Daniele De Santis: Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations

Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations: Commentary, Interpretations, Discussions Book Cover Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations: Commentary, Interpretations, Discussions
Daniele De Santis (Ed.)
Karl Alber
2023
Hardback
521

Reviewed by:  Stefano Franchini (University of Pisa)

The importance of the volume Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations. Commentary, Interpretation, Discussions can be found in its aim: providing a study of the Cartesian Meditations (henceforth CM) in its entirety. Against the tendency to reduce the CM to some of its parts – mostly intersubjectivity or transcendental idealism –, this Commentary attempts to offer a unified view of the text. As the editor De Santis in the Introduction recognizes, CM are not only »Husserl’s second attempt at systematizing his philosophy after the so-called »turn« to a transcendental form of thought« (p. 9) but are also the key to understanding Husserl’s late phenomenology. The editor states that the motivation of this book can be found in the necessity to seriously deal with the text in which Husserl highlights the importance of the »concrete ego«, which provides also a teleological-practi­cal ontology. Regarding the goal of this book, it is important to notice that the three parts CommentaryInterpretation, and Discussion are bounded by each other’s, and it is possible to find some frameworks strictly related to the Commentary and also to the other sections. The development of the Commentary is completed and expanded in the following sections, Interpretation and Discussion, but these parts are not secondary to the others.

The volume is divided into three sections, as the title states. The first part, Commentary (§1-6) provides detailed analyses that stick to Husserl’s publication of the text. The latter two, Interpretation (§7-14) and Discussion (§15-20), intertwine both the commentary and the interpretation. The editor De Santis claims (p.16) that the first part can be regarded as a commentary only if we accept »commentary« in a broad sense. Starting from the CM, the authors develop reflections that go deeper than a simple reconstruction of Husserl’s passages. As is well known, one of the main problems of CM’s reception is the tendency to overlook most of the content of the text (p.12). While in Interpretation the authors emphasize how some philosophers have been dealing with CM, in Discussion the authors spotlight some core problems of Husserl’s CM and reflect on them with other frameworks of phenomenology. For this reason, Interpretation and Discussion both aim to compare CM with Husserl’s phenomenology and with Scholars’ reception of this text, as well as to investigate some of the themes of CM that are central to all Husserl’s phenomenology.

The goal of understanding CM as a whole can be found also in the internal links that can be found. Regarding this, it’s important to notice Daniele De Santis’ §4 on Fourth Meditation with Witold Płotka’s §8, Aurélien Djian’s commentary on Second Meditation with §9 written by Ignacio Quepons and §15 by Emanuela Carta and §5-6 on Fifth Meditation made by Sara Heinämaa (§5) and Alice Pugliese (§6) with Stefano Bancalari’s work on Levinas (§10) and Saulius Geniusas’ contribute on Paul Ricoeur. This allows both a mutual confrontation and a thematic deepening – although internal references are not always present in the text. But it is also possible to further interweave internal references and compare e.g. Landgrebe and Husserl on the account of the idea of Erste Philosophie – these topics are respectively discussed in §9 concerning Landgrebe’s remarks on CM and in §19 §20, specially here on Husserl’s »first« and » universal« and »second« and »last« philosophy. Thanks to the in-depth sections, it is therefore possible to compare the theoretical outcomes of the MC’s with Husserl’s latest phenomenology – e.g Andreea Smaranda Aldea in §17 claims that »Husserl’s emphatic call for a higher-order critique in the Cartesian Meditations as anticipating his Crisis call for radical self-reflection« (p. 453) and Alice Pugliese who compares the Fifth Meditation also with Husserl’s Grenzprobleme der Phänomenologie.

It is important to note that Interpretation and Discussion are not appendixes of the Commentary. Alongside a reading accompaniment, the authors shed light on issues that are often overlooked. For this reason, it seems to me that rather than exhausting the research, the importance of this volume is to be a forerunner for even more in-depth studies of MC. For example, Witold Płotka in §8 goes far beyond just a simple reconstruction of Roman Ingarden’s remarks on CM. Namely, even if these remarks »are an historical document of phenomenological movement« (p. 216), the author stresses the importance of Ingarden’s work also in respect to the Fourth Meditation and to some unjustified presuppositions. In this respect, also Danilo Manca researches in §7 the Hegelian motifs of MC which Fink highlights. Specifically, Manca focuses on the »transition from the natural to the transcendental attitude« (p.193), on the Gespaltung of the Ego after performing epochē and the thematization of unconscious dimension of constituting life which that phenomenological method makes possible. Based on Fink’s reflections and stressing Hegel’s use of »Aufheben« (p. 197), the author shows the continuity between the natural and transcendental attitude. Regarding MC, the author deals with Fink’s remarks on §32 – in which the ego in is understood as a »substrate of habitualities« and with the dialectic between the two I, the natural and the transcendental one. In a passage of Fourth Meditation, Husserl claims that his CM are for the »nascent philosopher the genuine introduction into a philosophy«[1]. The same thing does not completely fit with Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations. Commentary, Interpretation, Discussions. In some parts the content discussed by the authors presupposes a good knowledge of Husserl’s philosophy – not just of MC – and for a non-specialist reader it might be difficult. Especially §14 Meditations on Purity: Edmund Husserl and Hans Kelsen wrote by Federico Lijoi and §18 Lavigne’s Objection to Phenomenologica Idealism: Critical Remarks with the Help of the Cartesian Meditations by Agustín Serrano de Haro are only fully clear to readers that already are familiar with the phenomenological milieu and, in the second case, with Logic Investigation. For this reason, the »broad sense« of the Commentary includes discussions of problems that are not limited to the text commented on here and investigate some core problems of Husserl’s phenomenology. Nevertheless, these chapters are certainly an opportunity to explore these issues.

Certainly, the Commentary’s part offers a detailed discussion. Claudio Majolino in the first part of Commentary (§1) clarifies the meaning of »Cartesian« and »Meditations« and he researches for the Motive – both in its German meanings (p. 27) – why Husserl took Descartes as a reference. This part is longer than the other and it deals both with Husserl’ Introduction and Fist Meditation. Since the earliest reviews many criticisms emerged against Husserl’s approach towards the figure of Descartes (p. 14-6), investigating this point is a good key to start. Claudio Majolino works on Husserl’s so-called Cartesianism and understands it in terms of »repetition and variation« (.p 22). Using some insights from Hua VII / VIII and Husserliana Materialen IX Claudio Majolino stresses the threefold meaning of Descartes’ Meditation recognized by Husserl: the eternal meaning, the importance of CM for the present and finally the meaning of Descartes’ Meditations for the present. The author approaches this problem by pointing out the way Husserl had already discussed Descartes (Socrates and Plato) in his previous Lectures. Regarding this point Claudio Majolino claims that «[Descartes] embedded the skepsis within the innermost core of genuine and radical philosophy itself» (p. 35). If on the one hand, Descartes took some arguments from Skepticism, on the other, on several occasions he points out the differences between his doubt and skepticism[2]. The boundness between the grounded knowledge and responsibility, well discussed in §1, from another point of view, is also investigated by Leonard Ip (§20) using the distinction between »Second« and »Last« Philosophy in Husserl. The reference to Descartes allows Husserl to link knowledge to responsibility, but it also poses some problems: first and foremost, that of the route into phenomenology. In §16 Rosemary Jane Rizo and Patron de Lerner points that out and discusses Husserl’s Cartesian way to reduction. Starting from a discussion of Begründung and Fundierung (p. 405-10) two terms used by Husserl to describe the foundational problem, the A. than discusses the main theme regarding CM. It is important to notice that Rosemary Jane Rizo and Patron de Lerner highlight two antithetical demands in Husserl’s thoughts about science: the interest in a mathematical theoretical foundation and the interest in transcendental subjectivity, which is connected to the Lebenswelt and gives it a foundation. The focus on the Husserl-Descartes link finds another insight in §17. Here, Sergio Pérez-Gatica in his The Distinction between »First« and »Universal« Philosophy in Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations: On a Basic Precondition for the Trasformation of Philosophy into a Rigorous Science points out that while »philosophy« means »universal philosophy« – in terms of Platonic and Cartesian idea of universal science –, Husserl uses »first philosophy« in a technical way to stress the basic method for a rigorous philosophical knowledge. Considering the lack of rigor in philosophy at his time, Husserl uses the Cartesian path to draft the real goal for its phenomenology: providing a fundamental epistemology. (p. 483). In conclusion Sergio Pérez-Gatica highlights the connection between logical and ontological requirements in Husserl’s philosophy and the reflections contained in MC on the idea of rigorous grounding philosophy. Regarding Cartesian way, another insight comes from §9. Here Ignacio Quepons points out that Landgrebe stresses the same problem of the Cartesian way to reduction declared by Husserl itself in Crisis. It’s also important to observe that even if Husserl criticizes the Cartesian way, nevertheless, the other ways do not reject the first one, but complete it by revealing other possibilities (p. 239-40). Another attempt to focus also on Husserl’s so-called Cartesianism can be found in §13 Jan Patočka on Descartes and Husserl’s Cartesianism wrote by Hynek Janoušek and Wojciech Starzyński. The authors discuss Patočka on epochē and reduction from Husserl. While »Patočka accepts Husserl’s method of epochē as a major breakthrough in modern philosophy […], he rejects Husserl’s idea of reduction as leading to the unwarranted subjunctivization of the phenomenal field of appearances« (p. 344). This chapter seems to me to be successful because it relates Patočka with Descartes and Husserl.

Following the Commentary, in §2 Aurélien Djian points out how Husserl repeats and varies – using Caludio Majolino’s words – Descartes to introduce its own transcendental phenomenology. The author stresses specifically the horizon, synthesis, and intentionality notions. Aurélien Djian shows that transcendental subjectivity should not be conflated with the psychological ego because it only can be grasped through epochē (p. 68). The conclusion of §2 discusses a passage of MC §9 and it has a very specific purpose: showing the problems related to Husserl’s »ranking the horizon among the universal principles of phenomenology« (p. 88) and the need for apodicticity of the ego. In §3 Lilian Alweiss asks: how is it possible to do Ontology after Kant? To answer this question the author considers »two different ways of referring to non-being« picked up by phenomenological descriptions: one linked to »possibilities which have not yet been fulfilled, the other to possibilities which have been dashed« (p. 96). Then Lilian Alweiss traces a connection between Husserl and Kant regarding the answer to Hume’s circle. This passage is fundamental to understand why this chapter states that Husserl traces the limits of being from within, with the notion of evidence and through imagination. De Santis’ §4 investigates the role of transcendental idealism in MC, the only place where it has an »exoteric systematic presentation of this doctrine« (p. 115 mod). This comment connects the focus on Husserl’s idioms to the philosophical content in them. Namely, the author points out Husserl’s use of Unsinn, not just in MC but also in Ideas I, and compares it to the occurrences of Wiedersinn. The goal of this chapter is to show that each sense is grasped with respect to transcendental subjectivity, which must be regarded as a monad. De Santis claims also that the monad is »subjectivity constituted by the correlation between the surrounding world (or the world as it appears to me) and the »personal character« (p. 117). Since Husserl’s fifth meditation is longer than the others, the Commentary is divided into two sections: §5 written by Sara Heinämaa and §6 by Alice Pugliese. The first one deals with MC § §42-54, the second one with §55-64. Sara Heinämaa starts considering that »some forms of critique are thematic and reject Husserl’s descriptions of our experiences of other persons or other human beings, while other lines of critique are methodological and question the adequacy of the conceptual tools used in the analysis« (p.141). Then the author points out the role of these chapters within MC as a whole. As Sara Heinämaa states, »with the supposed failure of Fifth Meditation then, with the failure of its account of the constitution of the sense of another self, much, if not all, of Husserl’s phenomenological project would collapse« (p. 143). The main topic of this contribution is to explain the concepts of verification, analogical apperception, and empathy. This chapter faces the transfer of »sense problem« and stresses Husserl’s strategy already adopted in his previous texts. Namely, Husserl uses scientific and philosophic standard terms without their standard meaning – e.g Husserl’s »empathy« is different from Stein’s or Scheler’s use of the same word (p. 157). Alice Pugliese addresses the last part of MC »using one of the most consistent and ancient questions of metaphysics as a hermeneutical key: the dialectic of unity and multiplicity« (p. 171). More in detail, the author claims that the unity-multiplicity problem leads the empathy problem. This strategy completely fits MC, especially considering that »the monad is a unity that includes multiplicity« (p. 178). This reading is further confirmed if we consider »the core of the egological and monadic intuition« which stands for unity and the »the daily work of science and knowledge« as multiplicity (p. 186). The problems of Fifth CM discussed in the Commentary are taken again by Stefano Bancalari, who in §10 discuss The influence of the Cartesian Meditations on the thought of Emmanuel Levinas. If on the one hand, the 5th MC provided Levinas the intersubjective problem, central for his work, on the other, it determined the rupture with Husserl’s phenomenology (p. 260). Considering Levinas’ thought nearly in its entirety, Stefano Bancalari points out how Levinas used his »intersubjective reduction« to overcome the problems related to Husserl’s Cartesian way to reduction. Regarding the aim of this book this contribution is important because it thematizes Others’ constitution problem. Stefano Bancalari also shows why the lack of the Others’ gaze in the analogical apperception for Levinas is a problem (p. 271). Another perspective on the intersubjectivity problem comes from Jakub Čapek, who discusses Merleau-Ponty’s lecture of CM in §11. The author shows how from an initial critique to the ego Merleau-Ponty then  uses Husserl’s analysis, and in particular the idea of appresentation, »to face the objection that his theory makes individual perspectives vanish into a monism of a supra-individual corporeity« (283). As Jakub Čapek recognizes, Merleau-Ponty goes further and in the end of Phenomenology of perception claims the return to the ego – albeit transformed. The author states that for Merleau-Ponty the main problem of Husserl’s account of intersubjectivity is the transposition from the I to the Other because it is based on the immediate self-knowledge. On the contrary, for Merleau-Ponty our self-knowledge is »a practical task yet to be accomplished« (284). Although in §11there is no reference to Merleau-Ponty’s receipt of Ideas II, this contribution further enriches some of the problems seen in the previous chapters. In §12 Saulius Geniusas in his Paul Ricoeur’s Husserlian Heresies: The Case of the Cartesian Meditations points out that MC are the core not only of Ricœur’s reading of Husserl, but also for his philosophy itself. The author approaches the topic using three questions: how Cartesian are Husserl’s MC?  How descriptive is Husserl’s descriptive phenomenology? How egological is Husserl’s egology? Saulius Geniusas claims that »Husserl secularizes Descartes and interprets the Cartesian cogito as the transcendental subject, conceived of as the ultimate origin of all meaning« (p. 305). Additionally, if on the one hand, the author bounds both Descartes and Husserl on the problem, on the other he stresses that Husserl’s radicalization of Descartes does not address God. Regarding the second question, Saulius Geniusas stresses that »for Ricoeur, Husserl’s phenomenology is not sufficiently descriptive because it does not constrain its own descriptions from gliding into transcendental idealism» (315). It is important to notice that this chapter bounds itself both with Daniele De Santis’ §4 and Stefano Bancalari’s §10. Regarding the problem of evidence, Emanuela Carta in §15 reconstructs scholars’ discussion of Husserl’s evidence understood as Theory of justification (Standard View) and proposes a new interpretation of the theme where evidence justifies belief. Fallibilist Thesis claims »What is evidently given to one can be false« and it is related with The Corollary Thesis: »It is possible for one to have justification to believe a false proposition« (379). After criticizing the metaphysical realism of scholars, the author discusses Husserl’s notion of »idealism«. Here a footnote on De Santis’ work in this text could have been useful. Finally, Emanuela Carta provides an alternative to the Standard view, claiming the correlation between absolute truth- adequate evidence and relative truth-inadequate evidence (p 393). Thanks to that it is possible to reject both Fallibilist Thesis and The Corollary Thesis and to argue that evidence justifies belief because it shows what is true, even if in an open and perfectible way. A Discussion that shows the unity of the late Husserl’s thought is that of Andreea Smaranda Aldea, Self-Othering, Self-Transformation, and Theoretical Freedom: Self-Variation and Husserl’s Phenomenology as Radical Immanent Critique. Specifically on this topic the author links the self-critique of the self-variation with Crisis’ zig-zag method. Namely, self-variation clarifies both the goal of inquiries and itself. For this reason, if we consider the Besinnung as a Rückfrage, it is possible to regard self-variation »as methodological tool central to phenomenology as a whole« (p. 453). In his conclusion, following the sense of Besinnung, Andreea Smaranda Aldea claims that self-variation is not just a simple method related to self-constitution, but »a central method at the core of phenomenology itself functions as a necessary condition for the possibility of this radical self-critique« (455).

Before concluding this review, I would like to focus on another goal of the volume: if on the one hand the volume presents itself as a unique volume, on the other the richness of the contributions also allows a specific selection of some parts of it. This means that Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditation. Commentary, Interpretation, Discussions is not only aimed at specialists of Husserl, but also at all those who, across the board, have to deal with MC. In sum, this volume marks a notable achievement. The broad sense of the Commentary completely full fits the goal of the editor. Additionally, it should not be read merely as commentary. Edmund Husserl’s Cartesian Meditation. Commentary, Interpretation, Discussions is a collection of contributions which gives a rich and broad view of the Cartesian Meditations as a whole. All the various parts move in different, often intertwined, directions and show the richness of Husserl’s work. The volume’s conspicuous number of pages proves how urgently an entire study dedicated to MCs was needed.


[1] Edmund Husserl, Cartesian meditations (translated by D. Cairns), p. 88.

[2] See René Descartes, Œuvres Complètes, vol. 12 (Vrin, 1996). Specially AT VI 29, AT X 512 and AT III 434.

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2023
Paperback 29,00 €
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Sofia Miguens (Ed.): The Logical Alien: Conant and his Critics

The Logical Alien: Conant and His Critics Book Cover The Logical Alien: Conant and His Critics
Sofia Miguens (Ed.)
Harvard University Press
2020
Hardback $59.95 • £47.95 • €54.00
1080

Reviewed by: Nicola Spinelli (King’s College London / Hertswood Academy)

This is the kind of book one hates to review. Not because it is bad; it is an excellent work, rich and profound and relevant at least to: the scholar of half a dozen areas in the history of philosophy (from medieval through early modern, modern, Kant, post-Kantian, to the early analytic philosophy), the philosopher of language, the metaphysician, the philosopher of logic, and the epistemologist. But it is complex – much more complex even than your average 1069-page philosophy collection. Perhaps this is to be expected: one way to think of The Logical Alien is as a commentary (on steroids) of James Conant’s 1991 “The Search for Logically Alien Thought: Descartes, Kant, Frege, and the Tractatus”, itself a long, seminal, profound and – dealing as it does with history and theory and some of the heavyweights of the last five hundred years of philosophy – multitasking paper.[1] The papers collected in the book are written for one third by different authors engaging with Conant’s 1991 paper, and for two thirds by Conant engaging with his former self and with each of the other contributors, occasionally with more than one at the same time. The parts of the book end up being so interconnected at so many levels, that it takes several readings just to find one’s way through it – never mind figuring out what to make of even one of the numerous debates involved or convey it to prospective readers with something resembling accuracy. Yet the book is as difficult to review as it is exhilarating to read. Once you get hooked up (and you do get hooked up), you won’t be finished for a long time.

The central question is taken from Frege and is simple enough: Is there such a thing as thought which is logical but whose logical laws are different from, and incompatible with, ours? Put this way, there would seem to be an equally simple answer: yes. Consider systems with different and incompatible rules of inference: in a classical setting, Excluded Middle and Full Double Negation are laws; in an intuitionistic setting, they aren’t – yet nobody from either camp seriously thinks that the other just isn’t thinking logically. After all, intuitionistic and classical logic are equiconsistent (a proposition is classically provable if and only if its double negation is intuitionistically provable). Of course there is a qualification to make in this case: some logical laws are in common. For example, Non-Contradiction – which in any case seems to be needed for concepts like ‘consistency’, ‘incompatibility’ and ‘disagreement’ to even make sense. What about, then, thought which shares none of our logical laws – not even Non-Contradiction? Conant’s original paper, and much of the discussion in the book, revolve around this insight: that since at least some of what we call logical laws are constitutive of thought as such, thought which does not conform to them is in fact not thought at all. In one form or another is attributed by Conant, past and present, to Frege, Wittgenstein and Putnam (or Putnam at some point of his career).

The insight – which we shall call the Insight – develops in interesting ways. Consider the following way of putting the central question: Are the laws of logic necessary? If the Insight is correct, then, one might say, they are. Not so – at least on the view Conant and his critics are interested in. Since what we call logical laws are constitutive of thought as such, logically alien thought is an impossibility. Discourse about it, then, is what Conant calls philosophical fiction (768).[2] The contrast is with empirical fiction. The latter invites us to contemplate a scenario which happens not to be the case, but which ‘falls within the realm of the possible’. The former invites us to contemplate something which is not even possible. So that in philosophical fiction we ‘only apparently grasp what it would be for [the scenario] to obtain: its possibility can only seemingly be grasped in thought’. But, the view concludes, if logically alien thought is philosophical fiction, then the project of establishing its possibility or impossibility is in fact a non-starter: for in order to affirm or deny that logically alien thought is possible, or even ask whether it is possible, we first need to grasp ‘it’ – the thought with content ‘logically alien thought’ – but that is exactly what we cannot do. Far from being able to answer the question, we seem to have no question to answer. It looked as though we had one; but it turns out we never did. It was a mock-question. Hence, for example and according to Conant (past and present), the austere – non-mystical – Wittgensteinian stance at the end of the Tractatus: the necessity of logic isn’t a question which logic cannot answer; it is a non-question. Hence, too, the Wittgensteinian idea that philosophy should be conceived of not as doctrine, not even as research, but as something called ‘elucidation’: the activity of recognising that some or all of what we take to be profound philosophical problems are in fact simply nonsense.

In the original 1991 paper, Conant follows the development of this line of thought – call it elucidativism about logic – from Descartes through Aquinas,  Leibniz, Kant, Frege, to Wittgenstein and Putnam. He does not defend elucidativism, but he clearly favours it. In the first part of The Logical Alien, his critics either follow up on 1991-Conant’s historical claims in the paper (which is included in the book), or take issue with theoretical claims, or both. The following is an overview of the contributions. A.W. Moore’s is about Descartes and what he ought to have thought about modality. In particular, whereas 1991-Conant claims that Descartes’ official view was that necessary truths (amongst which are the laws of logic) are contingently necessary, Moore argues that statements to that effect to be found in Descartes are aberrations rather than expressions of the official view. Matthew Boyle’s chapter is about Kant’s and Frege’s conceptions of logic and of the formal. Arata Hamawaki’s paper is about a distinction between Cartesian and Kantian skepticism. I have to say that, while the former contributions are excellent reads, I found this one rather difficult to follow and, despite the theme, somewhat underwhelming. Barry Stroud’s paper is the skeptical contribution: historically, doubts are cast on 1991-Conant’s reading of Frege; theoretically, issue is taken with the notion that necessary truths are apt to being explained. Peter Sullivan objects to 1991-Conant’s view of Frege, and argues that the latter is more Kantian than is usually thought. The contribution also contains a very good summary of the dialectic of the 1991 article (in case you struggle to follow it). Along with Moore’s, perhaps the best of the (mainly) historical contributions (to my taste). Martin Gustafsson and Jocelyn Benoist concentrate on post-tractarian Wittgenstein: the former to examine the relations between language use and rule-following, the latter to show how Wittgenstein’s treatment of private languge is an exercise in elucidation. Finally, Charles Travis’ chapter, the longest, discusses Frege, Wittgenstein and the heart of the elucidative enterprise. Undoubtedly the most important of the critical essays. I agree with many points he makes, and I will be saying something similar in the remainder of this review – but from a very different perspective. The second part of The Logical Alien consists of present-day Conant discussing both his 1991 paper and the critics’ contributions. I see no point in saying anything here, except that he (and probably the editor, Sophia Miguens) did an excellent job of making the Conant’s own chapters a single narrative rather than a collection of discrete replies.

Now, upon my first reading of the 1991 paper, and on every subsequent reread, and indeed as I was ploughing through the book, I thought it a shame that there was (virtually) no reference to the phenomenological tradition at all. This is not to say that there should have been: as far as I can tell, phenomenology has never been among Conant’s interests, and that this should be reflected in a book about his work is, after all, only natural. On the other hand, at least some of the debates in The Logical Alien might have benefited from a phenomenological voice; and others are relevant to discussions within the phenomenological tradition. And since I am writing this review for a journal called Phenomenological Reviews, I will allow myself to expand on the above and bring phenomenology into the melee.

I have already said what the central view at stake in the book is: that the question as to whether there can be logically alien thought is a non-question, because its formulation involves something akin to a cognitive illusion. The further question, however, is: Why is grasping a thought about an impossibility itself impossible? Why, in other words, should we buy the claim that in philosophical fiction, as Conant says, we only seem to grasp a thought but we really do not? Why is the thought that there may be logically alien thought, despite appearances, no thought at all?

The reason lies in the following view, endorsed at lest to some extent by Frege, embraced by tractarian Wittgenstein and assumed in Conant and his critics’ discussions: To grasp a thought is to grasp what the world must be like for the thought to be true and what the world must be like for the thought to be false.[3] A thought for which either of these things cannot be done is a thought for which, as Frege would put it, the question of truth does not genuinely arise. It is then not a thought but a mock-thought. This is the basis of Wittgenstein’s notion that tautologies and contradictions have no content: for we just cannot imagine what the world what have to be like for tautologies to be false or contradictions true. For all the depth and complexity of the debates which Conant’s 1991 paper has sparked, and which are well represented in The Logical Alien, if what we may call the Assumption falls it is hard to see how the rest might stand. For if grasping the content of a thought is decoupled from grasping its truth-(and-falsity-)conditions, or from even bringing truth into the picture, then even if philosophically-fictitious scenarios are impossible we can still grasp them – if only to deem them impossible. Thoughts about them are not mock-thoughts; or, if they are, they are so in a weaker sense than Conant seems to envisage – too weak for the work he wants mock-thoughts to do.

Conant is aware of this. In his reply to Stroud he highlights how the 1991 paper pinpoints a tension in Frege between 1) his elucidative treatment of the logical alien in the foreword to Grundgesetze, and 2) his commitment to the idea that tautologies and axioms are true.[4] If the Insight and the Assumption are true, then 1) and 2) are (or very much seem to be) incompatible. Conant suggests that the ‘deeper wisdom’ to be found in Frege, which is also the strand of Frege’s thought which Wittgenstein develops, is 1). The claim that axioms and tautologies, despite having negations which are absurd, are true is treated by Conant as stemming from Frege’s conception of content (thought) as ‘explanatorily prior’ to judgement. So that it is only if we think that the content of a judgement pre-exists the judgement that we can take judgements about impossible scenarios to have a content. Otherwise we would have to say: there is no judgement to be made here, and therefore there is no content.

I will not go into the minutiae – or even the nitty-gritty – of Fregean scholarship. But surely the move only pushes the problem a step further. Grant that judgeable content should not be thought of as explanatorily prior (whatever that means exactly) to judgement, the question is: Why buy the claim that we cannot judge about impossibilia – not even to say that they are impossibilia? If we can, there is judgement; and therefore there is content. Are there views on the market which do not take judgeable content as explanatorily prior to judgement, and according to which we can and do judge about impossibilia?

Husserl held just such a view throughout his career. There are several ways to see this. Begin with the Investigations. There, meanings are ideal objects (universals) instantiated by the act-matter of classes of meaning-intentions. The latter are intentional acts through which a subject intends, or refers to, an object. Their matter is, with some oversimplification, their content.[5] Notice that the content of a meaning-intention is not the meaning: without an act there is no content – though there is a (perhaps uninstantiated) meaning. So even in the early Husserl, despite his ostensible Platonism, it is not obvious that judgeable content is prior to, or even independent of, judgement. In the fourth Logical Investigation, a distinction is made between nonsensical (Unsinnig) and absurd (Widersinnig) meanings. A nonsensical meaning is a non-meaning: an illegal combination of simpler meanings (illegal, that is, with respect to a certain set of a priori laws). A syntactical analogue would be a non-well-formed string of symbols: ‘But or home’. So, when it comes to nonsensical meanings, there just is no content (no act-matter). An absurd meaning, by contrast, is a (formally or materially) contradictory one: ‘Round square’. In this case there are both a meaning and an act matter; it’s just that to intentional acts whose matter or content instantiates the absurd meaning there cannot correspond an intuition – intuition being the sort of experience which acquaint us with objects: perception, memory, imagination. So we cannot see or remember or imagine round squares, but we can think about them, wonder whether they exist, explain why they cannot exist, and so on. Moreover, the very impossibility of intuitively fulfilling an absurd meaning-intention is, in Husserl, itself intuitively constituted and attested: attempting to intuit the absurd meaning leads to what Husserl calls a synthesis of conflict.

Say, then, that whilst engaging in philosophical fiction we try to make sense of logically alien thought, and we fail. This failure consists, in Husserlian phenomenology, in the arising of a conflict in our intuition, as a consequence of which we deem the scenario impossible. In the Husserlian framework this failure does not entail that there was never any thinking taking place with the content ‘logically alien thought’: it was ‘merely signitive’ thinking – thinking to which, a priori, no intuition can correspond – but contentful thinking nonetheless. We cannot intuit the impossible, but we can think about it.

So in Husserl the impossibility – the philosophical-fictitiousness – of logically alien thought does not entail that, when we think of logically alien thought, we only seem to do so. When we think of logically alien thought, we actually do think about logically alien thought; and one of the things we reckon when we think about logically alien thought is that it is impossible. All of this, notice, without appealing to the explanatory priority of judgeable content over judgement – which is what Conant finds disagreeable in Frege. Husserl, then, seems to be in a position to agree with Conant that judgeable content doesn’t come before judgement, and yet disagree with Conant that there is any wisdom whatever in Frege’s elucidative treatment of the logical alien.

All this is reflected in Husserl’s view of logic. From the Investigations throughout his career, Husserl maintained that logic comes in layers. In the official systematisation (Formal and Transcendental Logic, §§ 12-20) these are: 1) the theory of the pure form of judgements; 2) the logic of non-contradiction; 3) truth-logic. The first of the three is what in the fourth Investigation was called ‘grammar of pure logic’, and its job is to sort the meaningless – combinations of meaning which do not yield a new meaning – from the meaningful. It is the job of the logic of non-contradiction to sort, within the realm of the meaningful, the absurd meanings from the non-absurd. It is debatable whether truth is operative in this second layer of logic; I understand Husserl as denying that it is. But in any case, truth is not operative in the first layer. When Conant and his critics discuss the laws of logic, they take them to be such that, first, they are constitutive of thought, and second, truth plays a crucial role in them; and they take thoughts which misbehave with respect to truth, such as tautologies and contradictions, not to be thoughts at all (giving rise to tension in Frege). From a Husserlian perspective, what makes a thought a thought is not the laws of truth, but the laws of the grammar of meanings. Truth has nothing to do with it – nor, as a consequence, with what it is to be a thought.

The second part of Conant’s reply to Stroud (roughly, from p. 819 onwards) connects the above to another phenomenologically relevant strand of The Logical Alien: Kant and the project of a transcendental philosophy. The starting point is the difference between Frege’s approach on the one hand, and Kant’s and Wittgenstein’s on the other. The issue is, again, the central one of the relations between thoughts and judgements. Conant’s aim is to show that Frege can conceive of thought as separate from judgement – of content as distinct from the recognition of the truth of content – only by committing himself to the following conjunctive account: whenever an agent S judges that p, a) S thinks that p, and b) S recognises that p is true. These are two distinct acts on the part of S. This is contrasted with Kant’s (and, later on, Wittgenstein’s) disjunctive approach: there is a fundamental case of judgement in which S simply judges that p; and there are derived cases, different in kind from the former, in which S entertains the thought that p without recognising its truth – for example, in what Kant calls problematic judgements (‘Possibly, p’). Conant does not seem to provide a reason why we should be disjunctivists rather than conjunctivists – other than the claim that conjunctivism is at odds with the wider Kantian transcendental project. The implication being that if one buys into the latter at all, then one ought to be a Kantian rather than a Fregean when it comes to the relations between content and judgement.

What is, for Conant, Kant’s transcendental project? This is spelled out in the excellent reply to Hamawaki and Stroud.[6] To be a Kantian is first of all to put forward transcendental arguments. According to Conant, a transcendental argument is something close to an elucidative treatment of what he calls Kantian Skepticism: the worry, not that the external world may not be as experienced or not exist all, but that we may not be able to ‘make sense of the idea that our experience is so much as able to afford us with the sort of content that is able to present the world as seeming to be a certain way’ (762). Kant’s way to resolve the worry is to show that the scenario in which our experience is not able to present the world at all is philosophical fiction: if we probe the Kantian-skeptical worry enough, we find it unintelligible.

I don’t believe Conant reads Kant as endorsing elucidativism – that is, I don’t believe Conant reads Kant as making the final step: if the scenario in which experience does not present us with a world is unintelligible, then so is the scenario in which it does. But he does say that this ‘is arguably the closest Kant ever comes to an extended philosophical engagement with something approximating the question of the intelligibility of the idea of a form of cognition that is logically alien to ours’ (772). If one is a transcendentalist, in any case, one has to put forward transcendental arguments; and if Conant is right in his reading of what a (Kantian) transcendental argument is, then a transcendentalist needs to be in a position to reason from the unintelligibility of a scenario to the unintelligibility of the question as to whether the scenario is possible. But to do so – recall the (alleged) tension between Fregean conjunctivism and the Kantian project – a transcendentalist ought to avoid seriously distinguishing between content and judgement.

Another strand of Conant’s discussion of Kant, and at some level a consequence of the nature of transcendental arguments as described above, is the recognition that any account of our cognitive capacity must be given from within the exercise of our cognitive capacity – so that no account of the latter can be given in non-cognitive terms. Conant calls this ‘the truth in idealism’ (776). And this is what, for Conant, ultimately is to be a Kantian: to pursuse a philosophical project in the light of the truth in idealism. Needless to say, Wittgenstein counts as a Kantian par excellence; and so does the elucidativist half of Frege.

The phenomenologically alert reader will not have missed the fact that the truth in idealism is in fact a central tenet of Husserl’s post-Investigations philosophy. Suffice it to quote the title of Section 104 of Formal and Transcendental Logic: “Transcendental phenomenology as self-explication on the part of transcendental subjectivity”. I am less sure about Conant’s reading of transcendental arguments: granted that they do involve the recognition of the unintelligibility of skeptical scenarios, it is unclear why that should not simply be thought of as some sort of reductio ad absurdum, or perhaps of a quasi-aristotelian elenchos, rather than as something pointing to elucidation. Be that as it may, Husserl’s mature philosophy is a view in which the truth in idealism is preserved and in which, however, elucidativism is avoided – because even in the mature Husserl absurd thoughts are contentful.

Consider the relation between content and judgement. In the mature Husserl the interdependence of content and the mental is reasserted and strengthened with the notion of meaning as noema, introduced alongside the old Platonistic one in the 1908 Lectures on the Theory of Meaning, and center-stage in the first volume of Ideas in 1913. The main difference here is that the noema, one of whose component is intentional content, exists only insofar as the relevant mental act – in our case, the relevant thinking episode – does. As to the relations of noema and judgement, Husserl does think that it is possible to thematise a propositional content without judging that it is true. Yet this is claimed within a broader story – genetic phenomenology – of how more sophisticated intentional performances, together with their productions (including propositional contents), arise from more fundamental ones. The chief text here is Experience and Judgement. So Husserl could be said to hold something like what Conant calls the disjunctive account: the act of merely entertaining a thought is derivative of the act of straightforwardly judging. But this is not to say that one cannot merely entertain a thought! It simply means that we would not be able to mereley entertain thoughts if we were not able to straightforwardly judge. Indeed, for Husserl the existence of a noema such as, say, ‘ABCD is a round square’, while dependent on the relevant meaning-intention, is independent of the possibility of there being round squares at all. We can and do entertain the thought whether round squares exist, ask ourselves whether they do, and judge that they don’t. (The simplicity of the example might lead to error: it might appear as though, in this case, phenomenologically or introspectively, there were no distinction between entertaining and judging, for it is immediately clear that there are no round squares. All you have to do is try with more covert absurdities; to take a pertinent example, Frege’s very own Basic Law V.)

It really does seem to be a phenomenological fact that content and judgement are distinct. As the Husserlian case shows, one can maintain that that is so while still allowing the distinction to be derived rather than fundamental. Not only this: one can maintain the distinction, thereby blocking elucidativism, and still subscribe to the truth in idealism and be counted as a Kantian by Conant’s own standards. Or so, at any rate, it seems.

So being a Husserlian may be one way of being a Kantian without being an elucidativist. I hope it is and I hope there are others. Elucidativism usually divides people into three categories: those who buy it, those who don’t, and those who dismiss it as empty gobbledegook. I don’t dismiss it – but I don’t buy it either. For example, the argument for it discussed, and indeed put forward, by Conant seems to me to prove too much. This is a point Stroud makes in his contribution.[7]  In the reply, Conant is, I think, too concerned to show Stroud’s (alleged) misunderstandings to take his commonsense worries seriously. Regardless of that dialectic, consider any proof by contradiction in mathematics: we set up a proposition, we show that the proposition is inconsistent (either with itself or with other assumptions), we conclude that the negation of the proposition is true. If the elucidativist is right, the latter step is unwarranted: if a proposition turns out to be nonsense (which it does, being a proposition about an impossible scenario) then its denial is also nonsensical. So, if the view is correct, a large part of mathematics either is merely a cognitive illusion or, at best, is an exercise in elucidation. And yet the proposition, say, that there are infinitely many primes – whose negation is absurd in the same sense in which logically alien thought is – seems to be a perfectly legitimate proposition. So does the question whether there is a greatest prime, even though, it turns out, it makes no sense to suppose that there is. For some of us, intuitions in this respect are just too strong. In comparison, the elucidativist manoeuvre really seems sleight of hand of sorts.

Of course, even we must bow to argument. And in any case, since the stakes could not be higher, high-quality discussion is always welcome. The Logical Alien provides plenty – as I said, enough to go on for a long time. That is one reason to recommend the book – eve if, like me, you are not in the elucidativist camp. Another reason, relevant to the phenomenologically-minded reader, is that there seems to me to be a family resemblance, however faint, between elucidativism and certain strands of the phenomenological tradition broadly construed: Deleuze’s operation in Logic of Sense, Derrida with his différance, Sartre’s manoeuvres in Critique of Dialectical Reason. The Logical Alien might add something meaningful to those discussions, too.


[1]     J. Conant. 1991. “The Search for Logically Alien Thought: Descartes, Kant, Frege, and the TractatusPhilosophical Topics 20 (1): 115-180.

[2]     Part II, Section X, “Reply to Hamawaki and Stroud on Transcendental Arguments, Idealism, and the Kantian Solution of the Problem of Philosophy”: 758-782. Arabic numerals in parentheses in the main text refer to pages in The Logical Alien.

[3]     I say ‘assumed’, but it is in fact at the heart of Travis’ piece. Sullivan discusses it, too.

[4]     Part II, Section XI, “Reply to Stroud on Kant and Frege”: 783-829.

[5]     For an excellent overview of Husserl’s philosphy of language and its development, see Simons 1995.

[6]     Part II, Section X: “Reply to Hamawaki and Stroud on Transcendental Arguments, Idealism, and the Kantian Solution to the Problem of Philosophy”: 758-782.

[7]     Part I, “Logical Aliens and the ‘Ground’ of Logical Necessity”: 170-182.

Panayiota Vassilopoulou, Daniel Whistler (Eds.): Thought: A Philosophical History, Routledge, 2021

Thought: A Philosophical History Book Cover Thought: A Philosophical History
Edited By Panayiota Vassilopoulou, Daniel Whistler
Routledge
2021
Paperback £133.00
392

Agata Bielik-Robson, Daniel Whistler (Eds.): Interrogating Modernity: Debates with Hans Blumenberg

Interrogating Modernity: Debates with Hans Blumenberg Book Cover Interrogating Modernity: Debates with Hans Blumenberg
Political Philosophy and Public Purpose
Agata Bielik-Robson, Daniel Whistler (Eds.)
Palgrave Macmillan
2020
Hardback 96,29 €
XXV, 277

Reviewed by: Bruce J. Krajewski (University of Texas at Arlington)

In a recent review, Kate Hayles praises Catherine Malabou for admitting in Morphing Intelligence that she was “dead wrong” about some scholarly matter. While not begrudging Malabou her applause, most academics would have to admit the low cost of such an admission for a full professor invited to speak across the globe, and treated as a “celebrity,” as Malabou is. More praiseworthy is for younger academics, and those with unsubsidized careers in higher education’s hierarchy, to write that some prominent author is wrong. Those assertions can mean banishment from conferences, withdrawal of speaking invitations, and the like, since professional societies devoted (in the questionable sense) to major authors are understandably controlled almost always by an author’s fans, disciples, and sometimes family members. Speaking truth to yourself (a confession) and speaking truth to power is a distance similar to being winged in a Twitterstorm for your views and being “canceled.” None of this should be compared to the kind of courage, say, Alexey Navalny exhibits. That’s a different realm, but needs to be part of the context, lest academics damaged by schoolhouse politics slip into masochism.

The contributors to Interrogating Modernity demonstrate an inspiring irreverence and willingness to declare that the volume’s star, Hans Blumenberg, has gotten things wrong. That virtue makes for an admirable collection worthy of its subtitle. At this early stage—Blumenberg’s ashes were scattered only a quarter century ago—the scholarly work on Blumenberg has been uncritical, making Interrogating Modernity a refreshing novelty on the Blumenbergiana shelf.

Blumenberg’s followers have fashioned a mythic Blumenberg, portraying him as a mysterious intellectual Colossus, adopting Blumenberg’s own tendency later in his life toward self-aggrandizement. Thus, we have the film The Invisible Philosopher, for example. The followers’ strategy has upped the stakes for anyone who might question or criticize the great philosopher.

Willing to be heretical, the contributors to this volume refuse to be intimidated by The Wizard of Oz scenario fabricated by Blumenberg’s fans to promote knee-bending as opposed to scholarly spinefulness. The volume’s editors charged the authors with “putting [Legitimacy of the Modern Age, the book that arguably launched Blumenberg’s international reputation] into dialogue with later versions of modernity” (vii). The editors insisted on rethinking issues Blumenberg raises in Legitimacy, and the contributors frequently exceed expectations in responding to the call for rethinking.

The first essay out the gate encapsulates all that is good about this book. It’s not a head-on meeting with Blumenberg’s Legitimacy. It’s creative. It takes risks. It could have failed. Here’s a taste of Bielik-Robson’s experimentation: “Although it does not mention Job explicitly, Hans Blumenberg’s reading of Descartes suggests this affinity very strongly” (4). Bielik-Robson resurrects an old-fashioned scholarly recipe: rub any two things together and see what sparks fly.

Bielik-Robson recognizes Job as a figure of “self-assertion,” a topos in Blumenberg. Unable to tie Blumenberg directly to Job, Bielik-Robson uses a side door. Blumenberg’s research counterpart in the Hermeneutik und Poetik group, Hans Robert Jauss, views “Job as the first hero of self-assertion” in his essay “Job’s Questions and Their Distant Reply” (6). This clever move allows Bielik-Robson the opportunity to demonstrate an incompleteness in Blumenberg’s attention to Descartes. In Legitimacy, Blumenberg acknowledges the importance of Descartes: “Descartes appear[s] not so much as the founding figure of the epoch as rather the thinker who clarified the medieval concept of reality all the way to its absurd consequences and thus made it ripe for destruction.” Blumenberg wants to downplay “the founding figure,” the singular Descartes,” in order to promote “the thinker,” synonymous with anyone who employs the method Descartes used to bring about the old reality’s destruction.

The new reality Descartes advocates post-destruction appeals to Blumenberg, because it involves principles of construction to philosophize. That is, Descartes emphasizes the form and conditions of thinking rather than the contingent content. Like Descartes, Blumenberg wants “reoocupation” to function as a transcendental model untainted by historical events, a point fleshed out in the last chapter by Whistler. Historical changes are to be explained by Blumenberg’s ahistorical model.

Descartes studies his “own self” in a room of his own, where it occurs to him “that frequently there is less perfection in a work produced by several persons than in one produced by a single hand.” The primacy of the individual thinker is Job redux. Bielik-Robson describes Job’s situation in memorable prose. Job’s story becomes important when “the anthropological minimum [Job] asserted itself for the first time against … the theological maximum [God]” (15). In a schoolbook, this might be described as individuality versus omnipotence.

Job becomes a synonym for “enough is enough!” (16). For Bielik-Robson, Job’s story is the journey of a patient moving toward health. “According to [Jonathan] Lear, the patient reaches the point of relative health when she is able to exclaim: ‘Oh, this is crap!’—which very nicely corresponds with Blumenberg’s take on Descartes, who may be said to have reacted in a similar way, by simply deciding to cut himself off emotionally from the theological morass and call deus fallax a ‘metaphysical fable’—basically, a very crappy story” (16). Unfortunately, Blumenberg’s focus on the meta-analysis instead of the patient means the trauma of being fed up is not given its due as a revolutionary catalyst (18).

Elad Lapidot’s “Legitimacy of Nihilism” juxtaposes Hans Jonas and Blumenberg. Lapidot argues that Blumenberg rejects Jonas’s critique of modernity as “the return of Gnosticism” (45). For Blumenberg’s taste, that would leave modernity without as radical a break as he wants. Blumenberg needs a way past the logic that “legitimacy enters the world through negation, through illegitimacy” (48). Modernity establishes its own legitimacy apart from the previous historical epoch. According to Lapidot, the New itself “is a category of entitlement and legitimation.”

Opposing not only Jonas but also Martin Heidegger, Blumenberg seeks to jettison a notion of continuity attached to a substance. Lapidot writes, “This original constant substance is the basic assumption of all critiques against any historical age” (45). Blumenberg is uninterested in substantialism. He is after something more radical. “The new has no other foundation but itself, and so its specific form of legitimacy is self-legitimization” (47). This antifoundationalism is partly what attracted Richard Rorty to Blumenberg (Rorty was an early Anglophone reviewer of Blumenberg’s Legitimacy book).

Lapidot’s essay pairs well with Daniel Whistler’s “Modernizing Blumenberg.” Whistler begins boldly: “[Blumenberg] gets modernity wrong” (257). According to Whistler, Blumenberg supplements modernist figures’ arguments for modernity’s legitimation, fashioning a case that the modernist figures themselves did not make.

Like Lapidot, Whistler reports that the continuity between the middle ages and modernity Blumenberg emphasizes is functional, but not substantive. In a way, it’s the old form versus content argument. Rather than seeing the two as dependent on other, Blumenberg elevates form over content, since that’s the airplane ticket out of any historical ruptures at ground level. Forms fly above temporality’s constraints. From such a height, anyone might have anticipated Blumenberg to look down on things. Thus, Whistler writes, “[I]t is hard not to discern a slight tone of condescension in Blumenberg’s narrative of modernity” (259).

By siding with form and functionality, Blumenberg asserts that his account offers a novel stability. Whistler: “[W]henever the content of history changes, the forms stay the same. Forms may themselves be changing slowly, but their inertia is sufficient for them to remain a stable reference point by which to make sense of any novelty in history” (263). Blumenberg is not content with the messiness of mere history. “Like Kant, Blumenberg considers his transcendental apparatus to be immutable, to exist outside of the frame of historical change and epochal transformation” (264). Whistler concludes that this viewpoint makes Blumenberg a “right Aristotelian” (268). Given Blumenberg’s allegiances to far-right ideas linked to Latinate Catholicism, Whistler’s “right Aristotelian” designation rings true. Blumneberg is a “conservative” (267).

In the chapter contrasting Bruno Latour and Blumenberg, Willem Styfhals understands Blumenberg as an “apologist” (77) for the ecological mess we are in, and decides Latour offers better options for the predicted apocalypse. “The apocalypse is an unstable, unbearable position that might be conceptually appealing but not practically endurable. This is what Blumenberg made crystal clear in Lebenszeit und Weltzeit as well as in Legitimacy. The apocalypse is so attractive because it allows us to see the world in a radically different perspective, liberates us from the old world for a moment. But this moment does not give rise to a stable and durable position in the world” (77). Syfhals has missed Frederic Jameson’s insight, cited in Slavoj Žižek’s Living in the End Times, that calls for distinguishing among apocalypses: “[I]t is easier to imagine a total catastrophe which ends all life on earth than it is to imagine a real change to capitalist relations” (334).

Latour does not see capitalism as the problem; it’s religion: “If modernity were not so deeply religious, the call to adjust oneself to the Earth would be easily heard.” (71). Thus, Styfhals says, “[W]e should develop a political theology of the environmental apocalypse” (61).

While Blumenberg published at least one book specifically about technology, it’s difficult to categorize any other of his major writings as confronting environmental issues in the way Styfhals does with his focus on Latour and the Anthropocene. No one would think of Blumenberg as a stand-in for Rachel Carson.

The fourth chapter by Joseph Albernaz and Kirill Chepurin also addresses the theme of political theology. Styfhals’s use of apocalypse in the previous chapter has its place in the fourth chapter. For anyone acquainted with televangelism, the continual announcement of forthcoming apocalypses is a staple of populist Christianity. No matter that a specific date for the rapture is given and then passes. That failure is overlooked while a new date for the end is announced. The misreading of signs can be chalked up to human fallibility rather than an indication of a flaw in “God’s plan.” Albernaz and Chepurin recognize that what becomes important for Christianity is not that the world didn’t end as predicted, but that it continues: “But as Christianity found itself needing to explain the world’s continued existence, it was also establishing itself … as a [worldly] power. As a result, it needed to justify not the end of the world, but its prolongation” (86). The Christian Church sets itself up “as the institution of the not-yet that is the world – as the institution ‘stabilizing’ this not-yet” (86).

Within this context of an ever-delayed apocalypse, Christians fashioned a God with unlimited sovereignty and omnipotence. However, by the late medieval period God’s characteristics became incomprehensible, “alien to consciousness,” according to Albernaz and Chepurin (88). In response to this affront to consciousness, human beings develop their own rationality to give themselves security that is comprehensible (91-92).

The deleterious effects of Christianity’s global power as explored by Albernaz and Chepurin also concern Lissa McCullough. Her essay makes the case that if you thought Martin Heidegger and Carl Schmitt were harmful, then you need to take a second look at John Locke (124). “Locke founded a new religion focused around the sacrality of proprietas in The Second Treatise on Government, while retaining in The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695) as much as was reasonably salvageable of the trappings of Christian faith to give the new religion a respectable pedigree, hitching it to . . . the authority of an apparent continuity with Jewish-Christian tradition (122). If you wonder why some people feel it legitimate to kill others for stealing, you can thank Locke for valorizing property over human lives. McCullough writes that Locke and his advocates managed to persuade numerous capitalists that the individual’s only incentive to consent to “join” society is to protect the property he has” (122).

McCullough sifts through Blumenberg to demonstrate Blumenberg’s allegiance to Locke’s valorization of property, despite Blumenberg’s efforts to make Locke seem insignificant to the massive scholarly buttresses Blumenberg uses to build his cases. Vital matters pivot on a reference to Locke in a footnote, for example. “[A]n extended footnote in Paradigms for a Metaphorology (1960) … proves a vein of gold when mined for its immense implications. This footnote expands on the notion of truth as a product of labour. In it, Blumenberg remarks that this sort of produced [constructed?] truth is truth that is legitimately one’s own. The possession to be taken” (110). McCullough’s hermeneutical attention shows Blumenberg’s participation in Locke’s scheme. Blumenberg contributes to overturning the Horatian view that what is natural is not something one can own: “Nor he, nor I, nor any man, is made/by Nature private owner of the soil” (111).

In addition to articles that confront Blumenberg’s arguments and politics, the collection features authors who affirm Blumenberg’s positions. Zeynep Talay Turner’s “Political Legitimacy and Founding Myths” corroborates Blumenberg’s criticism of Hannah Arendt in Blumenberg’s “Moses the Egyptian,” written around 1978. Turner writes, “As Freud took Moses the man from his people [Blumenberg says Freud “damaged” his people’s “self-confidence”], so Hannah Arendt took Adolf Eichmann from the State of Israel.” Blumenberg does not hide his “indignation” towards this “stealing” (129).

Turner captures the salient features of “Moses the Egyptian” and presents an effective précis of Blumenberg’s use of the term “prefiguration.” Even though Turner seems ultimately to agree with Blumenberg about Eichmann in Jerusalem, Turner notes in his conclusion that Blumenberg may have been venturing outside his area of expertise in taking up the question of “what a Jewish state should do with someone who had sought to destroy the Jews” (146).

According to Turner and Blumenberg, Israel needed Eichmann to take on a mythic role at his trial in order to solidify Israeli nationhood. It’s not clear whether anyone ever laid that task at Arendt’s feet during the trial, since she was writing in the moment, as events unfolded. Unlike Blumenberg, Arendt did not have the luxury of hindsight, nor was she alive in 1978 to respond to such criticism. Furthermore, Turner and Blumenberg do not provide details of how Arendt’s book on Eichmann undermined Israel, then or since. Conceptual damage is of a different order from “stealing” a nation’s legitimacy.

In Chapter 7, Robert Buch concentrates on a “neglected” (153) part of Legitimacy of the Modern Age, the section about theoretical curiosity. Why has it been neglected? Buch: “The reasons for the relative neglect of the third part undoubtedly have to do with its length and more specifically its detail and apparent digressiveness, but above all its sheer material abundance.”

The editors sought to bring Blumenberg into conversation with other thinkers, and Buch chooses Husserl as Blumenberg’s conversation partner. Buch’s aim is “to juxtapose Blumenberg’s account of the genesis of early modern science with Husserl’s Crisis of the European Sciences” (153).

Perceptions of science’s legitimacy have relevance, Buch writes, given “the modern suspicion of science, aggravated dramatically in our times of climate crisis” (164). Husserl questioned the cause of a universal science, a science that adhered to rational structures and objectivity (166). Husserl reacted against the easy division between objectivity and subjectivity. Husserl posits that modern science fails to consider consciousness as a component of its investigations.

In Buch’s account, Blumenberg owes many debts to Husserl’s view of science and technology. The differences are fewer than the commonalities. One important difference appears in Blumenberg’s narrative about the electric doorbell in an essay Buch leans on heavily, “Phenomenological Aspects on Life-World and Technization,” now available in English in The Blumenberg Reader. Blumenberg says the electric doorbell, the workings of which are hidden in comparison to a mechanical doorbell, “is ‘packaged’ in a way that it conceals this history and deprives it from us in its abstract uniformity…. [I]t is legitimized by being … put into operation” (Blumenberg Reader, 386). The “artificial product,” the doorbell, is “shrouded” with “obviousness”; technization produces this unquestioned obviousness (Reader, 387), a point Blumenberg claims shows the limits of Husserl’s commentary on the connection between life-world and technization. Blumenberg aims to show that his account is “more complicated.” To appreciate Blumenberg’s point, think of the unknowability about the functioning of crosswalk buttons in urban centers, many of which remain deliberately unfixed. Even a non-working button gives the illusion of control.

Charles Turner’s chapter on “infinite progress” in science concludes with an exploration of time and the life of the politician (175). In the middle of the two topics is C. Turner’s choice for Blumenberg’s partner in dialogue, Max Weber. The question Weber poses that C. Turner investigates is: [W]hat are the chances that someone whose life is necessarily limited to one arena of activity can achieve something of lasting significance?” (181). Weber directs that question at scholars and politicians.

In making Weber’s question contemporary, C. Turner reminds readers about the fast pace of contemporary life coupled with an increase in life expectancy. In the infinity of time, how are finite individuals to gather meaning for their lives? For scholars, the fear is that one’s work becomes obsolete within the scholar’s lifetime. For the politician, long-lasting glory can come with great success, but few politicians are remembered beyond their lifetimes. As Weber puts it, the scholarly life is chained to progress (thus fear of obsolescence), while the political life is more like art in that multiple spectacular achievements by different artists are possible, though those achievements must be of a stature to escape temporal constraints (184).

Weber’s long view echoes Blumenberg’s considerations of Lebenszeit and Weltzeit, the tension between the individual’s tiny lifetime amidst the ocean of time that is world history. Blumenberg suggests we leave the tension in place, lest the world itself suffer as it did with Adolf Hitler. According to Blumenberg, Hitler’s sin was an effort at melding Lebenszeit and Weltzeit. The evidence lies in a quotation from Hitler: “I … stand under the command of fate to achieve everything within a short human life … That for which others have an eternity, I have merely a few meagre years” (191).

In Chapter 9, Oriane Petteni escorts her readers into the world of art history and optics. This gives Petteni reason to ponder Blumenberg’s preference not to be photographed (202), as if Blumenberg’s own study of optics caused his wish to avoid the medium. Petteni is well aware Blumenberg’s avoidance of selfies is something more than shyness. Petteni sees it as connected to much larger matters, like truth. The visible and the hidden link up with Western beliefs about truth. Petteni writes, “[I]n the modern age, truth no longer reveals itself; instead, it must be revealed by decisive action” (195). That is, we must work for our truth.

The comments on truth correspond to Blumenberg’s views about biology. Petteni sees that Blumenberg derives his anthropology from biology. Petteni turns to The Genesis of the Copenican World for evidence. “The Earth requires both exposure to the Sun for complex lifeforms to arise and protection from direct exposure to sun rays, which would otherwise threaten to consume every living thing. The exposure to light requires—for the Earth as well as for human beings—a kind of filter or screen” (203). Others back up Petteni’s sense that Blumenberg foregrounds the importance of indirection and camouflage, such as the recent biography by Uwe Wolff, who notes multiple times Blumenberg’s penchant for indirect communication.

Petteni finishes her reflections on Blumenberg via a journey through Franz Kafka’s Der Bau. The unfinished Kafka text parallels, for Petteni, Blumenberg’s open-endedness regarding the human impulse to fashion “endless significance” (211). The story about a burrow also fits in with a quotation Petteni cites by Heinz Wisman, “[Blumenberg’s] thought is strongly marked by the worry not to remain at the surface of things” (202).

Chapter 10 might serve readers best read in conjunction with the first and the last chapters where Descartes has a prominent role. One difference about Adi Efal-Lautenschläger’s chapter is the linkage between Descartes and Blumenberg’s book The Legibility of the World. Blumenberg himself points out the parallels between his theme in Legibility and Descartes’s Traité du monde et de la lumière. What does Blumenberg find in Descartes’ book? “The self is to be experienced according to the measure of the world, as compatible or not with its changing conditions” (Legibility, 92). This lesson runs counter to interpretations of Descartes that rely on the celebrated cogito ergo sum and tend to make Descartes a happy solipsist. The lesson also seems a challenge to Whistler’s essay in which Blumenberg leaves behind the messy world for timeless forms and models, though keep in mind that Whistler’s interpretation launches from a different Blumenberg work, Legitimacy rather than Legibility.

Efal-Lautenschläger contributes a useful dichotomy based on the arguments of Legibility: “Blumenberg chooses to put his concept of reality on the side of world-imaging, instead of world-modelling. [R]eality is understood as belonging to the arena of representations or of world-imaging. World imaging – and, with it, reality itself – has an interpretative orientation: the reality that results from the image of the world is designated as an act of reading” (224-25).

Credit the editors with choosing to follow Efal-Lautenschläger’s essay with one that expands Efal-Lautenschläger’s points. Returning to Blumenberg’s Legitimacy of the Modern Age, Sonja Feger dives into another pairing, “reoccupation” (Umbesetzung) and “reality-concepts” (Wirklichkeitsbegriffe). Feger tells readers that Blumenberg uses reoccupation “to explain how epochal change can be grasped. On the other hand, and in other texts, he provides a historical analysis of what he calls “reality-concepts.” “In this chapter, I attempt to bring these two concepts into line with each other” (237).

Reoccupation is up first. Feger: “It is important to note that “reoccupation”, that is, the English term Wallace uses to translate the German word Umbesetzung, does not allude to anything antagonistic; it is not about any kind of (intellectual) conquest or usurpation. Rather, the term brings into focus the process-character of epochal change” (244). Emphasizing the “process-character” of change points to Whistler again, because “reoccupation” is about a perennial question-and-answer model Blumenberg wants to say is at work. Not that a “firm canon” of “great questions” exists. Fegel warns readers not to become fixated on answers or questions in their concrete content. Relying on a quotation from Blumenberg’s essay on secularization, Fegel asks readers to remember that “the historical identity and methodical identifiability of supposedly secularized notions is an illusion created by the identity of the function that altogether heterogeneous contents can assume in certain positions within man’s system of understanding the world and himself” (245).

How do we find out about reality? In some places, like Blumenberg’s famous essay on the possibility of the novel, his response seems to be “sometimes we won’t.” Feger pinpoints his wording: “[I]t is quite natural that the most deeply hidden implication of an era – namely, its concept of reality – should become explicit only when the awareness of that reality has already been broken.” (246). It’s a version of not being able to see the forest for the trees. “The subject as historically situated can only account for earlier concepts of reality, not current ones” (246).

Exiting that reality dilemma depends on reality-concepts. “Making a reality-concept explicit draws on the distinction between an object (i.e. a certain behaviour towards reality) and reflection on that object” (247). While it looks as if Blumenberg’s position is that our reflecting on an object called reality is accurate only for earlier periods, Feger says our access to what’s real about the moment we are in depends on Husserlian transcendental phenomenology. “[T]ranscendental consciousness both carries out and simultaneously reflects upon the process of (reality-) constitution” (248). Problem solved (if Blumenberg is correct).

References

Bajohr, Hannes, Florian Fuchs, and Joe Paul Kroll (Eds.). 2020. History, Metaphor, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader. Ithaca, NY. Cornell University Press.

Hayles, N. Katherine. 2019. “Review of Morphing Intelligence.” Posted May 17, 2019. Accessed November 1, 2020. https://criticalinquiry.uchicago.edu/n._katherine_hayles_reviews_morphing_intelligence.

Prisco, Jacopo. 2020. “Illusion of Control: Why the World is Full of Buttons that Don’t Work.” CNN.com. Accessed November 1, 2020. https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/placebo-buttons-design/index.html.

Wolff, Uwe. 2020. Der Schreibtisch des Philosophen: Erinnerungen an Hans Blumenberg. München: Claudius Verlag.

Žižek, Slavoj. 2011. Living in the End Times. London: Verso.

Martin Heidegger: Logik als die Frage nach dem Wesen der Sprache (Gesamtausgabe 38 A), Klostermann, 2020)

Logik als die Frage nach dem Wesen der Sprache (Freiburger Vorlesung Sommersemester 1934) Book Cover Logik als die Frage nach dem Wesen der Sprache (Freiburger Vorlesung Sommersemester 1934)
Martin Heidegger Gesamtausgabe 38 A
Martin Heidegger. Auf der Grundlage des Originalmanuskripts neu herausgegeben von Peter Trawny
Klostermann
2020
Hardback $102.60
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