Walter Hopp: Phenomenology: A Contemporary Introduction, Routledge, 2020

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Routledge Research in Phenomenology
Walter Hopp
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Gregory P. Floyd, Stephanie Rumpza (Eds.): The Catholic Reception of Continental Philosophy in North America, University of Toronto Press, 2020

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Gregory P. Floyd, Stephanie Rumpza (Eds.):
University of Toronto Press
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Lambert Wiesing: Ich für mich – Phänomenologie des Selbstbewusstseins, Suhrkamp, 2020

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Lambert Wiesing
Suhrkamp Verlag
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Edmund Husserl: Normativité et déconstruction, Vrin, 2020

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Bibliothèque des Textes Philosophiques
Edmund Husserl. Présentation et traduction de Marie-Hélène Desmeules et Julien Farges

Roland Breeur: L.I.S. Lies – Imposture – Stupidity, Jonas ir Jokūbas, 2019

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Roland Breeur
Jonas ir Jokūbas
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Richard I. Sugarman: Levinas and the Torah: A Phenomenological Approach

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SUNY series in Contemporary Jewish Thought
Richard I. Sugarman
SUNY Press
Hardback $95.00

Reviewed by: Hannah Bacon (Stony Brook University)

The eminent French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1905-1995) has garnered recent renewed interest, both in terms of his philosophy and his reflection on Judaism. Sugarman contributes to this emergent scholarship in his extensive analysis Levinas and the Torah: A Phenomenological Approach (published by SUNY Press in 2019), which extends and deepens his own body of work on Levinas.[1]

Sugarman’s extant Levinas scholarship includes the articles „Emmanuel Levinas: The Ethics of ‚Face to Face’/ The Religious Turn“ in Phenomenology World-Wide; “Messianic Temporality: Preliminary Reflections on Ethical Messianism and the Deformalization of Time in Levinas” in Recherches Levinassiennes; and “Toward a Rationality of Transcendence: The Importance of Emmanuel Levinas to Contemporary Jewish Thought” published in A Perennial Spring.[2] Sugarman, with H.A. Stephenson, translated Levinas’s Talmudic text “To Love the Torah More Than God.” Pertinent to this project is the collection of John Wild’s work that Sugarman edited with R.B. Duncan entitled Speaking Philosophy: The Posthumous papers of John Wild.[3] John Wild (1902-1972), an influential phenomenologist, was Sugarman’s former teacher and mentor at Yale. Sugarman credits Wild with introducing Sugarman to the work of Levinas. As a result of his association with Wild, Sugarman personally met with Levinas in 1973.

Levinas and the Torah, an approachable but extensive text, begins with Sugarman’s own introduction and study of Levinas’s work, including a short, but relevant, biography of Levinas. This biographical framing includes three events pertinent to his philosophical work: the political horror that served as the backdrop of Levinas’s early life, including World War I; the Russian October Revolution which precipitated his family’s exile and relocation as Lithuanian Jews to the Ukraine; and, most saliently, World War II, during which he was imprisoned in a labor camp, his wife and daughter went into hiding, and most of his extended family was murdered. He dedicates Otherwise than Being: Beyond Essence to these family members murdered during the Holocaust of World War II. Sugarman’s biography also highlights his lifelong Jewish education in Talmudic Studies, his early philosophical immersion in phenomenology as a student of Edmund Husserl, and the trajectory of his work and the anxiety over influence as a colleague, admirer, and eventual critic of Martin Heidegger.

The guiding principle of Dr. Sugarman’s study is that, “The approach of Levinas to both Talmudic texts and philosophy is governed by the discipline of phenomenology.”[4] That said, Sugarman is a professor of religion: the book leans more towards religious studies than philosophy. To wit, there are more than twice as many commentators cited on the rabbinical texts as there are commentators on Levinas. Despite this focus, one need not be a religious scholar. The book is accessible and provides contexts and historical interpretations for the texts cited (such as the differences between the Pentateuch, the Mishnah, and the Bible).

Levinas and the Torah is decidedly focused on Levinas’s religious hermeneutics. The five main books of the Torah is the organizing taxonomy of the book (Genesis: Bereishis, Exodus: Shemos, Leviticus: Vayikra, Numbers: Bamidbar, and Deuteronomy: Devarim). These five sections are further divided down into the weekly readings portion of the Pentateuch. Sugarman pairs these readings with an equally diverse array of Levinasian concepts and interpretations of the underlying topics. Needless to say, this rich and multifaceted text covers a lot of ground, making it a difficult book to summarize.

One drawback to this structure is that the Levinasian philosophical concepts are spread across different sections. For example, the Talmudic concept of the Hineini, or the “Here I am,” that Levinas employs in his philosophical writings is discussed not in Genesis and the story of Abraham where one might expect it. Instead, it is treated in the section on proper names and Exodus 1:1-1:6 and then again in more depth in the section devoted to Prophetism: Inspiration and Prophecy, Numbers 22:2-25:9. These sections are almost two hundred pages apart and there is no indexical entry for this concept despite the centrality to Levinasian thought. For a Levinasian neophyte it is difficult to trace certain Levinasian specific concepts or ideas that are treated in multiple sections, but also to have a view of how specific leitmotifs fit together to form in his overarching philosophy. Similarly, Sugarman fails to attend to the nuanced way in which specific Levinasian concepts shift over time.[5]

In addition to the Jewish inflection that one can find in Levinas’s’ straightforward philosophical texts, Levinas also produced scholarship specifically on Jewish religious texts. Levinas lectured on the weekly Torah portions at École Normale Israelite Orientale. These lectures have no transcripts as recording and note-taken is forbidden during Shabbat. Levinas published two notable collections of essays specifically on Judaism: in 1963 with a book translated as Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism) and in 1968 with Nine Talmudic Readings. New Talmudic Readings was published posthumously in 1996. Sugarman draws on both the Talmudic texts and the philosophical texts. Sugarman puts Levinas’s Talmudic readings in dialogue with other Jewish scholars such as Mordechai Shoshani, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Rashi, Maimonides, Abrham Ibn Eza, Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner, and others.

Levinas and the Torah: A Phenomenological Approach yokes Levinas’s conceptual framework to Talmudic passages and hermeneutical religious scholarship. Beginning with Genesis, Sugarman lays out Rashi’s, Erwin Straus’s, and Abraham Ibn Ezra’s readings of Genesis, drawing out the passages that pertain to Levinasian philosophy. In the first of fourteen subsections on Genesis, Sugarman gives an in-depth reading of Cain’s query, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). The obvious Levinasian response to this is affirmative: Responsibility to and for the other is one of Levinas’s central underlying ethical tenets. The Levinas that is juxtaposed is not always the most obvious. For instance, I assumed a discussion of fraternity in Levinas and its role in justice would ensue, but instead Sugarman focuses on God withdrawing his face as a form of grave punishment. The face and its appeal, specifically its appeal in terms of its unspoken command, is another central concept for Levinas. From there, Sugarman moves on to a discussion of responsibility to the future, and whether Cain is guilty not just of fratricide but guilty of the violence against Abel’s future bloodline in what he terms generational responsibility. Levinas argues one has a responsibility to the other not just in the current moment, but a responsibility to the other in ensuring their future. One is infinitely responsible to the other. Sugarman’s treatment of Levinas’s theories of fraternity and justice did come later. By highlighting minor or less overworked aspects both in the Torah and in Levinas, Sugarman opens room for the reader to pursue lines of thought that are not already so established and exhaustively treated as to be clichéd.

One of the more compelling and interesting moments is the discussion of Levinas’s 1935 text On Escape with relation to the Talmudic account of Abraham and Sarah (also found in Genesis). The Abrahamic story begins with the command Lech Lecha, which is often translated as meaning ‘go for yourself.’ Sugarman however, proposes an alternate reading of “go out from yourself” (19). This interpretation is then put in conversation with Levinas’s phenomenological description of embodiment as being trapped in the self and under the thumb of various affects such as hunger, exhaustion, restlessness, and malaise. In other places the most dynamic insights come from these close hermeneutical alternative readings.

In Levinas, the self becomes a self by sacrificing for the other. Egoism, or putting the self before the other, is a grave ethical failure and a form of spiritual death. Abraham becomes the father of faith by being willing to make the most profound sacrifice for the divine. Sugarman is a close reader: he reminds the reader of details that are often forgotten because they do not seem relevant, but they become significant because of the Levinasian framing.  In his reading, Sugarman returns us to the less sanitized version of Biblical stories, although he does not say as much. I, for one, had forgotten that Jacob had children with four women and that Sarah convinces Abraham to sleep with their slave/servant (depending on your reading) Hagar, an act that Sugarman characterizes as ‘selfless’ of Sarah.  Sarah then casts Hagar out when Ishmael (Hagar’s and Abraham’s son) and Isaac, (Sarah’s and Abraham’s son) get into a verbal altercation. The return to the original text opens us up to the possibility of less cemented hermeneutical readings, and raises questions as to what we forget or exclude when we tell the story of Abraham. This incident could be an interesting counter-example of Abraham and Sarah as “exemplars of hospitality.”[6] Sugarman does not go this far, and in fact does not have a critical reading of either Levinas or the Talmudic sections. By bringing in the actual text, however, the reader can take the task of critical reading upon herself.

One powerful aspect of the Talmudic stories that Sugarman highlights is that these are not stories in which one returns home in the end, but instead lives in exile. Sugarman argues that this narrative arc essentially differs from the hero’s journey of Greek myths such as Odysseus, or the teleological structure of human nature put forth by Aristotle. Odysseus and Abraham are fundamentally different cultural narratives: when a person leaves without the guarantee of returning or even the hope of returning, this is the basis of an essentially different kind of narrative and thus an essentially different kind of subject. Pointing out the resonance between the story of Abraham and the centrality of responsibility to the other in Levinas’s construction of the subject is not a fresh or new idea. Sugarman provides a compelling hermeneutical argument that, in its most successful passages, makes the reader newly aware of how uncommon specific narratives and arguments are in present-day culture and contemporary intellectual thought. By sharing the joyful ruminations gleaned from a close hermeneutical reading practice, this book is a successful argument for the importance of revisiting the Torah. Sugarman reminds the reader of what a radical shift it is to think of the self or the subject as inherently for the other, and he also demonstrates how against the grain Levinasian thought is in relation to the prevailing intellectual history of the subject or ego.

In the sections devoted to “Exodus: Shemos,” Sugarman outlines experiences of exile, revolution, tyranny, oppression and the duty towards social justice. Sugarman relates these concepts and narratives to the consequences they have for identity, morality, and temporality in the Talmudic text. These passages on temporality include a clarifying distinction between nostalgia and tradition. This constellation of ideas is related to Levinas’s conceptual framework of responsibility, freedom, law, and development of the moral subject. The most interesting aspect of this section is an account of the moral importance of the act of promising and the essential role it plays in intersubjective relationships. In order to promise one must have hope for a future. The discussion of promising emerges in Exodus in form of the promise G’d makes to the enslaved Jewish people. One consequence of slavery is the loss of individual identity evinced in the loss of proper names (Shemos the Hebrew for Exodus means names).[7] For Levinas, to be a subject, one must be responsible to the other. Sugarman shows, through his reading, how enslavement inhibits one’s ability to be a Levinasian ethical subject, in that one cannot make a promise to the other, nor can one respond to the needs of the other, or take responsibility for the future of the other. Exodus contains the command to protect ‘the widow, the orphan, and the stranger’ a phrase that regularly appears in Levinas’s ethical philosophy, suggesting that these Talmudic passages are immensely pertinent for Levinas in terms of our ethical duty to others.

Sugarman’s analysis of Leviticus: Vayikra focuses on holiness, religious law, the duty to study, and the atonement or repentance of Yom Kippur for transgressions against each other and against G’d. Leviticus is often considered the most esoteric and least well-known book of the Torah. Sugarman draws on Levinas’s discussion of holiness, the importance of language and dialogue, further analysis of diachrony (the time of the other), the difference between holiness and sacredness, and the phenomenology of human suffering to enliven this section successfully. In it Sugarman returns to his analysis of Nietzschean ressentiment.[8] Levinas is attentive to the ritual of Yom Kippur and how forgiveness and pardon can only be enacted after genuine action is taken to repair or alleviate the ongoing suffering that one’s actions have caused. Levinas also cautions against the rationalization of evil and suffering with relation to the Holocaust, which he argues was wholly inexplicable and unjustifiable. This section also puts forth a reading of the environmentalism inherent in Talmudic laws around agriculture.

The Book of Numbers: Bamidbar gives account of the period from the teachings on Sinai to the journey to the Promised Land. It begins with two censuses, which Sugarman juxtaposes with insights gleaned from Levinas’s book Proper Names. It then moves to a discussion of peace, prophecy, and most saliently Israel, which is central to the complicated issue of the relationship between ethics, politics, and Judaism in Levinas. Other topics discussed include fanaticism and obsession, infinity, and justice as it relates to cities of refuge for those who have committed involuntary manslaughter. Each of these sections, although often only a few pages long, are filled with provocative readings raising rich philosophical and religious questions.

Deuteronomy: Devarim, the last of the five books, mostly hinges on Moses’s dictum on how life ought to be lived in the Promised Land and what can be learned or what needs to be reiterated from the journey there. These sermons, Sugarman notes, contain a sense of urgency in that they would have been given in the last 37 days of Moses life.[9] This form of reflection aligns with Levinas’s notion of the past as trace, and the importance of facing that past in order to open a new future. Sugarman discusses topics that include prayer, profundity in the prosaic, whether it is righteous to exist, the responsibility to pursue and enact justice, and revolution. In his Nine Talmudic Readings, Levinas emphasizes the Talmudic basis for social justice and workers rights. Sugarman points out that Levinas’s text was written immediately following the 1968 Paris uprising. Here, and elsewhere, Sugarman indicates the lessons we may still need to learn or the concepts that may be pertinent in securing a more open future today. The book closes with an epilogue, two appendices—a useful and compact glossary of Talmudic and Biblical Terms, along with a glossary of Levinas’s terminology—and a brief but descriptive list of the Talmudic scholars or commentators that Sugarman is employing.

One possible criticism of Levinas and the Torah is that in order to make Levinas’s philosophy accessible, complex concepts are occasionally given superficial treatment. It is debatable whether necessary nuance and complexity were sacrificed. Sugarman seemingly makes these choices for the sake of clarity. For example, when Levinas speaks of the face of the other, at times it seems he is in truth speaking of an actual face or visage; at other times the face is clearly a metaphor, the face of the other is language or expressivity, or the face is meant in terms of orientation but not the literal sense of face. Other concepts developed and shifted over the course of his work: for instance Levinas’s descriptions of role of justice or politics shift in significant ways from his early texts to his later texts.

These conflicting meanings and connotations are often left unsaid in Sugarman’s hermeneutic reading, whether for the sake of clarity, efficiency, or simplification. There are passages in Levinas and the Torah where the move from the specific and singular other to multiple others, or the transition from ethics to justice, is more fluid and neat than it is in Levinas. Debates about what the face means in Levinas and what a Levinasian politics is are live and contentious, but these competing readings are not brought in. The narrowness of Sugarman’s reading could lead to misunderstandings or misinterpretations if the reader has not already read Levinas, or is not reading the original Levinasian texts in concert with Levinas and the Torah.

In the most successful exegetical analysis, Sugarman does not shy away from the complexities in Levinasian philosophy. This attention to nuance is shown in his careful and persuasive account of substitution and Levinas’s claim that one must take responsibility even for one’s persecutors. Arguably, with these lean arguments, there is more room for other types of rumination. When one is not reading and re-reading dense and convoluted Levinasian texts one can see the simplicity of this assertion. The reader can instead focus on an argument for radical responsibility for one’s persecutors that was made by someone who was held in a labor camp and whose family was murdered during the Shoah. For Sugarman this room for rumination is more important than making sure his reader understands all the subtle tonalities of the face in Levinasian philosophy.

Readers will most likely not always agree with Sugarman’s readings of either the Torah or Levinas. Additionally, some of the specific resonances between the Talmud and Levinasian philosophy feel more tenuous than other. By Sugarman’s reading it seems that anytime one leaves one’s house is an example of the Levinasian passage from the self to alterity and radical exteriority. Hopefully, any reader will be motivated to return to the original texts in order to ground productive disagreements and participate in the rich tradition of Jewish argument.

In this way the book is doing something different. There is already a wealth of scholarship that interrogates Levinas’s use of the concept of fraternity or whether or not one can use Levinas to move from an ethics to a robust account of justice or politics. While not every book needs to be critical of Levinas—and if criticism is what one wants there are plenty of resources for a more measured reading of Levinas outside of this book—there are instances where it would have opened a more nuanced or rich reading. The author recommends reading Levinas and the Torah alongside of the Talmudic readings. I would advise to read it alongside the wealth of contemporary Levinas scholarship that analyzes both the strengths and weaknesses of his work.

There are three main aspects of Levinas that are usually the focus of criticism. First, he tends to employ an overly masculine account of ethics in his reliance of concepts such as fraternity, and the son rather than the child (This is central to Derrida’s criticism and is all the more striking in that Levinas had two daughters, although one did not survive) and his equivocating femininity with the domestic sphere and with alterity. Second, Levinas’s actual political statements occasionally verge on nationalism in the case of France and Israel. Perhaps Levinas’s most controversial opinion was given during a 1982 radio interview weeks after the Sabra and Shalita massacre of between 700-3,000 Palestinian men, women and children in which Israeli courts later deemed the IDF complicit. When repeatedly pressed by the interviewer Levinas avoided finding fault in this behavior, and implied that these victims perhaps did not rise to the level of being an ethical other. Last, Levinas has been accused of Euro-centrism in his championing of Europe and European culture through his claim that Greek culture and the Bible were the pinnacle of civilization and societal achievements, and that other cultures were non-serious or lesser. These issues raise crucial questions of who can be an ethical other, of whether or not hospitality has its limits, and whether Levinas makes exception to his own dictums. This sometimes overly laudatory account of Levinas’s work does not even footnote the criticisms that Levinas has received, let alone place them in conversation.

Although clearly rooted in intense Talmudic scholarship, this text does not provide a critical lens for Levinas’s religious readings. A generous reading would state that Sugarman is not concerned with these debates and that they are well documented elsewhere. A more critical reader may see this as a missed opportunity to provide a more robust discussion and also a chance to respond to these criticisms and defend Levinas’s positions. In the tradition of questioning within the Jewish intellectual tradition, it would benefit the readers of Levinas and the Talmud to have this same hermeneutical precision trained on the full range of readings and scholarship.

Levinas and the Torah is a rich and compelling text that provides the reader with a general overview and the necessary exegesis and hermeneutic tools for further inquiry. Through persuasive and spirited analysis, Sugarman makes clear a generous intention for his reader. I would recommend Levinas and the Torah for those who are curious or towards the beginning of their study but feel overwhelmed by the jargon and complexity of other exegetical readings of Levinas’s Jewish thought or to those with familiarity with either the Talmudic texts or Levinas and have a thirst for knowledge for the other. Moreover, this seems to be a book conscious of the zeitgeist of our time, with its pertinence to questions of apocalypse, exile, revolution, suffering, political uncertainty, and futurity. Levinas and the Torah is rich without being exhaustive; it is penetrating without being abstruse and esoteric.  In Levinasian terms we have an infinite responsibility to the future. Sugarman argues compellingly for the importance of learning the narratives and ideas of the deep past in order to enact a more ethical and just future for the coming generations.

[1] Sugarman, Richard I. 2019. Levinas and the Torah: A Phenomenological Approach. Albany: State University of New York.

[2] Sugarman, Richard I. 2003. „Emmanuel Levinas: The Ethics of ‚Face to Face’/ The Religious Turn.“ In Phenomenology World-Wide, ed. Anna Teresa Tymieniecka (Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers), published in Analecta Husserliana 80: 409-430; Sugarman, Richard I. 2012. “Messianic Temporality: Preliminary Reflections on Ethical Messianism and the Deformalization of Time in Levinas.” Recherches Levinassiennes, ed. R. Burrggreave et al. Series Bibliotheque Philosophique de Louvain 82, 421-436, Peeters Publishers, Leuven, Belgium; Sugarman, Richard I. 2013. „Toward A Rationality Of Transcendence: The Importance Of Emmanuel Levinas To Contemporary Jewish Thought.“ In As A Perennial Spring: A Festschrift honoring Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, 473-493.

[3] Wild, John. 2006. Speaking Philosophy: The Posthumous papers of John Wild,ed. Richard I. Sugarmn & R.B. Duncan; Phenomenological Inquiry 24 (2000): 205-292.

[4] Sugarman, Ibid. 8.

[5] For instance, the face-to-face, the neighbor, and the trace are omitted from the index but are treated in multiple sections. Incomplete Indices is a common problem in academic books.

[6] Sugarman, Ibid. 32.

[7] Sugarman, Ibid. 96. Curiously, this section on Proper Names does not make reference or use of Levinas’s book Proper Names in this section, but in the beginning of The Book of Numbers.

[8] This was the topic of his book Rancor Against Time: The Phenomenology of Ressentiment (Felix Meiner, 1980)

[9] Sugarman, Levinas and the Torah, 303.

Martin Koci: Thinking Faith after Christianity, SUNY Press, 2020

Thinking Faith after Christianity: A Theological Reading of Jan Patočka's Phenomenological Philosophy Book Cover Thinking Faith after Christianity: A Theological Reading of Jan Patočka's Phenomenological Philosophy
SUNY series in Theology and Continental Thought
Martin Koci
SUNY Press
Hardback $95.00

Gabor Csepregi: In Vivo: A Phenomenology of Life-Defining Moments

In Vivo: A Phenomenology of Life-Defining Moments Book Cover In Vivo: A Phenomenology of Life-Defining Moments
Gabor Csepregi
McGill Queen University Press
Paperback $29.95

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

This book is a contribution to phenomenological anthropology and to contemporary philosophy more broadly.  Above all, it is the unique instance of a philosophical work that immediately contributes to knowledge for life without burdening the reader with technical vocabulary and complex argumentation.  Avoiding a scholarly approach, it is not a theoretical treatise that analyzes the notion of a life-defining moment conceptually.  Proceeding through the phenomenological method, Gabor Csepregi explores the first-person experience of moments or changes that often are definitive for the course of one’s life and personal development.  To this end, as the author states in the Introduction, the work aims to further the philosophy of the human person (5).  Written in a lively and accessible style, Csepregi’s book employs illuminating examples from literature, biography, and memoir.  It also contains much thoughtful engagement with the work of other continental philosophers of the human person, most notably Max Scheler, Helmuth Plessner, and Eugène Minkowski to name a few.

The notion of a “life-defining moment” is the phenomenon most pregnant with ambiguity in the book’s premise.  However, as Csepregi clarifies in the Introduction, this is not a concept whose occurrence can be identified with precision or marked out in the existential terms of an instantaneous “augenblick,” as characterized by historical philosophers like Heidegger and Kierkegaard.  Csepregi understands the notion of “moment” in a quasi-Hegelian sense, as an often prolonged, but nonetheless definitive period or process of change in one’s life.  Csepregi remarks that as an example, his college years stand out to him as a life-defining moment (9).  Thus, a moment that is life-defining can be understood as an extended period of personal growth or change in perspective, where one is an ostensibly different person before and after.  Entrance into spiritual or aesthetic transcendence may also be involved.  Generalizing, Csepregi writes: “By moment, I mean a certain duration that, thanks to its deeper importance and transforming effect, stands out with regard to the past and to the future in our personal becoming and may even transport us into a timeless dimension” (10).

But what does it mean to talk of such moments as “life-defining”?  In Csepregi’s account, life-defining moments are those in which possibilities sharply manifest themselves to one.  Life-defining moments occasion a unique manner of temporal disclosure, such that in these moments we are lucidly able to perceive the relation of our own selves to the disjunctions in our life-courses.  Life-defining moments often involve an encounter with the foreign, inviting the human subject to enter different ways of thinking and being.  Phenomenologically decisive about these moments, the author writes, is that they reveal the primacy of sharp turns in development as inherent to human life in its highest realization.  As such, they involve possibilities inherent in every person (7).  Csepregi writes: “One of the implicit contentions I make in this book can be stated briefly: there is, in every human life, a possibility of transformation and of renewal” (Ibid.).  Also decisive is that these moments are of a kind that reveal human life to transcend the fatalism posed by the external forces that often shape one’s fate.  In other words, a life-defining is moment is one each of us has the potential to undergo in our role as agents of freedom.  This is a phenomenon encountered in first-person experience, particularly when such moments present to us our own potential to shape the outcome of our lives.  Csepregi writes “In this sense, we may become aware, under the pivotal impact of these experiences, of an invitation to shape our destinies” (Ibid.).  A life-defining moment, then, is one in which a person distinctly perceives that they have standing before them an important and transformative change, a change they can undergo if they make the choice to do so.

Csepregi proceeds in the main body of the text by focusing on the first-person experience embodied in six unique types of life-defining moments.  As he emphasizes in the Introduction, his interest is to highlight moments that occur in the positive sphere of life.  He deliberately omits among his paradigm cases the bleaker sorts of transformative experiences that might come to mind, such as receiving a diagnosis of a terminal disease.  More broadly, this reflects his wish to emphasize life-defining moments that manifest sheer possibility, modification of one’s own destiny, and new horizons of fulfillment.  He comments “I wanted to single out those experiences that we find not only enriching but also invigorating on all levels of our existence, experiences that open up the future for us and offer occasions for steering our lives into a new direction” (6).  On this score, the six types of life-defining moment Csepregi dissects are, respectively, making a moral decision; “breaking away” from one mode of life in order to enter another; being inspired by a model person in an educational context; immigrating to a foreign country; the experience of transport found in hearing beautiful music; and witnessing or performing an ethically worthwhile action, particularly in a situation of providing selfless generosity to a vulnerable other.  In what follows I will briefly summarize four of Csepregi’s six types of life-defining moments.

The opening passages of the first chapter, entitled “The Logic of Exception,” invite the reader to consider situations of life that involve finding oneself at a crossroads, where one knows a certain and decisive choice must be made that will exclude its alternative (13-15).  In such instances, a unique temporal mode of disclosure opens up for one.  One is able to envision one’s past, present, and most importantly, future self, in reference to each decision that stands to be made (15).  One has a decision to make.  But what is it that causes a decision to become a life-defining moment?  Many day-to-day choices do not involve making a “decision” in this deeper sense.  Csepregi clarifies that a “decision” involves encountering a moment of life in which one genuinely cannot rely on a pregiven framework to determine which course to take.  “We…make a decision when we can no longer rely on a habit, a code of conduct, a custom, or a law that clearly and unambiguously tells us what we should do.  In these cases, we find ourselves outside the realm of personal or institutional rules” (16).  Csepregi cites Hermann Lübbe here, to highlight that the logic of decision is the “logic of exception” (Ibid.).  In other words, decisions in the robust, moral, and individually-realized sense are really instances of taking an exception to the social and habitual codes with which one is ingrained.  Of significance here is the linguistic manifestation of the phenomenology involved in decisions.  As the author highlights, expressions such as “I make up my mind, je me decide, Ich entscheide mich” reveal that making decisions entails a way of aligning one to oneself, of evaluating one’s own responsibility in the context of free choice (17).  In this way, by committing to a decision, one reinforces one’s freedom, by consciously choosing one course of action whilst knowing that other possibilities will become closed.

This phenomenology of making decisions also entails steering through uncertainty.  As Csepregi emphasizes, the difficulty of deciding one course of action over another is a fraught enterprise (21), often leaving one more inclined to shrink from making a choice at all.  Decisions can be decisive moments in one’s life precisely because one can be unprepared to navigate the uncertainty of outcomes (24); making a decision entails making a genuine break with life as one has known it.  As a result, not every person will make decisions when the right time comes.  Many persons will cower in indecision, or else choose not to decide at all.  Csepregi suggests that contemporary society in fact suffers from a dearth of passionate commitment to decisions, where the commonplace approach is constantly to “keep one’s options open” or otherwise to attempt to hold onto conflicting, irreconcilable possibilities (23).  In other words, Csepregi comments, many people suffer from a kind of “miserliness” of decisions in their unwillingness to commit to definite life-decisions for themselves.  And this disposition can have the result of a lack of personal development, by virtue of one having eschewed freely-chosen realizations of one’s self.  “When a person does not learn to make a distinction of value between various possible views of the world – but rather considers them equivalent, and thus fails to express a firm attachment to any of them – the ability to make a lasting commitment in favor of a particular life path and purpose becomes atrophied” (24).  Today, we know this factor has import for the education of children, as young people benefit from learning how to make independent decisions.  Personal development can suffer if one’s decision-making is done for one ahead of time, or when decisions are overly curated in safe spaces and secure environments (25).

The second chapter, on the subject of “breaking away” from one way of life and adopting another, continues in the vein of the first’s chapter’s focus on decision-making.  Of emphasis in the second chapter is the first-person experience of, as Csepregi describes it, “taking leave from a form of existence, rooted in a specific social and cultural condition, and adopting a new form of existence” (37).  There is “a break in the temporal unfolding” (Ibid.) of one’s life, such that one’s course of life is fundamentally different before and after the break.  One’s way of being and acting may have transformed, or one may have entered an altogether different world, into which one gradually adapts.  For instance, religious conversion appears to comprise such an avenue.  Conversion involves a “discernible change in convictions and attitudes which deeply affects the person’s life orientation in the world” (44).  In its religious guise, conversion may entail an act of surrender to powers greater than oneself, such that one submits to reorientation from guidance beyond oneself (47).  Similarly, conversions not be religious or spiritual; they can occur through “radical change in the principles and values guiding decisions and actions and affecting the meaning of human relations, of professional achievements, or of personal interests” (45-46.)  Examples include the turn in allegiance sometimes shown by political leaders and soldiers in times of distress, as well as philosophical conversions (46-47).  In sum, crucial in the phenomenon of breaking away is a “caesura,” a fresh start, a realignment of the principles by which one guide’s one’s life, and which in turn define one’s destiny (46, 63).  Here Csepregi cites Eugène Minkowski to highlight the distinction of destiny and fate.  Whereas fate comprises forces to which one is inevitably subject, destiny lay in “human becoming intimately tied to personal decisions” (41).  Csepregi rounds out the chapter by raising the question: what prompts one to complete an act of breaking away? (51)  In general, he suggests that breaking away often is occasioned by one’s realization of the adequacy of one’s living conditions, such as when a young person leaves their place of birth in order to achieve aspirations only achievable elsewhere.  Csepregi summarizes that breaking away is indeed a phenomenon seemingly built into the human condition, where it can be triggered when necessary.  Citing Kierkegaard, Csepregi highlights “a fundamental anthropological truth about the temporality of human existence,” namely, that breaking away from a stifling world can often be the only means one has for recovering one’s own possibilities” (52).  Or to put it simply, human beings are existentially constituted to experience disclosures that reveal a way out, a way to save one’s future possibilities, in times when life becomes unbearable.

The third chapter, entitled “Moments of Real Learning,” explores the phenomenology bound up with inspirational, model personalities that strongly shape the course of a person’s life and development.  These individuals are not necessarily what we often call “role models” so much as they are those personalities we encounter in our development who prompt us to change our worldview or otherwise inspire us to change ourselves.  Most paradigmatic in Csepregi’s reckoning here are teachers and other mentors, although the concept of models is not limited to these.  Decisive about such model individuals is that “we may come to realize what these persons added to our existence: they made us more passionate, more skillful, and more cultured.  They are men and women who strongly affect the way we think, act, feel, and relate to our fellow human beings” (67). These individuals are those who have inspired us to “think and act in their manner of thinking and acting” (73).  As in Chapter Two, this chapter articulates a moment in human experience that ostensibly expresses the potency for great personal change and development.  As Csepregi observes, models are not merely people we like, admire, or emulate, but persons who inspire an entire adaptation of our being (68, 70).  We re-orient our goals in light of the model’s achievements and values.  Moreover, such models are not chosen because of characteristics we appraise in them.  Rather, Csepregi remarks, we are drawn to them through a kind of seduction, through an inevitable intuition that the model is someone whose example we should follow (Ibid.).  The values they invite us to adopt are attractive to us, though we may not yet know how to embody them (79).  Realizing the value of the model for our life occurs for us as a kind of disclosure; it represents a distinct way in which select human beings are given to us.  Csepregi finishes this discussion by highlighting the importance of models in educational settings.  In one light, models help us to understand and work toward ideals (85).  Models can lead us to appreciate intellectual and scientific rigor.   In a deeper regard, “There is also a fundamental human impulse for self-realization, which can hardly be satisfied in the absence of the guidance and inspiration of models” (86).  The educational development of young people shows that exposure to excellent models rather than mediocre or morally questionable individuals makes all the difference.

Chapter Four highlights a different flavor of life-defining moment than those in the first three: the experience of being a foreigner in a country not one’s own, and of adapting oneself and one’s worldview to this new place.  Csepregi does not mean here the experience of being a tourist or short-term visitor (89).  He means the process of relocating to a new country or culture and becoming absorbed into foreign ways of thinking, speaking, and perceiving, such that one’s very way of being alters.  The paradigmatic instance of this type of moment is the life-change experienced by an immigrant, for instance, Europeans who relocated to America during the economic boom of the early 20th century, or refugees who flee their home country during times of war or oppression.  Cspregi comments that this life-defining moment has informed his own experience; Hungarian by birth, he came to America with his family as a young man.  In Csepregi’s estimation, citing Eugen Fink, the experience of the foreign poses an encounter with other human beings across an initially unbridgeable gap.  Encountering individuals in a foreign culture involves experiences of another that are not one’s own.  Lacking is a community of shared experience (90).  Noteworthy, then, about adapting to a foreign place is the deep extent to which it reveals to one the complex structures underlying human community and interaction.  As Csepregi comments, “In order to actively feel and understand and, after an extended acquaintance, integrate the foreign, we have to enter into a more personal communication with individuals and their worlds, to find a common ground of interest in deeds and not merely in words” (91).

A few words about the remaining chapters of this book.  The fifth chapter discusses the life-defining moment that occurs through appreciation of beautiful music, particularly Western classical music.  Although the initial premise of this chapter is attractive, in its execution I found myself wanting the chapter to focus a bit less on technical aspects of music, and more on the specific phenomenology of how hearing music can be life-defining.  The author is clearly a musician himself as well as an least intermediate scholar of music theory.  Although I am knowledgeable about both the history of Western classical music and the technical vernacular of music, I was often at a loss to follow Csepregi’s account in his discussions that have a more technical register.  I believe some of this burden causes the phenomenological analysis to suffer.  The chapter probably succeeds better simply as a phenomenological account of music appreciation.  Perhaps more crucially, Csepregi neglects to discuss other kinds of music than classical, such as tribal music and popular music.  Insofar as his book aims to describe possibilities latent in every person, it may have been more apposite to give attention to the more common types of music appreciated by people in today’s world.  Focusing just on Western classical music seems to preclude the life-defining music appreciation experienced by those outside of academia and the fine arts.

Finally, the sixth chapter explores the life-defining moment of witnessing or performing an ethically worthwhile action, particularly in a situation of providing selfless generosity to a vulnerable other.  While philosophically rich and quite persuasive in its premise and execution, I found that this chapter seems to overlap with the scope and phenomenological accounting of the first two chapters.  I did not find the book’s aim to be advanced significantly by the inclusion of this chapter.

This book is a fine contribution to philosophical anthropology and will be accessible for readers of many persuasions, in both philosophy and other fields.  Educators and university administrators interested in the phenomenology of education may especially benefit from study of this work.  The book should invite readers to reconsider the question of what sorts of events do ultimately change the course and outcome of our lives.  Is one’s life ultimately impacted by one or more instantaneous moments that occur unnoticed or in the blink of an eye?  Or are the fundamental shifts that guide our lives more prolonged, more reflective, and more predicated on private decision-making and appropriation of one’s own possibilities?  Gabor Csepregi’s book invites us to reflect on the latter.

Eugene T. Gendlin: Saying What We Mean: Implicit Precision and the Responsive Order

Saying What We Mean: Implicit Precision and the Responsive Order Book Cover Saying What We Mean: Implicit Precision and the Responsive Order
Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy
Eugene Gendlin. Edited by Edward S. Casey and Donata M. Schoeller. Foreword by Edward S. Casey
Northwestern University Press
Paperback $34.95

Reviewed by: Hillel D. Braude (The Mifne Center for Treatment of Infants with Autism, Rosh Pina, Israel)

Saying What We Mean [SWWM] provides a collection of selected philosophical writings by Eugene Gendlin (1926-2017) edited by editors Edward S. Casey and Donata M. Schoeller. As Schoeller notes this volume is intended to “excite an appetite for the extraordinary thinking of Eugene Gendlin and for the effects of his concepts as well as his practices that, in paraphrasing Adorno, ‚open up‘ the phenomena they make thinkable.” [xv] SWWM is the first collection of Gendlin’s specifically philosophical writings, and is Gendlin’s final publication, appearing several months after his passing. It presents a final explication of Gendlin’s personal philosophy of experience, in which he explored the contours of the relation between implicit and explicit knowing, and the generation of language and conceptual meaning from the ground of our embodied senses. At the same time this “farewell letter” invites the reader to carry forward this exploration in her own personal way. The publication of SWWM reminds us that, as Gendlin himself insisted, his professional identity was first and foremost that of a philosopher. Gendlin’s intellectual roots extend deeply into Continental, Analytic philosophy as well as American pragmatism. His intellectual influences include among others: Dilthey, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Wittgenstein, Whitehead, and McKeon – the latter with whom Gendlin studied at the University of Chicago, and had a great influence on shaping Gendlin’s philosophical outlook. Gendlin was a prolific author, and his philosophical writings have been published in numerous essays and several books.[1]

Despite Gendlin’s prolific philosophical output, the publication of SWWM serves as a needful reminder of Gendlin’s philosophical ideas. Other than as a philosopher, Gendlin is most popularly remembered as the founder of the practical experiential method called Focusing, which provides a structured methodology to bring open, non-judging attention to embodied, experiential internal knowing – often referred to as the “felt sense” – prior to its conceptualization in language.[2]  Focusing is most widely used as an aid for psychotherapy, although it is accessible to everyone interested in a practical methodology for personal transformation. Focusing developed out of Gendlin’s research at the University of Chicago with humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers into the phenomenological-process-oriented theory of experience and its transformation. Gendlin’s original research revealed that the way in which a client related to his or her personal experience during psychotherapy sessions, irrespective of the particular psychotherapeutic approach, provided a single significant predictor of the therapy’s success. As a process oriented methodology with deep roots in phenomenological philosophy, Focusing can be applied to enhance any particular psychotherapeutic approach, or can occur as a stand-alone methodology to enhance human potential. The essays in SWWM attest that Gendlin’s practical method of Focusing would be unthinkable without its underlying philosophical foundation. At the same time, the practical and the theoretical aspects of Gendlin’s lifework cannot and should not be artificially separated. The practice of Focusing provided Gendlin with material for philosophical reflection, as much as philosophical reflection provided the conceptual apparatus for the development of Focusing’s methodology. The core insight animating all of the essays in SWWM is the unceasing bidirectional relation between experience and rational conceptualization.

Gendlin’s focus on process means that he is not limited to espousing a particular philosophical school; but rather provides a process model approach that can ground different forms of philosophical conceptualization. Gendlin’s emphasis on the processes of thinking rather than on the final forms themselves is no doubt inspired in large part by Edmund Husserl’s phenomenological critique of psychology and the natural sciences. Gendlin’s philosophical feat has been to radically personalize philosophy, countering the age-old tendency towards universalization in philosophical reflection, while at the same time respecting structures of explicit rationality and cognition. This personalized perspective – both in terms of personal philosophical meaning, as well as in terms of self-healing– has deep roots in Gendlin’s personal history. In a German language interview with Lore Kolbei (1994), Gendlin described how his childhood experience fleeing Nazi occupied Vienna with his family, shaped his future life and single-minded intellectual focus. In determining how to escape the clutches of the Nazis together with his family, Gendlin’s father relied on following his internal feelings in deciding which individuals they encountered could be trusted in their escape. Gendlin’s later life was dedicated to deciphering the meaning of these internal feelings, both through psychotherapeutic processes and philosophical reflection. I feel it important to mention this biographical history, since it is of central importance in shaping Gendlin’s personalized philosophy. It is of interest that Gendlin does not refer to such cultural and biographical influences in his philosophical writings, as if wanting to emphasize the universal nature of pre-conceptual sensations in giving rise to language and explicit cognition.

SWWM provides in single volume some of Gendlin’s most influential essays. As such, this volume makes Gendlin’s philosophical reflections accessible to a wider audience in a concentrated form, and may be important in bringing Gendlin’s intellectual work to the attention of philosophers who have not yet come across his work, or have glossed over its importance providing a structured methodology to analyze pre-conceptual cognition in relation to explicit forms of knowing. (It is also worth mentioning the collection of critical studies on Gendlin’s work in the philosophy of language entitled Language beyond Postmodernism [LBM] (1997),  published more than two decades ago and which like SWWM served as a kind of introductory volume for Gendlin’s philosophical ideas.)  The essays in SWWM are primarily philosophical, though they speak equally to Gendlin’s practice of Focusing, and the later application of Focusing to analyze professional knowing called Thinking at the Edge (TAE). TAE is a practical methodology for applying the “intricate precision” immanent in our experiential knowing to professional, scientific and private contexts. [xix] For example, a clinician reflecting on aspects of a clinical case, could apply TAE to investigate the boundaries of intuition and explicit knowing. Perhaps the most important function of SWWM is to provide a general framework for Gendlin’s conceptual evolution. Unfortunately, chronological details of each essay are not provided, which would give information about the progressive development of Gendlin’s thinking.

The edited volume is divided into four parts:

Part 1. Phenomenology of the Implicit;

Part 2. A Process Model;

Part 3. On the Edges of Plato, Heidegger, Kant, and Wittgenstein, and

Part 4. Thinking with the Implicit.

Part 1 provides different approaches of Gendlin towards developing a conceptual methodology and language to differentiate different layers of implicit experience. Phenomenology provides the major philosophical ground for this engagement with implicit experience; though Gendlin uses his phenomenological approach to interrogate different philosophical schools and methodologies, especially linguistic analysis and philosophy of language. Phenomenology too, is not spared Gendlin’s critical gaze, as depicted in his brilliant essay, “Two Phenomenologists Do Not Disagree,” in which he analyzes the situation whereby two committed phenomenologists disagree over a single observed phenomenon. As opposed to following a particular phenomenological school or individual philosopher, Gendlin proposes to ‘study the formulating process itself,’ as well as the ‘roles of experience in it’ in order to determine how experience can ‘ground different formulations differently,’ including different phenomenological statements or perspectives. [8] Even though a particular statement may be differentiated as phenomenological from a non-phenomenological statement by following a well demarcated phenomenological methodology or “noticeable signposts,, for example Husserl’s proposed methodology of bracketing, in order to enable a primordial experience of a particular object of inquiry, Gendlin observes that phenomenological statements may possess many unintended logical implications.[8] These hidden intentions or meanings are amenable to being uncovered or elicited through further processes of concentrated focusing or introspection.

Gendlin’s essays depict his intellectual debt to the tradition of phenomenology; and at the same time develops his own philosophy of the implicit in new directions, navigating between age-old dichotomies, such as reductionism and idealism. An important aspect of the collection of philosophical essays in SWWM lies in providing a means of tracing and analyzing the influence of various phenomenological traditions on Gendlin’s thinking, including that of Husserl, Heideger, and Merleau-Ponty, and how Gendlin carries this tradition forward in his personalized philosophical   way.

In his critical essay response to Gendlin’s philosophy entitled, “Experience and Meaning,” J.N. Mohanty (1997) provides key insights regarding Gendlin’s relation to Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology, which are still relevant in relation to Gendlin’s collection of philosophical essays in SWWM. In his analysis of the relation between experience and meaning in Gendlin’s philosophical theory, Mohanty discerns four levels of meaning:

1. Experiencing with implicit, incomplete felt meanings;

2. Explicit, felt but prelinguistic (though still symbolized) meanings, inwardly attended to;

3. Experiential concepts (arising out of the interaction of felt meanings with language);

4. Logical concepts. [184]

The core tension animating each of the essays in SWWM is the inherent relation between each of these four levels of meaning. While not participating in logical inference, the “most basic level,” i.e., the implicit background has its own precise kind of order, which functions in the formation of new and ever more precise scientific concepts. Thus, Gendlin posits a pre-conceptual rational order, that is not the same as explicit logic, but which grounds the possibility for explicit rationality. In Part 2. “A Process Model,” which refers to Gendlin’s magnum opus of the same name, Gendlin articulates further this pre-conceptual rational order, or what he now refers to as the ‘conditions of possibility’ for the ‘implicit precision of experience.’ [xvii] Implicit precision refers to the embodied process generated through interaction between the conscious organism and its environment. While logical precision is explicitly rational and depends on defined units, the process of implied precision ‘generates and regenerates the background objects and their relationships, including logical scientific units.’ [111] Implicit precision articulates Gendlin’s basic insight that there is a direct reference between preconceptual and explicit cognition. Moreover, as the name implicit precision implies, this level of organismic consciousness possesses a rational structure, even if it is not ordered according to explicit logical principles. Movement between these two forms of precision can occur in either direction. Indeed, scientific logic is unthinkable without this foundational level of embodied knowing.

Mohanty claims that Gendlin requires a mediating concept, a “Zwischenglied” between implicit experience and logical concept. Gendlin’s concept of direct reference provides this Zwischenglied. In SWWM Gendlin refers to this direct relationality between felt sense and logical concept using the terminology of ‘direct experience’ and ‘direct referent.’ In my own imagination, this Zwischenglied of direct reference is analogous to the sensation in holding two opposing poles of a magnet in close proximity. One feels the invisible magnetic force between the two poles of experience and logic. However, maintaining this force is a slippery undertaking that gives rise to a perplexing sensation. Trying to elicit the connection and opposition between these different levels is key to getting a sense of Gendlin’s philosophical task. As Gendlin writes, saying exactly how ‘direct experience can function as a ground in each step of formulating’ ‘opens up a whole new field of enquiry.’ [7]

Names such as “implicit precision” and “carrying forward,” referring to the infinite possibility for bodily implying beyond explicit concepts, are terms that Gendlin provides in the Process Model for conceptual structures arising from and referring to his process methodology. This process of naming felt-sensations as they emerge into language is an integral part of the Focusing process. Gendlin would undoubtedly invite readers of his philosophical writings to extend his philosophical practice by developing their own names for universal processes of meaning-making. One can debate the precise relation between Husserl’s use of act and intentionality in relation to Gendlin’s process model. For example, Mohanty notes that Gendlin did not regard Husserl’s conception of act and intentionality as including data of awareness, but rather as principles presupposed by such data. [183] Similarly, Gendlin held that Husserl did not include felt experiencing as part of the datum given in meaningful awareness. [ECM, p. 276] However, Gendlin’s views on Husserl appear to have shifted, since he notes in his essay, “Two Phenomenologists Do Not Disagree,” that Husserl did not begin his phenomenological explorations with analyzing the relations between feelings, situations, and language. Yet, through his contact with direct experience, he encountered these interrelations in that experience. [54] However, even if felt experiencing can be traced back to Husserl’s conception of act and intentionality, Gendlin’s expansion and delineation of the methodology to track the relation between experience and meaning moves beyond its phenomenological foundations. Moreover, the process of giving provisional name to conceptual structures emerging from reflection on one’s felt experience, such as “implicit precision” and “carrying forward,” blending personal experience with rational conceptualization is a unique philosophical contribution of Gendlin’s.

Any reader of SWWM must necessarily be divided into two groups. Those with a first-hand familiarity of the process of Focusing, and those who approach the text as a purely philosophical text to be understood conceptually. In a sense, it is not possible to approach these texts purely intellectually, since Gendlin’s method explicitly aims to bridge the mind-body dichotomy. In her introduction, Schoeller writes that, ‘Gendlin’s thinking and practices move across the body-mind split, expanding the field of experience and thinking beyond so-called subjective or objective approaches in order to cultivate an awareness of the preciseness of what he calls a “responsive order.”’ [xiv] Gendlin peppers his essays with practical examples, exhortations to his readers to engage practically with his methodology. For example, in his essay “The New Phenomenology of Carrying Forward,” Gendlin notes how in writing a poem one’s body has a precise sense of what needs to be said. [84] The process of Focusing is similar in many ways to the poet’s attending to her felt sensations in the process of writing a poem. Grappling with Gendlin’s conceptual ideas necessitates an induction into the process of Focusing. Yet, Gendlin would argue that any meaning-making process incorporates this kind of embodied sense-making, formalized in a structured process, or not. Readers who do not concretely explore Gendlin’s practical examples through deep introspection, and who merely try to understand his conceptual arguments from a disembodied perspective, must necessarily fail to comprehend the tenor of his argument.

The “Process Model” emphasizes the embodied nature of Gendlin’s philosophical project. (As a Feldenkrais Method Somatic Education Practitioner I am particularly receptive to the centrality of the body in Gendlin’s philosophy of the implicit. The Feldenkrais Method is similiar to Focusing in providing a practical methodology to explore the relation between one’s felt sense and cognition; however, the Feldenkrais Method introduces the added dimension of movement exploration.) In his essay “The Derivation of Space,” Gendlin notes that, ‘… the clarity which an analytic layout brings lies not only in the layout before us. It has an effect in the body. It brings an implicit whole bodied understanding. “Aha!” we say.’ [156] Following Stuart, in the essay on “Implicit Precision,” Gendlin refers to a perceptual concept called enkinaesthesia, i.e., ‘the sentient half of a behavior sequence and the sentience of patterned interactions which is the sequence of bodily shifts I call versioning.’  [121] Taking the cue from Gendlin’s terminology, an embodied adaptation of Focusing, called Whole-Bodied Focusing, developed by Kevin McEvenue [2015], integrates Focusing with somatic experiential techniques from the Alexander Method. Nonetheless, even though Gendlin’s philosophy of the implicit does provide a means of overcoming mind-body dualism, the body is emphasized only tangentially, in the sense that real attention to the body requires an embodied practice, as in Whole Body Focusing, other somatic education practices, such as Feldenkrais Method. The complete intellectual grasping of Gendlin’s ideas requires an embodied practice in conjunction with attention to the embodied basis of our logical conceptualization.

Part 3. “On the Edges of Plato, Heidegger, Kant and Wittgenstein presents” Gendlin’s philosophical thinking in relation to major philosophers in the Western tradition. Gendlin’s philosophy does indeed present a methodology to reengage and reinvigorate the Western philosophical canon. His philosophical ambitions are simultaneously grand and modest, in the sense that Gendlin has enough confidence in his insights to re-read ancient philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle; yet does this, not by contesting their philosophical claims and arguments, but by “lifting out” the most basic experiential sensations elicited through engaging with the textual ideas. In other words, through his process model, Gendlin finds a means of re-engaging with ancient philosophical texts and ideas, to provide fresh insights and meanings, without attempting to disprove any particular philosophical approach.

This process of “lifting out” also has relation to phenomenology, though not Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology, but Martin Heidegger’s phenomenology of Being, and particularly his concept of Befindlichkeit. As Francesca Brencio (2019) notes in her recent review of Befindlichkeit in relation to psychopathology:

Befindlichkeit stresses the basic state of Dasein in its being situated: finding ourselves already in situatedness, means finding ourselves gathered to a “there” (being-there, in German Dasein). The situatedness is strictly related to the existence’s facticity and it becomes manifest to us through our own moods and affectivity. [344]

Our moods and affective states provide the grounds of our pre-conceptual experience, and the means of becoming attuned to the external world. There is, therefore, a strong affinity between Heidegger’s concept of Befindlichkeit and Gendlin’s philosophy of the implicit. In his essay, “Befindlichkeit: Heidegger and the Philosophy of Psychology,” Gendlin observes that, ‘Heidegger’s concept denotes how we sense ourselves in situations. Whereas feeling is usually thought of as something inward, Heidegger’s concept refers to something both inward and outward, but before a split between inside and outside has been made.’ [195]

In referring to psychological affective states and moods, Befindlichkeit has obvious clinical importance for clinical psychology and theories of psychopathology, and resonates strongly with Gendlin’s philosophical project and practical methodology of Focusing. However it is in providing the phenomenological possibility of original disclosing that provides the strongest link between Gendlin and Heidegger. Gendlin quotes the following paragraph from Heidegger’s magnum opus, Being and Time:

Befindlichkeit is a basic existential way in which Dasein (being-here) is its here. It not only characterizes Dasein ontologically, but because of its disclosing, it is at the same time of basic methodological significance for the existential analytic. Like any ontological interpretation whatsoever this analytic can only, so to speak, “listen in” to the previously disclosed being of something that is… Phenomenological interpretation must give Dasein the possibility of original disclosing, to raise the phenomenal content of this disclosing into concepts. [178-79]

For Heidegger it is the disclosing of Befindlichkeit which renders a statement phenomenological, from a state of free-floatingness. [216] Gendlin claims to extend Heidegger’s concept of Befindlichkeit in his own practical philosophy through adding the bodily dimension; which Gendlin claims is missing in Heidegger’s philosophy. Additionally, Befindlichkeit provides a means of explaining Gendlin’s process methodology in Focusing, through getting in touch with and “lifting out” implicit felt meanings for conceptualization. As mentioned, for Gendlin, this lifting out process, while phenomenological, is not limited to any particular philosophical formulation, including that of Heidegger’s analysis of Being. The deep relation between Befindlichkeit and Gendlin’s philosophy of the implicit means that even though Gendlin’s philosophy is greatly indebted to the Husserlian phenomenological tradition, in his heart of hearts Gendlin appears more aligned with Heidegger’s philosophy of Being-in-the-world, though this relationship is not without its personal ambivalence. In his sole biographical observation in all of the essays in SWWM, Gendlin notes his indirect indebtedness to Heidegger, who he only came to read later in life once he overcame his personal antipathy to Heidegger:

My own work for many years preceded my reading Heidegger. I came to him quite late. Both the personality change mentioned above, and the philosophical work I will now mention, were written before I read Heidegger. But I had read those philosophers that most influenced Heidegger, and so I emerged from the same sources, at least to some extent. I had also read Sartre, Buber, and Merleau-Ponty, who were greatly and crucially following Heidegger. Hence my own work continues from Heidegger, and stands under his influence, although I did not recognize that until later….  [223]

Gendlin’s attraction towards Heidegger’s concept of Befindlichkeit can also be explained because of its inherent potential for developing a psychological or psychopathological theory. Since moods and affective feelings ground our experience of reality, psychopathological conditions such as anxiety are characterized by a breakdown or collapse of our affective experiential foundations.[3] It is not by chance that the practice of Focusing tends to emphasize uncomfortable physical and mental felt sensations, as the core of its therapeutic work.[4] Gendlin is attracted to and reworks Heidegger’s concept of Befindlichkeit because of his own deep therapeutic concern that informs both the practice of Focusing and his philosophical theorizing about the implicit. In “Befindlichkeit: Heidegger and the Philosophy of Psychology,” Gendlin observes that the essence of psychotherapy is phenomenological in the therapeutic process through the Heideggerian concept of lifting out. Thus, Gendlin notes that ‘any statements and interprerations are effective only when they lift something from the directly senses and preverbally “understood” felt complexity. Even very sophisticated statements by patients and therapists alter nothing in the patient’s living, unless there is the distinct effect of lifting something out.’ [218] This sentence encapsulates Gendlin’s life-work in interweaving philosophical conceptualization with lived experience in general, and psychotherapy in particular.

The final section of SWWM, Part 4. “Thinking with the Implicit,” presents an introduction to the practice of Thinking at the Edge (TAE), the extension of the practice of focusing to scientific and professional contexts. In Gendlin’s words, ‘TAE is a systematic way to articulate in new terms something which needs to be said but is at first only an inchoate “bodily sense.”’ [282] It seems to me (without having personally experienced its practice) that TAE applies the Focusing methodology in a specific structured context, as opposed for example, simply trying to assess one’s felt bodily sense, in order to elicit new logical analytical formulations and creative theorization. In other words, TAE is concerned with developing explicit logical concepts relating to specific spheres of interest or expertize out of the grounds of implicit knowing. Gendlin has an explicit political awareness around TAE, considering that it provides a tool for people from all social strata and intellectual backgrounds to articulate their experiences, and to develop new patterns of thought. Through TAE, Gendlin claims, the capacity to develop novel philosophical ideas and logical and scientific concepts is no longer limited to an intellectual elite, but is open to all.

TAE is of especial personal interest to me in terms of its potential applications to medicine and clinical reasoning. I have an abiding interest in the philosophy of the implicit, having conducted analogous research into the tacit foundations of clinical reasoning.[5] This work was not fundamentally informed by Gendlin’s writings, but rather was influenced by other phenomenologists, such as Edmund Husserl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Emmanuel Levinas, as well Michael Polanyi’s philosophy of tacit knowing. Similar to Gendlin, my focus on the role of intuition in clinical reasoning has also brought me to conceptualize a kind of rationality in clinical reasoning that is not modelled on explicit knowing; but rather envisages clinical reasoning as a kind of embodied practical wisdom modelled on the Aristotelian conception of phronesis. Reading SWWM with this background context in mind, suggests that Gendlin’s delineation of a responsive order to pre-conceptual reflection does provide an important intellectual resource for re-conceptualizing the role of practical wisdom in clinical reasoning, especially through the application of practical techniques from Focusing and TAE. Theoretically, TAE might be of real value in expanding understanding of the tacit foundations of various forms of clinical reasoning, including the intuitive component of clinical judgement, and developing ideas from bench to bedside in translational medicine. Arguably, applying TAE to the clinical context could re-invigorate contemporary epistemology of medical knowledge.[6] As of yet, the application of TAE to the medical clinical context does not yet appear to have been formally developed. The collection of Gendlin’s selected philosophical essays in SWWM invites the reader to continue engaging with Gendlin’s philosophical ideas, and to continue the path that he forged finding one’s own personalized meanings as a means of individual and intellectual renewal.


Brencio, Francesca. 2019. “Befindlichkeit: Disposition.” In The Oxford Handbook of Phenomenological Psychopathology, edited by Giovanni Stanghellini, et al.  Oxford. Oxford University Press: 345-353.

Heidegger, Martin. 1962. Being and Time. Translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson. London: SCM.

Mohanty, Jitendra Nath. 1997. „Experience and Meaning.“ In Language beyond Postmodernism: Saying and Thinking in Gendlin’s Philosophy, edited by David Michael Levin. Evanston, IL. Northwestern University Press: 176-190.

Levin, David Michael (Ed.). 1997. Language beyond Postmodernism: Saying and Thinking in Gendlin’s Philosophy. Evanston, IL. Northwestern University Press.

Korbei, L. 1994. Eugen(e) Gend(e)lin. In O. Frischenschlager (Hg.), Wien, wo sonst! Die Entstehung der Psychoanalyse und ihrer Schulen. Wien/Köln/Weimar: Böhlau: 174-181. From

McEvenue, Kevin. 2015. Wholebody Focusing: Life Lived in the Moment. Copyright Whole Body Focusing.

[1] See most notably, Gendlin, Eugene. 1962. Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning (ECM). Glencoe, IL. Free Press, Evanston; 2017. A Process Model. Evanston, IL. Northwestern University Press.

[2] See, for example, Cornell, Ann Weiser and McGavin, Barbara. 2002. The Focusing Student’s and Companion’s Manual. 1. Berkeley, CA. Calluna Press.

[3] See, Brencio, Francesca. 2019. “Befindlichkeit: Disposition.” In The Oxford Handbook of Phenomenological Psychopathology, edited by Giovanni Stanghellini, et al.  Oxford. Oxford University Press: 345-353.

[4] See, for example, Gendlin, Eugene. 1984. „The Client’s Client: The Edge of Awareness.“ In Client-Centered Therapy and the Person-Centered Approach: New Directions in Theory, Research and Practice, edited by Ronald Levant & John Shlien. New York. Praeger: 76-107.

[5] See, Braude, Hillel. 2012. Intuition in Medicine: A Philosophical Defense of Clinical Reasoning. Chicago. The University of Chicago Press; 2016. “Clinical Reasoning and Knowing.” In Companion to Contemporary Philosophy of Medicine, edited by James Marcum, Bloomsbury Press: 323-342; 2013. “Human All Too Human Reasoning: Comparing Clinical and Phenomenological Intuition,” The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy. 38(2): 173-189; 2016. “Skilled Know-How, Virtuosity and Expertise in Clinical Practice.” In Handbook of the Philosophy of Medicine, edited by Thomas Schramme and Steven Edwards, Springer Press: 699-716.

[6] See, Braude, Hillel. 2016. „Review of Miriam Solomon’s Making Medical Knowledge.“ Theoretical Medicine & Bioethics, 37(5): 433-436.

Marguerite La Caze (Ed.): Phenomenology and Forgiveness

Phenomenology and Forgiveness Book Cover Phenomenology and Forgiveness
Marguerite La Caze (Ed.)
Rowman & Littlefield International
Paperback $39.95 / £24.95

Reviewed by: Rhonda Siu (University of New South Wales)

Marguerite La Caze’s aim as editor of the volume, Phenomenology and Forgiveness (2018), is to enhance phenomenology by investigating ways that it could examine forgiveness as an experience (La Caze 2018, vii). Forgiveness, she claims, has become an increasingly important issue in philosophy given recent developments such as the global reconciliation commissions in South Africa and the Solomon Islands (vii). Moreover, La Caze believes that phenomenologists can offer insightful analyses of first-person experiences of forgiveness, not least because many of them have struggled intensely with the issue of forgiveness themselves (e.g. Husserl, Sartre and Stein) (vii).

Two key aspects inform the approach to phenomenology adopted in this volume. First, the volume features an open-ended, comprehensive view of phenomenology that La Caze terms “wild phenomenology”; this view explains why thinkers not typically associated with phenomenology (e.g. Jankélévitch, Camus, Arendt and Derrida) have also been included (x). Second, the volume features “critical phenomenology”, continuing a tradition established by philosophers like Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and developed by more contemporary thinkers like Matthew Ratcliffe, Havi Carel and Jill Stauffer (La Caze 2018, xiv; Murphy 2018, 199). While adherents of critical phenomenology retain phenomenology’s traditional emphasis on first-person experience, they also diverge from its emphasis on subjectivity by focusing instead on intersubjectivity (Murphy 2018, 199). Here, La Caze refers to Lisa Guenther’s notion that critical phenomenology is not simply a theory but a “practice of liberation”; that is, it conceives of phenomenology as a philosophy that is constantly transforming, and which, in turn, transforms the world (Guenther 2017, 203, cited in La Caze 2018, xiv). Hence, contrary to the common view that phenomenology is purely “descriptive” (Murphy 2018, 199), this volume insightfully demonstrates how it has real-world application through its capacity to inform and motivate action. The volume has a facilitative tripartite structure encompassing: (1) “Experiences of forgiveness”, (2) “Paradoxes of forgiveness”, and (3) “Ethics and politics of forgiveness”. Before evaluating the volume further, I will discuss the key claims posited by the writers of each section. 

  1. Experiences of Forgiveness

The writers of section one reveal how the complexities of forgiveness are accentuated when it is examined in terms of the lived experiences of individuals and collectivities. They also reveal how the specificity of these experiences may prompt us to question those conventional notions of morality and religion that are intended to have universal application. In chapter one, Shannon Hoff examines what constitutes a morally “good” action in relation to Hegel’s account of conscience, confession and forgiveness in Phenomenology of Spirit (Hoff 2018, 4). According to her interpretation, this complex issue of moral action is staged as a confrontation between a moral agent who performs what she considers a “good” act and a judge who assesses its morality (or lack thereof) (4). Importantly, this confrontation embodies a necessary contradiction. Theoretically-speaking, applying moral standards is meant to be universal, unambiguous and objective (7). However, in actuality, realising a moral law through action is necessarily performed from a biased standpoint because a specific agent must devise her own understanding of this law in a highly distinctive situation (4-5). In this situation, both the agent and judge are human and thus imperfect; lacking omniscience, they can only view things from their own perspectives, perspectives that are necessarily shaped by their own experiences, projects and interests (4-6). Rather than self-righteously reproaching an agent for her biased standpoint, Hoff argues that we should assess an action’s moral value through intersubjective means, that is, by simultaneously empathising with others’ situations and being open to their criticisms, and vice versa (15).

Importantly, Hoff offers valuable insights into how Hegel’s account of forgiveness can be applied to tackle controversial political issues. Her analysis is particularly relevant to a political environment increasingly characterised firstly by “intersectionality” (17), wherein multifaceted and often conflicting notions of identity render pursuing justice even more complex. Secondly, the political terrain has also been significantly altered by the rise of social media (12), whereby the “public naming and shaming” that occur, for example, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram often only permit a reductive response to complex political issues. Consequently, productive public discourse is stifled; one is either praised or condemned for supporting or dismissing a viewpoint. By contrast, Hoff demonstrates how one could respond constructively to sensitive socio-political issues like adopting another’s perceived oppression as one’s own cause (12). She provides the example of a Westerner (e.g. a “middle-class, white, Canadian man”) combatting what he perceives as the mistreatment of women in a manifestly different cultural environment (e.g. a “specific, conservative, Muslim culture”) (11). Hoff claims that such an individual’s desire to perform a “good” act should neither be ridiculed nor dismissed (8 and 14), for instance, by claiming that he is not equipped to help just because he is neither Muslim nor a woman. Rather, she argues that we should view his pursuit in a positive light as his chance for further education, self-interrogation and change; ideally, he would seek to learn more about the other’s situation (from the other) and critique his own actions based on any newly-acquired knowledge (14).

In chapter two, Nicolas De Warren explores how Arendt’s phenomenological approach to forgiveness emphasises its temporal, intersubjective and ontological dimensions (De Warren 2018, 25). Understanding Arendt’s conception of forgiveness, de Warren claims, requires an understanding of how it is bound up with two other key concepts in her philosophy: “natality” and “plurality” (25). Forgiveness, for Arendt, firstly entails plurality because the act of forgiving requires at least two people (the forgiver and the forgiven); one cannot forgive one’s own act of harming the other (33). Secondly, Arendt grounds her concept of natality in the interrelated notions of “respect” and “distance” (37-38). For De Warren, Arendt’s emphasis on respect means that she thereby departs from traditional moral or religious conceptions of forgiveness. Rather than emphasising conventional concepts like “salvation, charity” and “intimacy”, Arendt highlights the gap that respect (re)institutes in the self-other relationship that allows the other (whom one has forgiven) to appear “unequal to her appearance” (38-39, emphasis in original). That is, the other is thereupon presented as different from her past self; her identity no longer coincides with her misdeed/s (34). This reinstitution of distance, de Warren claims, is essential to natality as it allows the self-other relationship to begin anew; the other reacquires her “agency” and capacity for action, aspects she effectively gave up by doing us wrong (33-34 and 39). By thus freeing us (or in Arendt’s terms, “redeeming us”) from the immutability of the past, forgiveness brings about the “re-temporaliz[ation]” of interpersonal relationships (25-26, 30 and 34). As will become apparent, many writers in the volume also draw explicitly or implicitly on this concept of forgiveness as renewal; indeed, Arendt’s philosophy seems to form the volume’s undercurrent. 

In chapter three, Simone Drichel draws on Emmanuel Levinas‘ writings to explore how forgiveness is experienced during and after trauma. Drichel finds it curious that forgiveness does not feature more prominently in Levinas‘ philosophy, given its relevance to his account of “traumatic subject constitution” in more mature works like Otherwise than Being (Drichel 2018, 43-44). Importantly, she challenges what she views as Levinas‘ “‘counter-intuitive’” claim in his notion of “ethical relationality” that one’s “vulnerable exposure” to others is always experienced as a “‘good trauma’” (44 and 55). Indeed, Levinas even suggests that this vulnerability should be embraced instead of dreaded or evaded (46). In her challenge to Levinas, Drichel investigates the links between his later idea of the “traumatic force of the il y a” (in Otherwise than Being) and psychoanalytic accounts of trauma (44 and 52). While acknowledging that Levinas himself was unsympathetic towards psychoanalysis, she also argues that there are key similarities between Levinas’ conception of the “il y a” and the psychoanalyst, D. W. Winnicott’s conception of “early infantile traumatization” (50-51). In both notions, Drichel claims, the reaction to trauma is a “flight into monadic existence” or a defence mechanism that the individual employs to protect herself against trauma (52).

Such a reaction, Drichel claims, is problematic because it is damaging to both ethics and relationality. By fleeing into a state of “invulnerability”, the traumatised individual thereby becomes insusceptible to the other’s “ethical demand”, rendering her effectively “‘ethically impaired’” (50 and 52, emphasis in original). Drichel argues that this “unethical ‘inversion’” undermines Levinas‘ ethical framework and is thus something to which he should have paid more attention (52-53). To increase its robustness, Drichel suggests that Levinas‘ trauma-based ethics needs to be supplemented by a psychoanalytic interpretation of trauma’s devastating impact (51). She draws on the Hungarian psychoanalyst, Sandor Ferenczi and the Austrian author and Holocaust survivor, Jean Améry’s suggestions that forgiveness is only possible through restoring ethical relationality, that is, by restoring the self’s capacity and willingness to leave its fortress of invulnerability and be rendered vulnerable to the other once again (54-57). As with Arendt, forgiveness for Drichel thus involves the renewal and transformation of the self-other relationship, which she conceives broadly as reinstituting an “ethical” relation with the “world of others” (58). Moreover, for Drichel, this willingness to re-experience vulnerability in turn relies on the community’s establishment of a secure, “‘holding environment’” around the individual (an expression she borrows from Winnicott) which tempers the sense of isolation that follows the traumatic event (45 and 55).

In chapter four, Peter Banki takes up this theme of trauma by examining how a devastating event like the Holocaust can dramatically change one’s views of forgiveness. To do this, Banki investigates the contradiction between Vladimir Jankélévitch’s position on forgiveness in Forgiveness (Le Pardon) (1967) and his later work, Pardonner? (1971), a contradiction acknowledged by Jankélévitch himself (Banki 2018, 66 and 72). In his earlier work Forgiveness, Jankélévitch argues for a “hyperbolical ethics of forgiveness” based on love, whereby even the unforgivable must be forgiven (66). However, later in Pardonner?, Jankélévitch claims instead that the unforgivable cannot be forgiven; indeed, for him, the mass murder of Jews (the Shoah) marked forgiveness’ demise (72). Banki, however, does not view this contradiction as a weakness of Jankélévitch’s philosophy, claiming instead that it is an appropriate response to the “hyper-ethical” nature of the Holocaust (66). The inhumane crimes of the Shoah cannot be forgiven because neither proportionate punishments nor specific offenders can be attributed to them (73).

For Banki, if forgiveness can be said to be found in such circumstances, it involves acknowledging Jankélévitch’s contradiction for what it is rather than trying to resolve it (66). This form of forgiveness, Banki suggests, is apparent in Jankélévitch’s decision to reject a young German’s invitation to visit him in Germany (74-75). In his letter, the German expressed feelings of accountability for the events of the Holocaust but challenged the idea that he himself was guilty for crimes he had not committed (74). Partly responsible for Jankélévitch’s refusal of the invitation was his radical view that virtually all Germans and Austrians were “Nazi perpetrators and collaborators” (72). Banki approves of Derrida’s interpretation of Jankélévitch’s refusal as the confrontation between two conflicting discourses: the reconcilable and the irreconcilable, whereby the unforgivable (e.g. mass murder) ultimately cannot be forgiven (75).

Interestingly, Banki also takes Jankélévitch’s thought even further by claiming that, in the context of forgiveness, lesser and more mundane wrongdoings can be viewed in the same way as inhumane crimes like the Shoah (77). This is because any wrongdoing cannot be entirely forgiven; a trace of the unforgivable will always remain. This leads Banki to the radical conclusion that forgiveness does not exist and may have never existed (77). In saying this, Banki’s reading of Jankélévitch departs from religious accounts of forgiveness (e.g. the Judeo-Christian account) which assume that forgiveness occurs whenever it is undertaken in the spirit of good will and magnanimity (77). Banki’s suggestion that forgiveness may have never existed is perhaps the most radical view of forgiveness or unforgiveness presented in the volume. While Banki does suggest that an “impure forgiveness” based in Jankélévitch’s thought may yet be created in the future, he does not really expand on what this might look like (77). His chapter thus ends with a promising suggestion for future research.

  1. Paradoxes of Forgiveness

The writers of section two take up the previous notion of contradiction as their overall theme when exploring collective forgiveness, self-forgiveness and the role of forgiveness in politics (or lack thereof). In chapter five, Gaëlle Fiasse demonstrates how Paul Ricoeur’s account of forgiveness, for example, in Memory, History and Forgetting, displays interesting points of similarity and difference to/from Derrida, Jankélévitch and Arendt’s (Fiasse 2018, 85 and 88). Like certain aspects of Jankélévitch and Derrida’s philosophies, Ricoeur conceives of forgiveness as an “unconditional gift” of love (91). As Fiasse explains it, Ricoeur’s innovative conception of forgiveness is represented by the intersection of two asymmetrical axes, with the asymmetrical aspect implying that a wrongdoing does not automatically imply forgiveness of it. The upper and lower poles of the vertical axis are occupied by the unconditional gift of forgiveness and the “depth of the fault of the wrongdoer”, respectively (87). Influenced by Jankélévitch, Ricoeur begins his account with the gravity of the misdeed rather than the unconditional gift of forgiveness to emphasise the magnitude of the wrongdoing and the need for the wrongdoer to be held accountable for his/her unjust actions (88). Moreover, like Arendt, forgiveness, for Ricoeur, implies a renewal of the self-other relationship through the reinstitution of agency and action to the wrongdoer (90).

On the one hand, Fiasse acknowledges Ricoeur’s claim that forgiveness can only be realised between people rather than political and juridical institutions (87 and 92). (In my later discussion of chapter seven, I will show that this specific view of Ricoeur’s is also shared by Edith Stein.) On the other hand, Fiasse also posits that the above-mentioned institutions may play a larger role in Ricoeur’s own philosophy than he sometimes suggests through his notion of the “incognito” (an expression she borrows from Klaus Kodalle) or “spirit of forgiveness” (87 and 93). She highlights how, in these institutions, the “incognito” of forgiveness tempers the violence involved in punishments, for instance, by allowing the wrongdoer a fair trial and access to rehabilitation, and also facilitates the resumption of regular interpersonal relationships voided of hatred and vengeance (87, 93 and 95). In emphasising this possibility of renewal, Ricoeur, Fiasse claims, thereby departs from Derrida’s belief that forgiveness is unattainable (85 and 87).

In chapter six, Jennifer Ang explores this key theme of renewal from the perspectives of both forgiveness and self-forgiveness. Like Banki, she investigates how experiencing a traumatic event like the Holocaust can prompt a serious reconsideration of one’s position on forgiveness. To do this, Ang draws on the Italian-Jewish writer, chemist and Holocaust survivor, Primo Levi’s notion of the “gray zone”, a notion she applies to challenge the supposedly clear-cut distinction between “innocent” victims and “morally reprehensible” collaborators under totalitarian regimes like Nazism (Ang 2018, 103). Levi, Ang claims, questions one’s right to morally condemn collaborators if one has not lived through the traumatic events of the Holocaust. Accounting for Levi’s disapproval of hasty moral condemnation, Ang is not interested in whether we could or should forgive the Nazis or collaborators. Rather, she uses key concepts in Sartre’s phenomenology such as bad faith, shame and guilt to explore how individuals responded to morally ambivalent situations during World War II (103).

Ang attributes different types of “bad faith” to different types of Holocaust collaborators, depending on the type and degree of their “collaboration, complicity and compromises” (108). Active collaborators who held privileged positions like the president of the Lodz ghetto, Chaim Rombowski, were in “bad faith” because they erroneously believed that they could act with absolute freedom, that is, completely unconstrained by their facticity (105-106). Ang claims that these collaborators engaged in self-deception; despite recognising that they were accountable for their immoral decisions, they chose to believe that they could not have acted otherwise (106). Turning to the other extreme, Ang claims that Holocaust survivors like Levi who were severely plagued by guilt and shame were also in “bad faith” because they erroneously believed that they were fully defined by their facticity, of which their past choices were a large part (106 and 108). They also mistakenly believed that those who died by suicide or other causes during the Holocaust were better and more courageous people than themselves (108 and 113). Recovery for these tormented survivors, Ang argues, entails realising that their past does not fully define them because they had been thrown into a “gray zone” wherein any decision would have been morally ambiguous (112). Acknowledging this would allow these survivors to reconfigure their perception of themselves at the end of the Other’s “look”; they would gradually be able to release their feelings of self-hatred and project themselves towards an open future (109-12). Viewed from this reconfigured perspective, survival, Ang suggests, could be perceived not as shameful but rather as an act of defiance against the anti-Semite’s machinations (113).

In chapter seven, Antonio Calcagno explores Edith Stein’s social ontology, redirecting the reader’s attention from how individuals experience forgiveness/self-forgiveness to the phenomenon of collective forgiveness (Calcagno 2018, 118). On the one hand, Stein concurs with Max Scheler that collective responsibility and forgiveness are possible (117). On the other hand, Stein disagrees with Scheler’s notion of the “collective person” whereby individual members “identify” and merge with each other to form a “super-individual”; these members genuinely “feel themselves as one person” (117 and 121). According to Calcagno, understanding Stein’s position on collective forgiveness requires understanding her distinction between two types of sociality: society and community (118). Societies are formed when their members come together to attain a specific objective whereas communities are characterised by a more potent lived experience of sociality whereby people are connected by a “shared sense or meaning”, such as grieving over a mutual friend’s passing (119-20 and 126). While acknowledging that forgiveness in a community can be similarly conceived as a shared sense or meaning, Stein, like Ricoeur, maintains that acts of extending and receiving forgiveness can only transpire between individuals, not groups (118). What prevents Stein from agreeing with Scheler’s notion of the “collective person”, Calcagno suggests, is her “strong sense of individuation” (121). This in turn arises from her view that the combination of “body [and affect], psyche and spirit” that is expressed in an individual’s “personality” is idiosyncratic to that individual (121), thereby implying the impossibility of attributing a singular combination of traits to multiple unique individuals.

Calcagno’s innovative move here is extending Stein’s account to consider how forgiveness can also feature within a society as a common goal (124). He provides the example of the Canadian government’s commitment to achieving reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous individuals. This involved formulating, accepting and adhering to, the recommendations set forth by Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the latter of which was responsible for investigating injustices within the residential school system (124-25). As my imminent discussion of chapter eight will demonstrate, Geoffrey Adelsberg, by contrast, views the Canadian government’s attempt at reconciliation with a more critical eye. Nevertheless, Calcagno’s overall suggestion about forgiveness’ role in a society highlights forgiveness’ potential contribution to socio-political change and thus warrants further investigation.

In chapter eight, Adelsberg’s analysis of forgiveness revolves around a real-world event, namely the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at Standing Rock, North Dakota (Adelsberg 2018, 131). Adelsberg uses this event as a case study to support his claim that causing enduring harm to others is damaging to, and defeats the purpose of, appeals for forgiveness. During the protests, a group of military veterans represented by Wes Clark, Jr., requested forgiveness for past injustices caused by settler colonialism in the Oceti Sakowin Territory (131). On the one hand, Adelsberg acknowledges the positive aspects of this request; it was a gesture of respect towards the natives and constituted the first steps towards showing regret and accountability for the settlers’ unjust actions (133 and 138). On the other hand, Adelsberg claims that Clark’s appeal for forgiveness ultimately fell short of its aim to renew the relationship between both parties (131-32). Justifying this claim, he refers to Glen Coulthard’s critique of the Canadian politics of reconciliation, drawing especially on Coulthard’s claim that the discourses of transitional justice had been misused therein. According to Coulthard, such discourses had been wrongfully mobilised to forgive past injustices rather than to recognise the devastating truth of present and continuing wrongdoings (134). Applying similar criticisms to the Standing Rock protests, Adelsberg claims that current issues like land rights, Native sovereignty and self-governance have been similarly overlooked (131 and 134). Taking a phenomenological perspective, Adelsberg concludes that Clark failed to achieve a “renewed moral relationship” between the parties because he neither recognised the gravity of continuing wrongs nor sought collective ways to rectify them (132).

Adelsberg makes his second main criticism of Clark by drawing on Leanne Simpson’s critique of Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau’s approach to reconciliation (138). Like the figure of Trudeau depicted in Simpson’s critique, Clark’s response, Adelsberg claims, failed to transcend a “gestural politics of juxtaposition”; that is, his appeal for forgiveness attained its significance mainly because it embodied a different and improved approach to reconciliation and forgiveness from the past (138-39). For Adelsberg, this entails that Clark’s message lacked real-world effect. It did little to advance the movement towards taking collective responsibility for injustices because Clark was not sanctioned by his peers to deliver his message of forgiveness; the views he expressed were thus mainly limited to his own (132 and 139-40).

  1. Ethics and Politics of Forgiveness

Further exploring themes already introduced in the volume, the writers of section three examine the role of forgiveness in morally and politically ambivalent situations created under totalitarian rule. In chapter nine, Matthew Sharpe examines Camus’ notion of forgiveness in works written after L’Homme Revolté (1951) that were influenced by the events of World War II (Sharpe 2018, 149). Sharpe identifies three key features of Camus‘ account of forgiveness in these later works: (1) an emphasis on self-forgiveness, (2) the separation of forgiveness from notions of both “absolute innocence” and “objective guilt” or “original sin”, and (3) the important role of forgiveness in establishing and sustaining cohesion amongst people (160-61). Like Ang and Banki’s analyses, Sharpe’s interpretation of Camus features the perspective that the inhumane world created by totalitarian regimes like Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia significantly reconfigured how thinkers perceived forgiveness (153 and 155). In Camus’ own view, totalitarianism “institutes a world without innocents, and without innocence”, thereby rendering forgiveness impossible (153).

In chapter ten, David Brennan investigates how Václav Havel’s views of forgiveness were developed against the background of the turbulent post-Communist period in Czechoslovakia and were informed by his phenomenological conception of political morality (Brennan 2018, 166). Prior to its downfall in 1989, the Communist Government employed informants to uncover possible dissidence amongst its citizens to secure maximum control (165). Havel, a dissident himself, became President in 1990 and thus had to address the challenging issue of collaborators, some of whom had severely mistreated their fellow citizens (166 and 170-71). Brennan focuses on the ambivalence of Havel’s response to the collaborators. While Havel denounced the witch-hunt provoked by the newly instituted “lustration act” (1991), he nevertheless did not stop the “public naming and shaming” of those who had committed severe wrongdoings (170-71). According to Brennan, this is because Havel recognised that those who had been mistreated deserved justice and that he could therefore not mandate all citizens to forgive the collaborators (174). Nevertheless, influenced by Arendt, Havel was keenly aware of the centrality of forgiveness to renewal, both for individuals and within the wider political domain (170 and 173-75).

Havel’s inclusion of forgiveness in his response to the dilemma was heavily criticised by some (166 and 172). Brennan claims that Havel’s response was firstly influenced by his mentor, Jan Patočka’s notion of “living in truth”, that is, ensuring that our actions are governed by our relationships with, and accountability to, other humans rather than political exigencies. Under this view, politics is not the main determinant of action, but rather one consideration among many (167). Secondly, Havel, Brennan claims, was influenced by Tomáš Masaryk’s humanist philosophy and thus believed that morality could not be separated from politics (167-68). Accordingly, Havel was sceptical of passing hasty “guilty” or “not guilty” judgements on collaborators who had been placed in a morally compromising position by the government (169). Lastly, Brennan astutely points out that both Arendt and Havel recognised that many wrongdoings were committed unconsciously because collaboration was so deeply embedded within social relationships that it was hard to detect (174-75). Like Ang’s interpretation of Levi, then, Brennan’s analysis of Havel also raises the issue of whether one could be required to request forgiveness for wrongdoings over which one had little awareness and control.  

In chapter eleven, Karen Pagani, like Hoff, contextualises her Heideggerian analysis of collective, political forgiveness within the rise of information technology and social media (Pagani 2018, 181). Central to this development for Pagani is the ability for anyone to engage in public discourse, however informed their opinions may be (181-82). Pagani does not critique this development due to her belief that public discourse on political forgiveness must admit a diversity of views from various disciplines (182-83). Although recognising the challenge of trying to achieve agreement in this discourse, she, like political theorists such as Donald Shriver, stresses the need to establish “shared, conciliatory narratives” (181-82).

Pagani’s account nicely complements Ang’s analysis of individual self-forgiveness by demonstrating how self-forgiveness can also be collective. Pagani draws on Heidegger’s notions of “care, resoluteness, and the call of conscience” in Part II of Being and Time (1927) to explore the place of “self-reflexive ‘forgiveness’” in Dasein’s existence (181 and 190). Dasein, she claims, forgives itself when it accepts that it had diverged and will continue to diverge from its authentic self by being influenced by the “they-self” (190). Self-forgiveness is necessary to Dasein’s existence because Dasein can neither completely divorce itself from the world where the “they” reside nor remain permanently in an authentic state. For Pagani, forgiveness in Heidegger’s philosophy thus constitutes the path by which Dasein transitions between the “I-self” and the “they-self” (190). To advance her argument, Pagani extends this notion of self-forgiveness to the Dasein of a collectivity, arguing that a group of individuals can also be deceived by the “they-self” (191). Linking collective self-forgiveness to politics, Pagani, like other writers in the volume, emphasises renewal, which she conceives as the generation of new collectivities through the process of reconciliation (193).

In chapter twelve, Ann Murphy departs from the approach of other writers in the volume by not performing a phenomenological analysis of how forgiveness is experienced but concentrating instead on how forgiveness could enhance the phenomenological method (Murphy 2018, 197). While acknowledging the common view that the phenomenological method is primarily descriptive, Murphy is nevertheless more interested in how it could be carried out in a critical, “ameliorative” spirit to support and thereby advance ethical and political endeavours (197). Murphy begins her analysis by reminding us that even Edmund Husserl’s writings adopted this critical, ethical and political approach because he perceived the crisis in the European sciences as a wider “crisis of humanity” (197-98). Husserl, Murphy claims, thus endowed phenomenology with a “redemptive” power, an aspect shared by notions of restorative justice and forgiveness (198). Moreover, like Arendt, redemption for Husserl is achieved through renewal, which he conceives as critically examining the past to enhance the future (198).

For Murphy, the more contemporary practice of critical phenomenology draws further on this redemptive or “restorative spirit” that often remains concealed in phenomenology (199). Murphy claims that analysing shame as a “philosophical mood” is key to understanding how forgiveness can bring out phenomenology’s ameliorative potential (201-202). Drawing on the work of Michèle le Doeuff, Judith Butler and Levinas, she argues that philosophy’s shame stems from its misguided attempts to reject other disciplines by maintaining the illusion that it is the superior discipline (201-202). Furthermore, central to the redemptive potential of philosophical shame is its “ambivalence”; philosophy can either try to remain self-contained or it can engage in a constructive self-critique that acknowledges the merit of other disciplines (202). Influenced by Robert Bernasconi, Murphy concludes the volume on the hopeful note that this ameliorative approach will project phenomenology into an open future (204 and 206-207).

I conclude with some overall evaluative remarks about the volume that have been derived from the critical overview presented above. First, given its adoption of the “wild phenomenology” approach, this volume might be of more interest to readers with a similarly broad and open-ended understanding of phenomenology rather than those with a stricter understanding. Being sympathetic to the volume’s approach, I believe that the addition of thinkers not typically associated with phenomenology, especially Arendt and Derrida, produces an intricate, dialogical and consequently enriched discussion of forgiveness.

Second, while the volume covers both theory and practice (La Caze 2018, xv), its focus on critical phenomenology effectively highlights the practical implications of the phenomenological method in terms of how ideas of forgiveness are exemplified in, and can be applied to, real-world situations. Adelsberg’s phenomenological analysis of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests is a case in point. While critical phenomenology may not appeal to those interested in a primarily theoretical discussion of phenomenological ideas, I believe that this “practical” emphasis makes the volume highly accessible and engaging and provides promising openings for future research. (See, for example, my earlier comments on Banki and Calcagno’s chapters.)

Third, the volume offers important philosophical insights into the complexities of forgiveness by combining diverse and sometimes conflicting views of similar types or modes of forgiveness such as individual and collective forgiveness, and self-forgiveness. Diverse views of the same real-world events (e.g. the Holocaust and Canada’s attempts at reconciliation) are also provided, highlighting that there is rarely a clear-cut answer to how and when forgiveness might be given or not given. Indeed, the inclusion of an entire section on the “paradoxes of forgiveness” demonstrates La Caze’s appreciation of forgiveness’ complexities and nuances.

Lastly, despite the diversity of perspectives presented, continuity is maintained throughout the volume because central themes like trauma, conflict, renewal and futurity are regularly revisited. The choice of these themes is commendable in two main ways. First, and related to point three above, the writers’ analyses of trauma and conflict remind us that forgiveness is not a straightforward concept by directing our attention to situations where forgiveness’ limits are tested. Second, the focus on renewal and futurity highlights the important point that forgiveness is rarely an end in itself; rather, it is a pathway towards revitalised relationships and socio-political advancement. Overall, the volume provides an insightful, nuanced and frank exploration of forgiveness and was a pleasure to read.


La Caze, Marguerite. 2018. “Introduction: Situating Forgiveness within Phenomenology.” In Phenomenology and Forgiveness, edited by Marguerite La Caze, vii-xxii. London: Rowman and Littlefield International.

Hoff, Shannon. 2018. “The Right and the Righteous: Hegel on Confession, Forgiveness, and the Necessary Imperfection of Political Action.” In Phenomenology and Forgiveness, edited by Marguerite La Caze, 3-24. London: Rowman and Littlefield International.

De Warren, Nicolas. 2018. “For the Love of the World: Redemption and Forgiveness in Arendt.” In Phenomenology and Forgiveness, edited by Marguerite La Caze, 25-42. London: Rowman and Littlefield International.

Drichel, Simone. 2018. “’A forgiveness that remakes the world’: Trauma, Vulnerability, and Forgiveness in the Work of Emmanuel Levinas.” In Phenomenology and Forgiveness, edited by Marguerite La Caze, 43-64. London: Rowman and Littlefield International.

Banki, Peter. 2018. “Hyper-Ethical Forgiveness and the Inexpiable.” In Phenomenology and Forgiveness, edited by Marguerite La Caze, 65-82. London: Rowman and Littlefield International.

Fiasse, Gaëlle. 2018. “Forgiveness in Ricoeur.” In Phenomenology and Forgiveness, edited by Marguerite La Caze, 85-102. London: Rowman and Littlefield International.

Ang, Jennifer. 2018. “Self-Forgiveness in the Gray Zone.” In Phenomenology and Forgiveness, edited by Marguerite La Caze, 103-16. London: Rowman and Littlefield International.

Calcagno, Antonio. 2018. “Can a Community Forgive? Edith Stein on the Lived Experience of Communal Forgiveness.” In Phenomenology and Forgiveness, edited by Marguerite La Caze, 117-30. London: Rowman and Littlefield International.

Adelsberg, Geoffrey. 2018. “Collective Forgiveness in the Context of Ongoing Harms.” In Phenomenology and Forgiveness, edited by Marguerite La Caze, 131-46. London: Rowman and Littlefield International.

Sharpe, Matthew. 2018. “Camus and Forgiveness: After the Fall.” In Phenomenology and Forgiveness, edited by Marguerite La Caze, 149-64. London: Rowman and Littlefield International.

Brennan, David. 2018. “Václav Havel’s Call for Forgiveness.” In Phenomenology and Forgiveness, edited by Marguerite La Caze, 165-80. London: Rowman and Littlefield International.

Pagani, Karen A. 2018. “Toward a Heideggerian Approach to the Problem of Political Forgiveness, or the Dignity of a Question.” In Phenomenology and Forgiveness, edited by Marguerite La Caze, 181-96. London: Rowman and Littlefield International.

Murphy, Ann. V. 2018. “Phenomenology, Crisis, and Repair.” In Phenomenology and Forgiveness, edited by Marguerite La Caze, 197-208. London: Rowman and Littlefield International.