Any moderately attentive observer of contemporary philosophy is bound to notice the significant number of publications dedicated to what has come to be called „empathy.“ The relevance of this topic has also found its place in non-philosophical forums, for example Barack Obama’s much-cited statement during his first presidential campaign that „the empathy deficit is a more pressing political problem for America than the federal deficit“ or one of the central claims in Jeremy Rifkin’s acclaimed book, The Empathic Civilization. In general and as has been pointed out recently, there are two reasons for this renewed interest in empathy—on the one hand, moral philosophers have presented research on whether empathy plays an important role in motivating pro-social or altruistic behavior and, on the other hand, social knowledge researchers have hypothesized that empathy could be the key to understanding important issues regarding interpersonal understanding, particularly with respect to understanding other people’s emotions. In addition, a diversity of perspectives has addressed this topic, including phenomenology, cognitive sciences, social sciences, psychiatry, etc. This mix has led to the unexaggerated estimate that there are as many definitions of empathy as there are authors who have attempted to define it. In any case, and in spite of the great diversity of theories on empathy, most authors usually cite Theodor Lipps (1851-1914) as one of the “fathers” of empathy. In turn, the British psychologist Edward Titchener (1867-1927) translated the term Einfühlung (which Lipps used) into English as empathy, a translation that is not without its problems, as I will later demonstrate.
One of the many merits of the volume that brings together Lipps’ texts on the problem of Einfühlung, which Faustino Fabbianelli edited and introduced, is its success in showing the need to dually expand the perspective of analysis when it comes to this German thinker. Certainly, Lipps used the term Einfühlung to refer to knowledge of other selves versus the knowledge of the self (internal perception) and the knowledge of external objects (sensible perception). However, to expand this analysis, we must not forget that Einfühlung is one way, among others, of explaining the other’s experience (Fremderfahrung). In other words, in light of current comparisons between what is usually called empathy and the experience of the other tout court, we must show that this version is a peculiar way of interpreting the other’s experience.
The question of the other’s experience (Fremderfahrung), that is, of the experience we have of other selves and their lived experiences, was the object of special attention at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Two groups of theories emerged in this respect: on the one hand, one group maintains that that which is given to us in the proper sense is our own self and, therefore, access to the other’s conscience is always mediated and, on the other hand, those who reject that our access to the other’s conscience is always mediated. The first group of theories argues that the experience of the other is always experience of him in his corporeal appearance. I experience my own lived experiences in a unique, immediate, and original way, while I do not experience the lived experiences of others in this way. What is given to me from another human being in the proper sense, originaliter, corresponds exclusively to the phenomenon of the physical body. Based solely on this form of giving oneself, the other is considered somehow animated; an other self exists. One of the ways to access this other self corresponds to so-called „reasoning by analogy theories“ (Analogieschlusstheorien), which maintain that I „judge“ the expressions of others in analogy with my own expressions, that is, I know that these expressions (Lebensäusserungen) (for example, certain face gestures) contain certain experiences that imitate my own experience when I so gesture.
These theories received significant criticism, especially from Theodor Lipps, who worked in Germany in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As one of the texts in Fabbianelli’s volume (Eine Vorfrage: Die Vielheit der Iche und die Einfühlung, p. 351) argues, Lipps considers these theories inadequate for two fundamental reasons. On the one hand, I am aware of, for example, certain eye or mouth gestures not because I observe my own expressions, but because I am able to observe others’ expressions; this observation occurs in the exact opposite order with regard to the Analogieschlusstheorien. In fact, Lipps believes that certain processes in other people’s bodies express lived experiences, which are then accompanied by gestures that express these lived experiences. On the other hand, he considers reasoning by analogy a fiction. Such reasoning, Lipps argues, takes place when, for example, I see smoke and conclude that there is fire. At some point, I saw smoke and fire together and now I add to the perceived smoke that which I have repeatedly perceived as associated with it. But such reasoning does not apply here. Rather, I have to deduce from myself an object that, although it is the same type, is completely different from me. In addition, theories of reasoning by analogy assume that I know that the meaning of my own facial gestures denote certain experiences. If this were the case, I would need to constantly observe my face in a mirror. According to Lipps, the following is what really occurs: I see another’s features change, which I interpret as the body of another human individual. An internal tendency to tune in arises in me and suggests that I should act and feel in sync with the other. I feel his sadness not as conditioned by my own thoughts, but as brought on by a perceived gesture. I feel my own sadness by perceiving the other’s gesture (Egoismus und Altruismus, p. 211).
As mentioned, Fabbianelli’s selected texts from Lipps—which do not include the important article entitled, „Das Wissen von fremden Ichen“ (which was already published by the same editor in the fourth volume of Schriften zur Psychologie und Erkenntnistheorie and recently translated into English[i]), but which does include the previously unpublished article Der Begriff der Einfühlung–show the need to broaden the usual analysis of Lipps’ Einfühlung notion. That is, it is unjustifiably reductionist to consider Einfühlung the only way of explaining the Fremderfahrung (although, certainly, it is the right way, according to Lipps), as well as to think that Einfühlung’s scope is limited to knowledge of other selves. In this sense, Fabbianelli’s introduction highlights the importance of Einfühlung in Lipps’s thought insofar as it constitutes the ultimate explanatory foundation of the relationship between individual subject and individual object—not necessarily another I—before understanding grasps both moments. In this sense, we can speak of an „alogical“ relationship (prior to actual knowledge) between the subject and the object. This alogical or irrational character of Einfühlung is due to the object’s uniqueness to which, and thanks to it, the self unites. Insofar as the conception of reality underlined here is radically different from a logical-rational explanation of reality, Fabbianelli believes that the „irrationality“ of Einfühlung comes into play.
Yet, by putting his concept of Einfühlung at the center of Lipps’s philosophical reflection, Fabbianelli’s introduction insists on the need to consider it in a broader context, namely, with a new Kantian conception of the problem related to the conditions of possibility for knowing the world. Faced with other more or less established interpretations that reproach Lipps for having offered a psychological interpretation of this problem, Fabbianelli joins authors such as Glockner, who maintain that Lipps must be considered a thinker who follows in the classical German philosophical tradition insofar as he discovers the condition of possibility for the synthesis of subject and object in the alogical relation of empathy.[ii] In this sense, Lipps endeavored to clarify the relationship between psychology and transcendental philosophy, showing how psychological reflection goes hand in hand with a transcendental philosophical approach. However, according to Fabbianelli, the primacy of psychology in Lipps is not the same as psychologism. In fact, he sees in Lipps a separation between psychology and psychologism insofar as he insists on keeping the subject and object separate, that is, the self and the world. Fabbianelli also references the fact that Lipps himself repeatedly rejected accusations of psychologism such as the vigorous criticism contained in the first volume of Husserl’s Logical Investigations. He based his rejection of this psychologism reproach on a clear separation between what constitutes the laws of thoughtful reason and what pertains to the mere empeiria self. According to Fabbianelli, Lipps always establishes a connection with transcendental philosophy through Fichte, insofar as there is a parallel between projecting oneself on the other (sich hineinversetzen, sich hineinverlegen), which according to Lipps happens with Einfühlung, and the constitution of the world that, according to Fichte, the self carries out. Without entering into detailed discussion here, Fabbianelli’s argument defending the plausibility of considering the relationship between man and reality as transcendental does not seem to me entirely convincing. The transcendental nature of this relationship is such in so far as it does not deal with objects, „but [with] the form and way in which objects can be known.“
In any case, to the extent that Lipps gives Einfühlung a transcendental meaning as the productive emergence of the other (human and nonhuman), Einfühlung cannot be understood as an accurate synonym of empathy. The English concept that Titchener introduced belongs to a different semantic realm since it characterizes feeling the other’s psychic state as a foreign state in oneself, while Einfühlen, for Lipps, is, rather, a fühlen by which I feel myself in the other (human or not). When I experience Einfühlung a kind of sich hineinverlegen or sich hineinversetzen occurs such that I project part of myself in the external other. Thus, when I consider that a landscape is melancholic or that a friend’s voice is cheerful, it is not that the landscape itself denotes melancholy or that my friend’s voice is actually happy. Melancholy and happiness are, rather, subjective moments, properties of my self—Ichbestimmtheiten in Lipps’ terms— that, in some way, are felt in that landscape and in that voice. I feel, therefore, melancholy in the landscape object and happiness in my friend’s voice object. It is not that I feel melancholic or happy and then „put“ (hineinverlege) melancholy or joy into the landscape or into my friend’s voice, but rather that I live or feel these things in the landscape and in my friend’s voice. This does not merely involve representation. When I hear my friend’s voice, I do not represent the happiness that it contains, but rather I experience it (Cf. Einfühlung, Mensch und Naturdinge, p.60). It is precisely this co-rejoicing (sich Mitfreuen) that Lipps calls Einfühlung. Thus, for Einfühlung, what we could call „subjective“ is perceived as residing in the object that is before me, that is, not in the object as it is in itself, but in the object as it is presented to me (Cf. Zur Einfühlung, page 375). As Zahavi pointed out to Lipps, “ To feel empathy is to experience a part of one’s own psychological life as belonging to or in an external object; it is to penetrate and suffuse that object with one’s own life.“[iii] In this way, Einfühlung, insofar as I live in it in the object, is, as Fabbianelli points out, Einsfühlung or the fusion of the self with the object (Cf. Zur Einfühlung, page 419).
The aesthetic origin of Einfühlung reveals that it is not limited to knowledge of other selves alone. For the aesthetic object, the sensible realm “symbolizes” that is has content at the level of the soul (selfish). This object is thus „animated“ and, as a result, it becomes an aesthetic object and a carrier of aesthetic value (Cf. Einfühlung, Mensch und Naturdinge, p 53). The important thing here is that the sensible appearance of a beautiful object is not the foundation of aesthetic taste, which rather corresponds to the self feeling happy, moved, etc. before the object (Cf. Einfühlung, innere Nachahmung und Organempfindungen, p.35). In short, when considering the beautiful object the self feels free, active, vigorous, etc. in the object.
Now, how, according to Lipps, does this living in another object take place, be it in a physical object or another self? Lipps believes it happens in a way that, ultimately, is not explicable and that he calls instinct or impulse (see, for example, Einfühlung, Mensch und Naturdinge, p. 67ff, and Einfühlung als Erkenntnisquelle, p. 362). By virtue of this instinct, my apprehension of certain sensibly perceived processes instinctively inspires a feeling in me, a desire that, with the act of apprehension, constitutes a single experience of consciousness. In relation to this point, Fabbianelli endeavors to show in his introduction that the instinctive element that Einfühlung contains in Lipps’ thought has to be understood in the broader context of his conception of the knowledge of reality as ultimately based on instinct (Cf. Egoismus und Altruismus, p. 213) In this way, Lipps’ concept of instinct could be related to that of Fichte (Trieb). For his part, Lipps refers to what he calls „instinct of empathy,“ arguing that they involve two components: an impulse directed toward imitation and another aimed at expression. In the past, I have been happy and then experience an instinctive tendency toward expressing happiness. This expression is not experienced as supplementary to happiness, but rather as an integral part of that feeling. When I see the same expression in another place, I have an instinctive tendency to imitate or reproduce it, and this tendency evokes the same feeling that, in the past, was intimately connected with it. When I experience this feeling again, it will be linked to the expression I perceive and projected onto it. In short, when I see a happy face, I reproduce an expression of happiness, which will then evoke a feeling of happiness in me and I will attribute this felt happiness, which is co-given with perceived facial expressions, to the other.
Lipps research on empathy concludes with a series of interesting analyses that deserve more space and time than the present contribution permits. I refer, for example, to the relationships between Einfühlung and the feeling of value, its so-called „sociological“ repercussions, etc. Here I will only refer to two of them, namely, the different types of Einfühlung and the distinction between positive Einfühlung and negative Einfühlung.
Lipps distinguishes five different types of Einfühlung. First, he refers to what he calls general apperceptive Einfühlung (allgemeine apperzeptive Einfühlung), which occurs when, for example, I think I perceive that a straight line widens, narrows, etc. when, in reality, it ultimately involves activities carried out personally and that, in a way, we apprehend in the line in question. Secondly, as analyzed in an example above, we sometimes talk about the peace a landscape projects, the passion of a given work of art, etc. Certainly, peace, passion, etc. are not visible in the same way that qualities of a color, its hue, its degree of saturation, etc. are. In reality, I feel peaceful or impassioned. However, I „see,“ in a certain sense, peace and passion as residing in the landscape or work of art, which communicate peace and passion to me. This is called Stimmungseinfühlung. A third type of Einfühlung is the so-called „empirical“ or „empirically conditioned apperceptive“ type. This happens when, for me, a force or a motor activity „resides“ in a natural event, as when I observe a stone’s gravitational tendency towards the earth or its resistance to the action another body inflicts on it, etc. Fourth, it is possible to identify Einfühlung in human beings’ sensible appearance (Einfühlung in die sinnliche Erscheinung des Menschen). This is also known as Selbstojektivation because, in it, Eingefühlte is the „I“ with feelings, along with all its modes of activity. In fifth and last place, Lipps identifies a type of Einfühlung in certain data related to sensible perception, which, after Einfühlung itself, we can identify as expressions of a conscious individual. An example of this is when a gesture that I see and that I later identify as a human face contains an affect such as, for example, worry or joy.
As reflected in the various texts included in this volume, among which the unpublished article mentioned above is especially relevant, the term Einfühlung expresses a curious fact, namely, a way of experiencing myself, of experiencing a property of my self in a sensibly perceived or perceivable object as residing in such an object. This involves the fact that the subject or a property of his is „objectified“ by my conscience or „projected“ into an object. Now, as Lipps believes, it would be a mistake to understand this objectification or projection in the sense of a process that takes place in consciousness as if I had an idea of one of its properties objectified or projected onto an object and then, so to speak, this idea passes from me to the object or becomes a property of the object in question. In Einfühlung, rather, what I in principle know as a property of the self appears to me in a given case as residing in an object that is nothing like the self. This is precisely why Lipps speaks of a property of the self „projecting“ onto an object.
A second particularly noteworthy aspect to take up here is the distinction between positive Einfühlung (also called sympathetic Einfühlung) and negative Einfühlung (Cf. Einfühlung, Mensch und Naturdinge, pp. 83ff, and In Sachen der Einfühlung, p. 260ff). Starting with the latter, let us consider the case of offensive behavior on the part of another subject. A sort of Einfühlung would emerge even in this case. We tend to experience said behavior in ourselves, although we may be, at the same time, inwardly opposed to that tendency. This for Lipps is negative Einfühlung. The same thing happens when someone asserts a judgment that contradicts my knowledge. Upon hearing it, my knowledge activates and directs itself against said judgment. I deny it. This supposes that judgment co-exists with other judgment, i.e., that I have a tendency to judge in the same way. My rejection of judgment then forces me to accept judgment. It is a negative intellectual shared experience, a negative intellectual Einfühlung. On the contrary, for positive Einfühlung, the life of consciousness that seems to come from outside coincides with my activation tendencies. Thus, my consciousness accepts the life of another’s consciousness. I experience this with harmony rather than contradiction, as a confirmation of myself. These distinctions deserve better explanation regarding the difficult problem of the influence of non-intellectual, affective conditions in Einfühlung.
As mentioned, there are many aspects that this 700-page collection of Lipps’s writings on Einfühlung highlights. The richness of Lipps‘ analysis deserves special attention and involves analyses oriented toward a faithful description of the different phenomena that give rise in consciousness. Brief summaries do not suffice in this case; rather, it requires a clear effort to be faithful to what is given and as it is given. This is what, as Lipps notes, philosophy should be made of. Thus, it would make sense to defend a positivist philosophy in the sense of a philosophy built on experience, a philosophy whose main task is, on the one hand, to separate what is proper to consciousness from what corresponds to the object of sensible perception and, on the other hand, to inquire into the extent to which certain data in my conscience are apprehended as residing in objects.
In short, with the publication of these texts, Faustino Fabbianelli not only made an important contribution to research on the phenomenological conception of Einfühlung, but also to a systematic and ordered study of a genuine philosophical problem. Lipps’ texts on Einfühlung gathered in this volume show, therefore, the unfairness of Husserl’s qualification of some of them as a „refuge of phenomenological ignorance.”
[i] “The Knowledge of other egos,” transl. by M. Cavallaro. Edited and with an introduction by Timothy Burns, in The New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy, XVI, Phenomenology of Emotions, Systematical and Historical Perspectives. Edited by R. Parker and I. Quepons, Routledge, Oxon, 2018 p. 261-282.
[ii] Cf. Glockner, H., “Robert Vischer und die Krisis der Geisteswissenschaften im letzten Drittel des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Irrationalitätsproblems,” Logos. Internationale Zeitschrift für Philosophie der Kultur, XIV, 1925, p. 297-342.
[iii] Zahavi, D., Self and Other: Exploring Subjectivity, Empathy, and Shame. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2014, p. 104.
Empathy, Sociality and Personhood is a collection of essays about Edith Stein’s thought and its surrounding theoretical context edited by Elisa Magrì and Dermot Moran. Both of the editors have worked on several books about Husserl, the phenomenological tradition, and, in particular, on Edith Stein.
In the Introduction the editors carefully reconstruct the interdisciplinary debates motivated by Stein’s theoretical concepts, which are discussed at length and relevant to many different philosophical and scientific fields. The Introduction points out that there are at least 43 different definitions of the term ‘empathy’ and this circumstance strongly motivates the phenomenological research which investigates empathy as a philosophical issue. Edith Stein’s interest in the topic constitutes a key aspect of her work which has attracted much attention and study. The debate concerning an emotive account of empathy and the extent to which it is present in both humans and animals, has a long history and can be traced in the Darwinian conception of animal sociality, and within the Theodor Lipps’ thesis from the psychological side. The Introduction also makes reference to Vittorio Gallese’s conception of the emphatic process, which leads us into the realm of contemporary neuroscience and cognitive debates. It is part of contemporary common practice to compare scientific definitions of empathy with those from the philosophical tradition, however, the empirical approach of the natural sciences is largely missing from Stein’s phenomenological descriptions.
In contrast to the prominent empirical status of the contemporary approach, this text instead refers to the phenomenological approach. As it becomes clear within the text: only with Husserl’s epistemological turn in the investigations of conscious life are we really able to describe experience structures. The essays in the collection acknowledge Edith Stein’s assimilation of the phenomenological method in order to develop new intentional investigations. Stein’s interest in empathy as a topic stems from her recognition of the importance of this theme in Husserl’s dissertations, for Stein he did not adequately treat or fully elaborate on empathy as a specific intentional act. Stein’s investigations of empathetic psychological acts is therefore profoundly intertwined with Husserl’s account and empathy is defined as an intentional act near to perception and imagination, but different from both.
The book is divided into four parts: the first part contains several essays which treat the concept of ‘Person’. This notion shouldn’t be defined as a single unit, but integrated within a whole series of psychological acts including relational spatiality. The second part integrates this topic with the affective theme of the human experience; regarding the peculiarities of intentionality in relation to the emotional style of the subject. Related to these discussion, themes such as ‘empathy’ or ‘imagination’ are carefully introduced. In the third part, different essays discuss the topic of communal experience which is very important for integrating the description of the human experience. In the fourth part, the essays discuss the thought of some lesser known phenomenologists which nonetheless, supply us with very important descriptions of the communal experience.
The first contribution in the collection is entitled ‘Edith Stein’s Encounter with Edmund Husserl and Her Phenomenology of the Person’ and is by Dermot Moran. The essay begins with a brief introduction which covers the career of Edith Stein, Moran then explores the context in which Husserl’s first book of Ideas was received by his students. The transcendental turn in this book proved difficult to accept for those who were bound to the strong realism of Husserl’s Logical investigations. However, in contrast to his other students, Edith Stein found it easy to grasp, understand and appreciate Husserl’s turn in relation to e.g. both eidetic analysis and the embodied state of consciousness. Moran communicates how Stein conceptualizes the differences between ‘originary and non-originary experience’ which is an essential aspect of the phenomenological analysis of consciousness. Within these theoretical features Stein conducted careful examination of the description of the empathetic act essence, and used this to develop her own conception of the subjective and inter-subjective ‘living body’. Moran then describes the way in which she worked on the affective account of subjectivity beginning with psycho-physical conditionality and moving towards the spiritual peculiarities of the emotional life. He then goes on to explain the peculiarity of Stein’s studies on the essence of the ‘individual person’; he adequately communicates the complex relation between the metaphysical influences on her thought and the phenomenological method. In spite of the complex relation between the two, Moran concludes that Stein proposes a very deep phenomenological description of the person that is strongly philosophical with theological influences.
The second essay is by Hans Rainer Sepp and it explores ‘Edith Stein’s Conception of the Person within the Context of the Phenomenological Movement’.Sepp discusses the concept of personhood in Stein’s phenomenological investigations, in which the structural conception of individuality emerges. He explores the way in which personhood is analyzed by Stein with a focus on descriptions of the intentional structures of conscience life. In the same way in which consciousness organizes our own experience of the world, for Stein personhood is constructed through a multi-stratum ontology, where the deeper found the higher ones. Fort example: we must define the sensorial psychological dimensions as an integrating part of the more complex spiritual values. Sepp explains this important definition with reference to Stein’s distinction between soul and spirit; soul relates to contemporary psychological themes, spirit concerns the values sphere, where social values emerge as the ‘responsibility’.
Sepp then compares Stein’s concept of ‘person’ with that of Max Scheler. Scheler had similar notions about personhood as Stein, but he also presents differences concerning the relation between the person and their own acts; the person is defined by Scheler as not comparable with their own acts, however, these acts continuously modify their personality. The last part of the text returns to Stein’s concept of personhood, this time focusing on Husserl’s notions of ‘ego’. Stein points out that the Greek notion of oikos, with which she spoke about an oikological conceptuality, in relation to the human spatiality. This interesting topic is well presented by Sepp as, by revealing Stein’s interest in the phenomenological spatiality among peoples the concept is not only defined by her as functional, but as essential in order to define personhood. The topic concerning the spatiality of the own experience is an important prerogative for understanding the concept of ‘person’. The environment is an integral feature for understanding our relational habits, and this concept shouldn’t be avoided in the psychological understanding of the human life.
The second part of the book is entitled ‘Empathy, Subjectivity, and Affectivity’. The first contribution is by Ingrid Vendrell Ferran and is entitled ‘Intentionality, Value Disclosure, and Constitution: Stein’s Model’. Ferran retraces the debate on the relation among values and emotion from Brentano to the phenomenological context. Her brief but efficient introduction is useful for understanding the distinctness of Stein’s model of affectivity and she presents Stein’s account of the ‘ontology of person’ which is explained with care in its peculiarity. The various elements of affectivity are explained with an accurate relation to the intentional aspect of them. In this way, the author discloses these essential notions to explain the role of emotionality in the perception of values. In contrast to perception and other theoretical acts, the role of the emotional act in the constitution of values is explained coherently. Values are defined not only in the sense of ‘material objects’ but also as formal and it becomes clear how emotions have their own intentionality. In the last part of the essay Ferran uses the drafted instruments for connecting to the discussion of axiology in Stein’s thought. The topic of intentionality in relation to the affective style is an important prerogative for understanding the contrast with Scheler’s realism. Relating to the latter peculiarity, Ferran describes an affinity between Stein and Husserl’s thesis. Even though the theme of the ‘discovery’ of values seems to speak about a realism, she conceives support for the thesis of a ‘constitution’ of values in both in Husserl and in Stein. The constitution of intentional structures allows us to avoid a strong realism about values, paying greater attention to the relation between the consciousness and the world.
The contribution by Michela Summa concerns two main topics: the multiple-level structure of intentionality in Stein’s work and the presentation of various proposals in relation to the complex theme of ‘simulation’ in the emphatic intentional act. Hereafter, the essay contemplates the thought of Peter Goldie, a lesser known philosopher who makes an interesting contribution to how Stein’s work relates to these areas. Summa carefully explains the relation among understanding and imagination in Goldie’s thought overall in relation to the empathetic grasping of individual narration. Goldie shows the role of the imagination in the understanding of the other’s lived events. So, Summa shows how, in Goldie’s thought it is not only the single mental act that is to be grasped, but an entire event of the other’s individual narration. Goldie’s phenomenological description of empathy is classified with several steps, from the more cognitive level toward the most affective attitude of sympathy. The importance of the intentional directivity toward the other’s narration is described with different levels of complexity; from the essential pre-cognitive backgrounds, with which important aspects of the personality are grasped, towards the cultural features or higher motivational states.
‘Stein’s understanding of Mental Health and Mental Illness’ is the contribution by Mette Lebech, in which the topics concerning Stein’s treatment of the empirical psychological tradition are discussed. Lebech describes an interesting difference between the natural stance of the illness and the individual story. Nature intervenes in the individual story, but it doesn’t coincide with individual motivations. In Lebech’s reconstruction, the spirit is presented as the most important dimension of the person which is not only influenced by natural causes. Lebech uses a metaphor of the battery to speak about the psychological process to show how the spiritual attitude of the person lies outside of mechanical dynamics. As with Stein’s reference to God, the latter activity motivates consciousness without a strong requirement of the psychological energetic dimension. Lebech also writes about the group dynamics of the psychological affection and even in the latter case, the passive processes, like imitation, are defined differently to the higher ones – such as the sharing of common values in the community – as mere natural processes.
The third part of the book is entitled ‘Empathy, Sociality, and Medical Ethics’. The first article of this section is ‘From I to you to We: Empathy and Community in Edith Stein’s Phenomenology’. The first contribution in this part is written by Timothy A. Burns and he begins by speaking about Stein’s dissertation in which the intentional act of empathy is deeply analyzed. Burns shows the necessity of distinguishing between ‘primordial’ and ‘non primordial’ acts. The primordial part of the empathetic act belongs to the perception of the other’s physical body, while the other’s experience is defined as the ‘non-primordial’ content. Empathy, as distinct from memory, fantasy or expectation, is defined as an act that transcends the ego. Empathy doesn’t regard the ‘I’ as a subject of its acts, but instead allows us to represent the other’s experience. For this reason, Burns notices, that in empathy an ‘apperception’ is not established, because I don’t apperceive myself as subject of the act. Burns reveals two different levels of empathy: the first is defined as ‘sensual’ and concerns the bodily experience of others, the second is reiterated empathy with which we may grasp the acts by which the other experiences us. Burns uses Stein’s account of empathy in relation to the topic of the community; despite the inalienable aloneness of each individual subject, we can join each other in one community through empathetic acts. Burns explains that, through the possibility of a communal experience, the ego remains ontologically separated from the others because our own experience relates first of all to the subject to whom it belongs. So, the communal intentional structure is not independent of the subjectivities, but is a product of them, and this peculiarity is coherently treated by the author as an essential ‘noetic’ sense of communal experience, belonging to a multiplicity of subjects.
Antonio Calcagno’s contribution is entitled: ‘The Role of Identification in Experiencing Community: Edith Stein, Empathy, and Max Scheler’. Calcagno contemplates the topic of ‘shared experience’ by debating the ideas of Edith Stein and Max Scheler together. Although they use different terms, Scheler and Stein both speak about a ‘we’ experience, or GemeineschaftErlebnisse to use Stein’s terms. In Stein’s first work we find the tension between ‘individuation’ and ‘identification’ and, in contrast to Scheler, Stein ascribes greater importance to personal individuation and argues that it shouldn’t become lost when the person lives within one community. The community itself is described as an intentional structure, stratified like the other form of intentional objects. Calcagno explains how the community is constituted by categorical acts other than by the psychological process of imitation. Indeed, the logical-linguistic dimension is an important aspect which defines a spiritual community and is different from one guided by a ‘psychical infection’. On the other hand, the author reconstructs Scheler’s discussion about values in strict opposition with skeptic theories of morality. Scheler claims the possibility of discovering an eidetic structure of values that characterizes his strong realism about this theme. The author correctly shows the propensity of Scheler concerning a more communal ethical thought in comparison to Stein. Scheler, indeed, speaks about the importance of the spiritual values, with which we can become a ‘collective person’, rather than a community of single individuals organized by each other.
In ‘Edith Stein’s Phenomenology of Empathy and Medical Ethics’ Fredrik Svenaeus speaks about the relation between the concepts of ‘person’ and ‘patient’. In the first part of the text, Svenaeus explains the multi-level status of the empathetic act. The most elementary phase depends on the perception of the other’s body; the second step concerns the role of the imagination, with which the other’s experience can be simulated. At the last step, the cognitive elaboration returns to the first person perspective, with an enriched intentionality. Stein speaks about the lack of this capacity for the most part in medics who work on the ‘medical body’ rather than on the ‘lived’ one. Empathy must not necessarily become ‘sympathy’, but it is an essential step we must take to grasp the other’s world, through meaningful events relating to their existence.
In the fourth part of the book is discussed the topic of ‘Edith Stein and her Contemporaries’. The first essay is entitled ‘Kurt Stavenhangen on the Phenomenology of the We’ and is written by Alessandro Salice. Salice examines the thought of Kurt Stavenhangen; a less famous phenomenologist whose work is interesting nonetheless. Stavenhangen worked on the thesis of shared intentionality, and, in line with his thinking, Salice observes that the plural pronoun ‘we’ is not merely a simple function of grammar; it is a change in the intentional structure of experience. The shared experience is characterized by the phenomenologist as a reference to the selfsame intentional object, like a general ‘we like G’. This abstract sentence is shown to explain the structural property of the communal experience. We are not describing a specific cultural expression, but the universal structure of the shared experience. So, being aware of the selfsame object, whatever it was, is not only a theoretical act, but, as Salice explains, it concerns the establishment of shared preferences within the community. What follows is a debate concerning the intentional classification of the ‘we experience’ as examined by Stavenhangen with two peculiar, different intentional forms.
‘A Philosophical Resonance: Hedwig Conrad-Martius versus Edith Stein’ is the final essay in the book and it is written by Ronny Miron. The essay focuses on the relationship between the two phenomenologists quoted in the title and how they have influenced one another. Hedwig Conrad-Martius had strong relationship with Edith Stein, and in such a way there are conspicuous theoretical resonances between them. Hedwig Conrad-Martius based her thought on several critics of Husserl, since she claimed that his thought was flawed by a lack of reality. Indeed, she did not appreciate Husserl’s turn to the transcendental ego and judged that this theoretical move concerned only a ‘pure’ investigation. She remained, for this reason, strongly bound to Husserl’s Logical investigations. Even Hedwig Conrad-Martius, as Edith Stein, spoke about theology as an essential philosophical theme, in which can be applied the phenomenological method. Indeed, the description of the eidetic structure of intentionality could be applied to ‘faith’. For both phenomenologists faith is an essential step for the construction of our own world of meaning, and for this reason it concerns an intentional act considered important for philosophical conceptualization.
In summary, this book makes an important contribution to discussions regarding the definition of empathy not only in respect to traditional philosophical approaches which concern ethical peculiarities on the topic, but also in respect to other theoretical features. The latter characteristic is important, not only to obtain a theoretical understanding of the topic, but also in respect to the experimental practice of modern psychology. ‘Empathy’ is a complex concept which warrants philosophical investigation if we are to better understand an essential feature of human beings.
[i] Husserl, E., Logische Untersuchungen (1900); Husserl, E., Logical Investigations, 2 vols, Trans, J.N. Findlay, New York, Humanities Press, 1970.
[ii] Husserl, E., Ideen zu einer reinen phänomenologie und phänomenologischen philosophie (1912-1928); Husserl, E., Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and a Phenomenological Philosophy, First Book, Dodrecht, Kluwer, 1989.
[iii] Husserl, E., Ideen zu einer reinen phänomenologie und phänomenologischen philosophie (1912-1928); Husserl, E., Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and a Phenomenological Philosophy, Second Book, Dodrecht, Kluwer, 1989.
[iv] Husserl, E., Erfarhung und Urteil: Untersuchungen zur Genealogie der Logik; Husserl, E., Experience and Judgment: Investigations in a Genealogy of Logic. Northwestern University Press, 1973.
This book succeeds as a phenomenological project guided securely by Heideggerian principles, in its philosophical assessment of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs), which conspire literally, in the making of mothers. Belu draws almost exclusively and analogously upon Heidegger’s concepts outlayed in The Question Concerning Technology (most overarchingly: the principle of Gestell [Enframing]) to fashion a critique of ARTs protocols and practices, which, since their initial inception/acceptance in the last quarter of the 20th century, have achieved globalized integration into the process of bringing a new human into the world. Although in-vitro fertilization (IVF), the premier ART, was successfully employed to fertilize a human egg in 1944; not until 1977 was an in-corpus pregnancy achieved; it’s outcome was unsuccessful. A year later in 1978, the famous ‚test-tube‘ baby Louise Joy Brown was conceived via IVF technologies and successfully birthed. Today, some forty years hence, several variations of ARTs are in common use not only by heterosexual couples experiencing negative fertility, but by same-sex couples, single-mothers or fathers seeking to start a family or add an additional family member, and others who claim a banner along the now-evolved gender identity spectrum. Belu relates how the original IVF procedure has morphed into ever-more sophisticated technologies and methods designed to assist in the coming to fruition of a live birth, such as cytoplasmic transfer, the use of donor eggs and/or gestational surrogates. She also makes clear how the latter two protocols function as particularly egregious political economies which implicate younger and older women alike in a market project of conception: younger women sell their viable eggs, and surrogates of proven child-bearing capacity ’sell‘ the services of their wombs, to those [often older] women or couples who desire a child but who are either infertile, cannot physically carry to term or who simply cannot, or do not, wish to participate in the pregnancy process. The ARTs industry has succeeded in „medical fragmentation“ of a women’s reproductive system into components–eggs, womb, tubes, ovaries and cycles–which are ‚optimized‘ via drugs and various surgical procedures and kept primed in the manner of Heidegger’s standing reserve for use in achieving the desired goal of conception of an embryo. The reproductive parts no longer need be attached to or within the singular corpus of an intact female body, in fact, more often they are not. Such mechanistic fracturing destroys women’s bodies as wholistic “autonomous agents” according to Belu (5, 23), and has ushered in what she terms the ‚Motherless Age‘.
The ‚Motherless‘ Age
Belu’s use of the term motherless seems at first blush metaphysical meaninglessness[i]–an ontological dystopia or ontically obtuse ‘teaser’.[ii] Mothers are in fact in existence in our epoch–we do not lack mothers, per se, yet the traditional mother-child biological dyad relationship, which begins at conception and ends with the death of either the mother or child (some would argue against that as well), has experienced a post-modern existential crisis (if late in the game), brought on by the extended, if not ubiquitous, use of ARTs on a worldwide scale.[iii] Belu’s position sets forth (and ostensibly argues against) the phenomenological logic of ARTs which has encouraged ‚the splitting of the atom‘ in relation to the term mother, historically defined as a secure subject with distinct boundaries and a single physical corporeal existence. Motherhood is now conceptually plural across an array of subjectivities that all qualify to be defined by, or at least attached to, the term. It is now possible for a baby born via gestational surrogacy to potentially have four different mothers if cytoplasmic transfer is employed: two genetic mothers (one who has lent her eggs and the other who lends her cytoplasm) (Belu, 59, fn 80), the gestational mother who bears and births the fetus, and the ’social‘ mother who rears the child (Belu, 45). In market terms, the first two mothers are the sellers, the third the worker or laborer, and the fourth and final (who is responsible for the child’s care) is the buyer, or consumer. Conversely, IVF also allows the production of offspring with no living genetic mothers at all–as viable eggs are collected from the ovarian tissue of aborted fetuses, and coaxed into near maturity via hormone stimulants. Thus a child can now be borne from a ‚mother‘ who was never an actual fully grown person, much less an adult (Belu, 70). It is the offspring i.e. the child, in this process, who must ultimately face the „motherless“ aspects of his/her birth. As the situation presents itself, it may even be more appropriate to use the term motherfull; the latter suffix however, conveying a generally positive connotation of maternal agency which Belu clearly argues that ARTs subvert (Belu, 79, 105).
Belu establishes ontological erasure of the ‚mother‘ in the original etymological sense, at virtually every turn, particularly in Chapter 4 wherein she engages and privileges Heidegger’s concept of enframing over Aristotle’s causal concepts of physis and techné, in the argument over whether IVF processes ‚assist‘, or ‚replace‘, natural conception. Belu does not so much detail the legal ramifications of determining „the spark of life“ (Belu, 61)[iv], but urges phenomenological clarity and currency as it might reroute a prevailing cultural attitude of „complacency“ toward human artificial reproduction. We shrug off the extent of IVF’s practical ramifications for humanity, because we persist in (along Aristotelian lines), and even dote on, the misunderstanding of the role of technological prowess as a handmaid to, and not creator of, human life. This is of course, the „forgetting of the clearing“ (Lichtungvergessenheit) which Heidegger says chiefly enables the chokehold of Enframing. As we do not do what Heidegger urges: „experience its unthought essence first of all“, or else we broach it superficially, we cannot see „the extent that the essence of enframing does not appear as the danger, and the essence of the danger does not appear as Beyng [sic]“; which „accounts for our misunderstanding“ [of] above all technology“ (Belu, 12-13, 21, fn. 26).
Citing the wry ‚twist‘ of analogizing Aristotle’s male-active/female-passive principle of nature to IVF procedures within our causa efficiens-hegemonic techno-modernity (Belu, 68), Belu seriously implicates the medical establishment in the authority of its arché position, which allows it to usurp the agency of a natural mother in order to supervise the engineering of life. Ultimately, in the motherless world, the mother-effect, a term first coined by Kelly Oliver,[v] obliterates both the participation of the ‚real‘ mother and ‚mother nature‘, such representatives of our lingering cultural dedication to biological ownership. Moreover, these absences are „covered over“ in the persistent need to preserve normativity: the arché role of the fertility doctor and the techné role of the IVF procedure are minimized as the birthed child is attributed to nature’s grace, or termed something like a miracle „Child of God“. Belu states:
IVF participants (the women, doctors, and media) can be seen to reproduce the mother-effect, caught up in a play of affirming the significance of technology for conception and gestation, yet undermining this significance in the final product, calling it (mother) nature (Belu, 71).
A Feminist Phenomenology of ARTs
In her zeal to establish a feminist phenomenology for ARTS, Belu details various reproductive enframing processes, where human life is engineered from start to finish (challenged forth). It is still startling to read, in 2017, how, after a woman’s body is shot through with hormones [via extremely painful injections] to spur superovulation (wherein her ovaries will produce up to 10 eggs or more at once) that „the eggs are then sucked out of the woman’s ovaries“ and
fertilization is engineered in the Petrie dish. These procedures reveal the woman’s reproductive body as passive, fungible material, a biological system that is broken up into its component parts of uterus, tubes, eggs, endometrium and hormone cycles that are worked upon by the technités (Belu, 66).
Belu notes as well the striking ambivalence toward women, such as surrogates and/or egg/cytoplasm donors, who have offered up their body and/or its reproductive components to the commercial market toward the end goal of a live birth.[vi] Often, a woman’s psyche is outrightly neglected as it undergoes this process. The woman is treated as a „purely functional“ resource (Belu, 32). Feenberg terms this autonomization, „the interruption of the reflexivity of technical action, its impact on the user, so that the subject can affect the object of technical production seemingly without being affected in return.“ (Belu, 32). Heidegger’s concept of fungibility rears its significance in an extremely ugly duality in this situation: the laboring subject is also the object of technical imposition, yet any mental or physical distress she may encounter in her dual role is downplayed or remains unaddressed by the life-engineers (Belu, 32).
Belu is also keen to cite the lack of medical follow-up studies over the years on certain groups of women who have participated in any part of the IVF process (Belu, 58, fn 66). She particularly notes the plights of young women egg donors (27) which have not been studied in depth. Moreover, there is a lack of research on the children who have been borne from these procedures, in terms of issues surrounding their mental and physical health (58, fn 66).
Ultimately, Belu sufficiently establishes patriarchal bias of IVF procedures, particularly when healthy women undergo IVF in the service of men whose sperm are unhealthy or otherwise deficient (Belu, 35), or when cross-fertilization (the use of sperm from many different men in a ‚lottery‘ setup in order to determine which will fertilize a woman’s egg) is employed (Belu, 34). However, she misses an opportunity to make certain inroads as to how ARTs may functionally chip away at patriarchy; she instead places their use and control firmly in the hands of patriarchy as powerful instrumentum.
Belu’s introductory chapter states her intent to devise a feminist phenomenology of ARTs and summarizes content of succeeding chapters. Chapters 2-6 each open with a brief abstract which functions as a sort of a mini-„Heidegger 101“ for the uninitiated. Belu weaves each chapter’s argument in strong relation to stated Heideggerian terms or tenets, which she evidences have proven themselves as prescient ontological reasoning vis-a-vis ARTs proliferation. The book’s through-line leads from Belu’s attempt to solidify a binarist interpretation of Heidegger’s concept of Enframing as partial or total–which reinterpretation holds serious implications for female agents as they experience reproductive enframing via the IVF process; to an engagement of Heideggerian thought with Aristotelian concepts of physis and technê in determining the authority of IVF procedures to ignite „the spark of life“ (Belu, 61); continuing through technophilic and technophobic representations of modern-age childbirth; and culminating in Belu’s ’solution‘ (to what she perceives are complications and difficulties caused by technical childbirth) via poiésis. Belu’s compelling argument and concluding proposal in themselves embody Heidegger’s concept of safeguarding,[vii] the idea that Being (life) is granted as a gift, which we must foster and husband via Heidegger’s suggestions of meditation, waiting, and careful use of artisanal methods, rather than mindless challenging forth via quantization, endless ordering and stockpiling. ARTs processes, Belu is saying, are often hell-bent on a singular result (conception of Life) while heedlessly disregarding of the suffering of those (mothers) who are used or even abused, to obtain such result.
Belu’s Heideggerian Debt
Acknowledging Heidegger’s The Question Concerning Technology as a key resource,[viii] Belu is quick to note that Heidegger „writes virtually nothing about reproductive technology“ although from his chronological position in history he does foresee processes of „artificial breeding of human material“ (witness his 1954 essay Overcoming Metaphysics). Whether Heidegger’s comment of foresight launched this book (given current ART practices), Belu does not make clear, but the extended analogy of enframing to reproductive enframing holds sway. Throughout, Belu engages phenomenologically with select other philosophers, both of antiquity (Aristotle, and to a lesser extent, Plato) and modernity (Arendt, Feenburg, Oliver, Marcuse, Ruddick, others).
Couching „Motherless Age“ as a Useful/Critical Resource
Heidegger, Reproductive Technology and the Motherless Age is first and foremost a phenomenological critique of social (medical) practices which have in the 21st-century become institutionalized. That is to say, ARTS are now viewed as mainstream medical procedures marketed to women of all strata as viable options for live birth, rather than „luxury“ alternatives to natural sex in the service of conceiving a live human. It is still the case however, that women who enjoy economic freedom and possess excellent health insurance to pay for the still-astronomical cost of these procedures, are most often slated to benefit from the ARTS industry.[ix]
As such, this book will most likely not find a table or shelf position in the reading rooms or professional libraries of ARTS medical professionals. Such industry professionals are essentially selling a service [technological assistance] to produce a product [a live birth], in Belu’s overwhelming view. Yet some women (including the range of ARTS participant mothers) do not have a problem with this type of economic exchange, and in fact happily undergo these procedures in committed fashion, hoping for a successful outcome. A major drawback of this book is that Belu virtually ignores the scores of women and men whose lives changed toward the better via the use of ARTS technologies by granting them children–however and by whomever these children were conceived, gestated and borne. Belu sets up an overarching negative polemic of Technology (ARTS Doctor) vs. Subject (Patient) at the beginning of her argument; such polemic holds sway until the end of the book. Additionally, Belu concerns herself neither with individual case studies reflecting either positive or negative outcomes, nor with applications of ARTS to male-gendered subjects. Finally, Belu’s text is also woefully deplete of statistical input; while it does remain primarily a work of critical theory, a chart or two inserted to support her claims–particularly those regarding ARTS damages to the psyches and physical bodies of women–would not hurt. (In her defense, Belu does state that the industry itself has largely failed to undertake either national or international studies that would statistically emphasize the negative aspects of ARTS (Belu 58, fn 66)). Ultimately, Belu’s phenomenological argument holds many truths, which are corroborated by a number of current texts on this issue which are more sociological and/or statistical in nature, in particular: Reassembling Motherhood: Procreation and Care in a Globalized World, also published in 2017.
Conclusion: Interdisciplinary Dialogue/Action is Needed
In conclusion, this text reflects the state of dialogue, conversation and problem-solving among the disciplines in place to move civil society forward: that is to say, these types of interdisciplinary activities are still in their infancy. Inter- and trans-disciplinary dialogue between and among medical ARTS professionals, academic philosophers, sociologists and social workers, ethics consultants and economists to improve the conditions and levity for all those across the board who seek to conceive/bear a child could only work for the good of these persons, and ultimately, for the human race. Unwittingly, Belu’s critical stance points the way forward toward such a dialogue even as her text concludes in what technophiliacs might consider highly Ludditian fashion: with an accent on waterbirth as an alternative to technologically-ruled live births. (A water birth assumes there is something to be born, whether technology has assisted in conception/gestation or not).
As we move into an ever-increasing technologically-mediated age for nearly every human activity or thought, a return to Heidegger’s prescient phenomenological warning to humanity is seemingly warranted. This, Belu accomplishes, with deft reverence to Heideggerian principles.
Dr. Belu ethically provides a short epilogue to her main text, explaining her position on Heidegger’s Black Notebooks (as revealing of his anti-Semitism.) Belu points out, but does not de-crypt, Heidegger’s „equivocation“ (Belu, 122) regarding the ontic or ontological origins of machination. Confirming Heidegger’s conflation of machination and „World Jewry“ (via causality) as „racist and condemnable“ (Belu 122), Belu nevertheless finds that Heidegger’s expression/espousement of a political stance that is overwhelmingly viewed as reprehensible does not specifically deconstruct the actual application of the phenomenological principle of enframing to a study of ARTS as implicated in women’s reproductive processes (Italics mine).
[i] See Michael Wheeler, „Martin Heidegger“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/metaphysics/. Section 5. “Is Metaphysics Possible?”
[ii] Belu explains her quasi-titular use of the term motherless thusly: „I do mean…that in the age of reproductive enframing the figure of the mother is being replaced by various technologies and maternal figures who perform maternal work. In this new context, almost anyone can be seen to be a mother–so that no one is the mother” , 51.
[iii] Linda G. Kahn and Wendy Chavkin, „Assisted Reproductive Technologies and the Biological Bottom Line“ in Reassembling Motherhood: Procreation and Care in a Globalized World, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), Kindle version,39. The authors note the sociobiological implications of the proliferation of ARTs use from 1978-2012, during which period „five million babies had been born worldwide using IVF“. See also Belu, 25.
[iv] Belu offers an explorative footnote in this regard. See fn 14, 75.
[v] Kelly Oliver, Technologies of Life and Death: From Cloning to Capital Punishment (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013). Oliver defines mother-effect as „the result of the absence of a real mother who is therefore mythologized and romanticized as the origin and plentitude of Nature, but whose disappearance is a prerequisite for the myth itself“, 57.
[vi] The one exception to this ambivalent treatment of the female ‚resource‘ is the surrogacy market in India, whose surrogacy clinics take great pains to ensure that their ‚worker‘ mothers (gestational surrogates for wealthy individuals and couples) are „as comfortable as possible, healthy, well feed, well rested, entertained, and well paid” See Belu, 50; Bailey, 19.
[vii] See Martin Heidegger, Building, Dwelling, Thinking p. 352 in The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt (New York: Harper & Row, 1977) (http://designtheory.fiu.edu/readings/heidegger_bdt.pdf) and Michael Wheeler, „Martin Heidegger“, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Section 3.4, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heidegger/.
[viii] Belu also references, to a lesser extent, material from Heidegger’s earlier essays The Danger, The Turning and Building, Dwelling, Thinking, (as well as Being and Time) the first two of which he drew upon significantly in writing The Question Concerning Technology.
[ix] Reassessing Motherhood notes the lack of agency for women situated in disadvantaged economic strata in terms of their ability to choose ARTS procedures for their own wombs, rather than lending their own wombs to those women who can easily afford to „purchase“ their services. A double standard based on economic capability is firmly in place in which poor women are implicated as „tools“ for economically secure women. This produces a „double whammy“ for women from underdeveloped countries, who find themselves in the position of „seller“, although this phenomenon is not necessarily a Western/underdeveloped nation problem. See pp. 185, 224 and 295..
On September 15-17, 2017, the Department of Philosophy at Kent State University held the Husserl in a New Generation conference in Kent, Ohio, USA. The lead organizers were Professor Deborah Barnbaum and Associate Professor Gina Zavota, both of Kent State University. This was the second in a series of “In a New Generation” conferences hosted by Kent State University’s Department of Philosophy; the first, Sellars in a New Generation, took place in May 2015. The aim of this conference was to revisit Husserl’s most significant contributions to a wide range of philosophical subfields, highlighting both their relevance to the questions that philosophy faces today and the important role they have played in the evolution of a wide range of academic disciplines.
The conference featured two invited keynote presentations and five additional invited talks, as well as three faculty papers and seven graduate student papers selected through anonymous peer review. As a result, the conference showcased the work of both eminent and emerging Husserl scholars at all stages of their careers.
The first day of the conference consisted of a graduate workshop where six graduate students presented their research. In the morning session, Justin Reppert, from Fordham University, showed how Husserl’s multiplicity theory [Mannigfaltigkeitslehre] can offer insight into a variety of important questions in the philosophy of mathematics in “Husserlian Contributions to the Epistemology of Mathematics.” Andrew Barrette, from Southern Illinois University – Carbondale, discussed Husserl’s treatment of questioning in “The Socio-Historical Emergence and Operation of Questioning in Edmund Husserl’s Work,” in order to lay the groundwork for a larger project in which he will demonstrate that questioning is an essential moment in the history of reason. Anthony Celi, from Duquesne University, argued in “Logic and the Epoché: Questioning the Necessity and Possibility of Bracketing Logic in Husserl’s Ideas I” that Husserl’s reduction of logic in Ideas I is neither necessary for arriving at the phenomenological attitude nor even a legitimate possibility within a larger philosophical context.
In the afternoon session, Mohsen Saber, participating via Skype from the University of Tehran (Iran), explained in “Finitude and/or Infinitude? Husserl on the Teleology of Perception” that the teleological process of perception can be characterized both as finite and as infinite. Emanuela Carta, from Roma Tre University (Italy), argued that Husserl’s notion of pure essence [eidos] plays a functional role in his phenomenology and does not rule out the possibility of other types of analysis that are not eidetic. Colin Bodayle from Duquesne University closed out the day’s presentations with “Husserl on Object Collision,” in which he discussed the ways in which Husserl, Heidegger, Hume, and Graham Harman approach the question of how and whether inanimate objects can “touch” or encounter each other. Most of the main program presenters, as well as many other attendees, were in the audience during the graduate workshop, making for particularly rich and productive discussions after each of the presentations.
The main program spanned the second and third days of the conference and featured a total of eleven speakers.
Rudolf Bernet, Emeritus Professor, KU Leuven (Belgium)
“Husserl on Imagining What is Unreal, Quasi-Real, Possibly Real, and Irreal”
The second day of the Husserl in a New Generation conference began with the first keynote talk, given by Emeritus Professor Rudolf Bernet. In his talk Bernet explored the essential difference in imagination between intentional acts of pure phantasy and acts which represent an object by means of an image or a sign. The pure phantasy of an unreal or quasi-real intentional object, he argued, can be further distinguished from perceptive phantasies and from the act of remembering the real object of an actual past perception. The opposition between what is real and what is unreal in phantasy loses further significance, Bernet argued, when one moves to the consideration of how imagination relates to the objects of a possibly actual experience. Imagined unreal objects can, indeed, become real objects which lend themselves to an actual perception. However, it is because they are not taken to really exist that objects of phantasy most easily lend themselves to an eidetic variation and to an insight into the essential constituents or ‘essence’ of a certain type of object and of their intentional experience. It is through their contribution to an insight into the real and ideal conditions of possibility of different forms of intentional acts that acts of phantasy best show their potential for Husserl’s entire philosophical project. Imagination or fiction becomes, in Husserl’s own words, the “vital element of phenomenology.”
Sara Heinämaa, Professor, Academy of Finland, University of Jyväskylä (Finland)
“Variants of Bodily Subjects: Embodiment, Expression and Empathy”
In the second presentation of the morning session Professor Heinämaa explored Husserl’s distinction between two attitudes, the naturalistic and the personalistic, for the purpose of clarifying the embodied character of human beings and animals. She argued that we have to distinguish between several different senses of the lived body [Leib] in order to understand how human beings can relate to themselves and to one another. These senses are not free-floating formations but are constituted in complicated dependency relations. By explicating the relevant relations of dependency, she demonstrated that the human being (and the animal) as a psychophysical system is a dependent formation that rests on several more fundamental sense achievements, the most important of which include (i) the human being as an embodied person, (ii) the living being as another self, and (iii) the self as a bodily agent. By distinguishing these senses and studying their relations, Heinämaa argued that Husserlian phenomenology offers us powerful conceptual tools that allow us to understand the different ways in which human beings can relate to one another and to living beings more generally.
Anthony Steinbock, Professor, Southern Illinois University – Carbondale
“The Modality and Modalizations of the Absolute Ought in Husserl“
The morning session concluded with Professor Steinbock’s exploration of the distinctiveness of the modality of the absolute ought in Husserl. To make his point, he first distinguished in Husserl the ought-modality in the practical, praxical , and personal spheres. He then addressed in detail the absolute (personal) ought as the manner in which the absolute value of the person is revealed and the modality peculiar to vocation, and he examined the call as loving. The absolute ought, he explained, is a revelatory givenness that is not a ‘must,’ a ‘shall,’ or a wish. It is also a dimension of freedom and is the insistence of the call to love, which constitutes me as a person in a loving community. Furthermore, it is given temporally as urgency and as ‘for always’ from the perspective of our finite existence. Steinbock concluded by suggesting five ways in which the experience of the absolute ought is susceptible to modalization. While only hinted at by Husserl, these moralizations could be organized in such a way as to provide further insight into Husserl’s notion of the absolute ought.
H.A. Nethery IV, Assistant Professor, Florida Southern College
“Yancy, Husserl, and Racism at the Level of Passive Synthesis”
Professor Nethery’s talk, the first of the afternoon session, examined the influence of Husserlian phenomenology on the work of George Yancy. Yancy argues that the field of experience for white folks is always already racialized, and mobilized through what he calls the white gaze. Yancy often recognizes that his work is phenomenological, and, as such, Nethery suggested that it would be useful to highlight the ways in which Husserlian phenomenology influences his work. Specifically, he argued that Husserl’s theories of internal time consciousness and passive synthesis are implicit within Yancy’s concept of the white gaze. He did not argue that Yancy’s work can be reduced to Husserl’s but rather showed the importance of Husserlian phenomenology within critical race theory and the fight against anti-black racism. He began with a brief analysis of the white gaze and the racialized field of perception for white folks using Yancy’s now famous elevator example. He then turned to the structures of internal time consciousness and passive synthesis and showed how the black body is constituted within white experience as delinquent through these structures. He concluded with a reading of the elevator example through the work done in the previous section of his talk in order to “fill out,” as it were, Yancy’s own initial descriptions.
Lanei Rodemeyer, Associate Professor, Duquesne University
“Affectivity and Perceiving Other Subjects: A Phenomenological Analysis of the Essential Role of Affectivity in Basic Empathy”
In her presentation, Professor Rodemeyer argued that while contemporary discussions of empathy often address our ability to experience the emotions of others, for Husserl (and certain other phenomenologists), an important aspect of the question of empathy entails our fundamental experience of other subjects as other consciousnesses. The notion of ‘affectivity’ is understood as an important component of perception at the level of passive synthesis by Husserl, she explained, but it can also be seen as an essential component of empathy. Although empathy is not the same activity of consciousness as perception, they overlap each other in important ways, especially through the structures of apperception and association. Given these connections, as well as Husserl’s discussions of affectivity, awakening, and animation or governance in many of his analyses of empathy, she maintained that affectivity is arguably an essential component of our basic experience of empathy — even if the term is not mentioned in Husserl’s most famous analyses of intersubjectivity in Cartesian Meditations.
Ellie Anderson, Visiting Assistant Professor, Pitzer College
“Irreducible Otherness: Ethical Implications of Intersubjectivity in Husserl, Derrida, and Stein”
Professor Anderson’s talk explored Derrida’s defense of Husserl contra Levinas on the question of the relation to the other. She argued that this defense indicates a preservation of the first-person perspective in deconstruction that has largely gone unnoticed. Moreover, it suggests the ways that Husserl’s phenomenology of intersubjectivity in the Cartesian Meditations provides a basis for ethical concerns of preserving the otherness of other beings. After exploring Derrida’s affirmation of Husserl, she turned to the ethical implications for the distinction between self and other that Husserl upholds in his writings on intersubjectivity. Taking Husserl’s approach in tandem with Edith Stein’s phenomenology of empathy, she showed how it is crucial to both of these views that the distinction between self and other be preserved. From a phenomenological perspective, there is no direct experience of foreign consciousness. Moreover, the intersubjective relation is, for Husserl and Stein, fundamentally embodied and affective — a notion that obviates stale accusations that Husserl is not a philosopher of the body. As a result, Anderson claimed, both Stein’s and Husserl’s approaches to intersubjectivity remain highly relevant in light of contemporary inquiries into empathy, and Derrida’s affirmation of Husserl’s view suggests the relevance of analogical appresentation for contemporary poststructuralism and response ethics.
Donn Welton, Professor Emeritus, Stony Brook University
“The Actional Roots of Husserl’s Transcendental Theory of Perceptual Intentionality”
The final day of the Husserl in a New Generation conference began with the second keynote talk, given by Professor Emeritus Donn Welton of Stony Brook University. Welton’s presentation addressed two main issues essential to any unified theory of intentionality with transcendental ambitions. First, he asked whether Husserl’s “first” phenomenology of the structure of intentionality calls, from within itself, for a “second” on which it rests — one that nests the bodily movement essential to our experience of the world in our bodily actions in the world. Utilizing Husserl’s development of a genetic phenomenology and his account of intentionality, Welton argued that a deep transformation within Husserl’s theory of perception takes place with his “genetic” turn during the 1920s. Moving to the second issue, Welton asked whether there is a way in which the lived-body [Leib] can be transposed from a factual condition, introduced to account for shifts in point-of-view and the spatial configuration of objects, to a transcendental condition that characterizes the very being of intentional consciousness itself. In response, he outlined the expansion that takes place within the notion of the body once it is viewed as an agent of perceptual action, and not just a center of movement and orientation.
Gina Zavota, Associate Professor, Kent State University
“Escaping the Correlationist Circle: A Husserlian Approach to Meillassoux’s Ancestral Statements”
Professor Zavota began by noting that phenomenology is often characterized as a form of antirealist, idealist philosophy, with Husserl’s thought put forth as a particularly extreme example of these tendencies. In After Finitude, for example, Quentin Meillassoux identifies Husserl as an adherent of what he calls ‘correlationism,’ or the view that the world and the rational subject are mutually constitutive and cannot be known in isolation from each other. One significant problem with correlationism, according to Meillassoux, is that it offers no satisfactory way of interpreting ‘ancestral’ statements: those statements which refer to a time prior to the existence of humans and thus prior to any possible correlative relationship between being and thought. Zavota argued that Husserl does not fit Meillassoux’s definition of a correlationist, and that his thought is, at the very least, compatible with some forms of realism. Furthermore, by examining the Crisis and the unfinished text “Foundational Investigations of the Phenomenological Origin of the Spatiality of Nature: The Originary Ark, the Earth, Does Not Move,” Zavota showed that Husserlian phenomenology does, in fact, allow us to attribute meaning to ancestral statements and thus escapes what Meillassoux sees as a fatal flaw of correlationist philosophies.
Denis Džanić, University of Vienna (Austria)
“Husserl, Externalism, and Compensatory Individual Representationalism”
Denis Džanić, a graduate student from the University of Vienna, won the conference award for the best submission by a graduate student, and thus his presentation was included on the main program. After being presented with the award, Džanić gave his talk, in which he addressed the question of where Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology fits into the distinction between ‘internalism’ and ‘externalism.’ To do so, he used Tyler Burge’s critique of Husserl as presented in Origins of Objectivity. In that work, Burge reads Husserl against the backdrop of his notion of ‘Compensatory Individual Representationalism’, of which he takes Husserl to be a paradigmatic representative. Džanić stated that Burge’s analysis is emblematic of the strongly internalist reading of Husserl, which he maintained is principally uninformed and misguided. First, he argued that Husserl was not an individualist in Burge’s sense of the word, and hence not an internalist. More generally, he claimed that, while this in itself does not entail that Husserl was an externalist, his later phenomenology was founded on ontological and epistemological commitments fully compatible with a broad and systematic externalism.
Walter Hopp, Associate Professor, Boston University
“Metaphysical, Epistemic, and Transcendental Idealism”
The afternoon session of the third day began with Associate Professor Walter Hopp’s discussion of transcendental idealism and metaphysical realism. Hopp acknowledged that there are several textual and philosophical reasons to think that Husserl’s brand of transcendental idealism is incompatible with metaphysical realism about the natural world. However, he claimed, one major difficulty with this interpretation is that metaphysical anti-realism stands in tension with two other claims that enjoy significantly stronger phenomenological support. The first is that the natural world presents itself to us, in both thought and perception, as metaphysically real and largely independent, in both its existence and its nature, of our consciousness of it. Second, in accordance with Husserl’s “principle of all principles” (Ideas I, §24) this fact provides us with excellent and perhaps conclusive reasons to take the natural world to be metaphysically real. To solve this tension, Hopp suggested an interpretation of Husserl’s transcendental idealism that draws from several existing realist interpretations and that is consistent with metaphysical realism.
Chad Kidd, Assistant Professor, The City College of New York (CUNY)
“Re-examining Husserl’s Non-Conceptualism in the Logical Investigations”
In the final presentation of the conference, Assistant Professor Chad Kidd began by acknowledging the recent trend in Husserl scholarship that takes the Logical Investigations (LI) as advancing an inconsistent, self-contradictory view about content of perceptual experience. Within the confines of the same work, these commentators claim, Husserl advances both conceptualist and non-conceptualist views about perceptual content. In his talk Kidd argued that LI presents a consistent view of the content of perceptual experience, which can easily be misread as inconsistent, since it combines a conceptualist view of perceptual content (or matter) with a nonconceptualist view of perceptual acts. Furthermore, the charge of inconsistency rests on a misreading of the passages in LI (specifically, in LI VI §4) where these commentators locate the core argument for nonconceptualism about perceptual content. Kidd took Husserl to be advancing a distinction between two varieties of non-conceptualism about perception, brought to prominence in recent literature by Richard Heck’s writings about non-conceptual content. One of these varieties concerns the nature of perceptual content, the other the nature of the perceptual act. Kidd argued that after certain important changes to Heck’s formulation are made, it can serve as part of a characterization of Husserl’s view of the nature of perceptual experience that exonerates it of the charge of inconsistency.
The Husserl in a New Generation conference attracted over 100 participants and attendees from throughout the United States and Europe, and from several different academic disciplines. Many commented that the event provided a unique opportunity to learn about new directions in Husserl scholarship in a welcoming, engaged, and philosophically pluralistic environment. Attendees also spoke of the openness of the participants to discussion and the exchange of ideas, and of the spirit of true collegiality that characterized the meeting. As the organizers, we are deeply grateful to all who were involved with the Husserl in a New Generation conference, and for the opportunity to explore the landscape of contemporary Husserl scholarship.
For videos of all of the main program presentations, please visit https://www.kent.edu/philosophy/husserl.
Report by Gina Zavota and Deborah Barnbaum