The Transcendental in Question. Echoes of the symposium held at the University of Lorraine, Metz, November 16-18, 2016

Phenomenological Reviews

https://doi.org/10.19079/pr.2017.1.mee

Should we still be thinking transcendentally? In other words, is it possible to consider any object of contemporary research without being concerned about the conditions that make knowledge possible? Since this issue was at the center of our debates, this presentation will not be an itemized description of all the papers, but rather an attempt to summarize the major issues that arose at the conference.

Through the wide range of talks, we were able to notice just how impossible it has become to situate an objective approach to the subject implementing it. However, the chosen transcendental forms vary widely from one author to another. Yet, many of the authors who presented at this colloquium affirm the need to maintain a transcendental attitude that is not confined to the Kantian reading grid. A striking example of this comes from passages in Kantian formal theory and Husserlian material theory.

The epistemological dichotomy between understanding and sensibility can be abandoned without diverging from the transcendental habitus. This abandonment of the formal preconceptions may also redefine the empirical domain into a place of experimentation that constantly modifies the conditional framework that defines experience itself. Scientific research is a good illustration of this. It is even possible, according to the paper read by Jean Ladrière, that existence can be described in terms of transcendental factuality. Indeed, if meaning can emerge through what is occurring, we will be removed from a strictly Kantian framework.

However, even when we read Poincaré or Husserl, Schopenhauer or Deleuze, one point remains: the subject of the work—regardless of whether it accepts the notion of subject on a theoretical plane — freely explores multiple hypotheses or fictitious variations. This “as if”  game enables one either to identify its object more effectively, if it keeps a theoretical attitude, or to enter into its actions more effectively, if it takes on an existential attitude. The exploratory exercise, fruitful in mathematics, logic as well as ethics, requires a willingness to distance one’s self from the immediate facticity of the data.

Generally, thought refers to a given phenomenon only because it is always capable of embracing a wider field of possibilities. This field can then be classified between feasible and non-feasible possibilities, and among the feasible ones, between those that either are or are not ultimately realized. Hence the notion of a double transcendentality through which the very notion of reality is questioned. Indeed, for all authors, something comes forward and is revealed in one way or another. This does not have to be evidenced, because were it not, there would not only be nothing to say about it, and no one to discuss it. It is from that point onward, some identify external phenomena—those that can be touched and manipulated—to reality, and others, conversely, reject this identification.

For some authors, the real, unlike the possible, is “effective” and this “effectivity” is centered in front of the subject seeking it. Among these, some purport that this “effective reality”, present before me, contains in itself numerous possibilities which are only waiting to be activated. Now, though the human mind is a space to gain awareness into the matter, and not bring a newness that things would not hold in themselves. This attitude is already transcendental insofar as the subject already contemplates the real as that which can arise by other means than how it has arisen there. Therefore, it considers its conditions of possibility, hence, the realist Etienne Gilson’s exposé as to the inability for anyone to any longer speak of the real other than in a transcendental way. For other authors, regarding the reserve of possibilities already given, identifying the objective that is effective with reality is by no means self-evident.

Since the life of consciousness has been revealed as more effective than any objectification, what the former calls real could conceivably become relativized by the mind beholding it. Put another way, it is possible, in this case, that this so-called real is only a division made by the subject, or that this relation subject-object is somehow abolished in favor of structures that should be deciphered. Here, too, the act of deciphering emanates from an “active I” (ego) which considers all structures on the basis of structural variants. In short, from one attitude to its opposite, one does not come out of the transcendental.

If we were to conclude with one word summarizing the contribution of this conference, we could say that it has brought to light a “broadened transcendentality”. This transcendentality was present in the philosophies which we studied, regardless of their orientation concerning the notion of reality. We certainly do not think we have exhausted the subject.

Yves Meessen (translation by Aaron Taylor). Co-organizer of the symposium with Anthony Feneuil and Christophe Bouriau