Andrea Staiti: Etica Naturalistica e Fenomenologia

Etica naturalistica e fenomenologia Book Cover Etica naturalistica e fenomenologia
Percorsi
Andrea Staiti
Società editrice il Mulino
2020
Paperback € 16,00
160

Reviewed by: Susi Ferrarello (California State University)

Staiti’s book is a very engaging metaethical investigation of naturalism in ethics (7). Here, phenomenology serves a twofold purpose. As it is in the nature of phenomenology, in this book, too, phenomenology is used as a method and theory. On the one hand, phenomenology’s methodological approach can provide the right ‘atteggiamento’ (attitude, 30) for addressing problems proper to naturalism, such as nihilism and the relative limits of physicalism (20-25); on the other hand, phenomenological theory in axiology, specifically in relation to the notion of material a priori (38), offers ideas in support of a “liberal way” (29) of interpreting naturalism and handling some of the thorniest debates in metaethics. This is especially clear when Staiti discusses the problem of moral intuition and perception and the behavior of axiological properties in mereological foundations (8).

What does phenomenology have to gain from this interaction? Staiti’s answer is that metaethics can help phenomenology to position itself in the contemporary philosophical metaethical traditions (9). Since metaethical problems are very close to the issues tackled by the phenomenological tradition, the two can help each other in the most problematic areas.

The book is organized into four chapters. The first starts with a description of naturalism, in general, and ethical naturalism, in particular. Staiti describes two aspects of naturalism: ontological and methodological. Methodological naturalism is based on and limited by the natural sciences and the scientific community that gathers around them (16). In this form of naturalism, the philosophical discussion is based on the solid ground of what can be proven by science. In doing so, methodological naturalism does not leave much room to discuss what cannot yet be proven. This problem also occurs in ontological naturalism. Ontological naturalism, in fact, focuses on the description of concrete entities; what is labelled as spooky (17) exceeds this category. For this reason, Staiti seems to welcome De Caro’s proposal of a liberal naturalism (19-20), which connects philosophical rationality to empirical sciences in order to revise scientific positions that would oppose the experimental nature of science and philosophy (20).

In ethics, naturalism expresses itself in the forms of physicalism and realism. In ethical physicalism, what matters for the ethical discourse is what we can ‘tangibly’ see; hence, in the case of a nihilistic solution what matters is Nothing, or, in the case of psychologism and expressivism, what matters are feelings and emotions. A naturalistic approach to the good leads the investigator to take into consideration only what exists in reference to the world (22). This form of naturalism in ethics tends to reinforce a moral psychology that limits the investigation to what can be proven as true and good from the perspective of the Geisteswissenschaften (sciences of mind). The other declension of naturalism in ethics is realism, which considers axiological properties as real entities accessible to the philosophical investigation. Similarly to the liberal naturalism proposed above, Staiti points to a liberal form of naturalism in ethics that would avoid a nihilist solution to ethical problems. In fact, the liberal version of ethical naturalism supports “the existence of axiological properties as natural properties accessible in the same way as natural properties” (25). In order to access these properties, philosophy needs to adopt the right attitude which seems to be best provided by the phenomenological method (31).

As we know from Husserl’s essay Philosophy as a Rigorous Science (1910), phenomenology discusses naturalism in a new fashion. The essence of one’s experience of a natural phenomenon cannot be reduced to a mere aggregate of physical or psychical atoms (in the case of scientific or psychological naturalism). Having experience means to refer to something that constitutes the object of my experience in the world (34-35). The natural phenomenon can never be the summation of its parts, but instead is the intentional content of a given lived-experience that we can access and describe through the reflective analysis of the lived-experience itself. Similarly to liberal ethics, phenomenology shares the idea of being able to access the axiological properties of ethical experience as much as its perceptual properties (37) as the two are bound together by a mereological foundation in which the results of the natural givenness is not mere summation but the supervenience of the relationship between its elements. Speaking to this, Staiti gives the example of Husserl’s notion of material a priori as an a priori model for explaining how the material axiological aspects of the experience stand in relation to a specific region of reality and its logical properties. For example, pain is a disvalue, hence what we know as torture is wrong as it produces this specific disvalue consequence in this region of reality.

Continuing on this road, the second chapter of Staiti’s book shows how the phenomenological attitude can lend itself to the understanding of the mereological supervenience of axiological and logical properties. Focusing on moral intuition and perception, Staiti shows how the natural entity of the ontological and methodological approach used in naturalism is explained in phenomenology as the intentional fulfillment correlated to the intentional essence. Referencing Audi, Staiti explains in great clarity how in Husserl, differently from Audi, the perceptual awareness of the correspondence between reality and experience (49) tends to distinguish experience from one’s lived-experience as this latter involves a reflective quality proper to the intentional act that escapes the mere representationalist point of view. According to representationalism, in fact, the sensorial multitude on which the perceptive experience of something is based is lived but not experienced—hence it is for us a mental representation of the direct perceptive experience. For Husserl, instead, ”the intentional relationship establishes that an act of perceptual awareness refers to a perceived object and this relationship is a phenomenal [manifestativa] and not representational one” (52). The direct perceptual experience is a phenomenal manifestation, while one’s lived experience has a phenomenological reflective quality that is missing in the spontaneity of the natural attitude. The correctness of the description of the natural phenomenon in ethics, as the scientist experiences it in a natural spontaneous life, does not amount to the representations of that phenomenon but to the intuition of the axiological properties pertaining to that ethical phenomenon as they are perceived in that intentional act. “The simple perception—seeing a lemon—will evolve, most probably, in the predicative perception ‘seeing a yellow lemon’ because the lemon is yellow. If I were to always sell lemons, therefore continuously exposed to their brightness of that yellow, probably it would not be its yellow so immediately apparent, but another property, for example the opacity of its skin that reveals that the lemon has not been treated with chemicals” (56). Any perception of axiological properties is a thematization of the intentional relationship that connects the individual to a specific region of that lived experience.

In chapter three, Staiti explains how the concreteness of what is perceived can emerge as a content that is congruent to what is perceived and intuited in the lived-experience of the subject. In fact, Staiti remarks, “in phenomenology, intuition represents the apex of an experiential process, that is, the congruence between the sense as it is thought and the sense as it has been actually experienced” (63). How this congruence comes together in the intentional content is explained through the notion of supervenience or mereological foundation. In phenomenology, foundation (Fundierung) describes a mereological relationship of parts and whole (81) in which a complex experience and its object can be analyzed according to their mutual inferences. In the case of a naturalistic liberal ethics, we want to ask ourselves “what kind of objects are the objects qualified in an axiological manner? What’s their structure? What kind of experience is the one in which objects of this kind are intentionally meant? (81).

To describe how the concreteness of the intentional content is shaped in relation to axiological properties, Staiti uses emotional acts (Gemütsakte). These acts can be described as those acts with which we refer to objects whose axiological properties we can clearly perceive—Maria loves Giulio, for example. Giulio is the positive object of Maria’s emotional act. As with any other intentional act, emotional acts are also constituted of a form (Maria loves Giulio, i.e. subject + verb + object) and a matter (what is in the act of Maria loving Giulio). Any matter is generally qualified by a position-taking with which we can tell whether the subject refers to reality (Maria loves Giulio, her partner) or fantasy (Maria loves Giulio, her imaginary friend). The position taken in emotional acts – such as “I love,” “I respect,” “I value” – need to be completed by the emotion that qualifies that position-taking and the objectivating acts that make sense of their content-matter (87). Maria loves Giulio because she knows Giulio (epistemological, doxic, logic position) or at least she can bring his matter to the predicative form—Giulio. The position-taking proper to emotional acts needs a logical layer for the emotional content matter to be brought to the fore. If this layer is missing, what remains is a motivational necessity that moves Maria’s emotion of loving to connect with the object of her love but without being able to express it in words or being aware of it. Maria is attracted to this person. Axiological properties in general, like those that characterize emotional acts, need objectivating predicative acts to bring that motivating/-ed matter to the fore. The intentional essence of the emotional content needs to be meant in order to be epistemologically understood, yet their axiological quality can already be perceived in intuition (the essence of the beloved person as a positive value, for example). Axiological properties do not necessarily refer to the ‘real’ object (91); Giulio can be just Maria’s fantasy, or he might no longer be living, or he could be the character of her favorite play. Axiological properties relate to the content-object in the same way as logical properties do. Yet, while logical properties are necessary for the content to preserve its objectual unity (92), axiological properties do not seem to be essential to this unity; they come as a co-existent addition to that unity (Giulio, the person Maria has in mind, versus Giulio, the person Maria loves). In fact, even if I do not know whom I love, that person will continue to be, although my feelings in relation to that person and the values that I attribute to her will be perceived as disconnected moments that hinder the possibility of fully grasping the content of my intention. Parenthetically, I think that this magnitude of disruption is exactly what occurs in cases of borderline and bi-polar personalities where the inability to mean the axiological properties related to the intentional content of an emotional act has the power to disrupt the unity of the emotional content as much as logical properties do.

To come back to Staiti’s argument, the asymmetry between axiological and logical acts does not involve that axiological acts are not intentional. The necessity connecting the essential integrity of an object (constituted by the logical properties that make that object what it is) to its axiological properties is a motivational necessity. According to this motivational necessity, the object of my experience comes to acquire a value after I have grasped its nature (101); this understanding motivates me to feel and act in a certain way toward it. Axiological and logical properties refer to each other in a complementary way. This complementarity structures the way in which I see the object of my experience and determines the meanings and values that I am going to assign to that object. “The more easily I will understand the supervenient axiological properties of my object, the more familiar I am with the logical properties of the same object” (101). If I am not wrong in my understanding of Staiti’s argument, I think that his argument would flawlessly work in the example of the lemon vendor he mentioned above. The lemon seller will know more the value of what she is selling the more she knows about the product. Yet, once again, I think that this argument would be less effective when applied to emotions. Logical properties do not seem to be more essential than axiological ones in emotional acts. In fact, it might happen that the more I know someone the less I feel I can value her because her personality is puzzling to me or the less I feel that I know her because she keeps showing side of herself that are contradictory.

Yet, here Staiti raises an important point: there is a parallelism between axiology and logic, which he explains as a parallelism between the good and truth, that makes liberal naturalism in ethics possible. Using Husserl’s reference to this same parallelism, which in Husserliana XVIII and XXXVII focused, though, on ethics, axiology, and logic–respectively the good, value, and true—Staiti builds an interesting strategy for describing the concreteness of the good in ethics as a natural phenomenon. He writes that “the good is the axiological equivalent to the notion of existence in the logical-theoretical sphere” (115). Staiti proposes the parallelism between axiology and ethics as a stratagem for solving the problem of realism in ethics. While I believe that this stratagem is quite effective, I also think that a passage is missing here: the object of axiology, in fact, is a value and not the positive value—the good as Staiti seems to affirm. I think that the parallelism he proposes is not between axiology and logic but between ethics and logic which modifies, of course, the terms and results of Staiti’s argument. Moreover, he indicates that the logical equivalent of the good is the notion of existence, and not the expected notion of truth. Although unexpected, I agree with Staiti’s explanation of Husserl’s argument. The truth is in continuity with the notion of existence, that is a property of Sätze (115) propositions. What exists is what is posited (gesetzt), that is, the objectual correlate of what has been posited in a categorical act (114).

In the last chapter, Staiti applies this parallelism as a convincing stratagem for tackling G. E. Moore’s Open Question Argument (1903). Moore’s Open Question Argument relates to the impossibility of defining good (1903, 50). If ethics cannot find a convincing definition of good, no analytic proposition around the good holds, accordingly all the propositions used to describe the good must be all synthetic ones. “Interrogating whether something is good, equates to ask oneself if pleasure is pleasant” (1903, 64). “Moore shows that the notion of good is irreplaceable when it appears together with complex proposition, otherwise their meaning would change” (122).

Yet, if we look at this problem from a phenomenological perspective and ask ourselves “what does the question ‘x is good’ truly ask?” we will see how what we want to know is the concretum of goodness as it belongs to that specific intentional act correlated to that specific ontological region. The question addresses the kind of properties and objects with which the notion of good is in a mereological foundation. Since the good correlates with its logical properties in an essential way and since the logical properties are what is posed, then the good is the mereological foundation of those parallel properties. We know how to answer the Open Question in relation to the good without leaving x as an incognitum. The good is that Satz (proposition) which receives a cognitive fulfillment qualified by axiological properties related to a specific ontological region existing in one’s experience of a given space and moment in time. Differently from Geach’s argument toward Moore (1956, 33), Staiti is not saying that the good is an attribute of being because there is a mereological relationship between logic and axiology, the posited and the good. While an attribute can be removed or changed without altering the essence of the object, in this mereological relationship the good and the posited are interwoven with each other via a motivational necessity; changing any of these terms will change the nature of the phenomenon itself.

I think that Staiti succeeds in his goal of showing the mutual enrichment deriving from applying phenomenology in metaethics. The argument presented in this concluding chapter is a tangible proof of it.

References

De Caro, M. 2016. “Natura e Naturalismi.” Hermeneutica, 16: 9-24.

Geach, P. 1956. «Good and Evil.» Analysis, 17: 33–42.

Husserl, E. 1988. Vorlesungen ueber Ethik und Wertlehre. Dordrecht: Kluwer. (Hua, XXVIII).

Husserl, E. 2004. Einleitung in die Ethik. Dordrecht: Kluwer. (Hua, XXXVII).

Husserl, E. 1965. “Philosophy as Rigorous Science,” trans. in Q. Lauer (Ed.), Phenomenology and the Crisis of Philosophy. New York: Harper.

Moore, G. E. 1903. Principia Ethica. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

 

Jeremy Arnold: Across the Great Divide: Between Analytic and Continental Political Theory

Across the Great Divide: Between Analytic and Continental Political Theory Book Cover Across the Great Divide: Between Analytic and Continental Political Theory
Jeremy Arnold
Stanford University Press
2020
Paperback $28.00
232

Reviewed by: Ben Turner (University of Kent, UK)

Disagreements over the nature of the divide between continental and analytical philosophy are perhaps as common as disputes between these two parts of the discipline. A consequence of the heterogeneity of understandings of this division is that attempts to cross it are often isolated cases rather than widespread philosophical practices. Jeremy Arnold’s Across the Great Divide: Between Analytic and Continental Political Theory represents one such attempt to construct a bridge between the two traditions within political philosophy rather than philosophy as such. In doing so he makes two claims: that ‘political theorists and philosophers ought to engage in…cross-tradition theorizing’ and that what he calls ‘aporetic cross-tradition theorizing is a viable and attractive mode of cross-tradition theorizing’ (14). In contrast to what Arnold calls the synthetic mode, which seeks to unify the two traditions within a single theory, the aporetic mode highlights the incompatibilities between the two traditions and shows how neither can give exhaustive accounts of political concepts. Arnold’s claim that the aporetic mode is a desirable mode of thinking across traditions is compelling due to the strength it lends to arguments in favour of theoretical and methodological pluralism in political theory. However, one might question the extent to which the aporetic mode is truly as agnostic with respect to method as it is intended to be.

Before moving to an overview and evaluation of the argument that Arnold makes in favour of the aporetic mode, it is worth highlighting the complexity that is added to the task of defining the divide between continental and analytic schools when it is examined within political philosophy. Within philosophy, one can begin from clear historical examples, as Arnold does (1-3), in which divisions between Husserl and Heidegger, on the one hand, and thinkers such as Ryle, Russel, Carnap and Frege, on the other, were established in the early to mid 20th century. It is a more complex task to identify the manner in which this division was transferred to political philosophy because of what Arnold acknowledges as the discipline’s ‘capacious’ character (5). Oscillation between the terminology of ‘political theory’ and ‘political philosophy’ indicates nominal differences which unfold in a variety of ways, such as the distinction between those based in philosophy departments and those in political science departments or the way political science and political philosophy are differentiated. In addition to the continental/analytical axis, political philosophy or theory is also divided along another axis which distinguishes it from political science or philosophy more broadly.

Arnold’s argument is situated within this definitional quagmire and is admirable for the clarity of the position which it articulates. Political theory, for Arnold, emerges in the context of the influence of European emigres to America upon normative debates regarding the crisis of liberalism and methodological debates regarding behaviourism in political science (4-5). Theodor Adorno, Hannah Arendt, Leo Strauss, and Eric Voegelin are pivotal in the constitution of political theory insofar as they carried with them a set of continental influences that were critical of both liberalism and positivism, such as Heidegger, Nietzsche and Weber. Political philosophy, in contrast, has a simpler genealogy. It ‘has its institutional home primarily in philosophy departments, which in the Anglophone world are largely analytic’ (4). Normative political philosophy owes as much to its proximity to analytic moral philosophy as it does to debates about the nature of the political (6-7). Consequently, two different approaches to liberalism arise from these historical circumstances (7-8). Politically, liberalism is criticised by political theorists and endorsed by political philosophers of continental and analytic dispositions respectively. Methodologically, analytic political philosophers put great stock in the content of intuitions, particularly those of a liberal variety, whereas continental political theorists are more likely to scrutinise the ideological basis of these intuitions due to their scepticism of dominant liberal values.

That political philosophy is largely analytic and political theory is largely continental is cemented by Arnold’s articulation of three key differences within the contemporary unfolding of these historical trajectories. First, analytical political philosophers engage in justifying resolutions to problems found within political concepts, whereas continental political philosophers are more concerned with highlighting the impossibility of this enterprise (9). Second, this leads to differences in ‘style, interdisciplinarity and canon’ (11). An eclectic canon of references in the case of continental political philosophy–such as psychoanalysis, literature, film studies and neuroscience–leads to a wider diversity of argumentative styles, whereas a more tightly honed argumentative style is characteristic of analytic philosophy’s lesser use of interdisciplinary materials (11-13). Third, where analytical political philosophers work within a framework that is at the very least sympathetic to modernity and seeks to correct its wrongs, continental political theory is largely critical of the consequences of modernity (13-14).

Arnold’s overview of these differences is striking because it shows how Beyond the Great Divide is as much about bridging the divide between political theory and political philosophy as much as it is about the division between continental and analytic thinkers. To establish aporetic cross-tradition theorizing as the most desirable way of bridging this gap, Arnold argues that both traditions offer something to the study of political phenomena. Political phenomena are dense: a single concept, such as freedom, is not only defined by historical complexities and a range of practical interpretations; theorists which try to explain them bring their own normative and explanatory baggage to these problems (14-15). For Arnold, these dense concepts cannot be exhausted by a single theory. Consequently, each tradition responds to different elements of political problems–analytic political philosophers engage in the conceptual justification of reasons for the legitimacy or acceptability of particular political practices or expressions of power, whereas continental political philosophy highlights the historical, cultural or social contingency of those concepts and often the impossibility of any ‘final’ justification for them. More often than not these are incompatible philosophical trajectories. Aporetic cross-tradition theorising is justified with reference to the intellectual payoff of utilising both traditions to investigate dense phenomena.

Arnold gives three reasons for this. First, if political phenomena are dense and if the methods and approaches within the two traditions that approach them are irreconcilable, then no single approach can exhaust the complexity of the concepts studied within political theory. Synthetic cross-tradition theorising can only fail in the face of the fact that ‘dense phenomena contain irreconcilable elements, elements we cannot eliminate and cannot unify’ (17). The aporetic mode, in contrast, recognises that we cannot resolve these tensions. Second, the aporetic mode turns this irresolvability into a virtue. Different phenomena and conceptual approaches have a range of intellectual needs. By navigating across these approaches, the aporetic mode seeks to ‘discover the limits of our intellect’ insofar as a single account will never be exhaustive of political phenomena (19). Third, Arnold argues that the aporetic mode has ‘at its ethical core the demanded of the singular, embodied, all-too-real coerced individual, the simple demand for justification, for an answer to “why?”’ (20). If analytic political philosophy is often abstract and ignores concrete individuals in its justification of particular concepts and if continental philosophy focuses on the contingencies of concepts and eschews justification, then neither, for Arnold, can truly live up the simple fact that political practices involve individuals who need to be addressed with a justification for the exercise of power. If these approaches are translated into the aporetic mode, this can lead to ‘a powerful expression of the unrealizable but valuable ethical and political ideal of answering to this person’s subjection to power with reasons this person can accept’ (21). With this third claim Arnold switches from a methodological to an ethico-political register that addresses what he perceives as a deficiency common to both traditions: their abstraction from justifications that are acceptable to everyday individuals.

This argument is established over two main sections. The first consists of an overview and critique of two approaches to synthetic cross-tradition theorizing, realist political philosophy and the work of Stanley Cavell, whilst the second consists of two examples of aporetic cross-tradition theorizing, comparing Philip Pettit and Arendt, and John Rawls and Jacques Derrida. The first section discusses the difficulty of finding a justification for state violence in both realism and Cavell, whereas the second discusses freedom as found in Pettit and Arendt, and justice as found in Rawls and Derrida. Arnold’s aim across these chapters is to move from the deficiencies of the synthetic mode of cross-tradition theorizing to an advocation of the aporetic mode, whilst also producing meaningful insights into the thinkers and topics covered.

The first substantive chapter of the book deals with realism. According to Arnold,  the realist critique of moralism in political philosophy represents an example of synthetic cross-tradition theorizing. The goal of this synthetic enterprise is the production of claims to legitimacy based on terms that would be acceptable to those individuals rather than on pre-political moralistic arguments of the kind articulated by figures like Rawls, Cohen or Nozick. Realists seek to provide political rather than pre-political accounts of justification and of legitimacy. Ultimately, Arnold argues, the synthetic mode is not up to this task. This claim is based on the argument that realists do not adequately distinguish between state legitimacy and the legitimacy of state violence. This difficulty arises as much from realism’s synthetic method as it does from the intellectual problem of legitimacy.

Realism is synthetic insofar as it combines the need for justification and legitimacy characteristic of the analytic tradition with an attention to context, history and conflicting interpretations of political events characteristic of continental thought. One might lose a particular political battle over the interpretation of, say, whether the state is legitimate in imposing a particular form of taxation, but those who disagree with such an account may still find its terms acceptable (39). In the case of state violence, however, Arnold argues that interpretation does not provide a strong enough case for legitimating that violence in terms that an individual could accept–for it is likely that there are multiple competing interpretations within which state violence is not legitimate. Moreover, if in these interpretations state violence is not agreeable to the individual who is subject to it, then it can only be justified in pre-political terms which realists reject (41). By synthesising the analytic justificatory impulse with the continental emphasis on interpretation and conflict, realists end up satisfying neither demand in the case of state violence (47). Rather than trying to synthesise these two demands, Arnold argues that instead the aporia represented by the tension between the need for justification and its impossibility should be embraced as a core element of realist theorising about legitimacy.

Violence is also the political issue at stake in Arnold’s critique of Cavell. In Cavell’s reading of the social contract tradition, our participation in community implies complicity with the exclusions that are a necessary part of social life (49-50). Cavell diverges from the classical aim of the contract, to justify state violence through consent, in order to explore how we are morally compromised by our participation in unjust societies. Arnolds’s reading of Cavell makes two claims. First, he argues that Cavell’s focus on social violence is too general to make sense of the specificity of political issues relating to consent. Second, the focus on consent as membership of a community rather than the authorisation and legitimation of state action and violence means that Cavellian consent cannot account for this integral part of the ‘“grammar” of political consent’ (52). Arnold makes this case by emphasising the role that the community plays in underpinning the search for reasons in Cavell. Claims to reason find their transcendental conditions in community and draw on the distinct grammar of those communities (58). However, for Arnold Cavell does not provide sufficient detail for articulating the grammar of a specifically political community because consent is primarily an issue of complicity with social violence that arises from one’s participation in community as such (62-3). Consent merely implicates one in social violence within a particular community but does not expressly authorise the legitimate use of violence by the state.

This reading of Cavell continues the line of argument found in the previous chapter on realism, however, the link between synthetic cross-tradition theorising and the criticism of Cavell’s work is less clear. When considered as a form of cross-tradition theorising, realism falls short of providing a convincing justification of state violence because its synthetic method fails to reconcile the justificatory project of analytic political philosophy with continental political theory’s emphasis on interpretation. Within Arnold’s critique of Cavell, however, method is at a distance from the problem of legitimacy. Cavell utilises a synthetic method which treats philosophical texts as texts and not simply as examples of political argumentation: a continental method is synthesised with analytical texts. Arnold argues that this method falls short insofar as by reading texts ‘as texts we will often fail to take them seriously, on their own terms’ (75). Cavell’s method fails to treat analytical texts on their own terms precisely because he treats them as texts and not as pieces of philosophical argumentation. There is no disputing that this is a salient issue in an account of why cross-tradition theorising in the aporetic mode is superior to the synthetic mode. However, the criticism of the substance of Cavell’s account of violence and consent is at a remove from this methodological complaint: one might criticise the category of social violence without recourse to a critique of synthetic cross-tradition theorising. Thus, while both of these points stand it does not appear that the account of legitimacy in Cavell is essential to pursuing the project of advocating for aporetic cross-tradition theorising, and the point against the synthetic mode is somewhat weakened as a result (an issue that we will return to).

Following this critique of Cavell, The Great Divide shifts gear into advocating openly for aporetic cross-tradition theorising. In contrast to the first two chapters, where realism and the work of Cavell were taken as examples of synthetic cross-tradition theorizing, in the remaining chapters Arnold seeks to engage in aporetic cross-tradition theorizing himself.  It is here that Arnold turns to the work of Arendt and Pettit on freedom and Rawls and Derrida on justice. Each of these chapters represents an attempt to demonstrate the viability of the aporetic mode by showing ‘that a crucial feature of the concept theorized by a representative of one tradition cannot be harmonized with another crucial feature of that concept when theorized from the other tradition’ (76). The account of Arendt and Pettit spans two chapters which deal with freedom as such and political freedom respectively. At issue in both is the problem of control: whether it concerns freedom in general or political freedom, Pettit and Arendt’s respective approaches to control do not fully explain the density of the concept of freedom. As such, an aporetic approach is necessary to do justice to the complexity of freedom as a dense concept.

For Pettit freedom in general is understood in terms of responsibility. Responsibility gives a richer understanding of freedom than accounts which focus on the rational control of one’s actions or the ability to align one’s actions with second-order desires (volitional control) because, in Pettit’s account, freedom as responsibility requires the agent to exert ‘discursive’ control over the connections between their actions (81). Responsibility arises from the ability to give an account for the links between actions, for which rational and volitional control are necessary but not sufficient conditions. For Arnold, this leaves three common questions about freedom unanswered: what is its value, can freedom be spontaneous, and to what extent can we distinguish between acts that are considered as free because we exercise them consciously and those that arise from ‘virtual’ control or habit (84-9). These criticisms are introduced to facilitate the transition to Arendt’s concept of freedom, wherein freedom has a clear value: the capacity to create something new. Moreover, free acts must not be guided or dictated by others or by the self. They must be spontaneous (92-5). Free acts create something new under conditions of spontaneity while also maintaining that this act is intelligible to others. Arendt’s account of freedom shows, in contrast to liberal theories of non-interference, that a lack of control of the sovereign self is valuable for free action. While Arnold is more critical of Pettit than Arendt he is not dismissive of the former: the purpose of this comparison is to highlight that freedom as control and freedom as a lack of control represent irreconcilable accounts of freedom that nevertheless both have something valuable to say about freedom as a dense concept.

This insight is pursued further in Arnold’s account of specifically political forms of freedom in Pettit and Arendt. Both accounts fail to exhaust the permutations of political freedom as a dense concept. Pettit elaborates upon the conditions of freedom as non-domination, where republican institutions are intended to ensure that political decisions and forms of interference are non-dominating insofar as they track the interests of citizens (106-7). Freedom is conditioned as citizens can be subject to interference so long as their interests are tracked, and thus enhanced, by government action (106-8). In contrast, Arendt is concerned with institutions that support isonomy, or the ability to participate in unconditioned ‘disclosive’ action that reveals something about the world and that makes it meaningful to others (124-5). Isonomy is Arendt’s response to the conditions of modernity in which the ability of all to participate in political action is negated by conditions of alienation from both oneself and the world (125-7). Arnold’s account is intended to bring out the difference between Pettit and Arendt in sharp relief. Arendtian political freedom is incompatible with the kind of interference Pettit describes, no matter how non-dominating it intends to be, and the republican theory of non-domination would require a degree of self-control and control by the state for actions to be classed as free that would be unacceptable for Arendt.

As we already know, the aim of this account of Pettit and Arendt is not simply to state that they have different accounts of freedom. Instead, Arnold aims to show how they each run into difficulties that provide meaningful insights about the nature of freedom as a dense concept. While he seeks to distance himself from the difficulties associated with positive liberty that also plague forms of republicanism, Pettit fails to eliminate them. The classic critique of positive liberty is that aligning the state with the interests of citizens in a way that shapes the liberty of those citizens requires interference which, in Rousseau’s famous words, forces those citizens to be free (109-11). Pettit’s version of political freedom is intended to avoid the problems of republicanism in the Rousseauian and Kantian traditions, but for Arnold the state fostering of discursive control ends up repeating the problems of positive liberty. Arendt is faced with the opposing problem. A political entity based on the ideal of isonomy might have as its aim the defence of the right to unconditioned action, but it is difficult to conceive of an institution which could both create and maintain a political space while also refraining from controlling actors within those spaces (132-45). A synthetic account of freedom in Pettit and Arendt would attempt to iron out these issues by combining their opposed approaches into a single system. Arnold’s case, however, is that there is more value in treating them as distinct and irreconcilable approaches that are plagued by their own problems. If political concepts are dense, then a single, synthetic account would still fall short of the impossible goal of unifying several perspectives in a way that exhausts the complexity of political concepts.

The same approach is applied in Arnold’s reading of Rawls and Derrida, where he focuses on their attempts to provide non-metaphysical accounts of justice. Arnold gives an account of the changes that Rawls’ makes to his system between Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism, focusing on the stability of the principles of justice chosen from behind the veil of ignorance. In Theory of Justice they are chosen according to rational principles shared by all individuals, whereas in Political Liberalism the definition of society used to guide deliberation within the original position represents the fundamental ideas of constitutional democracies (143-144). For Arnold, this non-metaphysical justification made with reference to historical conditions fails as it invests the historical trajectory towards liberalism with metaphysical significance for considerations of justice (154-5). Derrida’s account of justice suffers from the opposite problem. Here the question posed by Arnold is how one can move from a quasi-metaphysical account of justice to a historical account of its permutations? Arnold does an admirable job of simplifying the aporias within Derrida’s understanding of justice: justice requires the absolute singularity of the decision, as it is ‘owed to a singular other’, but it must occur through the application of rules which are not singular (163). Justice, therefore, is irreducible to history but must be realized within it. The issue that Derrida runs into here, according to Arnold, is the necessity of law in this process. Why must justice take place through legal institutions? This is clarified with respect to Derrida’s account of forgiveness: even though no act of forgiveness can live up to the forgiving of the unforgivable, we would nevertheless still recognise an act of forgiveness as participating in this unreachable ideal form. This is not true of justice: it is manifestly clear that legal institutions do not just live up to the ideal of justice because it requires an unconditioned decision on behalf of the other, but also because some legal institutions would not be considered to be just in any manner. Bridging the gap between justice and history is difficult for Derrida, insofar as it is unclear why justice as a quasi-metaphysical idea must be realised in the factual institution of law (169).

In Arnold’s account, both Rawls and Derrida fail to produce non-metaphysical conceptualisations of justice. The former turns to history but by doing so transforms its contingencies into metaphysical justifications, whereas the latter fails to provide a convincing reason for the link between a quasi-metaphysical form of justice and the historical fact of law. Again, a synthetic account of justice would eradicate this complexity. The density of the relationship between metaphysics and politics can only be fully appreciated in an aporetic mode where the need to dispense with metaphysics must co-exist with the necessity of metaphysical grounding (170). This problem cannot be overcome, and therefore a synthetic approach to it will necessarily fail in its attempt to do so.

Arnold concludes with three reasons why the model of aporetic cross-tradition theorizing demonstrated across the accounts of freedom and justice in Pettit, Arendt, Rawls and Derrida is a desirable one. First, the aporetic mode is more viable than the synthetic because it refuses to treat political problems as ‘solved,’ whereas the synthetic mode attempts to resolve political problems despite the impossibility of this task in the face of dense concepts (172-5). A brief example is given here of how calls for reparations from the accumulation of American wealth through slavery are characterised by complex and contradictory elements of historical and metaphysical justifications which an aporetic form of theorising might make sense of. Second, aporetic theorising challenges the cloistering of intra-tradition debates and opens political theory to new discussions and the discovery of new problems (178-179). Third, and similarly, it fosters an ethic of openness and responsiveness to the differences between approaches to political theory as a discipline and a recognition of how what is common within one part of the discipline may, in fact, pose a serious intellectual problem in another.

Arnold’s case for the aporetic mode is a compelling one, particularly in the context of methodological developments in political theory that call for comparative methods that refuse the possibility of exhaustive, synthetic theoretical enterprises. However, we might consider the extent to which aporetic theorising, while appealing, is truly agnostic with respect to the traditions that it attempts to treat equally. If we take Arnold’s own definition of analytic political philosophy, it would appear that the aporetic method is something that most analytical thinkers would view as defeatist obfuscation. Contrastingly, this method fits very neatly into the continental perspective which seeks to press problems in order to uncover aporias rather than resolve them.[1] Aporetic cross-tradition theorising may draw on both traditions, but it could be said to do so from a broadly continental perspective that focuses on the value of intellectual aporias. Of course, Arnold’s perspective is an account of the intellectual characteristics of analytic political philosophy as a tradition. Justification may be an aim of this tradition as a whole, but individual thinkers would most likely accept the point that no single account will exhaust a particular political problem or phenomena. Understood in this way Arnold is brought back to the agnostic ground between continental and analytical perspectives, as the eponymous aporia of the aporetic approach could be seen to represent a claim about intellectual inquiry rather than the nature of political problems.

However, Arnold does hold to the stronger version of this claim which stresses that dense political concepts cannot be fully explained. This is noteworthy because density does not necessarily have as its consequence a total failure of explanation. While analytical thinkers may indeed accept that no single account exhausts the density of concepts, this tradition as a whole would be more receptive to the gradual unpacking and explication of dense concepts across multiple, competing accounts of the phenomena they represent. Here complexity is not insurmountable. In contrast, continental thinkers would be more likely to hold to a thicker understanding of complexity in which both the phenomena and the explanation are equally complex, and which must be integrated into the very nature of political inquiry. Density in the analytic tradition is a concern for the political philosopher, whereas in the continental it is the political itself which is dense and thus complexity is a concern for both the theorist and the political agent. We might also note here that Arnold’s account of the problem of the return of metaphysics faced by the post-metaphysical political theories of both Rawls and Derrida is a quintessentially a continental way of thinking about these problems. Indeed, it is one that is explored within Derrida’s own work. While Arnold might be seen to be agnostic with respect to the two traditions, insofar as he characterises political problems themselves as aporetic he could be seen to be a ‘continental’ thinker.

Leaning to one side or the other of the divide is not necessarily a problem for Arnold’s position. Analytic or continental thinkers engaging in cross-tradition theorising have to start from somewhere. However, this unacknowledged propensity towards one side rather than the other belies challenges that face the argument made in The Great Divide. While political phenomena are treated as dense, one might also note that the divide between analytic and continental thinkers is itself a dense and complex concept. Arnold does not give the impression that he is of the opinion that his account of the difference between the two traditions is the only one. However, the multiplicity of ways of distinguishing between the two traditions is a problem that is not dealt with in the course of the defence of aporetic cross-tradition theorizing. Moreover, if the division between the two traditions is contested, one might also contest the division between synthetic and aporetic modes of cross-tradition theorising. The aporetic and synthetic modes are not necessarily opposed or mutually exclusive: one might engage in aporetic inquiry and recognise elements of two thinkers that can be synthesised, or one might engage in a synthetic inquiry that highlights incompatible aspects of two systems of thought.

Arnold’s conclusions are pre-empted with the claim that while cross-tradition theorising is taking place between political theory and other disciplines, there is a lack of cross-tradition theorising that ‘moves between’ analytic and continental political theory (171). This advocation of the aporetic mode takes the above points for granted: the difference between the two traditions is simple rather than complex, that the complexity of political phenomena is by necessity irreducible to explanation, and that synthetic and aporetic methods represent mutually exclusive methodological alternatives. The case for taking the aporetic path is a convincing one insofar as it presents methodological pluralism as a worthwhile goal. However, if disciplinary pluralism is our aim, then the most fruitful approach may be to commit more fully to the methodological agnosticism that Arnold sets out. While synthetic theorising may fail in the particular case of realist accounts of legitimacy, it is not clear that this rules out in advance the impossibility of situations where synthetic theorising is more beneficial than aporetic theorising. As noted above, the gap between the critique of Cavell’s claims about violence and his textual method indicates that such an approach may be fruitful insofar as Arnold does not present a convincing argument as to why Cavell’s failure to account for state violence is necessarily a result of his synthetic method, instead of a result of a disagreement about legitimacy itself.

Understood in this way, political theory might be best served by an understanding of synthetic and aporetic modes of cross-tradition theorising that sees them as tools to be used as appropriate for the political and conceptual challenges facing the theorist. Such an approach would go some way to alleviating the way that Arnold leans towards a more continental approach in his advocation of an aporetic method and would further the ethos of disciplinary pluralism that implicitly underpins his argument. I do not wish to suggest that any of these objections invalidate Arnold’s argument–far from it. The value of The Great Divide is that it makes space for further discussion about how political theory navigates its own disciplinary divides, and for this it is a laudable intervention.


[1] Here I refer to the work of Thomas J. Donahue and Paulina Ochoa Espejo, to which Arnold also refers. See: ‘The analytical–Continental divide: Styles of dealing with problems,’ European Journal of Political Theory, 15:2 (2016): 138–154.

William McNeill: The Fate of Phenomenology: Heidegger’s Legacy, Rowman & Littlefield, 2020

The Fate of Phenomenology: Heidegger's Legacy Book Cover The Fate of Phenomenology: Heidegger's Legacy
New Heidegger Research
William McNeill
Rowman & Littlefield International
2020
Paperback £24.95
168

Kenneth Maly: Five Groundbreaking Moments in Heidegger’s Thinking, University of Toronto Press, 2020

Five Groundbreaking Moments in Heidegger’s Thinking Book Cover Five Groundbreaking Moments in Heidegger’s Thinking
New Studies in Phenomenology and Hermeneutics
Kenneth Maly
University of Toronto Press
2020
Cloth $52.50
216

Federica Buongiorno, Vincenzo Costa Roberta Lanfredini (Eds.): Phenomenology in Italy

Phenomenology in Italy: Authors, Schools and Traditions Book Cover Phenomenology in Italy: Authors, Schools and Traditions
Contributions To Phenomenology, Vol. 106
Federica Buongiorno, Vincenzo Costa, Roberta Lanfredini (Eds.)
Springer
2019
Hardback 103,99 €
IX, 178

Reviewed by: Bruno Cassarà (Fordham University)

The publication of Phenomenology in Italy: Authors, Schools, and Traditions is, to say the least, a breath of fresh air for the anglophone, especially American, philosophical community. This book is nothing less than the introduction of an entirely new phenomenological tradition into the international phenomenological conversation. For, though Italy has a long and rich phenomenological tradition that lacks nothing when compared to, for example, the French reception of Husserl and Heidegger, it has remained mostly unknown to English-speaking scholars and especially to those working in the United States. This collection features essays by Italian scholars on the most important figures of the Italian phenomenological tradition, from Antonio Banfi to Paolo Parrini, spanning three academic generations. Each essay tackles a different author and the order is, as much as possible, chronological. The result is a volume that should spark a curiosity analogous to that of the discovery of a new continent, for the Italian phenomenological tradition has taken phenomenology in directions that, outside of Italy, will result entirely novel. From aesthetics to political philosophy to philosophy of science and even mathematics, the contributions of Italian phenomenologists are sure to breathe new life into the discipline. To this end, I would like to point to the SUNY Press series in Contemporary Italian Philosophy, which features translations of important contemporary Italian philosophers, including some of those featured in this book.

Before giving a summary of the contents, there is an important critique that should be made to this book, namely, that of a certain one-sidedness in the philosophers who were chosen to be showcased. Certainly, the Italian phenomenological tradition is far too vast to be covered in a single volume, but here phenomenology is entirely synonymous with Husserl. There is in fact a conspicuous absence of Heidegger and his reception which was certainly, if not as widespread, then as influential as the Husserlian. In fact, this collection centers mainly on the Milan School of Phenomenology, which has prospered in the State University of Milan since the 1920’s. Yet one wonders why there are no chapter devoted to what we might call the “Turin School,” which would include at the very least Luigi Pareyson, who was among the first to introduce Heidegger to Italy, and his student Gianni Vattimo, already known in anglophone circles for his hermeneutics and political thought. And perhaps the most glaring absence in the book is that of Aldo Masullo, the recently deceased philosopher from Naples who wrote extensively not only on Husserl, but also on Heidegger, Fink, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty, and who influenced the direction of research in Naples in a way that we still observe today (consider, for example, the work of his student Eugenio Mazzarella).

I will discuss each essay in turn, lingering over what I take to be the most original and important contributions.

Federica Buongiorno, one of the editors of this volume, opens the book with a fascinating essay of the reception of Husserl in Italy through the phases of the translations of his works. This is a philological analysis of the decisions made by Husserl’s various translators, which, Buongiorno sees, are indicative of how Husserlian phenomenology was received in Italy. This essay investigates mainly the so-called “second phase” of Husserlian reception, focusing on Enzo Paci and his interpretation of Husserl. The first phase would be in the time of Antonio Banfi, who was Paci’s teacher and belonged to the earlier generation, and the third would be the current proliferation of phenomenological philosophy at the hands of Paci’s students and their contemporaries. Enzo Paci is here cast as the protagonist of Husserlian studies in Italy, and his interpretation is considered one of the most influential, if not the most influential. Paci’s interpretation takes Husserl’s Crisis as his most important and primary work, thus giving his understanding of Husserl an existential, practical, and historical thinker. In this light, Husserl’s “early” preoccupations with logic and transcendental foundations would be a preparatory step toward the discovery of the pre-categorial and the Lebenswelt as the grounds of such theoretical activity. In this regard, Buongiorno points us to her own contribution to the translation of Husserl’s works. She translated HUA/XXIV, which contains the important 1906/1907 lectures Introduction to Logic and Theory of Knowledge. Buongiorno helpfully points out that the very title of this work, along with several decisions which had to be made with regard to terms such as «Kunstlehre» and «Formenlehre,» confirm Paci’s reading of Husserl’s works as unified in their subject matter and purpose.

Buongiorno proceeds to identify two differing tendencies or, less radically, two emphases in the reception of Husserlian phenomenology, and sees them as the result of how and when translations of Husserl appeared in Italy. One places emphasis on the question of logic, and the other on the theme of history. Once again, this is the identification of an “early” and a “late” Husserl, and we have seen how Paci sees a continuity between these two poles. Two translators of the Cartesian Meditations, first Filippo Costa in 1960 and then Renato Cristin in 1989, both agree with Paci’s reading and interpret the Meditations accordingly. In sum, Buongiorno’s essay is informative and creative in the way that it explains the Italian reception of Husserl. It prepares readers well for the interpretation of Husserl they should expect in the following chapters, but one also wonders why Buongiorno does not include the reception of Ideas I and II, especially since she informs the reader in a footnote that they were the first works to be translated (1950) and that she sees the «second phase» of the Husserlian reception as starting precisely in the early 1950’s.

The second essay, authored by Luca Maria Scarantino, gives an account of how Husserl was first received in Italy by Antonio Banfi in 1923. Scarantino sees this as nothing less than a new era, a “transcendental turn” in Italian philosophy. Against the dominating neo-idealism of the early 20th century, Banfi proposed a “transcendental rationalism” that grafted onto a pre-existing neo-Kantian framework. This made subject and objects poles of a cognitive relation and left behind the need for any ontological realism. In this way, Husserl helps Banfi justify a «law of pure consciousness.» Banfi’s main work, Principi di una Teoria della Ragione [Principles for a Theory of Reason] extols Husserl’s transcendental method as liberating the «rational system» from the need for an absolute (metaphysical) ground. In this work, pragmatism and phenomenology converge in a «transcendental functionalism» which doesn’t take itself to establish a metaphysical ground for the experience of consciousness, but rather a suitable intersubjectivity based on the eidetic variation that the phenomenological method offers. We are left with an intersubjectively valid, correlational/synthetic form of rational consciousness. Furthermore, that intuition carries within itself the condition of its own understandability is for Banfi the establishment of a pragmatic a-priori.

In Banfi’s critique of Husserl we see, according to Scarantino, the limitation of his philosophy. This critique is directed at the concept of intuition, which he thinks does not do enough to distinguish between the material and the rational contents. For Banfi, this ultimately brings us to mix individual experience and the rational universal. At this point Scarantino skips forward to one of Banfi’s disciples, Giulio Preti, whom he reads as correcting and ultimately completing Banfi’s quest for a transcendental rationalism free of metaphysical grounds. Preti’s philosophy will be discussed below as part of the summary of the essay dedicated to him, but here the important thing to highlight is the extent to which Banfi’s work on Husserl was influential in Italian philosophy. Later scholars have retroactively identified Banfi as the “father” of the Milan school of phenomenology because of the influence his philosophy had on his students, many of whom are also discussed in the book. It seems that Banfi should be seen just as much one of the originators of phenomenological studies in Italy as a philosopher in his own right, though in practice the two cannot and should not remain separate.

The third essay in the book is authored by Angela Ales Bello, whose own work on Husserl is known beyond the Italian scene. She writes about Sofia Vanni Rovighi, who taught the history of philosophy at the Catholic University of Milan and encountered Husserl’s works in the late 1930’s after extensive work in medieval and specifically Thomist philosophy. Rovighi’s main contribution to phenomenology in Italy, according to Bello, was the discovery of the medieval root of intentionality. Like many who engage Husserl, Rovighi finds it difficult to settle on a definitive understanding of Husserlian intentionality. She reaches back to Aristotle and medieval philosophy, especially the Franciscan thinker Petrus Aureolus, to show that the concept of intentionality originates in these historical sources. Intentionality for her means that consciousness is always consciousness of an ideal entity («the ideal objectivity of the meaning obtained…through the eidetic reduction») which has its foundation in a real, existing entity. Ultimately, she takes Husserl to be placing consciousness above being in a metaphysical sense (in se) and proceeds to reject this position, claiming instead that being precedes consciousness of it. At this point, Bello interjects that, in her own view, the Husserlian primacy of consciousness should be understood as quoad nos and not in se.

Because of this idealist interpretation, Rovighi can only be critical of Husserl. If consciousness is the absolute principle and precedes being, then God himself can only be encountered as immanent in consciousness, as thus as dependent on it. Ultimately, Rovighi levels against Husserl’s phenomenology the same criticism that she has for Plato: phenomenology cannot help us to escape the cave, because doing so requires taking on a superhuman point of view that is simply not available to phenomenologists. Now, despite her misinterpretation of Husserl, Rovighi’s work is significant in that it was the first to open a dialogue between phenomenology and medieval philosophy. To this end, Rovighi not only carried out her own work, but also brought Edith Stein’s phenomenology to Italy to aid in this project. If Rovighi’s idealist interpretation of Husserl is corrected, then it becomes clear just how similar he and Thomas Aquinas are on many fronts. Ultimately, Bello’s appreciation of Vanni Rovighi comes just as much from her historical importance in the context of the phenomenological reception in Italy, as from her admiration for Rovighi’s intellectual honesty, which, she states, is a rare quality to find in a scholar.

The fourth essay, by Roberto Gronda, introduces us to the works of Giulio Preti, the student of Banfi who was already mentioned briefly in the second chapter. Preti taught and worked in Florence beginning in the mid 1930’s, and he is credited with bringing to completion Banfi’s transcendental rationalism. Husserl was a constant interlocutor during Preti’s career, up to the very last chapters of his important work Retorica e Logica [Rhetoric and Logic]. It seems that Preti was mostly influenced by Husserl’s work on logic, in particular the first Logical Investigation and Formal and Transcendental Logic, with particular interest in the idea of a pure logic, the notion of fulfillment, and the distinction between meaning and expression.

Preti’s philosophy begins with what he calls the “principle of immanence,” a principle drawn from Husserl which states that the object’s transcendence means that it is never fully given in a single experience and therefore always indicates the possibility of further completion. In this way, the object’s transcendence is another form of immanence in the sense that its objectivity is constituted in experience. This principle affects Preti’s understanding of experience as always implying a horizon, such that no experience is fully intuitive and always carries absences within it. This notion of an excess of experience leads Preti to claim that idealism and positivism are two sides of a single philosophical reality, which he calls “integral realism.” Husserlian phenomenology itself is cast as a positivism that spills over into an idealism, in particular its notion of “form” not as what is opposed to content, but as what represents, i.e., as symbol. This notion of symbol as what pre-ordains the law of the object is essential to a rationalism that wants to give the empirical its full value. To this end, Preti rejects Husserl’s hypostasis of “immediate sense data” and criticizes Husserl’s strong conception of intuition. Later, Preti writes of categories not as structures that are gleaned from experience, as Husserl would have it, but as man-made postulates that at once play a transcendental role in experience and are historically effected. Preti’s last works heavily criticize Husserl’s Crisis, rejecting his diagnosis of a crisis of the sciences and his solution in the form of transcendental phenomenology. These are “philosophers’ follies,” Preti states, deriving from an inversion of the relation between philosophy and life. Preti thus had his share of criticisms for Husserl, but nevertheless the German philosopher exercised an enduring influence on him.

With the fifth essay, authored by Amedeo Vigorelli, we come to Enzo Paci, the Milanese philosopher who is in many ways at the center of this volume. Paci was active beginning in the 1950’s after some time spent in the Italian army before and during the Second World War. He met Paul Ricoeur as a prisoner of war in Wietzendorf and read Husserl’s Ideas with him. As a professor at the State University of Milan, Paci brought about a veritable phenomenological renaissance in a time when Husserl was not widely read and neo-Enlightenment was the dominant philosophy. He travels to Leuven to converse with van Breda and Boehm, reads Husserl’s unpublished works, and corresponds with Sartre, Patocka, and Ricoeur.

Paci’s reading of Husserl is greatly influenced by, and conducted in conversation with, the neo-idealism of Giovanni Gentile. Although Paci criticizes Gentile’s idealism as a naturalism (Gentile’s consciousness posits nothing more than the world as it is in the natural attitude and does not gain access to its own constituting activity), he still wants to understand the main structures of Husserl’s phenomenology (world, constitution, reduction) as a dialectical triad. Paci is most influenced, according to the author, by the fifth Cartesian Meditation, taking the «intermonadic relationship» to be even more fundamental than the process of self-identification itself, and constitutive of it. His reflections on the constitutive function of intersubjectivity bring him, on one hand, to a phenomenology of need and eros, and, on the other, to materialist and economic integrations. The main interlocutors here are Freud and Marx, each of whom witness to the essentiality of intersubjectivity and to the needs of the ego. A particularly original contribution here is Paci’s phenomenological account of sex: the sexual act here acquires a generative meaning not only in a procreative sense, but in a constitutive one, making up a sui generis temporal ekstasis and opening the ego teleologically to a relationship with humanity as a whole—birth and rebirth.

Paci’s return to Marx and Freud within phenomenology also serves to break the false dichotomy of natural science and philosophy of culture within which both Marxism and psychoanalysis found themselves at this time. He reads the transference in the psychoanalytic relation as a privileged place where the intersubjective “Paarung” takes place. Furthermore, «even the Marxist concept of economic structure, in its dialectical interrelations with the superstructures, requires subjective constitution» (69), Paci states. An intentionality of needs must found Marx’s account of economic and material relations between people and classes. This amounts to nothing less than a rethinking and even a rewriting of Marx’s capital by underpinning the material and dialectical relations it described with phenomenologically purified notions of need, desire, and praxis.

The sixth essay in the volume, by Elio Franzini, takes up the phenomenological aesthetics of Dino Formaggio. Also active beginning in the early 1950’s, Formaggio was another student of Antonio Banfi, a colleague of Enzo paci, and another personality of the Milan School. Though he inherited from Banfi a critical view of Italian neo-idealism and its Hegelian roots, Formaggio nevertheless sought to bring together the two meanings of “phenomenology” (the Husserlian and the Hegelian) rather than rejecting the latter in favor of the former. Formaggio’s departure from his teacher is also observed in his definition of art as a «field» that is not superimposed on objects, but rather derives from them and is therefore constantly expanded and constructed through the exercise of art itself. Such a definition of art seems to come from the derivation of the definition of aesthetics from the original Greek meaning of aisthesis as sensory knowledge or perception. Aesthetics is thus a general theory of sense-perception and the artistic object is a peculiar object in the field of aisthesis. It is this Greek understanding of aesthetics that brings Formaggio to the claim that phenomenology, as the philosophy of experience, is the method most proper to it. Phenomenology is the method for «bringing out the meaning of things» encountered in aisthesis, especially artistic objects. And, because it applies to the whole field of sense perception, it is capable of cutting across different artistic movements and periods, grasping the universal structures that define the artistic as such.

The general definition of aesthetics is therefore what is at stake throughout Formaggio’s oeuvre. In his view, aesthetics must be sharply distinguished from both poetics and criticism, each of which have their objects and aims. Aesthetics, unlike these other disciplines, must be a general method of formalization that is capable of theoretical rigor and philosophical awareness, and not the analysis of concrete instances, no matter how sublime. Ultimately, art is understood aesthetically as the shared project of depicting our existence in the life-world. This is precisely the kind of universal definition that unifies art as a field, and the analysis of art, starting from this definition, must look at the artwork as the product of a body-at-work, of the transcendental praxis of the ego.

In a marked excursus, Franzini also states that the desire to identify the «Truth,» though understandable, is driven by either teleological assumptions or psychological (empirical) convictions. Hence, it can be ignored at the level of method. This, according to Franzini, is one of the traits that unifies the Milan School. And it sounds important, but unfortunately Franzini does not explain further what this means. What is «Truth»? In what way can a descriptive, phenomenological method ignore this “Truth”? Such an important point should have been made more clearly so as to show the values held in common by the Milan School, which is at the center of this volume.

The seventh figure discussed in the volume is Giuseppe Semerari. The essay, written by Ferruccio De Natale, highlights Semerari’s friendship with Paci, his interest in the historiography of philosophy, his materialist interpretation of phenomenology, and the convergence in his thought of phenomenology and Marxism. A contemporary of Paci, Semerari had a relationship of reciprocal influence with the Milanese philosopher even as he spent his life teaching and researching in the south of Italy at the University of Bari. The kinship between the two can be observed in their mutual interest in Marx and in their shared belief that any account of knowledge must see knowing as first and foremost a praxis enmeshed in the life-world.

Semerari’s interest in phenomenology seems to arise from his dissatisfaction with the dominant ways of understanding history. On one hand, Semerari studied and contributed to the history of philosophy for many years—in fact, he is one of the most important scholar of Schelling and Spinoza in Italy to this day. However, the philosophical relationship with the thought of the past can never be exhausted by the historiographical exercise. On the other hand, Semerari rejected both the neo-idealist and the historicist accounts of history. The question of history led Semerari to Husserl’s late thought, which allows him to formulate an understanding of history as based on human temporality. Semerari thus begins to conceive of the human being as a privileged center of relations, especially temporal ones. In this way, Semerari’s philosophy is a humanist «Relationism.» Husserl’s phenomenology is taken up within the context of this relationism in order to stress its humanist implications. For Semerari, phenomenology shows that the subject has not only a role in, but a responsibility for, the constitution of objects in their sense. Phenomenology is thus absorbed into Semerari’s humanistic project as a way to critique the naturalism that divests the subject of its responsibility and alienates it from the world. The use of the term “alienation” is not accidental here, as it emphasizes Semerari’s debt to Marx. The result is an exciting mingling of phenomenology, humanism, and Marxism, one that is able to put the human being and its historical relations at the center of philosophical discourse without losing itself in a structuralism that leaves the individual behind.

The next essay, penned by Stefano Besoli, concerns the phenomenological thought of Enzo Melandri. Beginning his career in the early 1960’s, Melandri’s philosophy tackles a staggering diversity of topics, from Aristotle to Husserl, from formal logic to literature, from empiricism to analogy. Although he is not well-known outside of Italy, I find it worthy of mention that Giorgio Agamben named Melandri’s La Linea e il Circolo [The Line and the Circle] as the most important philosophical work of the twentieth century along with Being and Time.

Melandri recognizes in Husserl’s phenomenology a return to two Aristotelian maxims: first, that the object determines the method of research according to its essence; second, that the meaning of being is not univocal. From the first he draws the more radical conclusion that logic and mathematics, as formal-eidetic sciences, cannot claim a methodological or essential primacy over a material-eidetic science like phenomenology. In other words, phenomenology must found both logic and mathematics. Phenomenology is thus the prote philosophia that weds the formal and the experiential, the material and the ideal. The outcome of such an understanding of phenomenology would be nothing less than a definitive clarification of the “sense of the relationship between the formal and the transcendental” (100). Drawing a comparison with Kant, Melandri identifies the phenomenological a-priori as a material one, so that “the logic of thought cannot renounce its inherentness to the world and therefore can only be founded in the logic of experience, grasping the essential structuring of the experience itself, which does not stand on principles projected from above as heteronomous conditions of its mere thinkability” (104). One should keep in mind that Melandri discovers this at the beginning of his career, before the publication of the Analyses on Passive Synthesis). The result of this juxtaposition of Kant and Husserl leads Melandri to identify the thematic continuity in the Husserlian oeuvre as that of finding an intermediate stage between the particular and the universal. This mediating moment can be found as early as the Philosophy of Arithmetic in the construction of the concept of cardinal number, and as late as Experience and Judgment in the concept of Typus. For Melandri, this Husserlian discovery amounts to a redefinition of the Kantian concept of “schema” through the doctrine of eidetic intuition.

As to the maxim on the non-univocity of being, Melandri sees in husserl the support for this position because in phenomenology, being does not have a single mode of givenness. Even the categorial, that is, in being of an ideal nature, can be legitimately given in a way that is ontically different from that of real being. Inasmuch as being is relative to its mode of givenness, it is always spoken of in many ways with reference to subjectivity, on account of which in the transcendental reflection of phenomenology there is no naturalistic limit, and intentionality is designated as the “universal principle of the analogy of being” (112). Melandri brings together these two Aristotelian-Husserlian insights in his work on the concept of analogy. Analogy is for him what allows philosophy to navigate between the complete equivocity and the complete univocity of being, by virtue of a reflection on language as what brings together the a-priori and the a-posteriori, consciousness and world, thought and being. We see how Melandri is once again reworking of Kantian schematism, allowing language to occupy the mediating position that accomplishes a truly analogical position not only with regard to the question of the relationship between thought and being, but also with regard to the question of the plurivocity of being itself.

The ninth essay in the book, by Roberta Lanfredini, concerns the experimental phenomenology of Paolo Bozzi. A psychologist, Bozzi was one of the foremost scholars of Gestaltpsychologie in Italy and a proponent of phenomenology as a methodology for the sciences that would rival what the author calls the “psychophysical” one. He was also influenced by pragmatism and the Berlin School. Bozzi’s reflections begin with the “non-privative” definition of the phenomenon: to say that something is a phenomenon is not to say that it is an appearance as opposed to a reality, but rather to say that it is an object for our experience. Perception, our capacity to be in contact with what appears, has its own structure and dignity which should not be assumed to distort its object. In this, Bozzi takes over, but also critiques, Ernst Mach’s views on perception. He also inherits from Mach the conviction that it is possible to create a “naïve” or “phenomenological” physics that would begin from perception rather than try to remove its effects. In this paradigm, experience is the adaptation of ideas to sensations.

In establishing an alternate method for the natural sciences, Bozzi also critiques the concept of “datum,” which he understands not as a pure fact or sensation, but as an already eidetically reduced phenomenon. As such, a datum is a field of possible essential variation whose boundaries can be clearly fixed in reflection (for Husserl) or in experimentation (for Bozzi). What Husserl calls the “eidetic boundary” of the phenomenon Bozzi calls its “determination” (126). Bozzi’s take on Husserl’s eidetic variation is in this way the conjunction of two principles, namely, that of stability and that of sufficient differentiation: if a perception is sufficiently stable and pinned down through a sufficient differentiation of its components, then its identity and homogeneity are guaranteed and certain. Correspondingly, Husserl’s regional ontology is adapted to represent the “absolute threshold” beyond which a phenomenon simply does not appear.

Against the physicalist prejudices of “brain states” and “stimuli” as causes of experience, Bozzi counters with Wittgenstein that “nothing in the visual field permits us to conclude that it is seen by an eye,” or, in the case of the brain, “nothing in the experiential field permits us to conclude that it is caused or experience by the brain.” The stimulus and the brain state do not exist for us, and so they should not exist for the natural sciences if they are to be faithful to the phenomenon. To this end, Bozzi seeks to reinsert the qualitative aspects of the phenomenon into the scientific method, so that the true scientific step is not the projection of the quantitative into the qualitative, but vice versa a projection of the qualitative into the quantitative. Furthermore, Bozzi strengthens the scientific palatability of perception by postulating its non-ineffable, public, and independent character against the fear of so-called “private perceptions.” This lands him in a position of empirical realism, where “the object must be viewed as it is and as it seems. In phenomenological observation there is a perfect coincidence between ‘esse’ and ‘percipi’” (132). We end up with a conception of the scientific phenomenon as “pure phenomenon” in the sense of something original and independent of conceptualization and judgment, the perceived as a result of unification and synthesis of appearances, “invariance in the variations” (134). All this contributes to a theory of scientific method that will be of interest to philosophers and scientists alike.

The tenth essay, authored by Federico Leoni, introduces to the philosophy of Carlo Sini, one of the most important philosophers in Milan still active today. A student of Enzo Paci, Sini brought phenomenology, neo-idealism, and pragmatism together in his remarkable philosophy. Though his study of neo-idealism came first, Paci’s first major works from 1965, Introduzione alla Fenomenologia come Scienza [Introduction to Phenomenology as a Science] and Whitehead e la Funzione della Filosofia [Whitehead and the Function of Philosophy], already reveal deep influences from Husserl and Anglo-American pragmatism.

The work on phenomenology introduces the reader to what will be one of Sini’s philosophical preoccupations for the rest of his career, namely, the problem of how to begin a rigorous philosophical investigation. “One begins…precisely with the realization that one has already begun” (139), which is to say that the only point of beginning for a rigorous methodology is in media res. The starting point is a bundle of ongoing activities and practicing phenomenology means illuminating what is normally confined to the darkness of what remains unthought. Thus, to begin means going back to describing all the operations belonging to the domain of perception, memory, imagination, but also expressiveness, motility, bodily gestures, and the whole set of practices that a body constantly performs in order to inhabit a world. However, Sini comes to radical conclusions about the boundaries of the body, which for him turn out to be blurred. The body extends itself into many other bodies and things, so that the beginning of philosophy lies in the fact that the body is lived by and in infinite other bodies, and that each operation shapes its circumstances and produces its objectifications while configured and objectified by and in infinite other operations. This indicates that the Husserlian attempt to begin by isolating the transcendental plane already implies an infinite task destined to remain incomplete.

At the same time, Sini’s subjectivist interpretation of Husserl, perhaps gained through his reading of Heidegger, lead him beyond transcendental phenomenology. It is in Heidegger and Peirce that he seeks a philosophy that can lead him to the world of things and practices, and he finds it in Being and Time, which he reads in conjunction with Peirce’s semiotic pragmatism. Being-in-the-world means being enmeshed in a set of material practices and references, which is why no presence is ever a mere presence, but always the sign of another presence. Heidegger’s mistake, according to Sini, is to collapse common and semiotic signs, thereby emptying the semiotic structure of its philosophical import. Sini then imports this existential semiotic into Husserl, reinterpreting phenomenological kinesthesis and praxis as the acts of drawing signs and creating distances between phenomena. This is an engagement of the question of the genesis or event of the sign—not merely what a signitive relation is, but how it is generated: “What we want is to witness the tracing of the trace,” he states (144). In this way, Sini reinscribes the question of beginning into his semiotic phenomenology: how do we begin, how is the sign created? And just as with phenomenology, Sini finds that the sign has no beginning, but is always already a matter of having been interpreted. Peirce’s “interpretant,” the one who establishes the semiotic relationship, thus cannot be a subject: “to interpret is to have already interpreted, and the interpretant is nothing else than this having already interpreted…. each present interpretation occurs on the basis of infinite past interpretations which exert their pressure on it” (142). In the end, the whole universe is the interpretant and the thing interpreted, offering itself as its own source and its own destination. In this sense, semiosis is not a capacity or activity of the subject, but an anonymous source, a cosmological event. If all praxis is semiotic praxis, if life is drawing and interpreting signs and creating distances between the sides of the semiotic relation, then the “subject” as the creator of signs, and “Being” as the sender of beings, are fetishes of the sign (or, more precisely, of the event of the sign). Sini’s later work pursues the further conclusions of this realization, developing on one hand a phenomenology of gestures, and on the other a philosophy of rhythm. Both seek to describe the performance of the already-established semiotic relation.

The eleventh essay, by Roberto Miraglia, describes the phenomenology of Giovanni Piana, another of Paci’s students and a colleague and interlocutor of Sini. Piana, recently deceased, developed a “phenomenological structuralism” that interprets phenomenology as a non-ontological, comparative description of experiential structures. He de-ontologizes phenomenology by replacing the term “essence” with that of “structure,” and the concept of evidence with that of “exhibition.” In so doing, Piana rids phenomenology of any Platonic interpretations and makes it possible to describe and compare structures without having to locate them within the ontological dichotomy of consciousness and world. What results is the laying bare of a field of experience that is neither ontological nor psychological.

Phenomenology thus becomes the clarification of how concepts are used in our daily life and how they relate to the world. The point of the reduction is nothing more than simply circumscribing the field of genetic-descriptive analysis. Likewise, it makes no sense to think that phenomenology can resolve the crisis pointed out by Husserl. All phenomenology can do is present, in general, a variety of constitutive tasks. Of the two strains that he identifies in Husserl’s philosophy, the theoretical and the ethical, Piana thinks that only the theoretical accurately represents and carries out the tasks of phenomenology. The ethical, by contrast, is ideological insofar as it confuses phenomenology for some kind of philosophy of renewal, whose task it would be not only to answer ethical questions, but to make humanity more responsible. Piana then brings this non-foundationalist phenomenology back to its empirical roots as a philosophy that derives ideas from impressions.

Miraglia tells the reader that Piana’s greatest accomplishments were more applied than theoretical. In particular, Piana is famous for his work on imaginative-expressive phenomena, especially music. Imagination is seen as a sui generis structure of experience, but one that affects all others. It not only places us in front of imaginary objects, but also enhances experience of perceived objects, making creative syntheses possible and ultimately art itself: “The pseudo-predicative synthesis of imagination steps into the associative connection: the sun is the eye of the sky. Being transforms into Value. This transformation consists of a real intermingling among objects: the result of the synthesis is an entirely new kind of object, an iridescent object which is not what it really is because it is what it is. Neither sun nor eye—but sun and eye together, the one through the other” (155). This understanding of imaginative constitution is then applies to the phenomenon of music, resulting in groundbreaking analyses that have left their mark not only in philosophy, but in Italian culture more broadly.

Finally, the twelfth essay, by Andrea Pace Giannotta, discusses the philosophy of Paolo Parrini, who teaches theoretical philosophy at the University of Florence still today. Parrini is a student of Giulio Preti, who is also introduced in this volume, and has worked on contemporary analytic philosophy, the philosophies of Husserl and Kant, and the history of epistemology and science in the 19th and 20th centuries. Gianotta argues that Parrini’s reading of phenomenology leads to a phenomenological form of empirical realism.

Parrini calls his own philosophy “positive philosophy,” which stands as an alternative to both radical relativism and metaphysical realism. The former is, for Parrini, the result of those views that carry to the extreme the “theory-ladenness of observation” (162). Metaphysical realism, on the other hand, comes from the attempt to overcome the critique of metaphysics on the part of Kant and the logical empiricists. These attempts result, for Parrini, in a reprisal of metaphysics that seeks to give a foundationalist account of knowledge as adaequatio intellectus ad rem. In the realm of scientific knowledge, positive philosophy translates into a moderate epistemic realism that affirms as its basis the empirical underdetermination of scientific theories as well as the theoretical overdetermination of experience. This means not only that it is always possible for a theory to be disproved by new experiential/experimental evidence, but also that, in principle, the same experiential evidence can translate into more than one theoretical framework. Positive philosophy is completed by what Parrini calls empirical realism, which differs from the metaphysical version according to the classical Kantian distinction.

These epistemological positions are affirmed on the basis of the possibility to test hypotheses empirically. It is in relation to this need for empirical verification that Husserlian phenomenology makes an appearance in Parrini’s epistemological thought. According to Parrini, Husserl finds a “fourth way” to the tree epistemological options presented by Friedman, namely, Neokantianism, logical empiricism, and Heideggerian hermeneutics. The “phenomenological way” makes possible an analysis of the empirical basis for knowledge that is cashed out in terms of a structural continuity between Kant and Husserl. In the first place, both philosophers highlight the irreducible contribution that each side of the form/matter distinction plays in cognition, where instead the neo-Kantians and the logical empiricists tend to downplay the role of matter. At the same time, Husserl is interpreted as seeking a way to ratify a kind of knowledge completely devoid of formal components. As a consequence of this interpretation, Husserl is castigated in favor of Kant, who famously foreclosed the possibility of any “judgments of perception.” This interpretation of Husserl carries on for the rest of the essay, where the possibility of Husserl’s material a-priori, here understood as “a priori knowledge (i.e. universal and necessary knowledge) of the content or matter of knowing, which would be expressed through apodictic judgements” (172), is considered and then rejected. This rejection is due to the claim that this material a-priori can only provide us with psychological-subjective validity, not transcendental validity. At the end of the essay, an appeal is made to the “genetic turn” in Husserl’s phenomenology so as to claim that Husserl himself dealt with the static conception of a material a-priori in the same way as Parrini. Lastly, Giannotta compares Parrini’s positive philosophy to the “network model” and to “neutral monism.”

In conclusion, Phenomenology in Italy is a substantial collection of essays and witnesses to the rich phenomenological tradition that Italy has to offer to the rest of the world. Although there are some conspicuous absences in the choice of authors to showcase, I hope that this collection will herald the beginning of the dissemination of Italian thought in the international philosophical community, and that it will inspire more efforts in the translation of Italy’s philosophical treasures.

Jan Patocka: Europa und Nach-Europa: Zur Phänomenologie einer Idee, Karl Alber, 2020

Europa und Nach-Europa: Zur Phänomenologie einer Idee Book Cover Europa und Nach-Europa: Zur Phänomenologie einer Idee
Jan Patocka. Edited by Ludger Hagedorn, Klaus Nellen
Karl Alber
2020
Hardback 29,99 €
320

Ivo De Gennaro: Principles of Philosophy: A Phenomenological Approach, Karl Alber, 2020

Principles of Philosophy: A Phenomenological Approach Book Cover Principles of Philosophy: A Phenomenological Approach
Ivo De Gennaro
Karl Alber Verlag
2020
Hardback 39,00 €
376

Edward Baring: Converts to the Real: Catholicism and the Making of Continental Philosophy

Converts to the Real: Catholicism and the Making of Continental Philosophy Book Cover Converts to the Real: Catholicism and the Making of Continental Philosophy
Edward Baring
Harvard University Press
2019
Hardback $49.95
504

Reviewed by: Elad Lapidot (University of Bern)

Is Catholicism a Religion?

Over the last decades, scholars have increasingly called into question the universal validity of the category “religion” as referring to a supposed ahistorical constant domain of all human mind and civilization, the domain of faith. The claim has characteristically been that, even though nowadays we often speak and think of religion this way, both in everyday life and in scholarship, in fact our notion of religion is a historical construct. This conceptual construct, so the claim, is fashioned after a specific cultural tradition, the Christian West, which, as part of obtaining or preserving its global epistemic hegemony, has asserted its own culture – Christianity – as a universal and superior feature of human nature as such: religion. Consequently, all cultures would have their religions: the Jewish, the Greek, the Chinese, the Indian, the Aztec, which could therefore be compared and evaluated in view of the underlying paradigm – and ultimate paragon – of religion, Christianity.

This sort of critique of religion is commonly deployed in postcolonial-like discourses, which confront the Christian West with its non-Christian others. Could the same critique apply within Christianity itself (West vs. East) or even within the Western? Wouldn’t the construct “religion” arise not only from a geo-political bias, i.e. the West, but also from a chrono-political bias, i.e. Modernity? And if so, wouldn’t it give effect and perpetuate a bias within the Christian West, namely in favor of modern Christianity, marked by Protestantism and Secularism, so as to undermine premodern, Catholic forms of Christian civilization? Is Catholicism a religion?

There is much in Baring’s intriguing new book to suggest that Catholicism is in fact not primarily a religion, but a philosophy, or even – philosophy. The main theme of the book is continental philosophy, whose center according to Baring is phenomenology. Its explicit concern is intellectual and institutional genealogy, “the Making of Continental Philosophy”, namely how a specific direction in 20th century philosophy, phenomenology, has been able to transform “from a provincial philosophy in southwest Germany into a movement that spanned Europe” (2), and so to become “continental”. Here and elsewhere in the book, Baring highlights the political significance of epistemic constellations, underlying the transnational, pan-European character of phenomenology as “continental” philosophy. His own historiography performatively turns away from national narratives (phenomenology in France, Husserl in Spain, Heidegger in Italy etc.) in search of a more transnational, universal ground. The movement that spread Husserl’s word among the nations (“the single most important explanation for the international success of phenomenology in the twentieth century”, 5), Baring suggests, is the one that goes under the name of the universal itself, the catholicos, Catholicism. Catholicism is the principal agent in this continental, transnational, catholic historiography of philosophy.

It is somewhat paradoxical that Baring’s professed transnational perspective nonetheless preliminary features phenomenology as belonging to “southwest Germany”, namely as originally particular, which accordingly begs the question of its continental success. According to this logic, this transnational success can only be accounted for by something beyond phenomenology itself, something more European, more universal, which would be Catholicism. However, in what sense would phenomenological philosophy itself not be sufficiently universal to account for its own universal spread? In what sense is Catholicism more obviously universal, and what explains its own international success, beyond the province of Rome?

Be that as it may, the notion of success, namely the ability of philosophy or thought, the ability of ideas, to obtain and expand their hold on the world, on reality, is central to Baring’s project. The primary transnational feature of Catholicism that the book foregrounds is its global institutional presence. Next to the transnational and universal, “catholic” historiographic perspective, Baring’s study accommodates Catholicism also in focusing on the worldly reality of the Church. The Catholicism that, as the book suggests, carried phenomenology across the continent is first and foremost a “network of philosophers and theologians that stretched across Europe” (7); “we can speak of ‘continental philosophy’ because phenomenology could tap into the networks of a Church that already operated on a continental scale” (11).

The story of “making” continental philosophy, as told in the book, is indeed concerned less with conceptual genealogy of ideas and more with how they spread. It’s a story of thought as an inter-personal, inter-institutional happening, where events of thinking take place between works, between thinkers. The great individual names of phenomenology – Husserl, Heidegger, Scheler, the “phenomenological trinity” Baring calls them (6) – are there, but they function as basic coordinates for describing the real plot, which is scholarship. Primary and secondary literatures switch here places. The main protagonists of this book are neither the great names nor the great book, but their less known scholarly recipients, the clerics, who read, translate, introduce, interpret, discuss and institutionalize ideas, convene conferences and found archives, journals and schools. Most importantly, and this is one of the great achievements of this book, the history of thought is told through formative debates, such that polemics – and with it politics – is posited at the heart of epistemology, a real at the heart of the ideal. Could polemics too – next to transnationalism and institutionalism – count as Catholic heritage?

At any event, Baring tells continental philosophy’s church history, and according to him the early church of phenomenology was Catholic. To quote some impressive facts:

“self-professed Catholic philosophers produced more than 40 percent of all books and articles on Husserl, Heidegger, and Scheler written in French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch in the period before World War II, making Catholic phenomenology by far the largest constituent part of the early European reception” (8-9);

“Within Europe, phenomenology has been most successful in Catholic countries, while tending to skip, at least at first, the Protestant strongholds of Scandinavia and the United Kingdom. Across the Atlantic, it has flourished in Latin America and at Catholic universities in the United States, such as Notre Dame, Boston College, DePaul, and Duquesne. The geography of phenomenology is best described, not by the contours of mainland Europe, but by the reach of the ‘universal Church’.” (11).

What is certain, in Baring’s account Catholicism does not just function as a contingent carrier of phenomenological philosophy, a vessel which would remain external to the content that it spreads. The Church is not simply a vehicle for Husserl’s word. The network of catholic intellectuals and institutions does not feature in this book as a mere logistical structure, but as the institutional embodiment of its intellectual content, of thought. Is Catholicism a religion? In this book, the Catholic emerges primarily as a philosophy. Insofar as Catholicism accounts for making phenomenology the philosophy of the European continent, Baring argues, it is because “before existentialism and before phenomenology, the first continental philosophy of the twentieth century was Catholic.” (19)

What is Catholic philosophy? This question is not really developed in the book, which has a very clear answer: medieval scholastic philosophy as it has been oriented by the works of Thomas Aquinas, namely Thomism. In the relevant period for the book, the first decades of the 20th century, Catholic philosophy consisted in the attempt to renew Thomism, namely in neo-Thomism or neo-scholasticism, which according to Baring was in these decades “the largest and most influential philosophical movement in the world” (8). Neo-Thomism was global philosophy, which makes one wonder about the reason it was only able to turn phenomenology “continental”, but no more than that. Neo-Thomism, as Baring portrays it, had set to itself a daring task. It translated medieval philosophy into modern terms not in order to modernize this philosophy, but, on the contrary, in order to effect “a philosophical conversion of modernity, a movement from modern to medieval metaphysics” (14). Neo-Thomism was the Catholic mission to the Moderns, aiming to reconvert modernity “back to Catholicism” (ibid.).

“Conversion” is a key word in Baring’s book. It is the basic description of the intellectual event that it portrays, and the plot is articulated by the personal conversions – official or not – of the protagonists. What was the nature of the conversion “back to Catholicism”, which neo-Thomists were trying to generate? The answer to this question lies at the heart of Baring’s historiographic thesis: it designates the ultimate purpose of Catholic, neo-Thomist philosophy, explains why phenomenology was deemed useful for Catholic intellectuals to pursue this purpose and so would account for why Catholicism helped phenomenology to its continental and international success.

Were neo-Thomists interested in converting modernity, modern thought and philosophy, from secularism or atheism back to religion? Obviously, as already indicated, neo-scholasticism was not looking to promote “religion” in its modern, paradigmatically Protestant or secular sense. But furthermore, Baring most often does not describe Catholic thought in terms of religion or what is commonly – in modern discourse – associated with religion as a special domain, of faith, transcendent God, holiness, spirituality etc., in short, as a different domain than secular, atheological or even atheistic philosophy.

On the contrary: neo-Thomism was looking to renew Thomism, for which, as described by Baring, theology implied worldly thought. Catholic thinkers “were convinced that the world incarnated a divine order, and that the institution of the Catholic Church was the worldly locus of redemption” (14); God is present in “His effects in the world” (30), such that faith is deemed “the perfection of natural knowledge” (29). The goal of Neo-Thomists was accordingly, among others, to connect Catholicism to science, natural science: by going back to Aquinas they were trying to reconnect with Aristotle. In other words, whether or not Catholicism was interested, in the first decades of the 20th century, in renewing something like religion, in Baring’s book Catholic philosophy emerges as a powerful agent for the renewal of Aristotelian philosophy, which historically speaking is perhaps nothing but Western philosophy, or philosophy tout court. Just as philosophy’s first and ultimate concern is with Being, Baring’s Catholicism is concerned with “the Real”.

“The Real” is the central concept of Baring’s narrative, which thus connects the contemporary discourse on philosophy and religion with the contemporary philosophical conversation on realism. Explicating this connection may have been a useful way for Baring to provide a more precise explanation of what he understands by “the Real”. Considering the pivotal centrality of this concept for the book’s argument, it remains rather vague and sometimes ambivalent. In fact, its basic significance in this book seems to be above all polemic, in that it designates what neo-scholasticism, seeking to renew medieval, premodern philosophy, was asserting against modern thought. Indeed, throughout the book, Catholic positions are characterized in various ways as opposing the negation of realism by modern philosophy, namely as opposition to the idealism, relativism and subjectivism that would characterize modern thought.

That non-realism (a negation of or distance from the Real) is constitutive to modern philosophy, is a decisive presupposition of Baring’s project. The exact significance of this presupposed non-realism or idealism remains as much an open question as the exact meaning of “the Real”. If the supposed non-realism of modern philosophy means detachment from the worldly and natural order, in favor of some dimension of transcendence, of some supernatural or transcendental subjectivity, will or spirit, this would mean that modern thought, far from being secular and “worldly”, has rather become closer to religion, as a relation to the unworldly. This kind of analysis no doubt sits well with accounts of modernity, such as Hans Jonas’, as arising from man’s liberation from and subsequent domination of nature (NB: not against but precisely through modern, technological science), which would resemble or even be the avatar of ancient Gnosticism, religion of the Alien God. Neo-Thomism, working to effect on modernity a – as the title of Baring’s book reads – “Conversion to the Real”, which is actually a re-conversion, a movement back to the world, would accordingly be the modern permutation of the same anti-heresiological movement that for someone like Hans Blumenberg, for instance, accounted for the emergence of Christian doctrine. This movement may be described less as a conversion from philosophy to religion than as a conversion from religion back to philosophy, from faith back to reason.

Converting modern philosophy to the Real was in any case, so Baring, the missionary goal of neo-scholasticism in the first decades of the 20th century. It is for this mission that Catholic networks identified phenomenology as suitable and for this purpose they “made” it continental. The reason that phenomenology was found by neo-Thomist to be such a suitable discourse for deploying the conversion of non-realist modern philosophy to realism, Baring argues, is that phenomenological thought, to begin with Husserl’s notion of intentionality (consciousness is always of an object), was identified as an anti-idealist movement back to the Real within modern philosophy itself, so to speak a spontaneous movement of self-conversion: “phenomenological intentionality seemed to bypass the distortions of idealism and provide access to the mind-independent real. For neo-scholastics, phenomenology could help secular thinkers recognize God’s order in the world.” (14) How exactly neo-scholastic thinkers and institutions tried to achieve this goal, their more or less successful negotiations – and debates – among themselves, with phenomenology, as well as vis-à-vis other Catholic, Protestant and non-religious intellectual currents, and how all this contributed to the making of continental philosophy – this is the story told by Baring’s rich book.

One basic and far-reaching insight of Baring concerns the ambivalent nature of conversion: the shift from one conception to another at the same time connects both conceptions and thus opens the way to a counter-conversion, from the second conception to the first. Conversions work “in both directions” (16). This insight may be deemed as a structural principle that regulates – and complicates – basic dynamics in the history of thought, something like the Third Law of Intellectual Motion. It seems to be particularly significant in conversions that are not just spontaneous, but induced, namely in conversion projects, in missionary movements.With respect to the neo-Thomist mission to convert modern philosophy “back to Catholicism”, in order to do so it established “the Real” as a connection between modern phenomenology and medieval scholasticism, which would serve as a passage from the former to the latter. As Baring shows, however, this passage also facilitated the inverse movement, to the effect that the bridge built between Thomism and phenomenology also served Catholic thinkers to cross to the other side and to “break with Roman Catholicism” (15). The paradigmatic example discussed by Baring is Heidegger.

What is however the meaning of this counter-conversion, away from Catholicism, which according to Baring has become so prevalent in post-WWII phenomenology so as to completely obliterate its early Catholic years? Would it be that phenomenology, and continental philosophy, was moving away from religion, towards secular and atheistic thought? Is Catholicism religion? The question of religion, as already noted, interestingly does not explicitly frame the narrative of the book, which foregrounds instead the debate of realism vs. idealism. Catholicism is realism, but is it therefore more or less a religion?

It is only in the Epilog that Baring directly addresses the question of religion. “Continental philosophy today is haunted by religion” (343): the famous return to religion, a contemporary conversion – or perhaps even a contemporary mission? By whom – to whom? Is Baring’s book a part of this project, namely facilitating the passage from contemporary continental philosophy to religion by recalling how it was Catholicism that originally “made” phenomenology into continental philosophy? The “religious specters” that “haunt” continental philosophy today, Baring argues, indeed arise from its “family history”, namely phenomenology’s transmission to the world as it was “passed down through Catholic scholars” (344), so to speak phenomenology’s Catholic womb. The current return to religion in continental philosophy is connected to its Catholic heritage.

However, according to Baring’s further insight into the Third Law of Intellectual Movement, just as conversion is not only unidirectional, inheritance too is not simply linear. He points out that intellectual inheritance may pass on not just positive, affirmative doctrines, but also negative positions, what he terms “negative inheritance” (347). According to Baring’s analysis, it is by way of “negative inheritance” that phenomenology’s Catholic past, namely neo-Thomism, continues to operate within continental philosophy’s return to religion. In other words, Catholicism, as portrayed in Baring’s book, is present in this contemporary return to religion not as the positive agent, not as the agent of religion, but on the contrary in the negative, anti-religious positions – more specifically in their realism.

He brings the example of Quentin Meillassoux, who “presents himself as a rationalist ally to the natural sciences, seeking to reinvigorate realism after a period of idealist hegemony. Meillassoux is aware of his proximity to Thomism, which he defines as ‘the progressive rationalization of Judeo-Christianity under the influence of Greek philosophy’”. (348) Baring’s conclusion: “The atheist scourge of much contemporary continental philosophy appears as the inverted image of those Catholic thinkers who helped make philosophy continental in the first place.” (ibid.)  It is not in the return to religion but rather in the resistance to this return that current continental philosophy would be inspired by Catholicism, which consequently operates, at least in this context, not as a religion, but as anti-religion.

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Synopsis of the Book:

Baring’s story is told in three chronological parts, which concern three different periods in the early history of phenomenology in its reception by Catholic scholars: 1900-1930, 1930-1940 and 1940-1950. The narrative is organized by another triad, three main figures of early German phenomenology, the “phenomenological trinity”: Husserl, Heidegger and Scheler, and the debates around them.

Part I, “Neo-Scholastic Conversion. 1900-1930” deals with the immediate Catholic reception of German phenomenology. Baring traces back the initial reception to a specific current within neo-Thomism, “progressive Thomism”, promoted by the Louvain School of Léon Noël, head of the Institut supérieur de Philosophie. Progressive Thomism was oriented by the work of Cardinal Désiré Mercier (Critériologie), who translated Thomist realism into the discourse of epistemology. This anti-Kantian epistemology was the site of early Catholic reception of Husserl, as told in Chapters 1 and 2. The first reception referred to The Logical Investigations of 1900-1901 and was enthusiastic, as Husserl’s anti-psychological notions, such as intentionality (which goes back through Brentano to scholasticism) and categorical intuition, appeared to secure epistemic access to “the objective order of the world” (40). “For Catholics around Europe, reading Husserl’s Logical Investigations was a revelation”, Baring writes (48). Modern philosophy’s “conversion to the Real” was celebrated by scholars such as Jospeh Geyser, Erich Przywara and the Milan School’s Agostino Gemelli, and even existentially performed through a personal conversion, such as by Edith Stein, to whom phenomenology has showen “the way into ‘the majestic temple of scholastic thought’” (75). All the more disappointing was Husserl’s return to the transcendental consciousness in his Ideen of 1913. The second reception identified in Husserl a second, reversed conversion, from realism back to idealism, which “was experienced by neo-scholastics as a betrayal— both of Husserl’s earlier work and, by implication, of their own project” (61).

Chapter 3 follows the intellectual development of early Heidegger, a phenomenological convert away from Catholicism. Influenced by Joseph Geyser, young Heidegger, “a progressive scholastic” (88), in his 1913 dissertation embraced Husserl’s anti-Psychologism, and in his 1916 Habilitaiton on Dun Scotus, the “pinnacle of Heidegger’s neo-scholastic period” (97), formulated a meaning-based realism. The disengagement is signaled in 1917, as Heidegger stated that Catholicism “forgot religion for theology and dogma” and looked for religious experience in Christian mysticism, Augustine and Protestants from Luther, Otto, Overbeck, Kierkegaard, Dilthey and Schleiermacher. Being and Time of 1927, so Baring’s perceptive analysis, features a curious atheism based on “two confessional strands” (113): Catholic ontology, but no longer perennis, and Protestant Dasein-analysis, but indifferent to faith.

Chapter 4 traces a similar dynamic with respect to Max Scheler, extending the plot from theory to ethics and politics. Scheler’s 1913 Formalism in Ethics provided a phenomenological access (Wert-nehmen, axiological intuition) to an “objective order of value” (140) and his personalism, the notion of Gesamtperson, gave this ethics a socio-political embodiment. Both combined offered practical philosophy to Catholic social revival and anti-liberal, anti-bourgeois, anti-capitalist corporatism. Carl Muth’s influential Catholic magazine Hochland celebrated Scheler as “Black Nietzsche” (124) and intellectuals followed him in his early WWI patriotism, growing distance from nationalism and anti-republicanism in Weimar, such as Paul-Ludwig Landsberg’s “conservative revolution” (137). Disenchantment manifested itself, on the Catholic side, in doubts raised by neo-scholastics, such as Przywara, as to Scheler’s too heavy reliance on human intuition and emotional intentionality, and on Scheler’s side, in the pantheistic turn of his late work (1928, The Human Place in the Cosmos).

Part II, “Existential Journeys 1930-1940”, describes how, beyond its initial reception by neo-scholasticism, phenomenology “became a privileged battlefield in intra-Christian debates” (152). The central intra-Christian tension in Baring’s narrative is between neo-scholastics and existentialists. Chapter 5 tells about the rise of “Christian Existentialism across Europe” by portraying the tension between two converts to Catholicism, Gabriel Marcel and Jacques Maritain. Marcel (Metaphysical Journal, 1927; Being and Having, 1935), influence and mentor to existentialists such as Nicolai Berdyaev, René Le Senne, Jean Wahl as well as Simone de Beauvoir, Emmanuel Levinas, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Paul Ricoeur and Jean-Paul Sartre, criticized neo-Thomist intellectualism as “hubris”, and insisted on the “unintelligibility of existence”, its embodiment and “mystery”. Maritain claimed “existential philosophy” describes rather Thomism itself, which deals with esse and acknowledges its mystery, deems it nevertheless “open to intellectual understanding” (163).

Chapter 6 goes back to the Catholic reception of Husserl and how during the 1930s it was shaped by a division within neo-scholasticism, between progressive and strict Thomists. Baring portrays this division through the “Critical Realism Debate”, concerning the attempt of the Louvain School’s progressives, such as Léon Noël and René Kremer, to base realism on epistemology, namely on critique of subjective knowledge (leading to post-WII “transcendental Thomism”). “Strict” Thomists such as Étienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain rejected the notion of “critical” – Cartesian or Kantian – realism as self-contradictory, insisting on the primacy of metaphysics over epistemology. Baring shows how this debate pressed progressive intellectuals, such as Kremer, Kurt Reinhart and Sofia Vanni Rovighi, who initially embraced Husserl’s phenomenology, to reject and rectify his perceived idealistic tendencies, especially as manifested in the Cartesian Meditations of 1931.

Chapter 7 presents the 1930s’ reception of Heidegger as the battleground for the inter-confessional debate between neo-Scholastics (such as Przywara, Alfred Delp and Hans Urs von Balthasar) and Protestants, in particular Karl Barth’s Kierkegaard-inspired Dialectical Theology. Baring describes this debate as arising from “two diametrically opposed, if symmetrical, accounts of Heidegger’s atheism: Thomists explained it by the restrictions placed upon Heidegger’s ontology by his (Protestant) prioritization of human subjectivity; Protestant theologians understood it through his attempt to ground the analysis of human finitude in an ontology, which arose from an excessive and Catholic faith in our rational capacities.” (213) In other words, both (dialectical theology’s) emphasis on the unintelligible and (neo-Thomist) emphasis on intelligibility could be construed, from the opposite  perspective, as subjectivist and so proto-atheistic. This leads Baring to the brilliant observation whereby “religious notes” of atheistic conceptions (he speaks of existentialism) may arise not from “uncomplicated inheritance of a believing antecedent, but rather as the reflection of a more distant voice, directed toward and bouncing of a common religious foe” (240), i.e. “negative inheritance”.

Chapter 8 returns to the reception of Scheler, “The Black Nietzsche”, in Catholic political thought. Baring shows how the Schelerian notion of social corpora as embodying spiritual order of values could support to conflicting conceptions of Catholic anti-liberal politics. Luigi Stefanini drew on Scheler to affirm a “hierarchical order of values” enacted by an authoritarian and totalitarian state, which led him to collaborate with the Fascist regime and even acknowledge “racial defense” as “an act of the sovereignty and transcendence of the spirit” (259). In contrast, for Paul-Louis Landsberg, as Paul Ludwig Landsberg was known in his French exile and anti-Fascist resistance, “the divine order is always to come and can never be fully worked out. For that reason, authoritarianism runs the risk of shutting down the process by which the true order is revealed” (263), which led him to reject Nazism and Communism. Baring exemplifies the same ambivalence in Scheler in the development of Emmanuel Mounier’s Catholic-Nietzschean magazine Esprit, from support of Vichy to Resistance and post-WII negotiations of Thomism and Marxism.

Part III, “Catholic Legacies 1940-1950”, discusses how after “the Catholics who had helped promote phenomenological ideas around Europe withdrew from the stage”, “[t[he script that they had written […] persisted, to be picked up and adapted by new actors.” (276) Chapter 9 is dedicated to the story of the Husserl Archives, famously smuggled from Germany to Belgium by the young Franciscan Herman Leo Van Breda, to be institutionalized within Louvain’s Institut Supérieur de Philosophie. According to Baring, after WWII Van Breda, who was looking for means to secure the archives’ further existence (which he obtained at last from UNESCO), realized that “the archives would flourish only if they became independent of the Church” (297). Catholicism, which made phenomenology continental, was now required, in order to prefect its own making, to retreat. Like the truth of Heidegger’s Beyng, the appearance of neo-Thomism in phenomenology was completed by the concealment of neo-Thomism in phenomenology’s Veröffentlichung. It is thus that the first volume of the Husserliana was dedicated to the Cartesian Meditations, “the text where Husserl distinguished his work most clearly from scholasticism” (300).

Chapter 10, the last one, indicates traces of neo-scholasticism in “Postwar Phenomenology”, once again through an intellectual tension, this time between the secular Merleau-Ponty and the Protestant Paul Ricoeur. Both of “Marcelian bent”, affirming embodiment and existence versus idealism, their diverging interpretations of Marcel reproduced the debate between Thomism and Existentialism, inasmuch as Merleau-Ponty emphasized the intentional order of perception and Ricoeur the mystery and the “fault”. The disagreement on Marcel was intertwined with a disagreement on Husserl, which reproduced the debate between progressive and strict Thomism: whereas Merleau-Ponty, like the Louvain School, strove to protect Husserl’s realism from his transcendentalism, Ricoeur, like Maritain, read Husserl as an idealist. Commenting on the Protestant philosopher’s surprising affinity to strict Thomism, Baring provides a precious polemic triangulation, which is perhaps the real glory of scholastic sophistication: “Against the Thomists, Ricoeur denied that Christians could use philosophy to defend religious dogmas. Against the Barthians, Ricoeur did think philosophy retained an important role. It could challenge the pretension of science to have provided ‘a final solution.’ Christian philosophy would thus be a ‘science of limits, an essentially Socratic, ironic position [. . .] forbidding all thought to be totalitarian’.” (327)

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Three Concluding Reflections:

  1. The key concept of the book’s argument is “the Real”. Catholicism promoted phenomenology for the sake of converting modern philosophy to the Real. As noted above, however, realism signifies in this book primarily polemically, in contrast to the alleged idealism of modern thought. However, as Baring insightfully shows with respect to “atheism”, polemic meanings are unstable and easily turned around. Just like criticism of “atheism” can be found in any religious position against any other religious position, isn’t criticism of “idealism” as detached from the real, i.e. as false, inherent to the disagreement of any philosophical position against all the others? Wasn’t metaphysical dogmatism for Kant too disconnected from reality, as the Ptolemaic system for Copernicus? For Hegel, an arche-idealist, the real was the reasonable. Baring shows how neo-Thomism too deemed the real intelligible, whereas existentialism and dialectical theology experienced reality in unintelligibility.
  2. It seems that ultimately “the Real” for Baring signifies the limit of human autonomy and power, where reason means intelligibility of – and subjection to – the given, eternal, cosmic order (Thomism), in contrast to modern “self-affirmation of reason” (Blumenberg). Conversion to the Real means something like undoing modern hubris, disempowering the human. Baring portrays at least two divergent ways of doing so in Catholic thought, rationalism and existentialism, both inspired by Husserl’s phenomenology. One may wonder, however, whether both modes of “the Real” are equally defining for continental philosophy. The very term “continental” philosophy, determines reason by existence, i.e. actual geography, politics, history, which arguably condition more continental than analytic thought. It is rather Anglo-American philosophy that may be said to represent anti-idealist, positive rationalism, where reason is limited qua “analytic”. Wouldn’t this modern philosophy – which is closer to natural sciences, and arises from phenomenology only within its alliance with logical positivism against psychologism – be a more suitable ally for neo-scholasticism?
  3. There seems to be a third way of limiting or determining reason, which is very present in Baring’s study, albeit unthematized as such. Next to rationalism (reason determined by given logical order) and existentialism (reason determined by given non-logical being), his narrative centrally features also the determination of reason through the inter-personal plurality of thought: thought as a school, the institution that gave scholasticism its name. As such, scholasticism determines reason neither by the given intelligible, nor by the unintelligible, but by the overintelligible, namely by the open excess of thought as polemics. By choosing the debate as a primary figure of thought, Baring’s book manifests perhaps scholarship itself, next to analytic and continental philosophies, as a third post-modern manifestation of scholastic realism, and perhaps of philosophy überhaupt.

Denis Fisette, Guillaume Fréchette, Hynek Janoušek (Eds.): Franz Brentano’s Philosophy After One Hundred Years, Springer, 2020

Franz Brentano’s Philosophy After One Hundred Years: From History of Philosophy to Reism Book Cover Franz Brentano’s Philosophy After One Hundred Years: From History of Philosophy to Reism
Franz Brentano Studies
Denis Fisette, Guillaume Fréchette, Hynek Janoušek (Eds.)
Springer
2020
Hardback 114,39 €
X, 390