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Reviewed by: Vladimir Lazurca (Central European University, Vienna)
Recent decades have witnessed a current of uncertainty surrounding the afterlife of Gadamer’s philosophy. The critical challenges posed by poststructuralism, postmodernism, and deconstruction certainly had the potential to relegate philosophical hermeneutics to the role of a precursor or, worse, a vanquished adversary. What is more, a similar sentiment had troubled Gadamer himself, even before publishing his magnum opus. Finishing work on Truth and Method in 1959, he wondered whether it had not already come ‘too late’. By then, the kind of reflection he was advocating would have been deemed superfluous, as other philosophical movements and reforms in the social sciences already appeared to have left the romantic conception of the Geisteswissenschaften in their wake (Gadamer 1972, 449; 2004, 555).
As is well known, Truth and Method stood the test of the 20th century and indeed became one of the most important works of its time. This year marks the 20th anniversary of Gadamer’s death, and it prompts an unavoidable question: does Gadamer’s thought remain ‘of its time’, or is it equipped for the challenges of our own? The ambition of the volume under review is to show that the reception and scholarship of Gadamer’s philosophy has been flourishing and that his influence remains felt within and beyond philosophy.
The Gadamerian Mind, edited by Theodore George and Gert-Jan van der Heiden, is the 8th volume in the Routledge Philosophical Minds. This series, currently encompassing 12 published titles and three forthcoming, aims to present a ‘comprehensive survey of all aspects of a major philosopher’s work, from analysis and criticism […] to the way their ideas are taken up in contemporary philosophy and beyond’ (ii). True to the series’ objectives, this volume promises to be a ‘comprehensive scholarly companion’ (4) and a ‘major survey of the fundamental aspects of Gadamer’s thought’ (i). It therefore focuses on the dominant themes of Gadamer’s main body of work, philosophical hermeneutics. On the other hand, the purpose of this collection is to also show that the scholarly reception of Gadamer’s philosophy has developed and increased in the decades since his death. Accordingly, in addition to tracing the diverse influence of his views in different areas of philosophy and other disciplines, the editors aim to chart new and emerging perspectives on his thinking in this ‘new and comprehensive survey of Gadamer’s thought and its significance’ (1).
Consequently, this collection promises to put forth a ‘portrait of the Gadamerian mind’ that comprises what they call an increase in being. The term is borrowed from Gadamer’s discussion of images: according to him, an image is more than a mimetic replica of the original, but involves a presentation of what is essential, unique or merely possible in it, hence an increase in being. The editors thus aim to offer much more than a mere replication and exposition of Gadamerian themes. However, at a cursory glance, these different aims might in fact seem divergent. On the one hand, the volume aspires to be comprehensive, therefore self-contained. As such, it will necessarily repeat the structure and at least some of the content of previous volumes with similar goals. Companion volumes, as is well known, tend to be rather conventional, both in format and subject matter. On the other hand, this volume aims to not only distinguish itself from existing scholarship, but also forward and develop Gadamer’s own thinking. Hence, there is a danger, given these objectives, for it to splinter off in different directions and lose coherence. It will soon become clear that this danger is only apparent.
The Gadamerian Mind is composed of 38 chapters divided into six sections and enclosed by a brief introduction at the start and a comprehensive index at the end. The sections closely follow the stated aims. Roughly speaking, the first two sections review the main concepts and themes that return throughout Gadamer’s work, predominantly – but not exclusively – in his philosophical hermeneutics. Sections three and four canvass the philosophical background, both contemporary and historical, of Gadamer’s work, providing readers with contextual information about the diverse influences on his thought and its contemporary audience and critics. Finally, the concluding two sections focus on the second goal of this collection, that of assessing the importance of Gadamer’s work in recent philosophy and beyond.
The volume opens with Overviews, a section surveying the intellectual background of Gadamer’s life and philosophy as well as showcasing the chief focal points of his work. The contributions in this first section explore aspects of Gadamer’s intellectual biography and life, as well as sketching out the main outline of his philosophical legacy. His commitment to humanism and its significance, the importance of poetry and art in general for his thinking, the ongoing theme of dialogue and conversation are all touched on in this section. A stand-out essay, which highlights an important and often overlooked subject is Georgia Warnke’s ‘Gadamer on solidarity’. In this remarkably detailed and illuminating article, Warnke collects the threads of Gadamer’s scattered remarks on solidarity and friendship into a general account. In dialogue with previous scholarship, she identifies the cardinal dimensions which articulate Gadamer’s conception of solidarity. What emerges is brought into sharper focus through comparisons with relevant recent and contemporary accounts.
According to Warnke’s reconstruction, Gadamer’s understanding of solidarity is that of a substantive bond with others that does not depend on affinities or similarities, and neither on subjective intentions or attitudes. She finds here a stark contrast with some recent approaches, such as Banting and Wymlicka’s, for whom solidarity is ‘a set of attitudes and motivations’ (2017, 3). In line with this definition, these authors look to various political institutions and policies which can reinforce the attitudes underlying democratic solidarity. As Warnke explains, from a Gadamerian perspective this project would have to seem futile. Given that he does not think solidarity is a matter of attitudes, he would contest that cultivating the relevant ones can foster it. Warnke proceeds to compare Gadamer’s account to Rorty (1989), Shelby (2005), Jaeggi (2001), and Habermas (2001, 2008) in a highly persuasive and concise chapter on Gadamer’s continued relevance and significance for contemporary debates in the philosophy of solidarity, identity, race, and public policy.
Overviews is followed by Key Concepts, a section devoted to a critical examination and assessment of the primary conceptual makeup of Gadamer’s acclaimed philosophical hermeneutics. The chapters contained here track the notions of truth, experience, tradition, language, play, translation, image (picture) and health. These are well-written by well-known scholars and provide an approachable and comprehensive introduction to these concepts. A particularly notable essay, and indeed relevant in the global circumstances of today, is Kevin Aho’s ‘Gadamer and health’.
In his contribution, Aho details the enormous impact Gadamer’s The Enigma of Health had within philosophy and explores the way Gadamer’s pronouncements reflect the views of medical practitioners. According to Aho, the core aim of Gadamer’s book is to liberate medicine from the scientific method that governs it in order to arrive at patients’ own experiences of their illnesses and bodies. For Gadamer, health is hidden, enigmatic, it is ‘the condition of not noticing, of being unhindered’ (1996, 73). Further, he claims that it does not consist in ‘an increasing concern for every fluctuation in one’s general physical condition or the eager consumption of prophylactic medicines’ (Gadamer 1996, 112). This, for Aho, reflects the transparency of our own bodies. What is especially noteworthy in Aho’s contribution is the detailed account of exactly how and to what extent physicians and medical professionals are echoing Gadamer’s views. There is ample evidence here, for Aho, that Gadamer can help lay the conceptual groundwork for reforming our understanding of health and care. Although this connection is not explored in the text, this article is especially important at a time where health is no longer defined along these lines, where sick bodies are asymptomatic, and a ‘condition of not noticing’ can characterize both illness and health.
Unfortunately, there is also a notable absence from Key Concepts. Certainly, there are several important concepts not treated in this section and one could make a case for their inclusion. For instance, the concepts of pluralism, phronesis or scientific method are also key to Gadamer’s philosophy and are absent here. But, in the editors’ defence, a collective volume is finite, and their selection can certainly be justified with respect to these and perhaps other notions.
There is, however, an omission for which this cannot be said. In their introduction, the editors state that Gadamer’s name has become synonymous with philosophical hermeneutics, a field ‘concerned with theories of understanding and interpretation’ (1). A chapter dedicated to the concepts of understanding and interpretation, therefore, both undoubtedly key concepts in Gadamer’s philosophy, should not be missing in a comprehensive scholarly companion, more so since Gadamer’s use of these concepts is known to cause confusion and controversy among scholars and critics alike. This is a regrettable omission for which the other chapters, for all their merits, cannot make up.
The third section is entitled Historical Influences and is devoted to outlining the most important philosophers who left their mark on Gadamer’s thought and to evaluating his own account of their views. The papers composing this part examine the importance of Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel, Dilthey, and Heidegger for Gadamer’s thinking, undoubtedly the chief influences on his thought.
Francisco J. Gonzalez opens this section with ‘Gadamer and Plato: an unending dialogue’, a veritable tour de force of erudition. Not only is this paper a brilliant survey of Gadamer’s Plato studies and his significance for Gadamer’s own thought, but this article also details the extent to which the study of Plato’s dialogues played a key role in the development of Gadamer’s own philosophy. Gonzalez identifies the chief contributions of Gadamer’s commentaries and interpretations of Plato and investigates how his reading changed throughout his career. By subdividing Gadamer’s engagement with Plato in five distinct periods and analysing his hermeneutical approach to the study of the dialogues, Gonzales brings this ‘unending dialogue’ of the two philosophers into clear view. This paper’s discussion of the differences between these periods, the internal inconsistencies within them and the accounts of the parallel developments in Gadamer’s own philosophy in these periods are highly valuable to scholars of Plato and Gadamer alike.
The subsequent section, Contemporary Encounters, canvasses important conversations and debates between Gadamer and his critics about the possibility, nature, and limits of philosophical hermeneutics. The reader finds here all the usual suspects (Habermas, Derrida, Ricoeur, Vattimo) but will certainly be pleasantly surprised to see Paul Celan’s name mentioned among them. In his ‘Poem, dialogue and witness: Gadamer’s reading of Paul Celan’, Gert-Jan van der Heiden analyses a very important concern in Gadamer’s later philosophy, namely poetry. He specifically centres on the relation between dialogue and poem. According to Gadamer, they are two distinct modes of language, each with their own specific modality of disclosing meaning. What follows is a compelling discussion of this difference and a welcome addition to Gadamer scholarship. The focus on Gadamer’s interest in poetry is in general an important innovation to existing literature and can be seen throughout this volume.
A noticeable omission from this section, however, is a chapter on the Italian philosopher and jurist Emilio Betti. He and Gadamer had a private, epistolary debate and a lengthy public controversy, yet news of their engagement has not yet fully reached English-language scholarship. This is especially unfortunate as part of their disagreement revolves around central issues in hermeneutics. One such point of contention is the conceptual relation between understanding and interpretation, an issue concerning which these authors had opposing views and were sternly critical of one another. Another source of disagreement was the issue of validity and correctness in interpretation as well as the question of the diversity of interpretative criteria required by the variety of available hermeneutic objects. On the latter point, Betti criticized Gadamer for his undifferentiated view of objects of interpretation and argued that different items demand different hermeneutic approaches. But the deeper differences between these thinkers are yet to be thoroughly examined in Anglo-American academia and Betti’s unique voice is yet to be heard. I consider his omission from this collection regrettable for that reason.
In the penultimate section of this volume, Beyond Philosophy, the editors have compiled essays detailing the impact and significance of Gadamer’s work in areas and disciplines outside philosophy. From theology to jurisprudence, from medicine and healthcare to history and political science, Gadamer’s influence is thoroughly discussed here and, for many working within philosophy, brought into the open for the very first time. This entire section is undoubtedly a vital addition to existing scholarship and one of the areas where this volume more clearly innovates.
The collection concludes with Legacies and Questions, a section addressing significant philosophical currents that draw on Gadamer’s work, whether positively through further development, or negatively through critical engagement. The papers collected here deal with the encounter of Gadamer’s philosophy with postmodernism, analytic philosophy, race theory, metaphysics, and philosophy of culture. Particularly engaging and an excellent supplement to a growing literature is Catherine Homan’s article on Gadamer’s position within feminist philosophy.
In her ‘Gadamer and feminism’, Homan surveys Gadamer’s ambivalent reception by feminist philosophers. While many have criticized his position, others have viewed hermeneutics as fruitful for feminist purposes, adopting or adapting some of its cardinal tenets. In order to make sense of this varied reception, Homan enlists the help of Gadamerian hermeneutics itself. In particular, she claims that it is Gadamer’s insight into tradition that helps us understand feminist replies to his philosophy as well as what she provocatively calls the ‘tradition of feminism’. In her extensive treatment of the literature, Homan criticizes dominant strands of Gadamer reception in feminist philosophy by arguing that attending to tradition, rather than dismissing it, makes us better able to preserve valuable differences. Drawing hermeneutics and feminism together, she claims, invites more comprehensive interpretations and reinterpretations of both.
A regrettable lacuna of Legacies and Questions has to do with Gadamer’s reception in Anglo-America. Unfortunately, Greg Lynch’s ‘Gadamer in Anglo-America’ is not primarily concerned with the full range of this phenomenon. At first, this essay details Gadamer’s philosophical proximity to a well-known movement in the analytic philosophy of language, namely the so-called ‘ordinary language philosophy’. Lynch considers this starting point to be ‘the most natural spot in the analytic landscape’ in relation to which Gadamer’s philosophy ought to be discussed. After this initial section, which explores and assesses both significant commonalities and differences, Lynch proceeds to discuss the adoption of a Gadamerian-inspired perspective by two prominent analytic philosophers, Richard Rorty (1979) and John McDowell (1994). While Lynch’s treatment of this encounter and his critique of the adequacy of Rorty and McDowell’s reading of Gadamer are highly informative and valuable, what unfortunately does not emerge from this paper is the extent to which Gadamer’s reception in the ‘Anglo-American’ tradition of philosophy is still an ongoing process which continues to be relevant.
This is most visible when it comes to Gadamer’s proximity to Davidson and the ongoing exploration of their affinities in the philosophy of interpretation. Dialogues with Davidson (2011, ed. Jeff Malpas), an excellent volume on Davidson’s work in areas of philosophy of action, interpretation, and understanding, provides a good example of the fruitfulness and proportion of this endeavour. Nine out of the 21 chapters of this collection critically examine and assess this proximity, not to mention the Foreword, where Dagfinn Føllesdal states that Gadamer is a ‘natural point of contact’ with Davidson’s own views. In fact, Davidson himself claimed to have arrived ‘in Gadamer’s intellectual neighborhood’ (1997, 421). Dialogues with Davidson is a small sample of a new and growing debate in contemporary scholarship which focuses on drawing Gadamer and Davidson’s respective philosophies together and reaping the benefits of this comparison, thus bridging the unfortunate gap between the two major Western philosophical traditions. Gadamer is therefore very much part of an ongoing debate within analytic philosophy in recent decades and it is an oversight not to have included it in this collection.
The volume closes with a very detailed and useful index.
The Unity of the Collection
As mentioned at the outset, this collection might at first seem controlled by two sets of strings, comprehensiveness on one hand, innovation on the other. And the task of coordination appeared daunting. But has this volume nonetheless been able to strike a balance? Has it delivered a ‘portrait of the Gadamerian mind’ that is at once comprehensive and tracks the state of the art? In my view, it has, and the articles cited are some excellent examples of the fruits that can be borne of this twofold ambition. These and many other papers in this collection show that the two directions can be harmonized into a cohesive volume. Moreover, this collection is not only held together by the skeleton of its primary goals. The connecting tissues stretching out between the chapters are just as vital to the unity of the work.
A pertinent example of such a link, running through the various contributions, is the theme of conceptual innovation. Several of the articles undertake novel deconstructions of Gadamerian concepts, some authors opting at times for a reconstruction and retranslation instead. For instance, there is the increased and usefully articulated emphasis on the presentational, as opposed to the representational in Gadamer, not only as it relates to aesthetics (see James Risser, Cynthia R. Nielsen and Günter Figal’s chapters), but also to language, where, for Gadamer, it is being that comes to presentation (see Nicholas Davey and Carolyn Culbertson’s contributions). The careful articulation of the differences between these concepts is a highly valuable, if unintended, sub-debate in this volume.
Another instance of this new interest in conceptual analysis in Gadamer scholarship is David Vessey’s ‘Tradition’. In this extensive and comprehensive contribution, the author distinguishes between Gadamer’s Tradition and Überlieferung, two concepts identically translated, and usually indistinctly understood. Through his careful analysis, Vessey has not only disambiguated some interpretations of Gadamer, but contributed positively to the philosophical study of tradition in English-speaking scholarship.
On the other hand, some authors have proposed and explored renewed translations of Gadamerian concepts. One such instance is the concept of linguality (and lingual as an adjective), here presented as a translation of the Gadamerian Sprachlichkeit (for which linguisticality is the norm) but extending in use beyond the scope of Gadamer’s own philosophy. Linguality, with its overtones of orality, might indeed be better fitted for a philosophy which sees the essence of language in its fluid, spoken form of Gespräch, as opposed to linguisticality, which evokes fixed structures and stable grammars. Bildung as enculturation, as opposed to the more common cultivation, might again figure as such an example. I, for one, salute these conceptual innovations and look forward to the fruits they might bear in the future.
The way I see it, these ‘connecting tissues’, as I called them, constitute part of that increase in being promised at the outset. For it is not a simple terminological update. A philosopher’s words are the body, and not only the dress of his thought. As such, the examples mentioned contribute to uncovering – for an English-speaking audience – the full texture of Gadamer’s conceptual apparatus and the different layers of inferential relations present between concepts in the original. At the same time, they provide, as already mentioned, precise instruments for novel philosophical reflection. One could say, with Gadamer on one’s side, that this represents a positive appropriation and integration of his philosophy into a new idiom, filled with possibilities for future application and potential insights into issues Gadamer himself didn’t grapple with. In my view, this is an excellent way of keeping Gadamer and his philosophy alive through translation and appropriation, and of demonstrating their relevance.
On the topic of translation, we can also applaud the inclusion of a chapter on this issue as one of Gadamer’s key concepts. While one can argue whether the concept is key, this is certainly an area of research that has been growing backstage for a while. Although the author, Theodore George, does not mention this debate in his ‘Translation’, as that was not necessarily his purpose, his chapter will nevertheless bring this area of research into the mainstream, attracting new and significant contributions to this promising and burgeoning field. After all, a collection of this scholarly calibre does not, in spite of its goals, merely canvass the state of the art: it also establishes it. For this reason too it deserves praise.
The Gadamerian Mind and the chapters it contains are more than likely to act as signposts marking the relevance and significance of a given topic. This is exactly why I have said that the absence of certain topics is regrettable. But it is also why the presence of others is praiseworthy, such as those explored in Kevin Aho, Georgia Warnke, Theodore George, or Catherine Homan’s contributions.
Undoubtedly, the Gadamerian Mind is of the highest scholarly value as a comprehensive companion to Gadamer’s thought and its significance. That his philosophy remains relevant is both successfully argued for and evident from the quality of the contributions collected here. But I have also been suggesting in the previous section that part of the value of this volume lies in its potential for impact, and it’s important, in my submission, not to underestimate its possible repercussions for future research. In other words, this collection both provides an increase in being in Gadamer scholarship, as I’ve argued above, and promotes and forwards it through its selection of treated topics and its academic stature. The Gadamerian Mind stands as an open invitation for scholars to explore and actualize the latent possibilities of Gadamer’s philosophy themselves.
Banting, Keith, and Will Kymlicka. 2017. The Strains of Commitment: The Political Sources of Solidarity in Diverse Societies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Davidson, Donald. 1997. ”Gadamer and Plato’s Philebus.” In Hahn 1997: 421-432.
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1996. The Enigma of Health: The Art of Healing in the Scientific Age. Translated by Jason Gaiger and Nicholas Walker. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1972. ”Nachwort zur 3. Auflage.” In Gadamer 1993, vol. II: 449-478.
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1993. Gesammelte Werke. 8 vol. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck).
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 2004. Truth and Method. 2nd rev. edn. Translation revised by Weinsheimer J. and Marshall D.G. Continuum: London, New York.
Habermas, Jürgen. 2001. “The Postnational Constellation and the Future of Democracy.” In The Postnational Constellation: Political Essays, edited and translated by Max Pensky, 58– 112. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Habermas, Jürgen. 2008. “Prepolitical Foundations of the Constitutional State?” In Between Naturalism and Religion: Philosophical Essays, translated by Ciaran Cronin, 101– 13. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Hahn, Lewis Edwin. 1997. The Philosophy of Hans-Georg Gadamer. The Library of Living Philosophers. Vol. 24. Chicago: Open Court.
Jaeggi, Rahel. 2001. “Solidarity and Indifference.” In Solidarity in Health and Social Care in Europe, edited by R. ter Meulen, Will Arts, and R. Muffels, 287– 308. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Malpas, Jeff. 2011. Dialogues with Davidson. Acting, Interpreting, Understanding. London and Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
McDowell, John. 1994. Mind and World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Rorty, Richard. 1979. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Rorty, Richard. 1989. Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Shelby, Tommie. 2005. We Who Are Dark: The Philosophical Foundations of Black Solidarity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
 Unfortunately, there is an ambivalence throughout this volume as to the precise meaning of the Gadamerian mind. For some, it is a placeholder for Gadamer himself, as an aggregate of ideas, interests, and commitments, for others it stands for ‘Gadamer’s theory of the mind’. So, it is unclear whether such a portrait would be of the former or the latter. Given the nature of the Philosophical Minds series, the editors’ intention is certainly for it to be of the former. But I believe a more thorough exploration of the latter would have been highly valuable and as such remains a missed opportunity of this collection.
Reviewed by: Tony Cheng 鄭會穎 (National Chengchi University, Taiwan)
In Perception and Reality in Kant, Husserl, and McDowell, Corijn van Mazijk takes up an ambitious project of dealing with a group of central issues in western philosophy, namely: the nature of perception, the nature of reality, and the relation between perception and reality. He does this via explicating some aspects of the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, Edmund Husserl, and John McDowell. It is no news that McDowell’s thinking has a robust Kantian root, but McDowell’s relation to Husserl is less clear. McDowell himself never engages with Husserl’s thinking, and his engagements with the phenomenological tradition – with Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty via Dreyfus – have been reactive and minimal (2007a/2008a, 2007b/2008a). That being said, I believe van Mazijk is right in seeing the hidden connections between McDowell and Husserl. Generally speaking, both painstakingly explicate the nature of perception, the nature of reality, and the relation between these two poles. More specifically, both see close connections between intentionality and phenomenality. It is a basic dictum in Husserl’s thinking that consciousness is inherently intentional (Ideas I, 1911/1983), and though McDowell seldom remarks on the phenomenal or conscious aspect of our mental lives, he does think the intentional and the phenomenal are closely connected: “Not, of course, that we cannot distinguish sapience from sentience. But they are not two simply different problem areas: we get into trouble over sentience because we misconceive the role of sapience in constituting our sentient life” (1989/1998, 296). This sketchy remark seems to suggest certain version of representationalism (Cheng, forthcoming a), but even if not, it certain echoes Husserl’s idea that consciousness is inherently intentional.
The main text has only 172 pages, which means van Mazijk needs to be selective for both the topics – perception and reality – and the figures – Kant, Husserl, and McDowell. The book has six chapters, with two chapters for each figure. For Kant, ch.1 covers sensibility, perception, and reality; ch.2 covers concepts, deduction, and contemporary debates. For Husserl, ch.3 covers intentionality, consciousness, and nature; ch.4 covers perception, judgement, and habit. For McDowell, ch.5 covers concepts, perceptions, and connections to Kant and Husserl; ch.6 covers reasons, nature, and reality. Given the breadth of the grounds it covers and the space limit, the contents are necessarily compressed, but van Mazijk does an excellent job in explaining things clearly, and making sure the discussions of the three philosophers cohesive. Moreover, he does not aim for a historical study; “Instead, I develop my interpretations of both Kant and Husserl in part to show that history provides us with viable alternatives to McDowell’s theory of our perceptual access to reality” (7), van Mazijk writes. Given this, in what follows I will devote this brief discussion primarily on van Mazijk’s McDowell, as that reflects better his overall aim in the book. This should not be taken to imply, to be sure, that there is nothing more to be discussed concerning Kant and Husserl in the book.
In the two chapters on Kant, there are discussions of traditional Kantian themes such as sensibility and understanding, idealism, noumenon, ideality of space and time, intuition and concepts, synthesis, transcendental deduction, and incongruent counterpart. There are also discussions of contemporary issues such as the Myth of the Given, disjunctivism, and non-conceptual content. A substantive move van Mazijk makes in his interpretation of Kant is the attribution of “weak conceptualism,” “the view that all intuition and perception is, for us at least, open to conceptual exercises” (4). More specifically, “the central thesis Kant sets out to defend here is that intuitions are always already at least in accordance with pure concepts, which commits Kant to weak conceptualism” (8). In these two chapters van Mazijk touches on convoluted relations between (sheer) intuition, categories, synthesis, and apperception. For example, he writes that “sheer intuitions have the appropriate unity to be conceptualized in the first place is said to rest on synthesis of the imagination, which brings intuitions in accordance with pure concepts” (46). This implies that sheer intuitions are themselves non-conceptual, though they have the potential to become conceptual. A stronger reading of Kant, though, is that the exercise of apperception already implicates categories, so sheer intuitions themselves have to be already conceptualised in a certain sense. I do not take side concerning this interpretative question on this occasion, but it is worth noting that what van Mazijk defends here is close to “sensibilism” in today’s terminology: “at least some intuitions are generated independently of the intellect itself,” and the stronger reading is called “intellectualism,” which holds that “the generation of intuition is at least partly dependent on the intellect” (McLear, 2020). It would be helpful for the readers if this context were explicitly flagged.
In the two chapters on Husserl, the distinction between traditional themes and contemporary issues seems less clear, but this is by no means a criticism: topics such as fulfillment, simple apprehension and perceptual explication, horizons, kinaesthetic habit, and constitution do have distinctive Husserlian flavours, but other topics such as the intentional approach to consciousness, sensation contents, the space of consciousness, fields of sensations, types of conceptuality, objects of thoughts, and pre-conceptual norms are both Husserlian and contemporary themes. This should not be surprising, as Husserl is closer to our time, and his influences on contemporary philosophy have been enormous and visible. There are two elements of Husserl’s thinking that van Mazijk highlights but has not noted their potential connections with McDowell’s thinking. The first is “cultural-linguistic upbringing” and “habit” (96, 111, 117) and their connections to McDowell’s Bildung; the second is “passive synthesis” (99, 103, 107) and its connection to McDowell’s conceptualism, especially the idea that “conceptual capacities are drawn on in receptivity” (McDowell, 1996, 9), and similarly, “conceptual capacities… are passively drawn into play in experience belong to a network of capacities for active thought” (ibid., p.12). Perhaps van Mazijk does not think the connections here are clear enough, but in any case I suggest these are further directions for connecting Husserl to McDowell. There are other highlights and potential points of contact with the analytic tradition as well, for example the “space of consciousness” (74 onwards) can be compared with the hard problem of consciousness (e.g., Chalmers, 1996), the “field of sensations” (98 onwards) can be compared with the tactile field debate (e.g., Martin, 1992, O’Shaughnessy, 1989, Cheng, 2019), and “lived body” (10, 96, 109) can be compared with Kantian spatial self-awareness (e.g., Cassam, 1997; Cheng, forthcoming b). And there are more. This shows that Husserl’s thinking has much to offer for contemporary philosophy, as van Mazijk rightly points out.
The two chapters on McDowell cover canonical McDowellian themes such as conceptualism, the space of reasons and the realm of law, and Bildung, and also broader issues connecting to Kant, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Dreyfus, including skillful coping, animal consciousness, and transcendental reasons. In what follows I discuss some highlights and points of potential disagreements. First of all, although van Mazijk mentions the “realm of law” in several places (21, 148, 149, 161), he uses the label the “space of nature” much more (passim), and this can generate the harmful implication that the “space of reasons” is unnatural; for example, he writes that for McDowell some contents are “in some sense not natural, insofar as they stand in a sui generis space of reasons” (124). Charitably, we can say that van Mazijk specifies “in some sense,” and that leaves room for another sense in which the space of reason is natural, i.e., Aristotelian second nature. However, other remarks show that van Mazijk’s understanding of this crucial McDowellian divide between the space of reasons and the realm of law cannot be entirely correct. For example, in introducing this divide, van Mazijk mentions “causal order” to characterise the realm of law, or with his label, the space of nature. But this is problematic on two fronts: first, that might imply that the space of reasons has no causation, which is not true of McDowell’s characterisation: McDowell certainly follows Davidson (1963) here in that they both think, correctly I believe, that reasons can be causes. Second, McDowell also discusses Russell’s view that causation might not be a suitable notion for the realm of law (McDowell, 1996, 71; Russell, 1912-3). Now, such view has become quite unpopular nowadays, but even if Russell and McDowell are wrong in avoiding causation in the realm of law, McDowell would certainly insists on causation in the space of reasons (see also Gaskin, 2006, 28 onwards). Therefore, when we read van Mazijk’s discussions and criticisms of this McDowellian distinction, we need to bear in mind that the characterisation in the book might not be entirely accurate.
There are other oddities concerning van Mazijk’s understanding of the divide between the space of reasons and the realm of law, and relatedly, second nature. For example, consider this passage:
These refer to two ways of speaking about things, of finding things intelligible. However, as it turns out, both spaces ultimately consist simply of natural phenomena. The space of reasons thus fits entirely within that of nature. (van Mazijk, 2020, 150)
Taken literally, this passage might be a fine characterisation of McDowell’s framework. However, since for unclear reasons van Mazijk insists on using the “space of nature” to refer to the “realm of law,” the passage thus implies that the space of reasons is simply “one way of speaking about things.” That is, there is only one kind of things, but there are two ways of speaking about them or finding them intelligible. Now this looks like a description of Davidson’s anomalous monism (1970), which McDowell has emphatically rejects (1985). Whether McDowell’s criticism here is plausible is irrelevant; what is crucial in this context is that he does not hold anomalous monism, but van Mazijk’s characterisation of McDowell’s position makes it indistinguishable from anomalous monism. On another occasion I have argued that McDowell’s view should be interpreted as a kind of emergent dualism (Cheng, forthcoming a), but that requires much more elaborations, and arguably McDowell himself would refuse to acknowledge this classification. Concerning the space of reasons, van Mazijk says that “McDowell’s own definition of the space of reasons is what makes conceptualism attractive” (van Mazijk, 2020, 151). This is meant to be a criticism, but to this McDowell would reply that his invocation of the notion of “concept” is a matter of “stipulation: conceptual capacities in the relevant sense belong essentially to their possessor’s rationality in the sense I am working with, responsiveness to reasons as such” (2005/2008b, 129). His point is that given this stipulation or definition, let’s see what significant would follow. To simply point out that there is a definition involved here can hardly be an objection by itself.
Also relatedly, McDowell’s appropriation of Gadamer’s distinction between environment and world (1960/2004) is not acknowledged in the book, and that affects van Mazijk’s verdict of McDowell’s view on animal minds. Gadamer writes,
Language is not just one of man’s possessions in the world; rather, on it depends the fact that man has a world at all. The world as world exists for man as for on other creature that is in the world. But this world is verbal in nature… that language is originarily human means at the same time that man’s being in the world is primordially linguistic. (ibid., 440)
[Although] the concept of environment was first used for the purely human world… this concept can be used to comprehend all the conditions on which a living creature depends. But it is thus clear that man, unlike all other living creatures, has a “world,” for other creatures do not in the same sense have a relationship to the world, but are, as it were, embedded in their environment. (ibid., 441)
Simply put, “environment” here refers to what philosophers normally call “world,” and corresponds to McDowell’s realm of law and first nature. By contrast, “world” here corresponds to the space of reasons and second nature. In Mind and World, Lecture VI, McDowell has explained how human animals like us can possess the world and inhabit an environment, while other animals can only do the latter. This also corresponds to McDowell’s later distinction between “being responsive to reasons” and “being responsive to reasons as such”:
The notion of rationality I mean to invoke here is the notion exploited in a traditional line of thought to make a special place in the animal kingdom for rational animals. It is a notion of responsiveness to reasons as such. (2005/2008b, 128)
And this “wording leaves room for responsiveness to reasons… on the other side of the division drawn by this notion of rationality between rational animals and animals that are not rational” (ibid., 128). That is to say, when other animals see predators and run, they are responsive to reasons, but they cannot recognise those reasons as reasons. With these dualistic distinctions in mind, let’s come back to van Mazijk’s texts and see why the interpretation there is not entirely fair.
In chapter 5, van Mazijk notes that McDowell holds “animals see things or items in the outer world ‘no less’ than we do,” and argues that:
But it is difficult to see how this fits into the conceptualist thesis as discussed so far. For wasn’t the whole idea of conceptualism to take the very givenness of things as a result of conceptual functions of an understanding only rational creatures like us enjoy? It seems that… McDowell contradicts his own conceptualism, which rests on the idea that the sensible presentation of things in the outer world relies on functions specific to rational creatures like us, namely on concepts and the capacity to judge. (131)
We can readily give a “No” to the query in this way: for McDowell, other animals can perceive things or items in the outer world in the sense of Gadamerian environment, while rational animals can perceive things or items in the outer world in the sense of Gadamerian world. This can also be seen that in later writings, McDowell speaks of “world-disclosing experience” (2007a/2008a, 319): rational animals like us enjoy experiences that can disclose aspects of the world, while other animals are also capable of experiencing, but of their environment only, not the world. This view can be found already in Mind and World, and McDowell further develops it in recent decades. It is worth noting that this view has a clear Heideggerian flavour as well (1927/2010). Similar considerations are applicable to van Mazijk’s discussion in 132, and in chapter 6, especially from p. 150 to 153 on animal consciousness. I shall not repeat my response elaborated just now.
Another point is that van Mazijk does not distinguish between “propositional” and “conceptual”; for example he writes that many philosophers “hold that our thoughts have propositional or conceptual content” (2, my emphasis). It is true that in most cases they coincide: the constituents of propositions are concepts, one might say. However, in relatively recent writings McDowell seeks to set them apart:
I used to assume that to conceive experiences as actualizations of conceptual capacities, we would need to credit experiences with propositional content, the sort of content judgments have. And I used to assume that the content of an experience would need to include everything the experience enables its subject to know non-inferentially. But these assumptions now strike me as wrong. (McDowell, 2008c/2008b, 258)
“What we need,” McDowell carries on, “is an idea of content that is not propositional but intuitional, in what I take to be a Kantian sense” (ibid., 260; my italics). Now, whether this position is plausible or coherent is not important for our purposes (van Mazijk argues that it is implausible in p. 129); what is crucial is that McDowell does hold that view since 2007 or so, and that needs to be taken into account for interpreters. In effect, McDowell’s intuitional content seems to fit weak conceptualism as van Mazijk defines it. McDowell writes,
If it is to become the content of a conceptual capacity of hers, she needs to determine it to be the content of a conceptual capacity of hers. That requires her to carve it out from the categorially unified but as yet, in this respect, unarticulated experiential content of which it is an aspect, so that thought can focus on it by itself. (McDowell, 2007a/2008a, 318)
Now, recall that weak conceptualism has it that “all intuition and perception is, for us at least, open to conceptual exercises” (van Mazijk, 2020, 4). So van Mazijk is right in noting that McDowell has hold strong conceptualism, but he might have missed, or at least does not believe, that later McDowell has retreated from that to weak conceptualism since 2007 or so. Elsewhere I have argued that McDowell’s new view might disqualify his conceptualist credential, and might cause trouble for his environment/world distinction (Cheng, forthcoming a), but those are quite different matters.
A final point I would like to highlight is van Mazijk’s understanding of the nature of McDowell’s overall project. He writes,
I want to deal with conceptualism as McDowell understands it – not as a theory concerning the psychology, phenomenology, or epistemology of perception, but as one purporting to address a problem regarding our access to reality. (van Mazijk, 2020, 121)
It is understandable to make such a division, but it is unclear how the above domains can be set apart from one another. It is true that McDowell’s primary concern is not psychology and phenomenology (understood as consciousness), but how can “our access to reality” fail to be epistemological? In the next page van Mazijk rightly reminds that McDowell thinks epistemological anxieties do not go to the root; the problem of intentionality itself is the deepest problem. However, in that context by “epistemology” McDowell means questions concerning justification or warrant; he certainly would not deny that “our access to reality” is broadly (and rightfully) an epistemological issue. Moreover, although the problem of intentionality is McDowell’s primary concern, what he says for that purpose imply theses in psychology and phenomenology (understood as consciousness), and it does not help to insist that the project is transcendental and therefore human psychology is irrelevant (van Mazijk, 2020, 147): for example, if the possibility of intentional action presupposes certain kind of body representation (O’Shaughnessy, 1995), this transcendental conditional can be falsified by what we know about human psychology (Bermúdez, 1995). Van Mazijk mentions that “McDowell’s theory [pertains] to ‘rational relations’ rather than, say, sub-personal psychological contents” (van Mazijk, 2020, 122; quoting Bermúdez and Cahen, 2015). However, McDowell’s view can be about personal psychological contents (McDowell, 1994/1998). This shows that at least some “misunderstandings” concerning arguments for non-conceptual contents van Mazijk tries to point out (137 onwards) are actually not misunderstandings, but it will take us too far if we go into those details.
Overall, van Mazijk has offered a substantive and original effort of explicating aspects of Kant’s, Husserl’s, and McDowell’s philosophy, and identifying various strands in their thinking. It would be unfair to demand any such book project to be close to comprehensive. This is not the first contemporary discussion of the relations between these figures (e.g., Christensen, 2008), and will certainly spark many further investigations into these interrelated themes. My critical points above should be taken as my will to carry on the conversations, and I am sure many others will join and make the exchanges even more fruitful.
I would like to thank Cheng-Hao Lin and Kuei-Chen Chen for helpful inputs. Daniel Guilhermino also reviews this book for this journal; I have made sure our reviews do not overlap much.
Bermúdez, J. L. 1995. „Transcendental Arguments and Psychology: The Example of O’Shaughnessy on Intentional Action.“ Metaphilosophy, 26(4), 379-401.
Bermúdez, J. L., & Cahen, A. 2015. „Nonconceptual Mental Content.“ In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Cassam, Q. 1997. Self and World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Chalmers, D. 1996. The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory. New York: Oxford University Press.
Cheng, T., Deroy, O., & Spence, C. (Eds.) 2019. Spatial Senses: Philosophy of Perception in an Age of Science. New York: Routledge.
Cheng, T. 2019. „On the Very Idea of a Tactile Field.“ In T. Cheng, O. Deroy, and C. Spence (Eds.), Spatial Senses: Philosophy of Perception in an Age of Science. New York: Routledge.
Cheng, T. (forthcoming a). John McDowell on Worldly Subjectivity: Oxford Kantianism meets Phenomenology and Cognitive Sciences. London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic.
Cheng, T. (forthcoming b). „Sensing the Self in World.“ Analytic Philosophy.
Christensen, B. C. 2008. Self and World: From Analytic Philosophy to Phenomenology. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.
Davidson, D. 1963. „Actions, Reasons, and Causes.“ The Journal of Philosophy, 60(23), 685-700.
Davidson, D. 1970. „Mental Events.“ In L. Foster and J. W. Swanson (Eds.), Experience and Theory. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press.
Gadamer, H-G. 1960/2004. Truth and Method. Joel. Weinsheimer and Donald Marshall (trans.), New York: Continuum.
Gaskin, R. 2006. Experience and the World’s Own Language. New York: Oxford University Press.
Heidegger, M. 1927/2010. Being and Time. J. Stambaugh (trans), Albany: State University of New York Press.
Husserl, E. 1911/1983. Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy: First Book: General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology. F. Kersten and D. Haag (trans.), Boston, Lancaster: Martinus Nijhoff.
McDowell, J. 1985/1998. „Functionalism and Anomalous Monism.“ In E. LePore and B. McLaughlin (eds.) Actions and Events: Perspectives on the philosophy of Donald Davidson. Oxford: Blackwell, pp.387-98; reprinted in his Mind, Value, and Reality, pp. 325-40. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
McDowell, J. 1989/1998. One strand in the private language argument. Grazer Philosophische Studien, 33/34, pp.285-303; reprinted in his Mind, value, and reality, pp.279-96. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
McDowell, J. 1994/1998. „The Content of Perceptual Experience.“ The Philosophical Quarterly, 44, pp.190-205; reprinted in his Mind, Value, and Reality, pp.341-58. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
McDowell, J. 1996. Mind and World, 2nd edition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
McDowell, J. 1998. Mind, Value, and Reality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
McDowell, J. 2005/2008b. Conceptual capacities in perception. In G. Abel (Ed.), Kreativität: 2005 Congress of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Philosophie, pp. 1065-79; reprinted in his Having the world in view: Essays on Kant, Hegel, and Sellars, pp.127-44. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
McDowell, J. 2007a/2008a. „What Myth?“ Inquiry, 50, pp. 338-51; reprinted in his The Engaged Intellect: Philosophical Essays, pp. 308-23. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
McDowell, J. 2007b/2008a. Response to Dreyfus. Inquiry, 50, pp.366-70; reprinted in his The Engaged Intellect: Philosophical Essays, pp.324-8. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
McDowell, J. 2008a. The Engaged Intellect: Philosophical Essays. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
McDowell, J. 2008b. Having the World in View: Essays on Kant, Hegel, and Sellars. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
McDowell, J. 2008c/2008b. „Avoiding the Myth of the Given.“ In J. Lindgaard (Ed.), John McDowell: Experience, Norm, and Nature, pp.1-14. Oxford: Blackwell; reprinted in Having the World in View: Essays on Kant, Hegel, and Sellars, pp. 256-71. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
McLear, C. 2020. „Kantian Conceptualism/Nonconceptualism.“ In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Martin, M. G. F. 1992. „Sight and Touch.“ In T. Crane (Ed.), The Contents of Experience: Essays on Perception. New York: Cambridge University Press.
O’Shaughnessy, B. 1989. ‚The Sense of Touch.“ Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 67(1), 37-58.
O’Shaughnessy, B. 1995. „Proprioception and the Body Image.“ In J L. Bermúdez, A. J. Marcel, & N. Eilan (Eds.), The Body and the Self. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Russell, B. 1912-3. „On the Notion of Cause.“ Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 13, 1-26.
van Mazijk, C. 2020. Perception and Reality in Kant, Husserl, and McDowell. New York, NY: Routledge.
Reviewed by: Meghant Sudan (Colby College, Waterville, ME, USA)
This is the first in a series of three volumes of Gadamer’s essays. While many of Gadamer’s shorter writings have been translated and anthologized so far, this series aims to bring to the English reader the many that remained untranslated.[i] The translations in this volume are very readable and have a light touch about them, which also enhances access to Gadamer’s thought. By including several essays published well after Truth and Method (1960), the volume promises to make visible the nuances in his later reflections and deepen our insight into the earlier work. On the whole, it paints a portrait of Gadamer as an erudite historian of philosophy, a committed humanist (and staunch Europeanist), and a genial raconteur of his long, rich academic career.
These are mostly good things. While my review unavoidably considers Gadamer’s own views in these essays, I am more concerned even there with this edition as a self-standing volume and I will examine certain editorial and translation decisions to this end. The present volume contains 18 essays[ii] arranged in four parts, covering Gadamer’s reflections on (1) history in general, (2) Dilthey’s significance, (3) other critical encounters, and (4) Heidegger’s significance. A Preface by the translators outlines the goals and contents of the volume, stresses the nuance to be gained by reading Gadamer’s later writings, and situates Gadamer’s thought broadly with respect to its reception in both continental and analytic philosophy. An Introduction by the translators spells out some details of Gadamer’s thoughts on history, phenomenology, language, and practical philosophy, and encourages the beginner predisposed towards these thoughts.
Part 1 contains 6 essays, the oldest of which is from 1964 and the newest from 1991. This part considers the problem of history as a lived experience and as an existential question in the face of a prevailing naturalism. Part 2 contains 3 essays from the period 1984-1991, which attest to the enduring presence in Gadamer’s work of Dilthey’s conception of hermeneutics and historical consciousness. Part 3 contains 5 essays dating between 1974 and 1994, which situate Gadamer’s thought in relation to other figures in his firmament, Husserl, Sartre, Bourdieu, Habermas, and Derrida. While Heidegger looms large in in every piece, Part 4 contains 4 essays from 1985-6 focused on different aspects of Heidegger’s work as a researcher and as a teacher.
The essays on the first topic, “history,” vary greatly in style. Some are analytical and were intended as articles, while others are relatively lyrical, when not simply rambling, and come from “improvised”[iii] opening or closing remarks at conferences. The first essay “Is there a causality in history?” lays out the key idea. The concept of causality in the natural scientific attitude concerns a regular connection enabling prediction and planning ahead, whereas causality in history is rooted in the fundamental experience of an event as something that has already happened, something singular and surprising that entangles us in questions of freedom and necessity. To understand this experience, Gadamer unpacks the history of the concept through various philosophers and shows that the concept of causality is interwoven with fundamental ontological questions about human existence. Drawing up a term’s intellectual history[iv] and relating it to the structure of Dasein with Heidegger’s help is a common thread through several essays. The problem of history, then, invites us to think the question of being.
The other essays in this part develop this key idea different ways. I found it hard, however, to see how developing the idea differently also amounts to adding “nuance” to it, as the translators claim (viii-ix). The second essay is said (x) to newly re-engage Leo Strauss, but one finds in it just a passing mention of Strauss that clarifies very little.[v] Moreover, the essay’s thrust that the problem of historicism in recent philosophy has always been around since the ancient Greeks seems to de-historicize the issue itself. The third essay (from 1991) is really all over the place. In it, Gadamer returns to the contrast between the scientific and historical viewpoints, but we can scarcely take seriously the leaps he makes between the Big Bang and the evolution of the universe on the one hand, and Foucault, Homer, Galileo, and much else on the other.[vi] The essay eventually snowballs into dire warnings about the rise of technology and pious reminders about the value of the humanities. This might catch everything and still miss nuance.
To look for nuance in the fourth essay, which comes from “improvised” opening remarks, is futile. The last two essays in this part develop the concern for historical consciousness in a softer, reflective register, and ask about the experience of the old and the new and of dying. The nuance I find in the latter, however, is only an indirect one: while the conception of philosophy as a reflection on dying is somewhat familiar and remains interesting, Gadamer’s way of setting up this reflection via easy talk of the practices of dying in Christian, Islamic, and “the great East Asian cultures” (61) simultaneously underlines the need for a richer historical-sociological understanding of these topics and, in palpably betraying this need, Gadamer gives an honest account of the limits of his reflections on the question of death. In sum, while I celebrate the effort to make more of Gadamer’s corpus available to the English reader, I am left puzzled about how this also makes available a greater nuance.
Related worries appear in regard to the translation. As mentioned, it reads easily and captures the effortless flow of Gadamer’s travels through complex ideas and vast periods. The edition includes a general glossary of German, Latin, and Greek expressions at the end and helpful editorial endnotes to each essay guide the reader diligently. Yet, I am confused by some translation decisions. For example, it feels important to note Gadamer’s use of variants of both Geschichte and Historie in a volume taking its departure from the topic, but this is not done. It might very well be the case that Gadamer does not differentiate their senses, but, given his clear interest in linguistic and idiomatic trajectories as well as the Heideggerian background, it would have been useful to mark the verbal difference.
Had verbal differences been noted, essay 3 about the history of the universe and human historicity could have helped. Here, Gadamer seems to use Historie-variants for the professional discipline and Geschichte-variants for sites of deeper historical consciousness. Translating both with “history” and not marking the German term causes one to lose sight of this possible nuance.[vii] In the opposite direction, different words are given in place of one word. Gadamer consistently refers to a central concern in the essay on causality in history with the word Zusammenhang, but this is translated variously as “fabric,” “connection,” and “complex” on the first few pages (3-4).[viii] The same couple of pages also translate Freiheit once as “freedom” and then as “liberty,” but in this case it is possible to guess why two different words are used, for the editors may have wished to distinguish Gadamer’s own handling of “freedom” from Ranke’s technical term “scenes of liberty” (4).[ix]
A striking instance of the choice to translate the same word differently concerns another central concept featuring in comparisons of Dilthey and Husserl, which is itself a recurrent theme in the collection. In essay 7, “The Problem of Dilthey: Between Romanticism and Positivism,” Gadamer complicates a standard story about Dilthey’s work proceeding directly from psychology to hermeneutics, from conceiving the understanding as an inner process to its establishment as a general principle of the historical sciences. Rather, for Gadamer, Dilthey’s thought is initially inspired by Husserl’s anti-psychologism, which leads him to reformulate the account of an “inner process” through concepts of life and lived experience. Yet, unsatisfied with Husserl’s explorations of transcendental subjectivity, Dilthey combines both German Idealist and British empiricist influences to expand the theory of meaning and its grounding in life and, ultimately, to envision hermeneutics anew. The concept Bedeutung underlies this revised story, but this word is translated sometimes as “significance” and sometimes as “meaning,” apparently to distinguish Dilthey’s life-based conception from Husserl’s logical-ontological conception. While Gadamer himself consistently used one term for both conceptions, the terminological distinction added without notation by the translators may lead the anglophone reader astray.
The aforementioned essay is the first of three devoted to Dilthey’s contributions, making up part 2 of the volume. This part is stronger and more focused than the first. While the first essay (1984) sets out the central claims and turning points of Dilthey’s evolving work, the next essay (1985) pulls into its orbit Ortega y Gasset and Nietzsche, which, through their inclusion, broadens the debates on psychology in the period in which Dilthey worked out his position.[x] The translators probably had the third essay (1991) foremost in their minds when they noted that Gadamer, in comparison with his earlier critical rejection of Dilthey,[xi] “softens” his stance in the later essays (xxix). Here, Gadamer underlines that his earlier contrast between traditional hermeneutics (the line from Schleiermacher to Dilthey according to Gadamer) and philosophical hermeneutics (Gadamer’s self-representation) was not meant to separate, but to join the two in the demand for a reformed hermeneutics (107, 117). He admits that his earlier Schleiermacher critique was somewhat deficient, but he notes that that does not affect his Dilthey reading (105-6), and he appears to shift from his earlier, internal critique of Dilthey’s lamentable restriction to the concept of objectivity used in the natural sciences to taking it as a product of historical circumstance.[xii] The third essay was written in the context of new works on Dilthey’s thought and recent publication of posthumous materials, but it is still able to convey to us today the importance of re-examining the Dilthey-Gadamer encounter.[xiii]
Part 3 covers Gadamer’s other encounters (Husserl, Sartre, Bourdieu, Habermas, and Derrida) and is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of strength, but possibly justifies its inclusion in the volume due to the unfailing ability of Franco-German encounters to deliver satisfying entertainment, whether this takes place in a seminar room or on the football pitch. Essays 10 (1975) and 11 (1974) embody Gadamer’s reflections on Husserl. The former essay had been translated previously and I take it that it is recalled here as an introductory piece to situate the latter essay, which wades a little deeper into the issues. The former essay claims that appeals to intersubjectivity do not absolve Husserl’s transcendental phenomenology from its subjectivist trappings, nor is the concept of intersubjectivity lacking in Heidegger’s project in Being and Time, since the concept of being thrown into the world and the equiprimordiality of being-with and being-in-the-world include it. The latter essay analyzes the concept of the lifeworld and emphasizes that this is not a new development in Husserl’s thought. Rather, it marks a return to older questions about the thoroughness in bracketing the world, and, in fact, returns to yet older questions in German Idealism about thoroughness in setting up the foundations of transcendental philosophy (143). Gadamer locates his own turn to the movements of interpretation as an alternative to such issues of foundation, which have not been able to exit the sphere of the subject.
Essays 12 and 13 engage Sartre, Bourdieu, and Habermas, but they are not as strong as the Husserl treatments. Gadamer reminds us how novel Sartre’s joining together of Hegel with Husserl and Heidegger had appeared at the time and how this had to be squared with the characterization of Sartre as a French moralist. This concern with views from outside is also present in the review of Bourdieu’s The Political Ontology of Martin Heidegger, which is coupled with the short review mentioned earlier of Habermas’ Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. Gadamer cannot stomach Bourdieu’s sociological approach, which appears to him to reduce the highest questions of truth and thinking itself to mere posturing, and he suspects that Bourdieu’s analysis of academic sublimations of socio-economic structures and anxieties is driven by a misplaced animus against the German university system and by easy comparisons with the more public intellectual sphere in France (169).
The Habermas review is slightly more respectful, but in Gadamer’s eyes he too misunderstands Heidegger’s thought. This is due to his use of a French reception of Nietzsche to view Heidegger, whereas, while marred by reductionism, Bourdieu at least had the sociological orientation right. Part 2 closes as it began with another re-translation, this time of Gadamer’s 1994 reckoning with Derrida. Coming on the heels of the non-dialogue with Habermas and Bourdieu, this essay shows Gadamer practicing what he teaches as a theorist of dialogue, as he pursues one with deconstruction well after the Gadamer-Derrida exchange in the early 1980s had exhausted itself and which most had admitted to be of a “somewhat disjointed and non-dialogical character.”[xiv] Gadamer recounts here his problems with Derrida’s understanding of logos in the critique of logocentrism, the focus on writing but not reading, the asubjectivity in the concept of trace that ignores a fundamental dialogical unity, and he does not forget to remind us that Derrida is writing from a French tradition over a German one.[xv]
Part 4 brings us four essays on Heidegger from 1985-86, each replete with fond recollections of the master’s quips and quirks, but each playing a slightly different role in this part. The first (essay 15) combines an account of Heidegger’s formative influences with Gadamer’s own under his direction. Hagiography notwithstanding, Gadamer occasionally registers nuances that one looks for in his later work, which occur in the form of realizations that dawned upon him much later, although these are not worked out in detail. He mentions his “recent insight” (211) that a possible influence of American pragmatism through Emil Lask may have come Heidegger’s way, or how, only much later, Gadamer saw in Heidegger’s course (co-taught with Ebbinhaus [sic], 213) on Kant’s philosophy of religion the inner theological grounds of Heidegger’s critique of metaphysics, which informs several late essays, e.g. essay 2 in part 1.
Essay 16 touches on Heidegger’s turn from his early, theologically saturated phase to a later “flight into poetic concepts” (223), but the essay is too short to be informative. Essay 17 takes up Heidegger’s turn to the pre-Socratics and Gadamer again notes his late realization that this turn too was prefigured in the intensely religious and theological forces in Heidegger’s early thought (242). This essay is only as helpful as the large strokes it paints with, but it is for the same reason remarkable for its brazen declarations about “the Greeks,” the fulfillment of the destiny of the west, and the like, which surpass Heidegger-style declamations along these lines.[xvi]
Or, in another instance, which the translators single out to illustrate Gadamer’s historical approach to concepts,[xvii] Gadamer explains how illuminating Heideggerian etymology can be by telling us about the word ousia. Before its philosophical codification and sedimentation, ousia meant a sustaining relation to the land, or a piece of property in this relation, and this sense underlies Heidegger’s effort to re-think being through Anwesenheit. Strangely, however, Gadamer states that this old meaning persists timelessly and seeks to demonstrate this with the help of a problematic example of 20th century Greek displacements from war and genocide. “The Greeks” (237), who were pushed out to the countryside by external genocide and internal displacement in the 1920s are said to gain presence (Anwesenheit) because these refugees are “all of them housed in their own small houses.” What does this have to do with the ancient Greek term? Gadamer continues confidently:
“The Greek can say the same and can say it right up to the present. Whoever knows Athens can see this… Here, the word ousia manages to make the philosophical conceptual sense clearer in its relation to the original meaning of the word.” (ibid.)
The final essay 18 also revolves around Heidegger and “the Greeks,” but here Gadamer balances his endearingly self-deprecating reminiscences of the master as well as his protective gestures in the face of the latter’s “political ‘aberration’,” as he puts it (173), with a sharp account (257-268) of his differences with Heidegger over the question of approaching Plato mainly through Aristotle and thereby missing Plato’s own openness to an historical, dialogical questioning of being. Gadamer gathers evidence in support of his critique from close readings of Heidegger’s comments on Plato as well as various Platonic dialogues, which the reader will wholeheartedly welcome after the number of unsubstantiated, sweeping claims in earlier parts of the book. And although this is not Gadamer’s explicit intent, the style of his confrontation with Heidegger’s Plato hints at his proximity to the Tübingen school of Plato interpretation and to the shared background shaping the profound works on Plato by another student of Heidegger, Jacob Klein.
The end matter contains an index of names, an index of subjects, and a list of works cited by Gadamer.[xviii] In view of the express intent of the series to complete the task of translating Gadamer into the English through its selections, it would have been useful to include a list of existing English translations of Gadamer’s other works of the kind at the end of the Bernasconi edition of Gadamer’s Relevance of the Beautiful and Other Essays.
In sum, this collection of essays provides a convenient point of access into the main planks of Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics, despite some inscrutable editorial and translation decisions described above, which prevent it from fully serving further research needs. It presents a rounded picture of Gadamer’s thought situated against key themes and figures, despite the great variation in the quality of the texts, and, as we saw, the picture is revealing in unintended ways as well. Finally, it showcases Gadamer’s flair for the essay form. Reading his essays, then, renews faith in this dwindling rarity, but, also – and this might be one of the ways that the ability to revisit earlier ideas from later parts of a long life generates “nuance” – a collection of essays allows both the author and the reader to live through the experience of an object under varying conditions. Putting into words that well apply to a reading of his own writings, Gadamer denies an ideal of complete transparency and affirms the infinitely varied and fused shades of darkness and light “even during the course of one’s life, so that things in a changing light are illuminated in a changing manner and often fall completely into obscurity. There is no light of an enduring day that makes the true significance of everything appear.” (81)
[i] Thus, together with those that were translated earlier elsewhere (130 articles), the series (50 articles) helps assemble an English version of all the major essays in Gadamer’s Gesammelte Werke (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1986-95, 10 volumes).
[ii] Two essays in this selection had been previously translated into English by Gadamer scholars and translators Richard Palmer and David Vessey. These are both in the third part.
[iii] Essay 4 in this part, “A World Without History?” (1972), was an “improvised opening talk” at a conference (288n.1), and it reads as such. Essay 3, “The History of the Universe and the Historicity of Human Beings” (1988), was a concluding speech at another conference (286n.1) and also rushes through a bewildering number of topics. Essay 5, “The Old and the New” (1981), was an opening speech (288n.1).
[iv] Gadamer even formulates this at one point thus: “For a long time, I have followed the methodological principle of not undertaking any investigation without giving an account of the history of the concept.” (126) The translators’ introduction remarks on the richness of this method not without some enthusiasm, using Gadamer’s discussion of ousia as an example (xviii), to which I will return later.
[v] The sought nuance would pertain to the differences we might perceive between Gadamer and Strauss on the problem of historical consciousness, but all this comes to rest on one cryptic sentence: “Strauss could not see that a reflection on the temporality of our understanding and the historicity of our existence is not always already at play in this question.” (17). Which question? A few lines above Gadamer states that we are concerned with “the urgency of the Socratic question,” but there was no mention of Socrates up to this point. In another essay, Gadamer says that “[t]he Socratic question is a constant exhortation to remember, which sustains itself in all human reflection and in all human acts of giving an account of oneself, whether one may own such an account to oneself or to another.” (83) Presumably, Gadamer has this in mind, but neither he nor the editors help bring it before the reader.
[vi] Consider this passage, which continues the puzzling talk of the universe as evolving – Gadamer calls it a “theory of evolution,” no less (27) – from the Big Bang: “If there is indeed such an evolution, then it follows in fact that this evolution in always pressing onward somehow pulls the future of the totality into our speculation. Here Foucault comes to mind. This may exceed our cognitive capacities, but it is thought ‘scientifically’ and fundamentally promises a savoir pour prevoir. Now this situation is completely different in the case of history, as indicated by Jacob Burckhardt’s famous words about history…” (ibid.) No relief from the barrage of such associations comes until the essay ends.
[vii] The difference, at first pass, seems to be between, on the one hand, the textually received tradition of storytelling and its historical-phenomenological significance, and, on the other, the professional forms of studying the past beyond written records, involving archaeology and the pre-Greek past (28-29). The difference is missed in translating all instances with “history,” and made yet harder to see with other related decisions, like rendering Vorzeit as “pre-history” (240), Historie as “historiography” (49), etc. This contrasts with the attention given to Gadamer’s play with root forms of words, e.g. forms of stehen (51, 54), scheiden (52), schreiben (195), etc.
[viii] Or “context” in other places. Essay 7 mostly uses “connection” to translate Zusammenhang, except on p. 80, where, like p.100 in essay 8, the metaphysically loaded term “nexus” is used.
[ix] The editorial note 2 on pp.282-3 reminds the reader of Ranke’s conception, which suggests (without explicitly stating) that “liberty” was chosen to mark it off from Gadamer’s conception of “freedom.”
[x] The question of locating Nietzsche returns in essay 13’s talk of German and French receptions of Nietzsche in the context of a very short review of a Habermas text (174-8). Related to this ‘locating’ is Gadamer’s stress on claiming Ortega for German thought and as a consummate European: “[Ortega] is one of the essential figures of European thought… Today, Europe inquires into its tasks under the changed constellation of the declining century… At this time, it is very precious for us to have a Dilthey as a universal advocate for the historical tradition to which we belong, as well as the European Ortega, who drew his inspiration from the whole of the European history of thought.” (102)
[xi] See Gadamer, Truth and Method, revised trans. by Weinsheimer & Marshall (New York: Continuum, 1998), 173-242.
[xii] That Dilthey succumbed to the pressure of the times is expressed in essay 9 (109), but essay 7 (80) remarkably goes as far as to treat this as inevitable because Heidegger has shown that something of the order of the forgetting of being clouds modern metaphysics.
[xiii] The anglophone reader today has many texts of Dilthey on history and hermeneutics available in the English to enable their analysis as well as of Gadamer’s references to them. I’m especially thinking of Dilthey’s youthful, detailed treatise on hermeneutics, and other writings on history, hermeneutics, and human sciences published by Princeton University Press in the late 1980s. Truth and Method mentions but does not take up the earlier treatise by Dilthey, and the present volume encourages its re-examination. The volume rarely engages in close reading of texts, but does contain intriguing clues emphasizing the presence of German idealism in the constellation of influences and tendencies at work in both thinkers. This topic has recently received impetus from the work of Kristin Gjesdal (Gadamer and the Legacy of German Idealism  and her not unrelated Herder’s Hermeneutics ), for instance. In view of these areas of research, it would have been useful to include Gadamer’s essays on Hegel and other German Idealists as a more pressing matter than those covered in weaker pieces of the present selection.
[xiv] Fred Dallmayr, “Hermeneutics and Deconstruction: Gadamer and Derrida in Dialogue,” in Dialogue and Deconstruction: The Gadamer-Derrida Encounter, eds. Diane Michelfelder & Richard Palmer (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989), 75-92 (here, p.77).
[xv] “Even more strongly than [Stärker als] our idealistic and phenomenological tradition, to which Derrida belongs [an der Derrida teilhat], what appears essential in the works of Derrida is the French style of literary criticism.” (190). German in brackets added by reviewer.
[xvi] A sample: “When Heidegger speaks of the end of philosophy, we immediately understand that we can only talk like this from the Western perspective. Elsewhere, there was no philosophy that set itself apart so much from poetry or religion or science, neither in East Asia nor in India nor in the unknown parts of the earth. ‘Philosophy’ is an expression of the trajectory of Western destiny.” (229-230)
[xvii] See my footnote 4 above. The passage also elicits a long endnote by the translators (307 n.6), which focuses on the senses of Anwesen and steers clear of any comment on the disturbing example.
[xviii] Perhaps a sign of the times, but I note with some regret that I did not receive a hard copy of the book for review, which at least prevented me from seeing the back matter completely.
Reviewed by: Sanna Lehtinen (University of Helsinki)
Place, Space and Hermeneutics is an extensive compilation of articles that cover a wide spectrum of hermeneutical approaches to understanding place and space. It is the 5th volume in Contributions to Hermeneutics series and comprises 37 individual chapters. Hermeneutics is understood quite loosely through philosophical and non-philosophical definitions of it. This is explicitly done in order to avoid diminishing its possibilities: the emphasis is on making visible the richness of current hermeneutical thinking and show new directions and application possibilities for it. Hermeneutics is presented as an umbrella term for a set of methods and perspectives to interpretation that will, and already have proved, to be useful for understanding place and space. How exactly do the fundamental hermeneutic tasks of understanding and interpreting help in making sense of the human relation to space and place? Hermeneutics of place is approached through various very different cases: from imaginary places to embodied experience and from textuality to particular places on the Earth, the specific position of hermeneutics for understanding the human relation to place is shown to be undisputed. One obvious meta-question central to the collection of articles is, what kind of interpretations hermeneutics itself elicits from its authors.
One of the more fundamental themes for an anthology with this type of a theme is the spatial nature of the very situatedness of human beings (v). The interweaving of the ontological and epistemological approaches within hermeneutics is done to a convenient extent: as Jeff Malpas writes in his foreword, the emphasis of the book has been on depicting the hermeneutical engagement with the topics at hand, instead of making a dedication specifically to hermeneutical philosophy (vii). This proves that the approach stays open and close to the topics it is attempting to cover. Another more fundamental question deals with the mechanisms of how place and space contribute to the constitution of the human subjectivity and embodied experience of space. This is a topic that Shaun Gallagher, Sergio F. Martínez, and Melina Gastelum examine more closely in their joint article. The baseline, in a sense, for any hermeneutical relation to the world, comes from understanding how the lived body relates to the world it is by necessity bound to. Understanding the body as it is lived as opposed the ‘corporeal body’ (Körper) brings forth the bodily ramifications for any engagement with place. Kevin Aho takes up this distinction in his contribution and develops the theme of a hermeneutic understanding of the ‘lived-body’ (Leib).
While the application of hermeneutics to place is not new as such, attention has been paid in the book to developing hermeneutic philosophy also towards future needs and purposes. A lot of emphasis is put, quite understandably, on the notion of place. Space is not necessarily discussed to the same extent as place due to the rich, already existing phenomenological tradition concentrating on interpreting place. Space is most often treated in relation to either place or time: direct approaches and experiential perspectives to spatiality become exposed in glimpses. These reflections open up new paths and clarify old conceptions of hermeneutics. It seems clear, that future research will be able to build on the preconception that time and temporality are complemented with place and space within the hermeneutic tradition. The collection makes visible the myriad ways in which hermeneutic philosophy and phenomenology are intertwined and also where their ways part. In this, Ricoeur’s distinction between epistemological (Dilthey) and ontological approaches (Heidegger) to hermeneutics has traditionally worked as a useful compass (116). However, the multiplicity of voices is present throughout the book: in a compilation this vast, no one thinker manages to override others in balancing “the opposing pulls of space and place” (275).
The volume introduces the reader to the internal variation within contemporary hermeneutic thinking. The book is divided into three larger parts: “Elements of Place, Space and Hermeneutics”, “Figures and Thinkers” and “Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Spaces of the Hermeneutics of Place and Space”. The importance of a comprehensive account of hermeneutical methodologies applied to place is also highlighted directly by many of the contributors, since, for example according to Christina M. Gschwandtner: “place is always interpreted. There is no objective, neutral, or “pure” place.” (170). Place as such calls for an interpretation as it demarcates an already existing, culturally and historically tinged engagement with space.
The first part, “Elements of Place, Space and Hermeneutics”., consists of nine individual articles examining basic questions of hermeneutics as an approach to place and space. Some do it on a more general level, but others have already a specifically chosen point of view to present. Textuality is presented as a central perspective in Bruce B. Janz’ account, the first of many dealing with this specifically central theme. Annike Schlitte takes up narrative, whereas dialogue is presented as the main topic in Kyoo Lee’s contribution. The choice of focus on textuality in the beginning is well justified by the history of hermeneutical tradition and ideas to which it is still associated with most strongly. The textual model for interpretation is a valid starting point for many of the subsequent ventures as well. The textuality-based themes discussed in the first part serve well also the interpretation of the rest of the book. While text interpretation continues to be central point of orientation for any hermeneutic approach, other interesting themes in the first part of the collection are covered by Thorsten Botz-Bornstein’s article on the notion of play (Gadamerian Spiel) and style and Dylan Trigg’s phenomenological take on the differences between place and non-place, that builds on the legacy of both Marc Augé and Edward Relph.
Text as a metaphor for place together with other metaphors is examined since both textuality and place are core concepts in hermeneutics (26). The relation of places to memory is also evoked (171). Different narratives turn spaces into shared places, even fictitious or dreamed spaces (Cristina Chimisso on Gaston Bachelard). The theory and practice of art is also present to some extent (Babette Babich on Merleau-Ponty and Keith Harder on place-specific artistic practices). It goes without saying, that architecture is also present in this context. Interestingly enough, stairwells and stairs prove to be important architectural elements discussed as examples in both articles that are directly focusing on architecture: Jean-Claude Gens writing about Gadamer and David Seamon focusing on the architectural language of Thomas Thiis-Evensen.
The second part is titled concisely “Figures and Thinkers” and it delves deeper into the general theme by presenting central figures for contemporary hermeneutic approach to place and space in its 12 chapters. Diverse and indispensable philosophers from Heidegger to Ricoeur or Gadamer to Malpas receive direct attention, the whole list of figures being too extensive to go through here in detail. Space is also dedicated to thinkers less directly associated with hermeneutical tradition: these include Arendt and Foucault. Some names come altogether outside the philosophical canon, such are for example Yi-Fu Tuan and J. J. Gibson, to name a few. All of these thinkers have a slightly different type of relation to hermeneutics and specifically to examining place and space. Some are closer to what could be characterized as the core of the approach and others have had a less direct influence on the unfolding the interpretational themes related to place and space. The thinkers in this part represent many traditions from ontological hermeneutics to human geography. Despite the seemingly wide variety between figures and approaches, there is unforeseeable value in bringing them together under the same title in this context.
The legacy of some prominent thinkers who have been previously considered to be at the margins of hermeneutical tradition, is rewritten from the perspective of inclusive, multidisciplinary hermeneutics. An example of this, Yi-Fu Tuan, is noted in Paul C. Adams’ chapter to explicitly avoid any methodology. However, in his approach closely following some of the central parameters of hermeneutic thinking: empathy and interest towards a vast variety of human experiences and advancing thought through contrasts in circular motion. Other thinkers would seem to resist the stamp of hermeneutics more but are still depicted in this account as bearing some connection to the current forms of hermeneutics of place and space. Henri Lefebvre, for example, is traditionally seen to be very far from any version of hermeneutics but according to Peter Gratton’s reading of his work, Lefebvre’s projects on spatiality are affect also any subsequent hermeneutical account of the themes of place or space. This selection of articles show also, how hermeneutic approach to place can get significant depth and reinforcement from Arendtian multi-perspectivism, Foucauldian discourse analysis or Gibsonian ecological psychology. Also, the more sceptical attitudes towards methodologies in general are given a place, as the articles on Bachelard, Arendt and Tuan pay attention to show.
Hermeneutics is often used to refer to the conscious development of a specific methodology, but the term also denotes a general, even a more intuitive attempt to understand the constituents of particular human actions. The volume at hand makes explicit the inevitable distinction between hermeneutics as a philosophical program (Malpas & Gander 2014) and hermeneutics as a set of interpretation tools applicable to varying topics. An overview of hermeneutics to place and space is created thus by showing the strengths of these approaches in relation to the main topics of interest here: what types of interpretations do human actions and their spatial dispersions elicit and enable? Understanding human actions and practices, their meanings and intentionality behind them, is at the centre throughout the collection, even though interpretative efforts are directed towards more particular aims in each individual contribution. The human relation to place and space and the forms it gets, opens up the discussion to many directions. This serves as a reminder of the vast terrain of possible subthemes in any variety of hermeneutics of place and space. Besides direct engagement, hermeneutics is used also to interpret the many traces left by human activity. It is easy to see great value in this type of an approach, and hermeneutics in this form could profit even more the ongoing discussions about such complex and large-scale issues as climate change and urbanization. This has already been shown by a growing interest towards environmental hermeneutics that precedes this publication (see e.g. Treanor & al. 2013). This is also precisely where the anthology proceeds towards its end.
The third, last and understandably the largest part of the book is dedicated to “Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Spaces of the Hermeneutics of Place and Space”. As one strand of the final part, the topical planetary level problems that are increasingly seeping into our everyday consciousness are taken into closer consideration. The broad concepts discussed in the chapter include the Anthropocene (Janz) and climate crisis (Edward Casey). Environmental and ecological thinking is present more broadly also already in Gschwandtner’s application of Ricoeur’s hermeneutics to place. Janet Donohoe gives environmental hermeneutics a more detailed account as she focuses on the concept of the environment and what this environment in peril is in relation to the human culture and the significant places in our lives. This type of an approach is a welcome reminder, of how environmental philosophy can profit from taking hermeneutics into account in comprehending the current complex environmental threats and the relation to the human lifeworlds.
From environmental perspective, it is also relevant to think about how to draw interpretation about the events that take place on a planetary scale. How does the need for space of the human population affect the living conditions of other species on Earth? What type of knowledge and engagement do these types of questions entail? These questions raised by the currently prevailing ecological concerns show, that the need to reflect, understand and interpret these tendencies and the human responsibilities is more crucial than ever. The human capacity for collectively organizing its living conditions according to the afforded space is not unique, by any means. What we are capable though, is the conceptual thinking and long-term planning in relation to how human spaces are created, developed and used. This type of long-term, temporally evolving engagement is what hermeneutics is also well-equipped to illustrate.
The final part of the book consisting of 15 chapters in total, gives an overview of the interdisciplinary relations in which hermeneutics has proven to be particularly fruitful. The clear intention of this part is also to widen the possibilities of use and show new directions for developing hermeutics of place and space. Among various newer or less-studied interdisciplinary constellations presented here are for example topopoetics, which according to Tim Cresswell is “a project that sees poems as places and spaces” (319). This part of the book, intended to be “exploratory and creative”, stretches further ground for new hermeneutical approaches (4). Paths point towards the possible multidisciplinary futures of hermeneutics of place and space: hermeneutics as inherently directed towards exploration of inner meanings encourages these interdisciplinary approaches. This becomes apparent by some chapters of the final part: they rely strongly on the tradition of their specific field but show how hermeneutics has successfully been implemented into their approach to place or space. Thomas Dörfler and Eberhard Rothfuß, for example, have human geography as their starting point. In the same vein, Pauline McKenzie Aucoin has anthropological and Eva-Maria Simms psychological focuses in their contributions. Making visible these intersections with fields of study that grew in importance during 20th century, point towards the scale of possible uses for hermeneutical concepts and methods.
One pivotal strand in the book focuses on how hermeneutics could help in understanding urban life in its current forms and settings. Urbanization is a complex phenomenon that a collection with a focus such as this cannot omit. Yet it can be approached from many different directions even in this context and it follows that there are various more or less direct references to urban hermeneutics: Alan Blum and Andy Zieleniec, for example, take each in their own article into focus the urban social sphere in order to show how hermeneutics has already been applied and could be developed further within the sphere of social sciences. Zieleniec, for example, brings together Simmel, Benjamin and Lefebvre in order to draw a specifically sociological approach to space and spatiality within the urban sphere. The meanings and values that space and spatiality get through everyday urban activities is in the focus when going through the influence these thinkers have had on sociological study of urban environments. Hermeneutic approach definitely has a lot to offer to the philosophical understanding of different facets of urban life. In this context, the subtheme of mobility could have easily been added in a separate article: moving in any given space necessarily alters the starting point for interpretive engagement. Mobility is present in some parts though, as in Cresswell’s account of poetry (327) or when Zieleniec writes about Simmel and Benjamin (384–385; 387).
The social aspects of hermeneutic philosophy include the shared nature of place, intersubjectivity of spatial experiences and spatial or platial interpretations of social situations. Also presented are the themes of globalisation (Gratton) and inequality (Abraham Olivier on townships in the opening article of the collection), to which philosophically solid accounts are urgently needed. Towards its end, the book presents in separate articles some currently important but also exceedingly wide themes. The questions pertaining to the digital realm, for example, are opened up by Golfo Maggini’s article on digital virtual places. He presents the digital places stemming from ubiquitous computing as heterotopic places of radical alterity. This reading … It would certainly be interesting to read more about this type of an approach to digital and virtual environments, where hermeneutics can significantly widen the interpretational context.
Crucial contributions in the last part of the book are the openings towards feminist and racial approaches to hermeneutics of place and space. Janet C. Wesselius charts feminist philosophy through its already existing approaches to situatedness. She takes into examination the notion of “a woman’s place”, in particular. The perspective of philosophy of race comes through Robert Bernasconi’s article where he dissects institutional racism as a historico-spatial construct. In the final article of the volume, the reader is also given a glimpse of the non-western perspectives to hermeneutics of space and place. This is done by On-cho Ng’s critical treatment of the limits and tensions following from applying local knowledge to interpreting phenomena elsewhere: in this case from how Western hermeneutics collides with Chinese traditions of interpretation. This part of the book scratches the surface of a fascinating discussion that will hopefully continue to flourish. Due to the fact that racial, feminist, queer, non-western or multicultural approaches are by no means marginal anymore, they definitely could intersect already earlier with the main themes of the book in order to be better taken into consideration as parts of the multitude of interpretational horizons.
Throughout the entire collection, the list of actual places used as examples opens up a vast spectrum of different place typologies. They include traditionally valued culturally and historically significant places, such as the UNESCO World Heritage Site Meteora in Greece (in Bahar Aktuna & Charlie Hailey’s article) or more generic forms of human spatial traits such as urban hiking trails (in Simms’ example). Walmart chain store (in Trigg’s account) comes to represent a quintessential non-place of the contemporary Western society. Importantly, also places of human despair that should be an exception in the story of any civilisation, such as German refugee camps (in Dörfler and Rothfuß’s article), are included in order to critically examine their non-place qualities. These and other concrete and sometimes even surprising examples fix reader’s attention effectively and punctuate the varied theoretical accounts on place.
The book opens up to two directions that are by no means antithetical but support each other: what are the implications of hermeneutics of place and space on studying different types of phenomena and, on the other hand, what are the direct consequences on the philosophical discourse of more explicitly emphasizing this connection and approach. All in all, there is surprisingly little redundant repetition (or wasted space, one is tempted to say in this context), even when different authors discuss the same thinkers or concepts. It is also a notable feat that the collection is accessible to readers who do not have an extensive knowledge of the hermeneutical tradition. The strengths of this volume are in its wide-ranging scope, the way it presents on-going discussions and includes less heard voices to the canon of hermeneutical approaches. By emphasizing hermeneutics as an inherently open and engaged approach, it encourages any subsequent exploration on human spatiality through this lens. This strong engagement at the core is thus also the legacy of hermeneutics outside the immediate sphere of philosophy.
Care has been put on selecting the themes and writers, at the same time giving them the freedom to approach the topic from an individually selected point of view: “This book is more curated than edited.” (2) This has resulted in a coherent and intellectually rewarding piece of philosophical literature. Janz as the editor clarifies in the introduction, that the idea has not been to cover every aspect of the wide topic but to offer enough for the discussion to continue with renewed energy (2–3). As a result, the collection will inevitably have influence in shaping and directing the contemporary understanding of what hermeneutics is and what it could be. It is also stated explicitly in the introduction that the collection is not intended to be a handbook on hermeneutics and place and space (4). However, this does not mean that it will not, or should not, be used as such. On the contrary, it is easy to see that this selection of texts can open the tradition of hermeneutics to students, scholars and other curious minds, even if they do not have philosophy as their main interest. The collection is an indispensable reference to researchers working on a variety of different topics and approaches within philosophy of space and place as well as more applied approaches circling these themes. It is a valuable contribution to hermeneutic literature as well as to place/space research and the many imaginable intersections between these.
Malpas, Jeff & Ganders, Hans-Helmut (Eds.) 2014. The Routledge Companion to Hermeneutics. London & New York: Routledge.
Treanor, Brian, Drenthen, Martin, Utsler, David & Clingerman, Forrest (Eds.) 2013. Interpreting Nature: The Emerging Field of Environmental Hermeneutics. New York: Fordham University Press.