The recent book by Jocelyn Benoist, Professor of Contemporary Philosophy at the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, in line with his previous monographs, particularly Sens et sensibilité. L’intentionalité en context (2009), Éléments de Philosophie Réaliste. Réflexions sur ce que l’on a (2011) and Le Bruit du Sensible (2013), constitutes the next step in the development of his work in reestablishing and rethinking realist philosophy. His method rests on one of building his system in confrontation with classical contemporary philosophers. In that way, the book offers both an original speculative contribution to systematic philosophy (primarily, ontology and epistemology, secondly, moral philosophy, aesthetics, philosophy of language and philosophy of mind) and a thorough new reading in the history of philosophy with the leading figures of Frege, Husserl and Wittgenstein.
The pretext for this newest contribution is the emergence of so-called New Realism in the continental philosophy of the first decade of the 21st century. The author asks in what sense anything could possibly be new about rightly conceived realism. The critical analysis of the positions of two eminent representatives of the movement, Markus Gabriel and Maurizio Ferraris, leads the author to postulate rather than refurbish and correct the ‘old’ realism as a proper way towards a rightful account of reality. However, to accomplish the double task of the criticism of the defective realisms and positive realist model for ontology and epistemology, Benoist must begin with formulating what criteria the sought realism should meet.
The point of the departure is taking a proper distance from the two extremities that has marked contemporary philosophy: the idealism that surrenders reality to the thought (the cognition) and the metaphysical idol of an access to the being that would be independent from the context of thinking. This double confrontation leads Benoist to the central distinction governing his subsequent considerations: the one between ‘real’ and ‘true’ that corresponds to the further distinction between ‘factual’ and ‘normative’. That approach enables him to reconcile the objectivism of knowledge with its contextuality. Epistemic realism does not have to imply a form of absolutism. Quite to the contrary, context-dependence is the necessary foundation of realism. In that line, the de-contextualisation of reference constitutes an ontological error twinned with semantic idealism, common in the analytic philosophy of the 20th century but criticized already by Aristotle. The semantic relativity (contextuality) becomes an objective point for establishing the discourse in reality. The referred thing is precisely the one as it is described but it is always given in the determined circumstances. The contextuality becomes the fundamental ontological and epistemological property of reality. The lack of ‘contextual immunity’ does not speak against realism but is its only guarantee.
Having defined preliminary of what kind of realism the author shall speak, it becomes comprehensible why he is rejecting the two programs of New Realism. The first, by Markus Gabriel, proposes an ultra-intensional (and ultra-intentional, as Benoist remarks) ontology expressed in a paradoxical slogan: ‘Everything exists apart from the world’. The phrase is not only provocative. The author proceeds to shed some light on its hidden consequences. First, he comments on the exclusion of the world from the kingdom of existence. Gabriel, following the line drawn by Kant, Husserl and Wittgenstein, remarks that if everything that exists exists within the world, there is no point in speaking about the existence of the very world. So the world does not exist in consequence. Does he not go too far? Indeed, as Benoist remarks, if that is the case, it would be equally erroneous to talk about the non-existence of the world as about its existence. One would do better pointing out just the error of category. Also, the ‘existence of everything’ is problematic. Does this not lead to the conclusion that finally nothing exists? The notion of existence excessively extended is made extremely fragile. That is in line with what Benoist criticizes further, the theory of semantic fields of Gabriel to which the German philosopher attributes illegitimately a strong ontological status. According to Benoist, we need no special intentional entities to strengthen our realism. Quite to the contrary, they would cut us from reality. What we do need is the intentionality oriented towards the reality. And that is something different from what Gabriel intends to do.
The philosophy of the second representative of New Realism, Maurizio Ferraris, can be read as a reaction to postmodern ‘culturalism’. The Italian philosopher is drawing a sharp opposition between natural and social reality, the second being constructed. Benoist notices, against him, that the social world is as immediately real as the natural one. I cannot decide whether the man I see is a policeman or not. Even if the institution concerned has been created by humans, from the perceptual point of view, it is as real as natural properties. According to Benoist, the reasoning of Ferraris is rooted in a confused notion of reality, the one that treats it as ascribed to one kind of being against another one. In contrast, reality is a categorial concept. It says nothing more nor less than that the thing concerned is the thing it is. The case of Ferraris is yet another example of the misconception of the normative aspect of knowledge that has to be corrected in the following part of the book. It should be noted that it is the very aspect of traditional realism that needs some amendment as well. Here, conversely, the norms were given a strong ontological dimension while they were treated as parts of the objects. The distinction between truth and reality is coming back. The independence of reality should be understood exactly in light of the categorial difference between reality and the norm. If renewed realism has a program, that should be it, according to the author.
The first two chapters of the book consecrated to the primordial sketch of the discussion’s ground, the next four are devoted to the commentaries on the three contemporary masters in rethinking realism: Frege, Wittgenstein and Husserl. As mentioned before, they should be of great interest for historians of philosophy as well. The Fregean distinction of sense and reference is explained and reestablished in the polemic with Markus Gabriel. The latter one, in the last chapter of Sinn und Existenz, has questioned the very distinction as well as the one between sense and representation. As a result, sense becomes a property of reference. As Benoist warns, that leads to the risk of psychologism. However, he shares the concern that the second distinction has impoverished the notion of sense. The radical antisubjectivism of Gabriel’s account on semantics is missing the intermediary position in the sense that original Fregean thought corresponded to its epistemic function. In Gabriel, the Fragean senses become a dimension of reality. Not only are they objective, but real as well. Yet again, Benoist remarks the grammatical error of confusing determination with property. It corresponds to the fundamental distinction between the normative and the factual. Sense has ontological implications but no ontological dimension. Just to note, Benoist stresses that the distinction he is defending is not an opposition. An opposition would require that its components belong to the same category. In our case, we rest always on two different categorial grounds. The real does not need the normative. It is we who need it, on the other hand, to conceive the structures within reality.
The primordial confusion of Gabriel has its further implications that fall in line with what Benoist calls, ‘phenomenological fallacy’. To exist means to him to appear in the field of sense. The project of de-subjectivization leads to the ontologization of appearances. This is however another grammatical error. Gabriel confounds two determinations of reality: the structuralization of the being itself and the notion of appearance. The second one requires its subject: the one to whom an object is to appear. The ontologization Gabriel is desperately seeking cuts off that subject. Once again, he seems to pass from the grammar of facts to the grammar of norms. As Benoist points out, the object belongs to the second one. He compares the appearance to an actor who cannot enter the stage before the rule of play has been determined. There is no objective, context-immune sense of being. We cannot apprehend the being but for the given norms.
The notion of the grammar, which enters regularly into discussion, requires a separate analysis. This one is furnished in the fourth chapter. The lesson one can learn from the late Wittgenstein is the recognition of the profound realist-orientation of language. To speak is to act, and one cannot act if not within the world. Even the language games that presuppose taking the world in brackets are played in the world. That is why, according to Benoist, a study of language games is the privileged way towards realism. Some questions however should be raised. Grammar constitutes order in itself, independent from reality. Is language-orientation not so much an escape from reality? The author maintains the thesis of the double independence of reality and grammar that are nonetheless coupled by the usage of language. A fragment of reality never has its linguistic meaning – the latter belongs to grammar (that, following Wittgenstein, contains semantics). This leads to the commentary on the §371 of the Philosophical Investigations where Wittgenstein states that essence is expressed by grammar. The passage was widely commented in the literature. It was considered as the anti-essentialist declaration of the Austrian philosopher. Anscombe, on the other hand, has proposed an essentialist lecture. Benoist revises both interpretations. He focuses on the anti-nominalist dimension of the §371. Essentialism is understood here as nominalism about the ideal. The error of the essentialist lecture of Wittgenstein consists in falling into descriptivist illusion. This Wittgenstein reminded us that grammar does not describe the facts. Anscombe confounds the naming by words with expressing by grammar. The essence should not be understood as the thing I am referring to but by what I am thinking or understanding. It stands on the side of the norm. And the norm is the norm of usage. Finally, that is the usage that determines and guarantees the realist dimension of grammar.
The fifth chapter concerns the status of impossibility. Traditionally, it was presented as the most external of the concentric circles, beginning from the ‘actual’. Benoist distinguishes two notions of impossibility: empirical (real) and logical (absolute). The negation in the first case supposes a virtual possibility. The negation in the second case seems to be of some special kind: it does not concern lack of a reference, but lack of a sense that would have a reference. Benoist stands against the ontological interpretation of the logical impossibility. He rectifies a false opinion on Husserl that would have admitted an ontological consistency to impossibilia. On the contrary, phenomenology treats the impossible a priori as empirical, but of the higher order, mediatized by the mathematical notion of the limit. Benoist’s own answer turns to the usage of norms. Squaring the circle would require changing the norms. The sought circle would not be a circle in standard meaning. Impossibility a priori has a logical signification. There is no impossibility in itself. The myth of the absolute impossibility results from the pseudo-theoretical position that would like to be both inside and outside some activity. The realism defended by the author does not need that notion. To say that there is no absolute impossibility does not mean that everything is allowed. It means rather that where anything goes, one really does nothing.
In the next chapter, Benoist continues his commentary on Husserl and revises the notion of epoché in the context of his own realist project. The theoretical epoché is seen as the anti-hermeneutical turn. Husserl absolutizes the describing that constitutes a part of the form of our life. He wants to focus on what is seen independently of any particular norm. He passes from a particular to an absolute language game. Is that possible though, given the contextual embeddedness defended by Benoist? More light is casted on the phenomenological epoché. Benoist points out that the thesis of the existence of the world is not a thesis properly speaking. Any doubt is local. As an activity, it is still in the world. (Here Benoist follows the grammar of the doubt by Peirce and Wittgenstein.) No one can question it. And Husserl does respect it. He does not invite us to abandon the thesis of the existence of the world, but only not to use it. Too often has the German philosopher been confused with sceptics. Epoché is not intended to liberate us from judgments, but their world-orientation. What epoché discovers seems not to be an independent aspect of reality, but quite to the contrary, our own activity. The methodological side of the epoché can help us to highlight the normative nature of objects. An object is not given, but is a measure of the given. And, finally, any norm can be understood only in reference to reality. This orientation, as it has already been remarked, is inscribed in grammar. In addition, Benoist presents the notion of the acousmatic sound by Pierre Schaeffer in light of epoché. He notices that even in the case of that radical reduction, we rest always within the real. The given does not precede reality. It refers to the fact that it is perceived according to a norm that has its real conditions.
The next two chapters continue the reflection towards the philosophy of perception. The first one, particularly of interest, concerns the reality of appearances and gives some comments on the use of hallucinations in the argumentation for disjunctivism and conjunctivism about perception. Benoist refers to the works by Juan Gonzalez and Katalin Farkas. In the first point, he remarks that the hallucinations used in philosophy are generally philosophical fictions. The natural hallucinations aren’t as perfect as the philosophers maintain and a less-than-perfect cognition is sufficient to recognize them from a standard perception. Nonetheless, he accepts the answer of Michel Martin who agrees that he is not speaking about empirical hallucinations, but about some hypothetical entity defined as a mental state indistinguishable from perception. Benoist leaves hallucinations for a while and proceeds to illusions. Following Austin, he maintains that illusions are perceptions. They are not deceptive as far as one can properly interpret them. Once again, what returns is the conviction of the author that apprehension cannot be abstracted from its context. Perception cannot be taken as detached from its conditions. Nor are illusions false perceptions. That approach would ignore the diversity of what perception is. Thus, against conjuctivism, perceptual illusions are not evidence for the existence of a layer of pre-perceptual appearances within perception and independent from perception. At the same time, against disjunctivism, illusions are not something radically different from perception. What can be said about illusions is that they are problematic perceptions but sensual reality is present within them on the same level as in the case of other perceptions.
Then, Benoist asks in what respect we can distinguish hallucinations from illusions. The visual hallucinations (eg. those provoked by LSD) are rather visual deformations and because of that they can be treated together with visual illusions. Austin would point out the subjective cause of the first and objective of the other, but the comparison with myopia shows that what is essential to the hallucinations is not that they come from me, but that the hallucinating ‘me’ is ‘me’ transformed. This should solve the question of deformational hallucinations. However, real hallucinations, that is those without a real object, still pose a problem. Thus, Benoist questions the indistinguishability of hallucinations. Quoting Gonzales, the author remarks that it is not the phenomenology but the etiology that provokes confusions about hallucinations. Notably, hallucinations are clinically described as extremely realistic – ‘too real to be true’. For that reason, they are phenomenologically distinguishable as surreal. Hallucinations operate on the ground of reality and not on truth. They are not false beliefs about reality, but pure experience (without belief) of reality. That experience-orientation enables Benoist to reject as well the hypothetical (philosophical) notion of hallucinations held up by Martin. The latter maintains that perceptions and hallucinations share the appearance of perception. They both appear to be perceptions. However, appearance refers to the grammar of an object. The experience (that hallucination is) has no appearance. The notion of indistinguishability results from the illegitimate absolutizing of phenomenal conscience.
The next chapter goes on to study the structure of intuition. The dispute on the conceptual/non-conceptual content of perception is reduced to the question whether perception has its content. That leads to another question: Is perception an experience? Benoist points out that perceptual vocabulary is primarily epistemic. The object is not given. It is a norm that identifies what is given. Thus, it is reality-oriented, but belongs to normative grammar. That normativity guarantees the conceptual character of any perception. That is a grammatical point (the grammar being taken in light of what has been said in the previous chapters). The perceptual syntax requires an object. The myth of the given consists in taking the object as though it was not a logical form. As if it was possible to identify anything without implying any norm. Following McDowell, Benoist makes some important distinctions. The concept cannot be non-conceptual, whereas reality cannot be conceptual. The difference between ‘conceptual’ and ‘non-conceptual’ is the difference of category and corresponds to the fundamental difference between truth and reality. Reality cannot be conceptual because it cannot be true nor false. It could not be not-itself. The distinction between reality and intentionality is fundamentally onto-logical. The first operates within the grammar of being, the second – within the grammar of truth/falsity.
One can continue and ask whether there is anything real in perception. That leads Benoist to turn to Gestalt Theory and correct some common errors around it. First, he distinguishes Gestalt from the object of perception. The latter being epistemic, the former is not. Thus, it should be treated rather as the matter of perception. Second, Gestalt is not a primitive, purely perceptual meaning. That would be an error in category. Gestalt is not corrigible since the correction concerns the grammar of validity. On the contrary, it is modifiable by belonging to the grammar of reality. Finally, the philosopher refutes any interpretation that would treat Gestalt as a sort of entity screening the perception of reality. Normally, I do not perceive Gestalt (the exceptions concern some special uses as the one of a painter). I perceive directly the object of perception. Gestalt, being a part of reality, ‘incarnates’ the perception.
The last two chapters indicate some consequences of the proposed realism for aesthetics and moral philosophy. The first one develops some ideas already presented in Bruit du Sensible. Benoist postulates to substitute aesthetics for poetics. The latter highlights the role of revelation in exploring the sensible as opposed to manifestation. The sensible has to be revealed. It does not manifest itself spontaneously. Modern aesthetics had taken the point of view of the spectator. Poetics recognizes the perspective of the artist. Benoist remarks the way how the Kantian paradigm of aesthetics has overstressed the formal priority in defining art – corresponding to his rejection of ‘pleasant’ in favor of ‘beautiful’, and of color in favor of sketch. That has led to a paradoxical de-sensualization of aesthetics. That is why the author invites us to de-epistemologize sensuality so that it could be taken in its reality and not as a mere sign of some external sense. That is what contemporary art has meant to do. Benoist focuses on the concrete music and program of Giacomo Scelsi. The avant-garde composers have negated the primacy of tones and scales as definitive to music. Reducing their scope, eg. by the effects of repetition, they have shed light on other aspects of sound. Above all, they helped to see the matter of sound that cannot be reduced to any form. That is for Benoist an excellent illustration of poiesis in action that helps philosophers to reveal the sensible as sensible.
The final chapter treats the moral implications of realism. The return to reality is drawn not only as an intellectual but as well a moral obligation. In the approach of Benoist, moral realism is not a particularization of general realism but rather its test. Thus, the question arises of what kind of moral realism corresponds to the realism presented in the work. The author takes an indirect methodology and evokes two examples of a failure of realism in morality: empirism and transcendental absolutism. The first one is represented by Buck Mulligan from Joyce’s Ulysses. The empirism of the protagonist consists in absolutizing the given and words. However, the contextual indifferentism makes the words meaningless. The death is a death in general, but never a concreate one. While commenting on the passage about the death of the mother of Stephen Dedalus, Benoist highlight that the guilt of Mulligan is not the one of reducing people to beasts, but of refusing any importance to the word used in the given context. The lack of intentionality is coupled with a contextual immunity. The immorality resides in the indifference.
On the other hand, realism can fail because of its absolutism. In fact, the contextual blindness is shared by both positions, although their ontological engagements do not seem to be more opposed than they are. Benoist quotes the Diaries of Marta Hillers from Berlin of 1945. Here the words become of greatest importance. Reality appears to be much more complicated than any fixed moral valuation would say. The narrator gives herself to a Soviet officer to earn the basic goods for living and to be protected against the private soldiers. Neither can she classify it as rape nor as prostitution. Obviously, rape is not a matter of any subjective feelings. Nonetheless, the evoked example points out that the moral reflection cannot put aside the point of view of the moral agents. Hiller’s own distinctions are inscribed in some particular context and, though they have no universal range, they are significant in that context and that signification can be apprehended from an outside point of view. As in the case of impossibility, Benoist does not maintain that the complexity of the situation given to prevent us from making a moral judgment. We are indeed justified to judge, but never independently from the context. The de-intentionalization of empirism becomes a symmetrical phantasm to the one of the de-contextualization of transcendental idealism.
The work of Jocelyn Benoist represents the best tradition of the philosophical enterprise that sees hermeneutics as its method (although, to my best knowledge, the author is far from accepting hermeneutics as a doctrine). A critical analysis of the philosophical tradition becomes the point of departure for an original speculation. Both historians and theoretical philosophers gain. Especially, because the erudition and methodological lack of prejudices of the author enable him to correct some widespread misinterpretations of the classics of contemporary philosophy. One can be skeptical whether the New Realism really is a movement important and original enough to merit a broad study. However, doubtlessly, for the sake of the realism proposed by Benoist, to which it plays a role of a departure point, it seems totally justified. The grammatical point of view, pointing out consequently the categorial distinctions ignored by not so few philosophers is one of the most important and inspiring contributions of the work that I would like to stress once more at the conclusion.
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.
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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.
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