Immanuel Kant affirmed in the first Critique that “if the size of a book is measured not by the number of pages but by the time needed to understand it, then it can be said of many a book that it would be much shorter if it were not so short” (KrV A xix). For the pleasure of the reader (and with Kant’s blessing), even though Kant et les Empirismes is not an imposing volume, the time needed to go through its interesting analysis and to approach all arguments proves that Kant’s maxim does not apply here.
Even if we might all have in mind that Kant’s dogmatic slumber was interrupted by the remembrance of David Hume (Prol, Ak iv, 260), i.e., even if we might all recognize the important relationship between empiricism and transcendental philosophy at least for its genesis, an accurate survey such as that lead by Antoine Grandjean deserves dedication, to better get acquainted with Kant’s thought. It goes without saying that the keystone of the book is the final s in Empirismes: not only because “the pre-Critique Kant knew an empiricist phase, in such a way that the years 1755–1766 constitute the ‘quasi-Humean’ phase of Kant’s thought” (11) (so that we can speak of a Kantian empiricism), but also because there exist diverse forms of empiricism which Kant converses with. Certainly, some of these forms might have influenced the German philosopher more than others, as is the case of Hume and John Locke; however, the volume has the merit to present and discuss the doctrines of less-commonly debated authors, thus providing a clear idea of how an intense interlocutor the multifaceted empiricist tradition was for Kant—or vice versa (see, for example, the essays by Matthieu Haumesser, 57–73, by François Calori, 75–96, and by Raphaël Ehrsam, 173–193).
The volume is organized in three sections, providing a detailed account of this plural dialogue: “Concepts, Problems, Traditions”, “The Transcendental and the Empiric”, and “The Empiric of the Transcendental”.
The first two assess the most relevant theoretical issues linked to Kant’s thought and its relationship with empiricisms. They deal with the very legacy of transcendental philosophy in regard to empirical reality (“there is no doubt whatever that all our cognition begins with experience” (KrV, B 1), with its relationship to freedom and both the feeling of pleasure and displeasure (after all, as rational beings, our will is “pathologically affected” (KpV, A 36)), along with its bond with scientific epistemology and science in general (Kant’s method is “imitated from the method of those who study nature” (KrV, B xviii)).
The reader will immediately note that what emerges here is an extraordinary complex picture that cannot be attributed to Kant only—even if his philosophy is notoriously not so easy to interpret. Rather, and this is a very valuable achievement of the volume, it is a consequence of the great depth of all the essays, which present and discuss the main concepts of Kant’s system from different perspectives. Particular attention is paid to the first Critique, but there are indeed many other cross references to other works of the Kantian corpus. The different points of view where Kant and the empiricisms are looked from are not only the expression of each author’s personal reading of the problems at stake, but it must also be said that there exist as many different Kants as there are forms of empiricism he was called to answer to.
This is also the very reason why there are so many ways to receive and to understand Kant’s overcoming of empiricism. This question is dealt with by the essays included in the third section, which are dedicated to Georg W.F. Hegel’s, Jakob F. Fries, and Edmund Husserl’s readings of transcendental philosophy.
Olivier Tinland shows, for example, that Hegel carries out a “radicalization of critical philosophy unveiling the deficiencies of the Kantian critical reflection and notably attenuating the effects of contrast made by Kant in order to distance himself from dogmatic metaphysics and empiricism” (166): after all, according to Hegel, “critical philosophy has in common with Empiricism that it accepts experience as the only basis for our cognitions” (Enz, W8, 121).
Claudia Serban invites us to reflect on the ambiguous position attributed by Husserl to Kant, who would stand between René Descartes and Hume. Even if “Husserl’s phenomenology claims for itself the name of transcendental idealism, it clearly places itself in Kant’s wake” (195), his material ontology (the eigentliche Ontologie) opens a completely different philosophical space. The modest “analytic of the pure understanding” (KrV, B 303) would not resist a thorough analysis due to Kant’s misunderstanding of the radicality of English empiricism and his commitment to rationalism.
The essay authored by Ehrsam has many merits, but probably the most remarkable is to bring back the attention to Fries. Fries’ insistent demand to justify transcendental principles based on empirical psychology not only offers the possibility to think more deeply about the presuppositions and the legitimacy of Kant’s system, but also allows to question the intimate essence of other forms of idealism and of Kantianism. Transcendental philosophy, in fact, “did not satisfy itself announcing the caducity of the pretensions of classical empiricism […]; it paved the way for possible future empirical investigations, whose task, from now on, would be to explain genetically the possession of concepts and knowledge a priori” (192–193).
Considering the evolution of the debate around Kantianism in the 19th and 20th centuries, of which Fries surely was one of the protagonists (remember, for example, the quarrels with Hegel and Johann F. Herbart), Ehrsam’s essay, with the support of the chapters included in the first two sections, indeed inspires new readings of Kant and of history of philosophy. The emergence of neo-Kantianism and new empiricisms (think, for example, about the different positions inside the sole Wiener Kreis), is a clear sign that the problems discussed in this volume are not limited to Kant’s direct sphere of influence, and that they still deserve our interest. It is true: even if it is correct to talk about empirismes, some of the patterns are repeated, and can probably be summed-up with the idea that “consistent empiricism is immanentism” (24). This, however, should not be an excuse to simplify the problems at stake. Rather, this recurrence should be considered a further confirmation of the importance of works that shed light on the controversial relationship between Kant (and neo-Kantianism) and empiricisms (and neo-empiricisms). In this sense, it would be a great addition to philosophical corpus that Kant et les Empirismes would be soon translated into English—and into many more languages—for it really proves to be a valuable volume to understand Kant’s philosophy as well as its past, present, and future interlocutors.
Cardani, Michele, and Marco Tamborini. 2017. Data-Phenomena: Quid Juris?. Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung 70: 527–549.
Cassirer, Ersnt. 1927. Erkenntnistheorie nebst den Grenzfragen der Logik und Denkspsychologie. Jahrbücher der Philosophie 3: 31–92.
Cassirer, Ernst. 2000. Substanzbegriff und Funktionsbegriff. Untersuchungen über die Grundfragen der Erkenntniskritik. In Gesammelte Werke, Hamburger Ausgabe, Hrsg. von B. Recki, 26 Bände, Meiner, Hamburg, 1998-2009, Band 6, Text und Anm. Bearbeitet von R. Schmücker.
Massimi, Michela. 2011. From data to Phenomena: a Kantian Stance. Synthese 182: 101–116.
While the founding fathers of the phenomenological movement, Husserl and Heidegger, emphasized methodological differences between phenomenology and empirical sciences, successive generations of phenomenologists never ceased to question and challenge this basic presupposition. In the last decades, there has been a lot of discussion about whether the idea of phenomenological naturalism should be reassessed in the light of both advancements in empirical research, especially in cognitive sciences, and the progress in phenomenological investigations. Phenomenology and Science brings together the work of young researchers and experienced scholars in the fields of phenomenology, contemporary philosophy and cognitive sciences in order to address the question of the possibility of a productive dialogue between phenomenology and empirical sciences.
The volume opens with a study by Aaron Harrison that focuses on the interactions between the first wave of phenomenology (Gurwitsch, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre) and Gestalt psychology (Wertheimer, Koffka, Köhler and Stumpf). The interest of the latter for the question of the modes of mutual influence between phenomenology and sciences lies in its complex relation to empirical science (which was especially the case in the first half of the twentieth century, when the boundaries between psychology and philosophy were still not defined) as well as to phenomenology (which had, as Harrison shows, an important impact on the development of Gestalt psychology). According to Harrison, this peculiar situation of Gestalt psychology suggests the importance of attentive examination of the history of its intersections with phenomenology in order better to understand how the phenomenological approach could be situated with regards to experimental methodology.
In the second chapter, Jack Reynolds starts by questioning the “stark methodological distinction between phenomenology and science” and advocates considering phenomenology as a “more hybridic enterprise” (p. 24). By concentrating on the theme of intrinsic time, Reynolds aims to demonstrate how the phenomenological analysis of the temporal dimension of subjectivity proves to be useful for the latest discussions within empirical sciences on the irreducibility of the first-person perspective. The phenomenological account of the temporality that draws the connection between the “intrinsic temporality” and the pre-reflective dimensions that constitute the “minimal self” offers, according to Reynolds, a more consistent explanation of what “is resisting the objectivism” since it avoids the “view from nowhere” and gives access to a lived subjective experience. To see the minimal self “both phenomenologically and empirically” (p. 37) provides, then, a significantly richer account of subjectivity and presents an opportunity to explore the potential of what Reynolds, in Gallagher’s terms, the “mutual enlightenment” (p. 31) of phenomenology and science is.
A more skeptical view of the relationship between phenomenology and the sciences is expressed by Richard Sebold, who insists on the fact that the “naturalistic perspective has much more going for it than the phenomenologists are prone to admit” (p. 47). In order to see this, it is necessary to rigorously examine the anti-naturalistic claims made by Husserl and his successors, starting with distinguishing between three major types of phenomenological arguments: metaphysical (“there are some phenomena that are of a certain nature that it is inappropriate to investigate them via scientific methodology”, p. 48), semantic (“the very intelligibility of the scientific project depends upon the meaning of the pre-theoretical world”, p. 53) and methodological (“scientific methods <are> incomplete and unable to gain certain types of knowledge about the world”, p. 57). Sebold’s paper provides a comprehensive study of the assessments of empirical sciences by various phenomenologists; a study that proves to be crucial for addressing their criticism and, more importantly, for revealing the sources of phenomenology’s claim for possessing a distinct advantage over other disciplines.
In the fourth chapter, Marilyn Stendera raises the question of how one should approach the inevitable negotiations between different perspectives in interdisciplinary projects. The author’s goal is to show that such negotiations do not necessarily lead to conflict and can, instead, create a productive exchange between different approaches. For Stendera, this is the case for the collaboration between Heideggerian phenomenology and the enactivist approach to cognitive science. Beyond their historical connection, these two approaches prove to be fundamentally compatible, first of all, where the idea of the interdependent relationship between the subject and the world is concerned. By studying how the Heideggerian conception of temporality could be useful to address one of the key issues of cognitive sciences – that of the possibility to trace a distinction between various cognisers without failing to consider their continuity, – Stendera explores the benefits of interdisciplinary dialogue and tries to outline possibilities for future investigations.
With Michael Wheeler’s paper, we switch from a phenomenologically minded perspective to an explicitly naturalistic one, according to which the conflicts that can possibly arise from negotiations between philosophical and empirical accounts should be resolved following the idea that “philosophy should be continuous with empirical science” (p. 87). Wheeler claims that “it is the phenomenologist, and not the cognitive scientist, who should revisit her claims” (p. 87), because the first-person perspective – and the phenomenological approach in general – is fundamentally “untrustworthy” (p. 92) when it describes mental states, since the operation of cognitive systems depends largely on unconscious states that remain unreachable in the first-person attitude. At the same time, Wheeler agrees that the phenomenological analysis could not be limited to introspection and that, instead, it represents a transcendental enterprise. Nevertheless, for Wheeler, no transcendental approach could be “insulated” (p. 100) from the social world, which leaves to science – that constitutes a “part of our social world-making” – the final word in the philosophy-science controversy.
In David Morris’s paper, we find a diametrically opposite view that considers life as a “transcendental condition of science”: “that is, science is not simply an activity conducted by living beings, rather, our living, as inherently oriented by affect, provides us with a pre-scientific feel and criterion for the activity-passivity distinction, without which we could not grasp key issues in, e.g., biology and quantum mechanics” (pp. 103-104). This claim puts phenomenology, and in particular Merleau-Ponty’s reflections, in a privileged position with regards to empirical sciences. Phenomenology allows us to grasp this dimension of affectivity that is “crucial for sciences” (p. 116), the dimension in which all the processes of constitution of sense are grounded.
The importance of phenomenological analysis as a unique tool that allows grasping the foundational role of affectivity in organizing experience is also defended by Joel Krueger and Amanda Taylor Aiken. Their joint paper aims to demonstrate that emotions and affectivity should be studied not only as they are perceived through social cognitive processes, but also as they are actually “facilitating interpersonal relatedness”: affectivity and embodiment structure the spatiality of interpersonal relationships and thus contribute to the emergence of the “social world as social”, that is “affording different forms of sharing, connection and relatedness” (p. 121). This role becomes particularly visible when the capacities to inhabit the social space are altered, as it can be observed in the cases of Moebius syndrome and schizophrenia. It is by drawing upon the analysis of such cases that the authors hope to “reinforce phenomenological arguments for the foundational role that body and affect play in organizing social space” (p. 136).
Andrew Inkpin chooses language as his object of study, a topic that had been mostly relegated to the margins of the so called ‘4e’ tradition dominant in cognitive sciences, a tradition that emphasizes the embodied, embedded, enactive and extended nature of cognition. The turn to non-linguistic phenomena in cognitive sciences, that initially aimed “to correct the earlier overemphasis on language” (p. 141), created a void that, in Inkpin’s opinion, should be filled by a phenomenological approach, which “might and should complement systematic empirical theories in the 4e tradition” (p. 141). Would it mean that phenomenology should be naturalized? For Inkpin, this way of formulating the question is misleading because it misses the specificity of the phenomenological approach to language. The goal of his paper is, therefore, to show why ‘4e’ cognitive science needs a phenomenology of language and what it could gain from it.
In the ninth chapter of the volume, Shaun Gallagher aims to show how the debate between two theories about social cognition (simulation theory and interaction theory) influences the idea of science and raises the question “whether one can continue to do science as we have been doing it, or one has to do it differently” (p. 161). Without ignoring the discoveries made by simulation theory in the area of brain processes involved in social cognition (e.g. activation of mirror neurons), Gallagher insists on the necessity to interpret such processes with regards to the intercorporeal character of social interactions, i.e. the fact that “we are dynamically coupled to the other person in our intersubjective interaction, most of which take place in highly pragmatic and social situations”. Pragmatism here means that our actions aim primarily to give a response to a certain situation and that the brain-body activity (promoted by simulation theory) should rather be thought of as a part of a more complex system: “brain-body-environment” (p. 170). Such a holistic, enactivist and dynamic conception is, however, a “challenge for the science of social cognition” (p. 171), which has to respond with developing a new model of explanation that could take into account various dimensions (neuroscientific, psychological, phenomenological, social etc.) that could, according to Gallagher, be compared to what Sandra Mitchell has called an “integrative pluralism” (p. 175).
How could we explain the fact that our memories are sometimes in a ‘first-person’ or ‘own-eyes’ perspective and sometimes in a ‘third-person’ or ‘observer’ one? This question is at the center of attention of the joint paper by Christopher Jude McCaroll and John Sutton. Drawing upon Sartre’s theory of image, the authors propose an analysis of memory imagery based on the idea that the image is not something “inspected by consciousness” but actually is “the act of consciousness, or a way of thinking about an object or event” (p. 183). According to the authors, such a phenomenological account of our puzzling ability to have multiperspectival memory imagery could “elucidate some of the empirical findings” (p. 183) and help to provide an understanding “uniting phenomenological and scientific perspectives on memory imagery” (p. 197).
The final chapter is also focused on the question of imagination. In her study of pretense (more precisely, non-deceptive pretense), Michela Summa draws on phenomenology of imagination, inspired mostly by Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, and addresses two main problems: the epistemic functions of pretense, and its social nature. Starting with a critical analysis of Piaget’s remarks regarding the egoistic nature of pretense and its role of protector from reality in children’s development, Summa defends the idea that “imagination is a part of genuinely social experience” (p. 216) based on Vygotskij’s reflections on pretend play. While being “inherently subjective”, imagination participates in the construction of the we-perspective not just by assembling individual perspectives, but by creating a “form of sharing” and “cooperation of different subjects” enabled by “the cognitive value of pretense, of the perspectival flexibility that underlies pretense actions, and of the social meaningfulness of such actions” (p. 220).
The editors of the volume, Jack Reynolds and Richard Sebold, are explicit about their desire to put together a variety of opinions, positive as well as negative, regarding the future of the dialogue between science and phenomenology. And each of the eleven chapters of the collection allows in fact looking at the possibility of such a dialogue from a different point of view. Reynolds and Sebold’s joint work provides, then, a keen insight into the state-of-the-art of recent debates, and outlines directions for future discussions.