Alexander Schnell: Was ist Phänomenologie?

Was ist Phänomenologie? Book Cover Was ist Phänomenologie?
Rote Reihe 111
Alexander Schnell
Klostermann
2019
Paperback 24,80 €
182

Reviewed by: Daniel Sobota (Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences)

Phenomenology as Transcendental Speculative Idealism

 

The book by Alexander Schnell, a professor of theoretical philosophy at University of Wuppertal, bearing the title Was ist Phänomenologie? (What is Phenomenology?), is his third book written in German. The book presents the conception of phenomenology understood as speculative transcendental idealism. To a large extent it refers to Schnell’s prior investigations, such as in his first German-edited book Hinaus. Entwürfe zu einer phänomenologischen Metaphysik und Anthropologie (Würzburg, Königshausen & Neumann, Orbis Phaenomenologicus (Studien), Nr. 24, 2011, 160).  This book which will be reviewed here consists of a Preface and three parts, each of which is subdivided into two chapters. The length of this book—relative to its gravity and the complexity of the question included in its title—suggests that Schnell’s new book (in a similar vein to his Hinaus) is a systematic presentation of an idea; a well-thought project rather than a complete system of phenomenological philosophy.

Schnell’s project is intended to answer two fundamental questions: 1) How do we understood phenomenological cognition in its most radical form? and 2) How do we reconcile a turn to transcendental subjectivity—being so characteristic of phenomenology as such—with the grounding of the “robust” (that is, “tactile,” “concrete,” “hard,” etc.) concept of being with respect to reality? What is at stake here is the possibility of reconciling an epistemological question about legitimizing cognition with the ontological character of phenomenology. In other words, Schnell’s agenda aims at reconciling the goals and methods of phenomenology pursued by Husserl and Heidegger, respectively. To reach this goal, Schnell delivers an argument which combines three distinct “ways” out of a possible four: 1) it presents the idiosyncrasies of the phenomenological method; 2) it points to the heritage of German idealism and English empiricism as the philosophico-historical origins of phenomenology; 3) it polemizes with Quentin Meillassoux’ speculative realism and puts forward a phenomenological-transcendental grounding of the concept of reality. The fourth way, which would consider specific investigations of phenomenological problems, not counting the issue of correlationism (Korrelationismus) and sense-formation (Sinnbildung), lies outside the author’s interest.

The book is intended not to be a historical or systematic introduction to phenomenology, but rather an outline of the task which we can label, quoting Eugen Fink, as a “phenomenological idea of grounding.” When asked about the possibility of uniformizing such distinct standpoints as Husserl’s, Heidegger’s, Merleau-Ponty’s, Fink’s, Levinas’s, and Richir’s into a common phenomenological “school” Schnell replies that phenomenology from its very beginning was a project which has been (despite many differences in the methods of its realization) characterized by a common philosophical horizon and direction of thinking. In his view, this common denominator is transcendental philosophy.

Phenomenology is a philosophical project emerging from a critical diagnosis of western culture in the 20th century. Opposing the general cultural tendency to reduce the dimensions of sense and being to pure facts, the point of departure for phenomenology is to note that whatever appears to us is given to our consciousness and that the appearance of things presupposes the idea of correlation. The only object of phenomenology is intentionality or original phenomenological correlation, which is the transcendental field for constituting any sense, including the sense of the real world.

Schnell operationalizes the conceptual core of phenemenology by the following four points: firstly, double (both ontological and gnoseological) presuppositionlessness; secondly, genetic givenness, which, due to the fact that it is just being drawn out, it is not priorly given; thirdly, the above-mentioned correlativity; and finally intelligibilization, which states that instead of exploring Being and justifying or explaining cognition, phenomenology is oriented at investigating sense and “rendering the idea of cognition comprehensible”.

As far the phenomenological method is concerned (chapter 1), with which phenomenology as such happens to be identified, Schnell points to four points of convergence for the shaping of sense: transcendentality, meaningfulness, eidetics and correlativity. The first point reduces to the correlation between thinking and Being (Fichte), with this correlation being enabled by way of “transcendental experience,” or opening the field of sense constitution. That is why the second sense characterizes the phenomenological method as investigations oriented at sense, or as an attempt to make things comprehensible. After Heidegger, we can describe said sense as the “with respect to what” of each comprehension. The third moment, that is eidetics, protects the phenomenological cognition from the threat of collapsing into investigating fact (contra psychologism). Eventually, the fourth moment has already been mentioned in the context of the concept of transcendentality; on the grounds of phenomenology, correlation proceeds in a three-fold manner: 1) It is still a pre-phenomenological correlation between the subject and object of experience; 2) Strictly phenomenological correlation of noetic-noematic nature; 3) Deep pre-phenomenal correlation, understood as pre-immanence, pure anonymity. With these three points mentioned above serving as a point of departure, one can point to four fundamental axes of the phenomenological method 1) Epoché and reduction; the former means suspension of judgement, as characteristic of the natural approach, whereas the latter means a turn to transcendental subjectivity. Additionally there is 2) Eidetic variation, 3) Phenomenological description, and 4) Phenomenological construction. What merits attention is a complex description of the eidetic variation, with the description in question introducing a characteristically phenomenological concept of essence. This very concept appears to be quite different from what traditional philosophy understands by essence (as opposed, on the latter view, to facts and particulars). From the point of view of the well-known opposition of essence and phenomenological fact, Eidos is something third. Across all these constituents of the phenomenological method, Schnell stresses their “creative,” “constructive”, and speculative character. There is a relation of mutual dependence between the objects of phenomenology and the existence of the phenomenological method.

There is another concept related to the above-delineated phenomenological method; namely, the concept of understanding, which makes the Husserlian phenomenology receptive to Heideggerian motifs (chapter II). The concept of understanding operates within a tension between the Self and the Other; that is between the Self and what is other than myself. As an element of the phenomenological method, the previously mentioned concept renders phenomenology capable of addressing the problem of legitimizing (a problem that haunts the humanities) claims for truth and epistemic accomplishments of the sciences. Schnell brings out a methodical outline of understanding in two steps. First, he refers to historical conceptions of understanding in the thought of Heidegger and Fichte. Second, he heeds two aspects of understanding which the afore-mentioned thinkers failed to consider and which are, however, essential to the phenomenological understanding. Just as in the previous considerations related to a method, also at this point, the author emphasizes a ‘creative’ and active character of the phenomenological method, the aspect of which is understanding itself. The said character manifests itself, first and foremost, in the concept of projection (Heidegger); and second – in the self-interpretation of the Self, which understands something; third – in the negative activity of differentiation (Fichte); fourth – in the fixation; that is, in holding of what is to be comprehended, during which within the Self there emerges some distance to itself; fifth, in the “phenomenalization” of what is incomprehensible, which constitutes a sort of base for the comprehensible. The phenomenalization in question, involving the a priori extension of the field of comprehensibility, is achieved by way of “the phenomenological construction”; namely, “genetization.” Generally speaking, phenomenology as a method means an incessant “going back to things in themselves”; or, to put it more accurately, going “beyond things” and towards the open horizon which makes things appear to us in the first place. In this open horizon, there is eventually something irreducible, something given which is not to be identified with any “data” but rather with something “given” in the process of the phenomenological construction. This will be addressed further along.

Chapter III points to another route towards phenomenology. This route goes across philosophico-historical reflection which is supposed to elucidate “what is not thought about” in the phenomenological method. The idea of grounding, constituting a guiding idea of phenomenology itself, derives its motifs from two traditions: classical German philosophy and English empiricism of the 17th century. Resorting to the pronouncements of Husserl, Heidegger and Levinas, Schnell notes that phenomenology is possible only as idealism which combines in itself both a transcendental and ontological dimension. The premises of this reasoning are to be found in classical German philosophy, especially in Fichte, according to whom one legitimizes cognition by virtue of non-sensory intuitive cognition.  The intuitive legitimization of cognition has different modi. First and foremost, it refers to the first level of justifying cognition. That is, it refers to the level of the phenomenological description of immanent data of consciousness. At a second stage, with this stage entering the sphere of pre-immanence, aware (or conscious) experience must be supplemented with the annihilation of occurring closures. The positive side of annihilation is the already-mentioned construction. Its intuitive dimension is instantiated as history, conceived of as genesis; that is habitualizations and sedimentations. These are creative accomplishments of a phenomenologist who constructs whatever is necessary for validating cognition at the deepest level. This is the lesson from Kant. However, Fichte goes even further than Husserl by demonstrating in the double reflection how what enables cognition is possible: how are conditions of possibility possible themselves? On the grounds of phenomenology, a similar scheme of conduct is realized by the Heideggerian existentiell being-towards-death, which, grounding the “entirety” of Dasein, is labelled as “enabling” (Ermöglichung) what constitutes the “possibility of impossibility”, and hence, death. Searching for the possibility of combining an epistemological and ontological aspect of the “idea of grounding”, Schnell evokes a dispute between Fichte and Schelling. According to the latter, in order to legitimize knowledge, it is not sufficient to resort to a form of knowledge as such. One should also take into consideration its content. This strict relations between the constituting and the constituted was recognized within the realm of phenomenology by Levinas, who speaks of “the relations of mutual conditioning.” To rebut an indictment of formalism, which is in turn related to an indictment of solipsism, one should demonstrate what the immanent link between thinking and Being consists in. The explication of this relations proceeds in reference to three categories and dimensions: truth, constitution, and genesis. Regarding truth: On the basis of the analyses of experience, Husserl demonstrates in what way “truth is an a priori form of any reference to the world.” Regarding constitution: On the level of the sphere of immanence, it is proved that every actual consciousness is surrounded by the horizons of potentiality, which opens up the way towards “new ontology” (Levinas), although it must be conceded that thinking constitutes Being. The latter each and every time transcends thinking, thus founding the former’s accomplishments.  On the level of pre-immanence, what is revealed is the sphere of ‘pre-being’, the aspects of which are “subject” and “object”. Therefore, it transpires that “transcendental constitution is an ontological founding” (100). Regarding genesis: At the level of transcendental genesis, what takes place is what Levinas labels as “diachrony” and Fichte – “the reflection on reflection”. Every relation of conditioning presupposes a shift between registers, wherein one asserts either presence or absence – depending on the perspective assumed: be it the conditioning or the conditioned. Then again, what applies at this point is the trope of enabling doubling. Due to the complexity of the issue under scrutiny and its concise presentation in Schnell’s book, what we can say herein is that it is only at the level which Heidegger calls “fundamental happening,” that what is eventually reconciled is the need to make cognition comprehensible and founding everything upon Being itself.

A second historico-background for Husserlian phenomenology, next to German classical philosophy and of equally importance, is English empiricism (chapter IV). Husserl dedicated much attention to the Humean achievements particularly towards the end of his life; that is, in the period in which—on the one hand—he recognized Lebenswelt as a primary category of his phenomenology—and on the other hand—he described phenomenology as reflection on history. The latter characterization leads to the conclusion that the crisis of science results from its “objectivism”, which roughly means its underestimation of the life-world. The said objectivism supersedes the world of natural approach with a mathematical substrate, understood as a being in itself. And it is precisely in Hume’s thought that soul constitutes the world out of impression by virtue of fantasy that Husserl finds the motifs which shake the foundations of this objectivism. In his phenomenological considerations Husserl tries to give a positive account of how consciousness, including the acts of imagination, constitutes the world “in itself” and legitimizes the pretense of modern sciences for absolute truth. In Husserl’s view, unlike in Kant’s, the major problem in Hume’s thought is not the problem of induction, but the problem of making comprehensible this “naïve obviousness of the certainty of the world” which ordinary and scientific consciousness feeds on. To solve this problem, Husserl enters transcendental considerations which are supposed to disclose the transcendental life of subjectivity at the very foundations of “the certainty of the world.” For this purpose, he develops the “world-life reduction”, which is supposed to liberate one’s perception from the naïve certainty of the world and to direct it towards a priori, inhering in Lebenswelt. That is, to the hidden correlation of the world and the consciousness thereof; to “spiritual actions” which constitute all the meaningful creations. Only via this route is one able to, on the one hand, show whence sciences derive their claim for universal validity; and on the other, to make comprehensible the naïve obviousness surrounding the life-world. According to Husserl, the validity of sciences has its foundations in the sense of being in the life-world, from the “synthetic wholeness” of its transcendental achievements.

From the above-described perspective of “the science of Lebenswelt,” Husserl conducts a critical reinterpretation of five fundamental motifs of earlier phenomenology: 1) The grounding horizon of the legitimization of cognition, 2) Intuition as the principle of all principles, 3) The most fundamental role of actual perception, 4) Description as a basic method of phenomenology, and 5) Hegemony of the constructing Ego. Regarding the five above-listed motifs in turn: 1) Whereas in his writings dating back to the twenties, Husserl mainly aimed at justifying any cognition, in his notes and lectures from the thirties he describes the task of phenomenology as making comprehensible, which introduces the process of sense-formation and exposes the significance of intersubjectivity, or actually, strictly speaking, intersubjectivity of “anonymous” character. Such intersubjectivitity requires not reduction but “in-duction” (Latin inductio literally means: introduction) into the realm of what is pre-subjective.  2) This anonymous subjectivity calls into question the principle of all principles; or to put it more clearly, the primacy of intuition as far as sense-formation goes.  3) This in turn gives rise to contesting the primacy of actual perception as a legitimizing source of all cognitive references made by consciousness to objects. Instead, contesting the above can count in favour of the modes of actualization realized by imagination. 4) Reaching the transcendental non-intuitive foundation of sense-formation requires that it should be recognized and conceded that philosophy may be a “universal science” only as a non-objective science. There is no “descriptive science on transcendental being and life”, says Husserl. This implies that the process of making comprehensible must avail itself of a different notion of truth from the one traditionally attributed to objective sciences. 5) The last difficulty concerns the relations between the constituted world and the constituting subjectivity. Here we are facing the following dilemma: either we preserve the participation of the subject in the word, which would make the world-constitution non-radical. Or, alternatively, the constitution is radical, and then what would be required is that the subjecthood, as related to the world, is to be rescinded. Therefore, at this point there occurs some tension between the natural approach to the world and the transcendental approach. To elucidate this tension, it takes the introduction—as a “foundation” of the world constitution—of the self-destructive subjecthood. In Husserl, this paradox is solved by projecting it onto the problem of the relations between primordial-Self and intersubjectivity and between primordial self and objectified worldly self.           

This very reference to the lowest layers of the transcendental life and being is reminiscent of the issue of the Absolute. Schnell raises this issue with reference to the dispute having been going on since the critique of phenomenology launched by “speculative realism,” represented by Quentin Meillassoux (chapter V). According to the latter thinker, phenomenology is purportedly the contemporary paradigm case of the philosophical standpoint, labelled as correlationism, wherein there is no possibility of thinking a being in itself without simultaneously relating this very being to thinking itself. Schnell takes the sting out of these indictments in four steps.

The main argument against the phenomenological correlationism is to be the one from ancestrality. The main thrust of the argument is the claim that any version of correlationism faces an insuperable problem posed by the fact of existence of the events prior to the emergence of conscious beings who could have experienced these events. This argument is easy to refute from the perspective of transcendentalism. Neither Kant’s philosophy nor Husserl’s imply that something exists insofar as it is experienced by empirical persons. Instead, what the above philosophies deal with are the conditions of possibility of possible experience. Believing that the transcendental consciousness must be always embodied in a physical person and defining what is possible in terms of the lack of what is actual, Meillassoux misunderstands the transcendental status of phenomenological subjecthood and its function of making comprehensible what is genuinely possible. It is erroneous to conceive of the relation of phenomenology to reality in the same vein and at the same level as one conceives of the relation of natural sciences to reality. For phenomenology, after applying the epoché, reality appears to us as a phenomenon; a phenomenologist does not ask whether the said phenomenon exists or existed; rather, he asks about its sense: how does the past reality which no empirical person could in fact experience appear to us?

Apart from that in the process of a critical analysis speculative realism proves to be correlationism in disguise. According to Schnell, Meilassoux’s indictments derive from the assumption of a false external attitude towards phenomenology.

A positive side of the discussion is the attempt to engage phenomenology in elucidating the profoundest foundations of the correlation, which should simultaneously ensure the meaningfulness of what is – in both daily and scientific experience understood as reality it itself. Schnell brings up “correlational hypophysics” (Greek hipo – under), which is supposed—in order to fully realize the task of materializing the “idea of the grounding of phenomenology” to life—to elaborate the “transcendental matrix of correlationism” (151). In the course of elaborating this very idea, the three fundamental motifs of correlationism are uncovered. First and foremost, it is to be established what is the foundation and essence of correlation; second, what is the principle of making phenomenological cognition possible and—along with this—of granting sense; third, what phenomenological reflection consists in. Therefore, what makes up the transcendental matrix of correlationism are three motifs: correlation, sense and reflection.

Schnell outlines the said three motifs in the following manner. The essence of correlation is—following Heidegger—“horizon-opening anticipating.”  It is this concept that captures the intuitive sense of what appears to us; namely the very appearing to us itself. On the other hand, reflection does not imply a subject’s turning to itself. Rather, it means the already-mentioned “introduction (induction) into a self-reflective processualness of sense-formation” (153). Phenomenological reflection is reflection over both “borderline structures of phenomenality and what phenomenality enables”. What is thereby meant is a “characteristic performance of a phenomenologically relevant form of reflection” (154). Schnell distinguishes three types of induction, which correspond with three layers of the transcendental matrix of correlation. At the first stage of reflection, there emerges an intentional structure of consciousness, designing sense and making cognition comprehensible. Each of these structures have a dualistic form: intentionality is divided between a subject and object; what designing sense consists in is its creation and the reception thereof; making cognition comprehensible is spread between the original (Urbild) and a copy (Abbild). At the second stage, these dualities get both deepened and dynamized: consciousness becomes self-consciousness, the apparently ultimate truth of fulfilling intentions is getting hermeneutically distanced and the relations between the original and a copy within the principle of cognition becomes malleable in the process of the simultaneous designing and annihilating. Eventually, at the third stage, self-reflection becomes inward (verinnerlichende) self-reflection. First, this self-reflection opens a pre-phenomenal, pre-immanent sphere of phenomenological constitution; second, it deepens the hermeneutic truth and elevates it to the rank of a generative truth.  In place of what is given, a construction emerges. The example of the latter is Husserl’s phenomenological construction of original temporality, included in Bernauer Manuskripten. Third, what is subject to inward reflection is also establishing and destroying – both interwoven with the principle of cognition; at this stage, the reflection becomes the reflecting (Reflektieren), which highlights the workings (laws) of reflection itself (Reflexionsgesetzmäßigkeit). What is at stake here is to make the very act of making possible transparent. What is thereby meant is to enable the enabling, which characterizes the nature of what is transcendental. These workings (laws) of reflection express—next to making understanding possible—enabling being. For, eventually, what we deal with at the lowest level of what is transcendental is not pure reflective asserting. Rather, it is something which anticipates the former and which reduces to the annihilation of the experienced positiveness of conditions and to the creation of these conditions and of being as a “surplus,” with the said surplus being supposed to serve as ontological foundations to the conditions in question. “Being is a reflection on reflection” (159). “It is being that is ‘ground’ of any reality; it is not priorly given or assumed but rather genetically constructed, reflectively geneticized ‘medium of reality’” (159). With reference to the dispute with Meilassoux, Schnell claims that “the fundamental result of phenomenological speculative idealism ‘is a concept of being that can be classified as the’ Absolute”. It does not coincide with reality. It does not denote any entity. Instead, it can be characterized in the following three-fold manner. 1) Being is a prior being, “pre-being”; it denotes a pre-immanent realm of openness, an “ontological status of transcendental a priori” (161); 2) Being is a surplus; 3) Being is identified grounding.

In the last chapter (VI), Schnell returns to the question of reality. He searches for the motives for raising this question in historico-philosophical problematics of modernity, inaugurated by Descartes and then promptly revolutionized by transcendental philosophy. From this perspective, one can clearly see that the question of reality already appeared in the context of epistemological problematics, within which reality is a concept standing in contradistinction to the subjective experiences of imagination, dream or methodically complex intellectual operations. The Kantian attempt to redefine the problem introduces the idea of correlationism.  However, even this idea is originally of purely epistemological character, with which, on the grounds of phenomenology, only Heidegger clearly polemizes.

According to Schnell, one can distinguish four fundamental forms of correlationism. The first of them is to be found in Kant: it is a correlation of judgement and self-consciousness. The second is introduced by Fichte: it is a correlation of Being and thinking. The third one—phenomenological—is inaugurated by Husserl: it is the intentional correlation. The fourth one stems derives from Heidegger: it is the correlation of being-in-the-world. Schnell pauses to consider the third form of correlation, known mainly from late writings and manuscripts by Husserl in which he develops his investigations pertaining to genetic phenomenology. He combines the notion of constitution with the one of genesis. As Husserl says:

“Indem die Phänomenologie der Genesis dem ursprünglichen Werden im Zeitstrom, das selbst ein ursprünglich konstituierendes Werden ist, und den genetisch fungierenden sogenannten „Motivationen” nachgeht, zeigt sie, wie Bewusstsein aus Bewusstsein wird, wie dabei im Werden sich immerfort auch konstitutive Leistung vollzieht(Hua XIV, 41).

The said history of consciousness is given in transcendental experience. The key concept of genetic phenomenology is the category of  “sense-formation” (Sinnbildung). Schnell distinguishes three semantic moments of the process in question: the constituting moment (bildend-erzeugende), the moment of imagination (Einbildung), and the one introduced by Marc Richir: the constituting-schematizing moment (bildend-schematisierende). With reference to Richir, who was searching for the novel grounding of phenomenology, Schnell highlights the third moment and claims that at the very bottom of any act of a cognizing subject referring to Being, there is no perception but fantasy (certainly, as conceived of in the transcendental sense). Referring to the transcendental concept of an image, Schnell attempts—by way of “transcendental induction”—to demonstrate “the pre-phenomenon of sense-formation,” which allows for making both cognition and reality comprehensible. According to Schnell, what is an image is both reality and the said pre-phenomenon. In three steps of reflection, Schnell constructs “the pre-phenomenon of sense-formation.” In the above-mentioned first step of reflection, one constructs an empty concept of reflection (Abbild) which, in the second step of reflection (that is, during self-reflection) is endowed with some content. This in turn means that the former as an empty concept gets annihilated. The construction thus assumes a malleable form. Finally, during the third step of construction, which is an inward reflection, reflection starts manifesting itself as reflection with its lawfulness, which means that “each transcendental relations of conditioning implies its own enabling doubling” (178); namely, the enabling of enabling. The last sections bring an answer to two originally posed questions: 1) How may we understand phenomenological cognition in its most radical form? and 2) How do we reconcile a turn to transcendental subjectivity—being so characteristic of phenomenology as such—with the grounding of the “robust” concept of being with respect to reality? The first question is replied to with “the principle of elucidating phenomenological knowledge-claims”, which is a gradually inward reflection. By revealing its own workings (laws), this reflection leads to an answer to the second question: the possibility of reconciling epistemological and ontological features of phenomenology is to be found in the concept of phenomenality as “durable steadfastness” (ausstehende Inständigkeit) (Heidegger). Reality, as non-theoretically understood, is a “trace” of a mutual relationship of immanence (endogenesis) and transcendence (exogenesis); it is “onto-eis-ec-stasis”. “Reality is not pure being-in-itself, neither only being-for-myself, but rather, a steadfastly (inständig) discovered and geneticized being-outside-of” (181).

The boldness of some of Schnell’s ideas are inversely proportional to the detailedness of their respective explications; that is why, the last words of the book—since it is devoid of a conclusion proper—is the statement that all the considerations included therein are of preliminary nature and they call for further elaboration.

At the end, let us take the liberty of posing several questions of a polemical-critical nature. Undoubtedly, the content of the book evidences the fact that the author is well-versed in the phenomenological problematics and he freely chooses the issue that he deems necessary to highlight the identity and the peculiarities of phenomenology. However, it raises the following questions: To what extent do Schnell’s decisions related to the selection of problematics stem from what phenomenology as such is? To what extent do those questions stem from the fact that the author desires to validate his vision—rather arbitrarily assumed—of what, in his opinion, phenomenology may be? Furthermore, the next question is this: To what extent is the reconstruction of the motifs selected by Schnell—the motifs being known to the phenomenological movement—an apt interpretation? And to what extent is this interpretation distorted, taking into account the goal motivating the author’s very enterprise? What is the purpose of Schnell’s considerations? It seems that the purpose may be most easily identified in the light of the title of the scrutinized work. In other words, what is at stake is an answer to the question of what phenomenology is. Does the author succeed in reaching his goal?

Certainly, due to its concise and cursory nature, Schnell’s work requires the reader to be significantly acquainted with intricacies of the problematics of phenomenology. In this sense, the book is not, thematically and historically speaking, of introductory character, which, if it were, would make it useful to the adherents of phenomenology barely initiated into the art of philosophizing in this fashion. Quite the contrary, the beginning of Schnell’s considerations require a higher level of prior knowledge on the part of his readers. Certainly, the above does not translate into any sort of indictment. Still, it must be conceded that Husserl’s wrote that a phenomenologist is always a beginner; yet, this dictum should not be construed as related to the amateur’s practice. Husserl’s conviction about the introductory character of phenomenology gives rise to another quite distinct problem. Phenomenology is an introductory science in the five-fold sense: 1) It is a science about origins; 2) It a science designed from scratch; namely, by dint of systematic maneuvers which are supposed to ensure to phenomenology relevant sourceness and presuppositionlessness; 3) It is a point of departure for other sciences; 4) It is located at the beginning of its historical development; and, eventually 5) It is of preliminary nature. Phenomenology is essentially a research work, it is active searching, questioning, also going astray and getting lost. By contrast, Schnell’s work is a systematic presentation of ideas and of the results of phenomenological analyses – genuinely formidable, coherent construction which, albeit sketchily presented, is ex hypothesi a self-confident attempt at a philosophical system. In this sense, the scrutinized work alludes to all those attempts which can be subsumed under the umbrella term of German idealism. It is especially Kant and Fichte, to whom Schnell makes frequent historical references, that used to present their respective philosophies in a rudimentary form which was meant to eventually assume the form of a system. Hence, the title of Schnell’s book—instead of Was ist Phänomenologie?—should rather be: Ein Entwurf der Phänomenologie als spekulativer transzendentaler Idealismus. Counter to the generality of the title given by Schnell—which not only assumes the form of an interrogative but also uses the word Phänomenologie without any article, thus implying that the text shall concern the most general idea of phenomenology taking into account its most extreme thematic and historical instantiations—all the considerations contained herein are from the very beginning dedicated to the presentation of a single form of phenomenology, that is the one which is understood in the light of “the idea of grounding” (E. Fink). It seems that the element most wanting in Schnell’s consideration is the ability “to maintain the state of questionness” (“what is phenomenology?”). After all, the said ability is—as I believe—a distinctive feature of phenomenology as well as its trademark, thus distinguishing it from the other movements in the history of philosophy. The said traits are not only distinctive features marking the realm of phenomenology off against the backdrop of the history of philosophy. They also constitute its philosophical mission, so to speak. Elevating the motif of the question to the rank of a fundamental methodological directive—which entails the altered understanding of cognition and being—it dissociates itself from the question of oblivion, with the oblivion having lasted since the times of Aristotle. To revoke the question is to restore to philosophy its proper dimension of self-realization. And this is what Kant’s “Copernican turn” as well as its misunderstanding on the part of Kant’s German successors essentially consist in. By the same token, this is what the historical importance of phenomenology consists in too. That is why, if one attempts to understand phenomenology through the eyes of historico-philosophical motifs known to the history of philosophy—which, albeit important and educational in itself, threatens to obfuscate the original contribution made by phenomenology—it is precisely in Kant’s ‘Copernican turn’ that one should look for creative affinity.

After all, grasping phenomenology in the light of the question (stated by the title of the reviewed book) shows more than merely the peculiarities of phenomenology against the backdrop of the history of philosophy. By posing the question of what phenomenology is and “remaining in this state of questionness,” one uncovers phenomenology, on the one hand, as a domain or problems; and on the other hand – as an open field of different possibilities of understanding and solving them. Certainly, these are not pure possibilities but possibilities of historical nature. The internal richness of the possibilities of the idea of phenomenology, and which is what we can aptly label as its internal problematicity, somehow a priori resists any attempt to exclusively identify phenomenology with one of these possibilities. This principle applies both to its thematic and historical aspect. The question opens its own historicalness of phenomenology, with this historicalness directing us to philosophico-historical aspect of the phenomenological movement.  One would be ill-advised to reduce this internal problematicity either to a specific set of problems or to only selected attempts at solving them. However, in the context of this problem, Schnell’s work is of regrettably one-sided character. For instance, despite Schnell’s scholarly competence, as indubitably evidenced by his intellectual accomplishments, his book almost entirely skips the discussions on and transformations in the understanding of phenomenology known from, say, the writings by French phenomenologists of the post-war period (the only exception being sporadically mentioned Emannuel Levinas and Marc Richir). Certainly, it would be very bad if any subsequent attempt to raise the question of “what is phenomenology” similarly dismissed Schnell’s work.

Hans Blumenberg: Théorie de l’inconceptualité

Théorie de l'inconceptualité Book Cover Théorie de l'inconceptualité
Philosophie imaginaire
Hans Blumenberg. Traduit de l’allemand par Marc de Launay
Éditions de l’éclat
2017
Paperback 15,00 €
144

Reviewed by: Sonja Feger (Universität Koblenz · Landau)

Recent years have seen several new translations of books and shorter works by Hans Blumenberg into English and French, and an English edition with Blumenberg’s most important shorter writings is forthcoming[1]. The French translation under review here, published in 2017, is further evidence of this growing interest in Blumenberg’s work.

Blumenberg’s previously unpublished text Theorie der Unbegrifflichkeit was first edited in its German original by Anselm Haverkamp in 2007. Theorie der Unbegrifflichkeit (Theory of Nonconceptuality) borrows its title—and so does the French translation by Marc de Launay—from a 1975 summer term lecture Blumenberg gave in Münster. This short text is of particular interest, as it relates several themes within Blumenberg’s thinking in a rather condensed way.

The main text (7–108) consists in the edition of those typescripts Blumenberg based his lecture upon (see 128) and is followed by an appendix entitled “Bruchstücke des ‘Ausblicks auf eine Theorie der Unbegrifflichkeit’” (Perspective sur une théorie de l’inconceptualité; 109–125)[2]. A translation of the editor’s postface completes the volume (127–131). Théorie de l’inconceptualité most of the time does without headings or subheadings; only an excursion on ‘economy and luxury’ (19–26) and a revised passage on ‘negation’ serving as a transition (89–91) fall under headings. Instead, larger sections are simply divided by page breaks. As the editor remarks, Blumenberg presents his observations giving examples with varying levels of complexity, and often does so without guiding his listeners or readers to a conclusion (des exemples de complexions diverses—souvent sans déboucher sur une conclusion; 131). By refusing to add any new headings or divide Blumenberg’s work into sections, the editor succeeds in carefully preserving and communicating the original character of the typescript, which is between the tone of a lecture and a written text. Because all Blumenberg’s texts stylistically dense they present a challenge to the reader, and this text is no different. If one expects an easy-to-read introduction to his works, one will not find it in this booklet. Nonetheless, the themes discussed are at the heart of Blumenberg’s phenomenological project and are well worth the effort.

To begin with, it is difficult to judge what exactly the book is about. Here is my proposal: one might say that the text as a whole bundles varieties of human ways to deal with reality. More specifically, in Théorie de l’inconceptualité, Blumenberg primary focus is upon the epistemic operations humans are capable of. Specifically, he is interested in one particular way for humans to engage with reality, namely in the act of theorizing—or, to put it in phenomenological terms, the act of distancing oneself from one’s object of consideration by adopting a theoretical attitude.

Théorie de l’inconceptualité may be regarded as a text about ‘theory’ in a twofold or two-layered way. First, Blumenberg addresses various epistemic operations humans are capable of, focusing on the role of conceptual thinking (or its lack) in cognition. In his attempt to describe the structure of conceptual thinking and to ascribe to it the role it plays in cognition, Blumenberg scrutinizes the various forms the act of theorizing can take.. Secondly, Théorie de l’inconceptualité is itself a theoretical work. This does not so much amount to opposing theoretical and practical philosophy to one another, for Blumenberg himself does use practical examples (though in a broad sense) as much as he draws from epistemological observations and concepts. Rather, Blumenberg considers the ability to take on a theoretical attitude as something we do and perform; for him, it is a distinguished, an essentially human one. In short, Blumenberg addresses theory as one of the human ways to engage with reality from a precisely theoretical point of view. In other words, theory is taken both as a method and as the object in question; that is, theory itself becomes the very object of Blumenberg’s theoretical interest. In this sense, the above-mentioned two-layered approach to be found in the text emerges with Blumenberg playing on the reduplication of theory.

As a first step in this review, I want to discuss Blumenberg’s proposal for a notion of conceptual thinking. Secondly, I will link conceptual thinking to the theoretical attitude humans can assume. Then, I will turn to consider Blumenberg’s attempts to delimit conceptual thinking and nonconceptuality and his anthropological observations. By way of conclusion, I will touch upon the connection between the anthropological and the epistemological dimension found in Théorie de l’inconceptualité. It goes without saying that I cannot consider every aspect the text touches upon. Other topics within the wide range of Blumenberg’s observations such as aesthetics, the concept of the lifeworld, happiness, metaphors, the epistemic operation of negation or the anthropological function of prevention must remain largely uncommented upon here.

Conceptual thinking

Contrary to what the title of the book suggests, the text does not start out by shedding light on what is to be understood by the term of ‘nonconceptuality’. Rather, Blumenberg’s text first lays its focus on conceptual thinking. However, rather than aiming at a (precise) definition of either of the two, Théorie de l’inconceptualité raises the question of how those two different ways of dealing with reality might refer to each other and, moreover, refer to theory in general. The reader expecting to be given a precise definition of at least one of the two terms will be deceived.

The fact that the text lacks a precise definition of conceptual thinking does not mean that Blumenberg does without spelling out crucial aspects he ascribes to conceptual thinking. For him, two features are to be found at the core of conceptual thinking: first, conceptual thinking has something to do with the phenomenon of absence (Le concept a un certain rapport avec l’absence de son objet; 7). For example, imagine the groceries you have run out of, which are therefore absent, and which you (mentally) represent when writing a shopping list. For Blumenberg, what one does in this case is use conceptual thinking in order to re‑present that which is not tangibly accessible (le concept seul demeure, qui, de son côté, représente toute l’échelle de ce qui est sensoriellement accessible; 7).

Blumenberg’s own example of the representation of an absent object in conceptual thinking, however, is more specific than my example of a shopping list. It consists in referring to a primal scene of anthropogenesis, namely the construction of a trap. A trap layer has to adjust his construction in shape and size to the animal he hopes to catch eventually. For example, setting a trap adequate for catching a mammoth requires nothing more than calling into presence that very mammoth which is absent the moment the trap is being set. Having a concept of a mammoth thus means to determine it as the expected prey, that is, to determine the trap in shape and size. In Blumenberg’s view, what the trap layer accomplishes is a conceptualization of an absent object. Or, to put it in phenomenological terms: laying a trap involves knowing an eidos and acting upon that knowledge. What Blumenberg’s example emphasizes, however, is that being able to use concepts is an achievement in (human) evolutionary history, implicitly assuming a historical constitution of transcendental (inter‑) subjectivity.

The second aspect Blumenberg locates within the realm of conceptual thinking is closely linked to the above-mentioned phenomenon of absence and concerns the phenomenon of distance (see 7; 10). Laying a trap directs one’s actions towards objects or events not immediately given but distanced in space and time: a mammoth shall not be caught right now and here but perhaps tomorrow and over there. In this regard, concepts are like tools humans use to act over a distance, they are the means of an actio per distans (12). For Blumenberg, the trap is the first triumph of conceptual thinking (Dans cette mesure, le piège est le premier triomphe du concept; 12).

Theory

According to Blumenberg, conceptual thinking such as the representation of a prey when setting a trap can count among reason’s products or performances (un produit de la raison; 7). As reason encompasses conceptual thinking and, therefore, also the above-mentioned actio per distans, it follows for Blumenberg that reason is the epitome of those epistemic operations that put in a performance over a distance, both spatial and temporal (On pourrait dire que la raison serait le condensé de pareilles réalisations à distance; 8). Yet the reverse, that reason only exists when something is conceptualized, does not hold (Mais cela n’autorise pas le renversement qui voudrait que la raison n’existe que lorsqu’elle parvient […] au concept; 7). Thus, it can be emphasized that, for Blumenberg, acting over a distance by means of conceptual thinking is only a first step within humans’ process of becoming a creature capable of theorizing. For what exceeds conceptual thinking insofar as it encompasses it, in Blumenberg’s view, is a theoretical attitude as such.

Blumenberg makes this idea more accessible drawing from an anthropogenic assumption: man, for Blumenberg, is the being that straightens up, transcends the short range of perception, and transgresses the horizon of its senses (L’homme, l’être qui se met debout et quitte le domaine de la proche perception, franchit l’horizon de ses sens; 8). Man raises his gaze and directs it to the horizon, that is, he is no longer only concerned with objects given to him within the realm of immediate and actual tactility, but also with potentially tangible objects (again, such as mammoths caught in a trap).

In Blumenberg’s view, this movement of transgression finds itself repeated. Man not only transgresses the horizon of his senses in order to master objects given to him in a (both temporally and spatially) mediated way. The above-mentioned anthropogenic moment lies in a two-step rotation of the head man accomplishes. First, he directs his gaze from the ground towards the horizon, which amounts to mastering mediately given objects over a certain distance. In this way, both building a trap and focusing on the horizon amount to an actio per distans. Second, man turns his head another ninety degrees to look at the sky (Ce qui veut dire que le regard n’est pas fixé sur l’horizon, spatial et temporal, pour attendre ce qui va arriver et pour agir sur ce qui surgit, mais que le regard, ayant accompli un mouvement à quatre-vingt-dix degrés pour quitter la direction du sol et parvenir à l’horizontal, va encore une fois accomplir une rotation à quatre-vingt-dix degrés et viser la voûte étoilée; 14). As laid out in The Laughter of the Thracian Woman, Blumenberg considers Thales of Miletus to be the “putative first philosopher” (see Laughter, Preface). It is exactly his gaze at the sky that turns him into the first contemplator caeli in a philosophical sense. Instead of anticipating prey and, therefore, being directed toward a potentially tangible object, the stars in the sky are perceptible and yet (at least for the run of several centuries) intangible. The skies represent that which encompasses the totality of all possible objects of perception, and thus represent the idea of totality. In this sense, the sky Thales of Miletus turns his gaze to represents the ultimate object of a theoretical attitude; this is why Thales is described as the proto-philosopher (le proto-philosophe et astronome Thalès de Milet; 16). For Blumenberg, it is a theoretical attitude that ultimately envisages the totality of the world (la théorie pure, son aspiration à la totalité du monde; 16). This is what Blumenberg must have had in mind when he suggests that reason’s intentions exceed the performances of conceptual thinking and relate to the idea of totality (Il se pourrait que la performance d’un concept soit simplement partielle par rapport aux intentions de la raison qui semble toujours avoir en quelque manière affaire à la totalité; 7).

Starting from the concepts that correspond to empirical objects, Blumenberg proceeds by broadening the scope of his scrutiny insofar as he takes into account something by which conceptual thinking in the narrower sense is exceeded. That is, the subject not only perceives singular objects entirely detached from one another and is amazed by the sky as a cosmic whole, but also takes into account the—potential—relations between objects. To put it in phenomenological terms, one could say that it is the horizontality of noemata according to which the perceiving and reflecting subject progresses in her intentional process of intuition. The less an empirical object plays a role in the act of conceptualization (or theorizing), the more intellectual performances—such as the act of idealization—gain importance in the process of thinking. The attempt to establish a meaningful relation among particular noemata leads to a reflection on the totality encompassing them—or again in phenomenological terms: to a reflection on the horizon of all horizons. That being said, it is clear that Blumenberg shares the fundamental insight with phenomenology that there is, apart from a naïve attitude, an observing, theorizing mode of consciousness.

Nonconceptuality

Yet, the question as to which role is to be ascribed to nonconceptuality within the realm of theoretical performances is still unanswered. Once it has been shown that the use of concepts does not remain limited to representations of empirical objects (such as foods or a prey) but is also in some way involved in intellectual acts of greater abstraction, Blumenberg shifts the focus to the very boundary between conceptual and nonconceptual thinking, both of which for him are encompassed by a theoretical attitude. In conceiving of conceptual thinking as an epistemic operation that above all establishes a correspondence between intuition and understanding, Blumenberg clearly draws from a Kantian point of view. In that sense, it is not at all surprising that Blumenberg addresses nonconceptual thinking, too, in Kantian terms.

What Blumenberg does is to relate limit concepts (Grenzbegriffe) and ideas (see 41–42) to his conception of nonconceptuality. This refers to his conviction that the mode of conceptual concretization achieved in the representation of empirical objects is unlike the way abstract ideas are represented. Of course, this does not mean abstract ideas (such as the concept of world or the idea of freedom) cannot be addressed or dealt with by human reason at all. Instead, for Blumenberg, human reason has to approach abstract ideas in a different way, namely by drawing from nonconceptuality. As it follows for him, nonconceptuality must not be taken or undertaken as a mere auxiliary discipline to philosophy (une simple discipline auxiliaire de la philosophie; 56). Instead, it must be acknowledged that the preliminary endeavors to a notion of conceptual thinking do not achieve their aims (le travail dans le champ préalable du concept ne parvient pas à son but; 56) and that conceptual thinking is subject to the condition of—at least possibly—eventually being rendered concrete by the intuition of empirical objects. As Blumenberg sees it, nonconceptuality comes into play the very moment it turns out that this condition cannot be fulfilled, i.e. in the attempt to represent ideas. (Here, it seems to me to be helpful to quote both the German original text and its French translation. For what in German reads “im Zusammenhang mit der Angewiesenheit des Begriffs auf Anschauung und der Verfehlung dieser Bedingung bei der Idee” is rendered into French as follows: dans le contexte de l’articulation du concept sur l’intuition et […] de l’échec de cette articulation quand il s’agit de l’idee; 56). In other words, nonconceptual thought for Blumenberg is the means to operate in the concretization of abstract ideas. In my reading of Théorie de l’inconceptualité, limit concepts (Grenzbegriffe) and ideas (just as metaphors, incidentally) for Blumenberg represent the threshold of conceptual and nonconceptual thinking. The wide range of theoretical performances must exceed the purely conceptual.

However, Blumenberg merely indicates what a theory of nonconceptuality would have to undertake and leaves it open to his readers (or listeners) to follow down the indicated path. According to him, a theory of nonconceptuality is about reconstructing in a broad sense those horizons from which the theoretical attitude and conceptual thinking are derived (Une théorie de l’inconceptualité aurait à reconstruire les horizons, en un sens très large, dont ont procédé la prise de position et la formation conceptuelle théoriques; 112).

Anthropology

It is important to bear in mind that Blumenberg does not seek a definite notion of each of the epistemic operations in question for their own sake. As the use of both conceptual and nonconceptual thinking can be counted among the whole of epistemic performances human beings are capable of, they are part of the description of essentially human traits. That is, as Blumenberg aims at locating his observations within a larger, anthropological framework.. As he says, an anthropological theory of conceptual thinking is an urgent desideratum (Une théorie anthropologique du concept est un réquisit urgent; 9).

In order to frame Blumenberg’s endeavor in Théorie de l’inconceptualité, it is helpful to come back once more to the aforementioned primal hunting scene. Blumenberg does not give a clear answer to the question of why he is using a primal scene to illustrate the performances of conceptual thinking, or to that of which epistemic status this example is supposed to hold. All he does is to underline his assumption that the image of the construction of a trap may be nothing but the best way to depict the capacities of conceptual thinking (Sans doute peut-on montrer le plus clairement ce dont un concept est capable lorsque l’on songe à la fabrication d’un piège; 8). That is, the author himself leaves it an open question as to which epistemic status must eventually be ascribed to the example he is using. However, Blumenberg makes clear that he aims to explain how the capacities of conceptual and nonconceptual thinking have become possible by taking a view that is both anthropological and genetic at the same time (J’essaie de comprendre cela du point de vue anthropologique, générique; 8). The construction of a trap may, therefore, be taken as an attempt to locate reason’s performances or capacities within an anthropological, and more specifically, within an anthropogenic framework. It is thus no coincidence that Blumenberg’s example is the laying of a trap some ten thousand years ago and not a shopping list.

What Blumenberg does is draw a line connecting the anthropogenic observations of man having straightened up and having accomplished twice a ninety-degree-rotation of the head to the transcendental question as to how theory—and with it philosophy— became possible. Théorie de l’inconceptualité offers a contribution to the discussion of the status of conceptual thinking from an epistemological point of view—and, beyond that, points to the discussion of reason’s capacities in a whole. It is thus part of transcendental philosophy since it is an approach to the conditions of the possibility of theory. Blumenberg’s view on the distinction between the empirical and the transcendental in Théorie de l’inconceptualité is quite complex: he raises a question of transcendental philosophy in aiming to lay bare the conditions of the possibility of theory; these conditions can only be explained by reference to empirical assumptions about human prehistory.

In other words, Blumenberg considers both conceptual and nonconceptual thinking to offer a crucial contribution to the project of describing man (like the title of another posthumously edited work lays out, namely Beschreibung des Menschen/Description de l’homme). As he says, one has to consider the anthropological preconditions as the source of the performances of conceptual thinking, which in turn are part of reason’s intending totality (des présupposés anthropologiques […] la source d’où procède également l’efficace du concept qui n’est, en effet, que partiellement liée à l’intention de la raison visant la totalité; 122). Pointing to the intention of describing (and, in parts, explaining) characteristic performances of reason such as conceptual and nonconceptual thinking amounts to counting Théorie de l’inconceptualité among Blumenberg’s numerous approaches to an anthropological philosophy. It is here that Blumenberg’s endeavor exceeds the demands of a phenomenological discipline as Blumenberg gives phenomenology an anthropological orientation. What he undertakes is not a phenomenology of pure consciousness but rather a phenomenologically motivated description of an anthropogenic dimension that presumably has brought about man’s ability to theorize and to philosophize at all.

Conclusion

Blumenberg’s text offers a complex interplay between the fields of anthropological description and of transcendental philosophy. As Blumenberg draws attention to the question of how conceptual thinking as a part of the whole of reason’s capacities might have become possible, it is especially the anthropogenic dimension that links the two. In conclusion, one could say that Théorie de l’inconceptualité can be read in a threefold way. It is, first, an anthropological text, for it focuses on performances of human reason. Since the main interest of the text lies in reasoning and in all the various forms reason may take, the text may, secondly, be regarded as pursuing a project in epistemology. What then provides a link between the anthropological and the epistemological dimensions is, thirdly, the extension of genetic phenomenology into the anthropogenic view Blumenberg puts forward.

At this point, one might return to the style in which the text is presented. Although the title may seem to promise a fully developed theory of nonconceptuality, the text itself maintains a tentative and exploratory character. The reader is offered examples and illustrations taken from diverse texts of philosophy and literature and thus is offered nothing more—and, one has to add, nothing less—than enriching descriptions of the performances of human reason. All of these descriptions are strongly influenced by the phenomenological tradition. Théorie de l’inconceptualité should be counted among Blumenberg’s attempts to contribute to a phenomenologically influenced anthropology.[3]

Selected Bibliography

Blumenberg, Hans. 2011. Description de l’homme. Translated by Denis Trierweiler. Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf.

Blumenberg, Hans. 2015. The laughter of the Thracian woman: A protohistory of theory. Translated by Steven Rendall. New York: Bloomsbury (quoted as: Laughter).

Blumenberg, Hans. 2017. Concepts en histoires. Translated by Marc de Launay. Paris: Édition de l’Éclat.

Blumenberg, Hans. 2018. Lions. Translated by Kári Driscoll. Calcutta, London, New York: Seagull Books.

Blumenberg, Hans. 2018. Rigorism of Truth: Moses the Egyptian and other Writings on Freud and Arendt. Edited by Ahlrich Meyer. Translated by Joe Paul Kroll. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

Bajohr, Hannes, Fuchs, Florian, and Joe Paul Kroll (eds.). 2018 (in press). The Hans Blumenberg Reader. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.


[1] Hannes Bajohr, Florian Fuchs, and Joe Paul Kroll (eds.). 2018 (in press). The Hans Blumenberg Reader. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. Other recent translations of Blumenberg’s work include among others: Blumenberg, Hans. 2017. Concepts en histoires. Translated by Marc de Launay. Paris: Édition de l’Éclat; ibid. 2018. Lions. Translated by Kári Driscoll. Calcutta, London, New York: Seagull Books; ibid. 2018. Rigorism of Truth: Moses the Egyptian and other Writings on Freud and Arendt. Edited by Ahlrich Meyer. Translated by Joe Paul Kroll. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

[2] Unless stated otherwise, all page references refer to Théorie de l’inconceptualité.

[3] I want to thank Tobias Keiling for numerous helpful comments.

Roman Ingarden: Controversy over the Existence of the World, Volume I

Controversy Over the Existence of the World, Vol. I Book Cover Controversy Over the Existence of the World, Vol. I
Polish Contemporary Philosophy and Philosophical Humanities
Roman Ingarden
Peter Lang GMBH
2013
Hardback £45.00
320

Reviewed by: Aleksandar Novakovic (University of Belgrade)

Existential Ontology of Roman Ingarden

When Roman Ingarden began his work on Controversy over the existence of the world, his magnum opus, everything was different from the time the process was finally over. The book, which he initially started writing for his great master Edmund Husserl[i], in the end turned out to be written for himself alone[ii]. From 1935 when his work had started until 1947 when two volumes of the book were published, the language of the book changed, the country in which it was written transformed, the master died, and the whole of Europe and the world underwent horrible turmoil from the Second World War. The intellectually inviting ambiance of Göttingen, Freiburg, and Kraków in which he – together with other phenomenologists from Husserl’s circle, could passionately investigate the most theoretically appealing issues of the day – was substituted for an atmosphere of fear and struggle for existential survival in which many of Ingarden’s colleagues perished. When in 1941, after two years of war (Poland was occupied and divided between the forces of Nazism and Bolshevism in 1939) he eventually continued his work on Controversy it was more than the philosophical passion that somehow prevailed over grim reality. It was, rather, Ingarden’s struggle for his own spiritual sustainment (23). Since 1947, the book has lived up to several Polish (1947/8, 1960/61, 1987) and one German edition (1964/65), but it waited only until 2013 for the first volume[iii] to be published in English as an unabridged edition[iv].

These initial existential remarks, both about the author and his work, are of significance here, because they reflect a “detached” character of the philosophical work in relation to time, as the work’s ill-fated destiny is not to be recognized by the time of its own, of being stripped out from its time from the philosophical audience and the state of debate of the pre-war philosophical scene. However, if one is to speak about the philosophical influences that it has achieved, then it has been thoroughly out of sight, both from phenomenological reception and from the strands of philosophy that deal with ontology in a rather different fashion. Although Controversy is Ingarden’s most ambitious and most far-reaching ontological work and despite the fact that his research in aesthetics is by his own admittance only to be incorporated under more fundamental ontological investigations that he developed in Controversy and elsewhere[v], he is still overwhelmingly perceived as the philosopher of art, and his contribution to ontology and metaphysics is not sufficiently recognized. But, the time factor cannot, however, diminish the inner qualities of Controversy that surpass any “here” and “now”. For it is, without any doubt, the philosophical masterpiece of its time, and its author is a metaphysician par excellence.

The process of reading Controversy will reveal to the reader one of the reasons – besides the ones already mentioned – why the book, in spite of all of its qualities, was lacking an influence. It represents not just a systematic critique of Husserl’s commitment to the idealist standpoint but also opposition to several highly influential philosophical schools and strands of thought of the XX century. This amounts foremost to the “neo-positivist” school which altogether rejects metaphysics as “senseless” and also to the group of authors and standpoints that sprang out from the phenomenological way of philosophizing, such as French existentialists and the philosophy of “fundamental ontology” of Martin Heidegger. It is evident that in Controversy Ingarden renounces not just antimetaphysical reductionism of positivism as a “crude, tacit metaphysics” (77, futn.152), but also existentialists metaphysics and its pathos for the human being’s “fate in the world” (87, f.192.). It seems as though he thinks that the latter somehow neglect the primary task of metaphysics, as it is conceived from the time of Aristotle and to which Ingarden is deeply committed.

Written in the isolation from philosophical community and stripped out from intellectual resources[vi] Controversy evolved during the wartimes as the most profound examination of the possible solutions to the mystery of the existence of the world, and equally important, as the most honestly approached and conscientiously rendered philosophical self-dialogue on the issue that haunted the author since his early philosophical career. Let us recall that in 1918 Ingarden wrote now famous “Idealism letter” to Husserl in which he openly questioned the merits of the master’s philosophical allegiances. At that time Ingarden noticed that Husserl was steadily renouncing the last vestiges of realist components in the process of development of his radically new method of phenomenological reduction[vii].

The famous Husserl’s thought (often expressed before students) that “If we cancel consciousness, then we cancel the world” (184) effectively comprises this philosophical position toward the existence of real-world which creates the starting point for Ingarden’s attack of transcendental idealism. If, after the reduction is completed there remains nothing of the “transcendence” of the object that cannot be derived from pure consciousness alone, and if itself of the thing-in-itself is espoused as nothing other than pure qualities of constitutive activity of transcendental I, and as a negation of some unknowable mystic element of the world – the world of itself – than the traditional dualism between object and subject is abolished, and the only ontologically existent entity – regarding the phenomenologizing subject can represent nothing more than this activity of constitution and the subject of constitution.

Ingarden could not accept the metaphysical consequences of transcendental idealism, nor the consequences of other historically similar (idealistic) answers to the ontological puzzle of the existence of the world. But in order to give the full philosophical meaning of his realist intuitions, he had to change the whole perspective from which the dichotomy of idealism and realism was to be approached and the ontological status of the world determined. The manner in which he sets out to accomplish this task did not mean abandoning the general phenomenological way of analysis, nor even some components of his master’s approach – he had never renounced phenomenological reduction as such – but the shift from the epistemological dimension of analysis to the ontological, and consequently metaphysical one. The daring change of perspectives enabled Ingarden to present the essence of the core problem to the more fundamental, divergent and uncertain terrain than the one that could be obtained from the sole epistemological perspective. Here lies also Ingarden’s greatest contribution to the understanding of the reality of the real world that surpasses the borders of one specific school of thought. But this change of perspective would not be sufficient to make the difference – if it was not to repeat the traditional sins of metaphysics – were it not accompanied by additional elements that surpass limitations of every dogmatic vision of knowledge – distinctive qualities of methodological openness and theoretical breadth with which the author approaches the central problem of the book.

*

Volume I of Controversy comes with the translator’s note, preface, an addendum to the German edition, six chapters and an appendix of nine alphabetically arranged parts. This volume also incorporates parts of text from previous editions that Ingarden changed and revised for this final version. The most devoted reader can also find comments and explanations by translator Arthur Szylewicz rather useful and appropriate. But all these markings integrated within the body of the text that serve to incorporate older editions of Controversy are, in some measure, making the book harder to read and less fluent, which for the impatient reader can be an obstacle. But even more, one can ask, whether the first unabridged English edition should have come without these additions in order to be presented to the philosophical public in its best guise and most approachable manner.

In the short preface, the author tells us the history of his own work on the idealism/realism problematic that precedes Controversy and which had contributed to its structure and form. As we have seen, external circumstances have tremendously shaped the pace in which the whole process of writing evolved. In the conclusion of the preface, Ingarden expresses what he thought should be the final reach of Controversy. Since one of his tasks is to demonstrate the complexity of the central problem and the vast number of possible solutions to it, the “narrowing” of “the scope of possible solutions” (24) should be seen as its final reach. In this regard, both the first and the second volume of the book should have been seen as “prolegomena” (24) to some further investigation of the controversy of the existence of the world.

The first chapter with the title “Preliminary reflections” aims to articulate the main question of the book particularly with the connection to Husserl’s idealism. In that regard, Ingarden sketches the history of the concepts of “idealism” in ancient philosophy, particularly in Plato, and contrasts it with the modern understanding of the term “idea” and “idealism” (28). In the former sense idealism refers either to the domain of things that exist (e.g. ideas exist alongside physical objects) or with the mode of beings of objects that exist (e.g. ideas are more real than physical objects), while in the latter the term “idea” has to be associated with consciousness’ experiences of the subject. More importantly, these experiences are bestowed with special ontological status, and, even more, they are not just accepted alongside the real world, but the real world is intrinsically – as a “being” of lesser perfection – somehow derived from them. In that regard, what is certain and indubitable for modern philosophers from Descartes onwards is the existence of “pure consciousness” while the existence of the “real” world is to be questioned. These terminological clarifications are helping Ingarden to precisely formulate the main question of the book: “…what is at issue in the controversy between idealism and realism is the existence of the real world – and a specific mode of this existence at that – as well as the existential relations between the world and consciousness…” (28) And also: “…I concern myself strictly with the question pertaining to the existence of the real world, and indeed, in the final reckoning, with precisely that world which is given to us in direct experience in the form of countless things, processes and events, and which contains both purely material entities and psycho-physical individuals…” (31).

In that endeavor, Ingarden aims to attack the “the deepest and the most serious attempt to settle the idealism/realism dispute…” (32) which for him is the transcendental idealism of his master. The main task here is, firstly, to reexamine the “the total context of the starting point” (44) of the dispute by questioning whether the sole partition relies on the presumption – which in the end is a metaphysical one – that by itself needs to be investigated. Namely, that of our picture of the real world acquired through “experience and its structure” (43). Ingarden’s point is that we can never be sure that every moment of the transcendence of the object can be completely seized by what is called pure immanence, or the activity of the transcendental I. The elusive ontological “residue” that is left outside the scope of phenomenological reduction, opens the door for the ontological dimension of investigations. In that way, traditional transcendental/epistemological treatment of the dispute has been abandoned.

Secondly, the standard resolution of the dispute presupposes just two possibilities: either world exists and is separate from the mind – and we know this fact on the basis of experience, or it does not exist and is derived from the pure consciousness. But this dichotomy is tremendously reductionist since it neglects the possibilities of the various kinds of modes of being of the real world in case it is acknowledged that it exists (44). And here the “ontological turn” is more than needed insofar as the epistemological perspective offers just two or possibly three solutions heavily dependent on certain (hidden) metaphysical standpoints in the case when many ontological solutions are in the vicinity. For the transcendence of an object is, prima facie, an ontological issue (45). Unlike the standard approach which starts and ends with the epistemological investigation, with only having some indirect ontological consequence, the new investigative path proposed in Controversy starts from ontology then continues with metaphysics and, in the final stage, ends with an epistemological verification of the results obtained in the due process.

In order to justify this new order of philosophical priorities, Ingarden, in the second chapter of the book, addresses two different and yet closely interconnected issues. He emphasizes the difference in nature of the philosophical and the investigations of so-called special sciences, and, secondly, he offers a very precise distinction between ontology and metaphysics that can justify his critique of the “epistemological orientation” of transcendental idealism. Concerning the former, all special sciences (he distinguishes “sciences of facts” and “apriory sciences” among them) share same basic characteristics. Namely, their solutions to theoretical problems are epistemically grounded, their functioning is not determined by the questioning of the core presuppositions that lie in their foundations, they are “special” because they always refer only to one domain of being, and the differences between essential and inessential properties of investigated entities is frequently overlooked (54). All this treatment has to show how distinctive the philosophical “style of analysis” is, and how it differs from that of special sciences (49).

By its spirit and its content, these analyses resemble usual phenomenological explanations of the matter. But in what follows Ingarden introduces a very original, significant, and it has to be said, plausible understanding of the nature of ontology that enables him to explain its priority over metaphysics and epistemology respectively.

He says: “The most general concept of ontology follows from its defining characteristic as a purely apriory analysis of the contents of ideas”(74). Conceived as such, ontology deals with “pure possibilities” and ”necessary interrelationships among ideal qualities, or among the elements of the ideas’ content” (62). These pure possibilities are to be distinguished from empirical possibilities which are related to an object existing in time and space. In that respect, Ingarden gives his own, and from a traditional Platonist point of view, sharply different account of the nature of the concept of the idea[viii]. These pure possibilities are not “determined by any matter-of-fact within real world” (66), they are time-independent, and they are not to be spoken of in terms of degree or measure. We can see, thus, how Ingarden presupposes a special sphere of objects and their interconnections that are the sole subject-matter of the ontological investigation. This sphere is predefined in such a manner that the investigator is bound up to the structure and content that already “exists” in it. But, one would perform a serious misapprehension if one would think that this implies some commitments to the matter of the fact of the real world[ix]. For the latter would be only the task of metaphysics, and ontology, as pure apriory analysis of possibilities can never ascertain the factual dimension of the matter. Ontology can only say what are the possibilities at our disposal for the contemplation on the subject matter. This is the core reason why ontology represents “foundational research” (74), and the first and necessary step in every path to metaphysics. This is also the reason why any epistemologically driven research into the controversy is always partial and biased – for it, by default, closes the door for the whole myriad of solutions that should be taken into account.

On the other hand, the task of metaphysics is to determine the factual conditions in the sphere of the existent. It has to specify what really exists, in what manner, and, above all, what is the true nature of existence. In contrast to ontology, metaphysics has to “clarify essentially necessary facts or factual interconnections among essences” (78), it does not deal with possibilities – although it presupposes them – it determines the real fact-of-the-matter of the world. Furthermore, and this is crucial for the metaphysical undertakings as such, it does not ask only for the existence of this or that entity of the world. It, of course, does that to, but it primarily asks for the existence of anything at all, of the “totality of and all existents whatsoever”[x]. And, after that, it asks what are the grounds, or ground, of that actually existing world – of that anything at all that exists (78). Ingarden, however, does not presuppose that the admittance of the importance of these vital tasks that metaphysics has to accomplish, signifies the possibility of their resolution, nor that human capabilities are sufficient for such an endeavor at all. Here, the mere fact of the importance transcends the possibility of success or failure. For Ingarden rightly clarifies that being impossible in some respect does not mean being senseless as such – the distinction that even today escapes the minds of many lovers of “desert landscapes”.

All of this leads Ingarden to the following conclusion: “It is clear that core of the entire Controversy is a particular metaphysical problem which, however, can neither be properly formulated nor successfully attacked without appropriate ontological preparation” (86)

And the role of epistemology, or theory of knowledge as Ingarden calls it, is reduced to the specific analysis which is partially ontological and partially metaphysical (83). In any regard, it comes after ontological and metaphysical investigations.

The entirety of investigation undertaken in chapter II enables Ingarden to distinguish three fundamental questions: ontological, metaphysical and epistemological; and three sub-questions within an ontological one: existential-ontological, formal-ontological and material-ontological (87). Ingarden remarks that all-encompassing research of an entity “must be conducted in all three of these directions, both metaphysically and ontologically” (89). The volume I of Controversy treats only existential-ontological dimensions of the dispute. It does not deal with whether something exists, or whether it exists in the appropriate form; it has only to tease out which mode of being or existence is proper to something and its essence (88). The second volume deals with formal-ontological issues, and the third one, which was never completed as an integral part of Controversy[xi], was supposed to treat material-ontological issues of the dispute.

Volume I of Controversy begins, in fact, with the third chapter in which Ingarden exposes what he calls “basic existential concepts” and previous chapters are preliminaries to the type of ontological analysis presented in the first volume. Since, as we have seen, the basic question of the relationship between mind and the real world is formulated in rather a specific context and philosophical orientation, Ingarden now wants to see how we can approach the question of their nature and mutual relationship with a “clean” philosophical start. In order to do that, he has to explain in an ontological manner the notion of “being real” and only after that he can step into the analysis of the relationship of dependence or independence that exists or does not exist between these two poles.

In that respect Ingarden emphasizes that although the notion of being-real is a simple one, it does not mean it is absolutely unanalyzable too (96), for a simple entity as the “color orange” is not composed of some further elements, but is in fact unique, thus it is still possible to distinguish some moments in it, the moments through which it is similar to red and yellow (96). Likewise, in our everyday experiences we always encounter an object in the totality of its being, and Ingarden vigorously tries to show how we cannot “attach” the notion of existence to the being as something separate from the sum total of properties that it inherits, nor as some such property (here, Ingarden’s pays due credit to Kant), and he gives an example of the existing and perishing lamp that should evoke the whole mystery of non-existence in a typical phenomenological manner (101-102).

But usually, we are not familiar with just one mode of being, namely being-real. There are also other modes of being, such as being-possible, being-ideal and even some other possible modes (99). It is crucial here to acknowledge that we always encounter something (some entity, process, idea…) through a specific mode of being, but these modes of being are totalities of existential moments that Ingarden wants to have ontologically distinguished. An entity is not composed of those moments, for the nature of every mode is something simple, but only with the help of a philosophical abstraction we can discern some moments in them, like in the example with orange color (108). In that regard, these moments are (philosophically) older than the specific mode of being that we always meet in our direct and naïve encounters. And furthermore, every entity is bound up with a specific mode of being, it cannot undergo a change in the mode of being. That is to say, the same object cannot be ideal and then real since it would not be the same object anymore. The existing lamp that undergoes complete annihilation so that we can only have an idea of it as it was when it existed, is not the same lamp since it now “exists” in a different mode of being, namely that of an idea.

So, we can see how Ingarden introduces – apart from his own understanding of metaphysics and ontology presented in the second chapter – new contents for the old terms such as “existence”, “mode of being”, “idea”. We can see that the notion of “existence” is the most abstract and general idea (108), then follows the less abstract, but still not sufficiently concretized, concept of “the mode of being” that is present both in the naïve attitude and epistemological perspective of empiricist philosophy and transcendental idealism, and, in the end, the primitive and essential components of existential-ontology – existential moments – that are the subjects of existential-ontological investigations.

Ingarden distinguishes a group of four pairs of existential moments:

  1. autonomy – heteronomy
  2. originality – derivativeness
  3. self-sufficiency – non-self-sufficiency
  4. independence – dependence (109)

Something is autonomous if it “has its existential foundation within itself” and, “it has it within itself if it is something that is immanently determined within itself” (109) as the “redness” of a red color (whether as a pure ideal quality or the material property of some object) is something that is immanently determined within the essence of a red color. But the existence of something is not dependent on being autonomous since purely intentional entities of works of art exist too, but as heteronomous objects whose essence is being supported by an intentional act or “creative act of consciousness” (116).

Something is original if it is produced by itself, and the opposite derivative – if it has been produced by something other (118). Ingarden emphasizes that it is evident that originality goes necessarily along with autonomy, but that opposite does not necessarily hold. Something can be autonomous but derivative, as, for example, an ideal quality of redness that exists autonomously but is not produced by itself. And heteronomy as such excludes originality, since if something possesses no existential foundation within itself, it cannot, eo ipso, produce itself.

And here Ingarden undertakes the long and difficult task of explaining the notion of existential originality through the analysis of historical understandings of “being-per-se”, or the Absolute Being, and its relation to the notion of causation. The aim is to show how traditional (predominantly scholastic, and on it based modern, especially Spinoza’s concept of “causa sui”) understanding of the cause and effect is irreconcilable with the notion of original being. The main misconception lies in the assumption that cause and effect are some kind of entities or even separated “things” that exist in a different time, while original being is, per definitionem, timeless, and from that stems from the “absurdity” of comprehending an absolute being in relation to causality. Thus, a cause and an effect are not “things” nor do they persist in time separately from each other. But just because of that they are not one individual entity either. Rather, these notions are to be understood as concepts of the system equilibrium on one side, and the “perturbation” of the system on the other that can be properly called “cause” (136). And what is usually in the philosophical tradition understood as “cause” is just in fact “indirect” cause (129), while the cause properly determined is “direct” one (causa efficiens), as something that happens simultaneously with the effect, but is still not the same as effect alone. Thus, the difference between originality and derivation is purely existentially-ontological and as a such, it has nothing to do with the causation as a peculiar intraworldly relation (141). Moreover, originality is primarily an existential moment and is not directly related to the concept of a deity. Here, Ingarden is only interested in existential moments as such and their mutual relationships.

The notion of “existential self-sufficiency” means that something, in order to exist, does not require something else to be present alongside it in one whole. “Thus, for example, the element of “redness” is contained in a non-self-sufficient manner in the whole “red color,” since it must co-exist with the moment “coloration” that occurs in the same whole.” (147). But on the other hand, some red color that exists in an individual concrete object is also self-sufficient, since “it is at least likely that we cannot speak of an amalgamation between the “red color” and a red thing that is as intimate as the one that obtains between redness and coloration in the red color” (148). There are various kinds of self-sufficiency and non-self-sufficiency in regard to different parameters[xii], and also one “absolute” notion of self-sufficiently which is opposed to all of these (152). And all of them have to be taken into consideration in order to escape the “crude errors” since “a particular entity can fail to be non-self-sufficient in one sense, and yet be so in some other sense” (152).

On the other hand, something depends on something else if it needs something else to support its “subsistence” (153), although, at the same time, it can be self-sufficient. For example, a “son” ceases to be the son of a father who has just died. However, he is still someone, and in that respect a self-sufficient entity, but he is not “a son” anymore.

Those, “provisional”, so far only “smelted”, existential moments (157), whose number would significantly increase if the “existence of entities in time” (157) would be taken into account, can help to create pure ontological concepts of Absolute and Relative being and their variants. Thus, the lists in the sum of eight concepts of being (156-7) are proposed by Ingarden, while the concept of absolute being simultaneously incorporates all four “right-side” moments of existence: autonomy, originality, self-sufficiency, and independence. The omittance of one of these moments automatically reduces an absolute to a “relative” concept of being. Besides this, Ingarden lists also, eight pairs of mutually exclusive moments (155) that should automatically reduce the number of possible combinations of modes of being.

Ingarden closes the third chapter with an “outlook” of the relevant questions for the dispute. Here, he once again emphasizes that the solutions of the controversy are not to be searched in the mode of, what can be called, an encountered being of the real world. For the usual epistemological perspective presupposes that “we already know in what mode the world encountered by us exists. Yet on the contrary – this is precisely the first chief question in the metaphysical reflection on the world” (163). The pure existential moments should help us to evade such a path to the solution. Rather, the solutions would have to be searched for in the modes of moments of existence, since we do not know whether, in fact, the real world exists, and even more, in what mode of being it exists. What we only know so far is that we, or our phenomenologizing I, exist, but here too the nature of this “being” is only to be approached through the analysis of the various possible combinations of existential moments.

Finally, in the fourth chapter, Ingarden undertakes an exhaustive analysis of possible solutions to the controversy. The analysis starts from the six assumptions where the indubitability of the existence of consciousness is taken for granted as well as the regular and unproblematic flow of pure experiences of phenomenologizing I presupposed. The sixth premise is a modular one, with the consequence that every following variant has been composed of different existential moments associated with the nature of consciousness. In that way, an investigation of eight groups of problem solutions is being enabled, with the consequence of taking into account an enormous number of possible solutions (at least 64). Basically, Ingarden analyses eight hypothetical philosophical positions[xiii] in relation to this group of eight different assumptions. He compares whether or not such positions are compatible with the set assumptions. The aim is to narrow the “ontological choice” as much as possible in order to prepare the terrain for other types of investigations in Volume II.

The positions that are being elaborated are absolute realism, absolute creationism, dualist unity realism, dependence realism, realist unity creationism, idealist dependence creationism, and their group variations respectively. In the walk of the analysis, many positions are being rejected due to the mutually exclusive existential moments. For example, some positions claim that the real world is original but this is in conflict with the set premise that it is derived from consciousness or not-self-sufficient and dependent (on it). It is worth mentioning that Ingarden’s treatment of the position labeled “idealist dependence creationism”, which is in fact, Husserl’s position, reveals two general accusations sent to the master’s address. Namely, Ingarden accuses Husserl of “metaphysical commitments” (186) where we had to be dealing with only – in Ingarden’s terms – ontological ones. Also, he accuses the master of employing not sufficiently clarified concept of a mode of being of the real world (188). Ingarden also analyses the negative solutions (the real world does not exist at all) as well as “doubled solutions” of Kant and Bergson (219-223). These double solutions are consisting of a specific pair of above-listed positions that can cohabitate side by side without interconnections – as is the case of Kant’s world of things-in-themselves (which mirrors the position of absolute idealism), and the phenomenal world (that represents idealist dependence creationism) (220-1).

The final results of the analysis are summarized in two groups of admissible solutions. Groupe of variants of realism (real world not being derived from consciousness), and a group of variants of creationism (real world being derived from consciousness). The second group is divided further into the group of realist creationism (real world derived but autonomous) and the group of idealist solutions (real world derived and heteronomous).

Ingarden summarizes the results in this way:

“It turns out that there are incomparably more variants of “Realism” than of Creationisms belonging to the realist subclass, and only two solutions are “idealist” (225).

This means that the existential-ontological analysis – and that means investigation of logical relationships between pure existential moments – admits vast majority of realist solutions (for example, absolute realism is admissible in all 8 group of solutions) and even in the group of creationism where the real world has been in fact derived from consciousness, there are several solutions in which the real world exists autonomously. Husserlian idealist dependence creationism is one of those admissible idealist solutions.

However, Ingarden is aware that this kind of analysis is to be taken only provisionally, since many factors are not being taken into account. If at the end, only one solution is proven to be ontologically valid, it would also need to be metaphysically verified. Furthermore, if there would be more than one final ontological solution, than, as Ingarden says: “the world’s existence or non-existence would not be ontologically transparent” (226). Both scenarios are uncertain and it is not ruled out that none of the solutions will be admitted in the end because it might be revealed that all of them are “contradictory” (226).

Up to this treatment, Ingarden has only analyzed existential moments and their logical relations without any introduction of the dimension of time. As we have seen this has brought to the fore eight different concepts of being. The introduction of time in the investigations of the sixth part of Controversy opens the space for an exposure of other existential moments which makes the whole existential analysis more complex and even daunting. For as the path of the phenomenological treatment of time that here Ingarden undertakes seems from the outset more delicate and slippery than pure logical treatment of the relationships between some predefined logical elements. This is all the more so because the time of Ingarden’s concern is not a common time of everyday life, nor the “subjective” and formal time of a Kantian hue (228); the time he analyses is a concrete and absolute time (281) that is inseparable from objects, and only this analysis can “capture the full modes of being” (281) required for the potential solution of the controversy. The strategy is that, if the idea of the existence of the real world is to be generally allowed – and we have seen why existential-ontological analysis must allow it – then the analysis of the mode(s) of being of real world cannot be carried out without the analysis of time, since one of the ideas of real-world presupposes temporality of the world. And secondly, if this temporality is to be analyzed it cannot be accomplished without taking into an account the beings that we encounter as temporal, the beings that are time-determined, for as only with and through them we can in the first place approach the phenomenon of time. In that way, Ingarden attempts to find the ontological essence of the being-real as such – which amounts also to the reality of consciousness – and we will see that this ingredient is intrinsically related to time.

The temporal world, Ingarden claims, comes equipped with three temporally determined sorts of individual entities – events, processes and persisting objects (229) and analysis should detect the key existential moments of the mode of being of these entities. If the phenomenological analysis of concrete time would reveal some existential characteristics within them that bespeak of their selfsufficiency and even autonomy than it will be possible to further narrow the possible solutions of the controversy by rejecting the philosophical positions that are inconsistent with such a conceived nature of temporal objects.

Although all these entities are constitutive for the phenomenon of time itself – because time cannot exist without objects being-in-time or being temporal objects – there is, in a way, the gradation of their “reputation” in relation to the question of existential-ontological supervenience. In order to explain this, Ingarden has to show how temporal objects are distinguishable from each other essentially (that is, by its form), that none of them can be reduced to the other. For example, it is customary to understand events as just “shorter processes”, but this is thoroughly misleading since events in the “pregnant sense” (251) of the word are instantaneous and processes – from the smallest one to the largest – are lasting through time. The mode of being of events “consists precisely in that ’coming-into-being’ and ‘passing away’ – and indeed both in the same instant” which means that “the event does not exceed the bounds spanning a single concrete Now” (231). On the other hand, processes are more complex entities consisting of the shifts of phases that can be distinguished only in abstraction, and that constitutes a “phase-whole” mode of their being, and on the other side, “process-objects”, or “the mode of being of the temporal object constituted in the passage and growth of that phase-whole” (250). Objects persisting in time are also “outlasting” individual moments, or instants such are events. But in comparison to processes, they do that in a completely different manner. They are remaining “identically the same” during the certain period of time in which these events occur (252). In fact, and this is crucial, objects persisting in time are bearers of the processes, they are supervening over processes. “Without persistent objects, there would be, in accordance with their essence, no processes whatsoever, whereas the processes, when they transpire at all, modify the persistent object only in their qualitative endowment” (253). That means that, by their form, persisting objects are incapable of change, since “enduring in time and surviving the lapse of time is not yet in itself any change” (255). They only change due to their “material endowment” (255). In that regard, in comparison to persistent objects, processes are existentially dependent and even non-selfsufficient (254).

This analysis of temporal objects reveals an additional, and for the grasping of the essence of being-real of temporal entities crucial existential, moment. That is the moment of activeness as efficaciousness, as a way in which “what is real fulfills its existence by shaping and filling out some present – but in doing so also immediately forfeits that existence” (241) And here, too, we have a sort of gradation in terms of existential potency (280) of temporal entities. Every process is exerting some activity by fulfilling certain moments in time with the concrete content that marks this activity efficaciousness. In other words, every process makes a difference, an ontological (and metaphysical) difference in the body of time. But only persisting objects, and especially living beings, can intensify the activity in order to stay the same within the contexts of changing processes and states, by actively resisting the passing of time, and by building an active and self-reflective (in the case of consciousness beings) stance toward time dynamics. This enables a living being to possess “partial persistence independence” (272) with regard to time. The persisting moment of living being consists in its “survival mode” as a direct consequence of its activeness, that is, its capability to remain the same over time. This is especially noticeable against the background of what Ingarden calls the “fissure-like” existence of beings, inanimate and living ones, respectively. A living being is active toward its fissure-like existence whereas an inanimate world is just passively associated with the lapse of time and its permanent fissures, it does not live out its fissures actively, it does not “catch the time” of its own being. A living being is actively resisting the passing of every single “now”, it actively connects past and future with the present in order to sustain itself, that is, its essence as an enduring object.

And furthermore, it is just the fragility of living beings, the possibility of their partial or complete annihilation by external forces and factors, that makes them selfsufficient and autonomous entities. For as only something that is selfsufficient can, in fact, be annihilated in the real sense of the word. Some rock is not selfsufficient in this respect since it does not actively contribute to its own subsistence. The rock cannot be “fragile” although it can certainly be smashed since it is not in its nature, in the first place, to be autonomous. On the other hand, both the fragile and fissure like properties of temporal beings, as the marks of their imperfections, indicates that they could be only subsumed to the category of derivative, and not original entities (288).

These considerations of the relation of being-real and time through the analysis of temporal objects enable Ingarden, in the sixth and concluding chapter of the book, to further narrow the choice of possible solutions to the controversy. At the same time, this shows to be an opportunity to question and in fact rebut his master’s position as untenable for mere existential-ontological reasons. Only now, Ingarden can conclude, that if time has essential characteristics of the being-real then the existential mode of temporal beings, and especially their autonomy to the time, exclude both the Husserlian position (of idealist dependence creationism) and other similar solutions that presuppose existential heteronomy of the real world: “If, however, time were to belong to the essence of being-real, then the number of these solutions would have to diminish. For the being-in-time of an existent force to pass through the activeness-sphere an existent’s activeness presupposes its autonomy. Hence, if the real world, or what exists in it, were really determined by time, then it would have to exist autonomously” (281) Ingarden concludes that in the end, 11 solutions are admissible, and from them only variants of realism and realist creationism – idealism is ruled out grosso modo. However, this does not mean that the world cannot be created or in some other aspects related to consciousness. It only means that it is ruled out that for its sustainment it need be dependent on an external factor such as consciousness because the real world is, by the realist creationism presupposition, autonomous to pure consciousness.

The introduction of time in the existential-ontological analysis reveals another possible set of existential moments (activity, fissuration, fragility…) that can help create new concepts of beings that are “richer” in content (290). Ingarden thus distinguishes absolute supratemporal being (insystematic two variants), supratemporal-ideal-being, temporally-determined (real) being, and purely intentional being (being possible). The concept of temporally determined being has been conceived in three different dimensions, related to the nature of time (present, past, and future). But these are only preliminary steps in further, formal-ontological, material-ontological and consequently metaphysical investigations of the nature of the real world, and its relationship (if there are any) to the consciousness. Ingarden, thus, cautiously remarks that “at the moment we know nothing positive of either the form or the material essence of the real world that would be significant for its mode of being” (297). Unless we succeed in “grasping the temporality of an existent, and of the world in particular, in an indubitable manner” (300) the final resolution of the controversy cannot be resolved.


[i] “I had in fact just begun to write the new book for him, this being the reason for writing it in German” (22, f.11).

[ii] “I wrote only for myself…” (23).

[iii] The volume II was published in 2016, by the same publisher and editor.

[iv] An abridged edition was published in 1964 under title Time and Modes of Being (translated by H. R. Michejda), Springield Ill: Charels Thomas.

[v] In the preface to Controvesy Ingarden documents the rich history of his work in ontology.

[vi] He was unable to use his library at that time (23).

[vii] This was, for Ingarden, first noticeable in “unstable” guise (p. 33 f. 35) of Ideas I (1913) and then fully acknowledged in the matured form of Formal and Transcendental Logic (1929) and Cartesian Meditations (1929).

[viii] Due to the space limitation we can here just note that the structure of idea is explained by its “bilateral” nature of “stock of qualities” and content, and within the content, there are also differences between “variables” and “constants” (68-73).

[ix] This “reduction” seem to be prevailing characteristics of contemporary Neo-Aristotelianism.

[x] The famous “first question of metaphysics” that a thinker such as Heidegger escape to give an answer to, and Robert Nozick boldly answered in rather unorthodox and appealing manner in his Philosophical Explanations.

[xi] And was published as separate book Über die kausale Struktur der realen Welt, Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1974.

[xii] Ingarden lists five groups of variants (148-152).

[xiii] That only in some aspects resemble historically developed philosophical positions.

Jack Reynolds: Phenomenology, Naturalism and Science: A Hybrid and Heretical Proposal, Routledge, 2017

Phenomenology, Naturalism and Science: A Hybrid and Heretical Proposal Book Cover Phenomenology, Naturalism and Science: A Hybrid and Heretical Proposal
Routledge Research in Phenomenology
Jack Reynolds
Routledge
2017
Hardback £115.00
220