There is something slightly mysterious about reading this book, like finding a notebook in a desk in the attic in a drawer full of cobwebs. Or searching the archives for something you only have an inkling of what you might find (see below for a further description of the Patočka archives in Prague). Even though everything in this book besides the Translator’s Note has previously been published before in other languages, this collection of texts provides in English an insight into a thinker’s life hitherto inaccessible, or at least forgotten. Hence, the mystery. Erazim Kohák’s work in the 1980s brought forth a life story and a philosopher, but focused on the phenomenological and Czech thinker. The dates of the texts from The Natural World as a Philosophical Problem are fascinating in themselves. The main text is Patočka’s habilitation from 1936, Přirozený svét jako filosofický problém, first translated into French forty years later in 1976 (a year before he died), Le monde naturel comme problème philosophique, and then in German in 1990 as Die natürliche Welt als philosophisches Problem. Now the English in 2016, some eighty years after the original publication and forty years after his death. I mention these three translations because the nature of the natural world, for Patočka, is at issue: why is this a philosophical problem, and not an historical or scientific one? What has become of this problem in the intervening eighty years since he wrote the text? Normally, one does not review a book published eighty years earlier, but besides the main text, there is a “remeditated” supplement to it written 33 years later (1970), and then an afterword to the first French translation (1976). But that still leaves a mystery: what can be recalled anew about such texts?
The mystery begins with the foreword, written by a close friend of over forty years, who speaks to the life of the man himself and not just his thought: “our conversations were never purely philosophical,” and that these took place “for nights on end in my Prague years between 1933 and 1939”, Ludwig Landgrebe writes. These years seem to haunt this book, and perhaps the life and country if not all of Europe itself. Experiencing these years in “a kind of exile” in Prague, Landgrebe says, “Talk of personal life, family, comments on the alarming political situation in Europe, common concern for the future of Germany…For me, the development of Patočka’s philosophy is inseparably linked with the history of a friendship.” (ix) This is not a normal foreword. In fact, it was written as memories right after Patočka’s death in 1977. In being guided through the homeland and Prague in particular, “History came alive on these occasions in its interwovenness with art and literature” (x). The foreword is a document in history concerning a time “near and far, familiar and alien,” (xv) and according to Landgrebe, it was the first book on the problem of the life-world (Lebenswelt) (xiv). And yet, the title of the work is not the lifeworld as a philosophical problem, but the natural world. Is this only a problem of translation? Should this 1936 book be interpreted as truly a book about the problem of the lifeworld, or rather as one regarding the natural world, which is a broader problem in philosophy and science than the “well-nigh uncatalogable” literature on the life-world problem. (See the recent review on this site by Philipp Berghofer of The Phenomenological Critique of Mathematisation and the Question of Responsibility: Formalisation and the Life-World).
The introduction to the main text begins thus: “Modern man has no unified worldview. He lives in a double world, at once in his own naturally given environment and in a world created for him by modern natural science, based on the principle of mathematical laws governing nature. The disunion that has thus pervaded the whole of human life is the true source of our present spiritual crisis.” (3) The one philosopher mentioned in this introduction is Descartes—but isn’t Descartes himself a kind of founder of phenomenology as well as science? In a certain sense, then, this book is about “the history of the development of modern science” (113) for which he points to “Leonardo the engineer, Bacon the insatiable political practitioner and visionary, Descartes the mechanistic physician, and even Galileo himself” in the conclusion. Instead of calling it a disenchantment of the world, it is a “dehumanization of the world.”
Chapter 1, “Stating the Problem,” expands upon this fundamental “disanthropomorphization” (6), speaking to how one can philosophise again not just “through mere wonder (thaumazein), but rather on account of the inner difficulties of his spiritual life.” (7) The problem is simply that humans who have experienced modern science “no longer live simply in the naïve natural world; the habitus of his overall relationship to reality is not the natural worldview.” (8) If this book is considered a debate with the founders of modern philosophy, then after stating the problem, Patočka poses some answers: a return to the feeling of life (9-11), an historical typology of possible solutions (11-19), and Patočka’s own proposed solution (19-22). To put it as simply as possible, “to state what we expect from this philosophical anamnesis and why we look upon the subjective orientation as a way to reestablish the world’s unity, the breaking of which threatens modern man in that which, according to Dostoyevsky, is most precious to him: his own self.” (19) There are thus three parts to his solution: subjectivity, the natural world (through history), and language. All of these are meant to unify the self from its fractured nature.
Chapter 2, “The Question of the Essence of Subjectivity and Its Methodical Exploitation,” begins from Descartes, and follows a trajectory of Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Schelling, and finally the method of phenomenology as recapturing subjectivity. Several guiding clues are given as to this method, reduction and time consciousness being two of the most important. Regarding the first,
“the reductive procedure applies, of course, to each and every particular thesis, but above all to the so to say general theses, which are already presupposed in singular judgments, and so on, e.g., the thesis that the world exists with its specific real structures. The reduction applies thus not only to propositions about what is but also to propositions about the structure of what is: not only to ontic but also to ontological propositions. Reduction should not be regarded, as is sometimes the case, as a method for acquiring a priori knowledge.” (38)
By means of this guiding clue, both subjectivity and knowledge are saved through “abstaining” (Epoche), and thus purifying experience of sedimentation in order to achieve some singularity in “pure givenness” or “pure consciousness” as “lived-experience.” (41) It is worth pointing out here that occasionally an endnote by the editors mentions the “recently discovered personal copy of his habilitation thesis” in which there is a penciled note. (201n52) Part of Patočka’s thesis of this chapter is thus to show similarities between phenomenology and the “Platonic-Aristotelian noesis.” (203n71) Due to ideation’s relationship to time-consciousness, the human is intersubjectively constituted. Differentiating this view from Fichte, Schelling, Kant, and Descartes, to go in reverse historical order, nevertheless allows a “passage through phenomenological reflection.” (51)
Chapter 3, “The Natural World,” the heart of the book, entails that subjectivity is not enough, but rather that man is in relation to a world. Erazim Kohák has already written of this work in his 1989 collection of Patočka’s writings, touching upon the difference between přirozený svét and English or German or French: “the world of nature, the entire realm of animate being, including humans in their mundane dimension, with its vital order and natural teleology…the world—now in the sense of the coherent, intelligible context of our being rather than as a sum of existents—which comes ‘naturally’ to us, the prereflective, prepredicative coherence of our context which we take so much for granted.” (Kohák 1989: 23) The point, going back to Patočka’s text, is a conscious co-living with others, with regard to them, and common to all. Criticisms of his 1936 conception, even mentioned 33 years later in his French afterword, is that it was too human-centric. The references are to “home”, “refuge”, “alien”, but he is still aware of the human and the extrahuman dimension. While animals are mentioned within “living nature,” as well as “generations,” “traditions,” and even “myth,” there seems to be no references to fossils. minerals, or flora as part of this natural world. The historical development of the problem accentuates this absence in which something of German idealism is still too stuck in human sensibility, despite mentions of biologists like von Baer and Uexküll or philosophers like Bergson.
Chapter 4, “A Sketch of a Philosophy of Language and Speech,” takes up the third aspect of his proposal, basing language in sensibility, history, and acoustics. While using insights from the Czech school of linguistics, as Landgrebe says in his foreword, “the whole chapter can be read as echo of the discussions that took place in the 1930s in the Prague Linguistic Circle. Many issues of fundamental philosophical import discussed at that time have disappeared from current linguistics under the influence of the nominalist tradition.” (xvii)
When Patočka added a supplement to this main text 33 years later (115-180), he later wrote about that supplement, “Written in haste, under the pressure of circumstances, the added text falls short to this aim, i.e. to clarify and update our view of the problem.” (182) The main problem is thus whether to listen to him or not. If we did, we would only read the afterword, some nine pages long (181-190) Most Patočka scholars ignore this, as did the German edition as well as the editors and translator of this book “despite his openly stated criticism of the first of the two and its omission from the 1976 French edition.” (191) Now, in reviewing this whole text from the perspective of eighty-years later, the sense of mystery returns. The translator’s note, then, should really be read first, or at least at the same time, as Landgrebe’s foreword, since she concludes that “the two afterwords are mutually complementary.” (192) Remembering that for most of Patočka’s life he was under great scrutiny, Kohák points out: “Altogether, of the forty-six years of his active life as a philosopher, Jan Patočka lived only eight years free of censorship.” (Kohák, 1989: 27) This is not an arbitrary point of history. “Man is not only thrown into the world but also accepted. Acceptance is an integral part of throwness, so much so that being-at-home in the world is made possible only through the warmth of acceptance by others,” Landgrebe writes (xvii). It is not without irony and a sense of sadness that Patočka died, having been arrested and interrogated for over eleven hours, forty years ago this year and that we can now read his earliest book for the first time in English.
My own experience, having spent a few days this year in the Patočka archive, was remarkable. Upon discovering a 200+ page manuscript on Ficino with pages and pages of drawings, astrological and artistic, hidden in the 1940s in the Strahov Library in Prague, the content of the archive can truly astonish and surprise one. A few pages of this ms. have been translated into German in Andere Wege in die Moderne: Studien zur europäischen Ideengeschichte von der Renaissance bis zur Romantik by Ludger Hagedorn. The amount of time Patočka spent studying and researching this period from the Renaissance to Romanticism is incredible. Any good phenomenologist or historian wanting to understand the richness of Patočka should visit the archive. The mystery of the text mentioned at the beginning of this review concerns the prophetic style of the philosopher, and how such a text brings out a renewal of thought. Once the cobwebs are blown off, and the archive uncovered, thought and even resistance can begin anew.
 Philipp Berghofer. Review of The Phenomenological Critique of Mathematisation and the Question of Responsibility: Formalisation and the Life-World by Ľubica Učník, Ivan Chvatík, Anita Williams (Eds.), Springer, 2015.
Topophobia: A Phenomenology of Anxiety by Dylan Trigg is a timely publication that provides a clear contribution to the ever-expanding philosophical challenge issued to the dominant bio-chemical and physicalist understanding of mental illness. More specifically, Trigg’s text engages with spatial anxiety, or a certain disquiet in the midst of things, that can be discussed by way of more familiar terms such as agoraphobia, claustrophobia, and disassociation. Through his discussion, Trigg raises important questions about the way in which anxiety can be approached as a means of with rethinking the body’s relation to space. Given the purchase that anxiety has within contemporary culture—from the pervasiveness of social anxiety to the ever increasing number of people diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorders (or GAD)—it is vital that contemporary philosophers and theorists respond to the dominance of the scientific model so as to prevent such a painful and meaningful mood slipping into the ubiquity of a common and unremarkable illness. This is to say that, while the encounter with anxiety is certainly remarkable for the one who endures it—and for those that support and nurture the one whom endures—there is nevertheless a sense in which contemporary psychology presents the risk of rendering anxiety as a ubiquitous phenomena that is best explained through a bio-chemical casual system. Accordingly, the meaning of anxiety is left obscure if not utterly effaced—indeed, in much contemporary clinical practice the broader question of what anxiety means might be construed as a defence mechanism used by the patient to resist a particular manualised treatment, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (or CBT). In this context, we can see that Trigg’s work is deeply connected to, and often draws directly from a tradition of twentieth-century theorists and philosophers whose work presents a challenge to the notion that a phenomenon like anxiety is simply a result of faulty cognition—an inability to think rationally in a given situation—or of neurological defects, and which, accordingly, has no significance at the level of human meaning.
Alternatives to such bio-chemical and psychological accounts of anxiety are common in the continental tradition. Indeed, for figures like Søren Kierkegaard, Martin Heidegger, or Jacques Lacan anxiety features as a phenomenon of fundamental importance. Where Trigg professes to differ from these aforementioned figures is with regards to the possibility of recuperating the radical negativity of anxiety. As Trigg states in reference to the legacy of Heideggerian phenomenology,
our phenomenology disembarks from a Heideggerian approach in identifying anxiety, not as a mood of existence reducible to humans subjectivity in its appeal to self-realisation, but as the site of an irreducible anonymity that outstrips subjectivity. (xxxv)
Given the brevity of Trigg’s discussion of Heidegger’s treatment of anxiety—being little more than what is put forth here—it is difficult to fully assess this purported distance from the Heideggerian tradition. However, despite the theoretical ambiguity of Trigg’s overt position there is nevertheless a sense in which he develops a compelling argument for a certain non-recoupable negativity that is inseparable from anxiety, and yet is absent in the phenomenon’s treatment by major figures such as Heidegger. It is important to not misread Trigg as suggesting that Heidegger limits anxiety to “human subjectivity,” but to remember the extent to which the Heideggerian treatment of anxiety is caught up in the possibility of “self-realisation.” While Heidegger’s account of anxiety in a text like “What is Metaphysics?” provides us with a compelling ontological placement of anxiety as a fundamental mood, his argument hinges on anxiety as the site for the authentic revelation of what could be referred to as the groundless grounds of beings. In such an account, no matter how disturbing the experience of anxiety might be for the individual in question, there is always the possibility of recuperating this encounter in the movement towards an authentic grasping of oneself and one’s historic meaning. Against this, Trigg’s project orients itself towards anxiety as resistant to recuperation and reintegration. This is to say, in Topophobia, Trigg looks to discuss anxiety in the sense of our being disturbed by a negativity at the heart of our subjectivity, and one that cannot be mustered towards the production of an authentic comportment, meditated on for the purposes self-actualisation, or tarried with in order to be eventually overcome. Instead, Trigg presents anxiety as the possibility of “experiencing one’s body as uncanny or alien,” (xxxvi) and, accordingly, as a blind spot in our fundamental corporeality that insists through disquieting disturbances.
Again, given the brevity of Trigg’s engagement with the more well known discussion of anxiety—such as those produced by Heidegger—it is difficult to fully asses his readings of such figures. Indeed, it is possible that one could find in Heidegger or Kierkegaard an account of anxiety that is sympathetic to Trigg’s own position. Despite this, Trigg’s account is nevertheless compelling insofar as it looks to linger for as long as possible on the disruptions produced through anxiety, and to do so in a way that avoids casting the subject of anxiety in a heroic light—that is to say, in terms of a possible triumph that awaits the subject who reflects on anxiety correctly. By dislocating anxiety from a broader question of authentic self-actualisation, Trigg is able to provide an account that is far richer descriptively than many conventional accounts of anxiety within the phenomenological tradition. Indeed, it is this descriptive sophistication that speaks most directly to the strengths of Trigg’s book. On the one hand, each chapter begins with a second person narration of an experience of anxiety that will inform the rest of that section’s argument. On the other hand, the less literally descriptive sections, those that do not necessarily attempt to simply sketch out what it is like to encounter certain kinds of anxiety, have a different kind of descriptive power. It is in the sense in which Trigg is able to describe encounters with anxiety as meaningful, as helping to provide an account of the significance of anxiety for understanding space and the body—and vice versa—that points to the real descriptive power of the project. In thinking through the problem of the meaning of anxiety, though not in terms that suggest anxiety to be the fundamental mood—or a mood that offers the possibility of a heroic movement towards authenticity—Trigg is able to take what is often a most intangible and ephemeral encounter, and allow it to find articulation.
Fundamental to Trigg’s argument is the phenomenological insight that the body is always already intersubjective and liminal, and that space is neither absolutely internal or external. In our encounter with anxiety, the problem of the body and space as dynamic thresholds insists upon us. In anxiety, the gap between my given sense of self, and the body as an excess irreducible to that sense, is revealed. In anxiety, the vast externality of a space that looms around me, and the deeply intimate sense that the discomfort caused by such a space can follow me, or can become part of me, reveals the problem of viewing space as either wholly internal or external. It is in anxiety, so Trigg argues, that the identity of space and the body—the sense of the body as mine and here, and space as other and “out there”—is disrupted to reveal a dynamism between the two that can produce immense fear and discomfort. While Trigg would agree with Heidegger that the encounter anxiety does not centre on a specific object, he nevertheless argues that in the revelation of alienness that accompanies the encounter with anxiety, what is typically taken as trustworthy and familiar—a nearby street, one’s own hand, etc.—can become terrifying. As Trigg states, with regards to the example of agoraphobic anxiety,
Quite apart from the idiosyncrasies of the subject’s psychological characteristics, being a subject means being exposed to and in touch with the bodies of others. Here, we can formulate an overarching thesis: with the agoraphobic experience of anxiety, the relation between the anonymous structure of intersubjectivity and the irreducibly personal experience of intersubjectivity effectively fracture. (105)
If the subject is not able to reconcile the irreducible gap between one’s personal experience of intersubjectivity—two or more hermetic bodies coming into contact with one another—with the revelation of an alien impersonal intersubjectivity—the broader context of shared interrelations that cannot be made fully individual—then the encounter with this irreducible alienness at the heart of subjectivity will produce a sense of terror in the everyday. “The failure to incorporate ambiguity and alterity leads to a bifurcation of the body,” Trigg’s argues (ibid). Rather than being able to tarry with the body’s simultaneously reliability and unreliability, controllability and unruliness, the body becomes bifurcated into the fear inducing “bad” body of anxiety, and the “good” body of control and self-regulation. It is in this sense, in navigating anxiety in relation to the meaning of the body’s intersubjective character and the liminality of space, that Trigg is able to recast anxiety as offering a hermeneutic opportunity that lies outside of notions of biological defect.
What at times feels absent from Trigg’s book is a reflection on the historical shifts that see self-control and self-regulation as virtues. Investigating the historical prominence of the kind of anxiety discussed by Trigg could only have deepened the richness of his account. Nevertheless, Topophobia is not only a vital resource for any foray into the meaning of the disquieting encounter with space, but it is furthermore a text that offers the potential for pathos and solace. Rather than producing an account of a passive subject that is simply prey to neuro-chemical interactions or childhood traumas, Trigg provides us with the opportunity to meditate on the ways in which our attempt to control and stave off negativity is linked to the terrible affects associated with anxiety. Our desire to contain our surroundings and to control ourselves are linked to the very fears of space and the body that are produced through the encounter with anxiety. It is in this sense that Topophobia allows the reader a space for reflection and an invitation for purposeful contemplation that is as not only intellectually productive, but also potentially therapeutic. Indeed, it is wonderfull to see Trigg end his text with a meditation on the possible confluences between the phenomenological tradition, and other intellectual traditions that challenge a physicalist and reductive approach to mental illness. The dialogue that Trigg encourages between psychoanalysis and phenomenology is certainly fruitful, and seemingly necessary if we are to foster serious political and ontological discussions of mental illness.
Not long ago, Social Imaginaries (Vol. 1, Issue 1, Spring 2015) appeared, with a volume that is both imaginative and ground-breaking. The journal aspires to open up a discursive space for different branches of the humanities, the social sciences, and philosophy. And at the same time it aspires to contribute to the further development and enrichment of an emergent field of research, presenting itself as a “paradigm in the making” (Vol. 1, Issue 2, p. 7). Drawing primarily on the works of Castoriadis, Arnason, and Charles Taylor, as well as on (post-) phenomenological currents of philosophy, the journal aims, as its very title suggests, to rekindle interest in the elucidation of the enigmatic field of collective and individual imagination, this “field of intersecting labyrinths,” of human creations and doings (Vol. 1, Issue 1, p. 7). It is also devoted to the study of “the intertwined problematics of modernity, multiple modernities, and the human condition,” while it promulgates “an understanding of society as a political institution, which is formed – and forms itself – in historical constellations, on the one hand, and through encounters with other cultures and civilisational worlds, on the other” (Vol. 1, Issue 1, p. 7). The first volume of the journal is organized in such a manner that it does justice to both the interdisciplinary and cross-cultural character of the project, and to the need to delineate the journal’s and the project’s subject-matter and theoretical origins.
Although the editorial note duly announces the purpose and the aims of the journal, the objectives of the whole project and the delimitation of the field of study takes place in a systematic and thorough manner in the introductory article entitled “Social Imaginaries in Debate,” which is co-authored by Suzi Adams, Paul Blokker, Natalie J. Doyle, John W.M. Krummel, and Jeremy C.A. Smith. In their attempt to theorize the field of the “imaginary,” the authors draw explicitly on Castoriadis, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Ricoeur, (Vol. 1, Issue 1, p. 18-19) and Charles Taylor, whom they merit with the distinction of having published the most comprehensive study in the field of social imaginaries. See the 2004 work Modern Social Imaginaries (Vol. 1, Issue 1, p. 24).
With Castoriadis as one of the main influences behind the social imaginaries project, it comes as no surprise that the authors consider the links between the formation of meaning and creative imagination as “a central innovation of the social imaginaries field,” while they wish also to account for wider dimensions of the social, such as “power,” social action, or praxis. (Vol. 1, Issue 1, p. 20). At the same time, central to the social imaginaries field is the concept of the “world” as it emerges from both the writings of Castoriadis and the phenomenological tradition, especially Husserl’s notion of the lifeworld and Heidegger’s understanding of the co-emergence of “world” and Dasein. The brief historical overview of the way in which imagination has been treated in the course of the philosophical tradition is also invaluable, as is the discussion concerning the various forms of modern imaginaries.
Castoriadis’ essay on the “Imaginary as Such,” a seminal text that prefigures Castoriadis’ so-called “ontological turn,” is also a precious addition to the contents of this issue. Apart from translating the text from French and rendering it amenable for publication, Johann Arnason authors a brief, yet enlightening introduction to this text and to Castoriadis’ project in general. Arnason’s presence in the issue is actually even more pronounced, as he has also contributed an article on “The Imaginary Dimensions of Modernity,” an essay on Castoriadis’ understanding of imagination, translated and introduced by Suzi Adams.
The same strategy is followed in two more instances, as the articles by Nakamura Yusiro and Marcel Gauchet are translated and introduced by John W. M. Krummel and Natalie J. Doyle, respectively. Nakamura’s contribution has the merit of bringing into dialogue the philosophical tradition of the West and modern Japanese philosophy, as he advances interesting interpretations of the notions of “common sense” and “place,” drawing on the works of Nishida Kitaro. As someone who is rather unacquainted with modern Japanese philosophy I found this article indispensable both as a guide to the way in which this great civilization has received and appropriated western philosophy and for the unique manner in which it attempts to transcend the subject-object bifurcation with the introduction of the notions of place and common sense.
Gauchet’s article, “Democracy: From One Crisis to Another,” attempts to come to terms with the widespread feeling of crisis that has befallen contemporary democracies and culminates in a plea to shed light to the very notion of human rights as a remedy to the various disorders of modern democratic regimes. The issue also contains Peter Wagner’s essay “Interpreting the Present: A Research Programme,” which inquires into the experiences of time and space in the period following the end of “organized modernity” and which in my view is quite informative also in relation to Wagner’s most recent research on progress. Finally, the issue concludes with a vivid discussion on “Modern Social Imaginaries,” between Charles Taylor, Craig Calhoun, Dilip Gaonkar, Benjamin Lee, and Michael Warner.
The second issue of the journal (Vol. 1, Issue 2, Autumn 2015) is equally rich and compelling in its scope and aims. The phenomenological element is again quite strong. Two of the articles address issues related to Ricoeur’s hermeneutic phenomenology, another couple of the contributions draw their inspiration from Levinas, while Husserl and Patocka are also in the center of two essays. The volume also comprises an article by Fred Dallmayr with the telling title “Man Against the State” and Johann Arnason’s “Elias and Eisenstadt: The Multiple Meanings of Civilization.”
George H. Taylor’s essay “The Phenomenological Contributions of Ricoeur’s Philosophy of Imagination” is an excellent attempt to open up Ricoeur’s philosophy toward the problem of collective and individual aspects of productive imagination and their transformative potential. Taylor’s interpretation relies on the one hand on Ricoeur’s best known works like The Rule of Metaphor and Time and Narrative, but on the other hand it owes much of its subtlety to a combined reading of Ricoeur’s series of lectures at the University of Chicago during the 1970s, especially the well-known Lectures on Ideology and Utopia and the less famous Lectures on Imagination (Vol. 1, Issue 2, p.14). Central to Taylor’s argument is Ricoeur’s concept of iconic augmentation, which the author masterfully links both with praxis and with the need to explore the space between language and lived experience, sense, and vision.
Timo Helenius’s “Between Receptivity and Productivity: Paul Ricoeur on Cultural Imagination” draws on Ricoeur’s essay Ideology and Utopia as Cultural Imagination in order to establish that cultural imagination provides the “basis for a sociocultural poetics of human action and, therefore, a condition for the birth of a situated subject in the positive fullness of belonging” (Vol. 1, Issue 2, p. 32). Importantly, through the employment of the notions of ideology and utopia Helenius offers yet another challenging interpretation of the role of productive imagination in Ricoeur’s works and argues that “l’ imagination culturelle” is the very core of productive imagination that informs human action (Vol. 1, Issue 2, p. 49-50).
Adam Konopka’s “Embodiment and Umwelt: A Phenomenological Approach” is a fine study of Husserl’s attempt to understand the Natur-Geist distinction and his theory of world-constitution. This article aspires to refute Merleau-Ponty’s thesis that Husserl was ultimately unable to move beyond the nature-spirit dichotomy. The notions of the Umwelt and of “embodied experience” are central to his argument, which also involves the consideration of Husserl’s “engagement” with the relevant debate between Dilthey and the Baden School. As the author shows, this “culminated in Husserl’s later articulation of the life-world in the Crisis writings of the 1930s” (Vol. 1, Issue 2, p. 58). The great merit of Konopka’s essay is that it underlines Husserl’s acknowledgment of the existence of pre-reflective, embodied elements that actively contribute to sense-making processes (Vol. 1, Issue 2, p. 68). In other words he traces in Husserl’s works a theory concerning the formation of individual and collective habitus before this notion became available in the vocabulary of the social sciences.
“The Problem of Morality in a Mathematized Universe: Time and Eternity in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov and the Concept of ‘Love’ in Patocka’s Last Essay” is a quite interesting attempt to conceptualize the possibility of ethics in the post-Kantian era, when the universe and the social world and human have lost their divine grounding. The author, Lubica Ucnik, reads Dostoevsky’s masterpiece as a response to the Kantian conception of morality and as a critique of the utilitarian conception of ethics, while she argues that Patocka’s reflections on “Masaryk’s Theological Philosophy” pave the ground for a conception of love and openness towards the Other that is not grounded on the existence of a supreme being but on the sort of responsibility that emanates from the acknowledgment of human finitude.
In a way, there is an affinity between Ucnik’s essay and Kwok-ying Lau’s contribution entitled “War, Peace and Love,” as they both turn to a vulnerable element in the constitution of the human being in order to ground ethics and politics. In Lau’s essay this vulnerability is best exemplified by what – expounding on Levinas’s Totality and Infinity – he calls the “pathetique cry for love and peace” (Vol. 1, Issue 2, p. 122). Since the adjective “pathetique” is used as the author explains in line with “its Greek origin ‘pathetikos’, which means emotional with a strong power of affectivity” (Vol. 1, Issue 2, p. 125, n. 1), it becomes clear that the heroic “logic” of violence that according to Levinas governs human history is here denounced – in Levinasian fashion – in favour of the only kind of love that the author finds worthy of its name: a love that is vulnerable to the presence of the Other, that has the Other as its very origin.
Bernhard Wandenfels’ essay “The Equating of the Unequal” (translated by W.M. Krummel) draws in a wide spectrum of philosophers, thinkers and novelists in order to attack what the author perceives as being the two “extremes,” i.e. on the one hand “any sort of normalism fixed on functioning orders” and on the other hand “any sort of anomalism dreaming of mere events and permanent ruptures” (Vol. 1, Issue 2, p. 92).
Fred Dallmayr’s contribution “Man Against the State: Community and Dissent” conceptualizes the intricate relationship between individual freedom and communal solidarity as it argues against egocentric conceptions of liberty, promulgating instead “ethically grounded conceptions of individual freedom, civil disobedience and dissent” (Vol. 1, Issue 2, p. 127). Dallmayr’s essay starts and closes with quotes from Nietzsche. In the opening paragraph, a quote from Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra presents the state as a cold monster (Vol. 1, Issue 2, p. 127), exemplifying from the outset the author’s concern that totalitarianism is always present in new – perhaps subtler or even almost unperceivable – guises. The final quote from Nietzsche’s “The Wanderer and His Shadow” shows the essay’s true spirit: “rather perish than hate and fear” (Vol. 1, Issue 2, p. 143), a call for a sort of resistance that refuses to succumb to ressentiment. Dallmayr’s examples of resistance to totalitarian – or blind – authority are as telling as the key thinkers that inform his own position, for instance Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi, and Albert Camus. Indeed, Socrates’ condemnation by the Athenians, Antigone’s tragic figure, the resistance of Germans against Hitler, are all examples of resistance inspired by belief in the common good, not by a narrow conception of securing one’s well-being.
Johann Arnason’s “Elias and Eisenstadt: The Multiple Meanings of Civilization” is a fine conclusion to this issue. With unfailing scholarship and great insight, Arnason brings the works of Elias and Eisenstadt into a fruitful dialogue by revealing their common Durkheimian-Maussian origins, while showing that Weber’s influence in their works is less significant than it is commonly assumed.
Johann Arnason features also in the third published issue of the journal (Vol. 2, Issue 1, Spring 2016), in a long and very informative interview with Suzi Adams that concludes the volume. Readers are sure to find interesting points for reflection both regarding Arnason’s own intellectual trajectory and their own projects.
This last volume opens with John W. M. Krummel’s “Introduction to Miki Kiyoshi and his Logic of the Imagination.” As the title suggests, this essay serves as an introduction to Miki’s philosophy and it gives a brief account of his life and major ideas, as well as serving as an indispensable introduction to Miki’s article that follows. It is obvious even to someone as unfamiliar with Japanese philosophy as myself that Krummel is perfectly at ease with the Kyoto School. I sincerely believe that readers should read his introductory essay before delving into Miki’s text, which is translated by Krummel himself. Miki’s Kiyoshi’s text, “Myth,” is in effect the first chapter of his book The Logic of Imagination. In Krummel’s essay readers can get a glimpse of the main points advanced in the other chapters, such as “institution,” “technics,” and “experience.”
Miki Kiyoshi’s chapter on “myth” is in effect a daring attempt to re-conceptualize “imagination” and it draws both on Japanese and Western sources, while Kant plays a pivotal role in the construction of the argument. It could be said of this first chapter that it is on the way to the construction of a logic of imagination, and in this respect it precedes Castoriadis’s explicit acknowledgement of the need for the advancement of a logic of magmas in The Imaginary Institution of Society. Like Castoriadis, Miki explicitly links imagination with creation and social action (Vol. 2, Issue 1, p. 28) and questions the relationship between subjective and collective manifestations of imagination with the aid of anthropological accounts available at his time and with Durkheim’s notion of collective representations. Importantly, Miki argues that the creation of “historical forms” is the outcome of “the unity of things in terms of logos and pathos.” With this definition Miki brings to the fore the psychical, emotional, tactile, and kinetic aspects of the psyche as preconditions of socio-historical praxis. Among the many interesting points raised in this article, readers won’t fail to notice Miki’s discussion of the connections between myth, utopia, and science (Vol. 2, Issue 1, p. 44) and his insistence that “imagination is at the root of the human will” (Vol. 2, Issue 1, p. 43).
Guanjun Wu draws on Lacanian psychoanalysis and its appropriation by Zizek in his attempt to reveal the hidden “psychical mechanism” that underlies modern discourses in the field of Sinology. In his “The Lacanian Imaginary and Modern Chinese Intellectuality,” the author identifies a striving for social harmony at a very early stage in the formation of Chinese civilization and argues that the fundamental fantasy of Confucianism “attempts to suture the ontological gap between the real [in the Lacanian sense] and reality.” It goes without saying that the promise of this realization “is always deferred” (Vol. 2, Issue 1, p. 79). Contemporary Chinese intellectuals are also seen as “projecting fantasmatic visions” (Vol. 2, Issue 1, p. 82) and their academic debates are said to represent “a clash of fantasies” (Vol. 2, Issue 1, p. 92), as Wu draws a vivid and quite interesting picture of Chinese academia.
Craig Brown’s “Critiques of Identity and the Permutations of the Capitalist Imaginary” is an investigation into the antinomies of the capitalist imaginary through the comparison of Adorno’s and Casoriadis’ critiques of instrumental rationality, or “identity thinking.” Brown finds in Weber a common source of influence for both Adorno and Castoriadis and argues that in spite of their differences and their limitations, Adorno’s and Castoriadis’ critiques of “the logic of identity remain relevant and that the capitalist imaginary can be recognised in domains that were sometimes thought to be separate from it and oriented by other values” (Vol. 2, Issue 1, p. 115).
Finally, Werner Binder’s “Shifting Imaginaries in the War on Terror: The Rise and Fall of the Ticking Bomb Torturer,” takes Niklas Luhmann’s “Ticking Bomb” dilemma as its point of departure, as it explores the impact of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and that of the Abu Ghraib scandal in the shaping of the American social imaginary.
I am well aware of the fact that it was impossible to do justice here to the richness and complexity of every single contribution that features in the three first issues of Social Imaginaries. However, I sincerely hope that I did manage to point to some of their merits and to convey to the reader the feelings of pleasure and intellectual gratification that the texts generated in me. Social Imaginaries is certainly not just another journal; it rather is a space open to new and challenging ideas about the social world(s), and I do hope that it will get the warm reception it clearly deserves by academics and the wider reading public alike.
While the founding fathers of the phenomenological movement, Husserl and Heidegger, emphasized methodological differences between phenomenology and empirical sciences, successive generations of phenomenologists never ceased to question and challenge this basic presupposition. In the last decades, there has been a lot of discussion about whether the idea of phenomenological naturalism should be reassessed in the light of both advancements in empirical research, especially in cognitive sciences, and the progress in phenomenological investigations. Phenomenology and Science brings together the work of young researchers and experienced scholars in the fields of phenomenology, contemporary philosophy and cognitive sciences in order to address the question of the possibility of a productive dialogue between phenomenology and empirical sciences.
The volume opens with a study by Aaron Harrison that focuses on the interactions between the first wave of phenomenology (Gurwitsch, Merleau-Ponty, Sartre) and Gestalt psychology (Wertheimer, Koffka, Köhler and Stumpf). The interest of the latter for the question of the modes of mutual influence between phenomenology and sciences lies in its complex relation to empirical science (which was especially the case in the first half of the twentieth century, when the boundaries between psychology and philosophy were still not defined) as well as to phenomenology (which had, as Harrison shows, an important impact on the development of Gestalt psychology). According to Harrison, this peculiar situation of Gestalt psychology suggests the importance of attentive examination of the history of its intersections with phenomenology in order better to understand how the phenomenological approach could be situated with regards to experimental methodology.
In the second chapter, Jack Reynolds starts by questioning the “stark methodological distinction between phenomenology and science” and advocates considering phenomenology as a “more hybridic enterprise” (p. 24). By concentrating on the theme of intrinsic time, Reynolds aims to demonstrate how the phenomenological analysis of the temporal dimension of subjectivity proves to be useful for the latest discussions within empirical sciences on the irreducibility of the first-person perspective. The phenomenological account of the temporality that draws the connection between the “intrinsic temporality” and the pre-reflective dimensions that constitute the “minimal self” offers, according to Reynolds, a more consistent explanation of what “is resisting the objectivism” since it avoids the “view from nowhere” and gives access to a lived subjective experience. To see the minimal self “both phenomenologically and empirically” (p. 37) provides, then, a significantly richer account of subjectivity and presents an opportunity to explore the potential of what Reynolds, in Gallagher’s terms, the “mutual enlightenment” (p. 31) of phenomenology and science is.
A more skeptical view of the relationship between phenomenology and the sciences is expressed by Richard Sebold, who insists on the fact that the “naturalistic perspective has much more going for it than the phenomenologists are prone to admit” (p. 47). In order to see this, it is necessary to rigorously examine the anti-naturalistic claims made by Husserl and his successors, starting with distinguishing between three major types of phenomenological arguments: metaphysical (“there are some phenomena that are of a certain nature that it is inappropriate to investigate them via scientific methodology”, p. 48), semantic (“the very intelligibility of the scientific project depends upon the meaning of the pre-theoretical world”, p. 53) and methodological (“scientific methods <are> incomplete and unable to gain certain types of knowledge about the world”, p. 57). Sebold’s paper provides a comprehensive study of the assessments of empirical sciences by various phenomenologists; a study that proves to be crucial for addressing their criticism and, more importantly, for revealing the sources of phenomenology’s claim for possessing a distinct advantage over other disciplines.
In the fourth chapter, Marilyn Stendera raises the question of how one should approach the inevitable negotiations between different perspectives in interdisciplinary projects. The author’s goal is to show that such negotiations do not necessarily lead to conflict and can, instead, create a productive exchange between different approaches. For Stendera, this is the case for the collaboration between Heideggerian phenomenology and the enactivist approach to cognitive science. Beyond their historical connection, these two approaches prove to be fundamentally compatible, first of all, where the idea of the interdependent relationship between the subject and the world is concerned. By studying how the Heideggerian conception of temporality could be useful to address one of the key issues of cognitive sciences – that of the possibility to trace a distinction between various cognisers without failing to consider their continuity, – Stendera explores the benefits of interdisciplinary dialogue and tries to outline possibilities for future investigations.
With Michael Wheeler’s paper, we switch from a phenomenologically minded perspective to an explicitly naturalistic one, according to which the conflicts that can possibly arise from negotiations between philosophical and empirical accounts should be resolved following the idea that “philosophy should be continuous with empirical science” (p. 87). Wheeler claims that “it is the phenomenologist, and not the cognitive scientist, who should revisit her claims” (p. 87), because the first-person perspective – and the phenomenological approach in general – is fundamentally “untrustworthy” (p. 92) when it describes mental states, since the operation of cognitive systems depends largely on unconscious states that remain unreachable in the first-person attitude. At the same time, Wheeler agrees that the phenomenological analysis could not be limited to introspection and that, instead, it represents a transcendental enterprise. Nevertheless, for Wheeler, no transcendental approach could be “insulated” (p. 100) from the social world, which leaves to science – that constitutes a “part of our social world-making” – the final word in the philosophy-science controversy.
In David Morris’s paper, we find a diametrically opposite view that considers life as a “transcendental condition of science”: “that is, science is not simply an activity conducted by living beings, rather, our living, as inherently oriented by affect, provides us with a pre-scientific feel and criterion for the activity-passivity distinction, without which we could not grasp key issues in, e.g., biology and quantum mechanics” (pp. 103-104). This claim puts phenomenology, and in particular Merleau-Ponty’s reflections, in a privileged position with regards to empirical sciences. Phenomenology allows us to grasp this dimension of affectivity that is “crucial for sciences” (p. 116), the dimension in which all the processes of constitution of sense are grounded.
The importance of phenomenological analysis as a unique tool that allows grasping the foundational role of affectivity in organizing experience is also defended by Joel Krueger and Amanda Taylor Aiken. Their joint paper aims to demonstrate that emotions and affectivity should be studied not only as they are perceived through social cognitive processes, but also as they are actually “facilitating interpersonal relatedness”: affectivity and embodiment structure the spatiality of interpersonal relationships and thus contribute to the emergence of the “social world as social”, that is “affording different forms of sharing, connection and relatedness” (p. 121). This role becomes particularly visible when the capacities to inhabit the social space are altered, as it can be observed in the cases of Moebius syndrome and schizophrenia. It is by drawing upon the analysis of such cases that the authors hope to “reinforce phenomenological arguments for the foundational role that body and affect play in organizing social space” (p. 136).
Andrew Inkpin chooses language as his object of study, a topic that had been mostly relegated to the margins of the so called ‘4e’ tradition dominant in cognitive sciences, a tradition that emphasizes the embodied, embedded, enactive and extended nature of cognition. The turn to non-linguistic phenomena in cognitive sciences, that initially aimed “to correct the earlier overemphasis on language” (p. 141), created a void that, in Inkpin’s opinion, should be filled by a phenomenological approach, which “might and should complement systematic empirical theories in the 4e tradition” (p. 141). Would it mean that phenomenology should be naturalized? For Inkpin, this way of formulating the question is misleading because it misses the specificity of the phenomenological approach to language. The goal of his paper is, therefore, to show why ‘4e’ cognitive science needs a phenomenology of language and what it could gain from it.
In the ninth chapter of the volume, Shaun Gallagher aims to show how the debate between two theories about social cognition (simulation theory and interaction theory) influences the idea of science and raises the question “whether one can continue to do science as we have been doing it, or one has to do it differently” (p. 161). Without ignoring the discoveries made by simulation theory in the area of brain processes involved in social cognition (e.g. activation of mirror neurons), Gallagher insists on the necessity to interpret such processes with regards to the intercorporeal character of social interactions, i.e. the fact that “we are dynamically coupled to the other person in our intersubjective interaction, most of which take place in highly pragmatic and social situations”. Pragmatism here means that our actions aim primarily to give a response to a certain situation and that the brain-body activity (promoted by simulation theory) should rather be thought of as a part of a more complex system: “brain-body-environment” (p. 170). Such a holistic, enactivist and dynamic conception is, however, a “challenge for the science of social cognition” (p. 171), which has to respond with developing a new model of explanation that could take into account various dimensions (neuroscientific, psychological, phenomenological, social etc.) that could, according to Gallagher, be compared to what Sandra Mitchell has called an “integrative pluralism” (p. 175).
How could we explain the fact that our memories are sometimes in a ‘first-person’ or ‘own-eyes’ perspective and sometimes in a ‘third-person’ or ‘observer’ one? This question is at the center of attention of the joint paper by Christopher Jude McCaroll and John Sutton. Drawing upon Sartre’s theory of image, the authors propose an analysis of memory imagery based on the idea that the image is not something “inspected by consciousness” but actually is “the act of consciousness, or a way of thinking about an object or event” (p. 183). According to the authors, such a phenomenological account of our puzzling ability to have multiperspectival memory imagery could “elucidate some of the empirical findings” (p. 183) and help to provide an understanding “uniting phenomenological and scientific perspectives on memory imagery” (p. 197).
The final chapter is also focused on the question of imagination. In her study of pretense (more precisely, non-deceptive pretense), Michela Summa draws on phenomenology of imagination, inspired mostly by Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, and addresses two main problems: the epistemic functions of pretense, and its social nature. Starting with a critical analysis of Piaget’s remarks regarding the egoistic nature of pretense and its role of protector from reality in children’s development, Summa defends the idea that “imagination is a part of genuinely social experience” (p. 216) based on Vygotskij’s reflections on pretend play. While being “inherently subjective”, imagination participates in the construction of the we-perspective not just by assembling individual perspectives, but by creating a “form of sharing” and “cooperation of different subjects” enabled by “the cognitive value of pretense, of the perspectival flexibility that underlies pretense actions, and of the social meaningfulness of such actions” (p. 220).
The editors of the volume, Jack Reynolds and Richard Sebold, are explicit about their desire to put together a variety of opinions, positive as well as negative, regarding the future of the dialogue between science and phenomenology. And each of the eleven chapters of the collection allows in fact looking at the possibility of such a dialogue from a different point of view. Reynolds and Sebold’s joint work provides, then, a keen insight into the state-of-the-art of recent debates, and outlines directions for future discussions.