Matthew Burch, Jack Marsh, Irene McMullin (Eds.): Normativity, Meaning, and the Promise of Phenomenology

Normativity, Meaning, and the Promise of Phenomenology Book Cover Normativity, Meaning, and the Promise of Phenomenology
Routledge Research in Phenomenology
Matthew Burch, Jack Marsh, Irene McMullin (Eds.)
Routledge
2019
Hardback £120.00
358

Reviewed by: Steven DeLay (Old Member, Christ Church, University of Oxford)

On one common telling of the history, phenomenology originates as a philosophical movement incubated in professional jealousy, personal rivalry, and intrigue. If someone as Emmanuel Falque has called the recent work among phenomenologists in France a “loving struggle,” the same cannot be said for phenomenology’s earliest beginnings in Germany. Surrounded initially by a burgeoning cadre of students whom he hoped would be heirs to a research program united in its philosophical vision, Edmund Husserl, father of transcendental phenomenology, instead found his aspirations increasingly disappointed as the years passed. As he was to remark in a note towards the end of his career, the general sentiment of his time, one against which he never ceased to struggle, took a dismissively dim view of the systemiticity he so favored: “Philosophy as science, as serious, rigorous, indeed apodictically rigorous science—the dream is over” (Husserl 1970, 389). At the end of his life, he stood alone in his unflagging zeal for the cause of philosophy as science. One after another, Husserl’s former disciples with rare exception had deserted that vision of phenomenology and its future. Among the most notable of those to go their own way rather than following Husserl’s was Heidegger of course, who, beginning with 1927’s publication of Being and Time, broke publically with his mentor’s view of philosophy as a rigorous science, abandoning phenomenology as a science of trancendental consciousness for fundamental ontology’s Seinsfrage.

Expansive and sometimes rather convoluted, the details of this acriminous yet vibrant phenomenological milieu’s institutional reception (first across Europe then on to the Anglophone world and beyond) is far too complex to summarize here fully. Entire books have been written on such matters. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that there has for many decades existed a tendency on the part of commentators to reinforce the feud between Husserl and Heidegger. Rather than looking for any deep common ground between their philosophies, focus instead has been payed to highlighting the differences thought to separate them. This is particularly true in the North American context. For instance, when Hubert Dreyfus upon developing his criticisms of Artificial Intelligence at MIT brought Heidegger’s philosophy to students at Berkeley (William Blattner, Taylor Carman, John Haugeland, Sean Kelly, Iain Thomson, and Mark Wrathall among them), his presentation of phenomenology, which became a commonplace in many publishing circles, relegated Husserl to a piñata for Heidegger. From the 1970s on, Dreyfus’s reading dominated considerable portions of the Anglophone phenomenology world as orthodoxy. The picture it presented was tidy. Husserl was the antiquated cartesian who had underestimated the importance of matters like embodiment and intersubjectivity, while Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, representatives of a so-called “existential phenomenology,” were pioneers whose innovative emphasis on being-in-the-world freed phenomenology from the history of philosophy’s misleading assumptions. In the rush to accentuate what it believed makes Heidegger’s philosophy captivating, Husserl unfairly became something of a footnote to the story, a sort of hors d’oeuvre before the main philosophical dish.

A notable exception to this trend is Dan Zahavi, whose work has done bright things to vindicate the continued importance of Husserl’s legacy. But perhaps the one who above all is responsible for snatching Husserl from the jaws of misunderstanding is Steven G. Crowell, who, in books as Husserl, Heidegger, and the Space of Meaning: Paths towards Transcendental Phenomenology (Northwestern: 2001) and Normativity and Phenomenology in Husserl and Heidegger (Cambridge: 2013) as well as in numerous essays has developed an iconoclastic and sophisticated account of the relation between Husserl and Heidegger. Crowell’s position is one which maintains, against Dreyfus and much of the received wisdom in Anglophone Heidegger studies, that in fact Husserl and Heidegger are collaborators in the shared undertaking of what Crowell himself characterizes as transcendental phenomenology’s distinctive project: namely, its preoccupation with the normative structure of intentional meaning (Sinn). Thus, at stake in the collection of essays contained in Normativity, Meaning, and the Promise of Phenomenology is the very status of phenomenological philosophy as Crowell proposes it be understood, as a transcendental “clarification of meaning” (Crowell, 336). Naturally, continual reference throughout is made to the interface between Husserl and Heidegger, but not, note well, for the purposes of mere exegesis, but instead as a wellspring of inspiration for a philosophical legacy whose unique approach to phenomenology is animating the continued work of thinkers carrying on its tradition. Many of the essays are accordingly not the typical kind of banal laudatory pieces one is accustomed to finding in a Festschrift. For, in paying homage to Crowell’s vision of transcendental phenomenology, they aim to return to the “things themselves,” precisely as Crowell himself has for many years urged others to do. In short, this is an excellent volume whose aim is not so much to read Husserl and Heidegger, but to think with, and, where necessary, against them.

This transcendental approach—or, a “critique of meaning”—is exemplified in Crowell’s own contribution to the volume. In an “Afterword” that closes the discussion by answering the essays preceding it, Crowell begins his response by noting how the grand language Husserl himself frequently employed when trying to convey the discovery of transcendental phenomenology’s significance may lead to some puzzlement. As Crowell recognizes, Husserl’s personal enthusiasm at first could seem a touch overstated.

With his turn to transcendental phenomenology, Husserl increasingly spoke of his work in the most exalted terms. He was Moses taking the first tentative steps toward the “promised land” whose riches he would not exhaust had he the years allotted Methuselah (Husserl 1989, 429); he was the explorer of “the trackless wilderness of a new continent” (1989, 422) where “no meaningful question” is left “unanswered” (Husserl 1970a, 168); he was Saul on the way to Damascus, the discovery of phenomenology affecting him like a “religious conversion” (Husserl 1970a, 137); he was the redeemer of “the secret yearning of all modern philosophy” (Husserl 1983, 142). What could motivate such language? (Crowell, 329).

According to Crowell, Husserl’s exuberance becomes understandable when the latter’s fundamental philosophical insight is appreciated properly. Husserl’s phenomenological breakthrough, says Crowell, lies not so much in the thesis that “intentionality is the mark of the mental” (as Franz Brentano had noted already), but rather in its distinctive concern with (to borrow the Heideggerian phrase) a kind of “ontological difference”: philosophy is seen to thematize not entities, but meaning. Further, the focus is not just on meaning but specifically the fact that such meaning is normative: “Phenomenology’s promise land, meaning, has a normative structure” (Crowell, 330). Hence, for Crowell, modern philosophy’s transcendental turn (as represented by Husserlian phenomenology) is at once a “normative turn” (MacAvoy, 29). It is in this context that the phenomenological reduction should be understood.

“[T]his method,” says Crowell, “requires askesis, suspending worldly commitments. I ‘put out of action the general positing which belongs to the essence of the natural attitude’ and ‘make no use’ of any science that depends on it (Husserl 1983, 61) so as to thematize the inconspicuous phenomenon of meaning, where the world and everything in it is available to us as it in truth is. This askesis characterizes all phenomenological philosophy” (Crowell, 329).

With this “reduction” to meaning, a new field of inquiry opens, one Husserl in works like Cartesian Meditations characterizes as “an infinite realm of being of a new kind, as the sphere of a new kind of experience: transcendental experience” (Husserl 1973, 66). And as Crowell contends, it is this reduction to meaning that unifies those thinkers belonging to the tradition of transcendental phenomenology. Moreover, it is the normative approach’s distinctive clarification of meaning that holds out the promise for re-establishing today the kind of research program Husserl had sought for his own. An approach calling for collaborative effort, not only does it promote the open exchange of ideas through critical argument, it does so while always remaining oriented by a methodological commitment to phenomenological Evidenz, the distinctive warrant of what shows itself intuitively in first-person self-givenness.

Husserl insists that phenomenology is not a “system” deriving from the head of a single “genius” (Husserl 1965, 75), but a communal practice, a “research program” in the loose sense that analytic philosophy might be considered one. What unites this program—including Heidegger, Sartre, Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, and even Derrida—is a “reduction” from our ordinary concern with entities, beings, the “world,” to the meaning at issue in such concern. Of course, these and other practitioners interrogate both the reduction and the meaning it brings into view, and so we who take up the promise of phenomenology must assess, by our own lights, the legitimacy of such “heresies,” revisions, and revolutions. And while criticism of arguments is always in place, assessing the legitimacy of phenomenological claims finally requires Evidenz, what one can warrant for oneself in the intuitive self-givenness of the “things themselves.” As a kind of empiricism, phenomenology embraces the responsibility of first-person experience (Crowell, 330-31).

However, if transcendental phenomenology’s concern is meaning, and such meaning in turn concerns the normative, what is a norm? As Crowell recounts, a form of that question has long vexed philosophy’s effort to comprehend the realm of “ideality”: it led Plato to his theory of Forms, just as it later motivated nineteenth-century thinkers including Emil Lask and Hermann Lotze to their respective accounts of Geltung (validity), of a “third realm” where the “categories” in question do not exist, but rather “hold” or “obtain.” Accordingly, the basic question concering the ontological status of the ideal (or normative) serves as the volume’s point of departure with Sara Heinämaa’s essay, “Constitutive, Prescriptive, Technical or Ideal? On the Ambiguity of the Term ‘Norm.” In contemporary phenomenology, as Heinämaa says, “the terms ‘norm’ and ‘normative’ are used in several contexts. One dominant argument is that the structure of intentionality is teleological and as such normative” (Heinämaa, 9). Using the examples of being a teacher or a soldier, Heinämaa highlights a difference between two norms. Following a distinction originating in Max Scheler, she notes how there is Tunsollen (“normative ought”), which “implies the concept of rule-following” (Heinämaa, 20) exhibited in customs or social habits. On the other hand, there is Seinsollen (“ideal ought”), a kind of “ideal principle” supplying a constitutive norm involving a “striving for something” (Ibid.) Ideal principles, as Heinämaa observes, “have a constitutive and enabling character: they are not motivational causes for our actions but are conditions that define ways of being” (Ibid.). Crowell further underscores this distinction when, in his reply, he observes that the ideal principles Heinämaa mentions are equivalent to what he means by the term “practical identity” or what Heidegger called a “for-the-sake-of-which” or “ability-to-be” (Seinkönnen); the norm at issue involves a way of understanding oneself, a standard of success or failure exemplified in a felt sensitivity to what is best (or good) given what one is trying to be. Whether we consider being a teacher or a solider, the general point, says Crowell, is that “knowing is something we do in a way possible only for a being who can be guided by a Seinsollen or ideal norm, a ‘minded’ being” (Crowell, 334). Drawing a point that later will become important in the context of Crowell’s understanding of transcendental phenomenology’s relation to metaphysics, he states how, as our knowledge of such ideals is always existential, so it therefore is unsettled and fundamentally unspecifiable. That is just what it means for them to be at issue or at stake in Heidegger’s sense: “Because the ideal that guides what I am trying to be cannot be grounded in truth (fulfillment through Evidenz), it cannot be the topic of a purely theoretical discipline” (Crowell, 333). In doing whatever it is in terms of what one in turn is striving to be, the very ideal of the practical identity itself is at stake, insofar as one’s doing what one does is to work out its meaning, of what it means to live up to it (or not). This is what makes the ideal a measure, and, in the relevant sense, accordingly normative.

Leslie MacAvoy’s essay “The Space of Meaning, Phenomenology, and the Normative Turn,” further clarifies Crowell’s position regarding the normative before going on to criticize the claim that such normativity is imperative to the constitution of meaning. Explaining how the normative turn situates the topic of meaning and validity in relation to the practical norms “for what one ought to do or be” (MacAvoy, 29), she recounts how such an approach thereby characterizes the space of meaning’s purported normativity “in terms of the experience of obligation or binding force” (Ibid.). This normative claim said to underpin meaning, as Crowell has explained elsewhere, amounts to the existential or ontological commitment explaining intentionality and reason: in acting as I do, I always already am implicitly responsible for taking over those “factic grounds” as my reasons. According to MacAvoy, however, phenomenology’s concern with meaning does not entail that such normativity truly plays the role in the formation of meaning that Crowell has argued it does: “While there is a normativity to meaning, it does not consist in the understanding of normativity that has to do with a binding force or claim” (Ibid.). In effect, MacAvoy claims that the phenomenological thesis about the logical, categorial “space of meaning” does not extend to the domain of normativity, as Crowell understands that domain. The binding force of the “ought” does not “capture the normativity of meaning” (MacAvoy, 33). In summarizing the three aspects of Crowell’s characterization of the normative,[1] MacAvoy notes how, for the former, “the norms for whether something can be something are established relative to the norms for doing something” (MacAvoy, 35). By now this will sound familiar. For as Heinämaa had made clear earlier, the very skills and practices in terms of which a thing shows up as what it is are themselves grounded in a practical identity (an “ideal principle”) itself said to be assessible in terms of success or failure. Hence, as MacAvoy says, on the view Crowell defends and which Heinämaa summarizes, the space of meaning bottoms out “in a norm for being a certain type of agent” (Ibid.). This raises the question of the practical identity’s validity, of how such an ideal can be binding, that is to say, of how it can exert a “normative force.” Her main objection is that Crowell’s answer to that question reintroduces the specter of psychologism. Just as psychologism in logic distorts the validity of logic’s content, so interpreting the space of meaning as normative does too, she says. In summarizing MacAvoy’s objection to his position, Crowell writes, “If the normative turn means that phenomenology is a normative discipline, it cannot be fundamental since, on Husserl’s view, all normative disciplines presuppose a theoretical discipline that rationally grounds their prescriptions” (Crowell, 331). If transcendental phenomenology is to be a rigorous science as Husserl envisioned, this appears to entail that it cannot take the normative turn Crowell implies it should, since if it did, so the argument continues, to do so would be to undermine phenomenology’s very claim to theoretical fundamentality to which Husserl took it to be entitled. Before unpacking Crowell’s answer to this concern, it is necessary to further explicate the charge.

To do so, we turn to the question of logic. For if MacAvoy is skeptical as to whether meaning’s categorality is best understood in terms of the bindingness characterizing the existential commitment of practical identity, Walter Hopp’s later essay “Normativity and Knowledge” likewise questions whether the theoretic domain of ideal truth and its connection to knowledge can be understood normatively.[2] Husserl’s phenomenological approach certainly agrees with neo-Kantianism that logical laws cannot be understood empirically, as if they are mere descriptions of how our minds happen to think. The laws of logic are necessary, and hence they are irreducible to descriptive generalizations. And yet at the same time, as Hopp says, for Husserl the laws of logic are not primarily prescriptive judgments regarding how we ought to think, but instead objective in their ideal content and therefore theoretical. Owing to their objective validity, logical laws do have regulative implications for how we ought to think. But that is not their essence. Validity is not the same as normativity.

These disputes concerning the connection between normativity and meaning implicate a more general one that will recur throughout the volume: namely, concern over the relation between transcendental phenomenology and metaphysics. Taking up this metaphilosophical question in “Mind, Meaning, and Metaphysics: Another Look,” Dan Zahavi asks, “Did [Husserl’s] turn to transcendental philosophy, did his endorsement of transcendental idealism, entail some kind of metaphysical commitment, as was certainly believed by his realist adversaries, or did Husserl’s employment of the epoché and phenomenological reduction on the contrary entail a suspension of metaphysical commitments?” (Zahavi, 47).  In Zahavi’s estimation, Husserl’s transcendental turn does not entail the mode of metaphysical neutrality that Crowell contends. As Zahavi concedes, this admittedly is not the dominant view:

“Many interpreters have taken Husserl’s methodology, his employment of the epoché and the reduction, to involve an abstention of positings, a bracketing of questions related to existence and being, and have for that very reason also denied that phenomenology has metaphysical implications” (Zahavi, 51).

Call this widespread reading the “quietist” one. Popular though it is, Zahavi claims that it cannot be correct. Were it true, he suggests, we would be unable to explain why, for instance, Husserl rejected the Kantian Ding an sich and phenomenalism, and why he would obviously have rejected contemporary eliminativism about experience. Even more basically, Zahavi finds the quietist interpretation of Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology as “[running] counter to Husserl’s ambitions” (Zahavi, 50): transcendental phenomenology, says Husserl, as Zahavi notes, is such that there is “no conceivable problem of being at all, that could not be arrived at by transcendental phenomenology at some point along its way” (Ibid.). If transcendental phenomenology’s reduction to meaning involves the kind of radical askesis Crowell maintains, how could Husserl have seen it as being equal to the task of answering every philosophical question we might have? In support of his thesis, Zahavi produces a striking passage from the Cartesian Meditations: “Finally, lest any misunderstanding arise, I would point out that, as already stated, phenomenology indeed excludes every naïve metaphysics that operates with absurd things in themselves, but does not exclude metaphysics as such” (Ibid.) Now as Zahavi acknowledges, passages as these are decisive only to the extent that we clarify the term “metaphysics,” which notoriously is ambiguous. He proposes at least three senses it can mean in Husserl: first, a theoretical investigation of fundamental reality (Zahavi, 51); second, philosophical engagement with questions as “facticity, birth, death, fate, immortality, and the existence of God” (Zahavi, 52); third, reflection on the status of “being and reality” (Ibid.). But here, the crucial caveat Crowell rightly mentions in reply must be noted: although Husserl claims that so-called metaphysical questions retain their sense, that is so only “insofar as they have possible sense in the first place” (Zahavi, 51). Accordingly, then, the task becomes one of determining the limits of sense, of what is open to phenomenological Evidenz, and what is not.

If Crowell on one front must defend his conception of radical askesis from the charge that it neglects the metaphysical implications of phenomenology, he must also on the other face challenges from a series of articles by Mark Okrent, Glenda Satne and Bernado Ainbinder, and Joseph Rouse, which, taken together, aim to undermine the transcendental thesis that meaning and normativity are irreducible to nature. As for Okrent, he levels two objections, the first of which, amounting to a reformulated version of the infamous “decisionist objection” to Heidegger’s conception of Angst, Crowell dispatches quickly. As for the second, it contends that there is no way of truly understanding the human mode of being-oneself as a normative achievement whose form is different from “our animal cousins” (Okrent, 173). But as Crowell responds, even if one grants that animals do in some relevant sense act in accord with norms, they do not act in light of them—not only do they lack language so as to be answerable to others for their actions as we are for ours, they also are unable to measure themselves in a non-representational way that is responsive to an intelligible sense of what is best. Even in the simplest forms of perception, the domain of sens sauvage Charles Siewert calls “recognitional appearance,” there is an element of normativity at work marking the experience as distinctively human. In seeing as we do, experience as Siewert notes is “as much in the service of imagination as of judgment, and integral to the activity of looking, which is subject to norms of its own” (Siewert, 290). That this distinctively human richness to experience is lacking in other creatures is evident in that, just as they do not dwell in a “world” wherein things are inflected by the claim of a “good beyond being” (a claim concerning how things ought to be), so they only inhabit an “environment,” a surrounding in which beings are what they are, and nothing more. Satne’s and Ainbinder’s proposal—to “put agents back into nature”—which in turn aims to rehabilitate a “relaxed naturalism,” accordingly takes issue with this conclusion. Contrary to Crowell’s transcendental approach, the aim is to ground normativity in the contingent features of life “shared with other animals.” Joseph Rouse’s essay which contends for a “radical naturalism” joins the cause, seeking to explain our normative capacities in terms of our biology. In defending what he sees as a methodological gap between transcendental phenomenology and empirical science, Crowell reverts to a powerful strategy: according to him, these kinds of attempts to naturalize meaning and normativity require a construction—in this case, “life” —that “transcends the kind of Evidenz to which transcendental phenomenology is committed” (Crowell, 347). Further, because such accounts make use of empirical beings, they are “ontic” and therefore metaphysical in precisely the sense Crowell’s notion of reductive askesis forbids.

Presuming Crowell is correct that transcendental phenomenology establishes why nature cannot explain normativity and thereby fails to ground meaning, what then is the source of normativity? In reply, here one might to choose follow Husserl’s path as John Drummond does, maintaining that intentionality as such (and hence normativity along with it) is governed by a rational telos. As he says, “Husserl believed that in all three rational domains—the theoretical, the axiological, and the practical—the aim of experiential life is the same: to live a life of intuitive evidence, to live the life of a truthful, rational agent” (Drummond, 110). Just as intentionality is structured by the norm of intuitive fulfilment, so we are beings whose form of life involves a kind of rational self-responsibility that remains inexplicable on naturalistic terms. Drummond’s essay concludes by stressing what he takes to be a great merit of his account’s view of self-responsible convictions, namely its easy ability to also account for moral—or ethical—normativity. The issue of practical normativity with which Drummond’s contribution ends is taken up through the lens of Levinas’s relation to Kant in the volume’s next essay, Inga Römer’s “The Sources of Practical Normativity Reconsidered—With Kant and Levinas.” Contrary to what a reading limited only to Levinas’s early thinking may suggest, Levinas finds Kant’s philosophy of practical reason congenial to his own mission of exploring the ethical implications of a good beyond being. As Römer comments, Kant’s notion of disinclination can be seen as a relative to what Levinas himself characterizes as the an-archic and rational desire for the infinite. To see the two’s similarities, however, is not to deny their important differences. Römer lists three, the most significant perhaps of which is that, while it is not entirely misleading to name Levinas’s thinking “a philosophy of heteronomy,” there is a sense in which the self becomes truly autonomous due to “the signifying call of the Other” (Römer, 123). After further unpacking the Kantian position through an analysis of Christine Korsgaard’s notion of practical normativity, Römer then recounts Crowell’s Heideggerian criticism of it, finally to formulate an objection against Crowell’s view of reason-giving as constitutive of the second-personal ethical stance. The concern is that a trace of egoism still remains: “Even if I am required to give an account of my reasons to others, does such an account not tend toward a certain ethical self-conceit? If I am the ultimate source of measure, even if I need to defend this measure with respect to others in order to not contradict myself by taking my reasons to be private ones, does this view not place the self at the center of ethics?” (Römer, 131). Concern that the Heideggerian approach to practical normativity cannot eliminate all residue of self-conceit is well-founded. But while Römer takes Levinas’s own approach to avoid such a pitfall, one may wonder whether it does. When she remarks, for example, that in Levinas’s view there is “no God beyond ethical significance that would be the source of ethical normativity” (Römer, 126), does not the threat of self-conceit arise once again? Even if the asymmetry said to define one’s encounter with the other suffices to annihilate a kind of egoism, does it purge the least trace of it? For the total annihilation of self-love Levinas claims to be seeking, one might argue that only an encounter before God is truly sufficient.

Returning to the question of meaning’s source left hanging in the debate between Drummond and Crowell, Irene McMullin for her own part leans towards a view closer to the latter’s own, preferring a Heideggerian approach in which both meaning and the normative are said to be ungrounded—ultimately, says McMullin, there is no forthcoming answer as to how we find ourselves immersed in a meaningful world. We simply do, and that we find ourselves so situated is a reason for gratitude. Thus, as she says, although “resolute Dasein” experiences the “dizzying, disorienting sense of panicked terror” (McMullin, 149) accompanying the felt realization of meaning’s groundlessness, that realization is followed by another, the “incredible sense of relief and gratitude”(Ibid.) that there is any meaning at all, however ungrounded and contingent it is. This gratitude in turn resolves us to “love better, to strive more fully, to treat the goods in our lives more tenderly” (McMullin, 150). If McMullin’s analysis of the role of receptivity in resoluteness is a welcome corrective to the tendency to see authenticity in overly heroic or active terms, Joseph K. Schear’s essay, “Moods as Active,” does well to correct for an error arising from the opposing tendency of viewing moods as purely passive. Not only are moods an expression of agency, says Schear, they are structured normatively insofar as they are responsive to intelligible interrogation (by others and ourselves). As he notes, it is far from committing a category mistake for someone to ask of us why we are feeling as we are. Interrogating a mood is fair game. While we cannot choose our moods as we choose to make up our minds about what to believe, neither are moods always experiences in which we are just passive. Against a consensus that sees moods as “closer to sensations than judgments” (Schear, 220), he notes that moods do not arrive like “a hurricane, or the fog” (Ibid.). They are episodes in which we may intervene. A mood is an item we can manage, whether by trying to escape it through replacing it with another one, distracting ourselves from it, or by conspiring with it so as to feed and prolong it. However, ultimately the kind of agency interesting Schear is not the preceding kind of “agency over our moods” (Schear, 221), but the expression of agency in it. This second sense of agency is present in moods, he argues, precisely to the extent that we are able to answer intelligibly to the mood-question: “Why are you anxious?” or “Why are you joyful?” Such answerability, so he concludes, is due to being in a mood’s involving one’s living it out as a “responsive orientation to one’s situation.” In a contribution complementing Schear’s well, Matthew Burch in “Against our Better Judgment” explores the phenomenon of akrasia. There is much to be said for this very rich and thoughtful selection, but perhaps most noteworthy is its phenomenological clarification of the notion of “interest,” a middle category between brute desire and explicit judgment or commitment. Interests, hence, are meaningful affections, “things we care about” and things “in which we have a stake” (Burch, 233). Though Burch goes on to develop the notion of interest into a wider account of how a Heideggerian conception of authenticity answers to how norms bind us, with an eye toward concluding the review, here I should like to take Burch’s discussion in a slightly different direction: what is our interest in doing phenomenology? What exactly calls us to it, and what guides and sustains its commitment?

To answer these questions is to return to Crowell’s understanding of phenomenological philosophy’s role in the task of clarifying meaning—here, specifically the task becomes making sense of the very one who philosophizes in the way its normative turn proscribes. As has become clear in assessing Crowell’s response to his critics, the notion of askesis is the cornerstone to his approach. According to him, the reduction to meaning entails that transcendental phenomenology neither demands (Heidegger) nor entails (Husserl) a metaphysics to complete itself. Thus, his own position parts ways with both Husserl and Heidegger. As he observes in his concluding essay, as the question of transcendental phenomenology’s relation to metaphysics “constitutes the horizon of transcendental phenomenology, so I will conclude by considering it under three closely related headings: naturalism, metaphysics, and theology” (Crowell, 345).

Taking the measure of things (we ourselves above all not excepted) in its distinctive fashion, Crowell’s notion of transcendental phenomenology is a philosophy of enigma. What can be intuited in the light of Evidenz is clear and distinct, while anything beyond is consigned to antinomy. The situation accordingly comes to one of deciding how to understand where transcendental phenomenology draws the limits of intuitable meaning. Where precisely does the threshold lie? And what about the meaning, if any, lying beyond the threshold separating what is given in genuine first-person evidence from what is not? Is such meaning to be set to the side, or must not it somehow be integrated into the existence of the one who encounters it? If it must be integrated, how is that task of existential incorporation to be coordinated in terms of the norm of reductive askesis which, qua phenomenologist, entails bracketing such meaning? There looms, so it would seem, a fissure in the being of the one thinking phenomenologically. To begin with, as just noted, there is the difficulty of deciding what does (and thus does not) lie within the bounds of intelligibility. To decide with Crowell that we ought to refrain from taking a phenomenological stand on anything beyond the intuitable is a mark of intellecutal humility, to be sure. Nobody should deny that it is advisable to suspend judgment when things are sufficiently ambiguous. Yet such a suggestion remains formalistic; it cannot resolve how we are to apply it. How, then, are we to determine when not making a commitment in the face of the meaning at issue is truly the humble and rationally reponsible thing to do? To be confident in a given situation that we are doing what humility dictates implies that we are entitled in judging that what before us seems less than self-evident is in fact as obscure as it appears. How, however, are we to know that we are correct, that we are justified in that stance?

It is not an uncommon experience in life to come to learn that something we initially thought was unclear actually was not; the unclarity resided in our vision and not the thing. It is was not that the thing was veiled, just that we were failing to see. Hence, while it is good to be duly skeptical of claims that make genuiniely ungrounded claims of metaphysical speculative excess (“Everything is illusion, for we are in a quantum simulation!”), we should be mindful that determining when that is so can itself be fraught; something could in principle be grounded in evidence even if, or when, it does not yet seem so to us. Anyone who is honest will admit that there are reasons for thinking that the judgments we reach based on what we believe is humility can turn out instead to have been motivated by a subtle pride or stubborness. It is important to note, for instance, that this strand of epistemic humility is for all its virtues only partial; it essentially is an intellectual askesis. Or more exactly, insofar as it is it supposed to be an effort of epistemic self-discipline, it begins to undermine its own spirit of modesty the moment it slips into more than that by coming to resemble more so a general posture toward the whole of existence. When that happens, one important norm governing our trafficking in meaning is elevated to something instead approaching an absolute. And it is not difficult to see how, in doing so, it can propel the one who treats it in that way along his own path of error and blindness. This becomes more apparent when we consider another of humility’s aspects: namely, humility’s willingness to yield to things by accepting something for what it is, thereby submitting to the disclosed. Crowell’s reductive askesis, along with its norm of epistemic humility, arguably threatens to imperil an authentic encounter with meaning so interesting it if absolutized to trump all else. A commitment to the norm of truth-seeking, for example, may at times require passing beyond what presently appears to be grounded in evidence. Life presents us with these situations constantly. We resolve the indeterminateness by commiting to a course of judgment or action despite the ambiguity. Just as the meaning of some situations becomes clear only in retrospect years later or in an unanticipated flash of insight, so some truths become evident after a period in which they had not been. To refuse to commit to taking a stand on something that remains less than intuitively clear means what might have crystalized never will. If, then, humility is not synthesized with other considerations (including trust, hope, patience, wisdom, or courage), it threatens to constrict rather than expand meaning.

Insofar as the reductive askesis of Crowell’s position ends with enigma, it has been my suggestion that such enigma potentially implicates more than what that methodological stance admits. Meaning by its nature implicates our having to take a stand on what lies on the margins of intentionality, what at any moment makes itself felt as an unspecifiable more. To ignore this surplus of sense in the name of a humility that does not take a stand on what it sees as undecidable is to neglect precisely what puts our existence at stake and at risk in the first place. The respective imperatives of the transcendental (epistemic askesis) and the ontological (existential commitment) appear to be tugging in opposite directions. As a philosophy of meaning, transcendental philosophy can attempt to delimit the things whose meaning we are said to be justified in taking a stand on philosophically. In refusing to take a stand on what it considers the metaphysical, however, this gesture of refusal only implicates the omnipresence of that something more—that excess—with which we all must grapple existentially. Thus, while we may have reached the limits of what a certain mode of intuitive thought can decrypt, it does not follow that it has thereby established the bounds of the meaningful as such. Could not more remain to be given?

Here a detail concerning the earlier debate between Zahavi and Crowell over transcendental phenomenology’s relation to metaphysics will be recalled. Zahavi mentions that, taken in its second sense, metaphysics for Husserl deals with matters of birth, death, fate, immortality, and the existence of God. Do these metaphysical questions have a possible sense? What is their relation to transcendental phenomenology, as Crowell understands it? For his own part, Crowell states that while a “phenomenology of faith” is possible, it does not disrupt any of the essential metholodological commitments of transcendental phenomenology. For Crowell, that means rejecting a traditional commonplace according to which revelation is said to complete what reason cannot. Whatever room it leaves for faith, it must not interfere with the autonomy of a presuppositionless phenomenological reason.

This expulsion of faith from the project of transcendental phenomenology is, in a way, simply a specific application of the general reduction from entities to meaning. As Crowell says, “Transcendental phenomenology is not concerned with entities at all” (Crowell, 337). But if transcendental phenomenology is not concerned with entities, what about the entities that we ourselves are? How does the normative turn handle la question du sujet? Because such an approach seemingly comes up lacking, it calls for another inquiry to accomplish what it cannot. Transcendental phenomenology, after all, can trace the general contours of existence, telling us that we should live a self-responsible existence in light of the rational norm of evidence. It can clarify what it most generally means to be in the space of meaning. But it cannot decide where the limits between sense and nonsense lie in a given case, nor what precisely living up to the norm of evidence entails in any or every particular instance. We can reflect on the general normative structures of existence and how those structures make an encounter with entities possible, yet ultimately life still must be lived. For Crowell, perhaps much of what we take at a first-order level to be meaningful is not. Or at least the meaning in question falls short of Evidenz, in the transcendental sense. The things we take ourselves to know, on closer inspection, really are a matter of antinomy. This would be true for the theological, for in giving a name to what it takes to have addressed it, it does so without sufficient evidence. As Martin Kavka says in characterizing banal theologizing, “This argument entails the claim that the problem with any and all theologization of phenomenology is that theology determines” (Kavka, 92). Or as Crowell puts it, by trying to give a name to the anonymous claim that has addressed it, such a response crosses into antinomy.

Antinomy is also the figure which best describes the third horizon of transcendental phenomenology, the “theological turn,” in which phenomenology abandons reductive askesis to posit a prior condition of correlation, variously called “event,” Erscheinung als solches, “givenness,” “phenomenality,” or “revelation” (Crowell, 349).

Where, then, does this leave man’s search for meaning, and the question of his destiny? Concluding with a provocative but basic question does well to underscore the exigency of the methodological situation’s existential import. What, in short, are we to make phenomenologically of the claim that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? Does the claim fall within phenomenology’s remit? Outside it? Is it essential to phenomenology’s venerable aim of putting oneself in question, or orthogonal to that attempt? Is to affirm such a claim consistent (or not) with the promise of meaning, as Crowell understands that promise? One must make the decision to leap—or not. Either way, a decision is made. Seen strictly from the perspective of a transcendental critique of meaning, what faith claims to see—namely, that because Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, he is the absolute measure by which our own individual existences are to be measured—probably will be viewed as an affirmation having succumbed to “metaphysical” tempation. It views faith as epistemic folly. But assuming this is what a transcendental phenomenology’s critique of meaning entails, why not then see it as a reductio of that position?

To succeed in its aim of clarifying meaning, cannot it be suggested that transcendental phenomenology must be understood not as deeming what faith sees as inscrutable, but rather as itself calling for it?[3] To rest content with phenomenological askesis is to leave ourselves in a state of unnecessary indeterminateness. As it does not countenance the mysteries of God, so for it the enigmas of human existence find no solution.[4] It is thus left to face a potential incoherence of its own approach. The latent incoherence is manifest methodologically insofar as it fails to make intelligble what could be made so were it to complement its vision with what its own commitment to the imperative of self-givenness implicates. By not doing so, it ends in a failure of sense-making. For this reason, arguably it can be considered a failure relative to its own internal aim of trying to clarify meaning. The lack of success is most evident when seeing its inability to make adequate sense of ourselves.

We are finite creatures, and so meaning is finite. We can grasp the world as it is, though never as a whole; and if there is anything beyond that, it is a matter of faith, not philosophy. A phenomenology of faith is certainly possible, but transcendental phenomenology cannot be said to be exceeded by something that escapes it and yet grounds it, such that a “theological”—or “naturalistic” or “speculative” or “metaphysical”—turn is required. One who nevertheless wishes to make such a turn must show why it does not end in antinomy, the “euthanasia of pure reason” (Kant 1998, 460). Take your pick: deus sive natura; mereological universalism or nihilism; “neutral monism”; panpsychism; flesh, life, desire. In the face of antinomy, the askesis of transcendental phenomenology is not egoism but modesty, not a “theory of everything” but a clarification of what matters. Its claim on our “ultimate philosophical self-responsibility” (Husserl) is irrevocable if we are committed to having evidence for what we say. Just this defines the normative turn from entities to meaning, the promised land, “the secret yearning of all modern philosophy” (Crowell, 352).

By addressing the “question of the subject” in a way that entails no answer is ever forthcoming, reductive askesis renders the need for putting ourselves into question otiose, even futile. The misunderstanding at work in its approach to the entities that we ourselves are is seen precisely in its failing to live up to its own impulse to truly make sense of our existence. Here, in short, would be a philosophy concerned with explicating the meaning of things while simultaneously failing to ground its own existence in any firm meaning. If, in fact, there ultimately was no true meaning to existence because there were no answers to life’s ultimate questions, why then should a philosophy about meaning try to make sense of that meaning? To be sure, doing so could still serve as an idle pursuit perhaps, as a way for those so inclined to pass the time. But philosophy must be more than intellectual tiddlywinks. For were it not more than that, what reasons do others have for caring about what such a philosophy says? Philosophy would not just lose its exigency, but its universality too. In the last analysis, any philosophy of meaning stifling the yearning for the absolute does so on pain of compromising the coherence of its express aim. In restless pursuit of a meaning it cannot find, its is a critique of meaning that renders human existence as if it ultimately had none. Reaching only a mirage of the true promised land, as with Dathan it dies in the wilderness.

Bibliography

Husserl, Edmund. Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology. Translated by Dorion Cairns. The Hague: Martin Nijhoff, 1973.

Husserl, Edmund. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy. Translated and introduction by David Carr. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1970.


[1] With Crowell, MacAvoy notes, first, the distinction originating in Husserl’s Phenomenology as Rigorous Science between the empirical and transcendental (that is, between the natural and normative); transcendental consciousness, MacAvoy explains, is governed by a lawfulness other than the causality of the psychical and physical. Second, and relatedly, the intentional experience of an object involves a command over its “implications,” the inner and outer horizons of sense in terms of which the object itself can be taken as what it is, the paradigmatic example being the perceptual object, since, say, in perceiving a cube, I must “co-intend” its sides that are not directly seen but are nevertheless implicated. Perceptual intentionality accordingly has a “motivational” logic: If I were to move here, then the cube’s other sides should come into view.

[2] In this way, Hopp’s essay follows in the footsteps of his mentor, the late Dallas Willard, whose early works on Husserl’s view of logic, ideality, and the possibility of knowledge remain exemplary. See, for example, Logic and the Objectivity of Knowledge: A Study in Husserl’s Philosophy (Ohio University Press, 1984).

[3] For a comprehensive analysis of God’s role in Husserl’s transcendental philosophy, see Emmanuel Housset’s Husserl et l’idée de Dieu (Paris: Cerf, 2010). For a critical appraisal of Husserl’s attempt to incorporate God into his transcendental approach, see John Drummond’s draft paper, “Phenomenology, Ontology, Metaphysics,” The Boston Phenomenology Circle, Accessed September 18, 2019.

[4] If this language is recognizably Blondelian, it is because Maurice Blondel’s own thought systematically explored the reciprocal interface between reason and revelation, philosophy and faith. For an explanation of how philosophy’s concern over the enigma of existence implicates a fulfillment in the mysteries of God, see Jean Lacroix’s short study Maurice Blondel: An Introduction to His Philosophy, trans. John C. Guiness (Sheed and Ward: New York, 1968), 64-66.

David Egan: The Pursuit of an Authentic Philosophy: Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and the Everyday

The Pursuit of an Authentic Philosophy: Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and the Everyday Book Cover The Pursuit of an Authentic Philosophy: Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and the Everyday
David Egan
Oxford University Press
2019
Hardback £55.00
272

Reviewed by: Zachary Mabee (Catholic priest and graduate student in philosophy at the University of Reading)

As neither a Wittgenstein nor a Heidegger specialist, I found David Egan’s The Pursuit of an Authentic Philosophy: Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and the Everyday to be a fascinating, creative, accessible study of perhaps the two most noteworthy figures of 20th-century philosophy.[1] One would think that such studies would be more plentiful than they are, given (as Egan reminds us) that these two monumental figures were born into the German-speaking world in the same year (1889) and then came, as he extensively argues, to advocate not so much a positive body of philosophical work but instead a sustained effort at linguistic and conceptual “disencumbrance” (6).[2] Though this dearth of comparative studies could be accounted for variously, an unfortunately obvious aspect of it would seem to be the ready-made tendency to cast Wittgenstein into the Anglo-American or “analytic” wing of contemporary philosophy (though his principal works were composed in his native tongue) and Heidegger into the “continental.” Wisely, I think, Egan avoids this simplistic and over-played distinction and instead showcases how both thinkers were monumentally first-rate philosophers who deeply engaged the aporetic task that is most characteristic of their discipline.

Interestingly, Egan introduces his study by recalling Tower of Babel, recounted in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Genesis, and the “baffling” of human languages that resulted in this proud human exercise of “attempting to arrogate to themselves the powers of naming and creation that are proper to their creator” (2). He notes that Wittgenstein’s and Heidegger’s respective philosophical projects have both already been likened to the Babel episode; and he does likewise, highlighting how they both sought to undo the self-made exile into which philosophers’ “metaphysical” aspirations too often lead us. For Wittgenstein, this undoing crucially involves allowing words to “have a home” in their everyday usage rather than in the sought-after “essences” of philosophers. For Heidegger, it involves allowing Dasein (our characteristic mode of being) to be “in the truth,” as it is; not as we otherwise posture it to be (6). They both seek to move us away, then, in their respective manners, from the frictionless vacuum of philosophical essentialisms to the concepts and being of our ordinary experience and the practices within which they are intelligible.

Chapter 1 deals with concerns of grammar and ontology, the former of which are more relevant to Wittgenstein and the latter to Heidegger. Egan commences by considering the famous Heraclitan reflection regarding whether one can step into the same river twice. Whereas this philosophical challenge is constructed so as to cast doubt on whether one in fact can step into the same river twice, Wittgenstein invites us instead to consider the “home” that talk of rivers has in our ordinary language and discourse. Within it, we quite obviously can and do speak of doing just that: having a swim in the Thames today and then, tomorrow, dipping our toes into it. The point he seeks to highlight, Egan contends, is that Heraclitan-type philosophers tend to err in thinking that they will somehow discover, through their inquiries, a deeper, metaphysical essence to what a river is; or, perhaps just that they will discover some empirical facts about rivers and how they are. Instead, for Wittgenstein, that “one can step into the same river twice” is “the expression … of a rule” and so a matter of grammar within this language-game that we play (21). The mistake that the Heraclitan philosopher makes is to aspire to a fantastical point of view—a “sideways” one, to use McDowell’s expression—according to which one can, as it were, examine one’s concepts independently of their usage or vis-à-vis the standard of concepts-as-such. For Wittgenstein, “ordinary language is all the language there is” (28).

Heidegger, as noted, takes a more “ontological” angle on our everyday practices, seeking to highlight their “significance” in this vein, which he finds too often overlooked (29). He wants to direct his inquiry toward a “fundamental ontology” that considers being more simply than in the categorized, observational manner of the “ontic sciences” (30ff.) and that, through phenomenological methodology, uncovers the ways in which it self-discloses. Like Wittgenstein, though, for Egan, Heidegger is not concerned through his philosophy to argue for or establish some new instance, class, or category of knowledge, but instead to chip away at nefarious theoretical constructions, thereby allowing our words, concepts, and ordinary practices to be more simply what and how they are—though in Heidegger’s case, more through a process of revealing discovery.

Chapter 2 begins with some helpful explication of key Heideggerian terminology: Dasein as (our) being that has an understanding of being, which is analyzed existentially in “fundamental ontology” (37–9). Egan then proceeds to discuss the noteworthy distinction that Heidegger draws between the present-at-hand and the ready-at-hand. The former deals with what we can reflectively consider, whereas the latter treats what is present to us and accessible in our environment for use, particularly in the form of tools or equipment. Heidegger notes that our being-in-the-world is often most transparent and perspicuous when we are engaging some object or thing with a tool, in a ready-at-hand manner. For while doing so, we are able to look through or beyond the tool being used to the object or thing engaged. The tool serves, as it were, as a more vivid point of connection with the world—a point of connection of which we are reminded perhaps most poignantly when our activity employing it is interrupted.

Then, following Cavell—with whose interpretations of Wittgenstein Egan is often quite sympathetic—Egan draws a parallel in Wittgenstein’s thought, noting that the ordinary-language criteria of Wittgensteinian (and Austinian) philosophy in their own way orient us to the world, and not just the words we use and the language games we play. It is just, again, that Wittgenstein takes our concepts, which we deploy linguistically, not to be independently or metaphysically discoverable from a sideways perspective, but rather disclosed, in a way, in the grammatical criteria at play in the language games in which they are deployed, and the practices relevant to these games. So knowing what a chair is or means crucially involves understanding our use of chairs, the dining practices in which they are implicated at tables, for instance, and so on (60). To return to our earlier example, the fact that one can indeed enter the same river twice is a fact intimately pertinent to the people’s interaction with and use of rivers and what is and is not grammatically admissible in such contexts (61). Egan’s broader contention in this chapter is, again, that we undertake a fool’s errand, for Wittgenstein and Heidegger alike, if we seek to find our words, concepts, or being outside the realms they normally inhabit, where they ordinarily find their home.

A critical point that is worth noting here, which is relevant in subsequent chapters, too: Egan’s engagement with secondary literature at times seems a bit sparing or perhaps selective. His bibliography is sufficiently thorough, but his deferential preference for Cavell’s Wittgenstein is at times annoyingly on display. Charles Taylor, e.g., is another commentarial voice who does garner mention but whose most obvious essay dealing with these two thinkers and their philosophical likeness does not.[3] I wondered at several junctures if a more variegated engagement with secondary literature, particularly that dealing directly with Wittgenstein and Heidegger and their work, could have helped this project.

Chapter 3 moves into an interesting discussion of Wittgensteinian attunement and Heideggerian being-with, particularly with regard to Das Man. Following upon his treatment of language games, Egan stresses that, for Wittgenstein, “attunement” is the kind of working agreement that we have in our shared forms of life, within which we converse, discuss, agree or disagree, and justify various claims. It gets at, for Cavell, the difficult and “terrifying” way in which, say, to allege truth or falsehood in some given case, there must more deeply be a working agreement with respect to the forms of life we share and that our discourse reflects (65). The claim here is not that there is some deeper underlying (or metaphysical) arrangement in such situations that we rightly call “attunement” but more simply just that our engagement in such shared activities and forms of life manifests attunement (69). This seems a further development of the previous chapter’s notion that criteria, grammar, and word usage do indeed, in surprising ways, connect us with the world and the forms of life that are home to our discourse.

Egan’s discussion continues with an illuminating treatment of Heidegger’s sense of being-with and the ways in which this pertains to the normative authority of what he terms Das Man. Egan begins by noting the way in which our interaction with other persons is similar to or reflective of the dynamic that we see on display more broadly with our use of tools, equipment, and other ready-at-hand objects. That is, when we encounter and experience other persons, we typically do not do so in the abstracted present-at-hand manner, in which they become to us objects of reflection or theoretical inquiry; instead, we encounter and experience them much in the same manner as we do tools or worldly objects that we use—as readily available to us, as co-involved in our activity in the world. They are accessible to us, often, in our engagement with the world, much in the way that a pair of shoes might be (73–5).

Egan also helpfully outlines Das Man in Heidegger, which is, as Carman notes, “the impersonal normative authority underwriting the social practices that makes things intelligible on a mundane level” (75). Comprising dimensions such as agreement in judgments and basic definitions; use of equipment; social and historical situatedness; moral and social norms; etiquette; ceremonies; shared wisdom, and so on, Das Man highlights for Heidegger the way in which Dasein is never abstractly autonomous but always, instead, embedded in a social order—even if one opts to rebel against it. One is, in a way, the milieu in which she finds herself (76). Egan stresses how Das Man can be especially vexing, among the Heideggerian lexicon, and how it, even for eminent commentators like Dreyfus, fails to stake out territory between a healthy conformity, within the world one inhabits, and an unhealthy conformism to prevailing norms.

Chapter 4 commences Egan’s broader treatment of what he terms “authentic everydayness.” To begin, he segues from his treatment of Das Man into the notion of inauthenticity in Heidegger, which amounts to an over-reliance upon Das Man in its ever-present task of self-interpretation. Egan notes:

Dasein is the being that relates to itself as a question. Accordingly, Dasein’s flourishing qua Dasein is a matter of fulfilling its nature as self-interpreting. Authentic Dasein explicitly owns up to this task of self-interpretation, whereas inauthentic Dasein hides from it. Inauthentic Dasein does a poor job or manifesting its distinctive Daseinhood (93).

[…]

Inauthenticity is not a failure of self-interpretation but is rather a mode of self-interpretation that defers the interpretive work as much as possible to Das Man, and reaches for the interpretive resources that are closest at hand (94).

Heideggerian anxiety, then, becomes a “special kind of fear” that is not so much directed at other beings that we encounter in the world, whether present- or ready-at-hand, but toward Dasein itself as being-in-the-world and so what is bound up with this. Dasein customarily seeks “absorption with innerworldly beings that anxiety disrupts” (95).

Egan then follows this discussion of Heideggerian anxiety with a treatment of what he takes to be a similar dynamic in Wittgenstein, though which more readily appears in the secondary literature on the latter under the rubric of “skepticism.” Wittgenstein famously notes that, at some point, our explanations will run out and our justifications be exhausted, and also that any set of rules we seek to abide by or implement will ultimately be subject to a variety of irresolvable interpretations, whether they regard following signposts down a trail or algorithms for adding sequentially to a numerical series (99–101). Egan seems to see a kind of isomorphism in the two authors’ work on these sorts of “anxiety.” To be sure, Heidegger’s is more chiefly concerned with the coherence of our practices and the anxiety that arises regarding them, vis-à-vis the self-interpreting tendency of Dasein; whereas Wittgenstein’s is more regarding our search for explanations, particularly final ones, and the situation that we face when we in fact do not reach them, or come to see them as unreachable. Nonetheless, Egan thinks—and I would concur—there is a noteworthy consonance between the two accounts.

The denouement of chapter 4 consists of a kind of reflective consideration of Wittgenstein as a philosopher, and is an attempt by Egan to resolve some of the aforementioned concerns, namely that the Heideggerian approach is more practical-existential, whereas the Wittgensteinian one is more conceptual-linguistic. Indeed, Egan notes that Wittgenstein had a lively sense that we are all rightly engaged in the sorts of philosophical questions that he treats—hence, for instance, his characteristic point of departure from humanly vexing questions rather than from the texts or arguments of the discipline’s “greats.” In this sense, Egan thinks, we can see Wittgenstein with Cavell, more in the vein of Socrates, Descartes, Hume, Emerson, or Austin, whose points of departure were the problematics disclosed by human experience more than they were the standard disciplinary texts (108). (And thus he stands in contrast, say, to Plato, Nietzsche, or Derrida, for whom philosophy involved a more cultural, institutional form of life and theorizing.)

I did find myself, at this point in the text and certain others, wishing that perhaps Egan would have engaged these two thinkers biographically a bit more. Such a move might not be apt in many philosophical settings, but it certainly seems more so in one such as this, where the leitmotif is a recovery of the “everyday” and a more authentic approach to the philosophical project. One thinks straightaway, for instance, of Wittgenstein’s sabbatical in the Austrian hills, teaching kindergarten; or perhaps his experience in the trenches in the First World War; or even his neurotic, suicidal, late-night strolls deliberating philosophical and existential questions. Likewise, Heidegger’s disreputable wartime political affiliations and administrative decisions or his tryst with his student Hannah Arendt come to mind in a similar vein. This is not to say that I think any one or other episode of either thinker’s life should be adduced in such a setting; but more just that I found myself as a reader wishing a bit more of an effort to this effect had been made, especially amidst a chapter on anxiety as a broadly philosophical topic.

Chapter 5 deals with an expected topic, Wittgenstein’s treatment of rule-following, and particularly Kripke’s take on it. Kripke, Egan contends, sees Wittgenstein as fundamentally presenting readers with a choice in such matters, in the face of the interpretive impasse with which they leave us: either skepticism or Platonism, the former which Kripke takes to be Wittgenstein’s preference. But Egan, once again, wants to re-situate or -contextualize our reading of Wittgenstein: here particularly as challenging our assumption as to whether or not there “is a coherent question to be asked about what justifies us in playing the language-games that we do” (115, emphasis mine). That is, the skeptic would have us doubt whether there is such an answer or justification, and the Platonist would have us look for some sort of external grounding to our language games; but Wittgenstein himself, for Egan—as we have seen already—would have us simply take them as the given, such that these sorts of meta-level questions would eventually dissolve (114). He then wonders, too, about how we might construe a Kripkean reading of Heidegger, “Kripkendegger,” as Egan terms this (117ff.).

The next section treats Heidegger’s notion of conscience, which Egan handles deftly, particularly for an issue that seems to invoke a stereotypically cluttered family of Heideggerian terms and concepts. Fundamentally, Egan links Heideggerian “conscience” to Dasein’s being-its-own whilst being-in-the world, such that its interpretive self-understanding constitutes a correlative understanding and appreciation of the world in which it is and in which it discloses itself (118–9). The conscience which at times comes “over” us serves as a kind of check against the inauthentic tendencies against which we steadily live and operate (120). The chapter continues with a broader foray into aspects of the everyday and, particularly, with a vindication of it in the two authors—in Wittgenstein, more via allowing ordinary language to be where it is, at home in its ordinariness; and in Heidegger, to allow Dasein to be as it is or inclines to be, rather than being consumed or distorted by preoccupation with Das Man.

Once again, with his treatment of Heideggerian conscience, Egan misses, I think, an opportunity to allow his work to veer more into the terrain of the “everyday,” both in a philosophical and a more ordinary sense. He notes throughout this section the uncharacteristic, and at times maddening, style of both Wittgenstein and Heidegger, and especially the latter’s sometimes befuddling lexicon. The notion of “conscience” seems to be one that highlights this tendency; but I wonder, in looking back upon it, whether Egan could have done us the service of engaging some broader literature, historical or current, regarding conscience and how others’ approaches might dovetail or conflict with Heidegger’s. (One thinks here, for instance, of the Kantian notion of conscience, which no doubt would be apt, given the ways in which the Kantian project helped shape the phenomenological tradition.) This sort of move would have been especially fitting for a notion like conscience which is, philosophically and ordinarily, quite “everyday.”[4]

Chapter 6 begins with a reiteration of Egan’s aspiration to find something of a balance between the typical “therapeutic” (later) Wittgenstein, who would have us count metaphysical and skeptical considerations as “ultimately empty” and a more “existential” Wittgenstein who, in harmony with Heidegger, is subtly attempting to draw us back to our being-in-the-world and its “uncanniness” (138). Egan leads us on an interesting foray through some of the game metaphors that Wittgenstein employs to help us understand language games and how they are constitutively embedded in various forms of life. He returns here to the key notion of attunement and to the idea that, for Wittgenstein, our attunement is manifest in the forms of life that we share and in which we participate; it is not, that is, something superadded onto them or metaphysically beneath them. Fundamental to language games and the forms of life where they are at home is education or training. The initiation that they call for is not so much typically a matter of explanation, but instead one of training and so familiarization with the various words and concepts that have meaning within them. True, there are correct and incorrect moves that one can make within the game of chess; but is also is inapt to describe (or critique) the rules themselves as correct or incorrect. They are simply the rules of the game (145). For Egan’s Wittgenstein, reasons, like explanations, will eventually “give out” (146). What matters in playing games—language games or other games, considered more broadly—is not so much having the rules down (explicitly), but instead having with the other participants a sufficient degree of attunement, such that they can together play the game.

Egan continues, noting that there are some interesting similarities between Wittgenstein’s work on rule-following and Heidegger’s on anxiety, sometimes termed the “motivation problem”—both of which can leave us wondering how to cope once our reasons or the foundations of our ordinary practices are exhausted (153). He also then engages in a fascinating aside dealing with Wittgenstein’s noteworthy pupil Rush Rhees and his concerns about the language-game approach: concerns dealing chiefly with the fact that these considerations might seem to make the ultimate goal of linguistic practice something like skill—the concern being that language use would ultimately seem to be about our practical ends and so come dangerously close to sophistry. Egan nicely, I think, deflects these concerns, following Huizinga, Gadamer, et al., by reminding us of the seriousness that games indeed demand, lest one become a spoilsport, a trifler, or a cheat (157ff). Egan closes this chapter with another nice restatement of his broader sense of the two thinkers’ respective projects, which fundamentally amounts to flagging and helping to remedy the (linguistic or ontological) blindness in which we so often, especially in philosophical circumstances, find ourselves (165–6).

Chapter 7 is largely a reckoning with the two thinkers’ treatments of typical or traditional doctrines of assertion, but also of their related conceptions of reality and theories of truth. Egan sees in Wittgenstein and Heidegger alike a criticism of a certain sort of naïve realism, no doubt predominant in popular discourse, but also perhaps surprisingly in philosophical domains. According to this sort of sensibility, things basically are the way that we think them to be, and in accordance with the ways in which we speak of them. But, again, for Wittgenstein, this tendency manifests a foundational confusion between the grammatical and the empirical and so leads to the metaphysical tendency toward nonsensical theorizing that is too often, in his view, on display in philosophical work, let alone in popular discourse. Heidegger’s work on this front is more historical and genealogical than Wittgenstein’s; and he wants to move philosophical thinking away from the Aristotelian-Scholastic conception of truth—adaequatio intellectus et rei—toward a more primitively classical one: aletheia, or truth as a kind of discoveredness of what is disclosed (183). This jostling effort, to dislodge certain of our comfortably stable presuppositions, for Egan, significantly accounts for the two thinkers’ unique philosophical idioms and for their at times vexing word-choice and argumentative structure.

Chapter 8 continues this analysis, in closing the book, with a return to the two thinkers’ notions of ordinary language and discourse. Whereas Wittgenstein seems more content to allow ordinary language to be “at home,” as it is and to shake us free from the “picture” that has held us captive, Heidegger see his phenomenological method as affording a kind of “uncovering” potential that allows us (in principle) to come into contact with deeper aspects of being. The corollary of this is that, for Wittgenstein, the key discoveries that we are likely to make philosophically are that we are variously engaged in speaking and trading in nonsense (195ff.). Accordingly, Wittgenstein is not involved—as, say, those advocates of the hermeneutic of “suspicion” are—in directing us toward some sort of deeper, more fundamental reality that our modes of speech and practice are obscuring; instead, he seems keen on helping us to see that our debates—say among solipsists, realists, and idealists—are just not as contentious or substantive as we tend to think them (202ff.). We are simply misled if we think that those various doctrines can be adjudicated in the ways that we normally attempt. An example of this tendency, for Egan, is Carnap, vis-à-vis the later Wittgenstein, as the former seeks to set up a methodological procedure for settling such disputes and then funnel various such doctrines through it, to find a victor (ibid.). Instead, the methodology that the later Wittgenstein prizes is that of offering aspectual descriptions and employing particularly the metaphor of pictures and how looking at them offers us different (and manifold) perspectives on various matters. Indeed, he takes language to be as a picture, whose use and exact purposes remain opaque, but which is rightly to be explored from various angles (210).

In closing, Egan finds Wittgenstein’s later approach to be decidedly aesthetic in its character—less about asserting propositions or claims about this or that, or how things are, and rather more about suggesting angles, perspectives, or views on various issues, which could no doubt be multiplied (as in the famous case of the duck-rabbit image). Indeed, for Egan, this is what Wittgenstein’s later philosophy, along with Heidegger’s, tends to do: Not to argue for this or that point or claim, but instead—and particularly through idiosyncratic word-choice, structure, punctuation, rhetorical strategies, and the like—to peel back this problematic with which we have become accustomed; to shake our captive gaze to our inherited picture; and instead to help us appreciate the ordinary as it is, and whatever it would happen to disclose.

One final concern I would like to register, somewhat in accord with the previous ones: This book could have profited from greater engagement with ethics and religion, two regularly philosophical topics that are decidedly commonplace—in their own ways, “everyday.” Wittgenstein famously lectured, though very sparingly, on the two in conjunction; and they do not seem to have been a focal point for Heidegger. But both areas, I think, crucially draw together “everyday” thought and action in conjunction with philosophical interest and reflection. Both areas also, I think, raise some significant concerns for the arguably more quietist tendency on display in both authors, particularly on Egan’s reading of them. For it might be fine and well to be concerned mainly with chipping away at misunderstanding and pretenses about our language and thought, whilst claiming not to be saying much in the positive sense about the world or our involvement in it. But our practical, “everyday” engagement often seems to suggest otherwise: We find ourselves needing to say various things about a whole host of matters and affairs: tax policy, what we observe in outer space, our and our loved ones’ moral choices, foods’ nutritional value, the political and military stability of various regions, how religion should interact with politics, and so on. And we often think that judgments within such debates and matters of discourse are, to varying degrees, disputable or judicable, correct or incorrect, right or wrong—and, indeed, accessible as such through clarifying philosophical reflection. I do not mean to suggest that (Egan’s) Wittgenstein or Heidegger could not somehow deal ably with our ordinary practical discourse and its significance in such “everyday” affairs; but it does strike me that attempting to deal with such points of practical connection—particularly within a book with the thrust of The Pursuit—would have been helpful and constructive, and would have expanded the scope of this work beyond its more characteristically linguistic-cum-metaphysical purview. Nonetheless, this work, as noted throughout, is instructive, edifying, and humane—an expository homage, without being unduly deferential, to these two monumental thinkers; and now a crucial addition to the joint literature regarding them.


[1] Given my non-specialist’s status, I shall at times gloss over, throughout the review, some of the more intensely exegetical points that emerge.

[2] Egan also recently helped edit Wittgenstein and Heidegger, ed. David Egan, Stephen Reynolds, and Aaron Wendland (New York: Routledge, 2013).

[3] See Charles Taylor, “Lichtung or Lebensform: Parallels between Heidegger and Wittgenstein,” in Philosophical Arguments (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), 61–78.

[4] I acknowledge here and throughout that “everyday” is being used in a somewhat more precise sense by Egan, and indeed by Wittgenstein and Heidegger. But I do not think such proposed extensions are at all specious or unreasonable.

Amy Kind (Ed.): Philosophy of Mind in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries: The History of the Philosophy of Mind, Volume 6, Routledge, 2018

Philosophy of Mind in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries: The History of the Philosophy of Mind, Volume 6 Book Cover Philosophy of Mind in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries: The History of the Philosophy of Mind, Volume 6
The History of the Philosophy of Mind
Amy Kind (Ed.)
Routledge
2018
Hardback £100.00
326

Béatrice Longuenesse: I, Me, Mine: Back to Kant, and Kant Again

I, Me, Mine: Back to Kant, and Back Again Book Cover I, Me, Mine: Back to Kant, and Back Again
Béatrice Longuenesse
Oxford University Press
2017
Hardback £30.00
288

Reviewed by: Çağlan Çınar Dilek (Central European University)

I, Me, Mine: Back to Kant, and Back Again by Beatrice Longuenesse presents a comprehensive study on different understandings of the notion of ’I’ through focusing particularly on how ‘I’ is used by Kant in ‘I think’ and comparing it with its usage by Descartes, Wittgenstein, and Sartre. This book presents the provocative claim that Freud is a good candidate for being a descendant of Kant by naturalizing his view of ‘I’. The book consists of three parts. Firstly, the author starts with a comparative analysis of ‘consciousness as a subject’ in Kant, ‘usage of I’ in Wittgenstein and ‘pre-reflective cogito’ in Sartre. Then she moves back to Kant’s understanding of ‘I’ in ‘I think’ and in ‘I ought to’ through his criticism of rationalist ideas on the nature of ‘I’ as a substance, as simple, and as a person. Lastly she presents how Freud’s notions of ‘ego’ and ‘superego’ have similarities to Kant’s ‘I think’ and ‘I ought’ and how Freud can naturalize Kant’s transcendental philosophy.

Longuenesse does not intend to give an historical study but rather aims to present a strong Kantian picture of ‘I’ that is most loyal to him and also strongest in today’s discussions, as the topic fits nicely into the contemporary discussions in philosophy of mind and language. The choice of historical figures in this sense works towards a better understanding of the intended strong Kantian position. In this direction, Descartes’ argument against skepticism for the existence of ‘self’ provides also a foundational starting point for the peculiarity of ‘I’ in ‘I think’ – that we necessarily experience ourselves as a simple substance and as a person with diachronical unity, but we cannot infer these qualities of the ‘I’ as an object as conceived by rationalists. While Wittgenstein’s distinction between ‘use of I as subject’ and ‘use of I as object’ has framed discussions in philosophy of language on self-ascription and the referent of ‘I’, phenomenological ideas like ‘pre-reflective consciousness’ have made a great influence in the philosophy of mind and consciousness in last decades, reviving a move towards One-Level Accounts of Consciousness in contrast to Higher-Order Representational Theories of Consciousness. And Freud’s notions help us to understand Kant’s ‘I’ in his theoretical and practical philosophy in an embedded and embodied context.

In the first part (Chapters 2 and 3), Longuenesse starts by treating self-consciousness as a first-person usage of ‘I’. In this direction, she introduces Wittgenstein’s distinction between two uses of ‘I’: ‘the use as an object’ and ‘the use as subject’. The author then compares this distinction by Wittgenstein with Kant’s distinction between ‘consciousness of oneself as subject’ and ‘consciousness of oneself as object.’ For Wittgenstein, the ‘use of I as object’ is exemplified in cases where you utter sentences like “my arm is broken,” “I have grown six inches,” while the ‘use of I as subject’ is exemplified as you say “I see so and so,” “I think it will rain,” and “I have toothache”. The distinguishing feature of the ‘use of I as a subject’ is that there is no possibility of error, while there is one in the ‘use of I as object’. Shoemaker describes this by saying ‘the use of I as subject’ is “immune to error through misidentification relative to first-person pronoun” and Longuenesse goes along with this description throughout the book while treating Wittgenstein’s notion. Accordingly, even when ‘I’ actually refers to ‘oneself as an object’ and that person later infers that the mentioned subject is identical to himself (as in John Perry’s example where he finds out that the person who is making a mess in the market turns out to be himself), the final criterion for finding out the truth about the statement (person x = ‘I’) is not objective. Rather, “there needs to be a point at which no more search for objective criteria is called for in order to establish the identity between the entity of which the predicate is true, and the believer and speaker of the current thought asserting the predicate to be true.” To establish this, the believer should have a special access to information about herself.

Longuenesse argues that even the ‘use of I as object’ depends on the kind of information that, expressed in a judgment, would ground a ‘use of I as a subject’. So, the question becomes what this ‘I as subject refers to’ (of course if it refers to anything at all; Anscombe argues that it does not, but Longuenesse argues against such a position). Evans thinks that the referent is the embodied entity. Accordingly, self-ascriptions, which are immune to error through misidentification (IEM), “are not limited to mental states but include bodily mental states.” For him, the referent as an embodied entity constitutes the conditions of the possibility for a referential use of ‘I’. He makes use of Kant’s ‘I’ as accompanying all our perceptions, and argues that without such an embodied and embedded referent we end up with at most a formal ‘I think”. It follows that ‘I’ in ‘I think’ represents only “a form of thought and it is not used to refer to any entity at all.” Longuenesse agrees with Evans on emphasizing the role of the embodied entity, while she disagrees that Evans’ claim about the referent of ‘I’ is true, both as a Kantian interpretation and as a claim in itself. According to Longuenesse, it is right only to say that in the lack of information about the properties of the referent of ‘I’, one cannot derive any property ‘I’ refers to. Nevertheless, this does not mean that ‘I’ in ‘I think’ does not refer to any entity at all. This is an important point on which Longuenesse builds the second part of the book where she treats Kant’s criticisms of rationalist claims about the nature of ‘I’. Accordingly, Kant denies that we can infer the properties of the ‘I’ – as being a substance, simple and a person, as claimed by rationalists, while he does not deny that ‘I’ refers to any such entity at all.

Longuenesse thinks that Kant`s distinction between ‘consciousness as a subject’ and ‘consciousness as an object’ does not match Wittgenstein’s distinction. The ‘use of I as a subject’ that grounds all the uses of I (as an object or subject) is better understood through the Kantian notion of ‘transcendental unity of self-consciousness’, which maps only a part of  Wittgenstein`s ‘use of I as a subject’ – as in ‘I think’. So one needs to distinguish different uses of I as subject: 1) self-location, 2) self-ascription of bodily predicates, 3) self-ascription of P predicates and 4) the unity of `I’ that grounds `I think’. The fourth kind of self-consciousness on which ‘I think p` rests is presupposed in all other uses of I and is a necessary condition for any use of I and any judgment.

Chapter 3 is devoted to different uses of ‘I’ as a subject, this time from a phenomenological perspective, and continues to investigate its relation to ‘I’ as an embodied entity. Longuenesse makes use of Sartre`s distinction between ‘non-thetic/non-positional’ consciousness and ‘thetic/positional’ consciousness. ‘Non-thetic consciousness’ accompanies all consciousness that is directed to an object, and it is omnipresent, while it is not itself taken as an object (which is the case in thetic consciousness). Thetic consciousness is a reflective kind of consciousness where one`s attention is directed to the non-thetic consciousness. Sartre considers both the awareness of one`s own body (body-for-itself) and awareness of the unity of mental activity (pre-reflective cogito) as forms of non-positional consciousness. Longuenesse makes a comparative analysis between Sartre`s ‘pre-reflective cogito’, Wittgenstein`s ‘use of I as subject’ and Kant`s ‘consciousness of oneself as a subject’. She argues that Sartre`s and Wittgenstein`s notions share the weaknesses vis-a-vis Kant`s notion: Sartre and Wittgenstein defend stronger and broader claims than Kant by aiming to offer an account of the kinds of self-awareness that back all cases of the use of I as subject, but then they fall into a contradictory position. Kant`s position is stronger by presenting a less comprehensive position: it only tries to back the ‘use of I as subject’, which is then considered as a ground for other kinds of uses of I (like of our body).

It is interesting to see a comparison between Kant and Sartre that also includes Wittgenstein, if we consider recent discussions on consciousness in philosophy of mind. Phenomenology has been having an effect on theories of phenomenal consciousness in the last decades, through using ideas by Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, and Sartre. Dan Zahavi has been one of the pioneers to bring these ideas back to analytical philosophy to argue against representational theories – particularly Higher-Order Representational Theories. An important focus of attack of such phenomenological approaches is David Rosenthal with his classical Higher-Order Thought Theory. He argues that one can explain what-is-like-ness, a subject’s being phenomenally conscious of being in a mental state, through explaining state-consciousness. State-consciousness of a particular state that is directed to the worldly object is explained through a higher-order mental state, which is thought-like in form and makes the first-order mental state conscious by representing it in an immediate and non-inferential manner. Without the presence of such an occurrent Higher-Order Thought (HOT), our first-order mental state is not conscious and there is nothing-it-is-like to undergo that particular mental state. This state has still the property of ‘mentality’ as having a particular qualitative object as its content and this is explained though a theory of mentality, distinct from a theory of consciousness. Dan Zahavi argues against such an approach by using notions from the phenomenological tradition such as ‘mineness’, ‘subjectivity’, ‘first-person perspective’, and ‘pre-reflective consciousness’. The essential idea is that there is always a form of pre-reflective consciousness present in our experience, for which a higher-order representation is not necessary and even destructive to understand that particular phenomenological consciousness, because representation changes the nature of conscious experience by objectifying and thus modifying it. This pre-reflective consciousness makes an experience ‘for-me’, through which I experience the world and of which I am always aware. Thus, this is at the same time a form of self-consciousness: there would not be any form of self-consciousness possible without the minimal, pre-reflective consciousness, and we don’t need to give a different account for self-consciousness by explaining it through meta-representation or reflexivity.

It is important for such a discussion that Longuenesse points to the relation between a Kantian ‘I’ in ‘I think’ as the condition of possibility for any experience and ‘pre-reflective cogito’ as the condition for Cartesian ‘cogito’. But the similarities are not limited to this: both in Sartre and Kant ‘I’ is not an object, the representation of which falls under the concept ‘I think’/cogito, but rather ‘I think’ is “the very expression of the act of thinking.” This emphasis is again important to consider the activity and the subject of activity together. Only by understanding this interrelatedness is it possible to discuss the subject of experience in a proper way, for which phenomenology has had important effect against theories distinguishing between subject and its experience (and which then try to understand how an experience belongs to a self and how the unity of self is constituted through distinct theories), and against views which treat ‘I’ as representation as the outcome of a developed ability of concept usage.

The second part of the book (Chapters 4, 5 and 6) deals with the Cartesian ‘cogito, ergo sum’ and with the question of whether we can infer anything about the nature of ‘I’. Kant accuses “Descartes and his rationalist followers for having been under the illusion that they could derive not only ‘I exist’, but also an answer to the question ‘What am I?’ from the mere consideration of the proposition ‘I think’” (74). Chapter 5 deals with the different reasons Descartes and Kant choose to infer from ‘thinking’ to ‘I think’ rather than ‘it thinks’. Chapters 5 and 6 deal with Kant`s refutations of rationalist arguments that `I’ is i) a substance , ii) simple, and iii) a person (with personal identity across time).

It is illuminating to see in Chapter 4 how far Descartes and Kant agree on the role of ‘I’, while they have different motivations to use ‘I think’ in their arguments. Longuenesse explains how Descartes deals with skeptical doubt and presents ‘I think’ as a foundational solution to it, while Kant responds to a Humean skepticism that is “primarily directed at the objective validity of the idea of causal connection.” According to Kant, for a representation to be possible or to be something to me, it should always be accompanied by the ‘I think’. Kant does not progress from there to “I think cannot be true unless ‘I’ is true”, nor does he infer the nature of ‘I’, but he rather moves to the claim that “all representations I ascribe to myself are so ascribed in virtue of being taken up in one and the same act of bonding and comparing them, an act that is determined according to some universal concepts of the understanding,” and the concept of causal connection is one of these with which Kant primarily deals. The author does a great job comparing the notion of thought and consciousness between these two philosophers in depth that is helpful towards any contemporary theory of consciousness, as lots of theories lack clear distinctions between different kinds of consciousness and how these relate to ‘thought’ and ‘I’.  Accordingly, Descartes’ notion of ‘thought’ is broader than Kant’s in terms of including any occurrent mental state, while Kant refers only to conceptual representations, particularly to judgments.

Longuenesse’s categorization of three kinds of consciousness in Kant is useful to compare him with Descartes and Sartre: 1) the mere consciousness of the act of thinking, 2) the indeterminate perception that I think, 3) the empirically determined consciousness of the sequence of one’s mental states. The first one is self-consciousness as consciousness of the pure act of thinking. We cannot represent it as an object and we cannot categorize it. We cannot infer anything about its essence, even if we cognize it as the subject and ground of thinking. This spontaneous consciousness is considered similar to Sartre’s ‘pre-reflective cogito’. The latter kind of consciousness is an empirical intuition, “a mere perception of an act of thinking I take to be mine.” It has ‘time’ as its form and ‘sensation’ as its matter that is constituted of affecting oneself with one’s own act of thinking. This propositional ‘I think’ is located in time in relation to other perceptions but it remains indeterminate in so far as it is not. The third one is a “consciousness of my own existence in time as a thinking being” and here ‘I think’ contains ‘I exist.’ Longuenesse compares this explicit reflection on the sequence of my thoughts with Sartre’s ‘reflective self-consciousness’. The first kind of consciousness provides an immediate consciousness of myself, while the third kind of consciousness plays an important role to refute Descartes’ idealism. Descartes establishes the epistemic certainty of ‘I think’ through the identity between ‘perceiving that one thinks’ and ‘thinking’, and then infers ‘I exist’ from ‘I think’. On the other hand, Kant does not need such a move by considering ‘I think’ as a Cartesian, simple inspection of mind, because his argument is that ‘I think’ just means ‘I exist thinking’. Kant secures our knowledge of ‘I think’ through ‘perceiving that I think’, but he characterizes that perception as an act of self-affection differently from Descartes. So Longuenesse argues that there are more similarities than supposed between Descartes and Kant, while she shows that Kant essentially differs from Descartes by arguing that the consciousness of my thinking that grounds the consciousness of my own existence does not show anything about the nature of ‘I’. From the premise that ‘I think’ includes ‘I exist’, it does not follow the conclusion that “I exist merely as a thinking being distinct from my body.” This entity only refers to the individual currently thinking the proposition in which ‘I’ is used.

Chapter 5 deals with Kant’s argumentation against the ‘Paralogism of Substantiality’ and ‘Paralogism of Simplicity’ – fallacious arguments used by the rationalists towards the nature of ‘I’, respectively, that it is a substance and that it is simple. For Kant, they make use of a middle term, which has a “different meaning in [the] major and minor premise[s].” This is the reason they make syllogistic inferences from the apparently same concept that has in fact two different meanings. Kant aims to analyze these different meanings to show how rationalist arguments are valid in appearance but in fact invalid.

According to Kant’s formulation, the rationalist arguments have a ‘major premise’, a ‘minor premise’ and a ‘conclusion’. In the Paralogism of Substantiality, rationalists refer from the major premise that a subject that cannot be thought of something other than a subject as it cannot be a predicate of something else, and the minor premise that ‘I’ as thinking can only be thought of as a subject and cannot be predicated of something else to the conclusion that ‘I’ as thinking is a substance. However, there is a difference between saying ”I can only think of myself under the concept of substance” and “I am a substance,” where Kant agrees with the former claim and rationalists infer the latter one. For Kant, the minor premise is wrongly constructed to lead to an invalid inference from major premise and minor premise to the conclusion: The “entity thought under the concept ‘I’ is represented as an absolute subject only in a logical sense.” While ‘subject’ in the major premise refers to an absolute subject, ‘subject’ in the minor premise refers to a ‘logical subject’ – the substantiality of the subject is only represented to the subject itself. Hence ‘subject’ (and thus substance) that is used as a middle term by rationalists is actually not a middle term at all. Similarly, in the Paralogism of Simplicity, from the major premise “that something whose action can never be regarded as the concurrence of many acting things, is simple”; and the minor premise that “‘I’, as thinking, am something whose action can never be regarded as the concurrence of many acting things”; the conclusion “So I, as thinking, am simple” is inferred. Again, the concept ‘I’ is only logically simple and the subject thought under the concept ‘I’ is necessarily thought to be simple because “its action is thought to be indivisibly one.” However, the simplicity of the subject of the action is represented only to that subject itself.

Longuenesse infers from these discussions a positive Kantian idea that has found its place in contemporary philosophy of mind in the distinction between the “first-person standpoint and third-person standpoint”. Accordingly, the entity that represents itself under ‘I’ necessarily represents itself as an existing thing (substance), as indivisibly present in all its thoughts (simple), but ‘this first-person standpoint’, however universally indispensable to the act of thinking, tells us nothing about the objective nature of the thing that thinks” (131). That Longuenesse considers this distinction as the positive Kantian idea is valuable when we consider the discussions in contemporary philosophy of mind, epistemology and science on the question whether one should apply a special first-person methodology for a research on consciousness, or whether one can give a scientific and/or reductive explanation of consciousness with a third-person methodology that is used by science and on other philosophical notions.

In Chapter 6, the focus is Kant’s argument against ‘Paralogism of Personality’ – the claim that ‘I’ is a person. For Kant, the rationalist argument has a similar structure, inferring from the major premise that someone conscious of the numerical identity of itself in different times is a person, and the minor premise that ‘I’ as thinking is conscious of the numerical identity of itself in different time, to the conclusion that ‘I’ am a person. Again, Kant accepts the major premise and he is in favor of an idea of person that is diachronically synchronous contrary to the Lockean idea of person whose memory is enough to establish psychological continuity. However, Kant rejects the idea that the consciousness of identity expressed by the use of ‘I’ in ‘I think’ is sufficient to infer that I am, as an existing entity, a person. Longuenesse sums up this issue nicely as follows:

So the paradox of ‘I’ is this: ‘I’, as used in ‘I think, refers to an existing thinking, known by the I-user (the thinker) to exist, in virtue of the fact that the I-user, in each instance of thinking knows herself to exist. ‘I’, as used in ‘I think’, is even the only purely intellectual concept that does give access to an existing thinking. But if, from the way we think of ourselves in using ‘I’ in ‘I’ think, we infer there is an object that we take to be, as a thinking thing, a substance, simple, and numerically identical through time, then we make a mistake: that object is a fiction. The error of the rationalist metaphysician (the error of Kant himself in his pre-critical incarnation) is to insist that on the basis of the thought ‘I’ think we have sufficient ground to assert that the fictitious object of that representation is transcendentally real: real in itself. The mere thought ‘I think’ in fact provides no such ground (164).

What is especially different in the discussion about personality is that Kant enriches the concept of personality by focusing on moral personality in addition to psychological personality. Moral personality is dependent on two components: i) “being an empirically determined, persisting entity, conscious of its own numerical identity through time, and ii) having the capacity to prescribe the moral to oneself, as the principle under which one’s maxims are determined.”  Without an understanding of moral personality, it is not possible to comprehend Kant’s criticism of Syllogism of Personality and also his full picture of ‘I’ in general. This notion also relates previous discussions in the book to Longuenesse’s important final claim in the last part (Chapters 7 and 8) that Freud can be considered in a sense a descendant of Kant, if we consider the parallels between Kant’s ‘I’ in ‘I think’ with Freud’s ‘ego’, and Kant’s ‘I ought to’ with ‘superego’.  Kant’s ‘I’ in ‘I’ think, as the concept of ‘unity of apperception’, is an organization of mental processes governed by logical rules. This is a formal condition and Kant is known to assign this capacity “to an unknown and unknowable transcendental subject” (175). Kant’s methodology is clearly not empirical and the discussion is part of his transcendental philosophy, which constitutes a clear polarity to Freud’s empirical investigation and causal-developmental account of the capacity to think in the first person. Despite the differences, Longuenesse argues that we can see important similarities between them, and Freud can naturalize Kant’s transcendental subject.

The author considers the similarities under four points: Firstly, Kant’s ‘I’ in ‘I think’ (‘I’ as discursive thinking) has its counterpart in Freud’s ego. Kant’s ‘logical use of the understanding’ is similar to Freud’s ‘reality principle’. Ego functions in line with the ‘law of secondary processes’ according to this principle and it can conflict with ‘id’ and the ‘laws of primary processes’. “Intuitions are brought under concepts and then combined in judgments and inferences according to logical rules.” So, the differentiations Freud makes between ‘id’ and ‘Ego’; ‘laws of primary processes’ and ‘secondary processes’; ‘consciousness as an immediate quality of mental states’ and ‘consciousness as the property of mental states’ (whose content obeys the rules of the ego) can be compared to the distinctions Kant makes between different kinds of consciousness (as discussed in Chapter 5). The nature and function of ‘ego’ is parallel to the second notion of consciousness in Kant, “according to which I am conscious of a representation if it is taken up in the unity of consciousness that makes objective representation and thinking possible.” Secondly, there are parallels between Kant’s ‘synthesis of imagination’ and Freud’s perceptual images that are organized according to the rules of ego. Just as in Kant the discursive expression of the unity of consciousness in concepts and judgments presupposes a “prediscursive activity of combination or synthesis performed by the imagination,” in Freud perceptual images and representations of imagination are subject to the rule of the ego, and if they are pre-conscious, these images can become conscious only if they are associated with words. Thirdly, Kant and Freud have parallel views on the mental activities of which we are generally not conscious. For Kant, there is no thought without language and intuitions are blind if they are not subsumed under concepts. In Freud, “access to words is the way a representation enters the realm of reason and level-headedness.” Kant emphasizes that qualitative or intentional consciousness of the working of our imagination is blind (not conscious), while Freud also argues that “the complex operations that go on in our minds are mostly unconscious.” Fourthly, it is necessary for Kant that ‘I’ is represented as an object in the world. The transcendental unity of apperception gets information of the body via the sensory information carried by a bodily state. Freud also argues that “the ego is first and foremost a bodily ego” and thus the emphasis on embodiment of ‘I’ in Kant and ‘ego’ in Freud is again parallel.

Freud’s naturalization of ego makes use of ‘second nature’ as the developmental account he presents on the occurrence of ego happens in a social context. This structure that includes the social aspects of this developmental process is understood through his notion of ’super-ego’ (ego-ideal). This is in accordance with the notion of ‘I’ in Kant’s ‘I ought to’ and his account of ‘personality’ that includes a moral self (as dealt in Chapter 6). The argument on this similarity between Kant and Freud has the same structure:  just as we can give a causal-development account of Kant’s ‘I’ in ‘I think’ through Freud’s ‘Ego’, we can do the same of ‘I ought to’ through Freud’s ‘super-ego’, which “can be seen as providing a developmental story for the conflicted structure of mental life that grounds, according to Kant, the use of ‘I’ in the moral ‘I ought to’” (226). Freud considers Kant’s ‘categorical imperative’ as the direct heir of ‘Oedipus complex’ – as an unconditional normative constraint on the ego. Freud explains the practice of reason-giving and justification as characteristic of a developed ego, and gives a causal history of the idea of categorical imperative through the development of ideas from eigtheenth-century rationalistic philosophy. More than that, just as Kant considers the manifestation of moral attitude primarily through a feeling of respect, there is also a moral feeling at work in Freud’s picture on “curbing libido and aggression,” which he calls the “supra-personal side of human nature” (221). Another point is that in both pictures we have blindness to one’s real motives. Even if this blindness is to be treated in different ways, there is one thing in common: Freud’s ‘unconscious’ and Kant’s ‘motivated blindness’ both refer to our lack of knowledge of our real motives for performing an action, even in cases when we believe we acted upon a universal maxim. Lastly, the relation between ego and body is comparable to the way Kant indexes transcendental unity of apperception to a particular body.

After showing the similarities and differences, Longuenesse ends up with the claim that Freud gives us a naturalized account of Kant’s picture of ‘I’:  firstly, in Freud we do not need to refer to an unknown and unknowable transcendental subject to explain ‘I’ in ‘I think’ and ‘I ought to’. Secondly, a developmental history is presented to our capacity to settle norms of cognition and practical agency. Thirdly, second nature is naturalized. The contents of our norms are constituted by the internalization of parental figures and (through language) by the social and symbolic tools, rather than by our relation to nature. All of these parallel points present us a path to understand a non-transcendental subject through relating bodily and transcendental self in an empirical way, while also doing justice to a Kantian, broad understanding of ‘I’ by including psychological and moral self under the study of self.

Longuenesse’s book does not only provide us with a deeper and enriched understanding of Kant’s understanding of ‘I’, but it is also packed with many insightful ideas about how we can relate different notions of various philosophers from different paradigms and disciplines. She fills in the gaps within the history of philosophy to get a better understanding of contrary positions both within a particular time-period and across time, and traces back many important distinctions and ideas in contemporary philosophy of mind to Kant. This is a special source for anyone working in Kant for sure, but other than that it will also be an invaluable source for philosophers of mind and language and epistemologists who work in any aspect of self and consciousness such as phenomenal consciousness, phenomenology of our experience, the nature of self, first-person perspective, unity of self, first-person usage of ‘I’, personal identity, agency and moral self, and ego. I believe it will lead to further analysis of Kant under the auspices of such contemporary discussions, and it will motivate further comparisons between Kant and other historical figures. Most importantly, her treatment of Kant through Freud’s ego and superego opens up a new dimension of discussion, and as her argumentation has a deep and solid structure, it is not easy for anyone working in philosophy of mind and ethics to stay unresponsive to this provocative and thought-provoking comparative analysis.

Marcos Silva (Ed.): How Colours Matter to Philosophy, Springer, 2017

How Colours Matter to Philosophy Book Cover How Colours Matter to Philosophy
Synthese Library, 388
Marcos Silva (Ed.)
Springer International Publishing
2017
Hardcover $109.00
XVII, 323

Geoffrey Bennington: Kant on the Frontier: Philosophy, Politics, and the Ends of the Earth

Kant on the Frontier: Philosophy, Politics, and the Ends of the Earth Book Cover Kant on the Frontier: Philosophy, Politics, and the Ends of the Earth
Geoffrey Bennington
Fordham University Press
2017
Paperback $35.00
260

Reviewed by: Jack Robert Coopey (Durham University)

What appears at the frontier of Geoffrey Bennington’s works is an apparent insight and clarity of expression that is able to manifest itself despite the complexities in which its ideas and conceptions are embedded. And Bennington’s newest book Kant on the Frontier, Philosophy, Politics, and the Ends of the Earth is no exemption to this rule, as a scholar who continues to prove vital in the fallout of Derrida and the debris of pessimism that follows his work. Any given reader of Bennington would perhaps encounter his work at a differing frontier, the present frontier in which I encountered his work was his biography/autobiography of Derrida, in which alike to the photo of himself and Derrida, seems that Bennington himself albeit pushing the frontier onwards from Derrida’ demarcation, alike to Hegel’s Owl of Minerva cannot outstep the shadow of his friend, companion and predecessor. That is not to say that, his ability to uncover the marginal, the foreclosed, and the frontier in this latest publication is not by any margin less than a feat of remarkable scholarship on Kant and the shameable hidden aspects of his thought at the frontier so to speak of given Kant readership. For that in itself is a formidable task judged by its own merit.

The central argument of the text concerns the ‘slogan’ “the end is the end”,[i] in which Bennington will examine various parts of Kant’s corpus in order to demonstrate a thinking-through of Derrida’s statement of la différance infinie est finie or the infinite difference is finite. The primary focus will be the teleological schema that haunts Kant’s corpus and examine the ways in which supposedly infinite differences or metaphysical distinctions between history and politics primarily, are indeed finite in the analogies Kant draws between the two frontiers of thought in his philosophy. The second consequence of Bennington’s formidable reading of Kant’s teleology is that the book does not present an “Idea in the Kantian sense”,[ii] such that the epigram of the end is the end cannot promise ideas but only diremption, in that can provide a new way of understanding of how we read philosophical works, but does not present new ideas for new philosophical works. Bennington’s text concerns itself with the form of reading of these works, not necessarily with the content. Another remarkable ability of Bennington is to seamlessly weave in thinkers and ideas into apparent disruptive readings, so he proposes a reading of Frege as an interstice to elaborate that “the concept of ‘concept is teleological”[iii].

The second core argument of Bennington’s text is that philosophy itself represses readings such it wants to only deal with the supposed ‘ideas’ of philosophy which are somehow divorced by the act of reading and even by the question of reading itself. Perhaps in one way or another this is the mode by which philosophy can operate only with the ideas of philosophy itself, ideas are only produced through a repression of reading, and a theory of reading cannot reproduce ideas. Additionally Bennington claims that philosophy’s best theory of reading is hermeneutics and fulfilled in deconstruction, however this claim being anything less than contentious will be the mark in which we will judge his deconstruction of Kant in, through and beyond the concept of the frontier. The final point in the preface before we enter into the body of the text, Bennington sets up an apparent disruptive analogy between the political implications of an interrupted teleology and the implications of reading philosophical works, and Kant’s ‘point of heterogeniety’ is what justifies a deconstructive reading of a Kantian critique in order to do away with the historicist reading of moral and political issues which Bennington sees as predominant in humanities discipline. Bennington then addresses the neglected nature of Kant’s Critique of Teleological Judgement, insomuch as Bennington claims that “Darwinism provided an answer to the at least apparent natural purposiveness that Kant is trying to understand”.[iv] Bennington’s main claim in investigating this aspect of Kant is to emphasize that teleological thought is not as easily abandoned in regards to nature and mechanism as once imagined. Bennington argues that even extreme forms of Neo-Darwinism with severe forms of evolutionism are bound up with teleologism. and through their own internal logic defeat themselves. One example Bennington describes is how Kant’s prescription of a natural law that gives birth to the human animal which then in turn is able to escape the natural ends of the former law. Bennington surmises this contradictory nature of teleological schema succinctly.

Either way we are faced with a structure of end- setting that interrupts the process leading up to it and demands analysis of its internal interruptions and impossibilities, the more radically so now that it seems likely to many that that end- setting interruptive of natural processes (a currently fashionable name for which is the Anthropocene) really might be tending toward the End.[v]

The next section after the Preface moves from an apparently modest, marginal investigation of Kant’s teleology to a bigger more daring exposition by Bennington in the succeeding part of the book which is entitled ‘Preliminary.’ Bennington proclaims that: “If the point here were to do metaphysics (again), my claim, which would then be extraordinarily immodest, would be that “frontier” is nothing less than the primary philosophical concept and the origin of all others”.[vi] Somewhat repudiating Derrida’s project and simultaneously pushing on his deconstructive method, this third aspect of Bennington’s argument will be the ultimate in determining whether he succeeds in fails in convincing his readers of the primacy of the concept of the frontier both within philosophy and its theories of readings of philosophical works. The key distinction Bennington wishes to construct is that whilst an understanding of the concept of the concept is an impossibility without the concept of the frontier, each concept insomuch as it is a concept requires a frontier in order to delimit itself from others. However, he furthermore suggests that the concept of the frontier by this very definition cannot be defined itself. Now, whether as Bennington claims that “all philosophical concepts rest on a nonconceptual (nonphilosophical) ground that philosophy is incapable of thinking”,[vii] and secondly that if there are no philosophical concepts apropos, then we would need a concept of the frontier to delineate which concepts we were analysing, but as put to us prior to this claim, the concept of the frontier does not exist. In conclusion, the concept of the frontier is thus, a kind of interrupted teleological, a concept of concepts which itself cannot be identified but is teleological in its nature to describe concepts. Now, it remains to be seen whether this apparent parry and dance of conceptual meandering is a truly reasonable, philosophical or conceptual discovery and Bennington’s promised investigation of Kant will prove or disprove this. The concept of the frontier Bennington will use to evaluate whether philosophy itself from the outside from an origin or point of conceptualization is a possibility, and secondly whether philosophy itself is purely just history of philosophy rather than philosophy autonomously. Perhaps given these series of contentious claims that Bennington has set himself up for a fall in reducing philosophy and history to a singular concept which is primarily not at the heart of Derrida nor his kin, deconstruction. Furthermore, any reduction to a singular concept to answer all multiplicities is a beckoning problem to any philosopher. The frontier, which Bennington then posits as almost synonymous with Being[viii] is perhaps also allergic to Adorno’s critique of Heidegger’s reduction of the history of metaphysics as the history of being as self-defeating, insomuch as utilizing the concept of the frontier to reduce philosophy to the concept of the frontier is merely a sort of intellectual posturing, or in Hegel’s terms, a bad infinity. In one sense, the demarcation of Being could be said to be a type of frontier, in so much as you in a strictly phenomenological sense, with the name of Being and its metaphysical and conceptual baggage begin to build walls, delimitations, boundaries and frontiers. However, we should permit Bennington at least the courtesy of hearing his voice speak till its last breath in order to begin investigating the extent to which his sudden discovery of a new concept at the heart of all things perhaps should be listened to after all. Additionally to these high orders Bennington has placed on himself within the concept of the frontier, he claims that it “is literally everywhere”,[ix] he notes the concepts of différend and différance as an evident allusion to his predecessors Lyotard and Derrida however distinguishing his own coinage. Bennington even goes further to argue that the word itself as well as the concept of the frontier is simultaneously both its reference and referent at the same time. He elaborates in a more general sense that metaphysics itself is no longer possible in the traditional sense, such that any practice of metaphysics so called only refers to the objects and things themselves, but that teleological practice is no longer possible because of its disruptive nature. In a sudden turn of tradition and ideas, Bennington then moves to a ‘polemical’ reading of Gottlob Frege’s Grundgesetze der Arithmetik in order to begin demonstrating the profundity of his concept of the frontier. He quotes Frege in that “[t]he concept must have a sharp boundary [der Begriff muss Scharf begrenzt sein]”,[x] which is interesting linguistically primarily because of the usage of grenzen or boundaries, frontiers, borders which Frege uses in which Bennington is evidently, immediately interested in for his own conceptual production. The use of Frege only crosses a few pages bolstering its polemical nature, however Bennington reverts back to his spectre of Derrida revealing more clarity on the nature of the frontier.

As Jacques Derrida has taught us, the foundation of an institution, its very institution, the institution of the institution, including the institution of a science, and even of a science of logic, cannot be understood by that institution, can only be violent with respect to that institution. What I am trying to show here is that the frontier is the enduring (uncrossable) trace of that violent institution of the institution in general, and that this violence marks all concepts with the trace of a constitutive nonconceptuality.[xi]

Bennington goes on to claim that Frege by committing to the distinction between Sinn and Bedeutung lends itself to a failure of his own frontier of the concept of concepts. If as Derrida suggests, the relation between the poetical and the philosophical is what forces to philosophy to think,[xii] similar to the conclusion of Heidegger insomuch as new poetry is needed to reinvigorate thinking once more, perhaps Bennington’s fascination with the frontier is aligned to this goal also. Transitioning to the sphere of political philosophy, Bennington openly admits that the frontier does not amount to much,[xiii] however he claims that such concepts as the State are defined, delimited and demarcated by a frontier which the singular object is posited and then analysed as a fact of the world. This last part of an auxilliary argument in the Prolegomena section of the text is one in which Bennington claims that the frontier is in fact a ‘primary problem of political philosophy’ and that it “cannot be resolved dialectically”,[xiv] because of its ‘absolute exteriority’ but perhaps we shall see that it is in fact Bennington’s concept of the frontier that will never be crossed. Now, we shall return to the main bodies of the text itself after the long and precise previous sections named Preface, Preliminary and Prolegomena in turn. The central focus from Aristotle to Kant will be the concept of the state of nature, and what each philosopher in turns coins as a natural community which then gives rise to a community seemingly outside and beyond that natural law basis. However, Bennington puts forth that natural frontiers would only be shores, rivers, mountains,[xv] and then the frontier of the State would rise later on the basis of these previous forms of frontiers, but the play Bennington is enforcing is thus to question these apparent frontiers in Aristotle and Kant. The linkage between the demarcation of the frontier and violence is furthermore explored in conjunction with the concept of the polis, speech, zoon politikon and the state of nature in Aristotle and Kant.[xvi] However, the key point for Bennington is that violence is first needed for the separation of the natural law from the State, or from the natural community to the polis, and then within this context of violence[xvii] the drawing of a frontier is a further representative act of violence, and contracts further violence in the form of jealousy, mockery, revenge, threat, warfare.[xviii]

For the problem that is tormenting these texts of Aristotle as much as those of Kant depends on the very structure (or the nature) of the frontier itself: If we cross the frontier between nature and right by nature, by necessity and natural force, we remain short of the frontier, on the side of nature, while claiming to cross it. If, however, we cross the frontier out of duty, we do not really cross it, because we were already on the other side, in right, just when we were supposed not to be there yet. The frontier between nature and right, then, does not really exist, even if there is this frontier. The nonlinear dynamics of these relations between nature and its others—physis and nomos, necessity and obligation, violence and peace, the always- already but yet never accomplished crossing of the frontier that separates these opposing terms—is precisely what we are here calling “nature,” some paradoxical consequences of which we are just beginning to see.[xix]

In this lengthy quote, it is clear what Bennington is advocating, attempting to highlight the apparent tensions and contradictions between the natural and beyond in Aristotle and Kant. However, to what extent does this supposed contradiction actually mean in regards to how Aristotle conceived of the difference between the natural community and the polis? And the same to what extent did Kant really think and construct a difference between a state of nature and state of law? Bennington explains that politics will continue eternally attempting to solve the problems of sovereignty, legislation, the forms of government, suffrage, and private property.[xx] In the case of Ancient Greece, the singular Greek polis once established out of the relations of husband to wife, master to slave and individual to city polis, will soon come to realize that their ‘circle’ is surrounded by other circles, and so the frontiers are forever expanded outwards from nature to law, to nature again, and further onwards to law. By setting up the tensions in Aristotle leading to Kant, Bennington wishes to set up the paradoxes of the “cosmopolitan situation of perpetual peace”,[xxi] which the circles of the polis which Aristotle describes build into Kant’s internationalist state of many nation-states interacting in a wider circle altogether. However Bennington wishes to highlight how the perpetual peace in Kant is none other than death, such that the only real solution to peace between international states is only when all of “Kant’s frontiers and distinctions are threatened in the very tracing of their line, and that the definition of critique itself will not survive unscathed”.[xxii] Bennington by deconstructing Kant’s theory of perpetual peace he then moves onto the much favoured other element of Kant which is known and marked out in philosophy, Kant’s critical moment or his mode of critique. Bennington lays more suspicion on Kant in his theory of critique in that alike to the temporal, teleological interruptive nature of perpetual peace, Kant’s critique suffers from the same temporal lapse. Bennington elucidates that:

in Kant the critical moment to the doctrinal moment (and indeed everyone does prefer that) but that, as the doctrinal moment only ever arrives as the death of the critical moment, it never truly arrives, which would leave us forever in the good critical tension? But then we would no longer really understand what critique means, as the concept of critique in Kant draws its content from its teleological determination with regard to doctrine. No critique without doctrine. Without doctrine, no critical step.[xxiii]

As outlined in his Preface, Preliminary and Prolegomena the interruptive nature of teleology itself even enters into Bennington’s text in the form of a section called Interlude: The Guiding Thread (on Philosophical Reading) in which he will interject the basis of his own reading just performed in the previous section. He again refers to his polemic to philosophy in that it represses theories of reading primarily because of its primary mode of understanding its ideas of reading through hermeneutics, and that philosophy prefers to merely discuss ideas of thought rather than the philosophical readings. The problem of how to read philosophy, a philosopher, a philosophical text, a philosophical proposition, a philosophical concept is problematized by Bennington.[xxiv]

Interestingly enough, Bennington refers to Pascal and his “reader who goes too fast or too slowly, often in an uncomprehending disarray that does not stop me reading, but which puts me undeniably ill at ease”,[xxv] and coincidently one wonders whether Bennington’s text on the frontier is not reading in this way, but written in this very manner. He is therefore right in his offering of Hegel that the form of the text constructs the principle, thread and backbone of the ideas supposedly embedded within and outside the text in order to define its frontier to borrow Bennington’s concept, one believes that Derrida called it a parergon. Bennington continues, “Which is why, reading Hegel, one becomes a Hegelian (the text here is in principle already the institution of its own reading, already its own quasi- tautological saturating interpretation)”.[xxvi] Then one wonders, what is the institution of Bennington’s reading? The usage of prefaces, interludes and interjections demonstrate the frontier itself at work, in that when one reads a philosophical text one hopes to begin at the beginning perhaps at the first critique of Kant, then moves onto later texts in the next chapters divided by frontiers of titles, sections, paragraphs, sentences, words, gaps in between the words one reads here, then back out into the ideas of critique, perpetual peace, Kant and into philosophy itself. Perhaps as Bennington himself suggests that one cannot do without the history of philosophy nor read the new,[xxvii] then his reading of Aristotle and Kant are both a classical reading and a new reading seemingly melded together in an undeniably fascinating combination proving the plasticity of philosophical reading whether it focuses on the ideas and represses theories of reading, or bases itself on a theory of reading and neglects the ideas, but one wonders whether both possibilities, or potentialities are in fact possible or an actuality? Bennington concludes on Kant by outlining that the frontier “can be said to be nature, violence, warfare, radical evil, contingency, but also providence, critique, or peace”.[xxviii] However, it is the same here as well as Adorno’s critique of Husserl in his book Metacritique in that phenomenology promises to be dealing with the essence of things by pervading all forms of metaphysical constraints and systems. However, just as Adorno thought that by using the term Being as the sole reduction of Western philosophy did not in fact lead to an overturning of Western metaphysics but a facile self-evidency, that in fact by designating the word Being as a concept in fact, leads to its own meaninglessness and loss of any conceptuality. Additionally, what in fact are Bennington’s contents of his own frontier? Again, as his Preface demonstrated perhaps he can evade such a question in that the frontier itself is not a concept or an idea by itself, but one wonders what is bracketed out of Bennington’s text. The part of the argument in his investigation of Kant is attempting to frame the question of politics in Kant,Bennington’s point can be summarized in that Kant never directly or explicitly addresses the question of politics, it is located in the interstices of the frontier between the “Architectonic of the first Critique, nor in the preface to the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, nor in the introduction to the third Critique”.[xxix] Bennington puts this point in a form of dialogue, in that politics in Kant’s complete series of his system, never addresses the question of politics and yet his system concerns politics.

So to the question “Where is politics?” we reply (because Kant does not reply): On the frontier, or, rather, in the frontier, in the transitional spaces, between the great divisions of the system. As politics in Kant’s descriptions depends on a remainder of violent nature inscribed along frontiers, a remainder that cosmopolitanism does not absorb, politics will be inscribed […].[xxx]

However, Bennington does in fact identify where the frontier of Kant actually resides. He locates it in the Kantian mode of judgement, in which Kant is able to unite several disparate spheres, modes and spaces of thought within his grand architectonic system. It would seem then, that whilst Bennington at the beginning of his book and his analysis of Kant, the frontier did not seem apparent but more or less structured Kant’s reasoning in his system. Now it is revealed that Kant’s frontier is in fact, the faculty of judgement which can unite his thought.

We still do not know what a frontier is, or even what its nature is, except to be of nature. And we could even say that just that is the frontier: not knowing. We trace frontiers in order to know, but we will know nothing of the frontier itself. Kant is less interested in knowledge per se, pace the neo- Kantians, than in its frontier, where knowledge fails. If there were in Kant a faculty of the frontier, it would clearly be the faculty of judgment. The success of the operation might be disputed, but the aim of the third Critique seems clear enough: that of throwing a bridge over the abyss that has opened between the world of experience and the world of freedom, between speculative and practical reason. The abyss is, it would seem, again what we are here calling the frontier, in a peculiarly exacerbated or exasperated form. But judgment would be the faculty allowing it to be crossed, or at least allowing the two sides to be joined. Judgment would then be reason itself being rational, the pure faculty of relations that are both singular and analogous.[xxxi]

After concluding on the frontier of Kant as the faculty of judgement, Bennington deliberately jumps to Hegel’s critique of Kant into trying to “sublate contingency into necessity, without simply erasing the place of the contingency thus sublated”.[xxxii] Bennington’s sudden interruptive teleological of Hegel into his commentary on Kant is again representative of his concept of the frontier, demonstrating another frontier of Kant, be it in this case, a version of Kant as a part of Hegel’s critique of Kant himself. Bennington seems to make Hegel’s frontier the sublation of Kant’s frontier which may prove hugely problematic. Hegel’s supposed sublation is problematized by Bennington in that the end will never come, in terms of history or art such that the end is already implicit in the beginning.[xxxiii] Bennington summarizes the study of Kant in terms of two doctrines, firstly the doctrine of critique in which critique is lost in its employment, such that in its immanence it loses its immanent ability in a loss of temporality.

But what our halt around Kant will have taught us is that there are only halts and in them a certain spirit of critique that begins to be lost as soon as it becomes critique (i.e., once it is carried out in anticipation of a doctrine to come). This critical position of critique, this crisis of critique, obliges it to have quite different relations to the tradition than those entertained by Kant himself. So we have not tried to read Kant in a Kantian way (as will have been noticed), while nonetheless claiming to read Kant. Reading him, we clearly take a step outside what philosophers call “philosophy,” because philosophy in that sense is the refusal, in principle, of reading.[xxxiv]

Bennington concludes in his Appendix: On Transcendental Fiction that we must read philosophical works in a literary way to push the frontiers of our understandings and the frontiers of that thinker’s thought.[xxxv] As mentioned prior to in earlier sections, Bennington uses Derrida’s polemic of literature that it forces philosophy to think, and that the boundaries between philosophy and literature are in fact literary frontiers, such that they are mediated by philosophies of reading, not just the ideas and systems of thought of philosophy. In conclusion, one gets the formidable impression from Bennington’s latest text on the frontier, that it serves as a frontier itself as opposed to a content-filled space in between project, and that as one reads this text one should expect the next texts to come as further boundaries to Bennington’s post-deconstructive, Derridean work.

Does this mean that “analogy” is the proper name of what we are trying to articulate here? Certainly not, because there can be no propriety of analogy. The ana-logos always remains to one side of the logos, bordering or lining it without letting itself be comprehended by it, or letting itself be comprehended solely as its Grenze, which immediately relaunches the whole machinery. Reason, exposed by Kant according to a certain ana-logics of logic, speaks itself and loses itself not in the empty space beyond the frontier but at the frontier itself as pure analogy. But one senses that analogy can never be pure, as it is purely a placing in relation. Like the frontier as such, analogy as such is nothing, and so there is analogy only in a dispersion of uncontrollable, in(de)terminable singularities, always in the now of the event of the frontier. Analogy is only ever analogical, relaunches itself indefinitely as the unlimited limit of thought or as the pure relation of thought and language. The frontier, as Aristotle knew, is infinite, interminable, a term without term. Kant never finishes tracing it, putting a term to it, limiting himself to bounds, bound to limits. This is his cross, his passion, that gives rise to a reading that I cannot say is either literary or philosophical, that really starts I know not where, and finds its end I know not how.[xxxvi]


[i]               Bennington Geoffrey, Preface to the English Edition in Kant on the Frontier: Philosophy, Politics and the Ends of the Earth, Fordham University Press, (New York, 2017), p. ix.

[ii]              Ibid.

[iii]             Ibid.

[iv]             Ibid., p. x.

[v]              Ibid.

[vi]             Ibid., Preliminary p. xiii.

[vii]            Ibid.

[viii]           Ibid., p. xiv.

[ix]             Ibid., p. xv.

[x]              Ibid., Prolegomena p. xix.

[xi]             Ibid., p. xxv.

[xii]            Ibid., p. xxvi.

[xiii]           Ibid., p. xxviii.

[xiv]          Ibid.

[xv]           Ibid., The End of Nature, p. 2.

[xvi]          Ibid., p. 3.

[xvii]         Ibid.

[xviii]        Ibid.

[xix]          Ibid., p. 27..

[xx]           Ibid., The Return of Nature p. 28

[xxi]          Ibid., p. 62.

[xxii]         Ibid.

[xxiii]        Ibid., p. 84.

[xxiv]        Ibid., Interlude: The Guiding Thread (On Philosophical Reading) p. 85.

[xxv]         Ibid.

[xxvi]        Ibid., p. 92

[xxvii]       Ibid., p. 99.

[xxviii]      Ibid., p. 107.

[xxix]        Ibid., 4. Radical Nature, p. 109.

[xxx]         Ibid.

[xxxi]        Ibid., 5. The Abyss of Judgement, p. 144.

[xxxii]       Ibid., Finis p. 199.

[xxxiii]      Ibid., p. 203.

[xxxiv]      Ibid.

[xxxv]       Ibid., Appendix: On Transcendental Fiction (Grenze and Schranke), p. 205.

[xxxvi]      Ibid., p. 223.

Jocelyn Benoist: L’adresse du réel

L’adresse du réel Book Cover L’adresse du réel
Moments Philosophiques
Jocelyn Benoist
Vrin
2017
Paperback 14.00 €
376

Reviewed by: Dominik Jarczewski (Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne)

The recent book by Jocelyn Benoist, Professor of Contemporary Philosophy at the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, in line with his previous monographs, particularly Sens et sensibilité. L’intentionalité en context (2009), Éléments de Philosophie Réaliste. Réflexions sur ce que l’on a (2011) and Le Bruit du Sensible (2013), constitutes the next step in the development of his work in reestablishing and rethinking realist philosophy. His method rests on one of building his system in confrontation with classical contemporary philosophers. In that way, the book offers both an original speculative contribution to systematic philosophy (primarily, ontology and epistemology, secondly, moral philosophy, aesthetics, philosophy of language and philosophy of mind) and a thorough new reading in the history of philosophy with the leading figures of Frege, Husserl and Wittgenstein.

The pretext for this newest contribution is the emergence of so-called New Realism in the continental philosophy of the first decade of the 21st century. The author asks in what sense anything could possibly be new about rightly conceived realism. The critical analysis of the positions of two eminent representatives of the movement, Markus Gabriel and Maurizio Ferraris, leads the author to postulate rather than refurbish and correct the ‘old’ realism as a proper way towards a rightful account of reality. However, to accomplish the double task of the criticism of the defective realisms and positive realist model for ontology and epistemology, Benoist must begin with formulating what criteria the sought realism should meet.

The point of the departure is taking a proper distance from the two extremities that has marked contemporary philosophy: the idealism that surrenders reality to the thought (the cognition) and the metaphysical idol of an access to the being that would be independent from the context of thinking. This double confrontation leads Benoist to the central distinction governing his subsequent considerations: the one between ‘real’ and ‘true’ that corresponds to the further distinction between ‘factual’ and ‘normative’. That approach enables him to reconcile the objectivism of knowledge with its contextuality. Epistemic realism does not have to imply a form of absolutism. Quite to the contrary, context-dependence is the necessary foundation of realism. In that line, the de-contextualisation of reference constitutes an ontological error twinned with semantic idealism, common in the analytic philosophy of the 20th century but criticized already by Aristotle. The semantic relativity (contextuality) becomes an objective point for establishing the discourse in reality. The referred thing is precisely the one as it is described but it is always given in the determined circumstances. The contextuality becomes the fundamental ontological and epistemological property of reality. The lack of ‘contextual immunity’ does not speak against realism but is its only guarantee.

Having defined preliminary of what kind of realism the author shall speak, it becomes comprehensible why he is rejecting the two programs of New Realism. The first, by Markus Gabriel, proposes an ultra-intensional (and ultra-intentional, as Benoist remarks) ontology expressed in a paradoxical slogan: ‘Everything exists apart from the world’. The phrase is not only provocative. The author proceeds to shed some light on its hidden consequences. First, he comments on the exclusion of the world from the kingdom of existence. Gabriel, following the line drawn by Kant, Husserl and Wittgenstein, remarks that if everything that exists exists within the world, there is no point in speaking about the existence of the very world. So the world does not exist in consequence. Does he not go too far? Indeed, as Benoist remarks, if that is the case, it would be equally erroneous to talk about the non-existence of the world as about its existence. One would do better pointing out just the error of category. Also, the ‘existence of everything’ is problematic. Does this not lead to the conclusion that finally nothing exists? The notion of existence excessively extended is made extremely fragile. That is in line with what Benoist criticizes further, the theory of semantic fields of Gabriel to which the German philosopher attributes illegitimately a strong ontological status. According to Benoist, we need no special intentional entities to strengthen our realism. Quite to the contrary, they would cut us from reality. What we do need is the intentionality oriented towards the reality. And that is something different from what Gabriel intends to do.

The philosophy of the second representative of New Realism, Maurizio Ferraris, can be read as a reaction to postmodern ‘culturalism’. The Italian philosopher is drawing a sharp opposition between natural and social reality, the second being constructed. Benoist notices, against him, that the social world is as immediately real as the natural one. I cannot decide whether the man I see is a policeman or not. Even if the institution concerned has been created by humans, from the perceptual point of view, it is as real as natural properties. According to Benoist, the reasoning of Ferraris is rooted in a confused notion of reality, the one that treats it as ascribed to one kind of being against another one. In contrast, reality is a categorial concept. It says nothing more nor less than that the thing concerned is the thing it is. The case of Ferraris is yet another example of the misconception of the normative aspect of knowledge that has to be corrected in the following part of the book. It should be noted that it is the very aspect of traditional realism that needs some amendment as well. Here, conversely, the norms were given a strong ontological dimension while they were treated as parts of the objects. The distinction between truth and reality is coming back. The independence of reality should be understood exactly in light of the categorial difference between reality and the norm. If renewed realism has a program, that should be it, according to the author.

The first two chapters of the book consecrated to the primordial sketch of the discussion’s ground, the next four are devoted to the commentaries on the three contemporary masters in rethinking realism: Frege, Wittgenstein and Husserl. As mentioned before, they should be of great interest for historians of philosophy as well. The Fregean distinction of sense and reference is explained and reestablished in the polemic with Markus Gabriel. The latter one, in the last chapter of Sinn und Existenz, has questioned the very distinction as well as the one between sense and representation. As a result, sense becomes a property of reference. As Benoist warns, that leads to the risk of psychologism. However, he shares the concern that the second distinction has impoverished the notion of sense. The radical antisubjectivism of Gabriel’s account on semantics is missing the intermediary position in the sense that original Fregean thought corresponded to its epistemic function. In Gabriel, the Fragean senses become a dimension of reality. Not only are they objective, but real as well. Yet again, Benoist remarks the grammatical error of confusing determination with property. It corresponds to the fundamental distinction between the normative and the factual. Sense has ontological implications but no ontological dimension. Just to note, Benoist stresses that the distinction he is defending is not an opposition. An opposition would require that its components belong to the same category. In our case, we rest always on two different categorial grounds. The real does not need the normative. It is we who need it, on the other hand, to conceive the structures within reality.

The primordial confusion of Gabriel has its further implications that fall in line with what Benoist calls, ‘phenomenological fallacy’. To exist means to him to appear in the field of sense. The project of de-subjectivization leads to the ontologization of appearances. This is however another grammatical error. Gabriel confounds two determinations of reality: the structuralization of the being itself and the notion of appearance. The second one requires its subject: the one to whom an object is to appear. The ontologization Gabriel is desperately seeking cuts off that subject. Once again, he seems to pass from the grammar of facts to the grammar of norms. As Benoist points out, the object belongs to the second one. He compares the appearance to an actor who cannot enter the stage before the rule of play has been determined. There is no objective, context-immune sense of being. We cannot apprehend the being but for the given norms.

The notion of the grammar, which enters regularly into discussion, requires a separate analysis. This one is furnished in the fourth chapter. The lesson one can learn from the late Wittgenstein is the recognition of the profound realist-orientation of language. To speak is to act, and one cannot act if not within the world. Even the language games that presuppose taking the world in brackets are played in the world. That is why, according to Benoist, a study of language games is the privileged way towards realism. Some questions however should be raised. Grammar constitutes order in itself, independent from reality. Is language-orientation not so much an escape from reality? The author maintains the thesis of the double independence of reality and grammar that are nonetheless coupled by the usage of language. A fragment of reality never has its linguistic meaning – the latter belongs to grammar (that, following Wittgenstein, contains semantics). This leads to the commentary on the §371 of the Philosophical Investigations where Wittgenstein states that essence is expressed by grammar. The passage was widely commented in the literature. It was considered as the anti-essentialist declaration of the Austrian philosopher. Anscombe, on the other hand, has proposed an essentialist lecture. Benoist revises both interpretations. He focuses on the anti-nominalist dimension of the §371. Essentialism is understood here as nominalism about the ideal. The error of the essentialist lecture of Wittgenstein consists in falling into descriptivist illusion. This Wittgenstein reminded us that grammar does not describe the facts. Anscombe confounds the naming by words with expressing by grammar. The essence should not be understood as the thing I am referring to but by what I am thinking or understanding. It stands on the side of the norm. And the norm is the norm of usage. Finally, that is the usage that determines and guarantees the realist dimension of grammar.

The fifth chapter concerns the status of impossibility. Traditionally, it was presented as the most external of the concentric circles, beginning from the ‘actual’. Benoist distinguishes two notions of impossibility: empirical (real) and logical (absolute). The negation in the first case supposes a virtual possibility. The negation in the second case seems to be of some special kind: it does not concern lack of a reference, but lack of a sense that would have a reference. Benoist stands against the ontological interpretation of the logical impossibility. He rectifies a false opinion on Husserl that would have admitted an ontological consistency to impossibilia. On the contrary, phenomenology treats the impossible a priori as empirical, but of the higher order, mediatized by the mathematical notion of the limit. Benoist’s own answer turns to the usage of norms. Squaring the circle would require changing the norms. The sought circle would not be a circle in standard meaning. Impossibility a priori has a logical signification. There is no impossibility in itself. The myth of the absolute impossibility results from the pseudo-theoretical position that would like to be both inside and outside some activity. The realism defended by the author does not need that notion. To say that there is no absolute impossibility does not mean that everything is allowed. It means rather that where anything goes, one really does nothing.

In the next chapter, Benoist continues his commentary on Husserl and revises the notion of epoché in the context of his own realist project. The theoretical epoché is seen as the anti-hermeneutical turn. Husserl absolutizes the describing that constitutes a part of the form of our life. He wants to focus on what is seen independently of any particular norm. He passes from a particular to an absolute language game. Is that possible though, given the contextual embeddedness defended by Benoist? More light is casted on the phenomenological epoché. Benoist points out that the thesis of the existence of the world is not a thesis properly speaking. Any doubt is local. As an activity, it is still in the world. (Here Benoist follows the grammar of the doubt by Peirce and Wittgenstein.) No one can question it. And Husserl does respect it. He does not invite us to abandon the thesis of the existence of the world, but only not to use it. Too often has the German philosopher been confused with sceptics. Epoché is not intended to liberate us from judgments, but their world-orientation. What epoché discovers seems not to be an independent aspect of reality, but quite to the contrary, our own activity. The methodological side of the epoché can help us to highlight the normative nature of objects. An object is not given, but is a measure of the given. And, finally, any norm can be understood only in reference to reality. This orientation, as it has already been remarked, is inscribed in grammar. In addition, Benoist presents the notion of the acousmatic sound by Pierre Schaeffer in light of epoché. He notices that even in the case of that radical reduction, we rest always within the real. The given does not precede reality. It refers to the fact that it is perceived according to a norm that has its real conditions.

The next two chapters continue the reflection towards the philosophy of perception. The first one, particularly of interest, concerns the reality of appearances and gives some comments on the use of hallucinations in the argumentation for disjunctivism and conjunctivism about perception. Benoist refers to the works by Juan Gonzalez and Katalin Farkas. In the first point, he remarks that the hallucinations used in philosophy are generally philosophical fictions. The natural hallucinations aren’t as perfect as the philosophers maintain and a less-than-perfect cognition is sufficient to recognize them from a standard perception. Nonetheless, he accepts the answer of Michel Martin who agrees that he is not speaking about empirical hallucinations, but about some hypothetical entity defined as a mental state indistinguishable from perception. Benoist leaves hallucinations for a while and proceeds to illusions. Following Austin, he maintains that illusions are perceptions. They are not deceptive as far as one can properly interpret them. Once again, what returns is the conviction of the author that apprehension cannot be abstracted from its context. Perception cannot be taken as detached from its conditions. Nor are illusions false perceptions. That approach would ignore the diversity of what perception is. Thus, against conjuctivism, perceptual illusions are not evidence for the existence of a layer of pre-perceptual appearances within perception and independent from perception. At the same time, against disjunctivism, illusions are not something radically different from perception. What can be said about illusions is that they are problematic perceptions but sensual reality is present within them on the same level as in the case of other perceptions.

Then, Benoist asks in what respect we can distinguish hallucinations from illusions. The visual hallucinations (eg. those provoked by LSD) are rather visual deformations and because of that they can be treated together with visual illusions. Austin would point out the subjective cause of the first and objective of the other, but the comparison with myopia shows that what is essential to the hallucinations is not that they come from me, but that the hallucinating ‘me’ is ‘me’ transformed. This should solve the question of deformational hallucinations. However, real hallucinations, that is those without a real object, still pose a problem. Thus, Benoist questions the indistinguishability of hallucinations. Quoting Gonzales, the author remarks that it is not the phenomenology but the etiology that provokes confusions about hallucinations. Notably, hallucinations are clinically described as extremely realistic – ‘too real to be true’. For that reason, they are phenomenologically distinguishable as surreal. Hallucinations operate on the ground of reality and not on truth. They are not false beliefs about reality, but pure experience (without belief) of reality. That experience-orientation enables Benoist to reject as well the hypothetical (philosophical) notion of hallucinations held up by Martin. The latter maintains that perceptions and hallucinations share the appearance of perception. They both appear to be perceptions. However, appearance refers to the grammar of an object. The experience (that hallucination is) has no appearance. The notion of indistinguishability results from the illegitimate absolutizing of phenomenal conscience.

The next chapter goes on to study the structure of intuition. The dispute on the conceptual/non-conceptual content of perception is reduced to the question whether perception has its content. That leads to another question: Is perception an experience? Benoist points out that perceptual vocabulary is primarily epistemic. The object is not given. It is a norm that identifies what is given. Thus, it is reality-oriented, but belongs to normative grammar. That normativity guarantees the conceptual character of any perception. That is a grammatical point (the grammar being taken in light of what has been said in the previous chapters). The perceptual syntax requires an object. The myth of the given consists in taking the object as though it was not a logical form. As if it was possible to identify anything without implying any norm. Following McDowell, Benoist makes some important distinctions. The concept cannot be non-conceptual, whereas reality cannot be conceptual. The difference between ‘conceptual’ and ‘non-conceptual’ is the difference of category and corresponds to the fundamental difference between truth and reality. Reality cannot be conceptual because it cannot be true nor false. It could not be not-itself. The distinction between reality and intentionality is fundamentally onto-logical. The first operates within the grammar of being, the second – within the grammar of truth/falsity.

One can continue and ask whether there is anything real in perception. That leads Benoist to turn to Gestalt Theory and correct some common errors around it. First, he distinguishes Gestalt from the object of perception. The latter being epistemic, the former is not. Thus, it should be treated rather as the matter of perception. Second, Gestalt is not a primitive, purely perceptual meaning. That would be an error in category. Gestalt is not corrigible since the correction concerns the grammar of validity. On the contrary, it is modifiable by belonging to the grammar of reality. Finally, the philosopher refutes any interpretation that would treat Gestalt as a sort of entity screening the perception of reality. Normally, I do not perceive Gestalt (the exceptions concern some special uses as the one of a painter). I perceive directly the object of perception. Gestalt, being a part of reality, ‘incarnates’ the perception.

The last two chapters indicate some consequences of the proposed realism for aesthetics and moral philosophy. The first one develops some ideas already presented in Bruit du Sensible. Benoist postulates to substitute aesthetics for poetics. The latter highlights the role of revelation in exploring the sensible as opposed to manifestation. The sensible has to be revealed. It does not manifest itself spontaneously. Modern aesthetics had taken the point of view of the spectator. Poetics recognizes the perspective of the artist. Benoist remarks the way how the Kantian paradigm of aesthetics has overstressed the formal priority in defining art – corresponding to his rejection of ‘pleasant’ in favor of ‘beautiful’, and of color in favor of sketch. That has led to a paradoxical de-sensualization of aesthetics. That is why the author invites us to de-epistemologize sensuality so that it could be taken in its reality and not as a mere sign of some external sense. That is what contemporary art has meant to do. Benoist focuses on the concrete music and program of Giacomo Scelsi. The avant-garde composers have negated the primacy of tones and scales as definitive to music. Reducing their scope, eg. by the effects of repetition, they have shed light on other aspects of sound. Above all, they helped to see the matter of sound that cannot be reduced to any form. That is for Benoist an excellent illustration of poiesis in action that helps philosophers to reveal the sensible as sensible.

The final chapter treats the moral implications of realism. The return to reality is drawn not only as an intellectual but as well a moral obligation. In the approach of Benoist, moral realism is not a particularization of general realism but rather its test. Thus, the question arises of what kind of moral realism corresponds to the realism presented in the work. The author takes an indirect methodology and evokes two examples of a failure of realism in morality: empirism and transcendental absolutism. The first one is represented by Buck Mulligan from Joyce’s Ulysses. The empirism of the protagonist consists in absolutizing the given and words. However, the contextual indifferentism makes the words meaningless. The death is a death in general, but never a concreate one. While commenting on the passage about the death of the mother of Stephen Dedalus, Benoist highlight that the guilt of Mulligan is not the one of reducing people to beasts, but of refusing any importance to the word used in the given context. The lack of intentionality is coupled with a contextual immunity. The immorality resides in the indifference.

On the other hand, realism can fail because of its absolutism. In fact, the contextual blindness is shared by both positions, although their ontological engagements do not seem to be more opposed than they are. Benoist quotes the Diaries of Marta Hillers from Berlin of 1945. Here the words become of greatest importance. Reality appears to be much more complicated than any fixed moral valuation would say. The narrator gives herself to a Soviet officer to earn the basic goods for living and to be protected against the private soldiers. Neither can she classify it as rape nor as prostitution. Obviously, rape is not a matter of any subjective feelings. Nonetheless, the evoked example points out that the moral reflection cannot put aside the point of view of the moral agents. Hiller’s own distinctions are inscribed in some particular context and, though they have no universal range, they are significant in that context and that signification can be apprehended from an outside point of view. As in the case of impossibility, Benoist does not maintain that the complexity of the situation given to prevent us from making a moral judgment. We are indeed justified to judge, but never independently from the context. The de-intentionalization of empirism becomes a symmetrical phantasm to the one of the de-contextualization of transcendental idealism.

The work of Jocelyn Benoist represents the best tradition of the philosophical enterprise that sees hermeneutics as its method (although, to my best knowledge, the author is far from accepting hermeneutics as a doctrine). A critical analysis of the philosophical tradition becomes the point of departure for an original speculation. Both historians and theoretical philosophers gain. Especially, because the erudition and methodological lack of prejudices of the author enable him to correct some widespread misinterpretations of the classics of contemporary philosophy. One can be skeptical whether the New Realism really is a movement important and original enough to merit a broad study. However, doubtlessly, for the sake of the realism proposed by Benoist, to which it plays a role of a departure point, it seems totally justified. The grammatical point of view, pointing out consequently the categorial distinctions ignored by not so few philosophers is one of the most important and inspiring contributions of the work that I would like to stress once more at the conclusion.

 

Chad Engelland: Ostension: Word Learning and the Embodied Mind

Ostension: Word Learning and the Embodied Mind Book Cover Ostension: Word Learning and the Embodied Mind
Chad Engelland
MIT Press
2014
Hardcover $42.00
336

Reviewed by: María Jimena Clavel Vázquez (St. Andrews/Stirling Philosophy Graduate Programme)

How do children come to learn their first words? One key term in answering this question is ostension: lacking linguistic resources, language speakers recur to ostensive acts or movements –such as gestures and pointing– to teach someone the name of an object. This is the phenomenon that concerns Chad Engelland in his book Ostension: Word Learning and the Embodied Mind. For Engelland, the question regarding first-word acquisition involves several other matters: how are the intentions of the language speaker available for the infant? (i.e. the phenomenological problem); if intentions are available through animate movement, what is the concept of the mind that allows such availability? (i.e. the intersubjective problem); how can infants understand an ambiguous movement such as an ostensive act? (i.e. the epistemological problem); and, finally, what is the place of animate movement in nature and its relationship with language? (i.e. the metaphysical problem).

Engelland focuses on the phenomenological question, a matter he takes to be prior to other issues. For him, phenomenology is necessary to make sense of ostension because it is a matter of availability. He claims that the question of ostension “asks how the intentionality of the other is intersubjectively available in a prelinguistic way (…) ostension concerns how specific items in the public world can be mutually manifest as the target of joint attention” (xxvii). Only when we have an adequate grasp of the phenomenon we can answer the epistemological question and advance into the metaphysical problems of the nature of the mind, and language. According to Engelland, phenomenology is an adequate method to tackle the problem of first-word acquisition because it is concerned with making explicit the way something is manifested in our everyday experience. Phenomenology grasps the interplay between presence and absence, manifestation and hiddenness, an interplay that lies at the heart of Engelland’s account of ostension. Ostension is, for him, the prelinguistic means by which infants enter the public game of language, a character that necessitates a phenomenological account.

This understanding of phenomenology allows Engelland to engage with philosophers within the phenomenological tradition such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Hans Georg Gadamer, and Robert Sokolowski, but it also allows him to read Wittgenstein, Aristotle and Augustine on this basis. Besides recurring to historical figures, he engages with contemporary thinkers, within both philosophy and psychology, such as W.V.O. Quine, Donald Davidson, Paul Bloom, and Michael Tomasello. The dialogue with philosophers that belong to different traditions and times is part of Engelland’s strategy. Philosophy is, for him, a conversation that inevitably ends up facing questions regarding human nature. In that respect, he claims that: “The restlessness of conversation, its incessant movement back and forth, is rooted in the natural aims of human like. To reflect on language in terms of conversation is to reflect on those who desire to converse with one another, with those who wish to share a life with one another. The turn to conversation necessarily involves the question concerning human nature” (216).

Part I. Contemporary Resources

Engelland begins this philosophical dialogue conversing with contemporary thinkers and scientists. In the first chapter, he starts by looking into the theory of language acquisition of Quine and Davidson. Quine gave a central role to behaviour in his explanation of language learning. He takes behaviour to be intrinsically ambiguous, an ambiguity that can only be (partially) remedied through repetition. However, Engelland considers that Quine’s external account of behaviour results in an artificial reconstruction of ostension and fails to see that, in an ostensive act, an item of the world is jointly disclosed but from different embodied perspectives: “[o]stension makes something jointly present to each, and presence involves people for whom it is present, people who together experience the world but from different points of view. In this way, there is an ineluctably ‘inward’ dimension to ostension, and there is more to behaviour than the behaviorist can see” (5).

Donald Davidson follows Quine in his account of ostension, but he emphasizes an important relational feature of the phenomenon. Language learning is the result of triangulation, that is, of the interaction between two agents, and other items in the world. The language learner associates the intention underlying the behaviour of the other agent with changes occurring in their surroundings.

Quine and Davidson are clear in that ostension is the prelinguistic means that allows first word acquisition. But, as mentioned earlier, for Engelland, ostension can only be properly unpacked phenomenologically. Phenomenology can answer “how the intentions of others are on display” in our actions (11). The movement Engelland is concerned with is not mere behavior, rather he is interested in intentional actions, actions in which one’s affective engagement is advertised. Even perception is among this kind of actions: it is not a passive process. He follows Ava Noë and Kevin O’Regan in their enactive account of perception, according to which perception is an embodied activity. Perception advertises intentionality and affectivity just like any other action; and just like any other action, perception takes place in the world and not just in our heads. Engelland also draws on the enactivist movement to account for the intersubjectivity that is constitutive of experience. Finally, Engelland draws on Gadamer’s concept of “play”, a concept that bring action and manifestation together. Play involves turn-taking and mirrored actions; players are interacting between each other, they are presenting their actions to themselves, to other players, and to spectators; it displays actions that are directed to the world and which are structured with a distinction between means and ends. This will turn out to be important features of ostensive actions.

In the second chapter, Engelland turns to scientific accounts of first-word acquisition, a matter he qualifies to be “a burning issue” in contemporary psychology. He draws mainly, on the one hand, on the work of Paul Bloom, who recovers an Augustinian proposal of language learning; and on the other, on the work of Michael Tomasello, who offers, in turn, a Wittgensteinian account. The psychological studies recovered by Engelland show that infants do not learn new words unless both the language speaker and the named item are present. For language learning, presence and intersubjective interaction is crucial. Ostension presupposes what Colwyn Trevarten identifies as the first and second stages of intersubjective development: (1) first, an understanding of others as “fellow animate beings” to whom a newborn child pays attention and with whom she interacts by imitating and by taking turns in their interactions; (2) second, an understanding of others as “intentional agents” with whom an infant engages in joint situations. It is not only that the infant can understand gestures and follow gazes, she recognizes “that these actions have reciprocal possibilities” (28). To explain the phenomenon of mirroring, Engelland recurs to the mechanism of mirror neurons, which fire when seeing the actions of another agent.

At the end of this chapter, Engelland reaches the following definition of ostension: it is “[a]n unintentionally communicative bodily movement, arising from a pattern of meaningful human action, that makes an item in the world jointly present and affords the opportunity for an eavesdropper to identify a certain kind of item in the world and/or to learn the articulate sound used to present the identified item” (36). It differs from ostensive definition in that (a) it does not necessarily have communicative intentions; and (b) it arises from a meaningful pattern of action.

Part II. Historical Resources

The historical conversation held throughout the second part of this book sets the stage for the final philosophical discussion. Although Engelland chooses four thinkers that come from different backgrounds and contexts, the way he guides the discussion enables a productive intertwining that enlightens the problem of ostension. While Augustine, Wittgenstein, and Merleau-Ponty explicitly deal with the problem of language acquisition, Aristotle does not. This is one of the virtues of the text. Engelland shows that Aristotle has the conceptual resources to deal with the issue of world learning; furthermore, Aristotelian philosophy allows the clarification of problems that arise within the other views, such as the nature of movement, and of animal life.

In the third chapter, Engelland starts this historical journey analysing Wittgenstein’s position which he reads in a phenomenological manner: the task of philosophy is not to raise scepticism, but to clarify the phenomena that appear in our everyday experience. Wittgenstein develops his account in opposition to Augustine’s. Firstly, he regards Augustine’s theory to apply only to naming; secondly, he takes it not to involve ostension, but ostensive definition which supposes the infant to have some kind of mental language; finally, he emphasizes the ambiguity of ostension as a central aspect of ostension, one that Wittgenstein considers to be missing in Augustine’s account.

Engelland argues that these objections are due to a misconstruction of Augustine’s position which, without realizing, is a lot closer to Wittgenstein’s own account in the following aspects: (1) firstly, ostensive acts (i.e. gestures) enable infants “to follow intentional cues and, when coupled with training, find their way into a language game” (52); (2) secondly, there are some human voluntary movements that are universal and which reveal our intentions; (3) gestures reveal the consciousness of another, (4) facial expressions betray our attention, (5) and the tone of voice and its modulation reveal emotions; (6) finally, all of these reveal affections, they “serve to make manifest one’s affections in the pursuit or avoidance of things” (53). Given that our body manifests our intentions, one can perceive the other’s affective life. Per Wittgenstein, minds are not private, they rather seem hidden when we are facing an ambiguous behavior. Despite the similarities of Wittgenstein’s account with Augustine, there is one central difference. For the former, ostension is disambiguated thanks to training, because the infant cannot surpass ambiguity without the help of a teacher. Engelland rejects this picture of the passive child and instead takes Augustine’s perspective of a ripe infant who desires to participate in the language game.

In the next chapter, Engelland revisits Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s position regarding language learning. The phenomenological perspective of Merleau-Ponty allows Engelland to account for the intersubjective interplay that lies at the basis of ostension. For Merleau-Ponty it is not so much that the child acquires language, rather she gets habituated to the language game. In learning to speak, the infant is learning to play a role and, thus, is acquiring not language but a whole world of meaning. In that sense, Engelland claims with Merleau-Ponty that “the body gains a ‘figurative significance’” (71).

To understand the communicative powers of the body, Merleau-Ponty abandons the opposition between a material world governed by causal relations, and consciousness. The body “must become the intention” if it is to account for our communicative interplay. The reciprocity of communication is possible in virtue of a common world to which both the language speaker and the infant belong. Engelland follows Merleau-Ponty in claiming that intersubjectivity is constitutive of the body. The flesh, a term that the French philosopher coined to refer to the basis of this embodied intersubjectivity, brings together the activity of the lived body and the passivity of the perceived body. Engelland claims that “the twofold or chiasm of flesh places each of us in a world together, enabling gesturing and joint attention” (81). For Engelland, Merleau-Ponty captures in a brilliant way “how the body is the best picture of the mind” (82). However, he fails to account just how it is that the body is twofold, a task that can be accomplish by two classical programs.

In the fifth chapter, Engelland addresses the first of these programs: Augustine’s account of word learning. With Jean-Luc Marion, Engelland takes Augustine to be concerned with the phenomenological question regarding ostension. In De Doctrina Christiana, Augustine notices that there are signs that are instituted or conventional, and, therefore, are arbitrary. However, that poses a problem for word acquisition: if these signs are arbitrary, how can they be acquired? To explain this, it is necessary to account for the joint attention that precedes language learning. Augustine recalls the context in which he acquired language: “a context of interpersonal affection nourished by expressive bodily movements” (93). In that context, the infant fails to disclose her needs, affections, and desires, and “discovers the ability to do so by understanding the bodily movement of language speakers” (94). Unlike the passive infant in Wittgenstein’s account, Augustine’s infant wishes to participate in the language game. This infant learns in an important sense by eavesdropping the conversations that take place in daily routines. Context controls ambiguity in an important way.

But, what happens when the context is not enough to disambiguate? For Augustine, the infant possesses some kind of perception or receptivity that allows disambiguation. The child conjectures that “bodily movement signifies soul” (101). But this conjecture is not an inference, it is rather an awareness we share with other animals and that is rooted in our inner sense. The infant develops this awareness when developing motor control. Nonetheless, interanimal awareness is not enough to make sense of this phenomenon. The child requires understanding as well to grasp bodily movement as an intentional action. Engelland intends to show, contra Wittgenstein, that Augustine does consider ambiguity as a problem. Not only that, Augustine realizes that ambiguity is a central feature of language learning, and that it is an obstacle that is not easy to surpass.

The last stop in Engelland’s historical route is Aristotle. As mentioned earlier, Aristotle does not have an account of word acquisition, however, Engelland reconstructs what would be the Aristotelian account of language learning, an account that offers some important concepts that were lacking in Augustine’s view. Engelland begins his reconstruction with the argument against the denier of PNC (the Principle of Non-Contradiction). For Engelland, this refutation shows that the PNC accounts for the possibility of intelligibility. But, what accounts for the possibility of joint intelligibility?

For Aristotle, animals communicate on the basis of natural significations: they express pleasure and pain. Humans, on the other hand, transcend this and institute conventional terms to express something other. However, these conventional terms are problematic in that they must communicate the way the world appears individually to each of us. This inward dimension of affectivity does not represent a problem, because it can be shared through our bodily movement. Aristotle’s account of movement differs from that of modern physics. For him, natural movement reveals the power to move. Animate movement, which is common to all animals, has a discriminatory character because it “targets a good or avoids a bad” (116). What is specific of deliberate human gestures is that they invite the other to look beyond them and to rest their attention in something else. Human joint activity goes beyond coordination, and turns into political cooperation (i.e. into a “share[d] belief about what makes for a good life” (124)). According to Engelland, the reciprocity of understanding in Aristotle’s description of friendship, sheds light to the meaning of cooperation: in friendship, we understand ourselves by understanding others.

Part III. Philosophical Investigations

These two conversations –the one with contemporary thinkers and the historical one– allow Engelland to set the stage for his philosophical investigations. In chapter seven, he gives a phenomenological account of ostension, according to which the intention of ostensive bodily movements is manifested, and not inferred. Engelland draws on the theory of the perception of emotion developed by J. L. Austin for whom: “one’s body advertises the movement of emotions to all those who have eyes to see” (p. 134). For Engelland, the advertisement of our affections is not reduced to emotion, but extends to action and perception in general.

Engelland rejects the inferential position because it assumes the “Cartesian bifurcation of internal and external evidence” (136). This bifurcation implies that, in order to go from behavior to internal intentions, the infant would need to experience such an internal realm. Inference requires the experience of internal intentions as evidence. Without it, the child has no basis for inference. He claims that: “[The inferential view] assumes a flawed framework in which the terms inside and outside, private and public, self and other, are mutually exclusive. The chasm separating these two domains cannot be bridged by endowing the infant with mindboggling powers of inference; it can be bridged only by uncovering the perception of animate movement. On this view, the infant appears more naturally as an understanding animal, not an inferring scientist” (138).

Per Engelland, ostension is not the coordination of the inner lives of two agents through behavior, it is rather joint perception. Joint perception requires spatial and temporal presence not only of the agents, but of the perceived item as well. Our individual perspective of the perceived object does not cancel joint perception because we perceive the public appearance or look of the item. Things have a public dimension and it is this dimension that we perceive and intend. In ostension, my bodily movement manifests the intended object, thus, bringing it to presence or making it an object of joint attention to anyone who is attentive to my movements.

In the following chapter, Engelland tackles the problem of other minds. The inferential view of ostension claims that, in analogy to ourselves, we take the other to be an agent. Wittgenstein notes that underlying this view is the notion of the body as a machine inhabited by a consciousness. However, for Engelland, this is an odd view: it would seem more natural to “perceive fellow animate minds at work” (155). He follows several phenomenologists, such as Edith Stein, Hans Jonas, and Evan Thompson, in claiming that our body is not properly understood as a machine, it is rather a lived body. We live among animate bodies, and our own animate movements “puts us into spontaneous communion with one another” (p. 155). Engelland takes one step forward from these phenomenological considerations in that, for him, although it is the case that we take the others to be animate beings because we understand ourselves as such, it is also that we are aware of our own life because we perceive it in the others.

The notion of mind that is at play in Engelland’s view is one that recovers an Aristotelian hylomorphism according to which “[p]oints of view are essentially embodied” (p. 170). Engelland enriches this position with the phenomenological account, thus, resulting in a view that takes the mind to be animate: “The mind is not incidentally attached to a body; the mind is essentially embodied and on display in animate action” (170).

And how does this account of ostension and of the animate mind deal with ambiguity? The ninth chapter of the book deals with the epistemological challenge regarding ambiguity. Although ostension recurs to similar resources to those of ostensive definition to control ambiguity –for instance, movement and novelty–, it also has “unique disambiguating cues”: (a) natural wants and desires, (b) daily routines and games, and (c) repetition across contexts. However, Engelland, inspired by Aristotle’s and John McDowell’s reflections on human nature, also argues that we are naturally inclined to the development of specific habits. To explain what he means by natural inclinations, Engelland draws on the concept of life-form developed by Michael Thompson. Life-forms are judgments that we use to “make sense of each other” (181), in that they afford ways of “generalizing or profiling” (183). Human inclinations are natural because they belong to our common nature, one that is available in the intersubjective realm of our perception. When learning a language, infants risk acts of identification and profiling. Engelland claims that “[t]he ostensive act affords the interlocutor or eavesdropper the opportunity to achieve something like a nominal definition, that is, an understanding that allows him or her to identify the spoken item and distinguish it from other sorts of similar things” (188).

In the final chapter of the book, Engelland focuses on the metaphysical problems concerning ostension. For him, what makes ostension logically possible is the structure of our experience. Given that experience is dominated by rest and sameness, movement and change call our attention. The relevance of movement and difference make ostension possible.

In this chapter, Engelland also discusses the relationship between phenomenological movement of disclosure and manifestation, and physical motion. For him, physical happenings are necessary for phenomenological movement, nonetheless, the latter does not identify with mere physical happenings. He claims that “[p]henomenological movement needs all this physics to happen, but it is something other than the physical happening” (198). Furthermore, we can only make sense of physical motion if it is immersed in our phenomenological experience.

This distinction leads Engelland to discuss the relation between scientific explanation and phenomenology. Although Engelland does not explicitly refer to this debate, I believe he engages with the problem of naturalization of phenomenology when dealing with the question about the relation between these two kinds of explanations. Engelland adopts Sokolowski’s notion of lensing to account for the role the brain, the nervous system, and our senses have in our experience. These do not appear in our everyday experience since they are transparent. These physical structures enable experience and “[make] the world available” (201).

Given their transparency, Engelland considers that a phenomenological account of consciousness is irrelevant for biological explanations. For him, there is an uncontroversial division of labor between phenomenology and science: biology is equipped to understand life, while philosophy is equipped to understand the manifestation of life. Philosophy, then, cannot contribute to biology as such, but it can make a non-biological contribution. In that vein, Engelland shows that joint presence is a condition of possibility of scientific discourse. Philosophy contributes in our understanding of the world, a world to which science belongs. Engelland would seem to claim that phenomenology cannot be naturalized in the sense that: “philosophers have no reason to adopt the scientific image as their point of departure or their point of return” (214). If that is so, why engage with science at all? Engelland is right in distinguishing the tasks of philosophy and science, but such a distinction should not amount to the claim that philosophy does not depart nor return to science. Claiming the latter inevitably leads to philosophical solipsism, something that Engelland himself avoids throughout his book by taking philosophy as conversation.

Concluding Remarks

Ostension invites the reader into a dialogue that not only goes through different disciplines, but also through different philosophical traditions and problems. It offers a treatment of first-word acquisition that takes into account traditional and contemporary considerations, but goes beyond them by introducing a new perspective that is enriched by phenomenology and psychology. Its originality lies in the explicit formulation of the phenomenological question regarding first-word acquisition. This book will be valuable to anyone who is interested in theories of meaning, language acquisition, and the dialogue between phenomenology, analytic philosophy, and science.

 

Rudolf Carnap: L’Espace. Une contribution à la théorie de la science, Gallimard, 2017

L’Espace. Une contribution à la théorie de la science [Der Raum. Ein Beitrag zur Wissenschafstlehre] Book Cover L’Espace. Une contribution à la théorie de la science [Der Raum. Ein Beitrag zur Wissenschafstlehre]
Bibliothèque de Philosophie
Rudolf Carnap. Trad. de l'allemand (États-Unis) par Pierre Wagner
Gallimard
2017
Broché 22.00 €
192