Jairo José da Silva (Ed.): Mathematics and Its Applications: A Transcendental-Idealist Perspective, Springer, 2017

Mathematics and Its Applications: A Transcendental-Idealist Perspective Couverture du livre Mathematics and Its Applications: A Transcendental-Idealist Perspective
Synthese Library, Volume 385
Jairo José da Silva
Springer International Publishing
2017
Hardcover $99.99
VII, 276

Eileen Rizo-Patron, Edward S. Casey, Jason M. Wirth (Eds.): Adventures in Phenomenology: Gaston Bachelard, SUNY Press, 2017

Adventures in Phenomenology: Gaston Bachelard Couverture du livre Adventures in Phenomenology: Gaston Bachelard
SUNY series in Contemporary French Thought
Eileen Rizo-Patron, Edward S. Casey, Jason M. Wirth (Eds.)
SUNY Press
2017
Hardcover $90.00
338

Eugen Fink: Sein und Endlichkeit. Teilband 2: Vom Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit

Sein und Endlichkeit. Teilband 2: Vom Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit Couverture du livre Sein und Endlichkeit. Teilband 2: Vom Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit
Eugen Fink Gesamtausgabe, Band 5/2
Eugen Fink. Riccardo Lazzari (Hg.)
Verlag Karl Alber
2016
Hardcover 99,99 €
720

Reviewed by: Christian Sternad (Husserl Archives, KU Leuven)

Eugen Fink ist eine der mit Abstand wichtigsten Figuren in der phänomenologischen Bewegung. Als einzigartiger Vermittler der philosophischen Entwürfe seiner phänomenologischen Lehrer Husserl und Heidegger, jedoch aber auch als Vermittler zwischen der transzendentalen Phänomenologie Husserls und der ontologisch-existenzialen phänomenologischen Philosophie Heideggers, hat er den zukünftigen Weg der Phänomenologie im 20. Jahrhundert entscheidend mitbestimmt. Während seine Philosophie vor dem Zweiten Weltkrieg größtenteils noch sehr deutlich in der theoretischen Gefolgschaft Husserls verbleibt, erweist sich Husserls Tod 1938 und das katastrophale Ereignis des Weltkrieges auch in Finks philosophischem Weg als entscheidender und wegweisender Einschnitt. Sein lebenslanger Freund und philosophischer Gefährte Jan Patočka hat diese entscheidende Veränderung in Finks Denken in einem Brief an Robert Campbell vom 30. September 1947 in prägnanter Weise dargestellt; Patočka schreibt dort:

„Er hat sich weit von Husserl entfernt in der Heideggerschen Richtung. Aber er versucht Neues, indem er eine neue Interpretation von Kant, Nietzsche und Hegel vornimmt. Er hat mir daraus Stücke vorgelesen, die, wie mir scheint, die höchste Aufmerksamkeit verdienen. Er ist im Begriff, ein großes Werk über die ‚Ontologische Erfahrung‘ vorzubereiten, das im Aufriß schon existiert und von dem ich viel erwarte.“[i]

Der zweite Teilband von Sein und Endlichkeit versammelt Texte Eugen Finks, welche größtenteils aus dieser für Fink philosophisch so entscheidenden Zeit stammen. Wie der Herausgeber dieses Bandes, Riccardo Lazzari, in seinem vorzüglichen Nachwort erwähnt, können Finks „Überlegung[en] in den hier publizierten Vorlesungen als die Suche eines neuen Weges gedeutet werden“.[ii] Diese Suche nach einem neuen Weg erfolgt jedoch keineswegs geradlinig und führt auf den ersten Blick in sehr unterschiedliche Richtungen: Enthusiasmus, Freiheit, Endlichkeit, Welt, Zeit, etc. Was diese disparat erscheinenden Texte und Themen jedoch gleich einem unsichtbaren Faden zusammenhält, ist Finks sich in statu nascendi befindende Fragestellung nach dem Weltbezug des Menschen und jener nach der Welt überhaupt.

Die Frage nach der Welt ist bei Fink gerade jene philosophische Bewegung, in welcher er die Gedanken Husserls und Heideggers aufnimmt, sie jedoch zugleich in eigener schöpferischer Weise weiterführt. Dieser Ur-topos der Phänomenologie erfährt bei Fink eine bedeutende Neuinterpretation, welche hauptsächlich durch zwei Unzulänglichkeiten[iii] angestoßen wird:

  1. Die Welt hat bei Husserl zwar einen fundamentalen theoretischen Platz bezogen, sie bildet jedoch aufgrund ihres Horizontcharakters stets nur den (wenngleich auch allererst ermöglichenden) Hintergrund der Phänomene. Überdies scheint sich die Welt damit auf das Subjekt zu reduzieren, für welches die Welt als Horizont aller Erscheinungen fungiert. Fink möchte die Welt jedoch aus dieser Beschränkung auf das Subjekt und der damit verbundenen Horizontstruktur herauslösen.
  2. Bei Heidegger erfährt die Welt bzw. das In-der-Welt-sein bekanntlich einen existenzialen Zug, welcher jedoch umgekehrt zu dem Problem führt, dass auch hier die Welt lediglich in einer existenzialen Struktur zur Geltung kommt. Das Ganze der Welt, in welche der Mensch schon vor jeder existenzialen Struktur eingelassen ist, kann dabei jedoch nicht vollends zur Geltung kommen. Das Ganze der existenzialen Welt entspricht insofern nicht dem Ganzen der Welt als solcher, vor welche sich der Mensch gestellt sieht.

Diese Unterschiede möchten als Feinheiten der Interpretation erscheinen, sie sind jedoch letztlich entscheidend für den philosophischen Weg, welchen Fink über Husserl und Heidegger hinaus einschlägt und welcher am besten als eine Verwindung von einer phänomenologisch verstandenen Anthropologie und Kosmologie beschrieben werden kann. Bei Fink nimmt die Welt jenen Doppelcharakter ein, in welchem der Mensch auf die ihm so nah stehende Welt vor das ihm so fernliegende Ganze der Welt gestellt ist. Während im ersten Fall ein existenzieller Weltbegriff angezeigt ist, wird im zweiten Fall ein kosmischer Weltbegriff in den Blick genommen – ersterer bringt eine Welt im Menschen zum Ausdruck, der zweite Begriff der Welt zeigt einen Menschen in der Welt, welche Fink gelegentlich auch als „Allheit“ bezeichnet und welche er außerhalb der Verfügungsgewalt des Menschen verortet. Dies tritt in den Vorbetrachtungen zur Welt-Frage in der Vorlesung Welt und Endlichkeit[iv] (1949), die meines Erachtens das Herzstück dieses Bandes darstellt, in aller Deutlichkeit in Erscheinung. Hier formuliert Fink:

„Wir treffen die Welt nie an als einen Gegenstand unserer Erfahrung, weil sie in ihrer Offenheit überhaupt erst Gegenstände begegnen läßt. Vom Seienden ist jeweils nur ein Ausschnitt überblickbar, nie das Ganze. Dieses hält sich uns immer entzogen, und doch verhalten wir uns ständig zum Ganzen. […] Welt wird immer verstanden als das Ganze, in welches der Verstehende selbst mit hineingehört. Welt ist eine Urbekanntheit, die die menschliche Existenz durchmachtet und erhellt. Sofern wir überhaupt sind, leben und weben wir im Offenen der Welt.“ (199)

Diese Doppelstruktur von existenzialem und kosmologischen Denken ist das Charakteristikum von Finks philosophisch eigenständiger Fragestellung, nämlich „wie der weltoffene, aus dem Weltbezug existierende Mensch im Kosmos ist“.[v] Diese Frage nach der eigenwilligen Doppelstruktur der Welt entfaltet Fink mit jenen ihm so vertrauten Denkern wie Kant, Nietzsche und Heidegger, die im Verlauf seiner denkerischen Laufbahn ständige Gesprächspartner bilden.

Ohne der Lektüre dieses Bandes vorzugreifen, scheinen mir noch zwei Momente interessant zu sein, welche ich nur kurz andeuten möchte:

Zum einen betrifft dies das für den Phänomenologen interessante Wechselspiel zwischen Gegebenheit und Ungegebenheit, zwischen Erscheinung und Entzug, welches sich in der Weltproblematik andeutet . Welt ist das Bekannteste, die „Urbekanntheit“, jedoch auch immer das zugleich Flüchtigste. Sie ist immer da und fungiert als Erscheinungshorizont aller Erscheinungen. Zugleich verschwindet sie in eigenwilliger Weise, wenn sie zum Gegenstand der Überlegungen gemacht wird. Diese Schwierigkeit verstärkt sich, wenn die Welt in kosmologischer Hinsicht verstanden wird. Wie ist das Ganze der Welt zu fassen, wenn man nicht in einen banalen Begriff des ontischen Vorhandenseins aller Dinge abgleiten will? Wie lässt sich ein kosmischer Weltbegriff vorstellen, der die Unabhängigkeit der Welt vom Menschen beschreiben will, zugleich den Weltbegriff jedoch auch nicht in ein pures Vorkommnis außerhalb des menschlichen Bezugs nivellieren möchte? Diese Problematik motiviert die methodologischen Überlegungen in vielen von Finks Werken aus dieser Zeit. Cathrin Nielsen und Hans Rainer Sepp haben diese bedeutende Problematik bei Fink prägnant zusammengefasst:

„Es handelt sich dabei um eine paradoxe Konfrontation von solchem, das gegeben ist (Binnenweltliches) und sich zugleich jeder positiven Gebung verweigert (Welt) – oder um ein Zusammentreffen von solchem, das konkret da ist, das wir selbst sind, mit dem, was sich an der Bruchlinie des Stückhaften der Existenz in negativo noch zeigt, was zeigt, dass das, was ist, nicht alles ist – oder, noch anders und rein formal ausgedrückt, eine Identität, die nur als eine unaufhebbare Differenz fassbar ist.“[vi]

Zum anderen ist da noch die Frage nach der Transzendenz der Endlichkeit der Weltbezüge, welche Fink in verschiedenen Anläufen immer wieder neu und anders thematisiert. Vor allem der Vortrag Vom Wesen des Enthusiasmus[vii] (1947) zu Beginn dieses Bandes widmet sich dem Enthusiasmus als einem Moment der menschlichen Existenz, in welchem diese über sich hinaus gerät. Abseits von Finks konkreten Thesen – Fink interpretiert Philosophie, Kunst und Religion als jene „absoluten Verhältnisse, welche hin zum Wahren, Schönen und Heiligen führen“[viii] –, deutet Fink ein wirkmächtiges Spannungsverhältnis an, welches er selbst folgendermaßen beschreibt: „Im Bezug zum Unendlichen wird das Endliche als solches erfahren“.[ix] In diesem Spannungsverhältnis kann der Bezug zwischen dem Konkreten und jenem alle Konkretion Übersteigende erblickt werden – eine gedankliche Struktur übrigens, welche er mit seinem philosophischen Freund Jan Patočka teilt.[x]

Zuletzt noch ein Wort zum Aufbau dieses zweiten Teilbandes des fünften Bandes der Eugen Fink Gesamtausgabe: Die Haupttexte in diesem Band – Vom Wesen des Enthusiasmus (1947), Vom Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit (1947), Welt und Endlichkeit (1949), Die menschliche Freiheit (1961), Die Exposition des Weltbegriffs bei Giordano Bruno (1972) – werden durch einige interessante ergänzende Texte flankiert – Freiheit und Werk (1961), Über Freiheit (Freiheit wovon…, Freiheit wozu…) (1961), Freiheit und Zeit (1962), Die Wissenschaften und das Weltproblem (1966) – und letztlich durch eine Reihe an Notizen und Disposition, welche als ergänzendes Material betrachtet werden können, abgeschlossen. Im Allgemeinen lässt sich sagen, dass der thematische Spannungsbogen dieses Bandes zwischen Sein und Endlichkeit eindeutig geglückt ist, weil sich darin die Fragen von existenziellem bzw. anthropologischem und kosmologischem Denken auf deutliche Weise verschränken. Die auf den ersten Blick disparaten Texte und Textentwürfe werden durch das hervorragende Nachwort des Herausgebers in einen erhellenden Gesamtkontext gestellt und erleichtern damit dem Leser den Einstieg in diesen voluminösen Band. Vor diesem Hintergrund lässt dieser zweite Teilband Vom Wesen der menschlichen Freiheit mit Vorfreude auf den ersten Teilband von Sein und Endlichkeit vorausblicken, welche dem Publikationsplan zufolge unter anderem weitere wichtige Texte von Fink, wie etwa die Vorlesungen Philosophie des Geistes (1946/47) und Sein und Mensch (1950/51), beinhalten werden.


[i] Eugen Fink, Jan Patočka, Briefe und Dokumente 1933-1977. Hg. Von Michael Neitz und Bernhard Nessler. Freiburg: Verlag Karl Alber 1999, 56.

[ii] 695-696.

[iii] Eine besonders klare Darstellung dieser doppelten Kritikrichtung findet sich in: Cathrin Nielsen & Hans Rainer Sepp, „Welt bei Fink“, in: Cathrin Nielsen, Hans Rainer Sepp (Hg.), Welt denken. Annäherungn an die Kosmologie Eugen Finks, Freiburg: Karl Alber 2011, 9-14.

[iv] Diese Vorlesung war bisher veröffentlicht in Eugen Fink, Welt und Endlichkeit, Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann 1990. Im vorliegenden Band: 191-402.

[v] Eugen Fink, Spiel als Weltsymbol, (EFGA, Bd. 7), Freiburg: Karl Alber 2010, 69.

[vi] Cathrin Nielsen & Hans Rainer Sepp, „Welt bei Fink“, in: Cathrin Nielsen, Hans Rainer Sepp (Hg.), Welt denken. Annäherungn an die Kosmologie Eugen Finks, Freiburg: Karl Alber 2011, 10.

[vii] 11-25.

[viii] 15.

[ix] 22.

[x] Vgl. hierzu die bemerkenswerte Studie: Filip Karfík, Unendlichwerden durch die Endlichkeit. Eine Lektüre der Philosophie Jan Patočkas. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann 2008.

Francisco J. Varela, Evan Thompson, Eleanor Rosch: The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (Second Edition)

The Embodied Mind, Revised Edition: Cognitive Science and Human Experience Couverture du livre The Embodied Mind, Revised Edition: Cognitive Science and Human Experience
Francisco J. Varela, Evan Thompson, Eleanor Rosch. Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn
MIT Press
2017. Revised Edition
Paperback $30.00
392

Reviewed by: Tom McClelland (University of Warwick)

The second edition of The Embodied Mind supplements the original 1991 text with nearly 50 pages of new material: a foreword by leading figure in mindfulness therapy – Jon Kabat-Zinn – and extensive new introductions by each of the two surviving authors – Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch. This hugely provocative and influential text has certainly earned its republication, and the reader’s experience will doubtless be enriched by the new supplementary material. The book is driven by the idea of a ‘circulation’ between human experience and the sciences of the mind. Rather than insulating our lived experience from emerging insights into the nature of the mind, the authors encourage us towards ‘transformations’ that bring our everyday experience into harmony with our best understanding of the mind and have far-reaching implications for how we live our lives. Furthermore, rather than insulating our scientific inquiry from our everyday lived experience, the authors encourage us to achieve experiential insights that will free us from entrenched misconceptions about the nature of the mind and its place in the world.

The book proceeds in five parts. Part I explores the two elements of the targeted circular interaction – cognitive science and human experience. Here the authors ally their project with that of Merleau-Ponty, though they contrast the phenomenological school’s method of reflection upon experience with their preferred meditative method of open-ended mindful investigation. Part II argues that although cognitivism has uncovered that there is no unified self, it fails to reconcile this conclusion with our lived experience. They propose that the Buddhist tradition offers a deeper appreciation of the absence of the self through which we can learn to experience ourselves in an ego-less manner. Part III explores the question of how the mind should be understood if not in terms of a unified substantial self. The authors draw both on contemporary ideas in biology and cognitive science regarding self-organisation, emergent properties and connectionist architecture, and on related Buddhist ideas regarding karma and the Wheel of Life. Part IV further develops this new ‘enactive’ approach to cognitive science and clarifies their two key conceptual innovations: embodiment and enaction. They explain that the concept of embodiment is intended to highlight:

‘…first, that cognition depends upon the kinds of experience that come from having a body with various sensorimotor capacities, and second, that these individual sensorimotor capacities are themselves embedded in a more encompassing biological, psychological, and cultural context.’ (173)

They go on to explain that adopting an enactive approach means endorsing the claims that:

‘(1) perception consists in perceptually guided action and (2) cognitive structures emerge from the recurrent sensorimotor patterns that enable action to be perceptually guided.’ (173)

Their radical claim that the world is not pre-given but enacted expands their groundless conception of a mind devoid of ego into a groundless conception of a world devoid of independent objects. Part V reflects critically on the place of groundlessness in contemporary Western thought and draws further lessons from Eastern traditions. In line with their project’s ‘deeply ethical concerns’ (lxvi), the authors conclude by reflecting on the ethical implications of their enactive view.

In his foreword, Kabat-Zinn reflects on the ‘seminal and historic role’ of The Embodied Mind describing the book as brave, edgy and rigorous (xi). This description is at least partly justified. The book is incredibly brave in its scope, encompassing a range of contemporary and historical ideas in phenomenology, analytic philosophy, existentialism, cognitive psychology, artificial intelligence, psychoanalysis, cellular biology, evolutionary theory and various schools of Buddhism. It is also edgy in its content, proposing radical reconceptions of the mind, its place in the world and of the entire methodological outlook of cognitive science. It is not, however, a text that I would describe as rigorous. Though impressive and enticing, the authors’ arguments are deeply muddled in some places, and straightforwardly fallacious in others. I will pick out three representative arguments that target methodology, the self and the world respectively.

The first part of the book emphasises the importance of achieving first-person insights into the nature of one’s experience. The authors propose that the reflective methods developed in the phenomenological school face severe limitations, and that their own preferred approach of open-ended mindful investigation avoids these shortcomings. A more rigorous examination, however, suggests that the gap between the two methods is not as profound as advertised. First, the authors exaggerate the extent to which the phenomenological method adopts a theoretical perspective that distorts the pragmatic aspects of lived experience, and the extent to which phenomenological findings are tainted by background theoretical commitments. Second, they exaggerate the extent to which meditative investigation can overcome these impediments. It is well-established that attention dramatically alters experience so, as an essentially attentive activity (78), mindfulness will distort experience rather than simply disclosing it (Dreyfus pushes a related point in his 1992 review of the book). Furthermore, the conclusions reached in the meditative tradition are, like those of the phenomenologists, strongly influenced by theoretical concerns and commitments rather than reflecting lived experience in a manner untainted by theory. Interestingly, these shortcomings of the book’s arguments are conceded in Thompson’s new introduction, though Rosch is a little less concessive on this issue. Neither author, however, recognises that there are similar exaggerations in their discussion of other themes.

Consider their extended discussion of the self. The authors argue that cognitivism is committed to the non-existence of the self: a conclusion with which they strongly agree. They object, though, that cognitive science has failed to provide a viable self-free framework for understanding the mind and has ignored the need to incorporate egolessness into our lived experience. These accusations only stand up if cognitive science is indeed committed to the non-existence of the self, but this commitment is again exaggerated. Various psychological findings do indeed put pressure on the idea of a substantial, coherent, unified and stable self that is the source of thought, the centre of perception and the origin of action. Although one response to this pressure is to deny the existence of the self, another is simply to revise our conception of the self to accommodate these findings. As Dennett puts it, the points raised in the book can plausibly be dealt with by reformation rather than revolution (1993).

One important example concerns our naïve conception of the self as an enduring substance that persists through all our mental and bodily changes. Various considerations suggest that no such substantial entity exists. However, rather than concluding that the self is unreal we can adjust our understanding so that the self is no longer an enduring substance but instead a certain kind of pattern – a ‘perduring’ entity. This kind of view gets short shrift from the authors, who misrepresent it as reducing facts about the self to a matter of perspective (65). Our naïve conception of the self also takes the self to be an essentially conscious entity, yet cognitive science posits unconscious mental processes. Again, we might take this as evidence against the existence of the self, or we could simply revise our conception of the self to accommodate the fact that we undergo both conscious and non-conscious processes. The authors again dismiss such a view too lightly, arguing that if mental processes can be either conscious or non-conscious then consciousness becomes epiphenomenal (56). This is a particularly patent fallacy: the fact that some mental processes can occur non-consciously does not entail that any mental process can occur non-consciously.

This pattern of misrepresenting existing positions also extends to their discussion of the nature of the world. The authors highlight the failings of both objectivism – the view that experience discloses a wholly mind-independent world – and subjectivism – the view that experience projects properties of the mind onto the world. They argue that ‘…Western views have…no methodological basis for a middle way between objectivism and subjectivism’ (230) and propose their own middle-way position according to which the world is enacted by organisms through a ‘history of structural coupling’ (200). On this view, there is a mutual dependence between mind and world such that an organism’s world is ‘brought forth’ by the activities of that organism. Pursuing a middle-way between objectivism and subjectivism is certainly a sensible proposal, but here the authors again exaggerate the distance between their own proposal and existing positions.

They hold that cognitivism is committed to a representational view of the mind, which is in turn committed to the objectivist thought that experience ‘recovers’ how the world is in and of itself. This disregards the myriad positions in both philosophy and psychology according to which we represent ‘response-dependent’ properties: that is, worldly properties that are characterised by the responses they elicit in certain kinds of organism. When faced with problems about the objectivity of colour – problems articulately exposed in Chapter 8 of the book – thinkers such as Locke have claimed that being red is a matter of having the dispositional property of affecting certain kinds of observer in a certain way. The notion of response-dependent properties is prevalent in Western thought, and is even compatible with a representational view of the mind, so it is a mistake to hail enactivism as revolutionary in its carving of a middle-way between objectivism and subjectivism.

It might be objected that this common-place notion of response-dependent properties is disanalogous to the proposed account of an enacted world. The authors are not merely arguing that certain experienced properties only exist relative to certain kinds of organism, but rather that an organism’s whole world is ‘brought forth’ by them. I see two ways of reading the proposed enactive view of the world. On the first reading, enactivism says that everything we experience is in some sense relative to the kind of organism we are. If this reading is accurate, the difference between enactivism and the common-place response-dependent view is merely one of degree: most theorists claim that some of the properties we experience are organism relative where enactivism claims that they all are. This does not mark a radical break from orthodoxy, and might even be read into a number of existing theories such as Kant’s Transcendental Idealism. On the second reading, enactivism says not just that everything we experience is relative to the kind of organism we are but that there is no mind-independent world beyond our experience. This view would certainly mark a more dramatic departure from orthodoxy, but it is not a view that is justified by the arguments offered in the book. The authors do offer an argument from Mahayana philosopher Nagarjuna that what is seen is inseparable from the seer and the seeing of it because it is unintelligible for a sight to exist unseen. This is the kind of weak word-play easily unpicked by a keen undergraduate philosopher – a point that the authors come close to conceding themselves (223) – yet the argument is nevertheless given credence. The denial of a mind-independent world is not just poorly motivated in the book, but hard to reconcile with the enactivist framework. It seems we must posit a world that exists independently of the organism to make sense of the organism bringing forth a ‘lived world’ through its interactions with it. This comes out vividly in the authors’ example of ‘Bittorio’ – a ring of cellular automata that brings forth a world of significance through its coupling with ‘…a random soup of 1s and 0s’ (157). Overall then, it is unclear that The Embodied Mind has supplied and motivated a revolutionary understanding of the world at all.

The examples offered above are not the only cases in which the authors misrepresent existing views, nor are they the only cases in which the depiction of their own view is skewed or unclear. It is worth noting that Kabat-Zinn, despite the positivity of his foreword, admits that he didn’t understand most of the book on first reading it (xi). Similarly, Rosch’s introduction alludes to ‘…twenty years of emails from confused readers…’ (xxxviii). It would be a mistake, however, to dismiss the whole book as unclear and poorly argued. The text packs in an incredible amount of content, so for every poor argument there is another that is more convincing, and for every muddled or inaccurate piece of exposition there is another that is incredibly clear and informed. More importantly, there is a sense in which criticisms of the lack of rigour in some stretches of the book risk missing the point. Consider the following statement of the book’s purpose:

‘Let us emphasize that the overriding aim of our book is pragmatic. We do not intend to build some grand, unified theory, either scientific or philosophical, of the mind-body relation. Nor do we intend to write a treatise of comparative scholarship. Our concern is to open a space of possibilities in which the circulation between cognitive science and human experience can be fully appreciated and to foster the transformative possibilities of human experience in a scientific culture.’ (lxiv-lxv)

A book that is intended to instigate an intellectual revolution in our approach to the mind can perhaps be excused for misrepresenting the orthodox views it opposes, and for over-stating the promise of the new frontier it signals. A project with this kind of space-opening remit should perhaps be judged not by the arguments behind it but by the legacy before it: that is, by the extent to which the world-view it preaches has gone on to yield valuable results. Such a retrospective evaluation was, of course, unavailable at the time of The Embodied Mind’s original publication, but 26 years on with the publication of this second edition we are in a better position to judge it by its legacy. Despite admitting his limited understanding of the text, Kabat-Zinn talks about the enormous influence that the book had upon his thinking. Perhaps this is representative of the book’s wider influence: even without understanding every claim in the book or accepting every argument, many researchers have had their thinking moulded by the spirit of the book, and have achieved a deeper understanding of the mind as a result.

The two new introductions offer a useful overview of The Embodied Mind’s legacy. Rosch identifies some key ways in which the contemporary landscape of cognitive science vindicates the ideas proposed in the book. She cites the increased appreciation of: the role of phenomenological investigation in the study of the mind; the importance of mindfulness training and the transformative experiences it yields, and; the development of enactivist principles in both psychology and philosophy. Thompson’s list is a little longer. He notes that researchers have increasingly moved away from a stimulus-response model of the brain to models on which brain activity is self-organising, non-linear, rhythmic, parallel and distributed. He places this in the context of a wider advance in our understanding of autopoietic systems. Furthermore, subjective experience is now typically regarded as an efficacious aspect of the mind that offers a suitable target for empirical investigation. Meditation and mindfulness are now commonly employed in clinical practice and Buddhism is increasingly regarded as a valuable player in philosophical debates. Many mental processes are regarded as embodied, including abstract mental capacities that are taken to be grounded in motor-perceptual processes. Finally, the enactivist principle that an organism’s world is not pre-specified but in some sense enacted by the organism has also gained traction.

Although this legacy is quite formidable, we must also note some of the recommendations that have not been so widely taken up. Rosch suggests that mindfulness has not been given the right place in contemporary research, and that its scientific investigation has displayed serious shortcomings. She also suggests that science has not approached the lessons of Buddhism with an ‘open heart’ but instead treated the tradition ‘imperialistically’, incorporating only those insights that are not too disruptive to the scientific status-quo (lii). Individual experience is still too-often disregarded in favour of an impersonal and reductive view of the mind, and there is little appreciation of evidence that, according to Rosch, indicates the separability of mind and body. Finally, little has been done to extend the enactive framework beyond our understanding of the mind to other domains such as symbol-systems, disease and societal structures. Thompson proposes that more attention should be given to enactivism’s radical view of scientific models as ‘…formalised representations of the world as disclosed to our embodied cognition.’ (xxvii). He also claims that experience is still erroneously treated as an object of scientific investigation rather than unobjectifiable, and suggests that more needs to be done to achieve the practical wisdom championed by the book.

The list of ideas in the book that have not proven successful could be extended further, but what should we make of this list? One possibility is that the network of ideas presented in the book form an integrated world view. The last 26 years have allowed some nodes of this network to be incorporated into the mainstream understanding of the mind, and with a few decades more the rest of the network will go the same way and enactivism will become the new orthodoxy. Another possibility is that the proposed network of ideas is not as integrated as the authors advertise, and that one can pick and choose which claims are worth adopting. On this view, the best components have been carved-off, refined and developed over the years while the weaker components have rightly been left by the wayside. I’m inclined to favour the latter interpretation: cognitive science has been reformed in light of the insights captured by the book, but the full-scale revolution that Varela, Thompson and Rosch call for has rightly been resisted. But even if I’m right that not all of the driving claims of The Embodied Mind will be proven true, the point remains that the book has an impressive legacy that marks it as a valuable contribution to cognitive science and as a text worthy of our continued critical attention.

Literature:

Dennett, D.C. 1993. Review of “The Embodied Mind”. American Journal of Psychology, 106: 121-6.

Dreyfus, H. 1993. Review of “The Embodied Mind”. Mind, 102: 542-6.

 

Francisco J. Varela, Evan Thompson, Eleanor Rosch: The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (Second Edition)

The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience Couverture du livre The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience
Francisco J. Varela, Evan Thompson, Eleanor Rosch. Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn
MIT Press
2017. Revised Edition
Paperback $30.00
392

Reviewed by: Diane Stringer (University of Adelaide)

Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch offer a masterful encore to their influential book, The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience, first published in 1991. While the primary text is unchanged, the addition of detailed introductions in this 2016 Revised Edition addresses some key developments in philosophy and the cognitive sciences that have occurred over the intervening years. These introductions update, and in some cases amend, the content in the original text. The two surviving original authors, and Jon Kabat–Zinn, who contributes an interesting Foreword to the Revised Edition, invite new readers to enjoy their classic account of how contemporary work in the cognitive science and phenomenology and the contributions made by Buddhist teachings, come together to add to our understanding of the mind.

The lack of the new introduction that the late Francisco Varela would have provided for this Revised Edition makes reading these introductions all the more poignant. The Embodied Mind is an account of how a subjective, personal understanding of our mind, particularly our sense of ‘self’ and its everyday purposes can be informed by a fusion of phenomenology, a Buddhism-based account of our lived experience with contemporary work being done in the cognitive sciences.

At this point, a newcomer to this book might point out that work in phenomenology has already developed this kind of partnership (sans Buddhism) with the cognitive sciences in the service of better understanding human lived experience. For example, the phenomenologist and philosopher Edmund Husserl’s views inform philosophical accounts of our lived experiences as well as work done in the cognitive sciences, as evidenced in the works of Rick Grush (2004) and Shaun Gallagher and Dan Zahavi (Gallagher & Zahavi 2012), amongst others. As this review is aimed primarily at readers interested in phenomenology, I will note briefly that one of the book’s authors, Evan Thompson, changed his view about the relevance of Husserl’s work in phenomenology to this project over the years that have passed between the publication of the original edition of The Embodied Mind and the Revised Edition reviewed here. Thompson now acknowledges that the 1999 edition does not do justice to Husserl’s phenomenological work on lived experience, and acknowledges that in fact Husserl’s work can positively contribute to work on embodied minds and enactivism. In 1999, the authors’ view was that:

“…Husserl claimed to be able to study the intentional contents of the mind purely internally, that is, without tracing the contents of the mind back to what they seemed to refer to in the world” (16).

Husserl’s view in Ideas I does imply that our mind is an entirely mental structure and apparently ignores the “[d]irect embodied aspect of experience” (16-17). However, in Ideas II (1989, p. 37), written at roughly the same time as Ideas I, but published much later, Husserl makes the importance of our interaction with the external world in contributing to our lived experiences much clearer.

Briefly summarised, in Ideas II Husserl describes the way we are always actively testing the world, engaging with the world and predicting what our experiences of the world will be. Sometimes we do this consciously, but our brain also appears to to anticipate the next moment of our experience at a deeper level, usually below the level of our awareness until it is reflected upon. Husserl suggests that our mind not only anticipates this “background consciousness” of the on-going streaming of experience but it also anticipates the “actual hypothetical and causal motivations”: the physical processes that lead us to action and to what we actually “do” (Husserl 1989, p. 268). This indicates that Husserl’s account of lived experience in Ideas II has considerably more relevance to the approach developed in The Embodied Mind than the authors found to be the case in 1991.

Evan Thompson allows that he misjudged the contribution that Husserl and phenomenology could offer to the work undertaken in The Embodied Mind, and outlines the reasons why, in his Mind and Life (Thompson 2007). In his new introduction to the Revised Edition of The Embodied Mind Thompson reaffirms this new view of Husserl’s work. The Revised Edition still focuses on the importance he and his co-authors placed on Buddhist insights into how “first person experiences” are brought about, a view that was startling and fresh in the original edition. Now, though, he also seems to think that more focus on often-overlooked Phenomenological approaches is also important. This is interesting; the rather extreme view that “we can [really] conceive of a mind operating without a self” (235) associated with Buddhist traditions in this book, is a view that seems unlikely to be endorsed by Husserl, whose studies of self–awareness are integral to his work (See for example Husserl 1989, pp. 85-87).

I now turn to the work that the authors undertook in the first edition of The Embodied Mind in 1991 and retain in the Revised Edition. Their main strategy and aim was, and is, to interrogate our lived experience and shed some critical light on our belief that we have a “self”. In The Embodied Mind, Buddhism is favoured as the approach that is ultimately most likely to succeed in grasping key elements of our lived experience and is seen here as a partner to phenomenology and the cognitive sciences in the project of bringing lived experience and science together. Buddhist practices of mindfulness and meditation are used as a bridge between phenomenology and the cognitive sciences (33), in a bid to find common ground. In fact, many aims pursued throughout this book are shared by all three approaches, notably the possibility of developing an account of the self. However, rather than explain the self, the aim of The Embodied Mind is to explain the self away. Why? In part this is because while ‘…the living body is a ‘self-organising system’ (xxxviii), ‘the false sense of self is constructed’ ( xxxix, my underlining). Or, to disambiguate: while the physical self-organising systems that operate cooperatively below the level of our awareness are not problematic in the authors’ view, our inclination to believe that we have a ‘self’ that is somehow intimately related to all we see and think and do, and yet not tangible or identifiable, is an error.

The authors claim “…all of the reflective traditions in human history — philosophy, science, psychoanalysis, religion, meditation — have challenged the naïve sense of self” (59). On the other hand, in our less philosophical experiences we naively assume we have “…lasting, separate and independent selves that it is our constant preoccupation to protect and foster” (63). The Buddhist tradition offers an alternative view, but this alternative implies that we should let go of “ego-centred habit” (250); we should cease seeking to possess and nurture our sense of self, and instead strive to live a life “empty of any egoistic ground” (250). So in summary, these reflective traditions, and notably Buddhism, challenge the naïve sense of self. The Buddhist view of the self is intelligible and if accepted it would have remarkable scope. However, as Hume noted, when we are not thinking as philosophers, we naturally and easily revert back to our sense of self. It seems to me that it is (for example) me (“myself”) who is typing these words right now. It is not something we will give up easily, even in the face of the evidence provided against the naïve view of the self in this book.

“Laying Down a Path in Walking”, the title of the final chapter, is rhetorical and evocative and used here to good effect. The heading describes the progress of a cognitive scientist who can conceive of a mind operating without a self (235) and develops a theory that embodies this conception. This becomes a virtuous circle whereby he can conceive of the idea there is no self in experience, because when he introspects it is nowhere to be found in his experience (235). Is this virtuous circle convincing?

The overall argument that leads to this final chapter, as it is developed in this classic book, is defended quite beautifully, especially in the final chapter. For those who are interested in multidisciplinary approaches to understanding difficult philosophical problems, this book is highly recommended.

References:

Gallagher, S & Zahavi, D. 2012. The Phenomenological Mind, 2nd edition, Routledge, London.

Grush, R. 2004. ‘The emulation theory of representation: motor control, imagery and perception’, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol. 27, 2004, pp. 377-442.

Husserl, E. 1989. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy; second book, trans. R Rojcewicz & A Schuwer, Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht.

Thompson, E. 2007. Mind in Life, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

 

Markus Gabriel, Csaba Olay, Sebastian Ostritsch (Hrsg.): Welt und Unendlichkeit – ein deutsch-ungarischer Dialog in memoriam László Tengelyi, Karl Alber, 2017

Welt und Unendlichkeit - ein deutsch-ungarischer Dialog in memoriam László Tengelyi Couverture du livre Welt und Unendlichkeit - ein deutsch-ungarischer Dialog in memoriam László Tengelyi
Markus Gabriel, Csaba Olay, Sebastian Ostritsch (Hrsg.)
Verlag Karl Alber
2017
Hardback €32,00
208

Rafael Winkler (Ed.): Identity and Difference: Contemporary Debates on the Self

Identity and Difference: Contemporary Debates on the Self Couverture du livre Identity and Difference: Contemporary Debates on the Self
Rafael Winkler (Ed.)
Palgrave Macmillan
2016
Hardcover 96,29 €
XVI, 286

Reviewed by: Meghant Sudan (Colby College)

This collection of essays aims to show how questions about one’s identity (as a metaphysical entity, as a reflective knower, as a social-moral-political being) appear when difference is upheld as primary or fundamental. This approach is broadly characteristic of recent works in continental philosophy and through it the collection maintains a steady affiliation with phenomenological thought, although this is not its explicit focus. The reader is led through thoughtful explorations of topics such as how one’s self-conception is marked by a fundamental deception, or how a satisfying account of agency demands a thoroughgoing unity across my animal and my rational capacities, or how my being human and embodied entails my constitution through a dynamic of fragility. The collection contains eleven essays presented at a conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, including many by local and younger scholars, and so represents philosophical work itself in a somewhat different setting.

In that very setting, the collection is timely too, since the issue of identity has recently inspired lively public debate and much soul-searching at prominent sites of the South African philosophical scene, some involving the editor and a few authors of our collection. The controversy originally arose over systemic racism many felt exists in the Philosophical Society of South Africa, and in part concerned an all-white panel on the topic of South African identity at its annual conference last year (the panellists include some authors in the present collection). The editor then broached the topic and responded to critics in opinion pieces in newspapers this year. The collection encourages several ways to think about one’s identity and deepens the debate that already took place in the newspaper columns but which naturally could go only as far as these allow. At the same time, the collection courts a like charge as that which embroiled the panel, since no anxiety about manifest tokens of racial representation seems to drive the contents of the volume, while the sole article attending to the question of South African identity argues expressly from the position of whiteness (a pressing conundrum regarding how white South Africans are to be white South Africans in a post-apartheid state). These issues of the personal and the political are truly large and urgent, and easily dwarf the fact, which I would also like to make transparent in the context of this review, that I am personally acquainted with the editor and we share philosophical interests.

It is fashionable to fret about the lack of unity in collections, especially one that is conference-based, where it is even more susceptible to such worries. I do not share these worries, and judging from the fact that Winkler’s brisk introduction does not invest great effort in imposing order on the proceedings, I do not think there was any worry about settling them either. The essays are organized along four themes: “Narrative Theory and Phenomenology,” “Politics, Authenticity, and Agency,” “Feminism,” and “Race and the Postcolonial,” but they often speak to each other beyond these divisions. For example, narrative theories of identity appear in the first section (as they must) but also substantively in the Feminism section; the formidable thought of Spivak reflecting on Irigaray reflecting on Levinas comes up in both the Feminism and the Race and The Postcolonial sections; an interest in philosophical skepticism emerges in the course of discussing Sartrean views of consciousness in the first section and leads into a historical discussion of skepticism in the next. Such conversations among the pieces are helpful and are highlighted below. An unevenness does dog the collection, however, and I will comment on this aspect in the end after briefly reviewing the individual contributions.

Dermot Moran surveys concepts of self, ego, personhood, and personality, as they travel through the history of western philosophy until their phenomenological treatments by Husserl, Heidegger, Max Scheler, and Edith Stein. After Locke, who gave the concept of personhood a strongly moral orientation, and Kant, who pressed the ego’s sensible-cum-rational entanglements as a problem, these founders of phenomenology strive in mutually responsive ways to articulate its complex and dynamic unity, and stress the following: its systematic and historical dimensions (Husserl and Heidegger), its moral and concrete individuality (Scheler), and its psychic and spiritual depth (Stein). While the essay succeeds several previous versions, it is clear that Moran’s practiced hand (the essay succeeds several previous versions) brings the various moments of this otherwise expansive sweep before us effortlessly and situates the chapters that follow.

Alfonso Muñoz-Corcuera enters debates about narrative theories of personal identity, which Moran touches on when closing his essay. Muñoz-Corcuera defends these theories against objections which disable easy transitions between literary characters and living persons, which hold that we neither understand ourselves through narratives nor is our identity in fact constituted through narrativization, and which raise concerns about diluting our practical exigencies by relying on strategies relevant elsewhere, such as writing fiction. These objections are shown to rest on a misunderstanding easily avoided by distinguishing diligently between literary and cognitive senses of “narrative,” where the latter indicates a mental framework for thinking of agency rather than formal features of sentences that count as literary narratives. The different positions in this debate are laid out in detail, but key points of Muñoz-Corcuera’s rejoinder are stated without explicit support even if they sound plausible enough, e.g., the claim that the cognitive sense somehow conditions how we construe the literary sense, or the claim that our own identity is constituted through the interaction between stories we tell about ourselves and stories others tell about us. Similarly, the formal-literary notion is a tad flat without an account of the material-historical conditions of that form itself, which would arrest misuse of that notion in thinking about ourselves.

David Mitchell makes a strong case for continuing the dialogue between phenomenological and narrative views of personal identity by examining Sartrean insights into how a dialectic of fiction and belief underwrites selfhood. It is hard to account for self-deception as a state of mind resistant to a Cartesian type of transparent self-consciousness. Freudian theories incur the paradox that the subject must be conscious of what it is to remain unconscious of in order to repress it and epistemological theories equating self-deception with ordinary adhesion to false beliefs in the face of countervailing evidence do not do justice to the distinctive features and deep conviction marking the former. Mitchell therefore appeals to Sartre’s quaintly charming psychological case-analyses, which show them as grounded in the structure of consciousness as elusive and in flight, and he offers an account of belief as essentially overcoming itself at a pre-reflective yet spontaneous level of awareness. I only wish that he set aside some of the time spent on the case-analyses to help readers learn more about the intriguing processes at work in the theory of mind according to this view.

Vincent Caudron reminds us that the desire for a seamless self, without gaps or distortions, overlooks discourses of authenticity, which dominated the early modern epoch and its tenor of religious and epistemological uncertainty, and which probed a radical incompleteness of the self. Caudron documents such views in Montaigne and Charron to show not only skepticism about a true self but also a constant pursuit of hypocrisy in oneself that drove a wedge within the self in the service of moral authenticity. Fortunately, we have a wealth of historical-philosophical literature available (elsewhere, in the area of early modern skepticism) that offers greater heft and nuance to the indications Caudron flags as important to consider.

Irene Bucelli, in the one chapter that engages analytic philosophy, proceeds in the other direction and wonders if the constitutivist views of agency championed by Korsgaard and Velleman create an untenable rift between animal-active and human-rational levels of selfhood and if an approach that synthesizes the two orders is not preferable instead. Bucelli believes that minimal self-awareness without higher reflective endorsement is not only necessary for being responsive to reasons for acting as her opponents grant, but also sometimes sufficient, which is evident in coping actions in which I am immersed. The evidence, so far as I see it developed here, draws from the more cohesive and permissive account of action that will eventually ensue from the proposed approach: cohesive inasmuch as various capacities can be integrated towards human action instead of attributing the latter exclusively to an autonomous rationality, which attribution is nonetheless supposed to depend on lower layers of mental awareness and ownership; permissive inasmuch as a continuum or spectrum of actions and mental states can fund an account of agency under more flexible circumstances than the sort that Kantian formalism permits.

Rockwell Clancy wants to deliver us from a more pernicious formalism he perceives in contemporary liberalism, which, in having freed itself from allegiance to natural law and human nature, has led, he feels, to conservative and fundamentalist reaction. He observes that disavowing political anthropology is neither possible, because the barest description of human agency is still one, nor is it desirable, because, as Clancy warns, this opens us up to vast dangers ranging from ISIS and David Cameron to Dawkins and Derrida (the warning is issued in the now recognizable style of holding postmodern playfulness responsible for the severe indifference to truth affecting public discourse today and thereby enabling whatever-you-fear-worst). In lieu of an abstract and exclusive universalism Cancy imagines an inclusive particularism that would approach human nature through a more fluid understanding of nature, which lets us collect everything needed to avoid said dangers from everyone from Mencius to Latour to build a better world (and a daunting bibliography).

Kathy Butterworth’s chapter outlines a program for conceiving a relative (she prefers “relational”) autonomy by using Ricouer’s narrative theory of personal identity, which allows for thinking of a subject, and its autonomy, as a process for permitting degrees of achievement and contextualization. We need such a concept because the post-structuralist critique of the subject, while it compellingly dismantles traditional notions of an invulnerable, all-or-nothing autonomy, thereby also imperils the resources it could provide for a post-identity subjectivity consonant with a broadly feminist perspective.

Louise du Toit eloquently argues for rethinking subjectivity through bodily vulnerability with the help of feminist legal philosophy and phenomenology. Rape, she says, is inadequately understood when we only consider its physical violence, or only its sexual side and exclusively under the concept of consent as a corollary thereof. Relying heavily on Debra Bergoffen’s work on international tribunals on war rapes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, du Toit explains, rather, that rape concerns a physically coded violation of dignity that places it on the same plane as other crimes against humanity such as torture and slavery. Comparative analysis of these enables a phenomenological interpretation inspired by Merleau-Ponty, which evokes the fundamental ambivalence of the embodied human as both object and subject and calls for a thinking in terms of our living sensuality and enmeshed erotics. The essay is laden with insights that await unpacking via critical confrontations with other feminist and phenomenological work touched on in passing or raised by suggestion.

Laura Roberts takes forward the question of erotics signalled by du Toit and frames a dialogue between Irigaray and Spivak (which is surprisingly helpful in clarifying their otherwise abstruse texts), in order to conceive a feminist ethics of solidarity that is synaptically global rather than universal in a way that subsumes the other under itself. Spivak finds in Irigaray’s concept of sexuate difference as an irreducible difference a point of departure for thinking of an ethical relation to another, and in the question of women’s pleasure an excess-within-difference that can develop it as a radically indeterminate moment moving bodies together (in love) and playing between discourses (in translation or teaching). This style of thought naturally resists straightforward exegesis, proceeds performatively, and baffles any mere spectator or reviewer, but may at the very least be taken as articulating the “sensible transcendental” conditions of possibility of a solidarity to come, if one were to press mundanely about the solidarity hereby made possible.

Sharli Paphitis and Lindsay-Ann Kelland broach the question of South African identity from the standpoint of white individuals and record their personal struggles with it. As it is avowedly a personal question, albeit posed in a collective and impersonal register, it could have occasioned reflection on the very decision to write together (along with others like the focus on their race and citizenship, rather than, for instance, their being women), even if one did not want (but why not?) to go to Spivakian lengths of autoanalysis. Paphitis and Kelland do reflect on their guilt and shame, taking these as two kinds of relationships determining identity, one with their forefathers (their word) and another with their black compatriots, and they find that, denials of history and denials of recognition respectively riddle their reflection. Yet, they refrain from using the analysis of this emotional experience to disclose any larger truths, say, about being and intersubjectivity, and accept that they have merely begun their journey of self-discovery.

Louis Blond closes the volume with a reluctant defense of Levinas against postcolonial criticism of the topic of alterity. The essay includes a useful genealogical sketch of this topic, thus bookending Moran’s own on identity, to lead us up to the basic framework of Levinasian thought and interventions by critics as well as sympathetic commentators. Although Levinas is celebrated for stressing the singularity of the other and ethical confrontations ensuing from it, critics object that this denies representational politics or repeats exclusionary gestures of a colonial extraction or they point to plain instances of bigotry. However, postcolonial thought is not always beyond reproach, especially in overstating the body’s passivity against the transcendent-spiritual orientation of Levinasian thought, while, Blond hopes, repairing blind spots in the latter can preserve its intrinsically valuable prioritization of the ethical and social relation.

As I hope to have shown, the collection is uneven: some chapters are stronger, some weaker, some are interpretive or analytical, while some are programmatically promissory or resolutely exegetical, some are dense and some lucid. Given the editorial decision to represent a variety of voices, this may even be welcome. An unevenness harder to specify, however, concerns their intended audience. For, a few chapters will appeal to philosophers searching for argumentative developments in their fields, while others speak to generalists looking for the big picture, and some to non-philosophers interested in introducing themselves to specific ideas and movements. The publisher’s blurb recognizes this and addresses itself to the humanities at large. Inasmuch as philosophers are accused of not doing so, the book corrects a fault and ably informs a diverse readership about the variety of debates prevalent today about identity, difference, and the self.

Paul Livingston: The Logic of Being: Realism, Truth, and Time, Northwestern University Press, 2017

The Logic of Being: Realism, Truth, and Time Couverture du livre The Logic of Being: Realism, Truth, and Time
Paul Livingston
Northwestern University Press
2017
Paper Text $34.95
280

James Dodd: Phenomenology, Architecture and the Built World: Exercises in Philosophical Anthropology

Phenomenology, Architecture and the Built World: Exercises in Philosophical Anthropology Couverture du livre Phenomenology, Architecture and the Built World: Exercises in Philosophical Anthropology
Studies in Contemporary Phenomenology, 16
James Dodd
Brill
2017
Hardback €110,00
viii, 298

Reviewed by: Kevin Berry (University of Pennsylvania)

James Dodd’s Phenomenology, Architecture and the Built World: Exercises in Philosophical Anthropology examines the built environment, as the artifactual composition of human involvement, from the perspective of phenomenological intentionality. From this perspective, “meaning,” as Dodd succinctly states, “is originally the accomplishment of the intentionality of lived experience” (57). Dodd’s formulation of the matter is most clearly expressed in chapter seven which directly explores, among other things, the topic of architectural meaning. The built environment is not a set of meanings inscribed upon buildings as if a “text to be deciphered,” but rather a series of existential paths open to inhabitants (199). As the material arrangement of human intentional involvements, the built environment is meaningful as “a sense of directedness” in “hodological form.” This seems to be the thesis of the text: an argument that phenomenology allows us to read the built environment’s meaning hodologically, rather than textually (215-216). In fact, that and how the world is given in meaningfulness is a large part of the “problematicity of knowledge,” the key issue in the text.

Though Dodd writes for philosophers, the text opens an equally important perspective for architectural historians. It points to the need to investigate architecture phenomenologically, a project which has suffered a legitimation crisis in the field of architecture since the late 80’s and early 90’s saw a rush of publications on the topic, the most notable being Questions of Perception. So many architectural theorists and historians in this tradition have used Heidegger, Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, and Hannah Arendt (the four main characters of Dodd’s text) without full awareness of the ontological critique of Cartesian conception of worldhood at the base of phenomenology. Architects, evoking these phenomenologists’ names, still read architectural meaning as being first of all a visual, or textual, matter. Architecture is not something we look at, or read, though. It is something we live in and, more precisely, are involved in. This insight, which Dodd’s text points out, would help bolster future attempts in architecture to apply phenomenology to the concept of architecture, the city, or the built environment.

The text has eight chapters set between an introduction and conclusion. Chapter 1, “Knowledge and Building” examines “the kind of knowledge operative in the activity of building,” tracing a philosophical argument in the historical debate between the architect and engineer as two distinct kinds of builders. Subsequently, chapter 2, “Building and Phenomenon” examines “the built as something encountered in experience” (8-9). The elegance with which the chapter titles interlock is impressive. Each has two key terms, displaying to the reader the flow of the argument; this can be seen in the word “Building” in first and second chapter titles. The flow continues: chapter 3, “Phenomenon and World” leads from Phenomenon to world. Chapters 4, 5 and 6 interlock concepts of “World” and “Thing,” chapter 6 flows from “Thing and Built Space,” into chapter 7, “Built Space and Expression,” and finally, chapter 8, “Expression and Presence.”

The chapter titles and section headings, while they reveal the flow of the argument, dissolve into one another, literally and figuratively. To this reader, one downside to this otherwise elegant structure is that it caused the text to read too fluidly, making it difficult to discern the main conclusions and objects of study, which are both architectural objects and philosophical texts. It is well written and the prose holds an impressive stride. The argument flows from one point to the next, with the reader often being led through illustrations of foundational ideas in phenomenological methodology. It is certainly not an introductory text, as Dodd states, but it holds a desire to continually return to the base of each problem. In short, it reads as an extensive phenomenological meditation, returning to questions of method as often as it turns to its objects of study. Dodd’s text rewards a patient reader.

For instance, it is hard to know what to subsume, exactly, under the concept (or, more accurately, figure) of the ‘labyrinth’ introduced in chapter 3, especially when the figure of the labyrinth plays such a pivotal role throughout the next two chapters, and not just in the subsections which have the word in their title. Edward Casey, Bernard Tschumi, and Indra Kagis McEwen are all employed in discussions of the labyrinth. The dense fabric this organization weaves is as impressive as it is demanding. Its conceptual complexity is not a point to be criticized, of course. My criticism here is much more limited. I can only say that the book is truly dense; at points, it seems overpopulated with insights. Signposts are needed to help distinguish major and just minor conclusions, as there are so many woven into each chapter. Internal to the argument, there are just four points I find disagreement with.

First, distinctions need to be sustained more thoroughly between the built environment, artifact, and architecture. Is the built environment to be understood as a composition of artifacts in this text? Or is it something over and above this, a whole greater than its parts? What is the difference between artifact and tool, or the difference between Heidegger’s equipmental totality and the idea of an artifactual totality (or composition) as it appears in the text? There seem to be many different ways of conceptualizing these key terms given the many theorists referenced.

Second, the attempt to rehabilitate phenomenology by creating what Dodd calls “classical phenomenology” by synthesizing Husserl, Heidegger, and Arendt, especially for a text which already copes with the workload involved in straddling multiple fields. The unresolved and irresolvable tension between Husserl, Heidegger, and Arendt is most apparent in chapter five, which asks the reader to jump from Husserl’s world of Abschattungen (adumbrations) – a topic already discussed in a previous chapter – to Heidegger’s world of Sorge (care)., by way of Steven Holl’s notion of parallax and Duchamp’s nude. This ten page section is certainly an impressive composition, and the illustrations are engaging, but the technical nuances in which Dodd engages often reveal the distance between these thinkers at those points in which they seem most closely related. I am sure Dodd recognizes that classical phenomenology is no monolith, and never could be, but the methodology of the text betrays a desire for it to be, especially chapter five.

Third, there is a set of competing ends operating in the argument. For instance, the reader is informed that the investigation is ultimately seeking “the development of a descriptive vocabulary for the analysis of built space” (50), but also that it is focused on “the problematicity of knowledge.” In the end, the latter concern appears to win, but the reader is still left wondering if the problem is ethical, concerned with developing a philosophical understanding of the built environment’s contribution to the meaningfulness of human existence, or epistemological, as the text more explicitly claims.

Again, it seems the latter wins. That this text on the built world begins with a chapter on “knowledge” is no accident. Dodd, it seems, asks philosophers to turn to the built environment, but only so they may turn back to questions of epistemology. This becomes clearer as the reader moves into the middle chapters, which grow increasingly epistemological, concerned with rethinking key concepts of intentionality, constitution, the epoché, and perception in light of the built environment. The text reads as an epistemological investigation with a special concern for the perceptual structures of meaning in the built environment. This is especially true in his example of an experience in Café Hawelka in Vienna (87). Descriptive analyses of European cafés are a staple of architectural phenomenology, and so the reader expects to be pulled into the built world, into living experience, but this does not happen. Rather, Dodd asks of perceptual experience in the café, “What does this entail?” and turns to a thorough excursus on Husserl’s notion of Abschattungen (90). Dodd concludes chapter 3 by drawing the conclusion from this that « in living through an experience, I fully inhabit the whole of experience at once » (93). In a way, this is just the epistemological issue at stake, and shows why phenomenology so often seems to spill over from epistemology into ontology. The café will return in the conclusion, this time as Sartre’s missing Pierre in Being and Nothingness (263-265).

My final point of criticism is that this is not a book on architecture, which it claims to be. The examples are never fully architectural. The phenomenological analysis of the way in which a pebble, in its material shape, holds cognitive indications concerning its uses and intentional possibilities, for example, is insightful, but this moment of analysis – one of the more important in the text – does not concern the architectural. Figures such as Eisenman, Tschumi and Le Corbusier do make appearances, as do some famous monuments and ruins, but they are always there for the elucidation of a concept and are not objects of study themselves. This leads me to ask, does Dodd actually discuss architecture at all? Regardless of how one answers this, as I indicated at the outset, this is a text architectural writers interested in philosophy must understand.

Perhaps Dodd’s intended philosophical audience explains why architecture remains conspicuously absent from the book. The ideas of phenomenology remain strongly in the fore, and artifacts often illustrate these, but architecture nowhere fully appears. Dodd’s decision to explain his argument through more typical environmental situations — sitting at a library, reading in a café, enjoying the view of a valley on a park bench, etc. — makes sense, because Dodd’s aim is to study the built environment not by applying concepts of Husserl and Heidegger to architectural objects, but by determining where, in the unique ontological picture of phenomenology, the built world fits. After all, most works of architecture populating the “canon” of architecture are built as perceptual experiences for the trained eye of the designer, and composed more for the attitude of disinterested aesthetic contemplation than the average inhabitant of day-to-day involvement. Architecture seems to be at odds with the idea of the built environment as a cultural setting, in this sense, or at least seems to bear an ecstatic, to use Heidegger’s term, relationship to it.

The title of Dodd’s text thus points out an issue. There seem to be two conceptions of architecture which need to be distinguished more carefully by those operating within the philosophy of architecture today: architecture as defined by the profession, its objects, and the discrete acts of professional architects designing individual buildings; and, second, architecture as understood anthropologically, as the act of arranging “the material-cultural world in which we are enmeshed,” as Dodd says so well, into a purposive whole (29). This second, anthropological conception of architecture, as an ontological condition of human communal existence in the material world, is the “architecture” of Dodd’s investigation.

Examining architecture’s significance, the way in which architecture means something to inhabitants in everyday, circumspective activity is an important and remarkably overlooked issue. Too much of architecture theory has acted as if architectural meaning only existed when architecture was looked at as a signifier or as an aesthetic object of disinterested contemplation. Dodd’s attempt to think architectural meaning in the foreground of human life, in the immediacy of the practically and socially absorbed activity of the occupant, that mode of experience in which the building is usually experienced and, somehow, understood, is a welcome addition. It seems phenomenology might have something left to contribute to this project, showing how the built environment needs to be thought through not as a cultural “objectification,” as recent sociological investigations of architecture have thought it, but as a material conception of Husserlian operative intentionality or transcendental subjectivity. (For an instance of such a sociology of architecture, see Silke Steets, Der sinnhafte aufbau der Gebauten Welt: Eine Architektursoziologie. Suhrkamp, 2015.)

It is surprisingly how little attention has been given to the connection between this broad conception of architecture and phenomenology, a tradition which so often thought in spatial, if not explicitly architectural terms – think of Heidegger’s illustration of the equipmental totality constituting worldhood in section 16 of Being and Time, or of the issue of “ego orientation” (152), both of which Dodd himself points to. Dodd’s work shows how phenomenology might offer a framework for studying the built world as a “cultural expression” in more complex terms than has been done so far. Phenomenology, Dodd shows, offers a way of thinking subjects’ interaction with artifacts’ meaningful structures in terms of operative intentionality.

Günter Figal: Freiräume: Phänomenologie und Hermeneutik, Mohr Siebeck, 2017

Freiräume: Phänomenologie und Hermeneutik Couverture du livre Freiräume: Phänomenologie und Hermeneutik
Philosophische Untersuchungen
Günter Figal
Mohr Siebeck
2017
Cloth 75,00 €
300