Gina Zavota, Deborah Barnbaum
On September 15-17, 2017, the Department of Philosophy at Kent State University held the Husserl in a New Generation conference in Kent, Ohio, USA. The lead organizers were Professor Deborah Barnbaum and Associate Professor Gina Zavota, both of Kent State University. This was the second in a series of “In a New Generation” conferences hosted by Kent State University’s Department of Philosophy; the first, Sellars in a New Generation, took place in May 2015. The aim of this conference was to revisit Husserl’s most significant contributions to a wide range of philosophical subfields, highlighting both their relevance to the questions that philosophy faces today and the important role they have played in the evolution of a wide range of academic disciplines.
The conference featured two invited keynote presentations and five additional invited talks, as well as three faculty papers and seven graduate student papers selected through anonymous peer review. As a result, the conference showcased the work of both eminent and emerging Husserl scholars at all stages of their careers.
The first day of the conference consisted of a graduate workshop where six graduate students presented their research. In the morning session, Justin Reppert, from Fordham University, showed how Husserl’s multiplicity theory [Mannigfaltigkeitslehre] can offer insight into a variety of important questions in the philosophy of mathematics in “Husserlian Contributions to the Epistemology of Mathematics.” Andrew Barrette, from Southern Illinois University – Carbondale, discussed Husserl’s treatment of questioning in “The Socio-Historical Emergence and Operation of Questioning in Edmund Husserl’s Work,” in order to lay the groundwork for a larger project in which he will demonstrate that questioning is an essential moment in the history of reason. Anthony Celi, from Duquesne University, argued in “Logic and the Epoché: Questioning the Necessity and Possibility of Bracketing Logic in Husserl’s Ideas I” that Husserl’s reduction of logic in Ideas I is neither necessary for arriving at the phenomenological attitude nor even a legitimate possibility within a larger philosophical context.
In the afternoon session, Mohsen Saber, participating via Skype from the University of Tehran (Iran), explained in “Finitude and/or Infinitude? Husserl on the Teleology of Perception” that the teleological process of perception can be characterized both as finite and as infinite. Emanuela Carta, from Roma Tre University (Italy), argued that Husserl’s notion of pure essence [eidos] plays a functional role in his phenomenology and does not rule out the possibility of other types of analysis that are not eidetic. Colin Bodayle from Duquesne University closed out the day’s presentations with “Husserl on Object Collision,” in which he discussed the ways in which Husserl, Heidegger, Hume, and Graham Harman approach the question of how and whether inanimate objects can “touch” or encounter each other. Most of the main program presenters, as well as many other attendees, were in the audience during the graduate workshop, making for particularly rich and productive discussions after each of the presentations.
The main program spanned the second and third days of the conference and featured a total of eleven speakers.
Rudolf Bernet, Emeritus Professor, KU Leuven (Belgium)
“Husserl on Imagining What is Unreal, Quasi-Real, Possibly Real, and Irreal”
The second day of the Husserl in a New Generation conference began with the first keynote talk, given by Emeritus Professor Rudolf Bernet. In his talk Bernet explored the essential difference in imagination between intentional acts of pure phantasy and acts which represent an object by means of an image or a sign. The pure phantasy of an unreal or quasi-real intentional object, he argued, can be further distinguished from perceptive phantasies and from the act of remembering the real object of an actual past perception. The opposition between what is real and what is unreal in phantasy loses further significance, Bernet argued, when one moves to the consideration of how imagination relates to the objects of a possibly actual experience. Imagined unreal objects can, indeed, become real objects which lend themselves to an actual perception. However, it is because they are not taken to really exist that objects of phantasy most easily lend themselves to an eidetic variation and to an insight into the essential constituents or ‘essence’ of a certain type of object and of their intentional experience. It is through their contribution to an insight into the real and ideal conditions of possibility of different forms of intentional acts that acts of phantasy best show their potential for Husserl’s entire philosophical project. Imagination or fiction becomes, in Husserl’s own words, the “vital element of phenomenology.”
Sara Heinämaa, Professor, Academy of Finland, University of Jyväskylä (Finland)
“Variants of Bodily Subjects: Embodiment, Expression and Empathy”
In the second presentation of the morning session Professor Heinämaa explored Husserl’s distinction between two attitudes, the naturalistic and the personalistic, for the purpose of clarifying the embodied character of human beings and animals. She argued that we have to distinguish between several different senses of the lived body [Leib] in order to understand how human beings can relate to themselves and to one another. These senses are not free-floating formations but are constituted in complicated dependency relations. By explicating the relevant relations of dependency, she demonstrated that the human being (and the animal) as a psychophysical system is a dependent formation that rests on several more fundamental sense achievements, the most important of which include (i) the human being as an embodied person, (ii) the living being as another self, and (iii) the self as a bodily agent. By distinguishing these senses and studying their relations, Heinämaa argued that Husserlian phenomenology offers us powerful conceptual tools that allow us to understand the different ways in which human beings can relate to one another and to living beings more generally.
Anthony Steinbock, Professor, Southern Illinois University – Carbondale
“The Modality and Modalizations of the Absolute Ought in Husserl”
The morning session concluded with Professor Steinbock’s exploration of the distinctiveness of the modality of the absolute ought in Husserl. To make his point, he first distinguished in Husserl the ought-modality in the practical, praxical , and personal spheres. He then addressed in detail the absolute (personal) ought as the manner in which the absolute value of the person is revealed and the modality peculiar to vocation, and he examined the call as loving. The absolute ought, he explained, is a revelatory givenness that is not a ‘must,’ a ‘shall,’ or a wish. It is also a dimension of freedom and is the insistence of the call to love, which constitutes me as a person in a loving community. Furthermore, it is given temporally as urgency and as ‘for always’ from the perspective of our finite existence. Steinbock concluded by suggesting five ways in which the experience of the absolute ought is susceptible to modalization. While only hinted at by Husserl, these moralizations could be organized in such a way as to provide further insight into Husserl’s notion of the absolute ought.
H.A. Nethery IV, Assistant Professor, Florida Southern College
“Yancy, Husserl, and Racism at the Level of Passive Synthesis”
Professor Nethery’s talk, the first of the afternoon session, examined the influence of Husserlian phenomenology on the work of George Yancy. Yancy argues that the field of experience for white folks is always already racialized, and mobilized through what he calls the white gaze. Yancy often recognizes that his work is phenomenological, and, as such, Nethery suggested that it would be useful to highlight the ways in which Husserlian phenomenology influences his work. Specifically, he argued that Husserl’s theories of internal time consciousness and passive synthesis are implicit within Yancy’s concept of the white gaze. He did not argue that Yancy’s work can be reduced to Husserl’s but rather showed the importance of Husserlian phenomenology within critical race theory and the fight against anti-black racism. He began with a brief analysis of the white gaze and the racialized field of perception for white folks using Yancy’s now famous elevator example. He then turned to the structures of internal time consciousness and passive synthesis and showed how the black body is constituted within white experience as delinquent through these structures. He concluded with a reading of the elevator example through the work done in the previous section of his talk in order to “fill out,” as it were, Yancy’s own initial descriptions.
Lanei Rodemeyer, Associate Professor, Duquesne University
“Affectivity and Perceiving Other Subjects: A Phenomenological Analysis of the Essential Role of Affectivity in Basic Empathy”
In her presentation, Professor Rodemeyer argued that while contemporary discussions of empathy often address our ability to experience the emotions of others, for Husserl (and certain other phenomenologists), an important aspect of the question of empathy entails our fundamental experience of other subjects as other consciousnesses. The notion of ‘affectivity’ is understood as an important component of perception at the level of passive synthesis by Husserl, she explained, but it can also be seen as an essential component of empathy. Although empathy is not the same activity of consciousness as perception, they overlap each other in important ways, especially through the structures of apperception and association. Given these connections, as well as Husserl’s discussions of affectivity, awakening, and animation or governance in many of his analyses of empathy, she maintained that affectivity is arguably an essential component of our basic experience of empathy — even if the term is not mentioned in Husserl’s most famous analyses of intersubjectivity in Cartesian Meditations.
Ellie Anderson, Visiting Assistant Professor, Pitzer College
“Irreducible Otherness: Ethical Implications of Intersubjectivity in Husserl, Derrida, and Stein”
Professor Anderson’s talk explored Derrida’s defense of Husserl contra Levinas on the question of the relation to the other. She argued that this defense indicates a preservation of the first-person perspective in deconstruction that has largely gone unnoticed. Moreover, it suggests the ways that Husserl’s phenomenology of intersubjectivity in the Cartesian Meditations provides a basis for ethical concerns of preserving the otherness of other beings. After exploring Derrida’s affirmation of Husserl, she turned to the ethical implications for the distinction between self and other that Husserl upholds in his writings on intersubjectivity. Taking Husserl’s approach in tandem with Edith Stein’s phenomenology of empathy, she showed how it is crucial to both of these views that the distinction between self and other be preserved. From a phenomenological perspective, there is no direct experience of foreign consciousness. Moreover, the intersubjective relation is, for Husserl and Stein, fundamentally embodied and affective — a notion that obviates stale accusations that Husserl is not a philosopher of the body. As a result, Anderson claimed, both Stein’s and Husserl’s approaches to intersubjectivity remain highly relevant in light of contemporary inquiries into empathy, and Derrida’s affirmation of Husserl’s view suggests the relevance of analogical appresentation for contemporary poststructuralism and response ethics.
Donn Welton, Professor Emeritus, Stony Brook University
“The Actional Roots of Husserl’s Transcendental Theory of Perceptual Intentionality”
The final day of the Husserl in a New Generation conference began with the second keynote talk, given by Professor Emeritus Donn Welton of Stony Brook University. Welton’s presentation addressed two main issues essential to any unified theory of intentionality with transcendental ambitions. First, he asked whether Husserl’s “first” phenomenology of the structure of intentionality calls, from within itself, for a “second” on which it rests — one that nests the bodily movement essential to our experience of the world in our bodily actions in the world. Utilizing Husserl’s development of a genetic phenomenology and his account of intentionality, Welton argued that a deep transformation within Husserl’s theory of perception takes place with his “genetic” turn during the 1920s. Moving to the second issue, Welton asked whether there is a way in which the lived-body [Leib] can be transposed from a factual condition, introduced to account for shifts in point-of-view and the spatial configuration of objects, to a transcendental condition that characterizes the very being of intentional consciousness itself. In response, he outlined the expansion that takes place within the notion of the body once it is viewed as an agent of perceptual action, and not just a center of movement and orientation.
Gina Zavota, Associate Professor, Kent State University
“Escaping the Correlationist Circle: A Husserlian Approach to Meillassoux’s Ancestral Statements”
Professor Zavota began by noting that phenomenology is often characterized as a form of antirealist, idealist philosophy, with Husserl’s thought put forth as a particularly extreme example of these tendencies. In After Finitude, for example, Quentin Meillassoux identifies Husserl as an adherent of what he calls ‘correlationism,’ or the view that the world and the rational subject are mutually constitutive and cannot be known in isolation from each other. One significant problem with correlationism, according to Meillassoux, is that it offers no satisfactory way of interpreting ‘ancestral’ statements: those statements which refer to a time prior to the existence of humans and thus prior to any possible correlative relationship between being and thought. Zavota argued that Husserl does not fit Meillassoux’s definition of a correlationist, and that his thought is, at the very least, compatible with some forms of realism. Furthermore, by examining the Crisis and the unfinished text “Foundational Investigations of the Phenomenological Origin of the Spatiality of Nature: The Originary Ark, the Earth, Does Not Move,” Zavota showed that Husserlian phenomenology does, in fact, allow us to attribute meaning to ancestral statements and thus escapes what Meillassoux sees as a fatal flaw of correlationist philosophies.
Denis Džanić, University of Vienna (Austria)
“Husserl, Externalism, and Compensatory Individual Representationalism”
Denis Džanić, a graduate student from the University of Vienna, won the conference award for the best submission by a graduate student, and thus his presentation was included on the main program. After being presented with the award, Džanić gave his talk, in which he addressed the question of where Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology fits into the distinction between ‘internalism’ and ‘externalism.’ To do so, he used Tyler Burge’s critique of Husserl as presented in Origins of Objectivity. In that work, Burge reads Husserl against the backdrop of his notion of ‘Compensatory Individual Representationalism’, of which he takes Husserl to be a paradigmatic representative. Džanić stated that Burge’s analysis is emblematic of the strongly internalist reading of Husserl, which he maintained is principally uninformed and misguided. First, he argued that Husserl was not an individualist in Burge’s sense of the word, and hence not an internalist. More generally, he claimed that, while this in itself does not entail that Husserl was an externalist, his later phenomenology was founded on ontological and epistemological commitments fully compatible with a broad and systematic externalism.
Walter Hopp, Associate Professor, Boston University
“Metaphysical, Epistemic, and Transcendental Idealism”
The afternoon session of the third day began with Associate Professor Walter Hopp’s discussion of transcendental idealism and metaphysical realism. Hopp acknowledged that there are several textual and philosophical reasons to think that Husserl’s brand of transcendental idealism is incompatible with metaphysical realism about the natural world. However, he claimed, one major difficulty with this interpretation is that metaphysical anti-realism stands in tension with two other claims that enjoy significantly stronger phenomenological support. The first is that the natural world presents itself to us, in both thought and perception, as metaphysically real and largely independent, in both its existence and its nature, of our consciousness of it. Second, in accordance with Husserl’s “principle of all principles” (Ideas I, §24) this fact provides us with excellent and perhaps conclusive reasons to take the natural world to be metaphysically real. To solve this tension, Hopp suggested an interpretation of Husserl’s transcendental idealism that draws from several existing realist interpretations and that is consistent with metaphysical realism.
Chad Kidd, Assistant Professor, The City College of New York (CUNY)
“Re-examining Husserl’s Non-Conceptualism in the Logical Investigations”
In the final presentation of the conference, Assistant Professor Chad Kidd began by acknowledging the recent trend in Husserl scholarship that takes the Logical Investigations (LI) as advancing an inconsistent, self-contradictory view about content of perceptual experience. Within the confines of the same work, these commentators claim, Husserl advances both conceptualist and non-conceptualist views about perceptual content. In his talk Kidd argued that LI presents a consistent view of the content of perceptual experience, which can easily be misread as inconsistent, since it combines a conceptualist view of perceptual content (or matter) with a nonconceptualist view of perceptual acts. Furthermore, the charge of inconsistency rests on a misreading of the passages in LI (specifically, in LI VI §4) where these commentators locate the core argument for nonconceptualism about perceptual content. Kidd took Husserl to be advancing a distinction between two varieties of non-conceptualism about perception, brought to prominence in recent literature by Richard Heck’s writings about non-conceptual content. One of these varieties concerns the nature of perceptual content, the other the nature of the perceptual act. Kidd argued that after certain important changes to Heck’s formulation are made, it can serve as part of a characterization of Husserl’s view of the nature of perceptual experience that exonerates it of the charge of inconsistency.
The Husserl in a New Generation conference attracted over 100 participants and attendees from throughout the United States and Europe, and from several different academic disciplines. Many commented that the event provided a unique opportunity to learn about new directions in Husserl scholarship in a welcoming, engaged, and philosophically pluralistic environment. Attendees also spoke of the openness of the participants to discussion and the exchange of ideas, and of the spirit of true collegiality that characterized the meeting. As the organizers, we are deeply grateful to all who were involved with the Husserl in a New Generation conference, and for the opportunity to explore the landscape of contemporary Husserl scholarship.
For videos of all of the main program presentations, please visit https://www.kent.edu/philosophy/husserl.
Report by Gina Zavota and Deborah Barnbaum