusses some potential counterexamples; firstly, the idea due to Nicholas Rescher that according to biologists, a mitochondrion is a part of a cell, the cell is a part of a tissue, but the mitochondrion is not a part of the tissue. Lando puts the apparent force of this objection down to a curious feature of the English language. He suggests that removing the indefinite article preceding ‘part’ clears things up: “the mitochondrion is part of the tissue”; after all, “it is in it in a spatial sense” (p. 48, emphasis mine). Transitivity is preserved. Secondly: “The left arm of a Kemalist MP is part of her; the Kemalist MP is part of the parliament. But it seems definitely wrong to claim that the arm is part of the parliament” (p. 49, emphasis in original). The contention that this is an intuitive counterexample, Lando claims, is due to the polysemy of ‘parliament’ (e.g., the building wherein MPs discuss matters, or the social institution of parliament). Note that on whichever equivocation one has in mind, the claim is no longer a viably sensible one about genuine parthood. Alternatively, if ‘parliament’ is taken to mean set of parliamentary members, then we are back in the set theoretic domain of membership, not the mereological domain of parthood. And Lando says set membership “seems to work exactly as the relation between an MP and its parliament” (p. 50). This seems sensible enough to me.
Part Two (chapters 5-9) considers the uniqueness of composition—the principle that given some things, there is at most one thing that all of these things compose—and extensionalism—the connected idea that complex (i.e., multi-part) entities that comprise the same proper parts are numerically identical. Uniqueness of composition implies extensionalism, but not vice versa.
In chapter 5, Lando connects extensionalism to his nominalistic framework. According to the framework adopted, structure is not part of an entities’ composition. The pile of playing cards on my bookshelf comprises 52 cards; were I to build a house of cards, I would not have thereby brought something new into existence (contra mereological pluralists who wish to preserve some variety of realism about structure). The card-house and card-pile are composed of the same parts; they are the same complex entity, just with a different spatial arrangement at different temporal stages. Structure, then, is ‘safely obliterated’. Lando distinguishes his approach from Nelson Goodman’s, and argues that CEM respects Kit Fine’s four principles of obliteration (absorption, collapse, levelling, and permutation).
Chapter 6 distinguishes the uniqueness of composition from extensionalism, and discusses some cases in which the two diverge (so-called ‘fake’ ways of respecting extensionalism but not uniqueness of composition). Thus Lando introduces the reader to the useful Hasse diagram machinery. In chapter 7, Lando argues that alleged counterexamples (ones in which a structured entity and its co-located portion of matter are concerned: e.g., the infamous ‘statue and clay’ example) are reconcilable with extensionalism. The literature on these sorts of cases is massive. Lando argues that as far as these cases are concerned, either some given structured entity and its co-located portion of matter are not in fact distinct (but—following Lewis—can be thought of from different perspectives which select for different modal profiles when considering different counterfactual situations, or which make certain properties—e.g., aesthetic properties—salient), or that they are non-identically composed after all (and thus there is a difference with respect to their parts). He then argues that controversial cases involving change over time, like the Ship of Theseus, do not pose special problems for extensionalism. And in chapter 8, Lando distances extensionalism as a plausible principle about concreta from being a plausible principle about abstracta. He outlines several strategies for reconciling abstracta (e.g., linguistic types) with extensionalism: deny the existence of the abstract entity at stake, deny that the entity is abstract, deny that the entity is involved in the parthood relation at all, or revise the application of parthood so that extensionalism is not violated. Non-extensionally composed abstract objects, were they to exist, would pose a remaining problem for Lando’s view, and he concedes as much. Chapter 9 explores some alternative (non-classical, non-extensional) mereological theories. Lando concludes that although some of these theories are “technically irreproachable and relatively conservative” (p. 65), they are otherwise not well motivated.
An aside: when I began reading this book I assumed that Part Three would be where Lando and I part ways. I can accept parthood’s transitivity and Lando’s nominalism, and the counterexamples to extensionalism/uniqueness of composition do not move me. However, unrestricted composition—the principle that no matter how disparate/heterogeneous some given collection of things are, there is something that these things compose—is, pretheoretically at least, outright bizarre (not to mention overly ontologically profligate). To his merit, Lando goes a long way to offset this worry. My main complaint will be the short shrift given to alternatives, especially mereological nihilism.
In Part Three, then, Lando considers the various arguments in favour of unrestricted composition and finds them convincing. He also analyses, and finds unconvincing, the kind of objection mentioned above: that unrestricted composition is exasperatingly counterintuitive. The defender of CEM need not think that there is any interesting or salient entity that is composed of, say, Big Ben and my red pen. That entity is neither spatially continuous nor causally efficient. But, the idea goes, claiming that these two parts compose something is perhaps little more odd than the idea that Procyon (11.46 light years from Earth) and Gomesia (162 light years from Earth) compose something: Canis Minor. But because Canis Minor is listed in Ptolemy’s 48 constellations (and for other reasons), I for one find it interesting (even though it is not spatially continuous or causally efficient). I cannot say the same for Ben-pen (reluctantly supplying a specific natural-language sortal predicate for this mereological fusion). But perhaps this is a contingent matter.
Mereological fusion can thus be thought of as a function (or, in Goodman’s terminology, a ‘generating relation’) from parts to wholes. CEM does not require of wholes that they “play any explanatory role, participate in causal links, or play any role in an exhaustive description of the world” (p. 193). Wholes do not “instantiate any interesting, autonomous properties. They would inherit the properties of their parts” (p. 193). If a window were to get hit by a cricket ball, it would be redundant to claim that it was hit by something in addition to the arrangement of its parts; the ball and the parts that comprise the ball are co-located. There is no additional matter that CEM claims exists as well as the whole’s parts—so as far as physical stuff is concerned, the principle of unrestricted composition is not as ontologically profligate as some might think (indeed, Lewis thinks of his version, which includes an additional commitment to the Composition As Identity thesis, as ontologically innocent; wholes on this view are an ‘ontological free lunch’, to use David Armstrong’s expression), and is happily compatible with nominalism (it does not say anything about what kinds of entities exist, just that of the things that exist, any combination forms a mereological whole). Since Lando’s theory does not include a commitment to the Composition As Identity thesis, it may turn out on his view that unrestricted composition is less ontologically innocent than Lewis supposes: on the list of things that exist, we might need to include the cricket ball in addition to all of its parts (and in addition to all of the possible merelogical sums of its various parts, and so on), violating the eleatic principle. The proof will be in the pudding. Nonetheless, about allegedly intuitive counterexamples to unrestricted composition, note that just as using the word ‘car’ allows us to pick out a familiar object composed of various parts, using the expression ‘Ben-pen’, then, allows us to pick out a (less commonsensible, admittedly) entity composed of parts. The difference is just that we would not be inclined to talk about Ben-pen outside of philosophical discourse. Indeed, Lando admits that the principle of unrestricted composition vindicates all manner of “heterogeneous and redundant entities that are never to be mentioned outside of philosophy” (p. 193). That said, Ben-pen, trout-turkeys and car-bouquets “could become relevant, and begin to fall under certain sortal predicates” (p. 199).
Chapter 10 provides Lando’s preferred way of formalising unrestricted composition (i.e., with plural quantification) and distinguishes it from less perspicuous alternatives. Chapter 11 clarifies Lando’s definition of ‘fusion’ and provides a discussion of its formulation in first-order logic. Chapter 12 considers some counterexamples to unrestricted composition (à la Ben-pen), and chapter 13 provides an argument in support of it (largely following the ideas of Lewis, Sider, Quine, and Donald Williams—the ‘argument from vagueness’) according to which mereology should be neutral. It shouldn’t distinguish between ‘interesting’ fusions like mugs and people and Canis Minor and ‘uninteresting’ ones like Ben-pen. The basic idea comes from Lewis. If you accept that things have parts, and that parts comprise wholes, there is no precise, non-arbitrary stopping point. Now, ‘Big Ben exists’ is not a vague sentence; “nothing in the sentence that expresses the existence of a fusion is vague. By contrast, the conditions under which we would want to restrict composition are vague: this means that these conditions cannot be satisfied” (p. 180, emphasis in original), because although certain predicates are vague, existence is not. Chapter 14 wraps up by discussing some upshots for non-Quinean metaontology.
Let’s say that you agree with Lando that composition can’t be non-arbitrarily restricted. You might still reject unrestricted composition, by denying that composition is a relation that is ever instantiated. The main opponents of unrestricted composition are mereological nihilists, who say just this (or something very close to it). According to Peter van Inwagen, chairs do not exist—only the mereological atoms (‘simples’) exist. A so-called chair is thus merely simples-arranged-chairwise. (Likewise, so-called Ben-pen is merely simples-arranged-Ben-penwise). For van Inwagen, living entities are a non-arbitrary, principled exception to mereological nihilism; on his view, composition only occurs in organisms. The pros and cons of this move cannot be discussed here. For Theodore Sider, composition does not even occur then. For Sider, the only wholes are the limit case (i.e., a simple is a whole, comprising only itself)—no objects with proper parts exist. Mereological nihilism is not directly opposed to transitivity or the uniqueness of composition (these being trivially true according to the view), just unrestricted composition. Other mereological positions claim that composition is restricted in a rather brutal way, or that existence is vague, to mention a few. Lando does not push against these views, “partly due to space constraints and partly because the motivations and the articulation of these stances do not belong to mereology [as a discipline] according to the narrow understanding of it” (p. 199). This is unfortunate.
Take mereological nihilism. Lando says that it “requires a massive strategy of reconciliation with our referential and cognitive practices, which seem to involve lots of complex entities with parts, and perhaps no mereological atom at all” (p. 199). Yet it’s not obvious to me why it can be so easily cast aside in a book-length treatment of mereological monism. Many theorists distinguish between the ‘manifest image’ of, say, a table, and the ‘scientific image’. We are all aware that tables are made up of ‘simples’ (fundamental particles, or whatever is there at the fundamental level) and are thus mainly empty space, and yet we percieve the table as a solid object and refer to it as such. That’s fine, and is by and large part of ‘folk knowledge’ these days. And it might be more straightforward to reconcile just how we perceive and refer to middle-sized ordinary objects like tables and chairs with nihilism than Lando supposes. If perceiving a chair and referring to it with the term ‘chair’ are re-described in light of the scientific image as perception of, and reference to, the ‘manifestation’ of simples-arranged-chairwise, mereological nihilism comes off as less revisionary. It need not matter that we don’t directly perceive the fundamental particles themselves. (Of course I admit a much more sophisticated discussion is needed than this to fully allay Lando’s worries, but also it is true that CEM has revisionary implications!)
There is the thought that we have no need to posit a commonsense entity in addition to what the scientific image tells us is there: arrangements of fundamental entities. Simples arranged tablewise do the same causal work that tables do; tables, that is, are casually redundant. And by getting rid of tables from their ontology, nihilists can appeal to a principle of parsimony. Since Lando avoids commitment to the Composition As Identity thesis, he may be committed to the existence of tables in addition to simples-arranged-tablewise, and yet, this commitment appears redundant: the simples arranged tablewise (the entities that the scientific image vindicates) do all of the explanatory and causal work that tables do, and have scientific credentials. If composition is identity, then wholes are an ontological free lunch, but one’s ontology is just as good without them. And if composition is not identity, there is good reason to cut mereological wholes from our ontology. A commitment to wholes begins to look suspect, one might think.
So is nihilism the better option? I can’t here adjudicate on this issue further. The literature on alternatives to CEM is vast after all. But deciding which side to come down on seems to be a matter of one’s intuitions and balancing of theoretical virtues. Both mereological nihilism and CEM are counterintuitive theories: nihilism denies the existence of tables (unlike CEM), but at least it doesn’t vindicate Ben-pen (as CEM does). Defending brutalism or the vagueness of existence comes with other unsavoury implications. And so the debate in the literature has turned largely metametaphysical: about whether (say) parsimony is an appropriate theoretical virtue for deciding between various options, and about whether it is appropriate to demand a fact-of-the-matter answer to the question of whether wholes exist. But these questions, of course, are beyond Lando’s intended scope.
Time to wrap up. Lando’s Mereology: A Philosophical Introduction introduces, motivates, and defends a tweaked version of an influential thesis, CEM, in the domain of concrete entities. And this Lando does extraordinarily well. The book would well suit a higher-level undergraduate course on mereology (probably supplemented with a reading or two on mereological nihilism, brutalism, etc.) or a postgraduate seminar focused on the prospects and pitfalls of CEM. Its clarity and depth of explanation would be welcomed by students and instructors alike.
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.
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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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
- Cavell, S. Must We Mean What We Say? A Book of Essays. updated edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
- Collingwood, R. G. The Principles of History. eds. W. H. Dray and Jan van der Dussen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
- Descartes, R. Meditations on First Philosophy. trans. D. Cress. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1993.
- D’Oro, Giuseppina, and Søren Overgaard, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Philosophical Methodology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017.
- Foucault, M. Madness and Civilization. trans. R. Howard. New York: Vintage Books, 1965.
- Haslanger, S. Resisting Reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
- Locke, J. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Glasgow: Collins and Sons, 1964.
- Plato. Complete Works. Ed. J. Cooper. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1997.
- Plunkett , D. “Which Concepts Should We Use?: Metalinguistic Negotiations and the Methodology of Philosophy,” Inquiry 58, no. 7-8 (2015): 828-74.