Matthew Burch, Jack Marsh, Irene McMullin (Eds.): Normativity, Meaning, and the Promise of Phenomenology

Normativity, Meaning, and the Promise of Phenomenology Book Cover Normativity, Meaning, and the Promise of Phenomenology
Routledge Research in Phenomenology
Matthew Burch, Jack Marsh, Irene McMullin (Eds.)
Routledge
2019
Hardback £120.00
358

Reviewed by: Veronica Cibotaru (Universite Paris-Sorbonne / Bergische Universitaet Wuppertal)

Introduction

The purpose of Normativity, Meaning, and the Promise of Phenomenology is to study the way in which phenomenology addresses the multiple connections between normativity and meaning. The content of the book is based on a fundamental presupposition, namely, that the structure of meaning is normative. This thesis is grounded on the phenomenological studies started by Husserl and in this spirit the book explores from different points of view the structure of meaning and its conditions of possibility.

Since the authors of this book attribute this thesis directly to the views of Steven Crowell, all the articles present themselves as an explicit dialogue with Crowell’s work, to wit, Husserl, Heidegger, and the Space of Meaning: Paths Toward Transcendental Phenomenology (2001), and Normativity and Phenomenology in Husserl and Heidegger (2013). The book includes then an afterword with Crowell’s with his comments and replies.

For this review, I focus on the direct objections to Crowell’s philosophical positions and his attempts at answering them. For doing so, I follow the order proposed by the editors of the book. The book is divided into five sections: (1) “Normativity, Meaning and the Limits of Phenomenology”, (2) “Sources of Normativity”, (3) “Normativity and Nature”, (4) “Attuned Agency”, and (5) “Epistemic Normativity”. At the beginning of each section in this review, I offer a brief summary of the main ideas in each section of the book and then a brief commentary on each single chapter.

I. Normativity, Meaning, and the Limits of Phenomenology

This section is focused on the link between the question of normativity and that of meaning as it is addressed in phenomenology. Thus, normativity of meaning appears to be one of the main questions of phenomenology. However, several questions remain open which the following articles try to solve. First of all, the concept of norm can be understood in different ways and opens thus the question to the possibility of different normative structures for different meaningful experiences. This question is raised by Sara Heinämaa in her article which opens this section. A second question is raised by Leslie MacAvoy regarding the legitimacy of considering the structure of meaning as fundamentally normative, arguing that this would go against Husserl’s virulent critique of psychologism. She thus distinguishes the validity of meaning from its eventual manifestation for us as an ought or as a claim. The third one is raised by Zahavi, Cerbone, and Kavka. They challenge the idea in itself that the normativity of meaning is one of the main concerns of phenomenology. Thus, some realms such as metaphysics (Zahavi), epistemology (Cerbone), or philosophy of religion (Kavka) seem to be out of reach for the phenomenological method understood as a “metaphysically-neutral reflective analysis of the normative space of meaning” (Burch, Marsh & McMullin, 2).

  1. Constitutive, Prescriptive, Technical, or Ideal? On the Ambiguity of the Term “Norm”, Sara Heinämaa

The starting point of this article is the claim that all intentionality, from a phenomenological point of view, has a normative structure, because all intentionality can be fulfilled or disappointed. Thus, every intentional object is a norm that can be fulfilled or disappointed. Heinämaa calls this type of norm a “standard”. However, following Husserl’s distinction between interested perception and thing-appearances, she shows that the intentional object as norm can have a second meaning, which is an unachievable goal and thus also an optimum. Indeed, thing-appearances can never be fully given to us in all their richness.

This polysemy of the notion of norm leads Heinämaa to analyze its different meanings by drawing on the work of the logician and philosopher Georg Henrik von Wright Norm and Action: A Logical Enquiry (1963). Wright himself takes over a distinction which he finds in the works of Max Scheler and Nicolai Hartmann, namely that between norm as actuality, which is at stake for what Husserl calls practical intentionality, and norm as ideality, which is essential for axiological intentionality. This distinction corresponds to Scheler’s distinctions between “Tunsollen” and “Seinsollen” and between “normative ought” (normatives Sollen) and “ideal ought” (ideales Sollen). The normativity of doing, which is a “normative ought”, is based on the concept of rule-following while the normativity of being, which is a “ideal ought” is based on the concept of seeking to achieve something. Both types of normativity should be kept strictly distinguished. Thus, although both types of normativity are goal-oriented, ideal norms “are not motivational causes for our actions but are conditions that define ways of being” (Heinämaa, 20).

Heinämaa applies this distinction to the question of the normativity of intentionality by arguing, against Crowell, that both Heidegger and Husserl, share the idea that norms of actions but also of thinking are founded in ideal norms. Thus, one of the roles of phenomenology is “to illuminate the fundamental role that ideal principles of being have in both epistemic and practical normativity” (Heinämaa, 23-24).

Steven Crowell insists, however, on the fact that the concept of ideales Sollen is not a proper “ought” but a “should” in order to preserve the clear distinction between normative and theoretical disciplines.

2. The Space of Meaning, Phenomenology, and the Normative Turn, Leslie MacAvoy

The leading question of this article concerns the proper object of phenomenology: is it meaning or normativity? First, Leslie MacAvoy shows how phenomenology, in its concern with meaning, takes over the neo-Kantian question of validity (Geltung). The neo-Kantians understand the validity of a logical law in terms of normativity, contrary to Husserl and Heidegger, and this explains the concern of this article.

Husserl argues in the Logical Investigations that logical laws are not normative because they are not prescriptive, and consequently that they are not practical rules but theoretical laws. Although these laws have normative power for our thought, normativity is not part of their content. In that way, what is opposed to the law of nature is not, contrary to what neo-Kantians thought, a normative law, but an ideal law. Therefore, contrary to Neo-Kantianism, phenomenology distinguishes validity from normativity. According to a phenomenological criticism, “the phenomenological critique of the neo-Kantian notion of validity as normativity transforms the space of validity into a space of meaning” (MacAvoy, 41). What is thus at stake are not the laws that “hold” but the intelligible structures of content. According to MacAvoy those structures are a priori and it is due to them that sense or meaning presents to us as valid. Here MacAvoy refers to Heidegger’s theory of the fore-structures of meaning as a model to understand this a priori, but she concludes, nevertheless, that phenomenology should investigate the sense of this a priori with more depth. All in all, while MacAvoy agrees with Crowell’s claim that phenomenology opens us the “space of meaning”, against Crowell’s Normativity and Phenomenology in Husserl and Heidegger, she disagrees with the idea that this space is normative.

3. Mind, Meaning, and Metaphysics, Another Look, Dan Zahavi

Zahavi’s concern in this article is the role of metaphysics in Husserl’s transcendental (and not early) phenomenology. Is his transcendental phenomenology metaphysically committed or does the epoché on the contrary entail metaphysical neutrality? By developing his argument, Zahavi critically assesses Crowell’s claim that Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology is metaphysically neutral. Crowell’s argument is that phenomenology is not interested into metaphysics but into “understanding the sense of reality and objectivity” (Zahavi, 50).

To this argument Zahavi presents two counterarguments. First of all, the fact that phenomenology is not primarily interested into metaphysics does not entail the fact that it does not have metaphysically implications. Secondly, Zahavi puts forward texts of Husserl where he explicitly claims the metaphysical commitment of phenomenology. In the Cartesian Meditations Husserl states that “phenomenology indeed excludes every naïve metaphysics that operates with absurd things in themselves, but does not exclude metaphysics as such” (Husserl 1950, 38-39). In order to understand the meaning of this metaphysical commitment of phenomenology, Zahavi distinguishes between three definitions of metaphysics: (1) “a theoretical investigation of the fundamental building blocks, of the basic “stuff” of reality” (Zahavi, 51); (2) “a philosophical engagement with question of facticity, birth, death, fate immortality, the existence of God, etc.” (Zahavi, 52); (3) “a fundamental reflection on and concern with the status and being of reality. Is reality mind-dependent or not, and if yes, in what manner?” (ibid). Zahavi further argues, that it is the second and most of all the third definition of metaphysics that is of interest for Husserl’s phenomenology.

Zahavi’s argument, drawing on an argument presented already by Fink in an article from 1939, “The Problem of the Phenomenology of Edmund Husserl”, is that transcendental phenomenology does not investigate the structures and meaning of a mental realm, but of the “real world” and of its modes of givenness (Zahavi, 59). Similarly, Fink insists on the distinction between the psychological noema and the transcendental noema, which is “being itself” (Fink 1981, 117). The distinction between noema and the object itself is not valid anymore within the transcendental attitude, but makes sense only within the psychological one.

To Crowell’s argument that Husserl is not dealing with being or reality itself but with its meaning for us, Zahavi answers that transcendental phenomenology entails a metaphysical claim about the existence of consciousness. However, the question remains open regarding the metaphysical commitment to the existence of a being which is independent from our consciousness, and this question is raised for example in Quentin Meillassoux’ book After Finitude, in which the author claims that phenomenology is unable to think being itself, independent from its correlation to consciousness. Of course, one could argue that Husserl dismisses this question, which he identifies as the Kantian question about things in themselves, as being absurd. However, perhaps we should investigate more why this question is considered being absurd by Husserl: is it not precisely because, according to him, it makes no sense to consider a being without presupposing a consciousness for whom this being has a meaning? There is, according to me, something very intriguing about this argument, in that it cannot be classified neither as metaphysical, since it does not claim that being is ontologically dependent on our consciousness, nor as semantically epistemic, since it does not claim that there is something as a neutral being which is then given to us through meaning. It would be interesting to, first, identify what type of argument Husserl actually uses here in order to deepen the question regarding the metaphysical commitment of phenomenology.

Opposing Zahavi’s argument, Crowell maintains his position concerning the metaphysical neutrality of phenomenology, which is guaranteed, following him, by the distinction between the existence of some entities, which is mind-independent, and the access to their reality, which is possible only for a conscience. Accordingly, however, this distinction still leaves the question unanswered concerning the metaphysical status of this reality to which we have access, since it still does not say how far this reality, as we have access to it, is mind-dependent.

4. Ground, Background, and Rough Ground, Dreyfus, Wittgenstein, and Phenomenology, David R. Cerbone

The aim of this article is to challenge Dreyfus’ interpretation of Heidegger’s concept of background as the understanding of being. According to Dreyfus, there is something as a background for our understanding which is there and that we can reach. Or, Cerbone argues for a deflationary sense of background which entails that there is no something as an ultimate background for our understanding, but always a changing and indeterminate background that we can never reach as such. Every time we try to explicate this background we always remain in his space. Thus, this background has an “illusory depth” (Cerbone, 76), since we can never get at its bottom.

In order to argue this, the author is drawing on Wittgenstein’s concept of explanation of the Philosophical Investigations. According to Wittgenstein, there is no absolute explanation of the background of the understanding, for example of the meaning of a word, but it is always relative to one specific situation and to the specific knowledge of our interlocutor. In that sense, explanations respond to a specific question or problem. They end when they fulfill that purpose.

This reassessing of the concept of background opens according to Cerbone the possibility to reassess the idea of phenomenology as infinite task. Indeed, the infinite task of phenomenology is not that of explicating the background of every understanding but that of addressing “the ongoing ethical challenge of making sense of and to one another” (ibid).

Steven Crowell objects however that Cerbone’s argument “seems to conflate the transcendental project of clarifying meaning with the mundane project of explaining some meaning by making the background explicit” (Crowell, 336). Crowell further argues that this argument makes it impossible to determine what is the world, since it is a category. Categories however are not explicated by ““digging deeper” into some specific horizon … but by phenomenological reflection on the eidetic structure of being-in-the-world” (Crowell, 337).

5. Inauthentic Theologizing and Phenomenological Method, Martin Kavka

This article examines the possibility of an authentic phenomenology of religion, which would be based on the authentic thinking of God. Martin Kavka understands here the concept of authentic thinking in the Husserlian sense in the way it is presented in the Logical Investigations, i.e. as the fulfillment of claims made in statements through the intuition of states of affairs.

Drawing on Heidegger’s analysis of Husserl’s concept of categorial intuition, from his 1963 essay “My Way to Phenomenology”, Kavka comes to the conclusion that an authentic phenomenology of the ‘inapparent’ must be possible, since categorial intuition is the intuition of an inapparent, i.e. a senseless, being. However, Kavka does not consider that God could be the object of such a phenomenology, as it is for instance in the case of Marion’s phenomenology of revelation, since religious figures such as Jesus are not fully dissimilar from the horizon of human expectations. The criterion of the phenomenon of revelation according to Marion lies precisely in its radical heterogeneity “to any conceptual scheme and horizon” (Kavka, 93); and since we could argue here that Jesus cannot precisely be simply identified to God, the question of Marion’s revelations is left open to possibility.

Following the question which Heidegger inquires in On Being and Time, Kavka asks himself what is the ground of meaning, and implicitly, if this ground can be considered as being God. He argues, following Hannah Arendt, that in any case God cannot be considered as commanding to our consciousness since this would “not lead Dasein back to itself and its own-most potentiality-for-Being” (Kavka, 90). Indeed Dasein cannot be ruled by any predetermined norm but can only respond to the call of normativity by responding for norms and making them its own.

Finally Kavka endorses Crowell’s horizontal analysis of discourse[1] in order to explain the primacy of alterity in Levinas’ sense, suggesting perhaps that such an analysis could also be of use for an authentic phenomenology of God, but most of all, for a critical philosophy of religion.

Steven Crowell argues however that a theological phenomenology would not be a phenomenology anymore since it would go beyond the “askesis of transcendental phenomenology” (Crowell, 352) due to which phenomenological investigations cannot but remain the realm of the evidence. Ending on a Kantian note, Crowell writes: “We are finite creatures, and so meaning is finite. We can grasp the world as it is, though never as a whole; and if there is anything beyond that, it is a matter for faith, not philosophy” (ibid).

II. Sources of Normativity

This section explores the sources of normativity both from a phenomenological and from an analytical point of view. John Drummond argues, from a Husserlian perspective, that these sources lie in the teleological structure of intentionality, whereas Inga Römer highlights, from a Levinasian approach the role of the other. Finally, Irene McMullin is arguing for the plurality of these sources (first-, second-, and third-personal) highlighting an unexpected feature of normativity: gratitude.

  1. Intentionality and (Moral) Normativity, John Drummond

In this article John Drummond argues against Crowell’s Heideggerian approach of the sources of normativity as being pre-intentional, For John Drummond, the intentionality is a “’basic’ notion” (Drummond, 102) which can ground by itself normativity. First of all, against Crowell’s reading of Husserl according to which the pre-intentional flow of consciousness constitutes intentional acts, the author argues that this flow is also intentional but is structured by a type of intentionality which Husserl calls in On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time horizontal intentionality (Langsintentionalität), which has the specificity of not being oriented towards an object, contrary to the transverse intentionality (Querintentionalität). Thus, “intentionality … belongs primarily to mind ‘as a whole’” (Drummond, 105), whereby mind has first of all the meaning of a gerund: “mind is ‘minding’ things” (ibid).

Secondly, Drummond highlights the fact that mind pertains to a person, i.e. to a concrete social, historical, embodied subject, which is for him equivalent, just as for Crowell, to the transcendental ego. Thus normativity has to be understood as the telos of the intentional experiences of a personal subject, which is aiming to truthfulness. This truthfulness presupposes that the person is responsible for acting and leading his/her life in the light of this telos.

The author concludes that this telos governs our lives as individuals and communities. My question would be however: what allows the author to be so sure about the universality of this telos? Could we thus say that truthfulness is still the goal of a totalitarian society for instance?

Steven Crowell objects to Drummond’s argument that horizontal intentionality, although it belongs to the ground of reason, is not however “governed by a telos of reason” (Crowell, 338). He argues instead, along with Heidegger, that what clarifies intentionality is the categorial structure of “care”. Thus it is in this structure of care that normativity is ultimately grounded.

2. The Sources of Practical Normativity Reconsidered – With Kant and Levinas, Inga Römer

Just as Steven Crowell showed that there is a “line of continuity” (Römer, 120) between the phenomenology of Heidegger of Being and Time and the philosophy of Kant, Inga Römer argues in this article that there exists such a line of continuity between Levinas’ phenomenology and the thought of Kant.

First of all, she shows how Levinas’ reading of Kant evolves, from a very critical one (until the 1960s) to a positive one, especially regarding the second Critique, from the 1970s. Thus Levinas starts to consider Kantian philosophy of pure practical reason as a “philosophy of the sense beyond being, a sense that is essentially ethical” (Römer, 123). At the same time, Levinas transforms Kant’s idea of pure practical reason by anchoring pure practical reason in the desire for the infinite, by grounding the autonomy of the self in the ethically signifying call of the Other and finally by reinterpreting Kant’s idea of pure practical reason as an anarchic reason. This anarchic reason involves a tension between the claim of the Other and the claim of the third, and thus a “pure disturbance, confusion, restlessness, and refusal of synthesis.” (Römer, 125)

Secondly, Römer considers in details and criticizes Korsgaard’s and Crowell’s arguments for grounding ethics in a first-personal perspective, by arguing that Levinas’ perspective is more convincing because “it is impossible to generate ethical rationality within myself … without falling into a sort of ethical self-conceit” (Römer, 132) which would make us unable to feel obliged towards the Other. Perhaps it would have been interesting to develop this concept of “self-conceit” since it is essential for the author’s argument.

Thirdly, Römer shows how Levinas’ thought is closer to the argument of the second Critique than to that of the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, because it is also based on the idea that ethical rationality, as a mere fact, institutes my autonomy. Levinas and the later Kant thus agree on one essential point: “it is impossible to generate ethical rationality by starting with my very own freedom and then extending it towards others” (Römer, 134). An important distinction remains however between these two thinkers, according to the author: contrary to Kant, ethical significance remains, following Levinas, threatened by nihilism, especially nowadays.

Steven Crowell answers to Römer’s critique by arguing that Levinas’s thought encounters the same problem as that of Heidegger, namely that the identity of the addresser of the call remains enigmatic and leads to metaphysics. On the contrary, the concept of categorial answerability for reasons, does not require metaphysics.

3. Resoluteness and Gratitude for the Good, Irene McMullin

In this article Irene McMullin’s aim is to understand deeper the original Heideggerian concept of resoluteness, which allows the agent to overcome Angst in order to act in a norm-responsive way. More precisely, she studies the affective dimension of resoluteness by studying what Heidegger calls “readiness for anxiety”. One of the main claims of this article is that this readiness is not a merely negative experience, because it implies also gratitude, which is “an essential affective component of resoluteness” (McMullin, 137).

First of all, McMullin nuances Heidegger’s idea according to which there are mainly two sources of normativity: the public conventions of the das Man and our private norms. She argues indeed that there is a third normativity source, which are second-person claims. She, then, insists on the importance of readiness for anxiety, which she interprets as a latent state of anxiety through which the Dasein takes into account the plural sources of normativity. This readiness is an affect and not a project, since the world matters to me through it. Finally the author insists on the dimension of joy which is essential for this readiness, since I experience gratitude when I consider the possibility of losing everything (for example a child), but which has not yet realized itself. We experience, thus, gratitude for the meaning of our life, because precisely we become conscious, through readiness for anxiety, of the contingency of this meaning. Thus, “gratitude is the orientation that responds to grace – meaning a manifestation of goodness over which we have no power, but to which we find ourselves gratefully indebted” (McMullin, 150). I remain however with one pending question: is it still possible to experience this gratitude when all meaning is lost, when we do not experience anymore the world as “overflowing with meanings that we do not create or control”? (ibid). Or is the absolute loss of meaning a necessary possibility following from the characterization of the meaning of our lives as being precisely contingent? Steven Crowell deduces from McMullin’s argument the interesting idea that “the phenomenological focus on meaning prior to reason does not lead to nihilism, then, but to fröhliche Wissenschaft” (Crowell, 342).

III. Normativity and Nature

This section investigates the relationship between phenomenology and naturalism, reinterpreted respectively as the relationship between the “space of meaning” and the “space of causes”, according to the expression used by Steven Crowell in his work Husserl, Heidegger, and the Space of Meaning: Paths toward Transcendental Phenomenology. All authors of this section aim to bridge the gap between the natural and the normative realm whether by showing that there is no essential distinction between human and nonhuman animal “selves”, by arguing for a “relaxed naturalism” or by showing that human intentionality can be understood as a natural phenomenon.

  1. On Being a Human Self, Mark Okrent

Mark Okrent investigates in this article what constitutes the human self. He first examines the classical answers to this question, from Descartes to Kant, by showing finally that Kantian answer is problematic for two reasons: it is not able to explain why a human agent could have a specific reason to act; it has a restricted view on rationality, reducing it to its deductive aspect. Korsgaard’s concept of “practical identity” can offer a response to the second problem. One of the essential dimensions of this practical identity is the overcoming of a passive dimension that we share with other nonhuman agents, i.e. the goal of self-maintenance.[2] Thus, being a human agent entails overcoming the passive dimension that we share with nonhuman agents in order to become normative agents. However, according to Okrent, Korsgaard is not able to explain for which reasons one should adopt a certain practical identity.

Secondly, Okrent examines Heidegger’s idea according to which one does not represent oneself a certain practical identity in order to act according to it, since it could offer an answer to the problem mentioned above. However, this idea is unable, according to Okrent, to make clear how a certain identity is one’s own achievement. Crowell’s answer to this objection is that no practical identity is merely given to us, even when we are not in the mood of anxiety, but that we have on the contrary to strive constantly to achieve this identity. Thus, if animals respond instinctively to their identity, human beings inhabit an indefinite identity to whose norms they try to respond. However, as Okrent mentions it, recent animal studies have shown, that animal identities are not merely instinctive, but can evolve in function of environmental conditions.

Okrent attributes however another possible meaning to the concept of trying to achieve an identity which Crowell uses: it does not mean to “alter” it “in the direction of greater success”, but also to “justify” it with reasons (Okrent, 173). However, this interpretation is confronted with the aporia of the Wittgensteinian regress, which thus puts into question Crowell’s argument for the radical difference between human and animal identity as agents.

Steven Crowell responds to Okrent’s argument by arguing that it involves a deep pragmatic “reconstruction” of Heidegger’s text and that it would be thus more “elegant” to leave aside pragmatism (Crowell 344).

2. Normativity with a Human Face: Placing Intentional Norms and Intentional Agents Back in Nature, Glenda Satne and Bernardo Ainbinder

The aim of this article is to prolong McDowell’s attempt to replace norms in nature in order to avoid Sellar’s and Davidson’s separation of the space of causes from that of reasons, to which belongs, according to Sellar, intentionality. Crowell considers however that McDowell lacks the necessary phenomenological account of perception, in order to show that perception belongs to the space of norms, without being conceptual, and thus in order to achieve empiricism.

In order to achieve this project, Satne and Ainbinder argue that it is essential to place intentional agents in nature, even if Crowell denies the possibility of an account of rationality in natural terms. According to the authors, Husserlian genetic phenomenology can provide us with a method in order to describe this, because it can show how our normative capacities emerge from more basic capacities that we share with children and animals, and thus with other nature beings. They posit thus themselves against Crowell’s view according to which there is a radical gap between human intentionality, which is the proper intentionality and animal intentionality, or against Davidson’s view according to which we lack the proper vocabulary in order to describe the mental states of other animals. This is what allows them to give an evolutionary account for human intentionality.

In order to achieve this project, Satne and Ainbinder criticize what they call the uniformity thesis according to which intentionality is “the exclusive province of semantic content” (Satne & Ainbinder, 188). This requires showing how a phenomenological understanding of “life” allows to pluralize the “forms of life” and thus to pluralize intentionality. For this aim, the authors broaden the concept of nature so that it can include consciousness and so also intentionality. However, one question remains open: how is it possible, according to the authors‘ projects, to reunite intentionality with the realm of nature understood in its mere biological sense, and thus with the neurological part which could correspond to intentionality?

Steven Crowell presents an objection to the argument presented in this article by advancing that it presupposes the use of genetic phenomenology and thus “a construction that transcends the kind of Evidenz to which transcendental phenomenology is committed” (Crowell 346-347).

3. World-Articulating Animals, Joseph Rouse

The aim of this article is to reunite, against Crowell’s and Heidegger’s views, our biological animality with our intentionality and normative accountability. Both Crowell and Heidegger insist on the incommensurability between animal environment and the openness to the world of the Dasein which creates a radical difference between animals and human beings. That is why it is not possible according to Crowell to ground normativity nor intentionality on the basis of “organismic teleology” (Rouse, 206). What allows us to attribute intelligibility to other animal forms of life is precisely the “transcendentally constituted space of meaning and reasons” (ibid).

In order to reject this argument, Rouse is arguing for a non-dualistic conception of normativity and nature. He thus proposes an “ecological-developmental conception of biological normativity” (Rouse, 207). which accounts for the development of normativity through social practices inside of which human beings grow up and live. These practices presuppose the essential interdependence of human being’s actions that is based on a mutual accountability of human being’s performances. Their normativity reside in this accountability and not in specific norms which would govern these practices.

This normativity without norms of social practices constitutes the specificity of human normativity, because it is two-dimensional: “whereas other organisms develop and evolve in ways whose only measure is whether life and lineage continue, our discursively articulated practices and their encompassing way of life introduce tradeoffs between whether they continue and what they ‘are’” (Rouse, 210). A question remains however unanswered: on the basis of which arguments can we be so sure that our normativity presupposes a biological dimension which urges us to continue life and is thus two-dimensional? What allows us to argue that the evolutionary development of our normativity did not on the contrary suppress this dimension?

Crowell’s reply to Rouse’ criticism is that he does not take the dualism between nature and normativity in a metaphysical but only in a methodological sense, since phenomenology is metaphysically neutral. Further, Crowell’s argues that we are led to deduce from Rouse’ account the problematic idea that phenomenological categories are contingent.

IV. Attuned Agency

This section investigates the affective dimension of normativity. The first article challenges the view that we are not responsible for our moods, while the second one nuances from a phenomenological point of view the traditional description of akrasia and its relationship to conscience. Finally, the third article investigates how normativity is intricate in the experience of erotic love.

  1. Moods as active, Joseph K. Schear

The aim of this article is to challenge the idea that moods are a mere expression of our passivity, by arguing that they are on the contrary “an expression of agency for which we are answerable” (Schear, 217). Here, Schear criticizes the classical interpretation of Heidegger’s concept of Befindlichkeit (as that of Dreyfus or Mulhall for example) as manifesting the “passive” dimension of our being-in-the world.

The objective of Schear is radical, since he does not simply try to show that we can act on our moods, but that the fact in itself of being in a mood is already an expression of our agency, and thus of our responsibility. First of all, the author elucidates the concept of being active as “being responsive to reasons” (Schear, 222). The fact that we can ask someone why he is in a certain mood displays already a piece of evidence for the fact that moods are active. We are thus expecting answerability for our moods.

The author distinguishes this answerability from moral responsibility. Answerability means here rather the possible “demand for intelligibility” (Schear, 225). Finally, this demand for intelligibility is not a demand for rationality, since what is at stake, is not asking for a reason which justifies the mood, but for “an account that makes manifest, that expresses, the shape or tenor of one’s situation as it shows from one’s perspective” (Schear, 228).

The author seems however to presuppose that someone has enough self-knowledge in order to answer this demand for intelligibility. However, it can happen that someone does not know oneself why he/she feels in a special mood (this can be the case for example when someone suffers from depression or anxiety) or that he /she does not understand rightly what makes him /her feel in a special mood. I can thus think that I am anxious because of my work whereas what makes me actually anxious is a certain heavy perfume I wear. Consequently, this understanding would not be immediately obvious to me, but would require an exercise of critical self-reflection.

2. Against our Better Judgment, Matthew Burch

The scope of this article is to show that what is usually called akrasia, meaning the fact of acting against our own judgment, regroups actually two distinct phenomena that Burch describes from a phenomenological point of view. He thus defines the first phenomenon as “intention-shift: action taken freely and intentionally against my explicit plan (or future intention) and with a clear conscience” (Burch, 233) and the second phenomenon as akrasia in its proper sense, or more precisely: “action taken freely and intentionally against my explicit plan (or future intention) and accompanied by some self-critical emotion (e.g. guilt, shame, self-directed anger) or a mixture of such emotions” (ibid). The fundamental difference between these two phenomena lies in the negative, self-critical feeling that accompanies the second phenomena. Remarkably, both phenomena presuppose the free and intentional action, against the classical understanding of akrasia, which interprets it as a “conflict between rational judgment and irrational desire” (Burch 240). Burch shows on the contrary that what is at stake is a conflict between two interests, that he understands as being self-reflexive and normative. This conflict is understood by the author as a shift from a specific interest to another one, due to “affective and circumstantial changes” (Burch 242). According to the author, our interests are self-reflexive, because they concern ourselves. In the case of the intention-shift there is no betrayal of ourselves but only of our “prior plan” (Burch, 243) contrary to the akrasia in its proper sense. Thus, in this second case, shifting to another interest means also betraying another interest (e.g. being faithful to my partner), and thus betraying myself.

The author seems to presuppose that in the case of akrasia there is an asymmetry between two interests, which presupposes that satisfying one interest can lead to a feeling of self-betrayal (e.g. when I cheat on my partner), while this is not the case for the another interest (e.g. meeting other erotic partners than my wife/husband). Could we however think that this second type of interest can also lead to a feeling of self-betrayal when it is not satisfied?

3. Everyday Eros: Toward a Phenomenology of Erotic Inception, Jack Marsh

This article focuses on the phenomenological account of the earliest stage of erotic experience, that Marsh calls erotic inception. The author distinguishes several moments inside of erotic inception. The first moment is what he calls the standing-out-among, when the other catches suddenly our eye through a particular detail. The second moment is the stepping-out-from, when I step out toward this other who caught my eye. Through this second moment the other as potential erotic partner steps into my world. According to the author, this second moment is a modification of the Heideggerian concept of “world-entry” (Welteingang).

The author deepens then the understanding of this concept as applied to erotic inception, by deepening its Heideggerian description as upswing (Überschwingende). Marsh characterizes this upswing as an “ ‘oscillation’ between my possibilities and my facticity, my abilities and limits, my possible futures and actual past” (Marsh 260) and thus as an “excess of possibility” (ibid) or as “an expansive opening upon the world that is empowering and enriching” (Marsh, 261). This expansive opening upon the world leads finally to a world-modification that characterizes the unfolding couple. However, the excess of possibilities that characterize erotic inception contains also the possibility of its own demise, or as the author puts it, of the “We-death” (Marsh, 264).

One question remains however open for me: what place does the author attribute to normativity inside the erotic inception? Could we thus say that the experience of erotic inception is characterized by certain norms, like for example the norm of what it is to be an erotic partner, and that each of us can be called to transform these norms through one’s own experience?

V. Epistemic Normativity

This final section investigates the specific modality of normativity involved in our epistemic practices. The first article challenges the view itself that normativity is involved in knowledge acquisition, while the second article analyzes how norms are intricate in our perceptual experience. Finally, the last article investigates the link between the natural and the transcendental attitude from a phenomenological point of view.

  1. Normativity and Knowledge, Walter Hopp

In this article Walter Hopp deepens Crowell’s view according to which intentionality can be exercised only inside of a “context of practices” (Hopp, 271). Thus, “the world is not the intentional correlate of a transcendental ego, but the environment of the embodied and socialized human person” (ibid). Hopp argues that this idea could have two possible interpretations: either intentionality can be carried out only by persons who act conform to a context of practices and thus of norms, or intentionality is constitutively normative. Hopp is arguing for the first interpretation, by advancing that if intentionality were constitutively normative, then this would be the case for knowledge as well. He aims to show in this article that knowledge is not precisely constitutively normative, and so nor intentionality.

Hopp’s argument is based on Husserl’s theory of normative science from the Logical Investigations. A normative science according to Husserl is always based on one or several non-normative, theoretical sciences, like for instance medicine that is based on biology, chemistry, etc. Consequently, sciences that do no rest on other non-normative disciplines, like for example logic, cannot be normative. Non-normative scientific propositions can however endorse the role of norms, without being normative in their content. Hopp applies this argument to epistemology, by showing that its content does not indicate what we ought to believe but what can be hold as being true; or, truth can endorse the role of a norm but is not normative by its content. Here, Hopp specifies Crowell’s characterization of truth as a “normative notion” (Crowell 2013, 239) which is, according to him, ambiguous. The author is thus arguing clearly for a clear distinction between ethics and epistemology against Terence Cuneo for example.[3]

Nevertheless, Husserl defines noetics as the “theory of norms of knowledge” (Husserl 2008, 132) whereas evidence as self-givenness is characterized by him as the “ultimate norm … that lends sense to knowledge” (Husserl 1999, 45). Here however Hopp uses Husserl’s own criterion of normative science by asking on which non-normative discipline Husserl’s most fundamental concepts of his epistemology, i.e. truth and evidence do rest, in order to show that these concepts do not have normative content. This allows Hopp to define epistemology as an ideal science in the Husserlian sense.

Steven Crowell agrees with Hopp’s argument, but he points to the fact Husserl’s analysis of truth cannot be reduced to the Logical Investigations, which are essential for Hopp’s argument. According to Crowell, there is however a sense of normativity in Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology which “eludes Husserl’s distinction between normative and theoretical disciplines” (Crowell, 332) because transcendental phenomenology is not considered as an explanatory theory but as a method of clarification.

2. Appearance, Judgment, and Norms, Charles Siewert

The aim of this paper is to argue, by using the phenomenological approach, that our perceptual experiences are “subject to norms of its own” (Siewert 290). In order to show this, Siewert starts by analyzing the case of visual agnosia, by arguing that it does not involve a deficit of visual appearance but rather of capacity of recognition. Visual appearance is thus conceptually distinct from visual recognition, or recognitional appearance, which is on its turn distinct from judgment. Indeed, I can withhold judgment when I recognize two persons as looking the same, i.e. when I recognize that they look alike but in two different tokens. Visual recognitions “take thing as” (Siewert, 299) whereas judgments “represent things to be” (ibid). Contrary to Travis, Siewert does distinguish however altogether visual experience from accuracy, and thus does not attribute accuracy exclusively to judgment. Thus, I can accurately recognize a sign as an arrow, while it actually represents an alligator. In this case I made a “creative use of the appearance” (Siewert, 301). Siewert draws here a parallel with the Kantian scheme, since just as the scheme makes both theoretical judgment and aesthetic imagination possible, the recognitional appearance can support both a judgment and a creative use.

On the basis of this distinction between visual recognitional experience and judging experience, the author argues that these two types of experiences are governed by two different kinds of normativity. He agrees on this point with Susanna Siegel, but not on the specific form of normativity that characterizes visual recognition. Indeed, Siewert identifies visual recognition with a “looking-as-act” (Siewert, 303) which he understands as the active experience of looking, contrary to the “looking-as-appearance”, and which thus can be done well or badly, or which can be improved. Perceptual experiences can be thus subject to normative assessment because visual recognitions can be an activity.

3. Husserl’s and Heidegger’s Transcendental Projects, Dermot Moran

In this article Dermot Moran aims at understanding the meaning of phenomenology as transcendental philosophy. Inspired by Merleau-Ponty’s essay “The Philosopher and His Shadow”, he investigates how the transcendental and the natural attitude are intertwined and how the idea of such an intertwining relates to Husserl’s and Heidegger’s phenomenology.

Based on a very detailed studied of Husserl’s and Heidegger’s texts, Moran shows first how Husserl’s view on the natural and transcendental attitude evolves from the Ideas I until the Crisis, as well as how Heidegger criticizes the Husserlian concept of natural attitude, which according to him is a comportment (Verhalten) and not an attitude as such. At the same time, the author points to ambiguous points in Husserl’s thought, like the relationship between the natural attitude and naturalism, which leads to the reification of the world. Despite this ambiguity, Husserl is clear on the distinction between transcendental and natural attitude, which is relative to the first attitude as the only absolute attitude, because of its “self-awareness and self-grounding character” (Moran, 313). One can become aware of the natural attitude as such only through a “shift in the ego’s mode of inspectio sui” (Moran, 314) which is the transcendental reduction though which we can adopt the transcendental attitude. Thus one of the key roles of transcendental phenomenology is that of allowing us “to investigate attitudes” (ibid) such as the theoretical attitude which masks the original position of the transcendental subject.

Moran further reflects on the meaning of transcendental phenomenology with the aid of Merleau-Ponty’s reading of Husserl’s texts according to which the natural and the transcendental attitudes are deeply intertwined. This reading could explain why Husserl calls in the § 49 of the Ideas II the transcendental attitude as being natural.

Merleau-Ponty finds such an intertwining in Husserl’s idea of a passive pregiveness of the world which underlies all intentional acts and which is not the object of act intentionality but of what Husserl calls in Formal and Transcendental Logic fungierende Intentionalität and that Merleau-Ponty translates in the Phenomenology of Perception as operative intentionality (intentionnalité opérante), a concept which is equivalent according to Merleau-Ponty with the Heideggerian concept of transcendence.

Moran identifies this operative intentionality with what Husserl calls, also in § 94 of Formal and Transcendental Logic living intentionality. He further reflects on this concept of living intentionality, by arguing, based on a thorough study of Husserl’s texts, that the task of transcendental phenomenology is to aim towards a living not in the world but within the life of consciousness, which Moran interprets, following Husserl’s expression in Formal and Transcendental Logic as the realm of our internality (Innerlichkeit), a concept for which Moran discerns a Heideggerian resonance. Only transcendental reduction, and the transcendental attitude it leads to, can give us access to this internality, and not the natural reflection that is proper to the natural attitude. Thus, “the aim of transcendental phenomenology” is “to uncover this life of functioning consciousness underlying the natural attitude” (Crowell, 320).

In conclusion, this book allows us to have a renewed reading of one of the main problems of phenomenology, i.e. the problem of meaning. Particularly, the problem of meaning is treated in the light of the question of normativity. At the same time it links in multiple ways the phenomenological question of meaning with various contemporary compelling questions like that of naturalism. This makes this book particularly interesting. Yet, the question of meaning is unfortunately not always on the foreground, leaving sometimes the task of making the explicit link between the problem of meaning and the content of the articles to the reader. Perhaps however it is a mere consequence of the richness of its various perspectives on this topic.

Bibliography:

Crowell, Steven. 2002. “Authentic Thinking and Phenomenological Method.” In: The New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy 2: 23-37

Crowell, Steven. 2013. Normativity and Phenomenology in Husserl and Heidegger. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Cuneo, Terence. 2007. The Normative Web. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fink, Eugen. 1981. “The Problem of the Phenomenology of Edmund Husserl.” Translated by R.M. Harlan. In: Apriori and World: European Contributions to Husserlian Phenomenology, edited by W. McKenna, R.M. Harlan, and L.E. Winters, 21-55. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Husserl, Edmund. 1950. Cartesianische Meditationen und Pariser Vorträge. Edited by S. Strasser, Husserliana 1. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Husserl, Edmund. 2008. Introduction to Logic and Theory of Knowledge: Lectures 1906/07. Translated by Claire Ortiz Hill. Dordrecht: Springer.

Husserl, Edmund. 1999. The Idea of Phenomenology. Translated by Lee Hardy. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.


[1] Steven Crowell, 2002.

[2] See Christine Korsgaard, The Sources of Normativity, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996 and also Christine Korsgaard, Creating the Kingdom of Ends, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

[3] Cuneo 2007. Cuneo is arguing that just as there are no “moral facts”, there are no “epistemic facts” either. (113)

Matthew Burch, Jack Marsh, Irene McMullin (Eds.): Normativity, Meaning, and the Promise of Phenomenology

Normativity, Meaning, and the Promise of Phenomenology Book Cover Normativity, Meaning, and the Promise of Phenomenology
Routledge Research in Phenomenology
Matthew Burch, Jack Marsh, Irene McMullin (Eds.)
Routledge
2019
Hardback £120.00
358

Reviewed by: Steven DeLay (Old Member, Christ Church, University of Oxford)

On one common telling of the history, phenomenology originates as a philosophical movement incubated in professional jealousy, personal rivalry, and intrigue. If someone as Emmanuel Falque has called the recent work among phenomenologists in France a “loving struggle,” the same cannot be said for phenomenology’s earliest beginnings in Germany. Surrounded initially by a burgeoning cadre of students whom he hoped would be heirs to a research program united in its philosophical vision, Edmund Husserl, father of transcendental phenomenology, instead found his aspirations increasingly disappointed as the years passed. As he was to remark in a note towards the end of his career, the general sentiment of his time, one against which he never ceased to struggle, took a dismissively dim view of the systemiticity he so favored: “Philosophy as science, as serious, rigorous, indeed apodictically rigorous science—the dream is over” (Husserl 1970, 389). At the end of his life, he stood alone in his unflagging zeal for the cause of philosophy as science. One after another, Husserl’s former disciples with rare exception had deserted that vision of phenomenology and its future. Among the most notable of those to go their own way rather than following Husserl’s was Heidegger of course, who, beginning with 1927’s publication of Being and Time, broke publically with his mentor’s view of philosophy as a rigorous science, abandoning phenomenology as a science of trancendental consciousness for fundamental ontology’s Seinsfrage.

Expansive and sometimes rather convoluted, the details of this acriminous yet vibrant phenomenological milieu’s institutional reception (first across Europe then on to the Anglophone world and beyond) is far too complex to summarize here fully. Entire books have been written on such matters. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that there has for many decades existed a tendency on the part of commentators to reinforce the feud between Husserl and Heidegger. Rather than looking for any deep common ground between their philosophies, focus instead has been payed to highlighting the differences thought to separate them. This is particularly true in the North American context. For instance, when Hubert Dreyfus upon developing his criticisms of Artificial Intelligence at MIT brought Heidegger’s philosophy to students at Berkeley (William Blattner, Taylor Carman, John Haugeland, Sean Kelly, Iain Thomson, and Mark Wrathall among them), his presentation of phenomenology, which became a commonplace in many publishing circles, relegated Husserl to a piñata for Heidegger. From the 1970s on, Dreyfus’s reading dominated considerable portions of the Anglophone phenomenology world as orthodoxy. The picture it presented was tidy. Husserl was the antiquated cartesian who had underestimated the importance of matters like embodiment and intersubjectivity, while Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, representatives of a so-called “existential phenomenology,” were pioneers whose innovative emphasis on being-in-the-world freed phenomenology from the history of philosophy’s misleading assumptions. In the rush to accentuate what it believed makes Heidegger’s philosophy captivating, Husserl unfairly became something of a footnote to the story, a sort of hors d’oeuvre before the main philosophical dish.

A notable exception to this trend is Dan Zahavi, whose work has done bright things to vindicate the continued importance of Husserl’s legacy. But perhaps the one who above all is responsible for snatching Husserl from the jaws of misunderstanding is Steven G. Crowell, who, in books as Husserl, Heidegger, and the Space of Meaning: Paths towards Transcendental Phenomenology (Northwestern: 2001) and Normativity and Phenomenology in Husserl and Heidegger (Cambridge: 2013) as well as in numerous essays has developed an iconoclastic and sophisticated account of the relation between Husserl and Heidegger. Crowell’s position is one which maintains, against Dreyfus and much of the received wisdom in Anglophone Heidegger studies, that in fact Husserl and Heidegger are collaborators in the shared undertaking of what Crowell himself characterizes as transcendental phenomenology’s distinctive project: namely, its preoccupation with the normative structure of intentional meaning (Sinn). Thus, at stake in the collection of essays contained in Normativity, Meaning, and the Promise of Phenomenology is the very status of phenomenological philosophy as Crowell proposes it be understood, as a transcendental “clarification of meaning” (Crowell, 336). Naturally, continual reference throughout is made to the interface between Husserl and Heidegger, but not, note well, for the purposes of mere exegesis, but instead as a wellspring of inspiration for a philosophical legacy whose unique approach to phenomenology is animating the continued work of thinkers carrying on its tradition. Many of the essays are accordingly not the typical kind of banal laudatory pieces one is accustomed to finding in a Festschrift. For, in paying homage to Crowell’s vision of transcendental phenomenology, they aim to return to the “things themselves,” precisely as Crowell himself has for many years urged others to do. In short, this is an excellent volume whose aim is not so much to read Husserl and Heidegger, but to think with, and, where necessary, against them.

This transcendental approach—or, a “critique of meaning”—is exemplified in Crowell’s own contribution to the volume. In an “Afterword” that closes the discussion by answering the essays preceding it, Crowell begins his response by noting how the grand language Husserl himself frequently employed when trying to convey the discovery of transcendental phenomenology’s significance may lead to some puzzlement. As Crowell recognizes, Husserl’s personal enthusiasm at first could seem a touch overstated.

With his turn to transcendental phenomenology, Husserl increasingly spoke of his work in the most exalted terms. He was Moses taking the first tentative steps toward the “promised land” whose riches he would not exhaust had he the years allotted Methuselah (Husserl 1989, 429); he was the explorer of “the trackless wilderness of a new continent” (1989, 422) where “no meaningful question” is left “unanswered” (Husserl 1970a, 168); he was Saul on the way to Damascus, the discovery of phenomenology affecting him like a “religious conversion” (Husserl 1970a, 137); he was the redeemer of “the secret yearning of all modern philosophy” (Husserl 1983, 142). What could motivate such language? (Crowell, 329).

According to Crowell, Husserl’s exuberance becomes understandable when the latter’s fundamental philosophical insight is appreciated properly. Husserl’s phenomenological breakthrough, says Crowell, lies not so much in the thesis that “intentionality is the mark of the mental” (as Franz Brentano had noted already), but rather in its distinctive concern with (to borrow the Heideggerian phrase) a kind of “ontological difference”: philosophy is seen to thematize not entities, but meaning. Further, the focus is not just on meaning but specifically the fact that such meaning is normative: “Phenomenology’s promise land, meaning, has a normative structure” (Crowell, 330). Hence, for Crowell, modern philosophy’s transcendental turn (as represented by Husserlian phenomenology) is at once a “normative turn” (MacAvoy, 29). It is in this context that the phenomenological reduction should be understood.

“[T]his method,” says Crowell, “requires askesis, suspending worldly commitments. I ‘put out of action the general positing which belongs to the essence of the natural attitude’ and ‘make no use’ of any science that depends on it (Husserl 1983, 61) so as to thematize the inconspicuous phenomenon of meaning, where the world and everything in it is available to us as it in truth is. This askesis characterizes all phenomenological philosophy” (Crowell, 329).

With this “reduction” to meaning, a new field of inquiry opens, one Husserl in works like Cartesian Meditations characterizes as “an infinite realm of being of a new kind, as the sphere of a new kind of experience: transcendental experience” (Husserl 1973, 66). And as Crowell contends, it is this reduction to meaning that unifies those thinkers belonging to the tradition of transcendental phenomenology. Moreover, it is the normative approach’s distinctive clarification of meaning that holds out the promise for re-establishing today the kind of research program Husserl had sought for his own. An approach calling for collaborative effort, not only does it promote the open exchange of ideas through critical argument, it does so while always remaining oriented by a methodological commitment to phenomenological Evidenz, the distinctive warrant of what shows itself intuitively in first-person self-givenness.

Husserl insists that phenomenology is not a “system” deriving from the head of a single “genius” (Husserl 1965, 75), but a communal practice, a “research program” in the loose sense that analytic philosophy might be considered one. What unites this program—including Heidegger, Sartre, Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, and even Derrida—is a “reduction” from our ordinary concern with entities, beings, the “world,” to the meaning at issue in such concern. Of course, these and other practitioners interrogate both the reduction and the meaning it brings into view, and so we who take up the promise of phenomenology must assess, by our own lights, the legitimacy of such “heresies,” revisions, and revolutions. And while criticism of arguments is always in place, assessing the legitimacy of phenomenological claims finally requires Evidenz, what one can warrant for oneself in the intuitive self-givenness of the “things themselves.” As a kind of empiricism, phenomenology embraces the responsibility of first-person experience (Crowell, 330-31).

However, if transcendental phenomenology’s concern is meaning, and such meaning in turn concerns the normative, what is a norm? As Crowell recounts, a form of that question has long vexed philosophy’s effort to comprehend the realm of “ideality”: it led Plato to his theory of Forms, just as it later motivated nineteenth-century thinkers including Emil Lask and Hermann Lotze to their respective accounts of Geltung (validity), of a “third realm” where the “categories” in question do not exist, but rather “hold” or “obtain.” Accordingly, the basic question concering the ontological status of the ideal (or normative) serves as the volume’s point of departure with Sara Heinämaa’s essay, “Constitutive, Prescriptive, Technical or Ideal? On the Ambiguity of the Term ‘Norm.” In contemporary phenomenology, as Heinämaa says, “the terms ‘norm’ and ‘normative’ are used in several contexts. One dominant argument is that the structure of intentionality is teleological and as such normative” (Heinämaa, 9). Using the examples of being a teacher or a soldier, Heinämaa highlights a difference between two norms. Following a distinction originating in Max Scheler, she notes how there is Tunsollen (“normative ought”), which “implies the concept of rule-following” (Heinämaa, 20) exhibited in customs or social habits. On the other hand, there is Seinsollen (“ideal ought”), a kind of “ideal principle” supplying a constitutive norm involving a “striving for something” (Ibid.) Ideal principles, as Heinämaa observes, “have a constitutive and enabling character: they are not motivational causes for our actions but are conditions that define ways of being” (Ibid.). Crowell further underscores this distinction when, in his reply, he observes that the ideal principles Heinämaa mentions are equivalent to what he means by the term “practical identity” or what Heidegger called a “for-the-sake-of-which” or “ability-to-be” (Seinkönnen); the norm at issue involves a way of understanding oneself, a standard of success or failure exemplified in a felt sensitivity to what is best (or good) given what one is trying to be. Whether we consider being a teacher or a solider, the general point, says Crowell, is that “knowing is something we do in a way possible only for a being who can be guided by a Seinsollen or ideal norm, a ‘minded’ being” (Crowell, 334). Drawing a point that later will become important in the context of Crowell’s understanding of transcendental phenomenology’s relation to metaphysics, he states how, as our knowledge of such ideals is always existential, so it therefore is unsettled and fundamentally unspecifiable. That is just what it means for them to be at issue or at stake in Heidegger’s sense: “Because the ideal that guides what I am trying to be cannot be grounded in truth (fulfillment through Evidenz), it cannot be the topic of a purely theoretical discipline” (Crowell, 333). In doing whatever it is in terms of what one in turn is striving to be, the very ideal of the practical identity itself is at stake, insofar as one’s doing what one does is to work out its meaning, of what it means to live up to it (or not). This is what makes the ideal a measure, and, in the relevant sense, accordingly normative.

Leslie MacAvoy’s essay “The Space of Meaning, Phenomenology, and the Normative Turn,” further clarifies Crowell’s position regarding the normative before going on to criticize the claim that such normativity is imperative to the constitution of meaning. Explaining how the normative turn situates the topic of meaning and validity in relation to the practical norms “for what one ought to do or be” (MacAvoy, 29), she recounts how such an approach thereby characterizes the space of meaning’s purported normativity “in terms of the experience of obligation or binding force” (Ibid.). This normative claim said to underpin meaning, as Crowell has explained elsewhere, amounts to the existential or ontological commitment explaining intentionality and reason: in acting as I do, I always already am implicitly responsible for taking over those “factic grounds” as my reasons. According to MacAvoy, however, phenomenology’s concern with meaning does not entail that such normativity truly plays the role in the formation of meaning that Crowell has argued it does: “While there is a normativity to meaning, it does not consist in the understanding of normativity that has to do with a binding force or claim” (Ibid.). In effect, MacAvoy claims that the phenomenological thesis about the logical, categorial “space of meaning” does not extend to the domain of normativity, as Crowell understands that domain. The binding force of the “ought” does not “capture the normativity of meaning” (MacAvoy, 33). In summarizing the three aspects of Crowell’s characterization of the normative,[1] MacAvoy notes how, for the former, “the norms for whether something can be something are established relative to the norms for doing something” (MacAvoy, 35). By now this will sound familiar. For as Heinämaa had made clear earlier, the very skills and practices in terms of which a thing shows up as what it is are themselves grounded in a practical identity (an “ideal principle”) itself said to be assessible in terms of success or failure. Hence, as MacAvoy says, on the view Crowell defends and which Heinämaa summarizes, the space of meaning bottoms out “in a norm for being a certain type of agent” (Ibid.). This raises the question of the practical identity’s validity, of how such an ideal can be binding, that is to say, of how it can exert a “normative force.” Her main objection is that Crowell’s answer to that question reintroduces the specter of psychologism. Just as psychologism in logic distorts the validity of logic’s content, so interpreting the space of meaning as normative does too, she says. In summarizing MacAvoy’s objection to his position, Crowell writes, “If the normative turn means that phenomenology is a normative discipline, it cannot be fundamental since, on Husserl’s view, all normative disciplines presuppose a theoretical discipline that rationally grounds their prescriptions” (Crowell, 331). If transcendental phenomenology is to be a rigorous science as Husserl envisioned, this appears to entail that it cannot take the normative turn Crowell implies it should, since if it did, so the argument continues, to do so would be to undermine phenomenology’s very claim to theoretical fundamentality to which Husserl took it to be entitled. Before unpacking Crowell’s answer to this concern, it is necessary to further explicate the charge.

To do so, we turn to the question of logic. For if MacAvoy is skeptical as to whether meaning’s categorality is best understood in terms of the bindingness characterizing the existential commitment of practical identity, Walter Hopp’s later essay “Normativity and Knowledge” likewise questions whether the theoretic domain of ideal truth and its connection to knowledge can be understood normatively.[2] Husserl’s phenomenological approach certainly agrees with neo-Kantianism that logical laws cannot be understood empirically, as if they are mere descriptions of how our minds happen to think. The laws of logic are necessary, and hence they are irreducible to descriptive generalizations. And yet at the same time, as Hopp says, for Husserl the laws of logic are not primarily prescriptive judgments regarding how we ought to think, but instead objective in their ideal content and therefore theoretical. Owing to their objective validity, logical laws do have regulative implications for how we ought to think. But that is not their essence. Validity is not the same as normativity.

These disputes concerning the connection between normativity and meaning implicate a more general one that will recur throughout the volume: namely, concern over the relation between transcendental phenomenology and metaphysics. Taking up this metaphilosophical question in “Mind, Meaning, and Metaphysics: Another Look,” Dan Zahavi asks, “Did [Husserl’s] turn to transcendental philosophy, did his endorsement of transcendental idealism, entail some kind of metaphysical commitment, as was certainly believed by his realist adversaries, or did Husserl’s employment of the epoché and phenomenological reduction on the contrary entail a suspension of metaphysical commitments?” (Zahavi, 47).  In Zahavi’s estimation, Husserl’s transcendental turn does not entail the mode of metaphysical neutrality that Crowell contends. As Zahavi concedes, this admittedly is not the dominant view:

“Many interpreters have taken Husserl’s methodology, his employment of the epoché and the reduction, to involve an abstention of positings, a bracketing of questions related to existence and being, and have for that very reason also denied that phenomenology has metaphysical implications” (Zahavi, 51).

Call this widespread reading the “quietist” one. Popular though it is, Zahavi claims that it cannot be correct. Were it true, he suggests, we would be unable to explain why, for instance, Husserl rejected the Kantian Ding an sich and phenomenalism, and why he would obviously have rejected contemporary eliminativism about experience. Even more basically, Zahavi finds the quietist interpretation of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology as “[running] counter to Husserl’s ambitions” (Zahavi, 50): transcendental phenomenology, says Husserl, as Zahavi notes, is such that there is “no conceivable problem of being at all, that could not be arrived at by transcendental phenomenology at some point along its way” (Ibid.). If transcendental phenomenology’s reduction to meaning involves the kind of radical askesis Crowell maintains, how could Husserl have seen it as being equal to the task of answering every philosophical question we might have? In support of his thesis, Zahavi produces a striking passage from the Cartesian Meditations: “Finally, lest any misunderstanding arise, I would point out that, as already stated, phenomenology indeed excludes every naïve metaphysics that operates with absurd things in themselves, but does not exclude metaphysics as such” (Ibid.) Now as Zahavi acknowledges, passages as these are decisive only to the extent that we clarify the term “metaphysics,” which notoriously is ambiguous. He proposes at least three senses it can mean in Husserl: first, a theoretical investigation of fundamental reality (Zahavi, 51); second, philosophical engagement with questions as “facticity, birth, death, fate, immortality, and the existence of God” (Zahavi, 52); third, reflection on the status of “being and reality” (Ibid.). But here, the crucial caveat Crowell rightly mentions in reply must be noted: although Husserl claims that so-called metaphysical questions retain their sense, that is so only “insofar as they have possible sense in the first place” (Zahavi, 51). Accordingly, then, the task becomes one of determining the limits of sense, of what is open to phenomenological Evidenz, and what is not.

If Crowell on one front must defend his conception of radical askesis from the charge that it neglects the metaphysical implications of phenomenology, he must also on the other face challenges from a series of articles by Mark Okrent, Glenda Satne and Bernado Ainbinder, and Joseph Rouse, which, taken together, aim to undermine the transcendental thesis that meaning and normativity are irreducible to nature. As for Okrent, he levels two objections, the first of which, amounting to a reformulated version of the infamous “decisionist objection” to Heidegger’s conception of Angst, Crowell dispatches quickly. As for the second, it contends that there is no way of truly understanding the human mode of being-oneself as a normative achievement whose form is different from “our animal cousins” (Okrent, 173). But as Crowell responds, even if one grants that animals do in some relevant sense act in accord with norms, they do not act in light of them—not only do they lack language so as to be answerable to others for their actions as we are for ours, they also are unable to measure themselves in a non-representational way that is responsive to an intelligible sense of what is best. Even in the simplest forms of perception, the domain of sens sauvage Charles Siewert calls “recognitional appearance,” there is an element of normativity at work marking the experience as distinctively human. In seeing as we do, experience as Siewert notes is “as much in the service of imagination as of judgment, and integral to the activity of looking, which is subject to norms of its own” (Siewert, 290). That this distinctively human richness to experience is lacking in other creatures is evident in that, just as they do not dwell in a “world” wherein things are inflected by the claim of a “good beyond being” (a claim concerning how things ought to be), so they only inhabit an “environment,” a surrounding in which beings are what they are, and nothing more. Satne’s and Ainbinder’s proposal—to “put agents back into nature”—which in turn aims to rehabilitate a “relaxed naturalism,” accordingly takes issue with this conclusion. Contrary to Crowell’s transcendental approach, the aim is to ground normativity in the contingent features of life “shared with other animals.” Joseph Rouse’s essay which contends for a “radical naturalism” joins the cause, seeking to explain our normative capacities in terms of our biology. In defending what he sees as a methodological gap between transcendental phenomenology and empirical science, Crowell reverts to a powerful strategy: according to him, these kinds of attempts to naturalize meaning and normativity require a construction—in this case, “life” —that “transcends the kind of Evidenz to which transcendental phenomenology is committed” (Crowell, 347). Further, because such accounts make use of empirical beings, they are “ontic” and therefore metaphysical in precisely the sense Crowell’s notion of reductive askesis forbids.

Presuming Crowell is correct that transcendental phenomenology establishes why nature cannot explain normativity and thereby fails to ground meaning, what then is the source of normativity? In reply, here one might to choose follow Husserl’s path as John Drummond does, maintaining that intentionality as such (and hence normativity along with it) is governed by a rational telos. As he says, “Husserl believed that in all three rational domains—the theoretical, the axiological, and the practical—the aim of experiential life is the same: to live a life of intuitive evidence, to live the life of a truthful, rational agent” (Drummond, 110). Just as intentionality is structured by the norm of intuitive fulfilment, so we are beings whose form of life involves a kind of rational self-responsibility that remains inexplicable on naturalistic terms. Drummond’s essay concludes by stressing what he takes to be a great merit of his account’s view of self-responsible convictions, namely its easy ability to also account for moral—or ethical—normativity. The issue of practical normativity with which Drummond’s contribution ends is taken up through the lens of Levinas’s relation to Kant in the volume’s next essay, Inga Römer’s “The Sources of Practical Normativity Reconsidered—With Kant and Levinas.” Contrary to what a reading limited only to Levinas’s early thinking may suggest, Levinas finds Kant’s philosophy of practical reason congenial to his own mission of exploring the ethical implications of a good beyond being. As Römer comments, Kant’s notion of disinclination can be seen as a relative to what Levinas himself characterizes as the an-archic and rational desire for the infinite. To see the two’s similarities, however, is not to deny their important differences. Römer lists three, the most significant perhaps of which is that, while it is not entirely misleading to name Levinas’s thinking “a philosophy of heteronomy,” there is a sense in which the self becomes truly autonomous due to “the signifying call of the Other” (Römer, 123). After further unpacking the Kantian position through an analysis of Christine Korsgaard’s notion of practical normativity, Römer then recounts Crowell’s Heideggerian criticism of it, finally to formulate an objection against Crowell’s view of reason-giving as constitutive of the second-personal ethical stance. The concern is that a trace of egoism still remains: “Even if I am required to give an account of my reasons to others, does such an account not tend toward a certain ethical self-conceit? If I am the ultimate source of measure, even if I need to defend this measure with respect to others in order to not contradict myself by taking my reasons to be private ones, does this view not place the self at the center of ethics?” (Römer, 131). Concern that the Heideggerian approach to practical normativity cannot eliminate all residue of self-conceit is well-founded. But while Römer takes Levinas’s own approach to avoid such a pitfall, one may wonder whether it does. When she remarks, for example, that in Levinas’s view there is “no God beyond ethical significance that would be the source of ethical normativity” (Römer, 126), does not the threat of self-conceit arise once again? Even if the asymmetry said to define one’s encounter with the other suffices to annihilate a kind of egoism, does it purge the least trace of it? For the total annihilation of self-love Levinas claims to be seeking, one might argue that only an encounter before God is truly sufficient.

Returning to the question of meaning’s source left hanging in the debate between Drummond and Crowell, Irene McMullin for her own part leans towards a view closer to the latter’s own, preferring a Heideggerian approach in which both meaning and the normative are said to be ungrounded—ultimately, says McMullin, there is no forthcoming answer as to how we find ourselves immersed in a meaningful world. We simply do, and that we find ourselves so situated is a reason for gratitude. Thus, as she says, although “resolute Dasein” experiences the “dizzying, disorienting sense of panicked terror” (McMullin, 149) accompanying the felt realization of meaning’s groundlessness, that realization is followed by another, the “incredible sense of relief and gratitude”(Ibid.) that there is any meaning at all, however ungrounded and contingent it is. This gratitude in turn resolves us to “love better, to strive more fully, to treat the goods in our lives more tenderly” (McMullin, 150). If McMullin’s analysis of the role of receptivity in resoluteness is a welcome corrective to the tendency to see authenticity in overly heroic or active terms, Joseph K. Schear’s essay, “Moods as Active,” does well to correct for an error arising from the opposing tendency of viewing moods as purely passive. Not only are moods an expression of agency, says Schear, they are structured normatively insofar as they are responsive to intelligible interrogation (by others and ourselves). As he notes, it is far from committing a category mistake for someone to ask of us why we are feeling as we are. Interrogating a mood is fair game. While we cannot choose our moods as we choose to make up our minds about what to believe, neither are moods always experiences in which we are just passive. Against a consensus that sees moods as “closer to sensations than judgments” (Schear, 220), he notes that moods do not arrive like “a hurricane, or the fog” (Ibid.). They are episodes in which we may intervene. A mood is an item we can manage, whether by trying to escape it through replacing it with another one, distracting ourselves from it, or by conspiring with it so as to feed and prolong it. However, ultimately the kind of agency interesting Schear is not the preceding kind of “agency over our moods” (Schear, 221), but the expression of agency in it. This second sense of agency is present in moods, he argues, precisely to the extent that we are able to answer intelligibly to the mood-question: “Why are you anxious?” or “Why are you joyful?” Such answerability, so he concludes, is due to being in a mood’s involving one’s living it out as a “responsive orientation to one’s situation.” In a contribution complementing Schear’s well, Matthew Burch in “Against our Better Judgment” explores the phenomenon of akrasia. There is much to be said for this very rich and thoughtful selection, but perhaps most noteworthy is its phenomenological clarification of the notion of “interest,” a middle category between brute desire and explicit judgment or commitment. Interests, hence, are meaningful affections, “things we care about” and things “in which we have a stake” (Burch, 233). Though Burch goes on to develop the notion of interest into a wider account of how a Heideggerian conception of authenticity answers to how norms bind us, with an eye toward concluding the review, here I should like to take Burch’s discussion in a slightly different direction: what is our interest in doing phenomenology? What exactly calls us to it, and what guides and sustains its commitment?

To answer these questions is to return to Crowell’s understanding of phenomenological philosophy’s role in the task of clarifying meaning—here, specifically the task becomes making sense of the very one who philosophizes in the way its normative turn proscribes. As has become clear in assessing Crowell’s response to his critics, the notion of askesis is the cornerstone to his approach. According to him, the reduction to meaning entails that transcendental phenomenology neither demands (Heidegger) nor entails (Husserl) a metaphysics to complete itself. Thus, his own position parts ways with both Husserl and Heidegger. As he observes in his concluding essay, as the question of transcendental phenomenology’s relation to metaphysics “constitutes the horizon of transcendental phenomenology, so I will conclude by considering it under three closely related headings: naturalism, metaphysics, and theology” (Crowell, 345).

Taking the measure of things (we ourselves above all not excepted) in its distinctive fashion, Crowell’s notion of transcendental phenomenology is a philosophy of enigma. What can be intuited in the light of Evidenz is clear and distinct, while anything beyond is consigned to antinomy. The situation accordingly comes to one of deciding how to understand where transcendental phenomenology draws the limits of intuitable meaning. Where precisely does the threshold lie? And what about the meaning, if any, lying beyond the threshold separating what is given in genuine first-person evidence from what is not? Is such meaning to be set to the side, or must not it somehow be integrated into the existence of the one who encounters it? If it must be integrated, how is that task of existential incorporation to be coordinated in terms of the norm of reductive askesis which, qua phenomenologist, entails bracketing such meaning? There looms, so it would seem, a fissure in the being of the one thinking phenomenologically. To begin with, as just noted, there is the difficulty of deciding what does (and thus does not) lie within the bounds of intelligibility. To decide with Crowell that we ought to refrain from taking a phenomenological stand on anything beyond the intuitable is a mark of intellecutal humility, to be sure. Nobody should deny that it is advisable to suspend judgment when things are sufficiently ambiguous. Yet such a suggestion remains formalistic; it cannot resolve how we are to apply it. How, then, are we to determine when not making a commitment in the face of the meaning at issue is truly the humble and rationally reponsible thing to do? To be confident in a given situation that we are doing what humility dictates implies that we are entitled in judging that what before us seems less than self-evident is in fact as obscure as it appears. How, however, are we to know that we are correct, that we are justified in that stance?

It is not an uncommon experience in life to come to learn that something we initially thought was unclear actually was not; the unclarity resided in our vision and not the thing. It is was not that the thing was veiled, just that we were failing to see. Hence, while it is good to be duly skeptical of claims that make genuiniely ungrounded claims of metaphysical speculative excess (“Everything is illusion, for we are in a quantum simulation!”), we should be mindful that determining when that is so can itself be fraught; something could in principle be grounded in evidence even if, or when, it does not yet seem so to us. Anyone who is honest will admit that there are reasons for thinking that the judgments we reach based on what we believe is humility can turn out instead to have been motivated by a subtle pride or stubborness. It is important to note, for instance, that this strand of epistemic humility is for all its virtues only partial; it essentially is an intellectual askesis. Or more exactly, insofar as it is it supposed to be an effort of epistemic self-discipline, it begins to undermine its own spirit of modesty the moment it slips into more than that by coming to resemble more so a general posture toward the whole of existence. When that happens, one important norm governing our trafficking in meaning is elevated to something instead approaching an absolute. And it is not difficult to see how, in doing so, it can propel the one who treats it in that way along his own path of error and blindness. This becomes more apparent when we consider another of humility’s aspects: namely, humility’s willingness to yield to things by accepting something for what it is, thereby submitting to the disclosed. Crowell’s reductive askesis, along with its norm of epistemic humility, arguably threatens to imperil an authentic encounter with meaning so interesting it if absolutized to trump all else. A commitment to the norm of truth-seeking, for example, may at times require passing beyond what presently appears to be grounded in evidence. Life presents us with these situations constantly. We resolve the indeterminateness by commiting to a course of judgment or action despite the ambiguity. Just as the meaning of some situations becomes clear only in retrospect years later or in an unanticipated flash of insight, so some truths become evident after a period in which they had not been. To refuse to commit to taking a stand on something that remains less than intuitively clear means what might have crystalized never will. If, then, humility is not synthesized with other considerations (including trust, hope, patience, wisdom, or courage), it threatens to constrict rather than expand meaning.

Insofar as the reductive askesis of Crowell’s position ends with enigma, it has been my suggestion that such enigma potentially implicates more than what that methodological stance admits. Meaning by its nature implicates our having to take a stand on what lies on the margins of intentionality, what at any moment makes itself felt as an unspecifiable more. To ignore this surplus of sense in the name of a humility that does not take a stand on what it sees as undecidable is to neglect precisely what puts our existence at stake and at risk in the first place. The respective imperatives of the transcendental (epistemic askesis) and the ontological (existential commitment) appear to be tugging in opposite directions. As a philosophy of meaning, transcendental philosophy can attempt to delimit the things whose meaning we are said to be justified in taking a stand on philosophically. In refusing to take a stand on what it considers the metaphysical, however, this gesture of refusal only implicates the omnipresence of that something more—that excess—with which we all must grapple existentially. Thus, while we may have reached the limits of what a certain mode of intuitive thought can decrypt, it does not follow that it has thereby established the bounds of the meaningful as such. Could not more remain to be given?

Here a detail concerning the earlier debate between Zahavi and Crowell over transcendental phenomenology’s relation to metaphysics will be recalled. Zahavi mentions that, taken in its second sense, metaphysics for Husserl deals with matters of birth, death, fate, immortality, and the existence of God. Do these metaphysical questions have a possible sense? What is their relation to transcendental phenomenology, as Crowell understands it? For his own part, Crowell states that while a “phenomenology of faith” is possible, it does not disrupt any of the essential metholodological commitments of transcendental phenomenology. For Crowell, that means rejecting a traditional commonplace according to which revelation is said to complete what reason cannot. Whatever room it leaves for faith, it must not interfere with the autonomy of a presuppositionless phenomenological reason.

This expulsion of faith from the project of transcendental phenomenology is, in a way, simply a specific application of the general reduction from entities to meaning. As Crowell says, “Transcendental phenomenology is not concerned with entities at all” (Crowell, 337). But if transcendental phenomenology is not concerned with entities, what about the entities that we ourselves are? How does the normative turn handle la question du sujet? Because such an approach seemingly comes up lacking, it calls for another inquiry to accomplish what it cannot. Transcendental phenomenology, after all, can trace the general contours of existence, telling us that we should live a self-responsible existence in light of the rational norm of evidence. It can clarify what it most generally means to be in the space of meaning. But it cannot decide where the limits between sense and nonsense lie in a given case, nor what precisely living up to the norm of evidence entails in any or every particular instance. We can reflect on the general normative structures of existence and how those structures make an encounter with entities possible, yet ultimately life still must be lived. For Crowell, perhaps much of what we take at a first-order level to be meaningful is not. Or at least the meaning in question falls short of Evidenz, in the transcendental sense. The things we take ourselves to know, on closer inspection, really are a matter of antinomy. This would be true for the theological, for in giving a name to what it takes to have addressed it, it does so without sufficient evidence. As Martin Kavka says in characterizing banal theologizing, “This argument entails the claim that the problem with any and all theologization of phenomenology is that theology determines” (Kavka, 92). Or as Crowell puts it, by trying to give a name to the anonymous claim that has addressed it, such a response crosses into antinomy.

Antinomy is also the figure which best describes the third horizon of transcendental phenomenology, the “theological turn,” in which phenomenology abandons reductive askesis to posit a prior condition of correlation, variously called “event,” Erscheinung als solches, “givenness,” “phenomenality,” or “revelation” (Crowell, 349).

Where, then, does this leave man’s search for meaning, and the question of his destiny? Concluding with a provocative but basic question does well to underscore the exigency of the methodological situation’s existential import. What, in short, are we to make phenomenologically of the claim that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? Does the claim fall within phenomenology’s remit? Outside it? Is it essential to phenomenology’s venerable aim of putting oneself in question, or orthogonal to that attempt? Is to affirm such a claim consistent (or not) with the promise of meaning, as Crowell understands that promise? One must make the decision to leap—or not. Either way, a decision is made. Seen strictly from the perspective of a transcendental critique of meaning, what faith claims to see—namely, that because Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, he is the absolute measure by which our own individual existences are to be measured—probably will be viewed as an affirmation having succumbed to “metaphysical” tempation. It views faith as epistemic folly. But assuming this is what a transcendental phenomenology’s critique of meaning entails, why not then see it as a reductio of that position?

To succeed in its aim of clarifying meaning, cannot it be suggested that transcendental phenomenology must be understood not as deeming what faith sees as inscrutable, but rather as itself calling for it?[3] To rest content with phenomenological askesis is to leave ourselves in a state of unnecessary indeterminateness. As it does not countenance the mysteries of God, so for it the enigmas of human existence find no solution.[4] It is thus left to face a potential incoherence of its own approach. The latent incoherence is manifest methodologically insofar as it fails to make intelligble what could be made so were it to complement its vision with what its own commitment to the imperative of self-givenness implicates. By not doing so, it ends in a failure of sense-making. For this reason, arguably it can be considered a failure relative to its own internal aim of trying to clarify meaning. The lack of success is most evident when seeing its inability to make adequate sense of ourselves.

We are finite creatures, and so meaning is finite. We can grasp the world as it is, though never as a whole; and if there is anything beyond that, it is a matter of faith, not philosophy. A phenomenology of faith is certainly possible, but transcendental phenomenology cannot be said to be exceeded by something that escapes it and yet grounds it, such that a “theological”—or “naturalistic” or “speculative” or “metaphysical”—turn is required. One who nevertheless wishes to make such a turn must show why it does not end in antinomy, the “euthanasia of pure reason” (Kant 1998, 460). Take your pick: deus sive natura; mereological universalism or nihilism; “neutral monism”; panpsychism; flesh, life, desire. In the face of antinomy, the askesis of transcendental phenomenology is not egoism but modesty, not a “theory of everything” but a clarification of what matters. Its claim on our “ultimate philosophical self-responsibility” (Husserl) is irrevocable if we are committed to having evidence for what we say. Just this defines the normative turn from entities to meaning, the promised land, “the secret yearning of all modern philosophy” (Crowell, 352).

By addressing the “question of the subject” in a way that entails no answer is ever forthcoming, reductive askesis renders the need for putting ourselves into question otiose, even futile. The misunderstanding at work in its approach to the entities that we ourselves are is seen precisely in its failing to live up to its own impulse to truly make sense of our existence. Here, in short, would be a philosophy concerned with explicating the meaning of things while simultaneously failing to ground its own existence in any firm meaning. If, in fact, there ultimately was no true meaning to existence because there were no answers to life’s ultimate questions, why then should a philosophy about meaning try to make sense of that meaning? To be sure, doing so could still serve as an idle pursuit perhaps, as a way for those so inclined to pass the time. But philosophy must be more than intellectual tiddlywinks. For were it not more than that, what reasons do others have for caring about what such a philosophy says? Philosophy would not just lose its exigency, but its universality too. In the last analysis, any philosophy of meaning stifling the yearning for the absolute does so on pain of compromising the coherence of its express aim. In restless pursuit of a meaning it cannot find, its is a critique of meaning that renders human existence as if it ultimately had none. Reaching only a mirage of the true promised land, as with Dathan it dies in the wilderness.

Bibliography

Husserl, Edmund. Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology. Translated by Dorion Cairns. The Hague: Martin Nijhoff, 1973.

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


[1] With Crowell, MacAvoy notes, first, the distinction originating in Husserl’s Phenomenology as Rigorous Science between the empirical and transcendental (that is, between the natural and normative); transcendental consciousness, MacAvoy explains, is governed by a lawfulness other than the causality of the psychical and physical. Second, and relatedly, the intentional experience of an object involves a command over its “implications,” the inner and outer horizons of sense in terms of which the object itself can be taken as what it is, the paradigmatic example being the perceptual object, since, say, in perceiving a cube, I must “co-intend” its sides that are not directly seen but are nevertheless implicated. Perceptual intentionality accordingly has a “motivational” logic: If I were to move here, then the cube’s other sides should come into view.

[2] In this way, Hopp’s essay follows in the footsteps of his mentor, the late Dallas Willard, whose early works on Husserl’s view of logic, ideality, and the possibility of knowledge remain exemplary. See, for example, Logic and the Objectivity of Knowledge: A Study in Husserl’s Philosophy (Ohio University Press, 1984).

[3] For a comprehensive analysis of God’s role in Husserl’s transcendental philosophy, see Emmanuel Housset’s Husserl et l’idée de Dieu (Paris: Cerf, 2010). For a critical appraisal of Husserl’s attempt to incorporate God into his transcendental approach, see John Drummond’s draft paper, “Phenomenology, Ontology, Metaphysics,” The Boston Phenomenology Circle, Accessed September 18, 2019.

[4] If this language is recognizably Blondelian, it is because Maurice Blondel’s own thought systematically explored the reciprocal interface between reason and revelation, philosophy and faith. For an explanation of how philosophy’s concern over the enigma of existence implicates a fulfillment in the mysteries of God, see Jean Lacroix’s short study Maurice Blondel: An Introduction to His Philosophy, trans. John C. Guiness (Sheed and Ward: New York, 1968), 64-66.

Matthias Schloßberger: Phänomenologie der Normativität, Schwabe Verlag, 2019

Phänomenologie der Normativität: Entwurf einer materialen Anthropologie im Anschluss an Max Scheler und Helmuth Plessner Book Cover Phänomenologie der Normativität: Entwurf einer materialen Anthropologie im Anschluss an Max Scheler und Helmuth Plessner
Matthias Schloßberger
Schwabe Verlag
2019
Paperback 54.00 CHF
270

Christian Krijnen (Ed.): Concepts of Normativity: Kant or Hegel?, Brill, 2019

Concepts of Normativity: Kant or Hegel? Book Cover Concepts of Normativity: Kant or Hegel?
Critical Studies in German Idealism, Volume: 24
Christian Krijnen (Ed.)
Brill
2019
Hardback €143.00 USD $172.00
x, 260

Antonio Cimino, Cees Leijenhorst (Eds.): Phenomenology and Experience: New Perspectives

Phenomenology and Experience: New Perspectives Book Cover Phenomenology and Experience: New Perspectives
Studies in Contemporary Phenomenology, Volume: 18
Antonio Cimino, Cees Leijenhorst (Eds.)
Brill
2018
Hardback €135.00, $162.00
x, 204

Reviewed by: Heath Williams (Sun Yat-sen University)

A series of variegated contributions to the development of the concept of experience. Thought provoking and refreshingly interesting, with some exceedingly high-quality scholarship. There is scant space here to do justice to all the topics, so I’ll touch on a few highlights and critique one low-point.

Emmanuel Alloa: What is Diaphenomenology? A Sketch

Alloa argues that we ought to take a nuanced understanding of the notion of returning to the things themselves; just because Husserl states he can return to things themselves and therefore operate only within the realm of pure experience which is given to us in intuition, this shouldn’t be taken to mean that phenomenology has immediate access to the pure unadulterated stuff that experience is made of, nor should we assume that this stuff originates from consciousness. Alloa argues that phenomenology ought to be diaphenomenology: which rests on the core claims that what appears in experience (the phenomena) always “appears through [dia] something else” (12); diaphenomenology is, purportedly, the terminus of the development of phenomenology.

Alloa observes an aporia which begins from the observation that, for Husserl, the things themselves are given in intuition via a direct relation to an individual. Alloa then points out that such individuals, however, always appear as more than what they are because they are meant. “When something appears, it appears as something, and this appearing as something is what gives the appearance its very meaning” (17). For Husserl, the structuring function of intentionality allows experience to go beyond the perceptually given sense data and intend a meaningful object. Even though things are given directly, consciousness must do some of the work to allow individuals to appear ‘directly’ (i.e. be meant) in the first place. Alloa argues that, to account for how this is possible, Husserl’s analysis that begins with the things themselves inevitably ends up granting consciousness and the ego a wider role in the bestowal of sense than a phenomenological analysis allows.

Alloa argues that every way through the reduction leads to the same antimony between mediacy and appearance. The way through the lifeworld brings us only to the backdrop on which things appear, the way through the lived body leads only to that via which I experience the world. Thus, Alloa arrives at his central conclusion: “While Husserlian phenomenology sets off as an exclusion of all mediations, the very return to the things themselves forces him to take mediations into account” (24). Alloa’s analysis suggests an inevitability about this conclusion.

What is meaningful can only appear in a medium which can allow sense to be bestowed on it, a medium itself stripped of meaning. Thus, Alloa argues that we ought to adopt a diaphenomenological perspective which examines the mediums through which things appear.

This article presents a precise capitulation of a very important position within the landscape of contemporary phenomenology. It explains how Alloa’s position develops as a response to Husserl’s as much as via a reading of Merleau-Ponty (in Alloa 2017). But of course, one can ask what one asks of any reading of Husserl: which Husserl are you criticising? Alloa’s article explains how to avoid some of the pitfalls of the path taken by the transcendental and egological Husserl of Ideas 1 and Cartesian Meditations, yet many of Alloa’s suggestions concerning the development of a phenomenology of sensory medium would not contradict the Husserl of Ideas 2 (wherein we find the concrete analysis of sensation) and particularly Husserl’s suggestion, found in Ideas 3, that we ought to develop a somatological science. I found myself wondering whether these Husserlian works weren’t more in line with the method that Alloa is proposing.

This essay is mainly a theoretical piece which suggests how we might avoid the pitfalls of a particular path of analysis by practicing another, and in this regard the case is clear and compelling. However, it is very difficult to assess Alloa’s proposal without seeing exactly how the project of diaphenomenology might be put to practice in some concrete analyses, and how these analyses might differ from non-diaphenomenological ones. Perhaps I am asking to ‘brutish’ a question, and one that belies a lack of imagination or comprehension, but I struggled to understand how a standard Husserlian analysis would differ, precisely, from the sort of analyses Alloa has in mind.  What exactly does it mean to focus on the medium through which something appears instead of the thing itself, especially given that Alloa insists that the latter amounts to the former anyway?  A couple of examples wouldn’t go astray, but perhaps they are forthcoming in future works (his or others); I certainly hope so, as the last thing phenomenology needs is another theoretical banknote which is never cashed out in small change.

Bernardo Ainbinder: Transcendental Experience

Ainbinder begins by pointing out that transcendental conditions cannot be experienced (or else they would lie within the empirical field), and so the adherence to the principle of all principles conflicts with phenomenology’s transcendental aspirations. Ainbinder proposes that a solution is that the transcendental be considered “the multi-layered network of norms that govern our evidentiary practices” (33).

Points out that Husserl thought that normativity governed even our perceptual experiences, considering the noema an organising principle which governs object perception. We might, for example, fear that we are mistaken about the colour of an object. Under such circumstances, we might put our glasses on to view it better, view it under better light, or from different angles. We may conclude that the object is not as we thought, that it is orange instead of red. However, the colour of the object itself in this scenario serves as a sort of objective standard–an optimum. This optimum is judged against my physical state (my sore eyes) and the state of the world (the lighting and my position). Thus, the noema is a landmark that facilitates perceptual normativity.

This “normative network is the essential structure of experience” (37); it determines what is the case, what only seems to be the case, and on what basis we may correctly make judgements about the world. Thus, the analysis of everyday experience reveals the transcendental conditions of that experience. This is a hallmark characteristic of phenomenology’s transcendentalism: we do not ask transcendental questions “in order to arrive at a better understanding of the world… but rather to find legitimation for the pretences involved in such experience” (38). It also reveals that, the question isn’t how we can impose ‘oughts’ upon a neutral sensory experience, but how experience itself is already riddled with oughts–already normative through and through.

Thus, truth or ‘evidence’ is a transcendental ground towards which all experience tends. Truth is the “basis for any assessment” based in experience (41). This leads to Husserl’s idiomatic epistemological approach to practical and ethical life: “the disclosure of truth is to be seen as a part of an overall conception of rationality as an ideal for human life” (42). Thus, experience is normative, and this provides an ethical demand to behave rationally in our practical lives, but because experience and normativity are dialectical, rationality is tendentious, iterative, open to revision, and a matter of exercising our autonomy and freedom to look more closely (sometimes literally) and revise our beliefs.

So, we can access the transcendental field when “we make the rules that govern our processes of revising our position-takings in the future course of our experience explicit” (43). The final question concerns just how claims about this field might be justified.

Ainbinder shows that it is because the course of practical and ethical experience challenges not only what exists in the world but our own so-called ‘rational credentials’ as perceivers that we gravitate towards a transcendental inquiry into the conditions of truth. Ainbinder certainly explains why we are motivated toward transcendental inquiry, and that such an inquiry could never be satisfied via empirical investigation alone, but not sure if he has answered whether such an inquiry can be justified. How could we possibly judge whether such an account was correct? Surely, if truth is that into which we inquire, we would now need some account of the meta-criterion of the correctness of this inquiry, one which, if non-circular, doesn’t refer to truth as ground or standard. It is these sorts of ‘problems of the criterion’ that have motivated anti-foundationalism and anti-transcendentalism in the analytic and pragmatic traditions.

Lorenzo Girardi: Experience and Unity in Husserl’s Solution to the Crisis

This work demonstrates an expertise in the Crisis, Husserl’s overarching project, and secondary Husserlian literature. Girardi provides a lucid overview of Husserl’s two crises:

1) The idealisation of the lifeworld by the natural sciences.

2) The loss of the capability of the human sciences (and philosophy) to provide a rational basis for culture and society.

Girardi shows that Husserl’s solution to both problems lies in the metaphysical ideal of a perfectly ordered, rational, and complete system of science.

This ideal runs into conflict with the conception of the lifeworld, which is not exclusively nor even preeminently a perceptual world of spatial things but also cultural. However, the cultural lifeworld is too pluralistic to ever found Husserl’s rational ideal. The only all-pervasive and common notion that might found an ideal rational science is the pregiven lifeworld as backdrop or horizon for all experience. This shift from situated cultural world to universal horizon is realised via an incessant and progressive “double move of critique and rationalisation” (89).

So, Husserl’s ideal of completed science progresses via critique from individual cultural worlds towards a unified and hence singular conception of the world. But, as Girardi points out, this ideal belies a kind of intellectual chauvinism: after all, there “might be equally different, equally rational ways the world can take shape without these ways converging on each other” (90). Girardi argues that Husserl’s unificationism shows that he has made a category mistake and confused the lifeworld as horizon, which would by definition imply an open endedness, with the lifeworld as an object, which could at least in principle be brought to a (unified) state of completion (91). Objects are poles of identity which have an internal horizon; a lawlike givenness dictated by a correspondence with an object. The external horizon (the world), on the other hand, has no such object to determine it and this has no guarantee of ultimate coherence; it “operates according to a potential infinity” (93). Thus, in confusing external and internal horizonality, Husserl attributes a potential unity to the latter which is not within its nature to afford.

So, realising a universal science seems impossible. Girardi ends with the rather startling suggestion that for Husserl the possibility of realising a purely rational science is a matter of faith which is justifiable only from the perspective of practical reason; it is the sort of faith that there are practical reasons for holding. Girardi hits on the fact that there is an optimistic rationalism in Husserl’s philosophy which can’t ever really be grounded. For Husserl, this optimism was a matter of faith which prevented the encroachment of the sort of philosophical hopelessness and meaninglessness that pervades, for example, the anti-rationalist philosophy of Nietzsche or the existential philosophy of Sartre.

Genki Uemura & Alessandro Salice: Motives in Experience: Pfänder, Geiger, and Stein

This article aims to delineate three theories of motivation. This topic is certainly interesting and important. Unfortunately, much of the analysis in this article was confusing at key points and would’ve benefited from another round of review.

One of the strong parts of the article is the exposition of Pfänder’s account, the first stage of which is mentally noticing, in an interrogatory way, a stimulus (i.e. the cold of a room). Secondly, receiving an answer or demand to our interrogation: we know what we want to do in response to the stimulus (which may or may not convert to decision to act yet). Finally, I respond or rely on the answer and move into decision and action, and therefore develop a motive. The demand the cold air provided as a response to my interrogation of a stimulus becomes a motive as I rely on it and make the decision to leave the room. It is, thus, this ‘relying on’ that distinguishes motives from other inclinations that may arise yet are never acted on. Importantly, for Pfänder, the motive itself is not an act of consciousness but ‘out there,’ in the world (the demand made by chill in the air), which becomes a motive when treated in a certain attitude (reliance).

Uemura and Salice then attempt to show the difficulties Pfänder has, given his schema, in accounting for cases of ill-motivation. This section was unclear–I was left confused over how the authors were using the terms ‘grounds,’ ‘reasons,’ and ‘motives.’ Uemura and Salice talk about the example where we feel the chill of the air, register our desire to leave, but do not act on it. They dismiss the possibility that this amounts to a case of ill-motivation because “there is a sense in which the decision [not to leave the room] is motivated anyway. Being a decision, it must have a reason that grounds it” (136). I was left a little baffled at exactly what assumptions were informing this excerpt: are reasons, grounds, and motives thought of as largely synonymous here? Is the claim that Pfänder thinks they are synonymous? Clearer is the point that, in the case where we don’t leave the room, the reason for staying “must be something numerically distinct of the demand from the perceived chill in order for there to be a discrepancy between them” (136).

So, if Pfänder wants to identify motives with things out there in the world, then he “makes not room for the possibility of a discrepancy between the reason for a decision and the demand” (136). Even though Pfänder does allow for the possibility that the difference in question here might be relying-on the demand, such relying-on is a mental act (not a state of affairs in the world), and thus, if this is the explanation for ill-motivation, the ontological status of the motive becomes called into question (136). This, from what I could reconstruct, is the point.

The paper then moves on to discuss Geiger, for whom not only volitions but also emotions are motivated. In Geiger’s analysis, we can distinguish between the emotion (joy), the object of the emotion (a new car), and the motive for the emotion (now I can drive to work). The motivation for the emotion (the reason why we feel joy) is thus the experience of a possible state of affairs in which the object of the emotion is related. For Geiger, the possible state of affairs itself constitutes not the motivation but the grounds of the motivation. The object of the motive (the grounds) and the experience of possibly realising them can thus be pulled apart, which explains cases of ill-motivation.

So, three key shifts are made from Pfänder to Geiger. Firstly, we have moved from an extra- to an inter-mental phenomenon. Secondly, because of this we have been more clearly been able to distinguish between (objective) grounds and (mental) motives. Thirdly, we have moved from the sphere of action to other experiences.

Stein expands the concept of motivation so that any aspect of experience that results from another experience can be called a motivation. For Stein there are rational, perceptual, and volitional forms of motivation. Thus, both Husserl and Stein want to use the term ‘motivation’ in a much wider sense than is found in Pfänder and Geiger.

For Stein, motivations are the contents of our mental acts, or, intentional objects. Specifically, it is the relationship amongst contents of acts that constitutes the motivational relation. A motivates B if A is a content of a mental state that gives rise to B. We can deem Stein’s position noematic, Pfänder’s objective, and Geiger’s noetic.

One of the unclear passages in Uemura and Salice’s essay concerned the voluntary nature of motivation, given Stein’s radical expansion of this concept to cover a wider variety of phenomena. For example, according to Stein, perceptions motivate apperceptions (i.e., the front side of an object motivates my apperception of its non-presented third side). However, we can hardly call such a motivation voluntary, as it is not something we have a choice over, and it occurs automatically.

The authors write that, to solve this problem, Stein expands the definition of what free action consists in beyond the scope of decisions. However, they then say that “free acts include not only deciding but also asserting, lying and other acts we perform spontaneously” (144). I found this passage most puzzling; what exactly is spontaneous about these acts? Perhaps we might sort of lie or say something off the cuff but we definitely sometimes plan and decide to perform such actions in a contrived way. No explanation is given as to why we might classify these acts as spontaneous in the first place, and thus how classifying them as free serves to solve Stein’s problem.

Moreover, in this explanation, the authors seem to be targeting the wrong class of phenomena; the problem Stein has is that, if she thinks motivation is voluntary, how to account for perceptual motivations (like apperceptions) not motivations for our speech acts; the latter are uncontroversially voluntary.

The discussion of how these different conceptions of motivation map onto the present debate is one of the most useful aspects of the paper. However, I don’t think the claimed  correspondence between Davidson and Geiger is totally correct. For Davidson, it is not mental states qua mental states which are the reason for action, but that a certain position (desiring) is taken on a mental object of a specific sort. A “belief and a desire explain an action only if the contents of the belief and desire entail that there is something desirable about the action… This entailment marks a normative element, a primitive aspect of rationality” (Davidson 1987, 116). Thus, Davidson’s theory could be deemed a noematic account of reasons, in that it is the relationships amongst the intentional objects of our mental states that introduces normativity and accounts for why they count as reasons for acting. In this sense he is as close to Stein as he is to Geiger.

References:

Alloa, E. 2017. Resistance of the Sensible World: An Introduction to Merleau-Ponty: Fordham University Press.

Davidson, Donald. 1987. „Problems in the explanation of action.“ In Metaphysics and Morality, edited by Philip Pettit, Richard Sylvan and J. Norman. Blackwell.

Matthias Fritsch: Taking Turns with the Earth: Phenomenology, Deconstruction, and Intergenerational Justice

Taking Turns with the Earth: Phenomenology, Deconstruction, and Intergenerational Justice Book Cover Taking Turns with the Earth: Phenomenology, Deconstruction, and Intergenerational Justice
Matthias Fritsch
Stanford University Press
2018
Paperback $27.95
280

Reviewed by: Christopher Black (Texas A&M University)

Introduction

Taking Turns With the Earth offers to the reader a rich and incisive analysis of intergenerational justice, especially as it relates to issues pertaining to the environment.  With intergenerational ethics being relevant to so many issues that we face today, this book offers a timely theoretical analysis of the nature of our obligations to non-contemporary others.

This book makes clear that the theoretical nature of obligations to future generations is fraught and contested terrain, and Fritsch spends a sizable amount of time early in the text outlining the major ontological problems and methods in intergenerational justice (IGJ), of which there are multitudes. At times, especially in the early expository sections, so much theoretical matter is covered in such close succession that it becomes theoretically dense.  The multifarious forms of epistemic problems, interaction problems, world-constitution issues, and nonexistence challenges, and the various responses to each problem almost blur together into one mass.  But if taken slowly and deliberately, this expository portion is tremendously helpful towards understanding the state of the IGJ literature.  Within this section, too, certain portions – such as the discussion of the nonidentity problem (34) and the challenges it raises to common moral concepts such as autonomy and personhood – raise especially powerful challenges to IGJ in general, but also ones that Fritsch ably responds to.  Only after this expository portion do we get to Fritsch’s original contributions to the topic, which include his major claim and two models of intergenerational justice that follow from it.

He responds to the epistemic and ontological problems associated with intergenerational justice by promoting a social ontology that is attuned to what he calls the “ineluctability” of normativity, and which deals directly with “the relations among subjectivity, time, and generations.” Fritsch identifies a basis of normativity which he thinks need be recognized for an ontological account of IGJ to be adequately normatively sensitive. Specifically, he claims that both natality and mortality, or the fact that we are always already living in the time of birth and death, should be considered constitutive of moral subjectivity.  Moral subjectivity is a term which he thinks contains both moral status (being a legitimate object of moral concern) and moral agency (the capacity to freely choose a course of action). This moral subjectivity-constituting view of birth and death – which he expands upon further in chapter two – foregrounds the two models of IGJ which he introduces in chapters three and four, respectively. The first model of IGJ that Fritsch proposes is indirect reciprocity, which he elaborates further into his idea of asymmetrical reciprocity.  This model is meant to capture the role that indebtedness to previous others plays in giving to future others. The model is exemplified as follows: “A gives to B who ‘returns’ the gift to C (so for example, from past to future via the present.” (11) The second model of IGJ – which is outlined in chapter 4 – is the idea of “taking turns.” Fritsch argues this model is more appropriate for holistic or quasi-holistic objects (such as the earth or nature) because such holistic objects cannot be divided up and distributed like a cake. Whereas reciprocity depends upon substitutability, taking turns does not depends upon this principle.  Thus, the latter model is better equipped to deal with holistic, intergenerational, indivisible “objects” in a way that the former is not.

Summary

Now that I have quickly outlined the general structure of book I will undertake a more detailed summary, with an eye towards identifying the way of thinking about IGJ (i.e. the presentist view) that Taking Turns With the Earth resists, and then I will summarize the alternatives models to the presentist view that Fritsch offers in this book. Following that I will offer a few comments about the strengths and weakness of this book.

 The book starts out quickly with a series of salvos directed towards a certain set of people whom Fritsch refers to as “presentists.”  Presentists are those who exist as if they gave “birth to themselves.” Such people believe themselves to be self-standing individuals that are ontologically unrelated to past or future generations. Consequently, and critically, Fritsch (with continual reference to Stephen Gardiner) claims that because of this ontological short-sightedness presentists are subject to a form of “moral corruption.” Such corruption, it seems, is derived from a lack of social-ontological self-awareness, and results in a lack of care or adequate moral concern for noncontempories (both past and future, but especially future). Presentists’ lack of moral concern for noncontempories reveals itself most clearly on issues relating to the climate and non-renewable energy use. It is certainly true that conversations about these topics often reveal that there are many people who simply do not care about the welfare of individuals who will live, say, three or more generations down the line.  (This is the concept of “non-overlapping future people” illustrated on page 21.) The general nature of Fritsch’s indictment of presentism is compelling, and his concerns about intergeneration ethics are well warranted, but I think that it would be helpful if his idea of moral corruption (3) were given more explication, especially as many who participate in “presentist” practices (heavy dependence on fossil fuels by driving daily, for example) probably do so unreflectively or out of sense of perceived necessity.  Fritsch’ concept of moral corruption seems to imply a moral quality more active and malicious than this, though.  Instead, however, the indictment of moral corruption is given as just so.

Fritsch then argues that recently certain issues that are intergenerationally relevant, such as climate change, have come nearer to the center of public consciousness, and in doing so have made the topic of intergenerational justice more approachable. Notwithstanding these shifts in public approachability, he argues that there is still a prevailing – or at least a significant –  mythology of the temporally and historically isolated individual alive today, and he sets it as his task to debunk the myth of this kind of individualism in this book. In the introductory section he seems to come very close to claiming that those who hold to ideals such as individuality or autonomy, or perhaps even those who even believe that individuals exist at all, do not have the capacity to have care-filled relationship with contemporary or noncontemporary others. Surely it is the case that our identities are significantly extended through past and future, but it also seems that individuals are the kinds of being – and perhaps the only kinds of beings – that are capable of the capacity to care, be they a dog, a frog, or a friend. Crowds can’t care, only the individuals in them, at least if we are talking about the kind of care that can turn into moral corruption, not the kind of synergetic “care” that a superorganism (i.e. an ant colony or a coral reef) might be said to have for itself. But, to be clear, it seems that the idea of individuality that he is resisting is an idea of something like the liberal or the neo-liberal self, not an idea of selfhood like Heidegger’s authentic Dasein or Levinas’ other-constituted moral subject, and in the overarching scheme of this book this interpretation seems more sensible.  Indeed, later in the book Fritsch uses Heidegger’s “being-towards-death” as a stepping-stone (45/46) to get towards Levinas’ modified, intergenerationalized interpretation of self: being-for-beyond-my death (l’être-pour-au-delà-da-ma-mort). (67)  Upholding an intergenerational idea of self is critical to moving beyond a presentistic idea of self and, if Fritsch is right about presentism leading to moral corruption, then eschewing a presentistic idea of selfhood should lead us towards a better ontological alternative.  As the title of Chapter 1.4 states: “Ontological Problems Call for Ontological Approaches.”

To make the ontological adjustments that Fritsch argues that we need, the argument of the book turns towards an engagement with Levinas.  Fritsch specifically engages with the intersections of time, normativity, and sociality that can be found in Levinas’ thought.  Levinas offers a way of thinking about death, temporality, sociality, and normativity in a way that is helpful to Fritsch’ project of re-orienting IGJ. Fritsch seems to rely most heavily on Levinas’ thinking about temporality, and for good reason, because – as will soon be shown – this section adds strength to this book’s argument. Fritsch demonstrates that for Levinas death is not an isolating, individualizing event – as the existentialist pathos of Heidegger would have us believe – but that it is instead an inherently interpersonal, historical event.  Levinas agrees with Heidegger that meaning and agency depend of death, but contra Heidegger Levinas maintains that one’s own death is always inaccessible, and that it is only known in and through the experience of others.  For Levinas death is ever futural and never calculable; because of this, it is possible to psychically murder someone, but it is impossible to morally annihilate someone. (76)  Moral traces, vestiges, and memories of the moral other remain in a meaningful order beyond their physical death – even if the body is dead, there is no total annihilation of the other.

Levinas’ argument that a meaningful order exists beyond one’s death and his claim that death is a fundamentally interpersonal event, paired with Levinas’ assessment that our being is always already existing between the “immemorial past” and the infinite future, leads Fritsch towards his development of a model of ethical responsibility based upon Levinas’ idea of fecundity (fecondité).  Taking adequate precautions (86-91), Fritsch uses fecundity to argue that fecundity makes manifest the claim that relations with future people are not an afterthought but, instead, should be thought of as the exemplification of ethics in general. (88) It is the natal-mortal exposure to one’s child that both opens one up to a meaningful sense of time beyond one’s own life-span, but which also simultaneously hearkens back to the past, to previous generations – to those that gave birth to the parents, and the parents’ parents, and so on. At this nexus – in the fecund sense of time between birth and death – moral subjectivity emerges.  This fecund nexus demonstrates to us phenomenologically the kind of temporal being that we are, and also simultaneously infuses both the past and the future with ineluctable moral significance.

At this point, after having argued that we are the kinds of beings that exist as being-for-beyond-my-death and also always in relation to the past, Fritsch begins to turn the argument towards his reciprocity based model of IGJ, which is the first of the two models he proposes in this book.  Section 2.5 (“Intergenerational Reciprocities,” 91) introduces the language of reciprocity by stating: “If subjectivity can give birth to a fecund future only by owing to previous others, then its moral-ontological historicity can be captured by a Janus-faced form of reciprocity that refers both backward and forward.” Despite the wordiness of this passage – a regular trait in this book – the introduction of this concept is well-timed, and through its phenomenological descriptions this section does well to set up the normative argument for indirect reciprocity that Fritsch will soon move to.  But before doing this, and immediately after introducing the idea of reciprocity, Fritsch invokes Butler’s theory of cohabitation –  a theory which argues that Levinas’ distinction between my life and the lives of others is too strong – to gain support in order to help him begin his theory of indirect (or asymmetrical) reciprocity.  This interpretive reworking and clarification is needed because Levinas himself held a strongly negative view of the concept of reciprocity (92), and this caveat does well to demonstrate that Fritsch is well aware of the limitations of using Levinas to support his model  of reciprocity.

After introducing the basic idea of reciprocity in view of the ontological-normative claim that we exist fundamentally as past and future oriented (and constituted) beings, Fritsch expands the concept of reciprocity beyond its traditional mutualistic usage and argues that a tripartite understanding of reciprocity would better serve our ethical purposes.  That is, if we are to understand ourselves, ethically speaking, in terms of the concept of fecundity.  This tripartite usage of the concept of reciprocity a distinguishing factor that makes Fritsch’s model of indirect (asymmetrical) reciprocity distinctive. Indirect reciprocity is called “indirect” because the person that what I may owe is not limited exclusively to the person from whom I initially received something, but also to others. Traditional mutualistic ideas of reciprocity depend on the assumption that morally relevant parties will exist in a shared space of time and that the perspectives of morally relevant parties can be simply reversed.  They also depend upon the idea that the person who deserves reciprocity is the same person as the one who gave the first gift of exchange in the first place. However, Levinasian temporality and fecundity reveals this basic notion of reciprocity to be incomprehensive. Indirect reciprocity is a sense of reciprocity that cannot be distilled into a traditional form of simple, direct, presentist exchange, but instead extends beyond it. (94) This model of reciprocity calls for “giving back” to the future what is received from the past, even though the recipients of the gift are not the same as those who gave the gift in the first place.

Soon after these clarifications – and roughly halfway through the book – Fritsch introduces two major figures in the book: Derrida and Marcel Mauss.  Fritsch uses this middle portion to expound further on the idea of indirect reciprocity. He makes the case that because we are indebted to others from the past this should play a role in our giving to others in the future, even if the “gift” we give to future others is dramatically asymmetrical or altruistic.  Because of this second part, Fritsch argues that the notion of indirect reciprocity should be expanded into what he calls asymmetrical reciprocity. (107) Derrida’s critique of Levinas and The Gift by French sociologist Marcel Mauss figure heavily into this portion.

There are two critical elements to asymmetrical reciprocity that make it asymmetrical, and they form the bedrock of this distinctive way of thinking about IGJ. The traditional formulation of indirect reciprocity states that “(past) A gives to (present) B who ‘returns’ the gift to (future) C.” (108) Fritsch argues that this should be traditional formulation should be elaborated into asymmetrical reciprocity first because “if A’s gift is co-constitutive of B (i.e., is part of what allows B to be B), then B cannot ever fully repay the debt; full appropriation would amount to full self-annulment.  Thus, the gift remains inappropriable, excessive, and asymmetrical for B, who therefore must free herself from the debt in some way.” (108)  According to this argument one cannot fully repay a debt to the original donor without in some way substantially undermining or annulling their identity; the gift, and by extension the repayment, are inextricable from both the donor and the recipient. (Shades of the nonidentity problem appear here.)  The debt can only be repaid – in some way, shape, or form – to future others; other others than those who first gave the gift. The second element of asymmetrical reciprocity takes into consideration the excessive, overflowing characterr of this sort of debt.  Since this form of debt can never be fully returned to the original donor, this form of debt is always outstanding.  Thus, those in the present are always in the process of “giving back” to the future.  Thus, in this idea of continual future-oriented obligations constituting our normative being, we can see how this theory of asymmetrical reciprocity links up with Levinas’ of being as being-for-beyond-my-death.

Marcel Mauss is invoked in order to give a concrete sociocultural example of this sort of asymmetrical reciprocity standing at the center of a community’s ethos. Also Mauss is presumably used to suggest that since this sort of gift-receiving-and-giving can be witnessed in certain archaic cultures, then perhaps it can be used as a model of intergenerational relations for our modern world. In the cultures that Mauss studied the donor is not separable from the thing given, but also at the same time the donor is not taken to be the sole owner of the gift.  Instead the gift is understood to come from the clan, tribe, traditions, and ancestors. The recipient receives some of the donor’s spirit (in Maori hau or mana), and this spirit co-constitutes both donor and recipient. The obligation to reciprocate originates in the fact that in accepting the gift the recipient assimilates into themselves something that is fundamentally inassimilable (the mysterious elemental spirit of the gift), and thus it necessarily overflows them.  Because it overflows, it cannot but be passed on to future others, and in being passed on to the future it is in a sense returning to its own past.  This idea, as we can see, in many ways parallels the Levinasian structure of fecundity.  An ontological claim (that the gift itself is unassimilable) leads to a moral claim (that one should not try to make it theirs alone, but ought to pass it on.)  An example of this kind of gift would be food, for the food in one’s mouth – at least the kind of food that the cultures Mauss studies would eat – bespeaks the presence of ancestors; it would not come about without the gift inheritance of food-related gifts like tilled land, knowledge about farming, hunting, fishing, and so forth. (112) To account for the “return obligation,” that is, the obligation to pass the gift on, the gift is said to be imbued with an active spirit that wishes to return to its origin – to its clan, tribe, tradition, or ancestors. This model of socio-economy stands in marked contrast to the utility-maximizing agency that comprised the bedrock of Hobbes’ society, and indeed “the gift” offers an alternative model for the basis of the social contract.  For Mauss the foundation of society (at least in the one’s he reports on) is the gift that comes from the past and demands to be “returned” to future others.

Derrida is brought in to serve as a check on Mauss.  Derrida warns against Mauss’ “Rousseauist schema” which attempts to find an absolute bedrock of normativity in some far-off archaic origin.  Both Derrida and Mauss agree that there is an element of the “unpossessable” in the gift, but Derrida rejects Mauss’ foundationalism, and resists the idea that a singular normative origin can be found. Fritsch agrees that there is an issue with this sort of Rousseauism in Mauss – and that there is an issue in trying to identify a point of origin in normative life – but does not think it is sufficiently troublesome to motivate us to overlook the role that gifts play in intergenerational relations.  They allow us an opportunity to see a normativity that binds past generations to future generations, and thus are relevant to helping understand the nature of intergeneration normativity. Fritsch spends the rest of this chapter outlining more of Derrida’s thoughts about reciprocity and the gift, and defends his view against a variety of potential critiques.  He responds to the claim that asymmetrical reciprocity blurs the boundary between gift and exchange, and between private life and the world commerce, by suggesting (via Given Time) that this challenge – and challenges like this – presume the existence of utility-maximizing agents on the one hand, and the family one the other, whereas such a substantial distinction cannot be made.  (152).

The nuanced section on asymmetrical reciprocity nicely leads into the introduction of the second and final model of IGJ that Fritsch introduces: Turn-Taking.  While asymmetrical reciprocity is meant to show how the indebtedness to previous generations plays a role in our obligation to give to (and to care about the welfare of) future people, even if the gift is asymmetrical or altruistic, taking turns is meant to provide a model for intergenerational sharing of things that cannot be returned partially or incompletely.  That is, taking turns is concerned with holistic or quasi-holistic “objects” of sharing, such as the earth or nature.  Fritsch argues that there are three merits to the turn-taking model of IGJ. First, turn-taking demonstrates that there are ways other than the reciprocity of the gift that, normatively speaking, take into account the ontological presence of the dead and the unborn in our lives.  Secondly, turn-taking is better with respect to quasi-holistic and holistic object in a way that reciprocity is not, because reciprocity implies owing to the future an “equivalent among substitutables” and needs a “common metric to calculate such equivalents.” (155) Reciprocity is inadequate when discussing holistic objects such as the natural environment, the earth, or nature, because substitutability is not a principle that can easily applied to such totalizing entities. However, turn-taking can account for how to treat such holistic objects. Finally, taking turns better treats questions of intergenerational justice as inherently political questions. By citing Aristotle’s Politics Fritsch argues that this is so because a fundamental model of justice relies on the sharing of nonsubstitutable political offices. Turn-taking, Fritsch argues, is the model that free equals ought to take when attempting to share an object that is not divisible like a cake. (155) Fritsch notes this this basic idea of taking turns has received hardly any attention in the IGJ literature, and – in a very general way – this is surprising since this idea can be applied to a wide range of things, from political offices to the earth itself.  It is a model that provides a helpful way of thinking about IGJ in the context of holistic, indivisible, intergenerational objects, and for this reason it is a needed (and a very helpful) contribution to this book.

In a method not unlike that one found in the portion on asymmetrical reciprocity, which relied on the temporality of the “time of life and death” to reconceive of past-present-future obligations, in this chapter on turn-taking Fritsch invokes Derrida to deconstruct (“depresentify”) presentism, and to reconceptualize life as a matter of “lifedeath,” or even as “lifedeathbirth.” (161) This is meant to aid in understanding the ontologically connected, co-constitutive nature of the relation between living and nonliving generations.

After a few more forays through Derrida and Aristotle, Fritsch turns towards clarifying precisely what he means by turn-taking by laying out his model of “double turn-taking.” It has two components in its most general formulation: T1 and T2.  T1 is the turning of the self back towards itself over time.  “Given the noncoincidence of time, no identity is simply given.  Any self must, from the beginning, seek to return to itself, promising itself to its future self.” The second part of the turn is T2, which takes into account the differential contexts that the self passes through, but which are always constitutive of the self in the first place.  This is the turn toward the other: “To affirm oneself as oneself is to affirm the context without which one could not be what one is, and that means to welcome unconditionally the future to-come as an alterity within itself.” (167)  This two-step model of turn-taking can be applied specifically to intergenerational relations, but also to environment issues.  For the former, intergenerational relations, the attempted self-return would take place in and through birth from previous generations, and the turn towards the other takes place insofar as we turn towards the next generation.  For the latter, the environment, the attempted self-return takes place by the consumption of biospherical resources, and the turn towards the other is the turn towards the earth upon death and also through life’s continuous exchange with nature. (173)

In summary of this discussion of double turn-taking Fritsch says “saying yes to turn-taking means accepting that I receive power from previous others and will leave it to others.” (173)  In general the idea of turn-taking being an appropriate model for intergenerational sharing of holistic objects seems good and well-justified, however the level of theoretical detail and distinction-adding in this chapter seems unnecessary, and at times it seems to obfuscate the main point of turn-taking rather than clarifying it.

Final Comments

This general critique mentioned in the previous paragraph applies throughout this book.  In this book, as hopefully I have able to show in this review, there are many excellent, lucid, and compelling sections.  The early section on ontological problems in IGJ, the middle section on Levinas and fecundity, and the following section on Mauss and asymmetrical reciprocity were each particularly clear, well-argued, and engaging.  However, these rich and rewarding veins of thought are often buried beneath mounds of distinctions, caveats, and repetitions. Sometimes it gets hard to dig through, because the essential matter of the main argument is not always separated from additional theoretical matter. Moreover, the book tends to go on a bit longer than needed and to lose steam at the end. Chapter four – the section which introduces turn-taking as a model of IGJ – gives way to a chapter five.  This final chapter, while fascinating if standing on its own, seems primarily to turn around and rehash ideas previously covered in a way that is not terribly helpful to the overall experience of the book. This chapter concerns itself with life as lifedeath and the terrestrial claim over the corpse, both ideas which were previously covered. At this point I only have a few tiny, almost trifling critiques. First, there is a slight tendency to introduce very complex issues and then to simply say “I will not be able to discuss these interpretations here.” (115, for example) This leads to bit of expectation disappointment. Secondly, there is also a slight tendency to compile lists of “ists” and isms,” sometimes almost seemingly for its own sake. (212, for example.) This is certainly not a big deal, but just worth noting.

If the preponderance of critique that I offer about this book is in the form of writing critique, and anodyne critique at that, then that speaks to the strength of this book as a strong work philosophical scholarship.  Philosophically, I only suggested a concern about Fritsch’s use of “moral corruption” (which I mentioned in my 4th paragraph), and a concern about the idea of “self” that Fritsch is employing (which I mentioned in my 5th paragraph). This book is tremendously well-researched and takes pains to be sure that no theoretical stone goes unturned.  Appropriate sources are consulted at appropriate times, and the limitations of claims are clearly articulated.  More importantly, this book addresses a pressing ethical issue in our world today. What do we owe to future others, especially in view of our growing knowledge about climate issues?  If Fritsch is right, then we owe a lot, and certainly much more than many people take the time to consider that we do.  And we owe this to the future because of who, how, and, perhaps most importantly shown by this book, where we are.  Taking Turns With the Earth offers a vast reservoir of theoretical material to help us re-conceptualize the nature of our ontological and normative relation to both past and future noncontempories, and it demands that we pay attention to our status as interpersonal beings always living in the time of life and death. In doing so it calls for us to develop our ethical self-understanding, and this call is not just thrown out haphazardly.  Instead, this call is motivated and supported by astute philosophical argumentation.

Ondřej Švec, Jakub Čapek (Eds.): Pragmatic Perspectives in Phenomenology

Pragmatic Perspectives in Phenomenology Book Cover Pragmatic Perspectives in Phenomenology
Routledge Research in Phenomenology
Ondřej Švec, Jakub Čapek (Eds.)
Routledge
2017
Hardback £88
264

Reviewed by: Jonathan Lewis (Dublin City University)

This volume seeks to provide a critical analysis of pragmatic themes within the phenomenological tradition. Although the volume is overwhelmingly geared towards presenting critiques of some of the most authoritative pragmatic readings of Martin Heidegger – readings by Hubert Dreyfus, John Haugeland, Mark Okrent and Richard Rorty – a handful of the fourteen chapters expand the discussion of the pragmatic dimension of the history of phenomenology by engaging with the work of Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Max Scheler and Jan Patočka. Although the contributors do well to explain their ideas, useful appropriation of the volume will require a working knowledge of the developments in twentieth-century pragmatism and phenomenology, their basic features as philosophical enterprises and, most importantly, the central tenets of Heidegger (in particular), Merleau-Ponty and Husserl.

I will now outline what I see to be the primary claims of some of the collected papers (unfortunately, there are too many to be discussed with the level of detail required), linking those claims to the aims of the volume as a whole and providing some modest comments of my own.

For the editors, there are several characteristics of pragmatism:

  1. According to pragmatists, ‘intentionality is, in the first and fundamental sense, a practical coping with our surrounding world’;
  2. According to pragmatists, ‘language structures derive their meaning from their embeddedness in shared, practical activities’;
  3. According to pragmatists, ‘truth is to be understood in relation to social and historically contingent practices’;
  4. Pragmatism maintains ‘the primacy of practical over theoretical understanding’;
  5. Pragmatism criticises ‘the representationalist account of perception’;
  6. According to pragmatists, ‘the social dimension of human existence’ is prior to an individualised conception and manifestation of agency.

Although the editors and contributors do not explain whether these are necessary and sufficient conditions for a pragmatist reading of the phenomenological tradition (after all, the notion of necessary and sufficient conditions cannot be easily reconciled (if at all) with pragmatist and phenomenological approaches to philosophical method), whether by adhering to just one of these conditions makes one a pragmatist or whether these conditions are fundamentally interrelated, we may claim (in no particular order) that pragmatists tend to subscribe to one or more of the following (indeed, individual contributors touch upon some of these themes):

  • ‘Subject naturalism’ (whereby naturalism should be understood as ‘naturalism without representationalism’) is either prior to or a rejection of ‘object naturalism’ (Price 2013);
  • The representationalist order of explanation, which, broadly speaking, presupposes the non-deflationary structure of identification between representations and states of affairs, is a misleading explanatory model from ontological, linguistic, experiential and epistemological points of view;
  • The notion that something is ‘given’ in experience, that is, that there is something existing ‘out there’ – in reality but independent of our minds – to which our claims, beliefs, justifications, theories and meanings should correspond, is a myth;
  • Semantics does not come before pragmatics – notions such as reference and truth are not explanatorily basic and cannot account for inference;
  • Metaphysics tends to be deflationary in the sense that the contents of our concepts lay claim to how the world is;
  • In addition to the fact that the sense of a word, term, proposition, sentence, belief, fact, value or theory is how it is used in actual practices, semantic notions of truth, reference and meaning are to be understood in terms of social norms;
  • Judgments that concern normative statuses, fact-stating talk and objectivity-claims are to be understood in, and gain validity from, the realm of giving and asking for reasons.

The revival of pragmatism during the latter half of the twentieth century and a renewed focus on exploring the nature and origins of normativity in other areas of philosophy has coincided with an increasing body of literature dedicated to exploring some of these pragmatic themes in various canonical texts in the history of Western philosophy, particularly those of Kant, Hegel, Husserl, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. That said, the majority of today’s most prominent pragmatists draw inspiration from their immediate predecessors. In terms of Anglo-American pragmatism, for example, references are almost always made to Ludwig Wittgenstein, Wilfrid Sellars (who, in turn, engaged extensively with the work of Kant), W. V. O. Quine, Donald Davidson, Richard Rorty and Hilary Putnam. Indeed, when pragmatists engage more broadly with the history of philosophy (as is the case with Robert Brandom, for example), the focus tends to be on the work of Kant and Hegel. Consequently, in the context of twentieth-century pragmatism, Rorty and Hubert Dreyfus were peculiarities in the sense that they were two of the first self-professed pragmatists (in English-speaking academic circles) to explore the pragmatic dimension of phenomenological traditions of Western philosophy. Through their correspondence, the pragmatic interpretation of the history of phenomenology, and of Heidegger in particular, began in earnest. It is not altogether surprising, therefore, that Rorty and Dreyfus’ respective interpretations are, perhaps, the paradigmatic pragmatist readings of Heidegger and a driving force behind pragmatic appropriations of other well-known phenomenologists, specifically, Husserl and Merleau-Ponty. In terms of Heidegger exegesis, not only have they inspired equally famous readings by Haugeland and Okrent, the interpretations of Rorty and Dreyfus, as this volume testifies, continue to demand critical engagement from Heidegger scholars.

It is apt, therefore, that the book begins with an essay by Okrent – an implicit focal point for the majority of the discussions and criticisms that follow in the other chapters. Along with Okrent’s introduction to some of the most important features of a normalised pragmatic reading of Heidegger, part one of the volume is made up of chapters dedicated to elaborating the pragmatic dimension of the history of phenomenology. Part two critically engages with extant pragmatic readings of the phenomenological tradition and addresses some of the issues that emerge through pragmatic engagements with texts by non-canonical authors such as Scheler and Patočka. The final section contains four contributions that attempt to advance the debates in the history of phenomenology through new perspectives.

After the editors’ introduction, Okrent begins by outlining two features of normative pragmatism – a position he attributes to Heidegger and one that is also affirmed by certain figures in the current Anglo-American pragmatist movement, specifically, Robert Brandom. For Okrent, normative pragmatism is, firstly, committed to the idea that an object’s nonnormative, factual properties are ‘possible only if there is some respect in which it is appropriate to respond to certain situations or to certain entities in certain ways’ (p. 23). Secondly, après Wittgenstein, normative pragmatism is committed to the claim that it is correct to respond to certain situations or to certain entities in certain ways primarily due to ‘the norms implicit in behaviour rather than with following explicit rules’ (ibid.). To speak about appropriate responses to objects, whereby appropriateness is measured according to the norms of social practices, is to think of objects as tools or equipment. According to pragmatist readings of Heidegger, tools are not primarily conceived in terms of their hermetically-sealed physical make-up in space-time. Rather, tools are understood, initially, in terms of what they are used for – the practical contexts and instrumental ends that will be fulfilled through their use. Furthermore, whether tools are used ‘correctly’ comes down to whether they are appropriated according to the norms of tool-use derived from social practices. The key point is that both Okrent and Heidegger view linguistic phenomena as tools. In accordance with the two theses attributed to normative pragmatism, Okrent states that ‘to grasp an entity as merely present, then, an agent must grasp it as essentially a possible object of an assertion. But to grasp something as an object of an assertion is to use the appropriate group of assertions as they are to be used within one’s community’ (p. 26). It follows that an object’s nonnormative properties are ‘simply invisible to an agent if she can’t use assertions to make claims about that entity’ (ibid.).

Okrent’s chapter is a response to criticisms that Brandom has levelled against Dreyfus, Haugeland and Okrent and their respective interpretations of Heidegger. In laying out the central tenets of normative pragmatism, Okrent highlights the similarities between Brandom’s reading of Heidegger and his own. However, disagreements emerge over their respective conceptions of intentionality. According to Brandom, Okrent, Dreyfus and Haugeland adopt a ‘layer-cake’ model, according to which our meaningful, norm-governed, practical responses to certain objects in certain ways is, in a sense, pre-predicative and nonconceptual and, therefore, distinct from (but also the basis of) the propositional articulations we make concerning such objects and our engagements with their nonnormative properties. In other words, the view that Okrent supports, and that Brandom believes is based on a misinterpretation of Heidegger, claims that ‘there are two layers to Dasein’s intentionality, the nonlinguistic skilful coping involved in the utilisation of equipment as tools that are essential to Dasein as Dasein and the linguistic, assertoric intentionality that intends substances as substances and is not essential for Dasein as Dasein’ (p. 29). Okrent goes on to defend the layer-cake model of intentionality on the basis that, for Heidegger, not all interpretations of entities as what they are involves assertion.

In terms of defending his interpretation of Heidegger as a layer-cake theorist in the face of Brandom’s reading, Okrent is convincing. That said, in terms of defending the layer-cake model of intentionality against Brandom’s claim that intentionality does not contain a nonconceptual component – that all experience can be understood in terms of the space of reasons – he is less successful. The other contributions in this volume do far better justice at demonstrating some of the problems with Okrent’s account than I can here. However, what I will say (paraphrasing the main issue in the Dreyfus-McDowell debates) is that although one can claim that propositions, assertions, sentences and theories are embodied, and even originate in our practical activities, that does not mean that our absorbed involvements that grasp the world as what it is are fundamentally and distinctly nonconceptual. Indeed, Brandom’s starting point is to conceive the world ‘as a collection of facts, not of things; there is nothing that exists outside of the realm of the conceptual’ (Brandom 2000: 357). On that basis, he has presented a whole system of normative pragmatics and inferential semantics to support his non-representationalist metaphysical project. Whether we agree with him or not, it follows that Brandom has the means to defend the view that even those interpretations, repairs and improvements of tools and equipment that seemingly operate outside of the bounds of general acceptability, and that Okrent takes to be nonlinguistic, are predicated upon a (at least implicitly) conceptual understanding of intentionality. In other words, our perceptions and skilful copings are permeated with the as-structure of interpretation that fundamentally understands seeing something as something in discursive terms (regardless of whether those concepts are made explicit in discursive practices).

The theme of layer-cake interpretations of both pragmatism and intentionality and the question of the dependency of skilful coping on conceptual meaning are taken up again in Carl Sachs’ contribution. The starting point for Sachs is the debate between Dreyfus and John McDowell regarding the relationship between rationality and absorbed coping and the consequences of this relationship for understanding intelligibility and intentionality. Like Brandom and McDowell, Sachs recognises the problems inherent in the layer-cake model of nonconceptual skilful coping – a distinct kind of intelligibility with its own internal logic. He also acknowledges McDowell’s claim that layer-cake pragmatists make the mistake ‘in thinking both that rationality consists of detached reflection and that rationality is the enemy of absorbed coping’ (p. 96). Unlike Dreyfus, Okrent and Haugeland, both Brandom and McDowell argue that rationality should not be construed as detached contemplation. Furthermore, intentionality is fundamentally conceptual. However, as Sachs observes, the problem with claiming that conceptuality permeates all of our skilful copings is that intentionality tends to be treated as only ‘“thinly” embodied’ (p.94). Through the work of Joseph Rouse, and by confronting the question of how absorbed, embodied coping can fit within the space of giving and asking for reasons, Sachs provides a convincing and highly innovative critique not only of layer-cake interpretations of the phenomenological tradition, but of approaches to contemporary pragmatism that do not pay sufficient phenomenological attention to the embodied dimension of intelligibility. Undermining Dreyfus’ distinction between the ‘space of reasons’ and the ‘space of motivations’, Rouse follows McDowell (and Brandom) in, firstly, rejecting the view that rationality is found in detached contemplation and, secondly, claiming that discursive practices are embodied. Where Sachs sees McDowell as paying only lip service to an embodied conception of rationality, Rouse uses developments in evolutionary theory to naturalise the space of reasons and, by implication, our norm-governed engagements with the world. Having arrived at the claim that discursive practices are conceived as ‘highly modified and specialised forms of embodied coping’ (p. 96), Sachs builds on Rouse’s account by defending a distinction between sapient intentionality and sentient intentionality in order to demonstrate that ‘McDowell is (mostly) right about sapience and that Dreyfus is (mostly) right about sentience’ (p. 88).

Whereas Okrent and Sachs‘ respective contributions tackle the Dreyfusian tradition of Heidegger scholarship, Andreas Beinsteiner provides a critical assessment of Rorty’s engagement with the pragmatic dimension of Heidegger’s thought. The focus is on Rorty’s purely language-oriented interpretation of the ‘history of Being’. According to Beinsteiner, even though Rorty agrees with Heidegger’s claim that our vocabularies and practices are contingent, Rorty’s criticism of Heidegger’s ‘narrative of decline’, which is characterised by a lack of recognition regarding the contingent nature of both meaning and language, is problematic. For Beinsteiner, the issue Rorty has with the idea that contemporary Western society, when compared with previous epochs, is less able to grasp the contingency of language rests upon Rorty’s two conflicting versions of pragmatism – instrumental pragmatism and poetic pragmatism. According to Beinsteiner, when Rorty argues for social hope as opposed to decline, he has seemingly failed to acknowledge the contingency of his own language and has, as a result, fallen into the trap that instrumental and poetic pragmatism disclose in different ways. Ultimately, Rorty is trapped within his linguistic conception of intelligibility, one that, he believes his instrumental conception of language has some sovereignty over, when, in fact, according to Beinsteiner, our conception of meaningfulness not only precedes the purposes of our language, it grants Rorty’s language with the purpose of instrumentality in the first place. In the remainder of the chapter, and in the face of what he sees as Rorty’s linguistic treatment of meaningfulness, Beinsteiner offers a challenge to Rorty’s critique of the narrative of decline by demonstrating technology’s ability to guide our understanding of intelligibility.

One of the problems with Beinsteiner’s critique is that Rorty is clearly aware of the dangers of becoming trapped in non-contingent conceptions of one’s language and understanding of meaningfulness. Rorty acknowledges that we can and, indeed, must aim for as much intersubjective agreement as possible by opening ourselves up to other cultures and their associated languages. As he explains, ‘alternative cultures are not to be thought of on the model of alternative geometries’; ‘alternative geometries are irreconcilable because they have axiomatic structures, and contradictory axioms. They are designed to be irreconcilable. Cultures are not so designed, and do not have axiomatic structures’ (Rorty 1991, 30). Consequently, by engaging with different cultures, it is at least a possibility that our language and conception of intelligibility can be destabilised and transcended. However, Heidegger claims that exposure to other cultures through media technology will fail to transform our conceptions of language and meaningfulness. As is evident from Beinsteiner’s contribution, Heidegger’s claim rests upon a one-sided interpretation of technology, one that is justified by criteria located in his own ‘final vocabulary’. This raises a problem, one that is emphasised when Beinsteiner makes claims regarding the pragmatic dimension of technology that coincide with Heidegger’s narrative of decline (even though Beinsteiner states that his point ‘is not to defend a supposed Heideggerian pessimism against Rorty’s optimism’ (p. 64)). A critic would likely argue that if Beinsteiner wishes to argue for the contingency of language and meaning and, thereby, avoid falling prey to the criticisms he levels at Rorty, he needs some criteria for judging the ‘primordiality due to new media and communication technologies’ (p. 64). Indeed, in order to avoid the charge that he is trapped within Heidegger’s vocabulary, such criteria would need to come from elsewhere. Unfortunately, a comprehensive and justified account of such criteria is noticeably absent in both the work of Heidegger and Beinsteiner’s contribution.

Returning to the Dreyfusian tradition of Heidegger scholarship, Tucker McKinney’s contribution addresses a long-standing problem with layer-cake approaches to pragmatism; specifically, the issue of whether and how (what Okrent calls) ‘the nonlinguistic skilful coping involved in the utilisation of equipment as tools that are essential to Dasein as Dasein’ (p. 29) can be reconciled with self-conscious inquiry and the resulting ‘first-personal knowledge of one’s activity’ (p. 71). In the face of traditional approaches to philosophy of mind that interpret self-consciousness in terms of self-representing contemplation, which he acknowledges is a form of self-consciousness that Heidegger criticises, McKinney sees Heidegger as advancing a conception of positional self-awareness ‘as an action-guiding practical knowledge of what to do to sustain one’s being in the world, realised in our affective lives’ (ibid.). Whereas typical pragmatist readings of Heidegger claim that our nonconceptual and non-representational ability to skilfully and habitually cope with the world means that the capacity to represent (the world and our representations of the world) through concepts is both merely derivative and something we can identify or attribute to ourselves only after our unselfconscious practical activities, McKinney defends the view that, according to Heidegger, ‘our engagements with entities are permeated with a sense of our own agency, our own active and participatory engagement with objects’ (p. 78).

In the face of problematic normalised and normalising pragmatic readings of Heidegger, many will welcome McKinney’s contribution. Whether it provides ‘a new ontology of self-possessed activity’ is questionable. Indeed, the approach shares some affinities with Hegel’s account of self-consciousness, Wittgenstein’s conception of private language and (more obviously) Habermas’ work on the relationship between self-awareness, affectivity and intersubjective communicative action. The basis for divergence stems from McKinney’s focus on ‘attunement’ [Befindlichkeit], which he translates as ‘findingess’ but can also be interpreted as ‘affectivity’ (Crowell 2013) and ‘state-of-mind’ (Braver 2014), and its concrete manifestation as ‘mood’ or, more literally, ‘tuning’ [Stimmung] (such as when the sound of a musical instrument changes depending on how it is tuned).[1] At a very basic level, Heidegger describes moods as ‘fleeting experiences that “colour” one’s whole “psychical condition”’ (GA 2, p. 450). From a phenomenological point of view that McKinney adopts in his discussion of the concept of fear, moods influence how things are meaningfully encountered in the ways they are during my practical engagements. On the basis of moods, my activities express an understanding of my own agency (p. 83). Furthermore, and this is matter that McKinney does not discuss (but Heidegger does), it is an existential-ontological condition of my capacity to interpret the world that I, myself, must be affectively attuned. Without attunement, any act of skilful coping would not present itself to me as intelligible. Consequently, in terms of a phenomenological reading of the concept of mood and ontological considerations of attunement, there is, as McKinney recognises, scope to innovatively extend non-Cartesian debates regarding the nature of self-consciousness.

Turning to part two of volume, in which the contributors focus specifically on the phenomenological dimension of the work of Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Scheler and Patočka, Jakub Čapek’s contribution exemplifies some of exegetical challenges that face traditional pragmatist readings of the phenomenological canon. On the basis of Merleau-Ponty’s concept of ‘perceptual faith’, which describes ‘how our involvement in the world precedes and sustains all perceptions, the true and the false’ (p. 141), Čapek argues that although Dreyfus and Charles Taylor’s pragmatic readings do not address ‘perceptual faith’ directly, their understanding of objects as mere correlates of our practical involvements, which Čapek sees as a consequence of the ‘primacy of the practical’ in pragmatism, generates a restricted interpretation of Merleau-Ponty’s account of perceptual experience. Čapek acknowledges that Merleau-Ponty does in fact claim that perception is an engaged, interested and skilful activity that allows us to cope with the world (in contrast with the interpretation of perception as an intermediary in a two-step, realist epistemological model, whereby passive receptions of something like sense data are synthesised as representations of external objects). However, that does not mean that the objects we perceive can be completely reduced to the meanings we accord them in our practical dealings. Even though Merleau-Ponty claims that our ontological commitments are embodied to the degree that an object is, as Čapek says, ‘a correlate of the body’, it is a feature of phenomenologically-oriented ontology that an object transcends ‘action-relevant predicates’ such that it is irreducible ‘to all that makes it a familiar part of our surroundings and of our activities’ (p. 152). In the sense that the ontology of things is dependent upon embodied perception to the degree that ‘in perception, we are directed to the things themselves, not through their appearances but to things themselves as they appear’ (p. 147), Čapek draws upon Merleau-Ponty’s conception of the transcendent dimension of ontology to argue that the latter’s account of ‘perceptual faith’ leaves room for an ‘interrogative, non-practical or disinterested’ dimension to perception (p. 143).

The only downsides to Čapek’s chapter are that he provides neither an in-depth account of the meaning of ‘the interrogative mode’ of perception (minimal references are made to perception as ‘transcend[ing] things’ and affirming ‘more things than are grasped in it’ (p. 154)) nor a discussion of how specifically pragmatic interpretations of the history of phenomenology could be revised in light of such a phenomenologically-oriented conception of disinterested perception. This is indicative of the limitations of the volume in general. Specifically, because the majority of the contributions employ interpretations of texts in the history of phenomenology to either elaborate upon or challenge more paradigmatic readings, there is little room for exploring the implications of such scholarship for debates at the forefront of contemporary phenomenology and pragmatism.

Bearing in mind the limitations imposed on the volume due to the purely hermeneutical approach taken by the majority of the authors, it should be said that James Mensch does offer interpretations of Aristotle, William James, Heidegger, Patočka, Husserl, Merleau-Ponty and Emmanuel Levinas in his contribution. But these readings are for illustrative purposes only, employed to elaborate upon the respective natures of pragmatic and theoretical attitudes in philosophy and their relationships to broader concepts of objective truth and freedom. For Mensch, what defines the pragmatic attitude is not only (as Čapek highlights in his contribution) the treatment of objects and their properties as mere correlates of practical involvements, but, more specifically, the reduction of an object’s essence to instrumentality – ‘its function as a means for the accomplishment of my projects’ (p. 191). The pragmatic attitude is seen as particularly problematic for the philosopher ‘who seeks simply to understand’ (p. 194) as it results in a performative contradiction. Conversely, the theoretical attitude deals with the ‘objectivity’ of phenomena ‘in terms of the evidence we have for what we believe about them’ (p. 195), evidence that can transcend our means-ends understanding of objects. Mensch goes on to explain the relationships between the respective ontological commitments that arise from the pragmatic attitude and the theoretical attitude in terms of the concept of freedom. Following Heidegger, Mensch recognises that there are many possibilities for the intelligibility of objects and their properties, and it is up to the philosopher to choose which possibility to actualise. In short, for Mensch, freedom is an ontological condition on the basis of which philosophers choose to adopt a theoretical attitude that suspends their pragmatic concerns in order to inquire into the ‘intrinsic sense’ of objects qua their objectivity. Furthermore, whereas the pragmatic attitude does not allow the object to ‘transcend the [pragmatic] conventions that govern our speaking’ (p. 199), the ‘intrinsic sense’ of an object does make room for such transcendence because (due to the fact that it is conceptually constituted and predicated upon intersubjective agreement) we can recognise the alterity of other objectivity claims that call my claims into question. Indeed, Mensch states that it is the alterity of the ‘Other’ that makes both philosophical freedom and a theoretical inquiry into the ‘intrinsic sense’ of things possible.

Critics would likely argue that Mensch’s distinction between pragmatic attitudes and theoretical attitudes is altogether too simplistic, resulting in an argument that is explanatorily weak. Indeed, due to the reification of pragmatic and theoretical attitudes, it would be difficult to abstract any genuine pragmatic (let alone broader metaphilosophical) concerns without being charged of straw-man-building. For example, contemporary Anglo-American pragmatists would challenge the claim that the pragmatic attitude purely apprehends the essence of objects in terms of its instrumentality. For example, as Beinsteiner observes earlier in the volume, Rorty advocated both instrumental and world-disclosing dimensions of pragmatism. In addition, as already mentioned, Brandom is a pragmatist, one that, simultaneously, adopts a theoretical attitude in order to inquire into Mensch’s conception of the ‘intrinsic sense’ of objects. Brandom is clear that not only do the contents of our concepts lay claim to how the world is, the meaning of our concepts is derived from the reasoning practices and inferential processes of discursive practitioners in the space of giving and asking for reasons. Furthermore, Brandom is also aware that freedom plays a pivotal role in the realm of contestable objectivity-claims. He argues that judgment, in terms of committing oneself to deploying concepts and, simultaneously, taking responsibility for the integration of the objectivity-claims and their associated conceptual contents with others that serve as reasons for or against them, is a ‘positive freedom’ (Brandom 2009, 59). I do not have the space to expand further. Suffice it to say, however, that Brandom’s inferential semantics and normative pragmatics articulates a number (if not all) of the themes that Mensch attributes to the theoretical attitude.

If Mensch’s characterisation of the pragmatic attitude is representative of a concrete approach in pragmatism, then perhaps one could claim that it only holds for layer-cake readings of Heidegger. Even then, however, the likes of Dreyfus and Okrent are careful to explain the fact that what Mensch apprehends as the theoretical attitude is dependent upon, and, ultimately, derives from, our shared, practical involvements in a world that is constituted by the activities of others, rather than something we can ‘choose’ to adopt completely outside of our practical copings and activities (a choice, based on Mensch’s account, without any causal repercussions and considerations and no rational constraint or motivation). Furthermore, whereas Mensch claims that the ontological condition of the ‘Other’ allows us to disclose a theoretical alternative to the pragmatically-apprehended world, the Dreyfusian tradition is well aware that we, as a skilful and absorbed copers, are ‘being-with’ [Mitsein], in the sense that when we encounter something as both meaningful and as what it is, it discloses to us those ‘others’ that also find the same thing meaningful in the same ways. To stress the importance of the ‘Other’ for the conditions of the theoretical attitude in particular, as Mensch does, is to severely misinterpret or (worse still) ignore the concept of the ‘Other’ in layer-cake pragmatism. This begs the question that if what Mensch defines as the pragmatic attitude does not successfully capture the complexities that surround layer-cake approaches to pragmatism, let alone contemporary pragmatism in general, then why should pragmatically-oriented philosophers take Mensch seriously? Furthermore, why should they care? Perhaps one could argue that Mensch’s chapter is a lesson in what can happen when not enough attention is paid by phenomenologists to developments in pragmatism, just as this volume as a whole discloses the problems that arise from pragmatic interpretations of the history of phenomenology.

Does the volume as a whole succeed in meeting its aims? If the aim of the volume is to offer a ‘complex analysis of the pragmatic theses that are present in the works of leading phenomenological authors’, then (despite the proclivity for Heidegger at the expense of other central figures from phenomenological tradition, including those that are still alive and still researching), I would say ‘yes’. However, as the volume is oriented towards the relationship between pragmatism and phenomenology through interpretations of canonical works in the history of Western philosophy, there is very little meaningful discussion of the theoretical implications of the dialogue for either current phenomenologically-oriented philosophical research or the pragmatic dimensions of contemporary metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of science and ethics. In this sense, the title of the volume is misleading and perhaps should be taken as ‘pragmatic perspectives in the history of phenomenology’. Nevertheless, there are some excellent papers here that not only articulate the pragmatic turn in the history of phenomenology, but offer much-needed insight into the problems associated with long-standing pragmatic interpretations of the works of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Husserl.

 

REFERENCES

Brandom, R. (2000) ‘Facts, Norms and Normative Facts: A Reply to Habermas’, European Journal of Philosophy 8 (3): 356-74.

Brandom, R. (2009) Reason in Philosophy: Animating Ideas, Cambridge, MA and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press

Braver, L. (2014) Heidegger, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Crowell, S. (2013) Normativity and Phenomenology in Husserl and Heidegger, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Heidegger, M. (1977) Gesamtausgabe, GA 2: Sein und Zeit, ed. F. von Herrmann, Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann.

Price, H. (2013) Expressivism, Pragmatism and Representationalism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rorty, R. (1991) Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth: Philosophical Papers, Volume 1, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


[1] Sachs also addresses the concept of attunement when he argues that affordances and solicitations (traditionally distinctive of embodied coping) should also be contextualised within the space of reasons.

Sacha Golob: Heidegger on Concepts, Freedom and Normativity, Cambridge University Press, 2016

Heidegger on Concepts, Freedom and Normativity Book Cover Heidegger on Concepts, Freedom and Normativity
Modern European Philosophy
Sacha Golob
Cambridge University Press
2016
Paperback £19.99
290