Andrea Staiti: Etica Naturalistica e Fenomenologia

Etica naturalistica e fenomenologia Book Cover Etica naturalistica e fenomenologia
Percorsi
Andrea Staiti
Società editrice il Mulino
2020
Paperback
160

Reviewed by: Roberta De Monticelli (Director of the Research Centre PERSONA; San Raffaele University, Milan)

La teoria dei valori che ci manca

Dialogando con  Andrea Staiti (2020), Etica naturalistica e fenomenologia, Bologna: Il Mulino

 

  1. Tre osservazioni preliminari

La prima cosa da dire è che questo è un bellissimo libro[1]. La seconda, che era un libro necessario, e comincia a riempire una lacuna che i colpevoli ritardi dei fenomenologi, non solo italiani, e fra i più colpevoli quello di chi scrive, avevano lasciato spalancata come un grido di Munch.

Sì, perché non si tratta genericamente di filosofia morale, e neppure specificamente di etica normativa – le quali da almeno una ventina d’anni sono sotto la lente dei fenomenologi, anche se – a mio avviso – in modo ancora troppo esegetico o filologico, o non abbastanza fenomenologico.  Qui si tratta di metaetica, per l’essenziale, e in particolare di metaetica naturalistica, oggi di gran lunga la più gettonata anche fra i non specialisti (si vedano recenti dibattiti anche sul nostro www.phenomenologylab.eu).  E quindi, bene o male, di teoria dei valori: lasciata finora quasi senza interlocuzione proprio dalla fenomenologia, che quasi era nata per parlare di questo! Un vero scandalo, attenuato soltanto dalla presenza di pochi, troppo pochi e ancora troppo iniziali contributi, quasi tutti rigorosamente citati nel testo di Staiti.

Che esagerazione, penserete: la fenomenologia nata per parlare di questo! Ma sì, questa è la terza cosa da dire, prima di entrare in materia. Basta che pensiate ai valori epistemici: chiarezza, evidenza, rigore-scientificità, buona fondazione, verificabilità, conoscenza – e naturalmente avrete tutto ciò di cui anche la più tradizionale e poco immaginativa esposizione della fenomenologia – specie classica, specie poi husserliana – si preoccupa. Ma, tanto per andare più a fondo, e giustificare il mea culpa sui ritardi: penso che un’assiologia fenomenologica sia oggi il più urgente dei nostri bisogni intellettuali, un bisogno teorico ma anche culturale. Questa assiologia fenomenologica da farsi oggi salirà certamente sulle spalle dei suoi classici, ma altrettanto naturalmente dovrà pur discutere con i filosofi contemporanei – specie se condividono almeno implicitamente un impegno verso i valori epistemici, oltre che eventualmente trattarne al livello metateorico, e quindi dovrà tradurre il suo gergo in termini universalmente accessibili, come già sta facendo questo libro eccellente.

Quest’ultima considerazione era necessaria proprio per entrare in materia. Perché mette subito le carte in tavola: non si è mai tanto interessati ai libri quanto se ci si sta occupando proprio delle cose di cui parlano. Perciò questa mia discussione non sarà distaccata o neutrale: avrà sullo sfondo alcune delle tesi che mi stanno a cuore[2]. Non invasivamente spero, perché ora è delle tesi di Andrea Staiti che stiamo parlando. Ma per dare già un’idea di come voglio procedere, espliciterò subito l’essenziale della mia lettura. L’approccio di Andrea Staiti alla metaetica dà tutto quello che si poteva dare sfruttando il versante noetico dell’analisi fenomenologica – fuori dal gergo, il versante della riflessione sugli atti e i vissuti del soggetto, quelli che in terminologia più standard, e pur con una perdita di un dettaglio di informazione, si chiamerebbero stati intenzionali. Ma, come perdiamo contenuti rilevanti di analisi se riflettiamo sul vedere e il guardare senza tener conto delle caratteristiche proprie dei contenuti del visibile, così accade o può accadere se descriviamo i modi della cognizione assiologica – del valutare ad esempio – indipendentemente dai loro oggetti, o meglio dalla “materia” di questi oggetti, i valori: specifici oggetti di un’assiologia “materiale”, che la sua materia desume dal versante noematico dell’analisi, cioè dall’indagine sulla natura dei valori – ovviamente in quanto dati al loro specifico modo d’esperienza.

Procederò quindi affiancando questioni di assiologia materiale – o noematica, o a parte objecti – all’esposizione di alcuni fra i problemi e le soluzioni che Staiti propone, con una importante eccezione nel cap. III, a partire dalle risorse della fenomenologia noetica o a parte subjecti. Solo alla fine di questa disamina potremo capire se la prospettiva noematica è solo complementare rispetto a quella noetica caratteristica di questo libro, o è anche in qualche senso più fondamentale proprio da un punto di vista fenomenologico, ossia quanto alle fonti di evidenza, o riempimento intuitivo, dei principi di un’assiologia fenomenologica. Né nell’una né nell’altra ipotesi il valore della ricerca portata a termine in questo libro ne risulterà minimamente diminuito.

  1. Uno sguardo d’insieme

Cominciamo da uno sguardo sulla strategia generale del libro. Staiti sceglie di non disperdere la nostra attenzione nell’elenco sistematico delle posizioni possibili riguardo a alla questione fondamentale della metaetica, che riguarda l’esistenza e la natura delle proprietà assiologiche, e specificamente morali, posizioni che si dispongono intorno a quello che a partire da Moore (1903, 1964), ma in effetti già da Hume, appare un dilemma: se le proprietà assiologiche sono proprietà reali, che qualificano e modificano la realtà di questo mondo, sembrano perdere la normatività che pure le distingue, nel senso che dettagliano il mondo com’è, e non come dovrebbe essere; ma se vogliamo preservare questa distintiva normatività, dove le metteremo, per così dire, se non in un altro mondo, un mondo di modelli ideali, molto simile alle idee platoniche? In metaetica il “naturalismo” si origina qui, come rigetto più o meno argomentato del dualismo platonico che il secondo corno del dilemma comporta.

Staiti invece ci introduce subito in medias res, attraverso un’agile esposizione delle forme che prende il naturalismo metaetico, e del modo in cui la fenomenologia (come stile e metodo di pensiero filosofico che ha radice nei suoi classici)  si posiziona utilmente nel dibattito, proprio a partire dall’esigenza che in questo dibattito si fa sentire di rendere conto della fenomenologia del discorso morale (p. 21): cosa intendiamo dire quando diciamo che un’azione è sbagliata? Questa prima mossa permette di lasciare da parte, per così dire, quelle posizioni che risultano prima facie irrilevanti al senso e ai riferimenti, quindi alle condizioni di verità, del discorso morale, e fra questi ci sono già alcune delle più classiche e ricorrenti posizioni: quelle del cosiddetto non-cognitivismo, emotivismo ed espressivismo, che da Hume a Ayer a Blackburn e Gibbard  riducono le proprietà assiologiche a stati dei soggetti, in particolare stati emotivi, e i loro giudizi a espressioni di questi stati, e quelle dei fisicalisti che affrontano la questione delle proprietà assiologiche solo per denunciare l’illusorietà dei discorsi morali, riferiti a entità che non esistono – nell’ipotesi che esistano soltanto le entità riconosciute dalla fisica o a queste riducibili. La fenomenologia del discorso morale induce quindi anzitutto a specificare il senso in cui si può essere “naturalisti” in etica: sia accettando la distinzione fra naturalismo scientifico e naturalismo “liberalizzato” (De Caro 2013), che si riduce al requisito assai modesto di non ammettere entità che violino apertamente le leggi naturali (come gli interventi “divini”, in una forma piuttosto rude di teologia miracolistica o magica), sia accettando una parte dell’argomento mooriano secondo cui le proprietà assiologiche sono indefinibili nei termini di quelle naturali (Cuneo 2007, Crisp 2011).

Il cap. I ha così istruito la questione che occuperà, sotto prospettive complementari, gli altri tre capitoli: come render conto del rapporto fra proprietà naturali e proprietà assiologiche, in modo da rendere ragione, da una parte, all’esigenza del naturalismo (liberalizzato) che valutazioni e giudizi portino su fatti di questo mondo e non di un altro, e d’altra parte, al requisito di apriorità che la stessa “fenomenologia del discorso morale” ci presenta come inaggirabile? Perché se affermiamo che la tortura è inammissibile, noi riteniamo che la verità di questa tesi non dipenda certo dall’induzione empirica, che al contrario ci mostra la tortura praticata e impunita in molti luoghi della terra. Staiti intende mostrare che la fenomenologia (questa volta nel senso dello stile di pensiero e del metodo filosofico che portano questo nome) ha risorse per suggerire risposte illuminanti a questa questione, rispettivamente: dal punto di vista epistemologico (Cap. II), dove si mette a fuoco la nozione di intuizione morale in un utile confronto con Robert Audi; dal punto di vista ontologico (Cap. III), dove la relazione di sopravvenienza delle proprietà assiologiche su quelle naturali, tirata in direzioni diverse da naturalisti e anti-naturalisti per sottolineare rispettivamente la riducibilità e l’irriducibilità delle prime alle seconde, viene ad essere inclusa come caso particolare di Fundierung, o vincolo di (co)variazione fra parti dipendenti di un intero. Un bel risultato, perché la teoria husserliana degli interi e delle parti (III Ricerca Logica) è l’ossatura ontologico-formale di tutta la fenomenologia, e la misura della sua generalità e insieme della sua precisione analitica in quanto, potremmo dire (ma il termine non è di Staiti), teoria delle varietà apparenti, cioè di ogni possibile scenario concreto.   Infine, armato di questa doppia strumentazione epistemologica e ontologica, Staiti offre nel IV e ultimo capitolo una lettura squisitamente noetica del famoso Open Question Argument (OQA) di Moore, ovvero della ragione ultima per resistere alla naturalizzazione delle proprietà assiologiche. Riassumo informalmente: non è affatto l’idealità, cioè in definitiva il contenuto normativo della proprietà assiologica, a sfuggire alla sua definizione in termini di proprietà naturali, che lasciano sempre aperta la domanda decisiva (supponiamo che il bene sia il piacevole: ora questo caso di piacevolezza è anche cosa buona?). No: ma è, in definitiva, la sua vuotezza! E’ il fatto che ogni, come oggi diremmo, impegno assiologico (x è generoso, coraggioso, temperante) deve ancora ottenere un “riempimento intuitivo” adeguato, esemplare (“questa è quella che chiamiamo un’azione generosa!” – “questo è quello che chiamiamo un buon coltello!”) perché la proposizione assiologica in questione abbia anche solo la possibilità di essere vera. In altri termini, l’OQA misura semplicemente la differenza fra l’atto di comprensione “vuota” della qualità intesa, e l’atto (potremmo dire: l’incontro) che offre, in tutta la sua ricchezza descrittiva e tipizzabile, la cosa stessa come era intesa ancora non intuitivamente, non data in carne ed ossa, nella posizione assiologica.

  1. Analisi di temi per capitoli. A partire dalla conclusione, Capitolo IV

Cominciamo dalla fine, ma solo per dare la direzione della riflessione e poi affrontare nel merito una minuscola scelta degli argomenti di questo libro breve ma molto denso. Possiamo notare due cose: da un lato la sorprendente generalità della conclusione, che in definitiva sembra risultare valida per qualunque tipo di proposizione, ad esempio botanica o geometrica (pensate ai solidi platonici, e alla differenza fra saperne le definizioni e visualizzarli) o di teoria musicale o di tecnica alpinistica.  Ma questa generalità si ottiene al prezzo di dismettere come irrilevante l’angoscia quasi “munchiana” della Domanda Aperta di Moore, più formalmente quell’eccedenza dell’ideale sul reale – quel possibile sguardo su altri mondi che l’ideale, l’utopico, comportano;  insomma, quella loro possibile, caratteristica opposizione che i filosofi hanno sempre a loro modo concettualizzato, a partire dalla classica teoria di Platone del bene “al di là dell’essere”, epekeinas tes ousias. Quell’opposizione che ha in effetti del paradossale, perché è proprio l’esperienza di situazioni in cui non c’è giustizia, o in cui c’è positiva ingiustizia, che ci fa “vedere” cosa sia giustizia. C’è un sapore specifico dell’assiologico che si perde in questa conclusione.

  1. Sopravvenienza o fondazione. Capitolo III

Ma dall’altro lato possiamo apprezzare la coerenza e linearità dell’intero discorso, che riesce a sdrammatizzare l’opposizione fra due realismi, quello naturalistico e quello metafisico e dualistico dei non-naturalisti (Shafer Landau (2006), Enoch (2011), ma prima di loro Tommaso d’Aquino e il giusnaturalismo classico) “stemperandolo” prima nell’appello fenomenologico all’esperienza (Cap. II), che ci riporta a un confronto serrato proprio fra teorie della percezione (della natura dell’atto percettivo); e poi riassorbendo, per così dire, nella teoria degli atti perfino il problema della relazione fra proprietà reali o fattuali e proprietà assiologiche (Cap. III). Questo problema infatti, che i filosofi analitici nostri interlocutori risolvono in termini di sopravvenienza, viene affrontato da Staiti a partire dal “versante ‘soggettivo’ che ci è ormai familiare” (p. 100). In realtà, suggerisce Staiti, il mistero della sopravvenienza, o se preferite il dilemma della metaetica, si risolve a partire dalla teoria husserliana, tutta noetica, della fondazione degli atti non oggettivanti (emotivi e volitivi) sugli atti oggettivanti (percezioni e giudizi). E così anche la fondazione o non indipendenza, anzi proprio la fondazione unitaria o non indipendenza di ciascuna delle parti relativamente alle parti stesse e all’intero, questo potentissimo strumento analitico capace di descrivere con precisione estrema, come scrive Husserl, “ciò che tiene insieme tutte le cose […] i rapporti di fondazione”[3] (il dono dei vincoli, per così dire) – si riconduce a quel caso particolare che sarebbe la fondazione degli atti non oggettivanti sui quelli oggettivanti. Ma questo caso particolare, che governa la vita della coscienza, mi chiedo, è veramente più fondamentale delle fondazioni che scopriamo nelle cose stesse, nei fatti e nel loro rapporto coi valori? Non sarà anche qui, come dovunque in fenomenologia, la natura delle cose stesse a prescrivere il tipo di cognizione che le cose richiedono, e quindi a decidere anche della correttezza delle riflessioni noetiche? E perché mai, se no, aprire un capitolo nuovo e straordinario dell’ontologia formale fenomenologica, la teoria della varietà apparenti ovvero la mereologia (io la chiamo piuttosto olologia) husserliana? Intendiamoci, e Staiti lo sa bene, la teoria della ragione, cioè dei nessi motivazionali che legano gli atti, fa della fenomenologia della coscienza husserliana una teoria dell’esperienza sotto la “giurisdizione della ragione”, appunto, e non una semplice psicologia. Ma appunto: se questa teoria della ragione fosse sufficiente a descrivere con fedeltà lo specifico tipo di richieste poste ai soggetti dalla natura delle cose stesse (in quanto oggetti DATI nei modi in cui lo SONO, ovviamente), che bisogno ci sarebbe di una teoria della realtà oltre la teoria della ragione e prima di essa, di un’ontologia fenomenologica, formale e materiale o regionale? Quale sarebbe il senso di quel principio di priorità del dato sul costruito che è il motto stesso della fenomenologia, “alle cose stesse”?

Qui però la mia domanda è molto più specifica. L’assiologia non è una regione ontologica materiale a parte, e non potrebbe proprio! La circostanza che il valore né si riduce al fatto né sta in altri mondi che quello dei fatti, l’eccedenza e l’opposizione fra ideale e reale, stanno lì ad impedirlo: sono l’osso duro che resta inalterato e che nutre ancora il dilemma della sopravvenienza normativa (altrimenti ci potremmo comprare un qualunque neoplatonismo che riduce l’esse al bonum, o un qualunque spinozismo che riduce il bonum all’esse: gli errori “continentali” più frequenti).  L’osso duro che, io ne convengo pienamente, il fenomenologo proverà a sciogliere in termini “olologici” (io credo, e ho provato a mostrarlo altrove in diversi casi specifici[4], che i valori siano in definitiva qualità globali del secondo ordine, intuitivamente vincoli di variazioni di strutture (“essenze”) di concreta, strutture o essenze che sono a loro volta vincoli di variazione di contenuti dati). E tuttavia, la stessa assiologia formale – perché ad essa appartiene evidentemente la tesi sulla natura dei valori, che dovrebbe esserne la proposizione fondamentale – in tanto ha ragione di esistere, in quanto, appunto, formalizzazione di un’assiologia materiale. Ma la vera  questione è: cosa riusciamo a illuminare dell’esperienza dei valori, degli oggetti stessi o materie di questa esperienza, e soprattutto del pensiero che se ne nutre (dopotutto, il pensiero assiologico sta alla base delle strutture normative che sorreggono le civiltà umane) a partire soltanto dalle strutture formali della coscienza emotiva e volitiva? Forse non è un caso che la questione degli atti oggettivanti/non oggettivanti sia rimasta tanto più oscura di molte altre dottrine di Husserl, anche se Staiti offre un notevole contributo a dirimerla.

  1. Modi della presenza in carne ed ossa. Capitolo II

Questa considerazione, che come dicevamo riguarda il cap. III, mi permette di risalire al II con la domanda che ne è la prosecuzione. Siamo sicuri di poter rispondere adeguatamente alla teoria di Robert Audi della percezione morale, prima di aver presente l’intenzionalità specifica caratteristica degli atti di Wertnehmen, ovvero del sentire assiologico? E si può descrivere questa intenzionalità specifica senza indagare, da un lato, lo specifico oggetto intenzionale che questo sentire presenta, i beni e i mali, le cose stesse (oggetti fatti eventi situazioni etc. ) assiologicamente cariche; e dall’altro lato, però, la specifica posizionalità degli atti corrispondenti, la posizionalità assiologica? Questione tanto più cruciale in quanto il concetto di posizionalità gioca un ruolo decisivo nella conclusione di questo libro, cioè nella rilettura fenomenologica dell’intuizionismo di Moore, conclusione che io ho riassunto sopra (§2) in termini molto informali, precisamente perché non eravamo ancora entrati nel vivo della questione di cosa la posizionalità assiologica sia.

Mi spiego. Quello che colpisce nei testi di Audi è la completa assenza di contenuto, non-concettuale o concettuale, della qualità “morale” del percetto. Secondo Audi (2015) si può, letteralmente, “vedere l’ingiustizia” compiuta da qualcuno, nel senso che si vede l’oggetto o il fatto o l’evento con tutte le sue proprietà reali, fattuali:  in virtù delle quali il fatto costituisce un’ingiustizia, ad esempio un omicidio. Proprio come nel famoso esempio di Hume (1739)[5]: esaminate bene il fatto in questione, vi troverete la dinamica dell’azione, la forza e la direzione del movimento, i motivi e le passioni, ma non vi troverete alcuna proprietà o relazione corrispondente alla sua ingiustizia. Che differenza c’è allora fra Audi e Hume? Piuttosto dottrinale, direi: di dottrina che non modifica essenzialmente la visione, solo la reinterpreta. L’omicidio in questione un effetto me lo fa: un’impressione di unfittingness. Perché questo non è soltanto, come voleva Hume, uno stato soggettivo (eventualmente, intersoggettivo, una risposta socialmente appresa), privo di portata cognitiva sul mondo? Per la maggior complicazione della teoria della percezione di Audi, che prevede almeno tre componenti fra loro connesse: una componente “fenomenologica” (“l’effetto che fa”), una componente rappresentativa (la mappa mentale che corrisponde, ad esempio in termini di colori, forme, movimenti, all’evento fisico), e una componente causale (l’evento in questione che impatta sul sistema percettivo). A queste si aggiunge una ulteriore componente che è esperienziale o “fenomenologica” (quale, effetto-che-fa) ma non rappresentativa, ed ecco la nostra unfittingness. Ma questa aggiunta non basterebbe a rendere magicamente oggettiva e non soltanto soggettiva l’impressione, se non venisse in soccorso l’ausilio ontologico della sopravvenienza, per cui l’ingiustizia è “fondata” (grounded) o, in una versione precedente (Audi 1997) “ancorata” nelle proprietà reali dell’omicidio, e quindi infine inerisce al percetto – sia pure come uno stigma negativo, una bandiera non-verbale che dice “così non va”. Per rendersi conto dell’assenza di contenuto descrittivo, di “materia” della “percezione morale” di Audi, si può immaginare un caso di eutanasia che abbia le identiche qualità visibili di un accorto assassinio, e chiedersi come farebbe un’impressione assiologica tutta diversa ad “ancorarsi” in una scena percettiva identica. Eppure, del tutto a prescindere dal giudizio morale che l’osservatore finirà per darne, una qualità assiologica tutta diversa permea l’azione (diciamo ad esempio la pietà tragica che permea i gesti accorti dell’agente).  Generalizzando, si può parlare con Audi di “intuizione morale” quando l’impressione morale riguarda non questo fatto particolare ma, poniamo, l’omicidio in generale, che è sbagliato. Ma queste intuizioni appaiono altrettanto vuote di materia assiologica – altrettanto thin. Prive di componente assiologica descrittiva, ridotte alla componente formale normativa (giusto, sbagliato).

Ma a questa, in fondo assai mooriana, assenza di contenuto descrittivo delle proprietà assiologiche, Staiti ha qualcosa da obiettare, da fenomenologo? Posso sbagliarmi: ma mi pare di no. Qui la sua linea di difesa  “noetica” – che insiste su quale sia l’atto piuttosto che sulla sua materia – rischia, per aver troppo concesso a Robert Audi, di farci smarrire per via gli atti rilevanti: che non sono quelli della percezione sensoriale, ma sono quelli del sentire e degli approfondimenti riflessivi delle ricchissime qualità assiologiche delle cose (e delle relazioni fra qualità assiologiche), in tutto il loro spessore. La grazia di questo gesto, la gentilezza di questa persona, la crudeltà di questa azione, il nesso eidetico fra brutalità e violenza, ma non fra crudeltà e violenza. Se non la fraintendo, la strategia critica di Staiti è la seguente: 1. Contrapporre alla teoria della percezione di Audi quella fenomenologica (cioè una teoria non rappresentazionalista ma diretta, secondo cui percezione è presenza diretta dell’oggetto nel come, fallibile e sempre inadeguato o prospettico, del suo darsi); 2. Contrapporre alla teoria dell’intuizione morale di Audi quella fenomenologica dell’intuizione come riempimento di un’intenzione, fuor del gergo come verifica in modalità di presenza “in carne ed ossa” dell’oggetto di un giudizio (non necessariamente verbale o concettualmente articolato), cioè del positum di una posizione dossica.

  1. La questione della posizionalità

Ed eccoci alla famosa posizionalità. Io credo che poche nozioni siano importanti come questa in fenomenologia, perché è precisamente in sua assenza che la nozione non fenomenologica di intenzionalità si riduce a quella di aboutness. Uno stato mentale è intenzionale se è riferito a un oggetto. Punto. Ma se i fenomenologi preferiscono parlare di atti piuttosto che di stati, è precisamente perché “tutta la vita è prendere posizione”[6] : ogni stato intenzionale è un atto personale in quanto include una posizione, attraverso la quale soltanto rispondiamo al mondo, e rispondiamo sempre più o meno correttamente e adeguatamente a seconda che le posizioni siano corrette o no. Che siano dossiche (o di esistenza), come nelle esperienze e nei giudizi di fatto; che siano assiologiche (o di valenza), come nelle esperienze e nei giudizi di valore; che siano pratiche (o di endorsement), come nelle decisioni e nelle azioni. Che poi le posizioni e le loro modificazioni siano corrette o scorrette (e questa possibilità le pone tutte sotto la “giurisdizione della ragione”) dipende precisamente dalle cose stesse, che in tutte le loro dimensioni (di realtà, di valore, di praticabilità) sono fonti infinite di informazione, forniscono cioè contenuti o “materie” di indefinita ricchezza e “spessore”, mai esaurientemente note, sempre di nuovo da indagare. Ma se invece dovessimo ammettere, come Staiti suggerisce (pp. 87-89), che gli atti emotivi e quelli volitivi non hanno posizionalità propria, ma la loro “qualifica posizionale” è tratta da altri atti (i famosi atti “oggettivanti”), come potremmo, da fenomenologi, argomentare contro lo scetticismo non solo logico, ma anche assiologico e pratico? (E non c’è dubbio che fin dall’inizio della sua vita filosofica lo stesso Husserl abbia soprattutto avuto a cuore la questione dello scetticismo in tutte le sue forme, del confronto continuo con se stesso in cui essa pone il filosofo, e del modo in cui rispondervi sempre di nuovo). Come potremmo, dicevo, anche soltanto porre la questione della validità delle valutazioni e delle decisioni? Come potremmo cioè mostrare, non certo se una data valutazione è valida o no, che non spetta al filosofo, ma dove occorre continuare a “guardare”, come approfondire la cognizione e proseguire l’esperienza della cosa stessa, per vedere se lo è, infine, o no? Come può esserci una indefinita possibilità di approfondimento e ricerca anche nei campi d’esperienza assiologica (e pratica), se non ci sono posizioni originalmente assiologiche e pratiche, o almeno se anche i valori corrispondenti non sono dati “in carne e ossa”?

Io credo che sia questa la questione cruciale, dove un umanismo fenomenologico si distingue da uno semplicemente kantiano, oltre che, certamente, da un “naturalismo”, sia pure liberalizzato e quindi pericolosamente tendente a un grado zero di informazione, ontologica ed epistemologica (dato che esclude soltanto, come la filosofia ha sempre fatto dai tempi di Socrate, entità e fonti di conoscenza “soprannaturali”).

La questione è relativamente indipendente da quella del rapporto di fondazione fra atti, sulla quale ritorneremo. Possiamo riformularla così: da fenomenologi, possiamo essere “realisti” in materia di giudizi di valore come lo siamo in materia di giudizi di fatto? Intendo qui per “realismo” la tesi che la veridicità di un’esperienza e la verità di una proposizione non dipendono da norme in ultima analisi poste o costruite, ma da vincoli dati : dati tuttavia inesauribilmente, e in qualche modo anche imprevedibilmente, passibili di essere “scoperti” attraverso sempre nuova esperienza (e ricerca), nonostante la loro apriorità, eideticità, essenzialità (come ci sono e sempre ci saranno scoperte matematiche). L’apriorità dei vincoli eidetici non si oppone alla loro reperibilità “sperimentale” (semplicemente, non è per induzione empirica che li troviamo, come del resto non troviamo così le leggi gestaltiche dei percetti): e su questo non credo ci sia disaccordo rispetto a Staiti. Dove potrebbe esserci, invece, è proprio sulla metaetica, cioè in definitiva sulla risposta fenomenologica alla questione di che cosa sia l’etica, che naturalmente ha come sotto-questione quella sulla natura dei valori specificamente morali. Ma siccome l’etica è una disciplina dell’assiologia, il disaccordo riguarderebbe in definitiva quest’ultima. La questione sarebbe allora: ma c’è veramente posto, in questa garbata conciliazione di etica naturalistica (liberalizzata) e fenomenologia, per una adeguata descrizione  dell’esperienza quotidiana che noi facciamo di tutti i beni e i mali di ogni tipo e rango in cui siamo immersi, per una tematizzazione dei modi specifici della cognizione assiologica? (Un insieme di direzioni di ricerca che riguarda praticamente tutte le professioni, da quelle che riguardano la salute, l’abitazione, il benessere, a quelle che si prendono cura del funzionamento economico e civile delle società, a quelle che riguardano la sua struttura normativa politica, fino  alle professioni artistiche e scientifiche, e per chi vi si interessa, a quelle in vari modi intente ai valori del divino).

Mi sono lasciata prendere la mano. Non c’è peggior errore che quello di accusare un libro di non parlare di quello di cui non voleva parlare. E quindi, torno indietro. Questa apertura sugli orizzonti dell’assiologia materiale però non la cancello, perché offre a tutti e non soltanto agli specialisti di qualche testo sacro lo sfondo sul quale si staglia la mia tesi che l’etica presuppone essenzialmente l’assiologia materiale, e questa tesi è invece, mi pare, pertinente alla discussione di questo libro.

Concludiamo allora sulla questione della posizionalità e degli atti oggettivanti, prima di tentare una conclusione, per parte mia, di questa lettura e di questa discussione delle tesi di Andrea Staiti. La questione che sopra ho definito cruciale riguarda la conoscenza morale, specificamente. E’ la questione se l’esperienza morale che ne è alla base sia passibile di essere, da un lato, concettualizzata sempre meglio (con sempre maggiore precisione e finezza) e dall’altro sempre ulteriormente approfondita, in modo che la verifica e la correzione delle nostre posizioni possa far crescere, qui come in ogni altro campo, la conoscenza. Se ora, per scrupolo secondario (perché è la cosa stessa che conta, non i testi) apriamo il testo husserliano che Staiti cita più frequentemente dopo le Ricerche logiche, cioè le Lezioni di etica e teoria dei valori del 1908-14[7], andiamo a vedere che cosa si dice sulla questione della conoscenza morale, ci troviamo, senza stupore, che il solo “primato” della ragione logica[8] è nella circostanza che i contenuti assiologici e quelli pratici devono pur accedere al pensiero proposizionale (e dunque al linguaggio) per poter essere sottoposti al vaglio critico e alla verifica cognitiva, vale a dire per poter acquisire condizioni di verità[9]. E quindi, non è un caso che Husserl parli di “predicati logici” e non di “proprietà naturali”, come Staiti stesso ci fa notare (p. 91): per quanto ne sappiamo, infatti, qualunque questione, sia essa fattuale, assiologica o pratica, riceve condizioni di verità solo quando è articolata in una proposizione, e in questo senso, che non ha nulla a che fare con la questione della sopravvenienza normativa, non c’è dubbio che c’è un primato della “ragione logica”, vale a dire delle “posizioni dossiche”, necessarie a formulare tesi assiologiche (“Non c’è giustizia senza libertà”), e anche a mettere in questione la verità di giudizi di valore particolari (“Non è vero che Gianni è generoso”). In effetti è altrettanto evidente che il primato passa alle posizioni assiologiche e alla ragione pratica se ci chiediamo a cosa serva la logica (a ragionare bene, cioè con inferenze valide e sane) o perché mai dovremmo preferire la conoscenza del vero all’errore o all’ignoranza, o preferire un bene epistemico come una tesi ben fondata a un male epistemico come un’asserzione confusa e arbitraria: tanto è vero che nelle più mature lezioni di Introduzione all’etica del 1920-24[10] Husserl preferisce parlare dell’”intreccio” fra ragione logica e pratica.

  1. Essenze e sopravvenienze

Una piccola ma acuta conseguenza questa dissociazione del problema dell’accesso delle “materie” di qualunque atto al pensiero proposizionale e alla questione della verità dalla questione della relazione fra fatti e valori, o fra proprietà “reali” e proprietà assiologiche c’è: e riguarda precisamente quest’ultima questione. Staiti cita un testo dall’ultimo volume della Husserliana[11]:

“Un oggetto è ‘ciò che è’ anzitutto indipendentemente dall’esser  bello, buono ecc. Il predicato di valore presuppone un oggetto, un oggetto completo. (….) Un oggetto ha la sua natura e ha valore soltanto attraverso questa natura”.

Ebbene: veramente possiamo intendere questa tesi nel senso di una distinzione fra le proprietà “subvenienti” (non assiologiche) e  “sopravvenienti” (assiologiche)? Si noti: le prime corrisponderebbero alle proprietà “naturali” della metaetica, salvo godere (a differenza di queste) di un criterio per essere individuate come subvenienti, vale a dire che se immaginiamo di sopprimerle (o di variarle oltre certi limiti), viene soppressa l’unità oggettuale delle cose, “prive di valore ma pur sempre unitarie e perduranti secondo la loro essenza propria” (p. 91).

In effetti questo “criterio” ci dice con precisione che cos’è l’essenza di una cosa, il vincolo di covarianza violando il quale la cosa perde la sua identità specifica, cessa di essere una cosa di quel tipo: negli esempi offerti, la Nona Sinfonia di Beethoven cessa di essere l’oggetto che è se facciamo astrazione da proprietà temporali quali la durata, o il Davide di Donatello se facciamo astrazione dalle sue proprietà spaziali. Ma dovremmo davvero credere che perveniamo all’unità oggettuale della cosa soltanto se passiamo “dall’atteggiamento valutativo che caratterizza la vita quotidiana a un atteggiamento puramente teoretico e naturalistico (….), cioè l’atteggiamento delle scienze naturali, in cui si fa astrazione proprio dai predicati assiologici delle cose” (p. 91)? Se Staiti applicasse veramente il suo ottimo criterio, la risposta sarebbe certamente: no! La Nona Sinfonia cesserebbe di essere una sinfonia ben prima di cessare d’essere un oggetto temporalmente esteso (tale sarebbe anche lo sferragliare di un tram), appena si violassero vincoli ben più stringenti, come sono addirittura una struttura armonica, con tutte le relazioni tonali presupposte, uno svolgimento tematico, relazioni timbriche eccetera. Cesserebbe poi di essere la Nona di Beethoven anche solo toccando quella struttura armonica etc. (Cioè, come direbbe Husserl, variando anche una soltanto delle singolarità eidetiche che la caratterizzano come l’essenza individuale che è, anche prima di qualunque sua esecuzione o token concreto). E lo stesso avverrebbe con i gialli di Van Gogh o le morbidezze plastiche di Donatello.

Già qui risulta arduo individuare proprietà subvenienti separabili dalle qualità che all’intero (poniamo, a un movimento, a un tema, a un dipinto) sono conferite dalle posizioni tonali reciproche  delle parti (o dai contrasti cromatici degli elementi). Ma attenzione: questo vuol dire che queste qualità sono semplicemente parte dell’essenza. Dell’essenza specifica di una sinfonia e dell’essenza individuale della nona sinfonia. Sono i contenuti della sua concreta unità oggettuale, ne fanno la cosa che è.   Ora, queste qualità sono proprietà assiologiche. Dunque non è vero che l’unità oggettuale si preserva astraendo dalle proprietà assiologiche. Non è vero sul piano ontologico[12]. E non è vero su quello fenomenologico, o noematico e noetico: proprio non potrei distinguere una sinfonia dallo sferragliare di un tram se non udissi e sentissi, col flusso di suoni, il senso musicale che la composizione gli presta.

D’altra parte, il testo dell’ultimo volume della Husserliana citato sopra lo conferma (come fanno innumerevoli altri): “Un oggetto ha la sua natura e ha valore soltanto attraverso questa natura”. “Attraverso” qui è proprio la preposizione adatta a evocare la fondazione unitaria. Staiti, lo abbiamo visto nell’analisi del Cap. III, legge la fondazione unitaria come una specificazione della sopravvenienza. Ma se non giochiamo con le parole, non può allora al contempo comprare il tipo di taglio fra fatti e valori che la relazione, forte o debole, di sopravvenienza presuppone: per due ragioni.

La prima ragione è che questa relazione presuppone che le proprietà assiologiche non hanno materia o contenuto indagabile all’infinito, ma sono soltanto normative: tutto il “descrittivo” fa parte delle “proprietà naturali”. Staiti “compra” questa tesi (p. 113)[13], che in effetti fa parte dell’eredità mooriana dell’intera metaetica, nonostante i tentativi di metterla in questione, quali furono quelli di Iris Murdoch e di pochi altri. Se non fraintendo il suo testo, riportato in nota, finisce per condividere con Bernard Williams proprio l’idea che un concetto thick può essere analizzato in due componenti: quella “descrittiva”, che in effetti si riduce a un sottoinsieme di proprietà reali o naturali (quelle in virtù delle quali un’azione è crudele) e quella normativa, che aggiunge appunto un semplice operatore deontico, un “non dovrebbe”, o se vogliamo, una valutazione. E con questa osservazione ci avviamo alla sezione conclusiva di questa lettura, cioè all’esposizione della mia domanda fondamentale: si può far luce sull’esperienza assiologica senza respingere con decisione questa tesi, e senza accogliere la thickness, la ricchezza di contenuto o materia descrivibile in proposizioni vere (o false), come costitutiva di tutte le qualità di valore? Si può in fenomenologia proporre una metaetica senza basarsi su un’assiologia materiale?

La seconda ragione per respingere il tipo di dicotomia fra fatti e valori che la relazione di sopravvenienza, forte o debole, presuppone, è che l’unità oggettuale di ciascun bene è data precisamente dal tipo di valore che definisce quel tipo di bene. La stessa fondazione unitaria è assiologica, appare nel fenomeno come l’unità ideale dei suoi contenuti,  fra i quali ci sono certamente qualità assiologiche “subvenienti”, ogni volta che la cosa appartiene alla classe dei beni. Dei quali, come ben sappiamo, è popolato il mondo della vita, il mondo dell’atteggiamento naturale. Dove ci sono beni utili, che sono la gran maggioranza degli artefatti: come potremmo mai descrivere l’unità oggettuale di una sedia prescindendo dalla sua funzione, che è quella cui risponde la sua forma, che ne fa una cosa in un senso assai preciso utile? Certo, una sedia è una sedia prima di essere bella o brutta: ma questo è perché l’unità oggettuale che la costituisce sedia è la sua funzione o utilità, dopodiché potrà essere più o meno bella senza che il suo valore costitutivo ne sia affetto. Questo è ciò che succede ogni volta che ci troviamo di fronte a un bene. Un bene non è affatto semplicemente un oggetto naturale, che contingentemente riceve o acquista un valore. L’unità cosale di un bene è costituita dal valore o dal campo di valori che nel bene, parzialmente e più o meno perfettamente, si realizza. Nel mondo della vita ci sono ogni sorta di beni d’uso, beni artistici, beni (semplicemente) estetici come i paesaggi, beni come le istituzioni, eccetera[14].

Per concludere davvero su questo disaccordo parziale, va detta un’ultima cosa: includere componenti assiologiche nelle essenze non vuol dire affatto rinunciare alla distinzione fatti/valori, che ha certamente una sua legittimità di principio (p.92) – e su questo concordo pienamente. Vuol dire che la sua “origine fenomenologica” (p. 92) non è quella individuata da Staiti, e che in ultima analisi rinvierebbe alla distinzione fra atti oggettivanti e non oggettivanti. La sua origine fenomenologica è, io credo, l’opposizione fra l’ideale e il reale, quella – in un certo senso – che ci richiama l’angoscia del grido di Munch: e non ha veramente più a che fare né col naturalismo scientifico né col dualismo, né forse con un loro liberale incontro a metà strada. Perché, lungi dall’espungere la normatività dallo IS, il fenomenologo vi ingloba ogni sorta di OUGHT. Mi sia permessa, per rapidità, un’autocitazione:

“Le essenze o idee, dicevamo,  sono sempre portatrici di un elemento normativo. Poiché essere dato è essere strutturato, ecco la profusione di essenze, invarianti “eidetiche” che contraddistingue il mondo della vita secondo i fenomenologi, e anche implicite direttive di tutto il nostro percepire, sentire e fare. La sua infinita ricchezza racchiude ovunque ordine, significato, struttura, norme. Questo pensiero attraversa l’opera di Husserl dalle Ricerche logiche alla Crisi delle scienze europee.”[15]

Così, un cane a tre zampe non è un buon esemplare della sua specie, e un coltello che non taglia neppure, come non è un buon guerriero un guerriero che non sia coraggioso, o un buon palo della banda uno che, come nella canzone di Jannacci, non ci vede un accidente. La salute ha la sua norma vitale, fondata in biologia, e uno Stato che non sia in grado di assicurare ai suoi cittadini almeno la pace civile ha perduto la sua ragion d’essere.

 E tuttavia, l’angoscia assiologica perdura: meno drammaticamente,  perdura l’opposizione fra il reale e l’ideale. Perché se in definitiva ogni cosa è un esemplare del suo eidos, o dell’unità ideale della sua specie (nel linguaggio delle Ricerche logiche), non ogni cosa ne è un buon esemplare. Quanti insegnanti abbiamo conosciuto che non sono proprio insegnanti ideali. E le repubbliche ideali abbiamo cominciato a studiarle da quando viviamo in quelle reali. Lo scarto fra essere e dover essere è tutto nella realtà com’è, che sia naturale o che sia artifattuale, istituzionale, sociale, personale – e la perfezione non è di questo mondo.

  1. Conclusioni sull’etica e l’assiologia

 Riprendo dunque la domanda che ho formulato all’inizio di questa analisi: la prospettiva noematica, o sulla natura dei valori, che ora forse risulta più chiaramente incentrata sull’assiologia materiale (che questa prospettiva richiede di sviluppare), è solo complementare rispetto alla prospettiva noetica caratteristica di questo libro, o è anche in qualche senso più fondamentale proprio da un punto di vista fenomenologico, ossia quanto alle sue fonti di evidenza, alle fonti della conoscenza (rigorosa) che il filosofo non rinuncia a cercare? Per le ragioni che nell’analisi ho cercato di evidenziare, propendo per la seconda. Ma ora debbo spiegare in che modo l’assunzione di questa prospettiva più fondamentale farebbe maggior luce anche sugli stessi problemi che Staiti affronta.

Il disaccordo, ipotizzavo nella sezione 6, potrebbe vertere proprio sulla metaetica, cioè in definitiva sulla risposta fenomenologica alla questione di che cosa sia l’etica, che naturalmente ha come sotto-questione quella sulla natura dei valori specificamente morali.

Cominciamo a levar di mezzo le questioni secondarie. Staiti cita fra le fonti storiche principali  della ricerca fenomenologica i volumi dell’edizione critica delle opere di Husserl espressamente dedicati all’Etica, che sono rimasti per molto tempo inediti e hanno cominciato ad essere pubblicati solo dalla metà degli anni Novanta (p. 36). E cita anche Max Scheler e il suo Formalismo, solo recentemente riscoperto e rivalutato[16]. C’è però una ragione di questo ritardo, che coinvolge un intero universo di ricerche di assiologia materiale di straordinaria portata e radicate precisamente in quell’angoscia munchiana per la pianta bifronte dell’arbitrarismo o antiumanesimo teoretico e pratico, logico ed etico, che sempre si riproduce nel confronto fra il filosofo e il sofista: un confronto che avviene ogni giorno nell’anima stessa del filosofo ed è tutt’altro che accademica. Ai tempi di Husserl e ancora per tre quarti di secolo dopo la sua morte vinse, nel mondo e nell’accademia “continentale”, il sofista. E furono praticamente dimenticati i nomi degli assiologi che dal ceppo fenomenologico fiorivano e fuggivano o morivano: Herbert Spiegelberg, Aurel Kolnai, Roman Ingarden, Dietrich von Hildebrand, Moritz Geiger e molti altri. Ora, non c’è dubbio che l’eredità di Scheler non si fa molto sentire in questo libro. Ma questo è infinitamente secondario, anzi il suo pregio è che semmai vi si facciano tanti altri nomi di interlocutori vivi oggi.

Andiamo al dunque, invece. Cosa sono i valori specificamente morali?  Io credo che abbia molto senso cercarli nel mondo, ma non certo indipendentemente dalla messa a fuoco, del tutto fenomenologica, dei portatori ultimi di questi valori, che sono in definitiva gli agenti personali, ossia le loro decisioni, azioni, comportamenti, e alla base motivazionale di questi, le loro esperienze. E’ così fastidiosa, in tutta la metaetica mooriana e post-mooriana, l’oscillazione perpetua e oscura  fra un discorso sulla natura dei valori e uno su quelli specificamente morali, che poi dà il nome alla disciplina, “metaetica”. Che cosa sono il bene e il male morali? La tradizione fenomenologica fornisce una risposta ovvia anche se illuminante: buone o cattive moralmente sono le azioni e i comportamenti, e dunque le situazioni e le realtà cui danno luogo, e dunque in ultima analisi le volontà esplicite o implicite che animano azioni e comportamenti. Ebbene, quando sono buone moralmente queste volontà? Evidentemente, quando realizzano in ogni data situazione, e in funzione delle date possibilità e capacità dell’agente, i valori relativamente superiori accessibili e non quelli relativamente inferiori, o addirittura i corrispettivi disvalori, ad esempio: a supporre che io sappia nuotare, diciamo che salvando la vita a un bambino ho preservato un bene (realizzato un valore) superiore a quello del mio comfort che avrei preservato evitando di buttarmi nell’acqua gelata. Ovviamente sia la vita del bambino sia il mio comfort sono beni o parti di beni, quindi hanno valori: ma non certo valori morali! La salute non è certamente un valore morale, ma è certamente immorale danneggiare quella altrui per i propri interessi, e così via. Una tesi fondamentale della metaetica fenomenologica dovrebbe dunque essere che il valore morale della volontà presuppone tutti i valori non morali delle cose del mondo (e, in effetti, le loro relazioni)[17], e in un senso preciso ne dipende. Se la tua vita non avesse alcun valore, che male sarebbe sopprimerla? Se nessuna cosa avesse valore, perché ci sarebbero norme sulla proprietà e che male sarebbe il furto?

Naturalmente, per quanto antikantiana sia questa tesi, c’è una cosa su cui Kant ha assolutamente ragione, ed è che la volontà non e buona o cattiva in ragione dei beni che realizza, ma dell’intenzione che la muove. Ma come può definirsi la bontà dell’intenzione se non in riferimento al valore cui mira? E perché il dovere mi obbliga, se non in quanto deriva dal valore? Dunque c’è un elemento fortemente cognitivo della bontà morale, perché le decisioni dipendono dalle valutazioni e quindi dall’adeguatezza del sentire: ma questa a sua volta dipende da quella disposizione libera, volontaria, che è la veglia del sentire, l’attenzione della mente e del cuore.  In ultima analisi, dunque, moralmente buona è la persona in quanto veglia, non solo in quanto decide e agisce. Di più: in quanto è disponibile alla verifica continua delle relazioni fra i puri contenuti assiologici, fra i valori, o piuttosto a rimettere in questione tutte le proprie certezze, a fare ogni volta nuove scoperte assiologiche.

Queste due tesi impattano su alcune tesi di fondo di questo bel libro che ho forse un po’ troppo appassionatamente voltato e rivoltato. Insieme esprimono il cognitivismo assiologico in generale, e il cognitivismo etico in particolare.

Vediamo prima l’impatto di quest’ultima tesi, che esprime il cognitivismo etico così profondamente caratteristico del fenomenologo. Staiti all’inizio del libro risponde validamente all’obiezione secondo cui “la natura descrittiva della fenomenologia le impedirebbe di occuparsi di fenomeni etici, in quanto prescrittivi”. Questa obiezione, risponde Staiti, è quanto meno fuorviante: “Sono proprio i fenomeni prescrittivi dell’etica a dover essere anzitutto descritti per scoprirne la configurazione essenziale e le condizioni di validità” (pp. 36-37). Un primo punto con il quale non si può che concordare. Staiti prosegue: “Vi è però un nucleo di verità nel riferimento alla natura descrittiva, anziché normativa, della fenomenologia: la prospettiva fenomenologica non intende proporre un’etica normativa autonoma, distinta dalle tre canoniche alternative di eudemonismo utilitarismo e deontologia” (37). Ancora d’accordo: ma qui bisogna intendersi sulla portata della tesi. Quella che le conferisce Staiti è modesta, indulgente e affabile: si tratterà soltanto di un lavoro di chiarificazione, “che riporti le nozioni cardine delle tre tradizioni etiche alle loro fonti esperienziali e provi a rettificare eventuali pretese eccessive avanzate da ciascuna di esse”. La portata che conferirei io a questa tesi è invece più ambiziosa, e quindi molto meno indulgente e affabile: a ciascuna delle tradizioni rimprovererebbe un vero e proprio fatale errore, precisamente radicato nell’ignorare le tesi fondamentali di un’etica materiale dei valori. Alla tradizione eudemonistica imputerebbe la confusione di valori e fini, che porta ad agire con in vista non il maggior bene che posso portare al mondo ma lo stato personale (sia esso il mio piacere o la mia perfezione), eticamente irrilevante (non è vero che la propria felicità sia il fine, né d’altronde men che meno la ricompensa, dell’agire moralmente buono, anche se è vero, probabilmente, che ne è una fonte, o forse che solo il felice è veramente buono). Alla tradizione consequenzialista imputerebbe, come farebbe un kantiano, la confusione di beni e valori in quanto inficia l’incondizionatezza delle ragioni morali; a un kantiano imputerebbe la confusione di valori e beni, cioè l’ascrizione di ogni contenuto o materia delle motivazioni alle realizzazioni finite, relative, contingenti e contendibili dei valori nei beni, cioè l’inconcepibilità di determinanti del volere morale che siano insieme materiali (contenutistiche, thick) e apriori. Altro che pretese eccessive: errori fondamentali. Ma a questa minore affabilità fa riscontro un terzo punto, rispetto alla questione normativo/descrittivo, che a mio parere dovrebbe far parte delle tesi fenomenologiche di metaetica, ma che non so se possa dato l’impianto del libro, essere con questo compatibile: la giustificazione di ogni norma rinvia a una cognizione descrittiva, lungo le due direttive del dover essere e del dover fare: cioè lungo quella dei valori di perfezione eidetica, menzionati sopra, e lungo quella dei valori pratici o d’azione (in particolare quelli morali, come le virtù) quindi delle relazioni assiologiche pure di volta in volta in gioco. I valori infine non sono che una sottoclasse di eide, quella sottoclasse costituita dalle qualità con valenza positiva o negativa. La ricchezza delle loro materie ci rende tutti principianti nei vari domini delle assiologie materiali, ancora di più che in quelli delle ontologie materiali.

Infine, resta da verificare l’impatto che la tesi più generale del cognitivismo assiologico ha su tesi proprie di questo libro. E forse, allora, è la sua conclusione stessa a venire in questione. Un testo famoso di Peter Geach[18]  offre a Staiti la base per questa conclusione, sull’interpretazione fenomenologica dell’Open Question Argument di Moore. Per Geach, “buono” e “cattivo” sono sempre aggettivi “attributivi” e non “predicativi” – dove con “attributivi” si intende che “buono” non predica una proprietà ulteriore di una cosa di tipo X che possiede già le proprietà EFG , ma serve precisamente ad attribuire a questa cosa le proprietà che lo costituiscono: un coltello è buono se la sua lama è tagliente, il suo manico solido etc., e ogni volta vediamo dal sostantivo che cosa costituisca la “bontà” attribuita alla cosa: un buon cavallo, un buon romanzo, un buon filosofo, una persona buona. Dal punto di vista di Geach, dunque, il carattere “speciale”, “non naturale” che un mooriano attribuirebbe all’idea del buono, è del tutto illusorio, e dipende dall’aver considerato “predicativo” un aggettivo “attributivo”. Ora, non è difficile per un fenomenologo riconoscere in EFG le qualità che fanno di un coltello, un cavallo, un filosofo, un buon esemplare del suo tipo: ma questo non ci basta affatto per negare che un buon X sia in effetti un X ideale, o come anche diciamo un X “esemplare”. E naturalmente  questo non toglie alcuna normatività alla qualità di “buon” X. Riferito a un coltello, l’aggettivo seleziona tutte le qualità funzionali che il coltello deve possedere per essere utile, riferito a un cavallo le qualità vitali,  lo slancio, il vigore, la potenza che distinguono un purosangue da un ronzino; riferito a un romanzo la capacità di avvincere senza banalità e tutte le altre qualità estetiche che distinguono un’opera narrativa degna del nome da un report sconclusionato di fatti casuali, e così via. Perché dunque Geach non si accorge che la sua distinzione fra “attributivo” e “predicativo” non confuta affatto l’Argomento della Domanda Aperta, il quale mostra pur sempre che non posso analizzare proprietà normative in termini di proprietà non normative? A mio avviso, perché non si avvede dell’errore più fatale di Moore, che sta purtroppo avvinghiato alla sua più geniale scoperta: perché è vero che le proprietà assiologiche non sono analizzabili in termini di proprietà non assiologiche, ma è falso che non siano analizzabili in assoluto. Lo sono inesauribilmente, in termini di altre proprietà assiologiche. Ne abbiamo appena dato una serie di esempi.

Questo errore fatale è a mio avviso quello che ha dato adito a tutte le “soluzioni” del dilemma della metaetica che tagliano il “descrittivo” dal “normativo” nel modo sbagliato, cioè – come suggerì Bernard Williams, analizzando i concetti assiologici “thick”, dotati di un ricco contenuto (come vigoroso o aggraziato, banale o impudente eccetera) in due parti: da una parte materia e contenuto, cioè il descrittivo, l’insieme delle proprietà “naturali”; e dall’altra un operatore normativo generico, vuoto, universale – in ultima analisi espressivo di una prescrizione sociale, di un comando soggettivo, di una convenzione, di una pressione culturale.

Ecco: l’assiologia materiale, si potrebbe dire, è nata precisamente contro questo tipo di errore, che ha precedenti in molte forme classiche di nominalismo assiologico. There is a matter of values, not just a matter of facts! Perché le qualità assiologiche dei beni esperibili, come la comodità di una sedia, la potenza di un cavallo o la bontà morale di un uomo, tutte senza eccezione, sono thick e non thin, ricche di contenuto. Concetti assiologici “sottili”, come “buono” (ma anche “bello”) sono proxy per designare tutte le varietà di qualità assiologiche positive, o la valenza positiva che le accomuna: gli aggettivi di una lingua umana non bastano neppur lontanamente a designarle tutte, e l’esperienza assiologica più comune è quella di una sorta di ineffabilità, sempre superabile ma mai del tutto. Utilizzando la distinzione di Geach  possiamo dunque dire che l’aggettivo “buono” nel significato “attributivo” che qualifica un certo tipo di bene è una variabile che varia sulle qualità assiologiche materiali positive dei buoni esemplari di quel tipo di bene.

Credo che Staiti possa aver in mente qualcosa di non dissimile quando usa la distinzione di Geach per arrivare a un’”interpretazione fenomenologica dell’argomento della domanda aperta” di Moore. Per farlo, la sviluppa nel senso che “è buono” sta alla posizionalità assiologica come “esiste” sta alla posizionalità dossica. Ossia, “è buono”, esprime la posizione assiologica, la risposta alla valenza positiva della cosa intesa o incontrata. E fin qui saremmo più che d’accordo. Ma qui salta fuori quella che a me pare un’incongruenza. Staiti compra di Geach proprio la parte dell’argomento che contesta a Moore l’idealità, la non-riducibilità in termini di proprietà naturali, non normative, dell’idea di buono. Per questo abbiamo detto sopra, nella sezione 2 commentando questa conclusione, che secondo Staiti non è affatto per la sua idealità o la sua eccedenza normativa,  che l’esplicazione del valore in termini di proprietà naturali lascia aperta la domanda (“ma è davvero buono”?), ma per la sua vuotezza. Vale a dire, ci sarebbe un’intrinseca mancanza di contenuto del positum assiologico (forse perché correlato di un atto non oggettivante?), per la quale “quando sostituiamo “buono” con un qualunque altro aggettivo (“piacevole”, “salutare” … ecc.) la nostra domanda non si riferisce più a un positum, ma torna a riferirsi a un oggetto ordinario” (140). Ma perché, la poltrona che mi appare buona, quella che ho davanti consentendo con delizia, o che sogno per quando sarò tornato a casa, non è, in questa terminologia, un positum ?  E che cosa posso intendere con la mia posizione assiologica, se non che la poltrona è comoda?  Come potrei mai assentire con delizia o aspirare alla mia buona poltrona, se non “intendessi” questa sua invitante affordance, la sua comodità? E quand’è che la poltrona diventa “un oggetto ordinario”? Quando, abbandonandomici, ne verifico la comodità? Se spiego a qualcuno che è una buona poltrona perché è comoda, non c’è alcuna eccedenza mooriana: la domanda “ma è davvero buona?”, non ha senso. Altra cosa sarebbe se spiego a qualcuno che è buona perché è fatta di lana, materassi, molle. Allora avrebbe senso chiedere: ma è davvero buona? E’ comoda?

Ma tant’è : abbiamo già visto (sez. 7, con riferimento a Staiti p. 113) che per Staiti la vuotezza di un aggettivo thin come “buono” non può essere semplicemente quella di una variabile su predicati thick, su qualità assiologiche materiali, come comodo. Che il primo non può che esprimere la vuotezza oggettuale di una posizione assiologica e il secondo la proprietà di un oggetto (ordinario). Non riesco ad accedere all’evidenza fenomenologica per questa tesi: ma se non la fraintendo, è un netto rifiuto del cognitivismo assiologico. E infatti ecco la conclusione: la costante “apertura” delle domande mooriane

“non deriva dalla supposta non-naturalità del bene, bensì dalla “natura” peculiare degli oggetti di cui esso si predica: posita e non oggetti ordinari”. (141)

Una conclusione che, mentre leva a Moore la sua sola unghia, la tesi che la normatività non è naturalizzabile, leva anche il bene e il male dal mondo degli oggetti ordinari.

Non mi resta che ringraziare Andrea Staiti per questo – lo ribadisco – bellissimo libro. Forse, leggendo queste note, penserà che esse lo rimproverino di non aver scritto un altro libro. Invece io l’ho trovato appassionante proprio perché è questo. Per avermi dato materia per questo confronto serrato, e la gioia per ciò che ho imparato leggendolo: perché se non sono riuscita a rendergli ragione, ho forse, con il suo aiuto, capito meglio quanto resta da fare, quanto da chiarire, perché la vocazione assiologica della fenomenologia riesca infine a esplicarsi nel mondo della vita, ma soprattutto nel mondo dei vivi oggi – che ne ha molto bisogno.

 

RIFERIMENTI

Audi, R. 1997. Moral Knowledge and Ethical Character, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Audi, R. 2015. Moral Perception Defended, in: “Argumenta: Journal of the Italian Society for Analytic Philosophy, 1., 1, pp. 5-28.

Crisp, R. 2011. Naturalism: Feel the Width, in: S. Nuccetelli e G. Seay (Eds.) Ethical Naturalism: Current Debates, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Cuneo, T. 2007. Recent Faces of Moral Nonnaturalism, in “Philosophy Compass”, 2.6, pp. 850-879

De Caro, M. 2013. Naturalismo scientifico e naturalismo liberalizzato, in “Metodo. International Studies in Phenomenology and Philosophy”, 1,2, pp. 27-37

De Monticelli. 2020. Perceiving Values: A Phenomenological Approach, in: M. Mühling, D. A. Gilland, Y. Foerster (Eds.), Perceiving Truth and Values. Interdisciplinary Discussions on Perception as Foundation of Ethics, Series Religion Theology Natural Sciences at Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen – Bristol (CT), ISBN Print 9783525573204 e-Book 9783647573205, pp. 43-62

De Monticelli. 2018. “The Paradox of Axiology – A Phenomenological Approach to Value Theory”, Phenomenology and Mind, 15, 2018, ed. by S. Bacin and F. Boccuni, ISSN 2280-7853 (print)  ISSN 2239-4028 (online), pp. 116-128  https://oaj.fupress.net/index.php/pam/article/view/7327

De Monticelli, R. 2018bis. Il dono dei vincoli. Per leggere Husserl. Milano, Garzanti, Engl. Transl. Springer forthcoming.

De Monticelli, R. 2016. Sensibility and Values. Toward a Phenomenological Theory of the Emotional Life, in Analytic and Continental Philosophy – Methods and Perspectives. Proceedings of the 37th International Wittgenstein Symposium, Ed. by Rinofner-Kreidl, Sonja / Wiltsche, Harald A., Series: Publications of the Austrian Ludwig Wittgenstein Society – New Series (N.S.) 23, ISBN: 978-3-11-045065-1, pp. 381-400

Enoch, D. 2011. Taking Morality Seriously: A Defense of Robust Realism. Oxford: Oxford  University Press.

Geach, P. 1956. Good and Evil, “Analysis”, 17, 2, pp. 33-42.

Hume, D. 1739 [1978]. A Treatise of Human Nature , Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Husserl, E.  1900-1901 [1964]. Ricerche logiche, Il saggiatore, Milano 1968, 2 voll.

Husserl, E. 1911 [2001]. Filosofia come scienza rigorosa, Bari: Laterza.

Husserl E. 1908-14 [2002]. Lineamenti di Etica formale – Lezioni sull’etica e la teoria dei valori del 1914, a c. di P. Basso e P. Spinicci, Le Lettere, Firenze  (Trad. it. parziale di Husserliana XXVIII).

Husserl E. 1920-24 [2009].  Introduzione all’etica, Laterza, Bari (Trad. it. parziale di Husserliana XXXVII).

Husserl E. 2020. Studien zur Struktur der Bewusstsein, Teilband III, Wert und Gefühl, Husserliana XVIII.

Ingarden, R. 1955 [1989]. L’opera musicale e il problema della sua identità, Palermo: Flaccovio.

Moore, G.E. 1903 [1964]. Principia ethica, Milano: Bompiani.

Shafer-Landau, R.  2006. Ethics as Philosophy: A Defense of Ethical Nonnaturalism, in T. Horgan, M. Timmons (Eds), Metaethics after Moore, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Scheler, M. 1913, 1921, 1926 [2013]. Il formalismo nell’etica e l’etica materiale dei valori, trad. it., note, Introduzione di R. Guccinelli, testo originale a fronte, Milano: Bompiani.


[1] Di cui, infatti,  non sono la prima ad occuparmi: segnalo almeno le recensioni di Susi Ferrarello, e Bianca Bellini (2020). Anche per questo la mia lettura, più che una recensione, è una discussione approfondita, che prende questo libro molto sul serio come contributo a un campo di studi di enorme importanza, e che solo oggi rivede finalmente una ripresa da parte fenomenologica: questo può in parte giustificare, anche se non forse scusare, l’inusuale lunghezza di questa analisi, e la sua passione.

[2] Le principali fra queste sono esposte sinteticamente nel cap. VI di Towards a Phenomenological Axiology. Discovering What Matters, Palgrave, 2021, forthcoming, e in italiano nel cap. V di Al di qua del bene e del male. Per una teoria dei valori, Torino: Einaudi, 2015.

[3] Husserl (1900-1901), 1964, 22 p. 69 (trad. lievemente modificata).

[4] De Monticelli (2020, 2018, 2016).

[5] Hume (1739), 1978, p. 335.

[6] Husserl (1911), 2005, p. 97. Per una discussione di questa tesi e del concetto di posizionalità, che vi è strettamente connesso, v. De Monticelli (2018), pp. 158-163. Da questo punto di vista, a me pare che l’assenza di menzione, da parte di Staiti, del nesso fra Stellungnehmen e Saetze lo privi di un’importante risorsa analitica. La posizionalità di un Satz corrisponde in effetti alla “forza assertoria” con cui è intrattenuto, in un giudizio, il contenuto proposizionale. Il positum di cui parla Staiti (129-137) è certamente “l’unità del senso e del carattere tetico” di cui parla Husserl in Ideen I, § 133. Tuttavia mi sembra che Staiti non faccia uso della potente generalizzazione che Husserl fa del “carattere tetico” (che è poi la “forza assertoria” di Frege, ciò che Austin svilupperà nella pragmatica degli atti illocutori) nel senso di uno Stellungnehmen o  impegno caratteristico di ogni sfera di atti, dove dobbiamo tenere la sfera degli atti emotivi, a differenza che in Brentano, distinta da quella degli atti conativi). Voglio dire che è un punto rilevante in tema di posizionalità assiologica!

[7] Husserl (1908-14), 2002, cit. da Staiti a p. 90.

[8] Ma sacrosanto, nella sua modestia! Pensate ai deliri, che si avvieranno presto a diventare criminali, di Heidegger con il suo “tanto peggio per la logica” dell’operatore di negazione che si perde nel vortice di un nulla più originario….

[9] “La ragione logica ha però questa straordinaria prerogativa: essa formula l’istanza di giudizio, determina la legittimità e predica le leggi della correttezza in quanto leggi non soltanto per ciò che comprende il proprio campo, ma anche per ciò che concerne il campo di ogni altro genere di intenzione, e dunque per ogni altra sfera della ragione. La ragione valutativa e quella pratica sono, per così dire, mute e in un certo senso cieche. Il vedere in senso stretto e in senso lato, e dunque anche il vedere nel senso del “cogliere con evidenza” è un atto dossico”. (…) Si deve dunque tenere alta la fiaccola della ragione logica, poiché solo così quanto di forme e norme è rimasto nascosto nella sfera emotiva e della volontà, può manifestarsi ora in piena luce. Gli atti logici sono tuttavia soltanto la luce che rende visibile unicamente ciò che vi è già” Husserl (1908-14), 2002, pp. 85-86.

[10] Husserl (1920-24), 2009. Per la tesi dell’”intreccio” v, De Monticelli (2018bis), pp. 123-127.

[11] Husserl (2020), Hua XLIII/3, Staiti p. 99.

[12] Si veda, per la migliore ontologia fenomenologica dell’opera musicale, il classico Ingarden (1955), 1989.

[13] Nella nota 1 all’ultimo capitolo, parlando della distinzione introdotta da Bernard Williams fra concetti etici “sottili” (thin) e “spessi” (thick), Staiti afferma di considerarla filosoficamente fuorviante, perché “La differenza, ad esempio, fra il concetto di bene e il concetto di crudeltà non è una differenza di grado o di spessore, bensì una differenza che rispecchia quella tra proprietà di oggetti ordinari (la crudeltà) e proprietà di Sätze, cioè di oggetti meramente intesi (il bene”

[14] La distinzione fra beni e valori e la teoria dei beni come unità assiologiche concrete costituisce il capitolo iniziale e fondamentale del Formalismo (Scheler 2013). Recentemente, Emanuele Caminada ha attirato l’attenzione su quel caso di fondazione unitaria di tipo assiologico che Scheler esprime con il participio “durchdrungen” (GW II, 44), “permeato”: come l’utilità che “permea” la sedia, legando tutti gli aspetti essenziali alla sua funzione, pur nel variare possibile di materiali, fogge, dimensioni, stili…. Caminada (2016), «omnes ens est aestimativum»: On Scheler’s Formal Axiology and Metaphysics presentato alla conferenza Feeling, Valuing, and Judging: Phenomenological Investigations in Axiology, St. John’s University, New York City 19-21 May 2016. Ringrazio Emanuele Caminada anche per avermi segnalato Caminada ( forthcoming, 2021) “Things, goods, and values”.

[15] De Monticelli (2018), p. 77.

[16] Lo cita, mi sia permesso di sottolinearlo, meritoriamente nella bellissima traduzione italiana (ma con testo a fronte) di Roberta Guccinelli, che ha portato un po’ di luce su un capolavoro ignorato anche per l’illeggibilità di precedenti traduzioni: Scheler 2013.

[17] Mi permetto di rinviare per questo all’ultimo capitolo di R. De Monticelli (2015).

[18] Geach (1956).

Annabel Herzog: Levinas’s Politics: Justice, Mercy, Universality

Levinas's Politics: Justice, Mercy, Universality Book Cover Levinas's Politics: Justice, Mercy, Universality
Haney Foundation Series
Annabel Herzog
University of Pennsylvania Press
2020
Cloth $55.00
208

Reviewed by: David Ventura (Royal Holloway, University of London)

In Levinas’s Politics, Annabel Herzog attempts to articulate whether there might be something like a positive and coherent political philosophy in Levinas’s thought. As Herzog is the first to admit, for many critics of Levinas this effort will seem doomed from the outset. For if it cannot be denied that Levinas’s works frequently mention politics and political reasoning, these considerations seem merely peripheral to what is generally considered Levinas’s ‘real’ philosophical interest, that is, the ethical (or moral) relation between the subject and the absolute alterity of the other person. What is more, Levinas regularly opposes this ethical relation to politics, seemingly emphasising only the essential violence and irrelevance of politics for morality. Indeed, one need only turn to the very first page of Totality and Infinity to find a clear expression of this sentiment: “The art of foreseeing war and of winning it by every means—politics—(….) is opposed to morality, as philosophy to naïveté” (Levinas, 1979: 21).

From this standpoint, it might indeed seem that Herzog will be hard pressed to find a positive and nuanced conception of politics in Levinas’s work. As Herzog opens her book by countering, however, even in those texts where Levinas speaks of an opposition between politics and morality, there is more than a simple relation of mutual exclusivity between the two domains. In Totality and Infinity, for instance, this involvement between politics and morality is conceptually signalled by the “entrance of the third party”, who is said by Levinas to introduce the considerations of politics into the ‘dual’ ethical relation between the subject and the other. Crucially, far from conceiving this third party as wholly external and somehow posterior to morality, Levinas explicitly holds that its presence is always already felt in the ethical relation with the other: “The third party looks at me in the eyes of the other” (Levinas, 1979: 213). That being the case, the relation between politics and morality is certainly much more complex than Levinas’s own assertions on the opposition between those two domains might at first lead us to believe—and indeed, than some of Levinas’s critics give him credit for.

The majority of Levinas’s Politics directs itself to this intricate relation that  is posited between the fields of politics and morality in Levinas’s thought. Now, Herzog is of course not the first scholar to recognise that Levinasian politics and morality are in a certain sense “inseparable and contained within one another” (Fagan, 2009: 7, cited in LP 2-3). Instead, the major contribution of Levinas’s Politics consists of its attempt to explore this inseparability “in light of a close reading of [Levinas’s] Talmudic readings—that is, Levinas’s ‘Jewish’ works” (3).[1] As Herzog notes, the traditional approach to Levinas’s philosophy has tended to consider these Talmudic commentaries as distinct and separable from the more central ‘philosophical-phenomenological’ works. Following Levinas’s own insistence on the distinction between the two bodies of work, traditional scholarship has also tended to regard these ‘religious’ or ‘confessional’ writings as being of merely illustrative interest for the philosophical substance of Levinas’s thought. By contrast, Levinas’s Politics studies Levinas primarily from the perspective of his Talmudic writings, and it turns to the phenomenological works only in order to “document [its] interpretations of the readings, thereby inverting the traditional approach to Levinas’s work” (6).

In her Introduction, Herzog begins to defend this decision by insisting that both of Levinas’s corpuses should be considered philosophical. The distinction between the two sets of texts is not therefore that is one ‘philosophical’ and the other merely ‘confessional’. Rather, according to Herzog, this distinction is best understood in terms of differences in approach. “The ethical philosophy published in the phenomenological books expresses an unconditional and immemorial call [to responsibility] that can be considered ‘prophetic’. One hears the call and accepts it as it is” (7). The Talmudic readings, by contrast, are said to confront this apodictic and unconditional call to ethical responsibility with concrete situations. “The readings ask the question: What does ethics mean in situations that involve more than the ego and the other?” (9). In other words, though both sets of texts are similarly concerned with philosophical questions of ethical responsibility towards otherness, they each respond to these questions from a differing perspective: “the phenomenological books present a utopian and impracticable ethics, while the Talmudic readings reflect a political, and at times pragmatic, mode of thought” (5).

Herzog’s wager is that this difference in approach makes the Talmudic readings a particularly fruitful place to unearth Levinas’s positive conception of politics. Indeed, because those readings focus specifically on the meaning of ethics in concrete situations, they “constitute a genre subject to different constraints and impositions compared with Levinas’s phenomenological style” (10). That is, the situational focus of the readings gives Levinas the scope to think politics otherwise than through some of the guiding presuppositions of his phenomenological works. Significantly, they allow Levinas to “moderate” (10)  what the phenomenological texts call the absolute precedence of ethics: the idea that ethics is first philosophy, or that the ethical relation constitutes the primary reference point for any philosophical investigation. And in moderating this presupposition, Herzog argues, the Talmudic readings not only “manifest a political thinking that challenges the ethical analyses offered in Levinas’s phenomenological works” (5, emphasis added), but they also offer a radically different conception of Levinasian politics. In Herzog’s own words: “In the readings (…), Levinas tried to do two things that he could not do in the phenomenological works: first, prevent politics from bringing about the failure of ethics; and second, construct politics positively, and not as the interruption and collapse of ethics” (10).

The first chapter of Levinas’s Politics begins to advance this political portrayal of Levinas by further reflecting on what distinguishes his Talmudic from his phenomenological writings. According to Herzog, the unique character of the Talmudic readings can be approached from the perspective of Levinas’s famous distinction between the “saying” and the “said”—that is, in terms of the distinction between “the manifestation of presence through discourse” (the said), and “a form of language that does not reduce (…) otherness into sameness” (the saying) (20-21). Following Ricoeur’s reading of this distinction, which emphasises a complex mutual interplay between said and saying, Herzog’s argument is that the form of Levinas’s Talmudic writings “must be understood as part of a larger expression of the relationship between ‘saying’ and ‘said’, in which ‘saying’ and ‘said’ cannot exist without each other—indeed must confront each other” (28). For whilst, as Herzog demonstrates, Levinas certainly considers the Talmud to be the expression of an ethical saying that is irreducible to the said, his Talmudic commentaries—because they seek the unity of the many disparate texts that make up the Talmud—can be regarded as attempting to “integrate these ‘sayings’ into a thematised philosophical ‘said'” (26).

Though somewhat technical, this discussion on the form of the Talmudic readings allows Herzog to successfully articulate some of the guiding threads of her political reading of Levinas. In particular, Herzog uses this discussion to posit an essential inseparability between the domains of ethics and ontology in Levinas: “The inseparability of ‘saying’ and ‘said’ comes from the concreteness of life itself, in which ethics and ontology develop together” (28). Now, for Herzog, this inseparability is crucial from the point of view of Levinas’s politics not only because politics and ontology are regularly equated in his philosophy. More broadly, the interplay between saying and said that is formally expressed by Levinas’s Talmudic writings also tells us something about their positive political content. Specifically, it points to a substantive conception of Levinasian politics—“a livable politics” (15)—where political activity is that which simultaneously confronts and materialises the irreducible ‘saying’ of ethics.

Herzog further expounds this Levinasian conception of politics in Chapter 2. Here, Levinasian politics is introduced as an institutional enterprise that concerns itself with how responsibility and goods should be shared across humanity. On this reading, Levinas defines politics neither as a monopoly of power, nor as the guardianship of individuals’ natural rights. Rather more starkly, the Talmudic readings define politics “as concern and care for people’s hunger” (40). “To think of men’s hunger is the first function of politics” (Levinas, 1994: 18). This means that in distinction to ethics, politics also does not consist of the absolute obligation to give oneself wholly to the other. Politics is not exactly “the duty to give to the other even the bread out of one’s own mouth”, as Otherwise than Being defines ethics (Levinas, 1998a: 55). Indeed, as Herzog states, though the other’s hunger is in a certain sense the problem that unites both politics and ethics in Levinas, each of those domains develops a radically different solution to that problem. “Ethics is the name of the principle by which the other has priority over the ego. (….) That is, ethics calls for giving the other everything, now” (LP 41). Politics, on the other hand, concerns itself with calculating how some hunger can be institutionally appeased “through the practice of sharing and distributing responsibility and goods” (41).

As well as elucidating this conception of politics, Herzog’s second chapter also offers the intriguing claim that Levinasian politics is that which  in a certain sense realises ethics. Taking her cue from Levinas’s text on “Judaism and Revolution”, Herzog’s argument is that “ethics alone has no materiality. It becomes material and receives meaning only in the form of something that is very different from—and indeed, opposed to—it: politics” (41). Now, insofar as it finds clear textual evidence in Levinas’s Talmudic readings, this argument is largely successful in dispelling the “common misconception” that Levinas is wholly ‘against’ politics (42). Importantly, in pursuing this argument, Herzog also innovatively identifies a conception of Levinasian justice that finds no clear expression in the phenomenological writings: merciful or non-indifferent justice. Under this conception, justice “is synonymous with neither ethics nor politics but consists in the relation between the two” (11). Put differently, justice is that differential which expresses the extent to which the infinite responsibility of ethics has become fulfilled, or materialised, through the institutional calculation and distribution of politics.

Chapter 3 deals with another unique contribution of Levinas’s Talmudic work, namely, its conception of the social. According to Herzog, in works like “Messianic Texts” and “Cities of Refuge”, Levinas thematises a distinctive social domain that can be called neither ethical nor political. This social domain, which Levinas equates with both contemporary urban life and Western liberal democracies, is one that is characterised by individualism, conflict, and a lack of concern for others. In Herzog’s words: “the social [is] a domain of indifferent care for the self, unaffected by ethical responsibility” (54). As such, the social clearly distinguishes itself from both ethics and the political: “[it] consists of neither infinite responsibility nor the implementation of those laws of justice that that would transform the ethical demand into viable practices” (46). Nevertheless, far from being simply irrelevant to Levinas’s overall conception of politics, for Herzog, this conception of the social in fact further highlights the positive role that Levinasian politics can play in realising ethics. Indeed, Herzog’s conclusion in this chapter is that if there is never any responsibility or concern for others in the social, then “politics—understood as institutions and leadership [of shared responsibility]—is the sole way to concretely implement the ethical principle (….) the sole way, for Levinas, to give some materiality to ethics” (53).

Having in the first three chapters presented a mostly positive vision of Levinasian politics, in Chapter 4 Herzog begins to focus on the necessary connection between this politics and the problem of violence. Herzog opens this chapter by noting that the critique of politics that famously appears in Totality and Infinity—where politics is defined as the violent art of war—is not entirely absent from Levinas’s Talmudic readings (55). In essays like “The State of Cesar and the State of David”, Levinas continues to attribute an essential violence to politics: “‘By serving the State one serves repression’ (….) by which Levinas means that all State servants, like police officers, use or condone violence or repression” (60). But unlike Levinas’s phenomenological writings, Herzog adds, the Talmudic readings do not entirely reject the value of politics and the state. Indeed, despite continuing to describe politics as violent, Levinas’s Talmudic writings also insist that political violence is necessary for the task of fighting evil (60). In this particular sense, and as Herzog persuasively demonstrates, Levinas not only judges politics to be violent, but he also “accepts that the aim of political violence, namely, the fight against evil, is important and legitimates its means” (66).

In Chapter 5, Herzog further develops this account of political violence by reflecting on what Levinas understands by evil. Drawing on the notion of merciful justice introduced in Chapter 2, Herzog’s central contention in this chapter is that “evil in the Talmudic readings is the impossibility of justice” (64). Put differently, evil is a kind of disjunction between politics and ethics: it is the antithesis of that productive relation where ethics is realised or materialised by politics. “Evil is the situation of an unattainable relationship between ethics and politics, a situation in which politics and ethics cannot coexist” (64). Now, Herzog’s claim is that Levinas considers the phenomenon of evil to be possible in three different contexts. First, evil can occur when an individual—or its political community—chooses to build a private domain (or home) that is detached from otherness and collective action. Evil “is the attempt to build a fortified self—be it an individual or national home—erected against the world” (71). Second, evil for Levinas is what happens when the state, instead of fighting injustice and oppression, becomes dominated by “ideology” and “idolatry”—that is, by two deceptive forms of language that disguise themselves as moral reason, but which are in fact mystifications intended to oppress and dominate (74). Third, “evil is linked to animality, namely to a certain understanding of being” (65). More accurately, evil is what happens when we choose to give our biological and psychological inclinations—our ontological or animal desires—a preponderance over political responsibility (77).

As well as bringing Levinas into a productive dialogue with a number of significant political thinkers (including Arendt, Weil and Nussbaum), Herzog’s account of evil also begins to illustrate one of the key claims of Levinas’s Politics, namely, the idea that the Talmudic readings moderate some of the positions of Levinas’s phenomenological writings. In short, Herzog’s contention is that because the Talmudic readings conceive evil as “the choice of an order of things” (79), they are also able to develop more nuanced accounts of phenomena like dwelling and ontology than the phenomenological writings. Thus, for instance, because in the Talmudic readings “evil is not anchored in biological or psychological inclinations but in choosing to give these dispositions precedence over responsibility, (….) the extreme claim of Levinas’s 1948 book Time and the Other, that ‘Being is evil’, is, in the readings, moderated into a more complex view: Being is evil, but only when it is not subordinated to ethics” (78-79).

This line of thinking is extended in Chapter 6, which focuses on Levinas’s conception of nature in the Talmudic readings. Herzog opens this chapter by stating that due to their largely anti-Spinozist slant, it is not always easy to find an appreciation of the ethical value of nature in Levinas’s phenomenological writings, where “transcendence, or God, is not nature, and is other than nature” (81). Contrastingly, the Talmudic readings do sometimes connect the uncanny infinity of transcendence to the natural world. Indeed, as Herzog reveals, despite maintaining a distinction between the human and the natural, Levinas’s Talmudic writings do intriguingly consider non-human animals, like dogs, to in certain cases “sense or express ‘transcendence'” (88). Furthermore, this expression of transcendence in nature is not limited to the case of humanity’s ‘best friend’. Indeed, in what is this chapter’s main contribution, Herzog also attempts to demonstrate that “Levinas uncovers the complicated relationship between the ontological and the ethical in all parts of nature” (91). Specifically, Herzog sees the Talmudic readings as providing a unique notion of “elevation”, within nature as a whole, which makes nature more than a simple perseverance in being or conatus (93). In other words, for Levinas, there is “an otherwise than nature in nature” (94). And for Herzog, this idea is politically charged because it shows that Levinas’s philosophy can open onto a sort of “prudent environmentalism” (94). That is, with Levinas, we can reassess our political relation with nature, and come to regard it as a domain that mixes both conative, an-ethical struggles and moments of genuine ethical rupture.

In Chapter 7, Herzog turns to what is potentially the thorniest aspect of Levinas’s Talmudic readings: their defence of Zionism and the modern State of Israel. Herzog is of course eminently aware that such defences have led many critics to classify Levinas’s philosophy as anti-Palestinian and even racist. And in this chapter, Herzog by no means denies that there are certain problems with Levinas’s reflections on Zionism. However, and in response to such critiques, Herzog holds “that Levinas’s take on Zionism is a specific instance of his broader conception of the relation between ethics and politics” (96). In other words, Herzog’s claim is that Levinas’s thought on Zionism receives its broad outlines from the more general political philosophy of the Talmudic readings—and not vice versa. Thus, Herzog’s first argument in this chapter is that Levinas defends the State of Israel because he sees it as the only way to politically ensure the survival of the Jewish people, and thus, as the only way to concretely implement or realise the “particular version of justice” that is expressed in the Torah (99). However, Herzog also tries to demonstrate that, in line with the notion that politics is necessarily violent, Levinas repeatedly criticises and holds the State of Israel to account for its violent tendencies. As she puts it: “despite the fact that the State of Israel serves an ethical purpose and is, indeed, necessary for the survival of the Jewish people, it nonetheless puts Jewish existence in physical and spiritual danger because it entails an embrace of ontology—idolatry of the land, rootedness, conquest, and destruction” (102). For Herzog, therefore, the ‘problem’ with Levinas’s thought on Zionism is not its silence or failure to denounce the violence and oppression of the modern State of Israel. Instead, “the main weakness of Levinas’s Zionism” is that it still lends itself too readily to the dialectical Hegelianism that Levinas elsewhere so strongly criticises (96).

The final chapter of Levinas’s Politics continues to clarify Levinas’s relation to Hegel, but this time from the perspective of the general issue of political messianism. Herzog’s effort in this chapter is two-fold: first, to clarify the relation between Levinasian eschatology and concrete political laws; and second, to elucidate the relation between messianism and history. In both cases, Herzog’s key argument is that Levinasian messianism, despite signifying an anarchic divine Law that is entirely irreducible to—and even ‘ends’ the temporality of—political laws and historical realities, nonetheless relies on those same entities to find its expression in the world. As Herzog, quoting Levinas, writes: “the ethical law needs the support of political laws: ‘The Messiah is king. The divine invests history and the State rather than doing away with them. The end of History retains a political form” (116). In upholding this idea, Herzog argues further, the Talmudic readings also significantly nuance the conception of history that emerges in Levinas’s phenomenological works. Indeed, where in the latter Levinas frequently opposes ethical eschatology to history (cf. Levinas, 1979: 21), in the Talmudic readings “there is no contradiction between recognising the importance of political history and holding to an ethical messianism, because political history is the instrument that allows redemption to enter the phenomenal world” (120). Thus, for Herzog, even in their most ‘utopian’ of dimensions, that is, even where they speak of a Law that is in a certain sense irreducible to political realities, Levinas’s Talmudic readings remain political through and through.

Overall, Levinas’s Politics is a hugely successful text. Pace Levinas’s critics, Herzog’s text develops a compelling portrayal of Levinas as a thinker who does not exclusively consider politics and the state as hindrances to ethics and justice. Indeed, although from a certain perspective the aims of Levinasian politics and morality are indeed opposed, from another angle, as Herzog convincingly shows, those two domains in fact support and mutually complement one another. In this respect, there is indeed a political philosophy to be found in Levinas’s work. Furthermore, Levinas’s Politics persuasively demonstrates that this political philosophy attains a certain coherence throughout Levinas’s Talmudic writings, consistently manifesting itself in discussions of topics as varied as evil, violence, nature, and messianicity. In treating these and a breadth of other subjects with admirable clarity and succinctness, Herzog also demonstrates a commanding grasp of what is undoubtedly an underappreciated part of Levinas’s corpus. Readers of Levinas that are unfamiliar with the ‘religious’ aspects of his work will undoubtedly find a wealth of valuable new material in Levinas’s Politics, and they will likewise benefit from Herzog’s concise but supremely informative explanations of Levinas’s unique approach to religious material.

For all its scholarly richness and breadth, there are nonetheless some notable absences in Levinas’s Politics. Crucially, the text makes no reference to Bergson, a philosopher who Levinas famously described as one of the most important for his thought (second only to Heidegger and Husserl), and whose metaphysical conception of time as duration is well known to have influenced Levinas throughout his career. Yet, it is not exactly this metaphysical Bergson that might have been of interest to Herzog’s project, but rather the Bergson of The Two Sources of Morality and Religion. In that text, as Levinas himself explains in a 1988 interview, what Bergson had previously understood as the metaphysical intuition of duration becomes “interpreted as a relationship with the other and with God” (1998b: 244). Furthermore, in a move that bears a striking similarity with what Herzog calls one of the key ideas of Levinas’s political thinking, The Two Sources continually maintains that for this ethical relationship with the other and God to be upheld, it must find its “point of support” in, and even “pass through”, a set of concrete political organisations and instruments, which, in their isolation, can be seen as opposed to the aims of ethics (Bergson, 1977: 309-310). As Bergson writes, though politics has historically tended to promote violence and war, it is only “with the advent of [Western] political and social organisations which proved experimentally that the mass of people was not doomed [to hunger and poverty] (…) [that] the soul could open wide its gates to a universal love [of humanity or God]” (226-227).

Now, in fairness to Herzog, the avowed aims of Levinas’s Politics are interpretative more than they are historical (LP 9). In that respect, Herzog can be forgiven for not tracing every single one of Levinas’s influences in the political writings. That said, the conception of the interaction between ethics and politics that emerges in Bergson’s The Two Sources is clearly not without relevance to what Herzog considers to be one of the central theses of Levinas’s political thinking, namely, the idea that ethics “becomes material and receives meaning only in the form of something that is very different from—and indeed, opposed to—it: politics” (41). At the very least, it seems that Levinas might have found inspiration for this political idea in Bergson. More strongly, we might say that just as the preface of Totality and Infinity famously considers Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption as being “too often present in [the] book to be cited” (Levinas, 1979: 28), so too, perhaps Bergson’s The Two Sources plays the same role for Levinas in the Talmudic readings—particularly if, as Herzog strongly argues, those readings establish a relation where morality, far from dispensing with politics, in fact depends upon it for its concretisation. In this context, a closer examination of Bergson’s influence on Levinas’s political thinking would not only have further enriched, but even seems to be demanded by, Herzog’s own chosen focus in Levinas’s Politics.

Another potential weakness of Levinas’s Politics concerns its treatment of Levinas’s phenomenological works. Unfortunately, and perhaps because Herzog is avowedly more interested in the “‘central unity'” of Levinas’s thinking (9), the text often speaks of works like Totality and Infinity and Otherwise than Being in a monolithic way, as if these were one and the same phenomenological text. For example, Herzog at times freely switches between the two texts as a way of explaining Levinas’s presumed ‘opposition’ to ontology (cf. 24). Now, it is true that in some respects, both Totality and Infinity and Otherwise than Being oppose ontology—particularly if by ontology we mean thematisation and the politics of identification this involves. But it is equally the case that in other respects Totality and Infinity ascribes a much more positive role to ontology than Otherwise than Being. This is especially true of the sections in the last part of Totality and Infinity where Levinas speaks positively of fecundity as “an ontological category” (Levinas, 1979: 277). Far from being opposed, ontological fecundity is there thought as that which “establishes [the subject’s] relationship with the absolute future, or infinite time” (268).

Now, it is true that these kinds of exegetical considerations are not where Levinas’s Politics claims to make its contribution to the scholarship. But these considerations are nonetheless important to Levinas’s Politics, and that is because, as Herzog herself concedes (LP 5-6), the text continually refers to the phenomenological works as a way of elucidating the ‘unique’ and ‘interruptive’ character of Levinas’s political philosophy in the Talmudic readings. For example, in the chapter on “Evil as Injustice”, Herzog asserts that Levinas’s Talmudic writings insist on the importance of the home for the project of justice (68). In Levinas’s own words: “There is no salvation except in the reentry into oneself” (Levinas, 1996: 190). Crucially, Herzog adds further that these remarks on the need for a home moderate and “contradict Levinas’s general critique of interiority formulated at length in Totality and Infinity and Otherwise than Being” (LP 68). To be sure, in the very next line, Herzog shows some awareness that this thesis is perhaps more strongly upheld in the later text. But still left out of this analysis is the recognition that Totality and Infinity by no means contradicts the general affirmation that “a home is necessary to see the other” (68). Indeed, if, as Herzog claims, this idea appears in the Talmudic readings, likewise, in Totality and Infinity, not only is it dwelling which “accomplishes” the separation between the I and the Other (Levinas, 1979: 151), but even more strongly, “the whole dimension of interiority—the articulations of separation—are necessary for the idea of Infinity, the relation with the Other” (148).

These similarities are relevant for Levinas’s Politics because in a certain sense they blunt one of Herzog’s central claims in the text, specifically, the notion that “the readings manifest a political thinking that challenges the ethical analyses offered in Levinas’s phenomenological works” (LP 5). As we have already seen Herzog claim, this challenge boils down to a difference in approach between the two bodies of work: “the phenomenological books present a utopian and impractical ethics, while the Talmudic readings reflect a political, and at times pragmatic, mode of thought” (5). But if what grants the Talmudic readings a ‘political’ and ‘pragmatic’ character are ideas like the necessity of a home for justice, then surely, if the phenomenological works can be shown to offer similar affirmations, they cannot be easily be characterised as wholly ‘utopian’ and ‘impractical’.[2] Perhaps, there is also a latent ‘politics’ and a latent ‘pragmatism’ in the phenomenological works themselves, particularly in those places—like the affirmations on interiority and the home cited above—where they come closest to the Talmudic readings. What this also suggests is that on some levels, at least, there is a greater reconciliation between the Talmudic texts and the phenomenological writings than Herzog’s reading of the essential ‘challenge’ or ‘moderation’ of one by the other is capable of accommodating. And perhaps Levinas’s Politics might have achieved an even more nuanced and unified account of Levinas as a political thinker had it further excavated these latent possibilities for reconciliation between the two bodies of work.

All that said, these criticisms will perhaps be of interest only to the expert, and they nowise undermine the immense of value of Herzog’s more general contribution to the field. More than any other scholar to date, Herzog has succeeded in dispelling the false idea that Levinas’s thought has nothing to contribute to the field of political philosophy. Indeed, Herzog has not only clearly shown that Levinas’s Talmudic texts do present a coherent political philosophy, but even one that is potentially valuable in highlighting the many tensions and opportunities of contemporary, Western liberal democracies. For these reasons, but also for its clarity, depth, and scholarly richness, Levinas’s Politics deserves to find a wide and attentive readership among Levinas scholars and political philosophers alike.

Bibliography

Bergson, H. 1977. The Two Sources of Morality and Religion. Translated by Ashley Audra and Cloudesley Bereton. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.

Levinas, E. 1979. Totality and Infinity: An Essay of Exteriority. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. London: Martinus Nijhoff.

Levinas, E. 1994b. Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures. Translated by Gary Mole. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Levinas, E. 1996. New Talmudic Readings. Translated by Richard Cohen. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

Levinas, E. 1998a. Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

Levinas, E. 1998b. Entre Nous. Translated by Michael Smith and Barbara Harshav. New York: Columbia University Press.

Ventura, D. 2020. “The Intensive Other: Deleuze and Levinas on the ethical status of the Other”, The Southern Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 58:2, 327-350.


[1] Herzog clarifies that by “Talmudic readings” she means “the body of texts related to the Talmud and other Jewish sources, which look different from Levinas’s phenomenological work” (5-6).

[2] Though for reasons of space I have here referred only to Levinas’s thought on the home, there are other points where the phenomenological works bear more similarity to the Talmudic readings than Herzog perhaps acknowledges. To cite another example, in the chapter “On Nature”, Herzog argues that where the phenomenological writings refuse to characterise nature as ethical, the Talmudic readings posit a “complicated relationship between the ontological and the ethical in all parts of nature” (91). But once again, this argument ignores that Otherwise than Being, for instance, also posits a complex relation of co-contamination between the realms of ethics and nature, particularly in those passages on enjoyment where Levinas insists that the immediacy of the sensibility to the elements is also the immediacy or the proximity of the other (1998a: 74). For a more extended account of this relation, see my: Ventura, 2020: esp. 341-348.

Uriah Kriegel: Brentano’s Philosophical System: Mind, Being, Value

Brentano's Philosophical System: Mind, Being, Value Book Cover Brentano's Philosophical System: Mind, Being, Value
Uriah Kriegel
Oxford University Press
2018
Hardback £49.99
320

Reviewed by: Daniel Herbert (University of Sheffield)

Although his admiration for the British philosophical tradition is widely recognised, Brentano’s antipathy to classical German philosophy is no less well-known. That Brentano may be at all committed to the construction of a grand system in the tradition of Kant or Hegel seems to run contrary to the most basic wisdom regarding this pivotal figure in the history of the phenomenological movement, and several of his most well-regarded interpreters have explicitly rejected any suggestion that he might helpfully be understood as a systematic philosopher. This, however, is precisely the claim which Uriah Kriegel defends with such force and clarity in his impressive study, Brentano’s Philosophical System: Mind, Being, Value. According to Kriegel, Brentano ranks amongst the greatest systematic philosophers of the Western tradition, offering a comprehensive account of the true, the good, and the beautiful, ultimately grounded in an understanding of the modes of consciousness which facilitate the mental representation of these ideals.

In spite of his systematic aspirations, however, Brentano’s philosophical style bears closer comparison to the analytic tradition than to the works of Kant and his idealist successors, according to Kriegel. Indeed, Brentano is, for Kriegel, a kind of analytic philosopher avant la lettre, whose concerns and priorities belong not to an outmoded nineteenth-century agenda, but to the domain of contemporary philosophy. There remains, however, a sense in which Brentano has less in common with analytic philosophy than with its nineteenth century predecessors, insofar as his focus is very firmly upon consciousness rather than language as the principal object of philosophical investigation. Brentano does not participate in the linguistic turn which is partly constitutive of the switch from idealist to analytic philosophy, and his focus on consciousness is an enormous part of his legacy to later phenomenologists (with the possible exception of Heidegger and his followers). This is, however, something of a pedantic objection, and Kriegel leaves little doubt that Brentano’s philosophical style is one which should make his work accessible to contemporary analytic philosophers. Across nine well-argued and engaging chapters, Kriegel elucidates Brentano’s compelling and highly original contributions to philosophy of mind, metametaphysics, metaethics, normative ethics and other fields of current philosophical interest, repeatedly showing that Brentano merits a place in contemporary debates within each of these thriving areas. As such, Kriegel’s study should be of interest not only to scholars of Brentano and early phenomenology, but also to researchers in several areas of contemporary analytic philosophy.

Part One, ‘Mind’, opens with a chapter on ‘Consciousness’. For Kriegel, Brentano’s interest in consciousness is an interest in what today’s philosophers of mind call ‘phenomenal consciousness’ – its felt qualitative character. As such, many of Brentano’s remarks concerning consciousness rest ultimately upon appeals to phenomena with which it is assumed that all subjects are immediately acquainted insofar as they are conscious at all. According to what Kriegel calls Brentano’s ‘awareness principle’, one cannot be conscious without being conscious of being conscious. Such awareness of one’s own mental states is the source, Brentano maintains, of immediate and infallible self-knowledge resulting from what he famously labels as ‘inner perception’ and distinguishes from introspection or ‘inner observation’.

In an impressive display of scholarly engagement with the relevant primary and secondary literature, Kriegel advocates a novel and compelling interpretation of Brentano’s position, according to which the same mental state may be viewed either as the ‘consciousness of x’ or as the ‘consciousness of the consciousness of x’. As such, inner perception owes its unique epistemic merits to the identity between (i) a conscious state and (ii) the consciousness of that very state. Kriegel clearly distinguishes his interpretation from those offered by other Brentano scholars, such as Textor. Moreover, Kriegel credits Brentano with a position which he argues is more compelling than many modern theories of consciousness, such that Brentano’s approach is of more than merely historical interest.

Kriegel also notes however, the implausibility of Brentano’s commitment to the co-extensionality of mental states and conscious states. As he aims to show throughout the remaining chapters however, this is a position which may be excised from Brentano’s system with minimal repercussions. All the same, Kriegel maintains, it is important to note that Brentano’s philosophy of mind is, for this reason, more properly a philosophy of consciousness.

In Chapter Two, ‘Intentionality’, Kriegel advances an original interpretation of the concept with which Brentano’s name is most associated. Parting company with widely-held ‘immanentist’ interpretations, such as Crane’s, Kriegel denies that Brentano understands intentionality as a relation between a mental act and a subjective content internal to that act. Indeed, according to Kriegel’s ‘subjectist’ interpretation, intentionality is not, for Brentano, a relation at all, but a modification of the subject. Their misleading surface grammar notwithstanding, sentences appearing to commit one to the existence of a relation between a conscious state and an object thereof are more accurately understood as statements concerning a condition of the subject, according to Kriegel. As he interprets Brentano, non-veridical experiences have no intentional object at all, Kriegel maintains, rather than a merely private intentional object. To think of dragons, then, is not to be related to a fictitious object but to inhabit a state of a certain kind. By the same token, it is not constitutive of one’s thinking about the Eiffel Tower that it is indeed the intentional object of such a mental state. All that matters, in either case, according to Kriegel, is that the subject occupies such a state that, were certain conditions to be satisfied, that state would have an intentional object. Talk of ‘merely intentional objects’ is, as Kriegel understands Brentano, admissible only as a convenient fiction, as shorthand for the unsatisfied veridicality-conditions of some mental state.

While it is distinct from adverbialism, according to Kriegel, the position thus attributed to Brentano may, he acknowledges, appear vulnerable to an objection similar to that which Moran raises against the adverbialist. The last part of the chapter offers an answer to this revised criticism, showing again that Brentano’s views remain plausible. Kriegel proceeds with clarity and precision throughout in recognisably analytical fashion.

Chapter Three concludes Part One with a detailed account of Brentano’s taxonomy of the various kinds of conscious states. As Kriegel notes, Brentano’s interest in the systematic classification of mental states – and its centrality to his philosophical project – is characteristic of the taxonomically-fixated nineteenth century, but seems quite foreign to the priorities of contemporary philosophers of mind in the analytic tradition. Kriegel further remarks that Brentano is in disagreement with late twentieth and early twenty-first century orthodoxies in consequence of his anti-functionalist classification of mental states according to attitudinal properties rather than inferential role. Related to such anti-functionalism is Brentano’s notorious claim that disbelief-that-p is not equivalent to belief that not-p – a position starkly opposed to Frege’s.

All the same, Kriegel maintains, Brentano’s philosophy of mind loses much of its unfamiliar appearance when the scope of its claims are limited to the domain of the conscious, whereupon they become compatible with a broader functionalist outlook. With slight qualifications, Brenatano’s foundational distinction between judgement and interest may be understood to correspond to a familiar distinction between mental states, on the one hand, with a mind-to-world direction of fit and those, on the other, with a world-to-mind direction of fit. Brentano treats the distinction between propositional and non-propositional content as of secondary importance, however, and Kriegel takes it that there is nothing in contemporary classifications of the mental corresponding to Brentano’s treatment of presentation as a category of phenomena no less fundamental than judgement or interest. Much of chapter three is devoted to a reconstruction and defence of Brentano’s commitment to such an account of presentation – a position which Kriegel regards as persuasive and correct, but detachable from the rest of the Brentantian system without need for significant revisions elsewhere. Judgement and interest, however, remain of crucial systematic importance, according to Kriegel.

The second part of Kriegel’s fascinating and well-argued study concerns Brentano’s metaphysics, opening with a chapter on ‘Judgement’. As Kriegel re-iterates, Brentano’s account of judgement differs radically from more familiar theories in several respects. Firstly, no judgement is ever merely predicative, according to Brentano, but every judgement either affirms or denies something’s existence. Secondly, affirmative and negative judgements differ not in content but in attitude, and are therefore able to share the same content. Thirdly, the content of any judgement is always some putative individual object, rather than a proposition or state of affairs. In spite of its remarkable heterodoxy, however, Kriegel judges that Brentano’s account is astonishingly compelling and can be defended against several possible objections while facilitating a nominalistic ontology which is likely to appeal to current trends of metaphysical opinion. Kriegel ably and methodically proceeds to assess the prospects for Brentanian paraphrases for various forms of judgement, aiming in each case to show whether that judgement is reducible to an affirmation or denial of some particular object’s existence. In most cases, Kriegel maintains, adequate paraphrases are indeed available, although he expresses some doubt that such paraphrases accurately match the phenomenology involved in judgements of that kind. According to Kriegel, the best available Brentanian paraphrase of the negative compound judgement “­­­~ (p & q)” would be something along the lines of “there does not exist any sum of a correct belief in p and a correct belief in q”. While respecting the strictures of Brentano’s theory of judgement, Kriegel maintains, such a conceptually elaborate paraphrase – which involves second-order beliefs – is questionable as a description of the conscious experience involved in the judgement, “~ (p & q)”: a potential shortcoming in a theory alleged to rest upon no other foundation than the accurate description of immediately accessible conscious states.

Brentano’s metaontology – his account of what one does when one commits to the existence of something – provides the focus for Chapter Five. After summarising what he takes to be the three most prominent approaches in contemporary metaontology – those which he attributes to Meinong, Frege, and Williamson – Kriegel proceeds to distinguish Brentano’s position from each of these. Unlike any of the more familiar positions, Brentanto’s holds that nothing is predicated of anything – whether a subject or a first-order property – when something is said to exist. Rather, to say that something exists is to say that it is a fitting object of a certain kind of mental attitude – that of belief-in, or affirmative judgement. To say that x is a fitting object of belief-in, moreover, is to say that were a subject capable of deciding the matter on the basis of self-evidence then the attitude they would take to x would be one of belief-in. In view of serious problems attending Brentano’s analysis of belief-fittingness in terms of hypothetical self-evidence, however, Kriegel offers the revisionary proposal that belief-fittingness be understood as no less primitive than self-evidence. Belief-fittingness would be unanalysable in that case, although particular instances of belief-fittingness would be distinguishable by comparison against contrasting cases.

It is, for Kriegel, a liability of Brentano’s position that, by interpreting existence-statements as disguised normative claims, it fails to accommodate the phenomenology of such judgements, which do not seem at all, to those who make them, like statements about the mental attitude appropriate to one or another intentional object. Nonetheless, Kriegel maintains, Brentano’s position impressively circumvents a host of problems which have confronted the three most familiar metaontological approaches, and is entirely unburdened by any implicit commitment to objects which lack the property of existence without failing to qualify as beings of another exotic variety.

Brentano’s unorthodox theory of judgement and metaontology are largely motivated by a strong aversion to abstract entities, and it is to the nominalistic upshot of these Brentanian innovations that Kriegel turns his attention in chapter six. As Kriegel explains, however, Brentano’s ‘reism’ is quite unlike familiar ‘ostrich’ and ‘paraphrase’ forms of nominalism and is not vulnerable to the kinds of objection which have often been raised against such positions. As a form of ‘strict’ nominalism, it is not only abstracta which Brentano’s position rejects, but also universals, such that the Brentanian ontology condones no other entities than concrete particulars. The truth-maker for “Beyoncé is famous”, to take one of Kriegel’s own examples, is not a proposition or state of affairs, but the concrete particular “famous-Beyoncé”. “Famous-Beyoncé” is a curious entity, however, being co-located with a host of other complex concrete particulars, each of which makes true a certain statement about one and the same Beyoncé to which they are related as accidents of a substance.

Kriegel readily acknowledges, however, that a number of counter-intuitive commitments result from Brentano’s ‘coincidence model’. While recognising Beyoncé as a proper part of Famous-Beyoncé, Brentano is unwilling to risk the admission of abstract entities into his ontology by permitting Famous-Beyoncé to consist of any other proper part than Beyoncé. Although he thereby avoids any commitment to an abstract ‘fame’ supplement, the addition of which to Beyoncé results in Famous-Beyoncé, Brentano is also driven to the odd result that Beyoncé is a proper part without need of supplementation by any further part – a conclusion firmly at odds with the principles of classical mereology. In spite of its shortcomings, however, Brentano’s reism is, according to Kriegel, at least as plausible as any of the nominalist positions currently available, and provides a novel response to the truth-maker challenge.

With Part Three, ‘Value’, Kriegel turns his attention to Brentano’s much-overlooked account of the good. Chapter Seven offers an inventory of the main forms of interest – that basic genre of conscious states, all of the species of which present their objects as either good or bad in some way. Much as Brentano’s metaphysics rests upon his analysis of judgement, so does his theory of value bear a similar relation to his account of interest in its various forms – such as emotion, volition, and pleasure/displeasure. Because Brentano did not complete the projected Book V of his Psychology, in which he had intended to focus on interest in general, several of Kriegel’s proposals in this chapter are offered as ‘Brentanian in spirit’ and Kriegel is forthcoming in appealing to various scattered primary texts in supporting an interpretation of Brentano which he admits may seem anachronistic in its terminology and dialectical agenda.

All the same, Kriegel persuasively shows that Brentano’s works provide the resources for a distinction between will and emotion which respects their common evaluative-attitudinal status. Kriegel develops Brentano’s somewhat sketchy distinction between interests in compatible and incompatible goods by distinguishing between presenting-as-prima-facie-good and presenting-as-ultima-facie-good. Before deciding between incompatible alternatives, both might be emotionally presented as similarly good or bad, but one cannot rationally have incompatible alternatives as an object of volition. Volition differs from emotion, therefore, by presenting its object as ultima facie good, to the exclusion of objects with which it is incompatible. Although he does not suppose that Brentano would draw the distinction in such a fashion, Kriegel also maintains that pleasure and displeasure may be distinguished from emotions in a Brentanian spirit by treating algedonic states as presenting-as-immediately-present some good or ill, whereas emotions do not distinguish, in the presentation of an object, between present and absent goods.

Proceeding in chapter eight to an account of Brentano’s metaethics, Kriegel argues that Brentano may qualify as the original fitting attitude theorist. To call something ‘good’, according to Brentano, is to say that it is fitting to adopt a pro-attitude towards that thing. As such, the good is to interest, for Brentano, as the true is to judgement. The analogue for self-evidence, with respect to interest, is what Kriegel terms ‘self-imposition’ – a feature of those positive or negative value-assessments which irresistibly command our agreement, and which is directly available to inner perception. Those interests are fitting, Brentano maintains, which are either self-imposing or which would be given in inner perception to any subject with a self-imposing attitude towards the intentional object in question.

While highlighting the originality of Brentano’s metaethics – which he claims to anticipate Moore’s celebrated open question argument in certain important respects – Kriegel views self-imposition as a liability for Brentano, inasmuch as it is tasked with both normative and psychological-descriptive functions. For Kriegel, Brentano’s metaethics is an unstable combination of naturalist and non-naturalist features. Nonetheless, Kriegel shows Brentano to argue compellingly against a number of rival accounts and to circumvent certain difficulties which confront such competitors. What is more, Kriegel helpfully locates Brentano’s metaethics within a wider systematic context, returning throughout to parallels between his fitting attitude accounts of judgement and interest. Brentano’s aesthetics, or theory of beauty, is also seen to occupy a location within the same system and to involve a ‘fitting delight’ account, according to which that is beautiful the contemplation of which is itself the fitting object of a pro-attitude. The beautiful is therefore a species of the good, as Kriegel understands Brentano, and is distinct from moral value insofar as it involves the adoption of a pro-attitude towards the contemplation of a presentation.

With the ninth and final chapter, Kriegel turns his focus to Brentano’s normative ethics. Brentano is shown to advocate a pluralistic consequentialism which recognises four intrinsic goods: consciousness, pleasure, knowledge, and fitting attitudes. Whatever is instrumentally valuable in promoting the realisation of these intrinsic goods is therefore of derivative value, according to Brentano, and the right course of action to pursue in any given situation is that from which the greatest good shall result. Although he admits pleasure as an unconditional good – irrespective of its source – Brentano avoids certain counter-intuitive implications of cruder consequentialist positions by acknowledging fitting attitudes as further intrinsic goods. As such, Brentano can admit painful feelings of guilt at one’s own wrongdoing as being of intrinsic value. Whereas, however, Kantians can deny that there is any value in a pleasure derived from wrongdoing, this option is not open to Brentano, for whom the issue of weighing the various goods against one another therefore becomes especially pressing.

Kriegel takes Brentano to face a challenge here, however, and expresses concern that Brentano’s ethics may be unhelpful as a guide to moral action. Having highlighted, in the previous chapter, certain difficulties confronting the notion of self-imposition, Kriegel notes that it is to this same concept that Brentano appeals in attempting to distinguish between which of any two goods is preferable to the other. The fitting preference in any such case is that which the subject would take were their attitude self-imposing, but Kriegel argues that for most such comparisons this moral equivalent of self-evidence will presuppose a measure of knowledge unavailable to any recognisably human agent. As Kriegel observes, it is of little use to advise someone to act as they would were they endowed with perfect impartiality and all of the facts relevant to the case in question.

There is much to recommend Kriegel’s ambitious and scholarly text, which certainly achieves its stated task of demonstrating Brentano’s relevance for contemporary debates across several fields of analytic philosophy. Kriegel impressively avoids the dual perils which confront the historian of philosophy, by locating Brentano’s original contributions within their historical context without, however, denying their relevance to today’s debates. Kriegel perhaps sails uncomfortably close, for some tastes, to an anachronistic reading of Brentano’s arguments and commitments, by phrasing these in terms of a conceptual vocabulary which owes much to late Twentieth and early Twenty-First Century analytic philosophy. Kriegel is forthcoming, however, in admitting his departures from the letter of the relevant Brentanian texts in order to facilitate comparisons between Brentano’s positions and those of more contemporary analytic philosophers. Kriegel also admits to contributing ‘Brentanian’ theses of his own where necessary, in order to fill certain gaps in Brentano’s system or to accommodate objections which Brentano did not anticipate. As such, Kriegel’s account is explicitly revisionary in certain places, such as his recommendations concerning the nature of ‘fittingness’ and his proposals concerning a Brentanian aesthetics. At no point, however, does Kriegel depart significantly from Brentano’s stated position without having already clearly motivated the appeal of a broadly Brentanian contribution to some on-going philosophical debate.

If Kriegel’s Brentano is too much the analytic philosopher for some historians of the phenomenological movement then no doubt he is too much of a system-builder for others. As Kriegel recognises, Brentano’s works are not typically regarded as contributions to a systematic philosophical enterprise, and much of Kriegel’s effort is devoted to correcting this oversight. Here too, Kriegel admits to making ‘Brentanian’ contributions of his own in order to clarify possible links between different parts of Brentano’s system and to provide possible details for areas which Brentano himself left only in outline sketches. That Brentano’s various contributions to ontology, metametaphysics, metaethics, normative ethics and other fields merit interpretation as parts of an overarching system is left in no doubt, however, and this would be sufficient achievement for Kriegel’s impressive monograph, were it not also to highlight the originality and insight which Brentano brought to each of these fields. Most importantly, however, Kriegel admirably shows Brentano’s work to deserve the attention of researchers in several areas of philosophical research, and to reward careful study not only by historians of philosophy and scholars of phenomenology, but also contemporary analytic philosophers.

Dietrich von Hildebrand: Ethics, Hildebrand Project, 2020

Ethics Book Cover Ethics
Dietrich von Hildebrand. Introductory study by John F. Crosby
Hildebrand Project
2020
Paperback $26.99
554

Eva Reyes-Gacitúa, Antonio Calcagno (Eds.): Edith Stein’s An Investigation Concerning the State: Sociality, Nationhood, Ethics

Edith Stein’s An Investigation Concerning the State: Sociality, Nationhood, Ethics Book Cover Edith Stein’s An Investigation Concerning the State: Sociality, Nationhood, Ethics
Contributions To Phenomenology, Vol. 110
Eva Reyes-Gacitúa, Antonio Calcagno (Eds.)
Springer
2020
Hardback 103,99 €
XIII, 148

Reviewed by: Jorge Varela (Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University)

The forgetfulness towards Stein’s An Investigation Concerning the State is telling about the fate of phenomenology. Over the past century its political concerns were mostly overlooked. The noticeable return to political phenomenology since the post-cold war period has had the peculiar character of neglecting most of the preceding political phenomenologies from the past. So, the publication of Edith Stein’s An Investigation Concerning the State: Sociality, Nationhood, Ethics, edited by Eva Reyes-Gacitúa and Antonio Calcagno has the value of calling attention to one of the earliest texts on political phenomenology. While there a few occasional analysis of Stein’s contribution on the state to Husserl’s Jahrbuch für Philosophie und phänomenologische Forschung, the essay is far from being a canonical text in phenomenology, regardless of its unique object in the early period of the phenomenological movement.

The encompassing nature of the book edited by Calcagno and Reyes-Gacitúa reflects its genesis. It results from the 2016 symposium by the Edith Stein Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies held in Chile, a centre that convenes annually to contribute for the expansion of scholarship on Stein’s work. 4 years ago, they attempted to introduce most of the content of Stein’s exploration into the state. The book has two parts, the first offers 8 chapters in an exhaustive presentation of the contents of Stein’s book, the 5 following chapters explore the usefulness of the book to approach current topics that were less salient in the 1920s.

As the essay was written between 1919 and 1921, and published in 1925, one wonders why did it take so long for any attention to be devoted to it? The editor’s introduction offers three reasons, 1) Stein is mostly associated with phenomenology or with Christian philosophy, and the State is not seen as a particular concern, 2) research on Stein’s wider works has only recently started and this book is part of her earlier unexplored texts, 3) for its association with the German intellectual mood of the interwar years (viii-ix). Strangely, the first two points assume that her readership would be constituted of specialists on Stein, without the inclusion of intellectual historians or other readers of phenomenology. The third point directs us into a more interesting dimension. On the one hand, the editors claim that the entire inter-war period is tainted by the involvement of Germany in the two most violent processes of the preceding century. More importantly, the intellectual explorations that have similarities with what lead the extremist policies of the period, were pushed aside, and ignored. This may make some sense as a fault of Stein’s support for World War I, before she started to write the essay on the state, but she was not a supporter of the Nazi regime. Indeed, she died in a concentration camp. Thus, the similarities between her work and some of the rising totalitarian ideas should be explored to understand the multiplicity of voices, and the specific differences of the period. What remains most surprising is that the editors did not mention Martin Heidegger’s collaboration with the Nazi regime. Heidegger isn’t even mentioned in the book, and his political choices are likely to have served as a greater deterrent for the development of political phenomenology. The specific reasons for overlooking An investigation Concerning the State seem insufficient to explain such a long delay between publication and its recent critical reception.

The opening chapter of part I by Mariano Crespo offers an allusion to the earliest works of political phenomenology that precede Stein’s contribution. Crespo’s attempts to provide prior explorations in the two most clear phenomenological influences for Stein, Husserl, and Reinach serve to emphasize the relevance of Stein’s endeavor. It becomes obvious that Husserl’s late emphasis on intersubjectivity and Reinach’s take on law inform Stein but both fall short of arriving at the political as their object. At the same time, the influence of Reinach is well presented and his apriorism constitutes a driving force for Stein’s considerations, a topic that is recurrent across the edited book. Stein replaces Reinach’s term apriori law for pure law and uses it to distance her approach from the concrete forms positive law assumes, while also avoiding the pitfalls of natural law and the apriori contents it offers. As Crespo states “a priori theory of law is nothing more than a theory of the ‘formal norms of legality’” (10). What applies for this first presentation applies for the entirety of the Stein’s perspective and for the chapters that are contained in this book.

Rather than analysing the concrete appearance of the state, the book chapters follow the ways Stein approaches the conditions of possibility of the state: Law (“Certain Legal Presuppositions About the Idea of Law in Edith Stein’s An Investigation Concerning the State”, by Marcelo Gidi SJ), Community (“People and State in Edith Stein’s An Investigation Concerning the State” by Marcela Aranda), Ethics (“Sovereignty and the Ethical Demands of the State, by Luis Mariano de la Maza). Aranda presents how Stein takes the People to be a special form of community, Gidi approaches the specific function of Law in Stein edifice, and de la Maza analyses the Ethical realm, particularly in its relation to Stein’s Aristotelian conception of autonomy, in opposition to modern conceptions of sovereignty.

Stein’s personal trajectory, and mostly her conversion to Catholicism, ended up by determining the audience for her writings as she seems to be more popular among catholic intellectuals than phenomenologists, some statements about her life assume a particularly important role. The text on the state was written before her 1922 conversion, and both the editors and de la Maza suggest that it is related with her affiliation with the German Democratic Party. De la Maza suggests there may be a “tension between the interests and personal involvement of Stein with the social and political reality of her time in Germany and the philosophical intent to address the subject of the state in the most objective and neutral way possible” (63-64). While it is difficult to argue that any thinker can develop a thought totally bracketing their own time, these assertions require explanation beyond mere biographical assertions. So, rather than suggesting that her adherence to the German Democratic Party was an influence on her thought on the state, they should have elaborated on how is such an influence felt, mostly when Stein leaves the state open to any ideological actualization. Or, perhaps more productively, they should have explored how Stein’s emphasis on the appearance of the state as either a community or a law creating entity, are the result of the increased bureaucratization of early 20th century state or of an increased perception of a rupture between community and authority. The diverse conceptions of the latter point drove much of the political instability of the interwar period, with competing understandings, from nationalism to Marxism, taking it as a point of dispute.

Likewise, Eva Reyes-Gacitúa’s “Woman and the State in Edith Stein’s thought” offers an important consideration on Stein’s thought on the necessity for an increased role of women in politics, accentuating particularly the contribution women may bring to a reform pedagogical culture. The relevance of women and any other fringe group remains highly relevant to this day, and the way their contribution can be valued and promoted should remain a central concern for conceptualizations of the state and politics. But her positions should also be viewed in relation to the period’s increased involvement of women, and catholic women in particular, in the public sphere to promote specific topics usually associated with education and family. Stein likely outpaces many of these proposals for the centrality of the civic dimension in her thought on women, but it is still remains part of this greater awareness of women’s activity. Reyes-Gacitúa’s chapter occupies a strange place in he edited book, as the Stein’s concern about women is posterior to the essay on the state, and she fails to make a relevant connection between Stein’s two explorations.

To this day, Stein’s continued influence comes less from her collaboration in phenomenological circles than from her spiritual quest that led to her conversion to Catholicism. Even though the book was written just prior to her conversion, it certainly represented a step in the journey that led to it, even if just as an exploration of the fields in which a mystical experience was supposed to remain absent. The significance of this element is felt throughout the recently published edited book and particularly explored in Juan Francisco Pinilla’s “Religion, Mysticism, and the State”. This chapter advances a challenging quest: to explore the mystical dimension of the state, particularly through the connections between the early book by Stein on the state and her later mystical writings, this despite of Stein’s refusal of a spiritual dimension in the life of the state. Pinilla’s parallelism between the two periods of Stein thought brings them together through a politico-theological perspective that clearly deserves further exploration in an analysis of Stein’s early forcible rejection of a religious enmeshment into the state.

Calcagno’s “The Challenges Posed by the Community of Law-Givers and Law-Followers in Edith Stein’s Idea of the State” that appears at the end of Part I is the most challenging and interesting chapter of the entire book. The chapter brings together much of the content of the preceding chapters, while also attempting to challenge and overcome Stein’s proposals. Calcagno’s analysis starts by approaching community, and the related concepts masses and society, in Stein’s works. This section is followed by an analysis of Stein’s approach to the state, and the chapter is concluded by a proposed alternative. By focusing on the centrality of sociality in Stein’s approach to the state, Calcagno attempts to avoid an excessive emphasis on philosophy of law to prioritize the sociological dimension of her proposal. Calcagno’s aim is to claim that “the intimacy and intensity that typify Steinian community pose a challenge for her understanding of the state”. Overall, his claim is that the value of Stein’s analysis lies outside of political theory, and that her conceptual apparatus is inadequate for an understanding of the state. It is surprising that the most interesting chapter in the book is an opposition to the relevance of this Stein’s book.

Calcagno’s discussion of sociality in Edith Stein pays attention to her relation to contemporary sociology and the emphasis on the mass or crowd, society, and community. Soon after completing her An Investigation Concerning the State she published her essay on the Individual and Community. Calcagno, just like Steiner, passes quickly through the notion of the masses as it seems of little relevance to the state for her, a position that Arendt would later regret to be false in the rise of totalitarian regimes. Calcagno also adds a dismissive note to the conceptual apparatus supporting an analysis of the masses by defining it as “marked either by imitation or what Stein and others call psychic contagion”. In the end, the analysis of the support of the state gets reduced to the two opposing social bonds that were central for Tönnies, society and community. Fundamentally, the distinction ends up by being supported by the individual’s relation to the form of sociality. In a community the individual assumes an objective character and it is guided by the attempt to achieve a certain goal, it is “an overextending desire for complete unification that cannot be practically achieved within material and historical circumstances” (88). Stein is explicit that it is community that is best suited as a foundation for law and the state. This very definition of community already pushes it to the constitution of the state. But is this a fair assessment of the value of her analysis of the relation between community and the state? It partly is, and Calcagno’s knowledge of Stein’s work is hardly reproachable, but there is an interpretative overstretch that deserves further exploration.

Calcagno’s interpretation of Steinian community is not exclusively based on her book on the State, but he gets most of his support from the 1922 text on the “Individual and Community”. While this is a common practice, it should be noted that Stein presents the community that feeds the state as a special type of community, unlike for example the family, and it should be noted that this difference makes the state community less intense than the smaller forms of community. Furthermore, the later text is closer to Stein’s conversion to Catholicism, and the limitations of earthly community are more explicit for her, but in her case that points towards a mystical experience that includes a relation to a dimension that supersedes sociality. Stein does assumes that there is a spiritual dimension to the state, but as Calcagno recognizes, it is because the state “appertains to the realm of freedom and motivation” (91). It can hardly be claimed that in the 1921 text she would accept that this could be brought back into a religious experience. So, the overlap of these two works to dismiss the political relevance of the earlier text require much more sustenance than what was done by Calcagno.

At the end of the chapter Calcagno uses the earlier analysis to support a liberal society as a more viable source for the state than community. Calcagno’s criticisms of Stein are generally informative, but his inclination towards society as a better support for the state is based on dubious assessments of Stein’s perspective. First, Calcagno seems to read Stein’s analysis of the state as a set of positive normative proposals. While there is no doubt there are several normative considerations guiding her inquiry, the inadequacy of this view is revealed by Calcagno’s puzzlement at the lack of explorations of specific political ideologies (84). Hers is not intended to be an ideology of the state, but a phenomenology of the state independently of the ideology that is to be deployed. Second, Calcagno is correct to claim that “her philosophical view of the underlying sociality required for statehood runs certain risks” (92), that is, the risk of totalitarianism that incidentally followed the writing of Stein’s book. But by reducing the hazards to an authoritarian personality becoming the leader of the community, Calcagno misses the point that the difference between society and community as support of a state that becomes totalitarian is the difference between a bureaucratic and a nationalist totalitarian state. Third, when Calcagno views society as a better means to achieve unity, he misses the point that this claim can only be done through profound reconceptualization, as he attributes a function to society that it necessarily is not able to sustain. While Stein clearly fetishizes the unity associated with community at a political level, Calcagno’s depoliticized fragments hardly seem to be ready for the task he proposes.

The emphasis Calcagno places on the role of sociality as the basis of the state is the best analysis of the implications of Stein’s work offered in the entire book. All the other elements, including her philosophy of law, remain void without a critical assessment of this point. For Stein, the question is how all the components of the state are experienced, and Calcagno offers a rich introduction to Stein’s ground-breaking dislocation of the support for the state to a careful analysis of sociality.

Part II of the book presents several explorations on the current usefulness of Stein’s approach to the state. These chapters analyse several of the dimensions that current researchers should be able to bring out of analysis of historical texts, how can we bring it to our day?

In “Bioethics and Edith Stein’s An Investigation Concerning the State” Alberto Rojas Osorio explores how Stein’s understanding of the role of the individual contributes for an assessment on how to deal with bioethical issues raised in contemporary society. The overview of the history of bioethics and the relation of humans to non-humans is brought out as being relevant beyond the field of medical research and it is enlightening and of significant relevance for many contemporary debates on posthumanism, object-oriented ontology, etc. Focusing on Stein’s presentation of sociality as relating to a common world of values, the author offers a reading on how Stein’s approach can be relocated to a bioethical concern. Clemens Franken’s “The Issue of the State’s Power and its Abuse in the Literature of Gertrud von le Fort in Light of Edith Stein’s An Investigation Concerning the State” presents a parallelism between Stein and the literary productions of her contemporary von le Fort. This chapter’s interest arises mostly due to the way Franken is able to approach the two authors despite of their different ideological positions and literary genres. They obviously also had much in common, and despite von le Fort’s focus on literary production, she was also very interested in philosophy. And perhaps more importantly, both converted to Catholicism. It is this latter point that makes the most akin, as Franken shows that both authors supported a view of the individual’s appurtenance to community as breeding an acceptance of obedience, an aspect that became relevant in the contemporary development of personalism. Franken’s chapter is not only important for the relation between the two thinkers, as it also offers an insightful intellectual history of their period. The Last chapter of the book is written by a Chilean politician reflecting on the relevance of Stein’s book for an assessment of current political reform in Chile. Soledad Alvear’s “The Current Process of the Constituent Assembly and the Relevance of Edith Stein’s An Investigation Concerning the State” embraces Stein’s encompassing theory of the state as allowing for a continued concern with the community to which it is directed.

Unlike the other chapters of Part II, Fredy Parra’s “The Justification of the Modern State in Edith Stein’s An Investigation Concerning the State: A Political Theological View” and María Esther Gómez de Pedro’s “Forms of the State: An Approach to the Work of Edith Stein Based on its Aristotelian Influences” approach topics that are not alien to Stein. Parra approaches the state from a perspective that hadn’t yet been developed at Stein’s time, political theology, and he brings to discussion authors that were all born in the decade that succeeded the production of Stein’s book. Parra’s chapter introduces Stein’s analysis of the state, emphasizing how the final form of her study remains unable to hinder the seizure of the state by undesirable values. Parra brings Ratzinger and Metz to explore the current predicaments of the state, as they result from his assessment of Stein. De Pedro focusses on the centrality of the bearers of the state in Stein’s understanding of the relation between community and the state. She also extends Stein’s analysis by further presenting how a greater focus on Aristotelian virtues could add to Stein’s view, claiming a political continuum between Aristotle, Aquinas and Stein.

Edited books are always a strange endeavor, and anyone who ventures into this field should always be lauded, but the current one presents a further challenge, it didn’t start as a book. In the beginning it was a conference. Perhaps more in the present day than ever before, the bringing together of researchers into a common physical space to present, explore, and criticize on common topics is of greater relevance in the production of renewed reassessments of the legacy that the world and intellectual tradition have legated us than most publications that arrive to us. So, the present book serves as a testimony to events that are becoming scarce and that threaten to consolidate the digitalization that was already impending. At the same time, the conference was performed by a group that was mostly starting to enter into Edith Stein’s book, and this led to presentations that privileged breadth of content rather than critical analysis. So, while the book covers most topics advanced by Stein, they bring limited novelty to what Stein wrote to start with. Furthermore, most contributions had to be translated from Spanish into English to be included in the book, but that left some problematic choices. For example, it is a poor choice to retain references to the Spanish translation of a German text in an English language text, as most readers won’t find these references helpful.

Edith Stein’s An Investigation Concerning the State: Sociality, Nationhood, Ethics serves as remembrance of the relevance of books that remained undervalued. Stein brought fresh light into the problematic of the state by directly focusing on aspects that remain pertinent and unresolved to this day.

Michael Bongardt, Holger Burckhart, John-Stewart Gordon, Jürgen Nielsen-Sikora (Eds.): Hans Jonas-Handbuch, J.B. Metzler, 2020

Hans Jonas-Handbuch: Leben – Werk – Wirkung Book Cover Hans Jonas-Handbuch: Leben – Werk – Wirkung
Michael Bongardt, Holger Burckhart, John-Stewart Gordon, Jürgen Nielsen-Sikora (Eds.)
J.B. Metzler
2020
Hardback 99,99 €

Edmund Husserl: Introducción a la ética, Editorial Trotta, 2020

Introducción a la ética Book Cover Introducción a la ética
Edmund Husserl. Edición de Mariana Chu, Mariano Crespo, Luis R. Rabanaque
Editorial Trotta
2020
Paperback 29,00 €
368

Alberto Romele: Digital Hermeneutics: Philosophical Investigations in New Media and Technologies

Digital Hermeneutics: Philosophical Investigations in New Media and Technologies Book Cover Digital Hermeneutics: Philosophical Investigations in New Media and Technologies
Alberto Romele
Routledge
2019
Paperback
168

Reviewed by: Eddo Evink (Faculty of Philosophy, University of Groningen)

Introduction

It is a commonplace to say that digital media and communication technology have thoroughly transformed the world we live in. This is obvious to all of us. The impact of the digital revolution, however, is so immense that philosophy, in spite of a multitude of books and articles, has only started to get a grip on it, as far as that is possible at all. Although one might expect a large number of contributions of the hermeneutic tradition to the philosophical reflections on digital media, since these are mainly information and communication technologies, philosophical hermeneutics has remained relatively silent with regard to the new media.

Alberto Romele’s monograph Digital Hermeneutics is therefore a more than welcome intervention in the philosophical reflections on the new media. Romele has written a rich book that discusses many aspects of this complicated field of research. His book does not only develop a hermeneutic approach to digital media, it also shows the mutual influence of hermeneutic interpretation theory and the new media technology.

Renewing Hermeneutics

Romele’s approach is in line with the hermeneutics of Paul Ricoeur. Especially the notion of distanciation is used to highlight how new media are both object of research and actor in the networks in which they are embedded. But also Romele’s style is reminiscent of Ricoeur: he develops his ideas in discussion with many other theorists, showing ever new insights into the complicated relations between information and interpretation, internet and society, imagination and mediation, humans and technology. Also in line with Ricoeur’s style, the conclusions of the different parts of the book are more like new chapters than integrating summaries. This makes the book as a whole a dense and rich composition of many lines of thought, starting with an Overture, followed by two large parts, while ending with a grand Finale. The book has a large scope: after the introduction of its approach in the Overture, Part 1 offers an epistemological and methodological account of the digital, Part 2 is about an ontology of the digital, while the Finale discusses several ethical end political consequences.

Romele rightly argues that a hermeneutic approach of new media cannot be a matter of simply applying existing points of view of the hermeneutic tradition to the digital. The hermeneutic tradition itself needs to be taken up and renewed. In the Overture he starts with a ‘confession’ (2) that he began the project of this book with the intention to deconstruct the hermeneutics of Gadamer and Ricoeur. In Gadamer’s philosophy Romele recognizes a focus on unity, with theological roots, that, notwithstanding all the emphasis on dialogue, is a monologue of “the sole truth of the Event.” (1) In Ricoeur’s work, Romele finds what he calls an “idealism of matter”, a tendency to focus exclusively on language as the main or even only mediator of meaning. The same concentration on unity and ontology can also be found in Heidegger’s philosophy of technology that takes all technological phenomena together from the single perspective of Gestell. Instead, a hermeneutic-phenomenological philosophy of technology should not only be fixated on a general ontology but embrace the ontic plurality of many technical devices, projects and phenomena. Romele therefore makes a plea for a “minor and pragmatic hermeneutics” (1) that highlights the multi-linear and multi-medial character of interpretation, including digital and non-linguistic interpretation; a hermeneutics that embraces ideas of post-phenomenology, empirical philosophy and actor-network-theory. Interpretation does not only take place in language, but also in other media, matter and machines. It is also a matter of images, websites, cell phones and algorithms.

Of course, this approach is not a break with the hermeneutic tradition, it is a renewal. Just as post-phenomenology takes up several aspects of Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein in Sein und Zeit, Romele’s digital hermeneutics follows his ontological turn in hermeneutics that regards every relation between Dasein and world as an interpretation. Thus, instead of deconstructing hermeneutics, Romele picks up Ricoeur’s concept of distanciation (11) and uses it to reveal how, on the one hand, we are connected with the world through all kinds of digital and technical-material relations, while, on the other hand, the digital devices and networks can become object of scientific research and philosophical reflection as well. In this way Romele also transforms Ricoeur’s idea of distanciation, giving it a material deepening beyond the merely linguistic understanding by Ricoeur.

In this respect, he also uses a distinction made by Don Ihde (1998) between a ‘special’ and a ‘general’ hermeneutics. Special hermeneutics refers to the specific kind of technologies that offer a representation of the world, while general hermeneutics alludes to the fact that all technologies are hermeneutic in the sense that they selectively frame and mould the human-world relations in which they function. A philosophical hermeneutics of the digital needs to take into account the active interpretative performances of technical tools and procedures that are at work in all our engagements with it. Digital hermeneutics is a hermeneutics of the digital in both meanings of the subjective and objective genitive.

Epistemology of the Digital

Under the somewhat confusing heading “The Virtual Never Ended” Romele examines epistemological and methodological issues, disputing several lines of thought that tend to minimize the distance between the virtual and the real. In the first reflections on the internet and digital media, now a few decades ago, many theorists emphasized the difference between the virtual and the real. The virtual was a ‘second world’ in which we could easily experiment with what was not possible or harder to accomplish in the real world. Later, this perspective changed in its opposite: many researchers now maintain that no distinction can be made anymore between the virtual and the real. Romele uses the notion of distanciation to criticize both points of view. The virtual is like the glasses or contact lenses that we can see, but also through which we can see and that change the way we see, although they seem to be completely transparent.

In the first chapter Romele takes a position against those who believe that “the virtual invaded the real.” In particular, he discusses the “semantic theory of information”, formulated by Luciano Floridi. Floridi (2005) defines information as “data + meaning + truth” (27). This is a very objectivist view that includes meaning and truth as internal ingredients of information. Floridi even gives a Hegelian-style formula to express this belief: “what is real is informational, and what is informational is real.” (35) Based on this view, Floridi also develops the more practical view that in everyday life the real and the virtual are blurred, mixing ‘life’ and ‘online’ in an Onlife Manifesto (35). This leads to all kinds of problems and contradictions: thruth-values as supervening on semantic information; the difference between factual and instructional information, and more.

As an alternative, Romele sketches a hermeneutic approach of information, describing it as part of contextual communication. He draws on several other authors, as well as on etymological research that shows that the pre-modern meaning of information was ‘giving a (substantial) form to matter’ (24). For those who are well educated in hermeneutics, his criticism is not very surprising: information can only manifest its meaning in contexts, it is in need of interpretation, and therefore the meaning can never be entirely fixed. The conclusions of this chapter, however, show the importance of the material aspects in Romele’s approach:

“…the hermeneutics of information (and, more broadly, digital hermeneutics) is a material hermeneutics for three reasons: (1) because it starts from an analysis which is internal and not extrinsic to the object in question; (2) because it deals with the varieties of contexts of production and reception of meaning; (3) because it is interested in the matter (the techniques and technologies) through which digital traces are transformed into data, and data into information.” (38)

The introduction to the second chapter discusses several topics, among them the growing awareness that the real and the virtual are not two separated worlds, but are thoroughly intertwined. In terms of the title: the real invaded the virtual. This involves, besides many other issues, problems with privacy; but in this part of the book Romele directs our intention mainly to digital sociology, asking the epistemological question how society can be studied with digital methods. Several examples of data visualization, Big Data and computational sociology are discussed, while Romele underscores the view that digital methods do not give a transparent window on the world or on ourselves. There always remains “an inexhaustible gap between the self and its digital representations.” (50) So again, the virtual and the real do not coincide. In the second section Romele chooses an unexpected opponent: Bruno Latour.

One might expect, Romele rightly suggests, that Latour would show how digital representation and research methods do not simply represent the world as it is, how digital technology needs its own material structure of cables, electricity, hardware, etc., and how the internet can be seen as a dense network of actants. To the surprise of both author and readers, this is not what Latour writes about the digital. Romele shows how Latour usually combines an emphasis on matter and on networks, but with regard to the digital he seems to forget its material shapes and almost entirely focusses on how digital networks offer us a view on real networks:

“It is as if Latour’s attention to the matter of the spirit applies to everything except to digital technologies and methodologies because they allow social reality to be seen as Latour wants to see it. For him, the digital has a double function. From an ontological point of view, it is a model and a paradigm for seeing the society as an actor-network. From an epistemological perspective, it offers a new resource to study society ‘in action.’” (53)

Latour seems to try to erase the difference between map and territory: “…digital traceability has transformed reality in  a global laboratory in which entities and events can be followed step by step.” (54) However, arguing that the real and the virtual never coincide, Romele reads Latour against Latour, showing how Latour’s interest in uncovering networks in the real world conceals the matter of the digital as a web of constructing actants. In other words, with regard to the digital Latour seems to behave like the ‘modern’ scientist that he elsewhere claims we have never been:

“In his We Have Never Been Modern (1993), Latour denoted with the word ‘modern’ two orders of practices: the ‘translation,’ consisting of creating hybrids, and the ‘purification,’ which continuously hides these same hybridizations. Are we not facing such a process right here? Are we not, on the one hand, creating hybrid entities of (social) nature and (digital) culture (digital traces and the methods for their analysis as ‘presentification’ of social reality) and, on the other hand, concealing the very process of creation of these entities?” (58)

After this criticism Romele mentions several ideas and methods that are better candidates to be incorporated in a methodology of digital hermeneutics. Big Data do not simply show massive facts, but, with a reference to Rob Kitchin (2014), could better be called “capta (from the Latin capere, ‘to take’), because they are extracted through observations, computations, experiments, and recordings that have nothing immediate in themselves.” (60)

How can we develop methods that make use of the giant new possibilities of massive digital information, while remaining aware of its perspective and constructive elements? Romele refers to the work of the digital sociologist Noortje Marres (2017), perhaps “the most Latourian in this field, more Latourian than Latour himself,” (61) who indicates the impossibility to establish a clear boundary between digital methods and their objects. In her digital sociology she has decided to accept the fluidity of the distinction between methods and objects, and to investigate this unsolidified distinction. Marres’ sociology includes “the continuous effort to trace the boundaries between medium, methods, and social reality.” (62) Sociology therefore needs to combine digital and classical methods, while placing the constructive effects of digital settings in the centre of scientific analysis. Marres calls this “issue mapping.” (63)

This is where hermeneutics meets post-phenomenology. This last current of thought (Romele mainly refers to Don Ihde and Peter-Paul Verbeek) investigates how technologies are co-constitutive in the mediation between humans and the world. It offers another perspective on the same insights of actor-network-theory: “…while actor-network theory is attentive above all to the plurality of relations, postphenomenology, which usually considers only one relation at a time, addresses somewhat the different types of relations and the different types of actors involved in these relations.” (65) Digital hermeneutics thus includes the use of digital methods as well as reflections on these methods and the many ways  they participate in shaping their objects. Further investigations in this field of research will probably lead to very complex analyses of many different sorts of multidimensional and flexible networks. Romele has developed a promising epistemological vantage point for this kind of research. I would have liked to read a bit more about advanced elaborations on it, but these lie beyond the scope of this book.

In this way Romele sketches not only a material and technological turn in hermeneutics, but also a hermeneutical turn in the philosophy of technology. Digital hermeneutics is an actualization of Ricoeur’s “long route” of hermeneutics, “making existence, preconceptions, and specific worldviews emerge from an internal analysis of the methods and the objects themselves.” (74) This approach includes negotiations about the methods and terminologies that the researcher has to link his own work to, in order to keep a dialogue going. On the one hand Romele seems to join theories of information, trying to give a hermeneutic twist to them. On the other hand he suggests another terminology, developing the notion of “digital trace” as a “hermeneutic alternative to the concept of semantic information” of Floridi and others (75). Although information and communication are still relevant features of the digital, Romele writes: “I believe that today recording, registration, and keeping track represent the most appropriate paradigm for understanding the digital and its consequences.” (72) Again, he follows Ricoeur in this respect, for whom the trace was “the matrix of a difficult but possible epistemology.” (77). Tracking or following traces is a general notion for a style of research in many different practices, like medicine, hunting and art history. “A hermeneutic of the trace would therefore be much wider (both in depth and width) than the classic hermeneutics of texts, documents, or monuments.” (78)

Ontology of the Digital

The second part of this book is dedicated to the ontology of the digital. Its aim is a new ontological turn in hermeneutics, now within the context of digital hermeneutics, by investigating to what extent digital machines are able to interpret. This is a farewell to the anthropocentrism that has accompanied modern hermeneutics for centuries. In the third chapter Romele goes step-by-step from Kantian imagination to Emagination – this term is also the title of part II.

The Kantian transcendental scheme or Einbildungskraft is the famous faculty of the first Critique that brings sense data and understanding together: the transcendental construction of objects in the mind. In the third Critique Kant adds a reflective imagination that is less dependent on the twelve categories of understanding. In the twentieth century this imagination as faculty of human consciousness was replaced by Simondon and Ricoeur in a, respectively, practical-technical and a semiotic-historical imagination. Romele refers several times to Simondon, but mainly elaborates on Ricoeur. In Ricoeur’s narrative theory productive imagination is externalized in language: “The synthesis between receptivity and spontaneity happens outside, in linguistic expressions such as symbols, signs, metaphors, and narrations.” (87) Imagination is not a creatio ex nihilo, but is a recombination of already existing elements, a process of distanciation and re-appropriation, which takes place in language. Ricoeur has articulated this process with the help of the Aristotelian notions mimesis and mythos. The re-arrangement of elements of a series of events in the structures of a story takes the place of the Kantian imagination that combines sense data and the categories of the understanding. This emplotment is performed in several levels of mimesis: prefiguration, configuration and refiguration.

In a move that is analogous to his argument in the first part, Romele now transposes productive imagination from language to machines. Digital imagination, or emagination, however, is more than an extension of human imagination from language to machines: the machines work by themselves. “Digital technologies, I would say, imitate with increasing fidelity the way human productive imagination actually works.” (100) They are “imaginative machines” that work by mimesis and mythos.

With regard to mimesis, Romele refers to, among others, Don Ihde, who has distinguished several ways in which technology mediates between humans and the world. All these mediations are transparent, in the sense that, after a while, we hardly notice them anymore:

“(1) embodied relations, whose specificity lies in the high transparency of the technological artefact after a period of adaptation (for instance, glasses); (2) hermeneutic relations, which give a representation of the world that interprets the world, and that must in its turn be interpreted (for example, thermometers and maps); (3) alterity relations, in which the relation with the world is temporarily suspended, and the technology itself assumes the role of interlocutor/competitor (for instance, computer games); and (4) background relations, when a technology creates the conditions of our own relation with the world (for example, heating and lighting systems).” (100-101)

Digital technologies can perform all these mediations. In doing so, they interpret, represent and reproduce the world for us. But however transparent they may seem, we still need to be aware of the distanciation that is at work here: digital representations do not coincide with reality.

With regard to mythos, digital software is able to perform productive imagination. The emplotment is created by databases and algorithms, analogous to the Kantian sense data and categories – and perhaps also to series of events combined in narrative structures. This last comparison is suggested but not specified by Romele. A few pages further, this analogy is relativized, when he mentions differences between narrative imagination and Big Data analytics. The latter is abstracted from its context of production and, moreover: “…data mining and machine learning are based neither on narrative emplotment nor on the research of causes […], but on the correlation of heterogeneous data.” (108) Nevertheless, digital technologies work autonomously and can guide our perceptions and actions. They are “…not only interfaces to our imagination and the world but are one of the ways (probably the main one today) in which productive imagination externalizes and realizes itself in the world.” (103)

Moreover, digital machines are increasingly performing faster and on a larger scale than humans. Big Data and the newest algorithms work more and more autonomously, and with a productive imagination that surpasses human sensibility and understanding. According to Romele, at the end of the last century productive imagination could still be said to be “lower” than human imagination. In the social web of the last two decades there is rather a correspondence between the two. But today, now that databases have become data streams and because of the development of machine learning algorithms,

“the relation between human and digital imagination is going to be inversed, since the latter is overpassing the possibilities of the former. Or at least, even without wanting to confront them, it seems fair to say that digital imagination is taking an autonomous path which has concrete consequences on our decisions.” (91)

Given the fact that the analogy between narrative and digital imagination is, in my view at least, less convincing than other parts of the book, it makes sense to suggest that the latter is different from human imagination, but that it also, at least in several respects, outperforms human productive imagination.

This last observation, one of the most important ideas of this book, is not only fascinating, but also deeply worrying, as becomes clear in the example of algorithmic governmental profiling. The third chapter ends with the larger question how human freedom can be understood in this understanding of productive imagination and in relation to the digital. Romele pleas for a relatively modest view of our freedom: “Human beings are essentially hetero-determinate, and what we call ‘freedom’ is a long and difficult detour through our technological, but also bodily, cultural, and social exteriorities.” (109) Nonetheless, the newest digital technologies may have enormous consequences on our subjective sense of freedom.

In chapter 4 Romele goes further in “frustrating” our human self-esteem. He states that human imagination is not as creative and ingenious as we often think. All innovation is a recombination and further developing of what already existed. Romele combines the Kantian distinction between determining imagination in the first Critique and free reflective imagination in the third Critique with Lévi-Strauss’ distinction between the engineer and the bricoleur. The engineer looks for the right materials and can develop a large number of tools and concepts, whereas the bricoleur only uses the material at hand. According to this distinction, the bricoleur is productive and the engineer is creative. Romele criticizes the idea that human imagination works like creative engineering, following Derrida’s deconstruction of the distinction: the engineer is a myth. Thus, we have never been engineers, as the title of this chapter says (124).

In addition, Romele stresses the increasing role of Artificial Intelligence in influencing our aesthetic judgments (machines recommending us what to watch and what to listen to), as well as aesthetic production in some areas. All this means “…that digital machines are also teaching us to be modest when it comes to us pretending to be engineers.” (132)

In the conclusion of this chapter, Romele compares several phases of the relation between hermeneutics and nature with phases of digital hermeneutics. These phases are a “level zero” (nature cannot be interpreted), “level one” (nature as object or our projections) and “level two” (nature has interpretative capacities). Comparably, for a long time hermeneutics made a strong distinction between humans and non-humans, which can be called “level zero”. At “level one” interpretation “…is a result of the articulation between human and non-human intentionalities.” (138) “Level two” still mainly has to come. The question here is whether we can “…attribute to digital technologies, or at least to an emerging part of them, an autonomous interpretational agency.” (139)

A part of the answer to this last question is given on the first page of the Finale. Among the many distinctions Romele has made in his book, is a list of different degrees and kinds of interpretation. Several levels of complexity can be distinguished. The more complex the level of interpretation is, the less it can be attributed to digital technologies. Classification in already established orders can be done more efficiently by machines, whereas digital technologies cannot (yet) beat human pattern-recognition abilities (143).

Ethics and Politics of the Digital

The plea for symmetry between humans and digital machines does not make Romele blind for the political consequences it may have. He argues for a critical posthumanism that needs to address differences between humans and machines, “… while remaining within the limits of a principle of symmetry.” (144) This critical posthumanism has to investigate “…the kind of interference between human and non-human (in this case, digital) claims for meaning when the object of interpretation and eventual understanding is human subjectivity.” (145) In recent years this interference has been growing because of the collection, analysis and trade of user and consumer data. Romele speaks of a “general ‘algorithmization’ and ‘Big Datafication’” that has created a superstructure with a central role in our digital economy, culture and society (148).

What worries Romele is the indifference he finds in many people, “the most important affection in the present digital age.” (145) He tries to understand this indifference with Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of habitus. Habitus is a “supra- or infra-cultural entity that frames our intention without us even being conscious of such hetero-determination.” (149) It shapes our behaviour, postures, wishes, etc., and makes us part of a specific social and economic class. The digital, Romele writes, “must be considered as a sort of habitus generator.” (146, 151) At the end of his book he formulates the following important question:

“The question I want to ask at this point is how it is possible to make subjects able to deal with the digital habitus in order to carve out room for manoeuvring or allowing a margin of freedom before the power and the configuring force exercised on them by and through the sociotechnical systems.” (153)

His answer makes use of three notions that are articulated by Michel Foucault. The first is the Panopticon: surveillance is an increasing problem of social media. The second notion is confession. Foucault states that Western self-understanding and expression have adopted a form of confession that gives rise to problematic power relations. The way to deal with these power relations may lie in a third notion: parrhesia, speaking freely, in a way that interrupts the usual codes. The problem is, however, that algorithmic digital technology seems to have anesthetized our free speech or to have made it irrelevant. What can speaking freely help us, if the algorithms of insurance companies or the police have already profiled us as suspicious? Romele suggests that only socio-economic and institutional initiatives can constitute contexts and situations that make parrhesia possible. The justice we would need to look for, he concludes,

“…would consist of creating sociotechnical conditions for an ethos of distanciation from one’s own digital habitus. In other words, it would mean to contribute to framing a sociodigital environment in which people can become sensitive to the insensibility and indifference of the digital.” (158)

Digital Hermeneutics is a rich and dense book that offers many views on the rapidly developing digital structures of our world. It discusses several important questions that philosophy needs to address today. At the same time it is a very good effort to re-invent hermeneutics in a contemporary setting, incorporating post-phenomenology and other philosophies of technology. In short, this is a must-read for everyone who is interested in hermeneutic philosophy and the digital.

References

Don Ihde. Don. 1998, Expanding Hermeneutics: Visualism in Science. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Floridi, Luciano. 2005. “Is Semantic Information Meaningful Data?”, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 70 (2): 351–370.

Kitchin, Rob. 2014. The Data Revolution: Big Data, Open Data, Data Infrastructures and Their Consequences. London: Sage.

Marres, Noortje. 2017. Digital Sociology: The Reinvention of Sociological Research. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Ricoeur, Paul. 1991. From Text to Action: Essays in Hermeneutics, II. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Andrea Staiti: Etica Naturalistica e Fenomenologia

Etica naturalistica e fenomenologia Book Cover Etica naturalistica e fenomenologia
Percorsi
Andrea Staiti
Società editrice il Mulino
2020
Paperback € 16,00
160

Reviewed by: Susi Ferrarello (California State University)

Staiti’s book is a very engaging metaethical investigation of naturalism in ethics (7). Here, phenomenology serves a twofold purpose. As it is in the nature of phenomenology, in this book, too, phenomenology is used as a method and theory. On the one hand, phenomenology’s methodological approach can provide the right ‘atteggiamento’ (attitude, 30) for addressing problems proper to naturalism, such as nihilism and the relative limits of physicalism (20-25); on the other hand, phenomenological theory in axiology, specifically in relation to the notion of material a priori (38), offers ideas in support of a “liberal way” (29) of interpreting naturalism and handling some of the thorniest debates in metaethics. This is especially clear when Staiti discusses the problem of moral intuition and perception and the behavior of axiological properties in mereological foundations (8).

What does phenomenology have to gain from this interaction? Staiti’s answer is that metaethics can help phenomenology to position itself in the contemporary philosophical metaethical traditions (9). Since metaethical problems are very close to the issues tackled by the phenomenological tradition, the two can help each other in the most problematic areas.

The book is organized into four chapters. The first starts with a description of naturalism, in general, and ethical naturalism, in particular. Staiti describes two aspects of naturalism: ontological and methodological. Methodological naturalism is based on and limited by the natural sciences and the scientific community that gathers around them (16). In this form of naturalism, the philosophical discussion is based on the solid ground of what can be proven by science. In doing so, methodological naturalism does not leave much room to discuss what cannot yet be proven. This problem also occurs in ontological naturalism. Ontological naturalism, in fact, focuses on the description of concrete entities; what is labelled as spooky (17) exceeds this category. For this reason, Staiti seems to welcome De Caro’s proposal of a liberal naturalism (19-20), which connects philosophical rationality to empirical sciences in order to revise scientific positions that would oppose the experimental nature of science and philosophy (20).

In ethics, naturalism expresses itself in the forms of physicalism and realism. In ethical physicalism, what matters for the ethical discourse is what we can ‘tangibly’ see; hence, in the case of a nihilistic solution what matters is Nothing, or, in the case of psychologism and expressivism, what matters are feelings and emotions. A naturalistic approach to the good leads the investigator to take into consideration only what exists in reference to the world (22). This form of naturalism in ethics tends to reinforce a moral psychology that limits the investigation to what can be proven as true and good from the perspective of the Geisteswissenschaften (sciences of mind). The other declension of naturalism in ethics is realism, which considers axiological properties as real entities accessible to the philosophical investigation. Similarly to the liberal naturalism proposed above, Staiti points to a liberal form of naturalism in ethics that would avoid a nihilist solution to ethical problems. In fact, the liberal version of ethical naturalism supports “the existence of axiological properties as natural properties accessible in the same way as natural properties” (25). In order to access these properties, philosophy needs to adopt the right attitude which seems to be best provided by the phenomenological method (31).

As we know from Husserl’s essay Philosophy as a Rigorous Science (1910), phenomenology discusses naturalism in a new fashion. The essence of one’s experience of a natural phenomenon cannot be reduced to a mere aggregate of physical or psychical atoms (in the case of scientific or psychological naturalism). Having experience means to refer to something that constitutes the object of my experience in the world (34-35). The natural phenomenon can never be the summation of its parts, but instead is the intentional content of a given lived-experience that we can access and describe through the reflective analysis of the lived-experience itself. Similarly to liberal ethics, phenomenology shares the idea of being able to access the axiological properties of ethical experience as much as its perceptual properties (37) as the two are bound together by a mereological foundation in which the results of the natural givenness is not mere summation but the supervenience of the relationship between its elements. Speaking to this, Staiti gives the example of Husserl’s notion of material a priori as an a priori model for explaining how the material axiological aspects of the experience stand in relation to a specific region of reality and its logical properties. For example, pain is a disvalue, hence what we know as torture is wrong as it produces this specific disvalue consequence in this region of reality.

Continuing on this road, the second chapter of Staiti’s book shows how the phenomenological attitude can lend itself to the understanding of the mereological supervenience of axiological and logical properties. Focusing on moral intuition and perception, Staiti shows how the natural entity of the ontological and methodological approach used in naturalism is explained in phenomenology as the intentional fulfillment correlated to the intentional essence. Referencing Audi, Staiti explains in great clarity how in Husserl, differently from Audi, the perceptual awareness of the correspondence between reality and experience (49) tends to distinguish experience from one’s lived-experience as this latter involves a reflective quality proper to the intentional act that escapes the mere representationalist point of view. According to representationalism, in fact, the sensorial multitude on which the perceptive experience of something is based is lived but not experienced—hence it is for us a mental representation of the direct perceptive experience. For Husserl, instead, ”the intentional relationship establishes that an act of perceptual awareness refers to a perceived object and this relationship is a phenomenal [manifestativa] and not representational one” (52). The direct perceptual experience is a phenomenal manifestation, while one’s lived experience has a phenomenological reflective quality that is missing in the spontaneity of the natural attitude. The correctness of the description of the natural phenomenon in ethics, as the scientist experiences it in a natural spontaneous life, does not amount to the representations of that phenomenon but to the intuition of the axiological properties pertaining to that ethical phenomenon as they are perceived in that intentional act. “The simple perception—seeing a lemon—will evolve, most probably, in the predicative perception ‘seeing a yellow lemon’ because the lemon is yellow. If I were to always sell lemons, therefore continuously exposed to their brightness of that yellow, probably it would not be its yellow so immediately apparent, but another property, for example the opacity of its skin that reveals that the lemon has not been treated with chemicals” (56). Any perception of axiological properties is a thematization of the intentional relationship that connects the individual to a specific region of that lived experience.

In chapter three, Staiti explains how the concreteness of what is perceived can emerge as a content that is congruent to what is perceived and intuited in the lived-experience of the subject. In fact, Staiti remarks, “in phenomenology, intuition represents the apex of an experiential process, that is, the congruence between the sense as it is thought and the sense as it has been actually experienced” (63). How this congruence comes together in the intentional content is explained through the notion of supervenience or mereological foundation. In phenomenology, foundation (Fundierung) describes a mereological relationship of parts and whole (81) in which a complex experience and its object can be analyzed according to their mutual inferences. In the case of a naturalistic liberal ethics, we want to ask ourselves “what kind of objects are the objects qualified in an axiological manner? What’s their structure? What kind of experience is the one in which objects of this kind are intentionally meant? (81).

To describe how the concreteness of the intentional content is shaped in relation to axiological properties, Staiti uses emotional acts (Gemütsakte). These acts can be described as those acts with which we refer to objects whose axiological properties we can clearly perceive—Maria loves Giulio, for example. Giulio is the positive object of Maria’s emotional act. As with any other intentional act, emotional acts are also constituted of a form (Maria loves Giulio, i.e. subject + verb + object) and a matter (what is in the act of Maria loving Giulio). Any matter is generally qualified by a position-taking with which we can tell whether the subject refers to reality (Maria loves Giulio, her partner) or fantasy (Maria loves Giulio, her imaginary friend). The position taken in emotional acts – such as “I love,” “I respect,” “I value” – need to be completed by the emotion that qualifies that position-taking and the objectivating acts that make sense of their content-matter (87). Maria loves Giulio because she knows Giulio (epistemological, doxic, logic position) or at least she can bring his matter to the predicative form—Giulio. The position-taking proper to emotional acts needs a logical layer for the emotional content matter to be brought to the fore. If this layer is missing, what remains is a motivational necessity that moves Maria’s emotion of loving to connect with the object of her love but without being able to express it in words or being aware of it. Maria is attracted to this person. Axiological properties in general, like those that characterize emotional acts, need objectivating predicative acts to bring that motivating/-ed matter to the fore. The intentional essence of the emotional content needs to be meant in order to be epistemologically understood, yet their axiological quality can already be perceived in intuition (the essence of the beloved person as a positive value, for example). Axiological properties do not necessarily refer to the ‘real’ object (91); Giulio can be just Maria’s fantasy, or he might no longer be living, or he could be the character of her favorite play. Axiological properties relate to the content-object in the same way as logical properties do. Yet, while logical properties are necessary for the content to preserve its objectual unity (92), axiological properties do not seem to be essential to this unity; they come as a co-existent addition to that unity (Giulio, the person Maria has in mind, versus Giulio, the person Maria loves). In fact, even if I do not know whom I love, that person will continue to be, although my feelings in relation to that person and the values that I attribute to her will be perceived as disconnected moments that hinder the possibility of fully grasping the content of my intention. Parenthetically, I think that this magnitude of disruption is exactly what occurs in cases of borderline and bi-polar personalities where the inability to mean the axiological properties related to the intentional content of an emotional act has the power to disrupt the unity of the emotional content as much as logical properties do.

To come back to Staiti’s argument, the asymmetry between axiological and logical acts does not involve that axiological acts are not intentional. The necessity connecting the essential integrity of an object (constituted by the logical properties that make that object what it is) to its axiological properties is a motivational necessity. According to this motivational necessity, the object of my experience comes to acquire a value after I have grasped its nature (101); this understanding motivates me to feel and act in a certain way toward it. Axiological and logical properties refer to each other in a complementary way. This complementarity structures the way in which I see the object of my experience and determines the meanings and values that I am going to assign to that object. “The more easily I will understand the supervenient axiological properties of my object, the more familiar I am with the logical properties of the same object” (101). If I am not wrong in my understanding of Staiti’s argument, I think that his argument would flawlessly work in the example of the lemon vendor he mentioned above. The lemon seller will know more the value of what she is selling the more she knows about the product. Yet, once again, I think that this argument would be less effective when applied to emotions. Logical properties do not seem to be more essential than axiological ones in emotional acts. In fact, it might happen that the more I know someone the less I feel I can value her because her personality is puzzling to me or the less I feel that I know her because she keeps showing side of herself that are contradictory.

Yet, here Staiti raises an important point: there is a parallelism between axiology and logic, which he explains as a parallelism between the good and truth, that makes liberal naturalism in ethics possible. Using Husserl’s reference to this same parallelism, which in Husserliana XVIII and XXXVII focused, though, on ethics, axiology, and logic–respectively the good, value, and true—Staiti builds an interesting strategy for describing the concreteness of the good in ethics as a natural phenomenon. He writes that “the good is the axiological equivalent to the notion of existence in the logical-theoretical sphere” (115). Staiti proposes the parallelism between axiology and ethics as a stratagem for solving the problem of realism in ethics. While I believe that this stratagem is quite effective, I also think that a passage is missing here: the object of axiology, in fact, is a value and not the positive value—the good as Staiti seems to affirm. I think that the parallelism he proposes is not between axiology and logic but between ethics and logic which modifies, of course, the terms and results of Staiti’s argument. Moreover, he indicates that the logical equivalent of the good is the notion of existence, and not the expected notion of truth. Although unexpected, I agree with Staiti’s explanation of Husserl’s argument. The truth is in continuity with the notion of existence, that is a property of Sätze (115) propositions. What exists is what is posited (gesetzt), that is, the objectual correlate of what has been posited in a categorical act (114).

In the last chapter, Staiti applies this parallelism as a convincing stratagem for tackling G. E. Moore’s Open Question Argument (1903). Moore’s Open Question Argument relates to the impossibility of defining good (1903, 50). If ethics cannot find a convincing definition of good, no analytic proposition around the good holds, accordingly all the propositions used to describe the good must be all synthetic ones. “Interrogating whether something is good, equates to ask oneself if pleasure is pleasant” (1903, 64). “Moore shows that the notion of good is irreplaceable when it appears together with complex proposition, otherwise their meaning would change” (122).

Yet, if we look at this problem from a phenomenological perspective and ask ourselves “what does the question ‘x is good’ truly ask?” we will see how what we want to know is the concretum of goodness as it belongs to that specific intentional act correlated to that specific ontological region. The question addresses the kind of properties and objects with which the notion of good is in a mereological foundation. Since the good correlates with its logical properties in an essential way and since the logical properties are what is posed, then the good is the mereological foundation of those parallel properties. We know how to answer the Open Question in relation to the good without leaving x as an incognitum. The good is that Satz (proposition) which receives a cognitive fulfillment qualified by axiological properties related to a specific ontological region existing in one’s experience of a given space and moment in time. Differently from Geach’s argument toward Moore (1956, 33), Staiti is not saying that the good is an attribute of being because there is a mereological relationship between logic and axiology, the posited and the good. While an attribute can be removed or changed without altering the essence of the object, in this mereological relationship the good and the posited are interwoven with each other via a motivational necessity; changing any of these terms will change the nature of the phenomenon itself.

I think that Staiti succeeds in his goal of showing the mutual enrichment deriving from applying phenomenology in metaethics. The argument presented in this concluding chapter is a tangible proof of it.

References

De Caro, M. 2016. “Natura e Naturalismi.” Hermeneutica, 16: 9-24.

Geach, P. 1956. “Good and Evil.” Analysis, 17: 33–42.

Husserl, E. 1988. Vorlesungen ueber Ethik und Wertlehre. Dordrecht: Kluwer. (Hua, XXVIII).

Husserl, E. 2004. Einleitung in die Ethik. Dordrecht: Kluwer. (Hua, XXXVII).

Husserl, E. 1965. “Philosophy as Rigorous Science,” trans. in Q. Lauer (Ed.), Phenomenology and the Crisis of Philosophy. New York: Harper.

Moore, G. E. 1903. Principia Ethica. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

 

Paul Downes: Concentric Space as a Life Principle Beyond Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Ricœur: Inclusion of the Other

Concentric Space as a Life Principle Beyond Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Ricoeur: Inclusion of the Other Book Cover Concentric Space as a Life Principle Beyond Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Ricoeur: Inclusion of the Other
Paul Downes
Routledge
2020
Hardback £115.00
188

Reviewed by: Steven DeLay (Christ Church, Oxford)

The heart of the human experience is suffering. Such, at least, is Arthur Schopenhauer’s abiding thought. For Schopenhauer, in fact, our own personal suffering is just a microcosm of the whole world’s plight, which itself is, as his writings never cease trying to remind us, one characterized by brutality, cruelty, agony, despair, and ultimately death. Our situatedness in the phenomenal world (which is but the illusory shimmer of a primal Wille), he says, is that of a sailor who “sits in a small boat in a boundless raging sea, surrounded on all sides by heaving mountainous waves, trusting to his frail vessel; so does the individual man sit calmly in the middle of a world of torment, trusting the principium individuationis” (49). If the world we experience is in many ways a house of horrors, then, so Schopenhauer argues, it falls to each of us to do what he can to diminish the suffering we find in it—and how else, so he suggests, will accomplishing that be feasible except by having compassion for others? Compassion, hence, it would seem to follow, is the foundation of ethics.

As Schopenhauer says of Mitleid in On the Basis of Morality, when this “compassion is aroused, the weal and woe of another are nearest to my heart in exactly the same way, although not always in exactly the same degree, as otherwise only my own are. Hence the difference between him and me is now no longer absolute” (31). The ethical imperative to die to one’s egoism, and to thereby identify with others rather than only with oneself, however, is for Schopenhauer paradoxically infused with a thoroughgoing fatalism: just as the individual and his ego are themselves illusions, so too is free will. “The person is never free,” claims Schopenhauer, “even though it is an appearance of a free will, because it is the already determined appearance of the free willing of that will” (39). It is the search for life’s justification even in the face of its immense suffering that later drove Friedrich Nietzsche, following Schopenhauer, to reflect on these matters of freedom, value, and meaning. Art consistently proves central to those resulting reflections. For on one plausible interpretation of the matter, Nietzsche’s idea that “it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon” that existence is justified is itself a formulation to be understood as a variation of Schopenhauer’s own pessimistic insight into the purportedly inherent pointlessness of suffering.[1] Existence requires justification precisely because it is not immediately self-justified. As for life, as the Nietzsche of the Birth of Tragedy notes, it cannot be affirmed strictly for what it is—“the truth is terrible,” after all—but rather must be tolerated by way of placative lies. On the view Nietzsche sets out during this period of his thinking, art accordingly presents us with a palatable world, a beautifully transfigured version of what is a reality otherwise too ugly to be embraced unadorned.

Many scholars have examined the numerous, fascinating connections between Schopenhauer and Nietzsche on points of art, ethics, and metaphysics. Many, too, have done so with the aim of locating both figures in their shared intellectual and historical milieu. Paul Downes’s Concentric Space as a Life Principle Beyond Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Ricœur: Inclusion of the Other, does both of these things, with an eye to philosophical ambitions of its own that make the work remarkably original. Downes is not interested only in telling us what these three key post-Kantian European figures think, but, more vitally, in getting us to identify and think about the important subtleties they themselves have left unthought, or at least unsaid. For Downes, who is interested in our relation to the other in its full ethical and metaphysical complexity and richness, the correct point of departure lies, with Schopenhauer, in seeking “a basic orientation of openness” breaking with egoism (43). The task for thinking, here in turn, demands a form of inquiry that he calls a “spatial phenomenology”: an account of experiential space in all its variegation, including the peculiar spatiality of thought itself.[2] Through a series of close and constructive readings of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and Ricœur too (among others like Kant, Lévi-Strauss, and Heidegger to name a few), Downes undertakes a comprehensive analysis of the relation between oneself and the other, a spatial alterity ethics, as it were. As he puts it, “There is a spatial system of relations, a primordial spatial discourse pertaining to life that is embedded in the seminal works of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Ricœur —and yet overlooked by each of them” (1).

Before turning to Downes’s account of “concentric” and “diametric” spaces, it is valuable to linger over the problem of empathy, or compassion. Nietzsche’s philosophy of will to power, for instance, by rendering the picture of self-consciousness and human flourishing that it does, rejects the deeply humane perspective above for which Schopenhauer is famous. Compassion for the Übermensch is out the window, with cruelty assuming the pride of place. It is somewhat surprising that Nietzsche’s thought, which does begin by acknowledging the role of suffering in existence, nonetheless abandons compassion. How does it end in cruelty? As Downes says, to start with, Nietzsche’s view of tragedy correctly recognizes the deep pain of existence, what the latter himself terms “the eternal wound of life” (55). Dionysianism seeks relief from this primordial suffering in a countermovement of ecstasy, or rapture. And if the world of individuated consciousness is one giving rise to ineradicable suffering, this consciousness itself must be dissolved if suffering is to be vanquished. What results, Downes writes, is “a purported expansion as annihilation,” an “obliteration of boundaries” whose quest consists in the desire “for no boundaries” (54). A Nietzschean pursuit of rapture leads to the monism of the Dionysian, “a collective ritual, the fusion” of one’s diffusion of oneself “with the crowd” (55). In the end, however, this entire economy of desire only spells trouble. Its “intoxication as obliteration of self, as annihilation of boundaries,” says Downes, “whether wine-fueled or through other intoxicatory substances such as hallucinatory drugs,” risks a collapse of self. An assessment of this economy invites the question of what mediating pathways explain the passage from this collapse of identity in the early Nietzsche’s Dionysian, on the one hand, to the subsequent cruelty of the Dionysian in the later Nietzsche, on the other hand, a cruelty including eventually even the lust to inflict it. The desire to expand (or at least this mode of expansion: the dilatio explicated by Jean-Louis Chrétien, for one, is not the same), to be powerful, to ever grow beyond one’s current limits, eventually in Nietzsche’s thinking transforms into the satanic desire to inflict suffering on others, to dominate and control them. As Downes notes, following Károly Kerényi, whoever travels this road ends up psychologically mimicking the cruelty of the sacrificial Dionysian rite in which the victim “was first boiled and then roasted” (95).

According to Nietzsche himself, “cruelty constituted the great joy and delight of ancient man” (109). In turn, as Downes puts it, “joy becomes a celebration of cruelty” (Ibid.). Now as anyone familiar with what Nietzsche says can attest, nothing about such cruelty is said by him to be ethically censurable. After all, the fact that, ordinarily, cruelty is something condemned while compassion is praised is only so, maintains Nietzsche, because of the “slave morality” from which the moral categories of good and evil themselves originated, a moral and psychological economy that his account of will to power presumes itself to have dismantled. But Downes detects a problem waiting to surface. For even if it is possible to overlook the fact that Nietzsche’s characterization of “blissful annihilation” is perhaps just an unwitting variation of the very same pessimistic impulse behind Schopenhauer’s “ascetic negation of the will” that he wishes to reject (43), it still remains the case that, for Nietzsche, “hell is not so much other people as connection with other people” (100). Ultimately, this urge for domineering isolation, which is mobilized in pursuit of self-gratification, undermines itself, for it never finds the satisfaction it is seeking. The Nietzschean impulse to flee from connection (100), to dash the bonds of our ordinary ethical relations and the Apollonian mode of self-consciousness underpinning those relations, culminates in a lust for power that replicates, in the form of a straightforward inversion, the two original terms of the ethical relation it sought to overcome. Where before one was encouraged to have compassion for another’s suffering, now one instead takes delight in inflicting it. At times, Nietzsche appears to attempt to defend this mode of existence by emphasizing that this is simply the way of the world, that “all happening in the organic world consists of overpowering and dominating” (89). As Downes explains, the will to power, which was said to originate as a life principle, instead becomes a will to death, one that accordingly “finds infliction of pain and suffering ‘magical’” (90), so much that the “actual infliction of suffering is elevated into being an end of itself” (Ibid.). The “fundamental monism” recounted in the Birth of Tragedy’s account of an “unmediated life will in music,” a surpassing of the ordinary boundaries of the Apollonian principium individuationis (107), ultimately elevates the psychology of “Dionysian sacrifices” (94) to a “wider cosmological principle” (93), thereby justifying psychological hate and destruction. One here might naturally call to mind Freud, whom Downes does: “Freud’s account of ritual” as an “obsessional neurosis” rooted in the “compulsion to repeat” (97), and which gives expression to a death drive, seems a plausible explanation for the psychology of the one who comes to be dominated by his compulsive desire to dominate others. What began as the attempted liberation from the cultural construction of good and evil leads to little more than an insatiable, self-destructive sadism. “Why,” for example, Nietzsche asks, “is knowledge … linked to pleasure? First and foremost, because by it we gain awareness of our power … any new knowledge … makes us feel superior to everyone” (90). Perhaps Nietzsche really just is more perceptive and honest than the rest of us, when he claims to identify the desire to know as one whose end consists in the satisfying pleasure of feeling superior to others who don’t know what we do. Some people, I suppose, may well desire to know for that reason. But everyone always?

This stated diagnosis of what motivates our desire to know raises a deeper question of whether knowledge itself is even possible at all, a skeptical worry that for its own part leads to further questions concerning the nature of the experienced world and the nature of reality as such. For Schopenhauer, for example, who basically grants the Kantian division between the world in itself and the world of appearance, there is a sense in which any human discursive knowledge is illusory. From this radically Kantian perspective, the spatiotemporal world of individuated entities is itself a deformation of the real—whatever it may be. In a move that will anticipate the work’s subsequent treatment of Ricœur, Downes observes that, in the wake of “the linguistic turn” associated with structuralism, realism goes by the wayside. The structuralist commitment to the “primacy of language” leaves us with conceptual schemes, and that is all. As an heir to Kantianism, such an approach denies that we have access to things as they are in themselves. Here in response to the linguistic idealist, Downes like Claude Romano holds that there is a domain of meaning more fundamental than that which is shaped and structured by language or concepts. It is, he says, “a language of space that is itself prior to language—a spatial protolanguage or discourse” (7). Or more precisely still, “Space is a precondition for language; language is not a precondition for space. Space is itself a system, a system of meaningful relations through the contrasts between diametric and concentric spaces” (156). This space is experientially prior to anything language is able to mediate or structure. To begin bringing into focus what Downes wishes us to see, to see what he means by this spatiality, it is important to recognize that the relevant notion of space is not Cartesian. Descartes’s notion of empty space, a geometrically extended field for scientific abstraction, is not what is at issue (6). Nor is the conception of space at issue Kantian either, for it is not “a transcendental condition as a necessity for thought” (7). Initially, Downes explains what such space is by characterizing both concentric and diametric space in terms of what they are not:

“[Concentric and diametric spaces] are not to be reduced simply to a flawed appeal to the ‘natural’ […] Life is not being treated as a substance, it not ousia as presence but as a relation, a relational space as a directional movement and tension” (9).

“Concentric space is not being postulated as an ancient primordial experience to be re-enacted. Concentric space is not a nostalgia for the premodern or for some period of history lost in the mists of time; it is a current, ongoing experiential possibility [concentric and diametric spaces] are not mere categories, static forms, collections of sterile classifications, schemes or cognitions corresponding to particular ideas, life goals or world views. Rather they are proposed as being prior framing conditions for understanding as projections of primordial experience structured through these spaces—and as such these spaces are not monoperspectival exhortations, but rather conditions for a vast plurality of perspectives to grow and thrive” (11).

“Primordial here is not being invoked in terms of some ancient prehistory. The spatial dimension is proposed as ontologically prior and primordial as a more fundamental truth or experience; a direction of unity for experience; a truth and experience prior to socially constructed realities; a cross-cultural truth; being beyond the limited schema of causal explanations” (27).

Alternatively, sometimes he offers a description of these spaces in positive terms:

“Moving space is the breath of thought” (6).

“Spatial breath is the pulse of thought, not a denial of spatial breath in the inert space of monism. Space is indelibly interactive and immanent in thought” (Ibid.).

“Diametric spatial structure is one where a circle is split in half by a line that is its diameter or where a square or rectangle is similarly dived into two equal halves” (17).

“In a concentric spatial structure, one circle is inscribed in another larger circle; in pure form, the circles share a common central point” (Ibid.).

“A concentric spatial relation is a structure of inclusion compared to diametric spatial structure of exclusion” (20).

“These spaces are being examined as fundamentally directions of movement rather than to be treated as simply static structures” (21).

“They are precognitive framing spaces and are prior to metaphor” (24).

Returning to Schopenhauer’s and Nietzsche’s handling of compassion and cruelty shows how these issues are to be understood in terms of Downes’s spatial phenomenology. From this perspective, Nietzsche is “locked into a diametric spatial understanding” (12). In at least two senses. To begin with, diametric space is oppositional, sometimes exclusionary to the point that one of its binaries cuts off all contact with its opposite term. Taken in an ethical register, to say that Nietzsche’s Dionysian account of self-understanding is underwritten by diametric space is just to say, whatever else it also means, that the self excludes the other. The self who is locked in diametric space lacks compassion and empathy for the other: precisely what Nietzsche himself extols when he valorizes cruelty. Furthermore, there is the second sense to this diametric spatial understanding, one which concerns the thought itself responsible for attempting to conceptualize the ethical relation. Here again, Nietzsche’s thinking is itself diametric: in struggling to subvert the ordinary terms of good and evil, he ends up re-instantiating binaries, either to prioritize one of the original terms over the other, or else to introduce a new dyad in substitution for the original pairing. Thus, according to Downes, “the more [Nietzsche] seeks to break away from the diametric spaces underpinning this, the more he is locked within them in different forms” (86).

Hence, “Inclusion of the Other” requires a “concentric spatial relation” (2). And here again, in both of the two senses established above. Because the “exclusion process in the us/them projection rests on a diametric binary opposition” (2), it will be necessary to overcome this binary in a way that allows the self and other to exist harmoniously, rather than as adversaries. Schopenhauer’s own position can be explained in terms of the spatial terms that frame it: just as compassion “internalises the other as an extension of the self” (33), so here a concentric spatial relation “is not an obliteration of self but a moistening of boundaries between self and other as a governing precondition for compassion” (37). Such a concentric relation depends on an assumed connection rather than an assumed separation (32). Nietzsche’s will to power, as Nietzsche himself says, is a process of expansion, which is seen to be spatial: “Its object thereby is the incorporation of new ‘experiences’ … growth; or more properly, the feeling of growth, the feeling of increased power—is its object” (84).[3] This process, however, as we have seen, is haunted by its inherently egoistic topos, what in turn erects a “thick partition” (37) between oneself and the other. It could be argued that Nietzsche’s account of the Dionysian possesses sufficient conceptual resources to overcome this “diametric oppositional spatial split between self and other, where the individual internalizes the other with stark divisive boundaries of a diametric dualistic spatial relation” (41-42). After all, is not the point about such Dionysian self-consciousness that it entails a sort of orgiastic, monistic fusion, whereby boundaries between oneself and others are dissolved? Downes acknowledges that the Nietzschean position could be initially construed as embodying a form of concentric space, insofar as it articulates a connective notion of “monistic fusion as unity” (43). But, as Downes notes, there is a difference between “destruction and dissolving generally” (37). Nietzsche’s account proposes a dissolution of ordinary self-consciousness so extreme, that, despite overcoming a form of the ordinary oppositional split characteristic of diametric space, it nevertheless fails as an ethical solution to the problem of egoism. It lapses into the annihilation of self. This form of monistic connective space does not make room for the inclusion of the other, then, because there remains no individuated self capable of exercising the recognition necessary to welcome that other. This, it should be noted, is one of the main troubles with crowd psychology and mob mentality, which absorb the individual into a mindless monism. If I am to identify successfully with your pain and so empathize with you, I must so exist as an individual. Nietzsche’s Dionysianism, which refers to “drunkenness and mystical self-abandonment, Dionysian festivities,” and which bring “an effusive transgression of the sexual order,” and with that the “annihilation of the usual limits and borders of existence” (133-34), may escape the diametric separation of Apollonian self-consciousness, but it ushers in an ethical void.[4]

In fact, the Apollonian and Dionysian, Downes writes, “is a response to experience of an existential void” (74), what Nietzsche himself identifies in On the Genealogy of Morals as the suffering incurred “‘from the problem of [finding one’s] own meaning’” (74). On the subject of the void—or the “nothing,” one might say—it is Heidegger whom Downes discusses most extensively. But it is a different aspect of Downes’s engagement with Heidegger that I would like to highlight instead. In the spirit of Being and Time’s existential analytic, might not one claim, with Heidegger, that the entire problem of the relation between self and other has heretofore been misconstrued? While the spatial phenomenology on offer does well to have highlighted how experiential space is not Cartesian (or even Kantian), has it not, so the argument continues, failed to eliminate perhaps another classic residue of Cartesianism, the vision of intersubjectivity that envisions self and the other as essentially disconnected? Put differently, is to characterize compassion as an achievement, as Schopenhauer does, to overlook the deeper ontological bond between oneself and another? As Heidegger famously claims when explaining why traditional skepticism about the “external world” and other minds is misplaced, Dasein is Mitsein, a being for whom its mode of being always already includes others being with and alongside oneself. The other, thus, “is in some way a dimension of the primordial structures of self” (174). This Heideggerian line of objection will resurface down the page, when turning to Downes’s treatment of Ricœur’s use of metaphor.

As for the failure of Nietzsche’s account of the relation with the other to reach any satisfying ethical solution, this is so, as Downes says, in part due to the fact that, trapped in one’s egoism, the individual who rejects compassion in the name of will to power thereby confines himself to the “dungeon of diametric space [operating] as a sealed compartment” (87).[5] Understandably, we want to say this is bad, and for many reasons. But does a spatial phenomenology allow us to reject such egoism on genuinely ethical grounds? In considering this question, I want to mention a potential tension that emerges in Downes’s view. When, for instance, it is written in the book’s introduction that a spatial phenomenology “is paving the way for a question of wellbeing for all people” (11), the thought naturally arises: precisely what view of man is at issue here? How are we to understand the notion of wellbeing, what is our measure of good in doing so? On the one hand, the work’s language appears to endorse a full-blown realism about human nature when remarking that space is “a truth and experience prior to socially constructed realities; a cross-cultural truth” (27). On the other hand, sometimes the language suggests something less universal but pluralistic or even relativistic: “these spaces are not monoperspectival exhortations, but rather conditions for a vast plurality of perspectives to grow and thrive” (11). The tension between these statements is most evident, as just mentioned, I think, when focusing specifically on Nietzsche’s own metaethical critique of good and evil. Sometimes, Downes appears to endorse Nietzsche’s rejection of the claim that there is any absolute notion of good and evil worth preserving: “Nietzsche challenges the good-evil diametric opposition and is aware of the need to seek a more fundamental understanding” (108). A similar point seems to be made when criticizing oversimplistic binaries, including, evidently, that again of the one between good and evil: “Nietzsche perceives the limitations of the diametric oppositions, good-evil, pleasure-pain and seeks to overcome them for a purportedly more fundamental level of reality and experience” (111). And the apparent historicity of values—including morals—is stated explicitly two pages later: “Morals derive from emotions and experience, thus a shift in experiential habits can bring a transformation of values” (113). On one reading, it appears that Downes wants to reject Nietzsche’s diametric spatial account of the relation between self and other in order to retain the ethical importance of compassion, but I wonder whether compassion’s value can be truly affirmed without also endorsing the kind of metaethical realism from which Downes’s spatial phenomenology seems to decouple itself. When Nietzsche says, “Who is really evil according to the meaning of the morality of resentment? … just the good man of the other morality, just the aristocrat, the powerful one, the one who rules, but who is distorted by the venomous eye of resentfulness” (85), I think those of us who see the value of compassion are inclined to condemn Nietzsche’s exaltation of power and cruelty as not simply being mistaken in just any sense, but as wrong morally. I am not sure how an analysis of compassion in strictly spatial terms will accommodate that judgment. It is also worth mentioning in this same context that despite “the death of God” being a central lodestar for Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Ricœur, Downes does not explicitly say anything about the issue. Addressing this theological horizon of their thinking would perhaps be one way of also addressing the metaethical questions to which spatial phenomenology’s account of compassion and alterity ethics gives rise.

It is, I think, to this task that the the work’s third figure, Ricœur, is meant to answer. Just as with Ricœur himself who takes Husserl’s side against structuralism by denying the primacy of language, so too Downes holds that there are “structures of relation prior to metaphor” (146). Because concentric space operates “at a preconceptual, precognitive, prerepresentational framing level” (58), there is room for the establishment of an ethical relation prior to the interference of power-relations or any of the other potential complications attending language and tradition. A truly empathetic face-to-face encounter with the other is possible. Against the “monistic tendency” (63) of Nietzsche and the pessimism of Schopenhauer, Ricœur sets out a conception of alterity ethics that is capable of grounding a constructive dialogical exchange, a true sharing of views and perspectives in good faith, one that is in principle oriented by the ideals of truth, reason, and justice, rather than manipulation, power, and oppression. The trick, in short, says Downes, is to appreciate with Ricœur that a “concentric relation allows for distinction and difference that does not have to lead to opposition” (147). Here, Ricœureaen metaphor is to be understood as a spatial “precondition or prior system of relations to language interacting with language” (145), opening onto, as Husserl and Romano each say, “an autonomous system of meaning and relations” before language (146), and that accordingly invites us to “seek[] structures of being” (Ibid.). To return to Heidegger again (and the language of his phenomenological ontology), what is at stake in a work such as Basic Problems of Phenomenology, for example, is an “interrogation of the copula” (146), an inquiry entailing the recognition of a “domain of truth prior to [the] apophantic judgment of Aristotle” (163). Spatial phenomenology is an heir to that sort of effort.

In a theme which recurs throughout the work, Downes claims that whatever the analysis of experience happens to be on offer (whether from Descartes, Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, or Heidegger), it fails to prioritize space in favor of something else. The most obvious example of this tendency to downplay space would be in Heidegger’s own prioritization of temporality. One response to this subordination of space, it might be suggested, would be instead to adopt a hybrid approach: one that, for example, synthesizes the role of space and time in structuring experience and thought. In a word, why not see place—rather than just space or time—as the fundamental structure of experience? Downes acknowledges this position explicitly (Jeff Malpas’s work on place is discussed) but ultimately rejects the claim that place is prior to space—such an approach, he says, “[collapses] the subtlety of space into mere place” (162). I cannot adjudicate this important debate, nor the related question of how concentric and diametric spaces relate to one another, adequately here, so I must simply note it in passing.

To conclude, it should be said that some readers may be frustrated with Downes’s dense formulations that require multiple readings. What he means is not always immediately clear. But that, I don’t think, is because what Downes is saying is inherently muddled, but rather because we are today too often superficial, inattentive, and distracted readers, so we are less and less accustomed to authentically thinking as we’re reading. It can be disorienting and unsettling to encounter a text that expects serious effort from us. This, maybe, is I think part of what makes Downes’s book enjoyably challenging. In a time when the space of discourse is increasingly less a space of reasons, a work as this, sensitive and subtle and deeply humane, is a thoughtful refuge from the shrill and shallow, one that repays the attention we provide it.

 


[1] For one excellent statement to this effect, see Julian Young, Nietzsche’s Philosophy of Art (CUP, 1992).

[2] This question will not be foreign to those familiar with analytic phenomenology, for which the phenomenality of thought has been a topic of attention for some time. See Charles Siewert, The Significance of Consciousness (Princeton, 1998) and David Pitt, The Quality of Thought (OUP, in progress).

[3] Downes, quite accurately, summarizes the nonconformist psychology typifying the one who sincerely rejects the morality of “the herd,” thereby hovering above and beyond good and evil. Such an individual’s concern, says Downes, “is to challenge flattened notions of comfort and security underpinning some conceptions of wellbeing, while he quests for an experiential intensity connected with risk and danger of destruction of self” (110). As a sociological observation, it bears noting that recent events surrounding Covid-19 have revealed something of an irony, that many of those in our universities who self-avowedly claim to live as Nietzschean “free spirits” have themselves instead embraced the logic of “safety and security,” and quickly succumbed to mass panic and hypochondria.

[4] It should be noted Downes anticipates that somebody might object to his phenomenological interpretation of the Dionysian in terms of concentric and diametric spaces by claiming that such an account is itself a quasi-Apollonian attempt to impose form on what Nietzsche treats as a formless expansive sea (76). His reply, which strikes me as correct, is that this is not an imposition of form, but rather the uncovering of “structural regularities in Nietzsche’s own habits of thought and experience” (Ibid.). The fact that the work identifies many other instances where Nietzsche’s thought exemplifies the same diametric opposition it notes in this context strengthens its position.

[5] As Downes observes, some of Nietzsche’s readers such as Walter Kaufmann have recognized the implicit binary structure of Nietzsche’s thought, noting in this context that monistic fusion and diametric closure are themselves inverted diametric images identified as power and impotence, respectively.