Studies in Contemporary Phenomenology, Volume: 18
Hardback €135.00, $162.00
Reviewed by: Heath Williams (Sun Yat-sen University)
A series of variegated contributions to the development of the concept of experience. Thought provoking and refreshingly interesting, with some exceedingly high-quality scholarship. There is scant space here to do justice to all the topics, so I’ll touch on a few highlights and critique one low-point.
Emmanuel Alloa: What is Diaphenomenology? A Sketch
Alloa argues that we ought to take a nuanced understanding of the notion of returning to the things themselves; just because Husserl states he can return to things themselves and therefore operate only within the realm of pure experience which is given to us in intuition, this shouldn’t be taken to mean that phenomenology has immediate access to the pure unadulterated stuff that experience is made of, nor should we assume that this stuff originates from consciousness. Alloa argues that phenomenology ought to be diaphenomenology: which rests on the core claims that what appears in experience (the phenomena) always “appears through [dia] something else” (12); diaphenomenology is, purportedly, the terminus of the development of phenomenology.
Alloa observes an aporia which begins from the observation that, for Husserl, the things themselves are given in intuition via a direct relation to an individual. Alloa then points out that such individuals, however, always appear as more than what they are because they are meant. “When something appears, it appears as something, and this appearing as something is what gives the appearance its very meaning” (17). For Husserl, the structuring function of intentionality allows experience to go beyond the perceptually given sense data and intend a meaningful object. Even though things are given directly, consciousness must do some of the work to allow individuals to appear ‘directly’ (i.e. be meant) in the first place. Alloa argues that, to account for how this is possible, Husserl’s analysis that begins with the things themselves inevitably ends up granting consciousness and the ego a wider role in the bestowal of sense than a phenomenological analysis allows.
Alloa argues that every way through the reduction leads to the same antimony between mediacy and appearance. The way through the lifeworld brings us only to the backdrop on which things appear, the way through the lived body leads only to that via which I experience the world. Thus, Alloa arrives at his central conclusion: “While Husserlian phenomenology sets off as an exclusion of all mediations, the very return to the things themselves forces him to take mediations into account” (24). Alloa’s analysis suggests an inevitability about this conclusion.
What is meaningful can only appear in a medium which can allow sense to be bestowed on it, a medium itself stripped of meaning. Thus, Alloa argues that we ought to adopt a diaphenomenological perspective which examines the mediums through which things appear.
This article presents a precise capitulation of a very important position within the landscape of contemporary phenomenology. It explains how Alloa’s position develops as a response to Husserl’s as much as via a reading of Merleau-Ponty (in Alloa 2017). But of course, one can ask what one asks of any reading of Husserl: which Husserl are you criticising? Alloa’s article explains how to avoid some of the pitfalls of the path taken by the transcendental and egological Husserl of Ideas 1 and Cartesian Meditations, yet many of Alloa’s suggestions concerning the development of a phenomenology of sensory medium would not contradict the Husserl of Ideas 2 (wherein we find the concrete analysis of sensation) and particularly Husserl’s suggestion, found in Ideas 3, that we ought to develop a somatological science. I found myself wondering whether these Husserlian works weren’t more in line with the method that Alloa is proposing.
This essay is mainly a theoretical piece which suggests how we might avoid the pitfalls of a particular path of analysis by practicing another, and in this regard the case is clear and compelling. However, it is very difficult to assess Alloa’s proposal without seeing exactly how the project of diaphenomenology might be put to practice in some concrete analyses, and how these analyses might differ from non-diaphenomenological ones. Perhaps I am asking to ‘brutish’ a question, and one that belies a lack of imagination or comprehension, but I struggled to understand how a standard Husserlian analysis would differ, precisely, from the sort of analyses Alloa has in mind. What exactly does it mean to focus on the medium through which something appears instead of the thing itself, especially given that Alloa insists that the latter amounts to the former anyway? A couple of examples wouldn’t go astray, but perhaps they are forthcoming in future works (his or others); I certainly hope so, as the last thing phenomenology needs is another theoretical banknote which is never cashed out in small change.
Bernardo Ainbinder: Transcendental Experience
Ainbinder begins by pointing out that transcendental conditions cannot be experienced (or else they would lie within the empirical field), and so the adherence to the principle of all principles conflicts with phenomenology’s transcendental aspirations. Ainbinder proposes that a solution is that the transcendental be considered “the multi-layered network of norms that govern our evidentiary practices” (33).
Points out that Husserl thought that normativity governed even our perceptual experiences, considering the noema an organising principle which governs object perception. We might, for example, fear that we are mistaken about the colour of an object. Under such circumstances, we might put our glasses on to view it better, view it under better light, or from different angles. We may conclude that the object is not as we thought, that it is orange instead of red. However, the colour of the object itself in this scenario serves as a sort of objective standard–an optimum. This optimum is judged against my physical state (my sore eyes) and the state of the world (the lighting and my position). Thus, the noema is a landmark that facilitates perceptual normativity.
This “normative network is the essential structure of experience” (37); it determines what is the case, what only seems to be the case, and on what basis we may correctly make judgements about the world. Thus, the analysis of everyday experience reveals the transcendental conditions of that experience. This is a hallmark characteristic of phenomenology’s transcendentalism: we do not ask transcendental questions “in order to arrive at a better understanding of the world… but rather to find legitimation for the pretences involved in such experience” (38). It also reveals that, the question isn’t how we can impose ‘oughts’ upon a neutral sensory experience, but how experience itself is already riddled with oughts–already normative through and through.
Thus, truth or ‘evidence’ is a transcendental ground towards which all experience tends. Truth is the “basis for any assessment” based in experience (41). This leads to Husserl’s idiomatic epistemological approach to practical and ethical life: “the disclosure of truth is to be seen as a part of an overall conception of rationality as an ideal for human life” (42). Thus, experience is normative, and this provides an ethical demand to behave rationally in our practical lives, but because experience and normativity are dialectical, rationality is tendentious, iterative, open to revision, and a matter of exercising our autonomy and freedom to look more closely (sometimes literally) and revise our beliefs.
So, we can access the transcendental field when “we make the rules that govern our processes of revising our position-takings in the future course of our experience explicit” (43). The final question concerns just how claims about this field might be justified.
Ainbinder shows that it is because the course of practical and ethical experience challenges not only what exists in the world but our own so-called ‘rational credentials’ as perceivers that we gravitate towards a transcendental inquiry into the conditions of truth. Ainbinder certainly explains why we are motivated toward transcendental inquiry, and that such an inquiry could never be satisfied via empirical investigation alone, but not sure if he has answered whether such an inquiry can be justified. How could we possibly judge whether such an account was correct? Surely, if truth is that into which we inquire, we would now need some account of the meta-criterion of the correctness of this inquiry, one which, if non-circular, doesn’t refer to truth as ground or standard. It is these sorts of ‘problems of the criterion’ that have motivated anti-foundationalism and anti-transcendentalism in the analytic and pragmatic traditions.
Lorenzo Girardi: Experience and Unity in Husserl’s Solution to the Crisis
This work demonstrates an expertise in the Crisis, Husserl’s overarching project, and secondary Husserlian literature. Girardi provides a lucid overview of Husserl’s two crises:
1) The idealisation of the lifeworld by the natural sciences.
2) The loss of the capability of the human sciences (and philosophy) to provide a rational basis for culture and society.
Girardi shows that Husserl’s solution to both problems lies in the metaphysical ideal of a perfectly ordered, rational, and complete system of science.
This ideal runs into conflict with the conception of the lifeworld, which is not exclusively nor even preeminently a perceptual world of spatial things but also cultural. However, the cultural lifeworld is too pluralistic to ever found Husserl’s rational ideal. The only all-pervasive and common notion that might found an ideal rational science is the pregiven lifeworld as backdrop or horizon for all experience. This shift from situated cultural world to universal horizon is realised via an incessant and progressive “double move of critique and rationalisation” (89).
So, Husserl’s ideal of completed science progresses via critique from individual cultural worlds towards a unified and hence singular conception of the world. But, as Girardi points out, this ideal belies a kind of intellectual chauvinism: after all, there “might be equally different, equally rational ways the world can take shape without these ways converging on each other” (90). Girardi argues that Husserl’s unificationism shows that he has made a category mistake and confused the lifeworld as horizon, which would by definition imply an open endedness, with the lifeworld as an object, which could at least in principle be brought to a (unified) state of completion (91). Objects are poles of identity which have an internal horizon; a lawlike givenness dictated by a correspondence with an object. The external horizon (the world), on the other hand, has no such object to determine it and this has no guarantee of ultimate coherence; it “operates according to a potential infinity” (93). Thus, in confusing external and internal horizonality, Husserl attributes a potential unity to the latter which is not within its nature to afford.
So, realising a universal science seems impossible. Girardi ends with the rather startling suggestion that for Husserl the possibility of realising a purely rational science is a matter of faith which is justifiable only from the perspective of practical reason; it is the sort of faith that there are practical reasons for holding. Girardi hits on the fact that there is an optimistic rationalism in Husserl’s philosophy which can’t ever really be grounded. For Husserl, this optimism was a matter of faith which prevented the encroachment of the sort of philosophical hopelessness and meaninglessness that pervades, for example, the anti-rationalist philosophy of Nietzsche or the existential philosophy of Sartre.
Genki Uemura & Alessandro Salice: Motives in Experience: Pfänder, Geiger, and Stein
This article aims to delineate three theories of motivation. This topic is certainly interesting and important. Unfortunately, much of the analysis in this article was confusing at key points and would’ve benefited from another round of review.
One of the strong parts of the article is the exposition of Pfänder’s account, the first stage of which is mentally noticing, in an interrogatory way, a stimulus (i.e. the cold of a room). Secondly, receiving an answer or demand to our interrogation: we know what we want to do in response to the stimulus (which may or may not convert to decision to act yet). Finally, I respond or rely on the answer and move into decision and action, and therefore develop a motive. The demand the cold air provided as a response to my interrogation of a stimulus becomes a motive as I rely on it and make the decision to leave the room. It is, thus, this ‘relying on’ that distinguishes motives from other inclinations that may arise yet are never acted on. Importantly, for Pfänder, the motive itself is not an act of consciousness but ‘out there,’ in the world (the demand made by chill in the air), which becomes a motive when treated in a certain attitude (reliance).
Uemura and Salice then attempt to show the difficulties Pfänder has, given his schema, in accounting for cases of ill-motivation. This section was unclear–I was left confused over how the authors were using the terms ‘grounds,’ ‘reasons,’ and ‘motives.’ Uemura and Salice talk about the example where we feel the chill of the air, register our desire to leave, but do not act on it. They dismiss the possibility that this amounts to a case of ill-motivation because “there is a sense in which the decision [not to leave the room] is motivated anyway. Being a decision, it must have a reason that grounds it” (136). I was left a little baffled at exactly what assumptions were informing this excerpt: are reasons, grounds, and motives thought of as largely synonymous here? Is the claim that Pfänder thinks they are synonymous? Clearer is the point that, in the case where we don’t leave the room, the reason for staying “must be something numerically distinct of the demand from the perceived chill in order for there to be a discrepancy between them” (136).
So, if Pfänder wants to identify motives with things out there in the world, then he “makes not room for the possibility of a discrepancy between the reason for a decision and the demand” (136). Even though Pfänder does allow for the possibility that the difference in question here might be relying-on the demand, such relying-on is a mental act (not a state of affairs in the world), and thus, if this is the explanation for ill-motivation, the ontological status of the motive becomes called into question (136). This, from what I could reconstruct, is the point.
The paper then moves on to discuss Geiger, for whom not only volitions but also emotions are motivated. In Geiger’s analysis, we can distinguish between the emotion (joy), the object of the emotion (a new car), and the motive for the emotion (now I can drive to work). The motivation for the emotion (the reason why we feel joy) is thus the experience of a possible state of affairs in which the object of the emotion is related. For Geiger, the possible state of affairs itself constitutes not the motivation but the grounds of the motivation. The object of the motive (the grounds) and the experience of possibly realising them can thus be pulled apart, which explains cases of ill-motivation.
So, three key shifts are made from Pfänder to Geiger. Firstly, we have moved from an extra- to an inter-mental phenomenon. Secondly, because of this we have been more clearly been able to distinguish between (objective) grounds and (mental) motives. Thirdly, we have moved from the sphere of action to other experiences.
Stein expands the concept of motivation so that any aspect of experience that results from another experience can be called a motivation. For Stein there are rational, perceptual, and volitional forms of motivation. Thus, both Husserl and Stein want to use the term ‘motivation’ in a much wider sense than is found in Pfänder and Geiger.
For Stein, motivations are the contents of our mental acts, or, intentional objects. Specifically, it is the relationship amongst contents of acts that constitutes the motivational relation. A motivates B if A is a content of a mental state that gives rise to B. We can deem Stein’s position noematic, Pfänder’s objective, and Geiger’s noetic.
One of the unclear passages in Uemura and Salice’s essay concerned the voluntary nature of motivation, given Stein’s radical expansion of this concept to cover a wider variety of phenomena. For example, according to Stein, perceptions motivate apperceptions (i.e., the front side of an object motivates my apperception of its non-presented third side). However, we can hardly call such a motivation voluntary, as it is not something we have a choice over, and it occurs automatically.
The authors write that, to solve this problem, Stein expands the definition of what free action consists in beyond the scope of decisions. However, they then say that “free acts include not only deciding but also asserting, lying and other acts we perform spontaneously” (144). I found this passage most puzzling; what exactly is spontaneous about these acts? Perhaps we might sort of lie or say something off the cuff but we definitely sometimes plan and decide to perform such actions in a contrived way. No explanation is given as to why we might classify these acts as spontaneous in the first place, and thus how classifying them as free serves to solve Stein’s problem.
Moreover, in this explanation, the authors seem to be targeting the wrong class of phenomena; the problem Stein has is that, if she thinks motivation is voluntary, how to account for perceptual motivations (like apperceptions) not motivations for our speech acts; the latter are uncontroversially voluntary.
The discussion of how these different conceptions of motivation map onto the present debate is one of the most useful aspects of the paper. However, I don’t think the claimed correspondence between Davidson and Geiger is totally correct. For Davidson, it is not mental states qua mental states which are the reason for action, but that a certain position (desiring) is taken on a mental object of a specific sort. A “belief and a desire explain an action only if the contents of the belief and desire entail that there is something desirable about the action… This entailment marks a normative element, a primitive aspect of rationality” (Davidson 1987, 116). Thus, Davidson’s theory could be deemed a noematic account of reasons, in that it is the relationships amongst the intentional objects of our mental states that introduces normativity and accounts for why they count as reasons for acting. In this sense he is as close to Stein as he is to Geiger.
Alloa, E. 2017. Resistance of the Sensible World: An Introduction to Merleau-Ponty: Fordham University Press.
Davidson, Donald. 1987. “Problems in the explanation of action.” In Metaphysics and Morality, edited by Philip Pettit, Richard Sylvan and J. Norman. Blackwell.