Thomas Arnold: Phänomenologie als Platonismus

Phänomenologie als Platonismus: Zu den Platonischen Wesensmomenten der Philosophie Edmund Husserls Book Cover Phänomenologie als Platonismus: Zu den Platonischen Wesensmomenten der Philosophie Edmund Husserls
Quellen und Studien zur Philosophie 133
Thomas Arnold
De Gruyter
Hardback €109.95
ix, 333

Reviewed by: Pier Alberto Porceddu Cilione (University of Verona)

The problem of determining whether or not Husserl belongs to a broader «Platonic» tradition is destined to remain open. The philosophical importance of Thomas Arnold’s Phänomenologie als Platonismus. Zu den platonischen Wesensmomenten der Philosophie Edmund Husserls rests on the fact that this text places the issue on a solid theoretical basis. Arnold’s work, in fact, through its paratactic structure, helps us to avoid an historical reconstruction or a mere scholarly discussion of the problem, and advocates the idea that a Plato-Husserl confrontation has to be analyzed through «Wesens-Momenten,» through «essential moments.» In what sense does our approach to Platonism change, when seen through a Husserlian perspective? First of all, it is useful to read how the idea of ​​“Platonism” should be understood:

«‘Platonismus'» wird im Folgenden nicht nur als Bezeichnung einer Familie von realistischen Positionen innerhalb des Universalienstreits oder spezieller der Ontologie der Mathematik verstanden, d. h. als Synonym einer schmal verstandenen ‘Ideenlehre’, sondern vielmehr als Name einer ganzen Philosophie» (6).

[«‘Platonism'» is here understood not only as a designation of a family of realistic positions within the problem of the universals, or more specifically, of the ontology of mathematics, i.e. as a synonym of a narrowly understood ‘theory of ideas’, but rather as the name of an entire philosophy”].

It is clear that the intention of the book is not to trace a conceptual filiation between Platonism and phenomenology, but rather to measure how philosophy quo talis, that is, in the spirit of Husserl, philosophy «als strenge Wissenschaft,» can be fully achieved by Plato or by Husserl. In a few words, the underlying idea is that, regardless of the diversity of conceptual vocabularies, the gnoseological requirements of the two authors coincide in many points. Arnold even goes so far as to hold that already in Plato there are the «regional ontologies» presented in Husserl’s Ideen, tracing a correspondent symmetry in Platonic dialogues:

«Regionale Ontologien finden sich etwa im Phaidon (Ontologie der psychê), in der Politeia (Ontologie der Kunst) oder im Timaios (Ontologie der Natur); neben pädagogischen und epistemologischen Querelen der Ethik stellt auch die Ontologie der Tugend ein Problem dar, bis sie im Gorgias und weiter in der Politeia als ‘Ordnung’ erkannt wird» (58).

[«Regional ontologies can be found in the Phaedo (ontology of psychê), in the Republic (ontology of art) or in the Timaeus (ontology of nature); in addition to the pedagogical and epistemological quarrels of ethics, the ontology of virtue also poses a problem until it is recognized as an ‘order’ [Ordnung] in the Gorgias and further in the Republic”].

But regardless of the possible conceptual symmetries between the texts of the two authors, the question always remains a theoretical one. The ambition of philosophy coincides with its claim to an absolute foundation, or to a conceptual foundation of the Absolute:

«Die sogenannten Wissenschaften sind bloße Techniken, insofern sie ihre Voraussetzungen nicht aufklären können. Wissenschaft muss absolut fundiert sein. Absolute Fundierung ist Fundierung im Absoluten. Nur Philosophie kann die Normen der absoluten Reflexion erfüllen. Sie ermöglicht damit Wissenschaft und ist selbst absolute Wissenschaft» (35).

[«The so-called sciences are mere techniques in that they cannot elucidate their pre-conditions. Science must be absolutely founded. Absolute foundation is foundation in the absolute. Only philosophy can fulfill the norms of absolute reflection. It enables science and is itself the absolute science»].

To do this, the text elaborates two strategies: firstly, underlining an analogical relationship between the Platonic and the Husserlian argumentative processes, it challenges the pre-eminence of the Cartesian approach, placing Husserl, through a Rückblick to Plato, already beyond modernity; secondly, in order to understand the Platonic analogies in Husserl, it assumes the existence of an already «phenomenological» Plato (30). In continuity with the Platonic and Husserlian arguments, Arnold claims the idea that philosophy does not exhaust itself in a mere gnoseological or epistemological approach, but it invests the very idea of «life.» According to this view, philosophy becomes the «absolute Rechtfertigung des Lebens» (Arnold: 129) [«the absolute justification of life»], overcoming the abstract antagonism of doxa and episteme:

«Die Radikalität der Phänomenologie selbst, kombiniert mit dem Selbstverständnis ihrer Stellung in der teleologischen Entwicklung des Menschen in Richtung Rationalität, erzwingt den Antagonismus zwischen Tradition (doxa) und Philosophie (episteme)» (129).

[«The radical nature of phenomenology itself, combined with the self-understanding of its position in the teleological evolution of man toward rationality, forces the antagonism between tradition (doxa) and philosophy (episteme)»].

Nevertheless, the most striking continuity between the Platonic and the Husserlian philosophical approach is the fact that «ideas» occupy the central theoretical position, i.e. the idea that the proper philosophical activity coincides with an act of Wesenschau. The «idea of ​​idea» represents the conceptual strategy through which the essence of an «intentional psyché» is realized, contesting every naturalization of the mind, even in ancient times (Anaxagoras) and particularly in modern ones (Psychologism) (see, Arnold: 136). Ideas are the intelligible structures of things, «d. h. das, was ihre erkennbare, allgemeine Bestimmtheit ausmacht, ihr ‘Prinzip der Bestimmtheit’ oder das ‘Organisationsprinzip einer Gegenstandseinheit’, d.h. auch das ‘Kriterium’ (Uhlmann), dem gemäß ein Gegenstand ein solcher und nicht ein anderer Gegenstand ist» (Arnold: 207) [“i.e. what constitutes their recognizable, general determinateness, their ‘principle of determinateness’ or the ‘organizing principle of an object-unity’, i.e. also the «criterium» (Uhlmann), according to which an object is such and not another»]. The fundamental importance of ideas and essences, both in Plato and Husserl, suggests the fact that philosophy still aims to be, according to the Husserlian perspective, a «science of essences»:

«Wesen sind für Husserl die intelligiblen Bestimmtheitsstrukturen der Gegenstände und das, was ihnen ihre Möglichkeiten apriori vorgibt; ein Gegenstand, der ein Eidos instantiiert, hat in diesem Eidos seine Bestimmung» (214).

[«For Husserl, essences are the intelligible structures of the definiteness of objects, and what gives them their possibilities a priori; an object that instantiates an eidos has in this eidos its determination»].

The fundamental purpose inscribed in every platonic/realistic approach is to reflect on how and why our gnoseological capacities provide us with the ability to get in contact with ideas/essences, which, although transmaterial, possess the concreteness of a specific Gegenständigkeit. As Arnold points out, «die Ideen sind keine sichtbaren Dinge und keine Gedanken, aber sie sind nichtsdestotrotz in einem bestimmten Sinn eigenständige Gegenstände» (Arnold: 220) [«Ideas are not visible things and neither thoughts, but they are nonetheless – in a certain sense – independent objects»]. Tracing the idea of ​​an essential analogy between Plato and Husserl, Arnold’s work provides a new conceptual legitimacy to the fundamental terms of our philosophical tradition. Through Plato and Husserl, a transhistorical conceptual vocabulary still conserves those certain powerful words, which are the very glory of philosophy: «idea,» «science,» «justification,» «essence,» «Absolute.»


Günther Anders: Phénoménologie de l’écoute, Éditions Philharmonie de Paris, 2020

Phénoménologie de l'écoute Book Cover Phénoménologie de l'écoute
La rue musicale
Günther Anders. Martin Kaltenecker (Traducteur), Diane Meur (Traducteur).
Éditions Philharmonie de Paris
Paperback 16,90 €

Mark Leffert: The Psychoanalysis of the Absurd, Routledge, 2020

The Psychoanalysis of the Absurd: Existentialism and Phenomenology in Contemporary Psychoanalysis Book Cover The Psychoanalysis of the Absurd: Existentialism and Phenomenology in Contemporary Psychoanalysis
Mark Leffert
Paperback £23.99

Edmund Husserl: Logic and General Theory of Science

Logic and General Theory of Science: Lectures 1917/18 with Supplementary Texts from the First Version of 1910/11 Book Cover Logic and General Theory of Science: Lectures 1917/18 with Supplementary Texts from the First Version of 1910/11
Husserliana: Edmund Husserl – Collected Works, Volume 15
Edmund Husserl. Translated by C.O. Hill
Hardback 88,39 €
L, 437

Reviewed by: Matthew Clemons (Stony Brook University)

In a passage (§56) from his 1929 Formal and Transcendental Logic, Husserl expresses frustration at a particular group of interpreters of his Logical Investigations. Fearing the specter of the historical-empiricist move that denies the objectivity of the ideal, these interpreters reject the phenomenological investigations in Volume II of the LI. This rejection  is based on the critiques of psychologism that Husserl provides in Volume I. Presumably, what the interpreters found to celebrate in the LI was its insistence that logical formations—e.g. judgments, proofs, theories—are not mental events, which secured the possibility of a purely formal logic. Their disappointment with the foray into the constitutive acts correlative to the logical formations in Volume II likely persisted in light of Husserl’s subsequent publications. Around the time of the publication of Ideas I (1913), Husserl admits to having cooled to formal logical investigation, preferring instead the examination of transcendental subjectivity.[1]

For this reason, Claire Ortiz Hill’s 2019 translation of Volume 30 of the Husserliana Series entitled Logik und Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie may come as a surprise to an English-speaking readership. The volume, with the English title Logic and General Theory of Science, consists of the final version of a series of lectures given by Husserl on the topic of formal logic, its bounds, fundamental formations, and its relation to the Idea of science in general. The lectures date from the Winter Semester of 1910/11 through Winter 1917/18, the same decade that saw the publication of his Ideas I and Ideas II. Given those dates, it would seem that, whatever his interest in the constitutive acts of logical formations, his interest in those objective formations themselves did continue.

The volume is divided into three sections with a series of appendices added to the main text. In Section I, Husserl is concerned with setting the bounds for formal logic. This is a preparatory step for the  formal logical investigations in Section II that seek to develop systematically a theory of the forms of meaning. Section III deals with the Idea of Science, which for Husserl includes formal logic but, as he outlines, encompasses more than just formal logic. The appendices are Husserl’s notes and additions to the lectures. In what follows, I give a brief overview of each of the three sections.

Setting the Bounds of Formal Logic (Section I)

The first section is entitled “Fundamental Considerations for the Demarcation and Characterization of Formal Logic.” Husserl begins the section with a series of reflections on the understanding, which, as the activity that sets norms for both the sciences and extra-theoretical life, serves as a leading clue for the scope of logic. Rather than reflecting on the acts of understanding, those “mental activities and achievements” (§1) at work in the norm-setting, we can inquire into the norms themselves, or the forms that the various acts of understanding imprint on their content. The work of logic, Husserl suggests, is to fix these forms conceptually and systematically.

However, before that work can get underway, it is necessary to distinguish understanding as norm-setting from understanding as a mental event. Interpreting the norm-setting activity of understanding as a mental event would result in subsuming logic under psychology, the science that deals with the “inner sphere.” Note that, just as in the earlier Logical Investigations and the later Formal and Transcendental Logic, Husserl is again careful at the outset to disentangle logical investigation from psychological investigation. The major difference between psychology and logic is that, while the latter is normative, the former is not. In other words, logic strives after normative laws by which to measure if purported knowledge is actually knowledge. The origin of the norms of logic lies in, in Husserl’s own words, “the ideal essence of acts of understanding and their contents” (§4), whereas the understanding figures in psychology only as a mental event to be explained according to natural, i.e., causal laws. One of the major consequences of this distinction is that the logical norms are unconditionally binding and discoverable regardless of any reference to factual, or empirical, existence.

Anticipating the controversy of his position (he predicts that he will be pejoratively dubbed a “Scholastic” or “mystic” (§4)), Husserl retorts that the psychologizing interpretation of logic falls prey to the prevalent naturalistic prejudice in the sciences. By naturalism, Husserl understands the rejection of any sort of any non-natural, i.e., non-empirical, non-spatiotemporal, objectivity. Thus, any ideal objectivity, be it logical norms, cardinal numbers, or self-evident statements is reinterpreted psychologically. In contrast, Husserl insists on the admission that Ideas are genuine objects that merely give themselves differently (“as eternal, selfsame, as non-temporal and non-spatial, as unmoved, as unchangeable” (§8)) than spatiotemporal objects.

This difference in position on the status of Ideas proves consequential for formal-logical investigation. On the one hand, Husserl identifies the failure to recognize Ideas as the basis of a series of errors propagated by traditional logic, a point substantiated more in Section II of the volume. On the other, acknowledging the genuineness of Ideas at the outset opens up an avenue of inquiry in formal logic, namely investigating according to ideal meaning forms rather than empirical contents. To that end, Husserl notes that in these lectures he is foregoing a noetic orientation, i.e., one that takes up the cognitive and related acts constitutive of logical objectivities, for a noematic one. To clarify what he means by a noematic orientation, he points us to a series of distinctions, beginning with that between knowing and known. The former is a cognitive act while the latter leads us towards the ideal. A parallel distinction between judging and judgment (§7) and another between naive judgment as directed at the state-of-affairs and judgment as proposition and Idea (§9-10) help to clarify. Judgments as ideal objects are importantly not determinate, therfore not empirical, and yet they have ideal properties (e.g., all judgments with the form of a contradiction are false). When the idea is made into an object of reflection, it becomes the basis of norms sought in logical investigation.

As far as the demarcation of formal logic goes, the introduction of the Idea of judgment places us in the terrain of apophantics, or the logic of affirmative statements. This harkens back to Aristotle’s original demarcation of pure logic, which he called analytics. Husserl sometimes adopts this term. It is worth noting that he employs several related terms synonymously throughout the lecture, namely analytics, along with pure logic, formal logic, and the mathesis universalis (more accurately, he uses these terms to emphasize different aspects of the same science). In contrast to Aristotle, Husserl’s own demarcation of analytics is not limited to affirmative statements. It includes an underlying level of investigation into more basic forms of meaning. This level both serves as a foundation for a second level of logic and also provides some crucial conceptual distinctions that allows for its expansion. It could be said that one of the ubiquitous features of Husserl’s thinking on formal logic is its effort at expansive unity. The second level of logic, for instance, is not only concerned with the logic affirmative statement (“A is b”), but also with its modifications (e.g. “It is possible that A is b”). Further, in a series of complexifications that occur at the second-level, Husserl further expands the notion of logic to include cardinal and ordinal numbers, sets, and eventually a third level. This third level, the highest of analytics, is the formal theory of manifolds, or the theory of theories (§47).

For Husserl, then, formal logic is a three-tiered science, connecting disciplines and Ideas that were once thought to belong to disparate sciences. Importantly, Husserl’s insistence on the genuineness of Ideas makes this possible. As ideal, the basic meaning forms that constitute the first-level of logical investigation and are the basis of the other two exhibit an ideal structure and conformity to law. These basic meaning structures can then combine in indefinitely many ways in accordance with their conformity to laws, allowing an ideal building up and out of formal logic that itself occurs with lawful regularity. Husserl compares this structure to crystals in that each form exhibits its own structure that is also taken up in the crystal system (§27 B).

The Systematic Investigation into Forms of Meanings (Section II)

If Section I concerns the demarcation of formal logic, Section II jumps into the discipline itself. Husserl’s strategy is to start with the most basic forms of meaning and, insofar as it is possible in a lecture-series, to obtain a systematic overview of the possible kinds. From there, he gradually builds his way up to propositionally simple judgments and beyond to more complex judgments, to inferences, and to theories. My own synopsis of the section is divided into two parts. First, following Husserl, I give a very general outline of the development from the most basic meaning components up to the highest tier of formal logic. Second, I indicate a handful of the concrete ways in which, as I stated above, Husserl imagines that traditional logic’s rejection of Ideas leads it astray.

The point of departure for the investigation of meaning forms is the ideal distinction between independent and dependent meaning (§20). Independent meanings are those which are capable of standing alone, i.e., complete propositions. Dependent meanings, on the other hand, are those that, although they may express something, intrinsically belong to an independent unit as a component. These dependent meanings cannot be put together in any half hazard way, but fall under fixed types governed by laws (e.g., in the proposition S is p, grammatically speaking, p cannot have any kind of meaning (§22)). Any basic component also admits of a conceptual distinction between syntactical form, which refers to its role within the proposition (e.g., the subject-form, object-form, predicate-form), and syntagma, or the “stuff” (§24), the content of the component. The phrase “ethical human beings,” for instance, can function as the subject-form in one case, the antecedent in a hypothetical in another, but in any case retains the same content, namely “ethical human beings.” A further, parallel distinction in the syntagmas between the nucleus-form (e.g. nominal-forms, or adjectival-forms) and the nucleus-stuff gives us the most basic components in our investigation of the meaning of forms. This last distinction is especially important because the nucleus need not contain any definite content and could instead be “an empty something.” For one thing, it allows for the entrance of generality, or universality and particularity. For another, formal logic, says Husserl, is characterized by this emptiness (§26 B), as this emptiness signifies its being ideal rather than empirical.

Equipped with the most basic meaning components, namely the syntagma, Husserl moves on to the basic forms of simple judgments. He arrives at that basic form by considering in what way the fewest syntagmata might unite to form a judgment. Similarly to Aristotle, he decides that the most basic form involves one nominal and one adjectival syntagma (S is p) (§28). This simple judgment-form is then the basis for another series of variations and complexifications. Of note, here, is his discussion of the effect of empty syntagma (§32), of plural judgments (S is p and/or n) as the origin of the Ideas cardinal numbers, arithmetic, and sets (§3437), and existential and impersonal judgments (§40). After the simple judgment-forms, Husserl turns to the propositionally complex judgment-forms (conjunction and disjunction) (§4142), following which is his introduction of modifications (e.g., possibility and probability). This latter topic is of particular note in that it is accompanied by an extended treatment of the Ideas of law, apodicticity, and analyticity (§4445). Husserl insists not only that analytic (apodictic) laws have been crucial in the investigations up to this point in apophantics, but that a proper conception of analyticity allows for the connection between formal logic, formal ontology, and mathematics to emerge (§46). Finally, Husserl turns to inference, whose ideal laws allow for the introduction of the third-level of formal logic, i.e., the theory of manifolds, or the theory of theories (§47, §54), a discussion which spills over into Section III (§4659).

That suffices for a general outline of Husserl’s thinking in Section II. Because he is insistent on the unity of what might seem, from the perspective of the history of logic, like disparate disciplines, it might already be visible in broad strokes how Husserl’s own account differs. Additionally, there are several, concrete, and persistent logical problems dealt with in the course of Section II. In general, if Husserl disagrees with logicians, it is on the grounds of their mistakingly rejecting Ideas, and so of not sufficiently recognizing the ideal as the guide in formal logical investigations. For instance, Husserl accuses logicians of conflating equivalence and identity (§29, §39, §48). Two judgments might be equivalent in their relation to a state-of-affairs, but not identical with regard to their ideal meaning form. Among the errors that Husserl identifies in this regard are:

  1. Traditionally, affirmative and negative judgments (S is p; S is not p) are thought to be coeval. But if analyzed according to their meaning-form, it seems that the negative is a modification of the affirmative, which must then be prior.
  2. Instead of recognizing the difference in meaning-form between determinative judgments and functional judgments (universal and particular judgments), traditional logic takes all judgments to be either universal, particular, or individual.

These are far from the only topics of interest that Husserl treats in Section II, but it suffices to give the examples mentioned above as an indication.

Reflections on the Idea of Science (Section III)

In Section III, the final section of the lecture, Husserl concludes the thorough, systematic investigation of the forms of meaning and begins to consider the relationship of the science of analytics to other theoretical sciences. By theoretical science, he means those that are not normative and practical and whose primary interest is explanatory. Theoretical sciences, insofar as they are applicable to any particular science without that particular science’s forfeiting its unique domain, comprise the general Idea of science. Analytics has priority because, insofar as it deals with those activities present in every science, it is operative in every science. But there are other sciences that can be included in the Idea of science as well, and even those that deal with a particular region of being can be included insofar as they deal with it in an a priori manner. Among these sciences are pure natural science, which deals with objectivity and spatiotemporal being in general (§61), the science of consciousness, both individually and communally (§63-64), and formal axiology (§61). The final chapter in the Section offers some reflections on noetics, which, as mentioned above, Husserl has set aside in these lectures in favor of a noematic analysis. Central in this chapter is the question of justification of knowledge and the relevant concepts of Evidenz and givenness.

Husserl, of course, says much more than I am able to relay here, but the above should suffice as direction for further inquiry. Those who do delve into the volume further will find it  readable, and well-edited and translated. As Ortiz Hill mentions in her introduction, that these are lectures make them clearer and more transparent than some of the writings published during Husserl’s lifetime. For any given point, Husserl offers a variety of examples, and approaches it from several directions. Further, Ortiz Hill provides a lucid translation of an already well-edited volume. There are a handful of pesky German terms that are difficult to translate, which she either alerts readers to or leaves untranslated. She decides on “presentation” for Vorstellung, but points to its ambiguity in Husserl’s writing (xliv-xlv)—Husserl himself also notes the difficult ambiguity of the term. I should also note that, in the case of terms like “nucleus-stuff,” the “stuff” is presumably translating Stoff, which more generally means material in German (der Stoff des Mantels—the material of the coat). Given that terms like “nucleus-stuff” are often contrasted with something formal, it might seem more appropriate to translate Stoff as material. However, Husserl does use the latinized Materie sometimes making it seem worthwhile to translate Stoff differently. Only in the case of the terms Geist and Gemüt do I hesitate with the translation. The former, she translates as “mind” (l), which might seem strange in the context of the discussion of community and culture in Section III. For Gemüt and its variations, Ortiz Hill employs adjectival expression with the word “inner.” Although I think this doesn’t quite capture the emotive connotation that translations like “heart” do, this term plays almost no role in the volume. The few passages in which it  could cause some confusion, such as its being contrasted with will and understanding at the beginning of Section I (§1), do not interfere with the trajectory of Husserl’s thought. Beyond these terms, there are a handful that Ortiz Hill leaves untranslated, e.g. Unsinn, Widersinn, and Evidenz. In each case, I appreciate the choice to leave the terms in their original German. In the case of the first two, no English equivalents readily suggest themselves that capture their contrast. In the case of Evidenz, the English cognate “evidence” suggests something like external proof, which is different than the “consciousness of fulfillment” that Husserl has in mind.

In closing, I offer a few words on the significance of the volume. For those primarily interested in Husserl or more broadly in phenomenology, the edition offers an interesting link between different periods of Husserl’s thought. Many of the topics that he addresses in Section II, for instance, harken backward to his Logical Investigations (which he himself notes on occasion) and also point forward to the concerns of Formal and Transcendental Logic (such as the preoccupation with the unity of disciplines thought to be disparate under the banner of formal logic). This is especially significant for those who, as I suggest above, accuse Husserl of abandoning formal analyses in favor of transcendental ones. For those primarily interested in formal logic, or in topics predominately discussed in analytic philosophy, the volume represents a significant overlap of concerns. In both the translator’s introduction and a review of the German edition, Ortiz Hill does a remarkable job at indicating the overlap and ultimate differences between Husserl and the school of thought that emerges from Frege and runs through Russell, Carnap, Hilbert, and Gödel.[2] At any rate, readers of all kinds may be surprised to find Husserl undertaking a systematic survey of formal logic in the decade of the 1910’s, and that makes the volume a welcome contribution to the scholarship.

[1] See Ursula Panzer’s “Einleitung” in the original German volume, quoted in Ortiz Hill’s “Introduction.”

[2] Ortiz Hill, Claire. “Review of E. Husserl, Logik Und Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie. Vorlesungen 1917/18, Mit Ergänzenden Texten Aus Der Ersten Fassung 1910/11.” History and Philosophy of Logic, 1998.

Drew M. Dalton: The Ethics of Resistance: Tyranny of the Absolute, Bloomsbury, 2020

The Ethics of Resistance: Tyranny of the Absolute Book Cover The Ethics of Resistance: Tyranny of the Absolute
Drew M. Dalton
Bloomsbury Academic
Paperback £26.09

Didier Franck: La constitution du temps, Vrin, 2020

La constitution du temps Book Cover La constitution du temps
Bibliothèque d’Histoire de la Philosophie
Didier Franck

Martin Koci, Jason Alvis (Eds.): Transforming the Theological Turn: Phenomenology with Emmanuel Falque, Rowman & Littlefield, 2020

Transforming the Theological Turn: Phenomenology with Emmanuel Falque Book Cover Transforming the Theological Turn: Phenomenology with Emmanuel Falque
Martin Koci, Jason Alvis (Eds.)
Rowman & Littlefield
Hardback £85.00

Christina M. Gschwandtner: Welcoming Finitude: Toward a Phenomenology of Orthodox Liturgy

Welcoming Finitude: Toward a Phenomenology of Orthodox Liturgy Book Cover Welcoming Finitude: Toward a Phenomenology of Orthodox Liturgy
Christina M. Gschwandtner
Fordham University Press
Hardback $75.00

Reviewed by: Andrew Oberg (Associate Professor, Faculty of Humanities, University of Kochi, Japan)

The Crucifix and the Candle: Gschwandtner on (Lived) Orthodox Liturgy

I. Stepping into the Narthex

For those of us unfamiliar with Orthodox Christian modes of worship, or indeed those unfamiliar with Christian worship in general, Christina M. Gschwandtner’s text provides an introductory route in while pointing to phenomenological possibilities for a study thereof, but also an account that at times presumes perhaps too much reader background knowledge of ritual form, and hence will have one reaching for a good dictionary (…if online does one still “reach”?). To give the reader of this review some idea of my own inadequacies, I admit having to look up, amongst many others, the term “narthex” – but then used it in the section title here, so that at least is something.

Gschwandtner gives us many somethings in her book, broadly divided into seven distinct topical chapters and framed with unnumbered but important introduction and conclusion chapters. The topics, in order of appearance, are: Temporality, Spatiality, Corporeality, Sensoriality, Affectivity, Community, and Intentionality. Each chapter opens with an overview of the pertinent theological issues as discussed in the Orthodox literature, moves to a review of relevant philosophical concerns from phenomenological thinkers, and then lastly to Gschwandtner’s application of the latter to the former, now finding relevance and now not, seeking to enlighten via her own analyses and personal experiential and/or evidential references. Although there is no sole overarching argument that could be considered singularly sustained (other than, perhaps, that liturgy can be studied phenomenologically), the focus on Orthodox liturgy as lived by its adherents does provide a naturally unifying (although rather broad) thematic thread, and Gschwandtner mentions that in this her work fills a gap heretofore left open by the preponderance of other such studies’ almost exclusive concerns with Roman Catholic perspectives. In the below I should therefore like to more or less follow the roadmap Gschwandtner lays in her chapter divisions, summarizing and commenting along the way, before finishing with some general remarks on the book as such. Let us begin.

II. Standing in the Nave

1. Introduction

In her Introduction Gschwandtner seeks firstly to equip her enterprise with a properly phenomenological methodology by making the case that despite the tradition of dividing religious experiences (and those of God in general, inside or outside religious settings) as transcendent or absolute and therefore apart from the working portfolio of phenomenology – a tradition started by Husserl himself, reinforced by Heidegger, and re-reinforced by more contemporary (French) writers like Marion, Lacoste, and Falque – the tools themselves match perfectly well to the task. Criticizing what she takes to be a false dichotomy (religious experience from the “science of phenomenology”), she states that:

it is hard to see how this neat division can be fully maintained. On the one hand, is it possible to speak about something like an experience of the “Absolute” without the religious structures and practices that give some content to what that might mean? Without some reference to how the Absolute actually has been or currently is encountered, how is this any more than a purely abstract thought experiment rather than the examination of “the thing itself as it shows itself”? (10)

There of course arises here a question of whether it is even possible to write of the “Absolute” (and note that Gschwandtner herself uses those quotation marks/inverted double commas) as itself (or rather, “Itself”?) experienced instead of e.g. the idea of the “Absolute” as experienced, and this query indeed is very much in line with Heidegger’s general objection regarding religious experience as ontic but not ontological – hence fair game for one type of analysis but not another. This is important and is a point we will return to, as does Gschwandtner in her book as her considerations go on, but I raise it here at the outset more to highlight a certain underlying friction than to confront it in depth. That can be – conveniently perfectly Husserlean – “bracketed” for later.

Suffice it to conclude that Gschwandtner’s emphasis is on the essential impossibility of a genuine objectivity as academics’ dissections will inevitably be colored by their own personal religious backgrounds (to whatever degree); her working methodological definition is therefore given as: “As long as it maintains the attitude of the reduction – allowing phenomena to unfold rather than imposing scientific parameters upon them – and investigates the structures and meaning of these practices rather than simply describing particular empirical instantiations, it remains phenomenological.” (12) I am inclined to agree, and whatever his ontic/ontological stance in the matter, I think that Heidegger’s more robust “world” expansion of Husserl’s “lifeworld” concept makes the necessary room available for a reading of this type to be made and position taken. We can arguably consider liturgical structures in similar ways to those we do for other structures of social being, and hence perhaps more accurately put the case as one in which we analyze empirical experiential involvement with notion-related/notion-building praxes aligned with (transcendental) abstractions instead of claiming an explanatory capability for the “Absolute” as such. It is the doing, and the effects thereof, inherent in religion; I believe mentally framing it thusly allows us to agree with both the Husserl/Heidegger cautionary side and the Gschwandtner embracing side.

2. Temporality

On the element of time (Temporality), Gschwandtner writes that liturgical practice involves both memory and anticipation as it is inherently cyclical and repetitive, and that it moreover fuses future and past in the present. The liturgical “world” (or liturgical life or living) is not a linear one, and nor, argues Gschwandtner, is linearity the only way to experience time. (Instances of déjà vu come to mind for me here, where the past seems to spiral into a re-introduced now in a way both remembered and yet felt as entirely new.) Gschwandtner also makes what I consider to be the very apposite point that the rites and rituals involved in liturgy are not merely repeated from one’s personal past but are portions of a legacy stretching for centuries (at least in the Orthodox tradition), and thus the acts themselves are transcendent, we “are thrown into it [i.e. liturgy], and we always come to it in media res.” (55) We might combine these thoughts such that liturgical time is/has become participatory and beyond participation, identitarian and ever-identity (re)forming, and the deeper the heritage received the more deeply so.

One issue of contention I did have in this section was on Gschwandtner’s frequent expression of liturgical references as being to (specific) historical events, which to me as a reader indicated that assumptions were being made about quite controversial historicities, and furthermore seemed to foreclose without discussion that such might be (“only”) narrative truths instead of historical/empirical truths. This is unfortunate, I think, as when it comes to a topic such as described religious experience a narrative truth (by which I mean a non-literal accounting held to be “true” in the soft sense of the ideational truth it imparts – e.g. whatever the veracity of what the New Testament gospels relay about what came out of Jesus’ mouth the tales, if we accept them, could help us live in a manner that may prove beneficial or partially beneficial) would be no less valuable than an historic/empirical truth, and indeed such would likely be more valuable as they would not face the risk of crumbling should the empirical edifice(s) be removed by further discovery.

3. Spatiality

Spatiality is dealt with by Gschwandtner along the pleasingly novel lines, suggested by the Orthodox theologians whose writings she considers, of cosmoses and microcosmoses. The architectural church itself mirrors the “realms of heaven and earth” and the Church’s teachings state that what happens within its walls influence the wider physical world, it is “weighty” space filled with memory and pre-habited by previous worshipers and the presence of the multiple icons that are greeted and venerated upon entry. All of this, Gschwandtner writes, leads to liturgical spaces (those set aside and regulated areas in which defined practices are appropriately performed – a necessarily public aspect) that is intuitively meaningful to believers, but “this ‘meaning’ becomes possible because it is ‘intentional’ space, because it has been prepared by the ‘intentionality’ directed towards it and organized in concrete ways that allow for an intuitive experience to occur.’ (72-73)

One does wonder if by this assertion Gschwandtner does not think it possible for a non-Orthodox Christian or non-Christian altogether to be able to intuit meaning from participating in (to whatever extent is allowed for an “outsider”) – or perhaps only by observing – the liturgy since at least some shared intuitive reactions appear possible given what is common across religious and/or sociolinguistic lines, yet an argument is not forthcoming and the question is probably anyway not pertinent enough to warrant one. For those in the Orthodox “world” or “lifeworld” the sacral space adds layers of experiential content that become meaning-making while being always reinforcing of the doctrine the faithful have accepted as participants, with subsequent experience rising or falling by the degree, one would think, of that acceptance. The more fervent one believes in the veracity of what one is engaged in while within that specialized area the more potently it is likely to be felt.

4. Corporeality

In her highlighting of the performance aspects to liturgy Gschwandtner makes a case that these result in a form of training, aimed at an alteration in adherents’ lifestyles, which is centered in the present act of doing and thus is neither a threshold nor a crossing (e.g. into another way of being). The transformation (or “growth”) that is espoused here is evidently an evolutionary one, attained over a long(ish) period of time through repetitive physical practices that “through” the body also affect the “mind, emotions, and affects… [teaching or training one] to be ‘bent into’ a shape that allows it [i.e. the body; the rendering of such as “it” is revelatory and we will need to comment on this] to be receptive to the call addressed to it in liturgy.” (92) Gschwandtner moreover argues that the penitent stances taken in Orthodox liturgical acts like bowing to one another, hugging one another, confessing before one another, et cetera, amount to a manner of being that is more authentic than the one Heidegger has famously promoted because it is more revealing of the self than a defensive or protective mode would be, and that this “more authentic” way “may not ultimately be about a resolute grasp of one’s own being (as Eigentlichkeit in Entschlossenheit), but instead an exposure and offering of one’s self to the other – whether divine or human.” (97)

I have some real problems with the thoughts in this section, but the most minor first. I am not sure why a less personally defensive attitude/behavior vis-à-vis the social realm would by itself be more authentic in a Heideggerean sense, and without further defining what she means by “authenticity” I am afraid we must conclude Gschwandtner is using the term in this same Heideggerean manner (particularly given her references to him). If so, then why her version should be perceived as more (or greater) than the “self-examined, self-sufficient subject, in charge of its own life and thought” (as she relates Heidegger’s “authentic self”, 97) at least requires some form of argumentation beyond the assertion that exposure of oneself drops the “covering up” typical of everyday being, that mode (the “everyday”) that is inauthentic. There may be good reasons for this, but I should like to know them from Gschwandtner’s point of view before considering the point further.

Another, and deeper (at least for me), issue I have with this chapter is that I sense an unacknowledged dualism lying behind Gschwandtner’s account. As indicated above, her phrasing of “it” (the body) as conduit through which mind, emotions, et cetera, become reformed or reshaped implies the body being understood in a “vehicular” sense as regards the mind, and even perhaps segregating “emotions and affects” (and I would like the latter defined as well if they are to be cut out from the former) further yet. This is certainly not the place to enter fully into the discussion, but the centrality of the mind/body question in philosophy historically and still (perhaps more so) today calls, I think, for a more delicate treatment than is given here. If we reject a Cartesian model we find ourselves approaching instead one where mind is emergent in some way from the workings of the brain, and the brain is clearly (merely) one part of the body, thus mind is not something to be trained “through” the body, it simply is body and the training of one is the selfsame and simultaneous training of the other (although there is no “other”, really!). Thus it is only a single training of a unitary node, and if we insist on delineating mind out of body (or affixing labels like “mind-body unit” rather than “person”) we only perpetuate the Cartesianism we thought we had left behind. All of this naturally requires argumentation as well, and again sadly this is not the place for that, and it may even be that Gschwandtner accepts Descartes’ account, but she does not state so and does state that the corporeal is centrally important. Hence as a reader I find myself left wanting.

This dimension of mind/body, or mind-body, or mind and body, raises my final objection, one that falls along experiential lines. Gschwandtner writes that “We do not leave the world behind in prayer – at least not in any way that would be phenomenologically discernible” and “to assume that encounter with the Absolute [i.e. in liturgy] constitutes a radical break with the world is a theological interpretation, but no longer a phenomenological description of actual liturgical experience or of the overall structures it displays.” (96 and 97, respectively) These quotes occur in the context of arguing against Lacoste’s position in his Experience and the Absolute: Disputed Questions on the Humanity of Man (trans. by Mark Raftery–Skeban. New York: Fordham University Press, 2004.), and Gschwandtner’s objections are valid and interesting as far as that goes, but purely with regards to the actual phenomenological situation engaged in prayer or the thoughtful (willed) practice of liturgical ritual I take them as amiss since in deep prayer it does feel like we leave the world, break radically with it, and this I think is what generates the ontic side that is phenomenologically discernible and describable as such. Indeed perhaps the structure of liturgy when viewed from an external Husserlean observer (or the like) framing does not, but that is distinct from the experience one undergoes when directly executing that structure and/or pouring oneself into prayer (as opposed to only mouthing the words emptily, for example). Once more aspects of mind are relevant, and will too, which actually is Gschwandtner’s final main chapter (Intentionality), and so let us now behave like the priest and the Levite in the Parable of the Good Samaritan and leave the body by the wayside, carrying on down our road.

5. Sensoriality

This chapter deals with the spectacle, as it were, of Orthodox liturgy, and of especial interest was its treatment of icons and the Eucharistic meal. Gschwandtner describes how in Orthodox churches the sheer multiplicity of icons makes one feel as if one were being viewed by them “from everywhere”, and how due to the inverse perspective employed by the images this aspect of “watched” is further enforced, as opposed to a more Western approach of outside or objective contemplation (we might shorthand this as “being before” versus “standing before”: in the former we are present perhaps with entirely other considerations, in the latter we are present purposely to enact an observation). The notion of oneself as passively surveilled by surrounding holy icons is an intriguing – possibly disturbing – one, and Gschwandtner adds that liturgy can even be overwhelming with its sights, sounds, smells, touches, and tastes. Yet, she also warns, “the bedazzlement comes from the sensory experience itself, not obviously from a ‘phenomenon of revelation.’ Certainly the experience can be interpreted in that way, but that is an activity of interpretation, not the immediate phenomenological experience.” (118) Furthermore, on this aspect of interpretation and specifically in regards to one’s reception of the Eucharist, that:

What ought to be clear up front is that phenomenology makes no metaphysical or ontological claims about what the eucharistic [sic.] body “is”; language of substance and accidents or of a correspondence between the material of the bread to the sacrificed body of Christ cannot be sustained phenomenologically and are not really experienced, even when they are “believed”. (121)

I think Gschwandtner is certainly correct on the first point here but I am not so sure on the second. Interpretation is another issue altogether from the phenomenological peruse, whether about a potential revelation or the ontology of the bread and wine used in a Eucharistic rite, but on my analysis a fervent belief in X would be sufficient to generate an experience of Y: the qualia would all be there, it would “feel like” one were eating the “sacrificed body of Christ” in a way that would be altogether separate from the physical taste sensation involved yet would nevertheless still be there experientially. It might be objected that such would only be psychological, but is not the psychological just as much a part of human phenomenology as taste or touch? Again, we must come to terms with mind/body, mind-body, mind and body, what have you. An “as”, I think, can without question feel enough like an “is” that whatever the abstract definitions may indicate, for the subject in her being an equality is established.

6. Affectivity

On this central area of feeling we continue. In this section Gschwandtner distinguishes between the emotions an individual has (or may have) during the time spent in liturgical ritual and the constructing mood(s) of the ceremony itself, that “one can say more fundamentally that the experience of liturgy is never ‘neutral,’ but always characterized by an essential ‘atmosphere’ that is sensed on multiple levels”, and moreover such become foundational parts of what is the “fundamental phenomenological liturgical attitude of openness to each other.” (138 and 140, respectively) It is clear that Gschwandtner hereby establishes two stages upon which liturgy operates (or within which a worshipper engages): the personal and the communal (which indeed is her next chapter: Community), and it is interesting to think as well that the latter might be emergent from the former in at least some ways even while it influences and generates particular affects in its participants, differing, one would presume, in degrees that are highly dependent on the many other embedded factors involved in each believer’s wider life. On the whole Gschwandtner emphasizes the shared experience inherent in liturgical feeling (if we may compound a phrase like “liturgical feeling” – would these not simply be “standard” feelings that happen to be experienced in or generated by the activities of liturgy?), and exalts this process somewhat by declaring that it “acknowledges our finitude and frailty and gives them room for expression in the various demonstrations of guilt, sorrow, and even despair”, and then furthermore adds that it also “allows for a redirecting and even transforming of disabling and destructive emotions and directs them toward a deeper underlying affect of contrition, desire for forgiveness, and determination to change. It cultivates new dispositions…” (141).

The Aristotelean-type virtue ethics implications at the end of that last quote match her earlier remarks on the self-building potential of liturgical practice, but again such are contended to occur “across and via the body and expressed through and by it” (141), appearing at first to maintain either by an unacknowledged default or with purpose the dualism we previously saw presented. However, Gschwandtner does state thereafter that “These elements [i.e. emotions, affects, dispositions] are always already intimately connected, separated only in thought or description, not in experience.” (141) While I would like a clearer parsing of her usage of emotions, affects, dispositions, moods, feelings, et cetera, and how she might consider them differentiated, the more holistic approach to mind/body as evidenced in this chapter is quite welcome. Emotions, as one portion of our ever-ongoing biological functioning, are after all an excellent example of the difficulties involved in (and undesirability of) trying to force a dividing line between the mental and (other dimensions of) the physical.

7. Community

As alluded to immediately above, Gschwandtner places much emphasis on what is experienced in common within liturgical settings, and naturally rightly so. In this her portion on the communal properly considered, she evocatively reminds the reader that the very term “liturgy” means “work of the people”, that it is plural and is something designed expressly to make of its parts a unified whole. What is perhaps of especial interest is the claim – justifiably, I think – that this “plural” is both a before and an after, constituted by one’s (either literally familial or “familial” in a looser co-religionist way) ancestors and predecessors in the faith, and too an inheritance that one will oneself someday bequeath, assuming that one brings one’s children into the same grouping or otherwise engages with others’ children who have been so brought in. The cycles of doing the same things with the same people at the same time of year, year after year, cannot but act as an adhesive, garnering strength by and for the social.

The social may, however, cut both ways. As her topic is within Christianity Gschwandtner calls in the notion of sin to argue that liturgy does not accuse but rather opens space for the recognition of fault and its necessarily – or so she asserts – corresponding loneliness into a re-entry of community, forgiveness, and transformation (see especially 165). I admit that I find this a bit too generous with regards to that heavy idea of “sin” (and guilt) that we in Western cultural traditions are so (overly) familiar with. By its very remonstrations and recognitions of what is wrongdoing and requires (demands?) the requesting of forgiveness from the divine and/or one’s fellows liturgy very much acts in an accusatory role, supporting and based on the reinforcement of dogma which functionally establish the defining features of “sin” and without which one would have a very different (or none at all) conception of personal fault. Is polyandry a sin while polygyny is not? How would the community react if one sat (and stood and knelt, et cetera) with one’s multiple husbands in an Orthodox liturgical service? Of course multiple wives would not be accepted in this instance either, but I do not raise this counterfactual imagining to compare matriarchal societies with one approach to marriage versus patriarchal societies with another, I simply wish to highlight that however much the liturgy might claim “all have sinned” or employ phraseology like “I am the worst of sinners” uttered in unison (examples Gschwandtner references), the fact of the matter is that one will have individualized guilt pressed upon one in a liturgy that includes such abstractions as “sin”. Possibly this is rightly so, possibly it is extremely beneficial for human sociality and modes of existence to be structured in this way; my argument is not against that (but neither is it for it), I mean only to point out that in such religious settings as the various Christianities execute in their liturgies (of course other religions too) accusation will not only occur but be inevitable. Orthodox Christianity might have a milder version of accusation – I honestly do not know – but it will be present. If such further builds the community it might be a price some consider worth paying, but that is an issue beyond our scope and Gschwandtner does not raise it.

8. Intentionality

The final main chapter in Gschwandtner’s work concerns itself with the question of will in experience and the phenomenological (study) role thereof. Initially she makes what is probably the rather self-evident case that within a liturgical context a hermeneutics will always be bound up with an experience, that whatever a believer might take from a period of liturgy and then apply to their thinking and living as an instance – a gift – of revelation, a previously held prejudice towards such an interpretation is required. We come into liturgy with certain expectations of interaction on spiritual planes and not only community ones – sometimes they are met and sometimes not, but for such to ever be met they must first already be there. Note that this does seem to close out miraculous interventions like Moses’ encounter with the burning bush as relayed in the third chapter of Exodus, and this “pre-packaged” stance is affirmed by Gschwandtner when she writes that, “God does not come in entirely unforeseeable, unpredictable, utterly overwhelming fashion, but whatever is experienced in liturgy is experienced in temporal, spatial, corporeal, sensorial, affective, and communal ways that have been prepared for us and precede us.” (181)

Many believers may wish to take umbrage with Gschwandtner on this, and the Biblical record at least does contain many narratives of God doing precisely that and appearing out of the blue, but our concerns in the present are more down to earth. The notions of will and expectation have already been broached in our thoughts on the Introduction, and here we return to them. There is undoubtedly a manner in which the conceptual set held by an individual will act to influence and/or produce the perceptual within that person’s “lifeworld” – Husserlean horizons, core to any decent phenomenological undertaking – but how Gschwandtner approaches this makes one think immediately of Heidegger’s “ontic but not ontological” objection to the study of religion, and in that we find ourselves having looped right back to Gschwandtner’s opening arguments for the methodology she employs, only this time now questioning whether she has not been on shaky ground all along.

Moreover, I think it fair to raise the facet of meaning here too, because even if these liturgical/revelatory experiences are purely self-generated they would remain as experiences for the experiencer, and in that one would think deeply personally meaningful and meaning-generating. Such would also remain, whatever metaphysical status may or may not be attributed by others to the reported instantiations of revelation, the divine, or more broadly numinous. We find ourselves pondering these queries when Gschwandtner then rescues herself and us along with her through the riposte that, “Phenomenology instead (albeit not in opposition [that is, to hermeneutics]) examines how such [interpretive] expectation is marked in human experience, how it shapes the self, what it does to our bodies, minds, and emotions.” (182) Save for the repeated buried dualism lingering in a segregated triad like “bodies, minds, and emotions” we appreciatively agree.

9. Conclusion

Gschwandtner’s summary largely focuses its attention on what she considers the perceived benefits of liturgical practice to be (self-transformation, self-opening, finding the “sacred” or “holy” in the everyday, discovery of transcendence, et cetera), but she does also directly return to Heidegger’s comment on appropriateness (i.e. theology is “merely” ontic while phenomenology is ontological), answering it with: “Religious expression – maybe especially engagement in ritual practices – do reach a primordial level of human experience (assuming levels must be distinguished in this way in the first place.” (201) Again, this is intended as a rejoinder to Heidegger’s stratification, but as far as I can understand the distinction being made, Heidegger’s emphasis is on defining and not reaching. However that may or may not be (and I might be off mark myself), what I take Gschwandtner’s very apposite final thought to be is that any phenomenological concern with experience of the divine is one for and about human experience, and that “can be examined as such, without theologically extrapolating in regard to the existence or nature of God.” (202)

III. Peeking Under the Altar

Finally I would like to make some very brief general comments on the book as such, as a book. Gschwandtner writes with a welcome transparency and obvious wellspring of knowledge that runs extremely deep, especially when it comes to phenomenologists in the French tradition, and her chapter structuring of firstly reviewing background Orthodox theological concerns, background phenomenological concerns, and then applying each to her own concerns vis-à-vis liturgical praxis was clear and easy to follow. It was also, however, unfortunately rather surgical and I found myself engaged with the text only in rare instances.

There is a tendency too towards repetition, in which a particular point is made and then immediately remade via rephrasing; both this aspect and the general style adopted made me think that the work is perhaps aimed at an undergraduate audience, meant to be used as a course textbook. Naturally there is nothing amiss with that, and anyone teaching a subject where this might fit could well benefit from its inclusion; I mention it only as an impression imparted. What would really have helped my reading experience (phenomenology!), however, would be the inclusion of a glossary for the detailed and undefined Orthodox and/or broadly Christian terminology that Gschwandtner frequently uses. I am not sure why the publisher did not include a listing at the back or a similar device (I presume this was an editorial decision, but perhaps it was an authorial one), but terms like troparion, kontakion, Theotokos, Pascha, ekphrasis, Aposticha, parousia, eschaton, and kenosis will in likelihood only be fully understood by a small set of readers, whereas a text internal guide or reference would be gratefully accepted by all. Those issues aside, scholars of whatever sort will find food for thought in Gschwandtner’s work and an addition to the subfield of the phenomenology of religion that is ready for comparison with other studies that either do not overtly cover liturgical matters or do so from a differing tradition.

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

Reviewed by: Francesco Valerio Tommasi (Sapienza, Università di Roma)

Lo scopo di questo volume è di mostrare il ruolo nascosto giocato dal cattolicesimo nel successo e nella diffusione della fenomenologia. Le connessioni e i rapporti tra la corrente di pensiero inaugurata da Edmund Husserl e i pensatori e le istituzioni cattoliche del Novecento, infatti, sono molteplici e di diversi livelli. Si pensi a Martin Heidegger e ai suoi studi di filosofia medievale e di teologia, o a Edith Stein, protagonista di un percorso per certi aspetti speculare: il primo procede infatti dal cattolicesimo ad una fenomenologia metodologicamente atea – per cui l’espressione “filosofia cristiana” è notoriamente un “ferro ligneo”; la seconda muove invece dalla fenomenologia – orgogliosamente atea – al cattolicesimo. Ma si pensi anche, ovviamente, a Max Scheler, che contemporaneamente alle riflessioni sulla fenomenologia sviluppa le sue prospettive religiose, gravitanti attorno alla chiesa cattolica, di cui si fa promotore e da cui poi si allontana. Oppure, per risalire sino alle origini e alla preistoria della fenomenologia, si pensi a Franz Brentano, sacerdote e studioso di Tommaso d’Aquino, oltre che ispiratore e maestro di Edmund Husserl. Ma si pensi anche a Karol Wojtyła, formatosi allo studio di Max Scheler e su cui giocò un’influenza rilevante anche il pensiero di Roman Ingarden.

Il rapporto prevalente che la fenomenologia instaurò fu quello con la cosiddetta Neoscolastica, ossia con la corrente filosofica e teologica volta al recupero e alla riattualizzazione del pensiero medievale ed in particolare del tomismo, sostenuta con energia dalla chiesa cattolica nel corso del ventesimo secolo e rilanciata in particolare dall’enciclica Aeterni Patris di Leone XIII (1879). La vicinanza tra le due correnti può apparire a prima vista sorprendente: la fenomenologia infatti si presenta come un pensiero privo di riferimenti storici, rifiuta qualsiasi tipo di presupposto extra-razionale ed è costitutivamente contraria alla metafisica, tanto che “metafisico” e “fenomenologico” vengono talora ad essere aggettivi usati in modo antitetico; la Neoscolastica, all’opposto, trova appunto nel pensiero medievale un riferimento privilegiato, è orientata al dialogo con la teologia e con la fede rivelata, e sostiene una ripresa della metafisica.

A ben vedere, però, un orientamento marcatamente teoretico caratterizza anche la Neoscolastica, che si rivolge al passato medievale come ad una presunta “età dell’oro”, la cui validità teorica andrebbe riproposta con energia contro le derive e la crisi della modernità. Su questo piano dunque – ossia sul piano di un interesse speculativo scevro da pregiudizi – va compresa la possibilità di un primo, generico, punto di incontro. Un secondo, già più specifico, punto di contatto va rinvenuto nell’istanza fondativa con cui entrambe le correnti impostano il loro procedere, così che la fenomenologia, per quanto anti-metafisica, si presenta come una “scienza rigorosa” e come una “filosofia prima”. Ma il terzo e più preciso punto di incontro che ha condotto alla possibilità di dialogo tra queste due correnti va sicuramente individuato nell’approccio inaugurato da Husserl con le Logische Untersuchungen (1900-01): in quest’opera, infatti, si difende un‘impostazione che può essere compresa – ed è stato compresa effettivamente dai primi discepoli di Husserl – come realista. Husserl infatti propone una forte critica allo psicologismo, e molti allievi considereranno una svolta indebita da parte di Husserl l’impostazione idealista delle successive Ideen I (1913). Per la Neoscolastica era proprio lo psicologismo – e più in generale il soggettivismo – uno dei maggiori errori del pensiero moderno in generale, a partire da Cartesio e da Kant. La Neoscolastica proponeva quindi un ritorno al realismo metafisico che aveva caratterizzato l’epoca medievale. Così, il ritorno “alle cose stesse” propugnato da Husserl poteva certamente attrarre l’attenzione dei pensatori neoscolastici. La stessa fenomenologia, non a caso, venne accusata di essere una forma di “nuova Scolastica”. Proprio al realismo e alla necessità di “convertirsi” ad esso fa dunque riferimento il titolo del volume di Baring, che finalmente mette a tema questa importante relazione intellettuale tra due movimenti di pensiero protagonisti del secolo scorso.

Oltre alle figure più prominenti già menzionate in apertura, molti altri nomi sono emblematici del rapporto tra fenomenologia e cattolicesimo: Dietrich von Hildebrand, per esempio, altro giovane fenomenologo che conobbe la conversione al cattolicesimo in età adulta. Oppure Erich Przywara, che con curiosità di avvicinò allo studio del pensiero husserliano a partire da posizioni neoscolastiche. E poi, nelle generazioni successive di pensatori, si pensi all’importanza, per la diffusione della fenomenologia, di figure come Alphonse de Waelhens (Belgio), Sofia Vanni Rovighi (Italia), Joaquìn Xirau (Mesicco) o Herman Boelaars (Olanda). Fu un sacerdote cattolico, inoltre, Hermann Leo Van Breda, a porre in salvo i manoscritti husserliani e a fondare l’Archivio dedicato al padre della fenomenologia. E la diffusione attuale della fenomenologia in Francia – forse l’ultimo avamposto della corrente husserliana – è dovuta in buona misura a pensatori dichiaratamente ed esplicitamente cattolici, come Michel Henry o Jean-Luc Marion, ma anche Jean Greisch, Philippe Capelle-Dumont ed Emmanuel Falque: tanto che si è parlato, famigeratamente, di un “tournant théologique” della fenomenologia francese.

Mettere in luce questi rapporti rappresenta la mera esposizione di un fatto storico incontrovertibile. Tuttavia, a partire da ciò, prudentemente l’Autore non intende sostenere la tesi di un carattere cripticamente cattolico della fenomenologia – in quello che rappresenterebbe una sorta di ribaltamento della tesi di Janicaud sul “tournant théologique”. Infatti, egli scrive:

“By claiming that Catholics played an outsized role in the reception of phenomenology […], even in its atheistic versions, I don’t mean to argue that phenomenology is essentially Christian, and that the secular thinkers who have developed its claims in important and interesting ways were crypto-Catholics, blind to the true nature of their thought. First, the Catholic readings of phenomenology were in many ways expropriations. Husserl gave little encouragement to those who hoped to bend his philosophy to fit a Catholic agenda. Second, as we shall see, phenomenology’s compatibility with Catholicism was by no means assured, and it was the difficulty of aligning it with neo- scholasticism that made phenomenology attractive to other religious thinkers and, later, atheists. Finally, and most fundamentally, it is not clear on what basis one could declare phenomenology Christian or Catholic, because the concept of a ‘Christian philosophy’ is notoriously difficult to define. At almost precisely the moment when Catholics were shuttling phenomenological ideas around the continent, many of the same thinkers were also engaged in a Europe-wide debate about whether ‘Christian philosophy’ had any meaning at all” (11-12).

Il volume quindi procede prevalentemente su un terreno più solido e sicuro, che è il terreno storico. Tuttavia, con un’osservazione che può essere definita di “ispirazione” fenomenologica si deve rilevare come, evidentemente, non esistano “fatti” storici da poter cogliere in modo positivisticamente ingenuo e scevri da ogni carattere interpretativo. La buona “intenzionalità” dell’Autore, quindi, si perde almeno in parte nel corso del volume. Valutiamo come.

Nella prima parte vengono analizzati i rapporti di Husserl, Heidegger e Scheler con il cattolicesimo e la Neoscolastica, in quattro capitoli dedicati rispettivamente al rapporto, in senso generico, tra le due correnti di pensiero, e poi a ciascuna delle tre figure. La seconda parte si dedica a descrivere alcune influenze rilevanti che queste figure cardine giocarono sui rapporti con il cattolicesimo di alcuni pensatori al di fuori della Germania: nello specifico si analizzano sia figure quali Nicolai Berdyaev, Gabriel Marcel e Augusto Guzzo (definiti “esistenzialisti cristiani”); sia la corrente del tomismo qui denominato “cartesiano” – e definibile in senso più lato “trascendentale” – ossia Joseph Maréchal, Karl Rahner, ma anche Giuseppe Zamboni (nel meritorio ed informato ricordo di un dibattito molto interessante all’Università Cattolica di Milano); sia la ricezione teologica di Kierkegaard (soprattutto nella teologia dialettica); sia quella di Nietzsche nei fascismi, ed il loro controverso rapporto con il cattolicesimo impegnato socialmente e politicamente. La terza parte, infine, si dedica alla storia dell’Archivio Husserl e poi – ampliando la prospettiva al di là dei confini del cattolicesimo – prende in esame le vicende di Paul Ricoeur e di Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

Proprio questo allargamento finale di prospettiva – così come, più in generale, la vastità di questioni, correnti ed autori presi in considerazione – mostra forse quella che è una prima difficoltà del volume, ossia la tesi per cui il ruolo del cattolicesimo, nella vicenda fenomenologica, viene forse in alcuni tratti sovrainterpretato. Rispetto a Ricoeur o a Merleau-Ponty, infatti, non sembra che il rapporto con l’ambito di pensiero Neoscolastico o con la storia del cattolicesimo abbia avuto un’influenza così decisiva. Ma, a ben vedere, ciò non vale solo per questo capitolo. La tesi dell’Autore pare, a giudizio di chi scrive, dover essere ridimensionata in senso complessivo.

In ciascun passaggio, forse, Baring dona troppa enfasi al ruolo del cattolicesimo, come si può evincere in questo passaggio in cui egli riassume la sua prospettiva generale e che il lettore potrà valutare analiticamente:

“I argue that the neo-scholastic reading provided the impetus and stakes for the realism/ idealism debate that engulfed Husserl’s students in the 1910s and 1920s (Chapter 2); I suggest that Catholic debates lend context to the development of an existential version of phenomenology, both in Heidegger’s work (Chapter 3) and elsewhere in Europe in the 1930s (Chapters 5, 6, and 7); I show how the conflicts between religious thinkers furnished the means for non-Catholics to craft atheistic versions of phenomenology and existentialism (Chapters 7, 8, and 10); and I explain how Catholic readings helped imprint phenomenology with political meaning both in Germany in the 1920s (Chapter 4) and outside of Germany in the 1930s (Chapter 8), in a way that foreshadowed and shaped the emergence of existential Marxism in the 1940s (Chapter 10). The Catholic reception of phenomenology was a subterranean but massive structure, linking many of the most important developments in the history of twentieth-century philosophy. It could play this role because, before existentialism and before phenomenology, the first continental philosophy of the twentieth century was Catholic.” (20).

Su ciascun aspetto, si potrebbero mettere in luce anche dibattiti e contributi non solo di provenienza cattolica: il dibattito tra idealismo e realismo coinvolge tutti gli allievi gottinghesi di Husserl e il rapporto con i monachesi, ben al di là dei confini confessionali; l’esistenzialismo – categoria peraltro difficilmente applicabile al pensiero di Martin Heidegger – conosce uno sviluppo non solo marcato da influenze cattoliche, così come un esistenzialismo marxista ha una traiettoria anche completamente indipendente da matrici confessionali etc…

Le ultime righe del brano appena citato, poi, chiamano in causa una seconda difficoltà che ci sembra mostrare il volume di Baring, ossia una certa tendenza a sovrapporre troppo velocemente categorie ed etichette storiografiche: cattolicesimo e Neoscolastica, ad esempio, non sono sinonimi, così come evidentemente non coincidono nemmeno con l’idea della “filosofia cristiana”. L’Autore ne è consapevole, come abbiamo visto e sottolineato anche con una citazione esplicita, in precedenza; ma allora il rapporto della fenomenologia con il cattolicesimo in senso generale appare chiamare in causa figure e contesti anche molto (troppo?) diversi tra loro. Sull’altro versante, poi, l’equiparazione della fenomenologia con la “filosofia continentale” appare ancora più forzata. Se è vero che l’ermeneutica o l’esistenzialismo derivano o non possono prescindere dalla fenomenologia, il marxismo, il neokantismo, il neoidealismo, lo spiritualismo e il personalismo sono tutte correnti “continentali” che – sia pur entrate in qualche rapporto con la fenomenologia – hanno avuto origini e sviluppi da essa indipendenti e autonomi. Se negli ultimi decenni quindi la filosofia continentale è stata in larga misura almeno di ispirazione fenomenologica, evidentemente non sempre è stato così nel corso del Novecento e le due categorie non sono sovrapponibili.

Ciò che sta a cuore all’Autore, d’altronde, emerge nell’Epilogo, in cui egli afferma – forse con eccesso di enfasi:

“Continental philosophy today is haunted by religion. Whether they consider religion as something that needs to be exorcised, conjured up, or—and this is where my sympathies lie—mined as an intellectual resource, philosophers across Europe have returned insistently to religious themes and questions” (343).

Anche in questo caso, si sostiene un giudizio dalla portata molto vasta – e per farlo ci si deve riferire al pensiero “religioso” in senso generale; per poi concludere invece rivolgendosi nello specifico al Tomismo e affermando:

“Thomism is not the power house it once was. Still taught in Catholic universities and seminaries around the world, it rarely enjoys philosophical attention outside the Church. Yet when assessing its influence, we should not restrict our attention to those few who continue to bear its name. Whether passed on as a positive inheritance, or persisting as a negative imprint on other forms of philosophy, neo-scholasticism’s greatest legacy is the international debate between non- Catholic philosophers over phenomenology. And though this would be cold comfort to a Mercier, a Gemelli, a Przywara, or a Maritain, Thomism continues to deserve the title philosophia perennis, thanks to its contradictory afterlives in secular thought.” (349).

Queste osservazioni critiche, comunque, nulla tolgono al valore di un volume che molto meritoriamente evidenzia finalmente in modo diffuso e analitico, e con una erudizione sorprendente, un rapporto macroscopico e sinora sorprendentemente sottaciuto. Così come nulla tolgono alla precisione del testo alcuni piccoli errori o refusi (chi scrive questa recensione, ad esempio, viene talora confuso con Roberto Tommasi). Impostare il rapporto in modo più stringente sul rapporto tra Neoscolastica e fenomenologia – piuttosto che tra cattolicesimo e pensiero continentale – avrebbe forse potuto essere una scelta più efficace, ma il lavoro di Baring resta in ogni caso decisivo per comprendere una vicenda rilevantissima della storia della filosofia del Novecento e dunque anche – “Herkunft bleibt stets Zukunft – i suoi sviluppi futuri.

Emmanuel Falque: Nothing to It: Reading Freud as a Philosopher, Leuven University Press, 2020

Nothing to It: Reading Freud as a Philosopher Book Cover Nothing to It: Reading Freud as a Philosopher
Figures of the Unconscious
Emmanuel Falque.
Leuven University Press
Paperback €25.00