The emergence of totalitarianism in the 20th century not only marked a destructive turning point in modern history, but it also led to a ‘political turn’ in the phenomenological movement. Philosophers with a phenomenological background, such as Hannah Arendt, Claude Lefort, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Paul Ricœur, started to apply phenomenological insights to the study of political life in order to understand the emergence of Nazism and communism. This resulted in original and nuanced accounts of both totalitarianism and democracy, which are still relevant today, especially in the face of the growing popularity of nationalist and populist movements.
When it comes to the reception of their work, it is interesting to note that one almost never reads discussions of ‘political phenomenology’ as a coherent movement with its own method and beliefs. Apparently, the work of these philosophers is considered to be too idiosyncratic and incommensurable to be discussed together as part of a single movement. It is here that the originality lies of Le corps politique by Agnès Louis: by analysing the work of Arendt, Lefort, Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur – mainly focusing on similarities and how they complement each other – she provides an account of ‘political phenomenology’ as a coherent movement.
The central concept with which Louis tries to tie together the work of these four philosophers is the body politic, which is somewhat surprising since this is at most a marginal concept in their work. In the introduction to the book, Louis gives a brief historical reconstruction of the use of the concept of ‘body politic’ in political philosophy, followed by an explanation why she thinks this concept is fruitful for framing the movement of political phenomenology.
When people today talk about the political community they live in, they usually refer to it as ‘nation’, ‘country’, or ‘society’, but – as Louis reminds us – it used to be common to speak of the ‘body politic’. By looking at three paradigmatic thinkers of the body politic—Aristotle, John of Salisbury and Thomas Hobbes—Louis shows how the notion of the body politic was accompanied by three central claims about political life. The first claim is that individuals can only truly realize themselves when they are part of a political community; by becoming political, human life takes on a superior form that it otherwise would not take. For example, in Aristotle’s picture ‘mere’ life (focused on reproduction) becomes the good life (focused on the actualization of moral and political capacities), and in Hobbes’s account a violent state of nature becomes a peaceful Leviathan. The notion of the body politic thus expresses the idea that liberation and belonging to a political community go hand in hand.
Secondly, the metaphor of the body politic entails that the form that human life takes in a political community is particular and that therefore there exists a plurality of political bodies. The possibility of a single political body that includes all of humanity is rejected, which we find clearly expressed in Hobbes, who famously rejected the possibility of a universal sovereign.
Thirdly, the notion of the body politic is informed by a certain conception of the body, which reinforces a certain conception of political life. For example, the conception of the body in Aristotle and Salisbury, in which the distinction between body and soul is central, leads to a different picture of political life than Hobbes’s mechanistic conception of the body. Despite these differences, they agree that there is an analogy between bodily life and political life.
Given these three claims, Louis says, it is not surprising that the notion of the body politic became problematic and disappeared in modern democratic societies. First of all, democratic societies give primacy to the individual, and individual freedom is now understood as having the possibility to escape any pregiven identity. The idea that individuals can only liberate and realize themselves by belonging to a political community therefore becomes suspect. Secondly, the understanding of humanity in modern democracies becomes broader and more abstract: humanity now consists of all individuals independent of their political and cultural attachments, which conflicts with the notion of humanity as being divided into a plurality of different body politics, each having their own form of life. As Louis says, the metaphor of the body politic thus seems to be too demanding for us when it comes to the individual, and too limited when it comes to our interpretation of humanity.
In modern political life there thus emerges a permanent tension between freedom and belonging, or freedom and embeddedness. And unfortunately, modern political history has showed a tendency to resolve this tension one-sidedly, either absolutizing the pole of individual freedom (i.e. imagining that the individual can liberate him or herself without belonging to any political community) or absolutizing the pole of communal embeddedness (i.e. the individual belongs to a community where political existence does not lead to any kind of liberation).
It is here, Louis thinks, that phenomenology can make a valuable contribution. In its analysis of embodied subjectivity and the life-world, the phenomenological movement has provided nuanced insights about the way in which freedom and embeddedness are always intertwined in human experience. What would happen if these phenomenological insights be applied to the analysis of political life? This brings us back to the concept of ‘body politic’ and to the third claim mentioned above: that the body politic is always informed by a certain conception of the body. What Louis aims to do in her book is to rehabilitate the notion of ‘body politic’ by connecting it to a phenomenological conception of the body. In this way she wants to explore how phenomenology can help us to better understand the tension in modern political life between freedom and embeddedness.
The book consists of three parts. In the first part Louis gives a general introduction to some basic aspects of the phenomenological tradition—most notably the phenomenological method and the phenomenological conception of the body—which are necessary for understanding the presentation of political phenomenology in the rest of the book. Louis says the phenomenological method consists of an analysis that is characterized by a respect for phenomena and a sensitivity to the way in which subjective existence is embedded in the world. And even though Husserl and Heidegger were never directly concerned with issues of political philosophy, Louis shows that the phenomenological method can be fruitfully applied to political life in order to do justice to political phenomena by avoiding various forms of reductionism, and to become aware of how subjective existence is embedded in the political world. And indeed, it has been the merit of political phenomenologists like Arendt and Lefort to have done justice to political phenomena in an intellectual climate dominated by Marxism and sociology, in which it was very common to reduce politics to a supposedly more fundamental reality, either economic or sociological. Furthermore, they have contributed to a better understanding of the experience of living in a totalitarian or democratic society, as opposed to positivist approaches that reduce political life to a collection of objective empirical data.
The second aspect of the phenomenological tradition that Louis discusses—its conception of the body—is especially crucial for the argument in the rest of the book. Since Louis wants to introduce a concept of the body politic that is informed by a phenomenological account of the body, she has to explain how to understand this and how it plays a role in the work of Arendt, Lefort, Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur. Louis is aware that this is not an easy task since the four philosophers use the concept of ‘body politic’ in different ways, if they use it at all. Merleau-Ponty and Lefort seem to prefer the notion of ‘flesh’ over the notion of ‘body’ when speaking of modern political life. And although there are passages in Arendt’s work where she uses the notion of body politic, this is not informed by a phenomenological conception of the body. Only Ricœur uses the notion of body politic to refer to modern democracies while at the same time drawing an analogy between political life and embodied subjectivity.
Still, despite this conceptual confusion, Louis thinks that a phenomenological conception of the body politic can function as a helpful focal point for discussing the similarities between Arendt, Lefort, Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur. Louis therefore presents a Husserlian account of the ‘flesh-body’ (corps de chair) in which there is an intertwinement of activity and passivity. On the one hand, the flesh-body plays an active role in human experience: for example, it is the place from which objects and the world can be experienced as a unity, and it plays an active role in the experiencing of others. At the same time, there is a passive side to the flesh-body: it is something given to us at birth and it remains something opaque and strange, something that we can never completely appropriate or control. The flesh-body is thus paradoxical in the sense that it is both active and passive, both personal and impersonal.
Louis sees a parallel between this paradoxical character of the Husserlian flesh-body and the way in which Arendt, Lefort, Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur describe political experience in a healthy political community as an intertwinement of freedom and embeddedness. In their different ways, they all show how freedom (or political action) is embedded in a social, institutional and historical situation that can never be completely known or controlled. So both in the Husserlian account of the flesh-body and in the account of political life by the four political phenomenologists freedom is never absolute, since it is always preceded by something—the flesh-body or social-historical reality—that can never be fully controlled or made fully transparent. Louis’ notion of a ‘phenomenological body politic’ thus refers, simply put, to a political community in which this interdependency between freedom and embeddedness, or activity and passivity, is acknowledged.
In the second part of the book Louis explores the way in which totalitarianism destroys the ‘phenomenological body politic’ by turning to the critical reflections on Nazism and communism by Arendt, Lefort, Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur. Louis starts by discussing Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism in which totalitarianism is described as a phenomena that manifests itself as a permanent movement, which aims to realize total domination with the help of terror and ideology. Two visible effects of this permanent movement are central in Arendt’s description: first of all, the atomization of society, whereby the totalitarian Party uses terror and ideology to destroy the common world, thereby isolating individuals and preventing them from forming a meaningful community in which political action is possible. Secondly, since total domination is only possible when it encompasses all humanity, totalitarianism cannot settle for a limited territory nor acknowledge the existence of a plurality of political bodies, but it has to remain a de-territorialized movement. Arendt’s analysis of totalitarianism thus shows how totalitarian power refuses to become embedded in any body politic whatsoever.
For Lefort, the main characteristic of totalitarian power is that—in its quest for complete control and domination—it suppresses all internal division, such as the division between different spheres of human activity (economy, politics, religion, science, art, etc.), the divisions within society (no autonomous associations) and within politics (no diversity of opinion within the Party), the division between the political and the social (since totalitarian power denies any separation between itself and society), and finally the division between the real and the symbolic.
This striving for unity is accompanied by both an organic representation of society as a giant body or organism and a mechanistic conception of society as a machine. Together, they fuse into a conception of society as a mechanical body, which points to the ideal of a society that can be completely known and fabricated. As Louis says, this is the opposite of the flesh-body, which is always characterized by division: there is a part that is intimate and a part that is opaque and strange, and therefore our power to master experience is always limited. It is this limit to power that the totalitarian Party does not acknowledge; it wants to be autonomous without being embedded, thus destroying the phenomenological body politic.
Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur have not provided full-blown theories of totalitarianism, but their work contains interesting critiques of communism. For Merleau-Ponty the main problem of communism is its gradual disconnection – visible both in the Soviet Union and in Sartre’s ‘ultra-bolshevism’ – between the Party (the will) and the social-historical experience of the proletariat (the flesh). As soon as the Party stops understanding itself as being embedded in the proletarian experience, Merleau-Ponty argues, it becomes a will without flesh, thus destroying the emancipatory possibilities of communism.
Ricœur argues that communism is problematic because it is unable to clearly distinguish between social-economic and political reality and to acknowledge the relative autonomy of the latter. This is illustrated by the fact that communism cannot conceive of an evil that is properly political; it reduces all forms of evil to the social-economic evil that results from the inequality of the relations of production. Once a socialist regime is established, all evil should therefore be abolished. But by denying the possibility of political violence, it also becomes impossible to control or limit it; this explains, according to Ricœur, the unleashing of terror in communist states.
In sum, Louis shows in the second part of the book how the four philosophers criticize totalitarian power for running amuck and refusing to be embedded, thereby destroying the phenomenological body politic. Whereas the second part of the book thus provides a ‘negative’ picture of the destruction of the body politic, in the third part Louis tries to extract a ‘positive’, substantial picture of the phenomenological body politic from the work of Arendt, Lefort, Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur. She does this by focusing on three areas where the tension between freedom and embeddedness manifests itself: political action, history, and the symbolic unity of the social.
Louis explores the area of political action by looking at the work of Arendt and Ricœur. Similar to Aristotle, Arendt associates biological life with servitude and determinacy, and political life with freedom and action, that is, our capacity to create something new and to escape from the repetitive patterns of biological life. But, as Louis asks, if freedom is about starting something new and breaking with repetitive patterns, is there still a need for the agent to be embedded in a political community in order to realize freedom?
Arendt’s answer is affirmative: action needs to be embedded, first of all, in what she calls ‘plurality’. In order for action to become an objective reality, the presence of others is needed, which creates a space of visibility in which action can appear, a space of signification where action can become interpreted and meaningful, and it creates the possibility for an action to be fully accomplished, since this requires bringing others to act. Secondly, action needs to be embedded in the physical and juridical reality of the political community, which together create a common space between people where action has a chance to realize itself not just in exceptional circumstances but in a regular manner.
Arendt thus illustrates how in a free political community autonomy and embeddedness are intertwined and – despite her association of ‘the biological’ with servitude – she refers to such a community as a ‘body politic’. However, her concept of body politic remains vague and she does not draw an analogy between the body politic and embodied subjectivity. This is why Louis complements Arendt’s analysis with that of Ricœur, who largely agrees with Arendt but who explicitly draws an analogy between the duality of political action (starting something new and being dependent on others and institutions) and the duality of embodied subjectivity.
A second area where the tension between freedom and embeddedness manifests itself is history. Louis explores this tension by focusing on the work of Merleau-Ponty and Lefort, who both speak of the ‘flesh of history’ to refer to the complex interdependency of freedom and historical embeddedness. In the last chapter of the Phenomenology of Perception, where Merleau-Ponty gives his account of freedom, he argues that freedom is effective in human life only insofar as it is not absolute: the subject is always already embedded in a specific personal history that provides certain options and motivations on which he or she can decide to act or not. The same goes for collective history: every historical period offers certain options and roles to be taken up, between which individuals can choose and which they can play good or bad. Merleau-Ponty’s account of the relation between freedom and history thus rejects the two extremes of absolute freedom (which denies historical embeddedness) and historical necessity (which denies individual freedom).
In his later work, Merleau-Ponty further developed these reflections on historical embeddedness by introducing a specific understanding of the notion of institution. Against Durkheim, who understood institutions as social facts that restrict human behavior, Merleau-Ponty understands an institution as a symbolic matrix that opens up a field of possibilities for giving form and meaning to human co-existence.
Louis then shows how Lefort further developed Merleau-Ponty’s reflections by connecting this understanding of institution as a symbolic matrix to the question of the political. According to Lefort, every society is the result of a political institution of the social, that is, by a process in which form and meaning is given to human relations based on a common understanding of the nature of society. However, this political institution is executed in different ways, as Lefort illustrates by comparing different ‘forms of society’.
For example, in primitive societies, which Lefort also calls ‘societies without history’, the political institution of the social is understood as something that has been done by ancestors, gods or heroes in a distant past, and it is now beyond anybody’s power to change. The nature of society is thus fixed once and for all, and this explains, according to Lefort, why primitive societies suppress all conflict and why they resist all novelty and social transformation: only in this way can society’s identity remain stable and be preserved over time. Democratic societies, however, operate differently: they deny a transcendent foundation of the social and instead allow permanent conflict and debate over the nature of society. This explains the emergence of ideologies in modern democratic societies, such as liberalism, socialism or conservatism, each painting a different picture of the nature of society and each presenting a different program of the changes and transformations that are needed in order to realize such a society.
Unlike primitive societies, democratic societies thus embrace both conflict and transformation, and in this way, Lefort says, they become truly historical societies. In democratic societies we find ourselves embedded in a historical situation that presents several options for transforming society (liberal, socialist, progressive, conservative, etc.), and democratic politics consists in debating which option makes the most sense to pursue based on past experiences (failures, successes, unintended consequences, etc.). Lefort thus paints a similar picture to Merleau-Ponty of the connection between freedom and historical embeddedness – or of the ‘flesh of history’ – but he gives it a political twist by showing that it is only in democratic forms of society that a healthy balance can be realized between the two.
The third aspect of the phenomenological body politic that Louis discusses concerns the enigma that democratic societies can be both divided and united at the same time. Democratic societies are divided into relatively autonomous spheres of action, such as the economy, politics, religion, science, art, etc., each with their own norms. This raises the question why life in democratic societies can still be experienced as a unity, which Louis tries to answer by turning to the work of Merleau-Ponty, Lefort and Ricœur.
As Louis says, an important concern in Merleau-Ponty’s body of work has been to show the unity that penetrates the variety of domains of experience. However, in doing so, he has always resisted reductionist solutions – either materialist, sociological or idealist – that reduce the social world to an economic principle, a social fact, or a determined idea. Such explanations of social life remain abstract and cannot do justice to the variety of experiences, nor to their internal coherence. Instead, Merleau-Ponty conceives of social life as a totality, which he sometimes calls ‘civilization’; even though society is divided into different social spheres, these spheres communicate and interact because they are all informed by a specific understanding of the human, that is, a background understanding that pervades social life in all its dimensions.
As Louis shows, it is again Lefort who gives a political twist to Merleau-Ponty’s reflections by arguing that the specific understanding of the human that penetrates a society is of a political nature, and that it is closely related to the way in which power is organized in a society. Louis illustrates this by comparing Lefort’s accounts of the Ancient Regime and of democratic societies. According to Lefort, the society of the Ancient Regime was pervaded by a corporatist and mystical understanding (i.e. individuals had their place in corporations and this organization of society had a religious foundation), which went hand in hand with a form of government where the King was both the highest corporation and his authority had a sacred quality. Democratic societies, on the other hand, are informed by an understanding of man as articulated in the Declaration of Human Rights – as both autonomous and indeterminate – and this is accompanied by a paradoxical organization of power, which appears to be both emerging from society (the people are sovereign, which secures autonomy) but at the same time as being external to society (nobody can legitimately appropriate and embody power, which secures indeterminacy). A democratic regime thus secures a specific understanding of the human as both autonomous and indeterminate, initiating a permanent process of attempting to give substance to the human. In this sense, a democratic society is divided and symbolically united.
Louis’ discussion of Ricœur revolves around his critical analysis of Michael Walzer’s Spheres of Justice. In this book, Walzer argues – pace John Rawls – that a theory of distributive justice should take into account the plurality of goods that have to be distributed. However, Ricœur thinks that Walzer, in discussing this plurality of goods, does not emphasize enough that citizenship and political power cannot be discussed as goods to distributed like other goods. Citizenship, according to Ricœur, is a general condition for having access to social goods, whereas political power (or the state) is the central instance of distribution. In other words, the division of society into different spheres of distributive justice is only conceivable within a political community, or body politic, in which citizenship and the state are already instituted. Ricoeur conceives the nation-state to be the concrete form of the body politic within which complex justice can be established. The nation-state can both guarantee the autonomy of the different spheres of justice, but it can also prevent their complete dissociation: it is because citizens in the end feel themselves members of a nation-state that their pursuit of a plurality of goods in different social spheres does not lead to a radical dissociation.
Despite their differences, Louis thinks that the accounts of Merleau-Ponty, Lefort and Ricœur can be understood as a plea for the securing of a phenomenological body politic in which a healthy balance can be realized between the autonomy of social spheres and their embeddedness in the symbolic unity of a political community. The phenomenological body politic thus serves as an antidote to both totalitarian unity (in which the diversity of social life is abolished by the reign of ideology) and radical dissociation (where a particular social sphere, such as the capitalist economy, emancipates itself completely from all political frameworks).
In sum, Louis uses the third part of the book to extract insights from the work of Arendt, Lefort, Merleau-Ponty and Ricœur about the intertwinement of freedom and embeddedness in different areas of political life, and she ties these insights together with the help of the metaphor of the phenomenological body politic. In this way, Louis gives a convincing presentation of ‘political phenomenology’ as a coherent movement that wants to do justice to political phenomena and defend democratic political life as the privileged place for establishing a healthy balance between freedom and embeddedness (or, put more abstractly, between indeterminacy and determinacy). This account of political phenomenology is similar to the one given by Robert Legros (1996, 548), whose work seems to have been an important influence on Louis’ thinking.
In the final pages of the book Louis tells us that political phenomenology does not tell us which political position we should adopt, but it can help us to avoid the two pathologies of ‘absolute freedom’ and ‘stagnant embeddedness’. Even if we avoid these pathologies, Louis says, there is still plenty of room for political maneuvering – from a flexible conservatism to a radical reformism – and, depending on our situation, we have to decide if we need to secure more freedom or more embeddedness.
I want to conclude with three critical remarks. The first remark concerns Louis’ silence about the differences between Arendt and Lefort. This silence is partly understandable since she wants to focus mainly on similarities so that she can present political phenomenology as a coherent movement, but I think the differences between Arendt and Lefort are of such a fundamental nature that they cannot be ignored. For example, whereas Arendt makes a rigid distinction between ‘the social’ (as a sphere of determinacy and the biological) and ‘the political’ (as a sphere of freedom), for Lefort the social and the political are closely intertwined: the political refers for him to the complex process in which the social gets symbolically instituted.
And indeed, as Wim Weymans (2012) has argued, Arendt’s lack of attention to the symbolic dimension of democratic life is at the heart of many differences between Arendt and Lefort. Whereas Arendt has a tendency to interpret political phenomena in a concrete-empirical way, Lefort interprets them in the light of their symbolic dimension, which explains for example their different evaluation of human rights. Lefort considers human rights as emancipating because of their symbolic dimension: the fact that they are indeterminate and can never be fully realized in social reality creates a permanent possibility for citizens to criticize the existing state of society. Arendt instead perceives human rights as problematic because, in concrete reality, they are not protected by a particular state. One could list more differences between Arendt and Lefort (for example concerning equality, representation, or ideology) but I think this suffices to show that these differences are not unimportant but touch on central aspects of a political phenomenology: how to understand ‘the political’ and how to perceive and interpret political phenomena.
The second remark is related to the phenomenological metaphor of the body politic. Although I think Louis shows convincingly that there is an analogy between political life and embodied subjectivity when it comes to the tension between freedom and embeddedness, in the end this is just one of the tensions in modern political life. As soon as one analyses modern democracies more closely and concretely – as it has been done for example by some of Lefort’s students, such as Pierre Rosanvallon – then there emerge many other structural tensions, such as the tension between liberalism and democracy, the individual and the citizen, reason and will, expertise and opinion, representation and participation, juridical generality and identity, self-responsibility and solidarity, etc. All these tensions structure our democratic experience but, one could argue, they are of a much more incommensurable or ‘tragic’ nature than the tension between freedom and embeddedness. It remains to be seen if the phenomenological metaphor of the body politic can also help to illuminate these ‘tragic’ tensions in our democratic experience or if we would need other metaphors and imaginaries for that.
Thirdly, although Louis’ book convincingly shows that political phenomenology deserves a place in the landscape of contemporary political philosophy, one would still like to hear more about how it relates to other approaches. For example, political phenomenologists are not the only ones who have studied the relation between freedom and embeddedness; there has been a long tradition of Hegelian scholars who have reflected on this problem by rethinking Hegel’s notion of Sittlichkeit (e.g. Honneth 2014). And although Louis justly characterizes Heidegger’s phenomenology as apolitical, there has been a growing interest lately in ‘political ontology’ (e.g. Marchart 2007), which takes its inspiration largely from Heidegger. By comparing political phenomenology to these closely related approaches, I think its specific contribution to contemporary political philosophy could become even more clear.
Honneth, Axel. 2014. Freedom’s Right. The Social Foundations of Democratic Life. New York: Columbia University Press.
Legros, Robert. 1996. “Phénoménologie politique.” In Dictionnaire de philosophie politique, edited by Philippe Raynaud and Stéphane Rials, 544-551. Paris: PUF.
Marchart, Oliver. 2007. Post-Foundational Political Thought. Political Difference in Nancy, Lefort, Badiou and Laclau. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Weymans, Wim. 2012. “Defending Democracy’s Symbolic Dimension: A Lefortian Critique of Arendt’s Marxist Assumptions.” Constellations 19 (1): 63-80.
Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Ethics is a rigorously argued treatment of many important problems in the philosophy of morals. He puts forth a coherent and insightful realist perspective which strives to be founded in lived moral experience. And this realist aspect is in fact most important to him. As will become evident, in every way he tries to emphasize and secure the utter objectivity and autonomy of the sphere of values from all possible reductions to something else. But his treatment lacks a certain critical awareness of the transcendental-hermeneutical structure of experience. Hildebrand seems to consider that because the experience of value has an intentional character, it is therefore a direct and immediate “contact” with an objective reality that gives itself as it is. Intentionality is taken as securing realism straightaway. This is how he tries to offer a phenomenological argument from the intentionality of consciousness against various forms of value-relativism. Hildebrand wishes to understand the human being as by nature open to an ontologically independent sphere of value. But the counterargument to be given below is that the experience of the world is both of the world (intentional) and inevitably mediated (transcendental-hermeneutical). What one experiences is not simply an “in itself” but rather an “in itself for us.” This lack of transcendental awareness fatally undermines his attempt to demonstrate the pure objectivity of values. The only possible solution to this problem would be that of adopting an “anthropocentric ontology” in which the meaning of everything is its possible meaning for human beings. The “in itself” would thus correspond totally with the “in itself for us,” and the hermeneutical structure of human experience would be revelatory of things as they are. But this would be contrary to the purposes of Hildebrand, who wishes to situate human beings within the greater context of a non-anthropocentric reality. The goal in the following review is to summarize the substance of Hildebrand’s work and to pursue this line of critique in greater detail.
In the chapter titled “Prolegomena,” Hildebrand announces the method he is to adopt in the present work in addition to making certain requests of the reader. Although he does not use these terms, one could say that Hildebrand’s method attempts to be simultaneously phenomenological and realist. It attempts to be phenomenological because he desires that we be “on our guard against all constructions and explanations that are incompatible with the nature of moral data as presented in experience or that in any way fail to do full justice to them” (2). He wishes to engage in an inquiry into the moral by way of starting from “‘the immediately given,’ that is, from the data of experience” (2). And he calls upon his readers to perform along with him a kind of epoché, in which one “hold[s] in abeyance for a while all theories that are familiar to him, and that provide him with a set of terms that he is accustomed to use in sizing up that which is immediately given” (2). The reader is called to “listen to the voice of being” (3) and to pay close attention, in as unbiased and unprejudiced manner as possible, to the real given of experience. But what is this “given” of experience, and how does one arrive at it? Hildebrand is emphatic that his intended sense of the “given” is not a reference to what is experienced naïvely in everyday life, nor does it reduce to what “everyone knows,” i.e. what is taken as a matter of course in some community. Rather, the given is “the object that imposes itself on our intellect, that reveals and validates itself fully when we focus on it in an intellectual intuition” (10). The “given” in this sense would therefore seem to amount to a genuine “in itself” that has become transparent and visible to the inquiring intellect. And Hildebrand also proposes a method for attaining to it. More precisely, he proposes that one return to naïve prephilosophical experience and purify it of the distortions and malformations imposed upon it unthinkingly and perhaps “inauthentically” by conforming it to the reigning doxa of the thought-world a person happens to inhabit. This means not only refusing to deny the reality of something given in experience simply because it cannot be reduced to the categories dominating the time and place in which the experience happens, as when a modern person takes great offense at a crime but then goes on later to say that morals are a matter of subjective preference, but also rejecting the pragmatic obsession with usefulness which blinds a person to any other aspect of a thing than that which is useful. This is the substance of Hildebrand’s suggestion for what amounts to a preparation of oneself so as to attain to knowledge of a given, i.e. of a true “in itself” which has become transparent to the inquiring intellect. The method is thus phenomenological insofar as it turns to experience as the source of knowledge rather than to speculation or theorizing or hypothesizing, and it is realist insofar as Hildebrand emphasizes that knowledge is essentially a passive reception of the self-disclosure of an external “in itself.” Finally, Hildebrand cautions against the temptation to premature systematizing for a variety of reasons, the most fundamental of which seems to be that excessive zeal for the development of a system inevitably translates into an aprioristic method which can only ever disconfirmed by experience. As he says, “as soon as we believe that from certain general principles we can deduce the rest of the universe, we are bound to build up a system that is not in conformity with reality” (13). One must always prefer the truly given to the desire for a system, always prefer honesty and faithfulness to the given rather than faithfulness to a system (16-19). One could therefore summarize these points by noting that Hildebrand’s method strives to be phenomenological, realist, and non-systematizing out of a concern to be properly “empirical” or experientially founded.
Hildebrand’s ethics begins with the notion of “importance” (ch. 1). A thing presents itself as important, rather than as neutral or indifferent, when it gives itself as possessing the power to motivate a specific response on the part of the person to whom it shows itself. Its motivating power may be either positive – as when it motivates desire, or joy, or enthusiasm, etc. – or negative – as when it motivates aversion or some other such response. The positively important is designated “good” (bonum), whereas the negatively important is designated “bad” (malum).
The motivational power of things can be different from case to case (ch. 2). Some things are good in the sense that they are desirable. But desire is not the only way in which a person can relate to the good. Some good things are desired for the sake of being possessed, whereas others are good as sources of joy and to be desired even when they cannot be personally appropriated (e.g., the conversion of a sinner). And some good things are desired insofar as the formal object of the desire is its coming into existence, whereas other good things are venerated and esteemed as already existing.
Hildebrand distinguishes between three different categories of importance (ch. 3). First, there is the distinction between value and the subjectively satisfying. Value is importance-in-itself. The value imposes itself in experience as being good independently of the way in which it happens to affect a person, e.g. an act of moral heroism. The morally heroic act imposes itself as something whose positive importance is independent of the effect it happens to have upon those who are witness to it. On the other hand, the subjectively satisfying is only important because of the way it happens to affect a person in some circumstances, e.g. a warm bath or an enjoyable party. But in addition to value and the subjectively satisfying, there is also that which is objectively good for a person. This category is presupposed by the Socratic maxim that it is better to suffer injustice than to commit it, which would be unintelligible if the only way for a thing to be good for a person would be for it to be subjectively satisfying. It is better to suffer the subjectively unsatisfying than to commit an injustice, and this is because to be just is objectively good for a person, to be unjust – objectively bad. Hildebrand also emphasizes that the sphere of value is incommensurate with the sphere of the subjectively satisfying. It is not merely that one happens to be more valuable than another. A person forced to choose between caring for a friend in grave moral need and attending a social gathering is not choosing between two values on the same scale, but rather between two incommensurate forms of importance which appeal to different aspects of a person in order to move her to action. Value, mere subjective satisfaction, and the objective good for the person thus suggest themselves as the three fundamental categories of importance. And Hildebrand notes against Aristotle (63) that human freedom extends not merely to the means one chooses for the pursuit of any of these categories of importance, but also to which category of importance for which one opts in the course of life.
Although the useful is a genuine ethical category, it does not represent a category of importance on its own (ch. 4). A thing can be useful or not only relative to some important thing, whether this be value or mere subjective satisfaction or the objective good for the person. And Hildebrand is emphatic that of the three categories of importance, value — the important-in-itself — is primary (ch. 5). In fact, the primacy of value is so evidently a part of a meaningful human life that it often goes unnoticed and even obscured by theories which measure everything by the standard of the merely subjectively satisfying.
The values of things are properties which belong to beings independently of our motivations (ch. 7). These values reveal themselves in contemplation if a person is appropriately disposed, e.g. not beset by concupiscence and vice. The notion of an objective good for the person presupposes value, whether it be the value of the being the possession of which is an objective good or else the value of the human person whose enjoyment of various agreeable things is itself a value. Moreover, value is irreducible to the satisfiability of some relation to an urge or impulse of the human person (ch. 8). On the one hand, value imposes itself in experience independently of the disposition of those witnessing it, as when even a selfish person can be moved by a display of generosity. On the other hand, attempts at reducing value to a relation to some human disposition (e.g., an impulse toward admiration) all implicitly presuppose the value of the fulfillment of that disposition. These considerations lead to a refutation of relativism (ch. 9). Hildebrand responds to the argument from the diversity of moral opinions that such a diversity does not entail that there is no truth of the matter in morality and that the reality of an objective truth is in any case presupposed by the very act of taking up a moral opinion. In response to the claim of the “French sociological school” that morality is an invention and illusion owing to social pressures and cultural tradition, he responds that the moral sphere is in fact characterized by a certain essential intelligibility and necessity which puts it closer to mathematics than to mythology. Furthermore, these same relativists nevertheless inconsistently take up moral stances in response to evils such as Nazism. And Hildebrand has no patience for the view that says that the alleged value of things is in fact a feeling produced in us by the object, rather than a property of being itself, because this is contrary to the intentional nature of the experience of value itself. This is a point to which it will be important to return later.
There is a distinction to be made between ontological and qualitative value (ch. 10). Qualitative value is the value that characterizes qualities which may be possessed by different persons and is as such indifferent to each of them, e.g. the value of humility or charm or whatever. Ontological value is the value that a thing possesses simply in virtue of the fact that it is what it is, e.g. the value and intrinsic dignity of the human being as such. Hildebrand notes that the qualitative values (and disvalues) are related to each other in a way characterized by what he calls “polarity” (ch. 11). For example, thing cannot simultaneously be grand and delicate, menacing and boring, charming and imposing. Hildebrand also distinguishes various forms of polarity, some of which involve a kind of fruitful antagonism or opposition while others involve complementarity. And with respect to the relation between value and being (ch. 12), Hildebrand argues that these are distinct notions such that the grasp of one does not entail the grasp of the other. He grants that there is a formal value which belongs to every being simply qua being, but this must be distinguished from the ontological value of that being qua something as well as its qualitative values, i.e. the various valuable qualities it might possess. And it is possible for a thing to possess such ontological and qualitative disvalue that it would be better if it did not exist at all.
Speaking more generally of the connection between being and value, it is evident that the world in which human beings live is full of both good and evil, value and disvalue (ch. 13). But the presence of value alongside disvalue and indifference itself suggests that at the foundation of created being lies God who is Absolute Value. The ultimate reality could not be disvalue insofar as this would empty value of its meaning and turn it into a lie. This shows something of the relationship between God and value (ch. 14). Hildebrand compares it to the relationship between God as necessary and the creature as contingent: although it is possible to grasp a thing as contingent or valuable apart from the recognition of God, nevertheless the contingent or valuable thing depends upon God as its precondition. And the various values of things are in different ways reflections of the supreme unity of value in God.
Leaving aside questions of the relation between value and being, Hildebrand turns to the matter of moral values in particular (ch. 15). These are first and foremost values of a person, whereas nothing impersonal could be said to possess a moral value such as wisdom or temperance or the rest. And yet they are distinguished from other qualitative values of persons by the fact that it is demanded of every person as such to possess them, thus presupposing freedom of the will and in which regard the success or failure to possess them leaves one deserving either of reward or punishment. The distinctly Christian values of the saint include but also go beyond the values of “natural” morality available to all people whatsoever. With respect to the matter of moral value and its relation to nature (ch. 16), Hildebrand is firmly committed to the notion that the sphere of value cannot be subordinated to that of the human, as if value were merely a human phenomenon. This means that the morally valuable is not simply whatever is in accordance with human nature. Rather, human being is itself ordered toward the autonomous sphere of value, including the distinct sphere of moral value to which the human being has access as a result of its capacity for reason.
Hildebrand puts forth an extended discussion of the nature of value-response which is so fundamental to ethics (ch. 17). He begins by distinguishing intentional acts of consciousness, which imply a relation between a person and an object, from those nonintentional states such as exhaustion or cheerfulness. Among intentional acts, a distinction is to be made between the cognitive acts such as perception, through which an object is made present to a person, the direction of intentionality being principally from object to subject, and responses from the subject to the object which presuppose these prior cognitive acts. Responses may be of different sorts. Theoretical responses have to do with believing or disbelieving, accepting or doubting, and are aimed at the state of affairs as such. Volitional responses have to do with willing or not willing, which are principally aimed at state of affairs recognized not presently to be real, but which at least are possibly so. And there are also affective responses such as joy or sorrow, love or contempt. Some of these are principally characterized by the cognition of a value in their object, such as the admiration one feels for a saint or virtuous person. These are called value-responses. They are distinguished from other affective responses principally through the fact that they express themselves through a form of self-abandonment and self-transcendence, as when one worships God or commits oneself to the cause of justice. Some value responses such as love may manifest themselves in a manner similar to urges and impulses like thirst or strong desire, but they must nevertheless be distinguished from these in virtue of the fact that they are responses to an independently possessed value of some object. And the intentionality and object-directedness of the value response is not compromised by the thought that the human being is naturally disposed toward or benefited by certain values. The value of a thing is grasped in a special form of intentional cognition which Hildebrand calls value-perception. Hildebrand notably differs with Socrates in that he does not believe that mere indubitable value perception is sufficient to result in moral action; it is also necessary to be affected by them and to will in conformity with them.
It is essential to respond and relate appropriately to the values in things (ch. 18). There is an evident disharmony in dismissing Plato as vapid or thinking of St. Francis as “merely a lovely religious troubadour” (257). Similar considerations apply in the case of a person who responds with admiration and veneration to her robbers. And it is not merely a person or a valuable thing but rather the value itself that demands a proportionate response. Among these value-responses is the will to be good (ch. 19). One might also call this the fundamental option for moral value. Hildebrand is clear that the choice to be moral is first and foremost a response to the importance-in-itself of moral value and only secondarily a pursuit of what is objectively good for the human person. The difference between morally conscious person and morally unconscious person is that the former has considered and made this fundamental option for goodness whereas the latter has not. The morally unconscious person conforms to the moral order only accidentally, to the extent that it is natural or normal for her to do so. The morally unconscious person may also be strictly indifferent to the question of moral value while finding herself contingently inclined toward certain values which are genuinely morally good. The appropriate response to moral value in general requires moral consciousness.
Hildebrand also considers the role of the will in the response to value (ch. 21). On the one hand, the freedom of the will makes it possible for the human being to respond to the disclosure of value either positively or negatively, appropriately or inappropriately. On the other hand, the will is also what makes it possible for human beings to initiate causal sequences and to intervene in the flow of events in the world. Freedom implies the consciousness that some state of affairs both should and will obtain as a result (at least in part) of one’s own agency. Moreover, freedom is the presupposition of all moral evaluation and social action. It is distinct from the forms of voluntariness which are found even among animals (ch. 22). Contrary to the assertion of Aristotle, human freedom extends not only to the means but also to the end (ch. 23). Humans are free to choose between the merely subjectively satisfying or the important-in-itself as ends for their actions and not merely as means for the procurement of happiness. Insofar as human responsibility is coextensive with human freedom, it must be recognized that there is a distinction between things for which humans are directly responsible and those for which humans are only indirectly responsible (ch. 24). The existence of the former can be assured by an act of the will, whereas for the existence of the latter all one can do is prepare the way by means of free choices. One may not be capable of bringing about a virtue in oneself directly, but one can nevertheless be blamed for a failure of virtue if one does not at least prepare the way by willing to do the virtuous thing.
Human freedom also plays a role in the response to one’s being affected or affective responses to other things (ch. 25). It is not a matter of human freedom that one be affected or respond affectively to things, nor would it be right for it to be so, since the affective response is precisely a response to quality perceived in the object and not a matter of choice. But it is nevertheless a matter of freedom whether one “cooperates” with how one has been affected by something, e.g. whether one pursues a joy or submits to a felt offense. The morally conscious person is distinguished by the fact that she exercises her capacity to sanction or disavow her spontaneous attitudes. The morally unconscious person simply takes these affective responses for granted, whatever they might be. But this capacity can also be exercised by the morally conscious immoralist or enemy of God who specifically identifies with immoral attitudes and suppresses any noble affections that may arise within her. In general, the zone of affective responses is an area in which the human being can exercise indirect influence by either sanctioning or disavowing certain responses for the sake of preparing a ground for the advent of the appropriate ones. And in general, the factors which influence the development of a person’s character are numerous and vary with respect to the freedom a person has over them (ch. 26). One’s natural endowment with respect to temperament and body is one thing, whereas the way in which a person internalizes her own experiences and understands her own life is another. These analyses therefore yield the fundamental elements composing a moral act: it must be a free value-response to some relevant moral value perceived and pursued precisely as such, i.e. as a moral value (361).
Hildebrand posits three spheres of morality: the sphere of action; the sphere of concrete responses to things, whether volitional or affective; and the sphere of the lasting qualities of a person’s character (ch. 27). These spheres are not reducible or subordinated to each other. For example, it is possible for a morally noble person to fall into some sin as a result of temptation, in which case a distinction is to be made from the evaluation of character (she is noble), the evaluation of concrete responses (she is tempted by something), and the evaluation of action (she performs an evil action). An action is the intentional realization of a state of affairs perceived both as realizable and as valuable in a certain way. Affective responses to things can become the subject of moral evaluation when they are sanctioned or disavowed, i.e. when volition is brought into the equation. Virtues are deeply embedded qualities of a person’s character which are founded upon certain basic value-responses. This raises the question of moral “rigorism” (ch. 28). Although for Hildebrand the true drama of morality is the choice between the merely subjectively satisfying and the important-in-itself, it is nevertheless true that one should prefer the more valuable to the less. But it is also possible that in various situations it be morally required to give preference to something which otherwise would be considered a lesser value. And a distinction must be posited between what is morally praiseworthy and what is morally obligatory. “Rigorism” collapses this distinction and in this way erases the category of the merely permissible. Hildebrand also considers the question of the objective good for the person (ch. 29). There are four categories of the objective good: to be endowed with values; to possess something that makes happy because it is valuable; to have things which are indispensable for life; and to enjoy things which are legitimately agreeable.
The final chapters address the sources of moral evil. These are identified as pride and concupiscence (ch. 30). In fact, Hildebrand identifies three moral “centers” in the human being (ch. 31). These “centers” are not ontological constituents of the human person, but rather “a kind of fundamental approach to the universe and to God, a qualitatively unified ‘ego’ that is always more or less actualized when the person accomplishes a morally good act” (437). These centers are identified on the basis of certain qualitative affinities between various virtues and vices. The virtues — love, humility, reverence, justice, generosity, and so on — are united around what Hildebrand calls the “loving, reverent, value-responding center,” whereas there are two centers of evil: pride, which is the source of vices such as revengefulness, hard-heartedness, envy; and concupiscence, which is the source of covetousness, impurity, laziness, and other such. Hildebrand proposes an analysis of five possible manifestations of the coexistence of the good and evil centers in the typical human being (ch. 32). The merely subjectively satisfying can be a legitimate pursuit, but only if it is done in a recognition of the precedence and priority of value (ch. 33). Otherwise, one falls victim to pride and concupiscence. The discussions terminate with analyses of concupiscence (ch. 34) and pride (ch. 35) as distinct yet related ways of failing in the matter of value-response, concupiscence consisting in a loss of self in the pursuit of the satisfying, pride consisting in a preoccupation with self to the negation of value.
The book terminates with reflections on distinctly Christian ethics (ch. 36). Christian morality includes but also goes beyond and fulfills “natural” morality, understood as that moral knowledge which is available apart from revelation. This Christian ethics is distinguished in at least a few ways: its principal manifestation is humility; it brings together values which in natural morality are often thought exclusive (e.g., zeal for justice and meekness); it is principally founded upon the core of charity; and it conceives of the ethical life as a response to God in Jesus Christ.
Hildebrand’s discussion spanning some nearly five hundred pages is coherent, detailed, and in many places compelling without being aprioristic or unduly systematizing. His analyses of the different ways in which virtues and vices, moral battles and weaknesses manifest themselves in distinct types of persons are very astute and insightful. He demonstrates a profound and nuanced vision of the details of the moral landscape, for example in appreciation of the irreducibility of value even to the sphere of human entelechy as in some species of natural law ethics. At the same time, his writing lacks a certain transcendental awareness of his own hermeneutical situatedness. Sometimes the result is quaint, as when he takes for granted the obviousness of certain moral intuitions and attitudes typical of a faithful Roman Catholic writing decades before the Second Vatican Council. On other occasions, however, it serves to undermine the cogency of his arguments and compromises the genuinely phenomenological character of his work. Consider his discussion of the intentional character of value-response and its phenomenal quality as a perception of a value in the object itself.
Hildebrand distinguishes between cognitive acts and responses as two forms of intentional consciousness. The cognitive act is fundamentally receptive insofar as it consists in the grasping of the self-presentation of an object given to consciousness. The response is fundamentally active in that it consists in the adoption of a particular attitude toward the object grasped in the cognitive act (206-207). Although Hildebrand does not formulate it in precisely these terms, one could say that the cognitive act is a form of categorial intuition in which one grasps a state of affairs of such a nature as to motivate the adoption of some attitude in response to the grasped object. The quality which the object is grasped to possess is the motivation for the response. Insofar as some responses clearly have to do with the supposed value or disvalue of a thing to which one is responding, it therefore would seem to follow that these responses presuppose the prior cognitive grasp of a thing as possessing some value or disvalue relevant for motivating the response in question. For example, one feels admiration for a person in whom one perceives admirable qualities, e.g. moral values. The value-response is thus founded upon a form of value-perception in the way that responses more generally are founded upon cognitive acts such as perception or categorial intuition.
By way of response, one should note that Hildebrand seems to disregard the essentially hermeneutical nature of world-experience. One does not simply experience world-objects and grasp their properties directly. The external world-object is grasped through the dual hermeneutical filter of the lived body and thought-life of the individual. A door looks blurry from a distance, not because it is blurry, but because one has bad eyesight. So also, a skyscraper may appear massive, not because it is in itself massive, but because it is much larger than one’s own body. Likewise, the fact that a man does not experience his wife and his sister-in-law in the same way does not owe to a difference in the two women, nor to a difference in his body, but to a difference in his thought-life: he understands the one to be his wife and not the other. So also, a woman might experience her parents differently after learning that she was adopted, not because something is different in them or in her body but because she now understands them differently. This is what is meant by the assertion that the external world-object is grasped through the dual hermeneutical filter of the lived body and the thought-life. One does not only experience the object but rather the object as related to oneself.
Hildebrand’s arguments for the objectivity of value therefore seem unsuccessful. It is true that one experiences an object as possessing some value which motivates a particular form of response to it. But it is another matter whether one has grasped a value in the object on its own or in the object as it is related to oneself in experience. Food is experienced as delicious, but there is no property of gustatory value inhering objectively in chicken tikka masala. It can be appetizing to one but not to another. Or consider that human beings love fruit, but dogs and cats generally do not. Similarly, a purported moral value can be “noble” in the eyes of the “virtuous” but repellent to the “profligate.” It could well be that the difference in perception is accounted for merely in terms of the different structures of the persons involved. Hildebrand thus does not succeed in demonstrating the pure objectivity of value because he does not show a critical awareness of the hermeneutical contribution of the lived body and thought-life to every world-experience. This seems to be the greatest shortcoming of an otherwise quite valuable treatment of the philosophy of morals. It remains a possibility that the perception of value is accounted for by the human body and thought-life rather than in the world-objects themselves. Value could be just like food, where tastes differ.
Hildebrand could escape this conclusion if he were to opt for an “anthropocentric ontology.” Such a perspective maintains that the meaning of things is their possible meaning for human life and purposes. On this view, the hermeneutical structure of human experience would not supply merely one more possible perspective among others but would rather constitute the total framework within which every possible perspective is included. The human being is not related to a prior world which could exist independently of him, but rather the being and meaning of the world its precisely its being and meaning for the human being. Reality is subordinated to the human rather than the other way around. Adopting this perspective would be a way of admitting the fundamentally anthropo-hermeneutical character of the experience of value without compromising the reality of values, since reality is precisely reality-for-humans. This also undermines the argument for relativism, which apparently presupposes a “realist” ontological stance within which human beings are merely one more kind of beings within a greater non-anthropocentric reality that is strictly indifferent to them. But it would also be incompatible with Hildebrand’s greater project of conceiving the human being as intrinsically open to a sphere of objective values which transcends him and exists independently of him. One must therefore choose between “anthropocentric ontology” or an uncertain realism and the specter of value-relativism.
Die in der Reihe Ad Fontes vorgelegte herausragende Studie von Giovanni Jan Giubilato befasst sich mit der Freilegung und Ausbuchstabierung einer Zusammengehörigkeit, die bereits bei Husserl angelegt ist, jedoch erst im Denken seines Schülers und Assistenten Eugen Fink explizit in Erscheinung tritt: dem dialektischen Aufeinanderverwiesensein von Reduktion und Freiheit. Finks Grundgedanke besteht darin, dass der immer neu zu vollziehende Entwurf der menschlichen Freiheit den eigentlichen Kerngedanken der Phänomenologie markiere: die Reduktion als diejenige Bewegung, die uns von der natürlichen Einstellung befreit und ihre Beschränktheit überwinden lässt. Das originäre Telos der Philosophie ist somit die Freiheit des Menschen, nicht formal, sondern als „transzendentale“, absolute Dimension wie zugleich in existenzieller Je-Meinigkeit.
Giubilato entfaltet diesen Gedanken im Durchgang durch die frühe phänomenologische Meontik Finks, die in Form von zahllosen Notizen – durchgespielten, weiterverfolgten oder aber verworfenen Denkansätzen – seit 2006 in den von Ronald Bruzina im Rahmen der Eugen Fink-Gesamtausgabe edierten Bänden Phänomenologische Werkstatt (3.1 und 3.2) vorliegen. Dabei konzentriert sich Giubilato auf die Jahre der Zusammenarbeit mit Husserl und damit auf die Profilierung von Finks eigenem philosophischem Standpunkt. Zugleich hat er immer auch das Spätwerk im Blick und bahnt fruchtbare Schneisen in Finks Kosmologie. Gerade zu Klammer und Kontinuität zwischen Finks Denken vor und nach der Zäsur des Zweiten Weltkrieges gibt es bislang nahezu keine monografischen Arbeiten, so dass mit Giubilatos Dissertation ein unverzichtbarer Grundstein gelegt sein dürfte.
Im ersten Kapitel (Von der Transzendentalphilosophie zur Meontik) wird Finks in kritischer Auseinandersetzung mit dem transzendentalen Idealismus Husserls entwickelte Idee einer me-ontischen Philosophie entfaltet. Nach Fink ist diese bei Husserl bereits in Andeutungen vorhanden, ohne dass dieser jedoch den Schritt zur „meontischen Natur der absoluten Subjektivität“ zu Ende gehe. In ihr verschiebt sich die Frage nach der Selbstkonstitution eines absoluten Bewusstseins zu der nach dem Verhältnis zwischen dem nicht seienden Absoluten (me on) und der seienden Welt. Für Fink heißt dieses Verhältnis von Absolutem und seiner weltlichen Erscheinung „Freiheit“. Demzufolge sei die Idee einer me-ontischen Phänomenologie des Absoluten grundsätzlich eine „Lehre von der Freiheit“, deren Auslegung dann die zwei Hauptteile der Untersuchung gewidmet sind.
Warum Freiheit? Damit beschäftigt sich das zweite Kapitel (Der Anfang der Philosophie und die Freiheitsproblematik). Die Frage nach einem methodisch gesicherten Anfang der Philosophie, den Husserl im Blick auf das Ideal der Wissenschaft formulierte, wird bei Fink sukzessive aus seiner nach-cartesischen Verankerung im ego cogito herausgelöst und im Hinblick auf das Problem der Welt enggeführt. Welt erscheint nun nicht mehr als Korrelat einer transzendentalen Subjektivität, sondern als dasjenige, das uns zu einer Besinnung auf unseren Ort aufruft, unserer Verortung sowohl in der Entsprungenheit der binnenweltlichen Manifestation als auch im Unendlichen bzw. dem me-ontischen Ursprung von Welt selbst. Es ist diese Differenz zwischen Absolutem und Endlichem, welche die menschliche Situiertheit in der Welt ausmacht und zugleich die erste Motivation der Philosophie darstellt: als Besinnung auf das im Endlichen ,vergessene‘ Unendliche, das Apriori der Welt, das als me-ontisches nicht in Erscheinung tritt. Diese Besinnung ist im Vollzug Freiheit, da sie die natürliche Einstellung sprengt. Wodurch aber wird die Freiheit zu dieser ,Sprengung‘ motiviert? Mit dieser Frage befasst sich das dritte Kapitel (Die radikale Unmotiviertheit der Philosophie und die Freiheit). Im Horizont der wesenhaft geschlossenen natürlichen Einstellung gibt es nämlich „kein Problem, als dessen Beantwortung sich die Phänomenologie herausstellen könnte“. Das Übersteigen des Endlichen kann mit anderen Worten seinerseits nicht endlich motiviert sein, sondern markiert den Einbruch des Absoluten in die Welt: „Fink bestimmt die Besinnung auf die Weltsituation als eine Er-Innerung. Sie ist in der Tat eine recordatio, eine Anamnesis des vergessenen Weltapriori.“ Die ihr entsprechende Grundstimmung ist nach Fink das Staunen (thaumazein), wobei sich diese Stimmung der Verfügbarkeit menschlicher Freiheit entziehe – wir werden vom Staunen „ergriffen“.
Der zweite Teil der Studie befasst sich folglich mit dem Schlüsselbegriff der phänomenologischen „Meontik als Freiheitslehre“: der „Reduktion als Befreiung“. Im vierten Kapitel (Die Reduktion und ihre Situation) wird nach den Ausgangsbedingungen dieses Vollzuges der Befreiung gefragt, den Fink über eine Analyse der Medialität des Bildbewusstseins als einen medialen Akt für das Erscheinen des Absoluten begreift: In ihm öffnet sich gleichsam ein „Fenster ins Absolute“, das im Ausgang von der „mundanen Äußerungssituation“ in diese zurückstrahlt (und auf sie bezogen bleibt), also unauflösbar zwischen intramundaner Befreiung und Übersteigung der Endlichkeit oszilliert. Inwiefern die weltliche Situation der Reduktion eine wesenhaft unfreie ist, und in welchem Sinne die Reduktion genauer als Befreiung verstanden werden kann, untersucht das fünfte und letzte Kapitel (Weltbefangenheit und Befreiung). Ort der Manifestation des Absoluten, das über diese Manifestation hinaus wie gesagt nicht ist – „Nichts ,ist‘, me on“ –, ist wie gesagt die Welt. Insofern der Mensch als ein ens cosmologicum – ein Weltwesen –, wie der späte Fink sagen wird, existiert, verlangt die strukturelle Analyse den Aufweis einerseits des Weltapriori in der naiv-mundanen Existenz (dies wäre der Aufbruch der Freiheit) wie sie andererseits den radikalisierten Vollzug der Weltbewohnerschaft im Durchgang durch das ,Nichts‘ der Welt darlegt. Dies macht erforderlich, den Weg der Weltkonstitution und unseres Aufenthaltes in ihr als ,Mensch in der Welt‘ gleichsam mit Gewalt gegen das ,natürliche Leben‘ rückwärts zu gehen: Um die „Vermenschung“ des Absoluten zu verstehen, also eine „Ent-menschung“ zu vollziehen, eine periagogés tes psyches. Die Transzendenzbewegung, die im Vollzug der Reduktion erfolgt, habe dabei den Sinn einer „nicht ontischen Vernichtung der ,Maske der existenten Subjektivität‘, die nun durchsichtig geworden ist“.
Mit dem Terminus des „Instandes“ bzw. der „Instände“ (Geschichte, Geburt, Tod, Sein-bei, Schicksal) erarbeite sich Fink ein methodisches Handwerkszeug, um die „Selbstobjektivation des absoluten Lebens“, seine Mundanisierung oder „Ontifikation“ zu fassen. Die „Inständigkeit“ markiert den Ursprung des Dasein, sein Woher (hier arbeitet Giubilato wichtige Aspekte von Finks Auseinandersetzung mit der Fundamentalontologie Heideggers heraus). Ihr letztes Stadium erreicht der reduktive Rückstieg als „Entmenschung“ jedoch in der Befreiung auch von diesen Inständen, in denen sich das Absolute aus seiner radikalen Transzendenz in eine mundane „Stellung im Kosmos“ verendlicht. In der hier stattfindenden me-ontologischen Erkenntnis des Ontologischen (des Seins) können die Strukturen des „Weltsturzes“ (der Endlichkeit) auf eine „konstruktive“ (nicht analytische) Weise – Fink spricht auch von Spekulation – thematisch werden. Die phänomenologische Reduktion wird so zur „me-ontischen Ab-solution“, zur radikalen Loslösung aus der Welt-Befangenheit und Rückführung ins Ursprüngliche, die Welt-Unbefangenheit – nicht im Sinne eines methodischen Kunstgriffes, sondern als „Schmerz des Erwachens“, den sich „der absolute Geist selbst antut“ (Fink-Zitat). Erst als Absolution führt die Reduktion zur Freiheit im Sinne einer ekbasis, eines „Entkommens“.
Der ekbasis als „Ausgang“ aus der erscheinenden Welt korrespondiert umgekehrt die katabasis des Absoluten, seine Selbstentäußerungund emanative Verendlichung in die Welt. Die Idee einer me-ontischen Phänomenologie des Absoluten als Freiheitslehre vervollständigt sich, so Giubilato, „im Gegenspiel zwischen reduktiver ekbasis und konstitutiver katabasis“, zwischen Aufstieg in die Befreiung und Abstieg in die Entäußerung.
Die Entscheidung des Autors, Finks Idee einer me-ontischen Philosophie und Phänomenologie des Absoluten als Lehre von der Freiheit darzustellen, erweist sich als wohldurchdachter Glücktreffer. Mit seiner luziden Genauigkeit, Prägnanz und detaillierten Aufmerksamkeit gelingt es Giubilato nicht nur auf eine ebenso substanziell-gediegene wie faszinierende Weise, Finks ganz eigenen, im kritischen Dialog mit Husserl und Heidegger gebahnten Denkweg aus dem Dickicht tastender Versuche herauszuschälen und zu konturieren. Auch für das Spätwerk – Finks kosmologisches Denken – werden entscheidende Weichen gestellt, allem voran die Einsicht, dass wir „Weltwesen“ sind und bleiben, „Welt“ jedoch selbst durch ein Entzugsmoment charakterisiert ist, welches auf eine näher zu entfaltende Weise auf uns selbst als ,Fragmente‘ ihrer zwiefältigen Differenz zurückweist. Die Fülle miteinander verschränkter Analysen, die Originalität des Zugriffes, die sorgfältige Arbeit am Begriff sowie der Elan und die philosophische Tiefe der Durchführung weisen Giubilatos Untersuchung als einen Meilenstein der Auseinandersetzung mit einem Autor aus, der gerade dabei ist, mithilfe internationaler Unterstützung aus seiner Versenkung in der deutschen Forschungslandschaft herauszutreten.
Schelling’s philosophy seems to be breaking free from its long-term neglect. While the earliest Schelling has always been recognized as a valuable intermediary between Kant and Hegel, the traditional reception saw his middle philosophy as an unfortunate step into Romanticism and his latest philosophy as a retreat into Christian orthodoxy. The last decade or two has shown renewed interest in Schelling’s philosophy in its own right, and tries to read Schelling not merely as a philosopher on the way to Hegel, but as someone who offers valuable arguments himself. This volume is a welcome contribution to this renewed interest in Schelling’s thought, specifically because it aims to discuss Schelling’s “contribution to and internal critique of the basic insights of German idealism, his role in shaping the course of post-Kantian thought, and his sensitivity and innovative responses to questions of lasting metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, aesthetic, and theological importance” (2).
This volume follows the trend of dividing Schelling’s trend in ever-increasing periods: early idealism, philosophy of nature, philosophy of freedom and late philosophy. While such a periodization can be helpful for fleshing out the exact meaning and context of Schelling’s argument, it does risk obfuscating the developmental nature of Schelling’s thought as such. Some of the contributors do point out how certain periods of thought follow naturally from previous premises and arguments, in such short contributions, an idea of the whole of the development of Schelling cannot be provided. The chapters of this book are thus concerned with fairly specific topics narrowed down to a specific period in Schelling’s philosophical development. Though attempts are made to spread the attention evenly to all periods of his thought, there does seem to be more attention paid to his earlier thought up to 1809 (the first 15 years of his career) rather than Schelling’s very latest philosophy up to 1854 (the last 45 of his career). On a whole, the contributions are well-crafted, clearly structured and well-argued. The editor maintained a firm hand in streamlining the different chapters, which made for that a singular style pervades all different chapters.
The first set of chapters deal with Schelling’s earliest idealism, mostly in relationship to two contemporaries: Kant and Novalis. In her opening essay ‘Nature as the World of Action, Not of Speculation’, Lara Ostaric proposes a reading of Schelling’s ‘Letters on Dogmatism and Criticism’ where Schelling’s engagement with Kant in that essay is geared towards interpreting Kant in the spirit rather than the letter of his idealism. At the time, the Tübingen theologians saw Kant’s practical postulates as a way to speak of revelation again, while for Kant, Schelling argues, it signals that God is known through freedom and action, not thought. Ostaric’s purpose is then to show that Schelling is in greater proximity to Kant in his earliest development than is usually believed. In my view, Ostaric gives too much credit to the theological reading of Kant’s postulates (e.g. Storr). In fact, Schelling’s reading of Kant’s postulates seems to be in line with Kant’s text, not just the spirit of that text. Ostaric’s approach to Kant’s argument seems to miss the constitutive difference between a ‘proof’ and a ‘postulate’ of God. She supports her reading by turning to the first Critique, while it would be better to investigate the development of this issue in the third Critique. The second chapter in this series, by Joan Steigerwald titled ‘Schelling’s Romanticism’, traces certain overlapping concerns between Novalis and Schelling. Her approach is speculative rather than historical. The point is that Novalis and Schelling start both from a discontent with how Fichte’s idealism is too focused on the activity of the I, and so tends to forget the world and nature. Both philosophers then seek to come to a more organic relationship between world and the I. Both Novalis and Schelling see this in term of opposing forces of ‘lowering’ and ‘raising’. While the set-up of this paper is very interesting, its speculative nature makes it so that it hovers over texts rather than deals with these in more detail and nuance. Here, a more specific focus might have been more enlightening.
The second set of papers, four in total, deals with Schelling’s philosophy of nature. In the first essay in this series ‘Freedom as Productivity in Schelling’s Philosophy of Nature’, Naomi Fisher takes a look at Schelling’s view of freedom prior to writing his famous Freedom-Essay. Her point is that Schelling is trying to make sense of two things: (1) Nature acts freely; (2) Human freedom is yet an escape from nature. The key to understanding this conundrum is ‘lawful productivity’. This paper offers a sustained, systematic discussion of how Schelling treats with productivity, freedom and determinism, which is very helpful to understanding how Schelling came to his famous argument in Freedom-Essay. In the second essay in this series ‘From World-Soul to Universal Organism’, Paul Franks aims to offer a reading of a part of Schelling’s philosophy of nature which is unpalatable to many scholars, namely his views of a world-soul. In accordance with his usual erudition, Franks shows how discussion regarding certain Cabbalistic notions, most importantly tsimtsum, was widespread at the time and how Maimon paved the way for Schelling’s views of a world-soul. Schelling came to his own views regarding the world-soul by blending his reading of Maimon with his understanding of Plato. In the third essay in this series, ‘Deus sive Vernunft. Schelling’s Transformation of Spinoza’s God’ Yitzhak Y. Melamed offers the obligatory discussion of Spinoza’s impact on Schelling’s philosophy of nature. He offers a reading of the Darstellung (1801) where Schelling transforms Spinoza’s God into reason. After offering a, rather hasty, overview of how Schelling became increasingly critical of Spinoza in his later thought (without mentioned Freedom-Essay!), Melamed aims to show that Schelling retains an appreciation for Spinoza throughout his work. Then, Melamed moves to show the formal and stylistic similarities between Schelling’s Darstellung and Spinoza’s Ethics – a point which is rather obvious and does not really enhance the claims in this paper. After that the paper turns to showing how in Schelling reason takes over the role of God in Spinoza’s thought. Regrettably, this does not move beyond a mostly formal discussion. In the final essay in this series, ‘Schelling on Eternal Choice and the Temporal Order of Nature’, Brady Bowman asks whether we can call Schelling a naturalist. The question, of itself, seems rather anachronistic and does not do justice to the complex meaning of the term nature in Schelling’s thought – 1800s and contemporary views of nature are quite distinct. In order to elucidate this, Bowman turns to Schelling’s notion of eternal choice, which undergirds Schelling’s naturalism. While Bowman warns against reading Schelling as a naturalist in our contemporary sense, he does not take into consideration other ways of thinking about naturalism which would more naturally blend with Schelling’s thought.
The third series of essays deal with Schelling’s views of freedom, mostly in Schelling’s Freedom-Essay and The Ages of the World. In the opening essay ‘Schelling on the Compatibility of Freedom and Systemacity’, Markus Gabriel offers a sustained and very helpful discussion of how Schelling thinks freedom and systematicity can be compatible. He does this by means of a reconstruction of Schelling’s discussion of the law of identity and the copula. Regrettably, the discussion is cut short towards the end when the ethical and religious consequences of this new understanding of freedom come up for discussion. In the second essay in this series ‘The Personal, Evil, and the Possibility of Philosophy in Schelling’s Freiheitsschrift’, Richard Velkley gives what is mostly an overview of the general argument of Schelling’s Freedom-Essay, focused mostly on the ground of God as a will to revelation. Velkley does make some interesting notes towards the end on how Schelling interacts with Kant’s notion of radical evil. In the third essay in this series, ‘Nature, Freedom, and Gender in Schelling’, Alison Stone turns to a much-neglected topic in Schelling’s scholarship, namely his views of gender. Schelling entertains, Stone argues, a gendered duality in a number of his works, which tends to associate ‘reason’ with masculinity and ‘nature’ (or receptiveness) with femininity. He seems not to argue for this association and merely assumes this duality, because of his philosophical pedigree. While critical of the way gender is portrayed in Schelling’s thought, Stone does recognize the ambiguity of a simplistic sense of male supremacy in Schelling’s philosophy. Nature does always precede reason in Schelling, and so the female precedes the male as well. In the final essay in this series ‘The Facticity of Time’, G. Anthony Bruno, also the editor, discusses Schelling’s attack on Hegel (how reason is unable to ground itself) from the perspective of The Ages of the World. He insightfully argues how Schelling views the Past and Future as necessary conditions for the possibility of reason, while for Kant and idealism generally, reason was seen as the condition for time.
The last series of essays deals with Schelling’s last philosophy. In the first essay in this series ‘Thought’s Indebtedness to Being’, Sebastian Gardner offers a very complex, speculative take on the Schelling-Hegel debate by offering two ways of reading one of Kant’s pre-critical essay ‘The Only Possible Proof for the Existence of God’. In the final essay in this series ‘An Ethics for the Transition’, Dalia Nassar discusses how Schelling can solve a difficulty in environmental ethics. Schelling namely offers a diagnosis for our problematic relationship to nature and a means by which environmental ethics can be spurred into action.
While some essays are better crafted than others, the papers in this volume are generally very insightful and helpful towards a variety of issues in Schelling’s philosophy. While some topics, mostly of the latest Schelling, are left out (such as revelation, metaphysical empiricism, etc.) the papers that did appear in this volume will ignite further discussion on Schelling’s philosophy
This volume continues Palgrave’s impressive Handbooks in German Idealism series, already comprising significant collections of essays on the topics of German Idealism in general, Kant, Fichte, and German Romanticism. At the time of writing, volumes on Schelling and on the relation between German Idealism and Existentialism are also on the way.
A book of this kind, collecting up-to-date critical contributions across all of the major areas addressed in Hegel’s systematic philosophy, might be thought to stand in competition with a number of similar recent volumes, perhaps most obviously Baur and Houlgate’s A Companion to Hegel (2011) from Blackwell, de Laurentiis and Edwards’ Bloomsbury Companion to Hegel (2013), and Moyar’s The Oxford Handbook of Hegel (2017). The reality of the situation, however, in the light of the richness of Hegel’s work, is that these collections complement one another. They do so by assembling investigations of Hegel’s work on phenomenology, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, ethics, political philosophy, aesthetics, philosophy of religion, philosophy of history, and so on, that are frequently interestingly different in emphasis, evaluation, or interpretation. The essays included in such volumes can be read in isolation, so that somebody interested in, say, topics in Hegel’s philosophy of religion, would benefit from consulting the relevant essays in all four works, without having to engage with each in its entirety. At the same time, due to their scope and size, all four share the virtue of offering readers the opportunity to consider the various topics addressed within them in a systematic context (valuable in the case of Hegel).
The fact that such “competitors” exist also has consequences for how one evaluates the coverage of this volume. The Palgrave Hegel Handbook, to provide one example, has comparatively little in the way of entries which focus upon engagement with Hegel’s work in the twentieth century. Notably, it has no entries which focus upon the reception of Hegel among phenomenologists, critical theorists, or twentieth century French philosophers. This is a particular strength of the Blackwell Companion. It also has comparatively less to say about specific metaphysical topics treated in the Science of Logic; the Oxford Handbook is stronger here. To provide one more example, however, The Palgrave Hegel Handbook clearly offers more than the other collections when it comes to topics in Hegel’s epistemology and philosophy of mind. All four of the volumes that I have mentioned address all of the major aspects of Hegel’s systematic philosophy, but differences in focus such as those in the examples just provided demonstrate another way in which a reader with access to all of them will find that they complement one another. From this point on I will focus this review upon The Palgrave Hegel Handbook alone.
Before discussing the content of the volume, I will make one further remark concerning coverage. It would be unreasonable to expect such a volume to be truly exhaustive in term of the material with which it engages, and the editors make no such claim. Given, however, that the final section of the volume comprises entries on “Hegelianism and Post-Hegelian Thought”, and the editors’ commitment to assessing ‘contemporary controversies concerning his philosophy’ (l), one might think that this would be a good opportunity to include a substantive entry engaging with the already-sizeable and growing body of work concerning Hegel’s colonialism, sexism, and racism, not only in terms of the nature of the implications of his prejudices for the evaluation of his philosophical work, but also in terms of the positive uses made of the resources of Hegel’s thought over the last seventy or so years by those seeking to oppose and overcome such prejudices. Unfortunately, such topics are not treated here. In light of recent collections such as Monahan’s Creolizing Hegel (2017), some engagement with work of this kind would have made a valuable addition to the volume.
The volume opens with a helpful analytical table of contents which roughly indicates the content of each essay. Interesting material is also included in the form of appendices; I particularly enjoyed the schematic presentation of Hegel’s major works as they correspond to the various parts of his mature philosophical system. Importantly, the editors have included Hegel’s various lecture courses in Jena, Heidelberg, and Berlin in this context. Given the richness of many of the transcripts from these lectures, this amounts to a very useful pointer for further reading on the various topics covered in the volume. I was less sure of the editors’ “Agenda for Future Research”. Although the suggestions are certainly valid (and, in my opinion, interesting), and the editors note that this material is ‘suggestive, not exhaustive’ (581), there is no clear criterion according to which some possible projects have been included and others excluded. Why emphasise, for example, the possibility of distinctively Hegelian contributions to contemporary cognitive science (583), but say nothing of the possibility of introducing Hegel to contemporary metaphysical discussions of natural kinds, or of monism, as suggested by Kreines (2015), or of the possible value of Hegelian insights in considering contemporary social pathologies, as explored by Bunyard (2019)? Certainly, there is a multitude of avenues for further research available to those interested in Hegel’s philosophy, but I am not sure how valuable it is for the editors to pick just some and list them.
I also think that the short editors’ introduction to the volume is perhaps not as helpful as it could have been. It aims to provide a sketch of contents and significant goals of the various parts of Hegel’s system, but while this breadth of scope is appropriate here, the brevity of the introduction means that the key claims being singled out are often not explained in sufficient detail. Instead, one gets the impression that the introduction is rather hurriedly emphasizing those elements of Hegel’s philosophy which the editors, perhaps especially Westphal, take to be most significant for contemporary thought (the majority of the references to chapters in the volume are to those by Westphal). I was left feeling that it would have been better simply to indicate the themes of the chapters and let the reader get on with reading them, since there these technical claims receive more adequate and clearer treatment. One valuable addition, however, is a brief run-down of various senses in which Hegel deploys the term “dialectic”. It would have been even better if this account could have been extended with references to analyses of Hegel’s various dialectical arguments, conceptual explications, and the like, as they occur among some of the chapters in the book.
There are twenty-eight essays in this volume. It is impossible within the confines of even a reasonably long review to adequately address even the majority of them. I shall endeavour to say something about seven chapters, composing two of the volume’s eight parts. I will focus my attention on the material concerning Hegel’s engagement with his immediate forbears, his epistemology, and his Science of Logic. This emphasis reflects the interests and expertise of the reviewer and I acknowledge that a case could be made for arguing that some of the most noteworthy essays in the volume are not those which fall into these categories. I will briefly draw attention to what I considered to be some of the most worthwhile essays addressing other topics in the volume at the end of the review.
Part I considers Hegel’s intellectual background and the nature of his philosophical project. There is a short sketch of Hegel’s intellectual life by Bykova which covers more or less what one would expect it to. Particularly good is Bykova’s treatment of the evolution of Hegel’s philosophical aspirations, from an early enthusiasm for popular philosophy and the moral education of the people to his later, considered belief that the practical benefits of philosophy would be better accomplished on the back of a more thorough-going revision of its more abstract, theoretical underpinnings.
Also featured here is an essay by Baur which carries out the task, crucial in a volume which treats the key themes of Hegel’s epistemology and metaphysics, of reconstructing the major philosophical developments which took place in Germany between the publication of Kant’s first Critique and Hegel’s Phenomenology. This is important because many of the major disputes in the interpretation of Hegel’s work (especially his metaphysics) since at least as far back as the 1970s have turned on how to understand his relation to his forbears, especially Kant. This is a lot to address in one essay and there are elements of the account that could have been made clearer: Baur spends some time, quite properly, explaining Kant’s rejection of the possibility of intellectual intuition for human cognition, but then does not explicitly mention intellectual intuition in his treatment of Fichte or Schelling, despite its crucial importance for their projects. More problematically, he suggests that Schelling and Hegel’s idealisms move away from the more subjective idealisms of Kant and Fichte because the former two come endorse the Spinozistic claim that ‘mind and world are fully co-extensive’ (37), but provides no clear argument as to why they might have been justified in endorsing such a claim. This risks giving the impression that Schelling’s and Hegel’s projects amount to a reversion to pre-critical dogmatism, despite the fact that Baur wants to claim that they do not (23). Still, it is necessary to paint with broad brushstrokes in an essay of this kind, and I think that Baur largely succeeds in characterising the idea of Hegel’s project in the Phenomenology as a series of determinate negations intended to persuade his opponents of the validity of metaphysics which can ‘combine the pre-Kantian thought of Spinoza with the post-Kantian thought of Fichte’ (23).
Westphal also includes an article of his own here which distils some of the key points of the interpretation of Hegel’s epistemology that he has been developing for some decades, most recently and thoroughly presented in his (2018). Westphal’s impressive scholarship is on display here as he relates the project of Hegel’s Phenomenology to key philosophical developments both before and after its publication. I shall not discuss the contents of the essay here: a critical engagement with Westphal’s account of Hegel’s project demands more space than a book review of this kind can accommodate. I will say, however, that although Westphal’s writing is clear, this article is something of a whirlwind of references to various works and topics, and at times demands a not insignificant amount of relevant knowledge on behalf of the reader (although, to be fair, it also provides plenty of references for further reading). While there are articles in this volume that would be useful for students with an interest in Hegel’s work, I would not be quick to direct a student towards this one.
Somewhat oddly also placed here is a piece by Varnier on Hegel’s epistemology. The immediate value of this essay is that it encourages those looking to identify Hegel’s epistemological positions to direct their gaze beyond the 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit, and particularly towards the section of Hegel’s Logic on cognition and the material on theoretical spirit in the Philosophy of Spirit. In fact, Varnier does not go far enough concerning this crucial point; it should be remembered that the primary function of Hegel’s argument in the Phenomenology is to provide (immanent) criticism of the various positions of “natural consciousness” opposed in various ways to Hegel’s own idealist position. Identifying distinctive Hegelian epistemological positions in the arguments of the Phenomenology, therefore, is at the very least a rather murky procedure, as what is identified as an internal problem for a particular shape of consciousness in that work need not automatically imply clear positions that we can take Hegel to endorse. It seems to me that Westphal, in the previous essay in this volume, does not do enough to address concerns of this kind.
Varnier’s article concerns itself principally with two topics. Firstly, he seems to accept something like the metaphysics-first metaphilosophy attributed to Hegel in (Kreines 2015) when he suggests that relevance to epistemology of Hegel’s Logic is that it provides a ‘theory of all ontological structures of science and of common knowledge, which make knowledge possible and certain’ (67). In this context, by asking about how Hegel defends this metaphysical project itself against scepticism Varnier seems to be engaging with important questions about Hegel’s views on the epistemology of metaphysics. Secondly, Varnier also treats Hegel’s views on traditional epistemological matters such as the justification of everyday beliefs and the definition of knowledge. Regarding the first topic – the epistemology of Hegel’s metaphysics – Varnier appeals to various “introductions” Hegel provided to his systematic philosophy, the arguments of which are presumably intended to go some way towards securing the metaphysical claims made in the latter (67). This is not an unusual view, and nor is Varnier’s suggestion that the various determinate negations of natural consciousness carried out in the Phenomenology vindicate thought’s claims about the nature of objective reality (71). Given that this essay is preceded by two others which also address the introductory function of Hegel’s Phenomenology, I would suggest that less time could have been spent on this aspect of the epistemology of Hegel’s metaphysics, in favour of topics that have received less attention, perhaps concerning the matter of how to evaluate the claims to knowledge made in the context of Hegel’s Logic itself, or in his Realphilosophie, for example.
Varnier’s treatment of the second topic is briefer that his treatment of the first, which is a shame. He provides a lengthy passage on the nature of knowledge from the Philosophy of Spirit but decides not to ‘dissect’ it (74). Instead he suggests rather briefly, and in a manner that was not clear to me, that Hegel is arguing both for the strong claim that our use of concepts tracks reality in a manner constitutive of knowledge as a matter of ‘necessity’ (74), and for the ‘irreality… of any and every finite standpoint’ (76). In order for these two claims not to be in tension with one another, it seems that the knowing subject in the former case must not be any individual, finite knower, but somehow the historically developing community of interdependent, human, knowing subjects that might be labelled ‘absolute spirit’ in Hegelian language. Indeed, Varnier suggests that, for the collective subject of absolute spirit, ‘the knower and the known are fully adequate to each other’ (75). Peculiarly, however, he then goes on to suggest that absolute spirit itself is also just another finite perspective, adherence to which invites scepticism (76). It is not obvious to me how to reconcile these two claims. Varnier also suggests that the transition from “essence” to “concept” in the Logic might constitute an argument against the sceptical suggestion that our knowledge might be restricted to appearances, and therefore that we might not know how reality really is, but again he refuses to explore that argument (76). He concludes with some highly interesting remarks on the connection between knowledge and practical reason in Hegel’s work, and suggests a possible connection to be drawn with contemporary virtue epistemology (78), but these promising ideas are, frustratingly, left undeveloped here.
I pass over Part II, which focuses on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, to consider Part III, which focuses mostly on Hegel’s Science of Logic. As I mentioned earlier, this volume does not include dedicated contributions on Hegel’s specific treatment of various historically significant logical or metaphysical topics. Instead this section includes helpful and interesting essays by Nuzzo and Burbidge, on the method of Hegel’s logical investigations and on his infamous use of Aufhebung, respectively, followed by a rather informal essay by Southgate which attempts to provide a big-picture overview of an account of metaphysical holism developed in the Doctrine of Essence and to connect it to Hegel’s account of freedom.
Southgate’s piece is a curious addition to this volume. Unlike the other chapters, it does not really represent an intervention either into debates in the secondary literature concerning Hegel’s position or argument on some philosophical issue, or into philosophical work on some topic along Hegelian lines. As such, although its principal topics are metaphysical holism, human freedom, and the connection between the former and the latter in Hegel’s thought, there is no real discussion of debates between those who consider Hegel to be a holist in the relevant sense and those who do not, for example. The major focus of the chapter, instead, seems to be to sketch a way in to Hegel’s thought, aimed at illustrating its importance for those uncertain as to whether or not to spend the time working their way through his famously difficult prose. As such, this chapter, more than any other in the volume, appears to be aimed at students approaching Hegel for the first time, or, possibly, academics considering how to introduce Hegel to such students.
With this goal in mind, I think that Southgate does quite a good job here, although some may find his style a little grating. There is a helpful discussion of Hegel’s account of freedom, aimed at defusing the tendency to suppose that Hegel is arguing naively that it is in fact possible to peacefully view all tragic events as merely the outcome of our own development and to assume responsibility for them (187-88). Southgate redirects the reader towards Hegel’s treatment of those relations which seem to actualise and illuminate freedom in the sense of “being with oneself in the other” and provides a helpful discussion of this vital notion (188-89). One might express the concern, however, that, in his attempt to emphasise to the reader the existential significance of Hegel’s notion of freedom, Southgate’s presentation can come across as rather too heavily focused on the individual’s own attitude towards freedom, at the cost of playing down Hegel’s emphasis on the objective social structures required for such attitudes. I should add that I think that few readers will find his attempt to reverse engineer an account of metaphysical holism from this account of freedom, or to try to provide a sense of it by appeal to the experience of running an ultramarathon to be successful (Southgate seems to think that Hegel’s position is in some important sense ineffable, but I do not know why).
Nuzzo’s chapter on the method of Hegel’s logical science is a valuable addition to this volume, drawing as it does on her sustained work on this topic over several years. Nuzzo helpfully situates the discussion of Hegel’s dialectical logic in relation to both Kant’s transcendental logic and to traditional, Aristotelian logic. Of especial value here is her account of Hegel’s critique of the formality of transcendental logic in terms of what he judges to be a ‘failed relation to the object’ (156) because of Kant’s separation of sensibility and understanding. Here Nuzzo’s account helpfully explains that Hegel is not simply ignoring or conflating Kant’s distinction between general and transcendental logic (as it might appear, at times).
Interestingly, on the basis of Hegel’s claim that Kant’s transcendental logic, dependent as it is on the input of sensibility for its objects, is unable to deliver the truth about those objects, Nuzzo moves to suggest that Hegel’s dialectical logic is in fact closer to general logic, precisely because it does not involve transcendental logic’s necessary reliance upon an object given to it from elsewhere (Incidentally, the claim Hegel’s new logical method is prompted by what he sees as the failure of Kant’s transcendental logical method does not seem to fit with Nuzzo’s stated rejection of readings of Hegel which have him construct an ‘path alternative to the generally accepted Kantian one’ (154), but I think that it is the former claim which is more important to her argument). In the case of general logic, of course, this is simply because it can be carried out completely abstractly, without reference to real objects, while Hegel sets for dialectical logic the ambitious task of a thinking that, like general logic, is pure in that it requires no input from externally given real objects, but at the same time delivers the truth about real objects nevertheless.
Nuzzo’s account of the method of such a dialectical logic accurately captures the Hegelian claim that the content of logic should not be separate from its form, and that logical thinking can generate its own content. Of course, even if one accepts Nuzzo’s characterisation of Hegel’s method in terms of the generation of logical content from the dynamic movement of thought itself, the question remains, particularly after the treatment of Hegel’s criticism of Kant, as to why one should suppose that this immanently generated logical content accurately tracks reality. Nuzzo rightly points out that Hegel takes his logical science to amount to an ‘objective thinking’ (161), but the reader may well wonder why this does not amount to anything more than an interesting new style of pre-critical dogmatism. To be fair to Nuzzo though, her chapter is concerned with the method of Hegel’s logic, and not with the question of how that logic also amounts to a metaphysics. This latter question has received plenty of attention in recent work on Hegel, and I think that Nuzzo’s essay succeeds admirably in shedding some light on its chosen subject-matter.
I should point out that there is a slightly misleading slip in the language of this paper. Nuzzo describes the relation between the question of the relation between Hegel’s dialectical logic and his attitude to Kant’s transcendental logic and the question of the relation between the conclusion of the Phenomenology of Spirit and the idea of logic present in the Science of Logic as ‘all but self-explanatory’ (155), where she means “anything but self-explanatory” (She does go on to provide an excellent explanation later in the chapter). Unfortunately, although no one paper in the volume exhibits a high volume of typos, mistakes, or awkward phrasings, there is quite a number of such things spread across the book as a whole. In general, the Palgrave Hegel Handbook would have benefitted from more careful editing on this score.
Burbidge, in his contribution, provides an illuminating discussion of Hegel’s use of the term Aufhebung, which describes the kind of transitions or inferences key to every part of Hegel’s mature philosophy. Burbidge’s chapter compliments Nuzzo’s. Whereas she focused on Hegel’s attempt to present a logical science that generates its own content, his attention is on the nature of the development of that content. In particular, he is concerned to explain how it is that Hegel is able to argue that more complex thought determinations emerge out of simpler and less determinate ones, without surreptitiously assuming those more complex determinations as a goal in advance. Of course, this has always been a common complaint made against Hegel’s procedure, and Burbidge makes quite a good case for thinking that it is unfounded. He shows, particularly by appealing to remarks Hegel makes towards the end of his treatment of quantitative concepts, and in his account of the absolute idea, that the basic parts of a move that can be described as an Aufhebung, the movement, that is, through which more complex determinations are generated from simpler ones, are firstly the immanent negation of some determination, followed in turn by the negation of the determination to which the first negation gave rise. This ‘doubled transition’ (171) amounts to a slippage between the two determinations in question, with each implying but excluding the other. Finally, this slippage between determinations can be grasped as a single unity, in which the one-sided conceptions of the previous determinations have been replaced with a conception that grasps them as belonging to this new determination in such a way that they have been both “annulled” and “preserved”, as the verb aufheben can suggest.
Burbidge’s account of the dialectical transitions which make up the argument of Hegel’s Logic does not require Hegel to assume in advance the outcome of those transitions, but there are other worries that might be expressed about it. It is not obvious what it is that gives rise to the moment at which the continual slippage between opposing thought-determinations is grasped as a whole. Burbidge invokes the unifying function that Kant attributes to the categories in the transcendental deduction, but it is not clear how helpful this is. Burbidge himself acknowledges that Kant’s discussion of how the categories unify sensible intuitions that have been synthesised by the imagination is somewhat removed from Hegel’s focus on the relations between concepts alone. What Burbidge seems to want from Kant is a discussion of the understanding, since it is the unifying activity that Kant attributes to the understanding that Burbidge sees in Hegel’s Aufhebung. But even then it is not clear exactly what or who is responsible for this unifying activity in Hegel’s case. What is more, Burbidge seems to slip rather too quickly between Kant’s account of the understanding as a faculty for unifying the deliverances of sensibility under concepts and Hegel’s insistence that the understanding is (primarily) a kind of thinking that separates and statically opposes thought determinations, risking giving the impression that Kant and Hegel are talking about the same thing. This cannot be right, but Burbidge’s suggestion that it is ‘understanding’s “power of the negative”, which collapses the double transition with its inherent contradiction and infinite progress into a simple, unified concept’ (172) is mystifying because it gives precisely this impression. What this account seems to require is a discussion of the kind of thinking Hegel describes as “reason”, but this is strangely absent.
Burbidge goes on to provide a useful overview of some of dialectical transitions which occur early in the first book of Hegel’s Logic. In fact, I think that it would have been better still if he had spent a little more time spelling some of these out, rather than focusing on the account of the concepts of being, nothing, and becoming as his most detailed example of an instance of a logical Aufhebung. In the case of this first dialectical transition it is uniquely difficult to see how the original, one-sided determinations of being and nothing are opposed at all, and thus to get the transition on the move. Things become much clearer in the case of, for example, the treatment of the (qualitative) finite and infinite, which Burbidge treats only briefly.
Turning from the Logic to the metaphysics of nature, Burbidge proceeds to provide a whistle-stop tour through some notable features of contemporary particle physics, biochemisty, and biology (which I am not competent to assess), suggesting that these provide evidence for thinking that the kind of dialectical transitions that Hegel explores in his Logic may appear in the activity and development of nature in ways that Hegel did not anticipate. Burbidge thinks that this amounts to a challenge to Hegel’s view that ‘the universe is grounded in a rational structure that is prior to, and independent of nature’ (180). It is not clear to me that such developments need push Hegel to abandon the idea that logic can be treated as an a priori science, independent of the study of nature, but one whose metaphysical implications might be expected to govern nature. Certainly, we might concede to Burbidge that if nature does indeed appear to run on Aufhebung-like processes, then a thinking which takes its cue from the presence of such dialectical transitions in nature and reflects upon them in an abstract context might come to resemble Hegel’s Logic, but this does not guarantee his conclusion that ‘there is no a priori logical structure, but human thought is affected by what it discovers in the changes and transformations of nature’ (181). Aside from the challenges mounted by Kant, Hegel, and others to conceiving of logic on such an empirical basis, it remains the case that if (and admittedly it is a big “if”) Hegel can make a case for the development of such a logic a priori and show that it has metaphysical implications, then he should not be too troubled by the discovery of natural processes which conform to the structures of thought. Burbidge is right to draw attention to outdated claims and failings in Hegel’s own philosophy of nature, but I do not think that these need to cause problems for Hegel’s big picture concerning the relation between thought and reality and the way that Burbidge seems to think that they might.
With that, I draw my discussion of just some of the essays assembled in this volume to a close. As additional highlights not addressed here, I would direct the reader’s attention to an essay by Collins which considers the role of Hegel’s account of religion in the context of the argument of the Phenomenology (85-108), an essay by Testa on Hegel’s treatment of embodied cognition and agency (269-95), an essay by Yeomans on the relation between Hegel’s logic and his political thought (373-88), and Motroshilova’s account of the development of Hegel’s treatment of the history of philosophy (485-517). By way of conclusion I shall simply state that there is a great deal in this volume that will be of interest to Hegel scholars and students, and that the Palgrave Hegel Handbook provides a valuable addition to the resources available to anyone engaging seriously with almost any facet of Hegel’s work.
Baur, M. and Houlgate, S. 2011. A Companion to Hegel. Oxford: Blackwell.
Bunyard, T. 2019. “Demagogy and Social Pathology: Wendy Brown and Robert Pippin on the Pathologies of Neoliberal Subjectivity.” Araucaria, Vol 21 Issue 42: 505-527
de Laurentiis, A. and Edwards, J. 2013. The Bloomsbury Companion to Hegel. London: Bloomsbury.
Kreines, J. 2015. Reason in the World: Hegel’s Metaphysics and its Philosophical Appeal. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Moyar, D. 2017. The Oxford Handbook of Hegel. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Monahan, M. 2017. Creolizing Hegel (London: Rowman and Littlefield International.
Westphal, K. 2018. Grounds of Pragmatic Realism: Hegel’s Internal Critique and Reconstruction of Kant’s Critical Philosophy. Leiden: Brill.