Aaron James Wendland, Christopher Merwin, Christos Hadjioannou (Eds.): Heidegger on Technology, Routledge, 2018

Heidegger on Technology Couverture du livre Heidegger on Technology
Routledge Studies in Twentieth-Century Philosophy
Aaron James Wendland, Christopher Merwin, Christos Hadjioannou (Eds.)
Hardback £120.00

Dana S. Belu: Heidegger, Reproductive Technology, & The Motherless Age

Heidegger, Reproductive Technology, & The Motherless Age Couverture du livre Heidegger, Reproductive Technology, & The Motherless Age
Dana S. Belu
Palgrave Macmillan
E-book $39.99
IX, 137

Reviewed by: Tamara Cashour (The New School, New York City)


This book succeeds as a phenomenological project guided securely by Heideggerian principles, in its philosophical assessment of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs), which conspire literally, in the making of mothers.  Belu draws almost exclusively and analogously upon Heidegger’s concepts outlayed in The Question Concerning Technology (most overarchingly:  the principle of Gestell [Enframing]) to fashion a critique of ARTs protocols and practices, which, since their initial inception/acceptance in the last quarter of the 20th century, have achieved globalized integration into the process of bringing a new human into the world.  Although in-vitro fertilization (IVF), the premier ART, was successfully employed to fertilize a human egg in 1944; not until 1977 was an in-corpus pregnancy achieved; it’s outcome was unsuccessful.  A year later in 1978, the famous ‘test-tube’ baby Louise Joy Brown was conceived via IVF technologies and successfully birthed (Harvard Medical School).  Today, some forty years hence, several variations of ARTs are in common use not only by heterosexual couples experiencing negative fertility, but by same-sex couples, single-mothers or fathers seeking to start a family or add an additional family member, and others who claim a banner along the now-evolved gender identity spectrum.  Belu relates how the original IVF procedure has morphed into ever-more sophisticated technologies and methods designed to assist in the coming to fruition of a live birth, such as cytoplasmic transfer, the use of donor eggs and/or gestational surrogates.  She also makes clear how the latter two protocols function as particularly egregious political economies which implicate younger and older women alike in a market project of conception:  younger women sell their viable eggs, and surrogates of proven child-bearing capacity ‘sell’ the services of their wombs, to those [often older] women or couples who desire a child but who are either infertile, cannot physically carry to term or who simply cannot, or do not, wish to participate in the pregnancy process. The ARTs industry has succeeded in « medical fragmentation » of a women’s reproductive system into components–eggs, womb, tubes, ovaries and cycles–which are ‘optimized’ via drugs and various surgical procedures and kept primed in the manner of Heidegger’s standing reserve for use in achieving the desired goal of conception of an embryo.  The reproductive parts no longer need be attached to or within the singular corpus of an intact female body, in fact, more often they are not.  Such mechanistic fracturing destroys women’s bodies as wholistic “autonomous agents” according to Belu (5, 23), and has ushered in what she terms the ‘Motherless Age’.

The ‘Motherless’ Age

Belu’s use of the term motherless seems at first blush metaphysical meaninglessness[i]–an ontological dystopia or ontically obtuse ‘teaser’[ii]:  mothers are in fact in existence in our epoch–we do not lack mothers, per se, yet the traditional mother-child biological dyad relationship, which begins at conception and ends with the death of either the mother or child (some would argue against that as well), has experienced a post-modern existential crisis (if late in the game), brought on by the extended, if not ubiquitous, use of ARTs on a worldwide scale.[iii]  Belu’s position sets forth (and ostensibly argues against) the phenomenological logic of ARTs which has encouraged ‘the splitting of the atom’ in relation to the term mother, historically defined as a secure subject with distinct boundaries and a single physical corporeal existence.  Motherhood is now conceptually plural across an array of subjectivities that all qualify to be defined by, or at least attached to, the term.  It is now possible for a baby born via gestational surrogacy to potentially have four different mothers if cytoplasmic transfer is employed:  two genetic mothers (one who has lent her eggs and the other who lends her cytoplasm) (Belu, 59, fn 80), the gestational mother who bears and births the fetus, and the ‘social’ mother who rears the child (Belu, 45).  In market terms, the first two mothers are the sellers, the third the worker or laborer, and the fourth and final (who is responsible for the child’s care) is the buyer, or consumer.  Conversely, IVF also allows the production of offspring with no living genetic mothers at all–as viable eggs are collected from the ovarian tissue of aborted fetuses, and coaxed into near maturity via hormone stimulants.   Thus a child can now be borne from a ‘mother’ who was never an actual fully grown person, much less an adult (Belu, 70).  It is the offspring i.e. the child, in this process, who must ultimately face the « motherless » aspects of his/her birth.   As the situation presents itself, it may even be more appropriate to use the term motherfull; the latter suffix however, conveying a generally positive connotation of maternal agency which Belu clearly argues that ARTs subvert (Belu, 79, 105).

Belu establishes ontological erasure of the ‘mother’ in the original etymological sense, at virtually every turn, particularly in Chapter 4 wherein she engages and privileges Heidegger’s concept of enframing over Aristotle’s causal concepts of physis and techné, in the argument over whether IVF processes ‘assist’, or ‘replace’, natural conception.  Belu does not so much detail the legal ramifications of determining « the spark of life » (Belu, 61)[iv], but urges phenomenological clarity and currency as it might reroute a prevailing cultural attitude of « complacency » toward human artificial reproduction.  We shrug off the extent of IVF’s practical ramifications for humanity, because we persist in (along Aristotelian lines), and even dote on, the misunderstanding of the role of technological prowess as a handmaid  to, and not creator of, human life.  This is of course, the « forgetting of the clearing »  (Lichtungvergessenheit) which  Heidegger says chiefly enables the chokehold of  Enframing.  As we do not do what Heidegger urges:  « experience its unthought essence first of all », or else we broach  it superficially, we cannot see « the extent that the essence of enframing does not appear as the danger, and the essence of the danger does not appear as Beyng [sic] »; which « accounts for our misunderstanding » [of] above all technology » (Belu, 12-13, 21, fn. 26).

Citing the wry ‘twist’ of analogizing Aristotle’s male-active/female-passive principle of nature to IVF procedures within our causa efficiens-hegemonic techno-modernity (Belu, 68), Belu seriously implicates the medical establishment in the authority of their arché position, which allows them to usurp the agency of a natural mother in order to supervise the engineering of life.  Ultimately, in the motherless world, the mother-effect, a term first coined by Kelly Oliver,[v] obliterates both the participation of the ‘real’ mother and ‘mother nature’, such representatives of our lingering cultural dedication to biological ownership.  Moreover, these absences are « covered over » in the persistent need to preserve normativity:  the arché role of the fertility doctor and the techné role of the IVF procedure are minimized as the birthed child is attributed to nature’s grace, or termed something like a miracle « Child of God ».  Belu states:

IVF participants (the women, doctors, and media) can be seen to reproduce the mother-effect, caught up in a play of affirming the significance of technology for conception and gestation, yet   undermining this significance in the final product, calling it (mother)  nature (Belu, 71).

A Feminist Phenomenology of ARTs

In her zeal to establish a feminist phenomenology for ARTS, Belu details various reproductive enframing processes, where human life is engineered from start to finish (challenged forth).  It is still startling to read, in 2017, how, after a woman’s body is shot through with hormones [via extremely painful injections] to spur superovulation (wherein her ovaries will produce up to 10 eggs or more at once) that « the eggs are then sucked out of the woman’s ovaries » and fertilization is engineered in the Petrie dish.  These procedures reveal the woman’s reproductive body as passive, fungible material, a biological system that is broken up into its component parts of uterus, tubes, eggs, endometrium and hormone cycles that are worked upon by the technités (Belu, 66).

Belu notes as well the striking ambivalence toward women, such as surrogates and/or egg/cytoplasm donors, who have offered up their body and/or its reproductive components to the commercial market toward the end goal of a live birth.[vi] Often, a woman’s psyche is outrightly neglected as it undergoes this process. The woman is treated as a « purely functional » resource (Belu, 32).  Feenberg terms this autonomization, « the interruption of the reflexivity of technical action, its impact on the user, so that the subject can affect the object of technical production seemingly without being affected in return. » (Belu, 32).   Heidegger’s concept of fungibility rears its significance in an extremely ugly duality in this situation:  the laboring subject is also the object of technical imposition, yet any mental or physical distress she may encounter in her dual role is downplayed or remains unaddressed by the life-engineers (Belu, 32).

Belu is also keen to cite the lack of medical follow-up studies over the years on certain groups of women who have participated in any part of the IVF process (Belu, 58, fn 66).  She particularly notes the plights of young women egg donors (27) which have not been studied in depth.  Moreover, there is a lack of research on the children who have been borne from these procedures, in terms of issues surrounding their mental and physical health (58, fn 66).

Ultimately, Belu sufficiently establishes patriarchal bias of IVF procedures, particularly when healthy women undergo IVF in the service of men whose sperm are unhealthy or otherwise deficient (Belu, 35), or when cross-fertilization (the use of sperm from many different men in a ‘lottery’ setup in order to determine which will fertilize a woman’s egg) is employed (Belu, 34).  However, she misses an opportunity to make certain inroads as to how ARTs may functionally chip away at patriarchy; she instead places their use and control firmly in the hands of patriarchy as powerful instrumentum. I will address this issue in depth later in this review.

Chapter Layout

Belu’s introductory chapter states her intent to devise a feminist phenomenology of ARTs and summarizes content of succeeding chapters.  Chapters 2-6 each open with a brief abstract which functions as a sort of a mini-« Heidegger 101 » for the uninitiated.  Belu weaves each chapter’s argument in strong relation to stated Heideggerian terms or tenets, which she evidences have proven themselves as prescient ontological reasoning vis-a-vis ARTs proliferation. The book’s through-line leads from Belu’s attempt to solidify a binarist interpretation of Heidegger’s concept of Enframing as partial or total–which reinterpretation holds serious implications for female agents as they experience reproductive enframing via the IVF process; to an engagement of Heideggerian thought with Aristotelian concepts of physis and technê in determining the authority of IVF procedures to ignite « the spark of life » (Belu, 61); continuing through technophilic and technophobic representations of modern-age childbirth; and culminating in Belu’s ‘solution’ (to what she perceives are complications and difficulties caused by technical childbirth) via poiésis.  Belu’s  compelling argument and concluding proposal in themselves embody Heidegger’s concept of safeguarding,[vii] the idea that Being (life) is granted as a gift, which we must foster and husband via Heidegger’s suggestions of meditation, waiting, and careful use of artisanal methods, rather than mindless challenging forth via quantization, endless ordering and stockpiling.  ARTs processes, Belu is saying, are often hell-bent on a singular result (conception of Life) while heedlessly disregarding of the suffering of those (mothers) who are used or even abused, to obtain such result.

Belu’s Heideggerian Debt

Acknowledging Heidegger’s The Question Concerning Technology as a key resource,[viii] Belu is quick to note that Heidegger « writes virtually nothing about reproductive technology » although from his chronological position in history he does foresee processes of « artificial breeding of human material » (witness his 1954 essay Overcoming Metaphysics). Whether Heidegger’s comment of foresight launched this book (given current ART practices), Belu does not make clear, but the extended analogy of enframing to reproductive enframing holds sway.  Throughout, Belu engages phenomenologically with select other philosophers, both of antiquity (Aristotle, and to a lesser extent, Plato) and modernity (Arendt, Feenburg, Oliver, Marcuse, Ruddick, others).

Couching « Motherless Age » as a Useful/Critical Resource

Heidegger, Reproductive Technology and the Motherless Age is first and foremost a phenomenological critique of social (medical) practices which have in the 21st-century become institutionalized.  That is to say, ARTS are now viewed as mainstream medical procedures marketed to women of all strata as viable options for live birth, rather than « luxury » alternatives to natural sex in the service of conceiving a live human.  It is still the case however, that women who enjoy economic freedom and possess excellent health insurance to pay for the still-astronomical cost of these procedures, are most often slated to benefit from the ARTS industry[ix]

As such, this book will most likely not find a table or shelf position in the reading rooms or professional libraries of ARTS medical professionals.  Such industry professionals are essentially selling a service [technological assistance] to produce a product [a live birth], in Belu’s overwhelming view.  Yet some women (including the range of ARTS participant mothers) do not have a problem with this type of economic exchange, and in fact happily undergo these procedures in committed fashion, hoping for a successful outcome.  A major drawback of this book is that Belu virtually ignores the scores of women and men whose lives changed toward the better via the use of ARTS technologies by granting them children–however and by whomever these children were conceived, gestated and borne.  Belu sets up an overarching negative polemic of  Technology (ARTS Doctor) vs. Subject (Patient) at the beginning of her argument; such polemic holds sway until the end of the book.  Additionally, Belu concerns herself neither  with individual case studies reflecting either positive or negative outcomes, nor with applications of ARTS to male-gend. Finally, Belu’s text is also woefully deplete of statistical input; while it does remain primarily a work of critical theory, a chart or two inserted to support her claims–particularly those regarding ARTS damages to the psyches and physical bodies of women–would not hurt.  (In her defense, Belu does state that the industry itself has not undertaken national or international studies that would statistically emphasize the negative aspects of ARTS (Belu 58, fn 66)).  Ultimately, Belu’s phenomenological argument holds many truths, which are corroborated by a number of current texts on this issue which are more sociological and/or statistical in nature, in particular: Reassembling Motherhood:  Procreation and Care in a Globalized World, also published in 2017.

Conclusion:  Interdisciplinary Dialogue/Action is Needed

In conclusion, this text reflects the state of dialogue, conversation and problem-solving among the disciplines in place to move civil society forward:  that is to say, these types of interdisciplinary activities are still in their infancy.   Inter- and trans-disciplinary dialogue between and among medical ARTS professionals, academic philosophers, sociologists and social workers, ethics consultants and economists to improve the conditions and levity for all those across the board who seek to conceive/bear a child could only work for the good of these persons, and ultimately, for the human race.  Unwittingly, Belu’s critical stance points the way forward toward such a dialogue even as her text concludes in what technophiliacs might consider highly Ludditian fashion:  with an accent on waterbirth as an alternative to technologically-ruled live births.  (A water birth assumes there is something to be born, whether technology has assisted in conception/gestation or not).

As we move into an ever-increasing technologically-mediated age for nearly every human activity or thought, a return to Heidegger’s prescient phenomenological warning to humanity is seemingly warranted.  This, Belu accomplishes, with deft reverence to Heideggerian principles.


Dr. Belu ethically provides a short epilogue to her main text, explaining her position on Heidegger’s Black Notebooks (as revealing of his anti-Semitism.) Belu points out, but does not de-crypt, Heidegger’s « equivocation » (Belu, 122) regarding the ontic or ontological origins of machination. Confirming Heidegger’s conflation of machination and « World Jewry » (via causality) as « racist and condemnable » (Belu 122), Belu nevertheless finds that Heidegger’s expression/espousement of a universally-loathed, reprehensible political stance does not specifically deconstruct the actual application of  the phenomenological principle of enframing to a study of ARTS as implicated in women’s reproductive processes (Italics mine).


[i] See Michael Wheeler, « Martin Heidegger », The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/metaphysics/. Section 5. “Is Metaphysics Possible?”

[ii] Belu explains her quasi-titular use of the term motherless thusly: « I do mean…that in the age of reproductive enframing the figure of the mother is being replaced by various technologies and maternal figures who perform maternal work. In this new context, almost anyone can be seen to be a mother–so that no one is the mother”, 51.

[iii] Linda G. Kahn and Wendy Chavkin, « Assisted Reproductive Technologies and the Biological Bottom Line » in Reassembling Motherhood:  Procreation and Care in a Globalized World, (New York:  Columbia University Press, 2017), Kindle version,39.  The authors note the sociobiological implications of the proliferation of ARTs use from 1978-2012, during which period « five million babies had been born worldwide using IVF ».  See also Belu,  25.

[iv] Belu offers  an explorative footnote in this regard.  See fn 14, 75.

[v] Kelly Oliver, Technologies of Life and Death:   From Cloning to Capital Punishment  (New York:  Fordham University Press, 2013).  Oliver defines mother-effect as « the result of the absence of a real mother who is therefore mythologized and romanticized as the origin and plentitude of Nature, but whose disappearance is a prerequisite for the myth itself », 57.

[vi] The one exception to this ambivalent treatment of the female ‘resource’ is the surrogacy market in India, whose surrogacy clinics take great pains to ensure that their ‘worker’ mothers (gestational surrogates for wealthy individuals and couples) are « as comfortable as possible, healthy, well feed, well rested, entertained, and well paid”  See Belu, 50; Bailey, 19.

[vii] See Martin Heidegger, Building, Dwelling, Thinking p. 352 in The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt (New York: Harper & Row, 1977) (http://designtheory.fiu.edu/readings/heidegger_bdt.pdf) and Michael Wheeler, « Martin Heidegger », Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Section 3.4, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heidegger/.

[viii] Belu also references, to a lesser extent, material from Heidegger’s earlier essays The Danger, The Turning and Building, Dwelling, Thinking, (as well as Being and Time) the first two of which he drew upon significantly in writing The Question Concerning Technology.

[ix] Reassessing Motherhood notes the lack of agency for women situated in disadvantaged economic strata in terms of their ability to choose ARTS procedures for their own wombs, rather than lending their own wombs to those women who can easily afford to « purchase » their services. A double standard based on economic capability is firmly in place in which poor women are implicated as « tools » for economically secure women.  This produces a « double whammy » for women from underdeveloped countries, who find themselves in the position of « seller », although this phenomenon is not necessarily a Western/underdeveloped nation problem.  See pp. 185, 224 and 295..

Anna Kouppanou: Technologies of Being in Martin Heidegger

Technologies of Being in Martin Heidegger: Nearness, Metaphor and the Question of Education in Digital Times Couverture du livre Technologies of Being in Martin Heidegger: Nearness, Metaphor and the Question of Education in Digital Times
Routledge International Studies in the Philosophy of Education
Anna Kouppanou
Hardback £105.00

Reviewed by: Shawn Loht (Baton Rouge Community College, USA)

This study by junior scholar Anna Kouppanou proposes to recast Martin Heidegger’s conceptions of nearness, technology, and imagination in terms that show their interrelated phenomenological character as this speaks to the philosophy of education.  Drawing substantially on the work of Bernard Stiegler, as well as Jacques Derrida, her method of analysis is less oriented in a Heidegger-studies approach per se, and more geared toward re-directing Heideggerian themes in service of specific questions.  Kouppanou reads Heidegger from a persuasion such that the latter’s critique of technology is one-sided and negligent of considering how technology may overlap with other, more originary modes of being’s disclosure.  She entertains a number of provocative theses.  Among these theses are the following: nearness characterizes the event of truth and an essential aspect of education; technology affords nearness; imagination and temporality are co-constitutive; language, perception, and imagination are metaphorical; and the philosophy of education demands rethinking the interrelation of technology, imagination, language, and truth.  All in all this project is an ambitious one, but Kouppanou gracefully weaves together a number of Heideggerian concepts and gives us new insights for understanding the scope of Heidegger’s notion of technology.  I will say at the outset that I believe the study is actually much more effective on this score than it is on a philosophy of education front.  To my mind this book’s most significant and groundbreaking contribution is its inventive interpolation of the connection between imagination, nearness, language, and technology in Heidegger’s philosophy.  The concept of imagination in particular has historically been neglected in Heidegger studies, given Heidegger’s dismissal of imagination as a vestige of aesthetics and Cartesianism.  Kouppanou’s book should broaden current understanding of imagination in Heidegger, especially in its positive sense.

Kouppanou prefaces the study in the Introduction by raising the question of how the concept of technology might be reconciled with Heidegger’s notion of authentic nearness.  Kouppanou suggests that nearness ultimately concerns imagination, given that for something to be near entails that one sees it “as” this or that.  Or vice versa, to see something in a particular aspect is to have it phenomenologically near.  In other words, following Kant, the schematizing condition of perception is imaginative.  This notion restates the hermeneutic turn in Heidegger, that any state of human understanding, any state of meaning, is always already interpretive.  Kouppanou regards imagination (Einbildungskraft) as a core concept here because it unifies the schematization bound up in technology as Gestell with education conceived as Bildung (4).  In this light there is a connection between technology’s enabling of nearness and education’s model of culturation; a guiding idea Kouppanou borrows from Véronique Fóti is that Heideggerian Gestell possesses a formative character similar to education.  In other words, maybe there is not as sharp a distinction between Gestell and other, more originary manifestations of being as one may think.

The first chapter begins by addressing these issues further, taking up the concept of education from the critical standpoint of Heidegger’s concept of Gestell.  Kouppanou highlights the current trend in education to demand measurement in terms of assessment, outcomes, research outputs, and so forth.  The implicit notion is that, as “enframed” in a Heideggerian sense, education is removed of all freedom.  The human subject in this situation is understood according to a pre-defined set of conditions, and her education is directed toward predetermined measures for future productivity.  A text of focus for Kouppanou is Heidegger’s essay “Plato’s Doctrine of Truth,” particularly in its pertinence to Heidegger’s notion of education qua aletheia.  As a reader of this essay would know, Heidegger interprets Plato’s Cave allegory in terms of the precedence of aletheia, truth as discovery, in paideia, education.  According to this text, education means being brought into light from out of darkness.  Kouppanou emphasizes the equally decisive presence here of “nearness.”  The cave prisoners experience aletheia and enact paideia by being brought nearer to the real things they formerly saw in shadow form.  As the story relates, education has its apex when one’s intellection attains nearness to the original sources of sight and being.  Importantly in Kouppanou’s reading, this allegory introduces the distinction of truth as aletheia from truth as orthotes, or correct judgment, which is predicated on one being in the presence of the actual thing.  As Heidegger holds, this moment is the advent of metaphysics, and likewise of knowledge conceived as adequate representation modelled after the actual thing (13).  For Kouppanou, this distinction is emblematic of Heidegger’s accounts elsewhere of the epistemological commitments of “productionist metaphysics,” where the human being achieves knowledge by receiving and grasping the model.  Pre-given standards are contained in the model, rather than discovered in the nearness afforded by aletheia.  Another way to understand the phenomenon of nearness occurs in the later Heidegger, particularly in Heidegger’s accounts of the poetic image.  These accounts concern production that is not derived metaphysically (16).  This distinction is perhaps best borne out, as Kouppanou observes, in Heidegger’s notion of the work of art, where the work affords an originary instance of aletheia, not a mere copy of an externally existing thing (17).  As Chapter One concludes, a principal question for Kouppanou becomes that of a middle ground between originary presencing and subjective imagination; that is, are there modes in which human beings can conjure or fashion images which nonetheless emerge from out of the originary presence of things?  For Kouppanou, this is a question as to whether technologically-mediated images can afford nearness in a fashion akin to the nearness afforded by works of art (19).  Kouppanou writes:

The distinction between poetic and non-poetic image opens up a whole new discussion concerning types of images (Bild), types of forming (Bilden), their relation to imagination (Ein-Bildungskraft) – as the one being affected in receiving and producing forms of imagining, and ultimately their connection with Bildung as the very process concerned with human formation (19).

Employing a more expansive notion of this concept than Heidegger, the author understands “nearness” as a mode of knowing and connectedness to the world that allows the human being to participate in the unfolding of life through formative procedures (19-20).  Thus, she regards nearness as intimately bound up with education.

The second chapter explores these issues in relation to the dimensions of nearness afforded by Heidegger’s conception of phenomenology, especially the spirit of phenomenology’s dictum to allow the things to show themselves.  For Kourannou, this overlaps with the phenomenon of authentic temporality, by which one allows the voice of conscience to be heard.  This overlap is made evident in the temporal aspect in which everyday engagement with things derives from a temporal, historical origin.  As Heidegger observes in Being and Time, perception is grounded in “seeing-as.”  Nearness to things is predicated upon their presence “as” this or that.  Our everyday world-involvement is already interpretive, and this interpretation is typically framed by the historical reception of the given (25).  In other words, as Kouppanou describes, Heidegger’s brand of phenomenology “affirms an openness that lets beings be received” (25).  This as-structure works forwards as well as backwards in time.  Authentic temporality entails a seeing-as that frames what is to come, from out of the nearness of what is present.  Language is likewise a mode for Heidegger through which the nearness of things is gathered.  As Kouppanou highlights, a key distinction that emerges in Heidegger’s conception of language lay in language’s tie to phenomenology – language is the logos of the phaino.  Kouppanou cites a passage from Being and Time according to which discourse or logos in the guise of spoken language allows for things to be “sighted,” in the Greek, phone meta phantasias.  The term phantasia here is decisive for Kouppanou precisely because it at once entails the originary character of bona fide phenomena (through its root pha-, which refers to “appearing” and “showing”) while it also refers to the later Aristotelian notion of imagination, the more familiar brand of seeing-as (27-28).  This later notion of phantasia as imagination characterizes the way something appears to one, as when a blip on the horizon of a desert landscape is “imagined,” seen as an oasis.  The point Kouppanou leverages here is that the Greek conception of phantasia, understood as a microcosm for nearness and imaging, is at once passive and active.  On one hand, it characterizes the human capacity for receiving appearances from outside oneself – of having appearances show up – in the form of images.  On the other hand, phantasia is the capacity of image-formation, for imaginatively bringing an absent something near to one through one’s own constructive powers.  The challenge is to understand how Heidegger can regard the active dimension of phantasia in terms other than the representational, when he holds at the same time that phantasia comprises the “sighting” of what appears.  As Kouppanou describes this tension, the task for Heidegger is to “reimagine imagination in terms of a knowing that is transformative and yet responsive to things” (28).  To resolve this dilemma, Kouppanou cites Heidegger’s own engagement with Kant on the question of imagination’s relation with subjectivity.  The key to resolving the dilemma of phantasia conceived as representation versus phenomenological disclosure is the temporal nature of imagination, in the mould of Kant’s account in the first Critique.  Imagination not only figures into Kant’s account of the conditions for the possibility of experience in the First Critique’s A-Deduction; imagination also drives Kant’s account of schematism, the subjective component of perception by which one forms images while also deriving such formation from things.  Kouppanou cites John Sallis to emphasize that transcendental imagination is identical with originary time, writing “[i]magination thus lies at the heart of the unity of time, since temporality necessitates, above everything, connection and association” (32).  Another way to describe this structure, Kouppanou continues, is to understand nearness as coextensive with temporal experience as Heidegger understands the latter.  As Kouppanou puts it,

Taking this reorientation into account, image, formation, and imagination become indistinguishable from Heidegger’s temporality.  For Heidegger, time is the result of synthesis, an originary association that allows past, present, and future to come together and give time.  This original nearness of moments allows time consciousness and consciousness in general.  Without this bringing-near of past and present, and presence and absence, time cannot be formed (32).

So in this light, imagination (Einbildungskraft), education (or “formation,” Bildung), and image (Bild) consciousness are co-constituted through temporality.  Or what is the same, Heideggerian temporality is conditioned by the underlying synthesis or formation manifested in imagination, with nearness operating as a crucial component.  A question that remains to be taken up in the third chapter concerns the nature of future-directed imagination, or what Kouppanou calls “in advance formation.”  If imagination transcends mere subjective representation, then the question becomes one of how imagination’s future-oriented, schematizing mode avoids this limitation.  The question she poses is whether there are other structures involved that make this possible – and in particular – what is language’s role, insofar as it plays into the formation of originary poetic images?

The third chapter explores these issues in greater depth.  One aspect Kouppanou highlights in further analyzing the futural character of imagination is the moment of vision, the augenblick, as a poetic image.  Here she invokes the three ecstatic modes underlying temporality in Heidegger’s account from Division II of Being and Time.  The mode of futurity lay in Dasein’s character of being-ahead-of-itself, of projecting forward interpretively from one’s own factical state.  Yet, Dasein’s futural orientation also possesses an imaginative aspect insofar as it can be influenced by Dasein’s authentic acknowledgement of the voice of conscience.  Dasein’s potential for authentic temporality has its seat in allowing conscience to be heard and in wanting to respond to this voice.  Imagination would seem to be a crucial component here in that Dasein’s responding to the voice of conscience is necessarily a seeing-as, a hermeneutic moment of vision that is poetically gathered for one and disclosed in image form by virtue of Dasein’s self-understanding through heeding its own death.  Similarly, as was observed in the look at imagination in Kant, the notion is that the image-formation of authentic temporality does indeed stem from both a subjective foundation and one that responds to things.  As Kouppanou summarizes this point, authentic temporality instantiated in one’s owning of death is a process of bringing-near, to make present what is absent (38-39).  However, she also adds the rejoinder that nearness is not a concept that can be expressed propositionally.  “[N]earing, just like the originary image, is less of a designation and more of a metaphor, an irony, and a paradox” (39).  For “nearness” itself is a metaphorical idea.  It does not refer to an objective orientation in space or a property neatly predicable in a sentence.  Rather, it is an interpretive mode in which things appear to one.  In this light, Kouppanou suggests that the linguistic origin of the notion of nearness qua metaphor merits further discussion.  On one hand, metaphors are antithethical to Heidegger’s attempt to transcend metaphysics insofar as they postulate a divide between sensuous and nonsensuous reality.  On the other hand, as Kouppanou suggests, Heidegger’s accounts of perception in various texts suggest that he understands sensation (aisthesis) as subject to metaphorical transformation in perception.  This is to say, everyday human perception occurs through metaphorizing of sensation, given that all seeing is in fact seeing-as.  Kouppanou writes: “The world as phenomenon, as Heidegger seems to argue, is perceived with the assistance of both aisthesis (the senses) and phantasia (imagination), or better yet: aisthesis perceives imaginatively and through the modification of sense data” (42).  To say that perception metaphorizes the stuff of things is to regard perception as imaginative, as a kind of image formation.  (An aside Kouppanou hints at here is that language’s metaphorical character is likewise imaginative, based in image-formation, similar to Nietzsche’s account of metaphor.)  Kouppanou finishes out the chapter by again invoking the role of productive imagination by way of Kant.  If one concedes that perception is imaginative, this assumes that perception requires “exterior images” (44).  This is to say that, as concomitant with productive imagination, perception also engages the retentive aspect of time-consciousness by which images are frozen as schemas that inform future experience.  In brief, perception is imaginative reproduction.  In the chapter’s conclusion, the primary question asks whether nearness is confined to the relation of imaginative schematization and language, or whether there are other media in which nearness can occur.

Chapters Four, Five, and Six explore the concept of nearness according to its various treatments in the early, middle, and late periods of Heidegger’s thought, respectively.  Chapter Four takes up nearness as it is implicated in the early Heidegger’s concept of things “ready-to-hand.”  Chapter Five examines the role of nearness in Heidegger’s political thought, particularly as it pertains to Heidegger’s thought on homeland and native soil.  Chapter Six focuses on Heidegger’s perhaps best-known discussions of nearness, from the later writings on poetic experience and the life of the “thing” (Das Ding), where nearness is conceived as an alternative mode of dwelling to modern technology.  In what follows I will summarize these studies briefly before taking up the final two chapters of the book.

Chapter Four analyzes the early Heidegger’s account of nearness as revealed in things ready-to-hand (such as Being and Time’s tools) in order to better understand Heidegger’s attempt to “eliminate the technological aspects of being from his theorization of authentic time” (51).  Kouppanou suggests that Heidegger’s avoidance of emphasizing aspects of existence such as “materiality, embodiment, spatiality, and prostheticity” (51) in his accounts of perception and world are reflective of his disinclination to include technology in the sphere of authentic temporality.  Whereas, Kouppanou wants to suggest here that such a divide between the poetic or originary, and the technological, is artificial, given that technology is embedded in historicality.  Technological being informs the imaginative character of perception no less than the rooted and homely in Heidegger’s early account of Dasein’s being-in-the-world.

Chapter Five examines Heidegger’s notion of nearness in its guise as a “political scheme.”  The primary goal of Kouppanou’s focus here is to highlight Heidegger’s recasting of nearness into the political dimension of rootedness (76).  Technology is to blame, according to Heidegger, for creating a false sense of nearness that results in rootlessness.  Citing Stiegler, Kouppanou argues in contrast that technology does in fact have a constitutive role in the formation of the polis and the emergence of nearness; she emphasizes that “time cannot be a single destiny,” nor can time circumvent the mediation of technology (81).  Simply put, authentic temporality cannot occur outside the sway of technology.  Part of Heidegger’s error here, Kouppanou suggests, is to absolutize space as a metaphysical principle, whereas in Being and Time, he makes a stronger case that the nearness of space is a metaphor disclosed by Dasein.  Kouppanou comments: “Heidegger’s return to space [in the critique of technology] coincides with the distortion of the very process that his thinking attempts to become: the poetic image.  Instead of letting poetic imagery to be freely received, Heidegger imposes interpretations that temporalize space and emphasize the historicality of the homeland” (77).

Kouppanou transitions to Chapter Six by highlighting the later Heidegger’s move away from thinking nearness in terms of the futural, spiritual, and cultural.  In particular, she emphasizes Heidegger’s remark in “The Origin of the Work of Art” that the poetic can no longer be understood from the standpoint of the imagination, but instead relies on a freely-received letting-be of the historical manifested in the interplay of world and earth (84-85).  In other words, the later Heidegger seems to allow for historical being to occur as a disclosure of truth from without.  However, Kouppanou suggests that the concept of imagination remains in play for Heidegger by virtue of informing his position on the relation of truth, language, and art.  In particular, the function of metaphor as a proto-linguistic imaginative stuff underlying poetic experience suggests that imagination still figures into the primordial disclosures of being occasioned by art.  Thus, poetic experience can still be regarded as imaginative in its foundations.  In this vein Kouppanou writes:

While language is presented as the basic process that lets things be and affords nearness, Heidegger’s own metaphorical language says much more about the way nearness and the poetic realm unfold than his explicit argumentative language.  What’s more, his discussion concerning the work of art, as a site for truth, emphasizes the spatiotemporal dimensions of revealing and accounts for the material and embodied aspects of its unfolding.  This in turn provides us with an opportunity to reconsider poetic image as a mode of presencing that does not belong to language exclusively (90).

In the ending sections of Chapter Six, the final chapters of the book are previewed in some explorations of how Heidegger understands true nearness in the lived world of “things” (as in the essay “The Thing”) versus his view of the alienated state of being afforded by technology.  Kouppanou highlights the primacy of the human hand for Heidegger in the creation of works fostering true nearness, as the hand is integral to both traditional handicraft and originary language conceived as gesture.  Heidegger highlights this phenomenon when he contrasts the hand’s use in speaking and writing with the hand’s diminished capacity in these activities upon the advent of the typewriter.  A pervasive ambiguity Kouppanou identifies here in Heidegger is the equal role of the hand in making use of differentiated, external being.  It would be a mistake to claim, as Heidegger seems to suggest, that works of the hand constitute self-contained, holistic processes of creation.  As Kouppanou suggests, there appears not to be a sharp underlying divide between Heidegger’s notion of the lived experience associated with tools and “things” of handicraft, which are derivative upon metaphorizing imagination, and robust manifestations of modern technology.  Both make use of beings external to themselves in fostering their brands of nearness.  It is not sufficient to claim that modern technology is problematic simply because it maximizes nearness and totally removes distance.  The thrust of Kouppanou’s argumentation is that there seems not to be a fundamental difference between the imaginative disclosure afforded through, say, the hammer and the disclosure given through 21st-century computing.

The final two chapters of the book engage the findings of Chapters One through Six as they pertain to education and technology in current times.  Of particular emphasis for Kouppanou is the type of nearness fostered by the imaginative schematization prevalent in the World Wide Web and social media.  Kouppanou’s central argument in these final portions of the book rests on the claim that the nearness availed by modern technology is coextensive with Heidegger’s core assumptions about the relation of nearness, language, metaphor, and imagination.  She writes that “technology is always already constitutive for our ways of seeing-as,” and “[a]ll technology participate in our hermeneutical processes” (119).  In sum, “hermeneia is itself a material exterior and embodied metaphorical process unfolding through a twofold process of discretisation and synthesis instantiated through both language and technology” (Ibid.).  For Kouppanou, this last view is decisive because it drives home the imaginative, metaphorical basis equally latent within “gestures, tools, words, and stories.”  Metaphoricity is simply a constitutive element of things and their lived meaning (Ibid.).  Kouppanou then grafts this reasoning onto the digital being of the contemporary computerized world.  The digital world is not simply the alienated world of technology; for human Dasein the digital world is still being-in-the-world.  (This view has been developed by other Heideggerian philosophers including Michael Eldred.)  Online experience is coextensive with the worldhood of everyday, “real” experience.  The metaphorized images of online being are equally meaningful as the “real” world of meaning (123).  A core assumption of these passages is that the online experience fostered in media such as Facebook is always derivative from the meaning-structures embedded in intentionality.

In the final chapter, Kouppanou addresses these issues as they pertain to the philosophy of education.  The primary question concerns whether modern technology’s current manifestation fundamentally alters the outlook for education conceived in its original guise as Bildung, formation through images.  On one hand, she notes, the temporal form of “nowness” or constant immediacy created in online being would seem to encourage a pervasive lack of freedom.  Online experience in this light is one of the individual perpetually being formed or educated from without (145).  The danger Kouppanou sees here is the metaphorization or formation of the human latent in the pervasive reach of computing technology.  For, technology, like handicraft is not merely metaphorized being in its own right; technology also leads its user to become metaphorized.  This phenomenon has been documented in empirical science, as research has shown different types of media cause the human brain to rewire itself.  Therefore, Kouppanou’s position here argues that technology’s power to completely metaphorize and rewire the educational process risks undermining the processes of discovery, scaffolded learning, and above all, hermeneutical freedom that are integral to education (150).

This book is a very impressive piece of scholarship for an early-career researcher.  Its reassessment of Heidegger’s philosophy of technology in terms of the concepts of nearness and imagination is especially fruitful.  Stylistically I believe the chapters proceed somewhat quickly at times, jumping from one dense source to another in often rapid fashion, when the author might in fact benefit from covering less material and proceeding more slowly.  The connections between the chapter topics also sometimes suffer from a similar feeling of disjointedness, where the inclusion of certain topics and subtopics comes off as unmotivated and ad hoc.  The fifth chapter on Heidegger’s political agenda struck me particularly strongly in this regard.  The first four chapters of the book, along with Chapter Six, come across much more cohesively in contrast.  However, these are all small caveats given the strong total contribution of the book.  As I noted at the beginning, the book’s principal shortcoming may be that its conclusions vis-à-vis the philosophy of education are relatively lukewarm and prefatory.  The final chapter in which education takes center stage reads somewhat more like an appendix, whereas the chapters dedicated to Heidegger are more focused on making sense of a complex line of inquiry in his thought.

Sacha Loeve, Xavier Guchet, Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent (Eds.): French Philosophy of Technology, Springer, 2018

French Philosophy of Technology: Classical Readings and Contemporary Approaches Couverture du livre French Philosophy of Technology: Classical Readings and Contemporary Approaches
Philosophy of Engineering and Technology, Vol. 29
Sacha Loeve, Xavier Guchet, Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent (Eds.)
Hardcover $129.00
IX, 400

Frank Schalow: Toward a Phenomenology of Addiction: Embodiment, Technology, Transcendence

Toward a Phenomenology of Addiction: Embodiment, Technology, Transcendence Couverture du livre Toward a Phenomenology of Addiction: Embodiment, Technology, Transcendence
Contributions To Phenomenology, 93
Frank Schalow
Hardcover 96,29 €
XIV, 191

Reviewed by: Dr. Peter Antich (Department of Philosophy, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, United States of America)

Frank Schalow’s new book, Toward a Phenomenology of Addiction, offers an important contribution to the philosophical study of addiction. While, as Schalow notes at the start of his work, the topic of addiction has spawned many studies from a variety of fields in the past years, relatively few of these have examined addiction using the methods of philosophy, and specifically, of phenomenology. Schalow argues that this leaves an important gap in our approaches to addiction, given that studies that consider addiction in purely physiological terms overlook the meaningful dimension of the addict’s experience, specifically, they fail to consider the life world of the addict. It is this lack that Schalow’s new book intends to redress.

Schalow uses phenomenological methods and concepts, primarily drawn from Heidegger’s Being and Time and later work on technology, to illuminate the phenomenon of addiction, often with considerable success. As the subtitle, « Embodiment, Technology, Transcendence, » suggests, Schalow is primarily interested in understanding addiction with respect to the body, the technological context of addiction, and the existential dimension of addiction. While anyone seeking a detailed account of the role of the body in addiction might be left wanting more from Schalow’s book, they will nevertheless find probing analyses of the role that technology and transcendence can play in understanding addiction. With respect to the former, Schalow argues that the prevalence of addiction in the present era ought to be considered a referendum on the role of technology in our culture. With respect to the latter, Schalow argues that the phenomenological concepts of transcendence and authenticity can provide a key to addiction treatment.

Schalow’s first five chapters offer a phenomenological diagnosis of addiction, while the final three begin to develop phenomenological principles of addiction treatment. The first chapter argues for the importance of a philosophical, as opposed to neurological or psychological, approach to addiction. Schalow does this, in part, through the contention that addiction ought to be understood as a cultural-historical phenomenon – a « historical and cultural transformation of our ‘way to be' » (4) – which therefore cannot adequately be understood merely in terms of the physiology of the body, but only in terms of the meaningful features of the addict’s life-world. Schalow makes clear from the first that he intends to broaden our concept of addiction and to stand the common sense appraisal of the place of addiction in our society on its head, via his claim that addiction ought to be understood as a way of being that is in a certain sense the norm for our society (9).

Chapter 2 begins work on the phenomenological study of addiction, showing how many of Heidegger’s key concepts from Being and Time provide the existential preconditions of addiction. Schalow’s central argument here is that the possibility of addiction is rooted in structures of Dasein common to addicts and non-addicts alike, namely everydayness and being-with-others. Specifically, Schalow proposes to understand addiction as « a permutation of inauthenticity or unownedness » (29). Similarly, addiction can be seen as rooted in being-with-others: dissimulating one’s self-responsibility in terms of conformity with the they-self, as described by Heidegger, creates an environment in which addiction can flourish. Further, Schalow shows how phenomenological analyses of spatiality, in terms of de-severance, and temporality, in terms of making-present, can illuminate the situation of the addict. Chapter 3 continues this work, specifically with regard to the « hook » of addiction. Schalow argues that the hook ought to be understood in terms of the concept of a « fetish, » insofar as one becomes « hooked » on a substance or process when it acquires a disproportionate significance in one’s life, when an object or process operates as a locus of attraction beyond its immediate meaning, e.g., as a means of escape or inducing satisfaction. For such mediate significances, fetishes rely on our capacity for fantasy, or imagination. In a commodity fetish, for example, a commercial object becomes invested with the meaning of a marker of economic status. This is only possible insofar as the imagination opens up a space of possible meanings for an object over and beyond its immediate significance. However, when the fetish supplants the fantasy, according to Schalow, the fetish closes off other possible meanings and becomes addictive. Insofar as the addict, in being fixated on this object, is taken in by it, rather than projecting a meaning for it, addiction is in Heidegger’s terms a form of « fallenness, » i.e., of being lived by the world rather than choosing oneself (62). Chapter 4 completes the existential analysis of addiction, focusing on self-understanding and being-with-others. Here, Schalow argues that addiction corresponds to a form of self-evasion familiar in terms of « denial. » At the same time, addiction often corresponds to inauthentic modes of relation to others, e.g., in terms of leaping-in familiar as a kind of « co-dependency. »

In chapter 5, Schalow turns to the technological dimension of his project. As I indicated above, his claim is that addiction can be considered as a referendum on technology (91), or in other words, the ubiquity of addiction in our society can only be understood in terms of its technological backdrop. Schalow makes this point by connecting technology and addiction in a number of ways. First, new technologies often facilitate certain kinds of addiction that pre-exist those technologies, as, e.g., the internet facilitates a gambling addiction. Second, new technologies give rise to unique forms of addiction, e.g., addictions to social media or video games (89-90). But, thirdly, Schalow is engaged in a larger claim, namely the Heideggerian claim that technology essentially amounts to an « enframing » of the world, characteristic of our culture, i.e., in which everything (including humanity) becomes standing reserve. This « enframing, » in turn, is bound up with addiction in a number of ways. First, it fosters a culture of excess and immediate gratification which promote addiction. Second, this technological culture infuses the life-world of the addict with boredom and stress, and thereby motivates release via addictive substances or processes (section 5.2). Finally, there seems to be a deeper sense in which technology mirrors addiction: just as in addiction one seeks control over one’s life and moods through the use of a substance or process, but thereby in fact gives control of one’s life over to the substance or process, similarly technology offers the promise of control, the « enframing » of resources, only at the price of losing control of human life to this enframing (110). It is, I think, especially in this sense that Schalow understands his central claim that addiction should take on the broad sense of a « historical and cultural transformation of our way-to-be » (4).

In the final chapters of his work, Schalow turns to an existential analysis of methods of treatment. Since Schalow considers the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous program to be the « enduring spiritual plan of our today » (111), Chapter 6 investigates the historical backdrop for the development of this program, explaining connections between AA founder Bill Wilson and the important figures and movements of his time, including Carl Jung, Rudolf Bultmann, and the Oxford movement. In chapters 7 & 8, Schalow argues that existing approaches to treatment are overly dependent on a mind-body dualism – i.e., they focus on either spiritual practices (e.g., AA or talk therapy) or purely physiological treatments – and so leave an important gap in treatment that would be targeted at the addict’s life-situation. Further, the hermeneutic-phenomenological method, insofar as it has long subverted the dualism of mind and body, can prove an important corrective here, by suggesting contours of treatment that would fill this gap. While these contours are multifaceted – e.g., involving the addict adopting new life-contexts (147) – Schalow focuses on transcendence, or responsibility, claiming that addiction cannot be treated without some « resoluteness » (in Heidegger’s sense) on the part of the addict. According to Schalow, « resoluteness » is the appropriate category by which to understand the addict’s choice of recovery, because the decision to quit a habit is not merely a choice, but really a choosing to choose. One does not overcome addiction through a single choice, but rather through choosing, day by day, sobriety, in a manner that is thus the opposite of the culture of immediate gratification fostered by technology. Addiction can only be treated with a commitment, on the part of the addict, and thus insofar as the addict takes responsibility for her or himself.

These analyses accomplish a number of important tasks. Schalow’s greatest accomplishment is to translate Heidegger’s phenomenological concepts into the context of addiction, and show that these concepts can be productively employed in this context. Second, Schalow draws together and develops Heidegger’s scattered thoughts about addiction into a sustained account, offering a cohesive existential analysis of the phenomenon. Third, Schalow makes a number of interesting claims about the cultural backdrop for the prevalence of addiction in today’s society, in particular, raising important questions about the role technology may be playing in this phenomenon. Fourth, in his final chapters, Schalow suggests the principles of an existential approach to recovery, an approach which may indeed offer some novel principles for treatment. Fifth, Schalow makes and supports the provocative claim that addiction is in some sense the norm for our society, and cannot be considered merely pathological. Finally, especially in Chapter 6, Schalow draws connections between a number of figures important in the early 20th century and demonstrates their relevance to the formation of the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous program.

Along with these significant accomplishments, there are some problems with Schalow’s account. In the following, I’ll outline four kinds of concerns about Schalow’s book: those dealing with his interpretation of Heidegger, with the connection he draws between technology and addiction, with his reliance on the AA program, and with his principles of treatment.

First, there are some issues with Schalow’s interpretation of Heidegger, three of which are especially significant. First, Schalow uses Heidegger’s analysis of technology to shed light on the role technology might play in the present addiction crisis. But it seems to me that Schalow often blurs the distinction, important to Heidegger, between technology and the essence of technology (e.g., Heidegger’s claim that « The essence of technology is by no means anything technological » [311]). But Schalow seems to move readily between the claim that specific technologies facilitate addiction and the claim that enframing, or the essence of technology, permeates the present addiction crisis, leaving it unclear to what extent his argument is Heideggerian. Second, and relatedly, it seems to me that Schalow risks misunderstanding the « danger » posed by the essence of technology according to Heidegger. Heidegger writes that « Enframing blocks the shining-forth and holding sway of truth. The destining that sends into ordering is consequently the extreme danger. What is dangerous is not technology. … The essence of technology, as a destining of revealing is the danger » (333). The danger is not that of « the potentially lethal machines and apparatus of technology, » but that enframing blocks a more primordial engagement with Being. But Schalow is at the very least ambiguous in his understanding of the danger when he writes that « Heidegger argued that technology wields a double-edged sword, namely, that the greater opportunities afforded to human beings, including leisure-time, simultaneously brings its specific drawbacks and even risks. In his words, for every mode of ‘unconcealing’ what is, i.e., the opportunities created by new innovations, there are also equally ominous modes of ‘concealing,’ i.e., unanticipated and destructive consequences » (96). Third, if Schalow is right to think that addiction is a symptom of the essence of technology, then it is unclear that an individual’s resoluteness could free her or him of addiction. Heidegger writes that « Human activity can never directly counter this danger. Human achievement alone can never banish it. But human reflection can ponder the fact that all saving power must be of a higher essence than what is endangered, though at the same time kindred to it » (339). Schalow presupposes that terms like « resoluteness » (as understood in the context of Heidegger’s early work in Being and Time) can offer a resolution to a problem posed at least in part by technology (as understood in the context of Heidegger’s later work), a presupposition which is at least contentious. And if no human activity or achievement can directly counter the danger, then it is unclear to me how efficacious reflection on the kinship of the endangered and the saving power would be for the addict.

Second, the connection between technology and addiction could be better established. For example, at times Schalow claims that certain technologies or technological processes are addictive. But it would be helpful to cite some empirical research in this regard, especially given that the medical community has not yet concluded that there are such addictions (though some research does support this conclusion, e.g., Leeman and Potenza [2013]). Here too it would be helpful if Schalow were clearer about the kind of connection he envisages between technology and addiction, whether in terms of technologies influencing addiction or technological thinking being in some sense essentially addictive.

Third, Schalow focuses much of his thinking about treatment around the AA twelve-step program, but does little to argue for the validity of this program. Instead, Schalow seems to assume that the AA program offers a valid point of departure for analysis, justifying it by appealing to it as the « enduring spiritual plan of our today » (111) or as the first addiction treatment program (ix). But the efficacy of the twelve-step program is controversial (see, e.g., Dodes [2014] or Humphreys et. al. [2014]). Granted, Schalow sets out to offer a philosophical and existential approach, rather than an empirical or medical approach, but a phenomenological approach must exercise care in its choice of a point of departure for analysis. Some other finer points raise similar concerns, e.g., Schalow’s referral to « neurasthenia » (161), a condition no longer recognized in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. In general, Schalow’s analysis would have benefitted from greater fluency with psychological and medical results.

Fourth, I have some concerns about Schalow’s principles for treatment. Foremost of these is that it is hard to see how Schalow’s prescription of « resoluteness » wouldn’t entail a return to the moralistic myth that the addict is merely lazy. Schalow recognizes this possibility, and certainly aims to avert it, for example, writing that he defines « responsibility » in a Heideggerrian manner (in terms of « answerability ») rather than in the traditional sense of a volitional act or exercise of the will (151). Nevertheless, the ensuing discussion of responsibility (especially Schalow’s use of Kant) makes it hard to see how he is not resorting to a more traditional sense of responsibility. Schalow is very likely correct that resoluteness is a necessary condition for recovery, but it is unclear how far it is supposed to get the addict. Further, if Schalow’s aim is to bridge the gap between treatments aimed at the mind and treatments aimed at the body (considered in biological terms), then « resoluteness » or « choosing to choose » might not be the best resource: a phenomenological analysis of human existence aimed at a level beneath deliberate choice might provide more novel approaches to treatment. Indeed, some of Schalow’s most interesting insights about treatment are found in discussions not directly oriented toward resoluteness, e.g., in his suggestion that for the addict to reorient her priorities she must begin to « inhabit a new space » of relations with others (146).

Schalow’s Toward a Phenomenology of Addiction succeeds in developing a phenomenological framework for thinking about addiction, and raises interesting questions about the role of technology and transcendence in addiction. Anyone led by Schalow’s subtitle to look in this book for a close treatment of the role of embodiment in addiction might be left wanting more, for Schalow treats this theme more sparingly than the others. One wonders if Husserl or Merleau-Ponty might have proven better resources in this regard for Schalow than Heidegger, and indeed, some of the most acute passages related to embodiment come from Schalow’s brief discussion of habituality and Merleau-Ponty (40-1). Nevertheless, Schalow succeeds in this work in knitting together a host of phenomenological themes around the topic of addiction, and perhaps it would be unfair to ask him to incorporate yet another with equal care. Its successes make this book a considerable step in the phenomenological and existential analysis of addiction, and no doubt it will prove an important study for anyone interested in this topic.


Dodes, Lance and Zachary Dodes. 2014. The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Heidegger, Martin. 2008. “The Question Concerning Technology.” In Basic Writings, edited by David Farrell Krell. 307-352. New York: HarperCollins.

Humphreys, Keith, Janet C. Blodgett, and Todd H. Wagner. 2014. “Estimating the Efficacy of Alcoholics Anonymous without Self-Selection Bias: An Instrumental Variables Re-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials.” Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 38 (11): 2688-2694.

Leeman, RF and MN Potenza. 2013. “A Targeted Review of the Neurobiology and Genetics of Behavioral Addictions: An Emerging Area of Research.” The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 58 (5): 260-73.

Eric S. Nelson: Chinese and Buddhist Philosophy in Early Twentieth-Century German Thought

Chinese and Buddhist Philosophy in Early Twentieth-Century German Thought Couverture du livre Chinese and Buddhist Philosophy in Early Twentieth-Century German Thought
Eric S. Nelson
Bloomsbury Academic
Hardback £76.50

Reviewed by: Erik Hoogcarspel (Independent Scholar)

For those who are interested in the exchange between early phenomenology and China a new interesting study has appeared. The book is divided into nine chapters, some of which are based on articles that have been published before, most of them in the Journal of Chinese Philosophy. The first chapter describes the reception of Confucianism in Germany. It relates how different writers, such as Martin Buber, Georg Misch, Helmuth Plessner, and Karl Jaspers debated the merits of Confucianism.

The second chapter deals with different views on the meaning of life in China and Europe, as expressed in the exchange between the Chinese writer Zhang Junmai and the German vitalists Rudolf Eucken and Hans Driesch. In China, Zhang’s defence of German idealism strongly influenced Chinese philosophy in the 20th century. The third chapter is a comparison of Confucian ethics with the philosophies of Nietzsche and Max Scheler. It focuses on the concept of resentment, in the Western view often considered as caused by a lack of equality, but in Confucianism seen as a flaw in the inner cultivation of harmony.

Next follow three chapters that investigate the different aspects of Euro-centrism in the phenomenology of Husserl and Heidegger. One of those aspects is the naturalistic influence of Taoist thought on the critical attitude towards technology of both Buber and Heidegger. Another aspect is the question of whether philosophy is a single historical event or a general human activity which unfolds itself in different situations and from different causes. Finally, before a concluding chapter investigates the possibilities of an intercultural philosophy, two penultimate chapters explore a confrontation of Martin Heidegger with Zen Buddhism and the relation between emptiness and language. The book is well written and further study is facilitated by many footnotes and an extensive bibliography. There is a general index for quick reference that includes subjects as well as names of Chinese and European writers.

The chapters consist of a series of philosophically-orientated historical case studies, focusing on the confrontation between Chinese and German philosophy. Against the often-quoted opinion of Husserl and Heidegger that philosophy can only be European, the author proposes a more universal concept of philosophy, assuming that philosophy is a universally human potency. The rejection of non-Western philosophy is therefore associated with the denial of humanity to non-Western cultures. For Nelson the intercultural approach also implies a rejection of essentialism, which leads to the conclusion that a multicultural or comparative approach is out of the question. There are no essences or identities of philosophy that can be compared, no inherent differences that can be listed and opposed to each other. The key word Nelson uses is ‘inter-textualism’, the dynamic exchange between texts through the ages by which they cooperate and refer to each other.

Arguably classical Greek and Roman philosophy, in which philosophy is an enquiry about the good life, is closer to non-Western philosophical discussion than our modern Western conception. Nelson complains: “Modern Western philosophy—which is simultaneously universal in its pretensions about its scope and provincial in its actual practises—has been largely indifferent, when not allergically antagonistic, to non-Western forms of thinking” (13).

The first chapter concerns the bad press of Confucianism. This prejudice is, according to Nelson, a heritage of colonial thinking. The prejudices towards Confucianism and the term itself initiated from the reports of Jesuit missionaries who stayed for some time at the court of the Chinese Emperor during the late Ming and early Ching dynasties (roughly the seventeenth century). Since then Confucianism has met with little appreciation in the West, but according to its admirers it can offer interesting ethical political insights that can be useful in Western political philosophy. Nelson mentions some philosophers who were more sympathetic. Pierre Bayle and Nicolas Malebranche identified Confucianism with the pantheism of Spinoza. Christian Wolff even had to leave the University of Jena in 1726 because of the protests of Christian theologians after he equated Jesus and Confucius in his lecture on the practical philosophy of the Chinese.

In the sayings of Confucius, the Analects (Lunyu ), he often appeals to the will of tian 天 (mostly translated as ‘heaven’; sometimes as ‘God’). Because of this translation many philosophers interpreted Confucianism as a kind of Deist or atheist ethics, and inadequate to the rational individualism of the West. Nelson argues that the critics overlooked the openness of Confucianism to critical reflection and reformation of practises and institutions along with the acceptance of the authority of the existing ethical order. Hegel was the most outspoken critic, because he thought Oriental peoples were not capable of understanding the concept of true freedom. Weber admitted that the Chinese and Islamic culture used to be more advanced than the Western, but found them incomplete, because they both lacked transcendence and final redemption. Moreover, Chinese philosophy failed in the complete rationalisation of the life-world and never rid itself of traces of magical thought. Nietzsche associated Confucian and Buddhist ethics with an altruistic ethics similar to Christendom, which he rejected. On the other hand, others were enchanted by the Chinese pure aesthetics that was supposed to be in harmony with nature. Confucius was sometimes compared to Socrates, for instance by Karl Jaspers, but Schelling makes him an anti-Socrates. In the intercultural hermeneutics of Georg Misch (in his book The Dawn of Philosophy), however, Nelson finds some well-founded argumentation for a positive reception of Confucius and of non-Western philosophy in general. Martin Buber and Helmuth Plessner elevated Confucianism beyond the scope of philosophy, because they found it too subtle and noble.

The second chapter describes the work of Zhang Junmai (1886-1969), who introduced the principle of self-reflection of life (shengming 生命) into modern Confucian philosophy. His early work reflects the crisis of meaning that befell the Chinese during the late 19th and early 20th century when several political changes and revolutions took place and the Chinese army appeared to be no match for the Western forces. After a first attempt to assimilate the philosophy of the Western invaders, Zhang looked for concepts similar to Western ideas in the Confucian tradition. If necessary, Confucian ideas could be reformulated or adapted to match the demands of the new era. This was a hazardous strategy, because it could be seen as giving in to the foreign domination and cutting ties with the very Chinese tradition that was to be saved. Zhang wrote a book together with Rudolf Eucken, called The Problem of Life in China and Europe (Das Lebensproblem in China und Europa, 1922), which consists of an abridged history of Western philosophy, an overview of the history of Chinese ethics and a diagnostic reflection on the contemporary ethical situation in China and Europe. Nelson praises it as a nice example of a cross-cultural dialogue, in which Eucken was convinced of the need of a renewal of spiritual life in the West as an answer to the crisis of modernity that had unleashed so much cruelty in the first World War. What is at stake is reason, its nature, its relation to life, and the question of whether it is universal or restricted to the mainstream of Western philosophy.

Nelson relates how Zhang thinks that Western philosophy, with exception of German idealism and the philosophy of Eucken, has failed to integrate life and reason. Eucken maintains that life has originated from metaphysical sources. In this aspect his philosophy contains a spiritual ontology. According to Nelson, Zhang wants to counterbalance the Western will to power by the Chinese emphasis on personal ethical development. In China this message resonated with the classical philosophies of Mengzi (372-289 BCE) and Wang Yangming (1472-1529), but it did not quite fit in with the discourse in China at the time. Zhang was very much opposed to racist and nationalist ideologies, and he rejected the theory that the Han people were a group of one blood and identity. Hans Driesch, who stayed with Zhang in China for nine months, also rejected any difference of essence, nature, or substance between Eastern and Western people, or between Germans and Jews for that matter. In those days the fear of the ‘yellow peril’ (sinophobia) spread around, amongst others propagated by Kaiser Wilhelm, who had a nightmare in 1895 in which the Buddha riding a dragon was conquering Europe. In 1950 this idea was even endorsed by the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. Zhang was later forced to go in exile to the U.S.A., and his successor Mou Zongsan became one of the most important philosophers in China. On both sides of the globe, Nelson writes, xenophobia had permeated the pores of academics as well as politicians. Nevertheless, there was an opposite current of fascination with the East, both in art and philosophy. However, in the eyes of many this current became affiliated with the romantic and magical thought of theosophy and the New Age. In the meantime China had adopted Marx and Western capitalism.

The third chapter deals with the view on China of Max Scheler and Friedrich Nietzsche, who claimed that China suffered from a culture of ressentiment. According to Nelson, Scheler maintained contra Nietzsche that ressentiment (resentment being a feeling of unhappiness due to exposure to unfairness and ressentiment a complex attitude of hating life because of spite towards successful people, blaming them for one’s own misfortune) is not linked to Christendom, but to its negation and that of religion in general. It defies the basic moral character of humanity, which can be found in many places in human history, like the teachings of the Stoics and Epicureans as well as those of Taoism and Buddhism. For Nietzsche, however, ressentiment is the very source of all moralities, especially the Christian one, because they all hold that the strong are repressed for the benefit of the week. The opposite of ressentiment is self-affirmation. In Nietzsche’s book Twilight of Idols, Confucius is a preacher of ressentiment, just like Jesus and Plato, in comparison to Nero and Napoleon (84). Nietzsche claims that China is a warning, because there ressentiment merely seems to have been overcome, whereas in fact it still silently rules the hearts of the people. In Nietzsche’s view, the altruism preached by the Buddha and Confucius made the Chinese passive and fearful. This had to be avoided in Europe in order to liberate the strong and noble persons from the domination by the weak masses. Nelson does not share Nietzsche’s verdict; he is convinced that in the Analects many examples are to be found where a selfish attitude is cut short by the cultivation of sincere benevolence and altruism. In his view, earlier Confucian ethics integrates a realistic moral psychology of negative emotions such as resentment with a model of self-cultivation that is aiming at an attitude of benevolence towards others. Early Confucian ethics in general minimizes the expectation of others and maximizes the need for self-discipline, obviously because one is powerless over the other’s expectations and high expectations could lead to resentment. Moreover, the noble person earns respect by helping others. According to Nelson, this is not a matter of self-sacrifice as Scheler and Nietzsche would have it, but a matter of self-cultivation.

Nelson remarks in the fourth chapter that the reception of Chinese philosophy is flawed by inadequate translations, prejudice, and lack of familiarity with the cultural context and differences in circumstances. Intercultural philosophy is captured in a dilemma between rigorous and narrow expertise, and free, creative reading between the lines. Romantic writers contrasted Taoist spontaneity and naturalness with the alienation of the technological modernity. The image of mystic love of nature was combined with wild Orientalistic imagination. Nelson finds in Schelling the first to write an intelligent commentary on the Daodejing. Schelling describes the dao as pure potency, the link between finite and actual being. Knowledge of the dao requires practical wisdom. A milestone in the understanding of Taoism in Germany was Martin Buber’s German translation of the Zhuangzi from the English translations of James Legge and Herbert Allen Giles, which appeared in 1910. Heidegger reportedly read it several times (121). Buber’s preference for this book is quite understandable in light of his most famous book I and Thou that appeared in 1923. Zhuangzi looks in Buber’s eyes a lot like the hasidim of the Jewish tradition, of which he knew the stories all too well. Moreover, the Zhuangzi teaches through humour, contrary to the Daodejing. Ten years later, however, Buber preferred the Daodejing because of its political dimension.

Buber has, according to Nelson, a positive view on Taoism, in which to be one with the dao is to be one with the creativity of life, through non-doing (wu wei). Buber finds a drive towards the actualization of the divine in ordinary life by sensitive persons in both Taoism and Hasidic Judaism. Nelson speculates that Buber’s language of surrender, letting go and inaction anticipated and perhaps influenced Heidegger. Buber once even uses the word Gelassenheit (‘releasement’), which is quite similar to the Chinese concept of non-action (wu wei), but Heidegger claims to have found it in the work of Meister Eckhart. Interestingly enough, however, Buber expressed his concern about the threat of modern science and technology before Heidegger did, emphasizing the need for a European alternative for Taoism. He calls the Taoist writings a source of inspiration (anticipating Peter Sloterdijk’s book Eurotaoism). So in this way Buber thinks an encounter between Chinese wisdom and European rationality to be possible and even necessary. Confucianism is in Buber’s opinion too demanding for the egoist Westerners and tied up with traditional Chinese values, while Taoism looks more promising. Although there is nothing of the Zhuangzi in his writings, Heidegger seems to have taken a great interest in the book. He was inspired by it for his conception of being-with (Mitsein), natural artistry without relying on a technique, and finally the necessity of the unnecessary or the use of the useless. At the end of the second World War the Chinese scholar Paul Shih-yi Hsiao engaged with Heidegger in conversations concerning the Daodejing and they translated sections of the text together into German. Heidegger interpreted the text rather idiosyncratically; understanding other cultures was not his forte. He mentions in the collection On the Way to Language the Chinese word for way, dào, and equals it to the Greek word logos. He calls it “the secret of all secrets of thoughtful saying.” As for Buber, it serves Heidegger as a counterbalance to the threat of technology that is hanging over Western philosophy. Technology causes humans to treat each other as objects, putting all personal relations into oblivion. So for both Heidegger and Buber, Zhuangzi provided a model for non-religious aesthetic freedom. Asian philosophy does not play any part in Heidegger’s history of being; the latter is increasingly assimilated in the West through the planetary advance of the technological world-image and its destructive reduction of beings to instrumental calculation, which originates in the Greek experience of nature as physis. So what makes Asian philosophy relevant to Heidegger? According to Nelson, Heidegger tries to dismantle the history of being and reveal the origins of philosophy in order to reawaken the freshness of its origin. Heidegger insists, however, that this new beginning must come from Greek philosophy. Heidegger is explicitly opposed to the possibility of non-Western philosophy, despite his plagiarism of Taoist texts. Nelson mentions the most famous quote in that regard, which comes from a talk Heidegger gave for the Bayerischen Rundfunk (German radio) in 1952 called What is Called Thinking? (Was heisst Denken?) Asian people are not without thought, but they cannot think, because they do not understand the logos. Nelson thinks Heidegger’s decision to part with Taoist texts must have been taken in 1934, when his sympathies for Hitler increased, such that Heidegger seems never to have reconsidered this decision. Even in 1960 he called the Asian culture ‘dark’ and the ancient Greek one ‘light’. In the interview in Der Spiegel of 1966 he warns against the barbarian influence of Zen Buddhism. He is not alone in this. Even deconstructive philosophers as Derrida and Rorty stated that a non-Western philosophy is not possible. Heidegger rejected Dilthey’s thesis of the multiple origins of philosophy in his Introduction into Philosophy. His argument is that philosophy must be a unity, because there is only one real question, the question of being. This leaves very little room for discussion since Heidegger himself is the only one in the history of philosophy who has asked this question. Nelson does not agree, of course. He thinks that the point of departure for reflection necessarily is the hermeneutical situation of life itself. Whereas the ontological prejudice inhibits every possibility for a dialogue.

Nelson explains that for Misch, as well as for Dilthey, every interpretation oscillates between the alien and the familiar, so in that case no radical difference exists between the hermeneutics of texts from one’s own culture and texts from other cultures. Philosophy does not begin at a certain place at a certain time; it happens every time a human being is confronted with the abyss of meaninglessness. It is an internal break with immediacy and an occasion for self-reflection. Nelson notes that Misch points to several stories in the Zhuangzi that serve as examples. The Analects of Confucius show in Misch’s view that not all philosophy started with the question of being. In China it started with the question of ethics. This fact suffices in Misch’s eyes to falsify Heidegger’s thesis (later he also mentions an Indian origin of philosophy). Moreover, Misch contends that the beginning of philosophy in Greece was not the question of being but the concrete self-reflexive moment of life concerning itself.

Nelson notices that Taoism takes special place in the philosophy of Misch. All philosophies are expressions of the self-reflection of life, but Zhuangzi has the final hermeneutical word. Misch thinks Zhuangzi provocatively challenges, expands and reverses life’s perspectives and horizons. His stories and paradoxes liberate one from dogmatic inhibitions and put situations into perspective through articulating life from within life itself. In the oracle book the Yijing Misch finds a logic that is different from that of Western philosophy. The book consists of comments on ideograms. The comments are generated by a detached observation of worldly situations, combined with self-reflection. It has a holistic structure, the parts are reflected in the whole, and vice versa. Each input ideogram or symbol describes a situation together with preferred strategies. Nelson, in dialogue with Heidegger, thinks this is another beginning of philosophy, one which is even more in tune with the concrete human being that lives his life, seeks to adapt to circumstances, and make sense of his existence. To make a long story short, Nelson praises Heidegger for taking an interest in Chinese philosophy, but blames him for not having understood one shred. Heidegger’s monologue about being is totally unsuitable for any kind of cross-cultural philosophy.

Classical phenomenology can be helpful for understanding Asian philosophy, Nelson admits. Returning to the things themselves opens a cross-cultural perspective, because those things are not restricted to just one culture. This has often been overlooked. Merleau-Ponty, however, remarked that: “[philosophy’s] centre is everywhere, its circumference nowhere” (164). Both Husserl and Heidegger made clear they were opposed to the idea of a non-Western philosophy, but in a few short texts Husserl wrote very positively about Buddhism (167). The first is called “Socrates – Buddha.” Here he comes to the conclusion that Indian philosophy does not go beyond the practical and ethical level; it never reaches an epistemological bracketing of the whole world as Descartes has achieved. Husserl argues that the Buddhist path pursues knowledge for the sake of emancipation, but the Socratic path leads to knowledge for its own sake. So it is only through the eyes of the Western philosopher, who is seeking knowledge as such, that Indian philosophy becomes real philosophy. According to Husserl Buddhist philosophy never transcends the natural attitude of daily life, because it is not capable of a complete reduction. Even Buddhist meditation does not transform the natural attitude.

The other short text is a review of a translation of the Majjhima Nikaya, the collection of middle-length discourses of the Buddha. Here the Buddhist teachings are said to be parallel to the highest achievements of Western civilization. Western philosophy can come to a breakthrough of its own predicament of degeneration by the confrontation with the Buddhist teachings. The adoption of Buddhist philosophy by the West or a possible fusion of Western and non-Western philosophy is still out of the question. So here too Husserl sticks to his paradigm of the historical uniqueness of Western philosophy. He justifies his position by pointing to the unique development of science in the West, which he sees as a result of a unique theoretical attitude. Husserl also published three articles in the Japanese journal Kaizō (167). In these he articulates a sense of an intellectual and spiritual crisis; he calls for a renewal by returning to the origins of philosophy. The Japanese are invited to join in, because Japan is becoming a new branch of European culture.

Nelson describes how other phenomenologists even went a step further (172). Stanislaw Schayer published a comparison between the phenomenological method of reduction and Buddhist meditation. He found the Buddhist method of reduction even more radical than the one Husserl practised. Dorion Cairns, who worked closely together with Husserl and his assistant Eugen Fink, also claims that the various phases of Buddhist self-discipline were essentially phases of phenomenological reduction; both consist of an analysis of the structure of subjective consciousness. In both cases the interdependence of consciousness and world is revealed. So while the phenomenological method appears to have strong affinities with Buddhist meditation, their framework and goals are radically divergent. Husserl aims at a fundamental philosophy that has to become a new foundation for science, which he sees as a logical result of a development that started with the ancient natural philosophers. Within this framework he could not recognize genuine philosophy in the Indian and Chinese cultures.

Nelson accepts that cultures have each their own histories, but he thinks that the encounter between different cultures can create new individualities, that histories may intertwine. The problem he finds with Husserl is the priority of a life-world which is not phenomenologically neutral, but tainted by historical and ideological bias. In Heidegger’s mature thinking technology and globalization are pathologies of the culmination of the history of Western metaphysics. The only solution is a new beginning, which means a return to the Greek origins of philosophy, because the West is appointed by history to be in the lead.

Nelson mentions an essay by Heidegger about the differences between French and German philosophy, called “Ways of Speaking.” Here Heidegger mentions the confrontation with the other that articulates by mutual understanding the differences and the identity of each participant. He called it a strife for the sake of understanding. An example of this would be the dialogue with Count Kuki about the translatability of the Japanese word ‘iki’ entitled “A Dialogue on Language: Between a Japanese and an Inquirer” (‘Aus einem Gespräch von der Sprache‘, in the collection ‘Unterwegs zur Sprache‘). Nelson makes clear that Heidegger is not very interested in the understanding being mutual. The latter maintains that ‘iki’ is untranslatable and reproaches Kuki for not being true to his own culture. In other words, Kuki doesn’t play the part Heidegger had mind for him. Japanese are (according to Heidegger) unfit to understand the concept of aesthetics because the Japanese language is incommensurable with the German one. (Quite a risky claim for someone who does not speak any Japanese, I would say!) So the reason for the dialogue seems to be rather enigmatic. Heidegger maintains that a genuine dialogue is anticipated, but obviously impossible as well. Heidegger opens a dialogue, but only to prove the impossibility of any mutual understanding!

Nelson describes very well how attempts of Martin Buber to interpret Eastern texts are a gust of fresh air into the heavy atmosphere of East-West dialogue. Buber was attracted by the laid-back attitude in these texts and he thought they could teach Westerners to go easy on consumerism. Heidegger knew Zen-Buddhism from the introductory works of Suzuki and other anthologies. According to Nelson, Buber moved away from the Eastern philosophies later in his life because he shifted from mysticism to ethics. In Buber’s work on Hasidism Nelson finds, however, many comments on Zen. He notes that Buber rejects full transcendence, because it is selfish to merge into a mystic state and leave your neighbours behind. Nevertheless Buber writes about the Buddha with sympathy, but he does not want to follow him all the way. According to Buber, the Jewish experience is fundamentally different, because it celebrates the divine while being exiled in the world. He remains, however, true to his principles and keeps the dialogue with other philosophies open, stressing their validity and good intentions.

Nelson also relates the criticism of Keiji Nishitani, member of the Japanese Kyōto school, a philosophical movement famous everywhere but in Japan itself. Nishitani wrote an essay called “the I-thou relation in Buddhism,” in which he describes the profoundly dialogical character of the Zen kōan. Nishitani criticises Buber for keeping the interpersonal dialogue on the level of just words and not touching the level where the communication between Zen master and pupil really takes place. He claims that Buddhism developed an ethics that transcends the self; Zen ethics is therefore an ethics of encounter where the care of the other is paramount. What Western commentators on Zen didn’t realise according to Nishitani, was that the irrational and seemingly unethical utterances of Zen masters were meant to break through the cultivation of personal idols, they are not academic philosophical statements.

Before he reaches the concluding chapter, Nelson presents a comparative analysis of emptiness. According to Nelson both Zen and Heidegger came close to primordial experience through a dismantling of conceptual thinking (228). In Heidegger’s work the deconstruction discloses an original experience of being; in Zen there is the disclosure of original mind and self-nature. Nelson thinks that there still remains a trace of reification in Heidegger’s concept of nothingness. Since Parmenides, he claims, nothing comes from nothing, so we need God or being in order for something to exist. Western philosophers understood Buddhist emptiness either as a self-contradictory concept or a nihilistic void. Heidegger is said to question these suppositions. He returns to Leibniz’s question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” The answer in the Western tradition, where nothingness is conceived as the absence of being, seems to need a third term, God, who transcends both and is the ground. Heidegger speaks of an uncanniness at the moment when existence is experienced as slipping away. Like death, it is an abyss that cannot be anticipated. According to Nelson, Heidegger is looking for a new language that is not re-presentational, but he tries to do this by asking questions about metaphysics. Zen practises a way of speaking without speaking, which is not referential but performative. Emptiness is not a thing, because it is empty of itself. Nelson sees an affinity with Heidegger’s groundlessness of the ground. In Zen language is self-deconstructing, it is performative, it indirectly enacts a reorientation of human dwelling through various strategies by the anecdotal and the shocking. Zen’s emptiness and Heidegger’s nothingness approach each other, according to Nelson, in emphasizing the original groundlessness and temporal impermanence of human existence.

One of the pitfalls of an intercultural hermeneutics is that no philosopher can cover all points of view exhaustively on their own. There is the risk of purifying the other so much that it becomes sterile. Nelson sees a beginning of cross-cultural hermeneutics in Dilthey’s philosophy of worldviews (which was criticised by Heidegger in his article the era of world views, “The Age of the World-View” (Die Zeit des Weldbildes, in the collection Holzwege)) and the comparative work of Georg Misch. Nelson hopes for an intercultural hermeneutics that keeps apart from nationalistic bias, gives ample room for the opponent to expose his or her points of view, is sensitive to complexity, and critically reflexive.

Nelson’s book is quite informative and covers most of the interchange that took place between Zen and Germany in the beginning of last century. Many more Buddhist schools existed in Japan and China of course, but those did not take much part in the exchange. Nelson does not mention what happened in this area in France or Great Britain, so the picture he offers is not quite complete. It is also not as neutral as he likes it to be. Confucianism has become the official philosophy of the ancient and new empire, but this was and is mainly for political reasons, not because it is philosophically more interesting than its competitors. It is diverse, its history is rich with reorientations and discussions, as is the history of Chinese Buddhism. The recent upsurge in praises of Confucianism might have a nationalistic bias, therefore Confucianism is often erroneously presented with an unequivocal message.

On a few occasions Nelson makes disputable claims. Confucius did not advocate equality, but a natural hierarchy.  This was one of the main topics of the so-called mo-ru discussions between his followers and those of Mozi. To call Li (禮) “appropriate practices, socially oriented individual self-cultivation, and learning and self-reflection” (17), seems a modernistic rationalisation, as it usually means ‘rites’. Mozi called it a waste of time and money, because it required the payment of lots of musicians and people walking around with funny hats. Another example is the obligation of a three-year mourning period following the death of a parent: this could mean ‘bankruptcy’. In Chinese texts many things are not as they appear to be and philological research remains very important. The Confucian texts are not the sayings of a single historical wise man; most of them are from different sources and from a later date. And the history of Zen is not quite like the monks themselves think it is. Nelson leaves these problems out of the discussion, but they are part of the exchange between East and West. The discussion between Zen and Heidegger is incomplete, because the latter wrote like he did not have a body, whereas Zen monks are sitting motionless for hours at a stretch, training their body and mind to be one. It is also a pity that Nelson did not follow up on his own suggestions and pay more attention to the carefully executed Husserlian reductions and genetic phenomenology. This could have been more fertile than a discussion about nothingness.

Nevertheless, this book offers lots of valuable information and entries for further research. It is well-written and has all the tools for easy reference and an impressive bibliography.

Antonio Cerella, Louiza Odysseos (Eds.): Heidegger and the Global Age, Rowman & Littlefield International, 2017

Heidegger and the Global Age Couverture du livre Heidegger and the Global Age
New Heidegger Research
Antonio Cerella, Louiza Odysseos (Eds.)
Rowman & Littlefield International
Hardback £90.00

Alexandru Dragomir: The World We Live In

The World We Live In Couverture du livre The World We Live In
Phaenomenologica, 220
Alexandru Dragomir, Gabriel Liiceanu (Ed.) & Catalin Partenie (Ed.)
Springer International Publishing
xiii + 167

Reviewed by: Corinna Lagemann (Freie Universität Berlin)

Bei dem Band The World We Live In, herausgegeben von Gabriel Liiceanu und Catalin Partenie, handelt es sich um eine posthum erschienene Sammlung von Aufsätzen, Vorlesungsmitschriften und Textrekonstruktionen des rumänischen Phänomenologen Alexandru Dragomir (1916 – 2002), dem Zeit seines Lebens aufgrund widriger Umstände die verdiente Aufmerksamkeit verwehrt blieb und der bis zu seinem Tod nicht einen einzigen Text veröffentlichte.

Vor diesem Hintergrund besticht der vorliegende Band bereits durch seine Methode und seinen Aufbau: einem recht ausführlichen biographischen Teil, der etwa ein Drittel des schmalen Buches ausmacht, folgt die in drei Sektionen gegliederte Sammlung von Aufsätzen, wobei die Aufsätze in sehr unterschiedlicher Form vorliegen. Jedem Text geht eine kurze Erläuterung seiner Herkunft und Bearbeitungsweise voraus, und so finden sich Rekonstruktionen aus Vorlesungsmitschriften, Transkripte von Tonbandaufnahmen und allerlei fragmentarisches Material, das nach bestem Wissen und Gewissen und sehr akribisch und präzise angefertigt wurde.

Die Herausgeber äußern sich zur Methode und zum Status des Werks wie folgt:

 „The present volume brings together all that has been preserved of these lectures and that could serve as raw material for subsequent working up. By working up, we mean that neither the existing notes, nor the audio recordings have been reproduced exactly“ (ix)

Vielmehr ist man um eine verständliche Darstellung bemüht, als um die ganz exakte Rekonstruktion des vorliegenden Materials.

Der ausführliche biographische Teil gibt Aufschluss darüber, wie es zu Dragomirs hohem Stellenwert in der phänomenologischen Theoriebildung und seiner regen Unterrichtstätigkeit gänzlich ohne Publikationen kam, und weshalb er trotzdem so wenig wahrgenommen wurde und bis heute wird.

Dragomir wird als brillanter Schüler Heideggers dargestellt, als Denker nach Heideggers Vorbild, der das Denken weit höher bewertet als das Schreiben, dem aber der zweite Weltkrieg und die enge Verbundenheit mit Martin Heidegger zum Verhängnis wird. Der zweite Weltkrieg wird hier als zentrales Ereignis beschrieben, welches Dragomirs Karriere beendete, bevor sie wirklich begonnen hatte.

So äußern sich denn auch die Herausgeber:

„As I write today for the first time about Alexandru Dragomir, I am inclined to explain him as the product of a microclimate of history, a cultural ab-erration, a ‘wandering’, a derivation from the mould in which culture takes shape in normal ages and worlds.“ (S.12)

Besondere Beachtung finden die Notizbücher Dragomirs, die 2002 gefunden wurden, aus denen ein Schwerpunkt seines Denkens hervorgeht: geprägt durch Heidegger beschäftigte sich Dragomir intensiv mit der Frage nach der Zeit; diesem Nachlass widmet sich bereits ein Band mit dem Titel Chronos. Bei aller Nähe zu Heidegger darf aber Dragomirs Kritik an seinem Lehrer nicht verschwiegen werden: Heidegger habe die Frage nach der Zeit nicht beantwortet; so fügt er der Zeit noch weitere Strukturmomente hinzu, die bei Heidegger unterbelichtet bleiben und die die Rede von der Zeit weiter ausdifferenzieren. Nicht nur präzisiert er den Begriff des ‘Jetzt’, er beschreibt auch die Struktur des Zukünftigen präziser als Heidegger es getan hat, indem er den Entwurfscharakter des Daseins als ein Zusammenspiel von tatsächlichen Möglichkeiten, Plänen sowie Träumen und Phantasien beschreibt, wie im Folgenden weiter ausgeführt wird. Die Abhandlung über die Zeit verdient es also sicherlich ebenfalls, neu entdeckt und rezipiert zu werden.

Der Aufsatzteil ist in zwei große Abschnitte gegliedert. Der erste widmet sich analytischen Fragen, immer mit großer Nähe zur griechischen Antike. So findet sich eine Abhandlung über Frage und Antwort, den sokratischen Dialog und die Frage, was eigentlich Wissen bedeutet, welches Wissen möglich ist, etc. In seiner Nähe zu Sokrates – „Ich weiß, dass ich nichts weiß“ – manifestiert sich erneut Dragomirs Auffassung, dass das reine Denken dem Schreiben überlegen sei. Dieser Standpunkt zieht sich durch alle Beiträge.

Der zweite Text, die Transkription eines Vortrags vom September 1987, beschäftigt sich mit Fragen der Selbsttäuschung und greift die wesentlichen Schwerpunkte Dragomirs’ Schaffen auf: es geht um Zeit; um die Selbsttäuschung aufgrund von Träumen, Erinnerungen, Vorstellungen von Zukünftigem, um Selbstbilder und darum, wie diese korrumpiert werden können. Die Grundlage seiner Überlegungen bildet Heideggers Begriff vom Seinkönnen, die Idee, dass wir uns selbst auf Basis von Projektionen, Wünschen, Vorstellungen, aber auch von bereits Erlebtem selbst entwerfen. Dragomirs entscheidende Pointe besteht in der Idee eines Spielraums, „a space that is not yet occupied by anything, a niche of the possible in which we can install ourselves and freely settle into one direction or another of our lives“ (S.45). In diesem Spielraum liegt die Möglichkeit, sich anders zu entscheiden, anders ‘abzubiegen’, als die Projektionen und Vorstellungen es vorgeben und gleichzeitig das große Potential der Selbsttäuschung. Hier liegt nämlich der Punkt, an dem Selbstbild und tatsächliches Selbst sich voneinander trennen. Indem dieser Text die wesentlichen Punkte aus Dragomirs Konzeption verbindet – das Wissen um das eigene Nicht-Wissen sowie großartige Einsichten ins Wesen der Zeit und in die Lücken in Heideggers Zeitanalyse – kann er als einer der zentralen Texte des Bandes angesehen werden.

Die darauf folgenden Beiträge behandeln Raum und Zeit in ihren unterschiedlichen Facetten. Nach den phänomenologischen Betrachtungen von Raum und Zeit im menschlichen Selbstverhältnis geht es um die Konstitution von Lebenswelt („Utter Metaphysical Banalities“), um geographische und politische Räume („Nations“) sowie um die Transzendenz und Selbstüberschätzung des Menschen, der das Maß für sich selbst verliert. Der Text behandelt den Menschen in seiner Sozialität sowie sein Verhältnis zum Göttlichen und zur Natur und die Möglichkeit, dass diese Bezüge sich als nicht haltbar erweisen und sich die Suche nach dem Sinn als aussichtslos erweist. Auch hier zeigt sich die große Nähe zu Heidegger.

Insgesamt zeigt dieser erste Abschnitt eine Bewegung vom Kleinen ins Große, vom individuellen Menschen in seinem Selbstverhältnis hin zum Weltverhältnis, zur Umgebung und darüber hinaus, immer mit deutlichem Bezug zu Heidegger und zur griechischen Antike, sowie zur Verbindung zwischen Sokrates und der phänomenologischen Theoriebildung des 20. Jahrhunderts. In dieser Verknüpfung und dem sinnvollen Aufbau liegt der besondere Verdienst nicht nur des unterrepräsentierten Denkers Dragomir, sondern auch der sorgfältigen Herausgeberschaft Liiceanus und Catalins.

Der zweite Teil des Aufsatzteils basiert auf einer Vorlesungsreihe zu Platons Apologie und beschäftigt sich dementsprechend schwerpunktmäßig mit der Person Sokrates und mit seiner Philosophie und seinen Methoden. Den Aufsätzen ist ein ausführlicher Teil zu den Quellen der Methode ihrer Aufbereitung vorangestellt.

Die Aufsätze selbst behandeln neben den historischen Betrachtungen die großen Fragen der Philosophie; die Nähe Dragomirs zu Heidegger scheint immer wieder durch. Diese wird beispielsweise dort offenkundig, wo er die Philosophie mit der Stadt kontrastiert, wobei die Stadt als Ort der öffentlichen Meinung und damit in direkter Nähe zu Heideggers Man verstanden wird. Außerdem werden die Themen des guten Lebens, des Wissens sowie einige logische Betrachtungen und die sokratische Methode erörtert.

Der letzte Abschnitt dieses zweiten Teils ist der titelgebende Text „The World We Live In“, der auf einer Vortragsreihe gründet, die Dragomir im Zeitraum von September 1986 bis Mai 1988 gab. Inhaltlicher Schwerpunkt dieses Textes ist eine Technik- und Wissenschaftskritik, die stark an Heidegger anschließt. Ausgangspunkt der Überlegungen bildet ein Nietzsche-Zitat, in dem es um die Entfremdung des Menschen von seinen Grundinstinkten geht, welche die Lebenswelt und die Gesellschaft seiner Zeit charakterisiere. Ein Problem der Menschen sei, dass sie sich im Zuge der fortschreitenden Abstraktion zu sehr von sich selbst und ihren Bedürfnissen entfernen und sich die Welt dementsprechend einrichten. Ausgehend von dieser Bestandsaufnahme untersucht Dragomir die Begriffe des Denkens, Wissens und der Wissenschaft nach Aristoteles; auch hier wird wieder ein starker Schwerpunkt auf das Denken im Unterschied zu Wissen und Technologie gelegt. Nur der denkende Mensch könne frei und autonom sein, so betont Dragomir, und begründet damit seine Kritik an der gegenwärtigen hoch technisierten Kultur, die den Menschen von seinem Menschsein und seinen Möglichkeiten entfremde.

Insgesamt gelingt mit The World We Live In ein sehr konziser und informativer Einblick in das Schaffen eines zu Unrecht vernachlässigten Philosophen der jüngeren Geschichte. Neben wertvollen historischen Einsichten vermittelt der Band spannende philosophische Gedankengänge, die gleichzeitig zentrale phänomenologische Begriffe des 20. Jahrhunderts weiterdenken, die Verbindung zu anderen Positionen vermitteln und ein interessantes Licht insbesondere auf Martin Heideggers Schaffen werfen.

Den Herausgebern gelingt ein sehr empfehlenswertes Buch, das sowohl für den interessierten Laien geeignet ist als auch neue Einsichten für Kenner der aktuellen Forschungslage bereithält.


Alexandru Dragomir: The World We Live In

The World We Live In Couverture du livre The World We Live In
Phaenomenologica, 220
Alexandru Dragomir, Gabriel Liiceanu (Ed.) & Catalin Partenie (Ed.)
Springer International Publishing
eBook €74,96
xiii + 167

Reviewed by: Anco Peeters (Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts, University of Wollongong, Australia)

Time, Space, and Technology in the Phenomenology of Dragomir

After studying at the University of Bucharest during the Interbellum, Alexandru Dragomir (1916–2002) opted to become a doctoral student with Martin Heidegger in Freiburg. The Second World War, however, intervened in his studies, initially by forcing him to return to his native Romania for military duty and, after the end of the war, by preventing him to return to a politically suspect philosophy supervisor. The combination of Romania’s communist regime and Dragomir’s lack of interest in publishing resulted in zero philosophical publications in his lifetime, but it did not stop him from becoming one of Romania’s most characteristic and inspirational post-war philosophers. In the period after the war, he joined a small circle of young philosophers who met to develop, or tried to develop, philosophical thoughts independent of the approved Marxist framework. Some of the participants in these meetings later came to hold important academic positions in Romania and it is through their efforts that we now have a chance to read their mentor’s ideas in the present volume.

The World We Live In contains private lectures given by Dragomir spanning a period from 1985 to 1998. Some lectures are graceful examples of ‘live’ philosophical thinking, where phenomenological investigation and philological skill are combined to probe issues concerning time, space, and technology. Other lectures are less polished and should perhaps not have been published. Almost all the lectures engage with classic philosophical texts, primarily by Plato and Aristotle, and, to a lesser degree, Descartes, Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche. Dragomir’s mentor Heidegger is more often than not present in the background, through the method of analysis. The volume is divided into two parts, with part I containing a number of shorter lectures, usually only a handful of pages long, and part II containing three larger lectures of about twenty pages each. At least three of the lectures have been previously published in the journal Studia Phænomenologica in the combined 3/4 issue from 2004, though any mention of this is conspicuously absent from the present collection. Specifically, these lectures are “Utter Metaphysical Banalities”, “About The Ocean of Forgetting”, “About the world we live in” (the title has been slightly changed). The introduction and epilogue – respectively authored by Gabriel Liiceanu and Andrei Pleşu – were previously published in the same journal issue also, but more about these later. The lectures are generally presented in a chronological order and this works well to give the reader a feel for the progression of Dragomir’s thinking. James Christian Brown has done an admirable work translating the text into accessible English prose, though my no more than elementary knowledge of Romanian prevents me from vouching for the reliability of the translation.

“Utter Metaphysical Banalities” is the most philosophically rich among the nine shorter lectures of the first part. The metaphysical ‘banalities’ in question are the spatial and temporal environment, which are named so because everybody experiences and, usually, does not question them. Dragomir does. He investigates these environments phenomenologically by relating them to the self, particularly by showing what range is being opened up by the spatial and the temporal, and what is delineated by their horizons – a key term in Dragomirean analyses. For example, he argues that familiar spatial environments are oriented towards me, not merely physically but also spiritually in the sense that I know how my environment relates to me – they are familiar precisely because I have mentally appropriated them. This is why a room that looks like chaos to one person may look familiar to another, and why a room that is ordered by someone else may remain foreign and chaotic to me because I have not yet related myself mentally to it. Dragomir introduces the concept of ‘contemporaneity’ in his analysis of the temporal. When someone lives in a contemporaneity, one lives in a certain social and cultural web. Children acquire a contemporaneity when they grow up, appropriating the pop-culture, customs, and icons of their day; on becoming adult they have acquired a contemporaneity that is contemporary or current; when they grow old, their contemporaneity stays with them and loses its synchronicity – slowly the threads that link them to the social and cultural web that is familiar to them are severed until they no longer share the same temporal environment with those around them. Though clearly dealing with Heideggerian themes, the current analysis forms an interesting contrast with that of Dragomir’s mentor. A comparison with, for example, Heidegger’s 1924 lecture on Der Begriff der Zeit is useful to note an interesting difference. While for Heidegger time is to be understood in relation to a Dasein, for which it plays primarily an anticipatory and existential role – it gains importance by its grasping toward the future – Dragomir’s analysis of the experience of time hinges on the building of a social and cultural web, and thus should be understood in relation to the past and present. Taking note of the analysis in “Utter Metaphysical Banalities” gives the reader a useful point of reference when tracing the progression of Dragomir’s thoughts on time in the other, later lectures.

Among the other lectures in the first part, “Nations” stands out as a thought-provoking and surprisingly contemporary discussion of politics. In it, Dragomir examines the notion of ‘nation’ through a phenomenological lens and, through this examination, comes to a diagnosis of the essential strong and weak points of political constructs such as the European Union. The central role is played by the understanding of a nation as composed of people’s investment in three signals: its geography, which points to ‘our country’; its history, which points to ‘our past’; and its language, which points to ‘our mother tongue’. While I am not sure I agree with the conclusion drawn, namely that a nation is irreducible by virtue of its citizens’ investment and that this makes international collaboration inherently unstable, the analysis is, as far as I can tell, highly original. Furthermore, it allows for an understanding of the tensions within the EU from the political macro to micro level. This makes “Nations” relevant for contemporary scholars that work on the EU and UN in political philosophy and theory.

The other lectures in the first part are less-developed. “The Ocean of Forgetting” – on the role of remembering and forgetting – deserves a special mention: not much new is said in here, but the argument that we forget an extraordinary amount of experiences and that this in itself should make us feel skeptical of the value of cultural canons, is sound. The less that is said about “About Man and Woman” the better. The assertion that feminism should not forget ‘essence’ is laughable and shows a thorough misunderstanding of what most feminist approaches to philosophy and politics are about. This thirst for understanding the masculine and feminine as essences makes the argument circular and, together with other statements in the volume about how “women excel” at blaming others (51), reinforce the picture of a bad case of value dissonance between public academic discourse and the relative privacy of the living room in which Dragomir’s lectures were given. Phenomenology need not be this subjective (see Gallagher and Zahavi, 2007) and any reader with a genuine interest in phenomenology and feminism would be better served by picking up Sara Ahmed’s Queer phenomenology (2006). Perhaps it is best to just conclude that the Dragomir of “About Man and Woman” is no longer synchronous with the current contemporaneity and leave it at that.

The first two of the three longer lectures that we find in part II deal with Platonic themes and in them Dragomir performs some philological heavy-lifting. In “Socrates: Philosophy Confronts the City”, we find an examination of Socrates’ famous adage of ‘knowing that I do not know” and his subsequent maieutic approach to questioning experts. This is done in the first part by a Hegelian dialectic of distinctions between types of experts, life and death, and good and evil. Later on, we witness how Dragomir intertwines several strands of his earlier work on horizons and applies them to Platonic epistemology: that what we can know is defined by the limitations of our knowing and our relation to those limitations. Phenomenologists and exegetes of Heidegger’s work might find the later part of the discussion, on how Being as understood by the ancients relates to Sein und Zeit, of use.

“Comments on the Philebus” is lauded by one of the editors as “extremely original” (114), though it is unclear to me exactly what part of the lecture deserves such praise. The Philebus is one of Plato’s later dialogues and widely regarded as one of the more difficult (Frede 1992, 425). There have been discussions on whether the dialogue is internally consistent (e.g., like Hackforth 1945), or whether the passages contradict each other (e.g., Gosling 1975). Dragomir’s conclusion that we are left “in a state of questioning” (128) suggests he leans towards the later point of view. Furthermore, commentators often try to either argue the consistency of the discussions in the Philebus with Plato’s earlier work on the Ideas (e.g., Frede 1992), or make the case that the Philebus shows a progression of Platonic doctrine (e.g., Shiner 1974). Dragomir notes the seeming discrepancy in the dialogue (e.g., on 126–127), but does not draw a conclusion either way. It is frequently asked why the titular character of the dialogue is himself so quiet during the exchange. Friedländer (1969, 309–310) proposes that since Philebus is the personification of pleasure, it would be self-defeating to engage in a discussion on the value of pleasure with Socrates, who could be seen as the personification of reason. Dragomir’s suggestion (116, 128) that Philebus’ silence serves to emphasise the difficulty of the topic looks rather inelegant in comparison. Perhaps one would argue that the originality may be found in the lecture being a phenomenological reading of the Philebus. Such a case would require a comparison of the lecture with Gadamer’s 1931 work on Phänomenologische Interpretationen zum Philebos, but there is time nor space to do so here. Instead, I propose that the two lectures just presented are a clear example of what was earlier pointed out as one of Dragomir’s key characteristics: not originality, but understanding and letting the text speak for itself is his aim here. These lectures therefore offer a student of said Platonic dialogues a useful interlocutor and should not be presented as something they are not.

“The World We Live In” is the final lecture in the present volume and it deals with a question concerning technology. In it, Dragomir develops a warning: though the power of our intellect allowed us to develop the scientific method, which in turn allowed us to enslave nature through the use of technology, this overall structure alienates us from our basic state of being. Aristotle and Descartes are singled out as humanity’s main enablers of technology dependence. The argument is reminiscent of the animosity that Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers display towards the ongoing technologisation of our existence. But where Heidegger argues the danger of technology lies in its power to reveal the world to us as raw material, available for consumption and manipulation, Dragomir instead claims that technologies hide our initial relation to the world. He argues that, because of technology’s growing prominence, the original role of the intellect as guide to the bodyi is transformed into the intellect as producer: it is the intellect that produces science and technology which leads us to a increasing abstraction of the world around us. Dragomir’s argument depends heavily on the power of the intellect and his assumption that current technologies alienate us from what it means to be human. It might be fruitful to compare his analysis to other phenomenological discussions of our technologically mediated life experiences – such as Ihde (1990) and Verbeek (2005) – which take the role of the body and the assumption of our technological nature seriously.

The texts in the middle of the book are framed by two discussions of Alexandru Dragomir’s personal life. While the introductory chapter at the front paints a detailed picture of the rise and fall of Dragomir’s professional career, the epilogue provides a more intimate portrait of Dragomir the person. The latter contrasts Dragomir with his contemporary Constantin Noica, that other pillar of contemporary Romanian philosophy and also the one who invited Dragomir to the aforementioned circle of philosophical fellows. Where Noica stressed that one should impose one’s own thoughts on philosophical texts, Dragomir was driven by an effort to let the text speak for itself and to retrace the author’s thought process, in other words, to understand what a text says.ii The introductory chapter presents a very useful and accessible introduction to Dragomir’s early career and life in Germany, but in the latter half devolves into something resembling a love-letter from the editor to the author, becoming prone to romantisation and adoration. Both reader and editor would have been better served by shortening this chapter.

I mentioned earlier that there is a curious absence of any reference to the previous publication of at least five texts in the present volume, but this is not the gravest editorial lapse. What is most disturbing is the lack of transparency with regard to the editing of the source material. Granted, it may have been practically impossible to “reconstruct” (39) Dragomir’s thoughts into readable and coherent lectures “based” (e.g., 45) on tape recordings and note scribbles without substantial intervention by the editors. It seems, however, to be a very slippery slope to then also take the liberty to rewrite and rephrase passages “in a more succinct form” (89) or even claim that other passages “are my own [i.e., the editor’s], yet I believe they have been written in the spirit of Dragomir’s interpretation” (89). Readers might rightly expect to be notified exactly which passages are those of the editors and which ones are Dragomir’s, yet there are no foot- or endnotes or other indications of this in the running text. Scholars who want to read Dragomir’s own writings now have no way of knowing which parts of the texts are Dragomir’s and which are the editors’. Perhaps there was no other way of transforming the tapes and notes into readable and coherent form without adding an overly cumbersome notational apparatus. Even then, there is no excuse for not either, on the one hand, adding at least some notes or a more extended discussion of the editorial process than we currently find in the preface, or, on the other, presenting the notes and recordings as-is, in a fashion similar to parts of Nietzsche’s Nachlaß. One cannot help but wonder why those who have displayed such passion to conserve Dragomir’s thoughts have not been more careful in separating those from their own.

Dragomir is regarded by many Romanian philosophers as one of their big heroes; I witnessed this admiration first-hand when I visited the universities of Bucharest and Cluj-Napoca on a study-trip in 2008. In secondary literature, our attention is often drawn to how impressed the otherwise hard-to-please Heidegger was by his Romanian student.iii While inspiring, such adoration stands in the way of how one can best show respect to a fellow philosopher: by fairly yet critically engaging with their thoughts. Dragomir makes a prescient remark when he observes what happened to Wittgenstein’s posthumous writings: “Others came along later, took the papers from the drawer and put them in order, giving them the form of immortal ‘works’” (49). The present book seems to have suffered a similar fate and this makes it difficult to show proper respect to and appreciate the brilliance of the few lecturial gems that are covered in editorial darkness.


Ahmed, S. (2006). Queer phenomenology: Orientations, objects, others. Durham: Duke University Press.

Ciocan, C. (2007). Philosophy without Freedom: Constantin Noica and Alexandru Dragomir. In Ion Copoeru & Hans Rainer Sepp (Eds.), Phenomenology 2005, Vol. III. Selected essays from Euro-Mediterranean area (pp. 63–79). Bucharest: Zeta Books.

Frede, D. (1992). Disintegration and restoration: Pleasure and pain in Plato’s Philebus. In R. Kraut (Ed.), The Cambridge companion to Plato (pp. 425–463). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Friedländer, P. (1969). Plato: The dialogues. Vol. 3. Hans Meyerhoff (Trans.). Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Gadamer, H.-G., (1931). Platos dialektische Ethik: Phänomenologische Interpretationen zum Philebos. Leipzig.

Gallagher, S., & Zahavi, D. (2007). The phenomenological mind: An introduction to philosophy of mind and cognitive science. London: Routledge.

Gosling, J.C.B. (1975). Plato: Philebus. Translated with notes and commentary. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Hackforth, R. (1945). Plato’s examination of pleasure. London: Cambridge University Press.

Heidegger, M. (1924). Der Begriff der Zeit. 1995 Edition. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag.

Ihde, D. (1990). Technology and the lifeworld: From garden to earth. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Shiner, R.A. (1974). Knowledge and reality in Plato’s Philebus. Assen: Van Gorcum.

Verbeek, P.-P. (2005). What things do: Philosophical reflections on technology, agency, and design. R.P. Crease (Trans.). University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.


i For Dragomir, the intellect is that what primarily constitutes the self. He states: “For me, I am a body subordinate to my intellect. My body is an ὄργανον, an instrument guided by my intellect” (133–134). Not every phenomenologist would agree that the body is an instrument guided by the intellect and this is admitted by Dragomir a few sentences later.

ii For a more detailed side-by-side of Dragomir and Noica, see Ciocan (2007).

iii The irony of constantly being presented in relation to his famous German supervisor, even though he was not able to finish his dissertation, was not lost on Dragomir who in the present volume remarks: “Some rely all their lives on the fact of having once been pupils of Heidegger” (52).

Ernst Jünger: The Worker: Dominion and Form, Northwestern University Press, 2017

The Worker: Dominion and Form Couverture du livre The Worker: Dominion and Form
Ernst Jünger, Laurence Hemming (Editor), Bogdan Costea (Translator)
Northwestern University Press
Paper Text $34.95