Gerard Kuperus, Marjolein Oele (Eds.): Ontologies of Nature: Continental Perspectives and Environmental Reorientations, Springer, 2017

Ontologies of Nature: Continental Perspectives and Environmental Reorientations Book Cover Ontologies of Nature: Continental Perspectives and Environmental Reorientations
Contributions To Phenomenology, Volume 92
Gerard Kuperus, Marjolein Oele (Eds.)
Springer
2017
Hardcover 96,29 €
X, 287

Emmanuel Alloa: Resistance of the Sensible World: An Introduction to Merleau-Ponty

Resistance of the Sensible World: An Introduction to Merleau-Ponty Book Cover Resistance of the Sensible World: An Introduction to Merleau-Ponty
Emmanuel Alloa, Translated by Jane Marie Todd, Foreword by Renaud Barbaras
Fordham University Press
2017
Paperback $28.00
152

Reviewed by: Shawn Loht (Baton Rouge Community College, USA)

This book is the first English-language translation of Alloa’s 2008 text, which originally appeared in French under the title La résistance du sensible: Merleau-Ponty critique de la transparence. Emmanuel Alloa is a student of the prominent Merleau-Ponty scholar Renaud Barbaras, and an occasional editor of Chiasmi, the leading journal for Merleau-Ponty studies.  Although the length of its body chapters comes in under 100 pages, this book is less of a standard introduction to Merleau-Ponty than a dense thematic, historical study of key issues figuring into the philosopher’s development from the early works up the unfinished texts in progress at the time of his death. The three principal chapters analyze the transformation and interior narrative of Merleau-Ponty’s thought across the three subjects that figure foremost in his legacy.  Chapter One examines the notion of perception in the context of the early texts The Structure of Behavior and Phenomenology of Perception. The second chapter takes up Merleau-Ponty’s conception of language, with particular attention to the essays in the middle-period Signs and the abandoned work The Prose of the World. The third chapter, entitled “Ontology of the Visible,” studies Merleau-Ponty’s late attempts to formulate a phenomenological ontology centered in the visible and sensible. The book does not cover any aspects of Merleau-Ponty’s political or social philosophy. Throughout, Alloa discusses in depth the philosopher’s engagement with numerous influences and contemporaries including Husserl, Sartre, Fink, and Saussure. Methodological emphasis is likewise placed on the genesis behind Merleau-Ponty’s shaping of central concepts and terms.

Alloa’s statements in the Introduction of the book provide an overview of how he understands the core idea of Merleau-Ponty’s thought: while perception is ultimately the philosophical concept that overtly engaged Merleau-Ponty, it is the resistance of the sensible that the philosopher actually grappled with. By this notion of resistance, Alloa indicates that the sensible is what is obvious to perception, yet which cannot be penetrated by analysis (5-7). In highlighting the concept of the “obvious,” (or ob-vious) Alloa refers to what is in front of one and standing against one. For the sensible characterizes not merely what perception encounters, but also the experiential world as a whole (7). In Alloa’s view, this is decisive for Merleau-Ponty’s work because it provides a more focused approach than Husserl’s epistemological project of uncovering the conditions of knowledge. As Alloa sees it, Merleau-Ponty’s fundamental insight in this regard is recognizing that what is sensible, what is in front of one, resists; it is not transparent and never will be so. (In making this observation, Alloa is cueing upon the important difference Merleau-Ponty demonstrated from Husserl early in his career: the view, contra Husserl, that a complete reduction is never possible.) As Alloa observes on this score, treating the sensible as the entry point for philosophy is a more tangible and direct method than Husserl’s approach of beginning phenomenological description with the structures of consciousness. Moreover, Alloa suggests that for Merleau-Ponty, the perspectival limit of perception characterizes the essence of philosophizing as well, viz., to philosophize means to grapple with what resists and refuses transparency. This consequence results because thought is by nature also conditioned by the sensible; thinking is permeated by vision, and vice versa.  Therefore, to return to the things themselves, as is phenomenology’s mantra, entails thought becoming sensible (9, 11).

In the book’s first chapter, Alloa sets up the premises of Merleau-Ponty’s early studies on perception. He suggests that the first two major works, The Structure of Behavior and Phenomenology of Perception, are of a piece insofar as the former attempts to show why a phenomenological account of experience cannot be reduced to a behavioral psychology, while the latter describes the phenomenology of sense experience in a positive fashion (16-17).  Structure describes human perception critically, from the outside looking in, whereas the Phenomenology is written with an emphasis on the first-person perspective of sense experience.  Alloa sees here not so much a tension in approaches as much as Merleau-Ponty’s developing recognition of a conflict between body and soul; the concept of behavior comprises the locus for Merleau-Ponty’s insight that sense experience is contingent on the milieu of the living being, which Alloa later identifies as the body (24). The phenomenon of behavior reveals an unnoticed synthesis of inner and outer, mind and body, such that this concept is seen as operative prior to any sort of dualism, yet not transparent to perception either. To parse Alloa’s claim here just a bit, the notion is perhaps not unlike Heidegger’s observation in Being and Time that to be a Dasein entails already existing in a world of immediate surroundings where things have their essence in their use; Dasein is neither an inner nor outer, but instead projective being-in-the-world.  Alloa sees a link between Structure and the Phenomenology in Merleau-Ponty’s implicit emphasis on the opacification of perception, or the notion that perception is underwritten by a lack of transparency.

Alloa similarly regards Merleau-Ponty’s career-long dialogue with Gestalt psychology as having its seeds in these early works.  For Merleau-Ponty, the concept of Gestalt is decisive for highlighting the world’s very appearing as structured (20), where perceptual consciousness is the “site” of this emergence.  The forms of the ready-made world of experience are not merely in the world, but emerge with the world.  For similar reasons, the mind-body relationship is not an instrumental one.  This observation brings to the fore the concept of “milieu”, which Alloa regards as a cornerstone of Merleau-Ponty’s early development.  The mind-body relation is founded on embeddedness in a milieu, where phenomenology entails describing an inventory of that milieu (20).  Yet Alloa highlights that Gestalt psychology in its traditional guise is insufficient for Merleau-Ponty because it fails to adopt a way of thinking about life; Gestalt psychology overlooks the dialectic between the living thing and its milieu, failing to recognize the dynamic identity of the physical and mental structures of experience (22-23).  The milieu comprised by embodiment functions as Merleau-Ponty’s corrective to the shortcomings of Gestalt psychology and scientific mechanism, for embodiment comprises the union of life and environment.

The topic of transcendence takes Alloa into Chapter Two.  Alloa suggests that Merleau-Ponty’s engagement with language during and after the early works epitomizes his effort to describe the unity of bodily movement and creative freedom (38).  “When the subject is collapsed to its corporeal condition alone, there is no longer any possibility of explaining how one moves beyond oneself” (33).  Transcendence, Alloa writes, is for Merleau-Ponty less important in the manner of establishing a new notion of epistemological or metaphysical foundation; more important in Merleau-Ponty’s view is the very act of transcending.  The act of transcending is coextensive with the opacity of the world (33).  Citing the Phenomenology, Alloa observes that an a priori ecstasy of the human subject orients one fundamentally toward this opacity, toward what one is not (33).  The first section of Chapter Two, entitled “Expression,” suggests that human expression for Merleau-Ponty comprises the extension of idealization or intellect into the embodied state.  Human movement is not merely a bodily activity but includes gesture (35).  In this light, following the Phenomenology, the body is the actuality of expression and represents the movement of expression (35).  As a result, language for Merleau-Ponty is forever to be subordinated to the phenomenon of expression as bodily act (39), which is to say, Merleau-Ponty does not endorse a pure grammar or universal linguistics.  Whereas, these are notions that for instance would be familiar to readers of Husserl’s Logical Investigations.  Moreover, Alloa highlights that the diacritical character of language, which Merleau-Ponty adopts from Saussure, further justifies the claim that language can never be made pure or universal.  Citing the abandoned text The Prose of the World, Alloa highlights that this character of language means signs, morphemes, and words only convey meaning in their assembly; language constitutes the practice of discriminating signs from one another.  And given language’s origin in the embodied state, these features have a coextension with the sensible.  Language’s diacritical character “will acquire the value of a perceptible interval forming a pattern on the sensible fabric itself” (45).  Yet, the transparency of language in human experience also reveals its resistance, echoing Alloa’s leading claim at the book’s start.  Namely, like the sensible, language’s character is to efface itself through its very transparency (51).

Alloa finishes this chapter by taking up the lines of questioning that permeate Merleau-Ponty’s middle works, especially Signs, Prose of the World, and the Nature lectures, on the issue of exactly where language resides.  Language does not reside in mere signs, symbols, or words, nor does it reside in meaning.  Where does language have its being?  Alloa sketches Merleau-Ponty’s position this way: “We must place ourselves at the very site of language in the process of making itself – between the given and what makes possible the act of giving – without conceiving of Saying on the basis of the already Said but also without relegating language to a sphere of pure potentiality, without isolating an abstract linguistic structure of yielding entirely to a completed embodiment in a concrete signifying formula” (53).  In brief, as Alloa describes it, the meeting of embodiment and linguistic signs requires one to describe the immaterial but not simply ideal birth of sense-making (53).  Alloa finds that painting for Merleau-Ponty provides one such avenue, to the extent that it comprises a “silent” form of expression, originative in the bodily gesture of the hand, yet also indicative of a verbal lack of mastery of the world and the world’s means of expression.  As such, painting exemplifies the birth of sense-making.  “The painter’s canvas becomes the site of an experience of relinquishment, an exposure to an outside where the protective envelope of everyday language disintegrates” (55-56).

The third and final chapter offers a focused account of the genesis leading to Merleau-Ponty’s late philosophy, particularly his interest in developing an “ontology of the visible.”  Texts of especial importance are the philosopher’s final published work “Eye and Mind” and the posthumously edited Visible and Invisible.  In Alloa’s description, this late period of the philosopher engages the question of how something can be given to one as visible, and of how words can function to describe this occurrence (60).  Merleau-Ponty’s task during this period is to uncover the roots of the visible. Again, painting is decisive because the thought-process shown in work of masters such as Cezanne reveals the visible as resistance to transparency.  Alloa characterizes the philosopher’s stance this way: “Thinking as a painter means submitting to the laws of resistance and experiencing feelings within the limits of the sensible” (61).  The ontology of painting consequently affords Merleau-Ponty an entry point into the ontology of the visible not by way of what is seen, but by way of what is becoming-seen, becoming-visible (64).  This last brings Alloa to the crux of Merleau-Ponty’s concept of “flesh.”  Because art has its essence not in works but rather in realizing the sensible bonds of experience and world, art helps to instantiate the “flesh” binding the world and human being (65).  Given that “flesh” is an obscure concept in Merleau-Ponty, difficult to pin down precisely, Alloa devotes significant discussion to it.  Flesh is not a physical or atomistic substantial presence (which may be implied in Merleau-Ponty’s characterization of it in Visible as an element) but it is materially immanent in the sensible (65).  Yet flesh is not to be understood as a Leibnizian monad, transposing the principles of life onto nonliving materiality.  Alloa cites an unpublished note written by the philosopher in 1960 to the effect that the flesh of the world is not derivative from an understanding of the flesh of the body (67).  Rather, the human body we know is made of this very flesh of the world.  But again, one can ask, what is flesh and where does it come from?  Alloa concedes that Merleau-Ponty’s position on this issue could be ambivalent at best, given that the philosopher was still exploring this question at the time of his death.  One compromise, Alloa suggests, is to follow a clue from the Nature lectures, namely Merleau-Ponty’s remark that the sensible is the flesh of the world.  In other words, the sensible is the bond uniting experience and world, inner and outer, just insofar as it emerges in the interstices of the subjective and objective, not lying in just one or the other.  On the other hand, Alloa also suggests that the more ambiguous “flesh” perhaps better expresses what is neither subjective nor objective, but beyond these, that through which something sensible is sensed (68).  Alloa’s meaning seems to be something like the following: the sensation I experience through touching an object such as a pine cone is not merely fostered through my hand’s affectivity nor through the pine cone’s sensible characteristics (e.g. prickly, resinous, woody).  Rather, this experience have of the sensible is fostered by a “between” that allows sensible and sensing to meet.  I find Alloa’s discussion of flesh to be especially helpful and an illuminating part of the book.

Alloa rounds out the final chapter with some reflections on the underlying commitments of Merleau-Ponty’s ontology of the sensible.  Alloa writes that Merleau-Ponty’s theory of perception must become an ontology of the sensible because this is the only way to obviate dualism.  And conversely, the sensible must be the seat of ontology because the sensible is the ultimate ground of experience, the medium in which being inheres without needing to be posited (80).  Here, Alloa’s characterization of the sensible is not unlike Heidegger’s observations that being in its guise of ereignis comprises the groundless ground.  For Merleau-Ponty, the sensible is the ultimate, yet ungrounded given.

In summary, this short but dense book by Emmanuel Alloa is a challenging read. It is also a rewarding one for those willing to do the work to digest carefully his many insightful observations on Merleau-Ponty’s thought and development. Alloa makes a very good case for the notion that despite Merleau-Ponty’s stops and starts with various issues, there is nonetheless a guiding thread to his thought’s development.  To be truthful, however, there is an aspect in which this book is frustrating to use as an “introduction” to the philosopher, just because it is written at an astute historiographical level, not one for beginners.  One might wonder why the book’s title was altered for this English-language edition.  Alloa does not provide extensive exegetical readings of any specific books of Merleau-Ponty, opting instead for frequent citations of one or two lines of text, whose meaning Alloa typically takes as self-evident.  There is a measure in which these frequent citations seem taken out of context or otherwise lacking in justification for the lay reader. There is also a noticeable dearth of examples that might help to illustrate for a novice what is at stake in crucial distinctions. This is a book that will much better serve those who are already decently versed in Merleau-Ponty and who possess a workable understanding of at least some of Merleau-Ponty’s key themes. To that end, Alloa’s book will offer potential as a guide for connecting the various topics in Merleau-Ponty’s works and establishing a beginning-to-end narrative.

 

Judith Wambacq: Thinking between Deleuze and Merleau-Ponty, Ohio University Press/Swallow Press, 2018

Thinking between Deleuze and Merleau-Ponty Book Cover Thinking between Deleuze and Merleau-Ponty
Series in Continental Thought, № 51
Judith Wambacq
Ohio University Press/Swallow Press
2018
Hardcover $95.00
296

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

Resistance of the Sensible World: An Introduction to Merleau-Ponty Book Cover Resistance of the Sensible World: An Introduction to Merleau-Ponty
Perspectives in Continental Philosophy
Emmanuel Alloa, Translated by Jane Marie Todd, Foreword by Renaud Barbaras
Fordham University Press
2017
144

Anna Brożek, Jacek Jadacki, Friedrich Stadler (Hrsg.): Kasimir Twardowski. Gesammelte deutsche Werke

Kasimir Twardowski. Gesammelte deutsche Werke Book Cover Kasimir Twardowski. Gesammelte deutsche Werke
Veröffentlichungen des Instituts Wiener Kreis, Band 25
Anna Brożek, Jacek Jadacki, Friedrich Stadler (Hrsg.)
Springer
2016
Hardcover 99.99 €
VIII, 309

Anya Daly: Merleau-Ponty and the Ethics of Intersubjectivity

Merleau-Ponty and the Ethics of Intersubjectivity Book Cover Merleau-Ponty and the Ethics of Intersubjectivity
Anya Daly
Philosophy
Palgrave MacMillan
2016
Hardcover $95.00
xiv + 312

Reviewed by: David Markwell (University College Dublin)

Anya Daly’s Merleau-Ponty and the Ethics of Intersubjectivity is a welcome entry to the growing secondary literature that focuses on the implicit ethical dimensions of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophical project. There is little doubt that Merleau-Ponty’s untimely death interrupted a trajectory of thinking as exciting as it was innovating; an attempt to explicate a radically new ontological view that stressed the interdependence of subject, other and world, which Merleau-Ponty thought would lead to the re-centring of the axiological in philosophy.[1] That Merleau-Ponty saw his philosophical project containing ethical elements can be seen as early as the Phenomenology of Perception. For Merleau-Ponty, the body is not simply just a biological entity, but rather the location of multiple levels of social, sexual, expressive and emotional values that both constitute and constrain the subject in her dealings with the world.[2] Daly picks up the challenge that Merleau-Ponty set himself to attempt and make explicit an ethical framework that originates in perception, leads to an understanding of intersubjectivity as inter-corporeality, and becomes expressed ontologically, as she characterises it, as a ‘non-dual ontology.’[3]

            In the tradition of thinkers such as Renaud Barbaras and Donald Landes[4] (among others) Daly reads the trajectory of Merleau-Ponty’s thought as mostly continuous. This means that one is not forced to choose between a so-called ‘early’ or ‘late’ Merleau-Ponty. Daly attempts to construct an ethics in Merleau-Ponty’s project by showing that the subject of experience set out in the accounts of perception and behaviour in The Structure of Behaviour and Phenomenology of Perception become more explicitly axiological in the writings on aesthetics and language such as ‘Cézanne’s Doubt’ and The Prose of the World, where expression and style become central themes, to his final writings ‘Eye and Mind,’ and The Visible and the Invisible where he finally presents his non-dualist ontology, cashed out in the terms of ‘flesh,’ ‘reversibility,’ and ‘chiasm.’ Thus, she argues, for Merleau-Ponty the relationship between the percipient and her object of perception are fundamentally interdependent and this relationship is axiological. She combines this excellent reading of Merleau-Ponty with trends in contemporary embodied approaches to neuroscience to provide empirical validation for the ontological claims made by Merleau-Ponty. The book then can be divided into two sections: exegetical and empirical. Chapters 2-5 comprise Daly’s close reading of Merleau-Ponty while chapters 6-8 connect the account with contemporary neuroscientific approaches to perception and action, with a particular focus on the experience of empathy.

            Daly’s book is well written, persuasively presented, and she clearly shows how Merleau-Ponty’s ontological insights can be useful to ethical discourse. For her, an ethical project in Merleau-Ponty arises out of the question posed by the encounter with the other that begins in perception.[5] Thus the project is not a ‘first-order’ one of explicating norms, obligations, or practices that make up an ethical system.[6] Rather an ethical project in Merleau-Ponty deals with the ‘second-order’ questions of who/what counts as the other, what is the nature of the relationship between the self and the other, and what is (or should be) our response to the other. Daly describes this as an ‘ethics of insight’[7] that finds its basis in Merleau-Ponty’s non-dualist ontology; the intimate relationship between self, other, and world that is, as she argues, inherently ethical. For Daly there is a ‘pre-objective’ and ‘pre-reflective’ relationship between the self and the other in Merleau-Ponty’s thought which allows for a ‘bottom-up’ approach to ethics.[8] Daly provides a close, tight reading of all of Merleau-Ponty’s texts in these exegetical chapters and they are the strongest part of her book.

            Daly’s argumentation throughout this first half of the book is exceptionally strong, and nowhere is this better on display than in the fifth chapter ‘Objections to the Reversibility Thesis.’ This chapter sees her defending Merleau-Ponty’s crucial reversibility thesis against criticisms from Claude Lefort and Emmanuel Levinas. The reversibility thesis argues that ‘self, other and world are inherently relational’[9] and as Daly has argued previously this inherent relationality is ethical. What is crucial about this thesis is that it withstands sceptical and solipsistic objections. The thesis must allow for real communication between self and other, and for there to be real difference between these two agents; ‘the Other must be a genuine irreducible Other.’[10] Against the objections of asymmetry and the necessity of a ‘third term,’ that names and provides the law between self and other, as presented by Lefort,[11] Daly argues that reversibility need not require symmetry or a third term. These criticisms fail to understand the idea of flesh as identity-in-difference.[12] She argues that the problem of asymmetry – that the experience of the other remains opaque in salient ways when compared to the experience of myself – does not undermine the reversibility thesis but rather guarantees it. Reversibility is not a mechanistic process where terms are fungible, but rather is a process of ‘dialectical reciprocity.’[13] Because the world, the things there-in, and the self and other are meaningful-in-themselves Lefort’s ‘third term’ is redundant.[14] The members of the relation organise themselves into a meaningful whole and there is no necessity for external meaning to be imposed. Levinas criticizes Merleau-Ponty’s approach for being reductive, claiming that reversibility reduces the radical alterity of the other and that his ontology is homogenous.[15] Daly argues against Levinas that Merleau-Ponty’s ontology is non-reductive[16] and that a number of lateral relations of alterity obtain between the subject, the world, and the other.[17] Thus, for Merleau-Ponty, responsibility between self and other is bi-directional; with neither self nor other bearing sole responsibility towards the other member of the relationship.[18] Daly presents Merleau-Ponty’s account as a non-theistic alternative to Levinas’ theistic account.[19]

            In the second half of the book Daly brings Merleau-Ponty’s ontological claims together with contemporary phenomenological, psychological, and embodied neuroscientific approaches to perception, intersubjectivity, and empathy. She draws on the work of Shaun Gallagher, Thomas Fuchs, Francisco Valera, and Dan Zahavi (among others) to show how these accounts provide empirical verifications of Merleau-Ponty’s claims she presented in the first half of her book. These empirical accounts illustrate that the interdependent relationship between self and other is deeper than the notion of social interdependence, and help Daly transition the ‘problem of others’ from an epistemological concern towards an ethical one.[20] These chapters are well written and present the relevant research in an organised manner, however it is unclear if what she presents here will sway anyone who is not previously sympathetic towards Merleau-Ponty’s ontological view.

            Daly concludes her book by connecting Merleau-Ponty’s ontological claims to those made in Buddhist Metaphysics. She notes that there are striking similarities between Merleau-Ponty’s non-dual ontology, the inherently relational, and for Daly ethical, interconnections between self, other, and world, and the Buddhist notion of ‘dependent arising’ or ‘interdependent origination,’ that the self, other, and world are connected in ambiguous multi-causal chains which never settle into ‘pure’ identifiable entities.[21] Both stress the interconnections and contingency of existence and offer a ground for ethics based on a form of insight. Daly is correct that there are fruitful connections and comparisons to be made between these two approaches. Although her book is not a work of comparative philosophy[22] Daly’s use of Merleau-Ponty to illustrate Buddhist concepts and Buddhist concepts to further explicate Merleau-Pontian concepts is well executed and shows a commitment to heterodox approaches to philosophy.

            Overall Daly’s book is very strong but there are a few places where her argument could be strengthened. Key to a reading of Merleau-Ponty that argues for continuity between his early and late writings are the ideas of ‘expression’ and ‘style,’ which are found throughout Merleau-Ponty’s works. Merleau-Ponty has a highly idiosyncratic understanding of these two key ideas which become more important as he transitions from his phenomenological writings to his ontological ones. For Merleau-Ponty an expression is not an exterior sign of an interior thought, but is rather the embodied subject attempting to use instituted language in a way to say something new and different about the world. Key in this is that the expression itself is meaningful, and its usage then becomes the accomplishment of expression.[23] Style is a sub-type of expression: a way of encountering an expression as a totality and finding it interpretable. Style is the way the embodied subject carries herself in the world and the manner in which she uses available gestures and linguistic expressions to communicate and interact in the world. The salient factor is that one’s style is expressive even if one is unaware of this expressivity.

            While Daly does discuss these concepts in her book their central role in the ethical relationship in Merleau-Ponty is not stressed enough. Daly’s discussion of style mostly centres on aesthetic and deliberate linguistic expressions and it is a missed opportunity to not extend the discussion to the notion of corporeal styles. This would allow for a connection to be made between style and the idea of flesh as identity-in-difference. Style, as presented by Merleau-Ponty, functions as an expression of the other’s entire being-in-the-world which is more identifiable in others than it is in ourselves. It is the manifestation of the radical alterity of the other; her complete transcendence of the other made partially available in immanent perception. For example, when we see the other act in the world we gain partial access to her alterity by the realisation that she does not comport herself in and towards the world in the same manner as we would. However, her behaviour is not so different from ours as to be incomprehensible. Style cements the notion of identity-in-difference which is key to Merleau-Ponty’s ontological claims and an ethics based on these positions. Daly’s defence of the reversibility thesis, which is well researched and expertly argued, seems another opportunity where the concept of style could be used to further her argument. Since style manifests relationally in the encounter between the self and other, or in the perception of the other’s engagement with the world, it provides evidence that the other we encounter remains always an other than myself.

            A second aspect of Daly’s book that needs development is the connection she wishes to make between Merleau-Ponty’s concept of hyper-reflection and the Buddhist notion of mindfulness meditation practices such as shamatha and vipassana.[24] While the discussion of hyper-reflection in The Visible and the Invisible is brief[25] and not, one assumes, fully developed, the connection Daly attempts appears to miss the mark. This is due to the fact that hyper-reflection and mindfulness meditation are two very different practices meant to be used for different facets of one’s life.

            Merleau-Ponty’s introduction of hyper-reflection occurs in the first chapter of The Visible and the Invisible entitled ‘Reflection and Interrogation.’ In this chapter Merleau-Ponty attempts to show how one of the ways in which philosophy has historically approached ontological problems is inadequate to describe the structure of existence. His main target in the chapter is Husserl and Husserlian transcendental phenomenology. For Merleau-Ponty reflection is the Husserlian methodology of epoché, transcendental reduction, and eidetic variation, which put out of play the nature of the world and the culturally, linguistically, and affectively formed experiencer of the world.[26] For Merleau-Ponty, this is insufficient to allow one to understand the ontological interdependence that underpins the world of experience. Reflection, as a cognitive attempt to understand the phenomenon of perception and thus gain insight into the ontological structure of existence shows us ‘the necessity of another operation beside the conversion to reflection, more fundamental than it, or a sort of hyper-reflection (sur-réflexion) that would also take itself and the changes it introduces into the spectacle into account.’[27] Merleau-Ponty’s hyper-reflection, the taking into consideration both the existing world (with all its cultural, historical, and linguistic sedimentations) and the existing percipient (with all her affective, cultural, historical, and linguistic constituents), is what is necessary should we choose to attempt and gain ontological insight through the reflective or phenomenological route. This, then, is a highly cognitive process, meant to be used when one is engaged in philosophical or phenomenological undertakings. Hyper-reflection is a meta-philosophical position; it suggests how we should be doing philosophy if we choose to approach philosophy from the phenomenological standpoint. This means that hyper-reflection is a second-order conceptual process; a methodology of reflecting on how we reflect.

            Sharply contrasted with this is mindfulness meditation in Buddhism. Vipassana is a practice that begins with focusing on the breath in an attempt to both calm and slow down the routine cognitive processes of the mind. The aim is to gain direct, experiential, insight into the truth of interdependent origination.[28] It is by actively stripping away the everyday cognitive processes of the mind that one becomes aware of interdependent origination, ‘no-self,’ and the other core ideas of Buddhism. Mindfulness meditation is radically non-cognitive, or perhaps better, an anti-cognitive practice. It asks one to focus on one’s breath as a means of slowing (and eventually) stopping entrenched cognitive processes so that one can experience the ontological interdependence of self, other, and world. This is why, for example, the Zen kōan is a riddle that specifically cannot be answered by the cognitive faculties. The insight required to ‘answer’ a kōan is achieved through sitting in meditation with the riddle and not thinking about it. The point of kōan or mindfulness practice is to break down normal cognitive faculties so that we can see the world in a different way. Mindfulness meditation is a first-order practice meant to change how we experience the world.

            The issue with connecting hyper-reflection and mindfulness mediation, as I hope to have illustrated, is that the two are incommensurable in at least two ways. The first is that where hyper-reflection is a second-order meta-philosophical positon about how we should do philosophy, meditation is a first-order practice concerned with transforming our experience. The second incommensurability is that hyper-refection is a highly cognitive process where mindfulness is a radically anti-cognitive exercise. Both attempt to illustrate similar ontological claims but they cannot function analogously.

            The parallel that can be drawn between mindfulness meditation and Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy is to the latter’s account of perception coupled with the phenomenon of expression. In his ‘Unpublished Text,’ Merleau-Ponty describes how perception and expression can show a ‘good ambiguity,’ which would be spontaneous and gather ‘the past and the present, nature and culture into a single whole.’[29] He goes on to describe this ambiguity as a ‘wonder’ stating that this would be metaphysics and the beginning of the ethical.[30] This coupling of perception and expression described as wonder is the closest Merleau-Ponty gets to a direct experiential access to his ontological view. This of course presents a difficulty. Merleau-Ponty’s account does not give us the practical tools for how we are to have this experience of perception coupled with expression nor does he state how this will help one come to understand the concepts of flesh, reversibility, and identity-in-difference. Merleau-Ponty’s account lacks the practical elements that are built into Buddhism and mindfulness practice.

            None of the above criticisms are meant to detract from what is, on the whole, an excellent and welcome entry in the growing secondary literature on Merleau-Ponty and ethics. Daly presents a strong case for reconsidering the ethical encounter in Merleau-Ponty’s thought and her views will prove useful to any scholar wishing to advance an ethical project based on Merleau-Ponty’s work. Her book makes an important contribution to the linking of phenomenological philosophy with the cognitive sciences and the intertwining of Western and Eastern philosophies is extremely valuable for anyone interested in comparative philosophy. Her characterisation of his view as non-dualist ontology and her defence of the reversibility thesis are invaluable tools to anyone wishing to advance a heterodox approach to ethics.


[1] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, ‘An Unpublished Text by Maurice Merleau-Ponty: A Prospectus of his Work,’ trans. Arleen B. Dallery in The Primacy of Perception and Other Essays on Phenomenological Psychology, the Philosophy of Art, History and Politics, ed. James M. Edie (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 3-11, 11. Hereafter Text.

[2] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Donald A. Landes (London: Routledge, 2012). See especially Part One; Chapter Five ‘The Body as Sexed Being,’ (156-78) and Chapter Six ‘The Body as Expression, and Speech,’ (179-205), as well as Part Three, Chapter Three ‘Freedom,’ (458-83). Hereafter PhP.

[3] Anya Daly, Merleau-Ponty and the Ethics of Intersubjectivity (London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2016), 26. Daly provides an excellent gloss on the difference between ‘non-dual ontology’ and ‘relational ontology’ arguing that relational ontology can, and often is, misconstrued as a form of monism (i.e. what actually exists is the relation, not the distinct relata as constituent parts of the relation) which misses Merleau-Ponty’s ontological insight that the ‘flesh of the world’ is identity-in-difference. See note 22 at Daly, 26.

[4] See for example: Renaud Barbaras, The Being of the Phenomenon: Merleau-Ponty’s Ontology, trans. Ted Toadvine and Leonard Lawlor (Bloomington, IN: Indian University Press, 2004) and Donald A. Landes, Merleau-Ponty and the Paradoxes of Expression (London: Bloomsbury Academic Publishing, 2013).

[5] Daly, 5.

[6] Daly, 5.

[7] Daly, 5.

[8] Daly, 9. This is in contrast to ‘top-down’ approaches such as consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics.

[9] Daly, 139.

[10] Daly, 139.

[11] Daly, 140-41.

[12] Daly, 144-45.

[13] Daly, 145.

[14] Daly, 146.

[15] Daly, 153.

[16] Daly, 155.

[17] Daly, 158-60.

[18] Daly, 167.

[19] Daly, 156.

[20] Daly, 174.

[21] Daly, 298.

[22] Daly, 16.

[23] PhP, 192 and passim.

[24] Daly, 296.

[25] The concept is only explicitly used by Merleau-Ponty twice in the book. See Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, ed. Claude Lefort, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1968), 38 and 46. Hereafter abbreviated VI.

[26] See VI, 45-46 where Merleau-Ponty says ‘[this] is what Husserl brought frankly into the open when he said that every transcendental reduction is also an eidetic reduction, that is: every effort to comprehend the spectacle of the world from within and from the source demands that we detach ourselves from the effective unfolding of our perceptions and from our perceptions of the world, […]. To reflect is not to coincide with the flux from its source unto its last ramifications; it is to disengage from the things; perceptions, world, and perception of the world….’

[27] VI, 38.

[28] Daly, xi and 289.

[29] Text, 11.

[30] Text, 11.

Anya Daly: Merleau-Ponty and the Ethics of Intersubjectivity

Merleau-Ponty and the Ethics of Intersubjectivity Book Cover Merleau-Ponty and the Ethics of Intersubjectivity
Anya Daly
Palgrave Macmillan UK
2016
Hardcover $95.00
313

Tziovanis Georgakis, ‎Paul J. Ennis (Eds.): Heidegger in the Twenty-First Century

Heidegger in the Twenty-First Century Book Cover Heidegger in the Twenty-First Century
Contributions To Phenomenology No. 80
Georgakis, Tziovanis, Ennis, Paul J. (Eds.)
Springer
2015
ebook, hardcover
XIII, 196

Martin Heidegger: The Beginning of Western Philosophy: Interpretation of Anaximander and Parmenides

The Beginning of Western Philosophy: Interpretation of Anaximander and Parmenides Book Cover The Beginning of Western Philosophy: Interpretation of Anaximander and Parmenides
Studies in Continental Thought
Martin Heidegger - Translated by Richard Rojcewicz
Phenomenology
Indiana University Press
2015
Hardcover, £35
219

Reviewed by: Kyle Michael James Shuttleworth (Queen’s University Belfast)

In The Beginning of Western Philosophy Heidegger offers a reinterpretation of Anaximander’s and Parmenides’ surviving fragments. His intention, following the project initiated in Being and Time, is to illustrate that the concept of Being bequeathed to us not only rests upon a corrupted concept but that philosophy, as we understand it, is at its very core misguided. The aim of seeking out the beginning of philosophy is suggested at the beginning of the lecture where Heidegger rhetorically questions, ‘Our mission: the cessation of philosophising?’ The self-appointed custodian to Nietzsche’s philosophical heritage, Heidegger believed that the consequences of his task would bring about the end of metaphysics and prepare the grounds for subsequent thinkers. This is evident in the bold assertion, ‘I have no philosophy at all. My efforts are aimed at conquering and preparing the way so that those who will come in the future might perhaps again be able to begin with the correct beginning of philosophy.’ In claiming such, Heidegger can be seen to acquit himself of the charges of ethical nihilism and the claim that his support of National Socialism logically followed from the individualism of his ontology, which severely tarnished his philosophical reputation. However, whether or not this judgment is correct or an attempt to undermine his critics, remains to be qualified.

The text itself is composed of a tripartite structure. The first part focuses on Anaximander’s dictum: ‘but whence things take their origin, thence always precedes their passing away, according to necessity; for they pay one another penalty (dike) and retribution (tisis) for their wickedness (adikia) according to established time.’ Rather than taking Anaximander to be simply discussing coming-to-be and passing away, Heidegger interprets the dictum instead to be concerned with ‘appearing’ and ‘disappearing’. Although the understanding of appearance as the Being of beings, might seem like a linguistic quibble, Heidegger later illustrates that this has profound implications. This reinterpretation then leads him to strip dike, tisis, and adikia of any judicial-moral meaning, and instead understand them as ‘compliance’, ‘correspondence’, and ‘non-compliance’. He also highlights that Anaximander discusses Being ‘according to established time’ which grants validity to his own ontological convictions. In this lecture series Heidegger’s analytic rigour is at its height. In reinterpreting Anaximander’s dictum, which initially appeared to be a quite straight -forward claim regarding being and non-being, Heidegger elucidates that it is a very complex, ontologically loaded statement, indeed.

Part two focuses on the question of Being generally and why it is worthy of our concern. Heidegger begins by considering four objections to the given interpretation: unbridgeable span of time, antiquated, crude and meagre, and unreal. Having dismissed each of these he then continues to elucidate the question of Being. This section is of primary importance to Heidegger scholars who are not only interested in ontology, but also his account of existence. Here his understanding of existence is demarcated as existere, literally, standing out. He also distinguishes his approach from both the public notion and the refined concept employed by Kierkegaard. The latter of these, he suggests, is employed by Karl Jaspers. Heidegger goes to great lengths to distinguish himself from Jaspers, his contemporary and fellow advocate of existenzphilosophie. Here Heidegger claims that although they both use the same terminology, and have been categorised together, that their projects are unrelated. ‘According to the sound of the words Jaspers and I have precisely the same central terms: Dasein, existence, transcendence, world. Jaspers uses all these in a total different sense and in a completely different range of problems.’

The third part, which dominates the discussion, consuming almost half of the text, addresses the fragments of Parmenides’ didactic poem that have been preserved in various sources. This almost mystic text discusses the goddess aletheia, which is usually translated as ‘truth’, but which Heidegger interprets as ‘unconcealment’. In his analysis of the poem, which he discusses meticulously, Heidegger derives three main claims that he believes Parmenides to be making. The first of these is the ‘axiomatic statement’, that Being and apprehension belong together: ‘where Being, there apprehension, and where no apprehension, no Being’. The second is the ‘essential statement’ which provides insight into the essence of Being as excluding negativity: ‘we always encounter only the assertion that matters stand thus with Being’. The third and final claim is what Heidegger terms the ‘temporal statement’, that Being and time exists in an exclusive and necessary relationship: ‘being stands in relation to the present and only to it’. The result of uncovering these three philosophical claims is that they grant validity to Heidegger’s ontological re-evaluation regarding the question of Being.

Through reinterpretation, Heidegger illustrates that the question of Being permeates the very core of pre-Socratic thought. He can thus be seen to continue the project initiated in Being and Time. Written five years later, The Beginning of Western Philosophy elucidates many of the ideas first presented there. By illustrating that Anaximander and Parmenides were concerned with the Being of beings, Heidegger can be seen to open the ground back into Being. However, what about the interpretations, themselves? Are they simply incubators for Heidegger to cultivate his own philosophical inclinations? As with the majority of his lectures and monologues on other philosophers, Heidegger describes their thought in his own jargon and frames it in relation to his own philosophy. Although one may be inclined to dismiss this text on the ground that it does not offer a true interpretation of the content that it claims to, Heidegger himself addresses this criticism. He cautions one who would make such a critique to ‘pay attention primarily not to the means and paths of our interpretation, but to what these means and paths will set before you. If that does not become especially essential to you, then the discussion of the correctness or incorrectness of the interpretation will a fortiori remain inconsequential.’

What of the edition itself? For the same reason that it will be of interest to classics scholars it is repellent to modern academics that are not versed in Ancient Greek. There are dense passages of Greek and terms are often employed with the assumption that the reader possesses prior knowledge. This may have been appropriate at the time Heidegger wrote the lectures, when Ancient Greek was included in the curriculum. However, this modern translation, and the contemporary reader, would have been benefited from the romanisation of the Greek. Moreover, it seems thoughtless that a German-English glossary has been included yet there is no such consideration for a Greek equivalent. A further concern is that the idea of an index has been completely abandoned altogether. The absence of which is of great disservice to the scholar unable to recollect a much needed quote or passage. This edition could also have been improved with an introduction to contextualise the present volume. What was the purpose of these lectures, what preceded them, how does this build upon Heidegger’s project, and what original insights does it offer? In conclusion, to those in the know, the content offers illumination on the ontological trajectory initiated in Being and Time; however, to those less acquainted, this particular edition does not.