Rodney K. B. Parker (Ed.): The Idealism-Realism Debate Among Edmund Husserl’s Early Followers and Critics

The Idealism-Realism Debate Among Edmund Husserl’s Early Followers and Critics Book Cover The Idealism-Realism Debate Among Edmund Husserl’s Early Followers and Critics
Contributions to Phenomenology
Rodney K. B. Parker (Ed.)
Springer
Hardback, $119.99 USD; eBook, $89.00 USD
IX, 311

Reviewed by: Ryan Dradzynski

The Idealism-Realism Debate Among Edmund Husserl’s Early Followers and Critics is a multifaceted exploration of the historical context and ongoing influence of various epistemological, ontological, and methodological approaches to the problems of consciousness and reality. Part of Springer’s long-running Contributions to Phenomenology series, the essays in this collection complicate the conventional picture of idealist and realist phenomenology as two homogenous and warring camps through a number of close readings and re-interpretations of figures from this formative period of phenomenology.

In his introduction, editor Rodney K. B. Parker outlines two goals: first, to return Husserl’s early phenomenology to its historical context (4) and, second, “to understand the positions of the other early phenomenologists with respect to the idealism-realism debate.” (4) This is more than scholarly trivia. By drawing parallels between the idealism-realism debate of the early twentieth century and the current rivalry between phenomenology and speculative realism, (6) Parker makes a convincing case for the continued study of figures who left an indelible mark on the phenomenological landscape but for whom sustained engagement—especially in anglophone philosophy—has been elusive.

The structure of the work itself bolsters this conviction. Instead of a linear, chronological approach, the collection is divided into four sections. The two essays in the Part I provide background on Husserl’s philosophical development with a focus on his Logical Investigations. By dissecting the way his early work may have been interpreted as realist, they lay the foundation for the following chapters, the majority of which examine the philosophical conflict which erupted after the publication of Ideas I in 1913. Yet while there is a noticeable sense of progression, the collection withstands the procrustean temptation to place Husserl’s work on a rigid teleological timeline. Instead of proceeding chronologically, the collection revolves geographically around the loose constellation of philosophical schools that sprang up in Marburg (Part II), Munich (III), and Gottingen and Freiburg (IV).

By framing the idealism-realism debate around geography, which is necessarily imprecise and ambiguous, the contributors successfully tease out similarities and differences between positions and philosophers that have been historically understudied. Essays on Baltic, Russian, Spanish, and Japanese—as well as several female—philosophers serve to emphasize phenomenology’s cross-cultural appeal and socially inclusive character.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the portrait of Husserl offered by the collection is more of a mosaic than a picture. Yet it is not less useful for that. On the contrary, the variegated portrayal of Husserl challenges the conventional picture of the idealism-realism debate as a contest between two static, monolithic, and fundamentally hostile camps; readers receive a clear sense of the fluctuating philosophical milieu which phenomenology developed in and deeply influenced. Husserl’s philosophical positions and appropriations thereof were neither foregone conclusions nor incidental to phenomenology today. This volume sheds welcome light on a crucial and underappreciated period in philosophy.

This review largely follows the structure of the work, beginning with the introduction from the editor and reconstructing the arguments in the foundational first chapter on Husserl’s Logical Investigations before devoting the rest of the space—unfortunately not exhaustively—to several individual essays from the collection which serve as conceptual lodestones for thinkers and topics discussed elsewhere in the work.

Parker’s introduction clarifies the broad historical and philosophical context in which the idealism-realism debate among early phenomenologists arose. The core of the controversy centers on two distinct but closely related issues: first, “whether the ‘real’ world exists independent from the mind” (8) and second, whether the belief that the only object of knowledge is one’s subjective consciousness—epistemological idealism—necessarily entails metaphysical realism, or the belief “that nothing exists independently of the mind.” (6) Husserl’s early thought was characterized by a form of realism similar to Brentano’s descriptive psychology. However, after sustained engagement with Kant and disenchantment with psychologism, “Husserl’s project moved away from the descriptive psychology of the Logical Investigations and the account of intentionality presented therein toward a form of transcendental idealism.” (2) The position at which Husserl arrived, transcendental-phenomenological idealism, which “seeks to reconcile the empirical reality of the world with the dependence of that reality on consciousness,” (3) came as an unpleasant surprise to many of his followers and leading philosophical figures of the time.

Michele Averchi puts it succinctly in his article on Geiger: “We must ask ourselves: is Geiger’s reaction to Ideas I only worth exploring for the sake of historical completeness? Or does it contain some developed and original contribution to phenomenological thought?” (175)

The same could be asked, some may say, of Husserl—to say nothing of his less-famous interlocutors. Parker—and the work as a whole—is emphatic: Husserl and his fellow twentieth-century philosophers not only have much to contribute to contemporary debate today, but from a historical perspective, “if Husserl’s critics misunderstood his position, particularly with respect to idealism, then it is incumbent on Husserl scholars to clearly articulate how.” (12)

The two essays in Part I explore the intellectual heritage, Platonic underpinnings, and realist receptions and misconceptions of Husserl’s Logical Investigations. While both Fisette and Crespo conclude that a realist interpretation of Husserl is untenable, they also show that such an understanding is not historically inapposite.

Programs such as Fisette’s are normally nebulous, hinging on specious chronologies and dubious speculation. Fisette avoids these fatal pitfalls by staying scrupulously close to textual evidence, from Husserl’s correspondence and marginal notes (39) to the admittedly more ambiguous influence betrayed by the content of his work from that period. The centerpiece of Fisette’s essay is the close reading he performs on Husserl’s unpublished manuscript Mikrokosmos, which was itself a meticulous explication of Lotze’s Logic and was intended by Husserl to be published as an appendix to his Logical Investigations.

Fisette begins his robust intellectual genealogy of Husserl’s early philosophy by tracing the outline of Lotze’s influence. Though Lotze died in 1881, Fisette argues that he influenced Husserl in two ways: directly, through his work, and indirectly, through his students. Stumpf, for example, under whose tutelage Husserl completed his dissertation and habilitation (31), was a student of Lotze’s, as was Frege, whose withering critique of the ostensible psychologism contained in Husserl’s Philosophy of Arithmetic is often regarded as having provided the impetus for the anti-psychologism of Husserl’s Logical Investigations. This last point is particularly important, because Fisette attributes to Lotze, by way of Brentano and Stumpf, a good deal of credit for inspiring Husserl’s theory of relations as contained in his Philosophy of Arithmetic. (35, 40)

While he deplored Lotze’s “arguably strange view that arithmetic is only a relatively independent and since ancient times particularly sophisticated part of logic,” (38) in Mikrokosmos Husserl nevertheless “attributes to Lotze the merit of having stressed the decisive significance of the distinction between the subjective aspects of thought and the objective aspects of its propositional contents.” (39) In a letter to Brentano, Husserl declared that it was thanks to Lotze’s interpretation of Plato’s theory of Ideas (38) that he was able to articulate an understanding of consciousness as intentionally directed yet noetically distinct from both the subject and content of thought.

This is not to say Husserl blithely internalized Lotzean assumptions. On the contrary, he was deeply critical of Lotze. Husserl was dissatisfied with the descriptive approach inherited from Lotze, which rendered him unable to explain the mysteriously objective quality of subjective experience except by recourse to an empirical explanation. Since he received from Lotze no means by which to engage the transcendent qualities of consciousness without either immanentizing or mechanizing them, Husserl developed a critique of psychologism based on the ideality and objectivity of the laws of logic which he conceived in terms of Geltung and effectivity (Wirklichkeit). (40, 43)

Unlike Lotze, who muddled the division between the quality of judgment and “the propositional content of judgment” (42), Husserl argued that the meaning we intersubjectively imbue objects with is the basis for the existence of those objects independent of any mind. Far worse, according to Husserl, was the fact that Lotze distinguished “a representational world (Vorstellungswelt), which has merely human-subjective validity, from a metaphysical world of monads in-themselves” available only through ‘mysterious’ metaphysical methods, a situation Husserl dismissively called “inferior to novels.” (44) While in Husserl’s view it was perfectly valid to speak of logical laws as being ideal (47), he criticized psychologism for making that validity a function of psychological description and took pains to avoid the subjectivism to which Lotze fell victim when he created “a dependency between his Gedanken and the experiences of the knowing subject.” (43)

However, this leads to a problem: what exactly is being mediated if for Husserl “the function of the propositional content of a judgment is to mediate the relation of an act to its object”? (42) By strenuously opposing a Lotzean conception of ideality, Husserl inadvertently encouraged some interpreters to mistakenly impute to him a form of realism, as Mariano Crespo argues in the following chapter.

Analyzing the critiques of Spanish philosopher Antonio Millán-Puelles, Crespo suggests that in Husserl’s “effort to ground an autonomous logic freed from the threat of that particular form of empiricist phenomenalism that is logical psychologism, one can understand the initial impression of realism.” (56) Such an interpretation, Crespo suggests, turns on a failure to distinguish between the ontology of objects and the ontology of being.

Millán-Puelles makes his critique along three lines: first, “that the proof of ideality invoked by Husserl in the Second of his Logical Investigations is invalid” (57), second, that “conceiving the laws of logic as one conceives the laws of arithmetic” (64) leads to the mistaken belief that ‘universal natures’ correspond to ‘beings of reason’ (65), and, finally, the fact that Husserl transgresses the limits of phenomenology when he makes a jump “from the plane of propositions concerning universal objects to the ontological plane of ideal being.” (61)

These objections are made possible by the ambiguity that “for Husserl, universal objects present themselves, in their unity and ideal identity, in a special mode of consciousness.” (58) If phenomenology is the study of the structure and experience of consciousness, then by its very nature it privileges the operation of the mind over interaction with matter. Yet Husserl sometimes seems to assume the real, objective existence of objects, such as his defense of ideality in the Second Logical Investigation on the grounds that the objective existence of ideal objects presupposes the being of ideal objects. (62) For Millán-Puelles, there is little difference between the being of objects and their objective existence. More importantly, Millán-Puelles argued that “the use of terms such as “constitutive activity” or “genesis”…should not be interpreted in a psychologistic way, as though these objects remained absorbed by the reality of the mental processes they are made present by.” (55)

Like several critics covered elsewhere in the collection, Millán-Puelles focuses on ‘where’ or under what circumstances and conditions we ‘grasp’ ideal objects rather than considering their abstract nature. (58) This approach bears a certain resemblance to Husserl’s “phenomenological thesis of the constitution of objects present to consciousness.” (57) In effect, “Husserl’s defense of ideal beings would be more the affirmation of an unavoidable datum than the affirmation of a type or modality of being.” (66)

While Crespo ultimately considers Millán-Puelles’s realist critique to be based on a misunderstanding of “the distinction between the real genesis of the acts of the representation and the mere intentional genesis of irreal objects,” (68) Millán-Puelles’s work and interpretation of Husserl serve to clarify the plausibility of a realist interpretation and highlight persistent ambiguities in Husserl’s early phenomenological work, thereby setting the stage for parts II, III, and IV of the collection, which deal with the reception of Ideas I.

The two essays in Part II focus on the Marburg school, specifically Paul Natorp, Nicolai Hartmann, and Vasily Sesemann. However, after a minuscule sketch that frankly does not do justice to the essays of Part II, I am going to devote the next section and rest of the review to the first essay of Part III, which touches on several themes common to the collection as a whole.

Unlike those who focused on the theoretical underpinnings of Husserl’s phenomenology, Sesemann and Hartmann criticized Husserl for ignoring the importance of the practical context in which an actor’s intentionality is embedded. (114) Despite their differences, Jonkus points out that (somewhat like Millán-Puelles), Hartmann and Sesemann shared a conviction that Ideas I represented a return to idealism which elevated the experience of consciousness over the givenness of experience and thereby placed “the transcendent objects of the world…beyond the scope of phenomenological inquiry.” (113) It is this interplay of context, immanence, and intentionality that characterizes Susan Gottlöber’s essay on Max Scheler’s description of reality in terms of resistance. As a chronological outlier—the theories propounded by Scheler antedate but oppose the framework of Ideas I—her essay helps contextualize realist-inspired reactions to Husserl’s apparent turn toward idealism. Given the philosophical scope of Scheler’s critique, which encompassed methodology, epistemology, anthropology, psychology, and ontology, (122) Gottlöber’s essay also lends itself to comparisons with the critiques of other schools and thinkers discussed elsewhere in the collection.

According to Scheler, “consciousness is thus a necessary correlate of existence.”[1] (123) Moreover, “the experience of resistance necessarily precedes consciousness.” (126) Gottlöber reads Scheler, contra Dilthey, as viewing the experience of resistance not as a conscious action of the will but an unconscious and even inevitable product of the interaction between “involuntary (unwillkürlich) drives” and the external world (Außenwelt) (126). Placing the operation of these drives in a realm comprised of the ‘spheres’ of personal perspective, perception of essences, the natural environment, and communal relationships (126-127) allows Scheler to “make an argument for both expanding the concept of reality beyond the external world…and, secondly, draw attention to the fact that the problem of the different spheres has to be treated separately from the problem of reality.” (127)

By focusing on the involuntary and experiential nature of existence, Scheler inverts the conventional idealist perspective of reality as a predicate of consciousness. Scheler’s approach bears a marked resemblance that of Hartmann (discussed by Jonkus), especially in their shared emphasis on how we are ‘grasped’ by objects. Like Scheler, “Hartmann argues for the priority of transcendent objects and focuses on ontology, which—for him—precedes epistemology.” (113) The ‘grasping’ nature of objects would become a crucial element in Scheler’s understanding of reality-as-resistance, and stands in stark contrast to Husserl’s approach, which privileged the objective and primordial purity of eidetic consciousness as well as the unitary nature of phenomenological methodology.

Gottlöber’s primary purpose in the essay, however, is to determine the extent to which Scheler successfully defended his assertion that being and essence do not, necessarily, entail questions of meaning, and the ramifications of his success (or lack thereof) for a realist rebuttal to Husserl. To do so Gottlöber focuses on the relationship between the drives and their connection to essence and meaning in Scheler’s posthumous 1928 essay Idealismus – Realismus. (121)

At first glance, creating ontological categories of ‘spheres’ and ‘drives’ seems misguided. Scheler himself conceded that an image theory of reality is indefensible, since claims that consciousness operates by corresponding to immanent objects “presupposes the cognition of both the image and the object as such.” (128) He also responded positively to Husserl’s claim that “what is not able to be effective is not real,” (128) which linked causality and reality in a formal relationship.

Yet Scheler felt, Gottlöber writes, that the “mistake made by both the idealists and the critical realists” was “the erroneous presupposition that essence and existence are inseparable from consciousness.” (131) Scheler attributes this misunderstanding to a mistaken belief that 1.) “all realities are unities of meaning” and 2.) that the experience of reality is meaningful in itself—that we do not experience objects, but meanings of objects. (130) In contrast, Scheler conceptualized reality as pre-given and meaningfully neutral resistance. He formulated the spheres as the manifold by which reality-as-resistance, through various attitudes of being, or drives, mediated meaning. In other words, “since resistance is accessible neither to consciousness nor to knowledge, but rather to the drives only, the relationship of the drives to resistance is not a relation to an essence (Sosein) or meaning (Sinn) but rather is characterized by being pre-conscious and pre-known.” (129) By denying reality innate meaning, Scheler “established a relationship between knowledge and consciousness on one side and the experience of resistance on the other without the latter being relativized in relation to the former…[R]esistance remains transcendental to consciousness at all times.” (130)

Yet such an interpretation entails several problems. One could ask, for example, how we know that resistance transcends consciousness. Or, if knowledge and meaning are formally extraneous to the experience of resistance, then how does consciousness arise and what are its qualities? (129) Scheler unpersuasively attempts to avoid an infinite regression by attributing “intentionality not to transcendental consciousness but to the experience of resistance with consequences for ‘ideal being’” (131) and reiterating the belief that “reality, rather than being constituted by consciousness, itself constitutes consciousness.” (131)

On one hand, Scheler’s interpretation is realistic insofar as it affirms reality to be a mutually constitutive process between consciousness and some external experience (in this case, resistance). However, by according consciousness a critical role in the instantiation of resistance by way of the spheres of experience, Scheler opens his arguments to accusations of question-begging and the very form of idealism he attempts to oppose. (As Gottlöber demonstrates in the chapter, Scheler’s conception of reality “is always transintelligible: only the what of existence is intelligible for us, never the existence of the what.” (131))

Despite these shortcomings, Scheler’s work—and Gottlöber’s analysis thereof—is valuable for the light it sheds on several realist critiques of transcendental phenomenology. For example, Scheler’s theorization of resistance as the ground of consciousness bears a striking resemblance to Hartmann’s realist and rhetorical comment wondering “Wo also ist das Phänomen des idealen Seins fassbar?”[2] That is, the grasping of reality—or in Scheler’s case, the experience of resistance—precludes a phenomenology of pure consciousness. Such an assumption is corroborated by Scheler’s comment to the effect that phenomenology is less a delimited science than a new philosophical attitude (121)—a belief that corresponds strikingly with D. R. Sobota’s analysis of Daubert, and more explicitly in Michele Averchi’s essay on Geiger’s philosophy of “attitudes” (Einstellungen) and “stance” (Haltung). (175) Given the multidisciplinary nature of Scheler’s work, Gottlöber’s essay on him serves as a historical lodestone for the other realist philosophers discussed in this collection.

Yet not all of Husserl’s critics attacked him for his apparent idealism; the final paper, by Genki Uemura, explores the reactions of Satomi Takahashi and Tomoo Otaka to Husserl’s Ideas I and their contention that he had tried—but not successfully managed—to escape a realist philosophy. By concluding this way, the collection has come full circle, from the ostensibly realist origins of Husserl’s phenomenology in the philosophy of Lotze, Stumpf and Brentano to accusations by his later students that he never developed a fully idealist position at all.

Though it focuses on the European context of the idealism-realism debate and does not delve into international appropriations or influence, this volume draws from a wealth of diverse thinkers and makes a historically rich and philosophically compelling argument for the enduring significance of the idealism-realism debate among Edmund Husserl’s early followers and critics.


[1] Scheler, Max. 1995. “Idealismus–Realismus.” In Gesammelte Werke, vol. IX, ed. by Manfred Frings, 183–340. Bonn: Bouvier (186).

[2] Hartmann, N. 1965. Zur Grundlegung der Ontologie. Vierte Auflage. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter (22).

Dominique Pradelle (Hrsg.), Pierre-Jean Renaudie (Hrsg.): Intentionnalité, sens, antipsychologisme, Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung, 2022

Intentionnalité, sens, antipsychologisme. Hommage à Robert Brisart Book Cover Intentionnalité, sens, antipsychologisme. Hommage à Robert Brisart
Europaea Memoria, Reihe I: Studien, 134
Dominique Pradelle (Hrsg.), Pierre-Jean Renaudie (Hrsg.)
Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung
2022
Paperback 49,80€
254

Dennis Schulting: The Bounds of Transcendental Logic, Palgrave Macmillan, 2021

The Bounds of Transcendental Logic Book Cover The Bounds of Transcendental Logic
Dennis Schulting
Palgrave Macmillan
2021
Hardback 106,99 €
IV, 196

Pavel Florensky: The Meaning of Idealism: The Metaphysics of Genus and Countenance, Angelico Press, 2020

The Meaning of Idealism: The Metaphysics of Genus and Countenance Book Cover The Meaning of Idealism: The Metaphysics of Genus and Countenance
Pavel Florensky. Translated by Boris Jakim
Angelico Press
2020
Hardback $25.00
108

Dominik Finkelde, Paul M. Livingston (Eds.): Idealism, Relativism, and Realism: New Essays on Objectivity Beyond the Analytic-Continental Divide, De Gruyter, 2020

Idealism, Relativism, and Realism: New Essays on Objectivity Beyond the Analytic-Continental Divide, De Gruyter, 2020 Book Cover Idealism, Relativism, and Realism: New Essays on Objectivity Beyond the Analytic-Continental Divide, De Gruyter, 2020
Dominik Finkelde, Paul M. Livingston (Eds.)
De Gruyter
2020
Hardback €109.95
334
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110670349

Rochelle Tobias (Ed.): Hölderlin’s Philosophy of Nature, Edinburgh University Press, 2020

Hölderlin's Philosophy of Nature Book Cover Hölderlin's Philosophy of Nature
New Perspectives in Ontology
Rochelle Tobias (Ed.)
Edinburgh University Press
2020
Hardback £80.00
272

Uriah Kriegel (Ed.): The Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy of Consciousness, Oxford University Press, 2020

The Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy of Consciousness Book Cover The Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy of Consciousness
Uriah Kriegel (Ed.)
Oxford University Press
2020
Hardback £110.00
704

Maria Baghramian, Sarin Marchetti (Eds.): Pragmatism and the European Traditions

Pragmatism and the European Traditions: Encounters with Analytic Philosophy and Phenomenology before the Great Divide Book Cover Pragmatism and the European Traditions: Encounters with Analytic Philosophy and Phenomenology before the Great Divide
Routledge Studies in American Philosophy
Maria Baghramian, Sarin Marchetti (Eds.)
Routledge
2017
Hardback £92.00
294

Reviewed by: Devin R Fitzpatrick (University of Oregon)

Academic philosophy’s self-conception has long been dominated by divisions: between “analytic” and “Continental,” Frege and Husserl, Russell and James. In Pragmatism and the European Traditions, editors Maria Baghramian and Sarin Marchetti offer an alternative narrative of 20th-century philosophy, one defined by meaningful exchanges and intersections rather than clearly defined opposing camps. Analytic philosophy, pragmatism, and phenomenology are presented as “three philosophical revolutions,” as the editors write in their Introduction, whose “comprehensive story” of “multivoiced conversations” has gone untold (3). As the title suggests, the editors unite these divided histories by emphasizing pragmatism’s historical role “as a facilitator” of “dialogues and exchanges” (5). This structure lends welcome coherence to the collection: pragmatism’s influence on both phenomenology and analytic philosophy allows a narrative that intertwines all three traditions to naturally unfold.

But the editors do not see pragmatism’s role as mediator as an accident of history. Rather, they argue, pragmatism “possesses a distinct intellectual temperament that lies equidistant between the analytic demand for clarity, rigor, and respect for the natural sciences and the Phenomenological emphasis on lived experience and its subjective manifestation” (2). The implication seems clear: pragmatism as a methodology may serve us today in bridging the silent chasms that still divide academic philosophy. This volume’s purposes are thus both descriptive, as a history of forgotten connections, and normative, as a guide to forging new connections today.

I believe that Pragmatism and the European Traditions largely succeeds in its first task but less so in its second. I accept their distinction between analytic philosophy, pragmatism, and phenomenology as three traditions as articulating a reality of how philosophy is often taught. For a scholar of any of the three traditions under discussion, many chapters are thus illuminating, particularly Chapter 5, by James Levine on Russell, and Chapter 9, by James O’Shea on Lewis and Sellars. It is also understandable to position pragmatism as a mediator: this is pragmatism’s self-conception. But several articles on classical pragmatism are undermined by their lack of attention to neopragmatic criticisms. The editors intend to write a “companion volume” (6) that focuses on neopragmatism. But in this volume, they neglect a pressing problem for their normative task of mediation: as the volume exposes, pragmatism itself remains a house divided.

In Chapter 1, Richard Cobb-Stevens argues that the divergent readings of William James by Husserl and Wittgenstein better explain the methodological differences between phenomenology and analytic philosophy than the more commonly cited Husserl-Frege debate over psychologism. Cobb-Stevens convincingly shows not only the well-known connections between James’s concept of “fringes” and Husserl’s “horizons,” but between their accounts of time-consciousness. The “first-person” methodology beginning in lived experience which the pragmatist and phenomenologist share in this account is contrasted with Wittgenstein’s claim that linguistic competence better explains our sense of time. Wittgenstein’s approach yields a “third-person” methodology that rejects intuition, in Wittgenstein’s quoted words, as an “unnecessary shuffle” (34). Cobb-Stevens bridges this divide by defining a concept as “the intuited intelligibility of a thing or situation (its look) as disclosed in language” (32) and suggesting, following Thomas Nagel, that the task of philosophy is to reconcile these two methodologies, perhaps thereby reconciling the traditions under discussion.

I note two criticisms. First, Cobb-Stevens’s discussion of Husserl and James’s views on the ego does not distinguish between the transcendental and empirical egos, a distinction central to Husserl’s transcendental method and arguably in tension with Jamesian pragmatism. The notion of a “first-person” methodology may be overly reductive if it blurs this difference. Second, Cobb-Stevens’s criticism of Wittgenstein misses the distinction between causal mechanism and normative justification. It may be that the structure of perception has some causal effect on the structure of predication. But does “intuitive intelligibility” count as knowledge? Is a discursive appeal to it necessary to make the use of a concept count as correct? If not, isn’t inserting intuition into the definition of a concept an “unnecessary shuffle”? This is the gist of Sellars’s critique of the “myth of the given.” Cobb-Stevens cites Sellars positively without acknowledging the possibility of this Sellarsian criticism. Cobb-Stevens claims that James, unlike the British empiricists, is not vulnerable to Wittgenstein’s similar “shuffle” objection, but his defense of James centers on claims like: “We have something to say only because we have pre-linguistic experiences that we bring to language” (32). This is a claim about how knowledge originates, not how it is justified. At stake in this methodological divide is the justification of knowledge claims. If what counts as knowledge is settled in the public domain of linguistic concepts without appeal to intuition, then “first-person” philosophy will take at best a subordinate role in this philosophical reconciliation.

In Chapter 2, Kevin Mulligan shifts the focus from Husserl’s reception of pragmatism to Scheler’s lesser-known but comprehensive response. Mulligan neatly categorizes Scheler’s position: distinguishing between the “world of common sense and the world of science” (37), Scheler concedes to pragmatism that objects in both worlds are relative objects, the former relative to human bodies and drives and the latter to living beings in general. This “essential interdependence of types of act and types of object” (46) is for Scheler a truth of phenomenology and an insight for which he praises pragmatism. However, Scheler counters pragmatism by claiming that truth and knowledge are absolute and, moreover, that the objects of philosophy are these absolute and essential truths.

I welcome Mulligan’s sophisticated analysis of Scheler’s still-relevant perspective on classical pragmatism, long untranslated into English. As to Mulligan’s legitimate concerns with the epistemic or ontological status of existential relativity in Scheler, it may help to consider that the objective truth that Scheler defends against pragmatism is what grounds his ethics. If Scheler is thinking of values when he discusses existentially relative objects of which we have absolute knowledge, then Mulligan might look to Manfred Frings, who cites Scheler’s dissertation to claim that there cannot be for Scheler an ontological account of value.[1] I add only a gentle note that in rigorous scholarship, I hope authors will cease to use, or editors will question, phrasing like “crazy” (37) and “wears the trousers” (59).

Chapters 3 through 5 are thematically linked and so I will not consider them individually, but instead reflect on how their authors might inform one another’s positions. In Chapter 3, Colin Koopman sidesteps the traditional conflict between classical pragmatism’s emphasis on experience and neopragmatism’s emphasis on language, asserting that James and Wittgenstein’s most relevant commonality is their emphasis on conduct. To think in terms of conduct is to think contextually and, in contrast to metaphysical idealism, to think of context-change or expansion as contingent and not logically necessitated. Koopman contrasts this resistance to idealism and emphasis on contingency in Wittgenstein and the early James against Brandom’s focus on the semantic. Conduct is for Koopman not reducible to speech-act pragmatics: there is “conceptual richness” even where we “remain rapt in our silence” (81). But he also claims that this comparison exposes a divide between the earlier pragmatic James and the later metaphysical James, whose radical empiricism succumbs, like classical empiricism, to the Sellarsian critique of the myth of the given. If pragmatism “cashes out metaphysics into practical differences” (73), then, according to Koopman, James should reject his Bergsonian appeal to pure knowledge disconnected from use.

In Chapter 4, Tim Button considers the contrasting responses of James and Schiller to the Russell-Stout objection and concludes that Schiller’s humanism falls to the objection whereas James surmounts it by an appeal to naïve realism, at the cost of undermining a pragmatic argument for God’s existence. The Russell-Stout objection concerns an account of the content of the claim “Other minds exist”: if the validity of this claim depends on a fact external to my own experience, and if its truth is distinct from that of the claim “For me, other minds exist,” then a “locked-in phenomenalist” (86) account of truth and meaning which cannot appeal to external facts is erroneous. Button argues that Schiller is effectively a locked-in phenomenalist and that his distinction between primary (internal) and secondary (external) reality is an inadequate defense against Russell-Stout because, for Schiller, references to secondary reality are still references to what I have constructed. James, despite some mixed messages, overcomes the objection by identifying as a naïve realist and enabling reference to a reality external to the individual subject’s constructions. However, Button continues, if the claim that other minds exist appeals to an external reality, then plausibly so too does the claim that God exists. To be consistent, then, James must reject a pragmatic justification of claims for God’s existence.

In Chapter 5, James Levine provides a comprehensive history of the evolution of Russell’s thought that portrays him not as an implacable foe of pragmatism, but as eventually and intentionally incorporating pragmatic ideas to become a forerunner of linguistic pragmatism. Levine categorizes Russell’s thought into three periods: after his Moorean break with idealism, in which he strongly opposes pragmatism; after the Peano conference, wherein he rejects the foundationalism of his Moorean epistemology in favor of fallibilism and coherentism; and during and after prison, in which he begins to privilege use over meaning and, further, claim that meaning “’distilled out’ of use” is ineluctably “’vague’ or indeterminate” (112). Russell initially makes a strict distinction between the meaning and the criterion of truth, arguing that the latter depends upon the former’s having precise content. But this hierarchy inverts as Russell comes to reject his theory of acquaintance, for which acquaintance with an entity is a prerequisite for labeling it, “thereby securing a precise meaning for the word we now use to stand for that entity” (130). By claiming that meaning follows use, Russell trades precision for vagueness and anticipates the insights of Quine and the later Wittgenstein by taking a, in Quine’s words, “’behavioral view of meaning’” (112). On this basis, Levine challenges Brandom’s history of philosophy, which emphasizes Russell’s early views in opposition to pragmatism.

Taking the previous three chapters together raises two questions for Button. First, if Koopman is right that James’s radical empiricism conflicts with James’s pragmatism, then does naïve realism not also conflict with pragmatism? If so – if one of the strengths of pragmatism is its rejection of what Rorty calls “sky-hooks,” guarantees of discursive truth that are external to discourse, which naïve realism serves to provide and which are notoriously vulnerable to skepticism – then the problem that ascribing to naïve realism raises for a pragmatic justification of God’s existence extends to pragmatic justification in general. Moreover, if James’s overcoming of Russell-Stout comes at the cost of an unwitting rejection of pragmatism, I would hesitate to call it a success. Second, does not the weight of the Russell-Stout objection depend implicitly on Russell’s theory of acquaintance, which secures the precise content of “Other minds exist”? If we reject the theory of acquaintance, as Levine says that Russell eventually does, then the proposition “Other minds exist” may not be functioning as a direct reference to an external reality, in which case I suspect that the objection could be defused. Perhaps pragmatism must reject naïve realism to remain coherent, and perhaps that is a strength.

In Chapter 6, Cheryl Misak discusses Ramsey’s reception of Peirce’s pragmatism and how, were it not for Ramsey’s untimely death, the analytic reception of pragmatism and the debate over the relation between truth and success might have been reshaped for the better. Misak compares Peirce’s account of truth to deflationism and claims that Peirce contributes the normative insight that asserting truth means also “asserting that [the belief] stands up to reasons now and we bet that it would continue to do so” (159). Ramsey, following Peirce, does not think that claiming that one’s belief is true is merely redundant, but distinguishes between what Misak refers to as “the generalizing and endorsing functions of the truth predicate” (164). Ramsey thus teaches the contemporary disquotationalist to become a pragmatist and to consider the multiple functions of the concept of truth. Misak’s account is a succinct and compelling summary of a neglected and informative intersection between pragmatism and the analytic tradition.

In Chapter 7, Anna Boncompagni hones in on an overlooked 1930 remark by Wittgenstein on pragmatism and develops the historical account of Wittgenstein’s reception of pragmatism and of Ramsey’s influence on Wittgenstein. In the remark, Wittgenstein identifies “’the pragmatist conception of true and false’” with “the idea that ‘a sentence is true as long as it proves to be useful’” (168). Boncompagni explains that Wittgenstein is concerned with accounting for the “hypothetical nature of sentences” (170) in ordinary language: propositions point to the future, not to the present moment of verification, because they embody “expectations of future possible experiences” (172). She concludes that though Ramsey’s conversations with Wittgenstein likely induced the latter to be more receptive to pragmatism, considering Ramsey’s positive reception of Peirce, Wittgenstein continued to reject pragmatism as “an encompassing vision of the real meaning of ‘truth’” (179) due to the influence of the prevailing Cambridge response to Jamesian pragmatism. Boncompagni adds nuance to the historical account of the analytic reception of pragmatism and encourages greater attention to Ramsey’s role, which Misak’s previous chapter elucidates.

In Chapter 8, John Capps refocuses the relation between pragmatism and expressivism away from Dewey’s rejection of Ayer’s emotivism and toward C. L. Stevenson’s 1944 Ethics and Language, which was shaped by Deweyan pragmatism. Dewey’s Theory of Valuation objects against Ayer that ethical assertions do not merely express feelings because there is no “mere” expression of feeling that does not also involve a response to circumstances and a request for a response. Capps rightly observes that this conflict comes down to the fact/value distinction: whereas for Ayer science “deals with facts alone” (194), for Dewey science can play a normative role in developing ethical judgment. Capps positions Stevenson as reconciling this conflict: though ethical judgments are primarily attitudinal rather than expressions of beliefs, ethical judgment may also serve a “descriptive function” that is “sensitive to evidence and argument” and “tempers the idea that ethical assertions are neither true nor false” (Ibid). Capps attributes Dewey’s strong position on science’s ethical relevance, and thus his greatest difference from Stevenson, to his working with the logical empiricists on the topic of unified science.

While I appreciate Capps’s attention to this philosophical juncture, I worry that he underrates the significance of the divergent Deweyan and logico-empiricist views of science. This divergence arguably drives the rise of neopragmatic accounts of normativity. It is tellingly Rortyan for Stevenson to turn to persuasion over science as driving the rational development of ethical judgments. Consider: How is Dewey’s belief that science can drive ethical development to be understood? It’s one thing to claim that science is a practice of inquiry itself normatively structured by values such as coherence, undermining a strict fact/value distinction. But it would be another thing, which does not follow from the first, to be able to leap from a scientific conclusion to an ethical conclusion. For example: No matter how precise an account of climate change a scientist offers, that account alone will not show that climate change is “bad.” That value judgment is justified otherwise. So how exactly does scientific explanation bear on ethical (or political) justification? It may be that a broad definition of science-as-inquiry obscures more about ethical judgment and deliberation than it reveals. As a Deweyan, I think the burden is on the Deweyan to carefully distinguish naturalizing ethics from committing the naturalistic fallacy.

In Chapter 9, James O’Shea offers a highlight of the volume: a clearly presented account of how Sellars improves on C. I. Lewis’s Kantian epistemological account of alternative a priori conceptual frameworks. The possibility of change in conceptual frameworks does not square easily with Kant’s claim for the universality and necessity of synthetic a priori principles. Lewis affirms the possibility of holistic conceptual redefinition that “must ultimately appeal to broadly pragmatic grounds” (208) while also recognizing that some generalizations have the status of inductive hypotheses open to falsification by evidence, not a priori criteria. However, O’Shea argues, contra Misak, that Lewis relies upon a flawed analytic/synthetic distinction that blurs the line between logical analyticity and the pragmatic a priori, and further upon an immediate grasp of a “real”/”unreal” distinction in experience, which is vulnerable to Sellars’s critique of the myth of the given. Sellars replaces the Kantian synthetic a priori with “material inference principles” that rest on his view of conceptual content, whereby having a concept is a “a matter of one’s perceptual or ‘language entry’ responses … and one’s relevant intentional actions, conforming to certain overall norm-governed patterns” (219). O’Shea concludes that Sellars provides a plausible alternative to Lewis and Quine’s views on analyticity and a priori knowledge. The chapter demonstrates significant historical and theoretical links between thinkers sometimes divided between pragmatic and analytic camps.

In Chapter 10, Alexander Klein defends a Jamesian epistemology of discovery against Quine’s epistemology of justification, stating approvingly that unlike Quine, “James cannot draw a sharp distinction between discovery and justification” and that this is essential to pragmatism itself: “all pragmatists share an emphasis on discovery as a (perhaps the) crucial locus for epistemological inquiry” (229). Though both Quine and James view knowledge as holistic and agree that “pragmatic considerations like simplicity and elegance” (228) may determine what beliefs to adopt, Quine rejects James’s position that emotions may also play a role in adopting beliefs. Klein rightly notes that this is because Quine is concerned with the justification of beliefs and does not see the emotional appeal of a belief as an acceptable justification for it. Klein argues for a “strong reading” of James as a “wishful thinker” that is incompatible with Quine: emotion is not only “useful for hypothesis generation” but may influence “belief choices” (236). In defense, Klein cites the example of Barry Marshall, a scientist who was emotionally driven to take a personal risk on research that led to his earning a Nobel Prize. According to Klein, this demonstrates that an epistemology of justification must not reject the emotion that can be central to discovery: he compares such a dispassionate epistemology to “an evolutionary explanation of a biological trait” (243) that does not account for that trait’s history and so is incomplete.

I am persuaded that Klein’s “strong reading” of James is correct, but I am not persuaded that James’s position is defensible. There are three major problems with Klein’s argument. First, even if Marshall was led to his scientific discovery by his emotions, his emotions played no obvious role in justifying his findings as true to the scientific community, which is the process of “belief choice” that concerns Quine. If I make a lucky guess about a fact, the reasons why I make the guess have nothing to do with what makes the guess true or false. Only if one denies this claim does one blur the discovery-justification distinction and engage in “wishful thinking.” Second, in defense of his view of justification, Klein cites an explanation, which is not a justification. This confusion is an unfortunate pattern in this volume. Explanations involve descriptive claims about causal mechanisms, not normative accounts of why one should take those claims to be true. If I’m asked why it rains, I describe the rain cycle; if I’m asked how I know, only then am I called to make normative claims about what one should believe and why. This double conflation of the descriptive and the normative intensifies the third problem: the implication that “all pragmatists” define epistemology in terms of discovery excludes neopragmatists like Rorty. Intentional or not, this gatekeeping serves to preserve the aforementioned confusion and evade a critical challenge. Do emotions themselves make scientific claims true? If not, how is it epistemologically relevant if emotions happen to lead to someone making scientific claims that come to be otherwise verified as true?

I cannot overstate the importance of pragmatists taking these questions, and the distinction between the descriptive and the normative, seriously in our current intellectual climate. Consider, as Klein does, evolutionary biology. The claim that values like fairness or mating preferences might causally trace their origin to our evolutionary history does not straightforwardly justify those values or preferences in any way. Why, absent a teleological (anti-Darwinian) view of nature, should what is natural be what we take to be good? This question is left unasked by influential public intellectuals such as Steven Pinker and Jordan Peterson.[2] It is worth our asking.

In Chapter 11, Sami Pihlström develops a historical narrative that presents logical empiricism as developing pragmatic ideas and themes, focusing on the less-considered relations between neopragmatism and logical empiricism. Pihlström considers what he calls “Putnam’s residual Carnapianism” (253): though Putnam rejects the logical empiricist doctrines of the analytic/synthetic and fact/value dichotomies, Putnam inherits his critique of metaphysics from that philosophical legacy. Pihlström argues that scientific realism unites the concerns of pragmatism and logical empiricism, citing the Finnish logical empiricist Eino Kaila, whose embrace of James’s “will to believe” highlights the tension shared by those traditions between advocating for scientific realism and a “romantic” concern with “the possible dominance of science over other human practices” (260). This chapter weaves together seemingly disconnected themes in an intriguing and illuminating manner. I was, however, left unsure why Pihlström takes it to be necessary that pragmatists reinterpret and engage in metaphysical theorizing.

In Chapter 12, Dermot Moran surveys two intersections between phenomenology and pragmatism, detailing the Husserlian reception of James on consciousness and the neopragmatic reading of Heidegger’s analytic of Dasein. Moran notes that both intersections involve a shift toward greater contextuality, the former away from Brentano’s theory of object-intentionality toward Husserl’s horizon-intentionality and the latter away from “Cartesian style representationalist ‘spectator’ thinking” (270) toward Dreyfusian skillful coping. Moran is also careful to point out tensions between pragmatism and phenomenology. He cites Schutz’s observation that Husserl’s transcendental method is antithetical to James’s empiricism, and on neopragmatism, he emphasizes that the analytic of Dasein involves more than Zuhandenheit or readiness-to-hand: Heidegger’s “contrast between authenticity and inauthenticity” (280) suggests he is less concerned with the functioning than with the overcoming of implicit practices of the sort that Brandom theorizes or the “socially established and mutually accepted norms” (282) that operate in Rorty’s ethnocentrism. This balanced piece would have served well as an introductory chapter. Unfortunately, Moran only hints at the deeper tension between pragmatic naturalism and the transcendental phenomenological method or Heidegger’s later anti-humanism. He might have elaborated on what Husserl and Heidegger share: a transcendental move away from the starting point of everyday experience, from which one departs to discern the structures that constitute said experience.

For many analytic philosophers and neopragmatists, those experience-constituting structures are linguistic. From their perspective, an appeal to lived experience in defining a concept can be an “unnecessary shuffle” when that experience only informs discursive practices to the degree that it is already subsumed under linguistic concepts.[3] There are potential counters to this criticism: perhaps not all relevant practices are discursive or not all of what we should call knowledge is conceptual. But this conversation can only be developed to the degree that tensions are taken seriously: not only between pragmatism, phenomenology, and analytic philosophy, but within pragmatism itself.

The normative project of this volume is vital and promising. I think its promise can only be fulfilled in the coming companion volume, where neopragmatism is said to take center stage. If pragmatism’s intersections with analytic philosophy and phenomenology are more than historical curiosities, if pragmatism also provides a method for meliorating current divides between philosophical traditions, it must show that it can meliorate the divide between classical and neopragmatism still visible in this volume.


[1] Frings, Manfred. S, The Mind of Max Scheler: The First Comprehensive Guide Based on the Complete Works (Marquette University Press, 1997), 23.

[2] Pinker was challenged on this point directly by Rorty in “Philosophy-Envy,” Daedalus, Vol. 133, No. 4, On Human Nature (Fall, 2004): 18-24.

[3] This critique of classical pragmatism by neopragmatism parallels the post-structuralist and deconstructionist critiques of phenomenology. I hope this parallel is considered in the companion volume to come.

Emmanuel Alloa, Élie During (Eds.): Choses en soi: Métaphysique du réalisme, Puf, 2018

Choses en soi. Métaphysique du réalisme, Puf, 2018 Book Cover Choses en soi. Métaphysique du réalisme, Puf, 2018
MétaphysiqueS
Emmanuel Alloa, Élie During (Eds.)
Presses Universitaires de France
2018
Paperback 27,00 €
600