Knox Peden: Spinoza Contra Phenomenology: French Rationalism from Cavaillès to Deleuze

Spinoza Contra Phenomenology: French Rationalism from Cavaillès to Deleuze Book Cover Spinoza Contra Phenomenology: French Rationalism from Cavaillès to Deleuze
Cultural Memory in the Present
Knox Peden
Stanford University Press
Cloth $25.95

Reviewed by: Elliot Patsoura (University of Melbourne)

Key developments in contemporary mathematics are not commonly rated among the decisive factors responsible for shaping the French reception of phenomenology. In the critical uptake of phenomenological concerns, for instance, in the works of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and others collated in the Anglosphere under the banner of ‘French Theory,’ questions concerning the nature and ontological primacy of lived experience, and the related success or otherwise of phenomenology’s attempts at self-grounding, tend to crowd out concerns with the ability of the Husserlian and Heideggerian projects to accommodate the philosophical implications of specifically new mathematical developments. This, however, was far from the case with the French philosopher and mathematician Jean Cavaillès—an attendee of both Husserl’s “Cartesian Meditations” at the Sorbonne in 1928-29, and Heidegger’s ‘Davos encounter’ with the neo-Kantian Ernst Cassirer—wherein we find an early critique of phenomenology’s prospects of accommodating the philosophical implications of the “new infinite” in Georg Cantor’s theory of transfinite numbers. For Cavaillès, such developments exposed the limitations of the phenomenological grounding of “the forms of the understanding in the empirical forms of experience,” insofar as “the viability of [such] mathematical objects … transgressed the structural criteria of the transcendental ego” (49). A Spinozist “disparagement of the ‘lived’” and “distrust of originary foundations” (42) would find contemporary expression in Cavaillès’ equally Spinozist defence of the immanent rather than derived nature of the rational—a point presented in Knox Peden’s Spinoza Contra Phenomenology as “a decisive moment in French intellectual history in that the fundamentals of Spinozist rationalism were for the first time posited against those of phenomenology” (61).

Peden’s outstanding intellectual history traces the aftermath of this pitting of the concept against consciousness, the deployment of a Spinozist rationalism against phenomenology, in the 30 years that followed, filling in the philosophical, political, institutional and biographical backgrounds of the better known Althusserian and Deleuzian varieties of Spinozism that the study closes with. Spinoza Contra Phenomenology offers a detailed contextualisation and nuanced explication of the projects of key figures responsible for adding meat to Cavaillès’ rationalist bone, and influencing both Althusser and Deleuze in often heretofore-undocumented ways. Peden shows a fidelity to the majority of his objects of study, neither entertaining their reduction to well-defined contextual factors, nor overstating the strength of the ‘contra’ of his title.

Seven chapters present “two moments in French Spinozism”: the epistemological deployment of Spinozist rationalism as “a question of philosophical method,” and the subsequent explication of “the full range of its ontological implications” (105). The first chapter draws attention to Cavaillès’ concerns with both Husserl and Heidegger regarding their compromising of the immanent nature of rationality, be it in Husserl’s Kantian forsaking of such immanence for that of transcendental subjectivity, or Heidegger’s forsaking of the rational in his critique of the transcendental ego (28). On Cavaillès’ reading, Husserl’s employment of the Cogito “meant that phenomenology was either spinning its wheels in Kantianism or escaping the trap only with [an unconscionable] Heideggerian recourse to irrationalism” (29).

The second chapter demonstrates how “the operative alternative between rationalism and phenomenology in Cavaillès’s project would come to be institutionally codified in France as an opposition between Spinozism and Cartesianism” (61). Peden examines the protracted debate between Ferdinand Alquié, Sorbonne professor (and instructor of Gilles Deleuze), and Martial Gueroult of the Collège de France. Alquié was responsible for the phenomenologisation of Descartes and “something of an institutionally domesticated surrogate for Heidegger’s influence in France” (195); Gueroult for “one of the most ambitious assessments of Spinoza’s rationalism anywhere in the twentieth century” (65-6). These two irreconcilable Spinozisms—a “naturalist theology” in Alquié’s case, and “a rationalist pluralism” in Gueroult’s—are shown in the following chapter to be entertained equally in Jean-Toussaint Desanti’s resumption of Cavaillès’s rationalist project. Desanti is shown “affrming Spinoza’s rationalism though hesitating to draw out the full range of its ontological implications” (105), exhibiting a tempered fidelity to Husserl while still praising “science as the supreme source of epistemological criteria” (108). Desanti’s case is thus doubly significant in that it constitutes “less of a complete break with Husserl than a recalibration of Husserl’s method into something that might allow it so speak to the experience of rationalist necessity at the heart of mathematical discourse” (92), and acts as the point of pivot for Peden between the epistemological and ontological moments of French Spinozism.

Desanti’s valorisation of ‘science’ finds supreme expression in the work of Althusser in the following decade. Peden’s fourth and fifth chapters offer a masterful overview of Althusser’s proferring of a Spinozist rationalism as the philosophical “means through which … to recuperate science from what he viewed as its twice-over degradation in the hands of Stalinist ideology and phenomenological philosophy” (143), and the specific forms the aforementioned Spinozist disparagement of the lived and originary take in this highly influential and often divisive figure. The phases constituting Althusserian Spinozism are convincingly shown to be held together by a “progressive eradication of the contents of lived experience as a viable object of philosophical purchase of reflection” (132), and an attempt to replace the misguided approach of the origin in the eidetic reduction with science as a immanent operation irreducible to the experience of the lived—an operation realised, on Althusser’s reading, by Marx in the form of historical materialism. Althusser’s “critique of ‘origins,’ and the illusions produced by recourse to origins, was one component of a philosophical effort that viewed the insights of modern science not as problems for philosophy to circumvent but as conditions themselves for philosophical activity” (187). Importantly, this utility did not entirely extend towards that of the political, as Althusser’s attempts to put Spinozist rationalism to political use are shown by Peden to remain subservient to a fidelity to the philosophical imperative, presaging a broader problem of deducing political instruction from Spinoza’s ontology that Peden will come to present as a defining character of twenty-first century appropriations of Spinoza.

The sixth and seventh chapters, devoted to the “strange,” post-Heideggerian Spinozism of Deleuze, draws similar lessons with respect to these contemporary attempts, albeit via a drastically different approach towards the tension between Spinozist rationalism and phenomenology. Deleuze offers in Peden’s view “a fantastic attempt at a synthesis of the phenomenological and Spinozist lines of French thought” (133), where Spinozism offered “the means for working through the phenomenological tradition in order to produce philosophical conclusions that could not be reached with either Spinozism or phenomenology alone” (219-20). Deleuze’s absolute rationalism is shown to recall Desanti’s efforts (and so distinguish itself most noticeably from Althusser) in its attempt to strike a “compromise with phenomenology” (133). But, to be sure, Deleuze’s efforts do not depart from the dissatisfaction with the phenomenological recourse to origins particularly prominent in Cavaillès and Althusser, as his ontological evacuation of the category of possibility is shown to constitute an extension of Althusser’s dismissal of phenomenological reliance on the originary towards that of “phenomenological ontology” (230), wherein creation is, in good Spinozist fashion, “[n]o longer located at an origin,” but is rather “deemed coextensive with existence itself” (247).

Yet the transformative nature of Deleuze’s absolute rationalism for French Spinozism can neither be dissociated from its central Heideggerian components, to the very extent that the “contemporary political thought” directly informed by Deleuze’s Spinozism—Peden focuses on the work of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri here—“often draws more on the Heideggerian elements that Deleuze brings to Spinozism than on the formal, subtractive, in a word rationalist, elements of Spinozism whose critical relation to phenomenology has been explored in the preceding chapters” (197). The ultimate significance of this apprehension of the contemporary is indexed to the final picture of Spinozism that Peden’s study arrives at; ““the most valuable element of the Deleuzean legacy in its hybrid Heideggerian/Spinozistic form […] is the notion that the best a philosophical ontology can do is to seek to induce alternate and hopefully more beneficent ways of perceiving and conceiving the world. A deductive politics is out of the question” (258). The crowning achievement of Peden’s intellectual history is thus to show any “investment in what the fundamental relations of Spinoza’s formal ontology might “mean” in any given situation, political or otherwise, is a gesture that is arguably contrary to the critical essence of Spinoza’s rationalism” (260). The Althusserian and Deleuzian instances of French Spinozist rationalism are, on Peden’s reading, both thus exemplary in constituting “a critique of the attempt, widespread in the phenomenological tradition and beyond, to make politics a derivative specimen of a more foundational ontology” (262).

Peden’s clear preferences for the integrity of the concept—perhaps best encapsulated in the statement “The commitment to thought’s own insights against all the evidence of one’s lived experience … is radical in the extreme” (230)—are thus by no means hidden by the close of his study. Yet it must be emphasised that Peden maintains a welcome distance throughout from both overblown polemic and toothless intellectual contextualisation, offering considered and concise statements drawn from the clearly staged nuances of the various projects he outlines, and inviting in turn equally considered application to aspects of the period and subject matter in question that are not covered in his study (the most noticeable absence of the work of Pierre Macherey is justified early on). Spinoza Contra Phenomenology is compelling in the presentation of its engrossing content, and deeply instructive in its method. It should be necessary reading for anyone with an interest in the myriad afterlives and broader potential of the Husserlian and Heideggerian projects.

Eran Dorfman: Foundations of The Everyday

Foundations of The Everyday: Shock, Deferral, Repetition Book Cover Foundations of The Everyday: Shock, Deferral, Repetition
Philosophical Projects
Eran Dorfman
Rowman & Littlefield
Softback £27.95 / $42.00

Reviewed by: Man-to Tang (Chinese University of Hong Kong)

The everyday offers foundations for us to remedy the crises of (late) modernity. There are two crises of modernity: first, the inability of acquiring anything new, and second, the sharp separation of the everyday and experience. The former is the practical crisis that people are devoured by mass production and are unable to create something new, whereas the latter is the theoretical crisis that the sharp separation cannot offer a faithful account of our life.

Eran Dorfman has two aims in the book. The first is to ‘provide a better theory of the everyday’ in order to show that the mechanisms of the everyday involve the possibility of acquiring anything new (5). The second is to argue that the everyday and the experience of it should not be conceived independently (9).

What competing theories of the everyday are worthy of criticism? Dorfman takes up Maurice Blanchot and Henri Lefebvre. Blanchot states that the everyday has three definitions. First, the everyday is a ‘self-enclosed circle that moves around itself with apparently no escape, no outside’, so it is ‘hardly graspable’ (7). Second, the everyday is ‘always open to changes, always transcending itself. It is never “finished”’ (7). These two definitions lead to the third and ambivalent definition of the everyday, which can be found in Lefebvre’s analysis. The third definition is that the everyday is characterized both ‘as a prison and as a lacking home’ (8). However, Dorfman argues that the first and second definitions are not mutually exclusive, so the third definition is not ambivalent but ambiguous. This ambiguity means the mechanisms of the everyday consist of that dual dimension, and the dual dimension refers to different moments of our lived experience of the everyday.

What is a better theory of the experience of the everyday? Dorfman explains clearly that the essential structure of the everyday is comprised of three interrelated mechanisms, namely shock, deferral and repetition. Firstly, shock refers to a movement that attempts to go ‘outside’ of the ordinary movement, for example, I may change the angle of my brushing when I am affected by my painful tooth (3). Secondly, to process shocks, another mechanism is needed, that is, deferral. Deferral is a suspension of the ordinary movement, for example, I may pause for a while before changing the angle when I am affected by my painful tooth (4). Thirdly, to understand whether the change is ‘suitable’ or not, another mechanism, repetition, is required. Repetition refers to a movement that reenacts the new into the old. For example, I may return to the ordinary way of brushing to check if my tooth is still painful (4). Throughout the book, Dorfman finds that the deferral mechanism of the everyday is a kind of reflection, but this kind of reflection is an immersed or embodied reflection. The shocking mechanism of the everyday is an attempt to go beyond the ordinary and acquire anything new. The repetition mechanism of the everyday is the integration of the new into the old and returns to the everyday. Thus, a better theory of the everyday can faithfully describe the dual dimension, namely self-enclosure and self-transcendence (as a prison and as a lacking home).

This book consists of five chapters, in which Dorfman attempts to justify his theory of the everyday and its solution for the crises of (late) modernity. In Chapter One, he starts his investigation with phenomenology. Husserl carries out the phenomenological reduction to bracket all everyday beliefs, judgments and activities, and to suspend the natural attitude of everyday life. Husserl’s aim is ‘back to the things themselves’. This ‘back’ means to reflect or to understand the essence of the things without falling into the trap of psychologism, naturalism and objectivism. Thus phenomenological reduction is a methodological tool for us to reflect upon the perceived object (33). Husserl later realizes ‘the impossibility of totally bracketing the natural attitude and abandoning it once and for all’ (38), and re-defines the natural attitude as the life-world, the spontaneous world of praxis. Nevertheless, on the one hand, this is only a preparation for the full exploration of the everyday. On the other hand, exploration of the everyday is not radicalizing enough because it is based upon an artificial act of contemplation.

Dorfman argues that if we explore the everyday radically enough, then we can realize that the mechanisms of the everyday already offer another version of the phenomenological reduction from within. Dorfman uses a holiday resort as an example to illustrate his point. The philosophical implication of the resort provides a partial detachment from my everyday life. It functions like the phenomenological reduction which permits one to suspend the usual and routine life, and reconsider it. More importantly, this is a partial detachment, as one is still ‘within’ the everyday without totally abandoning it once and for all. Therefore, it is possible to have a better understanding of our everyday life and return to it ‘from within’ the mechanism of the everyday.

Dorfman then traces Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein in Being and Time. ‘Instead of thematising the artificial world which results from the bracketing suggested by Husserl, Heidegger proposes to describe the world with which Dasein is most familiar – the world of the everyday’ (42). The everyday is the background for every activity in the sense that Dasein primordially lives with the practical interest instead of the theoretical interest. We would not suspend what we are doing and reflect upon what a hammer is unless the function of a hammer is missing. It means that when Dasein faces three empirical situations (disturbance, lack or obstacle) or the radical situation (death anxiety), which refer to ‘small’ and ‘big’ ‘negativity’ respectively, Dasein spontaneously suspends and reflects upon the everyday (59). Heidegger implicitly relates to shocks and deferral in the sense that ‘negativity’ gives a way to go ‘outside’ the ordinary and leads to a distance for reflection. How about repetition? ‘Repetition characterizes authentic temporality’ and contrasts with the inauthentic temporality which is blind from possibilities. It cannot repeat what has been, but only retains and receive the ‘actual’ which is left over (58). It means that repetition does not simply repeat itself from the actual but also renews my past and present and re-appropriates my future possibilities.

In Chapter Two, Dorfman continues the phenomenological exploration of the everyday through Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of the body. The body is not solely mine, serving as my private sphere, but also is out there in the world and can be seen by others. It is ontologically ambiguous. Instead of ‘arriving at pure life-world or authentic existence’, the body shows the ambitious character of the everyday. Dorfman pays attention to Merleau-Ponty’s concept of the flesh in his late writing. He takes dancing as an example, as dancing is always embodied without thematization of the body. Besides, dancing is always more than just moving the body around the environment. I dance in harmony with others, and reciprocally I become a part of their bodies (68). When I dance, ‘I constitute my environment and am constituted by it’ (73). I re-appreciate my habitual body through the always changing and new environment. Therefore, reflection is always ‘within’ the everyday because the mechanism of the everyday involves an embodied reflection. Dorfman suggests the embodied reflection or immersed reflection, implicit in Heidegger’s thought, as the intermediate kind of vision between a mere contemplation and practical looking (46). It is nothing but an everyday use of the phenomenological reduction. Yet Dorfman doubts the concept of projection ‘acts upon the past and changes it’ (80), and we thus cannot understand whether something new reflected on and integrated into the everyday.

As a result, Dorfman believes that phenomenology can indeed explicate the importance of negativity in order to make a distance for reflection. But there are two defects in the phenomenological analysis of the everyday. First, ‘phenomenology does not explicitly mention whether the ability to maintain an open enough everyday movement is related to particular moment in history’ (188). Second, ‘phenomenology considers negativity merely as the relay of deficiency, lack and finitude’ (188).

In Chapter Three, to further investigate the role of negativity in the mechanism of the everyday, Dorfman gives attention to Freud. Although Freud shares the first defect with phenomenology, he does not consider negativity as deficiency. The origin of sexual trauma can hardly be traced, and deferred retroaction seems to be failed. Accordingly, Freud moves from a theory of sexual trauma to a theory of indefinite shocks because the shocking is within the everyday but leads to a certain distance. Repetitions are responses to unspecific shocks (104). Freud states that child’s play is a way to integrate the shocked everyday and the shocking experience. This play is to play with absence and disturbance, which repetition is the re-experiencing or re-appreciation of something ordinary (120). What is the philosophical implication of Freud’s thought in the crises of modernity? Dorfman observes that Freud’s emphasis of unspecific shocks as negativity provides a possible way out in the realm of ‘too much’ modernity. However, Freud can only show the child’s possibility of the integration of shocks into the everyday, but the not adult’s. With this in mind, Dorfman introduces the last figure in this book, Benjamin.

Chapter Four shows that Benjamin does not only sort out the crises of modernity, but also faithfully describes the relation between the everyday, repetition and mass production and offers a solution to the crises (127). Dorfman finds that a Freudian framework can be found in Benjamin’s thought. In his doctrine of the decline of aura and tradition, Benjamin uses film to illustrate his point. Film is a work with no origin, and it is easy for the masses to watch whenever and wherever they want (147). The features of film are essential to understand the distinction between ‘long experience’ and ‘immediate experience’ (138). The function of the immediate experience is to parry shock before it arrives at the depth home of the long experience, where it will leave its trace. Although the shock is registered as an extraordinary event, it does not connect to long experience. As a result, ‘the modern everyday is full of “shocks” or “events” that nevertheless leave the impression that nothing “happens” and remains “outside”’ (139). Dorfman explains the relationship between shock and the aura. There are two important conditions for the creation of the aura. When an event or an object is totally new, it is perceived as shocking, on the one hand; the comprehension of it must be repeated, on the other hand. The first condition leads to the second condition, that is to say, there is a balance between distance and proximity. It means that the event or object remains partially ‘strange’ and partially ‘familiar.’ It is the key to rectify the first crisis of modernity, namely the inability of acquiring anything new.

In Chapter Five, Dorfman develops the aura of the habitual or the everyday, which is between the strange and the familiar, the distant and the proximal, each of which constitutes the foundation of the everyday. The aura of the habitual brings negativity to the fore through the shock image. The shock image arouses suspension and reflection of the everyday simultaneously. This reflection reveals both ordinary and extraordinary. He uses two examples to explain his founding. The first example is Paul Klee’s Angel Novus. Benjamin describes two special features of the angel. The angel is looking at our present and past, on the one hand, and moves forward to the future, on the other hand. The angel sees our time as holistic, and only then as separated into different temporal moments, but we ourselves see the present as composed of successive events, and forget that the present consists of parts of the holistic everyday. With every shock, every immediate experience or every catastrophe, we could be the angel. We could, through an everyday ‘fight against the present experience’, ‘give up any immediate experience in order to transform our past immediate experience in long experience’ (170-171).

The second example is Cindy Sherman’s photographs. Cindy Sherman’s photographs reproduce Sherman under another identity. Sometimes she is retrieving a book in a library with a tiny nurse uniform and gazing somewhere outside the frame. Sometimes she is walking on the middle of a highway alone and gazing somewhere outside the frame. Dorfman finds the photos ‘show infinite everyday possibilities that are true and false at the same time’ (174). These possibilities expose how everyday surroundings can be staged differently and lead to something anew. Through these reproductions of photography, Dorfman insightfully interprets that unlike Benjamin, Sherman uncovers that ‘the aura is revealed to be conditioned by the everyday: a meeting point of familiarity and strangeness, habituation and shock’ (175). The two examples show that the mass reproductive feature of modernity is full of the shocking. Through the experience of the shocking, we could defer the present life and re-experience it rather than parry it. Thus these mechanisms of the everyday reveal the condition of anything new, as we could never be otherwise without being completely the same.

It is not surprising that some may think Benjamin is the ‘final solution’ towards the crises of modernity. However, Dorfman’s path of thought is a long-route rather than a short-cut because phenomenology is an unavoidable starting point for the investigation of the everyday. Without the methodological procedure, we could hardly avoid unexamined prejudices and hardly make a faithful move ‘back to the everyday itself’. If we could faithfully understand the mechanisms of the everyday, then we could understand that the foundations of the everyday are the ‘antidote’ of the crises of modernity. For example, Dorfman clearly indicates that it is Heidegger’s inspiration that ‘the movement of use-suspension-reuse is the circular movement of everyday foundation’ (46). It explicates the essential structure of the everyday. Also, it is Merleau-Ponty’s inspiration that ‘the body is both subject and object, both the user of the tool and the tool itself. Ideally, there is a continuous link between the habitual body (static foundation) and the actual body (dynamic foundation), the one permitting the other and vice versa (76). The condition of possibility is founded in the everyday. More importantly, ‘rather than an objective representation, phenomenology should be a self-conscious process in which the unreflected is revealed but also created’ (87). Phenomenology paves the way for us to acquire anything new.

Throughout the book, ‘modernity’ is not a well-defined term. Dorfman sometimes draws a distinction between ‘modernity’ and ‘late modernity’, but he sometimes simply uses ‘modernity.’ If the two are different, then what is their difference? In addition, it is interesting to re-think the relationship between phenomenology and critical theory. Benjamin is regarded as one of the significant figures in the school of critical theory, which aims at criticizing the problems of modernity. Unlike Adorno’s radical criticism (1940: 4), Dorfman carefully uncovers the critical dimension in phenomenology through Husserl’s, Heidegger’s and Merleau-Ponty’s implicit analyses of ‘negativity’. In fact, critique of modernity is one of the main themes in the Crisis, where Husserl gives a diagnosis and explains how transcendental phenomenology offers a solution to the crisis. In the Kaizo articles, Husserl calls the motif a ‘renewal’ of the European spirit (HUA. XXVII: 3-94). And it marks a commonality between phenomenology and critical theory. If this is the full picture of phenomenology, than we may wonder to what extent it is correct for Dorfman to state that ‘this negativity tends to be ignored or repressed in the everyday by adopting objective categories – that is, by repeating the same old meaning without seeing the need to renew them. This everyday tendency makes all three phenomenologists finally abandon the everyday in favor of a sphere of authenticity or full experience’ (90). Apart from Husserl, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty do not simply repress the negativity in the everyday and abandon the everyday without renewing the old meaning. As Dorfman points out, Heidegger’s conception of negativity is founded in the everyday, and it could bring us to re-consider our everyday life. This reconsideration is never an abandonment of the everyday but a rebirth of the everyday. Heidegger claims that ‘[Death as a negativity] is only the “end” of Dasein; and, taken formally, it is just one of the ends by which Dasein’s totality is closed round. The other ‘end’, however, is the ‘beginning’, the ‘birth’. Only that entity which is ‘between’ birth and death presents the whole which we have been seeking (Being and Time: 425). In Merleau-Ponty’s analysis of Cézanne and Giacometti, unlike Cartesian space which is a mere representation of empirical observation, the painter’s body is both within space and functions as the core around which all space expands. He argues, ‘I do not see [space] according to its exterior envelope; I live in it from the inside; I am immersed in it. After all, the world is all around me, not in front of me’ (Eye and Mind: 178). This negativity of spatiality is not a deficiency or a lack, but opens up a potential meaning and dimension towards spatial and bodily relationships. Other than these three phenomenologists, could any other phenomenologist give a faithful account of negativity and the everyday without seeing them as deficiency? How about Sartre?



Adorno, T.W. (1940). “Husserl and the problem of idealism.” The Journal of Philosophy 37 (1): 5-18.

Mark van Atten: Essays on Gödel’s Reception of Leibniz, Husserl and Brouwer

Essays on Gödel’s Reception of Leibniz, Husserl and Brouwer Book Cover Essays on Gödel’s Reception of Leibniz, Husserl and Brouwer
Logic, Epistemology, and the Unity of Science
Mark van Atten
eBook $139.00

Reviewed by: Prof. Dr. Manuel Bremer (University of Düsseldorf)

]Van Atten’s book presents itself as an investigation on Gödel’s philosophy of mathematics.

Gödel is almost considered a cult figure in popular science accounts of the history of logic in the 20th century. His reclusive lifestyle and mental disorder, leading, at its worst stages to self-starvation, have certainly added to the picture. Therefore one could think people might be interested in his greater philosophy of mathematics beyond his more technical papers. And this would prove enticing to any academic philosopher of mathematics, as one might suspect that such an important logician would provide critical insights to this field. Expanding on Gödel’s ideas on philosophy of mathematics could  thus open new perspectives, notably through his emphasis on forms of Platonism and mathematical ‘intuition’. Unfortunately, to this date, no essay publications of Gödel in relation to philosophy of mathematics are noted. Neither did he produce a finished manuscript, but his notes, discussions with peers, and some of his published papers left a number of insights on the philosophy of mathematics. Van Atten considers these pieces as evidence on which he bases himself to provide foundations of a reading of Gödel’s philosophy of mathematics. As they are sparse and underdeveloped van Atten will tend to interpret the same short remark or thrown in sentence over and over again in the book. Pieces of the puzzle are added by reference to memories collected through people’s recollections of conversation with Gödel, and to passages (e.g. in Husserl’s books) that Gödel read and might have used in in own thought process.

The book is divided in three parts, each bearing the name of the philosophers Gödel reflected upon: Leibniz, Husserl, and Brouwer. The book consists mostly of previously published papers by van Atten, thus one might be faced with considerable overlap and repetition. Moreover, it must be noted that Gödel’s formal work is not discussed in detail.

In the first part of the book, Gödel explores Leibniz’s account of monads a metaphysics resembling his own ideas. The focus is twofold here: on the one hand, he considers the idea of objectivity being guaranteed by concepts in God’s mind, and on the other hand the idea of reflection. Reflection as a principle of set theory roughly argues that if some structural condition is true for sets, then it is also true in a part of the set theoretical universe (i.e. one can have an example without access to the whole set theoretical universe). The importance of the principle also resides in its equivalence to the Axiom of Replacement, which is needed to guarantee the fact that sets of higher infinite cardinality exist. Following this thought, Gödel toys with an analogy to Leibniz’s idea of reflection between the single monad and the relations within the universe of monads, taken as an argument one cannot proceed from Leibniz’ metaphysics to any specific statement of mathematical structural truth, as van Atten shows. (Gödel also showed interest in Leibniz’s notion of reductive proof, which inspired more than one logician as a model of building definitions or proofs on a sound basis.)

Moreover, Gödel considered Leibniz’s account of the subjective consciousness of the monad and its access to knowledge as underdeveloped, and it is here that he turned (in the 1950s) to Husserl. Husserl’s phenomenology provides, as Gödel at least remarked to several people, an approach capable of solving the problem of intuitive access to mathematical (categorical) entities. Phenomenological descriptions may elucidate how we intuit concepts like ‘possibility’. Indeed, Husserl’s notion of intuition fits better to Gödel’s agenda than Kant’s notion of intuition and its role in mathematics, since Husserl aims at the essence of intuition, a form of intuition shared by any mind. If a phenomenology of this type succeeded, it would intuit mathematical objects as they are given in the mind of God, and existence in His mind guarantees – this being Gödel’s tenet – their objectivity. Following Husserl’s claim on categorical intuition of individual mathematical entities, Gödel is focussed on our intuitive grasp of concepts. He considers the example of the concept of ‘powerset’. If our grasp of this concept of powerset can be secured, then we have secured all its applications, especially its role in generating non countable infinities and the Continuum. Gödel thus aims at justifying the axioms (of set theory), an approach that we find today, for instance, in George Boolos’ work on the iterative hierarchy.

In distinction to his attempt at appropriating parts of Leibniz’ and Husserl’s philosophy, Brouwer provides Gödel with a challenge to his view in the philosophy of mathematics. They express contrasting ideas of mathematical reality and the very worth of mathematics, which Brouwer at times derided as aberration of pure subjective thought, whereas Gödel revered mathematics as our access to the absolute. Both share some mystical and illuminational tendencies.

An essay on Gödel’s ‘Dialectica-interpretation’ of intuitionism (so called because it appeared in the journal Dialectica) is at the centre of this part of the book, bringing together Gödel’s reflection on intuitionism and his approval of relying on some form of (phenomenological) intuition of basic concepts. The interpretation is founded on the concept of a ‘computable function of finite type’ that extends in elucidation (i.e. not fixed in a formalism or mechanical algorithm). Our grasp of this concept is taken to be revealed by a priori psychology (this being Brouwer’s intuitionism in Gödel’s eyes) or something resembling phenomenological psychology. Given this foundation Gödel and Brouwer share a rejection of a mechanization of mind (ala Turing), but Gödel, of course, claims our grasp of further concepts, way beyond what basic computable functions are. Even Gödel’s reading and interpretation of intuitionism are not the intended ones by Brouwer. Gödel substitutes his notion of ‘reductive proof’ (going back to definitions, somewhat in the way of Leibniz) for the intuitionist’s general reference to ‘proofs’, taken by Brouwer to be based in individual mental acts.

Thus, in the main part of the book, we learn how Gödel dealt with parts of Leibniz’ and Husserl’s philosophy, and how he tried to partially reconcile or deal with Brouwer’s intuitionism as an alternative philosophy of mathematics. This would belong to an intellectual biography of Gödel, more than to an academic essay setting out any new contribution to phenomenology by Gödel. Here, no new arguments in Gödel’s philosophy of mathematics are exposed, beyond the known desiderata. Gödel praises phenomenology and hints at the discipline in his reflection on intuitionism, but detailed phenomenological analyses are missing. Furthermore, his reference to Leibniz reads more as an analogy than as new foundational argument.

After reading this part, one can understand Gödel’s somewhat surprising turn to Husserl. That even Gödel – typically associated with modern formal logic and part-time member of the Vienna Circle – could not make substantial progress, from Husserl to the philosophical foundations of set theory, may justify that one should not expect further contributions to a realist philosophy of mathematics from that direction.

The last part of the book features a systematic essay in which van Atten defends Brouwer against Gödel, on Husserl’s ground. Indeed, Brouwer and Husserl share many of their foundational thoughts and some of Brouwer’s claims can best be understood within Husserl’s phenomenology. This applies also to specific theses, for example, that of the restriction of mathematics to the potentially infinite only.

If van Atten is right on this, and he sets out a strong case for it, then the combination of Gödel’s ideas and phenomenology was nonetheless still born. If Husserl and Brouwer see mathematical objects as constructions, it only limits their approach to some form of constructive mathematics in the end, and then, unfortunately, this would mean that Gödel’s turn to Husserl must have been in vain.

Students of Gödel may thus find interconnections between Gödel’s scattered remarks on the philosophy of mathematics in van Atten’s book, but no unified Gödelian philosophy of mathematics. This could have been put forth in a longer comprehensive essay, in itself much shorter than the present collection of essays.

Dorion Cairns: The Philosophy of Edmund Husserl

The Philosophy of Edmund Husserl Book Cover The Philosophy of Edmund Husserl
Phaenomenologica, Vol. 207
Dorion Cairns—Edited by Lester Embree
Springer International Publishing
Hardcover 114,99 €
XVIII, 310 p.

Reviewed by: Prof. Dr. Michael Weinman (Bard College Berlin)

Phenomenology, from its inception, has been interested in the problem of inception, especially in its connection to the act of conception: not just the question of how we think abstractly, but also the question of how we begin to think abstractly, has been a central focus for the phenomenological tradition since the late 19th century. Owing to this intimacy of inception and conception—of beginning and thinking abstractly—as the source of a constellation of research questions, we should not be surprised that the origins of the phenomenological tradition itself should present itself as an area of research for people working in that tradition today. If, after all, there is in fact a close connection between the very possibility of a form of abstract thought and the shape of a methodological approach (defined by means of its psychological and/or historical determinations), then surely the arrival of phenomenology as method must itself be a matter worthy of phenomenological investigation.

Notwithstanding this fundamental and overarching “rightness” of the origins of Phenomenology as an object for phenomenological analysis, there’s something distinctive and interesting about the phenomenon of the “return to the sources” of Phenomenology transpiring during our current decade. This review will focus on one distinctive entrant to this broader dynamic, and through a close engagement with both (some of) its details and its overall mise en scene, will try to say something about Cairns’s work in phenomenological philosophy, Embree’s work in (re-)presenting Cairns’ work to the community of phenomenological researchers, and our work moving forward. It will surely emerge from what follows, but let me state strongly here that I am—and I believe we should be—very grateful for the work of both Cairns beginning already some eight decades ago and Embree’s recent work in bringing it forward, and offer the following remarks in the spirit of mobilizing their work moving forward. That said, it is impossible to offer an overarching assessment of Embree’s project in releasing Cairns’s manuscripts now as this volume, containing Cairns’s 1933 dissertation, is only the first of a series of volumes (perhaps six), and only when (at least some of) those additional volumes appear will we really know what the community of phenomenological researchers have to gain from this publication of Cairns’s articulation of Husserl’s project.

With that much said by way of a general introduction, let us turn to the structure of Cairns’s 1933 dissertation, The Philosophy of Edmund Husserl, and what is to be gained by reacquainting ourselves Cairns’s attempt at exegesis, translation and exposition of Husserl’s basic philosophical system up to the publication of the Formal and Transcendental Logic (in German) and Cartesian Meditations (in French).  The chief virtue of this volume for current discussions in phenomenology will be the feature of Cairns’s method to which he himself calls attention in the preface, namely the fact that in writing this exposition of Husserl’s philosophy (up to 1931/2) as such, Cairns is working not so much with the published works from the 1890s until 1930 that we know well, but rather a combination of Husserl’s manuscripts (often subsequently published but not always translated into English anyway) and most importantly Cairns’s conversations with Husserl in 1920s and again in 1930-31. I will later expound on the value of access to such conversations for me personally in my current work on Husserl’s reception of Greek mathematical thought, specifically with reference to apodicity, Euclidean space, and the problem of history in transcendental phenomenology.

Beyond the benefit of gaining access to Cairns’s conversations with the Husserl in the period 1924-31 for the contemporary reader and interpreter of classical Phenomenology and of Husserl in particular, the chief benefit of the current volume might be the way in which Cairns offers a series of remarkably clear formulations of basic (foundational) issues in phenomenological philosophy. Take, for instance, his depiction of the “themes of the present essay” in the Summary (pp. xiii-xvi) which are “(1) transcendental being, and (2) the world (with all that is in and of it) as its intended object,” on occasion of which Cairns offers glosses of key terms such as: attitude, both transcendental and natural (discussed in detail in chapters 11-12, especially pp. 108-14); syntactical structure (discussed in detail in chapter 20, especially pp. 229-35); meaning (discussed in detail in chapter 21, especially pp. 247-52); and, of course, intersubjectivity (discussed in detail in chapter 26, especially pp. 287-92). One very practical “use” of this newly published and yet “old” work would be to take up these chapters in the service of developing one’s personal glossary of some of the key terms of phenomenological analysis, as practiced by Husserl and is early followers, especially in investigating the extent to which this practice is or is not consistent with Husserl’s work—and that of his later followers—after the time of Crisis.

In that light, we must note the debate about how, if at all, these key features of Husserl’s original approach to phenomenological philosophy ought best to be understood, translated, and used, which continues to rage today. In this midst of this sea, we search for a compass, and while the classic guide for contemporary appropriations and extensions of Husserl’s project will continue to be Zahavi’s Husserl’s Phenomenlogy (Stanford, 2003) together with the Handbook of Contemporary Phenomenology that he edited (Oxford, 2014), Cairns’s attempt to provide a similar systematic basis for those who would carry on Husserl’s project is still of value. I shall conclude the current review with some examples of how, beginning with the most famous of Husserl’s terminological innovations—the epochē—and then looking at three aspects of phenomenological analysis in which Husserl’s reception of Greek mathematics is especially telling, namely: apodicity; Euclidean space; and the problem of history for phenomenological analysis as such.

The transcendental reduction. Nothing is more “originary” (or primitive, basic, foundational) for phenomenological analysis than this feature of Husserl’s thought. And readers of this reissue of Cairns’s dissertation will be well-served by consulting his presentation of the epochē in chapter one. Here, we find Cairns asserting the primary fact about knowledge (ultimately “science” as Cairns has it), which is the only possible object of philosophy, and which we “do not have” but “are seeking” (p. 1), namely, that while there are different subject matters in science, “all subject matter is one in the sense that each separate subject-matter is a part of, or essentially related to, the world” (p. 4). This is the fundamental starting point for a phenomenological analysis: there is an underlying unity to all truth, to all scientific knowledge, and this unity is of a piece with the world-participation of the knowledge and the knower who discloses it. This means that, as Cairns memorably puts it: “All knowledge that I as a human being possess is knowledge either for or about the world, about myself as part of the world, or about the rest of the world” (p.5). ” Thus, surely, in order to understand something about understanding itself, to arrive at knowledge worthy of the name, is to come to terms with the world-object that is known as part of the unity of the world as it is for the knower. And this can only be by means of the epochē, the procedure by which the world-as-known to the knower can be known in part or in whole for the knower, insofar as one has “bracketed” one’s belief in the object of knowledge so as to “test” the knowledge as knowledge. As Cairns (p. 7) summarizes: “To exercise epochē on the whole world is not to lose it from sight. It is still there for me, but no longer as believed —or rather, I still believe it but also merely look at it as believed, without—for my theoretical purpose—“sharing” in my own belief. The “world” is now my “phenomenon.” What I find singularly helpful in this (re-)presentation of the basic orienting claim of Husserl’s phenomenology as something to consider some 80 years on is the way in which the three elements of Husserl’s intellectual project—the philosophical psychology (“philosophy of mind”), the philosophy of science, and what he came to call (in Crisis) teleological-historical reflection—are all united.

Apodictic knowledge. In describing how the epochē works, Cairns turns, for non-accidental reasons to the example of the Pythagorean theorem. “Non-accidental” I say because, though Cairns does not flag this fact here, Greek mathematics is absolutely paradigmatic for Husserl’s understanding of how we can employ the epochē in order to understand truth. The reason for this essential reference to Greek mathematics can be seen when Cairns (p. 6) asserts that for Husserl, “no knowledge of particular ‘external’ world-objects is possibly apodictic,” with the implicit contrast that it is with respect to universals alone that apodictic knowledge is possible. Cairns (pp. 6-7) then tests this claim is then tested against the locus classicus for attention to Greek mathematics, the Pythagorean theorem: “Thus, if I wish to test the Pythagorean theorem, I do not necessarily doubt the theorem, but I ‘disregard’ my belief in it, do not use it to help prove itself. Similarly, if I want to test whether or not a thing I see is ‘real,’ exists. It is evident that this attitude can be taken then toward certainties as well as toward doubtful matters.” The lesson is clear enough: it is only with respect to knowledge claims framed universally that it is possible for the bracketing of the conditions of our knowledge to bring us closer to the ideal of pure apodictic knowledge. But while Chapter 1 does not further clarify why and how this example from Greek mathematics is the ideal expression, a discussion of space and time as conditions of sense-perception in Chapter 14 does, in the context of discussing how space functions in Euclidean geometry. And it is to this that we turn now.

Euclidean space. The key feature of “Greek” mathematics from the perspective of phenomenological analysis and in particular the application of the epochē, is its incompleteness with respect to a pure ideality. Such an ideality, for Husserl, is both the condition of the possibility of a knowledge of universals, and also of the distancing of the thinker from the embeddedness within the physical manifold that is characteristic of sense-perception. This Cairns (p. 132) explicates not in the context of using the Pythagorean Theorem to instantiate the epochē, but rather in describing the nature of Euclidean space as opposed to pure (i.e., “infinite,” abstract, ideal) space: “‘Infinite space’ means, in the first place, infinite space of the same order as is given in sense-perception, infinite morphological space. It too is an ‘ideal’ object and comes to the most original possible givenness as the objective-sense of an ideally unlimited fulfilling of the external spatial horizon of the sensuously presented world.” Here we see what is most characteristic of phenomenology in its resistance to the dichotomy of the real and the ideal, the abstract and the concrete, the rational and the empirical: the ideality of the geometrical object of knowledge—the point, the figure, the plane. It is this ideality that Greek mathematical thought introduced but could not address, Cairns (p. 133) writes, because, for Husserl, such “an essence as ‘Euclidean space’ is still a ‘material’ essence. It may be ‘formalized,’ i.e., in a new act founded in the act of grasping the material essence we may grasp its pure logical-mathematical form, the ‘Euclidean manifold,’ which is not determined as ‘spatial.’” In other words, Greek mathematics introduces as an object of possible knowledge a kind of ideal manifold (the “space” of “pure mathematics”) but it does not possess any such objects of knowledge, because Cairns explains (p. 133) “in the general theory of manifolds, pure mathematics (or logic) studies yet higher essences, of which such manifolds as the “Euclidean manifold” are but particular instances.”

Transcendental phenomenology and the problem of history. This status of Greek mathematics, as on the one hand introducing the possible class of objects for a study a pure mathematics, and at the same time lacking the truly non-material essence which is a condition for its possibility, brings us to the problem of history as such for the practice of the epochē and of transcendental phenomenology more broadly. While there are those who would say that Husserl’s thought is largely ahistorical before the time of Cairns’s dissertation and only turns to historiographical matters and really engaged with Historicism as a tradition of thought in the wake of his perceived waning influence in the early 1930s, a careful reading of Cairns’s dissertation gives credence to those who would say that the concern with historicity was always there. I have tried to show this with reference to the appearance of the Pythagorean Theorem and Euclidean Space in Chapters 1 and 14, but let us conclude by looking at what has to say about “historicity,” what he analyzes as the psychological intersubjectivity of the world as an experienced determination, in the concluding Chapter 27. Cairns (p. 291) writes: “This psychological intersubjectivity of the world is for each mind in part an experienced determination of the world, namely in so far as that mind is directly aware of the minds of others.” The analysis of the intersubjective ground of all possible experience, through the framework of an “experienced determination of the world,” cannot but raise specifically historical problems, as Cairns (p. 294) concludes: “the specific transcendental problems of phenomenal biography and history, i.e., of the essential forms of endurance, development, and decay in world-time peculiar to individual men, societies, institutions, and traditions. Not only the basic individuals but also the derived syntactical objects within each region must be taken as clues to their constitution.” Having arrived at the conclusion of his book he leaves analyses of these “regions” for further research—with which of course we are familiar from his later published works and those of his students and others of the next generation of phenomenological analysis—but this open-ended conclusion is fitting for his work and for our appreciation of it as we return to it with the hindsight of the better part of a century. It shows us that however much Phenomenology aspired (and aspires?) to be an abstract science, its classic Husserlian articulation—even before the Crisis—ought always also to be understood as a study of the history of world-determinations within which the work of transcendental reduction can be enacted.

In short, this reader’s imagination was stimulated and intuitions were surprised on multiple occasions by reading Cairns’s book, and hopes that others who continue to think about “foundational” issues in Phenomenology will also find reason to look inside and re-think the picture they have of the basics of Husserl’s thought.

Martin Heidegger: The Beginning of Western Philosophy: Interpretation of Anaximander and Parmenides

The Beginning of Western Philosophy: Interpretation of Anaximander and Parmenides Book Cover The Beginning of Western Philosophy: Interpretation of Anaximander and Parmenides
Studies in Continental Thought
Martin Heidegger - Translated by Richard Rojcewicz
Indiana University Press
Hardcover, £35

Reviewed by: Kyle Michael James Shuttleworth (Queen’s University Belfast)

In The Beginning of Western Philosophy Heidegger offers a reinterpretation of Anaximander’s and Parmenides’ surviving fragments. His intention, following the project initiated in Being and Time, is to illustrate that the concept of Being bequeathed to us not only rests upon a corrupted concept but that philosophy, as we understand it, is at its very core misguided. The aim of seeking out the beginning of philosophy is suggested at the beginning of the lecture where Heidegger rhetorically questions, ‘Our mission: the cessation of philosophising?’ The self-appointed custodian to Nietzsche’s philosophical heritage, Heidegger believed that the consequences of his task would bring about the end of metaphysics and prepare the grounds for subsequent thinkers. This is evident in the bold assertion, ‘I have no philosophy at all. My efforts are aimed at conquering and preparing the way so that those who will come in the future might perhaps again be able to begin with the correct beginning of philosophy.’ In claiming such, Heidegger can be seen to acquit himself of the charges of ethical nihilism and the claim that his support of National Socialism logically followed from the individualism of his ontology, which severely tarnished his philosophical reputation. However, whether or not this judgment is correct or an attempt to undermine his critics, remains to be qualified.

The text itself is composed of a tripartite structure. The first part focuses on Anaximander’s dictum: ‘but whence things take their origin, thence always precedes their passing away, according to necessity; for they pay one another penalty (dike) and retribution (tisis) for their wickedness (adikia) according to established time.’ Rather than taking Anaximander to be simply discussing coming-to-be and passing away, Heidegger interprets the dictum instead to be concerned with ‘appearing’ and ‘disappearing’. Although the understanding of appearance as the Being of beings, might seem like a linguistic quibble, Heidegger later illustrates that this has profound implications. This reinterpretation then leads him to strip dike, tisis, and adikia of any judicial-moral meaning, and instead understand them as ‘compliance’, ‘correspondence’, and ‘non-compliance’. He also highlights that Anaximander discusses Being ‘according to established time’ which grants validity to his own ontological convictions. In this lecture series Heidegger’s analytic rigour is at its height. In reinterpreting Anaximander’s dictum, which initially appeared to be a quite straight -forward claim regarding being and non-being, Heidegger elucidates that it is a very complex, ontologically loaded statement, indeed.

Part two focuses on the question of Being generally and why it is worthy of our concern. Heidegger begins by considering four objections to the given interpretation: unbridgeable span of time, antiquated, crude and meagre, and unreal. Having dismissed each of these he then continues to elucidate the question of Being. This section is of primary importance to Heidegger scholars who are not only interested in ontology, but also his account of existence. Here his understanding of existence is demarcated as existere, literally, standing out. He also distinguishes his approach from both the public notion and the refined concept employed by Kierkegaard. The latter of these, he suggests, is employed by Karl Jaspers. Heidegger goes to great lengths to distinguish himself from Jaspers, his contemporary and fellow advocate of existenzphilosophie. Here Heidegger claims that although they both use the same terminology, and have been categorised together, that their projects are unrelated. ‘According to the sound of the words Jaspers and I have precisely the same central terms: Dasein, existence, transcendence, world. Jaspers uses all these in a total different sense and in a completely different range of problems.’

The third part, which dominates the discussion, consuming almost half of the text, addresses the fragments of Parmenides’ didactic poem that have been preserved in various sources. This almost mystic text discusses the goddess aletheia, which is usually translated as ‘truth’, but which Heidegger interprets as ‘unconcealment’. In his analysis of the poem, which he discusses meticulously, Heidegger derives three main claims that he believes Parmenides to be making. The first of these is the ‘axiomatic statement’, that Being and apprehension belong together: ‘where Being, there apprehension, and where no apprehension, no Being’. The second is the ‘essential statement’ which provides insight into the essence of Being as excluding negativity: ‘we always encounter only the assertion that matters stand thus with Being’. The third and final claim is what Heidegger terms the ‘temporal statement’, that Being and time exists in an exclusive and necessary relationship: ‘being stands in relation to the present and only to it’. The result of uncovering these three philosophical claims is that they grant validity to Heidegger’s ontological re-evaluation regarding the question of Being.

Through reinterpretation, Heidegger illustrates that the question of Being permeates the very core of pre-Socratic thought. He can thus be seen to continue the project initiated in Being and Time. Written five years later, The Beginning of Western Philosophy elucidates many of the ideas first presented there. By illustrating that Anaximander and Parmenides were concerned with the Being of beings, Heidegger can be seen to open the ground back into Being. However, what about the interpretations, themselves? Are they simply incubators for Heidegger to cultivate his own philosophical inclinations? As with the majority of his lectures and monologues on other philosophers, Heidegger describes their thought in his own jargon and frames it in relation to his own philosophy. Although one may be inclined to dismiss this text on the ground that it does not offer a true interpretation of the content that it claims to, Heidegger himself addresses this criticism. He cautions one who would make such a critique to ‘pay attention primarily not to the means and paths of our interpretation, but to what these means and paths will set before you. If that does not become especially essential to you, then the discussion of the correctness or incorrectness of the interpretation will a fortiori remain inconsequential.’

What of the edition itself? For the same reason that it will be of interest to classics scholars it is repellent to modern academics that are not versed in Ancient Greek. There are dense passages of Greek and terms are often employed with the assumption that the reader possesses prior knowledge. This may have been appropriate at the time Heidegger wrote the lectures, when Ancient Greek was included in the curriculum. However, this modern translation, and the contemporary reader, would have been benefited from the romanisation of the Greek. Moreover, it seems thoughtless that a German-English glossary has been included yet there is no such consideration for a Greek equivalent. A further concern is that the idea of an index has been completely abandoned altogether. The absence of which is of great disservice to the scholar unable to recollect a much needed quote or passage. This edition could also have been improved with an introduction to contextualise the present volume. What was the purpose of these lectures, what preceded them, how does this build upon Heidegger’s project, and what original insights does it offer? In conclusion, to those in the know, the content offers illumination on the ontological trajectory initiated in Being and Time; however, to those less acquainted, this particular edition does not.

Martin Heidegger: Hegel

Hegel Book Cover Hegel
Studies in Continental Thought
Martin Heidegger - Translated by Joseph Arel and Niels Feuerhahn
Indiana University Press

Reviewed by: Donovan Irven (Purdue University)

Heidegger’s Hegel

This installment in the Studies in Continental Thought series from Indiana University Press continues the recent string of excellent translations of Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe, bringing volume 68 of the German Klostermann editions to English readers for the first time. Heidegger’s slim volume on Hegel belongs to the third division of the Gesamtausgabe, “Unpublished Treatises: Addresses-Ponderings,” of which Beiträge zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis) was the first to appear. The recent (2012) retranslation of the Beiträge as Contributions to Philosophy (Of the Event) seems to have marked a renewed commitment to Heidegger’s oeuvre by the IU Press, as well as the broad acceptance of an approach to translation that has greatly enhanced the general readability of Heidegger’s work in English. This review will do three things: 1) address the strengths and weaknesses of Hegel as a work of translation; 2) at times, briefly situate Hegel among Heidegger’s overall project; and, 3) confront the text itself as a treatment of Hegel in the context of Heidegger’s all-important Seinsfrage, or the question of Being.

As a work of translation, Joseph Arel and Niels Feuerhahn do an admirable job of rendering this often dense and sometimes fragmented work in more or less accessible English. The well-known and much-lamented difficulty in translating Heidegger is the way in which he plays on German grammar and the associations among roots, prefixes, and suffixes that dominate the technical, philosophical vocabulary of the German schools, and German Idealism after Wolff and Leibniz in particular throughout Hegel. Arel and Feuerhahn demonstrate a real sensitivity to this difficulty, especially where Heidegger makes crucial connections from Kant, to Hegel, to his own work – something of a recurrent theme in this text. Where Heidegger plays on the meaning of prefixes by deploying hyphenations, the translators preserve the hyphenation in English when they are afforded a basically direct correlation between German and English. Where this is not possible, as it often is not, the translator’s have opted to include the German in brackets to clue readers in on Heidegger’s game, while providing a sensible English alternative that allows readers to more intuitively grasp the moves Heidegger makes. I generally agree with this approach, as it benefits both readers who have a knowledge of German and those who do not. Those with serious interest in Heidegger should know some German, and the indication of the original text is illuminating. However, even the most scholastic of Heidegger scholars must appreciate the benefits of a readable English text that does not constantly disrupt the reader with bizarre and unintuitive locutions and neologisms, throwing the reader out of the flow of the text and making it even more difficult to follow the line of thought therein. The translators navigate this pitfall adroitly, and when the text suffers I think the fault is Heidegger’s and not his translators. Let Heidegger do the work and lay his own traps. Successful translators of Heidegger allow the slow and tedious transformation of concepts to unfold as Heidegger seems to have intended without attempting to shoehorn ready-made interpretations into unnecessary and distracting neologisms and ugly faux German hyphenation schemes. Arel and Feuerhahn are successful far more often than not.

With that said, Hegel is certainly a book for students of Heidegger or Hegel, and not at all a good general introduction to Heidegger’s philosophy, and even less so to philosophy generally. Without some basic knowledge of Heidegger’s project, readers would quickly become lost in this text. Some basic knowldege of Hegel is only marginally less important, and greatly aids in making the text accessible. Even still, some of this book is extremely challenging, for reasons that differ wildly depending on the part of the text under consideration.

Hegel is split in two, the first part composed between 1938-39 and revisited in 1941. The second part dates from 1942 and deals at length with the Introduction to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit in a much fuller and more robust style than is exhibited in the first part. Arel and Feuerhahn do well to make clear the sources of Heidegger’s Hegel, as well as outline their general approach to translation, in their brief introduction. Again, the problems of producing a proper scholarly edition of Heidegger’s Gesamtausgabe are well-known and documented. The Heidegger estate, executed by his son Hermann, does not allow what they deem to be extraneous or otherwise excessive scholarly apparatuses to be attached to the work of the Father, who is considered the final word on all matters philosophical. Thus, even in English, Heidegger’s works lack helpful indexes (something set to change with the publication of the first volume of Black Notebooks this spring, 2016), or extensive interpretive introductions. I suppose I can do without the interpretations, though an index would be a great boon to all Gesamtasugabe editions. Nevertheless, Arel and Feuerhahn have worked within these parameters to provide some helpful context and clarify their decisions regarding translations in a brief introduction.

The first part of Hegel is fragmentary and comes from notes Heidegger was preparing for an oral presentation to a small gathering of colleagues. Whether or not Heidegger ever delivered these remarks on “Negativity” remains unclear. However, there are striking connections to other works on nihilism (the Nietzsche lectures, his 1955 essay in celebration of Ernst Junger translated as “On the Question of Being” in Pathmarks, and, in particular, his 1957 lectures published as Identity and Difference, which Heidegger himself viewed as among the most important of his works after Being and Time) and also to the 1942-43 essay published as “Hegel’s Concept of Experience” in Off the Beaten Track. The latter essay reiterates Heideggers meditations on the meaning of Hegel’s addition of the word “experience” to his subtitle “Science of the Experience of Consciousness” in the 1807 edition of the Phenomenology of Spirit. In his Hegel book, Heidegger works out the history of Hegel’s manipulations of the title and fixes his analysis on uncovering the importance of “experience” to the phenomenon of consciousness central to the Hegelian system. This later emphasis on experience stems from his engagement with Hegel at the end of Being and Time, where Hegel was deployed in an effort to work out the transcendence of Dasein; ultimately, the view that Dasein is itself the transcendent, since it is the Dasein that exists temporally as that which oversteps itself. However, for the remainder of the 1920s, Heidegger largely shifts his focus to Kant and, in 1929, publishes Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, a text that marks the end of the Being and Time era and in which we see the first signals of the turn toward the truth of Being and the history of Beyng. Heidegger does not seriously concern himself with Hegel again until 1930-31, when he gives a winter seminar on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.

In Hegel, Heidegger again returns to the thinker of absolute Spirit in his private pondering, and attempts to trace the development of Hegel’s system, as well as the bearing of Hegelian philosophy on Heidegger’s own project. The text is remarkable for its clear elucidation of Hegel’s shifting system of logic and the role his Phenomenology plays in the overall system. The first part of Heidegger’s short book is fragmentary, and those not intimately familiar with Heidegger’s project will find that it offers them very little. It is certainly provocative, and therein is really the value – not that Heidegger gives us the answers to questions concerning the “correct” interpretation of Hegel, but rather that Heidegger makes brief pronouncements on Hegel that spur us on to think more deeply and critically about the issues at hand. Less frustrating, and much more fully developed, are the comments Heidegger makes concerning the fundamental negation at the heart of Hegel’s logic, wherein self-conscious being must enact a negation in order to stand out from its surroundings, but then covers over this negation in the disclosure of beings that appear to it. If Heidegger does violence to Hegel’s text, it is certainly where he tries to find traces of his own ideas about the ontological distinction and the covering over of Being, its withdrawal in the wake of the appearance of things. However, when read carefully, these sections give us powerful insight into Heidegger’s philosophical inspiration and the source of his ideas, which are certainly new and exciting for his time, but are also deeply immersed in and connected with the history of metaphysics.

The second half of the book is much fuller and more developed, and it deals with Hegel’s Introduction to the Phenomenology of Spirit in detail, going paragraph by paragraph through the text to give very clear exegesis while simultaneously developing his own insights through this “confrontation” with Hegel. There are strong resonances here with the lecture course from 1930-31, with what is published a year later as “Hegel’s Concept of Experience,” and, in addition, a robust commentary on the relationship between transcendence and dialectic in Hegel’s understanding of the experience of consciousness (self-consciousness). Heidegger rigorously exposes self-consciousness as a journey, which begins with a painful separation from the self and continues down the path opened by absolute spirit, lighted by the “ray” that connects an individual consciousness with, effectively, the World Spirit. Whatever self might exist exists only insofar as it is a projection forth, but also then a rebounding back wherein the self comes to see itself as such by recognizing itself in the revelation of the things it cognizes. Although, surprisingly, Heidegger does not venture into the well-worn metaphor of Hegel’s “Odyssey,” there is an obvious parallel here between Heidegger’s own interpretation of Hegelian philosophy and that interpretation which reads absolute Spirit coming to see itself as such in terms of an Odyssey – a painful separation and journeying away from itself only to return to itself in the end as a self-conscious being.

For Heidegger, then, we best understand Hegel’s philosophy as the place where we can first see Dasein itself as the transcendent because of the dialectic procedure of self-consciousness as such, experienced as this journeying forth and back, that journey marking the transcendence of the Dasein itself. Of course, Heidegger does not claim that Hegel himself quite saw it that way. As always when dealing with the history of philosophy, Heidegger goes from delivering very clear and precising explanations of Hegel’s text, to then push that text further, developing his own unique insights from a critical engagement with past thinkers. Careful readers will have no problem parsing out these two threads within Heidegger’s writing, however, one does need to be careful, especially when this particular book exhibits its fragmentary character. I find that in those moments, where the text becomes provocative, annunciatory, quasi-poetic (though poorly poetic in poetry’s own terms), Heidegger is often exposing himself most fully, that is, putting forth his own unguarded thoughts without much in the way of explanation. Some readers will find this philosophically suspect, though regular readers of Heidegger and those familiar with this particular division of the Gesamtausgabe will no doubt be unsurprised by Heidegger’s style.

Before closing I do want to say that I think the Hegel book is most illuminating when considered in conjunction with the final chapter of The Basic Problems of Phenomenology, which translates a lecture course delivered in 1927, and is considered to be, in part, the scene of Heidegger’s informal completion of Being and Time where he gets to the destruction of metaphysics promised in his unfinished magnum opus. There, Heidegger talks about the temporalization of Dasein as a “stretching” that is the ontological basis of dimensionality itself. The stretch marks a very clear and explicit analysis of Dasein itself as the transcendent, and the notion of stretch makes a crucial contribution to Heidegger’s understanding of Hegelian dialectical procedure in the Hegel book. According to Heidegger in Hegel, Hegel errs and falls into the history of metaphysics exactly where he treats the transcendent as some being toward which we would overstep in an act of transcendence. Again, typical of Heidegger, Hegel is accused of not being mindful of the ontological distinction, and thus erroneously treats the transcendent as a being among other beings. What Heidegger has in mind, and again, this is made very clear in the 1927 lecture course and reiterated at length in Hegel, is that when we carry out the proper analytic of Dasein, we find that the transcendent is not some being toward which we overstep, but that the transcendent is in fact the very overstepping itself, which is exactly the dialectical procedure of Dasein’s own historical standing forth from Being. It is not surprising, then, that Heidegger is beginning to develop his philosophy in the direction of the history of Beyng at the same time he is seriously reengaging with Hegel’s philosophy. Here too, although it outstrips the purview of this review, we see why Heidegger is so enthused by Aristotle’s treatment of time and movement, which Heidegger reads as an essential phase in the understanding of Being as the temporality of Dasein’s transcendent essence.

In the end, this is an excellent translation of a difficult and sometimes frustrating work by Heidegger. Certainly an insightful text for students of German philosophy, the book suffers from its sometimes fragmentary character, which makes it mostly unsuitable for anyone not already familiar with Heidegger or Hegel. Those just coming to Heidegger, phenomenology, or Continental philosophy for the first time will do well to avoid this text lest they be frustrated by the depth of Heidegger’s commitment to the vocabulary of Hegel and Kant, as well as his sometime cryptic pronouncements on Hegel and Being. However, philosophers with serious interest in Heidegger, and in particular with Heidegger’s relationship with German Idealism and his own philosophical development during the crucial “turn” of the 1930s, will find this volume illuminating and occasionally inspiring.

Françoise Dastur: Heidegger et la pensée à venir

Heidegger et la pensée à venir Book Cover Heidegger et la pensée à venir
Problèmes & controverses
Françoise Dastur

Reviewed by: Christophe Perrin (Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique)

Recension originale publiée dans Bulletin heideggerien 3, 2013

Du neuf avec du vieux ? Non : du classique avec du moderne. Tel est le secret de fabrication du dernier ouvrage de Françoise Dastur, le premier qui, eu égard à son titre ou à son sous-titre, ne porte pas littéralement sur une question chez Heidegger – contrairement à Heidegger et la question du temps (1990), Heidegger et la question anthropologique (2003) et Heidegger. La question du logos (2007) –, sans doute parce qu’il les pose toutes dans l’horizon de ce qui s’avère, du moins à nos yeux, la question la plus digne de question chez ce penseur : celle, précisément, de sa pensée, c’est-à-dire de la pensée à venir. Classique donc, ce livre l’est d’emblée pour reposer sur des études qui, depuis 25 ans, ont modelé la compréhension la plus large et l’interprétation la plus juste de la pensée heideggérienne en France – autant qu’à l’étranger, étant donné les diverses traductions des travaux de l’A. et leur réception, notamment américaine. Moderne, ce livre l’est aussi pour proposer ces textes « dans une version nouvelle, et pour certains, profondément remaniée et augmentée » (p. 251), certainement afin de coller au plus près aux progrès de la littérature primaire – les récentes livraisons de la Gesamtausgabe – et de la littérature secondaire – les préoccupations actuelles de l’exégèse internationale. D’où, parfois, la sensation d’une paramnésie de reconnaissance, ou illusion du déjà vu, sinon du déjà lu. Si, ici et là, nous pensons en effet relire l’A., ce n’est pas qu’elle se répète – pas plus que le bon professeur qui se doit de reprendre afin de faire apprendre –, mais parce que nous répétons avec elle ce que, depuis longtemps, elle nous enseigne : l’intelligence du texte heideggérien – au double sens et du mot, et du cas : l’ingéniosité qui est la sienne comme l’entente que nous en avons.

Prenant, dans ce volume, comme « axe privilégié de référence » la Kehre des années 1930, qui fait passer Heidegger « de l’approfondissement de la métaphysique traditionnelle à [son] “dépassement” » (p. 7), autrement dit à son « assomption » – puisque, l’A. le rappelle, l’Überwindung se comprend comme Verwindung (p. 219) –, Françoise Dastur se donne pour fin de « prendre toute la mesure de la “révolution du mode de penser” à laquelle en appelle Heidegger », (p. 10) et pour moyen d’étudier cette « pensée à venir » dont il est dit, sinon prophétisé par lui en 1946 qu’« elle ne sera plus philosophie » (GA 9, 364). Douze chapitres répartis trois par trois dans quatre parties distinctes, soit quelque 240 pages plus loin, l’objectif est atteint, et cela après une introduction aussi interrogative qu’apéritive : « La pensée à venir : une phénoménologie de l’inapparent ? » (pp. 11-24). Car cette mise en bouche assure exquisement – et même exotiquement – la mise en tête de ce syntagme : après un retour sur, non pas l’école à laquelle appartient Heidegger, mais la méthode qu’il met en œuvre – la phénoménologie –, et avant un détour par l’intérêt dont il témoigne pour l’Orient et, plus particulièrement, pour le vide de la scène dans le nô – l’inapparent –, l’A. évoque la formule par laquelle le penseur, dans le séminaire de Zähringen, définit ultimement sa pensée – « phénoménologie de l’inapparent » (GA 15, 299) –, tout en suspendant là son propos. Il faudra patienter jusqu’à sa quasi fin pour que le thème liminaire refasse surface, bouclant ainsi la boucle (p. 225). Eussions-nous aimé que Françoise Dastur opte pour une relecture de l’œuvre heideggérienne à rebours, afin de voir comment et de savoir pourquoi le travail du penseur demeure, de bout en bout, phénoménologique ? Vœu pieux. Elle préfère que nous avalions dans l’ordre les sections de son livre, en terminant par son menu.

Or, c’est à lui que nous voudrions borner ce compte rendu, tant il est, dans ce recueil de reprises revues et corrigées, non seulement l’unique part inédite, mais plus encore le morceau de choix. C’est qu’en cette « table des matières » (p. 253) sur laquelle se clôt l’ouvrage se contemple de l’A. toute la maestria. Intitulée « De Être et temps à la pensée de l’Ereignis », la première partie articule, plus que les motifs du monde (pp. 27-43), de l’espace (pp. 45-58) et du temps (pp. 59-75), le traitement de chacun par les trois Heidegger – celui du Tournant, comme celui d’avant ou d’après lui. Intitulée « Une autre pensée de l’être de l’homme », la deuxième partie renvoie anthropologisme et anthropomorphisme dos à dos (pp. 79-96), unit la question de l’être à celle que nous sommes (pp. 79-96) et, derrière le dire de son dit, ressaisit l’éthique de Heidegger comme « éco-nomie de l’Unheimlichkeit » (pp. 119-132 ; ici p. 129). Intitulée « Une autre pensée du divin, du néant et de l’être », la troisième partie – toutes pièces à l’appui insistons-y – , instruit les dossiers de la relation de Heidegger à la théologie jusque dans la « théiologie de la pensée » (pp. 135-154 ; ici p. 153), de sa conception du nihilisme dans sa différence d’avec celle de Jünger (pp. 155-169) et de sa compréhension du commencement grec dans l’explicitation de la parole d’Anaximandre (pp. 171-185). Intitulée « D’une pensée qui ne serait plus philosophie », la dernière partie s’interroge sur l’existence d’une philosophie de l’histoire chez Heidegger (pp. 189-206), sur la signification de la fin de la philosophie sous sa plume (pp. 207-226) et sur le sens de l’avenir de la présence humaine dans l’événement de l’être (pp. 227-250). Tout n’est-il pas là ? Tout, c’est-à-dire chacune des lignes de force que nous observons à lire les lignes dédiées par Heidegger à l’établissement de cet autre commencement de la pensée qui fait sa pensée ?

L’herméneute le plus fin d’un penseur toujours en chemin se doit d’offrir au lecteur, pour traverser son œuvre, la meilleure des boussoles. Avec Heidegger et la pensée à venir, Françoise Dastur, en offre une très bonne. Mais si le diable se cache dans les détails, Hermès se niche ici dans le sommaire.




Norman Sieroka: Leibniz, Husserl and the Brain

Leibniz, Husserl and the Brain Book Cover Leibniz, Husserl and the Brain
Norman Sieroka
Palgrave Macmillan
Hardcover £60.00

Reviewed by: Kristjan Laasik (Shandong University, China)

Norman Sieroka’s book is about “the systematic, structural relations between phenomenological and (neuro)physiological aspects of perception, consciousness, and time, with a specific focus on hearing” (p. 4), based on Leibniz’s and Husserl’s views. While Sieroka displays a great depth of knowledge in his discussions of these two philosophers, his main aims are not exegetic, but consist, rather, in casting new light on the said philosophical and interdisciplinary issues. However, the scope of his interpretative project is ambitious. There is, on the one hand, Husserl, the founder of phenomenology, for whom perception is, first and foremost, conscious. On the other hand, there is Leibniz, the great rationalist metaphysician, who stands out in his era for bringing center-stage various kinds of unconscious perception. Sieroka effectively reconciles these seemingly very different perspectives, as he argues for numerous points of similarity between them and synthesizes them for mutual enrichment.

In Part I of his book, Sieroka gives an overview of the scope and methodology of his study. He describes the Leibnizian methodology as involving extrapolation from conscious to unconscious perception, and pursuit of the structural analogies between the physical and the perceptual. His interpretation of Husserl’s phenomenological method emphasizes similarities with these Leibnizian ideas, enabling Sieroka to broaden the Husserlian conception of perception to cover unconscious states, and bring it into closer contact with empirical disciplines. He rejects what he refers to as foundationalist readings of phenomenology, insofar as they disallow the idea that phenomenology may be guided by empirical research. He also believes that he is, in effect, following Husserl in proceeding mainly by abductive and transcendental argument, rather than phenomenological description (p. 37).

In Part II, Sieroka introduces Leibniz’s account of perception, including notions such as appetite and expression, as well as the distinction between conscious and unconscious perception. Perception, for Leibniz, is an activity of the monads. The mental and the physical aspects of perception stand in a relation of a pre-established harmony. Sieroka pursues a secular version of this idea, with a focus on the Leibnizian concept of “expression”. To say that the mental and the physical express each other is to say that they stand in a kind of relation of structural resemblance, which Sieroka interprets based on the mathematical notion of homeomorphism, falling short of an isomorphism. Unlike the other major philosophers of his time, Leibniz allows for unconscious perception, distinguishing between unnoticeable and merely unnoticed (or “minute”) unconscious perceptions. Sieroka discusses Leibniz’s reasons for proposing these distinctions, and compares these views with Dretske’s, Block’s and Dennett’s. Sieroka also lays considerable emphasis on Leibniz’s notion of an appetite, or a monadic striving to evoke new perceptions, providing clarifications of the relations between the ideas of perception and appetite, and construing appetites as part of a framework of final causation, distinct from the efficient causation that governs the physical universe. He then devotes a chapter to discussing empirical research, to garner support for the Leibnizian view of perception. He invokes the Leibnizian unconscious appetites in providing an alternative account of the results, otherwise credited with disproving the existence of free will, of an experiment by psychologist Benjamin Libet. In the last major development in Part II, Sieroka discusses Leibniz’s view of the transition from unconscious to conscious perception, viz., that it takes place in the course of the accumulation of minute perceptions, with consciousness arising when a certain threshold of distinctness of perception is attained. Sieroka interprets this as a one-level intentionalist view of consciousness, as opposed to higher-level views (p. 109). He further elaborates this view by invoking the notions of attention, reflection, memory, and apperception, and assumes the Leibnizian perspective to voice his reservations, in some final remarks, towards the influential view that conscious and unconscious states are rightly demarcated based on whether or not they possess the requisite what-it-is-likeness (pp. 118-119).

Part III is presented as a brief “intermezzo”, consisting of just one chapter, in which empirical findings are discussed and given a Leibnizian construal. The physiology of perception is considered at different time-scales, with a focus on the range of 1s to 6-8s and the phenomenon of mismatch negativity (MMN), or a kind of sensitivity to breaks in patterns of auditory stimuli. Sieroka argues that MMN are physiological analogs of Leibnizian unnoticeable perceptions, and also brings to bear the Leibnizian notions of immediate memory and pre-attentive anticipation (p. 148).

In Part IV, Sieroka proposes a Husserlian-Leibnizian account of perception, which he then uses to discuss the topic of time. In the merger of the two views, Leibnizian views of perceptual presence are articulated and developed in terms of the more thorough Husserlian account of the extended present, invoking the apparatus of retention, protention, and primal impression. The Husserlian account is extended to cover unconscious perceptions, and viewed as structurally analogous to the underlying physiological processes. Sieroka highlights various points of similarity between the two philosophers’ views. Thus, he interprets the Husserlian distinction between causation and motivation as being analogous to the Leibnizian distinction between efficient and final causation (Section 7.1), and he draws parallels between the Leibnizian ideas of simple reflection and appetite, on the one hand, and the Husserlian immediate memory and immediate anticipation, on the other (Section 7.2). He furthermore contrasts his Husserlian-Leibnizian account with other views and ideas, such as William James’s specious present (p. 177), and Barry Dainton’s extensionalist model of time consciousness (p. 184), criticizing these accounts for unduly privileging physical time over experienced time. Interestingly, Sieroka sees an affinity between his Husserlian-Leibnizian approach and Francesco Varela’s neurophenomenology. He argues that the significance of Varela’s approach, as well as other kindred approaches, should be seen not so much in their invoking some particular mathematical apparatus (e.g., dynamic systems theory), but more generally in their making use of a system of formal notation to investigate the structural parallels between the phenomenological and physiological levels (p. 220).

In sum, Sieroka has developed a kind of empirically-informed Husserlian-Leibnizian parallelist account of perceptual and physiological phenomena. He duly updates Leibniz where needed: instead of regarding God as the origin of the parallelism, he has effectively placed time at its core (p. 226). Throughout the book, he develops his views with great rigor, and in many passages brings to bear his perspective on current debates, attesting to the current relevance of his account. The book is very clearly written, rendering the Leibnizian and Husserlian views accessible to a broad philosophical and scientific readership, and providing a framework to organize one’s thoughts on the topics of perception and time.

Günter Figal: Aesthetics as Phenomenology. The Appearance of Things

Aesthetics as Phenomenology. The Appearance of Things Book Cover Aesthetics as Phenomenology. The Appearance of Things
Studies in Continental Thought
Günter Figal
Indiana University Press
Hardcover ($85); Paperback ($30)

Reviewed by: Shawn Loht (Baton Rouge Community College, USA)

This 2010 monograph, by the Freiburg philosopher (published in English translation in 2015), follows his previous work, Gegenständlichkeit: Das Hermeneutische und die Philosophie (Objectivity: Philosophy and the Hermeneutical), which appeared in an English translation in 2011. Although Figal is a major continental philosopher and scholar of the German philosophical tradition, he is perhaps less known outside of European circles, particularly in the Anglo-American sphere. In a perfect world, the present work would make his name more prominent among scholars in the philosophy of art, in both the continental and analytic persuasions. Aesthetics as Phenomenology: The Appearance of Things is an important and potentially major contribution to the philosophy of art, despite some weaknesses that I will outline below. Although this monograph comprises a dedicated work of phenomenology, it also poses some powerful, if unspoken, rejoinders to current trends on the analytic side of aesthetics and the philosophy of art.

Figal’s stated aim in the book’s introductory preface is to recover the primacy of the question of art for philosophy at large (1). An implicit assumption on this score is that Western philosophy has slowly neglected the concept of art considered in its own right; this, after the philosophy of art, saw something of a climax in the philosophy of Kant.

In its execution, the scope of Figal’s study would be best described as a phenomenology of art, representing all of the best features of phenomenological philosophy: vigorous and provocative questioning of longstanding assumptions embedded in the subject matter, emphasis on description of phenomena rather than argumentation, and especially important for the phenomenology of art, significant engagement with the phenomenon of art arising concomitantly with subjective experience. Indeed, one of the most powerful rejoinders Figal’s book makes to contemporary philosophy of art vis-à-vis leading positions in Anglo-American work, is an emphasis on the temporal, spatial, and generally intermedial character of the experience of art works.

Stylistically, readers may find Figal’s prose to contain a mixture of accessibility and density. He writes in an often sparse, formal philosophical voice that sometimes leans toward the abstract and theoretical, especially in the book’s first two chapters, though his central position does become more concrete and transparent as the book proceeds. Throughout, however, he also writes with a stately grace and elegance, particularly when weaving between observations formulated in his own philosophical voice and contributions leveraged from the thought of other philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, Gadamer, Heidegger, and Valéry. When his writing is clearest and most engaging, Figal’s style may even strike the reader as very close to Gadamer’s prose in Truth and Method; when it favors the abstract, Figal’s writing may come across as somewhat Hegelian. This book is one for specialists and advanced scholars of phenomenology and the philosophy of art.

The main position of the first two chapters, which sets the stage for the remaining three, is that an art work comprises a true phenomenon, par excellence, in the classical terminological sense of phenomenology. This to say that works of art are appearances that self-show, and this is the way that they are the only beings that effect this accomplishment. This character of art works reflects the fact that their ontological makeup lay in their capacity to appear – to appear as appearing – and thus, not to be encountered as, say, mere useful objects or natural things (86). Figal uses Kant’s philosophy of beauty (from the latter’s third Critique) as a lift-off point for broader exploration of the nature of art. Despite his emphasis on phenomenology, Figal’s understanding of art works remains Kantian at the core, though as the book develops, his position takes on a more Heideggerian note. Figal summarizes his position, definitive for the remainder of the book, in the following passage:

[T]he beautiful as such is a decentered order that stands for itself as an appearance. A decentered order does not permit of being assigned to any conceptually identifiable object and thus being made comprehensible through this object. The order only exists by appearing. In artworks, this appearance is deictic. Something appears in its decentered order—for instance that which a picture shows, or that which a novel narrates. This something is shown, but only in such a way that an artwork itself shows itself. Artworks do not point to something that exists beyond them and that would be intended by the works themselves. What they show is rather only in them and with them, in the way that they show it (4).

Figal’s sustained interest in Kant seems to stem from the observation that the latter’s work represents the last major attempt to describe aesthetic experience in a manner that does not subordinate art and the aesthetic to other ontological categories. Whereas after Kant, philosophers such as Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Heidegger all render the ontology of art in terms such as “spirit” or “truth”, for Figal, this issue is problematic in that such approaches overlook the unique phenomenologico-ontological character of art works. In other words, Figal wishes to describe the ontology of art in a way that is not parasitic on other categories of being, and which instead stems from art’s way of self-showing.

In order to appreciate what is controversial about Figal’s aims here, one may consider by contrast the recent text Beyond Art (Oxford University Press, 2014), a major work by analytic philosopher Dominic McIver Lopes, to see how unfashionable essentialist or systematic ontologies of art have become in mainline philosophical circles. Lopes’ book defends the argument that there is no “art” in the sense of an over-arching metaphysical umbrella that pervades both colloquial talk as well as philosophical discussion of art. Rather, Lopes argues, there are merely “arts”, that is, individual art media that share a name but little else.  Lopes makes this claim on the ground that key seminal moments in the philosophy of art never made a definitive case for the existence of art as such, but were concerned with issues such as taste and beauty. Other Anglo-American philosophers who have suggested a view in line with Lopes include Derek Matravers (Introducing the Philosophy of Art in Eight Case Studies, Acumen, 2013). Although Figal’s book does not take up such contemporary perspectives, readers may wish to take note of just how radically opposed his approach is compared to these other leading positions. Figal is right to say that art is not the major concept of interest it once was for philosophers.

The third, fourth, and fifth chapters of Figal’s book fill out the picture considerably, taking up the topics of art forms, nature, and space, respectively. The third chapter presents the most original and powerful material of the book, with the fourth and fifth mostly serving the role of amplifying Figal’s core position. In the third chapter, Figal proceeds from the observation that art works manifest themselves in certain frequently occurring guises; it is not the case that art manifests itself in random types of human-fashioned objects. Yet at the same time, it is difficult to understand why this happens—it is difficult to comprehend why art historically seems limited to common media like painting, music, and poetry, and offshoots of these three (95-96). Figal addresses this issue with an altogether original and in fact quite stunning account: he suggests that art works share a common foundation by virtue of originating in the ontological overlap of image, text, and rhythm. That is, the forms and thus, the genres that art works exhibit stem from an underlying ontology of “master” categories (129-30). This may sound like a grandiose series of claims to defend, but Figal proceeds in all seriousness, with a citation of Plato to boot. The underlying suggestion is that art works originate as phenomena in the guise of rock-bottom categories, namely, the poetic, musical, and imagistic. This ontology is evidenced by the fact that art works are by and large “mixed” media, phenomenologically speaking. Visual works such as sculptures and paintings can be read as texts, often demanding “textual” analysis. Or at least, it is obvious even to lay reason that visual art always has composition and structure; imagistic works are never comprehended at one glance. Similarly, literary and poetic works tend to exhibit musical structure. Poetry for its part has historical roots in meter and song. And musical works of art have their effect by lending themselves to imagistic meaning or textual reading. The larger point in force here is not simply about interpretation. Figal’s account emphasizes that art works truly consist of these three basic forms, such that no art work can be said to consist solely of any one of them in isolation (138). So the accomplishment of this incredibly rich reckoning is that Figal ends up recasting the ontology of art in terms on the one hand Platonic and on the other hand strongly Heideggerian. Although Figal devotes significant space throughout the text to critiquing Heidegger’s philosophy of art, especially the “Origin of the Work of Art” and “Building, Dwelling, Thinking” essays, Figal’s overall position comes across as a more thorough and improved version of Heidegger’s phenomenology of art, having its strengths (vis-à-vis Heidegger) in the development of detail and extensive use of examples.

Figal’s Heideggerian approach probably also reveals the most prominent weakness of his book’s central position, namely that it seems more successful in the abstract than when one starts to think of examples and problem cases that Figal does not address. For instance, Figal seems mostly uninterested in taking up the hard cases posed by the advent of 20th-century modern art. It seems very difficult at first glance to consider how broadly Figal’s thesis applies to all art; it may be that his thesis only sufficiently describes certain historical instances of great art. Nor does he give much sustained attention to postmodern works in literature or music. From a general philosophy-of-art standpoint, Figal’s appreciation of art seems rather narrow compared to the more inclusive, thoughtful vision of influential philosophers of art like Arthur Danto. In the end it seems that Figal’s understanding of art is quite strongly steeped in the same classical European tropes that occupied Kant, Hegel, and Heidegger. But perhaps this shortcoming can be forgiven, in light of the merit of Figal’s ambition.

The fourth and fifth chapters exhibit a similar mixture of broad ambition and narrowness of vision, but do not significantly add new content to Figal’s general position. The fourth chapter takes up the concept of nature, in order to engage the historically problematic question of how art works differ ontologically from nature or natural phenomena. Figal presents the notion that art works have their character in revealing nature while also originating in nature (154). Art serves to call out nature in its distinction from the human as well as in nature’s intersection with the human. The paradigm case he uses to illustrate this view is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, a seminal work of an art medium if there ever was one. While Figal’s ensuing illustration is thorough and exhaustive, one cannot help but wonder about its broader applicability to the philosophical issue of distinguishing art from nature. As an example supporting a thesis about art’s contrast with nature, Fallingwater comes across as too singular, and moreover, too convenient and easy to serve the purpose at hand.

A similar lack of self-critique seems to pervade the book’s final chapter, which takes up the topic of space. By “space” Figal does not mean three-dimensional, Cartesian space, but instead something akin to Heidegger’s phenomenological accounts of space in terms of nearness and distance. Art, Figal concludes, serves the purpose of defining and articulating human space, such that art works reveal to the human subject a world beyond the boundaries of her own perception. The experience of art reveals to one the limited nature of one’s own person, through the revelation of decentered orders, loci of possible meaning fundamentally beyond oneself (220-221). At this point of the book it seems that Figal is speaking largely metaphorically and in terms too sweeping in order to be very persuasive. This last chapter perhaps works better if read as an outline of a much fuller account to be made. The discussion of space in particular may strike some as akin to an idealism rather than phenomenology. At the same time, this book’s contribution to the philosophy of art should not be ignored, and I hope it will be taken further by others.