The 10th annual Cologne-Leuven Summer School of Phenomenology – the world’s only summer school devoted solely to Husserlian phenomenology – convened from July 31 – August 4, 2017 at the University of Cologne. This year’s theme was “Phenomenology and its Methods,” and the session topics included intentional analysis, description, constitutional analysis, eidetic methodology, reductive methods, genetic analysis of human consciousness, the relation between experimental and phenomenological methods, and method in phenomenology and the human sciences (Geisteswissenschaften).
The daily program consisted of two lectures in the morning and an afternoon session of either a discussion on a foundational text on Husserlian methodology or graduate student project presentations. The lecturers and text discussion leaders were professors and doctoral students from Romania, Germany, Poland, Italy, and Mexico.
Christian Ferencz-Flatz (Bucharest/Cologne), “Das Experiment bei Husserl”
In the first lecture of the Summer School on Husserl’s notion of “experiment,” Christian Ferencz-Flatz delves into Husserl’s understanding of the relationship between phenomenology and experiments. Husserl’s Ideen III is one of the few texts that touches upon experiments without fully rejecting their validity for phenomenological analyses. Ferencz-Flatz highlights four relevant points from this text. First, the difference between an inductive method of experiment and eidetic variation is that the single cases that are considered in eidetic variation are connected to reality but they can also be created by phantasy. It is the imagined cases of some type that push the logical limits of the object being varied allowing us to gain knowledge of its essence. Second, experience plays a larger role in grounding the eidetic analyses of certain kinds of experiencing. One example is memory: a better starting point would be in this case an actual memory and not a fantasy of a memory. Third, Husserl suggests experiments could supplement challenging investigations in which first-person experience or imagined first-person experience is not accessible (e.g. experiencing anger). Fourth, Ferencz-Flatz suggests that Husserl’s concept of experiment is not the same as normal scientific experiments requiring an intersubjective consensus because that is not important for phenomenology; rather, what is important is that any and every subject comes to the same eidetic insights.
Although it is unclear as to whether or to what extent Husserl supports empirical experiments, perhaps he is keener on thought experiments in these passages of Ideen III. One early interpretation of Husserl by Siegfried Kracauer understood Husserl’s eidetic variation to be a kind of thought experiment and even contemporary phenomenologists use thought experiments in their work. In Husserl, we see cases like the early form of what would be later called the primordial reduction in the fifth Cartesian Meditation or the annihilation of the world (Weltvernichtung) scenario in Ideen I as closely resembling thought experiments. Nonetheless, there are two important differences between these examples from Husserl and traditional thought experiments. First, Husserl’s scenarios are set within the context of phenomenological variation; in other words, Husserl cannot just freely think of any conceivable scenario, rather he is bound by eidetic variation to the realm of possibility i.e. concrete experiences like a dream or delusion. The second difference is that Husserl is bent on proving the possibility of these scenarios. It is thus clear that the main difference between Husserlian variations and thought experiments is the fact that the variations are bound to the experiential realm.
Phenomenology finds itself in a strange paradox in which it depends upon empiricism, and at the same time is eidetically independent of experience. This latter position has made it difficult to dialogue with other sciences and areas of philosophy. Ferencz-Flatz believes that relating phenomenology to and weakening its stark differences with other sciences and areas of philosophy is justified and appropriate.
Dieter Lohmar (Cologne), “Intentionality and Description in Phenomenology”
Dieter Lohmar’s first talk on Monday focused on the central topic of intentionality in phenomenology. His starting point was Husserl’s distinction between the reell and intentional content of consciousness, which is to be seen in perception. In the example of perceiving a red billiard ball, we perceive it to be smooth, colored, and round. The ball however does not appear as a homogenously single-toned red ball, rather this red ball reflects light and our perceiving ignores this reflecting as part of the ball itself. Thus, we want to examine our own constitutive activity in perception, and this examination requires a “reduction” in which the subject takes a step back from the “ready-made” world to examine how it is we come to constitute or interpret an object – in other words, how we give it sense. The interpretation of sense objects is called “apperception” and should be understood as a synthesis and not as a causal affair. The synthetic character of apperception is apparent in the example of perceiving a car driving past me: I hear the roaring engine come and then see it coming towards me quickly as it seems to increase in size as it approaches while I at the same time also have a toothache. The object guides this activity: we discriminate parts of sensibility and this choice is guided by the idea of the object. In this example, I discriminate the toothache from the car experience. Time consciousness is also an essential structure in apperception as I anticipate a fast car coming from behind me upon hearing the sound. Previous knowledge also plays a role in my apperceiving an object: when I perceive a lemon, I not only see its shape and color, but I also image its smell and bitter taste. These are examples of Husserl’s goal to manifest the fundamental “rules” that govern perception. In order to bring these “rules” of cognition to light, all presuppositions must be suspended, even presuppositions of the existence of objects. In phenomenology, we start with what is given, sense perception, not an object existing in the world. We then let it constitute itself.
Apperceptions can modify themselves based on their givenness. For example, this ‘A’ (that is written on the chalk board) could be apperceived as a letter, as a drawing of a tent, or as a chalk mark. Depending on many factors, this symbol could be apperceived as one of these, but then it could be modified when one realizes the letter is actually a sketch of a tent. These examples do not suggest a causal theory of perception because the change in apperception is due to sensibilities and an order of relevance based on i.e. the context. Phenomenology is concerned with how an object is given and interpreted. Lohmar concluded his talk on intentionality by stressing the mistake of presuming the world “in itself” and the world as it appears. Husserl instructs us to analyze our own knowledge and how the world appears to us.
Jagna Brudzinska (Cologne/Warsaw), “Intentionalgenetische Analyse”
Jagna Brudzinska’s talk on Tuesday built upon Lohmar’s Monday lecture by going further in depth into the analysis of intentionality from the genetic perspective. She began by highlighting time as the key factor that differentiates static from genetic approaches. In static phenomenology, we descriptively analyze single conscious acts of interpreting an intuitively given object; however, the temporality (Zeitlichkeit) is left out. A temporally dynamic analysis of consciousness would allow for us to reveal the structure of motivation in pre-predicative experience, which is historically determined while it also determines experience. By thematizing the whole stream of consciousness as a single contiguity of time, we have access to the temporal succession of experiences and can view the associations of one to another. Prior experience “sediments” itself as self-knowledge in consciousness, which plays an essential role in interpreting the present and future. A genetic analysis allows us to analyze processes of becoming, dynamics of individuation, horizonedness (Horizonthaftigkeit) and teleological motivation processes of development. Thus, a whole new dimension can be considered in passive genesis. Brudzinska’s ultimate claim in the lecture is that genetic phenomenology is not supplemental but essential for establishing the absolute foundation of knowledge.
D. Lohmar, “Searching for Evidence”
In this talk on the topic of evidence, Lohmar began with Hume’s concept of belief as the conviction of the existence of a given state of affairs that was felt by the mind. Hume’s concept of belief inspired Husserl’s understanding of evidence in terms of a performance of the mind in which we presence the intelligible object. The kind of evidence that can be gained is dependent upon the mode of givenness of the object. For example, there is a notable difference between signitive, pictorial, and intuitive intentionality with respect to their mode of evidence. A signitive intention (a sign in a system of signs) cannot deliver any adequate evidence. A picture represents a characteristic of the object but is not sufficient in acquiring evidence of the pictorialized object. Eventually, direct perception serves as evidence, though there is an optimality in viewing that object, e.g. if I walk too close when viewing a house, I can only see a small portion of the whole. Adequate evidence of external things is therefore impossible to obtain, but it constantly leads our perceptual dynamics as a regulative idea.
Lohmar then moves to distinguish different kinds of evidence. The first distinction is between adequate and inadequate evidence. Adequate evidence is the self-givenness of all aspects of the object. No three dimensional object can give itself adequately because every thing always has a back side that is absent from the view. Husserl struggles to say that in the reflective attitude, objects of “inner perception” can give themselves fully. Another kind of evidence is apodictic evidence (i.e. impossibility to think the opposite). In Logical Investigations, Husserl claims that logical principles would belong to this kind of evidence, but in Formal and Transcendental Logic, he revokes this claim and says that it is more complicated. There are thus three aspects to be considered by a phenomenology of evidence: (1) the kind of object you intend (of cognition, imagination, real, etc.); (2) the style of gaining evidence belonging to these kinds of objects; (3) the degree to which you are able to achieve evidence for this special object.
D. Lohmar, “Categorial Intuition”
On Wednesday, Dieter Lohmar continued his discussion of evidence by discussing its relation to categorial intuition. Categorial intuition is for Husserl a developed form of cognition. When I begin to shift my intention from one object to another, I begin to cognize identities and general typicalities. For instance, I cognize the fruity smell belonging to lemons, and if I expect to encounter a certain acquaintance with a certain set of characteristics and the man who taps me on the shoulder does not fit my expectations, I naturally act surprised and confused because the type is not fulfilled. A further fundamental aspect of categorial intuition that appears in the late Husserlian genetic analyses of judgment in Experience and Judgment (1939) is the so-called “explication.” This process alludes to the fact that I first perceive the object as a whole and then concentrate on a certain aspect without losing the intentional reference to the object as such. The many aspects or sides are related to the object by means of what Husserl calls a synthesis of coincidence. This form of association of the contents of experience is made by the subject, but the result of the synthesis is absolutely dependent upon reality: the object shows itself and its inner characters and the subject passively follows its lead. The moments of the objects that the subject may focus on vary based on interests or contextual factors. Language is not necessary for cognition understood as categorial intuition; this is demonstrated by animals, which, according to Lohmar, show a form of immediate and non-discursive kind of cognition very similar to ours.
D. Lohmar, “Eidetic Method”
Lohmar concluded Wednesday with a lecture on Husserl’s method to discuss essences. For Husserl, the intuition of essences belongs to how we experience the world and our consciousness thereof. The result of seeing essences is however a priori. In seeing variance, we gain a priori knowledge, i.e. when we vary all possibilities of a kind – not just our own sensible experiences of this given thing, but also our phantasies of it that stretch the realm of possibilities to its limit – we are able to gain a priori knowledge about this object. Not all essences of objects, however, can be intuited by this method. Cultural objects, for example, cannot be successfully varied by this method because one culture could have a rather different understanding of some object than another. God or virtue could be included in examples in which different cultures have notions that are totally different and could not be varied. Eidetic variation instead grasps for eidetic structures of experience. How is it that we carry out this method so that the result is valid for all cases? Eidetic intuition is not a kind of induction in which we think of 100,000 cases and then come to a general rule. The principle of eidetic variation rests on the synthesis of coincidence: it is seeing what remains the same among all the differences. The type plays an important role by guiding the variations: through types, we can regulate our variations of trees to things that fit the type, “tree,” and the type will guide and eliminate things not befitting to it. Types are limited to our own experience and can be adjusted to our own empirical knowledge. Thus, through this type-led variation, we have an experience of the “a priori” – a rather misleading Husserlian term for which he means non-empirical necessity.
Marco Cavallaro (Cologne), “Method in Phenomenology and the Human Sciences”
Thursday’s first presentation was given by Marco Cavallaro on phenomenology’s connection to the human sciences. The background of this topic, as Cavallaro explained, is a discussion on the nature of descriptive psychology between Wilhelm Dilthey and Husserl. It was Dilthey who claimed that in order to understand the systems of culture, a thorough study of the human soul is required. He proposed a descriptive psychology – as opposed to an explanatory psychology that uses natural scientific methods to explain psychical facts – whose goal is to understand the presentation of components and continua found uniformly throughout all developed modes of human psychic life in which these components form a unique nexus that is neither added nor deduced, but concretely lived. This descriptive psychology is, according to Husserl, a kind of empirical science. Instead, Husserl wanted to develop a “pure” psychology in which the psychical is separated from the physical allowing the psychical a priori to be disclosed. In order to carry out this science, the ego must undergo a twofold reduction (transcendental and eidetic) in which we go back to the eidetic structures of subjective (and intersubjective) experiencing. Pure psychology serves three functions: the foundation of empirical psychology, the foundation of the human sciences, and as a propaedeutic to transcendental phenomenology. Both phenomenology and the human sciences overlap in their subject matter (i.e. understanding the other, foreign cultural objects, social habits, and classificatory types). Their methods also conflate insofar as they both seek universal structures that are valid for every person regardless of culture. Cavallaro concluded by praising and presenting the theses of Phillippe Descola’s Beyond Nature and Culture (2005), which offers a foundational approach to anthropology akin to the Husserlian one.
Lohmar, “Reductive Methods”
“A phenomenologist must not accept transcendental phenomenology, but you miss something in life if you don’t do it once,” Prof. Lohmar said at the beginning of his final lecture of the week. Husserl’s transcendental turn was made known in 1913 upon the publishing of his Ideen I, which was considered a return to Kantian philosophy. Transcendental phenomenology thematizes the thetic characteristic of the given object. In so doing, we try to see the real form of evidence that lets us take up reality. Yet to investigate how it is that we claim something to be real, we cannot start with the claim that the thing is indeed real. Thus, a reduction is necessary in which both the thetic quality – whether something is given as truly there, or doubtful or probable – and the matter of the object, which tells us what we are seeing, have to be bracketed or ignored. Instead of the real, we focus just on the phenomenological content. The reduction hinders the subject from prejudging and allows for one to see how steps are taken towards completing a certain act.
In Husserl’s work, there are many other reductions, one of which is the primordial reduction. The setting of this reduction is, “How does it come to be that I have the tendency to interpret a body appearing as a human subject?” This reduction differs from the transcendental because it does not bracket everything, only that which is necessary to eliminate the presuppositions in how we perceive others. On our way to the “primordial island,” cultural sense is totally lost, yet language and emotions are difficult to eliminate. There is much debate as to whether or to what extend this reduction is successful. Nonetheless, Professor Lohmar instructed the participants that even if “it may turn out to be impossible… it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try!”
Alice Pugliese (Palermo), “Analysis of Motivation in Genetic Phenomenology”
Alice Pugliese began her presentation on the last day of the Summer School with a question based on observations that were suggested throughout the week; namely, could motivation provide a ground for the idealistic and transcendental philosophy of subjective life, even if motivation is considered by many other sciences to be to be an empirical and experience-related element? The intentional and constitutive flow of consciousness is a motivated process. This means that motivation has “lawfulness” i.e. it shows regularities, similarities and uniformities, it always holds a direction, and it is strongly influenced by past experience. One common misconception is that motivation is always causal, yet only apodictic motivation is causal. Motivation often appears in the form of association: for example, A reminds me of B. New experiences will modify and transform past experiences by adjusting or rewriting our experiential history. This account of motivation suggests a low-level teleology: an object’s value is immediately given in our experience of that thing e.g. I apperceive the ice cream immediately as “tasty.” Motivation is an interplay between passivity and activity: it is not just from our being affected that moves us to practical action, but practical action also leads us to be affected. Pugliese concluded by listing Husserl’s three levels of motivation: (1) thematic motivation that guides thinking or imagination; (2) passive motivation that implicitly guides kinesthesia; (3) Drives (Triebe) that are the deepest and also a non-thematic form of motivation providing orientation.
Thiemo Breyer (Cologne), “Phenomenological Psychology”
The final lecture of Summer School 2017 was given by Thiemo Breyer on Husserl’s phenomenological psychology. In the first part, he gave a historical overview of Husserl’s relation to psychology. From early on, Husserl was in contact with the leading psychologists and was concerned with psychology’s connection to mathematics and philosophy. Husserl began his philosophical career using descriptive psychological terms and methods but gradually shifted towards more logical terms and methods. In his phenomenological psychology, Husserl wants to establish a new a priori psychology, which was not meant to replace empirical psychology, but to serve as the basis for other sciences such as the humanities (Geisteswissenschaften). This new psychology is an eidetic science that makes analytic distinctions between different elements of consciousness, which is an artificial procedure existing in abstraction. In phenomenological psychology, we take many single concrete experiences and abstract a general experience of what it means to have e.g. a perception, or a fantasy etc. Husserl compares the science to geometry because they both abstract from concrete things (for psychology, experiences and for geometry, imperfect everyday circles and squares) to the ideal. The difference between this science and geometry is that phenomenological psychology can be falsified by encountering something contradictory in the life world or a fantasy of some type of experience, whereas in geometry, factual occurrence does not falsify the ideal nature of some figure.
Phenomenological psychology is the science of the ego and everything that makes up the personal “I”. Husserl sets up three “spheres” of psychic experiences: cognition/theoretical reason (Verstand); emotion and axiological reason (Gemüt); and volition or practical reason (Wille). Each category is comprised of different faculties or factors: under cognition is perception, memory, fantasy, and judgment; under emotion is affect, feeling, mood, Stimmung, atmosphere, and evaluation; and under the will are drives (Triebe), conative, motivations, deliberations, action. The order of the categories (i.e. cognition, then emotion and then will) shows the direction of the “foundational relationship.” Breyer concluded the talk by noting phenomenology’s accomplishments and impact on the various fields related to psychology such as psychopathology, Gestalt psychology, and embodied cognitive science.
The only way to conclude this summary is to share Dieter Lohmar’s parting words to the participants: “Stay true to Husserl!”
Reviewed by: R. Andrew Krema (Cologne)
For more information on the Husserl Archive at the University of Cologne, go to:
Il volume Ernst Jünger’s Philosophy of Technology. Heidegger and the Poetics of the Anthropocene di Vincent Block non è semplicemente uno studio sulla filosofia di Ernst Jünger e sull’influenza che questa ha avuto sul pensiero di Martin Heidegger. Naturalmente i presupposti teorici e le basi concettuali del lavoro di Block affondano le proprie radici nell’analisi dei testi fondamentali dei due autori in questione, ma nelle pagine del volume è possibile trovare molto di più; esso propone, per parafrasare l’espressione di Michel Foucault, un’ontologia dell’attualità. In maniera programmatica, proprio come incipit dell’introduzione al volume, scrive l’autore: «This book studies how Ernst Jünger – one of the greatest German authors of the twentieth century – envisioned the technological age we currently live in» (1).
In altri termini lo scopo dell’autore è di mostrare come l’armamentario filosofico utilizzato da Jünger nel secolo passato risulti, nonostante i cambiamenti storici, politici e sociali, ancora attuale per descrivere la nostra epoca che, mutatis mutandis, presenta le stesse caratteristiche descritte ne L’operaio. Epoca che ha come suo attore protagonista l’uomo della tecnica, la cui incidenza sulle trasformazioni del pianeta Terra è tale da determinare il passaggio ad una nuova era geologica: l’antropocene. Scrive l’autore: «The […] reason to study Jünger’s concept of the age of technology is, therefore, that he provides concrete strategies and methods to envision the future. Furthermore, Jünger is one of the first authors who conceptualize this future in terms of the anthropocene» (2).
Tuttavia Block non si limita semplicemente a proporre un’analisi dettagliata del pensiero di Jünger, al fine di mostrarne il carattere profetico e attuale. Nelle pagine dell’autore tedesco egli scorge, andando al di là dell’epocale interpretazione proposta da Heidegger, la possibilità di una considerazione non metafisica dell’essere e del linguaggio filosofico; concezione che, secondo Block, è affine al pensiero di Heidegger, dello Heidegger post-svolta, più di quanto quest’ultimo sia disposto ad ammettere.
La prima parte del volume presenta un’attenta disamina dei lavori jüngeriani degli anni Trenta. In particolar modo vengono presi in considerazione due testi capitali della riflessione del giovane Jünger: L’operaio e La mobilitazione totale.
Secondo l’interpretazione di Block la Grande Guerra, esperita in prima persona da Jünger nella battaglia di Lagemark e poi raccontata nelle pagine del testo Nelle tempeste d’acciaio, non è per il filosofo tedesco un semplice evento storico; essa è piuttosto il nome di un mutamento epocale, rappresenta cioè una vera e propria categoria filosofica. Nella Prima Guerra Mondiale avviene, secondo l’interpretazione di Jünger, un vero e proprio ‘scossone nell’ordine del mondo’, così da prospettare il declino tanto dei valori borghesi, che avevano retto l’ordine sociale della modernità, quanto delle categorie filosofiche di matrice platonica, che, nonostante vari mutamenti e correzioni, avevano lo scopo di fornire un senso al divenire. Scrive Block: «Total mobilization thus primarily has the effect of engendering ontological indifference, since every connection to the transcendent essence of thing is destroyed – Jünger also speaks of a “decrease of types” – in favor of dynamization or potential energy» (11).
In altre parole, la Prima Guerra Mondiale funge da grimaldello per scardinare un ordine divenuto ormai vetusto che aveva edificato le proprie certezze intorno all’interpretazione dell’uomo come animal rationale. Distrutta ogni connessione con l’essenza, svincolata l’interpretazione dell’umanità dell’umano dall’attributo della razionalità (almeno così come questa è pensata nell’ambito della modernità), l’uomo nell’epoca della tecnica dispiegata è da considerare in relazione a criteri del tutto inediti: l’efficienza, la funzionalità, la riproducibilità.
Detto in maniera esplicita, dalla descrizione di Jünger emerge un nuovo tipo umano; inizialmente la sua forma viene associata a quella del guerriero, successivamente, e in maniera filosoficamente più pregnante, dagli anni Trenta in avanti questo nuovo tipo umano, svincolato dall’ordine che egli stesso contribuisce a distruggere con la propria azione, avrà la forma dell’operaio.
Partendo da queste considerazioni Block si muove seguendo due vettori ermeneutici fondamentali, che in qualche modo gli studi jüngeriani danno per acquisiti da qualche decennio. Da un lato emerge chiaramente il riferimento di Jünger alla filosofia di Nietzsche, tanto nell’interpretazione del proprio tempo come nichilismo, quanto nella declinazione della mobilitazione totale (forse accostabile all’attivismo di cui parlava Nietzsche) come trasformazione della vita in energia; dall’altro lato il pensiero di Jünger non viene affrontato semplicemente nella sua dimensione narrativa, poetica, descrittiva, bensì indagato nella sua radice squisitamente filosofica ed essenziale. Utilizzando il lessico heideggeriano, potremmo dire che Block mette in evidenza lo spessore ontologico delle analisi di Jünger, non limitando l’analisi all’indagine ontica che, in qualche modo, è largamente diffusa nelle pagine del filosofo di Wilflingen.
Nella seconda parte del testo Block presenta un confronto tra la filosofia di Jünger e quella di Martin Heidegger. Il grande merito del lavoro di Block è quello di non limitarsi ad analizzare i testi in cui avviene un confronto diretto tra i due autori sulla questione del nichilismo – Oltre la linea di Jünger e La questione dell’essere di Heidegger. Da un lato, Block analizza Essere e tempo e i testi di Heidegger degli anni Trenta a partire da una prospettiva inedita, ovvero la questione del lavoro; egli mostra come tra la visone jüngeriana e quella heideggeriana vi siano dei punti di contatto ma anche delle divergenze enormi che in qualche modo rimandano al contesto generale entro cui si svolge l’intera riflessione filosofica dei due autori.
Dall’altro lato, Block focalizza la propria attenzione sul volume 90 della Gesamtausgabe in cui Heidegger si confronta direttamente ed esplicitamente con Jünger e in particolar modo con il testo L’operaio. Il lavoro filosofico di Block si muove in due direzioni parallele, mostrando sia la centralità del lavoro ermeneutico di Heidegger per poter comprendere lo spessore ontologico del pensiero di Jünger sia la possibilità di un superamento dell’interpretazione heideggeriana in virtù di una considerazione diversa della riflessione dello stesso Jünger.
Il limite della prospettiva ermeneutica heideggeriana consisterebbe, secondo Block, nell’incapacità di comprendere fino in fondo la dimensione non metafisica della riflessione di Jünger; spinto dalla necessità di far rientrare ad ogni costo anche il pensiero jüngeriano nei limiti propri della metafisica occidentale, accostandolo in tal modo a Nietzsche, Heidegger avrebbe fornito, dunque, un’interpretazione parziale e per alcuni versi faziosa. Scrive l’autore: «It will become clear that Heidegger’s reception of Jünger is biased. Because he takes Jünger’s writings a priori as philosophical reflections in light of Nietzsche’s metaphysics of the will to power, Heidegger does not see that Jünger is under way to a non-metaphysical method to en vision the turning of Being, and to a non-metaphysical concept of language that is much closer to Heidegger’s than he would admit» (56).
Questa riconsiderazione del pensiero di Jünger in una prospettiva non nichilistica, al di là dell’orizzonte della storia della metafisica tracciata da Heidegger, viene condotta da Block – nella terza ed ultima parte del volume qui in esame – attraverso un’analisi del linguaggio e della poetica del pensiero di Jünger.
Come accennato in precedenza, in questo contesto il pensiero di Jünger presenta delle assonanze con la riflessione dello Heidegger post-svolta. Attraverso un’analisi puntuale del testo Al muro del tempo, Block ricava dall’opera jüngeriana una riconsiderazione fondamentale dell’essenza del linguaggio e del dire poetico, l’unico in grado di parlare realmente nell’epoca della ‘perfezione della tecnica’ in cui anche il linguaggio si riduce all’efficienza e alla funzionalità.
Nella poesia si realizza quel ‘passaggio al bosco’ che caratterizza la forma di resistenza propria nell’era del dominio incontrastato della tecnica; non una negazione dei caratteri propri della tecnica, ma un attraversamento poetante che in tal modo fornisce forme inedite di libertà. Scrive Block: «The freedom of the individual is to resist the threat of the perfection of technology and to find a way beyond the nihilist reduction and the perfection of technology, based on this individual freedom» (115).
In ultima istanza, al di là delle apparenti differenze terminologiche e contestuali, per Block risulta evidente come tanto per Jünger quanto per Heidegger l’unico modo di corrispondere all’Essere e al suo mistero nell’epoca del nichilismo dispiegato sia la poesia: «This Geheimnis of the gestalt makes clear that the new epoch of the worker is not a matter of observation but of poetry» (141).
Il volume di Vincent Block è un ottimo strumento per confrontarsi con una delle questioni fondamentali del Novecento, quella della tecnica, la cui onda lunga caratterizza il nostro tempo in maniera forse ancor più pregnante che in passato. La chiarezza espositiva, i riferimenti puntuali alla bibliografia primaria e secondaria lo rendono un segnavia essenziale, uno dei primi in lingua inglese, da un lato per comprendere la disamina filosofica della questione della tecnica e delle declinazioni che ne hanno dato Jünger e Heidegger, dall’altro per confrontarsi con le problematiche che danno forma al nostro oggi e ‘provocano’ la nostra storicità e il nostro essere nel mondo.
Peter E. Gordon has written a compelling book entitled Adorno and Existence about Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno’s relationship to existentialism. Gordon admits in the very first sentence of his book that Adorno was not an existentialist, however, according to Gordon’s analysis, Adorno was intrigued by existentialism and tantalized by phenomenology through his academic career. Gordon offers a new research perspective on Adorno’s work which has often been bypassed by secondary literature. He suggests that, although Adorno is renowned as one who challenges philosophies of existence, his position as a critic is not as straightforwardly negative as one might think.
The structure of the work begins with early ontological matters, it moves to The Jargon of Authenticity (1964), then towards Negative Dialectics (1966) and finally to salvaging metaphysics. The form and the content of the book intertwine in a spiral which lures the reader in its undertow. In a laudable manner, Gordon offers a comprehensive view of Adorno’s often forgotten and marginalized writings and lectures. All in all, the sources he refers to in support of his endeavour are well chosen for the task in hand.
Despite the complexity and depth of the subject matter, the book reads well thanks to Gordon’s skills as a writer and his philosophical acumen (for instance, his book Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos, 2010, won the Jacques Barzun Prize from the American Philosophical Society). It would have been prudent and useful to readers if an accessible list of references had been included, and not only a list of aberrations, as this would save the reader from searching through the endnotes for titles which have been referred to. This small criticism aside, Gordon conducts encompassing and convincing research to demonstrate the importance of key existentialist thinkers such as Søren Kierkegaard and Martin Heidegger from the beginning of Adorno’s academic career through to the final days of his life. Gordon builds the story eloquently; he starts and ends with Kierkegaard and the structure is insightful as Adorno wrote his Habilitationsschrift (a second dissertation) on Kierkegaard, and lectured on his work during the last years of his career (a 40 year timespan).
It is not surprising that Gordon presents Heidegger as the main opponent and counterpart to Adorno’s thought as Gordon has analysed Heidegger’s philosophy in his other books and in numerous articles (e.g. Gordon 2003; 2007; 2013). In this text he tries to situate Heidegger’s phenomenological philosophy alongside Adorno’s social criticism; a daring and respectable task. Gordon argues that Adorno’s central idea about the primacy of the object is an attempt to finish what existential philosophers had sought to accomplish before him. According to Gordon, Adorno’s relentless criticism of existentialists is a redemption of existence. When Adorno argues that Kierkegaard and Heidegger failed to overcome a lurking idealism, it is because he envisions his philosophy as “the overcoming of existentialism but also its fulfillment” (145).
Gordon is clearly aware of Adorno’s repeated criticism of existential philosophers as the book examines even the harshest parts of these writings, however, he claims this is a reversal recognition. For Gordon, as Adorno’s intensive interest in existentialism and phenomenology spans multiple decades, he must see a hidden potential in these philosophical systems despite the failings he makes explicit. This speculative claim gives ground to a deeper consideration and reframing of Adorno’s critical thinking. Gordon builds on the old and accepted truth about Adorno (that if he states something, he will denounce the very same thought just a couple of pages later) to point to some neglected ironies in Adorno’s works and reminds us that it is intellectually insincere to focus on isolated critical slogans. As Adorno writes in the Negative Dialectics; philosophy should not forget its clownish traits: “Philosophy is the most serious thing, but then again it is not all that serious.” (Adorno, 1966, 14)
Counting on the aforementioned trait in Adorno’s writings, Gordon is able to turn the tables around time and time again. For instance, he notes how Adorno criticizes époché (a method of phenomenological bracketing) which is supposed to help to catch the pure oneself; a method of understanding and seeing how the world exists for one. Adorno suggests that this method fails miserably, and is basically transcendental xenophobia. Despite this straightforward crushing, Gordon finds evidence on how Adorno goes beyond a mere superficial panning, and wants to seek truth in what he has just a moment ago considered to be phenomenological untruth. Adorno, according to Gordon, does not want to refute phenomenology through negation but, instead, he is on a quest to show how this “failure bears within itself a hidden philosophical insight.” (64)
As the text proceeds, it is easy to grasp Gordon’s primary objective; to show that Adorno has an intellectual bond with existentialism and phenomenology. Gordon takes the sheer number of references provided as proof of this. However, one cannot accept that Gordon necessarily gets it right when he suggests that Adorno did not specifically reject existential philosophy just because he returned to the same themes again and again over many decades. Adorno was always critical towards authoritarianism, for example, and he never ceased to question the socially shared insanity in the Western world but it would be wrong to suggest that, because Adorno wrote so much about authoritarianism he saw a hidden promise in authoritarian thinking and movements.
The text does contain some careless formulations occasionally, e.g. Gordon considers Adorno a satirical writer who tries to pop the balloons of rigid authority with his dry and poisonous wit and it could be argued that true satirists tend to offer something to replace their ridiculed targets but Adorno does not do this. Instead, he uses bitter humour to belittle shared cultural insanity, philosophical hypocrisy and individuals who are simply wrong (according to his perspective). In his mockery Adorno rarely offers sympathy for the target of his ridicule; instead, he is sarcastic and quite often smug in relation to the way he offends others. Interestingly, Gordon includes an extract of one of Adorno’s letters to Herbert Marcuse where he belittles Heidegger’s student Otto Friedrich Bollnow after the publication of The Jargon of Authenticity (December, 15, 1964): “Ernst Bloch phoned to say that because of the ‘Jargon’ Bollnow is having a nervous breakdown. Let him.” (88). Adorno does give a charitable rationalization for his so-called satirical technique when he tries to embarrass people; he thought that once an authority is ridiculed its fragile nature is revealed (through laughter), then the followers of that authority would be keen to stop worshipping their former hero. This is the very same sociological thought on which Henri Bergson’s Laughter (1911) is based. Bergson argues that laughter is a form of social control and a tool to straighten people up from their silly habits. Sadly for Adorno, this does not justify every kind of banter, and a mere rationalization hardly turns a ruthless mockery into a more constructive form of satire.
At times, Gordon makes questionable rhetorical choices and one can identify a subtle smugness in formulations such as “Those who come to critical theory burdened with customary opinion…” (6), or “Adorno’s critical orientation can appear relentlessly negative, and many readers fail to see that his negativity still flows, however faintly, with a rationalist’s hope for a better world.” (11) If these points are to be taken literally, Gordon is suggesting that merited Adorno scholars are taking a ‘wrong’ approach and one might ask, where does this leave those who are new to Adorno’s work?
Similar accusations are present throughout the text as Gordon suggests that Adorno scholars who interpret his written works on existentialism as sidesteps and meaningless aberrations from the philosophical core do so neglectfully. Despite such criticisms Gordon himself displays intellectual lapses in relation to Heidegger as, though he acknowledges the controversies about Heidegger’s relationship to National Socialism, he claims that this should not cloud our vision of his philosophy. However, for the critical theorist truth is always historical and social circumstances must play a significant role. A shrug of the shoulders is not enough to allow one to bypass Heidegger’s engagement with National Socialism; this is a major issue of debate which has recently resurfaced due to the publication of the so-called Black Notebooks (2014a, 2014b, 2014c).
Whilst Gordon agrees that philosophical texts are part of a social whole (at least in Adorno’s case), he also claims that they cannot be reduced to this whole. It is on these grounds that he seeks to excuse the omission of any treatment of Heidegger’s relation to fascism in this text. Unfortunately, the rationale behind this omission not entirely convincing. Gordon allows himself privileges that he denies to others; he regards dubious writings by Heidegger as mere deviations (though some scholars argue that they are essential), and at the same time he claims that certain works by Adorno should not be neglected as they allow one to trace the development of his critical thinking. It is not entirely consistent for Gordon to claim that Adorno’s marginal texts are important (as one may understand them as intellectual test laboratories), but Heidegger’s marginal texts (which several scholars consider as representative of his philosophical thinking) should be considered mere sidesteps.
Gordon describes how the political and economic situation forced Adorno to emigrate from Germany to England in the 1930s, and how racial laws resulted in the decommission of his professorship. The situation resulted in Adorno having to complete a second doctorate at the University of Oxford in an intellectual environment where his enthusiasm for social theory was not shared. Gordon claims “it is against this sombre background of exile and isolation that we must understand Adorno’s readiness to bury himself in the texts of classical phenomenology.” (59) He makes a valuable point, but it again raises the issue concerning the importance of taking the social-historical situation into account when analysing the work of Heidegger.
Let us consider what remains untreated by Adorno and Existence; e.g. Gordon mentions Karl Marx twice and Sigmund Freud only once, yet both are highly influential thinkers in relation to Adorno’s intellectual development. The text concerns Adorno and existentialism so there is no need for a comprehensive study of these two critical thinkers; even so, a comparison of their influence on Adorno with that of existentialists’ would have been a valuable addition. Also, Adorno’s concept of somatic impulse (which is based on psychoanalytical thinking) is completely neglected by this text. Through this concept Adorno presents an individual with the possibility to feel that there is something wrong with the world without giving positive answers to the problem. Somatic impulse comes close to what Erich Fromm (Adorno’s former colleague and rival) calls ‘existential needs’; as they offer a dialectic but normative standpoint for both philosophy and social criticism. It would have been interesting to read about whether Gordon finds any connection between somatic impulse and, e.g. the phenomenological idea of ‘being in the world’.
All in all, Adorno and Existence is an important and insightful book as it highlights previously untreated features of Adorno’s intellectual development and his academic career. Gordon’s work presents an interesting historical and biographical study; his style concerns an original method which requires one to assemble clues that are presented through a complex story (which has not been told or fully understood before). In the style of Adorno, Gordon reminds us; that if one is to criticize something, it means that one has to make a serious and rigorous attempt to analyse the target of the criticism, otherwise the enterprise engages in nothing more than cultural chatter (a point which is well formulated and taken into account throughout Gordon’s work). It is unclear if jury will be unanimous with their verdict on this particular book as both phenomenologists and critical theorists may find the book, eventually, not entirely convincing. That said, Gordon succeeds in giving food for thought and opening up new perspectives to Adorno scholars about Adorno’s intellectual relationship to existentialism and phenomenology.
The gravest problems with the book (discussed above) lie on the meta-level and, if a brief speculation is allowed, Adorno would probably not agree with Gordon’s analysis in relation to Heidegger. Adorno, one of the sharpest critics of fascism in the 20th century, is portrayed as the saviour of Heideggerian phenomenology. Many philosophers argue (especially after the publication of the Black Notebooks) that there is an intrinsic connection between Heidegger’s philosophy and anti-Semitism. If this is the case, then Adorno himself would be rather appalled by Gordon’s conclusion: that Adorno is the one who wants to save Heidegger’s philosophical project. It is difficult to couple Heidegger (a member of the Nazi party from 1933 until the end of Second World War), and Adorno (a persecuted Jew who had to leave his motherland because of the atrocities committed by the Nazis). The historical burden is so heavy that it cannot by bypassed with a mere statement that the author does not agree with Heidegger’s fascistic tendencies but is not going to treat the question of how they are present within his philosophical works. Some scholars (e.g. Rée 2014, Losurdo 2014) argue that Heidegger’s anti-Semitic ideas taint only his person and do not impact deeply on the core of his philosophy. However, critics such as Peter Trawny (editor of the Black Notebooks) argue that Heidegger actually processed his anti-Semitic ideas philosophically. The issue of Heidegger’s anti-Semitism and its presence in Heidegger’s works should be taken seriously when discussing a critical thinker like Adorno (from a Jewish background) as it is significant in relation to understanding Heidegger’s legacy. Unfortunately, Gordon does not make such an attempt.
Adorno, T. W. 1964. The Jargon of Authenticity, trans. K. Tarnowski and F. Will, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973.
Adorno, T. W. 1966. Negative Dialectics, trans. E. B. Ashton, New York: Seabury Press, 1973.
Bergson, H. 1911. Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, trans., Cloudsley Brereton and Fred Rothwell, Los Angeles: Green Integer, 1999.
Gordon, P. E. 2003. Rosenzweig and Heidegger: Between Judaism and German Philosophy. University of California Press.
Gordon, P. E. 2007. “Hammer without a Master: French Phenomenology and the Origins of Deconstruction (or, How Derrida read Heidegger).” In: Historicizing Postmodernism. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.
Gordon, P. E. 2010. Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos. Harvard University Press.
Gordon, P. E. 2013. “The Empire of Signs: Heidegger’s Critique of Idealism in Being and Time.” In: The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger’s Being and Time. New York: Cambridge.
Heidegger, M. 2014a. Überlegungen II–VI (Schwarze Hefte 1931–1938) [Reflections II–VI (Black Notebooks 1931–1938)]. Edited by P. Trawny. Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann.
Heidegger, M. 2014b. Überlegungen VII–XI (Schwarze Hefte 1938/39) [Reflections VII–XI (Black Notebooks 1938/39)]. Edited by P. Trawny. Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann.
Heidegger, M. 2014c. Überlegungen XII–XV (Schwarze Hefte 1939–1941) [Reflections XII–XV (Black Notebooks 1939–1941)]. Edited by P. Trawny. Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann.
Losurdo, D. 2014. “Heidegger’s black notebooks aren’t that surprising.” In: The Guardian. March 19, 2014.
Rée, J. 2014. “In defence of Heidegger”. In: Prospect. March 12, 2014.
In the 21st century, the landscape of philosophical methods and orientations seems increasingly complex. Reference to ‘schools of thought’ may be misleading, suggesting more internal coherence than exists. Yet, (non-)allegiance to certain ideas about style and method can have real institutional consequences. At present, one can observe an increasing number of debates focused on the reliability of certain philosophical methods. Some attention is being given to how the ever-changing methods and scope of philosophy set it apart from the sciences. Lastly, there have been attempts to understand certain philosophical disagreements as disagreements on a meta-philosophical level, i.e. disagreements about the proper scope, data, standards, and goals of philosophy itself. The Cambridge Companion to Philosophical Methodology situates itself in this context of increasing reflection on methods and on the role of philosophy itself.
The editors Giuseppina D’Oro and Søren Overgaard have gathered an admirable roster of twenty authors with the aim to exhibit the contemporary wealth of positions and debates regarding philosophical methods. Quite generally, nearly all the contributions can be described as normative in scope, i.e. as giving arguments for why one should espouse certain methods. The collection gives a very good cross section of contemporary orientations in philosophy, with some of the essays aimed at a general philosophical readership and others more focused on issues internal to certain traditions. Although the collection is naturally heterogeneous (given the heterogeneity of the philosophical field itself), there is plenty of implicit conversation between the essays, including between those from adherents of different traditions.
The volume is organized into four main parts. The first section concerns broad views of philosophy. It includes essays on the merits of philosophy for the individual, the need for a systematic impulse, the centrality of the human perspective, and on disagreement in philosophy. The second part is concerned with the central thesis of analytic philosophy, which is that the proper method of philosophy is conceptual analysis. Here, different versions of this claim are defended and criticisms from naturalism and experimental philosophy are considered. The third part gathers essays about philosophical methods/orientations (e.g. Kantianism, pragmatism, and quietism) which are not classifiable as continental or analytic. The final part gathers essays clearly continental in orientation (concerning the methods of phenomenology, deconstruction, existentialism, and hermeneutics).
This division into parts befits the content of the essays well. It has the disadvantage of reifying the analytic/continental divide somewhat, perhaps discouraging cross-reading the essays, despite the editors’ reservations regarding the usefulness of this divide. Hence, the remainder of this review is organized around certain dominant themes which appear throughout the volume and which mostly disregard the organization into parts by the editors. Instead of giving detailed summaries of all twenty essays here, which would be beyond the scope of this review, the following will be an impression of the contents of the book in a single account.
The Data of Philosophy
One of the recurrent themes of the volume and a good start when orienting oneself in the vast field of philosophy is the question regarding the data for philosophizing. As Nicholas Rescher points out in his chapter, the available data for philosophy are very diverse, ranging from common sense beliefs, to recent scientific findings, to history, to empirical experience of the world around us, to ideas delivered to us from the philosophical tradition – as he says: “we always begin with a diversified cognitive heritage.” (34) The choice of a method for philosophizing seems to correlate with a preoccupation with certain data. This, of course, is reflected in the other essays in the volume as well, where very different data are considered key to the conceptual work that philosophers engage in. One may extend Rescher’s idea somewhat by recognizing that some philosophers consider the artistic productions of past and present times among the most important data for their philosophizing. This is common in continental philosophy, were one can expect philosophical books about the meaning of Franz Kafka’s work, among others. Also, for some philosophers, transformative first-person life experiences are among the key data to philosophizing (as for Sartre and Adorno, discussed in the essays of J. Reynolds & P. Stokes and Fabian Freyenhagen).
Apart from a positive choice, I would submit that a philosophical method may include the choice to disregard certain sorts of data in favor of others. In the example of methodological doubt (Descartes), the negative aspect of choosing to limit oneself to certain data only is clear. One can find similar tendencies in varieties of ‘critical philosophy’ such as Kantianism and in Wittgenstein’s quietism (explored in the chapter by David MacArthur). The latter chooses to view with suspicion the doctrines of classical ontology and favors observations of actual language use as more reliable data for philosophizing. As a philosophical approach, this is clearly powered by a negative (yet enabling) decision regarding the ‘correct’ data.
Another example of a disagreement about the data of philosophy is between proponents of naturalism and proponents of conceptual analysis, where the former advocate the primacy of phenomena over our concepts and the latter advocate the primacy of linguistic meanings for settling philosophical disputes. That said, as the essay by Hans-Johann Glock about ‘impure conceptual analysis’ shows, intermediate positions are possible. He sketches a form of conceptual analysis where concepts are still regarded as a priori, but where empirical and ethical concerns are put into play. The downright naturalistic perspective, where thinking about knowledge becomes inseparable from the cognitive sciences, is sketched by Hilary Kornblith in his chapter.
Another important theme in the volume concerns the reliability of data. Even if philosophers largely agree on the choice of data for philosophizing, there may be worries about how reliable those data really are. In analytic philosophy, one commonly employs the method of cases, where a short vignette is presented to establish or put into question certain intuitions about philosophical claims. In recent years, so-called ‘experimental philosophers’ have put into question the reliability of this method. The main issue is that one can show, using statistical methods, that certain choices made in the design of the vignette may influence the outcome, even if those choices should be irrelevant. If the outcome of such tests is not stable upon changing seemingly irrelevant details, it may be called into question whether the case reliably prompts the kind of intuition which was taken as evidence for the philosophical claim under discussion. This theme is taken up in detail in the chapter by Jonathan M. Weinberg. Far from criticizing the method of cases in its entirety, Weinberg explains that experimental philosophy aims to exercise a type of ‘quality control’ having both a restrictive and constructive side. This debate is best understood as internal to the tradition of philosophy as conceptual analysis in the armchair.
The question of the accessibility of philosophical data also emerges in phenomenology, addressed in the chapter by David R. Cerbone. In short, there is a gap between the ‘natural attitude’ (when we engage with our surroundings without reflecting on the role of consciousness) and the act of phenomenological reflection (when we consider the active role consciousness plays in constituting reality). But clearly, when engaging in the latter, one reflects on what is ‘given’ in consciousness – the question of data. The next question then becomes: what is it in the natural attitude that permits or calls us into the mode of phenomenological investigation? Cerbone draws attention to how Husserl and Heidegger try to bridge this gap differently. He points out that with both authors, an act of phenomenological reflection must be performed by the reader if she wants to understand a phenomenological text; she must somehow recall that the ideas in such a text also adequately describe her own experience.
Several of the chapters focus on understanding the nature and extent of philosophical disagreement. As has often been noted, disagreement seems to be a rather pervasive feature of the philosophical field, especially when compared to the sciences. One can readily find ways to account for this. It may be that philosophy is simply harder than regular science. Alternatively, it may be that for many problems, it has not found the proper perspective (a sentiment that is strong in Kant’s philosophy, who thought that he had for the first time found the right perspective on the relation between intuition and understanding). The essays in the volume explore more subtle explanations.
Amie L. Thomasson presents an interesting perspective which accounts for at least some of the lasting disagreement. She builds on the already mentioned idea from Wittgenstein, Carnap, and others that philosophy is ultimately a form of conceptual analysis and thus primarily concerned with the proper use of concepts. This perspective has the great advantage that it does not put philosophy in a position rivalling physics (our best way of explaining ‘reality’), by focusing on language and not directly on reality itself. However, as she points out, according to the classical analytic conception, this type of work has a strictly descriptive character. Hence, it remains somewhat obscure how there can be lasting disagreement if all one needs to do is analyze the meaning of a concept. Also, if it is merely descriptive, this type of work is not so easily distinguished from linguistics after all. Her proposal to counteract these worries is to regard conceptual analysis as not only descriptive, but also prescriptive in nature. In other words, on her view, philosophers do not only debate about how words are used, but also about how they should be used – they engage in “metalinguistic negotiations” (David Plunkett quoted by Thomasson, p. 109). This proposal amounts to admitting that our conceptual schemes are often malleable and open to “ameliorative” revision (Sally Haslanger quoted by Thomasson, p. 115).
Questions that could be debated on this level are, for example, whether alcoholism is a disease, or what the best definition of ‘a person’ is. In both cases, wider societal, legal, and ethical concerns may inform our attempts at conceptual revision. An advantage of this view is that it does allow us to reinterpret a lot of ‘heavyweight metaphysics’ as negotiations of this sort. Often, it indeed seems to be the case that debates are so heated because participants are not merely trying to hit upon the one ‘correct’ usage of a pre-given concept but are advocating the best analysis among possible candidates. This opens the door to an ethical and at times imaginative type of conceptual analysis. (Thomasson suggests some compatibility between this notion and Foucault’s work on madness.)
Another essay concerned with the question of philosophical disagreement is Giuseppina D’Oro’s. The dispute she focuses on is between causalists (those who believe there are only events) and anti-causalists (those who believe there are events and actions). She asserts that on an abstract level, there seems to be little hope of resolving such debates, since there are respectable discourses which are causalist in character (engineering, physics, biology) and discourses which also speak of actions (history, sociology, psychology). D’Oro’s proposal, which follows suggestions from R.G. Collingwood’s philosophy of history, is that this debate is “best understood as a conflict between methodological practices which govern different forms of enquiry and the conception of reality that is entailed by them.” (221) The role of philosophy becomes not so much to settle the debate in favor of either of the positions, but to recognize that reality admits of several ontological schemes, dependent on the mode of inquiry undertaken (e.g. history or physics). Since both modes of enquiry are deemed legitimate as sciences, the two ontological schemes are ‘conditions of possibility’ for those modes of enquiry. Certainly, this seems to be applicable to the example debate, but one wonders whether other debates may be recast this way.
A chapter by Robert B. Talisse on pragmatism documents how the relation of pragmatist philosophies (Peirce, James, Dewey, Rorty) to the rest of philosophy is decidedly meta-philosophical. That is, the pragmatists related to other philosophies not on the level of first-order ideas but by developing intricate meta-ideas about philosophy itself. Talisse proposes this as a distinctive feature and risk of pragmatism. Finally, the chapter by Herman Cappelen, most explicitly about disagreement, tackles the claim that philosophy seems plagued by deep disagreements on a more empirical level. By and large, he puts into question the evidence for this claim in a convincing yet somewhat apologetic manner.
The Aims of Philosophy
Another important marker of methodological orientation appearing throughout this volume is the aim one ascribes to philosophy. Again, I would submit that one’s views on the aims of philosophy will generally correlate to some first-order philosophical ideas and with some view regarding philosophy’s data. For example, a scientifically inclined philosopher (‘science is our best way to describe reality’) might declare philosophy to be an “underlabourer to the sciences” (Locke), helping to elucidate the workings of science (epistemology, philosophy of science) whilst warning not to go above and beyond science. On the other hand, the larger one considers the conceptual and experiential territory outside of the bounds of science strictu sensu, the larger one may consider the task of philosophy. Also, there is the recurrent theme of the irreconcilability of internal and external perspectives on such phenomena as consciousness. Certainly, philosophers must not be oblivious about such external investigations (e.g. cognitive sciences) but they need not hand over the keys just like that either. Both the philosophy of mind and phenomenology seem to agree on this. On such views, the aim of philosophy may become to reconcile the findings of cognitive science with our first-person experience of our life-world (as advocated in the chapter by Jean-Luc Petit).
Although the volume has a section which is sort of devoted to the aims of philosophy (Part I: Visions of Philosophy), the theme certainly resonates throughout the entire volume. We already saw Amie L. Thomasson’s extension of conceptual analysis into normative and ameliorative territory. Along similar lines, Robert Piercey presents a case study of the analytic-continental divide, focusing on Richard Rorty (allegedly on the analytic side) and Paul Ricoeur (allegedly on the continental side), who share certain metaphilosophical convictions. Piercey calls these the metaphilosophy of hope and the metaphilosophy of historicity. The former designates that a central goal of philosophy should be to theorize for a better future. He shows us in some detail how this view takes shape in both thinkers and suggests that such metaphilosophical views are ultimately more helpful to orient oneself in the larger philosophical field (beyond the analytic-continental divide). Fabian Freyenhagen’s essay about critical theory and Adorno’s relation to philosophy can be taken along similar lines. There, Adorno is shown to both criticize classical philosophy to work towards its unfulfilled promises. The aim of critical theory is to soften the all too rigid hold certain problematic conceptual schemes have on society at large. This procedure both borrows from philosophy and criticizes it wherever it is found to be complicit in reinforcing the present social order. All of this also raises the questions how creative (in the sense of producing novelty) philosophy should aim to be. As A.W. Moore points out in his essay, the enduring influence of Wittgenstein in analytic philosophy has turned that tradition away from the creative conception of philosophy, an idea which is well alive with continental thinkers such as Deleuze & Guattari.
Beyond such collective aims, philosophy may also have real consequences for individuals engaging in it. Alessandra Tanesini explores a broadly Socratic view of philosophy on which the central aim for the individual is to find a way to live beautifully. She promotes the idea that this requires one to train one’s epistemic self-confidence. This includes skills pertaining to argumentation and concept-formation as well as the emotional capacity to defend unorthodox views within one’s community. Philosophy, construed as such, can greatly contribute to this effort and hence help an individual aiming to live beautifully.
The volume offers a diverse and valuable cross section of discussions regarding philosophical methods. By and large it focuses on methodological ideas which are supported by tradition. The essays display a healthy degree of implicit conversation between them. Reading the entire volume at once will sharpen even the advanced reader’s sensitivity and appreciation of the matter. All the essays are directed at an uninitiated readership, fulfilling the aim of facilitating conversation between different methodological orientations. Let me now close this review with some minor criticisms.
The volume may be found wanting with regards to methods of formal logic. Positions on the role of logical methods for philosophy differ greatly, but it seems that a sufficient segment of academic philosophy attaches great value to them (especially in connection to conceptual analysis and philosophy of language). Many of the classical philosophical paradigms went hand in hand with views on logic. At a more mundane level, logic plays into the (re)construction of arguments, which is part and parcel of philosophical activity. The volume lacks any discussion of the role of logic in the narrow or wide sense.
A more nuanced worry is the following. By focusing on established methods which seem to be shared between many philosophers, the volume furthermore risks neglecting that the history of philosophy is often marked by a degree of methodological extremism. That is, it sometimes seems like each philosopher invents his/her own methods anew. It may be that the volume, despite its pluralist stance, ends up portraying the philosophical field as more unified than it really is. Relatedly, it does not always recognize the negative experience of not understanding an opponent’s position – an experience surely at the heart of philosophical activity since Plato’s Euthyphro.
Here is a final question regarding the evolution of new methods that the essays in the volume suggest but do not really breach. Consider the following: Let us say that upon reading the works of a certain philosopher X, we discern that she is a proponent of the new method Y. Such schemes are by now familiar, and the Cambridge Companion to Philosophical Methodology offers an abundance of examples. Now consider the following question: before X committed their thoughts to paper, what was their ‘method’ Z for arriving at the method Y? In other words, is there a useful distinction for methods understood as internal to philosophical programs and methods used to develop new ones? Given the plurality of different philosophical methods that have accompanied philosophy since its inception, is not deliberation about (new) methods among the key tasks of the philosopher? Far from suggesting an infinite regress, I merely want to express that there may be more dynamism to the philosophical practice than an evaluation of framework-internal methodologies will be able to bring to the surface. If, as Stanley Cavell puts it “philosophy is one of its own normal topics” (Cavell cited in D’Oro & Overgaard, 4), one might add that reflection on philosophical methods is one of philosophy’s normal methods. The Cambridge Companion to Philosophical Methodology is a recommendable way into this terrain.
- Cavell, S. Must We Mean What We Say? A Book of Essays. updated edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
- Collingwood, R. G. The Principles of History. eds. W. H. Dray and Jan van der Dussen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
- Descartes, R. Meditations on First Philosophy. trans. D. Cress. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1993.
- D’Oro, Giuseppina, and Søren Overgaard, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Philosophical Methodology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017.
- Foucault, M. Madness and Civilization. trans. R. Howard. New York: Vintage Books, 1965.
- Haslanger, S. Resisting Reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
- Locke, J. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Glasgow: Collins and Sons, 1964.
- Plato. Complete Works. Ed. J. Cooper. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1997.
- Plunkett , D. “Which Concepts Should We Use?: Metalinguistic Negotiations and the Methodology of Philosophy,” Inquiry 58, no. 7-8 (2015): 828-74.
In Enactivist Interventions: Rethinking the Mind, Shaun Gallagher offers a strong defense of enactivism against what he calls ‘cognition-in-the-head’ (1) approaches to mind such as those of contemporary neuroscience and classical cognitivism. Throughout the book, Gallagher develops his own enactive view by engaging in a series of critical debates with more recent version of these and related models such as Theory of Mind (ToM), Predictive Coding (PC), Action-Oriented Representationalism (AOR), B-formatted Representationalism, and the Extended Mind approach, etc. Even when they positively refer to bodily action and to interactions with other people, or build into their theory contextual elements and somatic factors, these theories all fail to provide a coherent and holistic account of cognition because they all end up making the fatal mistake of buying into representationalism. From an enactivist point of view, cognition is a complex affair that has more to do with doing or transacting with one’s environment than with representing it. Cognition, as Gallagher puts it, is “a kind of dynamic adjustment process in which the brain, as part of and along with the larger organism, settles into the right kind of attunement with the environment – an environment that is physical but also social and cultural” (160; emphasis in original). In a sense, the book reads as a detailed explanation and justification of this claim.
Gallagher proceeds thematically, unpacking the details of his enactive model to cognition peu à peu as he guides us through some of the current debates in contemporary philosophy of mind. The scope of the topics discussed is broad and impressive. Gallagher deals successively with questions and problems that bear on action and representation (Chapter 1, 2 and 5), social cognition and intentionality (Chapter 4), perception (Chapter 6), free will (Chapter 7), affects and emotions (Chapter 8), posture and rationality (Chapter 9), and the various practices of thinking (Chapter 10). Scattered throughout the book, but laid out in a more systematic fashion in Chapter 3, Gallagher also provides the historical background of the enactivist position, which he situates (as we could expect) in phenomenology, in Gibson’s ecological psychology, and perhaps more surprisingly in pragmatism.
The strength and the originality of Gallagher’s position lie in his radically embodied and truly holistic conception of cognition. Not only does he, like other enactivists, emphasize the ‘unsurpassability’ of the brain-body-environment triad as the basic explanatory unit of mind, but he also stresses like no one else the profound impact of affects, culture and environmental factors on cognition without falling into the trap of representationalism. As Gallagher himself recognizes, however, this approach represents a real challenge and “often comes with strong calls to radically change our ways of thinking about the mind and about how to do cognitive science.” (40) The envisaged change might in fact be so radical that Gallagher entertains (but does not develop) the idea that enactivism may in the end “be better thought as a philosophy of nature than as a scientific research agenda.” (22) This does not mean that we should turn our back on science, or stop collecting empirical data about the functioning of the mind; it rather means that it may be necessary to revise a certain number of assumptions about the mind, and to redefine the relation between science and philosophy.
In the remaining space at my disposal, I will engage in a rapid survey of what I take to be the most interesting ideas and claims to be found in this excellent book. I will draw special attention to Gallagher’s specifically normative conception of intentionality, for although it is not by any means an explicitly developed concept, it is nevertheless powerfully operative throughout.
* * *
Expectedly, Chapter 4 (“Enactive Intentionality”) opens with a critique of the “Brentanian” or “neo-Cartesian concept of intentionality” (66), but Gallagher then quickly makes two interesting moves: first, he centers the discussion around a specific problem, namely that of understanding other minds, and criticizes in passing some of the dominant theories in social cognition (Theory-Theory, Simulation Theory, Mirror Neuron approach, etc.). Second, and in line with the preceding chapter (3. “Pragmatic Resources for Enactive and Extended Minds”), Gallagher positively elaborates his own enactive alternative by tracing its origins in both the phenomenological and pragmatist traditions. If the profound impact of Merleau-Ponty’s notions of intercorporeality and operative intentionality on the enactivist program should not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the literature (cf. 77-79), the rapprochement with pragmatism is however quite original (even if not unique; cf. Menary 2007). But Gallagher is convincing, and shows with great acuity how both the first and second generations of pragmatists share some deep philosophical commitments with enactivism. Peirce “foreshadows the externalist turn” (50) taken by the enactivists and the extended mind advocates (cf. 52ff.); Dewey’s understanding of perception as based on the idea of sensori-motor coordination anticipates Noë’s and O’Regan’s talk of sensori-motor contingencies (cf. 50); Mead’s characterization of perceptual space as a “manipulatory area” (51) is close to Heidegger’s ready-to-hand (Zuhanden) and Gibson’s concept of affordances, while Dewey’s notion of “situation” is precisely the kind of concept that can serve both to “motivate a rapprochement between enactivist and extended mind theories” (54), and address some of the most important objections levelled against both theories (cf. 60ff.). Clearly, the point of drawing conceptual resources in the pragmatist and neo-pragmatist traditions is not only of historical interest; it is also philosophically motivated.
Taking his cues from Robert Brandom’s normative account of intentionality (1994), Gallagher pursues this discussion in Ch. 4 by arguing that the enactive account of intentionality he is advocating is “consistent with a non-simulationist version of neo-pragmatism. Indeed, it shows us how to connect very basic operative intentionality with the neo-pragmatist emphasis on social/normative aspects of behavior.” (80) The key move to understand both how Gallagher connects with and moves beyond the neo-pragmatist framework lies in the expanded scope of the normative that informs his concept of intentionality. Intentionality is – pace Brandom – “already pervasive” (81) in a variety of normative, but still pre-social and pre-linguistic activities and behaviours. The idea, which is not formulated as such but which readers of How the Body Shapes the Mind (2005) must already be familiar with (see esp. Ch. 3 and 9), is that intentionality is originally normative in the sense that it is rooted in the neonate’s first encounters and interactions, which are meaningful experiences. The neonate sees the actions of the caretaker as calling forth certain responses on her part (not any response), thereby triggering an intentional dynamic of actions and behaviours guided and constrained by implicit normative cues. The actions of the neonate – which are properly speaking inter-actions – then show both how the mind is normatively attuned to its environment and “intersubjective from the very start” (81). Hence, “there is no mystery about where this non-derived intentionality comes from. It comes from the others with whom we interact, or more precisely, it is generated in our interaction.” (81) The same learning mechanisms and normative patterns of influence repeat in adulthood. Even at a mature age, perception remains strongly permeable to the influence of our social milieu: “we learn what objects are significant and valuable through our interactions with others, or even just our perception of what they are doing with objects in the environment. We learn to see the world along these lines of significance and value, and oftentimes objects that fall outside of such lines don’t even register.” (159)
Gallagher’s specifically normative conception of intentionality is also at the forefront of Chapter 5 (‘Action without Representation’), but this time more explicitly so. After introducing what he takes to be “the classic concept of representation” (83), the chapter brings us to the heart of one of the most heated debates in contemporary philosophy of mind and action, namely, whether there is any place for representation in action. Unsurprisingly, Gallagher answers in the negative, and develops a strong anti-representationalist argument that he sets against the background of various proposals (Action-Oriented Representations (AORs), Pre-Intentional Representations (PIAs), B-Formatted Representations, Minimal Robust Representations (MRRs), etc.) that have been put forward recently by advocates of the enactive program and/or the extended mind approach (Michael Wheeler, Mark Rowlands, Andy Clark, etc.). The discussion is detailed, at times difficult, but it gets to the bottom of things. One possibly useful way of understanding Gallagher’s argument against representationalism is to insist on the incompatibility between the ‘teleological/normative’ and the ‘decouplability’ constraints of representation. While the former characteristics say that something is representational iff it is also teleological or normatively turned towards something it tracks, the latter feature says that something is representational iff it is decouplable from what it represents. These are widely (but not universally) accepted characteristics of our concept of ‘representation’, but they are not easily compatible with one another when it comes to action. According to Gallagher, you can’t have it both ways: you cannot both track your goal and be ‘off-line:’ “But it is difficult to see how an aspect of motor control that is a constitutive part of the action can be considered decoupled from x, which it may be tracking, or, for that matter, from the context, or the action itself. Isn’t this kind of anticipation fully situated in the action context?” (92) Insofar as motor control is part of the action, it is situated; but then it is not decoupled from the movement and the proprioceptive/kinaesthetic feedback it generates. It is online, and it is precisely for this reason that it can keep track of its object or of the action itself. This is the problem predictive coding is facing: “To think that the anticipatory emulator involves a decoupled process is to think that such anticipations can be detached from perceptual and proprioceptive input, which they clearly cannot be. They are part of the online process of action; as such they register not simply some future state, but the trajectory of the action (from present to future).” (92) The problem is serious, for not only is the perceptual and proprioceptive input de facto part of the ‘online’ process of action (according to Gallagher), but they are also necessary to meet the requirements of the normative constraint (or so I would like to claim). For in order to act ‘intelligently’ or ‘adequately’ upon something, I need to know how things stand in relation to me. This knowledge is informed by the pervasive self-sensitivity generated by perceptual feedback (including, but not limited to, proprioceptive awareness). In this sense, going ‘off-line’ is equivalent to losing touch (even if only momentarily) with one’s own perceptual situation, and this can only mean that one also loses ‘grip’ on the normative orientation of the action. The point can be recast in the following manner: if predictions are in some ways ‘decoupled’ from the ongoing perceptual process, or if they come in succession, then the organism can’t continuously cast its own actions in evaluative terms, and make the required adjustments when they are needed. But this is nothing very special; it is rather something that any ‘smart living organism’ continually does.
Since the elementary unit of explanation of this ‘online’ process of action is the brain-body-environment triad, “the true locus of normativity” is therefore, as Rowlands puts it, “to be found on the outside” (2012, 136), in the world. The consequence to draw from this is clear enough: “the problem of explaining our normative grip is no longer the problem of representation; it’s rather the problem of explaining how we are dynamically coupled to the world.” (105) What thus takes the place of representation in this non-representationalist account of action and perception is the complex dynamics of perceived affordances and motor responses. In this ongoing process of interaction and adjustments, intentional directedness depends crucially on “physically determined factors” (97) such as distance, lighting and position, and is bodily realized, not accomplished in representational processes.
This is a thought that Gallagher pursues in the next chapter (6. ‘Perception Without Inferences’), this time laying more emphasis on perception than on action, and criticizing in turn some of the most important inferential models currently debated in the literature (especially ToM and Predictive Coding). The core idea is nevertheless the same as in the preceding chapter, which it nicely complements: “Perception is enactive (…), but nonetheless epistemic and ‘smart’ because attuned to context” (112). Anticipating on some of the key ideas of Ch. 8 (‘Making Enactivism Even More Embodied’), Gallagher’s aim here is to argue (contra Bayesian inferentialism) for the directedness of perception, and to explain how the sources of our normative attunement are complex, rich and varied. In his descriptions, the radicality of Gallagher’s position becomes all the more apparent, even within the enactivist camp. While Noë’s and O’Regan’s “emphasis on sensori-motor contingencies and the role of action in perception” is certainly on the right track, it nevertheless “builds itself on a conception of embodiment that remains too narrow”, as “it leaves out important aspects of affectivity and intersubjectivity” (150). Perception is more complex and more embodied. Not only is it (non-inferentially) informed by culture and beliefs, but perception is also modulated by moods, practices, skills and “all kinds of affective processes” (118) and “somaesthetic factors” (151) such as hunger, fatigue, and sexual attraction. Evidently, these affective aspects “usually operate in a pre-noetic fashion” (151), but they still have a profound impact on our perceptual lives as they motivate “a sense of interest or investment” (153) captured by the notion of “perceptual interest” (Id.), which is said to be wider in scope than Husserl’s concept of the ‘I can’ (but which is not, I believe, significantly wider than Husserl’s own concept of ‘perceptual interest’). But there’s more. “Even variations in circulation and heartbeat can influence perception” (Id.), just as does the whole repertoire of our “embodied practices and postures, behavioural habits, and intersubjective interactions” (125). These complex dynamics lead Gallagher to recognize very lucidly at the end of the chapter that “enactivism offers a holistic conception of cognition that is difficult to operationalize” (125) or test scientifically according to the current (mostly neuroscientific) standards. This is not a major concern though, for this is where the motivation to think of enactivism as a philosophy of nature instead of as a scientific research program comes from (cf. 125ff.).
Finally, Gallagher addresses in the final 10th Chapter (‘The Practice of Thinking’) the so-called ‘scaling up’ problem (Chemero 2009), which is the challenge for the enactivists to explain in system-dynamical terms our higher-order cognitive aptitudes. For if enactivism seems to be rather well suited to deal with lower-order or basic types of processes such as those involved in action and perception, higher-order cognitive tasks such as memory, imagination, and mathematical reasoning seem to represent a more serious challenge for enactivists, as these are apparently “representation-hungry” capacities (Clark and Toribio 1994). As anyone can expect at this point, this is not how Gallagher sees things. After providing a brief overview of E. Thompson’s (cf. 188) and D. Hutto’s (188ff.) own enactivist ‘solutions’ to the problem, Gallagher proposes a series of brief “interventions” (191) on the questions of imagination, deliberation, and mathematical reasoning. In the case of imagination, Gallagher (somewhat surprisingly) takes his cues from Gilbert Ryle’s account in The Concept of Mind. Like Ryle, for whom “there is no one thing that the imagination is” (192), Gallagher argues that “imagining involves a variety of different practices – some of them actively embodied, some of them involving the manipulation of bits of the environment, some of them sitting still and picturing something by manipulating concepts or thoughts or images (re-enacted perceptions) – which in any case may still involve affective and kinaesthetic aspects of embodiment.” (195) Like playacting (which is Ryle’s favoured example), imagining often takes the form of an embodied practice that is closer to “pretending and simulating” (192) than to mental seeing or projecting. In all instances, however, imagination involves “dealing with affordances” (195), which may include “toys, props, artifacts, instruments” (193), and even concepts or thoughts. “Pragmatically considered, concepts and thoughts can be regarded as nothing other than affordances that offer (or solicit us to) possibilities to follow one path or another as we engage in thinking” (195). In this sense, Gallagher conceives of imagining as “a kind of active engagement with possibilities” (193). Even if it is quite clear that this is the route that the enactivists must take to address the worries of the so-called ‘scale up’ problems, I wonder whether this general characterization is sufficiently developed to fully convince its detractors. In any case, the same strategy is mutatis mutandis applied to ‘mathematical reasoning’ (cf. 204ff.), a thought that brings Gallagher to the conclusion that, on the enactive point of view, thinking practices in general are better regarded as enactive performances that depend, for their realization, on our embodied skills.
All in all, this book is a much welcome addition to the literature. It is thought provoking, engaging and original in many respects. It provides not only an excellent survey of the current literature on embodied cognition in general and enactivism especially, but it also formulates new arguments, forges new concepts and proposes ideas that will certainly animate interesting debates in the years to come.
Brandom, R. (1994). Making It Explicit: Reasoning, Representing, and Discursive Commitment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Chemero, A. (2009). Radical Embodied Cognitive Science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Clark and Toribio (1994). ‘Doing without representing?’ Synthese 101: 401–31.
Doyon, M. (forthcoming). ‘Husserl on Perceptual Optimality’ (under review).
Gallagher, S. (2005). How the Body Shapes the Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Husserl, E. (2004). Wahrnehmung und Aufmerksamkeit: Texte aus dem Nachlass (1893–1912). Ed. T. Vongehr and R. Giuliani. Dordrecht: Springer.
Menary, R. (2007). Cognitive Integration: Mind and Cognition Unbounded. London: Palgrave-Macmillan.
Ryle, G. (1949). The Concept of Mind. London: Hutchinson.
Thompson, E. (2007). Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology and the Sciences of Mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Varela, F. J., Thompson, E., and Rosch, E. (1991). The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. Cambridge: MIT Press.
 “As extended and enactive, the mind is situated in the way that Dewey defines this notion.” (59)
 This is a line of thought that Merleau-Ponty developed in great detail in the Phenomenology of Perception, when he shows how bodily postures and position are in a constant process of regulation and readjustment. In this book, Gallagher revisits this topic (Ch. 9) and expands on ideas first developed in How the Body Shapes the Mind. For a similar argument in a biological context, see Rosch, Thompson and Varela (1994) and Thompson (2007).
 See Husserl (2004)) and my ‘Husserl on Perceptual Optimality’ (under review; forthcoming).