Hans Jonas: Memoirs, Brandeis University Press, 2021

Memoirs Book Cover Memoirs
Tauber Institute Series for the Study of European Jewry
Hans Jonas. Translator: Krishna Winston
Brandeis University Press
Paperback $40.00

Frank Chouraqui: The Body and Embodiment: A Philosophical Guide, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2021

The Body and Embodiment: A Philosophical Guide Book Cover The Body and Embodiment: A Philosophical Guide
Frank Chouraqui:
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Paperback $31.95

Chung-Chi Yu: Life-World and Cultural Difference. Husserl, Schutz, and Waldenfels

Life-World and Cultural Difference. Husserl, Schutz, and Waldenfels Book Cover Life-World and Cultural Difference. Husserl, Schutz, and Waldenfels
Orbis Phaenomenologicus, Band 47
Chung-Chi Yu
Königshausen & Neumann

Reviewed by: Alexis Gros (Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena)


Chung-Chi Yu, Professor of Philosophy at the National Sun Yat-sen University, Taiwan, counts as one of the most prominent phenomenology scholars in Asia. He specializes in the works of Edmund Husserl and Alfred Schutz and has translated both the Husserliana IX, Phänomenologische Psychologie, and Der sinnhafte Aufbau der sozialen Welt into Chinese. The philosophy of Bernhard Waldenfels, who was his Ph.D. supervisor at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum during the 1990s, is also included in his field of expertise and has decisively influenced his thought.

Life-world and Cultural Difference, published at the end of 2019 in the collection Orbis Phaenomenologicus, reflects the research work conducted by Yu in the last two decades. The book consists of thirteen chapters, which deal with three main topics that are at the heart of the preoccupations of the author: the relationship between transcendental phenomenology and phenomenological psychology in Husserl’s thought, the discussion of central issues in Schutzian phenomenology, and the analysis of the problem of cultural difference from the perspectives of Husserl, Schutz, and Waldenfels. In this review, I will exclusively focus on the latter topic, which, as the title already reveals, plays the leading role in the structure of the book.

The radicalization of globalization taking place since the end of the 20th century has produced an intensification of contacts among different cultures. This, in turn, brought about the emergence of a number of theoretical debates on issues such as “interculturality”, “multiculturality”, and “transculturality” (69). These discussions, which are at the core of contemporary cultural philosophy and social theory, center around questions such as the following: How can one explain or account for cultural differences? Are all cultures “equal” or some are “better” or “more developed” than others? What is the desirable relation between divergent cultural groups? Is intercultural communication and understanding possible? If so, how does it work? Are there commonalities between cultures beyond their heterogeneities? Should one endorse a universalist or a particularistic and relativistic account of culture? Chung-Chi Yu’s Life-world and Cultural Difference has the merit of showing that phenomenology has much to say concerning these and similar questions.

As Chung-Chi Yu explains, Husserl and Schutz provide illuminating insights on cultural difference qua life-worldly experience which can enhance current discussions on the topic. Interestingly enough, however, Yu does not endorse an orthodox Husserlian or Schutzian position, as many Husserl and Schutz scholars tend to do. Instead, in a critical and original way, Yu resorts to Waldenfels’ reflections on “the alien” [das Fremde] as a corrective for the problematic universalist, foundationalist, and Eurocentric motifs that, to different degrees, permeate the work of both thinkers (ix).

Yu’s argument concerning cultural difference—which is clearly sketched out in the Introduction of the book and unfolded in eight of its thirteen chapters—is structured in three main moments. First (1), Yu expounds upon Husserl’s position, criticizing its Eurocentric, logocentric, and foundationalist motifs. Second (2), Yu scrutinizes Schutz’s account, identifying problematic universalistic traits within it similar to those found in Husserl. And finally (3), Yu presents Waldenfels’ conception of interculturality as a non-Eurocentric and non-foundationalist approach able to overcome Husserl’s and Schutz’s shortcomings. In what follows, I will briefly reconstruct each of these argumentative steps.

Chung-Chi Yu on Husserl

Chung-Chi Yu chooses the Kaizo articles (a set of papers on ethics written between 1922 and 1924) as a starting point for his explanation of the Husserlian position (17-26). Based on an exhaustive analysis of these texts, Yu shows that Husserl’s Eurocentric account of the relationship between European and non-European cultures partly rests upon ethical considerations. For Husserl, an ethical life is one that is lived according to reason: “[t]he content of the categorical imperative is ‘to lead a life based on practical reason’” (19). More precisely, living a rational life entails overcoming the unreflective naivety of the natural attitude and achieving a reflective and self-determined conduct based on well-founded knowledge (18f.). In this way, philosophy plays a key role, insofar as it provides human beings with access to “reason” [Vernunft] (18ff.).

As Yu shows, Husserl conceives ethics on the collective level in a structurally analogous way. A cultural form of life is good, so to speak, when it frees itself from the irrational bonds of religious-mythical “tradition” and commits instead to the demands of Vernunft (22). And this, in turn, is only possible if philosophers get a big say in the organization and regnancy of social life: “the cultural elevation should be achieved through the introduction of philosophy […]. Philosophers provide a method by which society can be conscious of itself” (18, 22). Against this background, Husserl argues that the European culture, as the birthplace and one and only home of philosophical reason, has an ethical supremacy over all non-European forms of life (29f.). More precisely, in this view the birth of Europe, understood not as a geographical location but as a “spiritual world” (30), coincides with that of philosophy in ancient Greece. The emergence of the “theoretical attitude” [theoretische Einstellung] in the 7th Century BC constitutes a turning point in human history, insofar as it marks the advent of the “willingness to live by the ideal of reason” (29). As the unique spiritual carrier of philosophy – “nothing similar developed in other ancient cultures like India or China” (29), – European culture has a “historical mission”, namely, that of rationalizing or enlightening the entire world (44). By this token, the Kaizo papers recommend non-European peoples to embrace the philosophical rationality of Europe, which is deemed to be “universally valid” (17f., 27). Cultures such as Japan, China or India should leave behind their underdeveloped “religious-mythical thought” (29) and Europeanize themselves, as it were, by organizing their collective forms of life according to the demands of absolute reason: “To become European is to advance to a higher level of rationality” (37). As Yu rightly points out, the “Eurocentric arrogance” entailed in his position goes without saying (25).

It is important to emphasize, as Chung-Chi Yu himself does, that the Husserlian discourse on Europe takes shape within the context of his diagnosis of a “cultural crisis” of humanity in the aftermath of the First World War (28, 30). Especially in the Krisis, a classical text from 1935-1936 which takes on some of the arguments from the Kaizo papers (17), the father of phenomenology characterizes this crisis as a crisis of reason and therefore of the European culture in toto. Philosophical Vernunft, he says, has lost its way, being truncated by the overwhelming advance of “objectivism and naturalism.” Accordingly, it is necessary to “recover” its original ethical sense, as founded in ancient Greek, and to accomplish its universal mission (30).

From all this follows that Europe plays a key role in Husserlian thought, while non-European cultures have merely a residual status therein. As Yu claims, Husserl was not interested in seriously understanding other civilizations apart from the European. He only refers to them, in a rather undifferentiated way, as curious examples that serve as a contrasting foil to define Europe (43). “[T]he ‘non-European’ is lumped together into a single category with no room for distinction between India or China, Papua New Guinea or Patagonia” (38). More precisely, in some of Husserl’s writings millenary civilizations such as China or India are denigrated as “mythical-religious”, or even “magical”, cultures that have not developed scientific-philosophical forms of thinking (48f.). Now, as Chung-Chi Yu points out, despite his unacceptable ethnocentric ideas, Husserl never lost sight of the cultural differences among divergent social groups: he “is well aware that all people live in different cultures and that accessing each other’s culture is difficult” (50). Moreover, according to developments on Husserliana XV by contemporary phenomenologists Anthony Steinbock and Berhard Waldenfels, “pluralism” may have a place Husserlian thought insofar as the distinction between “homeworld” [Heimwelt] and “alienworld” [Fremdwelt] is useful for reflecting on intercultural relationships from a non-Eurocentric perspective (38-39, 157ff.).

For Husserl, the concept of homeworld refers to the “normal”—i.e., the established, familiar, and quotidian “world-horizon” which is common to a specific social group (32). The “homecomrades” live and act in one and the same meaningful environment because they share a “tradition” which they have inherited from past generations (32). More precisely, they are an experiential community, or “Erfahrungsgemeinschaft”, insofar as they share a “noetic a priori” (57). What they have in common is a specific “Umwelt-Apperzeption”, that is, a habitualized “mode of apperception” which enables them to “easily understand” the typical meaning of both cultural objects and other people’s actions (32).

By contrast, Husserl characterizes the alienworld as the experiential environment of a foreign group as seen from the perspective of the homeworld. The homecomrades perceive the alienworld as an abnormal and unfamiliar milieu, meaning they have difficulties in grasping the typical meaning of the events, things, and actions they see within it. This is so because they do not belong to the alien group’s generative tradition and therefore do not share the same Umwelt-Apperzeption  (32f.). In this sense, “Husserl imagines that he would feel dizzy if he were in a town in China, since all the essential types of people’s behavior and all kinds of objects would be unfamiliar to him” (32).

However, although the father of phenomenology acknowledges the divergences among cultures and the difficulties entailed in intercultural understanding, his main theoretical interest lies in the possibility of “overcoming” cultural difference (vii ff.). To put it in Yu’s terms, Husserl’s position is closer to “cultural universalism” than to “cultural particularism” (vii) in that he is mainly concerned with answering the following questions: “Are cultural differences to be surpassed or overcome? Is there a common core shared by both the homeworld and the alienworld?” (57). Husserl answers these questions positively by resorting to the idea of “the one world” [Die eine Welt] (159). Behind the surface of cultural differences, he says, there is “an underlying commonality”, namely, the “universal structure of the life-world”, which is equally experienced by all persons, irrespective of their sociocultural provenience (viii, 34). Arguing from a questionable Eurocentric and logocentric perspective, he suggests that only those subjects able to adopt a philosophical or “theoretical attitude”, i.e., Europeans, can access this “common ground” (50). Only philosophy qua “universal science”, a distinctly European endeavor, can work out the basal dimensions of “the one world” (37). As Yu shows, Husserl identifies this “common ground” with “pure nature”—not in the positivist-objectivist sense but, rather, as the world of nature as it is (inter)subjectively lived by pre-scientific subjects (36, 58). “If we keep to […] what in the world is perceptually accessible to everyone, then we come to nature” (Husserl on p. 58). More precisely, the spatiotemporal world of nature, which is structurally perceived in the same way by everyone, is that what constitutes the “core of human experience” (60) and thus the most basal stratum of the life-world (30).

In Husserl’s own terms, despite cultural differences, “there is commonality, earth and heaven, day and night, stones and trees, mountain and valley, diverse animals…” (Husserl on p. 58). For instance, the hardness of marble is an experiential fact universally valid, regardless of cultural differences (p, 97). Thus understood, universal nature is “composed of the world of space-time and natural objects, which are not yet culturally interpreted and reconstructed” (31). Far from being amorphous, this pre-cultural layer of the world shows a certain typicality, i.e., a stable and regular style of manifestation (60). Now, although concretely experienced by all pre-scientific subjects, these fundamental structures can only be unearthed philosophically, that is, by means of reflective, rational, and abstractive procedures such as the ones developed by transcendental phenomenology (30). To use Yu’s own words, the “world-nucleus of nature is to be distilled by abstraction” (30). For Husserl, this can only be carried out by Europeans, since they and only they, as unique inheritors of Greek Reason, are able to perform the necessary switch from the natural to the theoretical attitude.

Husserl argues that cultural objects are composed of two strata, namely, the “sinnliche Unterlage” and the “aufgestufte Kultur-Bedeutung”, i.e., a material substratum that can be sensually perceived just like natural things and a layer of non-sensual meaning, which is founded upon the former (54). Both strata are equally “essential” dimensions of a cultural thing. On the one hand, without a certain materiality a book would not be “readable”; and, on the other hand, if it did not support some kind of spiritual content, e.g., a novel, it would not be a “book” at all (54). To be sure, in everyday life we experience both layers together in an undifferentiated manner: we immediately see a “book” as a corporeal-spiritual object. The distinction between these two strata is a product of abstractive activities (54).

When characterizing the respective modes of manifestation of these two layers, Husserl draws upon the differentiation between “real” and ideal or “irreal” objectivities developed in Logische Untersuchungen (54). The material substratum of the cultural object counts as a “real physical unit” [reale physische Einheit] which is “individualized” in spatio-temporality, while its cultural stratum constitutes an “irreal, ideal unit of significance” [irreale, ideale Einheit von Bedeutung] that does not occupy a specific location in the spatiotemporal world (54). For this reason, one and the same novel as ideal unit, say, Herman Hesse’s Demian, can be embodied in different material books qua real objects produced in divergent times and places.

Yu points out that the distinction between Husserl’s two strata of cultural objects plays a crucial role in Husserl’s account of cultural difference. The physical substratum of a particular cultural object, as a part of material nature, is perceptually available for people from all cultures (56). By contrast, its ideal-irreal layer, i.e., its meaning and purpose, can only be seen and understood by those belonging to the culture that produced and uses it. In this sense, Husserl says that, for the Bantu people, the “aesthetic or practical ‘meaning’” of our cultural things would be “beyond comprehension” (56). When examining Husserl’s take on cultural difference, Chung-Chi Yu gives special attention to his analysis of the mode of manifestation of so-called “cultural objects”—i.e., of things that were created by human beings for certain purposes, such as books, tables, maps, computers, football balls, etc. (ix, 53ff). According to Husserl, cultural objects have a double ontological status: they constitute “corporeal-spiritual objects” [körperlich-geistige Gegenständlichkeiten], meaning they belong both to “material reality” and to the ideal-intellectual realm (53). On the one hand, they are real things but, on the other hand, they carry a non-sensual meaning. A book, for instance, has a certain hardness, weight, color, smell, etc. just like trees or rocks, but, at the same time, it supports ideal-spiritual objectivities that cannot be seen, touched or smelled: poems, stories, theories, and so on.

Chung-Chi Yu on Schutz

In a second argumentative step, Chung-Chi Yu expounds Schutz’s account of cultural difference, focusing especially on his analysis of cultural objects as presented in the 1955 paper “Symbol, Society and Reality” (61). As Yu shows, Husserl’s notion of “appresentation” plays a key role in the Schutzian approach (viii, 61, 80). More precisely, Schutz maintains that the “in-group” has a different objectual environment than the “out-group”, and this because they operate with different “system[s] of appresentational references” (viii).

According to Yu, Schutz adopts the Husserlian concept of “appresentation” [Appräsentation] as developed in the 5th Cartesian Meditation. By this notion, Husserl means a “mediated intentionality” [Mittelbarkeit der Intentionalität] that makes empathy possible (62). It is, more specifically, a passive synthesis of consciousness thanks to which something directly experienced, i.e., the body of the other, makes “co-present” something which is non-perceivable: the other’s inner life (62). In our actual experience, however, the alter ego appears as a unitary psycho-physical phenomenon: “appresentation is coupled with presentation and together they make a ‘functional community’ [Funktionsgemeinschaft]” (70).

In line with his teacher, Schutz understands appresentation as a “pairing association between appresenting and the appresented” (62). As he argues, however, this passive synthesis is not only at work in empathy but in all kinds of experiences of “transcendence”, i.e., of phenomena that cannot be directly experienced (62). Going beyond Husserl, and arguing from a sign-theoretical approach, Schutz uses the concept of “appresentational references” for depicting all “means” used by everyday subjects for overcoming transcendences, namely, “marks”, “indications”, “signs”, and “symbols” (64, 80). “These so-called appresentational references”, he thinks, “are rooted in the consciousness structure of appresentation” (80).

Furthermore, Schutz argues that both the “appresenting item” and the “appresented item” (70) always appear as embedded within “horizon[s]” or “orders” of phenomena (63). “Each side of the appresentational relationship must rely on its background or order” (63). Take, for instance, the case of a flag as a symbol of a country. The appresenting item, say, a piece of light blue and white fabric, belongs to the physical-material world, while the appresented item, e.g. the idea of Argentina as a country, is part of a horizon of cultural-spiritual notions.

As Yu has it, Schutz argues that cultural objects are characterized by bearing specific appresentational references only visible to those belonging to the in-group that produce and use them on a daily basis (viii). Differently put, the members of a certain group share a “system of appresentational references” that allows them to immediately understand the meaning of their objectual environment (viii). These appresented meanings manifest themselves as “inherent” to the objects and are thus perceived as “real components of the ‘definition of situation’” (Schutz in p. 99). In this sense, according to Schutz, “[t]he world of everyday life is […] permeated by appresentational references which are simply taken for granted” (Schutz in p. 65).

In a similar vein to Husserl, Schutz seems to think that the appresenting item of cultural objects, i.e., their material layer, is able to be perceived by all human beings regardless of their cultural origin, while the appresented side is only available for the in-group members (p. 70). Consider, for example, a message in Chinese language written in black in a piece of white paper. Everyone can see the black-ink figures against the white background and even interpret them as some kind of linguistic signs, but only those who speak or understand the language, and hence belong to some extent to the Chinese culture, can comprehend the meaning of the message, i.e., that what those signs appresent.

Schutz, thus, understands cultural difference primarily as a result of divergent systems of appresentational references. More specifically, in his view the system of appresentational references is an essential component of the particular cultural pattern or “Kulturmuster” of each in-group, i.e., of the “guiding principle of cognition and behavior” in light of which its members define quotidian situations (98f.). Operating in natural attitude within this interpretive framework, in-group members see the appresented items without further ado and take them for granted as immanent aspects of the objects. By contrast, outsiders do not perceive this surplus of meaning or only consider it as something externally “added” to material things (ix).

Against this background, Yu points out that “the pure experience of the life-world” in Husserl’s sense, that is, the experience of pure nature as described above, is also possible from a Schutzian perspective (ix, 64). According to Schutz, this experience emerges “automatically” when, lacking the adequate system of appresentational references, out-group members are incapable of understanding the meaning and purpose of an object (ix, 64). This happens, for instance, when someone unfamiliar with modern art cannot grasp the appresentations “normally” awaken by a certain painting, that is to say, when the “appresentational scheme” does not function properly (64). In this case, says Schutz, what the person perceives are merely real-material phenomena such as shapes, lines, and colors (64).

As Yu suggests, although Schutz deals with the issue of cultural difference more exhaustively than Husserl and does not share the latter’s Eurocentrism, he seems to endorse a cultural universalist and foundationalist position as well (ix, 66). That is, he does not abandon Husserl’s ideas of “universalism” and “grounding” [Grundlegung] (ix, 66). To begin with, Schutz also postulates a pure experience of the life-world as the common experiential ground for all cultures. However, in contrast to Husserl, he believes this layer of experience only comes up in abnormal cases, namely, as a result of intercultural divergences or misunderstandings (pp, ix, 66).

But this is not all. Especially in his later writings, the Viennese phenomenologist speaks of a “universal symbolism” shared by all cultures, which would be ultimately rooted in the conditio humana (ix). As Chung-Chi Yu emphasizes, Schutz argues that certain features of the life-world are common to all cultures because “they are rooted in the human condition” (66). In this sense, “Schutz’s idea of universalism is similar to that of Husserl” (ix). Both postulate a common ground underlying the different homeworlds or in-groups (69).

Chung-Chi Yu on Waldenfels

The final pages of the book show that Bernhard Waldenfels’ phenomenology of the alien can serve as a corrective to the deficits of both Husserl’s and Schutz’s accounts of cultural difference. In the two last chapters, Yu exhaustively reconstructs Waldenfels’ criticism of the universalist and foundationalist “idea of grounding” [Grundlegungsidee] which is at the heart of the Husserlian approach and also informs the Schutzian one (162).

Bernhard Waldenfels objects to Husserl’s ethnocentric and logocentric claim that European philosophy can overcome cultural divergences, insofar as it is able to reach a plane of “universality” with the help of Reason (163). For Waldenfels, this idea reflects one of the main deficits of European culture, namely, its systematic neglect and underestimation of the “otherness [Fremdheit] of non-European cultures” (164). Europe sees the alterity of other cultural groups as an obstacle to be surmounted, and not as a voice worthy to be heard and understood.

More precisely, Waldenfels criticizes the European notion of universality at work in Husserlian thought. As he argues, “no culture”, not even Europe, the alleged birthplace and home of Vernunft, “can ever claim to have created the universal order”, since it is impossible to observe and compare all different cultures from an acultural perspective, as it were (164). In other words, all conceptions of universality, the European one included, are inevitably particular accounts,  meaning they are always the result of “processes of universalization” in which something particular is presented as universal (163ff). However, “Europeans have not always been conscious of their position-taking” (163). That is to say, they do not always acknowledge that their conception of universality is inescapably particular. According to Waldenfels, this is the main deficit of “philosophical Eurocentrism” as paradigmatically embodied in Husserl’s position. According to Waldenfels, it miraculously “‘starts from the self, goes through the other and ends in totality’” (Waldenfels in p. 175). Waldenfels also argues, however, that it is still possible and even useful to work with the notion of universality, as long as one recognizes its insurmountable limits. First and foremost, one has to admit that no particular social group has access to the universal ontological, moral, and epistemological order of the universe (164). As paradoxical as it sounds, “[u]niversality must remain contextual”, since it is always a cultural product. In this sense, Waldenfels suggests the interesting idea of a “universalization in plural”, i.e., of divergent “processes of universalization” performed by different cultures (Waldenfels in p. 164).

Yu gives special attention to the Waldenfelsian criticism of Husserl’s account of interculturality. Within the framework of his phenomenology of the alien, Waldenfels understands interculturality in a structurally analogous manner as intersubjectivity (171). In many of his writings, he rejects classical accounts of intersubjective relationships, such as the one developed by Husserl in the 5th Cartesian Meditation, for starting from a false premise, namely, the absolute separation between self and other. In this classical view, the self has a pure “sphere of owness” [Eigenheitssphäre], which is not contaminated by otherness (167). And, accordingly, intersubjectivity is not conceived as preceding but as following the existence of monadological subjectivities.

Against this account, Waldenfels emphasizes that the self is always already and inescapably mediated by otherness, being this what makes intersubjectivity possible in the first place. My own subjectivity, thus, has moments of “inner otherness” (171). And this not only because I am, from the outset, interconnected with that of other persons, but also because I am neither totally aware nor completely in control of my own thoughts, feelings, actions, and perceptions (167). For this reason, the “between-world” [Zwsichenwelt] of intersubjectivity precedes individual subjectivities (171).

For Waldenfels, interculturality, i.e., the relationship between the homeworld and the alienworld works in a very similar way. Just like there are no absolutely separated and independent subjects, there are no pure cultures that are not hybridized with others (171) – and this holds true even for Europe (51). The homeworld is essentially intertwined with the alienworld and therefore full of otherness. Accordingly, the primary form of interculturality is to be found in the “borderline-play” [Grenzspiel] taking place in the Zwischenwelt that emerges between cultures. According to Waldenfels, this intercultural borderline-play produces experiences of anxiety, “shock”, and “amazement” (173). Husserl’s idea of a universal common ground, which is partly adopted by Schutz, can be interpreted as an attempt by the (European) homeworld to evade this uneasiness by rationally domesticating the alienness implied in cultural difference (172f.). It is, in other terms, an egocentric/Eurocentric process of universalization that entails an imperial expansion of the homeworld into the territory of the alienworld (173).

The final pages of Life-world and Cultural Difference make clear that Chung-Chi Yu’s own position on cultural difference draws heavily on Waldenfels’ thinking. According to the Taiwanese scholar, a non-Eurocentric account of interculturality must operate within the so-called “Zwischenwelt”. True intercultural communication is only possible if one abandons the egocentric/Eurocentric stance of “appropriation”, or Aneignung, and adopts a humble, respectful, and comprehensive attitude towards other cultures, that is, if one is willing to “learn from others” and “broaden” one own’s “horizon” (ix).

Olivier Massin, Kevin Mulligan: Décrire. La psychologie de Franz Brentano, Vrin, 2021

Décrire. La psychologie de Franz Brentano Book Cover Décrire. La psychologie de Franz Brentano
Analyse et philosophie
Olivier Massin, Kevin Mulligan
Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin
Paperback 27,00 €

Hans Blumenberg: History, Metaphors, Fables

History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader Book Cover History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader
signale|TRANSFER: German Thought in Translation
Hans Blumenberg. Edited and translated by Hannes Bajohr, Florian Fuchs, and Joe Paul Kroll.
Cornell University Press
Paperback $29.95

Reviewed by: Marina Marren (PhD. Department of Philosophy, University of Nevada, Reno)

The Aesthetic Dimension of Life and the Freedom of Thought: A Hans Blumenberg Reader Review

The Cornell University Press edition of the History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader is a first of its kind volume, masterfully edited and translated by Hannes Bajohr, Florian Fuchs, and Joe Paul Kroll. Continuing to widen the Hans Blumenberg (1920 – 1996) readership in the English-speaking world, the wide-ranging collection includes Blumenberg’s “most important philosophical essays, many of which provide explicit discussions of what in the large tomes often remain only tacit presuppositions and often act as précis for them, as well as selections of his nonacademic writings” (5). The editors organize Blumenberg’s writings thematically, beginning in Part I with Blumenberg’s accounts of the historical significance of secularization and his assessment of the concept of the real. Part II encompasses select writings on language and rhetoric including Blumenberg’s seminal and groundbreaking conceptualization of metaphoricity (e.g., Introduction to Paradigms for a Metaphorology 1960 and Observations Drawn from Metaphors 1971). Unique in his thinking about the metaphorical process, Blumenberg is a contemporary of Ricoeur, whose own analyses of metaphor begin to appear in the mid-seventies in French (e.g., La Métaphore vive 1975). Moving from Blumenberg’s examination of new modes of poetic, rhetorical, and metaphoric thinking and writing (what Blumenberg refers to as “nonconceptuality”), Part III of the book offers several key compositions on the meaning of technology and nature. The volume closes with Part IV that contains Blumenberg’s literary varia and more whimsical pieces that reflect Blumenberg’s interest in playfulness and riddles as entryways to a revivified philosophical reflection that breaks free from canonical meaning and form.

There are “two criteria” that the editors of the Reader cite as determining their “selection: the centrality of the texts for Blumenberg’s oeuvre as such—the core canon, as contestable as this notion is—and their illustrative value for the genres, topics, or types of question he was engaged in but for which no such canon has yet crystallized” (20). The editors situate their selections in the historical background of Blumenberg’s intellectual development, which they discuss in the Introduction. There Bajohr, Fuchs, and Kroll remind us that Blumenberg’s father worked extensively on the philosophy of Edmund Husserl and that Blumenberg’s 1950 Habilitation thesis, Ontological Distance, an Inquiry into the Crisis of Edmund Husserl‘s Phenomenology, examined Husser’s ideas at length. Being half-Jewish (Blumenberg’s mother was Jewish) just as Husserl, Blumenberg suffered during the reign of the National Socialists in Germany. This background makes Blumenberg’s criticism of Carl Schmitt’s take on law, politics, and exceptional power (The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, originally published in 1966) all the more poignant.

Blumenberg’s own understanding of the task of thinking – and especially philosophical thinking – arrives early on, in one of the opening selections in Part I, entitled World Pictures and World Models (1961), where Blumenberg writes, “countless definitions that have been given for philosophy’s achievements in its history have a basic formula at their core: philosophy is the emerging consciousness of humans about themselves” (42). However, this externalizing power of philosophical reflection, which takes us out of our cultural and historical belonging in order to allow us to examine both, according to Blumenberg, results if not in utter alienation, then at least in a loosening of national and political convictions. Paradoxically, the pluralism of cultures and views, and the resultant inability “to adopt one of these worlds obviously and unquestionably as our own” (42), makes us all the more malleable when it comes to political manipulation. On Blumenberg’s view, “beneath the competing world pictures, interests stemming from rather less rarefied spheres interpose themselves imperceptibly. World pictures are becoming pretexts under which interests are advanced. This type of substitution is implied when one speaks of world pictures as ideologies” (50). Blumenberg contrasts the world picture with a more theoretical and scientific construction such as a “world model” (43), and which he defines as an “embodiment of reality through which and in which humans recognize themselves, orient their judgments and the goals of their actions” (43). The possibility of a successful substitution of a world picture for an ideology makes Blumenberg’s critique of the sort of political theory that Schmitt proposes all the more salient. For Blumenberg, “Whoever campaigns for the state as a “higher reality” and whoever identifies himself with the state thinks it as a subject of crises—and is easily inclined to think it into crises” (84), and as we know already from Plato’s Republic, which both Blumenberg and Schmitt studied at length, a tyrant, who identifies with and as the state is “always stirring up war” (567a).

However, the observation that Blumenberg fails to make is that his own take on the meaning of the Republic makes this dialogue out to be, precisely, the kind of tool of ideological manipulation against which he warns us to start, i.e., in his remarks on the world picture. Blumenberg reads the dialogue literally, which is clear from his own gloss on the supposed function of the Kallipolis. He writes, “Plato had derived his Republic from the three-tiered structure of the human soul; at the center of the work stood the theory of ideas, and the famous cave allegory illustrated the necessity of binding the state to the knowledge of absolute reality” (87). Blumenberg directly attributes to Plato those images and ideas that are a part of the city in speech that is a construct and a product of the dialogical exchanges between the interlocutors. Any product of the discussions among the dialogical characters cannot be directly identified with what Plato may have thought or believed. If Plato wanted us to think that a surface and literal reading was the correct one, he would have written in the first person, and straightforwardly recommended his ideas as being correct and true. Instead, Plato writes dialogues and there is not a single dialogue of Plato’s where we have him address us in the first person. Blumenberg’s claim about Plato’s alleged prescription of the “necessity of binding the state to the knowledge of absolute reality” (87) allows Blumenberg to set Plato up as a subject of Machiavelli’s discontent and attacks, but it makes Plato’s thought out to be much too simplistic and brings it in the vicinity of ideology. Another problematic set of connections that Blumenberg makes has to do with his swift excursus through the history of ideas – from Aristotle to Husserl. Blumenberg’s take on this tradition in The Concept of Reality and the Theory of the State chapter is set in the epistemological key. In other words, Blumenberg omits the ontological register. This omission allows him to establish a clean and clear-cut, but mistaken view of the conceptual continuities between ancient philosophy, the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and then also late 19th Century German thought. Blumenberg thinks that

Aristotle’s dictum that, in a way, the soul is everything, was the maximally reduced formula that was still prevalent in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. To this formula corresponds the expectation that experience is, in principle, finite and can be reduced to a catalog of distinct Gestalten, each of which communicates its reality in the instantaneous self-evidence of a confirmed ought-to-be. The Platonic theory of ideas and the notion of anamnesis [recollection] are merely consistent interpretations of the basic fact that such instantaneous self-evidence, such confirmation in propria persona [Leibhaftigkeit], might exist.  Even Husserl tried to rediscover this self-evidence in his phenomenology by choosing the metaphor of an experience in propria persona for the original impression. (122)

Blumenberg misses the fact that, for Aristotle, psyche ta onta pos esti panta (Peri Psyche 431b20) – the “soul somehow is all beings” – is a hard ontological claim. In Aristotle, the soul is not a totality of knowledge in terms of a faculty of the mind, but in terms of the very reality and being of things. This oversight skews Blumenberg’s interpretation in the direction of an epistemic clarity, rather than in the direction of thinking about a nascent possibility. In other words, Blumenberg thinks of the soul as something that both undergirds and grants access to the always already existing and knowable noetic reality. Given Blumenberg’s direct attribution to Plato of the “Theory of Ideas,” he then establishes a simple continuity between the reality and the world-forming status of the “Ideas”; the epistemic status of the soul in Aristotle; the hypostatization of divine and noetic reality in the human world (the Middle Ages and Renaissance); and lastly, Husserl’s philosophy. The last, being an epistemologist, misunderstands Aristotle in his own right. Husserl treats psychology as phenomenology, i.e., as a mode akin to Wesensschau. It is Heidegger, who in a sense, offers a corrective to Husserl’s program and sounds out the ontological significances of the Greek language and, in particular, of Aristotle’s thought. Blumenberg’s interest in establishing philosophical continuities that inform the history of the Western world from antiquity to the modern era is a leitmotif of The Concept of Reality and the Theory of State (1968/69), which along with the Preliminary Remarks on the Concept of Reality (1974) concludes Part I.

Part II, which is entitled Metaphors, Rhetoric, Nonconceptuality, showcases Blumenberg’s interest in rethinking the traditional notion of concept-based philosophy through the lens of poetry, rhetoric, and the power of metaphor. It opens with a chapter on Light as a Metaphor for Truth: At the Preliminary Stage of Philosophical Concept Formation (1957). In this essay, Blumenberg takes the Schellingian idea of mutually belonging, but opposing tendencies or states, i.e., light and darkness, as being at the heart and at the beginning of the all. Following Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Blumenberg claims that “despite an abundance of gods of nature, Greek religion did not have a deity of light” (129). The intimation is that this designation is saved for the monotheistic god and especially of a Christian religion. However, this is an oversight, because the ancient Greeks not only had Apollo Phanaios or Apollo of Light, but also in the Orphic cosmogonies we have an androgynous god, Phanes – a deity of light. In any case, Blumenberg’s consequent analysis of the way in which light, as a metaphor, operates in the history of Western thought is fascinating. For example, turning to modern thought, Blumenberg sees that

in the idea of “method,” which originates with Bacon and Descartes, “light” is thought of as being at man’s disposal. Phenomena no longer stand in the light; rather, they are subjected to the lights of an examination from a particular perspective. The result then depends on the angle from which light falls on the object and the angle from which it is seen. It is the conditionality of perspective and the awareness of it, even the free selection of it, that now defines the concept of “seeing.” (156)

This is Blumenberg’s conclusion, i.e., that with the onset of modern thought we experience a reversal in the dynamic of revelation. Heretofore, things revealed and presented themselves to human beings, but now we engage in the kind of experimental and scientific examination whereby human beings control the revealing potency of light and use this power at will. The next step, as Blumenberg sees it, is the pervasive and subjugating power of technology, which speeds up our work, extends our work-day well into the night, and depends – largely – on “artificial light” (156). Technology subjugates us and permeates our lives through and through. Blumenberg wonders whether we can find an opposing power to counterbalance this advance of technicization. He sees this opposing force in metaphors. According to Blumenberg, they can loosen the hold of technocracy on our thinking and on our lives. The Reader offers Blumenberg’s ideas on this theme in the chapter entitled, Introduction to Paradigms for a Metaphorology (1960).

Blumenberg seeks to uncover the “the conditions under which metaphors can claim legitimacy in philosophical language” (173). In the first place, he wants us to note that “Metaphors can first of all be leftover elements, rudiments on the path from mythos to logos; as such, they indicate the Cartesian provisionality of the historical situation in which philosophy finds itself at any given time” (173). In other words, just as Descartes’ Discourse on Method offers provisional Maxims of Morality, likewise Blumenberg wants metaphors to fulfill a similar function. Metaphors would serve as a temporary measure of thought or as a passage from the already by-gone to the not-yet established way of philosophizing and living. It is questionable whether Descartes means for us to take his Maxims of Morality – of which the thinker famous for his discoveries in geometry and algebra tells us there are “three or four” (Discourse on Method Part 3) – as provisional. An alternative reading of Descartes, which does not undermine Blumenberg’s comparison, is that morality and its maxims are always only provisional; subject to re-examination and re-valuation depending on the place and time we find ourselves in. Descartes’ insistence that we continuously seek to rejuvenate our ethical outlook and relations agrees with Blumenberg’s interest in finding a surreptitious element that would allow us to undermine, undo, and then recast outmoded ways of thought. “Metaphorology,” he writes, “would here be a critical reflection charged with unmasking and counteracting the inauthenticity of figurative speech. But metaphors can also—hypothetically, for the time being—be foundational elements of philosophical language, ‘translations’ that resist being converted back into authenticity and logicality” (173). It is this “resistance” to the structure of accepted, logically-sound language and presentation that attracts Blumenberg to the metaphorical process.

Blumenberg probes and pivots our understanding of the philosophical value of poetic, metaphoric, and rhetorical expression in the consequent selection that the Reader offers, which is entitled An Anthropological Approach to the Contemporary Significance of Rhetoric (1971).  Blumenberg’s claim about rhetoric is that its “modern difficulties with reality consist, in good part, in the fact that this reality no longer has value as something to appeal to, because it is in its turn a product of artificial processes” (202). There is a need, in other words, to get to the underlying truth-structure of reality, which moves past the artificiality of social engineering, the technocratic state, or simply the sedimentation of interpretive layers that dictate what reality is supposed to be for us. However, this need in the guise of an imperative (and here Blumenberg again recalls Husserl and his “Zur Sache und zu den Sachen!” 202) and issued as “an exhortatory cry” (202) itself becomes rhetorical. The latter is a technology in its own right, i.e., that of language, of shaping opinions, and influencing emotions. In this estimation, Blumenberg comes close to a Derridean position, which offers us both the elemental and complex nexuses of the world, including the world of nature, in terms of the techniques, expressions, and formations that can only be reached because of and by means of language. Thus, both for Derrida and for Blumenberg (at least on this presentation in An Anthropological Approach to the Contemporary Significance of Rhetoric), as central as the logos is, it must be displaced to give way to a possibility of re-interpreting our relation to our thinking and to our world. This insight, along with his thinking about metaphors, allows Blumenberg to proceed to a discussion of “nonconceptuality.” This discussion, which concludes the selections in Part II of the Reader is preceded by two other pieces: Observations Drawn from Metaphors (1971) and Prospect for a Theory of Nonconceptuality (1979).

In the very last essay in Part II, which is an excerpt from the 1975 Theory of Nonconceptuality, Blumenberg outlines his program.  Prior to giving us this outline, he entertains the meaning and pitfalls of theoretical reflection in the context of ancient Greek theoria. Blumenberg’s take on theoria, which equates it with motionless and stilling contemplation of eternal reality written in the starry sky, misses the important sense that the Greeks themselves attributed to theorein (at least prior to the arrival of Pythagorean thought). This term, theorein—to  contemplate or to spectate—includes spectatorship of various religious,  theatrical, and athletic events. As such, it is much more immersive and emotionally engaged than the purified, rarified sense of theorein, which comes into play after Pythagorean beliefs and practices take hold. The self-possessed, reserved, and calm theoretic practice (although we have allusions to it made by various characters in Plato’s dialogues, e.g., Timaeus, Republic, Symposium, Phaedrus, and Phaedo) is not a good representation of the originary meaning of theorein. Nonetheless, Blumenberg takes the meaning of theoria, which  is already purified of its sensual alloys, to be representative of the Greek understanding of this practice. He writes, “for the Greeks, contemplating the sky meant not only contemplating a special and divine object of the highest dignity, but the paradigmatic case of what theory ought to be, what is at stake for it. The ideal of theory is the contemplation of the sky as an object that cannot be handled” (260). Blumenberg then takes this sense of theory as what has been handed down through the history of Western thought and what must be counteracted by a new engagement with the non-conceptual, emotional, sensible, sensitive, and intuitive dimension of life. It is this latter recommendation that we must heed in order to follow Blumenberg’s intimations on the point of nonceptual philosophizing.

To state the key moments of his program briefly, 1) “The turn away from intuition is wholly at the service of a return to intuition. This is, of course, not the recurrence of the same, the return to the starting point, and certainly not anything at all to do with romanticism” (262). This interest in re-inscribing thinking by retracing the intuitive dimension – a retracing, which is not a simple repetition, but a deepening of our reckoning with it – is the first postulate. Then comes a key aesthetic and emotional attunement 2) “Pleasure [which] requires the return to full sensibility [Sinnlichkeit]” (262). This call to pleasure hearkens us back to the Greek beginnings of contemplation as both a mental and an emotional immersion in and an attunement to the world – the kind of activity that pleasure properly completes (e.g., Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, esp. Bk. X). And finally, a medium or passage that must go between the noetic and the aesthetic, for Blumenberg just as for Riceouer, is 3) “Metaphor [which] is also an aesthetic medium precisely because it is both native to the original sphere of concepts and because it is continually liable and has to vouch for the deficiency of concepts and the limits of what they can achieve” (262). This, then, is the basic outline of Blumenberg’s program in the excerpt from Theory of Nonconceptuality with which Part II of the Reader ends.

Part III, entitled Nature, Technology, and Aesthetics, begins with Blumenberg’s The Relationship between Nature and Technology as a Philosophical Problem  (1951), and proceeds historically to show how a distinction between nature and being insinuates itself in philosophical reflection. Blumenberg then traces out a further divide between nature and divinity in Christian thought. A short section on enjoyment in this essay is reminiscent of Hegel’s analyses in the Phenomenology of Spirit (VI. B. II. b. § 581 – Spirit, Culture, Truth of Enlightenment). In Hegel, this section on the totalizing function of “utility” leads to a situation in which “heaven is transplanted to earth below” (§ 581), which are the last words of the section that precedes Hegel’s discussion of “Absolute Freedom and Terror” – a discussion that is informed by Hegel’s reflections on the French Revolution. Blumenberg’s analyses, too, lead up to a revolution, but of a different kind, i.e., to the revolutionazing, but also totalizing, and not altogether salubrious power of technology.

In part 7. Of The Relationship between Nature and Technology as a Philosophical Problem, entitled “The ‘Second Nature’ of the Machine World as a Consequence of the Technical Will,” Blumenberg speculates about the way in which the displacing effect of technology or the “technical ‘out-of-itself’” (302) can be understood as “second nature” (302) for us. Blumenberg frames his reflections on this possibility in terms of Heidegger’s thinking and poses them in the form of a question. He asks:

does the concept of a “second nature” really carry the implications of the modern age’s understanding of nature to their conclusion, to the end of all its possible consequences? Is the claim to “unconditioned production,” as Heidegger has called the technical will, enacted in the “second nature” of a perfected machine-world? Or does such unconditionality imply that it will suffer nothing else alongside it—which is to say that not only has “second nature” provided the potency for the nullification of the first nature but that the former’s essence also pushes toward the latter’s realization? Man’s experience of this ultimate stage of possible technical fulfillment is only just beginning. (302)

This prescient formulation and the possible danger it expresses is all the more worth exploring in our world – today – permeated, navigated, run, and shaped by a heretofore unseen proliferation of virtual communication and technology. Blumenberg, having offered for us this portentous problem, then goes on to lay out its roots in the relationship between nature, divinity, and creative power – both divine and human, the latter of which is largely a power to imitate. These reflections appear in the essay that follows in the Reader next and which is entitled Imitation of Nature: Toward a Prehistory of the Idea of the Creative Being (1957).

In the immediately following essay, entitled Phenomenological Aspects on Life-World and Technization (1963), Blumenberg traces out the transformation of the intuition of life into a totalization of world-horizon and the consequent objectification of the life-world. This transformation sets the stage for the thoroughgoing displacement of nature by the “second nature.” The displacement that Blumbenberg outlined in The Relationship between Nature and Technology as a Philosophical Problem. Concretely, Blumenberg explains that “the intentionality of consciousness is fulfilled in the most comprehensive horizon of horizons—in the ‘world’ as the regulative pole-idea of all possible experience, the system that keeps all possibilities of experience in a final harmony, and in which alone what is given to experience can prove itself to be real” (356). This unification and fulfilment of intentionality as and in the world prepares the stage for the transformation of the world into an object. This happens because of the identification that takes place between the world-totality “in which alone what is given to experience can prove itself to be real” (356) and the fact that, for Husserl, according the Blumenberg, it is “in the ‘world’ as the horizon of all horizons [that] objecthood is likewise isolated and stressed” (356). Not only that, but also “’Nature,’ [which] is essential for our topic—is the result of such emphasis. It is thus not equiprimordial to world but a derivative, already constricted objective horizon. Nature, so much can already be seen, cannot be the counterconcept to technology, for already in the concept of nature itself we find a deformation—an emphasis—of the original world-structure” (356). Since the latter is object-skewed, also nature is not free from objectification and is already prepared for being worked over and substituted with or nullified through the “second nature,” i.e., through the all-encompassing technological transformation. However, Blumenberg does not assign to Husserl the blame for this transformation, instead Blumenberg’s “Husserl is only concerned with making visible in exemplary fashion how disastrous in the broadest sense human action can be where it no longer knows what it is doing, and with exposing what one might call active ignorance as the root of all those disoriented activities that have produced human helplessness in the technical world” (367). The counterpoint and a saving force to this onslaught of “active ignorance” and in the face of a thoroughgoing technicization, has to do with our reorientation toward the intuitive, sensible, and aesthetic dimension of life.

The remaining essays in Part III, as well as Blumenberg’s engagement with various literary and philosophical figures and thinkers such as Socrates, Valéry, Kafka, Freud, Faulkner, Goethe, Nietzsche, and Aesop (among others) point the way to this aesthetic reorientation. For example, in Socrates and the Object Ambigu: Paul Valéry’s Discussion of the Ontology of the Aesthetic Object and Its Tradition, Blumenberg engages with Valéry’s Eupalinos or the Architect and the accounts of noetic construction and the role of necessity in the Timaeus; Aristotle’s unmoved mover; as well as reflections on beauty and finitude from the point of view of the Phaedrus. Blumenberg concludes that “the Socrates of Valéry’s dialogue does not arrive at an aesthetic attitude toward the objet ambigu because he insists on the question, definition, and classification of the object—thereby deciding to become a philosopher. The aesthetic attitude,” Blumenberg continues as he contrasts it to the Socrates of Valéry, “lets the indeterminacy stand, it achieves the pleasure specific to it by relinquishing theoretical curiosity, which in the end demands and must demand univocity in the determination of its objects. The aesthetic attitude,” in the final analysis, “accomplishes less because it tolerates more and lets the object be strong on its own rather than letting it be absorbed by the questions posed to it in its objectivation” (434). The attitude for which Blumenberg argues, then, is a kind of intuitive, aesthetic, deeply pleasurable – and having offered a reconstruction of theoria, I can also say – an originary contemplative attitude that immerses us into the world and thereby allows the world to show itself to us anew.

The closing set of selections in Part IV of the Reader offers Blumenberg’s analyses of philosophically significant literature, which I see as a kind of propaedeutic to the aesthetic, metaphoric, nonconceptual, but originarily theoretical thinking and being in the world. Thus, in The Concept of Reality and the Possibility of the Novel (1964) essay, Blumenberg examines the relationship between truth, poetry, nature, and imitation in its literary and historical unfolding. This multi-disciplinary and cross-historical examination is characteristic of Blumenberg’s style of analysis. He moves through Plato, Aristotle, Scholasticism, the Renaissance, and on to the emergence of the concept of the absurd. In the final analysis, Blumenberg claims about the novel that it does not need to take on the guise of the absurd or be guided by it as a concept (502). The sphere of possibilities that the novel encompasses and iterates surpasses the straightforward mimetic schema where culture seeks to imitate nature. Because of this, the novel does not run aground once this schema shatters against the absurdity of life where nature has become infused with culture through and through; subtended in the conceptual delimitation of its object within a world-horizon; or displaced by means of technological dissolution of the natural being of the world. These latter eventualities call for a break-through and an overcoming by means of the absurd, but the novel circumvents this need, because the novel serves as “the extension of the sphere of the humanly [and not naturally] possible” (502). What does this mean concretely in terms of the philosophical mode of reflection and thought? Blumenberg’s answer is forthcoming in the essay entitled Pensiveness (1980), which is both a prelude to the more whimsical selections in this Reader and also offers Blumenberg’s estimation of the task and value of philosophy. Blumenberg first lets us know that “pensiveness is … a respite from the banal results that thought provides for us as soon as we ask about life and death, meaning and meaninglessness, being and nothingness” (517). In this formulation, pensiveness evokes both Descartes’ resolve to waver and to be of a wandering, instead of a weak mind (Discourse on Method Part 3) and also Heidegger’s call to authentic openness in anticipatory resoluteness or Entschlossenheit (Being and Time Sect. 54). Blumenberg goes on to offer us his “conclusion—since I must present one because of my profession—is that philosophy has something to preserve, if not revive, from its life-world origin in pensiveness” (517). This is both lyrical and evocative, as well as a methodologically rigorous a conclusion.

Although the Reader does not end here, I would like to close my review with the following quotation that expresses both a recommendation and a challenge that Blumenberg issues to us. “Philosophy must not be bound, therefore, to particular expectations about the nature of its product. The connection back to the life-world would be destroyed if philosophy’s right to question were limited through the normalization of answers, or even through the obligation of disciplining the questions by beginning with the question of their answerability” (517).

Harald A. Wiltsche, Philipp Berghofer (Eds.): Phenomenological Approaches to Physics

Phenomenological Approaches to Physics Book Cover Phenomenological Approaches to Physics
Synthese Library, Vol. 429
Harald A. Wiltsche, Philipp Berghofer (Eds.)
Hardback 103,99 €
VI, 263

Reviewed by: Mahmoud Jalloh (University of Southern California)

Phenomenological Approaches to Physics is a welcome attempt to bridge the gap between two areas of philosophy not often mentioned in the same career, let alone the same breath. The collection provides fertile ground for further work on phenomenological approaches to physics—and science more generally—however, as much as the collection is promising, it is also disappointing in the preparatory nature of much of the material. While this is a general vice of the phenomenological tradition—consider how many of Husserl’s published works are introductions to phenomenologyin order to appeal to one of the primary audiences of the collection, phenomenology-curious philosophers of physics, further developments with clear consequences are needed. Many of the papers stop just as they’ve really started. This collection is of value for many purposes: as a general introduction to phenomenology, as a guide to the consequences of phenomenology for science and physics, as a pointer to areas of application for the budding phenomenologist, but it also provides some indications of particular lines of further development.

The editor’s introduction is relatively long, but deservedly so, as it does a lot, providing expositions of ten themes from Husserl’s oeuvre: anti-psychologism, intentionality, descriptions and eidetics, the epistemic significance of experience, phenomenology as first philosophy, anti-naturalism, the life-world, historicity and genetic phenomenology, embodiment and intersubjectivity, the epochē, transcendental reduction, and transcendental idealism. The sketch of Husserl produced is that of an epistemological internalist who develops a theory of the objective from fundamental subjectivity, who denies empiricism about logic and mathematics, and who holds that phenomenology is a first philosophy which comprises analyses of the essential structures of subjectivity, the ground of all knowledge, therefore legitimizing all other forms of knowledge, sciences. Any reader interested in a first pass at the role of these themes in Husserl’s work could probably do so no more efficiently than looking through the first half of this introduction. A highlight of the introduction is a sketch of the relevance of other phenomenologists, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, to the philosophy of physics. The themes brought up in the introduction and elsewhere are suggestive: Heidegger’s pluralism regarding scientific standards and the difference in the concepts of time in physics and history; his preemption of the theory-ladenness of observation; his praise of Weyl; his primacy of practical understanding over theoretical knowledge; Merleau-Ponty’s participatory realism; his analysis of measurement and rejection of instrumentalism, realism, and idealism, in favor of structuralism.

Part 1: On the Origins and Systematic Value of Phenomenological Approaches to Physics

Robert Crease’s “Explaining Phenomenology to Physicists” is a response to philosophy-phobic physicists, like Hawking, and aims to show how the projects of phenomenological philosophy and physics differ. This amounts to a sort of introduction to the Husserlian distinction between the natural, or naturalistic, attitude of the physicist in her workshop and the more skeptical attitude of the epochē adopted by the phenomenologist. Note that Crease makes the same point that Maudlin and other metaphysically oriented philosophers of physics often emphasize, that mathematical formulae do not comprise a theory but require an interpretation, an ontology (57). How this interpretation is established and justified is the common project of the phenomenologist and the analytic metaphysician. But herein lies a problem with the Crease essay, which is that it while it distinguishes analytic (narrowly focused on the logical analysts of science of the early 20th century), pragmatic, and phenomenological approaches to the sciences, Crease does not say enough to distinguish a defense of phenomenological approaches to physics from a defense of a philosophical approach to physics whatsoever. Now Crease may make the point that phenomenology preempted concerns with the metaphysics of physics or concerns regarding the applicability of mathematical idealization to nature that have more recently become central to the philosophy of physics. Further, it is not clear that this is a fair reading of the aims of the logical empiricists. What is the logical empiricist project of establishing how scientific, “theoretical” terms get their meaning if not a concern with the “framing” of scientific theories and “the reciprocal impact of that frame and what appears in it on their way of being” (55)? This is not to say there is no distinction to be drawn, but the discussion here is not fully convincing as an argument for the value of phenomenology in studies of physics in particular.

Mirja Hartimo’s contribution, “Husserl’s Phenomenology of Scientific Practice,” fills out Crease’s sketch of the phenomenological approach and specifies how Husserl preempts the naturalistic, practice-oriented turn in contemporary philosophy of science. This “naturalism” is to be opposed with ontological or methodological naturalism, both of which Husserl rejected. Hartimo recapitulates the difference between the natural and phenomenological attitudes and its production by the epochē, in which existence is “bracketed.” The case is made that the phenomenological attitude is not inconsistent with the natural attitude (indeed Husserl had, for the most part, the same natural understanding of the sciences as did his contemporaries in Göttingen). The Göttingen view comprises a pre-established harmony between mathematics and physics, “the axiomatic ideal of mathematics served for Husserl, as well as for his colleagues, as an ideal of scientific rationality, as a device that was taken to guide empirical physical investigations ‘regulatively’.” (67) This influences the focus on Galileo in Crisis: physics is fundamentally mathematical in nature (68). Harmony amounts to an isomorphism of the axioms and the laws, with the axioms of physics being a formal ontology, a formal definite manifold (69). Husserl’s two differences with the Göttingen consensus are: (1) scientists should also develop material ontologies, which provide specific normative ideals for the mathematization of nature and its connection to intuition; (2) the normativity of the exact sciences does not extend to all scientific domains, a normative pluralism. (2) is particularly important because phenomenology itself falls short of the axiomatic ideal, due to the inexactness of the relevant essences.

Pablo Palmieri’s contribution, “Physics as a Form of Life,” is an odd fish. It presents itself not as a presentation of Husserl’s account of the lifeworld and its relevance to physics but rather as focusing on a foundational question raised by Husserl: “why is it that the axioms of mathematical physics are not self-evident despite the evidence and clarity that is gained through the deductive processes that flow from them?” (80) To answer this question Palmieri embarks on an analysis of physics as a form of “Life” in the sense of some historical development. The three epochs of physics which characterize its form of life are (1) the youth of Galileo’s axiomatic physics, (2) the senescence of Helmholtz’s work on the anharmonic oscillator and the combination of tones, and (3) the “posthumous maturity” of physics following quantum physics. These historical studies are interesting and valuable in themselves, especially the Galileo study, particularly regarding the influence of Galileo’s aesthethics on his mathematization of nature (84). Unfortunately, how these studies relate to the overall aim of the essay is unclear and is shrouded by the sort of allegorical and flowery prose that turns away many from “continental” approaches more generally. Palmieri’s description of the third stage of physics’ life as “posthumous maturity” describes a “disarticulation” in physics that comes to a head for Palmieri in Heisenberg’s use of (an)harmonic oscillator framework for quantum mechanics. The result of such a “translation” is not a direct analog to the classical treatment of spectra, due to the lack of rules for “composition of the multiplicity into the unity of an individual, by the interpretation of which we might generate the individual utterance that once performed will elicit in our consciousness a corresponding perception in any of the sensory modalities whatever” (100). The obscurity of such bridge principles to observation is, again, exactly the crisis of which Husserl was concerned. The upshot seems not to be, as it was for Husserl, a call to action for phenomenological analysis, but rather the essential mystery of nature as “[i]t is nature herself that precludes herself from knowing reflexively her own totality of laws” (83). While this is supposed to have the status of an explanation it is only buttressed with metaphor:

This being hidden of nature as a totality, or her desire or necessity to hide herself from further scrutiny, which I would be tempted to qualify as nature’s vow of virginity, explains why the axioms of mathematical physics must appear to our intuitions as obscure (84).

This pessimistic conclusion conflicts with phenomenology’s self-conception as a progressive research programme, leaving Palmieri’s own position mysterious, and one suspects that is how he wants it.

Norman Sieroka’s “Unities of Knowledge and Being—Weyl’s Late ’Existentialism’ and Heideggerian Phenomenology” is a fascinating exposition of Weyl’s latter existentialist turn and his engagement with Heidegger’s work. Weyl claims that physics is dominated by “symbolic construction”, of which axiomatic mathematics stands as paradigm, which are empirically evaluated holistically. Weyl’s account of symbolic construction is dependent on the understanding that these symbolic systems are constructed out of particular concrete tokens. Similarly it is essential to the symbolic construction that it is intersubjective and the practitioners of a symbolic system are peers embedded in a wider public. The core of mathematics and the sciences is not logic, but rule-bound “practical management” of symbols (109). This practical level must be fundamental or else we fall into a circle of physical reduction and symbolic representation.

Weyl’s 1949 paper “Science as Symbolic Construction of Man,” explicitly invokes Heidegger’s concept of the existential basicness of being-in-the-world as a point of agreement. Weyl does not, however, accept Heidegger’s anti-scientific attitude that concludes from this, that science is “inauthentic”. Weyl held that scientific practice and philosophical reflection were mutually enriching — particularly moral reflection in the shadow of the bomb. Heidegger’s rejection of science is due to symbols being merely present-at-hand, as they do not figure in the “care-taking encounter of daily life” (114). The weight of evidence and experience clearly sides with Weyl here. Sieroka raises examples of bridge-building and experimental physics. More simply, even the manipulation of symbols in themselves is care-taking in that they are to be interpreted and not only by oneself, in a dubious “private language”, but by some community. Here is a missed opportunity to engage with Heidegger’s later work, though it cannot be said to have influenced Weyl. Something like “The Question Concerning Technology” shows that Heidegger did not think that modern science and technology were independent of daily life, but rather have a radical and destabilizing effect that inhibits Dasein from encountering its own essence. Though, it is not clear how much this is a rejection of the verdicts of Being and Time, or should correct Sieroka and Weyl’s intepretations. The extension of the critique by way of Fritz Medicus, Weyl’s colleague, to a critique of “thrownness” and the general receptivity or passivity of Dasein to Being seems beside the point and reliant on a misunderstanding of Heidegger. Medicus’ “piglets” complaint about the thrownness of Dasein can only rest on a misunderstanding of the role of historicity in Dasein’s being (see Division 2, Chapter 5). Intersubjectivity is fundamental to Dasein. Being-with is “equiprimordial” with Dasein’s Being-in-the-World and is an existential characteristic of Dasein, even when it is alone (149-169).  Being-with defines Dasein’s inherent historicity. Dasein is thrown into a culture, into a way of life.

Sieroka’s comparison of Weyl and Cassirer, that Cassirer’s theory of symbolic forms provides a unity of knowledge, while Weyl’s provides a unity of being, owing to his existentialist inflection, is interesting but perfunctory. It makes one wonder what such a distinction could tell us about the difference of method between phenomenology and neo-Kantianism, how this might relate to the interpretational dispute at the center of the Davos debate, and how Weyl’s conception of physics and mathematics could have played a role in such rifts.

Part 2: Phenomenological Contributions to (Philosophy of) Physics

“A Revealing Parallel Between Husserl’s Philosophy of Science and Today’s Scientific Metaphysics” by Matthias Egg aims to show how the crises that Husserl saw as central to the contemporary sciences and his solution are echoed in the scientific metaphysics of Ladyman and Ross (2007). The crisis is rooted in the substitution of the lifeworld for mathematical idealities, which amounts to a forgetting of the “meaning-fundament” of the sciences, undermining their own epistemological standing. Egg frames his comparison of Husserl and the scientific metaphysicians with Habermas’ critique of Husserl’s project of making science presuppositionless, providing a basis for absolute practical responsibility. The supposed failure is that it is left unexplained how a more perfect theoretical knowledge is to have practical upshot. The lacuna is Platonic mimesis, wherein the philosopher “having grasped the cosmic order through theorizing, the philosopher brings himself into accord with it, whereby theory enters the conduct of life,” (129), which is in direct ontological opposition with Husserl’s transcendental idealism, as Habermas sees it. (Does Habermas commit the naturalistic fallacy?) Husserl’s model claims only that the procedure or methodology of theoretical knowledge provides normative force on our practical affairs, in Egg’s example, our doing of physics. Egg presents Ladyman and Ross as agreeing with Husserl’s science-cum-Enlightment project, particularly, that science must be central to our worldview as it allows for a unified, intersubjectively valid approach to world even beyond theoretical practice. This too, falls short of Habermas’ mimetic ideal —their project could only be preserved in the “ruins of ontology” (130). Ladyman and Ross share some skepticism about strong metaphysics but accept weak metaphysics. Unfortunately, Egg stops just before saying anything more substantive than an observation of convergent philosophical evolution. There is more to be said particularly regarding the link between this sort of communicative conception of the scientific project and structural realism which puts Ladyman and Ross and Husserl in the same camp. The metaphysical essays to follow cover some of what I would like to say, but let me gesture at a possible development. In Ideas II and the fifth Cartesian Meditation, Husserl develops an account of scientific objectivity such that it is constituted by intersubjective agreement via “appresentation.” What is intersubjectively available are the appearances of objects, but what is agreed upon are the invariant structures supposed to explain the experiences of the community. Heelan’s (1978) hermeneutic interpretation of Husserl provides a picture in which the infinite tasks of mathematization and measurement link together the lifeworld and the scientific image which is constituted by it. There is a structural realist position to be examined here which could provide a unified account of everyday and scientific perception.

Lee Hardy’s “Physical Things, Ideal Objects, and Theoretical Entities: The Prospects of a Husserlian Phenomenology of Physics” attempts to square Husserl’s phenomenology with scientific realism. Husserl’s seeming positivism is especially problematic given that Husserl argues “that the objective correlates of the mathematical laws of the physical sciences simply do not exist in the physical sense. They are ideal mathematical objects, not real physical things” (137). Hardy restricts Husserl’s instrumentalism to scientific laws rather than scientific theories tout court. Husserl’s view is that knowledge of physical objects is gained by mathematical approximation, leaving room open for the positing of actual physical entities. Hardy’s argument, a rational reconstruction of a path not (explicitly) taken by Husserl, depends on a distinction that seems both interesting and suspicious. Hardy wishes to distinguish instrumentalism about the laws from instrumentalism regarding theories, the difference between the two lies in the fact that laws specify functional interdependencies of physical quantities which state how empirical objects behave, but theories explain why physical quantities behave as they do. So then, the instrumentalist holds that the semantic value of theories is limited to that of the laws, which predict observable behavior. The realist holds that scientific theories have as semantic values the behavior of unobservables. Husserl’s radical empiricism is in apparent tension with the realist’s explanation, Hardy reconstructs the received view:

(1) A obtains if and only if p is true.

(2) p is true is and only if p is evident.

(3) p is true if and only if A is intuitively given in an act of consciousness.

Ergo, (4) A obtains if and only if A is intuitively given in an act of consciousness.

Theoretical entities cannot be so given, so statements about them can never be true, so we ought not be committed to them. This interpretation Hardy rejects in favor of one which changes the role of experience from semantic-metaphysical to epistemic:

S is justified in believing p if and only if the correlative states of affairs A is given to S in an intuitive act of consciousness (143).

Hardy specifies that the perceivability condition on existence was meant to be dependent on an ideal possibility, not an actual possibility (dependent on sensory apparatuses). This point goes some way towards specifying the meaning of transcendental idealism, though this seems to go astray in attempting to recover realism. Transcendental idealism requires that possible perception by a transcendental subjectivity constitutes (the preconditions for) existence. Hardy picks up the thread in the Crisis regarding the essential approximative nature of the sciences as their conclusions are mediated by ideal, mathematical constructions:

Exact, objective knowledge is possible only by way of a passage through the ideal; and for that very reason will never be more than approximative knowledge of the real (146).

In  Crisis, Hardy claims, Husserl distinguishes the ideal, physical object and the perceived object ontologically: the objects of ordinary life are not  “physical” objects.  It is these limit-idealized objects that Husserl is anti-realist with respect to. The trouble with Hardy’s distinction between theories and laws and between real objects and idealized objects is that the approximation relation is left unexplained. There remains an explanatory gap as to why physical objects should be subject to laws that properly only have idealities as their subjects.

Arezoo Islami and H. A. Wiltsche’s “A Match Made on Earth: On the Applicability of Mathematics in Physics” shows how phenomenology can provide a response to Wigner’s puzzle, “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics,” by moving on from why-questions to how-questions. The puzzle arises from a rejection of Pythagorean mathematical monism towards which the phenomenologist is officially neutral, due to the epochē, setting aside why-questions altogether. To answer the how-questions, the phenomenologist must also provide both synchronic and diachronic accounts of how we apply mathematics. The authors explicate constitution and replacement. They show what is meant by the horizon of experience, all the non-actual aspects of some experience which frame one’s interpretation of it, one’s anticipations. From this constitution is explicated:

It is this process of intending objects through specific noemata and then constantly projecting new sensory data against horizons of possible further experiences that phenomenologists call constitution. Of particular importance in this context are those aspects of experience that remain invariant… (169)

From these invariances of the noemata, lawlike relations are found and suitably objective properties can be described of the noema. This structure generalizes to scientific constitution from the example of perceptual constitution. Aiming to intend all of reality through mathematical noemata is Galileo’s great leap forward. Doing so is to replace the lifeworld with the scientific image. Nature is mathematical because we have made it so. While I am largely sympathetic with this approach, and hold that it contributes to a structuralist view that is worth developing, to satisfy mysterions like Wigner specific accounts of such constitution is needed.

Thomas Ryckman’s essay, “The Gauge Principle, Hermann Weyl, and Symbolic Constructions from the ‘Purely Infinitesimal’,” provides a mini-history of Weyl’s development of the gauge principle (a fuller history in Ryckman 2005), in which Weyl is motivated to investigate Lie groups and algebras by phenomenology on the one hand and Naturwirkungphysik on the other.  Naturwirkungphysik is a standard explanation, “that all finite changes are to be comprehended as arising through infinitesimal increments” (182). In practice this is to take locally defined tangent spaces to be explanatorily fundamental. For Weyl, this standard of locality is justified by appeal to not just phenomenological epistemology, that direct givenness to the ego is the ground of all essential insight into the structure of things, and this givenness is attenuated at spatial distance, but to full blown transcendental idealism:

insofar as symbolic construction of the “objective reality” of the purportedly mind-independent objects of physics is, per Husserl, a constitution of the sense of such objects as having “the sense of existing in themselves” (184-5).

Just as the previous essay establishes, the objects of mathematical physics are constructions which intend transcendent objects. However these objects are only fixed up to an isomorphism, any further “essence” is beyond cognitive grasp and therefore unreal (188). Ryckmann provides an able and clear derivation of the gauge principle in QED and a quick rundown of how this generalizes in the Standard Model. While this is a valuable contribution to the collection, those familiar with Ryckman’s past work will wish that the closing remarks regarding the standard model and the Weyl-Nozickean (2001) slogan, “objectivity is invariance,” were expanded upon. I look forward to further development of the alternative view implied by Ryckman’s interpretational challenge this slogan, which centers locality as the source of gauge transformations (199).

Part 3: Phenomenological Approaches to the Measurement Problem

Steven French’s “From a Lost History to a New Future: Is a Phenomenological Approach to Quantum Physics Viable?” does well to show that the phenomenological background of Fritz London was deeply influential on his approach to the measurement problem (with Bauer) and that this influence has been covered over by misinterpretation. The measurement problem is essentially the apparent inconsistency of deterministic dynamics of quantum mechanics and the collapse of the wave function. London and Bauer have been taken to merely restate von Neumann’s notorious solution, that the uniqueness of the interaction of the system with a conscious observer explains how and when the “collapse” occurs. French shows this picture presented by Wigner, which fell to the criticism of Shimony and Putnam, to be a straw man. French argues that London and Bauer’s phenomenological account of quantum measurement can stand up to such criticisms and for London.  Quantum mechanics presupposes a theory of knowledge, a relation between observer and object “quite different from that implicit in naive realism” (211). Measurement, considered subjectively, is distinguishable from the unitary evolution of the quantum state by introspection giving the observer the “right to create his own objectivity” (212). This is not some (pseudo-)causal mind-world interaction that creates a collapse but rather a precondition for the quantum system to be treated objectively and by a different mathematical function, the precondition being a reflective act of consciousness in which the ego-pole and object-pole of experience are distinguished, not a substantial dualism, “thereby cutting the ‘chain of statistical correlations’” (212-3). The discussion that follows, while suggestive, shows that it is not clear how this general phenomenological view about the nature of objectivity is supposed to remove the particular quantum measurement problem. Whether this is the fault of French or of London and Bauer is unclear; the most direct quotation from London and Bauer suggests that this distinction of the ego and the object somehow licenses the transition from representing the measurement situation by the wave function, ψ, to representing the system as in a particular eigenstate. This is much too oblique, given that the nature of such fundamental acts of consciousness is, even to the phenomenological initiate, obscure, and requires some substantive claims about the determinate nature of consciousness. French too must find the explanation as given by London and Bauer incomplete as he invokes decoherence, decision theory, and the “relational” interpretation as elements of a fuller story, presenting something, protestations aside, very close to Everettianism indeed. If such a distinctive and useful interpretation can be fleshed out on phenomenological grounds, it would be the most direct and substantive proof of the progressive nature of a phenomenological programme.

Michel Bitbol’s “A Phenomenological Ontology for Physics: Merleau-Ponty and QBism” is another breath of fresh air in the collection, exploring a phenomenological approach other than Husserl’s. Taking the primacy of lifeworld and Bohr’s challenge to traditional scientific epistemology as starting points, the essay sets up correspondence between Fuch’s participatory realism and Merleau-Ponty’s endo-ontology. More generally Bitbol takes recent developments in the philosophy of quantum mechanics, like Peres’ no-interpretation and Zeillinger’s information-theoretic approach, to “all seem to be pointing in the same direction,” in line with the phenomenological approach to the sciences as tools for navigation in the world. These are the pragmatists, as distinguished from the interpreters. Bitbol goes on to describe how the anti-interpretational approach is phenomenological by establishing an epochē for quantum physics. Rather than understand the states of quantum systems in a Hilbert space as properly predicative, we bracket any ontological posit and treat these states functionally as informational bridges between the preparation and outcome of experiments. Bitbol then considers a question a level up:

[W]hat should the world be like in order to display such resistance to being represented as an object of thought? Answering this question would be tantamount to formulating a new kind of ontology, a non-object-based ontology, an ontology of what cannot be represented as an object external to the representation itself (233).

For Merleau-Ponty (and Michel Henry), the non-objectual ontology is provided by the priority of the body and raw, original experience.

This is an ontology of radical situatedness: an ontology in which we are not onlookers of a nature given out there, but rather intimately intermingled with nature, somewhere in the midst of it… we cannot be construed as point-like spectators of what is manifest; instead, we are a field of experiences that merges with what appears in a certain region of it. This endo-ontology is therefore an ontology of the participant in Being, rather than an ontology of the observer of beings (236).

Here the central self-consciousness of transcendental idealism becomes self-perception of the body. In physics, this is translated into a participatory realism, wherein the observer is involved in the creation of Being.  Merleau-Ponty’s own statement of the relationship between his phenomenology of embodiment and physics starts from the observation that physics always attempts to take in the subjective as a part of or a special case of the objective. This is something of a category error, and in quantum mechanics it seems that there is a concrete proof of the impossibility of eliminating the subjective, or better yet shows that the objective-subjective distinction is not well formed. These are interesting points and one wishes that Bitbol (and Merleau-Ponty himself) would have spelled out this metaphysical picture in more detail. While the correspondence with QBism seems somewhat plausible, it is not shown that either view commits one to the other or that this endo-ontology provides an advance on the anti-metaphysical orientation of the QBist. The remarks regarding probability are paltry and given the significance of probabilities in quantum mechanics, a full account of it is necessary if there is to be much uptake—the primary limitation here seems to be that Merleau-Ponty did not get to consider this matter much prior to his death.

In contrast, “QBism from a Phenomenomenological Point of View: Husserl and QBism” by Laura de La Tremblaye is one of the fullest contributions in the collection. This essay serves as an able introduction to non-denomenational QBism, presented as a generalization of probability theory and cataloged as a participatory realist, -epistemic “interpretation” of quantum mechanics. QBism “stands out as an exception” (246) in this category because it focuses on belief, adding the Born Rule as an extra, normative rule in Bayesianism (the axiomatization is not explicitly shown). QBism removes the ontological significance of the collapse of the wave function, the state description and reality are decoupled, the collapse is a statement of some (ideal) agent’s belief state. Accordingly, “knowledge” yielded by measurements is redefined as information about the system that is accepted via measurement (250). While the probabilities assigned are subjective, the updating rules are objective.

It is no trivial task to draw a clear line between the subjective and the objective aspects of the Born rule… Fuchs and Schack invoke a completely new form of intersubjectivity. It is through the use of Bayesian probabilities that the multiplicity of subjectivities elaborates a reasoning that can be shared by everyone, and that, consequently, can be called “objective” in precisely this limited sense… this leads to the new conception of knowledge: knowledge is no longer understood in terms of an objectively true description of the intrinsic properties of the world; it is rather understood as the kind of knowledge that is needed to guide the future research of any agent, thus implying a weaker form of objectivity (251).

For Fuchs, the measuring device is analogous to a sensory organ, measurement  is an experience. This leads de La Tremblaye to consider two notions of experience, one from Husserl, the other from William James, who influenced Chris Fuchs. de La Tremblaye argues that it is Husserl’s model of experience as involving a normative, intentional horizonal structure, that better coheres with the Qbist view. This shows a positive contribution phenomenology may offer to QBism: an explanation of the source of the Born Rule’s normativity. Another would be an adequate explanation of how it is that the rules of Bayesian probability can be objective via the intersubjective constitution of objectivity essential to Husserl’s model of the sciences.

In sum: this collection is promising though deficient in some respects. It will provide a number of starting points for a further development of a phenomenology of physics and provides the curious or sympathetic philosopher of physics something to chew on, but it is not a full meal. Many of the contributions would do well as additions to a graduate seminar or undergraduate course on phenomenology or the philosophy of science, with the materials on quantum mechanics showing the most potential for further development.[1]


Heelan, P. A. 1987. “Husserl’s Later Philosophy of Natural Science.” Philosophy of Science 54 (3): 368-390.

Heidegger, Martin. 1977/1993. “The Question Concerning Technology.” In Basic Writings, David F. Krell (ed.). New York: HarperCollins.

———. 1962. Being and Time. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (trans.). New York: Harper and  Row.

Ladyman, J. & Ross, D. et al. 2007. Every Thing Must Go: Metaphysics Naturalized. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nozick, R. 2001. Invariances: The Structure of the Objective World. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Ryckman, T. 2005. The Reign of Relativity: Philosophy in Physics 1915-1925. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[1]    Thanks to Porter Williams for reading the collection with me and sharing his thoughts with me, which allowed me to sharpen my own.

Sebastian Luft: Subjectivity and Lifeworld in Transcendental Phenomenology, Northwestern University Press, 2021

Subjectivity and Lifeworld in Transcendental Phenomenology Book Cover Subjectivity and Lifeworld in Transcendental Phenomenology
Sebastian Luft
Northwestern University Press
Cloth Text $89.95 Paper Text – $39.95

Andrea Staiti: Etica Naturalistica e Fenomenologia

Etica naturalistica e fenomenologia Book Cover Etica naturalistica e fenomenologia
Andrea Staiti
Società editrice il Mulino

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

La teoria dei valori che ci manca

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


  1. Tre osservazioni preliminari

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Uno sguardo d’insieme

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Sopravvenienza o fondazione. Capitolo III

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. La questione della posizionalità

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Essenze e sopravvenienze

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Conclusioni sull’etica e l’assiologia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[18] Geach (1956).

Erik Norman Dzwiza-Ohlsen: Die Horizonte der Lebenswelt

Die Horizonte der Lebenswelt: Sprachphilosophische Studien zu Husserls 'erster Phänomenologie der Lebenswelt' Book Cover Die Horizonte der Lebenswelt: Sprachphilosophische Studien zu Husserls 'erster Phänomenologie der Lebenswelt'
Phänomenologische Untersuchungen, Band 37
Erik Norman Dzwiza-Ohlsen
Wilhelm Fink
Hardback $193

Reviewed by: Matías Graffigna (Göttingen Universität)

Dzwiza-Ohlsen’s book presents us with a thorough, systematic study of Husserl’s phenomenology along two axes of problems: on the one hand, it reconstructs—and argues for—a developmental history of the central phenomenological concept of lifeworld in Husserl’s works, following Manfred Sommer in tracing its roots back to a first “Göttingian” conception. On the other hand, the study focuses on language and particularly on Husserl’s theory of essentially occasional expressions (OE) from the Logical Investigations (LI, Hua XIX-01), which, further reconstructed, developed and complemented by the author, comprises a fundamental tool of analysis for the structure and levels of the lifeworld, both in its first Göttingian manifestation and in its mature “Freiburgian” form. The book thus proceeds in a zig-zag manner between, on the one hand, an exegetical and historical reconstruction of Husserl’s intellectual development, and a conceptual, critical analysis of the different problems related to the lifeworld, horizon-intentionality and OE on the other, consequently arriving at the main thesis of the work: that the concept of lifeworld in Husserl’s intellectual history represents a continuous development and reveals in all stages the idea of an occasional horizon.

The first section reconstructs the path from the LI to the Ideas (Hua III, IV and V), starting with an analysis of OE as “lifeworldly disturbances” [lebensweltliche Störungen] to pure logic. OE are known in the analytic literature as indexical expressions, such that vary their meaning according to the context of the utterance: “here”, “now”, “I” are typical examples. According to Dzwiza-Ohlsen, the LI are marked by a stark focus on pure logic and particularly on a logical conception of truth as apodictic and immutable, which renders Husserl’s analysis of OE, as Husserl himself would later claim, an “act of violence” [Gewaltstreich] against pure logic. The core of the argument is that, while OE are essentially situated and context-sensitive, pure logic does not admit of such variability and therefore Husserl lacked the appropriate theoretical tools to successfully analyze them. Though both theses are true, it is not quite clear that the context of the LI would prevent an interesting analysis of the OE. The author relies for this thesis on two premises, which are, in my opinion, a bit too strong.

First (28), he takes—following Derrida—Husserl’s analysis of expressions in solitary life (LI, §8) to be an anticipation of the phenomenological reduction and elevates it to the status of a methodological principle. Dzwiza-Ohlsen ends up criticizing Husserl for violating this “methodological restriction”: “Husserl analyses occasional expressions within a conversational situation […] and thus violates one of his central methodological premises, namely the reduction to solitary life” (35). So even though Husserl does analyze OE within communicative contexts, Dzwiza-Ohlsen criticizes that analysis on the ground of violating a methodological restriction. Arguably, there is no such methodological restriction in LI, but in any case, since the solitary life is not explicitly presented by Husserl as a methodological principle, it would fall upon Dzwiza-Ohlsen to make the case for such an interpretation, which he does not do. Given that Husserl does not declare himself beholden to such a restriction, as the case analyzed by the author and many others show, I do not see this claim as justified.

The author’s second premise is that the LI only present a logical notion of truth and, therefore, are unable to account for the truth of perception-based statements about individual objects: “For the appropriate interpretation [of OE], he would have needed a concept of truth that could apprehend the concrete, such as individual objects, people and their relations in events, insofar as he is reflecting on the conditions for reference. Because he does not do this, the determination of their empirical significance remains a riddle” (38-9). But we do not find in Dzwiza-Ohlsen’s analyses any mention of §§ 9-14 of the first LI, where Husserl presents his conception of reference and of meaning-fulfillment, or of § 5 of the sixth LI, appropriately titled “Perception as significance-determining act”, or of § 39, where Husserl presents four different conceptions of truth.

After arriving at the conclusion of OE as lifeworldly disturbances to pure logic, Chapter Two presents OE as a framework to interpret the history of the Husserlian conception of the lifeworld. The author makes use of Karl Bühler’s theory of language, introducing the notion of a ‘here-now-I-’ system of orientation under the rubric of “origo”. This term, sometimes used in pragmatics, stems from the Latin for “origin” and designates the point of reference for a given speaker. The OE are divided into four classes: spatial, personal, temporal and others. Together with Husserl’s original conception of OE in the LI, the theoretical tools presented by Bühler open the door for an exhaustive and example-rich analysis of the different classes of OE. Dzwiza-Ohlsen’s analysis of each class culminates in a general analysis (§ 7), where OE are defined as situated, context-sensitive, horizon-dependent and praxis-oriented. OE are no longer seen as somehow faulty or incomplete, but their possible vagueness and variability are vindicated as elements that necessarily belong to our everyday communication practices and, to that extent, as essential for our relation to the lifeworld.

Chapters Three to Five provide a further, in-depth analysis of OE mediated by a “triple jump” (69): (1) temporally, from the LI to 1907; (2) methodologically, from a logic-oriented phenomenology to the first considerations for a transcendental phenomenology as the basis of universal knowledge and (3) content-wise, by presenting the first concrete descriptions of lifeworldly situations within the natural attitude. Thus, Chapter Three focuses first on the spatial class of OE by drawing on Husserlian materials going back as far as the early, mathematical studies on space from 1894. It then moves to the Main Pieces [Haupstücke] (Hua II/XVI) and the lectures on Thing and Space (Hua XVI), where we find the first descriptions of the phenomenological reduction and an explicit thematization of the natural attitude as the terminus a quo of phenomenological philosophy: our world-experience as a reference point for phenomenological description and source for all eidetic analyses. Here Dzwiza-Ohlsen sees “the correlate of the natural attitude named by its later name: the lifeworld” (81). § 1 of Thing and Space, in which Husserl offers a very detailed description of the “natural spiritual-disposition” [natürliche Geisteshaltung], is offered by Dzwiza-Ohlsen as a clear anticipation of what would later be named the lifeworld.

Chapter Three concludes with further analyses of spatiality based mainly on the constitution of perceptual objects, which is taken as a point of departure for the analysis of our experience of reality and, in turn, of the lifeworld itself. The relation between intersubjectivity (as the source of objectivity) and perception marks the passage to Chapter Four, where the personal class of OE (such as personal and possessive pronouns) are analyzed in connection with empathy, motivation and the social world. Basing primarily on the Fundamental Problems of Phenomenology (Hua XIII), the close relation between the spiritual world, our “deictic” experience of our environment and, primarily, other human beings, is revealed as central. Dzwiza-Ohlsen proposes to understand our experience within the natural attitude as a kind of “index”, leading to an eidetic ontology of the lifeworld. The important point the author argues for is that our lifeworldly experience in the natural attitude already makes certain concepts available which can later be more rigorously or scientifically clarified. But the task of clarifying them in their lifeworldly being is precisely the task of phenomenology and the ontology of the lifeworld.

Chapter Five closes Section One of the book with the remaining class of OE: the temporal indexicals. The analysis of these is understood as the key for a theory of empirical meaning (as opposed to the theory of ideal meaning of the LI). The analyses are based on the Lectures on inner Time-Consciousness (Hua X), going through the innovations of the 1908 Lectures on Theory of Meaning (Hua XXVI), arriving finally at the revised sections of the LI (Hua XX/2) and Ideas I. An in-depth analysis of temporality allows the author to describe an “occasional horizon of empirical reference” (148), which together with a theory of meaning for empirical objects, aims to complement the otherwise logically one-sided conceptual elaborations of Husserl in the LI.

The terrain is thus set for Section Two: early and late phenomenology of the lifeworld. The Göttingian early concept of lifeworld is located in Ideas II (Hua IV), where concepts such as “social world”, “cultural world”, “surrounding world” and especially “communicative world” serve as candidates for an early version of the concept of lifeworld. The author focuses on the intersection of three dimensions to analyze this early concept: (i) phenomenological analyses of constitution; (ii) regional ontology, with a special focus on nature and spirit; and (iii) the theory of attitudes. Thus, the early concept of lifeworld is to be phenomenologically analyzed via constitutive performances within the region of spirit and in the corresponding personal attitude. An interesting, critical point raised by the author concerns how to understand the relation between the natural and the personal attitudes. While it is clear that the naturalistic (as opposed to the natural) attitude and all other scientific ones imply an active change and an abstraction of the objects and corresponding regions being thematized, both the natural and personal attitudes are those in which we typically find ourselves in our daily lives. All scientific attitudes also imply a reference to the natural attitude and to our experience within the lifeworld. If the natural and personal attitudes are not to be conflated, then the personal must imply a specific focus on, precisely, personal elements of the lifeworld.  The personal attitude abstracts from certain elements that appear in the natural attitude so as to make salient what is properly personal.

In Section Two, Chapter Two, the differences between the early and late conception of the lifeworld are explicitly treated. According to the author, the core difference is that the late conception “has less to do with a phenomenology of the lifeworld, but rather with a critical theory of the historical misdevelopment [Fehlentwicklung] of the sciences departing from the lifeworld” (242). For Dzwiza-Ohlsen, Husserl’s project in the Crisis (Hua VI) consists in analyzing the crisis of European humanity, science and culture through a teleological history, but lacks “detailed phenomenological descriptions and constitution-analyses of our natural, personal attitude within our cultural lifeworld” (249). Dzwiza-Ohlsen extracts and reconstructs seven desiderata for a science of the lifeworld according to Crisis (247-8), which he sees as better realized—“more detailed and universal” (253)—in the phenomenology of the lifeworld found in Ideas II than in the theory of the lifeworld presented in Crisis.  This is because the descriptive results of Ideas II hold true in any world, even if there were no science at all, while the Crisis project is dependent both on the analysis in Ideas II and on the existence of a science that can be diagnosed as being in crisis and offered a therapy through self-reflection [Selbstbesinnung] and teleological orientation. Thus, the basic thesis of Crisis can only be properly understood against the background of an analysis of persons living in the natural and personal attitude within the spiritual lifeworld. And such analysis is precisely what we find in the early conception of the lifeworld.

This main point of comparison could profit from some further argumentation by the author, since many questions remain open: by stating that the project of Crisis is not really a phenomenology, what conception of phenomenology does the author assume? Phenomenology is an eidetic science and Crisis presents us with countless eidetic analyses of the a priori structure of the lifeworld and of its being a ground for sense and experience, and not “just” the reconstruction of the history of science. In the third section of the Crisis, Husserl aims to develop precisely an ontology of the lifeworld that is previous to and independent of science. This ontology is the one that explains how it is that science can emerge on the basis of our experience, and how it remains always tied to it. On the other hand, the question arises: is the project of Ideas II focused exclusively on offering “situated” descriptions within the natural attitude? Is it not the attempt to clarify the constitutive performances foundational to the distinction between natural sciences and the humanities? In this regard, it is therefore not clear at all that the analyses offered in Ideas II would hold true in a world without science.

The Section Two, Chapter Three deals with the “skipped nature-concept of the lifeworld” (255). While Husserl’s analyses of the constitution of natural objects in Ideas II focus almost exclusively on these objects as conceived from the perspective of natural science, Dzwiza-Ohlsen claims that the constitution of these objects should also be phenomenologically clarified for the personal and natural attitudes within the lifeworld, which mainly means including not only the theoretical, but also the evaluative, practical and aesthetic attitudes. Thus, Husserl “skipped” a “nature-concept” that accounts for our natural (as opposed to theoretical) experience of nature, where nature is understood as the correlate of our personal, spiritual, lifewordly experience and not as the correlate of natural science. The chapter closes by going deep into the analysis of our experience in the natural attitude, with its focus on natural objects. Aesthetics, praxis, will and feelings are analyzed as essential elements permeating our daily life and the way in which we experience the world.

The third and final section of the book is a “concluding meditation” about Husserl’s contributions regarding the language, structure and truth of the lifeworld and of science in his late period. These fundamental dimensions of the lifeworld are now presented in an integrated fashion, making use both of Husserl’s own earlier analyses presented in this book as well as the scheme of OE. Thus, we learn that the structure of the lifeworld is situated in an intentional-horizon that is both typical and occasional; that the language we use is correlated with this typicality and occasionality, allowing us to express ourselves in relevant, situated ways; that truth is understood in reference to a notion of normality that emerges from the different communities, meaning that what matters in the lifeworld is the optimal realization of goals rather than an accurate description of an external reality. For this last purpose, our natural, lifeworldly language is said to be perfectly well suited.

Finally, in the “concluding meditation”, lifeworld and science are contrasted following the foundational thesis of the Crisis, and the notion of truth is treated in its own right for each domain. The objective truth of science rests upon intersubjective agreement which takes place in the praxis of the lifeworld and especially communicative praxis. Communicative praxis is disclosed as a condition of possibility for science and objective truth or, as the author says, “supra-occasional truth” (296).

Dzwiza-Ohlsen deals with several fundamental and significant problems in phenomenology from both a historical, reconstructive perspective and from a philosophical, critical attitude. The book offers rich analyses for those interested in the concept of lifeworld and its historical development, but is also to be noted for bringing the dimension of language to the foreground. The analyses of OE, abundant in examples, and its subsequent application to the diverse elements treated in the book, results in an in-depth phenomenological and historical description of one of Husserl’s most important philosophical contributions: the notion of lifeworld.

Sofia Miguens (Ed.): The Logical Alien: Conant and his Critics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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