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Heidegger's Unpublished Seminars on Aristotle as Preserved by Helene Weiss Book Cover Heidegger's Unpublished Seminars on Aristotle as Preserved by Helene Weiss
Francisco J. Gonzalez
Indiana University Press

Federico Dal Bo: Judaism, Philosophy, and Psychoanalysis in Heidegger’s Ontology, Palgrave Macmillan, 2023

Judaism, Philosophy, and Psychoanalysis in Heidegger’s Ontology Book Cover Judaism, Philosophy, and Psychoanalysis in Heidegger’s Ontology
Federico Dal Bo
Palgrave Macmillan Cham

Nicolai K. Knudsen: Heidegger’s Social Ontology

Heidegger’s Social Ontology. The Phenomenology of Self, World, and Others Book Cover Heidegger’s Social Ontology. The Phenomenology of Self, World, and Others
Part of Modern European Philosophy
Nicolai K. Knudsen
Cambridge UP

Reviewed by: Joeri Schrijvers (North-West University, Potchefstroom)

The aim of this work is to examine Heidegger’s social ontology, roughly the human being’s relation to others. In eight chapters Knudsen elaborates Heidegger’s thinking of being-with, different forms of being-with (such as shared action) and, say, the politics of being-with. Knudsen, understandably, focuses on the early Heidegger and attempts to relate Heidegger’s thinking concerning social relations to fields that, quite often, have not studied Heidegger at length to develop their positions: one will find, for instance, accounts of Hilary Putnam alongside Heidegger.

This dialogue between the two big strands of contemporary philosophy is perhaps not always successful even though it at times surely is illuminating. Knudsen’s book, however, takes a slow start and at times gets lost somewhat in the definition-craze that haunts much of analytical philosophy (a craze that is a bit ironic when compared to Heidegger’s questioning of what a being actually “is”, for Heidegger obviously never allowed a definition to exhaust the being of an entity). Knudsen throughout offers a very lucid account of Heidegger’s positions—certainly when it comes to Being and Time—and of contemporary thinkers in the field of social ontology. It is clear, too, that Knudsen is somewhat enamored with phenomenology—who can blame him! Yet, although Knudsen for instance assumes the normativity of phenomenology—one must “get the phenomenology right” (130-1)—it is hard to imagine whether this alone will convince his dialogue partners. It is this that makes this reader wonder whether the dialogue between the two strands of philosophy here has always succeeded.

In the Introduction already, Knudsen describes Heidegger as an externalist: the reality of the outside world, better, the “solicitations of the environment” (2), make for the fact that the human being is always caught in, and claimed by, a network of relations on which he or she, in turn “constitutively depends” which puts Heidegger “at odds with […] contemporary analytical social ontology as well as recent social phenomenology” (5) which both see individuals or the dyadic relation between the other and me as the ultimate level of explanation. Using a term from Donald Davidson, Knudsen describes Dasein’s relation to the world and to others as triangulation: Dasein understands itself through the world which it always shares with others.

Chapter one sets out to elaborate Heidegger’s social ontology by pointing to a transcendental social structure according to which entities, properties, social and natural alike, appear as they do because “subjectivity itself implies a set of necessary and a priori social relations” (19) that is, the transcendental structure of intentionality as such already “implies a form of intersubjectivity” (22). I am who I am only by virtue of others. Sociality, then, is not something that is construed, constructed or constituted afterwards, after, that is, the ego is fully erected. This is why social ontology is an ontology precisely: it does not pertain to just a domain of existence, but rather is a dimension of existence itself (23).

Knudsen then proceeds by showing how Heidegger early on attempted to integrate “social ontology into fundamental ontology” (23), an attempt that, for Knudsen, is complete only in 1924 in Heidegger’s The Concept of Time, when he finally abandons all ambiguous distinctions between the surrounding world, the self-world and the with-world by pointing to a fundamental Miteinandersein of all beings with all beings. (24-28). Other Dasein are strictly speaking not a part of the world, a “form of world” (29), they share world with us because being-in-the-world, as an ontological dimension, is itself shared and spread out through all Dasein. Of course, the world of the other is different than my world. Yet the social ontological dimension of ‘being-in-the-world’ points to an underlying structure which is shared in all different and particular worlds. Being-in-the-world therefore consists in a “non-thematic awareness” (32) that is only “tacitly operative in our thematic awareness of an object” (32): we are hammering with this particular hammer long before this hammer shows up as a hammer precisely. Being-in-the-world, then, ultimately “is the relational whole of significance that makes our involvement with entities possible” (33). Our being-in-the-world is, however, not strictly formal or void. The world of the other and my world both share certain characteristics. Heidegger points here to in-order-to relations (Umzu) and the for-sake-of-which of these relations (Worumwillen). I hammer with the hammer in order to build the shed for the sake of the dog. Knudsen likens these in-order-to’s to the contemporary concept of affordances and the for-the-sake-of-which to a form of commitment (33).

Knudsen then quite poignantly warns us not to see this being-in-the-world solely as a “basic layer” or rather as “the non-social building blocks needed to understand all features of social life” (35). It is not because Dasein always and already has this transcendental make-up that it can turn to others. On the contrary: it is because Dasein is already turned to others that this transcendental-make up can be detected in the various particular worlds. Knudsen concludes by stating, intriguingly, that “there is a very minimal sense of the word to share at stake here” (38)

Chapter two compares the transcendental social ontologies of Husserl and Heidegger. In Husserl, there are for Knudsen two approaches, the one beginning from empathy—which Heidegger for the most part rejects—and the other starting from “open subjectivity” which is closer to Heidegger (38-45). Meaning is neither constructed by or given to a subject (which it then compares to the meaning of and for others), meaning has meaning only because it ‘shows up’ between us and because there are others in the first place. There is no meaning for one alone. Herein too lies Heidegger’s critique of Husserl’s layered ontology (48): there is no real and objective meaning that then needs to be traced back to the transcendental structure of an ego that then builds a spiritual community with other egos. On the contrary, for Heidegger, all of these are there quite immediately. Knudsen concludes that Husserl, for Heidegger, “proceeds in an unphenomenological way” (51).

The question is in what way Heidegger’s approach then is still to be considered transcendental. Knudsen correctly points to Heidegger’s use of “transcendence” in Being and Time. “Transcendence is the primordial surpassing of entities towards the structure that makes them intelligible [which is] the world. Transcendence names the phenomenological correlation between mind and world, and the investigation of this correlation is rightly called transcendental” (56). In a beautiful definition, Knudsen defines Heidegger’s phenomenological approach as follows: “Phenomenologically, to be a subject is to exist in an experiential field as the one to whom experiences are given” (57). One will then see that the “mind is intrinsically world-directed and -engaged, while the world is phenomenologically senseless apart from the mind” (ibid.). Heidegger so adds a worldly, experiential, almost empirical, but in any case utterly historical dimension to transcendental thinking. Indeed, “our surpassing entities towards the world always take place in a particular or finite way” (58). Dasein’s transcending is always particular—it transcends to this rather than that, at this particular place rather than there—but it is a transcending nevertheless. It is open to the field of possibilities opened up to it by this particular place in time.

Chapter three’s worry about this historical dimension is that it might be an instance of relativism. If “different people have different understandings of being” (69), how then can they “refer to the same objects” (71)? The chapter focuses on Lafont’s account of linguistic idealism and Dreyfus’ pragmatic conventionalism but sometimes seems to get lost somewhat in the peculiarities of these positions. It takes Knudsen a long time to get their points straight and to bring his own point home. Let us therefore turn to its conclusion and Heidegger’s take on the problem mentioned. Knudsen finds in Heidegger’s Introduction to Philosophy (from 1928/29) an example of joint attention, in which “there is a mutual non-thematic awareness between the co-intenders, who are thematically oriented towards an object that is, accordingly, experienced as a shared object of attention” (78). Here Heidegger had in fact asked “what enables several people to intend the same piece of chalk?” (ibid.) when attending his lecture. All of them are looking at the piece of chalk, for a while unawares of the precise educational point of the shared attention for this object and non-thematically aware that the others, too, are watching this piece of chalk held up by Heidegger. Yet all, because their field of possibilities in this case too is determined by their particular situation and backgrounds will look at the object differently. The teacher looks at the chalk differently than the students do: for the teacher it is a tool in order to teach, whereas for the student the tool is unnoticed—surpassed say—in order to focus on what will be taught. “This leads Heidegger to argue that a strict similarity in our practical comportment is simply too demanding a criterion for determining what constitutes their jointness” (79)—“even if we see things differently, we do not see different things” (78).

It is this play of sharing and dividing that now attracts Knudsen’s attention: for Heidegger, “we share and divide ourselves in [the] unconcealment [of entities]” (81, cf. GA27, 105)—we share the very looking at this object yet are divided in the meaning our comportment towards them attributes to these objects. “Two Dasein can intend the same object in roughly similar ways if they share an understanding of being by being raised in the same social practices” (82). Yet this doesn’t make Heidegger a relativist or a strong social externalist like Lafont or Dreyfus, where (social) meaning solely determines reference. Instead, “Heidegger endorse a weak or open-ended social externalism according to which meaning depends on ongoing social interaction” (83). These Dasein, however foreign to one another, will figure it out simply because Dasein is such a figuring out (of potential uses for objects).

This “figuring-out” is used here figuratively, although it is described by Heidegger quite literally as a “non-thematic other-awareness” (84) even when no others are around. Objects take on meaning because their use is useful if and only if it can be, sooner or later, related to others. Usefulness only ever arises because each Dasein is as the sharing of world with others. Knudsen emphasizes rightly that this transcendental-ontological condition of being-with, this non-thematic awareness is a form of communication. For Knudsen, “Heidegger’s point is that whenever another Dasein shows up in my realm of manifestation, his behavior will affect how I comport myself towards the surrounding entities” (85) because, in effect, we are constitutively open towards others” (86). It is because we are constitutively open to others—share ourselves in and as world, are broken open toward world—that not one object is without a reference to others even when no others are around to communicate with.

Knudsen likens this openness to Donald Davidson’s idea of triangulation where, on the one hand, we adjust our understanding of objects in light of other’s behavior, of social relations, and, on the other hand, we adjust our understanding of these others through sharing the environment, through objective relations (87). Such, if I may, transcendental triangulation is first. Prior to “shared conventions, rules, or routines” (88) there is, Heidegger says, an “originary, essential agreement” of human beings with one another (ibid., Cf. GA 29/30, 447f) and through which Dasein, throughout, comport themselves to entities in roughly the same ontological way. The remainder of the chapter explores the differences between Heidegger’s take on language and that of Davidson, Lafont, or Dreyfus who all, in one way or another, want to trace this linguistic condition of possibility back to propositional attitudes or at least shared linguistic conventions whereas for Heidegger the sharing of world goes “beyond the exchange of linguistic utterances” (92).

Heidegger’s “pre-reflective triangulation” (93) is such that even if we would meet someone who is totally other, we would still see and use the same entity, simply because our diverse interactions with it, and the possible uses the other of this entity that the other might manifest to us. Even if we do not share the same understanding of being, we will nonetheless both have an understanding of being. In the case of the lectern or the piece of chalk, this open interaction would show “the lectern not simply in light of the usage characteristic of the social practices that he is socialized into” (94) but as an entity toward which other comportments are possible too. Knudsen, quite rightly, concludes that “the idea that different people live in different worlds should be rejected” (95).

The second part of the book focuses on different forms of being-with, and opens with a chapter on interpersonal understanding. What indeed do we know about others? What do others know and how do we know others? Knudsen explores the phenomenological tradition of empathy, ranging from Theodor Lipps up to Edith Stein and Husserl as well as more contemporary (but analogous) debates on social cognition. Heidegger however was no clear partisan of these theories of empathy: the fact that an ego would need to ‘think about’ how the other would possibly feel only then to imagine if and whether the ego ‘would feel’ roughly the same thing, simply contradicts Heidegger’s non-reflective, immediate dealing with the other and others where we recognize the other as other before we would even try to project upon or reproduce artificially the other’s supposedly mental states. Heidegger, in this sense, “effectively dissolves the traditional problem of other minds” (109), since this problem is from the outset regulated by “non-thematic awareness”. It is because the other shares a world with me, constituted by a similar Umzu and Worumwillen, that we can “read [intentional statements] off the practical comportment of others” (109).

When we see a human being, we do not first wonder whether this is in fact a human being who thinks, feels and senses like me, we simply see a human being with whom we are interacting. This turns Heidegger, for Knudsen, into a “proto-enactivist” (ibid.), one of those recent theories nowadays advocated by Hanne De Jaegher’s research into participatory sense-making. Over and against the theoretical and cognitive bias of many of contemporary theories, Heidegger also criticizes the older phenomenological tradition for wrongfully prioritizing the face-to-face relation. Our understanding with others is “cut from the same holistic cloth as our understanding of ourselves” (112). For Knudsen’s Heidegger, this means that “interpersonal understanding cannot be a relation between two distinct entities. It can only take place by virtue of the transcendence of the shared world in which I and you coexist as different polarisations of a field of possibilities” (114). I understand the other, and the other understands me, because both of us live similarly in a roughly similar world with roughly similar entities at hand. It is by “going along with”—Mitgehen—the other seeing how he or she is and comports his-or herself that we discover what it is like to be this entity. It is therefore through an immediate non-reflective Versetzen or “transposition” that we understand the place of the other (Cf. 114-5; GA 29/30, 296) and discover that the other’s behavior is appropriate for a being that is being-in-the-world. There is little interaction with the stone, for instance. The stone, for Heidegger, does not have a world: it lack all Worumwillen and Umzu. In this regard, the other turns out to be just another “polarization of the same matrix of salience” living in a world which is “meaningful” and “makes sense” from the very start.

Here Knudsen disagrees with some commentators of Heidegger who argued that his account of solicitude—roughly: the care for the other—contains an “inauthentic” mode in which the other would be, à la Kant, reduced to a mere means to an end. Knudsen, interestingly, argues that all forms of solicitude, even those where we leap in for others and take their tasks away from them, “involve a minimal level” (119) of the acknowledgement of the other’s Dasein-like character. The distinction between leaping-in and leaping ahead is then not an ethical one (where the former would be bad and the latter good) but rather an ontological one: it depicts two ontological extremes of intersubjective care for the other (120). Knudsen convincingly concludes this discussion with some examples of his own that in effect carefully deconstruct why leaping-in would always be a bad thing and leaping-ahead would everywhere be a good thing.

Is there a transpositioning, a “going-along-with”, a walking the ways, with dogs, animals and stones? Heidegger’s example of the dog “under the table” became famous (notably through Jacques Derrida’s unrelenting analysis). Heidegger, one might say, directs his attention phenomenologically to the dog: he goes up the stairs with us, eats with us, and walks the same pathways as Heidegger once did. “There is a going-along-with […] a transposedness, and yet not” (121, GA 29: 308). Something is different. Heidegger says: the animal is poor in world. The animal, Knudsen states, “can only experience entities as correlates of its drives and capabilities” (125). The dog’s world only pertains to his next meal, say, whereas the world of humans is open-ended and characterized by a multiplication, Vermehrbarkeit (GA 29, 285) through which ever more entities can obtain ever more uses. This makes for the fact that, in the end, for Heidegger “the world sharing is asymmetrical” (127): we can transpose ourselves in the dog, know immediately to run away from a snake, and know not to run away from the gorilla if he’s in a cage in a zoo. We transpose ourselves into animals but animals cannot be expected to transpose themselves into us (127).

Chapter five focuses on shared action and opens with the constatation that many of the contemporary accounts—Knudsen mentions Gilbert, Searle, and Bratman—are overly intellectualistic and should be complemented with a phenomenology of action, which will speak, again, of a “pre-reflective agency” (131) responding as it does to solicitations of the surrounding world. Knudsen pays attention to “small-scale, egalitarian, and temporary group formations” (ibid.), say, people involved in dancing, in order to argue for a “plural pre-reflective self-awareness” (ibid.) whereas existential phenomenology, in its early days at least, tended to focus on rather individualistic actions.

Shared action meets three conditions: we are with more than one, we are forming a group, and we are aware of us forming a group (132). We are doing things together when we know that we are doing things together. It is on the latter, quite intellectualistic, aspect that Gilbert and Bratman focus. Once more Knudsen shows himself to be enamored with phenomenology: “we often engage in intentional activity without being aware of the desire and beliefs that supposedly distinguish our actions from mere bodily movement” (136). Yet such “pre-reflective action” does carry some awareness with it: I know that I am dancing and know that we are dancing without consciously representing a desired goal for this action. It is clear that most of our actions are in this sense pre-reflective. The rest of the chapter asks whether such a prereflective awareness is also present in groups. In this regard, Knudsen discusses Hans Bernhard Schmid’s work on plural action and argues that it misses precisely an account of “holistic singular self-awareness” (141) through which actions are always and already a response (rather than a reaction) to what is happening in the surrounding world: we go dancing, for instance, because suddenly there is a good tune or a good ‘vibe’. At best, Schmid arrives at a “formal social mind” (144)—we are aware that we are dancing—but not at an, say, empirical one, one that is “unified by the solicitations that prompt us to respond” (144): it is this particular song that got us on the dancefloor. To elaborate such an awareness, Knudsen then develops and expands an example of Heidegger describing the joint goals and joint actions of two campers (GA 27, 91).

Interestingly, Knudsen returns to Heidegger’s account of language—Gerede—to show how individual action is transformed into shared action. The simple exclamation, ‘Dance with me’, for instance, changes one kind of solicitation into another kind, shared this time, of solicitation of the environment (152). More than in the earlier chapters on intersubjectivity, Knudsen focuses on the ontological aspects of Heidegger’s social ontology, for just as we are with others even when we are alone, just so are we speaking even when we are silent or just listen or read (154, Cf GA 12, 9). There is an overlap between world and speech: world is what is spoken about, what “makes sense” prior to being put into one or the other proposition. In this regard, the song that get us on the dancefloor is just the empirical case that expresses, makes salient, an environment that already is “inherently shared [,] inherently expressive [and to which we are] inherently responsive” (156).

Chapter six discusses social normativity. Here too Heidegger’s account, for Knudsen, is “phenomenologically crucial” (166) amidst the ongoing contemporary debates. Heidegger was no fan of social conventions and his discussion of Das Man—the anyone—makes this quite clear. Knudsen engages in very detailed and intriguing reading of the ambiguities in Heidegger’s thinking of the anyone’s mediocrity where everyone does, reads, and says what everyone does, reads and says. Knudsen argues that “the anyone [is] reproduced by the weight of precedent alone” (168): we read what everyone reads, in a sense, because people have been reading this all along. Heidegger’s ultimate aim here is to “uncover the ontological foundation of our responsiveness to social norms” (170) rather than describe Dasein’s “desire for social affirmation”, as Fredrik Westerlund has it (ibid.). With Haugeland, Knudsen explores the ‘weight of precedent’: we do as always has been done because we are “temporal creatures with habits and memories” (171) and so tend to “reproduce” certain behavioral norms rather than others. This process of “stabilization” (ibid.), as Haugeland names it, will for Heidegger always amount to a sort of primacy of averageness and levelling down. “We unconsciously accept a standard way of doing things” (172).

Knudsen quite convincingly shows that there is no one-way ticket from the inauthenticity of the Anyone to the authenticity of a “proper” Dasein. Instead, the Anyone for Knudsen is a “necessary feature of Dasein” (173) that, at times however, can be reconciled with the quest for an authentic self. Dasein does “have options” (174): it is not condemned to the unfreedom dominating the Anyone. Knudsen ultimately argues that the Anyone or the “public” covers up aspects of the accepted and prevailing social norms in a very peculiar way: it tends to turn the current and standard set of social norms into an ahistorical, absolute set of social norms (175). Our way of doing things then becomes the way of doing things. With this thesis, we have reached the heart of Knudsen’s book—at least for this reader coming from the phenomenological tradition. For Knudsen, it is, on the one hand, necessary “that there are social norms”—this is the transcendental, existential aspect—yet what these norms concretely and empirically are differs throughout history—they are ontic, historical indeed, and therefore provisional. It is these latter chapters, in which Knudsen develops this insight, that one finds the most read-worthy passages of the book.

Especially interesting is Knudsen’s take on Heidegger’s odd, if not awkward, stress on the “destiny of the people” which, as we all know, starts in Being and Time and only keeps worsening after 1927. Knudsen turns to Heidegger’s account of historicity, late in Being and Time, and considers that there is a distinction between the Anyone and the concrete “happening of community” (176, SZ, 384) what Knudsen calls “historical social normativity” and through which “the same content, the same social norms are […] disclosed as historical rather than as universal defaults” (176).

Yet what to make of Heidegger’s thinking of the “people”, the Volk? Knudsen makes a great deal of Heidegger’s statement in Being and Time that it is possible for us to disclose “history emphatically” (SZ, 376). This would make it possible for an authentic self to both recognize the normative content of social norms and their historical, provisional character (179). It is in this sense that, to echo Heidegger’s wording, authenticity is a “new modality” (ibid.) of the existence of the Anyone. “In resoluteness […] social norms are handed down as handed down. We thereby come to see our socially inflected factical possibilities as heritage rather than as defaults” (180). We have inherited this possibility of organizing a society rather than that one, yet it is entirely possible and legitimate for a society to organize itself in an entirely other way. If we want to belong to a certain group and certain people then there is always, apart from awareness of all historicity of these social norms, the possibility of explicitly repeating them. In effect, “repetition”, is the more or less explicit choice to hand down the earlier norms again. “Dasein now chooses to follow a precent as a precedent or as heritage” (181), yet that still is “an ultimately contingent product of our historical situation” (ibid.). Dasein so becomes aware of its own historical community as a particular community which happens here, now and for the time being: the “destiny of this people”, of this particular community, is nothing more than the co-happening of all its constituents for this particular amount of time. I can decide to take part in, say, the Belgian community, to claim this as “my own”, to use the possibilities and habits and memories the Belgian community offers me, and so commit myself to the prolongation of this community by realizing that these possibilities are offered up here, now as possibilities next to a dozen of other, historical possibilities (of others, of other communities).

It is clear that Knudsen sees in Being and Time no “precursor to Heidegger’s fatal politics” (182) as early on Karl Löwith did. This is quite right. Being and Time was one of the first metaphysical works ever to be immersed in historicity that it would be downright strange if it in its concluding pages would settle for one or the other predestined destiny. Such a thing comes to Heidegger’s mind only later. But one needs to acknowledge, too, that Being and Time was not finished (and breaks off quite suddenly, with a question that was already present at the beginning): it is possible that Heidegger realized that with the “destiny” of the people, why not of being, other, less commendable, options were opened and that the book “failed” for the simple reason that its author could not decide where he wanted to stand, what choices had to be made. Knudsen concludes: “there is no necessary connection between Heidegger’s conception of history and his political engagement” (184). Let it be noted indeed.

It is true that in the thirties and early fourties Heidegger thinks he must, and can, think politically. “The general idea is that Hölderlin’s poetry can bring about an awareness of and a commitment to the particularity of the community” (185). At the very least, there is the willingness and desire to make people commit to a certain community. One might suspect that existentialism’s insistence on the freedom of the individual was, at best, a productive misunderstanding. In this period, though, Knudsen states Heidegger is occupied by three themes: the fragility of communal life, the pressure toward social coherence and the significance of communal commitments (186). At one of the rare moments Knudsen turns to late Heidegger, he reads this important distinction into the difference between polis and dike: the first is equivalent “to the existential-ontological sense of the shared world”, the latter “names the particular regime of historical normativity” (187) to which Dasein, always already, falls prey (and commits to, or not). This is why the latter is labelled as strife or conflict: decisions need to be made, there needs to be education, and institutions to enable these decisions. The question remains: if one realizes the utter contingency of one’s own community, how and why prolong this community? (Existentialism’s questions are philosophically legitimate). Yet, “on a personal level’, Knudsen states, “Heidegger took this idea to imply authoritarianism and nationalism” (192): someone will tell us that and how we need to commit and that we should commit to this particular community. However, and Knudsen is right here, one might just as well find oneself within a particular community without perhaps too much commitment, and just ask questions as Heidegger used to do: why and what does it mean to be in this community for seventy odd years or so, and why should I commit to these norms rather than others? There is indeed no need for “reactionary politics” like Heidegger’s very particular stance (192).

“Heidegger’s answer to why we should hold exactly these communal commitments is [more] interesting” (199). Indeed it is. Chapter seven opens with precisely this question. At least from 1935 onward, Heidegger believed that the historical task fell to Germany to prevent, as Derrida stated in Of Spirit, the phenomenon of the world from becoming obscured. It was the German state, with the aid of a thorough educational system, in which the people, Das Volk, would give itself a lasting body in which the people becomes an issue for itself (203). It is known, especially from the account of the seminars gathered in Nature, History, State, that Heidegger endorsed, perhaps somewhat unthoughtfully, the Führerprinzip. Yet, Knudsen argues, “Heidegger never offers any argument for this authoritarianism, but it is an intrinsic part of his politics” (ibid.). Authoritarianism is needed to enforce the goal of the state and of the people. Yet Heidegger, here too, wants that these people actually adhere to these goals, and consciously will them by committing to them. In this regard, “Heidegger sees education as a way of tying studentS to the state” (204), as a way of making them aware of the “historical task” weighing on them when taking part in the state and the community.

With Löwith, Knudsen therefore contends that Heidegger’s politics is built upon his conception of historicity from Being and Time onward. Yet, Knudsen, contra Löwith, wants us to distinguish between the need and possibility of communal commitments—an adherence to a particular, historical community—and authoritarianism or fascism (206). There is something to be said about the fact that Heidegger’s fascism is tied up with his notion of the “history of being”. But Knudsen is lucid enough to pinpoint the “highly ambiguous” (206) character of this concept in Heidegger’s writings and offers no less than five different definitions of the term of which only a moderate version is “fine-grained enough to yield convincing phenomenological analysis” (208). This moderate version instruct us “that each historical age is characterized by a particular understanding of being” (206). This, say, historicity of being is incompatible with the larger (and somewhat grandiose) claim that this history of being is nothing but a history of decline and that only a particular state is able to remedy or otherwise turnaround this nihilistic unfolding of being. In this sense, the “geopolitical knot” that Heidegger superimposed on the historicity of being, through which certain people are more (or less) nihilistic than others simply does not hold (209). Heidegger’s “politics”, in that sense, was never a “political philosophy”: these politics, Knudsen argues, were only indirectly important and were to aid the “metaphysical revolution” (208) Heidegger deemed necessary through which his students, through studying “relentlessly the craft of interpreting the great thinkers” (ibid.; GA 94, 389), would awaken to a new understanding of being that stepped outside of nihilism.

Heidegger’s efforts “to [map] different peoples onto the history of being” (212) are obviously “appalling” (209). Yet it should not make us blind for the fact that, in the Notebooks recording his disappointment with the movement, Heidegger realized that the ease with which he spoke of the “Russians”, the “Americans” and the “Jews” did not hold even for the “Germans”: “somewhat despite himself, [he] realized that the Germans are not a unified people with a single fate” (212). Heidegger realized, in effect, and to put it bluntly, that these students couldn’t care less about his metaphysical revolution—“they are disappointing all along the line” (GA 94, 116). Will he have realized that there was no way to educate the nazis, that they were “without world”, so to say, or at least without German Bildung? Perhaps.

In any case, Heidegger abandons all hope in the movement for a metaphysical revolution. The point is, Knudsen says, that “from this tension emerges another conception of the history of being” (213) no longer bound to “geopolitics and communal commitments” (ibid.): Only a God, supposedly the last one, can save us now. The importance of this chapter lies, however, elsewhere, in the mistakes against his own social ontology Knudsen mentions. First, Heidegger’s insistence that the Führer can act as an “ontological sovereign” (215) that can inaugurate a new epoch of being disregards the fact that no one can “step outside” being-with, where “meaning is an indeterminate product of social interaction. [Now] Heidegger takes meaning to be the product of creative acts of creative individuals” (ibid). Over and against the “high-brow” accounts of poets, leaders, and, why not, philosophers, there still stands the phenomenological messiness of being-with certain people in a certain place at a certain time. Next comes, with this, the confusion between ontic and ontological conceptions of community: “the world is no longer shared by equals” (216). Rather, someone steps out to once and for all distribute the terms and goals of this world-sharing. Meaning is then no longer open-ended, surging forth to speak like late Heidegger, from our different interactions, meaning is stabilized—a word Heidegger did not like—in its distribution from the leader to the all members of a community. What is more, once the “phenomenological sense of the historical” (217), through which we become aware of our historical norms as just that, contingent and historical norms, loses its formal character but “concerns content” (ibid.) through which certain people are lesser (or more) able to disclose historicity, “an element of historiological historicity [is] incorporated (ibid.). In other words, something very ontic enters into the mix which Heidegger, in Being and Time at least (but later too, when distinguishing between Historie and Geschichte) always wanted to avoid. Yet, the phenomenological sense mentioned above would “have avoided these problems […] different people or different communities instantiate this condition [of being-with] in different ways depending on their facticity but they never inhabit different worlds” (218). Heidegger’s historicism is, Knudsen concludes, no longer radical enough, no longer able to combine transcendentalism and historicity through which the transcendental take on being-in-the-world becomes aware of its own historical stance as well—we all have world but the world we have differs from people to people and from era to era.

Knudsen’s last chapter discusses Heidegger’s early take on authenticity. How are we take up our own historical fate, especially given no poets or philosophers can tell us once and for all what to do? Knudsen’ aim is “to dispel”, here too, “th[e] individualistic worry” (227). Knudsen understands authenticity first and foremost as a formal framework: I am not authentic when I understand my self from out of one or the other innerworldly entity or activity. Very much like one needs to become aware of social historical normativity as a historical normativity, so too Dasein must become aware of itself as a particular being that ‘is’ only as this particular, individual historical being. It is here, obviously, that the analysis of death plays a prominent role: nothing makes me more aware of my own contingency than a sense of my mortality. Dasein now understands that “it lives its life with reference to the possibilities afforded to it by its being along things and with others” (247) as a “being-possible” (246) amidst all finite possibilities. This formal being-possible is the only constancy that determinate Dasein is granted amidst all “ontological insecurity” (247). It is this ontological transparency—we become a question to ourselves precisely because we understand ourselves as a question, that is, as being thrown into a contingent, open-ended, finite world—that makes for a “non-political way in which the philosopher might become the leader […] of others” (256) by awakening these others too to this ontological question mark that we all are, yet, that we all are together.

Knudsen’s book contains some very thoughtful analysis and shows a deep understanding of Being and Time especially. Certainly, one needs patience to read Knudsen’s book, but such a slow read will pay off and one will be thoroughly instructed about Heidegger’s rightful place within the field of social ontology, mainly through Knudsen’s useful overviews of the extant secondary literature. The links between the sometimes quite diverse chapters, however, might have been somewhat better elaborated.

Yet one can wonder what the target-audience, as publishers call it these days, of the book precisely is: it risks to leave both Heideggerians and the analytical audience somewhat unsatisfied. Readers of Heidegger will at times be bothered by the overly anthropological reading of his work and, certainly the readers of later Heidegger, will search in vain for the ontological viewpoint that is present even in Heidegger’s history of being and thinking of Ereignis. As mentioned, the author is clearly enamored with the discipline of phenomenology and I have listed those instances when it is commended that we must get the phenomenology right. Yet, his appeal to phenomenology is at times somewhat naïve, if not superficial. There’s more to phenomenology than just an appeal to the immediacy of experience. Heidegger’s entire endeavor, furthermore, is an account of what is, not of what we experience—there’s a subtle difference to be noted. As it now stands, this account of phenomenology is far from convincing for those who still think that truth is indeed a property of a set of propositions. That there is a social ontology in Heidegger, however, and one that is thoroughly to be reckoned with in the current debates, that is shown more than convincingly.

Edith Stein: Ser finito, ser eterno, Ediciones Encuentro, 2023

Ser finito, ser eterno: Intento de un ascenso al sentido del ser Book Cover Ser finito, ser eterno: Intento de un ascenso al sentido del ser
Nuevo Ensayo
Edith Stein. Edición y traducción de Mariano Crespo
Ediciones Encuentro
Paperback 28,00 €

Karl Kraatz: Das Sein zur Sprache bringen. Die Formale Anzeige als Kern der Begriffs- und Bedeutungstheorie Martin Heideggers

Das Sein zur Sprache bringen Book Cover Das Sein zur Sprache bringen
Karl Kraatz
Königshausen & Neumann
Paperback 48,00 €

Reviewed by: Robert Reimer (Universität Leipzig)

In dem Methodenkapitel von Sein und Zeit schreibt Martin Heidegger, dass die Aufgabe der Phänomenologie darin besteht, „[d]as was sich zeigt, so wie es sich von ihm selbst her zeigt, von ihm selbst her sehen lassen.“ (Heidegger 2006, 34) Meistens ist es allerdings so, dass die Dinge, so wie sie sich von ihnen selbst her zeigen, nicht sehen gelassen werden. Insbesondere die Wissenschaften versuchen alles Seiende zu verobjektiviert und es einem einheitlichen materiellen Deutungsprinzip zu unterwerfen. Ein gutes Beispiel für ein solches oft unangemessen verstandenes Phänomen ist das Dasein selbst – also wir Menschen – und die uns zugehörigen Seins- und Lebensformen (ibid. 44). Genauer gesagt neigen wir selbst dazu, uns von dem Seienden her zu verstehen, was wir selbst nicht sind, was uns aber innerhalb der Welt ständig begegnet – also als einen materiellen Gegenstand unter vielen (ibid., 58). Damit wir die Dinge so sehen lassen, wie sie sich von ihnen selbst her zeigen (oder erscheinen), muss die Phänomenologie uns dabei helfen, einige der Verdeckungen zurückzuweisen, die wir als Erkennende mit unserer wissenschaftlich dominierten Begrifflichkeit an sie herantragen. Man könnte sagen, dass die phänomenologische Methode nach Heidegger eine Art mäeutisches Moment in sich trägt, das zur Selbstreflexion anregt: Mit ihrer Begrifflichkeit erschließt sie die Dinge auf eine Weise, dass wir sie (indem wir uns von unserem vorurteilsbehafteten Blick befreien) auch so sehen, wie sie sich von ihnen selbst her zeigen.

Um dieses wesentliche Moment der phänomenologischen Methode und Begrifflichkeit explizit zu machen, verwendet Heidegger vor allem in den früheren Schriften den Ausdruck ‚formale Anzeige‘. Karl Kraatz‘ Buch Das Sein zur Sprache bringen hat es sich nun zur Aufgabe gemacht, die Entwicklung der formalen Anzeige in Heideggers Werk nachzuvollziehen, ihre Möglichkeit und Notwendigkeit zu begründen (Kraatz 2022, 25) sowie deren drei wesentliche Charaktere – den explikativen, den prohibitiven und den transformativen Charakter – zu bestimmen (ibid., 28-29). Explikativ ist die formale Anzeige, insofern formalanzeigende Begriffe die Zugangssituation sowie den Verstehensvollzug desjenigen ‚Ich‘ explizit macht, welches das jeweilige Phänomen verstehen will (ibid., 47, 137). Prohibitiv ist die formale Anzeige, insofern ein formal anzeigender Begriff die Einordnung des Phänomens in ein bestimmtes (wissenschaftliches) Sachgebiet abwehrt, wodurch der konkrete Bezug des Begriffs für das erkennende Ich offengehalten wird (ibid., 91; siehe auch Heidegger 1994, 141). Transformativ ist die formale Anzeige, insofern sich das Ich nach dieser negativen Abwehr in eines verwandelt, das die zuvor verdeckten Phänomene ‚eigentlich hat‘ und sieht (Kraatz, 2022, 193).

Kraatz behauptet, dass ein wesentlicher Wert seines Buches in dem Nachweis besteht, dass das Gefühl der Angst, das Heidegger in Sein und Zeit beschreibt, der Schlüssel dazu ist, um vor allem diesen dritten Charakterzug zu verstehen. Allgemeiner gesagt, sei die formale Anzeige abhängig von der Befindlichkeit der Angst, genauer: von deren spezifischen Erschließungscharakteren, in dem Sinne, dass die philosophische Sprache entsprechend ‚gestimmt‘ sein muss, um Sein formal anzuzeigen (ibid., 148). In diesem argumentativen Schritt besteht wohl das größte Wagnis des Buches, da damit Methodenanalyse (vor allem aus den früheren Schriften) und Daseinsanalye (aus Sein und Zeit) in einem konkreten Fall zusammen gedacht werden. Anders ausgedrückt liest Kraatz Sein und Zeit so, als sei eines der Phänomene, die das Dasein in seiner Eigentlichkeit und Uneigentlichkeit auszeichnen – die Angst –, auch das Phänomen, das das Verstehen formal-anzeigender Begriffe im Allgemeinen kennzeichnet. Dies ist insofern zumindest ein Wagnis, als dass Heidegger, wie Kraatz selbst bemerkt, in Sein und Zeit nur sehr selten das Wort ‚formalanzeigend‘ verwendet und die formale Anzeige schon gar nicht als Methode einführt (ibid., 25, 127). Aber es ist eben auch eine Schwierigkeit, weil das Phänomen der Angst nicht so viele Parallelen zu den Charakterzügen der formalen Anzeige aufweist, wie Kraatz behauptet.

Diese Textbesprechung soll aus drei Abschnitten bestehen. Im ersten Abschnitt werde ich allgemein darauf eingehen, wie Kraatz die ersten beiden Charakterzüge der formalen Anzeige erschließt und definiert. Im zweiten Abschnitt werde ich kritisch beleuchten, wie laut Kraatz die Angst mit dem dritten Charakterzug der formalen Anzeige zusammenhängt und warum sie dem Verstehensprozess formal-anzeigender Begriffe zugrundeliegen soll. Im letzten Abschnitt werde ich noch kurz auf Teil V des Buches eingehen, worin es um die Einbettung der formalen Analyse in Heideggers allgemeine Bedeutungs- und Begriffstheorie geht.

1 Die formale Anzeige als explikative und prohibitive Methode

Das Buch beginnt mit dem wiederholten Hinweis darauf, dass die Phänomenologie einer spezifischen Mitteilungsmethode bedarf, die Heidegger ‚formale Anzeige‘ nennt. Konkret erfahren wir als Lesende zunächst, dass sie anti-wissenschaftlich verfahren muss, das heißt, alltagsnah und nicht verobjektivierend. Sie muss auf ‚das je eigene Ich‘ oder die je eigene Person und deren jeweilige Verstehenssituation aufmerksam machen (ibid., 42, 44, 47, 51). Damit soll der Tatsache entgegengekommen werden, dass bei dem Verstehensvollzug eines Begriffs schon immer ein bestimmtes alltägliches Vorverständnis des zu Begreifenden bei uns Erkennenden mitschwingt. Dieses kann den Bezug auf den Gegenstand – sein ‚Haben’ – leiten und ihm Bedeutung verleihen (ibid., 54). Während die wissenschaftliche Sprache diesen Bezug auf das Ich verdrängt, das mögliche alltägliche Vorverständnis verdeckt und so das Bedeutungshafte für das Ich zerstört (ibid. 72-74), ist es das Ziel der formalen Anzeige diesem bedeutungshaften Vorverständnis einen Raum zu geben. Daraus ergibt sich auch der Umstand, dass formal-anzeigende Begriffe Bezugsoffenheit aufweisen müssen, da sie erst „aus der jeweiligen Erfahrungs- und Interpretationsrichtung ihre konkrete faktische kategoriale Bestimmtheit“ erhalten (Heidegger 1994, 141).

So weit, so gut. Geht es bei der Explikation aber wirklich um das konkrete einzelne Subjekt und dessen spezifische Ansichten, so wie Kraatz das behauptet? Es ist gar nicht so leicht, diese Fragen zu beantworten. Kraatz selbst gibt zu, dass Heidegger scheinbar willkürlich entscheidet, ob bei dem Verstehensvollzug eines Begriffs wirklich das Ich als eigenstes mit dabei ist oder nur ein ‚idealisiertes Subjekt‘ (Kraatz 2022, 85). Eine Passage in Kraatz‘ Buch, die diese Schwierigkeit bei der Auslegung Heideggers beispielhaft aufzeigt, ist die Stelle, in der er auf Heideggers Diskussion des Begriffs ‚Geschichte‘ in Phänomenologie der Anschauung und des Ausdrucks eingeht (ibid., 81-83; Heidegger 1993, 43-86). Heidegger unterscheidet dort zwischen verschiedenen Bezugsformen, die sich je nach Sinn des Begriffs ‚Geschichte‘ voneinander unterscheiden. So sagt Heidegger, dass in dem Satz „Mein Freund studiert Geschichte“ ein theoretischer Einstellungszusammenhang zwischen dem Studenten und der Geschichtswissenschaft zum Ausdruck kommt, worin die konkrete Bezugs- und Vollzugssituation des Freundes keine Rolle spielt. Kraatz wendet hier gegen Heidegger ein, dass auch in diesem Fall die persönliche Erfahrung, die Einstellungen und die Meinungen des Studenten für den Bezug auf die Geschichtswissenschaft bestimmend sein können (Kraatz 2022, 85). Und laut Heidegger können diese Dinge bei dem geschichtswissenschaftlichen Verstehen in der Tat mitschwingen, allerdings gehen sie in den Bezugssinn nicht mit ein (Heidegger 1993, 77). Meiner Meinung nach ergibt das durchaus Sinn, da es sich bei dem Studium der Geschichte um ein rein objektives Verhältnis handelt, da die konkreten eigenen Erfahrungen und Einstellungen (bspw. die eigene Religiosität) für das Verständnis des Forschungsgegenstandes (bspw. die religiöse Entwicklung Luthers) keine Rolle spielen. Und sie sollen auch keine Rolle spielen, aufgrund des kontextunabhängigen Charakters von Wissenschaften, wie Kraatz selbst anerkennt (Kraatz 2022, 101). Denn was hat Luthers konkrete religiöse Entwicklung schon mit meiner eigenen zu tun? Ganz anders sieht es bei der eigenen persönlichen Geschichte aus, für deren Verständnis trivialerweise die eigenen Erfahrungen und Einstellungen eine Rolle spielen.

Das zweite Moment, das laut Kraatz wesentlich die formale Anzeige kennzeichnet, ist das Moment des Prohibitiven, auf das Heidegger in der Tat explizit in mehreren Stellen, bspw. an Phänomenologische Interpretationen zu Aristoteles, aufmerksam macht (Heidegger 1994, 141). Dort heißt es weiter: „Die formale Anzeige verwehrt jede Abdrift in […] blind dogmatische Fixation des kategorialen Sinnes von Ansichbestimmtheiten einer auf ihren Seinssinn undiskutierten Gegenständlichkeit.“ (Ibid., 142). Der Grund, warum die formale Anzeige so verfahren muss, ist, wie Kraatz richtig sagt, die Ruinanz oder, wie es in Sein und Zeit heißt, die Verfallenheit, die eine solche Abdrift in das Objektive begünstigt. Ruinant ist das Verstehen, wenn das (wissenschaftliche) Begriffssystem schon den Bezug hinreichend prädeterminiert, eine Einordnung in ein Sachgebiet vorgibt und damit das zu verstehende eigentliche Phänomen verdeckt. Stattdessen soll, wie oben bereits erwähnt, dieser Bezug für das Ich offengehalten werden, damit er durch es erneuert werden kann (Kraatz 2022, 105).

Nun bedeutet diese Bezugsoffenheit nicht, dass der Bezug ein willkürlicher wird, sodass der formal-anzeigende Begriff je nach Belieben auf alles und jeden verweisen könnte. Leider hilft Teil II von Kraatz‘ Buch allerdings nur wenig, um zu verstehen, wie genau der Bezug formal-anzeigender Begriffe funktionieren soll. Erst in Teil V, in dem es unter anderem um die Formalität der formalen Anzeige geht, gibt es dazu einige Hinweise. So schreibt Kraatz zunächst, dass die formale Anzeige inhaltlich nur die Bedingungen des Verstehensvollzugs vorgibt aber nicht den Vollzug vorwegnimmt (ibid., 213). Allerdings nimmt kein Begriff seinen Verstehensvollzug vorweg. Begriffe haben es so an sich, dass jeder Mensch sie selbst verstehen muss. Der entscheidende Punkt liegt wohl in der Vorgabe der Vollzugsrichtung, welche nur prinzipiell sein soll (ibid.). Dieses Prinzipielle wiederum wird später als das Sein des Seienden identifiziert, sodass die formale Anzeige wiederum als Anzeige des Seins des Seienden ausgewiesen wird (ibid., 225). Nun ist das Sein des Seienden in der Tat das, um das es der Phänomenologie nach Heidegger geht, allerdings scheint mit diesem Hinweis bei Kraatz eher das Was und nicht das besondere Wie des Bezugs bestimmt zu sein. Erst ein Blick in Phänomenologische Interpretation zu Aristoteles verrät, dass damit durchaus etwas über das Wie des Bezugs ausgesagt wird: Das Sein des Seienden, auf das der Bezug gerichtet sein soll, ist keine irgendwie geartete oberste Seinskategorie, sondern ‚formalleer‘. Das bedeutet, dass es dem jeweiligen Phänomen selbst überlassen bleibt, wie der Modus der Verstehens beschaffen sein muss, sodass er nicht durch ein spezifisches Sachgebiet vorgegeben ist (Heidegger 1994, 60f).

Eine Schwierigkeit von Das Sein zur Sprache bringen besteht darin, dass der Autor selten Beispiele für den Verstehensvollzug formal-anzeigender Begriffe gibt. Das erschwert die Lektüre. Erst in Teil V gelingt mit der Erwähnung der Funktionsweise der Begriffe ‚Sorge‘ und ‚Dasein‘ in Sein und Zeit (Kraatz, 2022, 214) sowie der Besprechung von Heideggers dreistufiger Analyse des Begriffs der Langeweile in Die Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik (Kraatz 2022, 264ff) eine konkrete Veranschaulichung des Verstehensvollzugs formal-anzeigender Begriffe. Allerdings kommen diese Beispiele erstens zu spät und bleiben zweitens deutlich hinter den zweihundert Seiten vorhergehender theoretischer Analyse der drei Charakterzüge der formalen Anzeige zurück. Dass sich die Momente der formalen Anzeige durchaus recht einfach an einem Beispiel aufweisen lassen, möchte ich mit einer kurzen Betrachtung der Diskussion des Phänomens des Todes in Sein und Zeit demonstrieren.

Heidegger beginnt die Analyse des Todes direkt mit einer Abwehr: Wir sollen das eigentliche Phänomen des Todes nicht auf Basis der Beobachtung anderer verstorbener Menschen als ein Vorkommnis am Ende unseres Lebens verstehen (Heidegger 2006, 240). Stattdessen müssen wir selbst das Sein dieses Phänomens aus der uns je eigenen Vollzugs- und Erlebnisperspektive heraus begreifen, und zwar als etwas, das wir gar nicht erleben und wobei wir auch nicht vertreten werden können; der Tod, oder besser das eigentliche Sein-zum-Tode, bestimmt unser Leben vielmehr strukturell und verleiht ihm dadurch seine Ganzheit (ibid., 266). So zeigt sich an dieser Analyse des Todes zum einen das explikative Element, da Heideggers formal-anzeigendes Philosophieren die Leserinnen und Leser auf sie selbst zurückverweist und dem Vorverständnis ihrer eigenen Situation Raum gibt, denn der eigene Tod ist in der Tat ein durch Jemeinigkeit gekennzeichnetes Existenzial. Gleichzeitig verhindert Heidegger durch dieses Offenhalten des Bezuges die Abdrift des Verstehens in Fachgebiete wie die Biologie. Er beschreibt seine Methode auf diesen Seiten sogar selbst als eine sowohl positive als auch prohibitive (ibid., 260).

  1. Die Angst und die formalen Anzeige

Die formale Anzeige ist nicht nur explikativ und prohibitiv, sondern auch transformativ. Laut Kraatz versetzt die formale Anzeige das verstehende Subjekt nicht in einen passiven Verstehensmodus, bei dem das Selbst des Subjekts in seinem Dasein unangetastet bleibt, sondern fordert es zur Verwandlung auf: „Der Verstehensvollzug ist gleichsam ein Vollzug einer Verwandlung.“ (Kraatz 2022, 181) Und in der Tat spricht Heidegger in Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik explizit davon, dass das erkennende Dasein von der formalen Anzeige aufgefordert wird, eine entsprechende Verwandlung zu vollziehen (Heidegger 2004, 421-430). Aber eine Verwandlung in was?

Heidegger diskutiert in diesen Textpassagen erneut das Phänomen des eigenen Todes und wendet sich gegen eine Verstehensweise, dergemäß dieses Phänomen ein vorhandenes Ding ist, das durch den Begriff vollumfänglich beschrieben wird. Aber der (eigene) Tod ist, wie bereits erwähnt, nicht als ein zu vorhandenes Ereignis zu verstehen. Stattdessen soll der Modus des Verstehens so sein, dass sich das erkennende Subjekt selbst in das Da-sein des jeweiligen Phänomens verwandeln muss, wie Heidegger sagt (ibid., 428). Das heißt, es muss das Phänomen selbst aus seinem zu-oder-in-diesem-Phänomen-Sein heraus verstehen. Ich habe vorhin bereits darauf hingewiesen, dass ich, wenn ich bspw. verstehen will, worin der eigene Tod besteht, mich selbst als zum-Tode-seiend verstehen muss. In diesem transformativen Moment liegt auch der Grund, warum diese Begriffe anzeigend sein müssen, da sie ja ihre Konkretion nicht von selbst mitbringen, sondern eher „in eine Konkretion des einzelnen Daseins im Menschen hineinzeigen“ (ibid., 429; siehe auch Kraatz 2022, 198).

Wie formuliert Kraatz nun den transformativen Charakter der formalen Anzeige? Teil III und IV von Das Sein zur Sprache bringen wiederholen im Prinzip die beiden vorherigen Charaktere der formalen Anzeige – nämlich den der Abwehr und den der Verweisung auf das eigene ich. Allerdings führt Kraatz durchaus einen wichtigen neuen Aspekt in seine Analyse ein, nämlich den, dass Gefühle für die formal-anzeigende Begrifflichkeit entscheidend sind und dass die philosophische Sprache auf ihren Inhalt ‚einstimmen‘ muss, weil dieser nur in einer besonderen Stimmung zugänglich wird (ibid., 148, 179). Es stimmt, dass der transformative Zug, der zu einer eigentlichen Begegnung mit dem zu verstehenden Phänomen führt, durchaus so etwas wie eine Einstimmung in das Phänomen erfordert. Allerdings beharrt Kraatz darauf, dass das entsprechende Gefühl das der Angst sein muss.

Die Angst ist laut Kraatz dasjenige Gefühl, das den Menschen die ausdrückliche Selbstbegegnung ermöglicht (ibid., 129), die alltägliche ruinante Lebenstendenz unterbricht (ibid., 135) und ihm sein Freisein für das eigentliche Selbstsein offenbart (ibid., 144). Grund genug für Kraatz zu schließen, dass das, was er über die Angst gesagt hat, zugleich für die Funktionsweise und den Vollzug der formalen Anzeige selbst gilt (ibid., 158, 191) und dass die formale Anzeige wesentlich ‚beängstigend‘ ist (ibid., 148). Diese Textausschnitte und die ausführliche Besprechung des Angstphänomens in Teil III legen den Schluss nahe, dass die Angst für Kraatz tatsächlich das zentrale Gefühl des Verstehensvollzugs der formalen Anzeige ist. Allerdings relativiert Kraatz seine Aussagen auch. So spricht er oft davon, dass die Angst nur eines der Gefühle ist, die die Erschließungsfunktion der formalen Anzeige ermöglichen (ibid., 158, 167, 183, 233) und sagt sogar, dass zum Philosophieren nicht notwendigerweise bzw. nicht im wirklichen Sinne die Angst gehört (ibid., 235f). Solche Schwankungen machen es schwierig, den Autor auf eine kohärente Position festzulegen.

Nun könnte man auf Grundlage der obigen Beschreibung des transformativen Charakters in Die Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik in der Tat den Schluss ziehen, dass Heidegger selbst Methoden- und Daseinsanalyse zusammenführt, denn ich verstehe ein Phänomen nur dann eigentlich, wenn ich mich in demjenigen Seinsmodus, bzw. in derjenigen Stimmung befinde, die das jeweilige Phänomen ausmacht. In der Tat sagt Heidegger in Sein und Zeit, wie Kraatz betont, dass die Angst für die existenziale Analytik eine methodische Funktion übernimmt: So fungiert die Angst als erschließende Grundbefindlichkeit des Daseins (ibid., 165, 232, 241; Heidegger 2006, 185, 190-191). Das liegt allerdings daran, dass das Dasein in seiner Eigentlichkeit wesentlich in Angst ist. Daraus folgt nicht, dass die Angst den Verstehensvollzug formal-anzeigender Begriffe im Allgemeinen leitet. Nicht nur gibt es für eine solche Diagnose keine Belege in Sein und Zeit, sie steht auch im Konflikt mit der Rolle der Angst. Wir erinnern uns: Die formale Anzeige richtet sich gegen eine vergegenständlichende, Bedeutung zerstörende und theoretische Vereinnahmung des Verstehens durch die Wissenschaften und die damit einhergehende Verdrängung des alltäglichen, bedeutungshaften Vorverständnisses des erkennenden Ich (Kraatz 2022, 37-44). Zwar beschreibt Heidegger die Angst als etwas, das das Dasein aus der Flucht vor ihm selbst (in die Verfallenheit) vor es selbst zurückholt und es mit seinem In-der-Welt-Sein und seinem eigensten, freien Seinkönnen konfrontiert (Heidegger 2006, 194-191). Allerdings ist dasjenige, an das das Dasein verfallen ist und von wo die Angst es zurückholt, ausdrücklich nicht durch Wissenschaftlichkeit, Objektivität, Unbedeutsamkeit,[1] Theorie und Unalltäglichkeit gekennzeichnet, (ibid., 67) sondern durch Nützlichkeit, Zuhandenheit (und nicht nur Vorhandenheit) und Alltäglichkeit (ibid., 68-70, 167). Die Angst befreit das Dasein zwar von einer uneigentlichen Auslegung der Welt durch das öffentliche Man, aber dieses Man ist eben nicht notwendigerweise ein wissenschaftliches.

Darüber hinaus scheint mir das Phänomen der Angst, selbst wenn es Parallelen zu dem Verstehensvollzug formal-anzeigender Begriffe aufweisen würde, nicht hinreichend zu sein. Die Angst holt das Dasein aus seinem Verfallen-Sein an die Welt zurück, vereinzelt es und offenbart ihm so Eigentlichkeit und Uneigentlichkeit als Möglichkeiten seines Seins (ibid., 191). Aber sie allein enthält noch kein proaktives Moment, welches doch den Verstehensvollzug in seiner Gänze kennzeichnet. Verfolgen wir die Daseinsanalyse in Sein und Zeit weiter, werden wir sehen, dass das zentrale Moment des Daseins in seiner Eigentlichkeit die Entschlossenheit ist, bei der die Momente der Angst, des Schuldigsein-Wollens und des Seins-zum-Tode zusammenlaufen. Sie ist das „verschwiegene, angstbereite Sichentwerfen auf das eigenste Schuldigsein“ (ibid., 297). In ihr ist das Dasein also nicht nur von den ‚Zufälligkeiten des Unterhaltenwerdens‘ durch das Man befreit vor das eigenste Seinkönnen gestellt (ibid., 310), sondern auch in das selbstbewusste Handeln und Verstehen zurückgebracht (ibid., 300). Auf die Entschlossenheit geht Kraatz aber gar nicht ein. Zwar verweist er zurecht darauf, dass die Angst dasjenige Moment ist, dass sowohl das Schuldigsein-Wollen und des Seins-zum-Tode stimmt (Kraatz 2022, 162-163; Heidegger 2006, 251, 277), allerdings macht dieser Befund ebenfalls noch nicht den Schluss notwendig, dass die Angst selbst, und nicht die Entschlossenheit, im Zentrum einer Analyse der formalen Anzeige als Ganzer stehen muss.

  1. Über Heideggers Begriffs- und Bedeutungstheorie

Bevor ich mit meiner Besprechung zum Ende komme, möchte ich noch kurz auf Teil V von Das Sein zur Sprache bringen eingehen. Teil V nimmt eine eigenartige Sonderstellung ein. Es handelt sich nicht mehr um ein weiteres Puzzlestück, das wir als Leserinnen und Leser brauchen, um die formale Anzeige zu verstehen – denn die Aufzeigung der Charakterzüge der formalen Anzeige soll in Teil IV abgeschlossen sein – sondern eher um eine Neubetrachtung der formalen Anzeige aus einer ‚sprachphilosophischen und begriffs- und bedeutungstheoretischen‘ Perspektive. Darin zeigt sich allerdings ein Problem im Aufbau des Buches. Auf der einen Seite wirkt der Teil buchstäblich angestückt. Immerhin gehen die ersten vier Teile aus der ursprünglichen Abschlussarbeit des Autoren von 2015 hervor; Teil V ist deutlich später entstanden (Kraatz 2022, 200). Auf der anderen Seite finden sich erst hier Ergänzungen und Beispiele, die für das Verständnis der einzelnen argumentativen Schritte in den ersten vier Teil schon wichtig gewesen wären. Eine Integration von Teil V in die anderen Teile wäre vielleicht besser gewesen.

Auffällig ist auch, dass Kraatz die beiden Begriffe ‚Sprachphilosophie‘ und ‚Begriffs- bzw. Bedeutungstheorie‘ homonym verwendet, auch wenn er dabei das Wort ‚Sprachphilosophie‘ durchgehend vorsichtig in Anführungszeichen setzt. Besser wäre es allerdings gewesen, genau zu klären, was beide Begriffe bedeuten und wie sie sich zueinander verhalten – im Allgemeinen und bei Heidegger. Sprachphilosophie kann zum einen als philosophische Methode verstanden werden, die die Normalsprache als Quelle für philosophische Erkenntnisse nutzt. Sprachphilosophie zu betreiben bedeutet hierbei, Erkenntnisse über die Bedeutung eines Begriffes mittels der Untersuchung der grammatischen Eigenschaften des Begriffes in alltäglichen Sprachkontexten zu gewinnen. Im Unterschied dazu kann die Sprache als philosophische oder alltägliche Mitteilungsmethode aber selbst zu einem Forschungsgegenstand für die Philosophie werden: In diesem Sinne wäre Sprachphilosophie als Philosophie zu verstehen, die untersucht, inwiefern (philosophische, wissenschaftliche oder alltägliche) Ausdrücke Bedeutung haben und sich auf Gegenstände beziehen. Schließlich kann ‚Sprachphilosophie‘ drittens auch noch als eine Philosophie verstanden werden, die die Rolle der Sprache als soziale Praxis und Seinsform philosophisch untersucht.

Meiner Meinung nach lassen sich Beispiele für alle drei ‚Arten‘ von Sprachphilosophie in Heideggers Texten finden, die in ihrer Funktion klar auseinander gehalten werden müssen. Der zweite Sinn von ‚Sprachphilosophie‘ ist wohl der für Kraatz interessanteste und auch derjenige, der am ehesten mit den Begriffen ‚Begriffs- bzw. Bedeutungstheorie‘ übereinstimmt. Und in Heideggers Ausführungen zur formalen Anzeige geht es in der Tat um die Frage, wie philosophische Begriffe sich auf die Dinge beziehen (sollen). Wenn Heidegger in Sein und Zeit allerdings zum ersten Mal über die Rede, das Gerede, das Auslegen, Hören, Schweigen, etc. spricht (Heidegger 2006, 160ff), dann philosophiert er über Sprache eher in diesem dritten Sinne von ‚Sprachphilosophie‘, da es sich dabei um Seinsmodi des Dasein handelt. Beispiele für den ersten Sinn finden sich eher in anderen Texten.[2]

Wie sieht es nun konkret mit Heideggers Begriffs- bzw. Bedeutungstheorie in diesem Teil von Kraatz‘ Buch aus? Im Grunde bezieht sich Kraatz hier erneut auf den Kern der Idee der formalen Anzeige: Formal-anzeigende Begrifflichkeiten zeigen die Phänomene so an, dass das erkennende Subjekt sie erst im konkreten entsprechend gestimmten Nachvollzug erschließt. Damit sagt Kraatz im Vergleich zu den vorangegangenen Teilen nichts Neues, findet aber durchaus klarere und deutlichere Formulierungen. Interessant ist dann auch noch der Hinweis, dass es sich bei der formalen Anzeige nicht um eine Gruppe von bestimmten Begriffen handelt, sondern um eine bestimmte Haltung im Umgang mit philosophischen Begriffen (Kraatz 2022, 230) – eine Haltung, die Heidegger in seinen methodologischen und begriffs- bzw. bedeutungstheoretischen Aussagen in der Tat zum Ausdruck bringt.

Kraatz‘ Buch hilft durchaus dabei, die Leserinnen und Leser auf die formalen Anzeige, so wie sie in Heideggers Texten entwickelt wird, richtig ‚einzustimmen‘. Man mag dem Autor auch glauben wollen, dass Heidegger in der Idee der formalen Anzeige eine raffinierte und ungewöhnliche Methode entwickelt, die eng mit seiner Daseinsanalyse verbunden ist. Das ergibt auch Sinn, weil dasjenige, was wir mit Heidegger vor allem verstehen wollen – das Dasein –, wir selbst sind, also verstehende Wesen. Auch wollen wir dem Autoren glauben, dass der Nachvollzug formal-anzeigender Begrifflichkeiten von einem erfordert, sich auf eine besondere Art und Weise auf das zu verstehende Phänomen einzustellen, wie das bei wissenschaftlichen Begrifflichkeiten nicht der Fall. Allerdings gelingt die exegetische Überzeugungsarbeit nur zum Teil. Das liegt zum einen daran, dass das Buch in einigen Detailfragen meiner Meinung nach falsch liegt. Zum anderen erschweren die redundante und theorielastige Argumentationsstruktur sowie die doch allzu stark an Heideggers eigene schwierige Sprache angelehnte Ausdrucksweise vor allem Leserinnen und Lesern, die nicht sehr mit Heidegger vertraut sind, leider das Verständnis.


Heidegger, Martin: Die Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik. Welt- Endlichkeit – Einsamkeit (Wintersemester 1929/30). Hrsg. von Friedrich-Wilhelm von Herrmann. Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann, 2004.

Heidegger, Martin: Phänomenologie der Anschauung und des Ausdrucks (Sommersemester 1920). Gesamtausgabe Band 59, hrsg. von Claudius Strube. Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann, 1993.

Heidegger, Martin: Phänomenologische Interpretationen zu Aristoteles. Einführung in die phänomenologische Forschung (Wintersemester 1921/22). Gesamtausgabe Band 61, hrsg. von Walter Bröcker und Käte Bröcker-Oltmanns. Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann, 1994.

Heidegger, Martin: Sein und Zeit (1927). Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 2006.

Kraatz, Karl: Das Sein zur Sprache bringen. Die formale Anzeige als Kern der Begriffs- und Bedeutungstheorie Martin Heideggers. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann GmbH, 2022.

[1]   Ganz im Gegenteil. Für das Dasein werden die innerweltlichen Dinge erst unbedeutsam, wenn es sich ängstigt, weil sich erst dadurch die Welt in ihrer Weltlichkeit aufdrängt (Heidegger 2006, 187; siehe auch Kraatz 2022, 141).

[2]    In Sein und Zeit sagt Heidegger interessanterweise, dass die philosophische Forschung auf ‚Sprachphilosophie‘ verzichten muss, um den‚ Sachen selbst‘ nachzufragen (Heidegger 2006, 166). Ich vermute, dass er sich hierbei in der Tat auf Sprachphilosophie in diesem ersten Sinne bezieht, da sich seine Kritik gegen eine Philosophie richtet, die einzig in der Sprache verharrt und das Verankertsein der Sprache in der Welt selbst nicht thematisiert.

Allerdings betreibt Heidegger auch hin und wieder Sprachphilosophie in diesem ersten Sinne. So bemerkt er in Phänomenologische Interpretationen zu Aristoteles, dass es zu dem Substantiv ‚Philosophie‘ ein passendes direktes Verb gibt (‚philosophieren‘); bei den Substantiven ‚Biologie‘ oder ‚Physik‘ ist das nicht der Fall. Daraus schließt Heidegger, dass Philosophie selbst ein Verhalten ist, während es sich bei der Biologie und der Physik eher um Sachgebiete handelt (Heidegger 1994, 42-61). Kraatz verweist auch auf diese Stelle (Kraatz 2022, 50-51)

Moritz von Kalckreuth: Philosophie der Personalität

Philosophie der Personalität. Syntheseversuche zwischen Aktvollzug, Leiblichkeit und objektivem Geist Book Cover Philosophie der Personalität. Syntheseversuche zwischen Aktvollzug, Leiblichkeit und objektivem Geist
Moritz von Kalckreuth
Felix Meiner Verlag
Paperback 49,00 €

Reviewed by: Carlo Brentari (University of Trento, Italy)

This valuable essay by Moritz von Kalckreuth develops in the theoretical space left free by the gradual disappearance of any metaphysical notion of personhood and personal identity from modern and contemporary thought. The critique moved by the English empiricists to the alleged substantial solidity of personal identity—made definitive by the transcendental dialectic of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason—reveals the need to think of the person, no longer as a soul (or some other thing-like entity) but in new, more dynamic ways: as a function or a relation, as a process based on emergent properties, as a particular way of the human self-experience, or by adopting still other approaches. Von Kalckreuth’s text is not directly concerned with the historical reconstruction of the long-term process of overcoming metaphysics; rather, it explores the possibilities it allows in the context of twentieth-century German philosophy. In other terms, the dissolution of the Boethian concept of the person as substantia rationalis individua stands as a common, and sometimes unspoken, negative reference for subsequent, contemporary divergent lines of reflection on what it means to be a person.

Without pretending to exhaust the richness of the volume, I would like to focus on what is perhaps the main fracture line among the post-substantialist notions of the person it examines. It is the opposition between three German approaches on the one side (the phenomenological axiology of Max Scheler, the philosophical anthropology of Helmuth Plessner, and the Neue Ontologie developed by Nicolai Hartmann), and, on the other, some analytical theories of personhood (Peter Strawson, John Searle, Harry Frankfurt, David Olson, John McDowell). The time span of this opposition is the twentieth century, but behind the theses of the considered authors it is possible to guess debates of a much longer period. For example, how does one not perceive, behind Hartmann’s idea of the person as form of the objective spirit, a solid link with classical German philosophy? The choice criterion adopted by the author for the continental conceptions he focuses on is also significant. They are all, in different ways, Syntheseversuche; that is to say, attempts to develop a synthetic theory of personality. Scheler, Hartmann, and Plessner sketch the contours of personhood by inserting it in the context of human life and action (the organic, bodily, emotional, and super-individual dimensions). On the opposite pole, analytical philosophy proceeds by discussing single distinctive traits of personhood; typically, analytical philosophers aim at evaluating the significance of the personal traits through mental experiments (i.e., through fabricated situations specifically devised to isolate them under controlled conditions).

In von Kalckreuth’s book, the confrontation between synthetic and analytic approaches to personhood focuses on two key points. The first is the determination of what a person is, from an ontological point of view and with reference to other spheres of the anthropological reality (body, mind, emotional life, etc.). The second is the intersubjective, pragmatic phenomenon of the recognition of an individual as a person inside a given sociocultural context. In our discussion of Philosophie der Personalität, we will proceed by addressing the two key points separately, but without neglecting, when necessary, the links that keep them together as parts of a unitary enquiry.

The core of von Kalckreuth’s book is the critical exposition of three ways of ontological determination of personhood: the theories of Scheler, Hartmann, and Plessner, which are discussed—with extensive textual and critical references—in the central chapters. However, the author does not limit himself to a mere introduction; the very choice to position a reasoned and synthetic study on analytic philosophy before these central chapters provides the reader with a valuable access key to the three Syntheseversuche. If (with rare exceptions) the ontological theories of the person proposed by analytical philosophy remains within the framework of a fundamental individualism, the three continental approaches are, instead, clustered together by the idea that personhood is a diffuse form of life, a collective dimension. In different ways, Plessner, Scheler, and Hartmann keep the approach of the German classical philosophy alive, according to which, for a given entity, the relations with other entities are constitutive and, so to speak, push their effectiveness right into the inner sphere of the entity, co-determining its essence. This approach contrasts sharply with the idea (that prevails, instead, in analytical approaches) that entities have a separate subsistence and relate with each other only in a second phase; in the ways made possible by their different properties.

When applied to the case of personhood, the difference between the two ontological approaches emerges with particular clarity. The analytical authors on which von Kalckreuth dwells move from the common-sense idea that a person is primarily an individual organism, and then ask themselves what requirements this individual entity must fulfil to be considered a person. Following the line pioneered by Peter Strawson and Daniel Dennett, most of analytic philosophy includes, among these requirements, “the presence of mental states […] that are structured in a logical-conceptual way and based on representations” (31). Such mental properties embrace language and communication skills, cognitive self-awareness and ‘I’ centeredness (Lynne Baker), presence of a sense of responsibility and the ability to commit to a coherent line of action, presence of a ‘theory of mind’, or the ability to place oneself from the point of view of other rational subjects, anticipating their reactions and moral judgments. More recent authors, such as Harry Frankfurt, translate this approach in a theory of volition, adding to the distinctive properties of the person the presence of second-level volitions. A personal entity not only wants to be a good friend, but also wants to maintain this volition into the future. A lesser number of authors include, among the conditions of possibility of personhood, non-rational and unintentional forms of relationship with the world, such as the embedding in an umwelt and the presence of pre-rational ‘body pictures’ and ‘body schemas’ (as in the embodiment theory by Shaun Gallaghers). Here von Kalckreuth is very attentive to some recent developments in the analytic philosophy of the person attesting, among other things, that continental phenomenology is, indeed, exerting a valuable influence onto the analytic field.

Despite their variety, the analytical approaches remain unified by the common approach we have highlighted above: personhood is investigated as a property (sometimes, as an emergent property) of an individual entity whose subsistence and duration are ensured in other ways—as a single organism, or a human being. To this common approach, von Kalckreuth contrasts the ‘synthetic’ theories by Plessner, Hartmann, and Scheler, which (in different ways) explore the possibility that the person is, indeed, an entity endowed with ontological autonomy, but that the root of his[1] autonomy is to be sought in its belonging to a collective dimension. The three authors develop this intuition in different ways, depending on their overall philosophies. In Plessner’s philosophical anthropology, personhood appears as a peculiar trait of a particular form of life, the ‘ex-centric positionality’ of the human being; that is, the double nature of human experience, both centred in the body and capable of assuming an external point of view ‘on the body’. The ex-centric position opens to the human being the possibility of seeing himself from the outside. The distance from the present self (with the related phenomena of memory and anticipation) becomes a basis component of the world experience. With reference to a theory of the person, the most relevant element of this form of life is that it allows—and, at the same time, requires—the “access to oneself from the perspective of the other” (93). Plessner calls this condition Mitweltlichkeit, the constitutive belonging of the person to the ‘common world’ of the mutual references to others.

Coming to Nicolai Hartmann’s stratified ontology, the collective sphere of which the person is part, and which substantiates his very existence, is that of the objective spirit. With this concept—clearly Hegelian in its origin, even if integrated in a non-idealistic ontology—Hartmann means the tangible cultural context in which human individuals lead their lives: natural language, traditions, institutions, the corpus of religious beliefs, and other forms of worldview. “For Hartmann, persons are spiritual individuals—that is, individuals who do not exist in isolation each for themselves but are connected to each other. It is the objective spirit that allows this connection, through the common belonging of the persons to it” (132; translation mine). In Hartmann’s ontology, however, the phenomenon whereby the entity-person draws its ontological specificity from the belonging to a super-individual sphere—while remaining rooted in individual organisms—receives a more precise determination. It is, in fact, described as a form of Überbauung, or ‘super-construction’. Überbauung is a relationship between entities belonging to different ontological layers, in which the higher-level entity ‘rests’ on the lower level one without necessarily re-proposing its characteristics, and thus enjoying a real ontological freedom. The person is, for Hartmann, an actual entity, which, although depending on the lower layers (inorganic matter, the body as an organism, and the individual psychic sphere) for its factual existence, enjoys, however, a wide operational freedom. This freedom makes possible the full variety of symbolic and cultural forms that can be found on Earth—real points of concretion and re-elaboration of the personal life in a given historical place and moment. At the same time, inasmuch as he thinks of the person’s freedom as a freedom ‘in situation’, Hartmann’s conception of the person also takes into account the limits placed on the individual action, the resistance opposed to change by languages, institutions, systems of values, and the other subdomains of the objective spirit.

In von Kalckreuth’s text, Plessner’s Mitwelt and Hartmann’s objective spirit are the first two forms of ‘collective’ ontological determination to be discussed. The largest space, a hundred pages altogether, is, however, dedicated to the Syntheseversuch proposed by Scheler. The main reason for this preponderance is explained by von Kalckreuth himself. If, in the works of Plessner and Hartmann, the explicit presence of the term ‘person’ is marginal, and the theses on personhood seem often interchangeable with those on the human being in general (an observation that is especially true for Plessner), Scheler proposes, instead, an articulated theory of the person. This theory varies in the course of his philosophical production, but some key features remain unchanged: the critique of rationalism (which, for Scheler, is an integral part of the rejection of Kant’s formalism), the decided anti-substantialism in relation to personal identity, and, finally, the original definition of the person as a concrete unity of individual acts. The reconstruction offered by Philosophie der Personalität highlights Scheler’s ability to investigate the person’s emotional and relational aspects with an approach that, while remaining phenomenological, knows how to grasp the deep interdependence between the different processes of the inner life. In Scheler’s view, the person is understood as the nucleus (Kern) of all possible emotional acts (of love, hate, attraction…) and decision-making processes of an individual human being. As reported by von Kalckreuth, the person is, for the inner and relational life of the single individual, what the “crystal formula” is for the concrete crystal. The metaphor, which stems from Scheler himself, comes from the natural world. Its applicability to the personal structure, however, is made possible by the fact that, in Scheler’s vitalistic world view, nature is permeated with spirit, so that the hidden teleology that guides the crystal formation can serve as an explanatory figure for the unfolding of the personal core in the individual concrete acts.

It is clear, and von Kalckreuth explains it well, that Scheler’s conception risks introducing a dangerous dualism into the theory of the person. On the one hand, there is the profound unity of the acts, that is the personal centre or nucleus; on the other, there is what Scheler calls the human person (die menschliche Person), the individual human being in his bodily singularity and in his capacity for agency. Incidentally said, neither of the two levels implies the existence of substantial entities—an assumption that would cause Scheler to fall into another, this one insoluble, form of dualism: person and concrete individual as two substances? The person as a substance and the concrete individual as an accident? Scheler tries to maintain his theory of the personal life within the limits of phenomenological evidence, but as far as the ‘core’ level is concerned, his phenomenological approach is constantly exposed to the risk of resorting to a kind of metaphysical intuition, to acts of ‘feeling’ more than of ‘seeing’.

As in the theories proposed by Plessner and Hartmann, also in Scheler’s thinking, the ontological discussion of the person is not limited to the investigation of an isolated individual entity but includes the recognition of the constitutive relationality of the person. This relationality takes the form of the belonging of the person to the “umfassende Persongemeinschaft [comprehensive personal community]”, or “Gesamtperson [general person]”. Gesamtpersonen are, for Scheler, national, cultural, or religious collective bodies supported by internal principles of solidarity and the adherence to a common axiological order (the modern phenomenon of mass society, therefore, hinders the formation of Gesamtpersonen). The admission of this kind of higher-level general persons is very problematic from the ontological point of view. Scheler, in fact, does not limit himself to affirming the personal character of the entities that make up the Gesamtperson, but seems to attribute personality and (to some extent) even responsibility and self-awareness directly to the collective body.

In von Kalckreuth’s discussion of the theories of the person by Plessner, Hartmann, and Scheler, the thought styles of the three thinkers emerge, so to speak, in filigree. Scheler appears as a passionate investigator of the person’s deep emotional life, but also as constantly exposed to the danger of falling into an elusive and hardly verifiable metaphysics of the profound; therefore, the solidity of his views is ultimately entrusted to the positive resonance effects aroused in the reader. Plessner and Hartmann, on the other hand, are representative of a non-reductionist naturalism, open to the possibility that the existence of personal beings does not break nature’s unity in any way. Personhood is, instead, an enrichment, respectively, of the organic life or the ontological reality. Hartmann’s approach, in particular, is an unceasing prompt to categorial precision and the sobriety of the enquiry—especially when it comes to sketching the different levels of reality co-existing around and inside the person.

Our presentation of Philosophie der Personalität has followed, so far, a possible hermeneutic line of the text: the search for the most convincing points of the continental theories of the person proposed by Scheler, Plessner, and Hartmann, in comparison with the analytic philosophies of the person. As mentioned above, this comparison pivots mainly on two key points: the ontological determination of the person (which we have just finished discussing) on the one side, and, on the other, the discussion of the intersubjective process of the recognition of an individual as person—with the strictly related issue of what happens when someone claims to be a person or vindicates for others the same status. It is this second point that we now need to address.

Most analytic approaches start from the assumption that the ontological determination of the person takes place on the individual level, while intersubjective processes intervene only at the later stage of the recognition or vindication of personhood seen as a social and juridical status. The continental theories of the person discussed in Philosophie der Personalität avoid this risk in a twofold way. First, as we have seen, they link the very ontological determination of the person to his belonging to a supra-individual sphere. Second, and more important with reference to our new issue, von Kalckreuth rejects the idea that the intersubjective recognition of an individual as a person could be a sort of screening (Überprufung) of his ontological requirements of personality—as if, at each new encounter, we would screen the rationality, linguistic ability, self-awareness, moral values, and sense of responsibility of entities prima facie indeterminate. Von Kalckreuth underlines how, on the contrary, the recognition of a person consists in the immediate grasping of a phenomenological primary meaning, and of a meaning that, among other things, arises as a condensation or reverberation on the individual entity of a widespread personal context (the Mitweltlichkeit in Plessner, the objective spirit in Hartmann, the Gesamtperson in Scheler).

Von Kalckreuth does not dwell on this possibility, but it is clear that his criticism to the thesis of personal recognition as Überprufung can be addressed not only to the analytic ontologies of the person (which, as we have seen, focus on the individual possession of language, reason, and self-awareness), but also to those continental ‘personalist’ ontologies that (still) base on hypothetical personal Gestalt or essences—uncertain heirs of the substantial soul of the metaphysical tradition. In this kind of personalism, too, the attribution of the status of person goes through a kind of screening phase, the assessment of the presence of the personal essence. Other than the analytical positions, the Überprüfung tends, here, to ascertain the presence of traits that are ‘essential’ for all human beings (but maintains a rigid exclusion stance towards non-human animals). Leaving aside its possible usage towards continental essentialist theories, however, von Kalckreuth’s criticism (supported by the authors he analyses) is very clear: when we are faced with a potential person, we do not evaluate requirements. There is no Überprüfung of originally impersonal entities. As human beings, we lead our life in a phenomenological space that is, so to speak, already predisposed to the emergence of something ‘personal’. This emergence process is spontaneous, unplanned, and takes place in every society. At the same time, this phenomenal space is open to historical variables; ‘filled’ with different historical values and contents. Among the latter, the author notes, there is also the possibility of the socio-political deprivation of the status of person for certain categories, which is, however, nothing but an ex post annihilation of a primary meaning.

The view on personal recognition by the author of Philosophie der Personalität differs not only from the analytic, individualistic theories of the person, but also from those which, in chapter 3 of the first part of the book, are grouped as «postmodern critical theories». In these theories, personhood would be the mere outcome of performative linguistic acts (such as the claim of oneself as a person), and thus, an only “apparently ontological category” (75; here, von Kalckreuth refers to Judith Butler’s thesis). In other terms, according to the postmodern critical theories, the attribution of personhood would neither hide, nor rely on, any ontological, natural, or anthropological trait of the concerned entity, and the attribution of the status of person would depend exclusively on intersubjective recognition. The third position von Kalckreuth outlines, starting from his authors of reference (Scheler, Plessner, and Hartmann), is that the vindication of the status of person is completely independent by the recognition of individual requirements of any kind, but at the same time, does not rely only on pragmatic and performative acts (in this case, any subjectivity would be a person who, having the capacity to claim itself as such, actually does so). In the collective, ‘widespread’ ontological dimensions theorized by Plessner, Scheler and Hartmann, the processes of claiming and recognizing the individual as person does not happen in vacuo. Performative acts are, obviously, always possible, but their very sense and their outcome depend on the relational space from which they come and into which they fall, and from the resistance they meet in already consolidated institutions, values, and cultural dynamics. That’s why any new claim for personal dignity is effective only if it finds a way to adhere to the pre-existing obstacles, albeit to break them down.

From the phenomenological perspective adopted by Philosophie der Personalität, not every entity gives itself as personal. If, however, it is given in this way in the intersubjective sphere, then many discussions on its ‘ontological eligibility’ for the status of person turn out to be sterile. Consequently, the bioethical question of the status of foetuses, very young children, individuals in a vegetative state or affected by severe cognitive disabilities is also set differently—and differently not only with respect to the analytic theories of the person, but also (again) to the essentialist personalism of many continental bioethics (especially in the Italian context). In fact, it is not a question of verifying the absence or presence of individual personhood requirements, but of starting from the phenomenologically immediate understanding of the belonging of the individuals to a collective sphere of ‘widespread personhood’. In the authors discussed by von Kalckreuth, the Mitweltlichkeit, the objective spirit, and the Persongemeinschaft are primary backgrounds of meaning; quasi transcendental schemes for the phenomenal constitution of the person. What must be questioned is not the reality of these schemes, but their relevance for the case-by-case understanding of which line of conduct is most oriented to justice. Incidentally said, approaches of this kind are difficult to apply to non-human animals, which are, from the phenomenological point of view, an extremely variable set of entities. They convey at times a strong impression of alienity, coldness, and ‘impersonality’ (this is especially true for animals who are phylogenetically very distant from humans, such as reptiles and insects), and at other times a decided closeness to personal modalities of interaction (just think of the high level of individual differentiation of the interactions inside a group of primates, in front of which the researcher spontaneously resorts to expressions such as the ‘personal’ preference or aversion of one member to another).

Adopting the well-known definition of Norberto Bobbio, the person is the “individual raised to value”.[2] If this is true, it is also true that this statement can be understood in two radically different ways, depending on how the elevation to value is understood. Is this process, which takes place through the vindication of oneself as a person and the recognition by others, due to the fact that the individual already has in himself, ontologically, a higher component or ‘essence’? or, on the contrary, is it possible precisely because it does not own anything similar, because it is axiologically neutral and, therefore, offers itself to historical and social processes of valorisation? Here the three authors examined by von Kalckreuth diverge. Plessner’s anthropology and, above all, Hartmann’s ontology lead in the second direction (the individual as a natural being is axiologically neutral, which is a prerequisite for the assumption of personal value). As for Scheler, instead, we can speak of a further enhancement of an original axiological datum. By exposing their different positions and establishing a fruitful comparison with analytical philosophy and postmodern political thought, von Kalckreuth’s text helps the reader to orient himself in the debate on personhood and the theoretical relationship between individual and person—both central questions of contemporary moral philosophy.

[1] As possessive adjective and pronoun for ‘the person’ or ‘the human being’ we chose respectively ‘his’ and ‘him’, to avoid the connotation of neutrality and impersonality of ‘its’, or ‘it’. A greater accuracy would be obtained through ‘his / her’ and ‘him / her’, but this choice would make the reading harder. In our intention, however, the female form is always included.

[2] Norberto Bobbio. 1944. La filosofia del decadentismo. Torino: Chiantore, p. 119

Antonio Calcagno, Ronny Miron (Eds.): Hedwig Conrad-Martius and Edith Stein: Philosophical Encounters and Divides, Springer, 2022

Hedwig Conrad-Martius and Edith Stein: Philosophical Encounters and Divides Book Cover Hedwig Conrad-Martius and Edith Stein: Philosophical Encounters and Divides
Women in the History of Philosophy and Sciences (WHPS, volume 16)
Antonio Calcagno, Ronny Miron (Eds.)
Hardback 128,39 €
XII, 157

Constantin Noica: The Romanian Sentiment of Being

The Romanian Sentiment of Being Book Cover The Romanian Sentiment of Being
Constantin Noica. Translated by Octavian Gabor and Elena Gabor
punctum books
Paperback $23

Reviewed by: Elena Gabor (Associate Professor of Communication at Bradley University) and Octavian Gabor (Professor of Philosophy at Methodist College)

Being “întru” (within) a language: Bending time and space while translating The Romanian Sentiment of Being by Constantin Noica

Aristotle’s Metaphysics Z, perhaps one of the most difficult of his works, begins by his famous claim that being is said in many ways. Aristotle refers to the Categories, where he explains the various ways in which one thing is said to be. He writes about being in a language that, after all, is no longer spoken today. Nevertheless, his ideas influenced generations of philosophers who could not work in ontology without first referring to his work. The greatness of Aristotle as philosopher makes it so that when we speak of being we do it as if we were analyzing a universal idea. But is it possible that being itself always appears in a body, a language, and due to this, is always particular to a culture?

Noica’s The Romanian Sentiment of Being seems to make such a claim: being in a universal sense is only an abstraction. Being, though, is embodied, and thus it manifests particularly in a particular environment.

While this final claim may be appealing to many, a philosopher focused on metaphysical concepts would not readily agree. In 1978, existential philosopher Emil Cioran (1911-1995), friend of Constantin Noica (1909-1987), wrote him a short letter. The epistle ended with some words about Noica’s newly published volume, The Romanian Sentiment of Being: “Your last book is excellent; the only thing is that it could have been called just as well The Paraguayan Sentiment of Being. In your place, I would return to Logic: where, if not there, can one engage in delirium  better?”[1] Indeed, what would make the Romanian sentiment of being both unique and also interesting to other peoples?

We should not rush into believing that Noica claims that cultures have no way of communicating among themselves because of their unicity. Their particular way of being is, to use Noica’s word, întru, oriented within. However, the particularity in which they express being gives beauty to the diversity of the world. So, if we refer to one of the questions above, one reason for anyone to understand the particular way of being in Romanian culture is to further enjoy the beauty of this world. Furthermore, as Anna Marmodoro and Erasmus Mayr remind us, “metaphysical questions are not just questions about language […]. But nonetheless, natural language can be an important guide in many cases, since it usually encapsulates ways of thinking about the structure of reality which come naturally to us and which have proved useful and viable over the time the language evolved.”[2] Noica would add this: “But every language is, after all, the wisdom of the world in one of its versions. This wisdom of the world needs the particular wisdom of language in order to explore reality in all the ways and to transfer its knowledge into words.”[3]

Noica finds six ways of being in Romanian, all of them expressed grammatically in a doubling of the verb to be. These expressions are used quite often in typical interactions and feel natural to the native Romanian speaker. In English, the doubling of the verb to be poses challenges of meaning making, since English-speakers rarely employ such constructions that invite rather imprecise temporality. Here they are:

It was not to be (n-a fost să fie)

It was about to be (era să fie)

It may well be to be (va fi fiind)

It would be to be (ar fi să fie)

It is to be (este să fie)

It was to be (a fost sa fie)

The Romanian language, then, has a grammatical peculiarity in all of these cases: the doubling of the verb to be. For Noica, this is a very important philosophical aspect: all of these modulations of being are întru Being itself. Some of them, such as the first four, are moving toward Being, but they do not achieve it. The fifth one is on the border of being, while the last is accomplished being. This doubling of to be allows for both becoming and being in the same expression: the suggestion of becoming within (or întru) being. English, however, does not allow for this doubling in all of the previous expressions. We can, of course, rely on philosophical terminology and say that the six modulations of being from Romanian can be organized in the following categories: impossibility, possibility, contingency, necessity, and existence. Here, though, we lose the slight modulations taking place in Romanian, as for example the difference between va fi fiind (it may well be to be) and ar fi sa fie (it would be to be). None of these modulations expresses the fulfillment of being. The first one, though, is a region of being that is somehow exterior to it, as Noica says, while the second is a modulation that has almost all of the conditions to be, but it cannot fulfill its calling.

What is one to do in such a situation? The problem is as old as translation is. Eugenio Refini, for example, writes about Antonio Colombella, an Augustinian friar, who translated in the vernacular Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics sometime at the beginning of the 15th century. In his prologue, he writes about the difficulty of the translation, pointing to the distinction between what he calls words and sense. The translator must find himself in this dichotomy: to be faithful to the words of the author (in our case, to expressing modulations of being by doubling the verb to be) or to be faithful to the sense of the ideas. It is the enduring “debate over verbum de verbo and ad sensum translations.”[4]

The beauty of Noica’s volume is that mediation and translation already happened at various levels. His text is a philosophical endeavor that deals with literary works, bringing into dialogue different approaches to culture. Translation between the philosophical language of necessity, possibility, or contingency to the folk language of children stories or to the elevated literary language of a poem considered the chef-d’oeuvre of Romanian culture make out of his book a feast of words. Indeed, “Translators mediate between cultures (including ideologies, moral systems and socio-political structures), seeking to overcome those incompatibilities which stand in the way of transfer of meaning.”[5] In this volume, mediation is at work in the original language prior to even encountering its English version. The children’s story and Eminescu’s poem “The Evening Star,” both of them protagonists of Noica’s philosophical thought, are not included in the original volume. Known by every Romanian reader, they appear in Noica’s text in the beauty of his interpretation only. The English edition could not have rendered this mediation without bringing forward the texts themselves, and so readers will find original, new translations of both these jewels of Romanian thought.

It is here that we can rediscover the dialogical nature of translation, as some scholars call it: the translator must attempt to live in two cultures at the same time, and transfer one’s way of being from one culture to another. How can this be done, especially since this particular work raises deeper problems, because it is not directly about universal philosophical problems, which would offer a common philosophical language, but it is rather about knowing the Romanian soul itself, the Romanian expression of being in the world. Implicitly, the question becomes, how can one know the soul of a people?

Folktales are the source of inspiration for Noica. Even Eminescu’s poem, “The Evening Star,” has a folktale as its origin, Noica says. The story is about a young princess who falls in love with the Evening Star and calls upon him every night. He descends from heaven and invites her to take a place next to him:

Oh, come my one and only love,

Thy world behind leave, dear!

I am the evening star above,

Be thou my bride sincere.

She refuses, inviting him to give up his immortality instead. At the end, it is a story of unfulfillment of being. The maiden asks the Evening Star to offer her necessity: the individual nature asks from the general to receive a law. The way she asks for it and the way he can offer it do not match, so the story is a failed encounter between contingency and necessity.

What do thou care, oh, face of clay,

If it’s me or some other…

In narrow circle you relive,

Your luck is daily master,

But I, in my world, always live

Immortal and cold aster.

However, Noica says, the story shows that, at least, the two called each other. While the poem shows unfulfillment in this relationship, Noica believes fulfillment is shown in the second example, a centuries old folk story, Ageless Youth and Deathless Life, first documented and published by Petre Ispirescu in the 19th century and identified with the Romanian ethos ever since.

As Noica says, the story is quite straightforward and down to earth in the way it accounts for the essence of the activity of being.

I don’t know another work in prose of the Romanian genius that has so much substance, from the first to the last word, and such rigorous writing or saying. I wouldn’t dare to interpret any other Romanian work in prose, verse by verse, as I plan on doing, […]—the only one which does not have a positive ending, as it has been observed, and still the only one that expresses, not indirectly, as any other fairytale, but directly, the fulness, the measure, and the truth of that which can be called: being.[6]

Here is a quick summary of the story: a child of a royal couple cries from within his mother’s womb, not wanting to be born into this world of becoming. His father makes him many earthly promises, he offers him the entire world itself and the most beautiful wife he could have, but the baby is not convinced. The only promise that makes him be born is ageless youth and deathless life.

When he grows up, he searches for it himself, since the father reveals he cannot offer it after all. After many trials, he reaches the realm of ageless life and dwells there without time. One day, however, he is struck by memory and wants to go back. Regardless of the advice from the princesses of the realm, he goes back to his parents’ castle, finds that centuries have passed and everything is changed, and death, his own death, finally finds him and slaps him dead.

Reading it or trying to translate it, one can feel how verb-driven and action-oriented the narrative is. In two-three sentences the reader is already in Fat-Frumos’ next stage of life. The story is out of balance at times, with certain less important details being given more space than key magical events in the prince’s journey. You almost get a sense that the story was captured from a capricious storyteller, as if told while doing some other activity. The text is only four pages and a half long, single spaced, but it contains the whole life of a soul inside and outside time. An example of “outside time” is when the unborn soul of the prince refuses to be born and to begin his linear temporal lifepath before his father promises him eternity in the offering of ageless youth and deathless life. The story normalizes a relative view of time long before Albert Einstein wrote about the relativity of space/time. The few pages of this folk tale contain the entire life story of Fat Frumos with accelerations and decelerations, with ascensions and descensions both physical (in the magical flight of the horse) and emotional (sadness and happiness). Memory also transcends the physical body, since the nine-month-old fetus remembers what he was promised before becoming an egg in his mother’s womb. As part of the process of translation, the translator has to believe that the English reader will accept this Romanian story of being that bends time and space without much explanation.

And this is where knowledge comes in: reading the English translation of “Ageless Youth and Deathless Life” can stimulate our own reflecting on the detours we take in life, the importance of challenges and encounters that affect us for decades and even impact how we die. This centuries old fairytale has the potential to be not just an old Romanian folk story but a story of the human soul, with universal appeal and resonance.

Perhaps this volume reminds us that we don’t need to be universalists or relativists to be able to know and accept others. One doesn’t have to be Romanian to know a Romanian, just like one doesn’t need to be Russian to understand Dostoevsky. This doesn’t mean that our knowledge of Dostoevsky is the same with the knowledge a Russian or someone else may have of him. But this is perfectly fine. It is our or your personal knowledge of him—not in a relativist sense, but rather in a truly personal fashion. This means that one can know the Romanian “soul” by accepting who one is, a unique person that belongs to a unique people, American, Ukrainian, Indian, or Paraguayan. Once we know where we come from, once we know how we greet every morning of our lives, we can have a genuine relationship with anyone else.

[1] Emil Cioran. 1995. Scrisori către cei de acasă (Letters for Those Who Remained Home). Bucureşti: Humanitas, p. 310.

[2] Aristotle. 2019. Metaphysics: An Introduction to Contemporary Debates and Their History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 8.

[3] C. Noica, The Romanian Sentiment of Being. Punctum Books, 2022, p. 58. The one term/idea that has been at the core of our work proceeds from Noica’s philosophy. The Romanian notion of întru can be rendered in English by using both “within” and “toward.” “Întru” originates from the Latin prefix intro (to the inside, inward—as in, for example, the English word “introduction”: intro—inward + ducere—to lead). Alistair Ian Blyth has translated the title of Devenirea întru fiinţă as Becoming within Being (Marquette University Press, 2009). Noica’s “întru” captures the idea that becoming does not only take place within a nature of something, but also always toward a nature: it is perhaps the path a translation takes, a becoming into something that it already is, but not yet manifested prior to the completion of a project.

[4] Eugenio Refini. 2020. The Vernacular Aristotle, Cambridge University Press, p. 101.

[5] Anthony J. Liddicoat. 2016. Translation as intercultural mediation: Setting the scene, Perspectives, 24:3, 347-353, DOI: 10.1080/0907676X.2015.1125934

[6] C. Noica, op. cit., p. 122.

Karsten Harries: The Antinomy of Being

The Antinomy of Being Book Cover The Antinomy of Being
Karsten Harries. Preface by: Dermot Moran
De Gruyter
Front matter: 22. Main content: 246

Reviewed by: Richard Colledge (School of Philosophy, Australian Catholic University)

Karsten Harries’ The Antinomy of Being, which is based on his final Yale graduate seminar, is a deeply ambitious study that brings to the table vast scholarship across a range of philosophical, as well as literary, theological, early modern scientific, and art historical sources. Focusing especially on what he presents as a key problematic in the work of Kant, Nietzsche and Heidegger, Harries demonstrates the way that this notion of the antinomy of Being is at the heart of the condition of possibility of truth, and thus for any response to the spectre of nihilism. When taken as a whole, his arguments make a compelling case not only for the centrality and irreducibility of this issue across a range of philosophical fields, but also for any rigorous meta-philosophical reflection. This welcome development in Harries’ work is a text that challenges contemporary thought across various fields.

The idea of the antinomy of Being is one that Harries has presented and discussed numerous times in his writings over the last decade and a half in particular, generally as part of a more finely focused argument that opens into this larger underlying set of concerns.[1] However, in this 2019 monograph, Harries provides a fully developed account of what he describes as “the unifying thread of [his] philosophical musings” from over half a century of teaching, even if the term itself appeared in his work only comparatively recently (AB, 1).

“Antinomy” is associated with paradox; aporia; the limits of language; cognitive dissonance; and possibly even the limits of logic. More specifically (especially in a Kantian context), it relates to the clash between two apparently contradictory beliefs, each of which is entirely justifiable. Two of the four famous antinomies in Kant’s first Kritik (relating to space and time, freedom, substance and ultimate necessity) are the subject of explicit attention in this book, as is the way that the same fundamental problematic can be seen as being deeply at play in the work of Martin Heidegger and various other post-Kantian thinkers. The ways that these more specific cases arise in Harries’ text will be surveyed below. However, it is important also to note that Harries’ concern is not to simply paint his topic as an issue in the thought of a particular group of philosophers. To the contrary, his larger and more basic project is to show that the antinomy of Being is an irreducible element in all thought, cutting across all disciplines and genres. Consequently, its denial amounts to the distortion of thought, while coming to terms with it is the only pathway to intellectual (perhaps also existential) authenticity. For ultimately, it is a question of how it is possible to respond to the ever-present threat of nihilism (the topic of his 1962 doctoral dissertation). As he puts it early in his Introduction:

[O]ur thinking inevitably leads us into some version of this antinomy whenever it attempts to comprehend reality in toto, without loss, and that a consequence of that attempt is a loss of reality. All such attempts will fall short of their goal. What science can know and what reality is, are in the end incommensurable. Such incommensurability however, is not something to be grudgingly accepted, but embraced as a necessary condition of living a meaningful life. That is why the Antinomy of Being matters and should concern us. (AB, 2)

What is the nub of Harries’ contention? In a sense, the book is something of a manifesto for hermeneutical realism, and in such a way that places equal weight on both hermeneutics and realism as complementary poles of the antinomy of Being as a whole. On one hand, there is an absolute insistence on the finitude of all understanding (“hermeneutics goes all the way down” as the old adage has it), while on the other hand there is an equally strong insistence on the real as that which is finitely understood. In this way, the twin disasters of nihilism – i.e., idealism (nothing can be known; or there is no real as such) and dogmatism (in its many guises, be it scientism, religious fundamentalism, etc) – are both variations on the theme of denial of the ineluctable antinomy of Being. Both idealism and realism contain kernels of truth, but in canonising one side of the antinomy and marginalising the other, both are ideologies that destroy the balance required to underpin the possibilities of knowing in any genuine sense. On one hand, idealism absolutizes the rift between mind and world so that it is portrayed as an unbridgeable chasm that makes knowledge of the real impossible. On the other hand, in its claim to have captured and represented the real, there is something absurd and self-undermining in rationalistic realism, and in presenting a shrunken parody of the real it too vacates the space for nihilistic conclusions.

In seeking to do justice to both sides of the antinomy, Harries is not afraid to defend what he sees as the key insight of the Kantian antinomies that he links respectively (if unfashionably) to the transcendental and the transcendent dimensions of the real:

[T]he being of things has to be understood in two senses: what we experience are first of all phenomena, appearances, and as such their being is essentially a being for the knowing subject. Science investigates these phenomena. But the things we experience are also things in themselves, and as such they possess a transcendent being that eludes our comprehension. The identification of phenomena, of what science can know, with reality is shown to mire us in contradiction. (AB, 1)

I suggest that Harries’ stance invites comparison with other contemporary forms of hermeneutical realism, such as that developed by Günter Figal.[2] Figal’s approach places the focus on the problem of objectivity: of the thing’s standing over against the subject as irretrievably other, even in its being understood and grasped. As Figal puts it, “[h]ermeneutical experience is the experience of the objective [das Gegenständliche]—of what is there in such a way that one may come into accord with it and that yet never fully comes out in any attempt to reach accord.”[3] Similarly, it is this simultaneous knowability and unknowability of things that Harries highlights in his observation of the antinomy that characterises all understanding of the objective, of that which shows itself – only ever finitely and incompletely – as the real.

In the first chapter of the book, Harries sets out his account predominantly with reference not to Kant, but to Heidegger. These pages provide a condensed summary of some of the major aspects of his previously published readings of Heidegger that gather around this theme. For Harries, the confrontation with the antinomy of Being is at the heart of a key tension in Being and Time, a tension that Heidegger repeatedly returns to for the rest of his life. Even if Heidegger never used the term, Harries asserts that it is directly evoked in his notion of “the ontological difference” (the difference between beings and their Being [Sein]), for to attempt to think this difference Heidegger, he claims, “had to confront the Antinomy of Being” (AB, 15). As Heidegger outlines in §§43-44 of Being and Time, but more directly in his summer 1927 lecture course, there is a formidable problem here. On one hand, without Being, there would be no beings, and so Being is transcendental. Further, there is Being only when truth (and thus Dasein) exists, for without Dasein, there would be no revelation of beings. But on the other hand (and here the antinomy becomes evident), it cannot be said that beings, or nature as such, only are when there is Dasein. Nature does not need to be revealed to Dasein (there need be no event of truth) in order to be what it already is. We do not create beings; they “are given to us,” and our “experience of the reality of the real is thus an experience of beings as transcending Being so understood” (AB, 15). Being “transcend[s] … the Dasein-dependent transcendental Being to which Being and Time sought to lead us” (AB, 14). The antinomy of Being thus arises in this distinction Heidegger implicitly notes “between two senses of Being: the first transcendental sense relative to Dasein and in this sense inescapably historical, the second transcendent sense, gesturing towards the ground or origin of Dasein’s historical being and thus also of Being understood transcendentally” (AB, 15-16).[4]

To be sure, with this Heidegger interpretation Harries intervenes in well-established debates within (especially American) Heidegger scholarship. However, unlike the way much of that debate circles around early Heideggerian thought (and sometimes only Division 1 of Being and Time), Harries is concerned with the way that this same issue continued to play out – albeit in different terms –  in Heidegger’s later works. For example, he makes the interesting (unfortunately undeveloped) suggestion that Heidegger sometimes looks to differentiate these two senses of Being via the introduction of the Hölderlin-inspired spelling “Seyn” or in placing “Sein” under erasure. “Sein and Seyn are the two sides of my antinomy,” he explains: “Being understood as the transcendent ground of experience (Seyn) transcends Being understood transcendentally (Sein)” (AB, 16). However, the attempt to comprehend … the presencing (das Wesen) of Seyn will inevitably “become entangled in some version of the Antinomy of Being. Thus:

Any attempt to conceptually lay hold of that originating ground threatens to transform it into a being, such as God or the thing in itself and must inevitably fail. Here our thinking bumps against the limits of language. Being refuses to be imprisoned in the house of language. And yet this elusive ground is somehow present to us, calls us, if in silence, opening a window to transcendence in our world. (AB, 16)

For Harries, the notion of the Kehre in Heideggerian thought – understood as Heidegger himself presents it, as “a more thoughtful attempt to attend to the matter to be thought” –  is a step made necessary by “the antinomial essence of Being, which denies the thinker a foundation.” Indeed, Harries goes still further in doubling back to Kant: the “Antinomy of Being shows us why we cannot dispense with something like the Kantian understanding of the thing in itself as the ground of phenomena, even as the thing in itself eludes our understanding” (AB, 16-17).

In Chapter 2 (“The Antinomy of Truth”), Harries continues his engagement with Heideggerian thought, specifically concerning the paradox of language. Accordingly, language is both the way that beings are revealed and thus (transcendentally) come to be for us, whilst also limiting us to a finite encounter with the real that in itself transcends the limits of linguistic and thus worldly presentation. In other words, as Heidegger emphasised time and again (though it is also an insight voiced throughout philosophical history, from Plato to Wittgenstein and beyond), language both reveals and conceals the real, both revealling and “necessarily cover[ing] up the unique particularity of things” (AB, 25). Harries illustrates this point by opening the chapter with citations from Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s evocative 1902 “Letter of Lord Chandos,” before then showing how Hofmannsthal’s insights were already voiced by figures as diverse as Aquinas, Kant and Nietzsche. After focusing on “the truth of phenomena” through a Kantian lens (in the course of which he illuminatingly quotes Copernicus on his own distinction between appearance and actuality in planetary observation), Harries then provides an extended analysis and critique of Heidegger’s account of truth. In partially sympathising with Tugendhat’s critique of Heidegger’s early notion of truth as alētheia, Harries goes on to maintain that transcendental subjectivity only makes sense in the context of transcendental objectivity. The real is only ever encountered and uncovered perspectivally, but the (infinite) array of possible perspectives (via the contingencies of worlding) points to a transcendent whole that is nonetheless inaccessible in its completeness to the finite subject:

To understand the subject as a subject that transcends all particular points of view is to presuppose that consciousness is tied to perspectives but transcends these perspectives in the awareness that they are just perspectives. The transcendental subject has its foundation in the self-transcending subject. (AB, 45)

In Harries view, in its focus on the finitude of phenomenological access, Heidegger’s early position fails to do justice to this larger context: Heidegger’s fundamental ontology “suggest[s] that the perspectival is prior to the trans-perspectival without inquiring into the meaning of this priority.” Further, it must be recognized that “the perspectival and the transperspectival cannot be divorced,” for human self-transcendence “stands essentially in between the two” (AB, 45). Nonetheless, even given this critique, Harries continues to insist, with Heidegger, on the ineluctability of finitude:

[T]he transcendental philosopher remains tied to a given language and subject to the perspectives it imposes, even as he attempts to take a step beyond them. The absolute of which he dreams must elude him. The pursuit of objectivity cannot escape its ground in the concrete. (AB, 45)

Chapter 3 (“The Architecture of Reason”) is largely devoted to the relationship between Kant and Nietzsche on this question. Focusing especially on the latter’s essay “On Truth and Lies in an Extra-moral Sense,” Harries is in agreement with Nietzsche in his staunch opposition to linguistic realism: words do not simply express the inner essence of the things they re-present. “What we can grant him is that the thing in itself remains quite incomprehensible,” and so “what we are dealing with are always only appearances.” However, Harries also wants to insist on the key distinction between the thing-in-itself and objective appearance as such. After all, if the phenomenon just is the self-giving of the thing as it is – albeit finitely and perspectivally – then this makes sense of the possibility of similar perceptions; and this in turn is what makes shared concept formation possible. Furthermore, he argues, it is only thus that Nietzsche is able to sustain his own “social contract theory of language” (AB, 55). But on the other hand, Nietzsche’s linguistic idealism produces a savage critique of scientific rationalism which, he suggests, fails to see that its concepts are really metaphors, the product of the imagination. Concepts are “the ashes of lived intuition”, and scientific rationalism is therefore nothing other than a chasing after shadows. In leaving behind lived experience, science leaves us with death: a “columbarium of concepts” (AB, 63).

This link between science and loss – of the dangers of intellectualism that imperils the natural human experience of the real – is accentuated in the following chapter (“The Devil as Philosopher”) that presents an intriguing diptych of Fichte and Chamisso. Harries’ engagement with the former – who is his major philosophical interlocutor in this chapter – surveys the train of thought that led Fichte to the nihilism of his absolute idealist conclusions. But he also addresses the sense in which Fichte’s path of thought equivocally led out the other side through his conception of “conscience” by which a disinterested intellectualism is replaced by a spirit of conviction. It is thus that Harries sees Fichtean thought as subject again to “the call of reality, which is submerged whenever the world is seen as the desiccated object of a detached, theoretical understanding” (AB, 77). The hinge of the aforementioned diptych is made possible by Fichte’s historical exile from Jena to Berlin, where he met and befriended the romantic poet Adelbert von Chamisso, author of the cautionary tale of Peter Schlemihl. In Harries’ interpretation, Schlemihl – a character who (Faust-like) bargains with a demonic (Mephistopheles-like) philosopher to trade his shadow for unending wealth – is emblemic of the dark side of Enlightenment reason that would have us lose our natural embodied selves, our cultural and social particularities, our “homeland,” in pursuit of the ashes and emptiness of objectivity, soulless freedom and universal reason. Only disembodied ghosts cast no shadows. As Nietzsche would later suggest, disembodied reason is a form of living death. The rationalistic road by which Fichte would propose the inescapable mirror of consciousness that posits the world through its own volition is yet another form of failing to think through both sides of the antinomy of Being.

This leads Harries the full circle back to Heidegger, in a chapter titled “The Shipwreck of Metaphysics”, but also to a very contemporary application of the Heideggerian problematic. He begins by recalling his diagnosis of the antinomy of Being that emerges from Heidegger’s early thought (two irreducibly opposed senses of Being), and he notes Heidegger’s own admission (in his 1946/47 “Letter on Humanism”) that “[t]he thinking that hazards a few steps in Being and Time has even today not advanced beyond that publication.” Harries has us dwell on this impass with Heidegger. Was the whole incomplete project of Being and Time was therefore a dead-end? For Heidegger, it was not simply a “blind alley” (Sackgasse), but something far more telling: a Holzweg. The path of his thought was a very particular kind of losing of one’s way that is typical of “a genuinely philosophical problem” as Wittgenstein would put it (AB, 86). The Holzweg of Heideggerian thought leads us directly into the to the aporia of Being as such.

Harries goes on in this chapter to provide a very contemporary and “concrete” illustration of how this plays out in our own time with regard to the contortions of scientific materialism. He might have chosen any number of interlocutors in this field, but instead (in another hint of Harries’ intellectual generosity) he selects an interlocutor close at hand: a philosophically-minded colleague from Yale’s computer science department, Drew McDermott. With a nod to the medieval doctrine of “double truth” (condemned at Paris in 1277), Harries notes the way that his colleague is completely committed to the basic proposition that the natural sciences hold the key to all that is, can be, and will be understood, even as he admits that science cannot explain key aspects of our first-person experience of the world, including values we hold to be true. In this, he was inspired by Heidegger’s account of Dasein’s Being-in-the-world (that undermined a materialist “present-at-hand” projection of the world) , even though his commitment to the scientific attitude puts him at loggerheads with Heidegger. Harries sees in McDermott’s apparent cognitive dissonance the very aporia with which Kant and Fichte wrestled, and to which Heidegger’s own work was also to point.

The following chapter (“Limits and Legitimacy of Science”) expands upon this problem of the incompatibility of science with meaning, seen through the lens of the nineteenth century German physicist Heinrich Hertz (in his search for simple comprehensive scientific principles to comprehend the world), the early Wittgenstein (who despite similar aspirations famously concluded that “the sense of the world must lie outside the world”), and Kant (who similarly wanted to entirely affirm the scientific attitude even as he affirmed the truth of dimensions that transcend, and are precluded by, the sciences: freedom, immortality, God).

What begins to emerge in Chapter 7 (“Learning from Laputa”) are twin themes that will come to dominate the later parts of the book: the notion of seeking to escape from the confines of earthly existence through rationality and scientific application, and the theme of being-at-home. Harries’ major inspiration here is Swift’s portrayal of the Laputians in Gulliver’s Travels, who in creating their flying island revel in their (albeit ambiguous) transcendence of standard physical constraints and social bonds. These men of Laputa literally “have their heads in the clouds,” as they exist detached from their earthy home. Indeed, Harries notes the allusions here to Aristophanes’ The Clouds, and he sees both productions as parodies of rationalistic hubris (AB, 119). Here we see the link made to Heidegger’s critique of technology, which not only involves the triumph of curiosity (seen also in the Laputians), but also the flight from grounded human dwelling. Like Peter Schlemihl, with technological enframing, we lose our shadows.

Harries’ upward orientation continues in Chapter 8 as he turns to the cosmological revolution of the sixteenth century. A key figure here is Giordano Bruno, whose execution is understood in the context of an absolute commitment to the sovereignty of rational freedom, and more specifically the implications of his championing of the idea of infinite time and space. In such a universe, conceptions of boundedness, constraint, society, embodiedness, home and homecoming – one might say facticity –  are lost. As Nietzsche pointed out, there is no longer any horizon, no up or down. But Harries similarly points to the earlier tradition of Germanic mysticism (from Walther von der Vogelweide, to Ruysbroeck, to Eckhart and Suso) that made similar gestures toward the power of self-transcendence and freedom of thought to leave the body behind and even challenge the boundary between the human and the Divine. Here the thinking of space through intellectual freedom leads to antinomy. On one hand, space must be limited, since otherwise location would be impossible; but on the other hand, space cannot be limited since there can be nothing outside of space.

On the basis of this extensive groundwork, in Chapters 9 and 10 Harries turns, respectively, to other Kantian antinomies: concerning freedom and time. With reference also to Fichte, he sets out the terms of Kant’s antinomy of freedom: that on one hand there are two kinds of causality in the world (via laws of nature, and via the law of freedom, since otherwise it would be impossible to account for spontaneous events that are not reducible to natural cause and effect), while on the other hand freedom is clearly precluded by the necessary laws of nature (since otherwise the flow of events would lose their regularity). He follows this line of thought into Kant’s Critique of Judgment, in which freedom is defended “from a practical point of view” in terms of the experience of persons (AB, 159). But again, Harries is keen to show the perennial nature of this problem, returning to the Paris Condemnations to show that these same irresolvable issues are at play both in terms of the understanding of God’s freedom (Divine voluntarism vs rationalism) and human freedom (in the context of knowledge and sin).

The richly textured chapter on Kant’s antinomy of time (that draws in also Plato’s Timaeus, Aristotle, Rilke and Heidegger), takes a series of perspectives on the theme. On one hand, time must be bounded (and the world must have a beginning), since otherwise there could be no foothold in time within which events could occur. But on the other hand, it makes no ordinary sense to conceive of an event outside of time, so time must be infinite. As Harries points out concerning the latter, Kant is thinking here of the idea of time as a complete and infinite whole, an incomprehensible “noumenal substrate.” Here the notion of the sublime in the third Kritik is helpful. Sublime nature, for example, cannot be phenomenonally comprehended as a whole, but it can be thought, and here reason comes to the fore even as imagination and understanding are outstripped. This power of reason to think the infinite, points to the human capacity to transcend its finitude in a certain sense at least that nonetheless conflicts with the ongoing finitude of understanding. The noumenal is thinkable, but not understandable.

It is perhaps something of a shortcoming of the book that Harries doesn’t do the detailed work of relating the structure of the Kantian antinomies in general to his proposal about the antinomy of Being as such. However, the main outlines can be inferred. The logic would seem to be that the “thesis” and “antithesis” sides of Kant’s antinomies speak to the two senses of Being that Harries delineates: the transcendental and the transcendent (or the phenomenological and the noumenal). If, for Kant, transcendental idealism was the means by which these two were held in tension, Harries would seem to be suggesting that we need a robust sense of the Holzwege that both joins and separates what Heidegger wrote of as Realität and des realen: worldly reality and the inaccessible real.[5]

The final chapters of the book (Chapter 11 on “The Rediscovery of the Earth”, and Chapter 12 on “Astronoetics”) focus on this notion of the tension between human finitude and our attractedness to the heavens, to the infinite. We live with a double truth here: we are at home in our local domestic communities even as we are aware that we dwell on a planet that is spinning through space at extraordinary speed. Some of us long to realise the ubiquitous human desire to transcend our earthly dwelling place (as seen in ancient theories and myths, from Thales, to Vitruvius, to Icarus, to Babel, to modern hot air balloons and space flight), and the recent innovation of literal astronautical transcendence of the earth’s atmosphere has given us a taste of what this might mean. In our own times, there is talk of humanity becoming a space-travelling, multi-planetary species. However, Harries insists that we remain mortals, and (for the foreseeable future) creatures of the earth. The brave new world of space flight remains parasitic on the rich and nurturing resources of our home planet. He goes on to reminds us of the long tradition of Christian suspicion of pagan hubris (Augustine vs Aristotle): yes, we are made in God’s image, but human curiosity is also at the root of the fall.

These many themes are continued into the chapter on Astronoetics. The key question here concerns the human relationship to our origin: our earthly home. Are there limits to human self-manipulation and our manipulation of the earth? In order to think through such questions, aeronautics needs to be complemented by what Hans Blumenberg termed astronoetics: the act of thinking or dreaming our way imaginatively through space while remaining “safely ensconced at home.” (AB, 189). This is eventually a matter of thinking deeply about what is at stake in human ambition. Harries presents Jean-François Lyotard and the artist Frank Stella as representatives of the alternative he terms “postmodern levity.” This approach is uninterested in what they characterise as the modern (philosophical and artistic) nostalgic longing for a “lost centre or plenitude,” instead freely revelling in immanence and innovation. If modern art, in its “unhappy consciousness” is “never quite at home in the world,” the post-modern is characterised by a resolute this-worldliness (AB, 204). If modernity looks to evoke that which is finally unpresentable, artists like Frank Stella strive to create works of art that simply satisfy, are fully present, and eschew any ambition to point beyond themselves to obscured dimensions of truth or reality. Needless to say, such an approach is the antithesis of Harries’ account of the incomprehensible presence of the real in things as ordinary and precious as the experience of other human beings and the beauty of nature (see AB, 209).

It cannot be said that Harries’ Conclusion (titled “The Snake’s Promise”) succeeds in pulling together the various threads of his rich and ambitious book. But then again, for a book that deals with the the irreducible antinomy of Being, this seems apt. There are no neat resolutions to be had here. Perhaps this is already intimated in the re-encapsulation of the meaning of the antinomy of Being with which the chapter begins: that “reality will finally elude the reach of our reason, that all attempts to comprehend it will inevitably replace reality with more or less inadequate human constructions.” (AB, 216) In musising further on Heidegger’s critique of technology, Harries shows himself to be largely on the same page as Heidegger, though he is slightly sceptical about a simplistic nostalgic call to return to a pre-industrial golden age. Science and technology have profoundly changed our context, and there is no lineal return.

However, what the final pages do provide is a concluding and scathing critique of the distortions and banishments of the real by science, by art, in education and in popular culture. Science “seeks to understand reality in order to master it” (AB, 233), but in this never-ending quest, it reduces the real through perspectivalism and objectification, alienating us from it. Second, “aestheticizing art” obscures the real insofar as in simply looking to entertain it asks nothing of us. In both cases, the real lies inaccessible and largely forgotten behind the image. In fact, neither the artist, nor the scientist, are second Gods (as per the snake’s promise in the garden), for the work of both is parasitic on the underlying reality that make them possible. Third, and worse still, is the aestheticization of thinking itself: “the transformation of humanistic scholarship into an often very ingenious intellectual game.” (AB, 233) Fourth, and worst of all, is the attempt to aestheticize reality, especially by technological means, for in this way, reality is counterfeited; the real becomes the surreal.

Where does Harries’ extraordinary book leave us? Perhaps most of all with a plea to respect the real, by making a space for its unexpected appearings, to await its uncontrolled showings, and to resist the temptation (driven by our own anxieties) to partialize or even falsify it. I can do no better than to end with Harries’ own appeal:

[E]very attempt to [manipulate reality] … makes us deaf to its claims, denies us access to its transcendence in which all meaning finally has its ground, a ground that by its very essence will not be mastered. To open windows to that reality we must find the strength to abandon the hope to take charge of reality, the hope to be in this sense like God. Only such strength will allow us to be genuinely open to the claims persons and things place on us, will let us understand that we do not belong to ourselves, that we cannot invent or imagine what will give our lives measure and direction, but have to receive and discover it. (AB, 233-34)

[1] See Karsten Harries, “The Antinomy of Being and the End of Philosophy,” in Division III of Heidegger’s Being and Time: The Unanswered Question of Being, ed. Lee Braver (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015), 133-47; Harries, “The Antinomy of Being: Heidegger’s Critique of Humanism,” in The Cambridge Companion to Existentialism, ed. Steven Crowell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 178-198; and Harries, Wahrheit: Die Architektur der Welt (München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2012). For a thoughtful engagement with the last of these, see Steven Crowell, “Amphibian Dreams: Karsten Harries and the Phenomenology of ‘Human’ Reason,” in Husserl, Kant and Transcendental Phenomenology, ed. Iulian Apostolescu and Claudia Serban (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2020), 479-504.

[2] For more on this, see my “Thomism and Contemporary Phenomenological Realism: Toward a Renewed Engagement,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 95, no. 3 (2021): 411–432 (esp. 417ff).

[3] Günter Figal. Objectivity: The Hermeneutical and Philosophy. trans. Theodore George (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010), 2.

[4] For a not dissimilar reading of the dynamics at play in this area of early Heideggerian thought, and of how this plays out in his later thought, see my “The Incomprehensible ‘Unworlded World’: Nature and Abyss in Heideggerian Thought,” forthcoming in The Journal of the British Society of Phenomenology.

[5] See, e.g., Martin Heidegger, Being and Time (Oxford: Blackwell, 1962), 255 [SZ: 212]; Heidegger, History of the Concept of Time (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985), 217 [GA20: 298].

Luz Ascarate: Imaginer selon Paul Ricoeur, Hermann, 2022

Imaginer selon Paul Ricoeur: La phénoménologie à la rencontre de l'ontologie sociale Book Cover Imaginer selon Paul Ricoeur: La phénoménologie à la rencontre de l'ontologie sociale
Le Bel Aujourd'hui
Luz Ascarate
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