Phenomenology and Naturalism is a collection of original philosophical essays dealing with the complicated relationship between various strands of naturalism and Husserlian-oriented phenomenology. These essays were delivered in their inceptive form at the 2014 Johannesburg conference on the same topic. There are two types of texts here. One analyzes the relation between phenomenology and naturalistic positions. Some defend phenomenology. Texts by Dan Zahavi, David Papineau, David Cerbone and Jack Reynolds fit this description. The rest showcase some philosopher’s hidden phenomenologies or focus on correlated topics. Benedict Smith, John Sallis, Paul Patton and Bernhard Weiss fit this bill.
The volume is edited by Raphael Winkler. He introduces readers to a contemporary frame dominated by two opposing forces. On the one side, there are Anglo-American philosophers that justify the concept of nature with mathematical instruments, or by importing results from physics and biology. The main characteristics are precision and a broad focus on thinghood. On the other side, there are European philosophers that build on materialism and phenomenology. Their arguments rely on nuance and depth. The tension between these two philosophical orientations competing towards a new and innovative concept of nature takes the limelight in Phenomenology and Naturalism.
Dan Zahavi’s essay opens this volume with a defense of phenomenology against speculative realism. This direction has recently gained popularity and has attacked Husserlian phenomenology in various ways. Zahavi takes a stand in this context and shows that the problem in naturalizing phenomenology arises from naturalism’s commitment to some form of metaphysical realism. These philosophies support the idea that consciousness is a mere object in the world. Speculative realism enters the scene as the latest supporter of this idea. Graham Harman, Quentin Meillassoux, Ray Brassier and Tom Sparrow all reject the Kantian Revolution and its correlationism; they all reject the idea that subjectivity and objectivity cannot be understood apart from each other. Harman wants to bypass Kantianism by proposing equality in all relations. For him, consciousness must not be prioritized. Meillassoux attacks Kantianism from a different angle: he thinks the scientific statements are not taken at face value (Meillassoux 2008, 17) and correlationism is to blame for this. If they would, then the mathematical sciences will again have enough of a commanding appearance to describe the in itself and touch on what Meillassoux calls the ancestral. Another speculative realist—Brassier—stands at the nihilistic opposite of what Meillassoux hopes to find. Unlike an interest for the thing in itself, Brassier proposes the concept of extinction. “Philosophy is neither a medium of affirmation nor a source of justification, but rather the organon of extinction.” (Brassier 2007, 239) Last, Sparrow rejects Kantianism and phenomenology because they never delivered what they promised, namely “a wholehearted endorsement of realism.” (Sparrow 2014, xi)
Dan Zahavi identifies three main issues in what speculative realists try to argue. First, he considers that their account of phenomenology is superficial. Classical texts in phenomenology are highly misinterpreted by speculative realists. Zahavi then shows how philosophers such as Merleau-Ponty or Husserl hold views that are opposite to or different from what speculative realists think they are. Last, speculative realists lack novelty (p. 19). All encountered criticism was already raised in the last century by philosophers arriving from the analytic tradition, by empirical researchers or even by other phenomenologists. Zahavi’s text leaves us to wonder whether speculative realism is now able to deliver a counter-criticism or not.
David Papineau shifts focus on representationalism. He argues against the idea that sensory experience is representational and proposes his own phenomenological version of representationalism. He identifies two motivations for representationalism—cognitive science and phenomenologically inspired introspection—and claims that these two are often interconnected in representationalist writers. He is interested in focusing only on the second motivation because he explicitly takes the first for granted.
Papineau first argues that the concept of representation is broad. Representational broadness occurs when two intrinsically identical subjects have corresponding mental states with different representational contents (p. 41). On the one hand, intrinsic aspects of subjectivity are rigidly connected to mental states. On the other hand, both subjectivity and mental states are loosely connected to representational contents. Because of having a dual appearance of precision and flexibility, representation-driven arguments can be used for both sides of the story: similar individuals can view the world in the same way (same mental states and similar representations), or they can view the world in a different way (same mental states and different representations). Papineau admits that this is problematic because representation ends up as either an overdefined or an underdefined concept.
Then Papineau proposes his own version of representationalism. He forwards an analogy between typographical properties of a text and its representational content: the former are contingent to the latter. In a similar fashion, consciousness is related to representational content. The benefit of such a move, Papineau says, is that it eliminates the broadness problem. On the other hand, his phenomenologically-inspired representationalist account separates properties as part of experience from thing properties. For instance, it separates perceived redness from redness in itself. Papineau’s account almost becomes a case of phenomenological realism akin to those of the first wave of Husserl pupils from the Logical Investigations era. Unlike Husserl, Papineau denies that sensory experiences are intentional (p. 57). Papineau ends his paper with a discussion on whether his non-relationist account is worth pursuing against the double background of representationalist arguments and intuitions about consciousness.
Cerbone argues that the opposition between phenomenology and Quinean naturalism is not obvious, because naturalism’s rejection of transcendental philosophy places naturalism in a similar position. Cerbone calls this position an exile. Such an exile is prompted by the phenomenological reduction because it places the phenomenologist in a position that transcends results offered by the natural sciences. This exile is facilitated by Husserl’s distinction between phenomena and objects, between what is immanent to consciousness and what is foreign to it (p. 86). It is a transcendental exile. This contrasts with the Quinean “exile from within” that characterizes naturalized epistemology. Against Husserl, naturalized epistemology denies that fundamental epistemological questions are outside natural attitude. On the contrary, they lie at the heart of evident facts. When attempting to explain visual perception, a naturalized epistemologist would most likely make use of scientific data and try to build up a picture of how some processes work, despite those processes transcending experiential evidence (e.g. I do not see photons as such). Cerbone criticizes this position by saying that, if there are no specific data to be taken into account, the distinction between true and false belief would collapse. Such an epistemology would thus fail to explain how knowledge is possible in general.
Cerbone concludes his article with an exposition of his alternative that aims to create a phenomenology without epistemology. He relies on Merleau-Ponty. Both Quine and Husserl are committed to the idea of objective thought; both philosophers are engaged in a reconstructive effort and both are aware of two directions, explaining the subjective with objective instruments and vice versa. Merleau-Ponty rejects this design and insists that reality must be described, not constructed. Phenomenologists should not pretend they discover a constituting power within the depths of consciousness (p. 93). The focus on description would allow the phenomenologist, on Merleau-Ponty’s account, to avoid exile and remain in the homeland of thoughts, the human world.
Reynolds writes about the compatibility between a minimal phenomenology and the ontology in naturalism. His account of a minimal phenomenology is not compatible with scientific naturalism. Reynolds’ first claim is that transcendental phenomenology’s autonomy regarding the natural sciences is insufficiently justified. His second claim is that a neutral scientific method discarding the first-person perspective is also an insufficiently justified idea. Reynolds hopes to find a middle solution between these two problems. He admits this is hard to achieve because Husserl’s principle of principles, which states that every intuition is a legitimate source of cognition, flies in the face of empirical science and its way of investigating nature. The separation between transcendental phenomenology and science prohibits the former to be able to learn from the latter. A sort of quarantine (an exile) is self-imposed by rigorous phenomenology. Reynolds reminds us that even Zahavi and Gallagher, who generally work towards a truce between phenomenology and science, will proceed and distinguish between transcendental phenomenology and phenomenological psychology. The first will remain intact, Husserlian, proper; the latter will safely mingle with naturalism. Reynolds thinks otherwise.
He devises a three-pronged argument: the first is historical and appeals to authority, the second deconstructs the phenomenological quarantine, and the third shows the downsides of the present separation. Merleau-Ponty’s idea that the phenomenological reduction is by definition incomplete opens Reynolds’ main move: to deconstruct the purity of method that phenomenology promotes. He asks himself whether phenomenology can accept itself without its presuppositionless character. He argues that phenomenology should appreciate the ground that the natural attitude provides for phenomenological endeavors. Then, Reynolds says that transcendental arguments use a category of first-person experiences, such as shame, to spell out the conditions for that category to arise altogether. But if pathological cases deny the original phenomenological account, then the phenomenologist should be prepared to revise. Transcendental phenomenology does not benefit from resting on itself only. Reynolds thus proposes a minimal phenomenology that abandons the transcendental self-sufficiency (p. 118). This minimal phenomenology appears to be compatible with a liberal naturalism. It rejects scientific naturalism but respects the findings and methods of science. Such a compromise on sides highlight that phenomenology and naturalism actually need each other (p. 125).
Zahavi, Papineau, Cerbone and Reynolds have defended or adapted phenomenology in relation to naturalism. The other four texts proceed differently. They unearth phenomenological ideas from well-known philosophers. Or, they use some of the concepts pertaining to the phenomenology vs. naturalism debate for proving something else.
Benedict Smith shows that Hume’s concept of science of man is closer to phenomenology than it is to naturalism. Hume’s interpersonal aspect of experience is a fundamental and irreducible element of his science of man. Smith argues that the interpersonal concept can be linked to the Husserlian concept of intersubjectivity. Hume further claims that he can rely on the only solid ground he has: experience. Therefore, Hume’s aspiration is not to formulate a disenchanted version of the world, as if he were a metaphysician whose worldview is conclusive. Instead, he looks for essences in interpersonal experience.
In the second part of the chapter, Smith illustrates Todes’ reading of Hume. Todes thinks that Hume is a disembodied visualist philosopher when thinking about human experience, because he dissects experience into instances. Smith defends the phenomenological Hume by saying that Todes primarily views Hume as a skeptic who has metaphysical aspirations. This appears to be a straw man for Smith. Let’s have an example. Phenomenologists usually criticize metaphysicians by default. Todes takes himself to be a phenomenologist. Therefore, Todes criticizes a metaphysical Hume he forges with his own reading. This strategy is shared by Smith. Nevertheless, Smith works in opposition to Todes. Smith’s overall position promotes a David Hume without metaphysical commitments and defends a study of human nature that relies on a continuous input from human experience.
Patton’s text explores the reasons why Deleuze’s philosophy is incompatible with scientific naturalism. He focuses on Deleuze’s concept of pure event and shows that it is more inclined to work in a more pluralist –so to say, a more philosophical—naturalistic frame. Patton traces Deleuze’s position all the way back to Lucretius’ philosophy and to Epicurean naturalism. Their main trait, according to Deleuze and his Nietzschean reading, is to banish negativity from investigations pertaining to Nature and grasp the affirmation that dwells at its heart (Deleuze 1990, 279). This idea is reflected in Deleuze’s pragmatic conception about what philosophy is: the invention of concepts. The concept of doing is more important to Deleuze that the concept of givenness. Yet, philosophy is a special kind of doing. While science produces mathematical or propositional functions, philosophy deals with the production of concepts. Both are affirmative, yet they take different paths of affirmation: the role of concepts is to describe pure, non-empirical events. Deleuze’s position, Patton claims, is reinforced by the concept of pure event which relies on the distinction between being and becoming. Philosophy, in Deleuze’s signature naturalism, is conceived as a process, a becoming, rather than substance or being. As process, philosophy should address pure events that are either finished or envisioned and conceptualize their core meaning. This idea paves the way for Deleuze’s naturalist ethics. Action should be coherent with the succession of events that leads to it. The will to coherent action takes form as the philosophical activity of concept production. Patton’s conclusion suggests that Deleuze’s conception about philosophy is complementary to science.
John Sallis reviews the most important philosophers that have supported the call of returning to nature. He begins with Chrysippus’ idea that choice should be exercised in accordance with nature. This includes the choice of seeing nature as an end and not only as a means. This idea infiltrates Rousseau’s project about the original nature of man: the state of nature. Rousseau promotes the return to nature because this return enriches any theoretical description of the initial conditions that led to human civilization. Rousseau’s project is genealogical. Kant’s transcendental project, on the other hand, is concerned with the conditions that lie in the cognizing subject. Kant’s own return to nature, Sallis explains, takes the form of contemplating the beauty of natural things and provokes an attunement to moral feelings. The Kantian return to nature is not methodological or epistemological, but related to moral subjectivity. Thoreau fully embraces this connection between nature and morality and underlines its existential character. He supports the idea that one should practice a life surrounded by nature because the confrontation with nature is the primary way of knowing oneself. Nietzsche expands on this by promoting the concept of life-affirming values. The most important sensibility a human can develop is a sensibility for nature. The will to power is a will to harvest one’s own inclination towards nature. Sallis’ text ultimately suggests that the philosophical problem about the concept of nature transcends the phenomenology-naturalism debate.
Weiss’ text is connected to the book’s topic because of using the concept of representation. He starts by distinguishing between two facets of belief. Belief is a reaction to evidence; but beliefs represent the world. One facet is directed from the world to the subject. The other proceeds in reverse. The former is called the Threshold view, while the latter the Representational view. They are opposites. Weiss argues for the Representationalist view because it defuses what Weiss refers to as the Preface Paradox. The Preface Paradox is that even though a person has a set of beliefs, not all facts can be believed to the same of degree of intensity and still maintain Logical Coherence. In light of this, the advantage of Representationalism over Thresholdism is that Representationalism endorses Logical Coherence, while Thresholdism does not. The Thresholdist resolves the Paradox by saying that it depends on the threshold of beliefs that is taken into consideration, so the paradox does not necessarily appear. Weiss criticizes this position by saying that levels of credence shaped by thresholds are too broad. The introduction of levels of credence does not develop any visible relation to coherence. Thus, any level of coherence can claim to be coherent by default. Thresholdists can always argue that coherence exists because of threshold’s design. Weiss argues for the existence of three ways to deal with the Paradox without becoming a Thresholdist: (1) is to find fault in the inferential steps that lead to the paradox, (2) is to absolve the subject from committing to one of the sentences that leads to the paradox and (3) is to accept a paradoxical appearance of an otherwise plausible situation. Weiss goes for (3). He supports Representationalism via Logical Coherence by thinking that the Preface Paradox is not actually a Paradox from the viewpoint of its relation to Coherence.
The volume is an important step for the discussion about adapting phenomenology to naturalism, or vice-versa. It joins another Phenomenology and Naturalism (2013) volume that was edited by Havi Carel and Darian Meacham. The book should be of interest to anyone who studies embodiment, the philosophical aspects of empirical science, but also to phenomenologists and epistemologists. The book’s strongest point arrives from the novelty its texts bring; the weakest, a partially disparate character. The volume now provokes discussions about the irreconcilable relation between Husserlian phenomenology and scientific naturalism. The problem in bringing transcendental philosophy and empiricism together does not appear to have a convincing resolution in some compromise-driven middle ground between the two.
Brassier, R. (2007). Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction, Palgrave Macmillan.
Deleuze, G. (1990). The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester and Charles Stivale, (ed.) Constantin Boundas, New York: Columbia University Press.
Harman, G. (2005). Guerilla Metaphysics: phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things, Chicago: Open Court.
Meillassoux, Q. (2008). After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, London: Continuum.
Sparrow, T. (2014). The End of Phenomenology: Metaphysics and the New Realism, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
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.